This is 50, Day 01: It’s My Birthday!

2 08 2016

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years.”
— Abraham Lincoln

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The first day of 50 started out as any normal day. We woke at 6 a.m., Lynn wished me a Happy Birthday, I made him breakfast, we prayed together, and I saw him off to work.

In terms of money, my wad was pretty much blown. What I would have liked to have done is had breakfast at one of my new favorite spots in Montrose and then spent the afternoon at Color Me Mine. But I had an already fabulous lead up to my birthday, and more plans with friends this evening and later in the week, including a big bash put on by my friend and fellow Yogi Nancy Kane; so not getting what I wanted on the day was a pebble in the ocean; small and insignificant.

What I did was stay in my PJs for a while, something that I rarely get to do, but that always feels like a mini-vacation when I can. Part of that gift basket from Carrie contained some really good coffee, so I brewed it up, and had a cup with my leftover treats from Sweetie Pie’s in Napa.

While I am not big on reward programs (too many cards to lose, not a huge frequenter of the establishment, etc.), I am a loyal follower of CityWok, a Chinese place that I used to frequent when we lived in the Valley. They are always faithful to send me my free entree coupon for my birthday! So I decided to traipse into the Valley and get my favorite combination fried rice, all for free. Free food on your birthday tastes even better!

The birthday evening was booked in advance. Gina Harris, a new friend from church invited me out to DiSH, a newish La Crescenta restaurant.

She brought her friend Becky along, and we had a good time being girls and enjoying a fine meal. I ordered Braised Beef Short Ribs with Shallots, Carrots, and Celery, in a red wine reduction, over Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Asparagus. It tasted even better than it looked!

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After the weekend and all the sugar from Sweetie Pies, I said I was going to avoid sweets until the big bash on Saturday. The best laid plans… the waitress surprised me with a slice of flourless Chocolate Ganache. This was one of the best flourless cakes I had ever tasted. I definitely needed to get into a Hot Power Fusion class tomorrow.

Detox to Retox, because there is more celebrating to be done.

Happy Birthday to me!

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50 Days to 50 Years, Day 03: Napa Girl’s Weekend with Shawna Cypher!

29 07 2016

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving
for my friends, the old and new.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been so looking forward to this weekend, and thankful for my friend Shawna who helped to set it up.

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Shawna and I have known each other since 1994, when she came to Los Angeles as a nanny, and we have been the best of friends ever since. From weekends, to dinners, to impromptu road trips, she has been one of my best road dogs. I was sad when she moved back to Napa, but it also opened the door for trips up north to see her, with other friends and family in tow (as pictured above). This picture was taken the year before, when we went to Walnut Creek for the Foxx Family Reunion. We stopped in Napa on the way and spent some time with Shawna, and then Shawna crashed the reunion as our “sister from another mister”, and we all had a great time!

So when I thought of getting together a group of friends for a Girl’s Weekend, she was first on my list. Because of time, distance, and finances, some friends and family couldn’t make it, but I was looking forward to spending time with my cousin Donna and my aunt Everette, as well as my new friend Nicole, who was joining us on Saturday.

I had an amazingly smooth trip up the 5 freeway. Car rides are like a moving meditation for me, and also a moving prayer time. I have done my best praying and pondering on the road, and after the strains of the last weekend, it was needed. I enjoyed taking my sweet time, worshiping to my favorite Pandora stations, and listening for God’s wisdom and voice. Definitely time well spent.

I arrived at the Air BnB rented by Shawna’s friend Gina, and Shawna was there waiting for me. She and Gina helped me get the lay of the land, then Donna and aunt Everette arrived soon after. Shawna loved being navigator and chauffeur, and after 7 hours on the road that was fine with me. So we packed into her Rav-4 and headed to dinner at The Pear!

Shawna raved about this place, and since she has the same food tastes I do, I trusted her judgment. I was not disappointed! We started with Sunset Mimosas, Cheese Fondue, and Grilled Prawns. I love me some crustaceans, so I ordered Cheesy Grits with Prawns for my entree. It was melt-in-your-mouth, hearty goodness.

Shawna is a scrapbooker and crafter, so thanks to her mad skills, I received my first official 50th birthday card! Custom-made, no less.

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After dessert, we explored the Riverfront in Downtown Napa for a bit, and I realized this was the first time in a while that I had spent any quality time with my Aunt Everette. She is one of the last living Foxx matriarchs, and I wanted to soak up her presence as a living memory of that family and my mother.

