Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas!

My friends and I stopped at this roadside store in the middle of nowhere (sorry to the folks who live somewhat around there!) kind of on a whim. I had heard of this place - that it was a fun stop off with lots of eclectic things to purchase and unusual food products for sale, like alligator meat and ostrich eggs. It sounded like a place right up my alley!

We were already in the area, having explored several other fun places around here, so we assumed (and yes, I do know what happens when one assumes and I proved it true, again) that this would be a quick stop off on the way home. We were delightfully wrong! Although this innocuous-looking store appears to be a kind of old-fashioned, general store, walk through its doors and you will be utterly amazed at its massive size (it's on six acres!) and the astonishing variety of goods offered here.

The section immediately through the door has an impressive selection of over 1,000 food items including nuts; dried fruits; pretzels and chips; candy (the owners claim over 1,000 kinds) - a multitude of flavors (over fifty!) of just saltwater taffies, plus fudge, brittle, horehound candies, chocolate, hard-to-find speciality and novelty candy; locally grown fruits and vegetables; a plethora of honey, molasses, and jams and jellies; sixty kinds of jerky; home-made cookies; ostrich eggs; sodas flavors and brands that are not readily available at most other stores; and so much more.

Walk on uneven floors and through some hallways from one room to another; rooms that are filled with vast assortments of everything under one roof. One room is devoted to collectible, porcelain, and vinyl dolls - over 1,000 of them to purchase. Another room is packed with games and toys, including reproductions of classics, collectibles, and newer ones, in addition to too many choices of marbles. Another is devoted to hundreds of teapots, plus dishes, cookie jars, and home products. Christmas ornaments and decorations are available year round in a room towards the back.

Another quirky room features larger-than-life-size statues of pirates, penguin butlers, Betty Boop, and cavemen, plus an old English phone booth and more. Dinosaurs from miniature to life-size are ensconced in yet another room, while fake animal heads (for sale) hang on some doorways. There are also rooms filled with all things military; one that holds just gnome statues and trinkets; another that has gift items; another with jewelry; and much, much more! And all this is really just a summary of what the store has to offer. You really can do all your Christmas shopping (especially for that hard-to-buy-for person) at one location.

The small, inside restaurant boasts a Western theme, while the outside seating area is harder to catagorize as although there are tables and chairs, there are also large statues of zebras, knights, lions, elephants, etc. The decor in this huge, but homey-style store and restaurant is both odd and fun. The food is delicious with a choice of Texas barbecue tri-tip, barbecued chicken, pulled pork, or baby back ribs, plus a choice of two sides for about $9.95. Burgers of venison, ostrich, buffalo, or ground steak are an average of $7.95 per. (Alligator, elk and rattlesnake meats are also available.) And there’s more! The snack bar offers breakfast and sandwich wraps (average $7.95); bread bowls (about $6.95); a slew of salads to chose from (average $6.95); and deli sandwiches (about $6.75); side orders (sweet potato fries, cowboy beans, chili cheese fries, pepper bellies), plus the good stuff like date shakes, frozen custard, kettle corn, pie shakes (with flavors like cherry pie, banana cream pie, etc.), deep-fried Twinkies, Hawaiian shaved ice, funnel cakes, and lots more. The coffee menu is also fairly extensive, of course.

Charlie Brown Farms is an eclectic treasure trove for collectors, anyone who wants a unique gift, or a hungry person with a hankering for some good (and maybe unusual) grub.

What: Charlie Brown Farms
Where: 8317 Pearblossom Highway, Littlerock
Contact Info: (661) 944-2606 /
Hours: Open daily, 8am - 8pm.

I recently had major surgery and have to admit that having surgery really wasn’t that much fun! Not that I thought it was, but now I know for sure. Recovery wasn’t any more fun than the surgery. So, on one hand, without trying to whine (although whining is one of my gifts), I just have to say - YUCK.  On the other hand, there were some definite benefits, like losing weight from not being interested in eating. (There is a first for everything!) Alas, once I got my appetite back, that benefit was sidelined. (sigh) Another benefit: My doctor told me that I couldn’t lift anything remotely heavy for a while or even push anything - I understand this to mean that I can never push a vacuum cleaner around again. Ever. I’m pretty sure that’s what my doctor actually meant, although she didn’t say so in so many words.
I do have a question, though: What does the word “rest” mean to you? I’m genuinely curious. I was told to rest. No elaboration. Does that mean stay in bed? Sit down a lot? Lay around and watch others do all the chores? Or, do what you can, then take it easy until you don’t hurt anymore, get up and do some more; repeat?
The greatest benefits of the surgery include being thankful that I could afford to get the surgery, knowing my life will be better for having had it, and being completely healed now. Yahoo! While there was a temporary sense (albeit a seemingly longish temporary sense!) of not enjoying my life, the long term effect is feeling, and living, like I have a new lease on life! Double yahoo!

