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Because my mother was an only child and I never knew my father, I grew up in an artificially truncated family. Until I was nine, our household consisted of my mother, my half-sister, and myself. I had no cousins, no uncles, no aunts, my grandparents were gone before I knew them. I grew up not really understanding how families worked.

That all changed at 25, when I went with my mother to Germany. It was a watermark event when I discovered aunts and uncles and cousins that I had never known. Not only did I discover that I shared physical features with people across the pond, but I also discovered what it was like to have cousins of my generation. Okay, they were second cousins, but they were fascinating. Cousin Dirk was only a few years younger than I. Being a male and a mathematic and scientific genius, I was in awe of him. Cousin Britta was ten years younger than I and filled to the brim with teenaged energy and deviltry. Mom commented later that Britta had her father wrapped around her finger, no insignificant feat.

Britta is the only person I know who hates having her picture taken more than I do...

Britta is the only person I know who hates having her picture taken more than I do. Ya suppose there’s anything “in the genes” here?

We’ve all stayed in touch and traded visits throughout the years. When he was 17, Niklas, Britta’s oldest son and my second cousin once removed, even stayed for one semester with my then-husband and me.

Now, all grown up and nearly finished with his doctoral program in Chemical Engineering, Niklas recently came to the States to present a paper at an AIChE conference in San Francisco. Along with his partner, Livia, they spent an extra week roaming the coast of California. They invited me to spend time with them in San Diego and I eagerly accepted.

In three short days we walked and ate ourselves through the city. The San Diego Zoo was a big attraction for almost-a-veterinarian Livia and me. We were transfixed by the way in which Ranchipur, the Zoo’s largest male Asian elephant, received a mani-pedi. In between guiding Ranchipur from his outer pen into a smaller, then smaller-again enclosure, his handler engaged with a growing audience of observers, explaining the importance of proactive elephant foot care. Supporting 12,000 pounds on those four big feet for 50 or more years, puts enormous pressure on them. Sound feet are a major component of elephant health. In addition, I learned that each of the Zoo’s six elephants eats about 125 pounds of food a day and miraculously excretes up to 300 pounds of poop–each!IMG_1779So why do I have only this puny photo of Ranchipur? Thanks to my utter clumsiness a week earlier when I dropped my real camera, I had only my little cell phone camera . . . but that is a story for another time.IMG_1788 IMG_1796Although I think Livia and I could have spent all three days at the Zoo, Animal Park, and Aquarium, we did mix things up a bit for Niklas’ sake. We also visited the USS Midway Museum, docked in the San Diego Harbor. IMG_1752 IMG_1757ds  IMG_1754IMG_1755We walked all over the Gas Lamp District and Little Italy . . .

IMG_1871 IMG_1765IMG_1879Explored the harbor . . . IMG_1747IMG_1749Took a harbor tour to rest our feet . . .

IMG_1819 IMG_1826We explored Coronado Island and the beach . . .

IMG_1847We hopped on the bus out to Old Town, where besides gorging on Mexican food, we sampled fabulous Indian fry bread tacos and slurped Cold Stone ice cream. IMG_1803With very little encouragement from Livia and Niklas, I went sea kayaking for the first time in my life. It was oh so much easier than whitewater kayaking! There again, I have no pictures. I was not about to risk my cell phone in a kayak!IMG_1855 IMG_1852
I am so glad that I found my family. What a wonderful time I always have with them. Thanks Niklas and Livia.IMG_1771