Monday, December 8, 2008

Italy In Our Hearts

This past April, I ventured across the globe to Tuscany and spent a week at La Loggia with my favorite poet, David Whyte, and a group of 30 strangers. What transpired over that week was a string of small and large miracles, adoption into an "instant family" and dozens of meals, hikes & conversations that are still emblazed in my heart. The hardest part of a great trip though, is keeping that trip alive long after you've returned home again. It's easy to forget the perfection of fava beans and goat cheese at a simple picnic table, the peace of mornings around a fireplace reading poetry, the quietly changing angles of sun over landscape. There is a certain kind of vulnerability that arrives when you travel and disappears when you get home. It's that exact vulnerability that allows the miracles to happen. It's so easy to forget how to stay open and how to receive.

Eight months after we all returned home, I am happy to say that I've stayed close with my new Italian family and have been especially blessed to live in the Bay Area with a few of them. And last night, in all her beauty, Italy came back to us. Our fellow David Whyte-follower, Eric, was in town visiting from Seattle. Dee, Ward and I met him at my favorite family-run Italian restaurant, Tommaso's in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. We tucked ourselves into a cozy booth, shared glasses of a beautiful Super-Tuscan red wine and nibbled on fresh mushroom pizza. We let ourselves truly reminisce -- the kind of reminiscing you can't do with people who didn't take the journey with you.

We also reminded each other of how important and influential that trip to Italy was and how valuable an investment travel can be, especially within the backdrop of poetry, agritourism and philosophy. This is the kind of travel that matters. These are the kinds of trips we all need to be taking.

I'm lucky because I work for a company who's main goal is to inspire travel. I realize that some travel experiences have been more accessible to me than to others. For all of those trips, I am deeply grateful. It is my wish for 2009 that those closest to me can experience an amazing trip of their own - a trip that rocks your core, a trip that brings you closer to yourself than ever before. It doesn't have to be across an ocean to Italy. Sometimes it just takes a drive down Highway 1 or a weekend painting retreat. Whatever your dreams are, let me know about them - I'll do anything within my travel expertise to help you make them real.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Old World

In a culture that places a huge amount of value on speed, productivity and general new-ness in all that we buy, I've been digging deeper for the old. I've been searching for the antique keys, the scribbled vintage postcards, the historic, un-changed buildings. I want to go back in time when things were slower. I want to go back before the ipod. Heck, before electricity.

While San Francisco boasts gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian architecture and a plethora of historic buildings and landscapes, I still have trouble finding old, homey hangouts that authentically feel like they are from another era, that they haven't been changed.

Thankfully, I've befriended a few lovely British friends who introduced me to the Pelican Inn, just a short drive north of San Francisco beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. Located just steps from dramatic Stinson Beach, the Pelican Inn is an incredibly homey (and ancient) English pub and inn (with just 7 rooms). I don't think it's changed much since it was built in 1855 and locals couldn't be more thankful. On Sundays, the Pelican Inn hosts its weekly "Sunday Roast" where you can enjoy a bottomless plate of roast, mashed potatoes, salad & local blue cheese. The cider and beer flowly freely, as does the whiskey and live music. This is how a Sunday should be spent.

What I love most about the Pelican Inn was the feeling that the building radiates. She's unapologetic and graceful all at once. Her carpets are worn straight through but their faded colors are comforting. It's drafty and dark when you're not near the fireplace but you've never been cozier in a wool seater. Single, dripping candlesticks line each table without pretense. The cloudy windows turn sunlight into single, lemony beams that streak the dusty air.

I'm not sure how we passed 5 hours there on Sunday afternoon. We moved in and out of the main room at the dining table & spent time sprawled out on old quilts on their lush lawn. We ordered pint after pint of cider and held the old mugs tightly as the sun got lower.

Later, at sunset, we walked down to the beach and watched the pelicans glide low in their perfect lines against the horizon.

Then, it was time to go home.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I spend a lot of time seeking miracles outside my home, whether it's the perfect graffiti message, inspiring local events or the tiny magic places no one knows about.

Maybe it's because autumn is really starting to settle down in my bones and the early edge of winter and darkness is here. Maybe it's the foggy-gloom that makes home feel more homey. Either way, the past few weekends in San Francisco have reminded me not to overlook the Urban Miracles that exist in my own home and the querencia that can be found in this funky Victorian apartment above Church Street.
In the Spanish language, the word querencia describes the feeling of home, "the wanting place", the place in which we are most ourselves. I am learning how to build and re-build querencia in my life every single day.

