Wednesday, November 25, 2015


When i was teaching third grade, every morning, I would write a question on the board for my students to write about in their journals.  It was a basic writing prompt, but I loved doing it, because it was where i could inject some creativity into the teaching.  My kids wrote for at least ten minutes, and then illustrated the story. The writing prompts were thoughtful, so I could get to know my students.  Later in my career, I started doing it with them, along with mindfulness meditation, to start our day off peacefully.  We all got to know each other, as the year progressed, and I got to know myself.

I realize I have been missing my questions of the day, so I have decided to bring back the practice.  So here is today's question, and really, the question i should be asking myself at various points throughout every day.

Healing or hurting?

If it heals, do it. If it hurts, don't do it.  Bam. a guide to life.

 Here's what is healing today: Daniel's lunch special, a gorgeous spinach salad with persimmons, currants, avocado, thinly sliced zucchini, shaved carrots, and amazing french dressing made by his wife, served with a chicken sandwich. And then there is the latte prepared by David, with a fluffy steamed milk cushion on top, in my favorite cup.  

Gratitude is always healing.  Today, this day before Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to be sitting where i am, here in Vallejo, at Nathan's, once again.  I have been reading old journals from 2002, and I am finally living my dream.   Thanks to my family and friends who have inspired me and put me up in their homes, I am able to see that there is a lot of life out west. I am so blessed to have people in my life who do whatever they can to help me further my dreams of living and writing out West, and for helping me to see that the world is broad.  

The moon is full tonight, and today it is sunny and crisp, just the way it should be the day before Thanksgiving.  Now it is time for a walk in the sun.  


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Raison d'etre

Vallejo is the antithesis of Vero Beach in every way, thank goodness.  i feel like an alien arriving on a parallel universe for the first time, and i am almost overwhelmed trying to experience it all and figure out what it means. 

It is so great to be around smart, creative people who are a little insane, and who channel their insanity into their art.  I am so ready for it. I love the Chronicle, the 49ers, the Warriors. And since I haven't been to California there is so much to see and learn. I cannot believe how conventional a life i have lived.  i let where i lived define me as a person, and that is not good when you come from material, stuck up places like Chappaqua NY, Washington, DC, and Vero Beach, FL.  

This is the place to be, though. For crying out loud, there is a lotus in the center of a downtown street.  people who have lived here a long time say that it's the way Haight-Ashbury and the Mission part of San Francisco used to be.  It has a salty past as a sailor's town, because of nearby Mare Island Naval Base, which was commissioned years ago, and is so hauntingly beautiful. ghosts frequent the place.  

the downtown is really unpretentious, and reminds me of frederick, md, before it got so cutesy.  i don't think there is a chance of that happening here, because vallejo is still a pretty gritty place as far as crime and poverty go.  People are definitely buying up old houses and renovating them, and the city sits on a bluff, like San Francisco does, so between the gorgeous old painted lady houses and the steep hills, Vallejo has a lot of the same geologic attributes.  

As far as tone goes, it reminds me of Adams Morgan, in DC, or Arlington, VA, back in the day.

And then there is Nathan's Conscious Cup.  I have been waiting to find this place my whole life. it makes me want to get up in the morning.  Daniel, the owner who came from Sebstapol, a big pot town, opened it a year ago, and just started serving food, and i am in love with his cooking. he looks like a tiny pirate, and likes to dress in leggings and swooshy shirts.  He wears frilly flower vintage aprons and cooks like the woman in "Like Water for Chocolate."  He is a born nurturer and has patience for the eccentric, creative types, who make up most of his clientele.

No two days are alike at Nathan's, and although it is a crazy, unconventional place, there is a very comforting routine and energy about the place. It is located close to several dispensaries and is right across the street from a doctor's office, where you go to get your medical marijuana card.  Someone already gave me a really nice bud on Saturday.  A guy even invited me to a house concert on Saturday night to hear music by a local band.  I couldn't make it, because i was really tired (whine), and that is going to have to change.  When i sit in Nathan's, I feel like i am in another country, where respectable people sit, reading, listening to music, drinking coffee, eating Daniel's delicious cornbread waffles.

