2017 has begun. The beginning of a new year is often full of conflicting emotion. The post-holiday letdown meets the anticipation of a fresh start. For some, myself included, the year may have milestones that mean a clock is ticking and time feels quick as it slips by. It’s a year that brings a new administration that leaves many unsure of what the future may hold for our country. How to navigate into a new year is something I grapple with. Some years I put thought into it; during others, January 1st is just another day. The transition into this year has felt awkward and bumpy. Unsettling weather, sickness, children shifting through change and growth, and all sorts of other twists and turns to navigate have thrown me a bit off balance as I pin my new calendar on the wall. Ironic when you consider my last post of 2016 reflected on the struggle to find it. I think we all know that the slate really isn’t wiped clean when the clock strikes midnight; the baggage we carried doesn’t mysteriously disappear. Yet perhaps we can re-think the way we carry it.
As 2016 comes to a close, life has thrown curve balls that took away the time and energy I typically dedicate to this little corner of the internet on Oakland Momma; it has left me feeling disappointed. I hate to overuse the phrase life balance; I know it is the perpetual goal we all seek as we watch the term fly across pages and screens. As you may know, sometimes I find solace in the definition of a word; in this case I turned to how balance is defined as a verb. To keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall. I feel like I fall everyday; many times. So is balance best looked at over a long period of time? Such as a whole year? Perhaps so in my case. Balancing marriage, parenting, family, household, and blogging in 2016 led to times when one of those fell on a daily basis. On some days I felt as though I was picking up the pieces of each and every one of them. On others I felt as though I was safely balanced in the middle, nary a scratch on me. I hold on to the memories of those days. One of those days was captured by an old friend along the paths of Lake Temescal as we gathered to take a family photo for the upcoming holidays. It was a day that I think of often because the look captured between my two children warms my heart; it takes away the wobble and steadies my balance.
It’s appropriate that the first time I heard of a monster next to Lake Merritt it was in a children’s book. Not to be confused with the living version that supposedly lurks beneath the lake’s surface; the monster I am referring to was once green, is an undulating structure of dips and curves, and was once a playtime favorite for local children lakeside. Situated on the beach just below the Lake Merritt bandstand in Lakeside Park, the sculpture has been in place for over sixty years; a treasure created by a local jewelry designer who wanted city kids to feel the same joy felt when climbing an old tree. Wear and tear has worn the monster down to a state unfit for the youth of 2016, but I say we bring it back to its former glory.
There are two causes to celebrate on this Friday morning. Just about one year ago on October 19th, 2015, I wrote my first post as Oakland Momma. I introduced myself, and shared my early morning trip into the fog of Mountain View Cemetery. Since then, my blog has grown, changed, taught both myself and others, and it has shown me that of all things I can write about, what I love most is to share stories about Oakland. The second cause to celebrate; in three days I turn forty. While for some it may be a number that has come and gone, and for others it seems to be in the distant future, for me it is the present. While it seems like a big number, a number I sometimes see looking back at me in the mirror, I am eager to take a giant step forward into the next decade and can’t help but wonder what it will bring. Time truly does goes by fast. On the one hand, daily life can be exhausting and days can creep by; yet on the other, when it comes time to put the Christmas tree up again each year I am blown away by its speed.
As I thought about the appropriate way to celebrate these two milestones the decision came easily; a necklace. It’s the necklace that graces the top of this page in lovely artwork created for me by a friend; the necklace that curls around the jewel of our city. Just as forty years of life and 367 days of blogging have brought ups and down, the necklace of lights has also been put up, to then come down, to only be put up once again. It not only graces our shores, but it has traveled across the Pacific to grace the streets of a Chinese village that once sat without light. It’s a story of a city fighting for a piece of its history to shine once again, and I am happy to share it here.
