Highlights: June 2019

IMG_5964

The highlight of June was spending our anniversary together!  8 June…Happy Anniversary SMS!  6 years!  He bought me beautiful flowers, which are barely done any justice by the photo above.

We spent the day in San Francisco, walking around on a gorgeous day.  Towards the end of the afternoon, we headed over to Rich Table to wait in line for a walk-in seating.  We barely made it but we were seated.  The line-waiting was slightly stressful because there was a clear line.  Then people who arrived right before the restaurant opened lined up on the other side of the door from where the original line was.  It all ended up working out but the last 5 minutes was a little weird.  I think a few of the people had a reservation while there was also a couple definitely trying to skip the line, which doesn’t work all that well in front of a bunch of people who are waiting.

All was forgotten though once we were seated.  The food was amazing!  The menu changes but there are a few standards that are raved about in the reviews.  The dried porcini doughnuts with raclette drizzle were so good.  They may have been my favorite!  The sardine chip, horseradish, creme fraiche was very cool-looking, with the potato chip cut so the sardine fillet could lie in it as if it were belted in by a potato chip belt.  Mmm, that sounds delicious, a potato chip belt!  Although the execution was cool, it’s not necessarily something I’d get again- I would branch out to something else on the menu.  We ordered four osysters with an excellent mignotte, which was already portioned out.  The two dishes below were from the seasonal menu and I can’t quite remember what they are…blog fail!  It looks like one is a burrata-cheese puff and I’m pretty sure the other is a hamachi sashimi dish.  Oh, man.  I want to go back so badly.  I just looked up reservations online and, well, 10 p.m. seems to be a widely available time.  Sniff.  We’ll have to do the stressful bar line again.   But now I’ll know it’s worth it!

IMG_5983
Rich Table Amazingness

Food coma June extended to the next weekend since I went to Boston for a conference.  The first night, I went into the city by myself and treated myself to an incredible dinner at Neptune Oyster.  It has gotten really popular and seems somewhat touristy.  In another it-pays-to-have-connections moment, I totally saw a group of 6 get seated right away since the ringleader clearly knew the owner.  It was another weird line scenario because I was in the doorway for 45 minutes at the front of the line without any acknowledgement from the hostess.  Like, at all.  But I knew she knew I was there so I just held tight and patience was rewarded!  It looks like the keep the first two bar sets open for single diners so after I finally got my name on the list, it was only another 20-30 minutes before I got in.  And I ordered a feast!

I ordered 12 oysters and the razorback clam cocktail.  The oysters were so fresh and I tasted the one each from the menu.  I liked the West Coast and one local oyster the best.  The razorback clam was another local bivalve and was also tasty.  I would probably try something different next time just to get another experience but if you’ve never had it before, I recommend it!

So, for the entree, I was torn between the lobster roll and the daily special, sea urchin bucatini.  I had the Neptune lobster roll before and it is amazing.  Going into the night, that’s definitely what I thought I’d get but when I saw that daily special…I thought if one place would get sea urchin right (it has to be super fresh to be delicious), it would be Neptune.  And I was right!  The dish was insanely good.  If I’m there on a Tuesday again, this is definitely what I would order!

The next night, my colleague and I went into the city to watch a Red Sox game.  Apparently, he is known for getting ice cream in a helmet sundaes because when we texted two of our other friends/colleagues, one immediately texted back, “Ice cream?!?!”  We got amazing seats due to a military connection.  Initially, the guy told us that the military seats were standing room only, which we said was fine.  Right before he was about to print those out, he said, “Oh yeah, someone turned in tickets to give to military members.”  It was already in the second inning so I guess we would do!

It was a lot colder than I was expecting so I bought a sweatshirt.  Sorry, Dad, all they had were Red Sox!  I bought the kid’s sweatshirt on a discount so I didn’t give Red Sox Nation too much money!

The conference itself was pretty good.  A lot of research structure talks which got a little tiresome but there were a few really interesting groups I got to talk to.  We were out in Lexington near Lincoln Labs where we had an amazing tour! I missed the final overnight in Boston proper in order to get back to the Chief’s Dinner at work.  It turned out to be worth it because one, the event was great and the videos were very funny and two, I was awarded Teacher of the Year by the residents!  What an honor!  I was really happy and humbled.

