Saturday, June 29, 2013

Legally licensed at last in California, name change and all


Travails and triumph at California's DMV;
Driver gives thanks for the U.S. system,
despite lines, crowds, waits and red tape


California freeways are not for the timid or shy.  But for the most part, we transit them safely and without incident.
Who knew that one must take the drive test when one wants a California driver's license?
And that one's complete name (i.e. birth certificate, passport) must match the is not merely the matter of "a Cookie by any other name"!  After nearly five years of driving California freeways, and living months at a time in San Diego, I wanted my California license. And I wanted one, uniform name!
"Oh, joy!" One of the applicants for license renewal
has his paperwork completed as he enters the DMV.
MY SAGA BEGAN a month ago when, thinking I'd simply take the vision test, provide my passport and old Arizona driver's license, I waltzed in to DMV and was greeted by a pleasant middle-aged woman with a lyrical Russian accent.
I said, in my halting Russian, "zdravstvuj" -- hello. She lit up and launched into a long Russian sentence, something to do with the weather and long lines.  I admitted to knowing only about 100 words of her lovely  native tongue, but that broke the ice. She clasped my hand and gave me a tiny piece of paper with a four-digit code.  In about 45 minutes or an hour, I'd be called to a window. Watch the video screens for my number to come up.  When the letter and three numbers were called, I'd be summoned to one of two dozen windows at the San Diego Department of Motor Vehicles.
And I'd find what awaited me.
AS MY NEW Russian friend had warned, there was a long line. Elderly, partly deaf people hollering (why do some hearing-impaired people scream?)  Teens on their cell phones.  A middle-aged couple arguing about who owed whom money on the mortgage. Another lady talking to a car repair shop, telling them they did a rotten job on her Corvette and added insult ti injury by misspelling her name on the bill.
A few puzzled looking, nicely dressed people were waiting patiently with me to be called forth. They would have been more comfortable on a country club patio sipping Perrier and G&Ts.
A busy Cairo street last autumn makes American drivers thankful.
Keller and the Yorkies were waiting outside in the car -- we had only one vehicle that day, speaking of car repairs -- so I alerted them of the delay and returned to watch for my number. I thought of crazy-drivers Cairo, and the traffic in Egypt, happy I wouldn't be driving there any time soon.
I had a notebook and some bills to pay. The signs warned against snacking or drinking on the premises.   There weren't enough chairs for the crowd, which stretched out the door into the lazy summer afternoon.
A pleasant man of Chinese descent called me to window 22. I took the vision test -- both eyes passed -- then he peered long and hard at my
The DMV is about to open, an early morning three weeks ago. By afternoon
lines would be snaking between the traffic cones.
documents: Arizona driver's license, issued to Christene Cosgriffe Meyers, good for another few months, Social Security number, birth certificate, credit card statements.  Fingers flying on his computer, he could find no match at SS for me.  "Your name does not verify.  Your date of birth is valid," he reported.
AHA, I THOUGHT. That's because I'm actually and officially Ellen, but have never used the name given me by my poetic mother, also Ellen.  I've been Chrissy and Chris, Christene, Cookie and Christena.  Some of my official documents are issued to  Ellen, my actual birth name. Mum thought "Ellen Christene" flowed more musically than Christene Ellen.  "But we knew no one would ever call you Ellen," she said blithely one time I asked. "There were already several Ellens in the family."
Said my new Chinese friend, "In the eyes of Social Security, you don't exist. You must go see them."
Many ways and modes to drive -- whether in New York's Central Park,
or on a street in New Orleans, southern Spain or Rome. Here, by

