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Dinner and Driving

IMG_4823This past weekend my husband and I were in Las Vegas to spend time with a group of friends. Through the travel agent of a friend, we got a pretty good rate for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, located next to the Aria. I did not know this was a casino-free, nonsmoking hotel, but boy did it make a huge difference with the comfort of my trip, as well as the comfort of my sinuses and eyes.

My husband and I had a few plans of our own in addition to plans with the group. An activity I was really looking forward to was the chance to drive a supercar around a race track (yes, they have this in Vegas). Taken from their website – Exotics Racing is the premiere supercar track driving experience that offers the world’s largest fleet of exotic cars. Drivers can choose from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi R8 V10, Nissan GT-R, Mercedes AMG GTS, McLaren 570s, Aston Martin, Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z06, among other cars.

Being an unapologetic Audi snob, I chose the Audi R8 (Iron Man/Tony Stark’s car). Being a Bond fan, Michael was going to choose the Aston Martin, but it had been retired, so he was able to choose one of their other R8’s. The R8 boasts a 5.2L V10 engine, 525 horsepower with a top speed of 196 mph and 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. It also has a price tag of around $170,000.00 Audi also has a pretty legendary racing pedigree, winning multiple World Rally Championships, as well as winning 12 of the last 14 years of Le Mans (a famous France 24 hour endurance race).

We were picked up at the Aria hotel by the Exotics shuttle, and drove about 30 minutes to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. First, all drivers attend a safety briefing. Then in groups of 3 you rode in a Porsche Cayenne as one of the instructors drove the track, outlining the 7 turns, the 1,800 foot main straightaway, as well as when to shift, break and throttle (gas). It was a tad like a rollercoaster during the second lap, as he drove an example of how you’d be driving. Fast and hard!

IMG_4845I was fearless up until the moment I sat behind the wheel, helmet clad, waiting for my driving coach to adjust the seat and steering wheel properly to my body. My driving coach, Ben then sat next to me in the passenger side and tried to engage me in some small talk as well as going over some additional things to think about. Passing is allowed but only at the discretion of your instructor and only after certain safely steps are taken. Yes, other cars are on the track with you.

We agreed that I’d give paddle shifting a go, and if I didn’t like it we could switch the car into automatic at any moment. I pulled out of the bay and made my way to the track. My mouth was as dry as sand and my heart was beating out of my chest. It’s not everyday that you not only drive a $100,000.00 car that can go nearly 200 mph, but get to race it around a track.

I’m happy I purchased 7 laps each (base price includes 5 laps) because it went by in a heartbeat. The first few laps you are really getting to know the track, the car, and how to take a corner properly going 100 mph. It’s a steep learning curve. There are certain ways to drive a race car around a corner, it’s not at all like going to the super market (well, not any more). Approaching a curve or turn you break gently then more as you get closer to the apex. You also approach the curve wide. After initially breaking, you steer tight towards the apex, hugging the turn and accelerating. Coming out of the apex, you smooth out the line of the car and go wide again, now accelerating hard. All that is in a matter of seconds. Keep in mind, you may be shifting as well during that time.

There is simply nothing like it. No rollercoaster or amusement park ride can prepare you for how this is going to feel. (Perhaps being in a fighter jet or on the back of a cheetah?) When you (with the help of your coach) are hugging the edge of a corner and pushing the throttle hard, the car feels like it’s on the razors edge of control. My coach would gently poke my right knee when he wanted me to hit the gas. He also said different things like Trust me. Trust the car. Breathe. Look ahead, where you want to go, not down at the turn you are on. On my second or third lap, I was lapped by the other R8 (another driver, not Michael). My competitive nature showed and I voiced the disappointment in myself. Take it easy Jedi, you’ll get there, he said.

By the fifth, sixth and seventh laps, I was just getting the hang of it. Each lap Ben pushed me harder and farther. Sexy fast car scenes look one way on TV and in the movies, but to be in the drivers seat, flying by the seat of your pants, is all together different. To feel the sheer power of the vehicle’s lightning acceleration on the straightaway and the thrill of tight cornering at 100 mph, is beyond a rush. A few times I felt the car truly gripping the pavement and fighting for control through speed and cornering. My body felt thrown backward during acceleration, my core and leg muscles would contract while breaking and an allover contorted pressure from cornering. It was a really unique experience to manipulate something with that much power. Learning to work with it in unison, not taming it, but wielding it.

I also thought it was interesting that I was one of only two female drivers in my group and there were only a handful of women throughout the day. Even when chatting about it with friends afterwards, the response was always, You drove?!? Or Did you drive?!? Why wouldn’t I? Of course I bloody well drove! It was my idea. Gird up your loins ladies, let’s GO!!

Towards the end of my driving, I believe I gave a few whoops and giggles of elation. I was higher than a kite exiting the car and for several hours afterwards. Michael was on the track as I finished and I was able to video a few of his laps. He was just as euphoric when he finished, so much so, we both promptly wanted to do it again.

IMG_4813We also ate some pretty amazing meals while in Las Vegas also. My husbands favorite meal was at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in the Cosmopolitan. This was an amazing meal! We started off with appetizers of Raw Yellowtail sashimi with pickled red onion as well as Mediterranean Octopus with cici beans and a smoked paprika emulsion. Both of us wanted pasta as our main entree, so our server suggested we share and split one of the dishes into two plates and we ate from the second plate family style. The Duck and Foie Gras Ravioli with marsala reduction was rich but damn heavenly. The Pici (pasta) with Lobster, tarragon, almond, and chili pesto was also to die for.

