Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Ren Faire of the Prairie


I'm not sure how to explain my fascination with all things Wisconsin, so I won't try.  Suffice it to say that when I first read the following event description a few years ago, it was not a question of if I would go, but only when.

I got my chance to go this June, and it was all I had hoped for.  The Rendezvous is always held over Father's Day Weekend, probably so knife-obsessed Dads can have a bargaining chip to drag their families to it.  I was way more invested in the Rendezvous than Larry, so I made my way to Prairie du Chien alone.

I flew into Minneapolis and rented a car for the three-hour drive to P du C.  At first the drive was pleasant, and I stopped for a tasty Culver's ButterBurger in Rochester.  As the sun began to set, however, foggy mists rose off the fields and drifted across the road, the deer came out, and lightning crackled ominously off to my right.  By the time I made it safely to my AirBNB, my nerves were shot and I was very grateful for my suitcase whiskey.

My AirBNB was the second floor of a modest old house next to the train tracks.  Every time a train went by (roughly every hour all day and all night) the horns made a terrific noise and the whole house rattled.  I liked it.  It felt very authentic, as transportation was what drove the development of Prairie du Chien.

The next day the Rendezvous wasn't quite set up, so I toured the town.  I have read a lot about Prairie du Chien, so it was very exciting for me to visit the Headquarters of the Prairie du Chien Historical Society and Museum and Fort Crawford Civil War Hospital.

I know that visiting three sites in one afternoon may sound ambitious, but it was not a problem at all.  The displays were heartfelt, but modest.  The three adjacent buildings house a variety of exhibits put together by townspeople who cared deeply about many diverse topics and who were all given some space to express themselves.  Here are two of my favorites:

A local girl rides to fame (?)

Did you know buttons were made from river clams??

I spent some time chatting up the one young woman in charge of all three buildings.  She told me about a few places that I should visit in the area.  Over the next few days, I ended up at all five!  If you'd like to follow along, they were: Veteran's Plaza, Muddy Waters Pizza, Spring Lake Inn, Effigy Mounds, and Lansing.  

Veteran's Plaza is a gazebo on the river in which local acts perform on Thursday nights during the summer.  At the coffee shop where I had my breakfast and at the museum, I was told that I simply HAD to go see the Chris Farley impersonator at Veteran's Plaza that night.  When I rolled up, there were at least a hundred people ready to be entertained.

I  had my doubts about this so-called entertainment, and my doubts were correct.  It was as bad as you might imagine it would be.  I walked back to town and made my way to Muddy Waters Pizza, where I had the house special, The Big Muddy, at the suggestion of the friendly proprietor/pizza maker.  

If you take the time to count, as I did, you will see that this pizza has nineteen (19) toppings, including sauerkraut and pineapple.  

Perhaps you are saying to yourself, what a grand idea!  Perhaps all pizzas should have 19 toppings!  The answer is no, all pizzas should not have 19 toppings.

The next day I ventured out to Effigy Mounds National Monument across the river in Iowa, which I can unreservedly recommend.  It is a beautiful, fascinating, and well-maintained park with some great mounds.

Historians and archaeologists are not sure why the river people built these animal-shaped mounds on the cliffs.  Before Netflix, people seemed to have a lot more time for frivolous projects.  It was a really lovely day, and there was hardly anyone there, so the deer, the chipmunks, the birds and I had the woods mostly to ourselves.

After my hike I had the early-bird fish-fry dinner at the Spring Lake Supper Club with two brandy old-fashioneds.  Just fantastic.

A little tipsy, I stopped by the graveyard outside of town and found the graves of early Prairie du Chien residents Hercules Louis and Nina Sturgis Dousman, which was extremely exciting for me, as I have read a lot about them.

If you and I are ever at a cocktail party together and you're bored, ask me about the Dousmans and you'll be bored in a whole new way.

I assumed that, as with the many Renaissance Faires I have attended, the Prairie Rendezvous participants would make an attempt at period dress.  So before my trip I sewed myself a calico dress and got out my leather bag and moccasins and straw hat.  On Saturday morning I donned my outfit and headed to the river.

