August, 2016 - wedding prep

 Mike and Amanda got married on Labor Day weekend, so we spent the month of August in travel plans, helping out with the parts of the wedding that we were involved in, getting ready to be away from home for several weeks, and worrying about the things that you worry about before a wedding.  In addition to that, both Rachel and Kathryn got jobs, got apartments, and moved to new cities.  Kathryn is a speech pathologist, working for an elementary school, and living in West Chester, PA.  Rachel is a registered nurse, working for Johns Hopkins Hospital, and living in Baltimore, MD.  Chris and I helped them out as needed, then left for California a week before the wedding. 

August 27 - Atwater Village, Los Angeles California

   We rented a three bed room house in Atwater Village about three long blocks from Mike and Amanda's appartment.  We were a ten minute walk or a two minute car ride apart, so it was super convenient.  We were between Glendale Boulevard and Los Feliz Boulevard, so we had our choices of which cool street to walk on to get great food and other stuff.  Probably the favorite spot was Villa Coronas on Glendale.  That's a little shop that was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show on the travel channel.  It serves up excellent, inexpensive, truly Mexican tacos and burritos from a window that opens onto the street.  Very delicious and well worth waiting in line.  Its a popular spot.

     Chris and I were the first to arrive.  A few days later Rachel got in.  Kathryn and her boyfriend, Will, arrive mid-week, then took a whirlwind over night camping trip to an island off the coast near Santa Monica.  They took a ferry ride out to the island, hiked out to a remote spot, and camped on the beach.  Just before the wedding, Rachel's friend, Emily joined us and Amanda was able to work her into the list of guests.  She was a fun addition to our group.

   I went for a walk one morning on the nearby LA River.  It is a small river that meanders through LA and passes right by Atwater Village.  Both banks are  contained within large concrete constructions that dominate the view of the river when you see it from the bike path or trail on the sides.  The river looks lost among all the concrete.  But when you duck under the fence at the top, and carefully walk down the concrete slope, to get right near the water -- which I did --  you find that there is beautiful natural life, deep in LA.   Here is a link to a few bird photos that I took on the river and also two shots of the pretty parrots that we out in front of our house every day.

Click on the link below to see the bird photos:

link to photos, Atwater Village and LA River


September 2, 3, 4 - Mike and Amanda get married

    The wedding was on Sunday, but there were two really cool events that were held on Friday and Saturday.  On Friday, Amanda's mom, Chichi, hosted a traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony.  The immediate family and many of the guests wore traditional Nigerian clothing.  The traditions were full of emotion, humor, and kindness.  As the evening continued, it was impossible not to feel the power of the ceremony. 

    Here's a brief synopsis of the Friday ceremony and party.  After a social gathering and dinner, we performed in a few hours a tradition that could easily take many days.  The goal is not just to marry the couple, but to bind the families together.  Amanda's uncle, Ben, introduced Amanda's extended family and explained the ceremony.  With a sly smile, he commented that his family had heard something was up and maybe that young boy he had heard about was maybe somewhere about.  Then he invited me to share anything that I knew of the situation.  After introducing each of Mike's family that was present, I talked about our family history, about Mike's commitment to Amanda, and about their love.  One of my job's here was to convince Ben and the other leaders of Amanda's family that Mike was a worthwhile addition to their clan.  Along those lines, I accurately described Mike as "a warrior of commerce".  Mike's groomsmen and his cousin, Tom, liked that line a lot. 

    I presented the family with a basket that Chichi had helped us to prepare that contained mangoes, papaya, African yams (these are huge), bottles of wine, a bottle of Baileys, a small amount of money, and some other things.  This was a token to represent the traditionally much more substantial offering from the groom's family to the bride's.  Ben huddled with Amanda's grandmother and aunts and uncles and pretended to decide whether they would except our gift.  After a suitable interval, he came to me and announced that the gift had been accepted and now we were one family.   That was very cool. 

    There was a ceremony with Kola nuts.  Ben sliced up some of these nuts and distributed them to everyone present.  We each ate a tiny sliver of nut.  Ben presented me with a whole nut which I now have displayed in our home. Years ago, Chris had each of our children's baby shoes bronzed and displays them with a baby photo.  I put the kola nut between Mike's bronzed baby shoes.  It's nice.

