Monday, September 17, 2012

Stretching That Birthday Out

There is a bit of benefit when you cannot have all of your friends together to celebrate your birthday.  I used to find it humorous that my son-in-law Anthony likes to celebrate his "Birthday Week," but this year I am beginning to see the fun in that.

My friend Roni is one of the sweetest people I have ever met.  She is kind, intelligent, funny, kind, witty, energetic, and did I mention she is kind?  She is near the top of all the people I know who has the biggest heart, and no matter what is going on in the world or in my life, we always find ourselves laughing out loud together.  You know the kind, big belly laughs, with mouths wide open, often bent over, unable to contain it all.  I love spending time with her, and now that Becca has gotten to know Roni, she loves spending time with her, as well.  Yes, Becca loves Roni's cats and her new kitten, Leo, but that's not the only reason.  The kid has a respect and admiration and love for Roni that sparked early and deep, which is pretty unique.

Roni asked if she could take Becca and me out to lunch for a late birthday celebration.  I love spending time with her, and no matter where she wanted to go I was game.  She picked one of the best spots in the area, The Tides at Bodega Bay, so on a bright and sunny Saturday, we headed over to her house to meet up.  Of course, there had to be a little play time with the kitties beforehand, but we kept it short so that we could go enjoy the coast.

We headed out Highway 12 and through downtown Sebastopol, then off on the curvy and winding road to Highway 1.  The rolling hills and quaint farm houses dotting the scenery as we drove made it feel as if we were truly traveling into a different place and time.  The sky was overcast, but it wasn't too cold, and Roni and I pointed out the old town of Bodega and the church made famous by Hitchcock's film "The Birds" to Becca.  She'd seen the movie in class recently, and it was fun for her to see these spots in person.  We rolled up the highway, and as we approached Bodega Bay the fresh scent of saltwater became more evident.

We found a parking place easily and walked into the restaurant.  As we waited very briefly we admired the freshly baked pastries in the nearby display case and Roni said that we would shop here after lunch to bring some goodies home.  The restaurant was busy, but not overly so, so we didn't have much time to admire the surroundings before we were able to be seated.

We had a great view of the bay from our table, and Becca spotted a sea lion playing in the water not long after we sat down.  It was hard to focus on the menu when there was such a beautiful view outside, but we were hungry and attended to that quickly.  Roni suggested dungeness crab cocktail to start, and we agreed.  Becca and I had never had one before.  We really enjoyed it, but next time I think I will do without the sauce.  It was good, but covered the delicate crab flavor.  We enjoyed our meal over lively conversation, Roni having perfectly prepared calamari and me closing my eyes to savor the fresh fish and chips.  We teased Becca that she wouldn't be able to get the tall club sandwich she ordered into her mouth, but she worked hard and was able to prove us wrong.  All in all, it was a spectacular lunch, enjoyed with Roni and I sipping margaritas and Becca a Shirley Temple.

After lunch, we perused the glass case containing all those wonderful pastries, and each of us selected some to bring home.  We stashed those in the car and grabbed the bag of stale bread that Roni had been collecting for the seagulls and headed out to the pier.  We settled at a table and I started to open the bag.  As soon as I had the bag open and my hand touched a piece of bread, suddenly a loud cry started from the seagulls and we were surrounded!  We had a ball feeding them, at first tossing them to the ground so the birds could grab the pieces, and then learning that the seagulls could easily catch them if we lobbed the bread just right.  Eventually, Roni discovered that they would eat from your hand, so the three of us began a combination of feeding by hand and playing "catch" with the birds.  The sea lions were playing, and one was trying to take a nap through the chaos of the calling and flying birds.  We spent quite some time in the fresh ocean breeze playing with the gulls before depleting the store of bread and heading to the car.

