29 June 2009

When in Rome

Here is the remainder of our days in Philly, most of which were spent retracing old routes and enjoying the familiarity of the city's bumpy streets, perfect skyline and friendly faces. With meals like roadsigns, we set out to capture not only the very best parts of our three year existence but added to it, the landscape of life in Philly now, in a whirlwind of five short days. It feels so GOOD to see your friends.

On the Things We Did In Philly Past side of things: getting tofu hoagies from Fu Wah, in West Philadelphia; drinking a Citywide Special over pool at Fiume on a Monday night; beers and dog watching in Clark Park; Sarcone's sandwiches (we saved these for the airport); Indian buffet at Sitar with the extended Gang; standing in line to buy 8 dollars worth of vital wheat gluten at Mariposa; a ride on the broad street line through city hall (shiver) to transfer to the Green Line; the walk for a case of Lion's head, complete with word puzzle bottle caps home from Salt & Pepper; taking my seat on the bench outside Via Bicycle to wait for John to fix our flat tire; the view from Sabrina's across Christian Street in the Italian market; talking with Sue in her bright sunny studio about every single thing; and the smile that crossed my face watching John and Ryan riding the tandem together, two peas in one pod.

And of the Philadelphia that postdates our move, we got to see a new apartment for Halimah and Larissa, while breakfasting on a fruit salad of melon and avocado and lots of toast and picking out clothes from Halimah's closet. We drank late night coffee at Starr Garden (that's that dark rectangle directly below) to refresh ourselves after jet-lag and barbeque at Brie and Sebastian's new house. We saw new workplaces for three friends at a restaurant, a gelateria and a storefront. We checked out Local 44, the new fancy gastropub in our neighborhood with a huge beer selection and a nice bartender.

This photo courtesy of Sue & her fancy new camera.

Can't say when we'll be back next, but I sure hope it's Soon.


Never underestimate how happy a pool party will make you. Even if it's a bit of work and even if it requires a lot of prepping and even though you require a new bathing suit and the water's too cold and you don't actually like to swim. No matter what, you should get started planning one because truly, you will thank me later.

Our friend Halimah's parents, whose home is nestled in a nook out in Narberth, PA, have graciously allowed us to hold aquatic court at their home, in the form of pool parties, three years running. They always entail about a quarter tank of propane in grillable vegetarian products, badminton, ping pong and all the trimimings. This year, in honor of our annual (or so they say) visit, we piled into a fleet of automobiles (RIP to the Pony Pants band van, that held us all so cozily within you) and headed west to relax. By now perhaps you've guessed, it failed to disappoint.

Though we're not necessarily equipped to install an in-ground pool in our backyard, we're officially in the market for a ping pong table.

28 June 2009

The Wedding of Colin & Sarah

The impetus for our trip! It deserves its own post, I have to say, so here it is. I'm just going to use photos because weddings are a bit, er, self-explanatory. But before I do, I must extend a virtual high five to Andrew and Whitney, some of the most fun people I've come across in my adult life; and to Ben and Katherine, who were impeccably dressed and completed the trifecta which made ours the second best table at the wedding.

ps. Here are my tired feet in the light of Lauren's room after returning home. Congrats to Colin & Sarah, who both looked beautiful in a gray suit and old fashioned lace gown, respectively, despite my camera's focus on the friends at our table.

27 June 2009

Back to the Present, briefly

Lemon corn waffles under fresh stone fruits and strawberries tossed with fresh basil and topped with whipped cream. All that and served up along with a conversation about hand guns' role in the rural and shooting range setting. I realize I only just posted about last Saturday's brunch yesterday, but in my defense, brunch is quite the flirt.

Happy Saturday.

26 June 2009

Happiness Is

Arriving in town amidst drizzle, being swept off your feet and whisked away to homestyle brunch and then lingering over coffee and watermelon mimosas, until you are escorted out back to see that the garden you left behind last summer is now exploding with tomatoes, cucumbers and perennials. Even the raining part was a welcome sight to those of us from drought country.

Our trip to Philly was a grand success. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Soundtrack: Philadelphia by Atom and his Package

19 June 2009

Via Philadelphia

People out here ask me all the time, "Where are you from?"

