Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Stroke of Genius

Sometimes in marriages it takes one spouse to gently remind the other of a possible foible, to help set things right as it were. This time it was the lovely L of J and L, Laureen, who had to once again remind J, John, that we do not write simply a travel blog but rather a blog with a broader scope: one concerning research and exploration. John usually just tells inquisitive minds - "Yeah, we travel and write about those travels." He starts researching, then writing and thinking of how the words and photos need to fit onto the page while Laureen smiles and explains that the whole idea behind this blog is to share the concept of digging deeper into "What's in your backyard?" Research and then go out and explore where that research leads whether near to home or further out into the world. It doesn't really matter, just go!

John continues to smile away while speaking with our new-found friends of the evening while Laureen explains the nuts and bolts of what we do. While social media in all its various forms is done, and perhaps overdone  in our modern age, blogging is still a relatively opaque field for many. And,  it is good to have Laureen around in public when John opens his mouth - it's a synergy sort of thing.

Laureen - posing, again
So, with a wedding anniversary coming up J and L wondered what sort of thing would be truly unique - sipping champagne atop the Eiffel Tower? Walking the ruins of an ancient tomb in Rome? Perhaps even looking for pirate treasure in the Caribbean? But reality crashed in and with work schedules they started looking into local events which could be fun and emphasize togetherness (thus why people celebrate the day they were married).

Kudos to Laureen who found a small company out of the Inland Empire in Southern California called the Purple Easel.

A rose by another name
An extremely innovative practice of getting groups of strangers (of course, you can attend with loved ones or friends) for a few hours to teach the art of art. Yes, actually painting on canvas - that one stumbling block which gets in the way of most talented people - to put our work out there for others to see (and criticize perhaps). If to criticize is to bolster the artist's talent then bring it on, but if it is simply a tool to ridicule then leave the room.

At least, that is J's sentiment with as many writing critics he's had.

The artist at work
We spent a very enjoyable evening in Riverside, California at the El Torito Restaurant with our two instructors (artists extraordinaire), Ian (the guy in the front of the room giving stroke by brush struck  instructions to us palette neophytes), and Aarick who wandered the room giving hints here and there to the artists-in-training doing their best to create works resembling something you could call art. For many it was a struggle mixing the right shades from the variety of colors, but we looked good mixing and actually most of the new artists turned white canvases into something they could proudly show friends and family.

Dr. Beyer - deep in artistic concentration
It isn't easy painting background colors, trees, shadows trees, branches that don't look like lumps of color, and most challenging of all, the elk.  At one point, Laureen's baby elk, I believe the term is calf, appeared to be an alien hybrid animal. Art is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. Eventually though, with the assistance of our instructors, the animal began to take on more earthly proportions.

Writing is difficult enough, and I suppose that is why God created editors, but when placing colors onto canvas there is not much help from above. Unless it's people like Aarick or Ian standing behind you suggesting gently that your painting would look better if you concentrated on making the trees look like trees instead of telephone lines waiting for the utility crews to attach the overhead wires. Of course, they never said things like that but were only the most two encouraging fellas one could hope for when painting.
The fun begins

This was not paint by the numbers - nope. A blank canvas, an original painting at the head of the room, and directions (amply given) by the two artists. Every painting resembled the original to a degree but unique was an understatement amongst the forty people there on a Monday evening hoping to be the next Monet.

A proud moment
J was hoping not to get paint on his jeans while L was looking forward to the next attempt to be placed in the Louvre. Well, perhaps I overstate just a bit.

Bringing it home

And you have to love a company which advertises - Laugh, Drink (responsibly), paint and you will leave with your own unique and personally painted masterpiece.

Purple Easel offers painting events at their studio in Rancho Cucamonga or at various locations through-out Southern California and seems to be growing by the week according to KTLA and the Inland Empire Explorer.

Not sure we painted a couple of masterpieces but we're blogging about them, putting them on Facebook (L is since J can't even spell Facebook) and they are hanging in our home.
Our First Works of "Art"
That's what we refer to as masterpieces in our high desert locale!