IMG_4888My favorite meal was the 9 course omakase (chef’s tasting menu) at Nobu in Caesars Palace. This visually stunning meal was pretty tremendous. I must confess it contained Blue Fin Tuna, both a tail section and the torro or belly. I did not know this at the time of ordering, as it’s chef’s choice. Please do not hate me, but I did not send it back, I did indeed eat it. I figured, it’s on my plate, I paid for it and it’s my duty as a diner to responsibility consume it as it had already been harvested. I did however, ask our server what Chef Nobu’s view on sustainability was and I felt his response was a little song and dance. But the tuna was pretty spectacular. Our menu also contained Wagyu Beef, which was also damn amazing.

All in all it was a pretty great weekend with minor complaints, like the heat. I think it will be a while before we visit Las Vegas again, but if we haven’t found other ways to get our need for speed fix, we’ll certainly be going to Exotics Racing again.

http://www.exoticsracing.com

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South Beach Food and Wine Festival

IMG_4085My husband and I had the great privilege recently of staying with some amazing friends for a few days while we all attended the South Beach (Sobe) Food and Wine Festival in Miami, Florida.

Our adventure started with a red-eye flight from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL. After landing in Miami at 8 am, we grabbed some coffee at the airport and hopped in a town car to South Beach, where we arrived at our friends stunning condo. The quintessential South Beach landscape of beach and ocean, was just steps from their abode on the 15th floor. White sand, turquoise waters, flawless sky and 80-degree temperature beckoned us, as we all spent several hours lounging under large beach umbrellas chatting and catching up.

We did not have a festival event to attend until the following evening, so we ate dinner at Juvia. Eating outside on the deck with sweeping views of Miami was ideal in the mild evening heat.
Juvia’s menu featured “a trinity of French, Japanese and Peruvian cooking styles, studied and meticulously crafted as a result of a decades of training within each culture”. Our meal was pretty phenomenal. The flavors were very fresh and seasonal. We started with cocktails and several small, crudo (raw in Italian) plates. We then moved on to entrees and even desert.

The first event we attended of the Food and Wine Festival was Paella & Tapas by the Pool with José Andrés (head chef behind multiple award winning restaurants) at the SLS Hotel. This outdoor event with walk-around tastings was surrounding the pool area. Food and winery booths were set up and a large space was dedicated to several enormous pans of paella being made. Having never been to this caliber of event before, Michael and I quickly realized that if there were any doubt small tastes would not be filling, we were quickly corrected. Some bites were better than others. Our favorite bite of the evening was a date wrapped in bacon, stuffed with cheese, deep fried then drizzled with Dulce de leche.

IMG_4132I was looking forward to the opportunity to see/meet José Andrés. I’ve seen him on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, he was a judge on Top Chef and he was also the food consultant for the TV show Hannibal. His fun loving and whimsical attitude on these shows was enduring. We did manage to get a photo with José, however he seemed much too busy to really chat with us and insisted on making goofy faces in the photos. Needless to say, I was a bit let down.

The following evening, we attended the Best of the Best event at the famous Fountainbleau Hotel. Held in a large ballroom with the dessert area spilling out into a large hall, this event was also walk-around tastings. The scale of the event (and those attending) was unlike anything I had ever seen. Live and DJ’d music, special blue lighting, elegant floating candle centerpieces, large vendor displays, and hordes of fabulous people. At the door you were presented a wine glass with a neck strap, as well as a plate with a glass holder – all for the convenience of freeing your hands up. Because holding a wine glass, a small plate of food, and a napkin – while trying to take a photo with your phone of said food, a display, yourself, your friends, a celebrity chef or anything else that catches your eye was a challenge. At times this event was very crowded. It was a small miracle that while maneuvering through masses of people, balancing food and drink, none of us managed to spill anything on ourselves or anyone else (that we know of).

IMG_4234Scott Conant (judge on TV show Chopped, multiple restaurants including Scarpetta) made an appearance near the booth of his restaurant and we just happened to be in the area. My perception of him rang true as his “do” was quite big with not a single hair out of place and the aura of his ego was equally as big. However, he happened to be the chef crush of the female friend we were with, so I tagged along for a photo with him.

The next day we went to the Goya Foods Grand Tasting Village & Demos set up on the beach in tents just steps from the condo. There we were fortunate enough to see demonstrations by Giada, David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris, Morimoto, and Arrón Sánchez. In addition, we also sampled some food and drinks under the sandy floored tents.

In the evening we attended a dinner at Scott Conant’s restaurant Scarpetta located in the Fountainbleau Hotel. The dinner was hosted by Scott, Michael Pirolo and Nina Compton (Top Chef Season 11). This was a multi-course, fixed menu, sit down dinner with beverage pairings. Since this was my third evening in heels, my feet were thankful for a sit-down affair. To me, this meal ate rather heavy and seemed a bit rich. There was no light, fresh, or even acid component to any of the meal.

IMG_4233Our last day in Miami, we attended brunch hosted by Nigella Lawson at restaurant Casa Tua. I was aware of who Nigella Lawson was, however she had not really been on my radar much. This, by far was my favorite event from the festival. For starters, the multi-course, fixed menu, sit down brunch was far more intimate. Ms. Lawson was available to her guests, more so than any other host had been. She made her way over to every table taking time for questions and photos. For me, the “dessert” was the best. Strawberry Consommé with yogurt ice cream and fresh blueberries, served with Old-Rag Pie with Honey and Thyme. And as we left, we all received a signed copy of her latest cookbook.

