Friday, November 30, 2012

Tonight: Modern dance and surprise packing

So.  Lar Lubovitch.  His dance company performed at the Kennedy Center tonight, and I saw it.  This was my first time seeing his work, and I really liked it.  The choreography was beautiful and fun, fairly intense.  Not quite transcendant in the way that Mark Morris was, but still a wonderful artistic treat.

With our season's tickets, Amy and I were ideally placed
to get the full effect of the "dance poster" moments in the
choreography.  Sadly, this is the only photo I could find of a
piece that was on tonight's program.
The other thing that happened tonight went as follows (and I paraphrase):

Partner: [calling at 5:30pm on Friday]  Hi.  Do you have time to help on a high-profile project that may be the biggest deal of its sort ever done?  It would entail flying to New York tomorrow morning first thing.

Me:  Umm, okay.

Partner:  Great.  We won't know if we're going until 3:00am.  But you should buy a plane ticket and pack for several days just in case.  If we go, I'll fill you in on the details during the flight.

Thus work resumes its usual pace.  Weekend plans are all now potentially on hold and I'm debating whether I pack everything now, or just pack quickly at 5:30am when the partner will give the yay/nay signal.  The upside is that this this project actually sounds super interesting -- it's the sort of sports media work that I like doing, and it's with one of the more prominent lawyers in the firm.  And with the other deal having just died on Thursday, I seem to have that rare alignment of the stars where I can actually take on a big new project without absolutely killing myself. 

Stay tuned...


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three things of note


I got my teeth sanded today.  Didn't bother me too much while it was happening, but now it's totally weirding me out -- first time in my life that I've had space between my bottom teeth* and been a vampire at the same time.  How do I know I'm a vampire?  Because (a) I was bitten by vampire pajamas two months ago and didn't die, and (b) my teeth are now sharp and things get stuck between them.  Seriously, I'm starting to think that the vampire's traditional all-liquid diet may have more to do with oral hygiene than monstrosity.

* It's so the teeth will have room to move when I get Invisalign next month.


The M&A deal that I had been working on -- and which had so effectively shut down my personal life and disrupted my vacation the past couple of weeks -- died a quick and decisive death.  Ding dong, the witch deal is dead!  Which means my life instantly became more sane.  I get to catch up on the other work projects that had been pushed to the margins, and I can start restoring some of my extracurricular activities.  Yay!


I learned that mud-wrestling women, even in the context of a play as delightful as A Midsummer Night's Dream, is a baffling and unpleasant thing.  Such a mess!  Why do guys think it's a turn-on?  The rest of the play, which was put on by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, was excellent.  Puck (played by one of my favorite local actors) was properly impish, and Bottom (a newcomer to the STC, I think) was one of the strongest and most hilarious actors I've seen in that role -- in fact, the whole ragtag theatre troupe of workmen really stole the show.  How nice to see a show without feeling guilty for skipping out on work or fearing a slew of demanding emails waiting for me back at the office afterwards!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Inaugural concert of the Rubenstein Family Organ

Q:  What did the billionnaire philanthropist call himself after giving an incredibly expensive organ to the Kennedy Center?

A:  An organ donor [chuckle, chuckle]

Said organ was unveiled today for its debut public performance.  My friend Jennifer (another Kennedy Center alum) managed to get special tickets and brought me as her plus one (her husband is in Afghanistan).   The program featured the National Symphony Orchestra (and members of the orchestra playing solo or in small ensembles) and, as you might imagine, everything involved the organ somehow.

The concert opened, inevitably, with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565).  It's the first time I've heard it performed live on an organ this size, and it was awesome -- those pedal notes will shake your bones every time.  Of course, I couldn't help thinking of the orchestral arrangement that the Philadelphia Orchestra played for Disney's Fantasia (though the original organ-only version is much better, as far as I'm concerned).

The middle of the concert had a random trombone/organ duet (snooze) and an organ/brass choir ensemble number (rad), and concluded, as inevitably as it began, with the Sain-Saens Symphony No. 3, which is called the "Organ Symphony" because it incorporates the organ into the full 90-piece orchestra. 

Now, I say that the Toccata and Fugue and the Organ Symphony were "inevitable" because they're some of the best known organ repertoire out there.  They're wonderful pieces of music and everyone knows them -- so it made perfect sense to me that they would be featured in a concert that was open to the public and designed to get people excited about the instrument.  Apparently not everyone appreciated this populist gesture, however.  Here's my favorite exchange of the evening:

Me: [happily] Oh look, they're playing the Organ Symphony!

Jennifer: [sarcastically] That's because it's the only thing there is for organ and orchestra.

Random eavesdropping guy sitting next to us: [very emotionally] That is NOT TRUE!  There is SO MUCH MORE organ music out there, and it is MUCH better than the Saint-Saens. [sniff] Believe me, the Saint-Saens is SUCH a cliche.

Seriously, dude needed to get a grip -- I couldn't tell if he was about to cry or smack us, or both!  So I played into it and admiringly asked him if he was an organist (no, just an enthusiast) and if he could please educate us on what all the best organ music was.  The concert soon started and he spent the whole time playing with his iPhone (apparently recording the concert and sending recordings to people in real time), so I returned the favor and spent the rest of the concert judging him for being an organ enthusiast with extremely poor concert etiquette.  What goes around comes around, mon ami.

In any event, the concert was nice and blessedly short (only an hour!).  Afterwards Jennifer and I went upstairs to the fancy reception that was thrown in honor of the Rubensteins and other major donors, so I got to hobnob with the rich and (not very) famous as well as see a bunch of my friends who still work at the Kennedy Center.  A fun excursion on a worknight!

Mr. Organ Donor himself, with the NSO and the organ behind him.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Las Vegas - Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

One of the best parts about visiting Las Vegas is having the chance to see firsthand some of the natural marvels of the southeastern United States.  Last year we visited Death Valley, with its geographic superlatives (lowest, driest, hottest point in North America); this year we set our sights on Ash Meadow National Wildlife Refuge, a biological rockstar in a neighboring valley. 

Biological rockstar?  I admit I was skeptical at first, too.  I mean, at first glance, the place appeared to be as desolate and barren as the rest of the terrain we'd passed on the two-hour drive from Las Vegas.  But as improbable as it seemed, the place turned out to be teeming with crazy, unusual life.  Starting out 10,000 years ago as a region of large lakes and rivers, this part of Nevada gradually dried out into the desert we know today.  During that process, the creatures that lived in those lakes and rivers had to adapt to a new life in the harsh environtment of rock crevices and quick-drying streams.  The result?  Pretty cool:
Ash Meadows has the greatest concentration of endemic life [i.e., species that are found here and nowhere else on earth] in the United States and second greatest of all in North America.  At least 26 endemic species have adapted to live in and around the waters of Ash Meadows. (From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service brochure)
The most famous of these species are four varieties of pupfish that live in the handful of pools and springs that dot the valley.  After a quick stop at the visitors' center to get a map and a friendly explanation, we set out to find these special fish.


Crystal Springs was our first stop, and there we caught our first glimpse of Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish.  They swam in the shallows of the streambed, feeding on the dark-green algae.  We could see them flashing green and blue from our perch on a stream-side boardwalk, but the distance was too great to get any clear photos.  What you can gather from these photos is the lovely shock of stunning, crystal-clear springwater bubbling so refreshingly to the surface of an otherwise inhospitable land.



A mistletoe-like parasitic plant growing on a mesquite tree.
The head of the spring -- crystal clear water welled up from below.


Devils Hole is a tiny (smaller than my apartment) body of water that lies at the bottom of a deep crevasse and is the only place on earth where the Devils Hole pupfish lives.  The fish are extremely endangered (there are only 90 of them left) and became famous in the 1970s when they were the subject of a Supreme Court decision (Cappaert v. United States) that prevented commercial development of the neighboring land  in order to preserve sufficient water levels in Devils Hole to prevent the fish's extinction.
The place was cordoned off
like Fort Knox, so here's a stock
photo of the fish.


Also, in the "it's a small world" department, would you believe that an earthquake in Mexico could have dramatic effects on this pool?  Turns out the answer is yes, and scientists just happened to be on-site to capture the tsunami event on video. 

(Sadly, as cool as this is from a seismological perspective, the disruption caused by the waves is believed to have hurt the fishes' feeding and spawning -- their population is down from before.)


King's Pool is another spring not far from Devils Hole.  The paths here allowed us to get right to the edge of the water, which permitted great viewing of the fish.


There they are!  The males are blue, the females green.
An ash tree, for which the meadows are named.

In these holes Native American women ground the seeds
of the screwbean mesquite tree into flour.



In keeping with the day's southwestern theme, we went to Casa Don Juan's for a delicious dinner of authentic Mexican food.

Flautas de pollo con arroz, frijoles, guacamole y crema

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Las Vegas - Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We had a great, low-key day here in Las Vegas.  I got up early for a 50-mile bike ride through the canyons, and then the parents and I spent the rest of the day preparing and eating a delicious, traditional Thanksgiving dinner, watching Jane Eyre, snacking on left-overs, and Skyping with distant family. 

I always appreciate this opportunity to reflect on all that I'm thankful for -- good health, a sound mind, a job to support myself, and so many wonderful friends and family that make it all worth it.  The more things I list, the more things I want to add to the list.  That's the magic of gratitude -- it changes the way you see the world; it makes everything so much better.

Blue Diamond Highway
There were signs indicating where the scenic route started and stopped.
I tended to ignore those signs...

A Thanksgiving feast for three

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Las Vegas - Holsteins

Last night's Lotus of Siam wasn't the only restaurant Tim suggested I visit here in Las Vegas.  Next on the list was Holsteins -- we tried it tonight. 

Holsteins is a burger joint in the swanky Cosmopolitan hotel/casino complex, and they have crazy good hamburgers.  I ordered their Rising Sun burger (you can't not order a menu item that appears in every rave review about the restaurant) and I was impressed.  It's the first time a hamburger has made me say "wow" after the first bite.  The vanilla milkshake was also top notch.  Needless to say, we came away stuffed and happy.

The Rising Sun Burger:  Kobe beef, teriyaki glaze, nori furikake,
crispy yam, spicy mayo & tempura avocado

Vanilla milkshake

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Las Vegas - Lotus of Siam

When my friend Tim heard that I was going to be in Las Vegas, he recommended a place called Lotus of Siam, claiming that it was supposed to be one of the best Thai restaurants in the US.  My parents and I tried it out tonight -- and I'm happy to report that it was fantastic.  It definitely ranks among the top Thai restaurants that I've eaten at. 
Like any Thai restaurant worth its salt, Lotus of Siam is in a totally non-descript strip mall
The plate that held our chicken dumplings -- which we devoured instantly
I ordered sauteed chicken with fresh ginger, mushrooms and peppers
Dad got sweet and sour chicken
(a fine dish, but to my taste the weakest of the night)
Lady had green curry with chicken
(a word to the wise: a spicy-ness level of 5 was solid for those of us who like spicy food,
but watch out for those jalapeno-like peppers!)
Mango with sticky rice and coconut milk
(the mango was superb)
Fried banana
(first time I've had it with coconut shavings -- really delicious)

Las Vegas - Red Rock Canyon

If at first you think it's gonna kill you, do it again (because it won't) and then go home and check your stats (because they'll tell you why it felt so hard).  That's the take-away from today's ride through Red Rock Canyon. 

Red Rock Canyon is on the outskirts of Las Vegas, and it's famous for its eponymous red rocks.  I took my bike out there early this morning and rode twice around the 15ish mile scenic road.  The first time I thought for sure I wasn't going to make it.  Within seconds after starting off up the first hill I was sucking air like I hadn't ridden in years and crawling at a snail's pace (8 miles per hour! outrageous!).  Not only that, but I was bundled up in jacket, legwarmers, and gloves in defense against what had been a super-cold morning.  Needless to say, about the same time I started gasping for air I also started peeling off clothes and regretting not having more pockets.  That sweaty, exhausting fun continued for quite a while (those first 5 miles took me 35 minutes, by far the worst time ever) -- but once I passed the crest and found myself on the downhill slope, things got lots more fun:  I zipped down the hill at awesome (and slightly terrifying) speeds. 

Once back at the starting point, I decided that the ascent hadn't been so bad, so I did it again.  I wanted to see it it would be any easier, and I wasn't about to go home having ridden only 15 miles.  Thankfully, the second time around was easier.  I'd shed the extra clothes, so my body temperature was much better regulated, and I knew better how to manage my stamina on the hills.  And of course I also let go more on the downhills (just 0.2mph shy of breaking 40mph -- I completed that 5-mile stretch in a little over 13 minutes, which was my best time ever). 

It was a great time and I'm planning to go back every morning for the rest of the week (unless we're doing something else fun, like hunting for prehistorical fish that live in puddles in Death Valley).
Entering the park
Red rocks!
More red rocks!
The other side of the basin -- the road swings around and hugs the base of the hills
View of the basin from near the highest point in the scenic road
I found a random guy to take my photo in front of the mountain.
I can't believe he cut off my red legs.
The second time around, much happier with less clothing on.
Heading down

Monday, November 19, 2012

Las Vegas - Bike!

I'm experimenting with destination cycling this week. Rather than spend all week in the balmy desert weather wishing I had my bike, I decided to just shop my bike out here and ride all week.

The first half of the adventure happened last weekend, when I had my local bike shop in Northern Virginia teach me how to disassemble and reassemble my bike. The rest of the adventure started this evening when UPS finally delivered the bike after an interminable day of waiting -- seriously, the delivery window was between 9:00am and 7:00pm, and natch it wasn't delivered until the very end, by which time I was bored out of my mind for for having waited in the living room all day listening got the doorbell.

Determined not to lose another minute, I set about reassembling the bike right away. It was pleasantly simple thanks to the lesson I'd had last week.

Now I'm off to bed before an early ride in the canyons tomorrow.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Las Vegas - Quasi en vacances

Welp, I made it.  After a hectic Saturday morning (ballet class! packing! cleaning the apartment!) I settled into my seat for a flight to Las Vegas.  The layover in Houston ended up being a few hours longer than expected due to a mechanical failure.  The crowd was jolly, though, and I made friends with a middle-aged woman who had spent time in Guatemala and who was coming back from New York, where she'd spent an impromptu ten days after having missed her flight to Barcelona due to Hurricane Sandy.  For a while it looked like we'd have to spend the night in Houston (the airline even trotted out refreshments for us, which you know if a bad sign), but then all of a sudden the problem was fixed and we were on our way.  Whew.

This first day of vacation was very un-vacationlike.  I got up early and went outside to work for a few hours on the patio . . .

This would be a perfect patio for a water feature with fish
and then went to church, where I am known as my parents' "bow tie son."  During sacrament meeting we heard a substantively strong but presentationally weak talk about happiness, followed by a substantively weak but presentationally strong talk about the "tender mercies" of the Lord.  Also, for the first time ever, I actually plugged my ears in the middle of sacrament meeting in an effort to block out the noise and chaos of unruly little children.

I ditched out of church after sacrament meeting to keep working -- the theory being that I might as well work while my parents are otherwise engaged and thereby free myself up later in the day when they'd be free.  I worked quickly and got quite a bit done by the time they were home. 

After that, it was time for dinner and Lady's birthday party.  I put away the computer and enjoyed the celebrations and the Davis chocolate frosting.  Mmm.
Turning 5700 years old today -- so ancient!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Portraits on a Friday night

It has been a long week.  It's technically over and I'm supposed to be on vacation -- I fly to Las Vegas tomorrow for a week with the padres and Thanksgiving -- but the partners I'm working for haven't batted an eye at my vacation plans and I'll probably spend much of the week working.  Fortunately I have friends who sometimes need a "plus one" for fun events that can boost an otherwise gloomy Friday night. 

Tonight I went with Jennifer to the opening reception for a new art show at the National Portrait GalleryThe show focuses on the work of six artists whose work, according to the brochure, "expand the narrow boundaries that once defined drawing and portraiture."  I admit I went in with relatively low expectations -- drawing is an often underwhelming art form -- but I came away impressed.  The work of Rob Matthews was particularly touching.  He draws tiny, delicate portraits of friends and family holding things that are important to them.  They're lovely and feel very personal.  Also, he was at the reception -- so Jennifer and I ended up chatting with him for a long time at the end of the night.  It was fun and made his work seem even more personal.

It's apparently becoming my go-to bow tie for art gallery receptions.
The museum has an awesome enclosed courtyard.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sad llama face

Remember how on Sunday I said I was about to move into Step 4 of my work/life (im)balance cycle?  Well, I was right.  Too right.  Step 4 hit like a ton of bricks today at work -- such that it feels a lot closer to Step 5 than I would like.  Superman is flying awfully close to cryptonite.

My plan is working, though.  Not being involved in choirs or other activities with ongoing commitments to other people has made the transition from awesome to lame less stressful than it otherwise would have been.  Instead of stressing about getting to rehearsal, I got to spend all afternoon canceling yoga classes and plans with friends.  It's amazing how much work-time you can create when you cancel everything in your personal life.  Also demoralizing. 

So.  Breathe.  Go to bed. 

This too shall pass.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ooh, say that again

"Jason, you're really good at weightlifting," said the Crossfit coach this morning in front of the whole class.  "Anyone ever tell you that before?"

Nope.  In fact, if I had to vote for the least likely combination of words in the English language, that would have been it.  So let's just let that soak in for a minute. 

[Feel that?  That's what gold stars and "A"s feel like.]

Assuming he's being sincere (and who knows, he may just know that I'm a sucker for praise), all the credit goes to Robert, the trainer I've been working with for the past couple of years, who has always insisted on good technique.  Not only has learning good technique prevented injury, it's also been the key for holding my interest in an activity that for years I would have said was the opposite of anything I'd willingly spend time and money to do.  Heavy weights and huge muscles?  Meh.  Physical challenge with a specific set of instructions that I can execute perfectly?  Love it.

Which makes me wonder:  What other things are there in life that I think I don't like, or have never tried, simply because they haven't been pitched to me the right way?

Sunday, November 11, 2012


See if this cycle sounds familiar:
  1. I'm soul-crushingly busy at work.  No time for socializing, sleep or food.
  2. Work lightens up.  I relax, catch up on sleep, see people.
  3. Two or three days later, I'm bored out of my mind, so I join three choirs, start training for a marathon, plan dinner parties at my house, enroll in piano lessons, schedule dentist appointments, and start talking about finding an apartment downtown DC.
  4. Then I take on more work and everything is perfect:  I've got an awesome high-powered job, plus I'm doing everything else that I want to do.  I feel like superman.
  5. Somewhere between four and eight weeks later, things fall apart.  Work is again soul-crushingly demanding; I fall behind in my rehearsals, socializing, training, household chores, sleep.  I'm back to step 1.
Anyone who has known me with any degree of intimacy for more than, say, a year, knows that this is a recurring cycle in my life.  I've done this to myself over and over!  In the past few years, I finally started waking up in the middle of step 5 -- I'd realize what had happened, how I'd gotten myself into the bind I was in, and I'd resolve never to do it again.  Only by the time I came back around to step 3 again, that self-awareness I'd had in step 5 would be long forgotten.  That's because whenever I'm not in step 5, all I want is to get back to step 4.  I love step 4; it's like a drug and I crave the rush.  Going into step 4, I always think that I'll be able to make step 4 last forever.

Does this mean I'm insane?  There's that adage that says "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, hoping for different results", and I guess by that light I might be a little crazy sometimes.   

But guess what?  I may have broken (or at least tweaked) the cycle this time:  After intensely busy months in August and September (step 1), work slowed down significantly after all the weddings in early of October (step 2).  I relaxed for a minute, got bored, and started looking for choirs and other activities to join (step 3).  But I didn't get any farther than scheduling an audition for a new men's choir in DC before two things happened.  First, it occurred to me that if singing in a choir that rehearses across the street from my apartment is too demanding, then singing in a choir that would require significant travel would only be worse.  Second, I got distracted with other fun opportunities; namely, two new gym memberships (one at the Sculpt yoga/cycling studio, and one at the nearby Crossfit) and a seven-week Intro to Ballet class on Saturday mornings.  That's the direction I took -- in a fit of moderation, I signed up for all three.

So I'm still in step 3, but this time the mix of activities is different in important ways.  Unlike musical groups, which require consistent, long-term commitment to a group of people and regular off-day practicing, and marathon training, which requires fairly strict adherence to a plan, these other activities are flexible, day-to-day commitments to myself (there's a social element, but the others aren't relying on me) that can be scaled up or down depending on other pressures.  I'm hoping these differences will permit me to maintain step 4 for longer and avoid crashing in step 5.

The proof, of course, will be in the pudding.  I've been staffed on a new M&A deal that will take off this week (because of course it will -- I'm trying to take next week off!), so I will officially be back in step 4 before I know it.  Here's hoping I'm not insane!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Happy birthday!

Heather and I turned thirty-three today!  It would have been fun to celebrate together, but since we're on opposite sides of the country, we made do with what we had.  Here's how my day went down:
  • 9:00am - Ballet class (the real beginner class this time)
  • 10:30am - Brunch at Locolat (Belgian waffles!)
  • 1:15pm - Crossfit workout
  • 4:00pm - 22-mile bike ride in Virginia
  • 6:30pm - Meet up with friends for art show openings at Hemphill Fine Arts and two other galleries whose names I've forgotten (they're all in the same building)
  • 8:00pm - Dinner with more friends at Annie's Paramount Steakhouse
  • 10:00pm -  Meet up with other friends at Senarts Oyster & Chop House (a good friend from Kennedy Center days has her birthday tomorrow, so our celebrations often overlap)
Throughout all of these activities I received text messages, phone calls, emails and Facebook posts from friends and family wishing me happy birthday.  I loved hearing from everyone; it made for a fun and special day.  I think my favorite thing was hearing that Heather and the kids all went to lunch at Five Guys because it reminds them of me.  Thanks, and love you all!

Now here are some photos:
Dark hot chocolate
Amy & moi, with waffle
Brynn, Shae, Jaron -- celebrating at Five Guys in Add caption

Tim & moi, with art
The art

Steak, vegetables and some giant pop-over thing that I hadn't expected
Chocolate birthday cake