Friends

Chris Ayer, Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson at a House Concert

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Two weeks ago I announced that we were no longer involved with Zope Corporation. That was supposed to mean not driving up and down I95 every month. Apparently, our love of music and friends didn’t get the message. Winking smile

Lindsie Davis runs regular house concerts. We’ve been lucky to have attended three of them (including last night). In addition to loving every one of the shows, we’ve become good friends with Lindsie, which in the long run (even the short run) is more valuable to us.

Update: Lindsie just forwarded three photos that she took. We’re in two of them. I’ll post the first here, then the others down below.

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Before we knew we’d be out of Zope, we were discussing coming to Lindsie’s next show, which she was trying to put together but hadn’t set a date yet. By the time the date was set, we were already out, but we decided to make the trip, and turn it into a going away party as well. I’ll cover the party aspect briefly after capturing my thoughts about the show itself.

Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson opened the show. They have now named their group Rebecca Haviland and Whiskey Heart (I guess that makes Chris’ name: Whiskey Heart). It works for me, but I’m probably just going to call him Whiskey from now on. Winking smile

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We see them perform a bunch, recently in a variety of configurations, but I have to admit that I was still taken by surprise last night (a most pleasant surprise). On March 21st, we saw them perform as a duo (for the first time) at Watercolor Café. The big difference last night was no vocal microphones.

Rebecca and Chris each had their instruments (electric guitar and electric bass respectively) plugged into amps. But, they had them dialed softly (perfectly). That Rebecca’s amazing voice could easily be heard above the amps was not a surprise. That Chris sang loud enough to be so perfectly balanced with Rebecca was the giant surprise. They sounded better together vocally than at any previous show. That means that Chris will have to sing louder, or the sound guy will need to crank him more, at future full band shows.

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The acoustics were perfect and every song was fantastic. After missing If You at the last show, they performed it last night. Even though it was new to probably 95% of the people in the room (it was a very well attended show!), this was the best crowd participation in singing the Oh, oh oh oh oh part (along with me, of course). Really great!

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Whenever Rebecca was tuning, she was quite funny telling us stories and informing us that this was her first-ever house concert performance! I’m willing to bet that it won’t be her last. I have a strong suspicion that she had every bit the blast that we in the audience did. Chris Anderson is an old pro at this. In fact, he was at all of the previous house concerts that we attended at Lindsie’s.

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After their set, Lindsie announced that there would be a 10-minute break to eat the amazing desserts and stretch the legs. Those rarely last only 10 minutes, so I was impressed that this one was officially ended (with blinking lights) at the 14-minute mark. Well done running a tight ship Lindsie!

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Chris Ayer took to the stage (OK, the front of the room) and captivated everyone with his incredible songs, voice and guitar play.

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Chris always gets a ton of requests for particular songs (many of them long out of his regular rotation). He told us about one guy in Europe who took to the Interwebz to hammer Chris when he didn’t get his desired song. That dude needs to chill (see, I’m still young at heart). Winking smile

Last night, Chris decided to finally perform two songs he’s been promising someone for a while now (two different people, if I understood, both of whom were at the show). One was Opening and the other was Warmer. Bravo! It’s such a treat to hear great songs that rarely get played live nowadays.

As with Rebecca, whenever Chris was tuning, he had us cracking up. Aside from his typical tuning, he complained that the capo the guy at The Guitar Center talked him into was a bad choice. I noticed it once, it doesn’t put equal pressure across the fret, so Chris had to play with it to tighten it, but also compensated by retuning the string it wouldn’t catch. That gave him plenty of time to make us laugh.

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While I could recite Rebecca’s set list by heart (but won’t), Chris provided his official set list for Lois to photograph:

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Our host with the performers:

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Our host with us and Chris Anderson:

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It was a great show, well worth the long drive down (unreal traffic once we got into Friday afternoon Washington rush hour). Afterward, we headed to our friends’ house in Leesburg, where we spent the night (and where I’m now typing this). Shortly I’ll be off to watch the older son play baseball (he’ll be the starting pitcher) and then after lunch, the long trek home.

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Back to the party aspect of last night. We reached out to a bunch of current and former Zope employees and their families. 15 of us met for dinner at Portabellos in Arlington. Wow, such a great meal, excellent company and everyone in the restaurant was nice and treated us very well.

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After the meal, 13 of us headed to the house concert. So, Zope was very well represented at the show. In a nice twist, one of the current Zope employees (Satchit) won the merch raffle, so he walked away with two of Chris Ayer’s CDs and two of Rebecca’s. Score!

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An absolutely fantastic night, beginning to end. So glad we never hesitated to make this long drive to implant those memories.

AnneDonFamilyMembers

Wicked Season

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The title that sprang to mind was Season of the Witch(es). While clever (at least to me), given our recent cluster of attendances, I couldn’t bring myself to drop Wicked from the title.

Yes, we seem to be knee deep in Wicked Season. Yesterday we went for our 13th time. If only we could have pulled that off last week, on Friday the 13th, who knows what magic/wickedness would have occurred.

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There are two reasons for us to see Wicked over-and-over:

  1. It’s that awesome, and we enjoy it as much (truth be told, more) each time
  2. The shared experience of going with friends on their first time is joyous to us

#2 is the reason that gets us to the theater, as the opportunity to share it with friends makes us schedule it. But, #1 is what makes it the easiest decision in the world when our friends make their availability known to us. Smile

Such was the case yesterday, when two friends who are nearly impossible to schedule time with together both said “Let’s do it!”.

There was a real first for us. In the 12 previous times, Elphaba’s father was played by the same actor (pretty incredible, since our first time was in 2006!). Yesterday, someone else played that role (I think he was an understudy, and our guy will be back). The sub (Brian Munn) was excellent, but we both missed Michael DeVries.

The two leads were the same as the last few performances, Chandra Lee Schwartz and Jackie Burns as the witches. We love them, so that was great. I have been able to nitpick tiny parts of each of their performances in the past (more the singing than the acting) and that was true again. Their awesomeness so far outweighs the nits that I highly encourage everyone to see Wicked while they’re still in it, before the dice get rolled again.

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If you can watch Chandra’s performance and not laugh out loud, multiple times, then I fear that your soul was crushed at some point in your life and is badly in need of some loving and healing.

