Saturday, December 31, 2005


The last time I celebrated my mom's birthday with her, it didn't feel like much of a celebration. Five years ago, my dad, brother, sister, husband, and I crowded into her hospital room with a little cake we'd picked up at a bakery. We sang to her, and she managed a few bites of cake. She seemed better than she had over the past week when I'd spent hours sitting in her hospital room watching her sleep, talking to her, encouraging her to take a lap around the hall, but she was still obviously quite sick from the leukemia and the chemotherapy. Nevertheless, I was feeling less scared for her when Brian and I drove back up to our little house in Santa Cruz the next day.

She died three weeks later.

The next year would have been her 50th birthday. I spent time that day talking with my aunt about her. Every year since then, I have been aware of her birthday, but I haven't done anything to acknowledge it. Instead, when I've been in Southern California for Christmas, I have driven out to the hospital where we celebrated that last birthday, and walked through the Japanese garden where she liked to feed the koi when she was feeling well enough to go outside. I didn't make it out to the hospital this year, but in Northern California, my sister invited me to join her at Fort Point.

Every year on December 29, my sister has gone to the Golden Gate Bridge to wish our mother a happy birthday. This year I stood beside her at the base of the bridge, looking out at the water, the boats, the fog, remembering. The last birthday. The last visit in the hospital. The day we scattered her ashes from a boat, just inside the bridge. It was chilly and grey out, and those were the first memories to surface, matching the weather and my mood. I suppose it is part of my own ritual of remembering her each year to accept those memories, and then to remind myself of older memories, ones in which she is happy and healthy. Seeing her nurse my little brother. Getting into her bed at night when I was little and had a bad dream. Learning how to dip tortillas into enchilada sauce before filling them, and then rolling them just so.

I rested my forehead against my sister's back, and she dropped her head back to rest it on top of mine.

Golden Gate Bridge

Friday, December 30, 2005

Home, sweet home

After a week and a half at "home" in California for the holidays, I am now back in my own home. It's colder here, and we're far from our families, but I felt nothing but relief as the cab sped away from National Airport, and I saw the series of monuments across the river, glowing white against the sky: the Capitol dome, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy. It's a relief to see the familiar sights, to be back in my own apartment, to see my cat (and have her poke me until I scoot forward in the desk chair, so she can curl up behind me while I type this), even to sort through my mail at my own table and do laundry in my own washer.

Of course, I also felt relief when my plane touched down in Los Angeles nine days ago, and then again on Christmas day, when we decended through the rain clouds at Oakland. We had a wonderful trip and fabulous visits with family and friends. I have things to write about and photos to post, but that will have to wait a day or two.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmastime in Washington

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it would fun to take a weekend trip to New York, to see the Christmas decorations. The Husband thought I was perhaps a little bit insane to want to immerse myself the crowds and to want to take such a trip just a couple of days before we’re leaving to spend Christmas in California, but was willing to go along. But his work schedule (and common sense) interfered with the plans. Instead we decided to have our own Washington Day O’ Christmasy Fun.

After a big breakfast at home of blueberry pancakes, we started the WDOCF with a visit to Washington National Cathedral. We were at the Cathedral just a few weeks ago, for a performance of Handel’s Messiah, which had been lovely. Listening to the music, the enormous space had felt cozy, and I was able to hold onto the feeling when we returned yesterday. It was the first time I’d been there on a sunny day, so the stained glass windows were much more spectacular than on my previous visits. The Husband was quite impressed as I pointed out scenes from Bible stories in the windows, until he figured out that I was reading from a handout I’d picked up at the entrance.

Washington National Cathedral

The main point of our trip to the Cathedral was to see the display of crèches from around the world. It was fantastic to see how different cultures use local materials to create a nativity scene that fits with the culture’s own experience: scenes from Africa included elephants and giraffes, while scenes from Alaska featured bears and moose. I loved a miniature scene from New Mexico, hand cast from sterling silver, every piece tiny and perfect, and a scene from Peru with characters carved from gourds.

As I was describing my plans for the WDOCF, someone asked me, “What does pizza have to do with Christmas?” Answer: “I like it, and we’ll be in the neighborhood, so I’m not passing up the chance to go to 2 Amys.” Obviously. 2 Amys is our favorite pizza place in Washington. The pizzas are fantastic, very much the style of what we had in Italy last spring. Unfortunately, it’s also the favorite pizza place of many other people in the area, and the wait for a table in the evenings is well over an hour. At two on a Saturday afternoon, though, we only waited for about ten minutes, before we were seated and not much longer after that, we were provided with delicious pizza-y goodness.

Filled with more pizza than was probably healthy, we began to wander down Wisconsin Avenue, with the eventual goal of ending up in the Sculpture Garden for some ice skating—not exactly the same as skating under the tree at Rockefeller Center, but we figured it would do. But as we meandered slowly along, wandering into a couple of stores in search of a present for the final person on our list (didn’t find it, but did come up with an Idea), the afternoon began to slip away. We decided to skip the skating and head directly for the final two items on the list for the WDOCF: the White House and Capitol Christmas trees.

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an article about the competition among public Christmas trees. The one at Rockefeller Center was lit a day before the White House tree. In the past, there has been competition between the White House and the Capitol for which tree would have its ceremonial first lighting of the year, but that’s apparently been less of a problem in current years with the same party controlling both the White House and the Congress. I thought the article was a little bit ridiculous (especially because it was run on the front page, rather than in the Metro or Style sections), but I must say that if there is to be a competition between Washington’s two trees, the one at the Capitol wins it quite handily.

