We All Need a Pep Talk Sometimes

This hotline is an antidote for an ailing world.

I was having a really bad day. (Actually, it lasted for more than a week, but who’s counting?) Surely I’m not the only person who goes through periods where they feel like they can’t do anything right and that no one is on their side. It’s a lonely feeling.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon this really amazing thing called the Peptoc Hotline. When you call it, you hear the following: “If you’re feeling mad, frustrated or nervous, press 1. If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press 2. If you need a pep talk from kindergartners, press 3.”

That’s right. Kindergartners. Specifically, kindergartners from West Side Elementary in Healdsburg, California, along with other students aged 5-12. They are genuinely surprised that this hotline has gone viral, but I’m not. The whole world needs this right now. Perhaps more than ever.

Between the pandemic, and the invasion of Ukraine causing us to teeter on the brink of WWIII, and climate change serving up a winter that never wants to end, we all seem to be at the end of our ropes. This hotline is an antidote to all of that. Kids tell you like it is. They’re genuine. They aren’t jaded by life yet.

So, yeah, I called it. And it made me cry. But happy tears for a change. I highly recommend that you call 707-998-8410 and have your day brightened, if only for a brief, shining moment.

Seriously, though, call while you still can. Because all good things seem to come to an end. According to their Gofundme page, the hotline is getting 800 calls an hour, and therefore they have to fundraise $800 a DAY to keep it going. That, in spite of the hotline company giving them a million free minutes and a discounted rate. I don’t see how they can sustain that level of fundraising. Millionaires, do the right thing for once! (Please do go to the Gofundme page and donate if you can.)

I may just have to call the hotline again and record what they say for future mood-raising. But I have to say that it is a heck of a note when kindergartners have to step up to keep us all from losing our collective marbles.

What a world we live in.

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It’s the Little Things

I take these women with me in photographs.

We were cruising through the Big Sur area of California, and we stopped for lunch at a cliffside place called Café Kevah. That delightful eatery occupies this cliff with the more well known restaurant called Nepenthe, and also with one of the coolest gift shops I’ve ever explored, called The Phoenix Shop. They all share a website.

That complex also has a fabulous bathroom. I say this because most bathrooms, as a general rule, do not tend to inspire. This one, on the other hand, had me standing there with my jaw hanging open. It was a humble bathroom with your basic plaster walls and wooden stalls. Nothing fancy, by any means. But painted directly onto these walls was a series of paintings that impressed me so much that I nearly forgot what I had originally gone in there for.

I bet the artist identifies as female, because these paintings of women gave off an energy that I think one would struggle to produce without a certain amount of knowing. That’s the only way I can describe it. Knowing. Walking that path.

I could imagine that person painting away, and having to take a break whenever someone used the facilities. Or maybe this creativity came about in the wee hours. (See what I did there?)

I was really glad I was the only one in the bathroom at the moment, because I had to get pictures of this work. I wanted to remember it. It made me really, really happy. What a gift.

It’s a rare occasion when I am reluctant to leave a bathroom. But if I didn’t leave soon, I feared that dear husband might send in a rescue squad or something. So leave I did.

I take these women with me in photographs. And it makes me smile to know that they inhabit an incredible bathroom in Big Sur, and that only the luckiest few have gotten to experience their beauty. I can almost imagine them talking to each other when no one’s around. It’s the little things like that that bring me joy.

I’ll now share these women with you. Treat them well. They deserve it.

Check out my blog post about that travel day, including a few pictures of Cafe Kevah and the Phoenix Shop, here.

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West Coast Wander, Day 13: Northern California to Seattle by Train

A great way to end a road trip.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

Considering I was on a train, I slept rather well. The converted bed with its thin mattress was surprisingly comfortable, and being rocked all night long was kind of primal. (I will say that the pillow was the size of a postage stamp, however.) I do vaguely remember a few stops during the night, which put me into more of a twilight sleep, but I soon resumed my normal patterns. I’m sure taking melatonin didn’t hurt, either.

At one point we diverted to a side track to let another train pass. This required us to move backward briefly. That confused my foggy brain a bit, but again, I drifted right back to dreamland.

When I woke with the rising sun, I looked out the window and beheld a forest primeval in Northern California. Lush evergreens, rocky outcroppings, rivers and streams, and very little sign of human habitation. It was like waking up in the middle of a Pacific Northwest Eden. It made me smile.

And then, holy smokes! Mount Shasta. I don’t even know how I knew it was Mount Shasta. I’d never seen Mount Shasta. But Mount Shasta it was. I knocked excitedly on the bottom of the upper bunk to wake up dear husband. We stopped at the dining car for breakfast omelets, then moved to the sightseer lounge for more stunning views.

