Saturday, July 31, 2010

Los Olivos - Magical Journey Part 2

It has been two weeks to the day since I have dropped off my treasured picture of Michael for framing. I have been waiting impatiently. I have been looking so forward to retracing my steps back to Los Olivos and Neverland and this time I have two friends joining me.I have warned them in advance to expect a long night. Since Michael’s death my sleep patterns have changed. It is over a year since Michael’s death and the shocking loss has so affected me that I still have many late sleepless nights which lead to early morning sunrise bedtimes. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not like me at all. As a result of this body clock change I recently experienced some strange irony when my oldest daughter chastised me like a misbehaving teenager. I had just relayed my experience of being out and about in Beverly Hills until the wee hours and the fact that I had forgotten to take along my sweater which resulted in a miserable, unwanted sinus infection. My daughter, who is an amazing mother and has a passel of children, laughingly reversed the roles with a sharp retort of “Well… what I can’t believe, Missy, is that you were out running around until all hours of the night AND… without a sweater to boot!! What were you thinking?!” I found myself mind boggled and speechless for an answer and we both dissolved into laughter instead.

Beyond retrieving my treasure from the gallery, my goal this journey is to reach for the stars. This too is going to be a late night, as I have plans to behold the same late night sky, to gaze upon the same stars above Neverland that Michael once gazed upon. The property has changed, and although the countryside is still beautiful there are now only distant memories and echoes of the past joy, wonder and magic that Michael Jackson brought to Neverland. However the night sky… that beautiful quilt of moon and stars above will forever remain the same. Each personally and purposefully placed in the sky just above Neverland by our Creator just for our forever shining star, Michael Jackson. The Bible speaks of a time and place for everything and these stars, will in my mind, forever be placed in this sky, for all seasons, just above Neverland expressly to honor Michael Jackson for all eternity. Now I plan to peer into this late night sky … to lay back and look up and see first hand what Michael’s beautiful eyes beheld as he too felt the presence of God’s eternity.

Many MJ fans know that Michael clearly loved the night, loved the moon. I now think of sunset and the moon and remember Michael’s beautiful, innocent expression as wonder and creativity filled his being many years ago in an interview filmed at Hayvenhurst. MJ opens the tower shutters of his room and with one of those beautiful, glowing smiles only he could give says, “Hello, I’ll be right down.” Upon arrival he says while motioning toward the sky, “It’s dusk…the moon is out…this is the most beautiful part of the day. I can see some of the stars coming out. It’s very beautiful, everything comes to life. The fire flies are in the trees and every thing is becoming magic, I would say it is my favorite part of the day…dawn and dusk. It has a certain magic about it. Everything that preys upon the night starts to come out…be it the creatures or the birds. I like dawn also. Some psychologists say that dusk, for a lot of creative people… you reach your alpha state and you become more creative at certain parts of the day…but for me it could be anytime. I just like creating. It’s no special time…. but this (dusk) is very magical to me. It’s like a painting…it’s very artistic. It’s Magic.”

This is my Saturday off and I relish a chance to catch up on lost sleep. I am afforded a few extra luxurious, delicious hours of refreshing sleep which I will need given the late night planned. I have determined I will have a relaxing day… but I am anxious…Los Olivos is calling me. I am very excited to say the least, to see my beautiful art piece safely housed in its new frame. I meet up with my friends at our rendezvous spot, exchange hugs and niceties… but this ride has got to roll. I want to be on the road now. We all quickly pile on board and we begin our Magical Journey.

The drive through the little neighboring valley is like a comfortable pair of jeans for me. The familiar marine layer has settled in like an old friend over the orange groves. It hugs everything, it moves, you can feel it on your face, the moisture nourishes life and without fail the sun inevitably will break through the haze as it climbs high in the sky and life will burst forth. This ‘June Gloom’ as it is called never fails to give me the comfy feeling of curling up with a good book on a rainy day accompanied by the expectancy of a bright new day. How ironic that I look forward to June Gloom because it is the ultimate message of HOPE & FAITH to me. God always carries us through the dark times. He is our bright and shining light to guide us and He, although we may not see Him or feel Him, is ALWAYS there turning the seemingly bad into ‘beauty for ashes’. The Lord never fails to take what was meant for evil and turn it into His highest good. This is what June Gloom reminds me of. Looking back on the history of my life and all I have weathered clearly reveals that God never fails and always shines his light on those who love Him and Oh how I love the Lord! The most blessed I have been in my life were the times when I walked through the dark times but believed God was always there somewhere, somehow, carrying me, guiding me. Times when Faith was tangible and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt one day, no matter what the present circumstances, that the Lord’s love would shine brighter than all else. The Lord has NEVER failed me. I pray now that the LORD will intervene for Michael and bring justice. It occurs to me that only God can achieve this for Michael and He alone sees all things, knows all things. Nothing simply Nothing and no one escapes His roving eye. I thank God at this moment that Michael is safe in heaven with him, in His loving arms where no one can hurt him ever again. Michael there with the Lord for eternity, in his ultimate forever BLISS that he strived to find and live here on earth.

