Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Morning Musings

Pool Chat: Took an overnight vacation to a spa/resort in Calistoga earlier this week, and spent a lot of time in the seductive 100-degree mineral pool. I was with a group of women, all friends of my daughter-in-law’s mom, who unfortunately couldn’t make the trip. Repeatedly, I was introduced as Patricia’s mother-in-law, which delights me!

One of the women in the group recently retired, and she asked about my experience with that transition. We agreed that the most startling part is the lack of structure, and how a day could slip by so quickly with nothing accomplished. I said that initially I had used the gym and water aerobics classes to provide structure and that I also continued to work part time for someone I respect, like and trust -- myself.

Moving to San Francisco, of course, was another transition. I joined a gym, I continue to work part time and I play tourist periodically, exploring neighborhoods new to me. The woman mentioned she gardens and cooks. I agreed those are good activities but added that I found I needed a life of the mind, as well.

Theater is my go-to cultural experience, with museums a close second. Both can be expensive, but I have learned to buy theater tickets on a preview night or a weeknight, farther from the stage than I used to sit – and that’s okay!

I do make exceptions. When Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen came to Berkeley Rep in Pinter’s “No Man’s Land,” I had to be there. Mikhail Baryshnikov will be here in February in a play crafted from two Chekhov stories, and I have a ticket. I have seen Baryshnikov dance – twice – and I want to see him on stage.

Some museums here have free days for specific ZIP codes, and my bank sponsors free days as well. The smaller museums here are not expensive, and they are terrific, especially the ones that deal with San Francisco history. I also have attended several operas and gone to the symphony, always on discounted tickets.

Lately, I have been dashing out the door to lectures. A ticket to hear Simon Winchester (author of the compelling “A Crack in the Edge of the World,” about the 1906 earthquake here, and other books) was just $15. Seeing Billy Collins as he read his poetry for an hour cost almost twice that, but was well worth it.

After the conversation with new friends in that blissfully warm water, I realized I have figured out how to live happily (and mostly modestly) in my new city, taking advantage of much that is available here. And of course when I’m not busy earning money or out enriching my mind, often I am in my living room, playing choo-choos with Milo or teaching him to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

He especially likes the part where we count strikes.  

Weight Loss Secret: Speaking of counting, six weeks ago, I cancelled my online account with Weight Watchers, saving myself $18 a month. Since then I have lost six pounds.

How did that happen? I have no idea, but I know I was weary of paying attention to numbers instead of to food. Nothing against Weight Watchers – that’s how I lost 70 pounds starting in 2001 and an additional 10 about three years ago. I have kept off all but that pesky 10, but I have decided that now is the time to ditch it for good. Heck, maybe I’ll even drop an extra 10 over the next six months. Slow and steady does it.

And apparently, freeing myself from so many numbers.

A Public Reading: So I am in Books Inc. two days ago, looking for a book on colors for Milo, and a mom is seated in the children’s area, reading to her two-year-old. When she gets to the end, I ask politely if she knows Sandra Boynton’s “Barnyard Dance.” She does – it’s a favorite.

As we talk, the little girl is looking at me with some suspicion. Why is a stranger talking to her mommy? I smiled and said, “Stomp your feet…” Her mom said, “Clap your hands…” and together we said, “Everybody ready for the barnyard dance!”

The little girl’s eyes grow big but by now she is grinning. “Bow to the horse,” I say. “Bow to the cow,” says her mom. Then we collaborate on the next line: “Twirl with the pig if you know how!” Then all three of us laughed.

I recommended Boynton’s “Not the Hippopotamus” and then went to pay for the book I wanted to buy, imagining twirling with pigs and skittering with mice. Fun!  

One More Thing: Sometimes, you get what you wish for. The drive home from Calistoga was full of scenic vistas: The red and orange leaves on deciduous trees, the vast sweeps of golden leaves on acres of dying grapevines, the gently rolling hills. All this, and many world-famous wineries!

I wanted to stop, to taste, to buy, to bring home a trunk full of wonderful wines. I love the names of wines, the stories told by winemakers, even the labels chosen by the wineries -- and most of all, the wine.

I didn’t stop. First of all, a tasting at my favorite port winery is now $20, so I doubt I could afford an actual bottle. Secondly, I hardly ever drink, except at Full Moon Cocktails or dinner parties. And I have nowhere to store great quantities of wine. So I contented myself with reciting the elegant names of wines as I drove.

An hour after I got home, my upstairs neighbor called to say he had a package for me. We met in the hall, and the package turned out to be a box stuffed with bottles of wine, wonderful wines that he wanted to share as he had just gone on a case-buying binge.

Now, in addition to my traditional contribution to Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll be bringing lovely wine.    

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Judy and Pat's Excellent Adventure

Judy and I started our five-day visit at an interview Thursday night with the formidable Margaret Atwood, in San Francisco to promote “MaddAddam,” the third book in her dystopian trilogy. We ended by sitting at Ocean Beach, watching surfers, a frustrated kite-flyer and a crazy young woman in a bikini. (Note to young woman: This is NORTHERN California…)

Anyway, every day was full of fun, with lots of theater, lots of pumpkins, lots of desserts consumed before meals and lots of laughter.