We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.  - Frederick Keonig

Monday, November 22, 2010

Waxing Thankful

I had my picture taken with President Obama, and then with Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Michael Jackson, Simon Cowell, Spiderman and many other famous people - all in the same day and all at the same place. It’s so fun to be famous! Actually, anyone can do this same thing at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum (but I like to think that I’m special!).
This multi-level wax museum is unique from others of this genre in two ways in particular: One is that the 115 wax figures, for the most part, look amazingly lifelike and truly like the person they are modeled after. We have been to some wax museums where it’s almost hard to tell who the statue is supposed to be! My top pick for realistic lookalike is the Steven Spielberg figure. He is astonishing - even very up close, which you can get here. That’s the second distinction - you can get close enough to touch the figures here and also interact with them because there aren’t any barriers.

Many of the wax statues are set in famous scenes, backdrops and all, along with props that you can use so you can pose with them or pose like them. Make sure to bring your camera! My friends and I, for instance, put on robes and boxing gloves, got into the ring, and pretended to box next to Sylvester Stallone. (We won!) We also took turns sitting on a camel next to Peter O’Toole in a setting from Lawrence of Arabia; pulling up a chair at the table to join Audrey Hepburn in a replicated scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s; hopping on a motorcycle to ride next to Hugh Jackman (i.e. Wolverine); yelling "hi ya" while chopping a tricked out wooden block in two near Jackie Chan; putting on a jacket and twirling around a cane next to Charlie Chaplin; setting cowboy hats on our heads and hanging out with John Wayne, and then with Robert Redford and Paul Newman from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; and sitting in the captain’s chair onboard the deck of the Star Trek Enterprise alongside Captain Kirk and the rest of the waxy crew. A favorite was pretending to be hanging upside down on the furniture in an office room setting with Spiderman. When we got home I reversed the picture on the computer and it looks like we really had been upside down, except for the one person who apparently didn’t get the concept and posed like it was a regular picture - that would be me.

Many of the settings have sound effects to go along with them, like the sound of swords clashing. Kiosks are interspersed throughout the attractions, too, where you can test your knowledge of movie terminology, trivia, and more.

From David Beckham to Clark Gable to Quentin Tarantino to Robert Pattinson to Beyonce to Madame Tussaud herself (kind of) - there is someone here for everyone to get excited about seeing and posing with. The museum offers the opportunity to get more up close and personal with television, movie, sports, singing, and even political celebrities than you will probably ever have a chance to do in real life.

On the bottom floor (you start at the top one), you mingle with a bevy of stars decked out in their finest attire (i.e. clothing that the actual stars wore) as camera flashes from the mural paparazzi go off around the room - you are now part of the Oscar ceremony. I felt a little underdressed.
The last room in the museum allows visitors to see the intricate details of how a wax model is made with over 800 hours of work per statue, including the painstaking detai 
ls and measurements (of everything!) taken on the person who will be immortalized (unless there is a heat wave). You’ll see diagrams, models in various stages of being created, a variety of colors and sizes of eyeballs to choose from, and colorful locks of hair which are inserted in the figures’ heads one strand at a time. For an additional $12, you can dip your hand in a vat of wax to make a mold of your hand to take home and give to someone special.

Day campers and students can participate a forty-five minute, educational scavenger hunt and/or a field trip that incorporates subjects such as the history of Hollywood.
When you visit Madame Tussaud’s make sure to allot time to take in the other attractions nearby including Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, the Kodak Theater (where the Oscar ceremony actually takes place), the El Capitan (a glamorous Disney theater), and the Hollywood and Highland Center which offers a view of the Hollywood sign, plus a great selection of shops and food. (Do lunch!)
Tip: Parking at the Hollywood and Highland Center is only $2 for 4 hours with validation from the visitor’s center at the Center, or any of the shops or restaurants. Note that the wax museum doesn’t validate for parking here. Their lot charges $10 for the day. Or, just take a train to get here!
What: Madame Tussaud’s Hollywood
Where: 6933 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
Contact Info: (323) 798-1670 /
Hours: Open Mon. - Thurs., 10am - 6pm; Fri. - Sun., 10am - 8pm. Closed only on Oscar day.
Admission: $25 for ages 13 and up; $20 for seniors and students with a valid ID; $18 for ages 4 - 12; children 3 and under are free. Purchase tickets online and save 20%.

The thought of Thanksgiving being right around the corner causes me to pause and ponder my family’s previous celebrations of this holiday. Traditionally, we’ve had family and friends around the tables (and yes, one for the kids and one for the adults) and have gorged ourselves, eating like we’ll never have another meal; ever. We’ve watched some TV, played some games, talked, laughed, argued, and cleaned a lot of dishes.

