Chasing Virgins (artists Kathy Gallegos, Johnny Nicoloro and others)


"Ralphy' s Pain", Kathy Gallegos, 1997

  December marks the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most recognizable religious figures in the world.  Her image has been used to help comfort people suffering from hardships and has given others a sense of identity and place.   Judging from the works on display around Los Angeles, artists still get inspiration from this nearly 500-year-old Catholic icon.    Continue reading


Virgin with a Rebel Vibe (artist George Yepes)

Virgen de Guadalupe, George Yepes, 2009

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been used to give hope to marginalized people, instill a sense of  cultural identity in others and encourage communities to fight for their human rights.  December marked the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Judging from the works on display around Los Angeles, artists are still get inspired from this nearly 500-year-old Catholic icon. Continue reading

Virgin As Muse (artist Lalo Garcia)

Lalo Garcia: “Growing up, I learned that women are strong.”


 “In Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the boss, ” says Lalo Garcia, a Los Angeles-based     

Credit: Tidings Magazine

visual artist, folkloric dancer and man of faith.  “She is our most visible symbol of Christianity – even more than Christ,” he says, explaining that Catholics in Mexico – and elsewhere –  credit Our Lady of Guadalupe for helping them through difficult times.  “When you go into a church in Mexico you may or may not find a cross, but you will always find an image of the Virgin.”         

  At the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles last weekend,  devotees gave thanks to the Virgin with flowers, prayers, food and their art.     

The  sybol of the Virgin is based on a  Catholic teaching from Mexico in which Jesus’ mother appears in 1531 as a dark-skinned woman,  speaking in the local indigenous language to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian peasant.  Appointing him as her messenger, she sends him to the local bishop with a message:  build a church for me on the Hill of Tepeyac, a traditional site of worship for the mother goddess Tonantzin. The request is seen as a sign that the divine is with all people, no matter how marginalized.     

Garcia's "Apparitions of the Virgin"

  The apparition was especially meaningful to indigenous people,  for it came at a time when they were suffering at the hands of  Spanish conquerors and representatives of the Catholic Church.     

  The symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe has come to have deep religious, cultural and  political significance for  Mexican, other Latin and Asian cultures.        

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of  the Angeles,  a cast of 100 re-enacted the apparition  in “La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin,”  (click here for related story. )     

After the performance, some members of the audience ventured outside to say a prayer at   

Garcia’s Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe

the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, created by Lalo Garcia.  He says the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a good example of how faith and culture are intertwined:   

“The celebration starts at midnight when the community comes together to give thanks to the Virgin.”  He explains these the celebrations – people bringing flowers, dancing, etc. – are part of the culture; they are not directly proscribed  by the Church.  “But the celebrations are a tradition that strengthens our faith”   


Garcia’s mother

Garcia’s own art is informed by his culture, his Catholic faith and the hardship that  he experienced growing up in rural Mexico.     His faith came from his mother, a devout woman who was largely responsible for keeping the family together.         

 “My  father worked in the United States under the Bracero Program,” he said. “He could only come home for a few weeks every two years.”  The arrangement left his mother virtually alone to raise four children. “That takes a lot of strength. When there were difficulties, she prayed to the Virgin to help see her through.”    

He looks to his own mother’s example when depicting the Virgin. While his style is contemporary, he keeps much of the traditional symbolism of the Virgin of Guadalupe (the moon, the stars and rays, etc.)    

  In  painting the Virgin, he attempts to be fresh and relevant. “I would never wish to replace the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  My intention is to help people look at her in a different way while still keeping her essence.”      

Lalo Garcia: "Nativity"

  Garcia says that’s the role of the artist:  to help people look at things with fresh eyes, to build bridges between people, and break down barriers of gender, race and culture.         

  A lot of research goes into each new project.   For example, he has one full shelf of art and religious books on the Virgin of Guadalupe.      

 When his research is done and his intellect satisfied,  he follows the advise of his 82-year-old mentor, artist Frank Martinez, who told him to surrender to his dreams:  “I begin to paint in my sleep. That’s when the images really start to come.”       

Seeking simplicity, Garcia limits his palette to four monochromatic colors.            

Lalo Garcia's "Pieta"

For his “Pieta”, Garcia looked for ways to express the myriad of emotions –  fear, awe, sadness –  that he believes Mary would have felt at her son’s death.           

