Yes, We Do Have Fall in Southern California

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

People say we don’t have seasons in Southern California. After nearly forty years in Orange County, I disagree.  Sure, if you’re waiting for flaming maple trees and frosty mornings, I suppose you might be disappointed. But I can testify that we do indeed have a fall season, distinct and beautiful in its subtlety.

It was 97 degrees here today, and it still feels like fall to me. You just have to know what to look for.

Fall is in the slant of the light this time of year, the way the sunshine is particularly golden and the shadows particularly long. Fall is the shortening days and the rush to squeeze a walk into the last of the daylight savings twilight.  Fall is thirty-degree temperature swings that bring cool evening breezes and damp, dewy mornings when you can’t decide whether to run the heat or the air during your commute. Fall is the Santa Ana winds threatening in thick, dry breezes that crackle with electricity, then gusting into chaos and returning the smell of wildfires on amber afternoons.

Fall is school kids lingering at bus stops and traffic doubling as colleges return for the semester. Fall is the smell of hot, dry grass, taking me back to my brother’s football practice, triggering a double-edged nostalgia for junior high, with all its painful insecurity and hopeful possibility.

Fall is resisting the rush to sweaters and boots and embracing those last hot days in your sandals, though you’re longing for the temperature to drop, knowing that in a few months you’ll miss these sun-drenched days.

Fall is gambling on whether the last heat wave has come and gone, risking that your pumpkins will rot and your mums will wither if you put them on your porch too soon. And then, when you can’t take it anymore, fall is scattering bright autumn leaves that you bought at the craft store, lighting your apple spice candles, hauling out your Halloween trappings, stubbornly cooking chili and baking cookies with the air conditioning on, and making your own cozy season—regardless of the weather.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

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Weekday Escapism: Bat Swimming in Baja

The air in Baja may be thicker than the air here in Orange County. I remember it heavy and soft like a blanket. When we deplaned onto the blazing tarmac, it hit me smack in the face, smothering, like my older brother had jumped out of nowhere and thrown it over my head. But that night by the pool, the blanket was cuddly and lightweight and welcome, sweet to the touch.

Of course, I was pretty drunk.

I could only feel the air on a portion of my face, the rest of me being submerged. When I relaxed completely, only my nose and lips broke the surface. Back arched, I floated dreamily as the glowing, balmy water lapped around me, filling my ears with those rushing, underwater sounds. The pool was empty; at two in the morning, most of the resort guests were still in the disco or paired off and cavorting somewhere.

I will never forget the view, straight up from the center of the pool, in the wee hours of a Mexican morning on that resort in Loreto. An enormous full-moon overhead, palm trees soaring on either side, their fronds fringing the edges of my vision, and something—I thought it was a bat, and I like bats—something swooping over the surface of the water.

The bat—it could have been a bird, though I know not many birds fly at night—was diving at the water. My impaired reasoning told me it was hunting, snatching up the bugs that floated on the surface.

There weren’t a lot of bugs. This would not be a pleasant recollection had the water been bug-ridden. As I recall it, however, with the good-natured bat hunting for appropriately distant bugs, this is one of the most relaxing memories I own.

Do bats eat bugs? I don’t know that either. It wasn’t important at the time.

I was twenty-seven, and it was my first time on a resort. My employer had taken the whole company on an incentive trip. As I have been most of my life, I was a broke, single mom and I left for an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico with fourteen dollars in my wallet and zero dollars in reserve, trusting that they really meant it when they said ALL expenses.

I wasn’t disappointed. Having grown up as one of six children, I was not accustomed to travel or resort vacations, or vacations at all, really. While I understood the concept of all-inclusive resorts, the pleasure of it didn’t really sink it until I got there. Yes, there really are unlimited free tacos and unlimited Coronas, even first thing in the morning, and you can pick any restaurant on the resort and yes, it’s actually free. Wake up in the morning, decide if you feel like swimming or kayaking or watching a show or doing a dorky activity and no, there’s no charge for that. Do whatever you feel like doing and it’s all free. I was in single-mom heaven.

