Saturday, December 31, 2011

Banishing Regrets Before the New Year

I forgive me for not saving more money.

I forgive me for not losing more weight.

I forgive me for not going to the gym as often as I intended.

I also forgive me for spending time playing Scrabble on line, watching “Mad Men” reruns and staring at coral, burnt orange and purple sunsets over the water instead of lobbying to cure cancer, reading important books and occupying anything much more than my apartment.

That feels good! 

I am ushering in the new year in the spirit of forgiveness. Instead of burdening myself with prissy promises that I may or may not keep in 2012, I have decided to banish all regrets, past and present.

You know that song, “Let It Snow?” I’m singing, “Let It Go.” This is not a new song. In water aerobics class, for years my friend Bernice and I used to grouse first and then call out, “Let It Go,” stirring up a froth of highly chlorinated water at the same time. Our displeasures, our disappointments, our regrets -- out with all of them, all at once. Gone, down the pool drain.

Regrets keep us stuck in the past, wishing we could rewrite bad behavior, or at least edit it enough to make it look better when we remember it. Just as there is no broom big enough to sweep up debris accumulating in the future, there is no way to redo, undo or whoop-de-doo the past, so what’s the point?

This New Year’s Eve, I plan to forgive myself for all the unwise decisions I have made in the past – many of which I have forgotten -- and I plan to forgive myself for all the unwise decisions I made not that long ago, those that I remember clearly. Among them:

·      Bought a beautiful woven jacket that hardly ever makes it out of the closet because I rarely go anywhere that calls for beautiful jackets.

·      Ate not one but TWO malasadas (Portuguese stuffed doughnuts) in Hawaii and two days later I devoured a piece of passion fruit cheesecake on a crust made from macadamia nuts and dark chocolate.

·      Aimed to go the gym at least three days a week and then – often after putting on my gym clothes – still didn’t get there much more than twice a week.

I committed other transgressions as well, some of which had nothing to do with money or food or exercise, yet these are the ones that loom largest for many of us on the last day of the year.

It’s okay. I forgive me.

In 2012, I will recognize my standards of personal perfection as goals rather than realities. Then I will work toward those goals at my usual well-intentioned (if sometimes unsteady) pace, and carry on.

Knowing me, I will also buy an item or two that I don’t need but do want, eat the occasional outstanding dessert, play Scrabble, watch “Mad Men” (the new season starts in March!) and stare at breathtaking sunsets. And that’s okay.

You can play too. Forgive yourself -- and let it go. Then welcome 2012!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Highlights from a Whirlwind Hawaiian Trip

Swimming with spinner dolphins. Sipping a lilikoi (passionfruit) margarita. Relaxing in an immense lava rock pond filled with warm seawater. Falling asleep to the sounds of the coqui frogs and rain on the roof. Getting another look at the mesmerizing Kilauea, the most active volcano on the planet. Tasting guacamole made from avocados grown on the farm where the restaurant sits. Speaking with a green sea turtle on a black sand beach.

All that made my vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii spectacular – that and laughing every day with Peggy, an old friend from high school who works as a doctor in Pahoa, a small town south of Hilo. Every day was an adventure full of scenic vistas, wildlife sightings, terrific food and a chance to see the Big Island through the eyes of a local. This blog post hits the highlights, categorized for your reading convenience.

FAUNA. On a snorkeling trip with Sunlight on Water (, we saw one “early arrival” humpback whale that breached by way of greeting and then moved on. We also snorkeled with spinner dolphins and manta rays, and got a close look at five endangered pygmy killer whales. Later in the week, two nene geese (the state bird of Hawaii) showed up exactly 750 yards from a roadside sign that promised just that. We also saw wild turkeys, that huge green sea turtle, one lone mongoose, northern cardinals (though no sign of expat Pujols), Brazilian cardinals with bright red heads and peahens likely of some quail species. We didn't see but certainly heard the coquis, small frogs that live in clusters of up to 20,000 per acre.

FLORA. Gorgeous flowers are abundant on parts of the island, and Peggy’s yard is full of tropical fruit trees. We also visited the Akatsu Orchid Gardens (, which sells 50 natural species and 1,500 hybrids – and yet that accounts for less than half of one percent of all the orchids in the world! At the Hawaiian Vanilla Company ( -- the only commercial vanilla farm in the U.S. – we learned that the orchid that produces vanilla blooms just once a year for four hours and must be hand-pollinated. A single bean goes for $11, and no wonder! The flowers are epiphytic, or in the words of a farmer, “They just lie there and live.”

WATER. My favorite place to be is below sea level – well, usually. The snorkeling trip involved lots of popping in and out of the water, but a couple days later Peggy and I spent over 90 minutes languishing at the Hot Pond near her home. (See This was a relief after a visit to a beach on Waialea Bay on the Kohala Coast, where the waves knocked me over and dumped me unceremoniously on the beach. Unfortunately, Peggy has photos…

OTHER NATURAL ATTRACTIONS. Volcanoes National Park -- home to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess – is one of my favorite places on Earth, and our visit did not disappoint. (See One day, we spotted snow at the summit of Mauna Kea, some 14,000 feet above sea level. We also admired great views from a ridge overlooking Na’alehu, we saw a rainbow that ramped up into a double rainbow after leaving the rowdy waves and many birds at Waialea Beach, and the lava fields on the island are remarkable any time of day.

FOOD. Peggy’s hometown is known for great food, and we visited numerous other areas for island specialties as well, some recommended by my friend Joe, who visits the Big Island often. Highlights included taro “pancrepes” (one savory, one sweet) at U-Top-It, Big Myke’s blackened mahi BLT at Kaleo’s in Pahoa, malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts, filled or frosted) at Punalu’u Bake Shop in Na’alehu, POG juice (passionfruit, orange and guava) at Ken’s in Hilo, pulled pork at the Maku’u Farmers Market, a veggie stir fry at Sukothai in Pahoa, a fresh ginger cookie from the coffee shop in Haw’i and (last but nowhere near least) the lilikoi cheesecake on a macadamia and chocolate crust at Café Pesto in Hilo. We also popped in at Big Island Candies ( to pick up some macadamia nut shortbread dipped in dark chocolate. Breakfasts of fresh papaya topped with yogurt and vanilla-flavored granola on Peggy’s lanai (it runs the length of her house) also rocked, as did my first tastes of rambutans and persimmons.

DRINK. That lilkoi margarita (Peggy calls it an “alcoholic slushie”) at Kaleo’s was outstanding, as was the aromatic vanilla lemonade at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company. Another great treat was the frozen Pacific Passion smoothie at What’s Shakin’ in Pepeekeo, north of Hilo overlooking Oleamu Bay. The drink is made from fruit grown on the farm – banana, papaya, guava – plus apple and pineapple juice. To go with that smoothie, we feasted on the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted. The macadamia nut honey wine at the Volcano Winery ( went down easily, and we enjoyed a sip of Volcano Red, made from pinot grapes blended with jaboticaba berries. (What a fun word!)

