Monday, December 10, 2007

Falling Off The Wagon

It had to happen eventually. Things were just going to easy for me, what with the corn on the cob, the ribs, and biting my finger nails. My orthodontist told me today that he thinks my teeth have fallen off the wagon, they are having a relapse. It's either my teeth (in conjunction with my tongue) or the bones, but something's not right. Why he didn't figure this out the FIRST time, I don't know. Hopefully the extensive imaging that I'm going to have to go through AGAIN (Third time? Fourth time? Fifth time? nTh time.) will provide him with evidence that he can fix the problem, whatever it is. But one thing is certain, and I've told him: I am not having surgery again. So I guess I'll just wait for the results from the x-rays and pictures.

New pictures of Ryder Linden Haines, courtesy of two emails that made my Inbox explode:








J. Riley, One of the many reasons I can still answer "good" when people ask how I'm doing!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Chanchamayo or Bust: Day 2

I didn't sleep fantastically at the high-altitude, low frills (perfect!) Galaxia
Hotel in Tarma on Thursday night, but we did get up early nonetheless and get
ready for the rest of our journey. After packing up our goods, we headed down
the road to a Hacienda-like hotel that Renzo was familiar with to have our
breakfast. Following our typical eggs, ham, fresh bread, and panettone
breakfast, we were back on the road for the next hour or two to get to
Chanchamayo.

The geography was certainly interesting in this area, how it changed so much and
so quickly. The coastal regions of Peru are very much a desert with little to no
plant life. As we climbed the rugged volcanic peaks of the Andes, the ground
turned into a reddish clay with some shrubbery, but still few, if any, trees.
Once on the other side of the mountains, as we descended down towards
Chanchamayo, the terrain suddenly changed, with green plants growing without a
problem. The ground was fertile enough for the local people to be growing
things like corn on the farms littering the side of the road. However, an hour
later, the terrain changed again into a lush, tropical environment.

I always imagined the jungle being something like the rain forest, with twisted,
gnarly trees growing under the shade of canopy trees that lift high into the sky
with amazing amounts of wildlife, snakes, bugs, and birds galore. The terrain
around Chanchamayo hinted at this kind of environment, but only just. There
were trees that I imagined to be canopy-like with bare trunks that rose high
and branches and leaves at the top that grew almost horizontal, but they were
spread around the area. The smaller trees and plant-life were certainly lush,
but I didn't see any crazy animals and it wasn't dark and smelling of rain or
anything like that. It was very much open terrain, but very lush and
mountainous still.

The Andes affect the weather significantly, pushing the clouds from the coast up
to higher elevations, causing them to compress and rain, which causes the
condensation that falls to the fertile grounds on the Eastern side of the
Andes, which in turn creates the lush environment. The rain water eventually
drains down to the flatland further east, where it pools up in the Amazon and
even more condensation there creates the rain forests of my imagination.

However, Chanchamayo was not this rain forest. However, it was lush and fertile
enough to grow a myriad of tropical fruits, as we found in the first hotel that
we checked out. It had an orchard of mango and other fruit trees with small,
private bungalows that were apparently very nice inside. Ketty walked around
picking up and peeling mangos from the ground while we got the tour of the
premises from the hotel keeper. Renzo recommended this one because they'd
stayed there before and it was at a special rate - around $30 a night! But we
ventured further down the street and found another place that had private
bungalows in a more tropical setting with plants growing overhead along the
paths. This was $25 a night and since we were only going to be there at night
and in the morning, we decided to go for it.

By the time we were moved in and settled, it was time for a late lunch, so we
went into town and ate at a place recommended at the hotel. Again the aji,
again the avocado salad, and again the delicious meal (I had fish with rice
this time).

After lunch, Renzo was burnt out from all the driving and headed back to the
hotel for a nap while I went with the girls in a moto-taxi / tuk-tuk-tuk up to
the hill that overlooked the valley to take pictures. We eventually made it
back to the hotel in the late afternoon to relax for a bit before going out at
night. I busted out my dominoes set to teach Erika and Ketty the Haines
tradition of Mexican Train dominoes while we drank some beer and drank some
juice and vodkas and enjoyed the wonderful weather. I spotted a wild red
parrot in a nearby tree (hard to see in the pictures), which was pretty crazy.
It was massive and was the only true jungle animal that I saw on the trip.

Renzo finally rose from his slumber to join us and we ended up going to a disco
just a few minutes away (walking) to dance, munch on some food, and drink some
chelas (beer) before finally crashing after a full day!

J. Riley, to be continued...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Chanchamayo or Bust: Day 1

Thanksgiving weekend, I completed the final leg of my 20,000-miles-in-five-weeks journey and capped it off nicely with a trip down to see my love in Peru. Erika and I were going to be taking a road trip on my four-day trip there to a town called Chanchamayo, which is on the Eastern side of the Andes in the hilly jungle of Peru. Her friend Ketty is from this town and her and her boyfriend offered to take us there for the trip. Logistically, it was challenging making the long road trip, but, hey, logistically making a trip to Peru for four days is bad enough, what's another two days of driving :o) ??

Lucky for me, the flights to and from Peru are both red-eyes, so I can maximize my sleeping and traveling time for short trips like this - assuming I can sleep. I do things like staying up late the night before, stay away from caffeine substances the day of the flight, and drink some wine before boarding the plane, all in order to catch as much shut-eye as possible on my journey. Usually it isn't very solid sleep, and I caught about three hours worth on the seven hour journey, watching plenty of videos on the comfortable Lan Peru flight.

I arrived drowsy and feeling gross with a raw throat at 7:00 in the morning in Lima. Lili, the link between Erika and I, graciously picked me up at the airport since Erika was taking her English test for her class that morning at the American Institute (ICPNA) when I arrived. Lili and I drove to ICPNA in time to pick her up and head to a cafe to get some breakfast - a turkey sandwich (Happy Thanksgiving!!) and a coffee (wake up!) for me. Afterwards, we drove to their friend Ketty's house and prepared for that day's adventure: shopping at Gamarra!

I'm not really sure how to explain Gamarra. You know the Christmas booths that they set up in places like Union Square (for you New Yorkers)? Well, Gamarra is one street that is probably about two miles long with thousands and thousands of these little booths inside maze-like buildings, some as high as eight floors, lining this street. We spent probably over an hour in one building alone, courageously led by the expert shopper Ketty. It's difficult to explain how crazy this area was, but I promise to take Summer and Faryn there if they ever come to Lima someday (hmmmm) because it has all the latest fashions (designer or otherwise), all for dirt cheap. I ended up buying two t-shirts and two-button up party shirts - all of which are good quality - for about thirty dollars in total. Lili bought several tops for $2 each. Ridiculously cheap. And, I was the only gringo in the whole area to boot! Highly recommended shopping for gringos with a sense of adventure and patience :o) .

After this we headed back to Ketty's house to prepare for the trip - which included me finally taking a shower - no wonder Erika was offering me so many cough drops for my throat all day ;o). Finally ready to depart, the four of us (including Renzo, the boyfriend) piled into his impressive work car - a Kia Sorrento. More on this car later. Anyway, we ran a few errands doing important things like buying more cough drops for my throat, gas, and panettone, which I don't think I've actually tried. Renzo is a big fan of panettone, so I rolled with it. But damn, that stuff is tasty! For the Haines family who hasn't tried it before, the bread tastes like that yummy Hawaiian bread that we used to eat as kids except it's also got a lot of dried fruits in it like mango, papaya, raisins, etc. I think I need to add this to my Christmas-treats inventory every year from now on!

Anyway, we hit the road. Traffic in Lima is nuts, so it was a crawl out of town before we hit a hotel that we stopped and had dinner at. Renzo enjoys the finer things in life down in Peru, so we frequently dined at the nicest places in town, all of which are dirt cheap nonetheless, so I was fine with this. Of course, we're not talking about dining in Jean Georges or anything like that, we're talking about nicest places in town for Peru. Typically, this means a simple, non-lavish (by our - my?? - standards) restaurant with amazing food and good service. Food tourism in Peru is growing pretty rapidly because the food there is incredible!

We fit a game of foosball in before dinner out in the back lawn that overlooked a river and I realized that the foosball standards for South Americans is infinitely higher than for us Americans. Renzo and Ketty both were amazing players, but my Liverpool-like defensive prowess was respectful enough to ensure that myself and Erika, who was poaching many-a-goal like Fernando Torres does every week for Liverpool, dominated the preceding before we got tired of the bugs and went inside for our typical Peruvian appetizer - avocado salad with lettuce, onions, and tomatoes (yum!), topped with oil and vinegar.

One interesting thing that I noticed on the trip was that everywhere that you go to eat, they bring you your forks and knives on a little dish, along with a small bowl of their house-aji - hot sauce! It's not hot sauce in the American Tabasco-like sense, though. It is usually mixed with something creamy (mayonnaise?) and is made from any combination of the plethora of peppers available in Peru. On the trip we dined on aji that was yellow, orange, or light red, all with pepper specks and all with the perfect balance of picante with my palate. I never refrained from adding a dollop or five to my plate to mix with the meal.

Following a fantastic dinner of Loma......something (which was beef in a sauce served with rice I think) and nibbling on Erika's trout as the sole diners in this restaurant, we further gorged ourselves on crepes with ice cream and chocolate. I was seriously stuffed by this time and was already establishing myself as the fat-American and living up to my college nickname "Two-Racks" by this time.

