Category Archives: All Around Town with Adele

Adele is a squirrel with a mission and I’m the lucky gal she’s enlisted to help her. I write about our adventures here.

Adele Considers Old World Gymnastics at True Pilates New York

Adele dreaming of swinging on the rings from atop Drago's ball.

Adele considers Pilates training from atop Drago's ball.

With the exception of the past two months, I haven’t been doing a lot of traveling for a while.  Compared to the six or so years when I was off to some far flung place for Pilates training several times a year, this period of constancy has been a real switch for me.  Thinking about my recent travels in this framework makes me understand my overwhelm of the past couple months.  In the past three or so years I really have sunk deeper into myself than perhaps ever before.  It’s relatively quiet and calm in here, compared to that stimulus heavy life I used to live.

A while back I stumbled on a website called Atlas Obscura and I was smitten.  I’m not much of a traveler because I get focused on things and there is something about traveling that requires a particular brand of dynamism which to me seems contrary to that sort of concentration that my passions dictate.  And yet, I love to travel for the insights that inevitably come with journeying beyond my known world.  In traveling for Pilates, I found a workable and, dare I even say, pleasing combination of challenge and reward.  The rewards of learning from others in my profession (with a smattering of exposure to new and appealing items only to be found out beyond) balanced out the great effort and strain that it took be to disentangle myself from my life.

But there is something else that I love about the notion of travel within the context of my passions and that is that there is the opportunity for a double discovery.  Not only to I go to a new place and challenge the tendrils of provincialism that slowly creep around me, but I get to delve into the obscure world of our bodies.  Joe Pilates put it well when he raised the question: “Why boast of this age of science and invention that has produced so many marvelous wonders when, in the final analysis, we find that man has entirely overlooked the most complex and marvelous of all creations:  himself?”

Sure the world is full of hidden places and miracles abound for those who remain on the lookout.  But the same statement could be made about our bodies.  The opportunity for discovery within the body is always right here.  I like the idea of sharing places around the world that have offered me a view into the world within my own body.  And with my visit to NYC this past week, I finally had the opportunity to begin that project.

I’ve been wanting to mention the gymnastics at True Pilates New York (formerly Drago’s Gymnasium) ever since I found Atlas Obscura because while Pilates has enjoyed something of a boom in recent decades, it’s still mostly obscured from the general public.  If Pilates is mostly in the dark, then gymnastics for adults is even further off the beaten path.  How sad is that for all of us?  I’m frequently going on about how amazing Pilates is so I won’t belabor that point here.   While I’ve never taken a gymnastics class myself, I will be the first to say that I’ve seen some midtowners do some pretty impressive moves once they don their tights and leotards.  And while I didn’t know Drago or his team of gymnastics instructors that well, I was always entranced by my curiosity – but I was there for Pilates and I didn’t dare to break my concentration for long.

Adele and I were just in NYC for twenty four hours, on a Sunday no less.  But TPNY graciously welcomed me to snap a couple photos and to spend a half an hour or so on memory lane.  It was nice to be in a place that was so foundational to me and to think about what might be possible for me in the future.  Perhaps some gymnastics lessons?  I’d like that very much!

And so begins my journal of travels into the obscure world of our bodies.  It will be slow coming for a while, but someday I hope to speed up the discovery process (another project for another decade…stay tuned).  In the meantime, I’ve got my body right here with me.  The explorations and discoveries never end!

Click here to read my place description on the Atlas.


Adele Takes a (small) Bite Out of the Big Apple

I’ve worked out a little theory about the cycle of dreams in the past two days.  First, you’ve got to be lucky enough to have the time and space to dream.  Then you’ve got to recognize your dream.  Then you’ve got to make it happen.  In the words of a favorite author, “dreams mean work”.  It’s the making it happen that can often be arduous and seemingly never-ending.  (That’s where my husband and I are now and I find it rather mind-numbing).  Eventually, you are living your dream and life is good.  I’ve know some people who got there and thinking of them often keeps me going.  Along the way, we meet people and while I certainly prescribe to the notion that each and every relationship we have is a blessing, some relationships are more pleasant than others.  And sometimes we are drawn out of our own reality for a spell to receive blessings and feed our lonely hearts.

I say all this because I had a beautiful and timely reminder this weekend of what is most important to me.  Somehow through the fog of my present state, I knew that I had to get to Brooklyn, NY on Sunday October 27, a very dear friend of mine was getting married.  I have been in the midst of working my tail off, so I had evaluated whether or not to attend her wedding with two equal parts, pragmatic and obligatory.  By the time Adele and I arrived via red eye flight, which is far less fun now that I’ve been sleep deprived for upwards of two years (I used to take that flight regularly as an apprentice in my Pilates certification program); I was thinking of my sweet friend and how happy I was for her, listening to one of our favorite albums while riding the subway.  I got off on a tangent about the importance of rites of passage and how meaningful it is for us each to pass through them, and how special it is to bear witness to others doing this.  I knew that I was going for something special.  I knew that I’d traveled a long distance for a very good reason, to participate in a ritual, to support my friend, and to give myself the gift of bearing witness.

