Thursday, May 27, 2010

A “Typical” Day (Part I)

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, at Marilyn's suggestion, I started a thread on the More Life Forum called "A Typical Day". The title was meant to be ironic, as the only thing typical about our days here is that they generally end with the two of us crashing headlong into our luxurious bed, exhausted and gratified in equal measure.

Here's a fun example of a “typical” day in our Oakland Morehouse lives:

It was a Tuesday and the day started out, as Tuesdays do, with our nine o'clock Ops Meeting. This is a morning-after confab to follow up on Monday night's House Meeting. The folks who attend the Ops Meeting are the ones who enjoy getting down and dirty discussing action plans for some of the activities that got scheduled the night before. Much of what had to be arranged this particular morning were preparations for Sierra and Jess' return that afternoon from their 10-week honeymoon in Africa. In addition, Kate would be teaching an Effect Course that evening, and this required complex planning, involving just about everyone in the house.

(I am one of the few people I know who has been fairly active in Morehouse for 23 years who has never had an Effect Course. Lynne has had the course; I haven't. The agreement is that, if anyone who has had the course divulges any of its content, it diminishes the experience for someone who hasn't yet had the course. So, of course, no one has ever told me anything about it. What I can tell you, from the faint whisperings I've overheard over the years, is that during an Effect Course the student is put completely "at effect" for a period of several hours, while all of his or her senses, including conceptual thought, are stimulated. Participation in the course is by invitation only.)

As a result of the disclosure ban, my presence at the Ops Meeting meant the group couldn't get too specific regarding plans for the Effect Course. They would have to wait until later when I wasn't around to discuss it in more detail. In fact, several times during the week leading up to Tuesday night Effect Course, people whom I consider to be my dear, intimate friends would suddenly stop talking when I would walk into a room!

After the Ops Meeting I went for one of my brisk walks down to Lake Merritt. The time difference makes my morning walks convenient for phoning East Coast family and friends, so I returned a call from one of our buddies from New York while I took in the wildlife (human and otherwise) around the lake.

After I got home, I started designing a “Welcome Home” sign for Sierra and Jess, which was something I'd volunteered for during the Ops Meeting. They had been having a great time in Africa, so I found a cheerful watercolor
on the internet of a Zambian landscape. The tones were mostly browns and deep greens. I used a casual scripty font to write “Welcome Home, Sierra and Jess!” in white across the top. Then Lynne found a picture that looked a lot like Amenshi, Sierra and Jess' dog, and she Photoshopped it into the foreground of the landscape, so it appeared as if Amenshi were running toward them to greet them after not having seen them for 10 weeks. Lynne then e-mailed the finished sign to Linda, who printed it out, and I went upstairs and taped it to their bedroom door.

I had also agreed during the Ops meeting to get my tools off the balcony by 1:00 that afternoon. I have been reconstructing the balcony off Sierra and Jess' room pretty much since my Evaluacy ended in early April.

Why is it taking so long, you ask? Good question! First, it's a more complicated construction cycle than anything I've undertaken before. Second, I work on it about two hours a day. This is not the fastest way to finish a project. Luckily for me, while my housemates are very encouraging when they see me working, no one is pressuring me to get it done more quickly. I really appreciate this, as it allows me to take the time to figure out how to do the job as properly and thoroughly as I can, and avoid the mistakes I sometimes make when rushing.

My friends, if you're interested in finding out what happened when Sierra and Jess finally arrived, plus many other fun events that occurred during this rich, rich day, please tune in for the next installment!

Fun chatting with you all.

Best Regards,

There is no higher level of awareness... There is only awareness.
-- Vic Baranco

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Roll Call

In attendance today at the “secluded” creek in Adams Park: The Mallard (this time with his wife) and the turtle. The heron wasn't there, and apparently had sent in its place a hummingbird, giving further evidence to the assertion that size doesn't matter. The hummingbird kept busy checking out the underside of the wrought-iron railing, bobbing up and down along its length, and I found myself wondering what nectar it expected to find there.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Urban Wildlife: It's Not a Myth

Dear Nature Lovers,

No, the title does not refer to the activities within our four walls, although we certainly have been leading a “wild life” here. This post is about the more familiar, outdoor use of the word wildlife.

