Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Christmas 2022: A Retrospective

 ‘Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house…

Who am I kidding? I can’t sustain this without bending words and faking rhymes, and besides, I don’t want to. (One privilege of aging is to own up when you don’t want to do something.)

What I do want to do is say is that as lovely as this Christmas was, on Dec. 26th I wasn’t quite ready to move on. Ten minutes after Halloween, stores put out Christmas decorations and start stocking shelves with holiday merchandise, so why, once Christmas comes, would we be in a hurry to abandon the holiday?

As is my habit, I’d finished the little Christmas shopping I do by Thanksgiving, and a few days later, I addressed cards to friends I would not see over the holiday. A week later, I mailed the cards and three packages, which probably annoys the recipients, but I choose not to stand in line at the post office in December. Ever. (Though deadline writing still thrills me, deadline living does not.) 

One evening, I streamed Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”  as I wrapped gifts, a tradition in my house.  I know this music and love it, but every note also brings to mind “The Madcracker,” a glorious parody put on by a modern dance company a long time ago. Because the artistic director first devised the show at my dining room table one Sunday afternoon, I got to be in the show, even when it toured the Midwest! 

For eight years, each December I took time off from my job as a newspaper reporter, dressed up as the nymph Voluptua and tap danced (well, sort of) in the show, always illustrating more chutzpah than talent. Spending time in the company of Real Dancers was wonderful, and we’ve remained friends to this day. 


This year, my holiday agenda included no costumes or musical cues. Because of COVID-19, big parties still were not on my schedule, though I did attend one very small (but quite festive) lunch the first week of December. Judy and I met up at my friend Susan’s house, where we ate take-out from a favorite upscale Mexican place and drank ginger beer punctuated with cranberries. The following week, I attended the holiday dinner held for residents of my apartment building. To take advantage of good ventilation, I sat about six feet away from the open door.  

The third week of December, I traveled across the Bay Bridge to a liquidation warehouse, where I bought a fancy desk chair (gently used) that already has improved my posture and eased some lower back pain. (Thank you, defunct corporate offices in San Francisco that have flooded such warehouses with fine chairs that I can afford!) 

On Christmas Eve, fully masked and accompanied by a boy I know, I took in “A Christmas Carol” at the regional theater. Watching, as always I delighted in the Fezziwigs’ party and wished I could hang out with Christmas Present, the most entertaining of the visiting spirits. Back at home later, I polished off the last of the home-baked, beautifully decorated cookies, a gift from my friend Julia. 

And still there were more lovely moments to come! On Christmas Day, I enjoyed a delicious, low-key dinner at my son and daughter-in-law’s house, where I spent part of the time relaxing in my grandmother’s golden oak rocker. Short on space at my place when I moved to San Francisco, I gave it to the kids, and it looks great in their living room. Back at my place later, I re-read all the cards and admired the gifts I’ve received — and Christmas 2022 was over.

Well, not quite. 

Years ago, a friend and I used to hit the stores on Dec. 26 to scoop up after-Christmas bargains — mostly red and green invitations, cups, plates and napkins for her big annual soiree the following year. Of course, we had lunch out, made a nice day of it. This year, I spent 15 minutes online to order a handful of fancy holiday bags for half price, and then I put away my presents. I heated and ate leftovers from Christmas dinner. I lighted my new candle that was supposed to smell like a pine forest but smells like a bland soy candle. 

Then I settled in to see what the TV had to offer. 

VOILA: an unexpected gift! Over Thanksgiving, a cable channel aired all seven seasons of “The West Wing,” maybe my favorite series ever, and now the shows were on again! 

In November, I’d watched a few episodes and recorded a few, but missed much of the first season. I grabbed the remote and tuned in just in time to record “In Excelsus Deo,” the moving Christmas show from the first season in 1999. If you missed it, find the show and watch it. 

Later, I realized I’d not yet honored a personal tradition. Every year, I read my favorite story of the season: Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” I’m cutting this short to go do that now. As I often do, I will stop just before the boy gets sent to military school and sadness ensues. If you don’t know the book, it’s not too late to pick up a copy and spend time in the presence of Capote, a literary master. 

