Friday, May 29, 2020

Gem on the California coast: Oxnard offers beauty, boating, nature

The view from Channel Islands Hampton Inn is one of a lovely marina, offering spectacular sunsets. The hotel is open for business, minus restaurants.  There is still no food service, but coolers are allowed and there are restaurants nearby.


Delicious "small bites" include scallops,
empanadas and a tasty marinade as

Oxnard's beachside restaurants open again.

IF YOU DRIVE California's famous coast highway, you may have overlooked Oxnard, California.
Waiter Arthur serves up
 appetizers at Moqueca.
As our travel world slowly "opens up" and hotels and restaurants are returning to business,  we've discovered that nearby Oxnard is a safe bet.  If you, like the two of us, are sick and tired of incarceration, give Oxnard a look. Consider spending a few days, whether now or next time you're scurrying south to San Diego or north to Santa Barbara and beyond.
For in Oxnard, we discovered some of the best whale watching we've experienced in our state. It's a town and yet a city, with amenities associated with much larger towns. We found a delightful Brazilian restaurant, a wonderful small art museum and a world class maritime museum.
Oxnard's busy Channel Islands Harbor is the fifth largest small-craft
harbor in California. Fishermen never stopped fishing during Covid.
The lovely seaside hotel, Hampton Inn Channel Islands
Harbor, of the highly rated Hilton brand, offers lovely
sunsets, pleasant views of sea life and friendly service. 
THIS QUIET little seaside city west of Los Angeles,  offers as its main draw the lovely Channel Islands Harbor, a combined shore-protection project and harbor. It sits in picturesque calm  at the southern end of the Santa Barbara Channel and is the state's fifth largest small-craft harbor. We observed it is a well loved waterfront, with fishermen at work, retirees out walking, kids playing, families barbecuing and baskers sunbathing. Dining options are varied. Our favorite restaurant is Moqueca, serving delightful Brazilian fare.
OXNARD ALSO offers great fish and chips dining, fun burger shops, Italian and Greek fare and more. A pleasing mix of contemporary architecture and elegant early 1900s homes line the boulevards, with artful clusters of interesting contemporary art, beautiful sandy shorelines, nicely kept yards and lawns and stunning views of the Channel Islands.
We wondered why Oxnard is often overlooked, and is indeed one of the less visited areas of the popular California coast.
Probably because it is a bit "out of the way." West of Los Angeles, it's ideally located on the coast but most people heading south hit the freeway once out of LA's 10 and 12-lane traffic madness. Perhaps the name is off-putting, for its somewhat harsh sound. Oxnard's founder, Henry T. Oxnard, tried to name the city after a Greek word for “sugar” (zachari). Unable to communicate his desire to state bureaucrats, he named the city after his family instead. 
The Carnegie Library in Oxnard, Calif.,
is temporarily closed, but worth a look,
in the heart of Oxnard's "Old Town."
HE WOULD likely enjoy the city's charming downtown with historic buildings including the Carnegie Art Museum. The elegant 1906 building withstood the threat of permanent closure and budget cuts for years, continuing to show contemporary California art in a stately former library. It's temporarily closed now, a casualty of Covid, but supporters hope it will rally. Nearby, other early 1900s buildings and homes dot Heritage Square and are worth a stroll for photos, in these virus-changing times. On the water, contemporary homes share lovely beach views. Oxnard Beach Park has a wide, sandy shoreline and inviting, grassy lawns, with picnic tables and views of Channel Islands.
A Purse Seine boat anchored off the Oxnard harbor.
Modern architecture is part of the
mix in Oxnard, where new buildings
are going up along the waterways. 
Channel Islands cruises and whale watching are available for
to enjoy a variety of options, from overnight camping
to whale watching. 
Island Packers Cruises has several itineraries. 
  One sunbather asked us not to write too enthusiastically about Oxnard. "We know we're a vibrant Southern California beach haven, with perfect sands and waters, but we don't really want any more people," she winked.  It's true: the beaches are some of the prettiest in the region and the closeness to the Channel Islands makes for longer whale-watching periods.
SHOPPERS COME to buy everything from clothing to art, antiques and furniture and there's a playhouse, a couple nightclubs and an array of restaurants. Many of the businesses, parks and beaches have reopened. Food delivery and take-out are widely available.
Still, that lovely proximity to the water and the Channel Islands is the main draw. Plus the feel of a small town with amenities of city life. These enticements bring repeat customers back to this calming corner of California. Now more than ever.;

