Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I mean seriously?! Maybe I ought to be a shoe designer when I grow up since, quite obviously, the world seems to be full of designers who haven't a clue what they're doing. I'd fit right in.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ah-yeah! California 2011 (Part Three)

Gary is the older brother I wanted and never had. Life is funny that way. When you're a kid, you never think you will eventually have a life in which people step in and become second mothers and fathers (or maybe surrogate mothers and fathers, if one or the other was MIA, or your biological parents weren't so hot) or the twin sister you never had (I wanted one of those, too). No, even when you're lucky enough to have a younger brother who is the. best. brother. ever. (yes, I dare you to argue that point with me. How many sisters can honestly say their brothers were their best friends growing up?), we wish we had an older brother (and a twin sister). Of course, I never envisioned an older brother who would do things like drag me up the stairs by my hair (like a friend of mine's older brother did when we were in elementary school) or step on my hand with a thick-heeled boot when I refused to give him a cigarette (like one of my teenage friend's older brother did. I was surprised he didn't break any bones and very impressed that her only response was a calm, "you bastard"). No, my older brother (besides bringing cute friends over to the house. Isn't that the main reason girls want older brothers?) would share great books with me, teach me all kinds of cool stuff, tease me but never stoop to cruelty, and be protective (but not overly so) of me. It's best to wait for that sort of brother to come along outside the nuclear family unit. When we arrived at his house, after another beautiful and easy drive (I imagine, like everywhere, one can take a long drive in California that isn't beautiful, but based on my experiences, I haven't yet found that drive), he reminded me that it had been two years since we've seen each other. Nonetheless, we easily picked up right where we'd left off, as if we still see each other every day.

He gave us a tour of his fabulous house, which is open and airy -- all white walls and hardwood floors. I like the way his house is arranged. An open kitchen/dining/living room area divides the master bedroom suite from the three rooms on the other side of the house (he's turned them into a guest room, a magnificent library with three walls of built-in bookshelves and comfy leather couches, and a computer room). The views front and back are wonderful. Morro Bay's best feature is Morro Rock, which rises up off the beach in a startling way, and it can be seen beyond Gary's garden (someone needs to tear down his neighbor's house, so he'd have an even better view of it).
In the back yard, he's got wild flowers and hills (in Maine, those would be called "mountains," but in California, they're merely "hills"). Apparently, the cows practically walk on his patio when they come up to graze, but I must have scared them away with my Lancaster County cow smell, because they never appeared while we were there.
Back in 2008, Mom and I had driven down from Monterey to Big Sur and eaten lunch at Sierra Mar, the restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn (an inn where one can only stay if she's won the lottery jackpot but where, if one has planned, she can eat an extravagant lunch for the price of dinner for four at most restaurants in New York City). Gary was the one who'd told us about this place, so I asked him how long a drive it was to Big Sur. He told me two hours, which seemed like a perfectly reasonable day trip to me, so we decided that's where we'd go on Wednesday. We made plans for Mom and me to go to San Simeon on Thursday to see Hearst Castle and to stop at Piedras Blancas beach, which is basically owned by elephant seals (truth be told, I could easily have spent two days just watching elephant seals -- in fact, it's a good thing I don't have a house that overlooks a beach like that. I'd never get anything done -- but I'm not one who likes to impose my idiosyncrasies on others in large doses -- small doses are fine). We dined that night on a delicious dinner made by Gary of a large salad with chicken, fresh bread, and sweet strawberries (ingredients bought at his local farmer's market, which I'd have the pleasure of visiting later). I slept like a baby in that perfect setting.

I got up early the next morning, grabbed Gary's copy of Armistead Maupin's Mary Ann in Autumn and settled down in the library to read (at some point, I got up to spend some time staring out the living room window, contemplating the gorgeous view, and then went back to reading). Eventually, Mom got up, and we enjoyed a breakfast of boiled eggs and buttered sour dough toast (kindly bought by Gary at my request. If any of you ever plans to have me as an overnight guest, that's basically my favorite simple breakfast). Shortly thereafter, we set off for Big Sur.

