Kansas City

My time in Kansas City was limited, but I still managed to do a few things.

1) Went to a Royals baseball game at Kauffman Stadium (will post separately)
2) Ate barbecue (at Arthur Bryant’s and Fiorella’s Jack Stack)
3) Drank beer at Boulevard Brewing Company (and elsewhere)
4) Visited the National World War I Museum and Memorial

The barbecue was most excellent. And I learned about a new meaty item – burnt ends! Legit.

Kansas City has the National WWI Museum and Memorial (read: this country’s official museum). Why you might ask? Shouldn’t it be in Washington, DC?

Well, the story goes that one week saw 400 Kansas City residents killed in battle and the city put up a memorial for those soldiers. They continued to raise private funds and expanded over the years.

The memorial and a small museum opened in 1926; and the museum exploded in size in 2006. The museum is worth visiting, as it’s jam-packed with all manner of WWI propaganda, war-time items, tanks, planes, movies and interactive displays. The coolest part was a life-size recreation of a trench that you can only view through little portals or holes. Go.

Finally I drank some suds at Boulevard Brewing Company downtown, whose operation and tasting room are booming (since 1989)! After the Royals game and a significant lightning storm (full sky lightning strikes!), I went downtown to Double Shift Brewing Company until the power went out and they shooed people out.

Photo time.

Continue reading “Kansas City”

Five Random Photos Shared for December ’15

Let’s just say December involved a lot of football; either watching on TV, attending a game or playing flag football.

Make merry and check out a few examples.
UW Flag Football team
2015-12-06 11.23.24

 

Seahawks at CenturyLink Field
2015-12-20 15.17.04

 

Seahawks at MT&T Stadium in Baltimore
2015-12-13 13.06.29

 

Snowy cabin
2015-12-29 11.07.54

 

Any beer called Reign Man ESB is okay by me (7 Seas Brewery)
2015-12-23 17.43.25

 

Food Bonus!

Ramen in Portland
2015-12-29 13.25.21

 

Seattle dog
2015-12-20 11.16.17

 

More beer
2015-12-28 13.02.47

 

Extra Extra Bonus!

Nick Offerman’s Yule Log is okay by me
2015-12-06 13.27.46

Five Random Photos Shared in September ’15

A dark beer for a wet day…
Snallygaster 2015

 

Ohhh, orangish!
Malaysian Candles

 

Let’s eat a Walking Taco (slop in a bag) and play with our bobbleheads.
Walking Taco and Bobblehead

 

Something is over there, hope it’s not a bear.
Hiking

 

Nice tombstone.
Nice Tombstone

 

BONUS!!!

Busch Stadium (St. Louis)
2015-09-26 17.05.50

 

Eat it? I did.
Cendol

 

So cute.
So Cute

Five Random Photos Shared (after) July ’15

I’ve missed the boat and failed to share five extremely useless photos. Are you sad?

No? That’s what I thought. Oh well, no time like the present to correct such an egregious error.

P.S. No 4th of July photos, because that’s been done.

P.S.S. No good photos, because I don’t do those.

 

Some beer I needed to drink.
Beer

 

Mudhoney screaming at me. Read about their show if you dare. Mudhoney

 

Use the ‘trike’ and you know you’ll be safe!
Trike in Boracay

 

This existed for a brief time in the Seoul Airport, but unfortunately went in my belly. I still don’t know why.
Tasty?

 

This exists. Humanity has won. Their contribution to this planet has reached the pinnacle.
Philippines Toilet

 

Bonus? Bonus.

 

Witnessing the Presidents race on the 4th of July.
President's Race

 

Good tip.
Atlas Brew Works cans

 

 

Five Random Photos Shared in June ’15

Photos get taken. Photos get posted.

I winnowed it down to the least offensive. The least interesting. The least of the least.

That is the least I could do. Quite literally.

 

I’m so flushed. On the plus side, the urinal will electric shock you for a nickel.
Toilet Story

 

When it’s wrong, it’s wrong.
The Wrong Tree

 

Bobbleheads and rain.
Nationals + bobbleheads + rain

 

For the record, I did not die during that 1 minute of panic.
Gimme Shelter

 

The photo is not blurry. You are drunk.
Red, White & Brew

 

I’m hungry. Let’s get an empanada.
Plate of Empanada

Out!

550 for January-April: Miles

I’m a little slow in posting this goal.

I guess you can say I’ve been doing other things… And I have been working on this goal since January, but I can report I’m woefully behind. Woefully. A March Madness miracle is in order.

I do have the 50K One Day Hike in late April to look forward to, along with a few training hikes, so maybe that will be the difference!

 

Goal for January-April: Hike, run or bike 550 miles total. Just do it.

 

Just a hike in the land Down Under
Just a hike in the land Down Under

 

____________________________________________________

My last goal was in December. Let’s peek at how I fared.

Goal for December: Do all 11 items on my freshly minted To Do List.

Total: 9 (out of 11)

Result: Fail!

 

December To Do List

  1. Touch snow – I would say go skiing, but my back may not have recovered enough by then. Result: No. I could have driven an hour and stuffed frigid snow down someone’s back. But I didn’t. Instead, upon my return to DC, it snowed.
  2. Attend two Seattle Seahawks games – One in Philadelphia and one in Seattle. Result: Boom, son! Done!
  3. Grace Portland, OR or Vancouver, B.C. with my presence – They both need it! Result: Indeed. I hit up Portland for an evening of…stuff. I believe alcohol and karaoke reared their ugly heads. Don’t quote me.
  4. Watch two Oscar buzz movies in the theater – With extra butter. Result: Yep. Wild and Unbroken.
  5. Take a hike – I need to find out what bears do in the woods. Result: True. I did a quick 8-mile jaunt along the Foothills Trail in Orting.
  6. Eat a Dick’s Drive-In (Seattle) Deluxe burger – Eat it! Result: I ate it.
  7. Try 10 new beers – AKA beers I’ve not had the pleasure or displeasure of drinking before. Result: This I did in abundance. I should get extra credit, because I had about 25 new beers…but who can remember?
  8. Eat at Thai Tom (Seattle) – Or any Thai restaurant on this Seattle Times list. Result: No. I tried, but the line to get in was out the door. So I went to a different Thai restaurant a few blocks away.
  9. Visit Two Beers Brewing Co. (Seattle) – Or any brewery I haven’t yet visited in Seattle. Result: Burp.
  10. Visit one Espresso Vivace coffee shop (Seattle) – Or any coffee shop from this King 5 list around Washington state. Result: Sipped! 
  11. Wild Card – Add something awesome when I think of it. Result: I can add anything here, right? Well, I’ll put down the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, because it is crazy excess for coffee lovers.

 

Starbucks or something like it.
Starbucks or something like it.

peace!

Five Random Photos Shared in July ’14

Just a view on a run
Just a view on a run

 

Yards Park at dusk. Don't go into the light...
Yards Park at dusk. Don’t go into the light…

 

Your wish is my command!
Your wish is my command!

 

Don't worry, I did.
Don’t worry, I did.

 

Last softball game in the shadows of the tallest obelisk.
Last softball game in the shadows of the tallest obelisk.

Startlingly Life-Changing Innovations

Allow yourself to bask in the astonishing glory of the following life-changing innovations.

The shelf above the men’s urinals – Great for your beer, your plane tickets, your coffee, or anything in your hands at the time of cozying up to the urinal. Two hands are needed. Resting anything directly on the urinal itself is unacceptable.

Nerf guns – Don’t hide. I want to shoot you.

Clotted cream – Slather it on your scones along with robust amounts of strawberry jam and a spot of tea on the side, and you get Cream Tea. The best food to ever come out of England. Now why don’t they make this in the USA?http://www.365connections.com/assets/cream_tea_los_cristianos_tenerife.jpg

Sappo – A crazy game I played in Colombia that involves throwing metal discs into a metal frog’s mouth. Exciting after two carafes of aguardiente. Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop.

Sappo
Sappo

Sports Illustrated 3D Swimsuit Edition – Eye popping. I assume.

Plastic coffee lids that close – Finally! I won’t have to spill coffee everywhere while walking or driving or sitting still!

http://www.tiphero.com/img/tip_pages/coffee_lid.jpg

Pumpkin beer – Pumpkin pie, life-changing. Beer, life-changing. Pouring it in my mouth, glorious.

Lists – The best way to provide extremely valuable content with the least amount of effort.

Keep up!

Five Random Photos Shared in December

Merry merry and happy happy!

We always take the long way home
We always take the long way home
The jokes just write themselves!
The jokes just write themselves!
Seahawks clinch the NFC West Division and #1 seed
Seahawks clinch the NFC West Division and #1 seed
Tailgating in frigid New Jersey
Tailgating in frigid New Jersey
May all your Bitch IPAs be hoppy and crazy
May all your Bitch IPAs be hoppy and crazy
Merry Christmas! (P.S. This a bonus photo just for you!)
Merry Christmas! (P.S. This a bonus photo just for you!)

Random To Do List 2013: Washington State

Whenever I return to Washington state (usually during the holiday season), there are certain things I must do, drink or eat. These are not possible in Washington, D.C.

(Author’s note: To avoid lyrical confusion, henceforth: Washington = Washington state. D.C. = Washington, D.C.)

Cut out this list for future reference.

  1. Teriyaki – Dear D.C., you don’t do teriyaki. Why? No idea. So I must get my fix in Washington.
  2. Mac & Jack’s African Amber – Only available in the Pacific Northwest via draft (or kegs from their brewery). Must drink.
  3. Dick’s Drive-In burgers – One Deluxe and one Special. I crave them.
  4. Drive-up coffee stands – No such thing exists in the D.C. area (or the East Coast from what I’ve seen), yet you can’t throw a rock without hitting one of these places in Washington.
  5. Seahawks game – I need to use at least one of my season tickets and go to CenturyLink Field to cheer on the SeaGals…errrr Seahawks!
  6. Skiing – Good places to ski are few near D.C., so I always do at least one skiing trip in Washington (sometimes Whistler…). Lately I’ve gone to White Pass.
  7. Pyramid Snow Cap Ale – What, another beer? Yes!

Happy holidays

Contemporary Excursions to Defy a Shutdown

My random goal in October was to explore Washington, D.C. How did I do? You decide.

October Goal: Visit 12 new places in Washington, D.C.

Total: 20 new places

Result: Success! (Actually, I decide)

Analysis: The government shutdown between October 1-16 made this quest a tad difficult at first, but I still invaded most of the places I had on my ‘to go’ list. They ranged from music venues to restaurants to libraries to breweries and more. Let’s dig deep.

Music venues (3)

  • The Hamilton Live – A friend’s band was one of the openers. A nice space to enjoy a show.
  • Kennedy Center Millennium Stage – Every evening at 6pm they do a free performance. Now I’ve finally been to one.
  • Lincoln Theatre – Recently re-opened, I went to see Neko Case on Halloween night. She dressed up as a pirate or something like it.

Restaurants/bars (8)

  • Ninella – A fine, cozy Italian restaurant in the heart of eastern Capital Hill (next to Lincoln Park).
  • Crios Modern Mexican – They offered a special event dedicated to pumpkin beers. Obviously, I went.
  • Mari Vanna – This Russian restaurant looks like your grandmother’s living room, with doilies, bric-a-brac, curtains and chandeliers (of bottles). Have the pumpkin soup. Invite your grandmother.
  • Black Whiskey – A bar on 14th St NW with a monthly 80’s dance party. The Angel will treat you right!
  • Red Rocks Neopolitan Bistro – Now the largest restaurant in the Atlas District (H St NE), overtaking the Biergarten Haus, this has a nice set-up and a roof deck with a bar. The pizza was decent, but I’m more enamored with the place. They have 1/2 price pizza on Tuesdays…could be convinced to go…
  • Mama Chuy DC – Damn good tacos! Damn good. Get the carnitas tacos. Trust me.
  • Neopol Savory Smokery (at Union Market) – Smoked Salmon BLT. Yes and thank you!
  • &pizza (on U St NW) – The second location of this excellent pizza place (the first one is on H St NE) that they make and bake right in front of you.

