December, 2012:

THE GREAT WALL ON COLDWATER CANYON By Victoria Giraud

California History on the Great Wall Mural

In anticipation of the New Year of 2013, it’s always a good practice to give thanks for what we already have to appreciate.

My  neighborhood is walking distance from Los Angeles Valley College . It’s not a neighborhood like the ones I inhabited while my kids were growing up out in a suburban valley. I’m in an area of the San Fernando Valley that’s a very diverse area of educational (elementary, middle school, high school and college) and medical facilities, a variety of businesses in strip malls and residential housing from swanky houses and small bungalows to apartment buildings. Many homes date back to the 1940s.

Coldwater Canyon winds through the hills of Beverly down to Sherman Oaks and all across the Valley. It’s a main artery that  runs perpendicular to the 101 Freeway. Depending on the traffic, I could drive from my apartment to the freeway entrance in five minutes and either head north and west to Ventura and Santa Barbara or south and east to downtown Los Angeles or Pasadena (the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade due on Tuesday). Since I’m in a huge valley, I can see mountains, both near and far, surrounding me, depending on the weather. I can even watch a “river” flow, especially if it’s rained in the winter. The river or channel, also called the Tujunga Wash, is encased in concrete: no more floods like the early 1900s.

We Southern Californians live in a desert, but you’d never know it from the millions of trees and blooming plants, courtesy of imported water. Someday we’ll most likely get on the “green” bandwagon of desert plants only. We’ve already got recycled sewage water for irrigation.

My neighborhood is handy for day-to-day life. Grocery stores, a Whole Foods and a Ralphs, are both within walking distance, although few of us do. I could buy a car or have my car serviced a half-block up the street. The young man of Armenian culture who owns that business is not only congenial, but quite handsome.

Across the street from the car place is a tiny shopping mall chock full of conveniences: a donut shop, a beauty salon, a dry cleaners, and several restaurants: Chinese, Mexican, Italian pizza, and yogurt. Judo lessons are available and even manicure/pedicure. We’ve got a Walgreens on one corner along with one of those fake trees that are disguised cell phone towers. A chiropractor operates from a small office building a few steps from the Walgreens, and in the Ralphs center across the street there’s a recycling business and a gas station where we can agonize over the rising price of gas, always more expensive in California because of gas taxes.

Public transportation has made great strides: there’s a bus line a half block from me and a Valley-wide bus line a little more than a block up the street, which will connect commuters to our subway system, which wasn’t here when I arrived in LA. Hollywood and downtown are now easily accessible.

I received the Valley College 40-page pamphlet this week advertising all their community service classes. I could learn Middle Eastern Dance, take a variety of acting classes (we are the entertainment capital after all), learn to meditate, play drums and percussion, tend bar, create oil paintings or any number of other fascinating pursuits.

The oil painting class reminds me of the half-mile long mural visible from Coldwater Canyon Avenue.  Valley College students (about 400 artists over the years) in the 1970s began creating a dramatic and colorful mural depicting California history. They had the perfect surface—one side of the concrete Tujunga Wash that borders the college along Coldwater Canyon. Sections of it depict the Spanish history of California, the Japanese internment, civil rights actions, the Red Scare and McCarthyism, the movie industry, the Olympics, Jewish refugees during World War II, etc. It’s been called the Great Wall of LA.

If I’m not in the mood for any of our many art galleries, I can stroll down the street to gaze at lively historic interpretations done with passion and enthusiasm.

McCarthyism and the Red Scare

MY WHEELUS STORY IN LIBYAN MAGAZINE — KALEM

Wheelus Field Dependents School

While in Tripoli, Libya, Air Force personnel and their dependents  lived in Wheelus Air Force Base housing for the most part, but the families of men who worked for the State Department and some of its agencies, or for oil companies searching for black gold, lived in many different areas of Tripoli from Garden City to Georgimpopoli, a coastal area on the western edges of the city. Our school bus, one of many that picked up American children all over the city, traveled down Sciarra Ben Asciur on its eight-mile journey to the base. I still have a very tattered mimeographed copy of my school bus route. It did help me identify my old home on Google Earth.

