Monday, June 30, 2008

The City

You realize that it is taking me twice as long to recount our trip as it took to make, right? Hard to believe that it's already been 2 weeks since Mommy and Child's Day O' Fun in San Francisco.

Monday morning dawned exactly as it should in the Bay Area: foggy. This delighted me no end because I believe that one's first view of San Francisco should be of it shrouded in mist.

There was bread left from dinner the night before so I whipped up some French toast and served it with the star thistle honey. (Really, just the best honey I've ever tasted. Ever).
The Hat was going to enjoy a quiet, restorative day alone in our borrowed flat. The Child and I walked up to the bus stop, passing the house I found in Alameda that wants me to live in it.

A quick bus ride took us across the Bay Bridge, toward the soaring towers of San Francisco. SF was the first big city I ever visited and it, like all big cities, has the same effect on me still...a sense of recognition; an "if-I-believed-in-past-lives-I-swear-I've-lived-here-before" feeling. I am, without a doubt, a city girl.
The fog was lifting so that the streets themselves were full of light. The Child asked if we could pretend I was her tour guide and so I regaled her with what I know of the city. (Which isn't really that much but since she knows less it worked). We got some coffee and looked over the street map to get our bearings, then set off up the hill toward Chinatown. It should be noted, for any reader who has not been to San Francisco that everything is uphill.

I took this photo for Sling:
There are olive trees growing along the streets. Fancy that. There was a branch on the street and I really wanted to take it with me but decided that might look really odd, not to mention borderline vandalistic.

We wandered around City Light Books for a while (I bought The Naked Lunch, a couple of book bags and a bumper sticker that reads "Howl if you love City Light Books"). I totally neglected to take a picture of The Child in front of that noble institution. But I got these:

We started down the street and she decided that sushi for lunch would be a good idea. It was fabulous.

We poked our way through Chinatown, The Child in search of appropriate souvenirs.
We wandered into one shop that had some Haight Ashbury stuff; I hadn't realized that this is the 40th anniversary of "the summer of love". That phrase "old hippies" really has resonance now, doesn't it?. I asked the proprietor how far it was to the Haight. "You can drive there," he said. Then he fixed me with a look, "You don't really want to go there, you know. It's not the same". (What? Do I look like an old hippie? L'horreur!)

"Oh," I know," I said. "It's just that I was there when I was 10 and I have such vivid memories. I was hoping to show it to her".

"Yeah," he said, kindly. "But now it's just a nice shopping district with some good restaurants. I'm not sure it's worth it".

And under the circumstances, it really wasn't. Sometimes things are best left safe in memory. It probably would have vaguely depressed me to see the Haight all gussied up and gentrified.

So I got The Spouse a "Summer of Love" tshirt and that was that.

The Child and I hopped on a cable car and jerked our way down Powell St. toward Fisherman's Wharf. Now, generally speaking, I'm not a fan of sprawling tourist joints like that, but the day was fine and you could smell the sea. And The Child, being an inveterate shopper, was in heaven. We had an excellent time and took photos of fat pigeons and of the Golden Gate bridge, which could only vaguely be discerned through the fog that still hovered over the bay. None of them turned out.

The line for the return cable car was ridiculously long and we would still have a long walk to the bus station after that so after conferring with concierges and a very nice woman hawking happy hour outside a bar, The Child put her taxi-hailing skills to work and we got back to the bus station in record, comfortable time.

It was rush hour and I needed to confirm we were in fact standing on the correct line for our return trip. An extremely nice woman in front of us verified this and then asked where we were going. Turns out, it was her stop, too. "Just watch me. When I get up you'll know to get off". So we did.

Back home, The Child gave The Hat and I a fashion show of all her purchases, then I followed Dana's directions to a Chinese restaurant he'd recommended. The prospects were good. The place was full of Asian diners, many of them speaking actual Chinese. Always a good sign. I waited for our take-out and had a pleasant chat with another customer, a woman who'd just moved to Alameda from Seattle.

You know the old adage, "Hunger is the best sauce?" The person who coined that phrase must have once had a similar meal. The BBQ pork was fabulous and the mu shu was acceptable, but the pancakes were stale, the spring rolls were filled with what appeared to be chicken noodle soup and the two chicken dishes were by turns bland (Szechuan chicken bland? How is that even possible?) and cloying (sweet and sour...what would you expect?). Not the meal we were expecting and I can only assume it had to have been a very off-night.