It is a glorious day in this valley; it is truly filled with the Lord’s beauty. I wonder what the day will hold. This lush valley we are traveling through is filled with many roadside fruit stands and nurseries. I make a mental note to visit here very soon when I have time to stop… and mention this to my friends. They have no idea why I am mentioning the nurseries as we fly through the small town which leads us out to the Pacific coastline. I want to surprise them today. I have promised them Magic and plan on delivering… but for now my mission is an appointment in Los Olivos. Ralph has called and said the picture is ready and he will be expecting me around noon.

Conversation flows freely as always in the car, while Michael’s music plays loudly; we talk and laugh about everything. It amazes me how close we have become in such a short time. As we talk about Michael Jackson, the Lord, family, work, past events and future plans I wonder to myself if I will be able to truly surprise them.

Now the Pacific Ocean comes into view on our left and it is just breathtaking no matter how many times I have seen it. I am a California girl and always make a point of taking a long look just to drink in the overwhelming vastness and beauty of the Pacific. To gain perspective on how really unimportant I am in the big picture of life… yet knowing God has His eye and His hand on me always, that I am LOVED and important to Him. I see the waves break on the sand and I wonder what sea life might be close by. Recalling days not in the too distant past when I walked the shore not far from here searching for sea urchins, sea shells and star fish as seagulls flew over head. I remember once there were even dolphins jumping high just off shore. The same familiar campers still line the beach in this prime beach goer’s spot that stretches along the way but on this trip the fun conversation pulls me out of my own thoughts and into the drive at hand.

Once again just as we turn inland the suns warm noon day rays burn through the haze and brighten the landscape. I am delighted as I wonder “Is God just doing this for me?” He knows my heart. He knows how much I love the break through of the sun from the early morning haze. I smile openly and decide YES! I will take my golden nugget and consider it a gift from the Lord, for it is the small things in life that bring the greatest blessing and joy for me. Now the lush green foliage and trees appear along the way and the same yellow sunflowers scattered across rolling hills are reaching their faces toward the blue sky and summer sun as the road begins to wind up the mountain and over into the Santa Ynez Valley. This is my third trip along this road and to me it is more beautiful each time. We steadily move along and the spectacular view at the crest of the hill reveals Cachuma Lake lying below us, stretching its wide fingers. Those watery fingers seem to reach forever and point the way toward Neverland.

Conversation and Michael’s music have comfortably ebbed and flowed throughout the journey… we are getting close now to Michael’s valley. It becomes quiet and we remark and wonder out loud about articles written and places MJ visited all over the world and how he always returned here to this California paradise. I become quiet and think about him in his own magical Neverland where he could just be himself. If only the world, the media, the greedy, the jealous, the opportunists had just left him alone… would he still be here? Yes I believe he would. My heart is heavy… I sigh…If only we could turn back time.

We are excitedly chit chatting as I turn left into Los Olivos. It is a VERY busy day here. There are many limos and travel buses which have brought the wine tasting tours into town from Santa Barbara. This time there is no easy parking spot available. We slowly search out a parking spot a block over from the art store but soon realize that a great parking place is now vacant directly in front of the town park where we like to picnic. My friends stake out the spot and I quickly retrieve the car to claim it. I just love this little park, the smells, sounds and sights of the town surround you here. To my disappointment there are no violinists here today; however we are all anxious to get to my appointment anyway. We eat quickly and then walk to the gallery. Ralph is waiting and greets us as we enter. I feel like a small child. I am so excited to see my special picture of Michael. To see how all the colors now compliment each other and I am definitely not disappointed. The porcelain mat Ralph recommended enhances Michael’s face bringing it to the fore front and the result is truly beautiful, just breathtaking. I am speechless. I am so incredibly honored to own a piece of Max Popov’s art. This is a gift I will treasure forever. To Ralph’s dismay and genuine wonder at how MJ fans have the ability to pull a camera out of no where the ladies take several pictures of me holding my precious art work while standing in the very spot Michael stood when he visited the shop many years ago. We stay for a while and chit-chat with Ralph. He is fun to talk to and happy to oblige, and entertains us by showing us his shop and other art work, but from my perspective it all pales in comparison to the piece I now have in my possession. I am thinking to myself as I have since the day I received it “Where will I hang Michael’s picture?” Still no firm decisions… I laugh to myself and wonder if I should share the thought out loud that Michael’s picture may just have to follow me around the house. A special spot in each room I spend time in. Hmmmmm…

We say our goodbyes to Ralph and head on out to enjoy the town. Now it is time… time for my surprise. Suddenly my chatty friends become quiet. I park just down from J. Woeste. They have no idea where we are and I tell them “Ok THIS is the surprise. This is the Magic.” We approach the gate and the giant chimes gently greet us. Yes my friends are silent… drinking in every sight, every sound. I ask them after we have entered in and they have been able to take it in, “Well is this a Magical Surprise?” I am thrilled to see the looks on their faces as they turn with complete awe and surprise and remark “YES Betty! You surprised us! This IS Magical!” We begin to explore what seemed to be every nook and cranny of the entire nursery. I discovered this day that this is an ever evolving place. Always growing, changing, rearranging. Michael’s hands are gone apparently purchased but there are many other beautiful items here which evoke Michael. Although in only two weeks time many things have changed, I realize too just like as in my life, since Michael’s death, reminders of MJ are simply everywhere. We stay close together as we move slowly along, sharing and drinking in each moment. The life of this magical land is pulling us in further with each step as together we smile, laugh and share each new revelation of MJ on this journey. At times we are speechless and just point. We wonder how this can be? This is not a place that openly honors MJ yet there are remembrances of him simply everywhere. I feel once again as if I have left earth and entered another mystical and magical world. Now the thought that the next time and all recurring times I visit here it will always be different, is now very appealing and alluring. We loose all track of time for in this world there is no time, only beauty. I am beyond pleased that I am able to surprise my friends with this treasured experience. I want the sights, sounds and smells to remain in my memory bank for ever. I want to always be able to call on them for refreshing.

