Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Go To Provence!

Do it! Go to Provence. It was even better than I expected! Here's what I loved.
  1. Hiking the Calanques
  2. Visiting Pont Du Gard
  3. Hiking Cap Canaille
  4. Taking the Train to Maison Auzet bakery
  5. Touring the Clos Sainte Magdaleine winery
  6. Eating at Fou de Fafa
  7. Relaxing on the Pont D’Avignon
  8. Tasting wines around Avignon: Tavel Rosé and Chateauneuf-du-Pape
  9. Dining on the beach at the Grand Large restaurant
  10. Eating candied fruit

1. Calanques

Is that really a trail? Will I survive? I was looking at a windy path of scree - jagged shards of limestone - leading down to the promise of a hidden beach far below. As long as I didn't lose my footing and slide down the entire slope on my backside.

I was on a five-hour round-trip hike to see the three closest Calanques. And have a picnic lunch on the beach, complete with rosé wine and a desert pastry. For the sake of the wine I would have to make it to the bottom.

The Calanques are basically French fjords. They were carved by glaciers. They’re majestic and amazing.

You can also see them by boat. I went on a two-hour ride to all nine of them. I took about 400 photos. Maybe I'll have them sorted in five years.

2. Pont Du Gard

We arrived at Pont Du Gard in the late afternoon. It's amazing engineering. But the sun was on the wrong side. The backlight was ruining my photos!

Then I found a trailhead that looked like it might lead to the other side. It was more like a stone staircase than a trail. After climbing 106 steps - but who's counting - I reached a view of the sand-brown structure turned golden by the dropping sun. I just sat up there for several minutes soaking in the view and marveling at the beauty of it all.

Located near Avignon, this huge bridge was built with an aqueduct on top to get water to Nimes. One story says Nimes was outgrowing its own water supply. Another story is that the Romans just wanted to show off their engineering chops. All I know is it looks amazing.

3. Cap Canaille

This 1300 foot cliff pretty much photo-bombed every picture we took. Photo of the port - there's Cap Canaille. Photo of the vineyard - there's Cap Canaille. Photo of a glass of rosé - there's Cap Canaille.  (The Eiffel Tower did the same thing last year when we were in Paris.)

The best part? There's a trail along the top. Just a three-hour round-trip hike from the hotel. I took about 500 photos of the turquoise water below. Add them to the list to sort through.

4. Maison Auzet Bakery

See that chocolate?! We took a half-hour train ride just to visit this bakery. And it was worth it!

That and a ten-minute walk yielded a shrine of deliciousness, calories, and tooth decay. Croissants, chocolate-and-cream pastries, baked strawberry meringue the size of a football, and frosted cake on a stick.

Did you hear me? Cake! On a Stick!

5. Clos Sainte Magdaleine Winery

It’s a tough life running a winery right on the shore of the mediterranean ocean. They sure make it look easy. Justine explained the entire wine-making process from start to finish, first in beautiful French, then with charmingly accented English. I’ll take two bottles.

Look! Cap Canaille in the background!

6. Fou de Fafa

"...and I recommend Fou de Fafa..." 

What? That's the name of a hilarious episode of Flight of The Conchords where they sing in French. 

"Yes, they named the restaurant after the video." 

Sold! We were going. And we weren't disappointed. The food was delicious. We had Kirs as aperitifs, a paté amuse-bouche, Calamari appetizer, duck and grilled salmon for the main course. And a bottle of wine.

7. Pont D'Avignon

This bridge was more useful before it got washed out back in the 1700s. Now it’s good for admiring the scenery and enjoying a cool breeze. I had fun looking for different photo angles.

Oh, and it has its own song

8. Tavel and Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The best known appellation of rosé in provence is Tavel. I sampled my first Tavel at a winery called Le Mordorée. The guide was very friendly. Not at all snobby. 

Next we went to the Brotte winery to taste their Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They sent us on a self-guided tour about the Côtes du Rhône region and the wine-making process. We convinced our guide to let us taste the “Vieux Marc” - it's a spirit distilled from the grape skins left over from the wine-making process. 