But despite the less than spectacular meal, we were all happy and content. We cuddled up on the couch and watched "Big", while I checked my cell phone, hoping for a message from Danny. We were supposed to have lunch with him the next day but hadn't yet heard from him. We went to bed with our fingers crossed.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Picture This

Yesterday I wrote of the olives and cypress trees outside of O-town. Funny that this is the only picture I have of that particular combo, when the memories in my head are so much more vivid. That's what happens when you are busy driving and call to your kid in the back seat with a "Hey! Get a picture of that tree for me, will you?" Sling liked that picture. He did some tweaking of it in Photoshop and voila!

I told you it looked like something out of Van Gogh.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

"Ooh, I Want to Be There-er-er-ere in my City, whoa, oh, oh, oh..."

The vistas on our way out of O-town were amazing. We were in farm country full of olive groves and fruit orchards. It could have been the Oregon countryside of my youth, save for the fact of the occasional palm tree or the long fingers of incredibly tall cypress tress, rendering a view like something out of a Van Gogh painting. A great many of the farms had set up roadside stands.

After passing the 412th one I was all, "Hey, maybe we should stop and get some cherries or something". Hat was all, "Duh!"

Turns out the next stop was a full-blown, full service concern, with all manner of fruits and veggies, each more glorious than the last.

A man was handing out samples and I consumed the equivalent of a fruit salad. I bought nearly $30 worth of aromatic fruit, crunchy veggie chips and a jar of star thistle honey. As we continued on our way we discussed the cornucopia in our trunk and decided that with the addition of some cheese and bread we'd be set for dinner. That settled, the focus was on getting to Alameda. My dear friend, Dana, had offered the use of his place since he was off at a summer camp for hemophiliacs (he's a social worker). He had provided us with most excellent directions. Excellent as in here's-the-lane-you-want-to-be-in-this-is-what-you'll-see-on-you-left. The only concern pour moi was that there was a bit near Sacramento that involved lots of merging on and off half a dozen California highways. This did not please me, for I am not a fan of the merging, especially when I have no frakking idea where I am.

Once again, as they had the entire trip, my car angels saw to it that there was plenty of room between me and the nearest oncoming car. That and the fact that my car bore Washington plates probably had a lot to do with the exceedingly wide berth I was being given. Those Californians couldn't give me enough room. We'd be cruising down the center lane, surrounded by an empty cushion of at least 50 yards on all sides. Sweet.

Once we we were on the highway that was going to take us into Alameda, we pulled off at a beautiful rest stop that overlooked the valley. On a clear day you can, reportedly, see the Golden Gate Bridge from this spot. There was too much haze for that but there was something about that view, a beckoning promise. Somewhere in my head there were faint strains of a Journey song. I shook it off and we climbed back in the car for the last leg.

Thanks to Dana's directions and Hat's most excellent navigational skills, we were soon in the very charming town of Alameda, a place full of canopied, tree lined streets and teeny tiny Victorian homes. (We learned later that Alameda was a true bedroom community where the workers and staff for the rich of San Francisco came home each night. Each of the little teeny Victorians is a replica of a larger house in SF, a working class homage, if you will).

At the local market we collected wine, bread, cheese and salami, then easily found Dana's cozy, comfortable apartment. We were delighted to discover that we would each have our own beds for the duration. (I still dispute the sheet-stealer charge but there you go). We were further thrilled to discover Dana's secret garden, which would be the site for evening cocktails and morning coffee for the next 4 days. It was lovely and relaxing. We settled in, then Hat arranged the fruit and protein on a platter, while I toasted some bread and poured the star thistle honey over chunks of feta cheese. One word: ambrosia. We uncorked some Plungerhead zinfandel (a 2006, from Lodi - delish), cued up "Local Hero" and tucked in. We all fell asleep before the movie ended.

I didn't forget. Here's something a little different; and no, it's not Journey.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Of Church and Kisses

I didn't dream while we were in California; or I did but was so deep in sleep that upon waking I didn't recall them. Since I've been home I've dreamed every night about driving and food.

Sunday morning dawned in fair and lovely fashion. I could get used to the notion of a summer full of clear, bright mornings. There was coffee, oh, excellent coffee, and the household puttering about in various stages of awakening.

Sling and I sat on the porch (of course), hands wrapped around our coffee mugs, and started talking about things like grace and provision, life lessons and gratitude, about God's love.