SHOPPING. Did you know that Macy’s in Hilo sells muumuus? So does Sears! Shopping was not on the agenda for this trip, but we did stop at Hawaiian Arts in Hilo, where three years ago I bought a beautiful tie-dyed shirt. This time, I bought two shirts – one with Hawaiian petroglyphs ($5!) and one with a great octopus graphic that wraps around the shirt.

Home just three days now, most of all I miss the tantalizing aromas at the vanilla farm and the malasada bakery – and of course, Peggy’s terrific company and that of her cat, Pahoehoe, named for a form of smooth lava. What a great trip!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Seventeen months ago, I moved to San Francisco. Every day when I look out my wall of windows at the Pacific Ocean, the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Marin headlands, Golden Gate Park and the tops of both towers of the most famous bridge in the world, I am overcome with joy that I live here.

Everything is here: Extraordinary natural beauty, pounding waves accessible by bus, gusty winds that pull the curl from my hair, striking architecture, scenic views in unexpected spots, much soul-satisfying theater, a ballpark with views of container ships in transit, world-class museums, quirky galleries, a dozen or more independent book stores, restaurants offering savory dishes at all prices, two coffee shops per block, adorable boutiques, upscale consignment stores and yes, a massive Macy’s with a plus-size department that can take an hour or more to scour. 

Everything is here: A mass transit system that takes me anywhere I want to go (as long as I plan in advance) and guarantees colorful characters on almost every ride. On the bus to the dentist two weeks ago, I sat across from a woman reading her AARP magazine – aloud. It was like listening to a book on tape, but she also interjected comments. I’ve seen people get on buses with surfboards, bulky strollers and three bags bulging with balloon animals. I’ve shared a bus with 18 fifth grade boys – we talked baseball. Once, a woman boarded with a wooden kitchen chair. She placed the chair next to her seat, right in the aisle.

Everything is here: A refreshing "live and let live" attitude that pervades every neighborhood, allowing for people in costume, people in the buff and everyone else as well. I have met kind and giving people of all sorts, people who wave at me, call me by name and ask me what’s up. The man who owns the insurance company on the corner (and Earl, the wonderful dog who works there) even offered to go with me to the vet the day I had to say goodbye to my cat. I always look forward to encounters with a gifted artist friend in Bolinas, my massage therapist, my hair stylist, the receptionists at my gym, the grocer in Cole Valley, the barista at Café Reverie and the owner of the auto body shop. My neighbors in my building are wonderful people, people who last night got a delivery from the Pumpkin Bread Fairy – and yes, I made a loaf for my kind landlord as well.    

Everything is here: Especially my beloved son and daughter-in-law! I moved here to be closer to Patricia and Joel, and that was exactly the right thing to do at exactly the right time. As a bonus, I got a whole new family! Susan (Patricia’s mom) and I have become great friends. I always look forward to seeing Michael and Martia (P’s brother and sister-in-law) and their smart, adorable daughters, Catherine and Elizabeth. Marylou and Mario (Martia’s parents) also have warmly welcomed me into the family circle, and I have enjoyed getting to know Marylou’s sisters and their children.

Wait – not quite everything is here. My dearest friends are not here.

Susan generously shares her friends, and I am grateful for that. It’s been great fun getting to know Denise (see you at Christmas and at Full Moon Cocktails in January!) and all the others. At get-togethers, we swap the stories women of a certain age all tell, we explore what else we have in common – and always, we laugh.  

Still, after 17 months in San Francisco, I miss my friends. Some of them have come to visit, among them Gerry, Tom, Judy, Scott, Beth, Gail, Susan, Denny, Deb, Bill, Ken, Nancy, Laurie, Karen, Pat, Charlie, Michael, Donna and Doug. When Cheri came to visit her son and daughter-in-law, we reconnected after decades of minimal contact – but then, it’s easy to enjoy hanging out with someone you met when you were 12 and roomed with in college. Other friends plan to visit soon -- or say they will -- and I look forward to that.  

We bridge the distance between us with Skype, Facebook, email, on-line Scrabble games and occasional cards. Clearly, no matter how far apart we are, we still feel close, in touch, there for moral support or to share a good laugh. It’s not the same as being together in person, but all these wonderful people (you know who you are) love me still and include me in their circle of friends. I am grateful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cancer Sucks, But Also Brings Unexpected Gifts

“Cancer Sucks.”

That’s what the button said. I laughed out loud. It was a big button, available in many colors. I bought a lime green one for a friend who just reached her first year anniversary past diagnosis. I hope the button makes her laugh, and I hope she wears it.

I found the button at the gift shop in the UCSF Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, where I had just met with a social worker. Back story: My oncologist wants to see me every six months for follow-up appointments. I think once a year is plenty now that I am two years past the most recent diagnosis.

Who wants to spend time – or money – at the doctor’s office?

At my appointment last week, I whined about the high cost of seeing the oncologist. A follow-up visit runs $391, and six months from now I will be on the hook for the entire amount as I will not have met my insurance deductible. “Go see our social worker,” said my doctor. “You may qualify for some assistance programs.”

“I am sure I won't qualify,” I said.     

She replied, “Go anyway. Ask.”

That’s logical, so I went.

Guess what? Based on my freelance income and my teensy pension, I do qualify for several programs that help breast cancer survivors pay medical expenses. The social worker -- my new best friend -- filled out some forms and submitted them electronically for me, and she gave me information about other agencies to contact.

I walked out of the medical center in a daze. I boarded a bus, hopped off at Laurel Village and meandered into Chico's, where I bought a $100 sweater on sale for $50. Immediately I felt guilty about spending money just after signing up for help with medical expenses, so I may return the sweater.

When I first sat down with the social worker, I told her I do not want any money that could be used to help people far needier than I am. She said the funds I qualify for are set up by people who have lost family members to breast cancer, and that no one in dire need will lose out on any money just because I happen to be in the program. “You qualify,” she said. “It’s okay.”

After cancer the first time, I got the opportunity to write "Chemotherapy and Radiation for Dummies," which is also available in French and German. Only 5 percent of all book authors make a living at it, but I did collect a few royalty checks and I would like to think that what I wrote in that book from a patient’s point of view has helped other people going through cancer treatments. Now it seems that cancer has delivered another gift.

Back home later in the afternoon, I got a note from a former neighbor, a woman I treasure as a friend. From her I received the gift of laughter. Her note begins: “Today I am paying bills. The most important one is to the Humane Society of Missouri. Perhaps they can spay or neuter some of the Republicans. Such a sad bunch!”