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We both continue to be charmed by Tom McGowan as The Wizard.

Another wonderfully successful outing to the Gershwin Theatre. Do I hear 14?!?

Not that we need signs to validate our decision to keep seeing Wicked, but we walked right by this place on way home from the theater. Winking smile

Wichcraft

Matt Cusson at Rockwood Music Hall

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Matt Cusson played his first ever show at Rockwood Music Hall last night. I’m sure it won’t be his last.

We hadn’t heard of him before, though after reading about him, I’m surprised at that. Thankfully, we have friends with excellent taste in music (in fact, we met them over a shared table at Joe’s Pub, a few years ago). They reached out and asked whether we wanted to join them for Matt’s show. Without knowing anything about him, our answer was yes. Smile

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I encourage you to read about him as well, as my description from a single set won’t do him justice. What I saw last night was a young man with a number of incredible talents:

  • amazing keyboards player (electronic last night, but I think he avoided the grand just to be front-and-center on the stage, I didn’t notice any particular effects)
  • wonderful voice (including the kind of control that is required in a number of the styles that Matt sings, R&B/Soul/Jazz)
  • excellent songwriter (even though Matt made a name for himself in other bands and with cover tours, he will clearly eventually leave his mark with his own music)
  • fantastic stage presence (even if the above weren’t true, he could bluff his way through a set and people would walk out smiling, having enjoyed his quick wit, natural style and warmth)

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In addition to playing some of his own tunes (including one or two brand new ones), he played a couple of older ones (including Comfortable, a John Mayer cover which Matt was well-known for). He also played a short medley of Michael Jackson songs. From what I understand, his range is much broader than he had time to display last night.

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Matt was joined by two musicians:

Rich Zurkowski on electric bass (I couldn’t find a good individual link to him). Rich was outstanding on the bass. He was often the only melodic accompaniment (when Matt was playing chords), given that there wasn’t a guitar as well. His fingers were flying up and down the frets the entire set, always sounding in perfect unison/harmony with Matt’s voice and keyboard play.

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On one number late in the set, Matt highlighted the band, including giving Rich a really long lead. It was mind-bogglingly good. I’m already looking forward to catching Rich again, any time, anywhere.

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Adam Hanson on drums. Adam did a nice job on the drums throughout. On the same song that Rich was highlighted, so was Adam. Matt prompted him to continue his introductory solo a few times, then turned it over to him later in the song again for a longer solo. While I enjoyed his play, he wasn’t quite as loose or creative as Jazz drumming can/should be.

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Matt introduced his fiancée to the audience:

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Before the show, we had dinner with our friends at The Meatball Shop. So good, I’m still thinking out the BBQ Pork meatballs (the special last night). We would eat there more often if it wasn’t always so jammed (rightfully so).

MerryLloyd

Thanks for introducing us to Matt Cusson, and for being willing to meet/eat early enough to get seats at The Meatball Shop! Smile

A Wicked Christmas Weekend

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We love so many people that we consider family. However, there are a few full families that are truly our extended family in every possible way. One of those families lives in Leesburg, VA. They (parents plus three children) were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with us in NYC. Unfortunately, life intervened and they had more urgent business to attend. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule to get them up for Christmas.

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On Friday (when they arrived), after having a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole (probably still our favorite burger place in NYC, though there are so many spectacular ones), we did something unusual for us (and them as well). We split up completely!

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The parents took the 5-year-old girl to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. They reported that it was fantastic and the girl was mesmerized throughout!

Lois took the 13-year-old to see the new Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Neither was too enamored with the movie. If a 13-year-old boy doesn’t come back raving about such a movie, that’s all I need to know about it. Winking smile

I took the 11-year-old to see Blue Man Group. It was my third time, his first. It’s been quite a while since I last saw it, so I was quite excited to go again. I was really pleased to see that while the basic show was the same, they created a few new acts, replacing some others, while keeping some real crowd pleasers. In other words, even I got to enjoy some new things (I enjoyed the original material as well).

Needless to say, the 11-year-old was thrilled and had many mind-blowing guffaws during the show. The toilet paper part (a staple) will probably live with him forever. Smile

All seven of us met up at our favorite NYC restaurant for dinner: The Peking Duck House. The parents had been there twice before, but this was a first for all three kids. The meal was a huge success (it never isn’t, but I feel compelled to report on it nonetheless). Even though everyone professed to be stuffed to the gills, when offered ice cream for dessert, amazingly, everyone found an extra spot to stick it in. Smile

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Not to slight any other activity, because the weekend was 100% incredible, but the main event (and hence the title) was all seven of us going to see Wicked on Saturday afternoon. It was our (Lois and my) 12th time. It was a first for everyone else. I will admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the kids would like it.

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AtWicked

When we looked at our programs and saw that the two leads were the same ones we saw last time: Jackie Burns and Chandra Lee Schwartz, Lois and I knew that at a minimum, we would be enthralled. Thankfully, all seven of us loved the show.

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To be honest, the two ladies were even better this time than last time (and they were amazing last time). The only weakness in either of their performances came in the the last big number, For Good, which they had trouble with the previous time as well. This time it was better. Each had trouble with their solo, but they came together beautifully for their harmonies (not so last time). Otherwise, their acting and singing were pretty much flawless.

There were two other changes in significant characters. Madame Morrible was played by someone we hadn’t seen before. Neither Lois nor I liked her performance. In fact, Lois thought her acting threw Jackie Burns off a time or two (I think she might be right). She wasn’t bad, and if it was my first time I probably wouldn’t have known better. Still, practically every other Madame Morrible we’ve seen was better, including the last one, who we particularly liked.

Fiyero was new to us as well. I think that last time we saw an understudy for this one. I found his acting not quite as loose as some of the others (including the last one), but his singing was good. In particular, he nailed the difficult duet with Elphaba in the woods (As Long As You’re Mine). So much so, that Jackie Burns nailed her part. I dinged her a bit on that number the last time out.

The Wizard (Tom McGowan) was as wonderful as he has been each time we’ve seen him.

So, a huge success (like I said, every activity was, except for possibly Mission Impossible).