“Most paintings of the Pieta done by artists have Mary looking down at the lifeless body of Jesus,” Garcia explains.  “I decided to portray Mary looking up as a sign of acceptance of Jesus’ life on earth, and of Mary offering her only Son to his father.  I see this as an example of reaching the point of letting go, at the loss of a love one.         

Garcia’s  artistic process has forces him to delve deeply inside himself.  He would like his paintings to do the same for others:       


I  hope my work will encourage people to do their own research and meditation, to help them renew their faith.          

the artist's studio



Virgin As Spin-Mistress (artist Colette Crutcher)

Colette Crutcher’s mixed media mural, “Tonantsin Renance”is located at 16th and Sanchez in San Francisco, CA.

When theologian Mary Daly published Beyond God, the Father in 1973, the book sent shock waves around Boston College, the Jesuit school where Daly taught.   Daly’s goal was to explain how men had shaped Western religion to the exclusion and detriment of women.  Women’s sense of the divine –  with its emphasis on nature and nurturing – needed to be put back in the picture, she said.  She challenged women to re-claim their “primal powers” as creators and “spin” a new world.      

 In retrospect, it is difficult to understand the importance of Daly’s views.  They came at a time when many women still accepted  that they needed to sacrifice their interests and talents to those of their fathers, brothers,  husbands.  Daly and other radical feminists called on women to say “Goodbye to All That”   

 In an interview with The Washington Post,   feminist author Robin Morgan called Daly: “the first feminist philosopher”:   

“She really pushed the boundaries, and that drove some people bananas…But that kind of intellectual courage is, in fact, what usually moves the species forward…”  

For budding feminists who felt alientated from heavily male-dominated relgious institutions, Daly helped make religion interesting, even meaningful.   

The women’s movment  went on to make mistakes: with simplistic analysis, at times, and more importantly, a failure to adequately address issues of race and class.  But the world is a better place for “uppity”  feminists like Mary Daly who  helped us see that women have power, talent and rights. 

Mary Daily died on January 3, 2010.  Drawing on her words,  this article is in part a tribute to her.  It is also a tribute to the creative talents of  San Francisco artist Colette Crutcher, a  “Spin-Mistress” in her own right.     


See also:  Susan Brooks Thistlewaite’s remembrance of Daly in the Washington Post’s blog “On Faith.”  

Crutcher painted her original mural in 1991. She replaced it with this mixed-media mural in 1998.

-by Lydia Breen    (quotes in bold italics by Mary Daly)     

Colette Crutcher had just given birth to her second son in 1991 when she started work on a mixed media mural of  Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of Mother Earth.  As she painted Crutcher’s thoughts were about creativity, particularly the creative power of women to bring new life into the world.      

“God empowers women in their humanity to uncover their primordial power and make this world rich…It is a time of reverie in the limitless life now felt and made unfolding. ”  – Mary Daly     

Detail of birds, water, fire

Crutcher says that her image for Tonantzin came largely from her imagination:  “I didn’t do research for the piece-except for the symbols [directly on] her body – the idea came from my head.  

Detail of serpents


 She is surrounded by the four elements:  the snakes  represent the earth, the birds symbolize the air. Water is under one arm, fire above it. Later, I did do some research and found that a lot of the symbols I put in the mural were all correct.”       

“Women themselves must create new spaces, new galaxies and new times… To be a  Spinmaster is to create new landscapes of being and meaning.”     

 “Tonantzin” is thought by some to be a generic term for any Aztec goddesses.  Others think the word refers to one goddess who has many aspects, each with a different name.  (For example, the goddess of childbirth, of war, of corn, etc.)     

The image of the brown-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe is thought to be a synchronized version of Tonantzin and the Virgin Mary, used by early 16th century missionaries to convert  the indigenous people to Catholicism.  There is some debate about the missionaries’ motivation:  did they want to destroy the notion of the female diety or were they willing  to co-exist with it?       

In this 16th century image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she is appears without her child, a being in her own right.

 While we may not know their intention, we can see that the image they used of the Virgin of Guadalupe ( Catholic teaching say it was revealed by God) is one of a gentle, compassionate, self-sacrificing woman.   

Artist Lalo Garcia  (link to article) says it is significant that the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico without her infant son. Unlike European depictions of the Virgin Mary, she appears as a being in her own right. 