The moral of this story is this: Go anyway. Ask! And no matter what answer you get, remember to appreciate the sunset.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Of Costumes, Identities and Hearts' Desires

SpongeBob SquarePants was on the bus heading to the Castro Saturday afternoon, and Cliff’s Variety was packed with people scrambling to get their own Halloween costumes. The bare-chested finalists for the 2012 Bare Chest Calendar were selling raffle tickets on the corner, next to the people processing dog adoptions. A few feet away, a guide talked to eight tourists about Harvey Milk.

Along came a naked man, easily 70-something, toting a backpack and wearing only a white knit hat. This startled and then annoyed the young couple walking in front of me, but I didn’t care. Though I have never walked down a street naked, I have both startled and annoyed people in glorious days gone by, so it’s difficult to offend me.

Saturday one week ago, I spent time with Ken Haller, who was in town for a few days. We walked from his hotel downtown to the Ferry Building. Along the way, we stopped to talk to The Peace Guy (Ken bought a great shirt) and we got a look at Occupy San Francisco’s encampment. Inside the Ferry Building, we bought a toastie at the Cowgirl Creamery. (For details, see the Aug. 28 post). Then we meandered among the Farmers’ Market stalls, tasting pluots and pears and playing with the heirloom beans on display in a big bowl at the Rancho Gordo booth. “You know you want to,” read the sign.

Then it was off to lunch at Colibri, an upscale Mexican restaurant that was willing to let us split an order of guacamole, quesadillas – and even a margarita. Next, Ken headed to the Curran Theatre to see Kevin Spacey in “Richard III,” an astonishingly powerful  show. I saw it Oct. 19 and urged Ken to get a ticket. When he called after the play, he had the same reaction I did: “WOW.”

I moved to San Francisco 16 months ago, and I continue to enjoy every aspect of living in this amazing city. Since my last post, I’ve been juggling transitions, making plans and learning surprising things about myself. I remember assuming in my 30s that at some point you figure everything out, and then you know who you are and what to do in every situation. In my 60s, I now know much is up for grabs much of the time.

In “Comfortable with Uncertainty,” Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, says the best approach is to embrace the not knowing and learn to cultivate fearlessness and compassion. That message is echoed in Integrative Restoration (, a class I am taking from Dr. Richard Miller. His version of yoga nidra (which I was introduced to in Kitty Daly’s restorative yoga class at Big Bend Yoga in St. Louis some years ago), iRest is about freedom from conflict and fear, about balance, about joy and about interconnectedness.

What sent me to this class? First, I had to say goodbye to my 16-year-old cat early in October, a cat I have loved and lived with for over 14 years, a cat who moved to San Francisco with me, a cat who visited Starbucks twice with me during our layover at the Los Angeles airport. She had hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. She was agitated much of the time. And she was losing weight rapidly. I believe that euthanasia is a final act of love, and my vet supported my decision. It was time, but I miss Maggie.

Also, in the middle of October, I had to have my annual mammogram. Two years ago, the mammogram appointment was followed by a second diagnosis of breast cancer. A year ago after the mammogram, when I got the all-clear, I went home and cried for three days. That, I finally realized, was a delayed reaction to the diagnosis in 2009, when I was so desperate to sell the damn condo and move to San Francisco that I spent no time dealing with what had happened. Better late than never.

In any case, like every woman who has had breast cancer, I am not fond of Mammogram Day. This year, I bought myself a ticket to see “Richard III” that very evening, figuring no matter what happened, at least I would get to go to the theater. The mammogram once again was clear, and I went to the theater with a big smile on my face.

Still, saying goodbye to the cat and then experiencing natural anxiety over the mammogram convinced me I needed to get back to meditative yoga. The first week, lying on mats in low light at iRest, we were instructed to go in our minds to a place we feel safe. I discovered that night (and this was reinforced later in the week at home) that I don't feel truly safe anywhere. When I brought that up in class the second week, a surprising number of people nodded in agreement when I spoke.

As soon I as realized that I don’t feel truly safe anywhere (blame cancer, other losses, discomfort with uncertainty), I also realized that fear does not keep me from doing what I want to do. And I am happy to report I aced it when in class we were instructed to express (silently) our heart’s desire. Some people said later they weren’t sure about that, but I am.

I want to be exactly where I am, changing and growing as I build strong, loving bonds with my family.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Quick Look Back Before Fall

Attention must be paid to the small pleasures, the day-to-day events that cause a frisson of joy. Here are a dozen of my momentary pleasures from the past couple of weeks. Take time to make note of yours.

1. Knowing that less than two weeks ago I walked to the top of Angel Island, which is 788 feet high. Here’s a quick history lesson from the web site:

·      Three thousand years ago Angel Island served as a fishing and hunting site for Coastal Miwok Indians. It was later a haven for Spanish Explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, a cattle ranch, and a U.S. Army post starting with the Civil War.

·      From 1910 to 1940, the island processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority from China. During World War II, Japanese, and German POWs were held on the island, which was also used as a jumping-off point for American soldiers returning from the Pacific. In the ’50s and ’60s, the island was home to a Nike missile site.

·      In 1954 a number of citizen’s groups managed to persuade the California State Park Commission to obtain 36.82 acres. In 1962 the Nike missile site on the south side of the island was deactivated, and the army left the island. In December of that year, the entire island was turned over to the State of California.

The view from the top was splendid, maybe especially so because I am a mermaid, at home in, on and near water – not a mountain goat.

I’m not at all skilled at hiking up (or down) steep, muddy, rutted trails littered with twigs and rocks, but I grabbed my walking stick and followed my family to the top. My son and daughter-in-law took turns walking with me, just in case I missed a step and plummeted down the hill. Along the way, we heard a woodpecker, saw hawks hovering on wind drafts and watched a snake crossing the road.

2. Making time to take inventory of “perfect gifts for someone” that I have stored in boxes and bags in the back of the closet.

3. Finding Sandy Wood’s great jewelry web site at

4. Discovering that Moscow Mules are not named for mules from Moscow, Missouri – though that would have been cool --and tasting for the first time another ginger beer-based beverage at Dosa, a favorite Indian restaurant.

5. Interviewing Julie Salamon, the charming author of the new biography on Wendy Wasserstein, playwright extraordinaire.

6. Sleeping with the window open – it’s summer at last here in San Francisco!

7. Seeing the compelling movie “Love Hate Love” at the Jewish Community Center.

8. Cleaning off my desk and clearing out enough files to fill a grocery bag for the recycling bin.

9. Watching little girls (and a 36-year-old man) enjoy an inflated  “jumpy house” at a 6-year-old’s birthday party.

10. Being drawn into the world (and heart) of Brian Copeland at his show “Not a Genuine Black Man.”

11. Hearing the physical therapist say my body is working better than ever, one full month after my last appointment.

12. Welcoming the Fall Equinox with new insights about my work life.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere, and You Get Fries With That

Hypnotism. That seemed like a good way to put behind me a rowdy week of happy/sad/regretful/eager emotions and plenty of work. Who does hypnotism best?