IMG_6035

After an amazing start to the month, I started to get ready for my upcoming move.  I sold the couch set and after checking with Mom and Dad as to whether they wanted the money (no!), I bought myself an Occulus Rift.  It is a computer base station-less VR headset. I love it although I pretty much only use it to play BeatSaber.  The first video shows how cool you feel playing, the second video shows how lame you look playing it.

IMG_6077

I started the apartment cleaning process, which was painful but that it mostly a July discussion.  I did move out of my office to allow for the switching office shuffle to occur.  For the rest of my time, I was in a spare office, which was fine. I am including a picture of my cleaned out main office because it ended up looking great!

Highlights: May 2019

Well, my daily posting resolution lasted um, not so long.  But it’s time to catch up on this blog so my method of choice will be monthly recaps!  First up, May!  After a travel-filled April, May was a lot less busy.  I got back and the birds were still alive thanks to their favorite bird-sitter Will.  Will is the bird-lover who was nice enough to leave parakeet ornaments when he birdsat over Christmas last year.  The birds acted like I had never been gone, mostly because they just ignore me in general.

IMG_5770
Elizabeth River flooding

I finished up with my Orange Theory membership, which I liked but given my upcoming travels and move, it was time to say goodbye.  I transitioned to running outdoors (albeit, less often) and here’s a picture of the Elizabeth River cresting over its bank during high tide.  This is a fairly regular occurrence.

On May 18, I went to a family funeral for my Mom’s cousin and my “aunt” whose husband passed away unexpectedly.  Irish funerals are interesting since the sad occasion is honored by throwing a party and celebrating the life.  A lot of extended family came to the Virginia Beach area.  Both brothers came with their families and it was great to see them.

IMG_5833
SMS!

The weekend afterwards, I saw this guy!  I traveled out to Newport Beach to see SMS for Memorial Day weekend.  I arrived earlier in the day than he did so I walked around and treated myself to a Bueno Bowl at Alta Coffee.  It is so good!

IMG_5818
Bueno Bowl!
F60D476A-2F63-47B9-899D-6602CC3A740F
Happy Memorial Day!

On Saturday, Mark’s best friend drove up from San Diego with his family.  We had an awesome lunch at the Lido Bottle Works.  The beers on tap were varied and interesting and the food was good.  The highlight, though, was the covered patio on the most perfect weather day.  Living in Southern CA is delightful!

We end the month with two baby pictures.  Above, L is looking around cutely with her big anime-like eyes while H, below, is upset that she keeps being given a plastic ring instead of food.  Life is rough, kid!

IMG_5866

Monthly Artsy Events!

Last month was filled with book author talks/signings such as Colson Whitehead The Nickel Boys, Rebecca Makkai The Great Believers, and Bruce Holsinger The Gifted School.  This month is a little less literary but still artsy.

Tonight, I went to a new-to-me book club where we discussed Frankenstein.  I skimmed it in order to finish it but I’m going to re-read it at a slower pace over the next few weeks.  Tomorrow, I’m going to see Noura at the Old Globe Theater.  I bought tickets through the Blue Ribbon program so they were very inexpensive!

On October 23, I’m going to see Lizzo with my friend Jenny!  She invited me to use her extra ticket and I cannot! wait!  I really like Lizzo’s last album and now I’ll listen to her more before the concert.

Finally, on October 30, I’m going to a different book club.  We’re reading Erotic Stores for Punjabi Widows by Jaswal which I’ve owned for awhile but never read so this is a good reason!

10 Tips for Traveling in Japan

1. Japan Rail Pass: This is a huge cost savings if you’re planning on traveling by train which, in the land of the Shinkansen, I hope you are!  You have to obtain your voucher outside of the country and then exchange it for the pass at any JR customer service counter.  A lot of people will do it at the airport and ride the Narita Express into the city.  I exchanged mine in Yokohama since I activated mine later in the trip. But really, you could activate it for any date at the airport by specifying a specific future start date at the time of exchange.

2. You may have read #1 and went, “Pffpt, print out a voucher” in a high-pitched, making-fun-of-me tone of voice.  You’re going to JAPAN!  Why would you have to do something as low-tech as print out a voucher? Can’t you just show your smartphone?  Well, no.  Or at least, that’s not what the instructions for the pass direct you to do and really, it’s best to follow the rules when you’re in Japan.  Sometimes, things are done in a low-tech way that you may not expect in the land of Akihabra.  Having a printout is much preferred and honestly, I’d recommend printing out any confirmation emails/passes you may have.  It definitely helped me a few times when checking into hotels.

