Friday, June 30, 2017

San Francisco's Exploratorium offers eye-popping time with wonders of science, art, perception

What do a bell, a wheel and a pendulum have in common?  You'll find out at the Exploratorium.
Sights and sounds merge and dance as Steve Ganner shares
the wonders with his mesmerized daughter Penelope. 



James Brian Ganner and sister Penelope Margaret
 have fun with a magical spinning cloud chamber.


Bruce Keller has fun with invisible forces and spinning
 effects in one of the museum's interesting  exhibits. 

IF YOU NEVER completely "grew up," San Francisco's Exploratorium is designed with you in mind.  It's the classic "children of all ages" activity if you're looking for something to entertain several generations. We spent a happy day with our niece, her husband and their two youngsters. Good time had by all.
The Exploratorium is an inventive, state-of-the-art public learning laboratory in San Francisco exploring the world through science, art, and human perception. Its mission is to create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide.  Its eye-popping, mind-boggling experiments boldly go...
THE DAY we visited, a veritable United Nations of tourists wandered through, eyes wide with wonder.
Mirror magic: children, parents and grandparents smile, touch
and gaze at mirror images of themselves.
Wide-ranging Exploratorium offerings, demonstrations and exhibits range from cooking to toothpick art, crepe paper to celestial viewing, transportation and gravity.

Adults get sucked into the pleasure of discovery; with each
turn a new inter-active exhibit invites touch. Here, from
left, Steve, Cookie and Amarylla play with static electricity.
Keller's, Cookie's Exploratorium 
wish: may the Force be with you!
 The Exploratorium has six main galleries, each focusing on a different area of exploration. Common to all are interactive exhibits that reward attention and provoke thought and wonder. Tying the galleries together is that each exhibit encourages questions -- "how did they do that?" -- so as you play with displays and experiment with moving parts and mysterious forces, you discover new ways to understand how the world works.
Thousands of toothpicks create 
iconic San Francisco imagery.
ONE INTRIGUING aspect to this museum lover was the huge variety of people who wandered through, prepared to be amazed. Art museum patrons have, well, an "artsy" look about them. High-powered science based museums seem to attract "nerdy types" -- in the word's best sense. There was no obvious profile to our crowd. Young, old, scholarly, laid back, white collar, working class -- a pleasant mix of ethnicity, families. Sport clothes, flip-flops, dressed for a night on the town. An exhilarating melange!

THE EXPLORATORIUM is an offering on the great CityPASS attractions ticket, which allows entree into must-see attractions at a bargain price in many of the country's major cities. In San Francisco, CityPASS also includes unlimited rides on the city's fabled cable cars.;

Phil Johnson, left, and Omri Schein take on 14 characters
in the delightful "Withering Heights" at Diversionary
Theatre, a clever, affectionate send-up of the Bronte novel.

A pair of productions stands out this week in the fertile San Diego theater scene. "Withering Heights" is a non-stop laugh fest, a brilliantly written, impeccably performed and cleverly directed send-up of the gloomy and intricate Bronte novel "Wuthering Heights." NorthCoast Rep's accomplished artistic director David Ellenstein directs two versatile actors in a cross-dressed, fast paced tribute to the raft of characters we meet in the novel -- each parody elevated to melodrama, holding the line at mockery, managing to pay tribute to Bronte's convoluted plot. Standing O our night for Phil Johnson and Omri Schein, who both wrote and perform the inventive piece. They duck, dance, romance and prance as hero, heroine, bad boy, tyrant, ingenue, father, son, daughter, betrothed, mother-to-be, inebriate, virgin and more, each with distinct physicality and voice, mannerisms and hair pieces worthy of a Restoration comedy. "Withering Heights" at Diversionary Theatre delivers a hilarious incarnation of Heathcliff, Hindley, Cathy et al as their travails -
Paul Alexander Nolan, right on chair, and the first-rate cast of La Jolla
Playhouse's engaging world premiere musical, "Escape to Margaritaville."
- remembered by a housekeeper -- are told to James Olmstead's clever music. Understated lighting and minimal props do what the best theater always does: focus our attentions on fine acting. See for yourself, while supporting this fresh, daring new company, whose debut production, "Margin of Error," was also brilliant. Roustabouts is two for two! Encore, s'il vous plait. 