It turns out that the only people who dress for the Rendezvous are vendors.  Luckily the vendors didn't all know each other, so they all assumed I was taking a very long lunch break.  I was curious to see what items would be for sale.  The answer?  Mostly knives and axes.  Also some beads, fur hats, blankets, and cookware.

The Rendezvous is held on the island of St. Feriole, which is also the site of the Villa Louis, the historic home of the Dousman family, now operated as a tourist attraction by the Wisconsin Historical Society.  I took the opportunity to tour the home in my period dress, which was very fun for me.  Our tour guide was the self-composed Marietta, a 15-year-old girl who introduced herself and said we were her second tour EVER.  She then asked if we knew anything about the Dousman family.  Reader, I know a great deal about the Dousman family, but I took pity on Marietta and feigned ignorance.

There was one of those men on the tour who asks questions just to show how much he knows about some obscure topic.  In this case, walnut furniture.  He kept saying things such as "Marietta, is it true that the porcelain wheels on that walnut tea trolley make it more valuable than most walnut tea trolleys?  How much do you think it's worth?"  Marietta kept her cool admirably.  I think she will go far.

To cap off my day, I attended Mass in my period dress at St. Gabriel's, where the Dousmans worshipped.  I am still mindful of Covid, however, and when the congregation began lustily singing unmasked, I ducked out.  I mean, I think God helps those who aren't complete idiots.  There was an excellent graveyard out back.

As I walked back to my AirBNB, I came across these excellent railroad signs.  I include this picture simply because I like it.

On Sunday I headed to Lansing, Iowa for the river views and Horsfalls Variety Store.  Here is a river view picture which I got a bemused family to take for me.

Horsfalls Variety store is a local institution.  It is a three-generations old dry-goods store which has morphed into the mother of all kitschy variety stores.  I loved it.  It now occupies three buildings and it carries everything from canning supplies to garden gnomes to kitchen gadgets to darning thread to bucket hats to lawn chairs to crock pots.  The home decor items especially appealed to me.

The bear looks happy, but the rabbit looks scared

After poking around happily for hours and buying several obscure items, I headed to Jones' Black Angus Supper Club for my last dinner in Prairie du Chien.  The Black Angus has been around for decades and they know what Wisconsinites want:

A brandy old-fashioned and lots of atmosphere.  I really enjoyed my long weekend in Prairie du Chien, and I hope to be back soon.  As I said, I'm not sure exactly why I love it so much, but I definitely could have riskier obsessions.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Movin' On Up


I am pleased to report that I have just completed my first semester of Advanced Spanish!  This was quite a milestone for me, as I have taken Intermediate Spanish seven times.  And Beginning Spanish quite a few times also.

I have wanted to learn Spanish since high school.  I did not take Spanish in high school, because, little nerd that I was, I thought that Latin would help me on my verbal SATs.  Latin at my high school was taught by the extremely eccentric Ms. B., who ultimately suffered a manic attack during my younger brother's Latin class and had to be permanently removed from the school.  

At the University of Virginia, I studied computer science.  Due to the newness of the subject, computer science was part of the Engineering School.  So I had to take all the required engineering classes - material science, thermodynamics, solid mechanics, chemistry, physics, graphic drawing, and SO MUCH MATH, in addition to the computer programming classes.

As engineering students, we were actually forbidden from taking beginning foreign language classes, even if we could have fit them into our schedules.  So although I learned LISP, FORTRAN, COBOL, Ada, Pascal, and C, I did not learn any Spanish.

After college I took a job in New York City and signed up for some evening Berlitz Spanish classes.  The classes were enjoyable, but I did not retain very much Spanish.  

You know how they say children's brains are like sponges, soaking up knowledge?  As regards Spanish, my brain is more of a rock with a few cracks in it, where a few Spanish words occasionally lodge themselves.  Also, I never practice.

Fast forward many years, and once my children were all in school, I tried a daytime Spanish class at our local senior community center.  It was taught by an older lady who was very pleasant, very disorganized, had never taught Spanish before, and may not even have been fluent herself.

At around this time, my oldest daughter was in sixth grade and started to ask for help with her math homework.  Okay, fellow parents, tell me if this sounds familiar:  the child shows you a fleeting glimpse of the problem in the book and then demands an explanation.  You ask to hold the book so you can properly see the problem, which results in a tug-of-war.  Once you have the book, you flip back a few pages to review the material, at which point the child starts moaning "You don't know ANYTHING."

