Best Brunch in Santa Cruz: Assembly

Interior of Assembly

Truth in advertising: I went to Assembly for brunch because my mother sent me. The restaurant’s creator, Kendra Baker, is my Step-Dad’s grandniece (if such a thing exists). My mom has been telling me about her ice cream shop, Penny’s, and her bakery/take away place and now her restaurant. We are in town for Chris Guillebeau’s book event, so my friend and I succumbed to Mom pressure and tried Assembly. Wow! Glad we did. The restaurant is in an old building right on the main shopping street, Pacific Avenue, and yet has the clean lines and light of a more modern building. There is outside seating; however, the overcast coastal sky drove us indoors.

On Sundays the brunch menu offers both breakfast and lunch options. We shared the fried green tomatoes: Fresh, hot, decadent, with or without the tasty dipping sauce. Then we each ate most of a melt-in-your mouth hamburger with pickled onions and special sauce. The fries were terrific and tasted like the potato was recently sacrificed. The ice tea was also excellent and the server took us seriously when we asked for extra ice.

The service was terrific. What a relief to be able to tell my Mom that we had a super experience. The prices are not pretentious: $12 for a gourmet burger; $4 for a generous serving of fried green tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes

My friend Connie (who has no family obligation) is going to bring her friends next time they all meet up in Santa Cruz. She also helped me land on a name for my MINI: Ivy.

Mini Cooper S to be named Ivy
Mini Cooper S to be named Ivy

Uncle Frank's Sacrifice

Yesterday I learned quite a bit more about my Uncle Frank. Mom and I drove over to Santa Rosa and met up with her cousin Marilyn and find out more about Frank E. Denham's history and gathered additional photos. Frank E Denham circa sometime around 1915.

I am not a genealogy nerd. My aunt Betty does some research about the family and I am always happy to listen. However, I do not derive much of my identify from my ancestors. Nonetheless, I have found my Great Grandpa Albert Denham quite interesting. He came out to California in the late 1800s from the Missouri Territory. Then went back to Oklahoma for the land rush and then returned to the Fulton area near Santa Rosa, California in 1900. Family lore is that he said, "No land is worth shooting a man over." (Implying this was the only way you could hang on to land in the Rush.) He was very conservative father to his daughters viewing both high school and dances as two great morally corrupting influences.  Come to think of it, his wife Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie) must have had some gumption too as she traveled with him through these adventures having children along the way. At least there was a railroad by 1869.

Frank was Albert's only son and looks like him in many ways. He was being groomed for working the family farm alongside his dad. Been reading about Germany's machinations to distract the US from joining the Allies by ginning up conflicts with Mexico and Japan or both together. Barbara Tuchman's The Zimmerman Telegram is a non-fiction that reads like a great spy novel. The British come off looking competent, the Wilson administration not so much. This explains why after Uncle Frank was drafted he was first sent to Mexico and then to Britain and ultimately to the front in France.

I learned from staff at the Oddfellows/Santa Rosa Cemetery that Frank was not buried until July 1921, a full three years after his death in France. They surmise that he was buried in a temporary mass grave until they could eventually ship him home. He was the first of the fallen sons of Santa Rosa to be returned. The article in the Press Democrat mentioned city flags would fly at half-mast, businesses would close and full military honors would be presented at his funeral. I hope it brought some comfort to his parents and sisters at the time.

Part of me really wishes he had lived and imagines how our family history might have changed. Then again, knowing my grandparents tumultuous at times relationship, my Mom might not have been born and so on. So best to trust in Providence.

Visiting his grave also gave me more information to aid in identifying where he might have fallen in battle.

Frank's gravestone in Oddfellow's cemetary in Santa Rosa CA

Role Model for Retirement

Kathy Kraft on Bainbridge Island Kathy Kraft is my life-long mentor. We met at Carmel Presbyterian Church in 1984 when she befriended me. I cannot remember our age difference but I had just graduated from University and she had children approaching middle school. She was further down life's road, but not so far that we could not relate to one another. She has always inspired me. Her life has never been dull. She told me once that I should always have an older friend to show me the way, friends my own age to share life, and a younger friend to extend a hand to and help on her way. I am blessed from following this advice.

