Archive for December, 2008

Scarf-less in San Francisco

Monday, December 29th, 2008

On Saturday, we made a post-Christmas outing to San Francisco Centre. I think this trip into the City may become as much of a holiday tradition for our family as making cookies, decorating our Costco gingerbread-kit house, and PhotoShopping my wrinkles out of the family photo.

In case you’re not familiar with it, San Francisco Centre on Market Street is anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom; the rest of the high-rent space is filled in with a couple hundred other high-end stores. However, when we go there, we’re not shopping for Movado watches or Juicy Couture warm-ups. The items on my daughters’ shopping agendas fall more into the trinket category, stuff that’s fun to shop for but that won’t wipe out all of their Christmas gift money. Jennifer planned to make a beeline to Maido, a Japanese stationery store to get the 2009 version of the calendar that she got there last year. And Valerie was on the hunt for a particular shade of sparkly purple eye shadow.

On our first trip to San Francisco Centre a couple of years ago, it was difficult to focus anything besides the opulence of the mall itself. Between the curved escalators in Nordstrom’s, the glare from the highly polished black-and-white floors in Bloomingdales, and the huge glass and steel dome overhead, I found myself blinking like a camera flash had just gone off in front of my eyes. But I wasn’t too blinded by the light to see that the people shopping there were much better dressed than the mall crowd I’m used to rubbing shoulders with.

On our latest trip there over the weekend, we certainly had the same observation, only more so.  While the girls were enjoying their gelato in the very busy food court area, I got a chance to get a good look at what people were wearing. The people there looked darn good. If you watch “What Not To Wear” on TLC, you’ll understand why Stacy and Clinton, the stylists on the show, would have applauded what we saw.

Almost without exception, it was apparent that these people had given thought to what they were going to wear when they came downtown that day. They gave off a sense that “I’m going to a fashionable place, so I want to dress fashionably.” No one was wearing sleepwear as clothing; no teenage girls in flannel pajama pants or guys in baggy logo sweatshirts. Most people were wearing dark jeans and a dark sweater or jacket. The footwear on most of the women wasn’t running shoes, but instead black or brown leather, and many had high boots with the jeans tucked in and were going for the upper-crust equestrian look.

And by far, the biggest style cue that we saw were scarves”¦casually yet fashionably twisted, draped or looped on both men and women. Although we had “dressed up” in our least faded jeans and best jackets to go to San Francisco Centre, we started feeling underdressed without a scarf. Steve joked that he missed the “No shirt, No scarf, No service” sign on the way in.

You might be thinking, “Of course the people who are attracted to the pricey stores in San Francisco are going to look and dress better. After all, they have the means to do it. What’s so notable about that?”

I liked it because it reminded me of when I was growing up and going shopping downtown was something special and we dressed up for it. Clothing is so casual these days that comfortable often descends into just not caring how you look”¦if you’re not at work or church. And I don’t think looking pulled together is necessarily a function of having a lot of money. I think it’s a choice and a way of showing self respect. I know I feel better when I put some effort into how I look. Call it superficial, but I can hear Stacy and Clinton clapping.

Nutcracker Memories

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the moment I hear the opening downbeat of the music for the Nutcracker ballet, I’m instantly taken back to when I performed in it. I have memories from every role, starting when I was a “little girl” in the Act 1 party scene.

I remember that we passed the time while we waited to be called on stage by playing jacks, a game that today seems so low-tech and old-fashioned that it sounds like I grew up in pioneer times. I was always short for my age so I continued to get cast as a girl in the party scene for a couple more years. Some of the choreography is so ingrained in my memory that when I hear certain phrases of the music, I can’t help but say the combination of steps in my mind: piqué, step, glissade, pas de chat, changement, changement,”¦

As I got taller and as my dancing improved, I moved through the student roles until I was able to join the corps de ballet in the snow scene and Waltz of the Flowers.

My Nutcracker experiences took place in Salt Lake City during the mid 1960’s through the mid 1970’s. I was studying ballet at the school associated with the University of Utah and was very fortunate to often have Willam (and it is “Willam” not William) Christensen as a teacher. Being there at that time, gives me a connection to one of the great dance legacies of this country; Willam Christensen along with his brothers, Harold and Lew, founded San Francisco Ballet. Willam left San Francisco in the early 1950’s to return to his home state of Utah and established Utah Civic Ballet which later became Ballet West.

And it was Willam who premiered the first complete version of the Nutcracker in San Francisco in 1944. This was the same version of the Nutcracker that I learned in Utah so I feel like I carry a little bit of dance history with me. The popularity of the Nutcracker productions in San Francisco, Salt Lake, and Balanchine’s version in New York launched hundreds of Nutcracker productions across the country.