During the rainy season, from November to March, all busses faced the possible flooding in the tiny town of Suk el Guima, (Friday market in Arabic), which was near the base gate on the only route to Wheelus. Although the town’s street was paved, there were no gutters or drainage systems. When it rained, it generally flooded, and the street could be as deep as three feet in some spots. The Libyans took it in stride, but the Air Force didn’t. Servicemen would be up to their knees in water and armed with water pumps whenever they were needed. Others have since told me the little town had quite an odor because of a tannery, but I never noticed.

Enrolled in eighth grade when my family arrived, I joined a class of forty students. Wheelus High had an enrollment of only 170 students, from seventh to twelfth grade. The entire class of 1956 consisted of a mere four seniors. There were twelve in the junior class, fifteen sophomores and thirty-two freshmen! We underlings were by far the most populous, and I was considered practically a high school student. One alumnus remarked that because it was such a small school there was more intermingling among students;  younger students weren’t treated as much like outsiders. The following year, we new freshmen had to suffer the indignities of freshman initiation. As I recall, wearing clothes backward was one ritual.

A class on the Arabic language was a requirement for all students, but few took the class seriously, especially the friendly, eager-to-please teacher, Haj Ali (pronounced Hi Jolly). I can still count to ten in Arabic and learned a few phrases, hopefully accurate, such as molish (who cares), bahi (good),  ana nagra (I am reading) and baksheesh (free). I was told that zup meant the same as fuck. What inquisitive American teen didn’t learn that word and its equivalent in other languages! The boys probably knew a few more.

I had an opportunity to see the difference between American and European educational systems. Our freshman high school class visited Lecio, Tripoli’s Italian high school. In contrast to our casual attire, the boys dressed mostly in suits, the girls wore black smocks. Italian students acted as our guides and took small groups of us into various classrooms.

Practicing international relations with two Lecio students at my school bus stop

In drawing class students were copying Roman columns, an appropriate theme because of the nearby Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Since most of their students studied French, I tried out my decidedly novice abilities with a young man. His French was impeccable; I wish I could have said the same for mine. In an entirely male physics class I was asked to put an algebra problem on the board. A volunteer student worked it immediately and returned the favor. Algebra, or should I say math in general, was not my strong suit. I called for Karen, one of my classmates to help, but we were both stumped. The class laughed good-naturedly at us, delighted to prove their male superiority while gawking at American girls.

Miss Gobi teaches French at Wheelus High–Fantastique! C’est si bon!

The Italians were even better at basketball. From my young viewpoint, I had always assumed it was an American game played more adeptly by Americans. Our high school team played Lecio every year and were continually trounced. Of course Wheelus High didn’t exactly have a huge talent pool from which to draw.

 

This story has been published in a new Libyan magazine Kalam, the December edition.  Check it out at    http://www.kalam.ly/4.pdf

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES By Victoria Giraud

As Christmas season and gift giving makes its merry way into the lives of those who celebrate it, I think about years past and what stood out about those days. To me, the holidays are sentimental. It reminds me of my parents, my siblings, my relatives and all the friends I’ve known over the years. As each year passes, there are more friends and relatives who are departing Mother Earth and this special time becomes more bittersweet.

I believe my childhood as an Army brat, traveling around the world, probably inspired me to keep in touch with as many old friends and relatives as I possibly could. I saw that my parents did it (my mother signed the cards and wrote the accompanying notes) and I enjoyed reading all the Christmas mail they got in return. I’ve been doing the same for several decades and continue to enjoy everyone’s news, even though I’ve graduated to modern technology and use Email. This year’s Christmas Email was the longest one yet because I had to share my son’s wedding photos and my daughter’s artwork.