I recently started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and it's rocking my world. The general basis behind the book is a story of a family (the author's) who chooses to spend a year living off the land in the southern Appalachia Mountains. Their goal is to eat mostly locally-grown food (their own or their friends') and to truly get in sync with the earth, mother nature and her seasonal gifts. They explore, in their own way, the idea of designing their own Querencia from the land they live on. Along with her own, her husband's and her 19 year-old daughter's narratives, Kingsolver includes the seasonal recipes she creates as she watches her land turn from spring to summer, autumn to winter.

Reading this book has pushed me to spend a bit more time at the Noe Farmer's Market which is held each Saturday down the street in the (only) parking lot in my neighborhood. It's prompted me to seek out seasonal recipes and to turn the stove back on. It has reminded me of the power that a home-cooked meal, good wine, and friends can have on a drained spirit.

Last weekend, I gathered the ingredients for my favorite autumn recipe: Roasted Garlic, Potato & Leek Soup (thank you, Whole Foods). I found every single ingredient at the farmer's market and spoke to the farmers who grew them. I now know most of them by name. The soup cooked on the stove all day and friends stopped by whenever they could for a warm bowl and fresh bread. The whole house was enveloped in the earthy-sweetness of simmering leeks & garlic. Some people burn sage to turn negative energy into good. I cook leeks. And drink wine.

There's something truly magical about leaving a pot cooking all day, filling the house with music and watching the fog roll in across the Twin Peaks hilltops. There's something incredible about living with, and a few houses from, close friends. There's something to be said for slowing down...and staying home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Photography Site Is Live!

...don't forget to check back with the Urban Miracles blog for more inspiring happenings around the world...

But in the mean time, my very own photography website is live and in need of some open eyes and tender hearts to view it.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Photography Show This Weekend!

Thanks to San Francisco's MAPP organization, which I've blogged about previously, I have my very first opportunity to host my own photography show this weekend.

My space will be at Harrison and 24th St. -- stop by the Red Poppy Art House around 7pm to get a "MAPP" of the participating locations/studios and you'll be directed to my spot (there are 17 total).

Pending a dry evening, the show will be in a lovely garden, surrounded by twinkle lights, candles & a cozy chiminea. My new friend Jorge will be providing the live jazz/world music with a group of his friends.

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

20 Slides x 20 Seconds

You can say anything you want. It's great if you stick to the evening's theme. It's fine if you don't. You get 20 slides at 20 seconds each. 6 minutes total. Not a second more.

That's the structure for Pecha Kucha.

Last night, I had the chance to experience my very first Pecha Kucha night here in San Francisco. Pronounced "pay-cha-ka-cha", Pecha Kucha nights were born in 2003 by a small group of designers as a place to pitch their ideas and projects to each other within the guidelines of a short presentation infrastructure. Given how long-winded artists and designers can be about their work, the structure of the evening gives everyone a chance to have the spotlight for 6 minutes. The word Pecha Kucha means "the sound of conversation" in Japanese which aptly describes the buzz in the room of 400+ people listening to each other's ideas.

Today, Pecha Kucha nights can be found in hundreds of cities around the world and have expanded far beyond the scope of design projects. Each Pecha Kucha event centers around a certain theme, which can be used for inspiration but is in no way required. Last night's theme was "Verde, Verte" which some used as a platform to talk about urban green design projects. However, you certainly don't have to be a designer or architect to present. In fact, some of the more interesting speakers last night were photographers and community activists sharing their work that was completely unrelated to the theme. The blessing and the curse of the event is the strict 20-slides/20 seconds guideline, which gives you just enough time to pitch an idea but not enough time expand upon it and/or lose your audience's attention.

