Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Funerals

I sat in the BLT sanctuary at the synagogue of my childhood, my brother to my left, my husband to my right. The rabbi offered a few words of introduction and consolation, and then friends and family spoke of Ben, the long-time family friend who died too soon.

We celebrated his life at the synagogue, the one my parents have belonged to for 36 years, the synagogue that no longer resembles the building where I learned my prayers during my single digit years. The place where I chanted those prayers alongside Ben's daughter.

The scale tipped heavily toward death this week.

Ben survived the mother of his children by 11 years. Our parents shared a friendship spanning four decades, the same four decades his daughter and I have been friends.

And then another friend's brother died. In his 30s. In a car accident.

This event gave me an opportunity to tread in new territory: an LDS house of worship. Surprisingly, the service wasn't very different than Ben's memorial. The church was packed with people supporting a family which had long been active in the community. A bit of prayer. A eulogy that made us laugh and made us cry. A peek into the life of someone who died too young, touched those around him and left seven siblings behind.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that these two events affected my mood this week. I spent more time than usual watching The Pinks sleep and counting my blessings.




Saturday, April 21, 2012

She's baaack!

My mother-in-law has just returned from her World Cruise. Fortunately for me, it ended in San Francisco so I got to tour the ship, the Crystal Serenity, when she arrived at Pier 35.

She picked a heck of a day to cruise into the San Francisco Bay. The sky was bright blue except for some fog which magically wrapped itself around the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Temps were in the upper 60s.

Dave and I had wanted to see the ship when we met up with her in Shanghai but the sparking white hotel-on-steroids was docked an hour outside of the city and we just didn't have enough time.

This is one gorgeous hunk of steel and glass! Much of it is done in Art Deco style, again, my favorite. What struck me was how beautiful the finishes are. Every space looks like it came from an Architectural-Digest-Featured home. Art is hung just so. The fabrics and textures are layered. There are no food or cleaning fluid smells. Yet the cleaning must be constant, as is the food preparation to feed 1,000 guests and who knows how many staff.

Linda showed me several restaurants: Sushi, Chinese, Italian, the main dining room, one off the main lobby, The Bistro, Lido Cafe.

We walked through at least two lounges with karaoke set ups. There was a cigar bar. A vintner's room for private dinner parties. A children and teen center. There were at least two auditoriums for seeing acts on stage. And a movie theatre.

The ship's library is beautiful -- cushy leather couches, built in hardwood shelving with glass-faced doors for English and other language books and DVDs. There's a reference librarian. The bridge room has at least a dozen tables. The computer lab easily has 20 new Macs set up classroom style and is nicer than some of the technology demo centers I've seen. The gym has at least a dozen pieces of cardio equipment in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. Plus Cybex weight machines and free weights. There was a barre studio. And an entire fridge of bottled water. Crystal Cruises bottled water.

Apparently 1/3 of the people on the World Cruise go every year. I think I understand why.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I work for a start up.

I work a lot. But not as much as I used to. I'm older and smarter now. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I've no interest in revisiting the latter two.

Working at a start up means I make things up as I go along. I iterate. I test. I brainstorm. I tweak. This is the best part.

My company recently had its annual sales kickoff, three days of high-energy, back-to-back meetings with extroverts. It was a pep rally.

Our CEO said a lot of quotable things and one that struck me the most was, "You are the first hundred employees."

I've been here before. Three times in fact.

We're special, the first hundred. We know each other's names. We do water cooler chit chat because there is only one water cooler. The first hundred employees have the biggest chance to pivot and to benefit financially.

Mike Fields, the late CEO of my second start up, had an opinion on this. He often said that the people who would benefit most from the company's success were the people like his longtime executive assistant, who would be able to buy a house, or the product manager whose child could now attend college without the burden of student loans.

The thrill of another win is enticing. But the fun that comes from trying to make it happen is why I do it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It was a Good Friday.

It was a rare day, a day The Pinks had school and I did not work. This called for celebration: a leisurely lunch of three couples in Napa. Unfortunately the husbands couldn't go so it was just us girls.

Have you been to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro? There's one in Las Vegas, another in Yountville, a third in Beverly Hills. If not, I would highly recommend it. It was just right. That's such a simple sentence but really, the decor was just right. The service was just right. The weather in Yountville was just right and I'm not sure how Keller orchestrated that part.  It took me a good 15 minutes to decide what to order. I literally wanted to taste a good two-thirds of the things on the menu. In the end I settled on rillettes au deux saumons, salade Maraichere with chevre chaud, and champignons. The rillettes came with butter on top and is served from a glass jar. One friend had the quiche and the other the scallops. We opted to hit the adjoining bakery on the way out instead of having dessert at the table. This would enable us to share some sweets with the missing husbands.

The bakery had a line out the door and down the sidewalk by the time we rolled away from the table. I came home with a turtle for the recently-braces-freed Eldest Daughter and croissants, lemon tart and a peanut butter cookie for Dave. Thing 1 at the lemon tart after school. Oops. For those of you looking for the experience with less of a time investment, the rillettes and sandwiches are for sale at the bakery. The bread is amazing. Crusty and soft inside. Tableside it is served warm.

