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…

SATURDAY 
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.


SUNDAY
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.



Noon
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.

MONDAY
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.




Noon
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. 

TUESDAY
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.



Noon
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.




THE DETAILS

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

LODGING


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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reno!


“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.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thanks, Accomplishments, and Time Wasters


Every morning I spend time reading the bible, praying, and being thankful. The rest of the day I struggle with temptations to waste time, because I’d rather feel like I accomplished something. Here’s a summary of this past week.

What I’m thankful for:
  • My cold went away after just a few days
  • My job lets me set my own schedule, especially when I have a cold
  • Happy hour with co-workers on Wed, over Brazilian beer, lamb meatballs, and sliders (most amazing appetizers ever!)
  • Fourth of July in San Francisco, hanging out with a work buddy and spending the day with his friends and neighbors
  • Emails from my church family
  • Talking to my brother on his birthday
  • Good conversations with my housemates



What I accomplished:
  • Finished June on-budget (close enough)
  • Opened up to my counselor on some issues I’ve been trying to hide from
  • Went to my first Mensa social event
  • Visited my local coffee shop for the first time - I plan to use it as a writing office
  • Signed up for the audio set-up team at church
  • Made progress on work projects

How I wasted time
  • Watched 10 episodes of Lie To Me
  • Read the New York Times (a lot) along with CNN Money online
  • Played Kingdom Rush (iPad game) a lot
  • Napped
(I think half my Saturday was spent on these activities.)

I’m trying to motivate myself to focus on activities that bring lasting value through learning or relationships, rather than escaping into TV or games. At the same time, I don’t want to condemn myself harshly when I choose activities that allow me to relax.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ready for Routine


I’m starting to feel like my life is normal again. God deserves all the credit for getting me through a crazy 6 months, and I am thankful for everyones prayers. Now I hope to have - and enjoy - some routines. I don’t want to be bored, but I don’t need the excitement I’ve had since January. (OK - I’d be happy to go to Paris again. Or Mexico. Or Austin. Or...)


Here’s what I’ve completed since Marianne upended my world in January. I transferred some accounts to her and updated the rest with just me. I moved to Mountain View. I found a church home and a church group to meet with weekly. I got served with the divorce lawsuit and signed tons of papers. I started seeing a counselor so I could talk about my feelings and maybe learn not to repeat mistakes. I bought a car. I had severe buyers remorse. I flew a lot. Austin 3 times, Mexico City, Paris. I destroyed my sleep schedule for weeks. I started living on a budget again and rebuilding my savings. (With the help of Mint.com’s iPhone app.
I’ve got lots of ideas for projects to keep the next 6 months interesting. So many, that I intend to devote just a month to each one. They are:
  • Record myself playing Kingdom Rush (a video game that the Cannon kids like)
  • Train myself to recognize micro-expressions of emotion, like the TV show “Lie to Me”
  • Make some art with my pastels
  • Take nature photos on hikes
  • Do standup
  • Write my Peace Corps book
  • Juggle
  • Learn more ways to solve the Rubik’s cube
  • Get conversational in Spanish
  • Get conversational in German
I’d love your input. What are the top 3 you think I should start with?

My biggest wish for the 2nd half of the year is to be spared anything like that January bombshell. Instead I’d like to: grow deeper in my relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; replenish my savings, network for my career, and get fit. I also want to give blood regularly, volunteer, and spend time with friends new and old.

Thanks for all the praying you’ve done. I’m not suffering any more physical or emotional effects, other than occasional twinges of resentment and loneliness. And I’m getting fat from not enough physical activity. Meanwhile, Marianne hasn’t been in touch in a month. The divorce paperwork is circulating through the court system and should be finalized in July or August. I will officially be single again on August 13. That’s 11 weeks after our 12th anniversary.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Notre Dame and the Louvre - Day 3 -Monday 5/20

Another full day in Paris. Today I overslept; yesterday I woke up at 4am. Now the jet lag is just toying with me.

