ALA came to me this year!



What better way to kick off the new blog kick than with posts about ALA 2015? In my town! Got my badge today and helped three lovely librarians from Nigeria take a picture in front of the Moscone Center. The fun starts tomorrow! Stay tuned.

Books, People

Little Man Reads – 10 months

We are getting back into the swing of things after our trip. It is wonderful to be on our home turf in our beloved city, San Francisco. Sometimes it takes going away to see your life with fresh eyes and realize how good you have it. We really do live in one of the best cities on Earth and I’m glad to be back.

One of my favorite things about this city is all the opportunities to meet authors and illustrators as they share their work at bookstores. We still have a number of excellent independent bookstores in the Bay Area and they are popular stops on book tours. Just this morning we went to see Nikki McClure at the Book Passage in Corte Madera. She is one of my favorite artists. I posted about her back when she had a local show of her amazingly intricate and beautiful cut paper pieces. Her subject matter is often a celebration of nature, simple things, and motherhood – kind of a modern outdoorsy Mary Cassatt. So it’s a natural that she also does childrens books, the latest being Mama, Is It Summer Yet?

She explained to all of us at the reading that she created this book in response to her son’s question. The illustrations show the clues in nature that the seasons are changing and getting closer and closer to summer. As someone who dreads winter, and gets giddy with the spring and arrival of warmer weather, I loved it, even though my son is too young to be into it just yet. I was also inspired to get out my art supplies and get back to work on some stories. She said when she was little she played pretend that she was an artist, but thought it was similar to being a princess, a make-believe wish. Sometimes I still feel this way, so it’s always encouraging to see someone in person who is making their art in real life, not in some magical castle far, far away. She even did a demonstration of her technique and wowed the kids (and me) with her X-acto knife wielding skills.

So, that’s my mom pick for the featured childrens book on my sporadic review of what Little Man is reading lately. I posted at around 6 months and now at 10 months he is into completely different things. For one, he rarely sits still in my lap anymore unless he’s very, very tired, so sadly, our storytimes are fewer than when he was less mobile. At around 8 months his favorite was Sing-Along Song, written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by San Francisco local LeUyen Pham. He enjoyed the rhythm and onomatopoeia of the text, and would reach out and touch and smile at the pictures of the little boy exuberantly going through the routine of his day. Now, he’s as busy as that little boy, zooming around the house with a very short attention span.

So, at 10 months, he likes Go, Dog. Go! the board book version. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s action-packed. He’s also into books with texture and sounds and pop-ups, basically he needs bells and whistles to keep his focus now. And he wants to destroy them. Chewing, grabbing, tearing. Books have to be tough now for him to enjoy. So, I will be putting my signed copy of Mama, Is It Summer Yet? away until he’s ready, and letting him enjoy tactile books like Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet.


Mission Mural

I spent much of this weekend helping to paint a giant mural on a new building at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Mission Street. I did it as volunteer work for Precita Eyes, a San Francisco community mural arts organization that has been such a strong presence in the Mission District for so long you can hardly turn a corner without seeing their work brightening the streets. When I moved to the city almost nine years ago, one of the reasons I came was for the murals. My favorite project in college was delivering a lecture on Mexican Muralists, and in researching the likes of Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera, I fell in love with the medium, in particular its ability to tell a story. The messages murals convey can be political, historical or simply beautiful, but whatever the artist’s intent, it becomes art for the people. It is not hidden away in a museum or a private collection, it is meant to be seen by the masses. Murals invite and incite reaction. They are difficult to ignore.

Since coming to the city and giddily roaming the streets trying to discover all the murals in the Mission, I have jumped around living in one neighborhood after another and working on many mural projects with students and on my own, but I’ve finally come full circle and moved back to my old ‘hood. Working on this project with Precita Eyes feels like coming home. Its content is a celebration of all things “Mission” – Carnaval, mariachis, low-riders, the Mexican bus, the actual Mission Dolores, and the now iconic Cesar Chavez (appropriate since the mural is located on Cesar Chavez Street). At such a busy intersection, we had tons of traffic (both foot and car) while we worked and everyone had an opinion. Most were positive; people honked and yelled “Great job!”, “It’s beautiful!” or stood and admired close up. One woman walked by muttering loudly about “tired old subject matter…can’t they paint anything else”, which I have to admit I thought when I first saw the design. The building we are painting contains a bunch of condos and a new Walgreen’s, about one step above a Starbucks on the gentrification scale, and here we are painting a mural about the old, authentic Mission, the things people come here wanting to see. It made me think of this great KQED Forum discussion on Mission murals, where a man named Oscar called in to complain about how murals cheapened buildings and they would never do this in the Marina. All I have to say about that is that’s one of the many reasons why I prefer not to live in the Marina. But Oscar is entitled to his opinion. No matter what you think about murals, you think something when you see one, and that’s what I like about them. Nobody can tell you your opinion is wrong.

