Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Away Far Away

Well this Christmas was certainly different for us- no family, no friends, no snow, no tree, and Max had to work on Christmas Day. In fact I suppose in some ways it just wasn't Christmas at all- some hybrid of a winter holiday. But we did celebrate in this place far from home.

We started the celebration on the winter solstice, the 21st. I'm always excited when the winter solstice finally arrives and the sun starts coming back. There's something quite magic about celebrating such an ancient tradition. We spent the evening in a more modern manner- dinner out and an evening at a concert! We went to a new restaurant (there is always a new restaurant to try in San Fran)- the Absinthe-

And then we were off to a concert of Handel's Messiah. Though I had heard the Messiah on many occasions this was the first time to hear a professional group (The American Bach Choir that actually uses period instruments). The concert was incredible! Better yet, they did the whole Messiah and did not end it at the Hallelujah Chorus as most groups do at Christmas.

On Saturday night we had the first of THE CHRISTMAS CHOWDERS! We started with a big pot of corn chowder. On the first night- Saturday we added in fish for FISH CHOWDER-

Max has really enjoyed the availability of fresh clams and mussels here in SF. So I keep getting them added to our meals. They aren't exactly my favorite sea food and I often wonder if they are still alive when we plop them into the boiling water to cook them. Does that shell become a steam room that slowly heats up so they get cooked alive in their homes? I can't really hear them scream for help, but I wonder......

On Sunday the 23rd we spent much of the day at Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill. This is the church we've started attending. It is a very large French Gothic style church that is the cathedral for San Francisco and it is the third largest episcopal church in the U.S.

After the morning service we went to lunch at a small Italian Cafe, the Nob Hill Cafe. It is actually a cafe we have been visiting for over 10 years since Don started attending conferences that were held at nearby hotels- the brunch was wonderful- we'll be back!

After brunch we spent the afternoon in the Cathedral- there was a holiday concert of their men and boy's choir (the cathedral has a private Episcopal All Boy's school- and for many years have had a Men and Boy's Choir. The concert started at 3:00 and the doors opened at 2:00 for our general admission seating, so there was no reason to take the bus back to the apartment and then turn around to come back for the concert.

But before the concert I walked the labyrinth that is in front of the church!

And Don read the paper!

And then it was home for more Chowder- this time CHICKEN CHOWDER!

But the highlight was definitely Christmas Eve. We started at Mel's dinner for breakfast-

And then from there went to Muir Woods for a long hike in the middle of the tallest of Christmas trees! As I've said before, this is one of my favorite places. I was somewhat amazed that this was a very popular place to be on Christmas Eve. The place was really pretty crowded, but it was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the mid-50's (as usual), so I guess we shouldn't have been surprised that there were a lot of people there. We took one of the trails that climbs up to the top of the canyon, a route that most people do not take since it is a fairly high climb, so we were alone in the woods for a good part of the hike, but we did meet quite a few on the trail.

After a wonderful walk in the trees, we drove to the overlook of Muir Beach, a place where you can see miles of cliff coast line in either direction, and then drove down to Muir Beach where there were again, quite a few people enjoying the beautiful weather by visiting the beach. Max and I actually came here once on one of my early trips out here and had lunch on the rock above the surf while we watched the waves crash into the shore.

From the beach we headed to Sausalito to our favorite restaurant on the bay, Horizons. We had a seafood dinner and watched the bay as the sun set behind us. Max's scallops below were fairly artistic and my seafood paella wasn't even close to what I expected, but it was not wasted. My only other time to have paella was in Madrid when I visited Amber during her study abroad. Spanish paella was very different from this.

Dessert came with a porpoise diving over the edge. I must admit, that I don't usually eat dessert, but this one was very good, and after all it was Christmas Eve.