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We saw all we could see of the Riverfront, so we headed back to the BnB for some conversation and a nightcap. Shawna had to go to work, and Everette went to bed, so me and Donna sat up a bit longer and had some good conversation about men, marriage, and how God wanted to use us as partners to the men we loved. Much needed conversation. My eyelids were drooping, so we prayed together, and both went off to bed.

Day 1 of the weekend had turned out fabulous, and I was looking forward to Day 2: Mani-pedis, and the Castello di Amaros Winery!





50 Days to 50 Years, Day 09: Santa Fe Foodie Excursion and an evening with Evan O’Connell

23 07 2016

Day 2 of the Santa Fe Foodie Excursion started with this gorgeous view outside our condo. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to that every morning? Well, at least we have one more morning to enjoy it.

Even though downtown Santa Fe was a mere four blocks downhill, the thought of walking uphill with full bellies was not something either Lynn or I wanted to look forward to; so like the Angeleans that we are, we drove, and paid for parking. You can take the O’Connells out of Los Angeles….

And our bellies were definitely filled to the brim! Carlos of Food Tour New Mexico was our guide for the day’s excursion. He did a great job of mixing the love of food with the love of culture, along with a sprinkling of New Mexico history.

Our first stop on the tour was San Francisco Bar and Grill, in the heart of the Santa Fe Plaza.The Plaza is the central part of the city, hosting Indian and Spanish markets, along with community gatherings and cultural events, so it was a short walk from the center of the Plaza to the restaurant. They served us an awesome Chicken Enchiladas with Chimao Red and Hatch Chiles, commonly known as “Christmas” style.

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Stop #2, and my personal favorite,  was to Thunderbird Bar and Grill, which boasts over 100 different tequila varieties, extensive wine and beer offerings, and other spirits. The Green Chile Pork Soup with Acedero (a Mexican form of Mozzarella) was simply divine. Carlos offered a little foodie tip: To increase the flavor of meats boiled in liquid, allow the meat to cool in the liquid. You could definitely taste the infusion of richness in the pork. I could have had another bowl, but it was on to the next leg of the tour.

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To cleanse our palates, Stop #3 was to The Original Santa Fe Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Company. Carlos made us a “Birthday Cake” combination of Pineapple Balsamic Vinegar and Avocado Lemon Olive Oil. You could have it over ice and drink it, it was that scrumptious!

In between stops we were treated to some historical wonders and spectacular views from the La Fonda rooftop, the rooftop of the 5th Floor Presidential Suite of the Inn and Spa at Loretto, the Rosary Tree, and the Miraculous Staircase at the Chapel Loretto.

We also continued to meet some fun people. A couple of the participants in the Johnny Vee cooking class were there, along with some new faces. Three friends in particular captured my writer’s interest: Brittany, Julie, and Katie decided to take a mini-respite to Santa Fe, so Brittany and Katie drove up from Midland, Texas, and Julie flew in from Florida to meet up. I just love stories, and friendships like that. Katie also won the award for most fashionable, with a great dress and hat combination.

Since we had adequately walked off the burrito and the soup, we headed to Stop #4: Upper Crust Pizza for a New Mexico specialty: Hatch Green Chile Pizza.

Upper Crust Pizza is in an historical building in the oldest part of town. The crust is unique to this region; can’t be replicated anywhere else… kind of like Chicago Deep Dish! I was sold—both the Hatch Green Chile and the Red Chile pizzas were well worth the wait; and I was happy we had walked off the earlier fare so I could scarf down three slices!

And, of course, what would a foodie tour be without dessert! Stop #5 was to Senor Murphy Candymaker, which has been serving Santa Fe for 71 years. We sampled a quartet of treats including Bolitos and Pinon Fudge. The shop specializes in Pinon treats (“Pine Nuts” to the rest of the U.S.) which is a nut found exclusively in the state of New Mexico.

This leg of the excursion ended at Senior Murphy’s, and Lynn and I did a little bit of exploring the open air market, looking at the historical spots along old Route 66, and admiring some of the unique artistic endeavors that characterize Santa Fe before heading back to our condo to meet up with Evan.

One of the nice bonuses of marriage is that you get an extended family. I love Lynn’s brothers and sisters and their kids, and often wished they lived closer; but then, we wouldn’t have an excuse to visit if they did! Albuquerque is an hour south of Santa Fe, so Lynn’s nephew Evan wanted to drive up to see us this trip—so very sweet of him!

Evan met us at the condo, and we drove back into downtown Santa Fe, and stopped at a French restaurant for dessert. L’Olivier (how apropos) had a lovely patio, the manager played Getz/Gilberto in the background, and to add to the magical, Franco atmosphere, it rained!

