Tis the Season or Was It?

I would like to propose a new holiday for this wintertime solstice period we are about to enter. It would involve cheery singing, wonderful gatherings full of fattening food, charitable giving, small but thoughtful gifts for those of us with already bulging closets, and time off to share with far flung family and friends.

Some of us are very tired, broke, and a little gassy after this current holiday they call Christmas is over on or about December 12th. What, you say, Christmas is on December 25th? The evidence is all around you that that old holiday was long ago abandoned.

No, I’m not talking about the commercialism. After all as the director of a retail district, many of our shops, little and large make their livings and hirings, staying open cause we all shop for the months leading up to this early December holiday.

But if you have noticed, and I know you have, that the ads on TV show an SUV or other shiny new car-depending on the cost of gas-driving through the snow to Grandma’s house starting in October or arriving at your grandiose circular driveway with a bow on the top by All Saints Day . Not sure what that bow signifies on the day after Halloween but there you have it…..As the commercials jam the airwaves with lists of expensive stuff that no one needs, so do the paper ads line our sidewalks full of tales of super discounts that can’t be beat.

So now, people who still buy semi-live trees, which as you know, are cut down in September, drive home with them the day after Thanksgiving and put them up in November. Those same trees will litter the sidewalks by December 26th or maybe sooner since they are are already a pathetic and parched gray green by the second week in December.

If you, like me, love to watch the “holiday” films even the real cheesy ones in which, say the perky blonde with cheating-husband-karma finds true love in the elevator of the building where she just lost her job as she clutches her divorce papers in one pale hand and the list of gifts she can’t buy for her asthmatic kid in the other, and he turns out to have a wealthy family who thinks she’s great, so down-to-earth-you-know. Phew, sorry for that run-on paragraph.

Anyway, those films-including the ones which are well made like the original Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life-are all over by the 12th and replaced with low grade horror films by mid December.

[As an aside, check out the two classics I mentioned if you haven’t seen them since you were 21, they are not just sentimental romps, but contain layers of darkness and important social commentary within them-themes like how the mentally ill are treated, bouts of cynical political maneuvering, the predations of our banking system, and great character actors. The stylized acting, which was typical of the era, is what gives them the stain of melodrama, but still very moving.]

All the “holiday” parties are going on now and will be over by next weekend. Even my own district, Lakeshore, will hold its celebrations on the 11th and 12th this year. By Monday the 14th it’s all over, but the thing is, most of our family members won’t get here till the 22nd or the 24 or even gasp, the 25th.

So let’s just call it Solstice Gathering Time since Christmas is already taken.

More Videos from Oakland

I’ve learned to make short videos, sometimes with music, sometimes without. When I use music it is invariably from my collection of oldies-except the two videos I made using Boots Riley performing “Underdogs” at a rally against gang injunctions. I have made cat videos, mostly with my cat, Woody, but some with neighbors’ cats. I have made videos celebrating Lakeshore Avenue’s retail upsurge, well, one about the opening of Kwik Way and of local happenings near Lake Merritt.

But, mostly I make short videos of political events that say something to me. The funny thing is that I have a bunch (no idea of the actual length) of videos from the Occupy Oakland days which are languishing somewhere on my old computer’s hard drive-never did get around to putting them together which probably says something about my still sad, angry-confused inner zeitgeist on the whole damn thing. Someday.

(If you watch the first video, then keep watching, other videos will pop up or got to my channel on youtube.)

So, back to the music problem. If I use recordings I have come by legally downloading them, I still find that youtube has prevented them from being seen on mobile devices. A couple made it through before they decided to block them. The two videos I made using Boots Riley as a chorus I put on vimeo so no commercials would be sold on them; and I used one other platform for a long video of a meeting-don’t remember which! If you are acquainted with somebody who will let me use their homegrown music to avoid that problem, let me know. I can’t promise to make them famous though. The most hits I have gotten on my little channel is 336 on my “Save Adult Education Now” for a grand total of 2, 575 hits.

