Friday, November 24, 2017

San Bernardino Strong

John had his second novel, Soft Target, released in 2014 - it was a fictional account of a terrorist attack in a small city in Southern California. Terrorists commandeering a public middle school in the city of Victorville which left countless dead and horrific memories to last a lifetime.

It was a piece of fiction.

On December 2nd, 2015 at approximately 11 a.m. that horror became an unbelievable reality when two Islamic Terrorists (we will not mention their names out of respect for the victims and their families as well as these two evil persons do not deserve any one remembering them), entered the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and murdered 14, seriously wounding 22 innocent souls. There had been a planned holiday party luncheon for those who who worked for the County Department of Public Health.

Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino after the horrible event
These were the good guys and gals. Those public servants who truly believed that every day they went to work, they made a positive difference for the clients with whom they dealt. They were the ones who should be the role models for most of us.

They were everyday heroes.

Two monsters showed up (and one of whom actually worked in the office and his fellow workers had treated him - according to all reported accounts - as a colleague and friend) murdering the party goers. These were his co-workers. Evil is not even close to what this person and his spouse were during those moments and the ones that followed as they tried to elude law enforcement before luckily being gunned down.

Law enforcement heading toward the gunshots, not away.
This is a bit out of character for J and L. Most of our pieces are upbeat: about countries where we have traveled, the people we meet, and the research we conduct. But today - this is about the ones who lost their lives and the wonderful first responders.

It was a moment of personal angst for J and L since their daughter, Jessica, worked as a teacher in a small private school in San Bernardino, only a mile or so from the Regional Center. Of course, as first reports came out, no one truly had a clear vision of where the mass shooting was taking place - active cases are often fluid and this one was no different then unfortunately the ones we hear about too often.

First responders taking care of the wounded - these are heroes working on heroes
Laureen called John at work and asked if he had heard the news of the shooting, This was about ten minutes after the first shots had been reported. San Bernardino may be the largest county landwise in the United States, but not so much in the population. Especially in the realm of education where John and Laureen know many people in the field and that includes public health.

This was personal.

After ensuring that Jessica was safe and it wasn't her school, they learned that it was the Regional Center. Both J and L had been there numerous times in the past dealing with their functions in the educational world.

To say what went through our hearts as the news kept leaking out is hard to explain. Good people who do and did wonderful things for fellow citizens being executed during a party that should have been nothing but happiness was beyond reason.

Our hearts were broken as were many in the county, the country and the world, after hearing of such an evil inflicted upon such strong and honorable people. What would cause people to kill innocents for any reason? That question and many more will not be answered any time soon and to these bloggers those questions may never be.

These wonderful heroes deserve an answer and so do their family and friends.
On Friday, the 17th of November, J and L were invited to take part in a benefit -- a musical for the victims, families, first responders, and others physically or emotionally taxed by this terrorist attack. It will be the second anniversary and the musical was to be performed at the California Theater in San Bernardino.

Of course, J and L agreed to do as much as we could to assist such a worthy cause as long as J didn't have a singing role. The reasons were simple - the production was to be run one night only on the 25th of November. J may be able to take up an acting role in such short notice but singing? L on the other hand knew she could handle singing (and maybe some dancing) - she's a pro after singing for years in their own and other's productions.

As always - the Show will go ON!
Night after night of rehearsals left J and L, along with the rest of the cast, pretty exhausted, but spirits were high thanks to the bubbling personality of Shannon Maxwell. She is the director of the musical, and niece of Heather McClusky, who wrote the original script as a historical, but funny tale about the history of San Bernardino. But there is a moment during the second act where a moment of seriousness takes over the stage. It is where a song, recently written by Ms. McClusky, is sung in tribute to those lost their lives and their families, on December 2nd, 2015. It is a touching, soul wrenching number, and should be listened to only with a box of Kleenex at hand.

Unfortunately, with all things theater and film, as we've learned the hard way through the years, there are sometimes snags and delays. The musical will not be performed on November 25th, but has been postponed until March 17th. Roughly, on the 23rd anniversary of the original production.

Of course, this will not be the only blog about this production since at least one more will need to be written about the wonderful instant friends we met during those few hectic nights of rehearsal - Rebecca (who we actually have known for years by her stage name, Odessa Red), and new friends: Andrew, Patrick, Ryan, Derek, Becky, Shannon, and all the others who made those nights together memorable and enjoyable.

