Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

This time of year John works nearly non- stop- parties, parties, parties. I, on the other hand use this time of year to catch up on movie watching- and so I embarked on my pre- Oscar prep:
The Black Swan
The Fighter
True Grit.

I spent my weekend catching up on movies. Then on Sunday I met my former college roomies and one adult daughter for Tea at the Rotunda. I had experienced Tea at The Ritz (over rated) due to the ambiance. This was different - a little more restaurant-like. It was nice. I think the best High Tea had to be in London, at the Savoy. I think it was in or around 1985. I was far too young and inexperienced to understand just what I was doing - apparently my friend Jane did know. I went there in a state of total American ignorance. I may have worn jeans. Jane could barely get herself dressed. I recall her saying, "you don't understand, it's tea - at the Savoy!" clearly I didn't understand the class distinctions - to me it was, you know, eh, tea. But it WAS something. We had a white-gloved waiter who brought, you know, tea, and of course, finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, and tiny pastries. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and yes, an English Institution as Jane said.

This tea had the finger sandwiches and tiny pastries, but the ambiance lacked. However what the Rotunda lacked in ambiance was made up for by my college roomies. I love that through today's technology we've reconnected and stayed connected.

The week before my company's holiday break was busy, eventful and lackadaisical all at once. The atmosphere before a 10 day shut-down was akin to school kids before summer vacation - it's so close you can taste it. But as this is real life, you can't shove the books under the bed, work has to be done- it won't go away. So we worked, but we also played a bit. Our floor had a decorating contest. My side, the east side, decided on a Martha Stewart-like theme "winter wonderland". everyone pulled decorations from their homes in white and silver only. we hung snowflakes from the ceiling, made trees from silver tinsel and wrapped boxes in white paper to put under the tinsel trees (we did win - winner got bragging rights for the year). I was called for Jury Duty on 12/22 (Wednesday). I was a bit terrified I'd get called and then ruin my little summer/winter vacation. But I rolled the dice - thought process went like this: "what judge or lawyer in his or her right mind wants to start a trial just before x-mas? the jury would be ornery & cranky and most will want to be excused due to vacation plans". Well, clearly my thinking was correct. at 11 a.m. on 12/22, I called in for the second time and was RELEASED! "free at last, free at last".
Thursday began my vacation. I did just the tiniest bit of last minute shopping and rode my bike around town running last minute errands. Friday was Crab Dinner at mom's. Sadly my brother and family couldn't make it up, but we had a great time nonetheless. Of course no family gathering is complete without some family drama. My step-brother (he who shall not be named), pulled a fast one on his daughter and kept jerking her around throughout the day to the point where at 4 pm. she called him an ass and came to our little gathering. My 12 year old cousin put it aptly later that night when she said, "she's got 'lady balls'". Yep - she sure did!

Saturday John and I drove down to Santa Barbara to visit our dear friends. It was quite the long drive (5.5 hrs) and we did it in a soft-top in driving rain. I prayed that the roof wouldn't leak as it tends to do and thankfully it held up. We had a traditional Jewish Christmas with my Chinese friend and went to a Chinese restaurant. It was packed (I guess there are Jews in SB).

Sunday we awoke to some sunshine. We headed to State Street for breakfast and a little window shopping. This was my first 12/26 where I didn't work and didn't shop. Now that was different!

On Monday we went for a sloppy, and muddy hike out to the bluff above the beach. Afterward we played golf. Yep, I played real golf on a 9 hole course for the first time in my life. And get this, on one of the hardest parts of the course, the 5th hole, I got on the green in 1 shot!!!! I shot one over par on the hole. I won't mention my score the rest of the time, but suffice it to say that I did not lose a single ball!!

Tuesday we got up and started our drive back up the coast. I had never been to Cambria, a small artist community just south of San Simeon, so we headed West on highway 46 past about 15 different central valley wineries. The town was adorable and packed! We ate at Linn's and had one of The Best chicken pot pies - every. (the secret was in the flaky crust). I thought to myself after, why drive back 25 miles on 46, why not just head north on 1? So we did. It started out fun, driving past Hearst Castle and then to where the Elephant Seals were resting on the beach - then we hit the windy part; and then it started to rain; and then the road narrowed to one lane in two directions; and then I was ready to gouge my eyeballs out. We had left Santa Barbara at 10 a.m. and we got in the house at 8 p.m.---exhausted.

Wednesday we recuperated, but spent the evening with Lance and Chris for Game Night (I'm sensing a new 2011 activity). We played the Survivor Box game. I wound my way around the board first and got immunity. At that point we had Tribal Council and had to vote a member off. Let's just say that "You Bitches" became the phrase of the night after we unanimously voted Chris off the island.