Yountville is an hour's drive from our house and I will return soon. Very soon. Want to come?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's all about the buns.

Dave and I were back in our hotel room after a nonstop day that included leaving Shanghai for Suzhou, a city 90 minutes away, visiting the Master of the Nets Garden (a World Heritage Site!), a riverboat ride through Suzhou's old city, lunch in a filthy dirty restaurant with divine, regular-Chinese-people food, a tour of a silk factory, an acrobatics show and three hours in a car.

His reply? "The only thing we're going to remember in the end is those pork buns."

Those steamed pork buns were dang memorable. And so were the dumplings I inhaled a dozen of without regard for anyone else's interest in tasting them. This girl knows know to use chopsticks for both eating and defending her claim! Pork- and broth-filled dumplings are a Shanghai specialty. Who am I to refuse the city's best-loved dish?! We ate a lot in China.

The garden is among the best in China and it's an example of the combination of art, architecture and nature to create metaphysical masterpieces. There were a lot of rock formations in the garden and I'd never seen that before. Frankly, I didn't much care for it aesthetically. Maybe that's just how they did landscape architecture in 1140?

We enjoyed the boat ride through the canals of the old city. Here's a picture of my mother-in-law and her friend Joyce outside the city wall. I like seeing how people live (line stolen from Oprah) and this gave us some sneak peeks. Look at these mailboxes! Our guide told us that many older urban Shanghai residents, those of our parents and grandparents generations, share cooking and bathing facilities. So each family has their own apartment but without bathrooms or appliances. That's done communally.

Dave found a seriously rockin' private tour guide on Craigslist. Harris was with us the second and third days in Shanghai and without him, we would not have covered as much ground nor seen as much. In the end, though, we left our time together reminded that we are free and he is not. I'm glad we found out how he feels about North Korea at the end of our time together and not the beginning.

The silk factory tour was especially interesting given my textile fetish. The littlest Pinks did a unit on this in preschool and that's about as much as I remembered. Did you know that it takes the silk from eight silkworms to make one thread? We watched the process from worm to pupa to cocoon to dying to thread to fabric. And then we saw all the pretty things they make from silk and (surprise!) bought a duvet. I wish I'd done more shopping in China but I didn't see much I really had to have. I bought some  pearls and wish I'd bought more. Next time.

While I don't have any pictures of the acrobatics show to share, it was fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way. The performers are as young as eight. The contortionism is painful to watch. What effect will that have on those children's backs by the time they reach adulthood?

The most interesting part of the acrobatics show, and the scariest, was watching the motorcyclists in a caged sphere. Here's a YouTube video on one such act. One motorcycle enters it from a gate at the bottom. It drives around fast enough to do horizontal loops. Then vertical ones. Another motorcycle enters. They follow each other then do alternating loops in the cage. Then another motorcycle enters. And another. And another. Now there are five motorcycles (driven by five men lacking the fear gene) in this cage inches apart. And a whole audience of people holding their breath. I can't believe anyone would do this. I'm sure their mothers were no where in the audience.

Speaking of mothers, it's rare I get to spend so much time with my mother-in-law. I really enjoyed the time we had creating new memories together, and seeing her in her travel-the-world mode.

One last bit on our trip before I get back to reality: we were fortunate to meet up with a fraternity brother of Dave's and his wife on our first night. They'd just moved to Shanghai for her job and took us to a very cool restaurant on The Bund that served Yunnanese food. The enchanted decor was PF Chang's on steroids; it was dark and moody with up lights on Yunnanese stone face masks and high-backed, brightly painted chairs. The food was unlike any we'd eaten before: spicy chicken on chili and green onions, tropical vegetables, shrimp paste with string beans, fried pork (think pork rinds with more meat and flavor). It was our most memorable meal if you don't count the street food, which was better tasting but less atmospheric.

The Pinks apparently did great with my mom and I'm so grateful that she was able to help us out with them. It was a very special trip, albeit one packed with back-to-back adventures! It's a good thing that I had nearly 40 hours of in-air time to recharge.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Break - Working Mommy Style

The Pinks are on holiday next week. This makes me both happy and sad. Happy because they will ski with their cousins in Tahoe. Sad because I do not have the week off work.

I went back to working in-house last fall. While I didn't anticipate doing so, this opportunity was too good to pass up and, eight months later, I still think I made a good decision. But I no longer have the same amount of time off work I did when I was self-employed.

Once you get out of school, summer is a season and not a vacation. I asked the kids if they'd prefer me to stay in the Bay or if they'd prefer me to be up at Tahoe with them and be working. They did not hesitate to tell me that they wanted me to come up to the mountains and that they'd be extra sensitive to my work demands.

This year is an adjustment, the whole-mommy-cannot-take-off-as-much-time-as-she-wishes thing. But in general I feel lucky to have a fun job that I can do from home three days a week. (And Tahoe is home, too, thanks to that mortgage payment.) The Singapore and China trip provided me with a lot of air time, which I worked a great deal of with the blessing of my manager.

Still, I will be sad to see our extended family create new mountain memories while I try to change the world, one performance tester at a time.