We didn't get too far before Gary began to worry that the road might be closed due to washouts over the winter. We stopped in Cambria, and, while there, he called to have his fears confirmed, which meant a much longer, and less scenic drive. At this point, he offered skipping the whole thing, but by then, I was bound and determined to get back to Big Sur, a little piece of heaven on earth (I mean, how often do I get there?). Thus, I have only myself to blame for the fact that I was completely exhausted by the time we got home that night (so exhausted, in fact, that I readily agreed to Gary's idea of just having snacks for dinner).

It was so worth the exhaustion, though. Yes, the drive was long and involved some of those winding, curving roads along cliffs that can easily spook me (when they don't remind me of Bugs Bunny cartoons), but Sierra Mar was as wonderful as I remember, and the views from the restaurant are stunning. See what a gorgeous day we had and what I mean about that Pacific blue?
Basically, you eat your lunch on the side of a cliff looking out over all that blue. The only disappointment was the martini Gary and I each ordered. The restaurant was out of Bombay Sapphire gin (who ever heard of such a thing? Especially in a restaurant where you basically spend $30 just to sit down?), and instead of going with my instincts, which was to order the Beefeater, I (always so impressionable) decided to try the organic gin, also offered, once Gary decided to order it. I should have just tasted his. I don't know what those organic producers are growing, but it seemed more like licorice than juniper berries.
We lingered over lunch and then walked down and around The Post Ranch Inn's property. You can look either at the mountains or the sea (my favorite kind of place. Must be all that Scottish blood in me). Then we stopped at Nepenthe to do a little gift shopping. I bought a few things for Bob, as well as some bath salts for myself.

On the way home, we stopped off in Carmel. Okay, if I lived in Carmel and had tons of money, I might easily learn to love shopping. There are so many wonderful shops lining the streets, and not your typical "mall in the village" -- no Limited or Gap in sight. They even had a lovely-looking lingerie store. If we had not been with a male host who was kind enough to indulge things like the wool shop (where Mom bought me a stunning red wool jacket) and a pet store, it would have been my first stop. Once shopping is done in Carmel, one can go get an ice cream (Mom and me) or a lemonade (Gary) and then walk down to the beach to wade in the water. Yet again, I slept like a baby that night, sweet dreams and all.

Thursday morning, we had a change of plans. Mom decided she was very tired and not feeling quite right, so I suggested maybe she needed another day of rest, sleeping and reading. I didn't particularly want to go to San Simeon without her, so my plan was to skip that and just go see the elephant seals. Gary, who had had no interest in going to San Simeon, agreed to join me for the seals (in fact, he agreed to drive). First, the three of us had breakfast at a place he likes, a sort of upscale diner. Feeling particularly adventuresome (oh, who am I kidding? I'm always adventuresome when it comes to food), I ordered the fried green tomato eggs benedict, which may sound a little odd but isn't at all once it hits the taste buds. I loved it.

More clear skies and warm temperatures accompanied us on our drive to the elephant seal beach, and then we were there. Oh my! Gary had promised seals, and he didn't disappoint. There's a long boardwalk above the beach where gawking humans can stand and stare out over the beach that seems to be more seal than sand. Some of them bounce around and spar in the water, but this time of year (as I discovered from reading the signs and talking to a park ranger), they're molting and mostly just lie around and sleep.

Many of them line up by the water's edge, looking like gigantic sardines without their tin boundaries. Others station themselves farther up the beach, either in sardine fashion or solo. Occasionally, they will use their flippers to toss sand up onto their backs.

I was mesmerized (which is probably why I took a total of 24 pictures on the entire trip and got home to discover that 6 of them are of elephant seals). Yes, they've turned sleeping into an enviable art form, but sometimes they get up and drag themselves down to the water to cool off, or up the beach to a different spot (I guess when the riffraff comes to shore and moves into the neighborhood), or they just roll over. It's hard to describe the sounds they make. A cross between a howler monkey and a lion's roar with a little bit of growling and barking dog thrown in is the best I can do, based on other animal sounds I've heard.

