This adventure began nearly twenty years ago. Peg and I watched an Austin City Limits "Songwriters Special" in 1992 featuring Nanci Griffith, the Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Julie Gold. Nanci won our hearts with her little stories, her songs, and her singing. Peg began buying Nanci Griffith CDs. A few years later Peg and I took our friends Jan Runbeck and Mike Mowat to the Moore Theatre in Seattle to hear Nanci Griffith in concert. The opening act was supposed to be Guy Clark, another favorite singer/songwriter of Peg's. As the concert began we learned that Guy Clark was ill and one of Nanci's back-up singers took center stage as the opening act.
Stepping into the spotlight was Iris Dement. After the concert we began buying Iris DeMent CDs. In the years since that concert at the Moore we have seen Nanci Griffith in concert a number of times, Guy Clark once, and just missed Iris DeMent.
In December Peg and I went to Tacoma's Grand Cinema to see the new release of True Grit. What a great film. It was mesmerizing from the opening scene through to the credits. In the background for much of the movie was the haunting melody of the country hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, which was written in 1887. As the final scene dissolved into the credits a voice like the wail of a bagpipe cuts through the atmosphere and into your soul. Peg and I turned and looked at each other. From the row in front of us we saw one man nod knowingly towards his companion and whisper, "Dolly Parton." Peg leaned forward and corrected him, "Iris DeMent." Once you've heard her voice, you know . . . you just know. Her voice can bring you joy or it can bring you sorrow. I can't listen to her song There's a Wall in Washington without crying and I only lost one friend in Vietnam.
This adventure would take us back to a Nanci Griffith concert and back to The Villa B&B. We reserved the same room that Peg and I had enjoyed in late summer. During this stay we didn't go out on the patio or visit the gardens. It was cold and rainy. However, because of the weather we were able to turn on the gas fireplace in the bedroom and sleep cozily to the flickering flames. In reality, that's wrong. The gas fireplace was burning nicely when we checked in and we couldn't figure out how to turn it off when it was time for bed.
For Friday night we put into action an idea that I had formed when we stayed at The Villa the first time. I first asked our hostess Kristy House and once she approved, I began inviting friends for an Italian potluck dinner.
The majority of the group were the same friends we had vacationed with in Italy and Spain three years earlier. As I told others about the plan for a fantastic weekend including the dinner party at a B&B, many were incredulous, "You can do that?" We could and we did.
We rented a villa in Tuscany for our trip to Italy. Each night we would gather in the huge kitchen and dining area for our own little family dinner. The Villa B&B has a long dining room table from Tuscany. It was absolutely perfect for the dozen friends that gathered Friday evening.
One of our favorite memories of Rome was dinner at a little dance club and restaurant. In the background they had Frank Sinatra singing the theme song from The Graduate, which had to be the worst pairing of Sinatra and pop music. While we all laughed hysterically Frank crooned, "whoa, whoa, whoaaaaa." For our Italian dinner in Tacoma we played Sinatra in the background, but Mrs. Robinson didn't join us.
Everyone volunteered to bring a hot dish (pork Marsala & chicken piccata), a salad, antipasto, a dessert, bread, cheese, and so forth. Kristy insisted that instead of the plastic ware, which we had planned on, we substitute the real thing. So, we ended up eating on plates, drinking from wine glasses, and using silverware. She was very kind and went out of her way to help with dinner. Kristy dined on Donn Irwin's tomato/bread soup before retiring. She should have stayed around for the tiramisu. Between the soup and dessert we had more than enough to eat and share. The twelve of us had a great time. We led everyone on a tour of the beautiful home and especially our bedroom. Our friends loved the place almost as much as Peg and I do.
The closer it got to Friday the worse it began to look for our guests possibly attending. Debbie Irwin was under the weather as was Rob Erb. Rumors were that half of some school classes were empty. In addition the Home and Garden Show was running at the Tacoma Dome and John Reding was destined to be there showing off his antique restoration ability.