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 10.48.09 PM.png
Station gates.  In this particular station, the worker’s booth is on the right.  You can see a small walkway to the right of the green arrow turnstile.

3. How do you use the JR pass?  At every station, there will be multiple turnstiles/gates with green arrows/red Xs to indicate whether it’s an entrance or exit gate.  On one side, there will be a booth where the station worker is located.  There is a wider gate there used for strollers, wheelchairs, and…tourists!  Just hold up your JR pass and you will be waved through.  They could ask to check the pass, but that is pretty unusual.

4. Make seat reservations at the ticket counters outside the turnstile entrances.  This may sounds nerve-wracking if you don’t speak Japanese but pretty much every ticket counter staffer speaks what I call “train English” meaning the basics of a trip such as train number, origin/destination city, window/aisle, smoking/non-smoking can be covered in English.  It helps if you know which train you want which leads me to…

5. Hyperdia.  Download this app.  It will give you the best route by train/subway for wherever you want to go.  For the shinkansen, you can obtain your train type and number which helps you book your ticket.  What do I mean by train type?  There are three classes of Shinkansen: Express (Nozomi & Mizuho), Limited Express (Hikari & Sakura), and Local (Kodama).  The JR Pass does not cover Express trains.  I strongly recommend the Limited Express since there are a surprising amount of stops on the Kodama local train which makes those Shinkansen very slow moving “bullets.”  So, if you know you want the Hikari 515 from Tokyo to Kyoto leaving at 13:33, you can write down or point to that train when making a seat reservation which makes things a lot clearer.

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 10.12.56 PM
Hyperdia Screenshot: This can be accessed via the app or a web browser.  On this trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, I would want to make reservations on the Hikari 515 (second train listed) since the first train listed is a Nozomi.  Also, note that the app also tells you the departure and arrival platforms.

6. If you don’t make seat reservations (why!?), the unreserved seats are usually in cars 1-3 at the front of the train.  The overhead signs on the platform will indicate which cars are unreserved.  They will also indicate which cars are the Green cars (first class).  I have always bought regular (second-class) Shinkansen tickets and been very comfortable.

7. Other train tips: Buy a bento and a drink before boarding.  Some of the larger stations have incredible basement food halls in the adjacent large stores that are amazing.  The bento shops within the station are also tasty but the food hall quality is sublime!  When traveling South from Tokyo, try to get a seat on the right side of the train for view of Fuji on clear-skied days.  These tickets are usually the first to be booked.

8. So, I mentioned the Hyperdia app.  Other great apps include Google Translate, Japan Official Tourism App, and the Louis Vuitton City App for Tokyo (this is not as high-end as it sounds).  But how should you access these?  I’ve always used my own cellphone without a SIM card switch.  I have Sprint, which has great rates for overseas travel.  I usually pay $25/week for the high-speed data, but I could use the slower rate for free.  Text messages are also free.  The only high rate is for voice calls so if you are calling back home, use FaceTime or a similar app over a WiFi connection.  WhatsApp is also great if you have contacts that use it.  This tip isn’t meant to be an #ad for Sprint (although it’s great), but check out your carrier’s overseas plans before automatically assuming you need to purchase a Japan specific SIM card.

9. Within cities, buses are pretty great.  There may be a slight learning curve but the 5 minutes saves many minutes of walking.  Don’t get me wrong, I walk a LOT and love it but sometimes, you want to go a little faster.  The Kyoto bus system in particular is great since the subway is limited there.  But, if you have 3+ people in your group, taxis may be more economical and faster.

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 10.42.32 PM
Not covered by the JR Pass! But very convenient so you should use!

10. Tokyo subway.  There are a few different lines.  The JR pass works for the JR subway/local trains, the most famous being the circular Yamanote line.  There are a few other Tokyo lines that will not work with the JR pass.  Most will have the Blue M in their signs.  For these, you can either pay cash fares (which Hyperdia will tell you!) or if you are spending a few days in Tokyo, it may be worth buying a rechargeable Passmo or Suica card to just throw a few thousand yen on so you can just tap the card at the gate and keep moving.