Today was cold and rainy. Even had to get out my extra jacket for Mom. Fortunately California has conditioned me to colder temps. The rain was really annoying, though. My socks were wet, my backpack was wet. I had to keep putting my camera back in a ziploc with a gazillion little drying packets. I'm going to have to order more electronics so I can get some fresh ones.

After a quick breakfast we headed to Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame cathedral. Halfway there we realized we picked the bus to the wrong island. We changed course, but got to the island an hour later than planned. At least the line for Sainte Chapelle was short. I let Mom do the tour without me. I abandoned her? With two more tours planned, I had to conserve energy. So I went to a cafe for a hot peppermint tea. I got a surprise when I went to use the toilette - it was a "squatter." Just like old times in Africa. 


When Mom was done with her tour we trudged through the rain to Notre Dame. The line was about four blocks long, but it moved pretty quickly. Inside it was pretty amazing how high the ceilings were. No one is going to scrape their head here. The stained glass glowed well despite the cloudiness outdoors. The windows and frescoes told various stories of Jesus's life and resurrection. I wonder if visitors are inspired to ask about Christianity. I felt called to stop in the pews and pray for my family and friends - and myself. 


We walked from Notre Dame to the Louvre, which was a bit farther than we had estimated. So we stopped and had lunch, where I got some onion soup, a slice of quiche, a glass of wine, and an espresso. I actually enjoyed the latter and may now have a new bad habit involving tiny cups of caffeine. 



The Louvre was packed. Full. Crazy. Chaotic. And amazing. Since we had already bought tickets, we skipped most of the wait to get in. Then I cost us 20 to 30 minutes trying to download the Louvre iPhone app. I had to go back past security to the Apple store for free wifi to finish the download, then upstairs and through the priority line again. Ugh.

After - and because of - some crazy detours, we saw: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo (Athena from Milos island), Monets, Renoirs, Vermeers, lots of naked greek dude sculptures, some really huge paintings, and some scenes of Jesus's miracles. The latter was an excellent continuation of the experience at Notre Dame.



I took several photos of paintings, and even got a picture where the Mona Lisa appears to be holding an iPad, due to a reflection of someone using theirs as a camera. 



Mom was so worn out that we took a taxi back. After resting for a few hours, we had a late dinner nearby and then called it a day. We're...Loving...Paris!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Eiffel Tower, Meet the Arc de Triomphe

Today was my second full day in Paris. And it started way too early. I was awake already at 2:30am, after just five of my normal eight-plus hours of beauty sleep. A 4:30 I gave up and started reading. At 6 I took a shower and headed out into the dawn. And the bars were still open. Parisians know how to party all night long, that's for sure. 

My mission was breakfast. A small bakery we'd seen the day before that had mini quiches. Couldn't find it. I walked around for an hour and a half. After a while it was just for the exercise. Then it was because I'm stubborn.  Everything looked different in the dawn's early light. Lots of shops were closed for Sunday, with garage doors pulled down. I can only guess my bakery was one of them. 

I finally gave up and walked with Mom to the office of the tour company where we had reserved a bus tour, a boat tour, and tickets to the Eiffel Tower. It was chaos. They had six different tours leaving and their computers were down. The bus tour included some interesting facts about the sites, but we didn't have a very good view. It was nice to be out of the cold though.  Photos were out of the question.  The boat tour was fun because it gave a different viewing angle for my photos. 


The Eiffel Tower was great. I took tons of photos and started recognizing monuments based on their location and features. I spotted the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré Cœur, Palais Royal, Notre Dame, Musée d'Orsay, etc. Then we enjoyed a glass of wine with the view. Afterward we walked to the Brasserie Eiffel Tower for lunch, to round out the theme. Our waiter was quite a fun character. 



The bus tour inspired us to visit the Arc de Triomphe next, so we took a bus across town and bought tickets to visit the top. I reversed my previous shot and took a photo of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe. The best part was the dramatic sky with dark gray rain surrounding a glowing patch of sunlit sky. Then it started raining on us. We headed back to the hotel to rest a bit. I culled my photos, uploaded the best and fell deep asleep before the upload was done. 