Food trucks (3)

  • DC Quesadilla and Wraps – No surprises, I had a quesadilla. Not bad.
  • El Fuego – Peruvian food done right. Must go back.
  • Chitti Chitti Grill – Bang. Bang. Tacos and subs.

Breweries/Beerfests (3)

  • Atlas Works Brewery – The 4th and newest production brewery to open in D.C. (after DC Brau, 3 Stars and Chocolate City). They still only have a small number of beers (three when I went, but they’ve since added a fourth), but they have a solid tasting room set-up and I like the art they’ve designed, especially the scorpion logo for their NSFW (Double Black IPA).
  • Bluejacket Brewery – After much anticipation and hype, this well-appointed new brewery and restaurant (called the The Arsenal) \opened near the Nationals Park. I went the second night. 25 beers on draft (that they make on-site or collaborate to make)! It’s a worthy entry to the D.C. beer scene.
  • Snalleygaster Beerfest 2013 (at Union Market parking lot) – A beastly beer jamboree, you pay for entry, a mug and 25 beer/food tickets. Once you ran out of tickets, you better have been prepared to buy more because 200 different beers don’t drink themselves! The main drawback was no all you can drink for a set price…full beers and tasters ranged from $3-$9 each, so it got expensive quick! Seriously, what else are you going to spend your money on?

Other (3)

  • Library of Congress Reading Room – This was #1 on my list when I thought of this random goal. The shut down almost thwarted me, but I prevailed and snuck in to ‘do research’. You actually have to acquire a Library of Congress – Reader ID to enter. And then meander through a maze of hallways and elevators just to find the ‘researcher’ entrance.
  • Folgers Shakespeare Library – Learn about Shakespeare. Did. Watch a play. Didn’t.
  • Banneker Tennis Courts – The lights went out before I could mount my comeback! I ended up losing an unfinished match, 6-4, 4-6, 3-5. And I was leading 40-15 in the game.

Baltimore and Billy Goat Bonus!

These don’t count, because they are not in D.C., but they were still new places for me in October.

  • Heavy Seas Alehouse (Baltimore, MD) – Beer in Baltimore. Okay!
  • The Sound Garden (Baltimore, MD) – Baltimore’s best music store!
  • Billy Goat Trail (Great Falls, MD) – A fine place to hike and get a view of nature on a crisp Autumn day. Check out some photos.
I say now, damn good tacos at Mama Chuy!
I say now, damn good tacos at Mama Chuy!
Library of Congress Reading Room - No photos allowed
Library of Congress Reading Room – No photos allowed
Snalleygaster beer to mouth delivery mechanism
Snalleygaster beer to mouth delivery mechanism
I'm official
I’m official
That's DC
That’s DC

Stay open!

Foolproof Guide to Drinking a Pumpkin Beer

Once in awhile I work for you.

When presented with a microwavable meal, I fear I’ll mess it up. So I follow the cooking instructions on the box with great care, never deviating from its detailed, yet non-condescending, path.

I want you to also have that experience. Here is a foolproof guide that will lead you down the most successful of all paths, where the destination is to drink pumpkin beer.

I know it can get tricky. It may seem overwhelming. Never fear, with this guide you will drink the beer!

You are welcome!

Step 1: Purchase pumpkin beer

Step1

Step 2: Acquire beer appropriate glassware

Step2

Step2a

Step 3: Open beer bottle

Step3

Step 4: Pour contents of beer bottle into glassware

Step4

Step 5: Admire your work

Step5

Step 6: Put glassware to your lips and imbibe

(For legal reasons, photo removed)

Step 7: Repeat steps 3-6 as needed

Enjoy!

Fenway Park

As the Boston Red Sox are in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, let’s muse on my recent visit to Fenway Park in Boston.

My quest to see a game in all MLB stadiums continues. Only seven more to go (San Diego, Colorado, Arizona, St. Louis, Kansas City, Houston and Texas).

Fenway Park (Boston, Massachusetts) – Home of the Boston Red Sox

Highs

  • Right in the heart of the Fenway neighborhood and near the Back Bay neighborhood, it’s the perfect place to watch a game and find a drink after (say at….The Baseball Tavern or Yard House – with a mere 150 beers on tap).
  • Cozy is the word. Very quaint (capacity is 37,400) compared to most other parks.
  • Old school design with green everywhere. I like how the concession areas are loudly labeled with arrows so you don’t go astray. Clamoring ‘Beer and nuts’, ‘Cold Beer’, ‘Pizza’ and ‘Burgers and Fries’.
  • The Italian sausage was solid. The beer was wet and frothy.

Lows

  • Boston squeaked by the lowly Chicago White Sox, 4-3, after almost blowing a 4-0 lead.
  • The Green Monster (the name of the wall in left field) is iconic lexicon in baseball. But not that interesting…although it does date back to the original 1912 design. And it had a longer history as not green and known as ‘The Wall’.
  • Wally the Green Monster (official mascot) is unnecessary. Stop that.
  • The bleacher seats are like squeezing into a matchbox. The guy in front of me gesticulated his arm into my space to talk at someone nearby and knocked my beer, spilling 18.7% on my lap (I measured). Not complete disaster as I didn’t lose all my beer and I don’t care what I smell like.

Verdict: In the top 3 or 4 of all 26 stadiums I’ve visited. But not the best! I haven’t really tried to rank them all. Someday.

It’s a home run!

Welcome to Fenway!
Welcome to Fenway!

Go

View from the bleachers
View from the bleachers
Play ball
Play ball
Just follow the sign
Just follow the sign
It's about that time
It’s about that time
Stop that, Wally
Stop that, Wally
Green Monster
Green Monster

Next up: PNC Park

Reflections, Ruminations and Results

All you need to know – April was a success. Unfortunately for you, I never end my posts so abruptly or concisely.

April Goal: Do a bunch of random things in multiples of five.

Result: Success!

Things I committed to

  1. Five hikes of over five miles – Yes I did!
  2. Run five times over 5,555 feet – Yes I did!
  3. Attend five concert sets of five songs or more – Yes I did!
  4. Play in five sports games/matches (softball and volleyball) – Yes I did!
  5. Watch five movies (In honor of Roger Ebert) – Yes I did!

Things I added

  1. Unlock five Foursquare badges – Yes I did!
  2. Drink five new beers – Yes I did!

Reflections

None at this time, thanks for asking.

Ruminations

I’m weird.

Results

Five hikes of over five miles – I did hikes of 5, 5, 13, 15 and 31 miles. Total = 5 hikes (69 miles)

Run five times over 5,555 feet – I ran 1.25, 1.50, 1.50, 2 and 1.50. Total = 5 runs (7.75 miles)

Attend five concert sets of five songs or more – Stay tuned for a full report on the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. Total = 25 concert sets

Play in five sports games/matches (softball and volleyball) – I played in three volleyball matches and three softball games. Total = 6 matches/games

Watch five movies (In honor of Roger Ebert) – I watched Red Dawn (2012), Swing Time, Girl Rising, Life of Pi and The Dark Knight Rises. Total = 5 movies

Unlock five new Foursquare badges – I unlocked the Fixer Upper, Schmear, AT&T Final Four Fanatic 2013, 4sqDay 2013 and Coachella 2013 badges. Total = 5 badges

Five new beers – I started using the app UNTAPPD to track beers I’ve tried. Total = 15 new beers

peace and merriment and to all a good night

Five for April

The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2012 (Robust Edition)

Happy Holidays. I hope you had a (insert hyperbole here) year. Wait, you say, isn’t the time to give season greetings past?!?! It’s well into 2013 and we have better things to do.

To that I say, this letter has been strategically timed to arrive at the exact moment you least want it but most need it. This has nothing to do with procrastination nor laziness on my part. All part of the plan. Enough pleasantries.

Seven years ago (2006) the first Christmas letter snuck under your tree (mistletoe?) and regaled all that would listen with a smug, self-centered yet snarky update of my year. The holiday greeting card equivalent of fruitcake. No one wants it, but everyone keeps looking at it wondering who will be the first to take a bite. The subsequent four years didn’t get any better. If anything, I baked a fruitier cake with each passing year. Last year I took a sabbatical (approved word for lazy). This year will be different. It has to be. Fruitcake goes bad eventually.

Let’s journey together and reminisce about (a robust) 2012. I alphabetized this letter so it would be easier to skip ahead to letter Z and get back to your regularly scheduled program. I added some color to make the blurbs more festive. They need it.

Arch – As in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I attended an extravagant wedding in Biehle, Missouri (1-1/2 hours south of St. Louis). The wedding combined both Catholic and Hindu traditions into one unique (but long!) ceremony. Then a bottomless bar and food at the family ‘house’ (with two lakes, woods, a tree fort, a tractor museum, a train for kids and a ‘gazebo’ – read: small house overlooking a lake) made for a fine reception. Oh and I did go to the top of the Gateway Arch on the way to the airport.

Bangkok – I keep finding myself here. What to do? Ascend to the rooftop bars and restaurants (Sirocco, Above 11, Long Table and more) for breathtaking city views, food and drink? Okay. Cruise on the Chao Praya river, gliding past Wat Arun, the Grand Palace and more temples while feasting buffet-style, snapping blurry photos and dancing? Check. A foot massage? Why not. Eat the delicious and spicy food – whether on the street or in a restaurant? Yeah. Hit the Chatuchak Weekend Market and get lost among the 5,000 stalls and shops? Sure. Try a VIP movie experience of Argo? You’re welcome, Ben. Hoist pints of Singha and Chang beers? Done. And done.

Cabins – A cabin needs a name. I gravitated to an assortment of cabins this year. Whether it overlooked the Columbia River Gorge (The Cabin in Mosier), or nestled two miles into the woods of Northern Virginia (Myron Glaser Cabin), or was replete with Christmas tree and decorations only minutes drive from Washington’s White Pass Ski Resort (Mountain Mist Chalet), or kept the Northern California summer nights and frogs at bay (Manzanita Cabin), I was there.

DerechoLike a low blow to the groin, the storm known as a derecho hit Washington, D.C. in June with furious determination. Not even Hurricane Sandy matched its destructive force (I speak only of DC). Crazy winds. Downed trees. Crushed cars. Flying trash cans. That type of day.

Extra Innings – For those in the know (by now…maybe you?), I am questing to see a baseball game in every Major League ballpark. Marlins Park (Miami), Citi Field (New York), O.2 Coliseum (Oakland) and AT&T Park (San Francisco) all claimed my cash and attention this year. Only nine stadiums left.

FireflyDover, Delaware gave us the first annual Firefly Music Festival in July. With headliners like Jack White, The Killers and The Black Keys, this had a fierce cacophony of rock and roll that a seven nation army couldn’t hold back. Three days of bands, beer, food and camping. And after a short respite to the beach to re-charge, more bands and beer.

Goals (Random) – I was bored one day. Hard to imagine, but so. I concocted a plan to do a new ‘random goal’ each month. I went 5-2 (success/failure) in the seven months I did it. Then the ideas dried up and I woke as if from a dream…with a tattoo of a wiener dog on my ankle. Or was that just a real wiener dog nosing my ankle to go outside and stop messing around? See the Goals.