That's when a winery guide came over and gave us the full-snob experience. “Wine tasting is not wine drinking. You are not there to have fun and laugh and joke. Tasting is a serious business. You are there to learn about the qualities of the wine, to experience all its attributes, to become one with the wine. Later there will be time for wine drinking, but not now.” OK - he has a point.

9. Le Grand Large

I thought this restaurant was named "The Big Big". That's silly. Turns out it means "The Open Seas". That makes more sense. (Because it's right on the beach.)

The view was great as the sun was setting behind the calanques. I liked my baked chèvre salad. The duck-kebab was so-so. You definitely pay for the view more than anything else.

10. Délices ("Delights")

I found all kinds of goodies in Provence. I loved the candied fruit. It’s like they took whole strawberries, clementines, and pears and force-fed them sugar until they became candy. Peel, seeds, and all. They also have chocolate-covered almonds which deserve 5 michelin stars of their own.

Here’s what I ate on the trip: Croque Monsieur (grilled cheese with ham), Crêpes, Mussels with Fries, Salade Niçoise, brie with salami and olive tapenade on french bread, anchovy pizza, oysters and clams on the half shell, snails, gelato, almond and honey pastry edged in chocolate. Not to mention the Pastis, Kir Royal, Cassis white wine, Tavel rose, and belgian beer.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rabbits Foot

My mouth is burning. Pulsing like red coals in a fire. But I’m not in agony. I’m not panicking. The endorphins have kicked in. They’re soothing without being neutralizing. I can feel both the fire and the relief in a delightful extended balance - just like I like it. Oh, and the honey stout in front of me is contributing some delicious caramel notes.

I’m at the Rabbit’s Foot Meadery. It’s a Friday evening, and I’m introducing some co-workers to  mead produced down the street from our office. It’s been a good Friday. This is my second visit in the same day. Why two visits? A better question is why not two visit? I guess I’m just turning into their biggest promoter. I took a friend to the meadery after lunch. When I got back, some co-workers asked how my day was going. Soon I was back again introducing more folks to the mead.

Mead is probably the first alcoholic beverage that the human race ever made. And it all starts with honey. If you want wine, feed grape sugar to some yeast. They’ll go into a diabetic frenzy that results in that lovely brain-changing chemical called alcohol. If you want beer, grind up some grains and feed those carbs to the yeast. For mead, feed ‘em honey.

One problem - yeast can’t eat honey. It’s a preservative. I was told you can preserve an apple by submerging it in honey. I’m dying to try honey apple slices! Yum! Honey pear slices? Even better!!

But if you add some water, those yeast get a foothold. And then you can make all kinds of good stuff. Most of it sweeter than…honey. Honey wine. No grapes, just fermented honey. Honey cider. The hard kind. Infuse some fruit puree to get your flavor of choice. Honey beer. Let those yeasties munch on both honey and grains.

What does the capsaicin burn have to do with mead? Well…there was a food truck, you see. “Chutney Mary’s.” Fusion cuisine, because that’s what all food trucks do in the bay area. Asian Chicken Tacos, Chicken Wings, and Shredded Pork sliders on Hawaiian buns. With choice of hot sauce. On a scale of 1-10, we picked the 15. It was made from Habaneros and Ghost Peppers. Actually it was just a 9.5, but Californians are soft. (Well, you are.) Still, hot enough to get my attention.

And then it all came together. The bartender pulled out a special mead for us to taste. Golden and translucent. With a giant red ghost pepper floating in it. An exquisite balance of heat and sweet honey.

So why is it called the Rabbit’s Foot? The owner was home-brewing mead. After several failed attempts, he finally got a batch that looked like it was working out. Golden clear. The next day it was cloudy and discolored. For no good reason. Well. His daughter had dropped in her lucky Rabbit’s Foot to help him succeed. Yeah, ruined the batch with contaminants and coloring. But he decided that if he ever opened a meadery, he would call it the Rabbit’s Foot. And so he did.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2013 Wailing, Dancing, Love

"You turned my wailing into dancing;...
Lord my God, I will praise you forever." Ps 30: 11-12

What a year 2013 turned out to be! It certainly shook my foundation at the start. I was betrayed and rejected in my deepest relationship. But throughout the year incredible joy came my way. I got closer to God. My friends and family loved on me. I met new groups of wonderful people and had amazing adventures. It was actually a great year!