For dinner we took a taxi to a Tunisian restaurant. I chatted up the driver there and back. We had to send back the avocado vinaigrette appetizer, but the couscous was pretty good.

I wish it were sunny and warm, but I got some good photos anyway with the darker weather. I want to get some night shots next, since lots of monuments are lit up after dark. It's definitely a great trip so far. Good food, good photos, good use of French, and a good traveling partner.  


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Walking and Talking in Paris

Paris is turning out to be as much fun as I expected. I just needed a good nap first. That's exactly what I did after we got to our hotel at noon on Friday. I should have only napped for just an hour, but I slept for 3 instead. Then Mom came to get me and we went out on a mission to get our travel cell phones set up with SIM cards and explore the neighborhood.

At The Phone House (yes, the name is in English) we got one phone working quickly, but the iPhone 3GS balked. I was sure it was unlocked. After I reset as much as I could, the salesman offered to connect it to iTunes and restore it completely. After we started, we realized it would take an hour. So we left it there and went to dinner. That's where I ordered a Cheeseburger with a Beer (actually listed on one line that way - take that McDonalds!) When we got back, the phone was working perfectly! I guess I had started to doubt, because I basically did a Snoopy Happy Dance when he told me it was working. 



We explored some interesting little alleyways full of shops - including a chocolate shop that I will be returning to. We also picked up some champagne at a little grocery store, and scouted out options for breakfast. 

After walking Mom back to the hotel, I went to a nearby Brasserie and enjoyed a delicious pint of Leffe Brune.

Saturday started with a British breakfast at a nearby café. I hadn't had soft-boiled eggs in a long time, and it was a nice memory to revive. I got tea, but realized I should have ordered hot chocolate instead. 

We had a few errands on our agenda for the day. I bought us a pack of bus tickets from the subway station. We walked to Forum Les Halles to pick up our Eiffel Tower tickets for Sunday. After all the walking we needed to sit down. What better place than the Belgian Brasserie? This time I had Leffe Ruby, and an order of frites to accompany it. After relaxing a bit, we crossed a bridge over the Seine to the île de la cité, where we saw Notre Dame and other monuments I can't keep track of, but photographed anyway. Next door is the smaller île St. Louis, and we explored its tiny streets since we were there. Then we took our first city bus ride, successfully getting home as it started to rain. We would get more rain when we went to dinner, but overall it was a great first full day. 


Friday, May 17, 2013

First Flight on My Way to Paris

My flight to Paris started off early. Too early. My iphone sleep monitoring app woke me up right on time at 4am, although I wasn't out of bed for at least another 10 minutes. My bleary red eyes were not pleased that I was leaving at 4:30. But when you have a 7am flight out of SFO, you do what you have to. 

Thankfully my ride was there on time. It's a true friend who will give you a ride that early. Although it's one of the rare times he gets to drive 101 to SF with no traffic.

I was certain I'd forgotten something critical, but I had no choice except to leave and make do later. I  had to go to the check-in counter because I was checking a bag. With my recent platinum status,   my bag was on its way in less than 30 minutes - hopefully to Paris - and I was through security, with my hopes of an upgrade to business class crushed. 

Now I was getting hungry, which meant sniffing around all of the overpriced, unsatisfying options for food. I settled on a breakfast sandwich and also picked up a muffuletta to have for lunch on the plane. The breakfast sandwich was pretty good - with thick slices of applewood bacon (I have no clue what that means, or how it magically emerged 5 years ago.) Then I got to the end of the sandwich where the eggs were cold. Ugh. I ate it anyway. Every last bite. 

I spent the remaining hour calling people at work, trying to fix the one item I left unfinished yesterday. Then I headed onto the plane, with no last minute reprieve from coach. That was fine; I'd already spent money on meals that would be unnecessary if I got upgraded. 

The awkwardness began before I even boarded. I was one of the last passengers to line up. It seemed like the agent was annoyed, although I'll assume he was just distracted. When I said good morning upon showing my boarding pass, the response I got was "yeah", like " yeah, whatever."