Halloumi – Enter any restaurant in Cyprus and chances are you will find fried cheese (halloumi) on the menu. Order it. That’s the best advice I can give you. Besides gorging on cheese, I explored the beaches of Larnaca and Limassol and wandered the city of Nicosia with the help of a local. I avoided crossing into the Turkish side of the country because I feared there would be no halloumi.

Infiltrator – Let’s call my sister an ‘infiltrator’ after visiting DC for the first time in May. I made her ride the Capital Bikeshare bikes all over the city and tag along to two softball games. We visited many places and other things happened. It ended well. She survived to tell the tale. I hope.

Jazz (All That)A weekend in New York should include a baseball game, a jazz concert, more live music, bar crawling, and a wander about to see such sights as the Empire State Building, the new 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, and Central Park. Also, don’t forget to meander the warrens and streets of Chelsea, Brooklyn, SoHo and Midtown. Eat as much as possible. Maybe some Italian? Or Korean? Or Thai? Doesn’t matter, just eat it and enjoy.

Kayaking – For one week I learned how to white water kayak (in the middle of nowhere Northern California). Our river time was on the Klamath River, but the Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School rested next to the Salmon River. After a long day on the river, there was time to snorkel with the grown and fingerling salmon, cliff jump from dizzying heights, eat amazing food, imbibe homemade margaritas and play Settlers of Catan. Then back on the water. No time to rest.

ListsEvery year I make a bunch of lists to commemorate my best in movies, books, sports and music. They are popular with the ‘me’ set. You can read them too, but it’s better if you just get this letter over and do something fun.

Miami – I hopped down to South Beach in Miami for a weekend. Mission: See a baseball game in the Marlins’ new stadium, eat lots of Cuban food and generally make a nuisance of myself. What happens in South Beach, stays in Vegas…oops, that’s not right…let’s just say, I succeeded.

No more! – Is this never-ending Christmas letter finished yet? Nope. Twelve letters in the alphabet to go…brace yourself.

One Day HikeA minor hike done in a single day. Okay, it’s actually 50 kilometers (or 31.1 miles), but who’s complaining? I finished this mostly flat trek in just over 9 hours. Intact. Yet not without pain.

Paris (Gay) – Cue traditional French music…opening scene: an American (me) climbing the Eiffel Tower. Wandering aimlessly in the maze that is the Louvre. Walking about the city, capturing photographic evidence of the Arc de Triomphe and other famous landmarks. Floating gracefully down the Seine river (boat included).  Nibbling $4 macaroons and chewing cheese and butter baguettes. Taking in the bustle and toy sailboats of the Jardin de Luxembourg. Closing scene: a bewildered American in a wine and cheese infused stupor, slumped at a sidewalk café, never to leave. Music fades…

Quad biking – My work has a hard time avoiding the Lukenya Getaway for meetings. It’s secluded, and far outside of the city limits of Nairobi, Kenya. There are actual wild animals roaming around – giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and more – that you can see as you jog or walk down the dirt roads nearby. One day we took some quad bikes for a spin in the bush. At least one person (not me) crashed into a tree…

Running – My favorite use of running is to escape a mother bear protecting its cub. My second favorite use is to not run at all. Sadly, I didn’t get to use it for either purpose this year. I did run the Semper Fi 5K and a number of other 5Ks on my own. I also tried running more in general (to my chagrin), often running along the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. The beauty of the Mall at night makes it hard to complain. But I will.

Sommelier – I had quite a time gallivanting about for tastings and tours at wineries in California, Washington and Oregon. I toured Napa Valley for the first time, hitting such wineries as: Rutherford Ranch Winery, V. Sattui Winery, Franciscan Oakville Estates and Andretti Winery before hopping on the ferry back to San Francisco. I also hit a few wineries in Washington state near Leavenworth: Wedge Mountain Winery, Cascadia Winery and Icicle Ridge Winery.

Tea (Improper) – In England, I improperly raised my pinky finger while drinking a spot of tea. The Brits gave me a wide berth. Yet when I wasn’t drinking tea, I jaunted about London just before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (celebrating 60 years as the Queen!) started. I also spent some time in the (robust) towns of Northampton and Woking, enjoying such places as the Racecourse and the War of the Worlds statue.

UDub (Alumni) – I played three sports with our University of Washington Alumni – DC chapter in the Capital Alumni Network (CAN). Flag football, volleyball and softball. Our flag football team did well, advancing to the third round of the playoffs. Our volleyball team did okay but with our softball team – let’s just say, we had fun. I was also voted to be the ‘Sports Chair’ on our DC Alumni chapter board. We also played volleyball during spring, summer AND fall with the Metro Sports League. I did not receive any varsity letters…sniff.

Victory (Sweet) – The Seattle Seahawks had quite a year. For the first time since I moved to Washington, D.C., I was able to attend more than one game. I saw three games at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. They won all three, including a terrific beat down of the eventual Super Bowl losers, San Francisco 49ers (42-13). I left hoarse, while riding my high horse. 

Whirlyball – A weekend trip to Toronto to honor the dearly departed from bachelorhood (also known as a stag party in Canadian parlance) saw four rousing rounds of whirlyball (like lacrosse but on bumper cars – look it up), Japanese izakaya and a jovial amount of adult beverages. Back to whirlyball…my team won all four rounds!

XenophileI travel a fair bit (if you skipped to end of this letter, just take my word for it) and mostly I enjoy it. Here are some stats from 2012: Countries visited = 6. US states visited = 9. Flight segments =35. Airports =21. Time away from home – 2-1/2 months (roughly). Cavity searches = 0.

YosemiteCar camping is all the rage. Just don’t do it in Yosemite National Park. The Park Rangers will find you. And shine the bright light of reality in your face. And then boot you from the park. After spending a night in my car (outside the park), I persisted the next morning and hiked the High Sierra Loop Trail, where I took magical photos of Vernal and Nevada falls, as well as Half Dome, Liberty Cap and anything else that got in my way. Magical in the robustest sense of the word. 

ZymurgyI don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer…wait a second…I do always drink beer! Except when at a winery. Or in Paris. This year I enjoyed many types of beer at many places. For example, at the first Living Social Beer Fest in DC. All you can drink in three hours from twenty-five breweries (each offering 2-3 selections). I also visited the following breweries: Deschutes (OR), Lost Coast (CA), 21st Amendment (CA), Triple Rock (CA) and Magnolia (CA). Burp.

End transmission.

Bonus: My Favorite Blog Posts of the Year (so you can re-read them, of course)

  1. Paris in Photos and Other Moveable Feasts 
  2. Yosemite National Park Survival Tips
  3. Keep on Food Truckin’
  4. 25 for May: Firsts (In Hindsight)
  5. D.C., Which Photographs Well
  6. Reflections, and Other Reasons Mom Washed Out My Mouth With Soap

2013-03-05_1656

Firefly Music Festival 2012

The first annual Firefly Music Festival took place from July 20-22, 2012 in Dover, Delaware. I was there.

I saw 18 sets in three days. 10 of the artists were for the first time, most notable – Jack White and The Killers. There were four stages that rotated acts, so there were always two shows going on at once.

Here, with minimal restraint, is what went down.

The Good

1) The Killers, Black Keys, Jack White, Walk the Moon, CAKE and Grouplove

2) The Brewery – A beer garden that served Dogfish Head beers for $8, including one made for this festival, the Firefly Ale. I was partial to the 9% ABV Midas Touch.

3) Towers Beach – We needed a break after two days of music, so on Sunday morning we drove just south of Dewey Beach for a swim and a few rounds of cards in the sand. Afterwards we had fish tacos at El Dorado. Tasty.

4) The weather – It was overcast the entire time, but no real rain. Only a misting here and there. I expected to be hot and bothered and get some serious sun on my pale skin. This was perfect.

5) Seven Nation Army – After Jack White’s Friday night performance, everyone hummed the refrain from ‘Seven Nation Army’ as we walked through the woods to the exit. Even better, everyone did it again after The Killers’ show on Saturday.

The Bad

1) The Felice Brothers

2) The phone recharging stations – A good idea, but they didn’t have enough ports to keep up with the demand. The generator feeding the power was seriously overloaded. 45 minutes to get 15% more power? Bah humbug.

3) Camping – The three nights in a tent itself wasn’t so bad. But the campsites were tiny and packed together like monkeys in a barrel. One of the workers was so clueless he almost gave away half of our site to park more cars. Luckily someone with sense came by and told him to stand down.

4) Hammock Hangout – Could be a good idea but way too small. And who knows where the people using the hammocks have been…

The Ugly

1) Glamping – $1000 for 3 nights of pampered camping? We saw no one partaking. It looked like the barracks of a Civil War army. Minus the horses. And the soldiers.

Friday

  1. The Wallflowers – A live version of ‘One Headlight’ to kick us off. ‘She always had a pretty face’.
  2. OK Go – A decent set. They even broke out their treadmills during their hit song ‘Here It Goes Again’.
  3. Walk The Moon – These guys are good. This was the second time I’ve seen them in 2012 and among the top five performances of the festival.
  4. Silversun Pickups – This guys are a bit of Smashing Pumpkins-lite, which I like. Good show.
  5. Jack White – After a bit of sound trouble with the first few songs, they fixed it and Jack crushed us with his guitar riffs. A seven nation army could NOT hold him back. 

Saturday

  1. Imagine Dragons – I had not heard these guys before this, but enjoyed the songs and will definitely check them out.
  2. The Felice Brothers – Ugh. Hated it.
  3. Grouplove – By far and away the most enthusiastic band of the whole festival. ‘Tongue Tied’ really got the crowd pumped up for the rest of the day.
  4. Young the Giant – I was looking forward to seeing these guys at the 9:30 Club earlier in the year – that show was just okay. This show was kind of boring after the energy of Grouplove.
  5. CAKE – In a haze of weed and flower girls dancing, CAKE went the distance. And it was good.
  6. Trampled by Turtles – Was starting to get antsy so probably didn’t give this my full attention. But I was not bowled over.
  7. Modest Mouse – They rocked hard. Not my thing though.
  8. The Killers – The best show of the festival. In addition to the great music, they had the most extensive light show and stage act (with fireworks!).

Sunday

  1. Mariachi El Bronx – Entertaining.
  2. Fitz and the Tantrums – Starting to lose my attention. Too much music. I wasn’t in to it.
  3. Death Cab for Cutie – Good but not the best performance I’ve seen by them.
  4. The Flaming Lips – The most eccentric and biggest spectacle of the festival. Wayne Coyne crowd surfed in a human hamster ball (of course). Stage singers dressed up like the Wizard of Oz characters (hello Dorothy!). Confetti. Beach balls. Although it was entertaining, I’m not a huge fan of the music.
  5. The Black Keys – The second time I saw them in 2012. The first time at Merriweather Post Pavilion was better, but this was definitely among the best sets of the festival and a good way to end.
Welcome to Firefly
Welcome to Firefly
Have a brew
Have a brew
Grouplove
Grouplove
The Lawn Stage
The Lawn Stage
Teeming hordes
Teeming hordes

Crowd

The beach
The beach
No waves today
No waves today
Flaming Lips Exploding
Flaming Lips Exploding
Human hamster ball
Human hamster ball

Human hamster ball 2

The Black Keys
The Black Keys
Group shot
Group shot #

peace

# Photo courtesy of Mike O’Brien

God Save the Queen (Revived)

Update: I spent another week in Newport Pagnell in July and had a chance to take a few photos to replace the ones I lost. I added them below, so enjoy!

With church bells pealing away to the tune of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ (or more precisely ‘God Save the Queen’ since the same tune – different words – is England’s national anthem), I strolled through the small village of Newport Pagnell in the borough of Milton Keynes, England. Along the way, I spied a grand church with an ancient graveyard. I spied a peaceful river surrounded by walking paths and weeping willows. I spied curry and Thai food. I spied pubs. And I spied random things. Let’s take a look*, shall we?

