Unexpected gifts.

There’s a quirky article in The Wall Street Journal today regarding the upside of “sloppily wrapped” gifts. This caught my eye, as I am one of those slapdash gift-wrappers whose gifts look like they were wrapped by an assembly line of six-year-olds. The gist of the article was that gifts wrapped all catty-wampus with gaping seams almost always exceed the expectations of the recipient.

Maybe it was a slow news day. Or maybe the psychology of gift-wrapping is just the content we need in a time where almost nothing is exceeding our expectations.

We are in the midst of a new shutdown that looks a whole lot like the old shutdown except with the added fatigue quotient. I have to admit I hit a low point last weekend when we learned that even sassy Orange County was locking down and our plans to visit Tina and family there this weekend were canceled. We have a long-standing tradition of running down there in the middle of the Christmas rush (yes, we are gluttons for holiday stress and punishment) to take Tina on a little shopping expedition for her birthday. But nope, not this year. “Not this year” is the liturgical response to almost every single darned thing. Ugh.

And then, for the icing on the doomsday cake, as our family Zoomed last Sunday, the CE let it drop that we would “probably be getting just a small Christmas tree this year”.

There was a moment of complete silence while that thought sunk in. We go way, way back with Christmas. And I do mean wayyyy back.

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And we always have a nice tall tree to go with the nice tall ceiling in our family room. By always, I mean twenty-six Christmases in this house that the CE has had to climb a ladder to put our makeshift little cardboard star atop our tree. The idea of a small tree for us is basically akin to saying there is no Santa Claus. Everyone took it in stride, though and tried to be cheerful about re-imagining Christmas… with a small tree.

Then, as we had bravely adjusted expectations downward (as does anyone presented with a gift wrapped by me) we heard from a neighbor that the Christmas tree lots had closed! What? It does seem that Scrooge McVirus is winning all the points this holiday. And that we are all wearing down. We’ve been frayed at the edges for quite awhile now and, I fear, in danger of unraveling completely.

Fortunately, the neighbor was wrong. There are Christmas trees for sale. And, fortunately, the CE was wrong. We did not end up with a Tiny Tim tree after all. There he is, back up on that ladder:

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Best of all, our new Los Angeleno, Daniel, texted that he and Freddy were thinking about coming up to see us for the weekend. We lost our Newport trip (we will make it up to you, Tina!) but gained a pair of tree-trimmers. Daniel hasn’t been home to decorate the tree for at least a dozen years so this is special. Lily thinks so, too!

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We had such a special, cozy evening together and, as of this morning, the tree is almost halfway decorated. This week began as a very sloppily wrapped gift that turned out to completely exceed expectations. Here’s hoping that all of our and all of your Christmas seasons turn out that way!

Oh, and, by the way, we’re pretty sure there really is a Santa Claus.

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What are we waiting for?

It’s just a little ironic that after nine “expectant” months of waiting, waiting, waiting, we enter the season of…waiting.

Welcome to Advent.

When our boys were small and life seemed so simple, they would burst out of Sunday School proudly bearing the homely little Advent wreaths they had made. Four candles, one for each Sunday of the Advent season, nestled upon an evergreen wreath meant to represent the promise of eternal life in Christ.

They looked a little like this:

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Admittedly, they might have counted down those Sundays waiting more for Santa than for Jesus. A lot of people do. Funny how we tend to put our hopes in temporal things.

I have spent these past months in a waiting mode that might be better described as a semi-coma. My motto has been “wake me when it’s over”, which may have made sense in April or even May, but come December I see that my logic has been faulty.

All those months and I have not prepared one whit for the holidays. Foolish me.

But there is still time, perhaps, to prepare my soul.

A quote from French philosopher Simone Weil:

“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”

(This strikes me as ever so much more profound than “wake me when it’s over”.)

And famed theologian Henri Nouwen’s words:

“Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words like that push us into passivity.

But there is none of this passivity in Scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.”

Our popular culture places great value on the concept of “mindfulness”, which, in and of itself may be a good tool for relaxation. But it strikes me a little as being like a rail car that has been decoupled from its engine. It can’t really take me anywhere. Spiritual mindfulness, on the other hand, has an appeal. This moment is THE moment.