“When you look at the scripture,” Garcia says,  “Mary vanished until the crucifixion. Mary of Nazareth is a nobody. In the Americas, she is the boss.  Anyting related to Christianity you’ll wind up with her.” 

 Yet there is still considerable difference in imagery between the Mexican Virgin and Aztec goddeses.  See for example,  the stone statue of  Cihuacoatl, seen encompassed by the mouth of a serpent and holding an ear of maize:   

Cihuacoatl the Aztec goddess of motherhood and fertility, her head encompassed by a snake. Photo credit: Museo Nacional Antropologia, Mexico

In this Aztec stone statue of Tonantzin, she looks up to the heavens

 By contrast, renditions of the Virgin Mary by European artists portray her as an almost-characterless figure (“an empty vessel”) who bows in submision to her own son.      

Adoration. Eyes cast down, Mary bows in reverence to her son

 Crutcher turns that notion on its head.  Her Tonantzin stands front and center, a powerful diety making no apologies for who she is.  She looks like she woke up from a 500-year nap and, disliking what she saw, is ready to set things straight:     

Crutcher dedicated her mural to "all those who work to preserve the cultural heritage of Latin America"

   “There is no possibility of redemption within a system which is founded upon the degradation of the human species and its environment.”      

A watchful third eye

Crutcher puts  the Virgin of Guadalupe in the middle of Tonantzin’s forehead.  The Virgin stands like a watchful third eye in the spiritual center of the goddesses’ body.  

One might see this as an analogy:   just as Jesus is God – or an apsect of Him in Christian theology – the Virgin is the Goddess, or an aspect of Her.  One icon sits at God’s right hand, and another  in the Goddess’  forehead.     

 “Women themselves must become the incarnation of God.”      

Crutcher says her inspiration for the mural came from a favorite song.  She sings it with Choro Hispano, a choral group she has been associated with for more than 30 years. Dios Itlaçonantzine  was composed in the early 16th century by Don Hernando Franco, an Aztec Christian convert.       

Sung in the native Aztec language of Nahuatl (Nahua), the song is a prayer to the Virgin to intercede on behalf of  indigenous people. Crutcher says the lyrics refers to the Virgin as “Dios Itlaçonantzine,” one of the names for Tonantzin.     

At a time when  indigenous people of Mexico were suffering from brutal treatment by Spanish occupiers,  the song to the Virgin by a native might have been a prayer of intercession for a more caring, compassionate world.


"Quetzalcoatl" Colette Crutcher and Mark Roller made this mosaic tile structure at a playground on 24th Street in San Francisco's Mission District.

For other examples of Colette Crutcher’s work, see this link to the 16th Ave. Tiled Steps Project.  See also pictures of the exquisite serpent Quetzalcoatl  that Crutcher and Mark Roller, Crutcher’s husband, made in a public playground on 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.     


Lydia Breen  in a freelance writer and filmmaker who began her career in the 1970’s, while a member of a feminist media collective  in Tucson, Arizona.  In 1989 she worked with Irene Kahn  (recently retired as Secretary General of Amnesty International) and others at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland to formulate a policy, then make a film about how rape is used as a weapon of war.    

UNHCR’s groundbreaking work in this area helped motivate other international organizations – the International Red Cross, the World Council of Churches, UNICEF and many others- to take a stand.  

 Ten years later,  the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda  declared that rape, when used as a weapon of war, is an act of “genocide”.  In 2007, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other female world leaders pushed the U.N. Security Council  to resolve that the systematic  use of rape is a “weapon of war.” 

  In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered $17 million in funds as well as technical assitance to address the terrible cost of  rape in  Africa.   

…Baby steps.  Twenty years of them.  But each one required an uphill battle.   How much more time would it have taken without “uppity women” like Mary Daly as role models?  

See Nicholas Kristoff’s colum and excellent video on rape used as a weapon of war against women in the Congo and one courageous doctors’ efforts to help.

The systematic use of rape of as a weapon of war has been used throughout history against women and girls (and sometimes men) in all regions of the world.

An Artist Pays Tribute to 1,000 Slain Soldiers (Marilyn Mitchell)

Artist Marilyn Mitchell in her Encinitas, CA. studio


As the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan nears the 1,000 mark, an Encinitas artist explains how she honored another 1,000  soldiers felled three years ago during  the  war in Iraq. 

