Posts Tagged ‘bakersfield’

Life after Wendy


Wedding picture of Wendy Wayne and her husband Gene Tackett

Wendy Wayne, one of Bakersfield’s most prominent citizens, lost a 4-year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphona on June 17, 2012.  To call her one of Bakersfield’s most prominent citizens is about as mammoth an understatement as one can make, but this post is not to extoll Wendy’s accomplishments.  I’m writing it because I gave a little speech at a service in her honor at my Temple, Temple Beth El, and so many people have asked me to please post my speech or blog about it, that I’ve decided to do it.  I decided to speak about life after Wendy – how could we go forward and fill her void.  I am just going to post the speech and then summarize the Principles of the LAW: Principles of Life After Wendy.

Here’s how it went:

To stand in front of you and speak words of comfort or words of wisdom or any words at all is not an easy task.  By now so many words have been said and so many tears have been shed.  We are slowly learning how to live without Wendy Wayne in our midst.  We probably shared a similar reaction after the initial stab of heartache and emptiness when we heard the news of Wendy’s passing, when the bottom fell out of our world.  How would we find life possible without her? How could we become like Wendy Wayne, fill the void?  Because Wendy’s presence was that large.

We know about her accomplishments in the community.  Those we can list.  The list is long and impressive, even visionary.  Did you know that list includes something called the Child Passenger Safety Commission, or something along those lines?  That was a long time ago, but I remember it because it was one of many things Wendy tried to involve me in.  I however, didn’t quite get it.  It didn’t sound that exciting, this Child Passenger Safety Commission.  I thought I would pass.  But do you know what it did?  It led to the car seat law!  How many children’s lives has that saved!  Visionary.

But more than the list of accomplishments, and where we feel the ache I think, is in missing the sheer force of Wendy.  And I think that is where the panic sets in that makes us want to fill that void.  Could we?  Let’s imagine a day.  And let’s face it, no matter how pure and purposeful our intentions – my intentions –  were I to vow to arise at 6 each morning, walk 3 miles, do some volunteer work, send out a dozen birthday cards, take someone to a birthday lunch, bake cookies for a sick friend, have a dinner party, visit someone in the hospital, watch the news, write in my journal, read for the book club, PLUS do a full day’s work – realistically, perhaps I could do this for a week.  But – I’d have to take the entire next week off work to recover.  And that’s something Wendy would never do – take time off and be unproductive.

So as quickly as we fall into the panicky idea of ramping up to fill the void Wendy leaves, we fall out of it, realizing we can only be ourselves; but Wendy left us such a wonderful template for life and how to become our better selves.  That we can do.  We can look at the traits that made Wendy Wendy, and consciously enhance them in ourselves, and I think that would be Wendy’s best legacy.

We could call them Principals of the LAW – Law standing for Life after Wendy.

Perhaps one of our Principals of the LAW could be to become better listeners.  Hearing is easy; listening is hard.  But didn’t we all feel special with Wendy, like we were the most interesting person she had ever met? It’s because she listened to us.  Did you ever try to ask Wendy anything and shortly thereafter find that you were talking about yourself again? Wendy always tricked you like that.  Wendy included listening as one of her words of wisdom to the graduating class at CSUB a couple of years ago, telling the graduates that you can’t learn anything if you’re talking.  Not long ago, I said to Wendy, “It’s just amazing how you like everyone.”  She answered, “Let’s just say I find something in everyone.”  Because she listened.

Wendy would insist that we include acts of kindness as a principal of our LAW.  I would say random and not so random acts.  Daily. Could that be so hard? Wendy’s illness was the great challenge of her life and the knowledge that others were doing acts of kindness as well as hugging each other truly did sustain her.  Her spirit can now sustain us if we continue to do acts of kindness both large and small.  As a teacher, I learned that there are no throwaway words or actions, that you never know what is going to make a difference for someone no matter how small or inconsequential it seems to you.

Throughout her illness, Wendy was discouraged at times, in pain, suffering ill effects of the treatment and disease, at times wanting to give up, but she didn’t allow herself to stay in that place for long.  She consistently called herself the luckiest person in the world, and reinforced the joy and good fortune she had received in abundance throughout her life.  That joy and good fortune did not just fall into her lap, however.  She earned it through giving.  She always said that a life of service returned more to her that she gave, and it certainly left us all the better for it.  Maybe we can make that our third principal of the LAW – give to receive.  We can make our light shine just a little bit brighter by giving a little bit more of ourselves.  It’s often said that the harder we work, the luckier we get.  Maybe we can become the luckiest people in the world, too.

