Heading South?

It’s on my “to do” list to write a post in response to Daily Post One Word tag “South.” Now I can check that off thanks once again to one of my favorite bloggers! Note that this post also contains a “funny” for my sort of weekly feature, Old Fart Friday. Look for it as you read these thoughts about the dual meaning of “Heading South.” For me currently, South means the part of the US where I now live, in Tennessee. This state, however, is not in what we would call “the Deep South” for which I am forever grateful as otherwise I might be more openly attacked for my continuing support for Democrats in general and Hillary Clinton in particular. I still want to head farther south from here on vacation sometime, as I’ve yet to dip my toes in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and see for myself the trendy Florida Gulf Coast beaches I’ve heard so much about since I moved out here from the West Coast.

A Momma's View

Interesting what very different meanings the word “South” can have. Meaning in the sense of how it can make us feel depending on how it is used. For one there is the “let’s head South” thing. Most probably for all of us related to go on a vacation. For me it most definitely was when I was living in Switzerland.

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Huntington Beach and why I’m still hbsuefred

Huntington Beach (locally initialized “HB”) is a seaside city in Orange County in Southern California, known for its long 9.5-mile (15.3 km) stretch of sandy beach, mild climate, excellent surfing, and beach culture.  Our little family, Me+Husband+Two Young Daughters (approx ages 2 and 4) moved to a two story house on the end of an HB cul-de-sac in 1994.  We all reluctantly moved away from that home, on a pie shaped lot with a pool + a yard in the back + less than a mile from the beach, about twelve or thirteen years later.  Our girls gained some degree of maturity + some other “gifts” they took with them when we moved but I, their mother, believe I took many more.  The gifts I received there, that I have carried with me in my heart and in my spirit since we left, fall into two general categories.  (1)People and (2)Fitness.

With our girls approaching school age, we made the obvious decision to move from a small house, the first one that Husband and I had purchased together, in a family-friendly neighborhood which was, unfortunately, located too close for comfort to a high crime, gang-infested area.  At the time, I was working, on a temporary/contract basis, for McDonnell Douglas in HB.  While performing due diligence to locate a place for us to move to that was both geographically desirable and affordable, I came across an article in the L.A. Times touting Huntington Beach as “The Best City for Children.”  Decision made.

The house we bought had one of just 19 addresses on Dragon Circle, in one of several La Cuesta housing tracts built in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s in the very desirable neighborhoods of South Huntington Beach.  When we moved in we were warmly welcomed by our neighbors next door since, besides theirs, ours was the only home on the street then that had young children living in it.  Over the next five or so years, the number of homes where young children lived more than doubled and, since we lived at the closed end of the street, the children congregated on the street in front of our house to play while their parents congregated nearby to watch over them.  I wish I could say that all of these similar families, by income, size and just general characteristics, continued to get along with each other over the years, while all the children went to school, played, joined sports teams and Scout troops together.  Sadly, I cannot, but that is a tale for a different post.  One of those new neighbors who moved in with her family became my best friend and now, even after both of our husbands retired and we are separated by thousands of miles, we still enjoy a weekly scheduled hour long (or more) conversation.  Gina and I both look forward to those events, and have visited each others’ new homes, after we both left HB, her for Southern Oregon and me for first Middle and then East Tennessee.

Construction of any kind on the beach is prohibited without a vote of the people, allowing Huntington Beach to retain its natural connection to the ocean rather than having the view obstructed by residential and commercial developments.  Swells generated predominantly from the North Pacific in winter and from a combination of Southern Hemisphere storms and hurricanes in the summer focus on Huntington Beach, creating consistent surf all year long, hence the nickname “Surf City”. The city includes just a small industrial district in its northwest corner, while the colorful and active downtown district includes an art center, a beach-centric shopping district, and the International Surfing Museum. The HB Pier, domain of fishermen (also women and kids), strollers and people and surfer-watchers, stretches from Main Street into the Pacific Ocean. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery is based in Huntington Beach.

The HB tourism website, surfcityusa.com, advises visitors and residents alike to “Mark your calendars for all the fun-filled events Huntington Beach has to offer!  Some of the most popular annual events include the Surf City USA Marathon in February, Annual Huntington Beachcruiser Meet in March, National Professional Paintball League’s Surf City USA Open in April, US Open of Surfing in the summer.”  It goes on to say “You might notice that people in Huntington Beach don’t stay indoors for very long.  That’s because this is a fit, active town where residents and visitors not only spend their days at the beach, but also take advantage of Surf City USA’s other outdoor and natural attractions.  We’re home to Orange County’s largest city parks and… (y)ou can bicycle for miles along our coast, go horseback riding, or even try yoga on a paddle board in Huntington Harbour.

