Monthly Archives: October 2017

Retired!

After years and years of anticipation and months and months of planning, I retired last week. This is a self-photo I took of myself in my office on my last full workday. While my last official day was the 27th of October, I was actually on vacation for seven days before that so my last real work day, the day I took this photo was the 17th of October.

So what was it like on my last day? Well it was a day mixed with emotions of happiness but also sadness. After 35 years working in the same location and even in the same building, it should not come as a surprise.

The day before, I had sent out a mass e-mail saying goodbye to all of my work colleagues—those who were remaining behind as well as those who were moving on to other activities (some of which were also retiring). Part of my last day was spent reading the very touching responses I received from many reflecting on our productive and instructive work life together and wishing me well in retirement.

Another part of my day, I spent touring other floors of the building I had worked in all of these years. I decided to go by all my old offices that were on the four different floors I had worked on. Some still looked the same but others were no longer there having been torn down to make space for an expansion of our laboratory operations. Touring the labs was a bit sad as all of the equipment had been boxed up and relocated to other company sites. This was a part of the process of closing down our work site, the main reason I was retiring at this particular time.

But the most distressing sight I saw on my tour was when I came to our stability chamber area. When I rounded the corner of the second large room where many of these chambers were located, I was met with a gutted room. What previously had been our first chamber expansion area that housed four walk-in chambers and four large reach-in chambers were all gone. All that remained were the water, air handling, and electrical utility connections dangling from the ceiling, like bloody tendrils from savagely excised appendages. For 25 of my 35 years, I had responsibility for our stability program and these chambers had incubated the thousands upon thousands of samples at a multitude of environmental conditions. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

One bright spot though was an unexpected visit by my youngest son who lives in town. He stopped by to ask me some questions about a research project he was working on and after his questions were answered, I gave him a tour of the two remaining floors that were still occupied. It was his first visit to my place of work in many years and he was amazed at the changes that had occurred. As we ended our tour, he suggested we get a selfie, which thanks to his rather long arms, hardly even looks like one.

After calling into my last teleconference of the day, I began to box up my few remaining personal items. After more than 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I had accumulated a number of reference documents and texts that I planned to use in my “retirement.” Many of these I had taken home the previous day so that when I walked out for the last time, it would only be a single trip with the one box.

My Bose speaker that I continuously played jazz music and my two phone chairs, where my work and personal phones reclined while I was sitting at my desk, mostly took up the box. I know my daughter will recognize the thermal mug on the left; the one I drank ice water from all day long at work for at least 15 years. I got this mug one year in the early 2000s when I picked her up from college after the close of a semester.

Over my 35-year career at this location, I spent 32 years in management. My first three years, years that I absolutely had had a ball, were the years I worked in an analytical laboratory. When I was cleaning out my desk, I found this spatula that I had used many years ago to weigh out milligram quantities of samples and standards.

Knowing that I had used this tool on a daily basis whenever I was working in the lab, I decided to take it with me as a memento of those really fun days in the lab.

I carefully placed my box on the passenger seat and put down the top for one last fun workday commute. As I pulled out of the parking space, I realized this was the last time I would be driving out of this parking lot and the last time I would be waving my ID badge at the security gate to exit.

Tomorrow starts the first full day of my retirement, a period of my life I have been looking forward to for some time—a time of freedom, a time of relaxation, a time of adventure, and a time of unexpected pleasures. But none of this was I thinking of that last day. No, my thoughts as I drove away were about the three phases of my life. The first phase was the years of educational preparation for work; the second phase was my professional career; and the third phase being my retirement years. All of us spend a different number of years in each of these depending on our level of education, our career, and ultimately our life expectancy.

As I zoomed down the road on my way home, I thought this was indeed the end of an era. But at the same time, it was just the beginning of a whole new exciting phase of my life.

As a view of my office building receded in the passenger’s side mirror, in spite of the iconic phrase that “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”, I shifted my gaze forward through my windshield to the next phase of my life—retirement—which was now closer than anything in my rearview mirror.

First Road Trip

For some time now, I have been thinking about what should be my first road trip after I retire. Just to be clear, I am not talking about a road trip where the destination is the main purpose of the journey. No what I am talking about is a trip where the drive itself is the purpose. I’ve done a few of these over the 20+ years that I have had fun little cars to drive but I have always been limited by the number of vacation days I could take from work.