One of the best features was a quote painted on the inside wall of the restaurant:

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Evan is an exceptionally talented artist, and through his studies, is getting well-versed in architecture. We walked around the Plaza at night, talking about the church structures and unique features of some of the monasteries in the West.

All-in-all, a pleasurable ending to our second day in Santa Fe.

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 23, Griffith Observatory with the Velas!

9 07 2016

“Beautiful memories are like old friends. They may not always be on your mind, but they are forever in your heart.” — Susan Gale

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Hermione and Samuel Vela are longtime and lifetime friends. Hermione and I met at The Church on the Way back in the mid-90s. While we knew each other, our relationship was mostly seeing each other on Sundays and at college and single’s group activities. I started attending a particular single’s group at the megachurch, and met a unique and stellar young man named Kelly Rivers. He invited me to his “Breakfast Club” early on Thursday mornings, and I discovered that Hermione and several other friends I knew were a part of it. That helped to change the nature of our relationship, and we started building a friendship outside of the group. However, when she asked if I wanted to meet one-on-one for accountability and prayer, well that pretty transformed us individually and corporately.

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Charles Finney said, “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

He is right. Hermione is a sister of my heart, as well as my family, and much of that is a result of the time we have spent together in prayer. The older I get, the more I understand how rare and how precious this bond is, and I am grateful to have it.

Hermione has seen and prayed me through depression, family reconciliation, loneliness, financial stress, faith struggles—the highs and the lows over two decades. I saw her come together with Samuel, and she and Samuel saw my coming together with Lynn.

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She was there to welcome my sister June and niece Gabi to California, and she was there to support me as June battled illness after illness, left to go back to Chicago, then returned to ultimately pass away. Hermione and Samuel grieved with us when June went to glory, and was there to support us as we navigated that grief.

Through upheavals, moves, and times of inertia we have maintained a quality friendship and a prayer partnership, and I am thankful and blessed that the quality of the friendship gets richer as we advance in years.

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One of the great privileges of lifelong friendship is to see the growth of family and relationships. Over the last several years, Samuel and Hermione have chosen to foster and then adopt two children: Jaxin and Yolanda. They are brother and sister, and as is the plight of many foster children, their lives have not been easy and their hurdles are often high. It takes a special heart to not only welcome these children into your family, but to work and fight to help them leap those hurdles and become who God created them to be; not what hard circumstances deformed them to be. Samuel and Hermione have those beautiful hearts, and I admire and revere them for this.

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Juggling schedules with children takes a certain type of art, but we were able to get together to celebrate their contribution to my 50 Days to 50 Years. We spent the evening at Griffith Observatory for their “Star Party”. Once a month, the observatory encourages amateur astronomers to bring their telescopes, and the staff have their own set up to assist interested parties in seeing constellations, the moon, and even some of the planets.

I brought a picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, vegetarian casserole, tacos, and brownies, and we knoshed, talked and watched all the buzz around the telescopes. We got a few views through telescopes of the moon, but for the most part we just spent time enjoying each other’s company and getting to know Jaxin and Yolanda a bit better.

Griffith Observatory is awesome for 360 degree views of Los Angeles, from Pasadena to the beach. We were able to take in the entire city from sun up to sunset, and enjoy the lights of the city that make Los Angeles look stunning.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 37, Burbank day trippin’ with Wesley & Evy

25 06 2016

“You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”― Frederick Buechner

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I love this quote because it so full of truth. For 28 of my 50 years I have lived across the country from the majority of my family; but they have remained present, in my heart, prayers, and DNA. Which is why when we do have opportunity to see each other, it is always a joy.

Wesley is one of my favorite nephews (I have several), and his wife Evy equally so. Wesley chose well when he married her—she is beautiful, funny, smart, an exceptional mother, and more importantly, loves the Lord with all her heart. Bryana and Caleb are Wes and Evy’s babies, my grand niece and nephew who are also smart, funny, and a delight to be around.

So I was thrilled when they decided to vacation in Southern California for a second year in a row! Evy has a ton of relatives in Anaheim and the Inland Empire, so the bulk of their time is spent with them; but I am grateful they always make time for Auntie Jennifer. They flew in from Chicago O’Hare to LAX on Saturday morning, and after collecting their luggage and obtaining a rental car, they drove to my house. We piled into my car and had lunch at In-N-Out at the Burbank Town Center. After we got our Double-Double-animal-style grub on, we went to the mall so that Wesley could buy a cap from Lids, and also ended up at Claire’s where Bryana got to buy some items for her girly-girl supply.

