July 29, 2008

That's what you get

Of course, two days after I post about my newfound zen-like take on the world I get another bout of insomnia powered by anxious thoughts and feelings to show that I'm not really rolling with the punches so much as taking body blows and suffering the associated after-effects.

The flavor I suffer wakes me up at 3:30 or 4 AM and my racing mutinous brain won't let my body go back to sleep, if at all, 'til after 6 AM.


July 27, 2008

Elusive Beauty

Sometimes, life throws more than what seems to be your fair share of shit at you. All in one week, or month, or whatever. I'm not in that spot right now, but I'm playing a supporting role to a few people in my life who are and I can't help but feel for them and also wish them well in getting through their obstacles. As Daddy always said,

Life's not fair kid. Get used to it.

My New Year's resolution this year was to roll with the punches and be more relaxed.

The first half of the year I didn't do an awesome job of keeping my New Year's Resolution. But I tried. And ever since Japan, I'm shocked to find that I have more perspective. I'm getting better at letting things go (Which means I'm still way behind the average mature adult. Think indignant high schooler).

I've been an intellectual studier of Zen Buddhism for at least 14 years now. This means I read Zen books and try to apply the principles to my life without meditation, koans, or sesshins. The closest I ever get to those is yoga, running, progressive relaxation, attempted mindful breath-awareness in moments of stress, and brief tourist meditation at some temples in Asia.

Clearly, my Zen practice is not what any Dharma master would recommend.

Rather than join a local Zen center (and there are a few, so I really have no excuse) and have a practice focused by one teacher, I have chosen to meander my way through some of the classic Zen texts (or rather, some of the ones available in English).

But, it wasn't until I started reading books by
Charlotte Joko Beck that Zen really started to make sense in my daily life. I turned the pages of Everyday Zen: Love and Work for at least 3 successive readings straight through. I'd pick it up before bed on days when I needed some calm and read my way through a short vignette/lecture which often made me think long and hard about my life and how I saw things.

Recently, I started making my way through Nothing Special: Living Zen and I'm so pleased to find that I'm in a place where the first time I read her short lectures I understand and relate to her words much more easily than I once did.

I have to assume that this easier understanding of the Zen way of life is connected to how I seem to be doing a better job of rolling with the punches and accepting life for what it is. And, so, in celebration of that, I present to you Okra flowers:



Several weeks ago, E called me to tell me that there was an okra flower and it was gorgeous. By the time I arrived home, it had wilted. Again, a few days later, we went through the same paces. Eventually, we realized that these bursts of color (which must die for the fruit to form) bloom quickly after I leave for work, and lead a short 5-6 hour life in full bloom before retreating to a closed and quickly wilting form before I arrive home.

Finally, after several weeks of work and weekend travel, this weekend, we were home, and I was able to witness them. I think I must have enjoyed my first sighting significantly more than E enjoyed his.

I can't help but suspect there is some sort of Zen lesson to be learned from this.

July 23, 2008

Summer Girl

Summer has always been my favorite season.

I love the sun. The late bedtimes. The feeling that it's always almost time to relax and have a barbeque. But, I must say, tomatoes have become one of my favorite things about summer:


All but the three huge professional-looking heirlooms came from our garden. I am SO proud.

Also, the one lonely okra on the left is to show that our okra from seeds experiment was successful. We managed to grow at least one, and if the buds are to be believed, several more are in the wings.

Foodwise, I may love autumn harvest more than summer foods, but seasonally speaking -- I love the heat, the sun and the tomatoes. And, in the midst of family drama, work drama, and all of that jazz, the calm and slowly evolving life of our garden (especially the tomatoes) brings me more joy this summer than I could have imagined.

July 18, 2008

Cultural Surprise

Tonight, in Washington DC, E and I went to the rehearsal dinner for a longtime childhood friend of his.

Historically, the south has felt glutinous, but not like home.

E always said I was raised to be a southerner's wife. And, I never knew what he meant. But tonight, I got it. Everything felt comfortable.

The strangers (and long-time between last visit people), they followed polite patterns that put me at ease (which involved presenting their names in case I had forgotten them, which, of *course* I had, if I had even had the pleasure of meeting them, previously).