Plans were made for Donn to date Rob's wife Vickie for the evening, while his own wife stayed home, but in the end Rob joined us with a gravelly voice and a big smile. Only Debbie didn't make the dinner. She instructed Donn in the creation of the tiramisu. He whipped this, he folded that, he mixed and layered per her orders. While he did an excellent job, I'm sure in the hands of Debbie Irwin it would have been even better. Donn created the tomato/bread soup on his own. It was quite tasty with shaved Parmesan and basil.
John Reding let his crew run his homeshow booth and he was able to join us after a hard day at the shop (with his crew gone he had to really work). The J.R. Reding Company is the premier furniture refinishing facility in the South Puget Sound. John has refinished our kitchen cabinets, our dining room table, chairs, our buffet, and our front door. He does beautiful work. Nine months ago John joined my book club. We rotate hosting. As he approached the door of a fellow member he recognized the front door. His handiwork is in homes and businesses all over town.
Saturday morning was even rainier than Friday. I knew it would be. I ate a partial breakfast at The Villa and rushed off to videotape the dedication of a new home built by volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. The dedication was wonderful and made my day.
Maureen Fife, CEO of the local group for Habitat for Humanity (and a fellow member of The Rotary Club of Tacoma #8) welcomed everyone into the living room of the Salishan home. It was beautiful with large ceramic tile flooring downstairs, new appliances, and carpeted stairs and wall-to-wall in the bedrooms. Nick Zolle, the site manager for the construction thanked everyone for working and then just beamed. Volunteers talked about what work they did to construct the house. The architect was there to share the warmth of friendly smiles. Pastor Rod Riveness presented the opening prayer. Marty Campbell who represents Tacoma's east side stood quietly and proudly watching the event. This was community at its best.
The proud homeowner had tears in her eyes as she talked about her children finally having rooms for themselves in a safe environment. This will be a place for the kids to grow up in and return to visit when they are adults. It's their place . . . their shelter . . . their home. I just wanted to walk around and hug everyone.
I'll be interviewing a core group of volunteers soon. This group has worked together on dozens of homes and they just keep turning out to help. They enjoy working together and building home after home. I'll also be interviewing Len Lowe who owns North Tacoma Grocery Outlet. She and her husband, Ken donate food and supplies to every other Habitat home built in Tacoma. My video will be shown at the annual Habitat for Humanity fundraiser in early March. I'm looking forward to editing the program and showing it to hundreds of people. I don't often have the chance to see my productions in action. I usually produce a program and send it on its way.
After I finished videotaping I returned to The Villa just in time to get a phone call from our friends Donn and Debbie Irwin. She was feeling better and the two of them had gone for a walk along Ruston Way. They were calling to see what we were doing and asking to see our room and the rest of The Villa since Debbie had missed the dinner and the tour the night before.
They stopped over, took a little tour and then it was time for lunch. We rode together to the Spar Tavern in Old Town. We entered the restaurant and walked through it into the bar only to find a friend and his wife (Bob and Charlotte Firman) finishing up their breakfast. Donn and I stopped and talked to Bob and moved on to our table, but not before Bob mentioned he enjoys reading our adventure blog. I only got this one photo of Bob and his wife, which was unfortunate because just after I shot this photo he gave me a big "thumbs up." He looked really cute. He did, he did.
We had to order quickly in order to make it under the wire to get breakfast instead of lunch. Although I enjoy their lunch, I really enjoy their breakfast, which they only serve on Saturday and Sunday. Peg, Donn, and I all ordered breakfast, while Debbie complained of a still queasy stomach. She ordered chili. The next day I asked Donn if the chili had helped quiet Debbie's innards. He gave me the sign to "don't ask, don't tell." Somehow I didn't think it was the right menu item to select, but I am always one to let people do as they have a mind to . . . and then comment later, of course.
