My Writings. My Thoughts.

tough, tough, tough

// November 10th, 2013 // 2 Comments » // finding fun

Do any of you, faithful readers, remember Tough Mudder?  I’ve completed and blogged about it twice now.  I’ve even won Toastmasters contests talking about it.  It’s one of my favorite races.

This past weekend was round three with a team that included a couple of first-timers.  I’m sure they considered me a combination sherpa / Yoda / comic relief.  At least that’s what I was going for.

The big question for me is would my increased strength pay off?  I’ve been doing weight training for about a year after doing just endurance workouts the couple of years prior.  Research has convinced me that strength training will lead to better performance and less injury.  But research smesearch.  I want this strength to lead to more fun too.

It already saw dividends at race #2 when I’d been at it just 3 months.  How about this time?  The proof’s in the pudding so what flavor was it?

before, nice and clean

and after (spoiler: we finished)

We got started an hour late.  Traffic in was quite backed up and we didn’t have buffer time in our schedule.  But once we arrived, registered, dropped bags and took the above photo we ran towards the start. Off we went where everyone soon learned they don’t put mud in the title for nothing…

Shannon is the first to get dirty

Mike grimaces but muds it out

I must think this is fun

I’d like to point out that many of these photos were taken by Mike’s wife.  Thanks Luanne!

Last time I was really proud of myself that I made it across the monkey bars.  Well a few hundred pull ups later, it was almost an easy challenge.  Almost.

a natural born monkey

There was only one challenge I didn’t do this time – the dreaded Arctic Enema.  I did it the first time out and that was enough for one lifetime.  It’s a construction dumpster filled with ice water.  There’s a barrier in the middle so you have to duck your head underneath.  It is nothing but pain.

But Mike wanted to do every obstacle so he went for it.  Check out this craziness!

Mike, making a questionable decision

this didn’t hurt, really!

One thing that surprises a lot of participants is all the hills.  You’ll see plenty of people stopping to huff and puff or on the ground trying to stretch out a cramp.  I run hills pretty regularly and thus was not so severely affected.  These hills were a lot steeper than what I run, yes.  But my preparation was enough to push through.

Shannon encourages me with a hair whip

this is not the top of a killer hill

coming down was pretty spectacular too…and dusty

on top of a hill and a long ways from our car

I finally did the two obstacles I’ve never completed before.  Everest is a 1/4 pipe, about 10 feet tall.  You run up and either pull yourself up or hope someone grabs your arms.  It’s always the penultimate one which precedes the Electro Shock Therapy which is what Tough Mudder is known for.  You run through a wooden structure with dangling wires that give you a few jolts as you try and stay on your feet.  Check and check.

In fact, this is the first Tough Mudder I ran without injury.  (Injuries are what stopped me from trying Everest before.)  Let me say, being 100% healthy is better.  Now, more obstacle photos.



how deep is this water again?

careful, Shannon, that water’s sanitation level is questionable

as long as the mouth is above water…

You’ve probably noticed the shirts by now.  My sister came up the Team Dumpling concept and I I knew this had to happen.  Christine made the fantastic shirts which were very popular with fellow mudders.  I was catcalled many times.  I’m assuming it wasn’t because of my hot legs.

goin’ for a ride, when’s my turn?

through the mud and dust storms…

I don’t mean to say Tough Mudder is all easy peasy now.  Some parts of the race led to grunting and straining.

I can still stand up, really

me too, I promise


I can pull this with the power of my hair alone. that’s is a lie, tough pulling through the sand

As it ended, we were tired and ready for some food.  It was about 3:00 and of course we hadn’t had lunch.  We had to sit through a ton of traffic delay before the traditional Phil’s could be had.  The traffic was the only bad thing on this day.  It was a ton of fun sandwiched between two long, long waits.

It’s clear I enjoy this kind of thing, but how about Shannon and Mike?  Well they both talked about doing it again. This was a crowd that is tougher than your average panda bear.  I guess this Yoda didn’t lead them too far astray.  And I know I provided comic relief.  There were plenty of laughs during the day.  Well, I think they were laughing with me…


My next scheduled race is my second 1/2 Ironman in July, 2014.  The first one I finished but ran out of calories partway through the run.  This time I hope to figure that out and push the pace all the way to the end.  Then that pudding will be sweet and chocolaty like this one was.

staycation 2013

// June 27th, 2013 // 3 Comments » // finding fun

After accepting a job offer, task #1 was to make sure I had a couple of weeks off before I started.  That mission was successful and so commenced task #2: have tons of fun during the two weeks off!  That fun fit into three themes: family, home, and food.


My dad had a conference in town so they came to visit.  The conference was during my first week off, good timing!  I was able to hear him speak at the conference, then deliver what was called the “best Father’s Day ever”, and finally introduce the parents to lots more good San Diego food (which will be covered in the food section).

On Thursday I “attended” the wellness and productivity conference.  Lots of companies are concerned about injuries and other events which result in time off and lowered productivity.  But stress at home, improper illness care and other things sap productivity too.  Some forward-thinking companies are trying to help their employees at this more holistic level and that was my dad’s topic.  Luckily, security was lax at this conference so I was able to stroll right in and even eat their lunch.  However, parking downtown is never a breeze and things got tight when he sent a text telling us he was starting 25 minutes earlier than planned.  My mother and I took a seat just as he began, phew!

pic – first time presenting using prezi

celebrating the successful talk

Sunday was Father’s Day and I had planned it up.  First we drove out to Lake Poway for some scenic hiking.  I have been wanting to hike to potato chip rock but at around 5 miles one-way that was not in the cards this trip.  Instead, we did a circuit of the lake which is about 3 1/4 miles.  Then we drove over to Bernardo Winery to enjoy their Jazz on the Patio series.  That was followed by dinner at the beautiful Stone Brewery.  Quite the alcoholic adventures for a group of non-drinkers!

up the hill for some views

which way is the jazz?

