Christmas Newsletters

It’s time for holiday newsletters. Stories are what I love. I even like newsletters about people I don’t know. I always looked forward to the mail during the holidays.  Envelopes carried details about what life brought and what it took away during the year.

I used to write a holiday letter every year to tuck inside a card, then made a mad dash to Kinko’s at the last minute to copy enough to fit my list.  (We didn’t all own copy machines then.)  At Kinko’s in Studio City, the staff was made up of sleepy but helpful band members working between gigs.

In San Francisco, I bought boxes of cards from a fancy store, cards so heavy and gorgeous I hated to part with them, waited ’til the last minute to write a newsletter and made the dash to PIP (Postal Instant Press) the North Beach version of Kinko’s, to plead for a rush from more sleepy band members running machines.

Then I stopped sending them.  Now I miss them.  I figure if I want to get some, I’d better send some and I’m starting up again. I’m emailing this year with pictures included.  I wonder if the band members working at copy places will miss me.

I still have some of the fancy cards and I’ll send them to people who don’t have computers, seniors who’ll appreciate the fuzzy Santa’s hat or the glittery snowfall on special paper that requires extra postage.

Mine are going out today. Send some, get some. Any holiday greeting you send will receive a warm welcome here.

Defending Fruitcakes

By Anita Garner

Every year about this time I have to come over here and defend fruitcakes.  If I didn’t, some of y’all would be using them to build tiny houses.  They’re heavy, yes but sturdiness is part of the charm. A chunk of fruitcake should offer some resistance when you pick it up.  A stomach should know it’s had some fruitcake. What’s the point if it looks and tastes like other cakes? I like the loaf shapes, heavy as bricks.

I like the ones in a circle with chunks of candied fruit protruding. I like them all.  I tried to make fruitcake at home a couple of times. Mine didn’t have the heft and the mysterious bits of things like the ones you can order. I don’t even know what all those chunks are.  Don’t care.  Old or new, a fruitcake looks and tastes the same after weeks. Somehow words make this sound like a bad thing, but my mouth waters and I’m about to begin my once a year fruitcake sampling festival.

My family has ordered from Collin Street Bakery in Texas, Sunnyland Farms in Georgia, Harry & David in Oregon and Vermont Country Store. All their fruitcakes are colorful and weighty and loyal.  They’ll stick by you for a long, long time.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas got groovy in Northern California.

By Anita Garner

We know every word, every scene and every song in A Charlie Brown Christmas by heart.  Sure we could watch it anytime on DVD but it’s fun to gather around our electronic hearth to watch together every year, even if we have to record it for later playback when everyone’s available.

This year, A Charlie Brown Christmas is on ABC tomorrow, December 6th.

The soundtrack’s so familiar now, it’s hard to believe the producer had to fight the network to hire Vince Guaraldi to do the music.  The network  and the sponsor who was paying for the whole thing hadn’t heard of Vince and didn’t believe jazz would be the right fit for a show about kids.

In The City By The Bay, musician friends who worked with Vince told me he kept going out on gigs, the way they all did, playing every spot available, sometimes with his own Vince Guaraldi Trio, sometimes with the more-famous-at-the-time, Cal Tjader.

In the early 60’s Vince had a moderate hit with “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.”  Bay Area Producer Lee Mendelson heard it on the radio in his car while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on his way to Sebastopol in Sonoma County for a meeting with Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz.  Lee liked Vince’s style.  He thought Vince would be the perfect fit for the show. Boy, was he ever!

Somebody on You Tube made a sweet little montage of scenes set to “Christmas Time Is Here.”

 

 

Christmas Gawking. No Charge. No Waiting.

By Anita Garner

St. Francis Hotel Doormen

It’s okay to stare in hotel lobbies.  Everybody does it.  At Christmas time, hotels in my favorite city will knock your socks off.

When I’m a guest, some people upstairs are having room service coffee, I’m in the lobby with my cup, because I love it there.  For this list, it’s San Francisco. I’ve stayed in all these places but you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them.  I also don’t need a city in order to have a good long Christmas gawk. If I’m in a tiny town, I find me an inn. If I’m in the country, I take a day to head to the nearest hostelry that sparkles.

