10 Days In A New Home

1 broken appliance (fixed by the repairman unplugging, then replugging in, the refrigerator…)

2 near heart attacks (once when a squirrel jumped on the roof and starting throwing nuts, I thought I was under attack and once when I was in the basement and the gas furnace came on, spewing flames, I thought the house would explode)

3 evening walks through beautiful trees

4 neighbors met

5 locks re-keyed

6 floor cleanings (houses with no furniture are easy to sweep and mop)

7 pieces of mail received

8 days of working with the front door open, a cool breeze blowing, and birds singing

9 nights falling asleep to crickets chirping

10 hours sitting in the porch swing, swinging and reading and daydreaming.

I’m feeling mighty happy about living here.

I Left My Heart…

  • 57 boxes
  • 9 sing alongs to the complete Hamilton soundtrack
  • 632 feet of bubble wrap
  • 5 trips to UHaul for supplies

… and 25 years of life in San Francisco packed up.

Packed up

Packed up

It took the movers just over two hours to load everything on a truck, which I’ll see again in 7 to 21 business days in Asheville, NC.

Empty

Empty

I’m excited, and anxious, and sad, and nostalgic, and well, all the feels at once. I’m sad to leave such wonderful friends in the Bay Area. I’m excited to move to the mountains. I look forward to quiet. I’ll miss walking everywhere. I’m nervous about driving again (it’s been 17 years since I owned a car). I’m excited to re-kindle friendships.

I’ve spent the last month soaking up the best of San Francisco. Museums, drinks with friends, one-on-one and group dinners, concerts, and walks, so many walks, through the city, nostalgia sweeping over me like a tsunami. I have a strong feeling that the cliché is true: I will leave my heart in San Francisco. Until we meet again, <3.

 

 

Turning to Gratitude

I’ve found it easy to get frustrated with life in San Francisco recently. The city is more expensive than it ever has been (how did I just spend $52 on a small bag of groceries?), there’s construction going on on both streets that border my corner building (who wouldn’t think 7 am is a great time to start jack hammering?), and it’s been a while since the last rain, so the smells of the city can be overwhelming. So tonight I decided I would be intentional on my walk. I’d only focus on what I’m grateful for in the city.

I’m grateful that I can walk two blocks and eavesdrop on conversations in four different languages.

I’m grateful that there are still so many mom and pop businesses in my neighborhood that are thriving, and that we’re on a first name basis.

I’m grateful for hills that get my heart rate rising.

I’m grateful for sidewalks and for cars that yield to pedestrians.

I’m grateful for living in a city for so long that virtually every corner I turn I have a fond memory (the building I lived in when I first got divorced and the pancakes we made on New Year’s Day, the bar where we saw a friend’s band play and drunk them out of Jack Daniel’s, the now vacant lot where I got my first Christmas tree in San Francisco).

I’m grateful for the water that surrounds this city, offering calm and peacefulness.

And I’m grateful for living on the west coast, and watching the sun set at the end of the day.

Seventeen Years of Joy

Seventeen years ago my roommate at the time told me she was getting married and I needed to find a new home. The year was 2000, in San Francisco, and the dot com bubble had not yet burst. I showed up to open houses to find dozens of applicants ahead of me, cash deposit in hand, bidding on places of questionable character. I knew I would have to pay more to move from a shared place with a roommate to a place on my own, but I wasn’t prepared for the rents that were twice, and sometimes three times as much, as I had been paying, for places that were twice, and sometimes three times less nice, than where I had been living. After weeks of looking, the move-out date was approaching and I still didn’t have a place to live. I saw an ad for a studio on Craigslist, asked if I could see it that afternoon, left work early to beat the rush of applicants, and met the agent on the sidewalk. We walked up three flights of stairs, she opened the door, I walked into the hallway and said, “I’ll take it.” She looked perplexed. “Don’t you want to see the rest of the apartment?” “Nope, this is great.” It was clean, it was in a quiet neighborhood, and it was more or less (much more) in my budget.

I had a housewarming party a week later. Friends crowded in to the tiny studio; we toasted to new beginnings. And I received what would become one of my favorite gifts of all times. A simple vase with blue glass edging, with a note to invest in a $5 fresh bouquet of flowers each week. Since then, I’ve picked a small bouquet each week and arranged it in this vase that has followed me from that studio to multiple other homes. And it continues to bring me as much joy now as it did that first week in my new studio, seventeen years ago.

Peonies.jpg

 

A Day in Glenapp

While in Scotland, we wanted to visit the countryside and we wanted to stay in a castle. This is where Google is amazing. If you Google “stay in a castle in Scotland” one of the first results is a website that lists all the castles where you can stay in Scotland (as expected). We chose Glenapp Castle, a couple of hours train ride away from Edinburgh, and watched the scenery get greener and greener and more expansive the farther west we traveled.

