Movies

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).

OurFriends

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.

OutsideYankeeStadium

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.

YankeeStadiumSeats

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.

RebeccaRainbow

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.

SubwayHome

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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FistBumpLoisAndTheKids

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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.

ChocolateChipPankakes

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.

LoisAndTheBoys

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

New Thanksgiving Tradition

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Last year I reported on our first-ever trip to Birmingham, AL, for Thanksgiving with our godson David. It’s now officially a tradition, which is likely to extend at least through next year. Once again, the real parents went north and spent Thanksgiving with Laura and Chris.

We repeated the general pattern from last year, but there were enough differences that are worth mentioning. Last year we spent Tuesday night in Durham, picked Wes up early Wednesday, and drove to Birmingham. In doing so, we got caught in horrendous Atlanta traffic, where we moved less than 1/4 of a mile in one two hour period.

In order to avoid that, we picked Wes up on Tuesday afternoon, and drove a few hours to Gastonia, NC, hoping to pass through Atlanta before the crush. That worked, as we had perhaps a 20 minute delay in Atlanta this time. But, it afforded us another surprise.

We got to meet Wes’ dad for dinner at a Sonny’s BBQ right outside of Charlotte. He’s a great guy and a wonderful host (he wouldn’t even let us leave the tip, and believe me, we tried hard!). The food was outstanding but the company was better. I spent most of the time chatting with Wes and his dad, and Lois split her time talking to us and to two lovely young ladies who were visiting from Texas.

EdWesHadar

SonnysBBQ-OurGang

SonnysBBQ-Feast SonnysBBQ-MyDinner

We arrived in Birmingham at 1:30pm and checked into a Hampton Inn. David was still working at the hospital, so Lois and I logged on and caught up with email. Wes wasn’t feeling too well, and he sacked out on the big chair in the room. We tried to be quiet, not necessarily all that effectively.

David called at 4:30 to say he was on his way home, and we met him there at 5pm. After a hug (or two), we headed for dinner at P.F. Chang’s. We had a truly spectacular meal there (not that we’ve ever had a bad meal at any Chang’s). Shortly after returning to David’s, the old folks called it a night and let the kids catch up (Wes stayed at David’s, as he did last year).

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Last year, David worked the morning of Thanksgiving, but was home by noon. This year he was on a 30-hour call (in the ICU), so weren’t going to see him until Friday afternoon. That alone accounted for the biggest difference in the schedule from last year, when David was on a 30-hour call from Friday morning through Saturday afternoon.

After watching a bit of pro football with Wes on TG day, we headed for TG dinner at McCormick and Schmicks, one of the few places open in Birmingham on TG day. We moved our reservations up from 6pm to 2pm. The restaurant is gorgeous, everyone there (including our waitress) was gracious, efficient, and in excellent spirits (even though they had to work on TG day).

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Last year, we had TG dinner at Ruth’s Chris and we all opted for steak rather than a traditional meal (which was available). Without discussing it in advance, both Wes and I decided to order a traditional TG meal, taking advantage of the fact that we were going to Ruth’s Chris on Friday evening this year. It was superb. As good as the turkey was, all of the surrounding trimmings were incredible.

WesHadarTGDinner

Lois and I had the best cappuccinos of our lives as well, but not without a moment of hesitation. When we ordered the cappuccinos, we were asked a question we had never heard before: “Do you want them wet or dry?”

Huh? We asked what the difference was, and were told that wet was more milk, less foam, and dry was less milk, more foam. We took them wet, and you already know what we thought of the result. 🙂

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For the rest of the weekend, Lois proceeded to mis-pronounce the name of the restaurant, in a dozen different ways, always substituting a different second name after McCormick (which she got right every time). After seven different attempts, the one that seemed to stick with her (and which Wes and I started repeating consistently) was “McCormick and Schlitz”! 😉

It was this year’s version of Obie Snoods. If you don’t know what that inside joke means, then your life doesn’t revolve around my blog. Shame on you! 😉

Hint: type “Obie Snoods” into Google or Bing and click on the first link!

We stopped at CVS on the way back to the apartment and picked up a few items, including two DiGiorno pizzas. We watched football the rest of the afternoon, worked a bit on the laptops and indeed ate some pizza later that night. A very relaxing day highlighted by a truly wonderful meal.

On Friday morning, Lois and I did what any good godparents would do. We drove to Hoover, AL to the nearest Costco and shopped for David to stock up every nook and cranny in his apartment and fridge. Success. David actually beat us back to the apartment, and was able to help us carry the bounty upstairs.

We ate the rest of the DiGiorno for lunch and then settled in to watch Alabama beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl (Roll Tide!). When the game was over we were joined by David’s friend Rebecca and the five of us headed over to Ruth’s Chris. We had a very private table in the atrium, probably because most people were somehow involved with Iron Bowl travels or festivities.

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Another great Ruth’s Chris meal, with lots of laughs, very unhurried by our excellent waiter. We were there over two hours, including forcing dessert on everyone (OK, everyone except for Lois, who can resist the mightiest of dessert forces!). After dropping the kids back off, we said a quick goodnight and headed back to collapse in the hotel.

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David was off on Saturday. We picked David and Wes up and had brunch at V. Richards. Another excellent meal! Better yet, outdoors! Last year, a cold rain prevailed throughout the TG weekend, and it was miserable to be outdoors. This year, nearly 70 degrees. If I get a vote for next year’s weather, I choose to duplicate this year’s, not last…

DavidHadarWesAtVRichards

From there we headed to Vulcan Park and walked around a bit. Of course, we made it back to the apartment in time to watch the Florida game, ensuring a battle of the wills between David and Wes the following week in the SEC Championship game, now history. I’ll leave that topic alone, to not inflame the bad feelings any more than necessary…

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When that game was over, we headed back to Hoover, AL, straight to the Sprint store. We bought David an HTC Hero (Android phone) for Christmas/Birthday. We’re now officially Android buddies since I got a Droid as a gift a week earlier (I’ll be blogging about that separately, likely tomorrow).

From the Sprint store we headed to Jim ‘N Nicks for dinner where we met up with Rebecca. The meal lived up to my expectations of my previous Jim ‘N Nicks meal in downtown Birmingham, even though the atmosphere in the downtown one is dramatically more upscale.

I was wearing one of my 100 Python T-Shirts, and one of the waiters (not ours) walked by and said “Python Rocks!”. It does, and you never know where you’ll find a fan! 🙂

After dinner we scurried over to the movie theater and caught a late showing (by our standards) of Blind Side. All five of us enjoyed the movie thoroughly.

On Sunday morning David was back to work bright and early. We picked Wes up and headed to Briarwood Presbyterian Church for the 10:55am service. Rebecca was playing in a brass quintet that was being featured throughout the service (she plays French Horn). They played their first-ever public performance in the earlier service. If there were any glitches to be worked out, they pulled it off by the time we heard them. They were wonderful!