Bells of Peter & Paul Parish Church (http://www.newportpagnellbells.co.uk/home) – someone decided that the peals of normal church bells were not sufficient in tiny Newport Pagnell. So in comes a variety of melodies on the hour to entice the common folk to greater things. ‘God Save the Queen’ was the gift the bells gave us during our stay.

 

Parish Church

 

 

 

River Ouzel – two small rivers oozing together, with walking paths, rows of weeping willows, a cemetary and a park all bookending the proceedings. Peaceful.

Duck, duck, goose

 

Weeping willows

 

Aston Martin – back in the 1950’s, Newport Pagnell was the heart of Aston Martin. Its factory, on Tickford Street, churned out all Aston Martin cars until they moved recently. Sadly, I didn’t get to drive a DB5.

Tickford Bridge – built in 1810, it is the only iron bridge left in Britain still carrying main road traffic. While crossing, pause just long enough to take in the silhouette of the Church at sunset.

Graveyard – ancient and moss-covered with the traditional flat front, round top head stones you might see in an old Frankenstein movie.

 

 

 

Indian food – there are by various accounts, around 5-6 Indian restaurants in this small village. That’s a lot of curry and vindaloo. The place we chose to ingest naan was in the middle of an immigration incident. By this, I mean there were six fully riot-gear suited and armed immigration officers in the dining area, concentrating on huge piles of paper and forms, while the owner stood by sweating and pacing. We witnessed no actual arrests. And after all that fuss, the food was just average.

Frog & Nightgown pub – I’m sure the stories behind names of British pubs are rooted in something akin to humor and history, but this name is a classic. What level of drunkenness does it take to visualize a frog with a nightcap and nightgown? Oh wait, you could just look at their sign. This pub is conveniently located within the hotel we stayed at (The Swan Revived). We failed to step lively for the boisterously crowded Pub Quiz night, but did have a more sedate pint on another quiet night.

Frog & Nightgown Pub
 
Of frogs and pints

 

Mini-roundabouts – such a cute white circle, slightly raised, in a normal intersection that acts as the main traffic control system of the downtown streets. I can’t imagine this working too well in the USA.

Such a cute roundabout

 

Newport Pagnell High Street

 

Random stairway to…nowhere – (photo here*) this piece of architectural genius can only be seen to be believed. After a rather unfortunate remodeling venture (one assumes), there remains a small 3 step, carpeted staircase about 1-1/2 feet wide that leads into the wall behind. You could stand in it if you were so inclined. I wasn’t.

Let's hire this architect

 

The Cannon pub – (photo here*) with old school locals welcoming visitors and grinning into their pints, you probably can’t get more British than this. As you sipped your warm, frothy pint the game was to stop staring longingly at the paintings of epic sea battles of British ships of the line, cannons blazing, adorning its back walls. Proper pub, this.

 

* Author’s Note: I dropped my laptop, and as hopes and hard drives were crushed, I lost all the photos I took of this trip. So you get words only, whether you like it or not. Although, I did find some photos on Flickr that can assuage some of the pain.

The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2010 (Boring Edition)

Welcome to the beginning of another annual Christmas letter. This is like the fifth in a row. Sorry about that. There is still time to avoid any unnecessary reading of said letter. Point your curser to the ‘X’ button above, click it firmly and then go do something productive.

Still here? Hmmm, your choice…so take a load off, get comfortable (although I encourage you to leave your clothes on unless you have a webcam), grab some coffee (or tea if you’re British or confused), put on your reading glasses, and let the year 2010 flash briefly before your eyes.

I’ve decided this time you need to feel real emotion while reading this letter. I’ve set my sights as high as possible, so I’ve picked boredom. It’s the best chance you have at any intense and meaningful emotion. This letter has been treated accordingly. Wit? Excised. Rollercoasters of adventure? Simplified. Flourishes of indelible insight? Clarified. Word choice? Focused. Overall length? Increased. If you do not feel real, abject and soul-crushing boredom, then I have failed you. I apologize in advance.

Boring or more boring, let’s crack open this nut of a year and pick at the contents until we find something worth chewing on. Spit out the shell, we don’t need you choking while you wallow in boredom.

Cities – I found myself, as Alice in Wonderland might have, in many strange and mysterious rabbit holes throughout 2010. A cornucopia of cities had the pleasure of my presence. Such metropolitans as: Amsterdam, Nairobi, New York, Johannesburg, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cape Town, Medellin, Taganga, Las Vegas, Tijuana, Tacoma and Portland. What went down in all these cities? Remember, this is the boring letter, so you may never know.

Snow – 2010 saw record snowfall in the D.C. area. As the locals affectionately dubbed it, Snowmageddon came in February and snowed the city under 20 inches (amounts may vary) of pristine, white snow (colors may vary). It was good enough for snowball fights, snowmen, tackle football in the snow, shutting down the city for days, overdressing for trips to the local pub, and the trapped, frustrated feeling one gets when your car completely disappears. Luckily I don’t own a car. Hahahahaha. I also went skiing in the powdery snow of Pacific Northwest.

Water – I spent an unhealthy amount of time in water in 2010. Whether it was taking hot showers after playing in the snow, spelunking through a maze of caves carved by a tributary of the Rio Claro, scuba diving with sting rays along the reefs of northern Colombia, river rafting down the Rio Claro, sailing the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, boating through Milwaukee via the canals and river, taking the river taxi down the Chicago river, wading in cool streams while hiking, taking cold showers, riding swiftly through the vast Amsterdam canal system, watching the Christmas light/water fountain/musical spectacle (Los Alumbrados) in Medellin, or singing in the Pacific Northwest rain (off-key), I was moist about 22.44%* of the year.

Air – I also spent my fair share of time in the air. Whether it was paragliding (parapente) over Medellin, flying all over the world in 34 flight segments (e.g. 34 take offs and 34 landings), extracting my head from the clouds on numerous occasions, or simply gulping down my share of the atmosphere, I was high about 30.76%* of the year.

Giraffes – Minding my own business, while jogging near the retreat center we were staying at in Kenya, I found myself surrounded by 14 wild giraffes. They were all looking at me expectantly. What was my next move? Run? Hide? So I simply sat down and watched them cross the road. Boring. I was not kicked in the head (by them at least) nor battered by a swinging neck (witty comment excised). The next day we went on a safari to Nairobi National Park and saw many more giraffes, including two practically on top of our van. Eventually they bolted when our allotment of photo ops was exhausted.

Meat – I am not a vegetarian, but I can appreciate eating less meat overall should you so desire. However, if you do have the opportunity to travel to exotic places, you should by no means limit what you are willing to try. Many cultures are meat obsessed and I found myself in the thick of such obsession. Whether it’s the epic bandeja paisa dish in Colombia (including sausages, ground beef, and the not-to-be-missed chicharrón), an all-you-can-eat bonanza at the Nairobi restaurant Carnivore (including ostrich and alligator), sancocho (a soup with vast chunks of meat displacing all else), chicken mole in Mexico, burgers of all shapes and sizes (including the In N Out burger animal-style), fish soup on the beaches of Taganga, foot-long hot dogs during a baseball game, a blue crab feast on the Eastern Shore (Chesapeake Bay), bratwurst in Milwaukee, Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago (fully dunked in beef gravy), street tacos, and much else, I failed to convert to a vegetarian.

Wineries – Whether it was a day trip to four wineries in Northern Virginia, or a day trip to three wineries in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa (near Cape Town), I kept my sipping muscles busy with a (word deleted) of epic wine tastings and cheese offerings. I cannot express how beautiful and relaxing it is to explore the countryside and wineries. So I won’t.

Breweries – In my lifelong quest to consume the adult-friendly liquid of hops, barley, water and yeast, I toured and loitered in many breweries in 2010. Whether it was the Heineken Brouwery Experience (Amsterdam), Miller Brewing Company (Milwaukee), Brooklyn Brewery (New York), Goose Island Brewing Company (Chicago), Sprecher Brewery (Milwaukee) for a beer/cheese pairing, or any of the other half dozen or so brewpubs I acquainted myself with, 2010 was a banner year for beer. Much like all previous years ever, dating back to 1994.

Flag Football – I started playing flag football in Washington, D.C. as part of a University of Washington Alumni team, along with alumni from 51 other universities. Our coach quit three days before our first weekend of play, so I opened my mouth to ask ‘now what?’ and became the ‘point of contact’ for our games. This of course morphed into me as the new ‘coach’ for the whole season. Word of advice: Don’t ask questions. Luckily this was the UW’s expansion season, so hopefully I can be acquitted of our less than stellar season.

Road trips – Whether it was driving down to Tijuana, Mexico from LA; or driving around Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota; or taking a detour down to Portland, Oregon while in Washington state; or taking the bus from D.C. to New York a couple times; or being a back-seat driver along the coast of South Africa, I spent loads of time in vehicles listening to music, taking in the sights, or getting tickets for not seeing that stupid toll booth.

Bicycles – I haven’t been on a bike in awhile, but in 2010 Washington, D.C. started a Capital Ride Share program that lets you use bikes from dozens of stations around the city. I have taken full advantage of these Radio Flyer Wagon Red, 3-speed, adjustable seat bikes. If you almost get run-over by a red blur while crossing the street, it wasn’t me. I would have definitely (word deleted) you. I also rented a bicycle for a day in Amsterdam. I zipped along the bike lanes and cobble streets, past the medieval style buildings and canals, until my (word clarified to ‘seat’) asked for a break. Then I rode some more.

Hammocks – After liberally slipping uninvited into multiple hammocks in 2010, I finally bought my very own. (You can too: www.colorcloudhammocks.com. If you say ‘Jeremy sent you’ nothing will happen.) I spent at least 5.14%* of my time being lazy in one.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa – If you’re interested in the wildlife or the scenery, a road trip down the coast of South Africa is not to be missed. If you want nature, you can visit the beach filled with jackass penguins braying like donkeys and mating, you can narrowly avoid running over the ballistic baboons, or you can scamper up the cliffs of the Cape while avoiding stepping on the fuzzy rock hyraxes. You can also expect stunning vistas, (phrase deleted), lighthouses at the end of the world, and sand between your toes.

Lollapalooza (Chicago) – Surprisingly, this is the first time I made to it this annual music festival. I should have gone to one way back in the 1990’s when it first started. Oh well. This new incarnation restarted about 6 years ago and the 2010 version saw over 150 bands playing over three days. I went to two of the days. My main goal was to see Soundgarden – and they rocked! I also saw such bands as Green Day, Phoenix, The National, Mumford & Sons, and many more.

Music – Not usually one to intentionally send you away, but I put together some boring music lists on my blog:  A 2010 Music Retrospective

Movies – Might as well stay away to look at the list of best movies too: 11 Best Movies of 2010 (and 5 worst)

Baseball – My quest to see a game in all Major League baseball stadiums continued in earnest. I visited five new stadiums with no fanfare. Chicago (Cubs and White Sox), Milwaukee, Minneapolis and New York (Yankees) all failed to roll-out the red carpet for me. I also got no love as I watched the Washington Nationals play a bunch of times, including the Major League debut of rookie pitching sensation, Stephen Strasburg. He destroyed the competition with a record 14 strikeouts. Then he got injured later in the season, had surgery, and is out for all of 2011. Sad. The nachos at Nationals stadium, however, were not sad.

Television – Plenty of good TV shows in 2010. Fringe had a great year. Dexter ruled. Community got funnier then anything else. And The Daily Show and The Colbert Report brought us wit and an insane Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in D.C. attended by 249,999 people + me. 

