• Bug,  heavy on photos,  photography,  travel

    A Birthday Trip to San Francisco


    Wow. I think I started editing the photos for this post at about 10:30 this morning, and now here it is 5 pm and I’m just now getting started on writing it. Sheesh! (Of course, many breaks were taken for various other jobs and chores but still! This took me all day!!!) AND I’m two weeks behind in writing it!!! Fail, Brenda, fail!


    We all know blogging is not at the top of my list anymore, no matter how much I want it to be. It’s been a busy month, but this is good! I’m working! I’m working like a maniac and paying the bills! Woot! Woot!

    Let’s talk about Bug’s Birthday Trip to San Francisco!

    As you probably know, I was supposed to take her to Paris on her 16th birthday. That didn’t happen. Then she turned seventeen, and well…I turned my life upside down, so seventeen was not the year to go to Paris either. We might never make it to Paris but I’m still saving just in case. I think 21 might be the year.

    When I asked Bug where she wanted to go this year, she said Seattle because we had such a fantastic time there last year. Bug is not one to take risks. If she likes something, she likes to stick to it. It took some convincing to get her to visit a new city, but I pulled it off. Of course, Matt being in San Francisco was a motivator for me (and he helped us with some of the expenses), but that was not a factor for Bug. This was a trip for Bug, not for mom and her new boyfriend.


    The rain did not help my case. Seattle is known for rain, but San Francisco brought the rain this year. Poor Bug. Her birthday is in January, and the weather is always a tricky variable. She says she wants to go to Australia next year for a pool party on her birthday. I say maybe we should start celebrating her half-birthday instead. Mama ain’t got no money for Australia.

    The rain doesn’t scare me if I don’t have to drive in it. I love rain. I said this before in other posts. I love the rain because it brings out a different side of the world. Streets are shiny, people wear boots and bundle up and pop open colorful umbrellas. It’s fun to be inside and cozy. Holding a warm cup of coffee is a leisure sport. There are lots of things to love about the rain. I convinced Bug that we’d find a way to make this trip fun no matter where we ended up. She was skeptical.


    And the rain sure did its part to rain on my parade. It was just a doozy. Gray skies, incessant drizzle for days, damp everything, Bug’s shoes cracked, and water got in her soles… I was fighting an uphill battle to make San Francisco fun.


    While completely charming inside and decorated brilliantly, our hotel was on the edge of the poorer side of town, and it was hard not to be aware of how precarious our privilege is. When we walked up the two blocks from BART, past Union Square, to our hotel, homeless people scuffled around us everywhere. San Francisco is so depressing these days. All the hustle and bustle of business has gone elsewhere (tech is all working from home now), and all who are left are clueless tourists or sick and/or mentally ill homeless. The homeless situation is heartbreaking. So many people are suffering. Everyone was out in the cold.


    Except us. We were warm and cozy in our fancy hotel. I don’t want to make this post about our privilege and how little we did to help the people in need around us (though we did give buskers money and homeless people leftover food when we could…), but it’s impossible to talk about San Francisco and not bring it up. Maybe it’s like this in all big cities these days. I don’t know.

    I’m a massive fan of the Palisociety. I know they are doing everything possible to restore charming old buildings and bring customers into neighborhoods that desperately need money. I think they are doing a great job. I love staying with them. I love their attention to detail and style. Everything they do is beautifully done. It’s just San Francisco is significantly challenged. Do you know what the biggest problem is? Staffing. The restaurant inside the hotel was completely furnished with amazing velvet banquets and large windows with beautiful curtains. The tables were even set! Yet, it was closed because no one worked in it. It’s a crazy problem. In Southern California, we have many people looking for work, but in San Francisco, you can’t get anyone to work. I don’t want to get political, and I know this is edging dangerously close, but I want to say if you need work, maybe consider the bay area? Housing is not as expensive as it used to be! It’s even cheaper than where I live. Gasp!

    So yeah, look at that wallpaper. I love it!


    Thankfully Bug loved it too. The neighborhood, not so much.


    We did find the cutest bagel/sandwich shop around the corner in Nob Hill: The Beanstalk Cafe.  Bug loved it, and we even went back another day. Their cups were really nice handmade ceramic and the bread was amazing. I think all bread in San Francisco is amazing. Something about the fog…



    Right away we did the most touristy things ever. Bug’s choice! I wanted to show her the side streets and less beaten path since I’ve been there so many times but she wanted to ride a trolley car and next thing you know we were at Fisherman’s Wharf!