Everyone agreed upon topics of conversation and the sarcasm was limited to a point where you could count upon the people with whom you were interacting to be either (i) sincere; (ii) slightly, cleverly, and amusingly sardonic; or (iii) obviously out for something like blood that had nothing to do with you that you could sidestep.

I liked the categorical distinctions. I knew where I belonged. Oddly, I found myself feeling more at home in this huge social event full of strangers than I had 3 nights prior at a law-firm summer associate dinner at a partner's house, where the rules were not so rigid, I was surrounded by my coworkers and should have been comfortable. There, based on social cues, I couldn't always guess where people were coming from or headed.

Now there's nothing left but tons of leftover work, a somewhat formal wedding ceremony in a big catholic church (which, also, oddly, is likely to make me feel comfortable, due to my Lutheran upbringing), and of course, interacting with a bunch of people I don't know in the high temperatures while E's family waits in the wings for some time with us.

There is no reason I can think of that explains why I should feel comfortable here. And yet, finally, after years of feeling lost when we visit the South, I do. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I am grateful for E's mom's appreciation and social graces towards us today. We started planning a big international vacation with E's sister this afternoon, so obviously, it's amazing to see her.

After all the struggle and frustration about how much the California girl didn't fit in the South, it finally plays out that, at least this time, she fits here, among strangers, better than she does at home. Who knew?

July 16, 2008

Insomnia Sucks

I know it's not a news flash. But I felt I should share.

July 14, 2008

First Harvest

E says the word "Harvest" sounds like "genocide" to our plants. He's probably right.

Regardless, I don't feel the tiniest twinge of guilt despite eating about 10 cherry tomatoes and eagerly awaiting the final ripening of Mr. Stripey's firstborn:


As of last week, the garden as a whole looked like this:


Which is good, because we've successfully managed to control the fungus that infected 6 of our 7 tomato plants. We trimmed leaves. We fertilized. We sprayed antifungal. We switched to an every-other-day watering plan. And, thankfully, although they are a bit sparse for the wear, they seem to be doing much better. At last count we have somewhere around 150 tomatoes waiting to ripen. How exciting!!!

The earliest producer of the group was the squash. Over the last couple of weeks, we've picked about 7 great fruits like these:


The first meal was sautéed squash in a sage in browned butter sauce over whole wheat penne topped with black pepper and grated parmigiano reggiano:


And the lesson we've learned is that it's best to pick them when they are still pale yellow. Apparently, the darker the rind, the thicker the rind.

Speaking of thick rinds, this dark yellow rind (an early developing fruit before we realized we should pick earlier) did a reasonable job of protecting its important reproductive portions from our local raccoon (I was still grumpy that we wouldn't get to eat it):


Remember the Okra from seeds experiment? Well, several of the non-culled survivors have grown to full-fledged plants that have and will continue to flower, and should (hopefully) bear many fruits:


And finally, my fascination with the biology of the cucumber continues, unabated. It has grown from the tiny seedling, to the clutching, wrapping vining monster, to a fully trellised plant with a wingspan greater than 5 feet:


E and I shared the first cucumber with some store-bought tomatoes and we agreed it was amazing and we couldn't wait for its siblings. Thankfully, after a few weeks of fallen flowers, the female flowers are now producing over-grown ovaries like no-one's business. The babies look like this (look at the appendage attached to the unbloomed flower on the left):


And, they grow, very quickly to look like this (note the fully bloomed and wilted flower at the far end for scale):


We've got several proto-cukes and we can't wait to enjoy them with the tomatoes, which are coming ever-so-slowly closer to being ripe each day.

Tonight's garden-inspired dinner was a first course of sliced black krim (from the farmer's market, ours are not yet ready) topped with olive oil, aged balsamic, basil and lemon thyme; followed by a second course of habanero, yellow crook-neck squash bisque that cleared my sinuses but was quite a delicious non-recipe invention, if I do say so myself.

July 13, 2008


Ever since my last marathon, I've been somewhat uncommitted to running. Exercise in general, really. The required weekly yoga has become more of an option that we might take. Sometimes I replace it with yoga at work, which is an awesome benefit, but geared toward the whole workplace and so not quite as strenuous as the DVDs we do at home.