Atwood is a tough interview – glad it wasn’t me in the interviewer’s chair at the Nourse Auditorium. She doesn’t always answer questions she is asked. Instead, she holds forth on points (humorous and serious) that she wants to make. The interviewer floundered a bit from time to time, but when audience members asked Atwood questions, she did respond relatively directly, even when asked if she is a witch. (She did not think she is.)

Friday we headed for the amazing Academy of Sciences to meander through the butterfly-filled four-story rainforest, gaze at the massive tanks full of fish (and one diver cleaning a glass wall), visit with my favorite giant Pacific octopus, talk to Claude (the albino alligator) and assure Lemondrop that he is one lovely 15-foot python. Do you see a theme here? Yes! Judy and I appreciate science but we are crazy about animals. Oh, and my grandbaby! We played with Milo all Friday evening after a quick run to Mill Valley for whole-wheat fig bars.

On a crystal clear Saturday morning, we drove south to Half Moon Bay to admire pumpkins (an abundance of pumpkin farmers compete to grow the largest pumpkins, some weighing in at a thousand pounds or more) and to visit cute shops with over-priced, pumpkin-themed garb and trinkets. We also stopped for coffee and sat in the sun for a bit. It’s a fun little town with a beautiful coastline.

Then it was on to Pescadero, a farming and ranching community of about 600 people. We had lunch at Duarte’s Tavern, established in 1894, which specializes in artichoke dishes (artichokes grow just blocks away) and seafood. Such interesting wooden paneling! Good food, too. We had artichoke hearts with aioli, artichoke soup, a crabmeat sandwich and jalapeno-tinged Mexican coleslaw. The town also is known for hand-hewn wood furniture and a couple of craft shops full of lovely things. At the famers’ market, avocados were selling eight for a dollar!

We made it to Colibri (upscale Mexican fare) by 6:30, just in time for dinner before seeing “1776” across the street at American Conservatory Theater. Here are the opening lines of the show, spoken by the actor portraying John Adams: “One useless man is called a disgrace, two are called a law firm, and three or more become a congress!" What a great show – and so timely, considering how fractious Congress is right now.

On Sunday we joined Milo and his parents for a tasty brunch at Chow. After a quick stop at Pottery Barn to check out a coat rack (long story, never mind) Judy and I then headed to the 40th Annual Castro Street Fair. I am always on the lookout for affordable t-shirts for Milo, and I found one for $15 – far less than the $34 one shopkeeper in Half Moon Bay wanted!

After enjoying frozen yogurt at Pinkberry (Judy had peach, I had pomegranate) , we had a big salad at Urban Tavern (good biscuits!) in the Hilton in the theater district and then took our seats for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at the Curran Theatre. Loved the music, and I suspect some of the repetition in the storyline will be ironed out by the time the show opens on Broadway in January. Jessie Mueller is outstanding as Carole King and I’m a big fan of Jarrod Spector (Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys”), who plays Barry Mann.

On Monday morning, we popped in at Emily Lee, a great clothing shop in Laurel Village, and then drove to Point Reyes Station to peruse the Coyuchi linens outlet store and pay homage at Toby’s Feed Barn. Then it was on to Stinson Beach to visit with Emmeline, my artist friend, at her beautiful Blissful Gallery and to enjoy a late lunch at the Breakers Café. (The Virgin Mary was terrific; can only imagine if it had been fully loaded!)

We did not get to visit Muir Woods, Muir Beach or even the Muir Beach Overlook, because they all are being held hostage by the Tea Party. Dump those folks, I say! We did get to enjoy the very last luscious California-grown mango of the season (shown here posing in a mango-wood bowl), mixed in a smoothie with locally grown organic strawberries, still available in October.

And that’s just one more reason to live in San Francisco -- or, in Judy’s case, to visit!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quick Trip to St. Louis

For 62 years, St. Louis was my home. (Full disclosure: I spent a year in Lawton, Oklahoma, but only in body, not in spirit -- though I did have some grand adventures in journalism there.) Anyway, for 62 years, St. Louis was my home, but now, it's a fun place to visit, a place to catch up on hugs (and news) from dear friends and a place to experience some of the world-class attractions there that I love best.

St. Louis also is a place to be way too hot and way too cold, but fortunately the weather was relatively moderate during a recent quick trip. Oh, it was hotter than in San Francisco, but I just kept telling myself the humidity is good for my skin, my lungs and my hair, so I only whined a little.

Though I meant to take a lot of pictures while in town, I took only a few, so this post will be an album of photos followed by a string of word pictures. First, the photos.

This hippo at the Zoo knows I love "Fantasia." 

Hippos, being feisty.

Hippo, reflecting.

Rhino running for cover, though not quite enough.

Happy elephant in the drink.

Note to Zoo: Bigger seats on the train would be appreciated.

The glorious Climatron at Missouri Botanical Garden, enhanced by touches of Chihuly.

A picturesque archway topped with grand gourds.