Thursday John and I drove to Marin to celebrate Klaus' 77th birthday at the Dipsea Cafe before heading up to Reno to the Grand Sierra Resort for John's New Year's Eve gig with David Martin's House Party for 1800 guests (a sold out show!). Driving up was easy - it took the four hours I anticipated and we settled in - then hit the "stuffet" (pronounced stuff-fay). I had all you can eat crab and shrimp. I tried to be healthy, but then the fried chicken and mashed potatoes and soft serve "dessert" (cause it sure wasn't ice-cream), called to me. I had to eat it.

Friday John and I wanted to play mini-golf, but it didn't open until after noon and it was outside (and freezing - literally freezing). We went to the kid's arcade and played air hockey. John won - again. Then we went to the golf area and played a video golf where you use real clubs, a real ball and you whack the ball at the screen. There are sensors (lasers) that judge where the ball went (direction/speed) and you can play any number of courses. We only made 9 holes - I won one hold (1 over par!), and John won the rest.

John's gig turned out to be pretty fun. David pulled me up on stage and I danced behind John for a minute or so before he realized I was bumping and grinding behind him. Of course the best part of the night came when David introduced the band and John was introduced as "Wendy Winter's husband: John Mader!"

I found that to be a fitting end to a great year. And now onto something completely different...
A New Blog.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Company (wo)Man

Our holiday party was held at the Palace Hotel, just across the street from work. I have to give props to the planning committee this year, for they planned a great after work event. Previously they held it at the same place, but always on a Saturday night. So you had to decide- give up a weekend night to be at a work function, or bail altogether. Normally, I bailed. So this was the first work social (big) company event I attended. After nearly three years I also knew a few people which made it much more enjoyable. The food was terrific and I managed to do a little networking.

They also very generously set up a photo booth for mementos - fun. I also learned from a previous work "social" that they really aren't--social, that is. These are work functions- period. I recalled the time many moons ago when a colleague drank and drank and drank, and as she was sitting at the bar a nice gentleman sat next to her and asked her what she did for the company. She nicely replied and then she asked him his name. He kindly replied and then she smacked him on the arm, "get out! You are not!"
He smiled and retorted, yes, I am.
You are not! She smacked him again.
Now, a little less amused, I am.
"nuh uh, he's the CFO!"
He smiled.

And with that story I always remember- and have just one drink.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 27, 2010


That Sunday after getting home from LA I had to quickly make cookies for the two Christmas parties we were invited to (on the same day). I got to work looking up a recipe online and grabbed the Molasses, ginger, sugar, flour to quickly whip up some soft ginger cookies.

The first stop, our neighbor Rick and Thierry's house. They are our neighbors on the corner in a fabulous old shingled house. Their front "parlor" could easily hold 100 people and so every year they host a caroling party. I must have timed it right 'cause we missed the carrolling. not that I have anything against it, I just can't sing. So we ate a tad and imbibed a bit and then when the time was right, we quietly left to head out to the next party at Lance and Chris's.

We love L&C and their two dogs (both Westies) and they always throw a lovely party with great friends. We were lucky to enjoy their company and the company of their very nice friends. Lance's good friend happens to have a consulting business writing on-line training manuals, so he and john started noodling about how they were going to get John's on-line teaching business growing. Aside from the good friends, and good food, John also benefited from good ideas.

That week was the last full week before my holiday shut-down. Texas came back into town and we ended up grabbing dinner that Tuesday night. I remember it being a particularly bad day at work. I had a sales guy write me an email (after I had answered his question) that he had a suggestion for improving my communication. I nearly lost it. After reading the email I immediately picked up the phone and gave him a call. He continued to insist that I wasn't answering his question. In order to protect the stupid, I'm going to paraphrase the conversation.
Email: Can you tell me why product a is more expensive than product b?
Reply: Dear recipient's name, there is no rule that states that product a should always be less than product b. as a matter of fact, because of the "laws" of supply and demand, there are times where product a would be more expensive than b. Here are past examples of when a was more than b: (blah, blah, blah).
Email: in an effort to help you more effectively communicate to customers, your curt responses are not helpful. The customer feels that you are often more expensive and you haven't explained why he should pay for blah blah blah when blah blah blah....
Phone Call: Bob (not real name), I'd like to talk to you about your email.
Bob: yes, you didn't answer the question
Phone: the question asked why a was more than b.
Bob: that's not what the customer wants to know
Phone: with all due respect, the email asks why a is more than b
Bob: that's not what the customer is asking
Phone: Bob, let me read you the question< 'why is a more than b?"
Bob: yes, but that's not what the customer wants to know
Phone: Bob, again, with all due respect, my fucking spidey sense doesn't work like that... tell me the fucking question and I'll answer it.
Well - it didn't go exactly like that. Actually at about the time that I was about to toss out F-bombs, the line went dead as Bob was driving in the middle of the dessert. Good thing too. My VP was listening and a little surprised that I was having this challenging conversation. By 5 p.m. she TOLD Texas to take me out for a drink. I think that conversation went like this:
VP: Texas, you guys are having dinner tonight, right?
Texas: of course
VP: great. Take her out for a drink. Now.
Texas: okay
VP: Now. Ok. Now.

