They don’t tell you how hard being a parent will be

It was a sweet and wonderful moment when we first held him in our arms, his big brown eyes gazing up at us. We didn’t realize during that brief and precious moment that he had changed our lives forever. Putting him to bed the first night was a little difficult, but he slept through most of the night. And at the first crack of dawn, he was licking our faces.

Yes, sweet little Sherman is the newest member of the family. He’s got a face that will melt your heart, with soft, floppy ears and a wispy tan and chestnut beard. But he’s got the energy and demeanor to make you want to hide underneath the covers for just a few moments of peace. A few minutes without any barking, licking, pawing, jumping and biting is a sweet victory. Deep down, he’s sweet and loveable, but his exterior hides that pretty well, showing instead the youthful, jubilant and hyper side. It’s no wonder mothers with new babies want to throw them from four-story building. If taking care of a pet helps prepare you for your first child, well then fuck that.

Having a dog – especially one that is still mostly a pup – must be what its like raising a child. I’ve always wanted to have a puppy, just for the sake of having one the cutest things on earth, complete with puppy kisses and playfulness. We got all that, and luckily without needing to house train. I’d call that a win.

Like a child, he’s adapting to his environment and learning his boundaries. He obeys orders occasionally; but just when we think we’ve gotten past one bad habit, another new one presents itself.

Perhaps our expectations for him where a little high, but then, no one gets the perfect pet from day one. But I suppose that it’s also only going to get better. We complain about being woken up in the middle of the night from his incessant barking at inanimate objects and inaudible sounds; and we get embarrassed by his behavior around other people and his overall manners, but we have to remind ourselves that he is a rescue, and he has never known any boundaries. He’s a terrific dog; full of personality, but boy is he ever a half-broke horse.

All in all, when we’re not watching his every move, making sure he doesn’t put weird things into his mouth, watching him develop as a personality has been fun to watch. Last weekend we took him to a dog park for the first time, unsure of how he would do with other dogs. He seemed quite happy to romp around and sniff butts, so the next day we again took him to a dog park. We watched as his black, female twin, Annie (that was also at the dog park) chased Sherman around the park. It was the first time we’d seen Sherman play with other dogs. We not sure whose smile was bigger, his or ours.

We’ve already made positive strides with him. For example, he responds well to his name, and sits on command 75% of the time. He also doesn’t bother us nearly as much during meals, and has gotten used to keeping himself busy when Amber and I are busy doing other things. Of course I say that now, even though he’s currently nuzzling his face into my hands while I try to type, and stretching up to lick my face at every chance.

Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives. We’re happy and blessed to have the opportunity to give this little guy a good home; and well, how can you get mad when you look at that face?

We’ve got a long road ahead with lots of work and training, but we’re looking forward to watching him grow older with us.

 

 

 

I turned 30

I wasn’t ready to be older yet, so I climbed onto a roof with my two best friends, plastic cups filled with fernet. Swathed in the buzz of the city, but feeling peaceful from this height. The alcohol in my body makes my heart beat just a little bit faster, and the vastness of Los Angeles sprawling out in every direction makes my mind wander a little bit wilder. From my spot on the rooftop, I could throw a rock onto the 405. 30 years old and sneaking onto hotel roofs. Never have I felt so young. We speak in hushed voices and pose for photos, illuminated by the city’s high rises and streetlights.

Like it or not, turning 30 feels monumental. To celebrate the transition to my 30th year, I took a road trip with my friends, Jon and Neil to Southern California. We spent five carefree days eating and drinking and acting young again; the apex of the trip being my birthday, where after an afternoon of riding bikes along the beach, we were treated to a memorable meal at Ink in West Hollywood/Beverley Hills. Our main reason for visiting LA was to eat here for my birthday after hearing much praise about the food. Turns out Neil and I went to high school with the chef du cuisine, and after a quick hello, the food starting arriving, including dishes, compliments of the kitchen. Our first – and one of the more memorable dishes – was hamachi, sitting underneath a webbing of crispy Oaxacan cheese, joined by citrus kosho, smoked buttermilk cream and tomatoes. The dish was light, refreshing and ethereal. With our first bites, we were on our way. Other memorable dishes included beef tartare with hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, horseradish and rye crisps; branzino with roasted cauliflower, caper and fermented grapes; potato “charcoal,” whole marble potatoes dyed black to look like charcoal, served with house made sour cream and black vinegar that came in a spray bottle that you could spritz to your taste. The potatoes were remarkable. So simple, and so delicious; quite possibly the best potato I’ve ever had.

