September 30, 2005

48 Hour Turnaround

In just two days my Houston arts experience has completely changed. Last week I emailed offering pro bono assistance in arts management following Hurricane Rita. Executive Director Sara Kellner immediately contacted me to say that she would be interested to see how we could possibly work together.

Now I’m helping with their National Arts Marketing new audience development plan and feel like I’m instantly learning about the progressive arts in Houston. At a focus group today I had the pleasure of meeting several artists and arts managers and was blown away by how candid, positive and friendly everyone was. In fact, I have already received emails from two folks and we’ve setup times to get together and talk arts as well as life in Houston.

The next challenge is to make sure that I don’t overload my schedule with volunteering as I did in San Francisco at times. Since I don’t have a car and am getting around by foot, bike and lightrail this will hopefully force me to keep my meetings to a minimum - in other words, just two per day instead of four. Working for myself means balancing time in meetings with actually getting work done.
Looks like this weekend I’ll take some of my car sale money and put it into organizing my office. Not too messy but I have this bad habit of piling things on stuff with dirty plates in the mix.

September 27, 2005

Decaf Nonfat Unsweetened Chai Please

Rachel bids me farewell over Chai at Gaylord's. I had to have two after the trauma of saying goodbye to my car, getting my haircut and purchasing new glasses. Maybe this time I'm really going to Houston.

Ode to My Car

Ode to My Car

For twelve years we were loyal friends and today your life starts new
I remember our first meeting when you sputtered to life
The Salinas Nissan dealer jump started your battery for our test drive
Then I popped the clutch on our way out of the lot
We had an instant mutual understanding

I comforted you after the hooligans broke your rear passenger window
And in return you proudly displayed my college stickers
Your license plate seemed like vanity 3FEB703 but it was just a lucky draw
Not so lucky when I backed into another car in the PetClub parking lot
Admit you loved people pushing against the passenger door trying to make it fit

Together we explored the hills of San Francisco wearing out three clutches
Zoomed through the desert without air conditioning
Glistened in the sun driving along the curves of Highway 1
Forgive me for opening the driver’s side door into oncoming traffic
The bling bling hubcaps made up for the sticky sap stains

Morning commutes across the Bay Bridge
You never commented when I tuned into Howard Stern, NPR and KFOG
How many times did we crank the radio and sing along
Peter Gabriel, Indigo Girls, Queen and our favorite The Police
I close my eyes, lay back and imagine you comforting me again as I nap

September 25, 2005


Stephen was doing OK today until he lost his internet connection around 5pm.
We chatted on the phone and you could tell he was totally bent out of shape that the internet went down. "Maybe someone in our neighborhood was playing with a downed wire and destroyed our connection." Sorry Stephen but I have no sympathy considering that some people are homeless. Heck, go to an internet cafe. They seem to be opening up again.

Maybe I'm not being sensitive to his experiences. The guy has been living on canned food for a week and spending every day with a cat while I'm living my old life in San Francisco and sucking up all the sympathy of our friends and family who can't believe that he weathered out the storm in Houston.

Let's face it, I'm never going to move there. At this point people are probably taking bets on how long we'll last.

Power Play

I spoke with Stephen a couple of times on Saturday. Early in the morning all was fine, he had electricity, no damage to the house, a branch off a tree across the street, and no flooding. Later in the day he had lost electricity as the city powered up and over loaded transformers.

He left me a message from a rowdy gay bar he was passing time in with our prideful neighborhood. Eventually he left, despite the beer, because it was getting "to hot". That can be taken many ways. As he headed off to sleep still no electricity. This morning I received an email from him saying that the electricity was back on at 2am Sunday morning.

Now to figure out when I go back. The city officials are asking people not to head into Houston yet, but they don't have a schedule of when we should. I have a ticket on Southwest to return on Tuesday evening. Before the hurricane hit I quickly purchased a second ticket for a return on Friday just in case there was severe damage or delays. Most likely I'll stay in the Bay Area until Friday.

I didn't realize how stressful it was to be apart from Stephen during this ordeal. Maybe not sleeping for several days would have been a good hint. My time was filled with work, meetings and actually photographing a wedding in Carmel yesterday. At least these were distractions.

When do I actually begin my life in Houston?

