Friday, December 23, 2005

If I had one wish...

This is the last of my Burbank airport blogs (promise).

To paraphrase Steve Martin in the classic Saturday Night Live Christmas sketch: "If I had just one wish this Christmas, it would be for all the children of the world to sing in peace and harmony." Not in Burbank.

This note goes out to the woman in the Burbank airport bookstore, who wedged herself and her child in between me and the magazine rack I was perusing: "I just need to check a price." So, the woman and her child look for a price on a miniature airplane, while I stand patiently. Well, soon they discover that there are LOTS of planes, and I discover that these two don't make decisions easily. I stand literally less than a foot from them, staring right through them at the magazines I can't see, while the mom describes each of the planes ("This is Air Force has beds and a dining room...")

I can be stubborn! I stood there for 3-4 LONG minutes I'm sure. No apologies. No "just one more minute". No "we need to choose so this nice man can stop standing here staring at us". Nope. Nothing.

So, my gift to the world...or at least the customers in the Greater Burbank Area: my wish for this woman is that she learn to teach her child about peace and harmony in 2006. Maybe she can break the cycle of people that think there is nobody else in the world.

Seat 1B...

(Written on my short flight from Burbank to SFO last night.)
The poor woman in 1B. She boarded our flight from Burbank to San Francisco as a standby passenger from a later flight that was also delayed. Rain in SF delayed everything for 2-3 hours. Needless to say everyone on this flight is tense--most are trying to connect to other flights for Christmas. So she boards--excited and hopeful--and finds nooks to store her small bags--the one downside to a bulkhead seat.

Well, the doors are closed and then reopened: "Will standby passenger X please gather your carry-ons and deplane". The woman in 1B stands in front of a full plane, gathers her belongings, and asks politely for the reason. In an apologetic (but loud) voice, the flight attendant explains that the plane is simply overweight. I'm sure it didn't help this poor traveler's self esteem, since she was a bit heavyset. Talk about a string of bad luck :(

Thursday, December 22, 2005

News from Burbank (and Christmas from China)...

Well, a strong rain storm has delayed me in Burbank's Bob Hope International Airport this afternoon. The good news is that they have added wireless internet since I was trapped here last. The bad news is that I've got time to dig through pictures and post them to my blog :)

But first, my useless fact of the day. I learned from the Channel 7 local news (which is droning on in the background) about what is going on in the stores as the Christmas shopping season draws to a close. According to the live report, "the men are better prepared this year. They are here with lists and know what they are looking for." And we need 24x7 news why?

So, what are these men buying? Well, I humbly suggest the BEST white elephant gift I have ever drawn: the Pig Crumb Vacuum (thank you Denise). I mean, who hasn't finished a meal only to find the table covered with food crumbs? Well, China Incorporated has sent us boatloads of these pink plastic pigs. Along with thousands of other gifts to re-gift. So, the theory is that by offshoring this stuff, we reduce prices so that we can buy more for less...but more of what?

So, to counter the crass commercialism bombarding me here in the airport, I submit three photos that remind me of holidays past.

If you haven't gotten me a gift yet...

So, I ran across the oddest of signs today. I was in the Federal building in Los Angeles today, and a sign enticing passers-by to visit the "welfare and immigration gift shop". The featured item on the sign was a Department of Homeland Security ceramic mug.

Hint hint hint.

By the way, this does not top the funniest sign I saw in the same building a couple of years ago. It was an ad for the building's in-house barber shop. The tag line? "If you're bored at work, why not drop by for a haircut." Classic.

San Jose update...

Back in October, I proudly announced San Francisco's #1 ranking among Conde Nast Traveler readers. At the same time, I pondered what San Jose advocates would say in a readers survey. Well, never let it be said that I'm not obsessive--I have the answer.

