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.





Redux: A Treatise on Monday…or Everything Old is New Again

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Five years and one day later, Facebook saw fit to remind me of my history: A Monday in 2013 that I don’t actually remember, can’t pick out from the rest of the over 1,800 days that have passed since then, and was, I suppose, wholly unremarkable.

And yet, the early morning hours were remarkable enough to get my brain going and some writing done. I re-read my own words on a Sunday with Monday looming large and realized that other than riding the train to work every day, the sentiment remains much the same.

I have a big deal meeting at 8:00am today, and the Monday ahead has me quite thoughtful.

This post has aged well, so I’m happy to share it again today. It still works.



A Treatise On Monday
Originally posted January 28, 2013

Written this morning at something like 5:45am


And so we find ourselves back at Monday. Ah Monday, both the beginning and the end.

I have sad, tired, squinting, groundhog eyes as the alarm goes off. I’m begging the world not to pull me from my burrow. Please don’t shine that bright light in my face.

But I’m pulled from my burrow anyway and instead of a prediction the world anticipates my arrival at the train station and my seat on the next ride into the city.

The bright light turns out to be a beautiful ray of light, glimmering off the slowly rising sun.

All possibility is in Monday. Will this be a good week? Will this be a bad week? Will it rain?

Monday is everything and nothing. A blank canvas ready to take the paint.

What will I make of my Monday? What will I achieve? How will I stumble and will I recover gracefully?

It all exists here in these quiet pre-dawn hours. The sun hasn’t even said hello yet and here I am, writing. Scribbling the words that want to exit my head.

There is already acrylic paint on my hands from a project that is due Thursday morning. I had to get some early painting done so I can hit that deadline.

In this Monday, all things are possible including finishing a painting that is due in just three days.

Oh my.

I feel strangely happy today. What the hell is this? How unusual for a Monday morning.

The weekend was weird. I was cranky and then he was cranky and then it was Sunday night and another two days of not working were jettisoned to the ether. Monday turned the corner and sat down for a visit.

So here I am again loading a backpack for work, stumbling around to find my badge and my phone and my sense of self-worth.

I look again at my canvas and already I fear I have screwed it up. Don’t they say in art there are no mistakes? Just roll with it and incorporate the error. OCD and art are not friends. This major but fixable error must wait until later tonight to find its cloak.

There is a train to catch and a Monday to face. I’d rather stay home in my studio and put gorgeous turquoise paint on a willing canvas. Can I do that for a living?

You know, a girl can dream, and so I will dream as BART gently sways. When I disembark dreams stop so reality can start.

But no matter, I can dream again, later. Dreams don’t die easy.

And dreams don’t wait for the weekend.









Image from The Miracle Journal.




Monday, redux

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Blame it on Facebook and its algorithms that like to remind me of things from the past. For the better and for the worse.

I re-read this one over the weekend and thought “yeah, that one needs a re-post.”

So here we are, when Monday, January 30, 2017 feels a lot like Monday, January 28, 2013



A Treatise On Monday
Originally published January 28, 2013


Written this morning at something like 5:45am


And so we find ourselves back at Monday. Ah Monday, both the beginning and the end.

I have sad, tired, squinting, groundhog eyes as the alarm goes off. I’m begging the world not to pull me from my burrow. Please don’t shine that bright light in my face.

But I’m pulled from my burrow anyway and instead of a prediction, the world anticipates my arrival at the train station and my seat on the next ride into the city.

The bright light turns out to be a beautiful ray of light, glimmering off the slowly rising sun.

All possibility is in Monday. Will this be a good week? Will this be a bad week? Will it rain?

Monday is everything and nothing. A blank canvas ready to take the paint.

What will I make of my Monday? What will I achieve? How will I stumble and will I recover gracefully?

It all exists here in these quiet pre-dawn hours. The sun hasn’t even said hello yet and here I am, writing. Scribbling the words that want to exit my head.

There is already acrylic paint on my hands from a project that is due Thursday morning. I had to get some early painting done so I can hit that deadline.

In this Monday, all things are possible including finishing a painting that is due in just three days.

Oh my.