September 23, 2005

Mid-Day Update

No changes to report from Houston. But I'm wondering if Stephen has finished all his beer. All bathtubs are full and I just picture him sitting in a tub, drinking beer, eating pretzels and watching the weather channel.

On the Scene Reports - The storm shows its bad breath

From Stephen: There is noticably more breeze now and lots of light clouds - I'm guessing that this is going to keep picking up over the next few hours.


Don't believe the hype. CNN needs ratings, viewers, butts in seats, people tuned in to their every word. Stephen is fine, the neighbors are fine, his work associates are fine. Nothing is going to happen until the hurricane hits in 24 hours but the drama started building two days ago on TV.

September 22, 2005

Update on Stephen in Houston

Stephen and I checked in several times today. He now has 3 possible plans.

1. Stay in the house and wait out hte storm.
2. Drive to his work associate's house in Northern Houston and wait out the storm.
3. Get on the road to Dallas or Austin to stay with cousins or in my brother's house.

The problem with option 3 is that the roads are a mess. It is taking people 13 hours to get 48 miles. So, he'll certainly run out of his one tank of gas. Plus, the poor Tika cat is with him and won't be happy.

Stephen's packed the car with our most important papers and stuff. In case of flooding he's moved the first floor items to higher ground.

Seems that the storm is going to hit a bit further east, according to latest reports. This is bad news for New Orleans but better news for us. Stay tuned for updates.

Thank you to everyone who has expressed their concern for us. Let's hope that Stephen continues to have electricity so that he can keep me updated

Hurricane Rita

Everyone was asking me for a report on life in Houston with the presence of Katrina survivors. I was blown away by how generous Houston was to open the city to these poor folks. But now that Rita is hitting I see why we need to be this openhearted. We’re next. I'm getting all kinds of phone and email messages about Rita the next "nasty bitch of a storm" as my friend Chris says.

First of all, I’m in Oakland, got here last night. This trip has been planned for months. I am scheduled to return on Tuesday, if there is a Houston to return to.

Stephen, on the other hand, is in Houston unless he is required to evacuate. His company closed yesterday around 2pm and sent everyone home, each with one of giant bottles of water you use in the office water cooler. I picked him up and we waded through the traffic that was slowly building as people began leaving work early, heading to banks, grocery stores, and gas stations.

We took a trip to Kroeger’s our favorite grocery store. Within the 30 minutes that we were there it was quickly becoming a mob scene. Thinking we were ahead of the curve we slowly wandered through the grocery store as though we were on a regular shopping trip. By the time we got to the important stuff; water, canned goods, matches, peanut butter, the isles were empty. People scooped it all up. Luckily most folks didn’t think about the health foods section and we were able to get the last jar of organic peanut butter. We noted that vegetarians will some day rule the planet. Stephen also stocked up on beer and wine, red of course, in case the fridge wasn’t working and he couldn’t have chilled white. So California we are.

My heart broke for an elderly man in a wheel chair who was on oxygen and had about 12 frozen dinners in his lap. How would he cook those if the storm hit and we were without electricity?

Arriving home our neighbor Judy checked in with me on the history of our little block. Apparently it never floods. But she didn’t know how well the roof or windows would hold up to the winds. You’re starting to get the picture.

Only when I arrived at the airport last night, to fly out to Oakland, did I realize how freaked out everyone had become, as though the grocery store and neighbor’s warnings hadn’t been enough of a clue. The lines for Southwest were horrendous. People were purchasing tickets right then and there. Kids were screaming, people were frantic, one man skipped the entire 300 person line, cut in front of me and started using the check-in kiosk. Sorry, but I had to send him back to his spot. Note: his last name was Bush.

With ticket in hand the next step was security which was worse. We waited online for 45 minutes, good thing I had arrived 1.5 hours early. Last week I had flown this same flight and had breezed through ticketing and security. Wednesdays must usually be quiet because several of the security lines were closed. Southwest flight attendants were taking up some of the posts. I love that airline. They never lose their cool. On last week’s flight from Oakland to Houston a man went into a seizure and the flight attendants handled it so professionally.

I finally got through security with 10 minutes to spare before my flight was scheduled to depart. People were running to the gate but when arrived we learned that the flight was delayed. With time to spare I wandered into the variety store and watched as the JetBlue flight coverage was broadcasting on the CNN. Like theater, you have to suspend your disbelief if you want to fly these days.

