Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas In The Bay Area

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A few days ago I posted the refreshed for 2018 Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas In New Mexico, which has become something of an annual nostalgia trip for me.

As I was writing it, I thought to myself, you know….I’ve lived in the Bay Area for twenty years. Maybe it’s time to write a top ten for my current home.

I mean, I am an ex-pat New Mexican and will always be a New Mexican, but I’ve lived in the Bay Area long enough to also call it home. I guess I’m lucky in that way, to call more than one place my home.

And so without further ado:

Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas In The Bay Area


1) San Francisco’s buildings lit up like presents. Around Thanksgiving the buildings on and near the Embarcadero turn into glittering holiday presents and the Ferry Building lights up red and green.

My first Christmas living here, I’d taken a ferry over to Sausalito to buy presents. When I came back over on the ferry, just as the sun was setting, I saw those gift-wrapped buildings for the first time I couldn’t stop staring. It’s so beautiful and an annual tradition.



This was taken just after New Year’s Eve fireworks last year, hence the smoke, but the view can’t be beat. Image found here


2) And while we’re talking about things down on the Embarcadero, how about the tradition of Palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights? Other than one sickly Palm tree doing its best to grow by the NMSU library, there aren’t really a lot of Palm trees in New Mexico.

But there are plenty here and I love that they get in on the holiday fun. The Bay Area is hardly the only place to feature lit up holiday Palm trees, but it is the first place I ever saw the style and I’ve always loved it.

Here’s an example of the Palm trees outside of AT&T park (there are 24 Palm trees to honor legendary #24, Willie Mays).


Image by Fuzzy Traveler and found on Flickr.

3) To stay on the theme of trees, the Bay Area hosts and awful lot of offbeat Christmas trees each year. I don’t recall seeing a lot of weird trees back home in New Mexico, mostly normal trees decorated in the traditional way (which I love). But since living here in the Bay Area, I’ve seen a variety of trees including one decorated with only the heads ripped from dolls (weird), a tree decked out solely in Star Trek gear (nerdy), trees made of alternative materials like lab supplies, computer servers and routers, and then this one found at an architecture firm by internet friend, UPS driver extraordinaire, and longtime San Franciscan, Rafael Monterrosa.


Photo copyright Rafael Monterrosa (@rafael415 on Instagram), and used with permission. Give Rafael a follow, he is a fantastic photographer and posts photos from his travels all around the city of San Francisco. He’s got a sharp photographic eye and knowledge of the City like no one else.



4) Okay, one last tree thing: Another fine Bay Area holiday tradition is tree lighting ceremonies. Usually happenig the weekend after Thanksgiving, every town has at least one. From the Union Square and Ghirardelli Square events in San Francisco, to Jack London Square in Oakland, to Christmas in the Park in San Jose, and lots of smaller neighborhoods and businesses in between, people love to come out to see trees light up for the first time of the season, drink hot chocolate, and get into the holiday mood.

Here’s a photo from my little neighborhood’s second annual tree lighting event this year:



©2018 Karen Fayeth

5) Now it’s time to move on to the fantastic Bay Area food traditions at the holidays. Let’s talk about Lumpia which can be found at just about every holiday potluck. Living in the Bay Area has opened me up to the traditions of so many cultures that I just never experienced back home in New Mexico.

I have been honored to know and work with so many amazing people from the Philippines, and they have lovingly introduced me to their food, most notably lumpia, which can roughly be described as a Philippino egg roll. More colloquially it’s been called the food equivalent of crack, and I can’t disagree.

Nothing more joyful than a huge pile of lumpia at the holiday party. No matter how many are in the pile, they will certainly ALL be gone within no time, and I will do my part to make them disappear. So freaking good.


6) Let’s keep talking about holiday pot lucks because the Bay Area likes to eat, something I have always loved that about living here. In addition to lumpia, holiday eating in the Bay is an enormous cross section of diverse foods, all of them delicious.

