Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year in an Old Place

It's New Year's Eve and Max and I are at home. We've been here all day and plan to be here when the New Year rolls around. We are so glad to be back at our real home with family and friends. Today we took care of Taylor and Samantha while both Mary and Kevin had to work. Boy have we ever forgotten how hard it is to take care of young children. Mary brought them over at about 8:00 all bundled up on this cold winter morning.
Max and I had great plans of taking them to our favorite local eatery, Half Day Cafe, for breakfast. We bundled them up and walked the 3 blocks on this winter day. Half Day does great breakfasts and we quickly got a table and ordered. I love outings- always have- and outings with children are the very best kind. A walk in the cold- with snow flurries all about- bundled up with the babes- is the best life has to give.

Sam got bites of pancakes...

and fruit, while Taylor had his own sweet potato pancakes with plenty of maple syrup.

Max and I were surprised how much work it is to have two small children. I'm not sure how young mothers are able to take care and keep control all by themselves. Max and I were outnumbered about three to one by these two, actually mostly by Taylor who is almost 3. Sam is only 6 months and just a sweet little joy to take care of. But Taylor is active, inquisitive, and constantly wanting to know about everything. We made it through breakfast and walked back home so Max and Taylor could make cookies. Max had put the recipes together the night before and Taylor helped put them on the cookie sheets for baking. I was using the "Best Chocolate Chip Recipe Ever" from the NYT- haven't eaten enough to know if they are really the best- but I'll let you know.

As you can see Taylor helped with the cookies and Semper got to help in making sure they were tasty.

I wasn't quite sure at the end which cookies had an extra licking- and which didn't- but just figured that after 10 minutes in a hot oven all sins are erased. I do love absolution!

After cookies it started snowing and the birds at our bird feeders decided it was time for a snack.
Seeing birds and squirrels at our feeders is another thing I missed so much in California. I'm back and the birds are back. Grandparents just love different things- baking cookies, birds at the feeders, breakfast at the local diner. Our life is such a different pace from the life of young families. I hope that in some way our rather slow life here in this old house can reach across the years and connect with these oh so special babies of ours. Taylor, Max and I also did puzzles, read books, listened to CD's, and ventured all around the house exploring and asking about everything.

Mary got off early and saved us from total fatique. We're not sure how she and Kevin handle these kids every day, but think we must have been able to do it when we were younger since our kids seemed to have grown up without major problems. I do think that being so proud of our children- enjoying them so very much- and yet being still close enough to remember those "difficult" years- gives us a calm confidence that you really shouldn't sweat the small stuff- that things really do work themselves out. That life truly is what you believe it to be.

This evening we are enjoying a quiet New Year's Eve with the dogs. We built a fire in our wood stove (the first since we got back), and are listening to Winter Soltice CD's by Windham Hill. Now Don would have you believe that we went straight from playing with the babes to a fire and quiet with the dogs- but no that is not how this day played out. In between we cleaned out the downstairs closet (did I mention how much cleaning, clearing, discarding, moving, storing... we are doing... day after day after day), changed the shower curtains on both bathrooms, adventured to the feed mill for more bird seed. And then of course there was dinner to fix. One of my very favorite meals in San Fran was a rice bowl with Unagi Eel. Well I found the eel at Jungle Jim's in the Japanese freezer case- and then went on to recreate the dish. Did any of you really believe that you would get through this blog without something from Max about food???

I will in a later post write out the recipe for you. It was quite good I might say (by the way we fixed chicken for Don- he hates eel- and the dish I had is called the Unadon- or sometimes UnaDon). But anyway- since I wasn't measuring clearly for the Unagi sauce- or the sushi rice- I think I'll recreate at a later date- and give you the real details- because I think some of you might like to try this dish. And you'll feel just like you're sitting in my favorite restaurant in San Fran...

Semper has taken his place in front of the stove where it is warm.