With life on pare-down, slowdown, shutdown, we actually have the opportunity to spend a Christmas season focusing on – Christmas!

I just downloaded this one to help me:

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And these all look good, too:

In this season of “expectant waiting”, it is a temptation to put my hopes in temporal things.

I’m waiting to travel. I’m waiting for Broadway to re-open. I’m waiting to sit down to dinner inside a fine restaurant, anywhere. I am especially waiting to sit with my feet in the sand at Hula Grill at Ka’anapali. I’m waiting to dump the masks and have a party! I’m waiting, with an aching heart, to hug my family.

But, awaking from my semi-coma, I realize that this season of waiting may be an opportunity like no other. We may only have take-out to feed our bodies but riches abound for feeding our souls.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. -Psalm 130: 5-6

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Family Album: a holiday, anyway!

You can’t keep hungry people down.

Thanksgiving was going to happen one way or another. We turned a day into a week to lighten the (viral) load and we were blessed with the absolute most spectacular weather I think I’ve ever seen in Santa Barbara. Thank you, God!

Tina and the girls and, of course, Ace, and with Thomas in tow, graced the first part of our week:

Viv settled in with the fluffy ones:

img_9694while Caleigh got right to work in the kitchen.  No holiday can proceed without the chocolate cherry cake.

And since great-Granny is once again on COVID lockdown and couldn’t join us, Evie, Viv and Caleigh went over the river and through the woods to Granny’s house to help her decorate for Christmas. Don’t worry. They’re not turkeys – they were all COVID tested prior to arrival.

As they headed down the road, a new crew arrived:

And let the games begin:

We missed having Taylor with us, but look who else joined us! Daniel just moved to LA and spent his first Thanksgiving at home with us in a decade:

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It was Rio’s first Thanksgiving with us, too. He liked the idea of inspecting the pies but didn’t want to hear anything about roasting the bird.

Speaking of pies, I have to give a shout out to Angie’s friend, Lily, whose gluten-free apple pie was the star of our Thanksgiving dinner. I think she’s still baking under the radar but not for long as her muffins and pies are clearly destined for fame. You can find her on Instagram: @valleygirlmuffins

We don’t usually host Thanksgiving. We often aren’t even at home for Thanksgiving. We grumbled all through October and November at our upended plans. Yet somehow, we ended up having one of the most perfect holidays ever. Sunshine, joy and gratitude all around. We all felt so incredibly blessed (especially Lily, who never gets fed from the table except on holidays!)

The CE wasted no time shifting gears. He went straight from pumpkin pie to prepping the Christmas star with James and Thomas (and, of course, Lily)

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We salvaged Thanksgiving, and somehow I am confident that we will find our way also to a merry Christmas. The true light shines brightest in dark times.

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

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Giving thanks for thankful giving.

Lest you mistakenly think there are no seasons in southern CA, welcome to fall in our neighborhood:

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Of course, it is a study in contrasts. While the liquidambars smolder, I do still have two baby tomatoes trying their best to ripen as the temperatures drop.

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And that is not the only contrast I’m noticing. For us, as it gets colder, we’re getting cozier. Warm socks. Fires in the fireplace every night. For others, though, I’m hearing that cozy is not on the horizon.

As everyone knows, we have new shutdowns just as winter closes in. Restaurants and other businesses that have just barely been hanging on are newly imperiled. These translate directly into jobs lost and for some, entire life’s work and savings lost. Some school systems, notably in NYC, are now shut down despite a plea from the director of the CDC to keep schools open. Some families are being stretched far beyond their means – I was told the other day that one issue local parents are facing with remote learning school arrangements and daycare shutdowns is the decision to leave very young children alone for long periods of time in order to go to work. In order to pay the rent. In order to put food on the table. Nothing cozy about that.

Tough choices are being made all around, all the time. There are also those already struggling with the effects of isolation who have nothing to look forward to but more of the same. We quite literally can’t see behind all the masks, but there are very definitely people who are suffering.