As we arrived at Stone my mother realized she had left her purse at the winery.  This put her in danger of not making her flight which was at 6am the next morning.  She and I high-tailed it back to retrieve it with some stressful phone tag along the way; the winery was in the process of closing for the day.  I mention this because it’s emblematic of life with my parents.  We will probably reminisce about this story in the future.

relaxing after purse retrieval and dinner

After they flew away home it was time for Christine-and-me time.  Much of our adventures will fall under the home theme.  But in addition to all that we managed to sneak away on Monday to Coronado for some lunch, relaxing and reading on the deck at the Hotel Del.  Something amazing happened on this trip.  As we were preparing to leave we made our customary stop at Moo Time Creamery which has probably the best ice cream in San Diego.  There, ice-cream-loving Christine turned against them.  The ever-rising prices finally made her balk.  $6 for a small cup is pretty ridiculous I do agree.  Luckily, I had been planning to make my own chocolate custard later in the week and it was fabulous.  And cheaper.

the winning ice cream

a good reading spot

always a nice place to visit

Friday was 6/21, summer solstice.  Most years we take the day off, eat breakfast out, and try to fill the long, sunshiny day with activities.  We did that for sure this year; heck we took the whole week off!  This year we finished the day at the members-only premiere of Nighttime Zoo.  Christine braved the hilly zoo trails with her sore calf and we enjoyed saying hello to all the big cats.

the only breakfast i eat

Noodle’s brutha


Our wedding anniversary is approaching and for a long while now we have been planning to buy a new bed for anniversary #19.  Over time that plan expanded in include a whole bedroom with new paint, window treatments, furniture, and a bed.  That is a big undertaking and we spent several days shopping.

This section will be brief even though we spent a lot of time shopping.  I do not know of a way to make furniture shopping entertaining. :)  We visited 4 stores with mattresses and 6 with furniture before settling on a plan.  We have nearly completed the shopping — excluding the window and bedding.  We will revisit that in a couple of weeks.  Perhaps the finished bedroom will merit a future blog post…if I like the result, haha.


So much good food this week.  On the first Thursday when my parents were here I cooked the delicious salmon cakes from America’s Test Kitchen.  After dinner we watched the NBA finals game 4.  In this game the Heat evened things with the Spurs, 2-2.  They would go on to win in 7.  It’s always fun to get my dad’s perspective on a basketball game since he was a scholarship college player back in the day.

But it’s vacation and I didn’t cook most days.  We hit up so many delicious spots.  In brief:

Fresco The OMG chicken sandwich justifies its name. Parents were super-impressed.
Punjabi Tandoor The best Indian in San Diego and cheap to boot.
Mama’s Lebanese Fantastic shawarma. As a bonus we watched part of the Avengers before eating here.
Tender Greens One of my favorites in town regardless of price.
Buona Forchetta The third and final San Diego pizza place with a 1000 degree oven. Loved it.
Ortegas Sit-down Mexican. Well received by the family.
Pt Loma Seafoods Another in my top five, I only wish I hadn’t shared my sandwich with my mother. More!

one of many great dinners

Wow.  I am ready to get back on the workout train.

apparently I didn’t learn the Todd shot from her

And that was our staycation.  Lots of fun and delicious food.  I am ready for the new job!

a grand time at addison

// June 2nd, 2013 // 4 Comments » // finding fun

Do you San Diegans know?  There is a grand total of one restaurant in all of Southern California that has both AAA five diamonds and Forbes five stars?  That restaurant is Addison at the Grand Del Mar.  Until this week I had never gone.  But I am about to get a couple of bonuses and I just accepted a job offer.  So it was time to celebrate and, I decided, time to try out Addison.

I had never experienced this kind of fine dining and I didn’t know what the experience would be like.  Let’s see what I learned.

Is it truly a different experience than a very good restaurant (that costs 1/3 the price)?

Yes.. With every course we enjoyed an incredible blend of flavors.  For example, one course featured king crab. The taste of the (perfectly cooked) crab was on full display. The crab was enhanced by the other ingredients and sauces to create a wonderfully complex blend.  I’ve experienced this at other restaurants, yes.  But it is uncommon.  Many restaurants may be tasty but they accomplish that with an abundance of salt and little nuance.

At Addison I got course after course like this crab.

Would I be wierded out by the super-high touch service?

A little.. I feel weird at all sit-down restaurants.  I don’t love the servant role put on by the, well, servers.  I prefer walking up to a counter and being sold something that I go and eat.

That said, it’s actually less weird at a high end place like this.  Because it feels like they are trying to create an experience for you rather than upselling me/patronizing me for tips.  As a bonus, the highly choreographed plate-serving was pretty comical, especially at the neighboring table with a party of 7.  I enjoyed that.

Would the food be “too French” for me?

this pork was not too French even with all those sauces

No.. It has happened to me before.  I try a nice French restaurant and the cremes and the sauces were just too much.  The tastes were too… creamy and I didn’t end up enjoying it. At Addison I never felt that way.  I did feel really full when I left though which brings me to…

Will a bunch of tiny courses fill me up?