Books – The best books I read were: The Lost City of Z by David Grann and The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Medellin, Colombia – I managed to storm Colombia twice in 2010. Once for a wedding where I acted surprised as the best man and once for the (phrase deleted). I spent most of my time in Medellin, avoiding drug cartels and the FARC. Aside from visiting Pablo Escobar’s hacienda (three hours away), sauntering around the city and shopping malls, climbing El Peñol, giving wedding speeches, being lazy in hammocks, eating all the food feverishly, playing as part of an impromptu band, and other things you might have read about above, I dare say I should really go back soon.

This is the end of the Christmas letter. Did it make you long to watch paint dry? Did it drop you into a deep pit of boredom? You’re welcome.

* Figure painstakingly calculated by picking a random number and typing it.

The Joy of Food Porn

Whenever I eat while traveling (a daily occurrence), I feel like I should take photos of the various foods I try.

Why? Well, when I see travel and foodie shows that flaunt their delicious and mouth-watering images like its some kind of food porn, I want to join them.

Yet, despite this, I am always somewhat embarrassed to take the actual photos. I look around to make sure no one is watching (and judging me). Some people are shameless and snap those tasty shots without thought. But not me, I always try for sly and avoid eye contact with anyone in my vicinity at all cost. The flash always gives me away.

Here is a sampling of some of my poor quality, badly lit, guiltily taken food photos over the years that represent categories of sustenance that will surely cause a heart attack. I also threw in some beer and wine shots. Because I can.

I am not responsible for any salivating or queasiness that may result.

Squid ink pasta in Venice
A lunch repast in rural Mali
Mofongo in the Dominican Republic
Okonomiyaki in Japan
Sliders in Washington, D.C.
Cocoa beans in Zanzibar
El Presidente in Dominican Republic
Fish amok in Cambodia
Enjoying a ballgame
Camping with a freeze dried ice cream sandwich
In N Out burger and fries in LA - animal style!
Lots of wine in South Africa
Chicken mole in Mexico
A Jucy Lucy in Minneapolis
Red wine in Northern Virginia
Fuju in Tokyo
Frites drowning in mayonnaise in Amsterdam
Zingerman sandwich in Ann Arbor
Kobe beef in Kobe
Cheese and beer in Seattle
Nasty fruit in Cyprus
Wedding cake in Washington, D.C. (yes, it is)
Ostrich meat balls in Kenya
Bandeja paisa in Colombia
Goose Island beer in Chicago

Burp.

The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2007

(Originally sent via email January 2, 2008)

I trust you had a fantastic year and are just about ready to wrestle this new year, 2008, into submission. I simply ask that you keep your New Year’s resolutions child-friendly. Forget it, no one ever listens anyway.

Once again, I give you exactly what you didn’t want, another biased, self-absorbed Christmas Letter (albeit now after the fact). You can run, you can hide, but why bother? Like a scab, you just have to pick at it. Since you probably have a ridiculously short attention span and more interesting things to do, I have used bold letters and words a 5th grader can follow (no research went into this claim). So here it is, a graphic, untamed sampling of my experience that was the year 2007. No minors allowed.

Butterfly Farm (Georgetown, Malaysia)
Hot and steamy… this is not the opening of a romance novel, it is simply the environment butterflies like to pupate, grow and burst forth from their cocoons. They seem to be quite happy flitting about their flower gardens, babbling brooks and koi ponds, that is until a net flashes from below and they find themselves pinned behind a framed pane of glass in your plastic shopping bag. You just had to ruin it, didn’t you? A writhing pit of large, obsidian scorpions stabbing each other with mammoth stingers is also a good way to enjoy the wonders of nature.

Northern Virginia Wineries (USA)
On two occasions I spent the day touring wineries and quaffing the various offerings. My pretentious wine awards go to:

  • Best winery name: Naked Mountain
  • Best hot tub wine: Moonrise (from Gadino Cellars)
  • Best use of fake guns and fake beards: Civil War Re-enactment (at Gray Ghost winery)
  • Best T-shirt slogan: Drink Naked (from Naked Mountain)
  • Best wine: Mediterranean Cellars’ Sweet Lucia
  • Best documentary: My thrilling, timeless expose of an inchworm’s quest for the meaning of life (42)
  • Best view: Rolling farmlands – everywhere
  • Best Sommelier: Me

Top Songs
The best songs I heard this year…..drum roll please…….. “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillet, “Starts With One” by Shiny Toy Guns, “Time” by Chantal Kreviazuk, “LDN” by Lily Allen, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” by Fall Out Boy, and “Champagne From a Straw” by Andrea Corr. If you haven’t heard any of these songs, hmmmmmm – why do I even bother

Cliffs of Bandiagara (Mali)
Intertwined within a dusty, heat drenched cliff face, village ruins (former home of the Dogon people) overlook a tree-scattered landscape that almost touches the Sahara Desert. Climbing up and around narrow paths, ladders, random paintings and dark rooms passing off as homes, you finally reach the town meeting place, a narrow, cave-like hollow that one cannot stand in – so one cannot jump up in anger during the tumultuous town meetings.  No women allowed. Why didn’t corporate America think of this? (well, the first part)

McMenamins Kennedy School (Portland, Oregon, USA)
McMenamins has a tendency to convert old buildings, theaters, schools, frankly whatever they can get their hands on, into brewpubs serving their various beers on tap. The Kennedy School just so happened to have been an elementary school early in its existence. Now it is a busy brewery, restaurant, theater, hotel, art gallery, pub and whatever else they managed to cram into the former classrooms and locker rooms (yes the showers still work). The only thing that’s missing right now is me.

European Champions League Match (London, England)
In an epic match between football clubs from England and Portugal, titan Chelsea (England) took on FC Porto (Portugal) at Stamford Bridge in London. The stadium was electric with blue and fans hoarsely and enthusiastically singing “Blue Flag” and “Blue is the Colour” as Chelsea handed Porto a devastating 2-1 defeat to advance to the Champions league semi-finals against Liverpool. Me, I just tried not to provoke any hooligans. Go Chelsea

Pet Photo Contest (Capital Hill, Washington, D.C.)
My wiener dog became famous for one month during Capital Hill’s Hill Rag annual Pet Photo Contest. He didn’t win anything, but he was pictured under the “Best of the Rest” section, looking so cute carrying an oversized bone. At least I didn’t dress him up in a stupid costume! Those people should get acquainted with the inside of a padded room. You know who you are.

Facebook.com (website)
Oh man, last year I got on MySpace and this year I added Facebook to my repertoire of extreme time-wasting activities. I’ve “superpoked” so many people that I think the police are looking for me.

Fish (Key Largo, Florida)
In the Florida Keys, I saw fish from all angles, inside and out. First, we went to the Fishhouse, a busy little restaurant that served great Mahi-Mahi stuffed with blue crabmeat. Fried Conch, although it sounds interesting, is just not. Then I did four (scuba) dives off French Reef and played with the inquisitive lobsters and tried to tickle the clown fish (apparently they don’t find that very funny – false advertising!)

Planet Earth (DVD)
This 11-part epic mini-series exhibits our little planet through breathtaking cinematography and stunning, never before captured live action. Wait, do I sound like I’m writing the back of the DVD jacket? Crap, well, if you want to see lions kill an elephant, or crystal caves that are off-limits to preserve their beauty (except the film crew and only for this series), or a desperate polar bear try to kill an elephant seal bull (not a good idea really), or the lovely ecosystem that lives in a pile of bat guano the size of your house, then this is the DVD for you.

U.S. and A
Over the last few years, I’ve been traveling to quite of range of countries. This year, I actually took some time to poke around my home country a bit. So I had a look see of Boston (no tea party but plenty of Harvard talent), Atlanta (home of the Braves), the Florida Keys (where else can you get key lime pie on-a-stick?), St. Petersburg (it’s silly to expect much), New York (those damn Yankees want how much for a ticket?), Seattle (still sore from too much sports and coffee), Portland (good for drowning oneself in beer) and Miami (South Beach!).

Canadian Rocky Mountains (Alberta, Canada)
If only to stroll the picturesque Banff in minus 13 (Celsius) weather, to sip hot cocoa at Banff Springs Hotel or to ski much too fast down the Lake Louise ski slopes. Or to be overwhelmed by the imposing blue mountains as the sun begins its descent. Or to spy a bald eagle at dusk making short work of a frozen deer. Or to…but I digress.

Beaches and Tsunamis (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Outside our hotel, south of Dar es Salaam, was a beach granting uninhibited access to the Indian Ocean. With just a 20-minute boat ride, you could land on a small island and stroll up from the cobalt blue water and small patches of coral and park yourself in the sand. Or you can wait out a tsunami warning after an 8.2 earthquake rocked Indonesia. Sadly, it petered out and didn’t wash us all away. Though harder to write about when dead, it probably makes for a more interesting story.

Top Books
The best books I read this year….”The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” by James L. Swanson, “Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning” by George Monbiot, “Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and  “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond.

Spice Farm (Zanzibar)
If you want to know where nutmeg, cinnamon, peppercorn, cocoa beans, lanolin, vanilla and other spices come from, then your next adventure should be a trek through a spice farm. Smell, taste, touch and guess what each plant grows. Then eat all manner of fruit until the juices can’t help but drip from your chin. If you also want some guy to make hats, ties, bags and jewelry out of banana leaves (you heard me), then my work here is done.

Blogging
Yikes, I started a blog this year. Noooooo! Although it is the last thing the world needs, I feel compelled to infect the unsuspecting masses with my unnecessarily lazy prose. Dark, disturbing and beyond redemption, it can only get worse. Read more: (Myspace link removed – A Random Journey is now my blog which you are on…)

Top Movies
Some of the best movies I saw this year, even if they weren’t all released this year were….”Pan’s Labyrinth”, “The Lives of Others”, “Superbad”, “American Gangster”, and “No Country for Old Men”.

Wicked (Musical in Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
As you may not know, the Wicked Witch of the West was actually good, just misunderstood. This is a great bit of revisionist history about the classic tale ‘The Wizard of Oz” set to music. Green is good!

Flowering Balconies (Cartagena, Colombia)
Ahh, perchance to stroll aimlessly about the walled city of Cartagena de Indias, spying the spectacular hanging flowers exploding from balconies, plazas, and gardens only to be tempered by the pulsating colors and architecture of the myriad of edifices densely packed into narrow cobblestone streets. (Would you rather I wrote it in Spanish?) You can gaze out onto the Caribbean watching (hoping) for pirate ships to attack the impregnable Castillo de San Felipe. Wishful thinking, once they built that sucker, no one ever took the city or made off with boatloads of booty again.
 
Speaking of booty, this is the end of the Christmas Letter. Get back to whatever you were doing before this unwelcome intrusion. Or do something interesting.
 
Bonus Entry!
For anyone just not sure how to handle 2008 yet, let me give you some options. Baseball games at Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees) and Shea Stadium (New York Mets). They are tearing down the stadiums after the 2008 season and I have to go before it happens. Mark your calendars.

The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2006

(Originally sent via email on December 24, 2006)

Merry Christmas! I trust you had a good year.

Some of you may have fallen off my keen radar, as I’ve often been remiss in keeping up with email. Some of you may be new to this venerated list of annual happenings. Either way, fret not my friends! I wish to give your mind a spellbinding journey into the sublime world that I have been traveling this past year (yeah right). Sit back, strap in, secure your valuables, position the barf bag and get ready for the ride.

What have I been doing, eating, smoking in 2006? Read on for the highlights:

Sabang Beach, Philippines
A boat is the only way to get there. The only way to get off the boat is to get wet. The only way to get to the nearby village is to stroll along the beach, avoiding the surf. The only reason to go is to scuba dive, laze about the beach and eat mangos.