In The City By The Bay , if you drive, park it. Repeat – park the car. Don’t even think about moving it. There are plenty of ways to get around without spending the day looking for elusive parking spots. Coming in from the ferries, visitors hop off and walk across the Embarcadero to the Hyatt Regency.

Hyatt Regency San Francisco

The Hyatt anchors a festive complex at Christmas with an ice skating rink  outside and a lobby with a view. There’s music.  There’s plenty to sip.  A couple of steps away are four skyscrapers, Embarcadero Center, each of them outlined top to bottom with lights, forming a unique shopping place.

Ice skating outside the Hyatt, looking across at Ferry Building and Bay Bridge

Over to Union Square and the St. Francis.  You’ll be greeted by their Beefeater doormen, who’ll put on an elegant show finding you a cab. Every year their chefs outdo themselves creating bigger and fancier gingerbread houses – castles even – smack in the middle of the lobby.

St. Francis Hotel San Francisco

Head out and walk around Union Square from there.  This could easily take several days, but do your Christmas best to see it.  Macy’s windows are justifiably famous, a don’t-miss San Francisco tradition.

Union Square looking at Macy’s

Cross over to Neiman Marcus to see their enormous tree. When they bought the old City of Paris store, they promised to preserve its several-stories-tall rotunda and they did.  The tree’s so big you’ll need to look at it from different angles, inside and out.

 

Neiman Marcus Rotunda Tree

 

 

When you can tear yourself away from Union Square, up to Nob Hill you go, cable cars clanging.  There’s not a more Christmassy sound. Top of the hill, across the street from each other are the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont.

When I didn’t live in The City, I stayed at the Mark.  You get started at a place and they say hello like they mean it and as a woman traveling alone, I always appreciated the manager popping out from behind a desk to walk me to the elevator, then to my room.  Pull up in that courtyard, someone whisks your car away and you won’t need to get it out again.  The cable car runs right by. That was my homey place for years, and oh my, the lobby.

Mark Hopkins Hotel San Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street at the Fairmont, the king/queen of gingerbread houses stands two stories tall, and they serve tea inside it.  Oh yes they do. Any time of year the lobby at the Fairmont is festive. It’s a congenial place.

The Fairmont San Francisco

One more stop on the hotel tour – back from Nob Hill to The Palace Hotel.  During carriage days, guests pulled up and were ushered inside to luxury while someone took their horses away for a stay. Today the former carriage entrance is The Garden Court.  It’s indescribable all year and all year you’ll need reservations for brunch, but please don’t miss the gawking opportunity. Christmas at Garden Court is another layer of magic.

Garden Court at The Palace Hotel

Wherever you are, I hope this season you’ll get yourself into a lobby near you and sit a while.  Sip something.  Listen to the music.  Watch the happy people.  Gawk.

– – – –

Christmas music for the trip.  Chris Whiteman on guitar.  Right now I’m listening to Chris play “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  Much more from Chris at  his YouTube channel. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Nature vs Outdoor Decorations

By Anita Garner

This is how our trees outside are supposed to look this week. This isn’t a picture of our trees. We don’t have pictures of ours and we don’t have snow, but this is the general idea.

We hang big ornaments on all the trees in front, attaching them with slack so they swing in the breeze. We put our faith in hardware store twine.

We usually hang them the day after Thanksgiving but they’re still waiting inside because weather’s been odd in Northern California and lots of fall leaves still cover the trees. The ornaments look best when they float among bare branches.

Here comes a rainstorm today. It’ll probably make quick work of the rest of the leaves. I’ll miss them when they’re gone, but then it’s hello big shiny red and green and blue and silver and gold balls.  Nice to see you again.

Christmas Music – too soon or never too much?

By Anita Garner

Today we get our favorite music everywhere, any time, but not that long ago radio people played the music we listened to.  I spent years on the radio and all of us on the air worked from a playlist which we didn’t get to select.  Just before in-earnest holiday madness began, Christmas songs were slowly merged into the playlist, but no matter when they started, someone on the air staff hated it.

Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with our boss, the Program Director.

PD: So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one each hour?

EVERYONE ELSE: No!

PD: And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME: Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE: Shut up, Anita!

