Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shirley Holds Precious Wine

The stores are filled with bottles of wine with fascinating names but the name on the bottle Shirley is holding is
ESTATE, wine from the Biltmore Estate.
The wine is Shirley’s, birthday gift to celebrate her 87th birthday. The unique bottle has no paper label but rather an etching of the Biltmore Estate. She was pleased to learn the story of the Biltmores, Learning when they had no money, they simply decided to take up the suggestion of creating tours of the huge and very lovely premises.

The bottle of red wine, was tucked in a gift basket with golden earrings, A chili chocolate and a Peanut Toffee Crunch bar, a package of mini-banana nut muffins added to the extra special birthday gift. From her son, Larry and his wife. Debbie who is adept at creating Happy Birthdays, among life’s many celebrations.
Lunch at the local StoneFire Grill was an enjoyable treat topped off with a lighted candle on carrot cake and their hard to forget chocolate brownies.

A two night stay in the once elegant Santa Anita Inn, now restored to once again elegant hotel was on the menu for a birthday gift to Shirley from Jack. The Santa Anita Inn is a stones throw from the Santa Anita race track, a place Shirley has decided would make a fun birthday celebration. While she didn’t experience her usual winning streak, she smiled through a fun day of enjoying the track and taking pictures to save ior posterity.

The weather was perfect for her special day which also made it perfect to add some geocaching to the once a year reason to celebrate. Her birthday was a smashing success, with the credit belonging to Jack Ogborn, who is also a pro at knowing how to create an Extra Special birthday celebration!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I’m Not Even a Football Fan

Sometimes when there’s a football game on and even tho’ I don’t know which end of the field is which or which end to root for. The colors of the players uniforms is a tremendous help in letting me know who to cheer for! While I'm not a football fan, there was one game which I will never forget.

It was in December of 1983, the game was between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. I can’t recall anything regarding the game but I’ll always remember that nerve wracking last few seconds of that game. Tension if electric, would have lit up an entire city block.

I watched the game with my friend Bob, who was precariously sitting on the very edge of the couch, with anxiety over the games outcome, his voice dropped with each second when he finally moaned , “The Rams don’t stand a chance”. With that I spoke up in a voice I that I suddenly discovered was mine! “Oh yah,” I said with confidence, “WATCH THIS” With that I thrust my hands out, pointing at the Saints players and said “HEX”. I had put my hex on the team opposite those Rams. They really wanted to win very much. And win they did.

Apparently my hex was genuine and it worked. At least I’d like to think it was my help that led the Rams to that winning celebration that night.

The next morning, December 19, 1983 I read Rick Talley’s column in the sports section of the Daily News only to read, “For 59 minutes and 58 seconds in New Orleans the offense of the Los Angels Rams was unable to produce a single point, Then he said, “ I have seen many strange football games, but this was one of the strangest, and surely the wailing on Bourbon Street must have hit a new pitch Sunday night,. There was no joy at the Old Absinthe House.”

I simply had to telephone Rick and let him know the truth and why that game wasn’t that strange after all. The following day, his article titled “WILL A HEX WORK IN DALLAS,TOO? There in his column, was my name and the story of my hex. That was not exceptional but what was exceptional was the fact that my sons would never believe they would be reading about “Mom” in the sports section of the newspaper. Son, Brian grabbed a paper in the men’s room as some men often do, only to almost be launched from his seat as he spied his mother’s name in the sports section. Son Larry read the article and immediately called his wife, Debbie, who was as work, with a “You’re not going to believe this story," as he read it to her. You’d better believe this story because it’s true.

Rick asked if when the Rams play Dallas, would I put a hex on them. He finished with, “You wouldn’t put a hex on me, would you?” I assured him “Never.” Rick refers to me as the “Lady from Arleta” in several ensuing articles. In fact when I had my hair done, the fellow who was doing my hair was pleased and shocked that I was the “Lady from Arleta” and I was pleased he had read the article and enjoyed my story.

