what sunrises can show you

my soul strolled out of
my body, across the sky,
painting fire there

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The Gratitude Journal

Sometimes gratitude doesn’t come easy. Especially when a little dark cloud is stalking you and trying to spit on your head. Even though my heart isn’t 100% in it, I’m still going to go for the weekly tradition of describing five things for which I am thankful. Maybe this dash of forced optimism will lighten the gloom, or force me to turn on the light.

1. I am grateful for the people who love me. I don’t always do the right things, and sometimes, loathe though I am to admit it, I’m not as strong as I pretend to be. And I need. This small group of dedicated souls accepts me as I am, offers me support when I need it, and cheers me on when I doubt myself. They give hugs, and pull out the truth, one splinter at a time. They know me, and don’t give up on me.

2. I am grateful for catharsis. Catharsis comes in many forms and may very well be underrated. There is physical activity: running, swimming, biking, hiking, whatever lets you release. There is singing, smashing, painting. There is talking and writing and dancing. There is crying. I’ve done three of these things today.

3. I am grateful for examples. This one is rather awkward and requires explanation. I was born with a certain set tools. Through my life experiences, I have modified those tools, and maybe added to them, or subtracted from them. However, my tool box is not necessarily adequate for the various things I must face. For example, I might do well at certain types of communication, and very poorly at others. Or I might not even think to communicate something because it’s simply outside my experience. Enter “the example”. This is when you see or hear about someone doing in a way that’s innovative to you. In a way you had never thought about before. And maybe these examples can be applied to my own life.

[faltering]

4. I’m grateful for This American Life. They produce amazing, thought-provoking, gripping shows. I learn a little a bit more about what it means to be human with each one. For better or worse.

5. I am grateful for 29th Street. It’s been my place to heal. To reflect. To make realizations, and hopefully make some progress towards something greater. I feel like it’s my cocoon through a long, painful chrysalis.

What are you grateful for?

Best of 2011, Concerts

Reflecting on the past is a wonderful tool.  It can help you realize how much ground you’ve really covered, and remind you of those sweet moments in the midst of the mundane.  To continue with the “Best of 2011” spirit, let’s move on to concerts.  Music moves me, soothes me.  I FEEL it, to my core.  What’s better?  Live music that delivers, that has passion and feeling that can’t be captured on a disc.  In no particular order:

The Coachella Music Festival, 2011.
This was a fantastic experience.  I went with my mom.  Yup, not everyone can say that.  Although we didn’t decorate the Prius, we were indoctrinated into the Coachella culture while waiting in the enormous lines of cars to get into the camp grounds.  I had a tent, Mom had the back of the Prius.  Temperatures topped 100 degrees during the day.  I was recovering from an infection and completely high off the antibiotics.  Towards the end of the festival, we discovered the delight of wrapping a wet bandana around your neck.  And the music?  The line up was phenomenal.  Arcade Fire and the National were the highlights for me.  We also discovered some new bands we might not have otherwise encountered, including City and Colour, Warpaint, and Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears.  Here are a few memories:

Mogwai and the Twilight Sad, Motion Picture House, Scotland, 2011.
Talk about music you can feel!  Again, with the Mom-unit.  We sat in the upper balcony, that seemed to be at the best distance for perfect resonance.  The bass vibrated my innards.  The Scots seemed to be the type of folk who enjoy a good show and aren’t afraid to let everyone know it.  This was our first time seeing the Twilight Sad.  The lead singer is absolutely mad; and I mean that in the best possible way.  Intensity and passion are easy adjectives.  His connection transcends that.  Mogwai gave an bang-up performance.

Handsome Furs, The Casbah, San Diego, 2011.
I love these two.  They had off the wall energy.  Alexei Perry was jumping around on the keyboards while Dan Boeckner strummed away.  The energy of the crowd totally moved them, and the positivity and affection in the room just continued increasing, exponentially.  It was awesome!  (and I get to see them again in January.  Yay!)

Florence and the Machine, The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, 2011.
Amazing.  Beauty, poise.  She is an iconographic figure.  What’s even more, she really does have the voice to back it up.  I love the intricacy of their lyrics.  This was a lovely venue for them.  The pine trees cradle you, and it’s as if you’re nurtured into some sort of Eleusinian mystery.  A rite of passage.  A transformation.

*Between Two Lungs

Elbow, The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, 2011.
The CDs cannot prepare you for seeing them live.  Just can’t.  They are poetry and romance.  They are full of thoughtful observations, surprising turns of phrase. Guy Garvey has the most gorgeous voice!  This is not a concert you go and watch.  You are part of it, there singing along with a thousand of your friends.

