Tag Archives: San Francisco

She Pushed Me

10712475_10204160137356691_7861090945178605088_o“Hey, she pushed me!”

“Ashley’s using my hairbrush!”


“Get OFF of me!”

That’s how my sister and I talked to each other when we were growing up–the way sisters do. Now that I’m back home from a fantastic Adventure Girls trip to San Francisco, I’d like to report that my sister pushed me. AGAIN. A couple of times.

1782499_10204160137556696_6295599819005434958_oMonday night, she pushed me out of a cable car. It was her idea to take a nighttime cable car trip to see the city lights in the first place. We got on the Powell Mason (or Powell Hyde? I dunno, she’s the one with the sense of direction) and rode up and over the hills of San Francisco. From one end of the line to the other. When the car was crowded, we stood inside the glassed compartment. But at the first chance, we got some seats out in the open air. Vivi kicked her feet against the side of the seat and stuck her boots out into the wind. I sat there next to her, ready to grab her by the collar in case of sudden stops, untoward jostling or…earthquake.

Gay said, “Come stand on the running board and hang on.”

Me? With my sensible purse and imperious shelf of matronly bosom? Why, I don’t even color my hair anymore and I am wearing Dr. Scholl’s shoes for goodness sake.

But she pushed me.

I hung my ass out in the wind and it was GREAT. I couldn’t stop grinning as we sailed up and over, down and around all those wonderful hills. When I looked out over the Transamerica Pyramid all lit up in orange for the Giants’ World Series win, I got that deep seated feeling of joy in my heart–that place where my sense of adventure lives. All because my sister gave me a little push.

And Vivi? Vivi got to see her mama being bold. She got to see two women having fun in the wide world.

My big sister isn’t one for limits. I had decided to change my grand plan of renting a car and taking Vivi to see the redwoods on our last day. It was just too much hassle. Instead, we rented a tandem bike and set off around the marina. Gay went off to her surgical conference to earn some CME hours.

Then right when Vivi and I were getting saddle sore, I get a text: “Want to rent a car?”  By the time we got back to the house, Gay had us a car and a Plan. We took off over the Golden Gate (and Lynrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” happened to be playing on the radio) and up into the woods. Muir Woods, to be exact.

10712561_10204160136796677_596909291184890860_oI would have been happy to walk along the wooden boardwalk under the giant sequoias, but Gay decided–in her flipflops–that we should go for a little hike. We went up to the top of the valley on the Canopy trail so we could look down from the tops of the giants. I never thought I would be teetering on the edge of a gorge filled with ancient redwoods, but my sister pushed me and there I was.

We wanted to go to the beach–she found Muir Beach. Vivi played in the cold water of the Pacific for the first time. I picked up striated rocks I had never seen before and old shells tumbled by the sandy waves. 10623298_10204160136516670_2485446281195265282_oWe had to leave before sunset to get the car back, but Gay was already ruminating. “Next time, we come PREPARED to hike! We’ll stay until sunset! We’ll…”

She busted it back to San Francisco through evening traffic. Didn’t even need the GPS for directions. I was ready to get Vivi back to the apartment. Gay assured me there was time for one detour.

Our route was so circuitous that I was sure she had gotten lost. Then she turns up a hill so high that it looked like a wall in front of us. She starts giggling. “Ready?”

Ummm…for WHAT?

fixed gay darkI couldn’t even BREATHE. She floored that little Kia and we shot straight up into the air. Both of us leaned forward instinctively, as if we could urge the car up that precarious angle. Gay had her face pressed so close to the windshield, I snorted, “You look like Aunt Eula!” That got us tickled.

When we made it to the top, she slowed to a crawl so I could look out across the vista of lights and down into the bay. The three of us paused there in that moment, the whole world spread out below us. Vivi squealed from the back seat, “Whoa!” when she had been getting whiny about dinner just seconds earlier. Aunt Gay said, “See, Vivi? You gotta trust me!”