One of the first of these road trips was my inaugural excursion on the Tail of the Dragon in Eastern Tennessee. My wife was not interested in a trip where the main purpose was to experience a road but when I mentioned the idea to my sister, she readily agreed to come along. We did combine it with a final destination to one of our favorite places in the world, Montreat, but experiencing that fun road with 318 curves in 11 miles was as close to a roller coaster ride in a car as you can get, one that I would repeat multiple times over the years.

Probably the granddaddy of all these road trips was in 2010 when I drove the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) together, another trip my wife was not interested in going on.

Over a five day period, I drove by myself about 2,000 miles, almost 600 of the total being just the two roads for which I took the trip. For the most part, the weather was perfect and allowed for all day top-down driving in my little red convertible. The only negative of the trip was on the last day when I encountered construction that had the last 75 miles or so of the BRP closed to traffic. 2010 was the 75th anniversary for the BRP and I was most surprised during its Diamond Jubilee year that part of it would be closed to traffic.

While I had driven the part that was closed many times before, it still irked me that I couldn’t say I had driven the whole road all in one trip.

So what will my first trip be?

Ever since I found out that I would be retiring this year, I have had this question in the back of my mind knowing that I would no longer be limited by the number of vacation days I had. Frequently as I would be driving to work or running errands, the question would come to the forefront of my thoughts. I know to interest my wife in coming with me that it has to be more about the destination and the things we may see along the way than the road itself. With two of our kids living on the west coast, I’ve thought a cross country trip would be fun as there are many things along the way that we would both want to see.

In fact, an opportunity presented itself for just such a trip this year when my nephew (the one that made me an uncle for the first time), announced that he was getting married in Pasadena in November. But a cross country trip at this time just wasn’t in the cards so that won’t be the first.

I also have been toying with the idea of trying to drive as much of the historic Route 66 that still exists. This trip would afford the opportunity to see many sites I have never seen and would end up also in Los Angeles where a fun drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) would allow a visit to San Francisco where our oldest son and his family lives.

I’ve also thought of doing the BRP again to complete the whole 469 miles in one trip. And I’ve considered that maybe I need to research another fun road to drive in the US and experience that.

My most recent idea is to just stay closer to home and head over to Nashville and pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway, not as long or likely as scenic as the BRP but a road that I have never done.

But with road conditions and open-air driving not conducive to the cold weather starting to creep into the forecast, it will probably be spring before I actually decide on a specific trip to take. However, this gives me the winter to research other roads that may be my first post-retirement road trip. And when I do, I’ll be sure and report all about it here so you can enjoy part of the trip too.

Because for someone who loves car and loves to drive, what’s better than a fun road trip!

Sideways in Georgia

Unless you’ve seen the movie, Sideways, or read the book by the same name, this blog post title may not make sense to you.

But as unlikely as it may seem for those of you who are familiar with this fictional tale of California wine experience, one that single handedly reduced the sale of Merlot wine once it was released, this was the theme that kept running through my mind during my recent vacation to North Georgia with my wife. As I explained in that post, one of the reasons we went to this location was to experience the wine country set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an industry we had no idea even existed in Georgia.

In years past, we have made numerous wine excursions to Napa and Sonoma counties in California. These trips gave us our experience as to what to expect at a winery. But this would be our first chance to visit multiple wineries in a state much closer to home.

Reviewing Trip Advisor, we found that a number of the wineries were only open on weekends. While this prevented us from visiting some of the ones we had considered, going during the week meant much smaller crowds and no waiting. Montaluce was one of the highest rated wineries and since it was open seven days a week, we chose it first.

In some of the review comments, it had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany. Although we have never been to Tuscany, this winery certainly looked like the images I had seen in photographs. And set on a hill, it reminded me of one of the first California wineries we had visited, Sterling.

We immediately found a seat at the tasting bar and began our experience.

Looking through the doors of the tasting room, we saw an expansive porch overlooking the vineyards and learned we could take our glasses there. The weather was perfect and the view most pleasurable.