Basically, I've been quick to let life get in the way of my scheduled miles and other workouts.

This is rather dim-witted of me, seeing as how I'm scheduled to do The San Francisco Marathon with E2.

We agreed upon a Jeff Galloway-inspired, but built for those who don't have too much time training program. The weekly goals are two medium length runs, one shorter run (ideally, speed training, but it hasn't really happened for me), and a long run-walk of various miles.

I've cut long runs where I'm on my own short by 20%. I've skipped medium length runs. I've replaced speed training with leisurely short jogs. My average pace has declined steadily. In other words, I haven't been training so much as going through the motions.

The week before Ensenada, I did the mortal marathon training sin and skipped my long run because I had too much work to finish before we left for vacation. Between work and packing, I got 3 hours and 20 minutes of sleep the night before our flight and I kept working until the car arrived to take us to the airport. Clearly, there was no time to get up and do the scheduled 13-15 miles.

But then, in Baja, something happened. After a little over 2 months of lackluster commitment to running, on vacation, I rediscovered my love for the pounding feet. Each day, I slept 'til I couldn't anymore (often 10 hours) and then, when I woke, I'd lace up the shoes for a leisurely run along the bay, pounding surf, and dry sunny inlands for a total of 4-5 miles (all but one day with Nish, who I let pick the pace so we could comfortably gossip, chat, and catch up on each other's lives). When we returned home, I was surprised to realize that when given my choice on how to allocate my time without obligations, I'd choose to run for six days straight.

On the Sunday after our return, E2 and I did our scheduled long run of just short of 21 miles. And it hurt. The weekly total was 43.12 (compared with less than 13 the week before). Despite the running, I had brought approximately 5 pounds of Mexico back with me and my body was not too thrilled with the serious increase in loading from all forces (distance and gravity being the frontrunners). Monday, I limped up the stairs at work. Tuesday, I continued to recover.

Wednesday, I acknowledged that the race was less than a month away and if I was going to be in any shape to complete it, I couldn't miss any more miles. So, I forced myself to do 6 after work. It felt good, but labored. Thursday, I went our for a quick 3 only to realize that I am not quick anymore. Friday, despite feeling as if I needed a day off, I forced myself to do another slow 6.

I felt as if I was running because I had to. I had a marathon to run, so I didn't really have a choice.

Saturday, I got up and tried to drive to E2. I got lost. Not once, but twice. I can only assume it was my subconscious self rebelling against the idea of the scheduled 24 miles. I've *never* done 24 miles in prep for a marathon. And, I'd never been this out of shape this close to a marathon. So, I was fairly certain it was going to suck.

Thankfully, the weather cooperated. It was overcast and cool until halfway through, at which point it was gorgeously clear and breezy. We struggled through the 24 miles, run-walking and taking breaks as we felt it was necessary for an average pace of 12:04.

At least once every 5 minutes during the final 10 miles I reminded myself that I should exercise restraint over the next two weeks with respect to eating -- you know, so my knees wouldn't be so fucking pissed at me on the actual race day. And then, finally, yet somehow earlier than either of us expected, it was all over. We'd finished the 24 miles -- the longest training run I'd ever done. We walked to the burrito joint and placed our orders as the stinkiest people in the joint.

I came home sore, with tight and angry hamstrings. After a long shower, I headed to the nail salon for a pedicure (mmm...massage chair, hand-massaged feet and calves).

But, what did I take to read at the salon? The Runner's World from last month that I never got around to reading. I sat there, getting pushed and prodded and kneaded into relaxation and found myself inspired by the stories of Olympic Trial competitors Alicia Shay (widow of Ryan Shay, who died during the Olympic Trials for the men's marathon) and Gabe Jennings, the cocky, complicated renaissance man.

I returned from the salon to look up their results at the trials and was saddened to see that Alicia had pulled out of the trials for her event due to an injury and that Gabe, in typical flamboyant fashion, had captivated hearts with his wins at the quarterfinals and semifinals only to completely lose it and place last with a substantially worse time than either of the prelims in the finals. As my high school gymnastics coach often said, "You never want to win the warmups."

