Friday, December 24, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things:

A church full of people and families singing "Joy to the World" and "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful"; my dad's voice when he receives my call (even when he thinks I am Brian); my mom's unfailing love of her sons; the memory of being carried on my Uncle Sam's shoulders; having people appreciate me feeding them; patting an airplane good luck as I step through it's door on another journey; an American flag waving in the sunlight; Prosciutto San Danielle; jogging by the White House listening to the theme from "West Wing"; movie bingeing at Oscar time; US Soccer World Cup goals; Barolo and Amarone; stepping foot in a new country; swimming in the ocean at Waikiki; my nieces when they are happy to see me; shaking my friend Lou's hand on Friday evening; eating Maryland crabs with Phil; stepping off the train in Penn Station; when she smiles at me; big days; seeing the honest face of a champion and remembering the feeling; Double Double and chocolate milkshake on the patio of the LAX-adjacent In-N-Out in the sun, watching the planes; Rosa Maria's burrito; seeing Manuel as a father; randomly hearing from Shaun Cunanan; Iberico Bellota porkbelly... u-h-hhhh; having a beer with Brian and/or Tom; Van Halen live, or when I least expect to hear it; occasions that permit me to wear a suit; works of Mozart or Beethoven performed live by great musicians; cooking with KP; seeing TY Flinton walk through the restaurant door and most of the ensuing hours that follow; talking with Stefanie from across the country, sounding like from around the corner; sunsets unencumbered by buildings; riding bikes in Davis; waterskiing diversions; snowflakes; KARAOKE; lunch on Zaytinya's patio; Jennifer asking me how I am doing; seeing old friends; ceviche and a pisco sour in Lima; dinner at Il Latini in Florence; breakfast on Main Street in HB; walking back into Lucy's; sitting atop Huayna Picchu; Fourth of July; Thanksgiving; CHRISTMAS!

I have been so blessed, it would seem silly to ever be wanting for a gift, although I would always happily receive one. Merry Christmas to my family and many friends near and far. May this season likewise bring you joy as you remember too your favorite things.

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Monday, December 13, 2010


"Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine."
- Mr. KFI

I'm trying not to be political here, so please hear me out. There was a great deal of hype centered on a word in the 2008 campaign for President of the United States - "change". Then and since I have given "change" a great deal of pondering... and some ridicule. David Bowie sang about it. So did Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur; in fact they pleaded for it. What sticks out in my mind from those latter two musicians is that they believed that the world needed to change, but only through individual decisions to make that change from within themselves - from within ourselves.

Of course, change requires power. If you want to change your weight, we usually think of will power. If you want to change a country, that takes a great deal of political power. If you want to change the world, well... a bit daunting, isn't it? One thing for certain is that change happens TO all of us. Sometimes these are blessings, but many times they are a pain in the you-know-what. Shakespeare's Hamlet found himself in a "sea of troubles" and had a great deal of anxiety about how to deal with that. Now even if you're not faced with the small obstacle of a fratricidal uncle/stepdad who is, oh yeah, also your king, I'll bet you've been taken for a ride by Change and perhaps perplexed about how to gain the upper hand. Well, I guess it would come back to power. You have no power to change the heart or the will of another. A wise person would do better to inspire. One may not be a king, but with a regal heart he should lead all the same. Power to change is in showing the way - blazing a path. One cannot control the winds, but can usually change one's own direction. Luckily, we all have a unique capacity to instigate a revolution. Our founding fathers knew that, and many more have known since and before. Be wary of those who tell you to "embrace change"; they are usually the very ones seeking their power over your situation. Be a revolutionary hero and tell the world the changes you intend on making happen. Embrace that.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas in December

Back by popular demand, it's Christmas... in December. Yes, indeed Christmas is a season of charity, sharing, celebrating... of thanksgiving, of love, and of hope. But, you knew all that, right? Why, then? In a word - joy. Everyone wants joy. Everyone yearns to be able to celebrate life. Well, my friends, 'tis the season. Even if you believe this Jesus character is the center of the world's greatest scam - which I do not - our culture, at least as Americans, has granted us this season to hope for joy. There are carols, and parties, and, and... tubas! Major cities nearly shut down, millions of people travel to be with their families, and prodigals swarm to fill churches to capacity! What the hell is going on?! Well, it's not Hell; it's Christmas.