  Enjoying playful whales and dolphins in a light misty rain,
Keller and Cookie continue their road-tripping with caution. 
UP NEXT: We've got a whale tale, and some nifty whale tail photos to share with you, lads and lassies. We're off to Anacapa in search of beautiful gray whales, heading north now after giving birth in the warm Baja waters. With terrific guides and naturalists from Island Packers and Channel Island Sportfishing, and both businesses back up and running after Covid slowed things down, we're accompanied by playful dolphins and seals while enjoying a pair of Oxnard's finest whale watching enterprises. These unique enterprises are restarting fishing, whale watching and island service as early as June 1, taking reservations now. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh spin on nature, the arts, travel, family and adventure:

Friday, May 22, 2020

Flower power by bike: hobby puts a bloom on the isolation of Covid

Ocotillo, or "little torch" in Spanish, is usually a desert plant.  This one, outside our home, brings forth bursts of bright red blooms each spring.  Hummingbirds pollinate them so it's a bonus to watch the birds flit about the flowers. They are lovely to look at but make a very sticky bouquet! 
Our neighborhood offers many varieties of lily.
They bloom from spring to mid-summer in California.
Here, agapanthus, or African lily, is in bloom now.



SINCE ISOLATING, and a canceled docket of plays and concerts, we've found relief to anxiety and depression in daily bike rides.
This therapy provides a way to calm us, keep us active, and put a splash of color in our lives.
Our neighborhood in southern California's sunny San Diego provides an inspiring variety for
Keller and Cookie are biking their way to sanity
with flower photography.
Keller's artful eye.
Montana's blooms await
FOR ME, FLOWERS represent the intersection of poetry and science. Sure, it's worthy to learn pistons and stamens, but it's essential to appreciate beauty. For me, right now, that ability is life-saving.
Our cat's paw are yellow, brown and scarlet. The plant is also
known as reindeer paw, and is native to Australia. 
Flowers, and the natural world they share with us creatures, are an elegy for the passage of time and the cycle of life.
I recognize many of the traditional "flower bed" plants because they inhabit similar climates all over the world -- snap dragons, petunias, dahlias, roses, pansies, marigolds, lilies.
When we don't recognize a bloom, we use our plant reference books and aps to identify the ones we don't know.  Recently, we discovered the intriguing kangaroo paw. Also known as reindeer paw, this Australian plant fascinates Keller. He loves watching the long stalks sway in the wind and admires the pretty six-point star around the bloom, supported by a showy, feathery blossom.
Recognize this bloom? It's in our
yard and often used by florists.
The glorious purple
jacaranda is abloom now.

TO HAVE THIS unusual plant literally out our door has been one of the saving graces of virtual incarceration. Stopping to photograph and admire unique foliage in the landscape of our town home grounds gives us hope that our cultural life will bloom again, too.
Keller and Cookie stop to smell the roses wherever they
travel, here at the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia. 
I love finding flowers that I recognize from my youthful gardening in Montana.  Watching my grandmother Olive plant her dahlias before they'd produced blooms, guessing which one to put where to showcase the eventual colors. Helping my mother arrange marigolds and moss roses along the walkway, cautioning my toddler brother Rick not to yank them out.
This dahlia is one of a dozen shades in our neighborhood.
Hawaii's flowers fascinate
It's fun to find the same colors of columbine and yarrow that I tend in my Montana garden.  Or to find a familiar plant late in summer as it is ending its bloom -- then collect a handful of seeds.  I did this with a patch of zennias last year, and a bright corner of nasturtiums in a neighbor's alley.
Flower frenzy in Borrego
WHEREVER WE wander in the world, we try to visit a garden.  In Victoria, the beautiful Butchart Gardens have captivated us each time we return to British Columbia.  
Unusual flowers of southern California take the edge off
the strains of isolation and routine disruption. Here,
Jerusalem sage.has an unusual long-stemmed bloom.
Here's grevillea rosmarinifolia!
We love the botanical gardens of the Canary Islands, Fiji and Hawaii. We've
visited the famous garden of Kenrokuen, Kanazawa, Japan, 200 years in the making.  It boasts more subtle shades of green than I'd imagined could exist and azaleas of a dozen colors.
We'e marveled at the tulips in Keukenhof, Lisse, Netherlands, and stunning tropical wonders at 
Nong Nooch Tropical Garden in  Pattaya, Thailand. 
It's worthy to know a piston or a stamen,
but do appreciate lantana's beauty.
I'VE LONG loved roses -- who doesn't -- so I've visited rose gardens in Copenhagen, Buenos Aires, Sakura, Rome, Morocco, Marrakech and Montreal.  I've joined the millions who admire the Gardens of Versailles,  near Paris. They are a classic example of  the French "more is more" design, with 2,000 acres of tenderly tended beds, imaginative topiary and fragrant blooms. Louis IV commissioned famous landscaper Andre Le Notre in 1661.
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, in London offers a splendid way to spend the day, with benches for contemplating the beauty, and peaceful nooks for a picnic or spot of tea.
Butchart Gardens delight
And in the U.S., the gardens of Portland, Oregon, Atlanta and New York proudly showcase plants that thrive in the region. I'll bet there's something blooming "back in your own back yard," as the song says. Take a walk, a bike ride, or a wander. And take photos. It'll buoy sagging spirits. Guaranteed!