Yes.. It’s a comedy cliche that you go to a expensive restaurant, pay a fortune, and are served a huge plate with a tiny amount of food.  And then you get a hamburger on the way home.  Not here. I was quite full when I left.  Too full in fact but I think I’m just not used to such creamy food.

a tiny course of a candied kumquat, rhubarb, and raspberry.

Could I enjoy courses with exotic ingredients?

Yes.. Well for me, a midwesterner who grew up not eating seafood, raw oysters are pretty exotic.  I’ve come a long way but I am not a regular oyster eater.  These were delicious.

Can they make ingredients I typically don’t like good?

Yes.. I am a mushroom hater.  I’m pretty sure they exist mostly to ruin pizzas.  But I gave the creminis a try and whatever was done to them by the magicians at Addison worked for me.

Would Christine enjoy it?

Yes.. I had no idea what to expect in terms of her reaction.  Would the finance person in her feel that no food is worth this price?  Would something less obvious rear its head?  In one of my favorite moments of the evening she declared that she was giving up all other hobbies in order to become a full-time foodie.  I’d say she approved.

Would I want to go back considering the cost?

Yes.. The prior answer gives this one away. We came away with an experience we will remember.  How valuable is that?  We will return one day.

Which was my favorite course?

The salmon.. Amazing!

The fish on the right was perfectly cooked and enhanced with the glaze and the pea-based sauce. The sweet, thin crackers on the left contained a delicious smoked salmon.

Which course was my least favorite?

The weakest course for me was the peanut butter dessert.  I am pretty discriminating when it comes to my desserts.  To me the peanut butter flavor overwhelmed the rest.

not only that, the photo came out extra dark

Luckily I requested a second dessert course rather than the cheese course.  Why anyone would do otherwise is beyond me!  The extra dessert was a pot de creme.  Think creme bulee but without the burnt top and more delicious.

Did anything surprise me?

Yes.. The pace of the courses was so well done.  We finish one course, the plates are removed, there is the briefest of pauses and the next one comes out.  This happened without fail.  It was amazing that when we finished more than two hours had passed.

Did they do anything above and beyond that really stood out?

Yes.. As we were finishing up we were invited to go see the kitchen and meet the head chef.  Just some guy who’s won award after award. I’m sure has nothing better to do than say hello to us, right?

This celebration occurred the day I sent my signed offer letter in to my new company.  It was a beautiful evening and I hope an auspicious introduction to my new job.

tough mudder #2 in which i am even tougher

// March 7th, 2013 // 2 Comments » // finding fun

Last year I added to my wacky race menagerie when I ran the Tough Mudder.  I had a lot of fun doing it and wondered if I should do it again.  I decided if a couple of people would register with me I’d be down.  (Last year I went solo.) So when my younger sister Amy signed up there was no way I could back down!  I had quite a few prospects to add to our burgeoning team, but this is the kind of race where there is often more talk than action. Still, I thought a couple of them were serious.  My buddy Shannon was one of those and she was ready to register until she found out it conflicted with a previously scheduled trip.  Finally, when I mentioned it to my coworker Sara, she and her husband signed up within the hour.  A team was born!

My sister flew out a few days beforehand to hang out in lovely San Diego.  Unfortunately the weather was about as cold as it gets here during her visit.  But compared to the snow she left behind I guess 60 degrees and cloudy is ok.  We did get a chance to shop for costumes and dropped a pretty penny on these beauties.

pristine at the start

but muddy later

Sadly a couple of weeks before the race, Sara injured her knee.  It turned out to be a sprained ACL and she was a no-go.  I can’t tell you how bummed she was, she must have been crying herself to sleep given the woe she expressed at work.  And to think all along I thought it would be her husband, Adam who was questionable.  (He was recovering from a back issue.)  But in the end it was Adam who was able to run.

Sara was going to attend as a spectator but she decided against it the day of.  That was a wise choice considering how chilly the weather was.  The problem was I have never met Adam and was unable to locate him before the race.  Turns out he started in the heat after us so we were probably just a few minutes apart the whole time.  So sad but I am told he had a great time.

Once again a team of two, Amy and I were doing great.  That is we were until we reached an obstacle called Just the Tip at mile five. I made it all the way to the end but fell on the stairs and bruised my heel bone.  It stung pretty good and I was limping for a few minutes.  With six miles to go I was afraid I was done for the day.  But after a bit of walking everything loosened up.  Phew.

falling into the water wouldn’t have been a problem. But I fell on the stairs where the guy is climbing out

Then lightning struck twice while I was climbing over the second set of 8-foot “Berlin Walls.”  As I slithered over the top, I felt an uncomfortable sensation as one rib slid across the top of the wall.  Later I learned it had been broken.

about one second away from breaking my rib as I scraped over the top of this wall

i was like a monkey even with a broken rib

The course at Vail Lake is very hilly. Tough on the hamstrings but nice for the views.

just climbed up from the parking area, one of several hills on the course

lots of hill climbing

at the top of yet another hill

I skipped more obstacles this year compared with last because of that rib.  I avoided all crawling obstacles after that injury for obvious reasons.  Jogging only caused mild soreness in the rib and heel so I was able to finish.  After all, I’m a tough mudder.

this was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, very slippery!

