Tag Archives: San Francisco

Paradise Lost


We saw the photographs and footage like everyone else. Forests in red blazes, orange skies over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a mustard gas like atmosphere on the ground in Los Angeles. Runaway wildfires working their way up the coast, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.

In the San Juan Islands, just off beautiful B.C. Canada, we were sailing along under blue skies for a time, feeling grateful. That was last week.

This week the smoke is in our hair, on our clothes, in our eyes, in every breath we take. All we can taste is smoke and it tastes like cotton/wool/flannel. No, it tastes like fleece. Smoke strips everything of color, rendering it flattened and forlorn. Smoke silences our forests.

We should have known it was coming. One evening last week we felt a course wind, “like a Santa Anna,” my husband noted. One by one the birds left the island, taking their songs with them. The only birds I see now are Resident Canadian Geese and Northwestern or American Crows. Resident Canadian Geese are born here, don’t migrate, and have lost all instinct to fly off. And crows, like cockroaches or coyotes, are scavengers, poking through paper plates and napkins left on outdoor restaurant dining tables.

Basically, birds live on the edge. Because of their highly sensitive respiratory system, caged canaries were at one time carried down into coal mines to detect any dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide. If the canary died, miners would flee the mine. But we can’t climb out of this. Planet Earth is our home, and air quality has no borders. It’s like the ocean.

We’re all living on the edge.

A few years ago a woman I know from Houston, Texas visited Seattle. She couldn’t wait to leave, it was too green for her. “When you’ve seen one pine tree, you’ve seen them all,” was her refrain. Never mind that our forests in The Pacific Northwest are comprised of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, and Sitka Spruce as well as Ponderosa Pine. They were all the same to her. And they all do their job in being one of the great “lungs” on earth—keeping places like Houston alive.

We cannot afford to lose our forests if we’re going to keep our planet pumping. Climate denialism will never replace lost lives, homes, towns, forests, wild animals, beloved pets, and birds overcome by heat and smoke. What’s in the smoke? My friend, Jeff Smith, retired RN in San Francisco tells us, “Smoke is not just particles—it is all the substances that are burning. It is gases and plastics and pesticides and toxic metals and flame retardants. These get attached to the particles and we breath them in. And we absorb them through our skin… and we ingest them.”

No one survives smoke plumes upwards of 10 miles high containing thunderstorms, lightening, and tornados. Unprecedented drought, soaring heat and strong winds fueled these flames. Meanwhile snowpacks have been shrinking in the mountains just as oceans have warmed.

Mother Nature is pissed.

As Governor of California Gavin Newson put it, “The debate is over on climate change. Just come to the state of California.” Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada, I might add.


Filed under climate denialism

Big Daddy and Me



A tall attractive woman carried an ethnic tote over her shoulder, hoisting it into the overhang compartment on our flight to San Francisco. Unlike my carry-on luggage, it slid right in. Ivory cotton with leather strapping, her bag had caught my eye while we were waiting to board. She looked like she had been around the globe once or twice. I came close to asking her where she had found the tote. But certain she’d sweep her long blond trusses back and mention a market in Morocco, I didn’t ask.

We had come to San Francisco to furnish an apartment in a Victorian building (c. 1896) on Buena Vista Park. Across the park is Haight Ashbury. So it seemed appropriate that, like many before us, we started off on an air mattrass in an otherwise empty flat.

Take a stroll with me down The Haight today, if you will. I make it sound like the Champs-Elysee, but really it’s more like a street scene out of Blade Runner. A psyche ward turned out. People without meds inhabiting the same corner day after day. Dark coats, seedy scarves, hats, and fingerless gloves. Unwashed, uncut, ratted hair—it’s not like the musical “Hair” anymore. There’s no music now.

Double decker tour buses roll through The Haight daily. Visitors gape, and I wonder what they see. Do they are seeing it as it is now, or as it was then?

For my part I like to walk it and imagine it in its glory, back in the day when we all knew someone who ran off to San Francisco. Young girls tumbling in and out of thrift shops, flinging feather boas around their necks like Janis Joplin. The thrill in the shrill of their voices. Guitars tuning through open windows. Skinny-legged tambourine men playing on the street. I see all this. What were once young idealistic kids in bell bottoms, and  what were once colorfully painted store fronts and buildings. Gone dark with dirt and grime, and everyone aged.

I’ve been thinking about nothing but juxtaposition lately.