After all but circling Mount Shasta, we headed into Oregon for more awe-inspiring sights, including a drawbridge near Portland. (I do love my drawbridges.) After that, we skirted Puget Sound, so we switched to the ocean side of the lounge to enjoy the water views. Interspersed with the gazing was much reading of books.

In the midst of all this, and since our ETA to Seattle wasn’t until nearly 8 pm, we had lunch and dinner in the dining car. I had pasta and meatballs for lunch, and for dinner I had the shrimp and lobster sauce again because it was so darned good the day before. Incidentally, here’s the menu.

We also saw quite a bit of cool art and architecture at the various train stations we passed.

Our train passed right through the town in which we live, but didn’t stop. I thought quite a bit about how close we came to seeing our dogs. But jumping off a moving train only works in the movies. We did get some friends to come out on their porch and wave at us, which was fun.

I did learn a lot during this train trip. For example, according to this interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine, the reason so many train stations are called Union Station is that the stations in question are transportation hubs that serve multiple train companies. I had no idea.

Some tips for those who book sleepers on trains: First of all, check as much baggage as you possibly can. It’s no fun climbing over luggage in a tiny little room. Next, bring a sleep aid in case you don’t sleep as soundly in strange environments. Go to the observation car with a book as early and as often as possible to avoid claustrophobia. Bring an extension cord if you plan to do more than charge your phone. (Our roomette had one outlet.) Also bring some duct tape. The swaying train means that your electronics will unplug themselves with annoying frequency. It’s also handy to tape your extension cords up and out of your way while you sleep.

And then, just like that, we were in Seattle. Pulling into King Street Station was a huge relief, especially since we knew a reliable friend would be there to pick us up. I couldn’t wait to see the dogs back at home. But it was also bittersweet, because our amazing vacation had come to an end. Meanwhile, we were treated to many more beautiful sights in and around the station.

I wrote about the trip’s aftermath two days later. There was still so much to say! Check it out here!

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West Coast Wander, Day 12: Riding on the Coast Starlight

From here on, our trip was more of a swaying glide than a wander.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

From here on out, our trip is less of a wander and more of a swaying glide. We decided to let Amtrak do the driving. We hopped on the train in Los Angeles for a 35 hour trip up the coast to Seattle. This train, called the Coast Starlight, was every bit as magical and romantic as its name.

We could have caught a train in San Clemente, our southernmost point on the journey, but that would have meant getting up at an obscene hour, and then changing trains and then experiencing a long delay in Los Angeles anyway. We decided it would be better to stay in a hotel nearby in Los Angeles and uber over to join the other passengers at a more civilized hour. (You’ve probably gotten the idea that I’m not a morning person by now, and that goes to show you’re very smart, indeed.)

The drive to Union Station in Los Angeles was a bit sobering. Train stations and their accompanying tracks tend not to be in the best of neighborhoods, and this was no exception. We passed so many homeless encampments that I wanted to cry. Something has got to change in this country. There is a division of wealth that has reached criminal levels. There is absolutely no reason why everyone in this country shouldn’t be able to live in a place that is safe and comfortable and permanent. Instead we have someone spending 28 million dollars to fly into outer space for 11 minutes with Jeff Bezos and his brother while people are suffering in tents on city sidewalks. Outrageous.

After seeing that, it kind of made me blink to walk into Los Angeles’ Union Station, with its art deco vibe. It was like being transported back in time. Marble floors, stunning chandeliers, leather seating, tile accents. It’s beautiful, and you’ve probably seen bits of it in many a movie. I kind of felt like a country mouse seeing the big city for the first time. But I was startled to see a pigeon in there who seemed to have made himself quite at home.

I knew I was in for a real treat, and one that is out of reach for many people. It reminded me how lucky I am, and how I’ve done very little to earn any of this privilege. It’s a rather odd feeling, admitting to that and yet still taking advantage of it.

This train made several stops along the way. I hope no one in the business/coach class was staying on for the entire route. 35 hours in an upright seat in a room full of strangers, not all of whom consistently wore masks, with no meals provided, sounds a little hellish.

We opted for the next class up. We got a roomette. This consisted of two reclinable chairs facing each other by a window. At night, the chairs slide down and toward each other to make a single bed, and then an upper bunk folds down from the ceiling. It was cozy and very convenient. Bathrooms were down the hall, and we didn’t find out until later that there was a shower down below. The thought of trying to shower on a swaying train boggles the mind. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice. The trip was only 35 hours, after all.