It bothered me that although I had taken eight advanced math classes in college, I couldn't remember sixth grade math.  So I signed up for Algebra at Foothill Community College.  And as long as I was on campus, I signed up for Beginning Spanish as well.

Over a few years, I took about six math classes, up to Integral Calculus, and got through three semesters of Beginning Spanish and three semesters of Intermediate Spanish.  It was so much fun being on campus. I even liked the cafeteria food.

After I embarked on re-learning math, I was so excited to help the girls with their homework!  They were NOT excited.  In fact, as a result of my math enthusiasm, they worked super-hard on figuring it out for themselves since they very much did not want to ask me.  So although it didn't work out as I had foreseen, they did get pretty good at math, and in fact, Susan is now a math teacher.

The teacher I had for my first five classes at Foothill was a small, witchy woman from Colombia who taught all the Spanish sections in one room.  She would divide us up into groups by level, assign us things to work on in class, and then just float around between the groups.  Grading was extremely loose.  I didn't learn tons of Spanish, but we had a lot of fun.  We learned some Latin partner dances and had to dance with each other, which was pretty weird, not gonna lie.

Then Señora moved back to Colombia, I think, and we got a young popinjay who wasn't going to take it easy on us just because it was community college Spanish.  His tests were absolute nightmares.  I disliked him immensely and dropped out of the class.  I felt extremely sorry for the kids who had to stay in the class and I hope karma has managed to kick him in the ass somehow.

I took a break for a few years and then decided to give Spanish another go.  I didn't want to go back to Foothill, but luckily there are many community colleges in our area, so I applied to the Cañada College Spanish program.  Because of my break in studies, I was required to go back to Intermediate Spanish 1.  I thought about challenging the placement, but I am actually quite bad at Spanish so I figured I could use the repeat.

Cañada also uses the one classroom model, but Señora was very hands-on and had us all do the same things in class and just expected the upper levels to be better at it.  There were a lot of presentations, which was very entertaining.  I made non-alcoholic daiquiris for one, which was extremely sticky.  I even made a friend!  Ann is my age also has three daughters.  We did all our presentations together, despite Señora's stricture that we were to switch partners each time.  Ann and I were like, bite me, we're feisty old broads and we're sticking together.

Then the pandemic hit, and when I was ready to go back, I discovered that Cañada didn't offer Advanced Spanish that semester, which turned out to be an awesome blessing, because I switched to West Valley Community College, which I LOVE.

When I attempted to register for Advanced Spanish, I was once again put in Intermediate Spanish, but at least in the third section.  West Valley also has all the Intermediate and Advanced Sections grouped together.

The teacher is a beautiful, friendly Italian woman who has two young children and understands that life is chaotic enough and thus rarely assigns homework and has very few tests.  

The first semester was taught via Zoom, so I got to see the faces of my classmates, but not their bodies.  The next semester was in person, but masked, so I got to see the bodies of my compañeros from the previous semester, but not their faces.  Then we got to remove the masks, which was amazing.

So, my first Advanced Spanish class!! We had such a fun group of students this past semester.  I felt like I was in an episode of Community every Tuesday and Thursday.  After the first couple of classes, we had arranged ourselves into little groups for the in-class discussions.

Grupo Uno:  Renee, a lovely mother of three who did not go to college after high school and is getting her degree now that her children are all in school.  She has a great laugh and often brought snacks.  Gabriel, a curly-haired young man who is getting married and transferring to nursing school next year.  Gabriel has a wicked sense of humor and is very smart.  Renee and Gabriel took Arielle, a fifteen-year-old with learning differences, into their group, and were very patient with her.

Grupo Dos: Seiki, a 60-something Japanese man who loves language classes. He has taken all the French and Italian classes at West Valley and is now working his way through Spanish.  Seiki tells Dad jokes and his presentations were always incredibly long, but he always brought pizza, so we forgave him.  Robert, a recent high-school graduate who loves soccer.  Pretty much all his presentations were about soccer.  Hunter, a high-school classmate of Robert's, who also loves sports.  Robert and Hunter were unfailingly nice to Seiki (and me) and never made us feel old and stupid.