At night we went to the disco on the resort, a place with air conditioning so violent it would have frozen me solid if I didn’t rush to the dance floor. Earlier that day we’d learned how hard it is to catch a buzz in Mexico, the common theory being that in 110-degree weather, you sweated it out before it hit your system. (Science!) I subsequently learned that gin will get the job done in any weather. Since dancing, in my case, requires a fairly significant level of intoxication, I ordered the resort’s featured special, the Singapore Sling, and proceeded to get my groove on.

The disco throbbed with bass-heavy dance music and sweaty tourists. I contributed my own gin-fueled moves to the melee, shaking it with friends, co-workers and strangers in a big, rhythmic huddle that even that ferocious air conditioning couldn’t penetrate.

Several Samurai Slings later, dripping with sweat, holding my heels in my hand, I padded out of the disco barefoot and swooshed back to my room. (When I am drunk, I have a heightened awareness of my feet propelling me forward, and I feel my deliberate, hurried walking like a swoosh.) It must have been 85 degrees in the dead of night, and though 85 was a delicious break from the scorching day, my disco-fever demanded a remedy. Only a night swim would cure me.

In my hotel room, I peeled off my sweaty clothes and tugged on my still damp bathing suit. I watched my feet propel me, swoosh, down to the pool deck.

It didn’t occur to me that swimming alone while schnockered was not very wise. The water felt substantial, dense like jello. I floated without trying. My hair spread out around my head like a mermaid’s, and my limbs were weightless.

I don’t know how long I floated. Five minutes? An hour? To this day, however, I clearly recall the thought that finally motivated me to clamber out of the pool. I became concerned, as I floated there with only my nose poking out of the water—I feared the bat might mistake my nose for a bug. They don’t see well, you know. I like bats but I didn’t want it to eat my nose.

There were several all-expense paid trips to Mexico from that employer, whose M.O. was to grind employees to an exhausted, stressed-out pulp, until we were all ready to quit, then revive us with margaritas and poolside limbo contests. Each year we swore we wouldn’t fall for it again. I fell for it for four years.

But to this day, when I am broke and stressed and longing for escape, I flash back to that tipsy swim in Loreto, alone with the bat and the moonlight.

Philadelphia Flourishing

So, it’s been two weeks since I left my daughter in Philadelphia.  I’m doing alright. She’s doing alright. I miss her. It was harder than I thought, letting her go.

I listened to Pema Chodron talk once about getting through emotional difficulty. She advised that if you feel like you’re going to get swallowed up in grief, or loneliness, or fear—try to step back and imagine you’re watching a movie of your life. There are sad parts and happy parts, funny parts, romantic parts…all in the course of the movie.  You feel sad in the sad parts of a movie, but you don’t lose yourself; you don’t come undone with sadness.

This is a helpful tool for me. In the movie of my life, this is the part where Maddy and I are separate for a while. It’s the part where I resume my own life, now that the hands-on, daily parenting part is over.  I know there are more happy parts coming. I feel sad, but I won’t come undone.

The part in Philadelphia was really hard. I watched it like a movie. The harder it got, the more movie-like it became.

It was a movie starring me, Maddy and Benjamin Franklin. Really.

Before the movie, I imagined the part where I had to say goodbye to Maddy. I imagined all the wise, inspiring, helpful things I would say. When it came time, standing in her dorm room, I couldn’t say anything at all. I just stood there, crying in her hair, and finally managed to choke out, “Please be careful.”

Then I sat on a curb outside the building, waiting for the crying to stop long enough for me to call a cab. Only I didn’t have to call one, because this is a movie, remember? And in movies the cab just drives up and you wave at it and it stops. So that’s what happened.   “7th and Pine,” I mumbled to the cab driver, because my tourist map labeled that corner “Antique Row.” I had four hours to kill between leaving Maddy and catching my flight back to Orange County.

You may know me as a dramatic sort of person, and I admit that I’m all for exaggeration if it gets me a laugh or makes my point. But I say this with no trace of hyperbole: if you had asked me, that day as I wandered through the city, what it feels like to choke on your own heart, I could not have replied because of the lump in my throat. But I would have known the answer.

The antique shops weren’t open yet but the buildings were beautiful, and the windows were full of antiques so old they blew my West Coast mind.

I found a community garden, a cheerful pocket of green between the buildings, and snapped a picture of this plant because of its stunning purple pods.