The new year approaches — and by Saturday, I’ll be ready to let go of Christmas 2022. Happy New Year, one and all!     


Sunday, October 16, 2022

One Rant, Two Appreciations, Three Flashbacks

(Hold your horse...keep reading for the story behind this photo.) 

During a recent Pamper Pat Week, I made appointments for several self-care treatments, indulgences I'd been putting off until after my Omicron vaccination and flu shot. When I arrived at one, the aesthetician asked, "Are we doing the Anti-Aging Facial today?”  

I shook my head. “We're too late,” I said. “Let’s do the Old Lady with Dry Skin Facial.” 

We laughed, and I settled in for the glorious experience that is a facial, a rare treat that I schedule once a year. Afterward, thrilled with my glowing, plumped-up face, I promised to start using an exfoliator again. Some years ago, I had seven or eight bottles and tubes and pots of skincare products that I never seemed to use in the right order or often enough. My current stash consists of a cleanser, a moisturizer and a serum. 

Back home, shopping on line for the right product made me mad. The high-priced spreads and “drugstore” skincare products alike all promise “anti-aging” results. A promise is not a guarantee, of course, but this absurd claim is right up there with campaigns that insist certain diet regimens reduce the risk of death. (Good luck with that!) Still, I’m happy to take better care of my skin. 

Worthy Books 

For over a week, I’ve been crawling into bed at night with Jann Wenner’s book “Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir.” I’m a fan, and have read the award-winning magazine off and on since Wenner, now 76, founded it in 1967 with Ralph Gleason, a jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. When I started reading the memoir, I thought I was well informed about Wenner’s many accomplishments. I wasn’t — he had a hand in far more amazing projects than I’d realized, and the man knows everyone. 

The book is deliciously long — 592 pages — and has garnered high praise from Paul McCartney, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and AARP magazine. Bette Midler called it “a rip-roaring and speedy ride through the excesses, excitements, and tragedies of our generation. Alternately thrilling, bedeviling, and deeply moving...unparalleled reading.” 

I agree. Today, Wenner’s son Gus runs the magazine, which continues to speak clearly on culture, current events and politics. 

Geraldine Brooks’ “Horse” is another extraordinary read. This book on horse racing also covers race relations in our time as well as in the past, takes you into a dusty storage area at the Smithsonian Institution (I sneezed) and even invites you into Jackson Pollack’s art studio. It’s a quick read, even at 438 pages, because you’re so eager to find out what happens next. 

A surprise lurks in the end notes, one that’s worth spoiling here. The horse, who raced under the name Lexington, was real, and was considered the best American racehorse of his day, in the 1850s. Brooks reveals that the animal’s mounted skeleton is on display at the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky. A friend who enjoyed the book just bought a plane ticket and plans to pay homage. 

Memories of Kentucky 

I’m familiar with Kentucky’s “horse country.” A branch of my mother’s family settled there, and when I was a kid we often visited in the summers. (Queen Elizabeth, a horse aficionado, also visited Lexington at least five times, but I’m not certain we ever overlapped.) Our relatives owned a farm and tobacco fields in Nonesuch, about 35 minutes southwest of Lexington. Reading “Horse” summoned dozens of memories from those Kentucky vacations. Here are just three. 

Rock fences, mortar-free and known as “dry-laid fences,” once lined the roads and marked off pastures and farmland in the 15 counties known as Kentucky’s Bluegrass region. In their book “Rock Fences of the Bluegrass,” Carolyn Murray-Wooley and Karl Raitz note that early settlers from Scotland and Ireland built the first rock fences in the state and later, in the mid-1800s, "crews of Irish masons built many of the rock fences that bordered the newly created turnpikes” in the state. Some of those Irish settlers, my mother always said, were our ancestors. This still makes me very proud!

One day when I was about 7, weary after chasing chickens, I took a seat in the outhouse at the farm.  Suddenly, the wooden door slowly opened, as I hadn't thought to lock it. It wasn't my parents, it wasn't my cousins or anyone else from the house — a cow had come to visit. Nothing like this ever happened at home, back in St. Louis, Missouri! I was a little scared, but I politely introduced myself. Apparently satisfied, the cow moved on.  