In the last few years Kathy and I have exchanged Christmas letters and emails and I knew that she and Tedd had retired to Bainbridge Island. Recently I had the opportunity to reconnect with Kathy and Tedd at their new home. I did not know what to expect. I figured it had to be pretty great to entice them away from their idyllic home in Carmel, California. Wow. It is as close to "as good as New Zealand" as I have seen in the states. (Granted it was an unusually sunny day.)

Kathy and Tedd have created a life full of volunteerism, sailing round the San Juan Islands, time with children and grandchildren, and enjoying life. They made retirement look so attractive.

I have not spent much time looking forward to retirement, in part because of a doubt that I will be able to afford to stop working until I am 70ish. And because I thought I would be bored. I have to rethink both of those assumptions. Tedd and Kathy have worked very hard their whole lives, and invested their shekels wisely. Yet I do not think it is the boat or the house that makes their retirement days so rich. It is living in a place near family, with lots of positive activities to fill their days and with interesting people to befriend. And their shekels apparently stretch further in Washington than in California.

Mom's friend Lisa went even farther. She moved to Ohio near her children. Her cost of living is much lower than Hawaii. Not sure if her quality of life is higher in winter, but she is happy.

Since I returned from Seattle I have been paying attention to tweets about planning for retirement. I have yet to use one of those calculators to figure out how much moolah I need in the bank. Instead I have been thinking about how I want to live, where I want to live, and who I want to have nearby. I am socking money away, but more importantly I am thinking about what I want my retirement to be. Once I have that picture in my head I will find my way there. I learned this from Kathy too.




Christopher Hitchens died at the end of 2011 and as a fan of his writing, I read many of his obituaries on-line while still in New Zealand.  Just before boarding the plane to California I downloaded his autobiography Hitch 22 and a collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories by an author frequently mentioned as one of Hitchens' favorites--PG Wodehouse. Experts say if you provide your children a variety of healthy food options they will instinctively eat a balanced diet even if they eat only peanut butter sandwiches for 2 days straight.  I believe the same is true of reading:  load your bookshelf and Kindle with a wide variety of choices and you will intuitively read what your soul requires.  No surprise to me that on the plane and for several weeks I reread Wodehouse, not Hitchens.

Now I am half-way through Hitch 22.  It is much what I expected because while I always admired Christopher Hitchens' talent and intellect, I never much like his personality or character.  I do enjoy the way his autobiography invites comparison and introspection on my own life.  Oh to be so seemingly free of regret and responsibility as he.

I also find it curious that he does not once mention any ordinary details of housekeeping including that things that chew up even Hilary Clinton's time to some extent:  cooking, shopping, and other domestic duties including laundry, cleaning and decorating.  It reminded me of Virginia Woolf's lament in A Room of One's Own (and I would quote except I am not sure where my copy lives at the moment).   Hitchens' world is almost entirely male except for mother and sexual partners.  I do not think it is editing his life story to focus exclusively on famous people and events so much as I do not think he ever gave the domestic much thought.  From boarding school, to scout at Oxford, to char woman washing up to girlfriend/wife taking care of him... what would that be like?  It would be easier to imagine living on the moon.

I am reminded once again how much my environment impacts my sense of well being.  Having my own space and editing what is in and out of it is tremendously satisfying.  Just as a I felt palpable relief moving from a guest room to my own flat in Auckland,  so this weekend I felt a real lift in moving from guest status at Sarah Harriet's house to my own in room in same house.

I am still living lightly on the earth--so if I gave you anything before I left for New Zealand--I do not want it back.  Continue to enjoy it.  I want to continue to move through life flexibly and I do not want to relive the Great Wrench of 2011.

We are living without a television again.  I confess I gorged on Home and Garden channel before Carrie carted the tv away.  While I would enjoy living in any space designed by Sarah Richardson, I do not aspire to that right now.

I do aspire to work!  Tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. I have a second interview for the Metropolitan Water Agency job.  Meeting for breakfast at Fox and Goose.  Appreciate your prayers, positive thoughts, and any other good stuff you can send my way.