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There is a character in an Ann Tyler book who wonders, as she prepares for the funeral of a loved one, whether it is possible to experience grief so severe that you stop observing yourself in it.  I reminded myself of that character, hurting but watching myself in my movie, walking alone with tears running down my face in such a picturesque place. I felt ridiculous and cliché. I laughed at myself, then realized that laughing must make me look even crazier.

I walked another block or two, taking in the lovely old architecture all around me, thinking how fortunate I was to have such an amazing setting to walk off my heartache.  I turned a corner and saw this building:

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It’s the Pennsylvania Hospital, the oldest hospital in America, founded by Ben Franklin in 1755.  It’s still a functioning hospital, though this original structure contains offices now. I wandered through the park-like grounds til I got close enough to the building to read this sign. Read the words; I love them:

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“Well Mr. Franklin,” I thought to myself, “I am certainly miserable. I could use some relief.”

There’s no way he could have known, when he wrote that inscription 258 years ago, that the city was going to crowd up around his amazing building, and a heartbroken mother was going to stumble through it and find herself in this restful place.

As I sat there, thinking about that inscription, thinking about the brilliance of Ben Franklin and his reach through the centuries, I found myself comforted by the phrase, “Philadelphia Flourishing.” It’s a beautiful phrase, just the sound of it. I’m a hoarder of words and phrases. All day long I’d been drowning  in weepy words like “bereft” and “alone” and “empty nest” but then here was this lifesaver: a definitive, triumphant, bold-stroke of a word–flourishing.

The phrase hung around all morning as I continued to explore. The city surrounded me with fascinating historic distractions: Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house. History is like wilderness, the way it can make you feel small and your problems seem insignificant.

The people reached out to me, too. I ducked into a used book store where the clerk took one look at my face and said, “Can I help you? I mean really…you look like you need…something?”   Touched by her kindness, I burst into tears again, and choked out, “I’m just having a hard day.”

Then I stopped at Lore’s Chocolates where I met two sweet, senior ladies working there. “Oh, you’re from California? Did you enjoy your time in Philly?” they asked.

More tears. Yes, I said, but I left my youngest child this morning at Drexel…

”Oh honey,” one of them sympathized. “That’s going to hurt a while. I remember when I sent my son to school, and he wasn’t nearly so far away. I cried for a week.”   They gave me extra samples. Chocolate and sympathy is a good combination.

I visited Ben Franklin’s grave on my way back to the hotel. It was definitely underwhelming, which may be appropriate given Franklin’s earthy, democratic nature, or inappropriate, given his monumental genius and contribution to society.  (And his supernatural ability to speak to sad, modern-day moms.) Then I hoofed it back to my hotel at Penn’s Landing, where I had just enough time for a beer before catching the shuttle to the airport.

*       *        *

Woman waits alone in an airport terminal, holding a magazine but not reading it, looking back towards the city with tears in her eyes. Then she closes her eyes, shakes her head, and laughs at herself.

Roll closing credits.

The Call of the Wild

I can’t quite put my finger on when it started.  I can’t even tell you exactly what it is. Midlife crisis? Wanderlust? A nagging dissatisfaction, the inability to muster normal enthusiasm for my normal life, the feeling that none of this matters.  And the urge to walk away from it all.

Today on my way to work, I stopped for breakfast at a neighborhood bagel shop. I walked from the overcast morning into the crowded, noisy interior.  Trying to discern where the line formed, I looked at the selection of bagels in the case—a dozen flavors or more—and I walked right back outside. Too many people, too many bagels, too much light and noise and UGH.

I stood on the sidewalk in front of my car and thought, “What would happen if I just got in my car and drove away?”

Well, the dogs would starve, for one. That’s not right. Also I’m not a jerk, so I wouldn’t leave my family or my job with no warning like that.

Of course I can’t just drive away, but I can’t remember another time in my life when the urge was this strong. I don’t like it.

Part of the problem is Yosemite. Victor took me there in April.

Have you seen Yosemite? Have you SMELLED it?

When I walked through Yosemite Valley, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of it that I would close my eyes because they felt too full. Everything, everywhere, in every direction: beautiful. At night I was grateful for the sparseness of the tent cabin, for the visual reprieve, time to close my eyes and catalog the memories of the day so I would not forget the cliffs or the trees or the waterfalls or the stars.

