Category Archives: Friendship

That French Connection

At the gates of the Cité Universitaire, July 1982.

 As I’ve mentioned, I was lucky to receive an early formative introduction to France, its language and culture, thanks to a remarkably dedicated middle school teacher.  See Vacation ’75: Part I: Paris, March 2013.  Mrs. Correll emphasized the value of college study abroad, and I took her at her word.  The summer after my junior year at UGA, I headed to Paris.  Courses were held in the hallowed halls of the Sorbonne, where Mrs. Correll had received her Master’s degree.  We had the option of living with a Parisian family, but I found the prospect of total immersion in French too daunting.  My residence that summer was a dormitory at the Cité Universitaire, a complex for visiting international students. 

Aren’t I original? With the gargoyles of Notre-Dame, July 1982.

My husband came to love France during his undergrad years at Union College in Schenectady, New York, a small liberal arts college that aims to turn out well-rounded students.  Scientists as well as artists are encouraged to spend time in foreign study.  H majored in mechanical and aerospace engineering, but he also studied French.  He lived with a French family during a semester in Rennes, and before the program began, he and a buddy meandered through Europe by train.  I distinctly remember telling a friend about H soon after we’d met as grad students, “He’s an engineer, but he speaks French!”  My friend agreed that this was quite unusual.  Maybe things have changed, but in the early 90s, the typical Princeton Ph.D. who toiled in the labs of the E-Quad did not speak French, unless it happened to be a native language. 

H at the Loire Valley Chateau of Chenonceau, October 1, 1988.

As I look back, I see that our mutual interest in French was a primary factor in bringing my husband and me together.  Now, after nearly nineteen years of marriage, we share so much:  a home, a church, fundamental values, a daughter, family, friends, a dog and a turtle.  But we began as two strangers with very little in common.  When we met at that grad college barbeque, he was just beginning his engineering courses at Princeton and his research into “the thermal decomposition of nitrous oxide.”  I was writing my dissertation on medieval illuminated manuscripts, having finished my coursework and research abroad.  My funding had run out, and I was working as a professor’s assistant in Intro to Modern Art.  Our interests, on the surface, could hardly have been more different.  And then there was the age difference.  He was a dewy twenty-two.  I was about to turn twenty-nine.  Those seven years appeared to stretch like an unbridgeable river.  No betting person would have put money on our going on a second date.  Maybe not even a first.

But there was that French connection.  We couldn’t discuss manuscript illumination or the burning of nitrous oxide for very long, that’s for sure.  But we could talk for hours about France and our experiences there.  Did that French link make him think twice about me?  Consider that I might not be a hopelessly artsy, aging pseudo-bohemian?  Was it the point that convinced me of his unexpected depth, of some wisdom beyond his years?

French was, and still is, a fertile area of common ground between my husband and me. While neither of us makes any claim of fluency or expertise, our appreciation for the country and the language is genuine and heartfelt.  We don’t sit around and speak French and think how sophisticated we are, or how cool we sound.  We know we don’t sound particularly cool.  But we find humor in what we consider the quirks and oddities of the French language.  For example, to our American-trained ears, the word pneu (tire), sounds silly.  And we find it amusing that a stick to stir coffee is called, rather formidably, “un agitateur.”  But then we reconsider and agree that the word is decisive and definitive, unlike our American terms.  (Is it coffee stir, or coffee stirrer, or stir stick?  I really don’t know.)  The French seem to have a specific word for everything, and we respect and admire them for that.

Our mishaps in speaking are a source of many laughs.  A favorite story is from H’s student days in Rennes.  He’d bought a little second-hand moped to take him from his family’s house into the center of the city.  One night after late partying he locked it up near the university and got a ride back with friends.  The next day it was gone. He reported the missing moped to the police, saying “Quelqu’un a violé ma mobilette.”  He was asked to repeat his story to officer after officer, each of whom maintained a strenuously serious expression.  H was pleased that his report was being received with impressive gravity, certain that swift action would be taken to retrieve his trusty vehicle.  Only later did he realize he’d been saying that his moped had been violated, rather than stolen (volé).