Now, contrary to the way the people in HB are described above, I did stay indoors for very long before we moved there.  Over time, though, even I came to enjoy and appreciate the variety of more healthful and physical activities that I could try just by stepping out my front door.  Actually, I found many new outdoor pursuits to attempt by perusing the free local papers I regularly picked up off my driveway.  So, after determining that I needed to do some good and possibly fun things for me and me alone, for both my mental and physical health, I decided to go ahead and try a few.  So in 2002, I believe, I started training for the Long Beach Half Marathon using its Official Training Program called, appropriately for me, A Snail’s Pace.

The group I trained with met on Saturday mornings at HB Central Park.  The program, at least as currently advertised, offered, besides fun group training, 16 Weeks of Expert Coaching/Training, structured pace groups with safe interval training and an evidence based structured training program to maximize efficiency and minimize risk.  All half marathons are 13.1 miles long. I actually completed the Long Beach Half Marathon twice, as well as a couple of Surf City Half Marathons and half of the first Orange County Marathon that ended with me calling home to be picked up out of a pouring rain!  The course time limit for those distance races, both Marathon & Half Marathon events, is usually 7.5 hours.  I did my first Long Beach Half Marathon, mostly walking with a few very slow jogging splits, in about 3 ½ or 4 hours.  I finished those other distance events plus the Music City Half Marathon in Nashville,  as well as a 5K or two, since then, but that was the fastest pace I have ever had in any timed event.

I had so much fun in that first training program that I was inspired to keep moving even after I finished that first race.  I kept training with that group for a year or two after that but veered off into less formal training with a girlfriend who moved into a La Cuesta neighborhood just a five minute walk away from mine around 2005 or so.  Kathy was a friend of a friend and we had only met each other a couple of times before she moved to HB, the first time when we co-hosted a wedding shower for our mutual friend.  She and I hit it off from that beginning, and our bond was strengthened by other shared factors besides our close geographical proximity after her move.  We both, along with our mutual friend, were purchasing agents working in the local aerospace biz.  Kathy also had two daughters who were close in age like mine, though hers were slightly older, as well as a fairly small family of parents and in-laws and a couple of sisters and nieces who lived in Southern California.  Her girls were active in school and other extracurricular activities similar to mine, and her husband worked a lot of hours in a stressful job, like my husband.

Just by a happy happenstance, when I found out that Kathy would soon become a neighbor, I asked, I think, if she would be interested in joining me for walks in the area.  She was and, looking back and totaling up the time that passed while we took our nearly weekly jaunts, I can hardly believe that they only occurred over a few, possibly three or four years.  IDK why, but the time we spent and the distance we covered on those walks, both literally and figuratively, loom monumental in my memory.  I guess, though, the time flew by because we spent it in mutually rewarding and invigorating conversation.  Even before I moved away from HB, I had begun to miss those talks with Kathy more and more, as she got busier on her job, after being promoted a few times and taking on more responsibility, and as her husband was able to back away from the stress of his job and began biking with her.

As I walked around the HB neighborhoods less and less often, I substituted bike rides along the Santa Ana River Trail, a 12-foot wide path following the Santa Ana River, a waterway that is cement-lined through much of Orange County and begins at a junction with the Huntington Beach Bicycle Trail.  The closest access point to this easy-riding trail was about a five minute ride from my backyard.   When we moved to Brentwood, Tennessee, I tried to find a similar trail or path so I could continue to exercise in the great outdoors.  Unfortunately, no part of this state is flat for any great distance, which easily discouraged me from trying to ride my beach cruiser.  On top of that, there are four seasons here, and two of them are either too cold or too hot or too wet, either in the form of snow, frozen puddles or humidity I could cut with a knife, to comfortably continue this exercise on any kind of a regular basis.  Riding the recumbent bike in the basement is just not the same!

California Dreams

There are so many facets of California, both mythic and real, that created, nurtured, formed and molded me.  My beliefs, my politics, my continuing education, my standards of living with and being among people anywhere and everywhere, are deeply rooted there, in my experiences and more importantly in my memories.

I grew up in Southern California and lived there for the first fifty years of my current sixty-one.  I was born on April 26, 1955, at Daniel Freeman, a Catholic hospital which no longer exists, in the city of Inglewood.  I lived with, my parents and younger sister, in Gardena.  We moved to Torrance in 1965, where I graduated from West (Torrance) High School in 1972.  I completed my BA in International Relations at The University of Southern California in 1976 and my MBA from UCLA in 1980.  I had various jobs in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, Torrance, Seal Beach, Downey, Lakewood,  Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach, Cerritos and Los Alamitos.

