Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eternal spring stirs in the San Diego air

One of our favorite sunset views is near the university above La Jolla shores.
     I can't quite detect it yet from this far away, but here in San Diego, I think I smell Montana spring.
     I know it's still snowing there, and that half of the rest of the country is still under white stuff.  Snow is my idea of the ultimate four-letter word.
     Still, take heart, ye of cold country.
     The hummingbirds are making plans to head north -- although perhaps not for another couple of months. They have ordered their Triple A itineraries, tucked their tiny maps under their wings and made their hotel reservations.
     Like the grey whales we've been watching, heading to the Baja to give birth, the hummingbirds will make it to their destination in the northern Rockies.  It's in their DNA.
Mission Bay is always popular with sports lovers.
     Nothing will stop them.
     I like to think the hummingbirds I've been enjoying in our back patio and around San Diego's many parks are the same hummers that will keep me company later in the year when we all return to Montana.
     San Diegans  are lucky. We have parks galore. All kinds of places to view the hummers, savor the sea, soak up the rays and enjoy life -- birds, doggies and mammals.
     Because California is fairly young, the coast line is not as developed and overpopulated as our eastern cousins' coastline.
This intriguing sculpture stands in the yard
of the contemporary museum across from
St. James By the Sea Episcopal Church, La Jolla.
The view from Kate Sessions Park shows the city's skyline.

   The people had the good sense to preserve much of the prime viewing land for parks.  Folks of all cultures, ages and inclinations enjoy the parks, many with sea views.
A pelican soaks up the San Diego sun. 
     In the year I've had the good fortune to call myself a property owner, I've visited a dozen beautiful San Diego parks to take in the morning, picnic and bid adieu to the sun.
     I've kept company with gliders and surfers, sun bathers and swimmers, kayakers and fishermen, grannies, nannies, babies and toddlers, moms, dads, school kids, sports groups, joggers, tourists, locals and lovers.
     There are huge, multi-acre parks, and small parks that serve as school play areas, museum entrances and church gardens.
      All are enjoyed, savored, shared and appreciated.
Mission Bay is glorious in the twilight.
      So today, we offer a photo homage to San Diego and her many parks, with a tip of the hat to those thoughtful people who had the wisdom to preserve them.
Bruce Keller's photos show the gorgeous scenery seen from this lush, varied and temperate land.
    The natives call this winter.  True, the temperatures occasionally dip below 40 degrees, but only early in the morning before the sun rises to warm us.  And only for a few days each year.  By afternoon, we'll be in shorts and shirtsleeves. The hummers will be out.
     For my Montana money, San Diego in February
 is one of a dozen delightful months of spring!
   Next up, a view from the sea from two bays.  Saturday, we sail Mission Bay then dine out
 on San Diego Bay aboard Hornblower Cruises.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How the summer of 1968 shaped one woman



THE SUMMER of 1968 was a memorable one for this reporter.
Cookie poses at the Playboy Club, September
She was a Playboy Bunny for a day,
and also 
covered the protests at the Miss America
interviewing Gloria Steinem and Flo Kennedy.  

   I was not yet 20, but that year I fell in love with my writing professor, traveled to Europe with a girlfriend, covered the Miss America pageant, joined a women's rights protest, interviewed Playboy Bunnies and danced with Diane Keaton on the stage of "Hair."
   In Atlantic City, I knew that joining a protest against the pageant I was covering was an unorthodox undertaking.  Could I both cover the pageant objectively and raise my poster and shed my bra in protest of what the pageant represented?
   Yes! I could, I reasoned.  I would, I did.
   I WROTE an unbiased trio of pieces on the pageant, interviewed Miss Montana for the hometown folks, met Bert Parks at a reception (he was charming) then put down my reporter's notebook to join Gloria Steinem and Flo Kennedy during the protests. My meeting with Steinem led to my writing several pieces for Ms. Magazine in its early years.
We tossed our bras in this can
on the Boardwalk. We didn't burn them.
That September weekend was the beginning of something big for me and the world. I would be an avowed feminist the rest of my life, hoping I'd live long enough to see a woman elected president of the U.S. What a wonder that will be for millions of us whose grandmothers were born before women could vote.
I SMILE when I think of that summer and the juxtaposition of events. I was a Playboy Bunny in Chicago, interviewed Hugh Heffner (also charming) and although I did not personally burn a bra at the pageant demonstrations (none of us did), I was part of the day which included trashing a collection of "girl stuff" -- mops, false eyelashes, high heels and lingerie, and, ironically, copies of "Playboy." After I filed my Miss America story, I joined the group of several hundred women
The Miss America pageant of 1968 provoked protests in which Cookie
 took part.  She also covered the pageant for three days.
 for our symbolic "tossing" into a "freedom trash can" on the famed Atlantic City boardwalk.
THE EVENT brought international attention to the Women's Liberation Movement.  I can assure you there weren't many "women's libbers," as we were called, back home in Montana. (Montana does have a proud heritage of independent women thinkers, though, including Jeannette Pickering Rankin, the first woman in U.S. history to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.)
 WHILE IN New York City, I made news myself when I judo-chopped a world-be mugger at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Times Square. He dropped my purse and ran.
Always a theater maven, I saw several new Broadway plays, including a memorable performance of "Hair" at the Biltmore Theater.  Diane Keaton was among the emerging stars, mostly unknowns.
Diane Keaton, above top in "Hair," part of
Cookie's memorable summer of 1968.
 I danced in the aisles with the performers and was beckoned on stage afterwards during the standing ovation. When I interviewed Keaton later for "Annie Hall," we both giggled about those days.
Hugh Heffner welcomed Cookie at the Playboy Club
in Chicago, where she learned the bunny dip and wrote

about the bunnies. Her byline was Chris Cosgriffe,
but an editor insisted on changing it when she married.