H with friends at Chenonceau, 1988.

H and I first traveled to France together in the spring of 2002, with my parents.  They had funded most of my several visits but had never set foot in France themselves.  We thought about taking our daughter along.  She wasn’t yet three.  We didn’t consider it very long, since H’s parents were willing to take care of her.  We’d wait until she was old enough to appreciate the wonder of being in a foreign country.

Then, as they tend to do, the years zipped by with lightning speed.  We realized we were in danger of waiting too long for our family trip to France.  Our daughter’s idea of the perfect holiday is no longer hanging around with her parents, even if it does happen to be in an exotic locale.  And before long, she would be a young woman in college, no longer our captive child.

This past spring break, the three of us flew to Paris.

Along the Atlanta BeltLine

The Saturday of my stay in Atlanta, my friend Connie and I walked a portion of the Atlanta BeltLine.  Connie is among my parents’ most devoted neighbors.  She’s there to help, as needed, in any way.  She’s a nurse, and our family has relied on her numerous times for medical advice and assistance.  When I thank her for all that she does, she says simply, “I love your parents.  They’re family.”  And she means it.  I’ve come to think of Connie very much like a sister.  She also loves Atlanta, and she can be counted on to know what’s worth seeing and doing at the moment.  With Connie, I catch up quickly on the life of my old home town.

The BeltLine is a work in progress, the ongoing redevelopment of a former rail line that circles the city’s core in a  twenty-two mile loop.   It includes a wide paved path for walking, biking and running, along with other trails and parks branching off from the main circuit.  It’s bringing revitalization and the excitement that comes with it to in-town areas that had tended toward the derelict and run-down.  When finished, it will link up forty-five Atlanta neighborhoods.  It’s already possible to walk from Virginia-Highland to the Carter Center.  The BeltLine is an appealing place to get some air and exercise, to walk the dog, and to see city landmarks from unique perspectives.

Atlanta 071

A section of the mid-town skyline, from the BeltLine.

Atlanta 092

A view of the Ponce City Market, currently in development, from Paris on Ponce & Pop Marché, a vast collection of cool boutiques.  The enormous City Market building began its life as a Sears & Roebuck store in 1926.  In the 1990s it functioned as City Hall East, but has now sat vacant for years.

Atlanta 082

One of many BeltLine oddities:  medieval-style fencing of braided sticks, awkwardly meandering, for no apparent reason, across a desolate hill.
Atlanta 085

The Masquerade, a live music venue, seen from the back.  I remember it as a popular restaurant and bar called the Excelsior Mill, so named because the building was constructed as a factory to produce excelsior, a stuffing and packing material that predates foam rubber.

Atlanta 089

An old water tower seems to perch precariously atop this apartment building.
Atlanta 097

Public art is common along the BeltLine.

Atlanta 099

An entrance to the Eastside Trail is near Grady High, my alma mater.  In front of the school is its football stadium, renamed in 2011 for Coach Henderson, who was on his way to becoming a local legend during my Grady years. 

Hooray, We’re Off to See Our Dentist!

My recent trip to Atlanta reminded me how fortunate I am to have parents who refrain from using guilt as a coercive tactic. When I went to see them, it wasn’t in response to complaints about my not having been there in ages (although that would have been true–I hadn’t come to Atlanta since the previous summer).  My parents eagerly anticipate seeing me, my husband and daughter, but they don’t want us to feel obligated to visit.  While we’re with them, they want us to feel like we’re on vacation.  They cook our favorite meals and treat us to dinners out.  They encourage us to rest, take it easy, or go out and do something fun.

Even during this visit, Mama would say routinely after a meal, “Now, I’ll clean up.  You go relax.  You have to clean up every night.”  Daddy, recovering from surgery, was determined to carry my suitcase up the back stairs.  It was hard to persuade my parents to let me lift a finger around the house.  Mama finally thought of a few small tasks that involved  a ladder.  Even then, it was all I could do to keep Daddy from pushing past me and scampering up to the top.  Last year, I would have let him, but the dent in his forehead from a fall in the hospital told me I’d better not.

