Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 Reasons I Cannot Sleep

I've been up since 3:05a. This is what's on my mind:

1. Why isn't Baskin Robbins open at 4:25a for me to order Liberty's birthday cake?!

2. We have lunch reservations at Bouchon. I may be too tired to enjoy it.

3. The Dining Room aka the Bat Mitzvah Staging Room, is a disaster. Chaos makes me nervous.

4. I should be grocery shopping. There is nothing to eat in the house as we've not been to the store since returning from Tahoe.

5. Neeracha has a new pair of Manolos. I am equal parts happy for her and jealous.

6. I am shopping online.

7. Tori has been up all night coughing. I am afraid it will turn into croup. I can sleep through the phone ringing but wake with every cough of hers.

8. The ski conditions are pristine and we're down in the Bay.

9. I need to write an channels education marketing plan. And contact the 38 Cisco partners who participated in a pilot demand generation campaign to see if they followed up on their B and C leads.

10. A bunch of holiday cards came in while we were gone last week. I did not send cards to most of them. Will we have any friends left this time next year?!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The best ski day ever

It's been a great week at Tahoe.

My SIL and her family came up from LA. My MIL came up with her gentleman friend and the extended clan dined together two nights. We've had fresh snow. We've had wind free days to ski. We've had sunny and wind free days to ski. There have been enough people here to make it fun but not so many that it's a zoo.

Today was the best day of all: Dave, the littlest Pinks and I had a epic day on the mountain. There was no fighting, just lots of laughs on intermediate runs with views all the way down to the lake. My head is so swollen with pride that Liberty has embraced skiing so wholeheartedly that it barely fits in my pink helmet!

We've just come back from seeing the Squaw Valley Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade and dinner with friends.

I'm exhausted and content.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Snow Bunny

Liberty has resisted learning to ski. I don't know why; downhill skiing is pure freedom, it's akin to flying. While her reluctance to ski has not been the bane of my existence, it's been bothersome. We are a skiing family.

Finally we cracked the code. She adores her elementary school teacher. And Mrs. Beltran's eldest son, a junior at CSU Chico, teaches skiing at Northstar on the weekends and holidays. I recruited him.

Bright and early Monday morning Chris called to confirm. Sadly, it was snowing and blowing and we went back to sleep. By 9a the skies had cleared and it turned into a great ski day. Of course Chris had made other plans by then so I worked like a maniac in the morning and then took Liberty out myself. Bad idea. There is a big difference between knowing how to ski and teaching someone to ski. One run and we were done.

The skies were bright blue when we woke up Tuesday morning so over Chris came. Sure enough, he taught Liberty to ski. I am so excited I can hardly stand it. She looks adorable in her ski braids, and white Obermeyer ski suit with Paul Frank helmet and goggles. And when Liberty ran out of steam he taught Paris, Jenna and Sarah to snowboard.

On Wednesday I took her out again. We did 20 runs on the green Papoose lift. She doesn't need help getting off and on the chair and she rarely falls. More importantly, she loves skiing! One other thing: she insists on putting on her own boots and carrying her own skis. My hero! I hope she can teach it to her uber-athletic twin, who whines when schlepping her own gear the 50 yards to and from the Funitel from our condo.

Today is Thursday, a blue bird day, and Liberty is leading Dave around the mountain. She now skis blue runs, including the Mountain Run. Dave and I have accomplished another one of life's checkoffs. This must be why people have children.

Speaking of Chris, I have very little contact with 20-something male college students. Mrs. Beltran has done a terrific job of raising him. He is polite, articulate and great with both kids and adults. It was a genuine pleasure meeting him.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The road to Tahoe.

Three Days Before. Decide when to leave. Weather forecast calls for biggest storm of the season during optimal drive time.

Two Days Before. Remain glued to radar on weather.com. Revise departure plan hourly, based on forecast.

One Day Before. Continue radar obsession. Experience anxiety over ambiguity of departure. Come to sad realization that this trip to Tahoe will probably not happen.

Departure Day. Anxiety mounts. Check radar again. Pack. Load car. Decide not to stop mail as chances of escaping the 'burbs are slim. 5pm. Text friend who is driving up in the storm. She says there's traffic but that the roads are fine, given the rain.

Departure Night. 7pm. Go to dinner with MIL. China Paradise. Yum. 8pm. Text friend again. She is 20 miles from her cabin and the roads are a mess but there isn't any traffic. 8:30pm. Throw kids in the car and hope we're as lucky. Three hours forty five minutes later we're looking at those Olympic Rings. The last 30 miles were sloppy but we arrived in one piece.

The Next Day. Sleep until 9am. Watch the snow fall. Read paper. Watch snow blow sideways during a three-mile run on the treadmill in the gym. Unload the car. Drive 11 miles way under the speed limit in snow storm to the grocery store. Shop for the week to the tune of $450 in the crazy-busiest Safeway I have ever been in. Nap. Wake and continue to watch snow fall. Make dinner for neighbors and SIL and her family, who spent the previous 10.5 hours driving up from LA for our annual ski trip. Watch iCarly with kids. Collapse.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The List

This is fast becoming The Bat Mitzvah Blog, isn't it?!

Paris' Bat Mitzvah invitations mailed. I cannot believe how complex the invitation list was.

Some of it was easy: her friends, our close family friends, the g/dparents, her B'nai Mitzvah class, the immediate family. The rest was murky.

The guiding principal was to invite people that Paris has a relationship with. This is tricky when it comes to relatives. I invited a cousin who I have been close to since childhood. She lives in San Diego. Yet I did not invite her parents, who are in Northern California, and whose last visit with my family I cannot remember. You can only imagine what my mother had to say about this. I invited my first cousins although only one has a relationship with our daughter. We have been invited to their children's B'nai Mitzvahs.

Let's talk about the neighbors. Danville first. We are closer to some than to others. Yet it seems rude to invite most of a social group and not all of it. Paris knows them but they do not have a relationship with her. Now Tahoe. We didn't invite any of them because it's a prime winter weekend and they all ski race. Yet Paris has a relationship with them.

My mother-in-law is fabulous with these things. She asked to invite no one. She knew that if she invited even one friend then those she didn't invite would be hurt. It was all or nothing for her.

Paris' list changed daily until the invites actually mailed. I tried to keep my mouth shut. There are a few girls on the list who I would rather she not have invited based on Mean Girl things actions in years past. And then there's another big fear: will the under 18s come to the party and not the Bat Mitzvah service, not understanding that the service is the big deal and that the party is the icing on the cake?!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thankful.

I am thankful for 10 feet of new snow at Squaw and for the opportunity to enjoy it this weekend. This picture is of our deck, which I happily shoveled over the course of three days. I love shoveling snow; maybe because I don't have to do it?!

Tori, my friend Rebel Brown and I drove up Friday morning. I had planned to do just a quick turn and return home Saturday night but by then the storm-du-jour was in full swing and on her way to dumping 16 new inches. Tori did ski in the storm and took her first run of the season on the black diamond saddle with her friends Ben and Yuriy. Oops. She managed to recover.

The fresh powder this morning was pristine and she, Reb and I enjoyed a few hours on the uncrowded slopes. They skied the trees; I stayed on the groomers. Rebel does not have children, which is a shame; I love seeing her and Tori interact. Neither Rebel nor Tori have any fear and they both tell it like it is.

Both evenings we caught up with my Tahoe neighbors and tried to come to terms with the fact that this is November snow, ski conditions this good so early in the season that the powers that be clearly missed the global warming message.