    Fisherman’s Wharf! I hate Fisherman’s Wharf and all the touristy crap you can buy there. I have many memories of going there as a child and freezing to death. But it was a little more fun as a grown-up with my own kid tagging along. I even bought a pink foam donut refrigerator magnet. Who am I??


    Of course, we had to say hi to the sea lions. They have their own attraction now which was new to me. Way to go, Pier 39! I’ve always loved the sea lions as they bask in the pretend sunshine that is not sunshine at all but actually cold frigid breezes that sneak through the holes in your sweaters and coats and chill to the bone.


    I convinced Bug to check out North Beach and visit my favorite bookstore. She was not impressed. I guess kids don’t read anymore now that they can be entertained day and night by the tiny televisions they hold in their hands. I don’t even know why I like bookstores so much since I don’t let myself buy any new books until I conquer the leaning tower of books on my bedside. I do read a lot still but most of it these days I tackle in half-hour chunks while I’m walking the dog via Audible or on long drives to visit my parents. So we breezed through looking at the exciting history of this famous bookstore, picking up a random book on poetry, checking out the latest cover art… but we bought nothing.


    Then on to the next great event: Pizza! You can’t visit North Beach without having pizza, it’s the best. I’m still not clued in on who’s is the best, so we ended up in a random Italian Eatery that was great, but it might not be the one everyone raves about. Bug, and I thought it was delicious.


    It cemented what Bug and I like to do best on our little adventures: Eat. We are foodies! Not extreme foodies, but we love finding little tucked-away cafes and splurging on treats.

    Like Cafe Trieste! I stopped here for a cappuccino with Matt last time I was here and had to show Bug. It’s just too quaint and exactly like Italy!Bugs-17th-Bday-Trip-to-SF-16

    I have trained Bug to enjoy coffee (though she prefers matcha) and cannolis. That’s the whole reason I wanted a kid in the first place, right??


    The next day I took her to The Haight. Another fail. We went too early, and everything was closed up and sad. It was gray and rainy, and it was nothing like the lively scene I loved so much in the 90s when I went to college in Hayward. There were no street vendors selling necklaces or artwork. There weren’t even any bums selling pot! Not that I was looking for that, but it was a ghost town. Nobody but rich people walking their dogs.


    Bored of Haight Ashbury, we wandered down the panhandle of Golden Gate Park and hit up the Conservatory.


    These giant blocks amused us, as did the mushy puddles everywhere. Good thing Bug has great rainboots, but even they were a pain after a lot of walking and gave her blisters.


    We loved the Conservatory. We love plants, and it was a maze of rare and exotic finds. The humid air, the Victorian walkway, the moss, and the little peak-away hideouts. It’s just splendid! Bug’s dad and I used to always daydream about building an atrium in our mansion someday and letting our finches fly around it. Bug seems to have not fallen far from the tree with those dreams.


    I mean, how could she not with all that green everywhere?


    Green, green, my world is green. Green is my world when I’m without you. I mean, with you…


    Outside the Conservatory were these crazy scraggly trees that Bug tried to imitate in some kind of interpretive dance.


    We walked on to the big ferris wheel and shelled out several dollars for a nice view of the bad weather. It was okay. Just more rain and more rain from a different perspective.


    We found the toppled statues interesting and read up on how the rarely sung fourth verse of our national anthem is racist. (!) Then we stopped at a taco truck for some weird tacos with bean-stuffed tortillas that burned my mouth. I had no idea what panuchos were. It sounded like a bad word, so I tried it like a fool. They were somewhat good, but I lost my taste after the first taco scalded me.


    After that, Bug wanted to see the wave organ she had heard about on TikTok, so we ubered off to that. What did we ever do before Uber? The Uber driver had no idea what the wave organ was and thought we were crazy lost tourists asking to be dropped off at a parking lot. But TikTok was right. We found it, and well… it didn’t make much sound. I’m not sure the wave organ works. Or maybe it was just too high of a tide. Or maybe we didn’t listen hard enough.


    It was cool, though, and we had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge in a soft mist of rain and fog.


    After that, we were chilled, so we ubered back to our hotel and sought out some local Thai food. Thai food never disappoints.


    You knew I’d see Matt eventually on this trip. I snuck off early in the morning on Sunday and had coffee with him, and then we all went to Alcatraz together!


    Matt bought us tickets. It was a real treat. Also cold and gray and a bit depressing but very interesting.