Mama had only one real request, and even then she suggested it with no pressure.  She had asked me earlier if I would mind driving them “out to see John.”  John is their dentist, and they love him.  My parents never dread a dental visit, as many people do.  For them, it’s a social occasion with the added benefit of cleaner, better teeth.  They look forward to seeing John.  They’ve known him since he was sixteen.  He was my first boyfriend.

The summer before our junior year, John appeared at a church youth group function with a friend.  He was charming,  witty and somewhat sophisticated.  All the girls in MYF sat up and took notice.  I expected he’d soon be cuddling in the church van with one of several girls I remember, perhaps inaccurately and unfairly, as serial boyfriend collectors.  Any cute new guy was likely to pair up with one of them.  But this boy liked me.

John seemed to think more than most boys his age, and he had varied interests.  He played basketball but also read books, had a talent for art, and could talk about ideas without sounding dull or pompous. When I said I hated all 70s rock music, he brought over his Queen albums.  I played Night at the Opera and Day at the Races over and over on my cheap stereo, and I still love Queen.  I think I saw my first foreign film, Cousin Cousine, with him.  He was no highbrow; we also saw Kentucky Fried Movie and The Spy Who Loved Me.  We found out Elvis had died when we stopped by Baskin-Robbins after playing tennis at the crumbly old court behind Rock Springs Presbyterian Church.  Even back then, John, like the elf in Rudolf, knew he wanted to be a dentist.

We were a couple for only a few months, but the timing was significant.  Just before I met John, I’d had a few tense dates with a boy who was, to use a classic crossword puzzle word, a cad.  He was dashing and handsome but as shallow as a driveway puddle after a quick summer storm.  Thanks to John, I discovered early on that I didn’t need to waste my time with boys who were clearly not right for me.  And I learned there was no truth to the adage that good guys have to be boring.

Our reasons for breaking up are hazy now.  It probably had something to do with the fact that we were both sixteen and had most of our lives ahead of us.  But we remained friends, and we were still in regular contact when John’s father suddenly got a new job that required the family to relocate to Charleston, West Virginia.  It was February, in the middle of the school year, with less than two weeks left in the quarter.  John moved in with my family so he could finish up schoolwork and take exams.  He settled into the upstairs room off the attic.  Because he attended a different school than I did, Daddy let John borrow the station wagon, while he took the bus to work.  He made John’s lunch every day.  I don’t think he really needed clothes, but Daddy bought him Levi’s at Charlie’s Trading Post, and my mother made him a shirt.  John never lost his sense of humor even in the midst of his melancholy over the impending move.  Mama understood and sympathized, and when John had trouble sleeping, the two of them sat up late together talking. 

February 1978: John with me, Rebecca and Katie. My dog Popi looms in the foreground.

My parents became John’s patients after the retirement of our long-term family dentist, who was also a good friend. That was years ago, and they have followed John as his practice has moved farther away.  Reaching his office now requires a twenty-five mile drive on I-85, an increasingly dicey adventure for my parents.  On their last visit, they got lost when Daddy took an earlier exit.  This was one of the incidents that prompted my husband to decide we had to set my parents up with a GPS system, as well as the reason Mama asked if I’d mind driving.  Friends have wondered why they don’t find a dentist with a nearby practice.  The answer is simple.  That dentist wouldn’t be John.

John and I pose as ill-equipped runaways for our photographer friend Katie. With our similarly feathered hair, we were true children of the 70s.

My parents and I survived the drive to John’s office.  I managed to follow the GPS directions despite Daddy’s persistent efforts to get me to take the earlier exit.  Shortly after we arrived, John came out to greet us ebulliently, as if we were long-lost family, even though he was with a patient.  He took the time later to sit down and catch up.  We laughed about the old days when we were teenagers, as well as the current ones as parents of teens.

John’s effervescence, rooted in empathy and sincerity, is contagious.  He’s not one of those hollowly entertaining types that seems like great company until their arrogance becomes apparent.  You realize you’re incidental, needed only as a spectator.  John has real warmth; his joviality is not merely presentation but extends to those around him.  A few minutes with him and your outlook improves.  I agree with my parents.  It’s worth the drive to see John.

