With the New Addition

April 18, 2014

Having a dog is so much better than I’d expected. Being at Baker Beach on a sunny 70-degree Saturday in January is pretty much my ideal winter day, but it’s even better to be there with a dog that races up and down the beach and digs happily in the sand. It always feels cozy to read in front of the heater when the rain finally arrives in February, but it’s much cozier with a shiny black dog stretched out at my feet.


But it took us some time to get used to each other. The first time I took her out for a walk, she somehow wiggled out of her collar and raced furiously around the park, while I stood there panicking and feeling like I’d failed at dog ownership on my very first day.

Mr. WholeHog and I laughed the first time she rolled ecstatically in a pile of leaves, only to realize later that the joke was on us: beneath the leaves, she’d been rolling in a pile of shit.

We learn to keep our socks out of her reach after she ate the foot bed out of one of my slippers while I was in the shower one morning. And we’re still trying to get used to her 6AM wake up calls, when she presses her wet nose against our heads and paws the side of our bed to wake us up.

There were times in those first few weeks when I’d feel spooked when I’d look up and see her sitting silently in the hallway looking at me, but by now I’m comforted by the sight of her. Having a dog who is delighted when I get up in the morning and thrilled when I come home from work in the evenings is life-changing.


She opens us up to new parts of the City. Even though San Francisco is on the coast, we rarely went to the beach before we had a dog, but these days we’re at Fort Funston, Ocean Beach or Baker Beach a few times a month. We’ve spent more time exploring new (to us) parks, like Heron’s Head Park in Bayview or Mission Creek Park in SOMA. We’re spending more time in Glen Canyon and on Bernal Hill. We’re going to pet stores and dog parks that we’d barely noticed before. In the last few years, I’d realized that spending time outside makes me feel happier, and the dog gets me outside everyday.

She adds new landmarks to our neighborhood. There’s the house where she chased a rat out from behind a planter, the corner where she tried to eat a discarded bagel off the street (and threw a tantrum when we took it away from her), the fallen fruits off the palm trees that she tries to eat, the crack in the sidewalk that she stops to smell. Other dog enthusiasts stop to talk to us when we’re out with her. One day I’m walking her by a grungy neighborhood bar and one of the old timers out front murmurs, “Beautiful” as we pass, and I realize that he’s talking about the dog.

And, as I assume is obvious from these rare blog posts, she remaps our lives, too. Buying a house and working to improve it hasn’t always brought Mr. WholeHog and I closer together, but we’re on the same page when it comes to the dog. She makes us laugh with her audible yawns and the terrific way she stretches her front legs out as if she’s a football referee signalling a successful field goal.


When Mr. WholeHog and I crate-train her, we stand together in the hallway, listening to the terrible sound of her whining and crying. And the first time we leave her home alone, we crawl down the stairs together in the dark so she won’t see us leaving.

Last year, we usually spent our weekdays off together out on a hike, but this year, we’ve been more focused on dog-friendly excursions, and we usually find a way to place to stop that feels like a treat for us — getting pizza from the Del Popolo truck after a trip to Fort Funston, or checking out a coffee shop in the Sunset on our way to Ocean Beach.


This year, we even took her with us to Point Reyes for our anniversary. She loved running around on Limantour Beach and she sat outside with us at Marin Sun Farms while we ate burgers. The drive out to Point Reyes through the rolling farmland east of Petaluma is always beautiful, but it was more entertaining this time, with the dog in the back seat, her nose out the window drinking in the new smells.





February 14, 2014

Where have I been? For the last two months, I’ve been fixated on this little lady:


Her picture popped up on the  SF Animal Care and Control Facebook page the day before Thanksgiving, and although I don’t put a lot of faith in gut feelings, when I saw her picture, I had a gut feeling that this was our dog.


Mr. WholeHog and I have wanted a dog for at least a decade now. It was one of the reasons we moved to Oakland, where we soon realized that our new long commutes meant that a dog would be home alone most of the time. And it was also one of the reasons we decided to try to buy a place in SF (few SF rentals allow tenants to have dogs), but the work on our place was so overwhelming that I couldn’t imagine adding anything else to our lives at that point.

