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  • May 13, 2022: A Rude Awakening

    March and April were busy months: bookkeeping, tax time, story deadlines, jury duty, Paloma the curious puppy, our desert tortoise Lawrence’s emergence from hibernation, decluttering the garage, and keeping the house and office orderly along the way. But I managed to break away for alone time at our health club. And I decided to start swimming again. Decades ago, I was a regular swimmer at the Pasadena Athletic Club (I swam during my entire pregnancy). Sadly, the family-owned club eventually closed. That’s when the Los Angeles Athletic Club in downtown offered PAC members a generous “SOS” discount to join their “family,” which we accepted with immense gratitude. Good grief. Diving back into swimming a few weeks ago was a rude awakening. Power walks in my hilly neighborhood hardly got me ready for a different kind of workout. I’m embarrassed to say that it felt foreign. After doing one lap (two lengths) with the kickboard, I was ready to call it a day. But didn’t. Instead, I set a goal: one more lap. Back at home Louie (aka “Aqua Man,” the Masters swimmer) asked me, “How was swimming?” “Nice…,” was my quick reply from the kitchen. “I did…hmm, a couple of laps.” I was so rusty, I confessed. “That’s okay,” he reassured me. When I started swimming again, I remember gasping for air, I was so out of shape. The following weekend Louie wanted to join me at the club. Oh no! The PROfessional is going to see how pathetic I am. But mind-over-matter, I knew I would have to step it up. I got to the pool before he did and proceeded to put on my swimming cap. What a pain. I don’t know if I will ever master stretching the super tight, super thin latex rubber cap gracefully over my head at the same time trying to stuff my hair inside. I wonder if my attempts at this were providing entertainment for anyone who saw me. Our swimming lanes were next to each other. I mustered up my best “stroke” using the kickboard. Louie swam to meet me at the other end of the pool. “Your fast,” he said. “You have a good kick! Now, let’s see you swim some laps…” I had to save face. Here goes nothing, I said silently. I visualized my swimming days at the Pasadena club. I pushed off the wall, took my first few freestyle strokes before tilting my head slightly to the right to take a breath. I felt a nice familiar rhythm. I reached the end of the lane, then decided to keep the momentum and swam back. “Your stroke looks great!” “And you’re very smooth,” he said excitedly. “Really?” I replied in surprise. “But I’m so winded.” Don’t worry, he responded encouragingly. “You’ll get stronger every week.” He immediately taught me gliding techniques that use less energy to make my swim more enjoyable. I couldn’t help reminiscing about the swim class I took at East Los Angeles College when we were newlyweds. It was Louie’s idea that I enroll in the course. After a near-drowning experience as a child, I was fearful of swimming in deep waters. At the end of our full workdays, Louie accompanied me to my night classes at the college down the street from our apartment. There, he watched from the bleachers as I learned strokes that would help me swim confidently across an Olympic-sized pool. My newly-acquired skills would, ahem, pay off in my future deep-sea escapades. My first media trip was to Fiji in the South Pacific near New Zealand. The day came for water sports off one of its 300-plus islands. It was so tiny I could walk around it in 15 minutes, maybe 10. I chose snorkeling. On board the boat to the reef, a fellow journalist gave me a pep talk. The moment had come. One by one, each guest climbed down off the boat. I was the last. Then the boat disappeared. The advanced group was already a good distance away. So, breathing through my snorkel, I swam calmly but quickly in the crystal clear sea to catch up with our guide and the couple with their five-year-old child. “You can do this. You WILL do this,” I repeated to myself. It was time to redirect any looming fear. I practically slapped myself. “Look at the colorful sea life!” That royal blue starfish did look otherworldly. But I had to keep moving. Are we done yet? It seemed like an eternity before the boat returned to pick us up. I gave myself a pat on the back for not losing it. On a trip to Cancun with Louie, we couldn’t wait to snorkel upon our late afternoon arrival at the hotel. We bee-lined to the beach and hired a guide to take us three miles out to the coral reef. I was giddy floating with the buoyancy of the saltwater. Within a few minutes, I watched Louie and the guide dive deeper into the reef. Treading gleefully, I turned my attention to the colorful sea life far below me. I also noticed that the waters were quite choppy. Then it dawned on me that I was ALONE. Water started collecting in my mask. Uh oh. I treaded as calmly as I could, then dipped my face underwater looking for the guys. When they surfaced, I climbed on top of Louie’s head, as he colorfully describes it. It got worse. The choppy waters prevented us from getting back into the motorboat. The guide had to throw ropes out to us to drag us towards shore and calmer waters. Back in the boat, I was as green as Kermit the Frog. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. How nostalgic it is that we have come full circle. Me, dreadfully out of practice in a sport that I once loved and Louie (Aqua Man) in the best shape he has been in years still cheering me on. Aqua Man? I’m saving this for another tale. PREVIOUS ENTRY