Nevada Fall in Yosemite. Crazy beautiful.

Vernal Fall in Yosemite. Crazy beautiful.

We hiked to the base of Vernal Fall and sat on a huge boulder with the river crashing around us. We ate wasabi almonds. This is what wilderness affords you: moments so grand that you MUST live them singularly. Sensory input so vivid and demanding that it drives away all but the immediate, so the only thing that matters is right now: how the granite feels, how the river sounds, how the trees smell and how the almonds taste.

You know what doesn’t matter when you’re sitting on a boulder in Yosemite Valley?  Rent. Your boss’s mood.  Whether your kid will graduate high school. Whether you’ll find a better job or be successful or figure out what to do with your life when you’re already 41 and it’s halfway over anyway, for chrissakes. None of that matters in Yosemite. It’s like the inverse of Vegas: what happens outside of Yosemite STAYS outside of Yosemite.

So now I’m home and all of those things are weighing on me.  My kids are doing their best to screw up their lives and my job got cut in half and the ghetto cottage is on the block so I don’t know how long I can live there. I’m so overwhelmed that I can’t order a freaking bagel. I don’t even want a bagel. I just want pine trees and dirt. And a river.

Also, I just finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and that’s not helping either. Her life tanked, so she packed it in and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She spent several months hiking alone through California and Oregon. She hardly ever got to take a shower.  She had to dig holes to poop in, and her toenails fell off. It’s not a glamorous tale.

Wild should make me NOT want to run away to the forest. It should make me grateful for indoor plumbing and restaurants and such. But I understand why she chose to forgo those things for the wilderness, and I see the appeal more than I even want to.

While she was hiking, Strayed had nothing but the moment she was living. She had few choices. She had no bills. No one was expecting anything from her. She was not expecting anything from anyone else. She walked until she was exhausted, then she read, then she slept. She confronted physical threats as they materialized: thirst, exhaustion, injuries, bears. Only the immediate mattered.

I might be romanticizing the wilderness lifestyle a wee bit. Obviously, I don’t want to poop in a hole.  I know that my sweet weekend getaway to Yosemite is not akin to wandering the Sierras with all my possessions on my back.  Perhaps if I lived in a tent for a while, I would gladly write my rent check in exchange for the comforts it buys me. Perhaps if I were really faced with bears and rattlesnakes, I would complain less about my teenager.

And that’s kind of the point…I don’t want to run away so much as I want a break in perspective.  Being in the wilderness helps me see my problems on a different scale. It makes me feel small in a good way; it helps me boil things down to the essentials. That’s what I want: to be concerned only with the immediate. To stop worrying about the kids, the job, the bills—all of it—if not forever, then for a summer or even a week.  Fewer choices, more freedom—just for a while.

The Proper Use of Weekends

Those of you who’ve been reading for a while may be wondering how it’s going with Mr. Wonderful.

It’s going wonderfully, of course.

I’m trying not to bore (or gag) everyone with tales from Cloud Nine, so I’ve been blogging about other things. Still, Mr. Wonderful (his name is Victor, and he approves this message) has been teaching me a thing or two and I think they’re worth sharing. I’ll try not to overdo it. I don’t want any eye-rolling out there.

The most dramatic lesson I’m learning has to do with the proper use of weekends.  Here is something I never quite grasped: every weekend is, potentially, a mini-vacation and should be treated accordingly.

I’ve been a single working mom forever. Historically, my weekends were for laundry and housework, sandwiched between errands and maybe some trips to the park. Every other weekend, when the kids were with their dad, I’d have the same dilemma: should I get some rest or go have fun? Or accomplish things that cannot be accomplished with kids underfoot?  Most of my weekends were squandered in an indecisive state of “should”…I should be dealing with that pile of paper; I should be painting the living room; I should be getting a jump on cooking for the week.

I live 20 minutes from the beach and an hour from beautiful mountains. I live in Orange County, one of the most desirable locations in the world, and I seldom take advantage of it. I never go anywhere. I have been to the beach no more than three times in the past five years, because there was always housework or some other priority. What’s wrong with me?!?

