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I spent Christmas in San Francisco.

It was the first time I would spend a Christmas apart from my family. Whether it was spent at home in Virginia with my two parents and two older siblings or in Massachusetts with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, Christmas was, until this year, a family reunion. My parents worked full-time until I was 16, and my siblings had left for college by then. My extended family was scattered throughout the world, from Colorado to Singapore. Ours was the very image of the family holiday: viewings of “A Christmas Story” and “Christmas Vacation,” my sister and I playing duets of carols on the flute and piano, sledding and igloo-building (yes!), cookie decorating, tree dressing, and arriving too late to church to get seats.

As we got older, our manners changed, but the traditions stayed the same. My siblings would fly in in time for Christmas Eve dinner, and we’d go through a couple of bottles of red wine watching a Christmas classic, then try not to laugh or fall asleep at the midnight mass because we’d had just a bit too much. (My mom is the perennial DD, and she will be going to heaven for putting up with us.) Cookie decorating turned into an all-day cooking competition a la Iron Chef, and the flute and piano duets were interrupted with laughter when we realized how bad we sounded. I love how open and intellectual and adventurous my family is, but in spite of it, it is remarkable how annoyed I get when we’re all together about the most mundane or irrelevant things. If I could just remember one of those things right now…

Admittedly, I can remember one. I do not like being the third, fifth, or seventh member of a group. I make Trivial Pursuit teams uneven and have to hear the debate about whose team should take me (as if I’ll dumb them down or something!), and I can’t contribute to dinnertable conversations about getting a dog with a life partner or insuring jewelry. It’s a product of being four years younger and having what my dad describes as, “A really big personality that men might find… really big.” But it’s okay because, as he says, “I love your mother very much.” This Christmas, my brother would visit with his wife’s family, my sister would stay in Oregon with her boyfriend (on call) then go on to Fiji, and my parents would take care of my extremely ill grandfather in Massachusetts while my grandmother visited an aunt in Texas. I was invited to join each twosome, but each two was too occupied.

Christmas is not about me anyway.

I look forward to making the group an even number again some day. This year, each couple had their own plans and invited me to join in. But a great friend in Phoenix invited me to join other ones and threes, maybe even a five or two in San Francisco. I was so flattered to be invited, and I accepted.

This would be my third trip to San Francisco in about a year and a half, my last being for the Union Street Festival in June 2006. On that trip, I made stops to new and old favorites, including Betelnut and Perry’s, with a side trip to Sonoma to visit Cline and Kunde. I could see myself there. But it’s a unique relationship. And I digress.

I was to arrive in San Francisco a full day before meeting up with my Phoenix friend. I’ll call him the doctor, but it’s somewhat of an understatement as he has accumulated some of the best undergrad, business, and medicine degrees in the country. He arranged for me to stay at a friend’s apartment on Chestnut in the Marina. Her window literally overlooked a party. Though I was exhausted from the day of travel, I ventured out to Ace Wasabi’s Rock ‘n Roll Sushi on recommendation from my sister. It was actually too hip and crowded for me to enjoy it. I feel more like a cold dead fish for saying that than anything they could serve up. It’s fricking San Francisco! I went across the street to (gahhh) Cafe Organic Lettus for a build-your-own. It was really good, but not rock ‘n roll good. I got a call from an actor friend from New York City– he was in San Francisco, performing in Jesus Christ Superstar, and invited me to a cast party. I didn’t even have it in me to do that. I still regret not going, and I always will. Then I spent most of the night hoping the doctor’s friend’s apartment wouldn’t explode in a gas fire. It hissed at me for the duration.

Because the doctor has lived in San Francisco for years, I decided to get any remaining tourism needs taken care of before he arrived. I wanted to go back to The Grove for breakfast, but need for free wireless led me to a forgettable creperie or omelettry not far from it. I walked to Fisherman’s Wharf to see Pier 39, not even expecting to see the seals, then to Ghirardelli Square on the bay. It was quite cold and I didn’t know that my fashionable knee-high suede stiletto boots could get me over a couple of miles of hills, so I decided to take a cable car to go shopping in Union Square. The doctor does not disappoint– he and his best friend picked me up curbside in an old white Jaguar and brought me to the Slanted Door, a fantastic restaurant with a Bay Bridge view and, as the NY Times wrote last week, the most popular request on OpenTable.com. We do have fun.

Over the holiday, we returned to the doctor’s favorite bars (hence mine)– Perry’s, the Balboa, Crow Bar, Big Foot, and so on. And, of course, we celebrated Christmas! I was warmly received and very well fed by the families of two of the doctor’s close friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and I will not detail their family traditions because they’re theirs to share. Suffice to say that I genuinely enjoyed their holidays, and, inevitably, I missed my own.

The doctor and I took in a San Francisco 49ers game, a couple of movies, and a lot of great wine, and we ended the trip at Umami, a new Japanese restaurant in the Marina. The menu is worth looking at– very innovative, incorporating Japanese and American cuisine. And Ace Wasabi is not terribly far away, so there’s that! I kid. It was a good trip.

It took traveling across the country to realize that Christmas is about a lot, and it’s about me, too.

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View of the Presidio from “The Pad.” I love “The Pad”!

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One of the charming storefronts on Fillmore.
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View.

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From Fisherman’s Wharf– a ship passing Alcatraz.

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Another view, typical SF weather.

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Golden Gate.

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Plus one.

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Looking south to the city from Pier 39.

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Seals!

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Pier 39 attraction.

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Fountain in Ghirardelli Square.

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I love this shot!

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Chinatown.

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The Bay Bridge from behind the Slanted Door.

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Niners!

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My favorite shot– taken from the cable car and also hanging on my wall.

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