Posts tagged ‘san francisco’

Two on the Town

Ben and Tony are off on the annual kindergarten camping trip, so this weekend it’s just Eli and me, on our own, playing tourist in the city. This morning we made a long-promised trip to the Cable Car Museum. It’s open 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, and yet somehow the 6 1/2 mile drive across town seems like too much to traverse most days, in our short window between school drop off, nap, and school pick up.

But today we made the trip, driving across town to a part of San Francisco that feels like we’ve driven back in time: this is the San Francisco of picture books, of Fly High, Fly Low and Maybelle the Cable Car. It’s narrow one-way streets, steep hills, and small apartment buildings. You can hear the cable cars’ cables ringing underneath the sidewalk, even when there’s no car in view, and you can hear the bell clanging from several blocks away.

We explored the museum, where you can go below street level and watch the huge gears turning the cables, and then we took three (because Eli’s three) short rides on three different cable cars, sitting inside, outside, and then finally standing outside, hanging on to the pole. None of the conductors would take a fare from me, all of them complimented Eli on his stripey engineer’s hat. The last ride brought us right back to our car, and we got home in time for lunch and nap.

Image source.

Friday Night Updates

1. It’s still hot. That’s all I can say about that. My brain is melting.

2. Check out the little blogroll addition: my friend and former Literary Mama columnist Gail Konop Baker is blogging now at Cancer Is a Bitch (also the title of her beautiful soon-to-be-published memoir, which I was lucky enough to read in manuscript). If you feel like venting or talking about food, Gail’s your girl!

3. I’m so connected. If you scroll waaaaaaay down to the bottom of the page, you’ll see that I’m twittering now. I’m not entirely sure what this means, really, but all the cool chicks are doing it (well, really not remotely all of them–Gail’s not (yet!) but many of them.) So follow me, and let me know if you’re over there, too.

A Summer Evening, in two takes

As you may know, San Francisco is sweating through an unusual heat wave this week. Even here in the fog belt, the temperatures are in the 90s. I love it — I get to wear the sun dresses I buy (against my better judgment) each year and which then hang in my closet, mocking me. Don’t I know by now that I only get to wear sun dresses once or twice a year? But when the weather’s like this, I revel in it: we ride bikes after dinner; we barbecue on the deck; we go out without jackets and scarves.

But much as I love the heat, I know it throws us all off. Tony doesn’t really like it, the boys aren’t used to it. And when it’s this hot, even I can get a little crabby.

And so tonight was glorious and hot and we went out to dinner — but, you know, family life… it’s not always such smooth sailing. It was a good night with some bumps along the way, and on nights like this I wonder how we’ll all remember it down the line. Here are two possibilities:


I pick Ben up from t-ball, where he and his buddies sweat good-naturedly through their one hour practice, and tell him Tony and I think we’ll all go out to dinner in the neighborhood tonight.

We park the car at home and get Ben’s bike and Eli’s trike out of the garage; the boys bike happily the several blocks to the restaurant, ringing their bells and waving to passersby.

We sit at an outside table, and the boys’ food (plain pasta and roasted artichokes) comes promptly. Tony and I enjoy salads–butter lettuce with asparagus and green goddess dressing– and pizzas (mine’s topped with arugula, goat cheese, sweet peas and mint; yum!) and big glasses of cold wine.

We walk and bike home. Tony bathes the boys while I sit on the couch watching a Tivo’d episode of Nigella Lawson’s cooking show.

I pick Ben up from t-ball and say we’re planning to eat out. He asks first to eat at the local tacqueria (ok for take out, but I didn’t want to eat there), then suggests Chinese. The Chinese place is fine, but we’ve gotten take out from there too often lately, and I’m not in the mood. I tell him where we’re planning to go–the casual Cal-Italian bistro–and he grumbles and sulks all the way home.

As we pull into the driveway, I try to cheer him by suggesting maybe he and Eli could ride their bikes to the restaurant. He loves the idea. We go inside to get Eli and Tony, who mishears my plan and somehow within a minute I’m sniping at him about I don’t know what.

We get the bikes out and head to the restaurant, a 10-minute trip that restores everyone’s good mood.

At the restaurant, the waiter is harried and inattentive. He brings the boys’ food promptly (big points for that), but the rest comes in slow waves, and my salad comes sprinkled with the speck (smoked ham) that I’d asked him to leave off. By the time my speck-free salad comes back, the boys are done with their pastas, and the wine still hasn’t come. The pizzas arrive; Eli says “I’m done here!” and I take him out for a walk while the pizza cools a bit.