Grupo Tres: Kate, that would be me.  Señora decided that I was Kate and I decided to just go with it.  It was only a problem when she would say "Kate, por favor lee el párrafo" and I would just sit there dreamily until Joseph kicked me.  Joseph is a mid-twenties guy who tells truly terrible jokes.  When we did a presentation together, he insisted on ending it by rickrolling the class with a link on the last slide.  His Spanish is very good and mine is very bad, so we made a pretty good team.

Grupo Cuatro, The Gigglers: Anastasia, a stunning 19-year-old from Belarus.  Anastasia speaks six languages fluently and also picked up Spanish at an astonishing speed.  Anastasia often spoke about members of her family still in Belarus and the horrible situation in Ukraine and we sympathized as best we could.  In addition to taking a full course load, Anastasia is also a nanny.  As is Paulina, another  beautiful 19-year-old who is a heritage Spanish speaker.  The third member of their group was Valerie, a home-schooled 15-year-old who is also a heritage Spanish speaker.  The Gigglers sat in the back of the classroom and there was always a lot of whispering and giggling.

Señora is such a fun teacher.  This past semester, West Valley kept having campus events that involved free food.  Whenever Señora heard about free food on campus, she would call a break so we could go get the hot dogs, pizza, popcorn etc and bring it back to class.  Señora loved to have us perform skits.  We spent a lot of time in class writing outrageous dialogue in our groups and then performing for each other.

There were also a lot of individual presentations.  For my last presentation, I talked about the Peruvian folktale El Sueño del Pongo.  A short version: The Spanish master of a hacienda is consistently cruel to the shortest, darkest native servant, Pongo.  Pongo tells his master about his dream in which they both go to heaven and the angels cover Pongo with shit and the master with honey.  Then they have to lick each other.  So I made Pongo cookies for my presentation:

Half covered in shit(fudge), half covered in honey!  I was very pleased with myself.  

I enjoyed this past semester so much that midway through the semester Señora offered to fail me so that I could take Advanced Spanish 1 a second time in the fall.  Whenever I was tardy to class (quite often) she would laugh and say "I am going to fail you!"

I very much look forward to another semester of Advanced Spanish and I hope some of my fellow students will be back for Season Two!!  (I think I'm Shirley.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Delicate Plant in the Frozen North


I am recently returned from a trip back East.  It was so much colder than I expected!  April in California is deep Spring, practically Summer.  In other parts of the country, not so much.

My trip began in Virginia at my parents' house.  They rarely leave the house anymore, but I try to walk a few miles a day in the "use it or lose it" school of thought.  So every day I would put on my coat and hat and scarf and walk around their neighborhood.  It was very cold and windy (objectively, not just to delicate plants from California).  But it was interesting to see the early Spring plants that had bloomed in California in February just blooming in Virginia.  Double Spring!

My Dad was very interested in watching the Oscars, so I fetched pork ribs from Glory Days Grill and we hunkered down in the basement.  My dad had only watched one of the contenders (The Power of the Dog) but he still stuck with it for the whole show, so we saw the slap.  Very controversial!  My Dad asked me if I realized that The Power of the Dog was a "queer" movie.  I replied that yes, I thought that was pretty obvious.  He shared that it was not obvious to him, and it was not until he read a review after watching that he realized what had been going on.  Half my genes!

Also he never turns the lights off, even when he sleeps.  I'm not talking about a small bedside lamp, I mean he hasn't turned off the bright overhead lights in his room in YEARS.  I pointed out that prisoners are tortured in that manner, and he just shrugged.

My mom and I had a nice time doing puzzles and going to Talbots.  We got take-out every night, so that was cool.  My mom's new hobby is keeping track of the goings-on in the cul-de-sac with the Pankoo Telescope she ordered from Amazon.

After my Virginia visit, I set off for St. Paul, Minnesota to do some research into fur-trading families of early Wisconsin.  "Katherine," you might say, "are you doing research for a class?"  Not exactly, I just have a tendresse for the fur-trading pioneers.  Since fur-trading took place along navigable waterways, the cities along the Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Paul are full of stories from the fur-trading era.  