    Some of my friends have found Alcatraz to be very disturbing, and I can see what they are saying, but the true crime history buff in me loves to hear the old stories. Some of them are very dark. Humans are capable of great suffering and torture. What got to me was the recorded voices of some of the inmates when they mentioned listening to the chatter of parties across the bay on a quiet night. I guess I never really put myself in their place until I heard that bit. It’s such a cold island, and the water is so chilly and unforgiving. It’s hard to get supplies back and forth, but people having parties were just a wind blow away…


    We rode more trolley cars and even a streetcar for the rest of the afternoon. Bug found number 17 and posed next to it for posterity. Matt took us out to a fancy dinner that night right next to the bay bridge, but I didn’t take any pictures!


    Thankfully Matt got some on his phone. What a treat! Lemon bar treat!

    We were supposed to leave to go home the next day at 9 am but then the sun came out and…


    We just couldn’t leave! We didn’t feel like we really got to see San Francisco in a good light. In the sun, it seemed like such a more fun place to be. So I got on our airline’s website and pushed our flight back to that evening. It was the best decision. We had time for another foodie breakfast, and then we headed off to The Mission, a place I hadn’t been able to squeeze in.


    The Mission was great. Right away, we found thrift stores! and a chocolate shop! Even though the chocolate shop was terrific and the chocolate desserts were true works of art, I ordered something I didn’t love. It turns out I’m not as much of a cinnamon fan as I thought, and the Mexican mocha hit the back of my throat just the wrong way.  Next time I’ll choose something better. But the smells alone were a pleasure.


    Of course, we found another place to eat. Dim Sum this time. I wasn’t starving after my chocolate fudgery so I ordered a lettuce wrap while Bug had these excellent potstickers (that I failed to photograph) and some hot green tea that she turned into iced tea by ordering a cup of ice on the side.


    Some more thrift store lurking and graffiti photographing was all we could fit in before it was time to uber back to the airport to head home. It wasn’t our most favorite birthday trip, but it was definitely an adventure, and we both agreed we’d love to come back in better weather. Them’s the breaks when you have a birthday in January!

    Next up: Green matcha vanilla cake with raspberries at home!

    (If I ever get around to posting about it, that is.)


  • Bug,  sewing catastrophes

    The Dress That Nearly Killed Me


    I’ve been writing on this blog for so long I can’t remember what I’ve shared and what I haven’t. Have I shared how much of a fan of Project Runway I am? I probably have. I’m a HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE fan. It’s my favorite reality show EVER and every time it’s on I am glued to it, commenting my opinions about every piece of clothing that is made. I don’t care about any drama. I’m there for the creativity. Every time it’s on I say, I wish I was on that show too. I really do.

    I may have missed my calling when I didn’t go to fashion design school and chose to study journalism at a state school instead. I often wonder how my life would have turned out if I had chosen that path. Did I tell you how I almost went to FIDM? Yep. I almost did. But I didn’t. At the last minute, I changed my mind because I didn’t think I was good enough to get a job and I was worried I’d end up in retail working at Clothestime for the rest of my life with a huge debt.


    So when Bug showed me this picture I thought in my tiny  I-think-I-could-be-a-fashion-designer head, “I can do that! We just create a bodice, overlay some lace, sew some ribbons on top to look like boning, add a tulle skirt and some ribbons for straps, and tah-dah, DESIGNER DRESS!”


    What I did not know at the time of looking at the above photo is that THAT designer dress cost $4,900 and probably for a good reason. I cannot make that dress. It’s not as easy as it looks. I am full of crap and I need to be taken down a notch or two.

    (I need to insert here that the dress that Joon is wearing on the right is my dress that we decided to Frankenstein into a skirt for this dress. It was a mistake but I’ll get to that later.)


    And so I was taken down a notch or two.

    First I created a bodice out of the only off-white fabric I had on hand: wool felt. It wasn’t a bad choice. It draped nicely on Bug’s body and held its form but it wasn’t the best for fitting because it does have some give and it can stretch out. I must have draped and pinned and sewed and ripped and repinned and re-sewed that wool felt a million times. Making a bodice with a shelf to hold very small a-cup boobs was much more difficult than I realized. I did it wrong about four thousand times.

    Maybe now would be a good time to admit I don’t really know how to sew properly. I know how to use my sewing machine and I do make things from time to time but I’m not actually a seamstress with a working knowledge of how to construct clothing. I tinker. I alter already-made clothes and I can whip together a pillow or even a stuffed owl but I have never really followed a pattern successfully or really made anything fitted outside of a couch cover that was admittedly pretty wonky.


    After the four-thousand ill-fated attempts at the bodice, I decided to ask my mom for help. I also came down with a cold during this time and developed a five-alarm sinus infection.  But nothing could stop me from finishing this dress.