Starting a Pecha Kucha evening is fairly easy and fully supported by the organization. Most major U.S. cities already have their own Pecha Kucha chapter -- click here to see events from your city. I'm considering presenting in the next San Francisco Pecha Kucha, providing I can muster the courage to be the center of 400 people's attention for 6 entire minutes. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Come to the Table

I realize now that I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been a Slow Foodie for 27 years. I grew up in (fairly rural) Western New York with parents who really cherished family meals. I'd go with my mom to Spoth's Farmer's Market and help her pick out locally-grown produce for lunches and dinners. We prepared the meals together, each with our respective tasks (I'm a really good salad-maker, by the way). We didn't watch TV during dinner, we didn't answer the phone. We all helped clean up. But the reality is, our view towards meals was an anomaly compared to most American families. In a country that provides more fast food options than farmer's markets, that often seems like the easier path.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon the international Slow Food website. The movement, which started in 1989 in Italy, was founded "To counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." However, at the time, the movement had not gained a lot of momentum in the U.S., especially not in Florida, where I was living.

Fast forward to this past weekend, 4 years later. San Francisco was honorably chosen to host the first ever Slow Food Nation gathering in America, a huge step for the Slow Food movement and its influence on Americans. The 3-day holiday weekend was full of events that celebrated locally grown food and shared community meals. The Slow Food Tastings, held at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center, provided a rich and incredible taste of all kinds of Slow Food providers, from artisan cheeses to pickled chutneys, to local honey, to organic cucumber vodka. Each tasting station was designed by a local architect to capture the feeling and inspiration of that food group (ex: The "spirits" tasting was held under a back lit canopy of huge, white drink umbrellas, the pickle tasting was held under a cascade of gold mason jar lids, etc.).

While the Tastings were attached with a $65 ticket price, there were dozens of other free events held throughout the city. The Civic Center Plaza held the Slow Food Farmer's Market where you could talk to local farmers and providers and purchase their food. It also held the Slow Food Victory Garden, which was was planted in the spring to be harvested for this event. Victory Gardens began around World War II era and were sustainable gardens that produced food for families during times of economic and national crisis. All of the produce grown in Slow Food's modern Victory Garden was donated to food shelters in the Bay Area.

Monday was reserved for community meals, where dozens of impromptu picnics and potlucks could be found throughout the city, the largest of which was an "Eat-In" held in Dolores Park. Over 400 people gathered at the summit of the park, overlooking San Francisco's skyline, to share a potluck meal. The tickets were free - you just had to bring something to share. The (very!) long table that curved around the upper perimeter of the park and was even set with formal linens and glassware. This was not your normal urban picnic - this was truly a community celebration.

Although the Slow Food Nation events in San Francisco have come to a close, Slow Food continues to hold smaller events throughout the country, and world. Check out Slow Food USA's website for events near you. And maybe even more importantly, try giving the Slow Food founding principles a try in your daily life. Do what you can to buy from your local farmer's market, gather your friends and family and share any and all meals that you can. Turn off the TV. Let the food, music and conversation be your entertainment. Work on savoring meal time together, the one sacred place where we can combine some of our favorite things (delicious food and loved ones) into one special event, held daily.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Under the Sea at the Castro Theater

What do you get when you combine 1400 eclectic people in San Francisco's famous Castro neighborhood, a juried mermaid costume contest (for adults and children), 1400 pearl necklaces and 1400 jars of bubbles?

My friends, you get the Little Mermaid Sing Along at the Castro Theater.

Build in 1922, The Castro Theater is an impressive historic landmark here in San Francisco that has hosted Sing Along musicals, along with hundreds of other films and live events, for the last 80+ years. This past week, the theater hosted my all-time favorite cult classic, The Little Mermaid.

L and I walked into the theater without expectations. We knew we loved the movie as kids (loved the movie), so that was enough for us. When we were handed a colorful gift bag full of sparkly props at the door by "Ariel" herself, we knew we were in for a real treat.

The interior of the theater is classically grand -- the huge gold-embossed cathedral ceiling took my breath away. On the stage, an organist in a tuxedo played songs from the movie that reverberated throughout the theater. We took our seats and opened up our goody bags, happy to discover a golden paper crown and pearl necklace to wear right away. We also discovered a glow stick, party popper, small jar of bubbles, a silver plastic fork (dinglehopper) and a noisemaker/clapper thingy.

As people took their seats, I looked across the audience and found myself beaming as I gazed down upon hundreds of gold crowns.

"Ariel" got up on stage and kicked off the show, which began with a costume contest for children, followed by a costume contest for adults. The most beautiful man I've ever seen dressed up as Prince Eric. My childhood fantasy was brought back to life -- I still want to be part of his world.