He is 13 years old this year and has survived beyond the average for Dalmatians. When we left for California I was afraid he would not survive our return, but with great care from Amber and Michael and Liz he is still here and still probably the best dog any one could ever have. He is mostly deaf, mostly blind, slower and less mobile than before, but nonetheless he is Always Faithful - a reflection of his name. I'm not sure how much longer he can last, but he was here when I got back and I am forever grateful for that. So we are home. In the quiet. And it is good. Happy New Year to all.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Road Trip Home: Grand Canyon - A few days on the edge

We got to the Canyon just before nightfall and found our way to the El Tovar Lodge that sits right at the edge of the canyon (in the picture just below). The lodge reminded me of the lodge at Old Faithful, except on a much smaller scale. I have waited 32 years to stay in this lodge. I stopped by the Canyon (a very brief one day walk about) on a cross country from California to Louisiana after living in Hawaii. Brandy was just a baby. And all I did was walk into the hotel and look around the lobby- and walk out. But I knew that someday I wanted to stay in the Grand Hotel- at this very Grand Canyon. It has a large stone fireplace in the reception area with a hugh decorated fir tree that rose up into the second floor lounge. It was a cloudy evening and we caught glimpses of the canyon as it quickly got dark.

Our first full day there it was still cloudy and rainy, so we decided to explore some of the museums. The Verkamp Curios is a store that was established in 190 by John Verkamp who came from Cincinnati. It was owned by the Verkamp family until two years ago when it became a museum. A forest ranger there is a historian and told us the history of the place as we sat around the large stone fireplace. He had come to the Canyon right after finishing a Master's Degree in history and loved the area so much he decided to stay. He applied for a job and was hired immediately, as a dish washer. He's been there ever since, now a historian relating the events of the area to visitors who come by. The amazing thing is that he is now 71 years old and mostly blind, but still mentally sharp and a wonderful story teller.

Since it was still rainy, we next went to Kolb Studio which was a photo studio started by two brothers in 1903 at the start of the Bright Angel Trail. They had an old box camera that was positioned above the trail and they took pictures of people as they rode by on the mules on their way down the canyon. This was the first Party Pics business- and it was very, very successful! As you might imagine, the studio sits right on the edge of the canyon and has been there for over 100 years. These two museums would have been places we wouldn't have seen had it not been raining, so we were thankful for the weather. The canyon is so absolutely gorgeous I know we wouldn't have paused for any of the "history" had it not been so cold and windy- but we felt really lucky that the weather gave us such an unexpected opportunity- but then weather can often do that.

But enough of this- when you go to the canyon it is all about the canyon- and what a sight! It is so understandable that this is one of the seven wonders of the natural world! If you want to learn more about the wonders of the world you can go to: But the GRAND CANYON is the real deal. So now I've been twice- and you drive away knowing that this is a MUST SEE AGAIN destination. The sun finally showed through a little so we ventured along the rim stopping at vistas to take pictures. On days like this day the canyon is an ever changing scene. The clouds moving across the sky change the shadows every minute and with the sun so far south on this December day the shadows just from the sun were spectacular.

We finished up this day parked in a spot we had chosen earlier so we could watch the sun set. Wow, was it ever worth it! There were just a few cars there with us, but we were told later that during the summer months, you have to get there very early to even have a place to stop and the traffic jams near sun down are horrific. But we were there-in fact had a front row seat- from our car so we didn't have to stand out in the wicked cold wind- and I must have taken 60 pictures. It just kept changing and each picture was different from the previous one. Here are a couple of my favorites. I do think that sun sets just don't get better than this!

The next morning we arose to 3 inches of new snow, a cold wind blowing across the canyon, and absolutely clear blue skies. So put up with my pictures of this canyon as we headed from the west end to the east end, stopping at all of the vistas along the way. I even used my fisheye lense a few time to try to get the broadest view.

Sorry for putting in so many pictures, but how does one decide how to share pictures of the canyon out of the 150 or so different views taken?? I tried to narrow it down, but the canyon is so big and so beautiful, it just wasn't possible. And it's easy to understand why we began planning a return trip with the last glimpse of the canyon still in the rear view mirror!

Road Trip Home: Family Take Two

Max made it to Vegas the day before I did since she drove in on Friday, 12/5, while I was interviewing in Cincinnati. I arrived on Saturday morning to the Las Vegas airport, in my opinion one of the worst I have visited. It's not that the airport is old or out of date. My problem is that the airport is just another casino in Las Vegas. As soon as you get off the plane, you are surrounded by slot machines positioned to get either your first dollar or you last if you are leaving. You might have guessed, that it's not just the airport that I dislike, it's the whole atmosphere of Las Vegas with its emphasis on gambling and commercial sex. If your interests are outside of those subjects, you had better have family there to visit or you won't have much to do.

