Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lots of Good in the World

There is something very humbling about being in a room with 120 nonprofit leaders of organizations in the Peninsula, who spend their days working to make a difference in poverty, hunger, at-risk youth, domestic abuse, disabilities, education .... Today, the Sobrato Foundation celebrated 10 years of grantmaking totaling over $30 Million in support to local agencies. In attendance were grant recipients of 2006. One only needs to be present at one of these events to realize all the good that is being done in our community. At the conclusion of the event, each organization was asked to pull a balloon down from the ceiling. On the count of 3, we popped them in unison. Surprise-inside each balloon was a slip of paper-this was the Sobrato Foundation's gift to us and they consisted of $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 and one $50,000 gifts. Ours was $1,000. All together, today, they gave away $250,000 to local charities. The building we were in, had been renovated to provide free office space to 28 nonprofits, and a beautiful conference facility to be used by local organizations.

I have always had tremendous respect for David Packard and Bill Gates, who are prime examples of how philanthropy can change the world, our environment and the neighborhoods we live in. As my children were growing up, I realized that the Packard Foundation had impacted just about every aspect of their lives-the trails we walked, the symphony they played in, the art classes they took, the schools they went to...

Bill Gates has always been my hero. He has been an example of working at something he was passionate about, being proud of the kind of person he was, and creating a business that has changed everyone's life. Furthermore, he made nerdiness something to be respected. The Gates Foundation has worked to create educational reform nationwide, to fight AIDS globally, and to make systemic change in poverty by investing in drought tolerant crops for places like Africa and India. Their effort, with Warren Buffet's funding, to effect global change are commendable.

I also find it extremely encouraging to see how philanthropists in Silicon Valley have made a concerted effort to raise their children with a tradition of giving. These mothers have taken the time to train them to continue the family's charitable endeavors- the Groves, Sobratos, Packards, to name just a few. Their offspring are gracious and unpretentious, genuine in their dedication to making the community a better place.

So much of what we see on the news and in the paper is negative- focusing on crime and war, and bad politics. I suppose that is why I find our work so rewarding. For a few hours a day, we can escape to where we can see that there is lots of good people, doing lots of good in the world.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Morning Glow

For several years now, I have heard my kids plotting and planning and asking eachother on Friday and Saturday nights, "Do you want to climb M. Peak tomorrow?" What was this peak that could get them out of bed at 5am when I couldn't even do so with the aroma of frying bacon and waffles? What was the allure that would draw them to this place over and over again? Many times I was asked, and over and over again, I declined. After all, my getting up at 5am occurs once in maybe 2 years and I can recall those times pretty clearly in my mind -picking Robert up from Boy Scout camp, taking Jen to the airport to face the long security lines, etc. It certainly was not something I was about to make a habit of doing.

This year, my curiosity was peaked, and I began to consider the possibility of maybe joining them. "Winter-time", I told them. "When the sunrise is late in the morning." Friday after Thanksgiving, Jen began the usual question, "Do you want to climb M.Peak this weekend?" I had a few days to digest the thought. Having eaten so much in the past few days, I was feeling a bit guilty, and well, it is pretty much as close to the shortest days as we will get before the weather turns rainy and cold. It was basically this time or probably never. Departure time was set for 5:15am on sunday. My anxiety about waking up in time aroused me at 4am, when looking up, I saw the lighted wall switch-a dim pinkish halo and immediately thought it was Jen with a flashlight trying to wake me up. I sat up and mumbled something quite incoherent, to which Ray responded with, "What are you doing?" OOps! I went back to sleep and woke to the alarm at 5. The adrenaline flowing, I quickly became alert, and was ready to leave long before the designated 5:15. I loaded the backseat with a variety of jackets and stuck a banana in my backpack.

