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 14, Bea Bea’s Brunch with Dave and Meegan

18 07 2016

“Happiness is time spent with a friend and looking forward to sharing time with them again.” — Lee Wilkinson

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The bunch at Bea Bea’s in Burbank really know how to do breakfast. They offer the usual breakfast fare, but with specialties like “Thai Tea Pancakes” or “Green Tea Monster”, and their menu items have fun names like, “Jumpin’ Jacks”, “Pooh’s Sunrise”, and “Chocolate Tuxedo”. Unbeknownst to me, Meegan had fallen in love with the place when she had to go out to Burbank for her hand therapy. So when we were deciding on where to meet for this 50 Days to 50 Years challenge, and I mentioned Bea Beas, her eyes lit up. Score!

An added bonus: I got to see the Weilands on Saturday, and on Monday—so blessed!

Lynn and I met the Weilands at Congregational Church of Northridge, and we all hit it off right away. We are in the same age wheelhouse, although Dave, Meegan, and Lynn have already crossed over to the 50 club. Lynn and Dave are both Valley boys born and raised, but with parents of Midwest stock; so they share lots of similar growing up experiences and values. Dave is a sound engineer by trade, and Lynn is an electronics geek, so they can talk ad infinitum about esoteric minutiae that would bore the rest of us to tears.

Meegan is the baby girl of a large family, and so am I; so our growing up experiences also paralleled. She is a creative genius, who can craft or crochet anything. There was a time when I had a baby shower to go to, and wanted a unique present. Meegan went into her stash and pulled out the most beautiful baby caps and blankets—stuff that she had on hand, just in case someone needed it. That’s the kind of people they both are: committed, prepared, and generous beyond measure.

We barely knew them when they helped out at our wedding. And as our friendship has grown, they have been our supports and encouragement through some toxic years. From taking care of our dogs when Lynn was in the emergency room, to letting us hang at their house when we were in between situations.

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The New Living Translation of Proverbs 17:17 says “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” When you find people who are constant through the highs and lows, treasure them, because they are rare.

The Weilands are such treasure, and I am thankful they choose to call us friends.

 

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 17, Craft Burgers at Morrison with Bob McNelis

15 07 2016

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis

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You’ve heard the phrase, “The family that prays together stays together.” Well I believe, “The friends that sing together become lifelong friends.”

Lynn and I met Bob as part of the worship team at the Congregational Church of Northridge, and we all sang together the better part of the 8 years that we attended. Bob is a mellifluous tenor that I loved harmonizing with. He has an equally delightful laugh; and as you can see, we do that a lot when we get together, and it always serves to brighten my day.

Bob is a gem of a human being. Mostly raised in the South, he has the sensibilities of a southern gentleman. He also has a deeply compassionate heart, and truly cares for people. In a multitude of ways, he has been a true friend to Lynn and me.

Bob is also a talented actor. Brent Spiner, “Data” of Star Trek The Next Generation  is his doppelganger. If Brent’s name was still household, he could probably milk it, especially in this age of social media… but that’s not Bob’s style.

Bob is also a gifted conversationalist. We talk about everything from politics, to pop culture, to books, psychology, to film and television. He is a genuine listener, who truly looks for insight and ideas from others, not just ways to refute your opinion if he feels it is wrong. This makes him a pleasant presence to be around, especially with more bombastic types.

So of course, there could be no way that I could celebrate the people who have shaped and transformed my life without including Bob. And in his always-game-for-an-adventure fashion, he came along for the ride.

Morrison is a fairly new local haunt in Atwater Village, and I just love it. Not only is the food the bomb diggy, but the drinks are top shelf. They have a $6.00 Happy Hour which I have frequented more than a few times; so it seemed the perfect place to spend a Friday afternoon.

For the second day in a row I ordered a Classic Burger with all the fixings (eggs and all), and we shared Cheese Fries with Bacon Jam (Hello!). And it wouldn’t be a visit to Morrison without ordering my favorite Moscow Mule. Bob ordered a Filet Mignon Burger and a diet coke. All types of ironies with that one, but we’ll leave it at that.

We decided to split a Key Lime Pie for dessert. I was expecting a sliver of green with some lime slices and whipped cream. So glad I was disappointed! What we got was a gastronomical delight: a cheesecake consistency surrounded by whipped cream and drizzled with caramel, with a side of vanilla ice cream with a sprig of mint. Morrison now has the reputation not only for great drinks, but great desserts!

Bob started attending another church around the same time we moved on to Montrose, so we don’t see each other as often. But he always reaches out to us and continues to stay in touch. There are so many people who simply allow the drift to happen once the social unit that first formed the friendship is gone.

I appreciate that he honors us as his friends and continues to include us in his life. Thank you, Bob for being a valuable part of our survival.