It was a five hour drive home this afternoon but very worth it for the snow and for the 1:1 time with my daughter, who is witty and sensitive when not competing with her sisters.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Callie's Old-fashioned Molasses Cookies

This is not a traditional Thanksgiving Day post. But it is about food, which is a big part of Thanksgiving.

Shanta and Delanie Farley and Paris and I made 32 dozen cookies for National Charity League on Sunday. Yes, really. Shanta's contribution was the makings for spritz cookies along with those handy dandy Martha Stewart cookie presses in a yummy shade of baby blue. I pulled out this beloved recipe, which was given to me by my friend Callie Smith.

I miss Callie. She lives in Seattle. Callie and I became friends at work; we lived a few miles apart and her husband, Dan, was so much fun. He and Callie seemed to have it all. They went dancing, shared a shoe fetish and a passion for environmental issues, he had an interesting job at Apple.

Then Dan got a job at Microsoft and they left the Bay. A year passed and we got a holiday card with a return address of "Callie and Gina". Callie was a bit butch so I thought perhaps she and Dan split up and she was now with Gina. Not exactly. With the help of Microsoft human resources, hormone therapy and a surgeon, Dan became Gina. As Callie explained it in that carefully worded holiday newsletter, "The love is the same but the parts are different". They stayed married a few more years and then split up.

A bit after that Callie severed ties with most of us from her other life. While I don't understand that, I respect her decision. I think of her every time I make these cookies and especially in November, when she and Dan/Gina had their birthdays.

Callie's Old-fashioned Molasses Cookies

3/4 C butter
1 c sugar
1 egg
1/4 C dark molasses
2 C flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground cloves

Cream together the sugar and butter. Add the egg. Beat. Add the molasses. Mix.

In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture and stir until well blended.

Put bowl in freezer for 30 minutes.

Remove and roll 1" balls. Roll balls in sugar and place 2" apart on baking sheet covered in parchment or lined with Silpat.

Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

These cookies ripen over time and taste better on days 3 and 4 than they do on days 1 and 2. Serve with cold milk.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This bud's for you.

On Friday, Liberty, Jill and I fled the 'burbs at o'dark hundred for the sanctity of the San Francisco Flower Market. This Market is one of five grower-owned markets in the US. Liberty was so traumatized by the thought of our early rise time that she slept in her clothes.

It was easily 15 years since my last visit to the Flower Market. In my early 20s I worked in SOMA, a few blocks away, and my co-workers and I would occasionally go on Fridays around 9am for leftovers and breakfast.

Going into the catacombs with someone in the know is much different, much better. The Market is similar to Costco but with many different vendors. At this time of year many of the flowers come from South America. These people begin their workday at 1a so the Bay Area floral designers, event producers and florist shops can get in and out before the rest of the world needs their goods.

Liberty fell in love with these cockscombs, which I'd never seen before. We browsed the ostrich eggs, antlers, ribbons, bark, vases, baskets, candles, tissue paper and cellophane wrap. I could not resist buying tulips, roses and branches with tiny berries on them. We have so many flowers at home that even Fred is holding an arrangement. One of the growers gave Liberty some tiny white roses.

It's very special being there in the dark, in the musty, dank smelling space filled with treasures. I liked it less as the sun came up and it became just another sunny fall day in San Francisco. The Flower Market Cafe, where we had breakfast after loading our goodies into Jill's car, was as delicious as I remember. Liberty was very happy we made the trek. So was I.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Disney Halloween

Dave is the idea man. Fortunately one of his ideas was marrying me and I've been benefiting ever since.

Dave wanted to go to Disneyland for Halloween this year since Sarah's Bat Mitzvah nearby was the day prior.

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Disney has been heavy on the TV commercials this fall and The Pinks have been itching to go. They were thrilled when we told them and were very good not to mention it at Sarah's BatM as it was very important to us to keep the focus on her.

The Magic Kingdom is even more magical on Halloween. Tickets are required to attend The Party. The festivities kick off at 7pm and we Trick or Treated, saw the parade and fireworks, and rode the regular rides and the ones decorated just for Halloween, which included Space Mountain and The Haunted House. The Haunted House is truly fabulous on Halloween - I could have gone on it a dozen times to try to catch all the Halloween enhancements. About half the park is open on Halloween and the Disney team goes over-the-top there with that Disney magic dust.

Even better than doing Disneyland on Halloween was our children sharing the experience with a great aunt, a grandmother and her gentleman friend, five cousins and a cousin's partner.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Top 10 List - Bat Mitzvah Fears

Paris' Bat Mitzvah is in February. Here are some of the things that keep me up at night:
  1. People will RSVP and not show up.
  2. People won't RSVP and show up.
  3. There will be too much food.
  4. There won't be enough food.
  5. Paris won't find anything she wants to wear to Friday night services, her Bat Mitzvah and the party.
  6. Paris will only find things I think are inappropriate to wear to Friday night services, her Bat Mitzvah and the party.
  7. Paris will want to wear my shoes that weekend.
  8. Paris will already have surpassed my shoe size.
  9. We will have a heat wave and record high temperatures.
  10. It will rain.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spectacular Sarah!

We're just back from a long weekend in LA for our niece's Bat Mitzvah. I just love these weekends -- happy celebrations with extended family and friends. It makes me even more excited about Paris' Bat Mitzvah early next year. Sarah is on the left here, with her older sister, Jenna.

We yanked The Pinks from school and hit the freeway Thursday at noon. Things have really changed and not in a good way; it's now the mother who needs the bathroom stops. I enjoyed the ride down I-5. All that farmland. Vineyards. Pomegranate and orange trees. The aqueduct that enables Southern California to steal our water. The Pioneer Woman and all that. Takes me right back to the homestead days.

My SIL and her family were kind enough to have the World Series on the big screen when we arrived. That, the cousins running around, and pizza made for a good kick off to the weekend.


On Friday Dave and I took the kids over the hill to Malibu, where we explored the Malibu Country Mart and had a yummy lunch at a fish shack overlooking the water. There are 27 miles of Malibu coastline; we will have to go back and visit some of the beaches when we have more time. There's a great playground at the Country Mart and it was a good release for the little kids before the family dinner at synagogue and following services.

Paris' got her ears pierced. She was very excited to finally have them done and to also have Jenna and Sarah there with her for the big moment. I was grateful for my SIL to take her; I had no interest in seeing someone punch holes in my child's head. She said it didn't hurt.

There are no pictures of Sarah's Bat Mitzvah. One does not take pictures in the synagogue on Shabbat. One does not use electronic devices in the synagogue on Shabbat, either, which was a challenge for the little kids who kept asking if they could play with our iPhones during the three-hour service. Sarah did a beautiful job and I was teary eyed. Thirteen years have gone very quickly.

Saturday night was the big party. Above right are my SIL and BIL making their grand entrance. We feasted on sushi and chicken and salad and dim sum and sorbet and a candy bar dessert buffet and danced and danced and danced. Pictures were taken. Silly hats and boas and peace necklaces and glow sticks were distributed en mass. Smoothies were consumed. Black was consumed. Livestrong-style personalized bracelets were created. Laughter and more laughter. Bonds were formed between our children and distant cousins. Catching up with LA relatives and old family friends such as sisters Sarah Marchick and Patti Kogan. Hanging out with my parents, who came down. Paris and two of her friends took the limo for an In-N-Out Burger run midway through the evening.

And then Sunday morning we rehashed it all at my SIL's house over brunch. Perfect weather. My MIL's amazing fudge.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More Miraval.