On another trip, I was in the kitchen with my mother’s Aunt Mamie, who was baking biscuits. When a wasp flew in the open window, I ducked and squealed. Aunt Mamie laughed, grabbed a biscuit cooling on the counter, pulled it apart and expertly clapped the halves around the flying insect. Then she threw the biscuit to a dog in the yard, just beyond the wide porch. The house, which was built in 1906, is still in the family. 

Sweet memories!                                        


                                                        





  





Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Great Escape: A Worry-Free Nap

Car horns. Sirens. Rumbling trucks. More sirens. The muffled roar of passing traffic. I hear none of it, because I’ve nodded off while sitting on my balcony. If someone had asked me if I could nap for an hour in a chair some 13 stories high above the noisy city streets, I would have said absolutely not.                                    

But I did. Fortunately, I had on a wide-brimmed sun hat and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, protection prompted by a recent visit to the dermatologist, who had "tsk-tsked" about past sun damage to my skin. 

I’d stepped out on the balcony to get away from my desk, where I’d been working for about two hours. I was alert, ready to breathe deep and relax outside in the balmy 68-degree July weather. (Thank you, San Francisco, for your Mediterranean climate, which suits me so perfectly.) 

Relaxing these days, for me, often requires first banishing fear, anger, frustration, disappointment and a whole litany of other disturbing mindsets that are always alert for opportunities to command my attention. 

My maternal grandmother’s approach to achieving calm was to turn to the “Serenity Prayer,” Reinhold Niebuhr’s dictum asking God for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” She had a ballpoint pen with that prayer inscribed on it. When my mother died, I found the pen in her purse, and now it’s in my desk drawer.

                                              

When I think about those words, usually I can think of something specific I can do to help in many situations, but sometimes I get stuck on how to determine what I can’t change or affect in any way. That’s how I came to settle on briefly reviewing and then banishing issues that trouble me, at least for a while.  

Most often, I begin by thinking, “You do not live in Ukraine, so all your worries are small.” Then I flag that second part as false, because I worry about the war in Ukraine, which is no small thing. I wonder why the international community allows the pointless loss of life to drag on, but I know that this is too big for me to fix. 

I worry about the many (too many) individuals in the U.S. who remain in thrall to a shyster, a con man, a psychopath who was (and maybe still is) ready to sacrifice democracy at the altar of his bloated ego. I worry that this same man’s power grab has led to the theocracy we now live under, ruled by people who insist that we all must believe exactly as they believe. 

What can I do? Well, I sat out the Fourth of July, because as a woman in the U.S., I don’t feel free. Also, I can — and I will — vote, and through the non-partisan Vote Forward campaign, I can encourage others to do the same.  

I worry about our legislators and business leaders who care so little for their own children and grandchildren that they take actions to accelerate the climate crisis. Greed drives those actions. How do they not see that no amount of money ever will justify destroying the planet? I also worry about white people so desperate to feel superior to everyone else that they use guns and laws to back up their absurd biases. That’s two more issues I can’t fix, though I can — and do — raise my voice. 

Mentally ill people, some of them armed, are allowed to live on San Francisco streets because a vocal segment of the population here says that is their right. I worry about that twisted thinking, just as I worry about the open-air drug dealing in a nearby neighborhood where children walk to school. I write letters to the mayor and my supervisor, though no satisfying answers are offered.                                                                    

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 — and the many mixed messages coming from experts and ignorant fools — concerns me a great deal. We seem to be at a point where everyone decides for themselves what level of risk they will take, and that does not appear to be working out all that well now that the new version of Omicron is with us. This, I can manage to a point, because I can wear a mask to protect my health when I feel at risk. 

When my fretting zeroes in on friends going through hard times with health crises or other causes of emotional overload, I can send a card with an encouraging word or make a call and offer to help. (Locally, I can even do a porch drop-off of fine chocolate, when requested.) When I want to help support a cause, though I have to leave the marching to younger people, I can send a wee bit of money.                                               

When I worry about how much I worry — the unexamined life is not for me — I search for moments of joy, among them a visit with my grandson, hummingbirds at the feeder, a report that a wildfire is under control, a call from a friend to say she’s baked a cake and wants to share a piece or two, a boat ride, listening to music I love, a fulfilling work assignment, a Giants baseball game that isn’t cringe-worthy, a book that keeps me up late and a juicy heirloom tomato.