Since I started dating Victor—just four months ago!—all that has changed.  With Vic, I’ve hiked to a waterfall, visited Catalina Island (wow), and scrambled among tide pools.  I’ve visited new places and made new friends.  We never miss a chance to go to the beach. It’s a matter of prioritizing.

I actually go places now. This was at the Wrigley Memorial– one of many magical moments during our Catalina Island trip.

It’s Not About What’s Closer

Here’s an example. One Sunday morning, we didn’t have anything planned, so we were going to go to Homegoods and look for wall décor. We went online to find a Homegoods location.

Meg:  There’s one in Seal Beach and one in Costa Mesa.

Vic:    Hmmm…which one should we go to?

Meg:  Well, Costa Mesa is closer.

Vic:    It’s not about what’s closer. If we go to the one in Seal Beach we can have    breakfast by the beach and then take PCH up.

So, what would have felt like running an errand on a Sunday BV (before Victor) became a leisurely breakfast out, followed by a stroll around the Huntington Pier. We browsed a little beachside craft fair and stopped to smell hand-made candles poured into coconut shells.  We watched a Veteran’s Day service on the beach, with World War II veterans in attendance. (Those guys always get to me.) Then we drove up Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying the view all the way to the store.

See the difference? I sure did. I won’t even go into all the fun we had in Homegoods. Suffice it to say that for the rest of my days, I will look for feet below the big hanging rugs, because I am now aware that those hanging rug displays make a great hiding spot.  We didn’t get anything for the walls, and we didn’t care.

What comes after Long Beach?

Another Sunday morning, we sat at Starbucks discussing what we should do with the sunny day. Nothing came to mind.

Vic’s car was in the shop and his rental was a convertible, so we just started driving. We gravitated towards PCH, because leisure drives should offer good views. From Huntington we drove through Seal Beach and then Long Beach. I realized that although I’ve lived here for 33 years, I haven’t ever gone any farther on PCH.

“What comes after Long Beach?” I asked.

“Torrance, I think…” He fiddled with his phone, checking the map. “Hmmm…”

For the record, San Pedro comes after Long Beach, but it doesn’t matter when there’s sun on your face and wind in your hair and your sweetheart holding your hand.  While I watched the beach towns pass by, Victor kept an eye on the map, and we wound up here:

Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at this picture? I never get tired of looking at beautiful views.

That place is called Palos Verdes Cove. I never even knew it was there.  We just stood on the cliff for a while, taking in the view while dolphins played in the water below.  Views do something to me—something relaxing and refreshing.  That was a heck of a view.

So we went from Starbucks to dolphins in 45 minutes, without planning ahead—all because Victor has a sense of adventure and the ability to follow a map. We could have defaulted to the sofa and watched reruns all day, and I would have gone home feeling guilty that I didn’t get the laundry done. Instead, I had another mini-vacation, with gorgeous views and romantic memories, and the laundry never even crossed my mind.

Swoony McLovestruck Writes Again

So, if you read my last blog post, you know that I met someone super fantastic and I got all loopy for him. Despite my chronic worrywart headtripping, everything is going great.  I’ve seen the inside of his car, his freezer and his closet, and he has no stash of human heads or carcasses of any kind, even though we met on the interwebs. So far so good.

Seriously, since that last post, if I relayed all the cutesy-wutesy that has transpired, you would get a toothache. But I am going to tell you about one great day, because a team of romance writers could not have scripted it more perfectly.

Saturday it was “cold” here in SoCal: sparkling sunshine, light winds, dry air— highs hovered around 60 degrees. Brrrr!  That’s a wintery day for us–we break out the scarves, hats and boots the minute the thermostat drops below 70. I got all bundled up in my warm hoodie, and I wore real shoes and socks instead of flip flops.

Mr. New Guy loves to be outdoors, and he will actually PLAN things to do. (Tip for guys: chicks dig it when you plan.)  He suggested Crystal Cove State Park, a place I had never been, even though I’ve lived in Orange County for over 30 years.