I just love this place, which is north of Tucson in Santa Catalina foothills. Neeracha and I hiked and saw the sun come up over Mt. Lemmon. We sat by the pool, napped, read and downed addictive mint lemonades. We painted. I climbed. She mountain biked. We had massages and more massages. I had a pedi. Blue. We slept in. Zip lined. Star gazed. We read some more. We shopped. We kick boxed and cardio drummed. She did Yoga. I swam. We met some interesting people. We read The New York Times at breakfast and ate way too much.

I like the silence at Miraval. The way you notice your surroundings. The Southwest-style buildings and quiet room in the spa with the lounges that lure you to sleep. The food chain is alive and well at Miraval. We saw quite a few bugs -- grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and they were all huge. Measured in inches. Welcome to Jurassic Park. Here and there on the grounds were iron animal sculptures in odd sizes. The rabbits were taller than me and the horses were three-quarter size. I liked the rabbits the best.

About that food. Sauced proteins. Interesting salads, green, fruit and whole grain. Teeny tiny desserts. Soups. Lots of seasonings and lots of colors. Choices and more choices. Beautiful presentation. Gracious service. All inclusive.

It's healthy but only if you eat in moderation. My favorite food story took place at our dinner on the last night. The waiter presented the dessert menu and I ordered chocolate mousse, ice cream with caramel sauce and two cheese plates. The waiter then looked at Neeracha and said, "And for you?" We burst out laughing because it was obvious to us both that I'd ordered for us both. His response? "Some people do order that much dessert for themselves." Oy! I was bad but not that bad.

Flying home was a comedy of errors. I ended up on the last leg standby, which was complicated by the rain in LA. It never rains in LA. We'd parked the car at the San Jose Airport at 5:30a the previous Thursday and I'd counted on Neeracha remembering where we'd left it. Unfortunately finding the car became my problem alone since we ended up on different flights and it was my car. The shuttle driver was kind enough to drive me up and down the aisles of long-term parking until I found it. Funny in hindsight. Miserable in reality.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slow down.

Eldest Daughter and I volunteered at the Open Heart Kitchen this afternoon. The kitchen is located in a senior community and we served the low-income residents a hearty dinner and then scrubbed that kitchen until it shined.

Boy those people move slow. They walk slow. They eat slow. They talk slow. It was a great place to learn restaurant skills. No pressure whatsoever. And it forced us to get off the light speed conveyor belt we ride if just for a few hours.

I guess I left my Miraval Zen mindset at Miraval. Bummer.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mmmm Miraval

Neeracha and I are at Miraval this weekend. It's essentially sleep away camp for adults in the mountains outside of Tucson.

This is my third trip here in ten years; it's Neeracha's fourth. It feels a little indulgent but it is pure heaven: plush accommodations with fluffy beds, low-calorie, low-fat food gourmet food, five star service, and fitness and well-being classes from 7a to 10p.

I'm not the most adventurous person in the world so I was really proud of myself for Ziplining. We walked to the challenge course then climbed up a telephone pole to a platform 50' in the air. I really wanted to stop and look out from the midpoint but then I was afraid I'd not get moving again. The scariest part is stepping off the platform. Fortunately no one else in our group wanted to go first so I didn't overthink it too much and just went. I screamed like a banshee the whole way down but gosh, it was an huge adrenaline rush.

In true Miraval style we had to discuss how we felt about it afterwards. Blah blah blah. This picture is of me and Neeracha at the top of the platform. Note my death grip on the yellow strap attaching my harness to the wire.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My new favorite food.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes.

Incredible. I didn't think I liked them. I like tomatoes in many ways. Not ketchup but almost every other form factor.

My favorite meal right now is pasta with a few chopped oven roasted tomatoes, a smidge of their own oil to moisten it up, some fresh grated Parmesan and a bit of Fleur de Sel a la Truffe. Heaven!

I've made them three times. I'm so addicted that I am afraid I will run out before next year's tomato season and so I will make one more batch this weekend.

They take six hours in the oven and they make the house smell incredible. I especially like the crusty burnt bits of the tomatoes.

The thing is: two baking sheets of them barely fill a pint sized mason jar. Mason jars are my other new obsession.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Walk & Bike Challenge

Liberty recently learned to ride a bike. Tori is a pro.

Our community has this challenge going on and today the four of us rode our bikes to school together. It's 2.5 miles, all downhill. And then Dave and I had to bike home. Fortunately he did most of the peddling.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Because my father does.

I had a pretty idyllic childhood. The mother that had a balanced meal on the dinner table each night. Some religion. A little brother for me to initially hate and then finally love. A good dose of adventure.

Some great things I learned from my father:
  • To respect and protect the environment.
  • To stop and smell the roses. This picture was taken at Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island, BC, 1987.
  • To let a moose have the right of way.
  • To shoot a pistol, a .22 and a shotgun.
  • To ride horses.
  • To cross country ski.
  • To be active with causes that matter to you.
  • To take the road less traveled.
  • To eat what you grow. I'm still working on that one. The green thumb must have gone to my brother.
  • To drive a five speed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tulips

I'm not sure what it is about tulips but they've long been my favorite flower. Yellow especially. They are simple and elegant and their season is not nearly long enough. Like Girl Scout cookies, they're around briefly for my birthday.

When I was a child my father did a series of photographs of red tulips. The most stunning of them is taken of the inside of a tulip.

The dining tables at Ilona's wedding had high vases of enormous white tulips. I remember the tulip centerpieces; everyone else probably remembers the endless vodka.

Neeracha brought me back a tulip vase from a trip she did to the Netherlands way before either of us had kids. She also brought me back tulip bulbs, which I temporarily froze in a Ziploc bag and labeled: Tulips - do not eat. To this day Dave teases me about this.

Someday I will see the Keukenhof in the Netherlands and the Skagit Valley Festival in Washington State.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mostly selfish Saturday.

On Saturday Neeracha and I drove to Sausalito to see the Floating Homes Tour. It was a Spare the Air Day, one of not too many we've had this year, so I took BART into the city and we drove to Marin together.

It must have been National Walk the Golden Gate Bridge Day! I've never seen so many camera-happy pedestrians on the bridge before. You couldn't blame them. There was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature easily reached 80F. The hundreds of white-sailed boats on the Bay made it look like a tricky day to be out there. The view makes me catch my breath every time -- another perfect moment.

A few months ago I read an article on human egg trade in Cypress. It was both fascinating and horrifying. Since I read it I have mentioned it to a few people, who were appropriately horrified but not to the extent I was nor had they seen the article. And then in the car to Marin Neeracha mentioned this article! Apparently she'd read it in the same obscure business magazine I had. This is why we are friends.

The Floating Homes Tour was not what I expected. There are 400 floating homes on Richardson Bay, 17 were open this year. I was looking for two things: designer showcases and/or cleverly designed homes to make use of the unusual space. Nope. They are narrow houses on barges. Some were airy and Lichtenstein-filled. Others were dumpy and needed a good cleaning. Most had optimized the view; a few hadn't. One had a Gaudi-style guest bath. A few had decks at the water line so the owners could kayak. One had an entire upper level of Japanese minimalism. We saw a lot of Ethan Allen traditional furniture and many variations on the spiral staircase. Most are occupied by artists or retirees. There were many for sale and the range was $350,000 to $975,000.

After the tour we had a late sushi lunch and stopped at an off-the-beaten-path travel book store to see what we could find for next summer's adventure. The small shop had a surprising number of interesting books and our Italy collection grew some more.