She hit the gas and pushed us over the edge of the hill. It was so steep and dark, it actually looked like the road had disappeared beneath us and we might sail out straight to Alcatraz. We hurtled down Taylor Street as the lights of the city whizzed by our windows. I laughed and laughed and laughed. I couldn’t quit clapping like the Mama in “Nutty Professor”–Herc-a-LES, Hercales!

Gay popped me on the leg with the back of the hand and asked, “When are YOU going to learn to trust me?”

I trust her. My sister pushes me, and I let her, because I know she’s also the one who would never let me fall.

Thanks, Gay. I love you.




Sacred Space


This Sunday morning, I tried to recreate a special experience from my past. Turns out–you can’t do that.

Vivi and I took the cable car up to the top of Nob Hill early this morning. As we climbed the steps to Grace Cathedral, I reminded her that this was a real church. She needed to be quiet and respectful. People were here to enjoy a sacred space.

It was a beautiful blue sky morning. I couldn’t wait to walk the labyrinth again. Nine years ago, when my heart was still broken open, that labyrinth gave me a moment of peace so rich that I cried. The moment when I walked the path with a sincere and open heart, so that when I got to the center, God said “duh” to me.

Vivi began to run towards the center, but I grabbed her elbow and pulled her back. “There’s a special way to do this, sweetie. You focus on your feet and you follow the path slowly and carefully. You breathe quietly and you think about a question. When you get to the center, God might answer your question.” She nodded.

“You ready?” She nodded again. I gave her a little nudge and she started her walk. I waited a few beats and started walking the rose stone path myself.

She skittered ahead. I opened my mouth to be a mom then decided against it. A gaggle of gray-haired Chinese ladies gossiped in Mandarin on the terrace above us. I tried to ignore it. Vivi whizzed back to the start to try again. She ended up behind me, scuffing her boots across the stone. I tried to ignore it. A man propped his foot on the low wall around the labyrinth and proceeded to slap his thighs vigorously, three minutes each leg. I tried to ignore him. Car horns and cable cars. Pigeons. Three tourists holding cups of coffee stopped to watch me walk. I tried to ignore them.

My frustration reached the point where I felt like shouting, “I AM TRYING TO BE CONTEMPLATIVE HERE!!! KINDLY SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

By the time I reached the center of the labyrinth, I had just about given up on carving out any sacred space for myself in the midst of all these raucously living beings. But when I did step into the center, I closed my eyes and let the sun fall upon my face. I stood there breathing in the fresh air at the tip top of the city.

Even though I had been too distracted to meditate on a question, an answer came to me.

It’s All One Life. One crazy noisy bumping together life. I accepted it, imperfect as it has to be, and made my way back out. Back into the world of Mandarin gossip, coffee cups, scuffing boots and pigeons. That is the sacred space.

As I made my way back out by the winding path, two girls about Vivi’s age exploded up the steps and screeched to a halt at the labyrinth courtyard. They watched me for a few seconds then one yelled, “It’s a maze! You have to figure out how to get out,” like she was at Uncle Buck’s Punkin Patch and Corn Maze.

Vivi took a few steps towards them and said, “You walk the path and when you get to the middle you get to ask God a question.” They didn’t quite seem to care what she was saying and went on jumping from one row to another and spinning across the center. I felt that protectiveness flare up–someone might be dissing my baby.

And that moment made my inability to recreate the magic of the labyrinth OK.

The first time I walked this labyrinth, my heart lay in slivered shards. Now it’s feeling whole again, but it’s been placed inside two small people who careen around the world in their noisy and carefree ways. My heart, walking outside my body, dragging its feet and going too fast and really not paying attention to The Rules. My heart, out there, is the reason I have to make room for the world.

Oh, I asked Vivi if she had gotten an answer to her question when she walked to the center of the labyrinth. She scrunched up her face and slowly shook her head.

“No? What was your question?”

“I asked God why humans have to think so much.”


Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers

On our adventures, I hope Vivi learns that people are kind and we delight in delighting each other. I also hope she learns that some of the best moments in life are happy accidents. A few examples from our second day in San Francisco:

  • 10704199_10204120747051958_1141551543564970483_oWe settled for breakfast at the cafe across the street from our house just because it had the closest coffee. We got homemade cranberry scones, a bagel smeared with fresh avocado, black bean burrito…and enough crumbs to make the sparrows‘ lives a little richer.
  • On the steep hike up Lombard Street to show Vivi the crookedy part, I heard a strange buzzing sound and stopped to investigate. A tree filled with hummingbirds! Aunt Gay found a stray tennis ball by a tree. She carried it all the way up to the top of the hill then gave it to Vivi. A crowd gathered to watch as Vivi wound up her arm then let it fly to roll back down the sidewalk. It bounced off two trees and one bumper (parked car) to make it all the way to Taylor Street! Science!
  • 10003589_10204120755732175_6433563699803989697_o (1)At the beach, Vivi took off her shoes then rolled up her pants. She walked straight over to the only other little girl on the beach and said, “My name is Vivi. I’m seven. Do you want to be friends?” Zoe said, “Sure.” They held hands and played in the frigid waves for 10 minutes. Then Zoe had to go.
  • 10658891_10204124614548643_3861216549478961679_oBased on an article that asked local chefs where they like to eat, we took a cab over to Cow Hollow to have lunch at a noodle house…that only serves dinner. Oops. But thanks to Aunt Gay’s Magic iPhone, it turned out that we were right around the corner from the restaurant owned by that chef. We stopped into Causwell’s for brunch in a sunny window. Omelet with pork belly, pastrami hash with fried egg. Vivi got herself two sunny side ups with toast and homemade butter. The waiter brought us a couple of fresh mimosas on the house because he had forgotten our silverware for a few minutes. Ahhhh. Ain’t much that brunch can’t fix.
  • 10547881_10204120759812277_5458591061637365250_oWe wandered past a garden shop display of Halloween themed floral arrangements. Aunt Gay liked the sugar skull with succulents for eyes. I voted for the fanged bunny. Vivi liked the gnome buried head down in moss.
  • 10700767_10204124614988654_1929921929882242682_oThe cab driver for the trip back home heard “805 Lombard” and asked Vivi, “You want to go through the crooked part?” She grinned. When we got to the top of the switchbacks, he told her to hop in the front seat and put her seatbelt on. She giggled the whole way down.
  • A nap in a bay window while trolley bells ring on the street below. A two hour nap on a sunny day in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. That’s more decadent than homemade butter!
  • W10662126_10204124616228685_4069884386381843768_oatching the sunset from a sidewalk table at Park Tavern. Food that is art, prepared with such finesse. A glass of California Chardonnay paired with seared scallops. The waitress surprised me with a slice of coconut birthday cake with a thin blue candle sparkling on top. I made a wish.
  • 10380662_10204124617948728_4759393187716436339_oThe Cowboy Junkies on TV when we got home. Sitting there with the windows open, listening to the city celebrate every time the Giants scored. Watching a fireworks show a few blocks away without having to change out of our pajamas!

She’s asleep now, worn out from all this adventuring. Her beloved stuffed Pengy tucked under her cheek. The noise from the street doesn’t wake her. Tomorrow…we try the bus.

Getting High and Gay Walking in San Francisco

Today I realized that, even after all our adventures, my daughter is a Country Mouse. You know the old story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse?

Up and up then up some more!

Up and up then up some more!

Vivi doesn’t know much about navigating a city. She thunders down the sidewalk and manages to slam into the only other pedistrian on the block. She doesn’t know which way to face when we stand on a curb waiting for a light. And the light? Good grief. Two years ago when we went to DC, I tried to explain to her that the red hand means stop and the white man means walk. That turned into “White man! Walking!” Which she proceeded to SHOUT every time we crossed a street. That’s now become an inside joke with us.

My sister lives in a busy city, so this stuff is second nature to her. She knows which direction of traffic has the right of way, even without the White Man Walking. She glides across streets whenever the notion takes her (or she smells coffee). Today, she stepped out into the road so many times I decided we would start calling it Gay Walking instead of jay walking.