We checked a lot of our baggage, but even so, the room was a little snug. It began to feel even more snug with each passing hour. But it was fun sitting there watching the gorgeous world go by, and it was a rare and delicious opportunity to do nothing but read for hours on end. What luxury.

They do also offer bedrooms, which are twice the size of a roomette and have private bathrooms. The family bedrooms are even bigger. I peeked into a few of those, as discreetly as possible. I didn’t want to creep people out. The accommodations looked quite nice.

And there were other places to go on the train. There was a sightseer lounge with windows on both sides, and we took advantage of that quite a bit to enjoy the water views as our roomette was on the inland side. It was very comfortable. We also saw lush forests, fertile valleys, farms, and gorgeous mountains. Train tracks being what they are, we also saw some very beautiful and creative graffiti along the way.

And of course there was the dining car with its many tables. Meals were included for anyone who had booked a sleeper. Thanks to COVID, they’re not doing their formal dining. They’ve opted for what they call flexible dining. There’s a range of times that you can show up for meals, and the same menu for both day’s lunches and dinners, and a different one for breakfast. On this first day, I had shrimp with lobster sauce for lunch and braised beef for dinner. It was surprisingly good for meals that had been prepared in advance and simply had to be heated up by the staff.

If you travel by train during flexible dining, I suggest that you do what we did, and wait until closer to the end of the meal’s time frame. You avoid the rush and the crowds that way. They also are not making people sit at the same table with strangers anymore, due to the pandemic. I was definitely not complaining about that. I don’t enjoy making small talk with strangers while trying to eat. So this worked out perfectly.

We got to pass through many of the same towns we had explored as we went south. It was often a different perspective. It definitely was in the large cities, as we saw a lot more homeless encampments along the tracks than we did on the tourist trail.

Riding on a swaying train can be rather hypnotic. We set up the roomette into sleep mode and went to bed early, but not before passing through the outskirts of San Francisco. I enjoyed knowing that as I slept away, we would draw ever closer to home sweet home.

Check out Day 13 of this grand adventure here!

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West Coast Wander, Day 11: San Juan Capistrano and Long Beach, California

A thought provoking day. The world keeps spinning.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

Throughout our journey along the California coast, we kept passing, taking pictures of, and peeking into various historic Spanish missions. The complicated history of the mission system intrigues me a great deal. Unfortunately, time was limited, so I allowed myself to pick one mission to explore in depth. The one I chose was San Juan Capistrano.

I’m convinced I made the right choice because on this day we spent many hours in that beautiful mission, exploring the gardens, the bells, the statuary, the exhibits, the courtyards, the chapel, and of course the ruins of the great stone church. What a beautiful, peaceful and spiritual place this is.

It was founded by Junipero Serra in 1776, the year of American independence, and I wonder if that had any effect on this mission. Granted, California did not become an American state until 1850, so it may have been peripheral to their daily lives, but still, it was right on the same continent. I wonder what they thought. I wonder, again, what they thought during the Mexican-American War, especially after California was claimed by America in the aftermath thereof.

Sitting in one of the quiet little courtyards, I could imagine this mission being a peaceful little enclave as history boiled all around it. But that is a very Euro-centric view indeed. Actually, this place came here by force and by theft and by violence.

The Acjachemen, a band of Native Americans who had occupied the area for 10,000 years, saw it less as an enclave and more as a usurper. They did not welcome Father Serra, but he was backed by the Spanish military. These people were going to be converted whether they liked it or not. Even so, the majority of the population wasn’t baptized until 1790.

Before the mission, the Acjachemen had collectively owned hunting and fishing areas, and also had private property within their many villages. The mission put an end to that by taking over most of the land for cattle grazing and horticulture. And of course, much of the population was wiped out by European diseases, and their shrinking numbers meant they became increasingly easy to dominate.

By 1812, 1,361 Acjachemen lived in the mission compound. That must have been awfully crowded. But as they died off from disease, that population had dropped to 800 by 1834.

The Acjachemen resisted assimilation, so the missionaries separated them from their children so that their culture and traditions would not be passed on. The children would be torn from their families at the age of seven, and not see them again until they were married young adults. If the people disobeyed the priests, they were whipped or jailed. For some reason, this did not make for genuine religious converts. And yet Serra was made a saint.

By 1826, the Mexican Governor emancipated the Native Americans in some of the missions, but not in this one. But as word spread, it was all but impossible to get these tribes to cooperate in any way. By 1833, they were requesting their land back. They got it, sort of. Most were never given legal title. So they reverted back to a dependence on wild fruits and game, and by 1841 most of the area was ranch land owned by Mexicans.