I'm not an evangelist in the strict sense of the word. I believe and own what I believe and folks either dig it or not. I have lots of dear friends who aren't particularly of the believing persuasion; they get that I do and I get that they don't and it's all good. But I admit to feeling a little sanctified, sitting there and talking with my good friend; there was a lovely communion about it all that words don't properly convey. Unless, of course, you're Sling. At one point he leaned in and looked at me and said, "You know we're having church right now, right?"

Wherever two or more are gathered, baby.

And to further sanctify the moment, in short order he and LK took us off to the casino for breakfast. Because there's nothing quite like taking the good Catholic girl and her underage daughter out for breakfast at the casino, now is there?

Little Newt was busy with his camera all weekend. Kid has a pretty good eye, too. He and
The Child figured out how to take pictures on a timer and he gathered us all around for a shot. I'm still waiting for my copy or I'd show it to you. What's important about that particular photo is that all weekend Newt kept calling it "the picture of the family".
How sweet is that? What makes it even more sweet is that is EXACTLY how the weekend felt. We love our Sling and it was important and awesome to be able to be with him, to hear his laugh and guitar, to learn that he hums when he's happy and all the other little details that only meeting can reveal. But to also feel very much part of the family, welcomed and loved by all in his household? That's your ginger buttercream icing on the applesauce cake, my friends.

Our meal at the casino ended (mmmmm....coconut shrimp) we took a few more photos, and engaged in a round of hugs and kisses. Then Sling and Co. climbed into LK's big new shiny truck and we girls back into our little Fergie. LK led us out to the direction of the freeway and with a wave the boys turned to home and we were wending our way toward Alameda.

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Lovely, Lazy Days

About the third thing that happened in O-town, after hugs and champagne, was that Sling asked me to autograph his copy of Unbound Press, volume alpha and omega. I was inordinately giddy, what with no one having ever asked that of me before.Newt, as you can see, wasn't that impressed.

After a leisurely afternoon of laughing and talking and repeating the mantra, "I can't believe we're here", we tucked into a very fine dinner of grilled steaks, salad and garlic bread. The Lizzard King is the Wizazard King when it comes to grilling. And Sling was careful to point out that they eat like that all the time, it wasn't just for show for the visitors. Lucky.

As the smoke-hazed sun sank over O-town we found ourselves with glasses of wine, back on the porch, as Sling picked and strummed his ol' guitar. Was it magical? Yes. Was it fun? Yep.
Did certain people spill wine more than once? Uh huh. Was that person me? No.

While in O-town we did more than sit on the porch. But you must understand that the only expectation Hat and I had was just to sit around with Sling. Every post he's ever written strikes us as something that would be said over a glass of something while shooting the breeze on the front porch. A kitchen table would also suffice, but with temperatures lurking around 90, the porch was a fine, cool thing.

But yes, we got up long enough to fulfill some other vacation hopes. Oh, we are simple, simple girls. Do you know what we wanted to do, besides sit around talking? We wanted to eat breakfast where there were good hash browns and we wanted to see the park and gazebo that are often features of Sling's Twainesque posts.

Thus, we had breakfast at Barb's House of Waffles and One Hour Martinizing. Delicious, perfect hash browns. Sling bogarted the ketchup.
Hat felt that Barb's had the best menu in all the land.

There was a quick visit to the Salvation Army so Hat and I could buy appropriate summer clothes. People in Seattle don't have summer wardrobes and the coolest things we brought weren't quite sufficient for the heat.

Then we explored the lush beauty of Sank Park, which surrounds the historic home of O-town's founding mayor and original concrete shoe manufacturer.

The Child said it reminded her of "Gilmore girls". It was all very pastoral and made me want to sing selections from "The Music Man".
But there was more. Sling, ever the consummate host, made sure that Hat and I were replete in baby toes and sugar kisses.
Oh, they were delicious. (Lizzard King has a brother. Those are his spawn, Baby Eft and her big brother, Salamander.)

And speaking of delicious, Saturday afternoon was cooled down by the never-ending margarita pitcher.

(I'll have you know that Sling was exceedingly put out when he discovered that his local wine and spirits emporium didn't have any Triple Sec. "By jove!" he all but thundered, "What sort of wine and spirits emporium doesn't carry Triple Sec? I say". He intended, you see, to make the margaritas from scratch. But when it is very hot and one is spending the afternoon on the porch, the stuff made with a mixer will do).