Eventually, it was time to drag ourselves away and have some lunch. This we did at Ragged Point, sitting outside, looking down on their gardens. On the way home, we stopped off in Cambria, where I discovered a little wine shop that offered tastings. I'd been in California for a whole week and had yet to taste wine, so I decided this would be a good place to do so. The wine was, for the most part, good, and I bought a bottle for Bob. This was where I proceeded to think I'd lost my camera (because, I, Ms. Epitome of Oh-So-Calm and Efficient, can't be with Gary without having some sort of "crisis"). I'm not a big picture-taker (which you may have guessed by now), and this probably wouldn't have been so devastating if I hadn't just taken all those pictures of the seals. Somehow (I guess because I was in California), I managed not to have a complete meltdown, and, eventually, I discovered it was just tucked away in his car in a place that wasn't obvious.

Back to Morro Bay and Gary's farmers' market -- this one, your standard outdoor market. They had everything you can imagine, even little pesto pizzas and raw milk (which I'm used to buying right off Amish farms here in Lancaster County). I bought some cherries for myself, and my thoughts turned, yet again, to thinking maybe I could live in California. (What is it about good farmers' markets that make me think I could live in a place? Maybe it's the fact that I seem to live in the farmers' market capital of the world right now).

We headed back to the house where Mom had, indeed, had a very relaxing time. She'd immersed herself in Gary's biography of James Thurber and was sitting outside on the patio, reading, when we got home. Shortly thereafter, Gary fixed me a gin and lemonade, which went straight to my head (I guess because it was on top of the wine). Sad to say, that did not stop me from having another one. By the time we headed out to dinner, I really was way too relaxed and tipsy, which, sad to say again, did not stop me from tasting more wine before dinner or drinking it with dinner. That's the most I've drunk, I think, since the last time I had mint juleps with Ms. Musings back in 2007. Needless to say, I don't remember much about that evening, but Mom promises me I didn't embarrass myself. What's a vacation, though, without one good night of letting your hair down and drinking too much (especially less than a month after you've lost your job)?

Because I was on vacation (or because Gary's house is magic. I can't decide which), I slept fine and had no hangover when we got up at 5:00 the next morning to drive back to L.A. Not only is that the most I've drunk since 2007, but it's the most I've ever drunk without suffering a hangover. Gary was up to see us off, and I was quite sad as we drove down the drive that it seemed, a mere minute before, we'd driven up for the first time. I'm sure I will drive up it again, some day, but who knows when?

After an uneventful drive back to LAX, we said "goodbye" to sunny California, as we boarded our plane and headed east. We were welcomed home at midnight by an exhausted Bob, waiting up for us, who was extremely glad to see us. Accompanying him were an overwhelmingly exuberant puppy, and a cat who was, not exactly exuberant, but who showed, in his own way, that he was happy I had returned.

That's it for the California saga. Now we can get back to books (TBR challenge and Once Upon a Time challenge updates, as well as last month's CT mystery book club read, coming soon). But before we do, tell me: who wants to head west with me next time?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ah-yeah! California 2011 (Part Two)

(This post will likely make more sense if you read this one first. Also, for some reason, I took no pictures during this leg of the trip. You'll just have to use your imaginations.)

When I told people I was going out to California, those who've been to the places I mentioned I'd be visiting informed me that I probably wouldn't like L.A. much, especially Hollywood, described as "dirty" by most, but that I would love Santa Barbara. I had proven such prognostications wrong on my first afternoon in the city (after all, I'm a City Mouse at heart). Dirty? I didn't see it. Besides, what's "dirty" when you're familiar with both New York and Philadelphia? I found Hollywood fascinating and was thrilled to be traveling along streets I've heard of all my life: Hollywood Blvd., Santa Monica Blvd., Rodeo Dr. Despite the fact I know very little about movies and Hollywood, I was able to make plenty of "big screen" connections.

I wasn't exactly skeptical, then, about Santa Barbara, but I wasn't exactly convinced I wouldn't love it, either, as we headed up 101, hugging the magnificent coastline -- does anything get bluer than the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean on a bright, sunny day? -- before heading inland for a while to feast our eyes on hills that provide so many shades of green they could easily rival Crayola's largest box of crayons. (I love the bright yellow flowers of the wild mustard that grows there in contrast to the greens and browns.) The truth of the matter is that I fell somewhere in between loving it and hating it. If someone were to offer me an all-expenses paid visit back to the town, I wouldn't turn it down. However, I don't have any overwhelming desire to return, nor did I spend any time thinking about what it might be like to live there.

