Favorite restaurant decor – Diner Edition.

White tablecloths and tinkling glasses and polished silver are good when you’re in the mood, but I also need to know where to find the funk.

This is my favorite restaurant decor.  Oilcloth on the table.
Bogey’s Cafe, San Rafael, CA

Or big fat padded leather swivel stools at the counter.  Or funky booths.  And iced tea while you wait.

Shoreline Coffee Shop, Mill Valley, CA
Intersection of 101 at Highway 1 (Muir Woods & Stinson Beach)

I was at Shoreline on Saturday for lunch.  (BLT and fries. Thanks for asking.) It’s been there for decades.  When the new owners took over a few years ago, they changed the menu to organic, locally-sourced everything but kept the funk.  Bogey’s is on Fourth Street – San Rafael’s main street for shopping, strolling and snacking.

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Favorite Easter card two years in a row.

Favorite Easter card two years in a row

This week, the Grand and I will shop for Easter surprises for her Mother.  It was easy in younger days.  Cotton balls and macaroni were the supplies of choice.  I drove from from Mill Valley to Woodland Hills to spend Easter season every year and the first thing she showed me was the secret card made at preschool, hidden away for the big day.

After graduating from the basics of gluing a thing onto another thing, the cards matured into combinations of construction paper, felt, and cotton and were signed with many xxxx’s and oooo’s.  A trip to See’s Candies and we were handled.

When the cards came from a store, she was drawn to corny jokes and puns. Mom was a good sport about it.  The sentiment was circumstantial, based on which displays the Grand could reach.  She picked up whatever attracted her and asked me to read the words inside.

She spotted, on a rack above her head, a card with two chocolate rabbits, each missing a crucial body part. She asked to see it.

“What does it say?”

I read it to her.  She immediately decided it was the one for Mom.

Me (reaching up for hearts and flowers): “But look at this one.”

She: “No thank you. The rabbits are funny.”

Of course the word “butt” used in any context has an entire room full of pre-readers on the floor, laughing.

When she was tall enough to reach any rack, her tastes grew more sophisticated, and now the only constant remaining is chocolate.

One thing is certain – when I’m involved with Easter shopping, there will be See’s Candy.  The See’s shopper gets the See’s free samples handed over the counter with a smile by the women and men in white.  Long live tradition.

Sister Fern discovers plastic on the The Glory Road

A tad fuzzy but I wanted to get closer on that corsage

The church lady on the right looks exactly the way many ladies looked in our Louisiana congregation in the 1950’s.  On the left, Sister Fern is the gospel singing pastor’s wife wearing a slinky black dress and the big corsage.

From time to time we came off the road from our gospel tours when Daddy pastored a church for a while.  On the road she wore jersey, which clung in the right places and moved even when she stood still.  When she married the preacher, she gave up wearing makeup and raised her low-cut necklines a bit, but she still sought enhancement wherever she could find it.

She found it down at the yard goods store where she discovered polyester and nylon and plastic/vinyl in thin sheets and stiff netting and every other difficult-to-wear, artificial material available.

She made those corsages, huge prickly things they were, in every color.  She cut out the petals using pinking shears, then wired the parts together with florist’s tape and bunches of nylon net.  She formed all the parts into shapes resembling prom corsages – big ones  – some even bigger than the one pictured.  She was tall and her impressive front was built for displaying her creations and she wore some version of this every Sunday. Responding to compliments which may not have been solely directed at her corsage, she was happy to pass along details.

“You can suds them right in the sink, shake them and they’ll dry right off.”

Which doesn’t sound like a great endorsement for items meant to resemble flowers, but people kept saying nice things.  This pleased her so much she made new ones, brighter and bigger, and gifted them to many church ladies. When I stood at the microphone on Sunday to sing with the family, I looked out at a garden of plastic and nylon net occupying the fronts of ladies in their cotton print Sunday best dresses.

Then her attention turned to making school clothes for my brother and me.  Memories of a nylon dress and Leslie Ray’s matching shirt are still fresh and painful.  More about them another time.

Meanwhile, here’s Sister Fern doing what she did best. Click the picture for a song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of my favorite hillbillies

Be still my heart.
They’re back with a new season Sunday, April 7th on DIY network.

I have a crush on these hillbillies.  Barnwood Builders started a few seasons ago and since then I’ve watched every show in repeats while waiting for new episodes. (Repeats are still airing on Discovery Network.)

If you love old buildings, American history and tradition, you’ll enjoy these guys. It’s men with big hearts and muscle and their commitment to keeping some of the old ways alive. It’s fun to see good people loving what they do and doing it well.  

Now my dvr on Sunday nights includes CBS 60 Minutes, whatever series I’m watching on PBS/Masterpiece – and Barnwood Builders.

