Sunday, September 30, 2007

Change of seasons...

The signs of seasonal change in SF are a bit more subtle than in a four-season climate. But one sure sign is when the summer colors are removed from urban flower beds and replaced with "fall colors". Appropriately, the flower bed pictured above is situated between a Starbucks, Peets, and Tully's...all of which have removed their summer drinks with "fall drinks" of pumpkin.

Of course, you can always mark your calendars by the start of the fall TV season. At least one highlight for us...this week, we caught the season premier of "The Office", which has turned out be one of the most consistently enjoyable shows. (An up-and-coming second favorite is "30 Rock"...which I find amazingly funny.)

On Sunday afternoon, we ate lunch at the Park Chalet, where Golden Gate park meets Ocean Beach. This sunny restaurant is a recent expansion of the popular Beach Chalet. The Park Chalet has a very casual, festive feel...with breezy indoor and outdoor seating. This afternoon, there was a live jazz trio entertaining.

After lunch, we zipped across the street to the beach to see the crowd enjoying the late afternoon sun. I particularly liked the tie-dye salesman (below) with his "magic bus".


This week, I spent a few short days in northern Virginia. As with most of my trips to VA recently, I ended up spending most of my time working virtually with west coast folks. Nevertheless, I did get to catch up with some of my coworkers from across the country. I always enjoy that camaraderie.

An unexpected highlight of the trip was an invitation to watch an MLS soccer game at RFK Stadium. The matchup was D.C. United hosting Chivas USA. (I don't pretend to fully understand the story, but it seems that Chivas is a former Mexican team from Guadalajara that was transplanted to Los Angeles...kinda like the Baltimore Colts packing up and moving Indianapolis, Mexico.) Anyhow, my work buddies Josh and Mark--in the center of the photo below--invited me to join them and another of their season ticket friends to see the game, which was chock full of energy, sound, and color.

(Thanks guys!!)

As James mentioned in one of his posts this week, I did get to VA a day earlier than anticipated and was able to visit with James and Ginger a bit out at the Estate. The TV may have been un-notable, but I sure appreciated the conversation. Oh, and yes, I did get to try out their Wii, and play some Wii Sports bowling and baseball. I certainly wasn't a NATURAL at either game, but what an innovative wonder they are flying off the shelves.

Unfortunately, the McLean Hilton--like most hotels I seem to land in--can be a bit sterile. Now...if they would just put a Wii in every room!!

By the way, a note to United Airlines and their advertising partner NBC: "You have already reduced the size of aircraft to fill every last seat, made upgrades nearly impossible to find, and even taken away the tiny bag of "party mix" you served with drinks. At least provide me with distracting entertainment. That does NOT mean producing an in-flight show advertising NBC's exciting fall lineup...and then showing it three times during the flight. That just pisses me off, and it still won't make me watch "Chuck"...which you showed 2.5-times during the flight."

A rotting bird skull before lunch...

Jeff and I were running errands in the Marina and decided to drive through the Presidio and Lands End to have lunch at the Legion of Honor museum--a little gem focusing on European art, including its popular Rodin sculpture collection. Along the way, we stopped at China Beach...a tiny, tucked-away cove in the Seacliff neighborhood. It was a gray day, so there wasn't much activity on the beach...just a few isolated folks, like this girl feeding the birds.

I think in the next scene, she catches them and pops their heads off.

The Legion of Honor uses the same food concessionaire as the de Young of our favorite lunch the menu is small, but organic and tasty. I tried this yummy Asian salad.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Experimenting with blue cheese...

A tip of my cap to a brave coworker who was bold enough to grab a wedge of blue cheese from a communal cheese platter--the entire wedge, mind you--and to dip the aforementioned wedge into a cup of ketchup...twice.

The look of disgust on his face was classic. The looks of surprise around the rest of the table were priceless.

I suppose you never know where the next great food trend will come from!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Food and wine...

FYI, I'm happy to report that tonight's pot roast turned out wonderfully. I mashed up a tried-and-true, crowd-pleasing recipe from Jeff's mom with some tasty additions from Emeril. The result was easy, but with some punch...primarily from the ten cloves of garlic I buried into crevices in the meat.

The wine was nicely complimented by an Australian red wine that Chris brought us from his recent trip down under.

A week in two parts...

Tonight, the aroma of a slow-roasting savory pot roast is wafting through the house, we're planning our October vacation, and a cool breeze is setting off our wind chimes. Quiet Sunday evenings are the perfect time to reflect on the week past...and wonder where the time flew.