I was right.  But it wasn’t until it all happened that I truly remembered.  That’s when I realized just how many blessings had been bestowed upon me through the years, and how good it was for me to come.  To bear witness, yes.  But also to remember.  I also saw, my even older friend who was the one who brought my friend the bride and I together (fifteen years ago when I moved to California).  These two ladies were my companions through my twenties.  I learned so much from them.  But seeing them again, now that we’ve been separated by a continent for many years, I realized the most important lesson that they both gave me over and again in so many different ways:  how to be a friend.  To oneself, and to others.  Friends do things like fly across the country for one day to attend weddings.  Even when they are in the midst of the strenuous tasks of making one’s dreams reality.  Even when they are sick.  Even when they are broke.  Friends show up against all the odds, and they shower you with love during your biggest moments.  Friends dance at your wedding.  Because the commitment of marriage is so big, and so enduring that it must be celebrated with the biggest expression of love and joy that each person present can muster.  And dancing is the best full-bodied way of demonstrating that love.  (And yes, we danced the hasapico to Zorba’s theme.  There was a lady in our midst who most surely spent her youth dancing that dance. But I only realized that once I’d got us going.  What a special surprise for me, I just love that dance and to see it danced by somebody with a lifetime of experience is a beautiful sight.)  It was my friend who first made the long journey to my wedding three years ago.  Amidst all sorts of perfectly legitimate and reasonable reasons for not attending, she came.  She sat at my side, and I was so grateful to have her there with me.  Time and again, she taught me what it means to have your friend’s back.  And now, perhaps it is safe to say that I have learned something very important from her:  to lead with the heart, to be guided by love.  The heart’s vision after all, is always 20:20.

I’m home now, trying my darnedest to avoid mastitis or a cold, but eternally grateful for my good friends and the love that we share.  I sincerely hope that my next trip to NYC will be longer with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the company of those ladies who are dear to me, their families and loved ones who now surround them in the big apple, and to have them enjoy my son and my husband too.

Here are a few photos from our trip.  Adele got to see Central Park after we had breakfast at the Plaza.  After that, I had to go see a lady about a unitard and then I was thoroughly spent.  I had romantic visions of walking along the Brooklyn side of the bridge and photographing Adele and my dress there in the shadows of that famous architectural landmark with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.  But the only energy I could muster landed me in cab bound for the “girls getting ready” party.  I managed to get one more photo taken, of the dress, the gorgeous bride, and Adele.  I’ll have to rely on my memories rather than on lots of photos.  But maybe that’s better.  Memories go straight to the heart.

Adele looks at the park

Adele at the Plaza

NYC, the dress, the bride and the squirrel


Do You Miss Poppy Fabric?

I don’t and here’s why.  Just a hop, skip, and a jump from my front door the best of what Poppy offered me is thriving under the Piedmont Fabric awning.  That’s because Lan Nguyen is still working her magic, outfitting us Oaklanders with plenty of fabrics and notions to make our visions reality.  I cannot count the number of times that Lan has given me an idea that has come to full fruition.  Were I a more skilled seamstress the results would surely be even better, but for me, it’s good enough to keep up my life long sewing habit.

My favorite thing about Poppy was standing at the cutting counter asking other customers what they had planned for their beautiful purchases.  Truth be told, Poppy was always something of an indigestible feast for my eyes.  I simply could not fathom the full extent of possibilities that it housed and that overwhelmed me (I am consistently put off by big stores of all kinds).  Piedmont Fabric is perfect for me – not too much, not to little, just right – every single time.  It bears mentioning that the prices are always very fair, clearly the proprietress is a seamstress herself.

Today Adele and I breezed in for some ribbon to finish my dress (by the way, both fabrics were purchased at Piedmont Fabric a while back).  I promise to post pictures soon, even in the likely case that not one-hundred-percent-pleased with the finished product.  Literally, there was exactly the amount of 100% silk ribbon that I needed on the spool.  Perfect every time!

I had to drag Adele out of there because I really must get this dress sewn!  (Brooklyn, NY or bust this Sunday!  I’ve got a wedding to attend.  Adele will be joining me for the trip and my boys will be staying at home with my mom.)  Adele’s got good taste, she went right for the Liberty cottons and was discussing some curtains for her place with Lan as I checked out.  Next time Adele….

Adele and Lan talk curtains

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few of my fondest memories of projects that came to life in conversation over the cutting table, Lan is quite the visionary.  There was the dress for our flower girl that I ended up making because my mom was not willing to tackle the, perhaps unconventional but prefectly princess-esque) lace adventure that Lan proposed.  There was the ideal lacy fabric for my wedding ball dress (it’s far more fun to dance in a proper dancing dress rather than an elaborate wedding gown, yes?) that took a serious effort on the part of many to get into my seamstress’s hands.  There was the nursery fabric that became all the accessories to the changing area and bassinet.  The fabric that became my boy’s first superhero costume to match my own (before he knew to have a preference for his halloween costume).  The two dresses that I simply had to make for myself while I was pregnant in order to avoid buying fabric for cute little baby dresses since in my heart of hearts I must have known that I was having a boy.  And much much more.  Piedmont Fabric constantly fuels my inspiration from start to finish!  I feel so grateful to have such a great shop so close.  Now all I need is a little more time to sew….

PS  If you love Piedmont Fabric as much as I do, please leave a comment with “Oakland Fabric Shop” in the body of your comment.  The more people who express their love, the longer we’ll have our fabulous shop!

Adele (finally) Visits Castle in the Air

When I first met Adele I was so eager to show her around town and let her in on what I consider the most fundamental elements of human society.  Sadly, I have precious little time for such escapades these days.  It is a great credit to Adele that she’s been so patient with me.  (For all I know, I’m moving at a squirrel’s pace.)  One of the first places that I wanted to show Adele is one of my very favorite places, Castle in the Air.  Well, we finally did it!  Although it was a quick visit and now that I’ve finally organized the photos and given some thought to what I’m going to share I’ve realized that I only know enough to tell my own story of our local creative sanctuary.  I don’t want to spread mis-information about a place that is so dear to my heart so curious readers may be left with many unanswered questions at the end of this post.  I implore each and every person to visit Berkeley’s little slice of magic for themselves.  I have no doubt that every person who is aesthetically inclined will find a little something of inspiration there.

I don’t know what first brought me to Castle in the Air, but I do know that I was caught up in the hustle and bustle of establishing my professional life and that I had little space for new creative projects.  I have always sewn and that was most certainly my main creative outlet at the time.  Given my stifled imagination, I was rather overwhelmed the first time I entered the shoppe.  But I was also completely romanced.  I used to visit and make tiny purchases just to soak in all the beauty.  It is literally tucked in every corner and atop every surface as this lovely phoenix demonstrates (I had to climb up on a ladder to take his photo.)