When California became a state in 1850, what few land rights the Native Americans had under the Mexicans were erased, and so, for the most part, were the Native Americans. When you see things through that lens, it’s confusing that this mission is so beautiful and peaceful today.

Now what you see is flowers and butterflies everywhere. You see religious iconography that would make you believe that this was a very piously Catholic place. You see a statue of Father Serra embracing a Native American child as if the place was all about love.

Also, the Father Serra Chapel is known as a place of comfort for all those who have been touched in any way by cancer. It is wonderful, thinking that people come here to feel that emotional burden lifted, if only for a brief moment. In fact, when we entered the Chapel, there was a woman weeping so hard that her whole body was shaking, as her husband quietly stroked her back. I wanted to hug her, but of course I didn’t intrude. So yes, despite its history, this mission does serve a purpose, even today.

It also had a kind of jarring patriotic message on our visit. The courtyard is full of American flags. Wouldn’t Father Serra find that ironic? I view this as another attempt to make this place all about the good. It wants to be seen as devout and faithful and nationalistic and on the side of right. (All while America’s squeaky-clean image gets more tarnished by the year.)

Oh, and then there’s the story of the swallows. Who could forget that? It seems that the swallows come back every year, like clockwork, on March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day. They do so because Father St. John O’Sullivan invited them to come to the mission, as there was room there for all, even birds that most of the townspeople viewed as pests.

A romantic notion, but it seems that these birds tend to come sometime around March 19th, give or take a few days, and they stopped coming entirely from 2009 to 2017. According to Wikipedia, that was because the mission was no longer the tallest building in town. Urban sprawl, don’tcha know.

That’s a problem, because much of San Juan Capistrano’s economy is dependent upon tourism, especially swallow-loving tourism. You can get the story of the swallow in just about every shop. Swallow ornaments and artwork abound. There are swallow t-shirts and post cards and you name it, the swallows have swallowed it. There’s even an annual Swallows Day parade in non-pandemic years. These birds are a big deal.

So what the mission did was consult a swallow specialist. They played swallow calls throughout the compound to lure them back. In 2015 they added a man-made replica of swallow colonies to give them someplace easy in which to nest. So now the swallows are back, due to a bit of trickery, and all’s right with the town.

So, yeah, I have very mixed emotions about this mission. Right now it’s full of flowers when it used to be full of slaves and squalor. But if I lived here, I’d probably hang out in these courtyards all the time. In the here and now, it’s a delightful place to visit. I didn’t want to leave. But I’m sure glad I wasn’t here in the 1800’s. In fact, any sane person back then would run as far away from it as they could.

And yet, here I was, basking in the sunlight, enjoying all the flowers, wishing a butterfly would stay still long enough for me to take a picture, and feeling grateful that a stranger who needed desperately to weep was able to do so. The world sure does keep spinning.

After that, we visited a few of the nearby shops and then had a really, really excellent meal at a place across the street called Ciao Pasta. I had a steak salad and dear husband had a shrimp and salmon salad. The steak all but melted in my mouth. If you ever get a chance to eat at this restaurant, do.

We took a detour on the way back to our hotel, back to Long Beach so we could check off a few other curiosities on our wish list. The first is claimed to be America’s skinniest house, and the second is the largest mural in the world, which is wrapped around the Long Beach Arena. It’s called Planet Ocean. You know how much I love murals, so I had to see it. We saw a lot of other really cool public art along the way.

There were a lot of other things in the Los Angeles area that we were unable to see for a variety of reasons. I only list them here because you may want to see them yourself. We didn’t visit the Bottle Village in Simi Valley because it was too far out of the way. We didn’t eat at the Apple Pan, a historic diner. We didn’t go to Universal Studios to see all the Harry Potter stuff because it was expensive and time consuming. We didn’t see any live show tapings or tour the Queen Mary because of the pandemic. We didn’t go to the farmer’s market because we were there at the wrong time. We didn’t ride the Balboa Ferry or visit Crystal Cove State Park to body surf, either. All of these are excellent arguments for a repeat visit, but there’s so much of the world that I want to see that I hesitate to do “repeatsies”. Time will tell.

We headed back to our hotel, The Checkers Hilton, which is conveniently close to the train station we would be going to in the morning. It’s a grand place, but it had a surreal tinge to it, because much of the area around it is boarded off due to the pandemic. In fact, a security guard had to escort us from the parking garage, through a boarded up building, to get us to the hotel lobby.

We seemed to have the entire multi-story hotel to ourselves. We had a snack at the rooftop snackbar, which affords beautiful views of the nearby library with its pyramid. No one else was there, which was all the more strange since the main restaurant was closed due to the pandemic. We didn’t see anyone in the hallways or elevators. It was like a ghost hotel.