Two factors put a bit of a bad taste in our mouths before we'd arrived in town. The first was that, before I got laid off, I had planned work-related meetings with colleagues out there. The second was that we had also planned that, while I was working, Mom would have a little "reunion" of sorts with Kathy and another college friend of theirs. On our last trip to California together, when I was attending a conference up at Asilomar near Monterey, my mother had taken the bus down to Santa Barbara to meet these two, and they'd had a marvelous time. We'd rebooked into the same hotel where they'd stayed, one within walking distance of both downtown and the beach. Needless to say, I would not be having any work meetings. Kathy had been unable to make the trip to Santa Barbara, which was why she had come up to L.A. to visit instead. My mother's other friend, for complicated reasons we still don't quite understand (although both Danny and I have written imaginative stories in our heads at this point) couldn't join us at the last minute. Mom was quite sad about that. All these women are nearing 80, and my mom (rightly) feels a need to seize each chance she gets to see them.

The scenic drive, however, boosted out spirits, and we were quite cheerful by the time we arrived at our hotel. I actually decided it was nice that I'd get to have Sunday through Tuesday alone with Mom. We planned just to enjoy the beach and to do some shopping, and to, otherwise, be quite lazy. I loved our hotel room, which had a real little kitchenette, complete with gas stove. If I hadn't already decided to be lazy, I might have made a trip to the market up the street and bought something to make for dinner. But, well, I'd already decided to be lazy. Besides, during most of this trip, I had a hankering for seafood (especially oysters on the half shell, for some reason, most of which, I discovered, were shipped out there from places like Maine. Not exactly sustainable eating, but oh well, I was on vacation where I was being lazy and doing environmental damage), and since Bob doesn't like seafood, I don't cook it much. I prefer to have others cook it (or prepare it, in the case of raw oysters) for me.

Mom and I settled into our room and then headed out on foot to a restaurant that was recommended by the hotel clerk who told us it was "only three blocks away." I forget that in most places, "blocks" are a tad bit longer than they are in New York where you can count on one city block being 1/20 of a mile (well, if you're walking between numbered streets, that is. If you're walking between numbered avenues, they're twice as long, but I'm typically walking between streets). I think that in Santa Barbara, the blocks are about a mile long, and they disappear into the harbor (then again, maybe we just got a little lost). Needless to say, it took us quite some time to find the restaurant, and we were starving by the time we got there and had to endure the unhappy news that it would be "about a 25-minute wait." What to do in such situations but head to the bar for a martini (me) or a glass of wine (Mom)?

The bar was downstairs and practically empty but quiet compared to the very noisy restaurant. There, we saw splashed across a huge T.V. screen the news that Osama Bin Laden had been captured. The volume was not turned up, though, nor was the closed caption feature turned on, and the CNN scroll didn't make sense. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something like, "Osama Bin Laden captured. Killed as body on way to Indian Ocean." We couldn't quite believe it, so my mother asked the bar tender. He was a bit of an obnoxious young punk who answered my mother's, "Is this true? They found Bin Laden?" with a shrug of his shoulders and a "yes," begrudgingly sliding our drinks to us. When we'd walked in, he'd told us to hurry, because it was "last call," which I was pretty sure was his idea of a joke, because it wasn't even 8:00 yet. (I later realized, when some other young man came in who looked like he was going to replace our surly server, that maybe he'd meant last call for his shift.) I suppose if Mom and I had been two giggling, scantily-dressed young women, like the ones who came in and sat at the other end of the bar, he might have been more forthcoming, or at least might have shown off for us the way he did for them, tossing around liquor bottles, mixers, and aluminum tumblers, throwing them in the air and catching them behind his back.

We were called back to the restaurant before we'd finished our drinks and headed back up the stairs to a lovely little table outside with a view of the harbor. Here I proceeded to make the big mistake of ignoring my desire for oysters on the half shell and instead ordering the combination raw plate which claimed to be a sampling of raw shell fish but really turned out to be mostly a huge seafood salad with a token oyster and a token clam or two here and there on the side. Luckily, I'd also ordered the clam chowder, which was delicious, and I learned a lesson: stick to the real thing when you see it on the menu instead of being conned by a "sampler" that promises more, which I did throughout the rest of the trip.

