Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

Las Vegas: Hello, Mount Charleston!

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

We’ve made loose talk about traveling with the girls. But over three years, we only managed day trips to Galveston (Papa Chuck & Baba Jean), day trips to Conroe (Gram Nancy), and one lovely weekend in San Antonio (Ben & Rebecca). Many of our favorite people are too far away to drive to (at least with toddlers) and we’ve been daunted by the prospect of air travel (with toddlers).

January marked the annual return of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to Las Vegas. Bill still has a stake in SpectraCal, which makes CES a work-like trip. We both had the ability to take time away from work (Bill had vacation, and all time off from my new job is discretionary), so we screwed our courage to the sticking place and bought plane tickets to Las Vegas. Whee!

When we arrived on New Year’s Day, Cindy, Paul, and their girls met us at our hotel for a simple dinner and catching up in the room. As we were checking in, the hotel manager told us about the buffet breakfast, glanced at our friends, and assured us we could bring our “whole family.” So Friday morning, we all grazed through the breakfast fare and then set forth to Mount Charleston!

We followed the 4Runner west and UP into the mountains

The high desert terrain is unlike anything we see in Houston

As the road ascended higher into the mountains, we felt the pressure change in our ears. We encouraged the girls to drink some milk and try to yawn to equalize their ears.



As soon as we got above the snow line, the little mountain road was lined with parked cars, and most every snowy open area was covered with sledders. So Cindy led us into the McWilliams campgrounds. A waiver, an entry fee, and a cord of firewood later, we were in and found a site.

The very first slopes we saw were covered with sledders

Cate bundled in thermals, tee/leggings, fleece, coat, hat, mittens, and boots!

Cate and Sam promptly slid down the hill to the bathroom on their bottoms

Emma is six-and-a-half!

Sonnet, Cate, and Sam found “an Iceberg” and built it up further




Cate tried to climb the Iceberg

Iceberg: 1, Cate 0.

Sonnet is three-and-three-quarters


Camp McWilliams

Cate was the first to get cold enough to warm her body by the fire

Cindy, our hostess with the mostest, presented hot cocoa!

Paul and Sonnet blew together to cool her hot cocoa

Cindy getting some Bruno cuddles


Cate lay down on the snow, the better to eat it

Bill took Sam and Sonnet for a hike up the snowy hill


Sam fell asleep within minutes, as soon as we drove away from the campsite

Cate feigned sleep, but was overtired/wired through lunch

Even Emma was wiped out by lunchtime

Mount Charleston

Desert sun

I shot more than a hundred photos, during our Mount Charleston outing. I meant to post only 8-10, but this is a full third of them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Bobbin’s farewell to 42 and hello 43

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

By coincidence, both Emily and Michele came to Houston on Wednesday. So the three of us took the girls to Whole Foods for some pre-emptive cupcake shopping, and then ordered pizza for dinner.

Bill and Emily with Sam

Michele and Bob with Sam and Cate

I got a ton of productive work done with Claudia on Thursday. On Saturday, Sam more-or-less got the hang of swimming, and Bill made homemade chicken enchiladas with roasted poblano cream sauce for dinner. Yum!

After dinner, we eschewed bedtime in favor of an after-dinner family adventure to watch the nearly-full moon rise over Houston’s downtown skyline from the Rosemont bridge over Buffalo Bayou. I’ve really enjoyed the last few days of 42. Whatever tomorrow holds, it will wrap up a pretty delightful birthday. Hello 43!

Sunset paddlers on Buffalo Bayou

Sam and Cate cavorting on the new Rosemont Bridge

Downtown Houston looking lovely in blue

Cate and Sam “helping” with the tripod

POSTSCRIPT: Sunday morning, these two sang “happy birthday dear Mama.” And even though you can see giant bags under their eyes because I kept them out much too late the night before, they were remarkably cheerful.

Cate and Sam

Fun night with Kimbros!

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Early in the week, Rachel texted me, inviting us to come play with them at their neighborhood pool. We’ve been trying to meet up for months, and we all love to swim, so I accepted eagerly.