And by the way? San Francisco is a funny town when your name is “Gay.” I learned that last time we were here after I was trying to get her attention in a crowd and yelled, “GAY!” Half the place turned around.

Call a damn cab!

Call a damn cab!

It takes me a while to adjust to a city, too. Vivi comes by her Country Mouseness honestly. There are so many sounds and I lack some filter that blocks out the unimportant ones. Everyone walks so fast and no one is lost. There are people here who actually know how to ride BUSES. I can’t even.

New York is easy–when I’m lost, I just hail a cab. Here…no cabs. I’m sure there are some, but I can’t find them. Because lost. And we’re staying in an apartment instead of a hotel, so no taxi stand or doorman to help. Good Lord…did I just say that?

Traveling with my sister has spoiled Vivi and me rotten. She got tired today and whined, “Can’t we just get a taxiiiiii?” I pretended that wasn’t a fantastic idea. Thanks to Aunt Gay and the Uber private car app, Vivi now thinks that large black SUVs with very clean interiors just magically appear for us when we wait by a curb. Last year when we took her ice skating at Rockefeller Center, I got a deep sense of foreboding after Vivi stood on the crowded curb and said, “Is our car here yet?” Girl, please. I’m going to have to teach her how to ride the bus. Or find someone who can.

I have a pretty good sense of direction, but San Francisco discombobulates me. I think it’s because the water is east even though the Pacific Ocean is west. And the hills upon hills upon hill10714357_10204112596008187_7555641961668401898_os–can’t see anything! With all this newness to navigate, only one solution came to mind: we needed to get high.

We climbed allllll the way up Telegraph Hill (seriously, it’s like a 60 degree slant) to the fresh breezes and blue sky around Coit Tower. From the pinnacle, we showed Vivi Alcatraz, the piers, the Golden Gate. Gay traced back through the maze of streets and pointed out the house we’re renting.

Vivi wanted to see the house for herself. I pointed off into the distance. “See that gray house there? Find the diagonal street then go up a couple of blocks and that’s it, past the tennis courts at that playground we walked by.” She grew frustrated when she still couldn’t find it.

Then I realized–Vivi has no idea what a tennis court looks like from a quarter mile away. She doesn’t know how to measure a block. It’s all so much, so new. And she’s still learning. The only way to learn about the great wide world is to get out in it and explore.

We came back down to earth from the tower height. We did a little more Gay Walking and managed to get back home. Here we sit, back at the apartment in the room we are sharing. Vivi’s already asleep. I can’t shut out the noise from Lombard Street.

All of it–all of it–is turning into stories that we will share together.



God Says “Duh” To Me

Half a year after Richard died, I visited San Francisco for the first time with my sister, Gay, and our sister-in-law, Beth.  Gay was there for a conference.  Beth and I were there to stay at the Palace Hotel on someone else’s expense account.  Man, they have plush robes at that hotel. Nicest robe I ever almost stole.  Also a sauna, town cars at your disposal, a brunch buffet with everything from sushi to crepes, a concierge every 20 feet.  We were living high on the hog that week.  I don’t know how I’ll ever come back down to the Sleep Inn between the interstate and Sonic.

One morning, Gay had meetings to attend so Beth and I were on our own to navigate the city.  We decided to do some sight seeing up on Nob Hill (because you can’t get lost if you keep going uphill!).  My friend, Gleam, had a thing for labyrinths and had told me much about the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill.  

haringNow….I’m not normally one for church.  At least Grace is an Episcopal church–they don’t make me itch and twitch quite as severely.  I’m a church tourist, at best.  Grace, however, quickly became one of my most favorite spaces I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.  I found real sanctuary there.  It’s a welcoming congregation.  The first chapel I stepped into remembered thousands of lives lost to AIDS.  The “Life of Christ” altar by Keith Haring is surrounded by symbols of many faiths and a simple circle for people like me.  This was Haring’s last piece of art.  He died two weeks later from complications of AIDS, in 1990.  