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The church is one of the most magnificent that I’ve seen, and the congregation couldn’t have been friendlier or more welcoming. In a surprise, David got off work earlier than he expected, and joined us just minutes into the service.

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Here’s a very small world side story. When we were driving back to David’s from our Friday morning Costco run, I noticed a stunning building on the opposite side of the highway. It was labeled “Comprehensive Cancer Center”. I asked David about it, and he said that he didn’t know about that particular building.

When we returned from the movies the next night, we drove the same route, and when I pointed the building out to David, he said that he was pretty sure it was part of the UAB Hospital system (an outpost).

Well, it turns out that it’s at the base of the Briarwood Presbyterian Church grounds, so we drove right by the front door of CCC on the way in and out. When I mentioned it to David originally, I had never heard of Briarwood, hadn’t met Rebecca yet, and therefore had no idea that I’d be visiting that Church on Sunday…

After the service we drove to Firebirds restaurant (in three separate cars) and had yet another wonderful meal. One of the most flavorful burgers I’ve had in a while! After the meal we said goodbye to Rebecca who was off to play another service in Jasper, AL that evening. Not bad to have three gigs on your first day in a new brass quintet! 🙂

The boys headed back to the apartment, and we headed back to Costco (right around the corner from the restaurant) to replenish the incredible amount of Propel that the boys had gone through in just two days!

We hung around the apartment until dinner time, when Lois and David went out to pick up Dave’s Pizza. Wes talked us all into trying Pepperoni and Jalapeño pizza. It was a little hotter than he recalled his previous encounter, but it was quite good nonetheless. 🙂

Again we left on the early side, especially knowing that we were aiming for a very early start the next morning.

We arrived at David’s at 6:40am to pick up Wes, just in time to say goodbye to David on his way to the hospital. We drove to Atlanta in non-stop rain (nearly blinding at times). We stopped for brunch in Atlanta and met some friends at a really cool out-of-the-way place called Sun In My Belly. A great meal, with great company and an hour and twenty minutes later we were back on the road.

With a very few breaks in the rain (notably, including the two times we had to walk in the Sun In My Belly parking lot!), we drove the rest of the way to Durham to drop Wes off, then drove the remaining 3.5 hours back to Fredericksburg.

Another fantastic Thanksgiving weekend. We’re already looking forward to next year! 🙂

Wonderful Weekend

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We’re in NYC for an unusually long stretch. We’re at the halfway point, and it will be hard to top last week, but we won’t stop trying. 🙂

We returned from VA on Tuesday to one night of solitude. Our extravaganza started on Wednesday. Since we had been away, I got back on the exercise track by taking a seven mile walk by myself.

At 4pm, friends of ours who were passing through arrived to spend the night. After catching up a bit on the deck (in perfect weather), we walked up to the Peking Duck House for a wonderful meal. We waddled back, taking a tour of Grand Central (including the amazing Food Market), and after schmoozing a bit more, collapsed.

The next morning, I took another long walk with our friends, this time roughly six miles. They (correctly) shamed me into getting a new pair of sneakers when they heard me tell Lois that I had not forgotten to stuff some tissues into my socks to stop my sneakers from cutting my heels. I am now the proud owner of a new pair of New Balance, purchased at Modell’s (Gotta Go to Mo’s!). 🙂

In the afternoon, we dropped our friends off uptown and headed straight to LaGuardia to pick up David. Since it had started raining reasonably hard, and his flight was delayed, we parked the car in the garage (highly unusual for us), and we relaxed at the food court, where we had excellent coffees from Coffee Beanery. I watched a bunch of The Onion video podcasts on my iPod (laughing my head off non-stop), while Lois browsed at Borders.

Rain At La Guardia

Rain At La Guardia

David was only an hour delayed, and even though it was still raining, we made great time back to the city. We ran across the street and had a terrific Mexican meal at El Rio Grande. Afterward, Laura and Chris came up to catch up with David.

On Friday, David had lunch out with his college roommate, and Laura (who took a half day off) planned to take another long walk with me. Just as we were about to leave, David texted me that he could be back in 10 minutes if we could wait. We did, happily, and the three of us did the full 8+ mile walk, on yet another glorious day.

Friends of David and Laura (and us as well, though we’re their parents’ ages) were flying up from Richmond, scheduled to arrive at 3:30pm. When a flight attendant was unable to make it on time, they were delayed awaiting a replacement who was flying in from Cincinnati! We had tickets to the Blue Note Jazz Club that evening, and they ended up having to meet us there straight from the airport (putting their luggage in the coat room).

It all worked out fine, and they got there in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal with us. Chris joined us a bit later, due to work, work, work…

Group At BB King

Group At BB King

We saw Charlie Haden (a great bassist). He was playing six consecutive nights at the Blue Note in an Invitation Series with a different guest performer each night. On Friday night, Kenny Barron was the guest, an amazing piano player. The two of them played together, and each took a number of long solos for 70 minutes. It was a slightly short show for the Blue Note.

The air-conditioning seemed to be off only during the show (it came on seconds after the show ended) and they were working so hard on the stage, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the heat caused them to cut it short just a bit. A lovely evening of good food, great company and excellent music.

When we returned to the apartment, the old folks hit the sack, and the youth stayed up (who knows how long?). Before I said goodnight, Chris asked if I wanted to walk in the morning. That would have made four days in a row for me (something I hadn’t attempted as yet), and being the macho machine that I am, I said yes.

I was a bit late (sorry Chris), and met him downstairs at 8:19am. We did the full 8+ miles, at a faster pace than most of my group walks (in fact, we shaved 24 minutes off of the average group walk time, and only six minutes longer than my best time ever). Chris kept me on a crisp and steady pace. Thanks!

While I was off walking with Chris, our guests enjoyed breakfast on the deck.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After a shower, the boys (David, Chris, Clint and I) headed to the new Yankee Stadium to catch the game against the Oakland A’s. This was collectively our first time at the new stadium. In my opinion, it’s awesome. Nice job Yanks!

The Boys

The Boys

Too many food choices to articulate, so I’ll just say what we selected. Chris had the Pizza from Famiglia, which was not exceptional, but not bad either. The rest of us had Philly Cheesesteaks from Carl’s. Pretty good, but I’m not sure I would call it Best in Manhattan (as the web site claims). Not that I know of a better cheesesteak in Manhattan, just that it was good, not amazing. 🙂

Three of us had a $10 beer (which included a plastic commemorative cup, valued at $1).

We fried in the sun for an hour (and I have the sunburn to prove it, especially on my knees). Once the sun passed, the breeze made the rest of the day delightful. Unfortunately, I continue to be a curse on local sports teams. The Yankees had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday. They made it exciting, almost pulling it out in the ninth inning.