the Colosseum, a driver checks his e-mail during a lull. 
He returned my passport (Ellen Christene etc.) and my Arizona driver's license (Christene Cosgriffe etc.), as well as other documents including my birth certificate, which even includes "Cookie" with my maiden name, of course. A Baptist editor had changed my byline in 1969, so I had a married handle for decades.
"YOU NEED TO have a few less names," joked my DMV helper.  "One would be best. Simplify. You have too many handles."
We both laughed.  Mine was a hollow ha-ha-ha.
"Take this appointment slip and come back after you sort out the name," said. "I've given you a couple days."
The whole point of obtaining a California driver's license was to add the "Ellen" which would then match my travel documents.  Since Sept. 11, I've used Ellen on all my international air and cruise tickets, to correspond with my passport. TSA insists on the match and so do the cruise lines.  I wanted to stop lugging my passport around for eomestic flights.
Cairo drivers come in all vehicles, including horses and donkeys.
Leaving San Diego DMV for my work ahead,  I thought how orderly our system is. Imagine how one would sort this all out in the Middle East?  In Cairo, Arab friends told us, if a donkey cart and auto collide, whoever can leave does so.  The other guy simply abandons his car or cart. No police. No forms. No insurance and no repair. We may have lines, but we have laws and order, mostly obeyed.
It took me most of the rest of that last week in California before my Montana summer, to get the name sorted out. I sat in line at Social Security, again taking a number and waiting to be called.  I ordered a new card. SS added Ellen.  Now my name would "verify" at DMV, so I returned there, having gotten myself "Ellen-ized."
I MADE A  few more calls to credit cards and airlines I'd missed with the "Ellenization" and am now -- mostly Ellen Christene on my docs. If I've forgotten something, I'll find out.
Cookie emerges from a week of lines, forms, phone calls and
a driver test, and is now an official California driver.
And, oh, yes, expecting to have only my photo taken and be out the door at DMV, I learned I had to take the written test. I'd not done this since I got my first license 45-plus years ago. I took the test with Grandpa Gus in 1965 because he had accidentally let his expire. We both passed then went to the A&W for hamburgers and root beer floats.  I drove his old green Plymouth. Fun memory.
I must admit -- full disclosure -- that I missed two of the 40 questions.  One asked where one should not park (I couldn't decide: I wouldn't park on white diagonal lines, within 20 feet of a railroad, or in a bicycle lane, so I marked all three options. Diagonal lines was the answer the DMV wanted.)  I can't remember the other one I missed, but the questions were clumsily composed and confusing. Maybe in my next life, I'll author  driver's license tests and make them easier to understand.
My little DMV/SS week had bright spots.  Besides the FAXes, driving time, search for documents, lines and hanging out with the masses, I heard a delightful melange of Russian, Arabic, Italian,
"Driving" near the pyramids of Giza doesn't necessarily mean "car."
Mandarin, Thai, Korean, Cantonese, Vietnamese and many other languages. The driver's tests study manuals were printed in a dozen languages, which I perused  during my waits.
THIS WAS NOT a "straight A" day for me, and I would have gotten a spanking for bringing a less than perfect grade school test home to daddy, but, hey, I'm a legal California driver. I have beautiful freeways and mostly polite fellow drivers. We have cars, not donkeys and camels. We have policemen!
As I departed DMV, I waved and smiled a  "do svidania" to my pleasant Russian friend. She clapped her hands as I showed my interim driver license!
California, here she comes: the freeway to Los Angeles.
"Nice photo," said my partner, the other day on the phone. I'd asked him to open it and check it out, before bringing it to me soon in Montana. "Nice photo?" I barked. "It's horrible. Line 'em up, white background, head on. Ugh." I'm looking at the proof now. An extra chin and what the hell happened to my neck?
But I'm Ellen Christene Cosgriffe Meyers in the state of California, rotten photo or not.
Keller must be in love.

COMING UP:  We're horsing around for the Fourth of July, with beautiful photos and a special tribute to this noble beast: next Wednesday.  Then flower power, gliders, the excitement in Brazil and much more. Remember to explore, learn and live and check out our blogs every Wednesday and Saturday at:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Birds bridge miles, bring separated partners close

The bird is the word

A noisy jay -- Mexican jay we think, but possibly scrub jay,
is an acrobatic, enthusiastic regular at the San Diego feeder.
 Both homes -- Montana and California -- host
the faithful hummingbird in several varieties.

Star-crossed lovers remain connected through feathered friends miles apart


He regretted that he was not a bird, and could not be in two places at once.
--Sir Boyle Roche, 1743-1807