Finally, after much anticipation, the show began. Ariel instructed to make as much noise as possible - whether through our singing or general "clean" commentary about the events on screen. L and I sat next to a hilariously rambunctious group of guys that didn't hold anything back, cat calling Ariel when she rescued Eric from the exploding ship ("Oh yes she DID!") and booing Ursula every time she appeared ("You are so UGLY I can't even stand it!").

We shook our plastic clappers every time Sebastian scurried across the screen, blew our bubbles when Ariel took her grand bath in Eric's castle and popped our party poppers when they FINALLY smooched at the end. Wow. 4,000 party poppers and streamers flying = magical, magical kiss.

I have to admit how touched I was by the music and lyrics of this movie, now that I'm seeing it as an adult. I didn't understand it all as a kid, even though I knew every word by heart.

I'm ready to know what the people know...ask 'em my questions and get some answers...What's a fire and why does it - what's the word? Burn? When's it my turn? Wouldn't I love, love to explore that world up above? Out of the sea...wish I could be...part of that world.

After the movie ended, all 1400 crowned men, women & kids left the theater and dispersed along Castro Street with their pearl necklaces still on. I felt like it was New Year's Eve, Halloween and my birthday all in one night. Thanks, Castro Theater, for keeping the kid alive in all of us and the part of us that believes that a true love's kiss is really all it takes.

I speak for everyone when I say that we look forward to many more Sing Along's together.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer Camp

During one of his poetry talks in Tuscany this spring, David Whyte told us a story about how his (now teenage) son used to call grown ups "growing ups" when he was a little boy. I love this. And when you think of it, that should be the real term for adults. I don't know that I'll ever reach a moment in life when I deserve the definitive title of Grown Up. I much prefer the idea of a work in progress.

So lately I've been thinking about summer camp, specifically summer camp for adults, and the idea of growing young again. Why not? I personally could use a good dose of bonfire-singing, sidewalk-chalking, finger-painting, smores-dripping, firefly-catching evenings. I want something to help bring back the magic of summer, its room for creativity, its freedom.

Over the past few years, I've been actively exploring a number or urban and rural "camps" for adults that render that feeling of the summer camps we had growing up. Those of you who shared in my Chicago chapter attended more than a few of my guitar "shows" at the Old Town School of Folk Music, one of my favorite adult camps to date. Whether you want to take an Appalachian dulcimer class, learn native African dance or simply start guitar lessons from scratch, Old Town School of Folk offers nightly and weekend classes for both adults and kids in over 50 different instruments, not to mention vocals, dance, yoga and a multitude of ensembles. They also offer the option to rent instruments from their on site store, "A Different Strummer" so you don't need to commit to a huge investment if you're just experimenting. Classes are held in groups - about 20 people in each class. Each class session ends with a collaborative "group jam session" in the main auditorium where all levels of practice have the opportunity to play and sing together. I've never met a more eclectic, happy and caring group of folks in one spot.

On a slightly different note, I've recently become pretty involved in the Laughing Lotus Yoga community in San Francisco, a relatively new yoga studio in the Mission (16th St. at Dolores). Laughing Lotus was started by Jasmine Tarkeshi and Dana Flynn in New York where their original set of studios still thrives. Here at their newer San Francisco location, every 90-minute session feels like an afternoon at summer camp. We eat animal crackers, drink tea, sing songs and jump around the studio like 8 year-olds. I'm consistently amazed at how fun the teachers at Laughing Lotus can make a class while still providing the spiritual and physical guidance we come to yoga for. Laughing Louts also offers a series of retreats throughout the year if you want to have a longer time away. I haven't tried any of the retreats yet, but the most recent one, "Ring Around the Redwoods" took place in Mendocino (north of San Francisco on the coast) and included an on site vegetarian cook, masseuse, daily hikes and morning and nightly yoga.

A friend of mine recently passed along information for Esalen, an adult learning center in Big Sur that's perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In addition to its aesthetic beauty (seaside gardens, natural hot springs, etc.), Esalen offers hundreds of continuing education courses for adults, ranging in topics from writing to massage to organic gardening. The length of classes varies but many are held over a long weekend. Lodging is available on site (you can choose from dorm-style or single room). I hope to check this place out next month, if for no other reason than to sit with these people in the hot tub.