Amy crawls through the boa constrictor, I had to skip this one

But I also conquered quite a few of them.  The one I’m most proud of is Funky Monkey.  It’s a jungle gym style obstacle over water.  Last year I only made it about 5 rungs before I went down.  This year I made it all the way across the 20-or-so rungs.  This even though I had to wait in the middle for a guy to clear out below me.  I guess that p90X is paying off!

all the way across

a little mud, a little barbed wire

Last year I ran the race with a strained muscle (strained prior to the race).  This time I went in healthy but got pretty beat up.  Is it still fun?  No question about it.  This is almost my favorite race of all the ones I do.  It sounds kind of horrifying if you’ve never done it but it’s actually not so hard.  Certainly not as hard as the 1/2 Ironman I did last year.  Probably not as hard as a century ride or marathon even.  (Don’t tell the organizers I said that!)

The camaraderie at Tough Mudder is about as good as it gets.  The first year I did it solo and chatted with lots of folks.  Some of whom I still say hello to now and then on Facebook.

that last smooth bit was impossible without help

There are several cultural artifacts around the tough mudder experience.  One of which is the post-race beer.  I actually drank 1/3 of it before I gave up.  That’s pretty good for me, usually I can only take 1/4 of a beer.  Yuck!  I think I’ve finished a beer twice in my life, both times with the hash house harriers where it’s pretty much culturally mandated.

I drank a full 1/3 of this beer

With the race complete, it was time for a late lunch at Phil’s!  It’s an endurance race tradition now.  Phil’s was my only full meal so I realized I had a calorie deficit for the day.  I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I could say that on a day that included Phil’s BBQ.

Hope you enjoyed the recap, I have several more pics and a great video from TIME magazine.

let the mud fly!

my favorite costumes of the day

that’s me hitting the water


Amy says, “I’ve got this”

Amy says, “never mind”

they don’t call it “tough sparklin clean”

Amy says, you think you’re dirty!

the denver trip

// August 15th, 2012 // 1 Comment » // finding fun

From 8/1 to 8/5 I was in Denver for my cousin Becca’s wedding. My parents had volunteered to run the music at the reception as they love to do. They were more excited than usual because this time I was joining the party. It was good for everyone since I had plans of my own for Denver. And I was the one who convinced them to move their music production off the now 14-year-old Korg Triton on to a computer with Propellerhead Reason. Since I initiated this transition I thought I should go help them run it.

As I arrived at the airport on Wednesday I learned my flight had been delayed about 80 minutes. One day I’ll learn to check this before I leave the house. Not to worry, I have plenty to do on the ole computer. As I checked my bag I paid the $20 fee, lovingly called an “excess baggage fee” by Frontier Airlines.  Yes, with one bag I am “excessive.”

On the plane I finished off Packing for Mars which was hilarious. The poor woman next to me had to put up with all of my giggling; at least she didn’t know it was mostly because of poop jokes. Next I started The Violinist’s Thumb which is both interesting and very well written. After arrival my excess bag took 15 minutes longer to get to the baggage claim area than I did. Doesn’t Denver have this fancy underground tunnel system? It didn’t work.

My little brother Aaron was already circling, waiting to pick me up. I met Aaron when I was 25 and decided to join Big Brothers/Big Sisters. He was 9 years old at the time but now he’s 26. Weird. The rent-a-cop immediately accosted him to ask if he was “ok.”  There was a distinct marijuana smell in the area so they naturally assumed the young guy in the sports car was responsible. Or maybe he misjudged me and thought it was two young guys, ha!  A laugh or two later Aaron drove me to his place which was surprisingly put together for him being a young guy. But I guess at his age I was already married so I had less incentive to impress guests.

soul food

it’s all rainbows and unicorns in aaron’s world

We had dinner at a soul food place nearby and then headed over to the outdoor mall which I believe is called the 16th street mall, eventually settling in at a place called Jazz @ Jack’s. Aaron tried to get me drunk but I have veteran savvy and kept myself pretty sharp. Well, whatever passes as sharp for me anyway. Soon the music started. It was not, in fact, jazz but an old-school funk/soul band. Think Kool & the Gang or Al Jarreau. They were good; add a horn section and they could be great. Some older woman was hitting on Aaron so I gave him a bit of grief for that.

the non-jazz

big brother, i’m scared!


The next morning we headed out to meet my parents for lunch. It was at Souplantation or “Sweet Tomatoes” as it’s called out there. This was the first of many white people chain restaurant meals I had on this trip. Or as Christine likes to say, pink people food. After that, Aaron had to go to work so I started travelling with the fam.

I had to do one work task on this trip. A conference call was scheduled for about this time that was deemed to contain very important business so I called in. I had some fears and I’m afraid the message was about the worst case I had considered. My boss and his boss are leaving my company to start their own. Since I like them both, this is sad news for me. But that’s another story so let’s get back to Denver.

The rest of Thursday I got more pink people food and did some last-minute alterations to all the Reason songs in the evening.  That took much longer than I expected.  But that meant that the rest of the music would go super smoothly, right?  Let’s see.


Friday was all about wedding music practice. The first step was to head to the reception hall and set up the equipment. This took a while since much of it was rented and unfamiliar. Plus we are far from a finely-tuned machine when it comes to setting up anymore. Eventually we got everything up and the sound levels were good. Then it was time to head to the church – about 15 minutes away.

amazed we fit this all in one trip

Two weeks before I arrived the piano player told my cousin the bride that she could no longer make the wedding. That day I became the ceremony musician as well. No problem, I’ve played wedding songs before. There was just one I was unfamiliar with called A River Flows In You. And I had to practice my classical pieces a bit so that I wouldn’t flub during the prelude. I snuck in one song from the movie Corpse Bride as my own personal joke. Anyway, the minister was very organized and had us out of there in 20 minutes.

horns rehearsal

Back to the reception hall we went to meet the horn players. In addition to my dad (trumpet), we had one more trumpet and two sax players joining us. Unfortunately, one of the original sax players couldn’t make the wedding and his replacement couldn’t make the rehearsal. Besides missing one player, the rehearsal was pretty rough. In large part because our printed parts didn’t match our sequences exactly. I’m not certain why but we had to make some corrections to several songs. Once 9:45 rolled around we decided to call it and hope for the best.

we bored amy until she started photobombing


Saturday with all its photos is in its own post.