The city was dark, quiet and peaceful. As I mentioned, I am never up at this time, and so was intrigued by lights on inside a few shops - the beginning of a new day. We arrived at the trailhead to darkness and silence. I had my headlamp and strapped it on. We began to hike, a steady uphill climb that never flattened out. Turning around, I was caught breathless by the sight of twinkling lights from the city below and I found myself drawn to this sight, looking back on every bend in the trail. Large dark lumps on the sides of the trail turned out to be sleeping cattle. The trail continued uphill for about an hour and a half, 2.8 miles and an elevation climb of 2200 feet. We were warm from climbing and really did not need any jacket at all. The sky was crystal clear and the air crisp and energizing. "We're almost there", announced Jen. "The last part is the hardest of all." I was beginning to wonder why I was there and why on earth Jen and Julia find this climb so enticing. I was also beginning to relate to why Robert declines to go. The last segment looked fairly manageable, a short section which appeared to be a 60 degree grade; I began to climb. To my surprise, as we reached the top, another section appeared, and then another. Steep and rocky, it was very much a challenge. We had been climbing about an hour and a half by now. I plowed onward; I could see the protruding signpost now, and I was determined to make it up there before sunrise. One last burst of energy and we were there.

The first rays of sun were just beginning to shine through, casting a long beam of light on the backside of the mountain, and reflecting on one of the gently rolling hills. The backside of the mountain revealed rows and rows of rounded peaks, light green from the recent rains. The front side of the mountain cascaded down to the city below, and the swirling brown patterns of the baylands. The early morning light reflected off the water in the bay creating a magnificent sight. It was not long before many rays of sunshine burst down upon the distant peaks. The clear skies created a glowing effect to which Jen gasped, "Its like a religious experience!" Brighter and brighter the sun emerged, casting ribbons of light on the hillside. it was a beautiful sight, and I knew then that this would not be my only climb up this mountain. "It is never the same up here," said Jen. She described mornings where they sat above the cloud cover, with the rising sun shining down on the puffy layers. Other mornings, it is foggy and damp, and you don't see much. For me, it was a magnificent start to the day.

The wind began to pick up and gradually, dark clouds rolled in from the ocean. We began to hike down, watching the city come to life. For those just rising, it would be a cloudy gloomy day; for us, it had begun with a glorious sunrise. We ended the morning with a hearty breakfast of french toast, omelets and hot coffee. I was on an all day high, feeling completely energized-pleased with myself for having made it up, and happy to have had Jen's company. I am ready to make this a regular affair!

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's Only Rock and Roll

Under a bright moonlit sky, we watched Mick Jagger shimmy and shake his skinny body to some pretty classy guitar playing by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, and thunderous drumming by Charlie Watts. It was an audio feast, a visual display of extraordinary artistry, and an extravaganza of special effects that shook the ground and heated the air. What a spectacular show! It was my first real rock concert-yes, I led a bit of a sheltered teenage life! The Rolling Stones certainly didn't come to Champaign Urbana.

We arrived at the Oakland Coliseum early to avoid traffic, with great plans to eat our Quizno sandwiches in our seats. Well, to our surprise, no food or drinks are allowed inside. We ended up wolfing down our sandwiches on the sidewalk and tossing our homemade popcorn. Entering the coliseum made me gasp as I could see the enormous 9 story backdrop, a towering structure of steel and lights with center screen. Our field seats were on the 50 yard line and it was not hard to imagine the thrill of being a quarterback surrounded by a stadium full of cheering fans. Slowly the stadium seats filled, but it was not until the opening band, Van Morrison, finished their act that saw 40,000 in their seats. I have never seen so many gray haired, ponytailed, and bearded old men. Tie Dyed t-shirts and leather Stones jackets seemed to be the uniform of the day. Behind us, a neatly dressed, professional looking 50's something couple was hunched over, rolling joints, and giggling, passed them among themselves. Aren't you a bit too old to be doing this? Are you trying to relive your adolescence, I wondered.

Suddenly, the bright stadium lights were extinguished and 9 stories of colored lights lit the stage revealing the Rolling Stones in their full glory. The huge center screen magnified the lengendary band and song after song, they played to a wildly dancing and singing crowd. Midway through the show, the center of the stage, with the entire drum set and band, rose up and smoothly rolled down the catwalk toward the bleacher section, providing fans with a rare close up view. The screen opened up to reveal an enormous inflatable mouth and tongue. On stage fans, standing on the second and third levels of the stage structure were part of the scene as flames , then fireworks, and lastly long streamers flew out the top.