A ghost hotel, so naturally, dear husband left me all alone there. Ha. Well, I could have gone with him to drop off our rental car at the airport, but I had had enough of LA traffic, so I stayed in the hotel and took a nap. He had uber-ed back to me in no time, and nothing supernatural had happened, so, now being car-less, we decided to walk to an area restaurant for dinner, as there appeared to be many to choose from within blocks of the hotel.

Easier said than done, it seems, because much was pandemically closed. If it was a ghost hotel, it was living in a ghost neighborhood. No cars on the streets. Spooky, desperate-looking panhandlers seeming to float down the sidewalk, making me feel equally nervous and guilty.

Finally we happened upon the Veggie Grill. It’s a simple place with a limited menu, but I must say I had the best tuna melt I have ever had in my life in that restaurant. Maybe the fact that I was relieved that something was still open added to the flavor.

We decided to make an early night of it because we would have to uber over to the train station in the morning, to catch the train back home. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about the fact that there would be two sleeps until I saw my beloved dogs again. And yet I was grateful for this epic journey of ours.

I thought about a book I saw in a gift shop in San Juan Capistrano that day. Its title was, “May you live a life you love.”

Oh, but I am. I truly am.

Hop on over to Day 12!

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West Coast Wander, Day 10: Los Angeles, California

As much as I’ve traveled, which is a lot, I’ve never felt so much like an official tourist.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

I have been to Los Angeles once before, years ago, for a couple hours. I saw the sidewalk stars. From the car. I saw Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. From the car. I did have lunch at Pink’s Hot Dogs, which was super cool. But then I had to go.

This time we had a whole day, and I was determined to cover more ground. We actually thought way ahead for once and got reservations at the Getty Center, which was so wonderful that I gave it a post of its very own, here, and it’s chock full o’ photos, so don’t miss it.

To summarize, though, I’d simply say that if you are in the LA area, and you have even the most remote interest in art, I suggest that you move heaven and earth to visit the Getty Center. It’s one of the best galleries I’ve ever seen. I was awestruck. Dear Husband and I both agree that it was one of the highlights of this trip. Heads up, though: the center is free, but parking will cost you dearly.

After that, we decided to drive down some of the more famous streets in town to get a sense of the different areas. I was thrilled to recognize so many names from TV and the movies. We drove down Laurel Canyon, Mulholland, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Hollywood and Vine to see the Capitol Records building.

We also drove to places like the Hollywood Bowl, and I’m fairly certain we saw someone famous walking in, but I have no idea who it was. (Well dressed, long-haired guy surrounded by an entourage that was giving him lots of space. Whatever.) We also saw the Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi died, and, of course, the Hollywood sign.

As much as I’ve traveled, which is a lot, I’ve never felt so much like an official tourist. And in this pandemic era, we were satisfied by seeing everything from the car. I took a lot of photographs of multi-million-dollar homes, and I’m quite sure they were owned by famous people, but I didn’t care enough to find out, to be honest. Los Angeles is a rarified atmosphere. I wouldn’t thrive here, but I’m glad I visited.

In an effort to eat something quick and healthy, we picked something up at the deli of a Whole Foods store. I’d say that was a very California thing to do, but I’ve done it elsewhere, too. A lot cheaper than a restaurant, to be sure.

Then we enjoyed the murals in East LA. I’ve written a couple California Mural blog posts. There are some amazing artists in this state.

We headed back to San Clemente via the highway, and to say that freaked me out is putting it mildly. Whenever we were on an LA highway in the next few days, I was eternally grateful that Dear Husband was doing the driving, because I had to keep my eyes closed to keep from having a nervous breakdown. I just told DH to let me know if there was something I’d enjoy seeing, and tried not to gasp too loudly when I’d feel the car abruptly decelerate. I think I only let out a few shrieks, much fewer than I was tempted to make.

How do people stand this on a daily basis? These are the most stressful roads I’ve ever been on, and mind you, I’ve been to Mexico City and Istanbul and Paris. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that people who live here have a much higher rate of ulcers.

And of course we were doing this during rush hour, and there was a 20 minute backup due to animals on the highway, supposedly. Since this was LA, I was expecting something exotic, like giraffes or zebras. But we never saw a thing. (Especially me, since my eyes were closed.)

That evening we had a home-cooked meal with some family members, and played a few hands of rummy. It was good to do something non-touristy. It allowed me to get rid of all the adrenaline and have a good night’s sleep when we returned to the hotel after exploring San Clemente after dark.

