Cabo redux

Now that we’re home from Cabo I can recount the final couple of days there. Three things stand out.

One, this was a very unusual Cabo trip for us. We were sick the entire trip, ranging from moderately ill in the first few days to mildly ill toward the end. As a result we did no walks on the beach, no swimming, no lounging around the pool with drinks, no walking trips through the town or marina. We pretty much just stayed in and watched whales from our patio and rested.

Two, speaking of whales, we saw 100s of them over the week and saw some new behaviors. We saw lots of spectacular breeches, which was only new in their frequency. I remember that being a rare sight, but this week we saw it a lot. But the new behavior we observed on the final days was a mother and calf pair happily tail-slapping just offshore. The calf would jump a bit and slap tail as well as breech, but the mother splashed around constantly using her tail in a way I haven’t seen before. It went on for maybe 30 minutes. Each tail slap was a big splash and very audible from our spot on shore.

Third, the weather was not great. We’ve always had good weather there in February, but this time a cold front came through on Tuesday and mucked up the whole week. The air was noticeably cooler than normal, which actually made it easier to stay in and rest.

The other memorable part of our final two days in Cabo was our Valentine’s Day meal at Manta. Like bears in hibernation, we only left our lair to eat. I had read a lot about Manta; it has a big reputation. So I had high hopes, and surprisingly, Manta was as good as its reputation. We had one of the top five, maybe top three, meals of our lives.

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Manta is perched high above the Sea of Cortez shore, part of a ritzy development called The Cape. It is visually stunning, and we had premier seats outside on the rail overlooking the beach, El Arco and the lights of Cabo some 3-4 miles away. A good start.

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We each chose the five-course tasting menu, so by coordinating our choices we effectively had a ten-course meal. Each course was small, but perfectly presented and spectacular in flavor. Our courses were complemented by a stellar 2015 Casa Madero Shiraz, one of the best wines I’ve had in years. (Trivia item – Casa Madero in central Mexico is the oldest winery in the western hemisphere, started in 1597!).

Ironically, this bottle of wine was and is my only negative about Manta. They charged 4-5x retail for the bottle, which is insulting. I expect 2x and can live with 3x in the right venue, but this was unreasonable. I bought the bottle not knowing how much it had been marked up, and considering how much we enjoyed the wine I’m glad I did. But in retrospect I implore Manta to reconsider their wine pricing – it’s unnecessary and insulting.

But back to the food. Our favorite course was probably the grilled octopus, cooked perfectly. K had never had octopus cooked properly, so it was a real revelation for her. Here are all the courses we enjoyed, from their full tasting menu.

  • Sashimi, ají amarillo, sesame and wasabi    
  • Fish ceviche, leche de tigre, celery, habanero      
  • Scallop, shiso, soy sauce, cucumber, avocado purée   
  • Watermelon salad, tomato, raspberry and hibiscus chamoy    
  • Octopus anticucho, chorizo mayo    
  • Black miso fish tacos, cabbage, flour tortillas    
  • Aged prime new york strip, “shishitos toreados”    
  • Organic fried chicken with aji amarillo dip    
  • Suckling pig “cochinita”, steamed bun, cilantro, habanero (2 orders)

So…great service, a seaside view, my lovely wife, fantastic food and a perfectly paired wine. All in all a very successful Valentine’s Day dinner outing. And after that we well-fed bears went back to our den to rest.

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Cabo 2020

Even with both of us sick, we decided to go ahead with our annual week at our Cabo resort. We both really wanted to see the place again (we missed last year), and even sick we figured we could handle the main activity of whale watching from our beachside patio. We were right.

The whale watching the first couple of days was spectacular – whales any direction you might look and lots of full-body breaches. We made good use of the new Canon image-stabilized binoculars and just enjoyed the show. We rested up those days, trying to get ready for our traditional Tuesday fishing expedition.

Both Monday and Tuesday we were treated to spectacular Cabo sunrises.

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The Tuesday outing was a mixed success. We each caught a nice fish – Kathryn caught a big one, twenty-five pounds or so, picture above – but they were both roosterfish, not particularly good eating. So we didn’t get shut out but we also didn’t bring home any fish for sashimi and subsequent meals. We released both roosterfish, and that felt good.