I am very thankful and fortunate to have attended this food and wine festival, not to mention staying with such generous and hospitable hosts. This was a rather expensive vacation as each event held its own ticket price and some events were more spendy than others. If I judge this experience on value, then I’m looking at it from the wrong perspective. In my opinion, I could have not eaten the value of any one of the ticket cost. And besides the Nigella’s cookbook, the “giveaways” didn’t amount to much. I believe this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Going into it, my expectation was to be wowed with every bite, sample, small plate, taste and morsel. I learned that while some amazing restaurants and chefs were represented, a taste coming from a booth in the middle of a hotel ballroom, heated on a hot plate or plated from ingredients in a cooler, is not the same as coming from a professional kitchen. The point is, individual ingredients lose something when they are prepped ahead of time due to the fact that limited heat and cooling resources are available by a hotel pool or in a ballroom. Not to mention having enough supplies to serve several hundred people. (Now I have greater appreciation for what the Top Chef contestants go through!) While each restaurant wanted to stand out as innovative and original, showy themes of tartare, foie gras, and truffle were common. So much so, that by my second event, I was tired of truffles (can you imagine). Some beverage parings hit the mark and some did not. Namely tequila paired with truffle risotto, missed the mark by far.

IMG_4164I also became aware of the chef’s who are more about branding themselves and those who’s focus seem to be more about the food they present. Some of these chef personalities have TV shows, many have cook books, some endorse products, some have their own spice line, pots and pans, or utensil series. I’m sure they all wish to be successful, however with some, the marketing effort is more obvious than others. As I sat and watched a few chef demonstrations, I noticed how the crowd cheered like school girls at a Beatles concert when the chef came to the stage. Is that because they are on TV? (This event was hosted by the Food Network.) Or is it truly because the fans actually cook their food and care about food quality, what’s in season, where it is sourced, etc, etc, etc.? It may be a combination of the two. Although I think that’s a very valid question: in a day and age of convenience & processed foods, where people are in fact cooking less – then why are chefs the new rock stars and TV cooking show popularity on the rise?

Answer: because by in large, people don’t want to cook themselves, they want someone else to do the cooking, and they even want to watch them do it.

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Dinner with a Master Bladesmith

IMG_3760 (1)A few months ago I stumbled upon a short video series entitled Raw Craft on You Tube sponsored by The Balvenie (a distillery located in Ireland producing a unique range of single malt whiskies). The series is hosted by Anthony Bourdain (the American chef, author and TV personality). To quote the Raw Craft web site, the video series features “an inspiring behind the scenes look inside the workshops of some of the most talented, creative and hardworking craftspeople in America. In The Balvenie spirit, Bourdain will uncover the true meaning of craftsmanship. Each film showcases artisans guiding him through the process while providing unique insight into the dedication and sacrifice required to produce everyday items by hand.”

Being a fan of Bourdain, I quickly watched all six mini-episodes, ranging in length from six to fourteen minutes. Episode four immediately piqued my interest because it was shot in Olympia, Washington – where I live. This episode featured Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer of Kramer Knives. He is one of a hundred and twenty-two Master Bladesmiths in the US, certified by the American Bladesmith Society and the ONLY one specializing in kitchen knives. His knives are some of the most sought after culinary knives in the world. To quote Bourdain, “The legendary Bob Kramer handcrafts the finest chef’s knives in the world. It would be inappropriate to call it the Rolls Royce or Ferrari of knives, because the type of car has not been invented that reflects this kind of quality… when you hold this thing in your hand, you feel a warm hum.”

For Bob himself to make you a custom knife forged in his Olympia shop, one must enter a lottery, where names are both chronologically and randomly selected from their website email list. We are talking hand crafted from beginning to end, in an average time of around 25 hours (give or take) for each knife. Even the steel is “made” from scratch. Using a baking analogy – this would be like making your own flour from scratch for a cake you are going to bake. Also, you are looking at a $300 an inch price tag – so an 8” chefs knife will cost you $2,400.00 Some people think that’s too much for a kitchen knife, but it depends on how you look at it. In my opinion his knives are works of art, and art is subjective. You can splurge on a Picasso or you can buy a painting from the guy down the street. It’s your choice, of course.

So needless to say, this guy makes pretty awesome knives. Fast forward a few weeks. My husband and I were in a Sur la Table store in Seattle. I was handling a few of the “more affordable and easier to acquire” Kramer Knives, partnered with Zwilling J.A. Henckels, made in Japan. Walking out of the store I informed my husband that I would be wishing for a Kramer 8″ Stainless Damascus Chef’s Knife by Henckels ($400) for Christmas. A few weeks after that, in the home of our neighbors, I learned that these very neighbors are Bob’s mother and father-in-law. How random is that? My head nearly exploded!

Christmas morning my husband (and the culinary gods) gifted me my very own 8” Kramer chef knife. I nearly fell out of my chair with glee! At that moment, I thought there’s no harm in inviting everyone to a dinner party. And so with a Go Big or Go Home attitude, I drafted a letter stating my intention of selfishly wanting to meet Mr. Kramer, and offering to host Mr. Kramer, his wife Leanne, as well as Gloria and Skip (his mother and father-in-law) to my house for dinner. Less than 24 hours later, I not only had my answer, I had a date, a time, as well as a few dietary restrictions. Go Big or Go Home indeed! Challenge accepted!