This year my loaded down holiday plate included lumpia, pork buns, chow mein noodles, Italian seafood lasagna, samosas (delicious little savory pockets from Indian culture), German stollen, Hungarian floating island dessert, pecan pie (hello pecan producers in NM!), enchiladas, guacamole, ceviche (done in a Brazilian style), and much more.

I mean, come on! The amazing diversity of the Bay Area means the best of foods from around the world. What’s not to love?


7) I’m not done talking about food either. Holiday season is also Dungeness crab season. Starting roughly in November (start dates depend on a lot of things), this is the time of year where the commercial crab season opens, and oh what a season.

For many Bay Area families, it’s tradition to go down to the wharf or to certain places at the coast on Christmas morning to buy crab. Fresh caught that morning, and you can take it home and cook it yourself, or pick one out from the steaming vats.

As a single gal, I used to celebrate holidays with a dear friend, and she loved this tradition. She’d go out early in the morning to buy crab then put a huge stock pot in the middle of her dining room table to catch the shells and we’d dive in with hands and metal crab crackers. Some folks think eating crab is too much work, I say those people leave more crab for me and that’s just fine. Delicious!

8) Going to the beach on Christmas day. One of the best Christmases I ever had was when I was all alone, a little depressed, and I made the excellent decision to pack up some leftover Chinese food, a blanket and a small radio and head to the beaches of Half Moon Bay for the day. It was a balmy 65 degrees and for many hours I had the beach all to myself. I read, I ate, I zoned out, I watched the waves, and I wasn’t lonely for a minute.

9) The smell of eucalyptus and fog. Okay, fair enough, this is not just a holiday thing, but for some reason it stands out for me during the holiday season. The Bay Area is home to quite a few Eucalyptus trees, which are actually an invasive species, but are now just a part of life here.

The Bay Area geography means we have what is called a “marine layer“, which is the reason for the iconic fog we experience. Roughly explained, when a warm Bay Area day meets the cool, cool Pacific Ocean, they crash into each other and create fog.

Add to that when a Eucalyptus tree gets warmed up, it releases its very aromatic oils.

So you have a warm tree giving off oils and by the afternoon a marine layer pushing ocean fog into the Bay Area. This creates a smell that is unique to the Bay Area all year round. Add in the moist damp air from the rainy season that starts around the holidays and you have something that will forever be etched in my mind. Even my sister recently commented on her memory of the Eucalyptus smell from her last visit.

10) To use a colloquialism from the internet, I truly love the way the Bay Area is so very extra at the holidays. Examples include the enormous real Gingerbread House at the Fairmont hotel, the entire Oakland Zoo covered in holiday lights, the huge Dickens fair, the full size skating rink constructed every year at the Embarcadero Plaza, real live reindeer at the Discovery Museum, the lighted boat parade with holiday lights from San Francisco’s not one but two yacht clubs, and that’s not even the beginning of a comprehensive list. There is always something to do, to try, to remember, and to make a tradition.

The Bay Area loves the holidays and I love everything about that.

_______________


Well that ended up being an awful lot of fun to write. Maybe posting this version right after my New Mexico version becomes my new holiday tradition.

Basically, I just love the holidays and all the food, smells, and trees, so I guess wherever in the world I live, I’ll find something to love and write about at the holidays.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. Feel free to tell me what you love best about the holidays where you live either here or on any of the social media where we connect.

And to you and yours, wherever in the world you are, wishing a wonderful, joyful, and magic holiday season.





Let The Sun Shine

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One of my coworkers brought in oranges from their yard today. Look at this, it is perfect! A supermodel among oranges. Spokesmodel for the State of California. This orange made possible by the sunshine of the Golden State. Gorgeous!



©2018 Karen Fayeth










Photo taken by me, all rights reserved. Taken with an iPhone7, the Camrea+ app, a green folder from the office, and a little bit of goofing off time while at work.

The Question – Never To Be Answered

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Often times during the many (let’s not count, shall we?) years that I have lived in California, I have had occasion to ask myself the following:

“California? You live in California? Why the [expletive deleted] do you live in California?”