Eventually as my creativity was begging for more expression I indulged in a class or two.  I learned how to make a lovely evergreen tree out of wire and beads.  From that technique I eventually made one out of white pipe cleaners.  And then I came up with the idea to make this one for a Christmas countdown activity (the ornaments are from my husband’s childhood and given that this year may be the first year that our boy relishes counting the days till Santa’s visit, the overall countdown scheme isn’t yet firmly established.  But at least now I’ve got the tree).

advent tree

The next class that I took was the crepe paper flowers class with Anandamayi Arnold (who has regular offerings at Tail of the Yak) and Aimee Baldwin.  Sheesh, those two can do amazing things with paper!  Although, the paper itself does deserve some credit.  It’s absolutely lovely.  Karima, the store’s owner and visionary, travels to Europe every year to make her purchases of so much of what appears in the shoppe.  The crepe paper is made in a small European factory which still exists because of Karima’s patronage.  The colors are so alluring, time and again I have found myself tempted to purchase crepe paper with the same risk of impulse that I’d formerly reserved for fabric alone.  I had a lovely pile of paper in home and not a clue what to do with it.  So I took a class.  Over the years I’ve made some lovely flowers, many of which have been gifts.  Daniel, the friendly shopkeeper and ridiculously talented wielder of scissors who I’ve been seeing for many a year, got into a routine of making garlands a few years back.  One day he gave me his formula and I was off and running.  John, who I first came to know by his whimsical gnomes and who I eventually had the pleasure of learning from – but now I’m getting ahead of myself, at a certain point made some large scale flowers using thick floral wire for the framing.  I was inspired to do the same for my son’s nursery.  Every time my boy lies down to get his diaper changed, he sees this.  (Some of them materials were purchase at Tail of the Yak, another Berkeley treasure).

nursery ceiling

Some of the crepe paper beauties on display during our visit:



surprise balls

Pictured above:  gorgeous surprise balls in fruit forms.



my first roses

The red roses from my first class made a perfect frame for this little inspirational picture that somebody gifted me.

Castle in the Air now hosts another talent with crepe paper, Lynn Dolan.  I have yet to meet her but I must say that it was such a pleasure to see another interpretation of the material.  Which brings me to what is perhaps the most important aspect of Castle in the Air, the community that it hosts.  If you are not completely distracted by the feast for your eyes, or lured in by the gorgeous tree with illuminated flowers, crepe clematis, and all varieties of flora and fauna as a gentleman was while Adele and I were present, upon entering the store look up and you will see what Castle in the Air is really about:  A Studio for the Imagination.  Once I began taking classes at Castle in the Air I began to see the true substance of the store, that lies beneath its bevy of beauties: a nurturing home for many artists.  I believe that one of Karima’s primary reasons for creating the shoppe was to carve out a personal space for her own craft of preference, illustration.  But as all good ideas come to full bloom, so did hers.  She is decidedly understated in her approach to business and community building while being quite sure of her desires and so what has materialized is heavy on the substance:  regular class offerings, remarkably high quality materials for most any creative endeavor, a close-knit community of creative people, and Dromedary press.

dromedary selections

John McRae is one of Castle in the Air’s long standing talents.  When I first found the shoppe I came to know him through his beautiful pieces of whimsy which were for sale.  But I eventually had the benefit of taking a class with him in which we each made a little animal figurine using wire and cotton along with paints and specialty papers (dresden, crepe, and German pictures).  It was right around the time that I was getting to know my husband and since he’d told me that he was a mountain goat, it seemed like a good idea to make one myself.  Here’s the little guy who was inspired by my guy.  He’s fun to have around.

mountain goat

It must have been a year or more before taking that class that I visited Castle in the Air when I was applying some fung shui ideas to decorating my room.  Mostly I was focused on my relationship corner.  My favorite shoppe had the perfect thing, some pretty little birds and a snug little nest.  Now that I’m now happily married, those nesting birds grace our living room and I painted them for our wedding thank you cards.

love birds

I don’t remember what brought me to ask, but one day Daniel graciously demonstrated how to make a paper doll chain.  I’ll never forget how quickly he whipped out a pair of imposing scissors, and fashioned a cute little chain of dollies.  He agreed to demonstrate the process for Adele for a little walk down memory lane.  The thing about Castle in the Air is that it truly is a studio for the imagination and so it’s constantly changing.  Daniel only remembered the initial instance once we’d gone through our replay, and to be honest, I still have no idea why I asked him about paper dolls in the first place.

doll lesson .5

paper doll cutting lesson 1

doll cutting lesson 2

But it was a fun reminder of how this little space is so much more than a pen shop and ink shop, though it does boast one of the widest selections in our metropolitan area.

Adele makes a friend

Adele was happy to make a new friend of her own ilk.  Imagine spending your days in this gorgeous playground of a place, I wouldn’t be surprised if Adele felt twinges of jealousy.

I headed upstairs to check out the fairly new gallery space and the classroom.  When I first began coming to the shoppe the wall along the stairs was lined with cuckoo clocks.  It was a lovely sight.  These days the cuckoos have mostly been replaced by a collection of marionettes and theater frames.

theater scapes


There was a painting class in session and they kindly let Adele and I have a peek.