To give you some perspective on how coveted Kramer knives are in the culinary world – many 3-Michelin star Chefs have a Kramer Knife. Bob is hosted all over the world to culinary events, haute couture meals (the kind that are 5 hours long and plated with tweezers) and is invited to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. He was featured on Bravo’s Top Chef, and CBS did a special on him. In 1998, food magazine Saveur helped to launch Kramer Knives with a feature article (link below) and most recently he received The Balvenie Rare Craft Fellowship Award in 2015. Needless to say, I’m sure you can imagine my slight nervousness at entertaining a culinary Rock Star in my home!

The most difficult aspect for me was coming up with a gluten and dairy free dessert that consisted of more than just fruit. I scoured my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and found the perfect sweet.

Menu
Apps: Thyme-Roasted Marcona Almonds & Kir Royal
Main: Balsamic Roasted Beef
Canlis Salad (w/Romano cheese on the side)
Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes
Desert: Fresh Raspberry Grantins

On the morning of the event, I woke up and made a mental T-minus countdown clock in my head. As fate would have it, the day would not be complete without a bit of drama. Shortly after eating breakfast, Michael (my husband) informed me that the hot water heater was leaking from one of the copper pipes and there was a bit of a watery mess. After cleaning up the water, and a call to an emergency plumber, I took off for the grocery. After I returned, Michael helped me prep the salad and potatoes. Time seemed to inch closer and closer as I continued to get ready for the evening.

Version 2Within seconds of their arrival, my nerves and anxious energy were put at ease. Bob, Leanne, Gloria and Skip were all so kind, gracious and complimentary. Everyone was very personable and down to earth. Unbeknownst to me, our opening beverage, a Kir Royale, (a French apéritif) is one of Bob and Leanne’s favorite drinks, so I got extra points for that. When Bob carved the meat, I was pleased to see it was a nice medium to medium rare. I drizzled a balsamic reduction over the plated meat slices and roasted potatoes. I was a little disappointed in my plate presentation, however everything was flavorful, the meat retained it’s moisture, and the salad was the perfect punch of fresh, crisp, and lemon acidity from the vinaigrette.

The Fresh Raspberry Gratins needed to be made-to-order essentially, so I had to excuse myself to make them. Leanne was kind enough to assist me in the kitchen. The gratins consisted of raspberries and a sabayon – a light, mousse-like dessert that’s made by whisking egg yolks, sugar and sweet Marsala wine over gently boiling water until the eggs thicken to resemble loose whipped cream. I sprinkled sugar over the sabayon and berries in individual gratin dishes and caramelized the sugar with a culinary torch to get a bit of a crunchy texture. The dessert also received rave reviews.

All in all, I believe the evening was a success! The conversation varied from food to knives, back to food, travel, pets, relationships, bees, and much in-between. I really treasured this experience and was thrilled to host such amazing people in my home. I grew as a hostess and as a person from this – as I tend to do each time my life is enriched by a shared meal with great people. My eyes are wider, my perspective is broadened, my soul is nourished and my heart is filled with warmth and compassion. Never underestimate the power of a shared meal – whether it’s in a 3-Michelin star restaurant, a food truck with plastic lawn chairs, or in your own home with a crackling fire, wine, music and food cooked with love.

Bon Appétit!

 

Raw Craft You Tube Video

Saveur article on Bob Kramer
http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Master-of-the-Blade

Kramer Knives
http://www.kramerknives.com

The Balvenie Raw Craft
https://us.thebalvenie.com/raw-craft

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Drive

thdictionary.com

drive – to strive vigorously toward a goal or objective; to work, play, or try wholeheartedly and with determination.

Psychology: an inner urge that stimulates activity or inhibition; a basic or instinctive need.

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Several months ago I had a breakthrough of sorts.  While working on personal development with someone I’ll refer to as Yoda, I experienced a significant realization regarding a childhood experience, and I’m just beginning to piece together the past ramifications as well as a new future consciousness.

When I was 6 years old I was deeply shamed, punished and degraded by an immediate member of my family.  My weekend homework from elementary school was to work on counting by 2’s.  As I slowly worked through the concept, my “tutor” got increasingly irate, extremely impatient as well as physically abusive.  I was severely disciplined for not learning it fast enough (as would become the case with all math homework).  I was not good enough, stupid, slow, and a complete failure.  The fact that I was emotional and crying didn’t help the situation either.  This has always been one of my most painful memories from childhood.

I did not know it at the time, but I had just been branded as stupid, incompetent and worthless – a label I would subconsciously wear for many years to come.  This event burned a mark in me so deep that I would spend much of my life building a suit of armor around myself, as well as developing survival and defensive techniques just to get by in the world around me.

Seeds of anger and rage grew quietly inside me.  This act of brute force forever destroyed this person in my eyes and I have never fully forgiven them for it.  This event was not an isolated incident, outbursts like this, often violent, didn’t stop there.  Others in my household were also targeted.  Alcohol was the common factor.

To say this event shaped who I am today, is an understatement.  From this event as a 6 year old, I developed a strong sense of independence, resourcefulness, work ethic, perfection, and drive.  I was usually suspicious of others, kept most people at a distance and had few friends.  I found sanctuary in the ballet studio and regardless of lack of natural ability, I buried myself deep in hard work.  I was studious and soaked up ballet like a sponge.  I was always on time, my ballet shoes were sewn, my was hair up in a bun, I paid attention, I didn’t talk or goof around in class, I always remembered the choreography, and I was as professional as I could be.