The audience was captivated from beginning to end. Such energy, such excitement!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Defying Aging

In an over zealous attempt to get into shape, Ray hurt his shoulder at the gym a few months ago. A friend refers to his problem as a disease called "old" but nevertheless it has created quite an inconvenience, rendering him unable to do most common household tasks. Now I have for a long time been convinced that this "injury" is a result of carrying an incredibly heavy briefcase containing laptop, books and his most worldly possessions. This briefcase is never left behind and has been more places than the average American citizen. It has seen the heights of Tibet and the rivers of New Zealand-planes, trains, automobiles, and boats. I think this shoulder is just plain tired! Wouldn't you be?

While in China, Ma was at the local pharmacy searching for a Ben Gay type plaster for Pa's foot. She came back to the hotel, bursting with excitement, as she had in her hand the solution to Ray's aches and pains. Even better was the fact that the Chinese pharmacist had personally demonstrated how to massage this magic ointment deep into the crevices of your joints.
It was now my job to learn this special massage technique so that I could perform this dutiful job on my poor husband.

This procedure was demonstrated to me following a family dinner gathering. My brother, his wife, my nieces and nephew, as well as my kids all watched with great interest. I opened the box-it smelled like a mixture of Vic's Vapo Rub and reminded me of elderly Chinese women. The direction said, "Musk Relieving Pain Liniment". I tried to remember what a musk looks like-a bit like a yak, I think. Now I don't take anything without knowing the ingredients, so I read on,
artificial musk-now that is a relief that we aren't endangering real musk's lives,
camphor, safflower-seems innocuous enough
pubescent angelica root, Dragon's Blood!! (hoots from the kids) -ah, Google says, " these are herbs that relieves pain", safe enough.
Borneol-a type of camphor
Glutinous Rehmannia - "has the action of tonifing and replenishing the Liver and the Kidneys. Many famous recipes against illness for longevity. The prepared rhizome of rehmannia can be cured with honey in the form of the honey bolus for treatment. If you took it continuously for one hundred days, you would have a beautiful face just like a peach flower in blossom and you never got old at least within three years." Oh my!

Directions; spray and message for 5-10 min. to make the sore feverish!

Now Ma has been quite disappointed that Ray has resisted using this ointment consistently. It is considered a ready cure for sprains by Chinese. When I was growing up. I remember now being advised to wear patches after spraining my ankle in college, walking into class and thinking if I ignored the odor of camphor, maybe others would think it was coming from someone else. My parents believed in it so much, my Dad once sent a package to the UI basketball team when hearing that their star player had injured his ankle. The odor is so pungent that on our recent flight back from China, the flight attendant turned her nose up and questioned to the planeload of Chinese, "Who is wearing camphor?"

Tonight, this pungent aroma will clear my sinuses as it works its magic into my dear husband's joints. Tomorrow, his disease of aging will disappear, his face will be like a peach flower in blossom, and he will have defied the process of aging.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Training a Guard Dog

Alas, the neighborhood is going downhill. A burglary occurred on our street last Friday. In the short time that the owner was out for lunch, someone broke in and stole jewelry and a 400 pound safe. Incidents like this make us uneasy and it is definitely time to train our dog to guard this place. I don't think it will be a difficult process, actually, as she has the first step pretty well accomplished. When I say, "Heidi, be a watchdog", she puts her head up, looks very attentive, and gives a very mean growl.
As you can see, we're working on the surveillance part at present. I think it is definitely coming along quite well. It surely won't be long before we can rest assured that all of us are well protected!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Fall is in the air, the trees are showing their full color, and golden leaves flutter gently to the ground. The sidewalk ressembles a crayon leaf rubbing, with outlines of brown stamped on the gray surface. As the temperatures drop, my thoughts turn to memories of apple picking in the orchards of Chicago. The kids sitting high on Ray's shoulders, grabbing for the dangling bright red apples, and biting into the shiny fruit, sweet juice running down their cheeks. We picked bushels and bushels, coming home to bake a counterful of apple pies.

