Falconry Lesson. Yup, Really!

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Recently we had Mark, a dear friend of mine from college and his wonderful long time partner, Don, come down and spend a weekend with us. Mark always finds something interesting to do and this time was no exception. He found a falconry class on Living Social. When Mark first told me about the chance to do this I thought it sounded fantastic but could they really deliver that great an experience to a group? I mean, come on! Handle the bird for real? But even if it was only to observe and learn I was on board so we booked it and the time had come to go see what it was all about.

I love critters. I am the one who hears a twig snap in the forest and goes to see what stepped on it. Someone makes the sign for shark while we’re diving and points in the direction they saw it and I will swim that way. Probably not too smart, but it’s the way I’m wired, so birds of prey seemed like a wonderful hobby to me. Obviously to all of us that attended because we came to learn about it. That was refreshing, because a lot of people I told about the class showed a distinct aversion to the idea of handling such a bird.   There were 12 of us plus the 2 instructors/trainers/entrepreneurs and 3 of their birds. There were a couple of teenagers which was cool and they did great, the instructors worked with them perfectly so if you are considering it for a younger audience that worked out very well.

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One of the Three Stooges. Majestic Harris Hawk.

We got right to it standing in front of 3 stands with the 3 birds and getting a very good introduction to the sport, the tradition, how they got into it and the birds themselves. It was very interesting, some surprising information and it really gave us an appreciation for the bond that has to develop between the trainer and the birds. Meanwhile the Three Stooges are looking at us like the dumbest twelve monkeys they have seen all year! Bored, aloof, regal and just majestic, we have now learned that they are all Harris Hawks and we will be working one of them for the next hour. Clearly they are letting us know that we will, if one of them will allow it. Kirk has picked up a beautiful female, Shanti and is using her to demonstrate a few things and she is showing signs of grudging cooperation so he decides to use her for the class.

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If I feel like it!

We each get a leather glove that comes up to our elbow for our left hand, along with some very strict instructions on what NOT to do with that arm for the rest of the session. The bird is very much keyed into that glove as a signal and as a cue that you may have food. We were instructed to leave it at our side unbent at all times. That is harder than it sounds! Taking pictures, gesturing in disbelief and awe, talking really fast and enthusiastically…none of these things lend itself to dead arm. We tried. They had us all form a large circle and began teaching us to call Shanti to our glove (with the added incentive of a little chicken meat). We had a glorious time having her land on us and take off for the first time from our gloves and realizing how light but powerful she is, less than 3 pounds and such a gentle grip for such a fierce hunter. Thrilling at the swoosh of her wings in our faces as she lands and her tail as she turns to face the wind. Seeing the sun light up her beautiful, golden brown eyes that look so far past you it makes you realize she has deigned to land upon you and take the chicken, but other than that, you do not exist for her. Up close and personal with something you usually see from afar and admire, if not envy, in flight.

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She had me at first flight!

OK. Expectations already exceeded. The four of us are thrilled so far with this activity and it has just begun. I don’t want to ruin it, if this interests you, you must go do it for yourselves. We had many more opportunities to handle Shanti, she was a perfect lady and the class was run exceedingly well by Kirk and Denise. It remained informative, interesting, hands-on and downright breathtaking. My favorite part was at the end. We lined up to get pictures with Shanti.   Kirk held her behind the line, she flew to the subject facing the line (over our heads) landed, posed like a professional, and then Kirk called her back and she swooped right up in our faces to land behind us on Kirk’s stand. Oh, the thrill! Every time she flew right at me then adjusted and swooped up to the stand at the last second just took my breath away. I could have stood there all day and had her do that.

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Dan with hawk landing for his picture session

The class was held at a remote site in Alpine with a beautiful, sweeping view of valleys and mountains. The birds were clearly loved by their caregivers, had ample opportunity to leave and never return and were cared for exceedingly well, I was paying attention. If it weren’t for the whole “feeding them live and nearly live, cute little animals thing” I would be ever so tempted to take up this sport myself. Especially once you see how Kirk got hooked on it. He says he was in Nepal and saw them parahawking. Click here to see him doing this himself with his bird here in San Diego. No, really, check it out. Yup, if I could dispatch chicks and bunnies I would be all over this!

So, this is a rare treat. We were told there are only 4 schools in America at which you can have this experience. This is West Coast Sky Falconry. We are so lucky to have them right here. Go do it. Bring a camera. Bring a Go-Pro. Do not bring your cute little pets.

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Our instructors Denise and Kirk with Shanti

Happy Hour Downtown with Champagne Sista!

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Flirty and Fabulous

Flirty and Fabulous

I am convinced that my friend Mary is my sister from the same mother. I was adopted, so it could be true. Her mother swears it isn’t, with such vehemence that I am a little bit insulted. For sure she is my sista’ friend because we could not be more similar if we tried. From our opinions on professional sports and the players, parenting (she’s a mom, I am not), fiscal responsibility,  the kinds of friends we each have and attract and what we like to do it’s like we are carbon copies. I am about a foot and a half taller than her though. She was delighted to discover the phrase Person McNugget last year!
So, when we were headed downtown to San Diego on a Monday night for an event and needed somewhere for Happy Hour, I knew we would find somewhere we could agree on without a problem. I did leave it up to Mary, excellent researcher that she is and within minutes she was suggesting Encore, Champagne Bar and Dining Room. It was a couple blocks from our event and just happened to have my very favorite vice of all as its central theme! Champagne! Mary is brilliant, did I mention we are EXACTLY the same?
We parked and walked and spotted the place from across the street. We could see inside the big windows that it is very stylish. Mostly white with beautifully tufted, upholstered seating, black architectural accents, intricate opalescent tile and the only spots of color are the most stunning, audacious turquoise blue chandeliers you could find! So glam, and so perfect. The staff are all equally beautiful and welcoming as could be. We were there early, so we had the place to ourselves for a while. We perched elegantly at the bar (Mary did anyway…I sort of plopped down) and really got the opportunity to chat with Brandy the bartender. Moises, another of the handsome staff took our picture for us. Scott, the other bartender (they must hire from a modeling agency) for the evening and bar manager other evenings chatted with us and introduced us to an all chardonnay grape Champagne. Spoiled rotten we were!

Audacious!

Audacious!

So we have established that the atmosphere, décor and eye candy are definitely approved by Mary and Dianne. On to other important details. Happy Hour Menu! They had a white wine, a red wine, a champagne, a bellini and I don’t remember what else on the drink menu. We opted for the champagne and that night it was Piper Sonoma for $6 per glass. Approved! We began to approve of everything else even more with champagne on board, such is the magic of the bubbles. They had a nice selection of salads and little plates at half price for happy hour as well. The beef carpaccio with tangerine (tangerine? Who thinks of that? Kudos Chef!) and the rustic salad with beets and pistachio were especially yummy. Scott told us that the chef does like to combine unexpected flavors for surprising but complimentary effect. Not your typical happy hour food to be sure, the plates were not very mini, and everything went great with the champagne of course.

See!  Tangerine!
People began to trickle in as we enjoyed ourselves. A mixture of folks to be sure. A group of men dressed in jeans and workboots that gravitated towards the extensive collection of beertaps on the other side of the bar. Scott greeted them by name so they had clearly discovered the magic of Encore and were fans. By the way they enjoyed the beer selection, Brandy the bartender is not the only worthy attraction for them here. Young ladies were meeting after work, ordering the wine and champagne, occupying the reserved tables surrounding the bar with their luxuriously tufted upholstery. Some hipsters opted for the sofas and coffee table by the window to enjoy their cocktails and there were even a couple oldie but goodies like ourselves. One nicely dressed man came in a bit unsteadily, engaged us in somewhat loud but friendly conversation and was deftly and discretely handled by Scott as he recognized he was too intoxicated for 5 in the afternoon and needed to go sleep it off somewhere safe. Impressive. It was obvious that many of the people that came in were repeat customers if not downright regulars, and I can certainly see why. All were greeted warmly, repeat visitors were made to feel they were recognized and Mary and I were by now wondering if we could find a company downtown that would like to hire us both and rent us a suite to use when we needed to stay downtown instead of commute back to North County during the week. Something REALLY close to Encore! Brandy told us that the weekends are very busy and as the evening wears on the bar gets more of a nightclub vibe. They are open until 1:30 am.
We peeked in on the restroom and the dining room. The restroom was totally glammed out too, of course. A unisex with shared sink area and private stalls with men on one side, women on the other. It has a hint of daring but is actually very conventional. Sexy! Cool lighting, even in the roomy stalls.  The dining room continues the modern, cosmopolitan feel of the bar and has a counter where you can sit to eat and look into the kitchen. Scott told us that on nights where the chef is not too busy he will pause and chat with diners at the counter. Definitely coming back with the hubby for dinner, plus we peeked at the dinner menu and it looks wonderful!
A lovely young woman named Amber came in as we were getting ready to go. She said that she had been in the night before and a band that was playing over at House of Blues came in. They sat at the bar, ordered all of the bar food on the menu, shared it with her and they ended up chatting and drinking together. She went with them over to their concert and I guess had a great night partying like a rock star. So, apparently, you never know what will happen when you stop in at Encore. Mary and I will just have to keep going and find out! That’s what sisters do for each other.

Good Times

Good Times

 

World Class Theater on the Cheap?

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Without a doubt one of the biggest perks we have here is the La Jolla Playhouse. This jewel of a theater complex is home to some of the most extraordinary productions, many of which premiere here and go directly to Broadway to win Tony’s. You would never guess that hidden away on the tranquil campus of UCSD in the eucalyptus grove, with the ocean air breeze and the magical hidden succulent garden out back is this powerhouse of theatrical influence.

Shortly after moving back to the San Diego area we began to get season tickets for the Playhouse. We were amazed to discover that we could get the whole season for a little more than the price of seeing one show on Broadway. We go the frugal way, as is our pattern, by getting them in the “preview” period and on a weekend matinee, but still. CHEAP! We like that matinee because we can do dinner afterwards. Nothing in the La Jolla area is open late enough to do a leisurely dinner after an evening theater performance and we don’t like to eat early enough to make a 7:30 or 8:00 curtain. Previews can be interesting to those of us with curious minds because you occasionally get what is affectionately termed a “train wreck”. That has been explained to the audience as when something, usually something technical with the set or a prop, goes very wrong and the production has to be stopped. It is interesting to us because it gives you a glimpse into the nuts and bolts of the production. We see enough theater to not need it all to be perfect. We are interested in the art of it and these rare glimpses, always handled with humor and grace, are fascinating and somehow reassuring to the mere mortals in the audience.

Almost every production has someone we recognize in it. BD Wong is a recurring actor here, John Leguizamo, Billy Crystal, Gregory Harrison, Keith Carradine and so many from Broadway productions and TV shows (oh my gosh, am I the only one that hasn’t been on a CSI or Law and Order episode?). This is definitely not community theater! The plays themselves range from the rather traditional Our Town or Glengarry Glen Ross to plays that were conceived, written, developed and produced on location at the Playhouse. The latter, called Page to Stage productions are an interesting opportunity for members of the community to see the work at various stages of completion, interact with the artists and then view the completed work.

The three theaters each have their own character, but they all have one marvelous thing in common. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. Each is small enough that it remains what could be called intimate (under 500 seats) and every seat is as close to the stage as the furthest orchestra seat in a Broadway theater is. The theaters are not so small as to be awkward though, the audience size is more than adequate, usually sold out and almost always appreciative so the experience is fantastic. We are completely spoiled because we have had our season tickets for over 10 years now. We are in the third row a little right of center and they keep trying to move us up. I love our seats and am not budging! In most cases I like the slight space between us and the actors. The one time we moved up to the front row because we switched dates worked out perfectly. It was for Sideways and they had wisely set up a wine bar in the lobby and allowed us to bring wine into the theater to enjoy during the show. We felt like we were on a wine tasting trip with the cast through the Central Coast for that whole play and we, with the rest of the first couple of rows, cleaned the wine bar out of Pinot at intermission! No one dared touch the Merlot…

Probably our most memorable experience so far at the Playhouse was early in our subscription. In 2004 Des McAnuff was the Artistic Director and he personally directed this production as well. We just happened to be at the first public viewing of the show since we buy such er, economical, tickets. We also hadn’t been season ticket holders for very long so we were on the aisle a couple rows from the back. The show was a brand new, world premiere and the audience was packed, which was a tribute to Des’ reputation and talent. As the production got underway the enthusiasm of the audience was palpable. Laughing, dancing in their seats, applauding, murmuring in approval…it was all there. And the guy behind us was getting out of control. I was definitely into the show, and doing my own version of the theater seat boogie but this guy was yanking on the back of my chair, kicking it, accidentally pulling my hair, involuntarily yelping with what appeared to be glee. Glancing back I couldn’t help but smile, as obnoxious as he was, he was having the time of his life and the mood was infectious! He was on the aisle, and in the aisle, and leaning over the guy next to him to talk to someone three seats down. He had a clipboard. And a script. Wait a minute. He looked familiar. OMG. That’s Des! Dan. Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan Dan. I pointed to his picture in the program and back behind us and repeated that gesture a couple times. Dan’s mouth formed a perfect “O” followed by a big grin and we enjoyed the production even more, floating on Des’ triumph as he experienced his first audience go mad for Jersey Boys.

Not every experience has been as grand as that. Some have come very, very close. There have been incredibly moving pieces that have changed that way that I look at people and the world like The Laramie Project, The Tallest Tree and Ruined. And there have been some that we haven’t stayed past intermission, or wished that they had given us an intermission so that we could have gracefully exited. But that is part of the experience as far as we are concerned. I am sure that some of my favorites have been other patrons least favorite and vice versa. Art in all its glory is still open to personal interpretation and we are better for being exposed to all of it. Sometimes we learn more from the stuff we don’t like. Sometimes we just get a little nap and a crick in our neck.

Mostly, we are guaranteed a couple of afternoons of theater a year for a very reasonable price. Most of the time, especially in the last couple years, the shows are amazing. We occasionally get to brag to our New York friends that they need to go see such and such play because we saw it at the LJP and it was terrific. We turn the days into date nights and enjoy great restaurants in the area and we are still having fun!

 

Big night out with friends

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ImageImageAbout a week ago we got together with friends that we had not hung out with before.  The coordinator of the evening, Scott, was a single guy I knew from working with and we had met up for drinks before so I knew his style was single, surfer on the prowl in dive bars which can be a fun dip in a different pool for us every once in a while.  One of the other guys, Bill,  we had also worked with and he is also around our age, married although I had not met his wife, LaDawn. Bill has an amazing, dry sense of humor that just kills me and is the spitting image of Bob Newhart. I had no idea what their style of hanging out would be.

We met up for sushi at Sakura Bana on Coast Highway in Encinitas.  They have a nice happy hour with food and drink specials which suited our budgets.  We were  lucky enough to get a table in the bar. The place was packed so it must be very popular.  For a table of 5 I think we made enough noise for about 30 high school students.  Ends up the group of us together hit it off really well and just had so much to talk about and laugh about.  Oh my gosh, to laugh about.  Bill was at the top of his game comedically and his wife LaDawn is just one big ball of energy with no filter, wonderful outrageous thoughts and a brilliant mind.  It makes for quite the conversation!  I think by the time the first round of drinks arrived they were thinking they would like us to leave.  Too bad, we were just getting started. 

Our waitress was quite wonderful about keeping us well stocked with drinks, always checking to make sure no one went dry.  Probably not too smart if they wanted us to quiet down any.  The food service fell apart somewhat.  Dan and I ordered on a separate check. The food from the first check came and our friends dug in because we all thought she just couldn’t carry it all at once.  It was easily 10 minutes later when ours came.  We ordered it at the same time.  At the same table.  Apparently the chefs didn’t keep the tickets together so either she didn’t tell them when she submitted it or they messed it up.  It was pretty awkward at the table for a while, I wasn’t drinking that night and then I wasn’t eating either!  Part of our order was miso soup. Can’t they bring that?  Ah well.  Maybe punishment for having so much loud fun!  When my sashimi salad did come it was ok.  Not the best fish, I had to disguise it with the soy/wasabi combination instead of just lemon or naked, but it was passable and the combination with greens and mango was very nice.  Everyone said their rolls were good so, for the happy hour it sounds like a good deal, recommended.

Dan is not the swiftest of eaters.  This is good. It is not healthy to eat quickly.  But when Dan is socially engaged, talking, laughing, telling stories, he forgets he has food in front of him and unfortunately uses his utensils to wave around  as he tells his story.  I cannot break him of that habit and I am not sure why it bothers me so much, but it seems very distasteful to me.  Put the chopstick down!  Really, it’s such a little thing DIanne, let it go, give the guy a break.  Where was I?  Oh!  Our food is here, our friends are done eating, I’m done eating, Dan is talking and not eating and it is getting time to go.  He really hates it when I suggest something to him when we are with people.  Even if the other people don’t know I suggested something.  But I have to tell him he has to eat up because we do have to go.  So I do get that point across and poor Dan has to share his rolls with the table to get it gone and get moving.  I’m pretty sure he wasn’t too impressed with the food anyway and was filling up on beer, but still.  Clearly we are not done socializing so we spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.  It’s a charming little section of Coast Highway in Encinitas called the Lumberyard.  Lots of shops, restaurants, bars, yoga studios, coffee shops etc.  There are a lot of people out and about and we decide to walk down to a place called 1st Street Bar. 

1st Street is also on Coast Highway.  It is rather the institution in Encinitas. The building has been a bar since the 1800’s and at one point Charlie Chaplin’s brother owned it. It is definitely in keeping with our “on a budget” evening, I believe the cost of a pitcher was under $10 for some pretty darn good beers until  10PM, which was amazing!  It is a bar.  No food.  At all.  After 10, no chairs, barstools, benches or perches.  I didn’t try to use the restroom so I am not even sure if you could sit down in there!  The place has character.  And characters!

About that chair thing.  About 10:00 a burly security guy starts coming around collecting the chairs at the bar, one of which I was occupying.  It was loud in there so I didn’t understand at first what he was trying to do.  I am definitely a “bit” over the average age of the occupants of the place at this time and my hearing aid wasn’t working too well with all the noise in there.  Once he made it clear he had to remove all the chairs because the dancing was going to start I said “But, I’m OLD!”  and this nervy guy says “I know”.  WTF??  I laughed so hard, I told him that’s not what you’re supposed to say! He blushed and blustered and said what he meant was that he is old and he knows how he would want to keep the chair but that he can’t let me.  It was awesome!  He just couldn’t get away from me fast enough.  Then he gets down the row to Dan who saw all this happen and Dan says, “Take mine last”  and the poor guy says “ok” and goes to move right along.  Dan had to stop him and tell him he was just busting on him.  Poor guy, he must hate the elderly groups that come in on Saturdays!

We were having a good time.  Scott was telling us old, married folks some hilarious and barely believable tales of being single.  He was showing us some of his best moves with some of the ladies, they weren’t working too well for him that night, but to be fair, he wasn’t trying too hard as most of the ladies were young enough to be his daughter.  Fun! The half price pitchers were going down easily and the people watching was awesome!  The crowd was definitely shifting over to the younger set as it does around this time of evening in most places around here.  Usually people like us are home watching our DVR by now or turning the lights out, but this was our BIG NIGHT OUT. 

ImageI think the guy who took our picture had imbibed even more than Scott had by this time, that’s one fuzzy photo!

 

So, here we were, hanging with the hipsters.  Now, Encinitas is an affluent area with an eclectic mix of people.  The houses are expensive but there are many renters and you get a lot of surfers and students packed into one house near the beach.  You also get a lot of youngsters coming into Encinitas to party because it has become kind of a destination place for that sort of thing.  Residents are starting to say it is getting out of control, so it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.  So, you have some regular locals.  They are the ones of indeterminate age who look like they may be homeless but are probably authors or neuroscientists or something and live in the large houses with the views.  I’m only half joking. They wander in and out, seem to have a permanent spot at the bar that no one encroaches upon and they will probably head out soon after 10.  You have the actual homeless.  They are mostly outside but wander in and out around the entrance when security is occupied elsewhere. They are looking for a beer or a cigarette, usually from one of the regulars. You have tourists.  Unfortunately they are very easy to spot.  They are usually sunburned, shivering and looking very uncomfortable because this looks like a rough crowd if you aren’t looking closely.  They are shivering because no one told them that it is cool in the evenings here and when you are sunburned it is downright freezing! Be nice to them, they’re on the trip of a lifetime, have found a great place to hang out they just haven’t figured it out yet and you might end up in their town with that look on your face some day. You will also see groups of people meeting up here, they have pool and ping pong so that’s always fun.  But yes, it starts to change around 10. 

This particular Saturday night they had a DJ start up and the dancing got started and suddenly it was a young crowd.  Now I had switched from water to vodka about 9 PM so all 5 of us didn’t really care that we were about 25 years older than those on the dance floor 6 feet away from us.  Dan and I at least were fascinated with the whole thing.  We had never stuck around to watch this kind of thing when people really did dance.  There was a beautiful girl with more energy than Tigger the Tiger (there’s a sexy reference for you) on the dance floor and she was obviously a real dancer.  She moved beautifully and was encouraging people to get out there and dance.  The men were helpless against her smile, and whatnot.  Women too, she had charisma for days!  Slowly she built a crowd up and then got the right song going from the DJ and it was on!  She actually got one of those dance things going where everyone is in a circle and someone goes and dances in the center with everyone dancing and cheering them on and then switching.  It was awesome! OK, I am such a geek, I will own that, but I had never seen it happen organically and it was cool.  Which I, obviously, am so not.

Oops, maybe it is not so obvious.  Or it was “mess with the old geek” night at 1st Street because it was time to get the old gals out on the floor.  Now, I blame LaDawn.  She looks approximately 20 years younger than her chronological age and she has the attitude to back it up!  So she gets sucked into the outer circle.  Being LaDawn she has a very tight grip and manages to pull me in too.  OK, outer circle, I can do this.  So we are shaking our old butts and moving our feet and having a general good laugh at ourselves, getting some nice and not too condescending pointers from some of the other gals on the floor.  One was very helpful, use every other beat! Probably saved me a trip to the cardiac unit that night.  LaDawn was actually killing it and I thought she might even get Bill out there but he wisely got very interested in something Dan was determined to talk to him about.  So we did it.  We strutted our stuff.  We had a blast and no one got hurt.  Success, and time to go!  Dan decided at this point it might be a good idea to leave before we got any more adventuresome and honestly, it was probably the perfect moment.  Let the young’uns have some fun, we got to see some really cool dancing, have our fun and it really was getting too late to watch anything on the DVR at this point!  Scott had already bailed, probably rode his bike around looking for his dream girl on the streets of Encinitas.  Hey, weirder things have happened!

To end the evening off just right I look up and see these odd lights in the sky really high up.  Everyone is chatting and I try to point it out, but it changes and looks kind of like a plane so I say never mind.  Then about a block later I look up and it is nothing like a plane, hasn’t changed position and is really freaking me out so I get everyone to look.  No one can figure it out.  LaDawn is not going to let that stand!  She trots over to a Sheriff’s car at a stop sign, gets him to roll down the window, points up in the sky like a kid coming out of a frat party and asks him if he knows what that is up there.  It ends up some guy that lives up there has a helium kite with a LED light show that he sends up there really high and the Sheriffs department gets calls all night about it.  Drives them crazy.  I can see why they get the calls. That thing is downright creepy!  Why the heck would someone do that?  Fun once maybe, but routinely?    Maybe like this night…fun once a quarter maybe, but more than that, I don’t think I could handle it.   Thanks you guys, it was great!  Didn’t take Dan long to play King of the Bed!  Cute, right?

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God bless the surfer change

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Clearly one of the best things about living in San Diego is the close proximity to the beach. Even in March it is a luxurious, free treat to take a walk along the cliffs above the beach, enjoying the view, the people, the fresh air and the exercise.  San Diego County may be an expensive place to live and visit but this is one amenity you can enjoy all you want and it is available at no extra charge.

I was enjoying a walk last week with Enzo, our German Shepherd, along Coast Highway by Swami’s. That’s a pretty famous surf spot in North County. There is a nice stretch of walkway that goes along the cliffs where you can look out over the surfers and the coastline.  Enzo and I needed to get out and relax a little, we were working on getting him to ignore other dogs rather than bark and try to play with them and I was getting over the stress of losing my job.

It was a glorious, sunny day.  It was after a nice, big storm that had brought us a lot of rain so the sky was uncharacteristically clear and the surf was still high.  The surfers were really enjoying the bigger waves and they were out in full force, even though it was a week day.  Obviously, there was a little case of surfer’s flu hitting the county this week, although I am happy to say these guys looked like perfectly healthy specimens to me.

The mix of people on land was fun.  There were the recreational walkers like Enzo and myself of varying ages, the serious runners, who mostly used the bike lane to avoid the clogs caused by the rest of us in the path, friends out for strolls and chats, moms with strollers, skateboarders, surf watchers, bicyclists who looked annoyed with the runners in their lane.  There were people who watched the ocean and people who looked like they might as well have been on their treadmills.  People who had on headphones and others who listened to all that was around them.  People smiling and others scowling.

I enjoyed a group of four that had just flown in from Georgia.  They were sitting on a curb to take a little break and chat and noticed Enzo so we stopped for a second and he got some loving..  I had spotted a pod of dolphins just off the coast in front of us and mentioned it.  They were sitting right there and hadn’t seen the 4 fins, the blows and even the playful jumps these dolphins were performing for them!  They were happy to have it pointed out and did watch for a bit, but were more interested in the dog.  Now, I am a crazy dog lover, don’t get me wrong. I see a dog and it’s all I can do to keep from going up to it… usually I don’t even try to stop myself.  But I have lived in San Diego most of my life, born and raised here, and I will watch dolphins until they are out of sight EVERY TIME.  These dolphins were behaving differently too.  Usually they just cruise along the shore, coming up to breathe every so often, beautiful, graceful and quick.  These guys were dallying.  Hanging out in one spot.  Splashing around with one another.  Jumping a bit.  I don’t know if they had very young juveniles with them or what but they put on quite an extended show and I was very bummed I did not have my binoculars.  I kept watching.  My new friends from Georgia wandered off.  I’ll bet they went to Sea World while they were here though.

The Surfer Change?

So far this is working wonders on my tension, I am feeling much better and so thankful for where I live.  As I approach where I parked, right near the parking lot at Swami’s I notice a few surfers have come up from the beach and are by their cars.  If you haven’t been around surfers after surfing or anyone coming off the beach really, you have missed out.  We do this thing called a surfer change because the bathrooms at the beach are cold, wet, sandy and not too convenient. Our gear is in our cars so we go back, peel our wetsuit off our shoulders, maybe rinse down with some water out of a jug, if female at this point pull on a shirt then pull down the wetsuit to the waist, wrap a towel around waist, pull off wetsuit and dress your bottom.  It sounds easy, but think of all the possible fail points!  The breeze.  The awkwardness. The clothes sticking against the towel.  The bending.

Now around here, we are used to it. It is my impression that we are basically polite and avert our eyes, allowing folks to change without being intentionally observed.  I am probably giving perverts too much credit, but since I do this myself I choose to believe it.  It is definitely accepted practice at the beach.  I probably wouldn’t try it and would be surprised to see it in a grocery store parking lot inland.  BUT, it sure makes me smile to see healthy,  tan, broad backed men (yes, and women) changing out in the open even when I am not trying to see anything Disney wouldn’t put in a movie.  It makes me smile because it is SO home.  It feels SO free.  I know some people who would be SO appalled.  It is just part of what makes this place SO right.  Well, that and the dolphins, right Enzo?

Mardi Gras in view of the San Diego Surf

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Tower 13 in Cardiff threw a Mardi Gras bash on Saturday March 1st that was just the kind of thing we could fully enjoy and feel like we had a good dose of New Orleans food, drink and entertainment without the travel, crowds and overindulgence of the real thing.

We had stopped in for a happy hour bite on Friday and the bartendress was mixing up a fruit concoction in a big vat she had placed precariously on a bar stool.  It dawned on me-hurricanes!  I was right and we became the lucky taste testers.  Now hurricanes from scratch (instead of the kool-aid like powder you can buy and mix up) is a sweet, yummy treat.  I can’t drink too much because of its sweetness but it is delicious and she was doing a great job with it.  Of course, Dan very helpfully suggested it needed more of an alcohol bite to cut through the sweetness.  Ha!  Randy, the chef who had come out front while we were tasting the batch, being from New Orleans backed him up whole heartedly.

By now we have realized they are throwing a Mardi Gras party and we are getting down to details.  Randy tells us in his southern drawl which I suspect was a little enhanced from all the back home activities he had been engaging in, about the difficulties he had in getting his live crawfish this year.  It had been such a cold winter in the South that the ones in New Orleans weren’t big enough and he had to go to Central Florida for these.  He had 300 pounds delivered and pots the size of bath tubs ready to boil them up in.  Then he starts in about the gumbo and jambalaya he’ll be fixing up to go along with it.  Man, he had me at crawfish!  What a feast, count us in for sure.  A big storm is blowing in though, and in San Diego, when it rains we practically expect the National Guard to rescue us so they were concerned that it might hurt their turnout.  Hmmmm, more crawfish for us?

It did in fact storm all night.  It made national news, it rained so hard.  But it stopped raining that morning and most of the day.  The ocean was still super stormy and it was windy and cloudy so it was very exciting to go down by the water.  Tower 13 is right across the highway from the sand.  What a spot!  When we parked there were sea-foam bunnies about 18 inches long scurrying down the beach.  Something you rarely see here.  I had to watch a little bit, even though I was wearing purple feather fake eyelashes and therefore was risking eye injury in the wind just to face that direction.  For once the waves were louder than the traffic.

We were quickly lured inside by the smell of the crawfish cooking out back and the amazing sounds of Euphoria Brass Band, the  band that we had made sure we were on time to hear.  It felt like we were stepping off the streets of New Orleans, not the beach of Cardiff as the sounds, smells, laughter and good times of the Big Easy greeted us at the door. The crowd was definitely coastal, North County San Diego…our peeps, but the feel was all N’awlins.  And our peeps were definitely getting their Southern Good Times on.

One of the best things for us about living in North County Coastal San Diego is that the crowd at most of the bars is on the older side.  Checking id’s is kind of silly and Dan and I don’t feel like we dropped in from our time machine.  Tower 13 is no different.  The crowd is very mixed, young surfers mixed with what are probably some of the original surfers!  Professionals of all ages and all having a good time with a view of the ocean, good food, creative cocktails and a very nice menu.  A great place to drop in on if you are visiting and want a really “California beach experience”, because the locals hang here.

We had the hurricanes.  Perfect!  Not as strong as in New Orleans but that was probably good, because the storm would have made it very hard to sleep it off on the beach.  We had the crawfish.  Randy hooked us up and let us know when a fresh batch was coming out so they didn’t oversteam.  Oh man, were they good.  They kept them a little less spicy than down South for us which is OK by me and they were delicious. I could hear people saying “better than shrimp or lobster”  but they were saying they are hard to eat.  I was just thinking “worth it” and “you get better at it”!  Gumbo and jambalaya were decent but didn’t have the depth of flavor I was hoping for.  Probably because they don’t have that stuff cooking regularly to keep layering it in.

Hey Mista’!  Gimme some beads!

Now Dan is no dummy.  Before we left home he grabbed a bunch of Mardi Gras beads and stuffed them in his pockets, my jacket pockets, anywhere he could.  I sort of thought he was being silly but he definitely had the last laugh on that one.  Clever like a fox that one!  He started out slow.  Slyly sitting at the bar, chatting with a nice couple to our left.  The lovely gal didn’t have any beads and after a couple of minutes talking with her, Dan mentioned it.  He knew I would prod him to give her some, and right on cue, I did. Turns out her boyfriend was from Louisiana and he immediately got his back up, worried Dan was looking for a little “flash the boobie” action but Dan just laughed and said no, no, no  but a hug would be nice.  She hopped right up and gave him a nice, long hug and he was off to the races!

Dan claims he used to sit in a bar all night and try to strike up a conversation with “female people” but they would look straight through him with something closely resembling disdain.  He’s come a long way baby.  It is so fun to watch him now because he gets so tickled with himself.  It is all very harmless, he really wants to see how many beads  he can give away, he enjoys talking to the ladies and they get the immediate read that he is harmless and friendly.  Even in his purple pimp shirt.  Now, some people may think that’s strange that I don’t mind that he does that, but I know my Dan, and he will be in the middle of 3 lovely ladies while I am talking to someone else and he will bring me into the discussion.  So, he isn’t trying to get away with anything, he is just having fun.  And I support fun!

As the afternoon wore on and he was getting more comfortable with his role as bead distributor (more full of himself) I ran into a beautiful blonde in the washroom.  She was very vivacious and commented on my beads, lamenting that she didn’t have any.  I confided that I knew where a guy was that was giving them out.  Even in her tipsy state she knew enough to ask what she was going to have to do to get them.  “Well, I think you will have to hug him” I replied tentatively and she was all aboard.  As we left the washroom she grabbed another stunning blonde told her the story and I said “follow me, I’ll point him out”.  I led her around to where we were hanging out with some friends, whispered “you owe me” to Dan as I passed and then pointed to him behind his back for the girls.  They were all giggly and cute flirting to get the beads that he was more than happy to provide.  They ended up talking and laughing for a while, Dan blushing deeper and deeper and the hugs kept going every time he said something they thought was funny.  Finally Dan pointed out that I was his wife and they just laughed and laughed and hugged me too.  They could not believe how funny it was that I would bring them over, they bought us drinks, got Dan a few more girls to hug and drifted off.  Dan is one sly bead-toting fox.  It sure livened up our area of the bar!  The bartender was definitely taking notes on technique. Of course, he would need me as his wing man…

Euphoria was rocking the house the whole time.  The gal playing trombone joked that she was icing her mouth at each break, and I am not sure she was joking.  They were killing it with the music up there. Close your eyes and you were sure that you were on the River Walk coming up on a bunch of jovial looking black men in uniform with shiny faces blowing their brains out, but no!  It was a bunch of white folk by the Pacific Ocean!  Unreal.

They wrapped it up though.  I think maybe one of them collapsed a lung in service to the event.  A new band started up with more generic music, Dan ran out of beads and we ran out of steam. The crowd was doing that thing it does around here.  Changing over to a younger, hipper crowd  for the later evening.  That’s fine by us, we are still having fun, we just do it a little earlier now.  We will definitely be back for this again next year!