I feel strangely happy today. What the hell is this? How unusual for a Monday morning.

The weekend was weird. I was cranky and then he was cranky and then it was Sunday night and another two days of not working were jettisoned to the ether. Monday turned the corner and sat down for a visit.

So here I am again loading a backpack for work, stumbling around to find my badge and my phone and my sense of self-worth.

I look again at my canvas and already I fear I have screwed it up. Don’t they say in art there are no mistakes? Just roll with it and incorporate the error. OCD and art are not friends. This major but fixable error must wait until later tonight to find its cloak.

There is a train to catch and a Monday to face. I’d rather stay home in my studio and put gorgeous turquoise paint on a willing canvas. Can I do that for a living?

You know, a girl can dream, and so I will dream as BART gently sways. When I disembark dreams stop so reality can start.

But no matter, I can dream again, later. Dreams don’t die easy.

And dreams don’t wait for the weekend.









Image from The Miracle Journal.




The Song That Changed Your Life

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On the way to work this morning, I listened to legendary San Francisco radio station KFOG. They’ve recently had a bit personnel shakeup and it turns out their new morning guy is former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield. I’m not totally thrilled with the change, but I will say this: he is able to pull pretty decent guests.

This morning it was Matt Nathanson and it was a good interview. They talked music and influences, and Pinfield asked what I thought was an intriguing question.

“What is the one song that changed your life?”

For Mr. Nathanson, it was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. He said it made him want to play acoustic guitar and changed the course of his music. Pretty cool answer and song.

When they cut to commercial, I was left wondering what my answer would be. What is the one song that changed my life?

Well sheesh, that’s hard question. Music is so integral to my life that it can’t possibly be one song. There have been many songs that have changed my life and there are unwritten, un-thought of songs on the path ahead that will certainly change my life again.

As I drove and pondered, I was able to come up with a bunch. Here are just four of a much longer list.

Let’s dig in:

1) It’s 1991 and I’ve just gotten an undergraduate degree and about to start my MBA program. Right before the new semester began, my boyfriend broke up with me. I was quite into that particular boyfriend, pretty sure he was “the one,” and the breakup hit me like a ton of bricks.

I wallowed deep into a lot of sad country music, but one song in particular was a constant companion.

“Are You Still Within The Sound of my Voice” by Glen Campbell

There was a place down on the Rio Grande where he and I used to go, so I would drive there, bring out a blanket and my boom box and find a place on the banks of the river. I would play that song over and over again while crying, sobbing, keening. I rose the level of that dusty ol’ river with my salty tears.

Glen and that song got me through it. I can still hardly listen to that song, it’s so etched into my memory and DNA. But that song helped me make the transition back to good. It made me stronger. It did, indeed, change my life.


2) It’s 1994 and I’m living in Albuquerque, fresh out of college, gainfully employed and living that single girl life on my own. I’d lost a lot of weight and was feeling sassy and strong.

My musical tastes still ran toward country, but I was starting to listen to a lot of other music. In fact my musical education expanded a lot since there was a whole lot of music in the 90’s that was changing the world.

I’d caught the end of a song on the radio that got my attention, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

A few days later I was riding in an old Jeep CJ that was open to the wind with radio playing loud. That song came on, those now easily identifiable guitar chords, and I asked the driver to turn it up.

I was super late to the party on this song, but on that day, really hearing the song, my life changed.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Oh muh lord. Of course we all know the impact of Nirvana now, but back then, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I just knew I needed more. A lot more.

I bought “Nevermind” on CD and played it over and over and over. I had never heard an artist express themselves like that. I sang along with angry lyrics while the music (and musician) spoke to me in ways I still don’t understand.


3) It’s 1997 and I’ve moved to the Bay Area and I’m spending all of my time in San Francisco’s North Beach where my musical education took a turn toward the Blues.

There were a couple bars I knew how to get to and went to all on my own. A little girl with hayseeds in my hair, the employees and the musicians took me in. I became part of their family and they mine.

Blues music rolled in waves down Grant street back then and I’d start at the Savoy and work my way down. Grant & Green, Lost and Found, The Saloon.

