6.05.2013

why i love the cable cars

You guys. I am really into baked sweet potatoes right now. Add a little butter with salt and pepper? Whoa. The only effort required is a quick scrub, some fork holes, and voila! Dinner. Also a fried egg on some sauteed kale. 

But I didn't actually come here after almost a month to tell you about baked sweet potatoes. I'm sure most of you stopped reading after I mentioned what I had for dinner, but at least I'm not showing you a picture of it! 

Image by nidhi chanani
So please don't go, because I want to tell you about the cable cars. A constant presence in my life that I have come to love with a tenderness that is maybe a little weird. When the cable car rumbles past my building on my quiet little street every 20 minutes or so, I feel like I'm being checked on by some kind of benevolent spirit, making its rounds to see that all is well. By day it is laden with smiling tourists, who only rarely look up and see me in my window peering down at them, and by night it glows with the little red lights dotting the corners. I call it the gentle beast

But while the cars themselves only come by every 20 minutes, the cables are there always, pulsing just below the surface of the street as they continue their endless journey through the city, before resting sometime after midnight. You can tell that a cable car is approaching because the cables hum a different tune. There's a faint ringing, and then a more earnest grinding sound as they pull the car up the hill. But my favorite is the in-between, when they buzz there softly like a friendly swarm of mechanical bees.

The crazy thing is that I didn't even start riding the cable cars until recently, a whole year after moving to Nob Hill. There's one that goes right by my house and another one that goes right by my office and drops off a few blocks from my house, but I always chose to walk. I'm so glad I learned that my normal MUNI pass gives me unlimited rides because it really is like being at Disneyland. Which, as you might imagine, is a pretty great way to end the work day.

I mean, the parallels are striking. You have the dim thrill of going up and down San Francisco's famous hills, much like a child's roller coaster. People even scream sometimes. And there are lines, depending on where you get on. There's also the obscurely pleasing smell of old metal and wood, and the nostalgic chimes of antique machinery cranking underground.

Image by Matte Stephens via Etsy
Even the cable car operators are a lot like the ride operators at Disneyland. Of course, they're more similar to the sarcastic Jungle Cruise guides than the smiling folks manning Dumbo. They make a show of looking surly--though most of them are certainly big and hulking--but they lovingly tease the tourists, joke around with the regulars, point out upcoming photo ops, and remind you to keep your hands and arms inside at all times. "Allow me to point out some of the exotic plant life we have in the jungle," they say, before raising a finger and pointing, "there's some. And there's some over there." Or wait, that actually is the Jungle Cruise. But it's very similar. They also ring the bells overhead with varying rhythm and spirit, depending on...the traffic? Their mood? The weather? Each operator seems to have their own signature bell song.
It's no secret that the cable car system is a historical gem and dozens of tourists line up at the Powell Street turnaround for good reason. I do love, though, that for this brief period in my life, I get to be not only an occasional passenger on the gentle beast, but a friendly neighbor to it as well. 



5.13.2013

meet my mother

My mom, age 17 (I believe). Look at those lashes!
I hope you all had a lovely Mother's Day! We had a joint celebration with my family and Ian's family, starting with a visit to the beautiful and strange di Rosa art gallery in Napa, and ending with a picnic in Sonoma. There was sun and laughter and a red checkered table cloth. It was a perfect day. My mom got some extra love from one of the fifteen peacocks on the di Rosa property, who raised his magnificent tail feathers with a loud whoosh and slowly backed her into some bushes.

I'll admit that I find Mother's Day challenging. We are to make homemade bath salts or buy jewelry as small tokens to express something I can hardly even understand. To express something that is always floating just beyond the reach of words. We try out "love" and "thanks" but if we really stop to think, they are a far cry from what's there, needing to be said.

