Posts tagged ‘small town life’
It’s simple……… Although my teammates Narin Garrett, Erin McTaggart and I were the competitors in the tournament that we recently won, we could not have done it alone. For us, it took a village.
During the recent weekend of September 8 and 9, the United States Women’s World Qualification Tournament of Pétanque took place in the small coastal village of Blue Hill, Maine. This event is held only every other year, and in the small world of USA pétanque, this tournament is THE grandaddy (or should I say, grandmama) of them all. The rewards are great because the tournament’s winner becomes Team USA at the next Women’s World Pétanque Championship (to be held in Tunisia in 2013).
For Narin, Erin and I, this was our 3rd attempt as a team to try to win this championship. Four years ago we took home the bronze medal; 2 years ago we lost a heartbreaker in the final to take home the silver. Could this time finally be our gold medal moment?
The tournament was hosted by the Maine Boules Club. Its pétanque terrain is situated in a boatyard about 50 feet from a body of water known as Webber’s Cove. The rugged and natural setting offered a gravelly and sloping terrain — a very challenging surface that was fitting for a national championship. We arrived a couple of days before the tournament’s start, so as to train and get used to the unfamiliar terrain. I kept reminding myself that I had come to Maine to train and compete. But in those first days while there, the changing light off the nearby water kept beckoning my eye elsewhere from the pétanque at hand. I wanted to be playing with my Nikon, not my boules!! Thanks to the patience of my teammates, I did manage to sneak in a bit of photo shooting though.
Getting back to the “village”………………….. After 2 days of pre-tournament training and 2 days of competition, Narin, Erin and I did it — we won!!! In the immediate moments after the final game, and then during the awards ceremony, everything felt so surreal. I was clearly experiencing a “pinch me, is this real?” moment. Yet I knew it was real and I knew that I (us) could not have done it alone. In my (our) journey to that gold medal moment in Maine, I (we) had the help and support of some very key individuals:
PJ Mallette — Our coach, our teacher, our biggest cheerleader; your note cards were truly inspirational. We tried to “keep it simple” and simply “play to our potential.”
Mike Menefee and Cameron McTaggart Menefee — Partner and precious baby son of Erin. Thanks for driving us to Webber’s Cove each morning and sending your love and support “from a distance” so as to allow mommy Erin her full concentration during the tournament. I love that you watched the final game from a distance in your car in the parking lot, using binoculars to watch, while Cameron was napping in the back seat. Your very vocal belief in us has always been so important.
Gina DeJoy — A member of the Maine Boules Club and herself a competitor in this tournament, who graciously and generously housed us for the duration of our stay.
Ryan and Zaven Tatarian — Partner and precious toddler son of Narin.
Sean Hall, Tim Herrera and Ray Scholz — My teenaged son, brother and brother’s partner. I love you all so much.
Gilles (where ever you may be) – For all the time we spent on a pétanque court: merci.
Maine Boules Club — A wonderfully hospitable club with a great group of women players. I am so happy to have met all of them and cannot wait for a return trip.
It is nearly 2 weeks since the victory, but the enormity of the experience is still very fresh. There is such a wonderful satisfaction of working towards one’s goals and then achieving them. Over the past 10 years, this funny French game has been a consistent part of my life. Because of it, I’ve traveled and competed in many parts of the United States. I’ve thrived on the unique challenges, mental and physical, that are a part of competition. Along the way, I have met and become friends with some wonderful fellow pétanquers. And now……….Narin, Erin and I will travel in the Fall of 2013 to Tunisia for the Women’s World Championship. Mon dieu, c’est incroyable!
So now what? The upcoming year will be a time of more training; not only consolidating my skills, but also adding more depth and variety to my game. This year, we were good enough to win the American title. But next year, we will be competing with players who have played this game all of their lives. Many of them probably held their first boule while in their cribs. In contrast, for many American pétanquers, the game was discovered as a highly pleasurable leisure activity (in casual, non-tournament play, throwing a boule with one hand, while holding a glass of wine in the other, is one of the many enjoyable aspects of this game!). Coach PJ has his work before him in helping us to raise our level of skill. He’s demonstrated time and again that he has the patience and willingness for it. Likewise, I know that Narin, Erin and I have the needed competitive spirit and motivation — we will be ready. Tunisie, nous arrivons!!