AT A STOP in Chicago to visit friends, I spent a day in the Playboy Club learning the bunny dip and interviewing bunnies, while taking a turn as a bunny myself.  The women made wonderful stories, because they were interesting, educated people in a well-paying club.  It was a thought-provoking counterpoint to the Pageant activities.
  The dip, which I perfected, involves a curtsy, knees bending together,  back straight, rear down, serving up cocktails with a smile.  Should the dip provoke a pinch or squeeze, the offending patron was removed from the club.
 MY SUMMER of 1968 was formative. I took a month's trip to Europe, but I didn't really want to be gone from my sweetheart.  I knew Bruce Kemp Meyers was "the one."  Our romance was set against the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and RFK, the Vietnam War's end and the planned moon landing, which we watched on separate TVs in July the next year -- he from his parents' home in North Olmsted, Ohio, and I at my family home in Columbus, Montana.
   What a summer.  It shaped so many elements of my life:  my interest in the opposite sex and decision to marry Bruce, my continuing love of contemporary poetry and women's literature, my writing style (Bruce was a marvelous editor), my political and musical preferences.  Bruce played fabulous country and folk guitar, and was a jazz lover.  "BB" -- before Bruce -- I'd eschewed anything but classical music, jazz and Broadway scores. I was missing a world of tremendous tunes.
Bert Parks posed with Miss America contestants during the swimsuit
competition in Atlantic City, which "Chris Cosgriffe" covered for the AP.
   Raised by a liberated grandmother and unorthodox mum, both musicians, both educated, I grew up thinking women could do anything.  That summer sealed my feminist proclivities.
  THE EMOTIONAL cocktail of such diverse experiences -- falling in love, the beauty pageant and demonstrations, seeing a ground-breaking musical, the Playboy bunny time -- all encouraged introspection and evaluation.
   Growing up in rural Montana, with an adventuresome family, I always knew I'd forge a career.  As my relationship with Bruce deepened, he told me of his congenital heart defect, the possibility that he might need a valve replacement, and his lack of interest in having children. It paralleled mine!
   By the fates' luck, I shared his affections for literature, theater, travel, nature, dogs and other peoples' progeny. We decided that theater, travel and pursuit of our careers would be our children.
   We had nearly 24 years together -- 22 l/2 married, the other 18 months living in sin, or as my beloved gran said, "sharing one another's favors."
   THAT 1968 Europe trip was liberating and glorious.  At each port, I opened a three-page typewritten letter from Bruce. Each was rich with detail: his appreciation for Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, his reading of Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson, his preparation for his writing classes, reports on the Civil Rights movement, bulletins on our cats and the art center's foreign film series. How he missed me!  I've kept those  letters -- sent to Oslo, Copenhagen, Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Florence, Salzburg, Paris and London.
Cookie, Nick and Nora stop to smell the flowers.  You should, too!
                                                                                      --Photo by Robbie Townsley
   In return, long before e-mail, I wrote him daily, and sent my Kodak film back home to him --   slides taken with his favorite Canon camera.  As the trip progressed -- with concerts, hikes, plays and museums -- he paired the slides with my letter descriptions.
   We decided to marry.  Through the next months, we danced, romanced, cavorted, and planned our own trip to Europe for summer of 1970, a pre-wedding honeymoon, we coined it.
  FROM THE summer of 1968 to the autumn of 1970, I read Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Flo Kennedy and Bella Abzug.  I delved into the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, reveled in the writings of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, thrilled at my first bylines in national publications.  The first story I pitched to Steinem was about a young
Cookie and Keller on a recent trip to Europe, here Provence.
Miles City horsewoman who broke into an all-male rodeo competition and changed the guidelines for future horsewomen.
   I HAD NO criticism of the beauty queens I interviewed.  They were pleasant, well meaning people.  Some crafted careers. Some, I'm certain, were influenced by the protests.  That turbulent summer shaped the pageant.  Within the next couple years, contestants were tottering out on controversial limbs to defend the equal rights amendment and proclaim pro-choice leanings.  That would not have happened in the 1950s or even the mid-1960s.
   I had a wonderful time as a Playboy Bunny.  I read a biography on Eleanor Roosevelt that same week, found a first edition of "A Room of One's Own" and received a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift from the Sea" from my future mother-in-law. As my late nephew Eric said, "It's all good, Auntie."
  Today, on the 23rd anniversary of Bruce's death, I thank those smiling gods and goddesses of fate for finding a way to put us together. I thank them, too, for letting me share part of Bill Jones' life, and after his death, for leading me to Bruce Keller for as long as we might have together.
   THE SUMMER of 1968, I pondered my future and polished my belief system. While man would soon land on the moon, I was finding my place on planet Earth. What I learned then was complex and has shaped my life.  Chiefly, that it is possible, even advisable, to inhabit many worlds.  That we are all creatures of intricacy and contradiction. A few other Cookie pointers, to adapt, toss or share:
   * Don't be quick to generalize (a playboy Bunny might be working on her doctorate).
   * Most issues are complex. Ditto, people.
   * Forge your personal philosophy of life by borrowing from many influences and cultures.
Hillary Clinton, 1968. History in the making.
   * Avoid being predictable.  Follow your instincts. Taste of all foods, imagine, drink a bit if you can.
   * Don't fall into the trap of grudge-holding. Be kind. Forgive others. Take the high road and pick your battles.
   * Develop friends of all viewpoints. Listen to them, consider their opinions. Use what works.
   * Don't be rigid.  Be open to change or the spontaneous dinner, movie or weekend jaunt.
   * Read, read, read.  See as many plays and concerts as your budget allows.  Get a library card. Travel.
   * Don't let technology leave you in the dust.
   * Step outside for at least a half-hour every day, even when it's cold. Breathe deeply. Pet a dog or a child.
   * Pick a flower, write a letter, paint a picture, fall in love. Or stay there if you've already tumbled!
   * Laugh about something. Even yourself. Deep in life's challenges, there is much to smile about.  
* Consider voting for a woman for U.S. President, following suit of other countries in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East. Remember, we are excellent at multi-tasking.