When I watch a Nutcracker performance now, one of my most vivid memories is when I was a soldier in the battle scene. I was probably 10-years-old and I was picked to be the “head” soldier. We must have been getting close to opening night because Mr. C (as we called Mr. Christensen) was running the rehearsal. He always carried a stick, which was actually just a dowel, to set the beat of the music for the dancers or nudge (that’s a euphemism for whack) their foot into proper position. During the run-through, I missed the timing of the opening step of the soldier/mouse battle scene and was late for the “bang” in the music that kills the first mouse in the scene. Mr. C swore loudly and threw his stick across the room.

I got an instant demotion and went from being the soldier leading the charge against the mice to just being one of the ranks. That was fine with me. I was relieved to not have the pressure of possibly upsetting Mr. C again.

Now that I have a few decades between me and my misstep, I have some perspective on it. The way Mr. C reacted to my mistake really wasn’t all that unusual for him; it happened fairly often in rehearsals. It was probably his artistic temperament combined with a quest for perfection from his dancers. Really good dance companies don’t get that way because mistakes are let slide. Mr. C’s vision was to build one of the best companies in the country. And by all accounts, he succeeded.

So today, I see being yelled at by Mr. C as a badge of honor; it happened while I was in the presence of one of the legends of the dance world.

Visions of Sugarplum Fairies

Monday, December 15th, 2008

One of the pleasures of attending plays, concerts, or ballets in a small community like Petaluma is knowing some of the young artists who are performing. My daughters and I had that experience when we attended the Petaluma School of Ballet’s “Nutcracker” on Friday night. I certainly enjoy the spectacular scene changes and professionalism of San Francisco Ballet’s version, but given a choice, I prefer a local production; it’s much more meaningful to me to attend a show when I have a personal connection with the performers.

We were particularly looking forward to seeing one of Jennifer’s best friends dance the role of Clara. And when we settled into our seats and started studying the program, we recognized other dancers who we know from school or who danced in the Nutcracker when Jennifer was in it five years ago or even when Valerie was a flower presenter ten years ago. My daughters moved onto other activities, but these girls stayed with ballet and now, it’s a joy to see how they have grown up and improved as dancers.

I also appreciate the performance because I know the sacrifice that that both the girls and their parents make in order for them to perform. I don’t know the specifics of how many hours a week the girls rehearse prior to the performances, but I would guess it’s probably 20-plus hours a week. This has got to be especially tough on the dancers who are in high school and have finals week following an exhausting weekend of five performances. And the parents have to get them to rehearsals and put in their volunteer hours on top of the usual busyness of the holiday season.

As I mentioned earlier, Jennifer had a brief dancing career, so my stint as a Nutcracker parent was limited to one year. However, because I danced in about ten “Nutcrackers” in Salt Lake City starting when I was eight-years-old until I was 19, whenever I hear the music I’m immediately taken back to the experiences I had in each role.

To be continued”¦

Updating Our Ornaments

Monday, December 8th, 2008

When stores start decking their halls with the year’s latest home décor items for Christmas, I enjoy looking at the wreaths, ornaments, and table decorations but I don’t feel the urge to purchase anything new; I look forward to getting out the same decorations every year. The continuity from year-to-year is very reassuring to me; even though I’ve added a few wrinkles in during the last twelve months, the face on our nutcracker looks just as cheery as when I packed him away a year ago. And even though the bow on the wreath has gotten a little flat, I enjoy thinking back to when I made it twenty years ago and I was pregnant with our oldest son and wondering what life would be like after his arrival in the coming year.

And thankfully, I also haven’t felt the need to buy any new Christmas decorations in order to make a fashion statement. That takes off some of the pressure of decorating for the holidays. After all, it’s not like red and green ever go out of style at Christmas. I’m glad that unlike changing styles in clothing, I don’t need to be concerned that the hemline of my tree skirt looks so 1980’s.

Unpacking and hanging the ornaments on the tree is a part of the Christmas celebration that my daughters always want to be included in; wrestling with the strands of outdoor lights, well, they’re fine letting Steve have all the fun. Each year, as Valerie and Jennifer take the tissue-wrapped ornaments out of the storage box, they love finding the ones that they picked out and remembering the circumstances around buying it, like the souvenir candlestick ornament from an outing to see “The Nutcracker” or the poodle dressed in a poodle skirt that we found while we were window shopping on Kentucky Street here in town.

So when the girls and I launched into decorating the tree this year, I expected to continue with our tradition of hanging all the same ornaments, most of which I have had since before Steve and I were married. However, after the girls found their favorite ones and hung them on the tree, we unpacked the rest and lined them up on the sofa. As we surveyed the assortment and tried to decide which ones to hang on the tree next, one of the girls commented, “These just aren’t very cute.” And she was right.