Neeracha dropped me off at the 16th and Mission BART station. I sat outside of it for a few minutes, taking in swirling tongues of a language I don't understand, the smells and the look of a place I don't usually go. Those ten minutes felt like a very short vacation. And then I hopped on a train and went back to the burbs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Treehouse

I don't know what inspired me to drive past the Orinda house. It's the house I lived in from ages 8-15. It's still there. The mailbox my father built is not. The road to it is still dangerously windy, with a steep drop off into Lake Cascade to the left and homes up steep driveways with blind entries to the right.

A few of the homes have been replaced by mega mansions. Most have been updated with new facades and landscaping. A few are eyesores, exactly the way I remember them. I saw a man wearing khakis and a red polo shirt walking his Golden Retriever. Very Orinda.

During my tenth year, my father built my brother and I a two-story treehouse in the ginormous Oak tree in the front yard. The tree is still impressive. And the treehouse is still there, although it's just a few moss-covered boards now barely visible from the street.

Around the corner is a multi-acre gated estate, the former home of Ed Daly. Daly is best known for his time as president of World Airways and the company's subsequent rescue of Vietnamese orphans after the war. It's not clear if it's being torn down or remodeled right now.

I spent a fair amount of time in St. Louis before my grandfather passed away. My father always insisted on driving through The Old Country when we were there. Ditto the house my mother grew up in in Memphis. I've been there, too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

192 miles.

This is the distance between our Bay Area house and Tahoe.

The first hundred miles are flat and boring freeway driving. Benicia Bridge. Vacaville. Dixon. Sacramento. Roseville. The second hundred miles are more and more interesting as we drive into the mountains: Auburn, Colfax, Nyack, Emigrant Gap, Donner Summit, Donner Lake.

When we drive to Tahoe I start to breathe slower around the 2,000 ft elevation mark. The big trees appear. There are train tracks and the occasional train spotting. There are fewer towns. Less concrete and more forest. We see animals. The foothills become bona fide mountains.

I love when we reach Donner Summit because Donner Lake, so gorgeous with cabins clustered around it, is next. The last 30 miles on I-80 are beautiful. It's snowy in the winter and if I'm lucky, there's fresh snow and it's clinging to the trees. The mountains are majestic. The last 10 miles are along the Truckee River and then we spot the Olympic Rings at the entrance to Squaw Valley and we've arrived. The air is pine scented and crisp. Ties are replaced with Teva's. Prada gives way to Patagonia.

Labor Day weekend we saw Hayley and Gordon Moffatt and we talked about the drive. Until they mentioned it, I hadn't thought that other people shared the drive phenomena.

I'm sad when we leave Tahoe. The trees give way to the flatlands and my mood plummets as we pass Auburn, knowing that just ahead are 100 miles of uninteresting freeway peppered with the occasional McDonald's. My chest tightens a bit and I start thinking about the mail waiting at home.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On a bicycle built for two.

Dave got us a tandem bike! A friend counseled us: Wherever your relationship is going, you'll get there faster on a tandem.

We went for a short ride today. I was pretty scared. But after getting over my fear of public speaking Monday this was small potatoes.

When you're on the back of a tandem bike you have no control. You can't see where you're going. You can't steer. You can't shift gears. And you can't break. You just peddle and look at the back of the person in front of you, to the sides or close your eyes.

After a bit I enjoyed it. And Dave and I got to talk about random things without The Pinks interrupting or the distractions of things to do at home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Curse of the Good Girl

I was the very proud event organizer last night of 900 community members at our middle school. This event, hosting Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl, was the next step in my plan to rid the world of Mean Girls.

Rachel, who also founded the Girls Leadership Institute, spoke for about an hour then signed books. She is an engaging, funny speaker with great content. I guess you refine those skills when you've been on Oprah and the Today Show a few times! The interactive talk covered what a Good Girl looks like, No Joke Zones, I Statements, Emotions, The Sweet Life of Zack and Cody and My Little Pony. The picture at left is of me, Rachel Simmons and Simone Marean.

I was blown away by all the familiar faces in the audience, people from as far south as Pleasanton, as far west as Moraga, as far east as Brentwood. This message resonates with us all. One of the things I enjoy most about these events is watching the dots connect. I'd forgotten that Amy and Lori were college sorority sisters, and that Lori's cousin is friends with Bridgit. I didn't know that Amy and Ellen's daughters played softball together two years ago and so on.

We could not have pulled of an event of this magnitude without an army of volunteers from the middle school PTA and my own posse: Ellen, Sarah, Coleen and Megan, MelissaS and Hannah, Andrea and Nina, MelissaB. I enjoyed working with our school principal, whose support was invaluable, and the vice principal, who is a great logistics front man and whose daughter, it turns out, goes to preschool with my niece. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And because I am a Real Girl, I have a confession to make: when Simone, GLI's Executive Director, asked me to speak for a few minutes on our experience with the GLI workshops, I lost it. I don't do public speaking. I write. I edit. I plan. I do behind the scenes. But of course I agreed then practiced my two-minute talk for the better part of an hour before going on. I have to admit, I was quite proud of myself. And they called me a force! This stuff is hard for introverts. I have to admit, though, that once I got up there I just ran with it and spoke from my heart. It really is easier to do this when you are passionate about the cause. One less thing to fear in life.

The funniest part of the evening took place at the very end as Rachel was signing my book. Thing 1 had an extended conversation with her about her own personal drama in elementary school with her friend and her friend's boyfriend. Yes, the kids are eight. I had to walk away before I peed my pants. Not surprisingly, Rachel handled it very well.

In a fantasy world, this event will have generated enough attention for the workshops to roll out at other local schools, and for the message to be spread even further. I look forward to helping make that reality. Please leave a comment on my blog if you would like me to help facilitate that at your school or in your community.

Dave, who is my biggest champion, had a little fete pulled together at home when we got back. Everything is better with chocolate cake and chocolate dipped strawberries. He is my angel.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Take me out to the ballgame

On September 11 I could have stayed home and rehashed the events of nine years ago. Certainly I was affected by it. I spent that particular day glued to the TV, intermittently running to the bathroom to do those things one does while in the midst of a pregnancy-from-hell.

On September 11 this year Paris and I did something much better for our mental health, and for the mental and physical health of some others: we volunteered at the Special Olympics of Northern California Softball Tournament.

It was a treat to spend an afternoon at a local park and to score keep for three games, all the while cheering the athletes on. There is something equalizing about sports. As I often find with volunteer work, I gained far more than I gave. Paris and I left in high spirits.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I am twelve.


I just finished The Curse of the Good Girl in preparation for the author's talk here Monday. It was not as all-out scary as Odd Girl Out but it riled me up just the same.

The thing is, American girls are raised to keep the peace. We avoid conflict. We smooth things over. If we voice our opinions with candor and conviction we are called bitches. I am so done with this.

Have you ever heard a girl say something along the lines of, "No offense but that shirt doesn't match those shorts." No offense means that the recipient of this barb shouldn't be mad at the nasty girl whose mouth it came out of even though it clearly is an insult.

One Saturday night last fall I was at a party. The previous night many of the same people, myself included, were at another party. Of course the antics from the former came up at the latter. I should have spoken up and said, "Hey. Let's not relive this in front of people who weren't there." But I didn't. And I've regretted it ever since.

On my Febmom list this topic recently came up. Tory, so sage from her expat vantage point in Hong Kong, said it well: inside each of us is a 12-year-old girl.

I recently ran into a woman I have known since my teens. She is professionally successful and tall and blond and smart and thin and has lovely children and a nice husband. She is twelve, too. And she did the right thing in the situation she faced: she confronted the Mean Mommy in the most textbook perfect of ways. It didn't work and she is still hurt by it. Still she did the right thing and I applaud her for it. This stuff is hard.

