Wednesday, June 29, 2005

One Breakaway Show

Tonight after work I went to see the phenomenal Kelly Clarkson, America's original American Idol. She was playing at the San Diego County Fairgrounds in Del Mar, which is only about 12 miles south of my office in Carlsbad.

Kelly Clarkson, shown here at another concert in a picture taken by another photographer. (2005)

This would be my third time seeing Kelly. The first time was during the American Idols 2002 summer tour. I saw her again two years later during the 2004 "Independence" tour with Clay Aiken. So third time is the charm, right? :)

I left right after work at 6:00 thinking I'd get there in plenty of time for her 7:30 show. It was only 12 miles away, and that should be plenty of time, right?


I seriously underestimated the traffic going into the fair at that time.

By the time I got to Del Mar, parked in timbuktu and walked into the fairgrounds gate, it was 7:30 on the dot. But I still had to walk clear on the other side of the fairgrounds property.

But who actually starts concerts on time, I foolishly wondered. Then suddenly I could hear the crowd in the audience go wild.

I ended up getting in at about 12 minutes after she started, and missed "Miss Independence." But even still, the rest of the show was so good, it was worth all the effort.

Kelly Clarkson, in a photo I took with my lame camera phone. I outlined her in red for clarity. (06/29/05)

Kelly heated things up singing a mixture of songs from her albums, the 2004 "Breakaway," and the 2003 "Thankful," and even mixed in a cover of the Rascal Flatts' "Moving On" and Annie Lennox's "Why." The crowd was singing along with every word with such hits as "Behind These Hazel Eyes," "Since U Been Gone" and "Breakaway".

The only thing that disappointed me was that she didn't sing either of her American Idol singles, "Before Your Love," or "A Moment Like This." Although I love Kelly's new rock sound, I must admit I still have a penchant for those syrupy pop ballads. :)

Oh well. Tim and I have tickets to see her again in Irvine in September. We'll be sure to get there early!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Weekend in San Ramon: Day Three

This morning my dad asked me to take a family portrait with our digital camera for a newsletter he wanted to send it to. So we gladly obliged.

Anna, Malena, JP and Dad have a genuine moment in between the posed portraits. (06/26/05).

Afterward they made us some delicious quesadillas before we got on the road for the long drive back. It was nice seeing my family and I look forward to their visit at the end of July for a day or two at Disneyland.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Weekend in San Ramon: Day Two

On our second full day in San Ramon, we had planned to go into San Francisco to take our roommate Joe sightseeing, since he had never really been to the city other than driving through once a few years back. As it turned out, it was the same weekend as the S.F. Pride celebration, although we didn't really plan it that way (it just turned out to be the best weekend for us to go North due to Joe's vacation days).

Because it was Pride weekend, we opted to use public transportation. So we drove to the Lafayette BART station and took BART to the city. As it turned out, we were really there at the wrong day and time. There wasn't very much going on at all, other than opera singers, bad poetry readings, martial arts demonstrations and not-so-great garage bands (and to think that En Vogue and 3rd Eye Blind were performing the next day). One highlight were the cheerleading teams, which were very entertaining.

The cheerleading teams entertained the crowds in front of San Francisco City Hall. (06/25/05)

But we did have somewhat of a celebrity sighting: Lynn and Alex from Season 7 of my favorite reality show, The Amazing Race! We had just met up with our friend Keith who was in town for corporate training that week and came in a day early to go to Pride. We were leaving Civic Center when Tim saw them walking in. He pointed them out and said to me "Amazing Race." And sure enough, there they were, walking and smoking.

Sorry, I wasn't fast enough with the camera to get a picture. I thought for a second of walking up and saying something about how much I enjoyed them on The Amazing Race, but then I had the vision of how dorky I would look doing so, which made me decide against it.

At that point, Keith, Joe, Tim and I walked over to Powell and had a late lunch at Lori's Diner. Tim and I were pretty wiped by then, so we headed back to San Ramon while Joe and Keith took the cable car up to Fisherman's Wharf. Although we told my dad and Malena we would be back in time for dinner at 7:00, we encouraged Joe to stay in the city with Keith for the rest of the day, and we would just pick him up at the Dublin BART station later that night.

Anna painted this nice picture of me and her dancing. (06/05)

Back in San Ramon, Malena and my Dad made my favorite meal: Turkey and stuffing. Supposedly my older brother Robert was supposed to show up, but he ended up cancelling for some reason or another. We had a good time nonetheless, and my dad and I had a good chance to catch up.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Weekend in San Ramon: Day One

We were still feeling the 5.5-hour drive the night before when we woke up Friday morning. We didn't do a lot in the morning other than spend time with my family, particularly my little sister Anna (age 6) and little brother JP (age 1). As is typical when we visit, they were shy at first (it must have been too long since we last saw them in early February), but 15 minutes later they were their old selves again.

From left, John Paul, Dad and Anna. (06/24/05)

After breakfast, Tim, Joe and I took Anna, Rafa (Malena's nephew, age 12, visiting from Mexico) and Simon on a walk to the park nearby. Afterward, we took them to lunch at McDonald's and then to the movies. We saw Madagascar, which was just okay.

Three big kids at the park: Tim, Anna and Rafa. (06/24/05)

Afterward we came back and had chicken mole dinner and fresh-baked brownies for dessert. Afterward we opened presents (birthday presents for JP, Anna and Malena, each of whom had birthdays since our last visit, and a father's day present for my dad). As usual, JP had more fun with the tissue paper and boxes than he did with the stuffed animal, book and Mickey Mouse t-shirt we gave him.

JP and his new toy that he cast aside in favor of the box moments later. (06/24/05)

It wasn't a terribly exciting day, but since our primary goal was to spend time with the family, it was perfect.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An A+ Student

Tim got some good news this week when his final grade arrived for that six-week course he's been taking: The Human Aspects of Project Management. His grade: An A+!

Just two of the exciting titles Tim had to read for his class. (06/05)

Although his employer paid for the tuition, he's basically been doing all the work for the course in his own spare time. Way to go Tim! I'm proud of you. :)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Next Juan Valdez

Today I harvested my first crop of home-grown Kona coffee. Three whole coffee beans! Technically, among horticulturalists, they're called coffee berries, or drupes. While my three beans aren't exactly a bumper crop, I'm still pretty proud of them. (Hey, do you know anyone else who has personally raised and harvested coffee?!)

This year's crop. (06/18/05)

And to think it only took three years to do it. It all goes back to late April/early May 2002 on a vacation we took to the Big Island of Hawaii — the only state in the U.S. that grows coffee commercially.

While there I came across a souvenir stand that was selling Kona coffee tree seedlings for $6 a piece. It sounded like a fun souvenir, so I bought two — one for me and one for my friend Tom who, at the time, was working as a barista at Peet's Coffee and Tea on Ventura Blvd.

The tree seedlings seemed healthy enough to survive the trip back to the mainland. (Incidentally, since everyone always asks, it's not illegal to bring live plants out of Hawaii ... it's illegal to bring live plants into Hawaii).

So as soon as I came home, I planted my Kona Coffee tree. And it grew. And grew. And grew.

My then tiny Kona coffee tree in 2003 ... one year after planting. (04/06/03).

Three years later, the plant is taller than I am. A couple of months ago I began noticing three green coffee berries growing in a small cluster.

When they reach the peak of ripeness, they turn bright red. If you leave them on the plant, they turn brown to reddish brown and fall off the coffee tree. Many coffee growers allow the berry to fall to the ground, but most pick it when it is red, which is what I did today.

Today the Kona coffee tree stands taller than the "cafetero" (coffee farmer) shown here. (06/18/05)

I haven't decided what to name my coffee blend yet, but if you have any ideas, please post them in the comments section! :)

Tim Pays a Visit to the Doctor

We originally planned to spend the weekend with Tim's family in the desert, but we postponed due to a not-so-pleasant stomach ailment that Tim has been dealing with. He wasn't feeling very well all day yesterday, but decided to wait until morning before deciding whether or not to postpone our trip.

Our doctor's office is in this building. (06/18/05)

So when he woke up this morning feeling just as crummy as before, we decided to cancel the trip to the desert and schedule a trip to the doctor. To make a long story short, the doctor thinks Tim might have an intestinal infection. So for the next week Tim will be on a regimen of antibiotics, antispasmotics and a very bland diet. But Doc says it's nothing to be too concerned about and that he should be feeling better in a couple of days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Goodbye Old Sofa and Chair

Remember the new giant sofa we got in April? (See the Blog entry on 4/13/05 in the archives). Well we finally got rid of the old sofa and matching chair and ottoman after two months of taking up space in our garage.

Farewell sofa and chair. It's been nice owning ya! (06/14/05)

In our initial delusions of grandeur, we thought we might be able to sell the set and help defray the costs of the new sofa (even if only a little). So we placed an ad in the Pennysaver classifieds more than a month ago. And would you believe we never got a single phone call?

We reassembled our sad-looking furniture set on the driveway for a farewell photo. (05/10/05)

Fortunately the local St. Vincent de Paul society was more than willing to take it off our hands. So now some poor family will get a new furniture set, and Tim will get his old parking spot back.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Brunch at Orange Hill

Our friend Everett treated us to our favorite place for Sunday brunch: Orange Hill Restaurant, overlooking the city of Orange. The view itself is reason enough to go. But add all the delicious food and all-you-can-drink champagne, and it's a win/win for everyone!

Keith, our roommate Joe, Everett and I enjoy the view from Orange Hill Restaurant. (06/12/05)

Although we only typically go for celebratory events or when we have out-of-town guests, we just decided to go for the heck of it, especially since our roommate Joe, who has never been to that restaurant, had a rare Sunday off from his family duties (driving his sister to church and CCD in preparation for her quinciñera later this year).

It was overcast that morning, but that didn't spoil a great way to spend a Sunday morning. (06/12/05)

Thanks Everett for such a nice treat. :)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

First California Quarter Sighting

After more than six years in the waiting, I finally received the California state quarter! I knew that California's quarter was coming out this year, but I didn't know exactly when. So needless to say, when I got my change after making a small purchase at Ace Hardware, I was pleasantly surprised to see the first appearance of the quarter from my own state.

Six years in the waiting, I finally got my first California quarter. (06/11/05)

When the series began in 1999, I thought the 50 state quarters idea was a great concept. But at the time, 2005 seemed so far away. Flash forward six years later, and it's finally here, depicting naturalist and conservationist John Muir admiring Yosemite Valley’s monolithic granite headwall known as "Half Dome." It also contains a soaring California condor. Altogether it looks pretty darn sharp, I must say.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Blog Flashback: Happy Trails President Reagan

Note: The following pre-blog event took place one year ago toay: June 8, 2004. It was the day we tried to file past Ronald Reagan's casket. Since we don't really do anything blogworthy during the weekdays, I thought it would be a good time to re-visit our adventure. — James

The flower drop-off at the entrance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Only buses could enter. (06/08/04)

I was never able to resist a big event. And the passing of Ronald Reagan certainly qualifies as big.

Whether you agreed with Ronald Reagan's politics or disagreed with them (I've done both at one time or another), no one can deny that Reagan was an iconic figure. Like Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Regan truly defined an era. He was the 1980s.

I was only 11 when he was elected. Ronald Reagan is the first president I really remember. He was also the first president to whom I've written a letter (It was about the space station he proposed in 1984; I still have the response letter). During my high school years, I remember the Libya bombings, the summits with Gorbachev, and his speech about the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

So when I heard that the public could visit the casket of the former president at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley (about an hour north of LA, for you out of towners), I knew I had to make the trip. I pictured it being just like that scene in Evita, with thousands of mourners passing by weeping.

Traffic on the Ronald Reagan Freeway (I-118) at 2:30 in the morning, from an overpass. (06/08/04)

I heard about the traffic, the lines, the 8-hour waits. So my plan was to avoid the crowds by going at 1:30 a.m. when most sensible people would be asleep. I knew Tim wouldn't be up for it (anything less than 8 hours of sleep for him, and look out!). :)

Fortunately my buddies Tom (best friend from college) and Laura (Tom's brother's wife) were up for the challenge. So we popped the Evita soundtrack into the car CD player, picked up a bag of Jelly Bellies (Reagan's favorite candy, for those of you age 25 and under), and we were off to Simi Valley!

There's James signing one of the tribute placards. (06/08/04)

You know my idea about showing up at 1:30 in the morning when most sensible people are asleep? Seemingly everyone else in Los Angeles had that same idea!

When the freeway traffic came to a complete halt more than 4 miles from the freeway exit (a 3-hour wait just to park, according to a scrolling traffic sign), we knew we were in trouble.

Tom and Laura ... laughing because ours was the only bag of Jelly Bellies that was opened. (06/08/04)

So we decided to cut our losses and simply pay our respects at the flower drop-off, which had no line. That's where we left our jelly beans (well, the ones that were left over after we ate some in the car, anyway). :)

Our Jelly Bellies. (06/08/04)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Smile in the Mail

My condolence card must have finaly made it to the Cochran family, since today I received my eagerly-awaited response (the postman must be working overtime this week).

It arrived in a hand-addressed envelope. "Who was it from?" I wondered, looking at the Los Angeles return address. But when I saw the picture of a smiling Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., my spirits were lifted.

"If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." — Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Esq. 1937-2005. (06/07/05)

On the inside is a printed passage that says:

The Cochran Family deeply appreciates and gratfully acknowledges your kind expressions of love, your prayers and your support during this time of sorrow.

You have provided balm for our spirits, strength for our souls, and you have uplifted our hearts. Your gifts are evidence of the bountiful "legacy of love" which was also the essence of Johnnie. It is wonderful to know that not only was he a light in our lives, but in yours as well.

The family of Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Roman Holiday

Yesterday our friend Roman came to visit us on the tail end of a two-week trip to California. We've known Roman for about six years. When we first met, he lived out in the desert near Palm Springs. He has since moved a couple of times, first to the Bay Area, which cut back on his visits. Then he moved to Boston and haven't seen him in person since ... until this trip.

Roman, Tim, Everett and I enjoy a game of Phase 10, as Simon sniffs around for crumbs. (06/04/05)

Because Roman is a Southern California native, he didn't really need to do any major sightseeing, so we just kept things low key. Drinks and appetizers at the Citrus City Grille near the Orange Plaza (Everett joined us later). While there we kept seeing groups of people come by, flip off the restaurant sign and take a picture. Finally curiosity got the best of us and Tim asked one of the groups what the story was. Turned out to be some sort of crazy scavenger hunt.

After lunch we got some goodies at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and then browsed for antiques at this really cool architectural salvage place. Afterward we got together at the house to play cards, and we ended up spending the rest of the night playing video games and watching Fight Club.

Today we had lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant (there are no good Vietnamese places in Boston, says Roman) and went shopping at Ikea before Roman had to leave to catch his flight. Although short, it was nice seeing Roman again.

Arrived in the Mail

Like everyone else reading this, I too sent a sympathy card to the Monaguesque Royal Family after I learned of the passing of Prince Rainier, the longest-ruling European monarch. And yesterday, I received a response from the Consulate General of Monaco.

It's always nice to get a letter in the mail. (06/04/05)

The letter says:

May 26, 2005

Dear James,

On April 6, 2005, His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco passed away at the age of 81. In His 56 year long reign, He transformed His nation from a quiet seaside resort to a modern independent state. In a fairy-tale wedding, Prince Rainier married Philadelphia-born movie star Grace Kelly in 1956 and found a place in the heart of millions of Americans.

The outpouring of messages of support for the Princely Family has been exceptional. We would like to acknowledge receipt of your letter and extend to you our thanks for your very thoughtful words and condolences. We would also like to inform you that your correspondence has been sent to His Serene Highness Prince Albert II’s personal office in Monaco.

With charisma and vision, Prince Rainier led Monaco through the 20th century. We now look forward to Prince Albert’s leadership to guide the Principality into the 21st century, continuing on the path of development started by His Father and adding His own modern vision.

Consulate General of Monaco

P.S.: Make sure to visit and for the latest news and events from the Principality of Monaco.