Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Thanksgiving 2019

It’s all about the experience.

I really don’t believe in giving grandchildren a lot of material things. Instead Sharon and I value the sharing of experiences and skill development above all else for our grandkids. This year was no exception when both families came out for the Thanksgiving holidays. Our focus was on ‘doing’ with the kids, not giving.

In past visits, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel up to Joshua tree for long hikes, bouldering and picnicking. We’ve taken the kids rock-climbing, horseback riding, gone on covered wagon tours back into the mountains and conducted bear hunts (sort of like snipe hunts) on the golf course at night.

This year we were able to add to that growing list of experiences for the grandchildren and their parents alike. But first we started with Brian and Melanie conquering the C2C. Also known as the Skyline Trail, ‘Cactus to Clouds’ has the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the Continental United States. It climbs up 8,000 feet in the first 12 miles from the desert floor to Long Valley, then joins with the main trail to gain another 2,600 feet to the summit of San Jacinto Mountain. My kids did it in a little over 13 hours of nonstop climbing. It wears me out just to think about it.

Sharon and I are always looking for ways to introduce the arts to our kids. They’ve all had art lessons from Nana and performed in plays by Papa. The Coachella Valley is fortunate to have a world class theater in the McCallum Theater. While the kids were here, it hosted a performance of ‘A Christmas Story, the Musical.’ The kids loved it.

The kids performed their second staged reading of a new play written by Papa. There was time for lots of reading, art classes, cooking classes, and aqua adventures each day. Another tradition is hosting duties each evening for a different child. The selected grandchild gets to set the table, assign seating arrangements and lead in the evening prayer. Their sense of responsibility, authority, and accomplishment is always palatable.

As a gift from an artist friend of Sharon, each family received a framed portrait of their family pet. The LaCombs got a portrait of Cash, the wonder dog and the McMahons of Medbh, their Irish cat. Some other highlights of our week together were:

Cooking Classes

Thanksgiving 5k fun run

Playing Poker
Sun Worshipers

Bull Riding

Malibu Barbies

Amy, Sammi, & Charlotte



Studying new individualized recipe books


Picking lemons and oranges for juice

Making candy

Making art

Family visits are always a cherished tradition in our household. It’s time well spent and memories secured. None of those experiences can be taken away. They may fade over time but won’t disappear entirely. Hopefully it will become our legacy among others that we were able to share with the family.

Memories are made of this.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cotton Panties and Soft Drinks with Straws

Living in Europe is entirely different from living safely ensconced back in the states. There are so many different cultural and historical traditions that have withstood the test of time. Once you’ve lived abroad, it’s easy to see that the world doesn’t evolve around what Capitol Hill has to say…especially now. It’s a much bigger piece of real estate than that. In short, it’s one of life’s lessons that everyone should experience.

This was especially true in Europe during the 1960s when I lived there on several occasions. There was no Starbucks on every corner. Coffee usually meant Nestlé’s instant coffee; just add water and cream. Corner cafés served only tea and cappuccino. The latter was a solid mass of black mud served in a tiny cup under the guise of coffee. If you ordered a soft drink, it almost always came with a straw sticking out of it.

When Brian and Melanie were in college, Sharon and I insisted they do a ‘study abroad’ program. Brian traveled around the world and Melanie went to Ireland. They both came back changed individuals with a greater appreciation for their place in a world outside of Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Scandinavia, in the mid-Sixties, was a world (literally) apart from the provincial, sheltered, prudish Midwestern novitiate I had immigrated from. It was open and accepting of different social opinions, individual sexuality, fuel-inducted free thinking and a world view of themselves. The same was true for the Netherlands.

That environment of freethinking was a bit unsettling for me when I first settled in Denmark but I quickly realized that this lack of judgement to those different from the crowd wasn’t threatening to them at all. The Dane’s open-minded approach to life made examining current social, political, sexual and artistic affairs more realistic and affirming. It was mind-bending and mind opening at the same time.

About two years later, when I returned to Europe for a second time, I spent the majority of my travels in Amsterdam. I became integrated into a community of friends for several months. That city and country had embraced the free-thinking attitudes of the Danes and then pushed it even further down the road of enlightenment. It began for me in some back canal bar when I happened across a solitary guitar player serenading the pigeons gathered around him. We chatted over a couple of beers and soon became fast friends. The smoky atmosphere drifting out of the club probably sped up that process a lot.

John was a student at the local University. He was an aspiring guitar player and a budding architect. He was also struggling to find a major that mattered to his social consciousness and paid the bills at the same time. He was also desperate to move out of his parent’s flat and find his own apartment. We shared great stories of our travels, my time up in Denmark, His desire to go to the states and our collective hope for the greater world beyond the canals of Amsterdam.