And now I have another escape: a refreshing nap in the sun. 


Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Salute to San Francisco

The city where I’ve chosen to live for almost 12 years does not need me to defend it, but I will. Though the national and local media sometimes make much of San Francisco’s problems — insufficient affordable housing, hamstrung politicians, homelessness, a school board run aground, street crime and rising water lapping at the shores of this peninsula that measures just under 49 square miles — I love it. 

Here are some of the reasons why.  

San Francisco Exemplifies Location, Location, Location

From Point Lobos — one of the city’s outer headlands overlooking the Golden Gate Strait — you can see where the Pacific Ocean rushes into San Francisco Bay as the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River flow out. From the beach at Crissy Field, east of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can watch giant cargo ships, fishing boats, ferries, yachts and sailboats make their way through the water. Off Ocean Beach, surfers bob in the water, their hooded wetsuits giving them the appearance of so many sea lions poking their heads out for a look around. 

I’ve been drawn to water for decades. For 40 years, from boats large and small, I’ve watched whales in the wild off both U.S. and Canadian coasts, in Mexico and in Argentina. Snorkeling is my sport, and I’ve spent time hovering above reef sharks (in the Galapagos Islands) following majestic manta rays (in the Caribbean Sea) and talking to sea turtles (off Hawaii). Now, more often than not I’m simply sitting by water, which research shows can lower stress, relieve anxiety and increase happiness.  

San Francisco Is Beautiful 

Iconic landmarks abound. How about that Golden Gate Bridge, for starters? You can catch glimpses of it from all over town (including from my balcony) and for me, it’s still a thrill to drive over it. Flowers bloom everywhere much of the year, (small gardens thrive in many a front yard) and palm trees wave from unexpected spots all over town. The city also boasts eclectic architecture. Here's a tip: After you've seen the renowned Painted Ladies, check out the beautiful houses on Waller at Masonic. 

What about green space? Some 220 parks are sprinkled throughout the city. Golden Gate Park, which takes up 1,017 acres, houses a botanical garden, a bison paddock (the five older females’ names all begin with “B”) the oldest glass and wood Victorian greenhouse in the western hemisphere, a space for free outdoor swing dancing lessons, 10 lakes, a Japanese Tea Garden and two word-class museums. 

San Francisco Embraces Art

Golden Gate Park is home to the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, two of the 50 museums in the city. (Read my Next Avenue article about some of them here: https://www.nextavenue.org/modern-art-beat-poets/) Some are large (the Asian Art Museum, the Legion of Honor, the Exploratorium), some are small (the Cartoon Art Museum, the Cable Car Museum, the Beat Museum) and some are rare (the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Musée Mécanique, a retired Navy submarine). 



At the Hyde Street Pier, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park,  visitors can tour historic ships. Public art is on display throughout the city. And the bullet holes in the floor in the prison on Alcatraz Island dramatically illustrate some of that building’s history. 

San Francisco Celebrates Culture

Theater. Music. Dance. Lectures. It’s all here, in its many incarnations, and I am grateful. I’ve seen “Hamilton” three times (!), been moved by the plight of refugees portrayed in “The Jungle,” delighted in Bill Irwin’s one-man show “On Beckett” and watched in awe as Sha Sha Higby performed in a storefront theater. Sutton Foster, Tovah Feldshuh and my friend Ken Haller all brought cabaret shows here, and I was in attendance. 

From the highest balcony, I saw Placido Domingo in “Cyrano” at the San Francisco Opera. After interviewing classical violinist Vadim Gluzman, I saw him play at the San Francisco Symphony.  I also bought a ticket to hear Bernadette Peters sing. With friends, I attended “Audium,” a concert of "sound sculptures" broadcast on 169 speakers. Plus, the city gave the music so many top bands, including The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival and more. 

I have attended the San Francisco Ballet’s legendary “The Nutcracker” — in 1944, the company debuted the first full-length version of that ballet staged in the U.S. Equally enjoyable was watching expert hula dancers perform in a most unlikely spot — a sandwich shop out by the water, after hours one rainy week night. Plus, I know where Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn were busted for smoking dope on a rooftop. 