My first stop was Fort Snelling.  Perhaps you've heard of it?  I'm pretty sure you haven't, unless you're from the Twin Cities, and even then you probably only know it because it has good fishing and a bike trail.  Fort Snelling was located at the northernmost navigable point of the Mississippi, and the United States maintained a fort there for many years.  Primarily to put down uprisings from displaced Native Americans.  (Yikes). It was also the center of St. Paul society (such as it was).

It was also closed for the season.  I walked down to the river landing (through the mud and the snow, if you're from the Midwest you know what I'm talking about).  Then I walked around the perimeter walls of the fort and discovered a back gate that had been propped open.  "Hmm," I thought, "Do I dare?".  And then I thought, "When am I going to be back here?" so I took myself on an illicit tour of the fort, keeping an eye on the open back gate.  I saw the park ranger's car and sprinted for the exit.  I made it out about a minute before he closed and locked the gate.  That would have been a fun telephone call.  "Uh, excuse me, I seem to be locked inside Fort Snelling?"

My hotel in St. Paul was the Celeste St. Paul, a former convent.  I was pretty excited to fulfill my eighth-grade dream of being in a convent.  (I was an extremely awkward adolescent, and a convent seemed a convenient sanctuary from the cruel world at the time). The Celeste has leaned into the convent theme and has religious art on the walls, and pews for benches, and has turned the chapel into the wedding suite.

The next day I went for my pre-arranged appointment at the Minnesota Historical Library, where I spent a blissful day sorting through boxes of old letters and manuscripts.  Then I walked through the mansion neighborhood of Summit Avenue and fetched up at a brewery (like you do).  The brewery was a popular spot and the inside looked like a super-spreader event, so I sat outside on the patio in the 40 degree weather (balmy for St. Paul).  I got to chatting with a young couple who, on learning that I was going on to Duluth, told me about the Vikre Distillery.  An extremely useful tip!! Thank you, young couple.

After checking out of the Celeste, I attended mass at St. Louis King of France Church, the oldest French church in St. Paul.  It is a little jewel-box of a church and has this excellent window showing the Native Americans being "saved" by the French Jesuits. (Ha)

Then I ate a hamburger and drove to Duluth.  Why Duluth?  I dunno, I just wanted to go there and see Lake Superior and tour Glensheen Mansion.  It's only a two hour drive north, but the amount of snow on the ground increased dramatically as I got closer, and the lakes got more frozen.  I checked into my darling AirBNB above a wood artist's shop and drove out to Canal Park, the tourist area near the Aerial Lift Bridge.  

Imagine my excitement when after parking and heading to the canal, I realized the Lift Bridge was in the process of being lifted for an enormous ship!! I took lots of pictures but I will only share a few.

Extremely Cool.  I then walked over to Vikre Distillery, which is also Extremely Cool.  It's the sort of place that has purple velvet couches and interesting light fixtures and fireplaces and Bee's Knees.

I bought myself a decently warm toque in the gift shop and headed out into the night to discover that it was actively Snowing.  In April.  A month I associate with picnics and tulips.

In the morning I set out for Glensheen Mansion.  Perhaps you've heard of it?  If you're from Minnesota, you have.  It is the lovely home custom-built from 1905-1907 on the shore of Lake Superior for iron-ore magnate Chester Congdon, no expense spared.  It was lived in continuously by family members until 1977, at which point Chester's daughter Elizabeth was the only Congdon still residing in the mansion.  Elizabeth and her night nurse were murdered by her son-in-law (for the inheritance money).  The family then donated the house to the University of Minnesota Duluth, who maintain it as a historic house museum.

Having read the book Will to Murder before visiting, I knew that the house docents will not mention the murders, but will show you where they happened if you ask.  Aside from the creepy murder, it is a beautiful home and it has all the original furnishings.  Because I visited on a snowy week-day, it was just me and the bored University student docents.  It was great.  I stayed for hours.

I headed back to Canal Park where I was honestly stunned to find that the canal had filled with ice since the day before.

I am not meant for the Great White North, I thought to myself as I headed into the Maritime Museum.  The displays were interesting, but what I enjoyed most was chatting with the gift-shop lady, who was sort of starved for conversation, it being the off-season and all.  She helped me select an excellent Lift Bridge souvenir t-shirt.

