Tuesday, March 20, 2018

And Then We Went...

Just spent a week showing Penny and Alan McIlroy from St. Louis what I love about San Francisco -- what a wild week! Alan and I met over 55 years ago in junior high (see photo at the end) and Penny and I have much in common when it comes to believing that life is too short to be subtle.

We all had great conversations and we laughed a lot and yes, we agreed naps are worthwhile! Before they arrived, they read my book, "100 Things to Do in San Francisco Before You Die," so they had a lot of ideas about what they wanted to see. Plus, I adore playing tourist in my adopted city, so we made the most of their time here.

They can tell you about their trip -- or you can read about it here. Enjoy!


Welcome! Early supper at Ragazza’s – Moto pizza!


Rain-soaked tours of the Divisadero Drop (steep hill down to the Marina District), Crissy Field, Fort Point (almost under the Golden Gate Bridge), the Presidio, the tile staircase at Lincoln Park (which was filled by protesting students!), Fort Miley at Land’s End, Ocean Beach, tulips under Wilhelmina’s windmill, a drive-by visit with my beloved bison and a look at The Beautiful Houses of Waller Street, which I like better than the famous Painted Ladies.

Here's the glorious Fort Point when it's sunny:

Snack: Cheese, fig spread, salami and crackers at my place

A short stroll on Pier 39 followed by the Blue and Gold Fleet excursion boat trip (https://www.blueandgoldfleet.com/) in San Francisco Bay under brilliant sunny skies! So cool to see the city from the water and sail under the Golden Gate Bridge!

Lunch: Irish coffee and a damn fine Reuben at the Buena Vista (http://www.thebuenavista.com/home/home.html)

Waved at the cable cars, nixed a ride and went to our homes for an early night, tired from so much fresh air.


Taking in the sights at the amazing California Academy of Sciences (https://www.calacademy.org/): the manta rays, Claude the albino alligator, the five-story rainforest, a disappointing non-visit with the (often elusive) Giant Pacific Octopus, the Philippine Reef and a look at the film on the Farallon Islands, which are about 26 miles west of San Francisco – and are considered part of the Outer Richmond District.

At the Academy of Sciences, from under the wonderful Rainforest exhibit:

Lunch: High tea at Lovejoy’s Tea Room (https://www.lovejoystearoom.com/), followed by stops at Chocolate Covered and the Noe Valley Bakery (scones! quiche! double raisin bread!) in Noe Valley and picked up my grandson from school.


Over the Golden Gate Bridge to West Marin, a trip that includes savoring being in the presence of towering redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park! 

Lunch: Cheese toasties, ginger ale and pickled vegetables at a private table at the Cowgirl Creamery (https://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/) in Point Reyes Station.

Next: A coffee stop at the Bovine Bakery, a quick trip into Toby’s Feed Barn for dried pears and a personal delivery at Coyuchi. Popped in at Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters at Bear Valley, Penny and Alan posed with an elephant seal statue and we headed to Limantour Beach. Then made a disappointing wine run to Bolinas and took a ride around the Bolinas Lagoon (saw a single heron) with its hidden secret (the San Andreas Fault runs under it!). Visited with Emmeline Craig at The Blissful Gallery in Stinson Beach (https://www.emmelinecraig.com/) and on the way home we made a trip up the hill in the Marin Headlands to look back at my favorite bridge.

One of my favorite photos from Bolinas Lagoon:

After some chill-out time, off to Audium, the soundscape program.


A morning trip to Laurel Village shopping strip for toys and flowers, popped in at HyperOptics to hug A.J. and then checked out every pair of socks at the Haight Street Sock Shop (http://www.sockshopandshoeco.com/sockshop-haight/).

Penny and Alan escape to Alcatraz – then we head to Susan Fox’s house for corned beef and cabbage – a lovely home visit with a native Californian!


Driving tour of City Hall, Civic Center, the Tenderloin, China Town (saw a funeral procession), North Beach (saw the sad site of a four-alarm fire the day before), Nob Hill, the Tendernob and then past the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square.

Lunch: The Beach Chalet (https://www.beachchalet.com/), complete with WPA murals and beer seeping out from under them, all over the floor!

Stops to greet the friendly owners at 3 Fish Studios (https://www.3fishstudios.com/) and Avenues Dry Goods (https://avenuesdrygoods.com/). Alas, too long a line at Andytown Coffee. Pickup at the Wine Trading Company – aha! The shop had the wine that I could not find in Bolinas.