Then there was a man named Willie who belonged to the street, but was still part of our family. More than once he protected me from the less kind aspects of city streets. He was a talented man with a bit of a drinking problem, but oh could he play that harp.

He’d tap his foot in time and play the blues. Then I’d go inside the bars and hear the musicians dive deep into history and play those same songs.

There was one that made me take notice, made me sit up. The beginning of what became a beautiful blues education. The door opened and I walked through.

“Matchbox” written by Blind Lemon Jefferson

On one night I heard four different musicians do the song, each putting their own fingerprint on it. This one song took a hold of me and never let go.


4) It’s 2015 and I’m with the love of my life, the one who actually is the one, and we’re attending a show at a small but awesomely funky venue in our new hometown. The act is Radney Foster and going to the show is like coming home.

I wrote a lot about why that night itself mattered right here on this little ol’ blog.

But more than that, Radney’s music was a core part of my college years and my life. A life I left when I moved to California. It was mostly the right decision, but damn I often feel like I left a huge piece of myself behind.

So many people here in the Bay Area. Crowded. Packed in. People who don’t understand the emptiness you find in New Mexico. The wide open spaces. The ease.

A lot of people here who don’t understand New Mexico, don’t understand what matters to me, and sure as hell don’t listen to country music.

And now here was Mr. Radney Foster standing on a stage in Northern California. There were even people other than me came to see the show. People who get it. It was a mind bender.

He did a lot of the familiar songs, and late in the show he introduced a new song. Told us that his wife grew up in Oakland. How he was at his in-law’s house in the Oakland hills and watched a gorgeous Bay Area sunset. Then he told his wife “I’m going to be late for dinner,” because he had to get down a song.

“California” by Radney Foster

It made me cry a little because it’s a beautiful love ode to California, written by someone from West Texas. A desert rat like me who gets it, was there back in the day, and understands why California.

It’s hard to explain to folks back home, but now I have the perfect musical explanation. In the following weeks I played it over and over again. This song let me know it’s okay to have my heart in both New Mexico and California. This song brought peace. Healing.

Truly life changing.

——

Whew. Yeah. Okay. I could probably go on. This list expands and grows the more I think about it.

I bet you are thinking too. Running through the soundtrack of your life and remembering the songs that mattered. The songs that changed your life.

It’s worth the journey. Feel free to share here or on Facebook. I’d love to know which songs changed your life.









Image used royalty free and found here.





The Day I Rode In The Belly Of A Whale

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Or: Tales From The Upper Deck

When word came down at work that I had approval to travel to Porto, Portugal to participate in meetings with key folks from around the world, things began to follow a usual path.

Since the place I work for gets a lot of Federal funding, we’re bound to abide by the Fly American Act, i.e. when on Federal business, fly US carriers.

No problem. I’m used to shoving my cookies onto a United Airlines jet and riding around the world, so per the norm I picked out my United flight pairs and the admin booked them. I was all set.

Because I am a little weenie and need more leg room, I like to pay out of pocket to upgrade my government bought United economy seats to United Plus economy seats.

My employer doesn’t pay for business or first class and I don’t fly enough to rack up the miles to get me there, so I ride in the back half of the plane. Economy plus at least gives my long legs a little room. A little less sardine-like.

However, when I logged into my United account and tried to upgrade my seats, I was told I could not. That I would have to wait until the day before the flight to pick out seats. What?

It took a little work but I figured out the deal. Three of my four flights on this trek would not be on United planes but a codeshare on Lufthansa.

Well hell, I’d never flown Lufthansa before so this was an adventure.

Doing some research on the Lufthansa site, I also figured out that my plane for the San Francisco to Frankfurt leg of the trip would be on an Airbus A380-800 airplane. A gigantic double decker of a holy-crap-that’s-huge airplane.

In fact, it’s the largest passenger plane flying today.

Looking up the specs of this plane online, I found people affectionately call it “the whale,” and it’s no wonder. The configuration I rode seats about 500 people.