I have written about the need for a place to anchor when you are traveling.  But a place like Nathan's is important when you have settled down somewhere, too.   People need a reason to get up in the morning, a place to go where people know you, things to be excited about. Nathan's offers all of these things.  Every day is an adventure, if only to see what Daniel is wearing and cooking.  

Monday, November 23, 2015


I am sitting in the waiting room at the Health Department, on this overcast, chilly Monday morning, waiting for my TB test results for substitute teaching.  It is a pretty grim place, considering all the sick people waiting to see a doctor.  When I got up this morning, i was pretty sure it would be a depressing way to start the day, but i was pleasantly surprised.  

I found a seat near a young family with two small children, and the little girl, who was about two, was so funny and sparkly that she made everyone in the waiting room laugh.  She was clearly giving her exhausted parents, who were caring for her two-day old brother, a run for their lives.  But she managed to grab everyone's attention and make them smile on a really grey day.  

Since i felt lighthearted, i was thinking about my dear aunt, Betty Hoyt.  Since I have been in the Bay Area, and since the weather has cooled, I have been wearing this scarf she gave me shortly before she died in June, 2011.  

Betty was one of the most optimistic, adventurous, creative people i have ever known.  An intrepid traveler, she went on trips to visit her daughters in Arizona, her son in Edinburgh, and to Croatia, on a cruise, up until the end.  The anticipation of a planned trip was as much a part of the enjoyment for Betty as was the actual trip.  

My dear aunt is in heaven, and I am sure she is delighted by my trip.  She was always a wonderful aunt, but after my mom died, Betty threw me life preservers often, while i flailed in my ocean of grief.  

Traveling was just a part of how she stayed interested and engaged in life.  She did not let a day go by without getting up and getting out of the house to find something new, even if it was a new way home.  She was a docent at the Butler Museum in downtown Youngstown, Ohio, and one of her favorite things to do was to take out-of-towners to visit the collection of diverse American art, including exhibits by her talented son-in-law, Tom Cvetkovich, a renowned hologram artist.  

I loved going with her, not just to see the gorgeous Winslow Homers and Wyeths, but to watch her in action, with people. She was a born leader with loads of charisma, and had she been born in more modern times, she would have been the one to run her father's construction company after his death, and it would still be paying dividends.

On this trip, when I have gotten into hard spots or sad places, Betty is who I think of, and I wonder how she would spin it. She would see whatever it was as a brain teaser to be solved, a new adventure to unravel.  

So that is what i am trying to do.  In these present circumstances, which are less than ideal at the moment, I can be like Betty, and write. Or go on a road trip. Or find a pool and swim. Or eat some chocolate. 

 Oh how Betty would have loved Nathan's. She loved Bohemia and creative people, and that is Nathan's.  David, one of the baristas, made me smile today when he told me that he was putting aside the big, brown cafe au lait bowl for me.  How nice is that?  It makes me feel so at home.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Spiritual Elixir

i think the universe is fucking with me.

i am working hard to establish myself as a substitute teacher here in California, so I can get my own place, so I don't need to live in my cousins' guest room forever.  The Fairfield-Suisin Unified School District needs substitutes, according to a recent news story, desperately.  I am a retired teacher, in good standing, with a Masters' Degree.

As a requirement to get into graduate school fifteen years ago, I took basic proficiency tests. Now the school district where I want to be a substitute wants those test scores.  However, the Educational Testing Service does not keep scores longer than 9 1/2 years.  I called the school district where I used to teach and they are packing up to move to their new $7,000,000.00 digs, as well as digitizing records, so they don't know when they can get any information to me or to the California school district.

Today, I went to the health department to get a TB test, but they don't do TB tests on Thursdays, because there is no one to read them on Saturday.  So i have to come back tomorrow.  And then I have to go back on Monday to get the results read.

