Dec 28, 2015

Ski trip

We got up extra early to see mom and Larry off. Their flight home was also through Provo, so Brenda had to drive them all the way down there. Once again, the plane broke, so poor mom and Larry were basically stranded for six hours at the tiny airport until the next flight. Needless to say, they will not be flying Allegiant again.

Tay didn’t bring long underwear with him, so he had to borrow my star-spangled tights from the party as an under layer. Surprisingly, I had thought enough to throw in some old silk long underwear from our Beijing days, and some ski socks so I was pretty set. When Aunt Brenda got back, we loaded up the gear and hit the trail. It was a gorgeous sunday. Sunny, cold, but not too cold. There was a lot of traffic heading up the hill, but it moved pretty well.

We already had our tickets, a RFID tagged card, so we were able to bypass the throngs of people buying tickets and renting equipment. The card system was new to me. I had seen it before in Abu Dhabi’s indoor skiing, but the last time I was out on the slopes in real snow, I had a barcode that had to be scanned. Now you just pass through these reader gates and it beeps and opens up for you. Speeds things up a lot.

Saori skiied with me, Brenda, and David, and Tay snowboarded. Both of us remembered pretty well how to ski given the three years. I said we should start with a green, but David took us immedately to the blues, which turned out to be just the right thing since it was an easy blue with enough grade to remind us how to go fast and how to go slow. It was heaven to ski again. Saori was really anxious the first few runs, but quickly warmed to it. She loved the narrow runs in the alleys between patches of woods. As for me and Tay, we both enjoyed the big wide runs where we could fairly fly along. Tay also remembered how to board, and it was incredible fun to fly along with him, cutting across each other’s paths in sprays of snow.

The slopes were relatively uncrowded and we got in about five or six long runs before Saori called time for a break. Brenda went to join her, since she skipped breakfast, and they held down a table for us at the ski tavern Molly Green’s. One of the best moments of skiing is taking off your helmet, jacket, and gloves, and sitting down at a big table in a noisy, cozy bar for a big beer and a hot meal. Saori got herself an imperial black IPA which turned out to have over 9% alcohol, and I stuck with their local draft IPA. We had an enthusiastic server Robbie who reminded me a bit of the Old Spice guy since he gave us our orders with a side of “Bam!”

We had a lot of time to metabolize the alcohol since the service was very. very. slow. We demolished a massive plate of nachos which Saori and Brenda had ordered before we got there, and then I tucked away a big sourdough bowl of chili (which was unexceptional), and tried a bit of Saori’s bakedboardee onion soup (which was exceptional). The meal plus tip ended up around $26 per person, but I have to say it was worth it.

The two worst moments of skiing are that first hike up the hill to the first lift, when you are overheating, struggling with equipment and icy snow, and the first lift after lunch, when you put back on your sweat-damp jacket, gloves and hat, and freeze solid in the chair.

I was getting tired too. Saori had a few falls, but they were really just slips on steep grades where she slid on her butt a bit and was immediately able to stand up and ski again. I had a pretty major wipe out when my skis got crossed and I tumbled down. Lost my skis. I was aware enough to rotate around and dig in my heels to keep from sliding. Two boarders saw me and picked up my skis and slid down to me. They were a little concerned since apparently it looked pretty major of a wipeout. I was happy I'd gotten the helmet. The problem was I'd hit so hard, I'd screwed up the bindings on one ski, so i had to kick the toe bindings a few times to knock it back horizontal.

Anyway, I took it easier after that and we had just a few more runs anyway since the lifts started closing at 4. We all met up again in the locker room and doggedly made our way to the car, towards home, a lasagna, a Mexican beer, a hot tub, and ultimately, bed.

Christmas

Christmas morning was the usual delightful chaos of presents being passed around, the sounds of laughter and surprise and gratitude and ripping paper. I was surprised once again by the generosity and thoughtfulness of my family, and Saori and were bith really happy our gifts from Germany were so welll appreciated. Brenda made the traditional chile relleños egg casserole, and we drank lots of coffee. We spent the rest of the day hanging out, chatting, and playing cards. Casey and Jarret took off, and once night fell, Tay,  Saori, and I slipped in the hot tub and watched the full moon rise over the snowy mountains across the valley. It would be the last full moon Christmas for 35 years.

The day after Christmas, I made my cinnamon apple pancakes for everyone, which were a big hit although Tay was prepared to make a run to town to buy real maple syrup instead of the log cabin on hand. I used to feel the same way, actually.

It was another shopping day- we hit Nordstrom’s Rack and TJMaxx. At the Rack, Saori picked up a dress which could be The Dress, a lovely cream gown, and I got a Ben Sherman bowtie, which could look really good for a casual garden party-themed wedding. We ate lunch at a soup and salad place, and then drove out to the IMAX for the Star Wars: A New Hope remake. Tay insisted on seeing it at IMAX, which is fine by me, but also in 3D, which was a bit much for me.

Given all the hype, I went in with guarded optimism, and I had a great time. It’s a great movie. It’s basically fan fiction, but with a 200 million dollar budget and the original actors. Actually, I want to go see it again in Houston. In 2-D, since the cinematography and depth of the set is lovely, and 3D tends to force one’s attention solely on the foreground.

After the movie, we went out to rent skis, lift tickets, and equipment, basically spending mom’s Christmas gift to us.

Boots, poles, skis: $25
Damage: $2
Pants: $8
Lift tickets: $73

Back at the house, we scrounged around to cobble complete sets of skiing equipment- jackets, gloves, helmets, pants, goggles, etc. We got pizza for dinner, reminisced about the glory that was Rome with aunt Brenda, and played a few rounds of Bananagrams. Larry won a round, and he was so unaccustomed to winning that we had to point out that he had in fact, concluded the game as the winner. We are really quite competitive.

Supremacy

The day before Christmas, we hit the mall for last minute Christmas shopping. This was actually the best time to shop. Many of the stores we 25-50% off and it wasn't crowded at all. I picked up two more work pants at Banana Republic. The US may trail the rest of the developed world in education, health, and infrastructure, but it is indisputable that we have the best shopping in the entire world.

I wanted to get Saori a particular perfume for Christmas, but it turned out I was too ahead of the curve. Macy’s had never heard of it. The second perfume manager I talked to at Nordstrom had heard about it, but didn't have it since apparently the designer has an exclusive contract with Barney’s, and there are none in Salt Lake City. We took a short break for lunch at the house, reheating a giant tub of frozen “chili” which turned out to be some delicious gumbo. David took us out again to the dying mall which had a real bookstore and we also took another spin through Sur La Table, because kitchen things are fun.

The evening was a wrapping frenzy in the wrapping room, complicated by the fact that we were all wrapping gifts for each other. Mom and Larry picked up BBQ and that was really really good. Saori made her hot spiced apple cider with a heady dose of whisky, and then a second batch. We ended up sitting around the massive mound of presents under the tree and chatted until it was time to fill the stockings and build Logan’s big toy, a kind of motorized HotWheels collider track.

Disco, Crisis, Snow

We landed in the middle of a series of minor crises in Salt Lake City. The storm system wreaking havoc across the south disrupted everyone's flight but ours. Tay was stuck in LAX for six hours, and mom’s mule-driven aircraft was cancelled flying out of Mesa. Logan, the 3.5 year old, was in the ER since he had managed to break in half the half inch thick plate glass coffee table uncle David had designed, and cut his toe. It wasn't that bad, they didn't even give him stitches, and we were all thankful since it could have been much worse. He’s a big kid with really long legs for his age. We have another athlete in the family for sure.

Brenda picked us up, and we got put to work immediately on the birthday party and dinner preparation since the ER, even for a boo boo, takes as much time, money, and paperwork as an international flight, hamping the party prep time. We dropped our suitcases, checked in at the air BnB across the street ( owned by a German couple), drove across town to pick up the giant disco ball from the rental place, and back to the Harmon's, the really cool grocery store with the wrap around mezzanine. We also made a crucial stop at the liquor store for beer, wine, and whisky. Saori rode in the back with the disco ball and the bright sunshine threw dots everywhere inside the car.

The disco ball was for the Rock of Ages themed birthday party that David throws for Brenda every year. She just covered her head while he drilled a few holes in the ceiling to hang the disco ball. In the end it was great. I cooked a big pot of Mexican chicken soup with fresh fried tortilla strips which people munched on leading up to the dinner, we had cocktails and everyone dressed up. Mom came as Tina Turner, Larry did a great ZZ Top, Tay was Bob Dilian replete with neck harmonica and incomprehensible songs, Brenda was Stevie Nicks, David was a fantastic Zappa, and Carrie utterly transformed into Joan Jett. Saori came as Yeah Yeah Yeah lead Karen O with tons of dramatic makeup, and I wore galaxy patterned tights and 80s rocker hair. Somewhere between Limahl and David Bowie circa Labrynth.

David had rigged a karaoke machine and Logan loved it. Apparently they had been using it all week. Lots of pop songs and dancing with mommy. They must watch a lot of YouTube together. I ripped out “Radar Love” and Saori sang “Playback pt.2” in Japanese.

Dec 25, 2015

Age of Aquariums

Tuesday morning, Joshua helped Saori and Ayumi assemble the sticky buns, sprinkling brown sugar and raisins, and making his own rolls. They turned out amazing, and I got the recipe from Ayumi. After our sugary breakfast, we took a stroll through the neighborhood with Joshua. It was surprisingly mild. When we first arrived, it was colder in Atlanta than Stuttgart, but after a bunch of rain, Atlanta was cool and misty. I just went out in a tee shirt. Ayumi took us to see the community gardens and the chicken coop, and we threw some sticks in the little creek.

Once we got back to the house, Tim took us to the aquarium. The Atlanta aquarium is one of the biggest and best in the world, and it was his first time to see it too. Ayumi took Joshua when he was younger, but apparently he was more facinated by the moving walkway than the abundance of fish around him.

The aquarium is downtown, sitting on a grassy plaza which it shares with its oddfellow neighbors, the Coke Museum which is apparently a museum of marketing, plus a tasting room and a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the historic cola wars of the 90s, and a Civil Rights museum.

The aquarium as theme park is the name of the game here. Ticket lines and windows designed to handle massive crowds, themed “worlds” inside, promenant concessions and gift shop. It’s an exciting building with some neat architectural tricks with the various tanks and enclosures, clear and easy to understand and navigate, and for the mutltitudes inside, it never felt too crowded or claustrophobic. There was always a place we could step aside and find a moment.

But it lacked the class of the Chicago aquarium- which keeps the feel of an institution from the stately suroundings and the emphasis on fish and not flatscreens. In this aquarium, the sea life plays a supporting role but YOU are the star of the show. I was turned off by the obnoxious corporate branding and bizzare advertising tie ins such as “Did you know that the Beluga whale can grow up to 16 feet long, which is 16 rolls of Brawny Paper Towels placed end to end?” The big ocean room “Built by the Home Depot” makes me imagine a scene where a shopper at the store inquires where one can find the foot and a half thick solid acrylic panels for that home whale shark tank.

Lunch at the cafeteria was a painful gouge. I had to ask the cashier to repeat the total. For what we paid for bagged chips, bottled drinks, and sandwiches, we could have eaten lunch at the nicest restaurants in the city. I was happy to cover it since Tim and Ayumi have been so generous to us, but I’m surprised I didn’t get a financing offer at the cash register. Sandwiches were good though.

The ocean tank was astonishing. You get teased with bubble windows and small windows as you walk along, offering a view of the sea bottom at least 30 feet below the rippling ceiling of the tank so massive you can’t see the opposite side. And suddenly you’re in the plexiglass tunnel and this aquatic world is all around you. You look up and a shark the size of a minivan slowly swims over you. Huge manta rays swim by, along with reef sharks, rays, skates, and other big fish. We were all entraced, and this time Joshua was captivated by the fish instead of the flooring. We slowly slowly made our way along until we popped out into the money shot- a huge theater with one massive plexiglass wall from floor to ceiling, with the whole teeming tank open before you and the seafloor speading out in front of you. It was like SCUBA diving. We sat right on the carpeting in front of the glass and just watched for at least fifteen minutes. 

Girl's Day

Monday, Tim went in for consultations at the hospital. He is a pediatric doctor, which seems to me an incredible boon to some aspects of parenting. When Saori and I have kids, I am sure we are both going to be panicking over everything which could be in reality A) go to ER immediately, B) schedule a doctor visit, or C) something totally normal.

While he was gone, we played with Joshua outside. He loves to run and keeps telling us to “Run!” and chase him, or just to run around in general. Tim and Ayumi have a trampoline, and he really enjoyed boucing around with his aunt Saori. We also blew a lot of bubbles together, and helped Joshua work on his technique.

Tim and Ayumi let us borrow their car so we could run some errands, and we hit the bank, went back to the cooking store, and made a quick stop at sketchy looking magic shop. Inside, however, we were assisted by a really nice old man who must have worked for years as a magician since he performed some tricks for us while we were shopping. One of the things he did was to transform a penny to a dime by tapping it with a pen, while it was sitting on Saori’s hand. It was pretty incredible actually, no smoke, no flash, just an immediate transformation, like the copper was suddenly sucked away in the blink of an eye.

Monday afternoon, after Tim came back from work, Ayumi and Saori went for a sister day at the Korean spa. Tim’s christmas present to them was gift cards to this spa, which was supposed to be really good. They were there for about four hours, although Ayumi called in every hour or so to check on Penny. It sounded great, they both got massages, soaked in tubs, relaxed in a variety of saunas. They both looked really refreshed when they got back home, and Saori bough everyone taco bowls from Chipotle for dinner.

While the girls were gone, we hung out in the living room, and Tim booted up his xbox and I got to once more don the helmet of Master Chief. Halo 4 came out two or three years ago, but the last time I played it was the original Halo back at ASU. I was frankly terrible, but it was fun to get back into that immerseive world. We played with Joshua when he was up from his nap, and kept an eye on Penny when she got up from her nap. Penny is getting really bored of the living room. She likes the lights on tree, and consistently tries to soldier crawl her way to the tile floors of the kitchen and dining room where she is not allowed. She is too young to understand object permenenace, which is really wierd since she clearly recognizes things which she knows and which is new. She was facinated by my tablet and by my little notebook where I jot down recipes, and if ether were in sight, she would wriggle her way over. She is going to be a stubborn little girl I think. But so adorable. Everyone says that she looks exactly like Saori did when she was a little girl.

Joshua was also pretty interested in my tablet. It was kind of funny, the night we got there, he got ahold of Ayumi’s kindle and somehow ordered a bunch of ebooks, including a space opera. This is fairly impressive for a child who cannot yet read. So I kept him closely supervised on my tablet. I took a snapshot of us and he delighted in coloring on top of it, making big circles with his fingers to cover the faces, all the while asking “what happened to Joshua?! What happened!” before using the eraser tool to remove the lines. He really likes coloring, although more in big color blocks rather than in the lines like his mommy would like him.

Anyway, after dinner, Saori and Ayumi made the dough for sticky buns since its a family tradition at Tim’s parent’s, and Saori crashed on the couch while they were waiting for the dough to rise. 

Busy Sunday

Sunday morning I made a batch of apple and banana pancakes for breakfast and served it up with lots of maple syrup. After breakfast, Ayumi, Saori, Joshua and I went for a walk in downtown Decatur. It felt really familiar and Saori nailed the comparison to Clayton in St. Louis: an affluent small city with a midcentury main street. It was cute, quaint boutiques, small nice restaurants, bohemian cafes, Starbucks, and trinket shops.

We stopped into a cooking store and Joshua wanted to touch everything, but after a few warnings from Mommy kept his hands diligently to himself. For everything he saw, he asked “What is THAT?!?” I was going to buy some beer there, but Blue laws prohibit alcohol sales before 12:30 on Sundays.

12:30 strikes me as quite specific and arbitrary, which means it is probably a compromise, but I wish I understood better who was negotiating for which position.

After our stroll, we returned home and got ready for church. They go to a Christian church most of the time, but about once a month or so, they go to a fellowship service in Japanese with other members of the Japanese American community.

I was expecting that loading the kids up would be a big, lengthy ordeal, but Tim and Ayumi made it look easy and pretty fast. Joshua is nearly three, and he wears slip-on crocs that he can put on by himself. When we go outside, he wants to go run and play, but he will obediently go to the car door and wait for us pick him up and put him in his car seat. The three point harness is only tricky the first time you try to buckle him in.

As for seven month old Penny, they buckle her into her carrier in the house, and then it looks like it's a simple connection to the car seat dock in the car. When I asked Tim if the amount of time it takes for getting the kids into the car increases arithmetically or exponentially, he said “simple question; exponentially.”

Anyway, it was a surprisingly small turnout at the fellowship service. Apparently, many of the Japanese students from the university attend, and they had all gone back home at the end of the semester. So there were a few families like Tim’s where one partner was Japanese, but there were also Japanese women there, a younger woman and a much older woman who apparently had an amazing life story, but I have not had the chance yet to get it from Saori or Ayumi, who adores her.

We took turns reading from the Bible in English and Japanese, depending, and then sang a few traditional Christmas hymns and songs. My good German buddy Handel put in an appareance or two, although Tim and I sang our songs in English in contrast to the Japanese sung by the rest of the congregation. Because this was such an intimate gathering, they went around the room and talked about what Christmas meant to us personally. I talked about family.

Also in attendence was a curious older man with long grey hair in a ponytail and black leather drawstring shoes which he made himeself. Apparetly, he lived abroad for a long time, including in Japan, and now makes a living selling celtic inspired leather crafts. Apparently, there is a Scottish tartan museum in South Carolina (or maybe it was North Carolina) which sells his wares at the gift shop and online. (Aside- It looks like a lot of Scot-Irish settled in this part of the country as well- I kept coming across many Scottish names on street signs.) Anyway, he was super chatty and really interested in Saori and I so we had to politely but firmly excuse ourselves to go back with Tim and Ayumi.

That night, Tim treated us BBQ from Fox brothers, one of the best BBQ spots in Atlanta, and we got traditional BBQ chicken and pulled pork, plus fried pickles and Texas fries, which are french fries topped with shredded brisket, barbecue sauce, melted cheese, and topped with sliced jalepenos. It was so good. I make a decent pulled pork in the pressure cooker, but it’s nothing in comparison. To my shame, I think I mostly responded in grunts the entire meal.

Before dinner, we played Munchkin, a tongue in cheek board game which has a lot of obvious and not so obvious riffs on fantasy games and the cutlure. You could pick races like elves or dwarves, equip weapons like A Really Big Rock (two hands) and armor like Spikey Knees. Saori came perilously close to winning, but we had to call the game early to go pick up the BBQ. 

Dec 21, 2015

Target acquired

Yesterday, after donuts, we left Tim at home with baby Penny and Joshua and we went to Target. I drove there, partly because I want to be a good guest and partly to keep in practice.

Target was surreal for me, and moreso for Saori, who hasn't been in one for three years. She told me that she felt like she didn't belong there, like she was an alien coming to a strange planet. I picked up some legos for Logan, and Saori picked up a few things too. I used to really miss Target, but at the end, you really only need it for things like cheap socks and underwear and you get along just fine without in (Target) Germany.

After Target we stopped at Whole Foods next door and picked up a few things. And beer! It was hypnotic. Especially after months of identical lagers, pilsners, and hefe Because everyone is sick except me, I just picked up a few bottles.

When we got back, Tim and I had a beer and played with Joshua around the little fire going in the fire pit. Ayumi made Japanese chicken curry with rice for dinner. After dinner, Tim read a bit from an advent reader and we sang some religious Christmas songs. They are both really religious, actually. Tim leads a prayer before every meal.

Dec 20, 2015

Third wave donuts: is food elitism jargon going too far?

Slept all the way to 5:30 this morning.

By climactic quirk, it's been colder in Atlanta, Georgia than Stuttgart, Germany this week, so we've been bundling up when we go out. Saturday morning, we joined the throngs and went to a third wave donut shop. Saori told her sister that not only do I like donuts more than the average bear, but that since I was once asked to comment on the donut situation in Phoenix by a reporter, I am a bone fide international donut expert. So of course, we had to go.

I've seen a resurgence of interest in donuts in the last few years, another example of American rising interest in local, authentic, and crafted food and drink. Donuts quietly echo craft beer and coffee. Coffee's revival of interest, like Feminism, was broken into three distinct and sometimes opposing waves. First wave coffee just denotes the typical "endless refill" coffee in its quality and pattern of consumption: something hot and caffeinated. Second wave can be simply described as Starbucks, and always comes with the option of soy milk, pumpkin spice, and extra chocolate shots. Third wave is like Islamic Fundamentalism: heavily bearded men fighting over which is the purest way to brew Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Chemex or V60, and anyone asking for cream or sugar shall be stoned.

Fortunately, donuts are much simpler than coffee, so the waves are gentler and much friendlier. After all, coffee may have as many tasting nuances as wine, but donuts are really just fried dough with lots of sugar. I'm not even spelling them "doughnuts." As I count it, there are also three waves, comparable to coffee.

First wave was the local donut shop- Bud's Donuts or Sunshine Do-nuts, either in a neglected strip mall or sitting in a tiny, dingy building surrounded by parking. Big windows, minimal 60s or 70's decor, plain white waxed paper bags, lino or tile floors, first wave coffee, endless beat-up metal trays, and a 5:00 AM opening time.

Second wave was corporate: brand, convenience, and standardization. Grocery store donuts, DunkinDonuts, and Krispy Kreme. The latter two clearly trying to do for donuts what Starbucks did to coffee: package an experience and try to make it something to show off. And even further: We are not only going to mass-produce donuts, we're going to highlight the industrial conveyer belt assembly. Tie-ins to Hollywood movies? Naturally.

Third wave is more like craft beer- innovation, emphasis on local and artesianal production, unusual ingredients or combinations, and really expensive. Forget the 5 AM opening, these are not donuts for the factory floor or job site. The coffee on tap comes with tasting notes and you can buy branded merchandise to tell the world, "I have sophisticated tastes in doughnuts."

Revolution Donuts in Atlanta normally has a line out the door. Tellingly, it's next door to craft beer specialty store in a small midcentury renovated strip mall. Another thing about third wave donut shops: the names seen to be deliberately jarring to suggest a radical break with something. Revolution Donuts, Zombie Donuts, Fractured Prune.

Enough powdered sugar, get to the filling: how were the donuts?

They were really good. But more like french macaroons. One or two and you are done. Really rich, really intense. Also, $2-$3 per donut. Most people ordered just one. I ordered a maple bourbon cro-nut, a orange and pistachio cake donut, an apple fritter, toasted almonds, and a creme brulee filled donut, topped with hardened caramelized sugar (and shared all of them with the table). Actually, I think they took it a bit too far since it's kind of awkward trying to bite through a hard glazing on top of the donut. My favorite were two classics, a yeast donut with strawberry frosting and sprinkles, and the apple fritter.

Dec 19, 2015

The Road to Atlanta

It's been a busy week. Monday, I joined Saori's office Christmas party. Every year, her office takes over a trendy Italian restaurant and buys dinner and drinks for everyone. Actually, due to the proximity to Italy, all of the Italian restaurants are money laundering fronts for the Mafia staffed by Italians, which means typically the food is amazing and the service is terrible. Anyway, the food here was great, and actually so was the service. Unfortunately or fortunately, Saori was so exhuasted from the last two weeks of 70 hours that we went home right after dessert, so I was absolutely fine the next day.

Which was good because my next two days at the office were actually Revit training. The office paid for us to have a classroom to ourselves and customized lessons over the topics we wanted to learn. Everything in German, naturally, so I struggled more with the language than with the software, but I was able to get mostly everything since we were all on computers. Lunches were something to be desired, just the small cafe attached to the indoor soccer mini-pitch nearby.

Thursday, Saori took the day off work, and I went into the office to take care of the last few things. Anyway, it was my day to clean the coffee machine. After work, I said goodbye to the owner and the owners wife, and they both wished me a relaxed christmas. My boss told me that if I didn't come back after Christmas, he was going to fly over and drag me back by my ear. It is nice to feel welcomed.

Apo drove me back and I invited him to stay for some tea and snacks, so he and me and Saori got to hang out one last time before we took off. After he left, it was already late, so we packed everything, cleaned a bit, and took care of some last minute things. I finished packing around 1, and went to bed for a nap. I thought Saori was going to join me, but she didn't want to leave the house as chaotic as it was, so she put everything away and swept the floors, putting things to rights while I slept. She didn't sleep at all.

We actually packed kind of light. We both had just one suitcase, 50 pounds each, 40 pounds of which was the combined weight of German christmas baked goods.

To be honest, I didn't sleep all that well. I really hate flying now, and espcially flying to the US. It's a mixture of paranoia and concern over the near-unlimited and capricious power of the border control (fun fact: before you are waved through customs, you have absolutely none of your American rights. For example, you can be held indefinately without charge), and the general misery that is American local airlines and airports.

I callled the taxi at 4am, and we were off to the airport. The roads were empty and so was the airport, so we punked down and enjoyed buttered pretzels for about two hours before we boarded.

Tiny airplane for an hour or so to Paris, then we hopped on a massive 777-300 from Paris to Atlanta. Flight wasn't bad. Watched Pixar's InsideOut and slept a lot. We sat right at the back and had great access to hot water, the toilets, soda, and snacks. Clearing customs and immigration in Atlanta was not nearly as bad as I thought. Moved through really quick and our luggage popped out immediately.

Ayumi's husband, Tim, surprised us by picking us up at the airport and taking us to thier house in Decatur. I've been through Atlanta many times but this is the first time I've taken the "Ground Transportion" direction and not "to connecting flights."

First impressions of Atlanta: the sprawl of Phoenix combined with the architecture and greenness of St. Louis. Lots of midcentury housing, and a long strip of downtown on the skyline. We met Ayumi and the two kids at their house and visited for awhile. I saw them in New Orleans nearly four years ago, and it's been seven years for Saori.

They cooked us a really delicious chicken dinner and I crashed around 9pm, feeling good that I made it that long with the jet lag.

Dec 13, 2015

Last Stuttgart Weekend

Saturday was a very late start. We didn't actually get out bed until noon. I was recovering from a late friday night and Saori was recovering from a week of working until midnight every day. We did a bit of shopping in the city center, where we ran into a friend, Pauline. Pauline dated Simone, a really good friend of Saori's when he was working at Behnisch. They later split after Simone left and it's been a long time since we actually saw her. She is a young French violinist and it so happened she was playing a mendelsohn concert the next day, so she invited us as her guests. We happily accepted.

Saturday night, Saori cooked the jumbo shrimp I picked up at the speciality seafood store with some ink spagetti pasta and sauteed zuchinni. Really good.

This morning, despite still carrying our respective sleep lags, we were both unable to sleep in much so we just got up at 8 and started our day a full four hours earlier than the day before. I cooked up some pear pancakes with coffee and then we went to the concert.

Pauline met us at the door and gave us the tickets, and we found seats inside. We were the youngest people there not accompanied by parents. The concert was a matinee performance of Hayden and Mendelsohn for the Sunday advent, and it a short but lively performance. The conductor was particularly animated, and the symphony played like Disney animated characters. There was a trumpet solist, which was new for Saori and I, and he was really, really good. After the concert, the reception hall was filled with the guests all eating pretzels and drinking coffee and wine. (Also note, that when I say "Pretzel" I do not mean the dried crunchy snack, nor the soft-breadstick-y thing, but a southern German pretzel, which tapers in thickness from the crunchy crossing to a fat, chewy belly sliced open and spread with butter). We met Pauline afterwards and went out for coffee together, and got caught up on how she has been doing for an hour or so.

Afterwards, we strolled through the christmas market, enjoying the sunny day and atmosphere, before heading back home.

Office christmas party

My office Christmas party was friday. It was a combined party with my office and the Ravensburg office and Herr L, at the office. I work in a converted winery building, and there is a big cellar stretching across the building with old stone barrel vaults, in the final stages of renovation. We had the party there, starting around 5pm but actually we were scrambling to print some things out last minute so they had to chase us downstairs.

There were not so many people, maybe twenty in total. German office Christmas parties are not so often plus one events, so significant others stayed home. Which is ok I guess since its more a time to socialize and connect with coworkers.

We were greeted with a round of Sekt (German sparkling white wine), and then welcomed to the buffet. The whole thing was catered by the Ox, the restaurant and butcher shop which I am renovating, and the food was really good. Smoked salmon, smoked herring fillets, beef carpaccio, and schinken (thin sliced air-dried pork) appetizers, and then really good kas' spaetzel (local egg noodle and cheese) plus some pork and gratin potatoes etc. Dessert was white and dark chocolate mousse.

We had tons of wine and schnapps foisted on us, and because that wasn't enough, Rafa also brought a new bottle of some really premium tequila from Mexico and the office finished off the bottle by the end of the night, six hours later.

It was a good event, everyone was pretty boozed up, but I talked to a lot of people, naturally in German, and both of my bosses expressed to me that they were really satisfied with my work and they thought I was a good addition to the design team. Did take a long time to get home since we to wait awhile for the cab to get to the village, and then drop us all off at our respective houses in Stuttgart. Actually we had a slight problem since none of us had any cash and the cab didn't take cards, so we had to make a quick stop at an ATM so I could pull cash. The total for the trip ended up costing  60 euros, which is about $75 US. (Hopefully. I have been avoiding watching the exchange rate, so by now it could actually be $60 US, or perhaps $6).

The next day...
Was not bad. I drank a lot of water at the event, ate well, avoided beer, and drank more water.

Dec 10, 2015

Thursday night, late

It's been a long week. Saori has been working really late every night and I've also been working more than usual since we're scrambling to make deadlines before the holidays. Actually, this morning I had to get out of the apartment by 6:45, so I didn't see Saori at all yesterday other than waking up next to her early this morning.

She is totally fried, and I'm pretty wiped too. We are going to sleep the entire flight to the US.

Tomorrow is our office party after work, and they are paying for cabs back to Stuttgart. This weekend is also our last in town before we fly to the US, so lots of shopping to do.

Also, December 5th was St. Nikolaus day so Saori and exchanged little gifts. It's basically a mini Christmas. We each got each other coffee mugs, coincidentally. We decided not to have a tree this year but instead bought a ton of pine boughs and mounted a particularly nice one to the wall to decorate as a 2D tree.


Dec 7, 2015

"City Stunned by Genius Architect"

The main newspaper in Stuttgart ran an article this weekend over the project I'm working on. It's in German but you you should be able to translate it with page translation. Basically, the typical bits about people happy to have an investor willing to pony up and fund renovations and maintnece, but concerned about new architecture or functions the investor and owner also want.

http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.renovierung-des-gasthofs-in-sicht-ochsen-soll-keine-ruine-werden.2411985d-b30d-4074-b1ce-221979438e0c.html

Does include a photo and a bit about the history of the place. The foundations go back to before the American Revolution.

Dec 5, 2015

The Chef and the Architect I

I've been thinking about architecture and food a lot. Shocking, I know. However, the similarities between the role of the architect and the chef are deeper than most people probably realize. Why does this matter? I think how you frame a basic idea, like "what does an architect do?" has a deep impact for both architects and society they work in, and analogies are powerful conceptual tools.

There was a short article online about the difference between a cook and a chef, and reading it, I thought, this is about the difference between draftsmen and architects.

Chefs and architects both begin with a vision. There is an idea of what the final product will be. But this is not the unhindered vision of the artist. The restaurant chef does not get to choose what to make any more than the architect, although both can specialize in particular types: provincial french cuisine / university buildings, for example.

To reach that end, both must coordinate and lead teams, to answer questions, show the way and solve problems. The vision must be communicated and distributed, broken into parts and made real. The onions chopped and sauteed, the building dimensions and form roughed out. Pork or beef, and how spicy? Concrete or steel? How nicely finished?

There are the constraints of economy and time and physics. There is a client. Here the similarity as it is breaks down: the client of the chef experiences directly the work of the Chef. In architecture, the client often does not daily interact with the final product, with as we see, often leads to terrible architecture.

Imagine a city where the residents pool their money and then the top ten contributers got to decide what everyone was going to be eating. It would be tolerable, probably, but nothing that contributes to your senses, reinforces shared culture, or brings you delight in the way that a good meal does.

Food is like the built environment in that both are necessary for life. You would literally die without them. You could, like in the movie The Matrix, live off of vitamin and amino acid fortified protein goo. In the same way, you could protected from the elements with a minimum of waterproof and insulating elements in your immediate surroundings.

Why do we cook? I imagine that cooking began as a means to transform raw nutritious elements into something that could be consumed. Civilization began when we crossed the line from bare-minimum food preparation into cooking to make something taste better than the bare minimum. Why was that line crossed?  It seems clear to me that we prefer to find pleasure in something that we must do anyway. Are not the most sublime pleasures the ones we have cultivated from basic biological imperatives? (On that note, we have serious problems in our relation to both water and elimination)

There is an idea here as well- a meal is not understood as an object. Nobody ever bought a plate of spaghetti and hung it on the wall, or framed a bowl of soup. With a good meal, I am excited by the anticipation of eating it, my senses are fully engaged from the appearance, the smell, the texture, the taste, and temperature. I think about it as a hierarchy of ingredients- the soup and the salad: the salad is made of ruccola and tomatoes and cheese, etc etc. The soup has a broth and things in the broth, like chicken and cucumber etc etc.

Christmas spirits

I have always associated liberal western democracies with a clear separation of church and state, like the US, so I am often surprised in Germany. For reference, about 30% identity as Evangelical, 29% Catholic, and 33% do not identity with any religion. For a country where fully a third is unaffiliated, religion and state remain much more closely twinned than in the (obstensibly) more relgious US.

There are religious taxes- tithes- that you basically have to opt-out of when you start a new job. The whole system in Germany is basically an opt-out rather an opt-in system.

In the German school system, you are required to take one of three faith based classes: Catholic, Evangelical, or Ethics. Since there is no longer a Jewish population, Judaism is not offered. Nor, as some Persian classmates pointed out, is Islam, whose adherents make up 5% of the German population. Our [German] teacher got a little defensive about this pointing out that they don't teach Christianity in Iranian schools either. He suggested that for parents wishing to have their kids take classes in Islam, that there are private Turkish schools.  This kind of sounds like a bad idea to me, since I believe that separation fosters alienation and mistrust, but I guess it's worked so far in Germany.

Another interesting point is the Christmas events around town. Christmas market is in full swing. There is a manger scene under a massive Christmas tree in the middle of the square, but apart from that there is little overt Christian symbolim. Most of the market is devoted to being a festive market with lots of food, wine, and things for sale. There is tons of decoration, tons of fresh pine boughs, not so many manger scenes, wise men, or Christmas stars.

The city hall was turned into a massive Advents calendar, countng down the days to Christmas in the windows. Advents calendars originated with the German Lutherens, and while today many are quite secular (in fact, I have two), the origin is very religious and associated with the daily devotionals of Advent. Would a city hall in the US do the same? Or would it simply self-censor to avoid even the potential of litigiously aggressive non-Christians?

Speaking of Advents calenders, the first one was a marketing element from a metal medical cabinet manufactuer, just filled with cheap chocolate. The second was a sweet gift from Saori filled with really good coffee. So we have been enjoying the coffee this lovely saturday morning.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...