   UP NEXT: Cookie shares a photo essay with tips on some of the sunny spots she's discovered with Keller in his native San Diego.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Natural wonders await at nearby Hellhole

Bruce Keller and Nick and Nora enjoy the view and fresh air
in Hellhole Canyon Preserve. A hitching post welcomes riders.
                                                                                 --Christene Meyers photo

     Less than two hours from downtown San Diego, but light years from the city, is a little known park of natural wonders.
     Hellhole Canyon Preserve transports the hiker to a world of calm and beauty.
     Its serenity and bounty of flora and fauna contradict the fire and brimstone its name connotes.
     We happened on Hellhole during a weekend outing at Harrah's Rincon Casino Resort, 90 minutes northeast of the city.
     Setting aside a losing blackjack streak and a disastrous run at the video poker machines, we retreated to our room.  Intrigued by the view out our hotel window, Keller suggested  "Let's see what's over there." A phone call to a co-operative concierge inspired a lovely afternoon in the preserve, avoiding further gambling losses, socking away memories of Hellhole.
      The concierge printed out a map which took us 10.6 miles in a lovely half-hour from the hotel.
The road less taken leads to peace, beauty.
     The scenic road headed us back toward Valley Center, and onto Lake Wohlford, Paradise Mountain and Los Hermanos Ranch roads -- paths seldom transited by most San Diegans and never once experienced by my native San Diegan partner.
Cookie pauses along the Hellhole
Canyon Preserve trail.
                                --Bruce Keller photos
     The farms, orchards and tableaux we passed were from another era -- Mayberry, perhaps, or the small Montana town in which I grew up. Folks chatting in their yards, kids swinging.  We were the recipients of waves and smiles -- inspired, perhaps, by our Big Sky license plates.  When we purposely took a wrong turn to admire an avocado orchard, a sprightly elderly lady walked over from her rose garden to ask, "Could I help you find something?"
     At the preserve gate, we parked the Explorer, leashed up the Yorkies, grabbed a water bottle and headed up the gentle slope.  We noticed horse droppings along the trail as we passed a ranger's trailer and entered this lovely hikers' oasis.
      Within 50 yards, we met a young father and pre-school son who told us the four of us were were the only ones on the trail. "I'm a local," he said, "and we come over here once a month or so..... it's a hidden treasure. Three miles to the stream."
Rock, wood, water and scrub await hikers.
 The trail winds around in the hills and eventually over the top and back down to the view we saw out our hotel window, the view that diverted us from more gambling and introduced a part of our state we'd never seen.
      If you're looking for peace and tranquility, Hellhole has these in spades, pardon the gambling reference.  We saw squirrels and gophers, lizards and a multitude of birds.  Thankfully, we spied not a single snake, but the displays warned of their presence. Mountain lions, lynx and coyotes also call Hellhole home.
      Sumac, sage and fir are set against boulders and rock shards. The air is fresh and fragrant. And if you take your horse, the park thoughtfully provides a hitching post and watering stations.
Flowers bushes and chaparral remind of the Mediterranean.
     Hellhole is a lovely discovery, and if you decide to visit, don't miss an opportunity to visit Heritage Family Farms in Escondido.  We've shopped there three times now for sweet melon, avocados in every stage of ripeness, Julian breads and pies and an abundance of vegetables including fabulous vine-ripened tomatoes.  We've made a habit of picking up a dozen tasty tamales -- beef, pork and chicken-cheese, all delicious -- and a crispy apple turnover to enjoy on our return to city life.
Heritage Family Farms  offers quality produce and
homemade treats if you're on an outing near Escondido.
     Harrah's is man-made fun.  Hellhole is another kind of enjoyment, the kind that comes from communing with the natural world.

SATURDAY:  Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" celebrates its 50th year in print.  Cookie takes a look back at her role in the feminist movement in Montana, her weekend as a Playboy Bunny in Chicago, her writings for Ms. Magazine, her coverage of the Miss America pageant in 1969 and the editor who arbitrarily changed her byline when she married Bruce Meyers! We've come a long way, and the Baby Boomers paved the way for contemporary women.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Where is love? An invisible bird's on my shoulder

