Saturday, May 14, 2011

Small town market rebuilds a community

A man yells to a group of women, the price of eggs dropped since last week and the parsley is going fast. ‘What are you taking for the honey?’ a stout man asks the slender woman behind a yellow covered table.
Second street’s air smells of fresh flora and dried herbs, every inch creating a new scent. The spices and sweetness melt into one as the warm spring sun heats up the Claremont Artisan Market.Held every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the market is one of the city’s treasured and well known gems. Nestled in the center of the shops and well-loved restaurants, locals, college students, church strollers and weekend wanderers gather to take eating and living back to the basics.

In the consumerism world we live in, it is hard to escape technology’s spin on our dietary needs. It is places like local markets where a person can really reevaluate themselves and become equipped with the essentials of life. Numerous tents offer a variety of calming and beneficial items. From old books and local honey to fresh seafood and produce, any individual can find the right fit to the vacant slot in their soul.

“ It is the people that you meet that makes these markets special,” said Ida Rios from Aunt Willies Apiary. “ We take your life and see what you need to fill it, we help you to become happy, revived and full again.”

Petite children play between rows of basil and baskets of berries in their spring best of light flowered dresses and cool denim. Couples walk proudly back to their cars with strawberries as big as my palm and a bouquet of rustic turnips and radishes. The quaint downtown walkways have bloomed into an organic haven.

“My aunt has been selling her berries for over 30 years and the people
whose lives are affected by it are special,” said Sarah Cookson of Pudwill berry farms.

For many like Cookson, local markets are what save families.

“I have seen my family’s despair over bills and piled debt, but the individuals who buy our product to change their lives end up changing ours and that is what makes this worth while,” said Cookson.

To have a life of calmness and health, I have to take care of myself. Society brings us up to think of life as moments that must be met quick with demand and we forget to rel
ax and enjoy a well-grown and cooked meal. It is something as simple as food that can change a mood.

“When it is local you know it is good,” Rios said. “We cannot afford to put our lives in the hands of big industry food companies. We were meant to eat from what the earth provides and I think everyone is starting to see that.”

It is not only the organic products and fresh produce that draws people in to the market, but the way it holds up to competitors.

“Throughout the year we grow different vegetables and we ask around to see how our organics compare to restaurants and stores,” said Stephanie Massow of Weisar family farms selling root plants, potatoes and radishes, at the market. “When it comes down to, it organic always prevails.”

Many people forget that not all vegetables and fruits are grown year round
. At the grocery store, one can buy strawberries year round, imported from halfway around the world and pumped full of additives to keep it red and juicy. Buying produce seasonal is not only less expensive, it is safer, healthier and better for the environment. The gas used between airline and ground shipping is not aiding our carbon footprint. Local markets that utilize the regions farms can greatly reduce bio fumes, and help the earth that we eat from.

“We use natural vinegar when we grow our berries, it is safe and the fruit tastes better,” Cookson said. “Go and buy a carrot from a local store and then buy an organ one, there is a huge difference not only in size, but taste. Organic is how we are meant to live.”

Our bodies don’t thrive on high fructose corn syrup, or yearn for MSG to keep our skin staying soft. Yet, these are the things placed in our food to make it appear large, plump, and edible.

“Locally grown foods are just smart. A person not need medicine to rid allergies, pain, disease and much more, just the right food choices,” said Rios. “This market is a way for the community to help itself from within.”

Mix mud with steam and you get a concoction for wellness

Steam rises from the springs mineral baths making a hazy mist cover the grounds. Native Americans once frequented the mixture of cool and hot liquids which flowed from the Temescal Valley. For years, hundreds have flocked to these mineral and sulfurous waters that magically heal the sick and reverse the effects of time in the body. My body slowly sinks into the water. The heat, shocking at first, quickly makes my limbs go limp. My eyes close and I inhale.

Glen Ivy hot spring spa in Corona, Calif., takes relaxation to a higher level. Therapeutic mud baths rejuvenate the skin, making it glow with a healthy shine. With rooms outdoors in the wooden landscape, to grottos deep in underground caverns, there is a connection to nature that brings the body back to balance.

A recent Mayo Clinic study found that soaking in a hot bath can give a person many of the health benefits of exercising without the strain.

Hot water increases the heart rate while lowering blood pressure unlike exercise, which raises it. The heat also improves joint mobility, eliminates toxins in the body and improves sleep. The body has an overall positive response to heat, and with the combination of hot water with the bodies already internal thermal regulation, the benefits in mental and physical health is endless.