I just returned from 4 days in Blue Hill, Maine. I was there to compete in the United States Women’s National Pétanque Championships (MUCH more about that in a future post). Maine has always been on my travel “bucket list” and I arrived there with high hopes for pétanque AND photography. Upon arriving in this small coastal town, I noticed a sign outside a shop: Blue Hill Books. I knew my short stay in Blue Hill would be primarily focused on the upcoming competition, but I made a mental note to stop by for a good ‘ol bookstore browse.
The day before the start of the tournament, I managed to carve a bit of time before practice, in order to pay a visit. Boy, was I glad I did!
The white clapboard facade and front porch is a welcoming entrance into the warm and cozy shop interior. Situated throughout the shop, one can find comfortable chairs that create little reading “nooks.” One day I hope to return to Blue Hill (for many reasons!), and on that return visit I want to while away an entire afternoon sitting and reading in one of those chairs.
The owners began Blue Hill Books in 1986 and on their business card it reads “Independent Community-based Bookselling.” True to form, near the front of the shop is a table devoted exclusively to autographed copies of recently published books of local and other Maine writers.
I shot a few photos and then purchased a book. I would have liked to have sat down (either inside or outside on the porch) and break open my book. But pétanque was beckoning and I needed to move on.
I’m certain that my friends in Blue Hill are avid fans of this bookshop. If any of you find yourself in this lovely small town, please stop in, linger and patronize. You may click here if you wish to visit Blue Hill Books’ website.
I love independent bookstores. Typically, these shops are not big in size and these days, are constantly engaged in the “mom and pop v. big box store” or the “book v. eReader” battle. I admire the owners of these shops — individuals who are driven by a passion for books and reading, and committed to providing books of literary value to their community. Many years ago I attended an author event at the local bookstore here in Sonoma for the release of Louis Erdrich’s latest novel. In addition to being a writer, Erdrich is also an independent bookstore owner (Birchbark Books). When asked why she would undertake such a business risk, she replied that being a bookstore owner was simply a “crazy act of love” for her. Indeed. Beautiful.
Beginning with this post, I plan to feature as many independent bookstores as I can. My hope is to give them whatever degree of exposure can come via this little blog of mine.
Last week I found myself in the Sonoma County towns of Healdsburg and Windsor with some hours of unscheduled time.
How should I pass the hours? Luckily both towns have their own bookstore. The discovery and subsequent pleasures were all mine!
Located on the east side of the Healdsburg Plaza square, Levin & Company has been in existence for 20 years.
The shelves are stocked with new releases in fiction, non fiction, paperbacks, children’s literature, travel, cooking, etc. Levin & Company also shares its upstairs space with an art gallery that features the works of local Healdsburg artists. I was there during a weekday in the late morning. There was only 1 employee who sat behind the counter while myself and a few other customers were in the store. I enjoyed the intimate and unhurried ambience of this bookshop.
In the nearby town of Windsor, I stumbled upon Pages – Books on the Green. Its name’s subtitle surely must derive from its location — the shop is situated directly across from a large park.
Pages is small in square footage, but packed with a variety of literature to stimulate and satisfy the reading need’s of many in this community.
The owner’s daughter told me they have been in business for 8 years and are optimistically trying to stay afloat and accommodate to the changing reading habits of their customers, i.e., the use of eReaders. She further explained that it’s an uphill battle that they hope to survive, day to day, while maintaining their passion and love for book selling.
If you find yourself in the towns of Healdsburg or Windsor, I hope you will stop and browse through these wonderful shops and perhaps even purchase a book. Happy reading everyone!
The 4th of July in Sonoma: most locals would identify this day as their favorite Sonoma holiday. Summer time, a relaxed and festive mood, a barbequed meal and a gathering of friends and family — what’s not to love about spending a day like this.
The 10AM morning parade around the Plaza sets off the day long festivities. The parade is where Sonoma hits its Americana stride with a mix of patriotic and hometown pride. For good reason, the annual parade is a favorite among both participants and spectators, and it always draws huge crowds. Much later, around 10PM, the day’s merriment is concluded with a dazzling pyrotechnics display. The annual fireworks show takes place in an area near the Plaza and it is always nothing short of spectacular. Like the morning parade, the community comes out in masses to sit on their blankets or chairs (and usually with a bottle of wine!) to sit under the incredible light show.
