50 Days to 50 Years, Day 00: Bye, Bye Napa, Hello 5 Freeway, Goodbye 40s…

1 08 2016

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” — John Steinbeck

This could be said of the road trip to Santa Fe, this one, and the trip through these past 50 Days to 50 Years. While I did not manage to connect with 50 friends over the 50 days, it was a very fruitful, fun, and enlightening experience, which carved a new space in the year and in my life: a larger space of gratitude for the people and events who have shaped the woman I am today, and a new space of embracing the legacy of years. I am thankful that I approach the 50s with few regrets, and a beautiful bouquet of people, places, and memories, including my husband, our marriage, and our life together. So the journey up to now has been mostly sweet, and my prayer is that it will continue to grow sweeter.

I packed my things, gave my thanks to Gina for the use of her Air BnB, and said my goodbyes. Since we kept skipping a formal breakfast these past two days, I decided to meet Shawna for one last meal at Black Bear Diner before I hit the road.

Black Bear is another Shawna find, and they have some of the best comfort food west of the Mississippi. One of their specialties is sweet cream pancakes, french toast, muffins, you name it. The sweet cream adds an extra layer of richness to the already fluffy texture of the bread, that is only enhanced by syrup, more butter, and whatever else you want to top it with. Had I been smart, I would have bought some muffins or sweetbread to take with me—maybe next trip….

It was delicious fuel for the body for the 6-plus hour drive back South. The car needed fuel too, so I gassed up at the Fairfield Costco before hopping the 5 South for a mostly uneventful ride back to Los Angeles. This is Northern and Southern California after all, and the traffic is legendary; but for the most part, the drive was smooth.

I arrived home to ecstatic puppies and a happy husband, so perhaps a weekend getaway was a perfect solution to reset us. We would be celebrating 9 years married in two days, so a reset was a good thing.

I also came home to a couple of sweet presents: a personalized gift basket from Lynn’s sister Carrie, and a lovely photo book from my sister Joan.

The last day of 49 ended as desired: at home with the people I love, on a mellow note, with anticipation of things to come as I crossed the threshold into 50.

 

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50 Days to 50 Years, Day 01: Napa Girl’s Weekend, Part 3: Jason Bourne and Sweetie Pies

31 07 2016

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”  — Ovid

That we did. Sunday was another leisurely morning where we did not much. Nibbled on the still leftover snacks, had coffee, and just chilled. I patched in briefly to the live feed of the 10 am service at Montrose Church back in Los Angeles, then we made the effort to get dressed for the grand event that day: Jason Bourne.

Yes, I love Matt Damon’s acting, and the Bourne series is one of my favorites of his work; so what better way to spend the day than watching the latest installment?

We even got to drag Shawna’s mom Nasha out the house, which is something Shawna says she rarely does. I felt honored that she would join us for the excursion—Nasha’s like another mom.

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While not any match for the previous three, Jason Bourne was serviceable. A perfect fluff film for a leisurely afternoon.

We decided to show Nicole the Riverfront in Downtown Napa, and Shawna had a certificate for a confectionery called Sweetie Pies. Not to be mistaken for the restaurant made famous by Oprah, this was just a simple shop that sold specialty and gourmet pastries, cakes, and cookies, and the usual coffee and tea offerings that go along with them.

Wow! While not a sugar addict, this place was worth all the calories. Much of it was so rich, that we had leftovers to knosh on later.

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Nasha was past her threshold of being around the public, so we dropped her off, and me, Shawna, and Nicole did Chinese food for dinner. Nicole was heading back to Alameda (near San Francisco), and ordered a to-go meal for her fianceé Georgios, who was very sweet to let his love spend a few days with me.

The best part of girlfriends, and especially Christian girlfriends, is that along with the laughter, fun, sharing, and eating, we also pray together. Nicole shared some difficult things that were going on with the wedding and Georgios’ family, and she knew of my struggles as well. So before she drove off, we spent some time in prayer. No matter what the issues, inviting the Lord into it is a guarantee of our peace and helps me to look for his action and answer in the midst of the situation.

