Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day

In the last month, I finished my first school year running a library, started teaching summer school, turned 41 in the best birthday celebration I have had for years, and bought and moved into a house in San Francisco. It's an imperfect house in an imperfect place and it is wholly perfect for me. In this neighborhood paint may peel off many houses, but neighbors lean over their backyard fences to share gossip and gardening tips; I can't walk easily to a hipster 'hood, but I can walk Indiana through a large, beautiful park criss-crossed with hiking trails graced with spectacular views, a park which happens to be a block and half away.

Tonight, I have my first load of laundry running in the new-to-me washer, a constant rumble of neighborhood firecrackers sputtering all around me, an expansive view of the city's downtown as fog starts to tuck it in for the night even before the evening's big show, and my feet up on my surprisingly unperturbed dog.

I have a huge future to explore in my new home and new garden. There's so much ahead. I'll share as I go.

But right now I'm here, where it feels like I've been headed for my whole life, and I'm completely happy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Roof Racks Rock

X and I rolled out of the city in the morning on the two-hour drive up to Sacramento to pick up an inherited dresser and bring it back down to her cute little San Francisco Victorian on a hill. We jabbered all the way across the bay, through the golden oak-studded hills, and along the straight oleander-ed 99. We spent an hour in Old Town Sacramento, ate lunch and bought candy because candy is road trip food. I chose licorice wheels and she chose cinnamon bears. We traded jokes with the cashier like we were high school kids.

From Old Town, we drove out to the suburbs. The person from whom we were to pick up the dresser stood in the driveway with his hands on his hips and a near audible disapproving cluck as we hopped out of my Jeep. He had sent measurements which I had checked against Tiger Lily's interior, but wires crossed somewhere along the way, and the dresser wouldn't fit inside. Additionally, we didn't know we also would be carrying back a large majolica bird bath, boxes of china, and a clock for X's mother.

Negativity pulsed from the man. His low expectations out of X, the Jeep, and me made me fierce. Only I get to tell myself I am incapable of something. Part of the reason I chose Tiger Lily is because I believe her to be badass, and to me, badass means capable and surprising. And, she has a roof rack for a reason.

So, we ran to the hardware store and bought ratcheting straps.

It was 99 degrees Fahrenheit while X and I loaded the Jeep and strapped the dresser on top. Sweat curled X's golden hair and turned her face strawberry red. Sweat soaked through my bra and shirt. My feet sweated so much they slipped around in my sandals, so I took my sandals off. Bad idea. The concrete was like a branding iron. I put my sandals back on and kept going.

As soon as straps were tight and cargo secure, we defiantly drove away from doubt.

X treated me to iced coffee, and we told more stories on the way down. We kept breaking into laughter for no other reason than we had won. We had spent the day snacking on childhood candy, asserting our strength and freedoms, proving we were powerful, just like we tried to do when we were teenagers. Except now, we didn't have to try, we just were.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Camping With Teenagers

It is like playing Whac-a-mole keeping camping teenagers in their respective tents at night, but it is worth it, because sitting around a campfire, singing songs (even the aforementioned Oasis "Wonderwall"), listening to a scary story told by a funny young storyteller, and playing memory games in the smoke and redwood needles is special indeed.

We rolled out yesterday along the turquoise ocean, cutting through hills dotted yellow with oenethera, lupine, and coreopsis until we reached the redwoods in the low coastal range. Some kids had never camped before, and tent set-up was understandably entertaining. I had borrowed a tent I had a hard time visualizing how to put together, so I needed guidance from a young, wise camper to make it work. Eventually, with a lot of teamwork, we all got our tents up and temporary homes as comfy as we could make them, we went for a short walk, and we made a sloppy dinner, likely as loaded with redwood needles as nutrients.

After food, stories, campfire smoke, and s'mores, we retired for a night among old trees.


This morning, the adults rose earlier than the kids, and we made ourselves several pots of French press coffee. Talking with my colleagues under the lace of new redwood needles felt good, like we were supposed to be right where we were at that very moment. The kids rose and scarfed down bowls of sugary cereal. After we broke down our camp, we went for a short, easy hike. The teenagers ignored it, but the adults paused at a still rooted, downed tree that bounced like a mechanical bull. We had to play, so we stopped and did.

When I was very young in Oregon, my family lived on the side of a hill, and growing sideways out of that hill was a strapping Douglass fir that was just strong enough for my brother and me, one at a time, to climb out and bounce on it, a natural trampoline. Arms out and knees bending to the tree's bounce, we would ride it like a snowboarder rides her board.