Into the Victorian beauty with eleven foot ceilings and 12” molding, we had every intention to go modern and minimalist. I knew where I would begin: HD Buttercup. I Uber’d over so I could Uber X back in a SUV with my bounty. Three small tables, as it turned out. A side table in brass and glass, and a pair of night stands in brass with a marble top. Other contemporary pieces came in: a pair of Barcelona chairs, an over-scaled orb chandelier—the fixture Joanna Gaines draws into nearly every interior on Fixer Upper. Drunk as I was on modern design, I thought I’d be back. But that was before I ran into Big Daddy Antiques.

Every apartment should turn over now and then.

From Big Daddy we came home adding texture with a long Mongolian mohair pillow in white for a gray sofa, a Mongolian mohair ottoman in black for the Barcelona chairs, a cement table, and a low table topped with camel bone. But really, you could have just left me there, in that warehouse on 17th Street in SF. Apparently I can’t do one without the other; modern alone can be cold.

As for that oversized tote that had caught my eye en route to San Francisco, I found that too for sale at HD Buttercup. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of anything?

Now I’m throwing that tote over my shoulder, looking like I know what I’m doing. But we never really know. Like my decidedly modern design direction that took an artisanal and indigenous turn.


Filed under interior design, interior design, minimalist, modern

The Good Life

sf_topothemark_sf-lgMy husband and I and our two grown daughters who call San Francisco home had climbed the heights of Nob Hill and ridden the elevator to the 19th floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel for cocktail hour at Top of the Mark. Panoramic views of the city and the water and the bridges at sunset. A splendid site, the kind you write home about.

The last place in the world where you would expect to get into a little disagreement.

I am trying to recall it all. The signature martini menu, dance floor, and lounge atmosphere. Everyone dressed to the nine’s. A trip back in time and civility, expecting to see Tony Bennett take the mic in his easy stride and wide smile at any moment.

And that was what I was noting–in fact he was singing to me–when one of my daughters mentioned pointedly, “Mom, you can put that notebook away now.”

I don’t need to back up and inform you that we had had this discussion before concerning cell phones and texting in restaurants. But paper and pen? I always thought that the indisputable right of writers through the ages, and I was simply exercising my right.

But to the girls, it’s the same thing. Rude.

I’ve thought so much about this, I don’t know what I think anymore. A dilemma for all time, apparently.


Filed under Writing

Between Acts

Everest Range

So I was reading from Thomas Merton’s journals this week and came upon this: “It is really illogical that I should get temptations to run off to another monastery and to another Order of monks.” Oh my God, was he this way too? Restless and wondering whether life would be better in that monastery over there instead? I nearly fell out of my chair. For here I go again, looking to reinvent my life.

For years, change was almost scripted for us. Due to job transfers and job changes our family hopped around, West Coast, East Coast, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. That which moved us also settled us in some pretty spectacular places. And I indulged in a nearly promiscuous love affair with houses and starting over.

Today we are more settled having been in this home, and in this city, longer than any other. But all our cards are in the air as my husband has left his position of fifteen years. And where did he go, the hardest working man I had ever known? He went trekking in the Himalayas….

Always believe it when you hear that climbing the Himalayas is life-changing.

Whatever Paul does next has to be entirely new and challenging. He needs mountains. So we’re giving our imaginations free reign and looking at everything, from other offers, to consulting, to living abroad—it’s now or never, he says—to living in a high-rise downtown, to moving to the San Juan Islands and living near the boat. In Panama this might be called “living off the grid.” I’m not suggesting anything like that, but definitely taking stress down a few notches. I hate to say it, but we could grow old there.

I am learning to shop in my own closet. Whatever path we chose, we have too much stuff. How simple it would have been for Thomas Merton!

I’m happy for Paul to have this time off, and treasure the time together. Long walks pondering what to do with the rest of our lives…. Don’t know what we’ll do, but change is in the wind. My folks are alive and well and would like us to come east. Our daughters live in San Francisco.

We are betwixt and between and maybe, just maybe, entirely free.


Filed under reinvent

“Batkid Saves City”

I feel bad about the fact that in my efforts to raise extraordinary children, I fell short of being a good mom. By this I mean, in my mind costume items were kept in a costume trunk for dressing up at home or going out on Halloween. Otherwise, when we went out I wanted them well-dressed, well put-together. Now, who was I doing that for but for myself and maybe other moms?

Looking back, my daughters must have been turning their heads with awe at the girls who got to wear tutus over their pants if they felt like it, or boys of summer dressed as Spider Man, or all the children who put together the most interesting, outlandish combinations of clothes, themselves, every day. They are probably the most creative people today, including fashion designers. And many of them, I would imagine, live in San Francisco. A city that knows how to celebrate life in costume.