ME: Could I have more Christmas music just on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON: I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON: You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now. I’ll be gone for the whole month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated. I haven’t met many people who like Christmas music as much as I do. For me, Thanksgiving begins the Christmas music marathon. Give me a couple of favorite holiday songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

 

Unexpected Encounter – Michael Buble.

By Anita Garner

Did you think this would be a story about bumping into Michael Buble somewhere? No but it’s equally happy. The Grand and I now go to coffee shops together.  This is a new habit. Her caffeine content is diluted and carries fancy names, but it’s still coffee and there’s music playing and therefore the ritual is equally sophisticated.

During this fall season we’ve been taking our books to a cozy new neighborhood coffee shop which has the best music playing.  One week it was jazz.  Last week it was standards – big ballads and such. We’re reading.  We’re chatting.  We’re sipping.

The Grand, a new teenager, listens mostly to her favorite rock groups at maximum volume.  Primarily Brendon Urie/Panic At The Disco.  She makes everyone in the family follow Brendon on Instagram.

A song came on.  Mellow and swingy with a full orchestra. She put down her book and asked, “Who is THAT?”  That was Michael Buble.  She watched him with James Cordon on Carpool Karaoke and on The Graham Norton Show.  She’s now entered the world of the big-voiced crooners. I give Brendon Urie much of the credit.  His respect for them may have rubbed off on her.

Our family always plays Christmas music during Thanksgiving dinner.  Without mentioning it, my daughter, mother of The Grand,  pushed play on Michael Buble’s Christmas album.  The Grand lit up.  The leaf liked it too.

 

Christmas Tree Shopping In My Mind

By Anita Garner

Friends in snowy places are posting their decorations already so it must be time for Christmas tree shopping.  It gets cold here in Northern California, but the snow falls only at higher elevations so choosing a tree isn’t quite so picturesque. If we go after dark, there might be coats and scarves and maybe mittens involved, but it’s not exactly like your snowy scenes.

I have a picture of how it should be and I don’t want it spoiled. It’s Christmas movies, Christmas commercials, Christmas ads, Christmas specials on TV.  They mess with my expectations. Everything looks like the inside of a snow globe.

Of course there should be snow at the Christmas tree lot, but it’ll be the dry float-y kind that makes everyone look good.  The snow won’t make your hair or hat soggy.  At all.   Music will waft from the trailer/shed where the people who run the tree lot stay warm.  Two people over by that giant fir will all of a sudden start dancing.

Nobody’s nose will get red in the cold. No one will be  impatient because you can’t make up your mind. When you find THE tree, here’s what happens next. This is all real.  It happens at every Christmas tree lot where there’s snow.Once you decide which tree, you’ll find the gloved hand of a pretty lady/handsome man is already holding onto the other side and the two of you will decide to settle your tree differences over a cup of cocoa with marshmallows or bourbon stirred in. I have no idea what you people in tropical climates are going to do for romance this season.

 

 

Whispering Hope on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Here’s Mother’s new pastor’s wife costume. At Daddy’s request, she’d already raised her plunging necklines and toned down the amount of cling in her skirts, but this was as far as she was willing to go.  She left honky tonks behind to follow him, but she never renounced her fondness for clothes that were shiny.

My brother and I heard Daddy’s carefully chosen words about the proper apparel for each church occasion and when Mother stepped outside the parsonage to go to the funeral that day, we caught a glimpse of his expression in the second it took him to hide his surprise with a compliment. He told her she looked so beautiful he should take a picture.  She beamed.  He clicked this one and off we went.

It was a summer funeral on a day hot enough to require the use of the paper fans provided by the funeral home.

Past rows and rows of men in dark suits and church women wearing black and brown and navy, Sister Fern, a beacon glowing in satin and perspiration,  stepped near the coffin to sing.

One of the songs requested often for funerals during the 1950’s in the Deep South was “Whispering Hope.”  Mother loved a church organ, but not many of our churches had one, and when she recorded her first album this is the only song she  recorded with an organ.

Here’s “Whispering Hope,” written in the early 1900’s and interpreted here in the 1950’s by Sister Fern Jones with The Revelators Quartet.