Disappearing Acts

MagicianUsually one thinks of a disappearance as a sudden occurrence, but this actually happened so gradually that I didn’t notice until it was gone.

I speak of my youth, which has eked continuously over minutes, days, and years. I don’t mourn it, though. I am an extremely happy middle-aged person who takes advantage of Zumba Gold classes at the Albany Senior Center. (At $7, it’s a fitness bargain, and one need only be over forty.) I plan to use all available senior discounts when I become eligible, which is not quite yet.

So my chronological age doesn’t bother me.mirror

I know those who long for their youth because they attention in a way that it no longer does, and they miss their younger selves when they look in the mirror. But I’ve never been a beauty (except to my parents, my husband, and my daughter). At no time have I had to question whether someone’s interest in me was based solely on my looks because I can confidently say that my image could comfortably accompany the definition for “average.”

So for me, the passing of youth is not a bittersweet memory of turning heads in my twenties.


Now I would be lying if I declared that I don’t mind the effects age has on my body. I rise every morning a bit creakier than I did the day before. I’ve come to accept that this chassis is no longer new and shiny; but despite its increasing mileage, it gets me to where I want to go. Sometimes I wonder: if I knew in my twenties what I know now, would I have appreciated how effortless it was simply to go from sitting on the floor to standing? Probably not. Youth aren’t supposed to notice such things—taking it all for granted is part of their job description.

So if it’s not a matter of numbers, beauty, or agility, then what is it that age has wreaked?

AmnesiaI mourn my loss of memory. I’ve spent over fifty years accruing what passes for wisdom only to watch it disappear, and the irony of that stings. I thought I still had time to utilize a rich vocabulary. Otherwise, what were all those word-of-the-day calendars for? Now I often struggle to find the right word. I also presumed that consuming hundreds of books and articles would provide fodder for intelligent conversation for years to come. But when I go to retrieve details, they’ve disappeared.

It pops up in ways that catch me off guard, like ordering movies from Netflix that I’ve already seen. At first I chalked it up to carelessness. Then I began double-booking events because I’d forgotten to put them on the calendar. Recently someone asked me for my street address, which has been the same for nine years, and I transposed the numbers.

It’s as if my brain has been requisitioned a stingy allotment of storage space, and that capacity is shrinking daily. If I could choose what gets retains and what gets jettisoned, that modicum of control would be of some comfort. But apparently the portion of my brain that gets to decide what stays and what goes has a wicked sense of humor. How else do I explain the fact that I remember my third grade music teacher, Mrs. Morris, clapping out meaningless chants to instill a sense of rhythm: ta ta tee-tee ta, tee-tee-tee-tee ta ta! (I still don’t understand what that was all about.) Yet I forget important information that I need regularly, such as the password to my PayPal account.

I suppose I thought I had longer before it began to slip away. After all, I have several friends in their seventies and eighties who are still sharp. What do they have that I don’t?

Well, I decided to ask some of them. I received these suggestions—do crossword  puzzles, exercise, and give myself extra time to retrieve information from the old mental files.

Crossword-Puzzle-862366But I did take up crossword puzzles a few years ago. I concluded that its only benefit was improving my ability to do crossword puzzles. As far as exercise goes, in addition to my Zumba class, I go to the gym four times a week and walk the dog on Sunday. And I’m perfectly willing to concede that accessing information may now take longer, but that doesn’t help me when I recite the wrong address.

GawandeOne friend suggested Atul Gawande’s new book, so I went online to look it up. Outside of those pertaining to surgery, the only title I could find was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, which is not the memory-enhancing bag of tricks I was expecting. I can only assume that she thought my condition was much more dire than I thought.

117794-300x224-Memory_loss_from_stressAfter careful consideration, I realize the solution that should have been obvious from the start: write it down. After all, I’m a writer. If it’s important, I’ll make note of it, either on my laptop, my phone, or even that old standby—paper. I will list the books I read and the plays and films I see. I will record the news from my daughter. Writing will combat my memory loss and help me hold on to what’s important.

The rest I will allow to disappear with my youth.


Credit Unions rule!


I figure there are always things to rant about, but today I just want to take a moment to sing the praises of my credit union, USE.