Catching up a bit. Last Sunday, we took a drive with our friend Paolo up to Napa to walk around St. Helena, have lunch in Rutherford, and taste wines along the Silverado Trail. It was the maiden voyage of Jeff's new Audi A4--a classy 'quartz grey'--which we picked up on Saturday.

Tuesday, I flew to Seattle for two nights. I returned to the convenient Seattle Hilton, which is directly across from my team's client office.

Dinner the first night was my usual fun dinner at Two Bells with Jeff--the burgers were particularly good Tuesday. Jeff had to dart off to the airport to pick up his visiting mother, so I switched in Jeff and Molly...two friends of MY Jeff at home in San Francisco. (Anyone confused?) Jeff and Molly and I shared a fine bottle at the Local Vine wine bar.

Dinner #2 was at a cozy local Belltown eatery called Restaurant Zoe...there were no Jeffs involved that evening. I had an amazing wild boar pasta addition to the fine company of my local team who found this little gem of a restaurant.

I did snap this very hazy (and blue) shot of Mt. St. Helens on the way north. I thought it was cool in spite of the poor quality.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bad car-ma...

I think we pissed off the automotive gods this weekend when we replaced Jeff's ten-year-old Taurus with a flashy new Audi A4.

My Avis rental today? Yep...a Taurus. Strangely enough, in ten years, they haven't improved the @*#(@&% turning radius.

Kick me...

Perhaps my senses are heightened (or deadened) when I fly, but I seem to pick out the oddest people. Today's example...on my flight to Seattle.

No sooner had I gotten settled into my comfy aisle the exit row, thank you...when an unassuming woman approaches my row and says "I need to sit in this seat. I'm sorry."

My suspicious reply: "Where is your seat?"

Her reply in troubled English: "Window seat. But I need to sit here. I'm sorry."

So, what the hell. I'm a nice guy. She seemed innocent enough. I figured she was with a partner or group and needed to talk during the flight. I've got my iPod...I'm fine wherever...although I specifically pick aisle seats, because I like to get up and use the restroom without announcing my mid-flight bladder status to strangers.

So. Did the woman get up once during the flight? No. Speak with anyone across the aisle? No. In fact, she slept peacefully through the flight...except for when I had to go to the restroom and had to wake her.

Thank GOODNESS she didn't have to sleep in her assigned seat!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh the humanity...

I received a lovely letter from After Hours Formalwear today--actually an "attempt to collect a debt--informing me that the tuxedo I rented for my brother's wedding had not been returned and that I was being assessed a $10/day late charge.

[Before I proceed...the backstory: I rented the tux in California, picked it up in Michigan, and Cliff's in-laws returned it in Indiana along with his tux. I informed all stores along the way of this plan.]

Soooo, I called the friendly store helper in Michigan, and she confirmed that the tux was not in her system, nor in her store. Then I called Indiana, and they told me the same thing. But both stores said they would "look into it".

Minutes later, I received a call back from Michigan saying that they had found the shirt and pants and vest, but there was no sign yet of the jacket or shoes. They said to call back in a couple of days, and they would keep looking.

To me, this is like stumbling on a bloody crime scene, with dismembered tuxedo parts strewn across the room. CSI is trying to determine which parts go with which tux.

I hope the tux didn't suffer.

So, if you see a jacket or shoes matching this photo--dare I say it...HANDSOME photo--please call your local police.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Those missing days in Michigan and Indiana...happy memories...

Astute Tribulations fans might be wondering what happened to the tales of those latter days in Muskegon at the end of August, our serene drive to Freedom, and --most importantly-- my brother's beautiful wedding.

So, before the memories totally fade away...a few tales...and a few photos. (Let me also give credit to Jeff for taking MOST of these shots...they are magical.)

Our week in Muskegon flew by much more quickly than normal. Not only was our trip cut short on end (due to the wedding), but the beginning was clipped as well by our arduous trip into Chicago.

Nevertheless, even a shortened stay with family is an occasion to unwind and enjoy. We did some of our typical summertime favorites: big family dinners, movie nights, Whippi Dip, and another lazy kayak trip down the White River.

On Friday, Jeff and I flipped families. We re-packed and headed to Indiana for an evening wedding rehearsal with my family. Emily--our Garmin GPS--guided us south along Lake Michigan, west to Gary, Indiana, and then south to Indianapolis. No problems. Then we turned west again, and headed towards Freedom and Spencer.

About 30 miles out from our the midst of endless cornfields...Emily died. Technically, she lost satellite communications, but she might as well have flown out the car window and jumped under a Mack truck. Emily never returned...she still thinks she is on I-70 in Indiana. (Jeff is currently dealing with Garmin on a replacement after hard reboots and firmware upgrades failed.)