Dinner: A smoothie tasting, cheese, crackers, fig spread, dried pears, caramel corn, DIVINE CRAB CAKES from Falletti’s, topped off with raspberry macarons!


Penny and Alan head to the Hyde Street Pier and the Maritime Museum (https://www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm) to explore boats, see murals (a merman!) and watch hardy people swim in the protected bay.

Farewell Lunch: Chicken kebabs, hummus and fish tacos at my fave hangout Café Reverie, followed by bowls of the rare and delicious roasted pineapple ice cream at the Ice Cream Bar.

A drive up Twin Peaks (delayed because of rain – that’s usually where my tours start!) and through the Castro and then back to the Metro Hotel, where Penny and Alan caught the shuttle to the airport.

Here's that photo from junior high -- the staff of the Plymouth Rock, our school paper. Alan (second from right in the back row) was the editor! (That's me smack in the middle of the second row.)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tips for Recovering from Achilles Tendon Surgery

Nothing says O-L-D like an apartment furnished with a walker, a shower bench and a commode. And is that a cane lurking in the corner? Right now, it’s all necessary, but every day, I remind myself all this is temporary.

Two months ago I had surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon. After three weeks in an orthopedic rehab center, I came home. Because the doctor has not yet given me permission to put full weight on my right leg, I am housebound.
The biggest consolation is that I really like my apartment. Also, I am somewhat comforted to learn that even famous folk have experienced the long recovery that follows this surgery, including Judi Dench, George Clooney, Kobe Bryant, David Beckham and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

At least I‘m not looking to return to a career in professional sports -- I just want take my grandson to the park!

Before surgery, friends who have been here and done this provided moral support and practical survival tips (thanks, Lorilee and Kenny!) and I found more good advice on line. Now, of course, I have personal experience to pass on as well. Here are some useful guidelines for anyone recovering who lives alone or whose spouse or partner is away at work all day.

Get the Equipment You Need. Walkers, shower benches, commodes and wheelchairs are known as “durable medical goods.” Ask your surgeon what you’ll need at home and then ask your insurance company what they cover and what it will cost. For a fee, my Medicare plan provides some durable medical goods, but on their schedule, which did not match mine. So I got brand names and model numbers off the equipment at the rehab center, and my son ordered the basics from Amazon.

Medical supply stores sell it all and may offer some equipment for rent. Though knee walkers were readily available, the seated, steerable, non-motorized scooter my physical therapist recommended for me was not. I rented one from Cloud of Goods (www.cloudofgoods.com/), a company based in San Francisco, Calif., that also provides wheelchairs and scooters to grandparents visiting Anaheim who discovered they could not comfortably walk around Disneyland after all.
Some nonprofit organizations make durable medical goods available free (or for a small registration fee) if you can’t afford to buy them. Look on line for an organization in your area. Another possible source is your neighborhood’s FaceBook page or CraigsList. After posting a plea, a friend recently scored the loan of a knee walker from a neighbor who had one stored in his garage.

Get the Help You Need. If your surgeon declares you housebound, find out whether your insurance company will send a visiting nurse, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist to your home on an as-needed basis.  Some insurers also provide home health aides to help you shower, do the shopping or tidy up the kitchen. If yours does not, plenty of agencies offer this service. Most insist on a minimum four-hour commitment, but I found one willing to send an aide for two hours. Either way, make a list of tasks that need doing so you don’t pay someone to sit and visit with you.

Because I couldn’t navigate the seven steps at the entrance to my apartment building, at first I had no idea how to get to the follow-up appointment with the surgeon. The solution? I hired a non-emergency medical transport company, which provided a small wheelchair, a van altered to accommodate the chair and a ramp to make it all easy. The cost was $65 round-trip, far more reasonable than a local ambulance service.

Transform Your Living Space. Making your way around your home in a wheelchair or on a scooter requires clear paths. While I was at the rehab center, my son and daughter-in-law rolled up the area rugs, pushed back the dining room table and chairs and moved my bed. A raised tile floor in the doorway to the bathroom was impassable until my son devised a ramp from my plastic desk chair mat and a flattened cardboard box and then secured it with packaging tape. Perfect!
In my small galley kitchen, I can easily transfer food from the refrigerator to the microwave or toaster oven and then onto the nearby table. Also, I keep clean cups, glasses and plates on the kitchen counter.  The peanut butter jar, a package of granola and a bread knife are there too. In the fridge, the fruit and milk I reach for most often are front and center. In the bathroom, I keep fresh washcloths, towels and extra toilet paper rolls all within easy reach.

