Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The lure of Las Vegas and gambling close to home

 Framed by the glitzy hotels of the world's greatest
gambling city, Cookie and Keller enjoy a night out! 

I have a confession to make.  
My name is Cookie and I love Las Vegas. I adore casinos.
I've visited gorgeous ones in Monte Carlo, in London's Mayfair district, in the Dutch Antilles and Macau.
The glitter of Las Vegas easily seduces me and I love playing my way up and down the strip -- from the Mirage to the Venetian, with sidetrips to Mandalay Bay, Paris,  Bellagio, New York, New York.  My game? Usually video poker.
I like sitting in a glitzy casino sipping a coffee, cranberry or cocktail and taking my chances with lady luck. Looking forward to seeing Cher, Bette Midler or one of the variety shows. I love remembering the old circular Sands Hotel, and the greats I saw there: Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra.
I've introduced casino hotels to many members of my family and have had lots of fun on casino ships with my brother Rick and my late husbands, Bruce Meyers and Bill Jones.  Both Bruce and Billy were good blackjack players.  Bruce, in fact, paid for our tips and wine bill on an Atlantic crossing on the Queen Elizabeth II, with his blackjack wins.
 Cookie held a single ace -- and got four!
I prefer video poker. For some reason, the game attracts far more women than men.
Perhaps we all love the symmetry of a straight, the cohesiveness of a flush, the delight in four aces and the thrill of that elusive big bopper of the video poker arcade:  the royal flush.
I'm working on the "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" technique. And I'm improving.
The time to cash in is when you're ahead (a large "duh" from the audience.)  Sometimes the timing is wrong, though.  If you win immediately when you arrive, for instance, that's not good. Now what are you going to do?
 The MGM Grand's signature lions look out on the glorious Vegas strip.
As Bugsey Siegel knew, gambling is time honored. Ah, Las Vegas.  As long as I'm not using the mortgage money or shortchanging the children (wait, I don't have children), I'm okay. And the Yorkies still have plenty of clothes.
As I write this, we're nestled in a beautiful suite at Harrah's Rincon Casino Resort, a lovely property about ninety minutes from San Diego.
It's close enough for an easy weekend drive, and yet not so near that we are tempted to visit every day.
We love Las Vegas, but a quick trip there involves a plane ride. Two reasons we are loyal to Harrah's: Proximity to San Diego. And pups are welcome for a small charge.
 Harrah's Rincon offers patio rooms with a mountain view.
Rooms in the Garden Tower wing of this lovely landscaped resort are dog friendly, and the pups are greeted by a doggie fairy who delivers treats of biscuits, a designer bag for pick-ups, and a silver water bowl with a non-skid, non-stick bottom.
Keller just stopped by the window of the Palomar Suite, enroute back after walking the doggies. Yes, I realize upgrades in casino hotels are not really "free" -- we've paid for them with our play.
But Harrah's provides a reasonably priced get-away for us with breaks on the room with our Total Rewards points.
Keller said the Yorkies made new friends on their stroll -- a bassett hound and an Australian shepherd, both accompanied by their owners, taking a break from the gaming action on the floor.
We're planning a return to Las Vegas, where we can stay in Total Rewards sister properties involved in the collaboration.
We're considering Caesar's, a favorite of mine for forty years with our favorite showroom.
And we'll rack up more points towards our passage from "Gold" to "Diamond" status, which means we'll be eligible for more upgrades, more perks, more points.
 Harrah's Rincon Casino Resort welcomes Nick and Nora.
I get it that the more we play, the more we risk losing, and the more the casinos make.The casinos are flourishing. Harrah's Rincon is building a new tower! People will always spend money to take chances on winning.
Perhaps the reason is the same one that explained why people in the Great Depression spent money on movies and treated themselves to a bite to eat.
They wanted to have a little fun, to lighten their load.
I really don't have much to lighten.
Knock wood.
Lights, lure of Las Vegas -- from the sky bridge connecting
MGM Grand with New York, New York.
I have a wonderful partner, a good life in two states, beloved Yorkies, a loving family, truly devoted friends, nature's beauty to greet me in both Montana and California, my native and adopted states.
But I get a rush walking down the strip, gazing at the fake Eifel Tower, the skyline of a fake New York, the turrets of Excalibur, the majestic lions at MGM Grand, a recent favorite.
And I'm at home here in Harrah's Palomar Suite, with two giant flat screen TVs, tasteful art, a couch big enough for my entire family and a bathroom big enough to hide in (with mirrors that tell me more about my face than I want to know.)
Gotta go now. Time to register for my slot in a
 Keller reviewing his four deuces says: "I've won and I've lost
 while casino hopping with Cookie. Winning's better."
tournament.  And Keller just hit the jackpot: four deuces and a win that will make a big dent in his next Montana ticket.  Hope springs eternal in the gambler's breast.
COMING: The great theater town of San Diego boasts many gems, including Cygnet, located in Old Town. We take a look at the upcoming, adventurous season and check out wine tasting, too. Remember to explore, learn and live! And check our Wednesday and Saturday postings at:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Yo, ho, ho -- the pleasures of setting sail on a San Diego Sunday