PS-DeVotchKa opened for them.  Just one more highlight to a perfect evening.

*On a day like this

The National, The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, 2011.
First of all, we brought  a picnic.  How cool is that?  Next, they played all my favorite songs.  I had no sense of “once more, with feeling”.  They had a huge screen playing documentary-style video, almost like you’re seeing something that’s meant to stay hidden.  Spying.  Before they came on, a camera broadcast onto the screen from the green room.  The absolute best moment was when Matt Berninger first turned the countdown clock to the audience and then, as we got closer to 0, he tried to destroy it.  They didn’t stop for an ego break.  They played through the entire time.  Hell yes.

*Mr. November

Foodie Tuesdays, Best of 2011

La Foglie by InkSpot's Blot
La Foglie, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

I can’t hope to remember all of the restaurants I visited, or the new recipes I tried in 2011. That’s not exactly necessary to create a list for the Best Food of 2011. In fact, it’s probably better to take a less contrived and more spontaneous approach too it. In no particular order:

A. Mister A’s, San Diego, California. This one was memorable for the occasion, and of course the view. Aaron took me here on our first date. He picked me up, took the scenic drive (unintentionally if I remember right) through the park. I tried to conceal my panic as we drew closer and closer to the spot. My mind was in denial until he parked right in front of the building and announced “We’re here”. Why so panicked? Mister A’s as a first date is a pretty big and impressive deal. The sunset came and went. The city lit up. We went through a few courses on the menu, including a shared dessert. Afterwards we strolled through Balboa Park, and topped it off with a birthday cupcake at my house. The quintessence of a romantic evening…
Mister A’s

B. David Bann’s, Edinburgh, Scotland. This was Mom’s choice, and it might be the premiere vegetarian restaurant in Scotland. We ambled down the street of what appeared to my untrained eyes as a working class neighborhood. Bann’s was, however, top shelf. After the lunch rush, it was blissfully sedate and quiet. The presentation was phenomenal. Each plate a work of art, for the feasting of the eyes as well as the tongue.
David Bann

C. Thomas Hill Organics, Paso Robles, California. Thomas Hill has it’s own farm to supply must of the ingredients that eventually end up as someone’s meal. I arrived here after a ~7-hour drive from San Diego and used needing to rest as a convenient reason to stop in wine country. Since I got a ridiculous good price at the motel (yes, I did), I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. The back patio is lovely and has that romantic appeal. Fountains dimmed the chatter of other diners. The wine list was generous, and the menu sparkling with creations inspired from the seasonal harvest.
Thomas Hill Organics

D. La Foglie, Ortigia, Sicily. After a day of extensive travel and soul weariness, I ventured out of the hotel for a romantic meal for one. I have been to this place twice before, and each time it charms me and induces a homey sort of contentedness. By this point, I was sick of airplane food, and other similarly processed foods. I didn’t realize exactly what I was ordering, but when this (see picture) deliciousness arrived at my table, I could have burst into tears. It was PERFECT. Soup. Fresh veggies and fruit.
La Foglie

Honorable Mentions:
West Coast Tavern, San Diego, California
Back Yard BBQ @ Suzy’s. San Diego, California.
Het Podium, Utrecht, the Netherlands

The Gratitude Journal

After the storm by InkSpot's Blot
After the storm, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Five things.

1. I’m grateful for cookbooks. I have a certain degree of creativity in the kitchen, but I have never been the type of person to experiment heavily. Experimentation can bring success, but it can also bring failure. And in this case that means crappy tasting food. My fixation on predictable outcomes and efficiency makes this unacceptable for me. Enter the cookbook. It gives a starting point and suggests a precise route to the finish, should one chose to follow it. Otherwise it’s an awesome frame on which to build. Cookbooks = demystifying the kitchen and dietary independence.

2. My couch is pretty high on my list today. It’s been my trusty companion in recovering from a party last night. It doesn’t judge me when I lounge on it and watch a movie when I should be writing. Aside from being an inanimate object on which I can project, it represents something more. It was the first piece of furniture I bought after being on my own again. I picked it out, chose the fabric, negotiated the deal. Maybe a perfectly mundane act for most, but for me it was a moment of decisiveness propelled by my own will.

3. That simple acts can bring someone happiness. Yesterday I made my grandmother’s recipe for fruitcake. I just had to buy the stuff and put the time in. It wasn’t like twelve cupcakes and two mini-loaves was a monumental effort.