The word tradition means: The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc. from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice; a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting.
Our traditions have changed over the years. (Does that mean we still actually have traditions, then?) As my sisters and I got married, we strove to get together with our expanding households, combining in-laws with blood family. This worked for a bit. Then, we started having kids and the gatherings got a little bit harder and much bigger. We still did pretty good at getting together and making it all happen. As our kids got older and got tugged in competing directions, we had to become more flexible. So, while were appreciative for the Thanksgivings we had all together, we realized it wasn’t as feasible (but always feastable!) as it once was. My husband and I and our sons then enjoyed Thanksgiving at my husband’s parents’ home for several years.

Four years ago my father and my father-in-law died just four months apart from each other. What an excruciating time for our families! That year my mother-in-law asked if we could host Thanksgiving dinner over at our house, as hers was too full of memories. Of course. We would love to. We’ve been doing that ever since and this year we are adding my mom to the mix (my sisters and I vie to have her over), as well as other friends who are around to come and join us. This is our new Thanksgiving tradition, at least for this year. I don’t know what next year, or even tomorrow, will bring, but I’m thankful for this year and this time. Even if we don’t have a tradition of exactly who we’ll toast Thanksgiving with and where, we do have a tradition of sharing Thanksgiving time (and food) with family and friends - and therein lies the true blessing.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'Thank you,' that would suffice. - Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crusin' Egypt

In a departure from my regular PLACES column that covers somewhere to go in Southern California, I have this question (and my answer) for you: Of all the places in the world, where would you like to go? Many of us think about this question and ponder the possibilities, especially as we are at work doing the same old, same old. Maybe you want to travel to Africa and go on a safari (I do!). Or go to Australia and do a walkabout and visit kangaroos (I do!). Or go to Hawaii and relax on tropical beaches (I do!). Apparently, there is a lot I still want to do! Somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, because I was fascinated by studying it in its ancient version in school, is Egypt. So mysterious, so foreign (to this Southern California woman), and so far away and therefore, so expensive.
This past April I got to go to Egypt. (How and why I got to go is covered in my PERSONAL part of the blog.) I never knew Egypt had such varying topography! I pictured desert. That’s it - just endless stretches of desert, which certain parts of Egypt definitely are. But I didn’t know about the multi-colored jagged mountains jutting up spectacularly from the ground, or the open fields with acres of crops growing by the riverside, or the overwhelmingly crowded cities where people are crammed in old high-rise buildings that are crumbling. I’ve decided that ignorance about geography, a country, inhabitants, etc. is not bliss - it’s just ignorance.
One of the most memorable days in Egypt was my first one. We took a 3 hour bus ride into the interior of Egypt with Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut’s temple and Karnack as our main destinations. The ever-changing scenery was so utterly fascinating to behold. Our one-lane road, which traveled alongside a river almost its entire length, was filled with a hodge-podge of people and modes of transportation. Some women were clothed head to toe in black berkas and abayas, while some of the younger women wore skin-tight jeans, long-sleeved shirts covered by a tube top, and a beautiful colored scarf atop their heads. Men were dressed in business suits, casual clothing (although I never saw any indigenous people wearing shorts, no matter how hot it got), and the traditional clothing (i.e. galabeyas) and talked with each other while walking along the dirt road, riding bikes, driving donkey carts, riding dirtbikes, driving impossibly tiny cars, and hopping on and off buses and vans already overflowing with people. It was a collision and intertwining of two worlds - the ancient and the modern.
I had never, to my shame, heard of Karnack which, in my opinion, was the most magnificent ruins of the ancient Egyptian temples. Monstrously huge at one mile by two miles, I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a movie set, but the real thing. I walked among gigantic columns, carved long ago with intricate hieroglyphics. I gaped in awe at enormous and majestic statues that immortalized gods and goddesses, or at least people. The sheer immensity of Karnack and the quality of the ruins took my breath away. Literally, actually, as I at one point I was running through them just to see if I could reach the other end of them. (I did. Am I really an adult?)
Swelteringly hot, dusty, and surrounded by a current-day construction site, the sights of Karnack and the memories of walking almost worshipfully among the amazing feats of craftsmanship from centuries past boggled my mind and senses. This is the Egypt I’ve read about and now got to experience.