    After the negotiations were concluded, Amanda, who was waiting in another room, could finally enter.  She was wearing an African dress and looked really pretty.  Her uncle gave her a cup of wine and she was supposed to go around the party and tempt all the young men to drink.   Only Mike was supposed to accept.  We told Mike's friends several times, "Don't drink the wine!!"   We definitely didn't need to worry.  Amanda only played along a little.  She offered the wine to one or two friends, before going to Mike.   When he drank, that was the commitment.  This was followed by the couple washing each other's feet.  Then they left the room and returned wearing different colors.   Again Amanda looked fantastic.   There was some really good praying and some serious pressure put on Amanda by her female relatives to encourage her to have a baby right away.  Then the rest of the evening was spent dancing.  


Mike and Amanda with Mike's nuclear family on Friday 

  Saturday was going to be a picnic at Griffith Park, the LA equivalent of the New York City Grand Central Park.  But after checking out the layout of our rental house, we decided to move the picnic there.  We had an open house that started at two PM and was still going on after midnight.  I cooked up a lot of burgers and kielbasa, and the guests brought a lot ofdelicious food.  We also polished off and impressive amount of beer, wine, gin, tequila, Baileys, and other stuff.  Mike set up his corn-hole game (that's a bean bag toss game).  Mike's friends are amazingly good at this game.  One of his friends, who was on Mike's Tee-ball team (that I coached) is insanely good and managed to stay undefeated all day.  I'm glad that my baseball coaching did't damage his corn-hole career.  Anyway, the Saturday party was also fun.



Mike and Amanda with Amanda's nuclear family on Sunday

    The actual wedding was the expected fashionable LA wedding.  It was at a nice venue near Pasadena in a facility called The Fig House.  The ceremony was held in an out door courtyard and the weather, of course, was perfect.  After all this is southern California.  It was 70 degrees and clear skies.  Amanda and Mike professed their love, gave each other their vows, and it was a beautiful wedding.  The party was fun with outrageous hors d'oeurvres, tasty signature cocktails, a buffet where every dish was gourmet, and enthusiastic dancing encouraged by a DJ.  The toasts and speeches were all good.  Chichi spoke to Mike and Amanda from the heart; Chris talked about family and expressed her love for her new daughter-in-law; I told silly stories about Mike as a kid;  the maid of honor talked about her friendship with Amanda and the power of strong women; and the best man kept us laughing with his perfect stand up delivery, still making us understand the bond and respect that he and Mike have for each other.


Sept 7 - Marathon Beach / Sand Dunes Park

Sometimes I wonder why we work so hard for stuff that is clearly non-essential.  In America, none of us are going to starve.  Housing is a matter of whether the unit is really nice or not so nice.  Clothing is practically free, if you don't care about style.  That's what I was thinking about on Wednesday when I drove completely across LA on the freeways to get from northeast LA to Marathon Beach on the coast to the southeast.  I managed to miss the rush hour, which means that the phenomenally congested traffic is able to move really fast.  It is extremely intimidating for a guy who isn't used to it and does not have a wing man to help him change lanes at 70 mph.   I was enduring this extreme stress to get pictures of birds!  That seems crazy.  Except that I liked the pictures.  When I was telling Rachel about the experience, she commented that it sounded like I had a good day.  She was correct. 

click here for pics of Sand Dunes Park and Marathon Beach


Sept 11 - 14 - Sequoia National Park

 click here for pics from Sequoia National Park


Sept 15 - 16 - Big Sur

click here for pics from the Big Sur region


Sept 17 - Elephant seals, hummingbirds, magpie -- the drive back to LA

The drive back to LA was an all day event.  I drove along Route One and saw so much stuff that I couldn't include it all here.  There were wind surfers, and shorebirds, cloud vistas over the ocean, beautiful seas when it burned off, and mountains in the interior.  Eventually I wound up on the 113 Freeway for the last leg into LA.  That forced me to really focus for that hour.  Still, it was a beautiful day.


click here for pics of the Elephant Seal rookery


click here for pics from Ragged Point and a rare bird on the ride home


Sept 18 - Pasadena Arboretum

 under construction

click here for pics from the Pasadena Arboretum