Today, as often happens when I push myself with my runs, my legs woke me before I would have liked -- grumpy, tight, and painful. After a morning of the farmer's market (tomatoes!!!!), dim sum with friends, a visit to the Computer History Museum for the Babbage exhibit, and some gardening, I was exhausted.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself on the couch, immersed in the second unread issue of Runner's World on our coffee table. I earmarked a few training programs. I started to look at future races and think about the second half of the year and how I wanted to structure my training and racing.

I was shocked to realize that somehow, I'm excited about running again. I can't wait to push myself to regain speed over the taper weeks between now and the marathon. I did a slow 24, so I know we can finish, but just how fast, and how easy it will be on my body is up to me and how I treat myself over the next few weeks. Also, I'm excited about upcoming racing options (my favorite half marathon is every fall) and all of a sudden, I can't wait to start planning.

For my last marathon, I think my mental interest and preparation for racing peaked at the half marathon I ran about a month before the marathon. For each mile of the half I wanted to go faster, I wanted to fly. I had fun running, and I felt strong. But the remainder of my training after that was hard to fit in against life. I found myself getting most of the scheduled mileage under my feet without any specific emotional drive other than commitment to finish what I'd started.

This time, it's the opposite. The first 3/4 of the training was about finishing what I'd committed to do and supporting E2 in training for and running her first marathon. But, now, after two consecutive 40+ mile weeks on a body that's heavier than it ordinarily is, I find myself emotionally driven and committed, which surprises me.

I guess, my friends, this is why I register for races, make a training schedule, and stick to it as best I can. Worst case scenario I'll get in some workouts, possibly even some long runs with friends (which I cherish), and, at a minimum, I should be able to finish the race. But, best case scenario, I just may surprise myself.

So, basically, I'm surprised to realize that I can't wait for fall race season, which thanks to E2's request for a summer marathon training buddy, I'll be in shape for! Yay!

July 8, 2008

Black Letter Law

A client asked a question that has me reading cases tonight.

And there, at page 29 of Kozinski's majority en banc opinion in Fair Housing Council v. Roomates.com (April 3, 2008), I find this jewel on CDA Section 230 (c) immunity for website operators:

The message is clear: if you don't encourage illegal content, or design your website to require users to input illegal content, you will be immune.

Where were the gloriously clear black-letter holdings like this, when I was in law school?

Sure, I'm gonna finish the full 54 page opinion and try to struggle through the nuances. And, yes, I will know more about this area of the law than I did when I started reading this thing. But, a clear concise statement of the take-home message that can fit in a fortune cookie -- if I were in charge, this would be required in all published cases.

July 7, 2008

Vacation Remnants

Today was an easy day at work. I left early, came home and started to attack the to-do list that always seems to be growing.

Safeway somehow managed to fail to sell me half of the groceries I took to the counter (at least they didn't charge me). So, I spent the second half of the evening reconstructing the groceries that I intended to purchase, and how, between unloading the cart and the scanning process, while I was off getting charcoal and lighter fluid for BBQ they did something with them (What would the grocery-man want with my eggs, spaghetti squash, cauliflower, cucumbers, and tomatoes?).

So, I came home and resigned myself to the reality that the Universe did not want me back into the full swing of things.

Instead, I lightly stretched my super-sore legs (21 miles with E2 on Sunday and I'm in *serious* pain!), and finished my latest vacation book (#13):

Skinny Dip

It was like a young adult mystery. I felt as if I were reading a Nancy Drew tale combined with a Sweet Valley High. It was gloriously tantilizing, simple, fast-paced, and sucked me in and away from the mundane realities of my just-back-from-vacation-shock.

All-in-all, I sincerely enjoyed it, and if you are looking for a good beach read, Or just a good hot-weather escape (it's set in Everglades), I highly recommend it to you as well.

July 5, 2008


The culinary shining star of our trip was our visit to Laja.

The reviews are mixed, but I was pleased to find that I disagreed with those who had negative things to say and we all enjoyed ourselves to the fullest.

First, you drive a lazy, slow, picturesque (for the most part) hour from Ensenada, through the commercial fishing town of El Sauzal and up through the mountains on the Ruta del Vino (aka Mex 3 towards tecate).