"Cap'n Cookie" takes
the wheel. Whee!
Keller, Cookie, Melody and Larry Cogsdill sail at Paradise Point
and Harbor Yacht Club, popular get-aways for locals and tourists.
WE'VE ALL heard the old joke about a boat owner's two most happy days.
He was happy, of course, the day he bought the boat.
And he was happy the day he sold it!
Thousands of people, though -- including my partner -- love having their own boats and taking them out as often as possible.
Or just hanging out in them for a pleasant afternoon, as we discover whenever we visit Paradise Point or Harbor Yacht Club for relaxing sails.
AT PARADISE Point, the place is always humming with activity -- jet skiing, boating and kayaking.  We enjoy the resort restaurant and all the fun activities the tropical atmosphere suggests, including fish-watching from the bridge.
Sailing gives one time to smell the roses (and enjoy the sea lions), and we explore sailing and sea life in these blogs.
"Ahoy, maties!" says Keller
We usually rent a 27-foot sloop with our friends, Melody and Larry.  He, like Keller, grew up sailing -- so the two boys were at home manning the sails and we girls took a "supporting role," helping with the sheets and keeping the snacks coming. I get to be "Cap'n Cookie" for a few minutes, taking a brief turn at the helm, trying my best to keep us going straight.    Sure, there are plenty of women who "know the ropes" -- one of the fun bits of language we've borrowed from sailing.
BUT WE girls usually chose on a lovely spring day to simply enjoy the sail.
I've been learning a lot lately about boats and yachts. The Sundancers, Classicos, Sport Cruisers,Voyagers, on and on. With the America's Cup coming to San Francisco July 4th, and the "wildly exciting" AC 72 catamarans, we traveled there and checked out the harbor.
Above and below, a Sunday at sail is enjoyed with Larry at the helm.
I've learned to respect the water, for even an expert sailor can be the victim of the caprice of the weather, wind and weight of the sails and rigging if the boat flips.
Within the past few years since Keller, I've continued my love of ship cruising -- we'll log my 100th later this summer on an Alaskan cruise, cross the Atlantic in late autumn and transit the Panama Canal next spring.
HIS FAVORITE way to navigate the waterways is not with a view of the bridge from our veranda, but on the bridge himself! Better yet, at the wheel. So we're taking to the sea in smaller boats, too, getting out on the water at least once a month either by ourselves or with a friend or two to sail San Diego's beautiful bays and venture occasionally out into the Pacific. Paradise Point is on Mission Bay, a good place for the "sailor in training," such as myself.

ONE RECENT lazy Sunday, with Keller and Larry taking turns as captain, we sailed smoothly and safely out of San Diego Bay, past that last bit of land and into the actual ocean toward Mexico and the Coronado Islands.
ALONG THE way, there were fun sights to behold and wonderful relaxation.  Among the delights:  seals sunning and singing on buoys, pelicans diving for a late lunch, spectacular views of the city's skyline viewed from a couple miles out, and the beauty of seeing dozens of sails with plenty of other boaters out for a Sunday sail. Best of all for me, the sense of peacefulness -- shoes kicked aside --  listening to the boat glide through the water, waving to other pleasure seekers, cherishing our own private space on the water.
Melody enjoys the view from 
the dock at day's end.
ON SAN DIEGO Bay, you'll see the gorgeous sails of the Californian, which come near as she heads out toward the Channel Islands.
On both bays, you'll see beautiful yachts and pleasure boats whose owners name them "Tranquility," "Time Out" and "Knotty Girl."  Our favorite was "Assisted Living."
For Paradise Point and Mission Bay information, go to:
Harbor Yacht Club has a sliding scale of rental prices, depending on the size of your boat.  You get a break if you're a member:
Paradise Point offers lovely accommodations in Balinese
style bungalows, with pretty Mission Bay views.