The taxi driver picked us up at the tiny train station, and spoke to us about his profession (electrical pole raising), his mother’s summer house (up the cliff), the Ailsa Criag (where curling stones are mined), and the state of the sea. We told him we were from America and he smirked slightly and responded, “I guessed.” We passed a roundabout with a large stone ship that asked, “Whit’s yer hurry?” A good reminder for the upcoming weekend.

IMG_0898

Whit’s Yer Hurry?

We turned down smaller and smaller roads until we reached a gate, followed by another small winding road leading up a hill. And then, around a curve, the castle! With gates! And turrets! And dormer windows! And a fountain! We squealed and asked the driver to stop so that we could take a photo from farther out (not minding the rain that was falling).

IMG_0637

Our first view of Glenapp Castle

We entered a grand hall and were taken on tour: the dinner dining room, the breakfast room, the sitting rooms, the library, the outdoor patios and terraces. Despite the weather, we were ready to explore. We donned Wellies (Wellies!) and raincoats, foregoing umbrellas, and set out to walk the grounds (how proper!).

First stop, the Tea House. Which was as cozy and adorable as it sounds. Low ceilinged, slightly sloping floor, small tables just close enough apart, handmade lace and mismatched tea cups displayed on the walls. After a cuppa, we ventured to the conservatory, breathing in that earthly, humid, floral smell of greenhouses. As someone who is almost always in cities, it’s such a treat to be surrounded by plants. We admired the delicate African violets, breathed in the thick sweet smell of the honeysuckle, and marveled at the incredibly tiny bunches of grapes blooming on vines.

We meandered to the herb garden, greeted by beds of fragrant rosemary, velvety sage, and bursts of purple blooming clover. We strolled to the Azalea pond, marveling at the picture perfect view. It was almost too perfect, the pond, sprinkled with lily pads, lined with flowering azalea bushes in all colors: cotton candy pink, neon magenta, fiery red, heavenly yellow, flaming orange. We sat on the bench and took in the beauty, catching up on goings on since we last saw each other.

IMG_0725

Laughing by the azalea pond

We continued exploring, through the dense woods filled with beds of surprisingly intense blue bonnets, across the yard, littered with fallen petals, down narrow paths, not sure where we’d end up. We made our way back to the castle and discovered a croquet lawn. Not entirely sure of the rules (or the object of the game), we made our own, whacking the ball through wickets and high fiving each other when we were successful.

We decided it was time for a glass of wine on the patio. Inside, we selected a vintage, and asked if they could bring it to the patio. There was a split second, just a glimmer of surprise, on his face before he said of course they could do that. We sat in the very brisk dusk, overlooking the sea, as rain spitted from the sky. Not heavy enough to require umbrellas, just enough of a mist to barely wet your skin. We talked about what we would do the next day – a boat trip to Ailsa Craig or a hike along the coastal bluffs? It’s a good thing to be forced to choose between only excellent options.

Over dinner we discussed our options and decided on the 8-mile hike along the coastal bluffs. With each of the six courses we chatted and tried to keep our laughter at an appropriate level in the very hushed, very formal dining room. The conversations of other tables couldn’t be heard. The laughter of ours could. Before one course, I asked our waiter, Hugh, “So who owns this castle?” He motioned for me to keep my voice down and mentioned it was the gentleman in the corner.  Hugh shared the history of the castle, including the disappearance of a former owner’s daughter, Elsie Mackay, aka the actress Poppy Wyndham. We asked if there were ghosts, and he indulged us with stories of sightings. We said we hoped that we encountered a ghost during our stay. (we didn’t)

On Sunday we enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast (haggis is delicious) before embarking on our coastal hike. To be in the countryside, nary a soul in site, on a beautiful sunny day, on the coast of western Scotland, is pure heaven. We traipsed through meadows filled with sheep and cows, and spotted shy deer, bunnies, and partridges on the path. We climbed jagged hills strewn with rocks and walked through grassy leas. Mostly, though, we simply enjoyed the stunning beauty of the countryside, already planning when we could return and experience more of lovely Scotland.

A Day in London

“Have you been to Great Britain before?” asked the Immigration Official. “Yes,” I answered. “When was that?” I paused, and thought. “I don’t remember. It’s been at least six or seven years.” “That was a long time ago,” she said. Yes, I thought. It was.

Why had it been so long? I forget how much I love the UK, London in particular. I’m delighted simply to speak to people. I love hearing their accents; I love how polite and proper folks are. The city is so ultimately walkable and museums are free. And fish and chips. And black cabs where the seats fold down and you can ride backwards, seeing all that you’ve passed. And signs, reminding you to be careful: “Mind The Gap” and “Look Left” and “Stand Right.” And Big Ben. And tea served in dainty fine china cups. And beautiful, old train stations, with new trains that run on time. And theater, so much theater. And shop clerks who call you “love.” And cobblestone streets that cause you to take care so you won’t twist an ankle. And poets, sitting along the river Thames, offering to type you a poem on a manual typewriter:

                          Over there is a
big salty puddle called the Atlantic
in the other direction, another
even bigger puddle, that one we

call the Pacific. The difference is
Pacific folks are handsome and eat
a lot of grapef ruit and avocado
The people of the Atlantic are very
clever but ill formed. They read
the New Yorker a nd the London
review of Books but they  don’t unde
stand the word ‘lifestyle’ they
invented that stuff on the Pacific
Rim. Brunch, decking in the garden
barbecues and long walks along the
beach.
This, London, is a place for drinking
drinking is not a  lifestyle
it’s an occupation.