For more information:

Purple Easel
Enriching Lives Through the Joy of Painting

11966 Jack Benny Dr. Unit 104 Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91739 Phone: 909.638.1272
Reservations@PurpleEasel.corms & Conditions

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

Where do the years go? It seems just like yesterday one hundred and six years ago that the first Newport Beach 'Christmas' Boat Parade took place. Of course, back then it was known as the Illuminated Water Parade.

In 1907 an entrepreneur by the name of John Scarpa started taking tourists from the local cities across Beacon and Balboa Bay in his Italian inspired gondolier all festive with lit Japanese lanterns.

Not John but just a cool photograph.
It caught on and just the next year Scarpa was leading eight kayaks, all burning the lanterns in the same manner as their leader to the delight of site-seers crowding the board walks. This event landed on July 4th of 1908 and the birth of the annual (almost, it was called off for a few years because of WWI) boat parade was begun.

John Scarpa was the man!

Things got better and spookier though in 1915 when a spectacular parade with forty vessels took place including two boats shooting fireworks at each other, two underwater mines being exploded to the thrill of the crowds and a derelict boat set afire in the middle of the bay. What fun but don't try that in the 21st Century. 

Do not try this at home!
After the 'Great War' Joseph Beeker a true pioneer in the very early days of Newport Beach brought the boat parade back into existence. The man who developed Beacon Bay, started the Balboa Ferry Line and was one of the major player in creating that haven for million dollar plus homes on Balboa Island was in his element. His clout and prestige brought the boat parade back to full glory in 1919.

However in 1949 the City Fathers decided that this show of lights upon the waters of Balboa Bay were bringing in too many tourists from outside (those whom don't belong) crowding the streets and viewing areas and stopped the parade.  Play back to 1946 when Newport Beach City employees had started pulling a barge about the bay during the Christmas Season sporting a large decorated tree and lots of people on the barge singing carols. Those folks continued on disregarding the poo-poo politicians and soon other yachties joined the barge lighting up their own boats and powering around the bay in good spirits.

Boats of all sizes show their pride
The parade was back on and the Beeker family joined in with the use of their ferries in the bay allowing visitors to be in the parade itself to the delight of friends and family on shore waving and singing songs.

The parade has morphed into one of the top ten Holiday Events in the country according to Davey's Locker out of Newport Beach (actually on Balboa Peninsula) and by the more than a million people each year who view the show live.  The parade is conducted for five nights (Dec. 17 thru the 21st) prior to Christmas and seems to be getting better each and every year.

Some pretty big yachts.

J and L have made the parade a family tradition since our girls were little and this year we were treated (by those same girls) to be in the boat parade itself and not just shore observers. An exciting time with family and new found friends aboard our own bit of history.

Houses lit up and maybe the owners too?
Our gander around the bay to view the wonderful lights of both the houses (and in some cases mansions which looked more like hotels) was from the very large and comfortable 'Western Pride' out of Davey's Locker and choreographed by Captain Mike Harkins and his great crew. There's a reason Mike is called a Skipper - the way he was able to 'skip' this large ship around the bay in and between the countless yachts and dinghies proved he was simply a magician or a guy with nerves of steel. We'll go with both descriptions at this time after witnessing first hand his control of the wheel and confident voice over the speakers describing every aspect of the tour of lights. In truth, a very nice man who took his job very seriously - navigating safely and ensuring his passengers enjoyed the spectacular array of lights.

The dozens of guests on the Western Pride certainly enjoyed themselves by the sound of the oohs, ahhs and laughter all around us. A picture perfect evening during the season when perfection started a little over two thousand years ago.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas and don't forget, there's always 2015.

For more information:
Davey's Locker
(949) 673-1434

Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Santa Claus Lane

"You must think we're just awful. I mean you're here with your family, and ..." She gestured toward the gentleman on the parade sidelines and the lovely young lady and children next to whom he was standing.

He smiled broadly and lifted both arms in an open and welcoming gesture. "Come here, honey."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one left the ladies breathless.