 Finches frequent feeders in Montana as well as, here, San Diego!
WHEN WE'RE apart for a few weeks during the summer, my partner Bruce Keller and I use birds as a conduit. They help keep us connected across the Rockies, from the mountains and prairies "to the oceans white with foam."
He near the sea in San Diego and I in the rural northern Rockies compare notes on birdies.
Sometimes, they're the same birds, which seems a miracle to us both. Do I mean the literal "same" birds?  Well, no, of course not, but taking into fantasy, I might say, "I sent you a red male finch to say hello."
And he might report he's sending a  yacking jay or a nimble nuthatch to visit me.
SO WHAT if it is not the same bird visiting me one day and Keller the next.  It is reassuring that we both see the same bounty of beautiful birds in our two bird-welcoming digs.
This downy woodpecker likes the telephone poles at High Chaparral.
This one spends part of each afternoon pecking away in Montana.
Our separate but equal feeders (easily a dozen or more) adorn a small town home patio in La Jolla and a 14-acre spread in the mountains of Stillwater County, Montana.
THE SAN DIEGO feeders hang on wrought iron fencing, in the middle of the city overlooking a pretty park at the patio's edge. The Beartooth feeders balance from fence posts and aspen trees, Scotch pines and chokecherries. They're "home on the range" feeders, while the San Diego ones are for city slicker birdies.
 The little red house finches frequent feeders in both Montana and California.
So do the little gold finches, several blue birds and jays, orioles and a host of sparrows.
 Goldfinches are often seen by Keller and Cookie
in both their native states, this one in California.
SO WE LET the birdies connect us and they provide constant joy and entertainment whether we're in the same zip code or hundreds of miles apart.
He calls me in Montana to see which feeders get which seeds.  "Put a couple cups of thistle in the tube.  Put the sunflower seeds in another one.  Put the mixed seed in the glass and nail up an occasional orange or apple to attract the birds that like fruit. Beware, though, to keep the area clean. the juice will attract ants."
THROUGH THE CENTURIES, poets have rhapsodized about birds -- perhaps as many lines as have been penned about the wonders of sun, stars and moon.
From the Bible to Milton and Tennyson and Emily Dickinson, the bird is the word.
"....And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird," Ecclesiastes.
Christina Rossetti likened her heart to "a singing bird, whose nest is in a watered shoot" because she knew her love was coming visiting.
Shakespeare's Juliet awakens with her Romeo "and yet no further than a wanton's bird/who lets it hop a little from her hand." This makes Romeo wish he were her bird, frolicking in his young lover's warm hand. Yet she fears if this were possible, she would harm him -- "kill thee with much cherishing".
The rare sight of a a pair of eagles thrills, in Montana near High Chaparral. 
And so it is with extreme beauty.
It's almost heartbreakingly beautiful. We realize it is impermanent and will not last. We fear something will harm it.
Even as the bird stops -- ever briefly -- at the feeder, we know and appreciate the brevity, such  beauty, as the poet Juvenal said nearly 2,000 years ago:
" rare bird on this earth, like nothing so much as a black swan."
IN MONTANA, the "black swan" would be a pelican.
In our San Diego back yard, the ''black swan" would be a bald eagle. We have yet to spot an eagle there, although we have many majestic, swooping red tail hawks.
Pelicans -- in San Diego, of course. We'd be thrilled
to come upon  them in Montana, though!
I have a proposal to make.
I've never seen a pelican here in the Beartooths.
So Keller, could you kindly send one over -- just for the afternoon?
I promise to return him unharmed. And I'll do my best to manifest an eagle for you and send him to our San Diego back yard by the park.
Perhaps I'll be lucky and produce a pair!
Anything is possible in love and nature.

Blooms in our San Diego
yard attract birds, butterflies.
COMING: Flower power -- from the Rockies to the oceans, a bower of flowers comes your way. Plus European travel tips, gliders, summer theater, travel photo pointers, getting an out-of-state driver's license, sailing San Diego's beautiful bays, and much more.  We'll also share recent photos we took on a trip to Brazil, a hot spot in the news now.
Remember to explore, learn and live!
Check out our Wednesday and Saturday blogs at:                                                  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jazzercise is the ticket to fitness and fun, wherever you land

Cookie joined thousands of other Jazzercise dancers on the USS Midway in San Diego, to fight breast cancer. 


Here's how Jazzercise helped one woman survive widowhood twice -- and more

International fitness program fosters friendships, is good for what ails you 

(This story first appeared in 2013.  It is having a second life thanks to national interest in a Jazzercise star, 96-year old singer Betty Lowe. Cookie's Jazzercise moves around, like she does. The Moose Lodge venue is no more but Cookie is at Jazzercise Carmel Valley and Morena Blvd.)

Judi Sheppard Missett, founder of Jazzercise, was interviewed by Cookie
many years ago for an airline magazine article on fitness. They reconnected
during a Jazzercise fundraiser on the Midway in San Diego in 2016. 
Jazzercise was born in California. This group works out in San Diego.
That's Debbie Walters in the center, one of Cookie's Jazzercise coaches.