 

 





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 24, DISH with my Montrose Women’s Bible Study Small Group

8 07 2016

“Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.”— Rosalind Russell

 

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I am blessed this Summer in getting to know Jana Benson and Betty Smith, as they both keep expanding my world with new people and experiences. With Summer vacations and kids out of school, we are on break from the Women’s Bible Study, but industrious and spontaneous Betty decided to plan some get togethers for our small group. At first we were going to frolic around her pool, but the weather decided to downshift, so she thought a nice lunch at a local Crescenta Valley haunt would be more appropriate.

So Day 24, started with a great heated Yoga class and an unexpectedly long appointment which made me late. But I came home, showered, and got dolled up to meet the ladies at DISH in La Canada. Save for people who make more money than me, drive nicer cars and have large homes, I knew next to nothing about La Canada-Flintridge. Now I’m spending practically every weekend there!  I take that as a positive sign.

Betty has such great flair, and she brightened our table with my favorite Gerbera daisies (how did she know?!) and lilys, along with some chocolate chips she brought from Trader Joe’s. Wicked—I know what will be in my basket next time I stop by that store.

Not all the ladies could make it, but I got a chance to sit next to sweet Gloria, a powerful prayer warrior who is passionate about her family. She is very inspiring and fun, and it was nice to get a chance to know her better.

Denise Pearson is the co-leader of our small group, and we got to talk in depth as well. She is an Air Force kid, so she has lived all over the U.S. I got some insight on how that shapes your perspective and view of the world. She was fortunate that her dad retired in California, so she got to complete junior high and high school here. She is also passionate about her children (all boys), and is ripe to have fun—as are most of the women in our group. I believe I have found the right crowd!

DISH is insane, but the prices are not! I had a tremendously delicious rare Burger with Tillamook Cheddar and Kennebec Fries for an excellent price. Gloria split a salad with another lady, but the half salad looked like a full one! I appreciate places where they feed you well, and you feel as though you have gotten your money’s worth. Our waitress was a gem.

I will miss our next small group get together due to being out of town, but am once again thankful for the new friends, new community connections and the spaces to play that I am finding this Summer.





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 29, Sunday Worship, Sunday Fun!

4 07 2016

“An authentic life is the most personal form of worship.
Everyday life has become my prayer.”
— Sarah Ban Breathnach

Day 29 began with corporate worship at the Montrose Church. The authenticity of Pastor Dave Roberts, and his exhortation to us to live authentic and relevant lives is part of the reason we are excited to be in service every Sunday. We mostly attend the Pasadena-Bresee campus in the evening, but we change it up when we have an evening engagement or I have to work. So yesterday we attended the 10 am at the Montrose campus and got to see people we normally don’t on Sunday. Lynn ran into Bruce, a fellow he carpooled with to the Men’s Retreat in February, and I ran into Sandy Cortes, from my Women’s Bible Study small group. Sandy was kind enough to help me out with a medical appointment a few weeks back, and she is like my spirit sister; she is a delight to be around and her cooking is awesome.

At Jana’s birthday tea, she was wearing a pair of lady bug earrings—I told her I collect ladybugs! Then today, she was wearing an ebony elephant necklace, and I collect elephants too. Suffice to say we find commonalities we share every time we get to meet.

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Montrose is a lovely community, and they have a Sunday Farmer’s Market and car show; so after service we walked down to Honolulu Avenue and took in the produce, wares, and the classic cars. We returned home after a few hours, and I made cornbread to go with a delicious late lunch of Crockpot Chili. I’m doing as much as possible to not spend too much time in a hot kitchen, and Crockpots help this tremendously. Then we headed over to Memorial Park in La Canada-Flintridge to take in an Eagles cover band called “The Long Run“.

My new friend and social butterfly Jana had expressed interest in this event posted on Facebook, and Lynn and I love the Eagles. There are very few bands I want to see live. While live concerts are awesome, the money and mess that goes along with them is not something we like to subject ourselves to; but it would have been so great to see the Eagles live. Alas, Glenn Frey is no longer with us, so that one will never happen. But a good cover band will do in a pinch!

Lynn and I arrived at the park first, and scoped out some spots for all of us. Jana said her husband Mark would come at least for a little bit, and her daughter Becca was also planning to come. We found great seats just a few paces from the bandstand and straight on where we could see the band. Jana, Mark, and Becca found us, and we settled in and waited for the music to start.

It was a rocky start, though. The sound was not on point, and Gary Grantham, the lead singer who does the Glenn Frey vocals left much to be desired. Jana and I looked at each other, hoping that this wasn’t going to be a total dud. It turned a corner with the other vocalists: Bill Worrell doing the Timothy B. Schmit highs, Chris Sobkowich working a great impression of Joe Walsh, and Chris Varosy doing the Don Henley vocals, keyboards and percussion. That’s when it popped—the band seemed to hit a groove, and so did the audience. When Chris Varosy ended the first half with “Desperado”, the crowd went wild, and rightfully so. He did the song justice.

