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

Sunday, April 3, 2011

European lifestyles offer relaxation

Swishing in a circle the burgundy liquid sends a dry and smoky aroma wafting out of the distinguished glass. The soft chatter of evening conversation blends with the acoustic guitar’s melodies around the stretched granite counter. Though every inch of the enclosed space is teaming with connoisseurs, the mood is calm. The Wine Tailor in Rancho Cucamonga is a local safe haven known for tasting and relaxation.

Many individuals throughout the globe rate wine based off of its qualities and properties of composition. They follow the “five S” steps; see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor. But, for those like myself, wine is not only something that should be rated or practiced, but respected and used in enjoying everyday life.

Coming from a large European family, I have been surrounded by wine, or vino, since my early childhood. To me, it symbolizes reunion, something for celebration and communion within intimate circles. While in the states, many have come to view alcohol in general as a “release” something to liven up the occasion. In Europe, it is quite the opposite. Wine is a social drink, something the land prides over and hold with the highest regard. Wine to them is life.

The Wine Tailor captures the essence of European culture and winery. Warm rich colorings paint the walls and cherry wooden tables sit comfortably about the room. The south and east walls were converted into wine racks resembling an old cellar. Wine bottles from the winery itself as well as imports decorate the racks in deep earth toned hues.

“People often say that it is very comfortable when they visit us, I like that we can give that to the community,” said co-owner Angela Lineberger.

Lineberger is often seen taking customers on tours of the facilities fermenting rooms. The large stainless steel vessels can be seen through glass windows just behind the bar area. While next door, an aging room with dozens of wooden barrels sits nestled on custom racks containing the wineries house blends.

“Wine itself is very relaxing, it is something that has to be sipped and enjoyed, it helps us sit back and just breath,” said Lineberger.

For me, wine is about the experience and comfort I can get from adding it to anything; a good book, an outing with friend. or a nice dinner.

An elderly gentlemen sits in the leather chair just behind the guitarist contently reading a novel. Throughout the intimate venue, old friends converse by the bar while couples sip elegantly beside the fire. Unlike most bars, the Wine Tailor provides a relaxing atmosphere as oppose to loud clamor and music. It is a place to unwind after a long work day or have a peaceful weekend afternoon.

“I am a wine connoisseur and I love the atmosphere I can provide for others who enjoy the same as I do,” said bartender Shar Martin. “I enjoy being able to make people who come in here unhappy leave with a smile on their face.”

Martin whisks along the bar smiling in her wine decorated apron. As she entertains the five dollar tasting extravaganza, a list of the days featured wines from white to red on the chalk board act as a guide for the guests.

“I am a wine member here and the five dollar tastings is what really makes the outings so enjoyable,” said Mary Thomas of Upland. “ It is just the right amount of wine and it allows for new and exciting finds.”

There are thousands of different types, tastes, and colors of wine to discover. All one has to do is find a local winery and start your own adventure.

“Wine is a journey, once you find your blend it is time to find another.” said Lineberger. “Like a good book, it can take you back and away from your worries and struggles, it grounds the soul.”

Spinning for a healthier tomorrow

As Lance Armstrong cycles throughout numerous countries and hillsides for the fight against cancer, many Americans are also fighting the battle of the bulge through cycling, but with a few modifications.

When you enter the Pedal Spin studio in Rancho Cucamonga it appears to be a simple gym room: wooden floors, bright wall colors, mirrors throughout the room, and small cubbies. But, when the lights dim a whole different scene unfolds.

Cyndi Lauper’s familiar song, “Girl’s Just Want to Have Fun” takes over the sound system and multicolored lights begin to flash on the floor. I am on a bicycle but it feels more like a club. The instructor, a petite woman in a bright shirt with the word “spinaholic” across it faces the group of exercise enthusiasts. Some stragglers still enter the room, a little groggy in the early morning, to join the group of “professional” spinners and new comers. Many are dressed in cycle gear, others in everyday running outfits, but they are all here for the same reason, to get their hearts beating to the music.

Spin classes have become a craze throughout America. From large gyms in New York city lofts to a dozen bikes in a brick covered building in California, thousands are drawn to this form of exercise.

The Mayo Clinic confirms that regular high intensity cardio exercising like spinning will improve moods, sleep and manage chronic disease. Spin has joined yoga on the platform of stress relieving exercise. WebMD’s Health and Fitness Journal rated spin classes in the top twenty for stress relief and optimal health.

A mix of music keeps the ride upbeat.

When I spin, which I do two to three times a week, it is like I am not even working out at all. The song selection throughout the hour ride makes time fly by, I barely realize I have ridden over five miles at the end of each session. Each song is pared perfectly with the intensity of each resistance level, I feel like there is background music to my life as I ride. Many people spin because of the music selection, each instructor has their own mix to mask the intensity of the workout.

“ I can sum this up by just saying that it is healthy, smart and it keeps your heart pumpin’,” said spin instructor Cheryl Gordon of Rancho Cucamonga.

Gordon calls out each rider by name during her class, encouraging them through the class. Most of the attendees view her as more of a friend than an instructor. “Don’t touch that resistance, push through guys, come on,” yells Gordon whose passion is to make every person inspired, motivated and challenged through her workout.

My heart is beating through my chest as body heat consumes my whole self. I sing along to Freddie Mercury as my legs quicken to keep up with the pace of "Bohemian Rhapsody". To my right, a pregnant woman paces to the slow off beats while to my left, a man in spandex races to his finish line. There is no exact “type” of individual who spins. It is a place to commune together, and when you visit you will see everyone helps each other out. It is as if pedal spin is more of a therapeutic center than a workout room.

“ You always need to change up your routine for optimal health and fitness, I started to spin to do that for me,” said Denice Higgins of Alta Loma.

Higgins has suffered from a heart condition since her early 20s and has found it hard to really exercise in any medium without making the rhythms of her heart out of sync.

“After six months of spinning I now use it as my primary workout,” Higgins said. “My heart condition is a bit hard to work with at times but spin allows me to control my own intensity without loosing momentum. It is a great stress reliever, if you feel worried or frustrated just push it harder during a great song, I sing a lot of the time,” she added.

Many of the studios like pedal spin allow the first ride free to new comers. While also having many discounted packages for students and seniors, the studio is willing to work with any type of income to give people the workout they need.

I find myself smiling despite the burning feeling in my legs and the sweat on my brow. It is as if the songs bring back memories and make the workout more fun than most. It leaves me rejuvenated and fresh, ready to tackle the rest of my school year and the hardships that may lay ahead.

“ This is my fountain of youth,” Gordon said. “I eat right and exercise, this is what keeps me going. I am turning forty-one soon and I have never felt more alive.”