The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse was mobbed with people. We joined the shuffle around the outside of the tree, admiring the big tree in the center, the electric trains set up around it, and the smaller trees for each state and territory that ringed the outside of the walkway. The main tree was decorated with white lights running up and down the tree, and big blue and white lights instead of ornaments. The smaller trees had been decorated by people from their states—mostly senior centers and elementary schools—and it was hard to see the ornaments as they were protected from the elements inside little plastic globes. We did like the California tree, which each little globe labeled with something from a different part of the state—“Pacific Grove Butterflies,” “Sea World,” “Napa Valley.” We warmed our hands by the bonfire—excuse me, yule log—listened to the children’s bell choir for a few songs, and then headed on our way.

National Christmas Tree

California's tree

It had been a nice day (you know the Californians have been in Washington too long when they consider a December day with a high in the mid-40s “nice”), but once it got dark it got cold rather quickly. We began to look for a Starbucks, so we could rest our feet and get warm. The first one we found, though, only had a few tables, and we really needed to sit down. The second one we found closed. We ended up in the Gordon Biersch brewery, having beer and garlic fries. (Note: the garlic fries at Pac Bell or SBC or whatever the ballpark is going to be called now are MUCH better and more garlicky.)

We headed for the Capitol, feeling refreshed. Once we headed out of Penn Quarter, the streets were nearly empty, and it was amusing to see the totally empty lawns before the Capitol: the last time I was there was among a group of thousands who had come to pay respects to Rosa Parks.

That's me!

I love the Capitol dome and it was lovely to see it with the Christmas tree in front from across the reflecting pool. The pool itself was mostly frozen, but the ducks were still spending time there. They waddled around on the ice, and when I went to take their picture they came up to beg for food. We got to see a couple of them land on the ice, and it was amusing to see them try to do their water landing and be thwarted by the solid surface of the pool.

Ducks on ice

The Christmas tree itself was approximately eleventy jillion times better than the National tree, and the crowd was significantly smaller. It had been sent from New Mexico, and stood 60 feet tall with a trunk 26 inches in diameter. It was decorated in colored lights and ornaments made by New Mexicans. The Husband and I delighted in the number of schoolchild hours that must have gone into preparing the dream catchers, God’s Eyes, and aliens that decked the tree—all hours that were not devoted to preparing for standardized tests. The ornaments weren’t secured in little plastic globes, and the tree seemed much more personal that the tree at the White House.

The Capitol Christmas tree

Decorations from New Mexico

We admired the tree, and then dragged our cold bodies and tired feet back home.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I am a cranky commuter

When I was in London last week, I admired the signs on tube station escalators instructing riders to "stand right, walk left," wishing that Metro would put up similar signs. Looks like my wish has been granted: according to this morning's Washington Post, Metro will soon have signs instructing riders to "stand to the right," and is making other attempts to make people flow more smoothly on and off of trains and into and out of stations. I hope the tourists read the signs on the escalators. I have my doubts about whether the signs on the floors with arrows will really get people to stand out of the way, but that's not one of my major pet peeves anyhow. If only Metro could help post signs to help with the things that do bother me:


  • People who stop at the top of the escalator to look around (or to tie their child's shoelaces). Please move away from the escalator so the rest of us can get off. Given the nature of escalators, we can't just stop and wait for you to get the hell out of the way.
  • People who lean against the poles near train doors. I need to hold onto those poles, people. I have begun to just go ahead and grab the pole, even if that means "accidentally" poking the person who is doing the leaning. But when they decided to lean on the pole when I am already holding on and smoosh my fingers? That's even ruder.*
  • People who stand in train doors as others are trying to board.** If you want to keep that place, step out of the train and let people on. Otherwise, move further in. People get left off of trains with plenty of room because they have board single file because there are people in the door way. You are the reason my backpack got caught in the door on Tuesday morning. Punks.
  • People who brag that they never move out of the way when they are standing in the train doors when I'm complaining about it. Y'all are even bigger punks.
  • People who talk loudly on their cell phones, or even just with one another. Keep your voice down. I'm trying to concentrate on my Sudoku.
  • Tourists who complain about crowded trains and rudeness of commuters. If you don't like it, don't travel on the trains at rush hour. I was (mostly) kidding this morning when I said to The Husband that in addition to a farecard, people should have to show a local driver's license in order to board trains at rush hour. I generally try to be nice to tourists on Metro, no matter what time of day. I will help you figure out which platform you need to be on, or where you need to transfer. But no complaining if you get jostled around because the trains are crowded.
  • People who complain about tourists not following basic Metro etiquette on the weekends at the Smithsonian station. Yes, I am standing up for the tourists. They are tourists at Tourist Central. If they bother you that much, go to L'Enfant Plaza or Foggy Bottom and walk.
< /kvetch >

*Also: If you are tall and you can reach the overhead bar? And if by doing so, you make it easier for a short person to reach pole, so that she doesn't have to swing from the overhead bar and topple into people when the train starts and stops? Just hold onto the overhead bar, okay? Thanks. You're awesome.

**Metro does have an advertising campaign that addresses this issue. It is not working. (Although I haven't tried shrieking "You doorkers!" at offenders. Maybe next week.)