Yesterday I realized that my debit/credit card was not in my wallet, my purse, my car, or anywhere in the house. So I gave up ever trying to find it and called USE’s 24-hour phone number to report a lost card. I talked to a real-live person and canceled my card within a few minutes.

Today I drove to my local branch of USE (where I nabbed a parking place right in front of the office in downtown Berkeley!). I was able to walk right up to the window, explain my situation, and receive a new debit/credit card within five minutes. FIVE MINUTES! There’s no way that would have happened so quickly if I were still with Wells Fargo.

It was so fast and easy, I still had the time and energy to go to Costco to get my gas tank filled and pick up one of their amazing five-dollar roast chickens.

So thank you, USE. I am so happy that I switched over to a credit union.


Strolling Green Lake’s loop


Green Lake
Green Lake

Guest post by Jacqueline Volin

When I moved to Seattle, one of the reasons I chose the apartment I did was its proximity to Green Lake. All through my East Bay years, I kind of envied the people who lived near Lake Merritt. Ready access to that convenient, pleasing three-mile loop? I would have loved that. I know the Canada geese are a nuisance and the nearshore water can be . . . something not to look at. If I’d lived near Lake Merritt I’d have walked its perimeter anyway, all the time. Inertia gets me just enough that I frequently would have talked myself out of driving to Redwood or Joaquin Miller, but I’d never have ignored the easy opportunity of Lake Merritt. 

Green Lake plays much the same role in north Seattle that Lake Merritt does in Oakland. The expanse of water, its color shifting from deep blue to slate gray depending on the sky, the glints of sunshine on ripples, the loop trail. Round and round all year long go joggers, roller skaters, kids on scooters, cyclists, dog walkers, adults pushing strollers, teenagers tethered one earbud each, people of all ages and all paces. Nothing beats the allure of an urban lake.

Green Lake is just shy of three miles around, a bit smaller than Lake Merritt, and it doesn’t have a pretty necklace of lights. (Or any lights. It is pitch black after dark, and you won’t see people passing by you a foot away unless they are wearing a red blinky light. At least, that’s what I recall from the one occasion I walked it after sundown.) I did see some Canada geese gliding placidly across the water the other day, but so far, large-scale colonization does not seem imminent.

The Green Lake loop is exactly the right distance for a podcast of Radiolab or Selected Shorts. I’ve walked it with friends, but most often it’s just me and my own earbuds, walking the loop trail like a participant observer. I’ve been there enough times now, in all seasons, to have taken note of the lake’s idiosyncrasies and regulars, but I haven’t lived here long enough to know their stories, so I have the pleasant sensation of enjoying their familiarity like a local but puzzling over their quirks like a visitor. 

There is the expansive tree stump that is always adorned with carefully planned flower-blossom collages. I’ve seen it covered with floral valentines in hues of pink and magenta, concentric rings of blooms in contrasting colors and sizes, and carnation stripes of red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. The displays are made usually of the blossoms alone, not the full flowers. Green Lake stump

Does one person create these homages? Is the stump free to anyone who gets there early enough to claim it once another display wilts? How did this practice start? Who thought of it first?

There is the slightly creepy old man with sticklike legs and weathered skin who walks the perimeter in summertime wearing nothing but hiking boots, a G-string, and a sandwich board announcing FREE SPANISH LESSONS. Does he get any takers?

There’s the plein-air painter who sets up his recently completed canvases on the ground next to an open coffee can reading, “Support local art.” He’s actually pretty good.

There’s the organ grinder by the boathouse (no monkey), and the guy with the super-long skateboard who pushes himself along with a rubber-tipped pole like a gondolier, and the Sunday-afternoon roller blader who skates loop after loop bent over in a half stoop that looks terrible for her lower back. She gets visibly annoyed by the people who walk in the outer “wheels only” lane, obliging her to break her stride. (The inner lane is the one for pedestrians, but good luck enforcing that.) How long has she kept up the fight?

In autumn Green Lake seems New Englandy, with the changing leaves and the slant of light across the water. In summer I can take the bus up after work and enjoy a leisurely stroll in the lovely, temperate, impossibly long evenings. And on days off, when inertia takes hold and I can’t quite figure out what to do with myself, I often will think, Well if nothing else, I can walk around Green Lake.

