Tag Archives: San Francisco

A Crowley Christmas

The Christmas season has caught me by surprise this year.  It always does.  I figure I should start hauling out the decorations after I notice that my Jewish neighbors across the street have put up their tree.

The Crowley Children circa 2006

The Crowley Children circa 2006

While most people relish the Christmas holidays, I find them a bit overwhelming.  First, I feel immense pressure to decorate.  I’m a minimalist by nature so the idea of stuffing my living room with a bunch of Noel–themed tchotchkes is anathema to me.  When my kids were young, I had no choice.  But now that they’re older and their tastes have become more refined (ahem, like mine), I can afford to be selective with my Christmas decorating.

I put out a modest, little wooden crèche on my mantel, which my mother purchased for me so I would never forget the true meaning of Christmas and that I was baptized a Roman Catholic.  And then I rely on my daughter, Meg, to do the rest.

Meg is almost 14 and still has one foot in childhood.  She loves the magic of Christmas even though her mother is a Scrooge.  Every year, Meg breaks out the Christmas music and decorates the tree.  My husband helps with the lights while my son, Kerry, and I find other important things to do.  Meg finds places for my carefully curated Christmas collection and transforms our home into a veritable Santa’s workshop that has been stripped down to wooden benches with some red and green accents.

I buy all family and friend presents, and generally speaking, I do not like to shop.   I manage this by shopping a little on the Internet and visiting the Mall in two-hour chunks during off-peak hours and taking regular breaks.  I spend a fair amount of time planning my purchases in advance so I usually know what I’m going to buy before I enter a store.  This makes for a more efficient shopping experience.

I’ll also go downtown for a morning of shopping, but never all day.  I find it too tiring and am unable to carry everything.   Even though I’m not a big shopper, I do like to give thoughtful gifts.  I realize this stands in the face of everything I’ve just told you, but the recipients of my gifts always seem to like my presents, at least that’s what they say.

I try to get all of my shopping done before the kids break for Christmas and then plan some outings with the family to enjoy the season.  One of my favorite outings took place five years ago where I forced my husband and children to do a walking tour of Chinatown through San Francisco City Guides, which is an incredible free resource, by the way.   I even managed to drag my two older stepchildren along for the ride.

We traveled to the oldest Chinatown in North America on a crisp, sunny winter day and followed an extremely knowledgeable guide around the back alleys visiting Chinese herbal shops, temples and historical sites.  Our kids rolled their eyes throughout the tour and mocked me for my choice of activity until we came to the fortune cookie factory.

This intrigued my family, especially when they learned you could buy X-rated fortune cookies, which featured suggestive messages.  The fortune cookie factory owner implored us in her heavy Chinese accent to buy her “Sexy Fortune Cookies.”  In the spirit of the season, my husband bought several packages.  Thus, my tour had been redeemed and forever inscribed in our children’s “Fond Memories of Christmas…Growing up Crowley” book (destined to become a bestseller).

Afterwards, we walked down to the waterfront full of laughter and fun and took our Christmas card picture.  We made our way to South Beach, home of AT&T Park and my friend Janet’s famous ballpark restaurant, MoMo’s, where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.

As we were eating, my son spied Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback , four-time Super Bowl champ and hero to all San Franciscans, Joe Montana, casually eating lunch across the dining room with his wife Jennifer.   We played it cool even though we were anything but, and did not bother them.   We kept stealing glances in the Montanas’ direction and reporting to each other on every move that Joe made.

We finished our meal and left before the Montanas, proving that we weren’t so star struck that we needed to linger.   Besides, we had to get home and begin making enchiladas for our traditional Mexican Christmas Eve feast.

Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun and Feliz Navidad!

Some of my favorite Christmas music is featured on the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait album.   I think Karen Carpenter had a voice like silk and left us way too early.  Enjoy her haunting version of “Little Altar Boy.”


Old Friends

Last week, I took a walk in the fog on my blog.  To be truthful, I do enjoy my walk, but I really didn’t like my post.   It had good descriptive qualities, but it lacked honesty.  I appreciated the positive feedback I received, but I felt unsettled.