COMING UP: More on Mission Bay's delights, and fun accommodations at Paradise Point, with its Balinese inspired bungalows overlooking the water. Plus a look at the lure of gambling and why this reporter loves it so! Then we look at summer in Montana and a very special music festival, downtown Los Angeles and its famous theaters and performing arts halls. Remember to explore, learn and live. Each Wednesday and Saturday, check out

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

San Diego's musical treats include jazz, klezmer, classics in vivid venues


You  have to love a city that in a few week's time offers vocal jazz with Manhattan Transfer in the historic Balboa Theatre and classics played with vintage instruments by Bach Collegium in the
The art deco charms of the 1924 Balboa Theater are thanks to careful restoration.
It is the grand dame of downtown, adjacent to Horton Plaza and the Lyceum.
imposing venue of Balboa Park's History Center. Add a world-class Puerto Rican brother-sister chamber concert and klezmer tunes with knishes, both at the Lyceum Theatre downtown in colorful Horton Plaza.
The always inventive San Diego Repertory Theatre is hosting the 20th annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival. We were part of a rousing opening night Tuesday, for Guillermo and Ivonne Figueroa's "standing O" recital.
The talented violinist and pianist kicked off the festival's lively slate of performances with Fritz Kreisler, Felix Mendelssohn and photos of their extraordinary musical family in the intimate Lyceum space. The fest continues in San Diego and other at North County venues with more spellbinding music, theater and plenty of Jewish soul. Kudos to curator, organizer and director Todd Salovey, associate
artistic director of the Rep, for tackling daunting booking and scheduling challenges.
On tap are free events and reasonably priced concerts and
  San Diego Repertory Theatre makes its home in the Lyceum.
performances. The fest runs through June 18
Other intriguing highlights are “Chagall,” a new theatrical musical with dance presented by John Malashock and Yale Strom; Soulfarm, a Mediterranean flavored band from Israel, featuring Grammy-winner C. Lanzbom; and the popular Klezmer Summit featuring "Jews in Jazz" with ensemble Hot Pstromi and the remarkable talents of lively 94-year old cellist Fred Katz. The Summit is June 3, complete with complimentary kosher knishes sponsored by Schmoozers.  We've booked that and "Steal Heaven," the story of controversial activist Abbie Hoffman. He's still raising Cain, raising the Pentagon and raising the next generation of social game-changers. San Diego Rep's artist-in-residence Herbert Siguenza depicts Hoffman nestled in a Jewish home for the aged, plotting the course of America's future.
The  lively Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Festival
offers reasons to visit the Lyceum Theatre and Horton Plaza. 
The one-night performance takes place in the Lyceum Space on Thursday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. An excuse to revisit the charms of Horton Plaza.
Looking for something in Oceanside --  an impromptu event tonight? One of the festival’s most popular musicians returns with a joyful selection of Jewish and Klezmer classics. Alexander Gourevitch was born in the Soviet Union and trained as a classical clarinetist.  He is a principle musician with Tijuana’s Orquesta de Baja and plays klezmer to express his Jewish soul. Gourevitch will be joined by his band Freilachs, featuring  Ara Ghukasyan, violin, Oxana Bulgakova, piano, and Carlos Maria, percussion. The concert is tonight (Wednesday, May 22) at 7:30 p.m. at the Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way, Oceanside, Calif. Tickets are $5. Call (760) 435-3720.
Check out the rest of the festival's impressive list of performers and venues, survey the complete line-up of stellar events and book tickcts at or call (619) 544-1000.
*  *  *
Variety. Quality. Venues. San Diego is southern California's city with musical soul and a remarkable performing arts docket.  San Diego Opera produced "Aida" last month, we've heard classical music,
Manhattan Transfer still has it! Smooth harmonies, delightful jazz
arrangements and a brilliant accompanist. Tim Hauser, right,
is the only original member and makes his home in San Diego.
jazz and Broadway tunes within the month.  We just booked a tango show for next week.
That range is typical of the lively musical arts scene here.
We were thrilled to obtain last-minute tickets to Manhattan Transfer, favorites or ours since the early 1970s.
This enduring quartet, with a stellar pianist, includes Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel and Tim Hauser, who makes his home in the San Diego area.
"I'm delighted to be playing here," he said, "because tonight I don't have to sleep in a hotel."
We had delightful seats in first-row balcony of the beautiful Balboa Theatre downtown.
A perfect setting with its glorious art deco arches and brocade wall paper and hints of velvet, for our trip down memory lane.
The quartet delivered all its hits, changing coats, adding hats and costume props from a wardrobe on 
stage. Fun stuff! "Boy From New York City" and "Chanson d'Amour" showed off two very different
The Balboa Theatre is the cornerstone of Horton Plaza.
styles -- be-bop and romantic ballad -- no problem. The quartet does it all.  "Java Jive" and "Operator" were precisely but swingingly sung, in the smooth, close harmonies which identify the group.
 There have been two major manifestations of Manhattan Transfer; Hauser is the only person to be part of both. They take their name from the 1925 novel, "Manhattan Transfer," by John Dos Passos, and pays tribute to the quartet's New York ties. Their much honored pianist and arranger Yaron Gershovsky is a hugely important component.  His talent in many ways make him the star of the show.
And the venues in San Diego play more than supporting parts.  Balboa Theater is 1924 gem, surviving decay and neglect and a 20-year closure to return in 2008 with a $26 million restoration. On the Balboa's docket are the Canadian Tenors May 31 and Mainly
Yaron Gershovsky's genius as
pianist-arranger makes him
an integral part of the show,
here in the Balboa Theatre.
Mozart Festival June 13. Check out the summer schedule at or call 619 570-1100.
*  *  *