Many people would say the attraction of the Spar is their "Blues" nights. Some would point out the nice view. Some would mentioned the easy going atmosphere conducive to playing pool and darts. Not so, for us the attraction is good eats. The best fish and chips in town, blueberry pancakes, good sausage links, and think wonderful bacon. I think they serve beer, too.
After lunch we returned to our 800 square foot bedroom suite. I checked my email, read, and napped while Peg sat in a comfy wingback chair and read. After relaxing for hours we were almost ready to face the world, but weren't too hungry. We headed downtown, but knowing that we would need cash for parking we stopped at Stadium Thriftway for a snack and change. Armed with ones and fives we drove down Market and then went downhill at Ninth and turned onto Broadway and parked across from Theatre on the Square. We found that the old money box for parking in the pay lot has been replaced with a cash and credit card payment slot machine. I thought to myself we've reached modern times . . . ah, but no. Once you pay for your parking space you have to return to your car and put the receipt on the dash. Luckily this lot was very small, so the trip to the dash was only a few feet, but at other lots in Tacoma it's a hike. This is inconvenient and bad news for anyone with a disability.
We arrived in time at the Pantages for a pre-concert lecture on female women songwriters of the Pacific Northwest led by Sue Tjardes. The little lecture room was filled to capacity and then some. Extra chairs were brought in and it was still SRO (standing room only). After the lecture we went upstairs and took our seats for the Nanci Griffith concert. Our seats were perfect. We were in row F and center of the house.
The opening act was The Kennedys, a husband and wife duo who perform with Nanci Griffith. Pete is a wonderful lead guitarist and Maura has a soulful voice that blends well with Nanci's. Maura has a solo album that is outstanding. Pete introduced 9th Street Billy from the CD by remarking that everyone knows a Billy. My mind didn't jump to my nephew Billy Nelson, but to a childhood friend of my buddy Brad Brailsford, whom I had never even met. I just liked the rhythm of his name from a story that Brad told: Billy Poo Poo Pants. Ah, yes, one can only imagine how he got the name. Perhaps in twenty years we'll be watching the second remake of True Grit and Maura will be singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms during the credits . . . and the film will be dedicated to the memory of Billy Poo Poo Pants.
The last time we saw Nanci Griffith we missed her usual mixture of songs and stories. For her first Tacoma appearance Nanci gave us a classic performance. Missing her drummer who was visiting his mother the group on stage consisted of Nanci, Maura, Pete, and a guy named Mark. Four guitars that filled the room well. Mark and Pete took turns playing lead, while Maura and Nanci played rhythm. Nanci sang each song. Maura's eyes were riveted on Nanci's every movement.
In honor of playing in Tacoma, the home of Dale Chihuly, Nanci told of playing a concert in a location with a moat filled with floating Chihuly glass art. One concert viewer got a little tipsy and fell into the moat. Nanci thought at first, "Is she okay?" Then after thinking about it, asked "Is the Chihuly okay?" I think every song was introduced and I think each one had a story to go along with it. The Kennedys followed the same tradition. Although at the age of 57, Nanci's vocal range and register has shrunk, it still pays off. I would pay to see the concert again. It was lovely. Peg and I talked about the concert as we drove away and then over a cup of soup and a helping of slaw at the Harvester.
Sunday was a day of miscommunication. When we arrived at The Villa on Friday afternoon, I saw the reflection of my Dodge Durango grill in the back of the Chevy Suburban parked in front of the B&B. My left headlight was burned out. I asked my friend Rob to drive to My Way at the CenterStage in Federal Way, but I knew he wasn't feeling well plus, he and his wife had not yet purchased tickets as of Friday evening when I asked him. So, I really didn't expect him to get tickets.
After an excellent scrambled egg breakfast at The Villa Peg and I went home and returned with our Buick with all its lights working.