Once we had found our favorite wine, we decided to have our lunch there. Montaluce has a large and elegantly styled restaurant with outdoor seating on the porch as well. We dined alfresco on a delicious lunch prepared with many ingredients grown on the property. Although their wine prices were on the higher end of our price range, the wine we chose was delicious and the remainder became our starting wine for dinner that night.

Our second winery was Frogtown, claiming to be the most award winning US winery not in California. We got there about an hour before closing and almost had the place to ourselves.

It too was elegantly decorated and had an even better view of the mountains from the porch outside the tasting room/dining room.

So close to closing and during the week, we had the sommelier to ourselves and so received special treatment.   One of the wines included in our tasting was the only grape indigenous to the United States, Norton. While it was not one of our favorite wines, it was interesting to try the one varietal native to the US.

When it came time to make our purchase decision, we asked our sommelier what her favorite wine was. She gave us a complimentary tasting and we agreed with her, it was very good and so added a bottle of it to our purchase.

Their grounds were very nicely landscaped and I thought a photo with their wine and Koi would make a nice reminder of our visit there.

For our third winery, we traveled about 20 miles away from our home base of Dahlenago (pronounced “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”) to Helen, GA to Habersham Winery which is just outside of town. We had read that Helen was a bit like Gatlinburg, TN, only smaller so we knew we would encounter more tourists. When we pulled into the city, we were met with a quaint little German town but with no free parking anywhere and lots of pedestrians. Thankfully we were there during the week so the crowds were smaller.

We made our way to the winery and went inside. This was the smallest of the wineries we visited with a tasting bar that could accommodate only about 12 to 16 people at a time. There were no chairs for tasting but the nice thing about their reasonably priced tasting was that you got to pick your own wines. And their wines were the most inexpensive we’d seen ($14 to $20 range).

We even found a nice Rose’ for our daughter-in-law.

With the lower prices, we opted for a half case garnering the discounted price.

Our fourth and final winery was Kaya, back near our cottage. This winery had previously been Blackstock (closed in 2012) and with the new owners, big plans had been developed for an on-property hotel and cabins. They had two separate tasting rooms, one small and one large as well as an outdoor tasting area.

The view from their outdoor area offered the best view we had seen of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since this was our second winery of the day, we chose to split a tasting and they generously poured us a larger portion of each wine since we were sharing.

We found a favorite red here also and so had to take a bottle of it home as well.

Sadly this was all the time we had for wineries on our trip. But since the main purpose of our 3-day vacation was not just to visit wineries, we felt we had done a good job of introducing ourselves to North Georgia wineries. And we had purchased a nice collection of wines to take home and enjoy…

…although some of them ended up as “fallen soldiers” (with a couple of CA wines thrown in for comparison) before we’d left town.

With nearly 30 wineries in the area, we felt we should definitely make a return trip to sample more of what this area had to offer. And with a newfound appreciation for their wines, I will certainly look for some of them on my next stop at our local wine store.

Finally, a Vacation!

The last weekend in July/first week in August my wife and I finally took a long overdue vacation. With me still working full time, most of my vacation days each year get spent teaching and visiting family leaving little time off for just the two of us. But that certainly got remedied with this trip.

My wife wanted to pick a place that we had never been before and one that was not too far away so we would not end up using a lot of my vacation time just driving there and back. Since she no longer works full time, she did the research and made our arrangements to travel to Dahlonega in the mountains of North Georgia, a place neither of us had ever heard of but an area which had a flourishing wine country.

At the last minute, our vacation got combined with a quick trip to visit my wife’s dear sister in North Carolina for a celebratory party so we did not get to our rental cabin until late Sunday afternoon. Getting there was an adventure in and of it self.

Relying on the trusty GPS in my wife’s Subaru Outback, we had no trouble getting to our remote destination until the very end when our GPS directed us to basically follow what appeared to be nothing more than a footpath and fjord a creek. Fortunately our contact at the rental agency was available by phone that Sunday afternoon to reroute us to a less treacherous path. We had been told the last mile was a rough dirt road but this partially washed out road was actually an improvement over the one we were faithfully following on the GPS.

