Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Life As a Raccoon

"You are a part of history, and don't ever forget it!" - Dawn Hampton

For 16 years I mocked the spirit of Labor Day. I defiantly took on the role of Uber-Geek Worker and reveled in that which is the Telluride Film Festival.

This year, however, I celebrated Labor Day weekend with dance - a LOT of dance. Dancing from morning until the wee hours of the next morning, punctuated by meals and naps by the pool. It verged on Lindy Hop Heaven.

A few years ago my friends Jenny & Mariah went  to Swing Out New Hampshire and their descriptions of the camp elicted Instant Envy & Longing. Other dancers I met confirmed my suspicion - that there was something else fun & unique going on during Labor Day Weekend. The Quest was on!

It started with the super-easy process of signing up online. A few emails with director Mark Kapner, a couple of payments, and I was a bona fide SOHN camper. I had no idea what a treat Mark would be in person. I wish I had half his personality and ability to remain calm! He was instrumental in bringing a great sense of humor and inclusiveness to the camp. (And he leads a great campfire sing-a-long!)

Kudos also go to Mark for creating a space where the beginner dancers - "The Bluebirds" - are treated like royalty. It doesn't happen often enough.

Audra drove me from Boston to Camp Wicosuta and got to experience a brief part of the weekend first hand. I'd been to a couple of Girl Scout camps as a kid, but they were never as fun as this! I'd only been at SONH about 5 minutes before my favorite question was asked: "Would you like steak or lobster for dinner?" YES!!! Definitely my kind of place. (My 2nd favorite question - "Would you like to dance?" - was asked plenty of times, too.)

After the Big Question, 2 "gorillas" escorted Audra & me to my cabin and helped us unload the large boxes I had shipped out for the occasion. Our very own sherpas. Excellent! And just to add a touch of intrigue, all the Gorillas (guys who worked for the camp) went by codenames. Quickdraw. Hollywood. Wolfman. Smokey. The Colonel. Quite a crew.

I should probably elaborate on the notion of "my cabin." It would be more appropriate to say they escorted me to a bunk bed in the cabin I shared with 15 other women. With 4 showers (tiny, tiny showers) and 4 toilets (thank god they were of the flushing variety). And spiders. And every morning at 8am (regardless of whether or not you'd been dancing until 7am) "Revelry" pealed out from loudspeakers hidden throughout the camp. This truly was "Meatballs" for adults. Crazy adults obsessed with dancing.

So... The Dancing. Was great. Five nights of live bands, four days of lessons, and still there was time to go to the lake, or go to the pool, or play tennis, or sleep late. The teachers were fabulous. Steven Mitchell & Virginie Jensen are a staple and world-class (FYI, they'll be teaching in Denver in October.) Manu & Gina, and Skye & Frieda - young, hip, energetic. But I'm definitely going to have to pick favorites and single out Joel & Alison Plys from San Diego and Alana Hock from Canada. Wow! They were the whole package.

And the talent wasn't restricted to the campers. The Gorillas took the floor a couple of times to show us a thing or two! If I tried to kick my legs as high as Quickdraw kicked his, I would seriously hurt myself. They had some good moves!

Thursday night we were treated to a solo act by Dawn Hampton. Dawn is an amazing, inspirational 80-year old whose love of dance is infectious. I consider myself lucky every time I'm in her presence.

Saturday night we had a cabaret. And I can honestly say I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. For 3 hours. Everyone's talent obviously didn't stop at the dance floor. I wish I could adequately describe the feeling of a whole room singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" - in harmony - or the triumph of Joel Plys' 10-Armpit-Farts-In-a-Row, or the sheer genius of a song devoted to Japanese food, or hearing Mark's "Bellybutton" song for the first time, or seeing the 6'4" Colonel in a Tigger costume. You just had to be there.

So I didn't go through all this just to make you jealous and rub it in about how great a time I had. I did it to let you know that if you are interested in swing dancing, whether you're an absolute beginner or a seasoned professional, you should seriously consider spending next Labor Day weekend at Swing Out New Hampshire. You will get quality instruction, you'll have a bed to sleep in, you'll be feed 3 meals a day, you'll meet great people, you'll hang out with gorillas, and you will dance 'til you limp.