Then it was back to Vikre for some crafty cocktails and a charcuterie board.  I bid my new distillery friends goodbye and headed outside where I found that a dense fog had descended and visibility was about 10 feet.  "What fresh hell is this," I thought, as I drove 5 mph to my next stop, the Zenith Bookstore.

I love to find the independent bookstores in the towns I visit.  It always feels like I've found my tribe when I enter.  It's like stepping into a warm bath (if I ever took baths, which I don't, but stepping into a warm shower just doesn't have the same ring).

The next morning I hit the road for Madison, Wisconsin, a five-hour drive.  I was a little concerned because the gift-shop lady warned me about all the deer I would encounter, but as it happened I only saw one, and it was very dead and in the process of being eaten by a bald eagle.

In Madison I stayed in a 1910 mansion that has been converted into a B&B.  My suite was the whole right side of the downstairs, the dining room and the old kitchen and a sun room.  Very Cool. On my first night I got to cook Amy a meal in my funky old kitchen.  

While Amy was in class the next day, I visited the Mystery to Me bookstore and then went to the Madison Central Library to do some research.  I wandered into the Local History Room where there was one other researcher, an older man who was playing Grateful Dead tunes on a portable speaker and whizzing through microfilm.  As I browsed the books, he looked up and said "That's one of mine."

"Oh, wow!" I said, as I examined The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History of Madison, by Stuart Levitan, "It's a dream of mine to be published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press".  We had a lovely confab about Wisconsin history, punctuated by his reading aloud the titles of porno films he encountered as he skimmed through microfilm copies of Madison newspapers from the 1970s.  "So much porno!" he kept exclaiming.

Amy and I had a lovely dinner at Sardines.  

On Thursday I performed the motherly duty of taking Amy's Subaru to the dealership for some repairs.  While the car was being serviced I walked over to Half-Price Books in the snow, where I found an absolute treasure-trove of Wisconsin history books, including Stuart-from-the-library's book!  As I was paying, I excitedly pointed to Stuart's book and said "I met this guy!".  The clerk looked a little nonplussed and I realized that I had my finger on a picture of long-dead Madison founder James Duane Doty.  "Oh, not the dead guy," I clarified, "the author!"  "Either way, I'm sure it was interesting," the über-cool clerk replied.  

On Friday I walked through the snow to the Historical Society Museum, which has several informative displays about the fur-trading era.  Then I met Amy and their friend Gage and Gage's mom downtown and we hung out for hours.  It was a really fun evening.  

On Saturday it finally stopped snowing, so of course I had to leave for California.  I really enjoyed my time in the Great White North, but I'm glad to wear something other than the one sweater I packed that I wore every day, and it sure is nice to sit outside in the sun under trees that already have all their leaves.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Went to the Desert, Took the Dog

Mr. TenMinutesLate and I had not left our house in any meaningful way since Christmas, so last week we put our geriatric dog and a few bottles of bourbon in the car and headed for the desert.

We do not excel at early starts, so I booked us a dog-friendly hotel room in Ventura for our first night, anticipating correctly that  Ventura was as far as we could reasonably get in one day of driving.  I chose the Pierpont Inn, which has been in business since 1910, according to their website.  In 1910 the Inn rejoiced in a green lawn stretching down to the beach.  Nowadays that lovely beach descent is bifurcated by Highway 101, which has grown from the quaint wooden causeway of 1912 to the 24-hour truck laden six-lane behemoth of today.  Oh well, I guess I shouldn't complain, since I enjoy the convenience of all the goods those trucks ferry up and down the coast.

I inadvertently booked an enormous suite at the Pierpont.  It was an odd suite in that although the square footage was vast, the furniture was that of a typical hotel room.  There were little islands of furniture on a sea of sensible low-pile carpet.  Breakfast was included, and Larry and I took turns so that the fussy dog would not be left alone to howl in the suite.  When it was my turn to breakfast, my fellow diners were two women in their seventies.  The first was a very chic woman in a shawl, pressed slacks, and kitten heel pumps with a well-coiffed silver bob.  The other was a wild-haired woman in a stretched-out sweatsuit and tennis shoes.  As I ate my strangely granulated eggs, I mused: "One of these women is my future." And then I looked down at my bra-less pajama-clad self and thought: "Who am I kidding, one of these women is my present."

