Kate's Bellybutton Lint Collection

I used to think blogs were self-indulgent navel gazing, but now I'm not so sure. From a practical standpoint, they're great for keeping up with friends, especially when you're awful about keeping in touch (like me). I know most people could probably care less what I think or do in a given week. For everyone else, this blog's for you! Enjoy my collection of hand-picked navel lint!

July 09, 2016

Lame names

We have a few storefronts in our neighborhood that give us a chuckle every time we walk by.

To give it context, this is a Creole restaurant. Not exactly a mouth-watering name choice. Perhaps better suited to a Bikram Yoga facility.

This next one HAS to represent one of those lost-in-translation moments.  Is this where you open a "shavings" account?

Every time Mickey and I walk by this place, we both shout "BOILING!!" at the same time and giggle.  This - hands down - has to be the lamest name for a restaurant.  It's like naming your bakery "Baking", or your beauty salon "Cutting".
 OK, this might beat "Boiling" for the lamest name for a business ever conceived.  Slightly better would have been "The Place", or even "De Place" (a real business by that name existed around the corner from us for a while).  But no, "Place" is the best these people could come up with. 

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August 10, 2013

Glass fusing and slumping

It's nice to have an artistic outlet. This year I took two courses in glass fusing and slumping offered by The Crucible, which was taught by Mary White. Glass is a fascinating medium, with its rich colors and varying degrees of translucency. When talking about glass art most people think of glass blowing, thanks in part to Dale Chihuly. While glass blowing is another course offered at the Crucible, fusing and slumping involves layering cut shapes of glass atop one another. The piece is heated to a temperature specific for fusing the pieces together: lower temps create a "tack fuse", creating raised surfaces, while higher temps melt the pieces into one another more completely. The resulting slab of glass can then be placed over a ceramic mold, to be "slumped" into its final shape at a low temperature.

We covered a wide variety of techniques in class. Below are some pictures of my projects:

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian is a favorite of mine. I thought it would be straightforward to mimic his work in glass. I cut out the shapes, arranged them on a clear base, and then filled the gaps between pieces with black frit (ground glass) to give the appearance of lines.

Pattern bars are so much fun to work with. Pattern bars are fused stacks of glass, which are cut into chunks with a saw. Arranged within a barrier for heating, the bars melt and spread until they reach the edge of whatever enclosure you have made. The results can be unpredictable and sometimes psychedelic. You have to carefully calculate the volumes of your pieces to ensure they don't spread too thin upon heating.

This orange plate contains blue accents made from pattern bars.

When I saw this beautiful blue glass I wanted to do something water-themed with it. This project used a technique called "kiln carving". You take a thick paper made of heat-resistant fiberglass and cut shapes out of it. Then you place a sheet of glass on top of it and heat it, creating raised forms.

This tea light holder required multiple steps: I had to hand-cut all the flame shapes out with a ring saw, fuse them to a base, and then use kiln-carving to create the depressions for the candles.

This final project contains lots of thin glass rods called "stringers". They're quite easy to bend over a candle flame. I spent several hours with a candle and forceps bending them into shapes, which were then arranged on a plain white background. You can see how it looked before and after firing. I would like to make some larger pieces in this vein.

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September 16, 2012

Margarita Bash at Sears Point

A couple of weekends ago we went to Sears Pt. to watch the races and socialize. Mickey didn't ride, though his collarbone has healed really well and his doctor said his range of arm motion is impressive. The main reason we went was every year Mickey tries to inject some fun into the pits by hosting a margarita bash. One of his racing sponsors is Julio from Tommy's Mexican Restaurant. Julio kindly provides us with lots of premium tequila and his own mix made from lime juice and agave nectar.

Needless to say this event is a BIG hit at the race track. Every season we get asked several times: "when is margarita night going to happen?" It's fun to see the look of surprise on people's faces when they try their first "Tommy's margarita". If your idea of a good margarita involves Cuervo and sour mix, you are really missing out. For ours we had Arrette reposado, a beautiful lowland tequila, mixed 1:1 with Tommy's mix.

Below are some pictures documenting the progression of this little event...

Starting material

"The Pour"


A happy customer

Tequila-inspired discussion

Uh-oh, time to do "The Tilt"

So sad, almost gone!