The ocean.

I stuffed a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, a hat, sunscreen, water and a book in my splendid huge “Moby” tote bag (courtesy of Gail, re-gifted from the Encore Network, which just aired a new version of Melville’s masterpiece), grabbed my beach chair (courtesy of P&J) and climbed in the car. 

I did not go alone. Fortunately, Luciano Pavarotti is always on call in the car’s CD player. I ordered “Che Gelida Manina.” With Pavarotti’s magnificent voice lifting me ever higher, the two of us set off for the sea.

The journey was not long. After years of just dreaming about it, I now actually live less than four miles from the Pacific Ocean. From my living room window, I could see the fog hanging over Ocean Beach, but as grownups all know, we take whatever weather we get.

At the beach, I set up my chair, donned the pale green sweatshirt as well as the navy blue windbreaker and pulled the bright orange hat low over my ears. Few people were on the beach – though one person was “sunning” himself in shorts and a tank top in the brisk wind. A woman walked by, barefoot, taking a business call on her cell.

The water was slate gray. The water was deep blue. The water was pale green. The waves rolled in, over and over, stealing sand, returning it to the bottom of the sea.

For a few minutes, the wind made my eyes teary. When they dried, I noticed a cluster of gulls, a dozen or more birds, huddled a short distance away. All of a sudden, they rose into the sky, where they were joined by at least three dozen other gulls, all whirling and calling and carrying on. After a few minutes, some of them landed close to my chair while the rest flew off.

What do gulls talk about when they hang out at the beach?

Just after I imagined a humpback whale breaching out beyond the surfers (it could happen), I imagined the gulls debating who in town has the best French fries.

“I prefer the truffle-oil fries from the Cliff House,” said one gull. “Sometimes you find them in the sand behind the trash bin.”

“Truffle oil? That’s nuts,” said another. “Give me the garlic fries at the ballpark any day. Truffle oil is just too fussy for me.”

A voice piped up, “I really like the sweet potato fries at Mel’s, and Burger Meister does them well, too.”

That was me. Talking to sea gulls. About French fries. The birds did not reply. Soon, a huge crow came along to pick a fight with a gull, and they all left together.

The hypnotic rhythm of the sea calmed me. I forgot about deadlines. I forgot about politics. I forgot about chaos and confusion and hate, all present in the world but no more permanent than a wave breaking on shore. It’s all real but it’s not real, too. All of it is like passing clouds. (I learned that in a Tai Chi class.) I looked up to admire some passing clouds. All I saw was thick fog.

The waves rolled in, over and over, the roar of the water filling my ears. Fully relaxed, I fell asleep. On the beach. In a blue jacket and an orange hat, sitting upright in a chair.

No one cared. Certainly not the Pacific Ocean, which had yet to notice that I was there. Or even to notice that I exist at all. I love that about the sea.

The wind was up again, and my eyes were damp. I said goodbye to the whales, the sharks, the molas, the translucent jellies – everything you don’t see when you stare at the sea. I said goodbye to the waves, which kept rolling in.

When I returned to the car, I requested that Pavarotti sing “Nessun Dorma.” He did. Three times. 

It was hypnotic.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beth and Judy's Excellent Adventure

We hit the highs and the lows (in terms of elevation), we happened upon a new culinary obsession and we spent as much time on the water as I could manage during Beth and Judy’s visit to San Francisco. Also, they get now why I committed post-season treason last year, forsaking the Cardinals to become a Giants fan, and they know why I want to run away and join a circus.

Our first stop was the top of Twin Peaks, two adjacent hilltops with an elevation of about 920 feet that provides a panoramic view of all the magic here. Twin Peaks is in the center of the city, just above my apartment. (You can see my house from there!) We didn’t walk up – though many people do, all the time. I’m working on that, a couple of blocks at a time.

Our first boat trip was a cruise of San Francisco Bay on the Red and White Fleet, which takes you out under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and back, circling Alcatraz on the way. Last time I did this, with Cheri, we got wet from the spray because we were on a small fishing boat. This trip was far more sedate, which keeps you dry  -- but does limit the fun factor.

Another day, we boarded the Duck, an amphibious vehicle driven by a big-hearted, wild and crazy guy who sports a Mohawk and wears a fake beard in homage to Brian Wilson, the Giants’ legendary closer. It’s fun to rock out to the music the driver plays on the ride through town and to watch people on the street break out in smiles and even dance moves, but the best part is when the Duck heads into the water and takes you out to McCovey Cove. That’s where all those people sit in kayaks or on party boats during ball games, hoping for a splash homer. Passengers get to drive the Duck in the cove, and that’s fun, too.

Other bodies of water we visited include the serene Bolinas Lagoon, an 1100-acre tidal estuary that reflects the sky. Just as Judy and Beth were lulled by the beauty of the lagoon, I told them what lies directly below the water: The San Andreas Fault. Then it was north to Tomales Bay, a 15-mile-long inlet (see photo above) with gorgeous views. Small restaurants featuring oysters and al fresco dining dot the road, while hawks and turkey vultures wheel overhead. Beautiful!

We rejected oysters and opted instead for open-face grilled cheese sandwiches made at the Cowgirl Creamery. These heavenly cheese toasties, as they are called, start with a thick slice of hearty bread, toasted and then topped with maple mustard, caramelized onions and the company’s Cabot Clothbound Cheddar cheese. A quick trip under the broiler and voila – a mouth-watering sandwich that haunts your dreams for days to come.

We first tried toasties at the Sidekick, the Cowgirl Creamery’s restaurant counter at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. There, the clerk was willing to top the toastie with pancetta. In Point Reyes Station, where we ordered our second round of toasties, pancetta was not permitted. Yesterday, after a ferry ride to an art festival (sea glass jewelry, colorful Polish pottery, fine metal work, intriguing etchings, excellent photography and a glass of sparkling wine with Emmeline Craig at her booth) in Tiburon, I actually ordered yet another toastie. I ate half and then, simply stuffed, handed the box with the second slice to a homeless guy across the street. He was thrilled.

Other great meals here included upscale Mexican at Colibri just off Union Square (we just said no to the $10 caipirinhas), coffee and scrumptious peanut butter cookies at Café Reverie in Cole Valley, a Le Sol pizza from Bambino’s and homemade lasagna and spinach salad at my house prior to a Scrabble game in real time, which now seems harder than playing on Facebook.

We did just a bit of shopping – fine art at Emmeline Craig’s studio in Bolinas, dried pears and a whale tail tee-shirt at Toby’s in Point Reyes Station, tie-dye socks at the Haight Street Sock Shop in Haight-Ashbury, new Keens for Judy at the Sports Basement near the Presidio and new boots for Judy at the Merrell store in Union Square. A few blocks from Pier 39, we popped in at the Musee Mechanique, which houses more than 300 player pianos, mechanical animations and novelty slot machines. That was magical on a small scale.