I think about the friend I confronted a year ago over a Part-Time Friend Situation between our daughters. I would never have looked at the woman the same again had I not brought it up. I had nothing to lose: our relationship never would have recovered otherwise.

Today I met with Simone Marean and the team at our middle school who will welcome Rachel Simmons. During the course of the event walk through, which I took control of in my usual let's-be-efficient-and-decisive-style, I briefly paused and said, "Am I being too bossy?" Simone looked at me and said, "Curse of the Good Girl." I laughed. She was right.

Why does this 12-year-old emerge from time to time? Will putting on our big girl panties and doing hard things like speaking our minds with confidence banish her?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day Weekend at Tahoe


The kids are all back in school. Dave and I went to Back to School Night at the middle school last week; Paris will do fine. My main observation is that her teachers seem to be dinosaurs. Back to School Night for the elementary school is next week; I always feel clueless until this takes place. Still, the kids seem to like school well enough thus far.

We're up at Tahoe for the long holiday weekend. I'm not sure I've ever been up here Labor Day weekend before. We tend to avoid holiday periods. It's not as zoo-like as I'd imagined. The kids had a furlough day on Friday so we came up early enough in the day to get in a swim at The Resort at Squaw Creek with friends before heading to dinner at Jake's. For the record, the Hula Pie and lakeside location at Jake's are amazing; the food is just mediocre these days.The funniest part of the afternoon was Liberty asking if she could have a margarita poolside. Apparently Paris had ordered a virgin one earlier and I thought it was a regular 'ole smoothie.

Today we spent at Dollar Point Beach and on the boat with my brother, his in-laws and their extended circle. The sky was perfectly blue, the kids had fun tubing and fishing for crawdads, and we just enjoyed the perfect weather. Tonight we had dinner with them at Lakeside Pizza, which was good enough, and satisfied our goal of trying one new restaurant every time we come up here. I think I irritated my SIL's friend by pointing out that she uses one voice to speak to adults and another one to speak to her daughter.

Tomorrow we will do the Alpen Wine Festival here at Squaw to benefit finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis and then head home. Burning Man wraps Monday and we want to beat the crowds down I-80 back to the Bay.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Because my mother does.

I baked banana bread for my longtime friend and took it to the house she just bought in our suburb.

I baked lemon cookies for our new neighbors and dropped them off, too. Not this weekend but fairly recently.

Why did I do this? Because my mother always did this. It's welcoming.

I say to my children, "Put a sweater on; I'm cold." Just like my mother did.

I can make chicken in 25 different ways, just like my mother does.

I have too many plastic containers, just like my mother does. I, however, throw them out from time to time and replace them. She still has Tupperware from my childhood.

I get Time magazine, like my mother does and has since before she married my father 40+ years ago.

I sew well because my mother does.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bakesale Betty

The blue hair wasn't hard to miss. I spotted her from way across the Danville Farmer's Market. And then I became an ardent fan of Bakesale Betty and her scones. In the warm months we ate them with strawberries and whipped cream. And in the cool months we ate them plain, one after the other.

Then the Australian import and former Chez Panisse pastry chef disappeared. After a bit she reappeared, husband in tow, and opened a storefront in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood. For a while she still sold at the Walnut Creek Farmer's Market but told me that she no longer did Saturday markets because the retail store was too busy.

Finally I visited that storefront. It has a cult following. She still wears the blue wig. And she sells strawberry shortcake so I didn't have to buy the pieces and assemble them myself. The seating is colorful ironing boards and stools on the street. People rave about her gigantic fried chicken sandwich with spicy slaw.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Open letter to my precious firstborn

Dear Paris,

It's the first day of school.

As you were walking out the door I did what I did every year, I chased you with my camera. I made you stand by the front door while I shot your picture. At least you were all dolled up; I was out there in my pajamas! And I did notice that artfully applied eye makeup, by the way. In turn, you made me promise not to post the picture on Facebook or my blog. Deal. I am standing by my word.

It's clear that you think this annual photography ritual is cruel and unusual punishment. Every year you give me the same annoyed look.

Do me this favor, sweetheart. Go to Facebook and see how many parents have posted these same pictures, the ones by the front door.

While you abhor this back-to-school exercise, everyone else you know is being tortured in this same way. And believe me, you will do it with your children, too.

Love,

Mommy

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ambivalent

The Pinks go back to school tomorrow.

While I'm happy that their education will continue, I'm sad to see this summer end. They're at great ages, much more fun than work.

The summer's highlights included:
  • Last night's concert in the park with three other families.
  • Dinner with the extended family at my SIL's house and then ours. This is the only picture I have of me with my two SILs. 
  • The bathtub-warm swimming pool, perfect for laps for this wimp.
  • The cooler-than-usual-days, providing lots of outside playtime without fear of dehydration.
  • Pajama time with the kids.
  • My parents' garden in the spot formerly occupied by their pool, and my own success at growing tomatoes.
  • Driving up the Central Coast with Dave and the littlest Pinks.
  • Celebrating Dennis' 50th and boating with my other SIL and nieces up at Tahoe.
  • Helping promote Rachel Simmons' talk here on Sept. 13.
  • Volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, Children's Hospital, Wardrobe for Opportunity, Tri Valley Haven and Hospice of Contra Costa County.
I am savoring every last minute before the kids head out tomorrow morning.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Duckie's Chowder House

Most surprisingly, the best meal of our roadtrip was in Cayucos, on the central coast five miles north of Morro Bay.

Duckie's Chowder House is known for both its New England and Manhattan clam chowder but I didn't eat those, given my past shellfish experiences involving emergency rooms.

The restaurant is across the street from the pier and has an indoor / outdoor bar. You can only imagine the view and the amazing smell of the ocean. Two of us sat inside, two of us sat outside. The place was packed at early dinner time. Cayucos seems to be the place for extended family and friend gatherings. Maybe it's the small town thing? You can't easily lose your people in a town that's barely two blocks in length?

The kids had the chicken fingers, which are ordered individually, and the fries. Dave had a burger and chowder. I drank some of his Firestone Ale, which was pale and divine. I had fish tacos and Nancy's salad. I'm not usually a fish taco gal but these were quite tasty, with the fish cooked just right and the condiments spicy but not too spicy. I ate my entire salad, too, of lettuce, blue cheese, avocado and bacon with a garlicky vinaigrette. That they use sustainable packaging is a bonus!

I'd like to go back but sadly, Cayucos is not exactly on my way anywhere.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I am now an urban farmer.

I've actually grown something I have eaten. Do you see this tomato? I picked it this afternoon and ate it for lunch.

In case you're wondering, it became a salad with avocado and Burrata, and was dressed with Olive's Oil, balsamic and some of the truffle salt Neeracha brought me back from the Dordogne as a consolation prize.

This is a big deal. My parents have green thumbs and I've tried to grow tomatoes for multiple years. Finally the planets aligned!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Roadtrip 2010!

Dave, the twins and I have just returned to the Bay after a week on the road. It's not our usual MO and we had a blast.

First stop: SIL's house 350 miles south to drop off Paris. SIL and BIL then took their daughters and ours to sleep away camp, where they will be for another week. I got a letter from Paris but I don't understand it all; it's written in texting lingo. A teaching moment is ahead. Here's a picture of the three cousins, aged 12, 12 and 14, ready to hit the road.