Well, I just checked my channel, bethpikegirlagain, and reminded myself that I made a really silly video on squirrels and one on bees buzzing my neighbor’s giant flower bush, nah, can’t remember the name of that fabulous plant, but it’s an ode to spring.

I’m still using windows movie-maker which leaves a lot to be desired and have recently used my phone to record video which really leaves even more to be desired. I should start carrying around my tiny camcorder so I’m always ready.

I don’t even know why I do it. I never take videos of tourist attractions. I don’t have grandchildren to record (yet). I can only get my kids to succumb when they have no way to prevent it (ha, my son’s law school graduation is very soon!), but I continue to want to document the life around me. There’s lots of snippets on my computer, waiting to be accidentally deleted, no doubt. Say a prayer that those snippets survive my general electronic incompetence.

Yes, I am as blown away that I can do any part of this as my friends are. Most of the time I don’t know how I got it put together. Just finding the damn shots stored on my computer can take up to an hour…then I used to have to convert them to another format before even using movie maker because I had an old XP system that could not translate some formats. Good grief, what language am I even speaking?

It’s just this damn tenaciousness that is a family trait. I might start making my video around 10 PM and wrap up around 2 AM waiting for youtube to finish uploading-and that’s for a 2 and half minute video! Without the assistance and encouragement of some folks formerly of Oakland Local-I won’t name them because they might be embarrassed by my product-I wouldn’t have persevered.

Anyway, while this videos never go viral, they are the little bit of art that my arthritic hands can still get satisfaction from creating. I hope that they inform, provoke, entertain, or annoy a few folks here and there. Whatever, I can’t stop documenting some of the moments that provoke, annoy, and even uplift me. So here are some more you may not have seen.

Oh, one more note, without some form of art and creation, life is not worth living, so maybe that’s why I do it.


Lakeshore Lessons in Creativity and Reuse

Linda Hubbard's handmade, recycled paper bag flowers

Linda Hubbard’s handmade, recycled paper bag flowers

If you’ve ever marveled at the wonderful window displays at Silver Moon Kids, you might be curious to know who creates that delicious whimsy. If you were to pass by now, you’d be blown away by the huge colorful “flowers” sharing the window with the children’s clothes, stuffed animals, and toys.

Her name is Linda Hubbard and she is the owner, Dima Hart’s, mom. She is a self-taught artist and window designer. Once upon a time she studied art in college but never finished, dropping out to be a self-described hippy. Later, Linda got a master’s in speech therapy and worked in that field until retirement, forgoing her art. About a decade ago, she picked up the brush again and began to paint. Around the time of Linda’s retirement, Dima opened her Lakeshore store-her former store was on Grand Avenue and for a short time, we were merchant neighbors.

Since then Linda has helped set up the store, painted the fairy mural on the back wall and come up with fanciful designs to showcase the store’s merchandise. Perhaps you remember the beautifully handmade heart for Valentine’s Day? But this month, she has outdone herself. I asked her how she did it.Linda's paper heart

Like any modern woman, she got the idea from a you tube video that described making giant flowers from old paper grocery bags! For these flowers she used recycled Trader Joe’s and Monterey Market bags, tweaking the shape and number of petals and using no VOC (volatile organic compounds-no outgassing-and safe around children) paints. She says it took her about a month to make them working a few hours a day. Repurposed paper bags being painted

When I had my shop on Grand I often sold art from recycled objects, many from my own hand, and encouraged people, mostly women, to take a chance, especially with paint! I’d buy mixed tints that are sold for less or given away at most paint or hardware stores because they did not come out exactly the way the original buyers wanted them. Then I mix them with more paints and voila, I paint whatever gets in my way and paint over it if I don’t like it. I painted bricks on my concrete patio in lieu of installing expensive stonework. I use cheap acrylics and repaint them every couple of years. This year I am contemplating over painting them with glow-in-the-dark paint. I’ll let you know how that comes out soon. Cat walking on "bricks"

So, go see the wonderful windows in this charming store. Chat with Linda the next time you see her in the window, then go out and try something yourself. We may not all be as creative as Linda and Dima (by the way, Linda says the best part of doing this is working with her daughter), but we can have fun trying.