We could hear seals barking in the harbor (our waitress was as blasé about them as our bar tender had been about Bin Laden), and I so badly wanted to see one. It was too dark, though, and they didn't come up onto the pier the way I've seen them do in San Francisco, so I soon gave up, and we finished our food and headed back to the hotel, proceeding to get hopelessly lost. This we found extremely amusing and had to stop several times, nearly collapsing on the sidewalk in gales of laughter. Finally, some other tourists we met along the way took pity on us and told us to follow them back to their hotel where we asked the clerk for directions. He gave us a map, and it seemed we were almost there, so we declined the ride the other tourists offered us in their car, and finally found our way back.

The next morning, I was determined to do two things. The first was to replace the contact lens I'd dropped down the sink at Danny's. The second was to do some laundry, because I'd noticed that the hotel had a washer and dryer for its guests (I like being able to wash clothes while on vacation, even when I've packed plenty and have no real need to do so). Replacing the contact lens ended up being a breeze. The first optometrist I called produced a receptionist who was extremely kind and told me she'd gladly replace it for nothing, sympathizing that it would be horrible not to be able to see while on vacation. A phone call to my optometrist in Pennsylvania, a fax with my prescription, a short drive to the office to pick it up, and I soon had replaced my glasses with my contacts (although I hate the way I look in glasses, this was not solely a vanity. I see much better with contacts than I ever have with glasses).

I'd dragged Mom away from all the news about Osama Bin Laden to accompany me on that little expedition (call me un-American, but I was not as riveted by this news as everyone else seemed to be. I was glad he was caught, and I hope it means a little more peace in the world, but I doubt it. I certainly didn't need hours and hours of information and analysis, nor was I too keen on footage of Americans all around the country celebrating the way those in the Middle East had after 9/11), and she was perfectly content to get back to it, while I went about getting a load of laundry in the washer. I then spent a lovely, lazy morning on the bed, reading Kendall's book. When the wash was done, we lunched on some leftovers and then headed out on foot to walk to the center of town for a little shopping. Before we'd even gone one block, though, my mother realized she was really too tired to do this (she's still so young at heart, I often forget she's 79 years old, and we'd had that long, long walk the previous evening). She turned back, and, map in hand, I headed off to the center of town alone.

Did I mention I'm not the best when it comes to reading maps? And that this was a particularly bad map? And that (which you should have gathered from my previous night's adventure) I have a terrible sense of direction? By some miracle, I managed to find the center of town, but it wasn't easy, and I found myself walking through some pretty "iffy" areas, thinking how glad I was that it was daylight, while also thinking that plenty of women have been raped in broad daylight when there are so many abandoned buildings just waiting to be used to obscure such activity.

Once in town, I realized that I didn't really want to go shopping (since we all know I don't really like to shop unless I'm accompanied by certain people like my mother). What I really wanted was a pedicure (something I really do like to the point I'd practically drag Bob to have one with me). I was sure I'd easily be able to find a salon. I did. It was a fancy, "organic" spa (I'm into organic, but, ummm, aren't things like sea weed and mud naturally organic?). I could feel smoothness wrap itself around my body like plastic over hot wax as I walked up to the receptionist who proceeded to completely ignore me in favor of someone on the phone (call me old-fashioned, but I hate that. Customers who've bothered to enter an establishment in person ought always to come first. In fact, people ought to bow down to us, especially when we've just risked life and limb, hiking through Santa Barbara's seedier neighborhoods to get there). Finally, she got off the phone, and I asked if it would be possible to get a pedicure. Obviously, I looked like one of the Beverly Hillbillies, because, despite the fact the place looked and sounded completely empty to me, she was terribly sorry, but they were completely booked through the afternoon. Thank God, really. A pedicure in that place probably would have cost me more than my airline ticket from Philadelphia and back.

It's a funny thing about downtown Santa Barbara. Although it sports a number of tattoo parlors and a sandwich shop on almost every corner, it seems, it doesn't have many salons. Eventually, though, I found a nail salon, the sort of place I'm used to with teenage girls getting speckled blue and black nails and Asian women applying the fancy artwork. I paid for the "full treatment", massage and everything (reasoning that the cost of this probably would've paid for one nail in the other place; thus, I was obviously saving, not spending money). I, and my whitish-pink toenails, left the salon very happy. What is it about a good pedicure that can give one such confidence? I now felt emboldened to find a better, safer way back to the hotel. I studied the map, figured out the best route, and made it back without a hitch.

