Picture Sky rollin'

Last month Skydog turned 12. And although she's not the high-flying, Frisbee-catching, ankle biter she once was, she is living proof that having four functional legs is just a state of mind.

Watch the video here.


Conquering Cognac

After spending the last two years sampling Scotland’s finest spirits for our annual man-trip, this year we dusted off our berets and set out for the south of France.

Despite Rick Steves’ warning,* we chose Bordeaux as our base camp for exploring three different cognac distilleries (in one day) and the adorable St. Emilion, whose vineyards date back to the second century.

Before we arrived, most of us didn’t know anything about cognac, which, like champagne, is named for the region from which it comes. (The same spirit produced just outside this area is called brandy; champagne produced outside of the Champagne region is still called champagne.)

We discovered that although cognac and whisky are produced in a similar manner (distillation of an alcohol - wine and beer, respectively), the semblance stops there.

As opposed to whisky distilleries, which start with raw materials like malts (some even grow their own), most of the major cognac producers just buy the spirit directly from the farmers and simply age and blend them.

The disparity between the tours themselves was also evident: At the Lagavulin distillery on Isla, we learned about the process from Ewan, who had worked there for 40 years and got his start as a cooper, whereas most of the cognac tour guides were contractors not necessarily employed by the parent company.

The cognac guides definitely knew their stuff, but we still didn’t get an answer for JR’s infamous methanol question, although one did actually come close). And despite the differences, we came away with an appreciation for some booze that was definitely out of our price range.

When we weren’t sipping on the region’s sweet eau de vie (water of life), we passed the time by taking turns choosing tracks from our airbnb host’s extensive vinyl collection, which included everything from Eminem to Bob James (no relation to Rick), and watching Joseph and Jason perform burpies in their underwear to AC/DC – pretty much your standard weekend in the French countryside.

2012: Isla; 2013: Speyside; 2014: Cognac; Next up: the Bourbon Trail?

(*In a rant on the best and worst of Europe, Rick Steves said the following about Bordeaux: “Bordeaux must mean boredom in some ancient language. If I were offered a free trip to that town, I’d stay home and clean the fridge. Connoisseurs visit for the wine, and there’s a wine-tourist information bureau in Bordeaux, which, for a price, will bus you out of town into the more interesting wine country nearby.” Ouch. I think he might have changed his mind had he rolled with us.) 


Celebrating the best of both worlds

Last week I turned 38.

It’s one of those awkward ages where you either have to constantly remind yourself how old you are or do the math when people ask.

(In my experience, it makes you look even older when you have to pause to calculate in the air with your finger).

This year, I decided to combine some Bavarian traditions with some best practices I picked up in Hawaii.

Instead of being fawned over by your friends and family on your birthday, it’s German tradition to host the party yourself and provide everything, to include baking your own cake.

It’s like you’re giving folks a reason to celebrate you and I think it stops just short of actually buying them gifts.

In addition, some Germans actually avoid coming into work on their birthday so they don’t feel obligated to provide refreshments for their co-workers – now that’s commitment.

When we lived in Hawaii, my former boss, Aiko, who, for the record is the hardest working supervisor I’ve had the pleasure of working with, introduced me to the idea of taking “mental health” days.

The idea is to take a pre-emptive “sick” day to relax and get a break from work before you decide to bring in that AK-47.

Mental health days are particularly helpful when used midweek or on, say,  a Thursday, which my birthday just happened to fall this year.

So combining these ideas, I struck out for Bamberg, a sleepy little Franconian town I didn’t even realize was my favorite until I arrived that morning.

With nine breweries in the city center, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site, Bamberg has the medieval charm of Nuremberg with the elegance of Wuerzburg or Dresden.

Bamberg is also famous for its rauchbier, a smoky beer with an almost bacon-y aftertaste (I know).

My plan was simple: bop around Bamberg, provide quality control for its breweries, and catch up on some correspondence at each stop.

For the record, I caught up with at least 6 of you, but you won’t know who you are until next week.

My mental health day culminated with a fantastic sushi dinner with my frau. 

Then, this past weekend, Molly and I hosted a brunch (German style), where I got my brefuss bake on and she made some killer green onion and carrot French toast. We all gorged ourselves and took a leisurely Sunday walk through the woods – even Sky got in on the off-road action.

In all, it made for a weekend more memorable than my age, which I have already forgotten.