During the fishing day a strong cold front moved through the area, what the locals call a “norte”. I think that had something to do with the poor fishing, and it definitely affected whale watching the next 2-3 days. The whales pretty much disappeared on Wednesday and began to return Thursday, though still pretty far offshore.

There was a Mexican fiesta one night at the resort, and while we didn’t attend, I got some good pictures of the performers.

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oA4c+kO0TyCby0E7DvJMZw_thumb_cc83.jpgDuring all this time our also-traditional meal explorations were limited. We ate simple meals at the resort just because it was easy. We cancelled a Monday reservation at El Farallon, a place I’ve wanted to go for a while. We just weren’t feeling good enough to enjoy a night out. We did manage to make it to an old favorite, Los Tres Gallos, on Wednesday evening (pictured below). The chicken mole was as good as we remembered, and the place has friendly, spectacular service.

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We had another memorable mini-meal at the Las Brisas bar at the neighboring Grand Sol Mar. The Las Brisas is a small bar at the north end of the resort, right on the beach. It’s the best waterfront bar on the Pacific side of Cabo, bar none (so to speak). We had a nice Guadalupe wine with a couple of rounds of sushi and enjoyed the ocean sunset. Pretty hard to beat.

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On Friday, Valentine’s Day, we’re going to Manta, a restaurant we’ve read a lot about but never tried. More stories and photos after that.

Miscellanea

OK, this is some scary shit. In Scientific American, no less. Great, now I won’t be able to get on a flight without wondering about the incomplete physics of it. Perhaps flight is simply a matter of belief, and if we quit believing, it won’t work any longer.

In better news for science, turns out there is a scientific explanation for why you can only get great buttermilk biscuits in the south. I’ve often wondered about this, and here you go. I’m relieved that I’m not quite the kitchen klutz I thought.

Last week we had some interesting work done on our home. We knew we had a bee hive in our roof, and it got in the way of installing the new fire suppression system. We did the right thing and hired a beekeeping company to come out and move the bees rather than kill them. What we (they) found when they peeled back the roof was a huge hive and what must have been a lot of honey. See picture above. It was expensive, but I’m glad we got them removed from the eaves – they would have just kept on filling space with their comb – and glad we saved/relocated some thousands of bees. Win-win.

The political news of late is so depressing I don’t even know where to start. I’ve kept to my rule of not discussing politics on this blog – the subject is so divisive – but I’ll break it to mention Trump and Barr’s recent actions to completely undermine the rule of law. A court and jury sentenced Roger Stone to nine years in prison. That should be the end of it.

Then Trump weighs in hard via Twitter about how “unfair” the sentence was, and the DOJ decides to intervene and “reconsider” the sentence. All four prosecuting attorneys then resigned, having been undermined so completely by the Executive branch. And now the world awaits to see what the newly-elevated monarchy will decide the sentence should be, if any. This is just wrong on so many levels. Trump’s unchecked escalation of the powers of the Presidency is at least as frightening as the Cold War of the 50s and 60s. Where does it end?

In other fun news, the coronavirus outbreak just keeps getting worse. 200+ deaths per day now, and tens of thousands reported as infected, primarily in China. Both these figures are likely under-reported, and if infection rates keep progressing as they have the last month…it’s very bad news. My personal fear is that the virus will enter the US in a big way soon and effectively shut down air travel. Trouble with that (aside from the obvious big picture issues) is that I want need to get to KY in May to see my new grandson and family. And yes, I know that’s pathetically self-centered and parochial. But there it is.

Finally, in much better news my beloved KY Wildcats have won two straight tough games against Vandy and Tennessee and may finally be coming of age. Coach Cal always does an amazing job shaping a bunch of high school stars into a cohesive, fun-to-watch team by February each year. Here’s to hoping this bunch fights their way all the way into the Final Four. Go Big Blue!

 

Nashville, 02/02/2020

I took some good pictures of Nashville last week and thought I’d post a few. The feature photo above is from Luke’s (I’ll assume Luke Bryan, though my actual knowledge of country music is pretty thin), a disco-rock-country glittery honky-tonk that was fun to look at but not worth a sit-down stay.