There are a few holiday occasions I remember with a special fondness. My earliest Christmas memory is a postwar celebration in Murnau, Germany, in the 1940s. My mother was newly married. Instead of the train I remember asking for, I received a set of painted wooden doll furniture embellished with colorful Bavarian décor. I still have the foot high chest of drawers; it’s in excellent shape considering the years. It doesn’t contain doll clothes, just a variety of items like spare toothbrushes, spare night lights and a few remembrances.

Germany figures in another Christmas, my last one in college. As an Army dependent, I had a free trip to my parents’ home in Mannheim, but it was space available from Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey. A large group of students and military personnel waited about five days for a seat. An older Master Sergeant became my protector and took me to see the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade.”  Once in Germany, I felt like a debutante with all the social activities and attention from eligible Army lieutenants. Winging homeward to the US on New Year’s Eve, a few of us college coeds were invited by flirtatious Air Force pilots into the cockpit to see the Midnight Sun over Northern Canada.

I recall my daughter Heidi’s second year Christmas and the Fisher-Price dollhouse Santa brought. She was old enough to appreciate it, and I can still see it because it’s on film. I was about six months pregnant with her brother at the time.

I can’t forget the memory of the last family Christmas I spent with my parents, sister and brother. My little family—husband and two youngsters–drove  from LA to San Antonio, Texas, in a spacious Plymouth; the backseat was large enough for a crib mattress, an idea I’d gotten from a TV show. I bought a harness for both kids (three years old and eight months old) and strapped them to the seat belts, so they could sleep and also crawl around. It might not be considered safe now, but nothing bad happened.

That Christmas my mother’s kidney disease was just beginning to get worse, my brother was still in college and my sister was going to junior college in Utah. Two years later my mother had left the world for good.

A few years later my sister joined us for a California taste of winter. My mother-in-law rented a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, which gave us a whole new perspective on the holidays. We bought a tree on the way there, a bargain since it was Christmas Eve, and then had to lug everything up countless steps to this aerie on the hill with a view of a small lake below. We did our decorating the old-fashioned way by stringing popcorn. Before we left a few days later, my kids tried out sledding for the first time.

Dealing with my new divorce in the 1980s felt daunting, but my sister’s small family and my still single brother were supportive by joining me and my kids in Los Angeles for Christmas. Four small children and four adults filled my house with laughter, and my sister brought along the ingredients to make a lovely little gingerbread house.

Adults: Me, Darb, Tup and the kids: David, Hansi, Heidi and Heather. 

 

May you all have holiday memories to cherish, and if you need more, go out and make them!

 

 

PONDERING LIFE’S ENERGY By Victoria Giraud

A Hubble Image from Outer Space

With the horror in Connecticut so much in the news, compelling us to read, look and listen, I find myself in search of comfort and words of wisdom. I don’t have traditional spiritual beliefs but do believe there is a Higher Power Energy and that life persists in some manner.

I’ve always been fascinated by physics, even though I am far from understanding much of it. I think I intuit/accept its principles, like the law of the conservation of energy: In an isolated system—our universe, for instance—the total amount of energy remains constant over time. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be transformed.

Einstein said Imagination is more important than Knowledge. Imagination helps, especially if you’re trying to figure out his famous theorem.

Since energy alters/transforms, it’s easier to imagine how human beings change from the non-physical to the physical (birth and death and vice versa) and can interact in so many ways, even between species. I’ve written about the ocean scattering of Jack Nakamura’s ashes (my brother’s father-in-law).  Jack’s family, friends and fishing buddies all enjoyed the Orca whales that seemed to deliberately join in the celebration of Jack’s life.  Jack’s spiritual energy and the whales physical energy are all part of the same energy system. One particular whale kept diving and waving his tail; to those observing, it seemed as if Jack were waving.

In October 2010, Jack’s energy was still a presence in the beach house where he had died the day before Thanksgiving in 2007. A married couple, who were friends of Jack and Una Nakamura, were guests for a few weeks in the beach house and noticed a floating, non-threatening but restless, spirit at night just above the floor, and even heard muffled voices. One night the bathroom shower curtain and rod came crashing down into the tub, making a loud, startling noise that jarred the couple out of a sound sleep. The wife felt all the “hauntings” were Jack and promised his spirit she would tell his wife Una about his visitations.  After she made that promise, the sightings ceased and all was peaceful at night.