I only bring this up, because we are perhaps too familiar with Christmas. This is not to bemoan the commercialism aspect. This is not to remind you to believe in Jesus Christ. We are familiar with the trees, the music, the movies, and gift-giving that has become the ritual of the season. What we tend to lose is the joy that life can bring when we let it - when we hope. I forewarned two years ago of a peddler of "hope" that he would not succeed if it did not spring from the human spirit. As children, we learn of hope and the true meaning of Christmas... and we get it. And then, we get selfish. Then, we get skeptical. Then, we forget what this time is all about.

If we are to properly explore Christmas, at the risk of infuriating millions of Christians (yes, I'm that widely read), we must harken back to Groundhog Day. I'm actually talking about the movie - Groundhog Day. Bill Murray (also starred in Scrooged, hmm) played a character who basically was forced to discover the meaning of life, one day at a time, the same day, until he got it right. He was forced to, not only discover, but CREATE joy. That movie was about Christmas, because like Christmas, it was about new life. God willing, we will get many do-overs of Christmas. What do you think it will look like when we get it right?

Merry Christmas.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

I Wanna Wake Up in a City That Doesn't Sleep...

I blame all my dining out proclivities on my dad. He's not a gourmet by any means, but as a divorced dad with two elder sons oftentimes doing their own things, my dad took me out to eat a lot. That is not to say he can't cook; my dad was famous in the North End of San Bernardino for his Indian Burritos. Friday mornings at Our Lady of the Assumption catholic school were often filled with the banter, and even bragging, of who was invited to dinner and how many burritos were consumed at one sitting. Memories. But, at least once per weekend, and oftentimes more, we would go out to eat at one of our favorite spots in town. There was DJ's, Lucy's, Mexico Restaurant, The Castaway... we had a couple of places for ribs... Chinese... pizza... and there was The Mug. I believe The Mug is where I learned about Italian Food, cheesecake, and Frank Sinatra. I learned that my dad enjoyed Frank's music, so I would always go to the jukebox and play "New York, New York." What a grand place this must be! "King of the hill! Top of the list! A number one!" "If I can make it there, I'm gonna make it anywhere!" It was already one of my favorite places in the world by age twelve, and I would not yet actually visit there for another decade. New York City - Frank's Town... and one day it would be mine.

As Providence would have it, I now spend every day of my life in a restaurant... or at least 360 out of 365. Italian is my favorite food, and New York may be my favorite city. Luckily, NYC is just a short bus ride or train ride away. (I flew once, but in reality doesn't save much time.) I will look for just about any excuse to go to New York: a wine class, a party, a friend's band's show, a lecture at Columbia University, a birthday... dinner. Yes, in this town on any given block there is an electronics store, a take-out, a salon, a bar, and a restaurant. There are like a MILLION restaurants in New York! And, competition is fierce with the so-damn-high rents and New Yorkers' discerning palates... the place is ripe and lush with culinary delights. My uncle Sam came here for Broadway; I go for food. I like Central Park, taking photos, wandering, yadda yadda... but I really can't wait to get a sandwich from Porchetta (East Village), or a meticulously constructed dinner from Public (Elizabeth St, near Spring), or a pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge (always forget the name, but I'll remember it later).

My stomach is starting to growl, so I'll close for now. Be there soooon!

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Viva Colombia!

"Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering."
- Yoda

Someone told me I was going to die if I went to Colombia. Odds are I will at some point, but Colombia didn't do it. Even Colombians asked me, "what made you want to come to Colombia?" They don't ask that in Hawaii, or New York, or Italy. I think my desire to give that place a chance was the main reason I was so well received. Imagine someone telling you they think you are so much better than everyone thinks that they'd bet their life on it. From the hotel service to the food service to the taxi drivers, I had the distinct feeling that I was welcome in this country. Strangers took me in as friends, and that I can say was truly overwhelming. If you see Colombia in a movie, it probably has something to do with cocaine or violence... or both. What you won't see are the beautiful beaches, the vibrant culinary spirit, the modern festive nightlife, the magestic green mountains, or the inquisitive friends who don't want you to leave. You won't see it... unless you go there. Colombia is colorful, rich in culture, and in my opinion a much under-appreciated gem at the gateway to an awe-inspiring continent. But you probably won't see it.