Robin shows us how it's done

Waste not, want not


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August 07, 2012

Getting into the spirit - a trip to Jalisco, Mexico

Our original summer vacation plans this year were to leisurely drive through Yosemite and King's Canyon Nat'l Park, camping as we went. About two weeks before this was slated to happen, our friend Julio asked if we wanted to go tequila tasting in Mexico. The prestigious Tapatio distillery (not to be confused with the hot sauce) was celebrating its 75th anniversary, and a large group of gringos was invited to attend the celebration and tour other regional distilleries.

This was sure to be an epic adventure, so how could we say no? At the same time it made us apprehensive, because we both badly needed downtime from work. Tearing about Mexico with a bottomless glass of beer in one hand and tequila in the other did not sound especially relaxing. There was also the issue of getting both our expired passports renewed within one week, and otherwise preparing for a weeklong trip in a foreign country.

If you can believe it, Mickey also had a motorcycle race scheduled the day before our flight, and he was not about to sit it out. He made a mental list of all the bones he was allowed to break and still go to Mexico. Of course, in life as with driving, you sometimes "go where you look". During the race his front tire accidentally clipped the rear of the guy in front. The bike bucked Mickey off and he landed hard on his left shoulder, sliding a long ways on the asphalt. Upon standing, he heard sickening clicking sounds in his shoulder, and instantly diagnosed himself with a broken clavicle.

Once he was transported back to the pits in an ambulance, our racing friends Peter, Claudia, Pat, and Krista immediately pitched in to help deconstruct our camp and load it into our truck. Mickey and I made a beeline for the nearest emergency center in my car. We spent the next several hours waiting for X-rays and meds. The longer we waited, the more injured racers showed up. That little trauma center with its one doctor was flooded with patients that day, and half of them were racers!

Mickey's clavicle was pulverized pretty good. It only takes 14 lbs. of pressure to break it, we were told, and there was surely more force than that when he met asphalt. We ended up with a sling, some painkillers, and permission to hop on a plane the next day. Though he was in a lot of discomfort, I swear Mickey relished the tale he would tell of this little prelude to our trip!

Our flight to Jalisco left at midnight and only took 3 hours. I didn't sleep at all, even after drinking the delicious tequila that party members smuggled through security in 1 oz shampoo bottles. Then we're at the Guadalajara airport, waiting in customs for an eternity. We had no idea where we were going, how we were going to get there, or what anything would cost. That's a pretty complete recipe for adventure, if you ask me. Julio corralled everyone into a van and we were off to the little town of Tequila, appropriately.

The town of Tequila is small, around 27,000 people. What struck me were the narrow cobblestone streets, loud old vehicles belching smoke, and tiny storefronts, many of them selling tequila paraphernalia. Virtually no one speaks English, which threw me off quite a bit. After grabbing a breakfast of chilaquiles and dropping everything at the hotel, we visited Arrette, our first distillery. Ahh, *this* is what we came for! We had only heard about this process, and now we got to see it first-hand. The piles of trimmed agave cores, the roasting ovens, the fermentation vats and stills... Arrette is a small operation that creates an artisanal product, and it is delicious! Our hosts kindly invited the group for lunch in an area above the distillery. That was a real treat.

That evening we visited a tiny yet famous bar named La Capilla, where a drink called "The Batanga" originated. Don Javier Corona invented it in the 1960's and named it after one of his friends. Check out this short YouTube interview with him. A Batanga has lime juice, tequila, coke and salt, and it sure goes down easily.

The rest of the week we visited several other distilleries, both the small and the very large and corporate. It was interesting to contrast the techniques used by both. The larger distilleries had equipment that sped up the tequila-making process, by using high pressure to shorten the roasting times for the agave, for example. They would also extract the sugars from the plant with more efficient machinery like roller mills, which had the downside of drawing out harsher flavors. Below is a picture of a diffuser we saw at Don Roberto, which is the most efficient method for sugar extraction.

An interesting comment we heard from our guide at distillery Reserva de los Gonzalez, is that "if you have to wait 5 to 7 years for the agave plant to mature, why rush the tequila-making process?" One distillery held quite avidly to this philosophy and that was Fortaleza (or Los Abuelos as it's called in Mexico). Fortaleza tequila is made using all old-world methods, from grinding the roasted agave with a stone wheel, to fermenting it in open wooden vats, and then distilling the final product in copper stills, which removes harsh sulfurous compounds. Below are a couple of pictures - one of the fat, ripe agaves piled up on their property, and the other one the stone wheel, or tahona, used to grind them after roasting.