Every community is different. But from what I’m hearing, there is great need everywhere for basics like food, shelter and care for the most vulnerable. Assuming that your national, state or local government are wisely using your tax dollars to address such urgent problems is, quite simply, folly. We all need to step up in any way we can.

The CE and I are lucky to be plugged into a few organizations we trust where we know our contributions make a direct difference in people’s lives and I am so thankful for that. It doesn’t take too much research to find a way to give meaningfully. This is truly a time where even a small amount can make a difference. As we approach what looks like it will be a streamlined holiday season, maybe we all have a chance to give a little where it will count the most. And if, by the way, you were planning to give me something, please make it a donation, however small, to help someone in need. (Unless, of course, you are the CE, in which case, I’m definitely hoping for cashmere and jewelry this Christmas 😉 Hey, I never said I was a saint…

Hang in there, everyone. It has to get better, right?

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Waiting to walk the Brooklyn Bridge

It is a spectacularly beautiful day in Southern California, but I am, once again, in a New York state of mind. Winter is closing in there, and thus, our window for any hope of visiting again any time soon. I picture my favorite city under a blanket of snow, resting until spring – and hopefully better times – arrive.

In the meantime, I’ve comforted myself with a 500-page fix: David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic History of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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The epic history was also somewhat of an epic read. I now know more about steel wire than one might think necessary, not to mention about all the political shenanigans that took place around the bridge project. Since I am a slow reader, it took me two months to finish the book, but since it took fourteen years to build the bridge, I suppose eight weeks of my time is the least I can do to pay homage to what, upon completion in 1883 was considered “the eight wonder of the world”.

In a footnote, McCullough listed some of the many artists who also paid homage to the bridge and since they interest me more than steel wire, I decided to take a peek.

Perhaps the most famous rendering of the bridge is Joseph Stella’s 1939 painting The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme. A photo doesn’t really do it justice – next time I am at the Whitney Museum I am going straight to the 7th floor to look at this painting, which is nearly six feet tall!

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Artist John Marin, who defined painting as “a sort of mad wonder dancing” painted this dynamic watercolor of the bridge in 1912. It lives at The Met, where I fervently hope to visit it when I return.

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Not far from The Met is the iconic Carlyle Hotel and Bemelman’s Bar, named after Ludwig Bemelman’s whose whimsical murals cover the walls of that famed watering hole. Oh, how many times in recent years we thought of lunching at The Carlyle or spending an evening at the bar – and then thought better of it – “too expensive”, we’d say. Well, now they are closed and how I wish we had just parted with the princely sum for Dover Sole prepared tableside in the dining room or an atrociously expensive whiskey sour at Bemelman’s. For now, I will console myself with Ludwig Bemelman’s 1954 lithograph of a horse and cart on the Brooklyn Bridge:

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I must confess, I teared up a little when I read painter Child Hassam’s quote: “To me New York is the most wonderful and most beautiful city in the world.” Because I feel exactly the same, but the past seven months, NYC seems to have become the flashpoint for all our woes and it hurts my heart to see it so maligned. Hassam painted this view of  Brooklyn Bridge in Winter in 1904:

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We don’t really tend to associate Georgia O’Keeffe with New York, but she lived there for three decades before relocating to New Mexico. Shortly before her departure, she painted the bridge as a farewell to the city:

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On a lark, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge a few years back. When we are finally able to return – hopefully next spring – we will walk it once more. This time I will pay attention to all that steel wire and to the bridge towers, which apparently have never been replicated in any other bridge. I will think of what it must have been like on the night when the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge were turned on for the first time, creating a glittering necklace of brilliance across the East River to Manhattan.

How I love that city. How wonderful it will be to return. Dover Sole at The Carlyle and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It will be worth the wait.

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Family Album: San Francisco.

Well, let’s just say there are currently no little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. Tony Bennett may have to sing a new tune about that city by the Bay.