I looked forward to my aisle seat. I was flying a 757 with a 2-3-2 setup, so 4 aisle seats per row (44%). I sat down and said hello to the young blonde woman in the middle seat next to me. She quickly admitted her English wasn't very good - although it was - and we switched to her native language, French.  Of course I refuse to excuse my currently terrible accent and pronunciation. 

Onward to discomfort. The plane was stiflingly warm - did it just land from the Sahara? On went the overhead air vent. The seat was shockingly uncomfortable. I couldn't even get back relief using the blanket for lumbar support. (What is a lumbar? Was Dr. Lumbar the guy who discovered how to make seats that create backaches?) Soon the temperature plummeted to standard airplane arctic levels. Off went the overhead air vent. And we were off. 

After beverage service they started a movie that was not the one listed in the airplane magazine. (Could I subscribe to the inflight magazine for home delivery? Then I could sit on my uncomfortable couch and read it with an extra belt on.) By this point the mademoiselle has her eye cover on and is in full REM sleep, including sudden head drops every two minutes which are violently overcorrected, without her showing any signs of waking herself up. Then the movie started. It was supposed to be some awful mother-son comedy - which I would have watched, and I just now realized would have been appropriate for this trip. Instead it was about retired musicians living in a nursing home and it was so boring I nearly fall asleep during the opening credits, violent head nods and all. 

But wouldn't have lasted long, since there was soon a cacophony of sound effects to keep me alert. A woman 5 rows back was sneezing the loudest "Ah!-Choo!s" I've ever heard, not bothering to muffle any of them, even when there were five in a row. There were children who begin screaming, either because they were denied the parent's iPhone - which is the 5-year old version of crack cocaine and the only thing that will possibly make them happy for the rest of their lives, ever! Or they were hit by their sibling, or hit themselves, or hit their sibling, and required the world to know how unjust their life-shattering pain was.  My padded headphones only slightly muffled these piecing sounds.

Next up, turbulence. Not severe, but strong enough to get my attention. It made me a little queasy since I was playing a game on my iPad. The real annoyances were the repeated stern reminders that when the seat belt sign is on everyone is supposed to be wearing theirs, which requires them to not be walking down the aisle headed to the restroom. 

After I passed through emotional, physical, and auditory torture, it was time for the visual assault. With the movie over, programming  switched to The Office, known for "grimace comedy". It's my most detested show. And it was on 7 screens in my field of view, ensuring no reprieve. To make it worse, it was a lice episode, with folks shaving their heads, or shampooing with mayonnaise (is that a real remedy?). There was even a bright yellow hazmat suit. And plenty of close ups of grimaces. (Not the Ronald McDonald character, who would only be a slightly better option.)

You know what? In spite of it all, I can't wait to do it all again. 

 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cherries, Jesus, and Paris!




Yay! It’s Cherry Season! My two favorite fruit seasons are Cherries/Blueberries in the summer and Pears in the winter. During the interminable dry spells between them, I’m forced to subsist on Fuji apples, grapes, and pluots (plum-apricot hybrids full of sweet juiciness). Oh, the humanity!

Car update: If you want a used car for less than 10 large out here, from a private owner, you better have an envelope of cash the day it goes up on Craigslist. No taking it to the mechanic. No paying by cashier’s check. I spent a week chasing cars to learn this. I would get a call back that day, but they’d be sold within 2 days. So I’m moving on to dealer used cars, in the next price range up. Then the next, then the next...

Divorce update: We both signed the settlement agreement. Now our file waits for a court clerk to check it and stamp it. I will be single on August 13. I wish there was a way I could stop the divorce. Even if I refuse to sign anything, it would continue on anyway. All it takes is one person’s determination. 

This isn’t how I wanted it to be. We both ruled out divorce as an option when we got married. We both fought through plenty of conflict and baggage. I will never truly know what changed in Marianne. Instead I will inevitably invent an explanation to simplify the story for myself and to answer the questions I will get about it.