My top experiences from 2013:

Cambria trip with my church Neighborhood group in February
Paris vacation with my Mom in May
Reno bus trip with line-dancers in October
My brother’s 4-day visit in November
Christmas party with line-dance group in December

The year started with my wife telling me she didn’t want to be married anymore. She didn’t miss me while I was away (for a week). She loved every minute without me. Actually, she never wanted to get married in the first place. (So why did she?) She just got caught up in the whole marriage thing. For the last 12 years she was just deceiving both of us. 

I never saw it coming. OK, a few days earlier something didn’t seem right. I sent her a note reminding her I would do anything, change anything, try anything. I was committed to her and our marriage. Her response? “Oh good, you’re just as unhappy and want out too.” (What?)

The next few weeks I woke up sick to my stomach. Every day. I really wanted to just drink until I was buzzed enough to drown the pain and shock. OK, that’s a bad idea and I knew it. Instead I went running. Physical activity got rid of the shakes. Cool air and the beauty of the river calmed my mind. Giving God an earful reminded me of His love. And yeah, I sobbed, bawled, and wailed - especially looking through 15 years of photos.

My only community in California was my wife and her family and friends. That was all gone. I had to build new community, and fast. Enter meetup.com. It’s a database of social groups. I jumped in and attended a running group, a French language group, and a board-game group (the latter meets at the Yahoo! cafeteria, which I think is cool. Nerdy, but cool.). I saw new-release movies with a movie-goer group and spoke Spanish with a Spanish-speaker group. I sampled delicious restaurants and hiked beautiful trails with a foodies and hikers group.

My family and friends in Texas were a huge support. I flew to Texas a lot. I took my buddy’s kids to try sushi for the first time. The 10 year-old boy and I explored a cave in Cedar Park. I joined in his birthday celebration: an all-nighter of movies, video games, pizza, and root beer. (OK, I crashed out at 2.) We went for runs and we walked the dogs and we talked about how school was going and what they wanted to do when they grow up.

My Austin friends encouraged me to find a church community. I visited Garden City Church and was amazed right away. I had three friends before the service started. A few days later I was in a neighborhood group. Soon I was on that retreat to Cambria. I helped people move. I helped a church buddy reach his goal of trying standup comedy on stage. Within six months, I was a member, I was baptized, and I was serving on the sound set-up team and the greeting team. I belonged.

My church group constantly encouraged me as I worked through my emotions and had a few meetings with Marianne. The most powerful advice they gave me was around forgiveness. “Christians are the most forgiven people, so we can be the most forgiving.” 

Divorce wasn’t the only change. Besides that there was:
Moving to Mountain View
Finding a new church home 
Trying new social groups 
Buying a car
Getting a new team at work and a new organization to support
Getting a new manager and a new VP

The other group of wonderful people God led me to are the local “dancemonsters.” Remember meetup? There was a listing for a Monday Night line dancing group that meets at a Mexican restaurant in downtown San Jose. I hesitated. Who goes out on Monday Night? Is downtown San Jose safe? How do you dance at a restaurant? (Fun folks in their 20s through 60s. Yes. They have a dance floor, duh.) It took eHarmony to convince me to go.

Wait, what? Yeah, I joined eHarmony. Don’t judge. It’s the internet age. After a week of it I realized…I had to meet more people in person. On-line dating is like on-line job searches. You read through a lot of job/relationship postings. You write a resume/profile. You fill out applications/questionnaires. Then you wait to be contacted for an interview/date. I never got a good job online, why would dating be any different? So I committed to go to the next line dancing night. On a Monday. At a Mexican restaurant. Best. Decision. Ever. 

I had no idea I was walking into such an amazing group of friendly people. Or that they were going to welcome me in so warmly. After the lesson they kept encouraging me to get on the dance floor and try the other line dances (the easy ones, anyway).  That led to a Reno dancing trip and Friday nights at the Saddle Rack country dance club. (And some Saturday nights.)

