Friday, March 30, 2012

Del Mar: Where the Surf Meets the Turf

Jill's Journal: There are three “boutique” racetracks in the U.S.: Saratoga in upstate New York, Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, and Del Mar in the San Diego area. They’re considered boutique because they have short meets (each holding live racing only about six weeks every year), which makes every day special, and they have higher purses, so they attract the best horses. They have smaller grandstands than other big-name tracks and are so popular they’re packed to the gills on weekends and big racing days. Saratoga and Keeneland have the ultimate of prestige to go alongside storied histories and a day at the races at either is an event. People either dress up and dine at the track on wonderful fare, or they tailgate and make it a party. The purses at both Saratoga and Keeneland are the highest in the country and it’s a parade of continual top-quality races with the nation’s (and some of Europe’s) top horses, top trainers, top jockeys, etc. The entire top echelon of racing society converges on those two tracks during their meets. They’re the places to see and be seen. A win at either Saratoga or Keeneland can make a career.

Del Mar is a little different. It has a little history of its own, California-style, of course. It opened in 1937 with Bing Crosby at the gate to personally greet fans. Crosby was part of the partnership that built the track; his partners were entertainers Jimmy Durante, Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy), and Pat O’Brien, plus Charles S. Howard (owner of Seabiscuit).

Del Mar is almost adjacent to the Pacific Ocean (horses even used to be allowed to train on the beach), certainly something neither Saratoga or Keeneland can claim. However, California racing is generally considered a cut below East Coast racing and Del Mar is no exception. It has top races, to be sure, and attracts top horses, to be sure, but it doesn’t have the constant display of highest-quality horseflesh that its eastern counterparts boast. That doesn’t stop Del Mar from having fun though: shorts and flip-flops and a beer in hand are standard dress (all of which would deny one admittance to the clubhouse at Saratoga or Keeneland), as are skimpy sundresses on the ladies that would drop jaws in New York or Kentucky and send track staff scurrying for jackets to cover up the “impropriety.” Del Mar is a party from the moment the gates open until the last horse crosses the finish line on the final day of the meet each year. It’s renowned for its good, old-fashioned California fun and casualness. Oh yes, there’s something special about Del Mar, indeed.

It’s mid-July to Labor Day that Del Mar blooms, but we’re here now, well before the meet, and just had to see the famed track for ourselves. Isn’t it beautiful? Maybe someday we’ll have the good fortune to be here during the summer.

“Where the Surf Meets the Turf”
Sang and co-written by Bing Crosby

Where the surf meets the turf
Down at old Del Mar
Take a plane
Take a train
Take a car.

There is a smile on every face
And a winner in each race
Where the turf meets the surf
At Del Mar.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma

Jill's Journal: On September 28, 1542, California was born. Or so they say. It does mark the day, 50 years after Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, that the first European set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. That European was Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Exploring on behalf of New Spain, he sailed into what is now San Diego Bay with his three ships and hardly could have known he earned San Diego the moniker, “Birthplace of California.” Although present-day San Diego, which he named “San Miguel,” was his first stop, he actually navigated much of the California coast, going at least as far north as the mouth of the Russian River (about 60 miles north of San Francisco Bay).

Cabrillo would be dead a little more than three months after sailing into San Diego Bay, but history has not forgotten him. There are tributes to Cabrillo, ranging from roads to schools bearing his name, all up and down the California coast.

It is believed that when Cabrillo docked his ship and set foot in San Diego, he was actually on Point Loma, a peninsula which separates San Diego Bay from the Pacific Ocean. He spent six days on land. Standing at the monument, one gets a fantastic view of the bay and the city.

Walking farther up the point, one can see Baja California – yes, Mexico! – in the distance. The border town of Tijuana is an easy trip from San Diego, but I think the rampant crime it’s known for at the moment will keep us on this side of the border with three little girls. However, if anyone wants to send a plane to bring us farther south to Cabo or just about anywhere beyond the border, we’re game! :)

Near the monument is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. It makes for a nice walk and the bonus is that the lighthouse contains a little museum, showing how the lightkeepers and their families lived.