On Sunday I didn’t have many responsibilities beyond heading home. I did manage to get Amy to sign up and join me for next February’s Tough Mudder race. Yay, you should too! A couple hours on the plane (more reading of The Violinist’s Thumb) and I was home. Christine and Noodle were excited to see me. Now it was time to relax! I’ve been working on these Reason songs for some time now and it was good to take a day off.


I took Monday off of work too. I had considered going on a 70 mile bike ride as my training schedule dictated. But I couldn’t stomach the idea of going out so long so I did half that instead. Afterwards we grabbed some lunch at a favorite, Punjabi Tandoor. Before long it was time to head to the Padres Big Brother Big Sister fundraiser day. The other sponsor is Phil’s BBQ so I got to eat that. What a food day! Even Ben & Jerry’s was provided.

We met many friends there, Dan & Cassi, Anne & Gilbert, Victoria & Gary, and Randy & Rena. The Padres won the game if anyone cared. And on the way home I was still hungry so I completed the food trifecta with In-n-Out Burger. Photos from that day will show up on Christine’s blog before long.

That was my trip.

becca’s denver wedding

// August 15th, 2012 // 1 Comment » // finding fun

On August 4th, one of my youngest cousins got married.  A report of the whole trip will follow this one but here is the photo-heavy report from the day itself.

playing the prelude, not visible is my decomposing tie

Me and the family were providing the music for Becca’s wedding. We were not late to the church which was a good start and surprising for my family. I played about 20 minutes of prelude music and that was uneventful which is what you want in a wedding prelude. The ceremony was nice and I hit the right keys there too. The minister was just as smooth as he was in the rehearsal, the length was good, it was a very nice ceremony. From a music point of view,  the difficult part of the day was yet to come. Soon enough we were at the reception hall and lunch was done. Time to make some magic happen.

my angle of the bride and groom

receiving line

Well who knew. We pulled it off with aplomb. After yesterday’s rehearsal I was not expecting this level of success.  So yay us!  The replacement sax player was really sharp and after the sheet music corrections completed in rehearsal everyone hung together… except for one song but I doubt many people noticed. What a nice surprise! To top it off, the bridal party brought lots of energy and danced the whole time. You never know if that will happen, especially in an afternoon reception.

my nuclear family plus aunt jan

nice shot of Becca the bride

Aaron was hoping to join us for the reception but a confluence of events kept him away. Including the release of Broncos season tickets for sale. With Peyton Manning coming to town, that caused a traffic jam right in his way. We eventually did hook up but it was after the ceremony and packing up equipment was done.

don’t ruin my wedding, dad!

phew, you were just joking

competition for the bouquet

neither sister was amused by that joke

After we wound down and packed up Amy smartly asked Aaron for a local suggestion. He said, how about Papadeaux’s? I wouldn’t rank this place among my favorites of all time but it was easily the best food of the trip. In the appetizer round I had calamari and alligator meat. Then a huge serving of cedar-planked salmon for the main course. I got a chance to chat with Amy and Aaron along with my aunt and uncle and my other cousin’s (their son’s) girlfriend.

i thought we all learned that copying moves from dancing with the stars is a bad idea

an extremely rare shot of the parents dancing

lots of family, all happy because we just ate cake

aaron finally finds us

ready for some alligator!

Congratulations, Becca and Eric!

one musician on music

// August 10th, 2012 // No Comments » // finding fun

I was driving to work listening to one of my all-time favorite albums, Fulfillingness’ First Finale.  In a fit of poor judgement I tried to sing along.  It didn’t go well.  Not just because Stevie can sing higher (and much better) than me but because I didn’t know any of the words.  Oh sure, I knew “Do do wop” and “Wo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo” but not the others.  I’ve just never been one to focus on song lyrics – even for songs I’ve known longer than 30 years.

Which parts of the song do hold my attention (I hope) you may wonder.  I have thought about this recently after a few conversations with friends about a style of music that I am “tone deaf” to – rap.  Those conversations reinforced the conclusion in my mind that I can’t properly appreciate rap because of the way I approach music appreciation.

What I do love is complex harmonies and funky rhythms.  I think you can guess what I mean by funky rhythms.  I’ll briefly touch on that later.  When it comes to harmony I am talking about chord changes for the most part. Sometimes there are other harmonic bits of interest – aside from the changes that is.  For instance the Beatles do tons of counterpoint that I love but their songs are mostly simple in terms of chord structure.

I’m going to start this demonstration with a wonderful song by Fourplay. This group plays in the smooth jazz genre which is a turnoff for many… including me.  But stay with me. Fourplay is a different beast comprised of some great guys. The keyboard player was making groundbreaking fusion back in the 70s and the bass player is one of my favorites as well.

I’ll use the song: Bali Run. They do this trick all the time where at the end of the song they re-harmonize the melody and I just eat it up. Check it out. (If little players don’t appear below you can click the links and listen on Grooveshark.