And just like I thought I would, I do.




Boss is pretty boss

Boss food
Rather than using plates, food is placed in paper “snack sacks” and presented on an aluminum tray.

Note: Today was supposed to be the day we visited Cape Cod (the restaurant, not the beach community on the East Coast), but since a new place just opened and is technically up Solano, we decided to eat there now rather than return to it after we’ve eaten our way down to San Pablo Ave.

Boss is Albany’s brand new offering at 1187 Solano Ave that is striving to be a classic American burger joint. It’s an order-at-the-counter kind of place where they call your number so you can retrieve your food and appears to be doing a fair share of takeout business as well. It was hopping when George and I wandered in there.

Boss decorThe décor appears to be an homage to what passed for ultra-modern in the sixties, judging by the clock and surrounding artwork that look like they came straight from the Jetsons’ living room.

The menu is simple and straightforward: burgers, hot dogs, fries, chili, a fried chicken sandwich, and a mixed greens salad. Prices are reasonable, and portions are too. These are not the half-pound behemoths that leave you feeling stuffed. Beverages include sodas, fresh-squeezed lemonade, beer, and wine. They also serve ice cream.

When I ordered my sandwich,  I was asked to specify which “Boss sauce” I wanted. The young woman taking my order explained that my options included spicy and regular. After a bit of prying, I was able to get a little more clarification. The regular sauce is a concoction of mustard, mayo, and a pinch of horseradish. The spicy is just the regular sauce with some habanero. Despite the inclusion of mayonnaise, I went for the spicy sauce but asked for them to keep it light, which they did.

Boss was created by Jon Guhl (who also started Little Star Pizza, which is on the same block), and Ryan Murff, who is a bartender, chef, and owner of the Northbrae Bottle Shop in Berkeley. Their mission is to focus on local, organic ingredients and use hormone-free and non-gmo products. You can find a list of their suppliers on their website. They grind their locally sourced fresh beef each day and make all their crinkle-cut fries from Kennebec potatoes on site.

Boss kitchenIn fact, I sat in the back facing the window that looks onto the kitchen, where I got to see the hardworking staff in action, including the woman who had to stand on a stool to get the proper leverage on the handle of the patty maker.

I quite enjoyed my fried chicken sandwich and lemonade, as well as the fries George and I shared. The sauce was spicy but not too spicy, and I didn’t really notice the mayo component that much. George liked his double burger with American cheese and bacon, but by the time he got to the bottom of the sandwich, much of the cheese had melted onto the paper holder, so he’s thinking he’ll skip the cheese next time. George was not asked how he wanted his burger cooked, so I’m guessing by its color  that they are all cooked medium. 

It was not a quiet place, but to be fair, we were sitting behind a table of Albany High kids. At one point, one of the girls yelled “Woo hoo!” I didn’t ask if she was responding to her lunch or to a comment made by one of the other girls. George commented that if you don’t like teen spirit, you probably shouldn’t go there for lunch on a school day.

I have to admit that their website would have greatly benefited from a copyeditor. Here’s an excerpt:

Most of our ingredients will come from California farms and when we not can’t find it, we will always source vegetables that will be best subsitute considering our ridged standarts.

I’m not sure how standards (or standarts, whatever those are) can be ridged exactly, but their hearts are in the right place, and the food is tasty, so I will try not to hold their typos against them…


Trip to Walnut Creek ruined a perfectly good bad mood

Dean Lesher center
Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts

There were definitely activities I would have preferred to making a trek into Walnut Creek to exchange a theater ticket, and I admit that I resented the Lesher Center for the Arts for putting me in the position of having to drive through the Caldecott Tunnel twice on an otherwise beautiful Sunday.

Of course it was my own fault. I had bought tickets to the play over a month ago without checking our family’s master calendar.

“Do you really have to go to the BDPNN meeting that night?” I’d asked hopefully.

Dave’s apologetic smile said it all. He’s on the board of Berkeley’s Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network (I think that’s what it stands for), and it would be in bad form to skip out on a meeting to go to the theater, even if it is to see our friend Charlie in the starring role.