I was asked today what was the best part of my trip. Without hesitation, my answer was the discussions I had with my new friends. I saw some beautiful treasures, saw some fantastic sunsets, ate some delicious creations, and danced a lot of dances. However, I spent some time with some great Americans - South Americans. We bridged a gap in some small way that is difficult to accomplish without travel. I went blindly into a strange land, and I found old friends I had never met. It was the people who made me feel safe, and these are a people who are passionate about becoming better - not just than anyone or someone else, but better than who they are thought to be. The time spent with the good people on my third South American expedition was not only enlightening, but inspiring.

One of the most fearful parts of any foreign trip is the arrival gate. You are basically fresh meat for pickpocketers, kidnappers, down-on-their-luck transvestite hookers, crooked money changers, corrupt cops, and young jihaddists. At least that's what crosses my mind between customs and finding my ride to somewhere safe. But, take that return trip to the airport two weeks later and... like my niece Alexandra told me about using the toilet: "It's not scary." So the message from this trip, seems to me, is about fear. Fear of danger, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of intentions of the too-friendly-to-be-on-the-up-and-up gay Italian restaurateur are not only things we encounter in international travel, but things many of us encounter every day. Fear was installed in us to keep us alive, however fear can also keep us from living. Fear can make us hard, it can make us enemies, and it can make us weak. How many things don't we do because we are afraid? How many lives don't we touch? How many mysteries remain mysteries? The future belongs to those who refuse to be afraid and who vigorously seek out truth. Fear will prevail if you let it, but just think of what all you'd miss!

Viva Colombia!

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Y la Cava...

Alright, where were we... FOOD! Ah yes, I was on a mission to keep myself in the good graces of any Colombian reader of mine; let's be honest, I'm sure that number is in the low to mid hundreds of thousands at this point. I had the excellent fortune on Saturday evening to dine at Santissimo in Cartagena. Not only did I make the acquaintance of a charming Venezuelan family there, I had the nearly as exquisite opportunity to sample a local dish called obtalá with a fine Chilean cabernet sauvignon. On the menu, it is described as beef "punta de anca" which is sautéed and then stewed for two hours with vegetables and beef broth (tasted like some red wine in there, too). The trio of flavors of the stew, plátanos en tentación (soft cooked bananas), and arroz con coco (dark fried coconut rice) was amazing, and I savored every bite of the harmonizing flavors. I had ceased note-taking toward meal's end, but I had a delightfully simple yet unctuous vanilla ice cream with a local dark red berry with tough skins and large inedible seeds. The degree of difficulty in the required careful mastication was forgiveable. Mmm! The next day, I stopped by La Vitrola for lunch. I saw octopus carpaccio on the menu for the second time in as many days, so I decided it wasn't some drunken disgruntled German expat chef's idea of countering my boss's liberación de los pulpos, and may be just crazy enough to work (referring to carpaccio, not my chef; he works, right?). Bravo! It was thinly shaven octopus topped with parsley and diced tomatoes. On the side were fresh lime, a cruet of olive oil, pepper mill, and salt shaker... so I utilized them - delicious! So we're in business.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Code Red!?

Okay, how do I say this without offending anyone...

"I want the truth!"
"You can't handle the truth!!"

Sorry, had to get my Colonel Jessup on, because my Colombian friends are not going to like this. As delightful as this place is... wait... ooh, how 'bout this: I have yet to take any food notes as is standard for my trips. I did have good churrasco, but I think that may be Brazilian. Had a good causa, but that's Peruvian. My friend's steak with cheese and sun-dried tomatoes was good, but I think they were trying to be Italian. They keep telling me about Andres Carne de Res, so we may have to go there when I get back to Bogota. Perhaps I'm going to the wrong places. I'm sure it's my fault. It's not that the food is bad, it just hasn't been remarkable. Actually, I have made it my goal for the day to change my mind and have awesome Colombian food. That, and to go to the beach. And world peace.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Covet Mark's Moves

My friend Christina just proposed that life may in fact be a dance floor, and God is the DJ. Now would He play just Christian music? I think country maybe too sad. Definitely no gangsta rap. Does He take requests? "Yo, Holiest of Homies, how dost Thou feel about a little 'Karma Chameleon'"? Love would be easy, if your colors were like my dreams. I think we're getting off track here. Is Jesus pouring the wine at this club? Woo woo! In any case, I believe we are supposed to just dance.