I have had birds on the brain recently. Just last week I was woken in the middle of the night by an owl right outside my window. It’s methodic and deep hoot was so loud I sat up in my drowsy state and wondered if it was in the house. This late-night wakening coupled with my son’s recent fascination with his North American Birds Encyclopedia has caused fowl to be on my mind. If you are like me, you may not give birds a second glance, or thought. I hear them, see them, dodge their droppings, and shoo them away when they come looking for my kid’s crumbs. Since I have been more curious about them in recent days, I have started to pay a bit more attention to them; their warbles and songs, their colors and beaks. I have known for quite some time that Lake Merritt is home to a bird sanctuary of sorts. In fact, its shores are home to the first wildlife refuge in the United States. This past weekend my family and I made two trips lakeside. The first was to enjoy an evening along the shore to burn off the energy that came from some very blue ice cream. The other was to attend the 1st Oakland Nature Festival, a wonderful event hosted by the Rotary Nature Center where I was inspired to learn more about our feathered friends.
What do giraffes have in common with Mexico? It sounds like a trick question, or a goofy one-liner. If you ask Google, you are pointed to a rather interesting spiritual society called “Free Giraffes in Mexico”, a recipe for “giraffes huevos rancheros”, and an unfortunate story of a giraffe dodging traffic on a Mexican road while trying to make a run for it from a local circus. So the better question to ask: what do giraffes have in common with Mexico IN OAKLAND? The answer is a section of town with two busy thoroughfares that run in one-way directions under Hwy 580. Oakland Avenue and Harrison Boulevard transect a portion of the lower hills; parallel roads that connect the northern tip of Lake Merritt with the highway, MacArthur Boulevard, and the Oakland Hills. Therefore, people often move fast; too fast. The statuesque giraffes have been a part of this confluence of intersections for 32 years. Aztecali, a casual neighborhood eatery with home-style Mexican fare, has just joined the area this year. Both give cause to slow down and appreciate craft in two different forms; it makes giraffes and Mexico synonymous in my book.
I have a deep level of admiration for those who entertain children for a living. Play isn’t something that comes naturally to me. When I watch jugglers, magicians, balloon artists and other performers at birthday parties and events, I am in awe. To take oneself to the level of a child may be “down” in the physical sense, but it actually requires one to move “up” in the sense of energy, creativity, and imagination. Puppeteers have always fascinated me in the ways they combine a piece of art, their hands, and their voices to create a character that will cause little eyes to open wide. While digital animation has taken over much of children’s entertainment in the 21st Century, iconic puppets still dance across our screens in long running shows such as Sesame Street. Yet there are few places where you can still watch a curtain move aside and see lively characters dance in front of your eyes. Oakland’s own Children’s Fairyland is one of those special spots. Along the shore of Lake Merritt, Fairyland has been home to our country’s longest running live puppet theater. Now celebrating sixty years, the Storybook Theater at Fairyland, and its dedicated director, invited me behind the scenes to see just how it has been pulling strings for so long.
“High on the summit of Oakland’s eastern skyline a Woodland Open-Air Theater and Temple of Honor, reached by a gigantic stairway and surrounded by a grove of huge Sequoia trees, are being constructed to commemorate great California authors of the past and of the future, who among their writings heralded to the world the scenic beauties and the historic life of our superb State.”
Gertrude Mott, 1936
I have become sentimental about Woodminster. Odd, given that until five days ago I had never set foot inside its gates. Something about how this place came to be, and how it has become a second home to a family that has been producing musicals inside its open-air bowl for fifty years, has captivated me. It’s a place that was built amidst depression; a “cathedral in the woods” to honor California writers. Its early advocates had high hopes for its use; festivals in honor of California literature, educational programs for East Bay schools and civic organizations, and of course large theatrical and musical performances. World War II caused the lights to be turned off for the first few years of its existence and the rise of the television caused interest to wane in the middle of the century. However, for the past fifty years the summer musical program has endured thanks to a husband and wife team that brought innovation, passion, and family-filled exuberance to this special spot in Oakland’s woods.