We turn to read some enchanting rusted garden signs hung on the wooden fence and all stop at the same moment in amazement to read the words ‘Love You More’. There are sunflowers and butterflies scattered everywhere. Once again in the far corner there is the chicken coup with the happiest chickens on earth clucking away and above them the words ‘You Are My Sunshine’. I hear my friend exclaim in delight, “DOVES!” We all run to the back of the chicken coup and there they are… the Doves, cooing away. A few pose obligingly for pictures. Another dove hides his head each time I snap a picture and pops it back up to look at me as if to say “Paparazzi, get away from me!”

We continue on and find magical scenery everywhere. We drink in every moment not wanting it to end and investigate every possible spot, suddenly I am amazed to find a collection of little white doves placed in special arrangements and very affordable. We decide these will be the perfect purchase to commemorate our day here.

Next we find Ben, nuzzled into a cozy pot of moss. Another beautiful miniature landscape creation evokes a memory of the house Michael and his children lived in while in Ireland. Reluctantly after combing every corner we decide it is time to go, as we enter the charming old home this magic land revolves around to pay for our special selections we are delighted at the sight of a very colorful, display of cascading glass containers filled to over flowing with Tootsie Roll Pops.

Yes at every turn there is a whisper, a reminder of MJ. It is now time to leave for the next leg of the journey and we all seem to ‘sigh’ a collective ‘Farewell for now’ to this magical land. We secure our purchases along with my treasured art piece… our booty is growing.

Dinner time is approaching and several options are discussed but we all agree we must go to Solvang which is just one town over nestled in a neighboring valley. Solvang is a glorious Danish town with wonderful windmills and beautiful shops. I have been told about the delicious apple skivers with raspberry sauce served there and want to sample them. We wind our way through the valley and never before seen landscape and find that once again we are lost. Anyone who has ever driven any where with me knows this is normal. No one panics, especially me. I have found some very interesting and intriguing spots when lost. It has become a rule of thumb that you can not take a road trip with me unless we make at least three u-turns in search of the primary objective. This is simply beautiful, rich, lush, green countryside filled with sprawling horse ranches, large green meadows, long, winding picket fences and wine vineyards one right after the other. We discover a large barn in an open pasture where it looks as if a huge wine tasting session or gathering of some sort is being held. The crowd of cars and glow of twinkling lights decorating the large rustic building is very inviting but we have a plan and must find our way.

Solvang is just right down the road as it turns out… this is a delightful tourist trap with quant Danish restaurants, specialty, book and antique stores. Although still very back country the sights and sounds are so different here. It is a small town but there are many more tourists and more traffic here than in Los Olivos. This is not my first trip to Solvang and I remember my favorite candy store on the corner, the Fudge Shop. We visit several shops and right across from a collection of amazing Peter Pan snow globes I find a great necklace to memorialize the visit here. A little crown with many colored stones, Michael’s favorite colors, red, gold, blue. It is topped with a little cross and little charms hang from the bottom, a key, a heart and a tear drop… yes this is my Michael necklace. I purchase it and add it to the booty of the day.

Dinner is next on the agenda and is served up for us at a tiny café with a bounty of large Danish meatballs, a mound of mashed potatoes and gravy along with purple pickled cabbage, then of course apple skivers for desert. After dinner we move on down the walk way. At the Fudge Shop we were told Michael used to come and walk the streets and enjoy the sights so we too walk the streets to see the sights he saw. This is a town that rolls up the welcome mat early in the evening. Dusk is upon us and quickly doors are closing. Although it is a town that retires early there are beautiful white lights decorating the trees and the town takes on a completely different look and feel as they begin to glow. Suddenly the streets are mostly empty as tourists have made their way home, but there is one town tavern that is just getting started to entertain a small night crowd and the sounds of the music and singing from a local band spill out into the street. Although the majority of shops are now ready to go home for the night I am happy there are at least a few places still open so we can roam and shop since I am trying to stretch out our time until full night fall. This is a happy town with friendly people. They love the tourist here and encourage interaction. A great weekend vacation spot and I vow to return soon.