With full stomachs and our hike behind us, we headed home for a short nap before heading back to the church for the midnight service that starts at 11:00. We had read that the Christmas Eve late service is very popular and that we should try to arrive early to get a seat, so we left around 8:45 and arrived just as the 7:00 service finished. People were still walking out as we walked in and to our surprise, the church was already starting to fill up. We found seats fairly close to the front and by 9:30 the church was about full. By 10:00 there was standing room only and by 10:30 there were people standing in the back, along the walls on the sides and even behind the choir in the front. It was a beautiful evening in SF, but there were plenty of ladies in fur coats with matching fur hats. This was truly a service at which to be seen and not really the type of service we had in mind. Of course there was significant pomp and incense as the choir and staff marched in, along with the Bishop and the banners. It felt more like a pageant instead of a Christmas service. We will probably rethink our participation in this church. We didn't get home until around 1:30 which is only about 3 hours past my bedtime. Worst of all, Max had to work the next morning.

But there was one very nice surprise on Christmas. One of the bulbs of our Amaryllis was in full bloom when we got up. The timing was perfect.

Christmas Day was more than a bit of a bust for me. I did work- a very, very long day- 10 hours with much, much paper work- but that wasn't the worst of it. I started the day at the office to get my assignment. I parked on the street because we can't get in the parking garage easily on the weekends or holidays. I parked on Van Ness- (the main thoroughfare of San Fran). While in the office some low life (there are rather abundance of those in a big city) broke my window and stole the GPS. So I spent the day visiting patients without the passenger side window (I turned up the heater- and fortunately it is warmer here than Cinti) and brushed the broken glass off my bag. The rest of the week I drove a rental car (it is important to note that all of the nurses have had at least one broken window while on duty). So Merry Christmas in the BIG CITY!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December 2007, our last visitors this year

Amber came and went, but we did have two more visitors, even though it was only for a few hours. Our friends, Fouad & Mary Ezra, spent some vacation time in the wine country and came by our apartment on their last day for a wonderful evening of catching up and dinner. For those of you who don't know Fouad, he and I worked together at P&G for close to 30 years. He and Mary have been a part of our family gatherings and a part of our family for a long time. So we were particularly happy to have them in our temporary home if only for an evening. By coincidence it was also the last day of Hanukkah, so we quickly found 8 candles and lit them-

After we lit the candles we walked to one of "our" restaurants (have I mentioned how much we eat out- my cooking is not getting better)- We went to a Mediterranean restaurant- and enjoyed. And then we stopped off at a Chocolate Shop and bought COOKIES! Fouad loves COOKIES!

Here in San Francisco there are many chocolate shops- and lingerie shops- I understand this is so European- not at all like the Midwest- Who in the Midwest would need an underwear shop- And a chocolate shop- in every single neighborhood. Guess we don't quite "fit" in this place away from home- I need bread and milk and Graeters Ice Cream- not chocolate and underwear! Once a Midwesterner- always a Midwesterner!!! (Last Saturday Don and I were walking down in one of the shopping streets- had to make one more trip to Williams and Sonoma- anyway I stopped for some hand lotion at the Aveda shop. Well, I suddenly started getting strong "vibes from across the store"- and turned to see Don's jaw set in that only Don can set his jaw that way- I knew he had to be rescued. He was standing next to a small group- two women, one man- who were discussing their auras- and how to read each others aura. Well I feel pretty certain that Don's aura was screaming out at them if they'd been paying even a little attention. I'm afraid our Don becomes just a bit distressed when he overhears casual conversations here and realizes that folks out here really do believe all the new age "stuff"- Each neighborhood also has either a "palm reader" or acupuncturist- Why even the dog "pound" in our neighborhood does acupuncture on dogs! We feel a little like Dorothy- We're not in "Kansas" anymore!
But to the point- It was absolutely wonderful to see Mary and Fouad. We miss the times in Cincinnati we share. We always miss home- but the miss is rather front and center during the holiday season. We are thinking of all of our friends and family- And wish everyone the very best for this holiday season!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Visitors December 2007-Part 2

As I said in the last post, Amber stayed on after Jason left. Since Max and I both have jobs out here, we left Amber on her own to discovery this city and visit places she wanted to go. So we got her a bus pass, showed her how to use the bus program on the Internet, and left her to explore on her own for a few days. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday she shopped, had lunch with me at a little French Bistro, visited the Museum of Modern Art, shopped, visited the Exploratory and the Palace of Fine Arts, and shopped a little more. She did adapt to the metro system without any problems and became a real San Francisco Urbanite.

