Sunday, November 29, 2009

Santa Monica Memories with Amanda

Dear Blog, friends, family, anyone who chances upon this entry:

It’s been a marvelous weekend, starting with Thanksgiving full of good food, great company, heart-to-heart sentiments, and all you ever need and all that you can’t leave behind – love.

My god-daughter Amanda has been visiting since Thanksgiving and will be picked up by her parents this morning before church. They’re due any minute.

Amanda is 14, just the right age to be a little sister, a girlfriend, someone to hang with. And we did a lot of that last item this weekend.

She’s really good company, got a great sense of humor, and is comfortable sharing some stuff from her life with me as she would with a big sister. I hope she’ll always feel that comfort with me – her nina, co-madre, co-mother to her own.

We were busy virtually the two days she was with me, starting with a visit to Santa Monica Pier, now celebrating its centennial and I celebrate the part it played in my childhood after my folks and I moved from Kent, Ohio, in 1962.

When we first moved here, our closest relatives were my Uncle Wayne, Aunt Martha and my cousin Jackie, who lived in Hollywood. That in itself was glamorous to us mid-Western émigrés. And they slowly showed us the pleasures of living on the left coast.

One of those was trips to Santa Monica and its pier that featured a covered carousel (that same carousel “starred” in The Sting – you’ll see it in the opening shots before scenes when Robert Redford – sigh – seeks Paul Newman’s help – another sigh). The pier was old back in the 1960s, rickety old, with tacky souvenir stores and carnival food purveyors. Of course there were the perquisite bumper cars. Below is a photo of the pier, circa the 1960s.

There was one shop that Jackie and I LOVED. It was a huge warehouse that sold plaster-of-Paris knick-knacks that we painted with whatever artistic skill we possessed. Our favorite purchase, though, were tiki charms we painted and strung onto lanyard cord as necklaces. Tikis were the hot ticket along with puka shell necklaces and such – because surfers wore them and looked so cool.

When we were kids, Jackie and I enjoyed another beach attraction, Pacific Ocean Park, aka P.O.P – as in P-OH-P (the color photo below). P.O.P opened in 1958 and lasted only until 1967 when it was closed to pay back taxes. In between, its roller coaster and whirlpool ride terrified me (every time I rode it!).

Today, Santa Monica Pier is a bit more sanitized. The carousel is still there, operating like usual, and the bumper cars have been replaced by smaller versions. And P.O.P. is there in spirit with the Pacific Park amusement rides – a much smaller roller coaster than P.O.P.’s and a nice Ferris wheel that I just had to ride on Friday.

Now, apparently, Amanda doesn’t like heights and hung on to the center pole of our gondola when we first took off. But then she got busy taking photos of herself and of me (the picture at the right is her, with the Ferris wheel as a halo -- just call her Santa Amanda de Santa Monica).

We intended to stick around for another ride after dark, but there was a storm brewing inland and the winds at the pier approached gale force, making walking very difficult, and the chill factor was teeth-chattering. We couldn’t stick it out, and left right after sunset.

It was a nice check-in visit for me to see how my beloved pier was doing. There are more itinerant artists hawking their talents – caricaturists, oil-pastel portraitists and even sculptors who will mold your likeness in clay … for $15! Such a deal and quite good, actually.

I miss the old plaster-of-Paris store, Sinbad’s restaurant, Moby’s Dock (replaced by a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp House), but there are still the tacky souvenir stands and carnival cuisine. And oh yes, the restrooms are a lot nicer than they were when I was a kid.

It was nice introducing Amanda to this part of my childhood and I look forward to sharing more of my life’s memories with her. We’re going to have lots of fun in 2010, and there will surely be another trip back to that Ferris wheel some warm night!

I hope you all will do the same.
Thanks for checking in on me – Cathie Lou

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Giving thanks for so many things

Dear Blog, friends, family, anyone who chances upon this entry:

It’s that time of year to give thanks, and I’ve got plenty of gratitude to share. What follows is just a very short list, and not at all complete.