Now we head on back to Neverland driving through the night. Everything looks different at night and there is a blue moon glow on the landscape. In contrast to the neighboring valley with its horse ranches and bountiful wine vineyards the road that leads to Neverland is filled with cattle ranches. We discover the multitude of cows that are not visible during the hot summer days are now plentiful in the pastures as they graze the brown brush in the cool night air. There are seemingly hundreds of them. They stand in bunches everywhere as we drive by. Some very close to the road look out at us as if to say “Welcome back to Neverland”. I am reminded of a recent video of Michael in one of his many ludicrous depositions he was put through by people looking for a hand out, saying he obtained spending money from the cows and called it “Cow Grazing Money”. He looked like he really loved saying that. It baffled the lawyer. I smile a big smile as I share this with my friends and wonder out loud if any of them are the same cows Michael allowed to feast on his land, or maybe their off spring? The sun has set hours ago and the stars are out as we arrive and ease our way off the road at the gates of Neverland. The only people present are the guards as I park the car along the side of the road just under one of the two mighty Oaks that have stood as centurions here for at least a century. I wonder now if they miss their friend, Michael. A Sycamore Valley Ranch guard ambles into his large, black, security truck and begins making his rounds along the perimiter of the property with his search light beaming. The blinding light lands on our vehicle for a moment and then moves on satisfied we are not there to make trouble. We are finally here... the ultimate goal of the trip… Neverland… but for some unexplainable reason we stay in our car for quite along time… quiet…contemplative… listening to Michael sing… talking quietly. It seems as though hours pass, but it could only be moments, there is no real concept of time anymore… then finally we get out of the car to explore. I leave the doors open and Michael’s voice from the Invincible CD follows us. We walk the road listening as Michael’s voice grows fainter the farther away we go. We listen to the sounds of the night in this open country. It feels different now. We watch shadows moving in the hills and huddle together at some moments when a coyote’s howl is heard. The birds screech and there are sounds of rustling in the brush. The animals of the night are roaming close by. There is a full bright crystal moon tonight like no other I have seen in my life. Although we walk down the road away from the lamps in the Neverland driveway it is still very bright. No need for flash lights this night. We want to see the stars but this big beautiful moon has other plans for us. We locate Venus and if we turn our backs to the moon we can see other star formations. This gorgeous summer moon has not disappointed us and is simply amazing but makes it difficult to see the stars in the moon’s bright glow, so after many hours of gazing the consensus is we must check the calendar for the next crescent moon and return with the hope that maybe we may even see Michael perched there. We walk back and visit the Neverland gate, walk back up the road in the other direction. The moons glow follows us… we return to the car… it is parked on a slant which enables me to lean back on it fully, look up into the night sky and relax into the music. Feeling as though I fulfilled my goal to gaze up into the same night sky that Michael once saw, imagining him here once upon a time, happy and blessed beyond measure. I hold those memories in my heart. I listen to Michael’s perfect pitch and beautiful voice serenade us. I now have my very special art piece in hand, and a most special moment in time where I feel as though I was able to share in some very tiny way Michael’s God ordained view of Neverland’s stars.
You are my day... you are my night... like the stars in the night... I LOVE you...
The Magical Journey complete.

Eskimo legend:

"Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pour through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy" shared by my good friend, Corona.
*United Fans of Michael Jackson *

Michael At The Window, Art by MIMI LOLA

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Los Olivos - Magical Journey Part 1

This was a beautiful summer day. A marine layer lay comfortably over the green valley, spotted with orchards, orange groves and avocado trees. It is a very familiar sight to me as I have driven this road many times in my life yet it never fails to impress. I am on a journey. I am going to borrow a phrase here from a good friend, as Charleen coined, I am on a Magical Journey, to reach Neverland.

I love and delight in ‘June Gloom’ as it is called here in Southern California. This is a wonderful occurrence that happens every year, during early summer, in this area of Southern California. My early morning drive now affords me the privilege of driving through this early morning, low laying cloud that has settled in over the little valley very near where I live. It occurs to me I can predict the cheery sun’s arrival because of the haze from the “June Gloom” as you can’t have one with out the other. Somehow this “June Gloom” that lingers on into July always seems to supply the analogy for the struggles of my life, for I have weathered much.

I am on a mission today to visit someone who had met Michael Jackson, just another everyday guy who did a job for our King of Pop, Rock, Soul and Music. Yet to me this was a gold mine. You see I had recently been blessed on God’s path to have received the most beautiful drawing of Michael Jackson from an incredibly gifted and blessed artist from Russia, Max Popov. I had it neatly tucked away and had waited patiently praying where and when God would lead me to have this piece framed. Now it was sitting safely in my car on the back seat and I was on a mission to deliver it into the most capable hands of a man who had himself framed many of Michael’s own chosen art pieces. One most especially important piece he worked on and repaired the frame on was “PMJ” by Dave Nordahl, which was an incredible picture of Michael’s son, Prince, while just a little baby sitting in a very similar red, gilded throne just like his daddy’s.

I now find myself embarking on this Magical Journey as I drive up the Pacific coastline. The windows are lowered and the sights and smells of the ocean are fresh in my face and nostrils as I breathe them in deeply. I look out over the Pacific Ocean and think of the power and majesty of Our Creator, the Lord. I think about how He has control over every last grain of sand on every beach and every wave that hits the shore and how I am but a tiny grain of sand in this universe. Yet here now in this place and time I feel so important… so important to my creator…so LOVED. He has touched my life in ways I can’t describe. His love is ever evolving and changing me. Not always a comfortable or gracious process. Then I think about Michael Jackson and how God’s touch allowed him to change the lives of millions and ponder how infinitely impossible it is for someone to have planned that sort of life. Only God could have assigned him that task and afforded him the knowledge and capability of accomplishing such an assignment. I am over whelmed with a feeling of gratitude for having lived during Michael’s life time.

