"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Frankfurt

home again . . .

chinese lantern from the garden . . .

chinese lantern from the garden . . .

On Monday, five or so days ago, I arrived home around 8:30 a.m., having taken the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston. I was tired. The connecting flight gate at LAX was moved a terminal away and I only got there by asking for someone to push me there in a wheelchair. For the next few nights, I didn’t sleep very well. I had vivid dreams. I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. Then, I slept until 9:30 after I finally fell back asleep.

Besides having irregular sleep patterns, I set forth to buy food, make broth and clean up the kitchen in anticipation of a new countertop being installed in the next month or so. Instead of having two knife blocks taking up so much room on the counter, I ordered a twenty-four inch magnetic knife strip to hold all the knives that we use. Once G. mounted it on the bottom strip of the octagonal window, we marveled at how efficient and useful it was, noting how we could have done this so long ago! I also ordered a twelve-dollar knife blade sharpener that arrived yesterday. As the reviewers said, it held firmly to the countertop, allowing for one’s non-sharpening hand to rest far away from it, and then to allow knives to be drawn towards me through a “dimond sharpening opening.” It worked so well that my knives are now razor sharp and slice through newspaper, just like on TV! DSCN6942

But I’m not really writing about knife-sharpening in this post, I’m writing about how much I appreciate being home. I’m not a world traveler much anymore, although I’ve done my share while working in the biotech industry, flying to Frankfurt and holding powwows in the airport restaurant with our business partners, then flying home two days later without having left the airport. Once, the American Airlines staff were so surprised to see me returning from Frankfurt on their own layover flight that they moved me to first class, gave me roses and the largest tin of caviar that I have ever seen! It was a memorable trip, also because it took place right before Christmas and there were stalls of German Christmas ornaments and gifts for sale set up in the airport. I had a great time, bought a couple of hand-blown glass ornaments and drank champagne and ate caviar all the way back home. Those were the days when business class was common, unlike today when people are fighting with each other in economy class about moving their seats back!

Now, I’m discovering once again how much I love being home with my husband, G. in our quirky home on the top floor of a Queen Anne Victorian house with his piano shop on the ground floor. Before my trip, we did a big refrigerator clean-out together and it really helped to come home to a half empty, clean fridge. I bought some food, shopping at a Mediterranean grocery store for their heavenly homemade baba ganoush (eggplant dip,) and brought home a sack of small Japanese light-fleshed sweet potatoes from the Vietnamese market–half the cost from the gourmet farm stand a half an hour away–and sharing them with neighbors who love them as much as we do.

Today, I went by the other Vietnamese grocery in town which offers whole roast duckling transported from Chinatown in Boston on Saturday mornings but only if you come at the right time–after they have arrived and before they are sold out–an unpredictable window of time on both ends. I also found a pack of roasted pork buns with a red dot on them and two bunches of scallions for the Peking Duck we’ll have with hoisin sauce and flour wrappers I’ll make tonight. I also picked up raw chicken and pork bones to make a “Tampopo” type broth with ginger root and green onions (plus a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.) When the broth is ready, I’ll strain it and use part of it to make a soup with tofu, mushrooms and fresh watercress added at the last minute so it’s still crunchy when served.

"tampopo" broth with chicken and pork bones . . .

“tampopo” broth with chicken and pork bones . . .

I’m glad to be home but don’t get me wrong, it was a great trip in many ways. Being with my daughter, M. who lives in Minneapolis was a treat. She went out of her way to take care of so many things, not the least of which was to drive our rental car towards Pike Place in Seattle (although we didn’t realize it at the time) during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.

The cottage views were delightful and peaceably enjoyed. DSCN6854We finally found Dungeness crab at the local grocery store and lightly steamed it, eating large chunks of crabmeat dipped in warm, melted Kerrygold butter (from Irish grass-fed cows.) Most of all I got to witness and to deeply appreciate my daughter’s silent ways that made the trip so meaningful. Many thanks, M.!

Making a home means a lot to me. Keeping it up for our needs and enjoyment is one of my great pleasures. I just happen to like doing it, even the tedious cleaning up of things. It looks and feels so much better afterwards. There are still closets to clean out and plenty of cupboards to reorganize before the kitchen gets its facelift in a couple of weeks. I guess I’ll never run out of things to do at this rate, will I?