This night, DH asked me not to use the sounds of the ocean on the sound machine to block out the surfers cavorting upstairs. We compromised on the sound of rain, and as he’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of his life, he was out as if someone had hit him with a brick. And for once I wasn’t too far behind.

Here are some random photos from the day. Enjoy!

Here’s where you’ll find Day 11.

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California Murals, Part Two

Murals that jumped out at me and were gone in an instant.

While looking through our photos for part one of this California Murals series, I realized that the bulk of the mural photos were captured by me rather than by dear husband. That has a lot to do with the fact that he did all the driving. Of course he wasn’t slamming on the brakes to snap photos. The mere fact that we’re still alive is proof of that.

I have to say that many of the mural photos I took were unusable. Blurry. Obstructed. It’s hard to take good pictures in a moving car. I had to rely on stoplights and luck to get a halfway decent image.

But many fantastic murals would leap out at me as we turned a corner and would be gone before I could even raise my camera. That would have been heartbreaking, except that I remembered that many murals are pokestops on my Pokemon Go game, so I’d just open that app and take a screen shot from there. Voila!

So what follows are murals that I actually did see but could only share with you thanks to Pokemon Go. Enjoy!

And if you have any mural pictures to share, join my Public Art Lovers Facebook group and post them there! We’d love to see them!

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West Coast Wander, Day 9: Santa Barbara to San Clemente, California

In which we pass many towns ending in Beach.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

I somehow lost my notes for this day of travel, so I had to reconstruct them using our photos and itinerary. I hope I haven’t missed anything crucial. I suppose you’ll never know, but it bugs me.

I slept so well in our lovely cabin that I didn’t even have to be rousted out of bed by Dear Husband. And then to make the day begin on an even more positive note, DH made us breakfast using the last of our eggs. (We have been trying to eat out only once a day, and have made food from our cooler the rest of the time, but we’re reaching the end of our journey and trying to use things up. I hate wasting food.)

So after having eaten the breakfast of champions, we decided to drive around Santa Barbara and enjoy it in the daylight, all the while looking for souvenirs. Because I had to have souvenirs. After all, my name is Barbara, and while I’ve always known I was a saint, no one else does. So t-shirts were required. And postcards of the mission, on which I wrote, “See? I’m a saint and I’m on a mission!”

Just humor me. My friends and family have to.

We would have loved to take a whale watching cruise to Anacapa Island, but, again, time worked against us. Onward.

Instead, we headed to Ventura, California, to check out its many thrift shops on Main Street. While we didn’t buy much, it’s always fun to go back in time in a real vintage thrift shop. And a dog, sound asleep in a baby carriage out front, made me laugh. (I miss my dogs. We are so lucky to have a kind and reliable dog sitter in our good friend Herb.) We did get a vase, which was kind of crazy since it would have to make it home in one piece, but you know…impulse rules.

After that, we wandered in a pretty little park, mostly to use the public restrooms. We noticed there were a lot of homeless people in the area, and that gave me an idea. There really was no way we were going to eat all the food in our cooler. So we filled up a bag with yogurt, spoons, and cheese, and I gave it to the closest group to share around. They needed it and we had it, so why not?

After that we drove along the coast some more, and then stopped to have a picnic lunch in Malibu, on the rocks overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful day. I have no idea why, but food always seems to taste better when eaten out-of-doors.

We drove past the Getty Villa, but as was the recurring theme this trip, it was closed, as was the Anderson House. This pandemic kills in a variety of ways. We just focused on the beautiful day. We remained on the coast road despite our GPS urging us to take the freeway. We did drive through a lot of stop lights (after they had turned green, of course).

We also passed the Santa Monica pier, and drove through Venice, including the canal neighborhood from whence it got its name. We drove through a lot of towns ending in Beach. I think I was getting tired.

We even saw a living wall of succulents! Okay, California, now you’re just showing off. Have mercy.

Finally, we pulled into San Clemente, to stay in a quirky hotel called Nomads. It’s theme is “Eat. Sleep. Surf.” And you could tell that they mostly cater to surfers. There was even a rack in the room to prop up surfboards, and a fold down bench in an unusually long shower stall where you could wash and wax them.

This was a cool place, though. The bathroom sink was made out of solid wood. I was trying to figure out a way to inconspicuously rip it off the wall and bring it home with me. No luck.

So I comforted myself with pizza from the restaurant two doors down, where we met up with friends. It made me realize I hadn’t spoken to anyone but DH in well over a week. He’s good company, but, you know, it was a fun evening.

When we got back to Nomads, I began to anticipate problems when I noticed that they provide a heaping bowl of ear plugs beside the bed, as well as a sound machine. That’s never a good sign.