When Maya was born, Larkin and Katie’s first child and Wendy’s first grandchild, Wendy shared some expectations and hopes that expressed those qualities I most admired about her and had tried to incorporate in my own life already.  I think we can appropriate those hopes Wendy had for Maya, and of course for all her grandchildren because she now has four and another on the way, and incorporate them into Principals of our LAW #s 4-8, for they can apply to any age…and are most appropriate to filling the void left by Wendy’s passing.

Her hopes are these.  That you nurture your Jewish heritage and continue to make the world a better place; never meet a stranger; extend yourself to all you meet and ensure that doors of opportunity open; have a home that is always available for gatherings and sharing of wisdom; erase the word “no” from your vocabulary because you see only possibilities and never obstacles.

Imagine if we all lived like this.  Imagine a community that behaved like this.  Build a community like this.  Think of it as a challenge Wendy has left us because I think she would like that more than all the words of praise we could offer.  To make a difference is what gives Wendy’s life meaning.  She has done that, no doubt.

However, like it or not, I am going to offer some words of praise because coincidentally, after I wrote this, I found a letter to the editor I wrote in 2005 after it was announced that the Hillel Award was being conferred upon Wendy.  Here’s what it says.  (Read letter – the letter said much the same as what I said here, about listening, kindness, touching the lives of others, not having the word “can’t” in her vocabulary, etc.)

We honor Wendy and multiply her life exponentially by continuing to make a difference.  In the words of Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

Principles of the LAW (Life After Wendy)

1. Become a better listener.  (See what Wendy had to say about listening at this commencement address at CSUB, when she got the attention of the graduates talking about fulfilling her desire to make love on all seven continents.)

2. Perform random and not-so-random acts of kindness.  These can be small.  (For ideas, and to see what some high school students did for Wendy Wayne Pay it Forward Day, go here.)

3,  Give to receive.  (Watch this short slide show on Wendy’s life and you will see some of the many ways she contributed all over the world to make the world a better place.  We too can do our part, right here at home.)

4. Nurture our heritage, whatever it may be, and continue to make the world a better place.

5. Never meet a stranger.

6. Extend yourself to all you meet and ensure that doors of opportunity open.

7. Have a home that is always open for gatherings and the sharing of wisdom.

8. Erase the word “no” from your vocabulary because you see only possibilities, never obstacles.

To see that Wendy indeed never met a stranger, watch this short slide show from her Celebration of Life at the Fox Theater, where all 1,500 seats were filled.

The last visit I had with Wendy was a couple of days before she died and we knew it was our last.  As I mentioned earlier, she had visited all seven continents, and she had called her illness and a stem cell transplant her visit to the eighth continent.  I told her that this next adventure into the unknown would be her journey to the ninth continent and she liked that idea.  I did a collage afterwards I called Journey to the Ninth Continent and I think that’s going to be the title of a show I have opening in September at The Foundry.

Wendy, I hope your journey was smooth and also exciting.  Remember our last conversation when I said I might ask you for a sign now and then?  I think I may ask for one soon just to know you got to the ninth continent safely and to find out if you have everything organized yet.  I’m sure there are no strangers.  I send my love.

Journey to the Ninth Continent

Limos, lights- a Christmas visit to CALM (California Living Museum)


Here in Bakersfield, CA we have a place called CALM – California Living Museum.  Each year for the holidays, CALM is decorated with millions of lights.  Josh Barnett, whose company is Lightasmic, designs the show, which is a fundraiser for the museum.  Josh started doing lights as a teenager here in Bakersfield and now his company does displays all over the country.  It’s just stunning, and I hope everyone in Bakersfield has been at least once.

We’ve been going for many years, taking the grandkids.  Now the Bakersfield Seven are teenagers – all but one, but we still go.  This year I had a surprise in mind.

Yep, I rented a limo.

We tried to go in the limo and really enjoyed it for the first five minutes, until the limo broke down.  You know, those things happen, and we went ahead and took our cars.

We spent a little while just sitting in the limo, though, as we parked and waited near a cleaners.  This led to lots of joking about being on a stake-out looking for laundered money.