Over the next few months up to  4,000  Marines at Southern California’s Camp Pendleton will be deployed to Afghanistan. Some will leave before Christmas.

In the nearby town of Oceanside, a strange calm prevails.   A uniformed soldier walks somberly into a law office.   Another, the sole customer  in an old-style barber shop, gets his already-short hair trimmed.  Across the street,  another young serviceman picks up his dry cleaning.  Signs in motorcycle shops offer deep military discounts. Old Glory flaps listlessly over a the entrance of a pool hall.

What lies ahead for the Marines?  Will friends or foes be waiting for them  behind the sun-baked walls of Afghanistan villages?

(DAVID FURST/AFP/***** Images)

U.S soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division on the outskirts of an Afghan mountain village. Photo credit: David Furst, AFPage

As more soldiers head off to this eight year-long conflict,  a gruesome statistic looms on the horizon: the 1,000th  U.S. soldier  will soon die fighting in Afghanistan.   When that death comes, how will we will honor those who have already lost their lives?  Three years ago, an Encinitas artist asked herself this question under similar circumstances.  Her response was to draw their portraits.    Little did she know that her tribute  would consume her for the next seven months.


On New Year’s Day, 2007, artist Marilyn Mitchell was leafing through the New York Times when she stumbled across a photo montage that hit her like a brick:   three and a half full pages of photographs of 1,000  service men and women who died  in Iraq. The photographs represented the third set of 1,000 photos that the Times had published since the Iraq war began – the highest U.S. military death toll  since the Viet Nam War.

The visual impact of so many lost lives overwhelmed  her.  “Many of them were so young -the age of my 22-year-old son, some even younger,” she said.   “I just  had to draw them. I wanted to honor them and remind people that these were once-vibrant human beings.”

She set out drawing the miniature portraits with care.  Working in India ink required a delicate but sure touch; one blotch and a portrait would be ruined.  Scouring the photos, she searched for something unique in each  soldier’s character.

Detail from



“Many of the photos were lent to the New York Times by family members. My piece was a gift to the soldiers as well as their families,” Mitchell said. “ I wanted to try to breathe life into each portrait.” 
The effort left her emotionally drained.  “I must admit that towards the end I was ready to finish. It was a painful process, staring at those faces every day.   I was more successful with some portraits than others.  But I cared deeply about each one.”  Mitchell says she likes to see the artists’ hand, their personality, in their work.

The finished pages were  hand-stitched together with thread. Perhaps the stitches were a tribute to her mother who could work magic with a needle.  Perhaps it was a nod to her training as a nurse:  the sutures on the page may have been a symbolic effort to try to stitch the fallen soldiers back to life. 

To finish the piece, she  surrounded the pages with a halo of bridal netting, pearls and silver wire.   “It was another way to pay tribute,” she said.  “My inspiration came from the Romans who put a gold crown of laurels around a person’s head to honor them.” 
Her piece, entitled “Prayer for 1,000 Dead Soldiers”, was shown at a juried exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art.  Later it was shown at the J.C. Gallery in downtown Oceanside, in an exhibit entitled, “God and Country”.

At the bottom of Prayer for 1,000 Dead Soldiers,  Mitchell, an anti-war activist,  added a poem she wrote about the photos of soldiers she had studied so carefully for seven long months.  Was it the nurse, mother or the artist in Mitchell which caused her to write:

“I imagine being their mother…Each one is beautiful to me.  I am sorry that I am not better.  That I can not draw them back to life.”

The following is an excerpt from Marilyn Mitchell’s Web site  on her “Prayer for 1,000 Dead Soldiers”

“An essential part of my process is to take a date that is personally important to me and find a publication from that date to make an artwork. This piece was created to mark the birthday of my dearest friend in San Diego, Barb Goldsand. By coincidence the New York Times published the photos of the last 1000 soldiers killed in Iraq on that day, January 1, 2007. I decided to draw each one in order to honor them and to give my attention and my prayers to each soldier that had died.”

I draw these soldiers,
so many men gone.
I imagine being their love,
now alone,
remembering their
remembering their gaze.
I imagine being their mother,
losing her very heart
and going on with a fathomless
I imagine being their father
whose loss is unspeakable.
Each one is beautiful to me.
I am sorry I am not better.
That I cannot draw them
back to life.