On my flight to San Diego this week, I read a 15-20 page paid advertisement for the City of San Jose in the United Hemisphere magazine. Here are the subjects of the photos and headlines in this paid advertisement--my assumption being that if you want to entice readers to travel to your city, then you draw them in with the San Jose equivalent of the Golden Gate Bridge! Well, you decide:

- Santana Row (an upscale, outdoor shopping mall)
- a farmers market
- the San Jose Sharks (the local NHL hockey team)
- pictures of the restored downtown shopping district
- the San Jose Symphony
- golf
- scientists using beakers
- the Technology Museum
- people drinking wine
- a plaza with playful fountains that spray you when you walk by
- an remodeled airport minutes from silicon valley companies
- home to Apple, Google, eBay, Cisco, and Adobe
- the headline: "50 miles south of san Francisco"
- a convention center
- the San Jose Grand Prix (1.6mi circuit through downtown)
- Children's Discovery Museum
- Winchester Mystery House
- brown grassy hills for mountain biking
- many hotels
- san Jose university

Uh, huh. Hmmmm. "Well, honey. I've got the brochures. Instead of going to San Francisco this year, I booked us a room at the San Jose Hilton. Did you know they are only 50 minutes south of San Francisco? AND they have scientists!"


I DID learn two cool facts from this advertising section:

  1. 58 companies with market capitalizations over $1 billion are headquartered within 12 minutes of the San Jose airport.
  2. 34% of the nation's venture capital is invested in the region!!
So, in response, I dug up one of the pictures we took while driving visitors around the city. This is the famous view of downtown with the Painted Ladies in the foreground. I think that makes a much more compelling tourist photo than the Google World Headquarters!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

More cookies...

What better way to spend a cold, wet December day than making cookies with friends. Today, it was downright cold here in SF...and by cold, we mean 45-55. (Yes, I know its freezing in the east, but hey, I saw my breath tonight!)

Fortunately, my friend Pamela, from my photography class, invited us to join in one of her favorite holiday traditions--a big table, crowded with friends, who are all decorating fresh sugar cookies. Oh, and I tried an Old Fashioned for the first time, made "the right way" by Pamela's husband.

Between us, Jeff and I made a couple dozen cookies. And we had a warm indoor-afternoon with friends old and new.

The rest of the day was fairly typical. We woke up a bit later than normal, because we had been out late at my firm's local holiday party--at the top the St. Francis peering down on Union Square. Breakfast, haircut, and a bit of shopping at the Warming Hut, right at the Golden Gate Bridge. Out at the bridge, we regretted not having our camera, because the white caps were quite dramatic, and the waves were splashing up onto the roadway.

Tonight, the wind and rain are quite heavy, so we're huddled in the living room by the fire, watching The Sound of Music...and eating cookies of course.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Remembering Ginger Gramma...

Louise Etter Clifford. My brother and I always called my mother's mother 'Ginger Gramma'--after her bounding Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Ginger. My grandmother's home in St. Michaels, Maryland was a cozy one-bedroom cabin--a summer cabin turned all weather home--built by my grandmother and grandfather and family. The property became fondly known as Whiskey Hill (we simply called it "the cabin") and was situated right on the wide, salty waters of Edge Creek (a fantastic tributary of the Chesapeake Bay).

My brother and I felt at home in St. Michaels. We spent winter holidays in front of gramma's fireplace playing cards, and long summer vacations crabbing and swimming in the creek.

My grandmother was a generous woman--at least from the perspective of a well coddled, oldest grandchild :) Gramma infused me with a love of reading, a love of cooking (and a well equipped kitchen), and a love of the Orioles. She also fed my early interests in computers, by giving me my first computer: a Sinclair ZX81 with a whopping 1K of memory and a tape drive. That computer taught me more than any Windows box I've owned since.

Christmas was one of my grandmother's favorite event holidays. She prided herself at having just the right gifts on hand, hand-picked for the individual. Nothing elaborate: Cheez-Its for my dad, cocktail hotdogs for my brother, a bird ornament for my mother, an Orioles trinket for me. She would collect odds and ends throughout the year to put in Christmas stockings. She loved to hear the stories of how each and every gift was used. She loved a good story, and would tell everybody she saw.