I’m glad to be home with G.



stirring the pot. . .

cream of tomato soup

Although I sometimes think of myself as being quiet and solitary, (“a taoist hermit”), in my professional working life, I was anything but. Although I tried very hard each time I was the “newest kid on the block,” to keep my mouth shut and not challenge anybody, it was hard for me to do any of these things longer than for the first week or two. It’s actually amazing that I had a professional career at all, all things considered.

I was a late starter getting into the workforce because my first husband didn’t want me to work (“life is long”). When my kids were in high school, I talked my way into a project management job at one of the two premier biotechnology start-up companies in the U.S. at the time. In those days, cloning was an art, carried out by molecular biologists who were treated and paid like rock stars. Nowadays, there are machines that clone while people are on their coffee break. Before I was hired, I was asked to interview with the “Senior Scientists” of the start-up company. They were very nice and very distracted by this waste of their time. In other ways, they behaved like Knights of the Round Table, coming to work at 2 a.m. and leaving whenever, or vice-versa. They purposely didn’t want anyone with a Ph.D. in science to be a project manager, which is why they were interviewing me, a liberal arts history and music major. What they wanted, it seemed, was to hire a nice “nanny” to find their notes and to run meetings that they didn’t want to attend.

Long story short, I was hired and in two years was promoted over a young Harvard MBA to Director of Project Management. I hired and trained young MBAs from Wharton and other business schools because that’s what senior management said they wanted (even though I wasn’t one.) There were four divisions in the company at the time: pharmaceuticals, agriculture, diagnostics and biocatalysis. The project managers covered projects in all four groups; there were over 25 projects with global business partners in the pharmaceutical division alone. I also managed my own projects, the most important one being recombinant Erythropoietin (EPO). Simply put, it is a glycoprotein that stimulates production of erythrocytes (red blood cells).

I remember one company-wide meeting when the CEO said, “Our number one priority is EPO; our number two priority is EPO and our number three priority is EPO.” It was a crazy time. Once the VP of manufacturing and I flew to Frankfurt for an emergency meeting and met our business partners in the airport lounge after 8 hours in the air. We then turned around and flew back a day later without leaving the airport! When I boarded the American Airlines plane the crew recognized me from the flight two days earlier. It was right before Christmas and everyone was in a festive mood. The stewardess put me in First Class and served glasses of champagne on a tray with red roses. Then, I was offered (I’ll never forget this) an unopened jar of Sevruga cavier the size of a softball–just for me. There were perks that went with all the pressure and this one beat them all.

Back to the grind, I led a global development team with business partners who succeeded under great duress to obtain EPO regulatory approval in Germany and Japan. Amgen won the U.S. patent rights over the company I worked for and built its company from its early success with EPO. During the patent litigation phase, I travelled to New York for depositions and testified on behalf of my company’s claims. Today, you might recognize EPO under its marketed name,”Procrit.” Athletes are accused of using it to stimulate performance. To this day, it is still the single most successful product ever developed by recombinant technology, generating over a billion dollars of revenue a year.

Wow, you might say. . .how did you survive that? Well, I read huge textbooks about Molecular Biology and Protein Chemistry without understanding or at least retaining much of what I read. The first year, I walked around the garden and cried a lot on weekends. Understanding a research scientist’s mentality, having grown up with my father (“my father, myself”) gave me a leg up towards coaxing them to do what management needed them to do. It was a privilege to be on this ride in the early years of biotechnology. The work was exhilarating and very, very stressful. I virtually disappeared from my family. I told my first husband that from then on, he would have to go to all the school meetings for the kids and to carry on at home as though I had left the planet. Which is also how it felt sometimes.

Anyway, that’s how I started working. They thought they had hired someone they could ignore. I managed to stir the pot enough to get things done. It was a lot of fun working with such intelligent people for such a long time. After the bloom of biotech faded, it got a lot harder to raise money, it was a lot more stressful and a lot less fun. But I had a good run. I lucked out. I worked very hard. And I’m glad that a product like EPO made it across the finish line.