I wrote "Thank you for everything" in a card I gave my mom over the weekend. Thank you for, ya know, my existence? Thank you for creating me and protecting the safe little universe I grew up in? For always putting yourself second, even when "thanks" did not seem to be part of the equation. For staying awake with me in the living room until sunrise because I was too afraid to sleep. For writing limericks on our lunch bags every day. For being our peacekeeper, our emotional foundation, the hot molten core of our family. For reading one more chapter. For playing games of crazy eights or Mancala on school nights. For teaching me to be reasonable and thoughtful. For always, always listening.

I usually feel a little sad after spending time with my mom, like it wasn't quite enough -- what I said, what I did. But I suppose it will never be enough. There will always be something there that is bigger than me, impossible to define and impossible to escape.

In honor of Mother's Day, as we all think about where we came from and wonder what that must have been like for the person responsible, I'd like to share a little bit of my mother with you. So here, readers, are some thoughts on motherhood from my mom, Barbara.

With my sister, the oldest.


What's best:

What I like best about motherhood, both now and when my kids were little, were the surprises they came up with. I don't mean breakfast in bed on Mother's Day, or surprises on any holiday, really. 

I mean the thoughts they were thinking, the reflections they shared on big and little issues, the ideas they had about the world and their place in it. When they were little, these were things like how long can a tadpole live in your pocket? What does a snail taste like? What's the right way to "test" your pee? (this one is referring to one of us overhearing my mom talk about a pregnancy test.)

Now that my kids are adults, the thoughts are still surprising and fascinating. Some are big. How do you rehab a relationship? How do you find meaning in a life after it's fallen apart? How do you figure out what to do with your life?

Some thoughts are smaller, and way easier to answer. How much flour do you use in a pan so the bread doesn't stick? Corn dogs and ice cream can be lunch sometimes, right? How do you thread a sewing machine? 

I love to hear what my kids are thinking, questioning, struggling with, reflecting on. I hope they never stop sharing that with me. Those are the surprises I like, even when they're not syrupy. 

Me.
What's hardest:

Watching my kids struggle when I can't help them. Always has been.

What's different than she thought:

I didn't think it would be so hard or so fulfilling. I thought kids popped into your life, you fed them and sent them to school. They would grow up, get married, be happy and successful. I didn't think about how every single moment along the way had the capacity to either a) be a huge problem or b) make me breathless with joy. I also didn't think that my own parents might have gone through the same struggles or joys, because they never talked about the trials or joys. They just did it, so I thought everybody just got it done, without a fuss. 
  
A few days before Mother's Day, pregnant with baby #1.

What she gave up:

The big picture? Honestly, I feel like I gave up more to get married than to have children. I think that once I became part of a team by getting married, I didn't give up any more by adding new members to the team. If anything, my team gained from the new perspectives and qualities each new member added. 

The little picture? Sleeping late. Time to myself. My own space. My figure. 

What it means to love her grandchildren:

I think the only real difference is the sense of responsibility I feel. I feel responsible for everything my kids do. Good or bad, I feel responsible for it. I don't feel that responsibility toward Alice or Ivy. I only feel joy in their existence and pleasure in what they share with the world. 

What advice she would offer new parents:

Trust your instincts and don't overthink what you should or should not do.

What she wants most for her children:

Serenity.






Thanks Mom! Love you more.

4.23.2013

people taking care of each other

There's an old Chinese couple that I sometimes spot sitting in the laundromat around the corner from my building, she on the low bench with her back to the windows, he on a chair facing her. I presume they are there waiting for their laundry, but I've never actually seen them at the machines. What I do see each time is the woman's pant legs rolled up to her knees and the man holding one of her legs in his hands, methodically massaging her calves, shins and bare feet while they talk and laugh together quietly. He is always smiling, and they are both relaxed, settled in for the evening. 

It strikes me as a very private moment to stumble upon. Every time I see them I am startled, embarrassed in the way you get when accidentally walking in on someone in the bathroom or inadvertently witnessing people kiss when they thought no one was watching. Of course it's nothing indecent--in fact, it's much more friendly and caring than romantic--but the intimacy seems so out of place in the laundromat, where most people are in and out, all business and no eye contact.