We talked more seriously about getting a dog last year, but the timing never seemed right: we were heading to be out of town; it was the middle of apple season at the farmers market; we were getting new windows installed. The right dog never seemed to be available either. There were so many chihuahuas and pit bulls and so few medium-sized lab-mixes.

But when this particular lab-mix showed up on the ACC Facebook page the day before Thanksgiving, we had no excuses: our new windows had been installed just days before; we’d recently come back from a trip to Austin; apple season was nearly over; and we were hosting Thanksgiving this year so we could go to ACC and meet this dog.


At the shelter that morning, I expected to see a line of people waiting to see this young lab mix, but there was just one person ahead of me in line at ACC and he turned left toward the doors marked “Lost Dogs”, while I turned right toward the doors marked “Available Dogs”.

I open the first “Available Dogs” door not knowing how many dogs are behind the door or how well they’re contained. I walk down the surprisingly narrow corridor saying “Good doggies!” and hoping that the big gray pit bull at the end of the hall won’t lunge at me as I walk by (she doesn’t).

When I open the second “Available Dogs” door, the dog I’d come to see is the first dog on the left, sitting up very tall and pressing up against the gate to her pen. When I stop in front of her, she jumps up and licks my fingers through the chain links.

But I don’t have that same gut feeling that she’s our dog. She’s smaller than I’d pictured, and in the “get acquainted room” she jumps up on me incessantly. And when Mr. WholeHog shows up after work, he feels similarly.

We walk away and decide to look at the SPCA, right across the parking lot, where we meet Stetson, a larger, more classic-looking black lab. But Stetson seems uncontrollable. When the SPCA volunteer tries to put a leash around his head, the leash ends up around Stetson’s waist. And he’s too big: when he jumps up on me, his paws are on my shoulders and he looks me straight in the eyes. I go home that night with scratches on my shoulders. This is a point in the first dog’s favor.

What works against her is that there are many unknowns. After looking at so many rescue websites, I’m expecting to know more about our future dog — if she barks or chases cats or is  house-trained. But this dog was found as a stray in a local park so we can’t know if she’s house-trained or if even she’s ever been in a house before.

But in the end, I feel like it comes down to two simple factors: I think she’ll be a good dog, and I think we can give her a good home.

We go back to ACC the next morning and fill out the paperwork. When the volunteer writes “Adopted” on her pen, everyone around oohs and ahhs. The volunteer brings the dog out to be microchipped — “These are the new parents”, she tells another volunteer — and the dog sits down right between Mr. WholeHog and I, and suddenly, she feels like our dog. It feels like she’s adopted us.

This was September

October 4, 2013

Golden Gate Park’s Dahlia Garden
It’s more of a patch than a garden, but it’s worth seeking out when the dahias are in bloom (August – mid-October).


Four Perfect Days at the Lake
I meant to do a separate post about this Tahoe trip and maybe I still will: one of those trips where everything went our way.


Halfway Through Apple Season
We’re 10 weeks into apple season and sold the following varieties in September: Mutsu, Hawaiian, Best Ever (such a misnamed apple), Davisson, Winesap, Sierra Beauty, Spitzenberg, Rome Beauty, Jonathan, Fameuse, Swaar, Jonagold, Red Gold, Cinnamon Spice, Ozark Gold, Northern Spy, Greening, Kidd’s Orange Red, Ida Red.


Midweek Escape to Sonoma
A nice way to spend a sunny Wednesday: lunch at Della Fattoria, swimming in the Coppola Pool and dinner outside on a warm, full-moon night in Healdsburg.


Harvesting Tomatoes
I gave up on this coastal-climate “Marmande” tomato in August when the plant wilted and looked pretty much dead in the dreary weather. But Mr. WholeHog continued to care for it and in September, his efforts paid off: all of its green fruit turned red and we got a decent crop tomatoes. Not the most delicious tomatoes, but easily our best SF crop.


Land’s End & Fort Point
It’d been a long time since I’d walked along Land’s End and my first time at Fort Point.landsendsep13


This was August

September 6, 2013

Despite the terrible weather, August is tourist season in SF. Tourists were all over downtown, with their knee-length jean shorts, their cameras, and their maps. One night Mr. WholeHog and I felt like we were the only locals on the 24 Divisadero: there were people speaking French and a German family, which got on the bus in the Castro with a young child who promptly shat her pants.