GETTING UP, getting active, getting your fanny to exercise.
That's the challenge for millions of us who embrace daily fitness rituals.
Like most good habits, they become a valued part of our routine because they improve our lives.
No, it's not always easy to arise, get dressed, grab a coffee or banana and get your weary self to exercise. But when we do, we're glad we did.
SO IT IS with my almost daily Jazzercise ritual.
When I'm on the west coast, I rarely miss Jazzercise.  The San Diego area -- just south of the birthplace of Jazzercise in Carlsbad -- has several Jazzercise venues. I currently enjoy weekday Jazzercise in  Carmel Valley with Sharon Anthony-Ticho. Saturdays, I'm at the Musicians Union with Rick Nesbitt's group. I've danced with Jazzercise around the globe.
Jazzercise, along with Nick and Nora and a desert garden helped
Cookie recover from the loss of her second husband in Arizona.
Jazzercise is welcoming, fun, reasonably priced and pleasantly addictive. It's also therapeutic. After the deaths of two husbands, Jazzercise helped me rebound. Travel, gardening, music and my Yorkies helped me regain health in the mountains of Montana and the Arizona desert. I'm especially grateful for Phoenix Jazzercise friends and empathic coaches P.K. Callison and Cindy Schulz who shared their studios and fitness tips to help heal body and soul!
THROUGH JAZZERCISE, I've met fellow teachers, artists, musicians, world travelers and writers, gardeners, gourmet cooks and bird watchers. I've found fellow play-and-opera goers, avid walkers and hikers through Jazzercise.
In San Diego, favorite Jazzercise venues are the Moose Hall on Ruffin Road, and the Musicians Union on Morena, near Mission Bay.  I've been following Sharon Ticho's Jazzercise because I like her style, enthusiasm and roster of teachers -- each unique and spirited. I first met Sharon when she subbed for my friend Debbie Walters at a funky Jazzercise venue with  a giant moose head
San Diego Jazzercise instructor Debbie Walters
was honored after class on her May birthday.
overseeing our moves.  The Musicians Union has a beautiful wood floor and is light, airy and near the ocean. Both are fun with excellent coaches and enthusiastic followings. Some devotees, such as Betty Lowe featured here June 19, have been doing Jazzercise for decades.
Jazzercise with a 90-plus jazz singer
I've "jazzed" in New York state during my post-grad studies at Sarah Lawrence College, in Atlanta when visiting my sister Misha, and at many other cities during work and press trips -- San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Portland, Philadelphia and Chicago. I worked out to Jazzercise with my late mother, Ellen, a treasured memory, and with sisters Olivia, Misha and Robbie.
When I'm in Montana, I exercise with a group of a half-dozen friends at the local Fire Hall. We use Jazzercise DVDs I've collected through the years -- one concentrates on abdominals, and there's a fun one on street jazz. Others combine jazzy Latin rhythms with weights and aerobics.  Some of the girls bring other DVDs, ranging from yoga to pilates, so we mix it up with our coach Laurie Beers figuring the venue each day to keep everyone happy.
When Cookie's in Montana, she  and Keller hike to the top of the property
on a series of switchbacks. Here friends and the Yorkies join the couple.
When I'm the only one able or interested, I opt instead to walk briskly to "the top of the prop" -- a switchback trail up the mountain behind my country place here in Montana. Sometimes I drag a couple friends along. And the Yorkies, Nick and Nora. Sometimes I play my saxophone up there, listening to it ricochet off the rock.
Since there is no gym here in the rural northern Rockies in the shadow of the Beartooth Mountains, we are on our own to keep fit. (The town of Nye is "blink and you'll miss it" -- in fact a sign near the Post Office says, "entering and leaving Nye".) In place of a formal program, we devise our own, and have been at it for three years.
Billings, the nearest "big city" -- around 100,000 -- offers several venues of Jazzercise, too. Brenda
Jazzercise is followed by jazz.  At the "top of the prop" in Montana, 
jazz comes  from Cookie's saxophone. Friends enjoy a cocktail.
Binstock, who leads us at the Knights of Columbus Hall, has been jazzing nearly as long as my coaches in San Diego.
One of my California instructors, the amiable Rick Nesbitt, tells of meeting the dynamic Jazzercise founder and CEO Judi Sheppard Missett many years ago in the days of paisley and flower power.
The shapely Missett has turned Jazzercise into a worldwide phenomenon, with catalogues for jazz togs and classes to sample in Europe and even Asia (the Japanese, especially, love Jazzercise.)  One of the San Diego substitutes, introduced to us by Debbie at the Moose Lodge, is named Hiroko and is a native of Japan.
The DVDs we enjoy in Nye feature Missett and her daughter Shanna Missett Nelson, along with Jenet Morrison and others in the fit and jazzy California Jazzercise contingent.  Many have been at Jazzercise for years.
Cookie's California time  encourages fitness, with fine climate, hiking and
outdoor exercise, here near Morrow Bay with Keller, Nick and Nora.
What I like about the program is its combination of lively music, a total body workout and socialization. This lifelong tap dancer loves the dance aspect, and we move to the tunes of time honored crooners such as Tony Bennett as well as newer talents such as Adam Levine.
At fitness centers and gyms, there is seldom much banter or conversation.
Jazzercise provides an opportunity to have fun, chat a bit, and still get the important exercise we all need.
In cross-country driving trips, I've noticed that people are fatter in the Midwest and northern climes.
It's not a mystery.
Keller is coaching Cookie's sailor prowess.
He has been on boats and oceans since
boyhood, growing up in southern California.