Johnny Depp meets the Tombstone Legends
The Tombstone Legends had been invited to join Lasky Productions to celebrate 100 years of cinema in Hollywood, the place where it all begin. We would be the first group of performers on the red carpet at the 83rd Hollywood Christmas Parade. So off we trouped in full 19th century regalia (I mean, we are celebrating how things were a hundred years ago, right?) to Hollywood and our rendezvous spot in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater on the Walk of Fame. As the first group of performers, (following the Marine Corps Band who will kick things off with a bang at the start of the actual parade) the producers and "Others of Importance" responsible for getting this big show literally on the road (Hollywood, Vine and Sunset, to be specific), had us march back and forth across the red carpet for the better part of an hour so they could calibrate the cameras, sound, lights, etc. in front of the grandstands. 

Still a Wonder
We practiced our pacing, blocking out our walk while being serenaded by no other than Stevie Wonder, the Grand Marshall, as he warmed up at the keyboard. At the end of our final walk-through, the group ended in front the Wonder himself, broke formation, and started to dance with abandon. Partying like it's 1881, mind you, considering how we're dressed.  It was an exciting moment for a little group of Western theatrical actors from various parts of Southern California.

So off the carpet to dry off and prepare for the actual parade. It had been literally pouring all afternoon, a rarity in this part of the state and a blessing in the current drought. But that couldn't dampen the troupe's spirits as we shuffled past Erik Estrada and Montel Williams and the dozens of big names and familiar faces that make this parade such a favorite among the estimated 26 million who watch it every year on television.

Back to the Roosevelt Hotel where one of our group noticed a quiet man with his family standing at the guardrails awaiting the parade. He looked a lot like Johnny Depp. A LOT. But this is Hollywood and look-a-likes are everywhere. Still there was something about him. Will Roberts,internationally known roper and gunslinger was doing his best to entertain the little group braving the rain when he says to the gentleman, "I bet you get this a lot: but you look a lot like Johnny Depp."

The man smiles and replies, "Yeah, I get that a lot."

As Will started to walk away, he heard the gentleman's companion call his name: Johnny. Seriously?

J and L on the red carpet
Well, you know how that story ended. That's how we opened this blog -- and the proof is in the picture. He was nothing but a gentleman as John and Johnny spoke, shook hands, and wished each other and their families Merry Christmas. A wink and a nod to his companion from Depp and off we went. We were working, after all. Not too many can claim Johnny Depp came to see them perform. Okay, maybe he and his family wanted to watch the parade and not just us. But we all dream a little.

So about that parade.

This one is special. Star-struck or not, this one has lasted a long time and has quite an interesting history. It was originally known as the Santa Claus Lane Parade. In 1928, the merchants along a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, would close down the road to hold a parade (and boost sales). The original parades had perhaps one float, a band, a celebrity and, of course, Santa Claus.

The parade was shut down during World War II, but in 1946, the parades began again with Gene Autry as the Grand Marshall. As Gene Autry headed down the parade route, all he could hear were children shouting "Here comes Santa Claus. Here comes Santa Claus." After all, Santa was in the vehicle behind him, and we all know who the kids really came to see. Sorry Gene. Did you ever wonder what the inspiration was behind the song that has become a perennial Christmas favorite: Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)?
Gene Autry, long-time grand marshal of Santa Claus Lane

The parade has grown. The route is now over three miles. (Try that in your high-heeled Victorian boots). And grand marshals have included astronaut Buzz Aldrin (last year), Charlton Heston, William Shatner, Ron Howard, Michael Landon and that other name you associate with Christmas, James (Jimmy) Stewart. There are floats, stars in fancy cars and on foot, marching bands, and such a festive holiday atmosphere, that if you weren't feeling in a Christmas mood when you arrived, we'd be shocked if you left without humming a little to yourself or hearing one of the songs in your head. That'll put you in the Christmas spirit.

And the purpose of all this? Well, of course, people love to see the floats, wave at the celebrities. Heck, we liked being psuedo-celebrities for the night. But Hallmark Channel, the primary sponsor of this parade, anticipates donating 1.5 million dollars to Toys for Tots through this parade and the related holiday season events. The US Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program provided over 16 million toys last year to 7 million children.

We certainly couldn't imagine a better reason to stand in the rain for hours than to benefit the children at Christmas.

Merry Christmas from Hollywood to you!