In the neighborhood near where I live, near La Mesa Village and up Nebo Hill, you'll find magical manors of all shapes and sizes. Seemingly nestled one-into-the-other like that Russian doll that contains a smaller doll within itself, each distinct yet part of a whole.

Despite the intermingling there is no feeling of over-crowding; no "row house" ambiance. Some homes clearly hearken back to old Hollywood days when La Mesa was a desert orchard. A place of Sylvan serenity and escape. Truly though this neighborhood is a secret wonderland, a magical oasis. Walk up Lemon, left on Date or Acacia, then right, up the formidable Pasadena or Vista. As your heartbeat's return increases so will your inner-child's wonderment.

Or head up Palm, left on Orchard and cut up the stairway on the right to the "Secret Garden Path"; admire the lofted gazebos near the brook-like fountain. Slip past the culdesac cluster and up to the next, unseen by night but enveloped by its Santa Ana-spun charm. So many options to discover, each with their own unassuming doorway, detail, or delight. Over there, right next to the baronial mansion, lonely looking toward the distant ocean, is folded an adorable bungalow complete with red clay roof, hand carved heart-fence thick with rolling bougainvillea before stained glass windows. Snow White's retirement home? Across the street stands a stucco California block house with ten foot surround-see windows, and a five foot fish-fountain with praying Madonna in the yard. Colorful community culture; no cheap garden trolls planted here. Everywhere white sparkly star-burst lights welcome nighttime dog-walkers, and as you walk, you step through the specter-scent of just watered Lilac and Lilly of the Valley.

By day as you sojourn, the sunlight is white and bone-warming, crisped by perfectly blue skies palming down toward the horizon. Long-legged palms sway overhead; fruit trees heavy with their burden bow across your path-you're tempted-but sculptured shrubbery stand guard over their sweet offerings. In between each distinct and pampered place resplendent in Miracle Grow abundance, you'll catch exhilarating glimpses of the southward canyons below, the water to the west, and the northbound hills in the distance. Some of these pretty places have first names like "Todd" or "Sherman Grable." Named houses with concomitant historical significance. Others are whimsically named like Tuscan Villas (look for "Luigi's Race"). Sometimes you'll just see a printed sign that says, "close the gate." A neighborhood that minds its own.

The sounds of the Village below will, from time to time, waft up your way but the trolley bell does not interfere with your whimsical wanderlust. Mostly you will be serenaded by song birds exuberantly delighted they bedded down long before your discovery, or the occasional barking-while-tale-wagging dog. Any neighbor you happen upon tending to their portion of this bucolic dream greets you with a knowingly broad smile, as if to say, "aren't we lucky, and isn't this great?" California dreaming at half the price. You are drawn toward the summit of Nebo, but the truly observant will find the penultimate: The Wind Chime House.

A corner lot, with a raised wrap-around balcony in the back, quaint red-door down the red-brick path past the gate and the oxidized frog with the "Welcome" cutout, in the front. A left-eyed peek through the expansive windows reveals opulent comfy cushions and hearth-fired woods. You don't want to impolitely stare, but the myriad of spinning, chiming, tinkling, smiling yard companions are beautifully matched and so well married to the yard it becomes unimaginable why anyone's yard would be without a few hundred of them. Mesmerized, you now take the hill more slowly up to this small culdesac's centered green-veld with towering Eucalyptus trees as much to dart your eyes around its enchantment as to slow down the pounding in your ear. Aerobics or excitement?

And then, just when you think the enchant-o-meter registers at "full," you see it... the blue pineapple fountain in The Wind Chime House's front yard, coolly sluicing its inviting water as it stands about 7 feet high. If you are truly lucky, you will find it all (or it will find you) in the early evening of a warm and breezy summer night so that you can be heralded by the tasteful multitude of overhead wind chimes dancing in pairs off nearly every tree branch singing in tinkalinka unison with the soothing sound of the now lit pale-blue pineapple water.

Of course each branch appears as naturally outlined with small white and pale blue star-lights. They're smiling back at me! At this point, rude or not, you stop and stare with an open-mouthed smile like a twelve-year old stepping through the wardrobe. Magical! La Mesa is magical!! Be sure to say hello to Big Ben the Newfie, usually on guard in the side yard across the street. He means business, but only for ner-do-wells. He has a heart of gold. Then, turn around and there lies the expanse of the Baja, and the dotted lights from whence you came and where you are glad to return.

I once lived in Encinitas with all of its undeniable quaintness, but little anywhere can compare to the secret enchantment of La Mesa's magical oasis. Come walk with me sometime.



lallaw April 9, 2009 @ 3:47 p.m.

I was very fortunate to hear from the owner of the dog Ben that I mentioned in my blog. Ben kindly pointed out to me that he is a Newfoundland, and not a Chow. As he has a heart of gold he was very gracious about it, and I regret the error. Dear Ben please note the correction in my blog. Bear and I hope to see you again soon! Lisa Leitter (a/k/a "lallaw")


lallaw April 9, 2009 @ 3:54 p.m.

