Archive for March, 2013

Coast Camping

March 28, 2013

So many good things have come into my life through the farmers market: good food, of course, but also new friends, recipes, restaurant recommendations and travel tips. Last week, we scored a campsite through the farmers market. It was a Saturday night, booked-six-months-ago campsite right on the Marin coast that two customers of Mr. WholeHog’s weren’t able to use.


It was probably the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever had. It was perched on a bluff over the Pacific and had a view of the ocean and also of SF off in the distance. On the other side of the small, seven-site campground, we could see the long curve of Stinson Beach.


From the campground, we had easy access to the hiking trails on Mt. Tamalpais. After we set up camp, we headed to Stinson Beach to pick up a few essential (bourbon and chocolate). We picked up the Steep Ravine trail right across Highway 1 and walked through the woods until we connected with the mostly exposed Dipsea trail that leads right into town. It’s a gorgeous walk, especially this time of year when so much of Mt. Tam is peppered with wildflowers.


Dipsea trail on the way down to Stinson Beach


When we got back to camp, we reheated some of Zuni’s asparagus and rice soup and sat up on a rock in our campsite to eat and watch the sun set over the Pacific. (One thing I like about overnight camping is that we don’t have to bother to do much cooking or clean up.) It was shaping up to be one of the best camping experiences I’d ever had: the site was spectacular, the weather was beautiful, the hike into town was terrific.


But the downside of camping, even in a small, secluded campground like this, is that you are still around other people. Mr. WholeHog and I usually try to minimize the number of people we’re around by going places in the off-season or on off-days. We don’t do much camping in the summer, for example, and we tend to camp on Sunday nights, not Saturday nights. We want to avoid the chumps, as my grandfather called the people who’d flood in to Tahoe every Friday night and leave every Sunday night. And unfortunately, we ran into some chumps at a neighboring campsite, who sang, screamed and played an amplified guitar late into the evening.  It didn’t entirely ruin our experience, but it was a reality check: even in one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, even in the nicest campsite, there are still jackasses.


Noe Stairway Walks

March 22, 2013

One of the best things about living in the Castro were the walks we took from our old apartment, particularly the stairway walks. We could cross Castro Street and wander up the many different stairways on Liberty Hill, or we could cross Market Street and walk the Vulcan or Saturn Street staircases in Eureka Valley. The closest stairway walk to our Castro apartment were the stairs at the corner of 20th and Douglas Streets. They led up to Corwin Street, where we’d walk past the little community garden and out to Kite Hill, one of the City’s open space areas that offers an expansive view of the City.

But I’ve grownDay Street stairs to love the stairway walks in Noe Valley, too. There are many stairways in Upper Noe Valley, especially up where the streets begin to head uphill toward Diamond Heights. There are stairs at Noe and 27th, Castro and 28th, Duncan and Noe, and Valley and Diamond. My Noe version of our old Castro walk is to head up Day Street to where the street begins to make its odd 90-degree turn to meet Castro.

On the left-hand side of the street, next to the very last house on the block, there’s a little walkway. It looks private, but it’s not. It leads to a short staircase, which isn’t the longest or the prettiest staircase in the City, but it wins points for seeming hidden and like a place only locals would know.

The stairs lead up to 30th Street near Laidley, right at the base of Billy Goat Hill. (I’m sorry to say that I’ve never seen any billy goats on this hill.) Billy Goat is essentially the Noe equivalent of Kite Hill: a nearby open space area with great city views. The wooden stairs in the picture, below, lead down to a little viewing area that also has a rope swing. The swing seems so San Francisco to me: why would you merely sit and take in the view when you could be swinging?! (This post about the rope swing made me laugh.)

billy goat

We were up on Billy Goat Hill recently just as the sun was setting and casting an orange glow over the City.

sunset City

View of downtown SF


View down 30th to Bernal Heights (and Mt. Diablo across the bay)

From the top of Billy Goat Hill, two other stairways are easily accessible. Head to the right and you’ll find stairs off Diamond Street down to the top of Valley Street. Head to the left and you’ll come to the Harry Street stairs (pictured below).