After the relaxed and almost festive atmosphere of Paso Robles, San Francisco seemed almost dystopian in contrast. Union Square was virtually empty. The neighborhood restaurants we remember are all closed down. The usually bustling hotel lobby at the Westin St. Francis, where we stayed, was completely empty. The main entrance is blocked off. The few guests in the hotel are required to enter and exit through the hotel garage and, oh, by the way, there is no luggage valet. It’s a non-contact world.

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We haven’t ventured beyond our neighborhood at home much during the plague, and this was our first urban experience. It’s not hard to see why, according to news reports, people are “fleeing” San Francisco. And even with the draconian lockdown measures, The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that “the Bay Area is experiencing a gradual but pronounced uptick in coronavirus cases.”

My unpopular opinion: I don’t see how “outwaiting the virus” is a viable long-term plan because it can so easily outwait us. But, whatever.

SF is probably not on anyone’s go-to list right now, but it was at the top of ours because we hadn’t seen Taylor since we were last there in January and we wanted to visit him and see his new apartment.

The solitary staffer at the hotel reception desk thrust a sheet of paper toward us at check-in with a paltry list of restaurants open for take-out and a very few available for dine-in.

Were we going to starve in San Francisco?

Well, at least we were set for dinner that night, with plans to meet up at Harris’ steakhouse. You can see why it’s Taylor’s favorite restaurant:

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A good steak is one way to get a smile out of him:

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Next day we consulted the restaurant handout we’d been given and walked over to the Financial District in search of lunch and we discovered the Wayfare Tavern on Sacramento Street. Comfortable outdoor seating with a view of the Transamerica Building. And it started to become clear that we were not going to starve.

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We ordered picnic food – deviled eggs, fried chicken and Brussels sprouts.

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The tricky part about dining out in SF these days is mask management. It’s more mask on than mask off at table, with strict protocols requiring masks on when a server approaches and any time you are not actually eating or drinking. For the uninitiated, this is not as easy as it seems. My mask looked more like a used napkin by the time we were done with lunch. A veritable petri dish, really. And, while I looked at it, wondering just how hygienic it was, a young man came storming angrily through the area snapping photos of every patron who did not have their mask up. Did I already use the word dystopian?

The mood that evening along the Embarcadero was a bit less severe. Everyone masked but lots of people out with their dogs and, of course, dogs make everything better. You could actually sense a few smiles behind the masks. 

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And, there was another masked, but hearty, meal. We met up with Taylor at at the Waterbar restaurant. This time there was a new wrinkle to the protocols – a pre-dining interview during which we answered a litany of questions regarding our recent health. Slathered with hand sanitizer, we were eventually permitted to sit down and the patio was sufficiently sheltered from the breeze to make outdoor dining comfortable. We’ll always remember the Green Apple Mousse, which I enjoyed with a glass of Inniskillin Ice Wine. Perfect!

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Oh, and we’ll always remember the Bay Bridge view, too:

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Next day we were treated to a rare sighting of the elusive Mingston trio! 

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And after a (again, no starving) tasty lunch al fresco at Atwater Tavern

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we walked over to Taylor’s new place. Such a fun nabe!

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And he finally found a place with ceilings high enough for a tall guy like him!

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It was so good to spend time with our T. He has weathered the plague storm admirably, maybe because being told you can’t go out and can’t socialize is, well, pretty much his cup of tea anyway. Put a mask on your face so no one can see your expression or who you are? He’s like yes, absolutely, sign me up!

For dinner that night, we found an unexpectedly charming little Italian place on 3rd Street where the mood was light and the food was great, especially the panna cotta for dessert.

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It was hard to say goodbye to Taylor, but at least we left knowing he had been well fed for a few days. And, while SF may not currently be quite the way we remember it, as long as Taylor is there, we’ve left our hearts in San Francisco.

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Brief detour for a pilgrimage.

There’s really nothing remarkable about the stretch of Highway 101 heading north from Paso Robles.

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More adventurous souls would cut over to Highway 1 and bask in the amazing coastal views. Absolutely worth the price of admission, but the route might include car-sickness or vertigo for those not at ease with winding roads and drop-off cliffs. Since we are in the faint-of-heart category, we plodded up the inland highway and pondered where we might take a fast-food break along the way, since that’s all there really seems to be between Paso and the Bay Area.

