California, here we come (Peg & Jim visit their extended CGC family)

Our daughter MollyRose had one of those long college weekends off, the kind that make you wonder why the short academic year costs so much. But whatever, she had time to visit her brother Jake to see how he was faring out at Slide Ranch, and we tagged along.

California in October was miraculous - warm weather, no rain, an unnatural extension of summer – hallelujah! And Slide Ranch is a miraculous place – 20 minutes from San Francisco in upscale Marin County, located in a National Park in a prime seaside setting. Slide Ranch is a farm and education center where our son Jake has been working for the past few months. You can read about his experience here in a past blog post.

CGC and Slid Ranch have some striking similarities, but there are a few differences. Slide Ranch has only composting toilets and two porta potties, so there’s lots of al fresco peeing, and the buildings are older and in need of an upgrade. Their compost system is well-organized and well-tended – CGC has a lot to learn here. Still, the program is familiar – enthusiastic, engaging teachers, kids learning by doing, healthy food grown on site or obtained from nearby farmers and a low carbon-footprint point of view. If CGC had a farm (like Old MacDonald), I’d want it to be like Slide Ranch.

Our Jake Snake (his farm name) is thriving in his new home, learning and teaching some things I can see on a future CGC class menu. He and his friend Taylor Tidepool (her farm name) are making value-added products from the vegetables grown on site – wonderful pickles, dilly beans, pumpkin chutney. They’ve made goats’ milk cheese and soap to sell at local craft shows. The seven teacher/interns have a one acre garden for basics and a flock of multi-colored chickens supplying eggs. And I can’t say enough about the community of goats – smart, affectionate, mischievous, adorable. While we were there, the tween age goats (not babies but still kids) escaped the fenced field, finding their own browse in a shaded area nearby. Too bad Connor wasn’t around to redirect their overly-frisky energy.

After Molly left, we spent the one overcast, chilly day with Jake and Taylor. We visited a goat farm that sells fabulous cheeses and over-priced goat soap, and then visited what a local called “killer tide pools,” similar to the ones Jake and Taylor teach about. Jim took some stunning photos of sea anemones and seals frolicking off shore; just to be clear, the anemones, while an animal life-form, did not frolic.

One of our missions on this trip was to visit with longtime Camp Common Ground campers Lisa and Lyell Warren, who live in the East Bay. Lisa is a fabulous cook, and made us feel right at home – I made her send me her recipe for pistachios and roasted chickpeas. We played Scrabble and Rummikub, chatted about children and common friends, took a long walk and relaxed on their deck. Little known fact – Lyell is a passionate gardener, and has tenderly created a flower-bedecked habitat in their backyard. We got to relax there while attempting to follow Lisa in a modified version of her yoga practice – we did not come close.

Lyell joined Jim, Molly, Jake, and Taylor at a Cal football game. Cunningly, he convinced Jake and some of his friends to find a place to watch the world cup rugby finals between Lyell’s beloved New Zealand team and France – starting at 1:30 in the morning! The shouts in the packed sports bar showed that French fans predominated, but Lyell by himself was a match for the lot in passion and stamina. And New Zealand vindicated Lyell’s enthusiasm and won a close match.

A few days later, we met Lyell and Lisa on a beach in Marin near Slide. It was late October, but the day was warm, in the 80’s! Oh that global warming! Lisa and Lyell donned their wetsuits to go into the so-called chilly Pacific waters. But the Mendells, lacking wetsuits, went in anyway, splashing in the waves, riding Lisa’s boogie. I had left my suit in the car, but Lisa convinced me it was okay to swim in my skivvies – “This is California,” she chided – folks could care less. And the water was exquisite!

With a son living so far away, it is great to know that our longish visits don’t have to wear him out – we have other folks to visit on our trips out west, part of our CGC extended family. Thanks Lyell and Lisa for showing us a great time!