So I called the box office and spoke to Trevor, who asked me if I was a subscriber. No, I’m not. (I didn’t follow up with the snotty question: why would I subscribe to a theater in Walnut Creek when I live in Berkeley where there is great theater both here and close by in San Francisco?) “Then you’ll have to come in to the box office to exchange your tickets.” I asked if I couldn’t just make the exchange over the phone, to which he replied no.

So I wasn’t liking Trevor or Dean Lesher. I don’t actually know who Dean Lesher is, but his namesake seemed unreasonable, so he suffers by association.

And of course I put it off to nearly the last day, which means that our seats were guaranteed to be way to the side and in the back of the auditorium.

But I got in my car and headed east, resigned to losing an hour and a half of my life. (And of course, it’s also a waste of gas. So the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts was responsible for expanding my carbon footprint as well.)Caldecott

While I was forking over the exchange fee, I inquired why I wasn’t allowed to make this transaction over the phone. The woman behind the counter assured me that I could have, since I’d bought the tickets online.

“But Trevor said I couldn’t exchange them by phone because I wasn’t a subscriber,” I informed her.

“Did you tell him you’d bought them online?”

“No, but he didn’t ask…”

Grrr…I’d already paid to use the parking garage there (Walnut Creek’s parking meters run on Sundays too!), so I figured I might as well eat lunch before I drove back through the tunnel. I asked the woman at the box office for a recommendation and set off for a place a few blocks away called Tender Greens.

I had a delicious but healthy roast veggie salad and an apple crisp for dessert (to reward myself for having such a healthy entrée). It was a lovely day, so I opted for an outside table, where a woman approached me and introduced herself. Jennifer enjoys buying scratcher lottery tickets; but once she wins the money, she gives it away. Today I was the recipient of her winnings. She handed me a five-dollar bill with a smile.

I wish I had asked if she had criteria for choosing her beneficiaries, but I was taken by surprise and didn’t think of that question until later. Maybe she sensed that I had categorized my trip to Walnut Creek that particular day as unnecessary and therefore a tad annoying, and she wanted to either make it up to me or defend her homeland (assuming she lived there). Whatever her reason was, I did feel more positive about my trek, and that warm feeling stayed with me as I walked back to the garage.

Maybe Walnut Creek isn’t such a bad place. Dean Lesher’s once-tarnished reputation was rescued.

As a postscript, let me say that because it was not earned, I felt an obligation to give away the money I’d received. So when I attended a free Berkeley Broadway Singers’ concert later that afternoon, I dropped the bill in the basket being passed around to offset the cost of running the non-profit chorus. I figured there was a certain symmetry in there somewhere, connecting theater and music, Walnut Creek and Berkeley, and fixing a sour attitude.

Little Star is truly a star!

pesto thin crust
pesto onion artichoke heart thin crust pizza

Today’s outing to Little Star Pizza involved a larger party than usual because my daughter and her best friend, Rachel, joined us. Located on the corner of Solano and Stannage (1175 Solano), Little Star has a beautiful dining area, including outdoor seating that is shielded from wind by a transparent screen. Since it was a gorgeous sunny day, half the group was hoping to sit outside. However, the tables outside really only accommodate up to four. So our resourceful waiter opened up the large windows and seated us next to them. That way, the sun lovers sat next to the window, and those who preferred shade sat at the end of the table that was out of the sun.

We got a carafe of water right away, which was an excellent beginning in my book. I also ordered the bottomless iced tea, which got refilled twice without my having to seek out our waiter. (Bonus points!)

We started with bacon-wrapped dates, which were amazing. Our crowd’s only suggestion for that dish was that more balsamic vinegar would have been nice, or as Rachel put it: “it needed to be all up in there and everywhere.” Agreed.

Rachel at Little Star
Rachel regaled us with a humorous story in which became trapped in her jumper while attempting to take off the shirt beneath. Here is a partial demonstration of said attempt.

Because I’m fundamentally against gorgonzola cheese, I substituted feta in their mixed salad, and it was delish. Rachel dubbed the dressing “perfect,” though a few of us would have liked a tad more of it.

