Friday, April 29, 2011

Can you have too much fun?

All you care about is having fun, my mother used to tell me. She pronounced the f word with exaggeration and distaste. It’s true, I enjoy a good time, but in a more literal sense than she imagined. Fun times have their element of entertainment and distraction but more than that, it’s the layers of satisfaction you can discover in a perfect moment.

What’s the most fun you had this weekend, I asked my husband while my own perfect moment played in my brain.

Four of us enter a beer joint carved out of a recycled warehouse. Full disclosure: it’s an organic brewing company in a trendy industrial setting that also houses bakeries and wine tasting rooms, but on a Monday afternoon only the locals hang out here.

Are these fishermen, wharf rats or seedy surfers swapping tales in salty language? We order ale and a couple of stouts, find ourselves a dark corner and settle in. Vic swings open a window and perches on the ledge, a graceful figure in relief against the sudden appearance of sun. She unpacks our sandwiches and we sip, munch and contemplate the action at the bar.

The topic of conversation is music. A young man in a black sweatshirt and cool boots holds forth on the musical themes of Beethoven that appear in his favorite rock tunes and how much fun it is to actually play Beethoven. The small group that gathers about him is enthralled. I lean over discreetly and say to my son, “Is this a University hangout?” He lifts one corner of his mouth.

Two young boys enter the bar and the people reconfigure, some moving to tables to give the boys room to belly up. They seat themselves and spread their homework out in front of them. The conversation turns to vocabulary lists and math problems. The barmaid tests their spelling and the university student explains an obscure number theory to the boys.

He did a good job, my husband says.

I think we are witnessing a new model for education that is very workable, I say, and we finish our brews, Warmed by the sun, the hops and the interaction we witnessed in... whatever that was... bar, pub, tasting room, classroom, we head out for more adventure.

This was fun.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Easter Choir

A choir blends more that voices. Up there is my lovely daughter-in-law, a spring daisy pompon in a field of flowers. Young faces group below her like a freshly planted border of pansies. The overhead lights bounce off their shiny knees and illuminate their upturned faces.

Above their heads a bouquet of people – some stand erect and still, like bearded iris, other sway like tall grass in the breeze of the music.

A chair is placed aside the risers to accommodate one senior singer. He is dressed all in brown, an early planting now fading in color and drooping in stance as he leans on a brown cane, but his face radiates with praise.

The choirmaster multitasks. He’s a master gardener keeping the raised bed of basses and tenors in harmony with the terrace of altos and row of sopranos. He pulls one and then another out to bless the Lord with a solo phrase of song, taking the microphone himself to join a trio in front. A hand rises in the air and keeps the beat for him when his attention is elsewhere.

From a seat near the front of the stage at the First Baptist Church in Watsonville I sing a joyful song too, appreciating the balance the worship band has achieved, allowing my eyes to rest on the guitar player, my son.

I know these people were plucked from their busy lives, pulled together hastily to form a choir for Easter. I also know that when God’s people gather to sing and play, angels sing and play with them. A choir blends generations, talents, even Heaven and earth for moment.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Belly Bombs

After a week of taking care of the 5-year-old and the 7-year-old while their parents vacationed in Puerto Vallerta we celebrated with dinner at Anthony’s in Seattle – with them – in the expensive dining room upstairs because I wanted choice fish.

The kids were on their best behavior. The 5-year-old ordered fish and chips and ate his fish first. For dessert he polished off dolce la leche ice cream with caramel sauce. I had to talk him out of the espresso. The 7-year-old ordered a house salad and Ivars clam chowder. She finished with Seattle chocolate chip cherry ice cream. I helped.

As we gazed out over the sound -- wondering what a slip in the harbor goes for, counting the number of rude teenagers spitting ice cubes over the side rail (4 boys and 8 girls) and musing about the pedigree of the handsome dog being walked on the wharf by his master (a French bulldog, the 7-year-old thought) we speculated the source of success of our experiment – taking the children to an expensive restaurant before collecting their parents from the airport.

Granddaughter declared it was the “good behavior and excellent taste buds” they both exhibited that made the evening a success. She went so far as to extrapolate that good behavior and well developed taste buds were probably the secret of success in life.

She was primed for this experience by her discovery that the bathroom stalls at Anthony’s each have their own sinks. She was also impressed by the cocktail dress one of the young diners was wearing, and offered her a compliment as we passed to visit the bathroom (again). The compliment was well received.

A couple of nights later we were all eating dinner at their house. My daughter served brussel sprouts – belly bombs my husband calls them. He hates them. The children each asked for a brussel sprout. The 7-year-old sided with her dad and her papa by wrinkling her nose. The 5-year-old sided with his mom and his nana by chewing, swallowing, smacking and smiling.

The conversation turned to food tastes. “I bet you like ginger and licorice too, I said to him.”

“Yes!” he said. High fives.