It's a perfectly reasonable question, especially because here in San Francisco most of the residents have relocated from somewhere else. The concentration of the young, attractive, healthy and progressive is just too high for any natural urban evolution. We tend to flock here in droves, and so when people inevitably ask me the big question, I usually just say Wisconsin because it's shorter than the truth.

While Wisconsin is certainly where I was born, and where I was raised, and where I go when I'm going Home, the truth about where I am from is somewhat more hairy. I feel like I did a fair amount of growing up in New York State, where I went to school, in New York city, where I first learned to know a city, in St. Petersburg where I learned to go it alone and mostly, in Philadelphia, where I made my first permanent home.

These days there seems to be a great divide between the people I know who pick up and leave to travel the world and live out of some combination of a tote bag, a bicycle pannier and a backpack, and the people who go somewhere to stay, to sign a lease and build a life in a single place. While both have attractive qualities, I've always fallen quite softly into the latter group because of how happy I am to settle in. Knowing my neighbors, building a routine, hanging up curtains and learning the best parts of a city are things I count as blessings.

And yet, I have an eagerness to live in new places, which has now carried me into my fifth urban residence since high school. So when I'm asked where I'm from, I have such a compound sentence at the ready. "Well..." it always starts. "Wisconsin, via New York State via Philadephia."

My hybrid loyalties to both the nomads and the settlers has made this most recent move bittersweet. And this weekend we're headed to Philly and it will be my first visit since leaving that great city last August. A tiny part of me is nervous that I'll feel more at home while I'm there visiting that past-tense landscape than I do out here in California. It will be a good litmus test for me, to sort out my mix of feelings around our move to the west coast; the lingering regret over leaving a life we loved and the strength of conviction that we did the right thing, for the sake of the adventure. Change, I'm always reminding myself, is a good thing.

I'm excited beyond words for these next five days, whatever the result. I think I'll count happy visits back in the "Advantages to Moving" column of my pros and cons chart...or would if I had one of those.

17 June 2009


I've something to confess, friends. Though it's not set in stone, I've begun working at a JOB recently.

Which leaves far too little time for the number of projects I'd been undertaking at an increasingly ambitious pace this spring. Including my commitments around here. Caramels have been keeping me rather busy, besides the actual 9 to 5, in addition to learning how to compost using red worms, joining a soccer team and oh did I mention, sampling the homebrew?

That last task has taken up the better part of my evening two nights running and I dare say I'll probably have another one tonight as I wrap the last of the caramels for the highly anticipated wedding of Colin and Sarah, which we plan to attend this Sunday. And depending on how it goes, I may even whip up a dress for the occassion.

12 June 2009

In Costume and Pretty Crazy

Last weekend John and I went to see Chris play in his new band, Eldridge Eyes at Fort Gallery here in Oakland. Hardly ten blocks from our house, it was a breeze to get to and the venue is really nice for music, as well as for art. Bands usually occupy their rearest room (there are several) and its intimate but roomy, bright but dim. Right now the gallery is showing a collection of motley photos, by various photographers, framed in sort of raggedy old mis-matchy frames which I rather like.

EE was really great, especially considering it was their very first weekend performing anywhere. They're last song was heavy and optimistic and had some pretty psychedelic vocals I'll be anxious to hear more of. They were joined by another baby band, Free Execs, who were a one boy, one girl duo that sounded ten times bigger than they were. An orchestra sized sound coming out of only two people. And then there was this other band, which might have annoyed me if I were performing with them because it sort of turned into a one band show, owing to a string of three dimensional teddy bear bunting that read "I Like You" and the spectacle that followed. This band was called Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, to give you some idea. Their music is a bit manipulative, as they basically repeat affirmative sorts of phrases, like There's Nothing About You I Don't Love and I Know We All Get To Be Like That Sometimes. So that half way through their first song, I felt like I'd seen them somewhere before, maybe at a Dan Deacon/Atom and His Package split 7" release party, but this time they'd come bearing disguises for the YOU to wear and expected some help in putting this big old show.

Because I realized it'd be difficult to explain in words what this experience was like, I just took my handy dandy video camera and made a quick sample sized movie for you. Keep an eye out for the giant glowing robot:

Costumes Dancing from Mary Casper on Vimeo.

It's not that it wasn't pretty fun. Fun, as in Chris wearing a shark hat and a pumpkin costume simultaneously, mind you. It's just that it feels difficult to wholeheartedly enjoy that particular hipster, art kid, prop-based brand of fun and still go home and look yourself in the eye again, you know? So, while the curmudgeonly gentlemen who lives inside me remains skeptical of such antics and showmanship, I think it was still technically fun. And I like fun.