Lastly, time and funding permitting this autumn, I'm planning a pilgrimage to the John Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, one of the original folks schools in the United States. Located in western North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the John Campbell Folk School was founded in 1925 by John Campbell and his family and is based off the folkehojskole (folk school) model from rural Denmark. More than a hundred years ago, these "schools for life" helped transform the Danish countryside into a vibrant, creative force. Similar to the original intention of the schools, the Campbell family designed the folk school in Brasstown as an alternative to the higher-education facilities that drew young people away from the family farms and community.

Today, the John Campbell Folk School has evolved into a nationally-recognized cultural center and offers year-round week long and weekend classes for adults in craft, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography and writing. A week in the Blue Ridge mountains at the folk school looks like good living to me -- 3 homemade meals a day, cozy lodging on the property (with the option to camp), day-long classes and plenty of gorgeous scenery. I should also mention the weekly barn dances and concerts, which bring together visitors and members of the local community in celebration of music and movement. It doesn't get much better than that.

There are still a few weeks left of summer and a long gorgeous fall ahead of us -- both are the perfect time to explore your own idea of adult summer camp. It doesn't have to be a week long, expensive commitment. Even buying a new set of watercolor paints and some apple juice can qualify. Report back with what transpires.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Secret Gardens

Last weekend in New York, I spent most of Saturday morning wandering around the lower half of Manhattan - poking in the Chelsea Antique Markets, sipping coffee at Cafe Habana in Nolita, perusing the shops in the West Village. It's always a treat to find yourself in New York without a schedule, without the needing-to-be-there-by-this-time-to-make-this-reservation, etc. After I few hours of wandering though, I started to grow a bit weary from the stimulation. I also found myself trying to make a plan, even though no plan was really needed. In life, I have found that this is generally a setup for failure. What I should have done was taken a nap. However, my new plan was to take the F train to Brooklyn and explore a few neighborhoods that my friends lived in, which I hadn't done before. And so.

I got off the train at Atlantic Ave. and the sun was brutual. It was somehow 20* hotter in Brooklyn than the rest of New York. The concrete was radiating heat, horns were honking, kids were screaming. I fumbled around at the intersection, looking for my map and sunglasses trying to not drop my camera, ipod or iced tea. I could feel my patience exiting and the exhaustion kicking in. I was totally over Brooklyn before I even left the subway station.

As if on cue, I looked to my right and saw a small chalkboard sign perched against a long concrete wall that read "Your Garden is Open! Come on in and smell the flowers and sit in the shade." I climbed through a small entry way in the gray wall and discovered a tiny Narnia inside. Yellow daisies and cheerful marigolds lined the miniature walkway. Honey bees were humming along from flower to flower. Butterflies fluttered around my feet. A small canpoy of vines provided shade for a little kiddie pool and set of chairs so you could cool off your feet and read awhile. There was also a small plot of tomato plants and string beans and a wooden bench under a big maple tree. I sat down and rested, cooled off, soaked in the quiet. This place was an oasis. I'd gone from hell to heaven in 30 seconds flat.

I later did some research to see what saintly people were responsible for this magical place. Much to my delight, I discovered a dozen or more community garden groups in Brooklyn alone. Credit for this particular garden probably goes to the New York Restoration Project, which operates under the belief that greenspace in neighborhoods is fundamental to the quality of life and something that everyone deserves to have access to. Also to my delight, I discovered that program was founded by Bette Midler, who plays an active role in keeping the community gardens alive and thriving. The organization has reclaimed over 400 acres of under-resourced or rundown parkland in the last decade - no small feat given the limited open space in New York.

I also came across another amazing site called OASIS New York, which is a sort of hand-made map search engine that you can use to locate the closest greenspace to you. OASIS, which stands for New York City Open Accessible Space Information System Cooperative, partners with more than 30 federal, state, and local agencies, private companies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations to create this one-stop, interactive mapping site. The site provides dozens of city maps, identifying anything from the closest community garden to ideal bird-watching spots on the harbor.