At La Jolla Playhouse, treat your favorite Parrot Head to "Escape to Margaritaville," which is welcome as a summer beverage on a hot day. It's a freshly conceived yet old-fashioned musical with LJ Playhouse's usual high-tech, no expense spared set, and gorgeous lighting, props and costumes. Besides Jimmy Buffett's classic tunes, he wrote some new songs for the Broadway-bound show, snazzily directed by Tony winning Christopher Ashley. The ensemble's high energy connects with the audience, delivering a poignancy to the partying. The run has been twice extended and is virtually sold out but you might luck out -- give it a try. There's not a bad chair in this beautifully designed and artful Mandell Weiss Theatre.

NEXT UP: Fabulous
''Buddy Holly Story''
 rocks out in pair of
daring San Diego
 EXPLORE, LEARN, LIVE -- and catch us each Friday evening when we post a fresh look at travel, the arts and the natural world at
Next week's feature describes a unique and first-ever collaboration between two San Diego theaters. "The Buddy Holly" story combines the talents and organizational chutzpah of Intrepid Theatre and New Village Arts, two daring and innovative Southern California companies who brought their talents together to dazzle audiences in both venues. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

SeaWorld's new orca show is eye-popping entertainment, a seaworthy spectacle for all ages

  SeaWorld's new Orca Encounter is a more politically correct production which still captures the
beauty, grace and power of the magnificent whale. Orcas exist in all the world's oceans.

Media weekend Orca shows featured
seaworthy pastries in ocean motifs.


Cookie and Keller give "flippers up" to SeaWorld's new entertaining orca show.

Orcas still show off for the SeaWorld audience, but no longer do trainers
swim on or with them.  And the breeding program has been curtailed.

WE LOVED the old orca show at SeaWorld.  Keller grew up with it, took his kids there and retains cherished memories of the mighty orcas. So when it was announced that a more politically correct orca show would evolve, we wondered:
Could it manage to entertain the way the old orca shows did?
Would we still thrill at the orcas' strength and grace? Would people still get soaked in the close-up seats?
The major change in the new program is that trainers no longer swim with the orcas.  But they still interact and touch and play with the orcas.  And, yes, people in the splash zone still get mighty wet, as the animals splash their mighty tails to the delight of the audience.
In the wild, this orca's mighty tail might be used to catch
a seal off-guard and dislodge him from his rock.
SHAMU STADIUM'S stage has been transformed into a captivating Pacific Northwest theme featuring natural rock work, huge faux trees and gorgeous man-made waterfalls surrounding a 138-foot-wide screen.
The impressive, three-story, first-in-the-world high-definition "infinity screen" forms a changing backdrop for the show, accompanying educational commentary about the orcas. They exist in all the world's oceans, and the digital imagery ranges from Arctic ice to tropical waters, as in "real life" the orcas swim, leap and lunge in the 1.7-million gallon tank. We saw the opening weekend in the 5,500-seat Shamu stadium.
Animal behaviorists still interact with the whales and provide the commentary, with the screen's enlarged human images entertaining us as performance in the water below continues.
SeaWorld's well cared for orcas will no longer breed, but will entertain.
The combination of live presentation with the digital backdrop is engaging and SeaWorld's well written script exhibits its 50-year experience with and knowledge of the orca.
SeaWorld's popular, internationally known orca show is enhanced by
a new "encounter" which showcases the orcas against a stunning backdrop.
 The goal is "to immerse our guests in the mysterious world of the killer whale, which most people would never get to experience,” says Brian Morrow, SeaWorld’s vice president of theme park experience and design.
The show has been developed for more than a year, using the talent and knowledge of orca behaviorists,
engineers, researchers and writers.
WE ENJOYED watching SeaWorld orcas breach and show off against the massive infinity screen.
"We're hoping to help create an even deeper connection to the orcas,” says SeaWorld San Diego orca behaviorist, Kristi Burtis.  Visitors also hear how scientific research on killer whales at SeaWorld is benefiting wild orcas.
SeaWorld's orcas are meticulously cared for and SeaWorld's exemplary
program rescues, rehabilitates and returns many creatures to the wild.
The SeaWorld orcas are in tip-top shape, pampered and loved and given medical care and special diets depending on their needs. Like any zoo or animal sanctuary, SeaWorld's orcas spark controversy. Our thinking is that because of the exemplary care given the critters -- and the fact that other whales are still hunted -- this might be the only chance many will ever get to see such a magnificent creature up close.