Reprinted with permission from C.S.:

"Hello! Thanks for the wonderful article about "my" hill. It was wonderful seeing the neighborhood through your eyes. Great writing, I might add. And as a writer myself I appreciate the work you did in so eloquently giving a verbal tour of the area. My dog, Ben, who does indeed greet everyone who passes by with a big woof, or a woo-woo if he recognizes the people, is the early warning system for the circle. He asked me to tell you with all due respect he is a Newfie, not a Chow. He is kind of a raggedy fellow, and he understands the mistake. Mostly he is honored to be called by name in your piece and asked me to say woo-woo to you. Thanks for the treat..." C.S>


MtNebo April 9, 2009 @ 5:08 p.m.

Lisa - Dito the appreciation conveyed by Ben's mama...great to read about our fair city...the jewel of the hills. We are blessed, and some recognize these gifts come with a responsibility to remain good stewards.


lallaw April 11, 2009 @ 10:52 p.m.

Thank you, "MtNebo" for your kind ditto. You stewards of the hills' jewel are doing a tremendous job. There is so much more one could write about, so many hidden, secret places...probably though it is best left that way. Thank you again, Lisa a/k/a "lallaw."


Josh Board April 15, 2009 @ 8:18 p.m.

What a great read. It almost made me want to go there, until I's La Mesa (hehehehehehe).

I once let my dog get on the computer to correct an error some writer made about his breed. But he just crapped on my chair, and his response looked like adkfjeowif aeifj03fj 093 fjjefiej0jfvijdvkasdfkavokviaiog ida iadjgioddfdjf.

He sticks with his chew toys now.

Anyway, lallaw...when you see an area like that, whether it's La Mesa, or I see houses I love in the North Park/University Heights area, that just look so interesting. I always wonder if a filmmaker knew about the area, because they would work well for period pieces (like that last Leo DiCaprio film).

I did once talk to a guy...and that was his job. He was a location person for Rob Reiner. He told me he flew into towns, to find locations for filming of movies.

Talk about a cool job!


SDaniels April 17, 2009 @ 3:46 p.m.

Another amazing read, Lisa--a soul-quenching drink! I know we both loved RDVaughn's piece, but I will have to amend and say "Reader: Wake up! Hire this one, too!"

Descriptive/ekphrastic writing is my absolute favorite genre, and you really take the time to slow down, savor, and take your reader by the hand. So many bloggers and columnists are about ego, but ego is so much better sublimated into the landscape, into the texture of things. You do that for us, while also showing you can write kick-a** 1st person narrative, with humor and style.

"There is so much more one could write about, so many hidden, secret places...probably though it is best left that way."

Say it ain't so, and write on!

I have family with three properties in Fallbrook and you inspire me to write about the same kind of natural bounty, like orange tangelos against the blue sky, fields of weeds affording here and there sudden glimpses of sparkling pools or little patches of green lawn. It is cabin fever time, waiting for summer and sangrias by that pool!

Thank you for that inspiration, and needless to say, your blog is definitely going on my favorites tab!



lallaw April 17, 2009 @ 5:43 p.m.

Suzanne, coming from you-a self-proclaimed "priggish" English teacher :)-I am truly humbled by your thumbs up. Eloquently written by you of course. Thank you, sincerely, as I know your standards are high (I've read how well YOU write) and I am honored to be one of your "favs."

Back at ya, girlfriend. :)) Look forward to reading about Fallbrook, another truly lovely San Diego haven.


SDaniels April 20, 2009 @ 12:48 p.m.

Hi Lisa, my pleasure, and I hope to get the Fallbrook story started soon. It is devilishly hot even here downtown and on Banker's Hill. Hope you and family are keeping cool in body as well as in mind :)


lallaw April 21, 2009 @ 2:19 p.m.

Hi there, I own "The Wind Chime House" that you wrote about! It was fun to read about it, and, of course, I had to send it on to my family. I just reread the article and I see that someone already contacted you to change Ben from a Chow to a Newfie! I'm not sure where you got the idea of the urn fountain being a pineapple, or that it had blue light on it, but I guess that's called "poetic license". I'm planning on having the house on the La Mesa Historical Society House Tour in the Fall if you are interested in seeing the inside. Thanks for the nice description. I enjoy my house too.


SDaniels April 21, 2009 @ 4:59 p.m.

Hey, Lisa, so someone who read your blog wrote this, too? How fascinating--you should pencil in that tour!


lallaw April 21, 2009 @ 5:16 p.m.

SD you write the most intelligent posts! I'm a big fan. :) And I am remiss at responding to your many kind comments ...but I will, I am trying to do so deliberately without smattering my name all over the

You are welcome to come and walk with me anytime. Consider that an open invitation. Just email me and we will set it up...magicsfive is certainly welcome to join us too if she'd like!


SDaniels April 22, 2009 @ 12:12 p.m.

I was going to say that magicsfive probably can't make it, as she has mentioned recently that she lives in DC now. This morn, she beat me to it in the Daily Crasher thread :) Perhaps you can give her a photo tour, with more of these excellent neighborhood visuals.


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