Texas took me (and my boss) over to Belden Lane, I drank and all was right with the world.

Thankfully the next day I got an email from Bob telling me that I was right, the customer had not asked the question he was insisting I didn't answer. And with that, I let out a big sigh.

Wednesday night John played a gig with Mike Zilber at Coda in SF. They played Wayne Shorter's music (Weather Report). Prior to Coda I went to have cocktails with two colleagues at Ducca where I had a fancy Lemony-cinnamon-y cocktail and then headed over to the gig. I had never seen Coda so jam-packed with people. Sadly, just after that gig I found out that this NY Eve would be their last night. Another victim of the down economy. I spent the evening in the company of my neighbor Todd and some other acquaintances enjoying beautiful music.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Thursday the 9th John and I went to hear a Cuban band at Yoshi's - Los Van Van. They were supposed to have been here months ago, but there were visa issues, and so they were delayed. Tickets weren't cheap at $40 a piece, but this was pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity. They hadn't been to the US in more than 10 years and with the likelihood of Republicans taking the majority again in two years we had to jump on this opportunity. There were 15 (ish) members of the band on the stage at Yoshi's (no small feat). They rocked a sold-out crowd. We had reserved seats upstairs, but the dance floor was packed with people just shuffling to the beat to full-blown salsa dancers. The house was a rockin'.

Friday I headed out to the Oakland airport to meet my friend Michael. We were going to fly down to Burbank together. My plan for the weekend was to spend time with M & his partner Joe. I was getting a little nervous at the airport waiting for M to show up. I texted, "I'm here. You?" He texted back, "at gate 30"; "me too!" I searched around until I spied a giant beard. this was no Brian Wilson beard - this was Santa-like only perhaps a bit grander.
It's glorious, someone told me today.
Well, we'd have to agree to disagree at least until I could get used to it.

The weekend was a whirl. We arrived at his home where his killer dog, Bento, finally decided that he didn't need to eat me (at least not right away). thankfully M had been away for a few days and Bento was starved for M's affection. I must have been the recipient of a little loneliness because after two days, he licked me and I don't think it was because he was testing to see if I was done. I think he actually liked me.

M & I went to an outdoor mall where we shopped for holiday gifts. I also had my LA star sighting, Andre Royo, "Bubbs" from The Wire. I was tempted to follow (stalk?) him through the mall until M said, "he's just another guy shopping in the mall". Okay, fair enough, but if he had seen Walt Disney, he would have behaved differently (you reading this M?).

That night we went to Musso and Franks, an old, old, old school restaurant in Hollywood before going to a special showing of "Tangled" (Disney) across from the Kodak theater. When we exited the theater, Hollywood Blvd was shut down (on this block) and the "Blue carpet" was being laid down for the premiere of "Tron" the next night with Jeff Bridges and Jeff Bridges. We headed over to Grauman's to look at the foot prints in cement and then headed home.

Saturday we grabbed breakfast and then went to Pasadena to the Huntington Library where we could see "Pinky" and "Blue Boy" and the fabulous gardens that surrounded this estate.

Our trip was cut short because we had more to see that afternoon with a private tour of the Gamble house,

an original Craftsman designed by Greene & Greene architects. by the evening I was exhausted and made them promise we could stay in and watch old movies. We watched "White Christmas" and then "Elf".

Sunday a.m. we grabbed pastries at one of the most famous bakeries in LA (name escapes me) and then I hopped the plane back home. Phew - they wrecked me, but I had a GREAT time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rounding the Bend

As a year comes to a close, I confess this exercise in doing different 365 turned into Doing Different 182.5 - I managed to do a lot of different things throughout the year, more than any year before, but hitting that "different" thing every day became a chore after the first two months. I began petering out in the middle of March and by the spring I was resigned that I would never make my goal. Michael told me it felt a bit like "eating different" and sure, there was a lot of that. I admit that to really "do different" every day for a year, I would have had to spend a lot of time planning, contacting people, and putting a lot of effort forth. It's why Julie (of Julie and Julia) is was in her 20s and so are many of the other bloggers who attempt to stir up interest in their adventures. This stuff takes work and dedication.

