Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quarterly Review

Since I write this post on the last day of the first quarter of 2011, I can't help but look back at my new year's resolutions that I was bold enough to publish on this blog.  After all, once you put it out there for the world (or, in this case, a few readers) to see, you have to act on these resolutions, right?

I'm pleased to report that some progress has been made.  My two perennial resolutions, lose weight and have more fun, are still works in progress.  As I've always said, you can never have too much fun, so the second will never end.  Losing weight almost seems to be in that category as well, but what can I say, I'm trying at least.  I recently started working with a trainer (Courtney a/k/a Killer), and I'm hoping that this will be the motivation that I need.  She's making me write down each and every thing that I put in my mouth, and she reads through the log like a fascinating novel.  Since I have to write it down, it really does make me consider what I do and don't eat.  So we'll see, but I'm hoping that this is a good step in the right direction.

As for my specific 2011 resolutions, I'm extremely happy to report that, as of 11:30 a.m. EST today, I have achieved one of them, that being selling our Atlanta house.  While I loved living in that house while we were in Atlanta, once we moved and left it empty, it was just one big albatross that required the paying of many bills each month to keep it going.  It's a big relief, and I hope the nice family who bought it will enjoy it as much as we did.

My fourth and final resolution at the beginning of this year was to create a new life in Denver.  This isn't something that can happen overnight or even in a few months.  I recognize that it's a long process, and it probably won't be completed by the end of this year.  My recollection is that it took me about two years to feel comfortable in Atlanta, and we've only been here 4 1/2 months.  So I continue to take baby steps in settling into life here. 

So, all in all, not a bad quarterly review.  I'm working on it. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Things

It's spring in Denver, and I'm learning new words.  It's been warm for some time and, despite my whining about the cold in previous blog posts, the winter was much better than I expected.  We had about two weeks when it was really, really cold, but that's it. Usually, it was sunny and nice with little snow in the city.  The mountains get all the snow, which peters out by the time it gets to the city.

This weekend we finally put our cushions out on the furniture on our terrace.  This was not possible until now because the wind is surprisingly strong.  Although the cushions sat cozy and happy on the furniture on our screened porch in Atlanta, it was another matter all together when we arrived in Denver.  On our move-in day, I put the cushions on the furniture, only to see one cushion lift itself up from what I thought was its secure position and sail away, never to be seen again.  So we had to have ties made for the cushions, not trusting them to stay where they were placed.  And not just two ties per cushion, but four to secure every single corner in place.

One of the new words that I've learned is Chinook Winds, which are surprisingly strong. Today, for example, the gusts are up to 50 mph.  It's interesting to watch our furniture move by itself, as if some ghost is propelling it.  Our neighbors told us that one day they came home to find their chaise lounge gone - it had just flown away on its own.


Last Thursday afternoon, I looked out the window to see droves of people walking toward the Pepsi Center (the arena where the Denver Nuggets play and concerts are held).  My frame of mind was such that my first thought was "Oh my God, there's an evacuation.  Why would all of these people be heading to the Pepsi Center on a weekday afternoon?"  Realizing that this was probably not accurate, I looked the Pepsi Center calendar up online and learned that NCAA tournament games were being held there.  Suddenly, I had an interest in March Madness.  Maybe because it was just across the street, I'm not sure.  So we started watching the games, and I learned some more things.  I learned that there is actually a team (University of Richmond) that is known as the Spiders.  Why would any team want to be called the Spiders?  Is there anyone who actually likes spiders?  Do spiders evoke images of strength and winning or just icky, creepy stuff?  Who picks these names?


As a follow up to my posts on Japan, you may want to see the rough scans from our trip that Emily has posted on her blog.   She uses actual film (remember film?) so it's taken a while to develop, scan and then wait an appropriate time after the Japanese disaster.  You can see her photos by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mourning for Japan

I've gotten so many emails, texts, phone calls from folks saying how glad they are that I am not there to go through this.  And, of course, I'm also happy to not be there during this horrible devastation.  But I am so, so sad for the Japanese people.  I don't know what to say that could possibly describe it.

My blogging daughter did a better job than I could do.  Click here to see her eloquent post.  Also, she is selling a photo print from her Japan series, with 100% of the price going to Japan relief.  If you're interested in getting more information about this, click here.

