Roots

The kayaks are strapped back on to the top of our Jeep. Bikes are in place on the rack attached to the hitch. Knick-knacks are tucked in cupboards. The shoe bin filled with footwear to fit the occasion, whether hiking, kayaking or golfing, is stashed in the closet. The Captain’s chair and co-pilot seat are turned around to the front-facing position. Furniture is secured, cupboards and sliding pocket doors all closed tight.

Everything is ready to roll, on to our next destination.

Everything that is, except my heart.

When we first settled into our rented lot at the Motorcoach Country Club RV Resort in Indio, I noticed the owner had three empty flower pots just waiting to be filled. I visited a local nursery and bought enough annuals to bring life to them. My plan was to buy a pot to transfer them to once we were ready to get back on the road, which I did.

As I gently tugged the flowers out of the planters, I was amazed at how much they grew in the six weeks we’ve been here. I couldn’t get over how deep the roots had dug into the California soil I scrapped together when I first planted them. With just the right amount of water, sun and tender-loving care, the geranium, petunias and snapdragons  flourished. My transplants found a new home.

I feel exactly the same.

Staying here at this little slice of heaven in the California desert for this long has allowed us to grow our own roots. And with the fresh air, sun and the gentle breezes of new friendships, we’ve flourished too. We’ve been blessed to share stories, journeys, and heartbreaks with these new friends. These new friends have hosted us for dinner, golf, and wine tastings. These new friends have taken walks with us, gotten us into the pool for water aerobics, presented us with thoughtful gifts.

Desert Adventures with Chuck and Dyan

Our time here in the desert began with getting together with friends we made last year in Hilton Head. Chuck and Dyan love adventures as much as we do, and loved experiencing the Salton Sea area together. We had a blast exploring Temecula Valley, the wine country just 90 minutes over the San Jacinto Mountains. We especially enjoyed Doffo Wines and the display of over 200 motorcycles and scooters collected by the owner, Marcello. We spent our last evening in town, Valentine’s Day, enjoying dinner with the two of them, bringing our time together full circle.  Life is always fun with a little bit of Chuck and Dyan sprinkled in!

Photo credit: Doffo Wines

Kind neighbors Chris and Alan

Our first clue as to how special the residents at Motorcoach Country Club RV resort was while hosting our Toledo friends Joe and Amy Zavac for a visit. Our neighbors, Chris and Alan, brought over an outdoor lamp to add more light to our patio. How thoughtful is that? This Colorado-based couple also hosted us for a fun, quaint Super Bowl gathering, and even offered to help out with Luna while we were off on a day-long adventure.

Pasta and Game Night with John and Christine

Speaking of thoughtful, when meeting Christine and John McCusker at a dinner at the Motorcoach club house, Christine observed I wasn’t eating bread. When I shared that I was gluten intolerant, several days later, Christine gifted me with two loaves of gluten free bread made at a local bakery. I returned the favor with giving this former private school owner with a copy of my biography of Virginia Hamilton. This lovely couple hosted us for a delicious homemade pasta dinner, Temecula wine and Rumikub. We all walked away as winners, in more ways than one.

Golf with the Ladies

The resort has a fun 18 hole Par 3 course. I had the opportunity to play with the ladies several times, including the first with Nancy Kossman, who hails from Missouri. Nancy and I connected from the start, and enjoyed going out to lunch and walking together.

When I played with the other group of ladies, Betty announced, “I’m not a very good golfer, but I’m a lot of fun.” Fun was definitely had with Kim, Jo, Betty and her sidekick, Betty Boop. It’s always a good thing when you laugh so hard on the course that you find yourself looking for the nearest bathroom.

