Archives for the month of: June, 2015

Years ago, I visited Hong Kong, the closest I ever got to mainland China.  It was still under the British, but they were counting down until it was returned to China.  I loved all the exotic things about it, the foods, the smells, the bright colors, the fabrics, waking up to watch the people do tai chi in the park, all the beautiful people.  Of course, I was coming from Oklahoma, so it was definitely not like my home.  These days, I have a Chinese boss on the campus of Oklahoma State University and see Asian people everywhere I go.  I still don’t speak or read Chinese, but it’s a tad bit less foreign.

Chinatown in San Francisco is always a must see when I get to be in that interesting city of hills and history.  This time I didn’t get to eat, but I took the time to watch new things.  There are always the signs and the lanterns…I love this corner on Clay Street with the wonderful street lights and lanterns and where I have feeling of my son, Clay, around me…the first Chinatown I ever visited was in Seattle with him…DSC_0528There were old signs…DSC_0359And signs that mixed the old with the new…DSC_0507DSC_0522When you look up, you see signs of the family life going on above you…DSC_0508And, down an alley, you can find a tiny fortune cookie factory that produces 30,000 fortune cookies a day to be sent around the world. They give free samples and you can watch this lady make them so quickly. They offered to let me write my own fortune, but I’m not sure that would work.  After all, don’t you want the surprise of seeing what the cookie gives you?DSC_0516DSC_0518I was trying to find a mah jongg game in progress to report back to my friends who share the Americanized version with me, but found none. In the parks, I discovered Chinese Chess played by men surrounded by their friends who quietly watch and then shout excited comments when a play is made.  One game was crowded and always quiet.  My friend said that must be the money game. DSC_0369Nearby, this man enjoyed his cigarette, unnoticed by any but us..DSC_0377On a Sunday, amidst families and tourists, there were groups of women playing a poker-like game, dragging their crates and cardboard boxes to the park.  Some would stand up and throw the cards down ferociously, adding to the fun of watching.  DSC_0533Walking the streets, ducking in the shops full of made in China trinkets and treasures, listening to the foreign voices, smelling the delicious smells, peeking down the alleys…a few hours in Chinatown is always a fun stop.  A peek into another culture that will always seem mysterious and exotic as the residents keep the traditions of their homeland in the land of opportunity.

This month, I returned to Oakland, California, to visit an elderly aunt and cousins of a friend of mine.  As an Okie, California is the land where people from my state went in hopes of a better life when the seemingly never-ending days of dust storms and depression wore them down.  Today, I survey the crazy state of California with love and wonder and, always, a shake of my head.  What a place of natural wonders, bountiful harvests, oceans, mountains, deserts and total craziness.  That’s just the Okie in me speaking, of course.

Oakland is across the bay from San Francisco and my friends live high above the city, up curvy, narrow streets, in the Piedmont Hills area, maybe beyond that.  These Okies moved here after the war, World War II, and purchased the place for $15,000.  They also purchased the lot next door and planted the giant redwoods that tower above them today.  The lots seem to go straight down.  I guess all the coastal people who live on the sides of hills want to be there, even though it’s a long drive up, not to mention bike ride or hike, to the nearest store or, coming up the hills, for help to arrive in case of emergency.  But Californians are outdoors people.  They ride horses, bikes and hike everywhere.  I’m digressing because I really want to share this fun trip with you.  I got to do so many interesting things that it will take a few blogs to do it justice, things that aren’t always on the top of the tourist list.  This was more about exploring.