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We walked to the theater, having lunch at Z Deli around the corner. Afterward we walked back and headed straight to The Capital Grille. I like a lot of steak houses, The Capital Grille among them. While I’ve been there many times, this might have been my best meal there. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend time with family on Christmas Eve!

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After dinner I watched The Matrix with the boys (their first time). We paused a bunch of times early on to discuss the mind-bending plot. Once the real martial arts scenes kicked in, they were done discussing and were more intrigued by the acrobatics. Smile

We got to spend more quality time with everyone on Christmas morning, then they hit the road back to Leesburg. As sad as we were to see them go, our hearts were full from a literally perfect weekend with loved ones.

Rather than collapse, we continued the weekend festivities by meeting another good friend for lunch. I can’t speak for the ladies (each of whom ordered eggs), but my tuna melt was as good as it gets. So was our conversation, which we lingered over long after the meal was done.

P.S. The 11-year-old was enamored with my toy (my You Rock Guitar). He couldn’t put it down the entire weekend. Smile

YouRockGuitarYouRockGuitarContinued

Informal Vacations

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The last formal vacation that Lois and I took was in 1995, our only trip to Hawaii. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun times in amazing places, but nearly every one of them was on an international business trip for me. I consider our current vacations informal. They typically consist of very long drives south to visit my parents and our godson and his wife. Lois works non-stop, in the car, in the hotels and in the homes of the people we visit. I loaf and enjoy myself thoroughly, so it’s more of a vacation for me.

We just completed one and this is a brief documentation of it.

First stop was visiting my folks in Florida. 95 degrees and broiling every day, right after the heat broke up north, was a bit of a shock. It was nice to put on shorts and sandals again, but it would’ve been even nicer if the air conditioner in our car actually worked when it was hot outside. For the record, our car is 11 years old and has 225,000 miles on it (did I mention we drive long distances on all of our informal vacations?).

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I hope I have my Dad’s appetite when I’m 85!

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From Florida, we drove to Atlanta. We visited three sets of friends, all centered around wonderful meals. We got in late-ish and wandered out of our hotel in search of frozen yogurt. The person at the front desk didn’t think there were any within walking distance so we just headed out. One block away was a Ted’s Montana Grill (not exactly frozen yogurt), but we had a great meal at one in NYC when our goddaughter and her husband took us there. We decided to take serendipitous advantage and have a much bigger meal than planned, just the two of us.

The next day, first of our three social meals, lunch with a friend who worked with Lois before I met her, so while I know her for nearly 30 years, Lois knows her even longer. Three of her four children were able to join us too (children, as in adults!). The fact that the fourth couldn’t make it was OK, as she is a twin, so we just looked at the other twin twice as long to pretend that the missing kid was there too. Winking smile

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We ate at 5 Seasons Brewing Company. We had a delicious, leisurely lunch, served by one of the nicest waiters (we prodded one of the girls to consider dating him afterward, but he doesn’t know that). Such a great time catching up and swapping stories. We’ve seen the girls a couple of times in the past few years (in NYC), but we haven’t seen the boy (man!) in much longer, so that was a very special treat. After lunch they all had to run back to work. We miss them all already!

That night we had dinner with a couple who insisted on cooking. We had our first taste of Portobello mushroom burgers. OMG, one of the best things I’ve eaten, including toasted buns and I believe a home-made aioli sauce (it was definitely home-made, possibly not aioli). I can’t believe Lois missed taking a photo of the burgers.

It was our first time at their house. In addition to being completely inviting in every way, it’s absolutely gorgeous (often a hard combination to achieve). We ate outdoors, in a screen-enclosed, covered porch. The steady rain was welcome rather than a nuisance (until we had to walk back to our car).

The next morning we met another couple for brunch at Sun in My Belly. We had eaten there once before, so we knew how much we’d like the food (we were correct). The more important part was meeting our friends. We hadn’t seen them since April and that meeting was all too brief. Great conversation, great food, more time (but always too little). Perfect way to cap off our brief stop in Atlanta.

We headed to Birmingham directly from Sun in My Belly. Our godson was married in March (this year) and we were going to pick up a portrait of his wife from the wedding photographer to hang in our apartment. We had a little adventure meeting him at a McDonald’s, don’t ask. Thankfully, the portrait is so gorgeous that it was worth the Keystone Cops coordination.

After checking into the hotel and catching up on some business, we headed over to their house to hang out with Rebecca a bit. David was working in the hospital. When he was done he called and we agreed to meet at Davenport’s Pizza Palace for dinner (halfway for each of us).

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I have never had pizza served like that, cut into small rectangles all the way through the very large pie, so that it was easy to handle every bite (most pieces were two or three bites worth). That it was delicious as well was a big bonus. Winking smile

I tried to order seltzer/club soda (honestly, I have witnesses), but they didn’t have any, so I was forced to drink beer. Rebecca drove us there, and David drove me back, so it was a good time to be in a seltzer-less place.

After dinner we headed over to Yogurt Mountain for a refreshing dessert.

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On the drive back to their place, David and I had very manly discussions. I’m sure the girls had very girlie ones, so no gender stereotypes were harmed during the return trip. Winking smile

We just recently finished watching all five seasons of Friday Night Lights and totally loved the show. In a wild small-world story, one of the producers and directors of the show was my best friend in high school. We lost contact shortly after and his participation in the show had nothing to do with our watching it or our enjoyment of it. Still, I was proud of the job he did.

We gave the DVDs for all five seasons to David and Rebecca and after pizza watched the first two episodes with them (yes, we picked up nuances that we missed the first time around now that we knew where the stories were heading!). We then headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next morning we returned to their house. Rebecca’s parents, along with her brother and his girlfriend came over as well. The eight of us caravanned to Irondale, AL. The Irondale Café is the place known as The Whistle Stop in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. That’s where we ate lunch. Yes, we had the Fried Green Tomatoes! My meal was excellent. Thanks to the parents for treating all of us!

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Since Lois is constantly taking photos, Charlie decided to duel with her when he noticed her lining up a shot:

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It also happened to be The Whistle Stop Festival that weekend, so we spent the next two hours wandering around the various tents/booths on a gorgeous day. Lois and I spent a good amount of time listening to a trio called The Tame Dogs, an acoustic subset of The Rescue Dogs Band (their domain just expired, so I linked to their Reverb Nation page instead). They were very good.