This weekend I've been enjoying the rapidly diminishing warmth of the sun at Blues & Brews, marveling at the fresh dusting of snow on the mountains every morning, and looking forward to off-season starting on Monday. And although I still have all these great memories & ideas & dance steps from SONH stirring around in my brain, what comes through loudest is, 

"Dang, that was fun!"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Culture Shock

Although I’ve been in Norwood approximately one-fifth of the time I lived in Southern California, it seems I have adjusted to rural living quite easily. Transitioning back into an urban life, even if only for a day or two, appears more painfully difficult. Take for instance my recent trip to Grand Junction (pop. 42,000).

My first weird moment occurred in the Montrose (pop. 16,000) Taco Bell. When I lived in Los Angeles (pop. 9,948,000), I used to eat at Taco Bell about three times a week. Now that I live one and a half hour’s drive from the nearest fast food restaurant, I consider it to be a Road Trippin’ Treat. [As a funny(?) side note, the previous time I stopped at Taco Bell they were out of tacos. Very disappointing.] Normally I go through the drive-thru because I’m always in a hurry and fast food joints are not known for their ambiance. This time, however, the lure of a public commode was too much to resist, so I went inside.

I felt like the Brother From Another Planet. I found myself unsure of how to navigate the human loading chute, trying to figure out what the cashiers wanted from me, and what the graphics on the menu board represented. I was impressed to learn they finally started carrying guacamole. It was such an odd feeling. I wondered if the uranium mining was getting to me after all.

My next weirdo moment happened in the supermarket in Grand Junction. I used to be an expert supermarket shopper. The markets in So Cal have club cards and they double the value of coupons, so I would wait until the item had a special “club” price, then use a coupon to purchase it. I almost always ended up saving at least fifty percent of my grocery tab, sometimes as much as seventy-five percent. I also ended up buying a lot of crap just because there was a coupon for it.

Now walking into a supermarket makes me dizzy. Our local markets are much smaller and in general offer a bare minimum. Need a bar of soap? There are five to choose from. How about a frozen CPK pizza? We’ve got a grand total of three. But in the SUPERmarket, all of my choices have been super-sized. There are fifty varieties of crackers, one hundred different yogurts, and an unending aisle of soda.

“What could be more liberating than Freedom of Choice?” I thought as I gazed wide-eyed at the shampoo display. (Citre Shine or Garnier? Suave or Vidal Sassoon? Dry hair or colored hair or straight hair? More body? More shine? Less frizz?) Five minutes later I was still trying to sort out my needs and my coupons. I didn’t even have the advantage of having my mind pre-determined by advertisers because a.) I TiVo, hence I fast-forward through commercials, b.) there are no billboards within one hundred miles of my house, and c.) our newspapers advertise real estate, not mass consumer goods.

When my “quick stop for five essential items” re-emerged into the sunlight one hour and ninety dollars later, the true cost of the excursion began to dawn on me. My so-called “Freedom of Choice” was a thief of Time. While I was debating the merits of Pepperidge Farm versus Keebler, I could have been enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, or been absorbed in my John Irving novel, or not been rushing to get to my next stop.

Later that night an acquaintance from Los Angeles expressed shock at the statement, “There’s no supermarket where I live.” Imagine that—a town in America without a super store. How cutting edge! How unique! How wonderful.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Impossible Dreams? Not here.

In memory of Ruth Marion Engeman Alt
1920 - 2007

There was some concern a few years back from those who were witness to my hectic lifestyle in the city that I would find myself bored in such a small town. That I wouldn't have a lot to do. Knowing Telluride as I do, I brushed aside their worries with a shake of my head.

And now, trying to settle down for an hour to survey the past year, I can honestly say to all the concerned: You were sooooo wrong.
It's been 10 months since I wrote a blog--not because I didn't have anything to say, but because the days went rushing past me at ever-increasing speeds. Even the "off-seasons" which are supposed to be times of rest & rejuvenation seemed to not exist for me.

While I'm exploding the "Nothing To Do In A Small Town" myth, I'd also like to disintegrate the "Small Town Lack Of Accomplishment" myth. This town is amazing. San Miguel County in particular--and southwestern Colorado in general--is filled with an astounding collection of artists & writers & activists & community-oriented people. They selflessly give the gift of belief--the belief that anything can be accomplished here. It's the Old West ideal in its living, breathing form.

Every year Telluride has one of the most successful AIDS benefits in the state. This year, the community (and lots of friends) raised $25 million in the ongoing effort to secure a beautiful, symbolic piece of land as open space. This year, a couple of people contributed a lot of time, money, and sweat equity to open a beautiful performing arts space in Norwood. This year I was in my 1st tap dance recital in 30 years. (It redefined the word "terrifying" for me.)