Then, you arrive, abruptly at the restaurant, a sign on the freeway simple says "LAJA" and points to the left. Off the road, you turn through the entrance to park in front a white hacienda style building with huge rosemary plants and a cactus garden framing the stairs to the front door. Because we were early, we walked through the orchards and let the front-yard garden entertain us as Nish identified all the trees and the rest of us took turns identifying the items in the garden (E and I had fun comparing their rows of squash and zucchini to our one plant).

When you enter, you are greeted immediately by a friendly Spanish-looking man who gives you your selection of the available tables. The decor is open and airy. Vaulted ceilings, windows galore, each facing different gardens, vines, or hills, and the furniture was simple but gorgeous rough wood tables and chairs, stained to a medium dark polish. If we ever have a house with space for a large dining table, I'd like the one in the middle of that room -- it looked so focused on feeding.

The napkins and plates are all white, the glasswear clear and sturdier than you'd get at a restaurant of this quality in the U.S, and the cutlery was equally practical, including the well-balanced Laguiole steak knife with the tell-tale fly at the pressure point.

After perusing the paper menu (printed with a computer and stapled together), we all opted for the Chef's tasting menu. 8 courses. No amuse bouches or palate cleansers. Additionally, the a la carte menu contained only 2 additional courses that you could choose from, so why bother?

This place is much more rustic than some of the write-ups would lead you to believe. It is on a dirt road. It is relatively small. The wine list is mainly (if not entirely, I didn't spend too much time reading it as I opted for the wine pairing and let the experts decide) made up of local Valle de Guadalupe selections. There are no easily recognizable big name (and big price tag) wines.

The plating is perfectly gorgeous, both in visual presentation of the food as well as selection of the type of geometric (although never garishly so) dish to use. The service is informal, but pleasant and responsive, and we were never wanting for anything.

The sparse (but natural and well-matched to the surrounding nature) decor, as well as the minimalism in the food offerings and the commitment to local wine are the types of things, I suspect, that have led to the mixed reviews. The Chef comes from a four seasons and San Francisco big name restaurant background. If you come looking for that same experience, you will likely be disappointed.

But, if you are looking for an amazing, fresh meal experience that displays the character of northern baja, look no further.

The Tasting Menu

-Beet Gazpacho with thin slices of steamed crabapples floating on top (or very tart apples of some sort, or perhaps pickled apples) (paired with a local white that wasn't particularly memorable).

-Field greens (grown out front) and yellow pear and red cherry tomatoes (grown out back) in a simple vinaigrette (paired with a better white than the first, a slightly heavier chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc blend, I believe).

-Homemade wide flat noodles topped with a simple sauce of olive oil, a hint of garlic, mandolin-sliced and perfectly cooked fresh light green zucchini (from the front garden), and small specks of a bright green herb that had very little taste (I will be trying to make this one with some of our basil). This course was the favorite of half of the group (and was paired with a delicious Monte Xanic chenin blanc colombard blend)

-4 small Fresh tuna slices over a tart bright green sauce (paired with a sweet cool sangiovese rosé)

-Filet of cod with the skin on over a deliciously light potato puree (paired with a very light merlot, served chilled).

-A light, very juicy lamb preparation of 1 rib, two quarter-sized medalions, and a slightly spiced stewed preparation. (paired with a blend of cabernet sauvignon and another grape -- perhaps tempranillo?)

-3 sorbets. One carrot-orange, the other two unidentifiable blends of local fruits.

-Delicious light vanilla ice milk with an apricot tart -- ahhh, the amazing mexican pastry tradition meets the French in this dessert. This was my favorite course. And I don't even like apricots that much and I rarely love dessert. But this just was the epitome of the taste of summer vacation to end a perfectly languid 2.5 hour meal with friends.

July 4, 2008

Ensenada: Food and Drink Notes

If you are in California and looking for a budget vacation with great food, I highly recommend Ensenada.

We drove across the border from San Diego during Sunday afternoon and it was a pleasant 2 hour trip. You have to drive from somewhere as there is no airport other than the navy base, but eliminating the flight component from a week long vacation decreases the cost substantially. Add the decreased cost of living and you've got a budget vacation without any real effort.

But the food -- what a wonderful surprise. I expected to be happy because Mexican food is one of my favorite types of food. But I've been more than happy -- I've been almost overwhelmed with food pleasure. Although we've almost been here a week, the variety in Mexican food and flavors that are available have led each of us to be satiated and none of us have yet to tire of the fabulous options.