I stared out the window at the dusty brown hills between King City and Soledad and had a sudden flash of inspiration: we were approaching Steinbeck country! John Steinbeck grew up in Salinas, CA, a place that always seemed a drab, dusty agricultural outpost to me until I saw it through the lens of Steinbeck’s genius in East of Eden:

“I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness, and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding-unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of the west and love of east. Where I ever got such an idea I cannot say, unless it could be that the morning came of the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the night and death of the day had some part in my feeling about the two ranges of mountains.”

Steinbeck as a child in Salinas:

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And again on the brink of literary fame:

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Steinbeck wrote basically every word of East of Eden in New York City but his memories of the Salinas Valley were so unerring that you literally have a mind picture of individual blades of grass by the time you finish the book. And, of course, so much more. I know that The Grapes of Wrath is his magnum opus but I am drawn again and again to the sweeping epic that is East of Eden. It is a swirl of evil and good told against the backdrop of the Salinas Valley and as good as American literature gets.

My most recent Steinbeck read was The Long Valley, a collection of short stories that also include his classic novella The Red Pony. Steinbeck somehow draws a painful beauty from human tragedy in these carefully crafted works and always, there is an awareness of the land. Steinbeck wrote these stories in the 1930’s when he was struggling in his career and living in his childhood home in Salinas and tending to his ill mother. The setting for almost all the stories is what was then known as the Tiflin Ranch in the Salinas Valley between the Santa Lucia and Gabilan Mountains.

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Thus, what has always just been a lackluster strip of just-get-through-it highway now held a new promise. We were going to drive right past Salinas – let’s go see Steinbeck’s childhood home!

The Steinbeck House is now run as a restaurant, which, of course is closed during COVID, as is the nearby National Steinbeck Center. But no one could keep us from having a drive-by look-see, so we cruised right through downtown Salinas to the corner of Stone Street and Central Avenue. And there it was:

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Steinbeck’s father was a successful accountant and they must have owned one of the finest homes in Salinas at the time. Today, the neighborhood is modest, with the Steinbeck house a gem from yesteryear on a quiet, humdrum street.

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We paid our respects and I made a mental note to dip back into East of Eden sometime soon.

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Onward to San Francisco!

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Road trip: Paso Robles

Welp. It wasn’t exactly easy to put it together, but it turns out if you plan and you’re lucky you can whine wine all you want amidst COVID life.

Planning is definitely key. We started putting this trip together weeks before and it wasn’t soon enough. “It’ll be easy”, we thought. “No one is going anywhere”, we thought.

We thought wrong. Someone is out there scooping up all the hotel reservations. And, of course, with lodging at limited capacity, the rooms go fast and – no surprise – at highly inflated prices. Our first thought was a few nights at the iconic Post Ranch Inn. Nope. Completely booked. That splurge will have to wait for the next plague, when we’ll plan ahead better.

Same problem with the other hotels we looked at, and with fires in wine country, Sonoma and Napa were smoked off the list. We had checked with our long-time favorite Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles but again the refrain, there was no room at the inn. We resigned ourselves to the endless staycation at home but then the phone rang and we were suddenly back on with three nights at Hotel Cheval!

So off we went! We stopped along the way for an outdoor lunch at Brasserie SLO, a new find for us in San Luis Obispo.

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Then onward through miles and miles of Central California’s fall-dry hills.

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Listed as a “best of the best” on TripAdvisor, and recipient of their 2018 #1 Small Hotel in the US award, this 16-room inn elevates sleepy Paso Robles to a must-go destination.

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The rooms are cozy

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and dog-friendly, although we left Lily home to entertain our friend Lori while we’re away:-)

The hotel is built around a gracious European-style courtyard. 

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The breakfast buffet is gone due to COVID, but there’s still a breakfast tray, to be enjoyed in the adjacent Pony Bar courtyard.

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And, of course, at night there are s’mores served around the fireplace. Pretty sweet!

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We visited two wineries, chosen more for the setting than for the wine, but that was good, too! Both were only a convenient ten-minute drive from the Cheval.