Do One Thing at a Time.  “When you’re getting on the scooter, don’t think about where you are headed or what you plan to do next,” cautioned the physical therapist at the rehab center.  “Concentrate on one thing: getting on the scooter safely.” He was right. This is not the time to multi-task, as you could put yourself at risk of falling.  Will everything take longer than you expected? Yes. So?

That’s not to say you can’t prepare for your next destination, even if it’s just the couch. My scooter came with a basket but it interfered with my cast, so I hung a tote from the handles. In it, I can easily transport my phone (always keep it with you, in case you need to call for help), my Kindle, a snack and the three refillable water bottles I place near the places I spend the most time. 
Manage Your Expectations. Everyone’s recovery is different, but if you have the use of just one leg, you won’t be able to do everything you might want or expect – especially at first. Plus, you likely will tire easily, as you won't have a lot of stamina until physical therapy helps you get your strength back.

The solution is twofold. First, lower your expectations. Then call in favors from family, friends and neighbors. Don’t be shy – most people are flattered when asked to help someone in need. Some will prepare and deliver occasional meals. Some will provide gift certificates for meal delivery services or offer to bring you a frappuccino, a smoothie or even a pizza from your favorite place. Others will happily unload (and then reload) the dishwasher, bring in the mail or do your laundry – or drive it to the nearest wash-and-fold establishment and then return it to you.
Friends also can do your grocery shopping. I recommend stocking up on tuna, yogurt, apples, bread and cheese.  If you need a lot of groceries and are especially picky, you can order delivery on line from your favorite store where you know what’s in every aisle. With each selection, my store’s delivery website has a place for a personal note. “Firm bananas,” I write, “with no freckles.” So far, so good.

Find Fun Things to Do. While you sit around with that leg elevated, play Scrabble on line, read the classics, call out-of-town friends, watch old movies, research your family history, organize your photos (those on line and in the box in the closet), write sweet notes to people going through challenging experiences different from yours, order something indulgent (maybe a jar of cherry jam from Michigan?) or plan a vacation for next year. Or nap – you have an excuse!

Nothing Lasts Forever. Conventional wisdom is that the recovery period after Achilles tendon surgery can take a year or even longer, especially if you hope to get back to long-distance sprinting. (I do not.) Yes, some days and nights drag, but I’ve learned to concentrate instead on how far I’ve come, from sucking on ice chips post-op to shuffling around the apartment with a little help from my walker.

And when the present moment is really difficult, I imagine myself in the months to come, walking and happy – and somehow younger.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Corneal Dystrophy: A Threat to Eye Health

Map. Dot. Fingerprint. These words don’t appear to make sense together, but they describe a type of corneal dystrophy, the most common of several degenerative eye conditions that occur when material builds up on the cornea. Another name for map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy -- equally odd -- is epithelial basement membrane dystrophy.

By either name, symptoms include blurred vision, intermittent pain in the affected eye, sensitivity to light, streaming tears and the feeling that a clump of eyelashes has gathered in the eye and refuses to come out. The condition most often develops between 40 and 70, literally disrupting any rosy view you may have had about aging.

I know this because after map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy lay dormant for almost two decades, it has recurred, and I am typing this without benefit of clear vision in both eyes. When I was first diagnosed some 18 years ago, my vision was blurry for a couple of months. This time, I experienced blurred vision and occasional pain.

Early in June, for two weeks, I was awakened repeatedly by a stabbing pain in my left eye and the feeling that my eyelid was stuck shut. It was. I was experiencing corneal erosions. That’s what caused the pain, the swelling, the redness and the eventual breakdown of corneal tissue.

Dry eyes play a part in some corneal dystrophy

The epithelium is the cornea’s outermost layer, the clear dome that serves as the first line of defense in protecting our eyes. During an erosion, errant cells on the outermost layer of the epithelium rise up and can stick to the inside of the eyelid. Tears help nourish the cornea, but everyone’s eyes get dry during sleep. That lack of lubrication, I’ve learned, can contribute to flare-ups of map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy.

“I’m glad it stayed away for so long, but I’m not surprised it came back,” said my ophthalmologist. “You’re female, and older now, and all older women tend to have dry eyes. Also, some medications also cause dry eyes. I’m not surprised.”