I’ve had my own spirit visitors. After my dad died in the late ‘90s, I inherited a few pieces of his furniture. I cherish a vanity table that had originally belonged to my mother, who’d died in 1974. I bought a touch lamp and placed it on the vanity, which was in the bedroom of my new apartment. About 3 a.m. one night, when I’d just gotten back in bed after a visit to the bathroom, the lamp lit up. I hadn’t gone anywhere near the lamp during my little journey. The light continued to come on every few months during my three-year residence in that apartment. Once it brightened to the second level, which would’ve taken two touches. Even though the vanity had been my mother’s, I knew it had to be my dad who was visiting. He and I had shared some turbulent years in my childhood and the issues had never been addressed or settled. I intuitively felt he had come to tell me to be “enlightened” on the matter, “lighten” up and let go for my own peace.

I wonder what new marvels of energy connections I may observe in the future. I feel this energy is a comforting reminder that life persists in the physical and in the non-physical. May those who’ve passed on in Newtown send comforting visions or other indications to those they’ve left behind.

SPECIAL NOTE: Because of trouble with Time Warner cable, my Internet connection was interrupted and I missed my first scheduled blog since I started Words on My Mind in May 2010.

CHANNELING THE MYSTICAL By Victoria Giraud

The Milky Way

I don’t pretend to understand the Universe or the mysteries of life, although I have my feelings and do share them from time to time. I also know what Shakespeare said in Hamlet is true: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Most of us have experienced incidents we can’t explain, synchronicity that boggles the imagination, destiny, fate, prescience, strange dreams. Last Saturday I attended a fundraiser and saw a woman who looked familiar. Instead of approaching her, for some reason I decided to see if fate would place us at the same table. Catherine O’Hara had been assigned to the same table and ended up sitting right next to me. I was delighted at the coincidence and enjoyed hearing about her  adventures as an actress: she was the mother in “Home Alone” and was hilarious in two of my favorite films: “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show.” Afterward, I could hear the theme music from Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” in my head.

In California, it’s not difficult to find psychics of all kinds. It’s an active and profitable profession and more than a few psychics are quite good, although the definition of good is a personal experience judgment.

One of the unique avenues for spiritual information is called “Channeling.” Messages come through a person who acts as a willing and cooperative medium to receive and pass on the information from the spirit world.

I’ve seen, heard and read about this phenomenon countless times and it has always fascinated me, especially when the messages passed on make sense and many times are inspiring and helpful.  This form of communication  dates back to ancient Greece (Cassandra predicting the fall of Troy) and Biblical times (various prophets). There’s nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes. The New Age section of a bookstore is filled with books of channeled advice.

My direct experience with Channeling came from two sources. The first was a local Southern California man, Thomas Jacobson, who channeled a Dr. James Martin Peebles, a wise Scotsman who had died just shy of 100 years old in 1922. Dr. Peebles had been a medical doctor, a naturopath and a mystic, who had traveled the world healing people. A group of us assembled in a private home for the presentation, and it was fascinating. Jacobson, the medium, was a man probably in his 30s at that time; he introduced himself and then sat down on a chair in front of us. He closed his eyes and immediately went into a relaxed trance state. Within a few minutes, his body moved a bit and a strong Scottish voice emanated easily from his throat. It was as if the medium had vacated his body and let another spirit take over.

Dr. Peebles had a great sense of humor and much spiritual wisdom to impart to the few of us who had paid extra to ask him a question. Afterward, the audience and the questioners seemed to be quite satisfied with their answers. I no longer remember the questions or answers, but I enjoyed the presentation and marveled at its wisdom. When the male medium came back to full consciousness, he was tired and had no idea what had been said.

