There's a new hiking trail in the Santa Monica Mountains that's slowly being discovered by local enthusiasts, even though it's not finished.
"It's called the Saddle Peak segment of the Backbone Trail, and it's so new that nobody knows about it yet," said Milt McAuley of Canoga Park, who has written six books on the Santa Monica Mountains.
The trail cuts through a stand of chaparral. "Chaparral is an accumulation of plants, most of which are around 12 feet high," McAuley said.
"Sometimes in a lighter vein we say that chaparral is too low to give shade, too high to see over and too dense to get through."
The trail also skirts some rocky areas. "Part of the trail at the top goes around the base of a rock that must be about 75 feet high," McAuley said. "There's a terrific view to the north that overlooks Cold Creek Canyon and Calabasas Peak."
This segment of the Backbone Trail is being built on Saturdays by volunteers under the auspices of the Sierra Club, led by professional trail builder Ron Webster of Santa Monica.
"We started this mile-and-a-half segment in October of '89 and we think we'll be finished in January or February of next year. We'll knock off from July through September because of the heat," Webster said.
The Backbone Trail will eventually connect Topanga, Malibu Creek and Point Mugu state parks. Various organizations and agencies are funding the construction of different segments of the trail. McAuley estimates the entire trail is two-thirds finished, but the work is not done in a linear direction.
To get to the Saddle Peak segment, turn off Mulholland Highway onto Stunt Road and go 2.9 miles. "Park there and you'll see the trail," McAuley said, "but if you go there on Saturday you better wear gloves or Ron will put you to work."
Read Me a Story, Grandpa
"There are 200,000 latchkey children in L.A. and we're hoping to reach as many of those as we can," said Maureen Wade, project director of Grandparents & Books, sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library.
In a nutshell, the program trains older adults (age 50 on up) to read to children. These volunteers donate a set number of hours each week to one of 30 participating libraries and then read to whoever shows up in the children's section.
The program is just getting under way in the East Valley, although it began about a month ago in the West Valley. Participating libraries include Northridge, West Valley Regional in Reseda, North Hollywood, Sylmar, Sun Valley and Panorama City.
"It's not a story hour, which is more structured. This is more informal, where a grandparent reads on a one-to-one basis or to a group and the children are encouraged to read out loud back to the grandparents," Wade said. "Lots of kids don't get to read out loud as often as we'd like them to, because the schools are so crowded. It helps build a child's self-esteem."
At West Valley Regional Library in Reseda, branch librarian Patricia Laudisio noticed an unexpected benefit. "It gives parents an opportunity to do some browsing on their own," she said.
Betty Jackson of Woodland Hills, a volunteer "grandparent," is settling into her new role at the branch. "I wait until I see a likely prospect and then I pounce," she said.
Children's librarian Anne Landon at Panorama City Branch Library said "Some of these children don't have grandparents in their lives because they don't live nearby, so that aspect of it is especially nice."
When Bowling Isn't Enough
It's an unusual high school graduation present, to be sure. Nonetheless a number of graduating seniors have been given parachute-jumping lessons from their parents this year, said instructor Bill Reed, owner of Sport Parachuting School in Van Nuys.
"You'd be surprised at the people who take up this sport. I just finished teaching a 74-year-old man, and he's put down a deposit on his first jump--but he hasn't specified the date yet," Reed said.
In his 22 years of teaching, Reed has supervised 13,000 first jumps without a single fatality. "It's scary to think about but it's easy to do," he said. "It takes a few jumps to get over the fear, but after the first jump they enjoy it more."
From 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, Reed holds free classes at his store. Those who are interested enough at the end of the session put down a $50 deposit and schedule a jump date. On "jump day" students go to California City (15 minutes north of Mojave) in the morning for an additional two hours of outside instruction, and then it's time to make that leap of faith.
When you jump out of the plane for the first time, you don't even have to pull on the cord to open your chute.
"They have three seconds of being on a static line--which is like an umbilical cord--and then their parachute automatically opens," Reed said. Static-line jumps take place at 3,000 feet above ground level. Jumpers wear a little radio receiver on their chests to hear the encouraging words of the ground instructor.
A first jump with Reed costs $149 for the whole shebang, including a picture of you leaping out of the airplane. The next four jumps are $40 each. Those who take to the sport usually progress to free-fall jumps, which take place at 9,000 feet above the ground.
A Fashionably Far-Out Mom
Joan Francis, 46, of Granada Hills believes she's the oldest person graduating this June from the fashion design program at Woodbury University in Burbank. She's also pretty sure that her designs are among the most radical in her class.
"I like mixing unusual materials--like leather with netting, curtain fabric, beading or sequins," said this mother of four daughters, ages 17 to 24. "For one fashion show I made a futuristic tunic that mixed plexiglass, aluminum screening, aluminum siding, and chains--it was worn over a silver leotard. The chains draped loosely down the arm and then were gathered at a silver cuff."
More than three years ago, Francis returned to college full time. She had been working as bookkeeper/typist for her husband's business--Holiday Maintenance Service--and decided it was time to pursue her dream.
Originally she wanted to be a costume designer. "But that's a dying art," she said. "Nowadays costume designers do more shopping for clothes than they do designing."
Francis has won a number of awards in student design shows. Her own favorite designers are surprisingly traditional: Christian Dior, Donna Karan--and OK, Thierry Mugler, who's more trendy.
"My goal is to do theatrical work and have a small shop where I do custom work," she said. "I love designing evening wear. Even my sportswear has a real evening look to it."
A free fashion show featuring students' designs (including several of Francis') will begin at 7:30 tonight at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel downtown.
"I knew I was a candidate for the Bad Mother's Club when our doorbell rang the other night at 7:30 and my little boy yelled, 'Dinner!' " --Mother to other mother standing around playground at McDonald's in West Hills