Off next to San Francisco's Exploratorium where we spend a delightful day!
NEXT UP: San Francisco's Exploratorium explores the world through science, art, and human perception. Its mission is to create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning -- in unique and imaginative ways.  We spent the day recently and had a ball with our Bay Area niece and her lively and curious family. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a unique spin on nature, the arts and travel.

Friday, June 16, 2017

June delights: theater treats, returning health, bird visits, travel plans

The view from our hotel balcony in Fiji last year -- knowing we will return is helping the recovery from transplantation.

While Cookie and Keller never miss a chance for a live theatrical production,
the theater of the sky -- here in form of a dozen pelicans -- is engaging fare, too

and courtesy theater marketing departments
Yale Strom is a perennial
favorite at the Lipinsky
Jewish Arts Festival
on tap through July 9.

Fine acting, spirited singing, skilled directing await at North-
Coast Rep's production of "The Spitfire Grill," through July 2.
AS WE PASS one month since Keller's liver transplant, we're experiencing theater in several senses of the word -- at Scripps Clinic, the oral surgeon, in nature and on the boards.
We've seen more pelicans at Torrey Pines than we've ever seen before here in San Diego. At home, we're being visited by a family of kites....gorgeous white birds also sometimes called hovering or soaring kites.
Keller's chief transplant surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Fisher,
gave him thumbs up Thursday at clinic. Still no biking, though
he is once again behind the wheel of our Ford Explorer.
The finches are plentiful at the feeders, and sometimes the kites have come down from their pine-tree perches to visit us right on our patio. They are a regal bird, with gorgeous black shoulders and beaks that remind of Roman sculptures.
Tune in to transplant tale, part one
I consider all our feathered friends a good omen -- as we enter week five since Keller's liver transplant.
A fabulous production of "Damn Yankees" is running at the historic
Spreckles Theatre in downtown San Diego. As we knock it out of the
park in recovery from liver transplantation, the musical was apropos.
Today was a rough day for him -- two dental implants of over a year ago were compromised by his diminished immune system, complicated by anti-rejection drugs following transplantation. The infection had to be stopped so repairs were done today, along with extraction of a broken tooth and a new implant.
Transplant tale continues, part two
Bad timing, but he's handling it like the trooper he is -- still, a rocky day for our Titanium Man, aka "Patient Patient."  He hopes to take in a weekend paella party farewell for a friend who's returns to Ecuador. And his only daughter is coming for Father's Day.
A white-tailed kite -- once endangered -- is one of several regular visitors
above the canyon out our back patio here in San Diego. 
MEANWHILE, THE KITES have been close since we returned from the oral surgeon.  They seem to be communicating with us -- telling us to "hang in there," reminding that we, too, will soar again -- on the road back to our usual travels and his improved health. "You will return to Fiji," the kites seem to be saying.  Keller keeps his camera close and made one of his Fiji photos his screen saver.  He took it one sunset.
Nurse Kick-Ass is making plans for a return to our favorite corner of Fiji.  This will be an important
ticket in our drawer, my Father's Day gift to PP.
We've been to live performance three of the past seven nights -- enjoying fabulous productions of "Damn Yankees," a favorite family musical, and "The Spitfire Grill," with its haunting music and enthralling story.  Both musicals -- "Yankees" at Spreckles in downtown San Diego, and "Grill" at NorthCoast Repertory Theatre in Solana  Beach -- are directed
Cookie shed her nurses cap, left, for a few nights of culture
with Keller and her sister Misha this week in San Diego.
with imagination and heart. Top-drawer actors deliver in two delightful productions.
Transplant tale, part three
The Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival is a thrilling addition to our cultural docket, a reward after a long day's doctoring. Brilliant fiddler Yale Strom and fabulous musicians of Hot Pstromi are just what the doctor ordered, along with Elizabeth Schwartz, Lisa Payton and Coral Thuet delivering a soulful and eclectic evening of global vocals. We'll hear Hershey Felder and Friends soon in "The Stories of Sholem Aleichem and More" and that will tide us through another week of doctoring. My sister Misha was here for five days from Atlanta -- plying her skills of reiki and acu-pressure on PP. She took in the culture with us and we made time for happy hour appetizers and N/A beer at our favorite La Jolla Shores. As the French say, "la vie continue" ....