For dinner LK grilled up some of the most delicious, moist chicken I've ever eaten. Bobby Flay can kiss his prehensile tail.Entertainment on Saturday evening consisted of play Guitar Hero with LK and it brought about the only case of "sheesh" I had all weekend. You see, LK destroyed me. He was killing on the medium level while I couldn't even manage songs on easy. Songs, mind you, that at home I score 100%. What was the trouble? I blamed it on the calibration of the XBox guitar. Which was actually semi-legitimate as The Child had the same problem. For a second, though, I was totally afraid that with my much ballyhooed Guitar Hero skillz being called into question, so would the legitimacy of all my blogging. (Well, except for the stuff about Hillary Clinton. I was totally right about all that).

Hat said I was silly.

And speaking of silly, she should know. Sling, gentleman that he is, gave over his room to we girls for the weekend. The Child tried to sleep on the love seat (and then made a bed on the floor of the cushions...she's getting long) and Hat and I shared Sling's bed. The good news is that neither of us snore. The bad news is she claims that I am a sheet thief.

Now, the Hat and I have a long standing tradition of laughter and general giggltry. There were more than a few occasions on the drive down when I was tempted to pull over and compose myself, she had me going so hard. But that was nothing compared to what happened when the lights went out. All of a sudden, no matter how tired we were, we'd start whispering and the whispers would lead to giggles and the giggles would birth into full blown guffaws, which we tried very hard to bury in our pillows but to little avail. The first night Sling called from the living room, "You girls settle down in there!" The second night The Child had to do the same thing.

But it was very hard to do, you see. Because when you are full up to the brim with joy and delight, laughter has to bubble out. Otherwise you might explode and that would be very unpleasant for everyone.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Of Front Porches and Family


There we were, in the arms of Sling, being told we were beautiful. Talk about making a couple of girls who are feeling plenty frowzy suddenly come back to life. Of course, cold champagne on the front porch helped with that, too.

Our darling Sling, for we can't refer to him any other way now, has made a life for himself in one of the prettiest little towns in America. Oh, sure, it's got it's main highway filled with not so charming big box stores and such, like pert near any other place in America, but the main townie bit is full of sweet little mostly Victorian houses. And the streets are lined with trees. Beautiful, cool trees. I had a favorite spot on Sling's porch, from the top stair, where I could look out on the street. (Did I take a proper picture of it? No. There were always cars parked along the side. And it's funny how when you are looking down such a street you can ignore that but the camera not so much). There were orange trees on nearly every lot, which astonished us...especially when we saw over-ripe oranges just lying where they had fallen in the street or on the side walk.

The current price of oranges here at home made this all the more marvelous to us. I digress.

Part of the home Sling has made for himself includes the family he's chosen. He lives, as you know, with the Lizzard King, who is a quiet, unassuming, handsome young man who will kill you at Guitar Hero without making you feel like he's just killed you at Guitar Hero. We were also lucky that our visit coincided with the sojourn of Little Newt. He is 6. He has the vocabulary of a 9 year old. Unless it's that of a 12 year old. He is very expressive. He is beautiful. He couldn't think of anything more revolting than a kiss from one of his new aunties and yet, he managed to stick close no matter where we were. Hmmmm. Although, to be fair, the person who he was most inclined to shadow was The Child. If she was watching TV, whatever she had on was Little Newt's favorite program. If she was on the front porch, he was there, too. It was pretty adorable. He also enjoys hosing off the sidewalk. I don't know if he's just an exceptionally tidy child or if it was his way of preventing the spread of fire.
I came into the house after our first little foray into O-town and brightly asked him what he'd been up to while I was gone. "Well, I sprayed the area but don't worry." He held up his hands for emphasis. "I'm going to do it again later". I was glad. I didn't like to miss out on the daily spraying of the area. Rounding out the family unit at the moment is LK's mom, who is the most welcoming, kind, embracing woman I've met in a long time. She made us feel so welcome, wouldn't let us wash dishes (both Hat and I snuck into the kitchen to try but she always shooed us away with a "you're on vacation"). She doted on her grandbabies and attended to us in a most charming, open manner. We felt very much at home.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Road to O-town

Sometimes, as I navigated highways and byways last week, I would think about how to present this trip. Should it be a day-by-day diary or a series of impressions? Should I approach it in catagories or just slop up a mess of pictures and let the experience speak for itself? Because, you know, that's what I do. Think about stuff like that.