“I’m a single mom who has no time to really focus on me with my 7-year-old child and a full work schedule,” said Deanna Higgins of Alta Loma. “I went here for the first time over a year ago and now make it a routine stop.”

Higgins works full-time as a dental hygienist and volunteers frequently at her daughter’s school. The hot springs allows her to get away without missing anything in her family’s life. Because the spa is open from 7:30 a.m.- 6:00 p.m. she can get in a quick morning of rejuvenation and still pick up her daughter from school.

“The springs really bring me back to life, I am quick to neglect my own needs but I need to be in the best shape and health to take care of my home,” Higgins said.

As a college student I never really turned towards spas for relaxation or a way to heal my body. The aromatic smells waft through the different rooms, the atmosphere itself calm and still. Although the spa can get busy, it never feels overwhelming.

“I have noticed weekends get busy but it is the only time I can come, I still can get in a message and soak, that is all I need,” said Della Kuminkoski of Rancho Cucamonga.
Kuminkoski visits once a month with her daughter, both work full time and have found the spa to give them the energy back that they pour into the work week.

“ I am sure people ask, ‘how can a message really help you?’,” said Heather Kuminkoski. “ I tell them try it, and if you do not get your life back in order then I’ll pay you the difference. I have not spent a dime.”

I entered the spa early in the morning. The sun had just risen above the hills surrounding Corona, and my mind was teaming with projects and tasks to be completed at work. A few hours here and my mind is clear, and my body ready to tackle the week.

The spa offers more than just mud baths, saunas and massages: it is a central hub for numerous types of yoga, pilates and tai chi classes. The events create a balanced renewal from within and re-creates a healthy relationship with food and wellness. The spa does not only heal the body but it aids visitors in reconfiguring how to take care of themselves in all aspects of life.

“I used to be very active when I was younger but I have let life lead me for over a decade now, but I’m taking back the reigns,” Higgins said. “ Only I can take care of me, I’m just glad there is a local haven to relearn creative health and options.”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Setting free your subconscious

A warm spring breeze picked up the dust covering the rocky creek bed. In the spring, Sapphire Trails is open for exploration with the aid of log bridges and the drama of solid rock faces. climbing here is a feat not accomplishable during the winter storms. One foot and then the next, my eyes travel to my group just ahead on the trail but it seems like miles between us. The worn log shifts and catches itself as I balance my weight accordingly. A leap for the sand and I am across. The quest up rugged terrain begins.

Located just above the quite foothill suburb of Alta Loma, this path provides locals and
travelers here a place to challenge themselves in nature. With rocky creek beds that lead into the San Gabriel Mountain Range, this hike is both a workout and a place to stop, breath, and wonder at the nature around. From the bottom to the top, one can overlook the gorgeous rounding hills as far down as Pasadena and glance at the city of Los Angeles on the horizon.

As a Southern California local, my choices for stress relievers are vast. A person can travel to crisp mountainous hills and relaxing beach within the same day. While basking in the warm sun and ocean breeze is an obvious reliving activity, hiking the mountain face can do exactly the same.

“When I am up there in the canyon, I feel like I am in a different wold,” said Aisha Gonzales of Glendora.

With a full work load and heavy college courses, Gonzales turns to nature and its challenging yet peaceful landscape to admonish her worries. As an intern for Arcadias
’ natural wildlife rangers, Gonzales finds herself frequently in the one place where she can relax.

“ The quiet actually helps me to clear my mind, I find myself hiking as far up as possible to get away from everything and just be,” said Gonzales.

The various sized of rock part beneath my feet as I scale the steep slope. From pebbles to boulders, every yard is teaming with obstacles to overcome. Hiking takes the mind from the world below; all that holds school, work, relationships, etc.The hike forces the hiker to focus on the path, determine the route, and overcome the obstacles.

“Living where I do, I find it almost hard not to throw everything aside
on a warm clear day and head to the trails,” said Victoria Castaneda of Upland. “ Being as busy as we are, I think it is refreshing to be able to look at life atop a hill and stream through my thoughts.”

Atop the hill it is as if life has taken a pause. Looking below on everything that I hold important, that I strive to succeed in and make work is nestled in the vast community beneath my feat. The breeze whips around me as I take a moment to just be. My muscles tighten and relax as I rest from maneuvering up the mountain. As a hiker, it is the air rushing in my lungs and around my body, the firmness in my muscles and the earth beside. It is like body and nature collide and in it is a release.