The artistry of Sonoma photographer Melania Mahoney first came to my attention when I accidentally stumbled upon her website. My eyes were instantly drawn to her stunning photographs of July 4th fireworks captured from various historic Sonoma buildings (including the City Hall). This year, in an act of photographic “thievery,” I set up my camera and tripod in front of City Hall in order to try my hand at photographing what Melania had accomplished so fabulously. I had been shooting for just a few minutes, when to my surprise and delight (and a bit of embarrassment in knowing that I had been “caught” in my act of thievery), Melania arrived with camera gear in tow. I was honored to be photographing with her, side by side. I can take no credit for coming up with the idea of my fireworks’ photos — the credit and inspiration comes completely from Melania. I encourage you to view Melania’s photography. You can click on this link to see the work of this much in demand Sonoma artist.
In addition to the fireworks display, I shot photos at the morning’s parade as well as a few from neighborhoods around the Plaza. I invite you to click here to view a selection of these shots.
Rain has returned for the rest of this week. The temperatures are mild though and as I write this, I can hear the soothing patter of the rainfall.
Yet around town, signs of Spring have begun to pop up and they have been “double-take” worthy. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the flower buds on the grapevines are beginning to “break” open. Tulips and daffodils have also been sprouting throughout the Valley. The season is indeed underway!
A few weekends ago I was driving to the Napa Valley village of Yountville. As I was approaching the highway’s exit, my attention was quickly diverted to a massive yellow field, i.e., the mustard wildflowers.
However, what really compelled my attention was the the number of people throughout the field, snapping away portraits of each other amidst the beautiful backdrop of the mustard blooms. Aha……inspiration for my next blog post — a “photo within a photo” pictorial essay.
And so I returned with my camera, and joined all the other photo gatherers in this veritable wildflower playground. There were families snapping shots of their beloved children; couples taking photos of each other; teen girls frolicking and striking poses. I felt a bit like an intruder, as I discretely tried to follow and capture these ongoing photo ops. For the most part, those that I photographed were gracious and tolerant of my incursions into their photo shoots. I spotted a young couple being photographed by a professional — possibly a marital engagement session. I started clicking on my shutter button as I approached their vicinity. Alas, they did not tolerate my presence and quickly (though politely) asked me to put my camera down. I did.
I had been “in the field” for some time and was ready to return to my car, when the most exquisite photo subjects entered the mustard field for their photo shoot — a bride and groom, with their photographer!! Luckily I already had my telephoto lens on my camera, so I excitedly (and as discretely as possible) made my way to photograph their session from a mid distance. They were young and lovely, the bride and groom — a perfect match for the rural beauty of that mustard field.
When Sean was younger, we always made a gingerbread house during the holiday season. The “easy assembly” kits that are available supposedly made it easy to do. My construction skills were always challenged, but most years, our houses managed to be festive looking and we were proud of them. Secretly, I was always relieved that each house did not fall apart under the weight of all the sugary and glue-y frosting that held it together. Edition 2005:
In our Wine Country neck of the woods, many of the local wineries get in on the holiday gingerbread festivities, courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers. This season marks their 6th Annual Gingerbread Contest. Wineries throughout the Valley are invited to construct their own gingerbread fantasy and display them in their winery tasting rooms throughout the month of December. This year, 9 wineries are displaying their gingerbread creations. The public is invited to view these displays and are asked to vote for their favorite — with an added bit of enticement. With every ballot cast, the voter becomes eligible to win a case of wine. Needless to say, I took the bait and over the course of 2 days, I went viewing and voting.
Way up in Kenwood, one can walk around the lush grounds of Chateau St. Jean. When I finally entered the tasting room, I beheld the winery’s playful and clever gingerbread house, entitled “How the Grinch Stole the Cinq Cepages.” (Cinq Cepages is one of the winery’s high end blends.)