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There was also a classic car exhibit:

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ClassicBentley

We said our (temporary) goodbyes and headed back to David and Rebecca’s for some more Friday Night Lights and the Alabama/Arkansas game (Roll Tide Roll). I rooted David’s Incredible 2 and put on a custom ROM. David has been on Android for nearly two years, but this is the first time he’s had root and a custom ROM. We’ll see how he likes it.

The day before, we were told firmly (but nicely) by Rebecca that dinner on Saturday was on them (no ifs ands or buts). In order to guarantee that, she wouldn’t even tell us where we were going, so that Lois (being the sneaky person she is) wouldn’t be able to call in advance and arrange to pay (secretly).

We met Rebecca’s parents at The Veranda on Highland. It felt like it was mostly a seafood restaurant, but for whatever reason, I was in the mood for the Filet Mignon. It was one of the most incredible steaks I’ve had (and I’ve had many). Melted in my mouth and the mashed potatoes were equally delicious. Everyone else raved about theirs (scallops, shrimp and grits and fish of the day).

David paid and we didn’t interfere. Thanks David and Rebecca! This was the first time I experienced table-side credit card swiping (not Square, a real portable swiper). David was able to press a button to select a pre-defined tip percentage, and he signed on the reader as well. A built-in printer spat out the receipt. A very efficient system, where your credit card is never out of your sight. Slick.

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After picking up my computer we headed back to the hotel for another crash. The next morning Lois went to Church with David and Rebecca while I stayed in their house. They called when they were done and I met them for an exceptional lunch at Genghis Grill. Pick out your own stuff, season it yourself, have a professional stir-fry it for you. Fresh and delicious.

Next door is a brand new Red Mango (frozen yogurt), so we had to repeat the refreshing dessert ritual from Friday night. Smile

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We spent roughly 1/2 an hour back at their house sharing some new music with them and then hit the road mid-afternoon. Of course, we miss them already!

I’m sitting at my desk working (OK, I’m blogging, but I’ll be working again shortly). Another informal vacation in the books. Another winning one (they all are!).

Another Amazing Weekend

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This was our third consecutive weekend hosting out-of-town visitors. Since the last two were fantastic, the bar was set high for this one. Don’t worry, we cleared it.

When our friends (parents of our godchildren and our closest friends for nearly 30 years!) asked whether this weekend would be a good one for them to come up from VA, the automatic answer was of course! The only (minor) complication was our unmovable commitment to attending four sets of music on Saturday night.

I’ve already written about the music separately, but since this is a post about the entire weekend, I’ll link them here again. Rebecca Haviland: covered here. Matt Simons: covered here. Sierra Noble: covered here. Chris Ayer: covered here.

We had a small scare before everything got rolling. Our friends called from the airport to say that there was a mechanical problem on the plane. While it was (theoretically) simple to fix, they didn’t know how long it would take the mechanic to show up. There was a chance that they wouldn’t even get out that night (Friday, July 1st).

That’s exactly how the first of these three weekends began, with David and Rebecca (their son and daughter-in-law) not getting out until the next morning! This case turned out differently. Not 15 minutes later they called back to say they were boarding. I’m guessing the mechanic was on a smoke break. Winking smile

Shortly after they arrived at the apartment, nine of us (counting a 2-year-old as a full person) Winking smile walked up to the Peking Duck House for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve been there (a minor crime against humanity). We had been talking about our need to correct that for the past two weeks, so this worked out perfectly.

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The meal was perfect. I never doubted it would be, but I report it here for the record.

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Given our music-filled night, we decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us (conserving our energy). The parents, their daughter and son-in-law went to the Doughnut Plant (the site currently lists a Lower East Side address only, but there is one at 220 W. 23rd St. as well, which is where they went). Afterward, they walked the Highline Park.

They headed over to Broadway to see How to Succeed in Business. All four of them said it was terrific and they were sure both of us would love it. Something to add to the list. Smile

The six of us had a wonderful dinner at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant). In a complete shock, we bumped into a few good friends who were dining there outside. We were seated inside (our choice) on the other side of the window from them. Even though our chats with them were brief (before our meal and after theirs), it was a special delight.

After nearly falling asleep (due to the amazing frozen margaritas), I somehow gathered myself for the epic night of music and easily made it all the way through! I don’t know what the others did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they didn’t fight the feeling of sleep and succumbed to it. Winking smile

On Sunday morning the four of them attended Church services at Redeemer. They spent some time at the Cooper Hewitt Museum then returned to the apartment to relax a bit. This week is both our and Laura and Chris’ anniversaries. We decided to celebrate at the Old Homestead steakhouse. All six of us couldn’t stop raving about the meal afterward. At least three (perhaps as many as five) counted this meal (and therefore this restaurant) as their favorite steakhouse meal (that includes Lois saying that her Lobster was the best she’s ever had).

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I loved my meal (thoroughly), but I admitted (out loud) that The Palm is still my favorite. I promise not to complain or hesitate to return to the Old Homestead though, should anyone suggest it again. Smile

After dinner, we all wanted (and needed) to walk off the calories (please don’t make me estimate the full damage). We walked the super-long block from the restaurant to the 14th Street entrance to the Highline Park. This was my first time seeing it in person. We walked from 14th St. until the end, currently 30th St. It’s spectacular. I highly recommend making the effort to get there, whether you’re a New Yorker or an out-of-towner here on a visit.

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We collapsed when we got back to the apartment (well, at least Lois and I collapsed, the others may have gone dancing for all I know).

On Monday morning (the venerable July 4th), Chris and I went for a long walk. When we’re in the city, I typically take long walks for exercise. For me, that means somewhere between five and eight miles, depending on my mood and my schedule. I do it 2-3 times a week, if I have the time. Amazingly, blogging is often the cause of me not having the time to walk. The things we do for our readers… Winking smile

Few of you who read this know Chris. He served six years in the Navy and remains in amazing shape by regularly working out. My only hesitation in walking with him, ever, is that he can keep up a grueling pace forever. He can walk backward, faster than I walk forward, and keep it up seemingly forever as well. I negotiated through an intermediary (Laura) that he would drop the drill-sergeant routine this time.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge (typically as far as I’d walk), that marked the 3.9 mile point. That would be just under an eight mile walk if we turned around. Chris looked at me and asked if I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him it had been over 30 years since I’d done that, but I was game. Instead, he suggested we just keep trucking further from the apartment. It had been a year since I’d done the loop I knew we were now committing to, but I (happily) agreed.