One afternoon, I met one of John’s friends who was also his salon companion. I can’t remember his name but the young man was remarkable in his intellectual prowess and yet total lack of social skills. John’s friend wasn’t able to hold a steady job because of his mental and social inability to interact with people. Therefore, he spent most days, reading, writing, and interacting with his beautiful child.

John’s friend lived in subsidized housing just outside of town. His wife was from Indonesia and they had the most beautiful child I’d ever met…before my own kids and grandchildren.

I stayed with them for almost a month in an impromptu, unstructured home life full of questions and comments, pondering the possibilities and forecasting our future. I was their American guide for all their questions about Vietnam, LBJ, unrest on college campuses, current campus fashions, Hollywood movie stars, American capitalism, and our obsession with nudity and (in their mind) the timidity of Playboy magazine.

On weekends, John and I would often travel through the back alley bars and University student union in search of those ever-elusive female companions. These college students loved to interact and exchange ideas with the American traveler and his shy folksy friend.

The women we met were primarily upper class University students wise to the ways of their world and anxious to explore life beyond the canals of Amsterdam. Our conversations gave me a global perspective I’d never experienced before. Our evening socials were a series good natured intellectual fisticuffs, seductive meandering in a safe environment and mind-expanding concepts over cappuccino, coke with a straw and some of the stronger stuff. I can’t remember if the women were attractive or not. It hardly mattered. They were stimulating, engaging and attentive. It was easy to fall in love with them…if only in my imagination.

I’m sure I probably looked like a hobo with my worn jeans, hiking boots and frayed jacket. But the girls didn’t seem to mind. I remember their fashion sense bordered on the simple and practical and yet with a flare of imagination. There was very little of the Carnaby Street or Bibi fashion trends going around at that time. With winter fasting approaching, nowadays we’d probably call it the layered look.

Oh, and I never found out if they were wearing cotton. I’m just guessing on that one. Looking back, I was too engaged in slight exaggeration tempered by intimate soul searching and honest bravado to ever find out. In other words, I was probably talking too much. Some things never change.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

In My Back Yard

Civilization ends not far from my home where the mountains and canyons collectively take over from putting greens and turquoise pools. There are a cluster of canyons, long revered in Indian culture and lore, that stretch for miles and miles for as far as the Raven flies. Long ago, the land twisted itself up into mountains, canyons, washes and arroyos. It provided the perfect pallet from which to paint my series of books centered in and around Palm Springs.

Tahquitz Canyon inspired my third novel (Tahquitz Dawn) in the ‘Debris’ trilogy. There’s a century old legend about an evil Indian spirit lurking back in the canyon. That was enough to form the central plot of my story. This land can do that to an over-active imagination.

Skirting the mountains is a wash long favored by riders from the nearby Smoke Tree Stables. The wash is one big playground for hikers, riders, runners, mountain bikers and mountain goats. Add in the seasonal rattlesnakes, lizards, and unnamed rodents; and it’s a menagerie not to be missed.

The South Course of the Indian Canyon Golf Resort skirts the wash and hugs the foothills of these mountains.

The Henderson Trail runs parallel to the wash and leads up to the Shannon Trail, which in turn, climbs up the mountain and connects with the Garstin Trail on top.

For most of each year, the wash is quiet and serene; a great place to get lost inside your head. There’s usually a small muddy creek meandering by. The scrub brush is in full bloom in spring and nesting birds flit about endlessly. The stillness there can be deafening with only a few fleeting sounds floating by. All is peaceful until once or twice a year when the rains come and wash that complacency away with astounding fury and force in just a matter of moments.

Then after the rains, new trails have to be forged on a totally altered landscape. Aside from the occasional washout, the mountain trails remain the same.

Smoke Tree Stables has been in operation since the early '40s. Hollywood actors and celebrities used to play cowboy in the nearby canyons and mountain trails. It’s still a popular mecca today for tourists and local cowboys alike. We took the family there the last time they were in town.

Horse trails become mountain bike meccas. Hikers wander the wash, meandering back and forth as the rutted grounds give way to dry beds. Arroyos cut in the corners and debris lies crumpled up in distorted jumbled piles randomly deposited everywhere.

Fortunately for me, the wash isn’t the only place I’ve found tranquility and peace in this part of my world. As a fellow hiker commented the other day. “It really is one of the best playground for adults in the world.” I’ve also found a host of other newly discovered venues to get lost in around the Coachella Valley.

They are all magnificent escapes just steps away from my home. Places to meet and greet and at the same time go solitary if I want to. Its heaven’s confessional where I reveal my earthly sins; the good ones, the bad ones and the fun times in-between.