Stress-busting at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

Have you noticed that stress is cumulative? I put significant effort into ameliorating the effects of daily stress. I try very hard not to let it build up, but I don’t operate under any misconception that I can eliminate it. However, I know that if I regularly tap into quiet I am better prepared to offset the barrage of noise and clamor that seems to come with living in a busy world.

One of my favorite places to find that peace is the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Once the home of Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, the library contains priceless literary and artistic treasures rivaling collections found in the greatest museums.

I will undoubtedly take you along with me on one of my trips inside the many buildings and exhibits associated with the library and art collection. But this weekend I was mostly interested in spending some time on the grounds. The botanical gardens cover 120 acres with rare plants from around the world. It is incredibly satisfying to just walk the grounds.

A benefit of being a local is having a membership offering early entrance to the grounds. I took advantage of some free time to enjoy the beauty and soak up some silence three hours before the Huntington opens to the general public.

Dodging sprinkling systems, tuning out the incessant drone of leaf blowers, and making note that silence is a rare commodity anywhere in Southern California, I  focused on the beauty of a lovely fall morning.

I wasn’t alone in early entrance to the garden–I do fantasize that I can have it all to myself for just an hour–but I noted others who were also committed to being as silent as possible. One woman had her sketch book and pencils. One man was sitting in the sunshine of the rose garden reading a book. Many more were like myself with camera in hand.

For a brief time I walked behind two young women accompanied by their children. The children caught my attention because I really wished I had my two granddaughters with me to explore and enjoy the birds and squirrels busy with their morning meal. The women were chatting, loud and clear, about school preferences, challenges they were experiencing with a particular teacher, and debating the suitability of the educational system as tailored to meet the needs of their children.

Yet the children were walking by themselves, looking and touching and taking it all in without the benefit of either mother using the opportunity to engage with them. They weren’t “together”–they weren’t sharing this wonderful  hands-on teaching environment.

I thought back and wondered if I had been that unconscious with my own children. At times, the answer is probably “yes,” but one benefit in getting older is realizing opportunities need to be grabbed.  It’s about “now” not later.

I did have time with Sophia and Karina on Saturday. The girls were at our house in the afternoon and we had several hours to do with as we pleased. So we took a nature walk around our own neighborhood.

I left it up to them to decide what was important to notice. They talked about palm trees, rocks, a piece of bark, a stone, squirrels, butterflies…somehow an American flag made it into our “nature” observations. But they noticed. That’s all I wanted.

We came home and colored pictures of what they had seen. Since Sophia is still working with a broken arm I encouraged them to create on paper we could cut out and tape into a new nature journal I had purchased. They spent about an hour coloring and “writing notes” in our new field observation guide! We now have one full entry. But we can do this again each time we have the chance to walk and look around us. What a delightful record of their childhood this will be for me!

And so a new week begins. There will be stress…for all of us. For those living in the path of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, the word “stress” isn’t even adequate. However, everyone has moments that feel like mini-storms.

I do encourage considering what you’ll do to capture even a moment or two of  “peace and quiet” this week.  I guarantee we need to regularly access quiet, not just on the weekends, in order to strengthen resilience and keep stress in check. And maybe start your own journal–poetry, photography, painting… keep track of what it means to stop and be mindful and notice how good it can feel to jump off the treadmill!

For my American friends–we may be in for a bumpy political road this week. I’m going to try to get outdoors as much as possible and tune out ALL unnecessary noise.

Let’s all breathe lighter, shall we?

Holding onto summer with a visit to Surf City U.S.A.

I’m holding onto summer with both hands.  We have dedicated August and  September to packing in as much outdoor activity as possible, trying to squeeze in as many little jaunts as we can manage before the days grow shorter! In our latitude late fall and winter months mean it is dark by 5:00 PM. and I never really savor that shift.

   I think I’ve been quite clear that the ocean is my happy place, and so the other day we headed in that direction once again!

Railroad magnate Henry Huntington’s name is all over Southern California. We live a few blocks south of Huntington Drive. The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, Henry and Arabella Huntington’s home, draws visitors from all over the world–I’ll tell you more about that wonderful place another time. And Huntington Beach is about an hour from home. We don’t measure distance in miles, rather in how long it takes to travel overburdened freeways.

In a previous post about Balboa Island I talked about Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railway ‘Red Car’ system as a significant factor in bringing interest from the Pasadena area, where Huntington lived, to the beach cities. Orange County’s Huntington Beach was another Huntington development, with the Red Cars connecting the beach city to Downtown Los Angeles making it possible for people to live in the suburbs.

Beach Volleyball

Another time I’d enjoy telling you more about Huntington Beach history. I’m fascinated with early California, and the area was part of a Spanish land grant. But for now, I’ll hold back my enthusiasm for the history and get right to the surfing!

The city is famous for the most consistent waves on the West Coast, a feature responsible for the city trademarking the nickname, Surf City USA.

We couldn’t resist building on the theme of the Olympics, so we decided to eat at Dukes. What is Dukes? Dukes is steak, chicken, fish…infused with the tastes of Hawaii. I didn’t suggest it primarily for the food, but for the view. Our table faced the surf, and that’s a winner.

Duke was a full-blooded Hawaiian who won two Olympic medals in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. He won the Gold by setting the world record for the 100 meter freestyle and the Silver with the U.S. relay team. By 1914 he introduced surfing to the U.S. Atlantic Coast, including Australia and New Zealand. He was a standout winner (Silver) again in the 1924 Paris Games, and again, at age 52, a Bronze in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. These are but the Olympic highlights in a life that also included a career in Hollywood. He is something of a legend in surfing history.

I love the ocean all year round. But there’s a particular energy during the summer that will soon disappear. The surfers are year-round, but it isn’t always favorable to comfortably  congregate on the pier.  The temperatures will begin dropping with the shorter days.

But I think I can get a few more of those wonderful ocean sunsets before I officially concede that summer is over!

Do you have weekend plans incorporating some of your favorite pastimes? We are headed  away from the beach this weekend and plan to spend some time in the local mountains. We have to cover all the bases before summer flies away.  I do hope you have the chance to exhale and have a great weekend, too.

I’ll plan to see you on Monday.