Adele on class schedule

Adele is sitting upon the current class schedule which is always printed in the style of an old time newspaper.

painting class

Which reminds me (how could I have nearly forgotten ?!) of the two painting classes that I took with Karima many moons ago.  Two years in a row, two days of painting and chatting.  Two slices of heaven.  I am enough of a novice that I am not particularly critical of my work so they grace our walls and I have the blessing of being frequently reminded of my watercolor dabblings.

my first watercolor

my second painting

Here are some class samples.  Had I the resources, I’d follow their siren call and be perched at the table happily crafting quite regularly. class samples 1

class sample 2

class sample 3

And finally, John showed us around the giant mouse house that he and Ulla Milbrath created over several months.  Ulla was another of my first teachers at Castle in the Air, but sadly all evidence of the class that I took with her is gone because we made greeting cards.  I absolutely loved the class and were I the sort of social lady who is expected to send regular correspondence, I would certainly have kept up the craft of making original cards using collage and pieces of ephemera.  But I’m not that sort of person.  (I suspect that my favorite part of that life would be making the cards anyway.)

John and his creation

mouse house 2

mouse house 3

At one point, folks could make their own little house.  I think that Adele would overjoyed if I made one for her.  Maybe someday Adele…

mouse house class sample

For now we’ll have to be content with the fantasy, our own castle in the air.  Two final pics of our visit follow.

The Shoppe from a squirrel’s eye view:the shoppe from a squirrel's view

And dueling scissors just for fun!  (Apparently the best stapler is purchased at Castle in the Air, I’ve yet to take the plunge myself….)scissors!

And now, enough fantasy.  Reality firmly beckons me.  Till next time, keep a little pocket of thy mind free for dreams.

Gathering ‘Round the Hearth

Adele and I had a lovely outing on Sunday. We attended a tour of the kitchen at Three Stone Hearth and got to learn all about a favorite local business of mine.

First a few quick facts about Three Stone Hearth (TSH):

  • It is the first ever Community Supported Kitchen (CSK) which offers tasty and nourishing food that is prepared with traditional practices.
  • TSH offers educational opportunities ranging from building basic knowledge to sharing what the workers have learned thus far about setting up a CSK.
  • TSH employs well-designed and implemented business systems that make it easy to be a customer.
  • TSH’s customer base has grown by word of mouth alone, a true testament to the quality of the service and goods that it provides.
  • Above all, TSH is driven by passion and sustained by community.

The Three Stone Hearth Vision Statement

“We heal our community, our planet, and ourselves by building a sustainable model for community-scale food preparation and processing that honors culinary traditions and provides nutrient-dense foods for local households and beyond”


Adele at TSH


I could approach the project of sharing a bit about our excursion from so many different angles which is probably what I love most about TSH. It is such a holistically established business that no matter what way you begin to think and talk about it you soon arrive at the hearth, the very center where it all blends together. A business which truly serves all the people involved with it is such a beautiful thing to behold, it is inspiring on many levels. I read Full Moon Feast from cover to cover in preparation to meet with Jessica Prentice, and also gave a fair first pass to Sally Fallon’s tome, Nourishing Traditions in anticipation of our meeting. So, I’m currently quite inspired about what I’m eating. But I think that I’ll save that information for another post which will serve as a diet update.

So I won’t talk much about the food, except to say that TSH is providing many folks with very nutritious fare. Food that we would not be able to find anywhere else, save for preparing it ourselves. That, in and of itself, is a wonderful blessing for us all. In her presentation, Prentice made the point that at this stage in the life of TSH, the food is sort of a happy by-product of all the other work that goes on in their kitchen. I’d say that perhaps the food is the alpha and omega of TSH. While the food is truly the beginning in terms of conception, and the end on a weekly basis, it is all the other stuff that engages the workers of TSH on a heart level. Given the amazing knowledge and talent of all the co-owners, excellent food is a given, and the consistent rule. Given the intention behind their work and how they perform it, all sorts of other wonderful lessons are learned along the way. Personally, I have always felt blessed to do work that I truly love, that inspires me and teaches me every day that I do it. It would seem that the leaders of TSH are blessed to have a similar sort of experience. That’s probably part of why the food tastes so good. It all goes into the stew.

On our tour I learned that the logo for TSH is a Mayan hieroglyph for three stones set around a central fire, an arrangement used by countless tribes and cultures throughout history – It is the most universal hearth design on the planet. I should have known that there was something special and symbolic about the TSH name and symbol. Now that I do, the fullness of the work being done there is that much clearer to me and in turn I appreciate it so much more.

Ultimately, relationships drive the business of TSH. I’d venture to say that is always the case with small businesses, which is part of why I am such a fan. Small businesses are extensions of the people who work in them, which gives those folks all sorts of opportunities for personal growth. It is a beautiful thing. At TSH the helmspeople are really clued into that, which I appreciate. It is far easier to keep company with those who cultivate self-awareness both as a private and communal practice.

I would be remiss if I were to omit my experience reading Prentice’s amazing book. It is such a wonderful exploration of the personal within the context of the whole. Prentice shares with us a process which is characterized by equal parts mind, body and spirit. Not that the three are really separate, but I could not think of how else to make the point: the book is thorough, and inspirational, and practical. In a holistic venture, Prentice travels deep to the heart of what truly nourishes us. I loved the various sources that Prentice drew from; I loved that so many seemingly various topics were woven into an exploration of what we eat and how we feed ourselves; Mostly, I love that following my heart led me to read a book written by somebody who knows, above all else, that she must follow her heart. That seems like a good thing to remind myself in moments of despair: that somehow, someway, we each get to where we are meant to go, and along the way we meet some lovely people and learn what is good for us to know.

Prentice is also the person (among others, of course) behind this nifty wheel. I believe that it was after I read this book, that I had the idea to paint a very large circle with all the produce that we consume arranged around by order of the seasons. I figured that this would be ideal art for our kitchen wall – It would be beautiful and informative and would keep us on track toward my newfound resolve to eat with the seasons (this was before we joined our CSA program and long before TSH entered our lives). I’m pretty sure that I was also planning to include other elements of the natural seasons in there: the celtic holidays, the phases of the moon, those sorts of things. But, the project was far too big for me to tackle given my limited skills with a brush. A short time later, I was in a cute little local shop looking for a birthday gift and I saw the Local Foods Wheel. That pretty much put my idea to bed. It is always such a relief when an idea that I have comes into reality without me having anything to do with it! While it isn’t exactly the work of art that I was envisioning (I’ll bet that somewhere, somebody else is crafting up a stunning circle for kitchen art), it sure is practical and was just the thing for my health conscious friend.