Other highlights of the trip, in chronological order, include:

supper at Dewey’s with Judy and Beth
a brief reunion with Michelle
shoe shopping and camisole shopping with Judy
a smoothie with Charles (which included a quick visit with Elliot)
dinner at The Libertine and “Cabaret” at the Rep with Edward
coffee and true confessions with Tim
lunch at Dewey’s with Matt and Josh
dinner at Onesto and many laughs with Gail and Gail
a blissful acupuncture treatment with Michael
lunch at Pei Wei and many laughs with Bernice
a 40th anniversary celebration of friendship with the Five Favorite Female Friends
Scrabble on an actual board with Jane and Judy
pizza for supper (courtesy of Scott and his new Green Egg) with Linda and Bill
lunch at Dewey’s* and a reunion with Sue
nachos and sangria at La Cantina with Judy and Scott
wonderful book club meeting with the Wise Women

*In case you are wondering, the attraction at Dewey’s is the Harvest Salad.

A big perk on this trip was time spent with a lapful of cats – Cleo and Oscar, to be specific, new pets at Judy and Scott’s house. (Of course it was good to see Sasha and Bailey as well, in case they are reading this.)

Cat in a basket 
Cat in a bowl 

As always, my time in town was short, so I missed seeing many, many people that I love. Next time!  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Five Days in My Paradise

A friend from St. Louis who visited San Francisco over the last few days arrived knowing a great deal about the city, its history, the Painted Ladies, City Lights Books, Haight-Ashbury, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Castro, Marin County, Lombard Street, the cable cars, Alcatraz Island and more.

What Champe did not know about was the quality of light here, the fresh air, the distinct aroma of vegetation on the hillsides, the wooded slopes, the many city parks and the many interesting residential neighborhoods. She did not know about the mystical nature of the fog, the friendliness of everyone on the street, the many hills, the brisk ocean breezes that blow away worries, the cultural diversity, the breathtaking beauty of the skyline from atop Twin Peaks, the grace of the Palace of Fine Arts, the verdant beauty of Golden Gate Park or the surprisingly wondrous views that lurk down many a street.

Champe did know that I like to sit and stare at water, but she didn’t fully understand that, I think, until she did some water watching herself here!

Places we went, things we saw, people we met in the course of her visit are summarized here, with some pertinent photos.

Day One: Drove to the top of Twin Peaks, next drove north and attempted to get into Muir Woods before the hoards (we failed), headed up to the dramatic Muir Beach Overlook, drove around the Bolinas Lagoon (where we saw six turkey vultures sitting on a power line, carefully considering the health of people driving by), visited with my artist friend Emmeline Craig, enjoyed lunch at the Coast Café, drove again around the magical lagoon, stopped in Stinson Beach to shop at The Blissful Gallery, drove through the lovely Olema Valley and then coasted among the redwoods of Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Then back to the apartment for homemade pulled pork sandwiches and Three Twins Sea Salted Caramel ice cream.

Day Two: Took a bus to the Castro (where we perused the costume department at Cliff’s and then paused at the former site of Harvey Milk’s camera shop), took a streetcar downtown to the Ferry Building, visited with street vendors, scarfed down a cheese toastie at the Sidekick, were mesmerized by mushrooms at Far West Fungi, fondled the lovely Heath Ceramics, played in a bowl of Rancho Gordo’s dried beans and gobbled up hazelnut macarons. We then took a bus to Union Square, where we spied a man wearing two iguanas, popped into Pinkberry for frozen yogurt, regarded Union Square, peeked in the Chanel store window and then hopped a bus to Haight-Ashbury. There we meandered through the Sock Shop and Artisan Foods store and looked in other windows. Dined back at the apartment on fish doused with puttanesca sauce, tasty squash from Emmeline’s garden and a heavenly mango grown in California.   

Day Three: Back in the car, we cruised by the Painted Ladies, drove up the wonderfully steep Divisadero, drove down the curvy Lombard Street, headed to the Warming Hut at the far end of Crissy Field (Champe walked up to the south leg of the Golden Gate Bridge while I sat and stared at water and spoke with a sea lion), shopped for shoes at The Sports Basement and then drove to the Haight Street Market to pick up sandwiches and (be still, my heart) Mexican Chili Chocolate Ice Cream. ( After lunch, we took two buses to North Beach, where we sipped sparkling grapefruit beverages at Reveille, checked out the art show in Jack Kerouac Alley, paid homage at City Lights Books, delighted in the laundry hanging to dry high in apartment windows, poked our way through Chinatown (the largest outside Asia), caught a bus to lower Pacific Heights to see what the Eileen Fisher store might have on sale (one sweater – one), strolled through stores by designers Marc Jacobs and Jonathan Adler (the fedora was just too big!) and then headed home. Had a scrumptious dinner at Padrecito in Cole Valley!