The garlic bread is unlike any you will get anywhere else. It is the true essence of garlic bread, in that it is simply fresh, warm bread served with roasted garlic and soft butter. And rather than serve it in the head so that you have to get all sticky trying to dig out the garlic, Little Star serves the garlic cloves already extracted and in a ramekin for your convenience. When we ran out of bread, Rachel started popping them in her mouth whole—that’s how good they were.

The musical selection was pleasing, even though I would not call myself a country music lover. I didn’t even know Johnny Cash did a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”…

Ah, but the true star at Little Star is the pizza itself, with its yummy cornmeal crust. We got one deep dish with fresh basil and one thin crust with onions, artichoke hearts, and pesto. I can testify that both were quite tasty.

I should mention that both the college students observed that our waiter was cute, which might be a whole different motive for eating at Little Star on a Friday. I just know that he was very pleasant and kept me sufficiently hydrated.

thick crust pizza
a thick-crust pizza with fresh basil

Because our daughter Kylie sees the world through a feminist lens—I’m so proud!—she noted that the waiter did not automatically present the check to either of the two men on the shady end of the table but instead placed the bill in the empty spot where a sixth person would have sat. So we applaud our waitperson’s dedication to promoting equality! (And I was the one who paid, after all.)

We ordered our food, basically ate four courses, and were all done in forty-five minutes, so this could even be a destination for someone who has a strict lunch hour and a more regular work schedule than our crowd of self-employed, work-at-home types and students.

I think George summed it up well: “It was a very nice experience.”


Cafe Raj doesn’t quite cut it

cafe raj
front: George’s goat dish; back: Dave’s butter chicken
Dave and his lassi

Last week George, Dave, and I made our way to Café Raj at 1158 Solano Ave. in Albany, which specializes in North Indian and Pakistani cuisine. The atmosphere is casual but nice, and they have a fairly extensive menu, though they don’t offer any lunch specials.

Dave was intrigued by the variety of lassi available. (Is the plural of lassi “lassis”?) He asked if he could have a taste of the mint-cumin lassi before committing to a whole glass, but the waitperson said because they have to make each one individually, getting a taste was out of the question. Dave was feeling adventurous, but I doubt he will ever make that particular mistake again. The lassi was salty and had little other flavor. I couldn’t even taste the yogurt.

cafe raj poem
Cafe Raj decor

While we waited for our food, I spied an unusual item tacked on the wall near our table. At closer inspection, it appeared to be a poem and a picture. I don’t know the significance of either one, and I forgot to ask about them. But if you find out, let me know. There must be some story there.

The appetizer we ordered to share was an order of onion bajias, described as “Indian-spiced onion rings,” which piqued my interest. Twenty minutes after we ordered, something akin to onion pakora arrived. To be clear, I love pakora and I love onion rings. But I did not like these. Dave and George ate them though.

George rather liked his goat dish, but neither Dave nor I were terribly impressed with our entrees. Dave asked for his butter chicken to be medium spicy, but it had no heat at all. My ground beef and potato aloo keema were dry and bland. And I did not let myself be swayed by their less-than-appetizing appearance, which, because of their log shape, looked a bit too much like something a small dog might leave behind.

my entrée

I couldn’t get the attention of the waitstaff to replenish my water glass either. Dave finally had to call rather loudly in the direction of the kitchen to get someone’s attention. Of course he had to wait until the obnoxious phone stopped ringing to be heard. (The ring itself was jarring enough, but they could have at least  adjusted the volume so it didn’t blast customers’ eardrums.)

I can’t really recommend Café Raj.

On a positive note, we were provided with a large amount of rice that was perfectly good, so I packaged it up to take home. The next day I had it with some yummy leftover chicken from House of Curries for lunch. So it wasn’t all bad…

Seattle bookstore sparks memories of Pegasus

Jacqueline’s new home

I’m expanding my content by featuring a friend who recently moved from Berkeley to Seattle, Jacqueline Volin. We have similar interests, including books, food, and theater. Her first post refers to an event that is close to my heart. Read on…

After work the other day I went to the University Book Store to pick up a book recommended to me by an acquaintance. I’m between books and have been disappointed by the ones I’ve chosen for myself recently, so I thought I’d give this one a try. I like the University Book Store—“Indie since 1900”—and tend to buy all my books there, notwithstanding the many options in bookstore-rich Seattle, for partially selfish reasons: It’s convenient (right near work), it has an impressive breadth of offerings (it’s big, being both the bookstore of record for UW and a reliable go-to for the general public), and it gives me a 10 percent rebate once a year just for having a UW ID card. It’s like an REI dividend, only I actually can buy the whole of something with it.