     SOMEHOW, some day, somewhere.
     The lyrics to that memorable “West Side Story” song always make me think of my mother, Ellen, and my youngest sister, Robbie. Heretic though I claim to be, I like to think that somehow, some day, somewhere, I’ll see them both again.
Cavorting on a cruise ship, from left: Robbie, Ellen and Cookie.
     I miss them. On a recent, rare melancholy rainy San Diego day, I thought of them:   Of all the plays they’ve missed since they died – mum in 2008 and Robbie two years later in 2010.   Of how much joy they received from travel – we had many trips together.  Thinking how they'd both have voted for Obama.  Of of how they struggled to stay happy – each with her personal demons – depression, troubled relationships and more. Thinking of how damned funny they were, how humor helped patch them through.  Both were wise-cracking dames, quick with the one-liner.
     Neither suffered fools.  Both loved children.  Robbie was a doting and supportive step-mum to an adopted son and daughter during her 22-year marriage. She excelled as an advocate in her childcare profession.  Mum was a lauded counselor, pursuing advanced degrees in social work and counseling well into her forties. Both were devoted to family and friends.  Robbie as a married woman enjoyed hosting all of us to elaborate Thanksgivings, much as mum had done when we were youngsters.
     THE TWO were deeply connected to one another – Robbie was the much adored baby of the family and she and I were the “bookends,” oldest and youngest. Rob loved to hear mum tell the story of her impending birth, on a wintry January Friday evening while the family was preparing for a basketball game.
     Mum died of heart failure at age 79.  We had hoped we'd have her as long on Earth as we did her mother, my beloved gran, Olive.  Yet mum lived eight years less than gran.  Which of course prompts my wondering: how long have I on the planet? Carpe diem.
     Robbie was 47 when she died – suddenly of an accidental prescription drug overdose on her way back to our Montana home.  A toxic mix of two powerful drugs took her from us but I think she died partly of a broken heart.  She never recovered from our mother's death.
Robbie loved the water and taught the Yorkies to swim.
     I owe so much to both of these irreplaceable, compassionate women.  Both loved Europe and getting there on non-stop, first-class flights.  Both loved theater – we saw “Fosse” together in London, “Anything Goes” in New York and many shipboard revues and musicals, the three of us holding hands, sitting side by side, laughing, applauding.  The acorns fell close to the tree because gran took our mother to plays and musicals as a babe in arms.  In 1964, mum held baby Robbie on her lap for Rob's first Broadway play.  It was at the Imperial Theater in New York City. Center-orchestra, Row D tickets to “Oliver” were $4.95! Robbie loved "Where is Love," the soulful song young orphan Oliver sings, yearning for affection, hoping for parents.
Cookie, Nick and Nora outside Robbie's home in Davis, Calif.
    AFTER THE musical, we dined at Sardi’s.  The next day, we toured the city. Daddy carried Robbie into the torch of the Statue of Liberty and all over the World's Fair grounds. He loved to tell the story of the policeman who approached him outside the "Pieta" exhibit when he couldn't get Robbie to stop crying.  Mum had taken the rest of the brood inside the gift shop to purchase miniature statues.  After a long conversation, and mum's return, the policeman was convinced that Rob wasn't being kidnapped.
     Both mum and Rob were lifelong dog lovers and adored the Yorkies, Nick and Nora.  Robbie was the conduit for bringing them into my life.  I’ll always be grateful to California – not only for providing Keller and San Diego as my winter inspiration – but for producing Nick and Nora.
     In November of 2005, the day after my husband, Billy, died, Robbie flew to Phoenix immediately, scooped me up after we delivered Bill's body to the crematorium, and suggested a week in Davis, while we awaited Bill's ashes.  Our four ancient dogs had died in the months of Billy’s final fight with cancer.  Smedley the sheepdog, Max the pound rescue mutt, Eddie the basset and Ruth the retriever all lived into their late teens.  To have them all die – then my daddy, then Billy – was “a powerful visit to the world of death and grief” as my grandpa Gus might have said.
   Days before he died, Billy wheeled his IV into his office and made a print-out on the Yorkshire terrier, suggesting a pair would be good pets for me after his passing.  “You could call them “Carry” and “On” he penned in his farewell note to me, knowing I'd be flying with them.

Nick and Nora spent a lot of time in Davis, Calif., with sister Robbie
and Cookie.  Robbie's professional connections found the Yorkies. 
     WHEN ROBBIE received an in-house memo about two Yorkies for sale, we raced over to the house in Sacramento and met my future pups.  I wrote a check that evening. The pups spent much time with Rob in Davis.  She taught them to swim and helped potty-train them while I was in Europe.
     My mother loved the pups, too. Nick and Nora quickly worked their way into her heart. They were sleeping at the foot of her bed that cold January night she died at home in Montana, surrounded by 18 Cosgriffes and the Yorkies.
     Neither Robbie nor mum saw my home in San Diego.  Neither had a chance to walk the beach here with me and watch the gorgeous La Jolla sunsets.
    THEY DIDN'T see “Threepenny Opera” at the Lyceum, or “Sweeney Todd” at the Cygnet or “The Lion in Winter” at Northcoast Rep.  My gran, the family’s champion dog lover, adopter of hundreds of strays and player of both church organ and “bordello piano,” might disagree with that.  “In heaven,” she once told me, “one may see a play or hear a concert at a whim.  And since there is no concept of time, one can see and hear what one wants, at one’s chosen pace, whenever one chooses.”  Presumably, without intermission!
        She also believed in time travel and the ability to visit from the beyond. “Everyone we love is with us forever,” she told me.  “All we have to do is think of them.”
Cookie and her mum, Thanksgiving at Robbie's in Davis, Calif. 
        She believed spirits stick around and can be communicated with. “Think of them as little birds on your shoulder.  Talk to them.  Tell them what you’re  thinking.”
       I welcome the Robbie Bird, the Mummy Bird.  Come pet the Yorkies.  We'll hit the beach, grab a cocktail and appetizer at La Jolla Shores while the sun sets. Then we’ll head for a musical.   Maybe book our next European cruise. Somehow.  Some day.  Somewhere.

COMING WEDNESDAY: Cookie and Keller take a road trip to Hellhole Canyon Preserve, with a nod to the flora and fauna of that little known part of California.
Do sign up for the Wednesdays and Saturdays blog if you haven't yet. And  watch the sunset in a different place each night!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Third great love inspires "Kiss" contemplation

The writer, left, and her partner, Bruce William Keller.
Secure in Cookie's love for him, he realizes that her
two late husbands, Bruce and Billy, are part of her life.
     PHOTOS vintage and By Bruce Keller
    THIS VALENTINE'S week, with "The Kiss" statue back in San Diego, I'm taking a cue from a holiday at the other end of the year, Thanksgiving.
       How fortunate am I to have had three great loves. True, I lost two much loved husbands to illness. "The B Boys," as my baby sister Robbie called them, were Bruce and Billy.
     No one thinks her love will drop dead.  If I'd known two husbands would die and disappear from the planet but not my heart, would I have said "I do" twice? I would. Damn straight.
Love is larger than life in "The Kiss,"
whose arrival in San Diego inspired
an homage to three men  Cookie has loved.