During our several visits to the Oakland Morehouse over the years prior to moving here, we had never seen the place in the context of its larger neighborhood. All I had really noticed was that it was a large purple Victorian house on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac. What I hadn't realized until we were actually living here was that it's smack-dab in the middle of a big city. Oakland is the eighth largest city in California, and the Morehouse is about a half-mile from the 30-story glass office buildings at the edge of the downtown business district.

What makes this setup even more intriguing to me is the presence of Lake Merritt, which is situated between our house and the skyscraper district. The lake is a large brackish tidal lagoon that exists in complete bucolic contrast to the urban environment that surrounds it. It is ringed by a three-mile pedestrian path, and people in business suits walk to work along it, sharing the path with joggers, dog-walkers and mothers teaching their kids to ride bikes. All of this goes on while 30 feet away the rush-hour traffic whizzes by on Harrison Street. The Lake is also historically significant in that it was the first-ever official wildlife refuge
in the United States, having been so designated in 1870.

As many mornings as I can, I take a brisk solo walk for about 20 minutes along the lake. Of all the sensory stimuli I encounter, my favorite is the bird life. I have been a bird-watcher since I was a small child, and have tramped through deep woods and mud with binoculars and a field guide to catch glimpses of anything in feathers. I once stumbled upon several hybrid Blue-Winged Warblers in an overgrown pasture. I have stood motionless for 10 minutes watching a Pileated Woodpecker (a pterodactyl-like bird the size of a large crow) decimate a dead tree with its mighty beak, looking for insects. I have a modest “life list” of about 125 species of which I'm very proud.

Never, however, have I seen such a motley array of birds, many of whom I would have considered to be secluded forest-dwellers, be so comfortable within the confines of a bustling city. Along with egrets, gulls, geese, cormorants, and several types of ducks, there are some very odd-looking creatures, like the American Coot and the Eared Grebe. The latter I find notable for its demonic red eyes and the white feathers that sweep back on either side of its head, not unlike Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos.

On my way to and from the lake, I pass Adams Park, a small oasis on the grounds of the Veterans' Memorial Building, which houses the local senior center. The last 75 yards of Glen Echo Creek emerge from underground here, run through the park under a wooden footbridge, and then under Grand Avenue before emptying into the northwest corner of the lake. The flow of the stream is so slow before it goes under the footbridge that it forms a quiet little pool. Trees overhang this pool, and it is simultaneously both secluded and completely available to be observed by anyone interested in stepping three to four feet off the sidewalk and standing at a wrought-iron railing above the water. 

Pretty much every time I stop to do this, I find some combination of the following: A Mallard (fairly common), a Black-crowned Night Heron (sometimes standing on one leg), and a large turtle warming itself on a rock. When all three of them are there at the same time, they're kind of a gang, even though they don't appear to be paying any attention to each other. I often take a moment to enjoy these smaller neighbors of mine before continuing home, sometimes stopping in at the Whole Foods on the corner before making my way up the hill the last three blocks to the house.

Lynne and I moved to California to be with a particular group of people; to immerse ourselves in and share our lives with our Morehouse family. Getting to live in the City of Oakland, and continuously discover its many and varied charms, has turned out to be an unexpected bonus

Thanks again for reading.

Best Regards,


There's no effort in being interested.