Now if you're still wondering how Don feels about Vegas- he is rather subtle in his writing- one picture is worth a thousand words!

But Brandy and Will live there and that makes moving through the airport and driving through the strip worth the trip.

We went straight from the airport to a restaurant- Remember Brandy is eating for two!

Brandy has become a very accomplished cook and has some interest in fresh ingredients. Since she lives in the desert where it is warm several months of the year and down right burning the remainder, we suggested she plant some herbs in her back yard. We got barrels, dirt, and bedding plants, picked a sunny spot and planted her first garden.

You might know that not too long after we left, the temperatures dropped and they actually had snow in Vegas. Who would have thought it could have happened? I guess we can just blame global warming for one more freezing spell.

Don and Brandy did a great job! And I had fun watching. (For awhile some years ago I thought that perhaps I might be a gardener as well- not just Don. So I bought all the appropriate equipment- rather the approach I take to cooking. So I bought aprons- and spoons and spades and carts- Oh the cutest stuff you can even imagine. In the end though I find that I like the "IDEA" of gardening much better than the actual back breaking work of gardening. So most of the time I "watch"- from the window- while Don (and now Brandy) do the back breaking work of gardening.)

The morning we left, we decided to go out to breakfast at a place that Brandy wanted to try. You might guess it was in a casino in the new growth area north of Las Vegas. It kind of reminded me of the many casinos being built by native indian tribes across the country. It was built about 10 miles away from the strip with a large hotel and multiple restaraunts.

Unfortunately the one we wanted had a long line, so we just did the brunch, ate more than we intended and started our drive to the Grand Canyon. Nothing like a buffet! Don calls it eating from a trough- it is absolutely amazing how much food you can pile on the plate- and even leave on the plate.

And Brandy and I had time- never enough- to talk baby- oh how much fun this baby talk. Plans for the nursery- plans for the equipment (babies need even more equipment than kitchens or gardens-and it is just as costly)- and of course plans for the Grandma to visit. I'm going back to Brandy's in April- I want to see her REALLY PREGNANT- and then again in June when the baby comes. This is all so exciting. And this Grandma is having a good time!

Road Trip Home: Family Take One!

We have finished Max's Dream and are now back in Cincinnati. The Dream ended as we packed up our apartment and headed out. So this blog is now in transition and over the next few posts will evolve into our life in Cincinnati. In addition, we've changed the name and the picture to reflect these changes, but the blog link will remain the same.

Part of the reason for us leaving San Francisco was that P&G, who was paying my rent, changed their strategy and decided to move out of pharmaceuticals focusing on consumer healthcare (Vicks, Metamucil, Pepto Bismol, and more). Consequently, there wasn't much use for me to be looking for new opportunities for P&G in the pharmaceutical business. So Procter pulled me home.

So this new blog takes up where Max's Dream left off. We will start with our trip home to Cincinnati with stops in Las Vegas to see Brandy, the Grand Canyon, and Tulsa to see Granddad Frank & Fay, and Brother Bill & Ellen, and Niece Tracy and grand nephew and niece, Kyle and Becca.

With the change in focus at P&G, a downsizing is also in order and Mother Procter decided to try to downsize by offering separation packages to a great number of it's pharmaceutical employees, me included. It was an attractive package and worth consideration. The bottom line is that I did apply for a job at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, but I didn't fit their needs, so I turned down P&G's package and will be employed there at least for the near future. The interview process at Children's forced me to leave Max in San Francisco on December 4 as the movers were loading our stuff into the truck so I could do the interview with Children's in Cincinnati on December 5. So I flew to Cincinnati and Max made sure everything got put in the truck and then drove the Civic the first 300 miles of the trip to Bakersfield, Ca. where she met up with Marianne, Reeder and Hayes. But that's her story to tell, and I'll chime back in with the next blog at the next stop in Las Vegas at Brandy's house.

IT IS ALL ABOUT THE ROOM SERVICE! OH HOW I DO LOVE ROOM SERVICE! And I do believe Reeder is loving it too!

