Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sea World, San Diego

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. No, that's not a giant rabbit. It's Shamu doing a back flip. 2. My niece Corrie and her cousin's kids Jayla , age 2, and J'Shon, age 6, joined us for the day, 3-4. Penguins are a popular attraction at Sea World.

June 17 would have been my daughter Maya's 11th birthday. We decided to celebrate in her memory at one of her favorite places: Sea World. We invited my niece Corrie who brought her cousin Tiese's kids along for the fun.

We ran around to catch all the shows: Shamu, Dolphins, Seal & Otter, Cirque de la Mar, and Pets Rule! Between shows, we checked out the flamingos, penguins and sharks. I was afraid the kids might get bored or cranky since they have season passes and have been several times already. But they held up really well.

For Andre's birthday on April 23rd I took him to Ocean World in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. It's a nice tourist attraction, but can't compare to Sea World. They do have a nice bird exhibit where you can pose for pictures with toucans and other birds perched on you. And the shark show is something I hadn't seen before, although the sharks don't know any tricks. But otherwise, Sea World wins hands down.

San Diego, California

PHOTO CAPTIONS: #1-2. Balboa Park, San Diego, #3-5. Coronado Beach, #6. Zorba the Greek restaurant in Chula Vista with Daniel, my dad, and his wife Judith, #7. Andre in my parents' pool, #8. Me in the over-sized racquetball courts at Southwestern College where I first played 4-wall RBall in 1974, #9-11. The U.S.-Mexico border.

Andre and I arrived in Chula Vista, the border town where I grew up, on Friday night, June 13. We stayed with my niece Tiese, her husband Jason, and their two very large, active kids J'Shon, 6, and Jayla, 2. They were playing tennis on Wii, something that Andre and I had never seen before. It's pretty amazing to be getting a work-out while watching TV.

Saturday was a big day for Andre. He finally got to meet my dad and his wife Judith. I've already met Andre's large extended family in Haiti, and he met my cousins and their kids in South America for Christmas and New Year's. But he was both nervous and excited to be introduced to my nuclear family. As I expected, everything went really well. Judith is such a warm, loving person and made Andre feel right at home. My dad isn't as outgoing as his wife, but Andre liked him as well.

Daniel arrived on Father's Day. We picked him up at the airport and went directly to Zorba the Greek buffet. We invited my dad and his wife to join us. Last time my dad went there they had live belly dancers with extremely loud music. This time he was happy to see the belly dancers on TV with music at a reasonable volume.

We got to take Andre to another favorite restaurant for Hawaiian and Guamanian food. I used to be married to a Guamanian, which is why I'm blessed with so many nieces and nephews, even though I'm an only child. The restaurant is across from Southwestern College where I met my future husband at the racquetball courts. After lunch we went to play a few games on the larger-than-regulation-sized courts.

One evening, the three of us rode the red trolley down to the U.S.-Mexico border. Andre has a single-entry visa so we couldn't cross over, but at least he got a hint of Mexico. I remember whenever I traveled in Latin America I'd have my dad drop me off at the border (8 miles south of his house). He'd always say, "Your rights end here." Obviously, he's not crazy about traveling abroad, but I've always loved other cultures.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Venice Beach, California

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Andre cruising along Venice Beach, 2-3. Andre playing basketball with a 6'11" British guy who just learned to play basketball a few years ago, 4. Andre and me at Muscle Beach Club, 5-6. The beach at Venice, 7. art.

Andre and I drove along the coast from Ventura down to Venice Beach. It was hard not to stop along the way in Malibu, but I promised him he'd like Venice, which he did.

I love the people watching, but Andre liked the sports most. We played 3-wall racquetball and he played three-on-three basketball. It started out when Andre pointed to a 6'11" guy practicing by himself and said, "Now that guy can play." As it turned out, he's from England and never played basketball until a few years ago. More and more people showed up, including a mother and son who joined Andre's team.

A Senegalese CD vendor yelled out to Andre as we walked by, "Hey, African man!" It couldn't Andre's clothes that would make him stand out as a foreigner, so it must be something about his face and maybe his haircut. They spoke in French a bit.

I couldn't believe when we saw the same guy jumping onto a pile of broken glass who I first saw probably 20 or 25 years ago at Venice. Same spiel, same laughs. He also used to do the limbo, but we didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Ventura, California

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Sally and John's dog Scruffles with the new Marina Park mosaic, 2. Andre and Sally, 3-5. Andre and me in John and Sally's yard and at the marina, 6-8. Having fun on the zip line, 9. a happy fishermen with two unlucky halibuts. It was really great to see our friends John and Sally Richards in Ventura. Their artist son Eric was visiting when we first arrived. He's always been a free-spirit and now lives in an Airstream trailer. The Richards are some of my absolute favorite people. They've provided a hitching post for me and my assorted friends and relatives as we drive up and down the coast between my place in Santa Cruz and my dad's house south of San Diego. They probably know more about my life than most people do. They were excited to meet Andre after hearing so much about him. In the morning, Sally, Andre, Scruffles the dog and I all walked over to the Marina Park. Sally and Scruffles couldn't stay long because Sally had an appointment, so Andre and I walked out to the point and watched some fishermen. They had caught two large halibuts and a baby shark early in the morning, but were still hanging in there. Somehow, I don't have the patience for that activity, plus it made me sad to see that the fish were still alive in the cooler. Then Andre and I pedaled the Richards' paddle boat around the marina, checking out all the nice homes and getting some good exercise. Daniel and I used to put Maya in the middle and do the same thing. Sometimes, when she and I stayed in Ventura by ourselves, we would also take the boat out, but her legs weren't long enough to help much. Finally, around noon, we packed it up and got back on the road, taking the coast road to Venice Beach.