John with his wife and children in 2002. My husband, daughter, my parents and I met up with John and his family at a church celebration that year.
John and me, 2002.


An April 1 Tradition Recalled


The quaint tradition of the satire publication on April 1 still flourished during my student days.  UGA’s newspaper, The Red & Black, became, for one day, The Rude & Bleak.  For a few years, at least, the April issue of Grady High’s Southerner was called the Yutz.  The Yutz, was, I’m sure, the most widely read issue of our high school paper.  While the stories tended toward the slapdash, the student population found them highly amusing.  We enjoyed the modified names of students and teachers.  Best of all, we got the silly inside jokes.  The content is now remarkably, charmingly antiquated.  One article reports the arrest of teachers caught with stolen ditto paper and fluid (of a street value over $12.58.)  The librarian was charged with “disturbing the card catalogue.”  In another story, sadistic teachers assigned so much homework (including memorizing The Encyclopedia Britannica) that students “were forced to miss The Bionic Woman and What’s Happening for six weeks in a row.”

On this April Fool’s Day, I salute those student writers who served up some comedy to make the school day a bit brighter.   The Rude & Bleak and the Yutz may be defunct, but copies survive in my archives.  I have already laughed out loud this morning as I looked over the brittle, yellowed pages.  Thank you, Crazy Chevalier, Jacket Warmer and Willy Creeps, among others, for bringing back memories of the hallowed halls of Gravey and the antics of Coach Hendering, Miss Granola Harpoon, and Mr. Bobby Baby Sly Fox!



Young Love, Old Love Notes, Part II



I saved two more notes from my third grade year.  These took an entirely different approach.  One was typed on good-quality paper.  An all-caps heading reads:


Immediately below the heading are 59 lines that look like this:

(the number one, followed by 45 zeros)

At the bottom of the page, again in all-caps is one word:


Near the top of the page on the otherwise blank right side is this message:




I found this note impressive then, just as I do now.  I’m impressed at the time and effort needed to type so many lines of zeros.  I’m impressed at the absence of mistakes–only one typo in the numbers.  Quite a lot of work went into it, especially for a little third-grader.  And I’m touched by its rather odd tack.  For an elementary school love note, it falls far from the realm of the expected.  I like that very much.

Interestingly, the note has no signature.  I had always assumed it was from Danny.  When I asked him if he remembered creating the typed masterpiece, it didn’t ring a bell. Once he saw a photo of the note, a long-forgotten memory began to crystalize.  He could see his young self in his mother’s office,  experimenting with her new high-powered typewriter.

As for the cryptic reference to Greg, and what he may have told me–the message I shouldn’t believe–Dan can’t recall.  Greg couldn’t shed any light on that matter, either.  As in the earlier note, he can’t remember having been involved.


The third note is handwritten in pencil on notebook paper.  It follows the same numerical theme.  Perhaps it was a precursor to the typed note, a sort of rough draft. The numbers appear on the top half of the page, below the words I love You, written in cursive.  Also at the top, printed in what appears to be a different hand, are these words: Look on Back  and from Danny.

The entire bottom half of the page is taken up with the following message, printed in huge letters:

Baby love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This handwritten note, both Dan and I have come to agree, must represent a combined effort.  I can imagine Danny showing his half-finished letter to a friend, perhaps the omnipresent but forgetful Greg, or someone else.  That boy grabbed the note playfully and wrote the emphatic Love Baby Love message on the blank lower half of the page.  Like the Kiss me after school demand on the earlier note, it’s completely out of character for shy Danny.  Then, for good measure, the second boy wrote in Danny’s name, but used printed letters instead of Danny’s typically careful cursive.