Although most of us don't call New York home at the moment, I think the idea behind these programs and websites is critical in creating and maintaining the greenspace in our own cities and communities. Below are a few sites that might inspire those of us outside NY:

I should note that Brooklyn continued to romance me that afternoon and we're now on fantastic terms, great friends even. I'm thankful for her warm welcome at the Atlantic Ave. community garden and for the inspiration to seek out similar spaces in the world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ourspace (A Tribute to Frida)

It comes with the territory. Living in a popular, metropolitan city often means tight living/creative spaces, high rent prices and a general sense of restriction when it comes to living large and out loud. A city notorious for its cost of living, San Francisco is no stranger to these challenges. What continues to amaze me though, is what blooms in this city despite the confinement.

This summer, I've been attending quite a few performances at the Red Poppy Art House, an incredible artists' space in the heart of the Mission district. The Red Poppy hosts everything from flamenco workshops, to Brazilian jazz concerts to oil painting lessons for kids. Housed in the bottom studio apartment of an old red Victorian, it's a space that is as ethereal as it is practical. By day, it's a working artist residency and classroom. By night, it is magically transformed with candles, cushions and chiffon streamers into a lively performance space that is almost always filled to capacity. I love that they never insist on a cover charge (a donation is always encouraged). It's art by the people for the people.

On a similar note, Red Poppy Art House works alongside another amazing San Francisco organization - MAPP: The Mission Arts and Performance Project, which has also caught my attention lately. MAPP's main goal is to encourage residents to transform their garage and outdoor spaces into living art galleries. They emphasize that art doesn't need to be formally housed in galleries - rather, putting it at a more basic accessible level can change the health of our society.

This past weekend, Red Poppy and MAPP teamed up to host a Frida Kahlo tribute that took place alongside the huge Frida exhibit that opened June 18 at the SFMOMA. Among many other smaller performances, the tribute was tied together with a moveable performance space in which "Frida" traveled from studio to studio on her bed, carried by friends and family, just like she was carried into her final gallery opening. Kelly and I were lucky enough to catch the show as it passed through the Red Poppy Art House and even played an "active" role in helping to get the makeshift performance space into the studio. Once we did, we listened to prayers in Spanish, watched sage burn, felt live drums reverberate the floorboards and paid homage to the amazing artist.

I'm in awe of the folks in this neighborhood who keep a space like Red Poppy alive and becoming equally inspired to get involved and to contribute to it. Maybe that can be a small goal in accordance with this blog -- to deeper explore the Urban Miracles within MAPP and give whatever I can, even if it's just a few brush strokes a month. If you live in the Bay Area, I hope to see you there very soon. It is, afterall, our city, our art and ultimately our space to create together.

(photo courtesy of Todd Brown)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Divine Post-Its

This is what I want to believe: There are messages written all over the world that are meant for each of us, for our own eyes, for just the right time.

It's like when you pull a book off the shelf while dusting and happen to open to the dog-eared corner of the page that holds the poem you first fell in love to, and nudged in the crease of that page is the receipt of two glasses of sangria from last December and the address of an old friend you've since lost. The next thing you know, you've stumbled back into yourself, into your memory, into your own heart.

I'm trying to do a better job of noticing these little divine post-its. Sometimes I leave things on purpose for myself to find - in books, journals, handbags, my guitar case. More often though, I comb the streets of my city to see what others are leaving. After all, these street messages are meant for me too and anyone else with the eyes to see them. I've been carrying my camera with me on walks and on my commute hoping that it forces me into awareness.

Last spring, I had to make a decision whether or not to move back to California. I spent a long April weekend in San Francisco just roaming the streets, visiting my old favorite nooks, trying to locate the pulse of the city again and determine whether it matched my own heartbeat at that time. Also around that time, an anonymous street artist was making sidewalk stamps and leaving messages all over the city. They were stamped in dozens of places - at bus stops, next to the burrito shop, on tennis courts. With each walk and each uncovered stamp, I started to feel the pulse again.