Perfection became my primary drive.  There is usually anger behind drive, it was certainly behind my drive.  My subconscious mantra became, I will never be stupid, incompetent or worthless again!!  Ballet (based on perfection) was the ideal vehicle for my drive.  So I became quite good at all the things that accompanied my drive – maximum physical effort, precision, eye for detail, organization, timeliness, do what needs to be done without being asked, initiative, creativity, self motivation, generosity, and putting others first.  It’s also important to note that I didn’t do something unless I was good at it, so needless to say, I didn’t stray far from dance.

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I met my husband 9 years ago.  Among other things, he is a skier.  I had always wanted to try skiing, but never had the means or opportunity.  Learning to ski as an adult has certainly been challenging for me.  Learning to ski as a driven perfectionist as been damn near impossible.  I’ve been skiing for about 8 years now, and am a proficient blue groomed run skier.  I avoid black diamond runs as well as moguls because of my cranky knees & hips from dancing.  However, I skied a black diamond in Aspen, which I consider a star in my crown.

As I mentioned at the beginning, a few months ago I had a breakthrough.  Working with Yoda, I realized the lifelong impact that the “counting by 2’s” event had on me.  I have been trying to prove my whole life that I’m not worthless, that I AM worthy, and I’m not stupid.  As I worked with Yoda that day, I formed the intention and progressed through the steps to reduce my drive by 10%, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of it completely.

Fast forward to today, or rather several days ago – Christmas eve day to be exact.  My husband and I were skiing, which has been a tradition for us (snow levels allowing) for several years now.  While skiing down our first run of the day, I realized that although I was skiing a run I have skied many times, my energy output was fairly high.  I looked ahead to my husband who appeared to be skiing effortlessly.  I feel every muscle in my body tense, my feet are cramping and my hands are gripping the hell out of my poles.  This is not an unfamiliar sensation to me – this IS how I ski.  Only now, I’m acutely aware of it.  The ski conditions were a skiers dream, lots of fresh snow, lots of powder, and a stunningly beautiful day.  Try as I might, I was not enjoying myself, nor was I having “fun”.  At the top of a run, looking down, I realized I have never had fun skiing.  It’s just something I did.  As we continued to ski and my realization increased, an intense sadness came over me.  I realized I honestly didn’t like skiing.  Every time I skied, my feet would painfully cramp, and my entire body would tense as I made it down a run.  My extreme output of energy as I powered down each run, as one big moving clenched muscle began to take its toll.  Despite the fact my husband said I looked effortless skiing, it was not effortless for me.

Four hours later, my husband and I had lunch.  I fought back tears trying to explain my frustration to him.  Picking the soup spoon to eat my soup, my husband noticed my right hand shaking.  I also had trouble holding my drink glass up.  I had been gripping my poles so hard, that now my hands were having spasms.

Leaving Crystal Mt. Ski Resort and driving to our Christmas Eve destination, Michael and I thought it best if I called Yoda.  (Part of my coaching program is to call him whenever I need to.)  I was indeed able to speak with him.  As I mentioned earlier, I was now acutely aware of my output of energy because of my recent work on my drive.  Yoda mentioned that skiing was like putting my drive under a microscope.  I had been branded as stupid at the age of 6.  The protective armor and self-defensive mechanisms I developed, resulted in a powerful drive through being physically strong (physically active through my whole life), a hard worker, a perfectionist and so on.  Therefore I wasn’t capable of skiing any other way – IE maximum physical effort and wanting to be as proficient at it as quickly as possible – and getting frustrated at the steep learning curve.

I still feel a bit melancholy about the difficulty I had skiing on Christmas eve.  As if I’m somehow at a precipice, afraid to go forward.  This is often the feeling when I realize the past is no longer serving me, and I need to let go of what is holding me back in order to evolve.  I feel vulnerable, almost naked.  It is time to renounce my drive.

As far as a game plan, I have a few different options.  As I work on letting my drive go, I may need to take a break from skiing.  It may turn out to be like taking one step forward, but two steps back if I continue to ski while working through my drive.  However, if I decide to give skiing another go, and it doesn’t seem to turn around for me, I may need to stop skiing altogether.  I’d very much love to return to the peaceful snowy landscape I loved as a child . . .  I may possibly take up snowshoeing.

 

May peace be with you.

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My Weekend – Nutcracker Review

IMG_3696Kicking off my weekend was a blissfully sublime facial by Brigitte at Spa Nordstrom in Seattle. The following day, in lieu of some plans being canceled, my husband and I had a wonderful lunch at the Dahlia Lounge. We then strolled the city separately, looking for stocking gifts for each other. Saturday evening we had tickets to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s new Balanchine Nutcracker with scenic and costume design by Ian Falconer (of children’s book Olivia fame).

We left with ample time to get to McCall Hall but quickly realized that we were not the only ones on our way to the Seattle Center that evening. Traffic was insane. Through some savvy maneuvering, we finally found our way to the Seattle Center parking garage on Mercer (where we normally park for the ballet). The attendant was happy to take our $20 to park, however after driving the lot at a snails pace along with several other drivers, we realized there was nowhere to park. And yet they were still letting cars flood into the garage. The clock ticked by and the 7:30 pm curtain time was inching closer and closer. My dearest husband was at full boiling point and ready to smash someones head into a brick wall. Doing my best to remain calm, I encouraged him to park with a few cars ahead of us on a parking ramp full of Do Not Park signs. Other cars quickly followed suit. It remains a mystery as to why this entire parking ramp was off limits – and yet the rest of the entire garage was full. Happy we weren’t going to be late, I quickly tried to forget the whole incident. Michael on the other hand was having trouble letting it go.