Family – It constantly amazes me how rich my life is thanks to family members who are there for me in all the ways they can. There’s my cousin in Orange who is my hero in so many ways, teaching me lessons whether she knows it or now. There’s our cousin and my aunt who live in Glendora with their family and I am privileged to have them consider me family. And to see her children, my niece and nephew, growing up these past four years has provided treasured memories!

Friends – There’s an ever-enlarging circle of friends, thanks to all the folks I’ve met through activities at the downtown bookstore and the guitar store where I enjoy free concerts each Saturday morning. There’s an angel, and she knows who she is, who always brings a sense of calm to me, no matter how harried I am. Another friend encourages me to be creative when so many others have not, really believing in my talents and not afraid to say so. Another one really makes me think deeply, is a wonderful editor when I need one, and mothers us all.

Of course, these new friends enhance the already rich group of close friends who have seen me through life’s joy and sadness, triumphs and defeats, laughter and tears…you all know who you are and I love you as deeply as I do my family.

One pleasure I’ve thoroughly enjoy is finding friends on Facebook. Say what you will about technology being impersonal and all, but it has been exciting to see how high school classmates are doing, to reconnect with college newspaper staffers, and to check in on dear friends with whom I’ve lost touch because busy lives get in the way. One in particular is pursuing her dream and reports from the classroom…counting down the days when she picks up her degree…and it’s only a few now. She’s one of my inspirations!

Art – music, writing, poetry, visual, performance, I am blessed by them all thanks to the many creative folks who share their gifts with me and inspire me to tap my arts, too.

Creativity – As I mentioned in last week’s entry, I’m experiencing a creative rebirth that has shook me to my soul emotionally while freeing me to explore so many paths I thought I would never take. Again, it is family and friends who encourage me, push me, and make me believe that I should at least make the effort to express myself.

Home – I’m slowly shaping up this place so I may share it with folks again. This home was the scene of many gatherings and I’d like to get it back to that point. A major victory was reclaiming and redoing my former bedroom into a guestroom, which I invite you all to use. There’s much to be done – cleaning out my office/studio/craftroom/workshop so I may set up an easel to paint again, reclaiming garage room turned storeroom so it may become what my dad built it to be – a living room in every sense of that word.

Four-Footed "Family" and Jazz: Can't forget my pets – Dickens, Cali, Georgia and Jazz the parrot – who all make my house a home in their gentle way.

Options – I have so many from which to choose. And I’m blessed with a simple life that allows me to consider options that others may not be able to assess.

Health – I’m experiencing some improvement in my sore knees thanks to weight loss, exercise and better food choices. Beside those sore knees and my weight, I’m fairly healthy, not plagued by so many maladies others face.

A Simpler Life – I’ve learned in the past few months, it doesn’t take much to get rid of the crud that distracts. What remains is a vacuum you can fill with what you want. It’s that simple. Getting there takes a lot of attention and it’s tough to stay on the path you choose. But once simplicity has entered your life, you want to pare down the excess just a bit more. Once you start, the rest is just gravy.

So start ladling some into your life! It’s a rich, deeply satisfying choice.

Thanks for checking in on me – Cathie Lou

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Casting about in The Universe

Dear Blog, friends, family, anyone who chances upon this entry:

Some say that The Universe provides, if you “just put it out there.” The Universe, God, Allah, Yahweh, whoever, a higher power, whatever.

I’ve long been a cynic about such things, a pragmatist who seeks concrete explanations for the unexplainable. Hello!? I was a journalist for almost 20 years, more than 25 years if you count my college work. But these past few months have been convincing enough that maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical.

For various reasons, there has been a sea change in my life, and I’m starting to buy into some concepts that seemed too ethereal, indefinable for me to hang my star.

