24 October 2007

Things change

As far as I know, the little store, as everyone in the neighborhood calls it, is Eastmoreland's only storefront retail presence. Officially known as Eastmoreland Grocery and Market, it's been in business since the 1920s. Carol and Gary, who've run it for the past 20-some years, just sold it to a couple of local residents who plan to remodel and reopen as Eastmoreland Kitchen, a combination food store and deli. Last Saturday was closing day; the new owners hope to debut their revamped operation in about six weeks. I'll miss the funky ol' store with its year-round shelves of Santa Clauses, but I wish the new people well. I'm fantasizing a neighborhood hangout -- coffee in the morning, wine in the evening -- as well as a place to pick up emergency eggs or whatnot in the midst of dinner prep.

Last year we ordered our Thanksgiving turkey from the little store. This year it'll be New Seasons, I guess. Thanksgiving will be different in other respects as well. The Arcata clan won't be joining us. Victor's gone, and so's my mother. This will be the first Thanksgiving at our house without her. The plan is for my sister Karen to fly up from the Bay Area with a companion, and for Larry and Josh to wing in from Oahu and San Diego, respectively. Barring last-minute additions, there'll be just the six of us for dinner, the smallest Thanksgiving dinner Jerry and I have experienced together.

Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. It was all about inclusion, sweeping in the strays. And about food, of course -- feeding the multitudes, as Jer likes to say. Sometimes we had 25 or 30 people in for a sit-down dinner. The last few years, though, Thanksgiving time has seemed fraught for one reason or another. This year feels like a turning point, and small seems appropriate for right now. Next year I think we'll invent a new tradition.

23 October 2007

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for E-Flat

Last week we had the privilege of hearing Oliver Sacks lecture on music and the brain. He's touring on behalf of his new book, Musicophilia. After reading so many of his books and essays, it was a pleasure to see him in person. I knew he was British but his accent is stronger than I'd imagined it in my mind's ear. He writes so well that his rather diffident, professorial manner onstage was a bit surprising. But even in the freewheeling (and too long) Q&A period, he never had trouble finding the right phrase, the perfect metaphor. The printed program included an interview conducted by our friend Steve Silberman that appeared originally in Wired; how cool to see Steve's byline in this unexpected context.

About three weeks ago, my brother fell at work and suffered a concussion. Tests revealed no bleeding or gross injury to his brain, but he's definitely not himself, whatever that means. He speaks very slowly and hesitantly, and is much better at remembering events from before the accident than what's happened since. There is a There there, which is a very positive sign, but it'll be a while (weeks? months? years?) before Larry's fully functional again.

At the lecture, Jerry happened to sit next to a neurologist (not surprising, considering the occasion) and, in the context of small talk about the amazing resiliency of the brain, mentioned Larry's injury and how he seems to be coping with it so far. "I'll bet he's scared," she volunteered, "really really emotional. 'Labile' is the term for that. And he's probably reluctant to go very far outside his normal routine because stuff is coming at him faster than he can process." Yup, she pretty much nailed it.

Sacks made the point that heavy involvement with music induces visible changes in the brain, and that musicians are the only profession that can be distinguished in this manner. Catatonic patients have been shown to respond to music; otherwise mute individuals can sometimes sing fluently; music temporarily alleviates the tremors of Parkinsonism and the fog or agitation of Alzheimers. It acts on the brain in profound and powerful ways that we don't fully understand.

Larry's friend Kate has been trying to get him to practice guitar every day; it seemed intuitively like a good thing to do. It certainly couldn't hurt.

18 October 2007

Travels with Debbie

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Jerry’s new girlfriend. Her name is Debbie, and she's the voice inside the GPS navigator that I gave him for his birthday. We named her Debbie because, years ago, when I worked at Information on Demand, "Debbie" became our generic term for somebody's administrative assistant, as in "He was out of the office, but I left a message with his Debbie." We took Debbie along on our recent trip to Michigan. Jerry put her through her paces, Annette driving, en route to her and Lauren's place from the airport (Gerald Ford International in Grand Rapids, official abbreviation GRR). He did not activate her, I noticed, on our way back to the airport, when Colleen’s friend Larry, a male, was driving.

Debbie also went with us to Sea Ranch a couple of weeks ago, where she did a fairly good job of getting us around the network of twisty byways and cul-de-sacs that we'd never completely mastered while we lived there. On the drive up from Oakland, though -- a route I know very well, thank you -- she and I disagreed repeatedly. I found myself developing quite an attitude with regard to ol' Deb. If you disregard her directions, she says "Recalculating..." in a long-suffering, put-upon, passive-aggressive tone.

I'm not perfect, but neither is the Debster. She's encouraged us to take non-existent highway entrances, referred to exits by names that don't correspond to actual signage, and led us onto roads alleged to lead straight to our destination, but that turn out to be discontinuous or unpaved. In Debbie's database, the abbreviation "Br" apparently stands for "Brother." It didn't take long for this fluke to surface in Portland, the City of Bridges. I couldn't believe my ears when she suggested, in her calm yet earnest manner, that we get onto the Morrison Brother. Debbie, you silly goose.