Are Christians Anything Like Jesus? Gateway Church commissioned a study to gauge if Christians’ attitudes and actions were more like Jesus or more like the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, who opposed him. I won’t spoil the findings, but being a Christian doesn’t automatically turn you into a perfect person. And it’s still too easy to focus on other people’s weaknesses, rather than our own. And too easy to get caught up in rules rather being loving. Click to read the results or take the survey.

Other topics that caught my eye this week:
In less than a week I will be in Paris! With my Mom! Speaking French! Eating French food and drinking French wine! In cute outdoor cafes or in the park! Seeing French people and sights! Can’t wait! Au revoir!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Happy Cinco De Mayo


Nothing much to share this week. I took Caltrain to SF twice. The first time was on Tuesday to look at a 2007 Honda Civic. I hated it. The seats gave me terrible back pain, the windshield let in too much sun, it was too noisy inside, and even the shifter felt cheap. So I've written off Hondas.

I had more fun the second time I went to SF, on Saturday. I got to spend some encouraging time with a buddy from work. We had sandwiches and beer in a park and enjoyed the sun and the people watching. It was quite a crowd for Cinco de Mayo.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Blueberries, Razors, Moving, and other Random Stuff



Blueberries are back! Yay! That makes me happy. Cherries will be here in a couple weeks, sending me to further fits of delight, followed by pluots (yummy, juicy, fruity pluots). Apples and mandarin oranges are gone, having kept me satisfied for the first 4 months of the year. I’m going to have to buy a pie dish so I can make a blueberry cream pie and eat the whole darn thing myself. Probably in one sitting.

We had a heat wave last weekend, meaning it got up to 88 degrees or so. There’s no AC in the house. It cools down overnight, or I’d be a puddle. I see a fan purchase in my future. Probably at 90 degrees.

I recently fell for an act of pure marketing genius. A product was reviewed on a money podcast I listen to. Now, a money podcast should make me more prudent about my spending. Oh, no. I paid $25 for a shaving set: razor, 3 blades, and shaving cream. The brand is Harry’s. You pay more for the razor, but less for the blades, because they cut out the middlemen. It’s not a good time to be a middleman. Only a front-man.

A few days later I tried the razor. (It wasn't delayed gratification; it's just that I only shave 3 times a week.) It was...amazing! It felt more like a face massage than a razor. The cartridge has 5 blades! (Take that, quattro!) It’s as big as those gummy hands we used to thwap each other with. And it’s flexible. So it exerts almost no pressure on your face. I was stunned. At the rate I shave, I’m probably set for the rest of the year.


The best part of my week was probably on Sunday morning. I got to help a friend from church move from Los Gatos to Campbell. You might think that moving is just exploiting free labor. (There were about 6 of us helping altogether.) But I really enjoyed being part of a fun team. (Extrovert!) And packing a U-Haul is like playing tetris to me, which is like catnip to a kitty. It was packed and unpacked in less than 2 hours and we were done by 10:30. Which gave me plenty of time to meet a friend - and her poodle puppy - for lunch.

Cocoa, the poodle puppy

Once again, I spent several hours each day looking at car postings on craigslist, trying to weed out the good from the rust-buckets. In the end, I gave up and joined a local credit union so that they can find me a car. I’m done.

I’ve been listening to recent sermons from Gateway Church in Austin about Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and our tendency to try to fix other people. Or to change them. (How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.) I'm trying to turn it around and think about what I need to change in me first.

Roses are growing like weeds all around: at work, in downtown, even along the walkway to my house. I stopped anyway to smell them. Ah.

Downtown Mountain View Rose-Weeds

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cars, Cars, Cars.


Occasionally someone comments on my indecisiveness. Sometimes I feel caught in the throes of analysis paralysis. (I’m not sure I want to keep that last phrase; it sounds a bit cliche, but I guess I will. Maybe not. Ok, it stays. Unless I find something better....)