Mamma Mia! (Musical in Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
This is an example of how the entire musical oeuvre of ABBA can be transformed into a singing, dancing musical about the Greek Islands, long-lost love, and getting married simply as an excuse to sing ABBA songs. They pulled it off like dancing queens.

Jimmy Buffett (Concert in Virginia, USA)
Parrotheads rejoice! Jimmy’s fans are as crazy and strange as ever. Cars transformed into volcanoes, sandboxes and gigantic umbrellas washed up on the parking lot, shark hats, shark cars, shark stickers, surf boards, tropical shirts, sandals, parrots and pot. Lots and lots of pot (I merely assume – how else can you explain the rest?). And then Jimmy did oblige us a bit of music to sing along to.

Scuba Diving
I took a class, spent money, read the manual, spent money, got some basic gear (fins, mask, snorkel), got in a public pool (after hateful kids made toilet), spent money, passed a written exam and a pool skills test, went to the Cayman Islands, spent money, did nine dives from a boat, completed the skills test, saw an octopus and a dead shark, watched in disbelief as our boat almost got swamped and other people’s expensive stuff vanished into the sea and then got certified as an Advanced Scuba Diver! It only ends because I ran out of money.

Great Ocean Road (Victoria, Australia)
Scenic. Vast. Impressive. Windy. Twelve Apostles. Koalas. Surfboarders. (Actually, do you really need me to continue? The name says everything you need to know.)

Battlestar Galactica (TV show on DVD)
If you’ve never watched this show, you need to take a long hard look at yourself. You may have your reasons not to. Yet your reasons are lame. Trust me. The show is timely and engaging and so much more than the original TV series or anything before it. Stop being lame.

Wine Tour (Virginia, USA)
A group of us did a little jaunt around scenic Virginia to sample vintages from the local wineries. We managed to have tastings at three: Three Foxes Vineyard, Rappahannock Cellars and Oasis Vineyard. The first priority was to drink (in quick, non-stop sips), yet surprisingly you gain a bit of wisdom about wine along the way. Alas, the wine ensures no wisdom is retained. Burp.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
You already know the city slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, so don’t ask questions.

Bill Bryson (Author)
Simply for the book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is sufficient reason to list him, but I also had the pleasure to read “In a Sunburned Country” and “I’m a Stranger Here Myself”. He’s a travel writer mostly, but “A short history” makes learning seem fun! He also can make you laugh out loud.

Kangaroos (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
These guys look ready to fight! However, I won them over with my charming wit (or because I was their source of some nasty food pellet thingies that they seemed to love. Actually, one wasn’t too impressed so I put some on his belly to which he defiantly fell asleep to.). Also, emus are mean and ugly!

No More Car
Got rid of my car (was crumpled like a used pop can). Now walk and skip and whistle to work.

Sting Ray City (Grand Cayman Island, Cayman Islands)
Stingrays suck! No I mean literally, they suck. They don’t have teeth so they catch their prey with a powerful suction mouth. My arm discovered the joys and wonders of this process. They also like to swim all over you (well, if you tease them with squid chunks, what do you expect?).

Shakira (Concert in Washington, D.C., USA)
I think simply to ogle all the Latin girls in attendance is sufficient reason to list this. Plus she’s hot and her hips don’t lie. And did I mention the Latin girls?

World Cup Fever (Washington, D.C., USA)
Yes, soccer (err…football) is not America’s sport (not even in the top 6 or 7), but it was still fun to go to various bars around DC and catch the action. Some fans are fanatics (that means you Brazil) and some are just plain exuberant (viva Italia). Got myself on a TV newscast by waving tiny Italian and US flags during the USA vs. Ghana game. It sucks that the US did nothing, but the ride was worth it.

Danube River Cruise (Budapest, Hungary)
Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, separated only by the Danube River. Taking a wine and buffet cruise at night is one great way to experience both halves of Budapest. The other ways involve exploring during the day (riding the Funicular!) and cavorting at local clubs until all your compatriots have exhausted themselves drinking and dancing. Hypothetically
speaking.

MySpace.com (website)
I was pressured to get onto MySpace so I did it kicking and screaming. Check out my space and then sign up so you can be my friend. Or not.

Charles Bridge (Prague, Czech Republic)
Prague in general was a fantastic place to walk around, but the Charles Bridge (or ‘Karlùv most’ if you’re Czech) gets a special mention for the view of the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) (one of the world’s biggest) as it crosses the Vltava River. If that means nothing to you then book a ticket and get off the computer!

Harper’s Ferry (West Virginia, USA)
Located at the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers where the US states of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia are poking each other like siblings is Harper’s Ferry, a historical town of some significance way back in the day when history actually mattered and people cared to know about it. Whew, whatever, I hiked around the town and the surrounding ridges and tried to avoid the idiotic and vocal KKK rally, the police perimeter and equally vocal protesters. Hatred is not pretty. Harper’s Ferry is.

DC Movie Club
A group of us see a movie each month. We take turns choosing which one. Then we pontificate about the movie afterwards in ways that would make most film critics blush. The best selections this year: Thank You For Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed.

Guinness Storehouse (Dublin, Ireland)
Aaah, to see how the fine brew of Guinness is made and then wind your way to the top of the storehouse with a 360 view of Dublin while enjoying a complimentary pint. Yes, you should do that.

Television
For the naysayers, television is great. If you fail to watch some of the shows currently on (or on DVD), you have only yourself to blame. Frankly most are better than any movies you care to name. Great right now: The Office (US version), Lost, The Shield, Arrested Development (alas, gone!), 24, Veronica Mars, Entourage, plus I already mentioned Battlestar Galactica. It’s so easy to catch up on DVD, it’s almost a crime to deny yourself.

Beer
Since I did a bit of globetrotting this year (13 countries by my count), why not spend most of that time imbibing beer in all its majestic forms? From the ever tasty Guinness in Dublin to the refreshing Pilser Urquell in Prague to unpronounceable Zywiec in Warsaw to the meatless Wieselburger in Vienna to Carlsberg and Tuborg in Copenhagen to San Miguel in the Philippines to Foster’s in Melbourne to Dreher in Budapest to everything in Berlin to Super  Bock in Lisbon to Singha in Bangkok and finally Stella Artois, Sierra Nevada and Dogfish 90 Minute IPA at Brickskellers right in my own backyard of DC (which has the largest selection of beer in the US), I managed to have it all. Well maybe not all, but there’s always next year.

Ice Bar (Warsaw, Poland)
Everything is made of ice! The tables, the bar, the shot glasses, the chairs, the sculptures. The bartenders are on the warm side though. They keep the temperature at a brisk -8 Celsius and give everyone a stylish Eskimo parka. Complete body shut down happens after 30 minutes of exposure or two strawberry vodka shots.

Chicago, Illinois, USA
In trying to think what specifically I should tell about Chicago, nothing really came to mind. Then I realized it was the whole thing combined, the L train, the neighborhoods, the bars, the deep-dish pizza, the restaurants, the view from the John Hancock Building and Wrigley Field (from the outside). Next time I’ll get on the inside.

Good Books
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell” by Susanna Clarke and “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire.

iPod (Music)
I got myself a 60GB, video iPod then uploaded all my 350 + CDs to it. Then I scoured iTunes for even more music! Then I listened to it all until my ears bled. I spent more time doing this then almost any other single activity (except maybe one, which shall remain nameless). The five songs I listened to most: “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, “Everything I’m Not” by the Veronicas, “Cessie La Pluie” by Anggun, “Caraluna” by Bacilos and “Old Town” by the Corrs. Also download: “Over My Head (Cable Car) by The Fray.

Pena Palace (Sintra, Portugal)
After spending the morning in Cascais, a coastal town, I took a last-minute bus to Sintra. Upon arrival, the tourist info lady warned me not to walk up the hill to the castles (too far), a few cars stopped to see if I needed a ride (or to see if I was crazy), the bus to the top whisked by every 20 minutes yet had I done any of those things this would just end up as another one of countless sightseeing trips. How fantastic to be walking along a winding, uphill country road for 30 minutes with the palaces and mansions of Sintra visible distantly through every gap in the trees, only to come around the corner and have an imposing 9th century Moorish castle looming overhead. All the better for not even knowing it was there until that very moment! Then I hiked the rest of the way up to the strangely yellow, red and blue Pena Palace, the workings of severe human eccentricity. Once it started to rain, I took a different path down to the Old Towne. With a few large trees and eventually a doorway of a church I managed to be only mildly damp and not disappointed.

Alas, the list has come to an end. Maybe you can hold out until next year, but in case you can’t or you don’t have anything better to do, have a peek at some photos.

Foremost Things That Are So Necessary

I’ve written about a few bad things lately (Foremost Things That Are So Unnecessary and Things That Rub Me Wrong), so now a little love for the good things.

(American) Football season – regardless of what you call it (gridiron does have a nice ring), there are few things that have a more a passionate following than college and professional football. Go Huskies! Go Seahawks!

Coffee shops – read a book, sip a coffee, breathe in the atmosphere, relax.

Beer on tap – no matter where you drink your beer, whether it’s German pints at Biergarten Haus or cask ales at Churchkey or just a frothy pint at the local dive bar, everyone needs a cold one. Probably now.

Wine tastings – raise pinky finger, swirl the contents of your glass, sniff, sip, swish around in your mouth, swallow, gulp the rest, fill glass, repeat.

New things – new restaurants popping up on H street NE or new CDs and books or new places to visit or new episodes of your favorite TV show or new types of food to try or a new season of your favorite sport or new friends or anything new!

Hiking/Nature – get outside, tie your boot laces, shoulder your backpack, listen to the creek babble and the trees rustle, sniff the flowers, take a photo of the disinterested bear, wait patiently for the rattlesnake to leave the trail, take a ‘break’ far away from the poison oak, smile.

Wiener dogs – the only question is whether one is enough!

Hammocks – to nap in the shade is a must on a hot summer day. Ice cold beer within reach.

Baseball – try to visit all Major League stadiums or crave a foot long hot dog or feel the crisp evening air on your face or root for your favorite players, just enjoy yourself already.

Music – go to a concert, hear new music, listen to old favorites, take the iPod Touch everywhere, get stoked by band reunions, dance (preferably not you) in the streets.

Good books – read the Millenium trilogy or tales of trekking through the Brazilian Amazon or anything by Bill Bryson or whatever books you can’t do without.

peace

Eat This and This and This…

(Author’s Note (7/5/11): Since I wrote this last year, I’ve added 3 new eats to this list. Namely; Pho, Fois Gras and Spaetzle)

In this digital age of unreason, there will always be extremely random activities for those with little ambition or loads of time to kill. (Two thumbs pointing at this guy.)

One such is to take the ‘The Omnivore’s Hundred Challenge’. This allows you to test your own eating exploits against a very random and unscientific list of 100 types of food or drink. Find out more here: http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk/archives/399

You can see how well I fared on this particular time-suck below. I scored a mere 63 out of 100. Somewhat disappointing. I better start consuming more.

Before you get there, and apropos of nothing, let me add to the nonsense by generating a list of my own 10 completely pointless and random things you should eat in Washington, D.C. Time is on my side.