I was. When the blurriness first began, I dallied, blaming spring allergies. When the corneal erosions began, I started using artificial tears more often during the day and a thick eye ointment at night, treatments recommended when the condition was first diagnosed so long ago. When the erosions increased, I headed to my eye doctor. He said I was doing all the right things; to keep it up.

Three weeks later, an exceptionally painful erosion woke me before 6 a.m. on a Sunday. Though I immediately flooded the affected eye with artificial tears and applied an eye ointment I had on hand, the pain and throbbing did not abate for over 90 minutes. I was back in the doctor’s office the next morning.

Stocking up on OTC eye treatments

I was told to use preservative-free eye drops to both eyes every hour that I am awake, to use ointment in the affected eye three times a day and to apply ointment to both eyes every night. If I wake up during the night, I am to apply additional ointment or drops as needed.

“None of these treatments include medication, so you can use them as often as needed to keep your eyes moist,” the doctor said. The extra moisture could help the cornea heal itself, she said. Because of the corneal breakdown caused by the erosions, the doctor emphasized that I could not slack off. “Be vigilant,” she said. I headed to the pharmacy and bought the eye drops and ointments, all over-the-counter products.

An eye exam eight days later revealed that the cornea was healing and that the bumpy surface caused by the map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy was smoothing out. I asked the ophthalmologist what to expect in the future, what to regard as a benchmark of healing and what would indicate a regression.

“You could improve, you could stay the same or you could have another corneal breakdown,” she said. “It’s too soon to tell what’s next. You may have vision changes because of this and you may not – we don't know. Keep treating your eyes around the clock and we will continue to monitor you.” On the way home, I stopped at a pharmacy and cleaned out another shelf in the eye care section. I’ve done that several more times since.

What’s behind the unusual name

I did find out why this disease is called map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy. The National Eye Institute (https://nei.nih.gov/health/cornealdisease) notes that the dystrophy occurs when the epithelial basement membrane develops abnormally and forms folds in the tissue.

“The folds create gray shapes that look like continents on a map. There also may be clusters of opaque dots underneath or close to the map­like patches. Less frequently, the folds form concentric lines in the central cornea that resemble small fingerprints.”

The site also reports that some people who have map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy never experience any symptoms. For the rest of us, if treatment fails, there are options for outpatient surgery.

Also, I learned that map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy usually is genetic, as are other eye dystrophies. They include Keratoconus, which affects one in every 2,000 people in the U.S., mostly teens and young adults; Fuchs’ dystrophy, which causes a gradual decline in vision and is most often diagnosed in people in their 50s or 60s; and Lattice dystrophy, a condition that most often begins in childhood.

Most of these diseases affect both eyes and most progress gradually. They are not related to other eye diseases or diseases that affect other parts of the body. Some corneal dystrophies cause blindness; others do not.

Costs and a word of caution

So far, map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy has cost me several trips with Uber and Lyft when my vision was especially blurry, co-pays at the doctor’s office and an unknown sum (I am reluctant to add it up) for the eye drops and ointments.

Because I have cut back on screen time, I am not working. I am behind on the news (not a bad thing), FaceBook and on-line Scrabble and Words With Friends. What have I gained?

A sense of peace about my slower days and also time to think about what I want the next stage of my life to look like. (Yes, I am counting on stable vision eventually – and I want to get back to writing about wildlife!) In a rare recent moment dedicated to math, I figured out that I have spent 43 years of my life working, 32 of them full time. Maybe that’s enough!

I also have an increased appreciation for my eyes and the importance of caring for them and an immense sense of gratitude that I was able to see well enough to write this. Listen up: If your vision becomes blurry or you wake up with dry eyes and stabbing pain, get to an eye doctor right away.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Monet, Defiant Bears and Good Pals

Claude Monet was born 108 years before I was, and I didn’t learn about him until I was 15, when a gifted French teacher decided to instruct us about the art, the music, the literature and the architecture as well as the language. His work, as pictured in art books the teacher brought to class, astounded me. When I saw some of his paintings close up at the St. Louis Art Museum, they took my breath away.

Three years later, when I received my first check for freelance work, from Dell Publishing Company’s Ingenue magazine, I used the money to buy a biography of Monet. At the time, I had no idea the magazine was written by old white men, so when I submitted the article, I didn’t mention I was a teenage girl. The check was for $25. My mom photocopied it for me at her office.

