Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Life Fully Lived --- Featuring the Incomparable and Multi-Talented Jeannie Fafoutis

Jeannie Fafoutis
Every spring we purchase our client birthday cards for the coming year. We love sending them out to you and take joy in writing a personal note letting you know how special you are to us.

What you may NOT know is that behind the scenes we engage in a HUGE debate to pick out the two cards for the year: one for the gals, and one for the guys. It hasn’t quite come to fisticuffs and dueling swords yet, but we are each passionate about our favorites and willing to go to extreme lengths to garner votes. 

This year was easy: we all agreed that our fantastic client, emerging artist Jeannie Fafoutis, was our choice. She has shared some of her incredible artwork with us during our meetings, and we have completely fallen in love with her point of view and palette. As an emerging artist, she had not yet created a card line, so we encouraged her to use us as her launch, and we are thrilled she agreed to take us up on the challenge. I know you will enjoy her special art this year, and you can also view one of her original paintings in Laura’s office in our new suite. 

I really wanted to feature her this month in our Blog, not only because of her amazing talent and desire to share her with all of my readers, but also because she really exemplifies the spirit and passion of forward thinking and hard work. Some of us are left brain thinkers, others are righties….she’s an ALL brain thinker and there’s not much she cannot do and isn’t interested in. We enjoy meeting with her so much, if for no other reason than she’s always interested in something new and keeps us on our toes! We enjoy being cheerleaders for you all, as you find your niches and avocations, or slow down and retire from those life passions. I feel you will relate to many parts of Jeannie’s life journey and will truly enjoy getting to know her. We'll let Jeannie take it from here.

Tell us a little bit about your personal life, Jeanie. Where did you grow up, go to school and live?

Whenever someone asks me where I grew up, I say, “Chicago!” But, the truth is I have lived in California for the past 43 years of my life. I have a huge place in my heart for Chicago though, because I grew up there for the first 10 years of my life, my sister still lives in Naperville, Ill., my grandparents and dad lived there, I worked in downtown Chicago later in life and had my first son in Chicago. 

Going back to visit Dunsmuir!
When I was 10, my mom remarried and I now had a new step-dad that lived in California. I went from being a city girl to a small (really small) town girl living in Dunsmuir (near Mt. Shasta) with a population of 2,500 people. My stepdad was an outdoorsman, so I learned how to ski on Mt. Shasta, fish on lakes on our little boat, hike the mountains and walk the railroad tracks to waterfalls. As I entered High School, my stepdad just so happened to be the superintendent and principal of Dunsmuir High School, which made my teen and dating life….interesting. My favorite memory of being in High School was being on the basketball team. At 6’ tall, I was a forward and star rebounder. I was also on the tennis team and a cheerleader for the football team. My junior year, my parents moved to Redding, one hour south of Dunsmuir. I thought my life was over moving to a new school. But, I made new friends, was on the basketball team for the Enterprise Hornets and graduated in 1980.

I attended Chico State briefly, then randomly decided to finish out my college years at U.C. Santa Barbara because I had never lived near the beach. It was a hard place to study with all the distractions of the beach, surfers, sun and fun, but I did graduate in 1984. 

You actually worked in the investment world for many years.  What drew you to the profession?

During some of my summers in high school and college, I went back to Chicago to live with my Dad and work for him. My Dad owned a clearing firm on the CBOE (Chicago Board of Options Exchange). He put me to work in this fast, furious world of trading and I loved it. I started off as a runner on the CBOE trading floor, delivering trades to the trading pit brokers to execute. Then, I became a clerk for top producing broker in the IBM pit (remember IBM?), which was then the biggest pit on the floor. I held his trading deck of anticipated trades and was in charge of watching the market screens and helping him execute those trades. 

After I graduated UCSB, I started work at EF Hutton as an assistant to a broker. I moved to Los Angeles a year later, got my series 3 and 7 registrations, and started working on the bond trading floor for Security Pacific Bank as an investment banker/bond salesman for the next few years. When my first son Alex came along, I hung up my registrations and became a full time mom.

Original watercolor by Jeannie Fafoutis entitled "3 Boys on the Beach."
Life as a Mom!

My biggest joy and accomplishment in my life was becoming a mom to my three boys.  A fun fact about my boys - all three of them were born at 7lbs. 14oz., 21 inches long.  They are now all 6'3" tall, give or take!

Jeannie's three sons, Nicky, Chris and Alex, July, 2015.
Alex is now 23 years old and attends the University of Alabama….Roll Tide!! Alex speaks German, backpacked through Germany last summer, loves anything to do with history, travel and SPORTS.

Chris is 21 years old, striving to become a master jeweler and gemologist. He will be starting his jewelry school program in San Francisco in October. In the meantime, he has started his own jewelry line/company and has had great success on Instagram and Etsy as an entrepreneur. I love having a son make me all my jewelry and share in my creative side! 

Nicky is 17 and a senior at Campolindo High School. He is starting the college process – taking the SAT test and looking at different college campuses. He’s a catcher on the varsity baseball team and an offensive lineman and linebacker on the varsity football team.

I had all three boys home this summer and I have the electricity, water, hot tub and food bills to prove it!