Seeking Sunshine
I continued to regularly head out of town in search of better weather. In July, we’d gone north to Sonoma or Petaluma, but in August, we went south. We biked at Crystal Springs reservoir on a sunny Tuesday, and a few weeks later, I hiked around Wunderlich Park in Woodside.

crystal springs

Lots of apple selling (and eating)
Apples came early this year! We sold Gravenstein, Pink Pearl, Burgundy, Pink Blush, Golden Supreme, Ashmead’s Kernel, Arkane, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Jonathan. August is truly one of the best times at the farmers market because summer produce (tomatoes) are really at their peak, but there are also plenty of other treats, like shelling beans, apples, and figs.

And yet for the second year in a row, August was a tough year at the apple stand: Last August, one of my apple-selling coworkers lost her mom. This year, the family I work for at the market lost their mom.


Hometown Summer
We went up to the foothills for our annual dip in the river, but it wasn’t a very good year for swimming. The river is normally super clear and clean, but it was pretty shallow this year and mossy in some areas (ew!). But we saw a lovely moonrise, ate my mother-in-laws peach pie and got hooked on Arrested Development.



Back on the Home Front
We did get one sunny Sunday morning, which I spent on the deck reading the paper. It’s something I hope to do a lot more of in September.



August 29, 2013

August — or Fogust, as someone cleverly put it on Twitter — is a rough time to be in San Francisco. (Even The Daily Show agrees: “It’s August and it’s always fucking cold there!” John Oliver said earlier this month.)

Of course it’s not news that SF has terrible summers or that I have a hard time in the dark days of August, but this year, I finally realized that I need to have a better plan of action.


In my dream life, I would leave town for July and August. But while my long-term plan may be to find a job that allows me to leave town for months at a time and pays me enough to buy a summer home (ideally with a pool), in the short term, I need to come up with some better day trips that get me out of the fog. (My current six-day a week work schedule doesn’t give me enough time to go away for a whole weekend.)


Almost every August, I end up taking day trips in search of sunshine, but these trips come more out of desperation to get out of the fog than a real desire to be somewhere in particular. One year, I read the Sunday New York Times on a bench in Sonoma. Another year I picnicked on the grass in Ross.

This year, after waiting until 2pm for the fog to clear one Sunday, I drove south and ended up at Wunderlich Park in Woodside, a moneyed town west of Highway 280. (I parked between a BWM and a Mercedes and a Tesla passed me on the road). The hike I took wasn’t very exciting, but it was easy to get to, it was warm, and I could look up and see a bright blue sky through the trees. That was enough.


But I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice to have a few more places to go, to spent a little more time in the sun. It would have been nice to pair the hike with a stop in at a new ice cream shop, for example. For me, my ideal trips usually include a nice place to walk and something nice to eat or drink so my goal for next year is to have fleshed out a few more options. I’ve been collecting ideas — bookmarking a brewery near Santa Cruz, a bike trail in the East Bay, a new bakery in Marin — so that when the fog settles in, I can head out.

The Remodel Doughnut

August 8, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about our remodel a lot this summer. July, in particular, was full of reminders. On the Fourth of July last year, we moved into our bedroom and fell asleep to the sound of fireworks. Going to Tahoe this year reminded me of the conversation I had with our contractor as we were packing up for the lake last year.  We came home from Tahoe last July to a mostly finished kitchen and finally (eight weeks late, but who’s counting?) got to start seriously unpacking.

With a little distance from the remodel, I’ve been able to think about why I’d struggled so much with it (and to write about it without getting furious). The clearest (or the least emotional) illustration of why our remodel was a struggle for me is this Mint.com image of where we spent our money last June and July.

june-july-mintThe plain-part of the doughnut shows what portion of our income was spent on the house. This includes remodel costs, mortgage payments, and HOA dues. The two little bands in the upper quadrant is everything else. This image quantified something that I’d often felt — and resented — about the remodel: it outweighed everything else. Although the image looks only at our finances, it could just as easily be a picture of where our heads were last summer or what we spent our time on. And to me, this isn’t a picture of a healthy mind or a full and varied life.