When I was finally able to select my seats, I found that the second floor of the airplane (this airplane has two floors!!) was mostly first and business class, but the back of the upper deck had a small grouping of seven rows of economy seats. So yeah, I scooped up an aisle seat upstairs right away.

On the day I arrived at SFO, I let out an audible “wuh-huh-hoooooo” when I saw the airplane sitting at the gate. Then I became filled with anxiety. “How will that ever fly?” said my worried mind.

I wondered if my brain had anything I could compare this to. Many years ago I worked for a Lockheed Martin site that was right next to a military airstrip. Every once in a while the military would practice “touch and goes” with various planes and pilots. We’d drag our desk chairs outside and watch the show.

What I’m trying to say is, I’ve seen a fully loaded C-130 execute a touch and go, so yeah, I realized that the A380 could certainly fly. And I was going to get on it.

As I walked down the jetway to the plane, my heart began trip hammering. I always have a moment of pause before boarding any plane but this was different.

I stepped through the nice wide doorway and saw a beautiful gleaming white staircase front and center. “Ah, that must be how I get up there,” I thought.

The oversmiling male flight attendant looked at my ticket and informed me that I needed to go all the way to the back of the plane and find a staircase there.

In other words, your economy-seat riding ass don’t climb these stairs, honey.

Fair enough. I set off on my journey to the back of the plane. I stopped rest once or twice. I had snacks to keep my energy up. I may have camped out overnight. Jesus, that’s a big airplane.

Finally I reached the end of the plane and scurried up the stairs, then slid into my seat.

It was still an economy class seat so it fit tight around the hips. I got snug like a bug in there as the plane began to push back from the gate.

The Lufthansa A380 features three live cameras, one on the nose pointing forward, one on the tail also pointing forward, and one on the belly looking straight down.

Here is a terrible quality image. It’s a photo taken with an iPad of my screen on the plane as we are somewhere over the Labrador Sea. It’s enough that you can see what the view from the tail camera looks like:




I wanted to stick my hand out the window and wave to the camera, but that’s mostly frowned upon


It was mildly surreal to watch this behemoth take off from a bird’s eye view but I was fascinated.

Once aloft, I began to realize why non-US carriers rock the casbah. It’s one word: alcohol. The wine flows freely on non-US airplanes. I had flown a Singapore Airlines plane a few years ago and was gently surprised at the wine served with meals. The Germans have the Singaporeans beat. Wine with snacks, wine with dinner, brandy and irish crème after dinner.

All of this is a plot, however. They ply you with food and booze then turn down the cabin lights. Pretty much everyone falls asleep right away. Except me, I have a flaw in my DNA. I can’t sleep on a plane. Not even a long haul. Nope.

The Good Man shares this flaw and it’s good when we travel together because we entertain each other like little kids while everyone else sleeps. Sadly on this trip I was alone.

The flight attendant overseeing our little cozy area of economy class seats was a rockstar. He noticed I was the only one awake and didn’t let up on the top-notch service. He checked in on me constantly and brought water, juice, snacks and some cookies that seemed way too delicious for economy class.

Even though I was packed into an economy seat I felt spoiled like a little princess up there, inside the white whale.

When she touched down in Frankfurt I was reluctant to leave my cozy little seat and my white glove service. It was a gentle landing as the plane beast docked next to its siblings.

That was one of the most comfortable and happy international flights I have ever known and I am sure I will reflect back on it for years. It has become the high water mark by which all other flights will be measured.

Sadly, when going home from this journey, the Frankfurt to San Francisco leg will be on a plain old United jet, a Boeing 747-400. That plane also has a second deck, but only the pish-posh get to sit up there.

I’ll be seated among the cattle, in an economy plus seat but still among the unwashed. No first class cookies for Karen on the way home.

I think I’ll write a nice letter to Lufthansa to tell them how much I appreciated the flight attendant. As I have learned in my short time in Portugal, I will extend a hearty obrigada (i.e. thank you or much obliged) for his attention and job well done.

And I will wistfully dream of my time inside the whale, a modern day Jonah high above the bustling world.




Thar she blows!






With a nod and a smile to Johnny Jet for the photo and for his awesome blog post about the Lufthansa A380. Read it here.