On the news, commentators seem amazed by the attitude of the Japanese people because they are calm and patient under the worst possible conditions.  I don't profess to be an authority on Japanese culture, but after 4 visits to Japan, if someone asked me before the earthquake how the Japanese would react to a terrible crisis, I would have said that they would be calm and patient.  This is a very different culture from the USA.  These people are all rule-followers.  At an intersection with no cars in sight, not one person will step off the curb until the sign says to go.  No one would even think of crossing until allowed to do so.  Crime is very minimal.  Bicycles are left unlocked, and no one takes them.  It's a different way of thinking and a different world.  These are strong, brave people but it's hard to wrap my brain around what's happened there.

I always say that from something bad, something good always comes.  But sometimes, like now, it's really hard to find the silver lining in this enormous cloud.  I've never been a supporter of nuclear energy because, just like in Japan, things go wrong.  Shit happens; it's not always totally foreseeable.  I don't care how safe its proponents say it is, when the genie comes out of the bottle in the nuclear world, watch out.  Maybe this event will make us reconsider nuclear energy and put our focus on safer sources, like the wind and the sun.

(c) Mike Lukovich

On a much lighter note, the somber news has finally gotten the media to focus on something other than crazy Charlie Sheen, as the brilliant Mike Lukovich points out above.

I hope for better days for the poor people of Japan.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frozen Dead Guy Days

Official Guide and Commemorative Glass of Frozen Dead Guy Days 2011

We attended an interesting event this weekend in Nederland, Colorado - Frozen Dead Guy Days - not your run of the mill festival.  It was fun.  Barry and I went with my friend Todd and his daughter.

The story, in a very summarized form, is that this Norwegian man wound up dead in a Tuff Shed in Nederland about 21 years ago, staying with his daughter and grandson. The living members of the family had immigration issues and had to go back to Norway, but Grandpa remained in the Tuff Shed.  Now local volunteers deliver 1600 pounds of dry ice every month and pack it around Grandpa in his Tuff Shed, keeping him at a steady -60°F.

They have been doing the Frozen Dead Guy Days (FDGD) for 10 years now.  FDGD got started when local filmmakers made 2 documentaries titled:  "Grandpa's in the Tuff Shed" and "Grandpa's Still in the Tuff Shed."  These filmmakers were the Grand Marshals of the Parade of Hearses.  What more do you need to know?

We skipped such festival events as Cryogenics for Kids, Icy Turkey Bowling, and actually viewing Grandpa in the Tuff Shed.  But we did enjoy the Parade of Hearses, Polar Plunge, and, most importantly, the Coffin Races.  Ironically, the coffin race teams that were totally untogether were the most fun to watch.  They all had team themes, such as Gangrene, GaGa GoGo, Bieber Fever, as well as decorations and costumes. One person has to remain in the coffin while the "pallbearers" go through a designated course.  This was quite entertaining to watch.

One of the hearses in The Parade of Hearses

Coffin Races

Todd is already busily planning a Sperm Whisperer (in honor of Barry) coffin race team for next year.  Think of the possibilities.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Few More Japan Photos

View in Yudanaka reminiscent of Rocky Mountains

Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden

Note the "Georgia" beverage (hot coffee from vending machine) advertised on top right

Top view of swimming pool at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Bottom view of swimming pool at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The Snow Monkey Thinker

You'll have to write your own caption for this one

What is "home"?

The trip to Japan in February was the first time that I got on a plane since I moved to Denver in November.  I wondered what it would be like to return.  I was hoping that, upon arrival after a trip that was foreign in so many ways, I would immediately be ensconced by that wonderful feeling that I often get after a big trip:  "Ah, relief, I'm home."  I really wanted to feel this way.

As I deplaned at the Denver airport after 1:00 a.m. on early Monday morning, I was very excited to see Barry (who insisted on picking me up at the airport in spite of the ungodly time), but otherwise that feeling of relaxation upon returning home just wasn't there.  While I felt like I knew every inch of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, including every crappy place to eat when you have hours to kill, Denver International Airport is still an unknown to me.  It may be far superior to the ATL airport but I don't know it well yet.  Of course, it's not just about the airport.  We haven't been here long enough to form the kinds of memories and associations that create the feeling of "home" that I was craving.

This made me think about what the definition of "home" actually is, so I looked up the meaning.  The primary definition of "home" is "a place where one lives; residence; dwelling place."  Maybe it's because we still own a home in Atlanta or maybe it's because we're renting in Denver and know that this is not a forever situation, these definitions were no help to me in my quest for the meaning of "home" that I was looking for.  "Home" can also be defined as "native habitat, place of origin," but that would be New Jersey in my case, and, believe me, I ALWAYS feel like an alien when I fly into Newark Airport.  So no help there.