And sure enough, it sounded like the surfers upstairs were rolling bowling balls across the floor. Intermittently. All evening long. And when anyone took a shower, the pipes groaned and shuddered in the whole building. It was like being back in my college dormitory all over again. And I didn’t like my college dormitory. At all.

But this was such a cool hotel, in a perfect location, and we were to be there for two glorious nights without having to schlep our luggage from pillar to post, so I just made very good use of those ear plugs enhanced by the sound of electronic ocean waves, and managed to sleep quite well, to my utter shock.

I don’t suppose I should have been all that shocked, though. We were now at the southernmost point in our coastal trip, and had started out within view of Canada, and were now within 75 miles of Mexico. We had covered a lot of ground, and we still had several days to go.

Here’s where you’ll find Part 10.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

California Murals

The murals are what I love best about California.

As the bulk of our “West Coast Wander”, ten of the thirteen days, was spent in California, I can say with confidence that no two parts of this amazing state are exactly alike. Each town has its own character. Each bit of shoreline or mountain is slightly different. And since it takes up nearly 9 degrees of latitude, its climate varies dramatically. This is a very fun state to explore.

But if someone were to ask me what I love best about California, besides the Redwood and Jacaranda Trees, I’d have to say that it’s the murals. California is all but covered in colorful and unique murals. This is not a state that is conservative about its art, and as a public art lover, I appreciate that quite a bit.

What follows are some of the many murals I got to see. (There were so many that I’ll be doing a “Part 2” of this post!) If you have pictures of California Murals (or any other public art, for that matter), I invite you to join a Facebook group that I host called Public Art Lovers and post your pictures there. We’d surely love to see them!

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

West Coast Wander, Day 8: Carmel to Santa Barbara, California

This turned out to be a quirky day.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

We got a bit of a late start this morning, mainly because we were reluctant to leave our cozy little cabin. But we were looking forward to driving around Carmel-by-the-Sea before we left it behind. It’s a beautiful town full of delightful homes ad quirky alleyways.

A fascinating fact about Carmel is that, to avoid becoming “citified”, they don’t have street addresses. Everyone is required to pick up their mail at the post office. And if you want pizza delivery, you tell them you’re three houses south of the corner of Lincoln St. and Ocean Avenue, on the left, for example. That must make it awfully hard to fill out an online form for food delivery.

And try as I might, I never caught a glimpse of Clint Eastwood, the former mayor. He hasn’t been in charge for over 30 years, and only served one term. It’s not like he sits on a lawn chair on Main Street, waiting to greet all visitors. I don’t even know if he still lives here. But a girl can dream.

We drove by Tor House, which was made entirely of rocks dragged up from the beach. It was smaller than I expected, but, hey, rocks are heavy. Sadly, it’s closed to the public. We also dropped some books off at a little free library that not only promotes literacy, but also supplies readers with big blue marbles. I helped myself to one. A unique souvenir.

And as we were leaving town, we came across yet more succulents that were the size of my head. I can’t get over that. Why can’t we get them that big in the Seattle area? (Too wet and cold, probably.)

Our next stop was Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is purported to be the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world. I don’t know how one can make such a sweeping judgment, or what the criteria would be to do so, but I will say it was spectacular, and I was very grateful to have seen it. I would have loved to go horseback riding in Andrew Molera State Park, but there wasn’t time.

I was excited about the next unexpected treat: Big Sur. The reason we had all but written off this leg of the journey was that a section of Highway 1 had been washed into the ocean back in January, and if it was anything like past disasters in this area, we expected it to be closed for about a year. But miraculously, the road was back open again. Yay!

Big Sur is a region of natural, cliffy, watery beauty, and it comes with a lot of overlooks, which we appreciated. We were looking forward to having lunch at Nepenthe, a restaurant perched on a cliff with a spectacular ocean view, but the lines were incredibly long.

Instead, we ate at the much more affordable Café Kevah, which is right down the stairs from Nepenthe, and shares the same vista. We got the best table on the patio because I was willing to be a bit pushy. I’ll never see those people again. I wanted to enjoy my Cobb Salad with views of horses grazing by the sea. So sue me.

On a future trip we should stop at Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park (not to be confused with the nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park) to see the one waterfall on the west coast that pours directly into the ocean. Unfortunately it requires a hike, and as per usual, time was against us.

We’d have also loved to tour Hearst Castle in Saint Samuel, but it was closed. Rats. If you ever get to see it, though, I’m told that Tour #1 gives you the biggest bang for your buck. You heard it here first.

As we headed ever southward, we came around a curve to see a bunch of elephant seals lounging on the beach. The parking lot was full up so we were unable to stop, but they were quite delightful to glimpse.