Dogs and children run in the sand along the beach and campers line the beach for at least a mile at a favorite spot I have visited in the past. I long to go and visit with them and feel the sand between my toes… but alas I have a mission today… I am on a journey to higher ground. MJ’s music is the back drop for this panoramic scene as I hear his beautiful, perfect pitch sing to me “You Are Not Alone” and I expectantly listen for God’s guidance this day. I keep driving up the Pacific coastline.

June Gloom has not deterred the beach goers for they know as I do it won’t be long and the suns rays will warm the sand. Inevitably the sun does break through as it climbs into the sky. Just as I turn inland ‘Smooth Criminal’ begins to play and I hear Michael’s voice ring out a crescendo of “Annie are you okay?” Now I make the next leg of the journey up the mountain to Los Olivos and Neverland. The temperature now suddenly changes as the suns rays warm the landscape with a warm yellow glow. Here the sky is a brilliant blue azure and 100 year old Oak trees dot the rolling golden hills. I am entering God’s Country as my mom used to call it and Michael’s Neverland Country… just there… 2nd star to the right.

I see a sign which reads ‘Las Padres National Forest’ and think how fitting that Michael was so close to a forest as he loved trees so much, but this is not your typical forest. Now I travel a winding two lane road up the hillside and see much more lush green summer foliage and yellow wild flowers randomly decorate the hillsides. It occurs to me my entire adult life has been like these random God placed wild flowers. My life has vacillated between hard, harsh reality and ethereal moments of spiritual blessing and growth. All seemingly randomly placed to the naked eye but in all actuality God purposed and ordained each step, as He does not miss a thing and knows the existence and location of every atom in this universe. I am just where I am supposed to be in this moment in time. There are no mistakes, no coincidences.

I round a bend in the road and before me lays the vast beautiful vista of the Santa Ynez Valley. Simply laying out before me its bounty of lush green landscape, more rolling hills and the stretching waters of Lake Cachuma. I look at those rolling hills and picture God’s giant hand as he created this wondrous masterpiece. I see him scoop the sand up from the Santa Ynez sand box and slowly like an hour glass lets it sift through his mighty fingers to create these round mounded hills. Then just for good measure he scatters the seeds of golden brush, Oak trees and wild flowers to decorate His majestic creation. It occurs to me that Michael must have driven these very roads many, many times in the years he called Neverland his home. I now have a CD playing in my car which I recently made, with the help of a generous and kind friend. It plays Michael’s voice. It contains excerpts of many of his speeches and I hear him say “Without hope we are lost.” I look back at these rolling majestic hills and wonder now about why Michael had to leave this incredibly, lovely place he called home and think "Was he lost? Why did it have to be?" God had appointed him this very amazing journey which was Michael’s life. "Why did it have to end this way?" So many unanswered questions, when will the answers come? Questions lead to more questions in my mind.

As I continue to direct my car along the ribbon of winding road my mind moves back to the landscape and the old Oak trees. I think about the "Giving Tree" and how in tune with God, nature and life Michael was, every fiber of his being and pour of his body was gifted to feel the life of music, art and creativity and he shared all he received with the world so generously. He so freely gave of himself over and over. The gorgeous, stately Giving Tree comes to mind. This is one of those old Oak trees that was a true friend to Michael and blessed him with so much inspiration while Michael sat comfortably in its arms. I so wish someday to lay my eyes on this tree and embrace this friend to Michael. To possibly feel in some way its life and character as Michael did.

I now think of the name Cachuma Lake and remember the first residents of this area the Indians who first traveled this land, the Chumash Indians, who settled all along the Southern Pacific coast and close inlaying valleys. They traveled on foot with the changing seasons and would bend and shape the Oak trees to grow as markers along the way directing their path for generations. Not long after the covered wagons from early settlers to the West who traveled along these rolling hills and lush landscape. This was their promised land…their land of milk and honey. I remember Michael’s love of history and wonder if he ever learned about them. It is fascinating to think I am traveling on land where so much history has taken place and so much hope sprang to life.

Now the landscape changes and there are many, many vineyards. These were not present when Michael Jackson lived here years ago. Although the vineyards are not new to this area the swell and increase in the amount of vineyards is a new phenomenon to this countryside. It has been a source of beauty and a wonderful boost to economy for local towns and land owners. The Vineyards are now many and cover all of Santa Ynez County. ‘Heal the World’ begins to play as I turn left into the town of Los Olivos. The town is filled with many tourists there on wine tasting adventures. Parking spaces are hard to find on busy, bustling, fun filled tourist weekends but just as in so many of my God ordained adventures on this journey for Michael I am blessed to find a spot directly in front of the very art gallery I have come to visit. I ease into it and carefully lift my precious package from Russia out.