There was so much more to our trip in and around Egypt - snorkeling in the Red Sea at Sharm El Sheik (I don’t think I will ever sea more astounding underwater life - the brilliance of the fish and the multitudes of them and variety - wow!); being, just being, at Mt. Sinai where Moses received the 10 commandments; exploring the catacombs in Alexandria; floating down the Nile in an old-fashioned felucca: dining at a palace; getting bargains (I think) at the marketplaces (shopper’s paradise!); and much more.
One last sight I will share in greater detail, though, is the quintessential Egypt - the pyramids. Just a half hour bus ride outside of Cairo, I strained my neck and eyes to get a first glimpse of them through the smog. There they were! Oh, no - that was just a tourist shop shaped like a pyramid. Aha - I saw them in the distance (for real, this time) and got more and more excited as with each bend in the road we got closer and closer to them. I was about to see one of the highlights of my entire trip!
And it was. And they were. Although commercialism has encroached fairly close to the pyramids, when we drove up above the three pyramids for a view, it was just like I pictured in my mind, with lots of desert still in the background.
The stones of the mighty pyramids are not clean cut like I envisioned. (Oh my small, Westernized frame of understanding.) They are, instead, rough hewn and utterly massive. And such pyramidal-shaped perfection! As I was snapping away with my camera, I finally realized that the pyramids from one angle looked pretty much the same as the pyramids from another angle - stones going up at a triangular slant. Huh! The engineering feat and gargantuan size of these monuments are almost beyond belief, even when actually staring at them. Camel rides down and around the desert surrounding the pyramids are available here, too.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is only a few minutes down the road and yes, this architectural wonder is mythsterious! We stared at it, walked around in awe, and took more pictures. We actually returned that same night for a light show that incorporated laser beams shining in neon colors on the sphinx and pyramids. Kind of odd, dated, and hokey, but still fun to see.
One other "must see" in Cairo is the Egyptian Museum. This museum holds one of the greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities, including mummies and treasures from King Tut’s tomb, some of his coffins, the famous gold mask, and pieces of his stunning jewelry. I could easily have spent a full day, or two, here.
This was a trip of a lifetime that can best be summed up by reiterating what I kept telling myself while on the trip, "I can’t believe I get to do this!"
I don’t know if I now Walk Like An Egyptian, but some of the lyrics from this song are fun and kept running through my head while there (sing along!):
All the old paintings on the tombs
They do the sand dance don't you know
If they move too quick (oh whey oh) They're falling down like a domino

All the bazaar men by the Nile
They got the money on a bet
Gold crocodiles (oh whey oh)
They snap their teeth on your cigarette

