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Christmas 2017

Started: 2018-01-21 11:55:26

Submitted: 2018-01-21 12:55:41

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator's family visits San Francisco for Christmas

Through a quirk in real estate, we own the largest house of anyone in my immediate family. It's not that San Francisco houses are usually particularly big (quite the opposite, in fact), but that the supply of houses in the city that would fit our family is limited, and it happened to work out that the house that fit us happened to be three stories tall and 3200 square feet -- and still sort-of affordable, by warped tech-salary-funded San Francisco standards. (The house next to us was built at the same time on the same plan, and has been subdivided into three independent apartments, one on each level.)

In our regular holiday rotation schedule, the end-of-year holidays in 2017 were split with us visiting Kiesa's family for Thanksgiving and my family for Christmas. This would normally involve visiting my parents in Walla Walla, but Bethany wasn't entirely interested in visiting Walla Walla and petitioned to visit us in San Francisco. (New York and San Francisco are connected by a bunch of direct flights, and while I wouldn't call a six-hour cross-country flight (especially a red-eye flight) "convenient" by any reasonable definition, it's still easier than a connecting flight in Seattle or Denver or Timbuktu.) She convinced everyone to come to San Francisco -- and then had a last-minute change of plans when her husband Josh needed to stay in New York over Christmas; she ended up joining us in San Francisco for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year's.

Saturday

Christmas tree with presents
Christmas tree with presents

Our first guest arrived shortly after noon on Saturday -- Echo, our prior au pair, now living somewhere south of Los Angeles. We invited her to join us for the holiday (continuing our American cultural exchange that's supposed to be a part of the au pair program), and she drove up to San Francisco in one day, leaving early in hopes of beating Los Angeles traffic. (We let her sleep in Julian's room, moving him into our room for the duration of her stay.)

Our next guests to arrive were Willy and my mother, driving down from Walla Walla with a stop in Sacramento to visit my grandfather. (My father stayed one more night in Sacramento, and arrived the next day. We put my parents in the library on the ground floor, and Willy in the playroom on the main floor. This meant the kids' toys -- mostly the Duplo train tracks -- were allowed to frolic in the living room, occasionally constrained into the Harry Potter cabinet under the stairs.)

Sunday

Stockings hung up on the banister with care
Stockings hung up on the banister with care

On Christmas Eve, Willy and I set out to see Fort Funston, wandering around the massive casemate at Battery Davis, then looking around the parking lot covering the old Nike missile battery. We walked out onto the observation deck surrounding the base end stations (otherwise known as artillery spotting points), looking over the ocean under overcast skies, then climbed down the beach ladder. The tide was low enough to walk along the beach, nestled between the water and the cliffs, to the trail leading back to the parking lot.

From the beach we headed down the road into Daly City to the theater there to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Sasa took Calvin to see the movie on Saturday, and Willy and I didn't want to wait until Bethany arrived.) I enjoyed the latest entry in the saga, though it felt like the movie was packed so full of plot and characters that I would need to see the movie several more times to really understand all of it.

We watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine after supper (the third-season episode "Distant Voices"). After the episode Calvin was reluctant to go to bed until I told him he could open his Christmas stocking as soon as he woke up the next morning, and he ran straight to bed (presumably so he could get up earlier the next morning).

Christmas Day

We celebrated Christmas the same way my family did while I was growing up: opening stockings as soon as we got up (I was excited to get a physical sticker with the text "My other cloud is Karl the Fog" based on the concept art I drew on a whiteboard), followed by a big breakfast, followed by waiting for my father to clean the dishes, followed by opening the Christmas presents under the tree. We observed some of Kiesa's family traditions as well, as she tried to remember or guess who unlabeled presents under the tree were intended for. Kiesa labeled all of the gifts she wrapped identifying who they were intended for, but did not identify who they were from. (It occurred to me that we should have attributed some of the gifts as coming from the Hogfather, though I wasn't sure how many people would get the Discworld reference.)

After presents, we had a few hours of daylight left so I attempted to arrange an expedition outside of the house. My suggestion of a hike on Sweeney Ridge was not especially popular, so instead we walked to Cayuga Park, a little city park with a bunch of intricately-carved wooden statues based on stumps and natural logs, some of which seemed to have existed in situ before being carved. (This park got an honorable mention in my San Francisco guidebook.)

On our way back we took a detour to the Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park, a rocky outcrop perched at the top of a nearby hill with a view of the ocean, the bay, and the Marin Headlands on the other side of the Golden Gate. (I forgot to mention the park in my guidebook, but in retrospect I should have; it's one of my favorite nearby places to visit, an unassuming little square of bare rock and unkempt grass at the dead end of four streets, where they should all meet if the grid system held at that point.)

My main contribution to Christmas dinner was assembling a cheese tray based on the cheese Kiesa picked up on a shopping trip to the Ferry Building. (I also elbowed my way into the kitchen to run the dishwasher before we started eating, to clean the dishes, pots, and utensils used in the preparation of the meal.) Echo stayed through the meal, then left to drive back home to Los Angeles.

Boxing Day

16th Ave Tiled Steps
16th Ave Tiled Steps

On Tuesday I played tour guide to my family, finally diving into my guidebook to see new and exciting parts of the city. We drove to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, overlooking the Sunset District, and climbed the steps to Grandview Park for a commanding view of Golden Gate Park and the western portion of the city. The day was bright and clear, giving us a great view in all directions. I knew many of the nearby landmarks visible from the summit, though I couldn't identify all of the church spires Willy inquired about.

My father wanted to visit the botanical gardens, so we drove into Golden Gate Park until Kiesa noticed the time and thought that we should get back home to meet Bethany, who was flying in from New York City for several days on the West Coast. We decided that Kiesa, my mother, Calvin, and Julian would take the bus home, and my father, Willy, and I would stay to see the botanical gardens.

It turned out that I received free admission to the botanical gardens as as a San Francisco resident (presumably I already pay for it in my taxes), but my father and Willy paid as visitors. We wandered around the gardens, past Monterey Cypress towering above the landscape, looking at the plants and the presentation. In the New Zealand section, I was fascinated to see a New Zealand Christmas Tree with its aerial roots allowed to take root in the ground, sprawling like a Banyan tree, rather than trimmed as a landscape tree in most of San Francisco. I appreciated the redwood forest section of the gardens, though I thought it was an amusing choice given that one can drive out of the city in most directions to find naturally-occurring redwood forests.

We returned home to find Bethany there, recently arrived from her flight across the country, hurriedly wrapping the presents that had been delivered for her. We celebrated Christmas again, opening more gifts now that Bethany had joined us.

As the afternoon wore on I grew anxious to leave the house again, and eventually drummed up enough support for a trip to Mount Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco, clearly visible from our house. (We ended up taking both of our cars because with eight people we could no longer fit into one vehicle.) We reached Mount Davidson shortly before dusk and headed up the trail to the overlook on the eastern side of the hill. (Calvin lagged sullenly behind until I offered him the use of my binoculars to look out on the city, then he scampered ahead.) We looked out at the city, lit by the setting sun, then headed into the forest at the top of the hill to see the massive reinforced concrete cross on the summit. (The City of San Francisco sold the cross after a lawsuit forced the city to divest the cross to avoid an Establishment Clause violation; now it memorializes the Armenian Genocide.)

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