Chicago will always be my home, sweet home, but these past eight years in California have been so full of marvels, so jam-packed with fun and fascination -- well, this place become home as well. California has impressed me, amazed me, dumbfounded me, and kept me on my toes everyday. It's true what they say: nothing comes close to the golden coast! Here are a few little stories about experiences that felt, at least to me, an outsider, so California...
The First Time I Saw Pomegranates Growing Shortly after moving to San Francisco, I was walking from the Mission to the Castro home of my friend Cheri (a floral designer for Taste Catering), enjoying all the little peeks into people's gardens. In one, I was amazed to spot a petite tree heavy with pomegranates, and rushed to tell Cheri and her roommates. California girls one and all, they were less than impressed. "And?..." I thought it best not to tell them how giddy I'd been a month earlier when I saw a lemon tree for the first time..
The First Time I Smelled A Eucalyptus Tree While on our way up to Twin Peaks the other day, a visiting friend from Illinois asked if I remembered the first moment I was aware of all the eucalyptus trees growing around town. I did! It was about a year after I moved to San Francisco, and as I approached Miette Confiserie, where I was working at the time, the air was thick with the smell of something menthol-like. Had a tanker truck of Vick's VapoRub overturned in Hayes Valley? Hours later when I popped around the corner on an errand, I saw the cause: a storm the night before had knocked an enormous limb from a eucalyptus tree, and it remained on the sidewalk. I couldn't believe how powerful the scent was, how it permeated the air. I'm transported back to that day every time I smell eucalyptus.
Seeing A Magnolia Tree In Bloom On Christmas Eve Last year, I was able to travel home at Christmas, a rare opportunity in my chosen fields of pastry and flowers. As I ran my last-minute errands on December 24th before catching my flight, I walked under a magnolia tree loaded with dinner plate-sized blossoms. My parents have a magnolia tree in their front yard, and its blooming is quite an event, signaling the end (we always hope) of another long, hard Chicago winter. To see one blooming so outrageously as I prepared to join my loved ones in -19ºF weather was a little California Christmas treat just for me.
We're Not Closed, I Promise Over the years, I've worked in a lot of shops: bakeries, florists, grocery stores, gift shops, art galleries, and candy shops, in five cities in four states. Only in California does the following happen: the shop door is closed due to inclement weather, but the lights are on, music is playing, I'm working, customers are shopping, it's during the posted business hours, and the Open sign says "Open." Every single new customer that comes along will see the closed shop door and either turn away (leaving me to run out and catch them) or pop their head in and say "Oh, you're closed." Not closed, just cold! At first this local quirk drove me crazy -- after all, customers are an essential and fun part of working in a shop -- but now I find it endearing, if a bit mysterious. Any insight would be welcome!
Gorgeous Local Produce, Year-Round I've been spoiled forever by the produce I've had access to here. A friend of mine in Chicago gets a CSA box, and when I visited her last spring, I asked what kind of goodies she'd been getting. "Lettuce, pretty much just lettuce. But it's really nice lettuce." I didn't have the heart to tell her about the wonders available at our farmers' markets every month of the year, or a little something called "local avocados." It would have been too cruel.
"I'm Designing An Electronic Bracelet For Babies" That's pretty much the whole story. A customer at Birch, where I was doing floral design, announced that to me, unprompted. All I could think was "Oh, California..."
Time Travel In The Redwoods The first time I visited the redwood forests was 10 years ago, on a road trip down from Portland. I will never forget the feeling of walking into another time, an ancient untouched world where I was dwarfed by ferns; don't even get me started on the trees. It was a magical, peaceful moment, one I wish everyone got to experience. But even if a trip to Redwood National Park isn't possible, a quick visit to Muir Woods can offer a taste of that magic. Sure, there's a gift shop and you'll have lots of company on the trail, but it's still utterly astounding. I was able to visit Muir Woods with my parents recently, and they were so moved. They shook all the park rangers' hands, telling them, "We were at the very first Earth Day and it's a dream come true to be here. Thank you." Redwoods, even redwoods right down the road, are the biggest and possibly best only-in-California example I can think of.
What are some of your favorites?