We continued south, past the Seaport, on to the Staten Island Ferry, where we headed north up the west side. At 34th Street we started the long trek over to the east side. When we arrived at the apartment, Chris was fresh as a daisy. I was a puddle of sweat who dreamt only of removing my sneakers from my feet. Total distance: 11.36 miles (I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch that they all bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago). Total time was 3:14, but that included a stop in the World Financial Center to check out the progress at Ground Zero.

After a nice lunch out (Euro Diner if you’re keeping score) we veg’ed out all afternoon (I might have even slept a bit, shhh). All of that was to prepare for attending a July 4th party.

Up until three years ago, we used to host an annual 4th of July party on our deck. We had pretty good views of the Macy’s Fireworks when they had them on East River. This is the third year in a row that they were on the Hudson instead and we had no plans to fight the crowds to try and see them.

On Friday, we received an invitation to a party that claimed to have a spectacular view of the fireworks. Under normal circumstances, we would have said yes in a heartbeat, but we would have been adding four strangers to the party list, which felt wrong on our part. I politely declined, explaining why.

In a I’m not taking No for an answer reply, our host told us to bring our guests along. I only had one No in me, so this time I said Yes! We negotiated on what we could bring and settled on Sushi.

What a great plan, until we found out that our go-to Sushi restaurant was closed all weekend. Our backup Sushi place (also exceptional) was going to be closed on Monday as well. In a twist of fate (actually two twists), the first place was clearly marked as being closed all weekend. The backup place hadn’t updated their sign, so when Lois went in, she thought they’d be open on Monday.

Hiroshi Sushi is across the street from our apartment. I filled in our order before Lois walked over. When she started to say what time she wanted the order ready by, she found out that they were closed on Monday. As she was turning to leave, the person she was talking to called her back.

He told her that he remembered us from years earlier when we used to come in all the time with Lois’ mother to their former Japanese Restaurant (a few doors down, now closed for probably eight years!). He was our waiter many of those times. He asked Lois if he could call the owner (and head chef), who was also involved in the other restaurant, to ask if he’d come in just to prepare this order.

20 minutes later he called us and said that the owner would happily do this for us. Wow, we were so grateful. The order was ready to be picked up at exactly 5pm (as promised) and was fantastic (as evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the partiers). I couldn’t resist trying something called “peanut and avocado roll”. Yummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We also brought a white pizza (for those who might not like Sushi). I had the first two slices (and didn’t notice if anyone else did). Man, that was really good too. Finally, we brought a gigantic fresh fruit salad that was seemingly bottomless, but it got completely devoured (or so I heard), so it apparently had a bottom after all. That too was a big hit.

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On to the actual party (I have a tough time not talking or thinking about food though). Winking smile

When we first arrived at our friend’s apartment we were blown away by the view. But, he lives in a one bedroom (very high up) and we wondered how everyone would get to enjoy the fireworks while being crowded like sardines in the living room. Ah, I’m so naïve at times. That was never the plan.

There was a friend of our friend, who lived 15 floors down (still quite high!). He has a much larger apartment, but more importantly, a massive deck, facing the Hudson River. The two of them decided to combine their parties. In an additional act of generosity, the second host (the friend of our friend), allowed an entire party of his next door neighbors to attend the viewing of the fireworks on his deck, when they were done with their meal (and drinking) on their adjacent (but not facing the river!) deck.

I don’t need to describe the view or the fireworks to you. All of the photos above were taken by Lois, on her compact camera. She took a ton of photos last night too, but I don’t need to share them.

Our friend (Bob) from VA is a semi-professional photographer (with professional equipment). He set up his Nikon on a tripod and captured stunning photos. His daughter (Laura) is following in his footsteps. A few of her shots are included with his. Here’s a representative sample (I’m not compressing these photos, for those of you who want the full effect).

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Followed by the calm after the storm:

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Our friend (let’s call him Host #1) made two pitchers of exotic drinks. The first was green, looked like slime, and was called Key Lime Martini. The second was blue (and frothy) and had Blue Curacao, some coconut stuff and other secret ingredients. I tried the Key Lime first. It was amazing, but one sip was nearly lethal. I am putting my name on a list for when it’s time for me to go, this is the way I’d like to end it all. While I know at least two people who loved it, but purposely didn’t finish theirs (for fear of expiring), I was brave and downed my entire glass.

I later moved on to the Blue mixture. It tasted even better. So much so that I had a second glass (don’t tell Lois!). It didn’t feel as lethal, but for all I know, that’s part of it’s secret. I heard many people raving about this concoction (actually both). Our Host #1 can definitely fall back on Mixologist if his primary profession hits a brick wall. Wow!

Host #2 is a fascinating person who couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (as noted above). In fact, we met many friends of Host #1, each one was a complete delight to converse with. Without a doubt, we’ll be following up with a number of them!

We had to walk a number of blocks before finding the first of the two cabs that got us home and a bit further for the second one.

An absolutely incredible ending to an incredible weekend. I’m no longer annoyed that the fireworks have moved to the west side. I’ll need to be nice to Host #1 for the entire year, just in case Macy’s decides to do it there again next year. It will be hard to keep up the façade, but I’ll do my best. Winking smile

Thank you for including all six of us. It’s a night we’ll never forget!

Busy Weekend Without Music

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When I tell you we had a busy weekend, you assume you will be reading about a ton of musical events. Not this time.

We have good friends who live in VA, parents with three kids, ages 13, 10 and 5. We’ve known them since the 13-year-old was 18 months old (they lived in NYC then). In what has become an annual outing, the family comes up to celebrate the 13-year-old’s birthday with a baseball game (the first year was a Mets game, the last three years Yankees, his favorite team).

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They arrived on Friday just in time for a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole. There are a lot of great burger places in NYC, but I probably think of Jackson Hole first when someone mentions burgers. Everyone agreed our adventure started off perfectly. When we stepped out of the restaurant, we split up.