In the decades since, I have continued to read about Monet, think about him and seek out exhibitions of his work. Earlier this week, I abandoned my current freelance assignments and ran off to the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco to see “Monet: The Early Years,” a splendid exhibit of 53 works painted between 1858 and 1872.

The exhibit is exhilarating – read more about it at https://legionofhonor.famsf.org/monet-early-years and if you are a fan, do try to get to San Francisco to see it before it closes May 29. Many of the paintings depict light dancing on water. One shows a haystack, not purely realistic but not yet infused with light at different times of day. Some show the early influence of Japanese art on Monet’s work.

In one gallery, I zeroed in on an immediate favorite, a painting I’d never seen before. “A Hut at Sainte-Adresse” shows a humble structure hard by the sea, with flowers crowded just behind and sailboats in the distance on the waves. I looked at it a long time. “I want to live there,” I thought. Then I realized in so many ways, I already do, with the edge of this continent in such close proximity to my apartment.  I bought a postcard of the painting.

It was fun to see “Luncheon on the Grass,” Monet’s jibe at Édouard Manet’s painting of the same name. “The Magpie” is here, a painting I’ve always loved. Dear friends in St. Louis have a large print of it hanging in their home. Toward the end of the exhibit are the works that led Monet to Impressionism, the movement he named and the genre he mastered beyond any other artist.

Before I left, I sat for awhile in the outdoor café, just steps from the Golden Gate Strait. As wisps of fog drifted over the café wall, two nearby fog horns sounded like cellos warming up for a concert. Then I headed back to my excellent parking spot, just a short walk from the museum. I had scored the spot by calling on the spirit of the museum’s founder and benefactor.  “Alma Spreckels,” I yelled as I approached the museum, “I need a good place to park!” She came through.

Spreckels’s story is highly entertaining. For one thing, she was the model for the 9-foot-tall statue atop the 85-foot-high Dewey Monument in the center of Union Square. Read about that in Bernice Scharlach’s fun book “Big Alma,” which also teaches much about San Francisco’s history. Spreckels was friends with dancer Loie Fuller (one of my favorite women from history -- see us together, below), and it's Fuller that gets the credit for the many Rodin sculptures at The Legion of Honor.

Driving away, I rolled down all the car windows and invited in the sea air as I cruised slowly along Ocean Beach. Next I stopped to shop and schmooze at 3 Fish Studios in the Outer Sunset, where Eric Rewitzer makes linocut prints and Annie Galvin paints. The shop sells affordable original paintings and prints, postcards, other works on paper and particularly appealing totes.

Right now, the big draw at 3 Fish Studios is an image depicting Eric’s personal response to the election. “California Rising” depicts a giant bear, standing erect and roaring loud, with California poppies at its feet. The image and Eric’s story appeared recently in Time magazine (http://time.com/4657662/california-president-donald-trump/ ).

About bears: Since 1911, the California flag has depicted a grizzly bear. Much more recently, Annie has painted assorted versions of a sweet brown bear hugging a cut-out of the state of California. This particular bear image is in the public domain, but Annie’s interpretations are unique. (For a look at her work and Eric’s as well, see 3fishstudios.com)

A few blocks away is Avenues Dry Goods (https://avenuesdrygoods.com/), a cozy Outer Sunset emporium specializing in "useful, practical and delightful things," many of them made locally. The company in the shop is always good too. Eve Batey, my co-author for “100 Things to Do in San Francisco Before You Die” (https://www.facebook.com/100thingsSF/), owns the store with her husband, Tim Ehhalt, and most of the time, one dog or another is in residence. Also, gifted florist Peter Cochrane works out of the adjacent space.

We sat and talked about Monet, defiant bears, the Outer Sunset and more -- a lovely ending to a perfect afternoon.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Good Catch: Memories of Fishing

At 8:45 a.m., I am riding in a Zodiac raft on the lower Palouse River, a tributary of the Snake. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met members of the Palouse tribe on this river in October 1805. Now I’m following part of their trail on a river cruise with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic.

The Palouse River canyon was formed during the catastrophic Missoula Floods between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago, but today all is calm on the river in the soft morning light. We see a mule deer on shore, limping through the brush. We take note of mergansers, coots, a harrier hawk, Canada geese and magpies. The naturalist identifies the call of a canyon wren and we visit nests abandoned by cliff swallows.