My friend Gemma calls me "Happy Feet", I think due to some lack of formal dance training. Kevin told me once that if I taught him how to ride a motorcycle, he'd teach me how to dance. My niece Alexandra thinks I'm a great dancer. I think only the purest minds can appreciate my interpretive moves (that's right). I mean there are so many types of dance dating back to the beginnings of history. I just may not be appreciated in my own millenium. (This really is going somewhere, I promise.) So, I think to "just dance" is to get out there and DO IT (and do it, and do it). That's what traveling is. That's what life is. Might as well jump.

I was dancing last night in Cartagena. Of course every song had a new dance, and by the time I got the hang of one, I had to learn a new one. No MJ. It was the end of a great day. Like I said before, it's nice to have friends... and friends of friends. My Cartagena tour guide was Diana. She took me to the best hotel - Sofitel - for a refreshing beverage; I had a green mango martini (with lime and salt). Afterwards, we cabbed it to see the sunset from the top of the centuries-old city wall - awesome view, looking out at the ocean! We had reservations for a really nice restaurant, supposedly, but our cocktail waitress took 50 minutes to deliver our check, and we missed our reservation. However, we found a mediocre, yet pleasant meal in a delightful setting of one of the main city's plazas. A man even sat with us and sang while playing guitar! It was a good night, as my host was determined out of national pride (no, I'm serious) to make it so. One impression I have had so far on this trip is that the Colombian people are not only very open and welcoming, but in fact determined to impress their guest with hospitality (cocktail waitress excluded) so as to leave an indelible positive impression. Colombians are eager to have the world know that what you see in the movies is not Colombia. There are many unpleasant realities in many places. What a breath of fresh air to see a people dedicated to rising above. Now that, my friends, is change you can believe in.

Off to the pool...

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Consejo Sin Precio

When my mom stepped out of the hospital room for a few moments, I asked my uncle Sam about Colombia. I thought if I had his blessing, I'd go. He was short on words at that point, but not on fondness for this country... and more specifically, Cartagena. So, I'm here.

First of all, I have been extremely lucky to have several Colombian friends in the United States whom, not only have advised me on this trip, but, have put me in contact with their friends and family down here. So, Jamie, Jorge, Jaime, Manuel, Oscar, Natalia, and Natalie... Muchas Gracias. I have had so much help that I haven't even much looked at my guide book! I'm quite certain there is no section in there devoted to where to spend your birthday with a table full of friends; probably nothing in the index leading you to an international conference on migration with the speach writer for the mayor of Bogota; and definitely no section devoted to cruising the local malls with senior citizens for mamacitas... or perhaps I just borrowed the wrong book from the MLK Library (was the only one!). In any case, for better or for worse, as I wrote several entries back, a world traveler believes and comes to know that are some things not found in books.

So I arrived around dusk yesterday in Cartagena. In contrast to the oftentimes chilly huge capital city of Bogota set inland and high up in a valley surrounded by mountains, and seemingly always nestled among the clouds, Cartagena is situated down along the Carribean coast between Panama and Venezuela. (I don't plan on making jaunts to either to make country #21.) There are palm trees at the airport. I'm going to leave it at that for now, as it is morning and have yet to see this place in the daylight. Buenos Dias a Todos!!!

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Es un Pajaro? Es un Avion? Es SuperMarkito!!!

So, I am now convinced that at least one of the following are true: doors, especially car doors, are made of inferior materials that are lighter than American doors and slam easier, OR in this country I have super-human powers not unlike Superman on Planet Earth.  I´m convinced of the latter, but either or both may be true.  (Cab drivers HATE me.)  I´m trying to contain the fuerza...