Last year (at the old stadium), they lost when I showed up. The year before, the Mets lost when I attended a game. My new retirement plan will be to charge both the Yankees and the Mets to keep me away from the stadiums. I should be able to make a good living, since they play 162 home games between them. 😉

Laura and Sally Ann had a mini-spa afternoon followed by Vietnamese food, while Lois slaved away at her computer.

The Girls

The Girls

When we got back to the apartment, another round of showers was in order due to the aforementioned frying in the sun. Then we walked up to the Duck House, where David’s college roommate and his fiancée joined us for dinner (nine of us in total). We had an absolutely spectacular meal. With that many people, we get to order that many more dishes, and therefore more tastes, than with the four of us who attended on Wednesday night.

Duck House Dishes

Duck House Dishes

Group At Duck House

Group At Duck House

Again, the old folks headed home, and early to bed. The youth headed to see Harry Potter 6, and told us the next morning that they thoroughly enjoyed it!

On Sunday morning, the youth all attended Church Services at Redeemer. Lois and I headed to BB King and waited on line for them to join us. The same nine people who ate the night before at the Duck House now gathered to see the world famous Harlem Gospel Choir over a wonderful brunch at BB King. It was our second time, but the other seven were experiencing it for the first time.

It’s hard to describe the show, unless you’ve been to a revival service, in which case it wouldn’t be hard to describe it all! 😉 Awesome music (both the singing and the band), with wonderful spirituality, including forcing participation by the entire crowd.

Crowd Participation

Crowd Participation

Only the infirm didn’t stand (at least at some point during the show) and clap and dance along. As much as we enjoyed our first time, this one was substantially better, so we’re doubly glad we suggested this activity for the group.

At each show, a group of people is invited on the stage (I won’t tell you why, so you can be surprised if you ever see it), and one of the people in our group ended up on the stage. See if you can spot her (hint, hint). 🙂

One Of Us On Stage

One Of Us On Stage

After the show, Lois bought one of their CDs, and got it signed by all seven of the singers, plus the founder of the Harlem Gospel Choir. We also made a separate donation to their ministry.

We walked back to the apartment and relaxed while watching the Yankees win on TV. I’m awaiting my royalty check for not attending the game yesterday. At the same time, I finally caught up on the weekend’s email and Twitter stream, having not logged on at all on Saturday (a very rare occurrence for me!).

The youth headed across the street for a superb Sushi meal at Hane Sushi. Just as they finished up, the heavens opened up, and we all waited out the thunderstorm. The second it let up, all of us (except for Lois) walked nine blocks to Berry Wild (only Laura and Chris had been there before). Everyone loved theirs, including me. I had Banana and Coffee yogurt, with shredded coconut on top. Yummy!

When we got back, our Richmond friends headed out to JFK. Their flight ended up being delayed by the continuing storms, but they did arrive in Richmond safe and sound, shortly at 2am! 🙁

The rest of us watched a DVD of the 1989 movie The Dream Team. Wes sent it to us as a gift a few weeks back, so we were looking forward to watching it. It starts off a bit slowly (or perhaps awkwardly is more apt), but, it builds, cleverly, and while it’s kooky or corny, I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a bit. Definitely an enjoyable evening.

David had a 6am flight back, so alarms were set for 4:25am, and Lois and I didn’t get much sleep. David has already landed safely, so the weekend extravaganza is now officially over, but we’re both wiped like the party is still going on. 😉

While we don’t have company staying with us any longer, we do have plans for the next six consecutive nights (alone for the first four, then with other people on Friday and Saturday), before we finally get to completely collapse!

Eddie From Ohio at Innsbrook After Hours

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On Wednesday (June 10th) four of us spent the evening at an outdoor concert at Innsbrook After Hours.

The title of this post is totally out of character with my other music posts. I almost always put only the headliner in the title, and cover the opening act(s) after covering the headliner. Eddie from Ohio was the opening act, and I will cover them first. If you make it to the end, you’ll know why…

Last year, a friend of mine told me that I would really like Eddie From Ohio. I went to their site, listened to the many songs they were playing there on their radio site. I immediately bought one of their CDs (downloaded from Amazon.com) called Looking Out The Fishbowl. I like the CD, but I actually liked the music I heard streaming on their site more, so I should have done some more research before picking one album. Some of the songs on this CD are still awesome, so I knew I liked them.

I was pretty darn sure that it was one of two people at Zope Corporation that originally turned me on to Eddie From Ohio. One night (still last year), we were driving back from a concert in Alexandria, VA with a couple of those Zope guys, and I thanked them for recommending Eddie From Ohio. They stared at me blankly, as neither of them were the ones. So, whoever you are, even though I don’t remember which one of my friends it was, thanks for telling me about them!

Eddie From Ohio has been playing together for 18 years, with many CDs and tons of touring along the way. They’re great! Seeing them live was fantastic. There are four of them in the band. Left to right on the stage:

Robbie Schaefer on lead vocals and guitar. Excellent in every respect. He sings beautifully, harmonizes exceptionally well, plays guitar really well, etc. He also has an incredible range, as he does all of the bass singing. He’d be capable of playing that role in a traditional barber shop quartet.

Robbie Schaefer

Robbie Schafer

Julie Murphy Wells on lead vocals. Wow. Julie has a set of pipes on her. She sings fantastically, and has excellent energy and stage presence as well. While she also bangs on the tambourine on occasion, I’ll clue you in that it’s really about her voice, not the little cymbals. 😉

Julie Murphy Wells

Julie Murphy Wells

Michael Clem on bass, harmonica and vocals. Very good bass player, sings excellent harmonies (which is a major part of the Eddie From Ohio sound!). Great personality, handling a lot of the bantering on the stage with the crowd, and with his band mates.

Michael Clem

Michael Clem

At the show, I mentioned to Lois that he reminds me of a brother of Brad Garrett (from Everybody Loves Raymond fame). But, after looking at his pictures more closely, we both now agree that he’s much more reminiscent of Eric Bogosian (of Law and Order: Criminal Intent fame).

Eddie Hartness on the drums and vocals. As with Michael, the vocals are just harmony with the others. When all four of them are singing together, which is often, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Eddie is a top-notch drummer as well, in all respects. In addition to a full drum set, he also has a Djembe and bongos, which he plays phenomenally.

Eddie Hartness

Eddie Hartness

In addition to making great music (especially the vocals), many of their songs range from irreverent to downright hysterical. They have a great time on the stage, and make sure to bring the audience along for the ride. For one example (there are too many to mention), check out the words to Tommy the Canexican. Enough said! 🙂

At the other end, they sang two gospel quality songs, so they do it all, and do it all well!