Sunday was apple pie day. Safeway apples replaced fresh picked ones, but the aroma of baking pie, and the sizzling sound of bubbling juices running onto the hot oven surface tantalize my senses. 40 apples later, 6 pies of all sizes stood proudly on the counter. We always try hard to resist cutting into a warm pie, knowing that the juices will run out and form a huge messy puddle, but resistance is futile, and as usual, we end up devouring half a pie in one sitting. Today, I picked a beautiful crusted one to take to Ma and Pa. Gently placing it on the floor of the front seat, I drove over there. At one intersection, I made my way through the green light when suddenly a police car on the side street to my right starts up his siren and he races through 3 lanes to make a right turn in front of me. I brake.......Heidi, on the front seat, falls to the floor, clearly startled, plopped right on top of my pie. Protected only by a zip lock bag, my lovely pie sports a huge middle crater and mashed apples. Beautiful no longer, but hopefully still delicious.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Eating is Family Time

We ate together tonight, all 12 of us, and it came to me how most of our gatherings take place over food. Is it a Chinese thing? It occurred to me that eating and being together has been a part of my childhood, Ray's childhood, and our family for longer than I had realized. Long time no see-let's meet for dinner. Come over for dinner. Great grades-let's go out and celebrate. Back from school-I'm making your favorite foods. We'll come to campus and take you out to eat. Not doing much-let's go out and try a new Chinese restaurant. Can you believe some of our fondest vacation memories are about food? Those Belgian waffles, that wonderful Italian restaurant in Florence, the mussels in England, the Peking duck in China, the lamb chops in New Zealand....

Harder and harder to get everyone's schedule to match anymore, being together at one big table is such a treasure. We're getting tight for a Chinese table of 10, getting cozier I think and still growing. I look at Ma and Pa and wonder what they must think, the 2 of them grown to 12! It gives me warm fuzzies to see all the kids enjoying eachother's company-it's a dream come true -to have each of them connected by the thread that makes us all family. I look around the table and count my blessings-these special times-isn't this what life is all about?

Google is Making Me Fat!

Remember the quarter of a chocolate cookie, wrapped gently in the pretty orange and black napkin, and carried tenderly home for Mommy by your 6 year old child after a Halloween party? How about the little paper cup filled with goldfish, raisins and candy saved all day and brought to you by chubby little hands with a kiss? For some strange reason, carried home with love, they tasted better than any creation by a French pastry chef, didn't they?

Well, wonderful treats from Google have been coming home lately, innocent little scrumptious surprises in unmarked, plain, white carryout containers. Opened up, they reveal luscious packages of chocolate creations that begged to be sampled, nibble by nibble, until lo and behold, all that's left are a few crumbs. With good intentions to save half for Ray, but not stopping, I realize I have eaten every morsel. Oh, no matter, he is watching his weight anyway, and would have just complained about the extra calories. What must it be like to have original baked creations being prepared for your consumption each day, waiting to be taken. How does one stay in the office knowing something delicious is baking in the oven? How does one stay under 200 pounds? Probably a good thing I work for a nonprofit!

Dog Baffle Conclusion

The toilet paper baffle has been successfully developed. One rainy night last week, with ideas spinning in my head, I spent a good part of an hour with a package of Charmin Big Rolls in my cart, walking the aisles, searching for the perfect container. Having been taught not to waste food, I was determined to find a clear plastic jar that held something we would actually consume in a reasonable amount of time. Cranberry juice came to mine-what do you know-they've changed the round jugs to indented handles-won't work. White vinegar-a bit too big. Folgers coffee-too small. Down to next to best-skippy's peanut butter in a 64 oz can. I don't really like Skippy's and don't eat that much peanut butter, but I could make a bunch of peanut butter cookies, maybe even take them in to work. 8 cups worth-might take awhile but better than a can of hot chocolate mix, which would take a decade to finish. I put it in my basket and took one last look around. Oh my, the perfect jar-Safeway cashew nuts-Ray eats those! Almost giddy, I quickly put the peanut butter back, a bit relieved to get rid of that. I took it home and ready with hacksaw and utility knife, cut the ends off. Oh my gosh, a perfect fit-the toilet paper roll fit perfectly, hahahaha! Installed on the toilet paper holder, it works! Baffles the dog!!