Finding some (extra) bliss in Laguna Niguel
Things weren’t going so badly. My extended family had decided to have a reunion over the holidays and the east coasters readily agreed to come west for the sunny weather. (Remember sunny weather? As I write this, it’s been raining nonstop for the last five days. But normally we DO have sun here in L.A.) My sister, the master negotiater, had managed to get us a group rate discount on club floor rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, and we were, as the saying goes, sitting pretty: the Club Room offered us five food “presentations” a day–not meals, presentations–although they hadn’t realized who they were dealing with and we certainly showed THEM, managing to make three to four full meals a day out of itsy-bitsy sandwiches and teeny-weeny canapes.
After a few days of sitting and eating our way through the morning, afternoon and evening, we needed a break. It was time to leave the hotel and tear ourselves away from the chairs in the Club Room which were beginning to take on the curves of our butts. Someone in our group suggested we walk to town, do a little shopping, work off a little of breakfast (Food Presentation #1) before we committed ourselves to moving on to lunch (Food Presentation #2 although it did occasionally bleed into Food Presentation #3.). So off we set to go to “town”, like the intrepid explorers we were.
Only problem was: we had no idea where town was or how far. Or even what it was called: were we going to Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, or Dana Point? Were they all towns? And which direction were we supposed to go, anyway? After wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, we spotted a local library branch and I said, “Oh, I wanted to see if I could check out some books for a day or two.” So we crossed the street and as we neared the library we saw a sign that said “Book Sale.”
Now, I love library book sales. Our local Palisades branch does one every couple of months or so and I’ve both donated to it and bought from it (which illustrates the property of either equilibrium or status quo, I’m not sure which). So my pace quickened with the thrill of the hunt.
As we came toward the entrance of the library, I faltered, a little disappointed: there seemed to be nothing special about this book sale: a few shelving units spread near the entrance of the library with the usual assortment of junky vacation novels for 25 cents a pop, all turning a faded color from being out in the sun.
And then my sister said, “Hey, look. There’s a real bookstore here.”
And sure enough, there was. It even had its own entrance, off to the left. I’d almost missed it. We went inside and there we found a really really good used bookstore, well stocked and well-priced, run by the Friends of the Dana Point Library, with the proceeds going to the library.
There’s nothing I like better than a sound moral excuse to buy books. Our library system can always use some extra funding, right? (Actually, it’s not technically OUR library system, since we were in Orange County, but close enough.) So I scoured the aisles, ready to buy. I had just finished Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge (show of hands here: anyone other reader worried that that book hit a little too close to home as we head into our middle years?) and someone had recommended another book of hers to me, Amy and Isabelle, and within minutes I had found a copy right there, on the shelves of this very small bookstore. I hadn’t even been looking for it. I just stumbled across it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. My sister was jealous. I offered to let her get it, but she felt strongly that “she who spots it gets to take it home.”
It’s not a surprise that I found exactly the book I wanted: the bookstore was surprisingly up to date and well stocked for one small room, roughly the size of a child’s bedroom.
The volunteer there pointed me toward the Young Adult section when I asked: it wasn’t large, but it had an interesting selection of books from the very recent to the very old, and I found about four new books to bring back to the hotel for my daughter who had been complaining that she had finished the books she had brought with her and had nothing else to read. (She wasn’t with me that day but, true to form, once she saw the goodies I had scored, insisted on being brought back there the next day and picked out a bunch more books for herself.)
While I slowly moved along the aisles, from cookbooks to fiction to YA novels to science, my son busily sorted through stacks of used National Geographic magazines, picking out ones he thought his little brother would like. At something like 10 cents a copy, there was no reason NOT to get him a bunch.
Meanwhile, my sister asked the woman at the front desk (a volunteer, as we discovered) which way we should go for our “walk into town.” The woman informed her that the nearest town was miles away and it would take us over an hour to walk there. There was a shopping center not too far off if we wanted to go there, though. I asked if I could leave my books while we walked, but the volunteer said it was too risky because everyone who worked there had a tendency to reshelves any books left lying around, so my son took one heavy bag and I took the other and we all headed toward the shopping center, only to realize that a) it was farther than we wanted to go; b) we had just inadvertently circled back to another part of the sprawling hotel and c) we had wasted enough time at the bookstore that we could now justify going back to the Club Room and eating another meal, which was really the point of the whole excursion anyway.
So we went back to the hotel, ate our way to immobility, distributed the books to our families, and, as I mentioned, made a second trip to the library bookstore the next day when my daughter bought a bunch more books. So now instead of just sitting around the Club Room, talking and eating most of the day, we had a new activity: reading in the Club Room while eating most of the day.
All in all, a very satisfying vacation, if you ignore the five pounds I gained from the Five Daily Food Presentations . . .