The stunning view from Hampton Inn, Channel Islands Harbor, in Oxnard.

UP NEXT: Oxnard is a jewel, sometimes overlooked on the lower end of our beautiful central California coast. With our shores slowly opening up for Memorial Day weekend and the summer, consider Oxnard, which is not densely populated and offers superb whale watching, a relaxing hotel with gorgeous marina views, lively restaurants with varied fare, a world class maritime museum and more. Come with us to Hampton Inn, Channel Islands Harbor, where we'll base while we explore the magical town of Oxnard. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at nature, the arts, travel, family and more:

Friday, May 15, 2020

Transplant triumph: Three years after brings reflection, change, gratitude

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers with their elderly Yorkshire terrier, Nick, ready for a spin on their bikes.
Leaving Scripps on a record
third day post transplant.
Three years ago this week.

THREE YEARS ago today, Bruce William Keller left Scripps Green Hospital with a new liver and a new lease on life. He was in and out on a record third day. Barely five weeks later, we traveled to our niece's wedding on the Oregon coast.
We'd been on the transplant list for months, slowly climbing up the list, preparing for the phone call that might change our lives.
We'd traveled close to home (no more than two hours away, should the call come) and we'd had our weekly "date night" the evening we received the call that a potential donor had been found.
Transplant tale, part one
That's all chronicled in previous posts in this column and various magazines. (Click on links above and throughout this story.)
While we began the process of getting on the transplant list nearly six years ago, we give special thanks this week.  We know that many patients wait more than five years, that some don't make the cut and that there are deaths while waiting when a proper match is not found.
This photo shows the many medications we needed in weeks
following transplantation. We are down to two anti-rejection
 medications now, plus approved vitamins and minerals.
My nephew's 52-year old sister-in-law died of liver disease last summer, while awaiting transplant in northern California.
My sister's friend lost her husband in Montana in similar fashion before the holidays.
MANY ON the transplant list are called numerous times because they are sent home after bloodwork and other tests reveal the donor liver wouldn't be a good fit. (Body size, blood type, general health, age, etc., are considered.) Several people in my support group have been called numerous times -- one more than six -- then sent home.  Three potential transplantees are usually notified and tested, so we were extremely fortunate that on our first call, tests revealed Keller would be a good match.
Cookie and Keller take a spin on a four-wheeler, on the coast of
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, just before Covid curtailed their travels.  
We were also fortunate to have a brilliant hepatologist and gifted surgeon, both nationally known, who guided us.  We've met dozens of skilled nurses, physician's assistants, radiologists and others who have  helped us along the way.
Transplant tale, part two
Until COVID19, we had resumed our life of travel writing and photography.  We crossed the Atlantic three months after the surgery, and have visited 14 countries since the transplant.
Dr. Jonathan Fisher and Bruce Keller
days after his successful transplant.

WE'VE HAD birthday and anniversary celebrations, and each year on the transplant anniversary, we toast its success (champagne for Cookie; non-alcoholic beer for Keller, who is taking the cautious approach, grateful that his Hepatitis C is history.)
Our travel is on hold now, as with thousands of others of our friends, family and readers. We miss taking off into the wild blue yonder, strolling the boulevards of Paris or Barcelona, or seeing plays in London and New York.
Dr. Catherine Frenette meets regularly with Keller to assess
his progress and suggest adjustments to meds or lifestyle.
But we have high hopes of returning to Montana sometime this summer, and traveling again when we can be sure of a vaccine and safety on the road and in the skies.
Transplant tale, part three
But we are 10 minutes from a world class medical facility with smart, compassionate people on our team. We live in a beautiful part of the world and can wait out the virus surrounded by birds, flowers and beauty.
We take none of this for granted.
Keller and Cookie dressed up for a play
in March, before Covid halted theater.
AND WHILE Covid has put a damper on our life and killed our tradition of several plays a week, we are managing to have a reasonably productive and happy time with biking, Scrabble, reading, exercise, selective TV and spending time with Nick, our surviving Yorkshire terrier, who lost his twin sister Nora two months ago.
We've cancelled our international trips for this
summer and fall, we are following the news and watching the search for a vaccine with hope in our hearts.
 Transplant tale, part four
I asked Keller to reflect on the past three years.
"I'm grateful for so many reasons and to so many people. I have universal appreciation and feel like one very lucky guy," he said.
I echo his sentiments as one very lucky gal.