  • May 8, 2022: For Moms Around The World

    HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! The simple yet powerful words of this poem resonate because this is what we Moms do. It’s true that a mother’s work is never done! “GUIDING LIGHT MOM” by Karl and Joanna Fuchs Mom, from the time I was really young, I realized I had someone...you, who always cared, who always protected me, who was always there for me no matter what. You taught me right from wrong, and pushed me to do the right thing, even when it was hard to do. You took care of me when I was sick, and your love helped make me well. You had rules, and I learned that when I obeyed them, my life was simpler, better, richer. You were and are the guiding light of my life. My heart is filled with love for you, my teacher, my friend, my mother. PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • April 30, 2022: Morning Light

    6:31 a.m. PST Morning light through the bathroom window welcomed yet another day. When I looked up and saw this canvas in the sky, I put down my toothbrush and scrambled to capture the moment -- before the magic disappeared. PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • Discover A Mountain Resort Town Close To Downtown Los Angeles

    “This looks like a resort,” a friend said, as we drove past the town square in Sierra Madre, California. It was lined with umbrellaed tables, coffee shops, restaurants, an ice cream shop, a pub, boutiques – and on a side street – a cozy microbrewery. At the base of the San Gabriel Mountains below Angeles National Forest, this small town 3 square miles in size and shaded with old-growth trees looks like it was plucked right out of New England. Hard to believe that it’s only 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. But residents here don’t think of their tranquil foothill village as a vacation spot even though the town features what travelers look for when seeking rest and relaxation: great weather, peaceful landscapes, friendly people, history and period architecture, shopping and dining. Truth be told, my friend wasn’t off the mark at all. During the late 19th century, this forested region was the most popular of a handful of mountain resort towns established by trail blazers from the east coast keen on making a new life in the rejuvenating Mediterranean climate and wide open space of Southern California. Massachusetts native Nathaniel Carter was one of these pioneers. He had come west to recover from lung disease because the healthy mountain air here was famous for helping people with debilitating respiratory ailments. In her book, “The Southern California Story: Seeking the Better Life in Sierra Madre,” author Michele Zack colorfully describes the town’s history, stories and characters. After Carter recovered from his illness, he stayed, started a new career in real estate, and lured wealthy east coasters westward. In 1881, he founded the town of Sierra Madre (Spanish for “mother range”) dubbing it Mother Nature’s Sanitarium. It was incorporated in 1907. This period became known as the Great Hiking Era when floor-length prairie dresses didn’t stop women from hiking the dirt trails leading to camps like Sturtevant Camp Resort. Established in 1892, it’s the last surviving camp resort complete with furnished guest cabins, a dining hall, an industrial kitchen, recreation area, and an outdoor chapel, that still welcomes hikers. At Mary’s Market in the canyon neighborhood of Sierra Madre north of Kersting Court, I met up with local Joe Tortomasi, a long-time resident who frequently navigates the approximate 4-mile trail to Sturtevant Camp. In the isolated labyrinthine canyon under an old sycamore tree, 100-year old Mary’s Market is a relic of the area’s frontier days when it was the hub of Sierra Madre. After periods of closure, Mary’s is abuzz once more. The moment visitors walk through the screen door of the small diner, they are taken back in time as owners Heather Everett Morrison and Jenny Kay serve up delectable meals and sell cool knickknacks, collectibles, Mary’s Market T-shirts and post cards of Sierra Madre. And while researching his family history, Tortomasi was