Not available in the store.

Mayor Jean Quan:Embattled or Fighting for Oakland?

Mayor Quan with friends at Chabot event

It’s an old cliché that almost everyone who writes about Oakland feels they must use. You know, it’s a gritty city. The latest one was the New York Times article that touted our new restaurants, which are great, don’t get me wrong. But the writer still felt he had to refer to our “grit.” I’ve never quite figured out what that means-is there sand in your sheets whenever you stay here? Do you get stuff in your eyes walking around our beautiful lake? By the way, which one, we have two and there is some sand involved in both.

Ok, so the new cliché is to describe our mayor as embattled or besieged. I checked google for some of the adjectives used to describe Ms. Quan and discovered that this is not an unusual way to describe a mayor. There were at least seven other mayors so depicted on the first page.

My question is how did this get to be the cliché of choice for our new mayor? Is it a result of the constant string of sexist and racist insults on her facebook page, no matter the subject? Or did it arise from the heckling she received at the Commonwealth Club? How about the three rude people on Grand Avenue when she showed up to promote that shopping district? I know this mayor has encountered unforeseen problems, unforeseen even given the worst economy since the Great Depression (so what is this-the Not-so-Great Depression?)

But, I didn’t see an embattled mayor at the Chabot Space and Science Center on Saturday night (January 7th) nor did the 400 or so Oaklanders and their families who attended the holiday party there. In fact the Mayor seemed to be floating in a red dress among her happy constituents, neighbors and friends, her face glowing, her enjoyment obvious. Before the event, her annual one, she and her husband Floyd cooked for hours for the giant potluck. The crowd was a potpourri of Oakland and the world around it, meeting and greeting each other along with their mayor and her family.

I didn’t see an embattled mayor on Friday afternoon among a crowd of hard working men and women of the Laborers’ Local 304 who told her, “We’ve got your back.” She exudes the same earnest concern as she knocks on doors in the Elmhurst asking neighbors if they know when their Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meets and handing out meeting notices and other info about city services. She chats with the kids who can’t believe the mayor has come to their neighborhood, much less their homes.

Many folks never even meet their council members in their districts, and I don’t remember any former mayors who have stood on the doorsteps of their constituents responding personally to their questions. Is this the sign of an embattled politician, hardly? This is, rather, a mayor unafraid to bring her ideas to the folks most affected by them.

I have seen this mayor grow into her job like she was born for it. And, indeed, more than any previous mayor I have known, she has almost grown up preparing to be mayor from her poor beginnings in a neighboring suburb where the library was her solace to her years as an active public school parent, school board director, and district council person.  She has learned about Oakland the way only a true grassroots activist could.

If you get to meet Mayor Quan, I mean when you get to meet her, she attends neighborhood activities as if she never sleeps, ask her anything about Oakland you always wanted to know. Her knowledge of our history, finances, neighborhoods, topography, and its people is encyclopedic. It is difficult to stay unimpressed when you see her grasp of our needs and wants catalogued with the many solutions she is devising (and has throughout her history here).

Yes, I’m a supporter and I’m working hard to stop the recall. No, we don’t always agree on everything. If you read my blog at all you’ll see that; and I’m not quiet about it when I do not see eye to eye with her administration. But, she’s not just my mayor, she’s the mayor of folks who think the police should be unfettered by oversight because they rarely misbehave. She’s the mayor of young people who camped at Occupy and think it is the most important thing happening in Oakland. She’s also the mayor of folks who hear gunshots at night and want their children to be safe in their beds as well as from police harassment and the lure of gangs.

Mayor speaks at Oakland's Women Suffrage Celebration

She’s the mayor of residents who need a good grocery store and not another liquor store and the mayor of all the drivers (and bicyclists) who want their potholes fixed, merchants who want free parking, and seniors who want their centers open all day, every day. She’s even the mayor of the governor who used up all our redevelopment dollars-during the good times-and then- like the guy who snatched up the rope ladder after climbing to safety, well, you know what happened there.