Our flight arrived 45 minutes late into Oakland but at least I made it here. Although it was the last flight out of Houston last night there were empty seats. It certainly felt full with the screaming kids and nervously chattering passengers.

As for Stephen back in Houston – I think he’s in for quite a ride. It is a 50/50 chance that he will be forced to evacuate. Honestly, this storm is going to be bigger than anything he or I can imagine. I’ll keep the blog updated when I hear from him. What’s on my mind is figuring out what personal items he should pack into the car, just in case.

Links to follow the storm:

Photo: Carlos Antonio Rios / Chronicle Chronicle

September 19, 2005

Scotland Chronicles Days 13-15 – September 1-4 – London

This was our final day in Scotland and the beginning of our vacation in London as we headed off to see our friends Simone, Iain and their son James. We departed late in the afternoon and arrived in London Gatwick, the Las Vegas of British airports.

The next several days were spent catching up with our friends, adventuring through the Tube, visiting the Tate Modern to view the Frida Kahlo exhibition, eating in quality restaurants and running after James. Stephen had a real eye-opener spending time with a 2 year old. I wasn’t sure who was wearing out whom.

Returning to Houston we arrived to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a very sad kitty named Tika. But these are stories for future blog entries.

Scotland Chronicles Day 12 – August 31 – Butterfly World and Roslyn Chapel

Having heard so much about Butterfly World we decided to take a day trip out to the site with my in-laws. It turned out to be an amazing place. Seemingly small and simple from the outside, once you stepped through the doors you were transferred into a world of butterflies, snakes, bees, lizards and birds. It was a lot like Houston, even boasting authentic humidity. I felt comfortable but the Scots were all dripping.

Next we took a drive out to Roslyn Chapel which was only a few miles away. Stephen was the only one of us who had ever been there so we all anticipated our arrival, especially considering the fame the chapel now boasted from the Da Vinci Code. It did not disappoint. Hundreds of people were on the grounds and they charged quite a bit to get inside. Why not capitalize on the fame? The building was covered with a metal structure that protected it form the rain and allowed us to climb up above the Chapel and look over its beautiful façade details.

As the giant group of visitors sat in the pews the guide told us about countless details of the masonry, carvings and mysterious history of the site. Some believe that the Holy Grail is buried under the sanctuary. It was one of the few chapels I’ve ever felt that I could sit in for hours. The details were astounding and so were the stories. That place has to be haunted. I didn’t venture into the basement room to test my luck.

Apparently it had been a venue for one of this year’s Fringe Festival performances hosting gothic musical play called The Apprentice. It was based on a story we learned from the guide, about a young apprentice who was killed by his master apprentice during the construction of the interior columns. I purchased the music on CD for my friend Rachel who loves all things enchanted.

Scotland Chronicles Day 11 – August 30 – Family Departs and Climbing Arthur’s Seat

The whole lot of us took my parents and grands to the Edinburgh airport for a fond farewell. Being crafty folk we were able to swipe their one and only wheelchair for Grammie which was a good thing since the lines were long and filled with hung over artists. Every one was heading back to their homes following the close of the Fringe Festival. It was awfully sad to say goodbye to our little adventure. Having been in Scotland for 10 days and having a tremendous blast I could easily see myself living there forever. The weather behaved, the people were lovely, the food was scrumptious and we had adventures every day. I guess that’s why we have holidays.

In the afternoon Stephen and I met up with my Aunt Patty and Uncle Nolan to climb Arthur’s Seat. Located behind the Royal Mile, Holyrood Castle and Edinburgh Castle the rocky peak has a tremendous view of the city and was believed to be the Seat on which King Arthur sat on his throne. As the cloud cover changed we could infrequently see Bass Rock which appeared and disappeared like Avalon. I felt how ancient this city and land really were and had a new sense of mystery about Stephen and his heritage.

Scotland Chronicles – Day 9 – August 28 – Family Gatherings

Since we didn’t stay up to all hours of the night the day after the Ceilidh was actuallyl quite pleasant. My mother-in-law invited everyone over to the house for lunch. Recognizing that it could be quite a group she was clever and created two parties, inviting people over in batches. We began with the Duncan clan who sat around very politely, nibbled on food and reminisced.

