The Netherlands boasts such delights as tulips, Rembrandt and stroopwafels.

My daughter moved to Amsterdam for grad school. She left partly because there are very few places in the U.S. that offer the program she wants, and partly because the U.S. is getting scary. I concurred with both reasons, and I am absolutely thrilled for her. Right now, while I am cursing at the news, she is taking a breezy bike ride through the Dutch countryside. She is clearly the smart one. 

So, anyway, I’m fine. I’ll just huddle here on the floor of her room in a fetal position for a little while longer. 

Thank goodness for texting and FaceTime. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in the days before phones and airmail. What on earth did the Dutch East India Company sailors’ mothers do? I’ll tell you what they did. They stuffed their faces with stroopwafels.

Yes. My daughter sent me stroopwafels, and I will never be the same. How is it that I’d never had these before? I was a pastry chef for 30 years and traveled the world, including Holland (though to be fair, I was last there in 1987, and I was broke). I felt dumb. 

First created in Gouda in the 19th century, the stroopwafel is a thin, waffle-textured wafer cookie sandwiched with a cinnamon-caramel syrup. (Stroop means “syrup” in Dutch.) It is crisp but not crumbly, which makes it the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee, which is how they are eaten in the Netherlands. I am told you are supposed to set it on top of your coffee cup for a couple minutes to let the steam warm the filling a bit. Great idea — but I can never wait that long. 

As soon as the stroopwafels were gone (in one day), I started looking around for recipes to keep this party going (and to feel connected to my distant offspring). All the recipes call for using a pizzelle iron, which is a countertop appliance used to make thin Italian anise-flavored wafer cookies. I had a pizzelle iron once. I used it for a dessert I was working on when I was a pastry chef. I’m pretty sure I forgot it at that restaurant when I left. Unfortunately I can’t remember which job that was. 

One thing about being a professional cook (at least for me) is that the last thing I need is another gadget. I have so many cooking tools I don’t even know what I have anymore. So no, I am not going out to buy another pizzelle iron for this one recipe. But luckily, another thing about being a professional cook is that I can jerry-rig something else pretty easily. I have always been the kind of cook who prefers to wing it with what I’ve got, rather than make a special trip and spend more money on the proper thing. Some might consider it a fault. I find it endearing. 

My improvisation — stroopwafels on the griddle — worked great. I know all (both?) my Dutch readers will roll their eyes at this variation. But they should be happy I finally featured something from their homeland. In fact, thanks to my daughter (who abandoned me), I have a new appreciation for the Netherlands. Besides all the great stuff they’ve given the world — tulips, Rembrandt, cheese — they brought stuff to the New World that basically makes us American: cookies, pancakes, pretzels, coleslaw, Santa Claus and Christmas stockings, partying on New Year’s Eve, bowling, ice skating, the front stoop (front steps elevated in case of flooding), cultural tolerance (still working on that one) and democracy (New Amsterdam [later, New York City] was the first place on this continent with a bill of rights). All of these ideas were brought here by Dutch settlers, and I couldn’t be more grateful. So thank you, Netherlanders. Now just be sure you guys take good care of my baby.  ||||


This recipe is traditionally made on a very thin waffle iron. A pizzelle iron or an ice cream-cone iron will do the trick. But if you have neither, you can make these on the griddle. They will not have the traditional waffle pattern, but they taste just as good. When the recipe calls for placing dough in waffle iron, place it on the griddle instead, and press down on it for a minute with a grill press or metal spatula. Then flip for another minute until both sides are golden brown.



1¾ cups unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon milk

1½ tablespoons yeast

1 egg

cup superfine sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour


¾ cup brown sugar

1½ cups golden syrup or dark corn syrup

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter


1. Mix together melted butter, milk and yeast. Stir, then set aside for a few minutes until it starts to proof (achieve its final rise before baking). Stir in the egg and sugar, then the flour. When it comes together as a dough, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes to combine well. Cover and set aside to rise for 2 hours.    

2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn up and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Stir in cinnamon and butter, then set aside to cool.

3. Preheat pizzelle iron (or griddle). Roll dough into walnut-size balls, and place onto the center of the iron. Close and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown. As soon as the cookie is done, cut it in half lengthwise to make two thin sandwich halves. Spread a thin layer of filling in the center, and close. Repeat with remaining dough. Store airtight, or (if you have more self-control than I do) freeze for extended periods.

Leslie Bilderback is a chef and cookbook author, a certified master baker and an art history instructor. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

East meets West in Stan Lai’s original new play at the Huntington.

The Huntington’s Chinese Garden, or Liu Fang Yuan (Garden of Flowing Fragrance), is the atmospheric setting for Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, a new play by Stan Lai running through Oct. 26. Festival director of the wildly popular Wuzhen Theatre Festival staged every October in the picturesque town of Wuzhen, China, Lai takes on the occasional special project — two years ago he directed The Dream of the Red Chamber for the San Francisco Opera. That same year the acclaimed Washington, D.C.–born playwright was commissioned by the CalArts Center for New Performance and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens to create a new play for the Chinese Garden, which would be staged around its man-made lake. Audience members would witness scenes as they unfolded in the various pavilions, terraces and bridges.
“The opportunity to do something like this is very rare,” says Lai, enjoying a moment of respite between rehearsals on the terrace of the garden tea house, dubbed Terrace That Invites the Mountains. A soft breeze is blowing across the lake, which is lined with gnarly Taihu rocks from China, and temperatures are beginning to cool. “To do a site-specific, immersive project that is real theater, not just an installation or something, this is a different thing. It’s storytelling that occurs through a garden.”
Each night’s intimate audience of 40 gathers first at the tea house, formally called the Hall of the Jade Camellia, then splits into two groups to watch various scenes being performed on the east and west sides of the lake. Both groups will see the same scenes, but in a different order.
The inspiration for Nightwalk came to Lai when he toured this garden three years ago. He shared his idea with Travis Preston, dean of the CalArts School of Theater, who’d wanted to do a project with him through their Center for New Performance. “We’re not really looking for plays, we’re looking for artists we want to work with,” Preston says in a phone interview. “Stan’s a writer and director at the same time. He’s devising the work as he’s rehearsing it; that’s very consistent with the kind of experimentation we’re interested in. There’s also a lyricism in Stan’s work I find very moving.”
Lai, who shuttles between Taiwan and China, conducted a workshop in 2016 with prospective actors and participants at CalArts and the Chinese Garden. His idea was to weave together two stories: one involving Henry Huntington, the railroad magnate whose collections and estate make up the core of The Huntington, and the other, the Chinese opera classic The Peony Pavilion.
The Peony Pavilion is a tragicomedy written by Tang Xianzu in 1598 — the original play ran for 55 scenes and took over 20 hours to perform. (Nightwalk runs about 90 minutes.) In it a young maiden, Du Liniang, enters a garden where she dreams of a handsome scholar, Liu Mengmei, and tumbles head over heels in love with him. She falls so deeply that when she awakens, she wastes away pining for him. Later, this same scholar visits her garden and has a dream about her. In the dream he’s encouraged to find her grave and exhume her body — which he does, and she miraculously comes back to life, uncorrupted.
“It’s one of the most famous Chinese plays, but not well known outside of China,” says Lai in his deep, measured voice. “It’s so steeped in the tradition that I’m very interested in and write about myself a lot, which is the reality of dreams, the reality of art, also my own interest in the creative process itself — these are the things that are blending together in the garden here.” In his play, the playwright becomes part of the story. “He’s in the midst of writing The Peony Pavilion,” says Lai, and Du Liniang becomes his imagined heroine and muse. “Du Liniang is trying to teach him how to write.”
The Western part of the story takes place in the early 1920s, when Henry Huntington acquires the Thomas Gainsborough painting, The Blue Boy, today a pride and joy of the Huntington art collection and the subject of a concurrent exhibition (see page 15). His curator also introduces him to Chinese opera, via an excerpt from The Peony Pavilion, which is performed in Nightwalk on a rotating basis by two stars of the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe. After our interview, Lai invites me to stay for the rehearsal and the kunqu performance. This takes place late in the evening, in the Clear and Transcendent pavilion, which has been equipped with seats — and the audience becomes Henry Huntington’s guests. As Du Liniang, Luo Chenxue comes from stage right, prostrate with grief and pining for her dream lover, while sending her regrets to her mother. Almost collapsing, Luo begins her plaintive aria, her eyes bright with tears — without even understanding the words, the performance is literally a showstopper. Everyone stops what they’re doing — actors, tech crew, guests — and listens. It’s a heartrending, deeply convincing performance, despite the fact that Luo is not dressed for the part, instead clad in a T-shirt and jeans.
Most of the other actors are CalArts students and alumni — Reggie Yip, a CalArts graduate, as the Chinese maid, and Hao Feng, a current CalArts MFA student, as the Playwright — the play’s protagonist. Two years ago Yip was in the workshop Lai held in preparation for the production. While most of the play is in English, both point to specific Chinese cultural elements reflected in the script. “If you listen to the language, the way the language flows, there’s a cadence,” says Yip, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. That’s also the case with certain themes: “I’m on the East side of the piece, and there’s a lot of conversation about gender roles, this hierarchy of family that’s very Chinese.” “Filial piety,” adds Feng.
During rehearsals Lai is remarkably low-key. He speaks calmly, but with authority. Asked about his directorial style, he says, “Why do you want to scare people? You want to encourage people. That’s the basis of my method — to let people profoundly understand who the character is, because maybe I don’t even know who the character is when I’m creating it. It’s not like this is Hamlet or an already created character. This is something that I’m working on together with my actor, exploring a character.”
And the Chinese Garden’s uniqueness makes it the perfect setting for that character, Lai says. “I’ve been in many gardens in China, in Suzhou in particular,” he says. “The beauty of the Chinese garden always has to do with classical poetry or classical literature. You know, the scenic spots always need a story or a reference.” That’s certainly true of The Chinese Garden — every scenic point has a poetic name — and serendipitously enough, The Huntington has just announced the final phase of its construction. “It’s all about order: In a way it’s a little strange, in another way it’s exquisite.”

Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, written and directed by Stan Lai, is performed at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Oct. 26 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Ticket prices range from $85 to $150, depending on day and membership status. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Visit

Visitors can witness art conservation in action in Project Blue Boy

For decades, the handsome young boy with rosy red cheeks decked out in a fashionable blue satin outfit with knee breeches has delighted guests in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Painted around 1770 by prominent English landscape and portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy has an endearing charm reflected in a careful composition that reveals the master’s fine strokes, using a shimmering blue hue created with numerous tints.

Now visitors will have a different view of the relaxed young lad as he poses in the English countryside — a close-up so extreme it can be microscopic. The Huntington’s new show Project Blue Boy offers gallery visitors a behind-the-scenes experience of the extensive two-year-long conservation process that will restore and stabilize Gainsborough’s classic work as much as possible.

This is the first time the Huntington is putting a conservation project on display for the public to observe; it’s a rare opportunity to witness both the art and science of conservation in action. “We’ve known for a while that the painting needed attention,” explains Melinda McCurdy, exhibit cocurator and associate curator for British art. The original colors have turned hazy and dull. Paint is starting to lift and flake off in certain areas. Too many layers of added varnish have served as temporary bandages to keep the almost life-size painting intact. Likewise, the painting’s lining (added as another
attempt at restoration) has been separating. The Blue Boy needed a serious tune-up.

Earlier this year, the painting was subjected to a three-month-long examination. High-tech methods — infrared reflectography, ultraviolet illumination and a scanning electron microscope — helped conservators chart a course of action.

At the helm of Project Blue Boy is Christina O’Connell, the Huntington’s senior painting conservator and exhibit’s other cocurator. She has set up shop in the Thornton Portrait Gallery inside a special satellite studio, complete with work table, easel, conservation lights and exhaust units. A half wall separates her from the crowds, but the public can watch on a display monitor as she performs the deft and precise work of stabilizing the paint, cleaning the surface and removing the non-original varnish and overpaint. (Her satellite work schedule will be posted on the Huntington website.)

The plan is for O’Connell to work three to four months in the satellite studio. The Blue Boy will then go off view for another three to four months while she strengthens the canvas structure and applies new varnish with special equipment that can’t be moved into the gallery. After that’s completed, the painting will once again return to the satellite studio where visitors can continue to watch as O’Connell takes the artwork closer to perfection in anticipation of The Blue Boy’s return to gallery walls in early 2020.

Among the paraphernalia in O’Connell’s toolbox is an impressive 6-foot-tall surgical microscope. This state-of-the-art device has a long moveable arm and optics that can magnify up to 25 times; especially helpful when she applies special adhesives to areas where paint is lifting off the canvas. 

Near the satellite studio, there’s an educational exhibit with an iPad describing the science of conservation and a display of typical conservator hand tools; they’re on hand to help guests gain a deeper appreciation for the conservator’s skilled artistry.

Visitors will also be able to see what lurks underneath The Blue Boy; an interactive light box will show digital x-rays of the artwork, revealing that the it was painted on a used canvas: The artist had originally begun a portrait of a man, before opting for a younger model. McCurdy hopes the current conservation process may unearth more clues to the earlier model’s identity. Perhaps just as interesting is that other x-rays show that at one time Gainsborough placed a small white dog next to the boy’s bowed shoes. For whatever reason, the hound didn’t make the cut and was eventually transformed into a pile of rocks.

Information will be posted on the artist and painting, which has called San Marino home since Henry Huntington purchased it in 1921 for a whopping $728,000 — the largest sum paid at that time for any artwork. “The Blue Boy is iconic for a reason… it’s a really good painting,” McCurdy says, adding that it is as much a study of the look and feel of period apparel as it is a character study of its young subject.

Look closely at the intricate details of the clothes, she says. “Gainsborough’s great skill was as a master painter, using vigorous slashes of unmodulated color to mimic the look and texture of smooth satin in the boy’s costume, for instance.” The illustrious costume was inspired by the work of 17th-century Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck, who often incorporated fashion in his work. (Note the blue coat worn by the young subject of Portrait of Charles, Lord Strange.)

While his portraits are masterful in capturing the essence of their models, Gainsborough preferred the peaceful beauty of landscapes. He once said, in third person: “He painted portraits for money and landscapes because he loved them.”

There remains a lure of unsolved mystery surrounding The Blue Boy. As famous as it was back then and is today, no one knows for sure just who this fair-faced boy was. Many art historians originally thought it was a portrait of a younger Jonathan Buttall, the painting’s first owner. “There is no documentary evidence to support that,” explains McCurdy.

Susan Sloman, a London-based art historian, thinks she might have unraveled the mystery. “She proposes that the model for The Blue Boy is Gainsborough Dupont, Thomas Gainsborough’s nephew, who lived with the artist’s family and later served as his uncle’s studio assistant,” she says. This young, readily available model could have been in the right place at the right time — never imagining that his likeness would live on forever the world over.

Originally titled A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, the painting received high acclaim from fellow artists when it first appeared in public in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770. Somewhere along the line, its nickname, The Blue Boy, seemed more appropriate and became its official name. Fame grew for The Blue Boy; for years, the painting traveled around Great Britain, endearing itself to the masses, and public outcry in Britain was loud when Henry Huntington (an American!) acquired the British treasure. Huntington wanted to show off his prize and enlisted art dealer Joseph Duveen to stage an international publicity blitz around the painting’s journey from London to Los Angeles. It was briefly put on display at the National Gallery of Art in London where it was viewed by 90,000 people. “They really hyped it up,” says McCurdy. “These limited engagement exhibitions and newspaper articles really transformed The Blue Boy into a well-known and recognizable icon of the times.” 

It wasn’t until the late 1920s that The Blue Boy was introduced to another icon-to-be, one that would be forever visually associated with the Gainsborough masterpiece. In 1926, Huntington purchased Pinkie (1794) painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. The young girl dramatically posing on a high cliff, a breeze jostling her dress and pink hat ribbons, became The Blue Boy’s eternal partner on the Huntington Art Gallery’s walls and in our culture’s collective consciousness. A bit of irony: There is neither historical nor costume connection between them. No matter; they have been the Huntington’s power couple for decades, a visitor favorite and tourist must-see.