Day Four: Met at Reverie in Cole Valley and headed off to Pier 33 on the N-Judah and then a streetcar to embark on the boat that takes 1.3 million visitors per year to Alcatraz Island. I liked it! I had seen an hour-long special on the cellhouse tour and the island, so I felt as though I had been there already, but the introductory video and the audio tour both are well done, and I am so glad we went. (Personal favorite thing: Bullet holes in the floor, remnants of a prison riot.) Champe and I also sat and looked at water and the mist-shrouded silhouette of San Francisco Bay from atop the prison building. Got a bonus on the ride back to Pier 33 – America’s Cup boats, a sailboat and a ferry all converged as I was hanging out on the front deck of the boat, so I got a very cool photo of the traffic jam on the water. We headed back to the apartment, ordered pizza and salad from Bambino’s. Then it was time for me to pick up my own grand-bambino and play with him. Champe, an ardent tennis fan, celebrated that her fave, Rafael Nadal, had won the U.S. Open, chatted with Milo for a while and then meandered off in the fog to her hotel.

Day Five: Picked up Champe and her luggage and drove her to my apartment, where we had lots of fresh fruit and a carb or two for breakfast. Then we drove to the airport via Ocean Beach. Before I lived in this glorious place, I always hoped for a last look at the edge of the continent before heading inland, and I think Champe enjoyed that. 

So Champe arrived knowing a great deal about San Francisco. Now she understands my fascination, and I believe she is completely enchanted with the City by the Bay.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day Trip to Monterey

Fogbows, preening pelicans, humpback whales, Risso’s dolphins and forty-plus Canada geese all flying in formation – that sums up an amazing day trip to Monterey. On top of all that joy: a memorable heirloom tomato, an artichoke picked 20 minutes from the table where it was served and a Bloody Mary enhanced with olive tapenade, and topped off with three meaty shrimp!

First, the fogbows. Never heard of them? Me either, but Friday morning my friend Carolyn and I drove through three of them along the road that leads to the top of Twin Peaks, stopping three times to celebrate that we literally represented the pots of gold.

According to Wikipedia: “A fogbow is a similar phenomenon to a rainbow that appears in fog. Because of the very small size of water droplets that cause fog, the fogbow has only very weak colors, with a red outer edge and bluish inner edge. In many cases when the droplets are very small, fog bows appear white, and are therefore sometimes called white rainbows. This lack of color is a feature of a fog bow which distinguishes it from a glory, which has multiple pale-colored rings caused by diffraction.”

Now the details. Driving in morning fog up and over Twin Peaks (922 feet high), we saw an arc of light with pale pastel colors glowing from within – apparently a glory. We oohed and ahhed and laughed and loved it. We drove higher, and saw a second one. I remember this one as an arc of pure light – a white fogbow. We stopped again and hooted and hollered in the early morning air. The third fogbow was definitely a glory. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it, and we decided a great day lay ahead.

Heading down the other side of the hill, we paid homage to the amazing Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans), conical shrubs that grow up to eight feet tall, covered in bright purple flowers. I have photographed them on Highway 1, overlooking the sea.

We reached Monterey about 11 a.m., and walked down the wharf. Hosts and hostesses from every restaurant raced out to meet us, offering chowder, reciting the day’s specials and reading aloud the posted menus. How annoying! We escaped to check in at the Monterey Bay Whale Watch, where we asked where to find the best lunch on the wharf. We got some recommendations, and we also learned that our trip, scheduled for 2 p.m., might be cancelled because of increasing wind and waves.

Undaunted, we reminded ourselves about the three fogbows and headed for Café Fina. The best part of lunch was a juicy, flavorful heirloom tomato, grown in the restaurant owner’s garden. We also liked our server’s cool Jerry Garcia tie, which featured the same orange, gold and yellow colors of the tomato. Shortly after 12, we learned that the captain had cancelled the whale-watch trip. Slightly daunted, we made a new plan, to head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an amazing place.

We made this plan while standing in front of another whale-watch tour operator office, one that we soon noticed seemed to be open for business. Inside, we learned that a trip was leaving in five minutes. I asked about the small craft warnings, noting that Monterey Bay Whale Watch had cancelled their afternoon trip. The desk clerk replied, “We have a bigger boat, so we are going at 12:30. All other afternoon trips have been cancelled.” All our whale-watch clothes, our layers – sweatshirts, fleece jackets, windbreakers and rain gear – were in the car. We had no time to get to the parking lot, get our stuff and be on board for the departure, which was imminent.

Quickly, we made a new plan – just get on the boat! I grabbed a fleece jacket off a display ($20), whipped out my credit card and said, “We’re going. I want a ticket, a pass to the upper deck and this jacket.” The guy at the desk said, “I love you!” Carolyn had just bought a sweatshirt in a gift shop, we both had baseball caps and she had sunscreen in her purse. We trotted down the steps and hopped on the Princess Monterey just in time, making do with what we had – which turned out to be exactly what we needed. Even better news: The boat was only about one-third full! We talked with two other women who had hastily bought jackets to make the trip at the last minute and we met Sophie, a nine-year-old girl on her first whale watch.

The Monterey Canyon, one of the largest underwater canyons in the world, begins about a mile off Moss Landing, which is in the center of Monterey Bay. The canyon extends 95 miles out, reaching depths of up to 11,800 feet. Upwelling in the canyon causes concentrations of food, and food brings birds, whales and other sea creatures. When we reached a depth of about 2,000 feet, I spent some time chanting the Latin name of the humpbacks we hoped to see. Soon we found them! We spent over 30 minutes in the company of two large humpback whales who were “logging,” resting on the surface in between making shallow dives to nibble on plentiful sardines.