The first meal, we parked on the small street that leads from the Mex 1 to where we are staying and we walked about a mile. It was Sunday and many stores were closed but we couldn't help but be excited about the options we would have this week.

Eventually, we sat at one of the open air tamale stands and ate ourselves silly on delicious tamales de res y tamales de pollo. The owner plucked each tamale straight from the huge steamer pot and placed them on paper plates where we eagerly untied the tightly tied husks to find deliciously tender masa and wonderfully spiced meat, with a potato added for good measure in the beef offering. I also bought a jar of pickled small yellow peppers mmmm....

From there, we crossed the street and our eyes and noses dragged us into the restaurant with a huge rotating wheel of 10 or so spits turning over a driftwood fire inside an open brick oven. Dos Pollos $140. Los Hermanos it's called -- the logo shows two happy pigs (presumably brothers) sweating in their sombreros inside a pot over a fire. We had a few carnitas tacos (delicious) and discussed the brilliance of their menu offering of la paquetta, which for $220 appeared to be a meal for 8 -- 1 kilo of meat, guacamole, 3 types of salsa, chopped white onions, cilantro, radishes, picked red onions, rice, beans, and a huge stack of corn tortillas from the tortilleria next door. Each day we discuss whether tonight will be the night we go for this option. You know, and whether we should also buy a chicken for good measure...

That first night, we hit the local grocery store to stock up: potatoes, eggs, jalapenos (so *hot* my lips were burning for hours after I cooked with them), some unknown other type of chili that looked like giant habaneros but were tasty and mild, pickled jalapenos and carrots from the deli, nopales, bacon, queso fresco, avacodos ($14 pesos a kilo!), tomatoes (so much tastier than what we can get in this season at home), beer, makings for margaritas, limes, tostadas, chips, beans, hot sauce, and salsa verde. Each morning, Nish and I leisurely compose some form of breakfast from these ingredients to tide us over until our next meal.

One morning, AW came back from his AM walk with pastries from one of the local bakeries. Mmmm... so delicious and buttery without being overly sweet!

Two days ago, we went back to the grocery store for reinforcements to acquire replacements for the few things we'd completely devoured. However, AW had one new item to add to the list -- he wanted chorizo. "It's vacation food," he informed me. "Nish doesn't let me eat it normally because it's so unhealthy."

Nish and I stood in front of the chorizo display and finally, we settled on a single tube of chorizo de cerdo which looked particularly appetizing. However, after a consultation with E, we agreed that perhaps we needed two tubes. So, we put the single tube down and purchased the double tube to its left.

Imagine our surprise yesterday morning to find the label on the double tube read,

Chorizo de Soya

Thankfully, the second ingredient was grasa de cerdo (aka lard) so we weren't in too much trouble, but us Californians were quite amused at the soy-lard combo, which clearly isn't vegetarian friendly, and probably isn't that much healthier than the original. The best guess we could come up with is that it stretches the meat further, which, for once, was a use of soy in a meat-replacement product that E could get behind. For the record, the soy chorizo was actually quite tasty, although I suspect AW will silently never forgive us for missing his one big chance at the real thing before he and Nish move to New York.

Another food highlight was the deep-fried fish tacos by the docks at 8 pesos each. Mmmmm.... it's what Ensenada is famous for, and for good reason. So tasty, fried to order and not too greasy, so many salsas to select from, it's heaven. Like the paquetta, this is another option we regularly discuss as to whether we'll be going back for more. The problem there is that it's downtown, near the cruise ships and full of all of the hawking, yelling, tourist crap, and annoyance that we successfully avoid by staying outside of town. Given that Ensenada is supposedly the least border-town-ish of the border towns, I can say with conviction that I would not enjoy a visit to Tijuana or Rosarito, which, supposedly, make this chaos, debauchery, and peddling look like nothing.