Singing in the rain

Molly staggered for a few steps, laughing, before eventually catching her footing. By the time I reached her, the same thing happened to me.
The wind, which was gusting at more than 100 miles per hour, was blowing us over.

Just 30 minutes into our three-day slog through the backcountry of Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands, we were beginning to think we had bitten off more than we could chew. It didn’t help that our trip coincided with Hurricane Bertha’s visit to the United Kingdom …
The rest of the first day didn’t get any better, but our spirits did.
As the rain continued to fall, we clambered over man-size boulders and scurried around swollen lakes, trying not to let the wind or our 40-pound rucksacks topple us.
The only benefit of the wind was that when the rain finally stopped, we were dry in no time.
After about seven hours, we stopped for the first night in a “bothy,” one of a handful of rudimentary concrete huts where travelers can grab a break from the elements.
A pair of hikers, a younger Lithuanian and a middle-age Czech man, both of whom worked in a casino in Aberdeen, joined us. The rains had washed away a bridge – the only crossing for one of the rivers – forcing them to double back.
At 9 p.m. the fading daylight still lit a third of the hut through the only window. We sat sipping tea, discussing U.S. foreign policy while our wet clothes hung on makeshift lines above us.
When we awoke the next day, the winds had died down, but the rain persisted.
“It’s a bit midgy out here,” said Tim, our guide, as he stepped out of the bothy. The midges – these swarming, biting gnats – were out in force today after taking yesterday off.
Tim was a former IT specialist for almost three decades who started his own hiking business in the last five years. Though he’d been hiking near Cairngorms for more than 20 years, he said he’d never seen the rivers so high.
The area had received so much water that the hiking paths were now mini streams and the streams were rushing rivers. So even when it wasn’t raining our feet were usually submerged in 60 degree water.
Throughout the wet trek we learned that rocks and clumps of grass are your friends, as they both indicate somewhat solid ground.
We wound our way up the valley and made several river crossings where I was sure someone was going to end up in the drink. Perhaps we were too scared to fall. 
The next morning we packed up and resigned ourselves again to the futility of fresh, dry socks. We hiked up the backside of Ben McDui, the UK’s second tallest peak, crossing our fingers that the winds would die down.
An hour later, Tim huddled us up and yelled over the wind, “I don’t think this plan is going to work!” We were already on Plan D, so we skipped to Plan E and kept moving. 
The alternate route added several hours of boggy trekking but ended up being the most scenic of the trip. The last hour we skipped down blocky, rocky stairs, our packs feeling lighter with every step.
Later that night as we unpacked at the hostel, I took out my sunglasses and smiled. They never had a chance.
In addition to the hike, we caught up with old friends: two who were boondoggling at a science conference, another who was balancing adorable twins in Dublin, and a handful of ladies we met four years ago on a yoga retreat in Turkey. The people are still the best part about the UK.

Looking back on our hike from the relative calm of Glasgow, I realized why Scottish people are so friendly and upbeat despite enduring the worst weather in Europe: After you accept your wet, windy fate – it really can only get better after that.


How Molly got her freckle back

The much anticipated Dona beach.
It’s no secret I’m white. And not simply white, but white. A pasty-porcelain-lucent kinda white. Despite this, I was able to survive living in Hawaii for three years without jeopardous pause. In fact, during my tenure, I created a seminal bond with the sun. I thanked her every day for not burning me to a crisp; she gave me a pacifying freckle base as to not stick out so much.  

Don’t get me wrong, I was still white. I came to this realization while full moon surfing in Waikiki. I watched my incandescent leg circling in the water and imagined it looked similar to a mahi mahi swimming in the water.

“Shark food,” I thought.

That was the first and last time I ever went full moon surfing. 

SUPing in the Atlantic
Germany was a ginger-friendly move. For the most part, I’ve been away from my dear friend sun for majority of the past five years. And in that time, I’ve watched my freckles slowly fade away.

Germany is the where freckles go to die.

obligatory surf shot
But if there is one thing Jeremy and I have missed more than our freckles these last five years – it’s surfing. So when our friend Leslauuuugh asked if we wanted to take a surf trip in Lagos, Portugal, Jeremy and I jumped up and down like kids in a candy store and answered with a resounding “Jawohl!”

Our first time in Portugal was a humbling experience. It wasn’t easy – but still an adventure. Despite a rocky start with Goldcar rental car company trying to nickel and dime us upon arrival, this trip was easy like Sunday morning.

