December 31, 2006

2006: My year In Books

I think you can learn quite a bit about a person based on what they read. So, here's a test of that theory by looking at myself in book form for the year:

1. Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track (Michele/Richard Feynman)
2. Harvests of Joy -- How the good life became great business (Robert Mondavi)
3. On the road with Charles Kuralt (Charles Kuralt)
4. The Tomato in America -- Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Andrew F. Smith)
5. The High Tech Start Up (John Nesheim)
6. All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy)
7. Hard Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World (Haruki Murakami)
8. The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook (Andrew Doughty)
9. Kauai Trailblazer (Jerry & Janine Sprout)
10. Deep Lie (Stuart Woods)
11. Running With Scissors (Augusten Burroughs)
12. Lipstick Jungle (Candace Bushnell)
13. Flatland: A romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin A. Abbott)
14. I'd Rather Laugh (Linda Richman)
15. The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
16. Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul (Canfied & Hansen)
17. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)
18. The Elegant Gathering of White Snows (Kris Radish)
19. Nigella Bites (Nigella Lawson)
20. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (Julie Powell)
21. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (John Gottman, Ph.D.)
22. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (John M. Gottman, Ph.D)
23. Quick & Easy (Martin Yan)
24. Vineyards in the Sky: The Life of Legendary Vintner Martin Ray (Eleanor Ray/Barbara Marinacci)

What does this say about my year? Well, I see more than 2 books each on food, travel, wine, mourning, guilty-pleasure chick-lit, and marriage. These main themes are rounded out with singular books devoted to the spicey random additions that struck my fancy including math, physics, espionage, cyberpunk, classic literature, entrepreneurship, and one of this year's NYT best-seller memoirs of a neurotic family.

Yup, that's a fairly good summary of where my spare brain cycles for the year were spent, whether reading or otherwise.

(Reviews for some of the books here and here).

December 30, 2006


The United States may be one country, but there are regional differences in culture that make natives of one region slightly out of sorts in others.

I love the warm welcome, the open arms, the fattening comfort food, and the languid lifestyle of the South. It's perfect for a holiday. But it's also almost confusing. Almost. That's right. Because half of the weirdness is the comfort. Everything feels just like home. But it's just slightly different.

People are more gentle here. They don't directly address conflict, they prefer to hint at it and smooth it over before it bubbles to the surface.

What do I mean? Well, the best examples I can describe are all rooted in subtle linguistic differences. First, there's the accent, which I, of course, have been picking up despite my best efforts. The mouth is more open. The speech is much slower. People pause between sentences and rarely interrupt each other. They stop and talk as if they have all the time in the world.

Then, there's the toned down speech patterns. Nothing is certain or definite.

When you meet someone for the first time, you shake their hand and say (slowly, while looking them sincerely in the eyes), "Nice to see you." When you see them again, you do the same thing, "Nice to see you." This neatly solves my problem with the horrid memory of names and faces, so I will consider brining this particular custom back to the West with me.

Example 2: I mentioned to friends that I'd heard that some of our joint friends were planning on coming to their New Year's Party (which the joint friends had told E's sister, who told us.) E quickly interrupted me and said that we'd heard that the joint friends were going to be contacting them about the New Year's Party. This was not the literal text of what we heard, but no doubt, it is what they meant. I have spent enough time here to know that my interpretation of the direct, literal truth will offend people by conveying a message I do not intend, so I no longer pretend to understand the subtle differences. I'm just happy when E jumps in to save my hide.

When leaving a social event, you should say to everyone, "We should do dinner sometime," or "You should come visit when you are in our area." They will respond in the affirmative. This does not mean that you intend to make plans with all of these people. Rather, it is a way of expressing affection and letting them know that you like them. To fail to make some sort of overture in this direction is often an insult.