We ate gluttonously – which one should do when feeling their youth – and then we found ourselves on the roof. Lord Byron said, “My time has been passed viciously and agreeably; at thirty-one so few years, months, days, hours, or minutes remain that Carpe Diem ‘is not enough. I have been obliged to crop even the seconds-for who can trust to tomorrow?” I figured if today was my last day on earth, why not seize the moment? We seized every moment on the trip, but at that exact moment, we had two choices: act like civilized adults and go back to our room, or toss ourselves over the retaining wall and onto the roof.

When I was a kid I was worried about growing up too fast, always looking forward, curious about what life had in store. Now 30, looking back wondering what happened to my twenties, and yet all the more curious about what’s to come as I tiptoe across the rooftop for this one last hurrah.

I can now look back and see how the dots connected in my life; but it’s hard to believe that just few years ago I was jobless, living back at my Mom’s house, desperately wanting just one or two dots to connect. But of course, that’s not how life works. You can’t plan the road map and expect to follow it perfectly.

Likewise, scheduling your events on a road trip goes against the grain of the fabric of what a road trip is. There must be room for improvisation. Standing on a roof, LA reminds me that there’s still time to improvise and still time to be young. Gone are the grass stains from my knees and the Ninja Turtles from my hand. But still here are these fleeting moments where you can make a moment, a night, and an entire trip more memorable. Case and point, here I am telling you about my trip and focusing on brief, transient moment of clarity, from a rooftop on a warm night in LA.

I wish I had some words of wisdom for you now that I’m older, but age is just a number. I think we’re all looking for meaning the older we get, but no matter how many years pass, you never really find it; so why not just climb on a roof and have another drink?

Blackberries and bike rides

The tune of summer changes every year; from snapping string beans with Mom on the porch, to picking blackberries with my family until we are silhouettes in the darkness.

Lately, the melody of the evening is the metronome of right foot, left foot, and whir of tires on pavement. As the daylight grows thin, Amber and I hop on our bikes and traverse the neighborhood, making frequent stops for blackberries. We can’t help it. We try to navigate different paths on each ride, but it seems with every turn down every new road, there are blackberry bushes beckoning to be sampled.

Blackberry. There is no word in the English language that can send my mind in so many directions. Every summer, my mouth starts watering just thinking about those black-pearled beauties ripening.

I grew up harvesting blackberries every summer from an enormous bush nestled in a seasonal creek on my family’s property. Well-versed in the ways of blackberry picking, I know that harvesting blackberries is not a test of speed; its as leisurely an event as watching the grass grow. Precious time must be taken to indulge in taste testing. Amber and I quietly pluck berries as cars pass behind us, filled with smiling passengers.

The scenery may be different, and I may be 20 years older, but I feel like a kid again, toeing the edge of the bush and stretching for the largest and ripest berries that seem to always be just out of reach. And I do just as I did as a kid, and look for the ones that are evenly ripe and come off as easily as tugging on a loose thread. I hold the berry between my thumb and forefinger, blow to remove the dust and particles and pop it like candy. I love to press the berry to the roof of my mouth with my tongue rather that biting down, allowing for the sweet and puckery juice to coat my mouth.

My craving for blackberry pie hangs on my tongue and is teased with each berry-stained bite. The only thing missing is Mom’s homemade vanilla ice cream. I absolutely love blackberries, simply for the memories attached to the juicy, purple fruit that stains my hands with a violent, violet tint. My sister fell in the bush one summer evening while attempting to get the larger, darker berries deep within the thorn-filled bush. She wailed until the very last thorn was pulled from her body.