I take all this in. I smell the sage, examine the beaver dam, admire the cattails and am delighted to learn that Daffy Duck is a scoter – a sea duck. This naturalist knows a lot about many things.

Most of all, I find myself fixated on the outboard motor and the wake behind it.

Being dressed and sitting anywhere by 8:45 a.m. is not natural for me. I like the night, and am fairly slow and stupid in the morning, even on those rare occasions when I am up, dressed and out the door. First, I think I'm staring at the outboard because I am in my morning daze. This annoys me. I purposely turn to the nearest hillside and snap a picture or two. Then my attention is drawn back to the outboard motor once again.

Suddenly it hits me: I'VE DRIVEN A BOAT!

I have, many times, on boats with an outboard much like the one I've been staring at on this morning.

Daddy liked to fish -- no, he loved to fish – and we owned an outboard motor that hung in our garage. Many of our family vacations were spent at lakes, mostly in southern Missouri. Lake Wappapello. Lake Killarney. The Lake of the Ozarks. I’ve been fishing in all of them, and sometimes, Daddy let me steer the boats we rented.

I was better at steering than I was at baiting hooks. Daddy taught me how to safely handle a hook, but I didn’t want to touch the bait. If we were fishing with minnows, I’d wrap the tiny fish in a tissue before putting it on the hook. Because the tissue obscured the hook, most often I would pierce the minnow repeatedly, and it would bleed all over the tissue. I refused to touch a worm, wrapped or not.

Daddy put up with all this, and we both were thrilled the day I caught three crappie on one nightcrawler.

We spent so many weekends at one family-owned lodge in the Ozarks that the owners featured a picture of Daddy with his catch on their brochure. When he wasn’t fishing with the family, Daddy was off on a weekend trip with his fishing buddies, most often on the White River in Arkansas.

I grew up eating fresh trout back when you ate a slice of Wonderbread with every bite of fish, to enrobe any stray bones you may have swallowed. It was Daddy who taught me to efficiently debone a trout one night after I had complained more than usual about all the bones.

“The bones hold the fish together,” he said. “If there were no bones, there would be no fish.” He also tried to teach me to savor crispy, cornmeal-encrusted, fried fish tails -- but that didn’t take.

At home, I was always served a fish with the head removed, which was also my mother’s preference. A few years later, on a rare non-fishing vacation in Colorado, we were served trout with the heads on. Mom showed me how to cover the head with my napkin, saw it off with my knife and slip the head under the coffee cup, all without ever looking the dead fish in the eye.

I still do that. Sometimes, I warn my server.

Another moment on the river cruise involved fish, or at least artistic expressions of them. Riding on a tour bus, heading for the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, Ore., we learned that some years ago a fellow had been released from the local jail to make metal sculptures of fish to decorate one side of a bridge in town. When he finished the work, the man disappeared.

Later, he was caught and returned to jail, and his sentence was extended. Then a city official decided metal fish sculptures should grace the other side of the bridge as well. The metalsmith was released once again, and promised a shorter sentence. He made the sculptures, including a beautiful pair now on display at the Discovery Center, and he disappeared once again. Then the tour guide told us that rumor has it that the metalsmith is now a tour bus driver.

How’s that for a great fish tale?

I don't believe the end of that story, but I remain delighted that an early morning cruise on the Palouse River brought back fond memories of my days driving boats in Missouri lakes. I don’t fish now – don’t ask me.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Reunions, Plural: Love Fest in St. Louis

Grandchildren. Crepey skin. Politics. Recipes for stuffed pepper soup. Kindles versus “real” books. Crabby knees. Empathy among Gen Xers. River cruises. These topics and many more came up over the course of a weeklong visit to St. Louis, where I grew up and lived most of my adult life before moving to San Francisco in 2010.

The occasion was my 50th high school reunion, but that stellar event took up just one evening. The rest of the week was one big love fest, with brunches, lunches, coffee dates, happy hours, dinners and parties. I also managed assorted drive-by hugs (thanks go to Judy, who drove), two shopping expeditions, an appointment with Michael, my in-town acupuncturist (doesn’t everybody have two?) and some quality time hanging out with dear friends.

The big reunion was great (do go to yours) though it started off oddly. When I walked into the upstairs party space at Schlafly’s Tap Room, I looked at all the happy people talking there and thought, “These are my parents’ friends! Maybe I will see Dorothy and Tony.”

Quickly I realized they are gone, as are my parents. These people in the room were MY friends.