The mural we painted today is for you. Go check it out. It’s not done yet, so maybe you’ll see us out there still working on it. Whether you think we’re beautifying or cheapening the place, it felt good to be leaving my mark on the Mission in such a traditional way (I mainly worked on the mustachioed maraca man in the parade and the red-orange background). It has been a practice since primitive people made drawings on the walls of their caves, and there’s nothing like it to satisfy my urge to create.


Walking Dogs Is No Cakewalk

Imagine a car that has been driven for nearly six years by a dogwalker in San Francisco. With over 100,000 hard city miles put on it, the bumpers are dinged, the hubcaps are scratched and the brakes and tires have had to be replaced far more often than any normal vehicle would need in that time. But it’s the interior that I want you to focus on. Picture crusted drool along the tops of the windows, matted hair gathered in every nook and cranny, upholstery that has been soaked in all manner of bodily fluids – vomit, urine, feces, saliva, and worst of all, a little-known liquid I like to call “butt juice”(I’ve only met other animal care professionals who know about anal glands and the pungent horror they secrete, but every potential dog owner should be forewarned. If the power of this stuff could be harnessed we would have an incredible new weapon in biochemical warfare). And this is after weekly car washes, interior and exterior; they groan when they see me pull up at Auto City.

And that’s not even a rainy week. Conjure up for a moment the smell of wet dogs on top of all that, and their musty breath fogging up the windows. Envision the towels used to dry off the water-logged pooches lying in a soggy, muddy mess on the floor. I don’t ask you to visualize this so you pity me the hardships of dogwalking in the winter, only so you understand that my job is not just a walk in the park, as articles like this one Josie Holtzman wrote for NPR’s All Things Considered might have you believe, as if dogwalkers were frolicking in the great outdoors making money hand over fist while the rest of America suffers. My job is not for everyone, so don’t go quitting your desk job or getting too jealous next time you see one of us out and about.

Yes, we make decent money. I made more my first year picking up poop than I made during my fifth (and last) year changing the lives of society’s youth as a high school art teacher. I initially only intended to take a break from teaching to have some time to create my own art, but haven’t gone back because I enjoy it and the money and hours are good. But dollars aren’t everything. As small business owners, dogwalkers do not get benefits, retirement, paid vacation, or a vacation at all unless you work really hard to plan for one (man, I miss those summers off).  And recession-proof it is not. Many of my clients lost their jobs or had to cut back over the last two years. Even in non-recession years, your monthly income is not guaranteed. People cancel last minute, they take their dog to Tahoe for the summer, they move away, etc. The city is a transient place and the turnover can be high. Dogwalkers have to hustle to keep work steady just like any other self-employed business owner.

The article does mention the physical toll and the logistics of walking dogs in New York. In San Francisco it’s just as physically taxing and we have the same logistical challenge of keeping all the keys straight, but it is a little different in that most of us don’t walk from apartment building to building picking up dogs, we drive. A lot. In my busiest year, I was driving about 50 miles a day, feeling an awful lot like a cab driver. We are lucky that this city has many parks and beaches we can drive to and then let the dogs run off-leash. But this brings us to politics. We may not have “office” politics, but the park scene can be downright contentious. Paranoid parents, nature lovers, and park police all have issues with dogwalkers. Some for good reason; there isn’t much on the books to regulate the dogwalking profession, so you get some opportunistic hacks after those six-figure incomes the article mentions who load up fifteen dogs and set them loose in a park to defecate wherever and do what they will for a few minutes, load ’em up and do it all over again three or four times a day. Doesn’t make for a pleasant park experience for anyone else around. But for those trying to do a good job, keeping things clean and everybody safe, getting an earful from an irate birdwatcher gets old.

You do have to be good with both dogs and people. As wonderful as dogs are, they are unpredictable animals, and their owners can be, too. I am fortunate to have been doing this long enough that I can be particular about which clients I take on. I have weeded out the persnickety, inconsiderate owners (like the ones who made sure I brought their dog back spotless, but would regularly forget to leave my pay) and the crazy dogs (like the German Shepherd who bit me because I approached her frisbee too quickly), but I racked up a book’s worth of stories about them I intend to write someday.

You also have to be good at business – keeping organized records and invoicing and discussing money on a regular basis. And you have to be good at being alone. You do not have the comradery of co-workers. Your non-dog interaction is limited to your stay-at-home mom clients and the other dogwalkers shepherding their packs around the parks. Somehow you have to cope with the monotony while staying completely on top of the necessary systems to keep track of keys, dogs, who pooped, which house you’re going to next, etc. You fight boredom while preparing for potential chaos or crisis at all times. All for very little prestige. Most people look at you like you flip burgers when you say you walk dogs for a living. Unless they’ve read similar articles to the NPR one and then they’re just curious about how much money you make. I certainly got more respect as a teacher. I recently ran into my ditzy second grade teacher (I remember I used to correct her spelling), and she gave me a condescending “Oh, that’s ok”, when I told her what I was up to.