The kids camped and felt like adults, cooking and singing and feeling all their feelings so hard. The adults—each well over 30—camped and felt like kids, playing and bouncing and just being happy around each other. Among the trees a thousand years older than any of us could fathom, each of us lost track of age.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The Nineties and Fashion

Being in high school and college in the nineties taught me that clothes should feel good and be at least a little practical. In high school, I wore ripped jeans with brightly colored or black opaque tights underneath, baggy flannels, and boots. These are comfortable clothes. In college I had a flowy sunflower print dress that I loved to wear with my sturdy-toed work boots. I remember wearing that outfit to watch the boys at crew regattas and feeling like a million bucks, and once, a young man, older than me but not so much that it felt creepy, stopped me on the street and said, "I just have to tell you that dress looks amazing on you." Both me and my feet were happy.

In college, my flannels and sweatshirts went from my back to my male friends' backs and back to mine. So many of our clothes were interchangeable. I don't want to wear my male friends' clothes now, but a couple decades ago, there was a lot of comfort in the universality of our closets.

Nowadays, I wear some clothes that aren't comfy, for sure. Tight jeans, a pair of tall black platform wedges with sexy ankle straps that are comfortable as far as heels got but not as far as my Solomons go, and so on, but some current trends I can't get into. Hiking in yoga pants? It seems like the height of impracticality. Hiking requires pockets. I need pockets for keys, a knife, dog poop bags, and really cool stones or seed pods or interestingly shaped nuggets of wood. I need pants that will survive sliding down steep surfaces on my butt and occasional branches that bite at me on in the trail. Yoga pants may show off curves or taught thighs, but yoga pants don't allow for adventure. And, if someone doesn't think the fact I can smile, tell stories, and occasionally crack very fine jokes all the way to the summit is damn sexy, his loss.

The clothes of the nineties aren't the only thing I miss. A Soul Coughing, Pixies, or Jane's Addiction song can still get me sweetly nostalgic; I can't help but to sing along at the top of my longs to "Coming Down the Mountain." And, Oasis's "Wonderwall" can still piss me off for reasons way too complicated to ever explain to most people. The music still moves me.

And so does, believe it or not, the food. When I started college in the mid nineties, TGI Friday's, which strangely held an outpost on my campus, served cheesy baked spinach artichoke dip. I loved it then. I still love it, but, as we all know, with age comes wisdom, and I have learned how to make something better than what I ate back then.

Perhaps this version of the recipe straddles the thick-soled work boots of the nineties and the ankle-strapped platform wedges of the teens; I made it for a recent party at a friend's house, recipe doubled and amped up with a little more hot sauce and a lot more Parmesan, and folks who came of age in the eighties, nineties, and naughts all scarfed it down with audible pleasure. Some fashions, thank goodness, outlast decades. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Wandering Through the Woods

X is gifted. She's golden and gorgeous, and when she enters a bar, she owns the room. She's got it, that thing that makes flirtation as present as her breath. And watching her flirt is watching a performance, fully immersing. This winter, we've walked through the rain-shiny neighborhoods, bar lights glowing iridescent like oil slicks. We'd give each bar a look as we passed: is that the crowd we want to explore next tonight? Several times, we have ended up with wealthy tourists and conference-goers at a fancy bar in a fancy hotel.

The hotel is swanky, beautiful, and weird. The lobby is full of lovely and mismatched chairs, including a giant one that reminds me of Lily Tomlin, and another, a carved wooden throne with stylized lion armrests. The long bar itself is carved from redwood—legend has it from a single slice of a single tree. Framed in wide panels of redwood, five or six large portraits of aristocratic-looking people hang in the corners of the bar; the portraits aren't paintings or photographs, but LCD screens. The portrait subjects wobble a little bit as they breathe, and occasionally one will look right into a drinker's eyes.

One night, we first spoke to two men in town for a fancy food show. X nudged me towards one who I promptly learned was unpleasant. I didn't know how to remove myself from the conversation though, and X saw I was stranded. She brought her conversational partner over, who was much more pleasant than his friend. Neither, however, were people I wanted to get to know better. She excused herself to get another drink and whispered in my ear, "Diversify!"