Such a scenario fits in with my recollections of elementary school.  I’m fairly certain I never wrote any love notes during these years, and I know that if I had, I would not have signed my name.  But I’m very familiar with a similar type of conspiratorial collaboration, the back of forth of who likes whom, the ongoing gossip concerning which boys were cute, which ones were funny, which ones were worth our daydreams.  In those old days, the real fun of “liking someone” had very little to do with an actual boy.  Instead, for my friends and me, it simply offered hours of amusing conversation, a pleasant distraction from schoolwork and our childhood responsibilities.  I  assume it was no different for the boys.  I’m not kidding myself that these notes offer proof of true young love.  But at the very least, they suggest that my name was among those discussed, on occasion, by the third grade boys.  I was noticed.  I was not invisible.  And maybe I wasn’t considered entirely crazy.  Thank you, Dan.  After all these years, your efforts and creativity are more appreciated than ever.

For kids today, I have this piece of advice.  If, in this age of texting, Snapchat and Instagram, you’re lucky enough to receive an old-fashioned paper love note, save it.  If it doesn’t bring you happiness now, just wait a few decades.

Young Love, Old Love Notes, Part I


love notes 009

When I was growing up, the exchange of love notes was among the essential elementary school experiences.  Most of us who came of age in the 60s and 70s, I would bet, took some part in the process, as sender, receiver, envious onlooker, or all of the above.  Because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m a saver, a documentarian of life’s minutiae, I have proof that I was, at least for a brief time, a player in that game.

A recent search for some tedious document in the chaos of our home office uncovered something I found far more interesting:  a Raggedy Anne stationery box stuffed with elementary school memorabilia.  Among various artifacts, it contains several notes I received in third grade.  I wish I could remember how I reacted when I received these as an eight-year old.  I was probably flattered, but puzzled.  Evidently I appreciated them, or I wouldn’t have saved them.  I do know that in recent years, they have never failed to make me smile.

In third grade, battling my OCD demons kept me too stressed and distracted to consider romance.  (See In the Way Back, the Old Swing Set, Going Back to Nature, July 2013.)  Schoolwork helped to silence the exhausting voices in my head, so I threw myself with frenzied gusto into learning my multiplication tables, reading Scholastic books and writing stories that starred my dog and stuffed animals.  I tried to keep my craziness under wraps during school hours.  These notes suggest that maybe I did.  Or maybe the sender wasn’t put off by a touch of crazy.  Maybe he was a little crazy himself.  Who knows, now?  Anyway, I’m glad I kept the notes.   No doubt there are those who’d say I’m insane for saving them all these years.

I treasure these old notes, a testament to the sender’s ingenuity and thoroughness. The one shown above follows a traditional format.  On heavy folded construction paper, a heart with carefully ruffled edges is drawn in pencil and colored in crayon. The message is simple, direct and emphatic.  I love you appears seven times throughout.  It’s signed by one boy, Danny, on the inside.  Oddly, on the back, there are two signatures:  Danny and Greg, accompanied by a pencil drawing that could be a flying saucer but is more likely a pair of lips.  Inside there is an additional message:  Kiss me after school please.  There was much difficulty with the writing and spelling of please.  It required several erasures, a cross-out and a correction.


Because Danny (now Dan) and I are Facebook friends despite not having seen one another in over thirty years, we’ve been able to compare our recollections of the circumstances surrounding the note.  Soon after we got back in touch, he asked if I remembered receiving a love note from him in third grade.  He was more than surprised to learn that not only did I remember, I still had the note.  Dan distinctly recalled being dared by another boy (Bill, not Greg) to put a love note in my desk.  He took the dare and tucked the note in my desk after I’d left school, planning to retrieve it early the next morning before I arrived.  He forgot about the last part, and so when he entered the classroom he saw me unfolding the paper. 

Dan had no memory of the note’s appearance or wording.  He couldn’t remember conspiring with Greg in creating it.  He was completely astonished at the Kiss me message.  That didn’t sound at all like him at all, he said.  I had always thought that very same thing.  I remember Danny as a very funny boy, one who’d do anything for a laugh.  But he was quite shy.  I couldn’t see him demanding after-school kisses.  Maybe I assumed that was Greg’s handiwork.  I’d say he was bolder kid, one with a somewhat devil-may-care attitude.  And yes, I’m Facebook friends with Greg after all these years, as well.  When I asked if he remembered co-authoring a love note to me, he did not.  His response was diplomatic; he didn’t want to sound callous or disappoint me.  His heart, he gently but clearly recalled, belonged to another third grade girl. 