Post Thanksgiving, I really just wanted to relax - I knew I was going to go to Napa with mom and had plans for the night prior.

Friday, "the gang" had tickets for a local Rotary event. It was a little fundraiser at a funky location (a car repair place, where they didn't really repair cars there, but they rented the space out to non-profits). We went for cocktails and hors d'hoeuvres where I met a really interesting man - he was CEO of a non-profit that directed funds and doctors and nurses to care for people in Kenya. I thought a lot about my former best friend Amy who would have been all over this guy, but I was also excited to pull Kate out and introduce her to Dr Peter (?) because Kate loves wild and weird places. This would suit her perfectly. After the snacks, we went next door to see a marionette show of Cinderella. It was interesting - well done, and of course, seasonally very festive.

Post Marionettes, we ventured outside to the Art Crawl. I thought it was one of the coolest, hippest events I had been to in a really long time. I felt like I was in New Orleans, or New York. The air had a chill (it wasn't freezing), and people were out, all over the street in different venues, looking at art, drinking, chatting - everyone was friendly and cool. There wasn't a single point in the night where we were walking around the streets where it ever felt dangerous. Frankly, I'm happy to have the moniker of the 8th most deadly city in the US, it keeps the rif-raf away.

Saturday I drove up to Napa and mom and I met at the outlets and shopped. and shopped. and shopped. then we lunched in downtown napa and then we shopped. Unfortunately, a cold starting coming on hard 'n fast and by dinner, I could barely breath. Which was a bit unfortunate - we had reservations at Ubuntu. This is one the Chron's top 100.

Ok - so here's the dining different part - This is a 1 Michelin star restaurant and I honest can't tell you what we ate. So here are four of the $15 each small plates we tried - more or less:

an ubuntu steam bun stuffed w/ burrata and coated with SUNCHOKE dirt

SUNCHOKE tostones, roasted and raw ‘fuyu’ persimmon, smoked GREEN TOMATO

QUINCE soffrito, fermented APPLE, ‘sheep’s’ SORREL, raw ‘purple haze’ CARROTS

goat’s milk ricotta, chanterelle and GREEN TOMATO chow-chow

Yes, the flavors were interesting, but if you walk out of a restaurant and can't describe what you eat, they have done something wrong. Also, for the price, we should have been at least "sated" for $100. That included only one glass of wine and no dessert... so there you have it.

By Sunday, I was wiped out and could barely muster the energy to shop, but we went for an hour and after that it was home, to bed. I was so bad on Monday, that for the first time in years, and I mean, YEARS, I called in sick and pretty much worked most of the day from home. That said, I was able to rest a bit and get in a good 2 1/2 hour nap. That helped so that by Tuesday, I was well enough to return to work. I needed to rest up for the weekend ahead - a weekend chalk full of stuff in ... LA!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A week (and a half) in review

Thanksgiving was a mellow day. We went to Starbucks and got a treat - that would be a salted caramel hot chocolate with whipped cream for John and a minty mocha do-dah for me. We headed to mom's for dinner - we were only 6 for this festive eve: me, John, Klaus, mom and their tenants, Michael and Catherine. I had met the tenants once before and they seemed nice enough. He got drunk and she was quiet and demure. My first impression was indeed correct, he's a drunk and she's quiet and demure. It's not that he's a bad guy, it's just that he drinks- a lot, and then he drinks more and then he's just a loud, drunk, know-it-all. But other than that Mrs Lincoln, the play was fine.

Friday morning I awoke early and pondered, whether to venture out for the 5 a.m. bargains. I thought about it, and then swiftly rejected the thought, pulling the covers over my head. I did have to get up at a reasonable hour as I had a brief conference call at 9 a.m. At 8:15 I decided to see what the crowds were like. Most of my friends and family think that this is my favorite shopping day - au contraire! My favorite shopping day is the day after Christmas - the day when the stores desperately try to lure customers back, knowing that it will be a long, cold winter with only the sound crickets chirping on the escalators until spring apparel arrives with a bit of sunshine. That said, I wanted to get out and check out the scene. I tried to park in the lot for Best Buy but aborted after a once-around the lot. Then I drove across the way to (sound effects here: duh duh duh!) Toys R Us! Yes! Toys R Us on the day after Thanksgiving. The same Toys R Us that opened at either 10 p.m. or midnight of Thanksgiving. I walked in and I heard a familiar sound, but not a sound a Christmas, no, it was the sound of post-Christmas, the sound of crickets chirping. The store was empty! I breezed through and picked up this 'n that for my nephews. I had four, yep, four sales associates try to help me and I stood behind one woman if that's what you call a line. I was in and out with my gifts in a few minutes. Now THAT was different.