Quick science lesson: Megaptera novaeangliae (the “big-winged New Englander”) grows 40 to 45 feet long and weighs between a ton and a ton and a half per foot. (You do the math.) They have the longest flippers of any whale, 13- to 15-foot-long scalloped “wings.” Their flukes (tails) measure 13 to 15 feet wide, and the pattern on the underside of the tail is unique to each whale. Humpbacks are acrobats, frequently hurtling up and out of the sea, but the two we saw were in a mellow mood and neither jumped. We did come close to the whales – as close as the law allows – and Carolyn got some nice photos. (See below.) My pictures were mostly of where whales just were, as I can never stop watching, even after almost 31 years of taking part in this magnificent spectator sport.

We also saw a lot of large bright orange jellyfish (none would hold still for a photo) and one called a scrambled egg jellyfish, said to be a favorite food of the leatherback turtle. Then about a half dozen Risso’s dolphins darted by, mottled dolphins that range from 10 to 14 feet long. I was reminded that any day on the water is a good day!

After the trip, we splurged on pieces of chocolate, stopped for coffee and then headed to The Old Fisherman’s Grotto, family owned and operated since 1950. We shared a delicious grilled artichoke (grown in Castroville, just up the road) and made casual conversation with a seagull just outside the window that clearly was interested in any leftovers we might have. (We didn’t.) Highlights of the meal included that previously mentioned Bloody Mary, and scrumptious olallieberry pie.

At 6:30 p.m., we put the top down on Carolyn’s VW Cabiolet and headed back to San Francisco, a two-hour drive. About halfway home, we saw about 40 Canada geese, flying in formation in three groups, silhouetted against the tawny hills and darkening sky, which was still tinged with golden light from the sunset. Spectacular beauty first thing in the morning, at sea in the afternoon and again on the road at dusk. Another great day in northern California!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday in North Beach

One of the top tourist destinations in the world and the sixth most-visited city in the U.S., San Francisco drew some 16.5 million visitors last year. The streets here are particularly busy on a weekend day in August, but today I went out anyway. It’s been awhile since I played tourist in this fine city.

This morning when I settled in with the Sunday paper (a chronic(le) habit), I read about A Fair to Remember, a small neighborhood arts and crafts festival in Jack Kerouac Alley in the North Beach neighborhood. Jack Kerouac Alley is next to City Lights Books (, a favorite place, so I tossed aside the paper and set off on the 50-minute bus ride to North Beach.

Fortuitous signs at the bus stop: Three wild parrots circling overhead, chattering, and a local helping a man clutching a crumpled map of the city. People here are helpful and friendly -- I appreciated that when I first moved here, and now I offer to help when I see a map-clutching visitor. Plus, on the bus, I encountered five young people heading for Outside Lands, a renowned music festival. They were from southern California, and had bought the package tickets for the three-day event. One fellow showed me a video on his phone of Paul McCartney performing Friday night. Ah, Paul!

Once in North Beach, I popped into Reveille Coffee Company ( for a decaf, nonfat latte, my personal vice. Then I headed across the street. The art fair was just the right size; an alley’s worth of vendors with great stuff and live musicians setting the mood right in the middle. I have been to big street fairs here and I will go again, but this was so much more inviting in so many ways.

At her Heart’s Desire booth, Ann Marie Hodrick ( was selling lovely earrings, including some made with luminous yayin beads made form German glass, and also a gorgeous chunky lapis lazuli bracelet. Ironically, Ann Marie was interested in my Up band, Jawbone’s fitness bracelet that I wear to track how much I walk!

Next I spotted a great T-shirt that showed a narwhal surfacing next to an iceberg. The shirt reads: “Narwhals are real.” I asked the woman staffing the Dawn Kathryn Studio ( booth just who(m) doubts that narwhals are real. She said a surprising number of people doubt the whales’ existence. One customer asked her whether a narwhal was a character from the Harry Potter books! We decided that was insulting to narwhals and to Harry Potter as well. Loved the totes and felt masks at the booth as well.

Elizabeth Ashcroft ( makes artistic collages and jewelry from words and other bits of books, and she also sells acrylic paintings that leap off the canvas. Her image of the Buena Vista Café was particularly inviting (Cheri, come back to San Francisco!). Somehow, I managed not to buy the book-as-wall-art covered with ginkgo leaves.

Back out on the street, I saw something I really needed – an adorable block print shirt, size 2, depicting a fanciful hippo -- in the window at YeahYeah!PonyPrince ( Bought the shirt for Milo and also got a tip about where to eat lunch: Giordano Brothers (, where the sandwich meat of your choice comes smothered with coleslaw and studded with fries, all tucked between two pieces of fresh Italian bread. The Giants game was on, so I enjoyed half a beer (Widmer’s hefeweizen, to be exact) with my Italian sausage sandwich.

Some Sundays, it’s great to stay in, but this was a fine day to meander in San Francisco!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Moments of Enlightenment

Sitting here on a Saturday morning in my wonderful wild socks (see photo on previous post), reflecting on a series of moments of enlightenment and pondering possibilities for the future.

