Monday, October 31, 2011

Wilbur and Halloween

With Grandma and Felicia by suzipaw
With Grandma and Felicia, a photo by suzipaw on Flickr.


I'm back from a great visit with Grandma and Felicia.

Niece and I rendezvous'd in Seattle, then flew east together to Spokane, picked up the rental SUV then drove west to Wilbur with enough time to spare to see Grandma before dinner on Friday evening. We dined at Boyd's place, a fairly new establishment. Not bad, though my somewhat unappetizing "view" during the meal was of a mural that mashed up scenes from WWII (battleships, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima) and Vietnam (bandaging wounds, a likeness of the memorial statue on the Mall).

It was a bit chillier than California to say the least, so we drove for breakfast to Sandy's on Saturday then walked up to to see Grandma for a few hours before lunch. As always, it's so good to hear how she's doing and catch up on family tree news.

During lunch, Felicia and I did a little shopping at Manntiques. I picked up an iron shoe last to stopper the front gate, which of course meant I was searched at GEG on the way home. We did a quick tour of the cemetery (the trees are coming back nicely from that ice storm a couple of years ago), then headed down SR 21 for a photo op at Axtell Road. We took some arty shots of the family farm while we were there--it's slowly crumbling onto the field that once supported it.

Another few hours with Grandma, then we headed down to dinner at The Alibi. While Wilbur overall isn't thriving--the drug store and the dry goods store/gym have both closed since my last visit--The Alibi and Boyd's Place both had costume parties planned for that night. There weren't many people in The Alibi while we were there, but as they were setting up for karaoke (this amazed me, for Wilbur), more arrived and we were treated to some pretty racy get-ups. Despite urging from the barkeep to come back and croon, we turned in early.

Sunday was a brief goodbye with Grandma, then back to Spokane for the flights home. Unfortunately, due to mechanical trouble, I parted from Felicia early and missed my one and only direct flight to Santa Rosa. I got as close as Sacramento, however, and M very sweetly drove all the way over to pick me up. It was nice having a little drive time with him after a weekend away.


Tonight is Halloween. I was a little worried about the dogs and small costumed people mixing, so per Felicia's suggestion, I creeped out our breezeway and set a bowl of candy at the end of it with at "take one if you dare" sign. I was just going to leave it at that, but when I overheard our neighbor scaring his own child while he was grabbing a treat, it inspired me. So I've been hanging out in the TV room with fangs and a flashlight, appearing suddenly at the window overlooking the breezeway and doing a crazy laugh here and there as children come up. I've really scared the pants off of a couple of them, it's been pretty fun. I think I've also scared Roxy a bit too, poor thing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another Weekend at Home!

Last weekend was just one day, but M made my Sunday at work very palatable. He drove me down to the conference hotel, a particularly lovely hotel built in the late 1800s and waited for me to finish my duties so we could spend some time together. We had a delicious dinner at Salt House before he left for home, and that really got me off to a good start. That conference was my last one for the year, and it's such a relief.

I've spent the whole weekend at home, and it's been a wonderful two days. The weather is helping me enjoy it--it's been downright hot during the day, a sort of enforced relaxation temperature. I had breakfast (OK, a piece of homemade bread and butter, but still…) out on the deck this morning. It's almost the end of October, people! That was my second morning sojourn outside--I awoke at 4:09 a.m. and, recalling M telling me that the meteor shower would be peaking about then, I decided to check it out. I did not see unusual celestial bodies, but it was 10 minutes of star gazing well spent. What else? I finally got around to pruning the roses. We baked bread and did another round of the deep dish pizza from Cooks Illustrated. I've made very good progress on the knitted tshirt, overcoming pattern confusion to create the armholes. We went to the library book sale--I picked up a copy of Emma and a cookbook that is a companion to the Aubrey-Maturin naval fiction series by Patrick O'Brian (I can tell you I don't think I'll be making Spotted Dog or Drowned Baby anytime soon, though M is eyeing the Sea Pie recipe with enthusiasm). We watched a few episodes of the new season of "Chuck." We took a motorcycle ride this afternoon, wending our way up Westside Road amongst the vineyards just starting their descent into gold and red. We paused in Healdsburg for frozen yogurt while people watching at the pinot noir festival and then taking in the last of the very sad Raider game at a bar before heading home. Yes, a satisfying weekend indeed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Back from New York

This last was a much more whirlwind-work focused trip to New York. I'm officially unhappy with traveling and working on weekends.

On the bright side, thanks to the magic of Facebook, I discovered that cousin Kamala was in New York that first weekend, too. After muscling my way up Fifth Avenue through the Hispanic Day throngs to get there, we had a spontaneous rendezvous in Central Park on Sunday afternoon. What a treat that was, to sit and chat and have a beer in the Indian summer warmth, watching the holiday weekend activity.