2013 is done. I’m single again after 15 years. That sucks. I miss sharing experiences with someone special. But I’m thankful for God’s blessings. I love my friends from dancing, church, work and Austin. Thank you for everything you did for me this year! 

(I'm excited about 2014. I’m taking vacations to Argentina and France and I’m working on Spanish and West Coast Swing.)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

78 Hours In Silicon Valley - My Brother Comes for a Visit

My brother Josh came to see me a couple of weeks ago. I wanted the optimum mix of novelty, conversation, and beer. I came up with enough to fill a week. Or two. Complex Excel spreadsheet were involved. Here’s how it went down, a la the New York Times “36 hours in…

11 am.
1. Lunch For All Tastes

There are over 50 restaurants on Castro Street in Mountain View. By definition, the entire Silicon Valley is a Mountain View. Castro Street has multiple Mexican, Italian, Indian, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Greek and American restaurants, to pick a view. We chose a greek restaurant called Ephesus. It was quiet on a Saturday afternoon and the food was delicious. While our food was prepared, I made Josh fill out some complicated questionnaires so we could start planning our days.

After lunch we walked the length of Castro street just to get some fresh air and exercise. Josh took photos of Le Boulanger, a bakery chain in the bay area. On the way back we passed Bier Haus - a favorite beer garden of mine - and saw we had just missed the free beer they were serving to celebrate their new name. Or not. The co-owner in - lederhosen - informed us the free beer was still flowing. I had a half-liter of delicious WinterBraun from Lost Cost. We realized we were sitting next to a guy I’d met on a previous afternoon at the same place. That’s a beer garden!

After the free beer we sampled the espresso at Red Rock coffee. If you like your expresso sour, this is the place for you. I needed chocolate truffles with mine.

1 pm
2. Nice to Mead You
We took a 30 minute ride on the light rail to the Rabbit’s Foot Meadery. Mead is anything brewed from fermented honey, whether it be wine, beer, or cider. Josh had the tasting flight: 2 wines, 2 beers, 3 ciders, and the Chocolate Raspberry Love port. I had a couple pints of Death By Raspberry, which is Raspberry Cider with a splash of Raspberry Mead wine and the Chocolate Raspberry port. The tasty room staff are as eclectic as the hip office park location.

7 pm
3. Hot Hot Pot

If you have to wait 30 minutes for a table, it must be a good place. Shabuway on Castro Street did not disappoint. The thin-sliced lamb that you cook yourself in a boiling pot of miso broth is a delight on a cool evening. Maybe we shouldn’t have made it spicy, since they’re serious about it. At least it cleared out our sinuses.

10 am
4. Grown Here

There must be a dozen Farmers Markets in the bay area, with vendors coming from all over California. Campbell is known for having one of the best.  Josh took photos of the stands and their arrangements as research. I took photos of colorful stuff. We hadn’t eaten breakfast before the market, so it was nice to get lots of samples: grapes, apples, and pluots (plum-apricot hybrids); cookies, hummus, and pie. Mmmm…pie. The bakery had a sign that read “I’m pie-curious”. At another bakery we had to ask what an epi was. (A denser baguette, baked to look like a wheat stalk.)

As the samples wore off we needed real sustenance - aka brunch. We decided on Aqui Cal-Mex. Josh got a fancy burrito. I had the turkey meatballs with mashed sweet potatoes and a polenta cake. And a mimosa with frozen margarita in the center.

5. Honky Tonk Blues

Up until the ‘80s, the entire Silicon Valley was orchards. Entertainment was Honky Tonk bars, like Saddle Rack. It has since moved out of the valley to Fremont, and is usually filled with city-folk celebrating a birthday or bachelorette party. Today there was a country dance lesson event. We met a couple of my Reno trip friends. After a line dance lesson, Josh worked on the beginner 2-step while I tried my hand at the intermediate class. After the lessons we stayed for a few hours dancing to whatever songs the DJ selected.

4 pm
6. Garden City

San Jose was once known as the Garden City. There are several new churches springing up to minister to the vast and divers population. Josh accompanied me to Garden City church and met all my church friends, who were all really excited to meet him as well. 