But surely I’m not indecisive. I had no problem choosing my tablet (iPad!). Except I wasn’t sure if I wanted 32GB or 64GB. No big deal, because I knew I didn’t want it with cellular ability (well at first I kinda wanted that, but then I didn’t). At least I knew I wanted it in black. Or maybe I just didn’t want it in white. What would I have done if they offered blue? And I knew I wanted the smart cover - but black, navy, gray, lime green?

I’ve decided it’s no fun being indecisive. And that’s final. The time it takes, the angst, the  excel spreadsheets. Ugh. It takes a week for me to book an airline ticket. I can waste an hour on where to go for dinner. Maybe I need to go to indecision anonymous. Or indecisiveness anonymous.

But the car search has taken my indecision to a new level. My history with cars doesn’t help. My first car was a cherry-red stick-shift Chevy Cavalier with a sunroof - that my dad chose, not me. I promptly destroyed the clutch multiple times (scarring me for years until I was forced to drive a manual Honda, which was very forgiving). And I fell in love with sunroofs. (An open sunroof on a cool morning commute to work is a gift from God.) I didn’t have to choose my next car either, inheriting a Delta 88 battleship.

In 2000 it was time for me to buy my own car. I had enjoyed renting some Pontiac Grand-Ams, so that’s what I looked for. I found a blue one for sale (Was it in the paper? Did they have Craigslist back then?) I’ve memorialized it as a piece of junk. Maybe that’s just because it developed a clogged catalytic converter just when I had no savings left from buying a house. (Memories are weird. I can’t remember any other problems it had.) Regardless, it felt like a bad decision.

So let’s add fear of failure to my natural indecisiveness - a delightfully paralyzing combination. I scour Craigslist for hours until I can’t remember what I liked and what I didn’t. I cross-check cars with CarFax and Kelley Blue Book, which disagree with each other. I’ve narrowed down my requirements so specifically that nothing fits: a blue or red Honda Civic manual transmission with a sunroof, no older than 2000, no more than 180K miles, no salvage title, no time in a snow state, under $6000. I thought that was a very reasonable list. (It’s about reliability, control, and good gas mileage.) Oh, and power windows. Power locks, cruise control, and some kind of iPhone integration would be nice, but hey, I’m being reasonable.

Doors! Doors are a requirement.


And...nothing. So I try to be less particular - but I have good reasons for everything. Stick-shifts offers control, power, and reliability; automatics are boring and expensive to fix. No, that stays. I live in California, where the morning temperatures beg for a sunroof. I’ve longed for one for 15 years. That stays. Cars before 2000 are ugly, and can’t be relied upon. Not budging. My car shop only services Hondas, Acuras, Toyotas, Lexi, and Hyundaii - not even Nissans -  and I’m not going to look for a new mechanic. Imagine the angst! If I increase my budget, I have to get a loan. I don’t like it. Fine, I could live with a boring color like silver or white. There - that’s being very flexible, right?

Did I mention I already spent $400 not to buy a car? A black 2002 Honda Civic stick-shift with a sunroof and too much rust from living in West Virginia. Yeah, the dealership charged me $300 to take it to my mechanic, who charged me $100 to tell me “car rusty bad”. And don’t mention the $1,000 on rental cars so I can get around and look for a car. (It ticks up by $30 every day. No pressure.)

My Latest Rental

So this weekend I test-drove a used Civic that is a California native. But the upholstery was an ugly squash color and the headliner was detaching from the ceiling. I took a used Accord for a spin, but it was 5 figures for a 10-year old car and the leather seats were hard as rocks. So I looked at new Hyundais and Nissans (on the hottest day of the year) and their auto loans.

I’m so close to being able to go car-less. I can take the light rail to work, but there’s no reasonable way to get to church, my Wednesday night group, or my counselor. At this rate I’ll wind up single-handedly propping up Enterprise Rent-a-Car for the rest of the year, then I’ll buy a brand new luxury car I can’t afford, get cancer from the new-car plastic fumes, lose my job, wipe out my savings, declare bankruptcy and move back to my parents’ basement to work on their goat farm, building fences and de-worming goats. I might as well cut up my drivers license now. But I haven’t decided.