My personal greatest accomplishment of not only this past year, but of any year, was the creation of Swing Camp Telluride. When I started taking dance classes in 2001 I had no idea it would be such a large part of my future. I only knew that as soon as I stepped into the Stevens' sisters classes in Pasadena, I loved it. With the closest swing dancing a 7 hour drive away, I resigned myself to the fact that my dancing days ended when I moved to Norwood. I was sure I would never hear anyone in Telluride mention the lindy hop.

But then I met my friend Sandy who had danced in San Francisco, and instantly my lindy hop world doubled. And the formation of a swing dance camp just as suddenly went from an impossibility to a probability. Sandy & I attended an event and there were 3 lindy hopping couples from the area. Our numbers had quadrupled in 1 night. The clincher was a community grant that I received to help finance the camp. At that point I was forced to make it happen.

The swing camp was blessed on many levels--the grant from CCAASE, the enormous help & support of my family and friends, the assistance of 3 great teachers I had met on a cruise in 2004 (Catrine Ljunggren, Elliott Donnelley, & Calle Johansson), and Chad, a friend/DJ from Phoenix.
I'll never forget looking into the first lindy hop class that Catrine & Elliott were teaching. There were at least 10 couples swing dancing and laughing in the Sheridan Opera House--a sight I truly never expected to see.

I realized with the passing away of my grandmother in October that without a doubt I got my love of dance from her. Every time I visited them, she & my grandfather would end up dancing. It didn't matter if they were wearing housecoats & swimsuits in their living room or if they were dressed to the nines at a wedding. If there was a moment for dancing, my grandma took advantage of it. I know a few of my aunts got the dancing bug from her, and I'm pretty sure my cousins Heidi & Elke have it as well.

As I prepare for the 2nd Swing Camp Telluride this March, I don't know if it will take me "far" in life, but that's not the point of it. The camp is a way for me to share my love of swing dancing with the community I love. Every single person who had even a miniscule part in helping make it happen gets unending thanks for helping me realize a dream.

Thank you Everyone. Thank you CCAASE & TCAH. Thanks Grandma!

May we all lindy on throughout 2008 and beyond! Happy New Year!!!

1.) "All-weather" tires are NOT snow tires
2.) Snow tires are very important
3.) I will drive 7 hours just to go to a dance
4.) Friends in Denver are a great thing
5.) Dogs can act like teenagers, too (let's hope that phase passes quickly...)
6.) Smokey Robinson can still bring down the house
7.) Tap dancing is difficult
8.) "Deck the Halls" is easy to hate if you use it as the ringtone on your work phone
9.) There is a handsome, young, single man in Norwood! (But he's not single anymore...)
10.) No one could pull off a pink bunny suit like Grandma

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Very Bad Day

Once upon a time, when this blog was just getting its legs, I wrote that sometimes you have to write about the bad along with the good. (See February 2005) But I haven't done that, have I? No--I've led you to believe that I live an absolutely idyllic life in a perfect little mountain town. That the biggest problems are naughty sheep and markets that close at 8pm. Birds are always chirping, flowers are always blooming, dwarfs are always singing. Yadda yadda yadda.

But sometimes, 24 hours can't seem to pass quickly enough. Sometimes you question your judgment. Sometimes Mercury is in retrograde.

Take Wednesday, for example. It started like any other Wednesday--I slept through 3 alarms while the cats held me captive with their warm purring bodies, I took Joe for a too-short walk, then headed into town for my 3rd day of double shifts. I was counting on a quiet night at the restaurant and getting home at a reasonable hour (i.e., before midnight).

But all that changed when a small blonde woman walked into the bar half an hour before closing. Before she even took a sip of her beer she started weeping and I thought, This Can't Be Good. When my co-worker asked (rather bluntly, I'll admit) why she was crying and she started cussing him out I thought, Oh Yeah. This Is Going To Be Bad.

The cursing escalated in a Tourette's-like fashion to the point where we had to kick her out. While my co-worker hustled her out of the restaurant, I called the police so she would have a good, safe place to spend the night. When I got outside she was on the ground so I walked over and said, "Are you all right?" At which point she got up, called me a number of highly impolite names, and then shoved me in the chest. Hard. And then I thought, That Crazy Bitch Just Pushed Me!