The Mayo Clinic runs numerous articles addressing the physical and mental benefits of hiking including a list of the top ten ways that hiking is healthy. A few of the main points were: weight loss increased stamina, strengthened heart and arteries, and increased longevity. The site stated that hiking has been proven to, “ ease the gloominess of depression and reduce the tension associated with anxiety and promote relaxation.”

“Nature is exercise for me, I can not help but want to go on a run or a hike when the day is bright. Hiking for me is life,” said Gonzalez.

Therapy through espresso

It provides just the perfect deep and comfortable chair for book reading. An atmosphere that contains dim lighting and smooth conversation, where exotic smells waft through the air and your pallet can travel from Ethiopia to Brazil and then finish in Italy.

In one small building, the arts of multitasking and culinary combinations take place all to the sounds of light music. It is these mini-museums of art and eclectic tastes that sprinkle the world with authentic eateries. A few local ones are Classing Coffee and Coffee Klatch, both bringing top notch service and delectable drinks.

Typically catering too “beatnicks” and students, coffee shops around the world have been stirring up remedies for every person for hundreds of years. Where Starbucks and other mainstream coffee shops provide people with a consistent on-the-go cup of coffee, it is the private cafes that are the real gems. Whether traveling or in an area of expertise, I always flock to these private beauties to satisfy my thirst for this cherished liquid.

Classic Coffee in Glendora, Calif., brings the art of coffee to community gatherings. Known for its open seating for college or bible study groups, this local favorite provides great service with a personal touch.

“The baristas here know how to handle the coffee more than just well,” said general manager Jonathan Lambert. “We cover weeks of training to make sure they know how to make each drink top notch, and they are great at connecting with every face that comes in.”

It began as a child, waking up to the sound of my fathers coffee pot popping and working to get every last drop out of the worn machine. The aroma filled the kitchen streaming with morning light. I would climb up to the wooden table to sit and read the Times with my father. A heritage riddled with deep European culture kept rich Italian espresso and exotic coffees around the house since birth, but it was the tradition that brought me true relaxation.

The quant building set in the heart of the downtown shops is decorated with cherry wood paneling set below olive and gold hues. The ambiance reminds me of a Seattle based coffee shop with industrial rafters and lighting above and bar seating along the large front window. While working behind the bar, the baristas engage in conversation over the European espresso machine. The bakery treats compliment the drinks perfectly; from fresh lemon bars to rich cheesecakes one cannot go wrong.

“We have this fun tea of the month to compliment our regular of the month and many other little things to keep customers excited to come in,” Lambert said.

The cafe is known for the many games that can be checked out and used at their official game nights and tournaments for families or students looking to break away from the books. Classics lattes and mix drinks are creamy and burst with flavor when one dips their straw into this delicious drink. But when it comes to coffee, a place that dips into traditional pour-over brews satisfies the connoisseur’s pallet.

To the east of this Glendora favorite, lies an old winery housing delectable dark roasts of its own. Coffee Klatch in Rancho Cucamonga has created a safe haven deriving from many artistic outlets to take its visitors in to a whole new world. The old winery features pour out of the coffee shop itself. From large wooden beams that craft the rafters above, to the original doors and historical architect throughout.

“It is a little piece of history here, people come to enjoy it as well as create their own living memories,” said Klatch manager Betsy Harlan.

Local artists feature their works across the walls, accenting the oranges and yellows that pull from the rooms decor. Writers gather to channel creative pieces in their journals as they sip on savory dark roasts. Harlan is always looking for poets and writers to showcase their work, as well as participate in weekly readings.

“I have a passion for writing and those who can cultivate that art-form, I people to know they can use that talent here as well, we are not just about music and bands,” said Harlan.

This hidden jewel is what the baristas say a coffee shop should give to people; art, comfortable chairs, a place to express themselves and music. The scene is always inviting, whether it is full to its brim on the nights and weekends to when it is calm in the early afternoons. The cafe screams realism and in that myself and others find relaxation.

“There are no frills here, we are down to earth; from our coffee to our musical and artistic values,” said Harlan.
A regular who goes by Joe says he passes up Starbucks across the street from his house daily to make it to Klatch. For him it is a piece of “home” where the drinks are real and the people are too.

“Klatch is the ‘third place’ for most of our regulars, if they are not at home or work they are with us,” said Harlan.

The smells of espresso hits my nose immediately after I heave open the door. A band plays to its fans who are huddled around the creatively decorated corner, showcasing art and photography from the city. The open bar is streaked with the grain from the wood and wear from regulars elbows as they lean and share their stories with the baristas.

The Klatch employees use the saying, “we do not serve just coffee, it is exceptional.” When coffee goers are looking for a traditional cup, wander off the beaten path and find a hole in the wall, if you can smell the sweet and strong smells of espresso you are off to a good start.