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The parents got a rare break from being absolutely incredible parents, who have raised kids we love to spend time with. They went on an extended walk around Manhattan (or so they said!). Winking smile

We took the three kids to see Cars 2 in IMAX 3D (I didn’t even know our local AMC Theatre had an IMAX in it, let alone with 3D). We had seen the original Cars with them as well (in fact, every animated movie we’ve seen in the theater has been with these boys). This is the first time we’ve taken the 5-year-old (the only girl in the bunch) with us. She didn’t make a peep during the movie, so it likely won’t be the last time she joins us. Smile

I’m thankful that I didn’t see how poorly the movie was reviewed. I would have gone anyway, but I might have tried to find the bad spots. I don’t know what people expect from these movies, but I found it completely delightful. The boys both rated it higher than the original Cars, which they enjoyed (as did I). Cars was perhaps a little sappy (in a good way). While Cars 2 is definitely a message movie, they went for a bit more excitement and a bit less sap. I thought they found the right balance.

It was also very funny, in a completely corny way. I’m a sucker for corny, but to be honest, if the humor is too sophisticated, it will lose the kids quickly. This kept my interest and had the kids howling a number of times.

We had about an hour to wind down and hook up with the parents before it was time to head out to the Yankee game. This was going to be the first night game with the boys. The mom and the daughter stayed home, so Lois was the only female in our group of five. We took the train at the height of rush hour and were packed like sardines all the way to the stadium. Thankfully, since it’s a super express, the entire trip is barely over 20 minutes from Grand Central.

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Since this was a night game, I wasn’t worried about picking seats in the shade. I changed up the section we sat in the past two years and picked the first row near the foul pole in left field, up one level (section 231 for you die-hard fans). All five of us were thrilled with the seats, though I would probably avoid them on a very sunny day, where we would have broiled.

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The bigger risk was that rain was called for throughout the day and night. It misted and even rained a bit during the 90 minutes leading up to game time, but there were no delays and the tarp never came out. It misted a bit very briefly during the game as well.

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Exactly a week earlier, our godson and his wife were supposed to come visit. Their flight was canceled. In the post about that weekend, I shared a photo of a rainbow that coincided with the birth of our friends’ daughter. While we were sitting at the game, Rebecca (our godson’s wife) texted me this photo of a rainbow in Birmingham, AL. We took it as another sign that we were going to have a great weekend.

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Unfortunately, the Yankees lost 4-2, in a very sloppy game. There were a few extremely close calls (two on steals at second base). All of the close calls went against the Yankees, and none were shown on replay. They replayed plenty of other ones, none of which were even marginally close. The people behind us said that this was normal for Yankee Stadium, no replays of close calls. Ridiculous! Sad smile

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We had another quick ride back into Manhattan and after a few minutes of wind-down watching TV, everyone collapsed for a long, excellent sleep.

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Saturday morning started with a hearty breakfast made by Lois. Everyone but me then headed out to a local park for some baseball (both boys made the All-Star league this year!), basketball and general running around. I stayed back to clean off a laptop that our goddaughter was giving to the family for the kids to use. Just as I finished, Lois called to say they were all ready for lunch. Perfect timing!

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We tried a place we had never been to before, Gemini Diner. Again, everyone really enjoyed their meal. I would happily go there again, but we have a diner we love that is a whopping two blocks closer to us (one of which is an Avenue block), so we’re not likely to get over there too often.

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Once again we split up after eating. This time the parents took the girl with them. They went on a really long walk along the East River, south, all the way past the Brooklyn Bridge.

We took the boys back to the movies, this time, for another one that was poorly reviewed. This time we were all aware of the reviews in advance, but the boys really wanted to see it anyway. The Green Lantern was showing in both regular and 3D, but showtimes had us at the 2D viewing (which is probably way better for Lois than having to wear the 3D glasses anyway).

We got there just as the showing before us was letting out. The 10-year-old and Lois each asked a number of people what they thought, and everyone, roughly 1/2 a dozen people, all said they enjoyed it. One woman was nice enough to tell us to make sure to stay through the credits, as there was a short but important extra scene near the end of the credits. She was correct. Thanks! Smile

While waiting for the theater to be cleaned in between showings, the 10-year-old decided to spontaneously do a trust exercise. He fell backwards toward me, and I caught him, every time. One of his attempts came just as a few final people walked out of the theater. I caught him a little later than those folks thought I would (or rather should have), and a very big guy let out a noticeable sigh of relief when I finally did catch him. Whew! Winking smile

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All four of us concurred with the people who gave us the thumbs up. We really liked the movie a lot. I guess I don’t know what people are complaining about. I admit to not being a comic book aficionado, so I don’t know if it wasn’t true enough to the original comic, or too true (and therefore predictable), etc. All I know is that it was thoroughly entertaining, moved along quickly, had amazing graphics (even in 2D, can you believe it?), was funny (both for the kids and the adults), well acted, with a self-consistent story.

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We returned to the apartment and had a bit more downtime. Then Lois and the boys headed over to the hotel where the parents and the girl were staying (two blocks away). They headed up to the rooftop bar, which we’d heard was amazing. Lois confirms that it is and that I have to join her there in the near future.

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I met them at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant) for another fantastic meal. When it was over, we headed our separate ways. We ended our evening watching Ocean’s 12 with the boys (well, Lois slept through most of it). The movie was a bit slow for the boys. Each of them nearly gave up before the big surprise finish, but in the end, they stuck it out. We all slept late again, exhausted from another chock-full day.

This morning we had another great breakfast courtesy of Lois, then they hit the road at around 10am for the long trip back to VA.

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The title of this post reveals that this weekend hasn’t had any live music. Of course, the weekend isn’t done. Barring some unforeseen issue, we will be at the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza tonight at 8pm, to see Ian Axel perform a few songs on a outdoor piano. It should be the perfect way to cap an already perfect weekend. Smile

Chris Ayer at a House Concert

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This was a weekend extravaganza hosting our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca). In addition to seeing Wicked earlier in the day (covered in this post), we wanted to take them to see some live music in NYC. Our core group consisted of 10 people, which could present logistical problems with finding the right show to accommodate us and still allow for the socializing before/after the show that we desired.