Jacobson has retired from channeling, but my research indicated that Dr. Peebles still shares his spiritual messages all over the world with a variety of mediums. In the U.S. alone there are as many as 25 mediums channeling the Scottish doctor’s messages.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE SOCIAL KIND By Victoria Giraud

(If my readers noticed any odd postings the past two weeks in a foreign language, the cause was an invasion of my blog site by hackers. I have solved the problem for now. Readers, please alert me by posting a comment if you notice it happening again. Thank you.)

I love chance encounters with interesting people of all types; they don’t have to be famous or notorious. Because I enjoy it so much, I’m sure I probably attract it. Yesterday, I attended a fundraiser luncheon for a local private Catholic high school and sat next to an actress who had been in several of Christopher Guest’s movies, like “Best in Show,” which I had really enjoyed. Since I had such a nice time talking to her, I asked if I could do a blog about her and she agreed. But I’m going to wait until January when I have a chance to talk to her again. In the meantime, the following are a few of my adventures.

Airplanes are an ideal place to meet people.  I had some very entertaining conversations with seatmates. On the flight to Dallas for Thanksgiving last year, the man next to me was raised in Puerto Rico, had worked all over the US, and was working then as a technical engineer of some sort for a Burbank company that made airplane brakes (ours worked!). He and I had no trouble bonding over Stephen Sondheim songs from West Side Story—“I Want to Be in America,” for example. Soon he was telling about his childhood in Puerto Rico, how the females in his family firmly ran the household, even with grown sons, and the foods he liked. We laughed a lot.

On the return flight, my neighbor turned out to be an LA sportscaster on the local ABC-TV station. He was returning from a family visit in time to cover the yearly classic USC-UCLA football game. If I’d been a sports fan, I’d have known his name. We talked about how life had changed because of the Internet, and how we could use it to further our careers. It didn’t hurt that he had a great smile and was very attractive.

Last December, I joined a friend for inexpensive Chinese food at Bamboo on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. Next door was a ritzier French place, Cafe Bizou. Afterward, while waiting for the valet (shared by the two restaurants) to get my car, I spotted actress/singer Della Reese a couple of feet away: she had eaten French food. Although I was a fan, she looked like she wanted to be left alone. I decided I wouldn’t bother her until a group of women came over to ask if they could compliment her on her talents. She smiled and enjoyed the attention. When they left, I told her I was a fan, and as a writer I also appreciated positive reactions. When she asked me about my creations, I gave her a business card. Was she being polite or did she keep it?

Della Reese

Lunchtime can be an ideal time to spot the rich and famous and perhaps spark a conversation. I was with a friend at a place called Gaucho Grill a few years back when she spotted her lawyer. When we looked at the table right behind us, her lawyer was with TV and Broadway star Kelsey Grammar. At that time I was writing a weekly column for the Daily News newspaper and was always looking for new interview possibilities. Besides, Kelsey had met my son at a restaurant not long before and had invited him and a few other young men back to his home. I introduced myself, mentioned my son, and Kelsey couldn’t have been more gracious and down to earth. Before I had a chance to schedule the interview with him, my life changed and I ended my column.

One of my favorite places to start a conversation is the unique grocery store that started in Southern California—Trader Joe’s. They hire sociable, highly  individual people who may have tattoos or wear crazy hats; perhaps that’s just part of the SoCal lifestyle. I wonder if they take a friendliness test before they’re hired! The atmosphere must affect the customers because they’re usually quite affable as well.

When I was much younger, I remember being a little embarrassed by my mother, who was a friendly Southerner who loved to talk to everyone. Now I find I have been doing the same thing for years. From mothers or fathers of babies to clerks or fellow customers, I’m not afraid of making a joke or coming up with a witty comment, and these days I can sometimes embarrass my own daughter!

 

ASELA DAHANA, PRINCE OF CINNAMON By Victoria Giraud

A few months ago I went to a party in the hills of Encino. The marvelous views of the San Fernando Valley couldn’t compare to the fascinating mix of guests, many of them in the therapy business. I spent a good deal of my time getting to know a charming young man from Sri Lanka, Asela Dahana. An enterprising, spirited and thoughtful guy, I never would have imagined that he owned a couple of local preschools but had more recently turned his interest from diapers to Cinnamon!