6 pm
7. House of Yards

The Yard House has a huge beer selection and gets its name from the half-yards of beer they serve. The six of us from church stuck to pints. Josh got to try some new dark beers that he really enjoyed. After dinner we walked past the fancy shops that make up the Santana Row outdoor mall.

9 am
8. Just Peaking

The Bay Area has tons of parks, “open spaces” and other areas to hike full of forests and mountains. Mission Peak in Fremont offers a well traveled path up to an amazing vista of the bay, the valley, and the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s 3 miles to the peak, and the weekends can be crowded, but the weekday was much quieter. We saw - and heard - cattle on the way up. Then we saw a fox. I still don’t know what the fox says. Then we heard the chirping of a smoke detector with a dead battery. Turns out it was actually a ground squirrel - probably on sentry duty, warning about the fox. Later on we saw a falcon perched on a fence post. It looked like it was in the mood for some squirrel meal. The 6 mile round trip took just under 3 hours, giving us plenty of time for a range of conversation topics.

9. Ramen Without Styrofoam 

For lunch we chose an authentic Japanese Ramen spot called Dohatsuten. It had good reviews on Yelp and lived up to them. Exceeded them, even. Afterwards we got espressos and chocolate-covered madeleines at Mission coffee shop. Still sour, but only half as much as in Mountain View. Enough to give me some extra energy for the hour-long drive to Josh’s farm.

2 pm
10. We’re Farming and We Grow It

The farm turned was a 10-acre organic oasis sheltered from the surrounding open-field crop rotations by a wall of Eucalyptus trees. Their main crops are figs, rosemary, and green garlic. An entire section was just rosemary bushes growing wild. Josh got tons of info. I got some good fresh air time. We stopped for another espresso before heading back to the South Bay. 

7 pm 
11. I Dance the Line

A local Meet-Up teaches line dancing in the bar area / dance floor of the Mexico Lindo restaurant in the middle of San Jose. It’s called Mojo Monday. Everyone was excited to meet Josh. He had a blast and we stayed until the place was about to close down. 

10 am
12. The Monarchs Will See You Now

Natural Bridges park in Santa Cruz is an over-wintering station for Monarch butterflies. We made the drive over the winding highway 17 and stopped at Emily’s bakery for a hot turkey and cheese croissant a cheese scone and some lattes. Fueled up, we headed to the monarch grove. At first we only saw a couple monarchs flying around and I thought the trip might have been a waste. Then we read the signs explaining that the clumps of dead leaves in the Eucalyptus trees were dormant monarchs. Sure enough, a Stellar’s jay showed up and munched on one, ripping off the poisonous wings first, and causing several of the monarchs to scatter. Visit after noon and they’ll be more active, having soaked up the sun’s rays.

A bus load of school kids showed up and we took that as our cue to move to the beach. We listened to the waves, watched the pelicans, and admired the rocky “bridge” formation. A while later the kids followed us, so we headed back to the car. We pulled around for a different view of the natural bridge, and then cruised the oceanside drive. The rocky banks leading to the beaches are covered with an “ice plant”. It’s a succulent that a native of South Africa. Introduced to keep the ground cover, now it’s considered a menace, like kudzu in the South.

13. Sweet French Cookies and Celebrity Mug Shots

We stopped at a charcuterie and - another - bakery, where I got macarons, which are soft french cookies that form a sandwich around a sweet creamy filling. Yum! Then we went to a burger shop called “Burger.” We sampled about 10 beers each before deciding on some juicy dark pints to go along with our burgers. When we placed our food order, we were given a mug shot of Matthew McConaughey. Classy!

1 pm
14. Cruisin’ the Pacific Coast

W drove highway 1 all the way to San Francisco. Locals call it PCH - Pacific Coast Highway. Josh was fascinated by the farms along the ocean. The ocean views didn’t disappoint either, despite the grey, cloudy winter weather. We stopped in Half Moon Bay for even less bitter espresso, then continued up to San Francisco.