Chris, Nicky, Alex, Sean, Jeannie and Bobby in Thailand.
I love spending time with my boys and we are lucky enough to share these times with my longtime boyfriend, Bobby. He has three children as well, so we have four boys and two girls together. We all enjoy golfing, hiking, skiing, cooking and traveling as a family. We took a great trip this summer to Vancouver to see the Women’s World Cup, then on to beautiful Whistler and Seattle. Last Christmas, we took the kids skiing to Utah at Park City and Canyons. They are all amazing skiers and it is great to ski as a family.

Bobby and Jeannie in Puerto Vallarta
We also took the crew to Singapore and Thailand for an amazing adventure last summer. Bob was doing some business in Singapore the last two years and we both became Singapore citizens, since he worked there and we traveled there on a monthly basis. We had a great apartment in Singapore and it served as a convenient base to take advantage of traveling all over the different countries back there.  We were fortunate enough to discover every inch of Singapore (which we love), Thailand, Koi Samui, Naka Island, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Indonesia/Bali, Sydney, Spain and my favorite- the Maldives.  I am in constant search now of curry that rivals Singapore and Thailand curry and I miss the monkeys hanging from the trees when we hike. 

Original watercolor by Jeannie Fafoutis entitled, "Foggy East Bay Hills."
You are now switching your career path in a pretty significant way. Tell us what you love about being an artist. Have you always known you have this super talent?

I would say I have more of a super passion for being an artist and the arts, but not necessarily a super talent! (Editor’s note --- ahem, not true!) I will always be a life-long learner and enjoy the journey along the way.

I accidently stumbled upon my super-talented art teacher and watercolor class that started my artistic journey, back in 2004. I had never taken a formal art class in school or college and I had worked in the left-brain world of finances. One day, I was in an art store looking at supplies, after inquiring at the Art Room in Lafayette about taking an art class on a whim. I just thought it would be fun while my kids were in school, but had no experience whatsoever. This nice lady came up to me in the store and told me she was a watercolor teacher, and offered to help me pick out supplies. I guess I looked lost and bewildered surrounded by the array of brushes, paper, paints, etc. to choose from. I told her that I had just signed up for a watercolor class with Camille Young, at the Art Room. She said, “Well, that’s me!” It was fate from there, that I have been blessed with having such an amazing teacher throughout these years of my ups and downs of learning the difficult but exciting medium of watercolor. I have been with the same teacher and same watercolor group for over 10 years now. Not only have I learned a tremendous amount of technique and some different mediums, I have grown as an artist, developed my own style, gained confidence in my art work and have grown personally in my journey.  

Original watercolor by Jeannie Fafoutis hanging in Laura's office.
How have you developed your style? What mediums do you enjoy working in the most? Would you say you are still evolving?

My style has really come naturally. I have taken what I have learned from my teacher in watercolor technique and the art of realism, and have expanded on what inspires me. In class I was always known as the rebel, because I would go outside my box and use bolder colors, design, loosen up and make the composition my own. My style has evolved from what I love to do most and what motivates and inspires me. My travels around the world have brought a lot of insight and opened my eyes to different ways to paint. I took several art classes in Singapore and have been drawn to the Urban Sketching that is so popular there. It’s amazing if you sit down on a bench and watch the world go by. I see things differently when I go to sketch and paint them. Painting has opened my eyes to see things clearer, notice details, magnify color, see shadows, light, reflections, beauty, expressions, angles, lines, foreshortening and things fading away in the distance. My main inspiration is nature and hiking in the beautiful San Francisco area with my Norwich terrier, Ziggy and Bobby. I always bring my camera to capture the sunsets, the poppies in the hills, the shadows on the trail, the reflections on the lake, the cloud formations and colors of the hills, trees and flowers. I paint what I see and that creates great joy, peace and wonderment in my life.

Hiking buddy, Ms. Ziggy Fafoutis.
The medium I love to use is obviously watercolor. I’ve been told the watercolor is the hardest medium to paint in, because there is not a lot of room for mistakes. But I love the transparency, the luminosity, the fluid, flowing way the colors mix and create a piece of art. I have also been taking some abstract, mixed media, perspective and charcoal drawing classes to expand my thinking and to incorporate these new techniques in my watercolor paintings. I will always be evolving, learning, and expanding my knowledge and techniques to create more works of art. I think it’s important to be open and try new things and to sometimes fail at new things. Art has taught me some really good life lessons - to not be afraid of failing, to let go of inhibitions and creative roadblocks, to find your passion, to do what you love and love what you are doing.

Charcoal drawing of Ms.Ziggy.
That said, I’m open to hearing about ways to make my passion for art a profitable career choice. So I’d really love to hear from any readers with ideas to share with me about that journey and their suggestions on what steps I should consider taking.

Original watercolor by Jeannie Fafoutis entitled "Poppies."
Recently you added to your impressive resume your Master’s in Marketing. What piqued your interest in that field?

I have been a Mom for 23 years and have done a lot of charity and non-profit work while I raised my kids. But, I felt the world was rapidly changing before my eyes with technology and social media and I wanted to get up to speed. I also wanted to get back in the working world somehow and I wanted to enjoy what I was doing.