In her talk, Prentice shared a story with us that has a nice way of illustrating what she told us about TSH and what I am now sharing here. (For more on how TSH came to be, take a half hour to watch this video. It’s a goodie.) The story goes that at the very first meeting with the five founders of TSH, Prentice put her cards on the table: she was only willing to go ahead with the idea of a CSK if they packaged the food they made in mason jars. Presumably, the other four were in agreement or acquiesced, because seven years later mason jars are a key component to the systems at TSH. Prentice’s point in telling the story was that what began as a simple expression of values around producing less waste ended up determining so many factors of how TSH does business. Packaging in glass necessitated systems unique to this new business – Systems that had to be invented and refined, which required a lot of work. (Hopefully the sort of toils that brought everybody involved closer together.) It turned out that using jars meant that from day one TSH had a built-in customer retention system. A small hook, sure. And perhaps really just a figurative one – because the food is really what keeps people coming back. Or maybe (probably), there is more to it. From day one customers paid a deposit for each jar used, and when the jars were returned their accounts were credited. While it may seem like a trifle, it turned out not to be. It turned out that using those jars, and keeping tabs on them, made for a lot of work and became the topic of many conversations and investigations into customer’s account tallies. And while those conversations may have been mundane in and of themselves, the relationships that grew out of them endured.

So it would seem that jars, ancient hieroglyphs, and inspirational books were our guides into the world of TSH with this recent visit. I have no doubt that others, exposed to our country’s first CSK for different reasons, arrive at very similar conclusions to my own.

A long time ago I studied T’ai Chi Chuan. (Funnily enough, I recently saw my teacher for the first time in many years at TSH and it turns out that our midwife, who introduced us to TSH in the first place is the daughter of a fellow student of mine in those classes many moons ago – this is part of what I meant when I said that I followed my heart to TSH.) During a week long intensive, we explored the five elements. I have never forgotten what my teacher said about the element of fire: that it binds people together; that when people create fire together, they linger on for hours afterwards, like the embers of a hearth. Our tour was like that – I watched as the others in attendance were reluctant to leave the hearth. They had learned so many wonderfully interesting things about this unique business and they wanted to know more. So it would seem that the hearth is burning strong in Berkeley, nourishing many of us in ways too numerous to say, but too deeply to go unacknowledged or under appreciated.

Home for the Holidays

It’s thanksgiving and given my current project of reflecting on my hometown, I’m feeling reminiscent about what that used to mean for me when I was a kid. And given that I wasn’t able to show Adele this particular parcel of my Detroit memories, I figure that today is the perfect day to write about it instead.

In Detroit, Thanksgiving morning was the morning that Santa appeared at the end of Hudson’s spectacular Thanksgiving Day Santa Parade. Now that Christmas decorations go up around Halloween, it bears mentioning that Santa officially ushered in the holiday season. (I’m personally not religious, despite my upbringing, but I love Christmas. Everything that I love about Christmas falls into the secular category of traditions and it’s dawning on me that I have Hudson’s to thank for that.)

The holiday season at Hudson’s was absolutely astoundingly magnificent. And now, given what some might call my overuse of adjectives, I feel compelled to explain further. I’ve been searching around on the internet and I can’t find anything that comes close to conveying just how amazing the Hudson’s store decorations were. There are some fun accounts to be sure, and reading peoples comments to posts has filled in some gaps for my memory. But I simply cannot believe that nobody else was as taken by the Santas of the world exhibit as was I. I remember a large space, a hallway, I think, that was magically lit and completely filled with incredibly large and beautiful exhibits, each one showing country’s around the world (well, okay, it was probably mostly European countries) versions of Santa. I was transfixed. What little memory I have, I will never forget. And I will always love Santa Claus. (In answer to my deep and abiding love for Santa, I have given a lot of thought as to what is the best way to introduce him to my kids and so at the risk of stating the obvious, I plan to read them the definitive biography.)

It just so happened that the parade route was directly in front of my dad’s church which I attended along with him (I also attended my mom’s church, so I myself had two homes away from home, so to speak). Given that I now live in a place where temperatures in the sixties late in November, it seems important to mention that it was usually very cold on Thanksgiving morning. Especially cold if your planned activity was going to be standing along the street for a few hours, and you had to arrive extra early to ensure a good spot. So it was pretty special to have a home base right on the route, I mean right on the street, with a porch overlooking the street (no shoulders or homemade risers needed), a great big bell up in the bell tower to ring, and unlimited donuts and hot chocolate.

I suppose that parades may be a thing of the past now. To see characters come to life right in front of one’s eyes isn’t nearly as incredible as it used to be when such things weren’t so available. And while I think that it’s an exercise in futility to bemoan one’s timing in the scape of human history it seems rather inevitable when reminiscing. And so it is with a sentimental heart that I sign off to, cook, and then drive, and then eat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Welcome Santa Claus! Happily, once again, your season has arrived!

Two other Hudson’s links that I found interesting


I’ve been working on my survey of what I love most about Detroit, which is to say, my walk down memory lane. Although I’ve got seven single-spaced pages written, I’ve only barely scratched the surface. I like to be thorough, and so I’ve realized that perhaps I ought to publish this adventure that Adele and I took little by little.

It’s been a joy to share my memories of childhood and I’ve learned some things along the way, as I’ve thought and reflected in conversation with the wise and thoughtful people who I have the benefit of knowing. So here it all is together, past and present and a little sprinkle of future throughout.