08 June 2009

June Potluck, in Style

Real cherries, in a kaleidoscope of gold and red, nestled here inside a vinegar-kissed butter crust. I'd almost forgotten how perfect cherry pie could be.

06 June 2009

How to Make It Home Alive

As with the trip, the third day was our longest and just as it took 10 hours to do the actual biking, it took me a little while to work up the strength to transcribe it here. We heated up real coffee with the last of our stove fuel and made some barely passable oatmeal before packing everything up and leaving town for good. Our route to the east out of town started with a big big hill but then we found ourselves smooth sailing through a valley with the sun shining and the wind at our backs. Some construction, by luck actually, sent us along a concurrent small country road that couldn't have been more idyllic if we had made it ourselves, a hundred years ago in anticipation of riding down it now.

We started out in Sonoma County and it took until after midday to cross over to Napa, right around the time we stumbled upon a taco truck in the middle of a field where we pulled in for lunch. And with burritos longer than my forearm, including fingers, we sat at a picnic table in the side yard of an abandoned storage facility and chowed down. The hunger satisfaction ratio was right around critical, so that just recalling this meal makes my stomach sigh with gratitude. Dreams, it seems, really do come true.

Even so, we dared not devour our entire burritos right there, with 50 miles (optimistically) looming ahead. Rationally, a burrito longer than your forearm, lying in your belly does not an eager cyclist make. So we saddled up, thanked our hosts for the hospitality, and headed down the road.

We hardly made it a hundred feet before a man in a camper pulled over to give us some advice about even more construction on the highway ahead, and conveniently, a bike detour we should look out for. Grateful for the foresight, we hung a right and traversed the countryside full of rolling hills, vineyards and pastures, along roads we had mostly to ourselves. With the exception of a particularly territorial peacock. He left his post at the entrance to his farm only to chase us, aggressively, at the sight of our camera. We hopped back on the bikes and ran away. John was crying a little bit, but we were physically unharmed.

And things continued in a positive direction for much of the afternoon. Karmically, we were due for a mishap, as we'd had pretty solid luck throughout the trip. And sure enough, our route got confusing almost immediately after the lovely detour rejoined the main highway. Ahead, at the very intersection where our directions insisted we merge onto 29, stood a sign that said no bicycles allowed.

Thinking sorts, we tried to recall the maps we'd studied prior to departure but with little success. So we decided to just head south and hope for the best, placing our faith naively in the logic of rural roadways. We turned and began to follow a bicycle trail which we hoped might take us down river to again join up with our cue sheet later on. To no avail, I might add, as this bicycle trail instead looped around through a marsh past a commercial wine-making facility, only to dead end in the middle of a field with private property signs all around.

After making nice with the private property holders and asking directions, we turned entirely around and headed north (and due opposite from where we were ultimately headed) to catch the road that we hoped could carry us home. By this point, we'd added almost fifteen extra miles to the day, which was beginning to close in on 4 o'clock.

Once we were back on track, we realized that our next many miles would be along the shoulder of a very busy four lane highway with a speed limit which would honestly prevent both of our mothers from sleeping soundly through the night. But we took it slowly, paid attention and chugged along. That is until John got himself one flat tire, along a stretch with no easy exits. Which caused us to amble over a landscaped berm in a brand new Marriott parking lot in order to have a safe spot to stand while he swapped out the innertube. Which only took a minute because John is a juggler at fixing bikes.

Meaning he's pretty good at it.

And before you knew it, we were headed through Vallejo and over the Carquinez Bridge. Here we are happily on the other side.

We stopped to gobble up the remaining halves of the burritos (remember those?) and we were awfully glad to have exerted such self control earlier in the day. By 6 we were headed through the towns of the northeast bay: Rodeo, San Pablo, Richmond and lickety split, finally back on the Ohlone Greenway trail. Things got familiar again, like our shadows.

Just as the sun was setting, we pulled up to our house. At last! We were so excited that we danced around for a bit. Gingerly though, as we were still sporting cycling shoes.

I was so tired, I almost couldn't toast my oversized novelty celebration beer in honor of completing 203 innaugural bike tour miles.

I said almost.