Crystal Cove has sandy beaches, tide pools, acres of hiking trails and a restaurant and visitor center that showcases the vintage 1920s cottages.  In case you failed to get sufficiently excited by that sentence, I just want to reiterate BEACH and VINTAGE. Also TIDE POOLS.  And for the rest of you, the restaurant serves bloody marys on a beachfront patio.  You can’t lose in this place, I’m telling you.

We walk a short trail down to the visitor center and spend a little while poking around the gift shop, where Mr. Wonderful talks about art with me, because he’s actually interested. We check out the historic cottage display, which makes me nostalgic for times I never experienced, and then we canoodle under a tree in a surprisingly cozy Adirondack loveseat. When I remark on how comfy the loveseat is, he suggests that we try to build one together sometime. I am not making this up. When he comes out with stuff like that I want to look for hidden cameras. How does he know?

So then, no shit, we hold hands and jump across a little stream of water to the beach, because we are some kind of walking romance novel cliché and I’m just going to accept that now.

The beach is gorgeous and perfect, see?

We walk down the sand, not talking because when you’re at the beach you don’t need to talk, and then we crouch over tide pools for a time, looking for tiny sea creatures and poking anemones. Tidepools make me feel like I am 10 years old again.

One more perfect beach pic. (He took the pictures. I’d give him a photo credit but I’m trying to keep him anonymous.)

Beaches make me feel like nothing, in a good way. I don’t have any words for them because that is the effect they have on me. So I will skip to the Thai restaurant part now.

He takes me to his favorite Thai place in Costa Mesa called MaDee Thai Kitchen. As we walk in, they call out his name from the kitchen, and I feel a little pang of pride—not because I feel important, but because I’m with a good guy, someone who bothers to know the people he encounters in his daily life, someone who’s curious and considerate about the experiences of others. That’s huge for me—to be friendly and to really know people.

These people are worth knowing.  Tony and Sue, the owners, talk to us about the long hours they work in the restaurant and their plans to finally take time off over Thanksgiving. I like to listen to non-native English speakers when they put words together in ways I wouldn’t. When we ask if it’s been busy, Tony says, “Not too busy. Just easy coming.”  That expression makes perfect sense to me and I stash it away for future use. Tony talks to us while we eat, about cooking, about the ingredients in his baked mussels and where he learned to prepare them that way.

I learn that I do not like mussels, but holy cow, the Pad Thai is good. So is a dish called Crying Tiger, which does not involve tigers or crying.  It’s beef, served with greens and a yummy sauce.

On our way out, my new guy spots this on the counter:

It’s a graphophone, like a primitive record player, from the 1880s. New Guy points it out to Tony and Sue, and they call up their friend (relative?) Jay from the kitchen. Jay is an older Thai man with limited English and a face like a laughing Buddha. He’s so excited about the graphophone that he whips out his iPhone and flicks through pictures of his extensive phonograph collection. I laugh at the incongruity of his age and passion for antique technology, and his obvious iPhone proficiency. Without words to explain how he feels about the collection, he repeats in his thick accent, “I VERY CRAZY. You see? Very Crazy.”

While we’re talking and laughing, Jay opens a small canister with an Edison label and takes out what looks like a thick vinyl cylinder, but according to my in-depth Wikipedia research is more likely either tin or cardboard with a wax coating. He cranks the machine up, slides the cylinder in place, and everyone stops talking as the crank unwinds and a perfect, plinky tune wafts out from the cone-shaped amplifier. Magic. Auditory time travel.

The sound is so sweet and I want to hear it again, but I feel like it would be greedy to ask, like maybe there are only so many times you can listen to magic before it’s used up.

Instead we thank them, chat a minute longer and then head out into the chilly afternoon. In the car I am quiet, which isn’t normal for me, so he asks if I’m sleepy.  Not for the first time that day, or the last, I grin and shake my head. No words.

I very crazy, too.

Good Times in Riverside. Really.

So far, my posts have been musings and observations, maybe a recollection or two. I, Midlife Meg, don’t have many actual adventures.  I mostly just think about things.  However, blogging has inspired me to try to find some adventures, so I will have something to tell you about.

This post will be about me actually going somewhere and documenting it for you, dear reader.

The somewhere is Riverside, California. I went for work, which wasn’t very adventurous of me, but I ventured briefly off the business path had some fun. In Riverside, of all places.