After that trip, I returned home to Chicago with a continued desire to find more messages. That same week, I came across one of my favorite post-it's to-date on the side of a rusty old dumpster:

As I write this on a foggy, summer San Francisco evening, you all know how the story unfolded. And I'm still seeking and finding dozens of new messages every month, many of them here, but many on my journeys elsewhere too. Even if you don't live in a big city, these post-its can still reach you. Go ahead - dust the bookshelf. Open the old wallet tucked in the dresser drawer. Take a long walk. Start looking. Start seeing. Even a dilapidated gas station sign can be a divine post-it: The words "Fill Up" are still saying something.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hundreds of Ways (one urban cowboy)

Last Sunday in Chicago, my karma came due. Yes, I was "cosmically selected" among thousands to be rescued by an urban cowboy (read: taxi driver). This wasn't just any ol' taxi driver, this was The Singing Cab Driver of Chicago, otherwise known as Mr. Ray St. Ray. I had just said goodbye to E in Wicker Park and flagged down an ordinary-looking cab to take me back to L's for the night. I slipped inside the door and the driver turned towards me with a wide-eyed, kooky smile and shouted "Where to?!". "Clark and Arlington," I smiled cautiously. "Follow me!" he shouted again in his best stage voice. I couldn't help but giggle. This was the beginning.

A few minutes into the ride, he asked me if I'd like to hear him sing a song (was there an option other than 'yes'?). He turned around with that same crazy grin and said, "Please choose your theme: Love! Sex! Social Significance! Other!" I chose "Love!" which led him to rattle off 4 additional sub-categories, including "Romance!" "Non-Committal!" "Breakup!" "Friendship!". I chose "Non-Committal!" (I need not get into the reasons here). For the next 10 minutes, Ray St. Ray, who introduced himself via musical interlude between songs, sang me 3 original songs (he has 98), all of which featured an incredible array of special sound effects, including cat's meows, drums, and what I think might have been an accordion imitation.

I asked Ray St. Ray if he sang for everyone and he said, "Anyone who I think will appreciate it, which is about 98% of the population." In his estimation, he has sung to over 55,000 passengers in the Chicago area alone. Ray's dream is to have his own TV show or movie where his interactions with passengers are documented and the stories are brought to life on the big screen. Ray says that driving his cab and singing and composing songs is his version of the American Daydream. His goal is to live a life that he would want to read a book about.

I am still thinking about him, that ride, and one guy's total commitment to making what he does matter, even if it's driving 10 city blocks in downtown Chicago. We could have sat in silence for those 10 minutes. But he's taking an ordinary, fairly mundane job and turning it around to bring a little more light to the world. I want to live more that way. I want to see my own work in that light.

When it was time to leave, Ray St. Ray turned around with a slightly softer voice and said, "I've treasured our time together! Now you must go into the night!" He handed me a lemon-yellow postcard with his photo on it, along with information on his band, blog, hot line and Myspace page. This is the 21st century, after all. But you can't call him and request him - it must remain a cosmically selective process who is picked up by Ray St. Ray.

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you:
The amazing Singing Cab Driver. May your lives one day be graced with a ride on his urban horse.


"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

-- Rumi

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Littlewood's Law (waking up)

It all started with this random theory I came across a few months ago on Wikipedia:

Littlewood's Law states that individuals can expect a miracle to happen to them at the rate of about one per month.

According to Wiki, "Littlewood's law can be explained as follows: A miracle is defined as an exceptional event of special significance occurring at a frequency of one in a million. During the hours in which a human is awake and alert, a human will experience one thing per second (for instance, seeing the computer screen, the keyboard, the mouse, the article, etc.). Additionally, a human is alert for about eight hours per day. As a result, a human will, in 35 days, have experienced, under these figures, approximately 1,008,000 things. Accepting this definition of a miracle, one can be expected to observe at least one miraculous occurrence within the passing of every 35 consecutive days -- and therefore, according to this reasoning, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace."

I love this.


I'm back in San Francisco after over 3 weeks of travel. My heart feels like it might explode from the amount it took in: A handful of summer nights in New York, the entire country of Ireland, a stormy Chicago weekend, solstice sunrise in the Marin headlands and back again. I've been collecting stories, miracles, secret places, antique keys, songs, polaroid pictures, quirky cab drivers, rare instruments and summer cherries. In the days to come, I hope to share them with you.

I'm starting this blog in hopes of making an active pursuit of witnessing the small (and huge) graces I experience in San Francisco and around the world. I hope that through my posts, adventure ideas, stories and photographs, you'll be inspired to experience these (and your own) "miracle" moments in your own city or wherever your travels may find you.

From the random sparkling sidewalks outside my office in San Francisco, to a famous "singing taxi driver" in Chicago, to a field wrapped in double rainbows in Ireland, I'm taking notes. I'm waking up.

Welcome inside.