Sunday evening I met up with my usual New York date Cathleen. She arranged for Don to join us, someone else from our NYU days who I hadn't seen in ages. He's taken to bicycling and is coming off of a three-year long divorce. He was more intense than I'd remembered him and conversation turned to politics more than the personal. That was a refreshing change of pace, and really got me out of my head.

I did get out a bit during the week, slipping away from conference duties to do some venue research for our conference in February. That was a good change of pace too, and got me outside and walking.

As always, there were food adventures. The Sunday night squash ravioli was a highlight of my trip. I mashed thread-like frites into my gob while passing through the Madison Square food tents on Wednesday afternoon, and wished I'd had enough energy to go back for a real meal. M and I had a favorite Chinese restaurant near the apartment when we live in New York, and were disappointed to find it closed on visits back to the 'hood. I think I discovered where it relocated to this trip, and while I enjoyed having that takeout experience of yore, waiting smashed up against the counter watching the cooks crank out dish after sizzling dish, I was disappointed with my meal. The cold sesame noodles didn't taste right and the broccoli with garlic sauce was sour-ish. Thursday morning, knowing I was facing a long day filled with bad airport food, I nipped out to the corner independent Halal food truck and scarfed down some of the best rice and falafel (with just a little white and hot sauce) I've had in a very long time. The balls were fresh fried--I think it was earlier than most people normally consume it. It made me remember that I haven't had good falafel since I've been back to Califonia.

This month marks a year that dear Roxy dog has been with us. It's still competitive between the canines and the quantity of shed dog hair is surprising, but I do love her so.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


It's October, and a long time since I've posted. But as I mentioned to a friend recently, blogging means I have to set down in words how I feel about turning 50, and quite frankly, it's not pleasant. It's been an intensely wonderful couple of weeks, thank goodness, so there is a positive balance to hitting the half-century mark, but there's no getting around it, and I'm not feeling particularly gracious or ready to go gentle in that good night about aging. Yes, I know that when (and hopefully it's a when and not an if) I reach the next birthday with a zero, I'll look back and be grateful for this one, just as I reasoned with myself in a similar way a decade ago.

Turning 40, staring out the tent that morning in Monument Valley to watch the sun rise over one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, I thought the same thing. I don't like it yet I know that ten years from now it will seem like a much better age and I should just enjoy it while I can. I've been trying to do that, and sure enough I've liked celebrating being older even less as I had anticipated. But frankly, shaking my fist at the good night doesn't do a thing to stop the sands of time, to mix a few phrases. Helplessness is not my strong suit.

Part of it is that it's different, these last ten years. I've felt changes in myself physically that I didn't when I went from being 30 to 40. Yes it would be better to lose weight and go to the gym more, but there aren't any Zumba classes for eyesight, nor cardio for hearing. I don't like the decline one bit. On the bright side, it's actually a little easier now that I'm on the other side of September. I was dreading the birthday, but it's come and gone and I was surrounded by so much love and affection that even in my foulest moods I can't deny that I am one incredibly lucky gal.

I hope I've been able to express how grateful I am to everyone who helped lift me over the milestone.

Below is a recap the activities that made last month bearable for me. So much happened and it's been a while--I hope I don't leave anything out. Cast your mind back, back! to September 10:

I've pulled off a few surprise parties in my day, so I know what goes into them. And on that Saturday, I still had no idea that I was heading straight into the maw of a surprise party myself. Despite a birthday with a zero, I really didn't think it would happen. I would conveniently be traveling on my birthday, just as I was a decade ago--I would be out of the reach of surprise, dammit.

Plausibility is the key for a successful setting-up the surprise event, and the story that M and I were meeting niece Felicia for lunch was just such a tale. I didn't notice the familiar cars parked outside of Mike and Debbie's new house, but I did remark to myself that they must have pretty rude neighbors for so many of them to be stationed right in front. And walking into the house, I saw that there were dishes of food on the table near the back window and thought to myself that we shouldn't linger since Debbie was obviously having a shindig of some sort. And then everyone appeared shouting "Surprise!" It was truly the best gift I could have had.

I'm tearing up a little just thinking about it again. I am so touched and amazed that so many people gave up their weekend and came from so far to celebrate with me. It was a great party. We swam (M ran home to get my swimming suit), ate (including a spectacular red velvet birthday cake) and drank, visited. It was odd being the center of attention so unexpectedly.