The good news is that I made it to Nathan's, where i had a lovely latte and an amazingly delicious breakfast sandwich.  Chris joined me for a while, and we sat on the low slung couch, watching the coffee scene unfold. Chris let me vent about this for a while, and then mentioned I might be a bit impatient about the whole process, considering that i only began it on Sunday evening.  My expectations of teaching so soon might be a tad unrealistic.  I should be shooting for after the first of the new year.  Gulp.

So i calmed down, had a Spiritual Elixir, kombucha served in a glass jar, and, boy, did i need that this morning.

In these uncertain times, i am so grateful for Nathan's, where I can sit and remember what is good about life. Vibrant art, good food, nice people, foamy lattes, great music - all these things go a long way to making frustrations easier to tolerate.  My challenge is always to keep my mouth shut in situations like this, where I think i can change a situation to suit my schedule.  Through many trials and loads of errors, I have learned that the system is the way it is, and it does not care about me.  Understanding that, I can move on to a place of peace and problem solving.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't Be Chai About It ...

Traveling has taught me that it is essential to have anchors.  One of my anchors is coffee.  I'm not a snob about coffee, either.  But I really appreciate the way coffee is appreciated the further west i get. People out here get it.  It started for me in Milwaukee, and with Patty and Charlie, who also appreciate good coffee. I drank many delicious lattes from Collectivo and Anodyne, suggested by the two of them.

In Colorado, I was spoiled by Susan Cooper Page, who made really good coffee, served in big latte cups on her comfy king sized bed, along with great conversation.  One of the world's best hostesses, Susan drove us up to Estes Park, Colorado, where we had delicious coffee at Inkwell & Brew, a great spot with an upstairs loft seating area that is so inviting that we stayed for an hour and met a lovely couple who had been married for sixty years.

And then there was my cousin, Michele Humphrey Cook, who introduced me to the glories of Nespresso. Oh my God! I love steamed milk and the milk steamer alone is worth the $299.00 price tag.  And then there is the matter of the pods.  I have always been against pod coffee makers for environmental reasons.  I think they are wrong, and I used to be very judgmental about it.  That is, I was until I met Nespresso.

Once upon a time, i was muddling through life, drinking coffee, thinking i had a somewhat sophisticated coffee palate.  That is, until I met Nespresso.  Nespresso ruined me for mediocre coffee.

You have to send away to some magic coffee place in Europe and they send back the magic pods in two days, and you do it because it's Nespresso.  The foam on the steamed milk is like a pillow topped mattress. I drank that every morning and wondered how i had missed it until now.

One day, we went into Boulder and stopped at a coffee shop, and the coffee was good.  But my heart had been turned by Nespresso.  I got good pictures, though.  And it does not matter where I am when i am with Michele.  We have great talks everywhere.

I drove through Nebraska and Wyoming, disappointed by my lack of coffee choices. Sunday morning, on the way to Crawford, Nebraska, and all i could find was a closed espresso place that looked so cute, and a convenience store a bit further up the street selling $1 cups of coffee with powdered creamer. How the mighty had fallen.

The decision to go the northern route to California, through Seattle, was strictly based on coffee withdrawal. It was a good choice.  I got through the Tetons on caffeine, stopping at a couple of independent shops on my way to Seattle, where I made a pilgrimage to the headquarters of the gods of caffeine, Starbucks.

In Boise, Idaho, I stopped at Jim's Coffee Shop, an old time, homey place, where the servers were friendly. As i traveled through the Tetons, discombobulated by the altitude and the beauty, I found Kathy's Koffee, a cozy spot filled with sunlight and the smell of goodies baking.

I used to have nothing nice to say about Starbucks, when they were ubiquituous in DC, every three blocks, and then when they came to Vero, and tried to suck the life out of local, independent coffee roasting businesses.

And then i was in the middle of America, where there were towns without local shops.  I learned to appreciate the Starbucks at rest stops off of interstate highways, when my eyes were flitting shut from exhaustion.