COMING UP: We take to the ocean -- beyond the two bays --  in a 27-foot sloop,sailing out of Harbor Yacht Club. Then we're off to Las Vegas, answering the call of gambling with all its glory. Remember to  explore, learn and live.
posts each Wednesday and Saturday. Tell like minded people and join the fun.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A four-hour sail on San Diego's Californian recalls sailing's glory days


Sailing on the Californian is as close as I'll get to "going down to the sea in ships."
Fortunately, we went "down" in the best sense of the word:  out into the Pacific Ocean and safely back.
For this sailor -- with hundreds of hours on small sailing vessels and nearly 100 large-ship cruises -- the pride of San Diego's Maritime Museum feels like the real sailing deal.
Getting the sails ready then putting them back after
the sail is not for cowards or those afraid of heights!
This beautiful 145-foot long vessel is the state's official tall ship and she was the jewel in our crown of a glittery day of touring the Maritime Museum.  The 1984 ship is built in the style of the famous cutters which patrolled California's coast during the 1849 era gold rush. My sailor beau, child of the sea since birth, encouraged the Californian's adventure sail, a four-hour journey aboard the ship he's admired since it was built. I'd not expected to be so thoroughly entertained, but the location is a lure I couldn't resist.  Moored along the waterfront on the Embarcadero, it is one of the delights of the venue. The museum  sports more than a dozen boats and ships, a nicely researched and well curated array of nautical paraphernalia in a traditional indoor museum, and plenty of action outdoors as "pirates" stroll and repairmen do their endless work.
 Cookie found the submarine
Among the treats and surprises:  a vintage upright piano, lovingly cared for and donated by a local family who documented its seafaring background aboard a ferry.
We enjoyed a chocolate festival aboard the gorgeous ferryboat Berkeley, toured the Dolphin submarine (interesting for its design but too claustrophobic for this reporter), watched repairmen working on the tall ship Star of India, and the HMS Surprise, which has starred in several films, including "Pirates of the Caribbean."
A motley but enthusiastic group of us -- writers, teachers, builders, students and seafaring tourists -- spent a couple hours at the other ships of the museum before boarding the one that actually took us out on the water.Then it was onto the Californian and out into the bay to help hoist the sails and sail the ocean blue.  Despite a bit of rain and the wind -- sailors love wind -- the sun shone enough to take the chill off the day, and the mostly volunteer crew did yeoman's job of entertaining us with trivia about sailor's food, gear, health and hygiene, the workings and responsibilities on ship.
Of the ship's six massive sails (more than 7,000 square feet of canvas!), the unusual square sail was  Keller's favorite.  The launching, sailing and retrieving it -- watching all the work that goes into it -- thrilled him.  It took a half-dozen people to get her going -- two climbed up the rope ladder to the yard arm to undo her sheets.  And after our journey was over,

 The ship's cannons were blasted to welcome us back to shore! Nothing is boring aboard the Californian.

four limber crew climbed up and helped tie her back. Not for sissies or victims of vertigo!  Adjusting her sails along the route took many people on both sides of the ship.  Sailing, and doing it right, is a labor intensive process. And safety is a concern, so our captain reminded us of where to stand and sit, lest we feel the wrath of the proverbial "boom." No injuries, no accidents, terrific fresh air!
Keller was delighted to help keep the Californian
sailing, since he has sailed for all his life and loves it!
Most of the passengers were enthusiastic about helping, under the watchful eye of adept volunteers.  And when we returned to the harbor, we had the excitement of hearing and watching two of our cannons salute the shore and congratulate us on our safe return. The sound will shiver your timbers!
The Californian, as a "newer, old style ship,"  is 140 tons, created in the style of her ancestors.  But whether actually vintage or not, the maintenance of the museum's vessels and keeping them all in good repair is a challenge akin to the endless painting of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  The work is never done.  Moisture, salt, attrition and wear and tear create dust, rust and decay so the wood and metal are constantly being polished, scraped, shored up.
One of the mates, Katharine, describes shipboard
life as it might have been a couple centuries ago.
  The Californian is available for charters and school sails.  She even goes to the Channel Islands, including Catalina Islan for a kayaking adventure. Others of the ships are able to be rented for special events.  The Berkeley, Star of India, Surprise and Californian all are available at various rates.
The museum is sponsoring Pirate Days this weekend, two days of kid-friendly, fun filled events this Saturday and Sunday on San Diego Bay.  On tap are carnival games, re-enactors, giveaways and prizes, scavenger hunts and pirates of course. Ahoy, maties. Enjoy. And remember to explore, learn and live!
More at or call 619 234-9153.