Then, I received an e-mail from Sarah, one of my oldest friends, (not age, mind you, but length of friendship.)  “Wow,” she wrote, “I want to go for a long walk on the beach and talk to the birds…and you, of course.”  Boom!   Nothing like an old, true friend bringing me down to earth.  I laughed so hard I cried.

Some of my old friends

Some of my old friends

You see, I wrote about the birds and the names of the avenues and the surfers out of obligation.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are all things worth noticing.  I know this because I’ve read many books on writing that tell me I should notice everything and be specific as possible.  Therefore, I included an explanation and some thoughts on the endangered snowy plover.

But how much do I really think about the snowy plover on my walk?  When I have to meet my self-imposed blogging deadline, the snowy plover takes on a sense of urgency.  Otherwise, I barely notice any birds other than to duck and cover when they fly by in packs.

Most of the time, I walk with my friend Janet who I’ve known since the third grade and doesn’t want to be mentioned in my blog.  Suffice to say, we yack the entire four miles and by the time we’re done, I’ve barely noticed that time has elapsed let alone the snowy plover and the surfers.

This brings me back to Sarah.  Sarah and I were born around the same time and shared space in the nursery at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Although our parents knew each other, we did not become acquainted until we were 13.  We’re almost 52 so we’ve known each other well for almost 40 years.

I don’t get to see Sarah as often as I’d like as she lives two hours away.   It doesn’t matter.  When I see her, we pick up where we left off and she dishes me in a way that only someone who has known me for 40 years can do, ribbing me in her e-mail about a previous walk we shared on the Santa Cruz beach where I donned a blue terrycloth jogging suit that I accessorized with penny loafers and an Italian satchel draped across my body.  Of course, I give it right back to her, but her wit often trumps mine.

I feel very lucky to have a good number of old friends.  Although I’ve grown up in a large city, I’ve lived in a small community where so many of my schoolmates still reside.  I went to college across the Bay and made new friends who, because of my advanced age, are my old friends now.  And I treasure them.

Old friends sparkle like diamonds.  They light up the room in a party and I am immediately drawn to them.  My old friends absolutely judge me and tell me what they think to my face.   We celebrate milestones together because we’re roughly the same age.   I don’t have to explain that I am the youngest of six children; they know the names of my brothers and sisters, my parents, my late aunt Margie, my husband and my children.  They know that I don’t like vegetables and that a long time ago, I drank like a fish.  They get my humor and I relish theirs.

As I said before, I feel very lucky.  I have new friends, too, folks that I have known only 15 or 20 years and or maybe just 15 or 20 months.  I love them dearly, but they really only know the “adult” Nancy and sometimes, I just want to go back to that time when I was young and didn’t have a care in the world.

When my mother turned 70, my sister threw my mom a birthday party and invited all of her old girlfriends.  I remember my mom being asked how she felt now that she had reached 70 years of age.  She answered, “I feel like I just turned 13.”

Why wouldn’t she?  She was celebrating her birthday with her old friends.


A Walk in the Fog

San Francisco can be so miserably cold and foggy you have to take a walk to warm up.  About three days a week, I suit up wearing several layers of fleece and head out to the walking path that borders the Great Highway next to Ocean Beach.

To the uninitiated, this intersection of land and sea may appear unwelcoming, desolate and grey.  It’s grown on me to the point where I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather start my morning.

The path begins where the Great Highway meets Sloat Blvd, just west of the San Francisco Zoo.  Built in 1983 by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission with monies from the Clean Water Act, the route is an easy one, stretching two miles from Sloat Blvd. to Lincoln Way, which borders Golden Gate Park.  It follows a straight line, with the occasional rise and fall.   Its straightforward topography makes the course an ideal choice for small children and old people to recreate, and there are plenty who do.

Snowy Plovers at Ocean Beach

The salty air assaults and invigorates me the moment I get out of my car.   I can’t see the ocean right away as the sand dunes obscure my view, but I can hear the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping the beach.

