Thursday, May 13, 2010

March comes in like a lion?

3 March 2010, LaQuinta CA USA

What a way to start a new winter month -- in the warm, sunny desert of southern California. A welcome respite from the cold and snow of January-February in Minnesota and Washington, DC. My brother and his wife (Dan and Ann) have a winter place here, so my friend Janet and I came to enjoy a break.

For years Janet and I took do-nothing vacations in early February in hot, sunny Acapulco. A mutual friend Sally rented a house there for several months and sub-let beds at cost, which coupled with frequent flyer miles to cover airfare, made this my cheapest and best vacation ever. Eventually we had a group -- two Janes, Marie, Gege, Mary and us -- that met their annually. And we literally did nothing for a week. We made only three decisions each day -- what to eat the next day (we had a fantastic cook and everything was fresh), where to sit (regular chair, comfy chair, lounge chair, sofa, bed, pool) and what to do (read, work a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, swim, nap, converse, or stare into space). And for you naysayers who know me and/or Janet well, we actually did do nothing all week. I remember the first year when only Janet and I went -- she who was always up at 5 am to do a load or two of laundry before work and I who had run at least one lake by 6:30. We did nothing more than what I described above for several days when Janet asked, “Do you realize we haven’t done anything since we arrived?” I was as surprised as she was. And we went back to doing nothing that year and for several thereafter.

Unfortunately, Sally has switched to Florida, a better location for her aging group of friends and relatives. Having booked myself solid this winter, I wasn’t able to join her. I’m not sure if our group will ever re-form since several already have Florida homes and the rest of us know them and others with Florida homes.

But I digress. I’m in LaQuinta, about 40 minutes south of Palm Springs and 10 minutes from Indio. And it is beautiful ... flowers everywhere: deep red bougainvillea seems to be the most popular -- climbing walls along the ubiquitous gated communities, tumbling from flower boxes, or trimmed into bushes lining Fred Waring Drive. Neat patches of colorful flowers adorn lawns, median strips, sidewalks, planters -- a rainbow of petunias from white to purple, bright poppies, roses, snap dragons, oleander and so many more whose names I don’t know. Oh, and the cell phone towers look like palm or pine trees depending on their location. And the golf carts generally look like miniature cars like Bentleys, ‘Vettes, Mercedes Benzes and even Beetles.

5 March

I’m so busy doing nothing that I didn’t have time to write more. We’ve been having our morning coffee and crosswords on the back patio, watching the golfers on the 11th green (and a nearby sand trap) in front of us. Dan sits on this patio every year to watch the Bob Hope Desert Classic as it goes by. Since Dan has been a golfer since junior high, I wasn’t surprised when he and Ann picked a house in PGA West, which has six courses. Plus their course was designed by Arnold Palmer, a western Pennsylvanian like Dan and I are. (Arnie’s father was greenskeeper of the country club where we both worked when we were in high school, Dan as a caddy and I as a waitress).

Today after breakfast I finally took some pix of the flowers around the house and neighborhood. One rose bush is particularly stunning with a crimson and yellow rose. Will post the flower pix when I get back to MN, along with other photos from the trip.

Besides sleeping as much as we want, enjoying the sun and calm, eating well, last night we went to nearby Fantasy Springs Casino, a huge, well planned complex of hotel, casino, restaurants and entertainment venues. We were appalled to learn smoking is allowed in casinos (not sure if that’s all CA casinos or only those owned by Native American tribes as this one is). Thankfully it was a Thursday so not too crowded or smoky, as on a busier night. After a delicious family-style Italian dinner that supplied another day’s meal in leftovers, we went to the casino where hundreds (thousands?) of slot machines jingled and jangled and occasionally whooped a winner. I had decided to give it a try and got out $20 to play penny slots, which actually ends up to be 50 cents a play.

Slot machines are no longer just the three-columned one-armed bandits with cherries, bars and such that I remember. Oh, there are some of those and the poker machines of the past still dot the floor, but more machines have personalities and themes -- from Indiana Jones to Star Trek to the age of dinosaurs to the theme of your dreams. I played Cleopatra at the “Wheel of Fortune” (for my foreign readers, that’s a popular US game show akin to roulette). When I won at Cleopatra, I got to spin the “Big Wheel” ... complete with videotaped commentary from Vanna and Pat, the sexy wheel-spinner and youthful host of the TV show. I won just under $20 in my three turns at the Big Wheel, and left with about $25 in all. Then I played “Sex & the City” (patterned after the TV series). I have no idea how I accumulated credits, which allowed further play for “free,” or how I won ... but it entertained and in the end, I got my $20 back (plus three cents).

This afternoon we’re going to the “Palm Springs Follies, a Broadway-caliber celebration of the music, dance, and comedy of the 40s, 50s, and 60s with a cast old enough to have lived it,” as its website says.