COMING WEDNESDAY: San Diego is gearing up for a fabulous festival -- its 20th -- of Jewish history and culture, with plays, art, food and music centered around the Lyceum Theater! And the swinging Manhattan
Transfer is still going strong, recording an album a year for 40 years, and delighting our audience at a recent Balboa Theatre performance, part of their current tour. What keeps this tightly knit quartet running and going strong?  A fabulous pianist is part of the answer. The group's enormous talent shines through, as individual singers and ensemble participants.
publishes Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ahoy, chocolate lovers: tasty treats aboard the Berkeley in San Diego harbor

Chocolate coated waffles caught Cookie's eye resulting
in a tasty purchase from Belgium Gourmet ( 

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too!
High on the list of my partner's favorite things are chocolate and sailing.
To partake of both in the same day makes him one happy fella.
Throw in a pirate or two, to add drama to the mix.
So sailing on the Maritime Museum's historic Californian tall ship, munching chocolate confections under piratical gazes simply thrilled him.
A pirate and another onlooker listen
attentively to the history of chocolate
delivered by American Heritage.
San Diego's Maritime Museum recently hosted the city's second annual Chocolate Festival.  We gilded the lily by booking passage on the schooner Californian, combining the sweet pleasures of sailing with the taste treats of chocolate.
We began our day at the Maritime Museum (more about that next Saturday), exploring a submarine, surveying a series of America's Cup boats, admiring the beautiful Star of India ship and a nicely preserved 1914 pilot boat, not showing its near century of service.
Then we boarded the steam ferry Berkeley, and began our chocolate tour on her well polished second floor.
Thanks to an engaging tutorial and exhibit presented by American Heritage, we enjoyed a crash course on chocolate.
Did you know?
* That chocolate has been enjoyed since at least 1100 BC. We had no idea.
* That the Mesoamerican people including the Aztecs made chocolate beverages known as "xocolātl" which means "bitter water"? (The chocolate we know today is sweet. But in its pure
 American Heritage, of the famous Mars Bars, took festival goers
through the creation of hot chocolate, from the pods to the popular beverage.
form, the seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste. They are fermented and roasted to develop the flavor we might recognize.)
* That the making of chocolate is extremely labor intensive? After fermentation, the beans are dried, then cleaned, and then roasted, and the shell is finally removed to produce cacao nibs.
* The nibs are painstakingly ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in its roughest but still bitter form.
* This cocoa mass usually is liquefied then molded.
 So the treat we eat begins as cocoa beans within the cacao pod, making a long and elaborate journey to the candy store.
The American Heritage people, a division of Mars of the famous candy empire and popular candy, walked us through the stations of chocolate, from the pod -- resembling a squash -- to a sample of hot chocolate.
The hip-looking Secret Cookie Service delivers gourmet varieties of chocolate treats. (
Among the offerings at the seaside chocolate fest on the Berkeley, were wedding cakes, truffles, Belgium chocolate covered waffles, mousse, sauces and compotes, chocolate covered seeds and nuts and delectable toffees, candies and cookies.
One of the most fun booths was manned by The Secret Cookie Service.  Two young men, dressed like FBI agents,  complete with skinny neckties, sun glasses and "Blues Brothers" hats, offered freshly baked gourmet chocolate cookies. Their enterprise delivers their cookies in the wee hours of the morning, throughout the city.
Chocolate pizza might be gilding the lily! A festival booth offered samples.
And there were other imaginative booths, including one featuring chocolate pizza. Interesting to think of chocolate as a main course because for most of its life on earth, chocolate has not been sweet.  The Europeans were the first to add sugar, syrup and refined milk making chocolate a dessert or treat.
Earlier people used it as a kind of coffee, brewing it bracingly for its tartness and enjoying the flavor and kick f the unadulterated bean.
 The Mesoamericans enjoyed the beverage and used it as an ingredient in foods, presumably in ways that it is still served today, mixed with shredded meats or beans as a main-course flavoring. Chocolate played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the deities and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies.
All of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a "tribute".
Watching the labor intensive making of chocolate gives
 one appreciation for the creation of the treat.

It is true that dogs and cats should not eat chocolate.  That's because of the presence of the alkaloid theobomine.
Cocoa solids also contain caffeine, explaining its early popularity as a morning beverage and its continuing use as an eye-opener .
Finally, good news for the calorie conscious.  It's okay to have a few bites of chocolate because it has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure!
But don't feed it to your pets.

Saturday's post will
shiver your timbers!
COMING SATURDAY: A step back in time to the days of a 19th Century ship.  The Californian sets sail and we're aboard to help hoist the sails. Remember to explore, learn and live.
Upcoming posts feature a trip down memory lane with the Manhattan Transfer, and the pleasures of Montana in the early summer. We'll also advise on taking eye-catching  photos and the camera to take them with.