First was Caliza, where they pride themselves on their Mourvèdre-forward red blends. Lovely setting and a warm welcome there.

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The next day we visited Niner Wine Estates  which is a sprawling, pristine complex just over the hill from Caliza. I didn’t get to taste their coveted Fog Catcher but I’m bringing home some of their crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Best of all, even though they are just recently up and running again with COVID protocols in place, they serve a charming picnic lunch. Memorable experience.

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The CE doesn’t join in the wine-tasting, but he greatly enjoyed the view:

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I should mention that we did not starve in-town Paso. They truly have their act together with restaurant “parklets” abounding around the town square and a generally relaxed atmosphere. We had dinner in the well-ventilated interior courtyard at longtime favorite Thomas Hill Organics, where I ordered the empañadas:

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There was a wonderful al fresco paella lunch at new find La Cosecha:

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And a truly outstanding dinner on the expanded outdoor patio at Il Cortile. Even with ample seating they were turning people away. It must be that fabulous Pappardelle Chinghiale, or perhaps the panna cotta:

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Shopping in Paso offers a few gems:

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And, always, there is the town square, a favorite hallmark of so many of the small wine towns in CA. 

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But Paso’s square is the only one where you can pay homage to Polish composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who settled in Paso Robles in 1913 and grew zinfandel grapes on his ranch. A man ahead of his time!

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Lucky us, going from no trip to road trip to sweet Paso Robles. It felt almost normal to travel and stay there, which is not the case everywhere. Balm for the soul, and plenty of wine. The perfect fall getaway!

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Pardon us, we’re molting.

It’s raining feathers.

Step out into the chicken yard these days and it looks like someone ripped open a down comforter – feather confetti everywhere, every day. It’s been going on for weeks. Not an egg has been laid since early September, since all the hens’ energy seems to be going into the humiliation of losing their precious plumage.

They are patchy and disheveled. They are addled and aimless, so distracted that they wander about without their usual sense of purpose, failing to fall in line when called back to the coop for treats. Ava seems determined to dig herself the deepest of all dust bath holes and hide in it until the situation improves. June, deprived of her tail feathers, is simply beside herself, off balance.

I understand this all better than they might imagine, having been going through a season without purpose myself. Off balance, indeed. And speaking of patchy, the salon shutdowns have left me to my own devices, hacking off the unruly locks and watching my ‘feathers” go gray and grayer.

You want to talk about aimless? I went out to do real errands the other day for the first time since March. Ticked off four things on my list and had to come home for a two-hour nap.

Edith and I appraise one another in our patchiness. “You aren’t looking so good”, is the silent message we share. The difference is that Edith’s feathers will come back. But me? Hmm…

I just finished listening to Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason, an author I’d heard of but never read before. The book is epistolary, a love letter to the 60’s, to literature, to both the passage of time and being in the moment. I had just been berating myself for failing to get back on track with my deadlines and expectations and, in frustration, stomped off to go for a walk and finish the book.

With the last chapter, the entire tone of the book shifts. Ann, the main character, steps off the track of the story to spend a season of reflection. She does nothing much. She tramps around a lake and she sits on her porch in upstate New York. She talks with her father in Kentucky about different kinds of oak trees. “There’s water oak, blackjack oak, red oak and post oak”, he drawls . She befriends a white-tailed doe that brings its fawns to her porch. “She savored the workings of the day, its preciousness.”

As I walked and listened, all those deadlines and expectations fluttered away like spent feathers. I recognized what the author was saying here in a way I never would have before the Great Pause of 2020.

For one thing, I probably would never have read Bobbie Ann Mason’s book if one of my book clubs had not perished due to the shutdown, leaving me heretofore unavailable time for discretionary reading. I wonder if I might also have missed out on walking around the bend in the road and encountering, for the first time ever, a Western bluebird sitting on a tree branch above me. Would I have had the time for that walk? Would I have bothered to notice the flash of color that alerted me to the fact that this was not the usual sparrow or towhee?