For many reasons, I should be more worried about “things” than I am right now. In the past, many have observed I “played the movie to the end” to anticipate any unfortunate outcome. I admit I’ve dreaded the proverbial “dropping of the other shoe” as I enjoy good times, good fortune.

Though some of that dread is still there, it has considerably diminished. I can’t tell you why specifically, but I’m more at peace now than I have been for years.

Maybe the Universe is tapping me on the shoulder to say “Relax, for God’s sake!”

Until recently, I stayed pretty much to myself, preoccupied with what was a small world – work, home, visits with family on the weekends, work, home, etc.

That all changed early in the summer due to a vacuum that opened in my life that The Universe, God, The Great Who- or Whatever filled right away.

I was yanked from that little world. A constantly expanding circle of friends – writers, artists, singers, amazing musicians, small business owners, faith-full folk, teachers – was put into my life for a reason, inspiring it immeasurably.

My life has been graced by live music each Saturday morning at the local guitar store, great ideas shared at the village book shop, compelling images offered by artists – all showing me there is so much to life to ENJOY, and not to worry about.

I’m exploring a rebirth of my artistic side – drawing in pastel chalks, thinking about picking up a paintbrush again, and attempting to write fiction. The last is something I’ve always doubted I could do since I’m a “reporter” who can only write what I see. One of those new friends pointed out to me that many great fiction writers started with what they knew – their own experiences. So, yes, why not me?

Relax, for God’s sake – yes, God or The Universe, I’m listening. I don’t have any other explanation for this calm that has taken over my soul. That is the ultimate gift: These friends – their life stories, views and talents – touch and enrich my own.

So I’m casting my line into The Universe, “putting it out there” looking forward to what I reel in.

Thanks for checking in on me – Cathie Lou

P.S. There's a sign hanging outside on my patio, where it seemed most appropriate before. In streamline moderne script, in my favorite color turquoise, it reads "Relax." I'm bringing that inside my home, hanging it in my kitchen so it reminds me every day to just "relax, for God's sake!"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Our own Fountain of Youth in the wrinkles of the mind

Dear Blog, friends, family, anyone who chances upon this entry:

I am so lucky to have as a friend a 99-year-old woman. Whenever I see her, I’m reminded what a treasure she is in my life.

Grace is my friend Frank’s mother, and I should accept his offers for dinner more often for two reasons 1) he’s an excellent chef, and I learn so much as I watch him prepare our meal – one of my favorite desserts is vanilla ice cream, sprinkles of instant coffee crystals topped by brandy (a Julia Child creation!) , 2) and then there’s Grace.

So aptly named is this woman. She’s tiny, like you expect a 99-year-old to be. Because of a fall last year, she now uses a walker to get around their home. Previous to that, she used a cane, but she’s doing just fine with the walker. Nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps her down.

I’ve known her for a very long time and she’s one of those people who makes you feel that you’re the treasure in her life. I love our conversations on so many topics – politics gets her fired up, family members I don’t know spark opinions, and then there are those cherished memories of the past that take me along with her.

She’s a vivid storyteller, and I doubt I can do justice to the tale she shared last Wednesday.

At a holiday party for the employees of the bank where she worked as a young woman, there was a definite line of demarcation between the strata of a bank – bank officers didn’t mingle with lowly non-bank officers. And the officers’ wives sounded like a snooty bunch of biddies, who really didn’t want to associate with employees, and wishing they didn’t have to be at the party.

So there was this one bank officer, not sure what his position was, but he had made quite a name for himself as a football hero in college. Tall, handsome, and a genuinely nice guy, according to Grace. He didn’t fall in line with the other officers’ officious ways when it came to employees, preferring to treat them as equals.

Somehow, this banker asked Grace for a dance – I’m a little confused as to the circumstances leading up to the invitation, and there was something about the grousing wives not wanting to dance with their husbands because they didn’t want to be at the party.