SeaWorld's splendid new orca show features the magical
killer whales in a high-tech global environment.   
NEXT UP: Since we've stuck closer to home these past months, awaiting the transplant, we've rediscovered what we've known for years -- that California offers a world of engaging diversions. San Diego's world famous SeaWorld has revamped its orca shows and we were invited to the media opening.  We'll take you there, and then visit San Francisco's Exploratorium with our Bay Area niece and her family. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live. Consider organ donation -- a gift which changed our life.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Transplant tale continues with look at the "swings and arrows"

Editor's Note: Three weeks ago, we described our journey up the transplant list at Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation, a world renowned facility luckily 10 minutes from our San Diego home.  We detailed the 19-month process leading to the midnight call that a donor had been found. Now -- four weeks from the May 13 surgery -- we continue the complex story of recovery with a look at the "ups and downs" and the caregiver's essential role.
From left, writer Rick Cosgriffe, Cookie's brother, with
Bruce Keller and Christene Meyers at a play. One of
the important steps in recovery is returning to routine.



WHAT WE LEARNED during the wait for a donor is too much for a single article. Friends have suggested a book, and through this blog, we've had an offer from a publisher! What we're learning during recovery is even more complicated.
Cookie, Nick and Nora, at the beach.  Keller's
and Cookie's routines include the ocean and
theater, and exercise continues to be critical.
Salient points include:
* There will be moments of exhilaration and release, as well as moments of despair and frustration. All normal, textbook reactions to the trauma of transplant.
* Moods will swing -- both of the recipient and the caregiver. Fatigue and exhaustion play into this; be kind to one another.
* As our dear and brilliant hepatology doctor Catherine Frenette says, "There is no road map. Each case differs. Things will go off the track.
* Achieving a balance between the anti-rejection drugs and the immune system is tricky. The drugs compromise the immune system. We had a broken tooth and other dental complications, so we have had to deal with infection and visits to two oral surgeons. We have more surgery next week -- and the transplant doctors and oral surgeons must collaborate on the right antibiotics and anesthesia.
* Return as much as possible to "favorite things" and routines.  This includes for us, weekly plays and concerts and daily trips to the beach for exercise and rejuvenation.
It's too soon for the surfer to return to his board, but in one
more month, Keller's surgeons have given him thumbs up
to return to his daily bicycle rides. Soon he can drive again. 