One has to work harder to keep fit in places plagued by long winters and harsh cold spells....... that's why in my San Diego time, I notice little obesity. It's a fit, outdoorsy place. I love my time there, which most days includes some ocean and hiking time.  Often, we go sailing.  Wherever Cookie is, I'm doing my best to wage war against the ravages
of gravity and changing metabolism.  It's possible to combine exercise with nature watching.
Thanks to Jazzercise for inspiring me to keep in shape in California and on the road.  My Nye pals enjoy my summertime Jazzercise DVDs.

Call 1 800 FIT-IS-IT or go to and plug in your zip code to find a close-by Jazzercise venue.

 Montana's summers offer welcome chance to explore
Here, Cookie's family hikes up Sioux Charlie trail, river raging. 

COMING UP: It's officially summer in Montana. The birds are back, the hummers are sucking up sugar water, the bears are visiting, the rivers are raging, snows are melting and the green, green grass of home is wet with dew.
We'll take you to the Arizona desert for star and saguaro gazing, to Europe, with tips on how to make the most of treasured time there.
Plus pointers on getting a first-time California driver's license, flying high at the Torrey Pines glider port and more.
Check out our Friday posts at: And remember to explore, learn and live!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Young at heart singer credits Jazzercise, fitness, friends and humor for keeping her in tune

Betty works out at Jazzercise on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
She still has a beautiful singing voice and an inner beauty to match. 
Praised by critics for her phrasing and
sophistication, Betty has a career
spanning more than 70 years

JAZZING it up with flair for decades

Betty Bennett Lowe keeps her tempo through active life, including Jazzercise work-outs and the occasional gig

Editor's Note:  This story first appeared five years ago, when Betty was a mere 92. She will be 97 in October and is coping with the loss of her beloved husband, jazz artist Mundell Lowe. Despite her grief (the couple married in 1975) Betty maintains her wit and fitness, looking for a new Jazzercise venue since her favorite Jazzercise studio closed. She credits years of Jazzercise for helping her cope with life's ups and downs.


SINGER Betty Bennett Lowe was making headlines in the jazz world long before most of us were born.
In the lingo of show biz, "she's seen them come and seen them go" -- many departing to that big jazz performance hall in the sky, and some fly-by-nights relegated to the annals of the dreaded footnotes of the "also ran."
Betty, left, enjoys birthday cake and a tribute from the writer.