Some other cousins came for dinner with their 10-month-old identical twin daughters. This is the best age of babyhood as far as I'm concerned: all smiles, no stranger anxiety and still with some extra rolls. We just drank them up. So delicious!

Next stop: Rancho Palos Verdes and the new Terranea Resort. The Terranea has an exquisite location on the peninsula. The highlight of this part of our trip was seeing Dave and Jackie Donell and their kids. Oh and the Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Lloyd Wright, Frank's son. It's nearly all constructed of glass and sits in the forest overlooking the ocean.

Third stop: Santa Maria via Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Santa Maria Inn, a historic hotel in built in the old center of town in 1917. Historic = barely modernized with the original antiques. We were upgraded to a suite and it had a beautiful view of a parking lot and Shaw's Steakhouse, where we ate an amazing dinner actually. Santa Maria style BBQ is smokey and tender.

Fourth stop: Cayucos, a fairly untouched beach town on the central coast. We stayed in a kitschy motel, which Liberty was so upset about that she cried real tears. Another teaching moment. We walked the pier, rented Tori a wet suit and watched her boogie board, and went into nearly every shop in the two-block downtown. Little sleep was had in Cayucos, however, because of he funky smell in the room and the mattress quality. Our best meal of the trip was in Cayucos.

En route home we visited the Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas. This was one of the highlights of our trip. The male seals are molting now on the shore. The 4,000 lb beasts haul themselves onto the beach then take a two-month snooze. They line up like logs and look and smell disgusting in the most fascinating of ways.

We toured Hearst Castle and had a very late lunch in Paso Robles before counting the California Missions up the 101 home. Takeaway from Hearst Castle: the original property included 30 miles of California beachfront land. Can you imagine?!

Who knew the central California coast was so interesting? Perhaps the soccer families, who spend a lot of time in San Luis Obispo++. We'll go back again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rubby Ducky, you're the one!

Paris and I volunteered with Children's Hospital Oakland this week, prepping ducks for the annual Rubber Ducky Derby Fundraiser.

We did this in Frank Ogawa Plaza near City Hall. Is it pathetic of me to be honest and tell you that the best part was getting to know some other NCL moms and daughters and seeing a new part of Oakland?!

Sorting toiletries at Wardrobe for Opportunity, the previous day, was more rewarding. Perhaps because we got to see a few of the people the program benefits?

Did I mention that we also baked eight dozen cookies for Diablo Theatre Company and made a meal for Children's House this week? I guess I am a Type A after all.

Our summer sampler of philanthropic endeavors continues.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Market Issue


Those three words got me to buy a copy of Saveur, which I have never read before. That and this photo.

Garlic and tomatoes and olive oil. Foodie heaven.

Food Markets. Amazing. I go nuts in them. The biggies like La Boqueria in Barcelona. And the small ones like the one whose name I do not know in Cannes. My local Farmer's Market. The huge one in Pellissane with the 5-foot-in-diameter paella pan. The one in Chiang Mai with the fried insects. The Flower Market in Hong Kong. It counts. Some flowers are edible.

I'm not sure what it is about Food Markets. After all, I'm not an especially adventurous eater. Saveur contained an entire article on the merchandising at these markets -- how fruit is stacked in pyramids because it's most appealing.

As much as I consider myself a market connoisseur, I had only been to one of the 30 markets on Saveur's map of significant markets. And I only went to that one once -- it's the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison, Wisconsin, where I spent four years at college! I guess I wasn't a foodie back then. Hilary Moskowitz Gauthier, my college friend, did go a lot, which I find surprising since she has lived in NYC since graduating.


Some of our best travel finds are from the markets: Provencial fabric which is now a quilt for Tori, bars of olive oil soap, spit-roasted Bresse-Gauloise chickens and vegetables, stinky cheeses whose names I immediately forgot, teeny tiny strawberries, utilitarian baking dishes, spices.

Next summer's vacation rental was selected in part by Saveur's mention that the most beautiful food market in Italy is nearby. I look forward to seeing the mosaic-arranged fruit and letting Neeracha sample the cavallo, the local delicacy of horsemeat. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We're bracing for the future.

I've just come home from the orthodontist. My head is throbbing and I didn't have any work done!

Two years ago Paris went to the orthodontist. She was not ready for braces and so we returned to the very nice orthodontist every six months until her mouth was ready. If all goes according to plan then she will only have braces once.

Today I took Liberty and Victoria. I was completely unprepared for the outcome. They need braces and they need them right now. And lucky us -- their treatment is likely to include two rounds of braces plus retainers and neck gear. Fortunately they were thrilled: retainers come in so many colors and patterns, including glow in the dark, and you can even choose the fabric on your neck gear.

We'll see if they are still so happy when the first bits of metal go into their mouths next week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old Friends

This weekend was filled with seeing lots of oldies but goodies. What makes an old friend anyway? Years of friendship? Depth of friendship?

We spent Friday evening celebrating Jeff Barth's birthday at Michela Alioto and Tom Pier's house in St. Helena. Jeff and have been friends since I was 16. They were in from Chicago for Mara to do the Vineman Half Ironman. You go girl! It was a perfect evening poolside. The kids swam, the adults laughed and we all ate Tra Vigne pizza. Who knew that Tra Vigne did pizza to go?

Saturday Tory and her kids were in town from Hong Kong. Tory is a Febmom. So while she's a newer old friend (12 years) we've gone very deep with a wide range of subjects across the miles. This picture is of the four Febmoms and five Febkids who got together at Jen's to swim and BBQ. And on my way to the Farmer's Market to buy food for the BBQ I ran into Bryan Denman, who I have been friends with since I was 8.

And that brings us to today: Sunday. Today we had Dave's high school friends and their families for dinner. This included Bill Fisher, who recently returned from a Mt. Everest summit attempt.

It's a good thing I slept 10 hours last night!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Dennis!

We're just back from Dennis' three-day birthday party / golf tournament in Tahoe. His wife, Margo, who we have known since Dave's first job out of college, outdid herself this weekend.

We have enjoyed so many of her social events -- the Christmas parties with the 11-foot-tree on a lazy Susan, the housewarming party for the house with the living room tall enough to have those trees, dinners she has thrown to treat her sales engineering counterparts, the birthday party she threw for Dave when I could barely function after having our twins, Seth and Lori's anniversary party, the brunch she threw before the quota club trip to Cabo, and on and on.

Margo and Dennis live in Monterey and are serious golfers. Their friends are well-traveled, mostly retired, well-dressed, and well-coiffed. Although Dennis and Margo do not have children together, they were kind enough to invite ours to this fete, which I had wrongly assumed included other minis. Nope. Fortunately our kids were on their very best behavior and the affection flows strongly both ways.

Aside from Dennis' boss and assorted relatives, we'd known them the longest, which made me feel better since the average age of the guests was closer to 60 than to 50! Dennis and his father, Dennis Sr., used to run a waste equipment manufacturing company and were some of my most fun clients.

Friday night was a BBQ at the Dollar Point Beach and we feasted on the most amazing tri tip. It was Santa Maria-style if I had a guess. Saturday night was a more formal dinner at the Tahoe Maritime Museum in Homewood. Dennis loves Woodies, the wooden boats popularized early in the 20th century, and this venue showcased them.

Things I learned about Dennis during the roast:
  1. He has had more car accidents than he has fingers. Dennis Sr. told us about the ones he could remember. There must have been more.
  2. He learned to play golf to woo Margo.
  3. He pretends he is Led Zeppelin on an air guitar.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Signs of Summer

It's July 8. We're full into Summer Mode. Here are some of the highlights thus far:

Lemonade Stand
Liberty and her friend had a lemonade stand. I've long resisted my children selling things but I finally gave in. After all, it's not like selling gift wrap in the neighborhood, which you feel obligated to buy. People who are thirsty and who want lemonade will buy it. The friend made this gorgeous sign and the friend's mom and I stayed a good distance from the kids while they were doing their thing.