We got the limo from The Limousine Scene – I had it reserved, then it rained for three days and three nights, CALM was closed, I canceled the limo, and the rain stopped and CALM opened.  I tried to rebook and it was so last minute  – but these folks worked like crazy to get us a limo and driver.  It was a beautiful limo even if it broke down – that could happen to anyone anywhere.  Next time we hire a limo (like we do this all the time, right?) we will call Limousine Scene again.  I think they’re even making it good by giving us credit even though we didn’t have to pay.

So we got to CALM.

The dinosaurs were first, as well they should be.

I was sorry the Colorado Four weren’t here.  Jackson loves dinosaurs.  We’ve taken them before, but since Sam is brand new (almost two months old) the Colorado group didn’t come out for Christmas.  The T-rex was animated by the way.

Stegosaurus is my favorite dino, and then triceratops.  Why do I like those two?  I have no idea.

I am really truncating the exhibit – I have so many more photos than I’m showing but this ought to be enough to get folks out there before Jan. 31.  So into the Congo Safari…

Many of the exhibits are animated.  For example, this monkey climbs the tree and drops the coconut.

It really is a wonderland out there.

This was the most important place. Ali was bathed in purple light but we’re not calling her Purple Ali. (I never did figure out why Kelly on Survivor was called Purple Kelly.)

Jen took the obligatory group photo.

At least Jen made it into a picture, here with Sarah.  Martians.  Actually, I was happy with the photos since I didn’t take my tripod.

Xavier wanted his photo with the penguin.

So that’s our CALM journey.  Bako folks, get yourself out there before it closes.

Small treasures in the rain


After three days and three nights of rain in a row, we had a day without.  Then it rained again.  But it hasn’t been cold, and it’s been so exciting to run around in the rain and get wet! We have a yearly average of 4.6 inches or something pathetic like that.  Once I got over huge puddles turning into lakes, I started to notice small things like drops of rain.  I took pictures, all in our yard.

I think that the plants are happy to feel water and get washed clean after the dry dusty summer.  They must feel rejuvenated.

It’s amazing – the infinite number of photo possibilities in the same little group of berries, or seeds, or whatever the little brown balls are.

The leaves are gone except for the lone brown leaf trying to hang on.  And the green – what’s that about?

The rain drops give a new look to old things.

It would be interesting to follow fall across the country.

Or maybe just follow it in my own backyard.

Last vestiges of first fall in my neighborhood – and my yard!


Most readers will say, “What? Fall ended long ago.” But not in Bakersfield, CA, where actually we are experiencing a heat wave.  What can I say? That’s southern California.  Since we moved in the spring, we had no idea what the trees in the neighborhood would look like in fall.  We’re in a small gated community and I think we had the most spectacular entrance in Bakersfield.

Fall is exhilarating even though it depicts the end of the cycle.  The plants are getting ready for winter, which they do by shedding the very thing that gives them life – the leaves.  Then they steel themselves against the cold. The only danger in our backyard is the occasional frost, but even then, the plants have struggled back.

Winter is not attractive here.  It’s gray, damp, foggy, and dull.  That’s not exciting weather.  Oh, we might have a storm or two but nothing to get excited about.  Just when you think you can’t hold out any longer against that dull gray nothingness (except that not holding out is hardly an option), spring starts to tease and the baby greens start to show.

The night we celebrated Chanukah with our friends – December 5 – there was a big wind and rain storm, and that started the leaves falling.  The morning after leaves littered the ground.

I’ve never seen so many colors in one tree.  I think the color depends upon weather somehow but whatever it needed, we got it.

Now for the best surprise of all.  Down one side of our house we have two Japanese Maples.  This is the one I see out of the kitchen window.

But THIS is what I see out the living room window!

It’s so gorgeous I can barely believe it.

Looking out the window.

Now that I know what to expect, I can savor the arrival of next year’s fall.  I’m learning the seasons of my backyard.

The Streets of Bakersfield – in the fall


Just an art every day entry of trees cloaked in their fall clothes.  Yes, even dry, dusty, hot Bakersfield, CA can have beauty in fall.  A few posts ago I was leaving Colorado and I said I left at the end of their fall colors, but would get to Bakersfield for the start of ours.  All these photos were taken on Coffee Road between Stockdale Highway and White Lane.  If you’re a Bako resident and want to see colors, get out now because they won’t last.