As I wandered back to the suite, I noticed some boys playing on a lawn with sports equipment that had been provided by the hotel.  I looked more closely and realized that their game consisted of trying to hurl all the sports equipment onto the roof of the hotel. Boys.

Larry and I checked out of the Pierpont Inn and went downtown to Mission San Buenaventura.  The mission church was in use for a Spanish/English bilingual Mass, and I was quite pleased to discover that I understood almost all of the Spanish!  Those eight semesters of intermediate Spanish have finally paid off.  I bought a few religious objects for my family room shrine in the gift shop.

There are lots of thrift shops in Ventura and I was excited to explore them while Larry and the dog did whatever in downtown.  However, I quickly realized that the thrift shops near me have MUCH better merch, because Ventura is a thrift destination, and all the stuff is picked over.  So the three of us found a nice patio and had tacos and margaritas.  Then we drove to the desert.

This mountain was definitely the highlight of the drive.  Larry told me what it's called but I've forgotten. We had booked a condo through AirBNB in La Quinta that turned out to be quite nice and centrally located to the pleasant Old Town La Quinta retail shops.  As we sat on an outdoor patio, enjoying our cocktails and introducing our geriatric dog to the geriatric residents of La Quinta, I checked the schedule for the El Dorado Polo Club one last time to make sure I had the correct start time for the Sunday match the next day. (Equestrian Polo, the kind with hot Argentinians in tight white pants and beautiful horses)

"FUCK," I said.  "El Dorado just cancelled general admission for the polo match tomorrow!"  Polo was pretty much our whole plan for La Quinta.  As we considered, though, we realized that sneaking onto the grounds and pretending to be El Dorado Club members would probably be simple.  We decided to so some reconnoitering under the cover of darkness in preparation for our club infiltration the next day.  Amy played polo in high school and we had been to her polo matches at El Dorado a few times, so we were familiar enough with the fields to find the correct one.  Sure enough, we discovered numerous ways to avoid the official entrance.

The next morning we put some beers in the Yeti and set out.  I told a few lies, entered through the exit gate, and parked in a field for club employees.  We grabbed the dog and scooted out of the car behind some palm trees.  We made an end run around the hitting cage and a pond and emerged at the field as if we were just another couple of club members with our dog in tow ready for the polo.  Taggart helped a lot with our subterfuge.  Everyone in polo has a dog, so people didn't really look past that.  We enjoyed watching the polo matches and drinking our beers in the sun.  It was a lovely afternoon.

After the polo we made our way to Shields Date Garden.  This is an institution that must be visited if you are in the area.  It has been around since 1924.  They sell dates, of course, but there is also a biblical walk of 23 statues depicting the life of Christ and a film about the sex life of dates.

The next day we decided to drive to the Salton Sea.  What, you ask, is the Salton Sea?  It is a vast mistake.  In 1905, during attempts to route some of it for irrigation, the Colorado River was inadvertently diverted to the lowest point in the desert, where it continued to flow for two years until the bank of the river was repaired, thus creating the Salton Sea.

Until about the 1950s the Salton Sea was touted as a family beach and fishing mecca.  The Sea was stocked with fish.  There were motels and boat ramps and restaurants and bait shops.  The problem is that no fresh water enters the Salton Sea.  The only water that enters is runoff from the Imperial Valley farms, water that contains fertilizers and pesticides.  As the Salton Sea  has evaporated over the decades, the exposed soil has creating blowing dust full of toxins.  The salinity is so high that all the fish introduced for sport fishing have died.  Occasionally a burp of gases from the Salton Sea releases rotting fish stench that can be smelled in Los Angeles.

So of course we had to go.  We decided to visit the former sport-fishing town of Bombay Beach along the east side of the Sea.  Every spring for the last few years artists have descended on Bombay Beach to create art projects that are left to weather in the blowing dust.  There is one bar in town, the Ski Inn, that has been in business since the town's heyday.  There are a few hundred residents there living off the grid.  It was a very interesting place to spend a few hours.  I would not want to spend much more time there, myself.  We drove around and admired the art installations, had beer and corn dogs at the Ski Inn, and then were ready to get back to civilization.