shocked to learn that he had roots in Sierra Madre long before he moved to the canyon. “You’ve got to come down here,” Tortomasi remembers the librarian telling him. She had uncovered a local paper from 1908 with an advertisement that read, “Alfonso DeMaio’s Shoe Repair.” DeMaio was Tortomasi’s grandfather. Tortomasi also showed me the building on Sturtevant Dr. where Anais Nin, the French author, poet and diarist lived over 10 years when she was married (illegally) to a forest ranger while (legally) married to her first husband in New York. Indeed, once anyone falls under the spell of Sierra Madre, it’s hard to leave. Multi-generational families and businesses here are a testament to that. Like the third and fourth generations of E. Waldo Ward & Son who continue the vision of founder Edwin Waldo Ward, Sr., a luxury food salesman from New York who came west and purchased a citrus farm to make marmalades and other gourmet foods. New Jersey native Karen Keegan, founder of Savor the Flavor, is witnessing the next generation of her popular specialty food and gourmet gift shop that opened in 1998. While scoping out homes in neighboring cities, she and her husband happened upon Sierra Madre – where their search ended. “Sierra Madre is magical,” Keegan said. It feels special as soon as you arrive.” In a recent move across the street, Savor the Flavor “reincarnated” occupies larger space and is now owned by Keegan’s daughter, Madeline Romo. Hand-selected gourmet foods and gifts are the mainstays, along with new twists by Romo “to have something in the store for people of all ages.” For a quiet town, it’s renowned for festivals and holidays. After COVID forced its cancellation for two years, 2022 was the comeback year for Sierra Madre’s historic Wisteria Festival held each spring since 1931. Who knew that a 75-cent wisteria cutting would make it into the 1990 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest blossoming plant and be among the Seven Horticultural Wonders of the World? The event brings thousands into the village each March to celebrate the vine in full bloom. The varied landscapes of this Los Angeles enclave have also been the settings for filmmaking over the decades -- from the 1956 sci-fi movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to the “Twin Peaks” funeral episode at Pioneer Cemetery to Season 2 of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” when scenes filmed in the canyon and Starbucks at Kersting Court doubled for the California coastal town of Monterey. Sierra Madre is as bucolic and blissful today as it was in its pioneer days. It attracts day trippers throughout Southern California’s sprawl – where hiking and a slower pace are still the draw. WHEN YOU GO: Learn more about Sierra Madre: https://www.cityofsierramadre.com/ E. Waldo Ward & Son: https://www.waldoward.com/ Savor the Flavor: https://savortheflavor.net/ Published version: https://www.creators.com/read/travel-and-adventure/04/22/discover-a-mountain-resort-town-close-to-downtown-los-angeles

  • Magic Inspires!

    Magic inspires! My visits to three small towns in Mexico left me utterly enchanted as they took me back in time. Click on the link to read about the journeys that left me yearning to discover more of Mexico’s “Magical Towns.” http://www.travelife.ca/DESTINATIONS/LatinAmerica2/tabid/544/ArticleID/2627/Towns-make-Mexico-magical.aspx STORY LINKS: https://www.athenalucerotravels.com/post/tequila-sunrise-with-a-twist https://www.athenalucerotravels.com/post/tapatio-the-heart-of-guadalajara https://www.athenalucerotravels.com/post/the-good-life-in-cosmopolitan-monterrey-mexico

  • April 10, 2022: The Flying Bone

    Keep your eye on the flying bone… PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • April 2, 2022: Listen To The Rhythm of the Falling Rain

    Mesmerized by the morning’s non-stop rain. It was even more magical when I lifted open the backdoor window. Amazing how quickly the weather changed from the day before when I strolled my town’s Wistaria Festival celebration. Turn up the volume! PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • March 27, 2022: A Vintage Shop, A Church and Ukraine

