Tall Trees, Mosquitos, Ga-ga… Magic

Dust everywhere. Incessant mosquitos that attack any exposed stretch of flesh, with a bloodthirsty affection for the neck and ankles. The dark night is chillingly cold, except near the warmly leaping flames where it’s suddenly and uncomfortably too hot. The bathroom is many, many, many miles away, on the other side of terrain treacherously strewn with gigantic tree roots and fallen logs hiding in plain dark sight. Easier, safer to hold it in.

(Actually, the bathroom is less than 200 meters from the campfire and there is only one potentially, not-really-dangerous exposed tree root. But everything is amplified in the dark).

Tall, tall pine and redwood trees stretch their lean, leafy necks right up to the moon. The inky black sky and its twinkly blanket of stars keep everything hushed. Whispered. Even the guitar’s lazy strums and the low, rumbly voices talking about everything and nothing float quietly in the night. Sometimes splashes of laughter musically disturb the drifting melodies, and tumble gently into the crackling orange fire.

The mystery of sleep-away camp: where you feel so uncomfortable, and so exquisitely happy all at once. Where the icy wind stretches its long skinny fingers into your sleeping bag, but you curl yourself up even tighter and those fingers tip-toe away, stealth like a ninja. An owl hoots in the trees above, the frogs are loud and the crickets are louder, and the last thing you see before you fall soundly asleep is the bright full moon peering down at you through its frondy redwood veil.

Camp is a magical place. It’s dirty and rustic and very, very dark at night. Hot and buggy during the day, everything is a bit (or a lot) of a schlep, and no matter how prepared you are, you’re never prepared enough. You smell vilely and chemically like insect repellant, sunscreen and sweat, always thirsty or hungry or both. Your neck itches and your eyes stream and no matter how dirty you think you are, you are definitely going to get even dirtier.

That’s right… magical.

Because somehow all the dirt, and mosquito bites, and attacking allergies that make you sneeze 700 times in a row are left in the doorless cabin as the bell sounds for breakfast: cheesy eggs, English muffins  and raisin bran with organic milk. None of those taste half as delicious at home. The fear of heights is checked on the ground as you’re hoisted to the very top of the world (or at least to the top of the gigantic pine trees), and that paralyzing panic leaves your gut with the butterflies as you release the clip and swing like a monkey through the trees, whooping and shrieking with pure, exhilarated glee.

My proud monkey moment!

My monkey moment!

There’s candle-making and Herbal 911. Brew potions for lip balm and lotion, learn beekeeping and blacksmithing and how to create fire. Maybe you zip-line at 90 feet or 80 feet or not at all, throw knives, train to be a ninja, tie-dye, yoga, read in a hammock, do nothing… or play Ga-ga.

Ga-ga was invented in Israel and is similar to dodgeball. But somehow less malicious. And less ridiculous. Played in an octagonal pit, It combines dodging, striking, running and jumping and the object is to hit the other players with a ball below the knee while avoiding being hit. (Did I say less ridiculous? Maybe not). The most inclusive, non-discriminatory, contained game I’ve ever seen – also one of the most exciting.

It epitomizes the magic of camp.

Even ninjas play Ga-ga

Even ninjas play Ga-ga

It’s every rule you learned as a child come to real life: no cheating, no hurt feelings, no injuries. Nobody left out. No arguments. Girls. Boys. Grown-ups. Kids. Ages 5-55. Counselors and campers. That Ga-ga pit is rarely empty. And everybody is smiling.

And while these are certainly the types of interactions we strive for on the playground, in the workplace, at home, in life, this is not what makes Ga-ga and Camp so magical for me.

What’s magical is the feeling of “together” – we are here together, in it together, dirty together, creating, freezing, eating, singing, itching, playing, swinging, being together. And not only are we together, but also I “got” you and I know you got me.

The Ga-ga pit was the nucleus of the family camp this past weekend. There must’ve been 40 players – mostly kids – in it at any given time. They cheered each other on. Encouraged. Looked out for the littles, and taught the older ones the rules. They were both fair and competitive, and not one player felt neglected, sidelined, less good than another.


I swung from trees, dyed T-shirts, baked bread outside and almost shaved the skin off my fingers striking a fire with steel and flint. I did something new with each one of my kids (except ninja training – really, no interest) and watched a lot of Ga-ga. The mosquitos gnawed at my neck, my throat was always dry and my hands were constantly stained with tie-dye and very, very grimy. In between games I arched my whole back in a half-moon to catch a glimpse of the very tallest tree scraping the bluest sky.

Camp Augusta, CA May 18, 2014

Camp Augusta, CA May 18, 2014

Yep. Magic.

From Nashville, With Love

(hit play – turn it up, way up)

“Hot, fried, and awesome. You know you’re in the right place when there’s live country music… at the airport!

I’d been in Nashville all of four hours when I sent this text back west to California. Four hours. Hardly enough time to fall properly in love with a place. I’d glimpsed the muddy Cumberland River, deduced that the tall AT&T building was the Nashville skyline, looked down a hot, still 4th Street and wondered where the hell everybody was on a Thursday afternoon. Downtown Nashville. Not a soul in sight.


But I was. In love.

There’d been that live country band serenading me as I walked my red boots through the Southwest terminal. The best devilled eggs I’d ever tasted at lunch. The only item not fried at the friendly Southern where the hot chicken burns, and the cocktails go down way too easy. There was that southern accent flirting with me in the hot, steamy air, the twang that melts every bone in my body, and enough y’alls to send me to heaven and back again. And there was Johnny Cash. Just there. On the street. In an abandoned parking lot.