Sign up to receive e-mail updates! We post our adventures each Wednesday and Saturday at

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day remembrance: Complex relationships treasured for their gifts

 Bruce Keller and his mother, Jean Keller, board a harbor cruise
at Oceanside, where Jean taught Keller to paint as a lad.

It's always a bit melancholy in our home on the second Sunday in May.
Both Keller and I are orphans now.  We remember lavish brunches, parties, cruises, corsages and other merriment when we think of our mums.  We had similar celebrations, albeit thousands of miles and several states apart.  Both of us fussed over our mothers.  
Our two mums never met, but if they had, we think they'd have been friends.
Keller's mother, Jean, was a talented watercolor painter with a snappy sense of dress and style. She painted into her 90s and loved colorful scarves. She always had a bouquet in the home.
The writer, Christene, with her mother,
Ellen Cosgriffe, during a Thanksgiving
 celebration in Davis, Calif.
My mum, Ellen, was a gifted musician and singer who owned a steamer trunk of beautiful shoes and loved hats. My mother was drum major in college and played violin in the university orchestra. She and I played piano duets even on her last trip to my Beartooth Mountains Montana place. She, too, loved posies.

Keller's mother pursued a promising art career at University of Minnesota, and left in her senior year to be an artist in Hollywood.  She told her family she was going on spring break, but returned from southern California only on holidays. She gave Keller his sense of adventure.

My mother had wanderlust, too, planning trips to Europe and touring Montana and Wyoming as a high schooler, playing dances with the Nystul Family Orchestra in World War II days. Her $5 fee per gig fed her shoe fund. She planned our family's ambitious six-week trip to New York and New England in 1964, complete with 19 pieces of baggage and trains, boats, cars and planes, Broadway plays, Yankee games, Monticello, Plymouth and the World's Fair.

Both mums were funny women. Quick with one-liners. When I met Jean near the end of her life, she was in an assisted living complex.  As we were helping her out the door for a harbor brunch cruise, she told me, "You're not the first woman he's brought to see  me.  But you're definitely the most interesting." A few months later, when Alzheimer's altered her memory, she was looking through vintage albums with Keller and came across a photo of Keller's dad Bill. "That's your father," Jean offered. "He was a handsome man, but I don't believe we ever met!"
Baby Cookie and her parents.
My mother liked to say that her mother wasn't a big fan of sex.  "Close your eyes and think of something pleasant," mum quoted gran. "But she must have had sex twice," mum demurred, "or you wouldn't have a mother or your Uncle Bob."

My mum taught me the actor's good luck line:  "break a leg." Keller's mother taught him "forgive and forget" and "don't go backwards." Both liked dancing and gardening.  Both were inventive cooks, who didn't need the luxury of a recipe.  Memories of Jean's lemon pie make Keller misty-eyed. Or picking bags of pomegranates with her, steadying the ladder as she reached for the fruit. My mother's specialty was Sunday brunch for each birthday, with a buffet of pineapple, ham, biscuits and Hawaiian punch.

Both loved us dearly. So their legacy lingers as we remember what they taught us this weekend.  
Baby Keller and his mum and dad.
My mother taught me to tap dance and play piano.  We practiced comedy routines in the bathroom and she helped me draft my first essay, "How to Eat a Daisy," which I delivered in the best deadpan I could muster to the delight of my fifth-grade class.  When I bowed to accept the applause, I experienced a Julia Child-like sense of breathless elation. Thanks, mum. Her high school principal told me that she became valedictorian "by her astounding brain power.  It wasn't by studying or going to school because she missed class half the time and still aced every test." Mum would rather play piano, write poetry, sketch or listen to Bizet.

Keller's mother pulled him from school for day trips to the sea in Oceanside near their family home.  That's where she loved to paint and she set an easel for little Keller, teaching him colors and shapes, and an abiding wonder at nature.  He swam in the ocean, brought her shells, shared her picnic and learned from Jean the painterly sense that marks his fine photography.  It is evident in his beautiful photos, always framed with his sharp eye. And he knows every seashell, sea plant and amphibian. Thanks to Jean for fanning those fires.