I know I’m dating myself, but in college I didn’t even have a cell phone and still typed my papers on a typewriter! I decided on the marketing program at UC Berkeley extension because it was a flexible program that still allowed me to raise my kids and go to school at the same time. I thought marketing would be a great avenue to learn about social media, small business, technology and it would one day serve as a valuable tool to help me market my art and start my own business. My kids were proud of how hard I worked and my hope was that I would be a good role model for them. I wanted them to see that no matter what age you are, you can still follow your dreams. I definitely was the oldest person in every class I took and was the only person that did not have a Facebook account! But, I finally succumbed to the social media craze and realized how much it could really help my future business endeavors. I graduated in less than a year with a 4.0 G.P.A. and was the Marketing student featured in the UC Berkeley extension catalog in 2014. 

Jeannie and the boys at the top of Whistler Mountain, July, 2015.
What would you share with others who dream of taking a major focus shift in their life plans?

Go for it!! Follow your passion and don’t doubt yourself. Life is a journey of learning and adventure.  No matter how big or small, your passion should inspire you to try new things, push you past your roadblocks and open your eyes to endless possibilities.

I want to thank Jeannie so much for sharing all these ideas with us.  She welcomes hearing from any and all of you, especially fellow artists or those pondering exploring that field.  And since putting her Blog together, Jeannie has recently passed her Real Estate License Exam and has yet another passion to pursue! 

You can reach Jeannie Fafoutis at:  idream.jeannie@gmail.com.   Cheers!

Jeannie's motto - fantastic words to live by!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The El-Sayeds: Scientists, Vintners and Farmers! Life in Livermore Valley

One of the most striking revelations about Remily and Tarric El-Sayed is that they are always happy! Things that would stress any other person out to the point of tears, puts smiles on their faces and a challenge in their hearts and minds. I’ve watched them approach problems with genius and happiness --- a rare and amazing treat to be able to “hang” with them and an honor to have known them all these years.  

As you read this Blog you might just shake your head at the amount of sheer work they get done in a day. And not just at their jobs, but personally as well. I think I might be able to handle a small part of their life on a farm, but all that and then a full time career and family life too? No way!  

When Remily and Tarric came to visit us earlier this year, they generously brought in a few bottles of their recently milled and bottled extra virgin olive oil. SO yummy! Luckily we had giant sourdough croutons on hand for a salad, and we were in pure bliss with this amazing treat. And luckier still, you’ll all be able to take a personal bottle home when you visit us for the annual Ballou Plum Shred Party on Saturday, May 2nd. Artisanal EVOO fresh from the El-Sayed’s olive orchard to you!

It’s been time for a while now to feature them in our Blog. And what a wonderful opportunity to do so as a tie in to the Shred Party and our party favor. So please enjoy learning more about Remily and Tarric as you read their Blog.

Remily harvesting olives in their orchard, 2014
Tell us a little bit about your life and times. Where did you grow up, where did you go to college, how did you meet? If you’d like to share some family stories, we’d love to hear them!

Remily:  I grew up In Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and went to Washington-Jefferson for a BA in Chemistry and Case Western Reserve for a BS in Chemical Engineering. After graduation I moved to Cincinnati to work for Proctor & Gamble.

Tarric:  I grew up in West Los Angeles and went to UCLA for a BS in Chemical Engineering and UC Berkeley for a PhD in Chemical Engineering. After graduation, I also moved to Cincinnati to work for Proctor & Gamble. We were assigned to work on a project together, and after it was complete, we started dating.

Both:  When Tarric proposed, he told Remily that before she answered, she needed to know that he expected to live in California (as life is too short to live in the Midwest!). Rem’s reply was, “well let’s go now; because if I get promoted again I am not going to want to leave.” We were married in April, resigned in May, bought a house in Livermore, drove across the country and were living in California by July 9, 1989.

We have a son and a daughter both in the UC system and they make us proud every day. (Editor’s note:  And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree as they are also very bright, talented and engaging just like their parents!)

Remily and Tarric on their wedding day, April 8, 1989
You both are very successful professionally. Please share some thoughts about your careers: how did you find your professional paths and what inspired your interests? What are you working on now (to the extent you feel you can tell us and not have to kill us!) and what’s next for you each?

Remily: I started in the consumer products industry as a Process Engineer in Industrial Chemicals (glycerin refining) at Proctor and Gamble. I really liked the industry and the hands-on work, and before we moved to California, I quickly found a job at Clorox as a process engineer. While process engineering was enjoyable, I was looking for more and wanted to learn more about the business. I thought about going into sales, but since cross-training opportunities in sales were unheard of back then an assignment in Procurement was offered to which I replied, “What is Procurement and can I do it?” (Proud husband’s note here: Having a technical background, and YEARS of experience in the art of negotiating a purchase on many personal items, she had found a great career path for herself!) The cross-training assignment in Procurement became a full transfer after a year, and I had the opportunity to work on several categories like surfactants, chemicals and corrugated (yes, cardboard boxes). When the Strategic Sourcing movement first came to Clorox, I was chosen to be a part of the effort and assess if the strategic sourcing process was a “fit” for the company. It was incredibly successful for Clorox, but also led me to think more broadly about my career options.

Through contacts I made in the industry, I left for a start-up company in 2000, which coupled strategic sourcing methodology with the power of the Internet. The start-up was very successful, and while it didn't make us rich, I did gain invaluable experience, friendships and more contacts. At that point I decided to start consulting in the field so I would be able to have more flexibility with my time and take the summers off with the kids, and I have made a successful career out of it. For the past twelve years, I have worked as a contract consultant, either by myself or as a part of a consulting team with one of many boutique consulting firms. I have had the pleasure of working across many different industries (high-tech, power, waste management, consumer products, etc.) at this point and continue to enjoy the challenge of the learning curve with new industries, companies and categories and helping companies save money by thinking strategically about their purchasing power.