Jazzercise friends threw a party for Betty Bennett Lowe on her 95th birthday.
Betty is the real deal -- authentic and original.
She grew up on the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Fats Waller, listening to her mother play piano in their parlor in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"I ALWAYS had music in my soul," says Betty, taking time out from her ritual Monday-Wednesday-Friday Jazzercise work-outs in San Diego. "Of course, in those days, it was not  common for women to have musical careers, especially in jazz.  Actually, I was classically trained with dreams of becoming a dramatic soprano, not a big band singer. Things change."
 As often the case with talent and luck, fate intervened and hijacked the potential classical singer to the jazz and pop forum. The director of the college dance band asked Betty to join.
A vintage photo of Betty shows
her beautiful smile and cheekbones.
 She did, and that led to a stint with a traveling "territory band".  In the next months of touring, BETTY BENNETT became known for her elegant phrasing and perfect sense of pitch. She received fine reviews, but after grueling months on the road, she grew tired of that life and moved to New York to play the big clubs.
By then, World War II was waiting in the wings.  Betty was singing in Manhattan's "Famous Door" and working gigs in Atlantic City.  In 1943 she joined Georgie Auld's Big  Band and moved to Los Angeles.  When the war broke out, Betty joined the Navy, and was mistress of ceremonies for a national jazz music show. Through the 1940s and '50s, Betty sang with most of the big bands -- famous band leaders such as  Benny Goodman.  She was known by her contemporaries as a singer with style and sophistication. The great vocalist Sarah Vaughan said, "the kid can sing!"  High praise from one of the all-time famous jazz singers.
TAKING TIME out to raise a family, Betty retired from her musical career.  But as recently as the 1980s, she came out of retirement to headline at the famed Monterey Jazz Festival.  She's a huge supporter of her husband, musician
Mundell Lowe and accompanies him to Los Angeles where he still performs in jazz clubs.
Bennett's youthful energy and soul-deep beauty belie her age. She will be 93 this October.
"The trick is to keep moving, keep active, keep involved," she says. " I also believe that keeping company with younger people is a good antidote to aging, too."
Jazzercise: more than fitness -- it aids mental health
Her husband, a world class jazz guitarist, is Betty's age, apparently sipping from the same fountain of youth. In earlier days, the Lowes toured Europe, playing well known jazz clubs in Paris and London. And still earlier in Betty's life, she was married to famed jazz pianist, arranger,  composer and conductor Andre Previn. The two parted amicably and, as Betty says with a smile and shrug, "we still talk."
Betty with Charlie Ventura
a famous sax player
Betty has albums and CDs, and wrote a book that makes lively reading.  "The Ladies Who Sing With the Band" pays homage to the "girl singers" who  toured with the big bands of WWII era. It highlights the famous names of the day, including Charlie Ventura and on through the years to Dizzy Gillespie and others Betty knew and performed with.
In typical Betty modesty, she demures when asked to talk about her phenomenal life and career.
Betty Bennett Lowe calls Jazzercise "my religion" 
-- and praises instructor Debbie Walters, who is also
a dear friend. (Since this article first appeared, Walters
has retired from her studio and Lowe is sad.)
"I suppose I have done a few interesting things," she says. "True, I'm still going -- I'm not about to stop as long as I can keep moving, be productive and enjoy."
To that end, Jazzercise keeps her fit. She credits it with aiding her recovery from a serious car accident a few years back, and for keeping her current with music. In her front-row, corner  Jazzercise spot, she can "move like Jagger"  -- and she tosses off pithy one-liners to amuse her peers and coach.
San Diego instructor Deborah Walters calls Betty "a rock star, an inspirational figure."
Says Walters, "Betty has it all:  style, sass, longevity and the desire to keep herself limber and fit."
Ready for her close-up:
Betty Lowe's tenacity, class and beauty shine.
BETTY STILL frequents jazz clubs, occasionally singing a tune, and she is designated driver when Mundell plays Los Angeles clubs.  (He is recently back from Europe and Betty caught up with her girlfriends during his trip.  Mundell is an icon in the jazz guitar world and was featured last year on a KPBS feature aired in San Diego. Betty's music has also been featured on the Jazz 88.3 FM station.) Her book, "The Ladies Who Sing with the Band" was published in 2000. She has many more stories to tell about her ground-breaking life and career.
RECENTLY, a musician friend and Jazzercise colleague sat down to play an old organ in the Moose Hall where one of the San Diego Jazzercise classes takes place.   Betty maneuvered herself  to the keyboard to croon a few bars of "Just in Time,"  "It Had to Be You," and "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Betty has a portfolio of studio portraits,
this one from the early 1960s.
She has several CDs and albums, including "I Thought About You," taking its title from the melancholy jazz ballad made famous by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and others.  Two of her few contemporaries still  around are singer Tony Bennett and National Public Radio's "Piano Jazz" star and creator, Marian McPartland.
BESIDES MUSIC and fitness, Betty leads a full, satisfying life.  She frequently walks the neighborhood with her dog. She volunteers at a soup kitchen.  She reads contemporary fiction, lunches with "the girls."  She's a kind and considerate friend, curious and supportive.  She loves to cook and entertain family and friends at dinner parties. She accompanies her husband to gigs in Los Angeles, where he plays jazz guitar.
"That's the ticket," says Betty. "Keeping yourself active and in decent shape. You've got to get off your rear and make yourself part of this changing world."
That's Betty:  still embracing life, still cracking wise.  Still active. Still Jazzercising at 92.
"Actually, 92 and one-half," she says. Remember, time flies. I'll be 93 in October."

At left, part of the Jazzercise group from San Diego's Moose Hall.
Jazzercise is "religion" for Betty Lowe. She is in the front row, next to
instructor Debbie Walters, in white top with blue laces. More Saturday!
Inspired by Betty Lowe's passion for Jazzercise, we take a look at this popular fitness program which combines music, movement, aerobics, dance and fun for a total body workout.  What makes it so successful? Find out next week.
Then we explore the glider port in San Diego and entice you with Montana's summertime pleasures.
Keep yourself tuned up like Betty Lowe does, at
We post on Fridays and promise to make you smile and think as we explore travel, nature and the arts
Whether you're gardening, walking, working out, reading, cooking, or planning a trip to Europe, remember to explore, learn and live!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sail your way to a magical time on San Diego's jewel named Jada

The writer and photographer say "ship ahoy, mates" on a Jada lark. 