On my way to the sci-fi section—the book recommended to me was to be found there—I got waylaid by the wealth of calendars stacked three-deep on shelves wrapping all around the stairwell. It’s that time of year when I am on the alert for gifts to send my niece and nephew (twelve and nine, this time around), and I thought a calendar for each would be a nice start. I enjoyed perusing the selection, arrayed according to those time-honored categories: fine art, idealized foreign countries, nature, humor, animals (and the inevitable subcategory, baby animals), gardening, outer space . . .

I chose one for my niece (wolves), one for my nephew (photos from the Hubble telescope), and one for me (Japanese woodblock prints), and although I’m pleased with them, after spending forty-five bucks on three calendars, I find myself keenly nostalgic for Earth’s Biggest Calendar Sale.

Cal_sale_2013_4_webWhen I lived in Berkeley, I walked past Pegasus on Shattuck most every day. It was my go-to bookstore. New, used, remaindered: most of the books I bought came from Pegasus. I still have the little scrolled certificate, tied with ribbon, that I was awarded by Hogwarts–East Bay Campus for buying Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince there. I think it also was a coupon, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it.

Anyway, Earth’s Biggest Calendar Sale. I have a friend whose New Years Day tradition is to go to Pegasus on Solano and come home with an armload of calendars. Little ones for the bathrooms, poster-size ones for the dining room, regular-size ones for the kitchen and bedrooms . . . It wasn’t till I saw the calendars all over her house that I realized what a nice idea it is, hanging lots of them around. Not out of an obsessive preoccupation with the passage of time, but for the fresh burst of visual art it brings with just enough frequency that you get to enjoy each image before it comes time to turn the page.

I never managed to get to the sale early enough to score the high-quality Matisse poster-print calendars and other fabulous editions my friend does, but I always came away with a pleasing selection of three, and it cost me less than half of what I just paid. I don’t begrudge the University Book Store its forty-five dollars, and $14.99 is not a lot to spend for a splash of art. But I miss the singular joy that is Earth’s Biggest Calendar Sale.

Pegasus bookstore on January 1.

As for the book I bought? Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi. I’m starting it tonight.

Eunice Gourmet has its merits

Eunice sign

Last Thursday we tried out Eunice Gourmet Café at 1162 Solano Ave in Albany, CA, which is an unpretentious little lunch place with small tables for one or two inside and a few outside that will seat three or four. It looks like a cozy place to get coffee and a cookie and curl up with a book on the couch near the window.

While you wait in line to place your order, you have to pass by the plethora of gelato options, all of which looked delicious, but I’ll have to reserve judgment on their dessert offerings for another time. (The pecan bars next to the cashier looked heavenly too.)

The prices seemed quite reasonable, and the variety on the menu was impressive for such a small place. I also appreciated that even when I just wanted water, they gave me a big cup with ice water rather than pointing to a serve-yourself pitcher and minuscule cups that I’ve noticed in many places lately.

My Caesar salad was pre-made, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that the yummy-looking croutons on top were a bit soggy. Oh, well.

my sandwich
It looks really good, doesn’t it?

I was excited when my sandwich arrived. It looked yummy. However, although the ingredients were interesting—sundried tomatoes, mozzarella, and pesto—it was fine but nothing special. Even with the mustard, it was a bit dry. Dave was a bit disappointed in his sandwich too, which had artichoke hearts and feta, but not a lot of flavor. George ordered what they referred to as a Panini, but it didn’t really look like any Panini I’d ever seen before. Part of the problem may have been the bread. Despite many options, they didn’t carry rye, so he opted for wheat, which didn’t seem to work as well. The cheese melted inside, but it wasn’t crusty on the outside.

dp's sandwichSo it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great either. I think I do want to go back for coffee and sweets some time though. I have a feeling that’s where their strengths lie.