Nostalgia takes its purest form in the brambles and tastes like my childhood. Amber and I ride home with just enough light left in the sky to expose our purple fingers and gluttonous grins.

 

 ***The quickest way to a blackberry fix in our house was what Mom called an impossible pie. As a kid, I didn’t understand why it was called impossible when it obviously was, because Mom made them all the time; blackberry impossible pie, peach impossible pie; I ate them all, and can assure you they ARE possible. ***

Making one is really quite simple; all you need to buy a box of Bisquick.

Take about a cup of Bisquick, sugar to taste, and enough milk so that it’s like pancake batter. Mom’s secret is to add a touch of cinnamon in the batter as well. Put the batter in a greased pie pan. In a bowl, toss blackberries with a bit of sugar to taste and place on top (if you have tapioca, put in a tablespoon or so to thicken the juice from the fruit). Bake at 350 for about a half hour, until the batter changes places with the fruit and is golden. (I guess that’s the “impossible” part. Serve hot.

Such Great Heights

Oops. Sorry guys, I know it’s been awhile. But fits of writers block and lack of motivation to are challenging obstacles to overcome. Despite having several stories, recipes and pictures stockpiled, I didn’t want to “come back” without the perfect “introduction” back. But I think I found it, and it happened – surprisingly enough – at a concert.

The flashing lights shower me in streaks of blue and green. And then Ben Gibbard opens his mouth, singing with that distinctly magnetic and melodic voice. And a twinge of a smile rises in the corner of my mouth, and my foot starts tapping, and a toe-curling sense of nostalgia sweeps over me.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since The Postal Service released their lone album that plucked effortlessly at the heartstrings of every teenager and young adult. Ben Gibbard’s poetic story telling was the tune to my early adult years. For a moment I was lost in the music and began thinking about how far I’ve come in 10 years.

In 2003 I was in my first year of junior college with no plan. A hopeless romantic who was completely optimistic, and eager to find a bride and slowly grow old together.

I didn’t know I was supposed to be a writer. After changing my major for the third time, I was sure I was destined for a life in the business world, wearing dress slacks and ties, doing somebody else’s work. When I settled on English and writing, I gravitated towards nonfiction. I always loved reading books that have the ability transcended the personal and tell a compelling story. I dog-eared pages and scribbled notes from snippets of my favorites, emulating their style in my own narratives.

Not long into my new life as an English major and writer, my girlfriend of 3 1/2 years decided to break up with me. Someone please call a surgeon. The Postal Service, along with Death Cab and other bands were there to play on repeat in my car, fists pounding on the steering wheel, eyes swollen with tears.

The subsequent year of writing involved a lot of self-loathing, whiny bullshit about how much I loved her and how scorned I was from my loss of her. It was cathartic, but most of it was destined for the dump pile. Years later, reading what I wrote, what I thought was poetic and talent, turned out to be paltry ramblings.

My ex was a vegetarian, so I was, by association, a mostly vegetarian. After we broke up, it took some time before I even had the desire to step back into the kitchen. I figured the best way to push out the memories of tofu, poorly cooked vegetables, and cardboard-meat-substitutes, was to get back in the kitchen and rediscover food. I sought to cook away her memory. Completely erasing her would take time, but I had to start with what was most dear to my heart, my stomach.

After my heart healed, I went through three (official) jobs before arriving at my current place of employment. And my jobs and experiences a long the way imparted some new wisdom. Every step taken up until now may not have been calculated, but each was a necessary building block. I’ve met a diverse and delightful group of friends en route to sitting here, in a new town, in a new house, with a new love. And I’ve been published. Several times over, and that is an accomplishment in and of itself. And while it all happened it a completely unpredictable way with plenty of twists and hurdles. I can’t say that I would have changed a thing.