When we were there that October of 2005, the main aisle had been decorated with a genuinely soul-lifting art installation.  This tiny thumbnail is the only record of it that I could find (because 2005 is like the Jurassic Period of the Internet).  Translucent ribbons swooped from the ceiling, suspended by invisible wires.  Hues transformed from deepest red toward the altar to pale sunshine yellow down the aisle.   The floating fabric sculpture reminded me of a fiery spirit, 100 feet long.  The motion of it, the color, the space inside it–all took my breath away.  While Beth explored the side aisles, I slipped into a pew and sat quietly, just so I could share the same space with the fiery spirit.  That’s when I began to cry.  I missed Richard so deeply.  He and I had spent many an hour exploring the cathedrals of Europe.  Now I was learning to adventure on my own.  

Beth had been giving me my space, but we eventually came back together and talked about what to do next.  I felt like I was holding her back, but there was one thing left to do at Grace.  I trusted her enough to risk making a fool of myself.  As we stepped out into the afternoon light, I turned to her and confessed, “I want to walk the labyrinth.”  

She was game.  Beth’s not usually one for any kind of mumbo-jumbo–she was totally humoring me.  “You’re going to need to explain it to me.  I don’t want to screw it up.”  I told her what I knew of them from Gleam, who had made a pilgrimage to Chartres with the last of her strength.  Cancer took her the next year.   

Here are the instructions for the Grace Labyrinth:

The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.

Three stages of the walk

  • Purgation (Releasing) ~ A releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This is the act of shedding thoughts and distractions. A time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
  • Illumination (Receiving) ~ When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.
  • Union (Returning) ~ As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work for which you feel your soul is reaching.

Labyrinth-HorizBeth and I chose different starting points and began our walk.  We had the place to ourselves, which let me let go of some of my inhibitions about doing something so mystical in public.  I focused on the soles of my feet and the contact they shared with the ground, just like in Buddhist walking meditation.  I felt safe in the maze.  Not rushing, just doing.  The rhythm of my steps did help me let go of the details of my life.  I felt the grief slip away, the anxiety abate.  My quieting mind sloughed away the months of grief, the months of worry, winnowing it all down to the real question that weighed down my heart.  The question I wanted to ask of God when I got to the center of the labyrinth:

“Is Richard OK?”

I know he can’t be here.  I know he’s not here.  I know I can’t know where he is.  But…is he OK?  

That’s when God said DUH to me.  Not in a mean way, more in an “of course, sweetie, bless your heart” way.  It wasn’t a thunder thump of a DUH.  I was open to what was there for me to receive and the gift that I received was a simple, quiet knowledge that Richard was beyond all the hurt.  I was the one who was hurting, but I could set down my worry about him.  That’s the burden I left in the center of the labyrinth.  

On my exit journey, I did experience Union.  I felt empowered to do the work for which my soul was reaching.  Healing myself.  I smiled a lot on the way out.  

The story of the labyrinth came back to me this week because every time I’ve tried to write a word about anything, my mouth is filled with ashes and grief for my friend, Chris.  Last week, Chris’ beloved daughter died suddenly, leaving two beautiful and bright children whose hearts could be broken forever by this.  I worry for Chris because no parent should have to lose a child and Chris has had this happen to her twice.  Both of her daughters have gone before her and that’s not fair.  There are no words for what it is.  

In the autumn of 2005, when I was sunk in grief and learning to live in the world again, I got back from San Francisco and began to plan my solo trip to Paris.  Chris, Gleam, and the rest of our writer bunch cheered me on.  The week before my trip, we gathered together for my bon voyage dinner.  Chris presented me with a soft blue beret and scarf to keep me warm in Paris.  She had knitted it from the leftover yarn from her grandson’s blanket.  The son of the mother who is gone now.  The blanket, the beret, the boy–they’re here.  The beloved is gone.  

I hope that grief, even a grief this abysmal, can be like the labyrinth.  A path we all walk, in our way, that teaches us to receive what we need to receive and empowers us to continue the work for which our souls reach.  

If you pray, pray for Chris and Wayne and Amy and Charlie and Emma.  May they find some peace on this journey.