  1. Big Bowl of Frites (Granville Moore’s) – twice fried and twice good, use all of their dipping sauces* liberally.
  2. Bucket of tater tots (Sticky Rice) – who thought of tater tots at a sushi place? Dunno, but I’d suggest you eat them with the special sauce* and stop asking questions.
  3. Ethiopian coffee (Sidamo’s) – go on a Sunday and watch the coffee ceremony. Or don’t.
  4. Pure cane Boylan soda (Taylor Gourment) – I suggest the Creme soda and while you’re there, why not have a  hoagie?
  5. Pomme frites (Argonaut) – use the lemon curry sauce* early and often while sipping on the bountiful Booty beers.
  6. Mango mayo dipping sauce* (Good Stuff Eatery) – okay, they are known for their burgers, so have one of those too, but slather it in gooey mango sauce! Bathe in it!
  7. Mini-burger (Matchbox) – good luck eating just one.
  8. Cheesy poofs (The Pug) – have a PBR or a Pug Nasty draft, and pop a few of these into your mouth. Crunch. Swallow. Repeat.
  9. Horchata and papusas (Tortilla Cafe) – because you always need these. Always. With the requisite curtido and salsa*.
  10. Chicken shawarma (Shawarma Spot) – load it with veggies and coat on some of the tahini and yogurt sauces* so it drips all over your shirt.

*I like the sauce.

ARJ’s The Omnivore’s Hundred

Bold means I have eaten it or drank it, but not both.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
(I have had many ethnic variations of beef noodle soup, just not the Vietnamese version)(Update: 7/5/11)
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (I don’t remember if I had this particular cheese or not)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream (don’t recall, but I’ve had green tea ice cream!)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras (Update: 7/5/11)
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I’ve had HOT, but not this hot)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I’ve had sweet lassi)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar (yes, but not together)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (if riding your bike with your mouth open counts…)
43. Phaal (I’ve had many types of curry, but not this hot)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle (Update: 7/5/11)
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips

61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (no, this is clay…)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (maybe, can’t remember. I’ve smelled it!)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (just had a couple of shots of absinthe)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu (nope, but had plenty of sake)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Score: 63 66 (as of 7/5/11)

The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2009 (Narcissistic Edition)

Let’s be clear, this letter is all about me, me, me. There’s no need to deny it or pretend otherwise. This is my chance to brag about what I’ve done, what I know, and how awesome I truly am. It’s where I yell “LOOK MA!” as I hit that bulging hornet’s nest with a big stick. In other words, I speak before I think. And I never expect to get stung.

But since this is after all, the season of giving, I’m willing to cut you in on my conceit. At least once a year, I’m willing to take the focus slightly off me, and give you some attention as well. I’m sure you deserve it. So if you send me your ‘me, me, me’ letters, I will read them (as far as you know). I’m also willing to go a step further and thank you for your attention now, even if, deservedly, it lasts but briefly. So, I am humbled by those that read every word of this letter, grateful to those that skim through it (looking for juicy parts), and wholly forgiving of those that press delete before opening it (even though they won’t know it). Let’s get started.

2009 was a year. Profound. But what type of year was it?

Was it an up year? Or a down year?

Was it a smack you in the face year? Was it a lay quietly in your snuggie in front of the TV year? Was it a throw down your top and drive off into the sunset year?

Did it make you laugh? Did you make you cry? Did it make you sing karaoke against your will? Did it throw caution to the wind? Did it excel in every way?

Who cares. 2009 was what it was. Don’t over think it. Let’s pause here to look at a few of the non-required highlights.

Breweries – Let’s all shout an ode to beer, the joyous liquid. In my questionable wisdom, I made a point to check out a barrel-full of beer making places. In Maryland, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Michigan and Washington. The real question is, why am I writing this drivel instead of sitting at the local brewpub? Hmmm, this letter may end up shorter than usual…see ya!

London, England – Okay, I’m still here. You lucked out. I’ve been to London a number of times over the past few years, but this was the first time I’ve stayed on the East side, in the Shoreditch district. Nearby is Brick Lane, with its overabundance of tasty Bengali Indian cuisine and curry restaurants. Conveniently, the 2nd Annual Stag & Dagger music festival thumped on the first night we arrived. 100 bands in 20 venues, all within spitting distance of the hotel. Of course, we also had to lay waste to messy shwarmas and salt beef bagels (liberally slathered in sinus clearing mustard) sold in the late night walk-up stands. And we drank caipirinha from fishbowls for good measure. Somehow we also managed to visit the Westminster Abbey and Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Room (the underground command bunkers during World War II).

Baseball – In my quest to see a baseball game in every Major League stadium, I added three new stadiums in 2009, in Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland. Each stadium had its own charm (like gigantic tiger statues in Comerica Park). In two of the games my team, the Seattle Mariners, lost badly. Crap. The M’s lone highlight was Ken Griffey, Jr jacking a solo homerun. Also on the agenda was watching the ground crew making the field playable after a rain delay, feasting on hot dogs, and other impressive things. Next year…maybe a visit to Chicago?

Leavenworth (Washington state, USA) – It’s a small Bavarian village on the other side of the Cascades. A good place to enjoy Oktoberfest, a bit of bratwurst, the fall foliage, and visit a few vineyards and wine tasting rooms.

Books – Instead of this letter, please read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson and “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Paphos, Cyprus – First, rent a car in Larnaca. Second, learn to drive on the wrong (left) side of the road. Third, enjoy. We took a leisurely drive from Larnaca to Paphos, through a few quaint villages along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We sat on the waterfront and enjoyed a lunch infused with seafood and beer. Then we drove around with no particular destination and no goal. Scenic and refreshing.

Icicle Ridge Winery – Not to be outdone by its sudsier cousin (our good friend beer), I also managed to raise my pinky finger during tastings at 13 different wineries in Northern Virginia and Washington state. Yes, that’s right. I may now qualify as something of an expert wino, even though I retained none of the possible knowledge that I could have attained. Icicle Ridge Winery (WA) was the best of the lot, with a free tasting (11 wines!) and a great setting. Also good were Village Winery and Vineyards (VA) and Chrysalis Vineyards (VA).

Music – I rocked out to a load of concerts (18), listened to a few dozen new albums and used my airline miles to buy a new iPod Touch to keep them all at my fingertips. Of the concerts, I enjoyed Green Day and Chris Cornell. The Barack Obama inauguration concert with a ‘yes we can’ variety of artists on the National Mall was also worth noting. Garth Brooks played three songs and proved why he is still a great entertainer. Of the albums, I enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘It’s Blitz! and Pearl Jam ‘Backspacer’.

Road Trip (Ohio and Michigan, USA) – Traveling a hefty 2,197 miles through the states of Ohio and Michigan, with your wiener dog as a co-pilot, while blaring CDs over and over, is a fine way to spend a week or so. I managed to attend some ball games, nosh good food, sip some beer, take in a few sights and generally make a nuisance of myself. Especially interesting were slipping about the University of Michigan campus, gaining potential music knowledge at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (none retained), and sifting sand between my toes along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Hiking – I’ve been missing out on hiking over the past few years, mostly because I’d be off traveling or because I’m just flat lazy. So one of my 2009 New Year’s resolutions was to do more day hikes. And lo! I succeeded! I joined the local Capital Hiking Club and managed to trek about Virginia and Pennsylvania. I also did a hike in Washington making about 12 day hikes in all. A majority of the hikes were along portions of the Appalachian Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. One day I might have to tackle that whole beast.

US Open Cup Championship (soccer) game (Washington, D.C., USA) – The expansion Major League Soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC, enjoyed a fine first year of existence. They played well, made the playoffs, and broke multiple attendance records. Additionally, all US soccer teams at all levels of play participate in an annual domestic tournament called the US Open Cup. The Sounders advanced to the championship game against DC United and pulled out an incredible victory on DC’s home pitch. We came adorned in blue and green to witness an energetic game and proved that US soccer fans can have a bit of passion for the game. Case in point, over 100 Sounders fans traveled all the way from Seattle to attend the game, while singing songs and shouting like only hooligans can. Oy! Now bring on the World Cup!

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia, USA) – Whether is was camping in the rain or hiking among trillium flowers or standing still to escape notice of that bear or swimming underneath freezing waterfalls or pausing dramatically to allow that rattlesnake to get the heck out of my way or scrambling over rock formations to see the incredible view, I spent a good amount of time in Shenandoah National Park. Thought you should know.

Television – Surprisingly there are quite a number of decent new shows to look out for, including Community and FlashForward. Others to either keep watching or start watching at all cost are:  Fringe, Dexter and Lost.

Truck Bed Sledding – If you think that using a black inner tube or a regular sled are the correct ways to careen crazily downhill, then you are wrong. The actual correct way is to find a cast-off truck bed liner in the woods, pull it to the top of a precipitous drop and then on the count of three, have six or so screaming diehards jump in and hold on for dear life. Sanity and medical insurance not included.

Tower of London (London, England) – The Tower is a sprawling fortress bursting with historical intrigue, death and Beefeaters. It consists of 20 total towers, with the largest, the White Tower as the most famous. Our Beefeater gave us a rousing tour of the grounds and told of horrific beheadings, disappearing young princes whose bodies turned up hundreds of years later in the tower wall, wars, and crazy kings. Basically the history of England could almost be summed up within these walls.

Kruger Park (South Africa) – If you like near death lions, lithely trotting leopards, angrily charging elephants, curious rhinos, trapped in your room bats, baby giraffes extending their necks for food, muddy snorting hippopotamus’, racing zebras, suspicious buffaloes, bashful bushbucks and more impalas then you can shake a stick at, then you’d do well to book a three-day safari through Kruger Park. If you like breathtaking sunrises, curious rock formations, sparse forests, post-wildfire plains, high bluffs with views forever, gigantic baobab trees, dusty scrub brush, flowing rivers, darkness illuminated with spotlights, and an occasional camp or lodge in the distance, then drive around in your white 4-wheel drive for hours on end. If none of this appeals you? All the more for me.

peace and merriment to you and yours

View the Wordle version: http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/1507817/2009

Tourist: Seattle

You are in Seattle. You have a car and one day to explore. Your goal is to show someone who’s never been around the city. What to do? Let’s start with…

Hello Seattle
Hello Seattle

 

Kelly Park – up on Queen Anne hill, which is a much photographed, scenic view of the city skyline. You forget the exact street, so you’ll have to drive around, up and down a few blocks before you finally find the park and get your glorious snapshots. Next let’s see the infamous…

 

 

Fremont troll
Fremont troll

 

Fremont troll – just across the Fremont bridge. You just need to take a quick detour under the bridge to see this crazy, giant troll holding his VW Beetle tightly. Now that you’ve seen it, let’s go to the…

 

 

UW Drumheller fountain
UW Drumheller fountain

 

University of Washington campus – where there can be little doubt that you’ve arrived at the exact right place on the exact right day. I practically dare you to find somewhere that can even compare. You have complete reign to pick anywhere! Got nothing? Well, how about the…

 

 

Washington Arboretum – since you have decided that driving around and looking at even more beautiful scenery would be a fairly good idea. You regret not stopping at the Japanese Garden to admire the koi ponds, but feeling a bit nostalgic, you start driving around the local neighborhoods next to…

Lake Washington – and determine you’ve found the ideal distraction. But since you’re getting hungry, it’s time to head back towards downtown, with a pass by Lake Union and…

Ivar’s – for a nosh of fried salmon, crisp french fries and steamy clam chowder, while sitting right on the lake. With a complete view of the city and the landing seaplanes, you start to wonder why you don’t come here more often. Since logic is not part of this journey, you decide that after your lunch…

View from Alki
View from Alki

 

Alki Beach – is your next destination. You want a beach with a good view, even if it’s too fricking cold to enjoy it properly. Well, you soon discover that the weather is not a factor in your enjoyment, and frankly never has been. You’re from Washington after all. Next you decide the next random place you should go to is Ballard and the…

 

 

Ballard Locks
Ballard Locks

 

Ballard (Chittenden) locks – because that’s where you can see the mashup of the fresh waters of Lake Union and Lake Washington with the salt waters of the Puget Sound. Also, you can admire the many yachts and boats poised to pass between the two. With the day slipping by in a rush of fall colors, you believe that a quick jaunt downtown and entry into…

 

Elliot Bay Book Store – will inspire your creative juices. Exploring the nooks and crannies and random isles of books, with no goal in mind, you read a few book covers and then walk out for a look around…

Pioneer Square – to see the architecture and landscapes. Finally, finish the day at…

Beer and cheese
Beer and cheese

 

Pike Street Brewery – with a beer sampler, cheese plate, and a yummy pizza.