After the Asiania plane crash occurred at the San Francisco airport, I got a “breaking news” email from the New York Times. I turned on the television to see the news coverage. After watching for while, I grabbed my car keys and headed for the door, intent on driving to the airport.

My plan was to help cover the story, find someone connected to a news outlet and volunteer to pitch in, interview passengers and witnesses. Then it occurred to me that I have no credentials, no press card, and no one there would have time to hear me recite my list of accomplishments when it comes to covering breaking news.

Still carrying my keys, I turned back to the television. I learned that injured passengers were being taken to five area hospitals. That’s it, I thought – I’ll head for a hospital, bring coffee to family members or just sit quietly with anyone who was upset. I have plenty of experience at this work – but again, I have no credentials. With today’s privacy rules, I realized I likely would never get into a hospital to offer help. I stayed home.

Fast forward to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where last week I saw five shows. During the performances, more than once I wanted to grab my notebook and pen (my constant companions) and make notes. Chalk it up to reviewing theater for ten years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After each show, I used to rush back to the office to write a quick-turnaround review in 45 minutes or less so the piece could run in the next day’s paper. That was always an adrenalin rush. How many people do you know who can break a sweat while typing?

That wasn’t necessary in Ashland, of course, as I don’t review theater any longer. I did have the satisfaction of filling a small notebook with reflections on the town’s shops and restaurants, on the backstage tour at the theater and on a day trip to Crater Lake. My travel article will run in the Post-Dispatch in October.

Four nights ago I saw the incomparable Bernadette Peters perform with nine members of the San Francisco Symphony. Also on stage were her musical director, who doubles as her pianist, and her drummer. When Peters introduced the musicians, she revealed that her drummer is Cubby O’Brien, one of the original Mouseketeers. A frisson ran through every Baby Boomer in the audience, who signaled their delight with enthusiastic applause and a muted chorus of approval.

I don't Tweet, but I wanted to! I wanted to tell everybody that a beaming Cubby O’Brien was in the house, and how that made the concert all the more wonderful. I did get the word out on Facebook later, and I seem compelled to talk about it again here. Cubby O’Brien!

These moments of enlightenment, along with other small changes, have led me to carefully consider how I use the work experience I have accumulated and how I might make better use of it. The title of my favorite song from Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” a song that Bernadette Peters sang as her first encore on Tuesday night, sums it up: “Move On.”

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just a Few More Hours for 64

What will 65 be like?

Too soon to tell, because my birthday isn't until Saturday.

What do 65-year-old people do?

At 64, I play with my grandson and spend time with family and friends. Last week I went to the zoo with Susan, (my daughter-in-law’s mom and my friend) and her granddaughters, who are 5 and 7.

The four of us watched in awe as three female ostriches brought “Fantasia” to life, fluffing out their feathers, running in circles and chasing one another – and then we re-enacted the whole scene as we moved off to other exhibits. Later we walked like the Magellanic penguins, we laughed as the baby tiger playfully bit her mother’s ears and we practiced standing on one leg like the flamingos. A great day!

I go to the theater, to movies and to lectures with family members, with my friend Nancy (another transplant from St. Louis) or (happily) by myself. I watch “Mad Men.” Miss Jon Stewart terribly. Can’t wait for “Downton Abbey” and “Call the Midwife” to return to PBS. Spent a week obsessed with Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards." Just starting to appreciate "Breaking Bad."

A few days ago, I went to the Legion of Honor, an amazing art museum, with Dean, an old high school buddy (and fellow word lover) who took my place as Special Copy Editor on the high school paper after I graduated. In my yearbook, she wrote that we must stay in touch, but we did not. Now she lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Jim, who was president of my senior class. Happy to be reunited with both of them!

Once a month, I go out with Susan, Denise and Judy for Full Moon Cocktails. At our age, we never have to worry about being carded! Now and then I share Indian food at Dosa with Carolyn (my friend and massage therapist), have chatty coffee dates with my friend Chris, a teacher and writing workshop leader, and  enjoy a bowl of watermelon-flavored frozen yogurt alone on the edge of the continent at Ocean Beach.

My freelance projects, including my 17th book, are going well. After working, I watch amazing sunsets -- art in the sky, right outside my window – except on the nights when the fog (artfully) eats the Golden Gate Bridge. Also, I read, listen to music and play Scrabble on line with Cheryl, Shannon, Andy, Judy (two of them) John, Carolyn, Mark, Jane, Frank, Beth, Jerri and George. At the gym, I discuss politics, baseball and rock music with my friend Brandon, who is young but very smart. And I still volunteer with the Oceanic Society, where I am in the company of people who love whales as much as I do.

I watch baseball from the couch or sometimes at the ballpark with my friend Betty-Lou. And I indulge in great philosophical discussions, much laughter and the occasional piece of mixed-berry pie with my friend Emmeline at her new art studio in Stinson Beach.

What do 65-year-old people wear?

At 64, it’s Casual Friday every day in real life and also on line. Via Skype, I go to parties in St. Louis with Ann, Beth, Carol, Judy and Linda – and I can’t help but notice they always have better snacks! On Facebook,  I admire photos of friends’ grandkids, gardens and vacations and also the photographic art of my friend Jim. There is always time to exchange fun, flirty emails with a man I met 30 years ago. I also read a handful of blogs, including one by a top fashion model whose father is an old friend.   