And, focused on the post title, note that this trip included  a palindrome day, the first such date in about 900 years!

We had a little more time than usual Nashville, so we did some interesting things. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we took a bus tour of celebrity homes one afternoon. Cheesy and cliche, yes. But, surprisingly OK – we saw parts of the Nashville area we never would have otherwise, some beautiful countryside, and some of the most ostentatious mega-homes you can imagine. Nothing says America like two people living in a 15,000 square foot house because they can. I have little room to criticize in this case, but still – it was pretty extreme.

We took in some excellent music on a night or two. Our very first trip over to Broadway we ran into this person who calls herself Misy. We didn’t so much run into her as we heard her being broadcast a block away and followed the voice into a small bar. She has one of the purest voices I’ve heard in a long time, and we both really enjoyed just sitting listening to her. I’m inclined to like solo singer/songwriters a lot, so Misy was in my strike zone. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make it big.

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We ducked into a few other bars trying to find/hear someone as good as Misy, but no luck. Lots of good voices and groups, but nothing else really great.

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Another notable music excursion was our outing at The Bluebird Cafe. The Bluebird is pretty unique, and with less than 100 seats per show, reservations take some advance planning. I scored two nice seats for the Saturday night show, an acoustic “in the round” featuring four artists, where each artist takes turns playing and singing, round and round three or four times. Great music, great venue and a thoroughly good time. And the picture below was taken with no zoom, so you can see that everyone is very intimate with the musicians. We liked our seats.

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Finally, no Nashville trip is complete without some foody adventures. We had two memorable meal stops – Husk, and Pelican and Pig. Both were recommendations from my should-have-been-a-food-critic daughter Emily, and both were superb. I liked Husk as well as anywhere I’ve eaten in years – the quality just oozes from the place. Apparently having a James Beard-recognized chef actually means something.

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Pelican and Pig was a cool little restaurant that revolves around its wood-fired ovens and massive amounts of stacked hardwood. The vibe was trendy, but service was good and the food was excellent. I think we messed up by not have more (or only) side dishes, because every one we saw being served looked great. My pictures at P&P weren’t very good, but here’s one looking in toward the open fire ovens.

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All in all this was a nice little trip. We learned a lot more about Nashville and made some great memories. Until next time, Music City.

 

Happy New Year

Yeah, I know, I’m about a month late. But the month of January was lost to me – lost in travel, stressful life changes for my Dad, airplanes, bad hotel beds and oddball Airbnb stays. Twenty-six days of the last forty-five on the road, all in Kentucky (and a little in TN). I decided somewhere along the way this past month that I would declare the end of this trip as my de facto “New Year”, so it starts for me on 2/4/20. Woo hoo!

But it starts with a thud. In one of the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies (Magnum Force, 1973), Clint has a line “A good man always knows his limitations” *.  Well, I haven’t been a good man, because I’ve definitely exceeded my limitations. Too much stress and too much travel. After a completely sleepless night last night in another crummy Hilton room, I started the day feeling wrecked. Everything hurts, my brain at about 20% efficiency, blurry eyed and rapid pulse. That’s a tough way to start a travel day, even headed home. So as New Years’ Days go, it’s stereotypical – starting tired and hurting, though not due to drinking.

* From IMDB, the screenwriters for Magnum Force are Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, John Milius and Michael Cimino. Can’t forget those writers!

Intellectually I know all the travel has been worth it, but physically it’s hard to make that case. We’ve created and collected some great memories the last month and a half, including:

  • Working with my brothers to clean Dad’s garage and attic
  • Working with them again to move them from the house to the apartments
  • The satisfaction of knowing that we’re doing the right thing, every time I thought about it
  • The satisfaction of knowing we found them the right place to be at this point in their lives
  • K and I going to the Bluebird Cafe for a concert in the round
  • Driving with Em to and from Nashville
  • Spending time with Hudson, who is growing so fast
  • The weirdness of knowing my buddy Mike is going through pretty much the same thing at the same time

But all that’s behind me now, so on to the logical New Year. I intend to:

  • Read a lot
  • Write a lot
  • Improve my golf handicap
  • Claw back some of my health

And in general, lay pretty low for a while. I’m very much looking forward to those simple things, starting right now.