Foreign types with the hookah pipes say
Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh
Walk like an Egyptian
My mom called me last August and said that she got a brochure from a cruise company that day that was offering a trip to Egypt. She said she was thinking of going. O.K. She called me the next day and said that she spoke to my sister, Beth, and that Beth said that she wanted to go too, so the two of them were going on a cruise to Egypt in April. I was thinking: Hey - wait a minute! Do you mean to tell me that if I said I wanted to go, I could go too? Couldn’t hurt. I called my mom the next day and said, "That trip sounds like fun. I’d like to go." She said O.K. - it costs $$$$$$$$. (i.e. a LOT of money). Hm. I knew Beth wasn’t paying and I always thought that I was, if not her favorite (there is another older sister), at least in the running for it. Guess not. My mom called me the next day and said, "When I die, I will leave your older sister (who had no desire to go) the ‘extra’ amount of money that this cruise is going to cost me to pay for you and Beth to go, so I’m basically deducting it from your inheritance. Let’s go!" O.K.! I didn’t even know we were going to get an inheritance. My mom needed the definite answer by the next day because there was a discount for early birds (which is always better than a worm).
Then she told me that the cruise was for 19 days, plus an additional 4 days in Cairo. Oh my gosh! I had just assumed that going on a cruise meant going away for a week, maybe two. Over three weeks? I have a husband and family that I love dearly. Could I be away from them for that long? And, my husband loves to travel, too. Was this fair to him, that I go and he couldn’t? (He couldn’t go on the trip because he couldn’t take that much time off of work, plus he wasn’t really invited. Sorry, honey.) Another factor - I get seasick, really easily. I can look at a glass of water and if the water is sloshing a little back and forth, it makes me . . . . No, I’m not quite that bad, but I can stand at the end of a dock and feel the sway of the water and have to bolt for land to not toss my cookies (or whatever else I’ve eaten). 19 days on a ship? Really?
Now you might be thinking - those big ships are so big you can’t feel the motion at all. That might be true, but we weren’t going on a big ship. We were going on a ship that holds 120 passengers - that’s a small ship! And we were going to be in open waters for days at a time - no land; no escape. I asked my mom, "If your goal is Egypt, like Cairo, how about if we just fly there and spend extra time on land?" (Please?) Such sound reasoning. My mom, however, was a like a mountain - unmoving. She wanted to go on this cruise with this cruise line and that’s what she wanted. And she was paying for it - she could do whatever she wanted.
I spoke with my husband at great length, and quickly as I had to make a decision by the next day. I prayed hard and fast too - what to do? Trip of a lifetime with my mom and sister (did I mention that the three of us were going to stay in just one cabin?) on board a cruise ship for days at a time and I get motion sick?! Hmmm. I could lose a lot of weight, though.
My biggest reason for wanting to go was not to see the world famous sights, but the opportunity that I would have to spend this time with my mom and sister. (Did I mention that there was only one cabin for the three of us for all 19 days at sea and 3 days on land??) I understand that this prospect could be daunting if not downright terrifying for some people, but my mom and sister are some of my closest friends. (I was about to find out how close we were and how much we actually loved each other.) And this would be a golden ticket adventure; a once-in-a -lifetime event, as well.
Obviously I went and it was one of the most marvelous and memorable times of my entire life. Yes, we saw and explored exotic parts of the world I had only read about and every excursion and all the food was five-star quality, really. (Remember all those $$ symbols?!) Those are great things. But what really made this experience marvelous and memorable was the time I got to spend with my mom and sister.
Not to be morbid, but to be realistic - we don’t know how much time we have left on this earth. Maybe another 30 years, maybe 5, maybe a day. We can make choices, for the most part, about what to do with this precious time; how to spend it and who to spend it with. For that time, for those cherished three + weeks, I got to spend fun, deep, silly, serious, extraordinary time with my mother and sister. What a gift! We talked and laughed (sometimes at each other) and learned together. We spent uninterrupted time together. We shared hopes and fears. We rolled our eyes at each other (O.K. Beth and I did that to each other when we knew mom wasn’t quite keeping up with us, but we did it in a loving way, I’m sure.) We met new people on board the ship (there was only 34 passengers on that cruise!) that we might never see again, but who changed our lives.
I learned more about my sister and mom, too. I learned that my sister is a deeply compassionate person who cares more about people and relationships than anything else in the world; far above her business that she runs well and operates. She is also one of the most gracious and giving people that I’ve ever been blessed to know. And she is fun! Her sense of humor is awesome - maybe because I get it and we’re a lot a like. (And all this after spending 23 intimate days together!) I learned that my mom is 100% relational. She doesn’t care to follow politics too closely and she doesn’t completely care about the educational value of the places and things we saw and did, but no one beats her at listening to people, caring about them, enjoying who people are - just as they are, and loving her kids and grandkids. What a legacy she is already leaving.
It’s been about 6 months since we’ve been home. My mom and sister and I are closer than ever before. Whenever you have shared experiences, good ones and even not good ones, there is a closeness that happens. That’s the good stuff. That’s the important and valuable stuff in life. I wouldn’t have bypassed that trip for anything. Having said that, I wouldn’t do it again, either. I missed my husband and family waaaaaaay too much. They are the good and important and valuable stuff to me, too.

 "Carpe diem! (Seize the day!)"

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lovin’ Llamas and the Importance of Paint

Anyone can take their dog for a walk, but how about walking a llama?! Our small group caused quite a stir as we walked llamas through a Yorba Linda neighborhood, across a few streets, on an adjacent trail (usually used by horses), past the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, then into a park. What fun!
The owners of ShangriLlama Walks, who were our guides, first helped the other four llama walkers and me to get acquainted with the five llamas that we were going to take turns walking for the next three hours. Note: The llamas aren’t ridden, but walked. Each of the llamas, we discovered over the course of the morning, has a unique personality as well as being distinctive in size, coloring, and age. They range from 1 ½ years old to 10 years old and can live until they are 20 to 25 years. The llamas include a white llama with almost mystical-looking blue eyes who was rather sweet. This one is named Dalai Llama. The dark brown llama, named Barack O’Llama, was very easy going. Como T. Llama is a reddish-color animal who definitely was the frisky one in the group. The multi-colored llama with regal bearing is named Bahama Llama. Lastly, the two-toned one with some spots is the self-appointed leader (sorry, Barack) of the pack, named Pajama Llama. (Great names, huh?) Pajama also made strange noises that sounded like moaning, although it’s officially called humming. Hmm.