I could go on and on and on. I've got a gazillion stories.

In August, we held a memorial service and family day. The memorial service was at the Quaker Meeting House in nearby Easton. Afterwards, the family gathered at the cabin--we're talking 50 people--all talking, eating crabs, and laughing. It was the best party at the cabin in years, and my grandmother is busy telling EVERYBODY about it in heaven.

The pictures below, start with three showing the catching, steaming, and eating of the crabs. Then there is shot of one of the multi-generational tables. Finally, there is a post-party shot of the calm at the cabin.

Remembering Aunt Sallie...

Sallie Coe Smith. My Aunt Sallie was my father's father's sister. Ever since I can remember, she lived in a beautiful, turn-of-the-century home in Edinburg, Virginia, which is a lovely town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. On hot summer days, my grandmother would walk my brother and me to Aunt Sallie's to swim in Stoney Creek, which was a stone's throw from her front steps. Stoney Creek was one of those small, cold mountain creeks with smooth round rocks under your feet. Just enough current to let us drift a bit.

I remember that Aunt Sallie was an active leader in the community--the Methodist church where my grandfather ministered and the Edinburg community library are two in particular. I remember that the grape vine behind her house was always full. I remember that Aunt Sallie loved cats. I remember she loved history, and that her walls were covered with mementos from the White House, where her husband worked.

When Aunt Sallie died this year, the family held a memorial service at the family church. This is a small, local parish, and every pew was filled. Afterwards, there was a light luncheon in the church hall, with food made by church members.

The family held a small ceremony at the cemetery, where Aunt Sallie was buried next to her husband, and next to my grandmother and grandfather. Then we gathered at Aunt Sallies home for family memories, walks down to Stoney Creek, and many laughs. The highlight for me was teaching my nephew Wade (4 years old) to take pictures with my digital camera--you should have seen the smiles he captured.

Two photos below. One is a photo of a photo of my Aunt Sallie. The second is a photo of the old railroad bridge across Stoney Creek--growing up, my brother and cousins and I were captivated by this bridge and would walk up to it every time we visited Aunt Sallie...although I don't think we ever crossed it.

Remembering Nancy...

Nancy R. Buck. I met Nancy my first year in San Francisco. She ran the photo lab for City College at Ft. Mason. What began as a weekly tutorial in how to develop film, what filter to use for the proper print contrast, and the art of dodging and burning, quickly evolved into a deep friendship. Each week in the lab, we would share a mango iced tea or a mint chocolate cookie from Greens and discuss the latest must-try hamburger joint.

Then Nancy became family. She would visit with Jeff and me to see our latest garden project. She looked after Dobie and Buster while we were on travel. She shared tips on where we could get good gelato. And she joined our holiday dinners when our families visited.

Nancy had a passion for trying and doing...everything. Nancy had as many hobbies as you could cram into the one bedroom Russian Hill apartment where she lived for 30 years. In addition to being an accomplished photographer, Nancy made jewelry, studied horticulture, played instruments, was a voracious reader, loved food, and had a passion for travel. Her apartment was a museum--with a carefully selected collection from her extended travels in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

When Nancy died this year, it all happend so quickly, that we barely had time to say goodbye. But in the process of visiting Nancy in the hospital, and helping her family to put her affairs in order after her death, Jeff and I became close with some of Nancy's friends from other parts of her life. Its like Nancy planned it this way.

At our most recent holiday show, Nancy's absence was evident. But so was her lasting impact. Friends that she brought together through her life gathered and toasted her memory...and made plans to visit together again.

Below, is a picture from Nancy's memorial service on the Bay. Below that is a photo from the "after party" at Paradise Bay on the harbor in Sausalito--John, Regina, Jeff, Suzette, Joyce, Pat, and Susan offering a toast to Nancy (some of us with an awesome rasberry mojito, which Nancy would have LOVED!!)