Remily and Tarric relax with their furry friends
Tarric: I worked at the Aerospace Corp during college, where they developed space-based laser systems. This early experience convinced me that I wanted a scientific career. Although the job market in the early 80’s was very strong, I wasn't interested in working in the petroleum industry, which is where the bulk of the jobs were. Graduate school appeared to be a path to research positions, and because I really wasn't ready to go to work anyway, it was off for more school. I was fortunate to have my pick of graduate schools. There were good schools in the mid-west and east coast that accepted me, but after visiting Berkeley I had made my decision. Now, I often say that my biggest achievements in graduate school were learning to cook, backpacking the Sierras and learning about wine (mostly the drinking part at this point – but it did create a theme in my life).

After graduation, I had several offers from around the country. While Shell Environmental was enticing, it was in Houston (ugh!). While Chicago was exciting, Amoco Chemical had a stodgy feel. My research director consulted for Proctor and Gamble and suggested I look at them, and while I had never thought about consumer products, I found the company to be vibrant and Cincinnati felt homey. I was hired into P&G as an internal Dehydration and Drying Consultant in their Engineering group. It was a great job as I got to play on all of their major new product efforts – anything with a drying step.

We left Cincinnati to return to California after we were married. While I enjoyed my time in the mid-west, I wanted to spend my life in California, and not in the east, south or mid-west. (And it wasn't terribly difficult to convince Remily). I was still considering technical and scientific careers when we returned to California, but by then I had come to enjoy the young, energetic feel of the consumer goods industry. When I came to Clorox, my initial job was similar to that at Proctor, but I quickly moved into a business-facing role as a Process Engineer and began to take on more responsibility. While I enjoyed Clorox, we had two children in quick succession, and the reality of upsizing a house and downsizing salary (Remily thought she wanted to stay home at this point to raise the kids) seemed impossible in California. So we packed up and left for Scottsdale Arizona, where I became Manager of the Laundry R&D effort at Dial Corp. We learned several important lessons here: (1) It’s very important to make sure Company values are a fit with your personal values. You spend so much of your time and mental energy at work, that if you can’t identify with the company on every level, you will hate your job. (2) Remily realized she would be a better mother if she worked than if she stayed home; and (3) It’s important to “never burn a bridge” as they might just take you back! Within a year, we were back in California both working for Clorox again. I moved up through Clorox product development management working on many Clorox brands: Clorox, SOS, Pine Sol, 409, Soft Scrub, Kingsford, Armor All, STP, Hidden Valley, KC Master Piece, Fresh Step, Brita, etc.

World-wide wine tasting!  Aviano, Italy in 2002
When we first met I was struck by the excitement in your vision of having some land in the Livermore Valley where you could develop your own wines.  I loved hearing the stories of the way you actually got friends and family together to produce some of those earliest vintages! How did you come up with the idea and what did you learn about how you wanted to evolve as a winemaker?

Both:   Tarric had a love of wine, both the making and drinking of it, early on. He had visited Napa hundreds of times in graduate school and learned a lot about wine making - - which actually is as much a chemical engineering challenge as an art form. When we first moved to California, we landed in Livermore – mostly for economic reasons. Surrounded by a burgeoning wine country, it was easy to learn more about wine. We met Thomas Coyne (an ex-Clorox employee) who opened a winery, and we volunteer to help him bottle and support large events. One of the first events was Labor Day weekend (which later became the Harvest Festival weekend), and we harvested grapes with a group of amateur wine makers and made wine (we had little idea what we were doing, but there were lots of folks including Tom Coyne who did).

Another early influence were Jim and Francie Mitchell (Editor’s note:  Click here to read our Blog about the Mitchells dated April 26, 2010). Jim made wine and even planted a small vineyard in his backyard. When we returned to California from Arizona, we bought a house in Livermore. It was new construction, so we were able to do all of the landscaping ourselves from scratch. One of the first things we mapped out was where the vineyard would go, and we put in merlot and cab-franc vines. It takes four years from planting to first production, so in the meantime Tarric started finding local folks who would sell us grapes. We would get a couple of hundred pounds and make ~10 gallons in those days. For our first (personal) harvest, we invited friends over to help. It only took a couple of hours and we rented a crusher-de-stemmer and processed in the garage. By mid-afternoon, we were BBQ’ing. It was a fabulous day.

Wine-making with friends, 2014
After four harvests, we accepted the fact that backyard vineyards, surrounded by 6-foot fences and watered too heavily, don’t make good grapes. We liked the look of the backyard, but essentially the vineyard became a big bird feeder. We started buying grapes again. In those days, it was relatively easy to get someone to let you pick a row. We would show up with our crew (close friends), blast music into the field, and pick a half-ton of grapes. It typically took ~2 hours of picking, then it was back to the garage to crush and start the fermentation. The rest of the day was spent BBQ’ing and drinking last year’s wine. I (Tarric) made wine in partnership with a good friend – which allowed us to make bigger quantities (a half ton makes a 55-60 gallon barrel of wine). After 5-6 years of this, we dissolved our partnership as my friend’s home vineyard (up Mines road – no fences) was producing. I've been purchasing grapes every year, but it’s typically crushed grapes now, as this is more efficient for the growers. Our longer-term plan is to put in a small vineyard on our new property, which would require us to start the harvest/BBQ festivities once again.