For a whole week, Jeremy and I joined Leslauuuugh and our
new friend Mikeguever in embracing the “aina” and soaking up the sun. We surfed, swam, climbed rocks, SUPed, lounged on the beach, and buried ourselves in sand. We ate copious amounts of delicious fish and drank even more Sangria. We became locals at a bar called “Dona” and hiked up a huge hill every night to our home with a view.

While our Leslauuuugh turned a pleasant shade of brown during the week, the rest of us freckling-faring souls watched as our skin speckled in the moonlight. We matched freckle against freckle, knowing by the end of the week one of us would be crowned a dotted victory.

There is no doubt Mikeguever won by clear majority of freckle real estate, but I claim a close second as freckles I haven’t seen for years came out of hibernation. At this rate, my childhood dream of all of my freckles banding tougher to create a glistening flawless tan is not too far off.

one happy jerome.
All I need is just a few hundred or so trips back to the Portuguese coast. Easy.


Almost Famous

the buddymollys or molly and the others or molly and the enders or ... 
It might be music that actually brought Jeremy and I together. Exactly one year prior to our wedding date, a random conversation went like this:

Me: I just wrote words to a song, but I don’t have any music yet.
Jeremy: That’s crazy, I just wrote a tune, but don’t have any words yet. Come over tonight, we’ll put them together.

I’ll spare you the details of how that never actually happened, (we made another kind of music that night - wink). In fact, the buddymollys moniker was more about our relationship than an actual band – but we still liked to rock the ukes at random talent shows, camp-outs, bbqs and ski trips.

It was the latter where we picked up Michael Kreis - a fellow uker - to complete our trifecta of mediocrity. (Note: he’s way better than us).

At the advice of a friendly restaurant owner in town, we sent in an audition tape for acceptance into the Weiden Traümt.

The Weiden Traümt is a yearly festival where the pedestrian zone of our little town is overrun with 15 or so musical performances, and even more stalls with food and drink. Stores stay open late and herds of people partake in the hoopla. It's a happening Friday night in downtown Weiden. 

Our band photo and “ukulelenmusik” description managed to make a few advertisement spreads in neighboring German newspapers, as well as the centerfold of the program.

We practiced for a few weeks leading up to the performance, and narrowed down our set to 18 songs, which we then played over and over again during our six-hour gig.

We had three ukes of varying degrees, me on the baritone, Mike on the bass uke and Jerome holding down tradition on his tenor.

We didn’t expect much, but managed to gather quite a crowd. At one point about 100 folks were standing around clapping offbeat to our jam, and two people even asked if we had cds. (We, of course, do not). The lady running the fest said we were one of her favorite acts. She used the word "pleasant" to describe us. Win. 

Now, I’m not being modest when I say we’re not that great. Because, really, we’re not. But we are somewhat of a novelty here in Germany. And we’ll take it because we really have so much fun playing together. 

It also doesn’t hurt that we have our own “Mel” of Flight of the Conchords fame in one Pat Kummerererererer. He is, no doubt, our most dedicated fan. And hearing him cheer “Way to go Molly!” after every song, never gets old. Ever.

Crowd shot with super fan Pat Kummererererer bottom right.  

It was Pat that coined the term “Molly and the Others” which is what we refer to ourselves at times. That also transitioned into “Molly and the Enders” because while the beginning and middle of our songs are just OK, we always end well. Always.

On that same note, our night ended just as well. We had 52 euros in tips lining our uke case as we yelled “Prost!” to random passersby and congratulated each other for managing to pull this night off.

As our glasses clinked together, Pat was in the background yelling “Way to go Molly!”

It never gets old. Ever.

Below are a few musical samplings (mixed with random german conversations) via video from the evening - 1. a bit of Patsy; 2. who doesn't love Elvis, even if sang poorly; 3. for those who aren't sick of Wagon Wheel.


Braving the biergartens once more

(Editor's note: We have some major catching up to do, so we’ll just dive right in and tell it like a Quentin Tarantino movie except without all the gore. Below begins the update in order particular no.)

I have been preparing for this past Saturday for several months. So much so, that the only thing listed on my calendar for the following day was “recover.” 

And for the past four years the premise has always been simple: Cull a handful of the best locales from “Larry Hawthorne’s Beer Drinker’s Guide to Munich,” and stitch together a cohesive route that is easy for people who are becoming progressively more drunk to follow throughout the day.

Pouring some out for our homies who couldn't make it ...

