California Trippin'

Pleasant Hill  

As promised in the last blog, we traveled to California for ten days for two family celebrations, a week and 400 miles apart.  The first event was Sam's graduation from De La Salle High School in Concord CA, the next town over from Sean and Julie's home in Pleasant Hill.  Our flight out was pleasant and more or less on time.  A part had to be replaced before we could leave Dulles.  In a repeat of our experience four years ago for Sam's graduation from Christ the King School, I waited in line for an hour and half for our Dollar rental car.  That remains the price for saving $300 for a four-day rental.  Even though it was a Saturday, there were still traffic slowdowns and congestion getting to and over the Bay Bridge.  However, by 3:30 we had checked into the Residence Inn in Pleasant Hill and then headed over to see Sean, Julie, and Sam.

The last time I saw Sam was for his Eagle Scout Court of Honor last fall.  Since then, he had turned eighteen, was driving regularly, and most recently had bleached his hair, added a couple of earrings and painted his fingernails with stick ons.  He is ready for college!  We spent the afternoon getting caught up with Sean and his latest project, with the newly retired Julie and, most importantly, with the college bound graduate.  Amazingly Sam has gotten only one B in his high school courses which include more Advanced Placement Course than I can count.  The week we arrived he had taken five AP exams.  

He will be attending Reed College in a suburb of Portland OR.  The college's website accurately describes Reed as "a coeducational, independent liberal arts and sciences college. Referred to as one of the most intellectual colleges in the country, Reed is known for its high standards of scholarly practice, creative thinking, and engaged citizenship.  Reed students pursue the bachelor of arts degree in 40 majors and programs. The curriculum includes a yearlong humanities course, broad distribution requirements, and a senior thesis. A 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and small conference-style classes allow faculty members to truly mentor students and engage with them in individual discussions."  Incredibly the average high school GPA of entering students is 4.0 which includes AP courses where an A is valued at 5.  It has long been known as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.   

Reed ranks second in the nation in the production of future Ph.D.s in the life sciences and humanities; third in science and math, social sciences, and physical sciences. Among all institutions of higher learning, it ranks fourth in the nation in all disciplines.  It has never deviated from a commitment to the liberal arts.  One goes to Reed to begin the process of becoming an intellectual, not to get a degree or a job.  It is not a college for everyone, but I think it is perfect for Sam.  Unsurprisingly, Sean and Julie are extremely proud of him.

The graduation began at 9 AM and concluded by 10:30.  We went back to the house for photos and a light lunch.  That morning Julie introduced us to

Senorita Bread, a Filipino pastry described as "a soft sweet bread roll filled with butter and brown sugar and baked in crispy bread crumbs. They are small, soft and delicious. One senorita bread has 246 calories."  We didn't have that last bit of info but would have ignored it anyway.  Happily, there were some left from the morning and we gobbled them down for some nourishment before a graduation dinner in midafternoon.

Marilyn and I decided to go up to the center of Pleasant Hill where a Wine, Food and Music Festival was underway.  The weather was beautifully warm and sunny.  Just another day in paradise.  There is water feature in front of the city buildings where a bale of turtles was gathered.  The musical entertainment was energetic.  Just when you think you've everything, a group did a version of Santana's Black Magic Woman featuring an electric ukulele! 

We joined Sean, Julie, and Sam for graduation dinner at Jack's.  This has been the place for all the celebrations of the Pleasant Hill Picketts:  wedding rehearsal dinner, Sam's baptism, first communion, grade school graduation, Eagle Scout Court of Honor and now high school graduation.  If you need a nice laugh right now, read the profile of the brothers who jointly own Jack's.  Hilarious.  We returned to the house and Sam opened his numerous gifts and cards.  Click here to view the google album of more photos of the day.

Sean had to take a red eye back to Austin that night.  They are in a critical phase of the project.  We spent the next day with Julie and had a lovely time.  Sam was able to find some things to do with his buddies, thus bypassing an opportunity to play pickleball with his grandparents.  Go figure.  The three of us spent about an hour introducing Julie to the games.  Despite her protestations that she would be awful with terrible hand-eye coordination, she turned out to be a natural.  She consistently returned the ball where she wanted and was very calm, two characteristics of good players.  The facility in Willow Pass Park in Concord was only twenty minutes away and featured fourteen dedicated courts with no fees.  They offer lessons for beginners which we hope Julie takes advantage of.  I think Sean would enjoy the game as well.  