That afternoon I decided to try making a new dessert - inspired by the hot chocolate from the day prior. I made a salted caramel pudding - from scratch! This was no boxed pudding. This was the real deal. We planned to have our friend David and his wife Yofi and Charlotte and Pee Wee Ellis. Pee Wee is a legend in the music business. He wrote something like 26 of James Brown's hits, was in his band, was musical director for Van Morrison and has played with just about everyone but Jesus. Pee Wee and Charlotte became friends after John toured with Pee Wee and Fred Westley as part of the JB Horns tour.

Post Thanksgiving I decided to stay away from Fowl, so I made a cioppino , some Turkey-shaped bread I bought at Boudin's, a salad with fuyu persimmons and pomegranate seeds and then... the pudding served in individual tea cups (spectacular). Yes, sigh, dinner was a hit, especially the pudding. I was pleased with myself.

Saturday I went for a ride with Dale on my trusty steed Petunia. That night, John would play with Pee Wee and our friend Fred Ross at Harry Denton's Starlight room. I got all dolled up and headed into SF by myself. I knew I'd know people there. As I stepped out of the elevator, Charlotte saw me and ran to the door man. At first I was directed to stand in line, but after a few whispers, I was yanked out of the line and into the room - Phew! I admit it, I've become spoiled. I just don't "do" lines (unless forced to). Thankfully I was saved.

It was this night where I discovered the 60-40 rule. Men in their 60's like to dance with women in their 40's. I can't imagine that there will be a 70/50 rule - more to come on that. At one point during the evening, while dancing with a short, older, Italian man, Charlotte looked my way, mouthing to me over the band, "are you alright?" She had a slightly concerned expression on her face. "I'm fine" I mouthed back - knowing full well that John's aim with a drumstick was deadly and all I needed was a nod in his direction. Hey - at least the 60 year olds think I'm hot...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gobble Gobble

Sunday the 21st, after book club, John and I had dinner with our friends Lance and Chris and their good friends Steve and Jen. You never really know what to expect when new people enter the equation - you generally end up liking one or the other, and rarely both. This must have been a rare instance because we all got on splendidly. During dinner we found out that Jen had been the personal assistant to Hunter S. Thompson in Colorado for many years. Yes - there were stories...

Jen turned out to be intelligent, charming and incredibly witty. There are moments which tend to stand out and there was one in particular that night. As Lance was telling the sad tale of a friend of ours who had spiraled out of control with drugs and mental illness, the line of the night came from Jen. The story, albeit brief goes like this:
Sandy (not his real name) moved back home to Sonora (not really, but a Sonora-like place) with his wife and kid so that they could purchase a big home and raise the kid in a rural setting. Things went awry after he was caught having an affair with one of his students (college) and post-divorce, drug use ensued. He was teaching a young, teen student music lessons and noticed some valuable instruments in the home. The student's family went out of town and during that period, the instruments disappeared. Sandy was pulled over for driving erratically and caught with - this is the line per Jen, "guitar residue under his nose" (Insert uproarious laughter here - okay, well, maybe you had to be there). Actually, Sandy was caught with an instrument and a crack pipe, and other paraphernalia, and the rest of the instruments were found, and eventually returned. Sadly, Sandy was found guilty and now his life is in ruins. That- is not so funny.

We left our merry band of friends and headed home in order to get ready for the upcoming short week. Much to do to prepare for the feast - shopping and cooking. My role for this Turkey Day was to make an appetizer and veggie. I settled on my favorite, the Brussel sprout with brown butter, Parmesan and capers. Only one problem - limited Parmesan and no capers... oh well, brown butter makes everything taste good. Luckily I had my trusty hubby to do the shopping on Wednesday a.m. My appetizer was a hacked together recipe for warm crab and artichoke dip. We got king crab legs, for some reason, the dungeness were out at Safeway. Those king crabs are prickly little buggers and I jabbed my thumb with one of the spikes on their shell - Ugh! But the dip was a tasty success and I even had enough left over for our dinner party on Friday night!. After cooking for an hour or two, John and I walked down the street to see Megamind, a new animated movie. John paid $10 for a good nap, but I enjoyed it - cute little movie and not a big crowd. I love the holidays, where you get out of work a little early, people are off doing so many other things that you're either deep in the crowd or nearly alone. This was the latter and it definitely improved the movie-going experience.