We asked everyone at the party over for breakfast on Sunday morning before they departed for home and luckily just about everyone was able to make it, thankfully coming in waves rather than all at once so that our small pad was able to accommodate. It gave me another chance to appreciate the people in my life, and treat them back just a little.

Late that morning I picked up longtime friend Rachel and we headed down to Berkeley to rendezvous with our other gal pals. All was well until we were making our way through the suburban streets and the Cadillac just sort of stopped running. I was able to pull off to a parking spot safely til our friends came and then the tow truck driver, who deposited the car near my friend's house--she promised to keep an eye on it while I was in NY.

We then proceeded to have our gals day out--we picked up sandwiches at the local gourmet grocery then consumed them in a rose garden overlooking the bay, catching up. By happy circumstance, my friend's husband and son were in San Francisco for a baseball game, so they swung by to convey us back home. M met us at their place and we had an impromptu dinner all together at a local sports bar.

The New York adventure started on Wednesday, September 14. Despite an early morning alarm snafu, our sojourn to JFK was uneventful. We took a hired towncar into the city and checked into our hotel, the Fairfield Inn near Port Authority. I had noted when I made my reservations that this was a birthday trip, so they gave us an upgraded room and a little goodie bag when we checked in! It was the classic tiny Manhattan hotel room, and we laughed about what it would have been like if we hadn't gotten the upgrade. We wandered through the evening streets to Eataly for a so-so dinner (it was still so crowded! but it was fun having salad in the greens section then moving to the pasta room for main course; oh how I love all the white marble counters there…) followed by good gelato and another walk through the streets back to the hotel, ogling the lights and tourists in Times Square.

M was very good about peeling back the activities he had planned slowly. He revealed plans every day so it was a steady stream of surprises, but left enough time to do things spontaneously.

Thursday morning we slept late--no dogs! no work!--had coffee at Dean & Deluca, then took the subway up the west side and walked through Central Park towards Fifth Avenue. We spent most of the day getting lost in the various wings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, taking our time to gawk at things we've seen many times and others we haven't seen much of: the arms and armor rooms (reading Cornwall's Richard Sharpe series really helped me appreciate the flintlocks), Egyptian wing, Infinite Jest special exhibit (political satire cartoons from the 18th century), French classical painting from the 1700s, tapestries, modern photography…yet again I was reminded of what a magical place it is.

We came out of the MoMA to the surprise of drizzle, which turned to rain as we neared the subway. We spent time in our little room drying off before taking the train to the Lower East Side for dinner at Les Enfants Terrible, a French colonial inspired dive just a couple of block from the show we were to see that night, Arias with a Twist. From the name, I assumed it would star a songbird in drag. I was right, but did not anticipate that the costars would be puppeteers! It was a lot of fun. And walking there, we saw another side of New York we don't always see, the quieter urban neighborhood that didn't seem all that far from the southern California streets we knew as children.

On Friday we were the consummate New York tourists. We ate mini cupcakes from a truck on the way to waiting in long lines to go to the top of the Empire State building. The previous day's rain and wind had cleared the sky and we had wonderful views everywhere.

We wandered to Hill Country Chicken (my first encounter with deep fried avocado) near the Flatiron building for lunch then subwayed down to the tip of Manhattan to ride the Staten Island Ferry there and back again. I drank a tall boy with a straw on the way back just for old times sake.

We had a little time to change before dinner, a lovely meal at the crowded Marseilles where we sat crushed close on a banquette watching the hip young folk at the bar. Then we finished off our uber tourist day with wonderful seats at How to Succeed in Business, starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. It was a truly satisfying musical comedy experience--wonderful acting, singing, and dancing, including a tap number! And proof that it was a live theater experience: near the end of the second act, the stage manager stepped out and stopped the show after a mic had gone dead and some of the set lights had flashed. Was it all part of the show? I wondered at first. After ten minutes or so, the stage manager announced that all was ready, let us know where the actors would pick up the number, and off they went. It was fun seeing the characters break and the actors taking their places with a little banter.

Saturday the 17th. The big day. It ended up being one of our quietest, least activity-driven days, which was just what I needed. M and I packed up and moved to the conference hotel, then took the train down to lower Lexington and met up with the Manhattan Madhus, who treated us to much missed South Indian food at Saravanaas. Afterwards, we repaired to their pad, admired the apartment renovations, and they busted out a lovely cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to me. We spent the afternoon enjoying family company, just as we used to do years ago--it was such a treat and comfort.

That evening we took the train to Sheridan Square and walked along Bleecker Street to Cornelia to dine at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant Home, continuing the relaxing day experience. There were just a few other diners there when we arrived. M negotiated a special vegetarian meal for me, and it was really a topper of a dining experience, which considering the meals we had is saying a lot. They brought us complimentary sparkling wine and butterscotch pudding at the end to go with the still-warm chocolate pudding M ordered, and I'm now a pudding fan as I've never been before. I guess that's an unintended gift too.