Now you all know that I'm a peace-loving little liberal and the restaurant where I work doesn't usually attract Crazy Ladies, so I am not used to dealing with this kind of situation. Confrontation doesn't suit me. And I had a feeling that if I said one more thing to this fool she was going to punch me. So I walked away (the cops arrived to find my co-worker sitting on her back, trying to restrain her), saved a couple of teeth in the process, and tried to shake it off. I called a few friends (who were an enormous help in cheering me up--thank you!) and arrived home at the tender hour of 2am.

When I walked in the house I did the 1st thing I always do--go into the laundry room to feed the cats. But that night--that Wednesday night/Thursday morning--as soon as I entered the laundry room I thought, Something Is Wrong. Because normally my slippers don't squelch. And the 1/4 inch of water on the floor confirmed that Something, Indeed, Was Very Wrong. Namely, my water heater had decided it didn't want to be part of my household any longer. Since the water seemed to staying at a pretty steady level on my floor, I decided I would deal with it in the morning.

Cut to 6 hours later: I woke up and started making phone calls. Turns out only 1 company will come out to Norwood, and the place where they purchase their water heaters from isn't open until Monday, so maybe they'll be out Tuesday. (Remember, this is still Thursday.) Ok, fine, whatever. (I mean, it's not like I live at the ends of the earth. It's close to the ends of the earth, but there are people here. There are dwellings. There are things that need to be fixed. Does it really have to be that difficult?)

Meanwhile, I mopped the floor, but every time I looked in the laundry room it was filled with water again. Because unbeknownst to me, water heaters continue to refill even if their electricity is shut off. (Thanks for the info, Dad!) And to make matters worse, the shut-off valve to the heater was stuck. So about 7:30pm on Thursday I called my dad and explained that I don't know what's going on and then he explained to me that I'm going to have to shut off my main water valve. It should be easy. It should be the pipe coming out of the wall with the shut-off valve in your crawl space. You mean the dirt-floored crawl space that I've been pushing all the spilt water into all day? Yes, that one.

But, of course, when I went beneath the house all the pipes were covered with insulation and I couldn't tell one thing from another. Finally, after searching the outside of the house & making phone calls & carefully running my hands along all the pipes I found what I was sure must be the valve. I slowly and carefully peeled away the insulation . . .

and suddenly ice cold water was spraying directly into my face with the force of a garden hose at full blast. My immediate thought was, I Don't Think This Is Supposed To Happen. Followed by--not for the first time, mind you--This Is Bad. This Is Very, Very Bad. You never realize how much water is flowing through the pipes of your house until its relentlessly smacking you in the face.

Desperately I tried to figure out a way to make the gushing water stop, but each time I did anything I knocked the pipe and water hit me in the face again. I was freaking out, so I did the only thing that came to mind--ran up the ladder into the laundry room, called my parents (who are 2,000 miles away, just so you know), and started yelling, "I have an emergency! I have an emergency! Water everywhere! I don't know what to do!" and then I ran back into the crawl space and tried again to find the valve with water hitting me in the face and the phone glued to my ear. Obviously, I'm not the one who's going to stay calm & focused in an emergency situation.

After what seemed like a lifetime (but was really only 5 minutes) I managed to turn the water off. The pipe was so rusted that a mere touch had caused it to completely snap. I stood there in the crawl space, dripping from head to toe, ankle-deep in mud, saying, "Yuck," over and over again into the phone. Not my proudest moment. It was 8:30pm Thursday, exactly 24 hours since that Crazy Lady walked into my bar. The only water left in my house was what was on me and the floor. Let me tell you, when you suddenly only have 1 flush left in your toilet you use it wisely. (Have you heard of the $4.00 flush? It's when you either a.) have to buy a jug of water in Telluride to fill your toilet tank one time or b.) go to the coffee shop and flush their toilet in exchange for a fancy drink.)

Things haven't improved since Thursday. I got a cold from being doused with water on a winter's night, and no one can come to Norwood to fix my plumbing until "Maybe Monday." (You know that calendar, right? Maybe Monday, Til Tuesday, What About Wednesday, We'll Try Thursday, and We Don't Work Friday.) And did you know that snow evaporates more than it melts? So much for refilling my toilet tanks on the cheap.