Melody, (0:55-1:07):  


Variation 1, (4:13-4:25):  


Variation 2, (4:55-5:08):  


Other groups that I love work badass harmonies right into the song while keeping it relatable. This is no small task; I don’t see it much outside of big bands.  It’s awesome when I do. A great example is Morph the Cat (not the reprise). Check out to the chorus at 1:45-2:05

Morph the Cat clip, (1:45-2:05):  


You don’t get this stuff very often in pop hits. But sometimes you do. Such as…

P.Y.T. The best part harmonically is the segue before the chorus – 0:30-0:45. I had remembered there are some 13th extensions in there and listening now it sounds like it ends on a dominant with a #5, which is my favorite dominant variation. That cord is also used to great effect in Stevie Wonder’s I Wish at 0:44.

PYT clip, 0:30-0:45):  


I Wish clip, (near 0:44):  


Another pop song with a change I love is Vision of Love. This song was the first time I’ve heard the major III used as a variation on dominant. It’s a cool sound. It’s the chord at 0:34, 0:48, …

Vision of Love clip: 

Does Radiohead count as popular? Their Kid A album is full of suspensions that go on forever. Especially this song. It even puts me on edge a little bit and not much music can do that. When you talked about songs giving you a feeling that’s not usually the case for me other than happiness. If I am listening closely to a song, I am analyzing.  But this one gets me.

Everything in Its Right Place clip: 

Let’s not forget big band. I love the big bands. Man, the first 15 seconds of this tune makes my neck hairs stand up it’s so awesome (first clip below). This one also has the screaming trumpets, Arturo Sandoval no less, that I love as a former trumpeter.

‘Till We’re Together Again, (0:00-0:15):  


Mueva Los Huesos clip:  



Funk is my favorite kind of rhythm. Especially with blaring horns. I could give you 50 Earth, Wind & Fire songs. But instead I’ll go with… Get on the Boat by Prince. That’s the kind of song that makes me move.

Get on the Boat clip: 


And of course, Tower of Power. Couple of fun (harmony) changes in there such as 4:58-5:14 Where’d that come from!? But it’s mostly funky beats, rhythm organ, rhythm guitar, busy bass and horns.

Ebony Jam clip: 

I didn’t even cover picked instruments, but that’s enough for today.

At one point I thought I’d mix a song from Fulfillingness’ First Finale into my own repertoire.  The song was Boogie On Reggae Woman.  Luckily I listened to the words before I started playing it out in public since it’s about wanting lots of sex.  The number of venues I could sing this in is pretty limited.  I supposed if I never learned the words I could have just hummed it…

Boogie On Reggae Woman clip: 

DeMaio event

// May 14th, 2012 // No Comments » // finding fun

A couple of weeks back I got an invitation to a “coffee with Carl” event in my neighborhood.  City councilman Carl DeMaio is one of the mayoral candidates for San Diego.  He’s a libertarian-leaning Republican so he’s a bit far to the right of this centrist.  Nonetheless, I thought it was cool that he was doing this so I happily attended.

Before this night I thought of DeMaio as the “nut on the right” kind of like I thought of Donna Frye as the “nut on the left.”  But I will say that I don’t think he’s a nut any longer.  Carl doesn’t come across well in the sound bytes but he’s alright…for a libertarian.

signage was up

First of all, I learned a lot about him.

  • He started a company at 23 that consulted with local governments and sold the company
  • He started another at 28 that did Sarbanes Oxley consulting
  • He helped author the 2006 managed competition bill passed by San Diegans.  He claims that for each implementation the average savings has been 30% whether the winner was private or public.
  • The county library provides 25% more hours with $3.7M less budget than the city library. He’s trying to change the way the city library system runs.

His current focus is proposition B which would implement certain pension reforms.  For non-locals, our public pension plan was severely underfunded in the early part of the decade.  The NYT exposed the problem and our city got the nickname “Enron-by-the-sea.”

According to Carl (I did not fact check)

  • 12 years ago, the pension payments were $48M, this year they were $232M
  • The average city employee retires at 55 with payments of 129% of their highest salary
  • Due to union influence, not just salary but skills pay and bonuses count towards the pension formula. Of course he gave a couple of ridiculous examples of what “skill pay” might be
  • New hires get a 401k, not a pension
  • Prop B would make the pension less attractive and incent current employees to voluntarily switch over to a 401k plan

yes, there were snack. an auspicious start to the night

Generally, Carl was preaching to the choir in this room.  It wasn’t quite “Amen,” but I heard lots of “that’s right” and “oh my God!” from around me.  I guess there are a lot of Republicans in my hood.

The Toastmaster in me has to speak up for a bit.  Carl’s talk was about 15 minutes which was a good duration.  He finished with a call to action (asking for volunteers and donations) which is a good thing to do as a speaker.  He was a little “um” heavy but otherwise he was smooth.  (The “um”s increased noticeably during the Q&A.)  He had a good repertoire of memorized facts which gave him an aura of competence.  For all the “grass roots” language, I could tell he was a pro politician.  His image and brand were very packaged.  If I were him I’d work on dialing that back a little bit.  Also, during the Q&A he liked to say “great question” before giving his answer.  But I didn’t get a “great question.”   What’s up with that. ;)

folks filtering in

Probably the most impressive thing to me on the night was the book he published giving his plan for San Diego.  He wrote it a few years back so some of the ideas have been implemented already.  May is going to be a killer for me schedule-wise, but I will be reading through that before the fall election so that I have a better sense of his plans.