Monday, December 12, 2005


The hustle and bustle of December, a fast-approaching Christmas, and 2006 save-the-dates already being penciled in have all brought 2005 rushing back to me in a similar blur. Facts fade quickly and memories blend together. This is what I am thinking about at midnight tonight--unable to sleep--a flood of recollections and a fear that I may not ever capture them.

I lost three people in my life this year. My dear friend Nancy. My Aunt Sallie. And my Grandmother.

So, I've decided to jot down some stream of conscious memories, before 2006 reprograms those brain synapses with the latest celebrity breakup or infuriating political drivel.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Last night, I made some cookies that Jeff and I had in Siena this year for the first time. They are called ricciarelli.

We first stumbled on ricciarelli in the middle of a long afternoon walk around Siena. As had become our habit in Italy, we delayed lunch until that magic hour when everything closes in the afternoon--any time after 1:30pm is risky in our experience.

No lunch + steep medieval streets = grumpy!

So, thank goodness for La Nuova Pasticceria, which supplied us with these delightful, almond-based treats. After this run-in, we started to see ricciarelli on desert menus and in other stores. But we never saw them outside of Siena.

In any case, I'm happy to report that our version of ricciarelli is excellent. The next batch will have some orange I'll have to report on that. Here's a photo of the finished product. These cookies are perfect for Christmas desert with milk. They are chewy and sweetened with honey and vanilla and powdered sugar (yum). Enjoy.

Poor advertising...

A couple of signs caught my eye this week, and fortunately I had my camera handy. The first is a set of window signs that we have seen above a Burger King in the outer Sunset District. "Stinky Burger King" is one of our favorite phrases now :) And don't miss the "smell smell smell" sign! Oh, and the "get ZITS" sign!!
Now, this second sign is typical of the hole-in-the wall restaurants in the Tenderloin District. I particularly like how the word 'restaurant' runs off the page. It reminds me of the posters I made in elementary school. And it certainly gives me confidence that they use only the choicest cuts of meat.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Good day sunshine...

So, perhaps this is old news by now, but our rain Wednesday made me think about a story I read in both the Examiner and the Chronicle that just captured my imagination. The story concerned a small town--Rattenberg, Austria--that 700 years after its founding has decided that it is sick and tired of winter darkness. It seems that the same mountain nook that has shielded the town from enemy attack also blocks direct sunlight between November and February. Sixty other nearby Alpine towns suffer a similar fate.

The solution for Rattenberg: 30 mirrors mounted on a hilltop in such a pattern that light is directed into select common areas of the town. The cost: $2.4 million.

Now, the 440 residents of Rattenberg believe that bringing sunlight into their town will reverse the decline in population, particularly the young people that move away. Before committing these funds, however, I suggest that the Rattenbergers visit an urban club or disco to watch what young people do when the lights come on at closing time--they scurry, lest they be seen under the unflattering fluorescent lights.

The lesson? Perhaps Rattengerians aren't that good looking, and turning on the winter lights could decrease the population even further. I'm just tossing that out for consideration.

In rebuttal, Buster (below) would like to point out that sunbeams are quite nice, thank you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Photos from the holiday show...

For this show, I selected six images from my "Venice at Night" series. These images evoke a feeling of the serenity you discover wandering the narrow back streets of Venice after the crowds have returned to the mainland for the night.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Union Square lights...

We went out to dinner this weekend in Union Square...a perfect excuse to see the stores all lit up and the Macy's Christmas Tree in the center of the square. All we needed was some snow.

Optimism or futility...

I passed this guy trying to load up his car at the Presidio this weekend. I think the picture speaks for itself!

Successful photo show...

The Ft. Mason Holiday Show was this weekend. Each year, my fellow photography classmates and I transform our classroom into a one-room art gallery. We begin the transformation on Friday morning by moving furniture, computers, and photo equipment into the darkroom.

Then the fun part. We hang our work gallery style. Here are my friends Susan and Roxanne hanging one of my photos.

In all, 10 students plus our instructor displayed approximately 50 works of art for our adoring public. We even hung two pieces in memory of our dear friend Nancy...she made these shows really run like clockwork, and she was dearly missed.