5 March

“Let the Good Times Roll” was the Follies’ theme with lots of flashbacks to World War II, the 50s, 60s and 70s in newsreels, film clips and music. The opening flashed some wartime newspaper front pages including the Brainerd (MN) Daily Dispatch. The emcee who is also the originator and producer of the show told truly awful jokes that should have embarrassed him, they sure did us. But the dancers were phenomenal. I’m younger than the youngest (she’s 66), and I can’t wear low heels, forget trying to dance and sing in high heels. The oldest is 86 and in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest “hoofer” (professional dancer) still dancing. And can she dance.

Each show has a headliner, a name entertainer from the past. Ours was Rita Coolidge who sang four of her biggest hits from the ‘70s, then an awesome rendition of a Scottish hymn, “Amazing Grace,” in the language of the Cherokee Indians (she is 3/4 Cherokee and 1/4 Scottish).

After the show, we joined Dan and Ann, and we went to happy hour at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. We chowed down on assorted tasty appetizers (from guacamole and chips, to shrimp and ribs). On the way home, we stopped at a traffic light, and Janet leaned over and asked, “Is that eight lanes of traffic I see?” Despite the giant margarita she’d drunk, she was indeed seeing eight lanes of traffic plus two turn lanes. Only in Southern California would you see a street that wide in the middle of a city.

7 March

There is a small L-shaped pool and spa (hot tub) with chaise lounges and deck chairs diagonally across from my brother’s house. And a couple of dozen similar set ups around the complex -- you don’t have to go far for a swim here. So yesterday before lunch, Janet and I decided to try it out. Well, I tried the pool and Janet enjoyed lounging and working her crossword. The pool was heated but is only three to five feet deep and about 20 feet at its longest. After a few laps, I joined Janet and finished reading my novel. Later in the afternoon Dan and I went to see my Peace Corps friend Bill and his wife Delli who live in nearby Indio. Bill’s retired and Delli’s a golf pro. Since the last time I saw them, they have adopted Delli’s niece Phili who’s about 13 and are now planning to adopt another niece, Harmony who’s 10. Delli was telling us about the obstacles encountered in trying to return from Congo with Phili -- transit visas, extra plane reservations, assorted embassy appointments, various required airport taxes with proper receipts and at least one attempt at bribery. I wish I could tell the story of how she handled the latter like she told us; it was quite funny. I could just picture Delli telling the guy that she had no cash and offering her Amex card with a straight face. In the end her sunglasses changed owners.

Today Janet and I had a unique experience -- rain. Not your usual weather condition for the desert. I went out and took pictures before Dan and I left for LA to pick up our nephew Christopher. Janet and Ann said it had rained all day in LaQuinta, but Dan and I ran out of rain as we drove west on the freeway. However, as we passed the exits to Big Bear, the closest ski resort to LA, we were pelted with snow from the roof of a passing Honda Odyssey. Now that was a surprise. Then as we entered Glendale, where Chris works, it started to rain again briefly. After picking up Chris at work, we wended our way to his apartment in Hollywood to get his clothes and golf clubs; lots of streets closed for the Oscars tonight. Then we set out in search of lunch before heading back to LaQuinta. It was 2:30 so we didn’t expect crowds anywhere. Ha. Our choice, a Cheesecake Factory (big place, wide menu) in Pasadena, had a line out the door and down the block. We figured other smaller places would be as bad or worse, so we drove on to find something along the way home. We headed for the freeway past Forest Lawn and Mount Sinai cemeteries, both final homes to countless celebrities; Griffith Park where the zoo is; and Warner Brothers studios. Unfortunately finding anything other than yoghurt or fast food/junk food took longer than my blood sugar preferred. I was shaky when, with the help of Chris’ iPhone, we located another Cheesecake Factory -- and another long line at 3:30 in the afternoon! Since the restaurant was in a ‘new town,’ actually a huge outdoor shopping center, we walked around and found a Corner Bakery where I finally got to eat. On the way to our car, we stopped at a See’s Candy Store where I treated everyone to some delicious chocolates.

Back on the freeway, we saw more dark clouds and a gorgeous rainbow, then suddenly hit a downpour, a MN-style gully washer. Brake lights flashed across all lanes as cars slowed down quickly. Rain on the highway out here is more disastrous than you might expect. Because it so rarely rains, any oily substances that leak from vehicles aren’t washed away as they are in Minnesota. When the roadway gets wet, it’s like “black ice,” that invisible slick surface we often have to deal with in winter. And virtually no one here knows how to drive on ice of any kind. Hence, accidents abound as drivers brake too fast and start sliding. Thankfully the highway we were on today wasn’t terribly crowded, and there were no accidents.