The doughnut doesn’t show all the other things that often competed for our time and attention during the remodel. It doesn’t show that I was taking the last editing classes I needed to finish the U.C. Berkeley extension Professional Sequence in Editing. It doesn’t show how Mr. WholeHog and I were trying to deal with his work schedule, which gave him more time to help with the remodel (and helped us afford it), but left us with no time off together. It doesn’t show the HOA drama we dealt with last summer when one owner sold their unit and moved out without fully paying their HOA costs.

And I don’t want to downplay what the doughnut does show: the financial side of the remodel. I’d never spent so much money so quickly and I found it really scary. About month into our remodel, I wrote that remodeling was like wedding planning. It turned out to be the equivalent of planning and paying for a wedding every month. (I’ll take a moment to let that sink in  — and if you just ran screaming from the room, I don’t blame you at all). While I feel happy when I spend money at the farmers market or when I’m booking a trip, spending money on a faucet or a sink did absolutely nothing for me. It felt like money that we’d misplaced somewhere. “What happened to that $200? Oh right, we bought….a sink.”

For me, the time and financial side of remodeling was a constant source of stress. In hindsight, we should have budgeted twice as much money and twice as much time, but we didn’t have that sort of money or time. We did it the only way we felt we could, and the best thing I can say about it is that we don’t have to do it again anytime soon. (And yet, when I look at homes for sale, I realize that chances are, we will end up doing a remodel again at some point. So many homes need some sort of updating.)

I have friends who hope to eventually remodel their homes and I try not to be too negative about our remodel around them. I remind them that there are some nutjobs people who like remodeling. My father-in-law, for example, seems happiest when he’s in the midst of a major overhaul. He says he makes learns something new every time and that every new remodel is an opportunity to re-do or perfect something he tried the time before.

I learned that I am really not one of those people who enjoys going through a remodel. (For me, the parts of the remodel that weren’t stressful were terribly boring. See: light switches, grout colors, trim.) But the remodel did make me realize how much is possible, and even now, I’ll still catch myself at times, thinking, “well if we’ll just remove part of this wall…” or “In a few years, maybe we’ll build out the attic”.

This was July

August 2, 2013

San Francisco’s cool, foggy summer weather arrived in July. It was a good month to spend time swimming (and hiking) in Lake Tahoe and hanging out in Sonoma.

BART Strike
I survived BART strike #1 (it looks like #2 is coming my way next week). My commute to work was certainly longer than usual (and more crowded) on MUNI. The J Church is the closest transit line for me, but I usually walk to BART because BART trains come more frequently and they make fewer stops on their way downtown. bartstrike-jchurch I sometimes feel frustrated when I hear about union negotiations over annual raises (since I haven’t had a raise in five years). But after watching the Bill Moyers’ documentary, Two American Families, last month, I thought a little differently about the importance of unions.

To Market to Market
I got a little burnt out selling just flowers and two weeks later, there were apples to sell!


(My favorite question on the first day of 2013’s apple season? “Are these apples?” True story).

Sonoma Escape(s)
Sitting outside at El Molino Central on a hot summer day is one of my very favorite things to do (either before or after a beer at Russian River Brewing company). I’d love to make an overnight trip to the Weber ranch in Petaluma a summer tradition.


Another year at the lake. Some said it was the hottest Tahoe weather on record (90s). All I can say is that I did a lot of swimming. As nice as it was to swim in the heat of the day, Mr. WholeHog and I took a few memorable evening swims. The lake is quiet (no jet skis!) and still at night, and we swam under a sky full of stars and a nearly full moon.


Ranch Dinner

August 1, 2013

As much as I like the idea of farm-to-table events, in reality, they can often be a bit precious. At times, they seem to be trying to be more than they need to be, and this leads to farm dinners that are upscale in a way that seems at odds with the realities of farming, or events that feel more like places to see-and-be-seen rather than the chance to enjoy a meal close to the source.