Turns out, I really want to relive the experience because if I don't I'll forget stuff and when I journal about trips I have a whole other completely different approach to the process which is fun for me but not necessarily illuminating for others.

So to begin with, we drove to California. Once upon a time, when I was much younger and more foolish, I once drove with friends straight from Seattle to San Francisco. That's about a 12 hour trip, assuming you don't stop too much. Our road trip was slightly more civilized than that. The first day we drove from here to southern Oregon, where my much beloved aunt lives. We toddled along, stopping when we wanted, marvelling at the hawks that seemed to follow us down the road, appreciating the fact that the weather was balmy and clear.
I did all the driving, because I like to drive and I'm selfish that way. What I didn't realize (or had forgotten) is that extended periods of driving work muscle groups you don't usually use. By the time we got to Auntie's I was an exhausted, achy mess. Fortunately, The Hat has a way with the massage. That and dinner out (waited on by a charming chap who looked like a young Anthony Hopkins and got all our jokes) and some wine on the deck of Auntie's house, overlooking her calm and peaceful valley began to put me to rights. By the next morning I was fine.

Off we set, stoked sufficiently by coffee and pie, to gain California. It's rather mountainous through the last bit of Oregon and first bit of California and we learned that my car, Fergie, is not a fan of the incline. Without a good running start, the best she could manage on hills was about 40 mph. Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with that. The fact that we were driving through Oregon made it more complicated. Those Oregonians are, uh, aggressive drivers. Aggressive as in you-are-only-doing-75-in-the-fast-lane-when-the-posted-limit-is-65-so-I'm-going-to-ride-up-your-arse-until-you-move-over-slowpoke sort of way. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time with the semi trucks. Nice folks.

The scenery was, of course, breathtaking. Trees and rolling hills, mountains, water falls and rivers. All very "golly, will you look at that".

As is the way of our people, we played car games like Slug Bug and the License Plate Game. We were very happy that, by trips end, we had collected 29 states.

The Hat was my navigator and she did a superb job. I am a good and fairly confident driver but I do tend to get a little anxious when I'm in new territory. Having The Hat to guide me along was a great comfort. Of course, we had our unplanned detours, but that wasn't her fault. We'd stopped at a very beautiful rest stop right inside the California border and called Sling to let him know our ETA. Then we hit the road again and all a sudden, I was HUNGRY. The delicious but illconsidered pie-for-breakfast had burned off and left mama with low blood sugar. Which isn't pretty. I announced that we'd be pulling over again the second I saw any indication of golden arches or other means of sustenance. Soon enough there were signs to "Yreka/Montague". We made Romeo and Juliet jokes. I took the exit. Signs for lodging pointed to the right, the sign - quite blue and prominent - for food pointed left. I turned left and drove. And drove. And drove. Mt. Shasta loomed closer but there was nothing in the way of food, unless (and I threatened to do it) we were to walk up to someone's door and say "What's for lunch?" There were only farm houses, no town. So we turned around and headed back the opposite direction. There weren't any fast food joints in Yreka either but the market boasted a deli so in we went.

The people there were super, super nice. Almost scary nice. They were having a cake walk in the store. The Child played but thankfully, didn't win. (We had no room in the trunk for a cake, thank you very much). The people were complimentary, helpful and made very fine turkey sandwiches. My mood improved immediately.

Of course, once back on the highway we passed not one but two exits which clearly boasted all manner of fast food but I chose not to concentrate on the fact that one more minute of driving would have saved us a good hour of time and celebrate instead the delicious healthfulness of my sandwich.

The other thing we figured out is that while Google maps are all very well and good, it is a better plan to have The Hat compare same to an actual map of California. Had we done so the first leg of the trip we would have shaved another hour, possibly two, off our arrival in O-Town. But it was ok. Sure, we made Sling wait, but anticipation is half the fun, right? Right?

There was a big ass grass fire burning up half the county as we finally wended our last miles to O-town. It wasn't close enough to O-town to cause major problems, but there was smoke in the sky and the next morning the sun was glowing an eerie shade of orange. That was all very interesting. Point is, after many dusty, sweaty miles, we found ourselves cruising the quaint, tree-lined streets of O-town and pulling up in front of Sling's. Oh, the rejoicing. Oh, the hugs. And then, glasses of champagne in hand, we rested on the front porch and entered into talks and jokes as if we spent every Friday afternoon that way.

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