Afternoon thundershowers moved our picnic dinner inside, where Eleanor and Thomas did a super job of entertaining Cate and Sam. I’m struck by how all-grown-up E and T both seem. Going forward, I hope to do a better job of meeting up, or I fear they’ll be off to college before we see them again. We must get organized to hire Eleanor as a parent’s helper!


Rachel and Eleanor

Rob with Sam in a costume Eleanor shared for the night

When the weather cleared after dinner, I was too tired to schlep girls to the pool. Rob graciously volunteered to stay and host our low-energy crew while Rachel took E & T for a quick swim. Cate and Sam seemed delighted alternately to graze through dinner items and run amok in T & E’s playthings.

Cate and Sam happily ran amok

While Friday Thursday night may not have gone as I or Rachel envisioned earlier in the week, we enjoyed visiting, and I hope we’ll try again soon. I also want so say a special thank you to Eleanor and Thomas, who sorted their toys in advance, identifying age-appropriate items for our girls and stowing others safely behind doors. That was really thoughtful!

First family vacation: visiting Miranda, Rebecca, and Ben!

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

As our girls approached two, and began occassionally to let us sleep 6 or 7 hours at a stretch, and I contemplated weaning once and for all, Bill and I decided we were ready to attempt traveling with children.

That said, we weren’t quite ready to brave airports and TSA checkpoints, so we opted for a car trip. When we considered destinations that are a 2-5 hour-drive away with people we’d want to see, the obvious choice was San Antonio.

So on Friday, Nov 8th, we headed out to SA and spent the weekend with our friends Ben, Rebecca, and their daughter, Miranda. They’ve come to visit us before, and our girls were excited to “go see Miranda’s house.”

The three girls played together Friday night in our hotel room, and Saturday and Sunday at their house. Miranda was part hostess and part Big Sister, showing the girls around, sharing her bricks, teaching them how to flush the toilet, and reading to them.

When I asked the girls Sunday what their favorite part of our trip was, both girls reported that “playing bricks with Miranda” was the best part.

Along the way, we got to catch up with Rebecca and Ben, and enjoy a lovely home-cooked meal.

Happy belated Mothers’ Day!

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, our friends Ben & Rebecca came back to Houston for a weekend, and we made plans to go to brunch together Sunday. As Bill made us reservations at America’s, it struck me as odd that we were going out for Mother’s Day brunch with our friends, instead of our mothers.

Only later did it dawn on me that Rebecca is a mother, and now I am, too. So we celebrated my first Mother’s Day together. And we enjoyed a lovely meal!

Rebecca and Miranda

Ben and Bill

It’s always fun to catch up with Rebecca and Ben, and their daughter Miranda is engaging and adorable. We had a good time!

* * *
Later in the afternoon — after a much-needed nap! — I met up with my Mom and Gran’mom at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to see an exhibition of Impressionist paintings that were visiting from the National Gallery in DC. We borrowed a wheelchair from the museum so Sarah could save her energy for enjoying the art.

Jean and Sarah admiring a still-life by Paul Cezanne

The three of us have enjoyed seeing Impressionist art together many times in several cities. This time, we moved leisurely through the galleries and I played personal docent, identifying the artists, summarizing the placards, and then highlighting some tidbit to get Sarah talking about the art.

Claude Monet’s “The Water-Lily Pond”, painted in 1899

For example, Claude Monet produced this painting of the Japanese bridge over his water lily pond in Giverny, a small town just northwest of Paris. Not only did Sarah and I visit this place together in 2006, but she also visited it in the 1980s with her late husband, Roger, and she hung reproductions of Monet’s water lillies in her dining room for many years. I was delighted that she still remembers visiting Giverny with Roger and she declared delightedly, “It really looked like that!”

With other paintings, we talked about composition. Sarah used to paint, and as a clinical chemist, her still-“life” work was more likely to include beakers and flasks than fruit and flowers. While her hands tremble too much to paint now, her neurologist observed that the part of Sarah’s brain that understands spatial relationships is still remarkably intact. As a result, she’s still interested in and able to talk about the underlying geometries, massing, and spatial arrangement of the compositions we saw, and observe differences between the styles of different artists. That’s pretty cool.