I like the way the white on the above photo falls off the page.

And finally, seed pods.  Because what would fall be without the promise of spring?

Don’t forget that in the photo galleries – tabs at the top of the page – I have many more gorgeous nature photos, including fall colors.

Images, words, poetry, and Jim Morrison


I’ve been writing about the show that opened tonight at the Younger Gallery in Bakersfield.  Well, it looked great!  Beautifully hung, wonderful poetry and photography.  I feel more than lucky to have been included, especially since it was invitation only.  I’ll post a couple of photos from the show and one more poem and photo.

I took the photo in the Alta Cienega Motel in Los Angeles.  That’s where Jim Morrison stayed most of the time he was in L.A.  and I went down there with William Jordan, a former student who was enamored of The Doors, so we could hit all the area Morrison landmarks.  William is the boy in the photo and we’re in Morrision’s room.

The poem, Signs of Morrison, is written by Nick Belardes.

One night in Paris

or Toulouse it happens.

Somewhere in a city

where dreams of artists

get trapped in motels,

or up in the clouds of neon signs

and then down around ankles

like bunched pants, it happens.

Somewhere, in a black and white sky,

in a doorway,

or just near a doorway,

there’s a man.

He’s looking into a camera

and wondering

just who he is in that mirror,

and where he’s going.

He hums a song,

smiles at the nearby radio

and at the roads

curving over distant muddy hills.

He’s passing through.

Just passing through.

Morrison is topical again since Florida Governor Charlie Crist is working on pardoning him from the indecent exposure charge long ago in 1969 during a concert in Florida.

The next two photos show how the show is hung.  If you live in Bakersfield, do come visit the gallery.

Football season has begun and Bakersfield’s Frontier Titans are coached by Rich Cornford, Ryan Mathews’ high school coach.


It’s here – high school football.  I have three granddaughters in high school this year at Frontier in Bakersfield, CA, so I take great interest in the team – and the coach. Check out the profile I wrote about Rich Cornford, Frontier’s varsity coach – AND the high school coach of the Charger’s Ryan Mathews.  If you follow football at all, that name means something to you.  All eyes are on Mathews as the pro season begins.  Expectations are high for San Diego Charger #24, and it all started right here in Bakersfield, CA! We excel in strange weird media mentions nationwide, but this is one time we are happy for the attention!

So forget about the recent reports of the doctor who died in the chimney when she tried to get into her boyfriend’s house.  Instead, focus on Rich Cornford, Mathews’ high school coach.

Rich Cornford is the varsity football coach at Frontier High School. Before that, he coached recently drafted NFL player Ryan Mathews at West Bakersfield High School. Photo by Susan Reep

Wanting to learn from a coach he admired, Cornford turned down scholarships elsewhere to attend Baylor University, where he played as a walk-on for coach Grant Teaff. Photo by Susan Reep

By Susan Reep

Football is its own kind of art, a symphony perhaps, with all the players meshing together as instruments and the coach as conductor. Frontier Titans’ varsity football coach Rich Cornford has gently taken a rowdy sport and elevated coaching to an art form. I became curious about this while attending Frontier High School football games with my grandkids, two of whom are Frontier students. Who was the coach? No one was jumping up and down on the sidelines waving arms or pacing, which is what I expect from a coach. At Frontier, however, that quiet, calm, unflappable man on the sidelines is the coach.

Cornford previously coached at West High, where he turned the program around and developed players such as Ryan Mathews, the 12th overall pick in the last NFL draft and now a running back for the San Diego Chargers. Johnny Guillen, a photojournalist for KBAK-29, was heading to San Diego to interview Mathews after his first pre-season game with the Chargers and I asked, “Please, can you ask him a question just for me when you are finished?” My question was: “How would you describe Cornford’s coaching style?” Mathews’ answer:  “He was more than a coach to me; he was more like a father figure. Even now, after my first pre-season game, he called to check up on me. I don’t think I would be in the NFL if it wasn’t for him.”

Cornford says he believes a good coach must inspire players to become better than they think possible, sometimes with something as simple as a word of encouragement, other times by challenging them in different ways. Some kids are easy, like Mathews, he said. “He plays running back, a ‘selfless’ position. He’s a great kid.  It takes a community to grow a child. He gave so much and was such a good teammate. He had some rough issues.  Had to make up ground academically. Even had some self-doubt. I had to tell him, ‘Son, you’re pretty darn good.’ Naturally honest and humble.”