On Wednesday, I had the day off and it was off to Alcatraz. Neither of us had been before- and we both wanted to go. The day was foggy and damp-

which certainly added to the ambiance of this looming place. We were surprised to learn that it actually started as an army post- and then drifted into its status as an army prison- and then finally became the prison that has been the subject of books and movies. It is remote- and cold- and dreary.

I think Amber is happier on the outside of the bars.

The prison warden, guards and families all lived on the island- and because the prison was so very secure no one felt afraid. The children would take the ferry over to San Fran everyday to go to school. There are still remnants of playgrounds and houses from the days when it was a prison.

Ultimately President Kennedy closed the prison. For one thing the "Gangster" era of prohibition was over- And of course there were cries for prisoner rehabilitation not just isolation. But the deciding factor was the cost- it is very expensive to maintain a prison on an island off San Fran (it is very expensive to live in an apartment in San Fran I might add)- So ultimately it was a budget decision- And now Alcatraz is a place for visitors to step back into time. But you can be sure I'm going to watch Clint Eastwood in "Escape from Alcatraz" with a new perspective.

But I think there must have been some distant relative of our dear friend Oliver Delaney-

Because there was an accordian in one of the cells!

But then we finished the day with a haircut- Amber's that is. She tried out a new salon (can't say I loved the one I tried for my haircut).

I've got an appointment next week with the stylist that cut Amber's hair- now that will be the real test of her talent. I think just about any stylist- talent or no- can end up with a gorgeous look on Amber- now the test will be what I look like.......

I took the day off on Friday, rented a car, and Am and I crossed the Golden Gate and headed for Sausalito and Muir Woods. We stopped for a bite to eat in Sausalito where Amber got something that looked like a tortilla with chocolate sauce. It was called a nutella crepe and the chocolate was really hazelnut and chocolate, but you can decide for yourself from the picture. Amber said she ate it often when she was in Spain. It was particulary good when mixed with peanut butter. Sounds like a Reeses' Cup to me.

After our snack, we headed up to Muir Woods, one of my favorite places on this earth. It was a beautiful day and the park was not crowded. In fact we hiked up one of the trails to the top of the mountain where we could see both the bay and the Pacific and then back down again and didn't meet anyone on the trail the whole time. It was a wonderful walk. It's always humbling to walk among these giant trees that have been standing here over 1000 years. And since it had rained the day before, the forest was clean and quiet with only the sound of water bubbling down the several streams in the valley or the wind blowing through the tops of the trees up on the ridge. I hope you enjoy the pictures and then come to visit us so I can take you there myself.

After the walk in the forest we headed for the coast and an overlook of the cliffs along the Pacific. This is a beautiful coast line with rocky cliffs and the surf pounding and spraying water up into the air. This picture is looking north towards Reyes Point which juts out into the Pacific.

On the way back to the apartment we turned off the road just before the bridge and headed up the hills to an old gun implacement that was put there to protect against invasion of the bay. The view from there of the bridge is wonderful
Saturday was a more relaxed day. Amber wanted to see Berkeley, so we drove across the bay to visit the campus. Berkeley is truly a contrast of people and ideas. While on one side it is one of the best technical universities in the country that stretches the bounds of science and thought. On the other hand, the east bay is much more of a blue collar city than SF, but it also attracts some of the weirdest people I have seen. Berkeley is known for allowing people to express their feelings regardless of what they may be. For instance there was a guy there that was on campus in the early 90's who never wore clothes. He stayed around for over a semester attending classes wearing only his sandles before he was finally expelled for indecent exposure. We saw several others in Berkeley who all had clothes, but they were pretty weird nonetheless. The best part of the visit was the Berkeley Botanical Gardens. Because of the mild climate, they have plants there from all over the world planted into gardens of each of the geographical areas. Of course, being the parents that we are, we take pictures of our children, not the plants.