FAMILY HAS meant everything to me, and having my siblings here has been a godsend. Reflexology treatments, acu-pressure and reiki healing were my sister Olivia's gifts to Keller. Brother Rick and Keller went running and biking. Sister Kelly Misha continues the massages and walking time with Keller.  Family also provides good humor, company and a spell-off for the caregiver.
I am a patient, roll-with-the-punches kind of girl.  Through the illness and loss of two husbands and two sisters, parents, grandparents and dear friends, I've learned that life is a gift and each day precious.  I've also learned the insides of ICUs and operating theaters, and I've seen as many videos on surgery as some medical students.
NOTHING, HOWEVER, prepares  a person for the unexpected.  Who knew a tooth would break, and that the dental implants of two years ago would cause trouble.  But the tricky balance of anti-rejection drugs and immune system are carefully monitored and adjusted.
A Father's Day party is planned next week, with longtime
friend, Jesus Soriano, as a farewell to another longtime
friend, Carlos Montero, who is returning to Ecuador. 

Jambalaya, gumbo and curry were all cravings
for Keller during his first month of recovery.
Good thing Cookie knows how to cook!

A return to "normal" life for the
two included a media day invite
to SeaWorld, and sea-inspired
donuts to toast the 3-week mark.
And as Dr. Frenette predicted, unexpected problems arise with each person; each transplant patient has his or her version of road bumps. Deal with it -- and we did and are.
WE WERE lucky because we were 19 months from diagnosis, to being officially listed,  to the transplant itself. Some people are on the list five years. We are forever grateful to the family who donated their loved one's organ. Through the continuing travail, these tips helped us.
* Keep focused. Maintain priorities. Don't sweat the small stuff. Who cares if you don't get the dishwasher unloaded before you fall into bed exhausted. Even in our pre-transplant time,  we hired a housekeeper and she's a joy and a boon. We love our Yolanda.
* Let people help you.  Chances are your folks will be eager to lend a hand.  Let them!  My family stepped up to the plate with generous gifts of time, talent and optimism.  Neighbors and friends have fed the Yorkies, walked them, looked in on the house, offered a meal or a trip to the grocery.
Nick and Nora above La Jolla Shores.
* Take time. The care giver's journey is a taxing one. I kept up my writing assignments and Jazzercise six days a week. It's essential to my mental health and my own well being.
Cookie "suits up" for
her beloved Jazzercise
* Animal World. We love our Yorkies.  Nick and Nora are part of the healing.  Nicky sleeps with Keller during his naps and Nora stays close to Cookie. They're a comfort and a joy, an essential part of the healing.
* Above all, keep it "normal" as possible. Roll with the punches -- and there have been a couple to the gut,
including a nasty fall for "Nurse Kick-Ass," who reminds herself to slow down and stay in the moment.
Nick, Nora and Keller mark one month out
from the transplant, at Torrey Pines Beach.
The massive incision is healing, the meds are balanced, and while doctoring is a huge part of our present world, we take time to be together at the beach, for exercise and at the theater.
We continued our Friday date nights right up to  the call which came on a Friday. We missed only two weekends of play openings.  We're back on track with that and we've kept our senses of humor.
Even when we our travel was shortened to 3-hours away from Scripps, we found new fun places to go nearby.
As for "Patient Patient," he says, "My future's so bright, I have to wear shades!"

we've stuck closer to home these past months, awaiting the transplant, we've rediscovered what we've known for years -- that California offers a world of engaging diversions. Outside our window, a family of kites have been hypnotizing us with the nesting.  Two fabulous productions have entertained us -- "Damn Yankees" by San Diego Musical Theatre at Spreckles, and "The Spitfire Grill" at NorthCoast Rep in Solana Beach. What a time for theater in our lives -- at the clinic, on the boards and out our window. We're remembering to explore, learn and live and hope you'll consider organ donation -- a gift which changed our life.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Transplant tale: into the light with merging of science, attitude, luck

Our last night in Malaga in November, Keller enjoyed non-alcoholic beer
while Cookie celebrated with a gin and tonic from our patio above
 the lovely Spanish harbor. (Local cheese, nuts, tomatoes and olives!)

Cookie and Keller celebrated 
last Thanksgiving shipboard.

Keller less than a week after surgery, with one of the attending
surgeons, Dr. Jonathan Fisher. He is part of the gifted Scripps
  transplantation team. He earned his MD at Columbia University. 