Witnessing these candid little moments of love is a bit like medicine when, like me, you are cranky and all you want to do is get your groceries home to your studio apartment and be alone. When, like all of us, you are seeing flags at half-mast everywhere you look. It's good to be reminded that people are taking care of each other. 


On Sunday, Ian and I joined my brother on a lovely hike in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. It's a great park. I would recommend the Stream Trail for a mellow stroll, and the French Trail for the slightly more adventurous. We walked along the stream and in the sun up to the top of the hill, and then meandered down over narrow, damp paths, pretending to be hobbits and keeping an eye out for banana slugs underfoot. My brother packed a pb&j, apple, and chocolate cookie for each of us. We couldn't have asked for a better picnic among the trees.

My brother also fed us with a story of his recent visit to Ike's in Oakland, where the person at the register asked how his day was. Instead of saying "good, thanks" and moving along to get his seriously bomb sandwich, he mentioned some good news he'd gotten at work that day and they had a nice little exchange. When his order was ready, he found a free cupcake thrown in as a congratulations. I mean, awesome right? Just goes to show what might happen if you engage with the people around you instead of moving through the world like a zombie, staring at your phone, your feet, the counter (all things I tend to do), anything but the human being standing in front of you.

And speaking of awesome, on Thursday night I will be going to a Letterpress Craft Night with Oh Happy Day and I could not be more excited. Oh Happy Day is one of my favorite blogs and a true source of DIY genius. I also have an unhealthy obsession with letterpress goods and can't wait to see the process firsthand, not to mention meet Jordan Ferney! I wonder if she'll sign my tote bag.

Love and pb&j,

Shannon

4.18.2013

painting on fabric at gravel & gold

 
On Sunday evening, I took a lovely little workshop at Gravel & Gold, one of the best spots in the Mission. We learned the free flowing art of hand painting on fabric and got to experiment with leggings and silk scarves. I had spent the afternoon at home after a long walk in the city that morning, so I was settled in and almost talked myself out of going. The ol' it's so far away and I won't get home until late and I won't know anyone there and it probably won't be worth all the trouble routine. Won't won't and another won't. But I ignored that familiar voice in my head and tromped on down to catch the bus. 

I'm so glad I did! If you haven't been to Gravel & Gold, it's definitely worth a visit. You can see past and upcoming events here, or just stop by for some carved wooden spoons or handmade sandals. They have a real respect for makers and artists and a beautiful space full of unique finds and, refreshingly, none of the pretense you find at so many other places in the Mission. The workshop was just six or seven chill ladies standing around a long table, playing with dye and fabric and listening to The Farm Band with the occasional discussion of Heath Ceramics or how to become a volunteer doula. Because really, why not?

We were encouraged to just experiment (with no more than two colors to avoid the risk turning the whole thing a lovely shade of cat barf). At one point, Lisa, who lead the workshop and runs the store, said absentmindedly how it's "nice to do things where mistakes become part of the design". And I thought how right, how true that is with life in general. How something you weren't planning on at all is suddenly there -- whoops! -- and you make it work, you fit it in, and somehow it still ends up being beautiful.

Wishing you a mellow weekend, friends, and the freedom to make a mistake or two. 

4.10.2013

the thing about family

Image by artist Lisa Kokin via The Jealous Curator
I've been thinking a lot about family. My friends' families, families in stories I read, the family I come from and the one I will some day make myself. Families are all different, of course, but something they seem to share is that no one quite knows how strong their family really is until its tested, and that's bound to happen to everyone sooner or later. 

The longer any of us exist in this world, the more likely it is that we will encounter something hard, something confusing, something we aren't prepared for. The scary thing is that no one really gets off easy. People are messy and complicated, people love and people die and anytime people exist together, something about it will be painful at some point. Either something happens to one or all of you, or you happen to each other. Maybe you are are young with plenty of time to heal, or old with a lifetime of experience to help you cope. Maybe your family is big, small, growing or shrinking. Maybe you have been through a lot already. Maybe you haven't. Maybe your family has a story, maybe you don't talk about it.