-Marilyn Mitchell 





10 Cheap Thrills In Paradise: Encinitas, CA

Tidepools at Swami's Beach

Tidepools at Swami's Beach

 A  San Diego Beach Town Offers Low-Cost  Fun
by Lydia Breen

Looking for a  relaxed getaway?  Entinitas, California is an iconic Southern California beach town with lots of low-cost outings for nearly everyone – sports enthusiasts, nature buffs, art lovers, music fans, gardeners, readers and food enthusiasts.  Take a look at this list:

Ducky Waddles Emporium

Ducky Waddles Emporium

 1. Go Low-brow     

Ducky Waddles is a hidden treasure for aficionados of pop surrealism, low-brow and outsider art. The largest after-market selection of Shepard Fairey’s works are here.  Also on offer is a wide assortment of books on a art technique, criticism, and artists’ biographies. There’s also a good selection of early and first edition fiction, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac and others.  Store owner and sububculture-lover Jerry Waddle  calls his place as a  “a book store, art gallery and center for cultural studies.”  Patrons are encouraged to hang out, browse the shelves, access the free WiFi and chat..  Bring your own caffeine or other non-alcoholic drinks.   Check their website for poetry readings, music and other special events.     

Down the street, Lou’s Records has a wide assortment of used and new CD’s, DVD’s and LP’s. Get a tattoo next door at 454 Tatoo and Body Piercing. Popular eateries along the Leucadia strip include the long-time hang-out, Pannikin’s and Mozy’s Cafe, specializing in healthy Carribbean, Mexican and vegan eats (although service can be slow).  The somewhat more upscale Turkish restaurant, The Bird House Grill, is also nearby.
Ducky Waddles Emporium: 414 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas: (760) 632-0488; / Lou’s Records: 434 North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas;(760) 753-1782. 454 Tatoo and Body Piercing: 454 N. Coast Highway 101,(760) 942-2333/Pannikin Coffee & Tea: 510 Highway 101(760) 436-5824; Mozy Cafe: 698 N. Coast Highway, Encinitas: (760) 944-9168: the Bird House Grill 250 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas (760) 944-2882.
Susan Hauptman

Self-Portrait with Dog, 2001 charcoal, pastel, and hair on paper © Susan Hauptman, courtesy of Forum Gallery, New York.

  2. Go Hi-brow    

Two miles inland (still in Encinitas) the Lux Art Institute offers an unusual opportunity to consider the creative process over time of a world-class artist. Visitors are guided on a liaison-led tour where they observe an artist-in-residence at work. Examples of their finished pieces are on display in a gallery next to the studio. Invited artists live on the grounds for two weeks to several months, during which time visitors are encouraged to return to observe how the artist’s work has evolved. (The price of admissions allows one person to make two separate visits.) The Institute’s serene setting LEED-certified building were designed to reflect “an open relationship between the artist and the site.” A path featuring sculpture and sustainable landscaping takes visitors through part of the Institute’s four-acre site that overlooks the San Elijo Lagoon. Contemporary artist Iva Gueorguieva will be in-studio Jan. 16 – Feb. 6, 2010. After your visit, return downtown to unwind at the E Street Café, where owner/artist Dominic Alcorn has an exhibits his own and other artist’s on his walls.  E Street offers a large selection of specialty coffees, teas and juices. Ask Dominic to suggest a drink.  Try a “Monkey Love” made of espresso shots, dark chocolate , banana, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and nutmeg ($4).Their soups are yummy (try their Thai Red Pepper Soup.). So, too, are their sandwiches, vegan treats and deserts. Lux Art Institute.    

You’ll find a wide range of patrons,  from little kids to business people, also lots of bohemians, artists  and students.  Alcorn’s love of people and the arts is evident in the events he works hard to organize there.   Tuesdays it’s open mic night, which often includes poetry as well as music. (6-9:30). Thanksgiving weekend, concerts are scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings (7:30-9 p.m.). Thanksgiving Day hours: 7a.m. – 1 p.m.  Check out their calendar of events.     