Editor's Note: Two weeks ago, we described our journey up the transplant list at Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation, a world renowned facility luckily 10 minutes from our home.  We detailed the 19-month process leading to the midnight call that a donor had been found. Now -- exactly three weeks from the surgery -- we continue the complex story of the procedure and recovery. We'll finish the three-part piece next Friday with insight into the caregiver's role and an appeal for organ donation.


Keller leaves Scripps in a record
three days -- we had prepared for
five to seven and three days in
ICU (he was there less than a day.)

RIGHT UP until "the call," we'd maintained our hectic lives. Although our brilliant hepatology doctor, Catherine Frenette nixed international travel after the first of this year, she'd sanctioned a November Thanksgiving trip to our beloved Spain, including our annual trans-Atlantic crossing to the U.S. We made the most of it.
It was a spectacular trip, delightful in every way -- beginning with eight days in Malaga then time in Lanzarote, our favorite of the Canary Islands.
WE'D CONTINUED sailing, touring my novel, biking, hiking, teaching, writing, contracting, photography missions. After we were vetted and approved for transplant, we spent six weeks in Asia. We plan international trips two and three years out and while we postponed a return trip to the Galapagos, we kept trips on the books for late 2017 and 2018, hoping my dream was correct: that "the call" would come in mid-May, which it did.

After getting on the transplantation list, Keller continued to
see plays -- sometimes two a week -- here with Cookie, top left,
with niece Amarylla, and Cookie's sisters Misha and Olivia.
Cookie and Keller on their book tour -- keeping the faith.
By May 12, we had read copious literature and statistics, and met with more than two dozen specialists in Scripps' well orchestrated guide for this complex surgery. Like detectives studying a mystery, we learned there would be two teams of surgeons -- one harvesting the organ from the donor, another removing Keller's flawed liver and "installing" the new organ.  The team would make a huge "Mercedes" incision beneath the ribs, clamp and cut vessels from the old liver before its removal then reconnect these to the new liver, sewing it in. We discovered that part of the blood to the heart would be clamped off, with tubes elsewhere to allow blood to flow around the site where the surgeons would work, returning normal amounts of blood back to the heart.
WE LEARNED that the gallbladder of the new organ would be removed, the bile duct reconnected and another "t-tube" would be inserted to monitor quantity and quality of bile the new liver is making.
Keller with his surfboard, a year ago. He plans to catch a wave in weeks.
Dr. Christopher Marsh, chief of the transplantation department, explained later that the pain Keller is still having in his ribs is because of the sturdy clamps inserted to keep his ribs open for the hours needed to complete their work.
Keller and our flashy new bags arrive at Parador Gibralfaro
in Malaga.  Scripps' sanctioned our November trip to Europe. 

OF THE MANY thoughtful Scripps gestures during the long and taxing surgery,  a nurse kept me informed from the operating room at the transplant's critical stages.

Cookie and Keller depart Scripps
Transplantation Center a record three days.

One of our grim considerations leading up to the transplant was that someone must die for us to receive our liver -- a curious thought.  The person whose family gave us this great gift was still alive while we were enjoying our date night three weeks ago-- a sobering thought which we contemplated as we waited, yet celebrated, that Friday night at our date night hang-out, La Jolla Shores.

COMING NEXT: We explore the caregiver's critical role in
the transplant process and the importance of retaining
one's routine and some sense of "normalcy." Here, Cookie

exercises with her Jazzercise pals, niece Amarylla and
great-niece Peny.  Remember to explore, learn live and
catch us weekends for a novel approach to art, nature, life.
Transplant Tale: The Prequel
Scripps has a fine international reputation. Its surgeons and doctors are the creme de la creme of prestigious medical schools, Case in point: Dr. Jonathan Fisher, of Columbia University, who met with us before Keller was wheeled into surgery.  He explained that the surgery could take up to 12 hours, but that six or seven hours was more customary.
(We finish the saga next week....please visit us.)