On relating my fun experience to Mark Linns a Councilman e-mail friend from Evansville, Wisconsin, my home town. His reply was, “We’d like Wisconsin to win the Rose Bowl this year, so would you please put a hex on every team the Badgers play ? I thought “Why not, besides this is a lot of fun in spite of the fact that I’m not even a football fan”. Did I mention that I’m not a football fan? I agreed to help Mark out and I was kept super busy with my super Rose Bowl kept track of the Badger games and making sure I hexed their opponents.

Wisconsin won the Rose Bowl with the chance to beat UCLA. Reluctantly I put a hex on UCLA in spite of the fact that my granddaughter was a student at that college. I’m so happy the Badgers ended with a 21 to 16 win over UCLA. . Mark was happy too, that his favorite team was the BIG CHEESE on New Years Day!

We had plans the next day, to meet Mark and his wife at their hotel and have lunch together. When we arrived at the hotel, Mark greeted me with “Have you seen today’s Los Angeles Times?’ I hadn’t but I burst out laughing when he showed me an article that included a comment from UCLA’s Running Back, Daron Washington, when he said, "I don’t know what happened! It seemed as if someone put a Hex on us! " (Little does he know!)

Unsure of my hex ability, one night I selected a great bowler at a Bowling alley. As I watched him bowl, I decided to put my hex to the test to see if it still worked. I put my hex on him and his game and sure enough, he did a lousy job, with little or no control over the ball. When I told him about my hex, he simply laughed, no doubt happy the lousy bowling was not his fault. I left confident that my hex was still intact.

Now, twenty five years later, Jack needed me. It was November 15, 2008 when he was watching Minnesota play Wisconsin and they were strangling the Badgers. His plea “Put a hex on Minnesota”. That woke my sense of fun and adventure and eager to see if my hex was still strong as ever, or had it died out like the flickers of the last of dying embers of my fireplace.

As a former Wisconsinite, I eagerly spotted the uniforms of the Minnesota team and geared all of the hex power I could muster .in my capable hands towards the Minnesota team. Once I was sure my hex was complete, I made my self comfortable at my computer. Every now and then, Jack would come in and report the Wisconsin team made a touchdown. Comforted with the news I kept busy on my computer until those last few seconds when Wisconsin just barely clung to the lead, With only seconds left, they seemed like an hour, then Hooray! Wisconsin won! At that tense moment, I was sure that even after twenty five years my hex power was still as “GOOD AS NEW!” No need to find a great bowler to test it out, Hex anyone?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Empty Pages

The book was a gift from my dear friends Alan and Harriet. A 6X7 book with empty pages, pages left to my imagination to fill and to enjoy. The inscription read, “May the pleasures you record in this book be as great as those you give to others.” A nice message that left me wondering what to add to this lovely book to make it meaningful.

Those empty pages were a challenge and I’d hoped they’d merit the beauty of that book with several pink roses on its hard cover, pastel colors decorate it with, a butterfly that lands on a graceful long leaf on the back. The butterfly shares the back with the tracing of a flower. It’s a special book and I thought long and hard before deciding what to enter into those empty pages.

One day my mother showed a letter to her friend as she was ready to toss it. In it was a lovely compliment. Her friend was in shock that Mom was planning to toss that letter with its thoughtful and caring message. I agree. Compliments are special and should be savored and enjoyed again and again. In writing, it would be saved forever!

It was at that time that I had decided what might make that elegant book with its empty pages, a book I would really enjoy. Finally, at last my book would be a book of compliments, compliments that would grace those empty pages!

On the alternate page, My message said simply, “Since my mother was told she should have saved that letter with compliments… and she did. Now, I have decided to record some of the many nice things told to me.”

Unfortunately not all compliments have been saved as they roll off of conversations and one gets too busy to rush to the book or note pad and save them but if you were allowed to peek in its personal pages, you might see your name under one or many compliments given me!

My best and most memorable compliment came from my little brother, Kenneth, who was all of three years old. As he snuggled up to me, and looked at me with a smile followed by a serious tone to his voice as he said, “I love you all of the trees in the world!” It’s a compliment I’ll always cherish and never forget. I think about that while in Washington and Oregon as we drive through miles and miles of tall evergreen trees. As we drive through Northern California with its fruit orchards on either side of the road. In the Rockies, trees are all over as this compliment keeps popping up in my mind. It was genuine and heartfelt and unforgettable.

