Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Weekend in the Country

A weekend in the country (sing along, Sondheim fans) beckoned – a trip north from San Francisco to Elk (aka Greenwood), a town of 426 that sits perched on Highway 1 about 18 miles south of the town of Mendocino.

The trip to Elk and environs offered time with extended family and a splendid Easter dinner at the home of Anne-Marie and Robin. The long table was filled with platters of lamb and ham, twice-baked potatoes, homemade biscuits, green beans cooked with bacon and a festive salad with plenty of sliced avocado.

For dessert, Susan made an English trifle with fresh berries soaked in Triple Sec and also a Charlotte Russe, which she said her grandmother referred to as “ice-box cake.” Of course, there were plenty of chocolate eggs to go around as well, and the kids shared with the grown-ups. The kids also shared the trampoline (go, Martia!) and their card games. 

I made the trip with Susan, who was eager to navigate the twisty mountain roads and dirt paths that lead to Elk and beyond to the homes of her brother and sister-in-law and her nephew. As we headed out Saturday afternoon, Susan announced, “We’re off like a herd of turtles.”

Critters (beyond turtles, lamb and ham) were a big part of the long weekend, and as we rode along, we City Girls had fun calling out what we saw: Cows of many colors, a lone majestic bull, horses prancing in the sun, sheep, a single llama, 17 brown pelicans swooping and soaring, goats, a gopher digging a hole, a young deer and what may or may not have been a raccoon darting across the road.

“My friend once saw what she thought was a wild turkey, but it turned out to be a plastic bag,” Susan said as we drove. Not long afterward, we saw two actual turkeys that did not resemble plastic bags at all. But then, I once spied a penguin on a major thoroughfare in St. Louis County that turned out to be a box in the road that appeared penguin-shaped only in a certain light.

The worst sighting turned out to be the best. Driving along, we saw a large lump of light-colored fur just off the road. We both made low sounds of despair, hesitating to define what we thought we saw. When we got closer, I put my hand up to block my view. “Oh no – it is a dog, a poor dead dog,” I said. Then Susan laughed, which was not the reaction I had expected. Just as we passed by, Susan saw the “dead” dog raise its head and look at us, probably wondering what the fuss in the car was all about.

Dead animals – specifically, whales – were in evidence at the Point Arena Light Station, where we stopped on Monday on the trip home. Susan opted to climb the steps to the top of the 115-foot historic lighthouse while I hung out on a bench in the Native Plant Garden that overlooks the sea. Displayed among the plants are a gray whale's massive skull and several whale vertebrae. I like bones, and I liked being in the open air at the edge of the sea, watching pelicans fly in formation overhead as a wee gopher dug a hole in the dirt.

Perusing the nautical souvenirs in the gift shop, just off the Natural History Museum at the lighthouse, I saw a sign that urged people to call a hotline if killer whales were spotted. I asked the clerk about it. “I’ve never seen a killer whale,” she said. “I don't know anyone who has.” I volunteered that I have, off the Farallon islands. The woman seemed disappointed.

Shopping in downtown Mendocino on Sunday morning was not at all disappointing – especially at Ocean Quilts and Creative Hands, two shops on Main Street close to the water. Sandy, Susan’s sister-in-law, owns both. Ocean Quilts has lovely quilts, of course, but also beautiful sweaters and scarves and other gift items. At Creative Hands, we found high-quality tee shirts and an abundance of tie-dyed socks (hand-dyed by a couple in Fort Bragg) and clothing for little girls. Icons, a shop on Lansing Street, also was a delightful place to browse.

Other shopping stops included the Elk Store, where I bought mustard. I am an aficionado of condiments, and after tasting Mendocino Mustard on the aforementioned ham at Easter dinner, I wanted a jar to call my own. I bought two jars, one of each kind: Hot and Sweet and Seeds and Suds. For details, see

On this particular road trip, the best signs were these: “1 MEN,” “1 SON” and “VICIOUS BULLS.” The first and second appeared on highway mile markers, indications that we were driving on Highway 1 in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, respectively. (“1 MEN” grates in so many ways, doesn’t it?) “VICIOUS BULLS” was stenciled atop a cattle chute in a field by the road. None were in residence.