So, I have been blessed with a very gracious host, who happens to be the father of a friend of mine.  Oscar warned me that he likes to talk, but it has been somewhat of a linguistic adventure.  I´m doing my darndest to practice my Spanish with him, but for some reason he still calls me "Mart," and doesn´t seem to catch my body language that says "I have no idea what the hell you are talking about; may I please just go to sleep?"  Perhaps my finely honed international spy skills have masked any such cues, which would explain why I get asked to do readings at French church services and why Spaniards at work think I enjoy running around for no tip (sorry to my Spanish friends).  In any case, Señor Gonzales and I have had some priceless conversations.  This morning, he explained Colombian history, and switched gears to World War II, basically calling us Americans cowards for our tardy entry.  I do the minority of the talking, so I didn´t ask when Colombia stepped in to topple the axis.  However, I was happy to inform him that since, we have learned our lesson and have no problem stepping in first to fight communism, terrorism, and all other manner of -isms we deem counterproductive to the planet (or at least to us).  He liked that a lot.  I discussed this, along with an answer to her query as to why I am not a liberal, with my new friend Silvana at the Gold Museum, and she doesn´t want to be friends anymore.  So much for my foreign relations endeavor.  Time to find a steak and a beer

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bogota, Colombia... Buscando Shakira

I know it´s still early, but 48 hours in traveling in Colombia, and I have yet to witness a kidnapping or come into any contact with any illegal drugs.  I am in the capital city of Bogota.  It is a huge modern city in a valley surrounded by lush green mountains.  So far I have only heard Shakira once (and Michael Jackson at least three times) but I will survive.  I arrived from Miami on Saturday, and was kindly greeted my my friend´s father, Señor Gonzales.  We went directly to eat at the local mall which had churrasco - a grilled steak with fried rice and banana.  Que rrrrico!  I met up with my friend´s cousin and about ten other friends, for unbeknownst to them what was to be my pre-birthday dinner at a ... of course... Spanish restaurant.  All of my new friends were very warm and kind, and there was a mix of them practicing english and me practicing spanish.  Through some miracle of modern technology, my friend in DC, Jaime, alerted my gracious dining partners that it was in fact my birthday eve.  Well, we celebrated.  There was much dancing, aguardiente, and even a cheesecake complete with candle and "Feliz Cumple" written in a berry sauce on the plate.  It was a great time.

Yesterday, I spent some time with my new friends Silvana and Julio.  I toured the old part of the city where all of the government buildings are.  I saw an unexpectedly great collection of art, including works from Cesanne, Monet, Picasso, and a local favorite Botero!  Botero is from Medallin and paints and sculpts all fat things.  There is even a fat version of Mona Lisa and Adam & Eve... pretty interesante!  Nearby, there was a restaurant that advertises "el mejor ajiaco en todo el mundo", so we had to try it.  It was a chicken stew.  I might try to make it.  Later, we all met up for what was ostensibly "coffee", but was decidedly more aptly described as Aguila cerveza; hey, I´m just a guest here, so who am I to complain?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bienvenido a Miami

Of course with a 16 hour overnight layover in Miami, Florida, I did what any sensible red-blooded American would do - I tried to stay awake the whole time.  Given the Orange Bowl Catastrophe of y'or, it was a must.  MI-AMI!!!

So I rented a car and drove to South Beach.  Dinner at Ola (1745 James Ave.) was quite nice, as it should have been given the price tag.  I enjoyed some non-Peruvian "Fire & Ice" ceviche, crispy pork, and a delicious "Deconstructed Key Lime Pie."  Afterwards, I strolled to find a cool (temperature) place to hang out, and yeah, there are no cool places in Miami... just places to sweat, and sweat less!  Since all of the girls were wearing 6 - 9 inch high heels, there was really no one there eye-level or below with whom to make friends, so I opted for a different locale after a few hours - Fort Lauderdale.

I knew my friend Natalie was a bartender there, and it wasn't too far, and I had to utilize my wheels.  What I didn't know was that Natalie's twin sister ALSO works at the same club and had absolutely no idea who I was!  "Hellooo... helloo?  Remember me?  No?  Really?  That's cool, I can take a hint."  No, actually Didi was very nice once she stopped ignoring me as the crazy guy waving his arms in the air like a third base coach on steroids (Do the base coaches take steroids too?), and she took me to her sister.  It turns out their family is from Colombia and actually gave me some travel tips for the big trip.  Well anyway, everything closed at 4 am, so I slept in the car for two hours and proceded back to South Beach just in time for sunrise.  I hope you like the photos.  Next stop: Bogota!