But for now, guests will have to wait for their reunion as The Blue Boy’s imperfections and cracks vanish, his colors are revitalized and the magic of conservation is complete — a signal that the young man in his glistening smooth blue costume is ready to resume his rightful place on gallery walls.

Christina O’Connell, senior painting conservator, works in public view Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 to 4 p.m.; she also appears the first Sunday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. through January. Visit the website for details about the second in-gallery session next year. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Visit

The diminutive but powerful Supreme Court justice is the subject of an unusual exhibition at the Skirball.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second woman on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, when she was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, but the octogenarian justice is the first justice to become a cross-generational cultural phenomenon.

To wit: Ginsburg is the first to be the subject of runaway viral social media memes, a bestselling book, a tribute rap song, an action figure, tattoo art, manicurist-nail art, cartoons, Halloween costumes, coloring books, a children’s book, a fitness workout book and a wildly popular recurring Saturday Night Live parody by Kate McKinnon. Like other justices, she is also the subject of a recently released documentary and a forthcoming feature film. Ginsburg’s fierce dissents to Supreme Court rulings have even been set to music as part of musician Jonathon Mann’s 2014 “Song a Day” project.

So itonly seems right that in Ginsburg’s 25th year on the nation’s highest court and the so-called Year of the Woman (a nod to the wave of women running in the midterm elections), that an exhibition about her trail-blazing life opens Oct. 19 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The exhibition, which runs through March 10, 2019, is based on the 2015 New York Times bestselling book and popular Tumblr blog of the same name, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (HarperCollins; 2015), co-authored by journalist Irin Carmon and lawyer Shana Knizhnik. Using archival photographs and documents, audio and video recordings, contemporary art and interactive elements, the show looks at the American legal system and civil rights movement through Ginsburg’s personal experiences and public service. It was organized by Cate Thurston, Skirball museum associate curator, and the book’s co-authors.

“I thought [Notorious RBG] would be perfect” for a museum exhibition, said Thurston. “It has a strong narrative and a point of view and it speaks to a moment in time. But you want it to be something people can relate to. That felt very true of Notorious RBG.”

The RBG cultural phenom grew, in part, out of Knizhnik’s hit Tumblr tribute dubbed “Notorious RBG” The blog was sparked by Knizhnik’s fury at the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder). Inspired by Ginsburg’s searing dissent, Knizhnik, then a law student in New York, launched the Tumblr and coupled it with T-shirts. She took the name Notorious RBG from a friend’s Facebook post about the dissent, and her friends and colleagues later joined in, writing lyrics about Ginsburg that played off the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s rap song “Juicy”; they made a rap video tribute and posted it on YouTube, according to a 2014 New Republic story. Meanwhile, digital strategists Frank Chi and Aminatou Sow, who were in Washington, D.C., at the time of the ruling, were also inspired by Ginsburg’s raging dissent. Chi took a photo of Ginsburg and added a red background and a crown, jauntily clocked to one side, in artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s style; they added the words “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth,” printed stickers and posted them all over Washington and on Instagram. The now ubiquitous image grew into a meme, and the flurry of digital mashups was like a match to gasoline — it became an explosive Internet hit. The book would come later

“The name [Notorious RBG] is obviously a reference to Notorious B.I.G., who is this large imposing rapper, a really powerful figure; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is this 90-pound Jewish grandmother,” Knizhnik told The New Republic. “The juxtaposition of the two made it humorous, but also a celebration of how powerful she really is.”

Connecting the reserved, diminutive justice to the late 300-pound rapper is a playful thread that runs throughout the book in chapter titles inspired by the late rapper’s lyrics. The exhibit mirrors the flow and content of the book — lyrics also inform the show’s section titles.  The opera-loving, lace-glove-wearing Ginsburg is probably not exactly a rap fan, but she said, gamely, in a 2017 Charlie Rose Show interview, that linking her to the late rapper was “natural,” since both were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

When the Skirball approached the co-authors about building an exhibit around RBG and the book, they were thrilled. “We hope that Notorious RBG, whether it is the book or the exhibit, provides an entry point for everyone to engage with the court, the history of women and civil rights in this country, and RBG’s inspiring story,” co-author Carmon said in an email. “There’s so much about Justice Ginsburg’s life and work that all of us can learn from, whether it’s her passion for women’s rights or her commitment to the rule of law.”

While American feminists were loudly protesting in the ’70s, Ginsburg was quietly and methodically turning words into action by arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She made life-changing gains for women, winning five out of six cases by expanding the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to include women. The rulings struck down laws allowing job discrimination for pregnant women, permitting the forced sterilization of black women and making women’s jury service optional, which led to unbalanced juries. Ginsburg also argued so-called “widower cases” to secure Social Security survivor’s benefits for men, ultimately winning two cases in 1975 and 1977. And as a justice, her fierce dissent in a 2007 case about gender pay discrimination led Congress to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed in 2009.

Thurston, who spent 18 months working on the exhibit, examined Ginsburg’s papers at the Library of Congress and was able to obtain archival objects and several reproductions as well as loans of originals from 13 other collections. The exhibit’s sections include “an imagined, immersive environment” that recreates Ginsburg’s childhood Brooklyn apartment replete with vintage Nancy Drew books (Ginsburg’s childhood favorites), along with a scrapbook of childhood memories that visitors can leaf through, said Thurston. A recreated “hyper-real” living room of Ginsburg’s first home is decked with objects that visitors can touch and feel. “We were conscious of telling an accurate story, but there are moments where we can’t tell everything” because details have dimmed over the years, said Thurston. “In those moments, we have built in an experience around it. So when details are vague, we can be playful and fill it in.”

There is a partial recreation of a gray Chevrolet that the young Ruth Bader and the late Martin Ginsburg, Ruth’s husband of 63 years, drove on their first date. When visitors pull down the car sun visors in the reimagined 1930s/40s–style Chevrolet, a photograph of the couple at their engagement party is revealed. Visitors can also watch a video of RBG’s college graduation and honeymoon as they imagine riding along with Marty and Ruth.

The childhood section is juxtaposed against an area dedicated to Ginsburg’s serious law school studies, first at Harvard University, and then at Columbia University where she transferred when Marty Ginsburg, by then her husband, landed his first job as a tax attorney in New York City. The exhibit also explores her undergrad days at Cornell University where she met Marty, fell in love and received her bachelor’s degree.

“We have 10 audio-listening stations where you are able to actually hear her when she was presenting oral arguments for one of the five sex discrimination cases to the Supreme Court, taken from the actual moment,” said Thurston, adding that Ginsburg argued these cases for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which she cofounded in 1972. The audio is taken from the landmark Fronteiro v. Richardson case of 1973, the first time Ginsburg spoke before the Supreme Court. She was so nervous that she skipped lunch for fear she would vomit. She won. The court ruled that families of military women were entitled to the same benefits as those of their male counterparts.

The exhibit also includes video of Ginsburg reflecting on her important cases. “As much as possible we are dropping you into that moment in time,” Thurston said. “You hear her examining these important cases in her life. These sections of the exhibit are very concise. You see what the case was, the outcome and what was at stake and how it impacts people. ”

It is these engaging elements that make the exhibit “so magical” and important, achieving the organizers’ goal to “crystallize” Ginsburg’s important cases, said Thurston. Visitors can also sit at a facsimile of Ginsburg’s desk in the Supreme Court chambers. When the drawer opens, a video of her working is revealed. Several of her majority and dissent jabots (she coordinates fancy collars with decisions) are on loan and will be available for visitors to try on.

Though the exhibit is faithful to the book, it also delves more deeply into certain aspects of her career, such as the profound influence of the underrated and overlooked Pauli Murray, a lawyer, civil rights activist and founding member of the National Organization of Women (NOW). Murray originated the strategy of harnessing the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to include women as grounds for litigating sex discrimination cases. Murray’s work informed Ginsburg’s legal efforts with ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “We had the space so were able to do a deep dive into Murray’s story,” said Thurston. “She was an incredible woman.”