I look to the right and notice the outer Sunset homes and apartments sandwiched together like a Giant hoagie…grey, brown, white pieces of meat with an occasional tomato or yellow pepper.   The bright-colored houses amuse me.  I always imagine that the owners are overly optimistic people who think the sun will come out soon.  It almost never does.

Barefoot surfers clad in full body wetsuits cross my path and bravely enter the Pacific.  They suffer from serious bedhead, but it hardly matters given their sleek physiques.  I believe the 55-degree ocean, bracing wind and ubiquitous fog freezes their body fat off.

I mark my progress by the streets that bisect the Lower Great Highway…Santiago, Rivera, Quintara, Pacheco, Ortega, Noriega, Moraga, all named for Spanish explorers and pioneers and in alphabetical sequence, which is reassuring for someone like me who prefers an ordered procession.

The final four street names before the park provide an introduction to 19th century American history:  Lawton and Kirkham, two American generals; Judah, the forgotten engineer who dreamed the Transcontinental railroad; and Irving (Washington), the famous American author who wrote the short story Rip Van Winkle.

Golden Gate Park and a large expanse of Ocean beach known as Kelly’s Cove beckon at Lincoln Way, but after nodding to the newly renovated Murphy’s Windmill at the base of the park, I turn around and head back.  At Noriega, I cut across the Great Highway and walk the sea wall path next to the ocean where soft grasses and waxy ice plants attempt to hold the bordering sand dunes in place.

I’m not a bird watcher, but I am drawn to the protected snowy plovers that gather in an assembly at the water’s edge.  They are small, cute and apparently, very social.  They travel in packs of hundreds.  From what I have observed, they mostly sit on the beach and talk to each other, an activity that strongly resonates with me.

Amidst the snowy plover convention is a smattering of fishermen who plant their poles in the sand and cast their lines into the approaching waves.  They wear hip-high boots and waterproof jackets to protect themselves against the unpredictable surf.

Ocean Beach apartment

At Taraval, the seawall path ends and I resume my walk on the other side of the highway and a few short blocks to the end.  After four miles of strolling in the damp fog and wind, my hair has grown wider and is in desperate need of a flat iron.  But my soul has been nurtured by the raw beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the ironic Sunset District beach culture.  I’ll sleep well tonight.


Pagan Babies

A long time ago, I attended Catholic grammar school.   Part of our religious instruction included a daily collection that raised money to adopt “pagan babies.”  For $5, we could save a soul in where, I’m not sure, but I presume it was somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the end of each collection, our teacher, Sister Mary Francis, would announce the tally and report the balance we needed to attain our goal.  Once we reached the five dollar mark, we got to name our new pagan baby, which gave us both a sense of ownership and a significant diversion from regular class time.

In sixth grade, my mother quit smoking and donated the $5 she would have spent on cigarettes to the pagan babies.   I will never forget striding into school, five dollar bill in hand, determined to rescue a pagan baby while simultaneously securing a hall pass for my beleaguered classmates.

When it came time to name the pagan baby, my friends offered up many names as that was part of the drama.  After much debate, we agreed to call our new pagan baby “Eileen Patricia,” after her true benefactor, my mother.   It was a glorious day.

My mother’s generosity made a huge impression on me.  She did not limit herself to pagan babies, but quietly supported a number of causes that helped the poor and less fortunate.

While I bluster about my addiction to sugar, I also know that it is ironic and sad that many people don’t have enough money to pay for their next meal.  In San Francisco alone, one in five adults and one in five children face the threat of hunger each day.   Poor people lack adequate nutrition because junk food, like chips and cookies, is often less expensive than fruits and vegetables.

As part of my quest for sainthood, I’m donating $10 to the San Francisco Food Bank for every day up to 30 days that I keep my pledge of “no sugar.”  The SF Food Bank serves more than 200,000 people each year, partnering with 400 organizations such as St. Anthony’s Dining Room.  Fresh fruits and vegetables comprise 60 percent of the Food Bank’s distribution.

My donation gives me another reason to keep my pledge and inoculates me against creeping self-indulgent disease, a potential side effect of blogging.  Sister Mary Francis and Eileen Patricia would be proud.


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