Local music you can afford

The music pounds behind heavy red wooden doors. A neon wristband clasps tight to my arm and the venue doors opens to let out waves of lyrical rhythms. People line the brick wall decorated with the works of local artists view of the world. An intimate room filled with over fifty fans and music enthusiasts surround the small stage. A grungy guitarist steps close the mic.

“Let’s hope we don’t disturb the neighbors,” he said with a smile. Signaling to the rest of his crew his hand flies down and the music starts again.

The Wire in Upland, Calif., houses performers from indie folk to metal rock. Bands from surrounding states and even those from afar make their appearance at this favorite local hot spot. The set is known for an intimate show at an affordable price, with only $10-15 a ticket it is no wonder the house is packed by the time of the headliner each night.

The scene is straight out of an underground New York City club. With the small stage being, bands have to be aware of how to precisely manage their set. If not careful, the stage can become overcrowded and hard for the performers to entertain a show.

“Unless you have some serious money to invest in the proper sound equipment, a small venue is where you can get the best performance for the right price for everyone,” said Beau Trembly of Temecula. Trembly and his band perform at the wire as often as they can, saying it is the old town feel and intimate set that keeps their fan base rising.

“Although the smaller stage tends to be cramped and the sound is far from what you would hear at the El Rey, it is the perfect way for a band to connect with their fans,” Trembly said.

Although wedged between downtown buildings, the Wire maintains a large crowd on performance nights, some regulars and others visiting from areas far from Upland.

“The Wire has a homey feel to it, like a coffee house, only no coffee,” said Staphon Arnold of Azusa. “We all come here for one thing, and that is to hear a band rock their hearts out. Everyone else is here to appreciate the music, not for a quick cup of joe.”

While this location is affordable, it also is a place for musicians to express their creativity and arrangements. Many of the larger bands in the media today got their big break visiting smaller sites to get their start. This is the driving force behind up and coming performers.

“As a composer I must be creative all the time, it is a reaction of emotions and I feel like I can express them and refine them in a smaller venue,” said Greg Johnson of Ontario.

In the digital world we live in today, it has become easier for musicians to hide behind talent through MP3’s and editing programs.

“The live show is he best way to test the quality of a performer, if they can pull it off in a small venue, they can pull it off anywhere,” said Trembly. “You cannot hide behind the production of auto-tune in a small space.”

Today, fans look for more than just music at an entertainment show. The smaller venues make it easier for people and bands to walk away with something more than just a few of their favorite songs. People want bands that are up close. They want to connect with the music they are hearing. The Wire can gives that to the crowds that flock there, it is not about a dollar sign, it is about the show and what people can take away.

“Music is not just about musicians playing and fans listening, it is about sharing an experience,” Trembly said. “It brings us all down to a more human level.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Serving up '60s diner hospitality

A cool spring breeze races across the covered patio with white wooden furniture. The San Gabriel mountain range is a scenic background of rolling green hills speckled with scattered mansions that look like toys from my seat. The waitress raises her voice as a speaker releases the sounds of the control tower signaling the pilot to land. The plane rushes on to the runway and a cup of steaming coffee is set on the table. It is time for breakfast and a show.

Norms diner located in La Verne’s Bracket Airport is a scene straight out of the early ’50s. A waitress in a checkered pink apron approaches the table with a friendly smile.

“OK my love bugs, how can I help you?” she says. The music of Motown fills the rafters of the airfields famous diner as the sounds of the kitchen and conversations of guests collide between the tables and booths. As each party walks in the waitress’ call them in by name, even new comers are secured with a warm welcome like scene out of the beloved show Cheers.

“People who know Norms know it is family owned, and they know that I always know my customers,” owner Cathy Touche said.

Everything on the menu might as well be grandma’s cooking; from pork chops and mashed potatoes to biscuits and gravy with a side of grits and eggs sunny side up, there is nothing but comfort to indulge on. Touche grew up loving the restaurant business. Her father owned Norms and provided the locals with a place to get away from home and have a homemade meal with a little entertainment from the airfield.

“I provide everyone with great food, a majestic view, half-fast service, and where else can you eat on a runway?” Touche said.

Touche can be seen scuttling about the restaurant badgering pilots as they come in for a coffee before flight, catching up with regulars, or sliding into new comers booths to welcome them and give them a taste of her hospitality.