We made our way to the Sideways Inn in Buellton.  This is the former Windmill Inn featured in the 2004 film Sideways.  It has been completely refurbished and is now a lovely place to stay.  There is a great bar/restaurant with a patio and fireplace which Larry and Taggart and I very much enjoyed.

The next morning we set out to explore the Danish town of Solvang.  We had some Danish pancakes and then stopped by the old Lutheran Church.  I wasn't sure if it was open for visitors but I figured it was worth a try.  Sure enough, there was a woman of a certain age in a flowered shirt and sun hat and sensible shoes loitering around the entrance.  I approached and asked if I might see the interior of the church.  At first she was wary, but then she looked me over, and, as Larry said, game recognized game.  

The two of us in our flowered shirts and sun hats and sensible shoes had a nice time in the church where she told me about the architecture and the art work.  I made my way back to the car where Larry and Tag were waiting and it was honestly a little hard to shake her off, which was kind of funny considering her initial wariness.

We visited the Jul Hus (Christmas all year!) store, the book store, a bakery, and a beer garden.  It was great.  Here is a nice picture for you of Larry posing with the a statue of Hans Christian Andersen near the public restrooms.

And then we drove back to Los Altos, stopping in Gilroy for some barbecue.  I can't wait to get back on the road again!

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Goodwill Hunting


Tonight's blog post is brought to you by the bottle of Peppermint Bark RumChata that I found on the 75% off holiday shelf at Cost Plus World Market.

We had a lovely time back East over the holidays visiting my family and Larry's family.  And none of us got Covid!  We had two more weeks of family togetherness when we got back to California, because everyone under 30 in San Francisco had Covid, so all the kids stayed here, except for those two days that Ellen and her boyfriend spent at the nudist camp, but that's her story.  

It was great to hang out with the kids eating casseroles and watching Hallmark Christmas movies, but eventually Susan and Ellen went back to San Francisco and Amy went back to Wisconsin.  I have enjoyed the quiet house and have just had an excellent two days meandering around the Peninsula.

Art classes are back in session, so on Friday I drove through McDonalds for a bacon biscuit and a hazelnut latte and spent several lovely hours on the patio at the Art Center working on a Virgin Mary collage.  

The wind picked up and I was hungry again, so I decamped to a Panda Express and ate some orange chicken and did the Friday Sudoku, the best Sudoku of the week.  The Annens had invited us to dinner and I was bringing appetizers, so I headed over to Cost Plus World Market to investigate their offerings.

Cost Plus World Market is an excellent place to spend a few hours of self-reflection, wondering things such as "Am I the sort of person who makes imported porcini polenta for dinner, and if I made it, would it be the main dish or sort of a side dish, and if it was a side dish, what would be the main dish?"

I always find myself in the baskets at Cost Plus, and I really do not need any more baskets, so I cannot explain the compulsion to inspect the baskets, except that I guess I've always found weaving to be really cool.

As I was browsing the kitchenware I decided to put together a tray and some dishes to serve the appetizers I'd picked up.  I tried many combinations of trays and dishes, but eventually decided on this set, which I like very much.

The weird looking black things in the upper left are dolmas that you can get in a can at World Plus.  They taste better than they look.  The little pink things are tiny German cocktail wieners. The dinner party was lovely.

Today I gathered up all my Goodwill donations and drove them down to the Sunnyvale store.  There were many interesting things in the Goodwill today and I had a blast examining the shelves of random stuff.  Of course I had to buy a few things, such as:

This giraffe tray, which I have decided is for jewelry.

These orange baskets which I filled with artificial daisies.

This tiny ironing board, which I think is used for sleeves?

This brass L on a marble stand with a hook.

This big pink plastic basket and these placemats.  After my bonanza afternoon at Goodwill I headed to Joann's Fabrics because I decided to make a table runner to match my new old placemats.  I love to look at fabrics, I could do it for hours, and I often do.  When my kids were young they would cry at the very mention of the fabric store, and continue carrying on the whole time we were in there, but they weren't with me today, so I looked at all the fabrics in the store before I chose the green polka dot above.

Okay, it's pretty late and I just polished off the last cocktail wiener, so I guess it's time to finish my RumChata and head to bed.  Next time you see me ask me how much progress I've made on the table runner.