Never is that question asked more strongly of myself than at the holidays.

When someone asks me what is my favorite time of year in New Mexico, I will respond “It’s a toss up between September, when the leaves are changing, and Christmas when New Mexico shines like a pinõn scented jewel.”

It turns out the holiday season is when I miss New Mexico the most. California feels too crowded, too stuffy, too something for me to really believe I live here.

Then I get into the spirit of the season and I find ways to make my corner of the world a little New Mexico. I bake biscochitos. I put my New Mexico ornaments on the tree. I remember my home state, and it’s ok.

That said, there are newer traditions too. California traditions that I have made that over time begin to also have meaning.

One of my favorites is to go to the ocean on nor near Christmas Day.

This began many years ago in the time before The Good Man. I believe that is referred to as the BTGM epoch.

One year in the age of BTGM, I was all alone on Christmas, and that was actually ok by me. Things were pretty good in my life, all in. I was a bit lonely but I was doing fine.

On Christmas Day, rather than sit home alone and sulk, I decided to go visit my favorite beach in my favorite coastside town of Half Moon Bay.

On that 25th day of December, while the world sang carols about letting it snow, I drove down California highway 92 and squinted into the clear bright sun.

That was one of the most beautiful, perfect days I can ever remember in Half Moon Bay. It was quiet, easy and not crowded.

I drove home from my day at the beach content and peaceful. The next day it started to rain and didn’t let up until, oh, about May. But the memory of the beautiful day lingered through the damp season.

This year I had the chance to do my new(ish) tradition again. The Good Man and I went to Half Moon Bay to celebrate a birthday with a family member. For her special day, she wanted to watch the sunset over the water, and we were all too happy to oblige.

The Good Man and I got there early, on purpose, so we could be calm for a while and watch the waves.

As I sat there in a nice comfy Adirondack chair, watching the world go by, this was my view:




Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth


This is a fairly iconic view of Half Moon Bay, and my photo has done nothing different or special with it. But this is my photo. A memory of my day.

You’ll notice nary a cloud in the sky. I didn’t even need a jacket as the sea winds blew in. It was so calm and so peaceful and a perfect holiday day in California.

I disrupted The Good Man’s peace by declaring that, “I need to do a selfie!”

He grumbled about the state of the world and how you can’t just tell someone you went somewhere, oh no, you have to prove it by taking a self photo and…rabble rabble rabble….

That accounts for the sort of smirky face. He rabbled while I snapped:




Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth


Then we had our late lunch and it was delicious and happy and we spoke of holiday things and laughed and it was my own version of joy to the world.

After we ate we went back outside to watch the sun set quietly over the ocean while a guy squeezed the life and song out of a bagpipe. That loud clear bagpipe and the rapidly setting California sun was almost dream quality, surreal but oh so real.

It looked like this:




Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth


And as the sun sank below the horizon, I smiled. I thought about how beautiful that same sun must have looked earlier setting over the volcanoes in Albuquerque, casting a glow onto the Sandias.

I thought about home, but I also thought, “you know, this isn’t too bad either.”

Merry Christmas Eve, ya’ll.

May it simply be “not too bad” wherever you are today.







Photos Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app.





You Can Take The Girl Out Of the Desert…

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…but you can’t take the desert out of the girl.

So here’s something that is grinding my gears lately.

It is the summertime here in the Bay Area and that is a complicated thing. As many know, the marine layer and I have long had a tempestuous relationship.

July looks like this: overcast morning gives way to a very hot and sunny day which is then doused by fog by the afternoon.

This phenomenon is why you see tourists shivering in their shorts down on Fisherman’s Wharf. The Bay Area warms up quickly then is naturally cooled.

However….

Before the fog rolls in, it can get truly hot around here. Hot enough that a little air conditioning would be a nice thing.

Most of the Bay Area doesn’t believe in air conditioning. I recall when I first moved here and was shopping apartments. I asked one landlord “where are the air conditioning controls?” and he laughed and said, “No air conditioning.”