Miami at Sunrise

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Something New

Five years ago, my friend Drew and I discovered that we were both to turn 30 that same month of August (he's older). We had some down-time at work to plan the possibilities for a birthmonth celebration that would be suitable for such a landmark birthday, and we decided we should do something new every day before our respective special days that we hadn't done before. We started brainstorming, and it opened our minds to the possibilities if one only chooses to actively pursue new experiences. I cannot tell you the whole list, but I will say that we had a crab feast that was quite memorable. Even a little accomplishment felt like a step forward in life... and it was an exercise I highly recommend.

Fast-forward five years (Drew is 35 already) and I am 34. As my fellow Californian friend has since gone his own way, every year I've chosen in some small way to carry on the tradition - the August Birthmonth Challenge! Yes, it has seen many an endeavor, both large and small, and taken me to New York, California, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Maine, and to a Sammy Hagar/Chickenfoot show at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach. Yes, the 29 days of August (Drew only has 13) require thought, dedication, creativity... and are not for the weak nor the timid. So we press on!

I thought I would share a sampling of this year's list as I take on the final week. So far, I have: held an art exhibit showcasing more than thirty of my favorite photographs; gone water-skiing for the first time in two decades; returned to San Francisco and found a wonderful cajun breakfast and an ice cream shop that delighted me with "Secret Breakfast" and Smoked Sea Salt Chocolate; explored two new wineries in Napa Valley; unknowingly got "shopped" by secret shoppers (not my decision, of course); given a eulogy; created a strawberry-peach breakfast bruschetta; dined at Vinoteca and Poste; visited old friends for the first time in Lodi and enjoyed a perfect evening barbecue; prepared white sangria for a memorial service; prepared a Spanish meal for my Uncle's favorite people; tried (key word) to learn some latin dances; danced with a crackhead and a pregnant woman in the same night; tried several new Spanish wines and one Spanish beer... It's been a busy month. Friday, I fly to Miami. Saturday, I will enter country #20 - Colombia.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


The message of the week seems to be about friends.

Where ever you go you have the opportunity to come in contact with people.  If you're lucky, you'll find some quality people.  If you are very lucky, those people will still be with you forty years from now.  The key is what you give; the key is who you are.  Humility and generosity are the mark of a true friend.  If you are the same person to everyone you meet, in public and in private, you are genuine.  If you hold the people around you in high esteem, you are valuable.  If you act in a way that is noble and true, you are trustworthy.  If there is no doubt to your motives, your heart is pure.  If those around you feel that they are a pleasure to be around, you are a friend.  I have been fortunate to keep some great friends in many locations.  Due to the circumstances of this week, I was shown the life of a great man through the eyes of his friends.  Although it was no great surprise, it was an honor to behold the treasure of a life well spent... and made rich by bonds nurtured over decades.  May we all find such a treasure.

Rest in Peace - Ernest Samuel Moeller
November 22, 1944 - August 1, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Davis, CA

Davis is home to the UC Davis "Aggies".  My mom studied here, so did my uncle, and so did I actually - just one wine seminar, but that count, doesn't it.  Doesn't make me a liberal though.  Davis is a decent sized city, but part of what makes it great is the university.   They are known for their agricultural programs, including winemaking (not far from Napa and Sonoma valleys), and I have always enjoyed just riding bikes, usually with my uncle, through campus.  Along a creek, there is an arboretum with many species of plant life from different corners of the world. It makes for a very scenic afternooon.