-- Vic Baranco

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Eaglets Have Landed (Part III)

Dear Friends,

Here are the highlights of the 10 days between our arrival in Connecticut and our arrival in California:

  • Finishing unloading the truck and storing all the boxes in the basement. Then Lynne following me in the car as I drove the truck to the local U-Haul to return it.
  • Researching a flight we could afford that we could also coordinate with an available cargo reservation for Spritzie. This took many hours on the computer and the phone. We would drive to the library every day to use the public computers there, as Lynne's parents had no internet access.
  • Once we bought our plane tickets, finding out that the airline wouldn't waive their 10-day limit on Spritzie's medical certification to fly. We had had her examined 15 days earlier back in Yonkers, thinking we'd have purchased tickets within the 10-limit. We now needed to pay for a Connecticut vet to examine her again and re-certify her. (Consolation: She was an extremely nice vet.)
  • Visiting Lynne's father, who was staying at the local senior center until the physical therapy he'd been assigned could get him walking again, as he'd been having some trouble doing that. It was a pet-friendly place, so we got to take the dog with us on these visits, which was a treat for Lynne's dad. As a tough, old-school, retired fighter pilot, he was anxious to return home to his wife rather than be confined to a wheelchair and be dependent on and take orders from nurses.
  • Spending time at Petco to select a dog crate that was compliant with airline guidelines, would be comfortable for Spritzie, and fit within our budget. Once we made our purchase, we wanted to familiarize her with it. We kept the crate in our bedroom for a week with its door open until one night she got the hint and slept inside.
  • Going to the movies and generally socializing with Lynne's mother, who was an absolute angel, opening her home to us and taking compassionate care of us while we underwent this transition from our old life to our new.
  • Getting to know Lynne's brother Randy's new girlfriend, Debi. They invited us over for dinner at her house a couple of nights before our departure. She's a truly lovely person, and we were so glad we got to know her before we left. We hope they'll come stay for a visit with us here at the Morehouse.
  • Randy taking the day off from work and borrowing Debi's Jeep wagon so there'd be enough room in the car to take Lynne, me, Spritzie, the luggage and the rather large dog crate to Bradley International Airport in Hartford. He was patient, cheerful and encouraging as he took us to the industrial part of the airport to a cargo warehouse and waited with us while we filled out all the paperwork for Spritzie's travel arrangements. We said good-bye to our dog until we would see her again at San Francisco airport. It was pretty nerve-wracking to imagine her traveling alone in a cargo hold for 3,000 miles.
  • Getting on a small propeller plane for the first leg of our trip -- Hartford to Newark -- only to be told we'd be delayed for an hour, and there wasn't time for us to deplane, so we'd just have to sit there and wait. (I was mollified by them compensating us with a free drink.)
  • Calling the Animal Help Desk of Continental Airlines while sitting in a restaurant at Newark Airport until it was time to board, and finding out that Spritzie had somehow ended up on an earlier flight and would arrive in California an hour before we would.
  • Standing up from where I was sitting in the boarding gate area at Newark to look around, and hearing a voice say, “There's Gerry!” Miraculously, Jack, Ilana and Kassy, who had spent the previous week in Philadelphia teaching several courses, had just 15 minutes earlier been dropped off at the airport to fly home, along with Carol Sue, who had been with them doing effect. They were going to be on the same flight to California as we were! It seemed like a providential sign. (Carol Sue was going to be on a separate flight to Florida to visit her mother.)
  • Landing at SFO and walking briskly and anxiously to the luggage office to pick up Spritzie. She was sitting wide-eyed in her crate. She seemed a bit in shock at what she'd just undergone, and was tentatively happy to see us.
  • Getting out to the airport sidewalk where there were four cars waiting: Two for Jack, Ilana and Kassy and their luggage, and two for us, our luggage and our dog. As each car had two people in it, there were a total of eight Morehousers there to greet five Morehousers. It was a brief but lively sidewalk party of 13 friends, with quick hugs and greetings before everyone was whisked away.
  • Arriving at our new home, the Oakland Morehouse, and being led to the guest room. We had been prepared to rough it during our two-week Evaluate Program. Instead, we were confronted with this beautiful, romantic bedroom with a king-size bed surrounded by luxurious maroon velvet drapes. We were told that we were going to be given a day to rest from our travels, and then our Evaluacy would begin. We had completed our journey, and we were now in heaven.
Thanks again, readers, for being part of our lives.

