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Take a walk on the beach or at Jack London on New Year’s Day


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Happy New Year 2014!

A long tradition in the Crawford family has been to hit the beach on New Year’s Day, be it the Pacific or the Atlantic. We’ve never spent New Year’s Day near any other ocean, though our boys certainly have. They are the adventurers of this family.

Ocean contemplations, forest dreams

Being near the source of the beginning of life on earth seems a proper place to spend the beginning of a new year. The steady, melodic slap and roar of the waves provides a good background to mindful meditation and contemplation of how the past year has blessed us and what the new year offers. As for New Year’s resolutions, neither sweetie nor I have ever indulged in such fanciful notions. But apparently plenty of folks do, evidenced by the increased crowds at the gym.

If the ocean, admittedly often cold and blustery this time of year, doesn’t beckon, we might be tempted toward Jack London State Historic Park. They now offer guided New Year hikes, and with John Lynch or Jeff Falconer at the helm, we’d be treated to a delightful outing. Or there’s always the Regional Park in Glen Ellen.

In any case, we plan to be out in nature to start anew.

If you are reading this on New Year’s Eve, your plans for today and tomorrow may still be unfolding. Whatever you do, I sincerely hope that you include a designated driver if spirited imbibing is part of your celebrations.

Midwinter gatherings

As for celebrating, our days from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day are often filled with various festivities including family and friends. Besides the raucous Ayers/Crawford/Goldhammer/Holbrow/Wilson/Stein family gatherings of this season, I attended two quite notable neighborhood parties this year. (I also missed a few by being out of town.)

Our neighbors Mark and Mary Lavin have been hosting a seasonal celebration for decades. We’ve attended most of them. The routine rarely varies and yet it always seems newly perfect, early enough in December to launch the holiday season.

Mary is the quintessential party planner, full of energy and enthusiasm. Even as you walk into their cozy home, past the amazing tree always decked out with a bounty of ornaments, you can hear Mary’s laughter from the kitchen. She’s happily pulling dish after dish of sizzling, savory appetizers from the oven, while an entire buffet dinner awaits on a huge table dominating a corner of the room. A tray of desserts beckons nearby.

Mark, for his part, mans the wine, keeping glasses filled and spirits bright. He easily gets folks mixing by introducing newcomers to seasoned folks, somehow making it all seem easy, while upwards of 40 friends gather around.

White elephants abounding

Mary and Mark are pros at making guests feel comfortable. In fact, their neighborhood celebration is merely a warm-up for their month of celebrations that culminate in a family dinner party including 50 folks. This year, that meant “only” 14 kids under 18, all of whom receive carefully chosen, beautifully wrapped gifts. In past years, those numbers of children under 18 have been much higher, with always the same attention to pleasing gifts.

The Lavin family adults participate in a rousing white elephant gift exchange with one person always receiving the top prize, not a white elephant at all. The coveted gift is a painting by Mary’s talented sister Linda Martin … or is it Kerry Rhoten who is the painter? I’m not actually sure, but the painter gifting her art each year is the high point of their family celebration.

I learned about Mark and Mary’s family celebration because I marveled at the ease with which she approaches the neighborhood celebration. “How do you do this every year, Mary?” I ask. “Our neighborhood party’s so easy,” she laughs, “The really big deal is our party with the family. It’s not just big, it’s huge.”

Friends old and new

The two Lavins obviously love giving parties, creating such a pleasant environment that folks actually have time to sit and visit, talk and share. It’s not just simply small talk that dominates the room at a Lavin party, but the opportunity to be re-acquainted with old friends and introduced to new friends, a chance to talk about more than trivia.

I’ve had many meaningful conversations at the Lavins’ parties. This year I gave most of my early attention to one new guest, Bob Koenig. I’d never met Bob, but we quickly found common ground reminiscing about San Francisco in the late ’60s, what that meant then and what it means now in our lives. Talking with Bob led me to some new perspectives about things I’d been ruminating over for years, mulling the ups and downs. I can’t say yet that all of that era is entirely settled in my mind, but talking with Bob enlightened me about some aspects of a tumultuous time, both thrilling and distressing. I truly appreciated the opportunity to spend an hour of thought with another guest, courtesy of Mark and Mary.

Spiritual connections

That also left me time to catch up with dear, long-time friends Joan and Gary Graham. Later Tasha Jacobsen and I contemplated the spiritual connections that we’ve both experienced with various folks we’ve met along the path of life. I spoke with many others besides, but by no means did I get to greet everyone at Mark and Mary’s party.