Next up was a visit to B.R. Cohn in Glen Ellen. The proprietor is Bruce Cohn, otherwise known as the longtime manager of the Doobie Brothers. I had never visited this winery, and boy did I have fun. Inside the lively and crowded tasting room, the walls are covered with the many framed Gold Records that the band has accumulated over their long rock and roll history. B.R. Cohn’s gingerbread house vibrantly brings out its rock music heritage.
My third stop was close to my home at the winery of Nicholson Ranch. Beautifully situated atop a hill, its location offers stunning views of the Carneros region. In a gallery upstairs from the tasting room, the gingerbread creation offered here was an installation of hanging gingerbread tableaux, portraying various wine and holiday themes. This was seriously good, yet whimsical gingerbread art.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery is located a mere 5 minutes from my house and is one of the Valley’s oldest wineries. It offers incredible vistas from the base of the hills where it is situated. This winery’s gingerbread creation was a reproduction of the historical building that serves as its tasting room.
My final destination was also nearby — Larson Family Winery. I had heard that this winery was last year’s winner, so I was very curious to see what its gingerbread would be. I was not disappointed. The tasting room is housed in a huge barn that is perfectly fitting among its surroundings. It looks and feels like the former family ranch that it was, and it is both welcoming and charming. Atop an antique sideboard sits the gingerbread bonanza that depicts and celebrates the history of the ranch — past and present.
So which was my favorite gingerbread? Having visited only 5 of the 9 participating wineries, any decision I would make would be incomplete. Back at home and spending time with the images I shot, I was struck by how much and how well each gingerbread reflected its winery: the Gold Records depicted at BR Cohn; the artistic gallery at the beautiful Nicholson Ranch; the faithfully rendered historic tasting room of Gundlach Bundschu; the western and ranch theme of Larson Family Winery. But it was Chateau St. Jean’s gingerbread that surprised me (pleasantly) the most. The “chateau” architecture and formal gardens are in direct contrast to its whimsical and humorous “Grinch” gingerbread creation!
But yes, back again to announcing my favorite……………..
(Please click on any image to enlarge it.)
The weather has definitely turned to all things Autumn here in Sonoma. Colorful and fallen leaves are everywhere, foggy early mornings greet us, and temperatures have dropped. Sweaters, coats and scarves are a daily presence. Though I love this time of year, I do lament the seasonal passing of the spring and summer outdoor markets.
I love outdoor markets, or farmers markets, as they are known in the United States. The fresh and direct-from-the-farm produce has become my preferred way of buying and eating fruits and vegetables. Here in Sonoma, the Tuesday evening Farmers Market is a major institution in our little neck of the woods. Farmers with their produce, food vendors, live music, and picnics galore take place throughout the Plaza. Beginning in late Spring of this year, I began photographing every time I was at an outdoor market. I discovered that these gatherings were an amazing display: food, people of all ages, the sense of community, the relaxing pace of a picnic, etc. In other words, LOTS of photography fodder. And so the season began, with my camera slung on 1 shoulder, and my produce bag on the other — not a very easy balance! (More about the local scene in Part 2 of this series.)
During the month of June, my son Sean and I traveled through many of the Balkan countries of Eastern Europe. In 2 of the countries in particular, I found myself constantly drawn to their daily outdoor markets.
In Kosovo’s capital city of Prishtina, the daily outdoor market took place near our hotel, on the sidewalks of a nearby street. At many farmers markets in the U.S., streets are normally closed to automobile traffic during market hours; not so here. In addition to the people on foot, the street (and of course, it was a narrow street) was crowded with the traffic of cars, giving this outdoor market a sort of “drive through” feel to it. The cars stopped at the various vendors to make their purchases. The vendors were always very aware of those in cars who wanted to buy. Selections were pointed at by the driver, and the vendor swiftly brought them to the car for the quick transaction. It was congested and often hard to navigate around. But amid all this vehicle cacophany, there was an amazing absence of car horns. The traffic, whether on foot or in a car, co-existed in a wonderful balance with each other. The energy that emanated from this street was exhilarating and I was drawn back day after day to this crowded market street!
To my Western sensibilities, the prices at this outdoor market were extremely inexpensive. But in Kosovo, unemployment is very high and if one is lucky to have a job, less than 150 euros is the average monthly income. For the majority of Kosovars, these market prices were not cheap.