Livermore home nestled in the 176 tree olive orchard
So fast forward a few years, you’re empty nesters and instead of kicking back and cruising, you are buying a farm --- and not a tiny one either! 20 acres complete with 176 olive trees, a “fixer upper” farm house, a barn, a ton of grapes and well, so much more! And then if that’s not enough, you adopted two puppies! Green Acres indeed! You’ve now moved into your “dream home” (be careful what you wish for, readers!) in the Livermore Valley and in addition to juggling your full time careers, you have new full time “jobs.” Start wherever you’d like, and tell us all about it!

Both: The dream house is really about the location, which we love. It’s just 10-12 minutes from downtown Livermore yet it’s “in the country.” We only have four neighbors, and you can only see one of their houses from ours so we feel very remote. When we bought it, we didn't really think much about the olive orchard but we could immediately see where we would put grapevines. The house itself is not what we wanted.  We were thinking a small ranch house (one story, so as we aged it would still work), a large kitchen for cooking, and a great room for entertaining - - and it had none of those things. But the property itself was fantastic, so we decided to go for it. We closed on February 14 (Editor’s note:  that will be a difficult Valentine’s Day to top!) and spent two nights in it before leaving on a three week vacation in SE Asia to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. When we returned, we formally moved in and the fun began.

First, the house has some issues – which is why we call it ‘Green Acres.’ For example, the washer and dryer are in the middle of the house and the vent line goes under the house. Apparently, some critters decided this would be a great place to nest so it’s completely clogged with years of straw, twigs, animal fur and lint. As a quick fix, we ran a 20-foot flexible 4” hose through the house to the garage. Later, when we started making wine this year (in the garage), we had to vent across the house out a window. It looked pretty hokey, and truth be told, was barely functional as the pantry became awfully humid when drying clothes. We also had a major water pressure issue. We have water provided by a private water company and we’re the last house on the line. So if everyone else is watering lawns and taking showers (as they typically are when we want to get ready for work), our water pressure would drop to zero. So in the middle of a shower, soap dripping in your eyes, all of a sudden - - no water! We've since fixed both of these issues, and we keep our humor as new ones arise, but … “Green acres is the place to be!”

On the project front, we now had a barn and animal pens. The first major project we undertook was to cement in the floor of the barn and take two of the stalls for a wine cellar. Tarric likes to build things himself, so he started the project last summer and finished this spring. We now have 300 sq. ft. of wine storage. We think our neighbors all believe we’re a little strange for doing this (what no horses, goats or alpacas?!?), but it fits our lifestyle. We negotiated in a ton of grapes with the house purchase from the seller, who owns lots of vineyards (good to have a wife who excels in Procurement!) so now we have a barrel of wine ageing in the cellar and we’re starting to make plans for the small vineyard where the animal pens are now.

View of the property from its highest point
The property also had 176 olive trees, which we really didn't think much about when making our purchasing decision. Once we got back from vacation, we realized we needed to learn more about caring for an orchard so we contacted some of the local olive growers to start to understand how to take care of the orchard and what we would need to do to make “quality” olive oil. Remily was very excited about this new project and enthusiastically took it on while Tarric focused on the wine cellar. There’s not much needed to take care of an individual olive tree, but when you multiply by 176 it’s a fair bit of work. Remily would go out every weekend (yes, in her Michael Kors sunglasses) and tend the trees including trimming water suckers, weeding, cutting the grass with a lawn mower (yes a push mower since we do not own a tractor and, yes the neighbors thought we were crazy), and spraying for fruit flies weekly. Having a well on the property allowed us to water, and we learned later that while olive trees are very drought tolerant, if you don’t’ water them they won’t bear fruit or the fruit will shrivel up and produce very little oil. Well, we had lots of fruit! Remily contacted some of the harvesting companies to contract for picking, but they were reluctant to even come look at the property to assess the crop.  When the first one came to inspect after much persuasion, he told us he could only stay five minutes. But when he saw the orchard, the quality and amount of fruit, he stayed over an hour. He walked the entire orchard slowly and told us afterward he hadn’t seen this quality or quantity in two years. The best part was when he asked Remily, “do you have a tractor?” and she replied “no,” then “do you have a flat bed?” and she replied “no,” then “do you have a forklift?” and she replied “no,” then “do you have bins to put the fruit in?” and she replied “no,” but she stopped him and with a confident tone told him “my husband has a truck with a hitch and we can rent everything needed.” That day we agreed on a price and made a deal for 30 workers to pick our crop. The local mill is only 15 minutes away, so we were able to pick and mill in the same day, and we think the quality of the oil is very good.

The olive harvest en route to the presses
You were so kind to bring us a taste of the amazing first edition olive oil from your newest endeavor, and we are mad for it! So much so that we begged you to bottle the rest you have this year for gifting to our very lucky Shred Party attendees --- Yum! What inspired you to do this yourself instead of simply selling the olives to another producer? What will you do differently this year when harvest comes around?

