Wednesday, January 31, 2007


So, I alluded to our new GPS navigation helper who we have named "Emily" after her lilting British accent. Other than our test runs at Christmas, we haven't done any long roadtrips, so we've taken to trying to fool Emily as we drive around the City. We plug in obscure destinations and then mock Emily as she tries to take off our "normal" route.

Still, Emily is patient when we ignore her directions. "Recalculating..." she announces calmly after each missed turn.

I was thinking that you could really have some fun with programming a GPS personality...particularly the NAG that berates you when you miss a turn. "Didn't I tell you to turn left? Why don't you just figure it out yourself, genius." :)

No, not our Emily. She is sweet. And she seems to know where every Starbucks in the world is!! What more can you ask for?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Time warp...

Jeff and I joined our friend Chris for a very yummy brunch in Noe Valley this morning. We ate at a hip hole in the wall called Toast, which seems to specialize in mouth watering French toast and pancakes. I didn't happen to have my camera today...which made me think of these photos from our Sunday lunch LAST weekend at the de Young :) (I tried this flavorful pastrami sandwich.)

We hit the de Young as the afternoon sun was just starting to light everything up with a hint of red. This really set off the panoramic landscape around the de Young's observation tower. One cool aspect of the tower is that it is free to everyone, not just museum visitors. A very nice gift to the community.

The sunlight also set off the new Academy of Sciences, which is under construction directly across from the de Young. Slated to open in 2008, this building already captivates the imagination with its sine-wave roof.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sweeping bay views plus maximum security...

One of the stranger sights that might catch your glance as you drive through serene Marin County is the historic San Quentin State Prison, a maximum security facility complete with gas chamber. It also happens to sit on prime SF Bay waterfront property, with vistas to remind 6000 inmates how good life is on the outside.

Jeff and I spotted the prison as we were taking a quiet, sunny drive through Tiburon. The facility stands out as your eye pans across wetlands and multi-million dollar waterfront condos.

Monday, January 22, 2007


As you might expect, the pickings are slim in the calendar aisles of the bookstore. Nevertheless, 22 days into the new year, I wandered off to dig through the scraps for a $5 wall calendar. (For the past three weeks, I have been gesturing .to the blank spot on my wall where a calendar usually hangs...soooooo, I had to find SOMETHING suitable.)

Sure, there were the normal cute kittens and well-dressed puppies; there were ducklings, cows, pigs, and even "jackasses". But the 12-months of hamster photos took top prize as the oddest calendar to grace a wall.

What did I buy? Hardly surprising: vintage black and white photographs of trains. There were actually THREE competing calendars with that theme.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Piece of cake...

Birthdays are a bit more magical when mixed with a pinch of surprise. Jeff's cold nixed our plans to drive north for an overnighter in Sonoma, so had to concoct a new treat. My simple solution was to treat Jeff to a variation on his favorite birthday cake (Black Forest)...I made Black Forest cupcakes instead. Aren't I a clever one?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A few odds and ends (oh and Jeff's birthday)...

First off...Happy Birthday to my dear Jeffrey. He is still fighting a nasty cold, so its a low key day. Nevertheless, he did get a warm pancake breakfast that certainly helped his mood.

This morning, I was playing around with a few photos from the past week. First off is another shot from my flight above the Rockies last weekend. I just love the dramatic clouds in this shot. Then, a couple of shots of the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas. And lastly, a family shot from the Duke Gardens in North Carolina.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Showy and snowy Rockies...

The Rocky Mountain states were a captivating sight during my return flight from North Carolina Sunday afternoon. The sun was low, which set off unique textures and out-of-place facilities. This smokestack created an incredible show that I just had to try and capture. It was impressive in color, but dramatic in black and white.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Behavioral oddities...

Frequent travelers either disappear inward to find inner peace, or turn their attention outward to observe humanity thrown together. I tend to prefer the latter...perhaps an unintended result of the need for pithy stories for this blog?

Take for example the odd young woman (pictured) who approached me at the rear of an orderly line to board my flight home to SF. She asked me politely whether I knew which zone was boarding, I said I did not, so she proceeded to walk four passengers ahead and cut into the line. Not that anyone cares, but it was an odd action, wouldn't you agree?

I'm most fascinated how people lose all sense of their surroundings in airports. In Charlotte, I overheard a man standing across the terminal speaking loudly regarding a medication prescription. I could clearly hear him shout that HE could hear just fine on his end.

But my favorite overheard conversation was from the man who stood in the middle of a crowded Charlotte gate area and held an animated 10+ minute argument with his daughter regarding whether it was fair for him to ask the daughter's boyfriend to move out and get a job. As I neared the end of the boarding ramp, I could still make out "Life is tough..." as the conversation continued unabated.

People are strange...but they do fill space nicely :)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Remembering Penn...

Yesterday afternoon, I joined my family in Chapel Hill, NC to celebrate the life of my dear Uncle Penn. The weather was warm, the crowd was moving, and conversations were full with stirring memories from Penn's family, coworkers, and lifelong West Point friends. It was a touching tribute to a great man, and a reminder of the true measure of a successful life--the people you touch along the way. Our grief from Penn's all-to-young death from lung cancer was eased by memories of his long marriage to his high school sweetheart, his successful battle with Hodgkin's disease, and the raising of my two amazing cousins.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Flamingos, lobsters, and steak...