Harry Street stairs

The Harry Street stairs are one of my very favorite stairways in the City. Unlike most of SF’s cement stairways, the Harry stairs are wood. Like the stairs on Telegraph Hill or the Vulcan stairs in Eureka Valley, there are little homes along the Harry Street stairs. Harry street stairs take you back to Laidley Street, a street with lots of interesting architecture, if you want to keep walking.

Reading Rainbow: Two Good Novels

March 18, 2013

It’s rare these days to come across books that I really love, but I lucked out and read these two great novels on the beach in Hawaii:

historyoflove The History of Love

Please tell me you’ve already read “The History of Love.” I have no idea why it took me so long to read it because it is so good — a beautiful story (about love, of course, but also about loss), that is beautifully written and features two of my favorite kinds of narrators: a sweet old man and a determined young girl. (I laughed out loud reading the old man’s opinions of telemarketers: “They’re always calling to sell. Once they said if I sent in a check for $99, I’d be preapproved for a credit card, and I said, Right, sure, and if I step under a pigeon I’m preapproved for a load of shit.”) The old man and the young girl are both dealing with loss as best they can, and their stories and their histories tie together in such a surprising and satisfying way. “The History of Love” is easily the best book I’ve read since Barbara Kingsolver’s “Lacuna” or Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone.”


Blackwater Lightship

Colm Toibin’s “Blackwater Lightship” is a story about family, specifically one small Irish family — a daughter, son, mother, and grandmother, who are not a particularly close (the daughter hasn’t spoken to mother in years; the mother and grandmother only learn that the son is gay when he is in the hospital with AIDS). When the son invites his family and his friends to care for him at his grandmother’s house in on the coast, we see that this is also a story about family-of-origin vs. family-of-choice. What could be a heavy story of serious illness and long-simmering family resentments is made light by funny, often classic Irish moments, like when Granny learns perhaps more than she wanted to know about homosexuality from the son’s friends, or when the son’s friends and family all join together to prevent Granny’s nosy neighbors from finding out who exactly is staying in Granny’s house.

This was February

March 4, 2013

Because I am still struggling to get much up on ye old blog, here’s another monthly wrap-up (mostly in pictures).

Superbowl Sunday at the Headlands – We spent a Sunday morning at the Marin Headlands, walking past where we got married and taking in the view of SF along the coastline. (We ended up watching the Superbowl with some friends later that afternoon. Neither Mr. WholeHog nor I follow football anymore, but we both used to be big 49er fans, and we both had fond memories of watching the 49ers dust the Chargers in our respective college dorms in 1995. Let’s just say that the 2013 Niners had nothing on the teams I grew up rooting for.)


Car camping in Napa – President’s Day weekend gave Mr. WholeHog and I two consecutive days off together and we pitched a tent at Bothe-Napa State Park. It wasn’t spectacular camping by any means, but it gave us a chance to dust off our camping equipment and get out of town during the off-season. The campground wasn’t packed (I don’t think many people come to Napa for the camping) and we didn’t see too many people on the trails that connect into the campground.


Sign of Spring – February marks the beginning of spring in San Francisco (remember that we get a little winter in July). The weather was clear, sunny and mild (at times, it was downright summery), and around the city, many streets, including ours, were lined with blooming magnolias, plum or cherry trees. The picture below is of the plum tree in front of our building.


Home Improvement (Not Pictured) We also made some progress on the home front in February. We paid some attention to our neglected garden space, pulling out a ton of weeds, moving our planter box into a sunnier spot and covering it with chicken wire to try to keep the terrible squirrels out (I spent one Saturday morning googling how to kill squirrels). We’re slowly making some progress on putting our house together. We bought a larger rug for the living room and a runner for our hallway, and a new-to-us coffee table and matching end table.  We also sold a shelf on Craigslist that we couldn’t seem to find a place for and the put that money right back into Craigslist, buying a table and four chairs for our deck.  Reading the Sunday Times out on the deck in the summery weather may have been the best part of the month.