The daily outdoor market in the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, was a completely different experience than that of Kosovo. This market took place in a large and prominent area situated between the Medieval churches, buildings, store fronts, boutiques and cafés that make up this historic city on the Adriatic Sea. There were no cars in which to compete for walking space. In fact, the only competition for space was provided by the constant flying around of the swallows. They constantly dipped in and out from the large fountain in the center of the Plaza, to their perches on the nearby Medieval churches towers.
Croatia’s economy is one of the most stable of the Balkan countries. Not surprisingly, prices at this market were more or less equal to typical prices of American farmers markets.
The contrast between these 2 outdoor markets could not have been more marked. The Dubrovnik market was beautiful — its historic and scenic location catered to both the locals and the tourists. But it is that crowded street market in Prishtina, Kosovo that is really etched in my memory: the people, the cars, the cow’s milk that was sold in plastic Coca-Cola bottles, the vendors with cigarettes dangling from their mouths (IMAGINE THAT being allowed in America!!). It was where I felt most connected to the Kosovars — faleminderit.
(Please click on any image to enlarge it.)
Anderson, Indiana……………………a small town, the land where Michael Hall spent his childhood. In my younger years, I had never even been to the midwestern part of the United States. But since 1984, Indiana has been a constant in my life…………..and forever will be. During our recent visit there in July, I spent some time alone with my camera driving through the back roads of Anderson and a neighboring small town called Perkinsville.
Speaking of Perkinsville, should you ever find yourself in that tiny town, get on over to one mighty tasty food establishment called Bonge\’s Tavern. Situated across from a river and surrounded by the riverbed’s community of homes, Bonge’s serves savory and creative preparations — I like to think of it as “meat and potatoes comfort cuisine.” Only local and fresh ingredients are used and the tavern atmosphere is both comfortable and awfully fun. My sister-in-law and her husband took me there for a wonderful meal — great company and terrific food — I cannot wait to go back.
In this part of Indiana, the land is flat — not a hill or mountain in sight. Much of it is farmland — corn and soybean fields span endless acres throughout.
One day I ventured into the Anderson Center for the Arts, in the historic downtown area. The building is the former Anderson library, built in 1905 in the Beaux Art architectural style, from a $50,000 grant provided by Andrew Carnegie. The 40 foot stained glass domed ceiling in the building’s rotunda is exquisite. The Center specializes in collecting Indiana and contemporary art.
I spent a few afternoons driving through the rural areas, often beguiled by the wonderful scenes of barns surrounded by their fields; so much rural beauty to take in.
To my Indiana family: these photos represent much of the beauty and character that I find so striking in the land where you live. I love all of you.
The seasons come and go — with many associated traditions and rituals. In the seasonal “food ritual department,” summer fruits and vegetables are probably my favorite of the entire year, especially all the wonderful berries. Here in Sonoma, blackberries usually ripen in late July/early August. Throughout the town where many wild blackberry bushes grow, it is customary to see Sonomans of all ages, holding their baskets or plastic bags while harvesting away.
My friend Holly has several blackberry bushes on her property, and for the past several years, she has generously let me have my harvesting way with her berries. From these wonderful berries I usually bake a pie or two, but what really interests me is to go into serious jam-making mode. Indeed, producing dozens and dozens of half pint jars of this blackberry delectable has become a summer ritual for me.
Our weather has been unseasonably cooler than typical summers. (The tomatoes in my garden just started to ripen late last month.) I began contacting Holly in late July: ”Are the berries ready to harvest?” Each inquiry was met with a “not yet.” Usually by mid-August, my pantry is filled with numerous half pint jars of jam that will last me for the year. Lamenting the cooler summer weather that was keeping my beloved berries from ripening, and seeing my empty pantry shelves, made me realize something — I love blackberry jam…………but even more, I love the summer ritual of jammin’ — that is, making jam. It was time to look to the other summer fruits. I resolved not to let my jammin’ be deterred.
Summer peaches and plums from the Tuesday evening Farmers Market and a trip to the local strawberry patch (profiled here in this previous blog post) were in order. Serious jammin’ ensued. After a 3 day “jam session,” I can report that the kitchen was a huge mess, but the results were worth it. This particular summer ritual has now been satisfied. My morning’s of coffee and toast will have its sweet accompaniment in the upcoming year.