Finally we visited the Lawrence Hall of Science, a children's museum at the top of the mountain above the university. There is a great sculpture there depicting a double helix strand of DNA. It's more like a jungle gym made up of nucleotides.

We had so much fun during Amber's visit. And can't wait for her to come again- though I think perhaps we'll slow the pace- but then maybe not. But it was a great time- and time we'll remember for a long time to come.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Visitors, December 2007

December has been another month with visitors, something that helps us keep connected to family and friends and something that we always enjoy. Amber and Jason arrived on Friday, November 30. Jason had to return to Ohio on Monday for training for his new job, but Amber stayed for 9 days and got a really broad exposure to this city. Our first evening we took them to the Cliff House Restaurant, one of San Francisco's famous places overlooking "seal rock" and the Pacific ocean while the sun sat in the west.

The weekend was Max's first weekend to have to work, so it was my duty to expose them to as much as I could in the short time Jason was here. Since Max had the car, we saw the city by bus and by foot, but it was mostly by foot. We started out taking the bus to the financial district where I work and a short walk to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building. That's the building where I work with the arrow pointing to it.

They sampled some of local "organic" fruits and then we set off for Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. We wallked there climbed the steps to the top of the hill (no bus for us). It was a beautiful day and the whole city lay below us.

From Coit Tower we walked over to the Wharf to get some lunch. Pier 39 is the local tourist place with all the restaurants and shops you can imagine. We ate at one with a great view of the bay.

After lunch we did the obligatory watching of the sea lions that now sun themselves on the floats next to the pier and then started our next walk down to the old Warf and toward our bus stop where we hoped to get a ride to the Golden Gate. On the way we passed an old Submarine that is docked at the Warf. Fortunately, Max called just as our legs and feet were starting give out. She had finished her last patient and still had some paperwork to do, but was on her way home. We quickly negotiated a place to meet so we could take Max to the apartment, get coats and take the car instead of walking even more. That got us to the bridge with plenty of time to walk and explore the Golden Gate.

That ended our first day after about 11 miles of walking the feet and legs were pretty tired, but there was still dinner to be had and walking is the only way to get there because there is no place to park. So we hiked down to our favorite Italian restaurant to finish off day one. An of course dinner has to be finished off with dessert, which in this case was a poached pear with raspberry sauce and cream fresh.

After packing Saturday so full of SF, we backed off a little on Sunday. We started by taking the bus to Church at Grace Cathedral and then walked down the hill to China Town. China Town is fun to see once, but it's not really a place to spend much time unless you are really shopping for something that is Chinese specific.

That wasn't on our agenda, so we headed off on foot to North Beach, also known a Little Italy. On the way we dropped into City Lights Book Store. I hadn't heard of this place until we were taken there by a friend of ours a few weeks also. City Lights is a pocket of absolute liberalism in a liberal city. It's reputation started in the 50's when it became the western center for the "Beat Generation" better known as the Beatniks. The City Lights was where Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac hung out and where Ginsberg first read his poem "Howl" which was the subject of an obscenity trial in 1957. City Lights is still a book store and is still on the far left of the left side of politics. You can't read the signed in the upstairs windows in this picture, but they are calling for impeachment of Bush and Chaney.

A block up the street from City Lights is the start of North Beach with its sidewalk cafes. We stopped at one with some wonderful tables and enjoyed an outdoor Italian lunch while we watched the folks walk by. One homeless guy even asked if he could have some of our pizza, which we declined. I think everybody else sitting down from us did the same.

Then from North Beach we caught the cable car and rode over to Union Square to so a little shopping, but not buying, crossed the square and took a look inside the Westin St. Francis and finally caught the bus back to the apartment. It was quite a day and pretty much finished up our tour of the city.

It was the end of Sunday and Jason was leaving the next morning, so we headed home on the bus to rest our feet before heading out to dinner again.

It was difficult to miss all the fun- But I knew Don kept up the pace so nothing was missed. I'm not sure it would be possible to see more of the city in such a short time. We really enjoyed Jason- and wish he could have stayed longer- but we think we'll get them back in the spring- maybe for a slower paced time in San Fran!