In spite of losing Emily to the children of the corn, we arrived at our hotel in Spencer, Indiana...the historic Canyon Inn in McCormick's Creek State Park...where my family converged for Cliff and Jodi's wedding. Jeff, my dad, and I kept Cliff occupied prior to the wedding...Cliff and I even found time for a puppet show in the Nature Center.

The wedding took place in nearby Freedom, Indiana, at the charming United Methodist Church. Jodi's family hosted a reception at the local community hall...where the highlight was CLEARLY my best man toast :) Afterwards, my family re-convened at the Canyon Inn for a quiet evening of conversation by the pool.

On Sunday, we returned to reality...the harsh reality of travel. Let's not dredge up unpleasant memories...let's just say that we hit horrendous traffic in Chicago, missed out flight, were rudely dismissed by United customer "service", and arrived home late...again.

Let's focus on something my nephew Benjamin's laugh :)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Skin City...

We spent Labor Day weekend at the opulent Wynn hotel in Las Vegas. I believe I'm correct that this is the most recently-added hotel on the Strip, and certainly the most overtly fancy...challenging the jewel of the Strip--the Bellagio--for in-your-face luxury. The good news is that our friend Paolo got us a promotional room we could save a bit of money to "invest" in other parts of the weekend :)

The rooms at the Wynn have a clean, contemporary elegance. Without a doubt, the best features of the rooms are the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows, providing unbeatable views of the world.

The highlight of the weekend (for me) was seeing the newest Cirque du Soleil show...The Beatles LOVE at the Mirage. The show is a feast of artistic imagery and Cirque-style acrobatics...all set to a finely crafted soundtrack of Beatles songs. The Beatles blessed this show, and producer George Martin himself oversaw the mixing and mashing of song bits, comical interview quips, and orchestral transitions. The show reminded me of the Beatles' incredible artistic range. Simply amazing.

With daytime temps approaching 105 all weekend, we certainly took advantage of the Wynn's on-property entertainment. The Wynn's signature "crowd luring" feature is its Lake of Dreams, which is center stage for free evening psychedelic music+light+[insert odd animatronics here] shows. We spent one warm evening outdoors at the adjacent Parasol Down lounge sipping beverages and watching dancing frogs, flirtatious flowers, and a giant projected gorilla head singing the Ferris Bueller "Oh Yeah" song.

For indoor entertainment, penny slots were the rule, because they innocently entertain as they slowly siphon off your money. Our clear favorite slot this trip was the whimsical Dam Lumberjack Beavers machine with its playful "Beaver Bonus".

This weekend was chocked full of firsts...including my new shiny finger- and toenails. Yes...I was (pleasantly) talked into my first pedicure, including a life-altering sea salt foot and calf scrub. I got the manicure, because I was under the spell of Angie--my helpful spa chick. I was quite skeptical as I plunged feet into the scented water bath, but I will admit when I'm wrong :) So here is a photo of me posing at the Vegas A&F store after my spa treatment...amazing transformation, huh?

On Saturday evening, I feasted on the best damn hamburger I have ever was also the most expensive. At $32, "The Original NY DB Burger" from the Wynn's Daniel Boulud Brasserie had a lot to live up to. Suffice it to say, this no ordinary burger. Its a sirloin patty stuffed with...get this...braised short ribs, shaved black truffles, and foie gras. And let's not forget the decadent parmesan-topped bun. No condiments or other distractions were necessary...this juicy morsel was fit for the gods. (My delight inspired a return visit the next night, when all four of my table-mates ordered the burger!)

Continuing on my food adventure, I tried the Monty Python-inspired Spamwich for lunch in the Wynn's casino deli. (The Wynn hosts the Vegas rendition of the Broadway hit "Spamalot".) Once again, my tastebuds were surprised by the rich flavors of my meal. Another fantastic warm sandwich on a cheese-topped bun.

Speaking of healthy meals...I did spot one poorly composed sign when we were grabbing lunch one day at the Venetian. Careless linebreaks created a choppy sign that warned "Our food is"..."cooked in"..."100% cholesterol"..."and trans fat". Only the patient reader makes it to the last line that counters with " oil".

Not everything we did involved food. We did spent time both Sunday and Monday by the Wynn's "European style" Sunset Pool...drinking refreshing daiquiris. Sunday afternoon, the pool was wall-to-wall LA guys and gals...and yes, a few "European style" sunbathers.

Leaving Las Vegas was a mixed experience. On one hand, it was certainly nice to get home to cool temps and fewer people. And yet, on reflection, its hard not to love a temporary overloading of the senses...the over-the-top entertainment, artificial extravagance, and of course...the parade of people from all walks of life...all converging for a 24x7 party.