Cornford himself is naturally humble and honest. Born in Lompoc, California, he became aware of football when he was eight years old and has thought about it every day since, from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night.

“I remember the hype before the Denver Broncos played in the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1978 (1977 season),” he said. “As a kid, I loved the Rams, and I’d run home from church every Sunday to watch as much as possible.”

He was hooked as a player in third grade when he played tackle football on a team that didn’t win a single game in the first two years. That didn’t faze him because one of the coaches, his father, made it fun. The experience helped his later development as a coach.  “The most important thing for these young kids is that they have fun first, and they’ll learn to sacrifice later for the game.”

Tony Dungy, former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, is Cornford’s role model. “His style is a lot like mine in that he’s quiet and unassuming. He shows that you don’t have to be a yeller or screamer to be successful. He’s a guy of high character,” said Cornford.

He also admires Baylor University coach Grant Teaff, now head of the American Football Coaches Association. Cornford wanted to learn from Teaff and turned down scholarship opportunities elsewhere to attend the Christian university in Texas as a walk-on, knowing that while he played to the best of his ability, he’d never be a star. He wanted to be a coach.

Teaff remembers Cornford well: “I always had a soft spot in my heart for those players like Rich who didn’t have maybe the playing talent but had the spark and were such good people and had such high goals for themselves that I always made room for them. It’s interesting because I decided to be a coach when I was 14. I assume Rich was impacted by his high school coaches. Most of the guys who go into coaching are.”

He added that he’s not at all surprised by the success Cornford has had. He said coaches like him, that aren’t looking over the fence but doing their jobs as well as they can, build and build and build, and eventually get noticed and their stock goes up.

Baylor had other payoffs: It’s where Cornford met his wife, Susan. The first time he saw her he was sitting on the steps of the gym and watched “the best looking redhead I’ve ever seen” go by. He discovered what sorority she was in and finagled a way to assist in that sorority’s activities, but, he says, “When I watched her play basketball, I fell in love.” The Cornfords now have three children, Katie, Karlee and Marcus, who already are standout athletes in multiple sports. He takes being a family man seriously. “I don’t want to be seen as just a football coach. I put a lot of effort into being a husband and father.”

Cornford’s coaching style explains an incident I saw last year at the quarter-final game, Frontier vs. Garces. The first half was a rout. As Garces scored touchdown after touchdown, I thought, “What happened to the strong Frontier team?” After halftime, Frontier took control of the game and surged ahead to a comfortable lead and win. Something happened in that locker room at halftime, a game-changer.

Coach Cornford said that Frontier does not have a real complicated defense, but it does require players to do some selfless things. The team was not focused in the first half, with everyone trying to make tackles and no one taking blocks. Then came half time.

“I went in (the locker room) and heard two players arguing about how the other wasn’t doing his job. I came into that and I raised my voice and said, ‘Both of you. Just sit down and shut up. This is what we’re going to do,’ and I went over defense. I instantly had everyone’s attention because I don’t raise my voice much. I’m a pretty nice guy but I’m pretty tough, and I think I had that look in my eye and they were pretty scared. We rearranged the focus.”

I like that: “We rearranged the focus.” The game-changer was something as simple as a few words in a raised voice without profanity, followed by calm but focused direction from Rich Cornford, a quiet, dignified and focused high school football coach.

I Wanna See You Strut


I wanna see you strut, strut, strut, come on walk for me,

Strut, strut, strut, how you wanna be,

Everybody’s looking for some love but they don’t know

How to let it all hang out, that’s why they’re solo…

These are the lyrics to an Adam Lambert song titled Strut. It’s the first thing I thought of yesterday when I stopped at Hart Park to check out the peacocks.  It’s spring and these guys are strutting.  They do know how to let it all hang out and they will find love, at least of the temporary peacock variety.  They were so funny to watch – preening, parading around while the females didn’t give them the time of day.  Yet.

They turned and swayed; their feathers blew in the wind and made all kinds of amazing patterns.

This guy took a break from his strutting around and looked very picturesque in front of the palm fronds.