For my readers who aren’t from SoCal, Riverside is a decent-sized city directly east of Los Angeles.  It’s not exactly known as a mecca for entertainment. Although it has a university and some historic landmarks and blah blah blah, I knew Riverside as the place I get stuck in traffic on the way home from Vegas, when I am hot and hungover and just want to get home. I’ve always thought of it as a smoggy, dusty place that really needs to trim its palm trees. From the freeway, it ain’t pretty.

However, I have now been there three times, and I kind of dig it. I went to the downtown/ City Hall area. The first day I went, I was surprised at how pretty the downtown area is.  The courthouse was so striking, I snapped a picture of it.

The Riverside Courthouse was built in 1903. Beautiful, isn’t it?

I don’t know about you, but when I am in a new city, the first thing I want to know is, where can I get a cookie? Turns out, Riverside City Hall has a café that sells cookies—big ones. I got an oatmeal raisin cookie as big as my face, and I am happy to report that it also contained nuts and coconut. Bonus! I took a picture of the cookie (with only one bite missing).  I placed it next to this chubby, middle-aged hand as a size reference.

I noticed a cute storefront on Market Street called Old Glory General Store—antiques! I love antiques. I live near Old Towne Orange, which is a hub for antiquing in Southern California. Most of the stores in Old Towne are a little pricey, though.  Since I am fairly ignorant about antiques, i.e. I can’t always tell a real antique from a reproduction, I am unwilling to spend much money on them.  (That is the difference between ignorant and stupid, see?) I have learned that antique stores outside of my beloved Old Towne are often much more affordable, so I feel more comfortable indulging elsewhere.

I took my cookie into the crowded, adorable store and meandered through the spaces. Furniture, housewares, pottery, art…it was overstimulating and wonderful.

Now that I am officially old, the toys I played with as a child are considered antiques. I don’t even care; I am still happy to encounter them.  I found a Snoopy dog, not the Charles Schulz Snoopy, but the wooden pull-string toy with the wobbly wheels. I clearly recall my own Snoopy and the odd, honking squeak his wheels made when I dragged him along beside me.  Did you have one of these?

Right behind Snoopy in the photograph is a Shirt Tales lunchbox.  I loved the Shirt Tales when I was a little older, in the early Eighties. At my elementary school (go Taft Tigers!) we traded stickers at recess, and Shirt Tales stickers were my favorites.

Although I loved marionettes as a kid, I’m grateful that my parents never gave me any like these.

These are like punishment toys, aren’t they? Terrifying. You could hang one at the foot of your kid’s bed, so he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He’d have to lay there, wide awake, thinking about what he did wrong and whether that witch puppet would come alive and eat him for it.

Speaking of inanimate objects coming to life, I turned a corner and encountered this torrid scene:

I felt like I must have interrupted something.  Her panty hose are all jacked up and everything! Maybe mannequins are like Toy Story toys, and they come alive when we leave the room.  Maybe there is another mannequin hiding under the chaise, or in that armoire. Or, maybe she was having fun all alone…whatever she was doing, it must have been fairly vigorous—her arm flew right off! See it in the background?

The best part of the store was behind a beaded curtain: a magical room with sparkling lights, full of vintage clothing and accessories. I found a trunk with a sign that read, “These items belonged to a retired belly dancer. Some of them are quite provocative.”  Of course, I had to dig into that. And put something on.

I’m not sure how provocative I look in this. Guess I won’t be doing any belly dancing.

I don’t think I saw the whole store; there was so much to see. I wanted many, many things but I left with three.

This is a framed piece of vintage fabric. I love the colors; those burnt Seventies golds, browns and oranges always do it for me. Throw in some avocado green and I’m in retro heaven.  This little sweetie was only $6!

I also bought these bookends, because I liked the grumpy owls on them. I know I’m a little late to the owl party, but ever since I painted that owl, I’ve developed a fondness for them.

The last item was birthday present for a dear friend, but I can’t show you a picture because she is a faithful reader of this-here blog.

All in all, that was an unexpectedly fun foray in a town that is much more interesting than I realized.  It was only a lunchtime adventure, but it was a start. Maybe when you go somewhere looking for a story to tell, you find one–even in Riverside.