“Maestro’s Enchantment,” the current show at Teatro ZinZanni, was magical on a much grander scale – plus, Susan joined us for the evening. ZinZanni is a bit Cirque du Soleil, a bit cabaret, a bit comedy club and a gourmet five-course meal, which all adds up to a wondrous theatrical evening. The headliner right now is Yevgeniy Voronin, a world-class illusionist who I saw at the show in 2003, when Joan Baez played Madame ZinZanni. Maybe Voronin recognized me as a groupie, maybe not, but this time he came to our table, kissed my hand and slipped me a little note.

Relax -- it was not a personal note, or even an invitation to join the troupe, though 15 minutes into the show, I had already decided I want to work there. I’ll keep you posted.         

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Heading for 90

“Clear a place in the sand for me where I can hide my head.”

That’s from a poem I started during disturbing times several years ago. I never added to that first line, as it seemed to say it all. Now that I have decided not to go for genetic counseling to learn whether I have a gene identified with a higher risk of breast cancer, I thought at first that the line from my poem may apply.

Some background: I have had breast cancer twice, in 1995 and in 2009. I’m the first in my family. We have always specialized in other insidious diseases, but not breast cancer. Anyway, I’m fine now and “heading for 90,” as my kind-hearted surgeon advised me almost two years ago.

A week ago, I interviewed a doctor for a freelance article on Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which is in September. He works where my St. Louis doctors work, and I asked him if he knew them. He did. I said that these fine individuals had cared for me both times I had breast cancer. This doctor, a geneticist and gynecologic surgeon, then told me that with a history of two primary breast cancers, one when I was 47, I meet the national criteria for genetic counseling and possible screening to see if I carry genes associated with breast cancer.

Last Monday, I made an appointment for genetic counseling. You supply your full health history and that of your family, and at the appointment, the counselor helps you decide whether to schedule the $3,000 blood test that tells you about your genetic makeup. Depending on your level of risk, insurance may pay for the test.

Next I contacted my doctors in St. Louis, who said they doubt I have the gene. I contacted my oncologist in San Francisco, who said she doubts that I have the gene -- but apologized for not informing me about the option of genetic counseling and screening, as I do indeed meet the criteria.

Next came a couple of days floundering in the waters of uncertainty.

Intellectually, I was intrigued with the idea of genetic screening. After all, knowledge is power. Emotionally, I was already viewing the counseling appointment as a black cloud in my future. What if the counselor recommended screening? What if the screening showed I have the gene? What would I do with that information? What would the information mean for my future?

When you have experienced the elemental fear that a cancer diagnosis brings, you tend to get anxious about anything associated with it, including the annual mammogram and routine follow-up visits with the oncologist. That deep-seated anxiety, always at hand, sometimes spills over into other areas of life, so you have to be vigilant about not walking on eggs. Life is more fun when you break all the eggs and whip up some French toast, omelets or a quiche with bacon and onions.

I pondered what genetic screening might mean to me, to my son and his wife, to future generations. I talked to friends, including other cancer survivors. I read Dr. Bruce Lipton’s “The Biology of Belief,” a book about epigenetics, which is the study of genetic changes caused by environment, rather than DNA. I considered the odds of having to hear what could be soul-sapping information.

Then I remembered: I don’t do odds.

When I co-authored “Chemotherapy & Radiation for Dummies” and when I gave speeches all over St. Louis every year for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I always quoted Han Solo. In the first “Star Wars” movie, at one point Han Solo is trying to maneuver the dilapidated X-wing fighter through a field of asteroids. Ever helpful, C3PO starts to rattle off the odds of the plane making it through the field.

Han Solo turns to the droid and yells, “Don’t tell me the odds! NEVER tell me the odds!”

In this very blog, two years ago when I was trying to sell the condo and move to San Francisco, I wrote: “I do not have fulfilling relationships with numbers, especially scary numbers, so why learn them? If you learn them, won’t they just flit around in your brain and drive you crazy?”

In defense of numbers, I like knowing that 76 percent of Baby Boomers worry about money and that one in four seniors struggles with poverty -- so says the AARP. That means when I fret about money, I’m behaving normally for my generation. Worrying about numbers related to cancer risk is something altogether different.

No matter what a genetic screening test may show, I am aware every day that I have already had breast cancer twice. I also am aware that a woman who is 65 today has a 50-50 chance of living to 85. And I know that worrying about money causes stress and that stress sets up a bad environment for genes -- and that could prompt disease. Do I really need to know anything more?

As I stood at the bus stop on my hill late last week, I was blasted with chilly 25-mph winds from the ocean, which is just three miles from my apartment. “Blow away the worry,” I yelled at the wind. (Odd behavior is not just tolerated in San Francisco. It’s standard.) I added, “Blow away the worry and the fear and the obsession with all numbers!”

Friday night, I decided to cancel the appointment for genetic counseling. I also decided I will not accept any more writing assignments that deal with cancer. This morning, I realized that these decisions have nothing to do with hiding my head in the sand.

This is all about heading for 90.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Power Out, Spanish On

When the power went out suddenly today, I quickly shut down my computer, where I was in the middle of writing a newspaper article. I called my upstairs neighbor to ask about his service, got the number for PG&E from him, called and reported the outage and let everyone in the building know the time estimate for restored power.

Then I put on underwear and shoes. Was I expecting the building to be evacuated? I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea to get out of my pajamas (my usual work ensemble) and look better.

Once properly attired, I decided to dust, in preparation for a small dinner party here on Thursday. Usually, I dust at night. I call it Dusting in the Dark, and it works. In spite of the power outage, it is not at all dark in the apartment – the sun is shining and my huge wall of windows allows in plenty of light. I could only hope I would dust as efficiently as I do in the dark.

So I dusted. I emptied the dishwasher. I cleaned the kitchen counters. I rounded up trash. I did not try to clean the glass shelves in the bathroom, because there is no window in that room and even I do not dust in total darkness.

Now the apartment looks swell and I would like to get back to work, but without power, the desktop is dead. Thank goodness for the laptop! I can at least (at last) put together a blog entry, which at least two regular readers have been clamoring for.

What have you been doing, they asked. Working. Playing.

And learning Spanish on the bus.

I love the Muni bus system here. I can go anywhere, have a great time and be dropped off at my door a few hours later. Traveling by bus does take time, especially on three-bus trips, but so what? One trip, even a trip calling for three buses or streetcars or trolleys or subways, costs $2. I will not have to park when I get where I am going, and I will not lose the sweet parking spot I have for my car. Oh, I do drive -- from time to time. Six weeks ago, I spent $36 on gas, and I still don’t need to fill up.

Besides, I am learning Spanish on the bus.