Luxe Art Institute: 1550 South El Camino Real Encinitas, CA 92024. Hours:  Thursday & Friday 1-5 p.m.; Saturday, 11 – 5.  Under 21: free;  others: $10: (760) 436- 6611. Evenings of music, art and refreshments are free and open to the public every third Wednesday of the month. Street Café: 128 W. E Street, Encinitas:  (760) 230-2038.  Hours:  7 a.m.-8 p.m Sun – Wednesday.  Friday and Staurday 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Leucadia-Encinitas Farmers Markets: Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Leucadia-Enciniatas Farmer's Market

  3. Slow and Loco     

If it’s in season in Southern California, you can probably find it at the Leucadia-Encinitas Farmer’s Market. Geared for locovores, there are plenty of families and young people who come (many on their bikes)  to shop for food then stay on for brunch, live music and to chat with the farmers about gardening techniques, recipes, sustainable agriculture, etc,  All produce comes from certified California farmers; most within San Diego County.     

Locally-grown flowers

Locally-grown flowers

   Seven of the growers have certified organic farms.  Fresh fish, tuna jerky, goat cheese, local honey, even vegan dog biscuits (natch) are on offer.  Indian, Mexican, Jamaican and other food stalls offer tasty treats. Annel and Drew’s Kitchen is a favorite, offering scrumptiously presented food.  Try their Loco Veggie Salad ($6/$8), grilled organic artichokes or lamb sliders ($6/$9/$12)     

 Leucadia-Encinitas Farmer’s Market, every Sun 10 a.m.-2 p.m., except Easter. Paul Ecke Elementary School, Union & N. Vulcan Sts (858) 272-7054. Annel and Drew’s Kitchen (they also do catering): (858) 246-6962, cell: (858) 210-5094.

photo credit: San Diego County

   4. Explore a Treasured Ecosystem     

The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve in Encinitas  is one of the few intact coastal wetlands left in Southern California.   Fresh water and salt water meet in this peaceful shallow water estuary near San Elijo State Beach.  Up and down the coast of California our coastal wetlands have been reduced by pollution, erosion, land development and lack of rain, providing all the more reason to value the Reserve and the many species of flora and fauna it protects.     

Blue Heron (photo: Dennis Ancinec, San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy)

   Forty percent of the birds in North America pass by this lagoon on their way to Mexico, Canada and places in between.  Fall and Spring are migratory months, a peak time to visit this birders’ paradise. There are lots shore and water birds to spot, including herons, egrets, avocets and stilts. With luck on your side, you might see an endangered clapper rail, which is on many birders “get” list.Take the 

Coyote Photo Credit: Dennis Ancinec

Coyote (photo credit: Dennis Ancinec, San Elijo Conservancy

half-mile loop around the visitor’s center. Alternatively, there’s another trail around the lagoon that starts at the Rios Avenue trail head. The Conservancy offers free, docent-led tours every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Nature Center. Another two-hour tour at the Rios Ave. trail head takes place the second Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. There are lots of up-country trails east of the I-5 Freeway, where you can spot mule deer, bobcat and other critters in coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats. The Reserve’s 915 acres are yours for discovering – admission is free.  Hike early;  it is  the best time to spot animals.    

For advice on the trail that best suits your needs, call the Nature Center. After your walk, visit the Center to learn about the cultural history of the area that was once populated by Native Americans living in coastal villages. Picnic tables with a lovely view of the lagoon and ocean are available on the Center’s upper deck. Watch a lonesome fish jump as you peacefully much your sandwich. The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Center partners with the non-profit San Elijo Conservancy, another useful source of information. More information rules, regulations and maps can be found on the two organizations websites. The Reserve is open during daylight hours.If you are taking one of the longer trails, don’t forget to carry in drinking water!The Nature Center at the Reserve is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily but Christmas. Address: 2710 Manchester Ave. Encinitas.Tele: 760-634-3944. 

Self Realization Fellowship, Encinitas Photo Credit: Jeff Dowler

 5. Seek Truth and Beauty     

 The Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage is an iconic Encinitas landmark that helped popularize mediation and anchor the community as a home for the counter-culture lifestyle.   Sunday afternoons you can tour the Hermitage, the home where Paramahansa Yoganda wrote his classic spiritual guide, The Autobiography of a Yogi. The room in the Hermitage where he received many distinguished guests in the 1930’s is now preserved as a shrine. Exit through the upper gardens that hug the cliffs, offering  a stunning ocean view.  Then make your way through the luxuriant meditattion gardens. Before your visit, have lunch  across the street at Swami’s Café, a local haunt not affiliated with the ashram.     