I don’t have a picture of Debbie; she’s a Garmin Nuvi 350, if you’re curious. But here’s one of G√ľnther, who lives in Lauren and Annette’s back yard. Wouldn’t you like to know what he looks like from the neck down?

Michigeese and Michiganders

We just spent a few days in southwestern Michigan, a couple of blocks from the lake, visiting Jer's daughter Lauren and her partner Annette. We also got to see Colleen, Jerry's favorite ex-wife, and meet her new guy, Larry, as well as reconnect with Bill and Alan, who were good friends of Lauren's late brother, Marc. Confused yet? A diagram would probably help. Ages ago, when Lauren lived in San Francisco, she and Marc, Colleen, Jerry and I went out to dinner at Khan Toke, a Thai restaurant in the Richmond District where Lauren was a regular. She introduced us to the proprietor as follows: "This is my brother, my mother, her second husband, and his third wife."

L&A have a lovely home with a huge, meandering deck on eight acres in the midst of dense woods. It's a ten-minute stroll to Lake Michigan. In their 'hood, modest lake cabins coexist with vacation McMansions but mailboxes seem to be a universal form of self-expression.

Lauren and Annette took us to two or three excellent art galleries. They fed us well, and we made serious inroads into their wine cellar and their schnapps collection. Colleen invited us to her house for dinner one evening, and we also sampled a few local eateries and drinkeries. We pretty much closed one fine establishment, The What Not Inn, where we dropped in for a drink after dinner in downtown (ha) Douglas. When they get out the vacuum cleaners and start stacking the chairs, you know it's time to go home.

By some miracle of scheduling, our visit happened to coincide with the Fennville Goose Festival, a classic small-town celebration. That's Mother Goose herself on the Lions Club float. What a thrill; we were this close to her.

Every morning (except for the day we left, when it was raining heavily) Jer and I took a long walk along the lakeshore. If you've never seen Lake Michigan, think "ocean" instead. It's enormous; you can't see the opposite shore. The beach was almost deserted. Some vestiges of summer activity remained but, for the most part, the cottages along the bluff seemed uninhabited; the season's over.

I put a few artsy beach shots up on Flickr, but here's a gratuitous shot of construction fencing, just for Gerrie. Ladybugs had gathered on it for no reason I could discern. Color-camouflage, maybe?

04 October 2007

Tart to Tart

Inspired by our backyard plum tree's bounty, I made this ginger frangipane tart as our contribution to dinner at Libbi and David's several days ago. It looks just like the picture in the Oregonian food section, and it tasted wonderful.

I had leftover puff pastry, so I adapted a recipe for a savory tomato tart that called for filo dough, and came up with this little number. Pretty darned tasty as well.

Plums and tomatoes; end of summer. Fall fell like a curtain last week.

Speaking of tarts, Portland Center Stage's production of Cabaret is not not not to be missed.

03 October 2007

The Wedding Unit

Jer and I just spent a couple of days at Sea Ranch, our first trip back since we moved to Portland. We lived there, on the northern Sonoma county coast, for almost ten years. It's a very beautiful spot, and very remote. It felt even more remote, this trip, by virtue of our not having driven California Highway 1 in more than two years. Sea Ranch is three hours from Oakland Airport; by contrast, we can get to PDX from here in 18 minutes. You can see why I stopped traveling for business not long after we moved there.

When we lived at The Ranch, we'd decide whether to make a trip to the Bay Area on the basis of "wedding units." If a close friend was getting married, no question; that's one full wedding unit right there. An important party -- a zero-th birthday celebration or a major WELL shindig -- would constitute a significant fraction of a wedding unit. Add to that a lunch or dinner with friends, a singthing, a visit with Mom, or some combination thereof -- et voila: a wedding unit; the drive down and back was justified.

Subconsciously, we've been employing a similar calculation, since we moved, with regard to trips to California. This time, our good friend Jackie was marrying her sweetie Tom, so of course we had to go. The opportunity to see other friends, at and around the wedding, and to check back in with the Sea Ranch itself and some of our favorite locales, bumped our excursion comfortably into the 1+ unit range.

Both Jer and I were struck, on the drive up, by how arid the landscape looked -- those golden rolling hills of northern California. It's always this way in summer and early fall, before the rains begin. California is fundamentally a desert, compared to western Oregon's verdant rain forest.

We stayed with our friends Rich and Dean, whose spectacular house, aptly named Wind & Sea, sits right on the bluff toward the north end of Sea Ranch. They have what must be a 270 degree ocean view, with pelicans, cormorants, gulls and the occasional osprey whirling by in the breeze. They'd invited another couple whom we knew for dinner the night we arrived, plus, as it turned out, a surprise guest, our friend Jane, whom I knew from The WELL before she moved to The Ranch and who, last I heard, was still consulting for the UN in Kosovo. Jane doesn't do small talk, and Charles and Kathleen are at the other end of the political spectrum, so it was a lively evening.