Better to have loved and lost (and other time- honored cliches.)  Besides, I'm one lucky dame. Lucky for having known these two magnificent men.  That we bumped into one another at all is a wonder.  That we romped, read, shared, danced, dined, traveled and teased together is a miracle.
     The "glass half empty" take would have me draped in black, a grumpy dowager in a wicker rocker tossing stale bread to birdies. Growing fat on cheesecake and cheap sherry. Reading Jane Austen for the fifth time.
The photo that inspired the sculpture
that inspired this column.
    BUT I AM a Montana girl.  I got back on the horse. First in 1992 after losing Bruce to an aneurysm.  Next in 2005 after Bill died of cancer. The first horse took me to Billy.  The second led me to Bruce William Keller.
     A little history:
      "Husband the first," as my family says, was Bruce Kemp Meyers, born in Ohio, only son of an only son of an only son.
     "Husband second not lesser" was William Dennis
Jones, native Arizonan, also an only son.
The writer with her second husband, William Dennis Jones,
 in Portugal. The pair commuted between Arizona and
Montana for 11 years before Billy's death in 2005.

 Bruce and I were married in the shadow of Woodstock and the Moon Landing.  We courted at a nightclub atop the Billings Rimrocks, shared a passion for cruising, hiked the Rockies, toured Europe multiple times on Eurail passes, took harrowing trips in his forest green Road Runner.  He drove "the green beast" (my nickname, not his!) 30 or 40 miles over the speed limit, including a two-day marathon to Cleveland one sweltering summer, making it to the shores of Lake Erie in 30 whiz-bang hours.
     WE HAD nearly 23 action-packed, theater-filled years together, traveling the world, acting and singing in plays and musicals to save a vintage Montana theater.  He was my poetry professor and I learned the craft from him. He played a mean Gibson guitar -- blues, country and original songs -- while I played saxophone, piano, violin and harmonica.  He was a brilliant photographer, illustrating my travel articles as Bruce Keller now does.  Billy wrote poetry, too, and was a fine watercolor painter.  Where Bruce encouraged my poetry, Billy urged me to take up the brushes.  We booked back-roads bike and painting treks in New England and conducted poetry and painting workshops in Provence, Tuscany and the Caribbean.  Both Bruce and Billy were fabulous dancers. Lucky for this lifelong hoofer.
The writer with her first husband, Bruce Kemp Meyers, on the QEII.

     Billy and I had half as long as Bruce and I -- just over 11 years together, also traveling, painting, cruising the world, writing music together. Making one another laugh.
    IN FREQUENT forays into the literature of grief, I read that if one has experienced a long successful relationship, one usually yearns for another. I have the ashes of "the B Boys" in two beautiful porcelain urns created by my brother Rick. I'm in no hurry to fill a third urn. There may not be a third "I do".  But I have a delightful partner in Bruce William Keller.
     If you've noticed the repetition of certain names, you're a savvy reader.
     Keller's full handle contains the names of both husbands.  Thus the "Keller" moniker. Or "Bruce the Second" as the clan says.
     Thank goodness his last name is a sensible two syllables, not some six-syllable, multi-consonant, tongue-tying moniker.
     When we were introduced in 2007, I nearly fainted.  "Really? Your first name is really Bruce?" I sputtered. "And your middle name is William. You're kidding." Cautiously, he confirmed this double irony. My knees buckled.  Noticing my pallor and collapse in the nearest chair, he
asked politely why his perfectly decent first and middle names upset me so. I told him. "Well, it looks as if Bruce and William are both taken," he opined. "Keller sounds great to me."
Cookie, Keller sailing -- he accompanies her to the theatre; she learned to sail. 
     WHAT A GUY! The rest is history. My family adores Keller.  None of us will forget our time with Bruce or Billy.  But this smart, secure fellow stepped into two tall shadows and made his own place in our hearts. While Bruce and Billy were professional writers -- a college professor and film critic -- Keller is an oceanographer and chief building contractor.  He creates art from lumber, paint and a vivid blend of imagination and horse sense. We sail Mission Bay together.  We've been to Europe many times and have more trips planned.  We explored the Middle East, where he spent two years diving and researching on the Red Sea. We've cruised the Caribbean, Far East and South America. We've collaborated on travel and arts articles. (His gorgeous photos
illustrate this website!  He has his painter mother's eye for composition and color.) He is kind, compassionate and loves yorkies Nick and Nora.  And, yes, he loves to dance, too!
KELLER IS responsible for getting my novel, "Lilian's Last Dance" out of a dusty box of floppy discs and onto bookshelves.
Keller's part in Cookie's novel
Cookie and Keller at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
     Taking a page from that great guru of the '70s, Baba Ram Dass, I'm trying to "Be Here Now."  To be grateful for my health, loved ones and this engaging man.  To appreciate the moment  -- right now, a splendid, sun-dappled San Diego afternoon with hummingbirds out the window and Yorkies at my feet.
     WHAT ARE the odds I'd find a third guy willing to see eight plays in five days with me?  We'll be soaking up a theater marathon later this month at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the puppies in tow, the dog-friendly Ashland Springs Hotel home for five days of play-going
      When "The Kiss" is dedicated in San Diego this Saturday, I'll be there.  This new bronze, inspired by the famous 1945 Life magazine photo of a sailor kissing a nurse, tells me that plenty of people out there want to honor romance and keep it alive.  The 10 a.m. ceremony will dedicate the bronze, and acknowledge the sentimental San Diegans who chipped in over $1 million after an earlier, much loved statue was returned to its owner. Keller and I will be holding hands, maybe having a wee smooch ourselves!
         Coming Saturday:   A tale of a beloved mother and sister love set against a rollicking European tour at
We publish each weekend, remembering to explore, learn and live!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Vintage vessel, Interlude, has uncertain future

  The Interlude on a happy outing in Mission Bay in this Bruce Keller photo.  