Detroit is where I spent my days as a kid. Detroit is where my heart opened wide to take in a world of fun experiences and where I learned that life is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed. I may have left Detroit long ago, but as I’ve delved into this project, I’ve realized more than ever before just how much Detroit lives on in my heart.

We were members of the now shut down Detroit Boat Club . I spent most afternoons there poolside. I loved the mints in the dining room which I’ve never had any place else. There was a bridge over the middle of the olympic sized pool and I would trek across it to the snack bar to get a nutty buddy ice cream cone at the snack bar, yum. It was always fun to see what superhero would be painted on the bottom of the kids pool at the beginning of pool season. I’ve never been a thrill seeker, so I was willing to jump off the high dive, but never in a million years would I have gone head first. From the side of the pool, let alone from ten meters in the air (I’m guessing on that height, because I wasn’t able to measure it myself)! Oh and that mote that guests had to cross over to enter the clubhouse? Our dog loved to paddle around in it much to my youthful delight. The super-fastidious adult who I’ve become would not take nearly so much pleasure in the aftermath of a real doggie paddle in the Detroit River – ick!

Sailing has been a part of my life since I was born, thanks to both my parents. My mom was one of the first women to join the elite group of yachters at the Detroit Boat Club – they didn’t let gals join until 1975!!! – and a friend of ours was one of the gutsy gals who changed the sign on the Belle Isle bridge to be gender neutral: “Gentle Yachters, watch your wake.” It all happened on a dark and stormy night, and makes a great story to be retold year after year. It’s best when enjoyed over a slice of Niki’s Pizza and Vernor’s ginger ale (which I’m pretty sure only a Michigander knows how to sip gingerly, pardon the pun).

But guess what?! Vernor’s is under new ownership, just like Stroh’s beer. I haven’t tried either, but I’m guessing like so many things, it won’t be quite the same (could be the aging effect on my taste buds or minuscule yet important changes in how its made, who knows). Ah, the constancy of change! Talking about change, DBC folded long ago. Which is sad on many levels, mostly though, because the kid in me is wondering about those mints…

My mom joined the Detroit Yacht Club once I’d left for college. She missed sailing on the Detroit river and was quite involved in the Flying Scot program there for a good while (she suffered a couple accidents which left her less inclined to race as often). Now we have a fun place to visit on the Belle Isle, and so our little Detroit excursion started there. But not at the members-only-yacht-club, no we began with a place much more in step with the Detroit of today, and what I hope will be the future of Detroit: the newly re-opened Belle Isle Aquarium .

It’s a beautiful facility, which I think captures the spirit of Detroit in its burgeoning days, back when I imagine that it was striving to win the honor of being commonly referred to as the Paris of the mid-west (or something like that). Here’s what I think is really cool about the Aquarium: it’s now being run completely by volunteers. You know, those good Detroit people, I mentioned. There is also a lovely flower conservatory overlooking a lovingly tended garden.

If you sit on the benches (as I did for a milk-break) you will enjoy a lovely view of the Detroit skyline off in the distance with the garden in the foreground. You’ll have to either take my word for it or go and sit on that bench yourself, my hands were full of baby.  I must confess that I spent precious little time in the aquarium because I was taking a few photos of my favorite Belle Isle sights and by the time I returned, our little man had made it quite clear that he was not a fan of the fish. He much preferred playing in the leaves out in the garden, and really who can blame him for that? We did have the benefit of seeing the caring volunteer forces in action as we visited the aquarium on the very day that the koi were being moved to their indoor pond for the winter months.

While my little boy was getting freaked out by the fish, I wanted to show Adele the beautiful Detroit skyline, and as far as I know the best views are from Detroit’s pretty island park.  (see above)

I was also eager to show Adele my inner child’s version of a thrill: the giant slide.

Of course it looks smaller now, and I remember some elements differently. But it’s still big, and being that I’m not much of a thrill seeker, once was enough for a lifetime of memories.

Stay tuned for more reminiscence of Belle Isle and the beautiful Detroit across the river…

Home is where the heart is

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

-Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell

Two happenings of late. A while back, this post got me thinking about my home town. And Adele has been extremely patient with me as our family faces challenge after challenge. It dawned on me last night that our upcoming visit to Michigan will give me the perfect opportunity to begin my project with Adele. Because a pretty good way to start a story is at the beginning. And while my life isn’t exactly the story that I’m telling Adele, it is at least the primary scene in which it all takes place. So, we have ourselves a point of departure. And a rather lengthy story to convey given my deep affection for my hometown. Adele and I will have the opportunity to explore many aspects of contemporary life here in the US, and I will have the opportunity to revel in my memories of my first home. I’ve been digging deep into my memory banks and enjoying every moment. And as I do I realize how far along the journey I’ve come since I last looked back upon my formative years.

First, some introductory thoughts to tide us all over until our big visit when the real fun begins. Whenever I say that I’m from Detroit, I follow up with some version of the phrase, within the city limits, that is. Because sadly, many people claim to be from Detroit and yet hardly, if ever, set foot in the city proper. And because when I was born -in Detroit- and lived -in Detroit- there weren’t many people period. But there were far fewer “white” people than “black” people. So right out of the gate, we have an opportunity to consider this strange notion of race that we humans came up with. Given my desire to celebrate my hometown, I’m going to offer up a reference to the only organization that I know of that does the -very necessary and very often avoided- topic of race any real justice. And then make the quick autobiographical point that having multiple experiences of being the minority while my race determines me to be the majority, has given me valuable life lessons that I would not trade for anything despite the many moments of emotional challenge that I experienced as a result. (Because in the face of challenges, given my mid-western roots, I often tell myself that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.)