Marianne and the babes drove up from San Clemente to meet me at Bakerfield- And we "stayed in"- stayed in a GIANT family suite and ordered ROOM SERVICE and the In Room Movie. Now that's really living!

It looks like they ordered enough for six or seven! Maybe a couple of those were for the dogs.

Now in case you are wondering- this is my idea of a good time- not Don's! And had he been along you can be sure that there would have been NO ROOM SERVICE. But Don wasn't along. So I did exactly as I pleased- and speed dialed to the kitchen- and we had dinner- And breakfast. She's right. I don't do room service, ever. I have never found it enjoyable to get food that is delivered less than hot, sit on an uncomfortable chair at a desk to eat, not have any recourse is something isn't right or they forgot something, like the salad dressing for my salad, have to pay an up charge of 20% just to get it to the room and then another 20% on top of that as a tip for the person that brings it 40 minutes to an hour after I ordered it. Just exactly what is the good part about that?

Now I'm not sure if Hayes was appropriately impressed- But there was plenty of space to show off his increasing mobility...

And there were great big comfy beds with plenty of room for everyone...

And Reeder showed me her somersault- not crooked a bit!

And then we went to Toys R Us to pick out toys for Christmas. As you might imagine Reeder was a great help. (And I hear that her Dad is LOVING all the little food pieces we got for her kitchen at home- why I think there was over 100 plastic parts!) Good Grief! We bought all of that? That looks more like the truck the Marines use when they collect toys for tots!

And then lunch at a Mexican Restaurant (I am missing all the great Mexican Restaurants already).

And is there a cuter mug!?!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

One Last Time: A Trip to Muir Woods

Our last trips wouldn't have been complete without a last trip to Muir Woods, just about our favorite place here in the bay area. These woods have a special meaning to both Max and me. We visited them on our first trip to San Francisco so many years ago and after the woods we went to Muir Beach and watched the waves crash against the rocky shoreline. So we did it again just like the first trip. But we've seen so many more of the redwoods since we've been here that these now are recognized not only as different, but also special to us. Maybe it's because they were our first redwoods or maybe because we have been here so many times, to visit ourselves or to bring our guests here so that we could share the woods with them.

It's not that the trees are so big, because we've seen much bigger coastal redwoods in Humbolt National Forest and we've seen the giants of Sequoia National Park. It's more the nature of these trees and how they grow. These are ancient trees that share ancestry since they mostly propagate from shoots that come from around the living tree. Thus, when one of the ancient trees finally does die, the progeny form it are exact genetic duplicates since they came from the same tissue. This is an example of cloning where maintenance of the exact genome has kept these trees identical to those that were here during the ages of dinosaurs.

The picture above is a ring of tress that survived the "mother" tree that once grew in the center of this ring of trees, but died hundreds of years ago and left only the indentation of where it stood. You can see the sprouts of trees coming up around the trunk of the tree behind me in the picture below.

It's in this way that these trees remind us of family. Families usually have a center that holds them together much the same way that these trees are a family surrounding what used to be their center.

But we also love the beauty of this place. It is peaceful and quiet and green with life.

As we leave California, Max decided that she wanted to bring some of the redwoods with her. These coastals wouldn't survive in Cincinnati's cold winter, but the Giant Sequoia will, so Max bought two seedings of the Giant Sequoia that are "guaranteed to grow". We'll plant them next spring and see how they do.

From Muir Woods we set off for Muir Beach and while walking along the hillside toward the beach we came upon what looks like a Great Blue Heron. It stood in front of me for a few minutes about 15 feet away before flying back towards Max. It stared at her while she took it's picture. It then decided that she wasn't a threat and walked right between us and up the hill. It stopped and posed for us almost as though it knew we were admiring it.

We finally settled on the beach and watched the waves crash into the boulders.

Finally on the walk out the sun was beginning to set and the sky brightened for a final view.

Well it's almost time to leave this beautiful place- this place that has been our home for a little over a year. The movers have most everything in boxes as I write this final paragraph- and we'll sleep at a nearby inn tonight- and then drive away tomorrow. When we were in the Muir Woods just two days ago, Don said- "I'd like to take a picture of the sounds of this forest". Well here it is- the sounds of Muir Woods.