Our conversation on the drive home was just as animated, and we briefly visited with the cats at Roni's before heading home to rest up and take a nap after our coast adventure.  It's amazing how tired good food and ocean air will make you!  It's a day I'll never forget, especially learning to feed the birds by hand, which was a special treat.  Thank you, Roni, for a special day!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Birthday Surprise

On Friday, August 10th, I was exhausted at the end of the day.  Dragging.  But really happy for the weekend and looking forward to seeing my family for dinner.  It was Friday, after all.  Because this was the family dinner night closest to my birthday, I knew that Mom would have cake and there would be singing.  Bex had gone down early with Manda, so "Corsica" and I car pooled down after work.

A few weeks earlier, I had mentioned to Jess that I knew that this was a big birthday for me, and I knew how big her and her sisters' hearts are, that I suspected that they might be thinking of planning a surprise, and not to worry about that please don't. I didn't want to be caught unaware and possibly embarrassed.  (What if I was wearing something wrong or my hair needed a shampoo or some other such thing?)  Jess' face fell, and suddenly she was the little two-year-old towhead that I'd disappointed, and I immediately regretted the words coming out of my mouth.  How selfish was I!?  I backpedaled fast.  I told her that if she wanted to do something, that she could, just please make sure I wasn't embarrassed.  She agreed.

Fast forward a week, and we are all at Six Flags/Marine World when Mandi tells me that Jess told her about our conversation.  She said she was going to come clean.  They had been trying to plan a party, but it wasn't working, so I didn't need to worry about it.  They were trying to figure out who on my list of Facebook friends were "real friends" and not acquaintances, old classmates I didn't really know, old coworkers, professional contacts, etc.  Besides, they had asked my dear friend Tammy if she could come up, and she could not make it, so they just lost all the umph they had in planning it.  Tammy's arrival would have been the biggest part, and they weren't able to make it work they way they wanted to.  We had plans already to go dancing on the 11th, closing night for my old stomping grounds at Kodiak Jack's, so I was told I could invite who I wanted to go.  The list of people that would want to or be able to go there was small, so that was easy.

Back to Friday night.  We pulled up to the house and I recognized Kyla's car, remembering that she and Loren would be visiting for dinner, as well.  This was going to be a lot of people, more than usual.  Still tired, I walked in the door and into the living room.  I always make my way to my mom to greet and hug her first, and so I was weaving my way through toward her, feeling somewhat stunned in my exhausted mind at the birthday greetings being said and shouted from all around me.  Smiling as I slowly walked, I noticed a blur as someone rapidly appeared from the hallway and walked across the room to stand in front of me.

I blinked.  I think my mind went completely blank for a moment.  I couldn't wrap my brain around what I was seeing.

It was Tammy!  And right behind her came Emily, her daughter and Becca's best friend. 

The surprise had been delivered after all, and boy what a great surprise that was!

Tamily (Tammy and Emily) live in Orange County, and I was trying to figure out how long she'd been in Sonoma County, so I blurted out, "Where are you staying?"  She said, "With you, I hope?"  Of course!!  My brain was trying to figure out where we'd pick up their stuff, never thinking that they might have traveled all day to get there.  I have some pretty darn amazing friends!

We had a glorious dinner and visit, and I think it was one of the best birthday dinners I've ever had.  We got home late, and it's always great to have Tamily there to add more joy to the morning and night time rituals of caring for the animals.  Quick sheet changes (a weekend chore that needed to be moved up the list pronto) and fresh towels, and we were ready to collapse into bed ... and talk more. 

Becca and I love being with Tamily.  I am always so grateful that Bex and Emily get along and love each other as much as their moms do. 

The horrors that widely differing personalities could have inflicted on our long and deep friendship are too much to even try to imagine.  When Tamily are present, our family is whole.  We look forward to a few years down the line when they can live closer to us, and fantasize about what we can do with the studio next to my house to bring all of us together.

Saturday morning I awoke early, as usual, shutting down the alarms so as not to disturb everyone, and quietly went about getting ready to move and milk the goats and feed the critters.  I was surprised to see Emily slipping out, and she asked if she could help.  What a treat that was, to be able to spend some quiet time with her in the morning.  She milked Salsa all on her own, and is a real pro.  Reading, and odds and ends followed until Tammy and Becca got up.  Then we made breakfast and enjoyed spending time together until time to go to our early dinner.