Witness the Batkid event in San Francisco on Friday, November 15th. No matter what one’s week was like, it had to be uplifted by a city that transformed itself into Gotham City, and the thousands of volunteers and onlookers who turned out see one little boy’s wish come true.

Miles Scott, age 5, dreamed of being Batkid. As a child battling cancer, he believed in Batman as only a child can. And Batman licked the cancer as only Batman can. In any case, superheros helped pull him through, and superheros always win. So when Miles’ treatments were finished and the leukemia went into remission, Make-A-Wish Foundation pulled out all the stops to make his wish come true.

By many accounts, the event was more phenomenal to the city than when the Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Miles came to the city with his family under the guise of picking up a Batkid costume. Everyone was in on it but Miles. In the family’s hotel room in the morning, “Breaking News” interrupted television programming with SF Police Chief Greg Suhr calling on Batkid with “We need your help!” Dressed in his new costume, Batkid scurried down to the lobby and, accompanied by an adult Batman, sped off in a black Lamborghini Batmobile—all major roads having been cleared for the event. Throughout the day the two of them sprung into action from one staged event to another: rescuing a damsel in distress tied to cable car tracks on Union Square, thwarting the Riddler’s attempted robbery of a bank vault and seeing him off in a paddy wagon, and onward to AT & T park to rescue Lou Seal, the Giant’s mascot, who had been kidnapped by the Penguin.

One long ambitious day with flash mobs and cheering crowds everywhere. A special edition of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper read “BATKID SAVES CITY” on the front page. And the day ended with Mayor Ed Lee presenting Miles with the keys to the city. Throughout it all, the five year old boy struck the pose and the poise of the superhero that he truly is.

The story that went around the world. And as one twitter user wrote, “Sometimes humans get it right.”


Filed under leukemia, superheros

The Harder They Come

My daughter is driving to the desert as I write. She is making the trek to Coachella, the West Coast’s premier outdoor music festival for the past thirteen years in Indio, California. I have to say, good for her. One of my biggest regrets has always been missing Woodstock. I was even on the East Coast at the time. Ashley has gone far more out of her way, flying down from San Francisco to San Diego, renting a car, and will most likely post some photos as she goes. If all goes well, this blog post could be illustrated.

We knew this event was coming weeks ago as Ashley was working on her “boho disco desert hippies-from-the-future wardrobe.” I have no idea what that looks like, and so I picture the 60’s. I think I am not far off.

Here’s the thing: I wonder if she has heard the same weather report I have? A storm system is currently heading to Indio and the normally sweltering festival may experience rain, high winds, and low

temperatures. With a wardrobe, she can always layer.

More than 120 bands are scheduled to perform over the weekend at Coachella, the headliners being Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog, Radiohead, and the Black Keys. Ashley tells me she’s more into the indie music, which is also represented. I’m thinking indie works with her “boho disco desert hippies-from-the-future” wardrobe. Today I pulled up the schedule, and scanned it for someone I really knew and loved… and finally found it in Jimmy Cliff, a reggae singer from the days of “The Harder They Come.” I was younger than Ashley then. Being old is finding many of your musicians on the casino circuit today. “Well, those that are still alive,” my friend adds.

So go for it, live each day, enjoy every sandwich, as they say, and I wish you all peace, love, and music. And not so much mud.


Filed under indie music, music festivals, reggae

Rewriting My Life in San Francisco

I am standing in the windows of my daughters’ second floor apartment in San Francisco. Double Decker buses regularly roll by the windows and the view goes both ways. We look out at the passengers as they peer in at us. I have become accustomed to that in this city. When I first started visiting San Francisco I saw the inhabitants as characters in a play. How theatrical they all look. Clothes as costumes, accessories as props, and people as troupe. Somehow everyone here is younger and has more energy, more imagination and resources then the rest of us, it seems.

Cities have always been a place to reinvent oneself, and San Francisco is becoming my second city. I want to visit as often as my daughters will have me. Their place is between Haight Ashbury and Buena Vista. I won’t give out the address but Grace Slick of The Jefferson Airplane reportedly lived here. This means more to me than it possibly could to my daughters. She had to have been the age they are now. We all were at that time. And here I am now, dreaming of reinventing myself yet again. Cities give us this sense of permission. Interesting, the anonymity we can feel in the city. It’s the small towns that invade our space.

I dream of putting a writing table in a bay window such as this, looking out to colorful Victorian architecture, stain glass windows lit at night, pedestrians, the small circle of people at the bus stop, and those riding by eye-to-eye. I am thinking I may never run out of material here. And although I have never lived in San Francisco before, I am thinking that I will feel I have come full circle.


Filed under cities, reinventing, Uncategorized, Writing