First, I want to share the beauty of the home we stayed in.  When you drive up, all you see is the garage.  When you look out the front door, here is the view…where is the street?  Just keep going up the stairs…maybe 30 of them.  Imagine getting your groceries down there – or furniture or anything else.  IMG_7283The other side of the house shows the three levels.  There is an apartment 10 steps down and then the main level another 15 steps down.  You can get to the bedroom level down another staircase and then to the rest of the yard, which then goes down, down, down into thick growth.  Here are the stairs that I walked up over and over in the dark and rain from the main level to the apartment to the street.  You do adjust…DSC_0276You know what?  It’s a magical place.  The trees alone are incredible, planted by arborists when these hills were first populated.  Before then, the hills, these steep hills were clear.  I can tell you that planning a house on a steep hill is something that doesn’t appeal to me, no matter how many beautiful homes I’ve seen in the Hollywood Hills, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Oregon.  I’m not enough of a mountain goat.  But, then there are these signs we passed every day, curving up the road to the house…DSC_0273 DSC_0272 DSC_0409And the wonder of hearing a rustle beside you as a mother and fawn wander into the patch of yard…DSC_0161And, the best part of this place is the incredible view, the view that mesmerizes you every minute of the day as it changes and changes and changes.  I couldn’t walk anywhere without my camera, trying to capture any of its beauty.  My hostess said she has never tired of this view she grew up with.  You look over Oakland, over to San Francisco, with Oakland Bay bridge and the Golden Gate bridge in the distance.  DSC_0566DSC_0574DSC_0566DSC_0672And, sometimes, this was the view…IMG_7331I’ve been to Muir Woods and heard my hosts talk of the big Redwoods right up the hill from their home.  For some reason, we didn’t realize that there is a park, a beautiful regional park, a few blocks from this home where these now middle aged Californians, born of Oklahoma parents, grew up, riding their horses and hiking all the day long.  In this park are the remnants of some of the largest California Redwoods, once so tall that they were seen from the sea and used by the sailors to navigate the area.  The trees were logged after the San Francisco fire and after the quakes, but are now protected.  This was a hidden gem during our stay, a place to walk where the big trees once stood and where their offspring shoot up around the former stumps, forming circles of trees, called “Fairy Rings.”  Once you understand why the trees are in circles, you can stand inside the ring and envision the size of these giants.  You can look up to see the light and stand in the forest, imagining the forest as it once was.  DSC_0165DSC_0167
DSC_0193DSC_0178DSC_0167And so the latest California adventure began…with the view and in the trees.  Hope you’ll share the rest of the trip with me.

 

In 1963, the year I graduated from high school and left for college, Alfred Hitchcock scared us all to pieces when he released the now classic film, “The Birds.”  If you saw it back then, you remember.  At the Delman Theatre in Tulsa, birds (parakeets) were released in the balcony while we watched, adding to the horror.  I’ve seen it since and it makes me flinch, even when I see the special effects.

Several years later, I was home with a toddler, pregnant again, when two Chimney Swifts flew down our chimney, landing in our family room.  All I could think to do was call my husband home from work to get them out of there.  Remember that scene with the birds coming down the chimney?

I’m a big fan of birds and still have the bird handbook I had as a kid.  The back pages are full of the birds I spotted, listed in my precise printing.  I like birds.  Really.

Last year, I wrote a blog on the baby Mockingbirds who were flopping around my yard.  I actually formed kind of a bond with the parents, standing in the yard and talking to them while they watched over their babies.  I kept the cats away as much as I could and the babies flourished.  I also wrote a blog on the eagles nest this year – more proof that I really do like birds.

This year, the Mockingbirds were out again.  I never saw the babies, but the parents were out there watching the cats every time they left the house.  I think those birds were fine with me.  They were soon replaced with another set of Mockingbirds.  I’m assuming this is a different couple because  too much time had passed for the first couple to still be worrying about their babies.

The current couple is loud and aggressive, possessing a lot of attitude.  I can hear them outside, see them conferring while they sit on the telephone lines.  It started with one of my cats trying to nap on the glider on the deck.  I give him credit for not backing down.  He is determined to have his naps despite the harassment.  The birds wait for him to come through the door and immediately begin.  It doesn’t matter what time I let him out or how dark it gets, I see or hear them out there.  They take turns.  You can see them changing positions. Sometimes the bird on duty swoops down and follows the cat so closely that I have to slam the door so the bird doesn’t come in the house.  Yikes!