In truth, we haven't had a bad meal yet, although AW and nish did end up with some unidentified organ meat concoction as one of their selections at a Mexico-city-style lunch restaurant offering clay pots of various meat preparations. That was one of the few times on this trip when all of our plates weren't cleaned completely, but we agreed that even though we only enjoyed 3 of the 4 selections of meat (the birria and unidentified spicy stewed pork were amazing, the mole was okay), given the 10 handmade tortillas, beans, rice, salsas and drinks (jamaica for me, 1 coke in a glass bottle and two bottled waters), that lunch was still a steal for a total of less than $110 pesos.

As for drinks, it's what you'd expect, with one twist. Coke has sugar and not corn syrup and thus is a popular option for both E and AW. Bottled water is a necessity as the water in our condo is salty (even in the shower!) and filled with who-knows-what that white film on the bottom of the pan when we boil it is. And, in contrast to the water, it's almost impossible to get a bad margarita, and the beers are always fresh, cold, and light.

The twist is the wine. North of ensenada is a wine region known as the Valle Guadalupe. The oldest winery in Mexico is Santo Thomas, and their winery offers brief tours and tastings. The whites all have an unfortunate common funkiness to them. But several of the heavier reds are quite nice. We bought a bottle of the cabernet sauvignon to enjoy at home. We had plans to go winetasting in the valley, but Mexico-time took over and that plan never really materialized. That's okay, though, since we were able to sample several of the local products with our amazing meal at Laja restaurant (which will get its own post, later).

So, yeah. In our typical true-relaxation vacation style, we've spent time and effort on flavor and food-related adventures, and we've put very little effort into anything else.

July 3, 2008


*Boom* As E2 once said, this is the most celebratinist most country in the world.... I'm just going to type *Boom* every time I hear an explosion to give you some perspective.

Every time we've come to Mexico in the past, E claimed he wanted to buy a metric fuck-ton of fireworks and set them off. I *Boom* think I never really thought it through, because if I had, I'd know it wasn't an idle statement.

At one time, the mostly empty trailer parkish resort where we are staying was apparently a full-blown RV, camping, mixed-use party, complete with a lion and a monkey (this is the story we've heard from the locals). *Boom*

It appears that over time, things have calmed down: the monkey (who used to only like men and peed on women) and the lion, both sadly died. Also, some of the residents have converted their lots to permanent structures for the summer portion of their retirements, but at least half of the residences appear to remain somewhat mobile.

Alas, it is no longer the bustling, *Boom* party-friendly, partial zoo that it once was. So, they have tons of open space along the ocean. Not to mention the fact that the security *Boom* seem to expect you to set off fireworks every night, and starting tonight, they even have a stand that sells fireworks on site. Every night we've been here, at least half of our neighbors have taken advantage of these facts to put on a show.

Predictably, every night after the first night, after we heard and saw the snap, crackles and pops, the boys have found a way (cleverly, *Boom* each time we head back from town, they somehow find a reason to stop the car and ask if they can walk the remainder of the way back to the condo...) to obtain explosive goodies.

The first night they went shopping, they set off a large stick of what appeared to be miniature dynamite by the house before it was even dark. *BOOM!!!* It ripped the 2 gallon water bottle where they set it off into pieces. And that was without the lid on. They claim this is the coolest thing they've done so far... The security came and questioned us and I was summoned. It was the darndest thing... my Spanish suddenly got much worse and I couldn't really answer any of their questions...

Since then, we've made friends with the folks who are camping in front of our rented condo because they too are pyromaniacs. *Boom* Every night, the two girls, aged 11 and 9 or so run around in circles while screaming and laughing as burnt embers from the fireworks they've just lit rain down around them. They make fun of us because we are too cautious... Don't be scared... says the big, often laughing Mom, and then she laughs her big laugh and says, Bush isn't watching....

We've joined their fun each night. *Boom*

The boys have purchased two sets of bottle rockets that have sucked in two unique ways -- the first just failed to explode very well, the second exploded quite well, about 1 foot in the air and 1 second after being lit. *Crack-crack-crack* Nish and I are currently trying to make the case that the remainder of this set should be dunked in the sink and thrown out.

The boys seem to agree, but that is now, while they are satiated from the hour of fun they just had with our camping neighbor's display and their own contribution of 2 huge rockets of high-exploding color, another one of the world's largest bottle-rocket-esque rockets on a stick exploding 40 feet over the pounding surf, and 7 plastic winged abejas (which, if lit on a flat space and if luck and the wind are in your favor, hover and rise in an alternating pattern of color to finally shoot a random tangent of orange sparks at the pinnacle approximately 30 feet in the air). *Boom* I fear that later they will want to try the bottle-rockets-of-death again despite the last failure where E appeared to be running from gunfire.