In Portland, Oregon, I had great coffee.  First, I stopped at sunrise at the Bipartisan Cafe on Stark Street.  The place was everything I thought a Portland coffee shop would look like. It was located in what probably used to be a store, maybe a book store or a dress shop, with floor to ceiling windows, elevated up a couple of stairs, with a great view of the street and the shops in the neighborhood.

Later, I found Spin, an amazing laundromat with a marvelous coffee shop that served wine and beer, in addition to really good coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and salads.  I sat and relaxed while an energetic attendant monitored my laundry in the wash.
Here in Vallejo, I am so grateful that I found a great spot, Nathan's Conscious Coffee, in downtown Vallejo where i can plug in my laptop and get a really good latte.  The people are friendly and the work of local artists hang from the sunny yellow walls.  It feels like someone's apartment, the way a good coffee shop should feel.  Homey, comfortable, welcoming - this place has it all.  The place smells like cornbread waffles and maple syrup, the most amazing aroma you've ever smelled.

Danielle is the owner and chef, and has a loving hand when it comes to cooking.  He and i talked about the movie, "Like Water for Chocolate," and cooking with love for the people he loves is what he does.

I found a corner in a window at a rustic wood table that can seat at least four.  It is the perfect spot to watch people on the street, and as they come into the shop. The music they play is really good, across all genres.  I can work, but I don't feel isolated.

This morning, for breakfast, Danielle made me Huevos Rancheros that were delicious and healthy.  I met a couple of local artists named Shawn and Julia, and, even though I promised I would not butt in on their coffee date, we ended up having a nice chat about the area, kids, and life.

Julia told me about a great walking spot on Mare Island that i am going to check out later today.

The place is so comfortable that I stayed for lunch and had Danielle's amazing chicken soup, made purple by the beets he cooks in it, along with a whole organic chicken, cauliflour, garlic, onions, and all kinds of other magic ingredients that made me feel loved.

So here i sit, sorting things out.  I have applied to be a substitute teacher, which seems like the perfect way to support my travels, here in California.  Even though there is a shortage of substitute teachers, California makes it as difficult as possible someone to become a substitute teacher. I understand why.  They want to keep the riff-raff out. But they want $100 just to process my application, and $75 for my finger prints.  If i had it, I would not need to be a substitute.  Grrrr.

The upside to substituting makes it worth it, I suppose.  In the Fairfield-Suisin Unified School District, the base daily rate is $160.00.  I can work twice a week and live comfortably, traveling the rest of the the time around the state.  Or work more some weeks, and take other weeks off, to do what i want.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

You've got to have friends ...

I really needed a change of scenery and i certainly got it.  This was my view this morning, on my walk along the San Pedro Trail on Mare Island.  I am still pinching myself that I drove all the way around the country, and here i am.  It is a strange sensation to be away from familiarity. routines and friends are stabilizing, and right now i feel really unstable.  So unstable, in fact, that i phoned my friend, Kathryn, back in Boston.  I knew i could count on her to be a good port in a storm.  She is extremely level headed, with a great sense of humor.  She helps me not to take myself so seriously and to embrace the parts of myself I would rather ignore or change. 

Here is my office for the day, Nancy and Chris' living room.  

Monday, November 9, 2015


What an amazing weekend! I kept saying that it was divinely inspired because everything about it was so elegant and gorgeous.

My cousin Rich's daughter, Erin, got married at San Carlos Borromeo de Mission Carmelo, in Carmel this past Friday (  She married a wonderful guy, Kurt, and they are on a fabulous honeymoon to Bora Bora at the moment.  The wedding was  exquisite, and the best part was seeing my east coast family on the west coast.

The reception was held at the Holman Ranch, where the views were spectacular. It was like a dream, and as elegant as it all was, the atmosphere was so warm and welcoming.  The food was amazing, as it should be when it is has been picked from a nearby farm that morning.  Erin's uncle, Bob Krause, an amazing florist in Bronxville, New York, flew out with his four children, to do the flowers.  It was a magical weekend.