Similarly, if you actually want to make plans with someone, you must go so far as to say, "We should go to drinks tomorrow evening." "Yes, we should, that would be great." "Okay, I'll call you after dinner." This one is complex because, particularly with younger folks, it can go either way. It may mean that they will call you tomorrow night. It may also mean that they do intend to make plans with you in the near future (the message we'd convey in California with the 'We should do dinner sometime.') What is difficult for the Californian to understand, however, is that by no means have you made any plans for tomorrow night. Feel free to make other plans. No one will be offended or consider you a flake.

The list goes on. I'm slowly learning my way around what at first glance seems exactly like the culture I'm at home in.

Towards that end, E and I've been visiting all the local sights to fully immerse me. Today's trip was to the Cyclorama. E wanted to take me as a joke because he remembered it as something incredibly lame from his school fieldtrip days. Little did he realize, it would be my favorite attraction thus far. It's so Southern, and so absolutely different from anything I've ever seen in my life that it resonated with me.

This place is different from home. It's great. I like it more with each visit and am learning to love it. But, the South has its own strong culture and a Californian default view will occasionally get you into trouble.

I imagine that's true for just about any two regions in this country with their own cultures, I just never experienced this level of foreignness in a place that was within the borders of my own country. I imagine it's because all of my other visits to regions of the U.S. have been just that, visits. But, I married into family in the South, so I'm having to learn how to behave like I belong. It's more work than I expected. But it's fun.

December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice Happiness

It's the shortest day of the year. For someone like me, who loves sunlight, the fact that there will be more sunlight each day for quite some time is a cause for celebration.

Plus, I've got all sorts of little things to celebrate:

E and I went to our local sushi joint (where we are known and get gift sushi) for dinner tonight. It was great to have a date with the husband. Then, as we were leaving the hostess/owner gave us hugs and wished us a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I don't know what it is, but something about the local restaurant owner giving you a hug for the holidays just really makes the world seem like a wonderful place.

For the last week, more of my mail has been personal cards from people I know than either bills or junk mail.

I left work at 5:30 today and talked to one of my best friends for over an hour, a luxury in which I hadn't indulged for at least 2 weeks.

One of the partners I work for took back one of my projects so that my winter holidays won't be spent working.

Tomorrow morning, the weather genie claims it will be neither raining, nor below freezing, for my run.

December 19, 2006

Mean People

Tonight, I left a ton of work (which I like) to attend a social event where I was surrounded by people, who frankly, treated me like crap.

They made fun of me in a language they knew I sort of spoke. It was this odd test of politesse...I'd made the apparent faux pas of speaking their native language poorly so they were going to talk shit about me in it and dare me to admit that I was eavesdropping. Surprised at their rudeness, I declined to take the bait.

Later, in English, they made self-deprecating comments comparing themselves to aspects of my life I'd mentioned earlier only exaggerating what I'd mentioned and saying things like, "of course, I couldn't possibly compare to the cultural greatness of your highness over here..."

The worst part? I really have no idea what I did. But clearly I offended these people. Granted, they were quite drunk.

But still... I wasn't too fond of being the butt of their jokes for over 2 hours. I had the last straw when one of them asked me in a snide voice, "I hope you aren't getting up before dawn tomorrow to run? That's horrid. Of course it does help with the alcohol, doesn't it? [Insert knowing look]"

I silently observed the person make this comment to try to figure out what they were saying. I'd mentioned that I'd been up at dawn to run to compare the frigid temperatures that we'd all be experiencing and someone had commented on, not to try to impress people or say that I get up earlier than anyone else or to go on some holier than thou I work out more than thou train -- to make conversation. Furthermore, it's common knowledge that I'm a slow runner. I honestly feel no need to even try to compete in that realm. So I couldn't quite figure out the gist of the comment.

But I'd also only had 2 glasses of wine, the second of which I hadn't quite finished. So the alcohol basis for the comment made no sense as well.