In Search of the Super Bloom

There’s been a lot in the news about how this spring California would erupt in a “Super Bloom” – something that only happens when we get a lot of rain after what seems like our constant state of drought. This winter we got a lot of rain. Enough to make several pundits declare the drought over. And pictures began showing up of the deserts erupting in color. I wondered if the Super Bloom effect could be seen closer to the Bay Area. I noticed 7×7, a magazine dedicated to all things San Francisco, had recently published the best spots to see flowers within a drive of San Francisco

Danielle and Eric were interested in seeing the Super Bloom as well, so we rented a car and set out for Henry Coe State Park, a couple of hours south of San Francisco. As we got further and further south, we noticed swaths of color along the highway. “Super Bloom!” we would shout as we spotted them.

IMG_0254

Super Bloom along the 101

We marveled at how beautiful the flowers along the highway were, and grew more and more excited about the 3.7 mile hike that would be awash with color. We exited the highway and began the twisty turvy route up to the park entrance. Houses became fewer and farther between and cows a more common site. As Danielle navigated, she proclaimed we were almost there. We slowly rounded the curve and stopped. A line of cars greeted us. We stopped. And waited. There was no movement for a while, so we got out of the car to see what was happening. Basically what was happening was 7×7 had published a best places to see the Super Bloom in the Bay Area article and hundreds had flocked to Henry Coe State Park. The park ranger was letting one car in as one car left. We waited, encouraged to see cars leaving. We were not next, but next next in line to enter the overflow parking lot when it a more senior ranger arrived on the scene. “Sorry, we’re full. No one else can enter the park.”

Oh, man. We looked at each other, not quite believing our luck. We turned around, as the park ranger instructed us, and headed back down the winding road. We stopped at a picnic area beside a lake to have our picnic lunch and discuss Plan B. We were still out of cell range, so we decided once we had service, we would look up another hike in the area and head there. We found ourselves driving up another steep climb, ears popping, cows on either side of us. We pulled into a tiny parking lot in the middle of nowhere and began the loop trail. A landscape of greens of every shade greeted us, a welcome change from the normal golden brown. A chipmunk poked its tiny head out of its burrow. A baby snake slithered across the path. Cows grazed on either side of us. We walked amidst grasses and trees, and only an occasional flower. It was a beautiful hike, despite not offering us the colorful views of flowers we had hoped for.

We left the park, driving back towards the neighborhoods of newly built beige row houses. And there, on the corner, we saw it, our Super Bloom! A carpet of fuchsia, blinding us in the afternoon sun. We pulled over to take pictures, not caring that it was someone’s carefully curated garden and not wildflowers aburst in the fields. We found our Super Bloom!

Hamilton – Absolutely Worth the Hype

Almost a year and a half ago, the group of women that I often go to the theater with were debating whether to buy another year of season’s tickets. The company is always delightful; however, the shows that season had been mediocre and it seemed like it was becoming more and more difficult to find a Friday night when all five of us could attend a show. And then it was announced that Hamilton would be one of the shows included for season tickets holders. We all committed.

I was curious about Hamilton. It received a lot of accolades, and friends who had seen it in NY praised it. I also was a little nervous about seeing it. People had talked it up SO much; could it really be that good? Hip hop is not my favorite form of music. Would it be one of those things that everyone else loved, and I just didn’t get it?

When I told people I had tickets, they immediately asked if I had listened to the soundtrack. I hadn’t, and I didn’t intend to before seeing the show. When I go to musicals, I like to be surprised; I like the music to unfold with the story. I didn’t want to have preconceived notions about the story from listening to the soundtrack prior. Besides, there are few musicals that I like the whole soundtrack; I usually will pick one or two favorites to listen to afterwards.

We arrived and settled into our seats. The lights dimmed, and then the music started. I was blown away. Everything about the production was so on point. The choreography was amazing. The lyrics were so clever (why can’t all of history be taught through musicals)? The music was phenomenal. Not just hip hop but also jazz and ballads and razzmatazz (accompanied by subdued jazz hands at one point). The plot. Yes, it was history, and the way it was told it was so riveting. At intermission we were fawning. So good, so good, so good! Afterwards we talked about what we loved most, shared pictures, and left on a musical high.

And when I got home, I downloaded the soundtrack.