PGA West friends Renee and Fred

Brad joined a golf program which allows us to play on private courses with members willing to host us. Fred and Renee Dockweiler were incredibly kind to not only host us, but to be willing to reschedule when we came down with a stomach bug. We connected during our first round at the PGA West Weiskopf course. It was a thrill for me to play with all single-digit handicap golfers. I’ve got 9 strokes to join the ranks, but Fred and Renee were both incredibly encouraging. We met up for dinner at Okura Sushi one night, and Renee hosted us several days later (as Fred was out of town) at the PGA West Stadium course, home of the AT&T PGA tournament. We hope to have Renee and Fred visit us in Toledo, as Fred has plans to travel our way on business.

And the list goes on…

I’m not so good with carting my phone with me everywhere, much less taking pictures when I do. I will hold on to the special memories of a Motorcoach CC resident, Swanee, who became my new “publicity rep” after sharing our story and my work with her. Swanee attended a satellite campus of Antioch College, where Virginia Hamilton attended, so I gifted her with my biography of this amazing writer.

We had the pleasure of golfing with several other couples and gentlemen during our stay…including Rob and Margaret and Troy and Sue at Mountain View Country Club. Thank you all for making our time all the more special. Ugh…I could go on and on, from the many people we met on our daily walks with Luna, to folks we visited with on our many adventures.

So yes, we’re packed up and ready to go on to the next chapter, but my heart is a little sad as we leave this desert oasis.

Often friends met on the road remain as such.

But, I have a feeling that with the right amount of time and attention, just like my new flowers, the roots of friendship established here in the California desert will grow deeper.

 

 

Desert Respite

Ahhh….

After being rolling stones since hitting the road in October, it has been amazing to sink our toes in the sand, dig in, and stay put for a month. We are so fortunate to be staying at the Motorcoach Country Club in Indio, CA.

The setting is phenomenal, with the Indio Hills looming in the background, plentiful golf courses, and glorious native and annual flowers everywhere. The RV resort offers on-site 18 hole par-3 course, tennis and pickleball courts and more activities than we have time for.

Our hearts have been warmed by making new friends, and having a visit with our dear friends and neighbors, Joe and Amy. A bonus is being right across the street from the friends and fellow adventurers we made last year in Hilton Head…Dyan and Chuck.

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to during our first few weeks in this desert mecca…

Joshua Tree National Park

Brad and I gassed up the car, packed a lunch and plenty of water to drive up to Joshua Tree National Park.

We should have grabbed an extra jacket too! We knew there would not be any gas, food or water available in the park, but we didn’t realize that we were entering the high desert, with its cold winds. Fortunately the visitor center does sell sweatshirts with an emblem of the unique Yucca trees on the front.

We spent the day driving from the western entrance of the park and all the way around to the Cottonwood southern exit. We took in a number of shorter hikes, including Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Arch Rock and Split Rock. It was fun to see families with children of all ages…reminded us of when we would hike with our kids when they were little.

We were grateful we took the long route all the way around, as the Cholla Cactus Garden was quite the sight.

The desert isn’t in bloom yet, but here’s a hint of what you might see if you visit later in the spring.

An Adventure in the Desert

We struck out with our friends Chuck and Dyan to visit an area that our friend Eric Davenport from Bend, Oregon told us about…the Salton Sea. What we weren’t aware of was the jaw-dropping Salvation Mountain and the head-scratching settlement of Slab City nearby.

Salton Sea 

One of the lowest spots on earth at -277 feet below sea level (think about that for a minute…a sea below sea level!) is the Salton Sea.  Created when floodwaters from the Colorado River overcame an irrigation canal in 1905, the lake is a terminal lake, meaning there is no natural outlet for the water. As a result of the runoff feeding into the lake, the concentration of salinity in the lake is even greater than the ocean.

We enjoyed our picnic near the lake, but it wasn’t a place one would linger. You don’t dare swim in the lake, and the stench of dying fish was prevalent. Not exactly the seaside resort that Eric and his wife Lyn expected many years ago.

Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight was truly a rebel without a cause, until he found redemption in the desert. Originally from Vermont, Leonard experienced his religious awakening after a visit with his sister in California. She attempted to share her discovery of spiritualism with Leonard, but her beliefs didn’t resonate until he began to trek back to Vermont.