Dan observed that the Kiss me sentence appears to have been written by a different hand.  The pencil lead is darker, and the words are printed, unlike Danny’s all-cursive I love you above it and those that appear on the front.  All the writing on the back, including both signatures, would appear to be written by the Kiss me author.  Dan concluded that, shy as he was, he must have mentioned the dare to Greg, who stepped in to offer moral support.  He probably wrote the Kiss me line on impulse, thinking, Why not?  Maybe this will get interesting!  Could be that’s when he decided to sign his own name and Danny’s, putting himself in the running for the kiss.

The note didn’t prompt me to kiss anyone after school.  I was definitely not that kind of girl in third grade.  But  these decades later, it’s nice to look back and know that I was asked.  And to know that someone, perhaps with a little encouragement from a friend, decided I was worth the effort of all that careful coloring and the writing of I Love You seven times.  That makes it  a note worth saving.
2nd grade
The photo above shows our second grade class with our teacher Mrs. Small, the year before the note was written.  My third grade photo has gone missing.  Dan is the sweet-faced boy at the left end of the top row.  His mother tended to dress him in a suit on picture day.  I’m second from the right on the top row, wearing, of course, an outfit made entirely by my mother, down to my red, white and blue scarf, my hair pulled back in a pony tail. Years ago, when I first showed this photo to my daughter to see if she could find me, she had considerable difficulty.  After she pointed questioningly to many girls who were clearly not me, I grew a little exasperated and showed her.  Oh, she said, with much surprise.  I thought that was a boy, with short hair and a tie.  Greg does not appear in this photo; he was in the other second grade class that year. 


A Pescadero Classic: Duarte’s Tavern


Our tour along the northern California coast ended on a festive note with dinner at Duarte’s Tavern, a Pescadero landmark and true American classic.  Duarte’s dates from 1894, when Frank Duarte, an immigrant from Portugal, bought the tavern and began selling whisky from a barrel.  The spot proved popular with local fishermen, whalers and farmers.  While Prohibition was a setback, the original bar survived intact, and in the 1930s the Duarte family expanded the business to include food service (sandwiches, ice cream and pies).  They also ran a barbershop on the premises.  While the barber chairs have disappeared, the plain, unassuming décor has changed very little, which, depending upon your point of view, contributes to the place’s simple charm (as I see it), or its lack thereof.  For the past several decades, Duarte’s has been famous for its flavorful soups, fresh fish, and delicious pies. The fourth generation of the family now runs the restaurant.

At the recommendation of our friends, who are Duarte’s regulars, we began with a combination of the two house specialty soups, cream of green chile and cream of artichoke.  Served with fresh sourdough bread, it was as tasty as they had said it would be.  The locally caught sole was just as described: absolutely fresh and simply prepared.  I only wish I’d been able to sample the Crab Cioppino.  My one Bay Area food regret is not tasting this regional specialty, a hearty seafood stew.  Next time.

No one missed out on Duarte’s most famous pie, however.  Our friends had spoken highly of the olallieberry pie.  You East Coasters might well ask What?– just  as I did.  Surely that’s a made-up word.  It sounds like something Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat would serve up on that cold, rainy day.  Perhaps in an early draft of Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, the happy couple dined on slices of olallieberry pie? (for which the runcible spoon would be well-suited.)

But no.  Olallieberry is a real word referring to a real berry, although one of fairly recent origin.  Essentially, it’s a locally grown blackberry-raspberry hybrid, a cross that was developed by way of the loganberry and youngberry,  (I had no idea my knowledge of berries was so rudimentary).  Olallie, interestingly, is a Pacific Northwest Native American word for berry.  At our table that day, all seven in our party ordered the olallieberry pie.  No one was disappointed.