Best Regards,


There's one essential ingredient to glory…doubt.

-- Vic Baranco

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mill Valley Dilly-Dally (with apologies to the Roches)

Hello, Adventure Readers!

My first two e-mails started to detail the challenges of our journey west – I've wanted to tell you that story – but our lives have raced along since we've actually arrived, and apparently there is a desire to here about that stuff as well. The following was e-mailed to us by one of you in response to my last installment:

"What a great story Georgia things go slow so I am use to that, but this is slower than any slow I know anything about. I am hearing all these great stories about you going to mark groups and doing fun things getting make overs so come on now!!!!!”

Oh, how I love feedback! As my goal is to please, my description of the journey that it took to get us here will take a break so I can include a story of the fun we've been having since we got here.

Here goes:
I was looking at the Lafayette Morehouse website recently and noticed that Sugar, Ezra and Carrie were going to be leading a Mark Group in Mill Valley the following Wednesday. That sure sounded like a good time to us, and it figured to be a one-shot deal, as Ezra and Carrie were going to be flying back on Friday to start their new life together in New York. We figured we would try to get to this Group.

On Sunday, I saw Ezra in Lafayette and asked him if he could give us directions to the Group, and who the host was. He said, “David Wood.” That sealed it: We were going. David was an old friend from the East Coast. He had been travelling a lot over the past couple of years and we hadn't seen him or heard from him in some time. We certainly hadn't known that he was living in the Bay Area, and we were pretty sure he didn't know that we had moved here, either. I asked Ezra not to tell him we were coming to the Mark Group, so it could be a surprise.

The directions on David's website said that, if one used Google Maps and a GPS, plus David's detailed instructions and the customized maps he'd posted, there was about an 87% chance of finding his house. We poo-pooed this, figuring our GPS was infallible. We left ourselves plenty of extra time, just in case, and boy, did we need it. Once we got within two or three miles of the address, it took us about 20 minutes of searching tiny, narrow roads carved into cliff sides with no guard rails before we found a mailbox with David's house number on it next to a postage-stamp-sized parking space. However, there was no house. That particular amenity could only be reached by walking up 108 stone steps. (Lynne: “108?! Did you read these directions ahead of time?”)

Because we'd left extra time for the trip, we actually got there at the scheduled starting time for the Group. As it turned out, we were the first to arrive. The look on David's face as he viewed us coming up those steps from his all-glass living room was priceless. He was completely surprised to see us. (“I don't get much walk-in traffic.”) But the biggest kick came about five minutes later when I mentioned that we had recently become residents of California. His eyes got wide and his jaw dropped. It was great.

Next the group leaders arrived, and then two carloads of participants. Once they all made it up the steps, David took everyone on a house tour, explaining that the place had been built in 1964 by a German World War II pilot who had personally carved the stones for the foundation out of the hillside itself. He had lived there with his wife until 2007, when they had gotten too old to climb the 108 steps (and they were only in their 80's!). Needless to say, the views from this exotic residence on top of a mountain were spectacular. We could see all the way across the valley to the mountain on the other side, while closer in were redwoods whose roots started far below where we stood and whose trunks shot up past us ending in branches high in the sky above us.

After the tour, we sat down in the living room by a fire and the Group started. The people in the room were Sugar, Ezra and Carrie, David, Kiva and Michael, Jill and Jeff, and us. It was the perfect grouping, big enough to have a good variety of hot seats, and small enough to be incredibly intimate, filled with love, and sometimes raucously hilarious. The group leaders set just the right tone, and we all jumped in.

There were many fun moments. It was a treat to watch David, who was the only single person in attendance, as he was exposed to people who were all in very dynamic relationships. Everyone knew each other pretty well, to varying degrees, and each person was quite open, revealing unique intimacies about life with his or her partner.

Carrie's hot seat was particularly gratifying. We had met her for the first time at a boisterous, large, crowded Mark Group during our Evaluacy a month earlier, and we had since been in several courses with her, but had never really sat down and gotten to know her. On her hot seat this night, we got to see what a mensch she was.