Both: We've made wine many years and sent these as holiday gifts. So this year, it seemed natural to make olive oil for gifts. The bottling steps are much the same for olive oil and wine, so there wasn’t much to learn. The fun part was picking the bottle and making the label. The actual bottling is straight forward, especially if you have a gaggle of college students at your house for winter break!

The one thing we think we’ll do differently next year is to harvest a little later. The mill and pickers determined our schedule, but we found out later that with our quantity (6.3 tons of olives yielding 200 gallons of EVOO), they both would have accommodated us. If we wait a bit later, we can get a slightly different flavor profile and a bit more oil.

Are you still thinking of eventually having a complete winery on your property? Or will you continue to make limited editions for family and friends?

“Never say never,” but we’ll likely keep things small for the foreseeable future. Having said that, we will continue to make wine and gift it. And it’s only a small step from there to a tasting room…. (Editor’s note:  and chapter two in their evolving Blog!).

Touring a small family owned winery in France, 1999
You both love to travel and have been to many interesting places. What do you think your best trips were and where do you still want to visit?  

Both: That’s a very tough question, as the first trip to any place is always magical, and we've never had a trip we didn't enjoy thoroughly. The first international trip together was Europe in ‘89, and we rented a car to drive from Paris to Burgundy for wine tasting. We toured a small family winery there, where the owner showed us the property in her nightgown and housecoat. It had been in their family for over 1,000 years, which we thought was pretty cool. At the end of the tour, we descended into the cellar and barrel tasted. It was a great experience, made better by the fact that she didn't speak any English and we didn't speak French. Contrary to many opinions, we've found the French to be very accepting of humble Americans, and this was a wonderful memory for us.

Tarric and Remily in Cairo, Egypt at the Sphinx, 2005
We've been to Egypt several times, as there is so much to do there and we have family on Tarric’s Dad’s side. Two of our favorites were the walk to the top of Mt. Moses to watch the sunrise and on another trip we went to an oasis on the western boarder of Egypt and celebrated Christmas ‘snow’ boarding on the sand dunes.

Remily and Tarric's 25th anniversary trip, Cambodia, 2014
Our recent trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam was definitely a favorite also, and if we can we’ll go back there to explore more, especially Vietnam. One wonderful memory was when we went to the mountains in northern Vietnam and spent a couple of days hiking from village to village. We had lunch at a home-stay with traditional food and finished with a Vietnamese moonshine (which they told us was also traditional!).

Enjoying a Vietnamese lunch complete with moonshine, 2014 - Cheers!
We’re always up for more travel. Broadly, we’d like to see more of Asia as there’s so much to see there and we've only scratched the surface. We’d also like to spend some time in middle/southern Africa for the same reasons.

I have a feeling that you don’t think about retiring the way the rest of us might!  What does retirement look like for you? 

Both: Retirement is really about ‘phase 2’ for us. We can’t really envision not having something to go do, so it will really be a shift from working to make money to working for something we have passion about (and a bit less stress). We've often thought that we would take on activities we enjoy that supported the needs of others. Certainly our hobbies will take a bigger role in this – so expect to see olive oil and wine making – but were also thinking we’ll spend more time giving back.

Remily and Tarric at Wineglass Bay, Tasmania, Australia, 2013
If any of our readers would like to chat with you or have questions for you, how can you be reached? 

Please feel free to send us an email:  tarric@el-sayed.us or remily@el-sayed.us

A warm thank you to Tarric and Remily for sharing a slice of their life and times with us and generously agreeing to stock our Shred Party with enough extra virgin olive oil for all to take home and enjoy--- a party favor that will be hard to top! We’ll keep you posted on their journey, and if we are lucky, maybe we’ll be able to feature some of their wine at a future Ballou Plum event.
Tarric and Remily, Phuket, Thailand 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Many years ago, Emery and his life-long friend, Joe Kane fell in love with old cars --- and by old cars I mean cars from the late 1920's through the early 1940's.  In fact Emery’s dream was to one day purchase and restore a 1941 Ford.   At one point in their long friendship, they worked together restoring a more modern car, a Mustang for Joe’s daughter, Kirsten, as a surprise for her 16th birthday.   

Emery and car buddy, Joe Kane
Fast forward to a few years ago when Emery, attending a car show in Tahoe, with his wife, Nancy, fell in love with a 1929 Ford which Emery thought needed a lot of TLC.  Right on the spot, he snapped up this gem and brought it to their home in Novato.  Its name then was Rodney.
1929 Model A Ford sedan as purchased by Emery and Nancy.

Rear view of 1929 Model A Ford sedan.

Engine "before."
Dashboard/interior "before."

So the great thing about living in Novato, in addition to it being, well, Novato, is that it’s also a hotbed of folks just like Emery who love to work on cars and, even better, there are a lot of small businesses in the area who help hobbyist car restorers with everything from parts to manual labor.

Emery and Max, mechanic.

Emery knew he’d need help working on this classic car.  His goal was not to do an authentic restoration, but rather convert it into a Street Rod.  What that entails is beyond what most ordinary mortals would ever want to tackle, because basically every part was replaced.  Some were rebuilt but most had to be specially made for this project.

Piece by piece, everything is removed.

Emery's frame-off restoration begins!

The body gets primed.

Rebuilding begins and inspection happens at every stage.