Julie then took us to a restaurant in Walnut Creek for dim sum, best described as Chinese brunch trattoria.  Wikipedia provides a more formal description:  "Dim sum is a large range of small Chinese dishes that are traditionally enjoyed in restaurants for brunch. Most modern dim sum dishes originated in China and are commonly associated with Cantonese cuisine, although dim sum dishes also exist in other Chinese cuisines."  However, it is described, it is delicious.  Julie was an expert in ordering different dishes and explaining each although she would say she is a novice dim sumer.  We enjoyed a delicious and leisurely brunch even though we had eaten breakfast that morning and didn't think we would be hungry.  From something like eight dishes, we only took two pieces with us.  We were the typical Anglos and requested forks right away.  As if that weren't enough, I asked Julie why there wasn't any kimchi on the menu.  She was about to correct me quietly when the owner who was standing nearby told me that kimchi was a Korean dish.  Oops.  When we returned home, Julie introduced us to Speedminton.  This is an easy to learn and easy to set up--anywhere--racket game that everyone can play.

Huntington Beach

The next morning, we drove back to the airport...during morning rush hour.  The traffic wasn't too bad until we began our approach to the Bay Bridge.  Its ten lanes carry more than 260,000 vehicles a day.  It took us an hour to cover the thirty-seven miles.  Hardly a relaxing way to begin and end your workday.  It made us appreciate the twelve miles it takes to go from our house to the Rochester airport.  We flew down to LAX, rented a car and negotiated the Los Angles traffic on the 405, The San Diego Freeway.

We spent the next three days relaxing with Galen, Laura and the kids...oh and their two dogs, Zelda and Chloe.  This time of year the early part of a day includes what the locals call "June gloom."  The rest of us know it as fog or a temporary intrusion of the marine layer.  But by afternoon, the skies were blue and temperatures were in the low seventies.  Marilyn and I spent a couple of hours walking at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve.  It includes 1200 acres of coastal wetlands tucked between Huntington Beach and ocean beaches.  Since 1990, a non-profit organization, The Bolsa Chica Conservancy, has provided a vehicle for public involvement in preserving this essential natural resource.  We visit on every trip here.  Since it was late in the school year, there were five or six school groups learning about the history and importance of these wetlands from volunteers.  Every time I visit, I see something I hadn't seen before.  This time it was a white egret drying itself.  Pretty cool.

But there also something I didn't see that I saw last August when I visited.  Seemingly endless lines of container ships waiting to dock and unload at San Pedro next to Long Beach.  This was visible proof of supply chain and transportation disruptions because of the pandemic.  This year there was one that I could see.

Maggie was home from college at the University of New Mexico and was busy interviewing for summer jobs.  While we were there, she was hired at a Panera's in Huntington Beach.  We went with Galen and her on one interview in downtown Huntington Beach.  It was a chance to explore an area in which we had never spent much time.  A block of main street no longer permits vehicle traffic to accommodate the expansion of restaurants into outdoor dining on the sidewalks in front of their entrances.   This outdoor dining is one of the consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic and we see it often in our travels.  Turning that block into a pedestrian walkway changes the feel of the area.

Galen and Maggie introduced us to the Huntington Beach Pier.   According to Wikipedia, "at 1,850 feet in length, it is one of the longest public piers on the West Coast. (The longest is Oceanside Pier at 1,942 feet). The deck of the pier is 30 feet above sea level, while the top of the restaurant structure at the end of the pier is seventy-seven feet....One of the main landmarks of Huntington Beach, also known as "Surf City, USA", the pier is the center of the city's prominent beach culture. A popular meeting place for surfers, the ocean waves here are enhanced by a natural effect caused by the edge-diffraction of open ocean swells around Catalina Island, creating consistent surf year-round."   

Back at the house we took Galen to introduce him to pickleball.  There are two tennis courts near their house and one of them has been marked for pickleball.  Whoever did that used blue painter's tape so it must have been someone taking advantage of a lightly used tennis court.  We spent a fun hour knocking the ball back and forth.  Galen showed some natural talent for the game, but I doubt he has time to pick it up.  Maybe once he retires.  We just happened to be there when Top Gun: Maverick opened in the theaters.  We went to the first showing and we were impressed and entertained, Marilyn as well as I.  On our last night there, Robert stopped over and we enjoyed a delicious salmon dinner provided by Henry who continues taking the science courses required for admission to medical school.  He has another year left before he can apply.

