Joy in California

Published: December 4th 2014
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Dad & his Four Kids Dad & his Four Kids Dad & his Four Kids

It's a rare occasion that we're all together since we live scattered across two continents! Here we are at the rehearsal dinner.
I touched down in Southern California with two full days of shopping and acclimatizing before the entire family arrived for my niece's wedding festivities. Of course I needed some new socks & underwear, walking shoes, pants & blouses - but I was also shopping for things that friends in Ecuador had requested; imported goods have become prohibitively expensive and many items are simply not available. I loaded up my cart with Glucosamine/Chondroitin tablets, Fish Oil capsules, Isotoner Gloves, SPF/Dry Wick Athletic Shirts, industrial-size chili powder, and the list went on and on.

On the third day I went back to the airport to meet family arrivals. Gilbert flew in from Atlanta and he and I took the airport shuttle around to the terminal where 'little' brother Bob & his family were due in. Bob had rented a minivan so we piled in and headed over to the magnificent Air B'n'B house in the Laurel Canyon foothills that Bob had reserved for us all to share. Meanwhile, big brother Lee and his family arrived from New Jersey and headed to their hotel in Burbank in their rental JEEP. That evening we assembled for
Jenna & her GrandpaJenna & her GrandpaJenna & her Grandpa

Beaming at the rehearsal dinner party.
dinner with Dad at 'The Village', the assisted living facility where he has been living for the past six months. It was great to all be together and to reminisce about childhood silliness, triggering memories for all but especially for Dad.

It felt really nice to wake up together in the same house and share a leisurely breakfast before heading out the Hollywood Reservoir for a hike around the circumference. California has been in a severe drought, so the water level was very low. It's a beautiful walk with lots of greenery, wildlife and views of downtown LA and hillside mansions alongside the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. Back 'home' to get ready for the rehearsal dinner which was hosted by a dear family friend, Paula, in her exquisite canyon hillside home. From the upstairs terrace we watched the sunset over the ocean as the wedding participants rehearsed in the gardens below.

Since so many of the wedding guests were from out of town (both Jenna & Patrick live and work in Manhattan and the groom is originally from Boston)
Joyful CeremonyJoyful CeremonyJoyful Ceremony

Jenna Berger (my gorgeous niece!) marries Patrick Landi at The Smog Shoppe in Santa Monica, Calif.
the rehearsal dinner included about 60 guests. Paula planned a Mexican themed meal with exquisite food from the Oaxaca region (chocolate mole chicken, yum!). I confess to sharing a few shots of tequila with some of the groomsmen (my first time daring to drink "ta-kill-ya" since my 24th birthday in Mexico when I drank too much of it!). It was nice to have the chance to get acquainted with some of the New York young folks! Jenna works for Google and Patrick for Time-Warner (formerly AOL) so many of their invited guests were twenty-something social media techies!

Then, the big day! The Saturday afternoon wedding was held at The Smog Shoppe in Santa Monica - a funky, hip, industrial-warehouse turned events venue. The owners are purportedly the creators of the vertical garden concept and the place was filled with planted succulent walls inside and out... great for photo backdrops. A simple, heartfelt ceremony under a flower-bedecked "chuppah" frame included elements of a Jewish ceremony such as the bride circling the groom and the breaking of the glass. Not a dry eye during the beautiful blessing that Bob offered the
Dancing with my DaddyDancing with my DaddyDancing with my Daddy

Poppa was is rare form on the night of his eldest grandchild's wedding!
soon-to-be-wed couple.

The reception kicked into full swing with a special surprise - while Jenna was outside at the plant wall posing for photos at sunset, her brother Sam assembled a group of musicians, himself on drums for a set dedicated to the newlyweds. Sam had not played in public for quite a few years, so it was an extra wonderful treat! Drinks began to flow as the appetizers were passed around, including scrumptious wood-fired pizza. The dining room was artfully decorated in keeping with the rustic style of the setting. The mother of the bride had created the succulent centerpieces, each assembled in a funky wood, glass or metal receptacle.

We were treated to two special salads and two kinds of pasta served family-style at each table. Meanwhile, a huge screen showed the black and white movie, Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn's debut film!), with the sound turned down and the DJ turned up. After supper the music was cranked and dancing began in earnest. During the father/daughter & mother/son interlude, I had a lovely dance with my Dad - one I
Conga LineConga LineConga Line

...with the beautiful bride in the lead! Old black & white film, Roman Holiday, onscreen in the background.
will never forget. Gilbert joined me on the dance floor and craziness mounted as a conga line was formed. At one point I made my way over to the dress-up photo booth with my sister-in-law Kate for some wacky pix.