I walked outside the other day to take pictures…notice the bird squawking above and the cat’s ears down.  The bird has actually flown down to sit within a foot of the cat.  Gutsy.

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I didn’t think the cat was reacting until I took photos and noticed he was hissing, mostly in annoyance.DSC_0784My other, bigger cat, the brother of this one, won’t even go out the back door.  He shrinks and looks around for the birds.  The other day, I returned from errands and pulled into my driveway.  As I was getting out of the car, the bird was in the tree, watching me.  Really creepy.  A couple of days later, I was at the kitchen sink and the bird flew towards the window at me, swooping up as it realized there was glass there.

I wonder if this would be as creepy if I hadn’t seen that movie?  Dang you, Alfred Hitchcock!  I’m ready for this little drama to be over! DSC_0795

Here we are, almost 40 years later, waiting for the next Star Wars movie to open.  When the original was released, I read about this phenomenon in the newspaper and took the family to see it.  My youngest, my son, was only about 1 1/2 years old, so it was his first movie.  I remember spending part of the movie walking around the back of the theatre with him, little knowing how much it would affect his and our lives.  From then until now, I can’t remember a time that Star Wars wasn’t around me – or under my feet.

There were the movies, anxiously awaited by the entire family.  The first thing we recorded when we got a VCR was Star Wars.  I still have the tape somewhere.  And the toys!  Packed in my garage are the figures and the tiny guns that I picked up so many times that I can’t count.  The toys I waited in line for, the special figures only available from some cereal or by mailing off something.  Some are stored in the big Darth Vader carrying case that’s out there somewhere.  There’s the Millennium Falcon and the At-At and the Storm Troop Carrier (it actually spoke when you pushed the button) and planes and one of those big snow creatures they rode and no telling what else.  My son collected lunch boxes and his Star Wars box is a prize.  Later, we had Star Wars talking figures and large collector figures and whatever else came along.  By this time, my son was in college and my daughters were marrying guys who had also grown up with Star Wars.  One of my sons-in-law has his figures intact with their guns, packed away for safe-keeping.  Nothing to snicker about either.  This is important stuff.

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They re-released the first three episodes in theaters when my oldest daughter was pregnant with her first son.  She could feel him jumping as we watched our favorite scenes.  Another generation has come along and all eight of my grandkids are familiar with the stories and the characters.  I was at a 2 year old’s birthday party, a child named after my son, and he knew Darth Vader in his limited vocabulary.  Good job, Dad!  Here’s my son with one of my grandsons many years ago, passing down the fun…

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So here we go again and I couldn’t be more excited.  The next series will start and the comparisons to the old ones will be rampant on social media and we’ll all be swept into this wonderfully fun world again.  Last week, I traveled to Oakland, California and was amused to hear all the references around the Bay area.  First, I spotted this book in a gift shop.  Where was this series when I needed it for my kid?

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Then we drove by the entrance to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, pointed out by a local.  She remarked that the woods we were passing through were the setting for the Battle of Endor (she didn’t say that and I had to look it up).  You know the one where the rebels and the Ewoks fight the stormtroopers in the woods.  Of course, you know.  That great scene where they rode those fast things that raced through the trees.  Anyway, I could see what inspired it and where it was filmed (except for the computer stuff, of course). It looked like this area…

DSC_0167I learned that the cranes that we kept passing on the way across the Oakland Bay Bridge into San Francisco were the inspiration for many of the big machines in Star Wars.  After all, George Lucas passed them all the time.  It makes sense.  From then on, I tried to capture the images as I was driven by them.  Can’t you see them marching across the movie screen?

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I guess I’m getting too excited.  There are still months to go and more trailers to entice us and more products to show up in the stores and I know that we will all be in that theatre, waiting for the music and the opening and the familiar heroes.  I’m excited that there’s a new generation getting their own episodes and new parents walking around picking up the beloved toys and just crazy fun for this old grandmother to share.  Silly…