2 pm
15. Foodies in the Mission District

We had been given a mission to accomplish in the Mission District. Reconnoiter the bakery called La Tartine. We arrived after a perilous parallel parking performance. Research photos were taken, and a massive Lemon Meringue cake was purchased for a party that evening. From there we walked to the Yelp-recommended chocolate shop called Dandelion. They specialize in single-source chocolate beans from tropical destinations like Madagascar and Belize and you can see the entire production area. It was like a Krispy Kreme for chocolate bars. Next door is another artisanal bakery called Craftsman and Wolves. I ordered one of everything. Then I canceled my order because my stomach wasn’t big enough, nor was my wallet.


I'm not going to spell it all out for you. You can use Google to find the addresses and websites on your own. I won’t baby you like the New York Times does


Josh stayed with me in Mountain View. The fold-out couch is always at your disposal.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” (Hunter S. Thompson)
This weekend I took a party bus to Reno and back to dance for 7 hours. It’s the high point of my year. And I almost didn’t go.

I’m not proud that I hesitated. Looking back, I can’t believe it. I was afraid it would be boring on the bus. I was afraid I would be worn out afterwards. Sleep-deprived all week. 

Two weeks ago a young lady at the line dancing group invited me. She invited me again last week. Right in front of the trip organizer. And still I hesitated.

I told my buddy at work that I was thinking of taking a party bus to Reno to go line dancing. He said “no part of that sounds appealing to me.” Maybe I felt contrarian. Maybe I felt risky. Maybe the muse of Mr. Thompson grabbed me. Regardless, it was “challenge accepted.”

Saturday morning I got up before it was light out. The white load that I left in the dryer last night wasn’t dry. I needed it. Panic. I guess I’ll wake up my housemates. 

I drove half an hour southeast to the bus rendezvous with the sun rising in front of me. Gorgeous. And there were people there! The extrovert in me totally woke up. The young lady arrived and said “You’re already loving this, aren’t you.” Yes, I was. 

The bus seated 50 passengers and had 6 seats reserved for snacks, booze, and jello shots. Not to mention the overhead bins. One guy played the role of flight attendant. He mimed a safety announcement about seatbelts, exits, and oxygen masks. My friend was reminded of the new Virgin America flight safety video.

The organizer had activities planned for the whole 5-hour bus ride. I’ll call her the organizer. We got little goodie bags. They had raffle tickets, hug coupons, and bead necklaces. A few had lotto scratcher tickets. The games began. If you caught someone saying the word “drink” they had to give you their beads.

As soon as we got seated on the bus I could tell everyone was reverting to adolescence. The crazy t-shirt contest got started early, with several gals putting balloons under their shirts for an extra-busty effect. One of them had fake quintuple-D inserts covered by a thin t-shirt that read “wet t-shirt contest winner”. She accessorized with a viking helmet and fake blond braids.

An hour after departure, the fruit punch was passed around. It was frozen, and spiked. Hard. An hour later it was time for jello shots. Then we stopped at the Walmart in Vacaville. That’s french for cow-town. Or Italian. Had I already had that much to drink? The viking was riding in a Walmart shopping cart, standing up, like a voluptuous dragon boat. 

Some ladies bought sippy cups for their fruit punch. I asked what they were going to use them for. “We’re going to drink out of them.” I won beads and lost friends. “We thought you were a nice guy.” I guess not.

We stopped for lunch in old town Sacramento. It’s a touristy spot. The coffee shop had a chocolate chip cookie dough mocha on special. I got a double. 

We got back on the bus. We played a game where we learned interesting facts about people, like the couple that was in prison for 4 years. (They were in WWII internment camps.) We learned people’s nicknames. Boo Boo and Amberlicious were good ones. 

Pretty soon we were headed up into the Sierras. There was snow. There was the Donner Party memorial. There was a bathroom break. Then we were pulling into the parking lot of the Grand Sierra Hotel.

Amberlicious handed out bottles of Shock Top beer to me and Boo Boo as we wobbled through the lobby to check in. It was 4 pm. Or maybe it was 5. I was back downstairs in time for dinner at 6. Not that I was hungry at all. (Remember, 6 seats of snacks) 

I roamed around the casino after dinner. There was a booth where you could play tic-tac-toe against a chicken. It was behind plexiglass. For its safety. There was a little metal privacy shield so you couldn’t see which move it was going to peck. That chicken played for the tie every time.