    A week ago, while running errands, I drove passed Vintage Treasures and Antiques in Arcadia, California and did a double-take. A wooden bureau painted half blue and half yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, was front and center on the sidewalk for drivers and passersby to see this showing of solidarity for the unthinkable war taking place in Ukraine. The image tugged at my heart, and I wanted to stop to take a photo. But there was no parking and traffic was moving too fast. On the way back from my errand I drove by the shop again, but it had just closed. I lost my chance. Two days ago, while running errands, I drove passed the vintage shop again. I didn’t see the painted bureau, but instead was moved by a bright yellow and blue sign, “Prayers for Ukraine” hanging on a tree. Below it, a flowing yellow scarf was tied to an empty blue birdcage symbolizing freedom. I immediately parked and went inside to ask the shop owner if it would be all right for me to take photos. From the rear of the store, Raquel McLaughlin, the owner, excitedly motioned for me to come to her desk where she was looking at her computer. “Look, that’s us!” she said pointing at the screen. At that moment, ABC7.com was reporting on how the “San Gabriel Valley hopes to help people of Ukraine heal with unique art and power of prayer.” This unexpected encounter was beyond a coincidence I felt. I softly touched Raquel on the shoulder acknowledging her heartfelt message to the community. As I was taking photos outside, Raquel came out of the shop to walk her dog. Before moving on, she said, “Oh, let me get the chest…” Hidden by a clothes rack, she pulled out the blue and yellow wooden chest I thought I would never see again. See the emotional yet uplifting news piece by clicking the link below. https://abc7.com/arcadia-monrovia-ukrain-russia/11681232/ PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • March 15, 2022: The Nightcap

    After a lovely dinner with our dear friend, Teresa, we started cleaning up. Then Jacqueline brought out a fresh stash of cheese. Upon inhaling the divine aroma from the gorgeous slice of Parmigiano Reggiano, I sighed. “We must enjoy this with port!” I cried out. But we didn’t have any. “I’ll buy a bottle at Happy’s right NOW!” “No…it’s too late to go,” Louie chimed in from the living room, trying to save me from making the trek to the liquor store three blocks away. “Yes, go!” Jacqueline countered. “I’ll do the dishes!” Deal. It was the icing on the cake. The only thing is that when we opened the bottle immediately upon my return home, sipped the soothing warm flavors of the Quinta da Cavadinha Vintage Port, and bit into the exquisite crumbly cheese, we floated into another dimension and didn’t come out for a while. We only wished that Teresa could have stayed longer. And we never finished clearing the table that night. PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • March 6, 2022: Let Peace Prevail

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  • March 4, 2022: Room With Two Views

    When we recently replaced our frosted louvre windows in our bathroom, we got more than we bargained for in the best way possible! The new window reflects off our sink-to-ceiling mirror – treating us to views of the San Gabriel Mountains behind us -- that we would otherwise have to sit on the sink to see. I will miss the nostalgia of our old 1940s crank window designed to cleverly regulate airflow. But now, sharing the room with, ahem, Mother Nature, I’m hard-pressed to leave this panorama... PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • February 27, 2022: Paloma's Polite Bark

    Paloma’s polite bark woke me too early this morning. Then it escalated to her famous high pitch. To avoid the next one, I groggily schlepped out of bed in the dark and threw on my sweats to take her out to pee. She had just been spayed, so I had to put her harness and leash on because she can’t run or jump until her incision fully heals – two weeks! She quickly ran to the back door as I hustled to put on my coat and scrambled for the all-important flashlight and poop bag. Then, I opened the back door and looked up to be captivated by the magic of the Morning Star and a peaceful crescent moon. Thank you for waking me, my pretty girl. PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • February 10, 2022: Paloma Is Five Months Old