Sarah and Robin at the MFAH

Sarah and Jean back at Belmont Village

After two hours of gallery gazing, Sarah and I were both exhausted, and Mom took each of us home. But we really enjoyed our afternoon together!

Odd and the Frost Giants!

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Our friend Rob Kimbro recently adapted Neil Gaiman’s 2009 book Odd and the Frost Giants into a kid-friendly play. The world premiere is running at Stages Repertory this month, and this afternoon we went to see the show. It’s a marvelous bit of story-telling that combines live acting with clever puppets.

The show is delightful and we all enjoyed the heck out of it! Afterward, we visited with Rob and his daughter, Eleanor, as well as the Hawes family who saw the show today, too!

John, Izzy, and Sierra with Thor

Rob, Eleanor, and Susan listen as Robert shares his thoughts on the play

Chris and Rob

Sharon, Sierra, and Shawn

Rob and Susan

Rob and Bill

Sierra, Izzy, and Shawn

Odd’s final public performance is next Saturday, May 21st. If you’re in Houston, I encourage you to go!

Eight days in the Pacific Northwest…

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I sometimes joke that something hasn’t really “happened” until I blog about it, but that poses a challenge. The more busy and interesting our lives are, the harder it is to make time to blog.

During our last vacation to Cozumel, it was easy to blog early and often because the afternoons were too hot to do anything else. But the trip we took in February to Portland and Seattle was so jam-packed I didn’t even attempt to blog before we got home. Since then I’ve stayed too busy to blog. And then our blog went missing for several days. But we definitely enjoyed a marvelous trip, so here — more than a month overdue — are some of my favorite moments:

Walking and transiting all over downtown Portland. In urban planning circles, Portland is widely-regarded as one of the most walkable, transit-friendly cities in the US, with a wonderful quality of life. My friend and CTC colleague, Christof Spieler, convinced us that given a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we should fly into Portland to explore the city for a day before heading to Seattle.

Between noon Monday and noon Tuesday, we did just that. We explored downtown, parks, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and the waterfront… all without ever using a car. Portland is also bike-friendly and I’ll be sure to rent one the next time we’re there.

Pioneer Square Court House
Pioneer Courthouse Square has a marvelous pedestrian plaza

bronze beavers on transit mall
Bronze beavers play on a water feature in the transit mall

Bill and Christof downtown Portland
Bill and Christof in downtown Portland

Riding trains with Christof. Christof knows more about what makes high-quality transit service than anyone I know. Portland has invested in a lot of great transit service, and the opportunity to travel with Christof as an expert guide was both fun and informative.

In Portland, we rode the MAX light rail in from the airport and out to Union Station. We rode the streetcar south to the waterfront and north for dinner at Wildwood on 21st St. We even took the aerial tram up to OHSU for great views of the city and the Willamette River. On Tuesday, we rode Amtrak’s Cascades service up the coast from Portland to Seattle.

In Seattle, we rode Sound Transit’s link light rail to/from the airport as well as one afternoon just to explore station areas. We also rode the South Lake Union… Streetcar to explore Paul Allen’s multi-billion-dollar redevelopment effort. In both cities, Christof trekked out without us on several occasions to ride commuter rail and other services. He’s dedicated!

Bob on TriMet MAX light rail
Bob on the TriMet MAX light rail from the airport

Portland streetcar w Christof
Portland’s streetcar vehicles look happy to me

Portland tram w Christof
The tram climbs 500 feet during the 3-minute trip up to OHSU

Christof stalking Amtrak
Christof shoots more and better transit photos than I do

Bill and Christof shooting Puget Sound
Bill and Christof attempting to shoot dusk on Puget Sound

Walking and transiting all over downtown Seattle. Like Portland, Seattle, is incredibly pedestrian-friendly. Except for a day trip to Everett and Mukilteo, we explored Seattle neighborhoods via walking and transit (and Bill by bicycle, but that comes later).