So when I went to one of Della Fattoria’s ranch dinners in Petaluma last weekend, what stood out for me was that it was exactly what it claimed to be: it was dinner at the Weber family’s ranch.

della-dinner It wasn’t a showcase for some new chef from the City, and it didn’t appear to involve a bunch of Chez Panisse alums. The space was beautiful, but it didn’t look like it was vying to get on Pinterest or catering to the latest design trends. And the dinner wasn’t used a marketing opportunity for Della. We weren’t urged to buy anything extra. We were welcomed, fed, and left to make the rest of evening what we wanted it to be.

We got there late, driving up (and trying to stay awake) after the farmers market, and when we arrived, everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. Some people sat at their table drinking wine and socializing with their friends, while others walked around the grounds, checking out the sheep or the chickens or the nearby gardens. Since Della’s bread bakery is right on the ranch, some people watched the bread come out of the ovens, while others snacked on the bread over at the appetizer table. A group of people sat on an upholstered sofa and chairs that were set up outside around an outdoor fireplace. Dogs of all sizes ran around (one came up and licked my arm during dinner).

della-ovensEveryone was drawn back at the table when the food started to come out: first, a green salad full of summer produce, then a platter of roast pork surrounded by grilled peaches and an enormous dish of potatoes au gratin. We passed around cutting boards that held loaves of still-warm bread from the bakery. (Meals are always an issue at my family’s annual Tahoe trip and the meal at Della was a reminder of what group meals can be. Of course professional cooks and staff also help).

After dinner, slices of galette were put out (with a bowl of extra whipping cream) as well as the fixings for s’mores.  Most people left soon after they’d had dessert and coffee, but Mr. WholeHog and I had been invited to stay overnight in one of Della’s adorable little cottages (yet another example of how all good things in our life seem to come from the farmers market), and eventually we were the only ones still sitting outside in front of one of the fireplaces. The staff urged us to finish up the s’mores (like we need much encouragement) and after the tables were cleared, one of the servers came by to make a few s’mores and to keep the fire going for us.


The evening was full of moments like this, full of small gestures that made me feel like family rather than a visitor. And it continued even as we prepared to turn in for the night. One of the Weber’s reminded us to get some eggs and a loaf of bread at the bakery so that we’d have something for breakfast the next morning.

What I’d Been Missing

July 31, 2013

My family’s annual Tahoe trip has really changed for me over the last few years. Although I still enjoy getting some time in the sun (especially in July when SF is often gray and cold) and I still love swimming in the lake (especially taking evening swims under the stars), the trip has become a vacation I take each year, not the best vacation I take each year.

And this year at the lake, I felt like doing something new, so on Monday morning, after the chumps left, Mr. WholeHog, my dad and I headed around the lake to hike up Ellis Peak.

tahoe-ellishikeIt had been a very long time since I’d done any hiking in the mountains. The coast is easier for me to get to and it’s available year round, while the Sierra often feels inaccessible– cold and snowy in the winter, and dusty and buggy in the summer. But the Ellis Peak hike showed me what I’d been missing.

The six-mile out-and-back took us through the often-strange beauty of the Sierra. It took us through alpine meadows full of wildflowers and butterflies, alongside craggy rock formations and under the shade of tall lichen-covered pine trees. While so much of California is dry and yellow by July, the Sierra was still blooming.


We’d chosen this hike because we’d read that it offered memorable views of Tahoe, the views of the lake weren’t nearly as memorable as the views from a ridge we reached just a mile into the hike. We could see down into Desolation wilderness, with its granite slopes and its dark-green lakes. Beyond that, we could see a line of snow-touched peaks, which my mountaineer dad identified as the Crystal Range.

My dad has spent a lot of time in the Sierra and he pointed out Pyramid Peak and Price Peak. He told us how back in the 1970s, he and an old friend got snowed in at Loon Lake, one of the largest lakes we could see from the trail, and the rescue team showed up with a bottle of whisky and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.


From that first magnificent ridge, we descended into the forest again and soon ran into another new sight: dirt bikes. Thankfully we only had to dart out of the way of oncoming dirt bikes twice, but they were definitely a downside of this particular excursion.