Being an avid fan of PNB’s previous Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker, I was heartbroken to see the production retired last year. It was truly a one-of-a-kind staging. A show that put PNB and Seattle on the Nutcracker map and defined the remarkable Northwest show as a must-see Holiday tradition. In short – there was nothing else like it in the ballet world of Nutcracker’s. It had been a completely unique and distinct show since 1983 (running for 31 years).

I tried to keep an open (unbiased) mind as I sat in the theatre. Having not only performed in my fair share of Nutcrackers, I have also directed and choreographed many a Nutcracker. Once that music starts, a smile creeps across my face and a flood of memories fill my brain and often muscles. I know that music, like most ballet dancers, like the back of my hand. And while you can’t walk into a department store nor board an elevator without hearing the “Nutcracker March” or the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, the “Snow Scene” music is one of my all-time favorite pieces of Tchaikovsky.

The production started with a lovely animated video. As snow fell, one flew over a beautiful moonlit snow-covered landscape, through a dense forest and into a remote European village. Finally, we came upon a beautiful grand home and the front door opens, as if inviting us in for a magical and mischievous, yet familiar adventure.

The opening party scene, was fairly typical and traditional. This has always been my least favorite scene and in my (dancer) opinion, Nutcracker doesn’t really start until the snow scene. One thing I noticed and didn’t particularly fancy was the 5-6 minute buffer scene between the party scene and the fight scene. This was completely unnecessary and seemed to serve little purpose other than to provide time for Clara to change her costume. The music played was not part of the Nutcracker score.

The Balanchine fight scene has NOTHING on the Stowell/Sendak version and was in my opinion week and rather lame. The Stowell/Sendak fight scene had impressive moving, larger-than-life sets, a live cannon, and adults (or accomplished dancers) doing much of the mouse and toy solder “fighting” – therefore the choreography was far more impressive. The Balanchine version used children and the choreography was far less skilled.

After the fight scene, in the Balanchine version Clara remains a child versus growing up to an adult in the Stowell/Sendak version. Gone is the lovely pas de deux between adult Clara and her Nutcracker prince just before the snow scene. And instead, child Clara is on a remote-controlled bed moving about the stage.

Ah, the snow scene, here we go! Wait, What!?! Why are they flying in additional legs on both sides of the stage? (Legs are like wings outlining the sides of the stage but hard and not made of fabric) Why on earth are they cutting the size of this beautifully grand stage in half?!? Now the snow scene dancers have this puny bit of space to dance about to this amazingly grandiose and fast-paced music. And now they have snow balls on wires in their hands?!? Um, no . . . no thank you.

During the intermission I encouraged Michael to go and check on the car. He was still fuming and was sure the car would be towed because we parked where there were no parking signs up. Upon his return he reported the entire row that said no parking was full of cars. I noticed his spirit seemed to have lifted slightly and we were able to laugh about a rather stinky aroma (produced by someone other than us) that wafted our way (and lingered) during the snow scene.

Peter Boal, PNB’s Artistic Director hailed from New York City Ballet, where Balanchine’s Nutcracker was born – so it’s fairly honest to say that he is biased, as that’s the Nutcracker he grew up with (and danced in since he was a boy). He has said in several interviews that the Balanchine choreography is better and highlights the dancers more. Well, it is certainly older. Balanchine had himself danced the original choreography while a young man in Imperial Russia, and drew on that experience when he created his own version in 1954. Balanchine’s choreography for Nutcracker is laced with references to the 1892 original by Lev Ivanov.* I however disagree with him on the choreography. Where accomplished dancers took many of the second act variations in the Stowell/Sendak version, children are now dancing those roles in the Balanchine version. Since it is less experienced dancers performing those parts, how can that highlight the dancers more?

Moving on to the second act. I adored the magical, mysterious and whimsical second act world Sendak created for us. As the curtain rose, it was a little too lacy, way too pastel, and far too candy land for me.

Finally, when you do get to the company dancers dancing the grand pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince, the solo variations are cut out. WHAT?!? In a traditional pas de deux (dance for two) it begins with a entree, then adagio, then the variations or solos, and then a coda. We saw only the adagio and the coda. No female & male lead variations. So again, this highlights the dancers how?

All in all, this new version of The Nutcracker for PNB is all shiny and fresh. The costumes were amazing, the scenery and sets are also impressive as well as the Chihuly chandler in the snow scene is particularly special. However, my beloved Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker is gone. I shall probably not be returning to PNB’s Balanchine version any time soon. But hey, it’s Nutcracker and any good balletomane knows you don’t go to the Nutcracker for the dancing. You go because it’s festive, it’s a tradition, it’s the Holidays, or you know someone who is in it. Fear not, I always have my dearest Nutcracker on DVD. No it’s not the same, but it will have to do.

Amazon link for a DVD of PNB’s Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker
http://www.amazon.com/Nutcracker-Motion-Picture-Hugh-Bigney/dp/B006A8XFM6/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1450650511&sr=1-1&keywords=PNB+nutcracker

*Source: http://www.seattleweekly.com/home/961948-129/pnbs-new-nutcracker-is-anything-but

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Graciousness and Class

red_tulipsGone, it seems are the days of mailed Thank You notes and hostess gifts. When I was young, my mother insisted that my Christmas Thank You notes were written and mailed within one week after the Holiday. I email them now, but none-the-less, I still send them. As our times have changed, etiquette has had to change as well. But more and more it seems that manners, or even a remote gracious notion, has been forgotten altogether. Grace, class and graciousness will always be in style and will always be appreciated. It is time, however, we remembered a few things.