The Girlfriend’s Weekend was inspired, special, and now complete. Shawna stayed for a little bit before she had to head to work. The last night in the Air BnB was uneventful, which was also an appropriate end.

 





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 10: Santa Fe, NM with Chef Johnny Vee

22 07 2016

“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon
or not at all.” — Harriet Van Horne, Vogue 10/1956

We left Flagstaff in the early AM, and arrived in Santa Fe by late afternoon. Just in time enough to check into our condominium, get settled, and then head back into Downtown Santa Fe for our cooking class!

Back in March, I found a deal with Epitourean, a vacation touring company that specializes in foodie excursions! The packages are all-inclusive with lodging, a cooking class with a local chef, a food tour of the best area restaurants, and dinner at a 5-Star restaurant. I love Southwestern Food, so Santa Fe seemed an inspired choice.

Las Cosas Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School is a Santa Fe institution, and Chef Johnny Vollertsen (“Johnny Vee”) has done classes there for almost 20 years. He has opened restaurants and run kitchens, so he organized the 12 of us with humor and precision to make a “New Mexico Combination Plate” of Chile con Queso with fresh homemade Corn Tortillas; Blue Corn Chile Relleno and New Mexico Red Chile Sauce; Carne Adovado; Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas; Pork Tamales, Green Rice, and Drunken Pintos; Sopaipillas; and Frozen Ancho Peanut Butter Pie.

We met a lovely variety of people, from a lady from Michigan, to a mother-daughter duo from Wisconsin, to two friends from Colorado, and even one woman visiting from New Zealand! Most of the ingredients were already set up for each dish, so this added to the magic of being able to quickly get up to speed. Lynn and I did some sous chef work of chopping Green Chiles and onions for the Chile con Queso, then whipped all the ingredients together for a delicious appetizer. We then helped the others with their dish assignments, along with nibbling on the selections that were already completed.

I also helped to whip up the frozen Ancho Peanut Butter Pie (which I didn’t get a picture of—darn it!) While I learned a ton about Red and Green Chiles and their different varieties, after tasting this dish, and what a difference a bit of Ancho Powder made to the dessert, well, I had an overwhelming need to buy it. It’s still on the agenda, as we didn’t have much time to shop over the weekend.

We all participated in smashing the movable feast, with plenty of leftovers to take home.

And for icing on the cake, we all got a copy of the recipes we made, along with a signed cookbook! I can’t wait to get a place with a better kitchen so that I can play around with these new favorites.

The Chile con Queso and Homemade Corn Tortillas will be first on the menu.

 

 

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 11, A CAAN surprise and a Road Trip!

21 07 2016

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” — William Feather

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Day 11 of 50 Days to 50 Years started with dropping off my Nissan X-Terra to Pep Boys for some servicing in the early AM. You see, the first BIG adventure of my 50 Years is a Food Excursion to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we are heading out today; so I had to make sure the car was in good shape to go the over 800 miles through the deserts of California and Arizona, and mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.

The temperature index in Los Angeles is expected to reach 100 degrees, and at 7:30 a.m. it was already 71. So I trundled from Pep Boys down to the local McDonald’s, got a Caramel McCafe, and enjoyed the A/C until the service desk called me to say my car was ready.

And they completed the service in just the right amount of time to keep my 10:00 a.m. appointment with Miriam Smith, Columbia College Chicago’s Executive Director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving. I have the distinct pleasure of working with Miriam on the CAAN Alumni Board, where she does incredible work and inspires us as we seek to do more for the alumni. I was honored that on her visit to Los Angeles, she wanted to make sure she touched based with me. And even more happy that I had a window of time before we headed out of town.

We went to one of my favorite breakfast spots, The Village Bakery and Cafe on Los Feliz Boulevard. I was actually a few minutes early, and so was Miriam! So that worked out well.

Miriam had the Atwater Village Special, and I had the Village Scramble, both delicious and filling. We had a good talk about my time on the board, and how I’d like to contribute in this next year as the new Southwest Regional Representative! It was a very lovely start to what I was looking forward to being a lovely weekend. We finished breakfast, and Miriam had to jet off to her next meeting. We hugged and looked forward to seeing each other at the CAAN Board retreat in September.