What matters, I think, is how the unit holds up under the weight of loss, strife, anger, sadness. Like when you put a heavy load into a basket. The woven pieces react all at once, tightening and flexing underneath the sudden burden. Or like venturing out alone onto a dilapidated old board suspended over some abyss, unsure if it will hold, then turning around and realizing that your whole family has followed you, one by one, and the board is supporting the weight of everyone, huddled out there together, safe above the darkness.

And speaking of families and the things they must endure, the Creature Comforts blog is selling this lovely 8"x10" art print for only $5 to benefit the family of an unimaginably brave 12-year-old girl who is losing a fight to cancer. Her name is Brielle, and you can read her story here. Ez of Creature Comforts made this print just for this art fundraiser arranged by P.S. I Adore You and there are a bunch of other artists participating. All proceeds go to Brielle and her family. Last chance to buy is this Saturday, April 13. 

Image by Ez Pudewa of Creature Comforts Blog


4.04.2013

on being creative

Image by Esther Aarts via My Modern Met
I fancy myself a creative person. I like to write, and I have a good eye and an interest in crafts. I mean, you should see my Pinterest boards. I have pinned some seriously awesome ideas for projects. That counts, right? 

The inconvenient thing about being "creative" is that you actually have to create stuff. I spend a stupid amount of time sitting around thinking about how much I enjoy the creative side of my brain and, gee, what does that mean about how I should spend my life, how should that shape my identity, and am I actually all that clever or do I just like looking at pretty things? Ira Glass said every person he knows that's doing good, creative work started out with little more than good taste. You have to just start making stuff and eventually what you are making will catch up to what you want to be making. 

But what if you don't know what you want to make? Or who you want to be? Joy Deangdeelert Cho, founder of Oh Joy, talks about the value of trying new things until you've carved out a clearer image of what you really love.

This is also something we're told in Austin Kleon's book, Steal Like An Artist, about creativity in this generation. It's a valuable little manifesto. Here are three things he says that I am holding on to:
  • Don't wait until you know who you are to get started. 
  • Use your hands.
  • Side projects and hobbies are important. 
If you wait until you know who you are to do anything, you will wait forever. Allow yourself to work with your hands and engage in random projects and see where they lead your mind. When I am working on, say, a sewing project, I am so intensely focused it's almost like meditating. This is partly because I don't really know how to sew so I have to pay very close attention. But it's also the action of doing something with my hands and constructing an actual physical object from scratch that totally transports me to a mental place where I will not want to check Facebook incessantly or otherwise waste my time. This, I think, is valuable in and of itself.

It's my hope that staying on top of a blog will help me stay creative. And if all I end up with is a few handmade treasures for my little home, that's just fine.

3.28.2013

wellness day

I am taking a wellness day tomorrow. Don't you love that word? Wellness. It's so whole. For me, wellness is a big green smoothie and yoga at home. It's laying in bed for just a few more minutes because the morning light coming in through the bamboo blinds is so soft and clean. It's drinking tea by the window with a book. It's listening as the jingling cable cars outside carry the world right on past. It's my mantra:
What can I let go of right now?
Sometimes it feels like I have stress and worry with me at all times. It's like a scratchy wad of anxiety that I keep in my pocket, turning around and around in my hand until my skin is sore and red. I get stuck in my head and my thoughts fast forward until everything is tangled and I need much more than the end of a pencil to unwind it. So then I take a few deep breaths and I ask myself, what can I let go of right now? And sure enough, every time, the answer is almost everything. And the weight is lifted. I do not need this stress or this anger or this anxiety to survive in this moment. 

This doesn't always work, but it helps if I give myself a little time. 
Image via Friends of Type