That evening, we met one of my former colleagues for drinks at a lovely café right on the beach. The weather continued to be as perfect as it had been since our plane landed (clear blue skies, temperatures in the upper seventies), which means the ocean was as blue as ever, as we sat looking out over it. I sipped a margarita (what else does one drink on a beach?) and had a wonderful time discussing all the "ins" and "outs" of publishing (I should be bored with that topic by now, but I never am) with this smart young woman. I was worried Mom might be bored, but she enjoyed listening to us and "learning" so much, as she put it. (She also made me feel good later by telling me how impressed she was by how competent I sounded. That was nice to hear, having recently been laid off, which, no matter what, makes a person feel extremely incompetent). After the margarita, I decided to have (my favorite) an absolutely delicious hot dog, cooked to perfection, juicy without being too greasy served on a nicely toasted, perfect (not so huge, the hot dog got lost. Not so small, the hot dog fell out) bun. This hot dog connoisseur was extremely pleased.

We had another leisurely morning our last day in Santa Barbara. We were meeting another group of former colleagues of mine for lunch and had decided, before that, to head to K-Mart. I wanted a hat, which I'd forgotten to pack and a razor, which I'd also forgotten to pack. Wouldn't you know it? K-Mart, which usually has tons of great hats, had no good hats. I half-heartedly made do with what seemed like the best they had. Meanwhile, they did have some great shoes (1 pair bought) and flip flops (1 pair bought) and skirts (1 bought). Yes, I did go all the way to Santa Barbara to shop at K-Mart (of all places!).

We had another delicious lunch (mushroom and quiche salad) at a little landmark café (what is it about publishing sorts and cafés?) with my colleagues and another great publishing discussion before talk turned to such things as the royal wedding. They all seemed a little shell-shocked, understandably so, given that 21 of their colleagues had recently lost their jobs. I'm hoping everything ends up well for them (which, in my book, means they all find fabulous, rewarding jobs elsewhere and get the recognition they each deserve).

Afterwards, I can't remember exactly why, we went to a drugstore, and, to my surprise, found a perfect hat. This meant going back to K-Mart to return the unsatisfactory one I'd bought. That deed done, we climbed back into the car, and I called my friend Gary to tell him we were hitting the road up the coast to his place in Morro Bay.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ah-Yeah! California 2011 (Part One)

I just returned from an eight-day trip to California. Actually, I didn't just return. I returned last Friday, but you know, returning from vacation was so terribly draining that I had to spend two days being a total slug, sleeping and reading. Oh, and discovering a cool comic book store I never knew existed in Lancaster in order to get a free comic book on free comic book day (Richie Rich for those of you who are curious. I must go back to that store, but that's a subject for another blog post). Then I had other stuff to catch up on, and it's taken me four days to finish this blog post.

Anyway, back to California. Many of you know that if you enjoy reading my blog, you have my friend Danny to thank for its existence. He was my biggest influence when it came to taking the plunge into the blogosphere (nearly 5 years ago now. Egad!). Danny lives in Los Angeles (which you know if you read his blog. If you don't, why don't you? It's not to be missed), and it had been way too long since I'd last seen him, so I decided to start my western journey in a city I'd never been to see Danny and his family.

My traveling companion was my mother, who moved to L.A. as a teenager and went to Scripps College in Claremont before her family moved to San Francisco. This was the third mother-daughter trip to California she and I have taken. The older my father gets, the less he likes to travel, and he (like so many east coast snobs who've never been there) thinks he hates California and has no desire to go. The older my mother gets, the less she likes to travel alone, so I make the huge sacrifice of being her traveling companion on excursions to California.

