Honey, I’m home…

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I have hardly written a thing all summer. This is odd because, well, I like to write and I have had a lot of really cool shit to write about this summer. I haven’t even been writing in my journal as I usually do. I chalked this up to being around people almost constantly at first, but I think I have just been going through a different sort of processing strategy.

Or something. I don’t really know yet.

I landed in San Francisco on the evening of 6 August 2015 having departed 6 July 2015. Prior to this European sojourn I had only been home a week after two weeks in Mexico, and my head was full as I made the long walk off the plane into the terminal. So many things I had seen and done and contemplated and tasted and dreamed and tried… and still, I was so glad to be back in San Francisco.

So glad.

Going is so much better when you have a place to come back to. What a gift to return to a city you love living in. I am not sure how long I will stay in San Francisco, I am a public school teacher after all and San Francisco is not really all that easy for those outside the super rich realm any more, but for now, it remains home and it feels just right.

I came home on the night of the first major GOP debate, and the last episode of the Daily Show. And there is not a city I would have rather experienced either of those in more than San Francisco. [I have not watched the Daily Show yet – too soon for me, and the debate will be great fodder for my government class this fall… Even Mumford and Sons couldn’t help poking a little fun about it on Friday night: “Oh America… really? We love you so much but, really?”]

I came home to my neighborhood and my cats and everything felt just right. And I have lots to say about all the amazing things I have done this summer, but for right now, I am just so glad to be home, sitting in my kitchen in San Francisco.

At home.

Humble Brag of the Day: So Happy.

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Just now, sitting on the side of my bed next to two contented cats, drinking my coffee, looking out at the sun, listening to some stranger’s perfect playlist on Songza, or Spotify or something, with nowhere to be, and probably plenty to do but nothing really urgent, I thought to myself, “I am so happy to be right here, right now.”

Yes.

Those moments when I feel so consciously and completely happy are really cool. I think we all probably have a lot of these types of moments, but I am not sure we all have the time to stop and revel in them. We are all so busy.

I feel lucky to have the time for these moments because they are amazing, nearly tangible, and validating, and delicious, and freeing. I am so happy.

Summer brings these moments more frequently for me because I am on holiday for an extended period of time (cue the overpaid teacher trope here) and I have the luxury of being just me, in my space, with the freedom to do whatever.

It is such a lovely feeling to be happy. Cats know.

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And my horoscope today? Affirming:

Virgo Daily Horoscope

Finding yourself with some time to relax, you may delight in the pleasant sensation of feeling laid-back. With the same focus that you applied to work, you now only allow yourself thoughts of the present, peaceful moment. Filling yourself with deep, cleansing breaths, you release all tension from your body as you exhale. A sigh of contentment may even escape your lips as they curl into an easy smile. Your eyes might wander, scanning your surroundings for beauty to appreciate, perhaps drifting to watch birds flying past an open window. In this moment, you can feel their playful joy as they revel in their freedom. Today, even if for just a few moments, you can enjoy a time of relaxation and feel the same delight.

A San Francisco Stay-cation: Basically a week long advert for my city.

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The last time I blogged about a week spent with the fabulous Ms. R was two years ago on my return from a whirlwind tour of NYC for spring break. A month or so later she joined me for a compare and contrast week on the west coast, but that one didn’t make the blog, because at the time, I felt like it was silly to do like a vacay blog for my own city.

But, if one’s city is San Francisco – how silly is that?

Two years to the week later Ms. R was back in SF, and this time we took the time to both take in, and take on, the City by the Bay.

Spring break comes at such a desperately necessary time for people in my profession. The ides of March seem to know no end for a teacher, and there is not a more liberating feeling mid-year than the final bell on the Friday afternoon leading into the Easter holiday week (although, working in Berkeley, you are not allowed to call it Easter break, lest you offend… but a spring holiday by ANY name would be as sweet.) And on 27 March, at precisely 3:32 I was out the door and on my way home to… well, to home.

The last two years I left town for the break to New York City as I mentioned, and more recently Seattle. But this year, I would be here: a stay-cation. But not just a week of me doing all the things I do – yoga, cooking, reading, taking photos of the cats – I would be hosting Ms. R for a week of Bay Area shenanigans (and, doing all that other stuff too.)

Ms. R was my first friend in Hong Kong when I arrived in 2005 and we seem to have a mutual appreciation for each other that has stood the test of time. One of the more British Brits I know, Ms. R brings a certain standard to all things (and a clear opinion on how all things should be done) that I find educational, entertaining, and enlightening.