Our cottage could not have been more perfect. With a quant and cozy interior,…

…a deck overlooking the river,…

…a screened in porch for if the bugs started biting,…

…and a dock right on the river where we could enjoy breakfast each morning.

We could not have asked for more.

Our first night we drove into Dahlonega to eat dinner. When we pulled into the historic downtown square, we found that the old courthouse had been turned into a Gold Mining museum. This got me thinking way back to a time when our young family of five had vacationed in Atlanta and went to Six Flags over Georgia. I recalled a roller coater ride we all thoroughly enjoyed, the Dahlonega Runaway Mine Train (my kids were most impressed I had remembered the name of the ride).

A little research on my part confirmed that this ride was based on the old gold rush days that started in 1829 in North Georgia, the first gold rush in the US predating the one in California by over twenty years. It felt really satisfying to be staying in a place that we thought we had never heard of before but which turned out to have had a fun family connection many years ago.

After wandering around the historic square for a while, we settled on an Irish pub for a hearty dinner.

The next day, we hit our first winery, Montaluce, which had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany (more information about wineries in next post).

Our next stop was back in Dahlonega since many of the shops had been closed the day before. We took in the Mine Museum first where we finally learned the correct pronunciation of the town’s name (I recalled pronouncing the Six Flags ride as De Longa which was totally wrong, the correct pronunciation is “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”, native Cherokee for yellow or gold color). Having had a late lunch after our wine tasting, we decided to pick up groceries to cook out a nice dinner to have on our river deck.

Our second full day was to take in one of my wife’s main objectives, getting to hike on part of the Appalachian Trail (AT), the southern trailhead for which, is less than 25 miles away. My wife found a portion of the AT that also had a fabulous overlook of a falls near by. We had attempted to hike a portion of the AT on a previous trip but had been foiled by blisters which developed on my wife’s feet on the three mile uphill hike just to get to the AT. This time we could drive the whole way to the AT path crossing, although the Forestry Service dirt road was described as “rough in spots”.

At times, I felt I was trying to drive our car on a washed out footpath with stretches where we could not exceed five miles per hour due to the rocky and washboard contour. Thank goodness for my wife’s all-wheel drive Outback! And when we came across an owl just sitting in the road (a special bird to my wife), we knew we would make it.

In spite of getting treacherously low on fuel, we found the AT crossing and hopped out for our adventure. The mile hike up to the falls was not too steep and when we found a sign along the way; we knew we had to get my wife’s photo.

And the falls were fabulous, being some of the tallest in the state.

After returning to our cottage to get cleaned up, we made it to our second winery, Frogtown, with a very large tasting room that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

On our third and final full day, we drove a short distance to Helen, GA, a cute little German town but probably a bit too touristy. My wife thoroughly enjoyed going through an antique store in a historic three-story house. It was a multi-level maze of displays, one that left me so overwhelmed, I had to just sit outside and read while my wife thoroughly explored it. Then it was off to our third winery next door.

Right across the road was an old gristmill, which on Saturdays, the old stone mill is water driven to grind the various grains. They had containers of cooked porridge and Southern grits for sampling, both delicious and of course we had to purchase.

At an old grocer in town, we had a quick lunch and then picked out some nice ingredients to have with our wine for dinner.

Returning to Dahlonega, we found our fourth winery and enjoyed another tasting overlooking the mountains.

That night we cooked our dinner to have on the porch of our cottage overlooking the river.

While dining, it gave us a chance to reflect on what fun our vacation had been. We both commented that it had not been one of those vacations of just sitting around and relaxing. Knowing that our days were limited, we tried to do as much as we could in the time we had. We agreed that it was not tiring at all but actually very enjoyable getting to see and do all these things in a locale neither of us had been to before.

We couldn’t say any one particular activity was our favorite as there were so many we had enjoyed. But for my wife, I know deep down one of her most pleasurable was getting on the AT, a goal she has had for quite some time of getting to hike.

At over 2,100 miles long, we only got a small taste on our short AT excursion but it will probably be motivation for her to take the next step (no pun intended). And since there were many more wineries we did not get to, I know we will plan another trip here sometime in the future.

My Favorite Foods

I am really surprised at myself for not thinking of writing on this topic before now.