Four years later, as you might guess, the end result is nothing less than magnificent --- a real beauty complete with power windows, air conditioning, a functioning radio and wait  --- a GPS!

Emery's car being delivered to their home.

Joe and Emery take old "Rodney," now known as "Boxcar 29," out for a spin!

The car’s new name is for Emery’s father, also named Emery who as a young single man in the 20’s and 30’s, rode the railroad cars and got the nickname Boxcar.  29 because it is a 1929 Model A Ford sedan.

Dashboard "after."
Interior "after."
Engine 'after."

So all of this would be just a normal fun tale of a guy and his car, were it not for something unplanned that cropped up during this journey.  Emery was diagnosed with Atypical Parkinson’s.  And it became so aggressive in the past few years that it affected not only his mobility, but his speech.  So imagine you are a detail person, a tinkerer, you’ve built your own home and have an engineering mind and a vision for a complete rework of an old car.  Now imagine that not only are you battling a crippling disease with an unknown future and can no longer do any of the work on your pride and joy, but you also need to communicate your desires to other mechanics who have lives and full-time other jobs, fitting this in during their spare time.  Yeah, wow.

Emery and Nancy enjoying "Boxcar 29!"

The good news is that despite a few years filled with progress, yes, but also immeasurable challenges and frustrations, Emery (with the help of his amazing wife, Nancy), have seen his dream come true.  Boxcar 29 was in his first car show in August, 2014 – Novato’s Nostalgia Days.  Emery and Nancy hope to spend next year entering local car shows and enjoying sharing the fruit of their vision, struggles and ultimate triumph.  If you happen to go to one of these shows, be sure to look for them and say “hi!”   And let me tell you that although you may have to listen closely to hear everything Emery says, it will be well worth it.  This 78 year young gentleman, with the mind and the twinkle in his eye of a man half his age, will have many a wonderful story to share with you.  Now that’s inspiration!  Thanks, Emery and Nancy!

Nancy and Emery, 2014.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dr. Abe Rudolph Redefines Retirement!

As you might guess, retirement planning is a huge focus in any wealth management firm, and ours is no exception.  But what is retirement?  If I asked each of you to define that word, each of you would give me a totally different and very personal vision.

For Dr. Abraham (Abe) Rudolph, conventional retirement holds no allure. From his humble roots in South Africa to his field creating and groundbreaking work as a pediatric cardiologist, he now spends his time mentoring doctors, “Imagineering” and traveling around the world --- often on his own --- to explore remote villages and meet the people who live there preferring to visit areas he’s never traveled to before. The motivation is to explore the custom and culture of various peoples that inhabit our earth.  Oh, and did I mention he’s 90 years old?

Abe with Vietnamese farmers enjoying lunch together, March, 2014.
Every once in a while I am fortunate to catch up with him, and he regales me with his most incredible journeys and photos.   I asked him last year if he’d be willing to share his story and photos in a Blog, and he agreed to, but he’s simply been too busy to get to it!  So this Blog post will be a bit different.  Not only will it have some fascinating background information about Abe, but it will be filled with some incredible photos from recent journeys. 

I’ll start with his story, which has been shared with me over the years, but which is brilliantly told in an article published by the Pediatric History Center “Oral History Project.”  This article is actually a transcript from a recording of Dr. Rudolph as interviewed by M. L. Podolsky, MD, August 30, 1996, in San Francisco, California, and from which I am shamelessly stealing excerpts verbatim (with credit given, of course!).  Since the interviewer is a doctor himself, he knew just the right kind of questions to ask.  If you’d like to read more, a hyper-link to the entire interview is posted at the end of this column. I will share with you portions that pertain to Abe’s early years, his evolution into the field of medicine, and a bit about his passion for pediatric cardiology. Abe’s beloved wife, Dr. Rhona Rudolph, an incredible doctor in her own right, has since passed away, however, you’ll find a bit about her here as well. Enjoy!

Abe's childhood home, Melville, Johannesburg, South Africa.
From Dr. Rudolph's Interview - Early years.

“I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. My father came to South Africa in about 1898, and he arrived there from a shtetl near Vilna, Lithuania. He left because of the induction of young Jewish boys into the Russian army. He traveled across Europe and worked on farms, and, this was when he was about 13 years old. He arrived in Germany and then traveled across to England, where he took the first boat, which took him to South Africa. He worked in a store in Johannesburg, and then eventually became the owner of the store. My father was the owner of this store until he died. My mother was born in Capetown, South Africa, and then traveled up to Johannesburg where she married my father.  There are five children in the family; I am the fourth child.”

Abe (on the right) with his older and younger brothers on the steps of their home.
The interview with Dr. Podolsky continues as Abe addresses what led him to the field of medicine.  He also discusses what it took in South Africa at that time to begin a career as a doctor.

“When people ask me how was it that I went into medicine, I really cannot answer that with assurance. My older brother went to medical school, and when he was in medical school I was quite determined that that was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. When I began to look at other options, I was terribly interested in chemical engineering, but decided that there was really not much future in it for me. Eventually I gradually became influenced by my brother’s enthusiasm about medicine, and that’s what I decided to do.

Our family was not at all well off financially, so in order for me to be able to go to university it was necessary for me to obtain scholarships, which fortunately I was able to do. When I first started with medical school, I was really not comfortable, particularly in the second year. In the first year of medical school in South Africa, we did not do any of the subjects which are now considered to be part of medical school. We did zoology, botany, physics and chemistry. Anatomy was what was done in the second year together with physiology. 