The show’s organizers say Ginsburg’s life and work is particularly relevant as the country continues battling over women’s reproductive autonomy, as well as voting and civil rights. Indeed, the 85-year-old justice has vowed publicly to stay on the bench as long as possible. “As long as I can do the job full steam, I will do it,” Ginsburg told supporters at a 2017 Equal Justice Works event. She told a CNN interviewer that Justice John Paul Stevens served until he was 90, and she thinks she can serve five more years. A two-time cancer survivor, she works out with a personal trainer twice a week, a regimen reportedly too rigorous for some of her younger associate justices. RBG fans joke about sending her bushels of kale and longevity tonics to keep her on the court as long as possible.

That’s good news to admirers like former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, whom The Hill quoted, saying: “She is an extraordinarily able, talented person. She remains so to this day…I have to say she is someone I have the hugest respect for. She is a hero in this country.”

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg runs Oct. 19 through March 10, 2019, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.  Coauthors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik will discuss the book and blog at 11 a.m. Oct. 21; attendees can sip coffee and sample pastry prepared from a recipe in Chef Supreme, a collection published by Supreme Court spouses in 2011 in memory of Marty Ginsburg, who did all the cooking in the Ginsburg household. Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission costs $12, $9 for seniors, students and children over 12 and $7 for children 2 to 12; members and children under 2 are admitted free. Visit

Mahogany Bay Village is a recent addition to Belize’s blooming tourism industry.

Belize was pretty much just a speck on the tourism radar before the millennium, but its Caribbean charms are finally attracting hospitality development. And now the former British colony may be at the ideal tipping point for luxury tourism — Belize just began offering four-star comfort fairly recently, but, far from being overrun with tourists, it retains its authentic Mayan flavor. indeed, tripadvisor declared San Pedro its No. 1 destination in Central America for 2016. (more on San Pedro later.)
During a recent visit, I was surprised to learn something scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts already know – the Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s second largest after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The 190-mile section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, home to 500 species of fish and 65 of stony corals, was praised by Charles Darwin as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in 1842. It still is, thanks to the government’s dedication to sustainable tourism, requiring divers to swim to the reef from boats anchored a short but protective distance away.
The most popular launching pad to the reef is Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, although at 25 miles long by 1 mile wide, you can still wrap your arms around it. You can reach the island 35 miles off the mainland by puddle jumper in a snappy (but occasionally unnerving) 15 minutes. Madonna literally sang its praises in her 1987 song, “La Isla Bonita” (“The Beautiful Island”), a common nickname. The caye’s largest town is historic San Pedro, still casual enough that most people there travel by golf cart, not car (another ecologically cool plus). And these days, new hotel and condo construction is dotting the area. Not surprisingly, the country’s stayover tourist arrivals in the first six months of 2018 jumped 17.1 percent over the same period the year before, according to the Belize Tourism Board.
Such numbers are music to the ears of savvy American entrepreneur Beth Clifford. A veteran real-estate developer, Clifford saw Belize’s potential around the millennium (before San Pedro’s streets were even paved), when she started working on Mahogany Bay Village ( — her first hotel project and Belize’s first global luxury-branded resort, affiliated with Hilton Worldwide’s Curio Collection — by compiling land parcels at the southern tip of San Pedro to form a 60-acre reserve. Despite the Hilton brand, Mahogany Bay, which officially opened in December, doesn’t have the corporate ambience you might expect — it’s really all about the personal touch of the owner/CEO, who frequently logs 12 hours keeping the place up to four-star snuff.
Eco-friendly Mahogany Bay Village is the country’s largest resort with a 207-key hotel featuring cottage- and villa-style accommodations, 150 private residences for investors who can include them in the resort’s rental pool (with more under construction), a marina, a beach club, a wellness center, shops and restaurants. Yet it feels like, well, a small village, with airy cottages from studios to five bedrooms evoking the country’s colonial past, when it was British Honduras. (With English as the official language and more competitive pricing than longer-established tourist destinations, Belize is also attracting retirees.) Gifford clad the property in tasteful rustic chic, with Belizean hardwoods, full-length porches and atmospheric wood ceiling fans (in addition to air-conditioning).
Definitely visit the resort’s fine restaurants, particularly Jyoto Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar and the Verandah, with its haute take on Caribbean cuisine. But no trip abroad would be complete without sampling some authentic local food, yes? No problem in San Pedro. Its 75 restaurants are just a short golf cart ride away. Try Elvi’s Kitchen (, where I enjoyed creamy Belizean seré, with shrimp, green plantains, onions and coconut milk.

Can giving bring you better health, more joy and a longer life? Pasadena psychologist Annette Ermshar says yes, it can.

We all know two kinds of people: those who give and those who don’t. People we’d turn to in times of emotional or financial crisis, and those we’d avoid because they always seem too focused on themselves. Of course, we’d probably never think to categorize our friends and family that way, but mental health professionals have found such classifications to be a rewarding subject of study. Pasadena resident Annette Ermshar is one of those pros. A clinical psychologist with a private practice in San Marino, Ermshar has a Ph.D. in clinical and neuropsychology and a post-doctoral master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology; she’s also a board-certified diplomate in forensic psychology, which is the intersection of law and mental health.
At 45, Ermshar has already seen the best and the worst sides of human nature. She now spends most of her time in private practice with “regular” clients who seek help and healing for challenges that affect their work and personal lives, but she also spent 16 years on staff at San Bernadino’s maximum-security Patton State Hospital, which treats mentally disordered, violent and insane individuals who’ve been remanded there by the courts. She is a mental health assessment expert for both state and federal courts and is on staff at Las Encinas mental health hospital in Pasadena.
We talked with Ermshar for this philanthropy issue because she’s also an expert on the subject of giving and its effects on mental and physical health. She has written and delivered talks on the subject, and is quite a giver herself. She says she has volunteered “countless hours” of her time for various nonprofits (the list is too long to print here) and she and her husband of nine years, Dan Monahan, have given financial support to organizations that promote the arts as well as the welfare of adults and children in need. Ermshar is chairman of the board of directors for Adventist Health Glendale Foundation, board vice president for the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, board vice-chair of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a board member of The Music Center’s Blue Ribbon. She was formerly on the Seaver Board of Visitors of Pepperdine University (where she received her B.A. in 2000) for over a decade.
Ermshar grew up in La Caňada Flintridge and earned her Ph.D. from Loma Linda University (which is both of her parents’ alma mater) and her postdoctoral master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology from Alliant International University. We asked her to talk about what givers get from giving.

Many associate the word “philanthropy” with rich people who donate large sums of money, but the word actually comes from the ancient Greek and simply means kindliness, benevolence and a love of humanity. I notice you don’t much use the word philanthropy in your talks but seem to prefer the word generosity, and you always link it to the benefits that accrue to those who give rather than to those who receive.
Yes, in my talks, I describe the physical and mental health benefits of generosity. If you look at the subject of giving as a whole, when we give of ourselves — whether it’s our time, our energy or our money — we are certainly benefitting others but we are also receiving a significant benefit to ourselves. There’s a wealth of research that shows that altruism and generosity have immense benefits to the giver. In general, the act of giving promotes mental and physical health, promotes positive brain changes that are associated with happiness, reduces our stress levels and even helps us live longer. There are scientific studies showing all of those things.

So generosity and altruism can mean any kind of giving, whether it’s emotional or financial support, or time donated volunteering — anything that is of benefit to others rather than to oneself?

You’ve said that spending money on others actually produces a greater level of happiness than spending it on yourself. That’s surprising.
Yes, there’s some really great science on that. Let me give you just one example: Researchers reviewed fMRIs [functional magnetic resonance images, which measure and map brain activity] and they found that the same reward system activated in the brain with someone who received money is also activated in the brain of those who give money to others. That means the brain and the body experience positive benefits from choosing altruism over personal or selfish interests. Ultimately the giver experiences greater happiness by giving to others rather than by giving to themselves.

You say that giving benefits physical health and reduces stress. Can you explain a bit more?
That’s right. Emotions related to altruism help to stabilize the immune system and help to fight against the immune-suppressing effects of stress. On the contrary, shame and selfishness are linked to higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is the body’s main stress hormone. Acts of altruism also reduce pain by stimulating the brain to release “the happy hormones,” or endorphins, which are natural painkillers.