Many people dream of owning their own yacht.
Few accomplish that fantasy.
For Carole Noska the dream became a reality a few years ago when she and a couple partners purchased the classic yawl, Jada.
"She needed a lot of love but we saw the potential," says Noska. "Originally, we planned to renovate her and flip her."  But the sprightly sailor with a background in marketing and public relations changed her mind.
"Slowly, I came to realize we couldn't sell her.  We had to share her. She's just something special."
Share Jada is exactly what Noska does, through "Sail on Jada!" a promotion which offers the gorgeous 1938 boat for afternoons or evenings of gorgeous sailing complete with snacks, energetic commentary, and a lovely teak and oak interior up and down -- plus the
Jada's beautiful interior is vintage design, lovingly restored.
convenience of a bathroom should you need it. All this and smooth sailing -- she's built for comfort and glides easily through San Diego's waters.
For Noska, it's a labor of love.  After sinking a hefty six figures into the boat's loving renovation, she couldn't part with her. (It would cost more than $2 million to recreate the Jada from ground up today.)  So the former marketer and public relations specialist  decided to try to do what she deeply loves -- and maybe make a bit of a living.
"I won't be getting rich," she says, "but this is something that gives me great pleasure.  I love people and sharing this magnificent vessel.
Everything about Jada is ship shape!
During a decade at Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Noska honed her love of the ocean. She comes alive on the water.
 "I love it. The ocean centers me," she says, offering a tray of tasty appetizers to a dozen relaxed tourists. "It would be a shame to not have people enjoy Jada along with me."
Jada, a 65 foot Phillip Rhodes yawl, attracts waves and cheers and applause as she sails out of San Diego Bay under the guidance of capable captain and historian David Berg. With her vintage classic look and sleek transit of the seas, Jada is the stuff of postcards.
Part of the pleasure of Jada is the ambiance and good will aboard.
"She takes people back in time," says Noska. "We provide an afternoon that harkens to another time.  It's romantic, adventurous and people come back again and again."
We spent a recent delightful afternoon on Jada, enjoying the commentary provided by Noska's longtime friend and collaborator who also captains the boat.  "He knows the city and the ocean like nobody's business."
Indeed.  We learned about the Coronado Bridge and the habits of seals, architecture and sailing history, ethnic composition and when to spot whales, all offerred with intelligence and humor. Noska knows and loves San Diego and the ocean, too, and offers a pleasant complement to her collaborator.
As the boat sails smoothly around San Diego, Noska visits with the passengers, giving her own  casual and insightful commentary.  Her presence is a delight -- she's part social director, part caterer, part tour guide.  These talents provide a relaxing backdrop for a three or four-hour sail, as guests mingle, relax on comfy cushions and let the wind spark the imagination.
 Carole Noska plays tour guide photographer, first mate and caterer.
Noska provides hors d'oeuvres, including cheeses, crackers, fruit and hummus, along with wine and beer, soft drinks, iced tea, juices, bottled water and more.
Guests may bring picnics or special treats if they like, but goodies are included in the price, which varies depending on the outing. Noska stresses that she is not cultivating a "party-hearty" crowd; rather, she is courting civilized, interested sailing buffs and tourists looking for a fun, educational and refreshingly different option on the water.
Towards the end of the sail, Noska displays her theatrical bent, bringing out a box of nautical hats including captains caps and piratical head gear.  Passing her hats around the crowd, like a roving minstrel, she encouraged us to indulge our fantasies about life on the water. Everyone took a hat and soon the boat sported a surplus of captains, pirates and first mates!
Noska's grace, hospitality and memory (she knows everyone's name within the first 20 minutes on board) endear her to the clientele. She cultivates a faithful group of regulars and locals.  We met
Argh! Cookie and Keller play pirate.
several, including a married couple and two girlfriends, on our afternoon outing. Ages ranged from teens to seniors.
"It has to be the most relaxing time we could spend on the water," said Cassie, who came on board Jada with her friend, Linda, for the fourth or fifth time.
Jada has been used for birthday and anniversary parties, family reunions, team building meetings, casual working lunches, reward and incentive programs, whale watching and several memorable weddings. Jada has also hosted memorials and burials at sea, with families bringing their loved ones' ashes for a final communion with the sea the departed held dear.
Like its owner, Jada is versatile -- name your event and Noska can creatively arrange it.  She is available for private and corporate charters and has a regular weekend schedule for tourists and short-notice bookings.
An afternoon sail on vintage Jada is a fine way to spend San Diego time.
Call 619 572-3443 or go to
Noska is open to ideas and suggestions and will do her utmost to create your special afternoon or evening.
So for a part of a day, at least, you'll have the feeling that you're on your own private yacht.
Minus the payments, stress and responsibility of ownership.
We'll be back for another sail.