    What a difference three months makes. Where is that little tyke of a puppy? She’s still there, but in a 38-pound body. In four more months, Paloma will reach her full height and by the time she’s one-year old (in August), she will fill out to her adult size. Paloma is growing and changing so fast that our neighbor did not recognize her a few days ago. I decided to scroll through my collection of photos and pulled out “comparison shots.” Good grief, pictures surely paint a thousand words! And thank goodness for the short spontaneous videos I took that captured live footage that made me grin from ear to ear: one of her first walks and breaking in her new yellow raincoat. Another cool video is Paloma getting a workout eating her meal on a Snuffle Mat recommended by her breeder. I had never heard of a Snuffle Mat until she mentioned it. When I researched benefits of the mat, I was sold. And now that we have been using it for a while, it is living up to its claims: It encourages the dog’s natural instincts to forage for food It slows down intake of food. When we used bowls for our previous dogs, they often “inhaled” their kibble within seconds without chewing – sometimes resulting in choking Involves the same or more energy as taking a walk Exerting energy reduces stress Encourages mental stimulation in turn reducing chances for destroying valuable items around the house (due to boredom) I can say this much: Now that Paloma has earned privileges to wander around the house, she never chews on shoes, doesn’t take tempting items off the coffee table, and (except on rare occasions) she’s not interested in biting the legs of our nice furniture. She does, however, like Louie’s socks. We are getting over the hump of the early and most trying puppy months – and it appears we are reaping the rewards of our efforts. So far… PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • January 23, 2022: From Art's to Art

    On a recent Saturday morning after our dental appointments, Louie and I decided to stop for a late breakfast at Art’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in Studio City. We hadn’t dined there for a while – since before the pandemic, to be exact. Back then dining was only indoors. And I remember seeing actor Helen Hunt grabbing a bite. Outdoor dining was available this time, so we took a table at the sidewalk patio. The weather was perfect. Louie couldn’t wait to order his favorite corned beef and eggs. I, a creature of habit, ordered the perfect bowl of oatmeal. The diners next to us had brought their own centerpiece – a sweet little pot of yellow tulips. We spent our unrushed meal reminiscing and people-watching. On our way to our car parked in the adjacent residential neighborhood, a large, framed peace symbol in a storefront window caught my eye. “Stop!” I yelled to Louie already a couple of yards ahead of me. “I want to take this shot…and the framed poem in the other window.” The poem was “Hold Fast Your Dreams” written in 1916 by American poet Louise Driscoll during the sufferings of World War One. I had intended to post this diary entry yesterday but ran out of time. While examining the peace sign more closely, I zoomed in on timeless quotes from John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mahatma Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and anonymous others. Thich Nhat Hanh was a name not familiar to me, so I looked him up this morning. The first article that came up made me do a double take when I saw the date of the story, January 22, 2022. Yesterday. Known throughout the world, the eminent Vietnamese Buddhist monk who spent his lifetime promoting world peace passed away peacefully yesterday. He was 95. https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/21/asia/thich-nhat-hanh-death-intl/index.html Thich Nhat Hanh became a monk at 16 when he entered Tu Hieu Temple in Hue city in central Vietnam. He “spread the message of peace,” he advocated to end the Vietnam War, he taught at Princeton University and lectured at Columbia University and Cornell…among other laudable acts. Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. But “…no Nobel Peace Prize was awarded that year.” Accidentally coming upon words of wisdom in the peace symbol where every blank space was filled, and Louise Driscoll’s poem were indeed throwbacks to times of historic world events. But my, how their words resonate today. Was it a coincidence that we stopped at Art’s for oatmeal and corned beef and eggs? PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY

  • January 10, 2022: Starbucks' January Mug

    Oh yes, it’s going to be a wonderful day! After pouring my piping hot coffee, I walked away for a minute, turned back and was hypnotized by rising steam swirling every which way. Any coffee addict will understand. Do you remember Starbucks’ “January” mug? It was sold only during the holidays. If you happened to possess one of these, your coffee during the thirty days of January would be free all day long. I loved giving them as gifts. This white mug was one of the earlier designs (a new design came out each year). I didn’t realize how possessive I had become of it until one day, when I decided to save leftover fresh-brewed coffee, the first container I spotted in my cabinet was my Starbucks mug. In the fridge it went. When my daughter woke up, I told her she could have the saved coffee. “Thanks,” she replied. Then, as she said good-bye at the door, in her hand was the mug. “Uh, that’s my mug,” I politely blurted out. No longer offered at Starbucks, my January Mug is now a relic of pre-pandemic times. PREVIOUS ENTRY NEXT ENTRY