This vivid plant is called kangaroo paw, and grows in our neighborhood.
It is one of over 500 flower photos Keller has taken since COVID19.
We suggest a hobby to help patch each of us through the pandemic. 
UP NEXT:  What to do during the isolation and boredom of COVID? Why not develop a hobby, or begin one that you've dreamed of pursuing.  Bruce Keller has been a photographer since grade school, and has always loved to photograph flowers. He "amped up" his hobby since the virus and our determination to take a daily bike ride and nature venture together. The new ritual has yielded some lovely results which we'll share next week. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at nature, the arts, family, health and -- soon, we hope -- more of the travel we so love.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Lake Atitlan calls: observe beauty, enjoy the culture, step back in time

Lake Atitlan offers beauty, culture and an insight into ancient ways of doing things. This woman is washing for her family.
These young sisters at Lake Atitlan were dressed beautifully in traditional
elaborate dresses created by their mother and grandmother.


Editor's Note: After a "Covid Detour," we are resuming our weekly travel columns. Researchers are struggling to find a vaccine and our professional travel sources tell us we'll be traveling safely -- but differently-- by fall or winter. So, here's a wonderful educational suggestion. Time to plan a trip.


"Atitlan: the place where the rainbow gets its colors"-- in the Maya language

This woman in the village of Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, offers beautiful
 hand sewn Guatemalan quilts and other textiles for sale.  
ON OUR SECOND visit to this remote Guatemalan village of Panajachel, we decided to "go with the flow," take a yoga class, watch the sunsets, enjoy the environment. Unlike other trips, we didn't plan every day to the minute.  We went with the flow, like butterflies in a lovely garden.
Panama Canal, anyone?
The place encourages relaxation. The air is fresh and at a mile high, you'll find nature, birds, calm.
There's plenty to do, whether you're looking to unwind, learn about the Mayan culture or  stroll the crooked paths winding around the lake.  Don't be surprised if you see the occasional drug deal going down.  We did -- and found the police look the other way.  Still, we never felt threatened or unsafe, although we also encountered a few harmless intoxicants and and some very persistent craftsmen.
Although the villages around Lake Atitlan are remote,
cell phones and old-fashioned textile work are compatible.
WE NEVER mind hawkers promoting their wares -- it's honest work.  We like to bring home some of the unique offerings each country's craftsmen and women create. It's a happy memory to walk around our home, remembering where and when we purchased each piece of art or handmade work.
Costa Rica calls?
Lately, this sleepy little corner of Guatemala has been promoting many things to do in Lake Atitlan. It's a wonderful place to get away from it all and relax.  A pair of friends planned a week there, and ended up staying around Lake Atitlan for much longer than expected. They'd visited American ex-pats in Antigua, enjoyed their lovely home for a long weekend, then hiked around Lake Atitlan.
Your small boat approaches a village
from the lovely Lake Atitlan.
BESIDES THE country's volcanoes, rain forests and ancient Mayan sites, you'll find palaces and fine hotels -- in the capital, Guatemala City.  Then, into the rural villages around the lake for foot paths, pristine areas, and the massive volcanic crater around Lake Atitlan.
Hotels in the busy resort town of Panajachel offer a place
to rest while awaiting a boat ride into the lake. 
 It's lovely to visit the stately National Palace of Culture, and the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala City. Antigua, west of the capital, offers beautifully preserved Spanish colonial buildings and new, opulent homes built by Europeans and Americans. But Lake Atitlán, formed in a massive volcanic crater, is a step back in time.  Surrounded by coffee fields and villages, the lake rests inside the crater. If you want to pack in, you'll prefer the backpacker-driven San Pedro La Laguna in the
The largest town on Lake Atitlan is Santiago, famous for its hand made work,
its market, and the saint Maximon. This views from the lake beckons to
San Pedro Volcano in the distance. You can climb it from here.
country's southwestern highlands. Ringed by steep, verdant hills, it’s known for its Mayan villages and volcanoes' striking pointed cones. THE BUSY town of Panajachel, where vendors sell traditional textiles, is a popular gateway to the lake. On a former coffee plantation, the Atitlán nature reserve offers trails and a butterfly garden. Both Panajachel and the larger Santiago have good tourist services, where you'll find pensions, air bnbs and all manner of lodging -- cheap to luxurious. Plus yoga classes to help you chill.  Check out;;