When I met my husband, who’d come to live with his brother in California in 1972, he owned a home in Long Beach but before that he’d lived in apartments in Fullerton.  He’d had various manufacturing jobs in other local areas and was currently working at the port. Our first home together was in Lakewood.  Both of our daughters were born at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.  Our family moved to Huntington Beach in 1994, and we lived there until we moved in 2006.  My mom moved to California in 1944, traveling by train from New York with her parents and younger brother.  My dad flew to California from Germany by way of England in 1945, with his single mother so that they could join her older sister and her family, who had been lucky enough to find their way to the Golden State of opportunity several years earlier, before their family and home were decimated by World War II and the Holocaust in Europe.

After the famous Gold Rush to the West in 1849, California’s name became indelibly connected with fast success in a new world, the “California Dream.” California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. The notion inspired the idea of the “American Dream.” For people flooding the fields there, California promised the highest possible standard of life for the middle classes, the skilled blue collar workers and small farm owners. Poverty existed, but was concentrated among the migrant farm workers made famous in The Grapes of Wrath, who were seeking the dream, too. It was not so much the upper class (who preferred to live in New York and Boston). The California Dream meant an improved and more affordable family life: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space, such as the ubiquitous California bungalow, and a lush backyard—the stage, that is, for quiet family life in a sunny climate. It meant very good jobs, excellent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the schools and universities that were the best in the world by the 1940s. Even if, for many if not most migrants to the golden state, “the dream outran the reality, the California Dream (was and) is a love affair with an idea, a marriage to a myth.” Even today, observers report a common stereotyped perception that people are happier in California, a perception anchored in the perceived (though I have experienced it to be real) superiority of the California climate.  Later cultural phenomena – the rise of the Hollywood film industry, Silicon Valley, California’s aerospace industry, the California wine industry and the Dotcom boom – continued to feed into the California Dream during my lifetime.

The Spanish explorers originally thought that California was an island.  After all, the name California comes from a mythical, some might say dreamy, Spanish island ruled by a queen called Califia that was featured in a Spanish romance written in 1510.  California is the most populous state in the United States with the nation’s most populous county and its second largest city.  The state is bordered by the other U.S. states of Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, and Arizona to the southeast.  Unlike most of the country’s “flyover states,” California shares an international border with the Mexican state of Baja California to the south and of course the vast Pacific Ocean is its entire western frontier.  California’s diverse geography flows from mountains in the east to coastal beaches, islands, bays and cliffs in the west, from the redwood forests of the northwest, to desert areas in the southeast. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, a major agricultural area. California contains both the highest point (Mount Whitney) and the lowest point (Death Valley) in the contiguous United States.

Mount Whitney
Death Valley

Mount Whitney (l), the highest point in the Contiguous U.S., is less than 90 miles(140 km) away from Death Valley (r), the lowest point in North America

The state’s current and modern economy is centered on the “clean” and “shiny” businesses of finance, government, real estate, technology, science and other “professional” services, though its “dirtier”  agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state. If it were a country, California would be the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world, and the 35th most populous.  California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas, and itself is often geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California, comprising only 10 large and diverse counties, and Northern California, comprising 48 additional more homogeneous counties.  Its Sierra Nevada mountain range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth.

As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes.  Earthquakes are common because of the state’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.  Although most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, due to the state’s large size, the climate ranges from subarctic to subtropical. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast, especially famous in San Francisco but also a moderating climate factor in the other major coastal cities of San Diego and Los Angeles, though more so in many of the beachside suburbs listed above, where I lived for most of my youth and adulthood.  Just a few miles inland, though, summer temperature extremes are significantly higher, with downtown Los Angeles and other famous and infamous interior suburbs and cities, like Pasadena, San Bernardino and even beautiful downtown Burbank, where Johnny Carson once reigned, being several degrees warmer, and smoggier, than at the coast.

Brentwood, Tennessee (not California)

Brentwood is an affluent neighborhood in the Westside of Los Angeles, California.  As a member of a group of nearby neighborhoods that are affluent, it is known as one of the “Three Bs”, along with Beverly Hills and Bel Air.  This Brentwood is now most famously known as the site of the 1994 stabbing death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, by her ex-husband, the now infamous, O.J. Simpson.  Brentwood is also a city and an affluent suburb of Nashville located in Williamson County, Tennessee.  This Brentwood is little known outside of the Nashville area, unless you’re an already wealthy local celebrity or an aspiring country music star.  I certainly didn’t know anything about the Brentwood in Tennessee, until we made the difficult decision to Relocate there in 2006.