The greatest thing about writing is the opportunity it lends me to explore. I get to explore my life and the lives of others. I get to remember back to my childhood full of Thundercats and Ninja Turtles and riding bikes. I get to explore my current life, butt firmly planted on the stone seats of Berkeley’s Greek Theater, Amber’s hand in mine, and there could be nothing better. I’ve achieved such great heights.

 

*** My rediscovery of food involved a lot of experimentation. Cooking scallops always intimidated me. My first attempt rendered them to completely inedible, rubber discs. I’ve since perfected cooking them. The corn and peach salad was something that came to me one day and just made sense. ***

Scallops with grilled corn and peach salad with arugula and bacon

Salad:

2 ears of corn, grilled & kernels removed

1 peach, halved, grilled and diced

1 Serrano or jalapeño, seeded and finely diced

2 green onions, finely chopped

2-3 strips of cooked bacon, chopped (grease reserved)

½ lime, juiced

2 handfuls of arugula

1 TBSP really good olive oil

salt and pepper

Put first six ingredients in a bowl, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add arugula, drizzle with olive oil, add another pinch of salt and stir to incorporate with corn and peach mixture.

Scallops:

Pat scallops dry with paper towel to remove moisture.

Add a teaspoon or so of bacon grease, with a teaspoon of olive oil to a hot pan. When the fat starts to smoke a bit, you’re ready. Add scallops around the outside of the pan, starting at 12 o’clock and working around. Cooking on the outside allows for even cooking of all scallops. You should hear them sizzle when you drop them, if they don’t; your pan isn’t hot enough. Cook for 1 ½ -2 minutes (without touching!). Scallops should have a nice golden crust when you flip. Cook another 45 seconds to a minute and remove from heat immediately and serve.

Easy Like Wine Country Evenings

The easygoing sounds of The Easy Leaves beckon us from the top of hill. We trudge up the path, vineyards on both sides, and the smell of barbecue wafting our way as we stroll past partygoers sitting on picnic tables underneath oak trees, filling their faces with pork ribs, brisket and potato salad. After a few hugs and hellos, we seek food and drinks for ourselves and take a seat at the foot of the vista. And we settle in. Friends arrive in twos and threes, joining in a circle of lip smacking, sipping and chatter. If there is one thing I’ve missed since leaving Healdsburg, its nights like this, where friends can effortlessly come together.

We can’t get enough of the landscape, and snap countless photos from various angles as the sun shifts in the western sky. “The food is so good,” says Jon, “the potato salad, and the beans; the beans are amazing.” Yes, the food is good. The drinks are good. The music is good. The company is good. This place that I call home has managed to once again, amaze me. People from near and far travel to wine country to get a taste – pun intended – of the wine country lifestyle; but we still have our secrets, our a little magical pieces that are for our eyes only. They are nights like tonight: an intimate barbecue on a hilltop vineyard, no city lights in sight, just the un-paralleled panorama of Alexander Valley. Vineyards stretch out below us, and hills roll in the distance, the sun casting a golden glow over it all, warming our backs and faces as the temperature starts to dip and the winds start to stir. We clutch our cocktails and tap our foot to the music. And smile. And laugh.

It’s kind of hard to achieve perfect moments like this, but when they happen, it’s almost dreamlike. You start wondering how you are so lucky to know people who would invite you to their secret utopia for an evening. You wonder how you got to have such good friends to share the evening with. And you realize how blessed you are to live in this beautiful place. The sun sets on the food, the drinks, the music, and the company; and we hike back down the hill, through the vineyards, and say goodnight to picture-perfect evening.

 

***Here’s what we were drinking — among other things that evening — Whenever you put bourbon in my hand, I’m a happy camper. Add barbecue, folk music and friends to make the night complete. ***

Gold Rush

2 oz. bourbon

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 oz. honey syrup

To make the honey syrup: mix one part honey with two parts hot water. Stir until fully incorporated.

To make the drink: combine all the ingredients in a shaker full of ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

If you like your cocktail on the stronger side, use less syrup.