(A quick digression here – when I saw the sign reading “pozole” at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, I didn’t need any translation. When I had surgery almost two years ago, my friend Diane Duke Williams made pozole (aka posole) for me and ever since, it has been my favorite soup. The restaurant does a great job at it (and Diane, alas, is far away) so I have informed the Hispanic chef that I would dine on pozole every day if it were on the menu that often.)

Anyway, most of the signs on the buses are in several languages, so the English translation is readily at hand. One familiar sign dictates that the front seats be vacated for seniors and people with disabilities. “It’s the law,” reads the sign.

 That’s “Es ley” in Spanish.

I was on a bus (not in a front seat, as plenty of older people were on the bus that day) when I saw my favorite sign. The sign is in the window of a large discount clothing store that closed some time ago. “Show your style,” reads the sign. Underneath, it is translated into Spanish: “Anuncia tu estilo!”

That’s even more fun in Spanish than in English.

Anuncia tu estilo!

That ought to be a ley.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Salt in My Ears

We really meant to have just one – but that’s not what happened.

Cheri is in town again, visiting her son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Regular readers will recall she was last here in January (see the Jan. 26 post), and we had a great time then. So even though mornings lately have been foggy and drippy and chilly, I was up and out early, off to catch a string of buses.

We met at the San Francisco Maritime Museum (part of the National Park Service – see and meandered through a new exhibit on historic maps. I always tell people that every place I’ve been, Captain Cook got to first, and the exhibit confirmed that.

Then we headed for the Hyde Street Pier, aka the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (also part of the Park Service). Along the way, we looked for my favorite tie-dye street vendor, named Blue, but we had missed him.

For just $5 (free if you have a Golden Eagle park pass), you can board a series of historic vessels permanently docked at the pier. We meandered all over the Balclutha, a three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship that carried cargo all over the world, including 17 trips around Cape Horn. Launched in 1886 near Glasgow, Scotland, the Balclutha required a crew of 26 – some of them as young as 15 or 16.

We walked through the Eureka, a side-wheel ferry built in 1890 that used to transport people from San Francisco to Sausalito. The ferry bears a sign that reads: Highway 101, because it was the only way to get from here to there. The ferry was full of old cars, trucks and chocolate wagons that belonged to Ghiradelli Company. (Foreshadowing…) We also admired some of the smaller boats.

We popped into the park’s gift shop. It’s a great little store, with wonderful shirts, and they also “Moby Dick,” both Melville’s original and the pop-up version. Then we headed for the Buena Vista
(, where they have been serving Irish coffee since 1952.

Not to me, of course, or Cheri.

She had never been there, and I was there just once before, some 29 years ago, on an unforgettable evening. Let’s just say I took part in an Irish Coffee Standoff with some co-workers, and remarkably, I do recall the rest of the rowdy evening.

Anyway, the idea was that since Cheri likes coffee and my ancestors are from Ireland, we would pop in and have one Irish coffee each. Once we got a great table in a window, we decided to stay for lunch. I opted for a crabmeat omelet with fresh crabmeat and Swiss cheese. It would have been an excellent omelet but for the bits of horrid orange polyester tomato. Cheri had a different sort of omelet, one with bacon – it looked great.

The coffees came. We toasted our families and ourselves, and we drank. ‘Ohhhh – I like this,” Cheri said. Yep! So we ate and drank and laughed and ate some more. We really meant to have just one Irish coffee, but we decided to have another for dessert. It was equally tasty.

Then it was off to the Buena Vista Gift Shop, where I felt compelled to buy a teensy bottle of Tullamore Dew, a fine Irish whiskey I first tasted in 1971. Next we found ourselves in the Ghiradelli gift shop. No – not “the” – but one of the half dozen or so on that block. Next, we popped in at a number of shops selling San Francisco souvenirs. Cheri bought a shirt. I escaped without buying anything. Except the whiskey and chocolate, of course.

Walking along, we saw a sign that read “$15: Boat Tours of the Bay.” I know a bit about boat tours of the Bay. Farther down the block, at Pier 39, the trips are $30-$40. “Let’s go,” I said. "This is a good deal." Cheri laughed and said we really didn’t need to get on a boat. 

Oh, but we did. A few minutes later, we were scrambling down the ladder, the last two passengers on the Silver Fox, which has a double life as a fishing boat and tour boat. The Silver Fox goes out in the Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz and back to the pier.

Today, the waves were frisky, the ride was bouncy and we all got wet from the spray. Not soaked, but more than damp. We saw cormorants, a pelican, murres, gulls and a fur seal. A guy on the boat said he saw a dolphin, but it may have been a harbor porpoise. We also saw half a dozen people windsurfing (aka kitesurfing and sailboarding), including one guy who was riding our wake.

What a great day! Maps, boats, ships, crabmeat, Irish coffee, and a boat trip in the Bay with Cheri, my friend for 51 years.

The bonus? Salt in my ears as a souvenir of the trip.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sight-seeing in S.F. with Friends

Last week I spent two days in Yosemite National Park, which is twice the time most people allot to that remarkable destination. This week, I spent three days showing San Francisco to friends, and the itinerary we planned together provided maximum exposure to my new home.

Susan and Denny and Deb and Bill had all been here before and had no interest in making the stops that many first-time visitors insist on, so we divided up the three days we had together this way: Day One was My San Francisco, Day Two was West Marin and Day Three was High Culture, offset a bit by riding buses everywhere we went.

Here is a report on the highlights.

MONDAY: We held our Welcome Dinner at Ragazza, a terrific pizza place where it is difficult to get in after 7 p.m. Fortunately, my visitors’ bodies were still operating on Central Daylight Time, so eating early was an excellent idea. I can vouch for the pie topped with thin-sliced potato, smoked bacon, red onion, rosemary and goat cheese.

TUESDAY: We started at the top of Twin Peaks to take in the near-panoramic view of San Francisco. Next we enjoyed a drive-by of lovely Crissy Field and stopped for beverages and cookies at the Warming Hut, which is thisclose to the Golden Gate Bridge. At Land’s End, we sat in the sun and contemplated life on the edge of the continent, which is also the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The water is at least three colors -- and maybe five. After a short drive to Fort Funston, we sat in the sun some more, watching waves wash ashore and pelicans fly in formation.

After lunch at the Beach Chalet, we waved at the bison housed in Golden Gate Park. In the Botanical Garden, we sat in the shade of coastal redwood trees and later spied turtles sunning themselves in a pond. At cocktail hour, we ambled into Finnegan’s Wake in Cole Valley, a bar once frequented by Janis Joplin. Then we walked to Haight-Ashbury, where we popped in at The Sock Shop, perused the merchandise at Pipe Dreams (the oldest head shop in the neighborhood) and sampled chocolates at Coco Luxe. After dinner at Bambino’s, we headed back to Twin Peaks to watch the sky make art at sunset. Bonus: A 99-percent full moon was on the rise.