I must say, if you are gong to visit L.A. for the first time, you can't pick better hosts than Danny and his wife Kendall. First of all they live in an extraordinarily cool house in the West Adams neighborhood.
The house is so cool that it was once a setting for a movie and has been featured on HGTV. I can't really do it justice by trying to describe it (not the least reason being that I know absolutely nothing about architecture nor how to describe decorative details and types of wood). Suffice it to say that it's a rambling bungalow built in 1909 with inlaid wood floors, built-in details like bookcases and benches to die for, a tiled-tapestried-muraled finished basement with a grand fireplace, and they have been slowly but surely restoring it to its era. Oh, and did I mention the books? Kendall is an autodidact. Not only that, but she inherited her grandmother's books, and Danny has just a few books of his own. This house definitely rivals my own when it comes to books. I felt right at home.

Danny picked us up at the airport in the Chevy Cruze he'd been loaned specifically for our visit. He has this rather cool gig with GM that involves driving their cars and writing blog posts about them. The Cruze wasn't exactly the car he'd had in mind for our visit (GM having leant him such things as a Corvette in the past), but they had arrived at his house that morning in a Cadillac with standard transmission (if you're thinking, "Cadillac with a stick shift? Umm...didn't Cadillac practically invent automatic transmissions so that wealthy Americans would never have to bother with something so farm-boyish and tractor-like as shifting gears?" you're not alone. Those were my exact thoughts, along with thinking it was somewhat ironic that GM might loan out an automatic Corvette, while offering a standard Cadillac). Anyway, Danny, like many a good late-20th-century Chicagoan who didn't learn to drive until he moved to L.A., doesn't drive stick shift. The Cadillac was taken back, and he was given the Cruze in its place. It proved to be a perfectly fine chariot, but might have been more so for someone who was mechanically inclined enough to figure out how to adjust the passenger seat in order to keep from feeling as though she was going to be propelled through the windshield.

We left the airport and headed to Danny's house. There, I got to meet Kendall for the first time (Danny and I were both telecommuting colleagues who met each other infrequently at company gatherings until we were both laid off from that company. I'd never met his wife) and their two-year-old Charlie.

I was thrilled to meet both, as Danny writes about Kendall on his blog, and some of you may remember how I feel about meeting my male friends' wives. I just knew I'd love her, and I was right (as did my mother. We're convinced we must somehow be related). I'd lived through Danny's blog posts about Charlie's nightmare premature birth and five months in the NICU, and it was such a treat to meet this happy, healthy baby who you can tell is going to grow up to be extremely kind and wise. Charlie has recently learned to say, instead of "yeah" when you ask him if he wants something or wants to do something, "ah-yeah." So, for instance, when we asked him if he wanted to climb aboard his rocking horse, he replied, "Ah-yeah." It's much more expressive, don't you think?

We got the tour of the house and also met Henry and Emma, the two wonderful dogs Danny and Kendall have adopted. Soon afterwards, it was time to go off to dinner at El Cholo, the oldest Mexican restaurant in L.A. (I have not had the guts to step on a scale since returning from this trip). We started with what I'm pretty sure was the best guacamole I've ever had, and the meal just continued to get better from there. We returned home, happy but exhausted, and definitely ready for bed. I tried to coerce Emma and Henry into sleeping with me, but they preferred their own huge mattress nicely laid out for them at the end of the hall.

The next day began with a trip to the farmer's market (which my mother remembered from her days living in L.A.). It's an indoor market (something L.A. has in common with Lancaster, which made me realize I really ought to frequent Lancaster's more often) and breakfast at Du-Par's, a lovely retro diner. I had a delicious plate of eggs and sausage, and Danny let us taste his French toast, which he declares the best he's had. I have to agree: thick bread that is cooked to crispy perfection on the outside while being wonderfully soggy on the inside. That trip to the farmer's market was when I began to suspect that, despite its lack of real seasons, I maybe could live in L.A. (I can't seem to visit anyplace on earth without wondering what it might be like to live there, a curse I've had since I was a child). What a magnificent place to shop for produce, meat, and baked goods, and I was envious that Danny does the majority of his shopping there. Charlie accompanied us on this morning excursion, happily strapped to his father's chest and stomach, when he wasn't happily sitting at the restaurant, throwing sugar packets on the floor (never underestimate the joy of engaging in such activities).