The Kweskin clan arrived next and it was a completely different scene. We occupied every spare space, moved from seat to seat, ate every last drop of food, and kibitzed about the past, present, future and more. It was fun to see the contrast of the two cultures and how my family makes themselves at home in any country.

Stephen took John and Nicole to the airport in Glasgow and later that day drove Marlene and Mandeep to the Edinburgh airport. It was very sad to see everyone begin to depart. That feeling you get on the last day of camp when you don’t want the fun to end.

Scotland Chronicles Day 10 – August 29 – Edinburgh Zoo

Today my mom and I decided that we would go off on our own and visit the Edinburgh Zoo while the grands, my dad and Stephen checked out the Gauguin exhibition.

The best feature of the zoo, which is cool regardless, is the Penguin Parade every day at 2:15pm. The penguins are invited each day to walk out of their enclosure and tour the zoo’s walkways. In anticipation of the event people begin to gather 30 minutes in advance, you have to hurry to get a good seat on the grass along their path. But even timing doesn’t guarantee a view of the penguins. You see, they only come out if they are in the mood.

No food, tricks, ropes, or other means are used to entice the penguins. Of the 150+ penguins, six decided to come out during our visit. We were thrilled, but the Scottish folks were disappointed with the low turnout. I guess you get used to parading penguins if it happens every day.

It was a delight to watch them waddle along the path, looking at the people, at our feat, into other animal enclosures and then walk very happily back into their area. My mom and I were finally on a true photo safari and delighted in the opportunity to point and click to our heart’s content.

Scotland Chronicles - Day 8 – August 27 – The Ceilidh

Today was our first wedding anniversary and the Ceilidh dance party that Stephen and his parents organized. In preparation I had brought four different outfits but of course I had to go buy something new. It was colder than I had expected, plus, how could I not shop in all the great stores and actually have a reason to spend money – even if it was a 2:1 exchange rate.

We arrived at the Royal Scots Club and were escorted downstairs to a beautiful banquet hall painted burgundy, setup with a stage for the band and numerous tables decorated with flower centerpieces in the colors of the Duncan tartan. Very simple and elegant the room looked amazing. The tables were around the edges of a giant dance floor. As guests began to arrive we welcomed people into the room and the evening was launched with champagne toasts by my father-in-law, my dad and Stephen.

I’ve been telling people the dancing was akin to a Texas Hoedown but really I guess that Hoedown grew out of the Ceilidh tradition. The band began with a waltz, inviting me and Stephen to kick-off the evening. Good golly we hadn’t practiced and I certainly don’t know how to waltz. I began to have a bit of a meltdown having not been warned and not having practiced. Stephen spun me in dizzying circles, not romantic, more like a airplane’s downward spiral after being shot out of the air. I immediately asked if there would be other dances I should know and demanded to know why we didn’t practice in advance. Too late. Luckily everyone was asked to join us about 30 seconds into the demonstration.

The band introduced their first participatory dance, thinking they were presenting something simple, but probably not realizing that the 23 guests from the states had never done these kind of numbers before. Charlie, the band leader, quickly reviewed the steps and off we went. It was a screaming blur of more dizziness and I had to take my leave and decided that photographing the guests was a safer chore for me. Friends John and Nicole refused to allow me to escape, commandeered the camera and spun me back onto the dance floor.

Luckily the band got the picture and all future dances were much easier – or maybe we all started to get the hang of it. Our little dance circles were dotted with experienced Scottish folks who took control of the situation, pulling, pushing and spinning us in the correct directions. It went on like this for several hours and by the end of the evening we had all invented our own interpretations of the dances. My brother-in-law Mandeep and my sister Marlene invented a Punjabi version, my dad gave up on finding his partner and usually ended up dancing with whomever was across from him, my mom was running in circles and my grandmother Minerva teetering between partners.

It was a blast. The food was superb. The Manager of the Club was also the owner of the B&B hosting my family so they catered to all our special dietary needs, even providing a superb version of vegetarian haggis. It all ended too soon as we spilled out onto the streets to find cabs home and watch the fireworks over the city. It was a night to remember and a true melding of cultures. Next time we will all party in Connecticut to Jewish dances with some Punjabi house music for extra fun.