WEDNESDAY: First thing, we headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped to breathe in the fresh sea air at the Muir Beach Overlook, cruised through Stinson Beach, drove around Bolinas Lagoon (Sea lions! Egrets! Herons!) and then stopped to visit the studio of a friend – Emmeline Craig, a watercolorist who lives and works in Bolinas. After driving through the cow-filled Olema Valley, we stopped in Point Reyes Station for lunch.

After a stop at the Bear Valley Visitors Center, we headed for Limantour Beach, said to be the prettiest of the beaches at Point Reyes National Seashore. On the beach, we sat and soaked up the scenery, the sounds, the salt-sea air. On the drive home, we enjoyed the serenity of the towering redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I dropped off my friends, who had dinner at Ziryab -- a great Mediterranean restaurant – and I headed home to relax and once again bind up wounds suffered in a fall at Twin Peaks the day before. (No point in going into details and spoiling this travelogue!)

THURSDAY: We met at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. First we rode to the top of the glassed-in tower so I could say, “I should be able to see my house from here.” Then we visited “Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris,” an exciting exhibition of more than 100 works of art. Yes, Picasso was a pig – we spent part of lunch trying to sort out how many wives and how many mistresses he admitted to – but he was clearly a genius. We split up briefly to see other works of art. (I opted to walk through “Balenciaga and Spain,” where I learned that Balenciaga was apprenticed to a tailor at the age of 13.)

After lunch in the museum’s café, we all boarded a bus to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where we were eager to see “The Steins Collect,” an exhibition of works by Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and others – all collected by Gertrude Stein and her family members back when you could pick up a Picasso for $25. The art was astonishing, as were the family photos, including one taken one evening when Matisse came to dinner. What a thrill to see these two exhibitions on the same day! (I still must get to the Contemporary Jewish Museum to see “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories.”)

After a rest in the shade and then a rest in the sun at MOMA’s Rooftop Sculpture Garden and coffee bar, we stopped for pre-dinner drinks at a different sort of bar and then we boarded the F Streetcar for Teatro Zinzanni, where nothing is ever as it seems – but it’s always entertaining, an evening filled with feather boas for sale, good food and polished performances!

All this, punctuated with much laughter and good conversation – and yet when my friends return, they will find that San Francisco has even more to offer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Quick Trip to Yosemite

Trees have much to teach us, and Friday I spent some time with some of the oldest, biggest trees on the planet. Meandering through the Mariposa Grove (on foot and later on the tram) in Yosemite National Park, I was in the company of Sequoiadendron giganteum – giant sequoia trees.

These trees are the biggest in volume – just one branch on the largest tree in Mariposa Grove measures seven feet in diameter -- though not height or longevity. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 160–280 feet and measure an average of 20 to 26 feet in diameter. The oldest known giant sequoia was said to be 3,500 years old.

We looked at intact trees, fallen trees, trees with split trunks, trees with hollow trunks (you can step inside and see blue sky above) and two trees that are conjoined, covered in a singular bark. We looked at tall trees with names (Grizzly Giant, Clothespin Tree, Galen Clark Tree) and we looked at nameless sprouts, just getting started.

We also looked at trees marked forever with what the guide called “fire scars,” blackened areas left behind after the trees withstood the heat of raging fires. Lightning caused some of those fires, some took place as part of forest management and careless humans started some of the fires. The fire scars are testament to the strength -- and the good fortune -- of the surviving trees, which are still standing, still rustling in the wind, still warming themselves in the sun.

After learning about these majestic trees, I feel a lot better about my scars, external and internal. How about you?

Actually, enlightenment was not on my list of things to experience on my quick trip to Yosemite National Park on Thursday and Friday. I went to see the waterfalls, gushing full and furiously with snowmelt. I went to commune with Yosemite Valley, which John Muir said looks like “some immense hall or temple lighted from above.” (He added, “But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.”) And I went to get away (oh the irony) from one of the top tourist destinations in the United States and my home for almost a year now – San Francisco.

From my door to the Yosemite Valley floor took five hours, and that included one highway backup and two stops. The next day, I came home. In all, I drove 501 miles. I spent the night at the Yosemite Bed and Breakfast outside Mariposa. The B&B is lovely, especially quiet and restful after the crowds and traffic in Yosemite Valley, which in some ways was not unlike being in downtown San Francisco – until you looked up.

Still, the thunderous roar of the waterfalls, the grandeur of the granite and the ancient trees, scars and all, made the trip completely worthwhile. Also, much of the drive from the park to Mariposa follows the racing Merced River, a river I would follow any day. And once in town, Savoury’s serves bacon-wrapped dates, grilled shrimp and good crusty bread.

Though wildflowers are late this year due to a chilly, rainy spring, some lupine was showing off along the drive, and around one bend was a hillside of delicate pink flowers. I imagined painting them. I remembered that I can’t draw, much less paint. Then I imagined painting them anyway.

Other highlights along the way (in no particular order) include:

·      The Altamont Pass Wind Farm 40 miles east of Oakland, with 4,930 wind turbines twirling atop grassy yellow hills.

·      A roadside stand in Big Oak Flat (pop. 200) named “Tie Dye and Jerky.” That is exactly what’s for sale.

·      The first view of Don Pedro Lake, a reservoir in a beautiful canyon carved by the Tuolumne River.

·      A sign advertising “Tequila Tuesdays” at a bar outside Oakdale. (Rats, it was a Thursday.)

·      Roadside fruit and nut stands near Escalon, which features miles of orchards. At The Barn, owner Denise Crom displays a “produce prayer flag” made of brightly colored fabric squares depicting fresh produce of all sorts.

·      A turkey sandwich on rye from Dori’s Tea Cottage in Groveland, a charming place just down the road from a sign announcing “Church Meets in the Park Every Sunday at 10:30 a.m.”

All this – and trees with important lessons to teach!

In honor of the giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, I hope you will consider helping support all 394 national parks, reserves and monuments by making a donation to the National Park Foundation at

Friday, May 13, 2011

Just Another Day

The parade of leather-bedecked S&M fans (including the domineering and the dominated) was just one highlight of a much-needed vacation day that turned into one adventure after another, including driving an amphibious vehicle in McCovey Cove, talking with another cancer survivor on a bench in Union Square and quacking like a duck. Wait – I forgot the Italian potstickers!

The day started with a plan – a trip to North Beach to soak up the atmosphere in the historic City Lights Books, a spot I first visited so long ago that I can’t remember when it was. In any case, the store has three floors of books, with three or four chairs in each room and signs that encourage customers to sit and read. In the Poet’s Room, another sign reads: “We’re sort of a library that sells books.”

Even though I got rid of 46 boxes of books before moving to San Francisco, even though I have (and really like) a Kindle, even though I have vowed not to bring home books, I bought one – Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “San Francisco Poems.” So be it.

Next I went to the Beat Museum ( to commune with the spirits of the people I used to quote in high school and college and still admire immensely. Owner and curator Jerry Cimino was there, and we compared Baby Boomer backgrounds and the influence the beat poets had on both of us.