We were all having so much fun that, after the Group was over, David brought out food and drink and we were compelled to stay and party for a while. As we were leaving, I asked David, as he had warned everyone that there'd only been an 87% chance of our finding his place, what he saw as our chances of making it home that night. His reply was, “I hope you like sleeping in your car.”
You'd never know he used to do stand-up.

Predictably, even though we were using our GPS again, we took several wrong turns (this time in the pitch dark) before reaching the bottom of the mountain. Between the late start, the house tour, the after-party, and the difficulty of navigation, we got home at 11:30 from a Mark Group that had been scheduled to end at 9:30. All in all, it was a totally exhilarating evening.

Thanks for reading!

Best Regards,


Those who speak do not know. Those who know do not speak.” I wonder who said that.

-- Brian Shekeloff

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Eaglets Have Landed (Part II)

Sent to mailing list April 19, 2010

Dear Fellow Adventure Junkies,

Our apologies that is has taken us so long to send you this second installment of our tale. We've been quite busy recently (and loving every moment of it!).

Part I ended with us sleeping over at my brother's house in White Plains to avoid driving home in the storm that had blacked out the entire neighborhood. The next morning was Sunday, March 14. My brother woke us up at 7:30 and reminded us that the clocks had been moved up an hour to Eastern Standard Time. There was still no electricity, but the weather was considerably calmer. No wind, and a drizzling rain. Rather than drive back to Yonkers, we decided to go directly to the Bronx where our our reserved U-Haul truck was awaiting us. Our plan was to store the remainder of our belongings in the basement of Lynne's parents house in northern Connecticut and then fly to California out of Hartford. I was to make the 2½-hour trip from Yonkers driving the 14-foot rental truck containing 40 or so boxes, and Lynne would follow in the car with Spritzie. After picking up the truck at the U-Haul, we got to practice our skills at caravan driving, as we drove up Broadway for 25 minutes from the Bronx to Yonkers. It went very smoothly.

After parking the truck in front of the purple house, I went off to get refreshments for the crew, and when I returned, there they were: Deborah, Margret, Will, Cindy and Bruce, all ready to form a bucket brigade to bring the boxes from the porch down the steps to the truck, where I carefully loaded them so they wouldn't shift or fall during the trip. What a heroic bunch these friends were! A job that would have token one person a back-breaking two hours took six people a fun 25 minutes. The rest of the afternoon was spent hurriedly getting any leftover stuff into our suitcases. At about 4:30pm, we took off.

We had to stay off parkways because I was driving a commercial vehicle, so we went north on Broadway to Tarrytown and turned east on the Cross Westchester Expressway. The first big test for the caravan came shortly after, at the split between I-87 and I-287. As the dusk darkened I watched in my rearview mirror to see if I could tell if Lynne had split off onto I-287 behind me. As if reading my mind, she flashed her headlights to assure me she was still with me. Of course, we had our cell phones with us and Lynne had the GPS she had given me for Christmas with her in the car. But the most reassuring knowledge was that, the farther along the route we got, the more familiar it got to Lynne, as we were headed to her parents' house, the house where she grew up, so she knew the route well.

As it got darker and darker, it was harder for me to see Lynne in the car behind me, but it was easy for Lynne to see me in the big U-Haul truck in front of her. After making one rest stop, and driving more slowly than we normally would have, the caravan arrived at the old homestead at around 8:30, and we carefully parked the truck and the car in the parental driveway. We were greeted by Lynne's mother, as well as Lynne's nephew and his fiancee, who promptly made us toasted cheese sandwiches. Lynne's nephew, a very strong young man, helped me unload some of the boxes from the truck and take them to the basement. It was getting late, however, and we left the rest of the cargo unloading for the next day.