When we return to California in a few years, we’ll make sure to seek out our good friends again. I’ll even give them more than a couple of day’s notice of our impending arrival.  And when we drive along the coast (next time we’ll venture farther south, to Monterey and Carmel), we’ll stop by Duarte’s.  I feel sure it will still be there.   Maybe the fifth generation of the family will be running the place by then.  On second thought, no.  We won’t wait that long.

In Pescadero: Harley Farms Goat Dairy

My final California posts have been much delayed.  That most tiresome and expected of reasons has kept me away from the blog for almost two weeks:  our old PC moved on to its greater reward.  It had been ailing for a while, and its misery was contagious.  Closing or opening a document had become a lengthy, frustrating process.  Our home office often resounded with groans, moans and furious mutterings as one of us sat staring beseechingly at an endlessly spinning “loading” symbol.  (Loading, loading, always loading, never loading.)  Once the PC had given up the ghost, of course, there followed the dreaded prospect of replacing it.  Fortunately, that falls under my husband’s purview, and he’s still dealing with the complex transition from old to new.  What would I do if I were single?

Now, a second-to-last look at our time in northern California.


Because we toured the coast with local friends, we had the chance to visit some unique places we wouldn’t have discovered on our own.  One such spot, a favorite of our friends, is Harley Farms, a farm-to-table goat dairy in the rural seaside community of Pescadero.  This goat farm has a funky, unpretentious elegance and a chic sense of style.   It’s a friendly, family-run operation in an inviting setting of thoughtfully restored old farm buildings.  Two hundred furry, feisty Alpine goats munch and lounge happily in grassy pastures bordered by gardens and sheltered by rolling hills.  Llamas stand guard, exercising particular vigilance over the kids.  (Is anything cuter than a baby goat?  Maybe only a Shiba Inu puppy.)  The goats’ milk is processed on site into an array of award-winning cheeses.  These include crumbly feta, creamy chevre topped beautifully with edible flowers, as well as the softer consistency fromage blanc and ricotta cheeses.



In the cozy restored barn that houses the shop, cheeses may be sampled and purchased.  Prior to our visit, while I had no objection to goat cheese, I wasn’t an outspoken fan. Harley Farms changed that.  After nibbling on a wide range of samples, we left with three tasty varieties.  My favorite may be the Monet chevre, seasoned with herbes de Provence.  The lavender and honey chevre runs a close second.  Also available in the shop are soaps, lotions and other bath and body products, all made with the milk of Harley goats.  Additionally, the farm produces nine lovely colors of durable, environmentally friendly FarmPaint. The barn’s hayloft, with its unique fir table that seats twenty-two, serves as a truly atmospheric event space.  Looking for a wedding venue like no other?  Harley Farms will handle all the details.

A goat farm had not been on our list of northern California must-sees.  But thanks to our friends, it is now.



Some of the Harley nanny goats.  One appears to be kneeling in prayer.


A guard llama eyes us warily.


An immense eucalyptus tree shades the milk processors.

An Afternoon in Half-Moon Bay

To continue our tour of the northern California coast, we met up with good friends who had settled in Palo Alto to raise their family.  Although we’d kept in touch through Christmas cards, it had been perhaps seventeen years since I’d seen my former housemate Laura, and probably twenty since I’d seen her husband.  Laura and I became fast friends when we lived on the same small gray corridor of the New Graduate College in Princeton.  Together with our buddy and hallmate Ben, we could face anything the weird world of ivy-league graduate study could throw at us.  We considered ourselves a formidable trio.  And, when we weren’t working hard, we sure had fun.

When Laura completed her master’s degree and landed a job at Bell Labs, she stayed in Princeton and we rented a funny little blue house on Humbert Street near the cemetary.  More accurately, Laura rented it, and I provided her with pocket change.  I was still a poor student, and she graciously let me share the house, accepting as payment no more than the fractional amount my stipend would allow.  When our landlord sold that house, we moved across the borough to the lower level of a really lovely Victorian home on Murray Place.  I was with Laura at a Grad School cookout when we met two new engineering students, one of whom would later become my husband.  Our Murray Place house was conveniently near the E-Quad, where H spent his days in the lab.  He often parked on our street, which made it easy for me to plan to run into him by accident.  Laura was from New Jersey, with lots of family nearby.  On many Thanksgivings, Super Bowl Sundays and various holidays when I couldn’t get back to Atlanta, they welcomed me as one of their own.

