Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Magic of Cambria: Woodsy Hills, Rocky Beaches and Hippies on Banjos

"Perhaps we [contemplative monks] have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest, with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, and a cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I am myself part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all."
~Thomas Merton, Journal 27.2.1963

After a stop in Pismo Beach to eat our weight in crabs, mussels and corn on the cob, we wound our way up the coast to Cambria, arriving in the early dark of late November.  We checked in with our new friends, staying in their guesthouse via AirBnB, and found our way to the  the overly heated and brilliantly bedazzled Cambria Lodge, decked out for Christmas in reds blues greens whites and retirees sipping hot toddies. Ignoring warnings by the locals at the lodge, we tried to find our way down the wooded hillside path to downtown Cambria, with the promise of an alehouse.  As awake and aware as strange, dark streets and cold air force you to be, we still had to ask a smart phone for help after it became clear that we had missed the route. The handy iPhone guided us to a steep slope, marked with wooden steps and often only branches, leading us down the hill into Cambria. 

We found the Cambria Ale House in the east village on Main Street packed with people.  The proprietor shifted a few people about, offering us space sharing a table with another man. We sat with our wine and beer and listened to a bearded man with a banjo call us to sing along with the words of Woody Guthrie.  So we swayed a bit and glanced around to make sure everyone else was singing too, and joined in, this land is your land, this land is my land ... and, true to the left-leaning California mind-set, the banished verse, "this land was stole from you by me." We raised our glasses in a bit of satire to the typical American Thanksgiving we'd all just celebrated. Families with visitors and grown children home for the holiday got drunk and laughed too loudly.  I may have found my Stars Hollow and the quirky characters I dream of in small-town life. (If you don't know that reference, we might as well not be friends.)

We played Scrabble with two new friends and even though we weren't keeping score, I think I won.  When we were too worn out to walk back up the path up the hill that had morphed into a mountain, we were told to call the local car service, a man named Ron who owns a van, who gave us a ride for 10 dollars. Entering "The Pub" guesthouse, we stoked the fire in the wood stove before falling asleep under a warm down comforter.  Wood-beamed and rustic with all the amenities:  tea, books, and a flat-screen TV with multiple copies of The Matrix, the guesthouse is like glamping (glamor-camping) in a quiet neighborhood. The patio is filled with succulents, potted plants, climbing vines and friendly dogs. After breakfast at Linn's and an olallieberry & cream muffin for the gluten-eater, we wandered the village, stopping in stores, declining a mid-morning glass of wine offered by a German with a thick accent who had a lovely tasting bar behind his clothing store.

We drove a few miles north to San Simeon, past zebras grazing on Hearst's hillside, and watched kayakers pull out into the bright blue ocean water.  We walked through a grove of eucalyptus trees, accidentally stumbling upon private property, cows, and what may have been a sleeping bull.  We ate over-sized salads and burgers and tasted delicious wine at the Sebastian Store, while watching a seagull train her baby to beg.  Clearly unable to leave, we found another spot to stay along the coast of Cambria, where I collected green and red and mottled rocks that the tide gurgled to shore.

Writing it, it sounds too perfect, too magical.  And maybe, if I lived my dream and moved there, it would lose some of the glow. But I think, like Merton, it makes me pay attention.  Too often I don't engage with the person making my coffee, or get a little lost in a town, or ask someone their favorite spot to visit.  Too often I'm not part of the weather.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Styled: What I learned from watching my mother

My mom and I joke that we share a brain, often thinking and saying aloud the same things at the same time. On my last visit home, in the height of cold & flu season, I learned that she knows she is sick when music no longer makes her dream of dancing; I choreograph ice-skating and stage numbers in my head. We have a (twisted) sense of humor in common, as well as a love for subdued style. Sorting through boxes of family photos, I remember her long a-line skirts in early 80s reddish-brown corduroy,  her calf-high heeled black boots that zipped up the back, her lack of jewelry expect for pieces from her mother that held special meaning. 