Approaching Palm Springs, we drove past a gigantic windmill farm with blades moving steadily in the wind. The sky had darkened, partly as the sun set but also because of dark clouds again. We could see fresh snow on the nearby mountain peaks, and as we go closer to LaQuinta, fluffy white clouds nestled in mountain valleys well below the peaks and looked like snow. Roadways were still damp, and we spotted the occasional puddle, a sure sign of a half-inch of rain, according to Dan.

9 March, Palm Springs International Airport

Apparently lots of loud noises on the roof last night but they didn’t awaken me. We were hit with very strong winds last night (in fact, it’s still blowing), and the dead stubs of palm fronds from the thousands of palm trees in these desert cities landed on our red tile roof and everywhere else in the area. In our little side yard alone, I counted a dozen brown stubs, and the streets all the way to the airport were littered with individual and clumps of debris. Maintenance people were out everywhere trying to clean up.

Yesterday was another momentous day. My nephew Christopher has been growing his hair for seven years, since his college baseball team played in a tournament. Although they lost, he decided to continue letting his hair grow and donate it to Locks of Love, a Florida charity that uses the hair to make wigs for cancer patients. Chris’ hair was easily 12 inches long in a pony tail.

My sister Barbara and his sister Tomery have been after him to get back his “handsome hair.” In fact, Barbara is planning to take him to her hair cutter when he’s home in Minneapolis for his birthday in late May. Well, to my surprise, when we picked up Chris, he said he was planning to get a hair cut while in LaQuinta. And yesterday Dan made him an appointment at LaQuinta Barber Shop where they know all about Locks of Love and do the hair cuts for free. So off we all went for the big occasion. I look lots of pix and will post those once Chris gets to Minneapolis in May. So if you know Barbara or Tomery, DON’T TELL!

12 March, San Francisco

Here I sit at the dining room table in my friend Jean’s condo, and I can’t see San Francisco Bay today ... it’s pouring rain. Normally you can see a bit of the Bay above a big tree that’s between the two buildings across the street. But today the bad weather has obscured the view.

The flight from Palm Springs to San Francisco via Salt Lake City was tiresome but uneventful. Until today, we’ve had pretty good weather which meant nice walks every day for exercise, errands, dinner. Today we went to the Jewish Community Center health club to work out ... I did a 5 km lakeshore ride complete with hills on a recumbent stationary bike. Then a few minutes of sit ups and stretches ... just enough to get me back in the groove.

Tomorrow is a memorial for Jean’s Aunt Jane who died recently. Jane was 97+ years old when she died. I used to see her when I’d visit Jean. Her high rise condo had huge windows affording a fantastic view of the bay and Alcatraz, but the deck was way too high up for me to venture outside.

On Sunday a dozen of my friends and relatives are coming to brunch. So I made shortbread this morning. It looks and smells delicious ... but part way through baking, Jean accidentally turned off the oven when she set the timer to remind her about something. I re-started the oven and finished the baking ... will let you know how it came out. Lisa, Jean’s daughter, and I were comparing shortbread recipes over dinner last night. Lisa is a fantastic baker and uses Alton Brown’s recipe with unsalted butter and kosher salt. I use my Scottish Granny’s -- 1 pound of room temperature salted butter, 1/2 pound of granulated sugar and 2 pounds plus a bit of flour. Easy to remember, plus years ago, I converted it to metrics (although that recipe is in a box in storage somewhere.)

29 March, Minneapolis

How can having so much free time not provide enough time to update my journal/blog? I truly admire those who write daily, but I don’t know what I’d say if I tried. Now it’s been two weeks since I wrote ... and I’ll have to strain my brain to remember anything interesting to share.

The memorial for Jean’s aunt was a martini party at Jane’s favorite bar because Jane loved martinis. And it was great fun with everyone telling their favorite stories about this incredible woman.

Brunch in San Francisco was also wonderful -- lots of good food, good company and good conversation. Jean is the most gracious hostess; everyone feels at home. The shortbread turned out well. My attempt to coat some in dark chocolate was less than perfect -- but still eminently edible. The whole week in SF was fun -- catching up with Jean and her daughter Lisa, connecting with family and other friends in the area, meeting new people. My cousin’s daughter Annie and my niece Dyana joined us for brunch. Dyana and I took a long walk by the bay that afternoon, and I met Annie for coffee later in the week as I walked around downtown while Jean was at a meeting.

In fact, lots of much-needed exercise from walking. Jean is a great walker, which is good in SF as finding parking can be a real hassle. But you can hardly walk a block from her condo without encountering a big hill. One day we walked all the way to “downtown,” about 45 minutes of up hills and down, to have dinner with friend Marie, her son Dean and his family. Dean and my son Peter were school friends. And Marie is one of the group who used to veg out in Acapulco for a week each winter. Nice chance to catch up and meet Dean’s lovely wife and adorable daughter too.

Next month I’ll be a more reliable scribe -- I promise!

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