Lake Tahoe
We spent the better part of a day out on the lake with Ice Cream SIL, our nieces, and Steve, her dad, who my brother is lucky to have as a FIL. My SIL and the kids swam and then we had a leisurely lunch at Sunnyside.

Our friend Dennis Donahue, aka The Big Sexy, is celebrating his milestone birthday with a three-day golf tournament up here this weekend. Guess where Dave will be?! Margo Wallace, his wife, throws no-holds-barred parties and this event will be no exception. It will also force her to forget the Wednesdays she has been spending in what Dennis calls "The Party Room" with a chemo drip.

Dave and Paris detoured to Las Vegas before meeting us up here. Dave had a meeting while Paris explored the strip and the Mandalay Bay pool with Thom Singer's daughter Jackie, who is older than our daughter but has significantly less freedom. No one is talking much about what they did so I think they had fun. We picked them up at the airport in Reno. As far as I can tell, Reno is one big strip mall.

Fortunately the Littlest Pinks really wanted to see Eclipse so we did that while in Reno, which we never have to go back to. Eclipse was entertaining; the reviews have it right -- the production is the most polished. It is an action movie, after all. It also deviated from the book in some surprising ways.

Independence Day
Our suburb does a traditional hometown Fourth of July celebration. About 40,000 people from near and far flood downtown to see the parade. We had great seats this year -- in the shade and close enough for the kids to talk to the people on the floats. No Dykes on Bikes but lots of Kids on Bikes and veterans to cheer for.

Alameda County Fair
One of my favorite parts of the summer is the County Fair. I especially love the livestock exhibits. Sadly, there were no newborn animals the day we went-- I'm good with pigs, goats, sheep, cows -- any will do. We took the kids to see their first horse race. None of their picks placed but it was fun and also a good math lesson for them. Dave and I used to see the horses run at Golden Gate Fields quite a bit before we had kids.

The Pinks ate their fill of Tummy Trash and also had unlimited wristbands for the carnival rides. The day wasn't too hot and it felt like a pure and simple summer day.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Done.

My mother has retired!

The official retirement party was last night. At left are my parents, brother and Ice Cream SIL, Dave and the five granddaughters. Yes, my mother and I have the same haircut, she's 2 inches taller than me and she weighs 20 lbs less. And yes, Paris is 1 inch shorter than me. I've got issues right now.

My mother has made her career as a paralegal. She was one of the first graduates from San Francisco State's Paralegal Studies Program and thus enjoyed a long ride in a still-growing field. We're very proud of her.

I struggled with what to get her as a retirement gift. She'd love a day at the Claremont Spa but you do it and poof, it's over. Instead I took our resident fashionista, Liberty, to Lucy to select a few cute activewear outfits. Of course she needs to donate all her work clothes to Wardrobe for Opportunity. As she unwrapped them I cautioned her that it's a slippery slope between wearing yogawear and looking schlumpy. This talk was fairly irrelevant, though, as this is the woman who says to me every so often, "Honey, did you want to wear a little makeup?" I'm still not sure why I need to wear makeup on days I hang out with my immediate family and parents?

What I did not anticipate, however, was how much fun the party would be for me! The interesting people my father cowboys around with. Annie, who used to live across the street from my parents with her first husband and Terry, who lives in that house now. Renata and Mark Telefus, who have barely aged since we met 30 years ago. It was also shocking and a bit unnerving how much some of these people knew about me!

My father retired five years ago and has many hobbies and friends. My mom does, too, and we don't anticipate them having those turf issues you hear about with some retired couples. My brother and I have made it very clear that she is welcome to spend as much time with her five adoring granddaughters as she wants. Now if only we can get her to set up a Google Calendar so we can schedule that bonding time around their travels!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Exactly how do you define naked?

This was the topic of conversation Sunday morning on our way into the city for the San Francisco Pride Parade. I took Paris, who is 12, and her friend Zee. What a blast!

It was a quick 30 minute BART ride into the city. When we got to Oakland, the flavor of the passengers began to change. The A's fans got off and the Rainbow Contingent got on. More and more stops brought more and more tutu'd, leather-clad, tattooed, pierced, tie-died wearing people. And also more people with less and less on.

As we left the BART station Paris gasped audibly: she saw a woman wearing a mesh t shirt with nothing underneath. As we left the city she said, "Mom, was anyone out there wearing a bra today?"

I pushed Paris and Zee right up to the barrier to get the full parade experience. I felt like Switzerland where I was positioned: to my right was a demonstrative male duo. To my left stood a tourist couple, the man clinging on to his guide book and with a camera hung around his neck. In a slow, deep drawl he kept repeating, "This is just wrong." But he didn't look away either.

The Pride Celebration reminded me how lucky I am to be an American and especially a Californian. Yes on Prop 8 and all that. I'm happy to live in a place where people can march for what they believe in and show their real selves, or at least dress up for a day.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Secret Garden

Our neighbors John and Gwen Callan have a second (third? fourth?) home in Napa and Saturday was their annual Secret Garden Party. We just love this event.


My childhood friend Bryan Denman grew up in Orinda, on a compound comprised of his immediate family's house, his grandmother's house, and his aunt and uncle's house. The land between the houses was a big meadow, which is still there. For the longest time my favorite holiday was Bryan's birthday. His mom would have a huge family dinner and we'd sit outside. Bonnie has long stopped throwing her son family birthday dinners but I still think of those July nights with a big dumb smile on my face.

The Secret Garden Party reminds me of Bryan's birthday, and it's about the same time of year.

The house itself is sweet; our neighbor is a gifted interior designer and when you walk inside you are hit with the overwhelming urge to grab a book and curl up on a couch. The couple's Pacific Grove house was featured in Cottage Style a few years back. The wife's studio is in a separate building and there is also a garage and workshop on the property. This being Napa, there are the requisite vineyards with roses at the ends of the rows.

The Secret Garden is perhaps an acre, a maze of pathways and David Austin roses and lavender and flowers I can't name and trellises and statuary and fountains and stepping stones and vignettes of cornflower blue wooden furniture. It's a mindblowing explosion of color when in full bloom.

Elsewhere on the grounds are a vegetable garden with raised beds. There were beans growing up a trellis and a serious amount of tomato plants; let's hope our neighbor cans or knows people who do! There was corn and spinach and lettuce and raspberries, too.

The chicken coop looks like it was designed by an architect. I'm not kidding. Those hens have no idea how the rest of their brethren live.

There is a multi-level treehouse for the grandkids, a small play structure and also some swings on random trees around the property. We've gone to this party for three or four years and the number of people bringing their kids grows larger each year. This year there was a Ben and Jerry's ice cream kiosk for all to enjoy. The 30 or so children there went wild. The adults did, too. It's a good thing the kids had so much room to run around and burn off all that sugar.

It was a perfect 82F in Napa and we were sad to leave and make the 45-minute drive home. Really, I just wanted to put a blanket on the lawn and take a nap. It was that idyllic of an afternoon.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tired of Tyvek

I can walk on scaffolding three stories high. I can use a heavy duty staple gun safely. I can add wrapping a duplex in Tyvek to my resume.