A couple hundred people saw our work over an evening and a day. So many good friends dropped by for some wine and art. I even sold a couple of images. How flattering is that :)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Chex please...

In honor of my brother Cliff's UNBEATABLE version of Chex Mix from last Christmas, Jeff made a batch of his own this week. Now, if there is one snack that I can't put down, its homemade Chex Mix--real butter, Worcestershire Sauce, mix, all toasted for an hour in the oven to coagulate...YUM! We downed this batch in like 3 days tops. (Also in honor of my brother, who made a total of 3-4 entire batches during his week-long visit last year!) Merry Christmas, Cliff.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Holiday cheer...fulfilled...

Not even December yet and already so much holiday cheer. I added to this today by slipping a new Christmas CD in to my car changer. First, the back story.

Like most folks, I respond with Pavlovian glee when I hear the holiday regulars--Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Burl Ives, Johnny Mathis, etc. And my love of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special growing up has made that CD a staple in my adult holiday festivities. Oh, and of course, all the classic 80's and 90's stars-turned-crooners are near and dear to my heart. (Who doesn't like hearing Bono in Do They Know Its Christmas.)

But my brother and I didn't own any of that music when we were kids. For us, Christmas music will always have its roots in the two records that we played nonstop each December (and fought over nightly, I might add). Our classics? A Merry Mancini Christmas by the Henry Mancini Orchestra and Chorus and That Holiday Feeling! by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

No snickering please.

I found the Mancini album released on CD several years ago...and that made me very happy. But Steve and Eydie eluded me. Well, the wait is over. This 1964 "classic" is available from Amazon, and it arrived yesterday.

So this morning, I sung my way into work. This may be a sign of a need for therapy of some type, but I enthusiastically recommend Steve and Eydie. There is no way it won't make you smile...the way that a classic Sinatra tune does picks you up. Its HIP, baby.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Driving north...

On Sunday, we shared one of favorite day trips with Jeff's co-worker Brian, who was visiting from New Jersey. The rain to come the next day was proceeded by lots of picturesque clouds. (Clouds are Mother Nature's gift to photographers.)

We drove north from San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and out to the coast along curvey Route 1. Just past Muir Beach, we stopped at a hidden overlook--an old military outlook--where we could stretch our legs and look back towards the city.

An hour later, after many twists and turns, we arrived at our destination: the Pt. Reyes National Seashore lighthouse, which is situated on a craggy point at what seems like the end of earth. We arrived around 4pm, which meant that the sun was well into its warm decent. This lit up the coastal rocks in a beautiful golden color.

The Pt. Reyes lighthouse is situated at the bottom of a long staircase, over 300 stairs down...and unfortunately over 300 back up.

As we drove away from the lighthouse, we stopped several times to catch the changing light of the sunset. We passed a dozen grazing deer, hundreds of cows eating dinner, and some pretty spectacular vistas.

Decorating our home...

One of the benefits of being in San Francisco for Thanksgiving was that we could decorate our Christmas tree early and enjoy it for the entire month of December. So, we began in earnest Friday morning after a hearty breakfast including some fried potato patties courtesy of our Thanksgiving feast. (Honestly, who can really make mashed potatoes for two and NOT have leftovers!)

The before and after pictures below are really quite striking. Jeff is the stylist for our tree...and I think you will have to agree that the tree is truly quite beautiful. Our collection of ornaments is very special to us. We've assembled an enormous collection of special ornaments from our travels together (e.g., Florence, Hawaii, St. Michaels), some pieces Jeff has collected, some handmade ornaments from friends (and one I made as a child), and several pieces from my grandmother and our friend Nancy. We've added framed pictures of Jeff's neice and nephews, and a handfull of White House historical ornaments. This is a special tree.

Jeff made the comment tonight that we should leave our decorations up all year. :) So tempting. Between the tree, the garland, and our fireplace, we simply don't want to leave the living room. Dobie certainly agrees...she LOVES the fireplace. (So do is COLD in San Francisco this week!)