Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy New Year!

Everyone says this, but this year, I really can’t believe how quickly the time passed. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.

There’s been a lot of fun in the past few days—so much that I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit, for which I apologize. We had a really nice holiday in San Francisco. My sister and her boyfriend were around on Christmas Day, so all the kids had a lot of fun together.

For New Year’s Eve we don’t have any big travel plans. We’re going to a party on Grand Avenue in Oakland, which is close enough that we can abandon the car and stumble home if we have too much root beer. I expect a mellow evening, which I think is just about the perfect way to see in a new year.

I hope you have a happy New Year, too, wherever you celebrate it!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

And happy last night of Hanukkah as well! Once again, I have failed to get Christmas cards out. I expect to send New Year’s cards again, since that’s a holiday almost everyone can get behind. But I certainly don’t want Christmas to pass without a mention. I hope everyone celebrating Christmas has a very merry one. Let’s hope the New Year brings all of us peace on Earth, an goodwill toward...everybody.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ceci N’est Pas un Oeuf

See, this is what I love about Asian snacks. (And one of my favorite things about traveling is sampling the local snacks. I think you can learn a lot about a place by tasting what its inhabitants find appetizing.)

I’ve seen gummi-bears before, gummi-worms, gummi-spiders, and gummi-rats, but gummi-something actually edible? You never see this except in Asia, or in places catering to those with Asian tastes. Pipi found these gummi-eggs at a candy shop in Chinatown while shopping for white rabbit candy. They were disconcertingly served to me in this frying pan, which made them look pretty realistic, if a little rubbery and cold.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Not as Much Fun as it Smells

I didn’t promise I wouldn’t whine about other things. Right now I’m having an experience that never used to happen to me when I was working in an office. Yesterday morning they started replacing the roof on the building that is about three feet from my window. You can imagine how nice it smells in my apartment right now. Yesterday I left for a little while—I have a laptop, so theoretically I can work anywhere. But I missed the UPS delivery guy while I was out. I feel pretty badly about that because I promised a neighbor I’d sign for her package while she was at work. (I also apparently missed a package of my own, although I wasn’t expecting one.)

So today I feel like I really have to stick around until he comes. Although I’m getting a little light headed and I feel strange, like maybe I’m going on and on and not making a lot of potatoes. It smells like someone’s burning tires next door. I know I have a history of being a little obsessive about the UPS truck, but today I REALLY want him to come quickly.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Playing Santa

I got to see a new part of San Francisco over the weekend volunteering for a charity group. This group mentors at-risk kids, and during the holidays raises money to provide Christmas gifts for needy families.

We have a friend who works for this organization, and she matched us up with a family that has two kids, a 2-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. We did some shopping for them. They asked for cute things, like a set of magnetic building blocks, and a Dora the Explorer figurine. We enjoyed the shopping, and were very relieved we didn’t have to buy Barbie dolls or anything like that.

Friday evening there was a huge wrapping party where volunteers wrapped up and tagged the thousands of gifts that people had donated. The party was at their warehouse in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, an up-and-coming area near Bayview/Hunters Point, where most of their clients live. We managed to get ourselves placed at the same wrapping station as the presents we’d purchased, so we got to wrap our own gifts. That made the giving effort feel even more personal, which was nice.

The next morning there was a massive delivery operation. Pipi and I made sure we were on a route that included our family. They turned out to be really sweet, the kind of family it’s easy to feel good about helping. They live in public housing, but it was a relatively nice place. Their building was brand new and still in really good shape. They kept a nice neat home, and I didn’t get a sense of chronic dysfunction. I can imagine them on their feet before too long.

The last family we delivered to was more troubling. They lived in Hayes Valley, which I would characterize as a decent neighborhood, but this was a horrible building. The apartment was dark and filthy, with mildew all over the walls and carpet. There was almost no furniture. Someone was sleeping on the floor in the living room—at noon. It was bleak. We were glad to be helping them, too, of course, but we couldn’t help but worry that maybe a lack of stocking stuffers wasn’t the worst problem this family was dealing with. It was a slightly unsettling glimpse into a set of life experiences very different from my own. It certainly made me grateful for what I’ve got, and I promise not to whine any more about how little my job is paying right now.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not Strictly Related, But….

…My friend Sarah is in town this week. She and I went to college together, and now she and her husband and new baby live in New Zealand.

This is a picture of their baby, Sage, born August 31, 2006. Isn’t she cute? I’m a very proud “auntie.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Comcast Confab

Something is going on across the street.

All week, there has been at least one Comcast cable company van parked in front of the building across the street from me. Sometimes more than one. I almost never see actual employees doing anything but sitting in their trucks eating lunch, but they’ve been there for days. (On Tuesday I did see one guy climb a pole on my side of the street.)

Yesterday there was one van there bright and early. Later, it was joined by another. The crews seemed to know each other, and had a good time having a very high-volume conversation in Spanish that I didn’t catch much of. (Good practice, though. And don’t tell me I shouldn’t have been listening. If the conversation is above 70 decibels, it’s not eavesdropping.)