So when I began to really get involved in medical school with anatomy and dissection of cadaver, I was really very uncomfortable and I wasn’t really quite sure that I could continue. But I gradually overcame that and became very enthusiastic about my interest in medicine.   Well, I found that there was quite a lot of pressure on me to do well in medical school because I realized that to be able to continue I had to obtain scholarships, and therefore I applied myself very hard to the studies. When I finished medical school, I did what was then usual in South Africa after medical school, and that is to do an internship, which was a six-month internship. Unfortunately, I was too young to get a medical degree because it was necessary to be 22 and I had not reached that age, so I could not become a physician. So what I did was I spent six months as an instructor in anatomy. And that was a very useful and interesting experience because that was what first really got me interested in teaching.” 

As this in-depth interview continues, Abe gives quite a bit of credit to the many mentors he met during his early career and their deep influences on him.  He discusses time spent in England and Sweden as well, where he received postgraduate degrees and also had his first introduction to pediatric cardiology. When he returned to South Africa, he as well as his wife, Rhona, became increasingly concerned about the increasing institution of Apartheid by the Nationalist Party. Eventually, he and Rhona immigrated to the United States where Abe secured a non-salaried position at the Children’s Hospital of Boston in 1951.  For quite some time they lived on meager savings and hope. Fortunately, scholarships became available within a few months. 

Before relocating permanently to San Francisco in 1966 (UCSF specifically), Abe also worked at Harvard on fellowship, and then moved to New York to build his own pediatric cardiology department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  This is where he was able to begin truly focusing on what would ultimately become his life’s passion in the field in which he is highly honored and considered to be a pioneer.   

His professional curiosity has led him down many fascinating paths.  While working in his earliest years in Sweden, he became aware that while much research and work was being done on children with heart disease, it was really the babies with these conditions who died the most frequently.  His evolving passion on this topic led him to extensive research in order to understand the physiology of congenital heart disease.  The recognition that these heart lesions were already present before birth, led him to extensive research on the differences in the circulation before birth and how these congenital heart lesions could influence the prenatal circulation. He embarked on extensive study of the fetal circulation in lambs, Fast forward to today (which seems ridiculous considering how much went on in his professional and personal life in between) and he’s now still working at UCSF mentoring and teaching in this same field he pioneered. 

Rhona and their daughter, Linda, 1951.
I was not as fortunate in getting to know his wife Rhona, as she passed away in 2006 not long after we met. However, what I remember is a vivacious woman, a quick thinker with a huge heart for her family, and with a passion of her own:  the care of those who are developmentally disabled.  An article about her and her remarkable life was published in the SF Chronicle when she passed away.  Click here to access the article if you would like to learn more about her as well.   

Dr. Rhona Rudolph, M.D.
So, being the humble man he is, Abe always wants to share more about others than himself!  He has traveled seemingly to almost all the reaches of the globe.  In fact in a recent conversation he lamented that there are hardly any new places for him to visit.  But what inspires him now is visiting the remote farming based villages in hard to reach places we all hear about, but rarely travel to.  He employs drivers and locals to take him to interesting locations, and introduce him to those who live there with their families --- and have for generations.  He is frequently invited into their homes to talk and he is warmly welcomed. Some of the interesting people he has encountered and photographed during these travels are:   

A Tuiareg tribe in the desert in Mali, where Abe spent an overnight in their tents and was entertained by their musicians.
A Dogon tribe in Mali (of which his guide was a member), that did a Dogon Dama-Mask dance for Abe alone.
A woman of the Apatani tribe in Arunachal Pradesh in India.
A member of the Konyak tribe in Nagaland province in India.
The following pictures are from a recent trip to villages in rural Vietnam. Women of the various tribes are recognized by their tribal costumes:

Flowery Hmong wear bright, multi-colored attire.
Black Hmong wear dark blue or black attire dyed with indigo.
Blue Hmong wear pale blue or green costumes.
Fast forward to today, and I ask him what he does when he’s not traveling. He says in addition to mentoring he spends a lot of time just thinking about pediatric cardiology and how to continue that process toward change and improvement.  In a live “YouTube” interview, he advises new doctors to think not that their education has ended and now their career has begun, but to instead be a lifelong student and continue the search for new and constantly improving ways to deliver even better care.  Click here to watch the interview. Great advice for all of us in any profession.

Would you like to catch up with Abe?  He’d love to hear from you!  He’s a wonderful collaborator and his capacity for spanning generations and topics is beyond compare.  You can reach him by email: rudolpha@sbcglobal.net.  

Click here to read the entire interview with Dr. Abraham Rudolph.

I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into the fantastic life and continuing journey of Dr. Abe Rudolph. Perhaps if we are very fortunate, Abe will start his own Blog and post regularly so we can follow him around the globe. 

I hope Abe inspires you as he does so many to keep “Imagineering!” Meanwhile, enjoy a bit of Abe’s love of wildlife photography as well.  

Lilac-breasted roller with snake dinner in South Luangwa Valley, Zambia.
Snowy egret on her nest in the gardens of Alcatraz.
Leopard in South Luangwa Valley, Zambia, 2013.