This weekend we took a break from skiing and stayed home. Driving rain cancelled the veritable cornucopia of kid's sports - what a relief! - and it turned out to be a real "Best of Oakland" two days.
When we first arrived in Oakland eight years ago, old friends would ask concerned:"Will you be okay there?" But there is a reason many confirmed Oaklanders wear the iconic I Hella Love Oakland t-shirt, with the more demure sporting "I Hecka Love Oakland".
It might seem unexpected to include a shelter for homeless seniors in a "Best Of" post but the sparklingly clean orderliness and warmth of St Mary's Center impresses. (Images 1,2,4,5 by Wendy Wheeler)
Harley, 13, and his friends from school cooked a dinner of meatloaf, pasta, green salad and ice-cream and brownies, ate with the seniors, chatted awhile, laughed about sports and cleaned up.
At 4pm, the doors open to 25 seniors who eat and sleep there every night. They must turn up every night or they lose their place; they sign in, have a shower, cup of tea, watch TV, play the piano, chess, talk or tidy their bags.
During the day some help tend the front garden of fruit and veges which often form part of the meal. Inside the gates which surround the Center there is safety, kindness and sobriety. But in the morning all the seniors must leave for part of the day and what lies outside the gate is temptation for some. The bus stop and the grass square opposite offer that easy sip from a bottle, sometimes leading to a slide back full-time on the streets.
Back at our house the next day saw lots of small hands making dresses for a Lilliputlian bride and planting strawberries.
In Oakland everything grows like you wouldn't believe; despite the hammering rain my yellow abutilon and orange protea perked up, reaching for even more water. And my Ponga just keeps on curling...
That night our friend Kenny of Kenny'n'Mike wore his new Robert Graham hat while we strolled through Old Oakland and drank tamarind margaritas at Tamarindo: "If you live in Oakland" Kenny said "you have to have a hat!"
Down the road was Camino, all rustic chic with long wooden communal tables, old schoolroom chairs - with a place in the back to hold your books - and iron chandeliers with newspaper flowers. I had oven baked oysters with a drop of absinthe on the breadcrumbs and carrot salad followed by duck breast with chantarelle mushrooms and parsley root. (I realise it is a sad juxtoposition visiting a homeless center and a restaurant of intense and expensive plenty all in the same weekend).
Next day our old friends from London, Andy and Julie, arrived with their two handsome lads and bags of tasty treats from what they call the "naughty aisle" at Trader Joes: banana cake, choccy bikkies and caramel cookie thingies. Kevin bought Dim Sum from Oakland's Chinatown, we stoked the fire and ate for hours.
I took a photo of Julie with Harley and later we looked over photos from 13 years ago when Julie held our baby Harley, next to the Serpentine in London.
And speaking of "best of" I want to thank you all so much for your wonderful, touching, insightful and always hopeful comments and emails. To be honest, I had agonised over whether to write about Tallulah's struggles and now I'm so glad I did...
What do you hecka heart about your town?