Saturday, December 25, 2010

More Holiday Presence

Merry Christmas, Folks!

Before I get to the description of how things went at our huge and festive Holiday Gala, I want to tell you about some celebrating we did much earlier in the season. In fact, it was the first week of November. Oceana, George, Rocco, Lynne and I went to see the gingerbread house in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. I must confess that when I first heard about this outing, I was more jazzed about hanging out with the aforementioned crew than I was to see some oversized gingerbread dollhouse. I was sure it would be artistic and expertly crafted and all, but I was somehow underwhelmed at the prospect.

When we walked in the door of the hotel, the first thing we saw was a beautifully decorated tree so big we could barely see the limits of it. After taking pictures in front of it, we walked around to the other side, and my jaw dropped. In front of us was a full-size, two-story house, complete with windows and stairs and large archway leading to the hotel's lovely lobby on the other side. There were tables inside the house with paper and crayons, and children were happily coloring. The entire structure was made of gingerbread. The experience was touching and magical.

We took pictures here, too, and read all the statistics about how many thousands of individual pieces of gingerbread went into its construction. We then walked through the arch into the Fairmont's large, elegant lobby, beautifully draped with garlands and lights. A talented pianist, who looked a bit like Clarence, the angel in
It's a Wonderful Life
, played Christmas songs while the five of us lounged on a couple of couches, drinking cocktails, eating hors d'oeuvres and chatting. At one point, a woman came in with her four-year-old daughter, who was dressed in a black and white holiday dress of velvet and chiffon. The child was immediately enchanted by the piano music, and spent a good 15 minutes freestyle dancing around the piano in a style reminiscent of Isadora Duncan. Her mother, apparently as delighted as we were, never took her camera off her. “Is that stills or video?” I asked her. “I wish it was video!” she replied, mock-forlornly. The piano player was tickled by the young dancer as well.

At a house meeting several weeks later, Karen, who is a professional folk singer, said she'd like to schedule a time for us all to sing Christmas carols together. Sierra, who works at the Lake Merritt Boating Center, responded by saying that every year the Center had a tradition of taking people out on a boat at night and singing carols on the lake. This sounded like a great idea to us! Karen called up and reserved the entire boat just for us Morehousers and a few friends and family. On the scheduled night, we all showed up at the dock just before 9pm. Sierra was dressed in a complete Santa outfit. She wouldn't wear the beard, however. “I tried it and it itched too much. So I'm Mrs. Santa,” she said. After plying us with hot cider and cookies, she had us all get on board the boat, which was decorated with Christmas lights. She handed out songbooks, cast off the lines, and started driving us around the lake, itself softly illuminated by the famous “pearl necklace,” the string of lights that borders its entire 3-mile perimeter. Out on the water, in the relative dark and quiet, we sang our carols together.

As you may recall from earlier posts, I'm a bird-watcher. I noticed that there were flocks of water birds that could faintly be seen in the dark swimming away from the boat. Sierra took the opportunity to steer us over to the corner of the lake that had been cordoned of for the protection of the birds. She gave me a little halogen flashlight and, as we floated passed, I shone it on the sleeping pelicans (both white and brown), egrets, and herons that I had until then seen on the lake only during the day. This was a fun bonus. Then, after a last round of carolling, we headed back to the dock, thoroughly happy from such a convivial event.

You know, I still haven't gotten to the description of our big Gala. Oh well, it'll have to wait until next time!

Until then!

Best Regards,


The only difference between a coward and a hero is which way they run when they're afraid.

-- Vic Baranco

Fairmont Tree.jpg
Gingerbread House.jpg

Mrs. Santa.JPG
Christmas boat.JPG


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Presence

Season's Greetings, Friends!

Please accept my apologies for not having written in so long. We've been very, very busy, thank God!

Lynne and I are going to be on the East Coast in January to visit our families. We will be attending Jane's Mark Group on Wednesday evening, January 12, and we'd love to see as many of you there as possible. We'll send out the details later, but we wanted to make sure you saved the date.

In the meantime, here's what's been happening so far this holiday season: December's festivities started off on the first Saturday of the month. Lynne and I drove down to Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront, which we had been wanting to do since we first moved here. It's a festive place with shops and restaurants and promenades. We had dinner at Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar, which is right on the water. As we were walking in, I asked Lynne if she'd be willing to wait longer in order to get a table by the window overlooking the harbor. “Yes I want a window table, and no I don't want to wait for it.” I've learned not to give voice to my skepticism at such times. Sure enough, when I asked the hostess if there were any window tables available, she said "Of course!", and took us immediately to what appeared to be the only available one. (Score another one for my wife, The Manifester.) The restaurant was beautiful, elegantly lit and festooned with holiday garlands. From our table we got to watch several boats decked out in Christmas lights glide by in the dark. It was a very romantic evening.

Earlier that day we at the Oakland Morehouse had hosted an Introduction to Pleasurable Group Living. The teachers were Marilyn, Ilana, Jack and our very own Sierra. Lynne and I were in the course, along with several of our housemates. There were also new students from a variety of locations and backgrounds, all of whom were articulate, inquisitive, open-minded, and seriously exploring the idea of living in an intentional community. It made for a very dynamic three hours of conversation. I particularly enjoyed the review of the history of group living, culminating in the invention of the postwar, experimental two-in-a-box lifestyle, complete with television programming like “Ozzie and Harriet,” to show people what their own lives were supposed to look like. As one of the teachers said: “Turns out Big Brother wasn't watching us; we were watching Big Brother.”

One of the benefits of group living is that there's always the potential for a party to start at any moment. A couple of nights after the IPGL, a bunch of us were hanging out in the kitchen around 9:30pm discussing plans for our upcoming Christmas Gala, when Karen, bless her heart, decided it was a perfect time to break out her ice cream collection. Karen is an ice cream freak, and has a particular fondness for unusual flavors. She brought out seven or eight different pints, opened them, and passed out spoons and bowls. Oceana, in the meantime, had been having us sample different brands of eggnog in order to choose one for the gala, and Jillian offered a bottle of brandy to spice up the samples. Some folks were even observed combining ice cream, eggnog and brandy.

just the the beginning of the fun we've been having this month. The next time I write I'll let you know, among other things, how the gala went and where to go for the January 12th Mark Group.

Until then!

Best Regards,

The only difference between a coward and a hero is which way they run when they're afraid.

-- Vic Baranco