Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Home For The Holidays - Happy New Year!

It's the very last day of 2013 and as I walked along the glorious beach this morning, I gave it a lot of thought. I just got back from the best time ever back home for the holidays, and that gave me a lot to think about too. Like the people and things that matter. And how truly grateful I am to have two places that I consider home.

Minnesota is one of the best places on Earth to be for Christmas. It just feels exactly like it should. This year particularly cooperated, with snow falling just about every day, creating a sparkling Winter Wonderland wherever you went.

Of course, this is the time of the year when my first name becomes a verb - Carol.

I don't think I've ever sung more than I did in the last couple of weeks. From a caroling party with celebrants gathered around the piano, belting it out with all we had, to good old-fashioned outside door to door revelry as snow fell (and you better believe we had some nice full mugs to warm our hands and insides) all around us.

I went to Wood Lake and reflected as long as I could before honestly starting to freeze to death. I dragged Mom along with me, and felt so incredibly happy that after all her health drama and fear earlier this year, we were together for Christmas, and she felt great. That was my very favorite part of the holidays, in fact, just doing all the traditional things with Mom, but loving and cherishing them all more than ever.

Things moved me more than ever too. I still feel somewhat dehydrate after all the tears I shed, not from being sad, but just from being incredibly touched by every last thing. I saw Mom direct her choir at her Daughters Of Norway party, and saw how well-respected she is by everyone.

I saw a brilliant performance of All Is Calm (The Christmas Truce of 1914) by Cantus and the Theater Latte Da, written by Peter Rothstein. Beautiful singing that illustrated the absolute futility of War. I cried my eyes out. I saw Saving Mr. Banks with my Mom and brother and nearly had to leave the theater from crying. I saw my friends' kids growing up (Elsie! Inga! Jane! Kate! All of 'em!!!) and blowing my mind and tears sprang to my eyes just to be there with them all. It was a highly emotional week for me, for sure.

The emotional capper was probably attending the Norwegian church (Mindekirken) for Christmas Eve service with my Mom. All the people were decked out in their Norwegian sweaters, their voices reaching for the wooden rafters singing Silent Night together in Norwegian. I looked at my Mom's face as we sang by candlelight, and got so choked up I couldn't finish.

A male tenor beautifully sang "O Holy Night" to close the service, and left me a complete puddle. We ran into my family's oldest friends, Dan and Mary, as we were leaving, and the newly falling snow made the night that special kind of silent. I'll never forget it.

I also laughed until I cried. My cheeks still hurt and I'm sure I have new wrinkles, but it was more than worth it. My hometown friends are some of the very best people in this big world, and some of the funniest too. It helps that I always know they're out there rooting for me too. Always.

They are also some of the kindest. The entire Krsnik/Hendrickson clan added the Gronners into their family tree last week, and a blast was had by all.

My Fairy Goddaughter, Jane, sang more carols with her Aunt Julie, and I was bursting with pride for her, and how talented she already is.

It also wouldn't be a Hendy Christmas without some stitches and this year it was little Leo Oss' turn. 3 to the lip. That's how they get 'em ready for hockey. Speaking of hockey, I like to say that Minnesota is where the Moms PLAY hockey. I went to my first Hot Tamales game at the good ol' Richfield Arena, and was floored at how good these ladies are, and at how into it you get. Between all the caroling and the yelling for goals, I'm still a little hoarse.

I went to the places that MUST be gone to when I'm home, like Ingebretson's, the Scandinavian shop and deli. I got re-stocked up on lefse, and delighted in the thick Minnesota accents you hear inside those walls. A true treasure in Minneapolis. Also, the best smell on Earth is Mom's julekage baking while you're sitting next to the Christmas tree. No contest.

Besides the people, the lakes are probably my most treasured parts of home. It doesn't matter that it's sub-zero out, the lakes always have people out on them. It's just too beautiful to stay inside.

It was so special to spend quality time with my loved ones, and I hope they know how very much they all mean to me. I get stronger every time I go home and touch - and am touched by - my roots. These folks are the real deal. Salt of the Earth. Minnesota NICEST. I am blessed beyond measure by each and every one of them. And I know it.

There is nothing like a winter sunset in Minnesota ...

... except perhaps a winter sunset in Venice. I'm so happy that I have a place to come back to from such a precious trip home, or I'd probably be really bummed. Instead, I'm again blessed and more than know that too.

2013 was super hard in a lot of ways, for a lot of people. I heard that the most stressful things people can go through are the illness or death of a loved one, moving and starting a new job ... I did all of that in one month this year! I cried harder than I ever have, both with fear and joy. I loved more truly and unconditionally than I ever thought possible. I found out that sometimes that doesn't matter, and sometimes that's all that does. I learned a lot. I laughed a whole lot. I gave. I received. I LIVED.