This is not my first trip to Neverland and Los Olivos. Not my first trip to the quaint and cozy town Michael Jackson frequented while living at Neverland. There seems to be a need within myself to glean every last drop of anything pertaining to Michael Jackson into my life, perhaps some way to keep him alive forever, an unquenchable thirst for more of Michael Jackson. It was on the previous visit that I had learned that this shop I was now revisiting was frequented by Michael in his everyday life. This shop owner is expecting me. As I open the door and step inside he greets me and says “Hi Betty. You made good time.” I smiled and thought, “Yes in deed I had because I was on God’s time, God’s clock.” Things in life always go so smoothly when I am in God’s time and place of appointment, those God ordained assignments. Here I stood before him with my beautiful art rendering and knew without a doubt I was exactly where I was suppose to be in God’s great universe. I slowly revealed from the packaging the beautiful picture of Michael. I felt the shop owner become quiet as he previewed this art in awe. Then he said “You know the man who drew this? This looks exactly like Michael. This is his skin tone. This is how his skin looked, life like yet porcelain. This is beautiful. He is very talented.” As he asked me questions about the piece I began to explain the origin of the picture we now admired. That it was a gift of gratitude to me for being of service in God’s assignment. God’s blessing to me from this fine artist, Max Popov. He reveled in the blending of the colors and Max’s artistic touch on paper. He even saw beauty as I did in the beautiful stamps on the packaging. I had held on to this gift for many, many weeks praying for God to lead me. I knew I wanted it framed in a special way then on my last visit to Neverland had met, Ralph Young. Ralph and I stood there together in full agreement. This drawing needed a special frame. We talked about the drawing and the artist for some time, our eyes always returning back to admire his work. Then we began to plan how it would be framed and labored together to pick just the right mats, glass and wooden frame to accent Max’s picture of Michael. All the while we worked Ralph, regaled me with stories of Michael’s visits to his store and his personal visits to Neverland, which was right down the road, when he delivered Michael’s art work to him there. It was no surprise to me seeing Michael’s love of art over the years that he would gravitate to the art store in the local town at one time or another.

He entertained me with stories about Michael driving into town in an old beat up ranch, pick-up truck and baseball hat in hopes no one would know it was him. He would get out and just walk around. Drop off his art to be framed and visit the video store and local market. No one bothered him. He was just part of the community. He shopped and walked the town as a regular person. Ralph shared one day while he was driving into Solvang, the next town over, he saw MJ driving in that same pick-up truck, coming toward him down the two lane road on the opposite side of the road. All the windows were down and the wind was flying through Michael’s hair as he drove quickly in the direction of Neverland after an apparent visit to Solvang. Solvang is a beautiful Danish town close by where Michael loved to visit the antique and candy stores. Another time, which was one of the first times Michael visited the art store his driver parked out front and Michael walked in with a mask on, accompanied by Raul, Michael’s assistant. Michael stood against a wall just inside the work area and whispered to Raul. Raul approached Ralph and asked about an art piece Michael wanted framed. Raul relayed the messages back and forth from Michael to Ralph several times. Slowly they bartered and the original price came down. Michael was a man who loved to make a deal and worked at getting a good price. I chuckled as Ralph shared this memory and seemed a bit miffed at having been at the other end of this bartering system. A smile filled my heart as I remembered Michael in his home movies where he chastised his brothers about how they should check out the local thrift stores because they would be surprised at what they could find at good prices there. I totally related to Michael as this appreciation of a good deal seemed to be deeply ingrained.

I had stood in this store only a week earlier for the first time with some beautiful MJ ladies. We had visited the gates of Neverland and written heart felt sentiments on small flat stones and lovingly tossed them on to the property so when the ground is tilled every year our hearts and sentiment will forever be embedded in the landscape where Michael used to walk. I was back again… for today this was a private journey. I had planned on taking several others with me but as God would have it… I was to be alone with Him, my Jesus, my friend… the one who has guided me on this incredible journey exploring the heart and life of Michael Jackson; this man, who was not a God, not a saint, not an angelic being but still yet angel like on earth as he emulated Jesus, and most especially just a human being. A most incredible human being destined to change and reach the world with God’s goodness.

Michael’s mother Katherine Jackson states in her book “Never Can Say Goodbye” that she believes Michael fulfilled the purpose God had for him on this earth. Millions of people all around the world attest to the touch that Michael Jackson’s love and talent has made in their lives. I now stand in this little art store in Los Olivos, California and I have an unquenchable thirst to find out who MJ was and in what ways has he touched people’s lives. I want to hear these stories for myself. From the very beginning as God placed on Michael’s soul while he was still in his mother’s womb a talent and genius not seen by any other entertainer in this world, as God first quickened within his body the gift of dance, song, and creativity Michael was making music. A child prodigy turned stratospheric super star was just a human being. I want to learn about that everyday person.

On this day with my rendering from Max of Michael safely placed where Michael’s art used to sit when being worked on in Ralph’s art gallery and with precious stories of Michael tucked neatly into my memory bank I wander over to the little grocery store where Michael shopped to see what BBQ lunch was available. Here there is a giant BBQ that sits out front and each day Tri Tip is BBQ’d for the customers. I purchase this scrumptious smelling potion of comfort food and make my way beyond the flag pole at the center of town and find the local park to partake of my feast. I no more take a seat at the first available picnic bench when two young violinists who happen to be about Prince and Paris’ age pull out their magical instruments and begin to treat my ears and heart to Chopin. This again a reminder that since June 25, 2009 every where I go I am reminded of Michael Jackson in so many ways and forms. I sit blissfully enjoying my BBQ Tri Tip and listen joyfully to the beautiful violin renderings. First Chopin, then Bach then of all things the Disney classic, and just so much like MJ, “It’s A Small World” and “Zippity Doo Dah”. I think how this would have brought a smile to Michael’s face had he been there to see these children entertain the town… but then maybe… was he? Then I stop myself. No! He is in heaven enjoying the comfort and peace of the Lord’s welcoming arms. Far away from all this painful earth doled out. Although I think at this particular moment and many others over the last year the Lord has said “Yes Michael please… give these children a nod of your presence. Bless them this day with a memory of you as only you can.” Yes I like to think that Michael is there watching, smiling and approving of this scene right along with Jesus. I finish my sandwich and wander over to listen more closely and learn the names of these budding virtuosos, Billy and Abby. Thanking them for sharing their gift of music I place my tip into the violin case as many of the street audience have done to thank them for their musical offerings.