 

 

 

Okay, so that’s one hell of a random journey. If you’re a tourist with only one day or just a bored Washingtonian, throw out a couple of the above and make sure you add the Pike Place Market to your itinerary as well.

 

University of Washington
University of Washington
Small Ballard lock
Ballard locks

Don’t Wine About Oktoberfest

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? Such a tough question demands a long-winded response. By here I mean…

Leavenworth – With the dream of doing wine tastings in a slew of wineries, we embarked to this quaint Bavarian village just a couple hour jaunt over the Cascade mountain range in Washington state. Conveniently, Oktoberfest was also in full swing, so the beer options were exponential and the revelers were out in droves. On a typical weekend, this is a nice spot for a day trip with scenery, window shopping, and good eats. We failed at typical and landed instead in the middle of chaos.

Fall foliage – the drive to Leavenworth revealed why Fall is the best time of year. Brilliant colors – reds, yellows, browns, oranges – dotted the landscape in such profusion and vividness, you could barely close your dropped-jaw from the awe of it. Or something like that. I’d show you a picture but I prefer to write a thousand words about it instead.

Silvara Vineyards – after a bit of stop-and-go traffic through downtown Leavenworth and a few miles out-of-town, we arrived at the first winery. It was an unscheduled stop, as this is a brand new place we thought deserved our patronage. We had a brief tasting (just okay), chatted with the owner (friendly) for a few minutes then continued our quest.

Apples – forget Red Delicious, if you want crisp, sweet and sinfully delicious apples, bite down on a Cameo (word up) or a Honeycrisp or savor the juicy Gala. So many varieties are waiting for you to snack on, bake, juice, sauce or hand over to your sinister teacher in exchange for a just passing grade. Even though Washington state grows an unhealthy amount of apples (for one sitting), don’t wait long or someone will eat yours. (Insert Good Will Hunting catchphrase here). We stopped at a roadside fruit stand (well, apple stand really) to stock up on apples and then had our way with apple samples and other good food options being sold from tents next door. At some point there should be more wine around here…

Icicle Ridge Winery – we strolled up towards this fairytalesque locale taking in the sights. Before us stood a stout log house (built like a ski chalet, no less), a good size pond in front, a gazebo overlooking all (too bad it was too cold to stay outside) and a variety of old-fashioned cars and machinery nearby all decorated to the nines with pumpkins and scarecrows and much more. Built by Lou and Judy Wagoner as their home, it was shared with the winery until recently, when they let the winery take over the whole house. The 5000 sq. ft. inside is filled with stuffed animal trophies (niiice bear), a huge stone fireplace and a lofty ceiling. After taking our seats at one of the many huge tables, they started serving the wine tasting. On and on it kept coming. Eleven different varieties…insane pours…and all complimentary. The Huckleberry Riesling and the Three Blondes Gewürztraminer were quite intoxicating. The bottles were a bit pricy to buy, but who cares if you don’t even have to pay for such an insane wine tasting?

Chicken heads and Brat – Oktoberfest has never been for the faint of heart. It’s a fest (parties need not apply) for the stout of constitution and eager of disposition. You gotta be willing chug beer until it flows down your red, tear streaked face. You gotta be willing chow down on bratwursts oozing with sauerkraut until the bile rises from the back of your throat. You gotta be willing to hold back that well-deserved punch to the face of those weirdos over there wearing chicken head hats like its something of a thing. Most of all, you gotta get into the spirit of revelry and debauchery. Since our mission was as the more refined, prim, and proper wine taster, we couldn’t quite walk the line between the two. That’s not to say we didn’t have our beers and our brats and our unthrown punches, we just didn’t have them to the excess required. Burp.

Other wineries – we stumbled into a few other tasting rooms in downtown Leavenworth, but only to keep the buzz alive. Really, at this point, little help was needed. Probably on their own, these would be decent places to go on a normal day, but given our previous predilections, they simply fall into the ‘other’ category.

I like ending on a high note. Out.

Reds, Tigers and Indians

Part 3 of 3

This, luckily for you, is the final entry in my road trip trilogy of terror. Finally, we get to the root cause of why I roadtripped to begin with…baseball! Hold on for a short treatise on the highs and lows of each Major League stadium I sauntered through like a deluded dignitary. I suggest you pause now to get a hotdog and a beer. If you pause long enough, you may even escape reading this.

Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati, Ohio) – Home of the Reds

Highs

  • A great view of the bridges spanning the Ohio River that link Cincy to Kentucky and the quaint town of Newport.
  • The Washington Nationals were in town and they won 5-4. Which doesn’t happen very often…
  • I inhaled a tiny Coney hotdog. It was satisfying for 4.5 seconds.

Lows

  • At the 4.6 second mark, I was still hungry.
  • The confusing number of mascots. One is almost too many, but four? Gapper (looks like a retarded, red Phillies Phanatic), Mr. Red (looks like a spastic baseball headed Mr. Met), Mr. Redlegs (a mustached baseball head, which tells you all you need to know) and Rosie Red (because otherwise there’d be too many dudes).

 

Comerica Park (Detroit, Michigan) – Home of the Tigers

Highs

  • Tigers! Everywhere there are tigers! To say that Detroit doesn’t like its team name is to fly in the face of numerous tiger statues and leering tiger heads looking down from every direction. Very impressive.
  • A ferris wheel and other rides for the kiddies.
  • The home team scored two runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to win in dramatic fashion.
  • First a torrential downpour, then a rain delay, and then the clearing of the infield tarp and then the crew drying and making the infield playable again. How often do you get to see that? Kinda cool.

Lows

  • A 45 minute rain delay, there is such a thing as waiting too long.
  • David Aardsma gave up two runs in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Seattle Mariners lost in traumatic fashion. (errrgg!!!!!!)
  • The Detroit skyline had the least interesting view of all the stadiums but it was smack dab in the middle of the city, in a relatively nice area.

 

Progressive Field (Cleveland, Ohio) – Home of the Indians

Highs

  • Ken Griffey Jr. (Seattle Mariners) hits a homerun!
  • The view of the city skyline is picturesque.
  • Heritage Park is the home of the Indian’s Hall of Fame, split into two sections; those players that are actually in the official Major League Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, NY),and those that are only good enough to make the team’s Hall of Fame. It was historical.
  • A perfectly positioned food court and bar, behind center field, that allows one to enjoy the game, a brew and an italian sausage all at once. Brilliant.

Lows

  • Felix Hernandez pitches terribly and the Mariners lose again, 6-1.
  • There is a race during the game with the mascots Ketchup, Mustard and Onion. Original. Their kid-friendly mascot is Slider (which looks like Barney the Dinosaur on crack).
  • There was a cool looking cemetary across the street, so after the game I went out and strolled through like the locals. Then I became terribly lost, and could not remember the street I was parked on, nor the name of the parking garage. 30 minutes of random city exploring later, I roared out of the parking garage just as it started to rain. Booyah!

 

Verdict: Originally, I was going to give Comerica Park the edge as the best of the three (those tiger statues!), but Progressive Field (originally called Jacob’s Field until 2008) was among the first of the new wave of retro stadiums built, and it just grows on you the more you think about it.

Also see:

The Lake Erie Monster and an Old Leghumper

Part 2 of 3

Here we explore some of the beer offerings I encountered on my road trip. Buckle up and put on a raincoat, this is about to get sudsy.

Tremont Taphouse (Cleveland, OH) – with 24 beers on tap and around 80 bottle selections, this small taphouse/restaurant would be my favorite place to hang out if I lived in Cleveland. Slightly out of the way in the Tremont district, it had cute bartenders and a neighborhoody, local vibe. They don’t brew their own, but at the time they were showcasing the Flying Dog Brewery now located in Maryland. Best Beer I had: The Old Leghumper – a porter from the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company in Ohio, with the motto ‘so many legs, so little time’. I agree.

Atwater Block Brewery (Detroit, MI) – this is a good little brewpub not far from Comerica Park on the Detroit River, in an area that doesn’t seem to get much traffic. Which is unfortunate, because it had a very congenial atmosphere with friendly staff. They win extra points for the bold sign out front “Beer is Good”. Indeed. Best Beer I had: Michigan Amber

Great Lakes Brewery (Cleveland, OH) – a lively brewpub where the tasters and the pint I ordered, were…well who can remember? Seems hazy…  Best Beer I had: Lake Erie Monster– at 9.0% ABV this double IPA beast really smacks you upside the head. So potent they only give you half a taster.

McNulty’s Bier Markt (Cleveland, OH) – with around 100 beer options, this Ohio City district bar fancies itself as a Belgian Beer Bar. And rightly so, that’s about the only kind of beer available. Dark, cozy, with easy on the eyes bartenders, if you’re looking to sip a Belgian pint, this is your destination. Best Beer I had: Dilirium Tremens

Hofbräuhaus (Newport, KY) – a boisterous place that everyone in Cincinnati and Kentucky must go to, with a huge patio and live music inside, you are left to find your own seat in the multitude of picnic style tables. Once seated, you order a mammoth, gut-busting liter of beer. Then you order a sampling of Wursts, including mettwurst, bierwurst and bratwurst. Best Beer I had: In fact, the only beer I had was the Hofbräu Dunkel, Munich’s favorite beer. Another would have ended this trip early.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company (Ann Arbor, MI) – a good place for the University of Michigan students to hang out, debate their love of Ohio State, talk politics, and hoist some serious pints. Best Beer I had: Bear Paw Porter

Arbor Brewing Company (Ann Arbor, MI) – another U of M brewpub across the street from Grizzly Peak, that can claim decent beers and good fish tacos. Best Beer I had: Red Snapper Special Bitter

Saugatuck Brewing Company (Saugatuck, MI) – located just outside a small seaside (lakeside?) town of the same name on Lake Michigan, it reminds one of an old community center turned into a brewpub with the eating part called The Lucky Stone Pub. We arrived on quiz night, but found the questions far too easy so didn’t participate. Best Beer I had: Vanilla Nutmeg Oatmeal Stout – it just sounds tasty, and it was.

burp

99 Reasons to Drink Beer

This blog isn’t trying to emulate Cosmo, so I don’t actually need to list 99 reasons. I can get away with this because a) I’m lazy and b) I’m not smart enough to think of that many. Take what you can get, and don’t complain.

 

Reason #1 – it’s your round to buy and you’re sick of your friend’s fruity, girlie concoctions that make your tastebuds wince in pain.

Reason #8 – Olde English 800 40 ouncers are on sale.

Reason #11 – someone brought a keg to this shindig. Free beer!

Reason #22 – you are thristy for liquid gold.

Reason #29 – ’cause it’s so crisp.

Reason #44 – you are challenged to a beer pounding contest by surly Germans.

Reason #55 – the Budweiser girls are smiling and giving away their wares.

Reason #63 – the work day is over and happy hour has begun.

Reason #67 – it’s a beautiful day at the ball game, and nothing would taste better then a refreshingly cool brewsky.

Reason #76 – it’s 9:00 am and you still have a hangover.

Reason #88– one does not need a reason. One only drinks with a smile on one’s face.

Reason #92 – the bar ran out of other, less tasty liver killing options.

Reason #99 – a stately Clydesdale, galloping in slow-motion, with flowing mane and uplifting music compels you to robotically open the fridge to crack open a cold one.