We stroked the llamas heads, necks, and backs, losing our hands in the softness and thickness of their hair. Then, we took the reins of "our" llama and gently pulled on the rope to get them (and us) started on the outing. I started off with Barack and kind of fell in love. (With Barack, the llama!) He seemed curious about the scenery as he looked everywhere with his expressive, big, brown eyes topped with the longest of eye lashes. He stopped every now and then to nibble at the grass and other plants, and to look at people, cars, and the world around him. He also stopped occasionally to roll (over and over) in the dirt.
As we walked along the trails and streets, we learned about llamas by watching them, interacting with them, and via the owners who dispensed lots of llama facts. We learned that llamas have three stomachs, have a split lip, are born during the day while mothers stand up to give birth (which sounds rather painful!), are shaved once a year and are social creatures. We also learned that they poop in pellets that don’t smell and which are good fertilizer for roses; they have rectangular pupils; they are mostly from South America; baby llamas are called crias; and lots more. This is my favorite way to learn - hearing information while living the experience.
ShangriLlama Walks got started because the owners then 12-year-old son became interested in llamas - so interested that he wanted to raise them. Being good parents, Sharon and Paul went along with it and helped their son start this business. Along the way, they learned a lot. One of the things they learned is that llamas can be great pets; llamas don’t spit unless really aggravated (kind of like humans); they are fairly easy to care for; and they make people smile. OK, yes - I kind of want a llama now! These particular llamas were hand-picked because they were friendly and represent almost the gamut of colors within the llama family.
We stopped off at a park and tied the llamas up to trees, so while they munched on leaves, we ate our own tasty lunch. Our picnic lunch, which is provided with the cost of the llama walk, consisted of a variety of deli sandwiches on fresh rolls, chips, gourmet salad, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Yum! It was a refreshing and delicious break.
We then continued on our journey walking past the Army One helicopter at the Richard Nixon Library, past the front of the building, across the street, and onto the trail that led towards home.
Our day was beautiful. We enjoyed the leisure walk on the dusty pathway, being with and leading the llamas, and meeting new friends along the way. The llamas attracted a lot of attention so joggers stopped to ask questions, kids wanted to pet them (and were allowed to), dogs barked (OK - not everyone was really friendly), and horses wanted to nuzzle with them.
Why come on a llama walk? Maybe you love animals, maybe you want to do something different, or maybe you want to celebrate an occasion, like a birthday. Whyever you do it, it is a walk to remember.
What: ShangriLlama Walks
Where: Yorba Linda
Contact info: (661) 221-5813 /
(Disclaimer - Always, always, ALWAYS call first as hours and prices can fluctuate!)
Hours: Saturday, 9am - noon; Sunday, 4pm - 7pm.
Admission: $50 per person (recommended for ages 12 and up)

I painted our dining room last week. Well, I actually painted several walls, several times, several different colors; about fifteen different colors. (Anyone need some paint?) Years ago when I painted the room I painted it a deep peach, almost salmon color, which everyone who came over wrongly called pink. I don’t like pink, so the walls were peach - really. Sometimes it’s hard to be the only one who is right!
I had sponge-painted the inset, where the windows are, a funky green. It had been my first attempt at sponge painting, so it really didn’t look very good.. Probably not the best room to try something new on that didn’t work as it’s the very first room that people see. (How important are first impressions, really?!) And the funky green color didn’t help.
After years of staring at these peachy, green splotchy walls, I suddenly realized at dinner one night last week - I really don’t like them. They were not attractive. I asked my family and guests what color I should paint the walls and got as many answers as there were people; none of them were the same. Yellow, purple, blue, peach (they were peach, already!), green, brown, etc.
Over the next few days I tried most of the color suggestions and/or variations of them. I even got creative and mixed colors together when I couldn’t find just the right tone. (And we all know that mixing colors is easy to replicate and purchase!) The yellow was too bright, not like cheery sunlight was flooding in, but like I was living on the surface of the sun. So I, picturing a sunset, mixed the yellow with a peach. The result? Like someone’s stomach insides were now on my walls. I then tried just a softer peach on the walls and discovered that the color was more like fleshtone. Now the room looked like skin - kind of creepy to sit in skin. The brown was too dark and made the room seem smaller. One green, that looked so pretty on the small little sample card and under the store light, look sickly pea green actually up on the walls. Red is my favorite color, but a little too in-your-face for the peaceful ambiance I was searching to create for the dining room. Grey looked institutional, which might fit our family best if color reflects a family’s true colors. Beige and tan were too blah.
I knew exactly what I wanted (obviously!) - a pretty color in and of itself, that could stand alone and declare - "I am a beautiful color, worthy of admiration simply because I am here"; a color that made visitors feel welcomed, accepted, and loved the minute they walked in the door; a color that embraced the morning sun and spread happiness and joy on the walls, and at night time set the mood for harmony and relaxing, as well as stimulating thought-provoking conversation; and a color that would go with my current accessories since I had now purchased so much paint I didn’t have money left to buy other decorations. Maybe this is too much pressure for any color!
On the third day (and yes I have a life outside of painting the house, I just lost it for a few days) I was heading towards a meltdown. My family, who would eat quickly (so they could leave quickly) in the multi-colored striped room that screamed "there is an insane woman living in this house" started avoiding eye contact with me. My youngest son took pity on me. He listened to my anguished tale of woe, of how much this room meant to me and why color choice was important to me (for the fortieth time). He listened to me describe the exaltation I felt when I was in the store, picking out color chips and paint, knowing that this one, this very one, was the right choice this time; absolutely. He listened as I described the depths to which I plummeted when I painted the wall and lo and behold, it, too, was horrible. Basically, he listened to me. (It is nice to be loved.) Then, he picked out a really pretty color green, a mix between celery green and apple green, that gently transitioned colors in the morning, afternoon, and evening light that filtered through my dining room windows. How pretty! How perfect! Could it be? Could this be the one? YES! At the very least, it was good enough and I was really tired of painting.
Twelve hours later, after taping the windows, baseboards, and ceiling (which I definitely did not want this lovely color green) and painting at least two coats (to cover the many other colors that desperately tried to show through), I was done. Finished. And happy about it the way the room looked. My oldest son remarked that if an archaeologist were to uncover our house years from now and looked at all the layers of paint, he would assume that many, many (many!) families had lived here. He would be wrong. Living here is just one happy family (i.e. when mom’s happy, everyone’s happy) who now sit and dine with friends in an inviting and peaceful atmosphere, enjoying lively conversation and getting caught up on the day’s happenings, and sharing dreams together.
Out of the corner of my eye, I do notice the adjacent living room, whose walls look a little shabby in comparison to the dining room. . . .