The big treat that day was the Turner Classics Film festival in Hollywood. Danny had asked if we might not be interested in seeing The Parent Trap. Would we! First of all (although I may have), I don't remember ever seeing it on the big screen, and what better big screen is there than the Egyptian Theatre? Secondly, Hayley Mills (who doesn't love Hayley Mills?) was going to be there. She was lovely. Leonard Maltin (someone else I was thrilled to see) interviewed her before the film. One of the most interesting things we learned was that she basically, because she was shipped back off to her English girls' boarding school, had no idea what a big star she was. The only inkling was the fan mail she received.

When the movie ended, we decided to go find the house where my mother and her family had lived. We were extremely disappointed to discover that it has been torn down and replaced with a monstrosity that, although it is a house, looks like an office building. I had so been hoping to knock on the door and get a look inside, but there was no point. Meanwhile, my mother had been describing her life as the daughter of the British Consul General to Danny who would later find all kinds of archival material for us online that filled in some gaps in memory. Then it was time to take my mother to visit her friend Kathy.

Kathy's brother lives in their parents' house in the Los Feliz neighborhood, and Kathy was up visiting him in order to see my mother (they went to college together). This was another fabulous house that I am at a loss to describe, but this photo of Danny and me on the front stoop gives you an idea of the neighborhood.
We had a great time touring it and learning its history. Being the movie ignorant person that I am, all the old stars associated with it went over my head, but Danny knew them, and I am not so ignorant as not to be able to imagine the grand parties held in the huge living room and out back where there, of course, is a swimming pool and an area that, at one time, was a badminton court. They also have an orange, a lemon, and a kumquat tree (off of which I had the best kumquat I've ever tasted. Sour enough, but not too sour as those on the east coast often are).

Danny and I left my mother to spend the night with Kathy and went to meet Kendall and Charlie at Kendall's mother's house. Kendall's mother is Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey whose best known novel is A Woman of Independent Means (a novel I have yet to read, but it's now been moved to page 1 of the TBR tome). I was hoping to meet Betsy, but she was off speaking at the L.A. book festival, so that wasn't to be this trip (nor was I to meet Danny's sixteen-year-old daughter Leah who was at her mom's for the weekend). We'd thought we'd go swimming, but it was really too chilly for that by the time we got there, so we just enjoyed talking and playing with Charlie and eating pizza before heading home to fall into bed again.

Our final day in L.A. was another terrific one. Danny, Charlie, and I got up early (I a little too early, as in my half-awake state, I proceeded to drop one of my contact lenses down the drain. I've worn contacts for 25 years and, although I've feared doing that since the day I got them, I never actually had until that morning). We went off for another delicious breakfast of boiled eggs and assorted breads, this time at a wonderful little Belgian import whose name I don't recall. Coffee was served the way I love it in those cups that are more like little bowls, with no handles, so you wrap your hands around them -- a great way to warm up cold hands when you need to do so. We had planned to go hiking (actually, we'd planned to do that on Saturday, too) but never got around to it before it was time to go pick up Kathy and my mother, so Danny could chauffeur us all to the Getty Museum.

Oh! What a marvelous place the Getty is! Kathy and I took the garden tour -- the garden was designed to be a painting in and of itself, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. I particularly loved the azalea maze, which blossoms in winter. Even without blossoms, it was a wonderful labyrinth of green. I'd love to see it in winter, though.
Then we went inside to look at some of the paintings (yes, I did what I always do -- boring me -- and located the Impressionists) before meeting back up with my mother for a fascinating demonstration on Parisian fashion of the eighteenth century. The fashion designer had a live model who was stunning and looked as though she'd just stepped out of an engraving. Guess what I liked the most. The shoes! (I know, I was quite the boring old me that day.) I would love to have a pair. They looked like mini-upholstered half boots with buckles made out of a beautiful floral pink and green satin cloth.

All-too-soon, it was time for Danny (who, poor boy, was up against deadlines for some freelance writing and editing projects and was still kind enough to put his life on hold to play tour guide and chauffeur) to pick us up. He took Kathy back to her brother's and then drove us to the airport to pick up the Toyota Camry that would be our wheels for the next six days. We sadly left the Hailey-Miller clan, each of our bags now carrying an autographed copy of Kendall's book, and we also had picked up a brand new exclamation for everything "Ah-yeah!" We took to the freeway and headed north to Santa Barbara.