The cutting of the cake followed a series of toasts, unforgettable tributes by the best man and by my sister Claire. And not long after a double dip of both chocolate and lemon cake, the In-N-Out Food truck arrived! A midnight snack of California's famous hamburgers was appreciated by all! The young folks continued on for an after-party at The Standard Hotel while the rest of us made our way tiredly home! Gilbert & Bob & Kate & Holden had a noon flight to catch, so Lee & family swung by to pick me up at the house and take me to the Sunday morning after-party, 'Bagels on the Beach' hosted by the bride's dad Steve and his new wife Mary.

It was a glorious morning on the beach, a brisk breeze (Santa Ana winds off the desert) whisked away the smog, leaving the air fresh and crisp.
Let Them Eat CakeLet Them Eat CakeLet Them Eat Cake

...and many more scrumptious shared meals in their long life together.
LA's backdrop of mountains shone crystal clear in the swept-clean atmosphere. It felt good to kick off the shoes and enjoy lox and bagels at the oceanfront. Jenna shared some fruit and cookies with some skater-boy dudes who were admiring the spread, and they came back around later offer us hot dogs! Steve & Mary had created a beautifully decorated spread with tables and chairs and even some "stuck in the sand" pedestal tables for perching and eating. They had to first fend off the officials who said it looked too much like and organized event (a few bagels handled that) and then chase away the pesky seagulls who were persistent about sampling the yummy treats!

After brunch at the beach we continued up the coast and over the mountains to the San Fernando Valley where we had lived in the late 60's. Lee wanted to show his kids where he'd grown up and the drive around the old neighborhood stirred up some vivid memories for me and my brother. I got a little carsick, climbing over Topanga Canyon's winding roads so I was relegated to the
In-N-Out Burgers!In-N-Out Burgers!In-N-Out Burgers!

The In-N-Out Food Truck came by just before midnight to offer wedding guests an after cake treat - yummy burgers!
front seat once we hit Mulholland Drive. That evening Claire invited us all over to her home and we went out for Chinese to share one more meal together before dispersing to the four winds. I had booked a room at the same hotel where Lee's family was staying (LA room rates, gulp!) and the next morning I rode back with them to the airport to pick up my rental car.

Now that I had my own wheels, I headed down to Anaheim where I connected with old friends Stacy & Kyle. They live in San Diego, but had just run the Disney 5K so I joined them for a visit the day after their run. We went for dinner with friends of theirs at the famous Katella Deli and I stayed on the fold-out bed in their hotel suite. Stacy is an OLD friend (since 1976) and we try to reconnect as often as possible, but it had been a few years since our last visit, so it was great to catch up!

I continued on down to San Diego where I spent
An Old Family TraditionAn Old Family TraditionAn Old Family Tradition

When we were kids the four of us used to scramble for the privilege of undoing Dad's bow tie each evening when he got home from work. Bob & Lee had the honor at Jenna's wedding.
a lovely afternoon with my dear friend Joan (she's in her 80's and still teaching yoga!) and then had dinner with old pal Michelle (we met when we were both doing volunteer work at a Vietnamese refugee camp in Malaysia in 1993!) That night I stayed with friends of Joan's - a couple who had taken yoga with her and visited me in Banos when they came to Ecuador. I love how travelers' paths criss-cross and then cross again!

I had a long drive the next day, from San Diego up to Fresno. I had loaded up my ipod with some episodes of 'This American Life' from PBS. I usually like to listen to audio-books when I make a long solo drive; it felt right to be listening to this particular program while driving north on the California freeways! I was struck by how dry and brown the landscape was as I climbed over the Grapevine on I5 and closer to Fresno farmlands were dotted with signs saying No Water / No Jobs! I arrived at Sue's place in Fresno in time for a quick lie-down before we met Taiwanese friends of hers
Wedding GuestsWedding GuestsWedding Guests

It was nice to have a chance to get to know some folks better - I had briefly met Joyce & Philip a year ago, we bonded at the wedding!
for a fabulous Chinese meal.

The next morning Sue and I headed northwest to visit her Uncle Bill in Santa Rosa. A lively widower in his late 70's, he hosted a 'Taco Bowl' dinner for us, his grandson, and three of his other nieces and their spouses. It was really nice to spend an evening with this very loving family who welcomed me in. You'd think I'd have had enough of family after all of the wedding gatherings, but it's somehow different when it's someone else's family! We spent the night in Uncle Bill's spacious home; we each had our own room complete with guest towels displayed on the elegant bedding.

Then Sue & I continued up toward Mendocino, stopping at a highly recommended bakery near Sebastopol (WildFlour Bakers in Fremont). Sue was very indulgent about stopping at Salvation Army & Goodwill stores so I could look for some discount clothing. I love shopping second-hand; someone else has already done the shopping so you never know what you might find! Munching on our scones and ciabatta loaf, we
Beautiful BountyBeautiful BountyBeautiful Bounty

Wow! A whole beach covered with polished glass bits! The cliff near Ft Bragg served as a dump for old cars and appliances until the 50's. Mother nature took over to make beauty out of rubbish!
continued northwards winding along the coastline. The Mendocino coast is wild and savage with tumbles of craggy lava boulders and crashing waves. The jagged coastline has steep drop-offs and deep inlets making for breathtaking views looking north- or southward.