Later, the second van seemed to have some sort of problem. So a third was called to jump-start number two. That didn’t work, so van number one and three both took off, leaving the battery for dead. Finally a tow truck was called and it took number two away.

This morning, a van was back. (I can’t tell if it’s the same vans every day.) It didn’t get there until about 10am, so the driver had some furious coffee drinking to do to make up for his late start. He’s gone now, though. I bet he’ll be back at lunchtime.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Paradigm Shift

Lately I’ve been rethinking my strategy a lot. Getting a story accepted to an anthology was a nice affirmation, and a suggestion that maybe I have a marketing problem, not a talent deficiency.

My marketing has so far been directed mostly toward newspapers, but looking back on it, I realize that I’m getting a much greater yield from the submissions I send to anthologies and magazines. It’s almost too small of a sample to be statistically significant, but I think it’s worth considering a switch to target magazines in the future. They pay more, and are generally read by a wider (though not necessarily larger) group of people. I think it’s time I stop, or at least cut back on knocking myself out to write finished articles that either disappear into the black hole of editorial indifference or get rejected immediately because the editor can’t afford freelance work anymore.

I still have a Mongolia overview piece that’s on the desk of an editor or two, but once another week or so has gone by with no word, I’m going to start by re-working that and seeing what magazines I can tempt. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Downtown Deco

Here’s another interesting thing I saw recently. Any guesses what this little deco fortress is used for? I wouldn’t have guessed, but a plaque explains it: The building is located at the entrance to a tunnel that leads from Oakland to the island of Alameda. This little building was constructed in the 1930s to hide giant fans that keep fresh air moving through the tunnel. I love it. I don’t know how the other tunnels in town handle the fresh air problem, but this seems like an exceptionally elegant solution.

Friday, December 08, 2006

He’s Back!

My guy is back, the one I wanted to show you a picture of. He was right there on the corner where I last saw him. Maybe they take him in at night. Anyway, I’m very happy to see that he wasn’t recycled.

I’m still not sure if this is supposed to be anyone in particular. The statue is located on the corner of Seventh and Madison Streets--I don’t suppose it’s James Madison, is it? I don’t really think so. I’ll try to see what I can find out about it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Time in the City

I remembered something else that made me wish I’d had a camera handy while I was out walking the other day: I passed a little park known to Pipi and me as “The Bunny Park” because it’s full of rabbits. (I think they’re abandoned pets, because they’re all fat and black, not lithe and feral looking. This is sad, but I’ve been seeing them there for years, so the community seems to be thriving. Pipi and I feed them baby carrots a lot.)

There was a police car parked nearby, with lettering all over it saying “K-9 Unit—Danger.” The officer and his fearsome German shepherd were in the park. But they weren’t chasing down a perp (or bunnies). They were playing fetch. It was very cute, and I wish I could have shared the scene with you. I have to start taking a camera with me on my urban hikes.

In the meantime, here’s something else nice in my own neighborhood: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on Park Boulevard. (This is not my house--I don’t actually know the people who live there, but they do Christmas in a big way every year.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Awkward Question

Well, honestly, I’m a little taken aback--I was raised not to talk too much about things like this, so I’m going to be a little evasive. The answer is: not very much. They aren’t paying me very much at all for the piece. But it’s something. I also get free and reduced-price copies of the book. And exposure. That’s the real reward. It puts my name out there.
I’m thinking of this as a brand-building exercise. And really, who wouldn’t be happy seeing their name appear anywhere near the word “Best?” (Not exactly in the same sentence, but at least in the same 80,000-word tome.)

And it important to remember that Traveler’s Tales is paying me a lot more than all the newspapers that aren’t publishing me, so I’m not complaining.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Take the Champagne out of the Freezer

You may notice I said Traveler’s Tales is “interested” in using my story. I say that because the contract they sent me appears to have a little wiggle room. They asked for my permission to use it, but they haven’t promised that they will do so. So just to warn you, I don’t think publication is set in stone. I’m not popping any corks yet. But I’m still very excited for February.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I got excellent news today from Traveler’s Tales. They are interested in using one of my stories in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2007, scheduled to be published next spring.

The piece is my “Tale of Two Turkeys” essay. That one has done well for me, having won an essay contest at the travel writing conference that initially inspired me to write the story down. I used the prize--credit with an airline ticket consolidator--to subsidize my trip around the world last summer. Since then I’ve been absolutely shameless about promoting it, sending it to practically every newspaper in the country. (I sent it to the SF Chronicle two Thanksgivings in a row.) I’ve submitted it to a handful of additional essay contests, and at least two anthologies. It’s on my website. I link to it every chance I get. I mention it every chance I get. I’m still writing about it now.

I was starting to feel like a little bit of a one-hit wonder on the state fair circuit, leaning embarrassingly heavily on my one familiar work while wondering why no one wants to hear the new stuff. But it is paying off. I’m learning that in freelance writing, marketing may be as important as talent, and it may not be possible to overplay your hand. I may be making myself cringe, but that seems to be what it takes to get the world to notice.