Here’s my previous post about who they are and why I love them.  And here’s a link at DIY online to go behind the scenes.

 

Feeling Incompetent? Duh.

Here’s one answer, short and sweet and to the point.  This comes from Seth Godin.  I cozied right up to it. It’s a topic my blogging buddy, Dave Williams, and I discuss often in one form or another.

Seth thinks a lot of smart thoughts.  Writes about them.  Posts some of them.

Here’s Seth.

At some point, grown ups get tired of the feeling that accompanies growth and learning.

We start calling that feeling, “incompetence.”

We’re not good at the new software, we resist a brainstorming session for a new way to solve a problem, we never did bother to learn to juggle…

Not because we don’t want the outcomes, but because the journey promises to be difficult. Difficult in the sense that we’ll feel incompetent.

Which accompanies all growth.

First we realize something can be done.

Then we realize we can’t do it.

And finally, we get better at it.

It’s the second step that messes with us.

If you care enough to make a difference, if you care enough to get better–you should care enough to experience incompetence again.

Here’s me again:  Thank you, Seth.

Click here to go to Seth’s homepage where  you can read his blog every day.  Or subscribe.

Small Spaces

That’s a text I sent myself one day
to remind me, simple is perfect.
 

Cottages and bungalows and cabins.

Big, soft chairs.

Old lamps

Corners and nooks and window seats and alcoves 

 

Places to write become places to live.  I like it that way.  Even in a big house, I’ll end up in one room, in one corner with a comfortable chair,  a small table, a light to turn up or down.  A few old and much-loved tchotchkes here and there.  A window is nice.

I like looking at tiny houses.  Converted sheds in the back yard draw me in. Little outbuildings turned into offices with a single bed or comfy couch in case of company. Or in case the occupant needs a nap. That’s just about perfect.

It’s clear this is now a lifelong pattern.  Whatever the size of the place, I live mostly in one room. When I’m tired of it, I go into another room.  That’s two rooms so far.

The concept of small spaces seems normal for a writer.  Less distractions.  It’s cozy enough to be filled with thoughts, or in the absence of them, it’ll contain the angst.

Sister Fern sings on TV 60 years later

Turned on TV Thursday night to watch a favorite show, A P Bio on NBC, and there’s Mother (Sister Fern Jones) singing “Didn’t It Rain”

It’s a funny show about a naughty-to-bad teacher.  Love the cast. These two pictured are Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt. Everybody’s at the top of their game.  The classroom’s filled with young talent. The teachers’ lounge is charmingly off-center and the school office has its own quirks.

I’m glad the writers and producers and music supervisors invite Sister Fern from time to time.   Her feisty rockabilly/gospel fits right in.

 

 

It Might As Well Be Spring.

California wildflowers poster series from artist Gompers Saijo**

When Spring arrives, most people feel awake, alive, excited.  For me it comes with a twinge of melancholy.  Right now we’re in the flannel-to-flowers transition in Northern California which puts me in mind of a song, one that haunts me at unexpected times through the year, but always at the start of Spring.  And always this song brings to mind a dear friend who shared my love for this ballad. Yes, I’ve written about him before, and may again.  That’s what happens when you’re unforgettable.

Ed Wetteland was a keyboard genius in a giant body. He played most of his life in the Bay Area, in clubs and concerts, putting on the tux for big band gigs, working with just about everybody in music who came through The City.  When he wasn’t working, he wandered, with some of us in tow, into clubs down hidden alleyways in The City, sliding onto the piano bench, playing a little, slipping back out and on to another club. Everyone made way. Everyone knew Ed.  Mercurial.  Tender.  Then mercurial again.

Home was his country acre in Sonoma County where the other part of his life was spent coaching singers in his studio and holding forth on the deck outside his house in Sebastopol, indulging in very good wine provided by his Bohemian Club buddies, telling stories, stopping to name the notes played by the wind chimes and whistling back at birds.

We were friends from the first hello.  We had our little traditions.  Wherever he played, when I came in, he’d weave away from the song he was performing and slide into the bridge of one of my favorite songs, It Might As Well Be Spring. This bridge slays me.  Melancholy. Plaintive.

I keep wishing I were somewhere else
Walking down a strange new street
Hearing words that I have never heard
From a man I’ve yet to meet
 – Rodgers & Hammerstein

One Sunday Ed promised friends he’d play at their church in Santa Rosa.  He was distinctly un-churchy.  He insisted I come and he’d buy brunch afterward.  I arrived a bit late. Ed was playing a hymn.  I wish I could remember which one.   I didn’t think he’d seen me slip into a pew in the back, but obviously he did because he created a seamless segue from the hymn into the bridge above, and right back into the hymn.