Whatever, Grace and this banker danced a waltz, and I’m not sure, but I think she left Frank and me at the dinner table to take a precious trip back in time as she described that wonderful dance.

Her face simply glowed, and I swear she became that young woman again right in front of us. That memory of him asking her to dance and guiding her along the waltz became a deep drink from the fountain of youth.

Her hands danced, sweeping the air in waltz time as she described the scene – them gliding along the dance floor while officers’ wives clucked disapprovingly as the bank officer dared to dance with an employee – God forbid!

I almost got the impression she had a bit of a crush on the guy, but such a thing was so “not done” in those times. So there was just this friendly, harmless waltz between two friends … that is now a dear memory loop for a 99-year-old woman that took her listeners along with each measured step.

So students, what’s the lesson here? Forget Ponce de Leon’s quest for that legendary fountain. Cherish memories, keep them close. Resurrect lost friends and loved ones, keep the mind active as you grasp those glimpses “just right,” and enjoy, for just a moment, a deep swig from the fountain of youth.

I’m ready for a dose – how about you?

Thanks for checking in on me – Cathie Lou

Sunday, November 1, 2009

U2, you shoulda been there! You still can ...

Dear Blog, friends, family, anyone who chances upon this entry:

So last weekend, I had a legitimate reason not to plop down in front of the computer to recount the previous week…the long-awaited (since May 1, for crissakes!) U2 360° Tour Concert at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

After much consternation    about who would join me on this musical mystery tour, my cousin Jackie accompanied me. That’s her with me in this photo taken by nice new friends we made at the concert (thanks Doug!).

The concert started at 7, we hit the road from Glendora at 2 p.m. to take advantage of the shuttles from Pasadena City College. We got to the RB in no time and started our trek to Gate F, closest to section 18 where our seats were.

We both noticed an amazing “vibe” for want of another word – calm, peacefulness, just like a family reunion where you’re seeing people you haven’t seen in years. The only thing was we all were only related by our love for U2, its message of love, peace, freedom, faith. A palpable kindness shown to me, almost embarrassing, but very sweet and generous.

Gates opened at 5:15 or so, still no rush to get to our seats…let the others rush in. We went in and the first thing we partook was a very overpriced Bud Light…tasted so good at that point! And just sitting there, chatting up other fans seated nearby – everyone sharing this very unique experience.

Jackie and I shared our memories of concerts past – Jimmy Buffett in his Margaritaville days, Kenny Loggins, etc., and it meant so much that she was there to share this very special day with me. We were so close growing up, sharing our love for music throughout, and this was just another memory to add to this precious relationship.

So, the concert … I can only say that it exceeded my very simple expectations of just living in the moment and letting the sound and experience wash over me. And talk about a workout! I was sitting and standing all the time … overwhelmed by the sound, excitement, communal thrill that U2 creates. This would be our Woodstock (shared with an estimated 96,000) – without the rain and mud.

Yes, my inner rocker chick was released that night.

There are so many hits, anthems aplenty, that it did just blur for me, and that’s not a bad thing. Such experiences should be that way, really, to carry memory of it forward seamlessly. It’s the heart, the love, the warmth, the kindness, the music, the warmth of those all around us that I’ll always cherish of that day.

Also, for the first time in my concert-going life, I was able to relive the show the next day thanks to the Internet. In preparation of a DVD set that was being filmed that night, streamed the concert live. Of course, the broadcast offers close-ups we never saw, emotions we only peeked at on the huge round screen over the stage, but the music – that’s what I’m still listening to from the download I made. I’ve heard tons of concert recordings, most never measure up to a band’s talent. Not so this one … it’s so thrilling to listen to just the music from this show – it’s really that good.

So as you can see, I’m still buzzed from this experience, something I’ll carry for a long time. And I recommend to everyone to find that webcast and download it (took me 7 hours, but it was well worth it!) from ROCK ON!

Thanks for checking in on me – Cathie Lou