You’ve referred to studies that suggest those who give or volunteer can experience what’s called a “helper’s high” along with other significant benefits. Can you elaborate?
Yes, so among retirees, for example, researchers found that those who volunteer score significantly higher in life satisfaction and the will to live, compared to those that did not volunteer. Likewise, researchers reported fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and somatization [medical symptoms with no discernable cause] among individuals who volunteered. Altruism is often linked to deeper and more positive social integration, distraction from personal problems and distraction from anxiety. Giving has been shown to lend enhanced meaning and purpose in life and a sense of well-being.

Do the same health and happiness benefits accrue to those who support only close family members and close friends as opposed to those who support strangers and causes unrelated to them?
I think research would show that any time one is giving support to others, benefits accrue to the giver. Research shows that those who give social support to others have greater life expectancy and those others can be family or anyone else. I’ve seen research with the elderly who were taking over the role of parenting because their adult child either worked or had some kind of illness or addiction. This kind of parenting or grandparenting among the elderly resulted in very positive physical and mental health benefits to them. And as far as volunteering outside the family, a UC Berkeley study found that elderly people who volunteer for two or more organizations are 44 percent more likely to live longer than others who do not. So volunteering among the elderly is associated with lower risk of mortality, for sure. There’s also a great Duke University study of individuals with post-coronary artery disease. Those individuals who volunteered after their heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression, which are two factors linked to increased mortality in this type of patient.

Do altruism and generosity depend on empathy?
I think they all go hand in hand: Altruism, empathy, generosity, compassion, those all work in harmony, they’re all sort of a similar construct. But you could have empathy and compassion, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you are giving. To be giving requires a step beyond all those traits, where you are actually taking action.

But in order to want to give, doesn’t one need to experience empathy and compassion?
Yes, that’s true.

A university study done recently found that three out of four students showed 50 percent less empathy than 30 years ago, and that the emergence of social media in the early 2000s helped to greatly accelerate that trend. Researchers said that texting instead of talking one-on-one eliminates the emotional connection, and that leads to lack of empathy. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed a drop in volunteerism among younger adults.
I’m not sure about the data you’re referring to because what’s very interesting to me is that there are a lot of millennials very interested in larger social causes and social justice, and I think that is a form of giving to others. Maybe not on an individual scale, but on a larger scale. And there’s a new trend of the millennial generation joining boards, with major corporations including 20somethings on their boards of directors. Heretofore this never really existed. For example, the hospital where I’m chairman of the board — we have someone on the board of directors who is in her 20s. This is just so wonderful because she has a great perspective and energy and has a donor demographic that is really important to include for any organization.

How did you get so involved with philanthropy and its effects on givers? You seem to have turned it into a kind of second vocation.
There are a few reasons. First, I was raised in a family that was very philanthropic and generous with their time and money, so it was a value I received from my parents. Second, because I do a lot of philanthropy, I wanted to better appreciate the effects it has on me. Third, I’m in the business of treating individuals for their mental health, inspiring in them hope and healing. It is really clear to me that generosity and giving is very beneficial to one’s mental health, which is what I’m in the business of doing. I’m constantly encouraging my clients to volunteer and engage in various forms of generosity.
When there’s a demonstrable reduction in despair and depression and a greater sense of purpose in life, you know, that’s music to my ears because that’s the whole dedication of my career.

Marguerite Marsh’s Life of Service

On an early August morning when many of us were barely holding it together in the stultifying heat, Marguerite Marsh was fielding telephone calls, consulting with her personal assistant and planning a visit to the nonprofit she cofounded. She was dolled up in hot pink leggings, a bright aqua tunic dotted with pink flowers, plus matching sandals and eye shadow. She topped the look with coordinated gold link jewelry.
The 91-year-old Marsh is known for her charisma and empathy. “She’s a light like no other when she enters a room,” says Suzanne Gilman, who has served with Marsh as board members/supporters of Cancer Support Community Pasadena and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. “She is always impeccably dressed, beautifully coiffed; her style tends to be a little bit flamboyant, a little bit spicy,” she says, adding that Marsh is “the only person I know who could actually pull off wearing a feather boa.”
Marsh’s vibrant personality, zest for life and deep commitment to philanthropy has earned her many admirers. She’s a model of how much one person can accomplish and contribute. “I have a very curious mind,” says Marsh, a former therapist with a Ph.D. in psychology. “I love to keep learning and doing and helping.” She says she adores fashion, and if her outfits “can bring joy to other people, that makes me happy too.”
Marsh, in fact, used to make all her own clothes and belongs to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Costume Council. This is how a chat with Marsh goes: Ask about her interest in music and you’ll discover she’s an accomplished singer (mezzo alto) who soloed with regional orchestras and even sang opera professionally in restaurants. Inquire about hobbies and you’ll learn she’s a pilot, equestrian, tennis player, skier and, most of all, fervent volunteer.
Marsh’s peripatetic interests stem from what Bettina Luttrell identifies as her “insatiable curiosity.” Luttrell is a Maryland-based painter and gallery owner who has known Marsh since fourth grade. “She’s a very sensitive, caring person. And she’s very generous.”
Marsh’s devotion to good works is rooted in her Seventh-day Adventist upbringing. Her father was a minister and missionary; her mother, a teacher. She was born in Shanghai in 1927, relocated to London and then grew up primarily in Takoma Park, Maryland, near the Adventists’ world headquarters. Her family followed the Adventist lifestyle, which included a nearly vegetarian diet, exercise and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. And they observed the Sabbath on Saturdays. “I never felt deprived,” she says. “I feel very fortunate. My parents were very practical Middle Westerners.”
Just prior to her high school graduation, Marsh’s father took on fundraising for the new Adventist medical school in Loma Linda, so the family moved west. She’d sung in church choir since adolescence and chose to study music at La Sierra University in Riverside. (Marsh has endowed a scholarship for singers at this Adventist college.) “My father wanted me to be a doctor. My mother wanted me to get married and do the music,” she says. If you count the doctor of philosophy, she did both.
Marguerite may not have become a medical doctor, but she married one. She met Robert L. Marsh because their parents were college classmates. They married when she was 21. Robert, a surgeon, graduated from Loma Linda in 1943, served in the Air Force in World War II and practiced medicine in Glendale for 37 years. He was also a singer (tenor), and the two enjoyed performing together at social events.
Marguerite Marsh went on to study voice at USC and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. She sang in her church choir and was hired to solo with the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. “Now I was singing on Sunday as well as Saturday,” she recalled in a 2005 speech to students at La Sierra, “and finding those we used to call ‘outsiders’ were really kind and appreciative people.” She was invited to join the Glendale Symphony board, which led to her joining a slew of cultural and civic institutions, including the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Master Chorale board, the L.A. Music Center Blue Ribbon (a women’s support group founded by Dorothy Chandler), the Adventist Health Glendale Foundation board and the Opera League of L.A.
Then a young mother, she continued to perform, raise her two children — Christopher and Victoria — and volunteer through her church and at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. The Marshes enjoyed traveling and visited some 90 countries. Six trips included “medical missions” for which they volunteered in hospitals and medical clinics in the developing world, including Africa, the South Pacific, Asia and South America. This is among the work Marsh is most proud of. “It was not easy, but unforgettable. I always felt I got more in return than I gave,” she says. It prompted her to enroll in anthropology classes at Glendale Community College. “I realized I needed to know more about the tribes we were working with,” she explains.
Around her 39th birthday, her kids nearly grown, Marsh reevaluated her life. At dinner one night, she turned to Robert and said, “I want to find out who I am.” He was confused. So she explained: “I have been my parents’ daughter, I am also your wife. I am my children’s mother…but who is Marguerite?”
Marsh had started keeping a list of goals when she was 22. “I just wrote down some of the things I wanted to do,” she says. “The list became a powerful tool.” She would file it away but pull it out regularly to see if she was on track. On her list: “flying” and “psychology.” She told Robert she wanted to learn to pilot small planes and study psychology. She said, “I may shock you now when I say that I really want to learn how to dance.” (Traditionally, Adventists viewed dancing as a “worldly amusement” that should be shunned.) To his credit, Robert, also an Adventist, supported her through it all.
Marsh enrolled in a master’s program in marriage and family counseling at Phillips Graduate University in Encino. In 1979, she set up a practice in her husband’s medical office, as well as at her church. At the church, she led seminars, teen groups and women’s groups. She earned her doctorate from Kensington University, a now-defunct correspondence school. For her dissertation, she compared private and church counseling programs.
After 24 years in Glendale, the Marshes moved to La Caňada Flintridge, where she lived for more than two decades until they downsized to a condominium in Pasadena. In the late 1980s, an acquaintance pressed Marsh to do something to support the psychological needs of cancer patients. So she observed therapists at Santa Monica’s The Wellness Community (now the Cancer Support Community Los Angeles), a support group for survivors and their families, and decided to start a chapter in Pasadena. With the help of three others, in 1990, she launched the highly successful Wellness Community–Foothills. Known today as Cancer Support Community Pasadena, this chapter has served over 24,000 people with groups and workshops run by specially trained mental-health professionals.
Raising the funds to launch the nonprofit was a major undertaking — one that deployed many of Marsh’s talents. “She’s a tremendous influencer,” says Gilman. “And there’s definitely a steel structure underneath that beautifully dressed, charming woman.” Despite her abundant energy and varied interests, Marsh is focused and organized. Gilman says she “very carefully selects how she wants to serve and remains loyal to serving that group.”
Marsh is still devoted to the Music Center and the L.A. Master Chorale, especially their outreach programs for children. “I feel that if you have children who get interested in music, they have a whole different take on life,” she says. “They rarely get into trouble if they get into music.”
The last four years have been hard ones for Marsh: first her husband and then her daughter passed away. Yet she finds joy in her grand- and great-granddaughters and believes that her involvement in the arts has eased the pain. Encouragement from friends at Cancer Support Community Pasadena has also helped. “I think we’re all here for a reason,” she says, “and if I can make the world a little better, then I’m really happy.”