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." C. S. Lewis

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Water Slides and Jungle Time

Can we squeeze just a little more out of the summer - bask in the sun and frolic (and yes, I used the word "frolic") in the water before it’s officially fall? I vote yes! Water parks are still open, on weekends only, and a fun way to make the most of these last days of summer.

Mosey over to the small to mid-sized Dry Town Water Park in Palmdale, which boasts an Old West theme. Enter through buildings and facades of Main Street, U.S.A. and notice that a real, modern-day sheriff is always on duty here.

Climb the steps up to the main water slide tower which has three different slides emerging from it. The blue slide, Devil’s Punchbowl, has a large vortex that swirls riders on tubes around and around the center, encircling the hole before being sucked down into it and ending in the small splash pool, wh ere all the slides converge. The red slide is mostly enclosed, which gives it a bit of a scarey feel as some of the ride is then dark and unknown. The yellow slide is convertible-style - an open top. Grab a tube and ride down the slides by yourself, or with a buddy in the double tubes. I like the view from atop the tower as you can see for miles and miles - the surrounding town and the adjacent mountains.

Let your worries float away as you drift along in the 925-foot, circular Big Rock River. Plop in a tube or go sans tube - either way, just go with the flow, literally.

The colorful Little Miners Camp kids’ area has some special features besides several short slides. It also has primary-colored pipes with water squirting from them, a shallow-water play area, cargo nets, water hoses, and large, upright rings to walk through that shoot out water. A favorite feature of this area is the huge bucket that fills up with water and tips over at certain intervals, drenching visitors waiting in anticipation of this event, as well as those who are underneath it, but unsuspecting. (The latter is probably more fun for the onlookers.)

For adults, and kids who need a break, there are plenty of lounge chairs, both in the sun and under shade canopies. Dusty’s Grill sells hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and other snack items, and there is also a Hawaiian shaved ice stand on the premises. Yum! Outside food isn’t allowed in, but if you pack a picnic lunch you can go out to your car and eat it on the nearby grassy strips as a park hand stamp allows you to exit and enter the park as often as you want within the same day. Tip: Wear water shoes of some kind as the pavement can get really hot. Life jackets and tubes are available free of charge. Locker rentals are available inside the water park.
Dry Town is part of the Palmdale Oasis Park, which also includes an adjoining, multi-laned, 25 yard x 25 meter regulation competition, year-round swimming pool (with a separate admission and contact info) and, next door, a recreation center with a basketball court and a variety of classes.

What I especially liked: The water park wasn’t so big that you got lost (obviously, as I’ve mentioned all of its features), but the size and affordability made it a great place to hang out, eat, get cooled off, and play with some friends for a few hours. Plus, Dry Town Water Park is clean, safe, and nicely-landscaped.

What:Dry Town Water Park
Where:3850 E Ave S
Palmdale, CA
Contact info:(661) 267-6161 /
(Disclaimer - Always, always, ALWAYS call first as hours and prices fluctuate!)
Hours:Saturday and Sunday through the end of September for this season, 11am - 6pm.
Admission:$13 for Palmdale residents 9 years and older; $16 for non-residents
$8 for Palmdale residents ages 3 - 8; $11 for non-residents
2 years and under are free
Discounts are available for senior citizens and active military, and during twilight hours only on certain days.
Parking is free.
(Always check on-line for potential discounts.)

The school year begins and summer happenings are being relegated to memories. But wow - what memories! Actually, more than just memories. My summer was full of defining moments - moments, hours and days that impacted my mind and soul so powerfully that I am changed because of what I got to be a part of and experience.