After a bite of dessert to compose myself, I asked what they meant and they said, "I meant no offense, I just saw your necklace and heard you say you got up and dawn and figured you must be an 'athlete' you know, a *professional runner.* [sly grin] Before I could even start to get annoyed, they followed up with, "and I don't want to talk to you anymore." At which point, they turned their back to me.

I'm not kidding.

I seriously was told, "I don't want to talk to you anymore" by the person sitting to my right at a dinner party, who then turned their back to me.

Needless to say, I made a small scene by quickly and somewhat quietly leaving. I told people it was a pleasure to meet them and got a few knowing glances. One went so far as to shake his head affirmatively after he asked, "you're not going are you?" and I said, "I fear I've offended some people." That's when I got the affirmative head shake.

I'm not in the habit of offending people (without intending to do so, anyways...)
And, I am quite agitated by the whole experience.

Why would people choose to pick on me like this? It's such a terrible feeling to realize you probably did something that really made someone hate you. I want to go back in time, to examine the whole evening in detail and to apologize for anything I could have done. But, no.

E tried to cheer me up by pointing out that one of the perpetrators was peeing publicly outside the event as he left. I'd like to excuse the whole thing with alcohol, but it's not just that. Your gut knows when people intend to pick on you. And these people did. I just wish I knew why.

Oh well... C'est la vie. Tomorrow is a new day.

December 18, 2006

The sky is falling

Okay, really, it was just frozen this AM and I had to use an ice scraper to clear my windshield. What the hell? I live in California.

In other news, blogger is getting all invasive and wants me to use a gmail account to login. I think I may go on hiatus until I can figure out a migration scheme to get away from the hive mind.

December 16, 2006

The old folks do the city

It's a Saturday night. I'm home at 10:20, in my pajamas, face washed, glasses on, in front of the computer screen (which is where you can find me prior to putting myself to bed).

Friday, E & I drove back up to the city and checked into this weekend's hotel for our 4th trip to the city (granted some weren't overnight) in 6 weeks. The occasion this time? We were invited to go out out for beef in Union Square with one of my old companies for their holiday party. Of course we went! While we were enjoying dinner, one of the attendees was drunk enough to walk up to another patron at the restaurant and confirm that he was, in fact, Andrew Firestone. Always makes you feel good to be enjoying a meal in the same location as someone you know people want to emulate, but this time was nowhere near as cool as the time we were with the same crew at the same location and saw Richard Kiel (aka "Jaws" from Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me).

That party went on 'til 1 AM and ended in that incoherent searching for a cab, or something to do, or somewhere to go state where the entire group is looking for momentum but can't really find it and no one is quite ballsy enough to say, "uhhh...guys, looks like the night is over." Eventually, the group meandered to within walking distance of our hotel, so E and I walked to our hotel and closed down the bar with one last drink. Yeah... I had a headache this morning. I wish I could say it was because we went out like punks. But really, it was fairly mellow as far as holiday parties go. I'm just getting older.

Despite the headache, today was a productive day. We started with a delicious brunch with a friend at the least climate-controlled cafe in SOMA. From there, we did Christmas shopping and are now completely DONE! We also fit in tea tasting and purchasing: thanks to E2's gifts from china, our black, oolong, and green tea selection is fine. But we were short on herbal teas, and we are now the proud owners of violet, chrysanthemum, rose blend, and camomile herbal teas.

In a serious lapse of judgment, we'd promised to show up at tonight's holiday party with 24 cream puffs from beard papa. This required braving the traffic and people involved in the holiday shopping madness. We barely survived, but we did. We recovered with a beer and some chips at taqueria cancun. From there, we hit the holiday party and ate ourselves silly. 4 hours after arriving, we found ourselves leaving with white elephant gifts of roughly the same (okay, we got one of our own back) quality as the ones we left (read: amusing crap from Clement Street).

Tonight's holiday party was great. But we were out of there by 9 PM. (and exhausted to boot). Yeah, the next time one of the first years tries to tell me there's no difference between being a young 1st year associate and an older one, I think I'm going to puke.

That is all.

December 12, 2006


I think next year, around this time, when I'm slow on a Friday 2 weeks before the holidays, I'll enjoy it more than I did last week.

What a difference a weekend and a Monday make.

I am now staffed on enough work to keep me comfortably busy (read: billing at a 10-15% premium over goal) through New Years. Only problem is that everyone wants it done before the holidays. And, I do too... I have plans to be out of town.

I'll see you on the other side, one way or another...

December 11, 2006

Odds & Ends

Blogger forced me to migrate to blogger beta (hence the 25 hits on the feeds if you subscribe, sorry 'bout that). Blogger still exists. I can log in with my old account, but once I'm in, they just tell me to go over to beta and log in with my other account. Annoying.

Maybe now that I've actually migrated away from the desktop I built and used for 7 years to permanently using my lawschool laptop in a port replicator, I'll tag migrating the blog for my next project. Any suggestions? Seems like many of my techy friends use typepad. Why so?

Tonight, I tried to price out some flights on It's my favorite travel porn site, where I can construct myriad vacations to far-away lands with imaginary money...

Only tonight, Kayak is down for upgrades. Unlike the usual boring corporate drivel, they suggested we try what their engineers find interesting, including two sites I'd never visited: gridskipper (to which I have already subscribed) and miniclip, which I will be visiting the next time I have no billable work and need a break from the self-education I try to do while waiting for the feedback that allows me to continue with my billable work.

E's comment is that Kayak must be a much smaller company than he realized. My comment is, "I hope not!"

December 9, 2006

Holiday Excess

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen.

Today, after stuffing myself silly on dim sum, I came home and got on the scale to realize that I'd actually gone above my 10-pound free-range grazing zone.

Mind you, this is while I'm training for a marathon.

Today, for example, the beautiful weather in San Francisco cooperated and allowed me to run 15 miles from the Embarcadero, through the Aquatic Park, out the pier, through Chrissy Field (making me a surprise participant in a Girls on the Run Race for a mile or so), across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. This, in turn, pushed me to complete my first 30+ mile week of 2006.

Yeah, I've got 8 weeks to go and I only now crossed the 30+ mile marker. I'm doing my own slightly modified version of a very easy marathon training program. Low Key. Turns out, I'm doing less mileage than last year, when I trained all the way through the 20-miler before it became clear that life did not intend for me to complete that marathon. I'm also able to do my long runs at a better pace. I don't know if this is because I'm a better runner or the extra rest allows me to go harder. Either way, I have no complaints.

But, perhaps the easy mileage totals are part of the problem. I think between the month of free lunches on the firm to welcome me, the choco-riffic challenge, my increased social life now that my life is fairly drama free, and the holiday goodies and parties, I've been calorically intaking as much as if I was a 200-lb male doing the mileage I wish was in good enough shape and had enough time to do.

Well, kids, let me tell you, there is nothing like feeling of pain in my hips, knees, and calves right now to set me straight. I reject the holiday excess. Or at least I'm gonna try. I declare the choco-riffic experiment done for now (perhaps some day I will make recipes 5 & 6, but clearly I don't need to do so anytime soon). Wish me luck in seeking out lighter fare between this week's planned meals of 7 courses of beef, brunch, Morton's, Triptych, and a holiday party.

See, I'd really like to actually complete this marathon. So far, it appears that life is okay with that plan too, so long as I can learn to exercise a little more moderation.

I think I'm noticing a theme in my life...

December 6, 2006

Don't call the Gods' attention to your fortune!

A long time ago, there was a little girl. She read a book about a Chinese-American girl her age that made quite an impression on her. Unfortunately, the reader-girl was bad with names (still is) and titles, unless they have some independent meaning to her.

So, the reader-girl is grown up and doesn't remember the title of the book, but she does remember that the character-girl's mom told her not to call the Gods' attention to her fortune and to always be humble lest the Gods realize that the little girl didn't actually deserve the good things she had and take them away. The little reader-girl remembered that lesson because even then, she knew she was horrid at hiding her fortune from the Gods.

She just couldn't help but be happy when she was happy. She couldn't help but announce her successes to all, assuming that they would be as elated as she would be when she heard of theirs. She craved acceptance and approval, like most young kids, but she often received it, so she never really learned to keep her mouth shut about her happiness.

Over time, the little girl grew up and learned to temper her enthusiasm in certain social circles. Not very well, mind you, but at least she could pass as less than thrilled when it was not fashionable to be excited.

Except not today. Today, I'm a real lawyer for the second day, and I *fucking* love my job. I *LOVE* it. I get paid to think about things and research them and write and answer phone calls requiring my gut response, which may get checked by a partner who knows way more than me and can tell me how many ways I was wrong, but that's cool too because I learn stuff, and, and, and....

Kids, many people hate the law. But for those of us that love it, all the hell of the LSAT, law school and the Bar Exam is worth it. I have no doubt there will be days when I hate my job, but today is not one of them. I am responsible for 5 projects for 4 clients reporting to 3 partners and I feel so useful. I feel like I'm doing what I should be doing. It's fabulous.

And, by the way, if lightening strikes me, both you and that little Chinese girl from the book know why.

December 5, 2006


I tried to give blood today for the first time in 10 years. (Long story).

Apparently, I like to travel to exotic places that are on the do not donate list.

Cheerily, the nurse explained that I could donate just 12 months after my last visit. In response, I asked if our spring vacation destination was also listed in the binder as a no-go. Sure enough...

I was bummed. Dad was able to attend our wedding thanks to several pints of donated blood.

One of the partners at the firm jokingly tried to cheer me up by pointing out that now that I was a lawyer, I would probably not be going to exotic disease-ridden places every year.

At least I think he was joking...

December 4, 2006

Rituals: the oath

This last year has been a year of rituals for me. My papa's funeral, my wedding, graduation, my dad's funeral, and any number of smaller rituals like my gran's 80th Birthday, Fourth of July barbeques, being a guest at other people's weddings and birthdays, and more.

Today, I added one more: I took the oath to become a member of the California Bar and to become admitted to the United States Court for the Northern District of California. I am officially a lawyer.

It was more emotional than I expected. I opted to take the oath through the local bar association at a local Jesuit university. This meant the oath was administered in a Catholic church.


I'd meant to go visit a church ever since Daddy passed away. His funeral was outdoors, as it should have been. He went through a few years of regular church attendance to support us in our religious education, but after and before that, it was not a major part of his life. So, it wasn't a major part of his funeral either. We had an ordained minister perform the ceremony, but truly, the memorable part for everyone was the memorial party afterward, not the actual funeral.

Anyways, I like churches. But I don't go on a regular basis. I'm not exactly the brand of christianity that most churches support given my focus on zen buddhism, taoism, and whatever else seems to work for me on the spiritual level. But, unlike many of my demographic, I haven't completely abandoned or rejected the idea of Church either. When I travel to foreign countries, I often go visit the local Christian church, whatever its denomination may be. Generally, I kneel and say a prayer of thanks and awe and love, and, often, I cry. If there are candles, I buy one and light it. If there's a statue dedicated to a saint, I learn about that saint and do the same. More often than not, the denomination is Catholic, which is convenient because my upbringing was 3 years of Lutheranism and several intermittent years of Catholicism mixed with random other Christian church outings.

So basically, my rare visits to churches tend to be big emotional events like Weddings, Funerals, heartfelt prayers of thanks in foreign lands, and the like. I show up ready to cry.

Today was no different. Daddy would have wanted to be there. I wanted him there. And, of course, I hadn't yet taken the time to go do my ritual at a church since his death. So, today's visit to the church was also a big emotional event.

Thankfully, the holy water was accessible to the side of the registration table. I walked through the heavy dark wood doors and took a deep breath. The church was beautiful. I crossed myself with the holy water and selected the alter in front of the saint (?) holding a baby. Unlike usual, I didn't have the church to myself and couldn't take the time to read about the saint. So, I quickly looked to the ground and said a prayer of thanks, asked for a blessing on my future life and career and a hello and good wishes to Dad.

Then, I walked outside and met E. I cried briefly, sad, but proud of myself.

In an amazing display of efficiency (which is why I opted for this ceremony over the State Bar ceremony), A and I took our seats at the front of the church, we followed a state judge and a federal judge through our oaths and 40 minutes later, we were lawyers. It felt right to share that moment with her. I noted that we were the only oath-takers I could see who hugged immediately after saying, "I will." A is yet another reason why I am thankful tonight.

Dinner was a big celebratory Italian meal at one of our local favorite restaurants. The chef was in fine form and spent quite a bit of time entertaining us. He raved about his all-vegetarian lentil soup -- apparently, it's that time of year. E and I agreed: mine won on flavor, but his won on texture. You just can't beat a perfectly puréed soup.

And tomorrow, what do you know? I will go to work for my first day as a real lawyer.

December 3, 2006

Spicy Lentil Soup

After the weekend of debauchery, E and I needed something light and healthy for dinner tonight. Also, I hadn't done the shopping for this week, so we didn't have much in the way of ingredients. I read a few recipes for lentil soup to find that I did not have the required ingredients for any of them, so I improvised, and am happy to report a success. Enjoy:

3/4 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
extra virgin olive oil
1 cup lentils, rinsed
1 small can tomato paste
3 serrano chiles, chopped (left the seeds in for a super-spicy soup, your preference)
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 can vegetable broth
water, as needed
sea salt
italian seasonings (literally, I have a big old container titled "Italian Seasoning" but I'm guessing any combination of oregano, rosemary, etc. will do)
1 Tbsp. white vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar, I'm guessing any light white vinegar would do)

Sautee garlic & onions in olive oil until soft. Add broth, lentils, chiles, tomato paste and cumin & bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and stir until the tomato paste is dissolved. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, and adding water as needed (the lentils should be covered with liquid at all times) until the lentils are soft (1.5-2 hours).

Remove from heat and stir in sea salt, vinegar, & italian seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.
Happy, Happy, Happy

I am exhausted and slightly grinning. I would smile wider to accurately express my contentment, but that would require effort, and I am much too pleasantly lazy to make any.

Saturday AM, E2 and I ran a race in the hills. I did 10.6 miles and about 2000 feet of elevation change. The Garmin claims I did 5129 ft of total ascent. I guess that means there were many little hills in between the big hills. This explains my hips and shins. Last weekend I did 13 miles flat and didn't feel half as sore as I do today.

From there, we headed to the local hole-in-the-wall bar to watch Big Game, eat greasy pub food, and drink beer. We cheered. We sang. We owned the bar.

Until, that is, the entire California Gators posse showed up. Holy shit, they were serious. They had a mike man. They had flags and cutouts and everyone was in jerseys. They raffled prizes. Like us, they also sang and cheered. It was clear that it was actually they and not us who owned the bar from the moment they rolled up with the guy in a football helmet and the woman carrying the life-sized cut-out of an alligator that she placed at the entrance.

It was contagious, and we'd been given free beer for our musical performance, so we joined the crowd and cheered for the gators for a while after our game was over.

Then, we watched UCLA kill USC's chances at the rose bowl. We celebrated more.

We walked to dinner because none of us planned on being so... umm... celebratory, and truly, none of us could drive. After dinner, we sat and talked with college friends until 2 AM.

This morning, after sleeping in, we went to a Sunday breakfast where home-made sausage patties, hash browns, eggs benedict and huevos mexicanos stuffed us each to the point of excess.

And now, I will be taking my hoarse voice to lay down for a nap.

Is that the perfect weekend, or what?