Now I am off to visit the next stop on my journey of retracing MJ’s steps in Los Olivos. J Woeste is a nursery that I am told Michael Jackson visited several times. He purchased planted pottery and statues for Neverland here. It is a magical and intriguing place. I am enthralled as I enter through the gates. The soft sounds of giant wind chimes which hang in the branches of a huge tree at the entrance gate greet me as I approach. The sign at the wooden picket fence warns you to close the gate so pets do not escape. I obey. Once inside I am mesmerized and intrigued. The beauty lures me in deeper and deeper. Each turn and each glance takes me to a new fantasy land where my imagination runs free. This is a magical place that inspires both the artist and the gardener in me. I look up and see Michael’s hands as he held them in “Will You Be There?” I do a double take… yes just like Michael’s. At every turn in this mystical, magical land I am reminded of Michael. As I approach a chicken coup that sits in the far back corner of the lot, I see it houses the biggest, healthiest, happiest chickens I have ever seen. Then I look up and see these words posted, the song that both Michael’s mother used to sing to him and my father used to sing to me…”You Are My Sunshine.” On a subsequent visit to J. Woeste, I learn there are doves housed at the back of the chicken coup as well. There are just no coincidences in life. I also find white ceramic doves to commemorate the recent ‘Doves of LOVE Release’ that my beautiful friends and myself worked on and held to honor Michael Jackson and the Jackson family, on June 25th, the anniversary of Michael’s death. This a day which could have been so sad, so morose, yet as the Lord blessed us with the flight of these beautiful, graceful creatures we laughed, gut wrenching laughs, in a way that Michael would have loved. We celebrated his life with enraptured joy just as he would have wanted us to. Those Doves blessed the Jacksons and millions of MJ fans around the world in a most special way. Another God ordained assignment which as it unfolded gave all honor and glory to Jesus Christ who opened the doors against all odds and obstacles to enable 400 Doves to fly free over Forest Lawn that day.

The sun is now relaxed and low in the sky and creating a sleepy effect in the town. It is time for me to make my purchases of magical planted landscapes and move on down the road to Neverland. I approach the gates of Neverland and there are many people politely paying their respects to the King of Pop this day. Visiting bikers both male and female, families, travelers and there are many more security guards on duty this day. I hear Michael’s voice singing from a nearby car. No one is marking up the walls or leaving graffiti. Not a pen or marker in sight. Everyone is respectful and dignified as Michael would have wanted it. I begin to talk to the guards and they tell me this crowd is very respectful. They are tired of unruly MJ fans writing on the walls. They tell me although fans write on the walls most are calm but I am saddened to hear there are those who threatened the guards over the last months with physical harm and they are very tired of rebellious fans who refuse to adhere to their requests to stop writing on the walls, curbs, trees and light fixtures. We talk for about a half an hour and during this time I am invited inside the gates to the security shack. I am simply amazed I am on the other side of the gates, yet it is meaningless because Michael is no longer here. It is apparent all these men really want to see is respect and acknowledgment that this is private property and there are certain rules of common decency that should be adhered to. They are very nice and respectful of me and I of them. On this day there is a large, local event being held inside the property. I am somehow so surprised to learn life does in fact go on and the new owner of this property, we the fans still call Neverland, is now leasing it out for local events. I see many local, cowboy hat adorned ranchers driving out of Neverland in their cars and trucks as I continue to speak to the guards. It is now time for me to leave this once magical land… to the fans it will always be Neverland… the 2nd star to the right just up the road from Los Olivos… but in real life it is now once again Sycamore Valley Ranch… it once was a magical place where Michael Jackson lived, entertained and created in, a place that sparked the imagination and inspired many of Michael Jackson’s great works of art. It is also the place he said, “I won’t live there again. It’s a house now. It’s not a home anymore.” He had moved away years ago… no it is a shell of what it was when Michael lived there. No magic left. The house is empty, the rides gone, the zoo empty, no children laughing inside those gates, no endless paths of blooming flowers, no train whistle blowing. Yet still there are fans making the pilgrimage here everyday from all over the world, just as I have, hoping to glean anything, any little small moment of remembrance of our King of Music, The King of our Hearts, Michael Jackson who was taken from us far too soon. I silently plead with God…please can’t we turn back time… for so many different reasons and on so many different levels. I sigh. I pray. I accept. I vow I will return… for after all I have a new appointment in Los Olivos. My assignment here is not complete.
To be continued….