Cell Phones & Tablets

In a nutshell, put them away! When it comes to genuine human contact, VS our handheld technology – we need to put people first. Nothing is that important. Folks got along fine and conducted their lives as well as business without cell phones for hundreds of years. Do the people you are with the courtesy of interacting with them and not your technology. And never ever at the dinner table.

Invitations

From a formal mailed wedding invitation to a casual email inviting you over for dinner and everything in between – the classic rule still stands. Those mentioned on the envelope, or in the email, note, verbal conversation, or letter are those invited. No one else. The only exception to this rule is when it’s clear you can bring a guest, as in +1. If a name is not mentioned, they are not invited. If you’d like to bring someone who has not been mentioned (this puts the host in a very awkward position) then you need to ask the host first. Be prepared for them to respond with a polite no. And do not assume it’s okay to tell the host you are bringing someone or to show up with an additional person or persons. Families – this also includes children. If your children are not specifically mentioned, they are not invited. Besides, hire a sitter, rekindle your relationship and enjoy a date night.

As a guest

When you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, to a party, as a houseguest or are being hosted in some way, it’s nice to bring something – this is called a Host or Hostess Gift. Flowers make an amazing hostess gift or a nice bottle of wine, gourmet caramels or chocolate, a quality candle, or something you know the host or hostess would like. Also, it’s always nice to offer to bring something.

Weddings

It all boils down to who is paying for the wedding. Whoever is paying, it’s their wedding. If you are the bride and yet your parents are footing the bill – it’s their wedding and you are simply an important attendant. My advice to all couples getting married – pay for it yourself! That way it’s your party, it remains all about you, and more important – it will be exactly what YOU want, not what someone else wants. This can’t be stressed enough. Whoever is paying, it’s their party and it will be whatever they want – because it will always boil down to who paid for it. If you can’t afford the wedding of your dreams – then wait until you can or change your dreams.

Entitlement

Unfortunately this is becoming more and more common. People in general, parents, and especially children are under the assumption they are entitled. Discounts, something that is not theirs, a better part, an advanced level, a better position, new stuff, privileges, special treatment, and the list goes on and on. Usually those who feel entitled don’t even see it in their behavior, words or actions. But somehow they feel that they deserve for some reason, something different than everyone else. None of us are entitled to much of anything. Kindness, graciousness and a little bit of selflessness will always go farther than being rude and arrogant.

Dietary Restrictions

It is now the norm for most restaurants to ask before a tables order is taken for any dietary restrictions. This is not giving you carte blanche to list your food dislikes or your preferences. If you do not like mushrooms, then order something without mushrooms or be prepared to pick them out. The restaurant is asking for real legitimate food allergies – such as a peanut or shellfish allergy. Not parsley or diary. If you want something special from a restaurant, call before hand and ask if your request can be accommodated. Often in restaurants everything is portioned out, possibly even weighted, and made to order. Also, if you do have a legitimate dietary restriction and you are invited to someone’s house for a meal, let them know ahead of time so they can make accommodations for you! Don’t assume they know. Or you can also bring something that meets your specific requirements to the event.

Food

If you’ve never had it, then you don’t know with all certainty that you won’t like it. Expand your world and try something new.

Reservations & Appointments

Time is money. So it’s reasonable to say, people’s time is money. If you have an appointment or reservation and are running late or can’t make it – call. Nearly everyone has a cell phone nowadays, and it’s common courtesy to communicate if a change in plans is imminent. Don’t be surprised if the spa charges you a cancelation fee or if your doctor’s appointment is cut in half because they have other patients to see.

Everyone has an opinion

Have your opinion. Live by your own morals, values, truths, and opinions – but it’s not for you to thrust your beliefs into other people. It’s as simple at that.

Web Comments

The comment section under web articles, blogs, posts, photos, etc. has become the lowest form of communication and more often shows society at it’s lowest. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t have the courage to say to a persons face.

Driving

  • If you are on the freeway and in the lane other cars merge into, it’s a high possibility that you may need to alter your speed for merging vehicles – if you are unwilling to do this, don’t be in that lane. Buy the same token – if you are merging into 60+ MPH traffic, do your best (foot on the gas) to match the speed of the traffic you are merging into. Don’t enter the freeway going 40 and then speed up once you are on the highway.
  • The fast or passing lane is to drive faster than all other traffic or to pass other vehicles. Unless you are passing the cars in the lane to your right, get over – especially if someone is behind you and wants to pass.
  • If you drive a truck or big vehicle, don’t bully other drivers.
  • Use your signal.

Bullies

Everyone was bullied at some point in his or her childhood. In some ways, it’s a rite of passage. Today, bulling has gotten way out of hand, especially with added technology and social media in our lives. Children need to be taught self-acceptance. Love and support from the home also helps. But more importantly, if you give in to a bully’s demands today, then tomorrow the list will be longer. Mean words can hurt and may even turn into threats, but until they do, tune them out, ignore them, unfriend, delete, etc. Threats and physical action warrant adult help. Although change or giving in may seem like the answer, it’s not. Besides the “issue” has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the bully!