We look forward to more practices and finally the production. It is needed in a small city in Southern California named San Bernardino - which witnessed a senseless tragedy during a season of hope.

We are and will always be San Bernardino Strong!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks - Around the World

Forty-three years before the Pilgrims sat down for their feast of thanks with their Native American neighbors in 1621 the tradition had already begun in 1578 on the North American continent. It was in that year that explorer Martin Frobisher held a ‘thanks giving’ in October – his thanks? Surviving the arduous sea voyage from England to his new home in Canada. Thanksgiving started as a harvest festival to celebrate the bounties of food stuffs that would maintain the settlers through the cold winter months.

Though most resident of the United States may believe Thanksgiving is a unique American tradition it is not.

The celebration of the previous year and hopes for a good harvest is an ancient rite but the more modern concept of Thanksgiving really is a Canadian and American tradition. Canada holds this holiday on the second Monday in October and we of course the fourth Thursday in November – wouldn’t want to cramp our cousin’s style to the north.

But in fact, dozens of countries around the world hold the idea of giving thanks as so important that they too have specific declared dates for such an event. It is a time to celebrate the good fortunes of the past year as well as prepare for the upcoming year with family and friends. To sit down together at a feast and count the blessings seem to be a constant around the world – sounds very familiar.

It is. From ancient times people gathered about the hearths and tables laden with all sorts of yummy foods to give thanks for what they had and for what they hoped to have as winter came and then turned into spring. Forever hopeful - those humans no matter what century they belonged.

The grass is always greener.

President George Washington proclaimed it should be observed yearly in 1789. It wasn't every year the giving thanks day was celebrated - no, that didn't occur until 1863 when President Lincoln declared it a federal holiday. President Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving would be held always on the fourth Thursday of November after being persuaded by a letter written from Philadelphia on September 28th of 1863 by Sarah Josepha Hale -  author of the 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' story.  She was a very astute and convincing woman since the president ordered that Thanksgiving would begin that very year. She knew what she wanted and got it.

Though not to be too nationalistic, though there is nothing wrong in that, other countries as mentioned earlier celebrate similar holidays.

In China the eating of moon-cake during the August moon festival which falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of their calendar is an extremely important tradition. It is the time when lovers tell each other their deepest felt emotions and women are considered similes to warm and compassionate virtues - fertility is a big thing mentioned here - albeit the lover issue.

Brazil celebrates something very similar to the United States due to the fact that an ambassador once visited the United States during Thanksgiving and believed it to be such a wonderful expression of thanks he brought it back to his own country. Carnivals, sports and great harvest celebrations are held there each year in thanks for what the Brazilians are thankful for.

And on October 4th in Rome is celebrated Cerelia - in honor of an ancient 'goddess of the corn ' Ceres. Musical events, parades and sporting events are conducted to keep this ancient custom alive.

So, around the world there is always time set aside each year for peoples to gather among each other and give thanks for what they have and give thanks for what they may receive in the coming year.

Good food, great family and friends are more than anyone could be thankful for and for that uncertain future - give thanks and a few prayers may serve the purpose also. Perhaps Thanksgiving should be looked at as a time when friends and family visit - put away past troubles and look to the future. A momentary respite from a hectic year when we all look into our fellow humans eyes and say we are thankful they are with us. Life is often too short so this year, as every year we should make an effort to be thankful for all we have.

We at J and L wish all a wonderful Thanksgiving no matter what country you call home..

Sunday, November 5, 2017

When California Meets Florida

When California meets Florida, the comparisons are inevitable. Both have Disney, Universal, and miles and miles of beach, and let us not forget, oranges. But exactly how does Southern California differ from Southern Florida? As a left-coast resident, the prospect of traveling to Florida, even if it were for business, was intriguing. The southeast of this great nation has not yet made it on to our travel list. So, boarding the flight and heading out to an international conference in Orlando, J and L set out to discover what all the fuss was about.

Mountain lion -- just chillin in the warm California sun
As the plane touched ground in Orlando, a fellow passenger and native Floridian remarked, "Welcome to Florida, where everything bites."

Not exactly the kind of warm welcome one might anticipate. Everything bites? Oh yes, mosquitoes, alligators, and the endangered Florida panther.