Long live the works of Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Corso!

Cimino recommended Calzone’s, just up the street, for lunch – what a great idea. The owner has developed Italian potstickers – steamed wontons filled with Italian sausage, wild mushrooms and spices. Yum! The arugula salad with garbanzo beans, sun-dried tomatoes and Point Reyes blue cheese was good too. Then I popped into a chocolate shop for a free taste of fudge and bought a bear claw – pecans and caramel drizzled with dark chocolate. (It later melted in the sun, alas.)

Next I boarded a bus heading for Union Square, where I planned to catch the Muni train home – but the sun was shining and people were sitting out, basking in it, so I decided to join them. I eavesdropped on an elderly Indian gentleman telling fortunes (he had a line of customers waiting). Then I bought an iced latte and sat down on a bench near a man who turned out to be a classical music reviewer for the Berkshire Review. (See We talked about music, fashion, food and living in San Francisco – and we also compared Baby Boomer backgrounds and the influence the 60s had on both of us.

Then, with little advance planning, I bought a ticket and hopped on a “duck” ( because it was a perfect day to be on the water. It was the last trip of the day, and there were just three of us – a Canadian couple originally from South Africa and me. The driver was especially chatty, and we all compared stories. We headed into the water just south of the ballpark – and then the driver let us take turns steering the duck!

That was exciting -- but that was only the beginning.

On the way back to Union Square, Captain Duck Rogers drove us along the Embarcadero. He knows everybody and everybody knows him, so as we cruised (on land by now) in the open-air duck through the popular tourist area, people waved and smiled – but not just the Captain’s friends. He played “We Are Family” and got people on the streets singing, clapping, even dancing along. As we drove through North Beach, he played songs in Italian. In Chinatown, he played “I Will Survive” in Chinese. People at sidewalk cafes, people shopping in the markets, even people at bus stops, heard us first and then joined in. All along the route, Captain Rogers called out, “Happy Friday the 13th” to one and all. 

It was a rowdy ride, and that felt great!

The N Muni train was crowded – and considerably more sedate -- when I got on at the Powell Street Station. But just past the Church and Duboce stop, those of us looking north saw the S&M parade, which consisted of about 20 people. Maybe this is a regular event on Fridays, or maybe we were just lucky. No one on the N said a word, not even the people who were stretching for a better look. This parade took place just two days before Bay to Breakers (, a 12k footrace that is the talk of the town. “People run in costume. People run naked. And a lot of the people run drunk,” said Captain Rogers when he filled us in on things to do this weekend.

What a day!

My last Runaway Day was two weekends ago, when I spent much of Saturday driving in West Marin, driving through beach towns (one has a bakery and a Goddess Shop), driving through hilly pastures (wondering if cows ever blow over in the gusty wind), driving to Drake’s Beach on the Point Reyes Peninsula (home of a sand sculpture contest) and driving through redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park (where green equals serene). I only drove 120 miles round trip, and it was a remarkable day, filled with unexpected pleasures -- including turkey vultures that swooped low over the car.

I live here! And believe it or not, I’ve been here almost 11 months!   

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Serendipitous Adventures in San Francisco

Giants' Opening Day: April 8, 2011

At Walgreen’s this afternoon, I overheard the young man behind the counter tell another worker that he is a big Giants’ fan but his favorite baseball player is Albert Pujols.

I get that, so I spoke up.

Regular readers may recall in the November 4 blog post I confessed to committing post-season treason, having come under the spell of the feisty, freaky Giants after moving here. And yet after a 50-year relationship with the Cardinals, I have some tender feelings for them as well.

I told the young man at Walgreen's that a week ago, I bought a ticket on StubHub to the Giants’ home opener, on April 8, against the Cardinals. Okay, I paid about what I used to pay for a winter coat at Marshall’s when I was working full time, but I paid because I really wanted to be at that game. I just couldn't imagine enjoying it on television when all the excitement was taking place only four miles away. 

Yesterday morning, the forecast called for 56 degrees and 15-25 mph winds. The ballpark sits in a cove, right on the water. I put on the following: A black cami, a long-sleeved black t-shirt, a long-sleeved black sweatshirt, my Tim Lincecum t-shirt, my whale-watching long johns, fleece-lined wind-proof leggings, black wool sock liners, fuzzy orange socks, one baseball earring and one Cardinal earring. I topped it all off with a fleece jacket and packed a wool scarf, wool gloves, a fleece headband and a wool hat.

That, dear Cardinals fans, is what it takes to feel comfortable at a ballgame in San Francisco. I felt great – even when I discovered I was in the very last row. Before I made the climb, I thought it might be like dangling from the blimp, but it was just fine. Nice people were on either side of me, no one was in front of me (just the long stairs leading down) and I was directly above home plate. I could see the entire park, the party boats in the cove and seafaring container ships entering and leaving, guided by tugs.

I teared up when the Cards took the field. I teared up when the Giants took the field. I loved it all, right up until the 11th inning, when Tony wouldn't let the Cards pitch to any of the Giants and the Giants’ pitchers (and we saw a lot of them) couldn’t seem to catch a break from the umpire, whose strike zone was all over the place. I know better, but I left the game – and I had a lot of company. On the Muni, we all cheered when a guy on his phone called out that the Giants won in the 12th inning.

You might think eight hours of baseball was enough (I left the apartment at 10:30 a.m. and got home at 7 p.m.), but I watched the last inning on the TIVO recording.

Of course I didn't tell the young man at Walgreen's all that, but we did talk about some highlights -- and there were many. To encourage him to continue to talk to customers, especially old women who usually are ignored in stores, later today I went back to Walgreen's and gave this same young man the 2011 Giants calendar that I received at the ballpark yesterday. He was thrilled.

To backtrack a bit: On that first walk to Walgreen's, I encountered a sidewalk sale. Diane and John were selling books, shelves and some of Diane’s clothing because she recently retired. As it happens, Diane and I have the same taste. She had my favorite brands – Flax, We Be Bop, Blue Fish and a designer I didn’t know but who clearly knows me. There on the corner I removed my fleece jacket and my San Francisco sweatshirt and tried on some of the outfits. No one walking by paid any attention – except the two other short, round women who stopped to try on clothes too.

One more magic moment to report on: Wednesday, I went with my friends Nancy and Betty-Lou to dinner at the home of two of their dearest friends. The company, the food and the conversation all were terrific, plus there was a bonus.

A redwood tree with six thick trunks grows right alongside the wooden deck in the long, narrow backyard. I learned that in the mid-1940s, someone who lived in the house brought home a tiny redwood sprout in a small cup and planted it, probably expecting nothing. What grew was private redwood forest that towers high over the house.

I went out on the deck for a minute to pay homage to the tree -- yet another serendipitous adventure here in my amazing new hometown.