We walked from Home to Washington Square, thinking of our NYU days, admiring the arch, then to Cooper Square where M pushed the cube for old time's sake before we boarded the train for the hotel.

And then it was back to work on Sunday. I did have time to have dinner that night with M, who left on Monday. It was a very long week. The first three days of the show were not well attended, and so disappointing. We also had to switch to a different hotel during the day on Wednesday while the conference finished at the first hotel. The last two days were much better, which was a relief. And I did have a little time for fun. One of the conference evening events was at a place called Eyebeam, and I had several pleasant chats while I was there, despite the occasional annoying hotflashes. I walked back to the hotel with some work friends, along part of the Highline. On Thursday night I walked the entire Highline with another group of work friends, one being our photographer, which was particularly nice since she kept us at a slower pace and I was able to observe more, appreciating the quiet that sprang from the vegetation as well as the different architectural styles that the walk took us through. On my last night in town I met my friend Cathleen for dinner at a delightful Italian place, Abbocato, (real burrata and beet ravioli!) where I drank a lot of delicious wine while we caught up.

My last morning in New York was very much like one of my first memories of when I first moved there 25 (has it been so long?) years ago. Back then, I spent hours one evening walking uptown, past Madison Square Garden where the Knicks were playing, past Radio City where the Rockettes danced, up through Central Park where Peggy Fleming was presiding over the opening of the skating rink for the season. I couldn't believe that I lived in such a place--anything seemed possible and I could encounter anyone or anything in the world. I felt that way again that morning. I was up a bit early while the city was quiet. I eschewed the hotel Starbucks on the blind faith that I would find for some "real" coffee, and sure enough I found a stimulating cup almost by accident along 58th street as I worked my way uptown. Approaching the front of the Plaza Hotel, there were a dozen stone-faced men in black suits with matching SUVs watching over whom, I wondered--the president? UN week was ending. At the entrance to the park, I stopped for a waffle and pleasant chat at a food truck, the perfect companion to my excellent coffee. I strolled up through the zoo among the many dog people and their unleashed canines--I had never seen so many happy dogs running around in my life and the energy was amazing. I met Sara and Gus and we chatted and meandered past one of my favorite statues, King Jagiello then saw Belvedere Castle rising above the pond and the Great Lawn. We parted ways in front of her building and I stopped at Butterfields for plane ride supplies then took the 6 train to Grand Central and people-watched in the beautiful space for a bit before walking back up to the Hilton by way of 47th Street, pausing at the many windows filled with dazzling diamonds. Of all places, I think Manhattan helps me understand how a multiverse might be possible.

But wait, there's more to my NY adventure. My friend Cathleen happened to be heading to California for a speaking engagement. She was not only on my flight, but had a seat next to one of my colleagues, who kindly switched with me so we could have more time together. While we flew, Cathleen pulled out her iPad and whipped up a little cartoon of us and our grumpy row-mate (I can't blame him, he'd been hit in the head several times by other passengers).

We landed an hour early, but poor M was stuck in traffic, so was even later than he planned to be picking me up. We crawled through more traffic into Berkeley and called AAA to have the Cadillac towed to Santa Rosa. What a relief that was to have the car nearby!

Coming home, I had even more cards and gifts waiting for me, a nice consolation for being gone so long. Gave me that "they really love me" glow all over again.


It was a busy week at work. I got back to the gym. My car is fixed, though I took it to a new mechanic who worked with one of his mechanic neighbors and hopefully the new fuel pump I was charged for is indeed there since I wasn't given a receipt.

Yesterday, M and I attended a lovely wedding that had been in the planning stages for months, which really built up the anticipation. I attended the bridal shower a few months ago, and promptly forgot the wedding colors until I showed up at the ceremony in a purple gown that looked an awful lot like what the bridesmaids were wearing--I was mortified! Though I wasn't the only purple bedecked guest, thank goodness. I don't think I've been to a wedding since my own, and both M and I got a little mushy thinking about our wedding day. Another highlight--M danced with me! It was a very happy weekend.

Here's my horoscope from a few weeks ago, which I hope to keep more firmly in mind:
"Everything is unique," said the 19th-century authors known as the Goncourt brothers, who wrote all their books together. "Nothing happens more than once in a lifetime. Nothing is repeated, and everything is unparalleled." Of course this is always true. Be wide-awake to the novel pleasures that are possible when you appreciate the fact that everything changes all the time.