If you spent a day following Jean Quan around-that’s a challenge I wouldn’t take-I don’t have the stamina-you’d see a smidgen of the length and breadth of her knowledge, hard work, and problem-solving skills. You’d see leadership of the not-so-slick-or-shiny kind, not the glib-easy-answer kind. You’d see thoughtful, hard working leadership in a woman who is just where she needs to be.

Mayor Quan receives resolution of support from the Norther Cal. District Laborers' Affiliates

Welcome to Thanksgiving in the Dimond

Abdo Alawdi is planning on sharing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with his family-wife, six children, numerous relatives-and 250 of his closest friends and neighbors.

Mr. Alawdi, known as Abdo to most people, has been preparing massive Thanksgiving celebrations for his Dimond neighborhood for the past 9 years where he is the owner of the 2 Star Market,  2020 MacArthur Boulevard,  a shop well-known for its wine and microbrew beer selection.

The first year he offered dinner to his neighborhood, advertising it on Craigslist, only fifteen people showed up, but of the undertaking, he says that “first year was complicated, the second year got easier then easier.” He is now very used to his Thanksgiving routine-setting up a giant tent, thirty to forty-five tables, and a 150 chairs. I asked him if he ever worried that it would get too big but he responded, “[I’m] not worried, [I]would love more.”

Abdo started this tradition because he remembers how his grandfather raised him in Yemen. During Ramadan he said, “Our house [was] always open.” He described that kind of sharing, seemingly so unusual in this country, as a “benefit from God [and] a cultural thing.” He also cooks for the Dimond District Picnic in the park just up the street from his store.

On the morning of the big feast, about forty or more people show up from 6 AM on to assist him and his family, but they usually begin cooking the night before, utilizing the ovens at nearby Romano’s Pizza.

Abdo purchases at least twenty-five turkeys in addition to chicken, lamb, and side dishes ranging from rice, corn, yams, and traditional Yemeni fare. Diners often donate home-cooked food like desserts and salads. When asked how much this repast costs him, he estimated five to six thousand dollars but stressed that it comes “from his heart.”

Abdo Alawdi, owner of the 2 Star Market in the Dimond

When asked how he feels about his adopted city Alawdi told me, “[The] city is good, reputation is bad.” He has lived in his neighborhood home for fifteen years where his kids attend public schools, including Skyline High School and Laney College. When he arrived in the US, he took courses in English as a Second Language in local adult schools-most of which have since been eliminated.

If you drive up Fruitvale into the Dimond District, you will see a giant banner advertising the holiday celebration. A website designed by Alawdi just for the occasion is listed, www.2starmarket.com and includes his personal email-Alawdi@aol.com.

When I asked Abdo if there was anything he could use to make it easier to stage this event, he mentioned that his biggest expense comes from renting the equipment: a 75×40 foot tent, up to 45 tables, chairs, etc. He also uses multiple barbeque kettles. If anyone reading this can provide some of these things, he could probably afford to buy more turkeys and host more folks. In the meantime, take a minute to stop by this Oakland hero’s business and say hello.

You might find that the 2 Star Market has added a deli section to the store offering fresh Middle Eastern fare. And, if you need to purchase some spirits for your own home-cooked meal, consider picking them up from the man who really knows how to lift the spirits of his Oakland neighborhood.

Open Studios, & Art & Music in the Gardens

Last year I somehow missed the Pro Arts Open Studios. This hardly ever happens. According to the website, proartsgallery.org, they have been running their open studios program since 1974. For those folks who have just landed from another planet, the Open Studios movement implies that artists invite you into their workplaces and exhibit their work where they make it.

In reality many artists now gather in spaces set up as temporary galleries for the Open Studios rather than open up their often cramped work spaces. On the one hand, you can see a bevy of artists gathered in one spot rather than search for the many little studios spread around the whole Bay Area’s twelve cities.

On the other hand, there are many more large studio buildings where artists jointly rent space than there used to be and seeing artists in their natural habitat can be more instructive and personal.