Having learned from past three years, I chose not only the most scenic biergartens, but also grouped them by proximity, and booked a hostel right in the middle. The results slurred for themselves.

but let's not be wasteful, folks. 
In several cases the pictures filmmaker R. Eric Davis captured provided evidence for events that few could recall. A few things are for certain though:

We were entertained and oogled by a barkeep named Baki,
and tried our luck playing homemade bocci.
We sipped and slaked till our hearts’ content,
but spent little time questioning where the day went.
We bounced between buses, S-bahns and trams, but never got lost (well, …)
And Lord Michael Kreis still reigns over Munich from atop the A&O hostel.


the pentagon

(i visited the pentagon last week and after a quick press brief, delivered this)

a lumbering beast with divers teets
stoops down to take a drink

and troglodytes on the surface wait to flood the alluvial plain

crying more to eat!
or at least a dedicated teet
as they suck the beast to sleep

leaving nothing to chance
it’s a delicate dance
between feast and
keeping food alive.


Soaking up the South

(Editor’s note: I’ve been taking a public affairs course at Fort Meade since mid-March and have been out of the loop, so here’s my stab at regaining some momentum, in reverse chronological order.)

Last weekend our class had Thursday and Friday off, so I took to the skies to visit some old friends (and recent newlyweds), Maria and Kyle, in HOT-lanta. (I only use this term only because it pisses off Atlanta residents, like ‘frisco for SF folks.)

What I didn’t realize was that weeks of pent-up stress would turn into an all-night booze-fest leading up to my 6:30 a.m. flight.

I can’t remember the last time I stayed up all night, but felt surprisingly alert as I shooed 5-6 people out of my room at 4:15 a.m. so I could pack and catch my ride to the airport in the next 15 minutes.

I made it to the departure gate and everything was fine – until it wasn’t.

Somehow I dozed off at the gate -- right in front of the flight attendants, mind you – and woke up just in time to watch my plane slowly backing away from the jet bridge. (I have now lost my ability to make fun of JR for doing the same thing. Damn.)

The flight attendants seemed nonplussed, though one said, “Oh, I saw you sleeping but didn’t think to wake you!” Really?

They put me on another flight and I only missed out on a few hours of ATL fun. The rest of the weekend was much smoother. 

I caught up with Maria & Kyle over beers and breakfast (at separate times, usually) on their porch; we feasted on a vegan smorgasbord around a backyard campfire, and I definitely got my southern barbecue fill.

On Saturday, we strolled through an Inman Park street fair and soaked up the 80-degree weather.

The day before, Kyle was interviewed for a documentary on his artwork for about 3 hours. (Check out some of his art here.)

Maria and I sat back with a few beers enjoying the show and occasionally asking questions of our own.

It was enlightening to hear Kyle talk about his life and reflect on the dialogue he's trying to establish between motorists and the street-style folk art he installs on the roadside. 

For one question about being a full-time artist, he responded off the cuff with " ... it's about taking a crazy obsession and turning into a life." 

I think anyone who loves what they do can identify with that. 


Haikus of an American tour

Colorado jaunt
higher than the mountain top
frostbite memories.

Relive what was once
evolution S.T.L.
my heart beats in time. 

a grand reunion
D.C. to blossom again 
home is where we are. 

the buddymollys
five years old still young, on the
verge of something great. 


have mermaid, will travel

Sending out a long-distance dedication to my lovely frau, mollsworth, on this our five-year anniversary. 
life is so much sweeter with you. 


The luxuries of a nomad


It was not without great effort that I found myself in the middle of the Sahara desert recently, skirting the Moroccan-Algerian border. The dunes waved under the sunlight and the clear sky was a pastel shade of blue.

One of two camel companions on the trek, who we lent the moniker Jazz, stooped down to pick up the orange peels I tossed on the ground moments before. Roger, camel number two, sauntered over to join in.

The journey had begun two days before with a hectic 12 hours in Marrakesh. Arriving late in the evening, we roamed the dizzying back streets as we located our riad and wandered through the chaos of the Jemaa el Fna, the town square. The Jemaa, famous for beheadings of the past, was now laden with drum circles, snake charmers, henna artists and orange juice vendors, all vying for the attention of potential customers.

Isa poses as Said fixes his shoes. 
The following 12 hours we journeyed over the Atlas Mountains by bus, with frequent stops in ramshackle villages in route to M’Hamid – an arid desert town in the deep south. A half bottle of Dramamine rested in our stomachs.