Hark, now hear the sailors cry          
smell the sea and feel the sky
let your soul and spirit fly
                 --Van Morrison

     A floating piece of San Diego history is in danger of sinking.
     Interlude, a beautiful classic wooden boat, long cared for and housed near Mission Bay Aquatic Center, needs money and man hours to restore and maintain her.
    Without those, her sailing days are over.  So a group of sailing buddies who have known and loved the boat for more than 40 years, is rallying to draw attention to her plight.
It's been a while since the classic vessel, Interlude, took to the sea.
 The historic boat is in desperate need of money and restoration.
--Bruce  Keller photo
The 1939 gaff-rigged cat-ketch has delighted hundreds of faculty, students and the public through its long tenure with the Mission Bay Aquatic Center (MBAC).   The center, backed by the Associated Students of San Diego State University and Campus Recreation of University of California San Diego, has kept the classic boat afloat since its donation in 1972.  But it looks as if the Center's two sponsoring organizations are unwilling to continue subsidizing Interlude and her maintenance.
     Enter friends of Interlude, a far-flung group of sailing buddies whose connection to the classic boat goes back decades.  Sailors Bruce Keller and Brad Smith, longtime friends and former colleagues at MBAC, believe that without imminent help, Interlude could be junked. If she were retired from the water, she could be cut up and discarded, losing her historic place in San Diego's heart and history.
     The two old friends developed the Aquatic Center's water-ski program in the early 1970s. Along with several dozen others, they have maintained their friendship and loyalty to Interlude.
     You may have seen this beautiful boat and not known her history and significance. I didn't either, until Keller, my partner and one of Interlude's many devoted "captains," invited me for a sail a couple years ago.  I had the privilege of spending a glorious day on her during a weekend reunion of Aquatic Center faculty.  The sentimental weekend represented, sadly, one of  Interlude's last outings on Mission Bay.
     What a thrill to sail in her! As a cat-ketch, she is rigged as both a catboat and a ketch with a larger mast stepped at the very bow and a smaller mast further aft.  This makes her a striking sight as the wind catches her sails and she moves gracefully through the water.  Her gleaming oak and spruce caught the sun as we lucky sailors relaxed in the spring sun, an occasional spray of salt water gently caressing our heads and faces.  As one mature Interlude fan recalled, "You can sail Interlude dressed casually or gussied up in your nicest clothes.  On Interlude, you always feel you are part of something special."
     At sea, the Interlude's beauty attracts attention.  There are probably less than 10 such sleek, unique boats on the entire West Coast. Through the decades, most recently the winter of 2009-2010, volunteers and former MBAC staff have put hundred hours of work into shoring up the beloved boat.  But her vintage 23-foot wooden hull requires continuing maintenance for, like any grand dame, she is aging. As Interlude's needs increase, do does the need for funds and labor.  The question is how to generate those twin needs.
Bruce Keller and many others have sailed in, helped maintain,
and loved the 1939 Interlude and hope to save her.

 -- Christene  Meyers photo
     Interlude has been kept afloat since she was  donated in 1972 but Smith and Keller estimate that her needs now include at least $30,000 in repairs and $3,000 in maintenance.
     She also needs insurance coverage and someone to commit to overseeing her care.
     At the moment, Interlude is a sad sight, resting under a blue covering smeared with seagull droppings.  She needs lots of TLC to get her up and running and on her way to reclaiming her regal past.
     Lovers of Interlude would like to see her hauled out soon and taken to repair (possibly in the yard of one of the sailing group who loves her and is "repair savvy"). They hope restoration will begin before deferred maintenance takes a larger toll.
    Says Keller, "It would be a shame to lose her.  With her beauty and unique heritage, she's a treasure to the city and the world of sailing."  Keller and others with long ties to the Aquatic Center are phoning and e-mailing in hopes of establishing a non-profit foundation and fund-raising endeavor for Interlude.
    The two old friends and others hope that someone with a love of sailing and vintage vessels might come forth, someone with deep pockets.  Meanwhile, they are exploring options.
     MBAC is the world's largest instructional waterfront facility. Last year over 15,000 participants enjoyed  wakeboarding, sailing, surfing, stand up paddling, waterskiing, rowing, kayaking, and windsurfing.
     Surely, there is someone out there to see that Interlude maintains its place in San Diego sailing lore.
If you can help, contact Bruce Keller at 858 437-4777.

COMING SOON, a pair of Valentines: "The Kiss" sculpture returns to San Diego and an unique mother and sister are remembered with love.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter reflection: snowbound, safe, snug


   Winter in the northern Rockies can be magnificent and frightening. It can appear quickly with a temperature drop of 50 or 60 degrees.  Not for the faint of heart.  Or sissies. An elderly neighbor has seen snow all twelve months of the year in the Beartooths.
High Chaparral after a light snow.
Bruce Keller photos
     Winter can also be a time of unparalleled beauty, encouraging reflection and meditation.
One memorable, unusually warm February evening, I took a cup of tea on the porch to admire the full moon. I  tossed a sweater over my shoulders and breathed deeply of the chinook wind.
Change was in the air.  The Yorkies sniffed it!  We woke up the next morning to a couple feet of new snow.
     Here in balmy San Diego now, I'm thinking of my snowbound New England cousins and friends and hoping they're safe and warm.
     And I'm recalling that treasured time a couple winters ago, with 18 inches of new snow and more coming at High Chaparral in the beautiful Beartooths.
     The power went out.  I could see the sagging lines.  The pine boughs around my granite memorial were weighted down to ground level.  It snowed for three days.  I had no phone, no electricity, no heater, three shovels and two perplexed Yorkshire terriers who wanted no part of the great outdoors.  Dug a "medicine wheel" in the snow near the door, kept it cleared and taught Nick and Nora to transit it to do their business.  Had a bounty of fresh running spring water from the pump out front.  Cooked lamb chops and apple sauce on the wood stove.