  Ellen enjoys a cuddle with Nora,
just out of a bath.
The relationship with one's mother is one of life's most complex.  Everything wasn't always roses in our family. Nor for Keller and his parents. Like many households of the 1950s, both of ours  experienced alcohol abuse. Both my parents struggled with alcohol and daddy was not always faithful, leading to divorce when I was 17. (Both were, happily for all, clean and sober for many decades.)   But as a child, little Cookie became her mother's  "little helper." I was 10 when the wheels came off the van, and the next years were tough for the family. Thank heavens for having gran next door.  Looking back, I figure that all the turmoil short-changed my childhood.  But it also made me strong and generous of heart, empathetic to others, capable and self-assured. Mum, brilliant mum, emerged from her darkness, returned to college, finished a couple degrees, learned Spanish, forged a career in counseling and became my pal. Remarkably, she and my father remained lifelong friends and mum became my father's caretaker when he contracted Alzheimer's -- even though they had been long been divorced.
Keller's parents, Bill and Jean,
on an outing in the post-war 1940s.
After daddy's death, mum often visited my country place in the Beartooths of Montana, and we spent long weekends at High Chaparral listening to Broadway musicals, talking about family, watching birds, reading, fixing lovely meals (no recipes!) doting on the Yorkies.  I regret that Keller and mum never met -- she died the year we started dating.
An only child, Keller dearly desired a baby brother or sister.  When he asked his parents if he could please have a sibbling, he was around age 10, my critical time, too. He was told "no way, it's not going to happen." Keller's parents had begun to argue -- his dad, too, had an alcohol problem.  So Keller left home between high school and college, removing himself from the conflict.  When he journeyed to the Middle East to work on the Red Sea for several years, he pursued his travel and aquatic interests. When he returned to finish college, he reconnected with his parents and after his father passed away, he became his mother's treasured friend and visited her weekly in Oceanside. On Sunday drives, they drove to the harbor of
Cookie and Jean board a harbor cruise at Oceanside,
with Keller's son, Branden, and his girlfriend Karie.
Keller's youth, where Jean taught him to paint and explore the shore. He misses those Sunday drives, their day trips to the harbor they both loved, their suppers in the fish place or her favorite Chinese restaurant. At the harbor, Keller would bring pictures she'd painted 50 years earlier, and those evoked memories and stories.

Memory is what keeps our loved ones alive. Love is the link between life and death.
So here's to our mothers. Their mothers (that's another story!). Your mother. Mothers  everywhere. If you've lost touch, it's not too late to rekindle the friendship. If you're an orphan like we are, honor the good things your mother did for you. If you're lucky enough to still have your mother, do something fun for her.  I am thankful to have traveled to Europe several times with mum, seeing the world she introduced me to with the wonders of theater, restaurants and museums. I'll treasure to my own urn the knowledge that mum had a happy marriage -- for a while -- that she and daddy loved one another then came full circle late in life.  Keller believes his parents had good years, turmoil then stabilization. They were married nearly 50 years.
Cookie's parents, Ellen and Richard, had many happy times.
I think of our mothers' love of travel, passed on to us me. I see my mum smiling in the entrance of the Paris Opera House, climbing the steps to the Louvre, sailing under London Bridge. Sitting to the captain's left on a world cruise!  Keller's full circle with his mother was completed on the same beach where she taught him to paint. Lucky, lucky, us.
I picture our two spirited mums sitting around a coffee table or in a bird-bedecked garden, gossiping about books or politics, planning a cruise together, singing '40s tunes, or hitting the casino for a little blackjack.  Maybe they'd take in a Broadway play.  Break a leg!
COMING WEDNESDAY: San Diego hosts its second chocolate fest on the harbor in the Berkeley ferry.  We learn about the delectable concoction and its history, sample a few chocolate treats and prepare to sail on the historic Californian -- complete with cannon boom!, and remember to explore, learn and live.
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Playing tourist in San Francisco means leaving a little heart there

 Cookie and Nora sit by Tony Bennett's vibrant heart
which is on display in San Francisco's Union Square.
The famed jazz singer is also an accomplished painter,
best known vocally for his tribute to San Francisco.