Toward the end of my ride, I noticed a farmers market on campus... only the whole park was full of people dancing with hoops, picnicking, and enjoying a mediocre cover band.  The weather was perfect.  Lots of families and lots of bikes.  If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, I recommend a vist.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Sun Also Sets

It was an odd feeling yesterday as my mom picked me up from the airport. I had arrived in California from across the country not to eat Mexican food or enjoy the beach or to see friends at home, but to say goodbye. I cannot count the number of times I have visited this cozy and serene city of Davis with all of its bike trails and parks, the university and quaint restaurants, the co-op and all the trees. Davis, for all those years, was where Grandma lived... and then it was where my uncle Sam lived.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with a fantastic sunset that stretched across the open plain - reds, oranges, and yellows fading into night. It was as if someone else was actually saying goodbye. If I can be Indian (casinos, not computers) for a minute, I'd say the sunset signifies not just the end of the day, but also the spirits of all men who breathed their lasts breaths that day rising up to bid a final farewell. Can there be any other explanation (besides the whole scientific thing) as to why the most beautiful parts of the day are the beginning and the end? Sunrise: life begins anew, opportunity, salvation from the darkness... rebirth. Sunset: end of an era, the source of life makes its exit, signal of darkness and unknown... goodbye. Both are exquisite, both precious, and both are temporary... just like life.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


What is it to “believe”? I believe that if I strike this match and touch it to a candle, it will burn. I believe that I will have a job next week. I believe that if I call a friend to tell a problem, that he will listen. I believe that I will have money to pay my rent next month. These are all things that I believe. Some of my beliefs are based on science and what we have come to know as fact. Some are based upon reliable trends and my own abilities. Some are based on faith.

Some are based on faith – there’s the rub. What if we change the word “faith” to “probability”? What’s the difference? There is no scientific proof that my heart will continue beating through my sleep tonight… but there is probability. I believe I will wake up tomorrow, but is it because of probability or because of faith? To look at it another way, perhaps we have faith in certain things precisely because the alternative is simply unthinkable. Is it considered faith to believe a random meteor will not strike the Earth in 82 hours and destroy all life on it? Perhaps not. We have heard of “blind faith”, which could be construed as voluntary ignorance. To actually believe – based on faith – perhaps is something we accept as truth which is contrary to or outside of accepted probability.

This does not have to be a religious argument; however that is where I derive this insight. In reading Luke 8 of the Gospel, the overriding theme to me was the power of believing. A storm was calmed; demons were banished; a sick woman was healed; a girl was brought back from the dead. Jesus is quoted in the various stories: “Dear woman, you are made well because you believe”… “Don’t be afraid. Just believe, and your daughter will be well”… “Where is your faith?” Faith is what gets us through the storm; faith is what makes us well. Faith is not something to which we cling, but it is something that drives us and indeed something that defines us. Truly believing on faith is a special confidence, not just in our own capabilities, but in some outside influence not under our control. This requires an immense humility. For not only must you realize that you cannot do it alone, you must trust that God, nature, and/or circumstances will and must, in fact, intervene to make it happen.

What do you believe?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sam I Am

Life’s a journey, not a destination. That’s what Aerosmith says. I agree. There is something very special about a traveler. Now, everyone makes a journey in life whether it’s on one island or to one hundred peaks and valleys. A traveler makes a decision that there are some things not found in books, and there are some sights not seen in photographs. A world traveler is part of a special breed of human that looks at the globe as an opportunity, and they just hope life grants them enough time (and good luck) to explore as many places as possible. He may truly love his home and its comforts, but he feels a special kind of alive in undiscovered territory not knowing what he will see or whom he will meet next.

We all learn in school, growing up, about travelers. Some sailed, some flew, some rode on horseback… some blasted into outer space. One day in grade school, many children my age and I witnessed a horrific disaster replay throughout the day when the Shuttle Challenger exploded while making its ascent from Earth. What went through many minds that day was the question of why it was even necessary to take these risks and make such a journey – seven astronauts died that day. That evening, our President Reagan came on television to help mourn our nation’s loss, and to the nation’s schoolchildren he explained, “It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted; it belongs to the brave.” Now, a trip to drink wine in northern Italy hardly matches the famous explorations of honored travelers-past. However, we all know that there is always value and always risk in our journeys. Every time we venture out into the unknown, we pay homage not only to those who went before us, but also to God who gave us so much to discover. Every time we go out into the world we become more a part of it… and a part of history. With that distinction, we also take on a responsibility for that world. True world travelers are ambassadors of humanity.