On the walk home, Ben’s so busy waving and ringing his bell that he runs right into me. I yell in surprised pain, Ben starts to cry. I storm off–pushing Eli’s trike harder than necessary–my foot throbbing, leaving Tony to talk to Ben. There’s still a 4″ tread mark on my calf.

When we arrive home, Ben apologizes and asks softly if he can ride up to the end of the block and back, “super-fast.” I finally soften and say sure; he and Eli race down the sidewalk.

We all go inside, Tony takes the boys up for a cool bath. I sit on the couch and watch Nigella make a fondue.

Speaking of Music…

If you happen to be in San Francisco Saturday night, check out this rare local appearance by Sharmila Roy Pommot, a well-known singer of Bengali music who has sung on the soundtrack of Satyajit Ray films, worked with Peter Gabriel, been sampled by underground house musicians, and happens to be the aunt of a friend of mine.

The concert is at the Cultural Integration Fellowship, 2650 Fulton Street at 3rd Avenue. Contact for more info.

Train Heaven

Amtrak + California State Railroad Museum = two happy boys.

Ben: “I almost forgot that after the train ride, there’s still the whole train museum!”

Eli: “I love this train. I want to stay on this train forever.”

Spring Break: Plan C

Plan A: 5-day road trip to visit cousins in Santa Barbara and Long Beach. The kids play, the adults talk books and art, we all curtsy to the Queen Mary and enjoy the warm weather. Canceled due to illness.

Plan B: Ride Amtrak for a day trip to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. The kids play, the adults enjoy the scenic train ride, we all enjoy the warm weather. But, we get to the train station bright and early, our bags packed with camera, picnic and coloring books, only to discover that the trains aren’t running due to an accident on the line.

Plan C: It’s 9 AM Monday morning, a day when most of the Bay Area kids’ museums are closed (why, why all on the same day?), all our Berkeley friends had spring break last week so they’re in school, and it’s a little too early and too chilly to go to a playground.

But we’re near Berkeley, and I spent long enough there to know a couple things to do. So, we visit the T-Rex in the Berkeley Paleontology Museum; we go to the Campanile, hoping to ride to the top (but it’s closed on Mondays, natch) and then we go to the Lawrence Hall of Science, where there’s an exhibit involving build-your-own Lego race cars (did they know we were coming?)

After a picnic lunch, we call an old friend from the city who’s moved to Berkeley. School’s out for the day and the family is free! The big kids make scenery and rehearse scenes from The Magic Flute (somehow, both of their kindergarten classes have recently learned the story) and the littler kids play trains. The moms catch up and drink tea. After a couple hours, we’re treated to a short and well-rehearsed performance of excerpts from The Magic Flute. We head out for Chinese food, follow it up with some gelato, and finally head home after the evening rush hour’s over.

Thank goodness for Plan C.

If you happen to be in Santa Clara…

Go check out the exhibit at the de Saisset Museum, Eye on the Sixties. Tony and I went to the opening Friday night, and rather than having to hunt for his dad’s sculpture, as we thought we might, were happy to meet up with it right in the front lobby, glowing in the light.

We’d never seen this one in person, and it was fun to see it in context with some other beautiful and unfamiliar acrylic and resin pieces, as well as some more famous pieces, like Claes Oldenburg’s creepy moving Ice Bag, and some great paintings and drawings as well. We introduced ourselves to a couple of Tony’s dad’s old friends, including Bruce Beasley (who pointed out how ill-suited most museums are to exhibiting sculpture: not much natural light, no cranes to lift heavy pieces…) and we chatted with the Andersons, who are quite charming and unassuming guardians of a multi-million dollar collection. But my favorite quote of the night was from Ronald Davis (that’s his piece, Spoke, at the top of the de Saisset Web site) who chimes in on the whole tangled question of abstract art vs. realism quite simply:

“The painting’s just gotta look better than the wallpaper.”


image copyright The Estate of James Grant.

A Good Day in San Francisco

This has not been a good winter for San Francisco. We have not, for example, been to the zoo to ride Eli’s beloved Puffer train since the Christmas Day tiger escape, and I’m not sure I’ll ever feel safe enough there to return. I have mixed feelings about zoos, but there’s something about the SF zoo, the sight of the giraffes’ heads bobbing along above the eucalyptus trees, the waves from Ocean Beach crashing in the background, that always appealed to me.

Meanwhile, in other local news, the governor has slashed the public school budget (how are our teachers, already stretched to the limit, going to continue under these conditions?), and our street car line recently struck another pedestrian.

My kids don’t know about any of this, of course, but it’s all been wearing on me and I badly needed a good city day. And we had one last Friday. We started at Ben’s school, where his kindergarten class, their fourth grade buddies, and assorted teachers, staff, and families gathered for a peace march in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The kids paraded across the park to a shopping district, chanting slogans (“2! 4! 6! 8! We think Dr. King is great!”) and singing Happy Birthday to the bemused smiles of shoppers and shopkeepers. We walked along beside them, Eli asking the whole way, “This the ha-pade? Where the ha-pade?”

After some time in the playground’s train structure and lunch, I collected Ben from school (Tony and Eli having driven home for a nap), and we rode the bus downtown. A few stops along our journey, an older man boarded the bus and sat down next to Ben and me. He listened to us chatting about the parade and MLK for awhile, then pulled a piece of paper out of his bag and started to fold. Ben watched intently as the bird (pictured above) took shape. When he was done, the man handed it to Ben, who was delighted with his gift. “For me? Really?” and then checking with me, “Caroline, can I keep this?” The man and I both smiled our yeses to Ben, and the man then got out two more pieces of origami paper; handing one to me, he indicated (I only realized later that he never spoke to us) that I should fold along with him and learn. Two more birds emerged from the papers, just as we got to our stop. Ben bounced off the bus, holding his bird, delighted with this interaction with a stranger.

Next stop, the Museum of Modern Art for the Olafur Eliasson show. If this comes anywhere near you, go see it! Take the kids! It’s a gorgeous, light-filled, fascinating exhibit, with many of the installations exposed so that you can see how they were created. Ben and I had a ball poking in and around the various pieces, and I think a Friday afternoon bus ride to MoMA might become a regular part of our monthly routine.

Ben then remembered the MLK memorial across the street, so off we went. It’s a Maya Lin-inspired fountain/waterfall, with lines from King’s speeches engraved on the walls next to huge photographs from various moments in the Civil Rights movement. Streams of water pour down (“let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream”), and the whole thing always makes me cry. Luckily Ben was there, threatening to topple headlong into the water, hollering at the pigeons, lightening up the mood.

And then last stop, reunited with Tony and Eli, who took the street car (without incident) downtown to meet us for dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Out the Door. We filled up on lemongrass tofu and chard with carmelized shallots, picked up some chocolate gelato for dessert, and then loaded two tired boys back on to the street car for the ride home. It was a fine day in San Francisco.

Oh, Christmas Tree

This tree, a scrawny little primrose, is making me very happy. We’re fostering it for Friends of the Urban Forest, which will reclaim it after the holidays and plant it on a street somewhere in San Francisco (I’m hoping we can get the address, so that we’ll be able to visit it). Tony and the boys deemed it too small and skinny to bring inside and decorate, so we have a more traditional Christmas tree in the living room, and this one is hanging out by the front door, adorned with a flock of origami cranes.

Meanwhile, in other Christmas preparations, I’ve made (with Ben’s participation) candied orange peel, Elevator Lady Spice Cookies, pumpkin rocks, cranberry bars, and cranberry-pistachio ice box cookies. We still need to make hickory puffs and bourbon balls, some biscotti, and probably some wasps’ nests (a recipe I’ll post so that I can help Fertile Ground use up her egg whites!). Plus, there’s nothing chocolate yet, and that’s just wrong. Finally, I’m considering — for the first time — buche de noel for Christmas dessert, which is perhaps a little nutty. Tune in Wednesday to find out!

City Toughs

They say city squirrels and city raccoons are tougher and more feisty than ones in the country (though this is hard to imagine); I guess Eli thinks city butterflies are tougher than their country cousins, too. We were at the playground the other day, and he was making me delicious imaginary lattes in the playhouse structure. Lately when we play, he sets up imaginary doors and windows, and spends a lot of time showing me where they are, updating me on their status (“This one open, this one shut“), and pulling them open and closed.

So there we were, me sipping on my imaginary latte, wishing for a real one, murmuring interest in the ever-changing status of the cafe door, when Eli did a double-take: “Hey, no doorstop!”

Well, no, indeed, the imaginary door had no doorstop.

“Maybe,” he continued thoughtfully, “A butterfly came, ate the doorstop!”

And for the rest of the morning, whenever he spotted a butterfly, he pointed accusingly, “Maybe that one ate cafe doorstop.”

I hope this notion doesn’t color his idea of butterflies for too long. The city’s butterflies are pretty scrappy, but I don’t think they’ve been reduced to doorstop-eating yet.