    Not even a teenager who has self-diagnosed herself with misophonia could stop me from finishing but believe me she almost did. She just about broke me with this project.

    Let’s talk about misophonia. It’s an uncontrollable anger over sounds. Yes, sounds. Bug can go from perfectly pleasant to break-down-on-the-floor weeping over the sounds of someone eating or putting the dishes away too loudly. It happens when she’s hungry or having PMS. She’s impossible. Everything sets her off and asking her to stand still to be fitted in a dress is like asking a rabid squirrel to sit nicely and have a tea party.  It’s crazy-making.

    Bug tries really hard to control her anger but she doesn’t always win. During PMS week she is a wreck. And the thing with these mental illnesses is that you can’t really accommodate them. The more I accommodate, the worse she gets until she’ll be living like a hermit peeing in a jar. I say this because I have experience with this. Her dad has it.

    It was probably one of the reasons why our marriage didn’t work. It’s very hard to live with someone who is so sensitive to sound they are constantly in a bad mood.   I never really understood Toby and how angry he would get until I had a daughter develop the same irrational sensitivities.

    The difference is that Bug knows this about her dad. She’s seen misophonia in action all her life. She might have even learned it this way. She’s had her feelings hurt from her dad’s sudden outbursts many many times so she knows not to act this way. It’s just a lot harder to do when it’s happening than you realize. Bug tries so hard to stay calm and often retreats to her room in tears instead of venting her anger. Her friends don’t understand her. Her own family doesn’t understand her. I barely understand her and we are the closest. She tells me everything and my heart breaks for her when she tries to explain the hell that she is in because sounds set her off.

    We are on a three-month waiting list to speak to a child psychologist about this and we probably will have a whole toolbox of coping mechanisms soon but presently we are just bumbling through.

    Thankfully with this mental illness also comes lots of mental brilliance. Bug is incredibly talented and artistic as you already know. She has a lot of creative outlets for her frustrations and she finds joy in many many things. It’s just the down days that are hard.


    Unfortunately, life does not schedule around down days. Sometimes you have to sew dresses when you are suffering from PMS, misophonia, AND a sinus infection that feels like a tent stake is being hammered through your eye socket and into your teeth.

    Eventually, it came together. Meanwhile, Bug dyed her converse dark burgundy to go with. Color will always keep Bug happy. She even created a tiktok video about it that kinda-sorta went viral.


    Sadly her converse faded to pink but I think they still looked cute. I love that wearing heels is no longer in fashion. Good riddance to sore feet and dancing barefoot, I say. Tennis shoes are way better for dancing.


    Also, sadly, the dress didn’t live up to either of our standards. The skirt was too heavy-looking for the delicate top. I thought I was going to add more heavy black lace to the chest to create that milkmaid look but Bug was over it and not going to sit for another fitting. We fudged the waistband by adding a lace strip but it just didn’t quite hit the mark. The bottom was way too chunky for the top. I should have remade the skirt in tulle and skipped re-using my old dress but at this point, it was too late. We had no more days to sew.

    I should also note that a teenager who doesn’t like to stand up straight doesn’t really help a dress look its best but I think she was slouching because she didn’t feel confident in the dress and I get that.

    I understand this because my mom used to make me dresses when I was a teenager and many of them didn’t turn out.  We would pick out a pattern together and I’d pick the fabric.  Invariably I’d pick the wrong kind of fabric and the dress that looked so graceful and flattering on the model on the pattern envelope would look stiff and thick and awkward on me. Then my mom’s feelings would be hurt when I shoved the dress to the back of my closet and refused to wear it.  So much love and time is invested in handmade clothing and so many times those investments are not returned. It’s hard.

    So I forgive Bug for not standing up straight. I get it. I’m just surprised and flattered she actually wore it to the dance.


    In certain angles it is a very pretty dress.  It’s definitely something I am proud of. I tried to do something really hard with limited experience and looks okay. It’s not great. I wish I could re-make it with a new princess style skirt and maybe I will someday.


    I’m so proud that she wore it. She even told her friends that she made it, even though she didn’t actually sew a stitch. But if you count all the hours of sitting around in pokey-pins and all the decisions that she yayed or nayed, she was very much a part of it’s construction. It was a joint effort.


    She did end up wearing her boyfriend’s jacket over it but I don’t care. She wore it.  We made it together.


    And she had a good time.

    Now I just need to find some sewing classes to attend because I don’t think this fashion designing bug is going away anytime soon. It didn’t kill me.

Secret Agent Josephine
Creative Agency
© Brenda Ponnay