Eddie From Ohio came on stage at exactly 6:30pm (this was an outdoor concert) and played for exactly one hour. They were awesome. We would have been thrilled to see them continue on, even though at the time, Lois and I were really looking forward to seeing the headliners as well.

During intermission, Lois chatted with a few fans of theirs, getting advice on which additional CDs we should get. Lois headed over to the little tent and bought Quick, and Three Rooms (a 2-disc Live CD), which I’m listening to as I type this. Absolutely wonderful, great recommendations. She also bought Robbie Schaefer’s new solo CD (which they did one number from at the show).

The intermission lasted longer than normal (a minimum of 45 minutes), but finally, Blues Traveler took the stage. We own one of their CDs, Four, which came out in 1994. We probably bought it then, or soon thereafter, so we’ve known about Blues Traveler for a while, but we don’t know much of their music, and had never seen them live.

When I got my first MP3 player (a Creative Zen player, I think before iPods took over the world), I was very stingy about which songs I ripped from my vast CD collection. Ironically, the player had 20GB, which seemed plenty at the time, but my laptop hard drive, which I was syncing from, was much smaller than it is now. Also, I didn’t know that ripping at 96kbps would give me as much fidelity as my ears can differentiate.

The above paragraph is simply to inform you that in my selectivity, the only song from the Four CD that made it on to my MP3 player was Run Around. Lois and I listened to it on every car trip for many years, along with two songs by the Proclaimers. This isn’t to say the other songs on the CD aren’t good, but I honestly can’t tell you any longer, because even though I have tons of disk space now, I was never tempted to re-rip the CD.

Cutting to the chase, Blues Traveler are an extremely talented group of five guys, but it’s not really our speed (either because they’ve changed/grown, or because we never really knew them, and just liked a tiny sliver of their older stuff, unknowingly). Basically, they are a straight up hard rock group.

I like rock (mostly older stuff), and I could have somewhat enjoyed the show, but the three other people I was with weren’t enjoying themselves, and I wasn’t particularly either, so 30 minutes into their set, we called it a night and left.

Ironically, we left right after they played Run Around. I’m really glad I got to hear it live, but not because it blew me away (it didn’t). John Popper, the head of the group (lead vocals, and by far the best harmonica player I’ve ever seen live) played with the song to the point where it was not as recognizable as I would have liked.

John Popper

John Popper

To repeat something from the above paragraph, John Popper is frighteningly good on the harmonica. In fact, when he takes solos on the harmonica, at times, I could swear it was a blistering electric guitar lead, he’s that good! He sings really well too.

So, if I like Rock, and they’re all talented (which they really are), and John Popper sings well, and is a superstar on the harmonica, what didn’t I like?

Mostly that you can’t make out any of the words (you’re basically being screamed at), and each song sounds like the last one. This is the kind of music you really need to be familiar with, from a studio album, so that you are hearing it correctly in your head while they’re just bashing it out on the stage.

I’m sure this is exactly how Lois felt at the Allman Brothers Concert, whereas I was in heaven, having listened to those songs for most of my life. 😉

To repeat, I think Blues Traveler deliver 100% satisfaction to their fans, or fans of that style of music in general. There was genuine adoration throughout a giant audience at the show, and I’m sure many people thought we were nuts for leaving early.

Rain was called for all evening, so we were prepared for the worst (with four large umbrellas in tow). Amazingly, the rain never came. It was quite humid, but nothing to complain about given the alternative.

Here’s a shot of Eddie From Ohio during their sound check, so that you can get a sense of part of the grounds when they were empty. The seats near the stage were the premium tickets that we had (we sat in the second row):

Eddie From Ohio Sound Check

Eddie From Ohio Sound Check

A quick back story. We are/were working down at Zope this week and next. We left work early on Wednesday and went to the show with our local Richmond friends. Innsbrook really has their act together. They told us to line up at around 5pm, for gates that open at 6pm. We did that. Gates opened exactly at 6pm.

They had a variety of food stands open on the grounds, and we all liked our meals. The show started exactly at 6:30, even though the website said that Eddie From Ohio would likely be on stage at 6:45. Oops, I hope no one timed it to come then, therefore missing 15 minutes of great music.

Everything was clearly signed, and when Lois called to ask about the seating (the premium tickets mentioned above), she got extremely accurate information, which is much appreciated, as it’s rarely available. This will become more important in my next post about the show we saw the next night.

We had a great time, even though we left early. That allowed us to settle in at our friends’ house at a reasonable hour, and the men watched a Blue Ray version of Live and Let Die. It was so spoofish that I was laughing out loud for nearly the full two hours. I enjoyed it, but only as a comedy, not as a spy thriller.

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂

Happy New Year

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For the past six years (2002-2007) we’ve spent New Year’s Eve in Richmond, VA. There are four couples there who get together each year and cook a very special (and sumptuous) dinner at each others houses (rotates each year), and we hitched our wagon to their tradition back in 2002. Of course, we were invited this year as well, and had originally accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, our good friends in Leesburg, VA are going through a very rough time. The Dad has an aggressive form of cancer, and this week was undergoing a particularly aggressive round of chemotherapy. He was being treated daily, for a minimum of six hours of the life-extending poison being pushed (their term, not mine) through his veins.

As much as we knew we’d enjoy our annual New Year’s Eve get-together in Richmond, we also knew that helping our friends-in-need was the right thing to do, and we had no hesitation in offering our help. There were two things we could do directly:

  • logistics (driving the Dad to/from the hospital)
  • entertaining the boys, who clearly feel stressed worrying about their Dad

They have three kids, two boys ages 10 and eight and a girl, 2.8 years old. All three are adopted. We met the family when the 10-year-old was 18 months old, and they lived two doors down from Lois’ Mom’s apartment in NYC. We’ve remained very close to them even after they moved to VA seven years ago. So, we know the boys really well, and their various likes and dislikes.

We headed there Tuesday after working all day at Zope in Fredericksburg. On a whim, we stopped for dinner at Five Guys in Warrenton, VA. We’ve eaten at this Five Guys a number of times, because it’s roughly half way between Fredericksburg and Leesburg, and we occasionally meet our friends there on a weekend when we’re working at Zope. On Tuesday, it was just a convenient (and delicious) stopping point for us.

In an incredible small world story, a few bites into our meal, both Lois and I recognized a 10-year-old boy going over to fill up his drink. It turns out that really good friends of the friends that we were headed to visit had also stopped at Five Guys on their way to spend New Year’s in the Outer Banks! We were headed in opposite directions, with neither of us having planned to stop for dinner there. In another irony, they had visited our friends earlier that day!

Small World

Small World

On Wednesday morning, I drove the Dad to the hospital, and spent three hours keeping him company while he was undergoing the chemo. That turned out to be beneficial for him in another way. The hospital has free WiFi, but his work laptop needed to be coaxed to connect to it. In his condition, he was unable to get it going on Monday or Tuesday, but I was able to connect him, and he felt better about getting some work done on Wednesday.