I had booked us an Air B'n'B Suite online and we arrived in Ft Bragg at Cottage at Garden's Edge in time for a short rest before sunset. The owner had turned his three-car garage into a spacious suite, complete with two double beds, kitchenette, & living room. The decor was elegant and tasteful with many thoughtful touches like a window seat with back pillows and a cozy blanket, a large table, and reading lights. We were also given full run of the breathtaking oriental-inspired gardens complete with use of the sauna & outdoor hot tub. Heaven!

At dusk we went to the cliffs over Glass Beach to try and get the lay of the land. It was drizzly and cold so we didn't stay long. Glory be, the next day dawned bright and clear so we returned to Glass Beach
Beach Glass GaloreBeach Glass GaloreBeach Glass Galore

and hiked south, asking along the way to find the descent to the beach glass coves. There were only a few other people there and we spent several hours marveling over the way nature had polished refuse into beautiful translucent nuggets. This stretch of cliffs had served as dumping grounds for a number of years, Ft Bragg residents pushed old cars and kitchen appliances off the edge for decades. Fortunately, mother nature took over! Due to ocean currents the glass bits were tumbled and returned to shore to carpet small rocky coves.

I had seen photos of an amazing array of colors and sizes, but was warned by folks in the town that the beaches had been pretty well picked over. I tried not to feel disappointed as we arrived and found only tiny pebbles of mostly green, brown & clear/milky glass. The longer we stayed and delved deeper into the bounty of the bay the more content I began to feel. Eddies of foamy water swirled over piles of beach glass, making the translucent nubs glisten in the sunlight. Drifts of beach glass stacked up along polished logs,
Glass Beach CoveGlass Beach CoveGlass Beach Cove

Every nook and cranny filled with bits of polished beach glass.
whorls of seaweed and grasses framed glassy fields. This was truly a magical place and there was no reason to feel let down by our visit!

After a delightful lunch in the artisan town of Mendocino, we visited a Beach Glass Museum. A salty old sea captain displayed his collection of colored glass and sold books about beach glass (also known as 'mermaid tears') and handcrafted jewelry made from bits of glass. He told us of his push to have the municipal government 'seed' the diminishing coves with tumbled glass so the miracle of Glass Beach might continue to give back forever. He felt hopeful that the new mayor was more open to his ideas than the previous administration who wrote him off as a nut-job (which he kind of was!)

That evening Sue & I dined at the local Brew Pub and then went for a hot tub soak under the stars. The next day it was a long drive back down to her home in Fresno but never boring with good company
Mendocino GalsMendocino GalsMendocino Gals

This terrace restaurant offered straw hats to its diners! We enjoyed a luscious ladies' lunch overlooking Mendocino Bay.
and lovely scenery. Once we turned inland we saw desolate, dry farms again and the last hour or so felt endless. It felt good to finally arrive home and we eagerly looked forward to a 'down day' the next day... just a few errands to run.

I bought some Scrabble dictionaries (the 5th edition was just published! - lots of new words like: mojito, buzzkill, sudoku, selfie, texter, viog, frenemy, chillax and most important to us rabid players, four new two-letter words: TE GI DA PO). We visited my favorite discount shoe store (DSW) and I found some great walking shoes (MERRELLS). That evening I accompanied Sue to her beginning French class. The teacher, a youngish Parisian who married a Fresno gal, turned us on to all kinds of slang and fun explanations.

Said good-bye to Sue, but just for awhile. She'll be back down to Ecuador for another visit within a month! I drove over to the coast to have lunch in Paso Robles with my good friend Joe. He has moved back from Panama and I
Our Thanksgiving HostessesOur Thanksgiving HostessesOur Thanksgiving Hostesses

Paula & Claire are both amazing cooks and each guest brought a yummy side dish. Food galore!!
got a chance to meet his new live-in girlfriend Gail as we dined at the Cowgirl Cafe. From there I headed south to LA where I spent my last six days staying at Claire's beautiful home in Toluca Lake. I guess I really needed some downtime because I slept about 12 hours a night!

We decided to have a repeat of last year's Thanksgiving -- a potluck feast of friends at Paula's house. Claire & I assembled the stuffing, she roasted one turkey & Paula cooked another, I made some salmon/asparagus roll-ups (leftover lox and cream cheese from Bagels on the Beach) and everyone in attendance (almost 30 people!) brought scrumptious side dishes and desserts. I ended up sitting at a table with the husband, brother and son of an old friend, Robyn, whom I met over 25 yrs ago. Fascinating conversation and a delicious meal.