Following a leisurely and delicious brunch on Saturday, we took a ride on the 17-mile drive, seeing several of our relatives at scenic stops along the way.

On Sunday, several of the east coast family members drove up from Carmel and met the west coast side in Sonoma at the Swiss Hotel, where we had a lovely lunch on the back patio.

After lunch, the east coast contingent headed to San Francisco for a few days, while the west coast contingent headed to taste some sparkling wine in Sonoma.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Still here in the Bay Area

I'm here in Vallejo, with Chris and Nancy, my cousins.  They have graciously said I am welcome for as long as i need to stay, but definitely through Thanksgiving.  I am so grateful because I really needed a place to stop and wash off the road.  

It is hard to believe, but i have been on the road for four months. I left Vero Beach on July 3, and I am truly amazed at the progress i have made and what i have seen.  This country is huge, and in every part, there is so much beauty.  I marvel at the fact that we are all one country, governed by the same laws, since everywhere i have been has been so different from the last place I was in.  

People have asked me where my favorite place is.  It is the place where I am at the moment.  Every place I have visited has been wonderful.  There are a few places I love so much that they are on my list of where I might end up living, when (if?) I do finally settle down.  

Portland, Maine is one. So is Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Fort Collins, Colorado is on the list.  So is Portland, Oregon, Vancouver Washington, and now, the Bay Area.  All of these places have grabbed my heart and my imagination, and I think I could probably be very happy living in any of them.  Evidently, I am not ready to make a commitment to any place yet.  So i will just keep enjoying where I am.  

In the meantime, I am marveling at myself that I actually followed through and got this far.  I have had adventures and experiences I could not have dreamed of on my own.  I have seen vistas that have given me goosebumps, and ridden through mountain passes that made me think I would lose my lunch.  I overcame my own inertia, and although it has not been pretty at every mile, this trip has done what it was supposed to do - shake me up and out of myself.  

The nice dog park

Napa Farmers Market
last day of the season

Monday, November 2, 2015

San Francisco

Greens at the Marina
San Francisco

I drove into San Francisco yesterday, to meet friends for lunch at Greens, a vegetarian restaurant in the Marina district.  As i drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, shivers went up my spine and i felt like i had been tickled.  I laughed and figured it was my dad, jibing me, in case I was missing the beauty.  I wasn't.  

I was so excited to finally be in another place i had only seen in photos and read about.  It was so staggeringly beautiful that my vocabulary has seemed to disappear.

Before lunch, I ducked into a used book store operated by the Friends of the San Francisco Library.  I wanted to get a book for Clelia, age 8, and then i saw another cute one for Bella, age 4, so I got that one, too.  I could have spent the day in this book store.  And it had a great a cafe attached.  There was an abundant farmers' market going on outside.  After experiencing the Napa Farmers' Market, here was another glorious one right in front of me.  

I arrived first at the restaurant, and Claudia and Kriss showed up soon after.  Kriss picked Claudia, who flew in from DC, up at the airport.  We had all just seen each other for Claudia's birthday in McLean, Virginia, but it was so much fun seeing each other in San Francisco.  

Lunch went way too fast, and Claudia was on a tight schedule, so we said good bye.  Both Kriss and Claudia recommended I stop at Muir Woods on the way back to Vallejo, and I promised I would.  

First, I found Grace Cathedral, a place I had read about, especially about their labrynth.  I got an amazing parking space, and there i was, walking the labrynth and reveling in the gorgeous stained glass windows.  

                                             Grace Cathedral                                           

The fog was beginning to roll in as I left the city, but I decided to stop at Muir Woods, like I had promised.  Oh my god! I also found Mt. Tamalpais.  Holy shit! Talk about switchback mountains.  The ride was a 3-D labrynth. I would have pulled over to get my bearings, but if you know highway 101, you know there are few places to pull over.  Thankfully, the fog was thick and i couldn't see the full view. As it was, it was mindblowing.  I thought it would never end, and i was really scared at certain points, but i was giddy, too. And when it was over, I was so proud of myself for having done it and seen it.