I appreciate growth, even when it’s not me personally doing the growing. Some years I look back and think I could have done more. I learn from friends. You keep growing and I’ll keep watching and maybe if I watch closely enough for long enough some of it will rub off on me.
A few Christmases ago, this baby amaryllis in a warm spot on the tall writing table by a window in my Mill Valley kitchen was obviously eager to demonstrate how it’s done.
If I recall, she turned out to be a tall redhead with a lot of attitude. I could learn a lot from her.
The first one: Once upon a time I was a band singer, always onstage when the clock struck 12. I was married to a musician so at least we were together. This is how we spent the holiday for years.
Second one: We decided to stop performing on New Year’s Eve and instead we hosted marathon parties at home with a vintage theme. We invited about a hundred people and covered every surface with potluck dishes.
We did the Stroll and the Mashed Potato. We slow-danced. Massive amounts of spirits were consumed, resulting in many sleepovers. Next day some of us put breakfast casseroles in the oven and some watched the games on TV. By afternoon, I was tired-er than when we’d stayed up ‘til 3 or 4 after a gig.
The current plan: Now the excitement centers around watching the ball drop in New York at 9 o’clock West Coast time. Then early to bed. This is my favorite option so far. The best part of the celebration for me is the dawn of another year, a chance to write entries in a fresh calendar. I do love a new calendar.
By Anita GarnerChristmas Eve is the end of one of my favorite seasons. It’s not the holidays I’ll miss, it’s the looking-forward-to part.
People have asked many times through the years, don’t you think it’s too early to start talking about that trip, house, project, job, visit, etc.? No. It’s never too early. The best part about anticipation is that I can begin whenever I please.
Here’s why I love it so much. Anticipation is the only part of an experience I can control, so when I think of an upcoming event, it’s the leading-up-to I concentrate on.
Here I sit surrounded by gift-wrapped packages and lights and provisions for a bountiful dinner tomorrow, and my thought is, I only have one more night before the Season of Anticipation ends. So, yeah, a little bit sad, but I’ll snap out of it. There’s a whole year full of new anticipations waiting.
Men in overcoats are one of the best parts of winter. I live on the West Coast where overcoat sightings are rare, but when I’m East I’m living the life. I’ll follow a good looking coat down the street. Extra points for grownup shoes. And hats and scarves and gloves. Here in California we don’t see these often.
I wish it could be winter all year and I wish all men owned coats – for warmth, of course, but mostly for my enjoyment. Here’s a starter gallery. I’ll be adding to it so if you send a picture, I’ll put it here for overcoat oglers to enjoy. After exhaustive research, which consisted of shopping at Target, it seems something more all-encompassing might be fair. Maybe just Men In Coats.
This opens the subject to all kinds of coats. Men who work outside and need to bundle up. Firemen. Cowboys in cowboy jackets. Basically all men in all coats. I am personally acquainted with men who own spiffy coats and I want them to know how much I appreciate looking at them. Here are some of them.
(First photo above) Dan John Miller, you’re an inspiration. That’s him in the middle. I met him when he was in the movie, Walk The Line, which featured a song written by my mother. Dan John played Luther Perkins, guitar player in Johnny Cash’s band, the Tennessee Two. Based in Detroit, he’s a busy actor and musician and lately picked up a nice award for voicing audio books. Extra points for the hat.
Here’s Greg Zerkle (North) actor, director, singer, all around Broadway Baby, and my other brother.
When The Daughter heard about this week’s topic, she suggested it wouldn’t be complete without John Cusack.
Then The Grand got involved, nominating Brendon Urie. With The Grand, it’s always going to be Brendon Urie in any category.
I’m closing this first edition with Peter Coyote. Because it’s Peter Coyote.Oh and Peter also seems to own suits.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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.