Husband had been working for the same large company for 25 years.  We were both in our very early 50’s when husband’s employer told him they were moving from the L.A. area to the Nashville area.  At first, I didn’t want to go.   My entire family lived in California, I had a good, cushy and flexible job, and I was spoiled by the whole situation, but knew we would not be able to stay in California unless husband could find a good new job that he might like to do for the next 15 years at least.  In 2006, I had been working for a small company for almost 10 years, and for the last five years of that part-time, which gave me a lot of flexibility as a parent.  Our two daughters were of high school age; one about to enter and the other with two years to go.  We reluctantly decided that a move at that time would be the least disruptive of our looming unsavory options.  After all, Tennessee’s climate is relatively temperate.  We thought there would not be too much snow in the winter, compared to the far northern US, and not too much heat and humidity, when compared with the Deep South.   There was no state income tax and the overall cost of living in the Volunteer State was low compared to the Golden State.

We started house hunting in Brentwood in late 2005.  We’d decided to settle there since it was touted as having the best public schools in the Nashville area.  I might have known right off the bat, though, that this city would end up being not my kind of place, when the realtor made a point of emphasizing that it was only a day’s drive from the beach, by which he meant Florida.  Blind and overwhelmed fool that I was, I assured him that this fact was unimportant, since I’d lived near the beach all of my life but didn’t go there very often anymore.   More so, I should have taken a clue as to the pending uncomfortable affluence of the place when he showed us houses in a private gated golf course community and a home formerly owned by a current country music superstar, on that first visit.   It’s amazing to look back on it now, but the golf course homes were “too much” and Trisha Yearwood’s house was not enough, maybe because she didn’t have kids, I guess.

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Snowfall in February 2006, when we signed the purchase contract

On our second trip, we finally settled on the purchase of a home The Highlands of Belle Rive, the third or fourth subdevelopment in one of the town’s older subdivisions i.e. after Belle Rive I, II and III.  Passing the signs with fancy-shmancy subdivision names, like  Carondelet and Concord Hunt, Fountainbrooke and Fountainhead, The Governor’s Club, King’s Crossing and Princeton Hills, should have been my second clue that this city would end up being not my kind of place.  This was also the first time I recall ever hearing anyone use the term “subdivision” and we’d always lived in usually unnamed and untitled i.e. anonymous neighborhoods that, if anything, were identified by the closest major intersection.

The HOBR (Highlands of Belle Rive, the very fancy title of our swanky and exclusive-sounding “subdivision”) and our new house, on a quiet interior corner, and steeply pitched, lot, did have beautiful views, ready access to Brentwood High (3.5 miles down the hill) and the Deerwood Arboretum (1.5 miles up the hill).

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Photo of view taken from our patio, the only flat spot in our backyard!

When we completed the second of our two moving trips in the early summer of 2006, we made two startling new discoveries, both courtesy of my mom who had come out to help us settle in, inspect the place, and prove to herself that it wouldn’t be too hard to visit us in the future:  (1) Two of our new neighbors were also California transplants due to relocation by the same employer and (2) summers in Tennessee, even if it wasn’t Florida, could still be extremely hot and really humid.  It was so uncomfortable to be outside, even in the evening, that none of us felt like going to the park down the hill to watch the July 4th fireworks.  Mom was also the person who bestowed the title “The Beverly Hills of Tennessee” on fair Brentwood, after she found out what it would cost to finish the basement.  This ended up being nearly a third of our purchase price, mainly due to the city’s requirement to have a bedroom window for egress and where our classy and meticulous contractor found a boulder that required a few weeks between storms to remove.

School started in August and in September the HOBR HOA held a Labor Day get to know you potluck supper up the hill at the closed end of my new short cul-de-sac block.  By then, the weather was closer to comfortable and I met some of my more-established neighbors on that socially level and financially egalitarian playing field, including some young transplanted (from Seattle and New Orleans, I think) entrepreneurs who took pity on my lonely soul a few years later by employing me to write some of their press releases on contract.  Found out when I was working for them that they were also Emmy winners who kept a condo in a downtown Nashville high rise as their office space.  Still pretty fancy for this California bumpkin!

By now the reader may have an inkling that, as noted in Wikipedia, Brentwood, Tennessee, is also known for its rolling hills as well as being one of the wealthiest cities in America relative to the average cost of living, and is also Tennessee’s best educated city, proportionately, with 98.4% of adult residents (25 and older) holding a high school diploma, and 68.4% of adults possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher (2010 Census).  On top of that, Brentwood is located in  Williamson County, which is ranked among the wealthiest counties in the country. In 2006 it was the 11th wealthiest county in the country according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but the Council for Community and Economic Research ranked Williamson County as America’s wealthiest county (1st) when the local cost of living was factored into the equation with median household income.

As I set out to “find myself” in this strange new place, this atypical California girl encountered many unexpected roadblocks, which proved frustrating to my pursuit of new friends in real time, i.e. in my five year residence there, but, in the comfort of my current and comfortable 20/20 hindsight, I now find them to be oh so understandable.

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