Next we made a quick stop in Cambria to gawk at a place called Nit Wit Ridge. This three story house was built single-handedly by Art Beal, a trash hauler, from scavenged materials. To call it unique is putting it mildly. It’s full of terraced gardens, buildings, arches, and fountains, all made from junk. He lived there until 1989. After that, it remained vacant and crumbling for more than 10 years.

The current owners, Michael and Stacey O’Malley, bought the place in 1999, but no one will ever be able to live there as the water rights had been sold in 1997 to pay for back taxes. Normally this would mean the building would have to be torn down, but in this case, it’s a California Historical Landmark. The O’Malleys had hoped to give tours and have a gift shop. But since it’s zoned residential, the gift shop is not allowed.

They do still give tours, though. We didn’t take one. Seeing it from the street, with its front yard toilets, was plenty. The website, with its cool video, and very, uh, strange artwork for sale, will give you an idea of the place. I think it’s cool as things like this go, but most of the people in town seem to treat this place as an embarrassment. They’ll often tell you it’s closed. It isn’t. It just makes me happy that a place like this exists in the world, and also, selfishly, that it isn’t next door to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the place was rat heaven.

The theme of the day seems to have been quirky stuff, because next we went to San Luis Obispo, not to visit the mission, but instead to check out the completely weird Madonna Inn. This place puts the broke in baroque. I loved it, despite its overwhelming pink and gold decor. Whether it’s the over-the-top dining room, the funky gift shop where you can buy a different post card for each one of the inn’s uniquely themed rooms, or its odd stained glass, you’ll be fascinated. But the one thing you absolutely must do when going to this place is visit the men’s bathroom nearest the gift shop.

You weren’t expecting me to say that, were you? But it’s truly not to be missed. I couldn’t go in. (Believe me, I would have if it had been empty, but it never seemed to be.) So dear husband went in, took pictures, and came out looking stunned. The urinal is a continually flowing waterfall. The sinks are made of enormous, vaguely shell-like things. It’s an experience.

What can I say? The place just made me smile. But our next stop was one that I had been anticipating for years, so off we went to Solvang, California. En route we saw our daily deer.

If you’ve ever visited the Bavarian-themed Helen, Georgia or Leavenworth, Washington, you get the idea. But Solvang is larger than both, and completely and totally Danish. Well, I happen to be of Danish descent. I’m 2nd generation American on my mother’s side, and apparently I spoke Danish before I spoke English, even though I have no recollection of that, and the only phrase I still know is “glædelig jul”. So yeah, of course I had to go to Solvang. It was my ancestral duty.

As was typical on this journey, we arrived at Solvang after hours, and much of it, including the museums, was closed. But I enjoyed wandering the streets, window shopping, and admiring the public art. I had hoped to feast on traditional Æbleskiver (oh wow, I do know another word!) but there were none to be had at this hour.

I did learn something. Windmills aren’t just a Dutch thing. Fascinating.

I know that this place is more like a Danish Disneyland, but I’ve never been to Denmark, so this is kind of the closest I’ve ever come. It made me a little emotional. I did manage to buy some postcards and Danish Christmas ornaments, and left feeling quite satisfied.

Next, we stopped at a place that had almost caused us to drive off the road on the way in. It was an ostrich farm. We sat on the side of the road and watched dozens of them cavorting in a bushy field. It was quite fun. I’ve heard that you can order an ostrich egg on line, but I just did a quick and lazy search and I’m discovering it’s more difficult than I thought. What a shame.

We were getting hungry, and decided to stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s, a Danish restaurant in Buellton that has been serving pea soup to the masses since 1924. Currently they estimate that they serve 2 million bowls of pea soup a year. They also sell it online by the can. So we decided we should take part in the tradition. Now I can say I have.

I’ve never been a huge pea soup fan, so I can’t say if this was excellent pea soup or not. It was thick and green, as expected. And kind of bland, if I’m honest. But judge for yourself. We had the entire restaurant practically to ourselves, which might account for the neglectful service, but it doesn’t excuse it.

Having gotten our pea on, we then headed to the Harbor House Inn in Santa Barbara. I think this was our favorite resting place to date. Very cozy, very welcoming, with a nice kitchen. I could live there, if I got rid of 95 percent of my stuff. (Yeah, ’cause that will happen.)

Since exploring at night had worked out so well for us up to this point, we decided to do so in Santa Barbara as well. We visited Stearns Wharf, which gave us a lovely view of the city, and seeing the courthouse and the mission lit up at night was amazing. What a gorgeous, romantic place we were in! I couldn’t wait to see it by daylight!

Here’s where you’ll find Day 9.

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