As I stared at the dunes, Jeremy walked over and patted Jazz on the nose. He replied in protest, which made Jeremy laugh.

A few meters away, our two desert guides, Isa and Said, set up the kitchen tent. They were both nomads of the Berber tribe in their early 20s. They knew the desert well.

“It is our home,” Isa explained.

With camels for transport, living off of the land, with more than a few carried amenities, was seamless.

Every morning they served up coffee and tea, hard-boiled eggs, fruits, bread and jam.

Mint tea was made throughout the day and lunch was more fresh food than any two persons could ever eat.

Isa, a name that is an Arabic form of Jesus, told us that in the desert you always make more food than you need because you never know what other nomads you may encounter. The life in the desert is a life shared.

Isa spoke English relatively well, although he had never studied it, he said. He learned simply through conversation. He had met many tourists over the years and it was sense of pride to show them the desert as he saw it.

Our small caravan walked 20 kilometers a day, with both the weather and landscape changing rapidly.

Said, whose birth name means “happy” but often went by the nickname Sawadee, was more reserved and shy. He prayed several times everyday, sang songs of Allah and greeted us in the morning hours with “allahu akbar,” which means God is great.

the dunes. 
He knew a few words in English and although he wore a turban most of the time, when the cloth fell below is mouth, it revealed an infectious smile.
Jeremy and Roger. 
As he poured us tea one day, ceremoniously holding the pot a foot in the air above the cup to create bubbles (used to aerate and filter out both leaves and sand), in perfect English he said, “Tea without bubbles is like a nomad without a turban.”

Jeremy and I fell into desert life easily with our new companions. They shared their lives with us and we wished to do the same.

Isa tossed his shoes after the first day, saying they were too small and gave him blisters. He was the same size as me, so I gave him my tennis shoes and put on my Chacos.

He took the gift, nodded and said thank you, and continued to walk barefoot for the remaining two days.

On our final night together, Isa and Said sang Moroccan folks songs while beating on empty water containers; I serenaded them with a Bill Monroe tune. The full moon created a romantic backdrop for our intimate gathering.

the wind picked up on the third day. 
Dinner was walloping once again and we explained the colloquialism “fat and happy,” which Isa reiterated on our final day, adding more English to his lexicon gained from interactions with tourists.

As we parted, Isa said he hoped he had made us comfortable, happy and adequately shared life in the desert with us. We assured him he had.

“Good,” he smiled, adding “I wish to make you fat.”

He waved and walked back into the nomadic life he lives every day. Perhaps one day when Isa is walking, it’ll be in my shoes –I just hope he’s as comfortable as I was walking in his.


Bonne Annee avec mes amis

The best thing about France is Italy. Courmayeur is just 30 minutes from Chamonix and lived up to its reputation.
To ring in 2014, Molly and I decided to trade a proper New Year’s celebration for a weeklong trip to Chamonix with a motley mix of eight ski bums. We were not disappointed.

As the herds of skiers packed their cars and headed back to work, we rolled into town with fresh legs and awoke to some of the choicest snow I’ve ever face-planted in.

Skiers are so graceful.
More than a half dozen ski areas dot the valley of this adorable ski town, which is intricately connected by frequent, free buses. In addition, Switzerland’s Verbier and Italy’s Courmayeur ski resorts are within easy reach.

Had they banned all skiers, it would have been this snowboarder’s perfect, fresh powder dream.

We set up shop in a little chalet on the outskirts of town complete with a sauna and fireplace, and spent our evenings sampling each other’s cooking and nursing our ski-related wounds.

Each day a different pair prepared the meal.

Team Awesome took us south of the border; Molly and I broke da mouth with a Hawaii-inspired meal; Jeb and R. Eric brought the heat with a low country boil; Angela and Dave made magic Italian style; and Mike and Sonya delivered a savory Paddy’s Day delight. (We’re still waiting for Steve’s night.)

By the end of the week we were racing to find creative uses for all the leftovers, and somehow we left with more food than we brought. No toilet was safe and no toilet paper was left behind.

Friendships were forged, memories made, and we even traded one friend for a wily, piss-and-vinegar grandma (not to mention Jeb’s horizons were broadened when he was introduced to Rebecca Black’s “Friday” for the first time).

I don’t know what this year will bring, but if our first day on the slopes in Chamonix is any indication, I’m looking forward to a little slice of heaven.
Staring into the Vallee Blanche from the top of Flegere.