IF YOU'RE strolling downtown San Francisco, you can't miss Union Square, that unique, bustling center of the city.
Tourists relax and listen to the buskers. In our several-day visit, we enjoyed a student choral group from Oregon, a local bagpiper, a jazz guitarist, an aging but capable operatic soprano, and a young flutist playing Mozart.
Pretty eateries and bistros welcome tourists and native sons to enjoy a snack or beverage in the spring sun, to read a good book, or just meditate and savor.
Well behaved dogs are welcome and Nick and Nora relished the attention they received from passers-by.
FRAMING the historic square are four artful hearts beckoning visitors to come in, relax, enjoy, leave a bit of their own hearts. That's easy!
The hearts are installed as tribute to San Francisco's magical effect on folks. They permanently surround the square, each heart artfully rendered by a well established artist.
This dapper elder enjoys his book in Union Square
complete with gloves and hat.
One of the heart creators is singer and accomplished painter Tony Bennett.  The delight of discovering Bennett's very own painted heart was the first of many surprises on our return trip to a favorite place.
Bennett left his art heart on the Northwest corner of Union Square. The famed crooner, also a noted painter, crafted the vibrant red heart to symbolize his love of the town that helped cement his fame and icon status. Bennett's piece features the Golden Gate Bridge and hills of Marin County, symbolizing his abiding affection for the city which inspired his most famous song: "I Left my Heart in San Francisco.''
BENNETT'S heart art is one of San Francisco's many attractions in this beloved and beautiful town, one of America's great cities. San Francisco embodies the elements of a great city: food, fun, history, ethnic mix, landscape, architecture, global connection, performing arts and, the shining star, the sea!
Among the myriad other surprises and delights sampled on a recent trip:
The Hornblower dinner cruise offers a relaxing diversion and gorgeous sights.
*A Hornblower cruise on the waters of the city by the bay. Hornblower has never failed us in cruises in San Diego, New York City, Long Beach and Old Sacramento.  The leisurely three-hour dinner cruise was a romantic celebration for us, since Keller lived in San Francisco for two years and I've spent dozens of weekends there through the years. We hit all the high spots as the sun set -- views of both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate, the city's remarkable skyline and dance music by a delightful duo who played everything from swing to jazz and Latin. The food, particularly the scallop appetizer, was quality and we enjoyed the strolls on deck during the leisurely sight-see.
San Francisco is one of the world'great "foodie" towns.
*Delightful meals in the ethnic medley that composes San Francisco's food-loving character.  Among new discoveries is Colibri, a Mexican and Latin bistro, which we discovered on a quiet Monday night, looking for something near our base, the Diva Hotel. It's right  next door on 438 Geary, and the tasty churros and delightful house margarita will make it a regular stop-off for us. We happened upon this sophisticated eatery by chance on Monday, when fabulous live Latin music caught our ear. You can take out, too. www.colibrimexicanbistro. We also sipped a half-dozen cups of perfect cappuccino in San Francisco, where the drink is an art form.
*We loved climbing up a "hidden stairway" to the top of the hill on which Coit Tower sits. Thanks to
 If you've never hiked up the hill to Coit Tower, give it a try!
a thoughtful trolley driver, who gave us instructions, we strolled from the ferry building and found a little sign, then continued up more than a mile past peoples' back yards and through thickets of trees. Wow. Gorgeous view when we finally made it. Then we continued on our journey, determined to walk "home" to the Diva.
*Our four-day gambol took us from downtown and the Diva, to the lovely Grace Cathedral, to Fisherman's Wharf for fish and chips, to Ghiradelli Square for chocolate, through the bustling Financial District, to Union Street for shopping and dining, to the Palace of Fine Arts and Alamo Square. We walked, took the bus, a couple taxis and the cable cars. We love the clang of the car bells -- rides are $6.50 now. Although we were tired one afternoon, we  took
Coffee is an art form in San Francisco.
 a walk through Chinatown for green tea, herbs and vitamins.  On our last day, it was back to the ferry building and port, the hike to Coit Tower, a stop at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins and Nob Hill, and back to the Diva (thankfully downhill the last few blocks.) We even hit AT&T Park, home of the famous Giants!
*We played tourist one afternoon on Big Bus Tours, choosing it from the competition because it is dog friendly.  This was another pleasant surprise.  With Nick and Nora in tow, we took the top deck on the "just like London" double-decker buses, traversed the town from the Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf to Symphony Hall and the Opera House and nearby Fulton Street, past the government buildings to the "painted lady"
Colorful homes of San Francisco attract attention from the bus!
Victorians, through the Haight and Ashbury area with the nightclubs that featured young Jimmy Hendricks and Janis Joplin, through Golden Gate Park and past the lovely Japanese Tea Gardens and DeYoung Museum, and on out across the Golden Gate Bridge to savor its vistas.  Crossing Golden Gate in the wind of the double decker was a breezy trip! Our guide, Morgan, and driver, Joann, were knowledgeable, amiable and accommodating.  Morgan knows and loves San Francisco and his commentary brimmed with anecdotes and recommendations.  Both were apologetic when our bus broke down four stops from the end of the circle and they promised another tour if we returned!   www.opentopsightseeingsf
A happy Keller bids farewell to San Francisco by the Bay Bridge.
*Our home away from home, though, was Hotel Diva, with nearby Union Square our daily foray. We strolled to and through the square every day of our four-day downtown visit, admiring the art hearts and the many people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and ages, all enjoying the beauty and spirit of this magnificent, friendly city.

OUR CONTEST continues: win an autographed, first edition poetry book by Bruce Kemp Meyers if your suggestion for a travel topic is chosen. And look for a column featuring trips on taking travel photos. 
Sign up to receive postings for and make your suggestion. We post Wednesdays and Saturday.  This weekend's column is our ode to our two mums, Ellen Cosgriffe and Jean Keller, and a salute to Mother's Day. Remember to explore, learn and live!