As we kick off 2014 (I think the new year's motto will be "Greatness is foreseen in '14!"), that's the thing to remember. LIVE - with your whole heart and soul. MEAN it. And remember what it is we're striving for ....

 HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014!!! Here we go .... !!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Season's Graffiti-ings!

Happy Holidays to everyone, everywhere - from Venice!

Celebrate - everything! - with the ones you love.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Glögg Fest 2013 - Skål!

Much of Venice is in a fög today, after making very, very merry at Glögg Fest 2013 last night.

It's been in the high 70s outside for some reason all week, so it took some added effort to create a Winter Wonderland aesthetic in the new pad, but I think the vibe was felt.

For the first time ever at Glögg, I had a fireplace. So even though it was a balmy, Full Moon-lit night outside (and a furnace in the kitchen over the mulling cauldron), I had to have a fire going. Atmosphere. And then clothes started coming off, always a bonus.

I love Glögg night so much because I'm pretty into my traditions (as longtime friends will be happy to tell you), but also because I get to see the hard core honorary Vikings in town who won't miss it.

In some cases, I hadn't seen people almost since last year's pillaging.

Some folks just flew back into town that day, some are leaving town tomorrow (ME!), but all were in extra good holiday spirits and ready to get down on a Tuesday.

Indeed, as it was all still going until a few hours ago (Thanks and sorry, new neighbors!).

I always enjoy waking up the morning (ok, noon) after Glögg and seeing absolutely everything gone (especially the lefse that my Mom had made from scratch and sent from Minnesota - legit. Thanks, Mama!).

No cookie crumbs left, scraped out pans, and an empty red pot, with only the dregs of spices remaining on the bottom. That's so gratifying to see after spending hours with a rolling pin getting ready for this festive time of our year.

New friends were made, and old ones were treasured. Everyone was up for a night of Viking style celebration. A robust TUSEN TAKK to all who make it such a pleasure to Glögg (it's now a verb) with each year, as we bring the Minnesota to Venice.


Monday, December 16, 2013

The Makaha 50th Anniversary Skate Contest At The Venice Skatepark

Last Saturday was one of the most beautiful days ever in Venice. You would sure never know it was mid-December. As most of the rest of the world was out running around shopping and getting ready for the holidays in the freezing cold, Venice was having a skate contest.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Makaha Skateboards (and the first skate contest held in Santa Monica in 1963 by founder, Larry Stevenson), the Venice Skate Association put on an absolutely great event.

Skaters (and skate watchers) were out in droves to see the snake run/mini bowl contest ... and though it was a celebration of the past 50 years, it also let everyone know that the future of skating is just as bright. Some of the skaters I saw were just UN. REAL. Killing it every run.

DJs (Bennett Harada) were spinning tunes, and with the Boardwalk right there, it felt like the whole town was out enjoying the spectacular day in the sunshine.

There were the usual food trucks (now encroaching on the beach too? Ugh.) which reminded one that the other point of the day was a food drive for the Westside Food Bank to stock their shelves for the holidays.

There were a ton of cool sponsors (Jimmy'Z, House Of Marley, Venice Originals, Vans, etc ... ) so that meant there were a ton of raffle drawings too, though everyone won just by being there.

I had 7 zillion things to do and places to be that day, so I couldn't stick around to see who won everything, but know that the total ripper, Charlie Blair, took first overall.

What a fantastic time it was - and a perfect example of what good comes from supporting your local skatepark!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snow Day - Venice Style

The annual holiday stroll was held on Abbot Kinney last weekend, and as always, the best part was the snow hill for sledding in The Brig parking lot.

Rare rain had threatened the fun all morning, and then miraculously cleared up just in time for the arrival of friends and neighbors who brought their kids out for a much-anticipated frolic in the even rarer snow.

Snow pants in Venice are hilarious, that needs to be said. But a bunch of kids had 'em on, and I guess were kept dry, though they were not at all needed for the warmth factor.

There was a good craft booth (manned by elves) where kids (and me) made ornaments out of this cool scratch-off paper, or crowns and antlers to don as they trailed after their parents in the shops before and after the fun.

Santa Claus was there - a pretty good one, in fact - and shy, thrilled little grommets lined up to tell him what they'd like and if they'd been good. It's always cute, there's no way around that.

Fire trucks stood guard, and the parking lot was crammed with the requisite Brig food trucks - again. The sun started to set and it did get pretty cold then, to be honest. That helped the snow keep from turning into a giant puddle in one second, and my little pal, Beckett, got his first sled ride. His Dad, Shane, is from Minnesota too, so this was a big moment, though Beckaboo seemed a little iffy about it. He'll learn.

Holiday lights came on, Carolers came out and that elusive "Holiday Spirit" feeling really was in the air. Even if I was still wearing flip flops. It's great that the Abbot Kinney merchants come together to put this on for the neighborhood, and it's looked forward to every year. Snow Day!