It occurred to me that even though we are loath to put on a house concert in general (logistics, weather, etc.), since we could constrain the group to be reasonably small, we might try to pull off a little miracle this time around. I was hoping for a solo, guitar-wielding singer/songwriter, so that we could easily move it indoors if the weather turned nasty (we planned this a month ago).

We love a lot of singer/songwriters that are based in NYC. With no offense to any others, Chris Ayer was at the top of our list. He’s the first one we asked, and the last, since he said he was available. Smile

Let me (now) apologize to all of our friends, especially those who are also huge Chris Ayer fans, for not inviting you. Since this weekend was about our godson, and his sister (our goddaughter, Laura) lives in the same building as we do, we restricted the guest list to their friends only (and us, of course). There were 16 audience members.

Since the evening was about socializing as well (David and Rebecca live in Birmingham, so none of us gets to see them as often as we’d like), we invited people to come at 6pm, with music slated to begin a little after 8pm. The original invitation said “Sushi” for dinner, but we knew that a few people don’t eat Sushi. A couple of diligent husbands pointed out that their pregnant wives couldn’t eat Sushi either. One of those pregnant wives delivered the night before (and stood us up for the show, can you believe it?)!

Congratulations to Laura and Jason! Smile

The day before, Wes, Jacklyn and I walked to see Super 8 (I might be one of only three people in America to think the movie is entertaining, but really stupid). On our way over, it poured so hard that we (and roughly 50 other people) had to stop (even though we had umbrellas) under some construction scaffolding for nearly 10 minutes, to avoid the feeling of taking a full bath in our clothes.

When we arrived back at the apartment, I noticed a giant rainbow and Lois snagged these photos (the rainbow disappeared within a few minutes!). It turns out that the rainbow appeared nearly coincident with the birth of Laura and Jason’s daughter. How awesome is that?

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Don’t worry about us, we still had two remaining pregnant women in attendance, so I think our quota was still met. Winking smile

There was plenty of other food to eat, and general merriment took place from 6pm onward.

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We were thankful that Chris arrived early enough to taste some of the Sushi as well. I also cornered him and fired off a bunch of my imponderable questions about music, including asking him whether he buys lefty guitars, or plays upside-down, etc. Thanks for being a good sport Chris and answering all of my questions patiently. Smile

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Shortly after 8pm, we pushed one of the tables out of the way (yes, our deck is a veritable furniture store) to make a nice spot for Chris to play in.

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Chris had his traditional set list written out on his arm (and my traditional photos showing you his and our views):

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After Chris played a few numbers, he asked whether anyone had requests. Lois fired off a few (including some older ones). He agreed to play one of her current favorites (she has dozens), Snake Skin Heart. After playing a second request from her, my competitive juices were flowing and I weighed in with Hiding Places (a new one that we love) and Stranded (which was on his set list already).

When I introduced Chris (before the music started), I mentioned that I think of him as a modern-day James Taylor whereas Lois thinks of him as a modern-day Paul Simon. At one point, Chris asked if anyone wanted to hear any covers. Naturally, some Paul Simon songs were called out. He played The Boxer (beautifully!), then Kathy’s Song (wow!). Again, my competitive juices could not be controlled. I called out for any James Taylor song. He performed Fire and Rain (perfect choice!).

After the show, one of Laura’s friends (who I met for the first time last night) came up to me and said: “Chris’ James Taylor cover was spectacular, but I have to side with Lois in comparing him more to Paul Simon. I wonder whether we won’t soon all be calling him our modern-day Paul Simon!”. OK, uncle! Smile

When Chris returned to playing his own numbers, both Lois and I were about to ask for Say What You Mean (independently, we only found that out after the show when comparing notes). Before we could get it out, Chris started introducing it. It’s about his Grandfather, which we knew, but the story that inspired it was new to us and incredibly touching.

While introducing it, he mentioned that his grandfather was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. The person sitting closest to Chris during the show was Laura’s husband, also named Chris. Our Chris was in the Navy for six years and it didn’t seem accidental to me that he ended up being serenaded to that closely on this song (and obviously the rest of the songs).

Lois had asked (at least three times) whether Chris was going to do Roy G. Biv. He answered yes every time. I guess she wanted to make sure he wouldn’t forget. Winking smile He didn’t. He closed with an absolutely fantastic rendition of it. He introduced it, and nearly every song last night with some background or context about the song (I love that part of live shows!). Even though we’ve seen Chris many times, most of the backgrounds we heard last night were new to us, and I enjoyed every single one.

After the show we opened it up to questions of Chris and there were some really good ones. A few examples: co-writing vs writing alone, how long it takes to write a typical song, which comes first, melody or lyrics, etc.

Most of the people (including Chris) hung around to chat afterward, eating some dessert and the most incredible fresh fruit you can imagine (I’m still in a bit of a fruit coma over how good it was). We did allow the pregnant ladies to head out and get off their feet. We’re nice like that (sometimes). Winking smile

I’d be lying to you if I said I could adequately describe how incredible the entire evening was, music, conversation, food, fellowship.

I’ll finish by throwing in bonus coverage from today. Winking smile

If you know David, you know that his entire life revolves around Meatballs (ha, those of you who don’t know him think I’m exaggerating for effect). Winking smile How could we have him up to NYC and not take him to The Meatball Shop? We couldn’t and we didn’t! The core 10 of us headed down there shortly after it opened at noon today. We took over the tiny corner at the end of the bar (with most of us standing) and had an absolutely amazing lunch, including the obligatory ice-cream cookie sandwiches for dessert.

The kids went on for a very long walk, heading from the Lower East Side to the new Highline Park. Us old folk returned to the apartment, which is how I found the time to finish today’s posts. Smile

With Friends Like This…

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With friends like this, who needs family?

Yesterday, I entered a weekly contest that Amazon.com runs. This week’s prize is a Kindle 3G. It’s only the second time I’ve entered an Amazon contest.

After entering, I was offered the opportunity to update my Facebook status. It was optional. Even though spreading the word about the contest feels counterintuitive, because it encourages more people to enter, I decided that what Amazon is doing is nice and I wanted to help spread the Amazon love.