Hart Park, just outside of Bakersfield, has about 30 resident peacocks.  No one is quite sure who brought them there, but they’ve been around since the 1950s.  Park employees are not allowed to feed the birds, but the public feeds them as do the Cat People.

These creatures are magnificently impossible.  How could you design something like this? You’d be told it’s too gaudy, no one would believe it, it must be a creature out of a fantasy novel.  But here they are.

That bird shows pride, curiosity, and a little bit of belligerence.  Have you heard a peacock squawk?  They are LOUD.

Amazingly enough, these birds can also fly.  If you look here you can see the back view of the peacock – last year’s photos.   Go to photo 13 and look just above the clump of downy feathers – that fan-shaped cluster of feathers makes a terrific rattling noise when Mr. Strutting Fine Feathers is trying to get the attention of a female.

A little bit of a stretch here.

As far as I’m concerned, there just can’t be too many peacock pictures.  If I looked like that, I’d strut around too.

This looks completely fake, doesn’t it?   That green stuff is so detailed and complex.

I’m so beautiful.  But I am also fierce!  And a little bit scary.

#CED2010: Welcome to the Hot Padre!


We have a new old hotel in town and Bakersfield is all atwitter.  The Hotel Padre has been remodeled and is open for business.  Why is this a big deal?  Do check on this link and read the colorful history of the Padre.  I’ll add a couple of things –  Spartacus Miller didn’t want to comply with the building code that fire sprinklers be put on all the floors, so he simply closed them.  For many years, no one went above the second floor of the 8-story hotel.  The “EL” on the hotel sign was burned out, so we always saw the Hot Padre rather than Hotel Padre.

Here’s a look at the old Padre:

You can see the Alamo sign on top and the “ston” of tombstone.  Also note that this Hot Padre offered television!

I wish I had a photo with the missile on top, but then back in the 80s or 90s, when I took these pictures, using actual film, I never thought about the Hot Padre without the missile and the Alamo Tombstone sign – they were just always there!

It’s pretty cleaned up today.  (We had a nice sky today when I took these photos.)  See the blue and the striped awnings on ground level?  This is what they looked like in the old days.

Like the article I linked to says, the Town Casino was quite the place.  I loved that bar.  If there was ever a place where everyone could be comfortable, this was it.  You could come in wearing a business suit, or a man could come in with a bra on top of his shirt (I saw that one), and no one blinked an eye.  The fake girl in the bathtub was on kind of a shelf-type thing up near the ceiling.   Ernie was playing the piano, the place was full of smoke (which, somehow, that was the only place I could tolerate that), and you could just relax, have a drink, and maybe another drink.

Talk about dated – here’s a photo of the tile work in that photo above.

I love it.  I adore kitschy things from that era.  But that is gone and today we have a brand new Hot Padre with some equally interesting decor.  It’s being established as a boutique hotel with character.

Not as much character as the Hot Padre or the Alamo Tombstone, but nice enough.  Ready to walk through the doors?

The doors on the other side have valet parking!  That’s probably how they got around the decided lack of parking spaces for guests.  The green arches in the back are windows of the Belvedere, a restaurant.  Want to be a guest?  Let’s check in.

Gotta say, I love this cowgirl. While we wait for our room, let’s have some coffee in the Farmacy and enjoy the ceiling.

Have to go downstairs for the restroom.  But men and women use the same sinks which makes so much sense.

Women are on the side you can see.  Then if you’re hungry you can grab a quick snack at the Farmacy, get a meal in the Belvedere, something more casual in Brimstone, or a drink in Prospect.  Come spring, you’ll be able to enjoy the Prairie Fire – a patio with fire pits.

It’s great to have the Padre open again.  It’s a beloved Bakersfield landmark and we’re so excited that we’re actually staying there on Saturday night!  A group of Bakofolks have booked rooms and will be having dinner together.  I expect a few martinis will work there way in – gotta try the new specialty – something with the words blue and lemon in it I think.  I’ll report back after I’ve had one.  Golly it’ll be cool.

On Saturday night, we’re going to put the HOT back in the Padre.