After discovering his love for Jesus, he was inspired by a hot air balloon. Leonard had a vision of building his own balloon to spread his newfound Christianity. He spent the next 14 years traveling the country and trying to built that darn hot air balloon.

Literally deflated and defeated, he found himself in the desert just east of the Salton Sea. Leonard decided he would stay for a week creating something that would make a “small statement.” This was in 1984. And this is what Leonard created, known as Salvation Mountain.

Leonard died in 2014, but his messages of love live on through a non-profit that maintains his spiritual mountain.

Slab City

Leonard Knight might have been sharing his salvation with the world, but I’m not sure what the residents of the squatter community of Slab City are attempting to.

I think my mouth hung open the whole time we drove through Slab City.

History: The United States Marine Corps had a training camp, known as Camp Dunlap here in the Sonoran Desert.

The Marines abandoned the base in 1956, destroying all the buildings, but leaving the slab foundations behind. You can guess where this is going…

A sign at the entrance noted “Speed limit: two grams a day.”

Man, there are stories to come out of this place. I’m just not sure I’m the one to write them. I’ll let these pictures help guide your imagination. To see more, see here.

There was a sign for the Library, but we never found it. I’m afraid if we did, we’d never check out.

The place is just bizarre.

   

A Taste of Home

Our good friends and neighbors Joe and Amy Zavac took time during their travels to LA and San Diego to come visit us in the desert. We hosted them for dinner at the motorhome on Friday evening, and they marveled at the beautiful sites and rigs in the RV resort.

Brad outdid himself with his smoked and grilled steaks, I made my brother’s yummy “smashed potatoes” recipe and a salad with local dates and goat cheese. Our neighbor gave us an outdoor light to enjoy the dinner on the patio. It was so fun catching up on all that we’ve missed in Toledo since October.

Living Desert

On Saturday morning, we went to Shields Date Garden, celebrating 100 years of both farming dates and serving them up in yummy breakfast and lunch dishes. The gardens and pretty patio are just around the corner from us, so I imagine we’ll even ride our bikes there in the future.

Following breakfast, we drove a short distance to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. As members of the Toledo Zoo, we received a 50% discount on our entry fee…one of the many benefits of Zoo membership!

The Living Desert features animals and plants native to deserts around the world, from California to Australia and Africa. It was fun to walk among the animals in many of the exhibits. Not including the cheetah.

We enjoyed wonderful dinner out at the Lavender Bistro in Old Town La Quinta. Although it was cool and sprinkling, the tree foliage and the outside heaters kept us warm and dry.

Our visit was entirely too quick, filled with great stories, much laughter, and wonderful memories.

We are so grateful for our respite in the desert!

 

“Cause All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun…”

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Christmas in Marina and Monterey

It was hard to be away from family and friends once again over Christmas, but Brad and I kept ourselves busy taking advantage of all that the area had to offer.

We stayed at the Marina Dunes RV Resort. It was a lovely campground just 500 yards from the ocean. I loved the hues of the native plants along the path on the dunes leading to the ocean. Luna basked in the sunsets!

We golfed at Pacific Grove Golf Links, known as the Poor Man’s Pebble Beach. We were paired with a father and son and just had a blast. We saw surfers along the coast running beside the course. This is me pretending to be one.

Monarchs winter along the California coast too. We took in one of their migratory spots at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary. I could almost hear the thousands of pairs of wings fluttering in the breeze.

We biked along the coast. It was hard to keep an eye on all the car traffic right along the bike path. The ocean was a bit distracting!

We kayaked at Elkhorn Slough, an awesome estuary featuring these little critters.

I teared up at the sight of the mama otter cradling the cub on her chest. It made me miss my kids all the more so.

I couldn’t wait for our reunion in LA.

Pacific Palisades

We rented a home in the beautiful enclave of Pacific Palisades for the start of our time together. The home was built in 1949 and featured an awesome outdoor firepit and views of the ocean right across the street. A nightly ritual involved walking down to the park just up the way, coffee cups filled with favorite beverages, and toasting the sunset.