Tonight's crowd of revelers was easily double the number of yesterday's. *Boom!*

And, as E just said in response to the most recent boom... This is the 3rd. Tomorrow is going to be insane!

Book Reviews (#11 & 12)

My Grandfather's Blessings

This is the second book by Rachel Naomi Remen, the author of one of my favorite reads from 2006: Kitchen Table Wisdom.

It was more of the same. Short vignettes about the depth of beauty and suffering (and how the suffering is often the source of the beauty) of humanity that touched me and often made me cry.

If you feel that you are not seeing enough good in the world, I recommend her books to help you remember that people, in all of their forms, are great. Flawed. Funny. Hurt. Growing. But always wonderful in their own way.

Also, if the writing of the summary of the book on her site bothers you, don't be fooled. Her writing is very narrative. They are great stories that entertain and suck you in without preaching. I don't know who wrote the summary on her site, but it doesn't do the book justice.

Ladies With Options

As she often does, Sarah-the-book-fairy showed up at our house last Thursday with some books to loan me just in time for vacation.

As she predicted, I very much enjoyed this fictional story about a group of women in Minnesota who start an investing club and take over the world, or at least their very small portion of it.

It's based on some loose facts -- the U.S. stock market of the 1980's through the late 1990's, the decrease in manufacturing in the midwest during that time, the wild success of a few companies such as Dell, Microsoft, etc.

It's easy, accessible, a delightfully quick read, and very clean. All of the problems are solved neatly in the end. The characters were fun to get to know, and it was a great story with a happy ending. All-in-all, a perfect vacation read.
Post 997

Folks, I was getting close to 1,000 posts in my old template, which I liked very much, but unfortunately, Firefox did not.

I was getting tired of scrolling to the right to read my writing because Firefox decided not to respect tables. So, I tried a new template. I don't love it, but I seem to have blown away the old one, as well as all of the comments.

I can guarantee I won't be spending time maintaining or mucking with the look of this thing because I'm not allowed access to the scripting behind the element definitions.

Oh well. C'est la vie. I did say I was going to try to simplify my life...

July 1, 2008

Peaceful Relaxation

Next to my head is an open window providing me with gorgeous views and the melodic noise of the crashing surf, which is 50 feet away.

So far, we've done little else than waking to the sound of surf, eating, lounging around the condo, drinking some mexican beers, running on the beach to the sound of the surf, eating, walking along the coast and through the eerily empty ghost town of Mona Lisa Resort, eating a delicious dinner at a local resort with views of the surf, reading to the sound of the surf and sleeping. Lots of sleeping.

Oddly, it's relatively empty here. Most of the vacation homes and motor homes where we are staying are empty. The nearby resorts are either primarily empty, or, empty and in disrepair. I would have thought that the mellow temperatures (highs in the mid 70s) would make this high season. But I would appear to be wrong.

So, in addition to the typically slow Mexican pace of life, there's the added stillness of very few people.

It's just what the doctor ordered.

So far, the most energy intensive activity put Nish and I in her car, trying to find the local yoga studio (which is 6 miles away, according to google maps), failing to find the right street and just driving around town 'til we found a place for margaritas (it's almost like yoga...). We may try again. Or... in all honesty, we may be too lazy.

During Nish's & my debacle, E & A did the typical male thing and bought the world's largest bottle rocket. The explosive portion was approximately 1 foot long and the stick was well over 3 feet long. It was scary to watch them try to light it, but when it finally went... ooohhhh... Cohetes! It shot from the rocks where they lodged it to 20 feet above the ocean and then exploded in an avalanche of color over the ocean.

Last night, after the fireworks show, we all sat on the balcony and talked 'til it was our respective bedtimes. And then, we each slept in 'til the sound of the surf woke us (or, in E's case, will wake him at some point...).

Today, it should be more of the same, although, if we get ambitious, we may head into town to experience the more touristy side of Ensenada that the cruise ship folks see.