An Interlude at the Getty Center

Friday morning, we left Huntington Beach after rush hour to head north for Malibu.  That meant we were back on the 405 again until we reached US Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway.  Before that junction, however, we would pass by The Getty Center and decided to stop for the day.  We chose this over Griffith Park with its zoo and observatory.  We were glad we did because the park is so large that we couldn't have been able to do it justice in a day but that was possible at The Getty Center.  After twenty years of  collecting art, J. Paul Getty began in the 1950's displaying the collection in his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles.  In the 1970's, he added a wing to the house and then a replica of an Italian villa to house his growing collection.  After his death in 1976, the art and the property along with most of his wealth were turned over to the J. Paul Getty Trust.   The trust built the Getty Center on the hip of the Santa Monica Mountains in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.  At 900 feet above sea level, the site has a commanding view--on a clear day--to the Pacific, Santa Catalina Island, Palos Verdes, downtown LA and the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains.

Designed by architect Richard Meier, the Getty Center houses the Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, and the J. Paul Getty Trust.  Work on the design began in 1984 and the planned $350 million began in 1989.  After nine years the Center was opened to the public at an estimated final cost of $1.3 billion.  Admission is free by terms of the Trust which holds ownership.  The day we visited was warm and sunny.  While the haze prevented us from enjoying the spectacular long range views, we spent six hours interacting with three aspects of the Center:  the art collection, the architecture and the gardens.

The art collection offered the opportunity to view works by all the famous artists of 20th Century Europe, especially the impressionists.  Interestingly, however, there were none of their most famous works due to Getty's stated refusal to pay full asking price for anything.  He was apparently a bargain hunter art buyer.  He got the names but not the marquee works.  For example, he didn't have any of Van Gough's sunflowers but he did have a wonderful canvas of his irises.  There was also a breath taking display of Louis XIV decorative art.  We had never seen so much gold inlaid furniture.

Bless Art Thou Among
Two pieces caught my eye.  The museum has a photographic collection and they had mounted a retrospective of Gertrude Kasebier (American 1852-1934.)  I was not familiar with her work but learned that Alfred Stiglitz named her the best portrait photographer in the early part of the twentieth century.  
"My children and their children have been my closest thought, but from the first days of dawning individuality, I have longed unceasingly to make pictures of make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality."  Käsebier's career in art followed from her first career as a mother.  She was a passionate advocate for women as professional photographers.  After her children were raised, she attended Pratt Institute and studied painting.  In 1897 she opened a portrait studio in New York but soon switched from painting to photography.  She was a leading practitioner of the Pictorialist style. Her family and friends posed for her most celebrated series of photographs on the subject of motherhood.  "Blessed Art Thou Among Women" intrigued me.  It is certainly an example of creating a biography as she said.  The young girl is ready and dressed to go out into the world.  The woman (the mother) remains in bedroom attire while her attention is focused on something or someone in the room.  The thick matting accentuates the feeling that we are looking into a domestic scene.  A narrative mystery in a single photograph.  Marvelous!

The second was "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889" by James Ensor (Belgian 1860-1949.)  The note for the eight by fourteen foot piece explains "flouting convention with its thick paint, clashing colors, and crude caricatures, Ensor's satirical masterpiece imagines how the citizens of Brussels would respond to the Second Coming of Christ.  Paying little heed to Jesus on his donkey, the carnivalesque crowd surges down a gigantic boulevard in a procession led by buffoonish representatives of the church, military and bourgeoisie."  I found this connecting with my own frame of mind.  If Christ's Second Coming is anything like his first, most of us and including me wouldn't recognize him and would misunderstand his "good news" just like humanity did two thousand years ago and like most of us do every day.

The architecture is stunning, particularly when you realize that the complex is laid out on two intersecting ridges on the hill top.  Rather than cutting and filling to level out the site,  Meier kept the natural contour of the land and adapting the buildings to the site.  The buildings are constructed of steel and concrete and faced with travertine stone quarried in  Bagni di Tivoli just outside Rome.  This quarry also provided stone for the Coliseum in Rome, the colonnade of St. Peter's Basilica and many of the aqueducts as well as Lincoln Center and the ABC Entertainment Center.  Because of the unique way in which this stone is formed out of calcite and gypsum, this dense, banded carbonate stone contains many fossils which can be seen in the 30x30x3 inch panels.  The buildings are more massive than tall as they hug the underlying terrain but the travertine with its golden highlights creates an interesting lightness.

And then there are the gardens that tie the buildings together and create cool and natural spaces when people can wander or just sit and reflect.  We could not find any interpretative material about the gardens.  There were several interesting sculptures scattered about and used to created unusual effects.