While I can only conjecture, given my limited knowledge of the spirit world, what precisely was my pre-birth goal in landing in Detroit, now that I’ve had a bit of life to reflect on it, I’m pleased with my choice. And while sometimes I’m saddened to have said goodbye so long ago (I only spent my early years in the city, after that I visited a fair amount, and then left the midwest to come of age), and to have abandoned so many of the dreams that my hometown inspired, I am driven forward by the foundations that were laid for me in that wonderful place. My husband and I have an ongoing conversation about living in Oakland and I’m sorry to say that it seems we are bound for a less urban environment sometime in the future. Being among the community of people who stuck it out in Detroit (granted, if only for a portion of my own youth), I am saddened to even consider leaving a city that is very dear to my heart for many of the same reasons that Detroit will always have a fierce defender in me. I think about my kid(s) and wonder if someday they will regret our family’s departure just as I did once my mom and I were living in suburbia.

When I think of what is most special about Detroit, it is always the people who come to my mind first. The good people. As our nation has turned a curious eye toward my hometown in recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to consider the question again, now with perhaps a different level of consideration given my many years living out of the midwest. I consider the list of positive attributes that decorate my hometown’s history. Since anybody can read up on that sort of thing and because I’m pretty sure that every city in this country has got a list of notable mentions, suffice it to say that Detroit has had its fair share of expansive opportunities and that at many key points in our nation’s history, many eyes were turned toward Detroit with gratitude or praise. Clearly, those times are in the past and Detroit stands at perhaps it’s most pivotable historic moment yet. To have gone flown so high and now to have fallen so low. Why? What next? Not that my answer matters much. I’m not there, I have no power of influence save for the power that I add to the collective consciousness. It is with that small bit of power that I fervently hope for the best for Detroit. Because when I was young I would look around at her streets and ALL I saw was potential. The barren landscape of Detroit was an amazing place for a dreamer to cast her gaze because in every direction there was something to be done, some empty space just waiting for a dream that only needed to take root in order to become the new blossom upon which many an admiring gaze would fall. But for Detroit to become a breeding ground for dreams, it seems to me that it could use a little dose of California syrup. Out here in the wild west, dreams are a dime a dozen. Everybody’s got a dream and they come here to make them reality. Frankly I find it a bit exhausting, because dreams mean a lot of work, and the competition is fierce and I’ll admit that I don’t always think fierce equals worthy. Maybe we could spread the dreamers around a little more evenly? Fat chance, few people want to leave the San Francisco bay area once they get a taste of the good life it offers. So maybe Detroit just has to figure out how to really nurture the dreamers that are already there, give them a bit of space (heaven knows there’s space enough) and a bit of encouragement. And then maybe in time, we’ll all be looking to Detroit once again and saying, man, if Detroit can do it, so can we. Let’s get to work!

My husband has been telling me about some articles he has read lately talking about the changes in our economic life here in the United States. It seems that we are poised for a change here. We have plenty to work with in terms of resources and I am of the opinion that the test of our collective strength will be how well we put those resources to positive results. This is in interesting topic of consideration for me and I’ve got my little theories which I acknowledge only as fuel for further discussion. While so many bemoan the contraction of our economy and the growth of our society, I see nothing but room for growth. At the individual level, at the familial level, at the local level, we could do better. We could each and collectively turn our attention inward, toward truly honoring ourselves which to my mind takes us deeper into our relationships to each other and to the world, which in gives us even more reason and inclination to dream big dreams and transform them into reality. There are certain aspects of human life that seem fairly constant across history and culture: food, health and well being, education, creative pursuits, are my personal favorites. I’m pretty sure that there is plenty of room for enterprise in those areas of human society. And given our heavy footsteps on the earth’s surface and our despairingly poor behavior as neighbors to the many other species with whom we share this planet, I think that there’s plenty of room for innovation and new ways of thinking in those two areas of human life on earth. Broad topics, I know. But whenever somebody starts talking doomsday, I can’t help but think that they are focusing on something different than what tends to capture my imagination. All that to say that Detroit is at the forefront of this. Given it’s role as a center of industry, Detroit is first to feel these changes and so as I see it Detroit has a choice. Which is to say the people of Michigan have a choice: to embrace the change which is inevitable or perish resisting it.

We are now on the ground in Michigan, I didn’t get to finish this post as I’d planned before our departure. Driving around I reflect on how our life would be different if we moved back, or perhaps even more disturbing a consideration for me personally is how my life would have developed had I never left. Perhaps it is the circumstances of my upbringing, but I cannot see how I would have had the freedom to entertain nearly the amount of possibilities for my life had I stayed here. The strong impulse to explore beyond the limitations of one’s environment is a fairly standard reason for leaving home and I am definitely one of those who was driven toward unchartered territories. Perhaps it was early years in Detroit, all that dreaming.

Again, I’m not sure what the precise cocktail of circumstance gave me this sense but I know it very keenly: Michigan does not embrace change as a matter of course. Here is where you follow a pretty straight and narrow path of respectability. Here is where you get a house and you spend the rest of your life making it look nice, until you retire and either buy a new one to start the project all over again or just keep on with the first one. Depends on how sick you are of the weather. Here is not where dreams blossom, here is where the stuff of dreams gets made, literally. And perhaps purchased, if it’s not anything too crazy or out of the ordinary.