I spent three days this week in Las Vegas at a side conference associated with the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show. Fortunately for my wallet, meetings and dinners kept me very busy, such that I left Vegas fairly unscathed--my only loss was $40 gobbled up by an uncooperative Lucky Larry Lobster slot machine.

Rooms are hard to come by during CES, so I stayed at the aging Flamingo hotel for the first time. The helpful woman at the front desk took great pride in giving me an upgraded room on the 'executive floor', since 'more and more of the other rooms are just shabby'. So, it was with great excitement that I inserted my room key--several times before the lock disengaged--and entered my palace.

Even after housekeeping responded to my dismayed call to clean out the last guest's toothbrush, rumpled bed linens, and used water glasses, the room still looked much like a brown-hued Motel 6 room...for $450 my first night. (And wait till you see the flashing neon sign hanging directly outside my 27th floor window.)

Nevertheless, I compensated for a disappointing room with a few truly spectacular meals. Tuesday night, my coworkers and I ate at the amazing Mesa Grill in Caesar's Palace. I had the most fantastic ribeye steak that I have ever tasted.

Wednesday evening, we returned to Caesar's Palace for drinks at the Seahorse Lounge and dinner at the Vegas outlet of Spago. My truffle-encrusted salmon was delicious...even if it couldn't top the previous night's steak.

Thursday night, it was down to just my dear friend Ellis and me for dinner, so we wandered a bit further down the Strip to the classic Mirage--which is still popular and glamorous after all the years. We ate a rich meal at Stack--one of their steakhouses. My steak was very nice, and was accompanied by the indulgently named Adult Tater Tots (potatoes with bacon and brie).

We finished off the evening at the new Revolution lounge--themed after the Beatles and created by Cirque du Soleil to accompany the new Beatles/Cirque show 'Love'. Revolution was a feast of psychedelic color, retro styles, modern decor, and of course amazing music. One drink turned into a few--assisted by inviting bean bag seats. (Note to Kim, Cheryl, and Kellie: it is your duty as card-carrying Beatles fans to come see this extravaganza!)

As I packed up and left this morning, I noted just how quickly CES wound down from the barely-controlled chaos when I arrived. Technology and gadgets were seamlessly being replaced by leather and lace as the Adult Entertainment Awards and Expo rolled into town. In Vegas they never miss a beat.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

More camera fun...

Its been a slow week, really. Jeff caught a cold in our waning days in Michigan, so we spent most of our week back quietly recuperating. This weekend, we ran some short errands here and there. Not really the stuff of riveting blogs.

Nevertheless, I've had my new camera out. Testing the zoom and the composition. Getting familiar with the auto focus. Really trying to get comfortable for my first big outing of the year...a work trip to Las Vegas this week, followed by a family visit in North Carolina.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Breaking in a new camera...

Sooooo, I broke down before Christmas and picked up a new digital SLR that I had been eyeing. Frankly, its a bit intimidating, because I haven't shot with an SLR in over three years. I've been enjoying the spontaneity of my little sub-compact camera, which I am in the habit of carrying EVERYWHERE. Nevertheless, I am trying to improve my people photography skills, and for that, I really want the power and speed of an SLR. (Of course, I will still continue to carry the small camera as well.)

I took shot #1 in Michigan on Christmas Eve. And, of course, it was out of focus. Sigh. But overall, I'm pleased with the nimbleness of the camera. Now I have to learn what all those buttons do :) Keep in mind that my last SLR was a manual Nikon that I bought in served me well, but boy was it simple!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Home again, home again, jiggity jig...

Happy New Year, my dear family and friends. Jeff and I returned home yesterday from a week in Michigan with his family. The week truly sped by...much like the rest of December.

We flew into Chicago the Friday evening before Christmas, and drove straight to Muskegon to arrive at 1am. No snow in sight--it was relatively warm all week--so the drive was smooth sailing. Along the way, we got in the holiday spirit by listening to all-Christmas radio stations as we hopped from Illinois to Indiana to Michigan.

On Saturday, we did last-minute shopping...mainly picking up fun odds and ends for stockings. Those have always been one of my family's big traditions, and I've tried to build fun-filled stockings for Jeff's family. The kids definitely loved theirs!

Christmas and days that followed were filled with family, food, and general relaxing. We watched tons of DVDs that people received as gifts. We introduced Jeff's family to Rummikib. We did an IMAX film in Grand Rapids. We even managed to celebrate a few January birthdays early.

On Friday, Jeff and I drove to Lansing and met up with his friends Matt and Nick from Detroit. Not only did we enjoy the visit, but we also got to test out my new Garmin Nuvi GPS that Jeff gave me for Christmas. We've named it "Emily" after the units British female voice. Emily got us there and back again, and even found a Starbucks for us along the way.

Saturday, Jeff, Emily, and I drove back late to Chicago for our early morning flight the next day. Emily proved her worth by automatically locating traffic and rerouting us--we had our doubts, but she was right. Somewhere along the way--probably from the kids--Jeff picked up a cold, but we managed to meet up with his friend Paolo for a delicious Italian dinner before he totally succumbed to illness. On the plus side, we did get upgraded on the flight home, which made Jeff a bit more comfortable.

Nevertheless, we arrived home a bit run down from such a full week. I made some hearty chicken enchiladas for dinner with our friend Chris, and we rang in the New Year in front of the fireplace.