The lighthouse was built in 1854 and was among the first handful of lighthouses built on the Pacific coast. It ceased operations in 1891 because at 422 feet above sea level, fog and low clouds often hid its light. A new lighthouse in a better/lower location took over, but Old Point Loma went back into service briefly as a Navy signal tower during World War II.

Just outside the gates to the Cabrillo National Monument is Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Beautiful.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

San Diego, California

Jill's Journal: In our “tour” first up and then down the entire California coast (all approximately 850 miles of it), we saved what is arguably the best coastal city of this great state for last: San Diego. Humorously, the day we arrived (in this city known for spectacular year-round weather), it was dreary, rainy, windy, foggy, and cold. It felt like we’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in San Francisco instead. I’m so pleased to report that was an aberration. It’s been beautiful ever since.

San Diego is unofficially called “America’s Finest City.” The United States of America has a lot of fine cities, but this is one that really stands out. We are so happy to be here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Last Days in Hemet

Jill's Journal: Our girls sitting in one of my high school classrooms (W-2, for other fellow former students). I don’t think the desks have changed since I was there! How surreal to see it again.

Our last days in Hemet were so sweet. In fact (I can’t believe I’m about to say this as I couldn’t wait to get out of the town when I was a teenager), the time went too quickly. We came into Hemet with a list of nine people I very much wanted to spend time with and we literally ran out of time. We never had a chance to see two of those nine people at all, including a cousin. But, on the bright side, we really got quality and quantity time with the others. I’m so thankful for that.

We’ve gotten spoiled by wonderful time with my brother over the last month+. First in Yorba Linda and then in Hemet, Adam, Rob, and I have spent many an evening laughing and just hanging out after the girls were in bed. What a gift. The girls have gotten their share of Uncle Adam time during daylight hours too, although they would argue it wasn’t enough. I have to agree – I’m so thankful for Adam and am going to miss him so much. What a blessing to have not one, but two, fantastic siblings whom I absolutely love spending time with.

The girls and I got to spend one last day with Tammy, beloved Tammy. We met for a tour of the school and lunch…and when I first glanced at the clock, I couldn’t believe six hours had already passed. What a blessing to have such a lovely friend where time slips away so effortlessly…I’m thankful for Tammy too and I’m going to miss her also. There is something so special about old friends.

Then there was another entire day with Betty Ann, my early career mentor and self-proclaimed “big sister.” This is a darling, special lady who considers us family. First just she and I met for a long lunch to catch up uninterrupted and then she gathered troops together for a party at her house. She surprised me with people who I hadn’t seen in 20+ years and even produced kids for our girls to play with! Saying goodbye to Betty Ann (and Tammy and Adam) was hard.

I never dreamed our time in Hemet would be so delightful, truly. We are blessed.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Jill's Journal: What show on t.v. is more fun than The Ellen DeGeneres Show? My Mom (Beppy), sister (Kristi), and I took a girls’ only, overnight trip to Burbank, California, and the massive Warner Bros. Studio with guaranteed tickets to the show in hand. Oh, the fun we had! (No cameras were allowed, so as much as I'd love to share pictures, I can't!)

We checked in at Warner Bros. as instructed, several hours before filming. We were whisked around the massive studio on a stretch golf cart, detouring around an episode of The Mentalist being filmed. Our driver pointed out where nine out of 10 seasons of Friends were filmed, where ER was filmed (and even the parking lot that doubled as the rooftop helicopter pad – oh the magic of television!), and where so many other pieces of t.v. and movie history happened. We were brought to a special theatre, which was apparently used extensively in the filming of last year’s best picture The Artist, and shown the movie Mirror Mirror, which is being released next week.

After viewing Mirror Mirror, we were driven over to Stage 1 and shown to our seats in the audience with the well-known Ellen set right in front of us. We were in the 10th row, I believe, on the aisle. It was a party from the moment we got in there with constant music and dancing and fun. About 45 minutes later, the show began and it was exactly like you see on t.v. No second takes and actual breaks for commercials (although we didn’t see any commercials – we were played music and expected to dance instead!). Ellen had a short monologue and danced for a very brief time, as it was a day of big-name celebrities on the show.