Wes and Evy surprised me with an impromptu pedicure for my birthday, and the kids had a great time riding animals around the mall.

We continued the afternoon with a driving tour of Burbank, stopping at Walt Disney Studios to see the 7 Dwarves building, and the sound stages of the Warner Bros. main lot. Our last stop was Universal Citywalk, a quintessential L.A. hangout spot with lots of music and interactive delights that captured the rapt attention of five-year-old Caleb.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 43, Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn with Theresa and AJ Danna

19 06 2016

“Cherish your human connections – your relationships with friends and family.” — Barbara Bush

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Theresa and I have been friends since the early 1990s, when we both were part of the now-defunct Masters of Professional Writing program at USC. She was one of the best parts to come out of those years in graduate school. She is a keeper (she says the same about me—verklempt), and we have watched each other’s lives through boyfriends and breakups, forced moves, intentional moves, job milestones, job losses and job stresses. But I am most thankful for being a part of her life because I got to see her son AJ enter the world and grow up. AJ turned 18 yesterday, marking a milestone in all our lives.

Theresa had AJ at 40, and I was there during the pregnancy, babysat him when he was little, and got to hang out with him at all sorts of things: from the kids show at the UCLA Los Angeles Book Fair, to the Chinese New Year celebrations, and various times and birthdays in between. They were a part of many Thanksgivings and Christmases in Los Angeles, and they had a front row seat as I met and married Lynn. My sister June was a pivotal part of their lives too, and they grieved right alongside me when she died.

I am honored and blessed by our family connection, and am so proud of the young man AJ has become. AJ is not your typical millennial: he knows what he wants, and he is pursuing it with passion and smarts. He has already gotten some major screen time doing background coverage in film and television, and he has a really spectacular voiceover reel over at his YouTube channel. He has met, and is being mentored by some of the best names in the voiceover and entertainment business. That is all AJ’s doing—no one handed it to him—he pursued them, was offered the opportunity, and made the necessary space for it.

AJ knows the players in his industry, and knows more about networking than any career coach I have encountered. In fact, as we were leaving the Barn, he ran into Mark Silverman, the voice of Rod Serling from the Disney Theme Park ride “Tower of Terror”, and just struck up a conversation with him. AJ’s confidence and his comfort in his own skin and his purpose are well beyond his years. He is focused and dedicated to his craft; but more importantly, he is one of the most personable and kind people I know.

Both AJ and Theresa are practically Disney historians, so I got to spend a bit of time with them at Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn in Griffith Park. This is a FREE thing in Los Angeles, and right in my backyard, so even on this 107 degree Los Angeles day, it was a win-win, not just for the fun exploration, but to have some time with them both.

Fifty years on this earth teaches you that time is precious, and people’s presence in your life through the sorrows and the celebrations, growing up, and growing older makes it even more so. Thank you, Theresa and AJ for loving me and being part of my life . I love you both very much.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 45, Couples Therapy

17 06 2016

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress;
working together is success.” — Henry Ford

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The best kind, actually.

Robert and Gina are among the first people we met at Montrose Church in a Faith and Film Class led by producer Ralph Winter, and we loved them immediately. Robert has an acerbic wit honed by his years as a police detective, and Gina is the sweetest, most welcoming person you could ever meet; she exudes genuine warmth and is an extremely smart lady. We were blessed and delighted that the feeling was mutual, and it was sad when the 8-week class ended, because we wouldn’t have opportunity to see them every week. While going to a church with two campuses and multiple services has benefits, that is one of drawbacks; so it requires intentionality to stay connected.

When Lynn and I became members of the church, we let Robert and Gina know, and asked if they would be there when we were welcomed into the church family. They wholeheartedly agreed, and also invited us on a dinner date with them in the future—their treat!

We had a grand time tonight at Los Gringos Locos in La Canada Flintridge, imbibing margaritas, eating chips and salsa, and inhaling burritos, tacos, guacamole, and enchiladas.

But more than that, we had the opportunity to draw upon the wisdom of a couple who has done marriage successfully for over 27 years. Robert and Gina shared some insights with us that were thought-provoking and profound. They also shared the joy of friendship, mutual respect, and laughter.

Lynn and I are moving toward one decade together, and desire to continue to thrive. To do that, it is essential that we have the support and weight of a community that encourages that success, and embodies it. We are grateful Robert and Gina are a part of that community, and we look forward to more time with them in “couples therapy”.