Most people get into this not for the quick bucks or any glory, but because they love dogs. And you have to in order to put up with all I’ve mentioned. But even that love for dogs makes it tough. Besides the possibility of them moving on from this impermanent town, once you get attached, there’s the inevitable end if you do this job long enough. Almost six years in, and the dogs I started with as puppies are now middle-aged. They’re getting lumpy and slow and I’ve had to have many end-of-life-care discussions with clients whose dogs weren’t puppies when I started. I’ve had to say goodbye to many a best friend, and it breaks my heart every time.

Again, I’m not writing this for any “woe is me” reasons, just to point out the particular tribulations of a job that on the surface looks like a lot of money for a lot of fun. If I deter some of those who don’t really care about dogs from entering the field, great. If you are still interested in the gig after reading this, you may have what it takes to be a great dogwalker. I’d just encourage you to get a good whiff of a dogwalker’s car before you commit.


A Season of Gratitude

It’s a little early for Thanksgiving, but I’m feeling grateful. And since these grateful moments often flit away in the face of fear and doubts and worries, I am challenging myself to spend more time in gratitude this season. Instead of dwelling on the dread of winter, sadness for all the pain in the world (both actual and potential), and wanting more than I have, I will be here. Now. In the present. And grateful for all the goodness in my life.

I’m grateful for big general things like food, shelter, health, friends, family, love, living in a country where I am not oppressed, etc.  It’s easy to take these things for granted and find myself complaining about things that just don’t matter. To combat this negativity, I will try to draw my attention to all the specific things I am grateful for as I go about my days. Here’s a short list of what I’m thankful for today:

-Amazing California sunshine before sweater and scarf wearing weather hits.

-A sweet sweet husband who makes sure I’m fed. If left to my own devices I would subsist on frozen Trader Joe’s food, but instead I have a man on a crockpot kick who just made me a hearty autumn butternut squash stew.

-The satiny succulent stomach skin of my beautiful baby boy. And his chubby little feet. And his smile. Ok, the whole dang baby.

-Living in a city where I can take dogs to the beach and run in the sand with a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. Gorgeous.

-I have running water in my house unlike a staggering number of people in the world, and can take a nice, hot shower whenever I want to (or whenever aforementioned baby will allow it, and he’s finally sleeping, so off I go!)

What are you grateful for today?


I Heart My ‘Hood

photo from WikiPedia
photo from WikiPedia

I’ve lived in San Francisco for almost eight years now. For the first two years and this last year, The Mission District has been my ‘hood, and one of the best ways to see what The Mission is all about is to see Carnaval.

Carnaval is a festival of flesh, rythym, color, and life. It is a party everyone is welcome to, and you cannot help but dance with joy as you get closer to the sounds of samba and drumming and cheering, then watch the parade of feathers, floats, and freedom to be me and you and we. There are ethnic groups of all kinds, people of all ages, and everyone shakes their booties together.

Come down to the parade, Sunday May 24, and celebrate Mission style. Have a happy Memorial Day weekend, and check back next week to hear about the big time birthday surprise I’m planning for my hubby!


I Heart San Francisco


I’ve recently had some exciting celebrity sightings. No, not big time Brangelina types, but more of the local variety. San Francisco has a cast of characters who have become standouts in the local scene due to their wild eccentricities and vast amounts of time in the public eye. I hardly ever go downtown, but am always thrilled when I venture there and see familiar faces.

I saw the twins dining in the window of a restaurant on Post Street the other day, in matching purple blazers and white cowboy hats. As we honked and waved from the car, one peeked up, nudged her cohort and they both smiled and waved like Miss America pageant contestants. Before I moved here, nearly eight years ago, I would see the sassy septuagenarians struttin’ their stuff almost every time I visited the city, always in outrageous matching outfits – leopard print coats, blingy shoes, and crazy hats on perfect ‘dos – so it warmed my heart to see they are still at it in their eighties.

I saw a new one recently. My husband told me that he saw a man who had trained a rat to stand on a cat standing on a dog. No way, I thought, must be fake. But there they were outside of Macy’s on Union Square last week. An old black dog lay next to a scruffy man in black sitting on the sidewalk. Next to them lay a gray cat, and on its back was a white rat curled up asleep. They weren’t doing their acrobatic act, but their coziness with each other was sufficiently impressive.

What is their story? At what point does one decide “I’m going to train naturally adversarial animals to work together and take it on the road?” Or “my twin and I are going to dress alike and parade around town together as long as we live”? How did Frank Chu, the omnipresent sign-toting cause-protesting guy, get started? When did lightning strike the Bushman to start scaring the hell out of people for laughs down on Fisherman’s Wharf? They’re certainly living creatively, most likely with a good dose of crazy thrown in. Maybe they wonder how the rest of us can live such boring lives. In any case, I’m glad they’re around to wake us up now and again.