California's Central Coast

Andre and I left Santa Cruz in the early afternoon. We made many stops along the way, starting with the J&S Surplus and Outdoor Store in Moss Landing. Andre's grandfather who raised him was a soldier and Andre has always dreamed of being in the military, so I knew he'd enjoy their huge collection. Next we stopped in San Luis Obispo and checked out the Madonna Inn. It used to be painted hot pink and seemed much more kitschy in the past, but it's still fun. He got to see the waterfall urinal in the wine cellar men's room. I've seen it before, but there were too many tourists that day.

We got off the road in Pismo Beach, looking for food, and went a route I'd never been before. I believe in doing new things every day, so I don't mind getting lost. We ended up in a town called Oceano and found a fun 50s-style hamburger joint made out of two dining cars parked on railroad tracks. They were playing great old-time rock and roll and I showed a bemused Andre how to do the twist.

Even though it was getting later than I'd hoped by the time we found our way back to 101 South, I still wanted to stop in Solvang, a Danish town which Maya and Daniel always enjoyed. We walked around Mission Santa Ynez and a bit of downtown, but mostly everything was closed. We spent another $55 to fill up the tank on my 1987 Nissan Maxima. It takes two tanks to arrive in San Diego. I can see why fewer Americans are traveling than before, even though by world standards our gasoline is still cheap.

We called our friends Sally and John Richards in Ventura and warned them we'd be arriving a little later than 8:30 p.m. My Oma and I met this wonderful couple on our way to India in 1988. John recently became the oldest person to win a Sprint Car race at age 76. Not that long ago, they made a motorcycle trip from Alaska to the tip of South America. John owns an antique open-cockpit plane, which he took my Oma up in for a thrill. He did loopty-loops with her. Sally, at 76, is in fabulous shape, thanks to pilates, swimming, walking, and yoga. Our guest room was ready for us.

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Military surplus store in Moss Landing, 2. Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, 3. Rock 'N Roll diner in Oceano, 4 & 5. Mission in Solvang. 6. downtown Solvang.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Andre in Paradise

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. downtown Santa Cruz, 2. Andre overlooking the north coast, 3-5. On a bike ride to Wilder Ranch, 6. Andre's new bike, 7. West Cliff Drive, 8. Andre and friends Kahlil, Auden and Abbie, 9. Shooting hoops at neighborhood park.

Andre's been in Santa Cruz a little over two weeks and already he's in love....with Santa Cruz. One day on a bike ride along the coast he turned to me and said, "You were right. You do live in paradise."

I was afraid that I'd bragged about Santa Cruz too much and therefore he'd be disappointed when he got here. Like when a friend tells you about the best movie ever and then when you see it, you think, "that wasn't so great." But if the film gets bad reviews, you might be pleasantly surprised. With Santa Cruz, no words can describe how beautiful it is. You have to come here to fully appreciate it!

One of the first things we did was enroll Andre in Santa Cruz Adult School's ESL classes. The free classes are offered 20 hours a week. Because the session was almost over, the principal started him in Level 3, but he'll move to Level 4-5 for the summer session.

Since he has English class in the mornings, Andre's hoping to work the afternoon/evening shift at Marini's Candies with our Mexican friend Gabriel. Gabriel is from a tiny village called El Limon, Jalisco and studies at the university in Guadalajara. He comes up to Santa Cruz every summer to work at Marini's so he can buy computers, cameras, video cameras, etc. for his budding film making career.

Another activity that Andre loves is playing on his new soccer team "San Paulo." He played his first match on Sunday, finishing 1-1. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings they practice against other teams. Everyone else on the San Pablo team is from Mexico or El Salvador. They're teaching Andre lots of new Spanish vocabulary, but not words you'd repeat to your mother.

Our favorite past time is riding bikes together. Andre got a nice mountain bike through craigslist, so we can ride along West Cliff, up to Wilder Ranch, down to Capitola Beach, and around town. The weather has been perfect. Even Andre, the Caribbean man, has ventured out in just a t-shirt lately. One-by-one, we've been running into friends of mine who have been waiting to meet Andre, but he has no idea how many more fans he has in town.

Yesterday, while Andre was in ESL class, I went to Maya's 5th grade graduation at Westlake Elementary School. It was wonderful to see all her friends and their families, even though it was hard too. Volunteers from each of the three 5th-grade classes gave speeches. I was so touched when Jade and Larisa mentioned how they wished their friend Maya George could have graduated with them. Another touching moment was when the principal Mr. Clyde Curley gave me a "Class of 2008" wristband. I held it together until I went down to the Life Lab and saw Maya's memorial yellow rose bush in full bloom.

Today Andre and I leave for Southern California. We'll spend the day being tourists along the way -- Solvang, Madonna Inn, Santa Barbara -- and stay the night with friends in Ventura. Then tomorrow we'll stop at Venice Beach (no, not Disneyland this time) on our way to San Diego. I've already know all of Andre's family and friends. Finally, he gets to meet my dad and his wonderful wife Judith, along with the Charfauros clan (my ex-husband's family), and other lifetime friends in the area where I grew up.

Maya's 11th birthday is June 17, so hopefully Daniel will make it down in time to join us. We're going to Sea World in honor of Maya. Daniel had planned to ride down with us, but he's finishing up a big job and couldn't get away in time.