Fifth Avenue morning rush
Morning rush on Fifth Avenue

Bob and Christof photographing
Bob and Christof under the monorail station

Bob and Bill at Pike Place
Bob and Bill at Pike Place


The Original Starbucks. Bill thinks he first encountered Starbucks coffee ~1996 during the Philip Morris SAP project in Richmond. During many subsequent years working in NYC, he’s consumed a LOT of Starbucks, venti iced skinny caramel Frappucinos (TM) to be specific. At home, he now favors the great local barristas at The Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston. But given an opportunity to visit the little coffee shop at Pike Place that became a global machine, we had to go. And yes, I bought a mug. But I bought my lattes for breakfast at the Seattle’s Best Coffee further up Pike St.

Bill enters Starbucks
The original Starbucks shop at Pike Place

Boeing Everett factory tour. Bill and I have spent a lot of time in Boeing aircraft over the years, mostly 737 variations. And Jean still works for Boeing’s aerospace group. The Boeing factory where they assemble 747s, 767s, and the brand-new 787 Dreamliners is the largest building in the world (by interior volume) and we were eager to see what they do there. So we rented a car for the day to drive up to Everett for the plant tour. All photography was thoroughly prohibited, but the tour was still jaw-dropping. We also visited Snohomish County’s opportunistic Future of Flight visitor center.

Boeing's Everett factory

Boeing 747 assembly
Images courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Lunch in Mukilteo. On our way to Everett, we stopped for lunch in the old waterfront town of Mukilteo, which overlooks Puget Sound. We lingered in a charming beach park while Christof captured great photos of BNSF freight trains passing nearby. We then enjoyed a lunch of local seafood at Ivar’s by the landing where Puget Sound ferries came and went.

Mukilteo overlooks Puget Sound

Bob stalks seagull

Mukilteo ferry

My conference talk. The 9th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference was the justification for the trip, and I was invited to present in a panel on grassroots involvement in transportation planning. The room (of 50) was packed and I knew at the time that I delivered a better PowerPoint than any of the other panelists. But over the next two days, strangers continued to approach me and say some variation of, “You gave the talk from Houston, right? That was great! Good luck with your effort…” Their affirmations were very, very gratifying.

The Hiram Chittenden Locks. Known locally as the Ballard Locks, they span the ship canal between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, segregating fresh- from salt-water. It’s both cool and vaguely disconcerting that you can walk across the top of the lock doors at one end or the other at any time. I talked with a cyclist coming across the locks who explained that he cycles across the locks from his home on the Magnolia side to his office on the Ballard side, even in the cold gray drizzle, because it would take him 5 minutes longer by car and be more stressful. I also talked with a Corps operator who explained the locks have dozens of moorings inside because, in summer, people on kayaks and jet skis use the locks, too. The site also includes a fish ladder to enable spawning salmon to traverse the locks in spring.

Bill by the Ballard Locks

Ballard lock in action
These locks operate 24/7 to keep maritime traffic moving

The Fremont Troll. North of downtown Seattle, there’s a bridge that takes Aurora Ave (WA-99) over Lake Union at the ship canal. The northern end where NW 35th St passes under the bridge structure used to be a Dark Scary Place where Bad Things happened. But the Fremont neighborhood got organized in 1990 and leveraged the fist matching grant from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to build a massive public art piece that transformed the location into a source of neighborhood pride.

Bob, Bill, and the Fremont Troll

Dinner with one of Bill’s Spectracal partners. The little software company Bill conjured up in 2005 has almost escaped mention in our blog. Nonetheless, SpectraCal has an office in Seattle where Bill’s business partners and a half dozen employees work. I got to see the office for the first time, and we enjoyed dinner twice with L.A. and his wife Gillian, once at a chic Vietnamese place, and once at their home. I managed to come home with no photos of us together, but they’re really wonderful people.

Bill outside Spectracal's Seattle office
Foil on the windows eliminates light for sensor testing

Walk audit of downtown Seattle. Thirty years ago, Dan Burden became the “Johnny Appleseed” of walkability and is now an internationally-recognized expert on how to make our cities better for people, instead of cars. On Sunday morning, Dan led two dozen of us on a 16-block tour of Pike St, Post Alley, and University St. He taught us to “see differently” and the Seattle DOT folks on the tour showed off some of their projects. I came away with lots of good ideas for making Houston more walkable.

seattle walk audit w Dan Burden
This ample Pike Street sidewalk is 22 feet wide from building facade to back-of-curb

Sending Bill to ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. While I was walking with Dan, the Cascade Bicycle Club led Bill and a dozen others on a bike tour of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of downtown Seattle’s on- and off-street bicycle facilities. The best part? Bill likes hills… lots of hills.