The first guest of the day was mega-star Julia Roberts, who was way fun and clearly having a good time.

Next was Liam Hemsworth. My Mom, Kristi, and I had no idea who he was, but he’s in The Hunger Games, which came out yesterday (the day after our Ellen Show experience) and is supposed to be the biggest movie of the year.

Then there was a surprise guest…Justin Bieber. Every female in that place under 25 went absolutely nuts, but my Mom, Kristi, and I fell into fits of hysterical laughter. A few days prior, my Mom had emailed Kristi and me to say she thought it might be Julia Roberts on the show (they don’t tell you ahead of time who will be there, but she had seen the t.v. listings and guessed). I had responded saying something to the effect of, “Oh good! At least it’s not some teenybopper like Justin Bieber.” And there he was, right in front of us after I'd said that, which just struck our funny bone.

Justin Bieber was there with a new artist he’d “discovered,” a female singer named Carly Rae Jepson. She performed and, all too quickly, the show was over. Ellen talked to the audience for a moment off camera, which was nice. And then she and her significant other, Portia de Rossi, left.

I’ve always wanted to attend a t.v. taping, as the whole process just fascinates me. But as interesting as that was, I think what my Mom, sister, and I will always remember was the fun we had. I’m so glad we got the experience together. It was an absolute hoot. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

(This was the three of us being silly in the hotel before the show...we were positively punchy (and so hungry) by the end!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mom's Day Away

While Jill is off in Burbank attending a TV taping (more on that in another post, I'm sure), I have had the rare opportunity to have the kids all to myself for two days. While I'm not used to it, and it is a little taxing on my schedule, I was able to get in a good day of work and still keep the kids educated, entertained and happy. When Jill's not here, the teacher's not here, so I had to find a way to put a little education in this day off. After breakfast I set up the computer and they used a website called to play games and sing songs, all aimed at teaching them something. It gave me a good 3 hours of time in front of my own machine.

Then after I made a lunch of pancakes (the girls favorite, and something I may just have been told I'm the best-in-the-world at making), we watched a little PBS (and learned about habitats and what to do if you get separated on the subway) and headed off to the pool for an hour or so. One thing that always strikes me about this park is how friendly everyone is. Granted, it helps that I have just about the only grandkid-aged kids in the place, and that most of the park is full of Seniors snowbirding from Canada, but it is still nice how everyone treats the girls.

They had a big time using the park provided floaties and swimming around in the 80-degree pool. We got a few off stares because there is still the occasional senior that wants it just their way - quiet and non-splashy - but the vast majority of folks were very accomodating. It was nice to see the girls try to practice the stuff they learned from Pendleton again.

After swimming they had some time for sidewalk chalk, another favorite pastime that they don't get to do nearly enough. Erika made a masterpiece-sized painting while the little two tried to cover as much area as possible with colored doodles. All in all, fun for them, and 2 more hours of uninterrupted work for me.

Erika's 4 foot by 2 foot Masterpiece, a girl holding two horses, with the sun
coming through the heart-shaped clouds
We finished up with dinner early enough for some quiet reading time in their beds before lights out and Madelyn completed the full day by losing yet another tooth (I think that's number 172). At the dinner table we discussed how the day was pretty much like camp - no school, time in the pool, an art class and plenty of exercise.

As were wrapping up the day it was heartwarming how much the girls missed their mom. Throughout the day they interjected the occasional "I wish Mommy was here." At the end of the day they told me they couldn't wait for her to come home. I told them she'd be home to see them before morning, and that seemed to ease their minds. I can't wait to have her home too, I'm not sure I could do this for a week. ;)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Childhood Friends Revisited

Jill's Journal: When I was a kid, I wanted a big brother sooooo bad. I never had one of those, but these two guys were pretty able substitutes. Humorously, I didn’t even know they were good friends themselves until recently.