I’ve gotten many compliments throughout my life as I’m sure you have too. But some are more unique than others and the one I got just a few years ago was from a fellow who walked in the mall when I too was a mall walker. It was just too special and unique, unlike any I had ever gotten before! He looked at me and surprised me with an unexpected comment. “You’d look good in a gunny sack”. I haven’t tried to see if he was right but it brought to mind the time when I worked in a dress shop, I suggested an item for a girl who was going to a party; the material was one similar to burlap. The girl enjoyed her purchase so much that she came back to the store and asked for me, Filled with compliments, she let me know what a hit that outfit made!

I have my own special letter with a compliment, too! It’s one I’ve cherished since my close friend, Shirley Shay, sent it to me in December of 1993. We met at a Writer’s group. Shirley is a saucy brunette, a saucy Jewish brunette with a typical Jewish sense of humor. I think she was born with a suitcase of crazy stories. Shirley was not a typical writer. Her articles rolled off the keys of her word processor with the ease of slipping on an icy sidewalk. . She could write about a wooden fence post and make it so interesting and funny you’d not only enjoy it but unfortunately be extremely jealous of her talent for such whimsical writing!

Shirley Shay

Shirley left the San Fernando Valley for a beautiful home in the Bay area. She became a writer for a newspaper, and wound up with first place for columns, commentary or criticism by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Needless to say, I was very proud of her but missed her a lot. On the good side, I was rewarded with many letters from her flooded with humor only Shirley could express.

My favorite “Shirley Compliment” was in her letter of 1993, In it she wrote in regards to a photo Christmas card I has sent her, “The photo was the hit of the four pre-Christmas parties I attended, especially after I told them you had passed your seventieth birthday. I had to swear on the lives of my grandchildren in order to make them
believe it!” She continued, ‘Humph!’ Said a few of the jealous ones, “She probably spent her life waited on by servants, shopping at Nordstrom’s, and relaxing at the country club.” I denied it insisting it was just your attitude.

Why discourage them by telling them you are a phenomenon, as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside. With glimmers of hope in their eyes, many septuagenarians, dashed home to scour their bathtubs. Who could toss a letter with a compliment as dazzling and awesome as that one? With this, I’ll bet you are rushing for your stack of letters in search of compliments too.

Another saved letter was from my friend, Florence. It starts with the usual “Dear Shirley,” and then she wrote: “Your letter was like a breath of fresh air." All of my other friends have no news except “blah” stuff. You know, assorted ailments, what medications they are taking and on and on etc. So hearing about fun things for a change was very enjoyable. Aside from a nice compliment, this letter should be a tip on what not to write! I recently lost my friend Florence after a bitter battle with a weakened heart, a heavy heart after the loss of her second son, and of her husband. I went to see her in an assisted living home, one not too cheery; it bordered on being bleak. We had a great visit, catching up on news plus she was pleased to show me items that held lots of meaning to her. When I was ready to leave she said, “You made my whole summer”. I think that beats Clint Eastwood's, “Make my day.”

After sending Florence a colorful autumn spray to brighten her door, a seasonal Halloween vase with silk flowers, and an oversized talking doll, I’d like to think I was responsible for her artwork. As a kid, she enjoyed the ad in magazines begging you to “Draw Me”. She did and she did a fantastic job of copying those pictures. With that in mind I sent her charcoal, a book on charcoal drawing and other items to get into a hobby. I had hoped it would spice up her life and to introduce her to an art class. It did. She decided to do painting as opposed to charcoal drawings and got into an art class at the facility where she was living. In spite of a stroke that weakened her favored left hand, she painted and painted! My biggest thrill was to learn that she had done paintings as Christmas gifts to her grandchildren! A still bigger thrill was to learn that she had SOLD several of her paintings this last summer. She’s a dear friend and I will truly miss her.

I am writing this because of another more recent friend, Elin Carlson. While I don’t consider my writing that exciting and interesting, Elin has expressed that it is good. So due to her positive views, here I am and with yet another letter!