Pack Jack's BBQ was *the* BBQ place for me for years.  Brick oven smoked, simple fare, in a plain yet funky environment perched on the side of Highway 116 just outside of Sebastopol.  Paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, lots of napkins, and finger bowls (large!) to help with cleanup after enjoying ribs with their homemade sauces.  Fire destroyed the restaurant many years ago, and I was so happy to hear that they were reopening this summer.  Being that Tammy was a Sebastopol native, as well, we knew we had to go there for dinner, so off we went on a lovely drive through the country to meet the rest of my kids for another birthday dinner.  We stuffed ourselves and had a great dinner visit, then drove into town to meet my parents at Starbucks.  The plan was for Becca and Emily to spend the night with them so the adults in our group could kick up our heels at Kodiak Jack's.

After fortifying ourselves with some caffeine and sugar for the night, we kissed the girls and my folks goodbye and headed into Old Town Petaluma.  The memories that flooded as Tammy and I chatted on the way were so fun to share with the kids.  This place was our stomping ground from the day it opened, as we are both western dancers, with Tammy teaching and me competing with some teaching on occasion.  We met at Kodiak's under unusual circumstances that solidified our friendship into a bond that is hard to describe and is lifelong.  It shows the kind of people that Tammy and I are - we weren't petty and stupid about fighting over a man who had been two-timing us, recognizing instead that he was the problem, and discovering on the way that we had a lot more in common than getting involved with a cheater!

Kodiak's is closing, and the 11th was actually their closing night.  We had such a fun time walking up to the bar and seeing Barry's shock of recognition of the two of us together there again.  It made me feel even more like I was home when he remembered my old habits and got our drinks started.  We found a table and gathered together with other friends and family, high spirited and enjoying being together.  It was karaoke night, so it took a while for us to be able to get onto the dance floor, and Barry touched us all with his closing speech about this home away from home, and then sang a modified version of "I Love This Bar."  (There's a cover charge. :-) ) 

Tammy and I put in our requests to the DJ and waited mostly patiently for dances we could do.  So much changes in the world of line dancing and we hadn't been keeping up with the newer dances.  We took a refresher lesson and got some of our non-dancing friends and family involved, so we had a good group when that song was played. 

It was like old times on the floor with Tammy again, but we were beginning to despair toward the end of the evening that we wouldn't be able to dance our absolute favorite, when Tammy went up to the DJ and pulled a connection card.  She used to work as a DJ and dance teacher at Two Steps Up, and when she mentioned that, magically our favorite dance was played shortly.  It's one that isn't taught much these days (Hawaiian Hustle, choreographed by Petaluman Sue Shotwell), but it is soooo good that the few who knew it flocked to the floor with us and youngsters were trying to learn it on the fly.

Shortly after, the booty shaking and freestyle music started, so we gathered our things and regretfully said goodbye to the old place and old friends.  Maverick's is opening in Santa Rosa and Barry will be there, but it just won't be the same as the old brick building filled with memories and spirits of old friends.  There are new ones to make at Maverick's, so we'll have to check it out.

We had done all the chores before leaving home, so everyone was tucked in as Tammy and I rumbled up the dirt driveway well after 1am.  Though we were tired and knew we should sleep, we collapsed on the couches in the living room instead and chatted another hour or so.  Tammy and I needed to meet up with the girls in the morning so she and Emily could begin another long drive south on Sunday.  Eventually we recognized that we needed sleep and that the goats wouldn't wait for milking in the morning, and headed off to bed.

Sunday morning, we decided to meet up with the kids for breakfast at the airport in Petaluma, and were able to spend more time together, laughing and talking over good food, before they had to hit the road again. 

It was a full weekend, little sleep, but what an amazing way to spring into my 51st year!  Many thanks to my girls for pulling this all together, to Becca for being such a good keeper of a good secret, and to Tamily for making that trek up to make it a truly special time.  I am looking forward to the next time!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Da God Squad

On July 28th I gathered some close friends together who were a part of the California Wind Children with me in my youth.  This is a group that is difficult to describe briefly, but I will try for those who are unfamiliar with this part of my past.