Back on the road, we finally got out of town on the eastern-highway and were slowed, briefly, by many semi trucks that were making the crazy drive through the Andes to the mining towns up in the hills. They proved no match for Renzo's SUV, though. I'm not a huge fan of Kia because I've always considered them to be cheap, no frills cars. But this car had some serious power passing these semis on the twisting, climbing highway with four adults on-board. The interior was simple and functional, a nice contrast compared to most cars these days that make you feel like you're driving a plane with all their frills and gadgets. I had no complaints about the head or leg-room in the leather seats in the back, it was very nice. I came to find out the next day that this thing was actually a diesel! I've never been in a diesel that was so quiet and had so much passing power, not to mention that it sips gas like a Honda Civic. So I was very impressed.

Anyway, since it was dark outside, there wasn't much to see on our trip. We went over the top of the Andes, hitting elevations above 5000 meters (~15,000 feet), passed through dilapidated mining towns with rivers so polluted that nothing could live in them, had pannetone and tea in a one-street town with about 5 nightclubs on it, and finally decided to stop for the night in Tarma at around 11:00pm. I was exhausted!

J. Riley, To be continued....

I'm an Uncle! Again!

I haven't met the strapping young Ryder Linden, heir to the Haines dynasty, yet, but Summer has provided lots of on-location reporting from her blog here! I can't wait to meet him!

Queen of the throne Elliana was busy spreading the news to everyone. Is the phone upside down?


J. Riley, Proud Uncle!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ketchup

I've got some serious miles to cover on my blog - pun intended! I've actually been pretty busy lately running around to see various doctors since my diagnosis of myotonic dystrophy, not to mention the regularly scheduled trips to the chiropractor, orthodontist, California, and Peru :o) .

First of all, three weeks ago I went out to Southern California to attend my friend Jeff's surprise birthday party and to hang out with my good friend Ryan. I got an awesome deal on flights and it was a three-day weekend for me, so I made the trip on pretty short notice. As I've said before, I usually don't like to go to LA because there are so many different pockets of friends and family there that I would have to spend a week there just to visit them all. So if I didn't visit or I didn't tell you I was going, don't blame it on me - blame it on...something else (??).

I've been in sort of an outdoorsy mood recently, so Ryan stacked the weekend's events around various outdoor activities - which is a good thing because 66.6% of the time there was 70-80 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Saturday I woke up early (jetlag) and Ry and I got some early morning breakfast at a local joint before heading down to Newport Beach to go water kayaking around Balboa Island on a perfect, warm day with a light breeze. We took our time, spending most of the day cruising around, giving my shoulders a nice workout while admiring the rich and the famous's huge yachts. I can't imagine living in a place and having one of these monstrous things sitting right outside my house. I don't ency them, I just think it would be kind of crazy to have a lifestyle like that.

After a short visit back at his parent's house, Ryan and I went home and relaxed until our night-time event - Jeff's birthday party at a place called El Coyote in West Hollywood. It's a classic, old school Mexican restaurant from the 1930s with mediocre food but an interesting atmosphere. I can't put my finger on exactly what, but LA is definitely much more different than New York, but I can't really tell you why that is. Anyway, after that we went to a bar called St. Nick's and had a few drinks before heading back home.

For some reason, when I stepped off the plane the night before, my voice was squeaky and was going away - probably from the air-conditioning on the airplane. It was even worse by Saturday night so I asked my local pharmacist - the bartender - to prescribe me with something to make it feel better. One shot of Patron tequila with hot sauce and salt later, and my throat was in fact feeling a little better. It was a short-term fix, though...


Sunday, being the other 33.333% of the weekend, was overcast and cold, a good day to sleep in and be lazy. Ryan's friend was having a barbecue at his house that day so we headed up to the hill above Long Beach to his place in the afternoon. He made some wonderful burgers on his massive barbecue set and we had a good time meeting his friends, one couple - half of which was from Bulgaria - recently getting married and dealing with Greencards and what not. Interesting to get their perspective on the amount of time dealing with the government for such matters. The evening's meal was followed up with some drunk piano debauchery, Ryan's friend and the gay couple from next door singing pop classics while playing the piano - well I might add!

We finished up the night watching two movies - Alpha Dog (with my hero Justin Timberlake) and a movie with Morgan Freeman and John Cusack. I found the story-line of Alpha Dog to be pretty blase, but I thought the acting was great. The other movie, however, was absolutel probably the worst movie I have seen in my life. Poor story, poor acting, it was just terrible. I lost an ounce of respect for those two actors' agents' skills in finding them good movies to start in after seeing that one. It was so bad, I don't even remember the name of it. But don't watch it :-s!!

Monday, my last day in town, Ry and I headed up to the hills above Palas Verdes (sp.) to try to go hiking. He hadn't been up there before, but we figured it was close and the views should be nice for such a nice day, so we hit the road and spent some time trying to figure out if there was actually a trail or not at the place we found online. We found some marked trails, took some other unmarked trails and finally ended up in some rich people's backyards. We wandered back downhill and enjoyed stretching the muscles and getting some California sunshine.

After burning those calories (do I sound old yet?), we went to a nice Greek place in downtown Long Beach and ate a ton of food and had a bit of wine in the nice weather before it was time for me to go to the airport and fly on my red-eye back to the cold, wet NYC!

J. Riley, Next stop: Peru

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pictures from Chanchamayo

I'm back from my trip and have a lot to write about. But, just have to find the
time!! Here are some pictures to satiate your appetites for now...

http://picasaweb.google.com/jhaines/07PeruChanchamayo

J. Riley

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Surprise!

Many apologies - I'm late!

I don't know why, but for some reason I've been really busy lately. I'm not even sure what I've been doing! Anyways, before I get too far behind, I gotta talk about last weekend! Or, rather the weekend before that. I conspired with Summer to drop in on my parents and the rest of the family on my nieces weekend. Everyone was supposed to be there (except Nana - who was in Hawaii - so I can't fault her for that!) - all four siblings, my niece, my aunt from San Diego, my grandpa, my grandma (all the way from next door :), plus a full truck load of cousins, second-cousins, and aunts from Manteca. It was my niece Elli's second birthday and was a chance for everyone to get together, so I figured I'd use some of my seriously depleted vacation time to drop in on everyone - in cognito!

Of course, my flight to get out there was delayed (typical), but I eventually arrived at around 1:00am on Friday night. Sum woke up and drove all the way up to San Fran to pick me up in the wee hours of the morning and I got home and crashed where there weren't any bodies - namely, the couch. I figured that with the plethora of visitors in town, I would add a little confusion and people would figure that I was someone else sleeping on the couch. Worked like a charm!

I woke up at 7:30 and, amazingly enough, nobody was awake yet so I covered up in my blankets and waited for the first crew to wake up. The first victims were Graham and Elli. Elli came running into the room and Graham told her to be quiet because Faryn was sleeping on the couch. Surprise! It was very cute that Elli remembered me and said something that Graham translated to "Uncle Justin" :) . Next up to the plate was dad, who was taking a shower and then came out and after seeing a body on the couch and trying to figure out who would be sleeping there, was fully caught off guard. Surprise! Brie, Faryn, my grandpa, and Aunt Jude were all in on it shortly after, leaving only my mom left to surprise. She was out of the shower and doing some laundry in the back so I waltzed back and said "Good Morning" and she turned, looked at me with a confused look on her face, and paused for a second before realizing who I was :o) . It was great!

The weekend flew by, but getting up early helped stretch it out as much as possible. After cleaning up and eating some fresh bagels, I was off with my dad to get my haircut by our favorite barber Lee who I hadn't seen for at least a year probably. We got back to the house and I got keys to my old car and went to say hi to my friend Stefan in his new house across town before he and I went jetting back in time to say hi to my aunts who had just arrived and see Elli going through her presents. There were two little boys there and I was trying to figure out which cousins they were (hey, it's been a while!) before finding out that they were just kids my sister was babysitting and that all my cousins and second-cousins weren't coming because of a nasty flu that was floating around the house, having infected several people already. The funny thing about my niece opening the presents was that she was most interested in the
John Deere tractors until she got the set of velcro'd together fruits that she could "cut up" with a plastic knife. Awesome gift idea for anyone with toddlers to buy gifts for!

After the gifts came the feast. I helped put together a couple loaves of garlic bread while bags and bags of spaghetti were being cooked and a big old salad tossed. Needless to say, there was ample amounts of food and I was very well stuffed by the binge eating outside on the patio where the sun was nice and comfortable, like a Fall day in California should be.

After lunch, the boys all lounged around and watched college football for a few hours with my brother's alma mater playing a big game up in Oregon. A few hours later my brother, sisters, and I went downtown to Los Gatos to have a snack of some burgers and sweet-potato fries while I got grilled about Erika from the girls (ahem - Brie :o), which is fine with me. Later we got a very very poor movie (Evan Almighty) that we chilled at home and watched until everyone was ready to pass out. It was quite a disappointing movie considering it had Steve Carell in it!