The panther, named the state animal in 1982 doesn't roar (or should we call it a scream) like it's California cougar cousin, the mountain lion. The California indigenous mountain lions can be found in many places in the state of California and beyond, and despite the fact that an adult male can weigh 200 pounds, with a body length of fifty-four inches AND a three foot long tail, they are elusive and secretive creatures, seldom seen by its human neighbors. And thank goodness! They can jump 18 feet into the air from a sitting position and take down a deer or elk every week or two. With plenty to eat, the mountain lion population is thriving.
This Floridian looks a little angry...
On the other hand, the Florida panther is endangered.  It emits distinctive sounds including whistles, chirps, growls, hisses and purrs, reminding us that this deadly creature is related to that innocent-looking house-cat reading over your shoulder. Slimmer than it's California cousin, males can average about 160 pounds, but can be over seven feet long. That body style allows the panther to jump fifteen feet into the air and forty feet horizontally. Suddenly a thought entered my mind --  perhaps I should stay on the plane.

We were assured that this endangered critter generally did not attend conferences; we were safe.

So, off to do business, and see what else Florida had to offer. Off in a rental car we came across our first (of many) toll roads. There are few toll roads in Southern California, but a lot a of traffic congestion. Very little congestion in Florida, but you literally have to pay for it. Maybe that's not a bad a trade-off.

And scenic? Residing in Southern California's High Desert region, we haven't seen so much green since visiting Ireland a few summers back. And water? No apparent drought here. Whereas Southern California is on nearly permanent water restriction, and the local municipalities will even pay you to quit watering your lawn, green things abound in Florida. Consider the Mojave Desert and Death Valley versus the Everglades, the 'River of Grass.' Water everywhere. Well, they did just have that hurricane. Hmmm. We have earthquakes and fires. Mother Nature does have her way of keeping us humble.

But it is the culture of Southern Florida which really caught our attention during this brief visit. There is a distinct tropical aura, more reminiscent of the Caribbean or Hawaii, than of California. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Los Angeles is more subtropical than tropical, situated at approximately 34 degrees north latitude, compared with Orlando at 28 degrees north. The cultural feel is that of a mix of Northeastern US, Canadian and European transplants. Even the Latin feel is different: Cuban and Puerto Rican rather than Mexican in influence. Couldn't say from such a brief visit, but there seems to be a general feeling of a slower pace than Southern California. Perhaps because Florida remains a mecca for retirees, with a median age of 42, eleven years older than that of California. No rat race here.

Florida's version of a screening room
With beautiful weather most of the year, residents like to spend a lot of time outdoors. Californians may dine, or sip a glass of Napa Valley wine on their back porch, year round. Floridians may have to employ a few safety precautions to enjoy these year-round outdoor pleasures. Case in point, the Florida porch -- keeping your children and pets safe from alligators and mosquitoes. Smart idea, if you want to enjoy your Florida orange juice in peace. Remember, humans aren't the only creatures which thrive in warm weather.

Florida definitely has California beat when it comes to cost of living, taxes, and even golf (California comes in third behind Florida in the ranking of best courses). No wonder retirees love this place. Instead of sunscreen though, Florida golfing requires a generous dose of repellent. And do not even think about rescuing your errant ball from the water hazards. Those alligators aren't too quick on land, but they own the water.

Both coasts have always attracted tourists from around the world since the 16th century Spanish explorers "discovered"  the areas (Native American residents notwithstanding). California has flown the flags of Spain, Mexico, and the US, becoming the 31st state in 1850 after gold was discovered. Florida became the 27th state five years earlier, after flying both the Spanish and British standards.

Clearly, SoCal and SoFla seem to attract dreamers from around the world -- very cosmopolitan. While crime, natural disasters, drugs plague these beautiful areas to a similar degree, families live and play with relative abandon at the attractions and beaches alike. There exists in both the Golden State and the Sunshine State, a general feeling that life is about as good as the weather. What more could you ask for?

About those beaches though...

California has the waves, the dramatic coastlines, whale watching, and...well, the occasional shark.

Florida has warmer water, two coastlines (Atlantic and Gulf), and...yes, there are sharks here, too. And manatees. There is, however, no wet suit required, and fortunately, the alligators don't surf.

And this guy's just a baby....
So, if you can handle the humidity....get out there and enjoy a bit of Florida sunshine.

Just remember though:  everything bites.