Friday, July 16, 2010


A writing for Katherine Jackson as posted on
November 14, 2009
To Mrs. Katherine Jackson From Betty Byrnes
You were there….
When God filled Michael’s little body, as he kicked in your womb, did you feel him dancing?
You saw his first beautiful, radiant smile and sweet angelic laugh.
Your ears heard the first time his sweet crescendo rose, filling the house.
You witnessed his first dance steps as he grooved to the sound of the washing machine.
Did you marvel to see his first audience clap for him at the laundry mat as he danced and sang?
You woke him for late night TV shows and sat with him watching his idol James Brown.
You were with him and your hearts broke together as you both sat watching and crying for the dying children in Africa on TV, you were the one he turned to and promised “I will do something about that someday.”
Oh how he DID!
You carried his life within your heart and upon your shoulders as you walked along side him
through joyful times and oh so very difficult times.
You were his beacon in the night, his comfort, his shelter, his lifter of spirits, his rock.

A Mother’s love…
He loved you beyond measure…no others could come close to his esteem for you.
No other could ever hold a candle to the bright, shining love he carried in his heart for you.
He emulated your love for him as he reached out to heal the world with empathy and compassion.
God filled him with a tender, sensitive, sweet, caring, giving spirit.
God instilled the most intelligent, creative, genius and musicality.
Of all the women in the universe God chose you to teach him how to share it with the world.
Oh how you DID!

A Mother’s heart …
The world has lost the kindest, most loving man that has ever walked this planet as he emulated Jesus.
I wish I could say we valued him as you did while he was here.
I am so sorry for all he endured by those who could never understand what a precious gem he was.
Only a mother knows a son’s pain. I am so sorry for all you have endured.
No one will ever know what you feel. No words can describe a mother’s loss.
The world is left darker, more silent, and less joyful as his perfect pitch now entertains the heavens.
A love angel… yes, he truly was… but you have always known that.
You loved and shared him… he loved and changed the world…
He will forever be the fabric of love that governs my life… given by the Lord to bless.
I thank you Katherine, for sharing your beautiful, God gifted, seventh child, Michael.
Michael Joseph Jackson in life and in death has changed my life, and is still changing the world.
His love…the love you nurtured in him… lives on.
You are prayed for …
I just simply can’t imagine the loss and emptiness you must feel. We, his fans, all mourn;
but you… you truly knew him with a mother’s heart.
The missing him, the loss, the grief must be unfathomable.
I pray for you, your whole family and especially Michael’s children.
I pray for peace, comfort and sweet memories to fill the void, to fill your days, nights and dreams.
I pray his smell lingers and a sense of closeness be there for you,
and chimes of his sweet laughter fill your ears on the difficult days
as waves of grief and acceptance ebb and flow.
God bless you always. You are a wonderful woman, mother and grandmother,
for as Michael said “My mother is perfection”.

God Bless You and Yours Always,
Betty Byrnes
(California, USA)

Michael as an infant, musical notes, by MIMI LOLA

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Michael and The Tree

Recently at an “After Court Gathering” the first of it’s type to be held for the fans after the most recent, June 14th, Conrad Murray hearing in Los Angeles, California; Majestik, a close Jackson family friend was coaxed into sharing a very touching story as only Majestik can share it.

I will try here to recount his story as he told it:

“Michael Jackson and The Tree”

One day in the spring, back before the Thriller days, Majestik and fledgling super star but not yet King of Pop, Michael were at the compound at Hayvenhurst, the Jackson home, just hanging out together. They were headed down the driveway to the studio at the back of the property. They were bantering back and forth in conversation while walking along. Majestik was talking to Michael when he realized Michael was no longer next to him but was
leaning down looking at the ground and crying.
He said “Michael, What are you doing?” Michael responded with
tears streaming down his face,
“Look it’s a baby bird and its dead!”

Majestik not being of the same soft heart for nature as MJ
and with his mind on where he was heading said
“Michael, it is just a bird. There’s nothin’ you can do about it now.
Man, its dead. Come on. We got to go. Let’s go.”
Michael stood up and looked at him and in his soft voice
and from his huge heart pleaded,
“Majestik, this was a living creature with a heart and a soul just like us.
We have to do something!” Majestik emphatically insisted,
“What are you gonna do, Michael? It’s already dead. There’s nothing you can do now.”
As he is trying to convince Michael to just keep walking
he realizes Michael is now down on the ground on his knees,
digging a hole with his bare hands to bury the bird,
while saying “We have to bury it. We have to bury this bird.
We can’t just leave it here and we HAVE to say a prayer for this bird.”

He then finishes digging the hole, places the bird in the hole and
covers it with dirt, as he finishes burying the bird he
pats the ground gently with his hand, then stands and insists that
Majestik stand right there with him over the new grave
of the fallen bird while together they say a prayer.
Michael leads the two of them in a prayer and asks God to bless the
little baby bird and take it to heaven.

They are done praying and Majestik again tries to spur Michael on saying,
“Ok, come on now. Come on. We got work to do.
Let’s go! We’re done. Let’s go now!”
But Michael is riveted and ignoring his pleas, instead looks up realizing
the baby bird had fallen to its death out of a nearby tree.
Suddenly he ascends up into the tree.
Climbing the tree to the spot of the bird’s nest, where he then carefully
fixes the nest so no more birdie babies will fall out and die.

His mission for God that spring day complete, he then climbs down.
Brushes himself off and continues on with Majestik to the studio to work.

That was our Angel Michael Jackson!