 Cookie collecting firewood
     Made a comfy bed in the living room and closed off the upstairs to keep the three of us warm. Fashioned a "frig" out front on the porch for the perishables so I didn't have to open and compromise the freezer or indoor frig.  Had six gallons of water in the wine cellar so with the pump water, had plenty for hygiene, flushing the toilet. Kept Gran's old copper tea pot full on the wood stove. Lit brother Rick's hand-painted porcelain lamps for reading my New Yorker in the evening.  No computer of course, but wrote in my journals, produced a couple decent poems.  Lots of firewood to keep the wood stove going, thanks to Keller's and Rick's cutting of three large downed cottonwoods in the last days of fall. Got word through to Keller, friends and family that I was safe, through a neighbor who dug out and drove to Billings. Rose with the sun.  Slept better than I had in years.  I was truly sorry to see the snow plow show up and hear the phone ring.
(Please tell your friends about this piece and others in
watch our Dolphin Video for Valentine's Day    click here >>>>Dolphin Video on You Tube

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vocal Valentines thrill in trio of venues

If music be the food of love, play on!

     Luckily for fans of early classical music, it's not too late to enjoy the brilliant Valentine offerings of the Bach Collegium San Diego.
     More than 200 of us gathered Friday evening under the acoustically perfect arches of San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.
     What a treat to enjoy the fruits of music director Ruben Valenzuela's devotion.
     As founder, conductor and harsichordist of the decade-old endeavor, Valenzuela and company earned a standing ovation and bravos after treating the audience to a Bach contata, a half-dozen Henry Purcell works and pieces by Claudio Monteverdi and G. F. Handel, all with the seductive theme of love.
     Love lost, love fulfilled, love complex!
Balboa Park's San Diego History Center hosted offerings
of Bach Collegium Friday night.  The ensemble encores
Saturday in Rancho Santa Fe.-- photo by Bruce Keller
     Ah, love, love, love -- richly interpreted by four talented singers and eight magnificent musicians with the elegance and expressive tone the holiday of love deserves.
     An all-ages audience sat appreciatively then rose to its feet to applaud the rare talents of Valenzuela and a gifted ensemble.
     Darryl Taylor's soulful countertenor contributions wowed the crowd and his Monteverdi duet with soprano Rebecca Kellerman Petretta had the audience buzzing at intermission.  Singers John Russell, tenor, and John Polhamus, bass, enhanced the evening's offerings.
     Associate director and ancient music specialist, violinist Pierre Joubert -- standing as is the tradition -- helped lead the musicians through an evening of pleasure -- precisely rendered and evocative.  For this pianist and string player, it was an evening of riches, enhanced by the opportunity to appreciate Daniel Zuluaga's contributions on the engaging theorbo, a fascinating and mysterious 1580s instrument.  With its elaborate structure, this plucked string instrument harks to Renaissance Italy with a nod to Turkish instruments as well.
     Kathryn Montoya's able oboe and recorder work, Sally Jackson's bassoon, Heather Vorwerck's cello and Janet Strauss on violin achieved a beauty and harmony with Shanon Zusman's constant support on contrabass and viola da gamba.
     I'll venture this program is a "one of a kind" in California and perhaps nationally. How often do we have the chance to experience a jig, a hornpipe tune, a dance for the fairies? All in venues carefully chosen  by Valenzuela for their enhancement to his beloved favorite Renaissance, baroque and early-era music.
     His love of the music and the harpsichord he brilliantly played put the icing on the Valentine's cake.  Volunteers and devotees capped the evening with truffles.  Could anything be sweeter?  So we adapt the line from "Twelfth Night" to express our heartfelt thanks:  play on! And sing on, too!
Nordic Voices will keep the vocal Valentine
spirit flowing -- Sunday at 4 p.m. at St. James By-The Sea.
     Bach Collegium plays tonight (Saturday, Feb. 9) at 7:30 p.m. in Rancho Santa Fe Performing Arts Center with a pre-concert discussion led by Valenzuela at 6:45 p.m. For details, go to  
     And to gild the musical lily, catch Nordic Voices Sunday at 4 p.m. in La Jolla at St. James by-the-Sea.  The southern California debut of this award-winning sextet from Norwway features secular and sacred music. The setting is the
picturesque and beloved venue at 743 Prospect, La Jolla.                                                               
  Tickets are $25.  More at                             



