Big Day Out at BrickCon in Seattle

BrickCon in SeattleI learned about BrickCon in Seattle in the movie A LEGO Brickumentary. I looked up the dates and was pleased that it was only a month and a half away. The tickets were affordable so I bought a group of four–a kind of family discount. I invited my son Tevis to join me and we figured out how we could fly up and back for the day. I have never thought to go to Seattle for the day from Sacramento. Thanks to Alaska Airlines it is very easy, affordable and pleasant. We were even able to change our ticket at the last minute to return earlier for just $25 fee per person.

Alice Finch coordinated the creation of Mouse Guard.

Alice Finch in the center of the photo (in green shirt) is one of the most popular and talented LEGO designers.

The documentary gave the impression that the premier LEGO hobbyist expo was bigger than we found it. Still we enjoyed seeing the many expressions of creativity in LEGO brick. People are clever.

Robotic R2D2 in LEGO ready for new Star Wars release.

Robotic R2D2 in LEGO ready for new Star Wars release.

There is also a fair amount of shopping opportunities. Memories of stepping on LEGO brick while Tevis was growing up inspired me to purchase a Swoop Bag that keeps LEGO brick together and speeds clean up.

Swoop Bags

Swoop Bags

After we satisfied our curiosity about designers and played with R2D2. We walked around the Exhibition Hall. We ate lunch at Dick’s and walked round the Space Needle and compared it to the LEGO version.

There is a nifty light rail option for getting to the airport. We were fortunate to have Spezia cousins willing to take us back to the airport.

Seattle Space Needle in LEGO

Seattle Space Needle in LEGO

Actual Seattle Space Needle

Actual Seattle Space Needle

Tevis was definitely inspired, And I made some good contacts with LEGO designers for a work project.

Cheese Please! Adventures for the Lactose Tolerant

Cheese Festival in PetalumaI am so thankful I am not lactose intolerant. I enjoy cheese so much. Even I can have too much of a good thing. This is what I discovered at California’s Artisan Cheese Festival in March at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma.

The Rind restaurantThe first 10 booths were great. I enthusiastically bought cheese I liked and tasted all they had to offer. Then I hit a cheese wall–smooth, slightly creamy with a pungent smell. No one was hurt but I had to slow my tasting and drink more water and eat more bread.

Cheese is so rich that a little can go a long way. I remember this every time I dine at The Rind, a restaurant and bar featuring cheese and charcuterie. I have enjoyed several meals or drinks and a cheese board with friends. It is is tough place to find a seat past 6:30 p.m. And if you do enjoy your evening and leave late at night–please speak softly. I live just 2 floors up and I can hear your conversation.

Easy Cheese

A few months ago my dog Lulu experienced a traumatic event that has made her afraid to go on walks near our apartment. As part of her recovery I met with the behavioral team at UC Davis Veterinary Clinic and they taught me a number of dog training techniques. I learned Lulu is highly motivated by cheese in a can. (Eww, I know, but dogs love it.)

Whichever way you slice it, cheese please!

Cooking Adventure in Sonoma

Ramekins Cooking School in Sonoma, CaliforniaIt is always delightful to spend the day with my friend Stephanie, but difficult to schedule. It took us months to line up our schedule and the available space at Ramekins cooking school in Sonoma, California. It almost did not matter what we were going to learn. As luck would have it, we learned to make the elements of the menu featured in the movie, Big Night. If you are not familiar with the movie–it translates as an Italian feast. This much food would work for a big family party or a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal.

We had a lovely drive over and a delicious lunch at The Girl and the Fig. We had just enough time to walk to the excellent independent bookstore just past the town square. Readers’ Books is a treat. It offers used and new books–all in good condition.

Participants in Ramekins cooking classWe arrived at Ramekins at the appointed time and signed in. The class was $95 per person for about 2 hours of cooking and then an hour of eating what we prepared paired with Sonoma wine. The classroom is set up for teams of 3 or 4 to work on various menu components.

Our Chef Lisa Lavagetto and her assistants had done most of the prep work to be able to make:

  • Fried Calamari with Garlic Dipping Sauce
  • Roasted Beet and Beet Greens Salad with Apples and Goat Cheese
  • Timballo – Pasta Drum with Meatballs, Fresh Ricotta, Asparagus and Hard Boiled Egg
  • Roasted Eggplant stuffed with Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
  • Italian Apple Cake with Grappa.

Salad courseParticipants got to choose their stations but it was a bit of scramble like musical chairs. Stephanie prepped the roasted beet salad and I made the apple cake with grappa. I am not actively cooking in this season of my life. My skills are still sufficient to keep up. I enjoyed the buzz in the room as for many of the people cooking was a passion. We were all talking and tasting as a calamari appetizer was finished early or as the marinara sauce was ready. Chef Lisa based her recipes on those her Italian mother-in-law taught her. We were provided the recipes to take home and the appropriate specific recipe at our stations.

Chef Lisa brought in cooked Timballo ready for serving--a dramatic climax.

Chef Lisa brought in cooked Timballo ready for serving–a dramatic climax.

Slice of Timballo

Slice of Timballo

The assistants also did the hard clean up work. We got to retire to the dining room and enjoy our wine until Lisa and her staff brought in the salad, the eggplant, and then the dramatic Timballo. We finished with the Italian apple cake my team made topped with fresh whipped cream. Everything was molto delizioso.

Finished Apple Cake with Grappa. Yum!

Finished Apple Cake with Grappa. Yum!

We enjoyed the experience so much that we signed up for another class in December before the week was out.

Tour de France 2016 Route Announced

It is that time of year! The 21 stages of the Tour de France are official.  Hurry and make your hotel reservations!

our de France route in 2016 moves around the country counterclockwise.

Tour de France route in 2016 moves around the country counterclockwise.

Check out tour options at Trek Travel and Thomson Tours.

Or read the reactions of top cyclists to the route on Cycling Weekly.

Take a moment and enjoy the anticipation of Tour de France 2016!

1 Reason to Go to Miami Now

Yes, I am mocking my own tendency –and travel writers everywhere– to use numbers in headlines. I was trying to find a hook that explained my sense of urgency. There is one main reason to go now: Miami is living on borrowed time. I wanted to see Miami before climate disruption wreaks Katrina or Sandy-like damage.

Al Gore dedicated many hours to training the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Al Gore dedicated many hours to training the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

I am so glad I saw New Orleans before Katrina because now every story is how it is coming back. While it is still a special place, it is still an echo of its former glory. Just as articles are encouraging people to see Cuba before it loses its Cubanness, see Miami while it is in its prime.

Building construction and growth is rampant. At the same time the oceans are getting warmer. Miami Beach is flooding during king tides and it is one big storm or hurricane away from major damage. Over time this will fundamentally change Miami. I hope the leaders and citizens of Miami make smart decisions and adapt in advance of major property damage and loss of life. I am also glad I saw it now.

Miami at night from hotel balcony.

Miami at night from hotel balcony.

I went to Miami for the Climate Reality Leadership Conference to learn more about the challenges facing our home planet because of the choices made by humankind. It is emotionally challenging listening to the scientific news and to see example after example of natural disasters related to climate disruption. The only thing that saved me was some good news about the growth rates of clean energy adoption, and the enthusiasm and commitment of 1200 other participants from 80 other countries. People are organizing support for their governments to make more serious commitments at the next climate talks in Paris. There is still time to change our behavior and reverse the damage.

I had very little time to get out and about and enjoy Miami. The Hotel Urbano where I was staying was inconvenient far from the main conference hotel Hyatt Regency. It was a 36 minute walk in the intense humidity or rain. There is a free trolley but I never allowed time to take it. The hotel is better located for the aquarium or the Vizcaya Gardens. So I relied on the Lyft app a lot and it proved affordable and super responsive. Once I got over the disappointment about Hotel Urbano’s location, I could appreciate the beautiful pool and quality food. The formica tables and cafeteria style layout does a disservice to the very good food they serve. Both my All American breakfasts and my cheeseburger on a pretzel roll were excellent. The rooms are just okay. I never could figure out the lights—why some worked and others did not. Housekeeping was lackadaisical. Overall I would still say it gave good value at $95 a night.

One night I joined some colleagues for a Cuban dinner at the Versaiiles restaurant. It had the same formica tables as Hotel Urbano Though it was set up for larger groups. The menu was expansive and included all the Cuban classics. I had the good fortune to go to Cuba about 15 years ago and eat some amazing food. This did not match those memories. It was moderately priced and a mediocre experience.

I met up with Jim, my friend from my Trek Travel Tour de France experience. We met in Coconut Grove where his maritime law office is located. We ate at Monty’s where Jim assured me I would have another average experience. At least I finally got some great clam chowder. The popcorn shrimp caesar salad was also tasty. He described some of the challenges of bike riding in Miami. If you cycle, check out the once-a-month Critical Mass rides when there is less potential conflict with cars. Or look for the Gran Fondo rides that start in October.

After talking to a half dozen drivers I learned a lot about the city. Miami is a very Latin city of hustle. People are very transient. They are also moving from job to job chasing the American Dream. Miami seems to be giving people a foothold. It is definitely an advantage if you speak Spanish and English.

People in Miami love, love, love air conditioning. The conference organizers warned us in advance to wear layers. I brought a jacket and scarf and a light sweater. At different times I used all of them. When I met up with Jim we sat outside. The evening had cooled slightly. It felt like a warm hug and after a short while I did not think about it again. Another occasion I was outside but in the direct sunlight and I wilted after just 10 minutes. Another time it was raining so hard I could hardly see across the street. Miami is a city of extremes and can be stressful.