But I've decided to blame all my misfortune on Al Gore. You see, Wednesday afternoon I thought, I Haven't Had Anything To Write A Blog About In A While. And if it hadn't been for Al Gore inventing the internet, there would be no such thing as blogs, and I wouldn't be trolling for fodder for my reading public. Damn you, Al!

And that, my friends, was My Very Bad Day.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I'll Be Loving You Always

My intention was to write this entry 4 months ago, just after the Telluride Film Festival. Time is a funny thing. I'm torn between disbelief that 4 months have already gone by and this strange sense of nostalgia the festival carries with it, making it seem like it's been years since my weekend in the Sheridan Opera House and confirming my notion that the festival exists in its own little time-space continuum where sleep is overrated and Film is King.

Every year the film fest comes & goes like a lightning bolt. The town transforms overnight, with banners, celebrities, huge tents, staff and passholders seeming to appear out of this thin air. Five days later everything's packed for next year, the tourists have gone to hibernate until the winter season, and the staff has returned to their former lives in faraway cities. Nary a hint that what seemed all-consuming only a week before has even occurred, let alone been executed with the utmost success.

This past Labor Day weekend, for the 15th year in a row, I found myself ensconced in the Sheridan Opera House from just after dawn 'til well past dusk every day of the long weekend. This is by no means a lament, but rather a declaration of love. She's an old girl--nearly as old as film itself. In 7 years she'll be 100. And like Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard you can still see traces of undeniable glamour under her stage make-up. Some of the greatest performers from all areas of entertainment have graced her stage, and they have complimented each other well.

I first entered the Opera House just a week after I turned 21, and we've been together ever since. It's my longest-running love affair. There's nothing to match the thrill of the "official" opening of each film festival. The tiny theatre nearly bursts with the excitement it holds--people literally buzzing with happiness, nervousness, and anticipation of what the entire weekend holds in store.

And I've seen some things there. Chuck Jones would tell me dirty jokes before the films started. Clint Eastwood shook my hand in the middle of the Opera House. Peter O'Toole arrived for his tribute dressed to the nines--tailored suit complete with vest & long-handled cigarette holder--and charmed everybody. Roger Ebert gleefully asked a bystander to take his picture with Louis Malle, Wallace Shaun, & Andre Gregory--less than a year before Malle's death. I watched Tim Roth try to form a coherent sentence before an early morning screening, and had Greg Kinnear enthusiastically introduce himself to me. I'll never forget seeing the expression on John Ritter's face as he walked in for the premiere of Sling Blade and said, "Oh my gosh! It's so beautiful!" I've heard Peter Bogdanovich relate personal stories of Orson Welles, Cary Grant, & John Ford with the humor of a professional impressionist. And I've always been greeted with a hug by Ken Burns & Peter Sellars, and a Hershey's kiss from Annette Insdorf.

I've seen many, many films in the Opera House but one of the most memorable has always been Lonesome. It's a simple story of two people finding each other, and when it was shown at the film fest in 1994 the Alloy Orchestra helped bring the silent film to life. I was amazed to see it on the schedule again this year--it was something I feared I'd never see again--and it helped give me a sense of personal history of my time with the festival.

I've seen the festival grow exponentially in size and scope. I've seen numerous theatre spaces created and deconstructed. I've met & worked with so many wonderful people that I love seeing every year, but am sad I only get to see them once a year.

After 15 years, I've been thinking about taking a year off to dance in the wilderness of New Hampshire. It's a hard decision for me to make. On the one hand, it's supposed to be a really amazing dance camp & of course it only happens once year--on Labor Day weekend. On the other hand, I can't really wrap my brain around being any place other than Telluride for Labor Day. Besides the fact that I would greatly miss seeing my friends, I can't help but wonder, if I spend the weekend elsewhere, will I still be consumed by thoughts of the festival? At 6pm on Friday night will I be thinking, "Is the Green Room ready? Has the masking been set? Are we clear on all the cues? Is the oleo going to crash on the guest's head? Is the sound ok? Is everyone in place?" instead of "Who's this cute guy I'm dancing with?" Will I be wondering if anyone's gotten Annette her hot chocolate and popcorn with butter instead of concentrating on keeping the beat? Will next year be the year Matt Dillon's finally given a tribute & I'll miss my one chance to meet him?

Hard to say. Even harder to decide. Usually what ends up happening is that in October I'll start thinking, "Maybe I'll try something new next Labor Day," and by May I'm thinking, "Why would I possibly want to spend Labor Day someplace else?" It's only December(!), so I have a little time to make up my mind. Whatever the outcome, my feelings about the Opera House will never change. No matter where my feet are that weekend, my heart will always be stage left.

I'm still reeling that so many months have passed so quickly. My pup is growing into a young dog, and he's getting better every day. My skis are being tuned up in anticipation of plowing through the thick snow. And I had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Sandy's house. We didn't say our individual "thanks" at the table, which is probably a good thing because by the time I got done with mine the turkey would have been cold.

So as I'm typing away on this stunningly beautiful Christmas day, nerdishly listening to my larger-than-any-sane-person-would-have Christmas CD colletion, I would like to take this moment to share some of my gratefulness. First & foremost, to my wonderful friends & family--thanks for all the emails, cards, phone calls, gifts, & encouragement. I'm grateful for my home, my pets, and the beautiful mountains I see everyday. I'm so thankful to have good jobs working for good people. I'm grateful to be part of a community that cares, and that generously supports the arts. And I'm especially thankful that every day I'm able to say, "I love my life." I hope you can all say the same.

Love to all, and to all a good night!


I'll be loving you, Always,
With a love that's true, Always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But Always.

--Irving Berlin, from Lonesome

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mow Against the Grain

Well, friends, it's hard to believe that my First Norwood Anniversary has come and gone. Some days it feels like I've been here a month, other days it feels like I've been here half my life.

There was a lot of hullabaloo on my anniversary weekend--so much so that I forgot to take note of it. My parents, sister, and brother-in-law were here to help spruce up Rancho Deluxe a little, and my friend Stacey came out for a visit from L.A.
stacey family
Stacey mentioned how scared she had been for me last year, when it seemed like I was completely uprooting my life to go live in a tiny town without a good job lined up and far from my friends. She was able to see for herself that everything worked out ok.

I was finally able to do a bit of reflecting on the past year as I was mowing my new backyard with my new Honda lawnmower around the deck housing my new propane grill. (I think having a house to take care of brings out the inner-Hank Hill in me. Of course, Hank's lucky enough to have a riding mower. I'm stuck pushing mine. Did I mention that I don't believe I've ever had to push a lawnmower before? It's amazing how much bigger the yard seems as soon as I pull the mower out.) I have to say, I think my lawnmower helps separate the men from the boys--there are those who really admire it, and then there are those who glance at it curiously & hope they won't be asked to touch it.

And to be perfectly honest, I was feeling a bit glum because I had just been unceremoniously dumped by a fellow I was dating. Although our courtship was very short-lived, it was one that I felt had great potential. (Of course, we all know I've been wrong about that before.) But a night or two after the realization that this guy wasn't going to be calling me again, I had a dream in which every friend of mine in Telluride came up to me & hugged me. I could palpibly feel myself being soothed by their collective good will as I slept. And when I awoke I realized that I had been gifted a vision of truth--that no single person can emotionally hurt me because there's a wonderful majority that embraces me just as I am.

I still can't believe I've accomplished so much in 1 year, when it seemed like I was getting very little accomplished in L.A. Much to my surprise (and delight) I actually achieved 4 major goals within 12 months: I found a great job (I mean 3), I made more time for myself (even with the 3 jobs!), I bought a house, and I have a bunch of great friends looking out for me.

I'm even hangin' with a new man already. He's got soft red hair, big brown eyes, and a cute little backside that just won't quit. And he cries when I leave him. I'd like to introduce you all to Joe--Joe - 7/24/06
I had a strange feeling I'd meet someone special as soon as I bought my house. I just didn't realize he'd have 4 legs! (And that I would have to engage in potty-training...)

Hank Hill says you should "mow against the grain" for a better lawn. I have no idea how to determine the "grain" of a lawn. I only know how to mow against the grain of normality for a better life. Maybe I should make one of my goals for next year to find a man who not only admires my lawnmower, but would find great pleasure in taking it for a spin around my yard every weekend. Let him figure out which way the grain goes!

In the meantime, I'll just keep repeating my profoundly true motto from last year: Life Is Good.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Welcome to Rancho Deluxe!

In Memory of John G. Bellai Grandpa Army

"You could walk out of the house, but you always returned home."
--Witold Rybczynski, Home

The people in my family tend to be a sedentary group. My parents bought their house in 1981. My maternal grandparents have called their place in South Carolina home since about 1973. My paternal grandparents were in their house since time immemorial. My cousins and I have been the most mobile of our families, but considering that I lived in the same Los Angeles apartment for nearly 12 years & most of my cousins have had their houses longer than that, it's not really saying much. So you can imagine my surprise to find myself re-packing after being in the now infamous Big Pink for less than a year.

But today I bought a house. I'm still not sure how it feels to say that. It does induce a bit of nausea and "crazy-spinning-head" syndrome, but in a mostly good way. I think. (It probably has something to do with the realization that I'm going to have to remain constantly gainfully employed for the next 30 years.) I mean, I know I said I wanted to buy a house within a year or two, but who knew that I'd actually DO it?!? We all know how impossible this would have been in L.A.

When I first started looking for a place to buy a few months ago (instigated by the sighting of a "Little Pink" house for sale), I thought it would make for a great series of blogs. But it turns out that this has all happened so quickly there was no time for a series. In fact, I first stepped inside my new home less than 2 months ago. My friend Brandt was helping me check some places out and the moment we pulled up he said, "Hmm. Very 'Rancho Deluxe.'" And so a new home was named. And bid on. And counter-offered on. And bought & sold in less than 7 weeks. Sheer insanity as only I know how to do, because my first thought was, "It's perfect."

In the midst of all the negotiating and fretting, my grandfather passed away & it gave me the opportunity to reflect on what a home really means. It's strange to think that I will probably never see my grandparents' house again. My dad and aunt grew up in that house, and my family spent nearly every Thanksgiving & Christmas there. It's the neighborhood my sister & I went trick-or-treating in.
My cousins were always there for the holidays, too, and that's what my memories gravitate toward. I remember playing duck-duck-goose with them on the front lawn & picking cherries off the tree in the backyard. My cousins taught me the only card games I know (War, Go Fish, & Slapjack) in my grandparents' living room. One of my school friends lived right down the street, as did my great aunt Ginny. And I remember my grandfather's ancient green Ford truck sitting in front of the house, complete with its perpetual "Old Car" scent of oil and sunburnt vinyl seats, & their dog Fred waddling around on the grass.

My maternal grandparents also had a wonderful house in New Jersey that I will never see again. It was a renovated coach house for a mansion--a building that once stored carriages, stabled horses, and housed valets. It was a mile into the woods--the end of the line--and the 6-bedroom structure with a gymnasium and outdoor pool at one point or another sheltered 3 generations of my family. My aunt & uncle converted the stables into an apartment. It was the setting of numerous birthday parties & a clambake or two. One time we found a secret room behind a closet, & when I was ready to have my own room at 6 years old, all I had to do was pick from among the 4 empty ones across the hall & shuffle my stuff over. I still remember my mother catching me mid-move & asking incredulously, "What are you doing???" My reply: "I'm moving out." (Moving was much easier then.) It was absolutely heartbreaking to learn that something I had such strong ties to was razed by the current owners, to be replaced by a garage for their car collection.

The architectural theorist Witold Rybcynski wrote, "'Inhabiting' does not only mean living within. It means occupying--infusing a particular site with our presence, and not only our activities & physical possessions, but also with our aspirations & dreams. We live in a house, and in the process we make it alive." I know whoever purchases my grandfather's house will not realize or care about the dreams and the breadth of life that dwelled there, just as the couple who bought the coach house didn't. It feels sad, but it is, after all, just another cycle of life. That's what memories are for.

I'm guilty of the same thing in regards to Big Pink & Rancho Deluxe. My sentiments are completely independent of what the houses & former tenants experienced before I arrived. Lest anyone doubt it, rest assured that I will miss Big Pink. Houses rarely come with the type of character that Pink has honed to a perfection(?) over the last hundred years. I couldn't even start packing until I knew who was moving in after me. But when I discovered a new species of insector gigantus in my bathroom the other night that not even the cats would mess with, I knew I'd made the right decision.

And while Rancho Deluxe may not be as grand as the six-bedroom coach house my mom grew up in, or as classic as the three-bedroom home my dad grew up in, hopefully one day it, too, will know generations of stories.

"The ideal home is one in which the family may be most completely sheltered to develop in love, graciousness and individuality, and which is at the same time most accessible to friends, toward whom hospitality is as unconscious and spontaneous as it is abundant."
--Charles Keeler, The Simple Home

Friends and Family, you're always welcome at Rancho Deluxe.