What an amazing experience! I have long wanted to do Habitat for Humanity. And this week I got to! There were about 50 volunteers at Kinsell Commons near the Oakland Airport; some of us installed windows, some of us wrapped exteriors in Tyvek, some of us built interior walls.

Kinsell Commons is an interesting place. It's a LEED Neighborhood Pilot Development Project with 14 homes built around a common area. There are solar panels on the roofs. Eighty percent of the building waste is recyclable. I had no idea how much waste there was in building until I was on an active construction site. And these are really cute homes -- places you and I would want to live in except for the industrial, in-transition neighborhood with the adjacent train tracks.

Habitat for Humanity East Bay is a fabulous organization. These houses are provided to qualifying low-income families with a 30-year, interest-free mortgage. The homeowners are required to put in sweat equity by spending 500 hours volunteering with Habitat. They also take classes to learn how to take care of their homes.

The only paid tradespeople in the construction of these homes are the electricians and the plumbers. Everything else is done by volunteers. How would you feel about living in a house constructed by volunteers Joe, Dick and Harry? Before I did this I wouldn't have felt so safe in there. But after seeing the training they gave us and the care every volunteer put in to doing their individual task, I'd say I'd be happy to. As Dave pointed out, these homes still have to pass code, regardless of who hammered in the nails.

And about those scaffolds. It was nerve-wracking to get up on those. I hung on to the rail for the first hour and took teeny tiny steps on the planks. Slowly I got used to it. Do you have any idea how dirty construction sites are? I knew it would be dirty but I had no idea that I'd be covered head to toe in grime at the end of the day.

I was so exhausted after my day of volunteering that I was asleep by 9pm and slept 9 hours straight. I can't wait to do this again.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A morning in the office with Mommy

Liberty has wanted to come to work with me for a long time. I mostly work from home but that wasn't what she had in mind: she wanted to come to my client site.

She finally wore me down.

She dressed up in an outfit I deemed appropriate and matching; Rosa did her hair in an elaborate French braid. She brought my personal laptop and earphones to keep herself entertained. She also brought her fashion sketch book in case she tired of playing Moshi Monsters or watching movies.

Here's what she did during my three hours of back-to-back conference calls:
  1. She discussed work with my colleague. She told him that I do the same thing at home, albeit in my pajamas. She asked him if he works at night, too, and if his daughters mind. He said yes and yes.
  2. She got Cheetos out of the vending machine.
  3. She went to the bathroom twice.
  4. She got water from the break room.
  5. She went to the restaurant in the next building and bought a hamburger for lunch. The cashier thought she was so cute that she gave her a bag of Haribo in exchange for a hug.
  6. She played Moshi Monsters.
  7. She sketched four outfits for me.
  8. She looked for Tyker and Tracy, who are friends of Dave's but neither was in the office.
  9. She called her friend Hannah.
  10. She called her father.
She was an absolute angel for four hours and then we left. Wish granted.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's not like a grocery store.

Paris and I volunteered at a food pantry today. I expected something akin to the Costco shopping experience: a small, albeit well-stocked, warehouse where patrons gather what they need then skip the checkout part.

It's not exactly like that.

The pantry is four small rooms in a church: a reception area, the pantry, a storage room for government-provided food and a storage room for community and restaurant donations. Patrons enter the reception area two at a time for confidentiality. The greeter reviews their paperwork to see what they are eligible for. Then the greeter / customer service agent goes to the pantry to retrieve their food products for the two-week period. It's generally a Basic Bag, some frozen chicken and a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables. Apparently the government dictates the contents. Who knew?! And then it's all logged in the computer.

Paris and I assembled more than a hundred Basic Bags today -- two cans of tuna, one bag of pasta, one bag of rice, one can of soup, one can of corn, one can of mixed vegetables, one can of applesauce and one can of beans. And then we did some paperwork. And then we broke 50 lb bags of potatoes, like the one you see above, into 2 lb bags.

The volunteers there could not have been nicer and we had fun while doing it. But it was an eye opener to me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chavurah

A chavurah is a small group of like-minded Jews who assemble to share communal experiences such as lifecycle events and Jewish learning.

When my family moved to Anchorage in 1983, we joined a chavurah. They became our extended family during The Alaska Years because visits from blood relatives were few and far between.

It was an eclectic group because Alaska is an odd place for Jews; it's just not an easy place to be Jewish. The closest Kosher butcher is in Seattle. And Jewish holidays begin and end at sunset which is tricky when there are just 90 minutes of daylight in the winter and 90 minutes of darkness in the summer. And so my parents' closest friends became a group lawyers, oil industry executives, and teachers who fled the Lower 48.

Have you noticed that as people grow up they ground themselves by becoming more religious? I find comfort in Judaism now, and I never gave it much thought until I became a parent. A few years ago Dave and I joined a chavurah through our synagogue. The families were nice enough but there wasn't enough commonality to bind us together.

I have great memories of those years and of those people. Each seemed larger than life. Grace gave me an incredible lemon cheesecake recipe. Sandy and my father served on a volunteer board together for 20+ years. I am still mad about the trip they took to Deer Valley, Utah, on my 21st birthday when I was away at a college. Fran and Cheryl Bremson moved to San Francisco shortly after we returned to the Bay and we still see them from time to time. Roxanne-With-The-Purple-Hair. Jim, who ran the US Customs Office in Anchorage. Do you think that ever came in useful?!

Sandy Gibbs passed away this weekend, quite suddenly. He and my father were friends for 27 years. Anita and my mother were friends for 27 years. My parents are beside themselves. I am shaken to the core.

Sandy was about as unAlaskan as they come. I am quite certain he never shopped for his clothes in-state. Their home was pure Colfax and Fowler. They weren't outdoorsy. They were New York Jews who simply lived and worked in Anchorage. Anita cross stitched our children gorgeous pieces when they were born. And they sent signed Marianne Wieland embossed serigraphs, like the one pictured above. Marianne Wieland is my favorite Alaskan artist.

The midnight sun shines less brightly now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Would you like some truffles with that?

Truffles seem to be everywhere these days. A year ago I bought salt with truffles. It's really good. Then Neeracha brought me salt with truffles from the Dordogne. It's even better; the salt is saltier and the truffle chunks are bigger.

Dave and I went to the Wood Tavern in Rockridge on our anniversary and truffled fries were on the menu. We sat at the bar and the woman next to me mentioned that the restaurant she works at also does truffled fries and she prefers theirs to the ones at Wood Tavern.

Saturday night Dave and I had dinner at 5A5 in the city and Neeracha and Sean joined us, much to my surprise and delight. We had truffled fries, truffled mashed potatoes and her salad had goat cheese with truffles. I like truffles but I'm done for a while.

5A5 is a good spot in the financial district. It features a5 Wagyu beef, Kobe beef and Angus steak. We started with a few rounds of hamachi, salmon and A5 shooters. Dave had tako salad, which he really enjoyed, and I had the wedge, whose best part was the chunks of bacon, which also appeared in the mashed potatoes. We all had steak -- my filet was perfect. Sean, Neeracha and Dave seemed to enjoy theirs, too, based on what was (not) left on the plate.

I had the too-rich chocolate peanut butter cake for dessert and Sean and Neeracha ate the doughnuts flavored with matcha tea and served with a kumquat marmalade.

The restaurant can't decide if it's a restaurant or a lounge but I liked the bathrooms -- dark wood and European style with shared toilets and a central bank of faucets.

My MIL was kind enough to keep the kids overnight so Dave and I headed back to to the Ritz-Carlton where I closed my eyes and awoke 12 hours later to a view of Coit Tower. Life is good.