With such a foundation of shared history, a couple of decades is nothing.  We picked up easily, and the years fell away.  We met the children we had watched grow up in photographs.  Laura’s son is sixteen, her daughter fourteen, with D right in the middle at fifteen.  The kids had little trouble breaking the ice; it was almost as if they were old friends, as well.  The same was true when D had the chance, several years ago, to meet Ben’s kids.

One of our coastal convoy’s first stops was Half Moon Bay, about thirty minutes south of San Francisco.  This quaint town has gained worldwide renown for its proximity to the phenomenal surfing spot known as Mavericks.  Until the 1990s, the enormous waves that develop under certain weather conditions were a closely kept local secret.  Since then, though, the word has been out, and elite surfers cross the globe to catch the waves, prove themselves (and risk their lives) at Half Moon Bay.

Today, as I write, the conditions for those near-legendary waves are ideal.  Twenty-four of the world’s top surfers, from as far away as Australia, South Africa and Brazil, are gathered at Half Moon Bay for the Mavericks Invitational surfing competition.   Waves as high as forty-five feet are forecasted.  Crowds have flocked to witness the action at waterfront hotels and restaurants.  No one is allowed to observe from the beach, however, due to the unpredictable nature of the waves.  Several years ago, a dozen spectators at Mavericks were injured by a rogue wave, an ever-present danger along this section of the coast.


In this Dec. 30 view of Half Moon Bay, looking toward the harbor,
the waters are deceptively calm.


The coast is rocky,


and the bluffs are steep.  Sudden strong waves reared up periodically, seemingly out of nowhere, even on the day of our visit, when no surfers were out.


A view along Main Street.


The town’s historic Methodist Episcopal Church.


Another Main Street view.  Flanked by mountains and the sea, lush with picturesque foliage, Half Moon Bay is one of those charming California towns that I had suspected existed only on movie lots.

Goodbye to the King: Elvis the Cat, 1995 – 2013

Elvis the Cat was my friend Doug’s beloved companion.  Doug passed away almost two years ago, after a long, hard-fought battle with the rare disease syringomyelia.  (See Remembering Doug, February 2012.) During Doug’s last years, when his illness had deprived him of nearly all mobility, Elvis must have been an especially great comfort.  After Doug died, Elvis was there to offer love and support for Doug’s wife.  Now Elvis has gone on to his eternal reward.  He was eighteen years old.  Like Doug, he was a unique character.  Like Doug, he will be greatly missed.


During visits to my parents in Atlanta, my daughter and I enjoyed dropping in to talk with Doug, who never failed to entertain; his love of life remained robust no matter his level of discomfort.  If we lingered a while, we would usually be graced by Elvis’s regal presence.  He was reserved around all but immediate family, not one to dole out affection indiscriminately.  Elvis was especially wary of children.  As Doug advised D when she was a preschooler, Elvis didn’t appreciate loud voices and sudden movements.  She took this advice to heart, and it often paid off.  Elvis would first peer in from the hall, sizing us up with his cool yellow cat eyes.  Sometimes he decided we weren’t worth his time.  With a flip of his tail, he’d disappear.  Other times he gave us the OK and  approached tentatively, gracefully, on tip-toe.  D was delighted when he decided to settle in beside her, allowing her to stroke his abundantly fluffy black fur and hear his deep, growly purr.

Doug’s wife told my mother that although the house feels oddly empty, now that Elvis is no longer there, she has much to be thankful for.  She is grateful that Elvis was with Doug until the end, and that he stayed a while afterwards to offer solace as she began the process of adjusting to life without her husband.  Anyone lucky enough to be helped through a difficult time by the precious comfort of a pet must know the feeling.

Rest in peace, dear Elvis.  It was our good fortune to know you.


Elvis, ignoring a cat toy, 2013.


And beautifying the Christmas tree, 2012.