My friend Gail’s birthday is on Saturday too, so last week I shopped for wild socks for her at the Haight Street Sock Shop. When I got home, I discovered that my friend Champe had sent me wild socks for my birthday! Yesterday, another pair of wild socks showed up in the mail, a gift from Gerry and Tom. Wild socks go with anything, and of course anything goes in San Francisco, where personal expression is always in style. So happy to spend most of my time in jeans and sweatshirts – and good walking shoes, of course.

Charlie, my friend for 53 years, introduced me to the wisdom of corduroy pants in this windy city, and I have three pair. After four decades in California, Charlie has moved away, but he helped me get oriented here. We went to Bolinas, which draws me back again and again. We went to the Berkeley Rep, where I still go. We went to lunch at fun places, and Charlie also showed me significant sites, such as where Dashiell Hammett lived. Now when we talk, I keep Charlie up to date on what's happening in San Francisco.

What’s good about being 65?

Medicare, of course, plus lower admission prices at the movies, museums and the zoo. (Ahem: Social Security is not a perk. I am entitled to it.) My hardware store invites you in on your birthday and offers a discount equal to half your age. A local pharmacy offers a free bottle of hand lotion. Also, in just days I will be eligible for a senior pass for the Muni bus system, which I have mastered so completely that I can go anywhere via at least three different routes and still get back home before rush hour.

Unless I decide to miss a bus on purpose and have an iced low-fat, decaf coconut latte at Peet’s. I do that a lot at 64. Though 65 sounds old to me, I am younger than I ever will be again -- so bring it on!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Traveler's Remorse

Traveler’s Remorse. That’s what a friend calls those moments of temporary regret that occur when you are dithering about what to pack and what to leave behind and also when you are doing everything you can to get to a destination or get home and are stalled at every turn.

Most often, the trip in the middle is outstanding, whether or not you crammed everything you thought you might need into a tiny carry-on bag and regardless of how long it takes to get out of town and get back home. That certainly was the case with my recent trip – a cruise along the west coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua on the Star Flyer, a four-masted sailing ship.

You may read all about it when my travel story runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but here I need to vent about my journeys to and from the good part.

Booked on a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Miami, I had a plan. “Take two Dramamine and drink a beer,” counseled friends who frequently take overnight flights. Okay, I thought. I can do that. I did. Couldn’t sleep a wink. The next day, I spent five hours in the Miami airport stoned on Dramamine.

The flight to Costa Rica was uneventful, and I reassured myself that though I was tired and crabby, soon I would be on an amazing 350-foot luxury vessel and could relax. “Soon” wasn’t quite right. Before being transported to the ship, we passengers waited about 90 minutes in a hotel conference room, sipping tropical juices and fighting over cookie crumbs. Then we drove for two hours to the port.

At check-in for the Star Flyer, I had to laugh when they took my photo for my ship’s ID card. I couldn’t imagine that I looked my best. Of course, I couldn’t imagine what a customs agent would mistake me for on my way home, either – but I’ll get to that later.

The time on the ship was lovely. On Day Two, I told the captain I had already achieved a state of relaxation somewhere below lazy and just above comatose. On Day Seven, disembarking went smoothly. The drive to the airport was pleasant enough, as I was awake to enjoy the scenery. I was annoyed when the airport security officer confiscated my best cuticle scissors, scissors the TSA had allowed me to take to Costa Rica, but I cheered up when I learned I could get a free hat if I bought two t-shirts in the huge airport gift shop.

Just before we started boarding the plane to Miami, the agent at the gate said we would board 10 minutes late because she wanted to give everyone time to use the restroom. Apparently three of the four lavatories on the plane were out of service. That situation made it less upsetting when security officers just beyond the gate made everyone turn in bottles of water and soda, even unopened ones.

Going through customs in Miami, I had a bit of a shock. The agent did not ask about fruits or animal products, as I had expected. He asked if I were a Catholic nun. “What?” I said, startled. When I travel, I dress like a modern-day Tom Sawyer – denim capri pants with cuffs rolled up (I am short), a t-shirt and a sweatshirt. It works, and when I saw a young woman in the same outfit, wearing a Mizzou t-shirt, we laughed about our choices in clothing.

“I asked if you were a nun,” the agent said. “You look just like one.”

No offense to nuns I know and love, but immediately, I wanted to show this man my tattoo, spout some Yiddish and finish off with something mildly profane. But you don’t mess with customs agents, so I just stammered that I was not a nun. He replied, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day anyway, Miss Corrigan!”

Once in the terminal, I stopped at Starbucks for a smoothie, which was to serve as supper. The clerk took my money and made the drink. As I walked away, she called out, “We never have any bananas this late – sorry the smoothie is so thin.”