There's much more to relate about our trip, but this format is not the place for it. Next time we see you, we'll be sure to relate all the gory details and pour you some of the wonderful product that came back in our suitcases!

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June 10, 2012

I'm still kicking

This year has been full of distractions. Work and volunteering have been vacuuming away most of my mental energy, leaving little for things like blogging. I've been using the short status updates on Facebook as a poor substitute. I'll make an attempt to write more posts even if they are short.

This weekend I've been doing the little things I should have accomplished last weekend. We were at the racetrack in the town of Willows about 3 hrs north of here. On the way we passed a Budweiser plant. I'm not a fan of their beer, but out of curiosity we may drop in for a tour one day. You have to give them credit for the consistency of their product, regardless of where you buy a pint.

On most of our trips we camp out at the track. It's fun to break out the BBQ, share a beer, and hear everyone's racing stories. We've been camping with a great group of people nucleated by KC's performance shop BRG Racing. However, this time we departed from our usual routine. Instead of sleeping in the back of the truck we got a hotel room. I think this is the first time that's happened since I started tagging along to the races. I'm so used to waiting in long lines for quick, slimy, cold showers at the racing facility - having hot water and a temperature-controlled room felt like quite a luxury!

That's all I'll post for now. I have some crafty projects that didn't get posted earlier in the year - perhaps I'll post an update on those next.

Claudia's dog Bella eyes some morning bacon.

Mickey's moment of Zen.

Tire haruspicy (predicting the future based on tire wear patterns).

August 10, 2011

Kauai or Bust

Mickey and I were long overdue for a "real" vacation. He had been to Hawaii several times for work, but never had time to enjoy it. The last time I visited the islands was in 2003 when I went to Kauai with my brother and some friends. I brought a touristy guidebook full of things to do. Intriguingly, it described a hike that meandered through abandoned irrigation tunnels, some of which were almost a mile long. Now *that's* my idea of a good time! We bought flashlights in preparation for the hike, drove to where the trailhead was supposed to originate, but never found it. We spent several hours (in the rain) walking up a stream trying to locate the dang thing. While we did not get to have a tunnel hike adventure, we had fun mucking around Kauai's wet "Jurassic Park" interior.

For this trip I was determined to satisfy my wanderlust, so I researched activities on the island thoroughly. One hiking trail sounded wonderful: the Nu'alolo to Awa'awapuhi loop. The northwest portion of Kauai contains a beautiful canyon that stretches out long, finger-like projections from the island's peak all the way down to the water. These projections form the striking Na Pali coastline. The Nu'alolo trail starts near the island's highest point (~4600 ft), and travels out along one of the fingers with a 2000 ft elevation drop. At it's end it connects to the Nu'alolo Cliff trail, which meanders along the tops of the cliffs lining the Nu'alolo Valley. It eventually joins the Awa'awapuhi trail, which lies along another finger and takes you back inland. The entire loop runs 11 miles.

When I asked Mickey if he was up for an 11 mile journey, he thought I was nuts. He had never really hiked, and 11 miles is a lot even for regulars. Seeing his dismay, I suggested we abbreviate it to 3 miles and back. Oh, now you're chickening out, he teased. Game on! The full 11 miles it is. We loaded our bags with snacks and several heavy bottles of water. Optimistic and energetic, we drove up Waimea Canyon to the trailhead. If you'd like to see how it turned out, watch the video below. It was certainly the most beautiful hike I've undertaken, and the most treacherous. There were several places where the trail was narrow, precipitous, and/or covered in pebbly slippery soil. To top it off, about 4 miles in Mickey's knee began to protest vehemently. We slowed to a crawl and I thought there was no way we'd complete the loop before dark! With the help of a sturdy walking-stick (thank goodness for trail maintenance and fresh-cut non-rotten branches lying around), he clenched his teeth and hobbled over 7 miles of unforgiving terrain.