Longtime Pasadena philanthropists Bill and Judy Opel share fundraising tips and insights into the past, present and future of charitable giving.

sk Bill and Judy Opel about what they think is the most effective fundraising technique in these days of customizable analytics, sophisticated online tracking programs and upscale black-tie charity events. Scratch ’em all, they say. Just put on the coffee pot.
“Sitting down with someone personally and sharing a cup of coffee can be one of the most effective fundraising events and you don’t have to spend much money,” says Bill, a lifelong Pasadena resident with a career that spans more than five decades in both medical research and executive nonprofit administration. “Just sit and have coffee and talk. Maybe follow that up with a phone call and stay in touch.” That personalized, no-frills attention can make all the difference in landing a big donor or, on the flip side, finding an organization that will make you, a potential benefactor, feel proud to support it, says Bill.
Bill and wife Judy have witnessed how the landscape of charitable giving (financial donations and volunteering) has evolved over the years. Bill has seen philanthropy as both grant-maker and grant-taker, having served at Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) for 53 years as president/CEO (and previously, executive director) in addition to his first 10 years as a lab researcher.
Back in 1982, Bill was instrumental in unifying the Pasadena Foundation for Medical Research (PFMR) with the Huntington Institutes of Applied Medical Research to create HMRI. During his tenure, Bill oversaw donations of tens of millions of dollars to fund research. He recently retired from HMRI and is currently active in several local nonprofits.
Likewise, Judy, in addition to being a teacher, has been active in charitable endeavors for decades, and because of her social networking is fondly known as “the first lady” of HMRI. She also served as president of the Altadena Guild of Huntington Memorial Hospital and volunteered regularly there. She was instrumental in fundraising for the L.A. County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, chairing the annual Baldwin Bonanza plant sale in 1976. Today, she still gets her hands dirty with The Arboretum’s Compulsive Gardeners group.
Perhaps the biggest change the Opels have observed in philanthropy over the years is in its sheer scale — how big and international it has become, with organizations raising money 24/7. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofits are registered in the U.S. and there are millions more worldwide.
Giving USA reports that for the first time ever, charitable giving exceeded $400 billion in 2017, relecting an impressive $14.27 billion increase in individual giving (topping $286 billion) along with substantial gains in bequests and donations by foundations and corporations.
Gone are the days when Judy would enlist surgeons’ wives to cook casseroles for a casual sit-down dinner with potential donors at a medical researcher’s house. “It was all pretty amateur by today’s standards,” says Bill. “We didn’t have an event coordinator or use a caterer, and we didn’t have a high-priced development director,” adds Judy, noting how the professionalization of fundraising has elevated the causal event into a highly curated experience.
Indeed, directed by well-compensated development executives, today’s nonprofits are vying for donor dollars by reaching across many platforms to advertise their differences from other organizations. But the multitude of choices can be daunting for donors — it’s now a bigger challenge to decide what and where to contribute.
An informative website is a good first step, says Bill (“I always look at the scientific publications and reports they have done”), stressing that numbers can be deceiving, especially client numbers. “The fact that you cared for or served so many is just a head count — that’s pretty objective,” he says. “Everyone can tell you that they are doing great stuff, but where is the evidence? Where’s the meat?”
The Opels appreciate how some unbiased websites, like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, rate nonprofits but say that potential donors still need to dig deeper to find out how truly effective an organization is. “With a lot of charities, you go to a social event and often don’t see the people they are helping,” says Bill. “The events I really love are when there is an open house and you can see the faces and hear personal stories.”
Consider community colleges, continues Bill, where many incoming students arrive academically struggling but leave renewed. “The fact that your school turned them into accomplished learners who can achieve is more impressive than a high-end selective university that already gets great kids enrolling,” explains Bill.
Some entities are more transparent than others. Support the Pasadena Symphony or the Sierra Madre Playhouse, and it will be easy to see where your money is going — it’s right there on the stage. But other causes’ activities can be more opaque. Explaining HMRI’s complicated science and research needs to benefactors was a challenge for Bill, who learned early the benefits of telling a human story.
In the 1960s, Bill was a cell biologist working in the El Molino Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PMRI) facility, one of the first research centers to grow human cell and tissue cultures to study cancers. Researchers received small and directed National Institutes of Health grants. “The main discretionary money we got was from grateful patients,” he says, launching into the story of a life insurance salesman stricken with neck and jaw cancer from smoking cigars. Using radiation techniques developed at PFMR, the man recovered and, despite losing half a tongue, was as loquacious as ever and able to continue his high-pressure career. He became a big donor to the lab.
Examine an organization’s newsletters and publications, question other donors and research what that nonprofit has done to “move the needle,” says Bill. “My objective at HMRI was to make meaningful improvements in how medicine is practiced. I can show you how that improved every year.”
Above all, long-lasting nonprofits have to communicate a message that addresses the brain and the heart: “Will my money be well spent?” and “Is this donation the right thing to do?”

Baby Boomers Passing On Wealth
Pressure on the giving community will be compounded in the coming years, when Baby Boomers pass on their inheritance to their children. “It will be the biggest transference of wealth in the nation’s history,” says Bill. A new generation can change the direction of charitable giving, especially when it comes to assuming leadership of family foundations. New generations may have completely different interests from the relative who started the charity decades ago. “It’s not a given that the kids will continue down the path,” says Bill, who sees current social issues such as homelessness and mental health getting more play in the philanthropic spotlight.
Volunteering has also evolved. In the early 1960s, charitable women’s clubs were the main social outlet for many stay-at-home wives/moms. Judy recalls daylong club meetings that often involved lunch, card games and socializing. Today’s volunteers want a more active engagement with the people they help, she says. “My daughter started doing volunteer work in high school, and said, ‘I don’t want to do those social things,’” she says. “In law school she volunteered for a group that delivered meals to AIDS patients. She wanted her volunteering to be directly meaningful.”
While many old-school clubs have faded away, some — like the Altadena Guild — have stayed relevant. Judy credits forward-thinking leadership that re-prioritized to attract working women by changing meeting hours and providing more opportunities for hands-on volunteering.
Even philanthropic products have changed over the decades. You used to send in a check and get a little memorial gift — a card or your name in the newsletter. Now donors can choose from a myriad of ways to financially support an organization, through planned giving, family foundations or a trust gift annuity, to name just a few.
Endowments have also changed the landscape for nonprofits. “HMRI didn’t have an endowment when it was started and by the time I left, there was $40 million in the endowment reserve fund,” says Bill. Today many large medical organizations, including hospitals, have solid endowments (in the past, they didn’t need to compete for dollars to fill funding gaps then covered by operating revenue and government grants).
On a smaller scale, the Opels are creating their own endowment legacy. Bill and Judy launched one of 117 unrestricted endowment family funds managed by the Pasadena Community Foundation (PCF), an entity that also has also seen dramatic philanthropic changes in the last five decades. “When I arrived 15 years ago, the PCF had $16 in assets. Today, we have $80 million,” says President and CEO Jennifer DeVoll, adding that PCF started with 40 to 55 funds. Today it has 350.
While community foundations that pool funds have been around for 100 years, DeVoll says there has been an upsurge of interest and participation, especially in unrestricted endowments that rely on careful management to assist worthy local start-ups and businesses. The Opels are happy their fund can support organizations for today’s needs, as well as for groups and causes yet to emerge. “After we have passed away, our fund can still be making donations in our name,” says Judy.
While old-school philanthropy may seem quaint by today’s standards, the Opels think that people working together for a common cause fuels giving. In the 1950s, the genesis of the PFMR took place at a Pasadena cocktail party where friends were commiserating about the loss of a buddy from cancer. “Let’s do something about it!” they said between martinis. Then someone mentioned a guy they knew doing research — and the rest is history.
“It was formed because there was a group of people that wanted to address a problem,” says Bill. “You and your friends could be regulars at the 35er [Bar in Pasadena], and what if your bartender got sick? You would all work together to do something about it, to help that person you cared about. You’re mobilizing for a cause, for a noble purpose. The cocktail party is only the beginning.”