For my particular dreams, there was just about nothing happening to nurture their fruition. Hardly any professional dance training, very little happening with the human body. Maybe that was it. I knew that the body was my terrain for exploration and the landscape here was barren. So perhaps it was my particular dreams. But the thing about my dreams is that they have to do with everybody, every body. And when I bring up the ideas that are in my head to people here in Michigan, I often feel as though I’m talking to an unsympathetic and uninterested person. Which I find continuously perplexing given that I know every body goes home to roost every night, why not make the experience a little more interesting, give the whole thing a bit of variety with a change of perspective? When it comes to the body, the possibilities are endless and yet here they seem to have not even begun to be explored. Which is why, I guess, I left. We all have our reasons…

The transition out of the mid-west was a challenge for me. I was young, just graduated from college, full of dreams and ready to take action. And yet I was alone and only armed with enough confidence to get out and get busy. The rest I built up over time once I landed in a very different place. While I did not move to a different country where the language and all sorts of customs were vastly different from my place of origin, the place that I landed was different enough to provide me with constant challenges and frustrations for at least a couple years. I talked to my mom nearly every day, there were often tears shed, and some reassurance that the challenge of what I was doing was ample justification for my suffering. It was around this time that I built a tremendous reservoir of respect for people who migrate across cultures and begin anew. To leave all that is familiar, to arrive in a new place where nobody knows you, to slowly build a life with limited resources and the variable kindness of strangers, that takes a lot of personal strength (the kind of strength that is not outwardly demonstrated), and is worthy of commendation. The really cool thing about my departure is where I am now. In Oakland, a city that is so familiar to me because it is so similar to my home town.

Here in Oakland I can make full use of what is different from my culture of origin and build upon the solid foundation that my hometown provided for me. It is a particular experience to come of age in a place different from where one spent her formative years. There is always a little bit of something different in such a person. A slight accent that comes out in moments of stress, an expectation of behavior or custom that isn’t in keeping with the new place, a refreshing novelty which keeps one always apart even after years of being here. Clearly, this all suits me or I would have long ago returned home with my tail between my legs. At this point I have a few ideas of what about this sort of life suits me. To do what I set out to do, I can only assume that I needed a combination of experiences to learn my lessons and do my work. A life built in between two worlds seems to be a good enough way to get my ducks in a row. From back home, I’ve got a solid work ethic that keeps me plugging away at my dreams. Dreams that could only be realized out here on the coast with an amazing community of people knowledgable in my areas of interest. From Michigan I learned a definition of friendship that involves faithfulness and showing up; but out here, I get to be who I am without the confines of social expectations. A favorite professor of mine at the University of Michigan often uses the phrase “sharing is caring”. It’s a favorite of mine as it reminds me of what is special about friendship, but also all human relationships. To truly share is to care, and vice versa. If we truly care, sharing is the probable result. While I am mostly consumed with the work that my ambitions have laid out for me, I appreciate being a part of a diverse community. Because at the very basic level, sharing space is an act of caring. Here I am again in a place with lots of people who don’t look exactly like me. While my skin may be white, no one (even me) can tell the color of my heart. Though my heart has found comfort in many a home at this point in my life, Detroit will always be my first home. And likewise, I will always be most comfortable living in close proximity to people of many colors.

Being back here this time, it’s occurred to me anew that so much of what constitutes my impressions of Michigan and even more so Detroit, are those of a child’s mind. Because I came of age some place else, part of my world view has been shaped by those experiences that I had in the world beyond and consequently, when I come home I see this place both as a removed native and as a stranger. This seems relevant because as I see the lives of my contemporaries and my elders I now realize that while I’ve had similar adult experiences to them, the realities that we experience are shaped by our environments and we live in quite different places. For one example, whereas work life in Oakland is quite varied and there are many small businesses like my own, here in Michigan there are not nearly as many variations on careers for people in my line of work. Again, this may be simply a matter of my perspective based on my only living here as a kid, but I don’t think so. I think that there are a lot of other factors that contribute to the differences between my two homes, but the reality seems clear: were we to relocate to the Detroit area, we would have to undergo a serious revision of how we live our lives. And while there are some elements of the life in Detroit which I dearly miss, I’m sure were they stacked alongside those elements of my life in Oakland, the Oakland pile would be much higher. I found my heart in Detroit and then, my heart led me to Oakland.

But for a few days I’m here, back home. Sitting with my memories seeing how they mix with my present experience. Seeing what I can learn from it all and wondering what my sharing of the process might do for any or all of us

Introducing, Adele Ardeeya…

who is a squirrel, a grey California ground squirrel to be exact. We’ve been getting to know each other for about a week now, and what a week it’s been! She’s still rather shy about photographs (I snapped that first one before she realized it). But given our plans, I know that she’ll warm to the idea eventually.

As it turns out, I was correct last week when I sighted Adele for the first time, she had indeed hitched a ride down the hill with us. And what’s more, she does mean to stay close to us. She’s been working on her domicile in our back yard and she accompanies us on our daily walk our neighborhood shopping district. She seems very interested in our activities. Perhaps it seems strange for me to write this all with such certainty. This all merits more explanation. I had my hunches about this little squirrel, but it wasn’t until yesterday evening that I fully understood what was happening.

A dear friend of ours works up at the park my little guy and I visited last week and she was over for dinner last evening. She and I share a love of animals and we have each devoted a good deal of time to communing with various members of the animal kingdom with the hopes of sharing experiences and insights into living on planet earth. It is a subtle art and one that I mostly find baffling, yet for some reason I persist in sitting and being with non-human animals.

It was a lovely summer evening here and so we were dining outside which meant that Adele was there too, nibbling on her pinecones and other tasty morsels from our garden and fruit trees. Given our common passion, I brought my friend’s attention to Adele, and was surprised to find that they recognized each other. It was then that we all realized that my new friend and the little baby squirrel who my friend had cared for, named Adele, and befriended was one in the same. During her time with our mutual friend, Adele became completely enamored with the ways of humans. Of course I knew the story of their time together well because at the time that this was all occurring my friend had been telling me all about it.

In fact, I’d always been hopeful that I too would have the opportunity to have such a close relationship with a non-domesticated animal. And now, it would seem that such an opportunity has fallen in my lap. Adele came down the hill with us because she yearns to know more about our human ways. By some stroke of grace she’s chosen me to be her guide and after last evening we are all quite sure that she has chosen wisely given my friendship with her original human friend.

And so begins our adventure together. I’ve agreed to take Adele around this town of ours, to show her as much as she would like to know about our human ways. I’ll share our discoveries and stories here.