   The Hermitage is open Sundays 2-5 p.m., except in inclement weather; admission  is free.  The Meditation Gardens are also free; open Tues.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sun. 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Swami’s Café: 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday – Sunday.   

Meditation gardens Credit: Lydia Breen

photo credit: Surfrider Foundation

 6. Score a great ride   

 If you can afford to splurge just once over the holidays, this may be the time and place. Winter is the best time to surf. Local surfer say  they’d have to kill you if they divulged their favorite spots. But you can’t go wrong if you surf at Swami’s or San Elijo State Park.  Surf shops and schools along Northern San Diego County’s coast offer friendly, helpful advice.  The Leucadia Surf Shop is one of many.  If you don’t have gear, you can rent a wetsuit ($10/24 hr.) and board ($5/hr; $20/24 hr.)  Private or group surfing lessons can be arranged through  Kahuna Bob’s Surf School. Another favorite is the Eli Howard Surf School at the San Elijo State Campgrounds. Rent boards and suits ( $15/item/day) or take a two-hour group lesson ($60/person including equipment). For lessons in the winter call a couple of days ahead; most classes this time of year are in the morning, the best times to surf. Bull Taco’s offers a low-cost must eat experience at the San Elijo State Campground for surfers, bikers, campers or other sun worshippers. Don’t pass up on one of their amazing daily specials. Call ahead if you’re in too much of a hurry to chill on the deck while they prepare your food. Park outside the campground along Hwy. 101.  

Believe it or not, surfers have a serious side. The Surfrider Foundation works to protect the ocean water, beaches and surrounding wetlands. The non-profit organization recently won a lawsuit against a major oil company in which the court recognized for the first time, that  “breaking waves are natural resource deserving protection.” For locally-sponsored Surfrider Foundation events, great info. and resources – including a report on water quality at local beaches – see link to their website, below.  

Wednesday nights (6-9 p.m.) you’ll find plenty of surfers groovin’ to ukulele music at Today’s Pizza and Salad. (Copious amounts of beer may help you acquire a musical taste for ukuleles). A traditional hula dancer performs at 4:30 p.m. Thursdays it’s bluegrass; most Tuesdays they break out the accordions. Call ahead for details.  

Sam Breen

Leucadia Surf Shop: 1144 Coast Highway 101 Encinitas, La. (760) 632-1010, Eli Howard Suf School at San Elijo State Park  in Cardiff and Moonlight Beach, Encinitas. (760) 809-3069, Bull Taco’s at San Elijo State Park in Cardiff. Hours:  Mon-Sat: 8 -6; Sundays,  8-5 p.m. check out their website or call the Encinitas chapter at (858) 792-9940. For the Encinitas Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation about local events,  call: (858) 792-9940 or check their website at  The California Surf Museum: 321 Pier View Way, Oceanside, CA 92054; (760) 721-6876. Hours: open daily 10 am -4pm; Thursdays until 8pm. $3 adults; $1 students/seniors/military. Free on Thursdays. 101 Cafe: 631 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside; (760) 722-5220‎. Surfcam – by beach. Weather Underground (Encinitas forecast)    For schedule of local Surfrider Foundation events: check their site or call the  Encinitas chapter. For more on Bull Taco: see my previous post     

The Rock Horror Picture Show plays Fridays at midnight, La Paloma Theatre7. Act Horrid

 7.  Act Horrid     

Appropriate dress is appreciated but not required at the Friday midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the historic La Paloma Theatre in downtown Encinitas.  The second Friday of the month at midnight is Monster Lingerie Night, with prizes.  This historic theatre was opened in 1928 at a gala attended by silent film star Mary Pickford (a.k.a.”America’s Sweetheart”).  Rumor has it that Pickford rode her  bike to the gala from the ranch she owned with her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. of “Zorro” fame.  La Paloma currently hosts community events, music concerts as well as art house and mainstream films.  If you have forgotten your Goth clothes, downtown Encinitas has plenty of hip, used clothing stores.  Some of the best bargains can be found at the Community Resource Center’s Thrif Store, across the street from     

La Paloma Theatre in downtown Encinitas

the theatre.  Women’s tops go for $3-5; pants and sweaters range from $5-$8.  Their designer rack is more expensive, but well with a look.  They’ve also got bathing suits, towels, picnic gear, etc.  Once every three months everything in the store is half off; the next sale is in December.  Proceeds from the store support the Center’s domestic violence shelter.  You won’t find better bargains or consistently kind people at any other shop in Encinitas.  Ask Karen, the store manager, for help putting your Garth garb together; her brother owns La Paloma.     