Some of these were ornaments that I had spent hours crafting before we had a family: hand-crocheted snowflakes and stuffed and embroidered little angel figures. Others were ornaments that seemed very unique when Steve and I bought them ““ such as little stuffed bears and carved wooden animals ““ but that was more than 25 years ago.

So why did these ornaments actually look kind of tired and not seem nearly as precious to me as they have in previous Christmases?

You just have to walk into a Target to know that the variety of merchandise available today is overwhelming. I can buy a dozen different ornaments for $4 each that are adorable. Only 10 or 15 years ago those same ornaments would have been very expensive”¦if you could even find ones with such good design or charming detail.

This is especially the case with ornaments that are meant to look handmade. The craftsmanship of pieces manufactured in China astounds me. And it has raised my expectations of how decorative objects should look to such an extent that my hand-crafted soldiers and angels look shoddy by comparison.

As I discovered this year, the fun of decorating the tree for my daughters is appreciating each ornament as they hang it. We decided to put the remaining ornaments back in the box and to stop by the Hallmark store so Jennifer could pick out a new ornament. She chose one that is a little tiny tin of cookies that is made to look like it was crafted out of Sculpey ““ which is bake-able clay. Amazing that it can be designed, manufactured, and imported and still only cost $6.

We have some ornaments that we made out of Sculpey too, but now ours look big and clunky to me. If I wanted to make an ornament with the same level of detail as the one that was designed by Hallmark and made-in-China, I would probably take me at least three hours.

So much for our fantasy that we were amassing a collection of ornaments that would become heirlooms; the array of merchandise that is available today surpassed what I could have imagined ““ or make ““ years ago. As I frequently say to my daughters when we’re shopping, “There’s no shortage of cute stuff out there to buy.”

The Best Week of the Year

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Thanksgiving week is my favorite week of the year. The shortened school week, the predictable nature of the Thanksgiving celebration, and the assurance that I still have three weeks to order gifts on Amazon and still get “Super Saver Shipping” so I don’t need to panic”¦yet”¦makes the fourth week of November a time that I look forward to all year.

The week gets off to a great start because the kids only have two days of school. There’s Monday, and then, yippee! It’s TGIT!  Everybody is happy because any homework that is assigned isn’t due until after Thanksgiving break and I love it because I can look forward to three days that aren’t ruled by the tight timetable of the school schedule and activities. It’s truly a vacation to not stress about getting my daughter to ballet on time, shooting across town to grab something quick for dinner at Trader Joe’s, and then get back to pick her up before she’s the only one shivering in the dark in front of a deserted dance studio.

Because we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving with the same friends for almost 20 years, no puttin’ on the ritz is necessary. I consider the house clean if I’ve vacuumed up the visible clumps of dog hair off the carpet. They contribute all the side dishes so the preparation for dinner couldn’t be easier. While brining the turkey made it really moist, the only thing that could really make the turkey a disappointment was if it wasn’t thoroughly cooked. It was, and dinner was once again, a success.

Our tradition on Black Friday isn’t getting up at 3:30 am for the “Door Buster Deals” at Kohl’s, but taking it easy and then going to Costco for our Christmas tree. Unlike my usual trip there when I try to get in and out in the least amount of time, my daughter and I strolled through and looked at all the Christmas items on our way to find the paper towels. It was so much more fun having her along to look at the wrapping paper options and choose the snowflake print.

Usually throughout the day I find myself wondering, “What in the heck are we going to have for dinner?” But I can breathe a sight of relief knowing that the fridge is stocked with plenty of leftover turkey and mashed potatoes. Yum.

This year we topped off our Thanksgiving week celebration with a trip into San Francisco. We got into town early so parking was a breeze. We were surprised that we were so early that all the super-chic stores around Union Square weren’t even open yet. Apparently Prada shoppers don’t like to get up as early as Wal-Mart shoppers.

Our first stop in town was a return visit to the store in the Museum of Modern Art. When we went there in the summer, it was packed with visitors for the Frieda Kahlo exhibit. This time, it wasn’t the least bit crowded and we perused the art books and all the really cool designer-ish items, such as the hugging salt and pepper shakers, rubber bands shaped like buildings, and a doorstop that looks like a little metal man doing a pushup. We finished off by eating at Max’s, our favorite family friendly spot on Geary.

Last week was like having a very satisfying vacation. And whether you’re coming back from a really great Thanksgiving week or Disneyland, it’s hard to see it come to an end and return to the realities of life.