General Rules

  • Don’t assume.
  • Treat others, as you’d like to be treated.
  • If you ask for something special (extra this, remove that, on the side, etc.) that is not provided – offer the pay for the change. Nine times out of ten, you won’t have to, but it’s greatly appreciated that you didn’t assume.
  • If you break, damage, or ruin something that is not yours, offer to pay to have in fixed or replaced.
  • Please and Thank You go a long way. Even to the table busser, maid service, trash crew, grocery bag person, etc.
  • Hold the door for someone and or pick up a dropped item for someone.
  • Don’t rush /push to get in line to board a plane. You are all going to the same place, and will arrive at the same time.
  • For service above and beyond – tip accordingly.
  • If you are in a position to help, do!
  • Don’t have the “its every body but me” or “it’s everyone else” syndrome. Because if we all think that way, no one will ever look inside themselves.
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Return to the Womb

th-1What does relaxation mean to you? How do you, personally relax? What does it mean to relax? If you asked me these questions a few months ago, I would have said getting a message or reflexology helps me to relax. I “chill out” by drinking my favorite beverage and reading or listening to music. I’m extremely lucky to have a magnificent view of the water from my house, so I guess sometimes I just stare out the window and relax.

A while back I had heard of an isolation pod or chamber. They are also called float tanks or a sensory depravation chamber. A few years ago, I got my husband and myself a Groupon for one in Seattle, but it ran out before we got to use it. So I forgot about it. This last winter I saw an ad for one while skiing in Whistler. Fat chance there will be one in Olympia, I thought. My Google turned up Oly Float.

The next day I was booked for an Intro Float session – 60 minute float. Oly Float’s web site is extremely informative, so I had the general gist of things before going in for my appointment. A staff member walked me through the process and mentioned a few tips to keep in mind. I had reserved the metal room (there is also the wood room). The rooms lock from the inside, so it’s yours, uninterrupted for the allotted time. A shower before and after your float are mandatory and believe me, you want to shower! In the metal room there is the most high tech shower you’ve ever seen – with colored lights, a touch pad, waterspouts in different locations, and square knobs that control water temperature and direction. You can even take a steam shower, which I highly recommend. The shower before is to remove any oil, lotion, make-up from your skin & hair.

Swim suites are optional, but once you figure out it’s only you in the room and only you in the tank, a suite is really unnecessary. After my shower, I grabbed some earplugs and climbed into the tank. It’s a little weird at first; I’m not going to lie. I took the short float noodle that was wedged behind one of the hand railings and slowly laid back. Instantly my body rose up and I was floating. I put the float noodle under my head (for additional head support) and put the earplugs in. I could still hear the soft music playing. The music is faded out to signal your hour float time is beginning. Once your hour is done, the music is gently brought back on. Or if you fall asleep, they will eventually drain the tank. As I looked up, I could see a faint constellation pattern on the roof of the tank, (which also fades out once your float time starts). The different rooms have different choices for lighting, and music to be on in the tank if you wish. For the complete experience, I chose no music or lights. Also, the water and air in the tank are kept at the same temperature as your skin, so you don’t get cold.

The tank is 8’ X 5’ and touted on their web site as one of the largest custom-built tanks in the world. You are floating in only 10 inches of water, but it contains 800 lbs. of Epsom salts. That all may or may not sound impressive, however, the only way to truly grasp the gravity (or lack there of) is to experience it for yourself.

There is a reason it’s called an isolation tank – as I wanted the complete experience – there was no sound, no light, no distractions, no nothing. In fact, I didn’t know the constellations in my room faded out once the float time started and so after 15 minutes or so I opened my eyes to complete and utter darkness. It was so dark, I couldn’t tell the difference between my eyes open and closed. I actually freaked out a tad and splashed some water onto my face – you don’t want this stuff in your eyes, and on your mouth isn’t advisable either. For a few seconds my mind was screaming and a hint of panic washed over me. I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths and focused on the amazing feeling of floating.

After calming myself, I realized – never before had I felt so peaceful, tranquil and relaxed – body and mind. For the first while, every few minutes or so, I’d remind myself to relax the muscles in my body and to clear my mind. After a while, I realized there was nothing left to relax. I had completely relinquished myself to the water. My mind would wander and every so often I’d have some odd image of floating in florescent goo like out of a science fiction movie. But the image quickly faded. And then I had a revelation, I’m back in the womb – but less cramped and with more room. I felt completely safe. It’s probably the single most unique feeling I have ever experienced (no, I’ve never taken drugs).

It really took no time at all for my body to understand what it was experiencing and to embrace it. It doesn’t even compare to swimming – which I train every week in the pool, for my joints. It’s not the same at all. In the float tank you are supine, completely supported, and completely suspended.

What was really amazing (especially if you know me) after my session I was at the front desk speaking with the staff about the different options of becoming a member as well as a few gift cards I wanted to purchase. I was so relaxed that I was having trouble focusing on what I was doing – which rarely happens. Also, after I was home, I was telling my husband about it, he asked what I wanted for dinner. With a shoulder shrug and half open eyes I said, “I don’t know. I’m so relaxed right now I don’t care about dinner.”

I was so amazed with my experience and my level of mind and body relaxation; I have since become a member of Oly Float. I have a two float per month membership, which also includes a 30-minute session in their Infrared Sauna per month – $90 per month. Unused floats roll over to the next month, you can gift your floats and you can also purchase floats for less than the normal cost. Having since learned that floating is the only real place (besides sleeping) where I can truly turn my head off – It’s a small price to pay for the ultimate in personal maintenance, rejuvenation and relaxation.

http://www.olyfloat.com/floathome/

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