The time to dance was approaching. I changed into a Nordstrom shirt, dark Levi’s and my 15-year old cowboy boots. We went to the “Wet” bar which had sheets of plexiglass with water pouring down them and waitresses younger than my boots. The latter were dressed in shimmery blue, clingy mini-skirty dresses, evoking mermaids. 

Here’s how the next 5 hours played out.  Take over the 10’ by 10’ dance floor, line dancing to the latest pop music the DJ was spinning. Go to the other side of the casino and realize the country band was really blue-grass, and we couldn’t line dance. Or hear. (I shoved napkin bits in my ears,) Go back to the Wet bar for shots of some blue drink, and request the Beastie Boys. We could no longer line dance there, either. Go back to the bluegrass side, find everyone had gone to their rooms, drink some water because we were getting dehydrated. Go back to the Wet bar for another shot and request Sir Mix A Lot. 

It’s approaching 2am. It reaches 2am. It becomes 1am. Daylight saving time is over. We go upstairs to check out the designated “game” room and get threatened by security for being too loud.

My friend wanted to go downtown to try other dance clubs. After a while she started singing “I don’t know why you don’t take me downtown.” by Lady Antebellum. So me and another guy agreed to go. He's the coolest cat in the Cali-Nevada region. We leave the hotel lobby. No cabs. A college kid was standing there saying his ride had left him behind. I walked over to the parking lot and found all the cabs waiting in the dark. We took the kid in our cab and dropped him off in the suburbs, then turned around the opposite way to get downtown. Instead of a navigation system, the cab driver had a screen playing rock music videos. Is that legal?

We arrive at the Eldorado casino downtown and look for the Bullion club (or something). It’s closed. So we go to the Brew Brothers club because they have a…DJ. The dance floor is bigger and less crowded, but the 3 of us aren’t going to be line dancing there. So we club dance. My buddy gets in a dance-off with some kid. Behind them a dude gets knocked out cold in the fastest fight ever. And some girl starts yelling at me and giving me the finger while her boyfriend pushes her out of the club. We stay until the last song ends at 3am.

After a cab ride home I’m in bed by 4am. I wake up every hour to drink a glass of water. I’m downstairs by 8am, just inches away from a hangover that I’m holding at bay with a bottle of Powerade. 

We leave at 9, and I just enjoy watching the mountain scenery, until I start to doze off. Lightly, so I can wake up before anyone pours hot sauce on my lips - which I would actually enjoy - or draws something embarrassing on my face. 

We stop at the outlet malls in Vacaville and a few of us get lunch at Freebirds, which carries a surprising amount of emotional attachment for me. With an entire steak burrito in my belly I start taking my dozing seriously until we get back to South San Jose. 

I say goodbye. I tell everyone I won’t see them for a while. I’m going to skip the Monday line dancing so I can recuperate. I should go home and do laundry. I don’t. I go to church and just barely make it in time. Then I go out with a church buddy to a bar for dinner.

The next night was Monday, and I couldn't wait to see everyone again. So I didn't wait. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Food, Friends, and Murrrder!

How’s that for a title? Here’s how it went down. Thursday night I ate dinner with five church friends from Mountain View. One of them is moving back to the East Coast, and had a craving for Ethiopian food before he left. So we carpooled all the way down to San Jose, where we enjoyed a delicious Ethiopian meal, family-style. No utensils, just our hands.

The topic of mead came up over dinner. Mead is “wine” made from fermented honey. I mentioned the Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale. So a few of us went there Friday afternoon. OK - I left work a little early; it was the beginning of a long weekend after all. I hadn’t been there in a month and I was missing my Death By Raspberry. That’s Raspberry cider + Raspberry mead + a dash of Raspberry Chocolate Love port.

Saturday I was double-booked for the evening. Mountain View friends invited me to a townhouse-warming event with do-it-yourself yakitori. I had no idea what yakitori was, but it sounded like food, probably Japanese, so I was in 100%. It looks like yakitori is Japanese for kebabs. I was excited about the scallops, intrigued by the chicken hearts, and easily sold on the spicy japanese sausage. On a stick. The scallops couldn't hang on the skewer, but they were delicious anyway. It was all really good.