 

Strange days

There’s no theme to this post, just a collection of timely thoughts and observations.

First up, if you’re interested in or worried about the Wuhan coronavirus, this prepper website is a great resource. It’s very hard to say how widespread and therefore dangerous this virus will become, so best to be informed.

Speaking of preppers, I have a bit of that tendency myself. Part of it was my constant safety/preparedness training at my job, part of it was living through the damnable 2007 fires, and part is just common sense. I have a bug-out bag in my car at all times. We have a PV roof and a new automated fire suppression system for outside the house. All my data is backed up in several places, including offsite. So anything that looks like a credible threat to our way of life, I enjoy getting prepared for it.

Second up, today was the day Kobe Bryant died. A complete shocker, and particularly sad that his helicopter had eight other people aboard, including his daughter. Kobe lived a very big life in only 41 years. RIP.

Third up, in a weird display of synchronicity, my best friend from high school is going through pretty much exactly the same thing as me with his father. Mike and I have a lot in common. We’re both the oldest of four brothers, each two years apart. We both went to UK and became engineers. Our birthdays are two days apart. And now we’re both enmeshed in moving our fathers from independent living to assisted living, ASAP. I’m a week or two ahead of Mike, but…wow. I suppose statistically it makes some sense – I believe our fathers are the same age, 84, and they live in the same town. But we were both dumbfounded when we learned of the coincidence. I hope to see Mike soon, once he’s got all the logistics of this move worked out. Best of luck!

In better news, my UK Wildcats defeated a tough Texas Tech team in Texas last night. It was the best basketball game I’ve seen in years, watched after a fun afternoon out at Cougar Vineyards. UK is finally coming around and looking like the team we hoped they’d be. Most of all, NICK RICHARDS! He’s the poster child for staying in college more than one year. Go Nick!

Finally, I spent a lot of time today modifying my home security system. Moved one motion sensor, added another, tested the sensors and just generally fine-tuned the system. It’s a good feeling knowing that our home now can’t be invaded without an immediate alarm and notification. And the technology available now to monitor and protect your property is pretty amazing.

 

Sunday evening blues

It’s Sunday. I have to check the calendar these days to know what day it is – they all run together. I’m in eastern KY and in the final stages of helping my dad and stepmom move from their home of 25-ish years into an assisted living facility. It’s been quite an experience. Some events that stand out in my mind include:

  • Driving a giant U-Haul truck through a tiny alley, maneuvering it in and out of dad’s neighborhood. I got a weird thrill driving the big truck without mishap.
  • Watching three large and strong young guys (hired movers) carrying furniture effortlessly, the way I used to. It was a harsh reminder of how I’ve aged in the last 35 years (doh!).
  • The weight, emotional and literal, of layers and layers of things two people have accumulated over the years. Wading through it has been pretty awful, frankly. It gives one a real perspective on the futility of acquisition. Note to self – experience, don’t acquire.
  • How beautiful the KY hills and valleys can be in the winter, as seen in the title picture above, taken some 18 years ago in eastern KY. The industrialized areas of eastern KY are pretty rough-looking. The unspoiled wooded areas, what few are left, are magnificent.
  • The fun of working through all this with my three brothers. We don’t spend a lot of time together these days, so this shared set of tasks has had a silver lining. We get to catch up and spend time together as we shut down an old, cluttered domicile and start up a new one for the parents.

When I leave here in a few days for the Left Coast, I’ll have the peace of knowing we did everything possible to make our parents’ transition from independent living to the next stage as easy and healthful as possible. Many families aren’t so lucky, though it’s clear to me that this kind of outcome is part luck, part hard work and lots of goodwill across siblings and generations.

 

 

Running on Empty

“Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running, too.” – Jackson Browne, 1977

Another one of Jackson Browne’s trademark songs sums up life lately. I’ve been shuttling back and forth between Socal and KY, and on that end  between Louisville and eastern KY (Ashland). Lots of miles, lots of time to think, lots of stress in what’s going on and a ton of work to do. Running on empty.