On the way to Elk on Saturday, we had stopped in at Yogurtdale in Cloverdale for tasty self-serve frozen yogurt. On the way home from Elk on Monday, we stepped it up a bit and stopped at the Korbel Winery outside Guerneville, where we tasted several sparkling wines. We both bought wine. Susan bought tea towels and at the deli, I bought an award-winning pastrami sandwich to take home for supper.

That was the long weekend -- family, food, wildlife and one scenic vista after another while on the road in northern California.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dancing for the Health of It

Last Thursday afternoon, I left home late in the afternoon feeling besieged by deadlines, denials and disheartening news. Rode two buses to Pacific Heights. Walked into dance class completely in my head, all sensations of the body fully blocked – not a comfortable place.

Dance class was exactly where I needed to be.

I needed to dance, to whirl and stretch and twirl my way through the dimly lit room, past the wooden shelves that hold rolled and folded yoga mats and blankets displayed like bolts of colorful fabric, past the windows that reveal calla lilies blooming in the healing garden just outside, past the words of wisdom painted on the pale green walls.

I needed to dance among the other women in the class, women whose names I do not know but women who every Thursday danced away the cares of their day, first conjuring up personal disappointment, delight and everything in between -- and then shaking it all off to begin anew.

I needed to experience once again what I had dubbed the “kinesthetic touchless car wash,” where the dancers send waves of energy and affirmation toward one person in the middle of a circle. We took turns, of course, and everyone moved out of the circle reinvigorated.

I needed so very much to get out of my head, to return to inhabiting my entire body again.

Thursday was the last night of an eight-week class at the Institute for Health & Healing called 5Rhythms®, a remarkable “movement meditation” that encourages freestyle dancing to music that embodies the following five rhythms, or “states of being,” as founder Gabrielle Roth describes them:

FLOWING – the fluid, continuous, grounded glide of our own movements

STACCATO – the percussive, pulsing beat that shapes us a thousand different ways

CHAOS – the rhythm of letting go, releasing into the catalytic wildness of our dance that can never be planned or repeated

LYRICAL – the rhythm of trance, where the weight of self-consciousness dissolves, where we lighten up and disappear into our own uniqueness

STILLNESS – the quiet emptiness, where gentle movements rise and fall, start and end, in a field of silence
Some 245 teachers are registered to teach 5Rhythms, and it seems as though that is not enough. Here’s a remark I overheard the first night of class: “A friend of mine on the East Coast has to drive three hours to take a 5Rhythmns class offered just once a month, but here in San Francisco, you can find a class five nights a week.”

So it’s popular. Before I signed up, I was assured that anyone of any age, size, or physical ability could be in the class. “Do we dance together?” I asked. I had to ask. I can’t count, so I can’t dance as part of an ensemble. Trust me on this. Once, three decades ago, a professional dancer spent hours over the course of several weeks, trying to help me count the beat so I could dance in a show. I ended up with a solo.

The IHH brochure spells it all out: “There are no steps to follow, no choreography to learn, no way to do it wrong. The only requirement is a body that is still breathing, a heart that is still beating, and mind that is still curious!” So after a free sample class that left me exhilarated and exhausted, I signed up.

The remarkable Sylvie Minot teaches the class at IHH (see, and she incorporates Caroline Myss' energy anatomy work into the 5Rhythms movement practice. Sylvie recommends the class for “anyone who would like to increase their physical and emotional health, joy, vitality, and overall well-being.” Among the benefits are stress relief, improved physical fitness and emotional health.

Roth, who founded 5Rhythms in the 1970s, says you “put the body in motion in order to still the mind.” Thursday, it worked.