Particularly considering that, with my mother who loved to cook and loved to eat even more, that I was exposed to good food growing up. But for whatever reason, this topic finally came to me recently and I felt I needed to explore it.

I suspect everyone has his or her favorite food, ranging from the exotic to the mundane.   For me, my all time favorite may seem rather simple to many but to me, it’s great—a juicy hamburger.

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved hamburgers. This was also my favorite food growing up. And one of my most memorable experiences as a child was the day I got to eat a hamburger not just for lunch and dinner, but for breakfast as well.

The occasion was we were on vacation and had stopped at a breakfast griddle (maybe a Waffle House or similar chain of the 1960s). Our family of six was seated at the counter and as the waitress asked each of us what we wanted to order, I confidently stated “a hamburger.” The waitress paused as an odd expression came on her face and then my mother piped up and said if that was what I wanted for breakfast, I should get it. And I did! Since we were travelling all that day, it was fairly easy for me to get a burger at lunch and dinner at the restaurants where we ate completing a perfect trifecta.

I was probably 8 or 9 at the time but still over 50 years later, I vividly recall that special occasion.

Pimento Cheese Burger Sliders

Considering this is my preferred food choice, I have had a lifetime of trying hamburgers all over the US as well as internationally with variations from just the ordinary to an extra-special gourmet burger. But of all the burgers I have eaten, my favorite continues to be a Huey’s burger, right here in Memphis, TN.

This is also the burger I most frequently have since my wife and I eat there at least once a week to enjoy a good beer and burger.

My second favorite food is steak (notice a pattern here). But not just any steak, a bacon-wrapped filet mignon from Charlie’s Meat Market that I cook my own special way.

I actually started buying these steaks (in various sizes from 6 to 12 oz.) at Charlie’s even before I got married so with me having been married for over 37 years, I have probably been buying these at the same location on Summer Avenue for almost as long as Charlie has been in business (Charlie’s also happens to supply hamburger meat to Huey’s, thus being the provider for my top two favorite foods).

While this is my second favorite food, I rarely order it out as I have found via costly experience that many restaurant steaks are just no where near as good as a Charlie’s filet that I cook on my own grill. With my wife not being the meat lover that I am, this is frequently what I cook for myself whenever she has a business or social dinner to attend.

My third favorite food is salmon but living close to the Mississippi River where catfish is much more prevalent, I don’t get good salmon all that often. The best salmon I get to eat is whenever I am traveling to a region that has access to a much greater selection of fresh seafood. And looking down the menu, a restaurant’s salmon dish is almost always the first entrée to catch my attention.

The seafood chain, Legal Seafood, always has an excellent salmon dish and whenever I get to eat there, it is usually a toss up between salmon and crab cakes, a very rich and delicious alternative that I never can get in Memphis.

But of all the places I have ordered salmon, probably my favorite is a brewpub in New Brunswick, NJ, Harvest Moon (a city where I teach at least once or twice a year).

Here I get to combine my love for great beer with the taste of really great salmon. And their salmon dish is different and unique every time I go (and always excellent).

Finally, my fourth favorite food is pizza, not just purchased at a restaurant, but also cooked in our own oven as one of my wife’s eclectic toppings on homemade dough.

Probably our most often purchased pizza is from Memphis Pizza Café but while in graduate school, I know I consumed a large quantity of Garibaldi’s pizza. Of late, I have had a number of Pyro’s Pizzas, which are thin personal pizzas (this particular one making its appearance at my private Super Bowl party).

Bosco’s is another fine pizza restaurant and since they also brew their own beer, is a favorite meal combination. This year, one of their specialty pizzas allowed me to indulge in two of my favorites, a cheeseburger pizza.

I tried to think of what would be my fifth favorite food to round out a “Top 5” list but nothing jumped out at me to the same degree as these four, the ones I usually think of first whenever hunger comes my way. While my food palate may not be as broad as many of my readers, it does encompass a number of ethnicities—Italian, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Indonesian—just to name a few, and includes chicken, fish, and salads (probably the healthiest choice).

Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) in Amsterdam

So if you happen to be dining with me sometime and ask what I would like, you now know what my top four choices would be. So if you are interested in something else, you can always preface your question by saying beyond my top four, what would I like to eat?

Bon-appétit!