Hiking and Beaching

We used to call all of our adventures “Brad’s Boot Camp.” I think the apples haven’t fallen too far from the tree, as we made the most of the area. Our first full day, we hiked at Solstice Canyon. We took both the Solstice Hike and then continued on to the Rising Sun Trail for an awesome two-hour experience.

The hike features the ruins of the Roberts Ranch House, designed by Paul Williams, who was a famous African American architect. Here is a fascinating article about this trailblazer whose hand is prominent in over 2500 buildings and homes, most in LA.

After lunch at Malibu Seafood (“the reason we don’t serve breakfast is because we’re out catching lunch”) and then, after numerous attempts, finally found coastal access to walk along the Malibu Beach.

 

Venice and Santa Monica

We sang Sheryl Crow’s iconic song All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun while visiting the Santa Monica area. We took in the famed canals of Venice Beach. We walked the Santa Monica Pier. And we made a quick stop at Zibby’s Bookshop. I am inspired by the dedication and passion owner Zibby Owens has for books and sharing authentic stories. I’ve been in touch with Zibby about our story…perhaps her publishing house may be interesting in sharing our journey some day.

Pasadena and New Year’s Eve

We shifted to Pasadena for what will become obvious later in the post. We took full advantage of the area and the beautiful home we stayed in as we brought in the New Year together.

On New Year’s Eve we took a nice 5 mile hike on the Eaton Falls and Henninger Flats trail. Great start to the day!

Later in the day we headed to Griffith Park and the Observatory. We packed a charcuterie board and some bubbly and watched the last sunset of 2023 on a little path down below the iconic Observatory.

I discovered a bit about the park on our drive. At over 3,000 acres, Griffith Park is the largest municipal park with wilderness in the United States. The land was donated in 1896 by Griffith J. Griffith and his wife, Tina. Sounds great, right? Well, as we all know, there’s always a story behind the story.

Let’s just say that Griffith J. Griffith’s life is rather checkered, including accusations of tax evasion and imprisonment for attempting to murder his wife. For the rest of the story, see here

We returned to our beautiful rental home in Altadena and worked together to create a scrumptious NYE dinner featuring grilled steaks (from the grass-fed beef we bought at Rafter W. Ranch in Simla, CO), brussel sprouts and smashed roasted potatoes. Yummy!

Rose Bowl Experience!

Brad booked our tickets to the Rose Bowl parade and game through the Al Brooks Ticketing Agency almost a year ago. The package included awesome seats to the parade and special seating to the game. We had no guarantee that the kids or their partners would be able to join us.

It was a gamble that paid off in spades.

Sadly, our daughter Kyle’s husband, Will, was not able to join us, as his brother is on the coaching staff of Wisconsin. Wisconsin was in Tampa for their bowl game on the same day as the Rose Bowl. We missed Will during the entire trip. But, Kyle, and our son Ian and his partner Adam were with us for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Everything that could have gone right for the day, did. From easy-peasy access to the designated parking area for the parade (although we got up at 5 in order to be at the parade route by 6!), to the incredible weather, everything was perfect.

I got chills (and, okay, a few tears) at the start of the parade as the B-2 Stealth Bomber flew over the parade.

Television coverage doesn’t do the parade justice, as we witnessed all the incredible flowers that decorate the floats.

Then, the piece de la resistance! Game Time! Although our beloved Buckeyes from The Ohio State University didn’t make it into the Bowl as we hoped, Big Ten was represented incredibly well by the University of Michigan. As you likely know, the game went into a thrilling overtime and Michigan claimed the victory.

We scooted out in a flash, catching the drone show as we walked to the parking lot. We went back to our rental home and watched Washington beat Texas together in the cozy family room.

Our time ended all too soon. It’s always so hard to say goodbye to our kids, with Ian and Adam in Denver, and Kyle and Will in Atlanta. But before the final goodbyes, we were already planning our next adventures.

“Cause All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun…”