Meme lives in a board and care now, and hasn’t been able to cook for herself in years. She has this blue notebook in which she wrote some of her favorite recipes (this being one of them). They came from a time when she was a wife and a mother, and then a woman living on her own. She takes a lot of pride in them. When I visited this morning, a sheepish smile crossed her face and her eyes lit up. I usually talk about the problems I had with the recipe so she can help me troubleshoot it. Again, small act, but she’s happy to have something to help with.

4. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect. Each year I look back, review my goals and my behavior. How close did I come to living my ideals. How, how often, and why did I veer off course from being the person I know I can be, that kind of stuff. There is always a choice, a way to improve life, to be a better person. I am constantly tinkering, tweaking, reshaping myself and hopefully evolving.

5. I am grateful for light. For the magic it can bring. And the beauty.

6.35029318 kilograms

30th on 30th by InkSpot's Blot
30th on 30th, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Stone is not just an imperial mass. It’s a brewery in San Diego County, born 1996, exploded 2006 (and still going as the 14th largest craft brewery in the US).

As I said before, Spaten was my gateway beer—the gateway to hell. Once my palate rejected the overly sweet requirements of my baby tongue, Stone was right there, waiting for me with an evil grin. My saucy side was lured by the Arrogant Bastard line of taste bud blasting beer. Double Bastard was twice the fun. Pale Ale was an excellent, never-let-you-down got-to “easy” beer.

According to legend, Stone was started up by two beer lovers (Steve Wagner and Greg Koch) who admired the Belgium tradition, but had a West Coast twist to offer. The guys who run the tour of the brewery insist the the heartbeat of Stone is and has always been super hoppy. The beers provide the obvious evidence.

The brewery is worth a look-see. Check out their website for the tour schedule (and be prepared for long waits and crowds). They’re now fancy-pants enough to sport a full service restaurant situated in a fly post-industrial concrete and steel affair. You can sit around one of the outdoor fire rings and enjoy a beer (or five) with friends. Rocks, benches, and a pond are strategically positioned around the property as well.

To my delight, they opened a satellite tasting room a few unfortunate blocks from my house. (The best party favor.) This has encouraged expansion of my Stone repertoire. I’m no longer a huge fan of hoppy West Coast style IPAs. Stone’s Smoked Porter puts on a decent show for a year-round pour. We tried the Vertical Epic for 11.11.11 (limited release for the ultimate binary day). Meaty but good. We’ve also tried Cali-Belgique. I remember this one being a little smoky and sharp.

However, one beer stands out. Naturally it’s a limited release. The 15th Anniversary Imperial Stout has a smooth coffee/chocolaty flavor hiding a beastly alcohol by volume percentage (generally between 10-13% when I’ve gone for a growler). Normal Stone fans (hop-lovers) might be a little disappointed, but stout and porter lovers will be pleasantly surprised.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Don’t drink, then think you’re cool to drive and speed off into the distance. The coolest person is the one that knows his/her limits and doesn’t eff-up other’s lives.

Let’s ignite some metal salts!

Who thinks of that? Seriously.

“Yeah. Hang on, Yang. I want to see what happens when I light up this sodium nitrate.”

Was this how fireworks started back in the 600s in China? (Actually, I’m sure it had something to do with gunpowder, ordinance and other accouterments of war, but let me be naive for a second.) Leave it to humans to be bored with the stars and the occasional meteor shower. We need something bigger and brighter people. Something with panache. I want DRAMA!

Since their inception, these pyrotechnic displays seem to exist for the sole purpose of titillating people and adorning the sky during celebrations. Spring and Mid-Autumn festival. Independence days, the Olympics, George Washington’s inauguration (as if he hadn’t had enough of explosions). Fireworks are nearly synonymous with celebration. Although here in San Diego, Sea World has firework displays running every night of the week during the summer months leading up to Labor Day. It seems so odd, random, almost frivolous for these shows to occur with no apparent purpose. Instead of signifying something special, they become commonplace for a time, before fading away into the fall.

Curious about the colors? They are all derived from metal salts, which burn at different temperatures to emit various wavelengths. High energy typically equals shorter wavelengths, and faster fades. Think your magnesiums, copper chlorides, cesium nitrates; white, blue and indigo, respectively. Conversely, lower energy outputs last a bit longer and emits longer wavelengths. These would be your lithium carbonates, and calcium and sodium chlorides; red, orange, and yellow, respectively.

My cheeky attitude aside, fireworks are pretty damned cool. The glitter, the sonic boom, the smoky trails smudging the sky. The waiting for more, an eager anticipation of what the finale might bring.

If you’re super nutty about fireworks, get yourself a membership to the Pyrotechnics Guild International. Not interested in becoming a member? You can donate to the “Help-a-Pyro” program.