One of the messages I didn’t like was his focus on pay for performance.  I am a Drive devotee and I think this idea is misguided.  To be fair to Carl, a lot of city workers are blue collar and pay incentives work better for those kinds of jobs.  BTW, if you’ve never seen the Drive 10-minute whiteboard video, do it!  It’s really enjoyable and informative.

best shot I got with my waterproof camera

With the new election laws, if one candidate gets 51% in the primary, he’ll be mayor.  There are 4 serious candidates and nobody is polling that high.  If the current numbers hold, DeMaio and Democrat Bob Fillner will be the top two and have a runoff in the fall.  I have to say, if that comes to pass I will vote for DeMaio.  I am not a Fillner fan.  Not at all.

forget 11, i turned it up to 70

// April 1st, 2012 // 5 Comments » // finding fun

Yesterday I finished my first half Ironman race. That’s a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run for a total of 70.3 miles.  The longest triathlon I had done before was just over half that distance.  I’ve been joking for a while that upon completing a half Ironman I will be just half a man.  I guess if Tyrion Lannister is a halfman that puts me in good company.  But Christine noticed that nowadays they brand it as “Ironman 70.3.”  Maybe not everyone thought it was as funny as me to be half a man.

Let’s start with my official results which I’ve summarized here.  The third column is how I placed in men 40-44 and the fourth is how I placed overall.

Swim 43:26 243/487 (50th %) 1391/2903 (48th %) 381 calories
Bike 3:15:28 294/487 (60th %) 1535/2903 (53rd %) 1814 calories
Run 2:05:16 259/487 (53rd %) 1386/2903 (48th %) 1528 calories
Total 6:23:01 259/487 (53rd %) 1386/2903 (48th %) 3723 calories

What was it like? Read on to find out.  This will get long but there will be pretty pictures.

The pre-race events were super smooth.  In fact the whole day was very impressively organized. Upon arriving in Oceanside I parked in a garage and walked over to T2 to drop off my run bag.  (T2 was not the same location as T1.) Then I realized I forgot my wetsuit so I walked the 2 blocks back to the parking garage. Good thing I realized that before heading for T1 which was over a mile away!  Wetsuit in tow, I rode over to T1 and set up there.

Next was body marking.  They write my bib number (1014) on my arm and my age on my leg. I don’t understand the age thing.  I think it’s so you feel shame when someone older passes you but I’m not sure.  Every triathlon does this.

Then I had some time to find friends.  Much of my swim masters class members were doing the race too. First I found Randolph and James. James has done this race before and he gave Randolph and I good tips on the bike course elevation profile.  A bit later I found Cat along with her husband and friend as well as Vanessa.  The gang was all here!  I have a couple of coworkers who registered as well but neither were able to compete. :(  Missed seeing you guys!  Everyone asked if I was nervous but I felt ready.

I gathered with the light blue heads which was my wave consisting of men, 40-44, N-Z. I saw 3 women wearing light blue caps which made me laugh. A few minutes later we were in the water.  I acclimated to the 58 degree water quickly (I had practiced that) which was good because in about 2 minutes we were off!

not my race but this is what it’s like

The beginning was a mass of bodies which is never fun.  It’s a grope and collision fest.  Those poor 3 women!  Eventually it thinned out which was an improvement but swimming in the ocean is not my favorite.  Over at the far (less protected) end the water was more rough and noticeably colder.  The swim seemed to take forever but I never tired which made me happy.  I beat my budgeted time of 45 minutes by 2.  Yay, good start!

Next up was transition #1 (swim to bike). I took almost 13 minutes which was about what I expected.  I think the average time is ~7 minutes but I don’t know how anyone does it in less than ten.  I am a little bit handicapped because I do a full towel change rather than wear a tri suit under my wetsuit.  Also I ate half a brownie to get that crappy ocean taste out of my mouth.  It was heavenly and worth the 30 seconds without a doubt.

my bike splits, I accidentally hit the lap button after 0.17 miles

I was surprised by my bike performance. It took me 3:15 and I had budgeted 3:30.  That’s a big difference!  I felt strong the whole time.  I should say my legs were fine but I was tired of holding my head up and my butt was tired of sitting in the seat (despite wearing my nice and oh-so-attractive shorts). There was a light drizzle much of the time and thus a spray of mud all over all of us. But the temperature was great, low 60s.

It seemed like bikes were passing me constantly.  I was wondering where all these cyclists were coming from, how could there be so many back there? I didn’t see a single other Litespeed bike during the race; I guess I’m the only cool one. ;)  I saw tons of Cervelos (so many Cervelos).  Also Kestrels, Quintanas, Felts, and others.  I really wanted to touch the Felt bikes.  Lots of money out there between peoples’ legs.

Christine thinks I’m pretty cool stuff which makes me happy

I did fine on the three hills and passed lots of people on the way up.  I’m built for hills.  But of course they all passed me back later.  With the drizzle I saw lots of sweat and mud-sprayed people. I remember one lady wiped her runny nose and wiped it on her bike shorts.  These endurance events don’t tend to show us at our most attractive.  Even considering the shorts.

But if you don’t get inspiration from an event like this, you must be dead. I saw super-fit people passing me by. When I looked at their legs, they were often in their 50s. Studs!  There were also people with prosthetic limbs and/or hand-powered bikes competing.  Wow!