As we lay in bed that night, we reflected on what we'd just accomplished. My image of it was that we had achieved “escape velocity” and muscled free of earth's gravity. Lynne's take was that we were a tree with very, very deep roots that had taken all our strength to pull up. The end result was that we were not only not living in a Morehouse anymore, we were no longer residents of Yonkers, or even New York State. And we weren't yet residents of any place new. We felt kinda homeless.

OK, kids, off to bed now. We'll tell more of the story later.

Thanks for reading!

Best Regards,


To get what you want you're going to have to do whatever it takes, even if it means being happy.

-- Vic Baranco

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Eaglets Have Landed (Part I)

Sent to mailing list March 30, 2010

Dear Co-conspirators in Fun,

Well, we made it! We are in the middle of the first week of our
Evaluacy at the Oakland Morehouse. The journey from where we were to where we are was possibly the greatest challenge either of us had ever faced, and the results have been well worth it. Here's a taste of the first few steps of our adventure:

Once the decision was made on February 20th that we were going to leave Yonkers, the subsequent three weeks were spent pretty much non-stop sorting through, throwing out and packing 16 years of accumulated worldly possessions, and navigating the bureaucratic obligations of dismantling New York More and turning over operations of the charity, We Are Family, Inc., to the Board of Directors.

Don't worry: There was also much that was entertaining during this time. On the very first weekend we started packing, we got to experience our final major East Coast snowstorm prior to becoming residents of the State of California. It was a doozy! After 48 hours, we ended up with about 18 inches of snow, more than either of us could ever remember from one storm. The following Tuesday and Wednesday (once the roads had been cleared enough to go out), we had back-to-back days of farewell lunches at our favorite restaurant in the area, Harvest on Hudson, in Hastings. The first lunch was with my father and my father's girlfriend, and the second one was with Deborah and Keith. These meals were poignant, opportunities both for final best wishes to each other, and also for discussions of our expectations for our new life, which were just beginning to become real to us.

On Saturday, March 6, our dear housemates threw us a going-away bash which 40 people attended. It was an extremely fun and gratifying way for them to have arranged for us to say good-bye to so many good friends. Thanks, guys! The next day, Sunday, March 7, we drove into Manhattan and had a farewell brunch with my mother and sister, also a very emotional experience. My mom, in particular, made a point of letting us know that, while she was extremely disappointed that we were leaving, she completely understood it was the right move for us to make at this point in our lives.

On Saturday, March 13, the movers arrived and loaded up the boxes of stuff that we were shipping to California. That certainly felt like a milestone! My brother and sister-in-law had invited us to a dinner party that same night which was also to include my mother, my niece and nephew, my nephew's recently-pregnant wife, and her parents. During what should have been a half-hour drive to their house in White Plains, there was a violent rainstorm. (It was later rumored that the winds had reached 75 mph.) Our way was often blocked by large fallen trees, and several times we had to detour off the main road because emergency crews were clearing branches and downed power lines. We sometimes had to drive right over branches and wires, and flying debris occasionally struck the car. It felt as if we were in a movie, driving through a war zone.

Had it not been for the fact that we were on our way to be with family members whom we'd be seeing for the last time before moving 3,000 miles away, we would have considered turning back. But there was no way we were going to miss this party, and we kept going. It took us 20 minutes longer than it should have, but we got there. In addition to the relief of arriving alive, it was, needless to say, a joy to see everyone. (We always have a great time with my family.) Then, just as a truly lovely, intimate dinner was about to draw to a close, the storm took out the electricity in the entire neighborhood. We had dessert by lantern-light and then moved into the living room where we all sat quietly chatting around the fireplace in the relative dark, save for the light of the fire. Rather than risk driving home in the storm, we spent the night at my brother's. The next day we were going to be leaving Yonkers for good.

We're figuring that this may be more than enough of the tale for one sitting, so we'll sign off now. Please stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, to quote Thornton Wilder, ...we're hoping the rest of you have just the right amount of sitting quietly at home... and just the right amount of adventure!


Best Regards,

Trust is built on a repetition of experience.

-- Vic Baranco