He never recorded It Might As Well Be Spring, but here’s another favorite he played often. Sophisticated Lady comes from a recording session in the home of a friend. A few of us gathered in a wine country estate to hear Ed record some of his favorite songs at a spectacular Boesendorfer grand piano.

About this time of year, just before the official start of Spring, Ed would be on his deck, holding forth at length about flora and fauna and especially about California’s native plants.

Ed at Bohemian Grove

**Wildflower posters are available from California Native Plant Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday’s Child

Well shoot, Mother Goose, I thought this was some of your work but now I find it comes from an old fortune-telling tradition from the 1800’s, a rhyming prediction of a newborn’s future.

If you want to play and don’t know the day of the week you were born, the internet will tell you.  Then you get to decide how much of this you believe.

In this house we have one “far to go,” one “loving and giving” and a “must work for a living.” That last one is me. I’m a Saturday.

Looks like you Mondays and Sundays get the best deal here.  I’m not sure in today’s world how far “fair of face” or “bonny and blithe” will get you, but it seems like a good start.

I check birth dates for people who’re squandering their perfectly lovely predictions and wonder if this poem knows what it’s doing, but  that could just be my day-of-the-week envy talking.

 

In Search Of Genius

By Anita Garner

 

 

 

 

Left: Charles Schulz in his Santa Rosa studio
Right:  Three geniuses,
Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank & Henry Ford at Luther Burbank’s Santa Rosa garden. 

When inspiration can’t find me, I go in search of it.

I don’t need to go far. In Northern California’s wine country, there’s much to inspire – the roads that wind, for driving or walking and bicycling past heritage hydrangeas climbing up tall barns, past wineries in all shapes and sizes. I’m on a quest.  I’ve traveled these roads many times and I know where I’m headed.

I’m headed to Sonoma County, to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.  In the same way that reading biographies of achievers opens a window into their process, so do these field trips. It’s uplifting to walk where genius walked and talked and worked. There’s always the possibility that if I stand where they stood, something might rub off.

I visit the workplaces of two undeniably brilliant individuals.  The Charles Schulz Museum is, of course, an homage to everything Peanuts, and the Luther Burbank Cottage is Mecca for garden lovers. Both are in Santa Rosa. By necessity, guides deal mostly with the overview. They speak of awards won, of the subject’s ties to other famous people, of the work we know now.

I’m looking for more. I want to see how they endured the days that were spectacularly unproductive. Moving away from tour groups, I look for the minutiae that tethered each of these famous men to earth. Was he an early riser? How many hours a day did he work? What did he eat? Did he have hobbies? Who did he love? Who loved him?

I want to know, did the realization of his goals offer even a small degree of immunity from strife? Or did he bump into his own saboteurs; the insecurities and loneliness and even the near-crippling fears many of us encounter on the path to making something.

When we look at a creative icon who’s now departed, we’re always looking backward. We see a whole lifetime of output, an entire body of work. I want to know how he handled the chunks of time when things didn’t go right. I ask about the dry spells.

Charles Schulz used ice skating and long walks to cheer himself. He built a rink near his studio and his visits there were a vital part of his routine. Every day he sat at the same table in the snack bar, ate the same food, and watched the skaters. Merchants at the nearby mall report Schulz as a frequent visitor, not so much a shopper as an ambler. They grew accustomed to the lone figure walking around, deep in thought.

His real office/studio was in an unassuming building, steps away from where the museum is today. One day I went to the empty office, found someone working around the building and asked if I could go in.

“Nothing in there.  The furniture’s in the museum now.”

I knew that, but I thought if I could just be where he worked…  It was magic, and humbling to be reminded once again we’re not all created equal in terms of talent and abilities.

Luther Burbank grew himself an escape route. He took leave of his greenhouse in Santa Rosa and traveled the bumpy road to his experimental farm in Sebastopol to work and sleep in the modest cabin at the site. He walked and thought and wrote in his notebooks and on his way to bringing to life plants we now know, he documented days when nothing bloomed the way he had planned.

Charles Schulz said he was driven to make cartoons because it was all he was good at. It was his form of self-expression. Charlie Brown, he said, was the manifestation of his own vulnerability.  Luther Burbank didn’t consider himself a visionary, but rather a hard-working scientist who kept experimenting until something good came of it. The museum in the carriage house adjacent to Burbank’s cottage is suitably informative, but I return to the tiny room at the rear of the greenhouse and to the desk where he kept his notes.

Both Schulz and Burbank fit the definition of genius. I feel it when I’m in the places they once were. It’s comforting to know that in the midst of lives filled with so many accomplishments, each of them put great store by the one trait they prized above all others – discipline. They kept showing up. I can at least do that.