My uncle Sam is a world traveler. I cannot tell you how many sunsets he has seen or how many friends he has made, but I can tell you with great probability that he is behind every stamp on my passports – now, and for as long as I may roam. We all make our own journeys and all have our own reasons. Perhaps it’s escape; perhaps it’s discovery; perhaps it’s a beautiful woman; perhaps it’s a great friend… perhaps it is conquest. I cannot recall Sam ever sharing his reasons, but he is a good man – a fun man – and it seems to me it is one of many ways he simply enjoys life. He is a world traveler, and by all accounts he has made a good journey. So, we continue. We expand our horizons. We live until our Destination finds us. May it continue to be a beautiful ride…

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Well Deserved Visit

Well, lately my travels have taken me to Galt and Lodi! No, these are nowhere near Alderan or Tatooine... and no, these aren't the droids you're looking for. If the only reference you got there was "droids" and you're thinking "cell phone," then... nevermind. Actually I am in Northern California visiting my uncle Sam. He should never be confused with the other Uncle Sam who always asks for money, drafts teenage boys and shaves their heads, and points way too much. My uncle Sam is a peaceful World Traveler with a great sense of humor, and he has never, ever, sent me a tax bill.

Galt and Yoda... I mean Lodi (sorry) are towns south of Sacramento. Lodi is an up-and-coming wine appellation, and I was lucky and happy to visit some old friends there for dinner last night. It was a cook-out, so everything was grilled - even the fresh peaches! It was a slightly cool, breezy, perfect summer evening... a much welcomed change from the sauna otherwise known as "Washington, D.C." Galt is nearby, and not nearly as far away as Dagoba (I'll stop now), but smells of a different agricultural aroma, so I don't think they make wine. However, my cousin lives in Galt, and from what little effort I have expended to ascertain such a conclusion, I think he smells just fine. It's been a lovely time with him and my mom; I have even created an english muffin breakfast bruschetta! It's a quiet town, and I'm sure sure you can see stars, but I'm tired and going to bed. DC and SoCal friends may never have seen these "stars" of which I write, but just google them. Back east tomorrow. Think I'll do the english muffins with strawberries for breakfast... delicious!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Traveler's Prayer

Dear God,
Thank you for this wonderful gift of flight. May all Travelers reach their destinations safely and soundly today. May Your breath be the life in our wings, and in the end guide us softly home. Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lessons I Learned From My Dad

Lessons I Learned From My Dad

Feed others, and serve yourself last. Get out and walk; walking cures everything. Check your tires. Coach. Where you come from is less important than where you are going. Don't take things from hotels that don't belong to you. Consolidate. In case of death, natural disaster, or nuclear war, you may need to know how to clean the pool, turn off the water pipes, or fix the toilet. Stand up for yourself. Be aggressive. Practice. Take your commitments seriously. Be discrete. Take vacations. A person's skin color signifies neither value nor lack thereof. Enjoy jazz. Look people in the eyes. Take care of your health. Don't be late. Enjoy sports for the game, not for statistics. Possessions are not a measure of a man's worth. Be proud of the military. Dine out. Be your own man. Keep accurate records. If you buy a live Christmas tree and keep it potted and watered on your porch, you don't have to buy a new one every year. Call your mother.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pregame Poem #39

Pregame Poem # 39
7 June 2010

“Be American”

An ode to a team dressed blue,
Red, and white – the chosen few.
They’ve followed their hearts,
Let’s have more than three starts;
Whatever it takes to make your way through.

You are the ambassadors of this great land.
It’s time that we all made a stand.
Remind the world who we are,
In every living room, every bar,
We determine the value of our brand.

From a challenge, we never will hide,
Anything’s possible when hitting our stride.
Lead the world, show the way,
No price we won’t pay
To return in the end with pride.

Ask not what your country can do,
Be bold, be brave, be you.
Eye of the tiger never fails,
With a will tough as nails,
Write history as the winning crew.

Equal are all men created,
Live your dream and never debate it.
Victorious will be America,
Not bad tippers from Iberia,
Be the best, whether loved or hated.

Right Now is the time to begin,
Show this team’s better than we’ve ever been.
What’s in me? Show the doubters,
Amongst horns, drums, and shouters,
Be American. Live the goal. Let’s Win!