Some book authors come through town to read in the many independent bookstores; others require larger spaces. When Margaret Atwood was here, an audience member asked her, “Are you a witch?” (Atwood laughed.) When Billy Collins read his poetry, I hoped the evening would go on and on. Richard Powers was quick to anger when an audience member questioned whether trees should be considered sentient. And Ricky Jay gifted me with a deck of cards when he gave a talk, though he declined to show off his card-throwing skills. 

Fine food is important here, too. We've got quality and quantity both. Before COVID-19, supposedly even if you ate dinner out every night for 15 years, you still would not have visited every restaurant. During the pandemic, the city lost some restaurants, but over the last few months, new ones are opening all the time. Have to say I am thrilled that I live somewhere that I can buy fresh malasadas!

San Francisco Welcomes Quirky

Historians note that what started as a small Spanish settlement in 1776 grew from about 1,000 inhabitants in 1848 to 25,000 in 1849 after gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Back then, eggs jumped from a dollar each to $3, a pound of coffee cost $40 and overalls went for $45 a pair. Author and historian Gary Kamiya tells great tales about San Francisco's history in his book "Cool Gray City of Love," and he generously provides resources for readers like me who want to know more. 

Today, like many other cities, San Francisco holds an annual nude bike ride, pub crawls in December for people dressed as Santa and street festivals that pay homage to neighborhoods, subcultures and assorted holidays. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — men dressed as glamorous nuns known for their charitable acts — was founded here in 1979 and now is a worldwide movement. One day, out for a drive, I came across the Sisters celebrating near one of the tiled mosaic staircases in town, and caught one sliding down a bannister.  

I like that everyone in this city has an opinion on almost everything, a trait I share. I like that no one makes a big deal out of it when a man walks along a downtown street with a large iguana draped over his head. 

When I saw a giant cloud shaped liked a sperm whale, I was able to board a boat the next day from a pier just 30 minutes away — and see migrating whales! 

San Francisco is a baseball town. When I moved here in 2010, I committed post-season treason and shifted my allegiance from the St. Louis Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants, and later got to appear in a commercial for the team. I remain a particular fan of Tim Lincecum, the pitcher extraordinaire known as The Freak.

And I like that orange poppies grow out of sidewalk cracks and on verdant hillsides and even in concrete medians along busy streets. The jaunty flowers are at home here. So am I. 




Friday, December 31, 2021

Don't Postpone Joy, Regardless

Dismay may be a valid response to much of 2021, a year when the U.S. saw more than 54 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 800,000 deaths from it — so many of them preventable. Many of us also have struggled with dark visions of the future of democracy, assuming we have a planet left on which to practice it. 

But today a shiny new year beckons, so this is no time for existential dread or self-pity. (On that pungent topic, American cartoonist Dick Guindon notes, “You shouldn't wallow in self-pity. But it's OK to put your feet in it and swish them around a little.”) 

As the gifted Stephen Sondheim reminds us in his song, “I’m here,” survival is triumph, and a reason for joy. Photos snapped with my phone captured many happy moments from 2021, and I’m sharing them here. 

JANUARY

As a longtime sunset aficionado, I am so happy to have a 13th-floor apartment that faces due West so I can indulge in my harmless hobby every day. 

FEBRUARY 

Launched in 1886, the Balclutha now is docked in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and her story (Pottery! Cutlery! Whiskey!) always excites me. (Read more here: www.nps.gov/safr/learn/historyculture/balclutha-history.htm)

MARCH

I grew up eating rainbow trout that Daddy caught in Arkansas' White River. Now I head to the Sausalito marina often, to feast on trout at Fish. I always mean to order something else — but I never do. 

APRIL

I also grew up reading everything I could find about Josephine Baker, and when the de Young Museum (https://deyoung.famsf.org/) in Golden Gate Park featured an exhibit on Alexander Calder, I ran right over to see this, one of several sculptures he did of Baker. Sexy! 

MAY

 

During a visit to Filoli Gardens (https://filoli.org/) in May, ginkgo trees were for sale in the gift shop! I often sit next to my tree and tell it the history of this magnificent species. 