But I’d wanted to do something new and this hike – even with its noisy, dust-spewing dirt bikes – fit the bill. It gave me some distance from the usual family Tahoe experience. It took me to a different side of the lake, up a new trail with new views. and it reminded me how beautiful hiking in the mountains can be.

Ready for Apples

July 26, 2013

I’ve been back at the farmers market every week basis for the last few months selling flowers. Selling flowers is generally pretty easy: there’s nothing to weigh; all bunches are priced at $5 or $8 so I don’t have to deal with loose change; and flowers make people really happy.

I’ve never really cared much about flowers, but selling them helped me appreciate flowers a bit more. I’ve really enjoyed having fresh flowers in the house each week, and I’ve learned a lot about the flowers I sold this year. I learned that sweet peas only like a little bit of water and that hydrangeas need to be picked when they’re fully open in order to last very long. I learned that godetia is part of the Clarkia family and grows on the west coast from British Columbia down to San Francisco. I’m still working on learning the 15 (!) sunflower varieties that the farm grows. (The ones pictured below are called Coconut Ice).


Along with the names of flowers, I’ve also learned the names of many of our regulars, since most buy their flowers when they first get to the market and then leave them with us (in water) while they finish their shopping. I also learned that one regular flower customer is an artist and went to see her stunning paintings of San Francisco at a downtown gallery last month. I ran into another regular in the elevator at my weekday job.

But despite all the lovely things about selling flowers, it’s still working with the public, which can be challenging at times, and it’s still at the market, which leads to some “This is a fucking farmers market” moments.

A few weeks ago, a customer wanted me to cut open four different bunches of flowers and arrange them for her (something we generally don’t do because we’re busy and, also, not florists) and was then upset that I only had brown paper to wrap her flowers in. “This is a gift!,” she said. (I kindly bit my tongue and didn’t tell her that this is a fucking farmers market.)


People also tend to buy flowers even when they probably shouldn’t – when they are heading to a Giants game or going a movie or will be sitting in a hot car for many hours. They look at me unhappily as if there’s something I can do (beyond simply giving them a refund). “But I’m going on the ferry!” one woman exclaimed last week, staring at her flowers as if she had to try to swim them back to Marin.

Working at the market also brings up the strangest questions, often questions that I can’t answer: Will my cat eat this flower? Will one bunch fill a vase? Can I grow this in Connecticut? Will these flowers survive a flight to Nebraska? Will these flowers bloom by Wednesday?

(My favorite question this year was a woman who asked for the farm’s business card, which includes contact information for Stan, the grower. The woman scanned the card, looked at me, and asked “Are you Stan?” Stan, who was standing nearby, was highly amused.)


On our way home from the market each week, Mr. WholeHog and I talk about the funny or aggravating moments from our day. We exchange market gossip and note any celebrity (or pseudo-celebrity) sightings (ie, Alice Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Winkler).

But recently on the way home from the market, I did nothing but complain. I complained about the woman who insisted on wrapping her own flowers in brown paper (and how she still couldn’t get her flowers covered), and about the man who wanted us to deliver flowers to a woman wearing a teal tank top and carrying a black purse when she strolled by. I told him about the cranky old woman who criticized my math skills when I charged her an end-of-the-market discount, and I rolled my eyes as I recounted the person who asked me if we actually grew the flowers we sold or if we just bought them from somewhere in South America.

As I was unloading on Mr. WholeHog, though, I realized that my problem wasn’t irritating customers or unusual questions — that’s just an average day at the market. The problem was that I was tired of selling flowers. I was tired of the same questions, the same comments, the (seemingly) same tourists every week who use our stand as a colorful backdrop for their vacation pictures.

I’m ready to sell apples again – and I’ll get my chance this weekend when the first-pick of Gravensteins arrive.

Apple season isn’t perfect. It has its own loony customers (I saw my most-disliked apple customer at the market recently buying vegetables and I was delighted that I didn’t have to interact with her). And apple season brings its own assault of unanswerable questions (Why is this apple named Sierra Beauty? Why is this apple redder than that apple? Why does this apple have a waxy skin? Or my favorite from last season, Why don’t you grow bananas?). But apple season will bring new questions, new customers, new joys and new aggravations.