She called me over with her eyes when she had our drinks and I excused myself to get mine. I met her in a stand of German software engineers that had collected around her and with whom she was already deep in talk. She was the golden prize, the apple, the grail, the victory ribbon that each competed for through jokes and braggadocio and good stories. But I was soon intercepted by a man who initiated a conversation that got interesting immediately. I didn't want to date this man and knew that the second we started talking, but talking to him was fun. I didn't want to diversify. I was more interested in this conversation. Who knows how real his stories were: Grandmother a gyspy who taught him to read palms? Another night, while X was getting to know a single dad in town from New York, I found myself in a conversation with someone who claimed he owned racehorses in Lexington. Whatever. I really don't care—these conversations ended at the bar where they started.

I'm not a flirt, or at least one that works like this. I can't flutter from person to person easily, and witty conversation doesn't always roll out of me. But as I said, it is a true pleasure to watch X work a room. And her ease with unknown people is contagious, so I'm learning to find my way to enter into new conversations.

There's no rush. This meeting people is a skill which I'm relearning slowly. I have no deadlines, expectations, or needs other than to find my own way along this path through this strange-to-me forest. The trail is unclear, exciting, circuitous, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

First (Not Last) Visit to Garden for the Environment

The Garden for the Environment is tucked along the inside edge of the Inner Sunset in San Francisco; the Sunset, both Inner and Outer, is notorious for the near-constant presence of salty, cold fog. But here, in this tiny urban lot, a small staff and a lot of volunteers have created a drought-tolerant, food-producing, gorgeous garden. 

Native currants.

Fruit trees and miner's lettuce with urbanite terraces.

Native Pacific Coast iris.

Espaliered apple tree.

Terraces with fruit trees, roses, and others.

I spent an hour wandering through the little garden today, gathering ideas as I poked around. Several things stood out to me:

  • A lovely balance between food-producing, California native, and other non-native drought tolerant plants.
  • Careful pruning of fruit trees that opened up the centers of the trees to sun and air movement.
  • Terraced, steep hillsides planted with fruit trees, mostly apples. Terraces are built from "urbanite," broken concrete.
  • Lots of compost.
  • Permeable surfaces.
  • Lots of South African bulbs, bestillmyheart.

Terraces with fruit trees, rosemary, and others.

Ceanothus, golden smoke bush, and others.

Blue honeywort showing off its dark flower stalks.

This is a place to which I want to return in order to see how different seasons unfold. Between the classes the garden offers and the free wisdom it provides just by existing, it has much to teach me as I look forward to growing food plants in my San Francisco future.

The first of the feijoa blossoms.

It's a salvia party!

I'll be back.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Building My Own Damn House (But Not By Myself)

Volunteering at Habitat for Humanity on Saturday, I worked with my colleague Sister S to install door casings. A group in the downstairs bathroom worked together on cabinets, and another person measured, cut, and nail gunned moldings. Some people painted. At another unit further away from completion, groups installed dry wall. One man, a frequent volunteer and confident builder, worked to finish framing roofs. He hopped from board to board like a pirate in riggings. Next door to where we worked, the family that would eventually move into that house installed parts of their future kitchen. I didn't meet the people who would move into the house on which I worked, but I could feel the moments they'd have there, the mud they'd track into the entry, the scent of food cascading down the stairs, and how warm the sun would feel to them as it streamed into their living room.

On a Habitat for Humanity build site, walking backwards with your eyes the opposite direction of where you're moving, even when you're helping someone carry something heavy, is not allowed. Everyone must always look and move forwards.

It's no secret to my friends and family that I plan to purchase a house sometime in the next year. It'll be a fixer, not in a hip neighborhood, but I'll no longer be stranded in the suburbs paying lots of rent for something that'll never be mine. Most importantly, it'll be my little piece of earth. But here, in this city, I'll need help from my community to make this happen.

The community that builds the Habitat houses is a combination of weak and strong ties: the family who will own the house, their friends, and city-dwellers who just feel like working on construction for a day. The importance of finding help not just in the more obvious strong ties, but particularly in the loose ties became clear to me a few years ago when I first heard the story The Hostess with the Toastess on This American Life. After listening to the history of Giuletta Carelli and the way she saved her own life by building her community of loose connections, I cried. Now that I work in her neighborhood, I occasionally stop by Trouble Coffee for a perfect latte. I'm part of her loose connections.

My circumstances are completely different than Carelli's, but the need for community, ties both strong and weak, is just as real.

The home of my future will only happen with the help of strong ties—my family, my friends—and loose ties—my colleagues, trustworthy tradespeople and real estate professionals, neighbors who may be willing to lend a hand, and those whose roles I can't yet imagine. Thank you, people who will help me. There will always be room for you at my future table. I look forward to feeding you.