Sunday started early again with dad cooking up massive amounts of waffles. Because they had been driven out of their home from the fires in San Diego, my brother and his fam had come up earlier in the week and thus had to leave early to go back to work on Sunday, which cut short my visit unfortunately. After watching a little tiny bit of the play-by-play on the Liverpool v. Arsenal game (in which we were winning when I left in the 70th minute), I went down to the park with my brother, sister-in-law, and niece to meet up with some of my brother's friends, all of which had kids roughly the same age, and all of them having second kids in exactly the reverse order! Too funny :)

After bidding them all farewell and seeing off Graham and fam, my dad and I went for a hike in the hills surrounding Los Gatos and the valley in general. I had no idea this was the case, but several philanthropic funds set up by Silicon Valley legends like HP acquire land in the hills that they intend to keep as "Open Space" with hiking trails and just wilderness in general, which is great for residents that want to get out and stretch their legs for a bit. These Open Space areas almost form a whole circle around the SF Bay and is something that I think should be taken advantage of more often - as my dad does :). We had a nice tiring walk up to the base of Mt Uminum (sp.?) before heading back to the house for dinner. I definitely could feel that exercise in my legs by the end of the day!

Mom, Dad, and Jude made steaks and an orzo & shrimp dish for dinner which was awesome. The house sure was quiet now that everyone was gone except for my aunt and my sister Summer. At night dad introduced me to the show No Reservations which is an awesome show about a guy who goes around the world (NY included!) and eats crazy stuff, whether it's deep-fried hot dogs (not so crazy, but it is in Jersey!) or pan-fried cow brains (a bit extreme). After a dinner like that though, I was totally out by the time we got half-way through New Jersey.

Monday, my last day in town, I slept in a bit before getting up and making some oatmeal. Dad was coming home early from work to take me wine tasting in the area, so Mom and Aunt Jude and I took a road trip over to Santa Cruz - for coffee at Fins, which is a coffee shop run by friends of the family. It was another beautiful day and we took our time, went walking along a path next to the beach, and I got grilled again about Erika and our in-progress plans for the future :). Since it was getting late, we scrambled back over the mountains to get home just in time as my dad was home and cooking up leftovers from dinner for lunch.

After lunch, we headed up the hill in his old sports car and hit up a converted school-house-cum-winery up in the hills above Los Gatos. We were planning on hanging out there for a while but it turns out that it was closed during the week! Without any other real plans, we decided to head up to some other hills in the area to visit our family friend Frank, who manages and makes wine up on Bear Creek Road. Surprise! He couldn't believe that we were in the area and we got a personal tour from him of the winery and tasted a variety of wines of different age, including some freshly crushed grapes with oxygen and everything. That was interesting to learn about the wine-making process up close and personal.

After doing some more tasting there in the tasting room, we headed down the road to give David Bruce's winery a test as well. Wine is something that I should definitely be trying to drink more of because I certainly can't tell the good stuff from the bad yet, though I'd really like to. It took me a few years to figure out what beer I like, so I guess wine will take that much longer. Couple more trips to California a year and I should be good to go...

After heading back to town in the rain, we capped the night off with some Mexican food in downtown LG at Andales. It had been a pretty long weekend considering it was only three days and I was pretty beat, which always makes for a good red-eye flight back to the City - straight for work. Unfortunately, by the time I got on the plane I wasn't as tired so I didn't sleep all that well, which of course led to a lousy Tuesday :). But, I'll trade one bad day in for three wonderful days with my family any day - or three!!

J. Riley, this Friday, I head to Southern California for another three-day weekend. But don't tell Jeff. Surprise!

P.S. Last night I went to the gym and actually did some weights and was amazed at how much better my hands functioned after a little bit of muscle work. That's good news, and tomorrow is my EMG test by the neurologist, which hopefully will clear up my pessimism about having defective genes :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Myotonic Dystrophy

Here's a good website for it:

http://www.myotonicdystrophy.org/Myotonic%20Dystrophy%20Booklet%20VRMC.htm

Some highlights:
  • Myotonia refers to the slow relaxation of muscle following contraction, resulting in muscle stiffness. For example, following a forceful grip, the individual with DM may have delayed release of their grip. This may cause difficulty in releasing objects such as door handles, cups, tools, or bowling balls.
  • DM commonly involves the distal (end) limb muscles. These include the forearm and hand muscles, as well as the muscles of the feet and ankles. Weakness of the hand and forearm can affect coordination and grip...Weakness in the muscles of the feet and ankle may result in unsteady gait, tripping or stumbling
  • Speech requires the coordination of the muscles of the voice box (larynx), the throat , the tongue, the lips, and the roof of the mouth (palate). If any of these muscles are affected by DM, speech may sound slurred or indistinct. (or a lisp ;o) ; Did I ever mention sometimes my tongue has mini spasms?
  • Eating and drinking small quantities slowly may help dysphagia. (I've got that one down)
  • Cataracts are one of the most common and typical features of DM and are often the reason someone with DM first seeks medical attention.
  • The mildest form of DM first occurs after the age of 40 years and is usually accompanied by cataracts. Some minor muscle problems such as jaw tightness or cramps in the hands may be present, or there may be no muscle problems at all.
J. Riley, more tests to come next week...

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Ultimate

I've spent many a moment standing in the pasta aisle, staring at the wide assortments of pasta and having an internal debate as vicious and vigorous as Hillary vs. Barak. Oh, the things to contemplate when it comes to pasta. Egg noodles or semolina noodles? Quinoa noodles or whole wheat noodles? Store brand or "imported" brand? Organic or genetically modified? Cheap or more expensive? Most of these are a moot point when at Trader Joe's, but let's leave them out of this. Because the biggest debate of them all is - what is the ultimate noodle shape? My pasta book makes various arguments about surface area vs the types of sauce you are using, etc. etc. But I have never been convinced that ziti noodles make my chunky homemade Bolognese sauce taste better or richer, so I give them all an equal platform on which to impress me. I can now say, with unequivocal certainty, that I declare the elusive pinwheel pasta the best-in-class! Many other pastas are slippery and can be difficult to get many on your fork at one time while chunks of meet often find their way to the bottom of the bowl. Not with the pinwheel! Easy to load up, easy to eat, and easy to re-heat - just don't overcook them! Please, hold your applause and thank me later for this tip. Try it yourself - the Pasta Challenge.

In completely unrelated news, I spent the last three days doing two things: recovering from another bout of the cold (thanks to the changing weather everyday) and dreaming about the new keyboard that I ordered that arrived at my office on Friday, when I was home sick. And by keyboard, yes you guessed it, I mean computer keyboard, not the kind that requires coordination and that emits waves that our eardrums translate into music. Unless you consider the clatter of fingers on hard plastic to be music (as I do). Anyway, my new Logitech Wave keyboard arrived to give my hands some much needed respite from repetitive motions during my work day. And this keyboard is gorgeous (yes I was complimented on it by several people today, who will probably steal it out of envy)! And comfortable (oooh)! And ergonomic (ahhhh)! And quiet (gaaasp)! Yes I did think about this keyboard pretty much all weekend and would like to add the wireless Wave keyboard/mouse combination to my Christmas list for my home computer! Well, along with the hands-free Logitech blue-tooth headset that I can use for Skype! Or scrap it all and buy me an iPhone :)

J. Riley, I also spent part of Saturday rock-climbing in a gym downtown with volunteers and kids. I didn't climb due to forearm/hand issues and my cold, but I did spend an awful lot of the time thinking about that keyboard while the kids were flying up the walls with ease!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Quote of the Day

Regarding fashion - at a cost:

"Dress British but think Yiddish".

Indeed!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Retired

Earlier this week, I decided to retire from my hobby of training to be Jason
Bourne / fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship - after a whole two
classes of jiu jitsu. There were several reasons for this. First of all I just
signed a one-year contract for the gym at $50 per month. The additional jiu
jitsu class would cost me an additional $129 per month. Since my gym doesn't
open until November, I thought I'd go to jiu jitsu for this month and if I can
make it worth the money by going to class Sunday mornings (ouch) and Tuesday
nights, then I would consider sticking with it. But in order to go to the
Sunday classes, I would need to buy a Gi (the fighting suit) which would cost
me another $100, so that wasn't worth buying just for a month. Also, I
initially thought this, like the name of the class indicates, would be a "Self
Defense" style class, teaching you things that would help out in the street or
in other practical situations. I found it to be more training for competitions,
which I would be unlikely to enter in the future. Finally, I think that my
chiropractor bill would increase because of getting slammed into the floor on
my shoulders and back so many times, despite it not being a contact martial
art! I am looking forward to going to the gym, however, since both of my
roommates also signed up and we're all amped. Jonathon is quite a weight
lifter, so that should be encouraging for me hitting them as well.

I received some discouraging news from my orthodontist who said that I had "an
aggressive tongue" (insert tongue-joke here) that was wreaking havoc on my
front teeth. I've been told I have a tongue-thrusting speaking and swallowing
style before, which is why I got a new retainer that has a piece of metal
straight across in front of my front teeth. I only wear this at night since I
can't exactly speak with it in. But he said that I need to start wearing it
basically full-time because my front teeth are getting more and more out of
position, which should make talking at work interesting. I made a
tongue-in-cheek (pun intended) joke that "I hope I don't have to get braces
again" to my orthodontist and he just kinda said "well......we'll see" :-|.
Would have been nice to have this addressed while my mouth was already being
destructed and reconstructed the first time around...

In other Justin-is-30-and-physically-rapidly-deteriorating news, I am having
problems with controlling my hands. Allow me to explain - about a month and a
half ago (around the time I moved, around the time I stopped running and doing
push-ups), I started noticing that whenever I grip something hard with *either
hand*, I actually have problems getting my hands to open up again for about 30
seconds. The muscles in my arms get really tense while this is happening and I
can't figure out why this would start all the sudden. My chiropractor thinks
it's something with my spine (yea, imagine that - rolling my eyes slightly)
which is why it's happening in both arms. He also mentioned it could be
something like tendinitis, which I know nothing about. But he said it wouldn't
be carpel-tunnel because that usually causes pain and it wouldn't happen in
both hands at the same time. Before I go to a occupational therapist to have it
checked out, does anyone else have an opinion?

J. Riley, time to check webmd.com

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Apartment - Per Google Street View

Explore my neighborhood with Google Street View!! That's my building across the street, above the Burger King and across the street from Hollywood Video. I live on the 11th floor.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Vintage - To The Limit

OK, I understand the whole "vintage" look that is popular right now and more or less subscribe to it. When everyone is wearing vintage everything, it's kind of hard to make yourself stand-out as a legit vintage hipster, but a guy in the Bronx accomplished that yesterday when he, decked out in fluorescent items like his hat, indescribable stone-washed pants, and Adidas shoes stood up to get off the subway and put his cell phone in his back pocket. Like, one of those HUGE original cell phones that are basically like military-sized and probably weigh ~5 pounds. THAT is awesome. No CDMA vs. GSM debates with a phone like that - it's straight-up analog! Well done, man-with-an-unknown-ethnicity-due-to-his-huge-sunglasses-and-hat,-though-the-black-rat-tail-
hinted-towards-Asian-or-Hispanic.

What else have I been up to. Well, last weekend we had our move-in party at our apartment. We didn't have too many people show up, but it doesn't take numbers to have a good time! I was definitely representing my hood (with the Dominican Republic do-rag) and my Euro-roots (Liverpool shirt, purchased off Ebay UK). P.S. In the second picture, that's my roommate's boyfriend on the left and her.











In an effort to slim myself down, tonight I joined a gym with my roommates, a brand-spanking-new NY Sports Club that is even open yet, but that has a sauna, pool, brand new equipment, etc. I am thinking that since there are three of us in our household, there should be someone around to motivate the other people. The only question is about what to do about jiu jitsu. I haven't officially signed up yet, so I could totally bail on the $129 a month plan and focus more on getting ripped at the gym, thus rendering any street thugs humble as they stand before my bulky frame. Any opinions out there???

J. Riley, I'll try to resist the temptation to wear that do-rag around the Bronx or when going to the gym.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Email Broken

My email seems to have decided to stop working for some reason. If you are going to email me, please send it to justin at s i x p a k.org (remove the spaces!) for the time being!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fun in the Dominican Sun!

Late last night (or more like early this morning) I returned from my last non-California of the year. Actually, no, I'm blatantly lying because I booked a trip to Peru for Thanksgiving break a few weeks back. In any case, I did my first *real* trip to the Caribbean this past weekend with Erika to the Dominican Republic. I stayed at a all-inclusive resort for the first time in my life, which is very out of character for J. Riley. But I have to say that they have some amazing packages which made the trip very much worth it.

Erika and I made a flawed decision to fly out on Thursday morning, her from Peru and me from New York of course. We met up at the airport at around 1:00 and were whisked to the Oasis Hamaca resort (which was more like a city than anything) in our resortee bus. The check-in process was frustrating because they operate on island-time, so everything is slow and unorganized. They finally said that our room would be ready in a half hour which was pretty annoying since it was already 3:00 or so. Finally we got the keys to our room and as we were heading across the street to the "suburbs" of the resort they came running after us telling us that they gave us the wrong room. So, another delay. Finally we got the keys and headed off to find our room. This place was massive though and nobody working there seemed to have any idea about where our room was. After a half-hour of searching, we finally found it, settled in, and discovered that none of the lights worked, there was no key for the safe, and we were practically in a mosquito breading ground - though they seemed to stay away from me for some reason (do I really eat that much garlic? ;o).

After heading down to the desk to tell them our myriad of problems, we finally headed off to the beach (at 5:00 :o| ). What a waste of the first day!!! The water was fantastically warm and clear, though, and there was some great potential for an awesome trip. We hung out there for a while, then got some good all-inclusive food (and beverages :o) and checked out the disco which was decent for both dancing and people watching. Those Dominican girls are nuts. They all (stereotype, I know) have huge butts and wear things that are like bathing suits over their huge asses, hands basically on the floor, and their butts shaking like crazy up against the guy's jock. I guess I should have taken some videos because it was crazy - oh well!

The next day we had breakfast and met up with our resort representative who told us about their great packages for things that we could do. Gasp. Again. I basically despise anything like a tour with a bunch of other tourists around following the guy with the yellow flag so I was switched off until they talked about an island called Saona that he highly recommended. I was mildly entertaining the thought of a tropical island in a national park with drinks, music, lunch, a speet boat ride out there and a catamaran ride back. But the woman wanted to do it so I figured I'd go for it as well, it might be fun.

The rest of the day I spent getting sun-burned all over my shoulders and legs, despite my heavy-duty, weather tested Bullfrog sport-gel spray that I've used on many an occasion to prevent from getting burnt. So I knew I was dealing with some hard core tropical sun (95 degrees plus humidity) and had to be extremely careful the rest of the trip. We took a paddle boat around our area of the beach and basically chilled for the rest of the day there.

At night, Erika's friends from Peru were staying at the hotel next door for a night on their way to another resort on another part of the island. They rented a car and picked us up at night for a drive to Santo Domingo, the capital, to try to find some sweet dance clubs. We stopped at a random place that a guy at our hotel told us about. It was like a parking lot with chairs, music blasting, big-screen TVs with baseball games on (think drive-in movies) and something that resembled a huge bar inside (think a grocery store with only a bar). We had a beer there, took some pictures, and were on our way downtown.

We basically had no idea where we were going (not too smart in a country as poor as this) but Renzo knew about the Zona Colonial area of town that was supposed to be upscale and nice so we headed there. After getting off the highway, the police were pulling everyone over to check their registration. With machine guns in their hand. They started harassing Renzo about not having a Dominican license (uhhh, hello, we're tourists) and the talked for about 15 minutes (not sure what they were talking about) before the cop asked where we were going. "Out for dinner", Renzo said. "I'd like to have some dinner tonight too," the cop replied. Hint hint. I guess dinner would cost 100 pesos ($3) because he handed it over and we were free to go. Pretty common for Latin America, though, and Renzo knows how to deal with these types being from Lima!

By the time we got downtown, parked, had a drink (and I got something to eat) and checked out some really cool, stylish bars and clubs, it was 12:30 so we headed back home. We weren't really sure how to get home either and ended up driving through an area that looked as lit up as Las Vegas with "cabaƱas" (cabins). Basically places where you could go park your car in a garage, get a quicky, and leave. Wow. Can't say I'd been an area like that before! An attractive girl (who was probably just leaving work :o/ ) told us how to get back to highway, thank god!

Saturday we had to meet at 7:15am for our multiple-hour bus ride to the boat launch for our trip to the Saona island. We took these cool, slightly ghetto speed-boats out for about 1/2 hour before we stopped in the middle of the ocean at a sand bar that was waist deep and they let us swim around, drink rum and cokes, and take pictures. Then, we were off to the Saona island where we relaxed, ate a great buffet, drank cervezas, got massages, and talked to some other people. Erika got her hair braided (but took it out a few hours later after her headache wouldn't go away :o). Then, for the trip back, we got on a big catamaran, listened to music, did some dancing, drank some more Cuba libres, and I proceeded to get my face and nose sunburned.

That night, we went to our hotel's disco again and met up with a Peruvian we had met at the airport who was meeting her boyfriend from Spain there. Her boyfriend turned out to be about 55 and was obviously not with this girl for a long-term relationship. His hands were all over her and he was practically attacking her neck and face with his mouth, the poor girl, but she didn't seem to be annoyed. Probably just another Latin American girl with a married guy living it up :o\ .

Sunday was another day of sun wasted pretty much because we had to check out at noon and had to go to the airport at 2:15. Erikita and I just kind of lounged around, took a nap on one of the many couches and appreciated the last few hours together before she went south and I went north :o(. We had a very nice trip together though and I look forward to more of these kinds of trips in the future, though hopefully with her leaving with me! She has all of the paperwork necessary to try to get her tourist visa for the U.S. and if all things work out as planned, you might just be meeting her in 2008! :o)

J. Riley, Pictures from my trip!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bourne Again

No, I am not referring to the Unix shell, but rather the awesome, confused,
undercover CIA agent Jason Bourne who kicks some serious @$$ on-screen.
Inspired by the character, Paul and I decided we should start training to
become as lethal as he is. First we started by doing push-ups. That lasted
about a day - but is something that we aspire to do more of.

Conveniently, I had been thinking about looking for martial arts studios in the
Bronx to train me how to protect myself in case I get jumped at 2:00am walking
home some night (which is highly likely, since I'm so white that I glow in the
dark. Actually, my hood is not that bad, but it could happen. Just like it
could
happen anywhere in NYC! ;o). Sure enough, I found a Gracie Jiu Jitsu studio
just a few subway stops *north* of where I live!! This is the martial art that
I've wanted to learn anyway because it seems most practical for street tussles.
Plus all the UFC and Pride FC champions usually know it.

So last night Paul and I trucked it up-town (MORE uptown, almost to the end of
the 6-Subway line) for a free lesson. It was pretty awesome, we learned how to
break someone's wrist quite easily, how to escape from someone grabbing us by
the throat, and a few other techniques as part of the Self-Defense track. It
was pretty awesome and I think I'm going to sign up for the course while I'm
living in the Bronx to get some exercise and get some physical self-confidence
while living outside of my comfort zone.

On a completely un-related topic, I have something to share with the ladies
among the crowd about unusual things I have noticed in the men's room that I
share with a few hundred people at work. No, I'm not talking about Larry
Craig-esque activities (whatever they were). It's more about urinating
techniques that are impossible to avoid noticing. I've observed the following:

1.) Men often *spit* into the urinal while utilizing it. Ummm, why?
2.) Men often squat when zipping up their zipper. Ummm, odd?
3.) Hand positioning. Some men put on hand on their hip and aim with the other
hand. I find this far too casual. Some men put one hand above them and against
the wall and hold themselves at an angle to the wall. It looks like you're
going to collapse if you can't go to the bathroom. Ummm, ok.
3.) A certain percentage of the population corner themselves into the urinal
when using it. Ummm, there are partitions between you and the guy next to you,
so why?
4.) A certain percentage of the population refuses to use urinals and use the
toilets. Ummm, you hate the environment and don't realize that the world is
running out of fresh water, so you need 5 gallons of water to wash down this
morning's cup of coffee?
5.) Men often urinate into the small pool of water at the bottom of the urinal
(rather than at an angle against the porcelain), causing a not-like-a-waterfall
noise and a back-splash that may contaminate the floor. Ummm, why would you do
this?

J. Riley, just some interesting observations that I think about blogging about
every time I go to the bathroom. P.S. I'm going to the Dominican Republic
tomorrow morning!!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New & Awesome Recipe!

I recently discovered one of the most awesome things in the world to eat and I highly recommend it. As most of you know, despite it being very Euro I'm not the biggest fan of Nutella (available at your local, or in my case not very local, Trader Joe's), probably because the Euros tend to eat it at breakfast. However, Melissa mentioned to me something she has been eating in Iceland (because Iceland is really expensive, I guess) and it has rocked my world: Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches! Oh my god! I toasted my bread to give it a bit more crunch and it's totally rocked my world, try it out!

Monday, September 10, 2007

B-to-the-X Update

Well, it's been a whole three weeks or so since I've relocated to the Bronx and
things are going pretty well. Like any move, there are a couple things that I
am struggling to come to grips with. I've compiled a short list:

1.) Lack of non-fast-food, non-Latin restaurants that even appear to pass health
code regulations.
2.) The grocery stores are terrible with very few organic items available and
with fruits and vegetables that are practically rotting on the shelves. I'll
stick with the Manhattan stores on my way home.
3.) It's a long-haul on the subway to get to the main airport. On the plus side,
the ride on a cab from the airport is quicker and cheaper than going to
Manhattan.
4.) I am not a cat person, and my roommate has a cat who's kitty-litter igloo is
outside my door. Not only does it wake me up every night by digging through the
kitty-litter (not to mention meowing), but the stench burns my nose-hairs when
it drops the kids off at the sandbox (so to speak). I am trying to train it to
keep the hell out of my room too, but it seems to be a little bit slow when it
comes to being trained. I wonder why it runs whenever it sees me?

Other than that, things are as expected. My commute can be annoying when trains
don't arrive on-time, but it doesn't take me more than an hour to get home
usually (thanks to express trains) and it gives me the chance to get a lot of
reading done during daylight hours. Paul and Cathy have been great too,
allowing me to crash on their couch on a Friday or Saturday night if it's going
to be a late one. For example, Saturday night we caught a great meal in TriBeCa
and a pretty good (but WAY too LOUD) Bruce Springsteen cover band at a concert
venue in the same neighborhood. I am not a huge Bruce fan, but we did see him
perform some songs at an event a few years back and he certainly does put on an
awesome performance....

J. Riley, I just finished reading Kite Runner, which was a very good page-turner
and I'm sure will make a great movie!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blame the White-boy...

Last night, I was rushing out of my apartment to get back down to Manhattan and there was some sort of public event in the park across the street from my new apartment. I heard funk-style music and stuff and it would have been cool to check out, but I had other events planned. As I walked by some "locals", one of them said to her friend "Oh, there's even white people coming up for this, no wonder I can't get no seat!"

J. Riley, my Time-Out New York event magazine this week was about Races and has writers of different races go to local communities like this where they are out of place. Funny co-incidence! More to follow...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I'm Just, I'm J. Riley from the Block

I'm moved in! I need to post pictures of my new apartment sometime soon, maybe
this weekend. Thus far, I'm pretty happy with my new situation - with a few
exceptions of course. It seems like every day that I commute (which has been
extended by 15 minutes to a 45 minute commute) I have something interesting to
write. So I'll start now. Well, to kick if off, within 10 minutes of starting
to move in, I heard someone say under their breath "ohh, looks like there's
white folk moving in now". Ha, that should give you an idea of my
neighborhood's demographic. I'm totally out of my comfort zone here and I'm
LOVING it!

First of all, the living situation is great. My room is just big enough for the
items that I moved up there, though I do need to do some closet organizing
(ladies? Any volunteers to help me organize? Mom?) because I'm worse than a
chick when it comes to the amount of shoes and clothes that I have. A think a
trip to the Container Store (a former fetish of mine) for research is a good
idea, though I might just copy Melissa's (one of my roommates) arrangement in
her closet. One of my roommates? Yes, apparently her boyfriend is moving in at
the same time. Good thing we get along and he's really into bluegrass and
hipster folk music, tatoos, and works crazy work hours like Melissa (same
employer), so he's gone before I wake up usually.

My apartment is stocked with every cooking utensil, tons of different sized
pots, pans, accessories, tupperware, DISHWASHER(!), all with more cabinet space
to spare in her recently remodeled kitchen. Melissa is an OCD organized, cleaner
which I find somewhat comforting because when a roommate is very clean, it makes
keep things organized and clean as well. As far as food sharing, it's not a
problem yet and we're just going to buy and share stuff for each other (except
big items like meats). Which brings up my first story: the grocery store across
the street literally has NO organic/luxury items that I typically purchase. I
can almost taste the hormones in the non-BSE-free milk. I did manage to buy
cage-free eggs, however!

My morning routine has been forced into Magnitude 7.9 changes due to the lack of
TIVO. But that's not a bad thing since I can download all the Daily Shows. I am
trying to refrain from TV watching in the mornings though because it just takes
too much time, but at least I can get caught up on my news when I have some free
time. Without my cheap natural food store nearby, I've pretty much stopped
eating cereal in the morning, so I'm looking for interesting combinations to
eat in the morning, prefferably stuff that I can take with me and eat on the
subway. Yogurt with fresh fruit, string cheese, whole wheat bread, bananas,
cottage cheese, and other stuff is all considered, depending on the amount of
time I have before I need to leave the house. There's also the
bagel/doughnut/muffin guy in a food cart right outside the subway for a last
minute purchase before boarding.

Speaking of my commute, an interesting event happened yesterday. The conductor
made an announcement that all men who are sitting down should do the "right"
thing and stand so that all ladies can have a seat. Where am I, in the south
now? Hey, I got to the seat first, it's not my problem! Actually I was standing
anyway, but I didn't see any men jumping out of their seat to let any ladies
sit, but hopefully gave some of them something to think about.

With my additional commute time, I need to start bringing reading material with
me to keep myself entertained. There isn't a proliferation of free newspapers
like there is in Manhattan, but today I did find an AM New York stand on my way
to the subway so I can read something. I was a die-hard Metro newspaper reader,
but AM New York is okay I guess. Just a little more ghetto (not a bad thing I
guess).

I am actually considering apartment shopping in this area. For some reason, the
Bronx doesn't have the Harlem/Brooklyn/Queens hipster draw yet, but with
rock-bottom prices and the Manhattan-growth north, I can't imagine it lasting
too much longer before prices start to grow. I mean, these prices are like half
the price of ANYWHERE within an hour of Manhattan. Nice two-bedroom apartment
like Melissa's for $150k, it's actually affordable. Might be worth a long-term
real estate investment.

J. Riley, I guess I need to change my blog title and details soon!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It's a Small, Small World

So I've been selling all my apartment assets over the last couple of weeks (sometimes more successful than others!). I have a toaster and a blender that I don't care to keep and they aren't even worth trying to sell, so I put them up on Craigslist as free items, which is how to get rid of things FAST. I got some nibbles and a girl called me, saying she could come by in an hour to pick it up and look at my other for-sale items. She asked if I was from the Bay Area (because of my phone number) and said she was from the area too. Cool, I wasn't really interested in having a conversation, just wanting to sell my crap.

She came by later and, making smalltalk, I asked where she was from. She said the Bay Area and asked where exactly I was from. I said Los Gatos, she said "no way, so am I!". Crazy, crazy small world. She asked if I went to LGHS and I said of course, as did she. She asked what year I graduated, I said 1996. SO DID SHE! Holy crap, turns out I went to school with this girl! I pulled out the yearbook and there she was! We talked about all the people we keep in contact with and there's a ton of people from LGHS out here now.

She just got her tonsils taken out and was hopped up on codine, though she said it wasn't working very well. I had my mega-pain-killer vicadin from my surgery left over so I gave them to her to try (is that illegal? Probably). I also donated my Ensure to her (she hadn't heard of it, but it was perfect for her). To top it off, she took my free blender, bought all my dishes, bought my useless mugs, and almost bought my bed. So it was definitely a successful visit for her and me!

J. Riley, now I get to go to barbeques that she has in the East Village! And she's one of those crazy New Yorkers who has four rabbits and two cats in her apartment. Typical Los Gatos mountain girl :o)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Earthquake in Peru

A large, 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Lima last night, rocking the city for two full minutes. Thankfully, Erika and her family are fine, there was no damage to their house or anything. Some of the worst damage was in Ica, the city I visited with her in April, where the main church in town collapsed from the quake....

J. Riley, thank goodness for earthquake-safe building codes!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Republica Dominica

I've got a few minutes, so I blog about some stuff. First of all, according to my car rental reservation, I am moving to the BX this weekend. After the massive Liverpool v. Chelsea match on Sunday of course (priorities, people!). Did I mention that the soccer season started? Yes, it did. And Liverpool, for the first time in five years, won their first match of the season. Why is it I always pick teams that suck in the beginning and then get better towards the end? Well, this year the A's sucked in the beginning and sucked in the middle and the end, but I digress. In any case, to celebrate Liverpool's win (and since I'm moving next weekend), I went to the soccer store and bought a new pair of indoor soccer shoes. But NOT Pumas! I actually bought Nikes. Yes, it's true. Before you crucify me (and I hate Nikes too, btw), these are red Nike Air Ronaldhino Rivals, complete with the Ronaldinho signature and all. And red shoes? That'll fill a void in my shoe department.

I've gotta visit Erika soon, but I didn't really want to go to Peru again because Latin America is huge and there are so many places to explore. So, she told me to pick our next destination and I have - Dominican Republic! Home of awesome beaches, awesome package deals, awesome direct flights for cheap, and Merengue (my favorite Latin dance!), here we come! I'll be heading out there for four days at the end of September. I will also be brining lots of paperwork with me because I plan on helping Erika get a visa to visit the U.S. so that everyone can meet her and we can see if we get along as we do right now for an extended amount of time together in person. I have very little doubt that this is the case, but I just need to confirm that this is the case. She will probably come up here next year, possibly around February, when I am going down to Lima to attend their annual Salazar family reunion party. Her dad has about 14 siblings, so that should give you an idea of the size of this party. That's going to be awesome!

J. Riley, that's two blogs in one day and hopefully I'll continue to get caught up this week!

Roland's Wedding: Days 3-5

The wedding day was a nice lazy day that began with Roland barging into our hotel room and telling us to wake our lazy butts up and complaining that our room was "worse than if gypsies were staying there" ;o) . We headed down to the cafe (which is also owned by the Vas mob clan) and had a nice full spread of food waiting for us along with juice, waters, coffee, and anything else we could possibly want for a Euro breakfast.

The wedding was in the afternoon and would take place at the church near our hotel. A few of us went for a late-morning walk through lovely Komarno and took pictures, did a little bit of shopping, got some sun, and ate some ice cream. Komarno is a nice, picturesque Euro town with some shopping, many cafes, cobbled streets, and not too many people. The kind of town you would want to have a wedding in. Interestingly, we ran into some Americans in one of the stores who were also in town for a wedding. Damn, I thought we'd be the only gringos in town!

The wedding started with a reception in a small gathering room at the location of the wedding party. They had tasty appetizers and served drinks while we mingled amongst ourselves and talked to Roland and Csilla, who just finished their wedding pictures.

After a half hour or so, a procession led by the best man and Csilla walked down to the nearby church for the official ceremony, which I presume was like a mini-mass and included the signing of the documents and a few songs from the organ and opera-style singer.

After the wedding itself, there was a greeting of the guests that had Roland and Csilla with perma-smiles plastered on their faces as they exchanged greetings with everyone who attended the ceremony before we followed them to the ballroom where the festivities would be held. Outside the entrance, a plate was broken and Roland had to sweep it in to a dustbin that Csilla held. I hope Csilla doesn't always expect Roland to clean up messes like that in the future ;o) .

The party was great - we had wonderful ethnic cuisine from Hungary for our main course, there were about fifteen different cakes, most of which weren't even touched because of the sheer volume, there was a band that played traditional Hungarian music, there was eating, and there was plenty of booze on tap. Because I was planning on stuffing myself with the awesome food, I shied away from the beer and stuck with Vilmos, which is a pear-flavored liquor that can be sipped and enjoyed throughout the night. Stefan, in his infinite wisdom, told me I should just stick with one drink for the whole night, for example the Whiskey & Coke cocktails he recommended. Not being a fan of whiskey, I told him to have fun and sure enough a few hours later, when the second meal was prepared, he could hardly eat anything (imagine that!) and was complaining about his stomach because he had too much sugar from the coke. Glad I stuck with the Vilmos, which allowed me to maintain a nice, even buzz the whole night - and early morning as the party went on until almost 6:00 in the morning!

Roland and Csilla had a handful of friends at the event that kept to themselves for a while at the party, but we knew eventually they would break out of their shell. Sometime around midnight the booze caught up and they started rallying and socializing more. They tried to talk Stefan into partaking in a Hungarian wedding tradition of kidnapping the bride and taking her to a bar and buying everyone there from the wedding the most expensive drink available, then going to the next bar, doing the same, etc. until the groom finally catches up and takes the bride back. It would have been pretty crazy to do that, but I guess Roland had it banned beforehand because it was a pretty big wedding and they didn't want the older family and kids to miss out on the fun.

Naturally, most of us had a pretty lazy morning on Sunday, some of us not even waking up until the afternoon :). It was nice to have an easy-going schedule that allowed us to do this. Roland had planned on going on a winery tour in Hungary tour on Sunday and, though the idea didn't initially seem too appealing considering it was the day after a wedding, but nobody got too out of control the night before and at about 5:30 at night we departed for the Hilltop Winery across the border in Hungary.

The views from the top of the hill down into the plains of Hungary and Slovakia and the Danube River were absolutely awesome. We took a quick tour of the facilities and then sat down to eat a wonderful dinner and taste about six bottles of wine, one of which (a grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc!) I bought. Actually, Roland bought it. Thanks Vas, it was great - as was the delicious dinner.

Monday was the last day together with the whole crew as the Great Danes were going home on Tuesday morning. Roland decided on a day trip down to Hungary's Great Lake - Lake Balton and the city of Siofok. It was once a burgeoning vacation city that attracted people from all over Europe but I guess it's not as popular with the youth anymore. But the weather was still great so we drove down (getting the other car lost somewhere along the way, thanks to the traffic lights) and eventually made it to town. We found a shady spot in the park along the water, setp camp, and enjoyed the warm, shallow water with the kids. Marcus had an asthma attack because he was laughing so much and having so much fun while Lucas ended up with a bloody nose after getting body slammed in the water by Stefan one too many times. We ended the day renting a couple of paddle boats with slides to take the kids for a cruise around the shallow lake. Stefan fully utilized the slide himself and I made sure none of the kids were underneath it in case the fiberglass slide collapsed under the weight :). We capped the late afternoon with gelato, doener, or anything else that we felt like eating along the shopping district, vowing to return at night later in the week to see if the nightlife was still as fun as it used to be.

J. Riley, there's much much more to come (eventually)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Social Life is at Risk

Paul, Cathy, and I are so awesome. We are the coolest people I know. We just spent last evening - Saturday night - playing Risk. Starting at around 10:00pm, we played for a long time. We saw the sun come up. We saw the neighborhood wake up. We saw the sun fully in the sky. We saw the clock strike 9:00am. Yes, it was a Saturday night, and a legendary one at that.

J. Riley, I haven't stayed up all night for a long, long, long time. Maybe once in college.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Roland's Wedding: Days 1-2

Yes, it really does take hate mail to get me back into the mood to blog again. My sincere apologies! It's summer, I'm lazy and lack motivation, and there's too much to write about. So I'm going to try to write a quick summary of what I've been doing the past...month!

First of all, my vacation - which was awesome. The trip to Europe was quite eventful, actually, when I found out in Quebec that my flight to UK was canceled because of a security threat at Heathrow. Having two *long* layovers is bad enough, but throwing a canceled flight into the mix? Not cool. Actually, I got put on an Air France flight through Paris and arrived in Vienna six hours early so this little issue turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

After arriving on Wednesday afternoon and waiting for everyone else to show up with my parents (who arrived the evening before), amazingly we all managed to find the hotel and arrive roughly ontime - Roland being the exception. But Roland is always late so arriving at night rather than in the morning or afternoon is close enough to give him the benefit of the doubt ;o).

Our hotel was in the outskirts of Vienna in an area populated with diverse international residents from places like Turkey, Balkans, Russia, etc. It was very quiet and the kind of neighborhood that I like to stay in when I visit a city because you get the true flavor of a place when you eat at places that have menus in Russian but not in English :) . We ate at a totally local restaurant the first night. I've been studying Spanish and haven't used my German in a while when I was suddenly with a group of eight non-German speakers with a waiter who spoke no English and I had to somehow translate the menu and take orders to give to the waiter. I had a really rough time! I said "Esta bien" to the waiter a few times, asked for "Agua", and through out some other Spanish words that had to be rescinded. I've heard of Spanglish, but I guess a combination of Spanish and German would be called....eewwww, figure that one out yourself ;o).

Thursday we spent the day in Vienna, meeting up with Leif and old friend of mine from Germany who lives in Vienna now. He gave us a wonderful guided tour around Vienna and then took the boys to a local brewery, where we met up with another pilot friend of his. The tasty, fresh beers flowed forth and we finally went back to the hotel to meet the ladies in a very happy mood :) . Later that night we went to the "fancy" dining establishment for dinner and then Stefan, Roland, Leif, and I took him out downtown for one last time before his wedding. We pretty much checked out a few places but ended up going home relatively early because some of us were dying of jet lag - and feeling a little old to be hanging out with college kids!

After another wonderful breakfast on Friday, four of us headed to the airport to get a rental car while the other four headed to Slovakia so Roland could help Csilla out with last minute preparations for the wedding the next day. Those "cross-border" charges on the rental car were pretty steep but necessary, unfortunately. We headed down the smoothe highway into Hungary and finally to the Slovakian border. Thus far, my domestically abused passport hadn't raised any eyebrows at all but we were given a tongue lashing at the Slovakian border by a guy who clearly had a grudge to beat against US residents (like most of the world does - thanks Bush!). He asked me what would happen if he went to the US with a passport like that and told me to go back to Budapest and get a new one. After his chest-puffing speech, he told us to get going and let us go through to Komarno, our final destination.

After reconvening and backing into Roland's car while trying to park (car accidence are obligatory whenever Vas and I meet up - every single time!), we went to a Wellness Center outside of town that had a big pool, hot tub, and various saunas. We totally chilled out there and even took a nap after lengthy steaming before heading back to the hotel. We went to Roland's brother-in-law's restaurant Cleopatra for a wonderful dinner and drinks. The kids certainly had fun at the restaurant, donning Jack Daniels bartender outfits and clearing off our tables (and the tables of other diners!), playing in the bar, etc. Very cute and they were devastated when it was time to go home!

J. Riley, there's plenty more to come!

You can find evidence of the above all at my picture site.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Recipe for Disaster

What kind of traveling European vacation can you have when you combine the following:
  1. Two kids under 10, two adults over 50, and six 20-somethings who have not accepted that they are not young anymore.
  2. Residents from four countries, arrivals from five locations.
  3. One passport that was "mutilated" (according to the US Embassy) in a washing machine and one passport that has no more pages left to be stamped, traveling across three borders, staying in a town split by a border.
  4. One two-door sedan that fits 4 people.
  5. A trip organized by Vas and his legendary timeliness and logistical prowess (note sarcasm)
  6. A schedule that couldn't be finalized until three days before arrival (due to our Vienna tour-guide Leif's flight schedule).
  7. Stefan.
Well, believe it or not, the trip was amazing! Roland pulled a spade out of his sleeve with this trip, organizing a flexible trip that wasn't too expensive, wasn't too stressful, and one that was appropriate for all age groups. My mutilated passport was causing some issues at the Komarno/Komarom (Slovakia/Hungary) border after crossing it daily and I ended up having to get a new one in Budapest, but it was not a big deal. I hope to blog about our trip over the next few days, though it's possible it won't be as detailed as I'd like (I think I say that every time!)

But feel free to check out pictures here:

Abridged Version (collection of the best from several people's cameras)
J. Riley Version (all of my pictures)

Being a slave to corporate America, I have adjusted my vacation scheduling to fully maximize the days off, typically flying in on Monday morning or, worst case, Sunday night. On this trip, since I was using my miles and the flights available are limited), I was "stuck" flying home on a Friday. I was pretty bummed that I couldn't squeeze those two extra days in, but let me tell you: I have never been so relaxed and refreshed after a vacation thanks to those two extra days between returning from vacation and going back to work. It gives you time to ease back into day-to-day life and fully recover from your trip. I know that I'm to frugal with my vacation days to do this on all my trips, but I think I'll consider doing this on long trips like the one I just finished.

In other news, I think the J. Riley Mac Experiment is over! After dealing with the sluggish performance lately, the OS crashing, the poor clarity in resolution, and the buggy iPhoto plugins for uploading pictures, I have switched back to my PC. Part of the reason was because I have found that Google's Picasa photo organizing software easily matches or exceeds Apple's iPhoto, not to mention the fact that I'll be moving to the Bronx soon and I need to get rid of a computer. It was fun while it lasted, though, and if it wasn't for the cost, I would consider an Apple laptop in the future.

J. Riley, time to start my vacation blogging outlines!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Can't Say it's the First Time this has Happened...

So, for the record, I am going to be moving to the Bronx in August/September.
I'm not sure if that was clear or not in my last blog.

Now I'm getting ready for my summer vacation of the year - a wedding in
Slovakia! I leave tomorrow afternoon and it's been an interesting couple of
weeks on a few fronts. I broke the LCD screen on my digital camera when I was
in Peru a few weeks ago. I've had it for a couple of years and was more or less
satisfied with it, so I started shopping around for a replacement (i.e. newer
model), reading reviews, spending hours at a time trying to figure out if I
want this year's model or last year's model, etc. I was going to buy a used one
I found on Craigslist, but backed out at the last minute and opted for a newer
model with face-detection technology (Canon SD800). Then I started my barrage
of purchases online for the camera (shipping and tax-free) and accessories
(extra batteries from ebay).

Then I thought about it and wondered how much it would cost Canon to fix my LCD
screen on my broken (but otherwise functional) camera. They wanted like $100.
Then I thought about it and wondered if I could somehow get the part and fix it
myself. One google search later and I had found the number for the Canon parts
warehouse in NJ along with step-by-step directions for replacing the lens. Of
course I ordered that up and had the part two days later. That night, foregoing
dinner, I started the replacement process, following the detailed steps. Until I
got halfway into the surgery and realized that the directions I had were for a
similar, but different, model. D-O-H! I was pretty much screwed because I had
taken most of the camera apart and disconnected things I shouldn't have. I
found the correct directions eventually but had a lot of trouble replacing it.
A few hours later, I had it all together finally and amazingly I didn't have
any extra screws laying on my table and the camera actually worked. Amazing!

This weekend was great, apart from spending some time with Alan and Andrea (and
Liz!) I did some major cleaning on my apartment in preparation for my trip and
it's looking great. Unfortunately, in my haste to do my laundry, my passport
landed in my pile and went through the wash. Of course I didn't realize it
until I was folding the clothes. Oh crap - I panicked big time, especially with
the elevated threat level here and in England (which I am going through both
ways). I'm leaving in two days!! All the information (stamps, photo, numbers,
etc) is there but the heat must've dissolved the glue holding the covers to the
pages. I ran out to get new pictures taken and was prepared to go down to the
Passport Center in NYC at 7:00am today in order to get a replacement. But all
the information is there. The guts of the passport look as good as new, it's
just the cover that is seperated from the first and last pages, though the
binding is still all held together. This had to happen to me right now. We'll
see what the passport control folks in the six countries I'm traveling to have
to say...

J. Riley, maybe I won't make it to Europe this year after all....

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm Just(in) Riley from the Block...

OK, first of all, I coulda swore that J-Lo used to sing "I'm just Jenny from the Bronx" until I made a bet with someone (Rebecca I think?) that I subsequently lost. In any case, I will never be *from* the Bronx, but I may soon live in the Bronx [insert shocker emoticon here]. My friend Melissa has a very nice 2-bedroom apartment that she owns and is offer to rent me the other room for a steep discount compared to what I currently pay for my studio. My lease is up in August and my landlord wants an answer soon on my renewal. Let's break it down:

Benefits:
  1. Melissa is an awesome cook and we cook for each other occasionally, so if we were in the same apartment it would be a pretty good setup.
  2. I can't remember the last time that I actually did something besides go back to my apartment during the week (exercise excluded). I am really a homebody during the week.
  3. I would see what it's like to live with a girl (if you didn't pick up on previous blog hints, you might consider re-reading)
  4. I would not have a lease to be bound to, meaning I could pick up and leave within a few weeks notice (again, consider re-reading previous posts). Even if I decide that living with Melissa is hell and I want to move to Billyburg in Brooklyn.
  5. Melissa doesn't mind visitors at all.
  6. Melissa is Mexi-American: Spanish language partner?!?
  7. Melissa works crazy hours for the energy company, so she's off a lot during the days and works at night, so it would only be like a part-time roommate.
  8. I need a change, I can't take the Upper East Side for much longer.
  9. This would do wonders for my street-cred and tough-guy image.
  10. There's actually a beach up there, supposedly pretty nice and [gasp] clean.
  11. Did I mention that I would save almost $1000 a month in rent/bills? Imagine the travel/gadget budget with that.
  12. She has a much bigger TV that I do, couches, Lazy-boy, and a stocked kitchen.
  13. She's the one person who is cheaper than me (besides some of the guys I work with).
Drawbacks:
  1. My commute would expand to roughly 45 minutes each way (15 minutes more than it currently is)
  2. Subway rides home at 3:00am on the rare weekends out on the town would be tough (of course I could just cab it).
  3. Getting downtown would take about an extra 1/2 hour (the 45-minute commute as it is now prevents me from going down there much anymore anyway).
  4. I wouldn't get to hang out with Andrea & Alan and Paul & Cathy (if/when they come home!)
  5. Melissa, how should I say it, likes a bit of attention
  6. Melissa has a cat that, as cats go, is chill. But, it's still a cat.
  7. Mom and pop natural food shops, restaurants, etc. are non-existent there, they will require a commute.
  8. I would be the only white guy in the zip code (not that I care much about that though).
  9. I couldn't be a snobby ass and brag about living in Manhattan (maybe this would fit better under "Benefits").
  10. Girlfriend gives me the eye-raising emoticon when I mention that I might be living with another girl (she's given me the ok, however ;o).
Comments?

J. Riley, it will be interesting to go back and read this in 6-months if I do end up moving north.

Just Curious...

Just curious, why is my website so popular with people in Romania? Honestly -
it's the teeth, isn't it?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cultural Extravaganza Road Trip

Sean has recently purchased (outlandishly, of course) a new bike for running errands, touring the city, getting exercise, etc. I have considered doing the same but am having a hard time justifying the $300 purchase right now, when I can rent one for $35. Sure, after a few years it would pay off, but I am still hesitating. Anyway, we decided yesterday, despite my sore-throat-cough-and-evening exhaustion (something I caught in the hospital down south?), to do a serious road trip along the East River, going up to 125th Street, bypassing the high-security mental institution on Randall Island, crossing the Tri-Borough Bridge into Queens, then heading south through Astoria, Long Island City, into Greenpoint, into the hipster enclave of Williamburg, and then crossing the Williamsburg Bridge back into Manhattan.

We left at about noon with Sean already exhausted from the 91 block ride from the nexus of the universe to my apartment, but I was feeling fresh with my newly rented Euro-urban "step-through" (aka girl's) bike and we headed off into the great unknown that is Queens and Brooklyn. It was completely casual and a true stop-and-smell-the-roses type tour that I've wanted to do for a while. We hit up the MoMA PS1 museum, a sculpture park with people doing yoga in it, watched a children's Tae Kwan Do demonstration (or so I assumed it to be), found a Czech-Slovakian store full of goods from that part of the world (I happened to be wearing my Czech Republic soccer jersey so of course I had to stop in and practice my Czech), and finally found our way to Williamsburg in time for lunch.

We stopped into a place called Fada that looked intriguing, desperately seeking as many calories in the form of hamburger we could get in order to replenish those we had burnt. We were quickly re-directed to Teddy's Bar and Grill, which the hipster waiter promised had the best burgers around. And we proceeded to absolutely gorge on nachos, giant tasty burgers with cheese and chili, and polysaturated salty curly fries.

In a food-induced como, we rolled down to the river and found a random "State Park" with people sunbathing, reading, and playing soccer along the river. It was amazingly quiet on that side of the river and it was very refreshing. I am starting to like that area more and more, just like everyone else in the city.

We finally made it back to the madness of the LES and relaxed our exhausted bodies and watched the second half of a movie at Sean's. After the movie, it was time for me to head back uptown to get my bike back in time. Of course, at this point the sky got seriously dark and it started to rain. Perfect. I didn't really mind because I was hell-bent on beating Sean's one-hour commute uptown so I sprinted uptown as fast as I could, even when it started absolutely dumping rain. At least the river-side trail was cleared of pedestrians :o).

J. Riley, I found out when I returned my bike that my food-induced coma caused me to leave my credit card at the restaurant. I had to make a road-trip back out there today to pick it up, but this time I stopped at Fada and ate brunch with the NY Times. Yummy! :o)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Call 9-1-1 - Put Me Through to the Fashion Police!!

Today was a bad day. Not that anything in particular went wrong today, it was actually a pleasant day. But, for some reason in my haze of the early morning hours before I went to work (an hour early), I decided that I should wear charcoal grey (Firefox tells me it's supposed to be spelled "gray" - you've upgraded to the latest version, right??) pants, black belt, and my white Mexx shirt with green-dotted squiglies on it. A nice shirt, but an awful combination. And I felt awkward wearing it before I left for work because it clearly did not match. I have plenty of other freshly-pressed shirts, but I didn't change it.

And I felt like a total dork all day at work. Guess I fit in with the software developers I work with today.

J. Riley, by the way, Erika now had to deal with taking care of her mom (who returned from the hospital) and somehow working her 12+ hour days with a boss who's terrible to her at the same time with nobody else available to help. Any volunteers to go down and help out ;o) ?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My Week in the Hospital

I'm back - again! I spent some of last week down in Peru with Erika because her
mom was going to have surgery for her breast cancer. Although a plethora of
relatives visited, Erika was all on her own as the only child and was mostly
responsible for her mom and needed some support so I made the quick trip.

I spent almost the whole day, every day at the Peruvian hospital where her mom
was staying, and it was certainly interesting. My jaw surgeries were performed
(not by my choice, but the doctor's) at Mt. Sinai hospital. I found out later
that it was one of the top places in the city, and I had a pretty good
experience there. I also spent a year working in the New York City public
hospitals, so I was very curious to compare the Peruvian public hospitals with
those here in the city. It was also funny to be pretty much the only gringo in
this whole huge hospital. I got plenty of strange looks because I was much
taller than average. Erika said that the only gringos that go to these places
are actually doctors...

I found it interesting that her mom had to check in a day before the procedure
so that they could control what she ate and drank before the surgery. OK, maybe
this is something common for these surgeries, but I never heard of that before.
But the biggest shocker to me was that 1.) you have to bring your own toilet
paper to the hospitals with you, and 2.) you have to bring your own soap (which
I didn't see anybody bring) since the bathrooms don't have either one. It wasn't
even like they were always out of soap and/or toilet paper, there was not even a
spot for them in the hospital. Crazy. And needless to say there weren't Purell
dispensers on the walls inside. I can only imagine the infections that must
spread, and needless to say I wasn't eating with my hands much after that. And
thank god I didn't have to do any #2's (or is it #1?) while at the hospital. I
did leave her mom the Purell from my backpack, though they were probably
wondering why they would need to use it :) . Ryan mentioned that he went into a
cevicheria (raw fish) restaurant that had the same thing. Raw fish + no toilet
paper + no soap? No wonder I always come home sick...

My surgeries were more or less on time last year and I don't know how they work
at the public hospitals here, but Erika's mom was scheduled for surgery at
11:00am on Thursday and actually didn't go in until 3:30pm. I suppose that
could happen here. But the shocker? Another lady who was also scheduled at
11:00am was told, sorry, you have to wait until SATURDAY for your surgery. And
of course she had to stay at the hospital those extra days.

The last thing that I noticed was that the shared hospital room (she had a
neighbor) had no window shades and giant windows, so during the day you pretty
much had to wear sunglasses inside the room. I can't imagine spending a few
days after surgery in such a blinding light. I guess these are just things that
we take for granted!

In any case, supposedly Erika's mom's surgery was successful. The doctor said
that she won't need chemotherapy, but I thought that was pretty much standard
these days. Again, I don't know much about this, so maybe I'm totally off-base.
I also know that they are going to do a biopsy (or did a biopsy?) on her lymph
node near the breast with the tumor. Exact details on this were lost in
translation so there are still some question marks. Her mom was having allergic
reactions to something while recovering, giving her rashes on her skin, and was
having stomach problems but otherwise I think she is doing okay. She certainly
enjoyed the company. There were so many cousins, brothers, sisters,
cousin-in-laws, and other distant relatives coming through, it was really
great. I also got to speak a bit of Spanish that I've been learning, though I
still have crazy nervousness whenever I start to say something. I need to study
more!

Outside of the time at the hospital, Erika and I spent time enjoying the amazing
cuisine or Peru, described by some as the best cuisine in the world. Who knew
that there were so many sauces, beans, and multi-ethnic treats? I ate "chifa"
on the first day, which is Chinese food but tt's about as Chinese as our
Chinese food! One funny thing was that I wanted to eat hot & sour soup. Their
equivalent is "hot & acidic" soup, doesn't quite have the same ring to it. I
guess it was somewhat similar, but the "sour" of the American style was
replaced with the "sour" (and acid!) of limes. Overwhelming lime taste!

In addition to the awesome, standard pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), ceviche
(raw fish "cooked" by mixing it with lime juice), and amazing arroz con pollo
(rice and chicken with crazy chimichurri-type herbs), I also ate quinoa con
maca and leche, which is like a hot cereal served by a street vendor near the
hospital. Interestingly, maca is supposedly like a natural aphrodisiac from the
Incas, no wonder Erika took me there every day ;o).

All-in-all, it was a pretty good and successful trip, mostly because I was with
Erika the whole time. We are in perfect harmony when we are together, it's
actually quite amazing. Her and her family live a very simple life which I
realized even more when we went to her house and I saw their sleeping quarters
and watched (since I am useless in this case ;o) her wash her mom's pajamas -
outside in the sink where clothes and dishes are washed. We've started talking
about the possibilities for the future and spending more time together. I'm not
sure how that's going to happen, but this is J. Riley we're talking about, I'm
open-minded to a number of possibilities!

J. Riley, oh and we did go to a Latin disco with her friend and her boyfriend my
last night there which was of course amazing!