We would sit at the donut shop by the Payless Drugstore in a strip mall in Eugene, and I would rummage through my mom’s shoulder bag. She’d keep talking or listening to her friend Donna, a woman I remember having a big, toothy smile and straight blonde hair, while mom leaned down to help me find what I was looking for – a little pot of burgandy-tinged lip gloss. Watching the women out of the corner of my eye, I’d unscrew the clear plastic lid and dip a pinky into the gooey sticky gloss, then pretend that I was looking soulfully into a hand mirror to carefully apply the gloss. It meant grown-up glamour. I’d daintily smack my lips together as I’d seen women do, and grin at my mom.  I was four, and this was our girl-time.  My older sister was at school, and I had mom and Donna all to myself.

Looking back, I learned that it didn't matter what you were wearing, how your hair was styled, or whether your lips shone like a glossy magazine photo. What mattered was sharing life, time, and conversation with friends.  That cheap coffee and donuts could be transformed into a communion of sorts, with coloring books and bananas for a little girl who was soaking it all in.

Mom and Christina feeding ducks, mom and her nephew Jeff, and me in a sundress sewn by my mom.

Friday, November 09, 2012

I Got All My Sisters With Me: Girls' Weekend Fall 2012

"I have a family — two, really. Well, three if you think about it. There are my siblings, and there are my children, but I also have an extended family. The people who stayed. The people who became more than friends; the people who open the door when I knock. That's what it all boils down to. The people who have to open the door, not because they always want to but because they do." ~Diane Keaton, Then Again

I met Jen, Wendi and Jodi in college almost 20 years ago, at a teeny-tiny campus set inside cinder-block buildings in the big cement sprawl that is Orange County, California. I am still paying over $30,000 in student loan debt for these dear friends, and it is worth every bit.

We get together at least once a year for our girls' weekend. They each have at least two children, a couple of whom are still babies or toddlers. I had a cat that I had to give to my mom because I couldn't handle the commitment. They have amazing husbands who love that they take the weekend away from the kids, knowing it recharges their souls that are sometimes raggedy-beat-down from being a mommy. I've collected stories of dating lore that will make you run for the nunnery. They're still very active in church, each walking her own journey of faith and love and generosity. I read Anne Lamott and wish I had more of her faith and less of my anger. But I'm getting there, a there that is my own path as well, a mix of traditions and what I've learned along the way.

Because of all this, not despite it, our friendships are deeper than ever. Even if we cringe on the inside at something someone says or has done, we love each other where we are, who we are. This is family for me, being that free.

We rent a house or "borrow" one when I'm house-sitting. We talk til two in the morning over a hunk of Humboldt Fog goat cheese and one bottle of wine ... for me, one shared between the moms. We make a pact not to discuss anything important until all four of us are together. We talk about projects and passions and how we can help each other forward. We have been known to cry, usually in domino fashion. We go where the spirit of the weekend leads us, and where people won't judge that we haven't showered and want breakfast at 1pm. We go thrifting, we walk to coffee, we go to the movies.

We normally take more photos, but maybe this year we didn't need to. Maybe it's that we didn't get out of our PJs too often, or do our makeup. Maybe we don't need to document the time, though the years have started to blur, and it's good to see proof of when we were, where we were. Maybe we're more comfortable in knowing that we will see each other again, although the death of a friend's dad last week sparked conversation of how precious and brief life is, and how important our time is together.

So, we take photos of coffee that was meticulously made by baristas in lab coats, and fun finds that tell the world of our soda obsessions. And then we hug, get in cars and on planes and promise to email more, to call more, to connect more. Knowing that life with kids and husbands and jobs and boyfriends gets busy. Knowing that even if our only e-mails are simply to set our next weekend in motion, we'll be able to start in just where we all are.

Thankful for friends who are family, who will open that door, not because they always want to but because they do.

Jodi's latte of joy at Portola Coffee Lab

Jen's find at Heirlooms & Hardware
Last year's weekend brunch at the beloved King's Road in West Hollywood, with the beloved server, John. 2011