“Whaaat?!” Was my reply. That was when I lived in the South Bay and temps could climb into the high 90’s during the day.

“Just open the windows. We get a cross breeze,” he said.

I scoffed. And harrumphed. And muttered something like “I’ll give you a cross breeze you rattin’ smattin’ rootin’ tootin’ son of your mother….”

As it turns out, very few homes in the Bay Area have air conditioning. No place I have lived since I’ve been here has had the sweet miracle that is air conditioning. Only some windows and a hope for a cross breeze.

Compare that to New Mexico where every home has some form of AC. It’s only right. Just. Moral. Upstanding.

I’ve survived many a Bay Area summer season by working a few longer hours at work, sucking down their gentle corporate paid cool air, or riding in my car with the AC on max to cool off.

But what’s grinding my gears lately is all of the retail stores that either don’t have or don’t use air conditioning.

Look, I learned as a young child about moving quickly from the freon cooled car into the refrigerated air cooled grocery store that was so frosty it would raise goose flesh on arms and my legs clad only in shorts. Malls and clothing stores and other retail shops are a respite from the heat.

Not here. Stores have no windows and no AC and no moving air at all and they become this stale pit of muggy heat. Bleah! I saunter around the store wiping sweat off my fevered brow.

My desert hewn body was made to be a wonder of convection cooling. I sweat, breeze passes over it, water evaporates and I’m cooled.

This is how nature made me!

But deep inside a Walgreens or a Safeway there ain’t no breeze and only the sweat remains. Gross.

So then I take up residence somewhere near the freezer section where I crack open a door and it takes me a reeeeaaaalllly loooooong time to select which brand of frozen orange juice I would like.

It just ain’t right.










Image created by quickmeme.




How I Learned To Re-Love My Home by Being a Tourist

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When you live and work in an area that is a poplar tourist destination, once can get a bit…weary…of the whole out-of-towner schtick. Come summertime when the weather starts to warm up and school lets out, the San Francisco Bay Area is certainly a popular place for folks to visit.

When I first started dating The Good Man (lo these many years ago), he lived just off the Embarcadero and I learned to not just deal with tourists, but to be fully submerged into their every photo clicking, map pointing good times.

I grew a little tired of it, honestly. Kind of made me want to stay inside and avoid those types.

Enter this past weekend and the arrival of my almost fourteen year old goddaughter. She lives somewhere in that no man’s land between Las Cruces and Radium Springs, New Mexico and her view of the world is a little different from mine. She had briefly been in San Francisco five years ago around the time of my wedding, but hadn’t really spent time in the City.

So Uncle Good Man and I did it up right. We loaded her in the car and headed off for destinations such as Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, the Cliff House, Lombard Street, the Wharf and more.

As I huffed and puffed walking many of the seven hills and jostled my way through tourists and took in my beloved sights once more, I too became a tourist. A tourist with a memory.

Oh yes, I recalled the stone risers near Ghiradelli Square where I sat on that beautiful California day and contemplated if I could really live here. I watched the gentle waves in the Bay and summoned my courage. And OH! There is that little dude who wears a full old-time golfer uniform and waxed mustache who does a rollickingly fun shell and balls game on the streets. Man, that guy is still there? And oh muh lord, the Golden Gate on a clear day. What a gorgeous little orange gem.

I saw the familiar sights with new eyes and I remembered fully, totally, and completely why San Francisco is one of the most wonderful places in the world.

I think I needed that. I needed to remember why I live here, why it matters, why I left not just my heart but my liver, and pancreas and eyes and all the other major body parts in San Francisco. I felt the energy and excitement of all the tourists visiting my fair City and I echoed it back to them.

Good ol’ San Franciscio, she made me fall in love all over again, and that leaves me with a happy smile.

And a huge stack of Ghiradelli chocolate bars in my kitchen cabinet. Buy four get one free! Whatta steal!