And I was prepared:

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From the moment the wheels touched down, we were taking full advantage of all things La Mission and SF. And it went something like this:

Friday: 
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The first night of a vacation may be the sweetest, in the same way that the last night brings a certain melancholy that is unavoidable in its predictability, the anticipation that greets the first Friday is delicious. Home early to kick up my feet, have a beer, watch some basketball and revel in what was to come. It was a segue of perfection.

R arrived around 8:30 out time, and I knew she would be knackered, but we were not missing El Farolito. I mean, come on, it is the Mission. And then we were ensconced in my none too spacious apartment, both so exhausted that it was all we could do to catch up with the basics before heading to bed.

Saturday:
First day out and about – up so early as jet lag can do, but a lovely morning, yoga and then  at least two neighborhoods by foot…

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Through the Mission to Zeitgeist we went for cold beers in the hot sun. (“Your people are just so friendly!”) Then on to Hayes Valley where I sadly learned of a designer I will never afford but will forever covet: Dries Van Noten. This is why Ms. R is:

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Along the way we had macarons and cupcakes from Miette, cocktails and salty snacks at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, as you do, and discovered far too many:

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But Ms. R has a system… it’s all look-y look-y loo… (until it’s not) and seems haphazard – until it’s not. It is like stages in the Tour de France or something – and when we got to Alpe d’Huez…. wowsa.

After a gorgeous day strolling the Mission and Hayes Valley, we had dinner at home and watched basketball. And really, burgers, beers, and basketball can make for a pretty great evening in.

Sunday:
Again, we were up early, figured there was no reason to sleep in – if on London time for Ms. R, so be it… more time to do things. Sometimes the things were like me doing yoga and R taking a walk, and sometimes it was sitting around and chatting over coffee – the coffee still a constant struggle… and although no SF barista has yet had the gall to try to purvey a misto (that is not a word! I hear her declare!) it is still an adventure to find the suitable cup for Ms. R. I had a hair appointment on Sunday and Ms. R was up for the cup and got a blowout as well – so we were all dolled up thanks to Revamp as we headed to Hi Tops to catch some more of the Elite Eight. Because there’s no kind of sports bar like a gay sports bar. [“Yay sports!!”] Plus, as Ms. R pointed out, no other sports bar was going to have a kale salad on the menu, which, it turns out, goes nicely with beer. #healthydrinker

I wanted to get a selfie. It did not happen. Ms. R is not a fan in general.

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After the game we headed downtown for another round of shopping, because: Good Hair.

And eventually we found ourselves back at home. One of the best parts about vacation is that moment you get home on a Sunday night… and you are like, ‘Hey – I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow!’ So, then that was happening.

Monday:
Up early for yoga. Super early, but as was voluntary, freakishly easy to manage. And it was good to get it out of the way because we were entering the Alps [if we are to keep the Tour de France metaphor rolling (yeah, I just did that), which seems apropos as Ms. R will be cycling the whole of the UK later in the year, from bottom to top, as it were] and headed downtown. To shop.

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It is amazing how much shit you never knew you needed when you get out there in the land of the consumer. And while Ms. R had a legit list of things she wanted needed to get while she was here, it turns out that just being in the proximity of a shopper can have an infectious effect on me. And a shopper I became.

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Shoes, dresses, pants, shirts, sweaters, make up… more and more and more. Frankly, it was rather impressive. But we eventually had to cut it short to get to our foot massage at my local, followed by cocktails at one of my Top Five Dives: The Latin American Club and then dinner at my favorite place. Gayle Pirie does such an amazing job with this restaurant – everything is always just right – and her love for the Mission and her local clientele is remarkable. We had a great meal, perfect wine, bubbles and dessert.

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Tuesday:
Started out with a lovely morning at home (I think I even prepared an acceptable cup of coffee…. then some yoga. Then brunch at Plow with my hair guru. Ms. R got to see a few more neighborhoods today – Potrero, the Fillmore, Pac Heights, Union Street… Which of course Ms. R loved. I should have taken her out to Cow Hollow. Next time.

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And eventually, the East Bay.

After a brief respite after our breezy day on the streets of SF, we headed out to one of my favorite venues, The Fox Theater in Oakland. It is a great venue and the surrounding area is just coming up and up and up. So up in fact, it is hard to even choose where to go pre-show. We chose Dogwood and it was a solid choice. A couple of cocktails and some snacks and on to get down with TV on the Radio. This might have been the fourth or fifth time I have seen TVOTR, but every time, they bring it, and this Tuesday evening was no exception. I told Ms. R to observe what happened as soon as the lights went down… and she was suitably impressed (for lack of a better word): “Your people smoke so much weed.” Was her general consensus (although I am sure she was getting used to it with the prolific exhalations from my downstairs neighbor.) And it is sort of funny that smokers have to leave the Fox to smoke cigarettes – but weed? No worries: spark up.