Asela Dahana

 

Turns out the origin of Cinnamon, which comes from the bark of a special tree, is native to his home country of Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon (off the southeast coast of India), and produces 90% of it for the world. Even Asela didn’t know that until his mother brought back precious Cinnamon oil after a visit to Sri Lanka.

My familiarity with Cinnamon comes from mixing it with sugar and putting it on toast when I was a kid and chewing Cinnamon gum years ago (it creates fresh breath but its powerful scent made my purse smell too pungent, according to my kids). I’ve since learned a great deal about this piquant spice.

Who would have thought that Cinnamon has so many uses, from disinfectant and an ant/insect deterrent to a natural preservative and a tasty tea. Asela says that most Cinnamon we buy isn’t the true quality spice he offers; some isn’t even real. No surprise judging from the list of substances on most packaged products. In Sri Lanka the spice is used in all sorts of recipes and as a preservative. Coincidentally, Sri Lanka has the lowest rates of Cancer in the World, Asela said.

Cinnamon Sticks

 

Asela had an international life after leaving Sri Lanka when he was ten. He received a British secondary and university education in exotic Zimbabwe, Africa, and in Hong Kong. Before preschools and the Cinnamon business, he sold luxury cars in Hong Kong and even spent a couple of years selling cars in Canada. It’s easy to find lots to talk about with another of the world’s “gypsies,” as I discovered when I met Asela.

America has always been a melting pot as they used to call it when I was taking high school history. It’s become even more so in this new century, especially here in Los Angeles where our residents come from every culture in the world. Asela’s been here eight years and proclaims, “All my life I wanted to live here. Never been happier. This country is far from perfect, but anything is possible here if you work hard. While places like Singapore and Hong Kong are far more efficient, Americans are very receptive to new ideas and willing to try everything. They may be arrogant and cocky to the rest of the world, but the spirit of generosity is amazing. Like Obama said, in no other country is this even possible. That really resonated for me.”

To find out more about Asela’s wonderful Cinnamon products at Cinnamon Vogue, go to:  http://cinnamonvogue.com/

 

 

MY DAUGHTER, THE ARTIST By Victoria & Heidi Giraud

My daughter, Heidi, tapped into her hidden art talents just a few years ago. I’ve been continually amazed at the variety of style and subject she’s produced; each of her artworks are imaginative and colorful. I love them all and want more of them on my walls…I must admit, I’m prejudiced!

Wanting to spread the word about her talents, I asked her to write something about herself and she did:  The past few years I’ve felt that I needed/wanted to do something creative. I don’t recall having a desire to paint when I was a child, but believe it must have been there in my soul. When I was kicked out of high school,  I was sent to continuation high school. I decided to take an art class and the first painting I did was a watercolor, all freehand, no tracing. I fell in love with it, but wasn’t settled enough in my life to do more than one more watercolor.

 

Flow

My artistic yearnings inspired me to use a lot of color when I decorated various apartments of mine over the years. Then I took another art class for a few months, and that planted the seed that grew into a satisfying habit of painting. I have always been attracted to the shapes you can create, not to mention the colors you can use in abstract. My favorite colors are bright blues, reds, oranges and greens. There are no rules in abstract painting, you can create whatever you want, probably why I enjoy it so much. Abstract painting opens your mind to all sorts of interpretations. I feel it’s a perfect expression of life. Just when you think you know what is is, you look deeper into the painting with your mind and soul and see something totally different.

My first “Rufus”

 

My inspirations can come from anything. I can walk down a street in downtown Los Angeles, or see the sun’s rays flicker upon the Pacific Ocean and get my ideas from that. My emotions also play a part in my creations.

Silvery Moon

The paintings I’ve included are a small sample of Heidi’s “oeuvre” as the French might say! I will definitely post more of them in the future. In the meantime, visit Heidi’s facebook site:   HeidiGiraudArtist

 

 

 

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