Mark and Becca left, so during the intermission Jana and I strolled through the park to see if she knew anyone. This area of town was virgin territory for me, so I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew. Boy, was I wrong! We spotted Betty Smith, the co-leader of our small group, and her husband, along with two people that I personally knew and Jana didn’t: Denae and Patrick, clients at CorePower, who used to regularly attend my early AM classes in Sherman Oaks! They were delighted to see me, and I them. They lived in the area, and were friends with Betty. We caught up, and I let them know my new teaching schedule and studios. Hopefully I’ll get to see one or both of them again in class soon.

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The rest of the night kicked into high gear when “The Long Run” came back with “Tequila Sunrise”, “Peaceful, Easy Feelin'” and “Hotel California”!

I decided to go “Live” on Facebook as Lynn and I sang along with the band:

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Betty tracked us down and encouraged us to get up to the stage and dance. I told her when my favorite Eagles tune came on, I would dance with her. Wouldn’t you know it, when the electric base line of “Life in the Fast Lane” started, I popped up and joined Betty at the stage. Lynn and Jana followed, and we joined folks up front line dancing, rocking out, and generally having a fantastic time. The band’s encore of “Heartache Tonight” was even better, and had most everyone out of their seats. Normally, we would have gone to Eagle Rock Park and seen their fireworks show by ourselves. While its nice, the communities of La Canada, La Crescenta and Montrose put Eagle Rock to shame—particularly in its friendliness. We have gone to Eagle Rock Park consistently for three or four years, and never met anyone new or felt welcomed by those around us. Thanks to our new friends at Montrose Church, we have been introduced to this warm, friendly enclave where people actually say “Hello” to you in the grocery store. It’s quite a change. We’re so glad we chose this instead, not only for the fun musical experience, but for the community, camaraderie and the unexpected meeting with old friends and new. I could not have planned a more cool evening had I tried.

 

 





50 Days to 50 Years: Day 30, Evo and Captain Fantastic with Christy Bell

2 07 2016

“Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends,
never lose a chance to make them.”
— Francesco Guicciardini

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I cannot believe I am already 30 days away from the official Big 5-0. What a delightful time it has been to pursue, as Steely Dan so eloquently put it, “Reelin’ in the Years”.

And what is it with Captains? It seems to be a trend in this 50-year challenge, at least when it comes to movies. From “Captain America” with longtime friend Sarah Beach, to “Captain Fantastic” with new friend Christy Bell. While I didn’t enjoy “Captain Fantastic” as much as “Captain America: Civil War”, the company and the food was just as rich.

I met Christy through a mutual friend Cheryl Leutjen. Cheryl ran a networking Meetup for Work at Homers, and also participated in my Tuesdays with Transitioners Meetup. She knew Christy was in transition, and recommended Christy check out my group. Christy did, and she was a wonderful addition. When she was able to attend, she brought great insight and her wicked smarts to every discussion. Between Cheryl’s Meetups and mine, Christy and I struck up a friendship, and even though both Meetups are now dissolved, we still stay in touch. A couple of years ago Lynn and I spent Christmas Day with her, catching two movies in the theater, and having Dim Sum and Chinese after. It was among one of the best Christmases we have spent.

Christy is erudite and a great conversationalist, but she is also a keen listener. I also love her smile and her laugh, and the glint of mischief in her eyes. I suspect had we met in our 20s or 30s, when we were both less “tempered”, we would have gotten into a good deal of trouble. Heck, we may have a chance to do that in our 50s, given the right timing and circumstance!

So when I invited her to be a part of the 50 Days to 50 Years challenge, she was delighted to carve out the time. Among Christy’s many talents as a writer, chef, and organizational whiz, she is an actress and a member of SAG-Aftra. So free screenings at the DGA are a part of her membership. She also treated me to pizza, either before or after, at a little WeHo bistro called Evo.

Christy is a vegetarian, so we ordered a Artichoke-Spinach-Parmesan pizza on a Whole Grain Crust to share. It was extremely tasty, and the sauce was sublime! Christy had an Amber Ale, which looked great and refreshing, but not really my cup of tea, or, er, alcohol.

Christy paid me a very high compliment: she said that I was really gifted at the career-reinvention stuff and I should find a way to start it up again at my new church. We talked a bit about that, the workshop I recently conducted at Elizabeth House, and what was going on in our current jobs, career searches, and housing situations. Then we stepped across the street to the DGA to bask in the cinematic wonder of Viggo Mortensen. He really is an incredible actor, and made this film about extremes, consequences, and choices watchable.

After the screening, we repaired to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to discuss what we liked and didn’t like about the film, and I capped off our glorious meal with a Salted Pistachio Ice Blended, something I hadn’t partook of in a long time. It was quite refreshing, but not as refreshing as the kindness, generosity, and support of Ms. Christy Bell.