I wanted a selfie of us again. But, no dice.

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Wednesday:
April Fool’s Day. Really, this is such a ridiculous day. Eventually I am going to have to learn to just stay away from social media, because really: lame. But, for now, Noe Valley for breakfast and a strategic strike to Omnivore Books. Then off to Dolores Park, via Rhea’s Deli.

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An afternoon in Dolores Park is hard not to love, even when the wind is beginning to kick up… I suggested a selfie, but…

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We topped off this evening with dinner at a newish neighborhood restaurant called Plin. This restaurant is in a locale with bad juju. The Thai restaurant that used to be in the same space was not very good (likely why I was able to get a table for 18 for my 40th birthday) although they didn’t seem to mind when I stood on my chair – for more than 10 minutes – which could have something to do with why they went out of business. Anyhow, Plin, still has weird juju. Or feng shui. Or whatever you want to call it. And this is too bad because the food is actually really very good. But our consensus was that it will struggle in a neighborhood replete with dining opportunities that are also very good.

After dinner we walked home – and it is just so nice to be able to walk through the neighborhood and enjoy it all. We stopped into The Velvet Scoop for a super yummy treat I was introduced to last fall: frozen custard.

We walked home simply pleased with another full day in the neighborhood.

Thursday:
This would be the one day that Ms. R and I did more or less our own thing… AS I mentioned, she is a young woman with a plan and she had really panned out her trip to perfection. It was an important day – and I will just say, it could not have been more lovely for what was on the agenda.

For me, I reverted back to my more typical routine – did a couple of yoga classes, took care of some errands, and through it all sort of saw the City really differently as I seemed a lot more tuned into things around me, thanks to fresh eyes, I suppose.

San Francisco really is such an amazing city… with all the boroughs, as Ms. R likes to call them, and the vistas, and the sights (“It’s so small. I don’t need a picture of that.” – Ms. R to the Mrs. Doubtfire House.) But also amazing in less fantastic ways, with a painfully abundant homeless population – which simply defies explanation to a person who comes from a nation that provides care for its most vulnerable. There is no acceptable way to explain how it is that so many of our people live without the care they need, on the streets, and this is really apparent when you speak to a European. The same confusion comes up in conversation when in flipping through the news channels it is one violent crime after the next and the question comes up: “What is the deal with your gun laws?” Yeah, I got nothing for you on that. The juxtaposition of our national experiences is fascinating.

When Ms. R returned after her day on the road (“Are you good with driving a car here?” I asked. “I drove a Porsche in Beirut, I think I will be fine.” *crickets*) her comment on American drivers was how much the adhered to the rules of the road. So, yeah, I guess we are better than Madrid and Beirut in one way. Not sure that is winning, but we will take it.

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We had another great neighborhood night in the Mission… We met up with Little E and had drinks at The Chapel, dinner at Tacolicious (a nice challenge for me who has given up chips for lent – the second coming cannot come soon enough when you are staring down a bowl of guacamole and not having tortilla chips), apres dinner drinks at ABV, mildly disrupted by an incredibly short and freakishly intoxicated Mexican man literally being held up and force fed by his amigo… a scene wholly incongruous with the vibe of the bar, but got me ready to go because: vomit potential. Plus, there was ice cream in my future, so why linger?

Friday:
This was my mom’s birthday, and in good form Ms. R agreed to give up some time with my padres. And R was coming up too. So my momma got to have some birthday shenanigans with all her kids.

But before that was going to happen, we headed out to do a bit more shopping. For real (though in returning to the nearly forgotten Tour de France metaphor, we were very much in the final time trial at this point.) A high point of the afternoon was definitely a light lunch at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. Very posh. I also have to say… the shoe department at Neiman’s will make a grown woman (without a trust fund) cry. Wowsa.

Then it was back to the hood to meet the ‘rents and R. Once all rendezvous’d we started at El Techo for drinks and tapas. Then it was on to pie, because, as T said, “Who doesn’t like pie?” Well – no one, except for R who was off sweets until #HeHasRisen. Plus, there is nothing more hipster than a pie shop in the Mission, except maybe if it were in Bushwick, so you know, when in Rome… And it is really freaking good pie.

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We tried to watch a movie when we got home, but Into The Woods is a really long fairytale mash-up musical for a post cocktail Friday night. I am still trying to work out when that would not seem long…. We failed. But without much disappointment, because one of our most all-American experiences was on the horizon.