The day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday), I agreed to hit a few shops with Claire. She and Jenna traditionally spend this day shopping together and I know that my sister was missing her daughter.
Giving ThanksGiving ThanksGiving Thanks

So nice to be with my sister, dad & nephew on Thanksgiving.
I had already bought most of the things I needed to bring back to Ecuador, and I'm not a big 'shopper for shopping's sake' but I found it an interesting experience. I am always struck by how multicultural the greater LA community is. A few times I sat down and waited for Claire, hearing up to 10 different languages spoken in a 5 minute stretch! I'd have to say that the only slightly unpleasant part of the day for me was the non-stop Christmas music. My favorite (not!) was a country version of Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland! We decided to have popcorn for lunch and left the shops to see a matinee of 'The Theory of Everything' - a"viog" of Stephen Hawking's life. Great film and the perfect way to escape Black Friday madness!!

During my last week in California I tried to spend as much time as possible with my Dad. One day I went over to have lunch with him at The Village Restaurant. He eats all of his meals with his lady friend, Bonnie. They are always together but insist to all who
My Dad at Age 88My Dad at Age 88My Dad at Age 88

Looking good and feeling great. Aside from increasing dementia (short term memory issues), Dad's in fair shape for his age.
ask that they are just friends. Their level of dementia is about neck'n'neck, so it's a real kick to hear the same stories and jokes over and over again. They have this cute little 'shtick' they do where Bonnie comments on what a good friend my Dad is and he replies with, 'What was your name again?' and she rejoinders with another memory crack and then they're both reduced to giggles. Lots of laughter helps them to cope with their day to day reality.

After lunch that day Dad & I went to The Village Theatre and watched the Oliver Stone movie, JFK (all 3 1/2 hours of it). Actually, I think my dad stayed awake through more of it than I did - a new record! Great film, good acting, but SO long and at times repetitive. When the movie finally ended, it was time for dinner (which starts at 4:30 pm at The Village). So, we met Bonnie for dinner and more lively conversation. As we exited the dining room, my Dad saw the sign for the movie and said, 'Oh, JFK - that's supposed to be a good
Full Family FotoFull Family FotoFull Family Foto

Dad poses with all four kids, two daughters-in-law, one former son-in-law and five of his six grandchildren!
movie. I want to go see it!'

One day it was raining really hard and Claire & I wanted to take Dad out for lunch. Luckily, she knows all the ins & outs and chose a Cheesecake Factory in a mall that had Valet Parking which left us right near the restaurant in a covered walkway so we could avoid the rain completely! Dad enjoys getting out now and then, but he does tire quickly these days. His short-term memory is all but gone (teflon) but he hasn't lost his sense of humor and he remains upbeat and grateful to all who do things to help him cope with his new reality.

I am back in Ecuador now, but still in Quito for a series of medical tests. Just before I left for the US my gyn found a tumor during a regular annual exam. It's a fairly large teratoma that has encapsulated my left ovary. Scans and blood tests show that it's almost definitely benign, but it's best to move ahead and have both of my ovaries
Bob & JillBob & JillBob & Jill

Great to spend time with my brother and his family in the days leading up to the wedding.
removed - surgery will most likely be scheduled for next week. Today I had a CAT scan (my co-pay was $23!) and later this afternoon I see a cardiologist to get the go-ahead. The surgeon says she can do a mini-laparoscopy with very small incisions and just an epidural (no general anesthesia). They'll probably keep me in the hospital over one night for observation and several friends have offered to help me during recovery (less than a week. I'm told).

I'm hoping to be fully healed by the time Sue gets here (Xmas day) and just as her visit ends in January I'll be accompanying more volunteers to the Andean village for work on a pilot in-ground greenhouse project. SO - once again life has gotten hectic - at least for the next couple of months! Please be sure to scroll down to see a few more Glass Beach photos (I couldn't stop snapping!). I love to hear from you so if you're still reading, drop me a message!! hugs frm the equator!!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Beach Glass DisplayBeach Glass Display
Beach Glass Display

Twigs, seaweed, a few pebbles and tons of smooth glass bits.
Beach DancingBeach Dancing
Beach Dancing

Glorious day for a hike along the cliffs just above Glass Beach. Note the natural tide pool in the background.
Handfuls of Gorgeousness!Handfuls of Gorgeousness!
Handfuls of Gorgeousness!

Also known as mermaid tears, beach glass is tumbled by the sea before being washed ashore.
Water's EdgeWater's Edge
Water's Edge

I just could not get enough of the beauty and wonder of this magical place, Glass Beach in Ft Bragg, Calif (10 miles north of the town of Mendocino)

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