When the bike leg was finally done I put on the run clothes and stepped out. I spent 5:58 in T2.  I can see getting that down to 4 minutes.  Yet lots of people get out under 3 and again I have no idea how.

run splits, notice the deterioration after 6 miles

As I began the run I knew I was in trouble right away.  My pace was fine, even good early but I was hurting right from the start and I knew it was only going to get worse.

Nothing to do but steel myself for 2 hours of pain and carry on. I actually ran the first half in about 55 mins but that was the end of me.  As the miles wore on I took more and longer walking breaks.  I honestly had nothing left.  With two miles to go, a 2 hour finish was tantalizingly in reach but I knew there was no way.  I was done.

There’s really no way to describe the run other than miserable.  I knew I was getting closer to the finish of a great accomplishment but it was so painful.  Lots of people called out to me, “let’s go west coast” – referencing the jersey I was wearing.  Later it was “west coasters don’t walk, let’s go!”  But they were wrong this time.

displaying the hardware

But I’m not sad.  I knew it was going to be tough because I never did reach my goal of a 50 mile bike ride being “easy.”  A 1.2 mile swim? Easy.  A 10-mile run, easy.  But I didn’t quite get there with the bike.  I crashed harder than I expected but I knew I would crash.

I just walked when I needed to and ran when I could – making sure I ran at the very end.  I beat my expected finish time by 7 minutes so that’s still really awesome.  I finished middle of the pack which isn’t so bad for a first timer.

Christine arrived during the run and snapped some great photos of me.  Then she came and found me, Cat, Mick and Steve patting each other on the back.

Cat and I are ready to eat after the race!

And what do you do when you’ve just burned nearly 4000 calories?  Why you go eat barbeque!  Phil’s delivered the goods as they always do.  Our friend Roby met us there; apparently nobody else wanted to take advantage of my pain to get some great grub.  He patiently listened to me drone on about the race in my exhausted state which I really appreciate.

At this point in time the question is always, what’s next?  I am going to focus on the bike for a while.  You can see from the results that the bike is relatively my weakest sport of the three.  Run is the strongest despite the numbers.  If I hadn’t run out of gas it would have easily been the strongest of the three.  The improvements I’ve made in swim are nice to see.

I might find a century ride and do that but for now I’m just going to do some interval training on the bike to increase my strength and efficiency.  If you asked me today if I’ll do another 70.3 I’d say no.  That painful run makes me not want to repeat the experience.  But if my biking dramatically improves I will change my mind and see how I can do with a higher fitness level.  So time will tell.

For now, I’ll just revel in this accomplishment for a little while.

reach for it! (btw, my wave started 25 mins into the race)

hey, was this staged? the clock didn’t move!

that guy is crazy

// March 16th, 2012 // 2 Comments » // finding fun

A lot of people tell me I am a crazy fitness guy.  Here is the schedule I am following to train for my first half Ironman.

  1. Sunday: long bike (worked my way up from 40 to 55 miles which takes me about 3 1/2 hours)
  2. Monday: off
  3. Tuesday: lap swim, usually 2000 yards, about 40 minutes
  4. Wednesday: 2 miles on the treadmill and some weight training, about 1 hour
  5. Thursday: lap swim or masters class. Plus 45 minutes of “hills” on the bike machine
  6. Friday: off
  7. Saturday: long run (worked from 5 miles to 10, I run about 7mph)

Does that make me “crazy?”  It all depends on where you sit.

It seems like all the time I run into others who do more than me.  If we include friends of friends I know of people who have done Badwater, Western States, the San Diego 100, the Race Across America, and more.

I think blog posts without photos are boring.  I’m going to intersperse photos of things I’ve cooked recently.

panko-crusted salmon – a good weeknight dish from CL I happened to cook to perfection this time

Aside from those really exceptional folks I know plenty of marathon runners which is a distance I have never run.  Not to mention those who have completed full Ironman races.  I know people who’ve done Boston and Kona.  I seek advice from swimmers who are much stronger than me and do things like go for a 2-mile ocean swim with regularity.  I know people who do crossfit and p90x every day.  Heck, even the people I swim with jump on the treadmill afterwards when I go home and take a shower.

Sometimes I feel like an underachiever rather than a crazy fitness guy.

spring vegetable pasta – a surprise winner from ATC, loved this

This reminds me of driving.  People who drive faster than you are “crazy” and those that drive slower are “idiots.”  And those who drive the same speed as you can get in your way so they become “annoying.”

This language helps us dismiss those other drivers as inferior.  It’s partly an emotional response.  Yes, very fast and very slow drivers can be dangerous.  But I believe part of the response is the same thing we do when watching reality TV, put down others to feel better about ourselves.

pesto alla trapanese – a solid dish that comes together quickly from ATC

When people look at my schedule and say I’m “crazy” I don’t think they are calling me inferior.  But they are calling me different.  They are emotionally separating from me.  In their minds I have become something other.  I do the same thing when I talk about full Ironman participants or those who run Badwater.

Why do we do this?  Well it’s a shorthand way of saying, “I don’t want that.”  If I think hard about it, I really don’t want to train for Badwater.  But rather than thinking about my fitness level and/or weight, the improvements I would like to see thereof, and whether training for Badwater would help me get there…it’s easier to just say “he’s crazy.”

spicy turkey tacos – an all-time fave from CL

I have faced similar thinking in other areas.  Such as when I used to play music out and people told me I am “so talented” (as if I never practice).  But I’ll stop here, I’ve made my point for today.  Taking a trip into other minds is one of my favorite hobbies.  I hope you enjoyed this foray with me.

the most banana-y banana bread ever – delicious by ATC