Saturday:
Let’s Go OAKLAND! Up early to make our way back to the East Bay with R to see the final exhibition game of spring training – and drink beer, eat hotdogs… and a super-jumbo corn dog too!

I love baseball, and one of the coolest things about Ms. R is that she gets sports, and was not only enthusiastic about the March Madness, but totally for the cup to go to O.Co (especially a cup full of beer. But not Bud Light because, “How many calories are we saving on this beer R?” “Maybe 50?” “Oh, love, no. We are not drinking that again.”)

It was a gorgeous day at the ball park – perhaps a little too gorgeous for my Brit Abroad though. Fortunately a very friendly one of my people had a sachet (packet) of sunscreen – though, in truth too little too late, but the thought was on point. I hope at this point she has gone totally brown.

Although the A’s did not win (insert sad emoji here) I did get to see my adored Barry Zito take the mound in the green and gold once again (last pitches before heading to Triple A Nashville, but hey, I have been wanting to go to Tennessee.) And that was awesome.

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I suggested a selfie of the three of us all kitted out in our A’s gear. But no.

After the game and a lot of laughs (and eye rolls) we headed back to the City where we watched Wisconsin upset Kentucky (WHAT?!?!) and then a a final stop at the local taqueria, followed up with a stroll down to Humphry Slocombe, because one must. Then home for silly movies. I am not sure what it says about us that we made it through We’re The Millers.

Sunday:
He has risen (though, for the first time, the sun did not come out…) And although, I would like to claim some higher spirituality about this – the reality is I was pretty psyched that chips were going to be back on my menu. Initially, when I had been trying to arrange things for the week, I had been unable to find anywhere for Easter brunch. However, apparently we were so charming when we had dinner at Foreign Cinema, that they were able to magically manifest a table for us on Easter Sunday. The perks of being a local I guess. Or good tippers? (No, that couldn’t be, I was with a Brit. Ha. Like the coffee conundrum, Ms. R has substantial issues with tipping. And don’t even get going on the tip jars for counter service…. “You Americans are ruining it for everyone!” So we are friendly and generous. Not too shabby!)

One other thing that Ms. R had wanted to do while here was to try SoulCycle. I have to say, I was more up for this than I thought I might be. It was early and unfamiliar and hard. But it was kind of cool too. So, spinning, packing, and foot massages took us straight into a gorgeous Easter brunch that Ms. R’s mum treated us too, which was pretty sweet. And this was the second Easter brunch Ms. R and I have shared in the past three years, so it is kind of a tradition. Okay, maybe not totally, but it could be. I tagged the two of us in the following photo, because: not a selfie from the week.

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After brunch, it was the load out.

And then she was gone.

The Sunday doldrums can really sneak up on you, something I find particularly perplexing as there is no surprise in their arrival. This Sunday totally faked me out, and not only for it being Easter Sunday, but because it began with all the activity that the past week has brought into my more typically solitary home life, and then, just like that… it was over. Evening arrived, and in spite of it being the brightest moments of an otherwise grey day, all was quiet and still; as if the week itself had not actually happened.

I thought back on Ms. R’s synopsis of ‘my people’ – which always cracks me up:

  • Friendly
  • Weed obsessed
  • Good teeth
  • Big
  • Poor fashion choices
  • Unable to make coffee hot enough
  • And I just have to come back to friendly – because we gotta focus on the bright side…

And as I climbed into bed looking ahead to super fun and amazing Monday morning meetings back at school, it dawned on me:

Yep, this all just happened. In a single week, we did it all. Even without a selfie to prove it.

Win win win win.

Mom: You looked so nice at the wedding, just perfect.
Me: Thanks. It was fun. But then I on Sunday I was having a pity party on the way home. A & I were flying to Tahiti, C & D were flying to Greece. And I was just…. going home.
Mom: You mean driving back to San Francisco from Wine Country, where you do not have to be at work until the third week of August? Yes, that is terrible.
Me:

Sometimes you need a mom check in to remember how full of win your life really is. Or, maybe you don’t, but I do. The thing is this: I work on an academic calendar and so I get the standard breaks that come with that. It is really pretty great. Until the ego gets all up in the mix (as with everything, I know…) But the thing is, the minute people find out I am on break the first question they ask is, “Where are you going?” And I love that question because I totally identify as a traveler – it is what I do. For real. And so, to be having a real, honest to goodness staycation, while totally amazing in lots of ways, seems so anticlimactic and banal and uninspired, and… almost embarrassing.