Sunday morning we walked a couple of miles along the blufftop trail to our friends Rob and the-other-Jackie's house. (They're the folks who visited us in Portland about a month ago, Casa Jereva's final houseguests of the summer season.) Rob led the tour of their dramatically redone garden, and then set about preparing a delicious brunch (the asparagus omelette depicted here, plus buckwheat pancakes and fruit salad featuring peaches and fresh-picked blackberries and raspberries) while Jackie showed us around her new, beautifully designed and decorated two-storey office/studio/guest cottage, which was originally the garage. They also built a new garage on the other side of the garden. We're talking major additions and alterations here; I literally did not recognize the house from the street.

The wedding was that afternoon, and what a joyful affair it was! Guests had been encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts and jeans; of course we complied, no problem. The bride and groom wore matching shirts, though hers had been tailored down, by our skillful friend Donna, from a men's extra-extra large into an elegant collarless blouse. There was enough fabric left over for a matching shoulder bag just big enough to hold a few Kleenex (useful at a wedding) and maybe a cell phone.

The ceremony was outdoors, on Jackie's good friend Carol's deck, on a hillside overlooking the Pacific. The wedding party had their backs to the ocean; the guests, seated on hay bales (actually alfalfa, we were told, which will go to feed the groom's son's flock of sheep, which is a whole 'nother story), had the full panorama. The "altar" was decorated with dramatic flower arrangements done by another friend, Claire.

Their vows were funny and heartfelt; Jackie has a wonderful way with words and the entire ceremony reflected her style. Jackie's therapist officiated. There was a Best Woman, and two Best Sons to give Tom away, plus four Best Dogs, who assisted. Texas John, on guitar and vocals, opened the festivities with "Give Yourself to Love," which seems to've become THE wedding song of our generation, and closed it with an original composition about not laying your expectations on your loved one that included the refrain "Don't Should on me and I won't Should on you." Very clever, and perfect for the occasion.

There was crying, there was laughter; it was swell.

Afterwards, the MTA (Mendocino Transit Agency) bus-lette shuttled us down to Del Mar Center, one of the Sea Ranch community meeting halls, for the reception. Great food, with a Mexican theme, prepared locally and by friends. Good wine, and just the right music at just the right volume for both dancing and schmoozing. Jackie did the table decorations, which included rounded river rocks and personalized yellow and green -- the wedding theme colors -- M&Ms spilling out of miniature tin pails. Some of the rocks were painted with yellow or green dots. It was Andy Goldsworthy by way of Martha Stewart; it rocked (no pun intended).

Jer and I talked to about a gazillion people, answering mostly the same question (Do you like Portland?) over and over again. It felt good to reconnect with folks who weren't necessarily our closest friends there (those we've kept in touch with), but who were part of the fabric of the community and clearly valued their connection with us as well.

In true Sea Ranch fashion, the party broke up early (though a bunch of the kids went on to after-party at the Gualala Hotel), and Jer and I were back at Rich and Dean's and in their hot tub by 8 PM.

Monday morning we took another long walk on the bluff, in the other direction this time, running into more folks we knew along the way, and then drove to our friends Francine and Bob's for bagels and coffee. After that, I delivered Jer to yet another pal's house (a guy he loves talking science and engineering with), said hi to George and Sandy myself, met their new-to-me kitties, who've been carrying on a snailmail correspondence with our cats (don't ask), and then dropped in at my old weekly quilting group (I sure miss that unique collection of "ladies") til it was time to leave for the airport.

Being back at Sea Ranch felt almost dreamlike. Everything was familiar, and we felt comfortable and content to be there, but it had less emotional resonance than either of us expected. We felt a little tug when we visited the community garden and saw the stepping stone we'd donated, inscribed "Jereva" and set among all the others there. Another tug at the Arts Center, which Jerry helped build (his name is on a roll of Distinguished Volunteers on permanent display in the foyer). The landscaping that was in the planning stages when we left is in and established now, and looks gorgeous. But what got to me most was glancing out Rich and Dean's kitchen window one morning and spotting three deer, a doe and two yearling fawns, so similar to the little groups that used to hang around our house on Timber Ridge Road (pictured here, post-us), eating every shrub in sight. I do miss the deer.

Now that I've traveled through some sections of the Oregon coast where development's run rampant, I have a much deeper appreciation of that stretch of the California coast and of how well Sea Ranch blends into the landscape, as it was designed to do. But our visit felt like just that, a visit, not like coming home again. By contrast, our brief stop in Berkeley on the way up -- we picked up Jer's favorite multigrain cereal at Country Cheese and then drove up San Pablo to grab lunch at Kermit Lynch's Provence-in-the-parking-lot celebration -- felt like a visit to our other home; it always does. We've left some dear, dear people on that lovely, isolated ten-mile stretch of the Sonoma county coastline. But we were pinin' for civilization, and now Portland feels more like home, after just two-and-a-bit years, than Sea Ranch ever did.