Boys Only Moment

Boys Only Moment

At lunch time, I left him to join the rest of the family (Lois included) at our favorite local Chinese restaurant where we all enjoyed a buffet lunch. After lunch, Lois and I took the boys bowling. I haven’t bowled in years, but I love it every time I go. They had each bowled only once before (at a birthday party I think), and really liked it. We all had a blast and the boys played some video games afterward.

As you can see, all three boys had perfect form. Of course, my form is also over-flowing. I guess I need to get serious about that in 2009. So far, not so much…

Hadar Bowling

Hadar Bowling

8-year-old Bowling

8-year-old Bowling

10-year-old Bowling

10-year-old Bowling

A typical moment between me and the 8-year-old (this one, at the Bowling Alley):

Head Stand

Head Stand

Two best friends, sharing a moment:

Best Friends

Best Friends

We are prone to spoiling them over the years (often to the consternation of their parents), but we weren’t about to deny them much this week. So, after bowling and video games, we drove to Baskin Robbins (which is housed inside a Dunkin Donuts), and got them ice cream (well, one of them got ice cream, and the other one a smoothie). I had an excellent Lite Latte, quite delicious.

Chocolate Sprinkle Cone

Chocolate Sprinkle Cone

Smoothie Delight

Smoothie Delight

You’d think that this would be a jam-packed day, but you’d be wrong! From Baskin Robbins, we headed to the local movie theater to see Bedtime Stories. Of course, the four of us had to split a large popcorn. You gotta do what you gotta do. 😉

Keeper of the Popcorn

Keeper of the Popcorn

The movie is excellent. I highly recommend it. What sets it apart from most movies (including other kid-friendly ones) is that no one tries to sabotage anyone else. There is a nemesis (and you might even consider him an evil nemesis), but he doesn’t do underhanded things directly to Adam Sandler (our hero). It’s refreshing. The story itself is creative, while still being predictably formulaic. A very sweet movie. The boys loved it, so did we.

When we got home, we found out that another of the Dad’s friends stopped by to visit him in the afternoon, and was kind enough to bring him home. We had a lovely dinner together, followed by a little too much rough-housing between me and the eight-year-old (he loves to wrestle). I also played a ton with the little girl (more on that later).

Even though it was New Year’s Eve, we all went up to our rooms by 9:15, and Lois and I watched TV for 45 minutes, and hit the sack (completely exhausted)  at 10pm. No complaints about not ringing in the new year at midnight!

The clinic (attached to the hospital) was closed on New Year’s Day, so the Dad had to be checked in to the main hospital. I drove him in and watched in amazement as they couldn’t find him in the system, even though he was told in advance what room he would be in. The normal registration desk was closed so we had to navigate a maze to find the ER registration, which likely explains why they didn’t know how to do a normal admission.

I stayed with the Dad for two hours and then picked up Lois and the boys and we went bowling again! Everyone improved their scores from the day before, so it was a satisfying outing. We then headed to Cici’s Pizza Buffet. It was our first time (the boys love it) and we thoroughly enjoyed it (very tasty in addition to being a very good value!).

From there, we headed to the movies again. This time, we went to the giant multi-plex to see The Tale of Despereaux. On the way there, in the middle of a conversation, both boys excitedly starting yelling look over there. It took us a second, but when we looked at the divider, there was a hawk sitting on top of the wrong way sign. Very cool!

Hawk

Hawk

Of course, another round of popcorn for the four of us. We all enjoyed this movie as well, but all four heartily agreed that Bedtime Stories was significantly better. In fact, the 10-year-old claimed that Bedtime Stories was his favorite movie.

After the movie, we dropped Lois and the eight-year-old back at home, and the 10-year-old and I headed to the hospital. Originally, we were told that the Dad would have to stay in the hospital for two nights, not getting out until Saturday morning. During the day, they changed their mind and decided he could come home each night. So, we headed there to keep him company until they released him, and watch some bowl games in his room. Shortly after the Rose Bowl started, he was released, and we brought him home.

We had another excellent dinner together, followed by watching the second half of the Rose Bowl. It didn’t get exciting until the last seven minutes, but it was a good distraction nonetheless. I was strong and successfully resisted all attempts to wrestle again. I was quite sore from the bowling and the wrestling up to that point. I did end up playing a bunch with the little girl again.

Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter

Previous to this trip, she hadn’t been all that verbal. While we’ve spent a reasonable amount of time around her, she was more of a remote cutie (like a doll) than like a real person. I was completely blown away this trip by how verbal she is. Not only does she talk up a storm, but her vocabulary is extensive (it’s almost frightening, seriously). If she pronounced all of the words better, I would swear she had the conversational skills of a 13-year-old, no kidding!

How many nearly-three-year-olds do you know who can form the following sentence (I’m not changing a single word!)?

Ho-dar, can you come to the family room and play with me and my toys?

OK, so she doesn’t always pronounce my name perfectly, but otherwise, pretty incredible. Here’s one other example of an actual conversation between us:

her: Ho-dar, I have my own telephone!

me: Really? Do you talk to people on the phone?

her: No, it doesn’t have any batteries in it, so I can’t!

Wow. Pretty cool to watch a personality come to life between one visit and the next!

Here I am with the kids, right after breakfast:

Pajama Gangstas

Pajama Gangstas

This morning, I took the Dad back to the clinic. I stayed with him for a few hours again and then headed back to pick up Lois and the boys. We had lunch at Chuck E. Cheese (a first for the two of us). We had no idea what we were in for (of course, the boys knew exactly what the deal was). We were surprised that they wanted pizza two days in a row. As you all probably know (and we didn’t), it wasn’t about the pizza at all. Chuck E. Cheese is all about the games.

They had a blast playing a ton of games and won roughly 300 tickets between them. Still, they couldn’t find a single prize that they wanted, so they saved their ticket receipt for the next time. We had hoped to see Madagascar 2 after lunch, but it was no longer playing in any theater near them. So, we headed to Walmart and let each of them pick out a DVD to watch at home.

When we got home, the Mom told us that she was going to pick up her husband when he was done. We already knew we would be leaving today, since the boys had Tae Kwan Do tonight and tomorrow morning again. Given the updated schedule, we decided to hit the road while it was still light, and we stopped by the Zope office before heading to the hotel to settle in for the night.

All-in-all, a very successful visit in every respect. In addition to accomplishing our mission, our friend also received very good news that his tumors appear to be responding to the chemo. He is incredibly nauseous all the time, and he is weak as can be, but hopefully, he’ll start feeling substantially better soon. He’s completely bald as well, but we both think it looks pretty good on him. We’ll see if he chooses to keep it that way. 🙂

For us, ringing in the new year with such good friends is as good as it gets! Thanks for hosting us. 🙂

Giving Thanks

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Lois and I are truly thankful every day of our lives. We’ve been blessed in so many ways, we couldn’t accurately count. Near the top of any list of blessings for us, you would find our wonderful godchildren. In 2008, we were extra-blessed, when Laura got married, and moved to NYC with her husband. They now live in the same building we do, so we get to see them more often than we ever used to!

Unfortunately, while Laura came north, David went south. He is doing his first year of medical residency at UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). It was his first choice, and he loves it, but we miss him. We hadn’t seen him since Laura’s wedding on July 5th. For us, that’s an unusually long stretch not to see one of them.

We’ve now corrected that, and were rewarded (blessed) with a near-perfect long weekend!

On Tuesday afternoon, we drove from Zope to Durham and spent the night in a Hampton Inn there. The next morning we picked up a very good friend of David’s (and for a long time, ours too, once David introduced us) and we headed to Birmingham, AL. The drive was going along fine, including a successful detour off of I85 to avoid a horrible accident, until we hit Atlanta (mid-afternoon). We were stuck in traffic for nearly two hours, for what should have been a 15-20 minute drive-by. All things considered, not that bad.

We got to Birmingham at a reasonable hour nonetheless, and after checking out David’s apartment, headed for a wonderful meal at La Mesa Cantina and Grill. It’s a different type of Mexican Restaurant. The place is gorgeous (including the bathrooms). You can check out the photo gallery and the menu if you might ever find your way there. I had three soft tacos, two with fried oysters and one with grilled skirt steak. They were excellent, but the oysters were truly outstanding. Next time, I’d probably go for three of them!

David Wes Le Mesa

David and Wes at Le Mesa

After some coffee and catching up at David’s, Lois and I headed to the local Embassy Suites to check in, leaving Wes and David to catch up (and play NCAA Football on the PS3).

Epic Battle

Epic NCAA Battle

I have chronicled my WiFi woes at the hotel in two separate posts, here and here. Without that experience, I would have described this weekend as perfect as opposed to near-perfect. 😉

On Thanksgiving day we headed to David’s mid-morning and relaxed there for a while. We then headed out for lunch and a movie. Amazingly, there were no places open for lunch near the movie theater, which was at a giant outdoor mall called The Summit. We even drove around a bit in the surrounding neighborhood, and every single place (other than McDonalds) was closed.

We decided to be pragmatic and we bought prepared food at Brunos (a supermarket near the theater) and ate it at a table that they provide expressly for this purpose). No one would confuse our lunch for a gourmet meal, but we all enjoyed it nonetheless, and it ended up being very convenient.

Brunos Lunch

Brunos Lunch

We headed over to the movie early, which gave us enough time to split a large buttered popcorn (which was indeed gourmet!) 😉 between the three guys.

Popcorn

Popcorn

We saw Four Christmases. Most of it was laugh-out-loud funny, with a few way-too-stupid scenes thrown in to ensure that it wasn’t a great movie… Seriously though, if you like comedies, there are definitely a ton of laughs. Both Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon do a great job, and the majority of the supporting cast is excellent as well. Wes and I were repeating lines from the movie for days, so it definitely hit the funny bone.

In addition to the humor, there are a few reasonably deep family/life insights, most of which are delivered cleverly or at least in an interesting way, so there is even a bit of redeeming value to the movie. 🙂

We returned to David’s and relaxed the rest of the afternoon, and mentally prepared for the big Thanksgiving meal. Finally the time arrived, and we headed back to our hotel for the event. In the lobby of the Embassy Suites is a Ruth’s Chris. We’ve all had many great meals at various Ruth’s Chris restaurants over the years, so we had no doubt that this one wouldn’t disappoint. We were right.

We could have ordered a traditional TG Turkey dinner, but the boys all went for steak. No surprise, as we had been talking about it for a few days beforehand. We also shared an exceptional bottle of Ridge Zinfandel (2006). Don’t get me started about how great most bottles of any Ridge wine are. It’s one of my all-time favorite wine makers.

Ruth's Chris Thanksgiving

Ruth's Chris Thanksgiving Dinner

We skipped dessert there and headed back to David’s, where we had coffee and some cheesecake that we bought earlier at Bruno’s. It was fantastic.

The next morning (Friday), David left early for an overnight on call shift. That’s 30+ consecutive hours in the hospital, usually with little-to-no sleep. We don’t understand the point, but it’s a regular part of his life/schedule, so it’s just a fact of life at this point.

We decided to take the opportunity to create an adventure for the rest of us, which I’ve documented separately. The only thing wrong with Friday was that David didn’t get to enjoy it with us, and that we didn’t get to enjoy David’s company. Otherwise, a perfect day!

On Saturday, we headed to David’s mid-morning to hang with Wes. After a few hours, David called to say that he was headed home. Lois and I went out to bring lunch back in. The plan was Chick-Fil-A (which I’ve never had the pleasure of), but rather than go to the one Wes directed me to, I allowed the GPS to pick a closer one, which ended up being closed. We brought back Quiznos instead, which served the purpose just fine.

You can tell just how wiped David gets after being on call. He needed a slightly larger shot of caffeine than Wes did. 😉

Extra Caffeine

Extra Caffeine

Right after lunch, David napped while Wes and I watched college football and caught up with emails. I created a mini-panic when I tried to fix what felt like a flaky WiFi router in David’s apartment. We had no Internet connectivity for nearly an hour. Eventually, I got it all working again, and it seemed less flaky, but there were moments when I was wishing to have flaky back. 🙁

When David woke up, we watched more football. We didn’t want to go to dinner until the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs Auburn – Roll Tide!) was over, because we were headed to Dreamland BBQ, which we assumed would be a mob scene during the game. We had an excellent meal there (with yet another round of extraordinary service!). Also, since the menu is limited (but exactly what we were interested in), they are constantly cooking all of the available items, so it’s as lightning as fast food, but clearly as good as cooked to order.

On Sunday, we headed to David’s mid-morning again (broken record). We watched the first half of an amateur movie on DVD called The Pinecone Priority. The movie is pretty poorly executed, but it has some extremely clever lines and concepts in it. Wes is one of the stars, so we were happy to watch it, even though it was over-the-top campy… If you watch the teaser/trailer (linked above), you won’t get a sense of how the movie itself is poorly executed, but you’ll see another form of poor execution. Most of the trailer is black. At exactly the 1:24 mark, you can barely see one scene. Wes is the guy on the left in that scene.

Here’s a better picture of Wes, taken by Lois, while Wes was on the TV. This time, he’s on the right. 😉

Pinecone Priority

The Pinecone Priority

We headed for PF Changs for lunch (back at The Summit). All of us count it among our favorite restaurants. The meal was exquisite, including our first taste of the Kung Pao Scallops. David and I split an order of Moo Shoo Pork, which simply couldn’t have been any better. We then did a little shopping, including picking up a Blue Ray DVD of Tropic Thunder to watch later on.

We relaxed back at David’s the rest of the afternoon and finished up watching The Pinecone Priority, and then David, Wes and Lois headed to an evening church service. I stayed at the apartment and played (and lost) in my weekly big poker tournamet (I already reported about the crushing loss I took in November…). They brought back pizza for dinner. I called the order in to Dave’s Pizza while they were still in church. The timing worked out perfectly.

We then watched Tropic Thunder. This movie is way over the top, and was definitely not a hit with the entire crowd. That said, it had some pretty funny scenes and lines in it, and the concept was quite clever, if overdone in the delivery. It seems that no one associated with this movie ever heard of the word subtlety. Given that I am a sucker for most forms of comedy (even reasonably bad ones), I likely enjoyed it more than the rest of them, but honestly, even I don’t recommend this one to anyone. 😉

After coffee and one last slice of the heavenly cheesecake, Lois and I headed back for one last night at the Embassy Suites. In the morning, we headed over for one last hug from David, and headed on the long trek back to Fredericksburg (and Zope). We dropped Wes at Durham, after stopping in the Hampton Inn where we stayed a week ago. I had accidentaly left my Treo charger in the room, and they were kind enough to hold it for me. We had to drive back through Durham anyway, so it wasn’t as inconvenient as it could have been.

We made it back to the hotel at 8:30pm, which was almost exactly 12 hours after we left Birmingham. We had essentially zero traffic the entire way, which was extraordinary, and another thing we give thanks for on this weekend.

We couldn’t be more thankful for this wonderful visit, regardless of whether it was Thanksgiving proper or not. We’re already counting the days until we find our way back to Birmingham (and Atlanta). 🙂

And, just because Lois loves this one… 😉

Ernie Tea Cup

Ernie's Tea Cup

Discovering Fredericksburg

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We’ve been coming to Fredericksburg, VA consistently for 11 years, since we first approached the Digital Creations team (now called Zope Corporation) about a possible investment.

Since July 2001, the number (and length) of visits increased dramatically and has remained steady. That’s because since then, we have both been involved more in the operational details of Zope Corporation than we had been previously.

From other posts, you may know that I am back in the swing of regular exercise, something I had done a good job of for a number of years in a row and fell off the bandwagon last fall. When we’re in Fredericksburg (which can be two weeks a month) I am more inconsistent. There were times when I was religious about using the tiny gym in our hotel. There were also long stretches of blissful laziness. 😉

To combat that laziness, Lois took matters into her own hands (even though she doesn’t exercise at all, she’s judicious in supporting me and even in pushing me if I admit to being lazy). Unbeknownst to me, she sent an email to a number of the single guys at Zope asking if they wanted to walk me. Specifically, the subject line of her email to them was Walking Hadar 🙂 (smiley included in the subject line). When I finally saw it, I felt like a doddering old man. 😉

Tuesday evening, four of us walked along the Fredericksburg Canal (after work). It was a slightly more leisurely pace than I normally walk at back in NY, but it was beautiful and the company was excellent. We walked for just under an hour, and the four of us grabbed dinner at Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

A quick digression. Lois is a history buff of the first order. For seven years she has been begging me to visit the various battefield sites in Fredericksburg. For any number of reasons (mostly because I’m mean and lazy she would likely say) we haven’t gone (and therefore she hasn’t gone). Now back to our story…

On Thursday evening, the same gang of four decided to try a different walk. We chose one of the battlefield sites, located on Lee Drive. I admit to feeling a little guilty that I would get to see the battlefield site before Lois would, but that’s just the way things were going to work out…

So, after work, we met at the base of Lee Hill. It’s a reasonably steep uphill climb of roughly 1/4 of a mile. At the top are two canons, a few placards, and not much else. We came down a few minutes later. We drove to the next parking spot (perhaps another 1/4 of a mile up Lee Drive). We entered the trail there into the woods (after seeing the two obligatory canons at the head of the trail).

In total, we walked in the winding woods, up and down hills, for roughly an hour. There was little about the walk that made me feel battlefield, or even anything historic, but it was a great walking trail and good exercise. The company was good (again), but less chatting, because the trail is very narrow, so we walked single file. At the end, rather than walk back through the woods, we walked back along the road itself (where people were jogging and biking as well). We chatted a lot more then.

When we got back to the cars, our total walk time was just under two hours. It was a very nice workout. We decided to throw away the entire benefit of the exercise, and grabbed dinner at Five Guys (hamburgers and fries).

Before Tuesday’s walk, we had planned on getting together Saturday morning for a walk as well. This time there were five of us. We lost one of the original gang of four (he was supposed to be out camping over the weekend, but his plans changed a number of times). We picked up two additional walkers. We decided to redo the second part of Thursday’s walk on Lee Drive.

This time we returned through the same woods rather than taking the road, so the total trip (since we skipped the first Lee Hill part) was 90 minutes round trip. We walked single file, very little chatting, and maintained a reasonably good pace throughout. Since the end was mostly uphill, we finished on an exercise high.

We parted for showers and a drop of down time, then all met for lunch at Uno Chicago Grill. We also picked up the guy who walked Tue and Thu making seven in total for lunch (Lois joined us for lunch as well). Here’s a photo of all of the guys, Lois took it, which is why she isn’t in it. Plus, she didn’t walk with us, so she didn’t earn the right to be in the photo. 😉

Zope Guys Uno Chicago Grill

After lunch four of us went to see the new movie WALL-E. It has superb animation and the story is cute, but to me, there was nothing special about the movie. I chuckled a bunch and there were zero unpleasant moments, so it was a relaxing way to spend a few hours. That said, the young kids in the audience squealed with delight, so that’s the only age group that I can highly recommend the movie to.

Anyway, all in all, great exercise, great company, a touch of history (if a little underwhelming), a mindless (but cute) movie, followed by collapse in the hotel room. Thanks guy, and thanks to Lois for making it all happen!

P.S. When we travel, I have various tray tables with me for different situations. In the hotel, I use a tray table meant to serve breakfast in bed, but I put a laptop table (from Bed Bath & Beyond) on top, since my laptop is way too heavy for the thin part that the plates are supposed to sit on. For a number of reasons, I forgot (first time!) to bring the tray table and laptop table. Luckily, I had an identical tray table at the apartment (where we left from this time), but no laptop table to put on top.

I decided that I would either buy a new one ($10) or perhaps just get a single piece of plexiglass or wood at Home Depot. I mentioned that to Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) and he told me that he could cut me a piece of wood to do the trick.

Indeed, he did, and here are the photos to prove how well it fit and worked. I prefer it to my laptop table, so I’ll be traveling with this block of wood from now on. You can also get a sense of the size of my beast of a laptop. It weighs nearly 14 pounds with the power supply brick, which is why I need a table to support it rather than putting it on my actual lap…

Block of WoodBlock of Wood and the Beast

Thanks Rob! 🙂

Kung Fu Panda

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Lois and I had a slightly unusual, but completely lovely weekend.

On Friday, our goddaughter and fiance drove a Budget rental truck up from Richmond, VA with a bunch of their stuff. They are moving to NYC after their honeymoon (putting them in NYC in three weeks!). We helped them move their stuff in and then had dinner with them on Friday night.

On Saturday, they worked (like crazy people) for roughly 13 hours in their new apartment. We had a very late lunch, or very early dinner (you pick) when they were ready for a break.

On Sunday morning, we all left for VA very early. For us, it was part of our normal trip down to Zope (except that this trip will end with their wedding, hardly normal). For them, they rented the Budget truck one-way only, so we were giving them a lift back to VA.

All well and good, except that we had previously arranged to visit our friends in Leesburg, VA on the way down (I’ve written about them a number of times), including taking a bunch of boys to see Kung Fu Panda. Our NYC guests agreed to join us for the festivities.

We got to Leesburg right on time (in fact, we beat our friends to the restaurant). We had our typically great Chinese Buffet (11 of us). Then we gave the parents a break and took five boys (ages 7-10) to see the movie.

For a movie that’s been in theaters for two weeks, I was quite surprised that it was as crowded as it was. The seven of us (Lois, me and the boys) sat in the third row (usually, that’s too close up for Lois, but it wasn’t all that bad this time around, perhaps because it’s an animated movie). I don’t know where our goddaughter and fiance sat.

OK, since the title of this post is the name of the movie, I may as well say something about it. I really liked it, thoroughly, start to finish! It’s a cute story, with hearty laughs throughout, reasonably cool martial arts stuff, and lovable characters. Even the silly stuff (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon type stuff) is easier to swallow in an animated version, no? Yes. 🙂

Mixed in with all of the action and laughs are a bunch of proverbs and general Zen-like philosophy. I don’t know if it appeals to the kids, or if they even realize that wisdom is being imparted, but both Lois and I liked it. Here’s one particular one that we have both repeated a number of times since yesterday. Additionally, we both feel we’ve heard it before, but clearly, didn’t keep it top of mind so were glad to hear it again:

Yesterday is history.

Tomorrow’s a mystery.

Today is a gift.

That’s why they call it The Present!

Lovely!

Anyway, if you have kids, take them to see the movie, you will enjoy it as well. If you don’t have kids, sit near a group of them, so that you don’t look like you just like cartoons. 😉

After the movie we drove to Fredericksburg and met out friends (our goddaughter’s parents) at our hotel. We all had a lovely dinner together, and they took posession of the soon-to-be newlyweds and drove them back to Richmond.

We did our usual Walmart run to stock up for our trip. When we returned to the room, Lois did an incredible job of unpacking and organizing while I relaxed and watched some TV. That lasted an hour, and then a wild storm in Fredericksburg knocked out all of the electricity to the hotel (at roughly 8:43pm). The generator got the lights back on for about 30 seconds before it failed completely.

There we were, in the dark, watching a cool lightning storm outside the window. After about 25 minutes, with nothing else to do, we went to bed (we were wildly exhausted anyway), at 9:06pm. We have no idea when the electricity came on, but we were both awake (briefly) at 1:30am, when it was indeed back on. Thankfully, Lois ran around and turned off all of the lightswitches before we went to bed, so that we weren’t woken up.

A number of things made the weekend unusual. One of the more unusual things was for me not to turn my laptop on at all yesterday. Amazingly, my hands didn’t twitch even once (at least not that I noticed). 😉

Sneaky Wicked Surprise

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Our Richmond friends have had a very busy year, and it’s hardly over. In addition to graduating both of the kids (already reported) they have an upcoming wedding to produce.

Immediately after the wedding, the new couple is moving up to NYC (well, immediately after the honeymoon). 😉

That should be enough to keep anyone busy, but not our friends! 😉

Before the wedding date was set, they had a big family trip planned. It’s possible that this will be the last annual family trip where they can all be together, given where the kids are headed (geographically and career-wise). So, they will be spending 10 days in Thailand and Singapore.

Their flight to Singapore is from JFK, so they came up early to spend some time in NYC with us. Once we were sure what their flight info was, I decided to be sneaky and pull off a surprise. As reported a number of times in these pages, we had an aborted attempt to take them (the parents) to see Wicked with us.

I also reported that we weren’t likely to go again, unless they could make it too. You can read the three reasons that would get us to go again at the bottom of this post. Given that there were going to be three other guests, two of whom had seen the show (one of them, twice), coupled with the fact that I really wanted to get great seats for the parents (and it would be tough to get seven seats together at this late date), we decided to shoot for just two tickets.

I checked every day for a week, including places like StubHub, and finally, after no good choices for days, snagged two great seats toward the front of the orchestra. We said nothing until our guests arrived. After having a nice lunch together, we sent the parents on their way to enjoy the show. There is little doubt that they were surprised, but we were still nervous as to whether they would enjoy it.

While they were at the show, the rest of us went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was mindless fun, with the key word being mindless. Seriously, one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen, but if you’ve enjoyed any of them before, you’ll probably want to see this one too, just for completeness sake. It still amazes me when the talent associated with making this kind of movie can spend this much time and money, and create something so unbelievably stupid.

We all met back at the apartment, and the parents got home shortly after we did, and they said that they loved the show. Whew! 🙂

We asked them to bring back a Playbill, so we could know who they saw. Elphaba was played by Stephanie J. Block. I reviewed the performance that we saw her in the post linked above. She was good, but not great in any way. Glinda was played by Kendra Kassebaum. We had seen her before too, and I just assumed (incorrectly) that we saw her with Stephanie J. Block. So, I raved about her to our friends, telling them that they saw someone really special.

Unfortunately, it gnawed at me for a bit, and this morning, I just checked my own blog, and I realized that it was Annaleigh Ashford who we saw twice, once with Stephanie, who was brilliant in the role. Kendra Kassebaum was not so good, as I reported in this post.

Oh well, now there are three possibilities:

  1. Our friends were being polite, and didn’t think highly of her
  2. They don’t have a frame of reference, and thoroughly enjoyed her performance
  3. She got better 😉

I still find the show awesome, even when the leads are clearly inferior to the great ones, so I can easily believe that our friends loved it as well.

In a small word irony, on the same weekend that our VA friends came to NYC on their way to Thailand, on Friday, I got an email from our friends who live in Thailand that they were passing through NYC on their way to a trade show. Reasonably amazing that they would all be in the city at the same time.