Don’t look to New York for tips on finding SoCal serenity. We’ve got your tips right here. By Leslie Bilderback

Arecent New York Times travel section article about finding quiet spaces of refuge in Los Angeles, away from the “gridlock and glamour,” drew a lot of scorn from Angelenos, and rightly so. In addition to sounding like an eighth-grader wrote it, full of clichés and generalizations, the story showed zero understanding of the area. When it appeared online early in the week, there was a flood of complaints. But the article was published in the paper the following Sunday anyway, only slightly edited. I was shocked that, after all the hubbub, it still found its way onto my driveway. The following week the paper printed an apology, but it was halfhearted, and less than sincere. In essence, their excuse was, “writing is hard guys, so give us a break.”
The problem with articles about L.A. written by outsiders is that they know not of which they speak. The rest of the world might think Los Angeles is miserable and phony, but we know better. (Just let them think that, and maybe they’ll keep their distance.) It may come as a shock to you, but Los Angeles is not beloved by the rest of the country. I know, because I was raised in the Bay Area, where we are taught to loathe L.A. at a very early age. (Angelenos have no idea this is happening.) When I moved here, I got condolence letters, and I still have friends who refuse to visit on principle. It took me a while to shed that brainwashing. Years. But now I love and appreciate this part of California. I love the history, the region and the tolerance. Given the state of our nation, I’m feeling fairly smug that I live here, in what is a relative bubble of tolerance.
The author of the L.A. piece, a well-regarded novelist and frequent contributor to The New York Times travel section, writes in a distinctive, flowery style. It’s not my cup of tea, but it is obviously someone’s because he is, as mentioned, a well-regarded novelist. Much has already been written about this piece (most humorously by LAist) — its generalizations, its disregard of culture and its lack of understanding of our diverse city. So I won’t pile on. Instead, I want to offer up a list of actual places offering refuge in the Pasadena area.
The NYT article featured the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, which I’m sure you are already familiar with. But not everyone has 25 bucks to shell out for entry (or don’t not know about the free day on the first Thursday of the month). For a similar excursion, you could spend only $9 to visit the Los Angeles County Arboretum or Descanso Gardens (free days are on the third Thursday and third Tuesday, respectively). These are fine places and make great outings when you have out-of-town guests. But when it’s just me, I prefer the free options. Luckily, in our vicinity there are tons of public parks and open spaces to enjoy. Pack a picnic and head out to one of these spots for a respite from outsiders:

Because you are reading Arroyo Monthly, I will start with our namesake river. It flows from the San Gabriels to the Los Angeles River (the confluence is under the junction of the 110 and 5 Freeways), and you can walk almost the entire way. There is a network of paths with many spots to stop and picnic along the way. Sections in South Pasadena, Pasadena and Altadena are tended, but there are many wild, secluded spots to stop at and enjoy. (And they are not all adjacent to freeways!)
The River Garden Park (formerly Lawry’s California Center — 570 West Ave. 26, between Figueroa Street and San Fernando Road) has plenty of picnic spots and an exhibition hall celebrating the river’s history.
The Arroyo Woodland and Wildlife Nature Park in South Pasadena (Pasadena Avenue, north of the York Boulevard Bridge) is a relatively new addition to the riverfront. It has winding paths, with interpretive signs indicating native flora and fauna. From here you can take an easy trail along the golf course and soccer fields to the popular Upper Arroyo Park.
Extending from just south of the San Pascual Stables in South Pasadena to the Colorado Street Bridge, the Upper Arroyo Park has several well-loved trails with rich vegetation, thanks to a low-flow stream experiment from the 1990s. The park has a picnic area, casting pool, archery targets and the occasional art installation.
Follow the trail under the Colorado Street Bridge, past the Rose Bowl, and over the Devil’s Gate Dam to access the Hahamonga Watershed Park. (Or you can drive and park at North Windsor Avenue and Mountain View Street — exit 22B off the 210 Freeway). This large nature preserve is a favorite of foragers and Frisbee golfers. Here, in the shadow of JPL at the base of the foothills, are several picnic areas and many trails, including a three-mile loop.

The San Gabriels
Most of our region’s history began in these mountains. They were first occupied by the native Tongva (dubbed Gabrieleños by the Spanish). When Europeans arrived, the mountains provided lumber for the early valley settlements, which quickly evolved into a hotbed of prospecting and home to world-renowned resorts. There are dozens of places to escape civilization, and a drive up California State Route 2 will reveal many pullouts with trailheads and picnic spots. If you are a hiker, you can start in Pasadena and wind your way across the range, past the ruins of the Echo Mountain House, up the Mt. Lowe Railway track to the remains of the defunct Ye Alpine Tavern and Inspiration Point. Trails head out from here to Chantry Flat and the Mt. Wilson Observatory, both of which can also be accessed by car and have great picnic areas.
Millard Falls, at the base of the foothills, is an easy hike to a great waterfall (when it rains). The trailhead has a picnic area and campground. Take Chaney Trail off Loma Alta Drive 1.5 miles to the parking lot.
The Cobb Estate, at the top of Lake Avenue, is the trailhead for the Echo Mountain hike, but it is also the remains of what must have been a splendid mansion built with Charles Cobb’s lumber fortune. After Cobb’s death the property was deeded to the Freemasons, who sold it to a religious order; the Marx Brothers bought it in 1956. The surrounding land is rumored to be haunted, and there have been Bigfoot sightings. What more persuasion do you need?! There is no formal picnic area, but there are plenty of places to pull up a log.
Eaton Canyon has long been a favorite family hiking spot — partly because the trails are fairly flat, and there is a waterfall at the end of it (sometimes). Best of all, there is a super nature center, with stuffed raccoons and the like. It’s a lovely spot, and there is a huge picnic area at the trailhead. The nature center also offers night hikes from time to time.
Within the City of Pasadena there are parks galore. One of my favorite spots is Arlington Garden (275 Arlington Dr.), a beautiful three acres of water-wise serenity. There is plenty of seating hidden throughout, making it a perfect spot for a quick dose of peace and quiet.
All across the region you can find open spaces with trails, tended and not. In my neighborhood there’s a huge undeveloped spot called Elephant Hill, with spectacular views for the price of a trudge up a fire road. And just as close is Debs Park, with more great views, a lake, a picnic area, an Audubon center and plenty of trails.
In short, there are ample ways for residents to get away from the city’s hustle and commune with nature. So pack a lunch (or buy one — there is no shortage of places to pick up a lunch-to-go, if that’s how you roll), get out of your car and see this town from a new, natural perspective.


I love a great picnic. I love cooking it, packing it and watching the look on my companion’s face as the unknown meal is slowly revealed al fresco. Although my search for the perfect picnic food is ongoing, I tend to fall back on those that are tried and true. This recipe is based on one my mom made when I was growing up. I think it originally came from the Pillsbury Bake-Off. These pies were my absolute favorite. When I discovered them in the picnic basket or, on the most wondrous days, my lunchbox, all was right with the world.