It is places like Norms that make many people, including myself, relaxed and pleased with the little things in life. A good diner can do just that, it provides a friendly atmosphere where one is taken back in time to simpler days, when a cup of coffee, a homemade meal, and good conversation was the heart of life. The restaurants famous Special Breakfast sandwich is an open faced biscuit with a scrambled egg, bacon and gravy and it is under six dollars. Most of the menu runs under ten dollars, with a few of the sandwiches and dinner platers running a little higher.

“I love coming in here every day to work because I know I am giving people the break they need to catch their breath,” waitress Margo Wainwright said. “The runway and atmosphere makes me feel right out of an old movie, I think that is why people love it so much.”

The MayoClinic posted an article regarding the top environments to dine and de-stress in, one of which was home-style diners. It is evident that Norms leaves visitors with more than a full stomach. The waitress’s are often seen dishing out conversation with their guests, making sure that their life is going as good as the food.

“I love coming to eat here, it is like a therapy session with my best friend, Norms always gets my mind off of my stressful life,” La Verne resident Lisa Green said.

For me, eating fast food was never been something I made a habit of doing often. But, Norms is far from eating out, everything is made from scratch and tastes like something my mom would whip up for me. The food and atmosphere is the perfect pick me up to long week.

“I wasn’t raised on fast food so I don’t make it. All you will get here is good home cooking and someone who will listen. I think that is all we need during these hard times,” said Touche.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scaling the walls of mental strength

The rope tightens and squeaks with the shift of weight. Below, shouts echo through his ringing ears. One more push and he is to the top. Chalk dust settles on his lip, trembling his limbs begin to give way to gravities unforgiving pull. With one swift lunge his fingers reach for the florescent knob and slips. A jolting fall and the rope snaps. For Michael Blair, this climb has come to an end.

Hangar 18 off of Stowell Street in Upland California is known for testing not only physical strength but mental strength as well. Set in a renovated airplane hangar south of the city’s downtown area, this old venue has been completely gutted and transformed into a rock climbers El Dorado.

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up or across natural or artificial rock faces in order to reach the summit of the foundation. The mental and physical demand aids in teaching climber’s strength, endurance, agility and balance in the event. But for me, climbing is a mental release, it keeps my limbs and mind focused on the climb so that I may in my own way de-stress. With a day pass for adults only $16 and $11 for children, there is no excuse to neglect this engaging activity.

While many hear rock climbing and think of ropes, gear, and a few people scaling a mountain, there are numerous ways to tackle this intense sport.

“I got into rock climbing because one of my close friends was always raving about it. He finally convinced me to go one day even though I was skeptical and a little nervous,” said Michael Blair of Azusa California. “ But, after the first climb, I started really enjoying the challenge and I had to have more.”

The large echoing hangar is filled with the shouts and conversation of the climbers within. The walls are covered with multicolored trails and pathways that each climber may choose to take. Bouldering walls scale the north end, this is where climbers may climb short, low routes without the use of a safety rope. The true test of physical strength is evident when the climbers run at the rock face and scale it as if they are spiderman.

The south wall holds the aid and traditional climbing paths where climbers partner with gear and employee aid to scale the tough ascend. My weight shifts as I begin to climb the wall. My hands and feet trace the paths of the purple terrain, each knob a test of my inner strength. The rope tightens as the staff member pulls and applies weight to keep me suspended in the air. It is not a race to the top, decision and acute hand placement is keen. One foot and then the other. The top is near. My senses heighten, everything seems like it is in slow motion. I leap for the last purple piece and I catch it. I slap the top of the roof and begin ascending down.

Because rock climbing is a physical sport, jumping straight into advanced climbing is not recommended. Each path is geared to ease one into the climb and once you do the first, the thrill and addiction will keep you coming back. I find myself constantly thinking about a climb, how I might approach it differently, which I will do next. Each visit I apply my meditations and tackle the rock again.

“It is fun, challenging, and a different kind of sport. Anyone can do it and it’s great for just having a good time climbing or pushing yourself in a workout,” Nick Robles of Ontario said.

Robles has been climbing for more than five years. As a cancer survivor, he takes every opportunity to use his body in exercise and physical adventure.

“Rock climbing is a great workout because it pushes your body to overcome what it’s not used to,” Robles said. “ I find myself pushing my strength past what I think it can do, I find power in the climb.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, rock climbing is not only beneficial for weight control, cholesterol, and blood pressure, but can also relieve stress. The climb enhances muscular tension and builds strength and endurance while also enhancing problem solving and memory.

“Climbing helps me unwind after a long day and also keeps me in the best shape,” Blair said. “Even on the craziest of days, climbing helps me to take my mind off of my life.” or 909-931-5991