It was six hours well spent.  We enjoyed lunch which we purchased in a food court and then took to an out of the nook where we ate in some refreshing  shade.  There is another Getty museum nearby in Pacific Palisades called The Getty Villa which contains Greek and Roman antiquities housed in a re-created Roman country home.  This is the original J. Paul Getty home where he began displaying his art in the 1950's.  It was renovated and turned into a museum after the Center was constructed.  Our reservation was good for a visit there but we did not have the time or the energy.


We left the parking area--people movers take visitors up and down the hill--and headed for Agoura Hills.  By this time, Los Angeles rush hour had caught up with us and we didn't get back on the 405.  Google kept us on side roads but eventually we made it to Highway 101 called here Ventura Highway which we learned from America is "where the days are longer and the nights are stronger than moonshine."  We checked into our hotel and went out for a nice dinner before getting a good night's sleep for our visit the next day to Malibu.

Santa Monica Mountains from Agoura Hills
The Santa Monica Mountains are between Highway 101--Ventura Highway--and California 1--the Pacific Coast Highway which, as the name implies, hugs the coast of the Pacific Ocean.  It was twenty miles from our hotel over those coastal mountains down to Malibu.  We were going there to visit the Adamson House Museum.  Malibu comes from the Chumash word, humaliwo, which means "where the surf is loud."  (The hu is barely pronounced if at all.)  The Chumash was a major California tribe with 150 independent villages the central and southern coastal regions of California, in portions of what is now San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, extending from Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south. Their territory included three of the Channel Islands: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel.  The village was an important center in  prehistoric times.  There is archeological evidence of the village dating from 2500 BCE.

Rhoda Mae Rindge
Under the Spanish colonization, the village was part of a 13,000 acre land grant to Jose Bartholome Tapia in 1804 known as Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit. This grant recognized Tapia's service as a soldier in the De Anza Expedition.  When Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo stipulated that all Spanish land grants would be recognized as legitimate.  Through a series of complex transfers, Frederick Hasting Rindge bought the entire rancho in 1891.  After his death in 1905, his widow Rhoda Mae ran the ranch and several other businesses including a ceramic tile business using the clay found on the ranch.  She was very protective of the ranch and used armed guards to prevent unauthorized visitors.  She used political influence and legal maneuvers to prevent construction of the 27 miles of highway and railway that would run through the ranch along the coast.  The state finally prevailed using eminent domain but not until 1929.

Rhoda Mae's daughter, Rhoda Agatha Rindge, married Merritt Adamson in 1915.  In 1930 they completed the construction of a home tucked between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Malibu Lagoon.  Initially used as a beach home, the family soon began using it as their primary residence.  

Architectural historians refer to the style as a synthesis of Spanish Colonial Revival and Moorish Revival architecture.   It is best known for its extensive use of tile.  A 1997 article in The Los Angeles Times characterized it as "the house that tile built. Tile is everywhere — from the ceramic wall clock above the tile-topped oak table in the kitchen to the floor-to-ceiling tiled bathrooms."  Unfortunately no interior photography is allowed but the exterior shots give evidence of tile everywhere.  We went on a docent led tour and learned much about the house, of course, but also the Rindge and Adamson families, the history of the rancho, and the conflicts about land use that is a constant theme in California history, then and now.

The house sits adjacent to Malibu Creek Lagoon, an estuary formed by Malibu Creek as it enters the ocean.  Officially named, Malibu Creek State Beach, it has long been known as Surfrider Beach.   On October 9, 2010, it became the first World Surfing Reserve.  Most the surfing movies of the 1950's and 1960's were filmed here. 

After our tour, we walked to the Malibu Pier and enjoyed a quick lunch out over the water.  We drove back over the mountains to our hotel for a quick supper and then on to the welcome party for the wedding guests from out of town.

The Big Day

Chloe and Chris
We were in California for two family events, one week apart.  The second one was the wedding of Marilyn's Niece, Chloe Seitz, to Chris Greve.  The wedding took place on a hilltop in the vineyards at Saddle Rock Ranch.  This is a thousand acre ranch with five wedding and event venues.  It has been used extensively for filming television shows, moves, and commercials.  It is located in the Santa Monica Mountains midway between Agoura Hills and Malibu.  The bride was beautiful; the groom, handsome; the families and friends, energetic; and the weather, spectacular.

The next morning we were up early to drive to LAX for our flight home.  It was early on Memorial Day so it was an easy drive.  We got there in time to relax in the United Club and have a leisurely breakfast before boarding our flight to Chicago and then on to Chicago.  Our next trip comes up soon.  We will be driving down to New York City for grandson Liam's graduation from the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  Till then.....


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