But, as I worked my way down the lists of definitions of "home,"  I did find some that struck a chord:  "an environment offering security and happiness";  "a valued place regarded as a refuge";  and "a familiar or usual setting: congenial environment". Studying these meanings, I realized that all of these explanations of "home" take time and familiarity - I guess I need to be patient - 4 months does not a home make.  So, despite Thomas Wolfe's belief that "You Can't Go Home Again", I'm hopeful that I will be home again.  Just not yet.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Japan - Definitely Blogworthy

Emily and I flew from LAX to Haneda Airport on a direct flight.  If you've been to Tokyo, you know that Narita Airport is quite far from the city.  Haneda is much closer and has a beautiful new international terminal.  A big improvement.

My bed in Yudanaka

After taking 4 trains, we arrived in Yudanaka in anticipation of visiting the snow monkeys the next day.  Yudanaka was a lovely, peaceful town, and we stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel, Hotel Tsubakino.  The rooms were nice, the food was great and the people were so very nice to us, apologizing that their English was not so good, when we should have been apologizing that our Japanese was so much worse.  The wifi didn't work there but that was my only complaint, and it actually was nice to be unplugged.

Jigokudani Monkey Park is quite something.  The monkeys are so used to people that they totally ignore humans or often appear to be posing for photos.  You can get within inches of the monkeys, and they're fine with this.  They are busy monkeys and seem happy in their surroundings, which are beautiful.

Icy path to snow monkeys
The trek to get to the monkeys was somewhat of a surprise.  We took a 10 minute bus ride from Yudanaka to Monkey Park.  Then we walked on packed snow and ice for at least 30 minutes to reach the monkeys.  It is not a shoveled path;  it is not a path that has been de-iced;  it is not a path that has a railing to protect you from the ravine on one side.  The lawyer in me kept thinking that this would never happen in the liability-loving USA.  There would be all sorts of warnings, railings, etc. to protect whoever owns Monkey Park from lawsuits.  But, in Japan, there we were slipping and sliding our way up to the monkeys.  I only fell once, bruising my knee and ego, but considering the treachery of the path, that wasn't bad at all.  I certainly wasn't the only one - we saw a number of people fall.

Back at the hotel, I enjoyed a private dip in the hot springs at sunset.  Lovely.  Of course, there are numerous public baths to enjoy the hot springs in this area of Japan, but I just couldn't picture bathing with a bunch of naked Japanese women.  Maybe it's just me.  Our hotel had some private baths (outside but covered from view), and that was perfect.

We had a wonderful traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast at the hotel in a private room.   We weren't sure if they were trying to hide the Americans from view or if this was standard.

Kenrokuen Garden
The next day, there were 5 more trains to get to Kanazawa, which is a much bigger city of about 500,000.  Again, some amazing Japanese meals.  One of the highlights of Kanazawa is the Kenrokuen Garden, known as one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Japan.  Emily seemed disappointed with the photographic opportunities at the garden, since the snow had mostly melted but the spring blooms were not quite there yet.  I thought it was an enchanting place and understood why it was designated a "National Site of Special Scenic Beauty."

Exhibit called "Made in Japan"
Near the garden, we visited the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.  One of the most beautiful museum buildings I've ever been to.  The exhibits were interesting and unusual.  Lunch at the museum restaurant was an event in itself.

Wedding in Higashi Chaya District
Later, we explored the Higashi Chaya District of Kanazawa, a beautiful traditional Japanese neighborhood, where we happened upon a wedding parade.

Tojinbo Cliffs
Our last day in Japan, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we went to Tojinbo on the Sea of Japan.  Another great site and interesting day.

Although we've both been to Japan a number of times (Emily far more times than me), we agreed that we had the best Japanese food ever on this trip.  We were willing to eat whatever was put in front of us, and this definitely was not tourist fare - it was the real deal, delicious and always beautifully presented.  Most of the time, we didn't know what we were eating but were happy to do so.

As always, Japan is fascinating in its modernity on one hand and its traditionalism on the other.  While it might not be the most politically correct metaphor to use, the Japanese bathrooms are a perfect example of this dichotomy.

The Toto Toilet

The more rugged approach

At the modern extreme is the Toto toilet, which, since my first visit to Japan about 20 years ago, has been a source of amazement to me.  Why these have not become standard fare in all U.S. households is beyond me.   It has a heated seat, will rinse off your derriere as well as your front and blow you dry down there.  I almost expect it to provide a pat of baby powder to complete the experience.  Yet, often, in public restrooms, there are old style toilets that are really no more than a hole in the ground where you have to balance and squat to do your business.

This post is way too long already, so I need to wrap it up.  A very interesting trip - I'm glad I went and I'm glad I'm home.