Anyhow, it is what I am doing for a whole bunch of reasons, many to do with oddly spaced social and family engagements throughout the summer. And I was totally fried at the end of last year so it seemed like recuperation would be a good thing. But still, I keep feeling the tug of far off places and the (let’s be honest) disappointment of not heeding the call of the wild (or not so wild.)

So what am I doing? Well, let’s look at today. Here is what I did: Continue reading

Semantics. It means perspective.

DSCN0534The difference is perspective. This is not new information. This morning as I was walking through the neighborhood to go to the bank, the coffee shop, the bakery, I was thinking about the coffee in Southeast Asia. I was thinking about how the Vietnamese coffee is roasted with sugar and butter and you have to use a special t up to brew it. Noah and Trinh taught me how. And I thought about the sweetened condensed milk and how it always seems like the coffee was an afterthought if you did not say “no milk!” Walking around in cool morning air on a day that would probably be warm, but was strangely chemically overcast for San Francisco considering these details reminded me so much of Ubud, Saigon, Hanoi, Xian, Shanghai, Bangkok, Kota Kinabalu, sipadan, Vientiane, Luang Prabang. Bad coffee.

Sometimes bad is good.

I had gotten on the subject because we saw someone wring by with a McDonald’s bag and I joked and said, we could go to McDonald’s. He answered back saying he would like to say that he would never again have coffee from McDonald’s. Or 7-11. Then he rethought it and said, well you never know I guess. I knew what he meant though. I told him about how I used to have to take the 5:30 am ferry to get to my yoga class in Hong Kong that started at 7:00 because the next ferry would get me there too late. And so I always had this strange 45 minutes of very quiet early morning time in Happy Valley where nothing was open except for McDonald’s, and so I would go to the McCafe and get coffee. How was it, he wanted to know. I don’t know, I answered. You know, like I don’t totally remember. I mostly remember just having this little bit of totally quiet time where the light was coming up and there were just a few people around. Sometimes I would go sit near the park outside the race track and watch people do tai chi. It seemed like it was always sweeter than it should have been. The coffee I mean. Even though I never put sugar in it. But then, so much in Asia was always sweeter than it should have been, especially the coffee.

Sometimes when I look around my neighborhood, especially on Mission Street in the morning, I can get that feeling I used to feel who I was walking around cities in far away places early in the morning. My neighborhood can be very “developing nation” in aesthetic, if you know what I mean. And I have always had a penchant for the seemingly unplanned juxtaposition of old/new, rich/poor, clean/dirty. Your basic urban experience. [Excluding SNG, of course.]

This morning I grasped more urgently at the familiar feeling: early morning, city, far away, edgy, dirty, perhaps. I was almost there, walking along Sukhumvit, looking for a coffee shop or a street stall to get some fresh fruit. But then it was gone. I was in San Francisco after all, in my own neighborhood, knowing exactly where I was going and what I would be doing this fine ombre day in my city by the bay.

Sometimes good is bad.

This frustrates me, sometimes even depresses me. Here is me chasing my dragon. In the midst of considering how the sidewalk between 23rd and 24th on Mission could be a sidewalk in so many other places, it hit me. The difference was not in the observations of what is certainly one thing or another. The difference is the mindset of being far afield. No matter where I have traveled, or how much I have planned on said travels, there is a permanent sense of the unknown as I walk down those distant streets. It is the simple notion that anything could happen and that I could literally do anything I want. Truthfully, that is a load of horse shit, but the feeling is always there. When I was traveling and I would be running out of money it was fun, like an adventure or a puzzle… What would I, or maybe we, do next. When that happens here, I just feel like a loser. I am confused as to what leads to this difference. There when scheduling or transport snafus happened, it was all part of the experience. Here, when stuff goes awry it is a total shitshow. And stressful.

And that is it. That is the entire grass is greener thing I was trying to get at a few weeks back. It is the completely voluntary choice to believe that right now, right this very minute, I could do whatever I want to do – and that anything could happen. This reality remains constant in both scenarios, particularly the anything could happen element. It is hilarious when one takes a moment to consider it; that we eliminate the possibility that anything could happen because we think we know exactly what is going to go down only because we are in a more familiar place. Here I have to… do all these things, meet all these people, take care of all this shit. Just like what my friends would say to me from here while I was there. And there… I have all these things I can do, all these people I can see, and all these things I can manage because I am experienced. Just like I hear all my friends who are there say, when I am here.

Wow. Semantics.

Sometimes good is good. Or maybe it just is.

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*written a few weeks back, if that matters.