I was scheduled to spend the night at the hotel in the Miami airport. I found it – and it was closed. The terminal director on duty told me there was a bomb scare, so the hotel was evacuated and closed for an indeterminate amount of time. Well behind the police tape, I climbed into a six-seater Homeland Security golf cart and become fast friends with a couple from Perth. We howled when we noticed the sign on the dashboard: “CHECK EMREGENCY BRAKE.” Clearly, no one checked the spelling.

After two hours, the hotel reopened at last. The next morning, my flight to Dallas left 35 minutes late, completely wiping out my 35-minute layover before my flight from Dallas to San Francisco. When we landed in Terminal C, I walked all the way to the gate in Terminal D anyway, where I was told I was too late and set up with a seat on the next plane home. Of course, that plane was scheduled to depart from Terminal C.

Of course I did get home, safe and sound, and it only took four days to lose that wonderful gentle rocking sensation that you experience on a ship. When I told my friend Denise about my encounter with the religious customs agent, she had an idea:

“Girlfriend, we gotta rouge up your look!”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Introducing The Corrigan Collection

Breaking News: The Corrigan Collection is underway.

Before I moved to San Francisco, I donated all my newspaper files to the media archives at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. By “files” I mean stacks and stacks of scrapbooks filled with articles I wrote from my high school years (when my work appeared in a major metropolitan daily and a neighborhood weekly paper as well as the high school paper) through my two decades as a reporter at the Post-Dispatch.

Imagine my delight when the following email arrived: “My name is Jerry Cooper. I am a retired Professor of History from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A couple of days a week I do volunteer work at the Archives at the Thomas Jefferson Library, at UMSL.  One of my most enjoyable tasks here is to process collections that have been donated to the Archives.

“In searching for a new project, I ran across your collection. My wife and I had always enjoyed reading your columns, and in processing your collection I was reminded how interesting your pieces were.” Mr. Cooper then asked a few questions he needs answered for a brief introduction he is writing for the Corrigan Collection.

Holy cow! I’m a collection! Of course I answered his questions. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a stack of magazines (the New Yorker, Bay Nature, O, Prevention and a two-month-old Vanity Fair) awaits my attention, I am behind on TV viewing (The Daily Show, Nature, Pioneers of Television, Frontline) and my appointment with the tax preparer approaches. (He will be delighted that my savings account earned 81 cents in interest in 2012.)  

What am I doing with my time instead?

Exploring San Francisco with friends, whipping out freelance work, spending time with Milo and playing Chasing Frank, Chasing Andy and Chasing Shannon (aka Scrabble) on line, that’s what. Also, my friend Michael was in town just long enough for lunch (disappointing watery soup at Boulange), a visit to the Warming Hut (see photo), a walk on the west end of Crissy Field and a quick stop at the Sports Basement, which is so big that you must call your shopping companion to find out where he/she is in the store.

That same day, I drove to Stinson Beach to see my friend Emmeline Craig’s wonderful new Blissful Gallery. (See I’ve had the privilege of watching this particular dream of Emmeline’s come true. Here is what she wrote in a recent blog post:

“In August 2011, I described my concept to my new friend Patricia Corrigan, talented writer and delightful woman (she loves my work…). We were having lunch in a cafe in Sausalito, and I laid out for her my vision and my desire for a beautiful space, an Art Gallery according to my heart, where I could show my work as well as others. A place to make people feel good. A place where reverence for Life is the primary form of Art.  At the time I was exploring possibilities for renting and renovating a very large building in Pt. Reyes Station. It was quite daunting. And it did not work out. But I kept looking and reaching and talking about it. I wrote notes, I made sketches, I polished statements and I pondered a lot… It was a time of brewing, incubating, and projecting. Nothing was tangible. Nothing but a certainty in my guts that I would see it happen.”  

Next, my friend Beth was in town for four days, and we were out and about much of the time. Here is an abbreviated report of a wonderful visit:

Where We Went: The Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Botanical Garden (love the redwood grove), the Japanese Garden, the Inner Richmond (shoe shopping!), Crate and Barrel (after-Christmas sale), American Conservatory Theatre (“4000 Miles”), Sausalito (especially enjoyed the Arlecchina shop), the beautiful Rodeo Beach, Fort Cronkhite, Domaine Chandon winery, Clos Pegase winery (see and the wooden deck at Fort Funston on the edge of the continent.

Where We Ate: Memphis Minnie’s, the café at the Academy of Sciences (good gumbo), the Japanese Tea House, Pinkberry Yogurt (salted caramel – wow!), Colibri, the farm stand in Mill Valley (whole wheat fig bars), Cliff House (truffle fries and pear martinis) and Mustards Grill in Napa Valley (sweet potato and crab frites).   

Today, I went to the de Young Museum to see “Rudolph Nureyev: A Life In Dance.” (See Every second I was there, looking at film clips, amazing photos and beautiful costumes, I was remembering seeing Nureyev at The Muny in 1978 (he also danced there in 1967 and 1969) and again at Kiel Auditorium in 1988. What a privilege to have seen this gifted man perform!

More fun to come: A family birthday celebration on Saturday, a new episode of “Downton Abbey” on Sunday and then on Monday, my friend Cheri (visiting from Delaware) and I will meander in search of sights to see as we share “grandma” stories. Those magazines, TV shows – and even the tax preparer -- all will have to wait!