COMING UP: An energetic 92-year old lady is inspiring women one-third her age, dancing her way toward 100 -- with grace, spirit, humor and fitness.  Former
Amazing grace:  Betty Lowe was a successful singer
with the big bands years ago.  Today, at nearly 93, she
attributes her fitness and energy to Jazzercise -- and more! 
girl singer Betty Lowe, is still going strong.  Find out more about her and how the internationally known Jazzercise program has become a habit she can't and won't break. Coming next Wednesday.
And in future weeks, take a look at Montana
wildflowers, a bang-up Big Sky Fourth of July, San Diego's gliding port, the upcoming season at San Diego Repertory Theater and much more. As summer continues, we'll head north to Alaska, give advice on traveling with pets and offer tips on making the most of your precious time touring Europe.
All on our Wednesday and Saturday posts at:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sailing into spring: savor it in Montana, San Diego or wherever in the world you are!

The violet blossoms of the jacaranda trees are brilliant. 
 Imported from Mediterranean cities such as Barcelona, they number 
in the thousands and are found in all neighborhoods of San Diego.

THERE'S NO more hopeful time of year than spring -- wherever on the planet you are.
Whether you're strolling the streets of Rome, sailing San Diego Bay or planting the garden in Nye, Montana, spring is the time for optimism. Colors seem more vivid.  Scents seem more intense (here in the Beartooth Mountains, we just had a week of rain and the earth smells rich and loamy.  The wild roses and dogwood are blooming and the sage, peony and daisies are leafing out.) The long pre-solstice days mean light until nearly 10 p.m. in the northern Rockies!
I'VE SPENT spring in Texas hill country, wildflowers up to my
 Kate Sessions Park in San Diego is loveliest in spring.
middle.  I've spent spring exploring the ruins in Delos and sipping wine in Santorini, prowling the rain forest in northeast Australia (where spring comes during our autumn), and sailing the swells of the Irish sea with loved ones. Lately, I've gotten a pleasant upward tilt, staring with delight to admire the wild lavender blossoms of San Diego's signature jacarandas. Thousands of these trees were in their glory as I departed that lovely city. A picnic in Kate Sessions Park was a perfect afternoon's end.
Filling the bird feeders is a spring ritual
on the first day of Cookie's return to Montana.
IN MONTANA, where I'm newly arrived to savor the most glorious time of year here, the hummingbirds were zipping about as I began arranging and fertilizing seven dozen bedding plants.  I spotted three varieties of this magnificent and ever-thirsty tiny bird: the rufus (largest and most aggressive), the ruby-throated (with its glorious crimson scarf) and the caliope (the smallest bird on the hemisphere). "I'll be right back," I told them. "Stick around." I took a quick trip inside to cook up a batch of nectar (four parts water, one part sugar, plus a dash more, boiled for four minutes). The hummers were buzzing about waiting for me when I returned with a fistful of feeders.  They literally followed me to the aspen tree where one of the feeders -- the most popular -- has hung for at least a decade. Filling these and a dozen bird feeders took a couple hours.  Already I have customers:  chickadees, finches and buntings so far.
 "Cap'n Keller'' sails out of San Diego Bay.
Spring came earlier in San Diego, and sailing was divine. Of course, spring is more dramatic in places like Montana, where winters can be long and harsh and the ground is often snow-covered for months. Spring is proof that winter is not endless.
 Rome's fruit and flower stands herald spring and lure shoppers.
Now that we're settling back in to rural Montana life, we'll be inserting more posts about this neck of the woods.
Whether you're sailing, planting, hiking, biking, jogging, touring or just plain savoring the season of rebirth, enjoy your spring and remember to explore, learn and live!

COMING UP: Future blogs will feature a sprightly 92-year old San Diego Jazzercise icon, former big band girl singer and a "rock star" inspiration to women 40, 50 and 60 years younger. How does she remain forever young, engaged and an encouraging role model to youth? (With still sexy legs!)
A lifelong love of sailing took our explorers on
the Jada recently. She's a jewel and you can
enjoy her too thanks to an enterprising owner.
And want to sail San Diego Bay in a vintage boat with personalized service, commentary and delicious food and beverage? Find out about the classic Jada here.
We'll also explore San Diego's glider port, exotic birds and the new San Diego Repertory season. It's cutting edge. Plus we'll give advice on getting the most out of precious time in Europe. And we'll share tips on traveling with pets. We'll also walk you through the trials and triumphs  of getting a first-time driver's license in California!  All at "where is Cookie." Remember to explore, learn and live!
Our posts appear Wednesdays and Saturdays at