Fa la la la la, la la la LA!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In Celebration Of Nelson Mandela

The entire world memorialized Nelson Mandela today, as his South African service was broadcast globally. Barack Obama was there, and I'm so happy that Mandela was freed and Obama was made President in both of their lifetimes - and mine. Seemingly impossible at one time, we now know that nothing is. ("It always seems impossible until it's done." - Mandela!!!)

Locally, street posters of Mandela went up overnight by political/satirical artist, Robbie Conal, this time in pure celebration. I was delighted to wake up to one posted right in front of my house! A touching reminder that we all just have to keep on walking ... toward freedom. Now, Mandela is truly free, and will serve forever as an example on how to live with dignity and grace.

My favorite Mandela quote (among many, many sage words) is this:

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

What a special man, indeed. And now it's up to the rest of us to carry on his legacy of peace and forgiveness. Not easy by any means, but because of people like Mandela, we know it IS possible.

On it. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The 2nd Annual Venice Sign Holiday Lighting!

You could have almost mistaken Venice for Bedford Falls last Friday night. As the community gathered on Windward Avenue to celebrate and behold the second annual lighting of the Venice sign for the holidays, there was such a small town, cozy vibe permeating the festivities, it did almost feel like George Bailey would come rushing through at any moment.

But then you looked around and saw Tree Man, Juan in a Santa sombrero, dreaded hippies and dogs in outfits, and you knew exactly where in the world you were.

There were booths set up above the Windward Circle for different organizations around the neighborhood, friends and families mingling, and lots of "Coffee" cups being carried around to combat the sudden chill that settled over Venice, brisk but adding to the holiday feeling. I don't think I've ever seen so many Santa hats being sported, so the people were feeling it for sure. Holograms of snowflakes were projected on the buildings, so we even kind of had snow. Faux flakes.

First Fridays was going on over on Abbot Kinney, but it looked like all the locals knew what was up and headed over to Windward instead, as I felt like I knew just about everyone I saw. That NEVER happens at First Fridays anymore, so the night felt extra special, and for US.

We enjoyed cups of egg nog courtesy of Menotti's and The Townhouse, and then it was time for the Venice Symphony Orchestra to entertain the crowd (and by now, it was a CROWD!) with holiday songs and contemporary jams alike. I love it SO much that we now have the V.S.O., and it was the first time even knowing about it for many in attendance (that must not be regular readers of this blog). Judging from the warm reception, they're here not just to stay, but to grow.

I mean, how great is a holiday concert that goes from "A Few Of My Favorite Things" to "Black Hole Sun" to a medley of "Here Comes Santa Claus/Silent Night/Light My Fire/Hava Nagila"?! Something for everyone, and they were a huge hit. Conductor/Founder, Wesley Flowers exclaimed, "I LOVE this!" to the crowd as they roared for more, and I think everyone there was in total agreement.

New Councilman, Mike Bonin, took the stage to shout out thanks to everyone involved in creating such an adorable community event - especially Danny/Santa Samakow, who is tireless when it comes to making sure Venice has fun. A female police officer (I didn't catch her name) was given a certificate of Venice thanks or something, and there were some LAPD jeers from the crowd, prompting Bonin to say, "With Venice, we have our peanut gallery right down front". Yep. She was a good sport, coming over to hug a heckler, which was pretty cool, and how we should ALL react to animosity, really. She said, "Venice is where everything happens." Good and bad, but tonight was all about good.

Bonin then introduced the celebrity light switcher for this year, Angelica Huston. She (also in a Santa hat) remarked that moving to Venice 20 years ago was the best decision she ever made. She had been "behind her walls in Beverly Hills" and now is surrounded by friends, community and diversity, and "that's what it's all about." True story (though she's still behind big walls in the giant house on Windward that took out historic arches and columns, but that's a topic for another day). She added that her late husband (sculptor Robert Graham) always said that Venice was the one place that is unpredictable in Los Angeles, "Outside the limits, where you're allowed to be who you are." Amen, Sister.

With that, it was time for the countdown and the flipping of the switch to turn our Venice sign to its holiday red and green brilliance. The lights came on and the people of Venice cheered the arrival of another beautiful holiday season. Suddenly, way up on top of the Bank Of Venice rooftop, there was an illuminated sighting of Santa Claus (Samakow) himself! Kids went nuts pointing and yelling for him - and then he was gone. He reappeared at street level soon thereafter, and all the folks in Santa hats (or Norwegian sweaters) lined up to be photographed with him.

After some tunes from The Dustbowl Revival, the crowd dispersed to take advantage of all the different options going on that night.

As everyone spread out and shouted their greetings/plans to friends and neighbors, you got that almost giddy feeling that comes with evenings like this (and egg nog). That everyone was having a good time, and all was well in Venice, on a not even close to silent night.

Gratitude to everyone who put it on, and to everyone who went. What a beautiful time. May these holidays be merry and bright for us all!