With that, I joined the group closest to where I stood and soon was laughing and talking with them, though I was disappointed momentarily to learn from Randy that our classmate Dennis had stayed home to watch Randy’s dog instead of coming to the party.

About 170 people were at the event; a good turnout for a graduating class that numbered over 630. Two or three of my classmates look exactly as they did in high school, and I told them so. Most of them look their age – our age – in spite of professional hair color and artfully applied makeup. But as Mary said, “We’re all beautiful!”

In a previous post, I wrote about looking forward to seeing Don because I remember dancing the polka with him back in junior high. When I found him in the crowd, I asked if he had read what I wrote. He laughed and said yes. When I said, “Please don’t ask me to dance,” he laughed harder and replied, “I can’t.” We certainly aren’t feeble, but we aren’t all as mobile as we used to be either.

One lovely moment occurred when Alan, the editor of the junior high paper, and Bob, the editor of the high school paper, stood mock-arguing about who could take some credit for my success as a writer. “Hey, I had something to do with it,” I said, and we all laughed.

Another classmate and I take credit for convincing the president of our senior class to attend the event, and Jim clearly was glad he had made the trip from California. Mary, Jim and I took a photo to send to Dean, his wife, who graduated in the class behind us. Next year is her big year.

Driving downtown for the reunion, I got a bonus: A great view of the Gateway Arch, my favorite national monument. There it was in all its glory! I remembered I was present on Oct. 28, 1965, when the Arch was “topped out” and the last section was put in place. I also remembered I wrote the magazine cover story for the Post-Dispatch when the city celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Arch. Or was it the 30th?

My high school reunion was a grand event, and the largest of the many mini-reunions that filled the rest of my time in St. Louis. For instance, I reconnected with

my Five Favorite Female Friends (we met over 40 years ago)

my son’s dad and Other Mother, who held a Labor Day potluck (seven desserts!)

a dozen female pals from my days at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

two favorite editors from the same paper

a special friend from my former water exercise group

on-line Scrabble pals for a real-time game that included a cat

the writing workshop group I started over a decade ago

the Wise Women Book Club

friends from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Not only did I get to see my theater buddies – with my longtime pal Gail I got to see the dress rehearsal for an extraordinary production of “Follies.” The Rep is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and I’m proud to say I was in the audience when the theater opened a few blocks from my high school back in 1966.

For many years, I was a Rep subscriber. Then I attended as a theater critic for the paper. After I left that job, I continued to see shows right up until I moved away. Walking into the familiar lobby Sept. 6 was eerie in a good way, evoking an acute awareness of the many, many times I have done so before. It was great to be back, and such a privilege to get a sneak peak at this wonderful show.

While in town, I also walked into a lot of restaurants and enjoyed some great food. With friends, I went to Remy’s for mahi mahi and polenta fries, Cravings for bacon-wrapped figs and a remarkable fresh peach sundae, the Boardwalk Café for pancakes, Milagro for tacos and street corn, PJ’s Tavern for a hearty Reuben, Robust for “figgy piggy” flatbread and Big Sky Café for vanilla brioche French toast. Yum! And of course I hit Starbucks more than once (even more than twice) with Champe, Judy and Vickie.

Another day, I walked into a senior living center, where my best friend from high school and the maid of honor at my wedding now lives in the memory care unit. Susan knew me, she was glad to see me and I now know she is content and well cared for in a safe, structured environment. After the visit, I had lunch with her husband, and I like to think we were able to help each other on this journey that neither of us ever imagined.

You can go home again, even after you’ve made a new home in a different city – and this weeklong return to my roots overflowed with love.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Packing Memories for a 50th High School Reunion

Ann and Ginny. I will see them. Susan. No – Susan won’t be there. She has early-onset Alzheimer’s and now lives in a memory care unit. Peggy has made extended trips to the mainland twice this year from her home on the Big Island and will not attend.

Carl. Will he be there? As an adult, I bought candy from him when he worked at an upscale chocolatier, and when he transferred to a bed store in the same mall, I bought a bed. I hope I will see Carl.

As kids, Carl and I once spent an evening with half a dozen other kids draping toilet paper over trees and shrubs in the yards of a fancy neighborhood. “TPing,” as it was called, was a precursor to filling lawns with plastic pink flamingoes. Maybe that morphed into the much crueler cyber bullying? 

All this is what comes to mind as I pack to travel from San Francisco to St. Louis for my 50th high school reunion.