Pike Place Fish. About ten years ago, I came across a clever business book called, Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. In it, the author describes Pike Place Fish as, “a world famous market that is wildly successful thanks to its fun, bustling, joyful atmosphere and great customer service.” I decided our trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without meeting these guys. When we visited Pike Place early in the week, we somehow walked right past them, so we went back on Monday before flying out, and it was worth it. I got to chat with Justin and Scott about their business and they even threw a salmon for me.

Pike Place fish
These boys visit the Fish guys every day on their walk to school

Bob and the Fish guys
Bob, Justin, and Scott at Pike Place Fish

(I’ve got video of the guys throwing a salmon for me, but we shot it in AVCHD format and I don’t have a codec to play it here yet. Humph!)

As I said at the outset, our eight days in the Pacific Northwest were jam packed. Choosing just two dozen photos to capture the experience was tough. But I’m up for the challenge of going back and trying again. :-)

Emma and sunshine…

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I’m back home in Houston. Two days of cold, gray, rainy bleah are making me nostalgic for the glorious time we had in Vegas. We had fun, and the dry desert air and diffuse winter sun made for some great photos. Here are a few of my favorites:

Emma's blue eyes

Paul and Emma

Emma regards Bill

On Sunday afternoon, Bill needed to work and Paul needed to study, so Cindy and I took Emma to the park.

Cindy at the park
Isn’t Cindy a babe?

Emma pushing wagon
Emma pushed her wagon all the way across the lawn

Emma in afternoon sun
Paul found this expression “spooky,” but I love the colors

On Monday, Bill flew back to New York so I spent the night and Tuesday morning at Cindy & Paul’s house before heading home:

good morning Emma
Emma is a delightful breakfast companion

Bob reading to Emma
Emma asked me to read “Good Night Texas” about a dozen times

bath time Emma

I’m not sure how soon we’ll get back to Vegas. But I hope we’ll see Emma and her parents in Houston this spring. I can’t wait!

Vegas Baby, visit!

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

We’ve been watching Cindy & Paul’s baby Emma grow up via their Farhake Fam blog, but despite our best intentions, we haven’t seen Emma in person since the week she was born. Twenty (?!?) months later, she’s a delightful toddler:

We’ll be in Las Vegas for the next several days. Bill will attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Convention Center with his Spectracal business partners, and I expect you’ll hear more about that soon. Meanwhile, I’m going to do some serious catching up with Cindy, Emma, and Paul. See you soon!

Hanging in San Antonio and meeting Miranda

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Months and months ago, Bill declared that he wanted to go to San Antonio on December 5th to participate in the Rotary Club’s Mission to Mission charity bike tour. It would be a great excuse to finally go visit Ben & Rebecca and meet their daughter Miranda, so we signed him up.

But Friday morning as we contemplated the drive, a winter storm moved through Texas and it started to snow. The ground was too warm for it to stick, but it snowed most of the day and jumping on IH-10 to drive 200 miles didn’t seem smart.

winter storm doppler

snow on Fairview

Then Bill had to stick around for a late-afternoon work call. We decided to blow off his bike ride and just go visit our friends. We got to San Antonio early Saturday afternoon and enjoyed two leisurely days just hanging out. Miranda warmed up to us quickly, especially after Bill presented her with a tiny yellow Livestrong bracelet. We had fun!

Miranda enjoyed the package almost as much as the bracelet

Miranda is really good at sharing

The relaxed, happy family

Miranda already has Ben’s ability to regard the camera

walking to HEB
While I’m making the grownups pose, Miranda is checking traffic

Miranda mid-giggle

Miranda checking in with mom before racing off again

Miranda is going to grow up quickly and I really wanted to capture some great images of her. I did manage to get a few, but I felt especially photographically challenged this weekend. These shots have great light, natural expressions, or sharp focus, but never all three at the same time. Cindy tells me it’s because 17-month-olds are in constant motion. She’s obviously right!