I, along with 39 others, left for Quito, Ecuador towards the end of June to be a part of a short-term missions team for two weeks. Although this was my fourth year in going, I didn’t know exactly what to expect as what we do and who we interact with tends to change, sometimes minute by minute, in "Flexidor" (its apropos moniker).

Our team took a 7-hour bus ride from Quito and then a 3-hour canoe ride (on long, skinny, wooden canoes with motors that held about 30 people each) on the river through the jungle, passing by wooden huts with thatched roofs, people waving, and an incredible variety of immense and lush green foliage. I kept thinking - I get to do this! (Even when the 2 x 4 that I was sitting on got hard for my bottom I was thinking - I get to do this. No exclamation mark.) We reached the village of Zancudo which is a village of 400 people, formed long ago by escaped slaves, and our home for 8 days.

It was hot here. Really hot. Sweltering hot. And humid. Really humid. We got off the canoe, greeted some of the people in the village and just stood there, sweating. Not doing anything; not even moving; just sweating. Then, we carried our duffel bags through the single, main, dirt road (it reminded me of an Old West town) past a conglomeration of side-by-side, single-story and two-story homes made of wood or cement or combination thereof, up the hill on a dirt trail to our large, rectangular "house", while wearing pants and trudging in our rain boots, and we sweated a lot more. Welcome to the jungle!

We set up our mosquito nets, tucking them tightly around and underneath our sleeping bags and went back down the dirt trail to the village. We met some of the people who graciously welcomed us; we played some soccer with the villagers on the mud and grass field; and we began to filter the rainwater so there was drinking water that our gringo stomachs could, well, stomach.

I won’t give you such a detailed description of our each and every day here because you don’t have the time, patience, or desire to hear it all, but I will share just a few highlights.

The "technical" part of the mission’s experience was this: There was about 95 people on our whole staff, comprised of a melting pot of Christians who, besides the U.S., were from Canada, Columbia, Argentina, and Ecuador, including three different organizations in Ecuador (who counseled the kids and were the leaders of the Bible camps) and six indigenous tribes - the Waorani, Schuar, Achua, Quichwa, Chachi, and blacks. We were united in Christ, while using English, Spanish, and hand motions to accomplish God's multiple goals for this time period. We put on two, five-day vacation Bible camps in Zancudo - one for high schoolers, where over 100 attended from Zancudo and neighboring villages to spend five days and nights, and one for children 12 and under for those living in Zancudo. Simultaneously, we had a travel team that went just down the river, about a half hour by canoe, for two consecutive days to do a vacation Bible camp for 120 kids at one village, and then another two days of camp at another village with about 80 kids, plus all the adults who came to listen, watch, and even participate in the activities each day. These kids, and adults, face some of the same struggles that we experience in our North American culture - drugs, disapproving parents, abuse, lack of education, teen pregnancies, etc. - and so much more, including lack of technology, material possessions and job opportunities.

What was our role here? What could we do or offer, especially in the short amount of time we had here? Our team went to Zancudo with only one overriding purpose/desire/mission - to love the people effectively, in God’s mighty, gentle, and compassionate love. We did Bible stories, songs, crafts, and games, yes. More importantly, I think, we hung out with the people, especially the kids, who clung to us like they were desperate for attention, for touch - maybe there were. They held our hands and climbed on our backs (usually several of them at once!) and pulled at our arms so we would hold and hug them. And we did. What an honor.

Many of the mission team members were high schoolers who had never seen such need, who had never been exposed to such harsh living conditions and to children with big, brown eyes that begged and clamored for love. The hearts of these high schoolers (as well as the adults on the team) were overwhelmed, and mostly overwhelmed because these children so openly and joyfully received the love that we could give them so freely and honestly. I’m not sure who ultimately received more - the kids of the village or the mission team members. I guess it really doesn’t matter. Love was the goal and love was achieved. And love changes us, no matter the dosage.

I’ll share just one more highlight, seemingly small or insignificant, but relationships - connecting with people - is always big. A woman of the village was down by the river, actually partially in the river, washing and scrubbing and beating the clothes. And I mean beating the clothing with a large, thick, solid, wooden paddle. I tried it and lasted about 10 minutes - no wonder these women are buff! I was on the steps watching her. She engaged me in conversation, so with my limited Spanish and her non-existent English, we somehow chatted about our kids and her life in the village. Then Patricia (I understood her name!) asked if I liked fruit. I answered, "Si". She asked me to stay right there (I think), carried up a basket of her cleanly-beaten clothing, and came back a few minutes later with a tray of bananas. She, who had so very little, shared some of her very freshly-picked bananas with me. That truly touched my heart.

This was just a small part of my summer "vacation" - what a blessed adventure! Thanks for listening (i.e. reading). Let me know if you’d like to hear more.

This was our mission’s trip theme: Joshua 22: 5 "But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his way, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul."