Month: August 2014

Home Waters


It’s interesting to realize how much our lives revolve around water.  By “our” I mean my family’s, but presumably “our” could cover all of us — humans, now and before, probably all living things, now and before, on this planet.  Ever. 

But that’s a little too high-minded for a Friday morning.  So let me just stick with my family.

We’re fresh back from our annual east coast summer vacation.  The first half we spent on Lake Otsego outside Cooperstown for our elder son’s travel baseball tournament.  (I could digress here, and give in to an equally interesting — to me — observation about how our lives revolve around baseball.  But I won’t digress, other than to share the below photo taken during a memorable Giants game the boys and I attended yesterday afternoon.)


So back to Lake Otsego  Although I grew up only about 90 minutes away, I had never heard of this place.  We rented a very cool but 70% likely to be haunted old home on Otsego’s shores.  We spent as much time in that lake as we possibly could — hunting for crayfish, paddling in $2.99 inflatables from the local Topps Market, fishing (not “catching”), deploying dark ops after the kids hit the sack, and making my cranky right shoulder sore with some open water swimming.  The point is, our reptilian brains were positively drawn to the water; we had a helluva time breaking our grip when it was time to move on.  Not easy to leave this behind —

IMG_4082But leave it behind we did.  On our way to the next phase of our trip on Cape Cod, we toured a boarding school for our soon-to-be-high schooler to gather some data points.  The place was literally on the ocean, and the ocean and being on and in the ocean is a huge part of the curriculum and the entire experience there.  They even have a 1914 schooner on which the students crew and sail to far off places. 

Screenshot 2014-08-29 08.58.07

Whether Max will end up spending 4 years of his life there, I don’t know.  But sitting and typing now, I can’t help but wrinkle my brow over, once again, the central theme of water.  Running through everything in our lives.

We spent a week on the Cape, and it goes without saying that we were in, on, or around the water — fresh, estuarian and sea — nearly every waking moment.


It was a remarkable trip.  Always is.  It’s hard to leave and come back home to San Francisco every year.  This year a bit more so due to Sunday’s major earthquake.  A reminder of our fragile existence out here.  But then once we get back home, we see this —

IMG_4303Our kids’ playground.  From the Atlantic now into the Pacific (technically, a mix of the Pacific and fresh water run-off).  I hope we’re managing to instill in them our own love of the water. Judging by their faces, I think we’re doing OK in that department.


Thanks for reading.

Jumping Off Curbs

sunflower exchange

When I was a kid, I never stepped over curbs.  That was something boring, tired adults did (I am NOT, of course, referring to my own parents).  I seized these horizontal rectangles of functional architecture as opportunities to jump and catch flight.  They transformed hot, expansive Memphis parking lots into virtual playgrounds.

Now, as an adult, when I do step over a curb (there are so few parking lots in San Francisco, this is an unusual experience), I occasionally remember my 8 year old pledge to myself never to become the kind of adult who steps over the curb.  Always jump.

Well . . . I may not be fulfilling that pledge in parking lots, but it hit me today that I’m definitely doing that with my company ZEGO.  Just the founding of the company itself–with a dual mission of embracing food sensitive consumers (who most companies avoid) and funding my…

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The Second Half.

photoToday my grandmother would have celebrated her 91st birthday.  But she did make it to 90.  And aside from the rather sudden end, it didn’t seem to anyone that she was struggling, not living life, or not enjoying herself.  Ninety.  I’d happily sign up for that. I just turned 46 the other day.  A little more than half-way to the full life my grandmother lived.  So now I’m officially in the Second Half.  At least I’d like to think so.

I have learned a lot in the First Half.  Some of the bigger lessons —

  1. Get comfortable in your own skin as soon as possible.  I wish I hadn’t worried about how others perceived me when I was younger.  Everyone is different.  Everyone is an individual.  This should be a cause for celebration.  Do not spend years trying to rub down your rough edges.  The rough edges are what make us, well, us.
  2. Some people will appreciate and even embrace your own skin, your edges, your individuality.  Some will not. Life is not a popularity contest.  And if you live your life as if it were a popularity contest, you won’t win.  It’s impossible. Instead, hold on to the people that hold on to you.  They’re the only ones you’ll need.
  3. And you will need.  For some reason, I’ve always been extremely reluctant to rely upon anyone for anything.  I’ve even viewed this as some sort of badge of honor.  It’s not a badge.  It’s fear.  Fear of relying on someone else for something, and having that person fail or not come through.  Or worse yet, proving me a fool for relying upon them in the first place. Relying on someone, making yourself vulnerable, depending upon them, is part of being human. In candor, I think I’m still working on this Number 3.  I’ll try to fix it in the Second Half.
  4. Find something to be passionate about.  That thing will most likely change over the course of time.  That’s OK.  But it’s important to find something for which your belly burns.  Something that stretches you.  Something that will bring out things in yourself that you didn’t know existed or thought impossible.  The corollary here is that you’re capable of much more than you think you are.  More suffering.  More happiness.  More empathy.  Whatever.  You have more in you than you think.
  5. Stay positive.  Look for opportunities in every problem.  They are there.  It is easy to be negative, to criticize, to see a glass half-full wherever you look.  Anyone can do that.  The hard part is the opposite.  Take that approach.
  6. Never give up.  This one I have preached for years to the Little League teams I’ve coached.  The odds are very low that the kids have a clue as to what I’m trying to say.  This is a big one, and worth the repetition.  I honestly believe that if you don’t quit, if you don’t actually give up, if you refuse to lay prone and silent on the canvas, you never truly “lose.”  I’m not sure that winning and losing is as binary as people think.  A light switch turned on or turned off.  We have been trained to believe there is always a victor and always the vanquished. I’m not so sure that’s the case, in real life.  Nothing is more frightening to an overwhelming favorite than the little guy who simply keeps getting back up.  And nothing is more inspiring to the rest of us than witnessing the little guy who refuses to quit.  Never quit. Never allow yourself to quit.

It’s a bit ridiculous to attempt to sum up lessons learned over the course of 45 years.  But I think these ones above are reasonably important.  I wish it didn’t take me so long to learn some of them.  I wish that I had perfected all of them.  But I suspect that part of the deal is exactly that — figuring it out as you go.  No one really has a plan, it only appears that way. A mystery.

Like the wave breaking in the distance then rolling towards the boys in the photo at the top of this post, what the Second Half holds for me remains a bit of a mystery.  I’m going to try to settle in and enjoy the ride.

Thanks for reading.

Hello, Old Friend.


I have maintained a love affair for more than 20 years now, and my wife of 17 years is totally cool with it.

In fact, my wife facilitated this relationship. Introduced it into my life long ago. Perhaps more accurately, if I am being honest, the object of my desire is not mine alone. My entire family is in love. We all swoon smitten at this time of year, every year.

We’ve just begun our 22nd or 23rd summer stint in Chatham, Massachusetts. Albeit this one abbreviated. Cut in-half due to a Cooperstown baseball tournament last week. So we’ll be jamming 2 weeks-worth of our traditional must-see and and must-do activities into a single week.

The jamming has already begun, though we’ve been in Chatham for only about 15 hours.

Within one hour of pulling into the driveway, we shot off to Schoolhouse Pond. A quick dip before dinner. The pond is typically empty at 6pm. The charmingly inattentive lifeguards have abandoned their high chair. Multi-generational families that gathered earlier around beach umbrellas with their feet dug into the sand have, by now, departed for dinner.

So we had the place essentially to ourselves. The turtle. The sunken row boat. The small small-mouthed bass. The epic snake versus frog battles. The world’s best skimboard runway. The most perfect SUP spot. All of it.

But most of that checklist will have to wait. Simply not do-able in a five-minute visit.

My sons both fairly sprinted into the slightly chilly water, their older cousin a little more reluctant because, well, she is older. Their manic dip is brief.

The humongous snapping turtle refused to make an appearance. Presumably he was fatigued from a typical, full day of harassment at the hands of reasonably well-meaning pre-teens. Some day he’ll take a finger or big toe, I’m sure of it. But it won’t be one of ours, at least not on this day.

I take a short swim myself, just beyond the buoys that mark the area of the town’s legal liability. I glance off towards the opposite shore. I know the rowboat is out there. Submerged maybe 15 feet under. Waiting for me and one particular nephew to zero in on its always elusive location, then dive down through the blackness, tapping its bow before scrambling back to the surface and gasping for air. But I won’t renew that particular tradition today, either.

Time to get back.

And so, before it really even gets started, I reeled them back in. I’m the responsible adult, after all, and it’s time to get back for dinner.

But not before one last photo capturing my youngest. Trailing behind his brother and cousin. Not wanting to leave Schoolhouse Pond, but knowing we’ll be back. And back. And back.

After all, we’ve got two weeks to jam into one.

Thanks for reading.


The Dark Art of Dark Ops.


This is the daytime view from the dock at our rental house on Lake Otsego. It’s beautiful and all, for sure. Fish jumping off in the distance. Mallard ducks paddling around in groups of 6 or 8. An occasional speedboat passing by pulling a child giggling wildly on an inner tube.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all this stuff. Really. I do.

But the better time is when the sun has gone back down. The ducks have gone in for the night. The powerboats have long since docked for the day. The fish are no longer on the prowl for gangly flies suspended by the water’s surface tension.


But it’s not about the gorgeous, nearly-full moon.

It’s about my brothers and I channeling our inner Seal Team Sixes in calculated, patient attempts to scare the bejesus out of one another. And these are no ordinary jump-scares. No. Creativity is applauded. Encouraged. A game in which the running score is kept over the course of years. Decades, even.

Example: One night this past week, I scrambled under our steep set of deck stairs, disappearing into the pitch black. I sat in wet moss and mud. Spitting cobwebs out of my mouth. Breathing quietly, to the point of light-headedness. Confident that my spot could not be revealed by the approaching beam of a flashlight, on account of the angle of the steps above my head. When my brother stepped cautiously down the stairs back to the dock, no amount of scanning about with his flashlight would help him. In fact, hearing nothing and seeing nothing in the the throw of his light might even inspire a false sense of security. A dangerous state of mind in this game. I happily endured the moss-soaked seat and spider bites on my arm, savoring the imminent shock I would soon deliver. Brilliant. Best scare in a long time.

Only it never came to fruition. I had sat motionless for 30 minutes in my little spider hole, maybe longer, when my self-satisfaction began to dissolve. It suddenly dawned on me that too much time had elapsed. Something did not feel right. I came to grips with the fact that I was not going to grab out of the darkness an unsuspecting ankle scampering giddily down the stairs.

With a dry mouth, I recognized that the predator had just become the prey.

I made the mistake of assuming my brother’s only route back down to the lake was the staircase. My staircase. The one I now shared with the moss and spiders.


Instead, as I sat soaked but euphoric with visions of my best scare in a long time, my brother “went dark.”

I later learned that he had tip-toed down the street above, snuck down a different set of long deck stairs, stripped down to his skivvies, and slithered into the shallows. He slowly made his way to my twenty from a click down-lake, wading neck-deep and completely assassin-silent. The near-hypothermia that came later was, I’m sure, totally worth it.

He popped up out of the black water Chuck Norrisian, and grabbed my nephew’s ankle, thereby delivering the bejesus moment.


(Yes, it was my nephew’s ankle. Not mine. I was still under the stairs with the spiders.) My nephew screamed and I jumped where I sat, startled, banging my spider-webbed head on the underside of one of the steps. Half-concussed.

And defeated.

Out Seal Team-Sixed by my brother. My youngest brother, no less. It’s true. My depression was made worse by an indepent scare later from my other brother, launching goofy-faced out of the bushes at me.

It took a few hours for the adrenaline to wear off.

Thankfully, there will be other dark nights. More dark ops. And I’ve already begun to plan….

Thanks for reading.

Mr. Monkey Is In Charge.


“I want to sleep in the car. If I can’t sleep in the car, I want to go home. Right now. Home!”

These were Everett’s plaintive words within 10 minutes of arriving at our Cooperstown house rental. Hilary and I kept catching eachother’s eyes after making a loop through one or another maze of ornately-decorated rooms. Making sure we were both still “in.” We had come a long way–physically, emotionally and financially–to cross this particular threshold. Short of turning a squeaky doorknob and discovering a recently-murdered person, there would be no turning back.

Every room revealed something intricate, in a lovely but faintly frightening way. The dining room chandelier looked like something out of a Vincent Price classic from my youth. The “House of Wax,” maybe.


The main staircase is straight out of the Munsters’ mansion; I am still surprised the stairs haven’t raised up for a caretaker to toss Eddie’s pet dragon, “Spot” a whole Thanksgiving turkey for dinner; the animal spewing fire.


I’m 35% certain that my family and are are meant to be fattened up and eaten by our unseen host à la the husband pig and wife duck in the children’s book, “Mystery of Eatum Hall.”


But all these terrors are minor compared to Mr. Monkey. I opened a door off the bathroom. It looked like a door that was kept closed for a reason. I fumbled for a light switch, clicked it up, and saw him: Mr. Monkey. His eyes seemed to trail me across the room. Quietly asserting his position in this particular movie. He is clearly in charge, clearly pulling all the strings and deciding what will transpire. I backed away slowly, maintaining eye contact with Mr. Monkey. And I’ve spent the last 2 days trying to forget the encounter. Unsuccessfully. Wish us luck.

Thanks for reading.

Hall of Fame-Bound (Aisle 25).

I thought for sure that a cross-country Jet Blue flight would require a plane with more than just 25 rows.

No such luck.

We ended up in the last row.

I’m a glorified bathroom monitor. While the gentleman seated next to me — who is decidedly larger than I — snores unrepentantly, I count. I can’t help myself. Despite my best efforts, I cannot help but count the number of my fellow passengers who have queued up in the aisle to occupy the restrooms just behind my seat.


I haven’t noticed any repeat offenders. But if in my expert opinion a passenger queues up a second time well before he or she reasonably should, it will not go unnoticed.

I’m extra irritable due to our 4am wakeup call.

I’ve already caught myself lashing out at my wife in our Uber cab because a light on Lombard lingered red for too long. She requested we take Gough rather than take the Embarcadero. And it is clearly her fault that the Lombard stop lights are timed to facilitate Lombard traffic, not side street traffic, at 430 in the morning. Clearly her fault, I snarled.


I bristled while in line for $40-worth of croissants and coffee in the International Terminal. Bristled not because of the premium pricing, but because of the gentleman standing nearby, having a full-throated iPhone conversation with his earbuds in. That irked the shit out of me. My icy stares paired with a mean, flat affect produced no modification in his behavior, however.


I’m no good at sleep-deprivation. Pretty lousy, actually. I’m just not myself (I hope).

So yah, I will not be able to help myself from making damned sure the double-dipping restroom patron knows that I know he (or she, but probably he) is lining up for a second time. I’ll try the icy stare and cop-face again. Hopefully with better results.


It will continue like this for awhile. The Dunkin Donuts coffee I’m throwing down on the heels of the Il Fornaio airport coffee won’t improve my mood. I need a nap. But the cadence and vigor with which I just caught myself chewing my piece of take-off gum suggests that nap will not be coming any time soon.

And oh yeah, we’re headed to Cooperstown. That should be enough to lift my mood. Or at least it will be once I find that nap. And after I punish the first double-dipper.


Thanks for reading.

Back in the Saddle Again.


One of the best things about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is access to some truly fantastic road cycling. Even better if you can finagle a way to live close enough to the good stuff that you can leave the car and Thule at home. Pop up the garage door and shoot out into the street.

Fortunately, we have figured out how to so finagle. Example: While I haven’t done it in years, the ride to Mount Tam’s East Peak from my front door and back is almost exactly 50 miles. Something interesting about that nice round number. I have some very fond memories of that long ride, a reasonably regular excursion maybe 10 years ago.

I memorized the sketchiest corners that warranted whipping around in a short sprint so as to avoid surprising a following motor vehicle that might otherwise see me too late. In certain spots — sharp and blind corners — a surprised driver might swerve into the opposing lane to avoid a suddenly appearing rider just in front of him. Or the driver could quickly calculate his odds of injury and collision repair expense, then decide instead to bounce the rider off his car’s windshield. As the sign on Camino Alto says, “Lycra Is Not Body Armor.” So if the driver follows this particular branch of the decision tree, that is gonna leave a mark.

I have yet to experience this kind of unpleasant contact. I prefer to ride in the early morning when the roads are generally clear of those kinds of hazards. I’ll gladly trade a pungent dousing from a startled skunk than a run-in with a Land Rover’s bumper. Plus, like I say, I haven’t suffered my way up to Mount Tam in quite some time. So my odds of meeting up with that Land Rover are looking pretty good. “Good” as in, not going to happen.

I love a Tam ride facsimile much closer to my house — the Marin Headlands. A 14-ish mile round trip. Plenty of up for about 15-18 minutes. Ridiculous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, SF Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally an intriguing run-in with a thick layer of fog. Obscuring everything beyond, say, a 20 or 30-foot circumference. Climbing up Conzelman in a blanket of fog turns a familiar route into a guessing game.

Was that tree always there? Is this the halfway point? What’s that noise on the rocky bluff above me?

I love it.

And I’ve missed it.

Until this past week, it had been more than two months since I last rode any kind of meaningful route. And probably a year or more since I last pedaled up into the Headlands’ fog. It’s generally not a good idea to go from zero riding to several Headlands rides in a week. The lower back will remind me of my age, aching for a day or so afterwards, regardless of how many Advils I chew.

But that kind of ache I’ll happily tolerate. I’m back in the saddle again.

Thanks for reading.

My Dog Day

sunflower exchange

The lowlight of my day yesterday was collapsing onto the couch in my home office, dog-tired after constant meetings from 7am-5pm, for a well deserved nap–right onto a cold wet spot where my dog had just thrown up.  I am not kidding.  Actually, of course I’m not, who would ever make that up?

When I recounted this to my husband, he exclaimed that I had a bad day.  But I didn’t, I had an exhausting day with a poignant finish but my day had several points of inspiration:

1.  I spoke with a fantastic woman who in a previous job designed marketing materials for the government to caution children on Western Indian reservations from picking up the unexploded ordinances that are part of their everyday landscape.  Pause.

2.  In my role as Executive Director of Campaign for Better Nutrition, I met with surely one of the most earnest and dedicated corporate executives…

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