Many years ago, I believed that small talk was the best that one could hope for at big parties, flitting from guest to guest with barely time for a brief hello. In the past few years, I’ve learned that’s not necessary. With great hosts who set the scene for thoughtful interactions, depth of thought and feeling is easily achieved, especially if one simply sits in one place. A slower attitude has led me to a deeper appreciation of neighborhood parties.

New traditions

BJ and Malcolm Blanchard’s Christmas Eve party was another delightful event. They announced their party with the invitation, “We are starting a new tradition” and so it will become.

That evening their warm and elegant home was filled with a few neighbors, lots of family, along with a sprinkling of their daughter Syndney’s friends, a mixed and delightful crowd. Like the Lavins, the Blanchards’ table overflowed with an elegant repast, replete with salmon, prime rib, ham and all kinds of accompaniments including the most delicious cauliflower and green beans I’ve ever eaten. Totally true, not even counting the influence of Malcolm’s open bar.

But it wasn’t only the food that made this evening memorable. I sought out meaningful conversations like I’d experienced at the Lavins’ home, and easily discovered them at the Blanchards’ party.

Sharing missteps and blessings

For a full hour, I sat with dear old friends Sherry and Eran Glago and their daughter Rachel whom we hadn’t seen in years. We discussed the twists and turns our lives had taken since last we’d met. Their take on life’s vicissitudes and joys helped me consider my own missteps and blessings in a new light. I left with much to think about.

Friend found under hat

I also had a chance at the Blanchards to meet a new friend. I approached Betsy Moses because I loved the hat she was wearing, a beautiful soft wool hat embroidered with a stunning array of beads and pearls. It had a feeling of the ’60s when Jacqueline Kennedy popularized the pillbox style, yet it felt more timeless, a sort of bejeweled thinking cap. While I admired Betsy’s hat, our conversation quickly moved beyond idle talk of fashion and onto the relevance of honored clothing, handed down through generations.

New life in old dresses

Both Betsy’s mom and daughter were at the party. Helen Happ Moses, Betsy’s beautiful, young 20-something daughter wore a black velvet sheath that Betsy had worn in her 20s and Betsy’s mother had worn in her 30s. The dress had partied through three generations, from the ’60s to the present, from Kentucky to California, linking these three lovely women in celebration. Far more than merely a cute dress, it was a symbolic bond of love that wove the three generations of women together.

Years ago, my dear friend Evie Berger showed me a photo of her beloved granddaughter Camile in a fancy, peach-colored prom dress, “I wore that when John and I attended a dinner party in the city,” I recall Evie said. Evelyn’s reverence imbued the dress with a sort of mystical quality. That same significance seemed apparent with the dress that Betsy, her mother, and her daughter had each donned in their time. That led me to personal reveries of my mother’s green wool gabardine coat which I still own.

Influence of generations

From there, Betsy and I discussed the daily influence of generations of relatives and how even the ones long-departed can be an inspiration. From there, our conversation wove around to our mutual love of teaching. Betsy’s respect and attention to her students empowers the next generation, creating a bond even with kids who aren’t family members. I was moved and enlightened by Betsy’s stories and left feeling a renewed grace arising from the years I taught school.

I treasure such parties as venues for true conversation that gives meaning to life and adds depth to friendships, old and new. I’m happy to have moved beyond trivial chatter. Guess I’ve finally reached the maturity to venture beyond the “how do you do and what do you do” snippets of talk.

Flaming pudding and a starry, starry night

The Blanchards’ party continued well into the evening with the assembled guests singing a variety of Christmas carols while Malcolm lit his prized persimmon pudding to the delight of all. One young guest tried to blow out the flames, birthday cake style.

Sydney Blanchard (recently home from college in snowy Ithaca, N.Y.) formed a trio with her friends Heather Villasenor (home from Chapman College in sunny Southern Cal) and Avalon Rivers (home from Arizona State University). These young women had voices like angels and it was easy to carry their lovely melodies home as we departed the Blanchards’ house to walk through the star-lit streets of Glen Ellen. Down the hill and home to Creekbottom watching our breath condense in the cold night air. A perfect Christmas Eve celebration, filled with the love and friendship of our little village.

Connections and meaning abound

And so, on this New Year’s Eve I wish you the courage to take a simple conversation beyond its trivial beginning. Take the time to truly get to know someone, to truly know yourself and to revel in the wonder of this most wonderful of villages, where connections and meaning abound.

Tonight, stay sober, be safe, and we’ll meet again in the New Year with happy news of friends and neighbors, the good folks of the village of Glen Ellen. New Year’s blessings to you and all those you love.

 • • •

Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before your desired publication date.