3 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
1 small roasted red pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon minced sun-dried tomato
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried
Sea salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces of puff pastry, pie dough or
crescent-roll dough, rolled out into eight
rectangles, about 4-by-5-by-¼ inch
1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 350°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl mix together the cheese and chicken until well combined. Add the pepper, tomato, scallions, parsley, herbs, salt and pepper, and combine thoroughly.

2. Spoon a half-cup of chicken salad onto the center of each dough rectangle, fold pastry over and seal. Brush the tops with melted butter, then sprinkle each with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until dough is golden brown. Eat right away, or cool and refrigerate until your picnic.

Leslie Bilderback is a chef and cookbook author, a certified master baker and an art history instructor. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Can astronomers help save our planet? Pasadena’s Marja Seidel travels to Earth’s most remote spots, explaining our unique place in the universe to underserved children

“Right now, we are spinning at around 800,000 kilometers per hour around the center of our galaxy, and at around 100,000 kilometers per hour around the sun. And every day we follow our routines and forget how lucky we really are to be living on this unique planet.” That’s astronomer Marja Seidel introducing a short film about one of her recent expeditions to very remote areas of the globe, helping others to understand the uniqueness of our planet, its place in the universe and the need to preserve it.
Seidel, 29, has reached thousands of people on five continents with her unusual outreach missions, bringing knowledge of the universe to those who otherwise have no access to such information. A newly minted resident of Pasadena, she was born in Waltrop, Germany, received her bachelor’s degree in physics and earth and space sciences at Jacobs University in Bremen and in October, 2015, received her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias on Spain’s Canary Islands. Earlier this year she finished a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, where her research focused on the formation of galaxies and the influence of dark matter. Seidel has just signed on as a scientist with Caltech’s IPAC division, which partners with NASA, JPL and the worldwide research community to advance exploration of the universe and provide information-outreach programs for the public.
We spoke with Seidel for this family and education issue not because of her career per se, but because of her distinctive extracurricular accomplishments, spreading what she has called “visions of the cosmos” near and far. Last summer, while pursuing her postdoctoral research, she organized a project for underserved schoolchildren here in Pasadena, so they could learn about the Great American Eclipse and then observe it through glasses and telescopes she had donated for the occasion. “Even in a place like California, resources can be scarce,” she said. “Some schools might not even have funds for a science teacher in certain grades. Cooperating with the Pasadena United Schools District [PUSD], we identified five schools that had a focus on STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but were located in underprivileged areas. The idea was to provide them with telescopes, education material and workshops to fully take advantage of the eclipse with their students and to possibly continue astronomy education at their schools.”
On one recent global expedition, Seidel and an ecologist friend traveled for two months by horseback and paraglider to remote villages in Colombia’s Andes. In their backpacks they carried telescopes, binoculars, inflatable models of the solar system, Play-Doh and other crafts items to help inspire villagers, particularly children, with the joy of discovery. Joy seems to be a key component in her outreach missions, which combine a love of nature and adventure sports with a passion for science. The aim of the Colombia project, titled “Cielo y Tierra (Heaven and Earth),” was not to hold formal classes in astronomy or ecology, she says, but simply to lead entertaining experiments and exchanges that open people’s minds to all the wonders out there for them to discover. Seidel’s own joie de vivre is evidenced in the short film of this odyssey at, which shows the two women gliding above the clouds, trekking on horses through spectacular terrain and connecting with villagers who may have no access to technology, may never have seen a telescope or binoculars before and have certainly never encountered young women scientists gliding down from the sky to explain our unique planet and its relationship to the heavens.
From Seidel’s profile page on a couch-surfing website, we learned that in addition to paragliding and horseback riding, she climbs mountains and volcanos, surfs, hikes, scuba dives, skydives, has a pilot’s license, plays saxophone, has been in several bands, plays “a bit of guitar,” speaks five languages, has lived in five countries and has visited 30, which she lists alphabetically.
We first contacted Seidel while she was working with Carnegie Observatory’s telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert, then talked with her a few days later via Skype when she was visiting Germany.

You’ve written that even as a child, you knew you wanted to be an astronomer. Were your parents scientists, or how did that happen at such a young age?
My parents weren’t scientists. I think there were many triggers. It happened that at a very young age I experienced some comets, and then some other public observations, and so I started reading about astronomy at around 10 years. I actually started reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and I didn’t understand much because I was so young still, but I found it very fascinating. Where I lived in Waltrop is densely populated, so the skies are not very clear, but when we went to more remote places during the holidays I could see the stars. And the light from the stars is basically millions and millions of years old — you are looking into the past of the universe. This was all fascinating, and so I started going to youth astronomy camps at about 15. The first was in Germany, then some international astronomy youth camps in the Czech Republic, Poland and other places.

When did you realize that science outreach was necessary, and you wanted to visit remote places to share your knowledge?
I have always had a passion to share what I’m doing. In high school and as an undergraduate I already was involved in social outreach activities, reaching out to communities with very low resources. This kind of led me to know that there is a need, that there are many people in this world who do not have the same starting position and a lot of things need to be done [to assist them]. I think education is a key to making society evolve, and astronomy is a very powerful visual tool to get people interested in science. You have a telescope and just let people observe, and then ask questions. Not that they, in the end, have to study astronomy, but just to get them curious about science and know there is so much out there to discover.
So going to remote areas was a decision made after doing some research on where NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are going. I found there is a huge difference between urban and rural areas. There are not many organizations that go to remote and rural areas of developing countries. And in those areas, so many children still drop out of primary school because they are not encouraged to get an education. They’re told the only things they can do is to work in the fields or, in the worst case, go into drug trafficking. So that was something we wanted to address.

you’ve referred readers to Carl Sagan’s 1994 Pale Blue Dot book in some of your writing and talks. He says that astronomy is a humbling and character-building DIscipline that reminds us we are just this tiny planet spinning in one small galaxy among trillions of galaxies in a vast cosmos, and yet we’re the only place known so far to harbor life. Photographed from space, earth has no borders, no nationalities. We humans are all one species, and we have to take care of each other and of our planet or all hope is lost. You feel that’s relevant for today?
Yes, this is definitely my philosophy, and something that motivates me. I actually learned about Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot rather late, when I was already over 20, and I realized I had written down very similar thoughts. Astonomy offers a very different perspective on life here on earth. What we often do as an inquiry activity is build a solar system to scale…and we see how little the solar system is in our galaxy and how little our galaxy is compared to all the billions and billions of galaxies in the universe. This really gives a sense of scale and perspective and can lead to this feeling of global citizenship where you feel part of one humanity, which is on this little space ship called Earth. I definitely am convinced that if we do not start thinking that everyone on Earth is just one humanity, if we do not stop thinking about the differences between us, but about how similar we all actually are…and that from space, the earth is seen really without any physical borders…if we do not start thinking in that direction, then I don’t see that there’s a future for humanity.

Do you see much hope?
If we do start thinking that way, then yes. I think this is a very [assertive] step we must take as humans, to start thinking of us as one humanity. When I talk to businesspeople, I sometimes ask them: If you have a company and everyone works against each other in all the departments, does the company run well? No. So the departments all have to work together as one company. Well, the earth is like one company. We have to work together instead of against each other.

You visit these children in remote places, where they have so little formal education. I know you bring crafts and telescopes, but is it really possible to enlighten them about such complicated things as the solar system and our place in the universe?
It’s possible anywhere. Imagination is never limited just because your resources are limited. Everyone, even in the most remote areas, has a lot of imagination and dreams. I think when you learn about something like astronomy, you think, wow, this has changed me. Just because of this one experience, this one little match being lit, my life has changed. They can see there are lots of other opportunities and things to think about in life. Maybe different types of jobs they never imagined before. These people always have very interesting questions, and we are staying in touch with some of them and trying to train local collaborators where possible to continue the work.

If you had one thing to say to nonscientists, who rarely think about all this, what would it be?
Never stop being curious and surprised at what the universe might give you. And really start appreciating our planet’s place in the universe and how very special our planet is. Keep thinking about that!