Basically, we’re moving my dad and stepmom into assisted living facilities. This is one of those points in life that most everyone will experience, so this isn’t exactly a unique situation. You can intellectually understand that it’s a tough time for all, but until you’ve lived through it you can’t appreciate the difficulty.

We have several complications in this transition:

  • Trying to assist from long distance (2400 miles, in my case)
  • Parents who aren’t ready financially for the transition
  • Decades of junk to deal with in the house being vacated
  • One parent with problematic health and behavior

All three of my brothers are involved and helping, and I’m sure thankful for that. We’ve made all the hard decisions, and now it’s just going through the steps to make it happen. With any luck at all in ten days my dad and stepmom will be in a safe, clean, healthy and constantly-monitored place, and the rest of the family can breath a little. Fingers crossed…

(Jackson Browne photo taken by me at the Actor’s Gang in Los Angeles, 2019. Front row seats!)

“…to sleep, perchance to dream…”

(The title is of course from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Same for the last sentence in the post. One of the all-time great bits of writing, IMHO. (Shakespeare, not me.))

Picture above is from a particularly nice sunset in Cabo.

Sleep is a pretty important part of staying healthy, and my sleep habits are sub-optimal. I’m up a lot at night – I’m what’s called a bimodal, biphasic or bifurcated sleeper, with two fairly deep sleep periods each night interrupted by a period of wakefulness. There’s some evidence that this is normal and even helpful to creativity and stress relief, but most sleep specialists say a monophasic sleep (one long period each night) is the best for health.

But that’s not what got me thinking about sleep. My wife and I are opposites in many ways, including sleep. I need to go to bed early and typically wake early; she’s a night owl and likes to sleep in. My big revelation of late is yet another difference – I drop into a deep sleep quickly and effortlessly, and my sleep is lighter after a few hours. Kathryn is (surprise) the opposite. She struggles to go to sleep, sleeps lightly for hours and then drops into a deep sleep sometime in the early morning.

And now that I’m retired, I dream a lot more. Or at least I remember my dreams much more often. And that’s a lot of fun. I often wake and relive the dream, sorting though its typical weirdness and wondering what it means. Perhaps when I was working I had to rush into my morning schedule so quickly and thoroughly that I brushed the dream memories aside. But I like this better. My dreams are pleasant and quirky, and it’s a part of life I’m happy to rediscover.

I say rediscover because when I was much younger I dreamed a lot, though not pleasantly. I had recurring dreams of something evil chasing me and ultimately cornering me, at which point I would wake up terrified. I called them “the pursuit dreams”, and they persisted from about age nine into adulthood. I don’t know what those were about – I don’t remember any fear or trauma in my early years that would have triggered such a thing. In adulthood the pursuit became more of a maze, where I would work my way though an infinitely long or complex landscape (the steel mill where my dad worked, and I worked for a few summers, was a typical dreamscape), over and over with no end. I would wake up exhausted. Sometime in my adult years the pursuit dream stopped, thankfully. These days I’m happy to fall asleep instantly and enjoy “what dreams may come”.

End of year cleanup

One of the things I always do at this time of year is tackle a few end of year / beginning of year jobs. This includes:

  • Reviewing our electricity billings to see if our solar roof is working as expected (PV roof is indeed working, but something else bumped our end of year costs way up…still investigating)
  • Upcoming year detailed financial planning (with retirement and the new responsibility of making sure Dad is taken care of, this is more complicated than prior years)
  • Upcoming year travel planning
  • Cleaning up and filing papers that need to be kept (ugh – the worst – I despise filing)

These activities always gives me a lot of satisfaction. Not as much satisfaction as, say, this crew at left, but it’s still good. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_cb20.jpgI’m a planner at heart – the planning actually gives me more pleasure than the doing, except for maybe travel. In fact, one of my favorite jobs was “Executive Director of Planning” for Kaiser’s IT group. Doesn’t sound like much, but IT at Kaiser was (is) a multi-billion dollar organization, so the planning functions were huge. That job didn’t last too long (a rapid reorganization), but I enjoyed it.

All this planning also helps me internalize the fact that another year has come and gone. I previously wrote about how our sense of time passing changes with age, and it’s very true. It’s another one of those semi-cruel realities of life – just when you need time the most, it runs away from you.