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Surfin' USA

      You’ve got to love a town where National Public Radio news includes the morning surf report.  Start your San Diego day with the weather (usually gorgeous) then get tips on the waves and where to catch them.
      When I listened to the Beach Boys in the 1960s, rockin’ out to “Good Vibrations,” I had no idea that some day I’d experience southern California culture as a resident.  Land-locked in the northern Rockies, I didn’t imagine that I’d be taking deep daily gulps of sea air, doing tai chi on the beach, watching the sun set in a new cove each evening, enjoying rich night life and a bonanza of terrific restaurants. Generally reveling in the privileges of residency with time to appreciate this unique town.  
      Although I’d visited a half-dozen times, these jam-packed vacations didn’t provide the leisure to get really acquainted with San Diego.
Bruce Keller training for his diving
instructor license, earned in 1976.
      My partner is a native San Diegan – born at Mercy Hospital 20 years before my first visit to his town. He grew up with pomegranate juice on his chin and sand in his toes – a true beach boy.  While I was practicing my piano in Montana, humming “Surfer Girl”  (do you love me, do you, surfer girl?), he was paddling out into the Pacific.  He was (and is!) the real deal – sailor, surfer, deep sea diver.  Our garage boasts three surf boards.  This guy knows his fish, shells, coral, eels, barnacles, reefs, kelp beds and whales. 
San Diegans take time to smell the roses.
 Here Cookie, Nick and Nora enjoy.
      It took me a few twists and turns to settle down in this civilized, user-friendly town.  Among the draws for me and a million others:  the year-round 60-to-70 degree climate and flowers, including fabulous roses, blooming year-round.  People smile here -- does the salt air make them nicer? They even say hello to a stranger. 
      Take a break from the computer and twitter.  Open the front door and you’ll hear birds tweeting in the palm trees.   Even the parking lots are landscaped.  Hummers (the winged kind) flit about in the mall shrubbery. 
    San Diego has fabulous food of every ethnic variety.  What’s your preference?  Greek, Thai, Italian?  Maybe sushi or barbecue.  Theater of every kind. Cutting edge contemporary drama, classical, musicals.  San Diego has it all.  You can see “Pygmalion” one day and an August Wilson work the next.  San Diego Musical Theatre is bringing two favorites back -- “Sound of Music” and “Chicago, and San Diego has sent more new plays and musicals to Broadway than any other U.S. town.  Vocal repertoire?  We’re hearing Bach Collegium’s Valentine program in Balboa Park tomorrow.  Nordic Voices from Scandinavia plays Feb. 10, making its Southern California debut here in San Diego.  San Diego Symphony produces a vibrant, varied season and San Diego Opera just finished a rousing run of Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment.” 
      Live music offers a range of blues, jazz and rock and roll.  Our friend Jesus Soriano, a native of Madrid, plays gorgeous classical guitar a couple nights a week at Costa Brava in Pacific Beach, with the tastiest, most authentic tapas in town, served by European born waiters and reasonably priced.  
Cookie and Keller at Costa Brava,
enjoying tasty tapas and classical guitar 

played  by Spaniard Jesus Soriano.
     Garrison Keillor is spending Valentine’s Day here. The host of NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion” will do a one-man show at Point Loma Nazarene University.   The list of famous folks who were born or lived in San Diego includes Robert Duvall, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Raquel Welch and Theodor Geisel of “Dr. Seuss” fame.  Quite a range of tastes and talent.
     So here’s my Valentine to you, San Diego!  As my grandfather said, “I am as happy as if I were in my right  mind.” For me, that glorious state is induced by spending time here.  Nothing beats a Montana spring, but San Diego has spring year round. 
     Bring on those negative ions – they help my brain, calm me down.  In San Diego, I’m as relaxed as a Type-A Leo can be! I may not literally catch a wave, but I’m a contented armchair beach bum. Only wish I still had my T-bird! Fun. Fun. Fun.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Whales, dolphins, critters aplenty play for the crowds off San Diego


It’s  spring in San Diego!  The dolphins  are racing, the whales are heading south and the harbor seals are giving birth! We watched with wonder for several hours this week – critters relaxing, playing, moving.  The dolphins are fast and agile.  The seals seem cumbersome out of water but they, too, have bodies of amazing grace in the water. The whales always intrigue.
Dolphin at the bow! Wow!
We’ve been dolphin watching with friends from Montana, enjoying the whale watching enterprises out of both San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. We can recommend both H & M Landing and the Quivera Basin whale and dolphin watch boating operations. Excellent naturalists give commentary on board and adventurers have the opportunity to watch the grey whales enroute to Baja to give birth – through March.  Dolphins aplenty are a bonus! These intelligent, playful creatures follow the boat and dip and splash along. If you’ve never taken a three-hour whale and dolphin excursion, now’s the time. (We hope to have Bruce Keller’s short but sweet dolphin video up next week.)
Papa seal at the watch.
And if you want to “seal the deal,” San Diego is the place. It is now possible for the world to watch the mothers and pups frolicking and enjoying the good life. What a treat.
Thanks to a progressive move by city hall, a new “seal cam” is up and running at the Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla.   Installed above the lifeguard station, it will photograph the seals in action.  The mayor’s idea is to share this natural wonder with the rest of the world, sending out online video of the frolicking and birthing seals, creating interest in wildlife and giving researchers immediate information and photos.
The seal activity is being filmed with a high-tech $40,000 camera which will be on duty round-the-clock.  The gift comes from the Western Alliance for Nature and the pool and its inhabitants will be on camera with state-of-the-art equipment.  The camera is equipped with windshield wipers for stormy weather seal-viewing.  Its infrared capabilities will even capture mother seals birthing their pups at night.
Besides charming viewers – probably millions worldwide -- the footage will aid researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in their study of harbor seal reproduction.
In the five years I’ve been a regular visitor to San Diego, Children’s Pool has been controversial.  Donated by the Scripps family, the pool beach was built in 1931 as a place for children to swim safely in a calm inlet. Through the years, the children have been outnumbered, and in the past 12 years, the beach has become a refuge – not just an occasional destination -- for harbor seals, since it is safe and protected from crashing waves.  The popularity of the area by seals has spawned a clash between naturalists/activists and people who believe the pool should be returned to the kids.  Others, taking a middle ground, lobby for a way for humans and the engaging mammals to share the space.
Nature lovers enjoy dolphins, seals and
 migrating grey whales.--Bruce Keller photos 
Last year the city split that territory, leaving part of the sand to beach-goers while ceding the tidal zone to seals.  Still, the camera has critics, some of whom claim it raises privacy issues.  Most people we know are excited at the opportunity to see more of these fascinating creatures with whom we share the planet and our ocean.