Best of Blog Challenge: Best Restaurant Experience – Hassano’s and Bastille Day at Valentiens


Gwen Bell has a Best of Blog Challenge on her own blog, and although it’s one more thing to do in Dec., it sounds like a fun way to keep the juices flowing.  It’s a way to reflect on the year too, because even a “best” that seems insignificant (like December 28’s question, “Stationery.  When you touch the paper your heart melts.  The ink flows from the pen.  What was your stationery find of the year?”)  can potentially open up a floodgate of memories.  Memories lead to reflection, which leads to how things can change.  I know I operate on what I call CSI – Continuous Self Improvement – and even if I don’t attain great heights or become spectacular, I can take small steps in making life more fulfilling.  And I believe that the more fulfilled we are, the more we can positively influence other’s lives.

So, after deciding to participate in the challenge and printing out the list of questions, I thought, What the heck, I just finished Art Every Day Month, I’m pooped, it’s the holidays, and I wrinkled up the paper and threw it away. Now, of course, it’s been retrieved from the waste bin and I’m about to embark on December 2.  Already, the implications lead far beyond the question.

Restaurant moment: Share the best restaurant experience you had this year.  Who was there?  What made it amazing? What taste stands out in your mind?

I have two.  The first occurred in Spring.  I was up at our cabin in Alta Sierra by myself working on photo collages.  I had a show coming up and found it easiest to work where I could focus just on art – or not, as I chose.  The show is now finished, but you can see the collages that were in it here.  I went to upload photos to my computer and – oops! – I’d forgotten the camera connection.  I called my husband and he agreed to meet me halfway, in Glennville, for dinner and to bring my cord.

I can’t say our conversation was profound, but we were knocked out by the food.  This is a small foothill community and I doubt if the population reaches 300.  But there’s a restaurant called Hassano’s.  The only restaurant. So there we went.

hassanos rs

I had chicken picatta expecting some reheated version.  What I got was a totally fresh, perfect, tantalizing dish.  And the vegetables!  I could rhapsodize about them but I’d rather go back and get more.  I asked the waitress to tell Hassano how fabulous the food was and she said he has hired someone he sent to chef school.  Well, this is a well-kept secret, because Bakersfield folks could take a beautiful drive up there and have fabulous, inexpensive food.

Bastille Day:  Alors enfants de la patrie, la jour de gloire est arrive.  The day of glory sure did arrive in Bakersfield.  We have an exquisite restaurant called Valentiens.  Their Bastille Day celebration sounded like fun, but the major impetus for going was that I’m making a determined effort to become part of the community again.  That isn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds, but I retired from teaching a couple of years ago.  When I taught, my world shrank and I had tunnel vision.  School and seventh-graders were all I had time for.  My post-retirement “career” is heading in the art and photography direction so that means getting out there again, meeting people, entering a different circle than the teaching world.

Also, at 63, I find I could easily become a hermit.  I’m tired after getting through a day, especially when we were giving a great deal of assistance to one of our daughters.  And with nine grandkids, six in town, the tendency at dinner is to not even make it and just collapse.  So I told my husband we weren’t going to melt into the woodwork, but get back out and have fun.

This was amazing because of:

Music, the fantastic accordianist.  We could have been on the bank of the Seine.

accordianist bastille day

Then there was the wine.

wine glasses bastille day

Corkage was free if we brought a bottle of French wine, which we did.  We saw Steve Mayer, a reporter for the Bakersfield Californian, and asked him to join us.  We gave him a glass of our wine and he immediately  told us what it was and all about the region – this man knows his wines!

Then there were the artists working throughout – we could have been on the Left Bank.

artists bastille day

Vikki Cruz and Yvonne Cavanaugh own Surface Gallery in town.

The evening was more amazing because everyone was in costume.  The artists, above, and the co-owner Jennifer Sanderson, below.

jennifer bastille day

Did I mention food?  I can’t even remember what we ate, but I know it was delicious.  Maybe I had the succulent duck breast with crispy skin.  I love their duck.  We finished with waiter races!

waiter races

Wow!  This was a LONG post about a dining experience.  But it was so much more.  None of these people – Yvonne, Vicky, Jennifer, Steve, and other friends we saw there – Leighann and David, Jennifer and Larry, knew this was helping bring me back from the brink of social extinction.  Ok, dramatic.  But really, it was good to approach a new era with so much fun!  Next year, we’re there for sure.  We’ve been there quite a bit since, actually.

Tomorrow’s blog may be just as long – an article that blew me away.  I knew immediately what it was, so I’ll be talking about aging and death.  That’s an upper to end with, isn’t it?