Bruce Keller left Scripps Green Hospital in a record three days,
three years ago after transplantation. More next week. 
UP NEXT: Time to give thanks! Three years ago, Bruce Keller left the hospital with a new liver.  We reflect on our good fortune in finding a match, having the advantage of a world class facility, with brilliant physicians and nurses to help us. Until COVID19, we resumed our world travels -- and hope to again. We'll explore the complex world of transplantation and share the challenges and triumphs. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh view on travel, the arts, nature, family, health and the effects of the virus on our lives:

Friday, May 1, 2020

MAY TIDINGS: Celebrate spring with centuries old tradition

  In Denmark the Maypole tradition is all but extinct.  Originally, a real tree was used as dancers greeted the spring.
 Happily, we found a Maypole where the tradition is still observed, last spring south of Funen in Denmark.

May Day is celebrated in this popular London pub, by bringing baskets outside
and arranging more flowers inside. The baskets will remain through summer.




SO MUCH has changed since last May Day.  We celebrated the holiday in Denmark, then toured the Baltic and other countries of Northern Europe.  We looked forward to treasured time in Montana with family and friends, and back in southern California, went about our busy routine of plays, concerts,
This May Day basket carries spring flowers, and is left
on the door of a friend, a custom dating back centuries.
Bruce Keller photographed this bottle
brush bloom today in La Jolla, Calif.
Have a happy blooming May Day! 
fund raisers, dinners out.
We didn't realize how critical to our sanity  were those pleasures --the treasured holidays, and the  discipline of working on our shared and separate projects.
Hawaii's Botanical Garden
IN THE last spring of her life, my mother and I remembered the May Day baskets she supervised when we were kids. Under her artistic tuteledge, we cut colored construction paper into four sides and stapled the pieces together, then made handles of strings of doubled ribbon. We put stickers on the baskets, filled them with candy and flowers, placed them on our neighbors' doorsteps or hung from the door knob, rang the bell -- then ran.
Such innocent, sweet fun.
 Thousands demonstrated in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
THROUGH THE years, various events and situations gave May Day new meaning. Besides a time to welcome the change of season (spring in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn in the Southern), the day became associated with workers and labor.
Butchart Gardens for May Day
In the 19th century, particularly in western countries, the day came to represent labor movements for workers rights.  In the U.S., May Day demonstrations resulted in the eight-hour work day. We've photographed May Day demonstrations in Cairo, Istanbul and Athens, and because Keller and I have such happy memories
Our garden boasts an array of
blooms this spring. These are
"basket bound" for an elderly pal.
of making May Day baskets as kids, we are making one this year, both to remind of our childhood days and take our minds off Covid.
Although it's too early for hollyhocks in
Montana, there are jonquils and tiny
blossoms on the hillsides, and this photo

from last summer to remind of our home.
 WHILE WE are cutting and stapling, we're playing an audio tape about the history of the holiday, always celebrated on May 1.
May Day goes back to Roman times as a festival of flowers.  Even then, people made small baskets filled with treats or flowers to give secretly to friends and neighbors, just as we did in the 1950s. 
Beltane in Edinburgh means a large bonfire and offerings
of food and drink to the fairies, all "good witches." 
In Germanic countries, the Festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers is celebrated. Were it not for
Covid, our English cousins would be celebrating May Day, too, crowning a May Queen and having a dance around the maypole, as our Scandinavian cousins would be doing.
A windy sail last May Day off the coast of Funen.
THE EARLIEST May Day documentation I could find predates Christianity. In  Pagan cultures, the tradition of the Celtic celebration of Beltane is celebrated today, a holdover from Pagan times. Most pagan celebrations were either abandoned or evolved into Christian holidays during the conversion of Europe. For my cousins in Edinburgh and Dublin, Beltane remains a day of celebration. Some claim to be Wiccans and consider themselves "good witches. The fire they light today celebrates Beltane and honors fertility and abundance, of special significance to Wiccans.
My friends take part in the same customs their ancestors did, making offerings to the fire of food and drink for the "aos si" -- elves or fairies. Pronounc it "ees shee," or the older Celtic form  "ays sheeth-uh," the term for a supernatural race in both Irish and Scottish mythology.
WHATEVER your pleasure or belief, enjoy the day.

The ruins of Guatemala's proud Mayan culture await next week.

UP NEXT: Readers are wondering when they'll be back on the road with our columns and we're asking ourselves the same question: when will we be traveling again? We'll resume our regular travel columns next week, on May Day, with a visit to magnificent Mayan ruins in Guatemala, a trip we took just before Covid halted our travel -- and yours. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us  Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, food, the arts and more: