Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wrapping Up the Blogging Year

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 12/31/09

I haven't been posting much recently, at least in part because I haven't been doing much travel. Since returning from the Yellowstone/Teton trip in early September, I've made only two short in-state trips. But on this last day of 2009 (and according to most, last day of the 00's decade), I thought I should post a bit about what I've been up to for the last few months.

In early October I attended the Bead Unique Retreat in Lake Tahoe with 3 friends from my beading group. We had a great time. We enjoyed classes with 3 wonderful teachers, shared a suite and beaded together while watching season 2 of the Closer on DVD, and ate a lot of good food. It was nice to see some snow on our last day, but even nicer that most of it was gone in time for us to drive home.

Jim and I decided to spend Thanksgiving weekend in Mendocino, a picturesque small town on the north coast (often said to resemble a New England village, something I don't really agree with). Since we moved to California, Thanksgiving has presented us with a dilemma. We don't like to travel for the holiday, especially not all the way to the east coast, where most of our family is. When we lived in the Boston area we had a great group of friends, mostly single and without children, who also lived far from their families. We would invite them to our house for what we called the "orphans' Thanksgiving", and have a wonderful time. Here in California, we haven't developed that type of friendship circle, and most of the friends we have are busy with their own families for the holiday. At a time in our lives when, if we had children, they and our grandchildren might be coming to see us, we are left with the choice of either making a turkey just for us, or going somewhere and having Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant. This year we chose the latter.

We've been to Mendocino several times before, and while the area is beautiful, I don't love it as much as other coastal areas such as Cambria or Pacific Grove. Like Cambria, it's very isolated. You get there via either a gorgeous, slow and winding trip up the coastal Route 1, or a slightly faster and also pretty trip through the woods on Route 128 (not to be confused with the Boston beltway). The town of Mendocino has never been lively; we spent new year's eve there once and didn't find anyone on the streets after 9 p.m. This time the town seemed especially small and unexciting to me. I think I was a bit depressed about the Thanksgiving-in-a-restaurant decision, although our dinner at the Albion River Inn was very good. We took some nice walks, visited Fort Bragg (a nearby, slightly larger town that has some funky stores), and spent some quiet time reading and beading in front of the fire in our apartment at Cypress Cove, a mile south of Mendocino, with a beautiful view of the town.

None of this should be read as regret of the childless life that we chose, or of our move to California. Most of the time, I love my life, and I feel very fortunate that it's turned out the way it has. 2009 was our first full year with both of us retired, and that's been a success. We've developed an enjoyable routine for times when we're at home, and managed to do some type of exercise almost every day (usually just walking in the hills near our house). For the first time in our lives, we set a budget for ourselves, and managed to keep to it through the year without feeling deprived. (Believe it or not, in the last few days of the year I've been struggling to spend what's left over in my crafts budget, ordering some beads and some yarn but still ending the year with a surplus.)

On December 24, 2008 I posted that at the end of my first year as a blogger, the unique visitor count had just passed 1000. Today it is at 3362, which means an average of 6-7 visitors per day for the year. Maui-related searches are still the most common way that people find this blog, and it's near the top of the Google results for searches such as "maui yarn", "maui beads", and "maui knitting". Searches related to New York's bead district have also been popular this year, and also Pat Riley, the Cambria handpainted clothing artist, who recently announced her retirement. There are also lots of visitors from Google Images.

As we prepare to start the next decade, I wish the readers of this blog a very happy new year, and a wonderful 2010.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Better Late Than Never: Yellowstone/Teton Highlights

Dateline: The Western U.S., 8/20/09 - 9/1/09

Melody was worried about me because I haven't posted to my blog for so long. She wondered if I had died or was in triple traction. No need to worry; everything is fine. Sometimes I just get into a non-blogging mood. But I have been intending to post about our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. So, better late than never, here are some highlights from the trip.

Jim and I drove to Yellowstone and met my brother Larry, sister-in-law Mary Beth, and nephew Max, who had flown from New York. I wanted to drive because I had never been to this part of the country, and wanted to see it up close. Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have now been added to my list of "states I've been in". We took three and a half days to get to Yellowstone, driving across Nevada, through parts of Idaho, and through a small corner of Montana. (We couldn't work out spending a night in Montana, which I wanted to do.) In Twin Falls, Idaho, we walked from our motel to the Perrine Bridge and got a beautiful view of the Snake River (picture above).

Our first stop in Yellowstone was to see some of the geysers, one of the many features that make the park unique.

The next day, we saw two eruptions of Old Faithful, the most famous geyser of all.

"Bison jams" are common on the park roads. Sometimes bison would walk onto the road, but more often people would stop their cars in the middle of the road to take pictures of the bison at the side of the road. It was fascinating to see the bison up close, but the jams added travel time to our sightseeing. (Yellowstone is huge, and to see the sights you have to do a lot of driving. The problem was compounded by the closure of several sections of the main road.) On our first day in the park, we were late for our 35th anniversary dinner because of a bison jam. And since we didn't have cell phone service, we couldn't let the family know we were going to be late.

Led by Mary Beth, an avid hiker, we took a 6.5-mile back country hike. I was tired and there were some steep sections, but with the help of improvised walking sticks, we made it. We heard that 90% of visitors to Yellowstone never get out of their cars, much less take a hike like this.

On a cowboy cookout, we rode in covered wagons pulled by horses to a picnic area and ate a delicious steak dinner. The cowboy who rode in our wagon told us the story of Truman Everts, a member of one of the first expeditions to explore Yellowstone in 1870, who became separated from his group and survived (barely) on his own in the park for 37 days. We were fascinated by the story, and I later read Everts' book about the adventure. (I've always had a morbid fascination with survival stories.) After his rescue, Everts ended his career by working in a post office in Maryland.

Grand Teton Park, while only about 30 miles from Yellowstone, has a completely different feel: less wild and rugged, but equally beautiful. We took a raft float trip on the Snake River, and enjoyed beautiful views of the mountains.

Instead of staying in the park, we stayed in the town of Jackson, Wyoming, about 20 miles away. One day I took a break from the park and went shopping in town while Jim did some horseback riding.

On our way home we stopped in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we caught the reflection of some of the Temple Square buildings in the windows of Abravanel Hall (home of the Utah Symphony).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walking in New York

Dateline: New York, 7/16/09 - 7/28/09
At home, I usually think of walking as a chore, something I have to do to get my exercise. Even though the weather and the views from our neighborhood are always pleasant, I still have to talk myself into every walk. In New York, though, walking is not a chore, it's a way of life. It's a means of transportation, a way of getting where you want to go. Even when we took the subway, which we did a lot (we got our money's worth out of a two-week unlimited ride MetroCard), there were always walks to and from the subway. And there were stairs to get into and out of the subway stations.

When I'm in New York, I usually don't gain weight even though I eat more than usual, because of all the walking I do. While we were there, an article in the New York Times said that Manhattanites are, on the average, thinner than people who live in other parts of the city, state, and even the country, and walking was the explanation most people gave. I often think I would have had less of a weight problem if I had not moved away from New York.

The apartment we rented this year, on Barrow Street in the West Village, was the best location we've had in the years we've been renting Manhattan apartments, and it was great for walking. The Village is mostly residential, and is quieter than other parts of Manhattan. It has lots of restaurants and interesting shops. Unlike most of Manhattan, which is laid out in a grid of numbered streets and avenues, the Village has lots of winding (sometimes confusing) streets. Somehow, in the Village, West 4th St. manages to intersect West 11th St. and also West 13th St., something that would never happen in the more grid-like parts of Manhattan.

Hudson St. was the main street of our neighborhood, with a post office, lots of restaurants, and a bagel bakery where we shopped for breakfast. D'Agostino's, the grocery store, was two blocks away. At home we always drive to the grocery store, but in New York it's routine to walk, and to carry your groceries home. We were within walking distance of Union Square to the north and SoHo to the south. On one Village walk I discovered a street named after Dave Van Ronk, one of my favorite 60's folksingers. I realized we lived around the corner from new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose Bedford St. condo had been in the news, and one day we walked to see the outside of her building.

At home I would never set off on a 3-mile walk; my usual walking loops through the hills are 1 mile and 1.5 miles. But one day I used Gmaps Pedometer to trace my New York walk, and found that I had walked 3 miles to go to places I was interested in: to the Union Square area to the Lion Brand Yarn Studio (which was closed when I got there); then to Union Square itself to see the farmer's market; a few blocks downtown and east to get a manicure; down University Place to get coffee at Oren's Daily Roast; lunch at the Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop; then back home. Later that day we visited my mother in Forest Hills, Queens, which involved a subway ride, and walks to and from the subway stations on each end. All in a day's walk in New York.

We also did some New York walking that was less practical and more touristy. I've already posted about walking the High Line, the new park on a former elevated railway line. After a dim sum brunch in Chinatown with our friends Paul and Randi, who had come from the Boston area to attend our party, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and to the now-trendy Brooklyn neighborhood DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). We also walked two stretches of the Hudson River walk, one downtown near our apartment, and the other uptown. (In the uptown segment, we found that most of the path was reserved for bicycles, leaving such a narrow pedestrian path that we couldn't walk 3 abreast, making conversation difficult.)

The touristy walks are okay, but my favorite type of New York walking is either just wandering the streets, going into stores and coffee shops, or walking to get to the places I want to go.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Painting Shoes with Sassy Feet

Dateline: San Francisco, 9/13/09

My friend Vera talked me into taking a workshop on shoe painting and embellishing. She thought it would be fun because both of us are crafters (we're both members of the South Bay Knitters) and both of us love shoes. (Yes, I love shoes, but not as much as Vera does; she has a whole room in her house devoted to them.) The workshop was taught by Margot Silk Forrest of Sassy Feet, and was held at the Sewing Workshop in San Francisco.

We supplied the shoes and Margot supplied everything else we needed. She has a beautiful line of paints and glitters, plus beads, fibers, chains and other embellishments. I was worried that I didn't have the type of creativity needed to decide what to do with the shoes, since I wouldn't be working from a pattern, but only from my imagination. That turned out not to be an issue; I just chose colors I liked and started painting.

I managed to turn two old, drab pairs of shoes that I hadn't worn in years into something colorful and bright that makes me happy to wear. The first pair was Arche, a French brand that I used to buy a lot in the 80's. I painted over the now-drab purple with lime green topped with glitter, and painted the trim rust.

Then I took a dirty beige pair (I don't know why I ever bought them because I hate beige) and turned them into a multi-colored purple and gold. I also put glitter on a scuffed purse to try to hide the scuff marks.

It really was a fun day. I don't think I'll take up shoe painting as my next hobby, but I would be happy to do some more if Margot has another workshop in this area.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New York's Bead District

Dateline: New York, 7/16/09 - 7/28/09

The area around Sixth Avenue in the upper 30's in Manhattan could be called the Bead District, although it's really part of the Garment District. On Sixth Avenue between 36th and 39th, and on 37th between Fifth and Sixth, it seems as if almost every store sells beads. These stores have an overwhelming inventory. A lot of them are wholesalers, but most also sell to individual customers like me. I spent parts of two days exploring these stores, and below are my favorites.

Fun2Bead has its own line of reasonably priced crystals, in addition to selling Swarovski and lots of other products. Personally, I can't see a difference between their crystals and Swarovski's, except that Fun2Bead's range of colors is smaller, and they don't have the beautiful AB (Aurora Borealis) finishes. Mary Beth and I each bought a lot of crystal bicones in a variety of colors.

I didn't actually buy anything at M&J Trimming, but I was fascinated by browsing there. They have some beads, and an incredible inventory of sequins, ribbons, rhinestones, etc. I imagine that this store is frequented by fashion designers and people creating costumes for Broadway shows.

Margola is a big importer of Czech beads. They were discontinuing a line of Czech pearls, and were selling them at half of their already-low prices. I bought a bunch, and then a few days later went back and bought a second bunch, knowing that my beading friends would be happy to take some of them off my hands. I still have enough pearls left for a lifetime of beading.

Mary Beth and I also took a trip to Bergenfield, New Jersey to visit Beads By Blanche, which is a fantastic store for beadweavers like us. The store is small but well organized, and has lots of seed beads and crystals. It was there that I finally started buying rivolis, round crystal stones without holes. My friends in the South Bay Bead Arts Guild love to use rivolis, which they incorporate into jewelry by bezeling, using seed beads to surround and "capture" the stone. I've resisted the rivoli craze until recently, and now I'm addicted. I bought Laura McCabe's book about using rivolis and I'm making earrings with them.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Celebrating 35/60/65

Dateline: New York, 7/18/09

In August, 1974, two important events happened. President Nixon resigned. And two weeks later, Jim and I got married. Not that there's any relationship between the two events. But I always think of them together.

I had turned 25 a month before our wedding, and Jim turned 30 a month after. So every 5 years we've had 3 milestone events, with our ages and the number of years of our marriage all divisible by 5. Every time this has happened we've talked about having a party. This is the year we actually did it. I turned 60 on July 17, Jim will be 65 on September 27, and our 35th anniversary is on August 23.

We had the party in New York because a lot of my family is there. We also invited a few east coast friends. 21 of us gathered at Gramercy Tavern for lunch on July 18. We had never been to the restaurant before, but we knew it would be good because it's one of a group of restaurants owned by chef Danny Meyer, and our meals at his other restaurants have been wonderful. The restaurant didn't disappoint us. The food was excellent, the service impeccable, and the private dining room beautiful. My cousin Jeffrey was the toastmaster, and a few other guests, including my mother, made very nice speeches.

After the party we walked back to our temporary apartment in the Village, accompanied by some of the guests who had come from out of town for the occasion. We ended the day with a walk on the High Line, a new city park built on an old elevated rail line. It's a very nice walk, with beautiful plantings, chairs to sit in, and great views.

Now, how can we top this in 5 years, when it's time for 40/65/70?

(Many thanks to Mary Beth, my sister-in-law, for taking beautiful pictures at the party. The 3 non-wedding pictures are: My mother (right) with her sister, my aunt Roz; me with my friend Joan, from Hunter College High School class of '67, and her husband Jeff; and Jim (middle) with Helene and my cousin Jeffrey.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where I'm From

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 7/9/09

When people ask Jim the simple question, "Where are you from?", he doesn't know how to answer. He was born in Pittsburgh, but lived there only a short time. His father's corporate job transferred him every few years, to Philadelphia, Cleveland, and then to the Los Angeles area, where Jim lived during his high school years. I met Jim at graduate school at the University of Michigan, and he lived in Ann Arbor longer than any other place up to then. He just isn't rooted enough in any place to feel that he's "from" there.

I know where I'm from. Even though I haven't lived there since 1971, and even though I was actually born across the Hudson River in New Jersey, I've always felt that I'm a New Yorker. It's interesting that I feel such a strong New York identity, because I lived there only 16 years, from ages 6 - 22. We lived in the Boston area longer than that, yet I don't feel "from" there.
Since 1971 I've been back to New York maybe once a year on average, usually for no longer than a week at a time. But still I feel like a New Yorker.

I thought I had escaped having a New York accent, until a few months ago when I was in the tiny town of Coupeville, WA, and a woman in a store asked me where I was from. I said "San Francisco", because when you're traveling, it usually makes sense to interpret the "from" question as "where do you live now?". She didn't buy it. She said, "Who are you kidding? You're from New York!". She herself had moved from New York to Coupeville a few years ago, and she recognized my accent.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never left New York. I would have stayed closer to family and old friends. I probably would not have met Jim, but would I have met someone else? Would I have moved from job to job, as I did in real life, or would I have found a job to absorb me for a lifetime? I envy my brother Larry and my sister-in-law Mary Beth, who have lived pretty much their whole lives in New York, met there, and are now raising their son there.

Several years ago, when Jim and I started to think about retirement, I started realizing how much I miss New York. I wanted to think about moving back there. Jim, though, generally doesn't like cities, and would never consider living in New York. We decided on a compromise. We would visit New York for a couple of weeks a year, and I could pretend that I lived there. Since then we've done that 3 or 4 times, renting apartments in different neighborhoods in Manhattan -- TriBeCa, the Upper East Side, Midtown. I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, but now I insist on staying in Manhattan. I love the excitement of being there, the idea that I can walk out of the apartment and find anything I want: great restaurants, Broadway shows, excellent coffee, real bagels, beads, yarn, anything.

And that's where we'll be for two weeks, starting next week. This time we're renting a studio apartment in the West Village, which should be a great neighborhood to live in. We'll be seeing family, reconnecting with some old friends, hosting a party (more about that later), doing a lot of walking. I'll get my New York "fix", and hopefully it will last another year.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Happens in Vegas...

Dateline: Las Vegas, NV, 3/25/09 - 3/30/09

Whoever invented that slogan for Las Vegas probably didn't have beading in mind. But beading was the reason that Jim and I drove to Las Vegas. It was the second annual BeadAway, organized by Brea Bead Works in the Los Angeles area. I enjoyed last year's BeadAway in Hawaii very much, and although I thought Las Vegas was an odd venue for beading, I was eager to attend.

The drive was an all-day event, about 10 hours including a stop for lunch in Bakersfield. We ate at the 24th Street Cafe, where we had also eaten on a previous trip. They serve breakfast all day, and the waffles with peanut butter, coconut and fresh fruit were surprisingly good. After lunch, a long drive through the desert, and then we finally arrived. One minute you're driving through empty desert, and the next minute you see gaudy hotels and billboards, and you know you're approaching Las Vegas.

My first visit to Las Vegas was in 1973 for, believe it or not, an American Library Association convention. At that time I thought that Las Vegas was the height of vulgarity. My opinion hasn't changed much over the years. Nothing in Las Vegas is real. Hotels pretend to be New York, Paris, New Orleans, Venice, ancient Egypt. There's a fake Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, pyramid. The picture above was taken at an indoor shopping mall that pretends to be an outdoor city. We were having dinner on a "patio" that was outside the restaurant, but still inside the mall. I was so disoriented by this that I suggested to Jim that maybe it was too cold to eat outside, and we should move inside.

Even the slot machines, the only form of gambling that I indulge in, are no longer real. I used to enjoy changing $10 for a bucket of quarters, putting them one by one into the machine, and pulling the lever. If I won a few quarters the machine would spew them out. Now the machines are all computerized, and the cheapest ones take dollar bills. You bet by pressing buttons. If you win, you can press the "cash out" button, which causes the machine to print a receipt for your winnings. You take the receipt to a different machine that gives you cash.

Las Vegas is famous for its buffets and its shows, and we partook of both. Love, the Cirque du Soleil's Beatles show, was amazing. Incredible acrobatics were accompanied by recordings of the Beatles. Before the show we ate at the buffet at the Mirage hotel, which is really 11 different buffets in one, with 11 stations serving different types of food. I concentrated on the Asian offerings -- sushi, noodle soup, etc. -- and then went on to barbecue and Mexican food. Meanwhile, Jim was eating a roast beef dinner.

Aside from my gripes about Las Vegas, I really enjoyed the BeadAway. Scott and Wendy Remmers, the owners of Brea Bead Works, did a great job organizing it. They made sure we had wonderful teachers, a lot of door prizes, great snacks during breaks, and a "mini-store" run by the owners of Out on a Whim, where we could shop during the retreat. They chartered a bus to transport attendees from the Los Angeles area. On the first day of the retreat, we took the Bead Bus for a shopping day at three Las Vegas bead stores. All of the stores gave us gifts, snacks, and generous discounts. Of course I found things to buy in all three. We stopped for lunch at a unique restaurant, Hash House a Go Go, which serves what they call "twisted farm food". Some of the beaders ordered the BBBLT, so named because it's a gigantic BLT sandwich with a huge amount of bacon, served with an enormous knife stuck in the sandwich. I regretted not ordering it, and when Jim and I went back to the Hash House for dinner a couple of days later, the BBBLT was not on the dinner menu. Jim had another of their specialties, friend chicken with waffles and maple syrup.

The beading classes, of course, were one of the main reasons I went to the BeadAway. When I arrived for my first class, Flowers & Buds bracelet with Susan Barrett, I was surprised to find that I was the only student. The pattern uses right angle weave, a basic stitch which I have done before, and then embellishes the bracelet with Swarovski sliders and other crystals. I caught on quickly, and at lunchtime Susan and I agreed that we would both take the afternoon off. I finished the bracelet after I got home.

My other two classes were a lot more challenging. One was a kumihimo class with Sheilah Cleary, the author of several beading books. Unlike the previous kumihimo I've done, this project used a marudai, a wooden kumihimo stand, instead of the foam disk. The project, a cute necklace called "Here Fishy, Fishy" involved braiding 8 strands of beaded thread, taking the braid off the marudai and stringing the fish and bubble beads, then braiding some more and adding the clasp. The day was somewhat stressful for me because I was renting the marudai and was not sure I wanted to buy one, so the pressure was on to finish the project during the class. I did managed to finish, at least to a point where I no longer needed the marudai and could complete the project at home, but only by staying after class and then returning to the "Bead the Night Away" event after dinner. Sheilah was extremely patient and generous with her time.

My last class was with Cindy Pankopf, a designer whose classes I enjoyed at last year's BeadAway. Cindy has developed a technique called bead maille, which combines seed beads with rings and other metal components. Her book about bead maille is scheduled to be published next year. The Box Chain Bracelet is a bead maille project that uses 3-dimensional right angle weave to build what Cindy called "apartments" around the metal rings. Although I have right angle weave experience, I found combining it with the rings to be a challenge. As Cindy explained it, the project is easier for people with "geometry brains" than with "algebra brains", and my brain is definitely closer to algebra than to geometry. Cindy was also very patient, working with each student individually. I am currrently still working on the bracelet and feel more comfortable with the technique than I did at first. Maybe my brain is finally learning some geometry.

After Cindy's class ended on Sunday afternoon, Jim and I were ready for the drive back. We planned to stop in Lancaster for the night and then go to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve the next day. The traffic on I-15 was so slow that several times we thought there must be an accident ahead, but we learned that it was just the normal Sunday afternoon Las Vegas to Los Angeles traffic. The wind was especially strong that day in the desert, and dust was blowing everywhere. I couldn't get Joni Mitchell's song about Amelia Earhart out of my mind:

I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
It was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

When we stopped at a rest stop, it was difficult to get out of the car because the wind kept trying to close the car doors. We ended up stopping for the night in Victorville, about 100 miles from where we had planned to stop. I thought of another verse from Amelia:

I pulled into the cactus tree motel
To shower off the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747s
Over geometric farms
Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

The song is on Joni's 1976 album Hejira, which describes a drive she took across the country. We did pull into a motel, but a Travelodge, and I did shower off the dust. For some reason, I chose this time to join Twitter, using our laptop with the motel's wireless, and my first "tweet" was the quote from Joni about showering off the dust.

The next day, the wind had died down a bit, but the poppy reserve was still cold and windy. The poppies were not yet in full bloom, but there were enough of them to be beautiful. After seeing the poppies and walking a bit we finished the drive home.

I look forward to next year's BeadAway, although I hope it's not in Las Vegas again.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kumihimo in Coupeville

Dateline: Coupeville, WA, 3/9/09 - 3/12/09

My first experience with kumihimo, a Japanese braiding technique, was in a class taught by Candace Eisner Strick at Stitches West last year. Since then I have made several basic braids, either using beads in the braids or adding a pendant that I bought. When BraidersHand announced that they were having workshops taught by Makiko Tada, a noted Japanese kumihimo artist, I decided to attend a workshop and learn more about this technique.

Snow was on my mind as I flew into Seattle and rented a car for the drive to Coupeville, which is on Whidbey Island. Snow was predicted for the area and it was making me nervous. I hate driving in snow; that's one of the reasons we moved from New England to California. And I had an itinerary planned for the day. I was going to take the land route to Coupeville, stopping at various yarn and bead stores, including in Anacortes, a nice town that we visited a few years ago and that has a great yarn store.

As I drove to my first stop, Beads and Beyond in Bellevue, the weather was cloudy but otherwise fine. The store has been merged with a quilting store but still has a nice selection of beads. As I drove up I-5 toward Everett, where I wanted to visit Great Yarns (a store whose booth I've always enjoyed at Stitches but never seen in person), the snow started, and quickly turned into what I would call a blizzard. At the same time, unrelated to the snow, the portable gps that I had brought from home with me stopped working. I decided to cancel the shopping and get to the Whidbey Island ferry, which was not far away, as quickly as I could. I got off the highway at the next exit to see if I could get the gps working, and when I couldn't, I used my trusty iPhone to get Google Maps directions to the ferry.

As I drove, the snow got worse and worse. I started to think that I wouldn't get to Whidbey that day at all, would have to find a place to stay on the mainland. Then I turned off the highway and onto the road that leads to the ferry, and the snow vanished as suddenly as it had started. Everything was clear, there was hardly any snow on the ground, and I never saw any more snow the entire trip! I spent the short ferry ride trying to calm down after my drive through the snow.

Whidbey is a lot more rural than I expected. Coupeville is a picturesque small town. The "downtown" consists of about two blocks of Front Street, with a beautiful view of Penn Cove. There are some nice stores, including two bead stores, but their hours are so limited that it wasn't easy to get to them while taking an all-day workshop. Coupeville Yarns kindly stayed open for us so that we could go there one afternoon after the workshop.

Makiko is a lovely person and a very good teacher. She speaks excellent English. She has traveled the world teaching kumihimo. Makiko told us that she is proud of having been a student of a Living National Treasure, and our class decided that Makiko was our own Living National Treasure.

Our workshop was on making braids on the foam disk and foam plate, the simplest kumihimo devices. Makiko is the designer of the disk and plate, and she also has a new book out on braids that can be made on them. It's amazing how many different patterns can be made. Makiko brought meter-long strands of acrylic yarn in all the colors of the rainbow for us to use. That was a very good teaching device, because the acrylic was easy to work with and allowed us to focus on the patterns and techniques. The first two pictures above are some of Makiko's samples from the book; the third is the braids that I made during the workshop.

The third day of the workshop was devoted to making a scarf of organza ribbon. We pinned the ribbon to a macrame board and hand wove the strands in a diagonal pattern. The scarves look beautiful but are somewhat stiff to wear. Softer ribbon would have been more difficult to weave with.

The coffee at the hotel was not very good, but luckily I found out about Local Grown, a coffee house and marine supply store on Coupeville pier. They had strong French roast coffee, just the way I like it, and wonderful house-baked scones. I became a regular customer for the three days I was in town.

Since I had missed my shopping on the way to Coupeville, I decided to take the land route back, even though I was leaving at 4 after a full day of workshop. I was able to get to Ana-Cross Stitch in Anacortes a half hour before closing. Don't let the Cross Stitch name fool you; they also have a lot of nice knitting yarns. I was also able to visit Anacortes Beads before getting on the highway. I really like this area north of Seattle and want to consider it as a possible retirement spot, but I've yet to convince Jim that it doesn't rain there every day.

My next destination was Lacey, WA, home of the incredible Shipwreck Beads. They say they have the world's largest selection of beads, and I believe them. This is really a bead department store, and I was overwhelmed by its size. I spent four hours there, shopping for three members of my bead guild in addition to myself. Especially fun were the bins of discount bags of pearls. When I finally checked out, the cashier told me I had 5500 grams of pearls, which is over 12 pounds. Afraid to put them in my suitcase and make it overweight, I carried the bag on the plane with me. I knew I wouldn't end up keeping all of them, and sure enough, members of the bead guild were happy to buy lots of them from me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cambria Paradise

Dateline: Cambria, 2/3/09 - 2/7/09

There seems to be a requirement that owners of a vacation rental house give a name to the house. Cambria Paradise is the name of a house we've stayed in twice, first in 2007 and now this week. Cambria is a beautiful little town of 6500 people on the Central Coast, almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We've gone there about every two years since we moved to California. When the owner of Cambria Paradise emailed about special winter prices, we couldn't resist.

The best thing about the house is its location. It's in the expensive Seaclift development, on a side street that dead ends at the ocean. There's only one house between it and the ocean, and the views are spectacular. It's also within walking distance of Cambria's two fabulous walks. The East-West Ranch walk is on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and connects the housing areas on the east and west sides of the town. Moonstone Beach is another beautiful ocean walk. Each of these walks is about a mile one way. The trails have been improved since our first visit, with boardwalks covering most of the trails. It is also possible to walk downtown from the house.

The name Cambria Paradise could apply equally well to the town itself. Downtown Cambria is divided into two "villages", east and west, with a sort of no man's land between them that contains churches, schools, and a decrepit old cottage housing a video store where we've rented movies several times. The east village is a bit more upscale, with art galleries and upscale restaurants. The west village has pizza places, delis, and funky stores.

On Wednesday we visited our friends Nancy and Jerry in Morro Bay, about 15 miles south of Cambria. They have rented out their home in Mountain View and are renting a condo in Morro Bay for the year, to see whether they want to settle there. We liked their condo, which is spacious, has a great view, and is right downtown. For a town just about twice as big as Cambria, Morro Bay has a lot to offer. There are two bead stores, a nice waterfront with stores and restaurants, and a unique store called Lina G that features ribbons, trimmings, and yarn.

Thursday was my day to wander and shop in Cambria. After we had breakfast out, Jim drove home and I walked the length of the town, stopping in the yarn store, Ball & Skein & More; the needlepoint store, Flying Fuzzies (which now also has knitting yarn); and the bead store, Cambria Beads. Since we didn't get any cell phone service in Cambria, Jim and I had arranged for him to pick me up at Cambria Coffee Roasting at 1 p.m. I was there and ready to go by noon. I used the coffee shop's wireless to send Jim an email, hoping he would be online and would come and pick me up early. After I finished my coffee I started walking home, hoping that Jim would meet me en route. I got to the house just as he was about to leave to pick me up. But it was a nice walk, and good exercise.

Also on Thursday we drove to the nearest "big city", San Luis Obispo, a college town which is the home of Cal Poly. SLO has a very nice, walkable downtown with both a Starbucks and a Peet's. I visited Naturally Jennifer's, a bead store with a great selection of seed beads, while Jim went to Starbucks. After that we went to see Last Chance Harvey (I love Dustin Hoffman but this is not one of his better movies) and ate dinner at Novo, a Brazilian restaurant. SLO is known for its Thursday farmer's market, which was still going when we finished dinner.

Friday was a rainy day, perfect for staying home, enjoying the ocean view, reading and beading. (We had great luck with the winter weather. Tuesday and Wednesday were warm and sunny; Thursday was cloudy but rained only at night.) On Saturday we drove home on the coastal route, stopping to see the elephant seals near San Simeon, just north of Cambria.

One of the highlights of this trip to Cambria was that I finally found Pat Riley, the artist from whom I bought a handpainted sweatshirt and two tee shirts on our first visit to Cambria, in 1995. The sweatshirt especially is one of my favorite items of clothing, and I always get compliments when I wear it. At that time Pat was selling her work at a table on Burton Drive. I looked for her on every subsequent visit, without success. I came close in 2007 when a woman who works at the Seekers Gallery (which sells beautiful glass objects) recognized my sweatshirt, told me Pat's name, and told me that her studio is in Tin City, a former storage complex near downtown. I walked to Tin City and couldn't find Pat.

On this visit I lucked out. The same woman at Seeker's recognized my sweatshirt again, and this time referred me to Lily's Coffee House, for which the multi-talented Pat bakes cupcakes. I went to Lily's, found a poster there with Pat's phone number and an advertisement for an open studio! I called Pat and arranged to visit her studio on Saturday. There I tried on lots of things and bought three, the two pictured above and a purple fleece jacket which she will custom paint for me. I found out that Pat does several shows a year in Pacific Grove (another of my favorite places, and closer to home), and one show in Palo Alto, even closer to home. Now I'm on her mailing list and hopefully won't lose touch again, although she said she's retiring from the handpainted clothing business next year to work on her art.

Whenever Jim and I visit Cambria we have two conflicting thoughts: We love this town and we want to live here; and We can't live here, it's too isolated. Cambria has no hospital, no movie theater, no Starbucks. The largest grocery store is a small supermarket called the Cookie Crock (or as I call it, the Cookie Crumbles). The nearest large airports are probably Santa Barbara and San Jose, and each of those is a long drive. Although we love to drive around looking for houses for sale in Cambria, the isolation thought always wins and I don't think we'll seriously consider retiring in Cambria. But we'll certainly visit Cambria Paradise every couple of years.