Based at an Episcopalian church, this ecumenical group of teens from 14 and up, created musical performances and performed them locally to raise money for their summer work projects.  Those same performances were sung and played on one-night stands across the country as they continued to earn money while traveling to the projects.  Individual responsibility and teamwork were important to the group, as the teens were completely responsible for all aspects of their functioning, from purchasing, repairing and maintaining the buses and other vehicles used for travel to finances, public relations, sound, choreography, every aspect necessary to keep the group functioning and meeting their goals.  There was a director, yes, but he did some steering, that was about it.

The group worked with the Cree, Navajo, Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes on reservation projects and helping run summer camps for children.  Other projects included establishing a summer program for youth in Camp Meeker, CA modeled after the Outward Bound programs in Europe, a trip to Wales to work with the rangers there on renovation, bridge and fence building, erosion control and other projects, and a peace focused project in Ireland.  Francis Ford Copola supported the group's work with Native Americans by providing studio time and the opportunity to record three record albums at his studio in San Francisco.  There is so much more to tell, but suffice to say that for many who participated (last count is 234 individuals participated in the group in one form or another over a span of nearly a decade) it was a life-changing experience.

I like to get together with my old friends from this group from time to time, and although only five could make it that July weekend, we had such a good time and a great visit, lasting long into the night, which unfortunately caused a couple of my guests to arrive at their South Bay homes in the wee hours of the morning.

I discovered the day after this visit that a youth group would be camping on the property behind my house, which belongs to the Bishop's Ranch - yes, an Episcopalian retreat center and a terrific neighbor.  So ...  Episcopalian youth group from the Bay Area, camping and working at the retreat center, what is this group all about?  I was told they are "The God Squad," so I went to the internet and did a search.  It's a group of teens from several churches in the Alameda County area who do work projects, including work with the Lakota in North Dakota.  And Lakota youth and adults that these kids knew would be joining them that weekend.

I made some queries and found out that we could go visit the group one evening.  I got together a large quantity of ice cream and a couple jars of cajeta (caramel sauce I make from goat's milk) and we headed down there to dispense some cheer after their long hot day of work clearing campsites and trails, and to find out what they were all about.  Unfortunately, due to family issues at home, the Lakota were unable to make this trip, but what a great group of kids were there.  Becca and I drove down to the campsite with our neighbor, Bette, bouncing over ruts in the trail and driving through a dry creek bed.  I introduced myself to one of the leaders of the group, and he asked the kids to gather round.  Several of them had already been sitting near the campfire with guitars.  He explained that I used to be with a youth group in Novato, and one of the other adults interrupted and asked, "Were you in the Wind Children?"  Surprised, I said yes.  She then stated excitedly, "I have one of your albums!"  The kids oohed and aaahed, looking at me with fresh eyes.  Album?  As we dished out the ice cream with lots of cajeta over top, we chatted with some of the kids, who were really appreciative and came back for more.  I asked the woman with the album which one she had, and she couldn't remember.  Then she said that she knew all the songs, and her favorite went like this:  "Wind Children of the Wind Children of the Wind Children of the Wind."  I laughed with delight.  That theme song was on the Flower and Flag musical history of the US, written in response to an invitation to perform on the White House Lawn for the bicentennial in 1976.  I told her that I have extras of the third and final album we recorded and that I would bring some down for them in the morning.  (For those in the know, yes, I was expecting her to sing Sim Cu Na!)

I enjoyed learning about the projects these kids have worked on, in East LA, on the Lakota reservation, helping with recovery efforts in New Orleans after Katrina, and in Galveston.  These kids are hard working and inspirational, much like we in the CWC were as teens.  I am looking forward to finding out more about what they are doing and how I can support them in their efforts.  How exciting that this spirit of helping others, learning how to be responsible, and how you can do more than you ever imagined possible, is still around and being nurtured in young people.