This from my uncle, Carl:
“You took three good pictures of me and several outstanding ones taken at the Mandt family reunion. Thanks very much for the photos. And I must say that your efforts captured the Mandt Affair more interesting than what I did photographically.” While I’ll win no prizes for my pictures, I’ll take all of the compliments I can get! Thank you!

This picture was taken on a cruise ship. While Jack was on the deck, the lampshade was in my way, making Jack a “Lampshade on his head, Party Boy”. A good reason you should not trust me with a camera!

“You are pretty”. Well Mom, that proves it. When I was little, I once asked her if I was pretty. Of course I wasn’t but all Moms should think their geeky and awkward young ones are pretty, her answer was a let down, “You are average!” Well Mom, you should have been at Ciro’s, a popular nightclub in the 50’s, when I sat next to the Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan. The Oz was deep in conversation when he looked up at me and said, “You are pretty”. What a lovely compliment and what a wonderful surprise! And what a nice guy!

Add to that another from Tom Hatten, a television performer with a kid's show, as well as former president of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters, while walking along the Sportsman’s Lodge walkway. Out of the blue, he looked my way and said “You are pretty!” It’s true, he said it, since Jack was with me and he heard it, so there’s no need to swear on the lives of my grandchildren!

Can you take another, “You are pretty?” This one from an Egyptian Army officer who attended the Camp David meetings with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter. I met him in the lobby of the hotel in Cairo where our tour group was staying. It was his comment to me as I was reading a paper. We had a nice chat and I turned down a dinner invitation; it was not in my African itinerary.

I can’t ignore the comment from the Wonder Bread man who covered our neighborhood with his truck filled with bread and baked goods. He had heard of my apple pies and how good they were. There was no need to prove it to a guy who has a truck full of goodies. It’s those unexpected compliments that come across as being more sincere.

By now your mind has already begun a review of the people in your life who have decorated it with kind words and unique words of praise. Words that should never be lost or tossed. It’s time to get that book of empty pages and write your own book. Don’t forget to GIVE compliments. Your reward is the look of pleasure on the faces of those you share it with. But always remember to be sincere, as they say, “Flattery will get you nowhere!”

A high school friend at a long ago class reunion reminded me that the quote I left on the pages of his year book. It has been an inspiration to him in his life; I hope my faith in him was part of the success of his career! Yes, he was a successful engineer.

A friend said “I have only met two classy women since I moved to California and you are one of them.” Well, is it classy to write a blog sharing compliments? You decide, another compliment plus a similar one from Jack’s daughter. She simply said “You are a classy lady.” I’m thrilled and delighted.

Compliments do not need to be long and unusual. My shortest compliment was just one word. I sent a friend a picture of me before a fireplace in a mountain cabin, His reply: “SMASHING!”

The former dress designer, Mr. Blackwell, has made a glitter pin one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. He liked my pin so well; he complimented me on it several times. It certainly had his stamp of approval. This, from someone who was knowledgeable about fashion. I’m so glad I didn’t wind up on his WORST DRESSED LIST!

My article, "What I like about growing old", published in the Los Angeles Times, brought a compliment from the staff publisher. He said, “Are you a professional writer? You write better than most who write for the Times.” I’ve never met him; this was strictly a telephone conversation. But one of my favorite phone calls!!!

Like a good story, with a surprise ending, here is my story. I went to a birthday party. Not knowing what to get the birthday girl, Erin. I gave her an empty book, designated to be a book of compliments. I had a pad of pretty note paper embellished with floral designs. I handed each guest a slip of that pad requesting they write a compliment for Erin. With so many guests to keep track of, I asked a fellow if he had given me a compliment. His answer was, “No, but you look good.” Well, I asked for it!

Now I’m asking you to value those words of praise, those words that tell you who and what you really are. So go for it! Get your empty book, fill it and have fun!

This was written with encouragement from one of the most special people I know, Elin Carlson. So Elin, there’s my compliment, you truly are unique, intelligent, interesting, dedicated, TALENTED, successful and just plain WONDERFUL. All true, “I swear on the lives of my grandchildren!

Now you can start your own book of “Empty Pages” I hope my name is on one of them. Among many of your biggest and most dedicated fans, I am Shirley O'Connell.