Then it was off home to complete our packing, put it all in the car, and hit the 210 Freeway to the I-15! I do love road trips, and love them even more when someone else is driving. Lynn seems to prefer doing that, so I bow to his road warrior. It is just great to get out of your world, and right now our world is a mixed bag of delight and depression; so for me, getting away from it all has taken on pronounced importance of late.

We got underway around 12:30 p.m., fueled up, and away we went! Save for a rest area or two in between, we made it into Kingman, Arizona around 6:30 p.m., and had our last “official” California meal for the weekend at the quintessential California stop: In-N-Out Burger.

Four hours later, we arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona, where we were set to repair for the night. Motel 6 is our inexpensive go-to place on road trips, usually because we have the Bubbas and Bubbette with us, and Motel 6 is not only pet-friendly, but FREE for all pets; no deposit required. But Motel 6 has also been good to us on our little excursions that have spanned, with a few years’ interruption, over the past five years. In terms of brands, if you are good to me, I am often loyal to a fault; so Motel 6 continues to get our loyalty.

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They did indeed leave the light on for us! We are checked in, and look forward to a good night’s sleep before taking the additional 430 miles to New Mexico tomorrow.

 

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 12, SweetSalt with Susan Baker and Mihret

20 07 2016

“Treat every connection, communication and collaboration as part of a continuous relationship.” ― Kim Chandler McDonald, Flat World Navigation: Collaboration and Networking in the Global Digital Economy

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It was so great on Day 12 to reconnect with The Escape Hatcher Susan M. Baker, and her little girl Mihret at SweetSalt in Toluca Lake.

I met Susan through Douglas Welch, a friend and new media professional. Both Susan and Doug were pivotal parts of the career group I used to run called Tuesdays with Transitioners, and it was through New Media Mastermind, a group that Doug formed which included myself, Susan, Jennifer “Jungle Jenny” Michaels, Danielle Gruen, and Tracy Pattin, that the first CareerCamp in 2010 was born!

Doug, Susan, Danielle and I were the first co-chairs, and the Congregational Church of Northridge, which sponsored Tuesdays with Transitioners, was the location. That was an exciting time, where we spearheaded three other Careercamps (L.A., South L.A. and Santa Clarita). We had a great time in the Mastermind group learning how to use new media to better promote ourselves and our endeavors, bouncing ideas off each other, and seeing how we could be instrumental in helping each other’s visions come to fruition. Susan also ran a group called Nohopreneurs, which brought local entrepreneurs together for lunch and networking.

Both our lives have changed tremendously over the last six years. In 2010, Susan was in the process of adopting beautiful Mihret from an Ethiopian adoption agency, and had her in arms that next year. So for Susan, careers and reinvention took a back seat to new motherhood (of course). For me, the Yoga reinvention happened, and life has been a series of rollercoaster rides, a few of which I am still on.

Susan was beautiful and glowing, so motherhood definitely suits her. Mihret was energetic and curious, as any six year old is, and exceptionally gorgeous—modeling should definitely be in her future.

SweetSalt was a new find for me, and I will be back! Not only was the Duck Confit sandwich quite tasty, but they have natural sodas that rival any you would find in the grocery store.

We caught up on our lives, discussing Yoga, travel, what was happening with the reinvention industry, writing, relocation, and education. Susan was involved as a volunteer at Mihret’s school, and I discussed my role on the CAAN National Board. She wanted to be an example to Mihret and emphasize through action the importance of education and being involved in its potential to change lives and allow students to flourish.

I enjoyed the meeting of minds, particularly in the area of careers and reinvention. Susan is exceptionally smart and resourceful, and it hearkened back to our time in the Mastermind group—with the addition of interruptions from a bright and bouncy six year old.

Thank you, Susan, for being a part of my 50 years: enriching my life with connection, vision, and also being a shining example of reinvention and new beginnings in the second half of your life. I hope we get the opportunity to collaborate again one day soon.