Our adventures did not stop there. We had quite an itinerary the rest of our week. It included a helicopter tour of the island, a luau, a boat dive, and a tubing trip through those abandoned irrigation tunnels I wanted to explore years ago (yes! They exist!). The helicopter ride was something we weren't interested in until we found out they do them "doors-off". Moments like these reveal just how compatible you are with your partner. As it turned out, the idea of an open-air helicopter appealed to the crazy streak in us both. It felt surprisingly safe thanks to our superb and almost superhuman pilot Marty. Highly recommended, and you get some unreal pictures.

The boat dive was a trip to underwater lava tubes that had collapsed and left a few arches. There was a swell at the time of the dive, which created a challenging surface current, but once on the bottom things became calm. This was my first non-Monterey dive, and it was quite a different experience. Monterey is all about colorful invertebrates and beautiful kelp forests. Kauai is much more about flashy fish: Angelfish, parrotfish, lionfish and the like. The highlight was seeing a sleeping sea turtle, head tucked under its flipper, and a pufferfish resting on a ledge. Hard to say whether the experience was "better" than Monterey, at least in terms of wildlife. It sure was nice diving with less weight, though I still had to wear a full-body wetsuit (3 mm instead 9).

Our last activity was something we heard about from a local at the Koloa rum distillery. Sugar used to be big business on Kauai. The island was once covered in sugar plantations. However, when Hawaii became a state in 1959, minimum wages were enforced, and as a result the crop lost its profitability (the advent of cheap corn syrup probably did not help, either). The fields were abandoned but the irrigation system that supplied the sugarcane remained intact. This irrigation system consists of miles of tunnels, hand-chiseled by Asian immigrants. Today, an organization hosts tubing trips down those abandoned tunnels for profit. You wear a bathing suit plus helmet and headlamp, sit in your inner tube, and float gently (for the most part - there are a few small rapids) downriver. The tunnels are long - in one case nearly one mile - so it's not for the claustrophobic.

Now we're back in SF. I miss the chirping of tropical birds, and far-off murmur of ocean waves. Next time I have a fruity rum drink, I will think of lovely Kauai.

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May 21, 2011

Time flies like the wind. Fruit flies like bananas.

Apologies for the cheesy title. Yes, it's been too long since I posted anything here. Life and work have been full of distractions!

I never told you about...

- Our "hoptacular" trip to San Diego, where we visited the Green Flash Brewing Company and Port Brewing. Green Flash does not have a proper bar; rather, they open up the floor of their bottling facility to the public three days a week. Their Imperial IPA left a big impression on us: ~10% ABV, chewy, hoptacular, and almost bacony. Port Brewing had a neat little tasting room with deli cases full of local and imported beers. Mickey had an oaked Arrogant Bastard from Stone that was inspiring. I tried an unusual Hitachino Nest beer that was stored in sake barrels. I like Hitachino's products, but the strong, musty flavor of fermented rice in that beer was not my cuppa tea.

- The "Drugs from Bugs" conference in Alta, Utah. We're allowed to attend one conference/year on the company dime, and this one looked fun. Bacteria, viruses, and other pests have evolved ways to either avoid detection by your immune system, or to cow it into submission. Nematodes, for example, induce a state of "tolerance" in the immune system so they will not be attacked. How do they accomplish this? It's a question that's very interesting to scientists, because with autoimmune diseases like type I diabetes, the body does *not* tolerate itself. Instead, it destroys itself. What nematodes are doing to suppress the body's reaction could be used to create a therapy that tempers autoimmunity. This conference was held at the Snowbird ski resort, by the way. I tried skiing for the first time in umpteen years. I fell down. A lot.

- The races! It has been a very intense race season for Mickey. He had his bike overhauled since crashing last year. The engine was not only replaced, but taken apart for a polishing, tweaking, and tuning it has never before experienced. His dynamometer readings arc higher with every adjustment; his lap times descend lower (and... lower next time?). Read his great writeups here. Yes, I said dynamometer. I can also throw around terms like triple clamps, V-twin, and trail-braking. Does that mean I can repair my own car? Not a chance.

Early in the racing season we heard a hilarious term used for bravery - "testicular fortitude". We joked about the possibility something like that existed in pill form, to be handed out to racers having a slow day on the track. I was dying to play this gag on someone, so we decided to make candy-filled pill bottles with this label. I sketched out a rough idea and sent it to my brother Marc, who is a first-rate artist. He turned my scribbling into a slick graphic, which Mickey printed and attached to medicine bottles. Can't wait to hand out more of them...

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