The Encinitas Public Library - the patio looks out to the ocean

 Back to Mary Pickford..La Paloma Theatre recently held a retrospective showing of her films.  To compliment the event, the Encinitas Branch of the San Diego County Public Library has put some of her personal items and letter on display in the front lobby.  (There’s also a letter to Mary from Clark Gable.)  The library ‘s community meeting room hosts many exhibits; currently it’s featuring an exhibit of digital art.  The library is truly a beautiful gift to the community.  Located on a hill, two blocks from La Paloma, downtown.  You can hang out there for hours on the patio overlooking the ocean. Inside, there’s lots of magazines and Wi-Fi.  Non-members can sign up to use the library’s computer for one hour.  Grab an expresso outside at a cart operated by Global Grind Coffee.     

La Paloma Theatre: 471 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas; (760) 436-5744; General admission: $9; $7 matinees.  All tickets are cash only/ Community Resource Center’s Thrift Store: 111 C. Street, Encinitas. Hours:  open every day except holidays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. /Encinitas Branch of the San Diego County Public Library: 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas (760) 753-7376.  Hours:  Mon-Thurs 9:30-8 p.m.; Fri and Sat 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun 1-5 p.m. (closed holidays).     

Ecke YMCA Pool

7.  Get Physical     

For $10 ($4.50 for under-20’s) you can spend the day at the the superb Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA. You’ll feel instantly at home here.  No hype, no hustle.  Swim in the (comfortably heated) Olympic-sized pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and weight rooms.  Take any number of yoga, dance or other classes. Check their daily schedules on-line. Exit through  the back lobby; there’s free coffee and Wi-Fi, good company and a huge T.V. for après-sports.     

Kids take a break at Ecke YMCA Skatepark

While you’re there, pul-ease go see the  Y’s skatepark.  Some of the best skaters in the country hang there – along with lots of daredevil little tykes.  You’ll feel like you should be paying to watch.  (The skatepark is located  in the back of the Y’s site, near the baseball fields) .  You’ll need your i.d. when you check in at the courtesy counter.Magdelana Ecke Family YMCA: 200 Saxony Road, Eincinitas, 92024; (760) 942-9622. or (760) 635-3055.  Skatepark:  (760) 635 – 3055 xt. 1038.     


photo credit: Davey Boyd

8. Build Your Dream Home     

Moonlight Beach is a hyper-relaxed hang-out for families and young people.      You can boogey-board down sand hills (rent them for $3/hr.; $12/day) watch the sunset and then stoke up a fire pit for a BBQ with S’mores chasers.   Sunday evenings, join in on a drum circle..     

Sunset at Moonlight Beach


9. Rally!     

South Carlsbad State Beach has lots of opportunities for volleyball enthusiasts.  Bring a net and ball or ask to join others.  Lots of activity at night – bonfires, etc.  For all-day breakfast or lunch walk up the hill to Roberto’s Very Mexican Food Restaurant. Their California Hash Brown Burritos ($4.25) are popular.      

Roberto's Very Mexican Food

 Try a Lite (a misnomer) Burrito ($3.10) or one of the Combo Special, like the Enchilada and Chile Relleno Plate ($5). Address:  1900 Coast Highway 101, Leucadia. (760) 634-2909.     


Hula Hoop Dancing at Swami Beach parking area

10.  Whatever goes around…     

Take a hula hoop dancing lessons at Swami’s Beach on Saturdays, at 1:30 p.m. ($10)   Jam after.     

Watch or join the surfers on the beach.  Walk down to San Elijo Campground and eat at Bull Taco’s (see my previous post). Make designs in the sand. Swami’s: Located directly south of the Self-Realization Center.     

Divine Design at Swami's


Seek Truth and Beauty

The Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, CA

Self Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage -Photo: Jeff Dowler

– by Lydia Breen

The Self-Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage helped popularize mediation and anchor Encinitas as a home for the New Age lifestyle.

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