September 11, 2005

Scotland Chronicles – Day 7 – August 26 – Minicoach Trip to Glasgow

Pronounced Glasgo (go go go) not Glasgow (like cow), this city is close to Stephen’s Heart. His grandfather was from here, Stephen worked in the city and he loves the architecture, cultural vibe and industry. It is a very different place from Edinburgh with its stately historic streets. Glasgow has an 1900s feel of contemporary commerce and is dotted with the architecture of Garnethill Synagogue in a 1800s synagogue and it is also the home to one of Stephen’s favorite galleries, the
We took our time exploring the space and pumping the elderly man for information. Turns out he doesn’t even go to this synagogue, he is the husband of the archivest. But he was more than happy to entertain our probing questions. Returning to the downstairs we had the pleasure of exploring the archive rooms which were filled with photos, trinkets and documents. Turns out our guide was featured in a few of the military images. Finally he took us to the paper archives and introduced us to his charming wife who talked with us about her history as a child in Germany before WWII and how she was exported on the kindertrains to the UK. The couple became a symbol of Judaism in Scotland and our group bombarded them with questions like a pack of CNN reporters. Everyone was instant friends and we learned that their daughter lives in San Mateo, CA.

What Stephen, Marlene, Matthew and I found most remarkable were all the Freemason connections in the Synagogue. In a hidden room upstairs next to the women’s balcony (we really made the rounds) we found all kinds of Freemason imagery and items. In the basement archive there was a framed document certifying the location as a lodge. Growing up we never had any connection to Freemasons in our Jewish education but Stephen knew much about the links. It was fascinating.

The heartbreaking moment of our visit were when the Constable arrived and began speaking with my parents candidly about the future of the synagogue. He was visibly emotional when he revealed that the congregation was aging and disappearing as families moved to the outskirts. He believed the archives would always exist but didn’t know if the building would continue to be in use as a place of worship and celebration too far into the future. I felt as though we were the last visitors to a well hidden secret. Stephen had once occupied an office just a block away and had never noticed the building in all his commutes past its Hebrew-engraved archway and regal façade.

September 7, 2005

Scotland Chronicles – Day 6 – August 25 – Minicoach Tour of Highlands

On today’s tour our friends John and Nicole from San Francisco, who generously flew out to join us for our one year wedding anniversary, joined us on our highland tour . So did Dad Duncan as with our previous day’s group (me and Stephen, Mom and Dad, the two grands, and two sibs).

Douglas, our driver and guide for the day, amused us again with stories of Scottish bleeding and suffering. At least John and Nicole were getting some new info while the rest of us predicted each upcoming gory fact. Even Dad Duncan was impressed and almost agreed with the driver. Our favorite line, “Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was more hysterical than historical.”

We started in Perth at the foot of the highlands. Stephen, John, Nicole and I were all recovering from our dining and whisky drinking fest of the previous night. We had to take advantage of our family-free time. Everyone broke in their credit cards some more and had the same shock when they saw the exchange rate. But we did get some amazing wool knits.

Next was lunch which was again an adventure. Poor John and Nicole were baptized into our Jewish feeding frenzy as we tried to care for each other’s interests without sacrificing any restaurant staff to our lions. Are lions Kosher? More shopping and then off to Queen’s View which is the most beautiful view of the Highlands you can imagine. John generously pushed Grammie’s wheelchair up the slope as we climbed for the view. At the top we were taking so many photos of glamorous John and Nicole that people thought they were celebrities on a fashion shoot. Why disappoint? We played along.

Next to see the world’s oldest Ewe tree (I just know I’m getting that name wrong) which was situated in a two-building town next to the ancient church that was still in use. On the way out Nicole noticed a stone circle but none of us could find the bathroom.

The final stop was the Famous Grouse distillery. Don’t be deceived, Grammie can put those shots away. She downed her sample in one gulp and began giggling and babbling. Dad Duncan was just as happy with his samples.

Back in Edinburgh the family headed out to the Chinese Circus which was in the big top next to the Lady Boys of Bangkok which soon became my favorite name for Stephen and my brother Matthew. Ringside seats gave us a close-up view of all the action, which didn’t seem too fake. We ended the evening with Indian food at the Bombay Cycle Club whose waiters weren’t pleased to see us at 10pm. We made the experience extra special for the waiters by ordering soups, drinks and missing the 10 p. per person minimum by a good 8 p. But it was by far the BEST Indian food I have ever had. Please don’t tell me the secret ingredients.