Viddle – or Mike, if you prefer to be more formal -- and I go way, way back. We went to the same tiny school and the same even-tinier church and we both have so many memories that each other are in. School functions, church functions, common friends…we’ve probably spent hundreds – no, thousands – of hours together over the last 30 years. Last time we saw each other was 17 or 18 years ago in Phoenix. I love this guy and his wonderful wife Toni, whom I would like to be my BFF if we lived in Hemet!

Another 30-plus-year-long friend is Gary. We were friends as kids and ran in some of the same circles as teenagers and young adults. Oh, the adventures and fun we’ve had! We haven’t seen each other in 20 years, but it was so easy to pick up right where we left off. Like Viddle, he is just a super, super guy. Congratulations are in order as he just got engaged over the weekend. His fiancĂ©, Kim, is a sweetheart.

After some great time with each Viddle and Gary over the past few days, the guys hunkered down in Viddle’s man cave yesterday…

…while the gals bonded…

…and the kids did too. From left to right is Victoria, Erika, Aidan (Gary & Kim), Joey (Viddle & Toni), Madelyn, and Nick (Viddle & Toni). Not shown is a super-cute 10-month-old, Jordan (Gary & Kim), although I think he would have loved the brownies too.

Unfortunately, our girls now desperately want guinea pigs (as if there weren’t enough other animals they’d like already). Gee thanks, Viddle. We’ll send you the bill.

Another dear, dear friend we snuck in some time with was Tammy. Again, we go back over 30 years. My first-ever slumber party was at her house…she and I went to New York together for two weeks with her family at age 16…we were roommates during our senior class trip to Hawaii…the adventures we’ve had, the secrets we’ve shared…we've just always been a part of each others' childhoods and lives! Last time we saw each other was in 2004, so much more recently than Viddle and Gary, but it was just as sweet to see her again. We’ve got more time planned for later in the week and I can’t wait.

Tammy and David have been together since they were 15 or 16 and he’s like family too. That’s their sweet little daughter, Skylar…

…who my girls would like to have move in with us.

And finally, we’ve gotten more precious time with the girls’ Uncle Adam, including an unprecedented lunch of ice cream. These girls are thinking Hemet is a very wonderful place, indeed.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dairyland, USA

Jill's Journal: How cute are these guys? I mean, seriously. Baby cows – any baby farm animals, really – are just so stinkin’ adorable.

My parents live far from Hemet these days, but they had some business to take care of in Hemet a few days ago and combined it with a visit to their grandkids. We had a super day, capped by a “field trip” to a dairy farm. Hemet has a rich dairy culture. I grew up around it – so much so that I never knew dairies smelled until this return trip after being away -- and I knew the girls needed an introduction. My Dad sells bull semen to dairies all over Central and Southern California (how’s that for a conversation piece at a cocktail party?) and was kind enough to bring us to Scott Brothers Dairy just outside of Hemet in neighboring San Jacinto. Scott Bros. has been in San Jacinto since the 1970s and milks over 1,000 head of Holsteins daily.

First Grandpa showed the girls a milk barn. Look at Erika’s face…she is fascinated and amazed and enthralled! She desperately wants to learn how to milk a cow.

Then it was off to the calving pen. We just missed a birth. This little one was still wet and the mama hadn’t passed the placenta yet.

Another newborn calf. So cute.

Erika especially adored the calves. Add calves to the long, long list of animals she’d like to have one day. It starts with horses, of course, and runs the gamut from pigs to quail and just about everything in between.

There were plenty to pick from!

No, they’re not bound for veal. This is how calves on dairies are raised.

Victoria latched on to a friendly little calf. Allegedly, I used to let the calves suck on my long braids when I was a child. Victoria offered up her fingers instead. Much wiser. With her blonde hair, she could easily pass for one of the plethora of Dutch dairy kids in the area.

Madelyn found a friend too. She usually prefers smaller animals, but this calf was right up her alley. She doesn’t share her sisters’ extreme love of horses and big dogs, but give her a cat or a little dog and she’s found bliss.

Feeding time!

How these girls loved their moments on a dairy. Thanks so much to my Dad and to the very kind Brad Scott for hosting us.

P.S. Drink milk!