Before making the switch I looked under the hood trying to figure out what I would have to do in order to replace the lamp. It looked like it would take some effort and I might get dirty, so I voted for paying to have someone else replace the bulb. I know some people who will do the job and they need the money more than I need to do manual work. It's a win/win situation.
Late in the morning Donn called and Peg and I decided to see The King's Speech for the third time. Donn and Debbie had been in Hawaii when we saw it the first two times. Donn arrived about ten minutes later than we had planned. Along with him and his wife was our friend Jan Runbeck.
As we drove up to the theater, we could tell we might be in trouble. Our first clue was the lack of empty parking spaces. The second clue was the out-the-door line to get into the Grand Cinema. We dropped off the ladies and then parked down the street and down the hill. Walking back we knifed our way through the line of people who were waiting to buy ticketts to join our group of women paying for tickets.
Debbie loves the popcorn at the Grand and has been known to make a special trip to the theater just for the popcorn. Both the popcorn and the Grand are very popular.
After the film, we took Peg's advice and traveled across town to Wendy's Vietnamese II. This was an unusual visit. There were hardly any patrons in the restaurant and hardly any staff. While we were driving Jan called her husband Mike and told him where we were dining. He arrived shortly after we ordered.
Jan took a chance and ordered for Mike . . . well, actually it wasn't much of a chance. She always orders for Mike . . . and he's always happy.
I was considering having oysters with black bean sauce over noodles. But when I noticed that the waitress had a little problem with English I decided not to ask for something that normally come with rice and not noodles. I really wanted noodles so I chose the Pad Thai (as did Donn). I did ask for a combination of pork and tofu. The waitress said something, but all I really got out of the conversation was barbecue, pork, and tofu. I simply nodded and said, "uhhh, yes." Donn later asked if I understood what she was saying and I said no. He didn't either. She was nice, though.
Mike joined us with a big smile on his face. He is always so happy-go-lucky. I think he had spent most of the day working on taxes for seniors. This is something both Jan and Mike volunteer to do. They are such nice people. As the food was served I took a few photographs. I took a few in rapid succession trying for just the right pose. I took three or four of Mike before I had this one of him ready to strike me.
Although the egg rolls tasted a little over-cooked (something really rare at Wendy's) and the Pad Thai a little dry, everything else was perfect. Peg gave about 80% of her soup to Jan and Mike to take home. I embarrassed myself by eating almost all my Pad Thai. Plates of food at Wendy's are delivered with portions that can be shared. I shared a little with Peg, but ate more than I should have. When I order a combination of pork and tofu for my Pad Thai I am quite often scolded. I prevail and insist on the combination. Sometimes I win. I have never had barbecue pork and tofu in my Pad Thai before, however. Put it on your list . . . mark it with a "B" and put in on the stove for my baby and me. What a nice texture and taste treat.
We rode home with Mike and Jan, while Donn and Debbie hurried home to do god knows what before Jan and Mike came over to visit.
Back in our suite, I hopped on the internet to visit the CenterStage website to double check on curtain time for the Frank Sinatra tribute, My Way. Did I mentioned mis-communication? I had the entry wrong in my journal. The entertainment was scheduled as a Sunday matinée and not an evening performance. We missed the show. Darn it. Rob and Vickie never called, so I'm pretty sure they forgot about it. Maybe I'll just tell Rob that I bought his tickets and he owes me. He'll never figure it out.
Peg and I settled in. It had turned a little colder outside, so having finally found the on/off knob I turned the fireplace on for a nice romantic evening reading and sleeping with the flickering of flames.
On Monday morning Kristy served us the same fruit and yogurt with cereal concoction we loved and expected to start off our breakfast with each morning. I love the little scones she serves with it, too. The appetizer was followed by an excellent hot meal. Peg and I hurried home and got back to work. We were gone three days and ended up about a week behind. Oh, yeah. Life in the fast lane from Tacoma, Washington . . . well, actually there is really only one lane leaving downtown Tacoma . . . and it's not too fast.