So, I posted the following:

I am so on the fence for buying a Kindle. Winning one would solve my problem. 🙂

Below that was the full link and description to the contest.

Within minutes, a buddy of mine IM’ed me to tell me that he believed my Facebook account was hacked! I got a huge laugh out of that, because I correctly pointed out that his had been hacked a couple of months back!

I assured him that it was me that essentially created an ad for Amazon.

Today, I got a package from Amazon. Here’s a photo, including a gift card (click for a larger version):

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A different friend of mine (you know who you are!) saw my update and decided to create a contest of one and he immediately declared me the winner! Wow, unbelievable. I don’t know what to say, except:

Thanks, you are beyond awesome!

I have no doubt that I am going to love this. It turns out that my top five favorite gadgets of all time were things I never thought I wanted, let alone needed. Someone else knew better and bought it for me. Within a day, each became so indispensable to me that I couldn’t imagine how I lived without it the day before (e.g., my first email-only Blackberry, my first GPS, my first Treo, my current Droid, my Garmin Forerunner).

Let’s safely add the Kindle to that list.

Thanks PSC! Smile

Jesse Terry, Michael Logen and Carley Tanchon at a House Concert

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For people who see live music as often as we do, I’m still amazed that it’s only been eight months since our first-ever house concert. We’ve been to a reasonable number of them since. Last night brought us full circle. We attended a concert at the same house that kicked it off, with the same headliner, with two other artists.

I’m normally very long winded (for the newcomers here, it’s because I write purely for myself, to remember the events in detail). Today, since I’ve written about all three performers (Jesse most of all), I’ll be briefer about them. You can click through above to see more about Jesse from the last house concert, or the links below for my coverage of Michael and Carley. You’re welcome! Smile

Jesse Terry was spectacular (again). In addition to selecting (and performing) a great set, he was on fire with his banter (quick and witty). He dedicated two songs to our amazing hostess. He dedicated another to a therapist in the room (a deeply moving song called Silver Hills, that melted everyone’s heart when Jesse introduced it). He dedicated another to Lois (I think just because he knew he could make her cry, he’s cruel that way!). Winking smile

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Jesse made reference to a video shot in Vanuatu. He mentioned that it’s the last documented case of cannibalism (we found out later it was roughly 25 years ago). None of the people in the video look like they were involved in that incident, but you never know, so be careful (especially of the one guy who dances behind Jesse, looking a little too happy!). The woman in the pink dress is now Jesse’s wife (not yet when the video was shot) and the woman in the straw hat, bikini top and shorts is Carley, another of the performers last night:

Ain’t No Tellin by Jesse Terry

Here’s Jesse telling the story about the video:

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And the lovely ladies who appear in the video:

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And the effect the story had on Carley!

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Michael Logen alternated songs with Jesse (like he did the only other time we’ve seen him). This time it was only acoustic guitar (he played the grand piano as well at Rockwood). I’ll repeat that Jesse was right when he said we’d love Michael, we do!

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Michael has a wonderful voice, plays the guitar and harmonica beautifully, and writes excellent songs, many of which are very moving. We were happy to buy his CD last night, Things I Failed to Mention (we ran out too quickly after the Rockwood show), so now we’ll get to hear them over and over.

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At Rockwood, Michael harmonized with Jesse on Noise (a song they co-wrote), while accompanying him on the piano. Last night, he also harmonized (beautifully) and accompanied Jesse on the guitar. In fact, Michael added a bit of harmony to a few of Jesse’s songs last night (and Jesse returned the favor once or twice). I was sitting less than two feet from Michael, so I could hear every note, but Lois asked him to sing his harmonies louder, because they were so well done!

Carley Tanchon opened the show. We had a tiny taste of Carley, singing harmony with Jesse on one song at The Bitter End. Then we finally got to see her goods at her CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. That was a full band, all-out Rock ‘N Roll show.

Last night was solo with acoustic guitar. Still, everything I said about her in that show applies. Aside from the generic fact that Carley has a stunning voice, it’s a bit hard to imagine a better fitting voice for a house concert. No microphone? No problem! Her voice projects so clearly and cleanly. She has such power, but there’s no yelling about it.

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Jesse called Carley up to sing harmony on Ain’t No Tellin (the video above). Of course, the harmony was gorgeous.

They closed the show by calling Carley back up again and all three (but mostly Jesse and Carley) sang To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees. Of course they nailed it, but more interestingly, nearly everyone sang the chorus with them, quite well.

Excluding an intermission, they played for three hours (or a bit more!). It was by far the longest house concert we’ve seen. It was awesome, but made for a very late night, since we still had to drive back to Manhattan from Long Island.

Here are a few photos from before and after the show:

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Now that I’ve gotten the music out of the way, let’s get to real point of last night, eating our hostess’ food! Ah, you think I jest, but I don’t! Last year’s meal was one of the best home cooked meals I’ve had. I’ll admit (now) that I was bit nervous if the second time around would live up to my own memories and expectations.

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No need to worry! There was an even bigger choice, so there were a few dishes I didn’t get to taste, but everything I ate (which was a lot of variety) was simply amazing. Pasta Puttanesca, Beet Salad, Rigatoni with meat sauce, Meatballs, Tandoori Chicken, Indian-spiced Chickpeas (cooked, not a salad), Bean Dip with Chips, Homemade Breads (made by a male guest!).

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Every bite was excellent, but I still can’t get the taste of the meatballs out of my head. If my godson had been there, I don’t think they could have gotten him to leave. Winking smile

The reason I didn’t eat everything (I skipped the Poached Salmon, Asparagus Salad, Grilled Chicken, Basmati Rice, Veggie Wraps and a few other dishes) is because last year I was too full to enjoy the incredible desserts. Since I am occasionally capable of learning from my mistakes, I saved room.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid stares from Lois, I did indeed indulge in a number of desserts during intermission and after the show. They were all amazing, but I have to shout out to the chocolate covered strawberries (OMG) and the blond-mini-kisses covered pretzels. Desserts were provided by a variety of guests, so a special thank you to all of you!

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Merry, you outdid yourself! So, now I’m already nervous about the next house concert and what you will serve to delight me (that’s why you’re doing these shows, right?). Smile