We have murals in Oakland. They’re beautiful. They brighten the darkest underpasses, and bring colorful life to bare street corners. They’re of typical Oakland-ish scenes: Lake Merritt and the geese, Fairyland and the famous Grand Lake Theater, and the most iconic are the giraffes on the structural pillars holding up the 580 freeway. I don’t know what they symbolize, but in Oakland we have giraffes. In Nashville they have Johnny Cash. And Willie Nelson.


Tennessee calls itself “the state that made country music famous.” This was my dream trip: Music City.

I’m not usually the trip-planner – I leave that to my husband. I don’t have a list of places I’d like to visit, or sights I must see. We’re a large, beach-lovin’ family so most vacations we pile into the minivan and motor down the California coast. If we have an opportunity to go somewhere adventurous, he and the kids have the strongest opinions. I let them decide. We always have fun.

I’m also not a milestone-marker kinda gal. Birthdays are birthdays – whether you’re 10 or 25 or 37 or 60. Yes, celebrate, feel special: party, balloons and cake, happy birthday, the end. (Except if it’s your bar or bat mitzvah – then it’s a really big deal, spiritually, religiously. Or if you’re 70 plus. That seems like more of a reason to go all out to me, having loved and endured and lived, really, for decades).

But suddenly never-turning-40 me was almost turning 40, and it felt like some kind of milestone. And my country-music-loving heart was starting to long for a visit to just one dream destination: Nashville.

Screw not marking a milestone – I wanted to go to Nashville. For my 40th. With my husband. And my friends. And absolutely no kids.

“It’s going to be like a dream come true,” I emailed a friend a few months ago. And it was.

I had imagined watching country music greats perform live. Dreamed about seeing those large, bearded guys with sunglasses and enormous cowboy hats pulled down so low you could see only their mouths move, tapping their weathered boots and playing the fiddle faster than a train hurtling down a track at midnight. I had wondered about this seemingly mythical southern city, where a guitar was practically the state emblem and whiskey flowed like water. Fantasized walking in my red cowboy boots past a honky-tonk bar, catching a tune and tapping my own heels to the country beat.

But I could never have imagined it would be so perfect.

The Charlie Daniels Band at the Grand Ole Opry May 9, 2014

The Charlie Daniels Band at the Grand Ole Opry May 9, 2014

I never dreamed it would be The Charlie Daniels Band singing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” that I saw live at the Grand Ole Opry. A speeding midnight train had nothing on that fiddle. Could never have imagined that the honky-tonk bar from my fantasy was every few doors on Broadway, with a live band downstairs and a different one upstairs and where guys and gals of all ages turn out in their country finest – classic to hipster – and dance the night away: two-stepping, hip-swaying, clapping, spinning and twirling to more country music I could ever have hoped to hear.


And I could never, ever have imagined how it would feel to be in the City of my Dreams, with people who love country music, Nashville, fried food and classic cocktails like I do, who wanted to buy boots and go to the Johnny Cash Museum. With people who had arranged kids’ schedules, and sitters, and skipped work on Friday, given up Mother’s Day with beloved kids and moms on Sunday, schlepped from New Jersey and Oakland (and damn it’s a schlep), and who wanted nothing more than to celebrate just like I wanted to celebrate, who wanted to celebrate me with me. People who know me, who love me (or maybe know me yet still love me!), and whom I love.

I could never have imagined how that would feel. Like the first lick of caramel ice cream, water-skiing on the lake, tight hugs, love letters, warm pajamas, bonfires and marshmallows on the beach, winning a trophy, sweet juicy peaches, kisses and a breathtaking purple sunset all at once.

Josh and Lisa sang to me in the hotel lobby, a song they created specially for me, to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” – they were nothing short of foot-tapping, finger-snapping a-ma-zing. Deb and Larry crooned the beautiful tune “A Life That’s Good” from my favorite show (Nashville, obviously!). Amy stopped Jared, The Matte Gray Band’s lead singer, on his way to the bathroom so that Bill could take a photo of all of us with him. When a country band can play Garth Brooks, White Snake and everything in between, that’s fantastic to the max. It was perfect. All of it.

I hate when trips, any trips, come to an end. I get moody and sad when it’s time to pack. I sigh heavily. Mooch a little. Ryan usually shoots me a warning look, one that says: “Don’t go down that wishing road.” He knows how much I hate to go back to “real life.” How I “wish I could stay here – wherever here – forever.” He reminds me that even the any “here” of my wishes would eventually become “there” – the place I have to go back to.

But I sat on the plane heading back to California so full of happiness I probably could’ve floated the whole schleppy way back home. I wasn’t sad it was over. I wasn’t wishing I could stay “here forever.” Because it was a dream come true… in ways I could never have dreamed.

From Nashville, with love.

(thanks, Deb, for this line)

Whole lotta Country

Guess where my red boots and I are headed this week? The country music capital of Nashville, TN! I am counting the sleeps – just two more – till I visit my musical mecca. Reposting one of my favorite pieces about some of my favorite music.

Red Boots

(Hit play and turn the volume way up)

When I was ten-years-old I saw Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton perform the song “Islands in the Stream” on TV. Dolly was wearing a whispy, flowing black dress, her bottle-blonde hair in its signature Dolly-style. Kenny wore a tux and his mane of gray made a big impression on me. They were both very glam. Exotic even, to my wide eyes. They stood together on the stage, and Dolly waved her dress and tapped her heels as she sang. It was that southern drawl that drew me in, as much as the catchy music and lyrics. Bitten by the Country Bug.

dailymail.co.uk dailymail.co.uk

Music played in our house and in the car all the time when I was growing up, but it was never country music. My mom loved rock – Dire Straits, Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac – and everything by Billy Joel and…

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