Tempus fugit

Fifty years! How can that be? “It is what it is,” my 87-year old aunt said, laughing at my amazement. She knows more about the passing of time than I do.

Jim will be there. I didn't know Jim well in high school. Oh, I knew who he was – he was president of the senior class, but more than 600 people were in my class. For 46 years, I had no idea what had happened to him. Then four years ago, I got an email from Dean, the woman Jim married. She was one year behind us, and Dean and I had become friends in journalism class.

Dean wrote to say that Jim was now president of a seminary in the Bay Area, and when she learned I live in San Francisco, she wanted to reconnect. The three of us met for dinner, and have continued to do so. Plus, Jim directed me to the seminary’s marketing department, and now I write for them from time to time.

At a barbecue at Jim and Dean’s in July, another member of our high school class and I were on a mission. Mary and I had learned that Jim was not planning to attend the reunion because of schedule conflicts at work, but we were determined to convince him to make the trip. We succeeded. Now I can’t wait to tell people at the reunion that our class president bakes a mean strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Carol, a classmate I have stayed in touch with, has decided not to drive from her second home in Michigan for the reunion party Friday night or the picnic later in the weekend. She avoids all large, loud crowds, she says. Plus, the idea of sitting outside at a picnic in the Midwest over Labor Day weekend gives many people pause – and that was true before climate change, too.

Carol and I helped organize the 10th reunion for our class. Our research back then revealed that half the Class of 1966 still lived in the same suburb where we went to school or in the neighboring suburb, which in high school was considered a rival. The others were spread all over the world. One woman lived in a tree house in Tahiti. Sitting in St.Louis, I was envious!

Memories of reunions past

I skipped the 20th reunion, which was held at a country club – not my natural habitat. The 30th was a blast. I remember dancing the night away in a big group that included Ronnie. He’s gone now. The 40th reunion was the best yet, held on the top floor of a popular brew pub. I remember laughing a lot.

There was some sadness, too. At that reunion I learned that Don had died. His ex-wife, also a classmate, told me. To her, it was old news, but I was shaken by it. My first date was with Don, Ann and Don’s best friend, Charlie, when we were 14. The four of us took three buses to see a matinee showing of the movie “West Side Story.” Soon after, Don bought me an inexpensive ring with my birthstone, a gift that upset my mother. “It’s just a ring,” I said, trying to calm her. I have it still. 

Another classmate named Don will be at the reunion. I remember many great things about him, but especially that from time to time we would take off across a crowded room in a spontaneous polka. Those were the days! I also will see Tina, another dear friend I have kept in touch with over the years.

Other classmates come to mind, people who have not been located by the reunion committee. Some were quirky in high school, and seemed headed for interesting lives. I am sorry I won’t see them at the party, but maybe their lives are so interesting that they choose not to be in touch.

Though I had good friends, I didn’t much like high school. My family moved from the city to the suburbs when I was in sixth grade, so I was always an outsider, on the fringe among the kids who had been together since kindergarten. That feeling is difficult to forget, especially when you also are misidentified in your yearbook. (Bob, a classmate who since has died, wrote on the photo to make me feel better.) Also, at graduation the principal mispronounced my name.

Writing to the rescue

Journalism saved me. In ninth grade, I was on the junior high school newspaper staff. The student editor (Alan -- he'll be at the reunion) may recall that was the year I decided to be a reporter when I grew up. Later, I was on staff of the high school paper. My senior year, I also wrote for a neighborhood weekly paper and for a teen page in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, one of the city’s two daily newspapers at the time.

One day, a story I wrote was published on the front page of the Globe Democrat for all of metropolitan St. Louis to see. A CBS news team had come to my high school to film “16 in Webster Groves,” a documentary about teens in an upper-class suburb. When the show aired, I wrote for the Globe about the students’ reactions. 

For decades, the documentary was shown in sociology classes at universities across the country, and people in Webster Groves still debate to what degree the film misrepresented the students. I quit talking about the show years ago. At the time “16 in Webster Groves” aired, I was 17 in Shrewsbury (a working-class suburb in the Webster Groves School District) and I was busy looking ahead, excited about getting ready to leave for college. Maybe the subject will come up at the 50th reunion. Maybe not.

Last week, a friend in San Francisco asked, “Are you nervous about going to the reunion?” I am not. It’s a party. We 68-year-olds will celebrate being alive 50 years after our graduation and enjoy our time together. It will be fun!