It was for just that reason that I began taking my children to Open Studios in the late 80’s. At one studio we saw an artist shooting hoops (it was a toy net) in his work space. I thought it would encourage my athletic son to see that he could make art and still have fun. I liked to provide my kids with art supplies, including small sketch pads to take wherever they went, as my father had done for me.

I remember not too many years ago when you could visit artists in the redeveloped empty warehouses down by Jack London Square. Seeing these repurposed buildings was as much fun as looking at the art. Now empty big box retail space, the Barnes and Noble building, for instance, vies for reuse as a makeshift gallery.

It makes one think that maybe the enduring usage for many buildings in Oakland should be actual artists’ live/work spaces. Here I’m not talking about lawyer lofts where open concept living rooms full of Italian leather and kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless steel are the hallmarks of someone not making a living making art. Going from industrial to post industrial then retail to post big box retail back to art makes one wonder what city planners are thinking. Have they noticed the irony?

First, my friend and I set out in the afternoon and were able to take in a gallery in a beautiful home in the Lakeshore area, then onto the Swarm Galleries, finishing with the post-big-box space on JLS. At the first gallery, I ran into artists whose work I had watched change and grow over the years.

Next we moved onto  The Hive Gallery at the end of 2nd Street near the Square. We found more artists than were actually listed in the Pro Arts booklet but some of those listed had not yet opened.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this was last Saturday when it had poured on and off in the morning and early afternoon. Since I have almost completed the process of becoming a true Californian, I do think it’s my birthright to enjoy blues skies, and I have even developed the natural fear that I might melt if caught out in the rain. So, as you can imagine, attendance was sparse.

At Hive we found so many variations of art/crafts/sculpture that I can’t really describe the creativity on display by these folks. Since I had decided not to take my still or video cameras and don’t have a camera phone, I can’t even show you these wonderful things. You just have to go, really you gotta go.

We met an artist who makes cute dresses, charming cloth chickens (I mean really charming) and carves puppets, incredible, another artist who lived in Nepal and taught art there, a painter/muralist who takes videos of herself performing the layers of her process, and too many others. Wait, don’t forget to ask for the artist who has the movable untoy, Mickey Mouse meets the Raiders. Oh, and the artist who sorely tempted me into taking on debt with his resin treated works using paint, string, rulers, fabric, well, I may have to go back.

Then we headed down to the former Barnes and Noble building and ran into old friends, both artists and visitors, like Rita Sklar who has become well-known for her beautifully crafted watercolors and many more until they dimmed the lights and ushered us out.

So then on Sunday I decided to walk down to the Lakeside Garden Center since my neighbor, co-owner of the fabulous spot that is Garden Hortica (gardenhortica.com), had been bombarding facebook with the happenings at Lakeside Park,  Art & Music in the Gardens. Not officially part of the Open Studios, but the event took advantage of the excitement of the weekend.

Artists were showing their wares both outside and inside and gardeners were likewise demonstrating their art. There was food being purveyed by the Oakland Museum while musicians played on the stage.

Rather than tell you about the goings-on, check out my photos and short video of some of the grounds and what the artists say about their work and Oakland. Listen in particular to Christian Moffat of Create in Clay, createinclay.org (barring problems with my video editing program!) and what he says about the Town.

I managed to come away without buying a single piece, but I’m not proud of that. This has been one of the toughest years for me financially since my kids were little, and I’m not sure I believe things will get much better. But there is one more weekend and I’m determined to find something I can afford, at least spiritually.

If, by some awful chance, you are one of those people-and I have friends like this- who buys posters of the great masters which you frame and stick up over your couch, please get off that damned over-stuffed chair and go out and buy a piece of art.

There are no excuses for not having a piece, many really, of original, locally crafted art somewhere (everywhere?) in your house. Mine is loaded with it and it gives me joy every day, more than a new car or new clothes ever could. You still have another weekend-so go out and support a local artist. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

You can still preview the artists before you venture into their neighborhoods by visiting Pro Arts Gallery where 400 of them will be on display until June 12th-150 Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.