I know for certain that I would not have taken the time to notice the difference between my Mexican lime and my Persian lime trees. And I absolutely would not have taken the time to grow my two sorry little Roma tomatoes – more next year for sure! Because I have time, I think of these things, lots of things, and store them up for keeping like jam jars on a cellar shelf. This can’t be all bad, can it?

Joni Mitchell comes to mind, as she often does for me. “Well something’s gained and something’s lost in living every day”

I’m going to be kind to myself on this particular purposeless day, and encourage the hens to do the same. Pardon us, we’re molting. In time, maybe we’ll all get our tail feathers back, and in the meantime, as Bobbie Ann Mason says,

“You could slow down a day; make it timeless. Each moment is only now. The only now.”

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My new best friend.

At least once a day someone – usually me – makes the slip of the tongue, which may actually be a slip of the heart. “Chloe”, we say, fully intending to summon Lily.

Ah, it is hard to let go, isn’t it? That golden girl of ours would have been fourteen last month and she ambles about in my memory even though she has been gone for more than two years. Oh how we loved her!

Lily pays no mind to being mis-called, probably because she pays no mind to being called. “Lily-come”, we have cried to her so often that it has become her de-facto nickname, usually followed by the wry comment: “Lily-not-come”. Because Lily pretty much does whatever she wants. She takes your request under advisement. She might come, or she might run off in the other direction. Or she might just lie there and stare at you for awhile giving you the distinct feeling that you are not the boss of her.

Same breed, different, different dog!

Chloe’s coat was so full that more than one earnest onlooker approached us and asked if she was a lion! Lily is smooth and sleek, all the better to race around the property hunting for the lizards and bunnies she will never catch and then leap into the fountain to cool off after her adventures. Lily is definitely not part lion – but she might be part panther!

Chloe could always be found on the back step, waiting for her humans. Lily can always be found – somewhere…eventually…

Where Chloe was a big, comfortable Cadillac, Lily is a finely-tuned Ferrari. She is a high performance model! Where Chloe would gaze at me with adoring eyes, Lily appraises me, as if hoping I will someday rise to her level.

Many is the day I’ve look at Chloe’s image on my phone screensaver and silently beg for her intervention. Two beautiful girls. Yet so very, very different!

Chloe was stately and plodding, Lily is lithe and bouncy – like Tigger!

But this past week, Lily lost her bounce.

When it started, we thought it was her “sensitive stomach”. Finely-tuned machines like Lily tend to be high maintenance. She threw up in the car. Oh no, carsick again! But then she started throwing up after meals. And leaving kibble in her bowl. The one thing Lily has in common with Chloe is that she never leaves kibble in her bowl. She became lethargic. Lily is never lethargic! She got us up in the night. And then absolutely refused to go back in her crate. Horor of horrors, accidents on the carpet. Something was very wrong.

I sat in the kitchen after a sleepless night and Lily-not-come actually came over to me, unbidden, sat down with a big sigh and buried her head between my knees. She was, I think, actually asking for my help. That night I slept on the couch downstairs in my office with her next to me so she could go outside when she needed to and, of course, the memories flooded back of Chloe’s final night when I slept on the couch downstairs to be with her.

What is it about the way we love our dogs? How do they make our flinty little hearts so full? I am pretty convinced that God, gazing wearily upon his stiff-necked people, commanded the creation of dogs in a desperate attempt to soften some of our very rough edges.

That night on the couch I decided I didn’t care if Lily ever again came when I called her or not. I just wanted her to be okay. Maybe I even felt my dear departed Chloe telling me it was time to move on and focus on this goofy girl who needs me.

We finally got the answer to Lily’s malady – somewhere, somehow she had picked up giardia, a common and pernicious parasitic infection. Who knows where or how – the vet suggested that she could have gotten it on a trip to the beach. We have a vial of magic pills – so magic that Lily’s bounce is back in her step and she’s leaping over the hedges again.

Not coming when called. And I don’t even mind.

Oh, and she’s gotten an upgrade. Her crate’s in the garage. She’s sleeping upstairs now. On the floor next to my side of the bed. Just like Chloe did.

She’s my new best friend. Forever.

Posted in Life, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments