Coaster to (Little) Italy

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We have a marvelous little transit service on the coast here from Oceanside to downtown San Diego, called the Coaster.  It’s a train on the Amtrak lines  called the Coaster  with clean comfortable 2 level cars, reasonable rates and a schedule not really conducive to a night out on the town from North County but, great to meet my husband coming in from the airport.  I took it to meet Dan who was flying in from Phoenix on Friday evening.

I picked up the train in Encinitas at a roomy train stop with lots of free parking and self serve ticket kiosks.  It’s a pleasant 40 minute trip to the Santa Fe Depot downtown from there.  This particular afternoon was the usual eclectic mix of commuters with high tech looking bicycles, a couple moms with cute kids, trendy millennials doing whatever it is they do (and looking super cool doing it) and the random suburban, middle aged white woman going to meet her husband downtown for a nice evening (me!).

The train arrived right on schedule with it’s usual prolific honking, as Encinitas is a  largely pedestrian community and quite busy along the train route, and we had a brief moment to hop on before we were off to the next stop, Solana Beach.  I just took the first available seat in the car I hopped in on, facing forward on the west side so I had a great view as we gently chugged down the coast.  A beautiful evening in late October made for terrific scenery and I was motivated to record the stretch of beach known as Cardiff or Cardiff Reef as I thought about people who don’t live along the coast and how this must look to them.  The window was dirty, but I think it came out ok.  Nice thing was, the car I was in had no one talking on their phone or playing music, just the quiet and the sound of the train so if you want to watch with the sound turned on you can get the full effect.

After a very pleasant ride devoid of all human chatter we arrived at the end of the line, the downtown station: Santa Fe Depot.  Dan was flying in and planned to take the shuttle to leave his luggage where he had parked his car and then walk to meet me in Little Italy at Davanti Enoteca a restaurant we like there.  I was to walk from the train. In one of our usual happy coincidences/results of great planning we walked into the restaurant within seconds of each other.

Davanti Enoteca has a very good chicken liver pate that Dan adores so we were going to at least start there with some wine and the pate at the bar, but it being Friday night we were unable to find a seat in the bar and decided to just stroll until we found somewhere that we could.  Across the street we found a cute little grouping of chairs around a coffee table right by the open railing to the outside in the lounge/bar of the restaurant Sorrento.

We settled in there and found they had a very hospitable bartendress who came to help us.  They had a nice little list of craft cocktails and she was happy to help with her suggestions.  They also brought some great bread with a little dish of amazing pesto dipping sauce which was a real treat for me.  Here’s Dan looking very comfortable in this romantic little nook he found.

After a nice little while there we decided to see if we could squeeze in for our pate across the street but found they were even more crowded than earlier so we needed a new plan.  I remembered that there was a Filippis Pizza Grotto about a block away and Dan had never been before.  Filippis was something that I grew up with in Pacific Beach, and is rather iconic for most San Diegans.  There are now Filippis  in many locations including this charming one in Little Italy.  I am happy to say that little has changed.

Check out this menu they had hanging on the wall from the 1950’s!   Cheese pizza for a buck!  Prices have changed..20171020_200932But the stemware hasn’t!

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The red checkered tablecloth,  chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, no nonsense wait staff,  it has that perfect pairing of over the top character and authenticity that is impossible to fake.  Dan was charmed immediately,  I was comfortably transported back to memories of family outings 45 years ago.  I heard an out of town visitor call someone on his cell phone and tell them “You’re not going to believe where I am right now.”…how great is that?

Dan wanted pizza, so did I but I wanted to see what they would do with eggplant parmigiana too, so I ordered that.  Look what we got!

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Enough food for us to take home and have 2 more meals!  Dan, the cheese lover,  was even heard to utter the words “Who would order extra cheese on this pizza?”.  It was dripping down the sides of an already cut slice as we watched.  The dough was thick and delicious, the cheese plentiful and chewy the sauce great and toppings very tasty.  My eggplant and lasagna were good as well, even better the next day though.

Add to the plentiful, delicious food and quirky ambience a good dose of sassy humor from our attentive waitress and we had a great time at Filippis Pizza Grotto.  A short walk back to Dan’s car, drive to Encinitas to get my car and then home after an impulsive little adventure in our own town.  It doesn’t get much better than that, and it wasn’t even Saturday yet!

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Coolest Demo Ever…Whiskey Ice

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Normal Heights, Adams Avenue is a cool, quickly renewing area in San Diego with a lot to offer so when we were going to kill an afternoon downtown we decided to check it out.  A quick internet search revealed a trendy craft cocktail bar called Polite Provisions on the corner of 30th and Adams and we decided that was the perfect spot to anchor our visit.  After a lovely walk among the  bungalows, built starting in the 1920’s,  mixed with apartment buildings back in the neighborhoods, we strolled down antique row on Adams Ave until we reached our destination of  Polite Provisions.

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I mean, how cute is that?  Originally an old drug store on the corner, they have kept the feel of the neighborhood pharmacy counter with back and white checkered tile floors, wood shelves  behind the long bar, well dressed bartenders who will see to your every affliction and lovely, eclectic, old fashioned glassware.
We were lucky enough to score seats at the cheery bar and ordered from their encyclopedia of craft cocktails, nicely organized in thick menus that are constantly passed around patron to patron with lots of friendly discussion and advice.  After getting our noses out of that fun book, we looked around and saw at the back bar what looked like a snow machine in action.  Upon closer inspection we found out that a  very strong and capable man named Juan was busy taking thick slabs of ice and cutting them into perfect cubes that just fit into tumblers for whiskey.  I was completely mesmerized by the ice chips flying, the knife a blur, Juan’s total focus and control and the perfect cubes coming to shape so quickly in his capable hands. Juan agreed to be videoed.  Take a look at hand making ice cubes.

 

 

We know where we are going to go sit during the next heat wave!

A Perfect Hour in Ocean Beach

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We had a fabulous party to go to in Point Loma, an hour to kill and we needed the right vibe…off to Ocean Beach, OB as we natives say.  It has been a long time since I have played around down there, Dan never has, and I am thrilled to report that some things never change!  The same skateboarders down the middle of the street, the same colorful youth hostel (no youth to be seen), the same eclectic crowd and anything goes (except prissiness) that makes it one of the few remaining authentic beach towns left in Southern California.

One of the best things about OB really is the diversity.  It isn’t from block to block, it is more like blink to blink.  Here’s 2 pictures taken from the  same spot on the sidewalk, Taken one right after the other. One facing East, the other West.

 

Those pictures were taken just in front of a very dark doorway to a bar.  The kind where the door turns to a hall parallel to the sidewalk so you can’t look directly in and see what’s going on in there.  No windows to peer through either.  We were looking for a drink and I can go for either a good dive bar or a fancy lounge but I was a bit leery about this spot.  For all of Ocean Beach’s attributes, there is definitely a rough element there too and I didn’t want to blithely walk into the wrong situation dressed for a party.  Dan sensed my apprehension and quickly peeked in, came out with a little smile at the corner of his mouth and said “It’s a bar.”  I could tell from the expression that it was OK, but he followed up with “It’s dark, but clean and not scary.”  So in we went.

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I don’t know how he could tell a thing with the glance he took.  I was blind for a good 3 minutes inside the dark interior.  It took that long for my eyes to adjust.  There was a country music song on the juke box, strike 1.  I did grab the back of a barstool at the ample bar and found a comfy padded seat so I was surprised, then as I swung it around (it was fixed to the floor) it let out a wretched squeak and I kind of fell in love with the place.  I don’t know why but somehow that luxurious seat with the tired sounding protest just made me feel so comfortable and happy.  The bartender ignored us for a comfortable amount of time, making it clear in the best  possible way that this was a bar for certain people only (we read that to mean there are some scary looking types in here, we don’t serve pupus or blended drinks and it’s cash only) and if that wasn’t ok with us we could leave, no harm no foul.  No way!  My eyes were adjusting, I was comfortable, we were being politely observed by a scant but eclectic mix of people and the music had changed to one of my favorite tunes from college.  Home Run!

Paciic Shores, we are now initiated.  If you ever have the opportunity you must go find this place at 4927 Newport Ave in Ocean Beach, CA.   We had definitely dove into another world.  Opened in 1941 this little jewel has luxuriously cushioned bar chairs, booths, a pool room and an extremely well curated juke box.  The underwater theme is over the top, campy, charming and somehow just exactly right.  The longest wall has alcoves with lovely, vivid underwater scenes painted and lit beautifully, above the bar is an elaborate structure that looks like it is made of shell and is in the shape of scallop shells, mermaids and bubbles are everywhere.  Here are  a few pictures, although there is no way to do it justice and you must visit for yourself.

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Mermaid, star of the bar

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Shell shaped structure over the bar

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Painted panels of ocean scenes in wall

Ben, the bartender on duty, was helpful and clearly proud of the place.  He explained how old it was, talked about the few times kids had kind of taken over the place over the years but that now that is not tolerated and that they are a busy popular fixture in OB.  He told us they don’t care about Yelp reviews, they’ve been there 75 years, they’re packed in the evening and they tell people if they don’t like it, leave!  Whatever they are doing, it has a friendly neighborhood vibe to it that immediately opened up and welcomed us.  We found it very hard to pull away from our new friends after only an hour, but we had a fantastic party to go to.  It was amazing to us that we came in strangers and left, laughing, joking with and waving to everyone as we left.  What a special place.  Thanks Ben,  Dan loved the muddled cucumber and Hendricks gin concoction that you claim is your one fancy drink!

Dolphin Hunt

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Pacific White Sided Dolphin like the pod we saw

Dan and I have been Stand Up Paddleboarding for about 2 years now. It started inauspiciously in a lagoon in Carlsbad.We  rented boards that seemed to have the temperament of unbroken horses.  I will soon tell all about that process, but last weekend we had an experience that was pretty much the reason we learned to paddle in the first place.

On Friday I had gone out at La Jolla Shores, a beautiful, 90 degree day in May which is very unusual. The wind was very high but the sea was as calm as a bath tub. Tiny ankle slapper waves made it easy to maneuver the 12 foot board out past the surf and I was able to hop right up and start paddling the gentle swells over unusually clear water. If the paddle stayed this good, I was going to be one happy mermaid. I saw a long distance swimmer about a mile away and noticed s/he had some extra activity around him. As I looked closer I saw that it was birds, but I also saw a tiny object jump from the water and gracefully land back in it. S/He had a dolphin following him/her! Several! They looked tiny from such a distance but I knew better and was so envious of his/her incredible swim experience. S/He was out where I was thinking of going anyway, so I headed that direction in a leisurely way, figuring the pod would be long gone by the time I got there.

As I went, I could see the dolphins frisking around him/her for quite a while and then I got distracted by a couple of curious seals. I kept paddling in the same direction but I had lost sight of the swimmer and the pod. I was headed to a buoy off the end of the Scripps Pier and getting close when I saw one of the dolphins break the water again, heading my way. This was a smaller, different dolphin than we were used to seeing out there. It was darker with a light patch on its side and seemed more inclined to jump out of the water and zoom quickly, acrobatically underwater. There were about fifteen of them heading in my direction and they all came close, jumping when they reached me, sometimes in pairs, zooming under my board, chattering that dolphin squeak and churning up the water. They circled a couple times. It felt like they were checking me out. I felt like I could not play to their satisfaction and then they wandered off, leaving a couple seals behind to look at me expectantly. If I had better balance skills I would have been jumping up and down on my board in excitement. We had seen two or three dolphins at a time before, bottlenose or common, breaking the surface calmly, circling a bit as they pass by, but nothing like this. I was dying to tell Dan, and see if we could find them again so he could experience it.

When I got home Dan was as jealous as I had feared. Saturday was a repeat in weather and I thought we might get lucky and run into them again so we headed down to the Shores to try. The conditions were just as fantastic, which was good because I was a little fatigued from Friday’s paddle. We headed out to where I had seen them and there was no sign of them. We went all the way out to the rough water line where a deep sea cliff starts and then headed back over to the La Jolla Cove. I was feeling badly for Dan because we really weren’t getting any mammalian sightings and I had really hoped he could experience that as well. About a half mile off the cove I looked out to sea and saw one dolphin jump out of the water. Ha!

We headed in that direction, they were coming our way too so we took it slow and sure enough they came straight at us. Of course, I can’t tell if it was the same pod, but it was the same kind of dolphin and about the same number in the same vicinity so I would guess it was. Dan’s face expressed exactly what I was feeling, and I’m sure mine did too. They were really jumping as they came at us but then started just swimming around us and under us. The water was really getting churned up and then three seagulls dove right at one of the dolphins. Dan said that they were attacking it, but we quickly realized that they were going after the fish. The dolphins were rounding up a large school of fish right underneath our boards and then swimming through it to catch a meal. The birds were coming to feed off of it too. Next thing we knew there were a couple of seals in on the action as well. They were so bold that we thought we might have company on our boards! It did not seem to bother or slow down the dolphins. We could look down and see the cloud of fish and the dolphins as they swam around and through them. It was amazing. Suddenly something shifted and the dolphins were headed out to sea again. They were jumping and swimming in a straight line. Were they full? Did they get tired of the seals and birds? Did they lose control of the fish? We followed for a bit to see if they were going to pause and round up more fish but they kept going and there was no way we were going to keep pace, or stalk the wildlife.

We looked around and the nearest people were a herd of kayakers about three quarters of a mile away over by the sea caves by La Jolla Cove. The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club at the Shores was probably a mile and a half paddle away and we were all alone out there having had the most amazing sea encounter we had ever had. We couldn’t help but wonder what someone would have thought if they witnessed that interaction through binoculars or a telescope from the shore. When we took up paddling it was my intention to get good enough to be able to paddle out to try and find the whales during the migration off the coast here in San Diego. This experience was more than worth the price of admission!     But, I’m still going to try for the whales…..

The Scariest Bug or the Prettiest Bird

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She’s in there somewhere.

We have been super fortunate to have had a hummingbird mama build a nest in our pygmy palm right outside our kitchen window a few times now. It is within view when we are inside and we can look right in it when we are outside. We like to respect her fierce motherly instincts and keep the peeping to a minimum, as she is pretty clear with her menacing buzzing around our faces when we go near the nest that she is displeased if we linger by her young’uns too long. At least until they show their cute little beaks and she has to go off and gather nectar for them.

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Out of focus, but I was trying to get out fast!

I found the nest when I was getting ready to trim back the palms. She began her impressive kamikaze aerial display aimed primarily at my face and I knew immediately that I needed to inspect very carefully before I did any cutting. She was clearly defending a nest so I did not want to destroy that. I searched and found, buried under a couple of fronds, clinging to the stem of one frond a fragile looking, tiny nest with two perfect little mini jelly bean sized eggs nestled in it. Aha! She has cleverly hidden the nest from view from above, made it difficult for other birds (even for herself) to navigate in to the nest, and has placed it on a flimsy frond that sways in the breeze and would not support a predator’s weight. It looks precarious and fragile but on closer inspection I can see that it is securely fastened to the frond at the bottom with what looks like silky dog fur. Could she have harvested Enzo’s fur from when I brushed him last week on the lawn? Later I am told by my friend and hummingbird expert Nancy that this is actually spider web! They use it to build their nest, secure it to the branch and it expands nicely as the chicks grow. Could that be any more like a fairy tale?

 

Double blessing for me! I didn’t have to trim the palms and we get to watch the nest. We consider this a real honor and gift and decided this time we are going to document the process and share with our friends because not many people get a look inside the nest of a hummingbird. It seemed like the egg stage lasted a long time. It was probably at most, three weeks, but we were anxious for that fragile stage to be over and for proof of life. Mama was an excellent sitter. She patiently remained there while we did the dishes just feet away, while Enzo frolicked underneath her, when the wind picked up and blew her and the eggs back and forth and when we couldn’t resist any longer and peeked in to see how she was doing.


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There they are!

 

Then one day she wasn’t sitting. I rushed out to peek in and was horrified to see a couple little black blobs in the bottom of the nest and thought that a predator had gotten the eggs. It looked like Mama had pooped and left. Until one of the poops moved a little. Those little blobs were the chicks! Tiny little babies had hatched and there was no eggshell to be seen anywhere. Not in the nest, the fronds or on the ground. Did Mama take them somewhere else to camouflage where her chicks were? Speaking of Mama, she came buzzing back in a hurry and I was out of there! She had tiny little mouths to feed. Not even long beaks yet, unrecognizable as hummingbirds these little blobs were hungry and had a lot of growing to do, which meant Mama had a lot of nectar gathering to do! She fed them and settled in, still covering them in the nest. There she stayed until her next nectar excursion. It was, for the next few days, difficult to catch a glimpse of the chicks, as Mama was mostly sitting the nest.

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Hungry little blobs with very un-hummingbird-like beaks! Thing One and Thing Two

One of my favorite things as a child was to interact with the birds in our backyard.  We had some bluejays that were particularly motivated by peanuts and became tame enough, or greedy enough to land on my hand and take them.  I was later able to look into their nest when they had chicks and witness this process with them and it is something I will never forget.  My friend Nancy has a daughter, Avery who is almost 3.  We had a chance to show her the babies and she was so perfectly gentle and careful with them and the nest, resulting in this precious moment.

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Avery meets Thing One and Thing Two

After about a week, Mama was gone more and we could peek in at Thing One and Thing Two more often. They had grown substantially, they were getting a more hummingbird-like beak and each time we peeked at them it triggered their “feed me” response and those beaks opened up to big orange mouths that were so vivid against their little brown bodies. By now, Mama could only feed them and sit beside them on the nest. They had crowded her out and were keeping each other warm and she was spending much more time gathering their food.

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No room for Mama

Over the next week or so the story remained the same. Mama was busy, the Things were growing fast. We could now see their heads outside the nest like Mama’s used to be when she was sitting eggs. They were almost as big as her now. Then one morning I noticed the gleam of a little color on their wings, and when one of them moved a little I saw that they had almost got their flight feathers. It will be any time now and we will be empty nesters. Sigh. One last picture, a few words of encouragement for them and praise for Mama. Gratitude offered to nature for giving us this opportunity and keeping them safe. The next morning, they were gone!

 

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Here today…

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…..gone tomorrow.

I can never see a hummingbird without thinking about one of my favorite stories my mom would tell. When she and my dad moved to San Diego from Michigan in the 1950’s she had never seen a hummingbird before. She was out in the backyard hanging some laundry and heard a buzzing sound. I get my unease around insects honestly, from my mom. She looked around frantically to determine what was making that loud buzzing, figuring it had to be some kind of hideous insect. She saw a huge, winged insect with a long stinger headed straight for her and just lost it! Biggest, scariest bug she had ever seen and it was moving fast. She ran in the house screaming for Dad and refused to go back out again until he would go first and she could hide behind him. They looked all over the yard, couldn’t find the beast so he settled down to stay with her while she finished hanging the laundry because, believe me, she was NOT going to be left alone out there until that thing was ENDED. Eventually the sound of the invading force returned and Mom was ready to retreat, all the way to Michigan!! Dad stood his ground until he saw the source of the terror and then ending up taking a seat on it laughing so hard. Mom was terrified of a hummingbird. It’s understandable, really, if you think of the bird as an insect it absolutely is terrifying. Once Mom got over the horror of the idea that it was an insect and wrapped her head around the idea that it was a bird they became one of the most beautiful things to her in her newly adopted city and she planted things in the yard that would attract them. Two things I love best about that story: Mom’s willingness to laugh at herself, and the concept of perception so clearly illustrated.

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Nano Brewery In North County San Diego

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Is it just me or is everyone facing the beer?

Dan and I were invited to a beer tasting party at WillRich Homebrew this past weekend and we were certainly eager to find out what they had cooked up over the brutal San Diego winter.   By that I mean the winter where we had to endure the phone calls from our friends and family members that live in other places that had epic bad weather all winter, while we had Camelot-like weather and barely felt guilty, but had to pretend like we did. Phew! This was our second tasting here, one year after our first, which was quite enjoyable so we had high hopes for the afternoon.

OK, we confess. This is a home brewing operation and not commercial, not available to the public, but it should be. More on that later!

We arrived to a hand written sign on the front door, “Beer Tasting, Come on In, Don’t Let the Dog Out”. Wow, brave party throwers, way to get party crashers! Richard and Susan’s adorable something-poo dog ran to meet us at the door with three big woofs which I correctly interpreted to mean “what did you bring me?” allowed us to admire him briefly and then went off looking for someone who was better equipped to fulfill his wishes. Susan greeted us more conventionally, very warmly, no woofing and she did not ditch us when we revealed no treats. She did however, urge us to scurry on out and get some liquid refreshment.

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“Step up to the bar! What can we pour you?”

Richard and his son William collaborate on this venture and they had set up a nice canopy and tables to display the eleven varieties (over achievers!!) of beer they had concocted and cover the coolers and taps necessary to supply their eager tasters. They had an excellent turnout for the party so they were very busy pouring, tapping, explaining and describing the beer.

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Synchronized Explaining. Like Father, Like Son

This season’s lineup was all clever galactic names like “Big Bang Brown” and “Satellite Steam Ale”.   They went from the lightest imaginable to very dark, and they even popped a bottle of mead! Ales, IPA’s and yup, that just exhausted what I can tell you about beers because frankly, I am not a beer person and I started socializing with some of the wonderful people at the party when Richard and William started talking to Dan about “hops ratios” and some such stuff.

One couple we really had a great time with, Glenn and Beth, kept us well entertained and engaged all afternoon. I kept trying to figure out who Glenn reminded me of though, and I am horribly embarrassed to have finally figured it out in the car on the way home! We were even discussing how much we love the show…he looks so much like Leonard, Johnny Galecki on Big Bang Theory. We had also discussed our awkward celebrity encounters and how we had probably walked right past a lot of famous people without noticing. It made me think for a quick second that I had done an extreme example of exactly that! But Glenn is much cuter, so I think I am safe. Susan, Richard and William have very cool friends that are fun to hang out with. It makes for a wonderful party but it didn’t exactly work out in their favor because none of us wanted to say goodbye to our newly met besties and we stayed well past the suggested end of the party as listed on the invitation to continue our conversation and camaraderie. Forgive us, excellent hosts, we were having such a good time!

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We were treated to a tour of the “brewery” itself during the festivities. This was impressive on many levels. First of all, who has time to stop in the middle of a party and lead a group of people on a tour? Masterful Richard, masterful! Secondly, this was set up in their garage. Now, we have a house that used to have inside parking for four cars but now has no inside parking at all. In fact, you can’t really get another bicycle in the garage. I would die before I would lead a party full of people into our garage! The liability alone makes me shudder. But Richard and Susan? Their garage is pristine! You could make beer in it!   They have designated a nice amount of space for the brewery and Richard and William have designed a great system that Richard kindly explained to us all. Someone pointed out that the freezer we were leaning on looked a little suspicious and I started thinking about the similarities of this operation to “Breaking Bad” and how if Jesse showed up I was going to be very excited and very scared at the same time. This is definitely more “Breaking Bad” light, as if it were written for the ABC Family channel. But hey, we’re in suburban North County San Diego! Nevertheless, I wander back out to the backyard and the sweet California sunshine.

The beers they produce in that pristine environment were pronounced by all as quite excellent. They had the eleven different varieties or styles and I was told that they all were very indicative of the style they were going for, but drinkable. I guess a lot of times the local breweries will push the styles to the extreme so that they are almost unpleasant but Richard and William kept the character of the styles without making them overwhelming to anyone who isn’t a fan of extremism. The two lightest of the beers I really enjoyed as they tasted more like a punch to me, a little citrusy and refreshing with barely a beer taste. They will be terrific for summer afternoons, just like Richard said they were going for.  With our thriving micro-brewery industry here in San Diego I think they should be considering a bigger operation. It really was unanimous, everyone had a favorite and everyone was impressed. It was certainly nice of these guys to invite so many of us over to help them “clean out” some of their stock. Any time guys, any time! Sorry Susan, you shouldn’t be such a good hostess. And William, you’re right, you should put out a tip jar.

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