JUNE

Even the Tyrannosaurus rex (or what remains of it) at the California Academy of Sciences (www.calacademy.org/) wears a mask indoors! And why not? Whatever it takes to keep us safe! 

JULY

Got to cheer on "Late Night LaMonte" Wade at Oracle Park with the family one beautiful July afternoon! He saved a lot of night games with walk-off hits for the Giants. 

AUGUST

Headed to Moss Landing with my friend Julia for a whale-watch trip! Been at this for 40 years now. (I. Am. Old.) Always love time on the ocean! And if you don't already follow my Facebook posts on Whaleopedia (www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063957405764) about all things whale, dolphin and porpoise, start today. Kids especially love my Wednesday Whale Fact. 

SEPTEMBER

Judy, my friend for 48 years (!) came to visit, and we dropped in on Yoda, who dispenses wisdom outside Lucasfilms Headquarters in the Presidio. Then, wisely (it was a nippy day), we ducked into the nearby coffee shop.

OCTOBER

For 19 months (the gestation period for a baby elephant), my beloved warm-water pool at the JCC was closed due to COVID-19 and then installation of a new dehumidifier. When the pool reopened in October, I was often one of just two or three people in it! Water is my natural element, and I sorely miss it when I'm not there.

NOVEMBER

After sharing its pot with a bunch of California poppies, the ginkgo tree seemed to be rethinking its life on the balcony. The leaves turned crunchy brown and dropped — every last one. "We'll see what happens in a couple of months," I told The Boy. One day in October I noticed new growth, and within 30 days, the tree was celebrating spring. In November. Fine with me! 

DECEMBER

Aren't surprises just the best? Early in December, this beauty showed up in the mail, a gift from my friend (and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer) J.B. Forbes. The shimmery, bejeweled ornament reminded him of me, he said! I'm in awe. 

ON TO 2022

I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions, but if I did, this year's would be Stop Saving Anything. Many of us save new clothes, new bed linens, new slippers, new towels, new everything (undies, even!) — and FOR WHAT???? 

My longtime mantra has been, and remains:

DON'T POSTPONE JOY!

I am reminded of this every time I want to call Steve Woolf, who died in July after a very short and not particularly fulfilling retirement. He was happy the last time we spoke, home from the hospital, feeling better, looking forward to better days ahead. That was just three days before his journey on this planet ended. I miss him.

Make sure you find some joy today, call people you miss, watch the sun set and carry on. 


   

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

It's That Time Again!

Ho Ho Ho — and all that jazz! 

Though my official Grandmas and Grandkids Christmas Decorating Party is still some days away, I'm auditioning a new piece I bought at a posh discount store (yes, there is such a thing) last week in San Francisco: 

Why did I buy this? Because I fully expected an Inspector Armand Gamache action figure to come with it, to complete the obvious reference to Three Pines. (Louise Penny fans, you're welcome.) 

No such luck. Then I realized the snow-festooned trees also remind me of winter visits in years past to the Donner-Tahoe area in the Sierra Nevadas. Brrr! 

But beautiful!  

Photographing the new addition to my minimalist collection of decorations (most of them fit in one medium-sized bin at the top of the closet) sent me to my phone, where I scrolled through pictures from Christmases Past. I found fun shots of some of my decorations and also those of friends. 

Enjoy — and feel free to duplicate any of these approaches, unless your loyalty to tradition forbids making any changes. I like to mix it up!  

Christmas 2020:


Christmas 2019:

                                         

Christmas 2018:  


                                

Christmas 2017:

                                

Christmas 2016: 

                                

Christmas 2015: 

Cheating a bit here — this was a New Year's Eve Party, which I attended wrapped in a 9-foot-long  feather boa and a fancy feather fascinator. Still have the topper, though the boa withered away after decades of parties. 

                                

Christmas 2014:

Snapped this at Vierra and Friends in Cole Valley, where my friend Lison decorates her salon in a Big Way! 

                            

Christmas 2013:

                                 

Christmas 2012:

With my Girl Cousins at Karen's house, celebrating Christmas with my dear Aunt Betty. She's gone, but we remember!               