Next up was Sunnyvale for build your own taco night. One of the guests that night was a very friendly pug named Frank. That’s right, just like in Men In Black. Except he was doing a great job keeping his cover; didn’t say a word. The hosts are heading off soon for a vacation to Italy - which makes me very envious.

So that’s the deal with friends and food. What else was there? Oh, yeah! Murrrder!

My Wednesday night church group put on a murder mystery night. It was a western theme, and the 20 of us had to act out parts and discover who committed the murder. (No guests were harmed in the making of this event.) I was given the role of a fine, upstanding US Marshal. As a bonus, I got to check the pulse of the victim, declare him dead, and then perform a few speaking parts related to the instructions, the evidence, and lastly the revelation of the murderer.  As a bonus, I actually guessed the culprit. I didn’t pick up on any of the clues; I just had a hunch about the guy. Isn’t that how it works in real life?

If all that wasn’t enough, I also went to Spanish conversation night on Tuesday, got my car washed for free and signed up for French wine tasting on the beach next Saturday. All in all, a really fun week. And it was just capped off by a rainbow! (Double rainbow!!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

How I Spend My Time

I’m starting to reflect on how I spend my time. Usually it’s the next day, when it’s too late to do anything about it, except try not to judge myself.  I’ve grouped my activities into  the following categories: having adventures, consuming, socializing, producing, worshipping, and being active. I would like to optimal balance between them all. Clearly, spending 100% of my time “consuming” does not honor my ability to create or to build relationships. Here’s how I define each one:

Adventure involves trying something new and interesting, possibly challenging. It could be going somewhere new to hike, bike, drive, or even roller-blade. Or eat. Trying a new restaurant counts. Or it could be attending a new social event. For example, this week I went to a Spanish Language meet-up that is still new for me. The key is that it took me out of my comfort zone.

Consuming just means reading (books or internet articles) or watching TV shows or movies. It includes playing games on the computer or iPad. Basically I’m putting stuff in my head without having to be active. So it’s how I relax.

Socializing is obviously spending time with people. The focus is on building relationships. I’m learning to focus on asking questions, not just talking about me, or cracking jokes the whole time. I want to engage people.

Producing means I’m creating something. I’m not into physical projects like carpentry or home improvement. For me, it’s writing (blogs, jokes, books) or even drawing (probably with pastels). Making excel spreadsheets or powerpoints at work counts too. I’ll count chores here.

Worshipping is time reading the bible, praying, or singing praise songs.

Being active is simply out of the house and moving around. My gym time counts, as does biking, jogging, or walking on trails or streets - long enough to get the blood moving.

Of course, there is often overlap among these. Going to church is worshipping while socializing. Seeing a movie with friends is socializing while consuming. Hiking a new park is being active while having an adventure.

As for value, it seems like consuming is the least useful. It may also be the one I do the most. I read the New York Times website at breakfast and CNN Money when I need a break at work. When I come home, I might play a level of Kingdom Rush before dinner and then watch an episode (or two) of a TV show on Netflix over dinner. Either I need a lot more relaxing time than other people, or I’m just easily amused. Maybe both.

Actually I’m doing pretty well socializing. I have recurring social activities 3 nights a week: Church on Sunday, Spanish speakers on Tuesday, and Church group on Wednesday. This past week I also went to a movie on Friday and an Art and Wine festival on Saturday.

While consuming is good for relaxing,  Socializing is good for my extroversion, and for having a Christian community to support me. Worshipping is good for my spirit, and for helping me treat others well. Adventures are good for warding off boredom and routine. Being active is just a way to keep my body running healthy. And producing makes me feel like I’m not just burning oxygen for no purpose.

I’m not going to start writing down my time - OK, maybe I will. But I’m trying to get a rough feel for how much time I spend in each area. Maybe I’ll say no to social events if I haven’t been active or productive in a while. And I certainly need to look for alternatives if I’ve just been consuming for most of the day. Or maybe I’ll give myself a consumption day.