“So, how would this sound to you?” I asked him. “A dark chocolate covered brussel sprout dipped in Brie cheese,

“Sprinked with sea salt,” his mother added.

“With caramel sauce!” He finished.

He totally gets us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Change of Scene

Today I saw an old man jogging on a trail in the Northwest. Nothing unusual about that, except that he was juggling while he jogged. This struck me as the ultimate Alzheimer’s prevention exercise. It’s not a sight I would expect to see on the mountain trails in my home town.

Last month I saw a league of old men playing softball on a field in the Southwest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a gathering of healthy old men. Again, not a sight I’ve witnessed in my rural town in the California Sierra Nevadas. Perhaps the difference is that Bainbridge Island, WA and Surprise, AZ are urban spaces in natural landscapes.

Wikipedia characterizes an urban area by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to a rural setting. On Bainbridge Island I experience a cornucopia of characters, artists and entrepreneurs who weave themselves into the landscape and flower brightly. The desert suburbs of Phoenix fairly burst with the health and wealth set.

We return to our rural enclave next week only to venture out once more to the California Coast. There is nothing more beautiful than the Pacific Ocean lapping at the Northern California Coast. Craggy cliffs overlook stretches of sandy beaches I walk in mostly temperate weather while gazing out at fathomless horizons. The old men don’t stand out particularly. No one does, really. Like Paris, France and Los Gatos, CA it’s the dogs sporting age–indeterminate people who stand out.

I live in a place graced by golden hills and expansive valleys, wild rivers and sparkling lakes, snow-capped granite mountains and grassy meadows. It’s not very populated. Our human features are not all that vast.

We are rural. Our resources are limited. Mostly we live on fixed incomes, although some are fixed higher than others. Some live “off the grid,” with no income at all. Mostly we are aging, although school buses still disgorge short backpackers onto the roads every day around 2:30 pm. I vacillate between thanking God for the breathtaking beauty of our mountains and wishing for a wider array of human features.

A change of scene is welcome then. When a lone juggling jogger crosses my mindscape of rugged hikers, when I pass a grassy diamond full of exuberant gray-haired ball players, when my eyes follow a seagull sweeping low over the ocean water instead searching for the red tail hawk soaring high above the oaks and pines, I am caught by surprise, and it delights me.

Monday, April 11, 2011


In a recent Wall Street Journal book review, Alexandra Mullen noted that blogging uniquely captures “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” (Wordsworth). I guess I haven’t been feeling spontaneous lately, which is why halfway through April there are no blog titles listed for the month. My annoying sister pointed this out. Powerful feelings are just hard to conjure.

My daughter just emailed from Dreams Resort in Puerto Vallerta where she and her husband are celebrating their 10th anniversary:

Did water aerobics, played blackjack, learned card tricks, lounged by the pool, had a wonderful dinner on the ocean and now we're listening to a concert on the beach from our balcony.
We have moved into her house on overcast Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle for a week to ferry the grandkids to school, after school activities and birthday parties. Our other duties include:

Sorting fact from fiction

Her: Mommy lets me buy milk from school every day.

Me: How much money do you need for that?

Her: Three dollars.

Me: For a carton of milk? I don’t think so!
Finding homes for socks

Me: Whose socks are these?

Him: Not mine!

Her: Not mine!

Me: Okay, you – go put these in your brother’s drawer.

Her: Okay, they’re mine.
The list goes on.

I wish I was the kind of grandmother who cultivated grandmaternal feelings with an outpouring of spontaneity. You know, the kind that takes the kids out of school and whisks them off to Canada to introduce them to Haida Indian culture, sparking a lifelong interest in anthropology.

We did take granddaughter to see Chief Seattle’s grave in Susquamish. Then we wandered into a curio shop owned by the delightful Rainey Daze (Is that an Indian name? I think I might have known a Rainey Daze at Berkeley in the sixties). Rainey recommended the local pub for the best food, assuring us it was a safe place to take a seven year old on Sundays. Granddaughter wrinkled her nose and shook her head, declaring her preference for “American food, like pizza.”

What happened to your adventuresome spirit, I asked her. I think it ebbed after Rainey showed her the skinned lynx heads the Indian children used to push their hands into to keep them warm on their three hour walk to school in zero degree weather.

Like granddaughter, I’m feeling uninspired. No font of powerful feelings to report. I do feel a spark of pleasure, though when I hear granddaughter say, “this is a very fun puzzle,” in response to the challenging jigsaw we packed and brought to encourage the children to focus on something they can’t finish in a day. It’s time well spent to hear grandson say, “it’s very hard, but look! I did it!”

At the other end of my mother’s dining room table that now graces my daughter’s front room I’m watching the five and seven-year-old work on a large puzzle together. “You know, practice does make perfect,” she tells him. “I’m not very good at this,” he says, popping in another piece.