HAPPY DECORATING — AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!






















Saturday, November 13, 2021

Untold Tales from a Food Writer's Tasty Past

An apple pie for Joel Grey, harsh feedback on lettuce preferences, eating gourmet chocolates with the French chef who crafted them. Also, insider info on strawberry-rhubarb pie, too much port for one afternoon, the joys of golden kiwi revealed. Oh, and a frozen pork chop.

These highlights from my days as a newspaper food writer and later, a restaurant critic, bubbled up after I mentioned to a friend that I now have a dream job. Read on.

Just over a year ago, a gifted caterer (justeatitsf.com) who pivoted to home delivery service because of the pandemic needed a writer/editor to help with web copy, email blasts and social media posts. At the time, I needed to revive my waning interest in cooking or resign myself to eating food primarily prepared at the local grocery.  

When she said she wasn’t sure she could afford to hire me, I asked if she would feed me in exchange for help with words — and she agreed! I’ve been well fed (and happy) ever since. Let’s hear it for bartering! 

Here's a photo from my Thanksgiving meal last year:

Feast now on some of the highlights (and delicious lowlights) from my past:

Interviewing Chef Pierre Franey as we sipped fresh banana malts at a local eatery.

A disgruntled restaurant owner who tried to get me fired because I wrote that I didn’t hate iceberg lettuce. (I do hate frisée, but no one cares.)

Hearing from home cooks I’d featured in the newspaper that they’d laminated and framed the articles and hung them on their kitchen walls. 

A sly restaurant owner who told me he had a special menu for regular customers, and then got angry when I wrote about that.

Struggling to cut into a pork chop at a restaurant I was reviewing — it was frozen. 

Sampling a box of Chef Michel Guérard’s new line of gourmet chocolates while I interviewed him. 

Choking down a tuna roll at an interview with a sushi chef because I am not (and never will be) a fan of raw fish. The photographer with me deftly palmed his, slipped it into his jacket pocket (eww…) and told the chef it tasted great. 

A distinguished restaurant owner who indicated he had recognized me by first kissing my hand, then starting up my arm.  

Holding a Pie Baking Party with friends so I could learn to bake an apple pie. I wrote a story that included all the recipes. (After some practice runs, I did manage to make one perfect apple pie, which I delivered to Joel Grey at the theater where he was performing in “Cabaret.” He liked that pie so much, he told me to quit my day job.) 

Learning from a restaurant owner what goes into the price of a meal, including the ingredients, the prep time, the rent or mortgage, the gas and electricity bills, linen service, salaries — it’s amazing we don’t pay more!

Getting a personal call from a favorite chef every spring when he was making strawberry-rhubarb pie. 

An arrogant restaurant owner who told me he didn’t want anyone over 35 eating at his place, and then got angry when I wrote about that. 

Hearing a restaurant/bar owner’s story about the night Allen Ginsberg came in, sat in front of the fireplace and recited from his poem “Howl.”

Taking heat from a deli owner who flinched when I asked if he had any lean pastrami. (Still sorry!)

Trying to sober up fast in order to drive home safely from a port tasting.

Following a truck on an unfamiliar road and suddenly realizing I was in line at a highway weigh station instead of on an exit ramp. (At least we hadn’t eaten yet!) 

Interviewing food writer and self-described “fruit detective” David Karp, who informed me at length about some of the 40 known varieties of kiwi. (If you haven’t yet, try the golden — tastes like sunshine!) 

Finding my review proudly posted alongside other favorable coverage in a restaurant’s bathroom. 

Yep, those were the days! I also remember abandoning my restaurant beat for a week on September 11, 2001, so I could be back on the streets reporting the news. I told my editor: “I am not writing this week about whether I liked my salad.” 

I treasure the hundreds of interviews with restaurant owners, chefs, wine mavens, cookbook authors and also the readers in metropolitan St. Louis who willingly shared their recipes. I met so many interesting people, and I learned so very much over the years. 

And that’s why today I’m able to work for food!

P.S. Bonus: I also write for a Master Mixologist (msquaredspirits.com) whose posh craft cocktails are now available in 39 states. He shows up at my door now and then with alcoholic rewards!