Saturday, May 29, 2010

Backyard Meditation

In a backyard somewhere, on a day filled with clear blue skies....

Under the shade of a tall palm tree... have time to appreciate the little details that make life magical.

The smell of oranges ripening on the vine...

A lantern dancing in the breeze flowing through low hanging branches.

And with a friend by your side...

...and not a care in the world.... realize how peaceful it is to...just....BE.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Training: Just Like Riding A Bike

When I set a fitness goal for myself last year, one of my biggest objectives was simply to get more active on a regular basis. As I started to get in better shape, I found myself putting up fewer mental barriers to trying more athletic activities, but a few things were still hanging around on my "I'm not doing it" list. One of them was riding a bike.

Nadine had been bugging me for some time to rent bikes and ride down at the beach, but I always managed to find one excuse or another. This is a tall order living in Southern California, where the weather is beautiful most of the year and there are bike paths everywhere in close proximity to amazing scenery like this.

And this scenery helps too!

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike lots of places. I still remember my Dad teaching me how to ride when I was little, helping me lose the training wheels one side at a time until I was flying around on my own. But in the back of my mind, I had this nagging idea that getting back on a bike for the first time in over 20 years was going to involve me falling or hitting something. Come to think of it, I rode straight into a parked police car on one of my first "solo" outings in the street as a kid. You can imagine how long it took to live THAT down since the whole neighborhood was watching at the time!

But I finally ran out of excuses when Nadine's and my mutual friend Chelsea Alexander got on board, so we headed down early to Venice Beach to rent bikes, and I climbed on to my non-threatening lime green beach model.

It took a couple of tries to get the seat adjusted to the right height, and then there was nothing left to do but take a deep breath and start pedaling. I wobbled for a few seconds, but surprised myself at how quickly I found my balance. You know how they say riding a bike is one of those things you never forget? Whoever said it is absolutely right.

Fifteen miles later, with the bikes returned, my fear was gone and all that was left was the enormous smile I had from a beautiful morning at the beach with my girlfriends. The only problem with adding a new fitness activities to my list? Now I'm trying to figure out how much I can afford to spend on a bike....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gifts That Keep Giving

I was chatting with a friend the other day about birthday gifts, and we were commiserating about how gifting in general has gotten so overblown and materialistic that the true beauty of giving a gift seems to get lost in the shuffle.

My friend's latest challenge was a gift for a 1 year old girl's birthday -- the kind of shopping task which would receive top difficulty points from me. But this particular little girl had a very smart and creative mother with an unusual gift request. They were planting a flower garden in honor of their daughter's birthday so they would have something to enjoy every year when they celebrated. All they wanted were flowers to add to the garden!

I was so struck by the beauty and simplicity of this idea I just had to share it. It just goes to show that the best gifts can be creative, inexpensive, meaningful AND beautiful! And if you know enough about gardening to choose a flowering perennial, you're REALLY choosing a gift that keeps on giving -- year after year!

What creative ideas have you used in your gift giving?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I Can Get It For You Wholesale

One of the great things about living in a huge city like Los Angeles is taking advantage of wholesale shopping districts. And since I am addicted to sparkly things in all forms, the downtown jewelry marts (incidentally located only a few blocks walking distance from where I live) are a great place to feed my addiction.

While I don't currently have much of a budget for anything too extravagant, I always love going to browse and dream. So when Nadine called me and asked for some company while shopping for some pearls (a gift for a family member), I was happy to tag along.

It was a short trip and Nadine found what she was looking for pretty quickly, in large part because we've done the jewelry district several times together and we have a system down. While we were waiting for the strand of pearls she selected to be finished and exchanged memories of our first trip downtown, I decided to share some of the strategies we've developed of the course of our previous shopping trips.

Here are some keys to making your jewelry mart trip a success.


1) Take it all in first, and take your time.

You're going to feel a little snow blind from all the sparkle. Give your eyes time to adjust before you start looking in earnest. And having some Kleenex handy to wipe away the drool helps.

2) Unless you have an unlimited budget, have a plan.

Otherwise it's easy to get distracted by so many pretty things, spend a bunch of money, and not come out with what you really needed/wanted.

3) When you see something you like, get a business card from the vendor with a description of the item and the price they quoted.

If you have a camera phone, take a picture if the vendor allows it (which they may not if the design is an original). Because different sellers have similar examples of many pieces, avoid buying the first one you see. Someone else may give you a better price for the same piece, so don't be afraid to look around before you commit. When you do find the best price for the perfect piece, you have a way to find the vendor again.

4) Always negotiate.

Remember, these merchants supply the same jewelry you see at a major mall store but at wholesale prices, so the price they're quoting to you still ensures them a profit. In order to negotiate most effectively, research retail prices for the kind of pieces you want so you know if you're getting a good deal. Also keep in mind that if you're buying gold, the vendor will weigh the piece and quote you a price based on the daily market rate per ounce for the quality of gold you're purchasing.

If you can afford to pay in cash, they seller may offer you an even better deal. Don't worry -- there are ATM's only blocks away if you need an emergency cash transfusion.

5) Don't be afraid to ask questions.

A reputable vendor will be forthcoming with information about your potential purchase, including any authentication papers or other certificates, the age or origin of the piece, and an honest assessment of it's condition. And if you see something new, don't be afraid to ask what it is! For example, I discovered that Topaz comes in unique color variations, like the combination of purple and green in the photo above.


So even though my budget doesn't have much extra space, I did treat myself to a little upgrade on the chain for my NHL Dream Capsule. Sterling silver, 26" long, and a bargain at $20.

Happy shopping!

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's REALLY over...

Ever since the Kings made their first round exit from the Stanley Cup play-offs, it's been a long and gradual road for me to accept the "official" part of my hockey season is over. And with the Pens, Caps, and now Bruins ending their respective seasons (damn Flyers.......arrrghh!), my alternate rooting interests are dying off quickly.

But the real final nails in the coffin happened when my boys left. The play-off beards all got shaved. My captain and my goaltender took their families to Disneyland this week. My number one defenceman is back at home, braving the rain and trying to squeeze in some golf games. And the weather in LA is finally sunny and beautiful enough for the top on the EOS to be down on a regular basis. I realized it was time for my final housekeeping assignment before officially ending the season.

I put away my #8 jersey.

You see, I've been sleeping in it since the end of round one. Just couldn't seem to let it go. I thought if I kept my Stanley Cup dreams alive long enough, maybe I would wake to find out everything up until this point had been one giant mistake.

But make no mistake....the dream is still there, it just gets to hibernate this summer and rest up for the start of next season, which will be around the corner before I know it. And since it's too hot to wear my #8 jersey, I found the perfect summer "uniform" so I can continue to support my boys. Or at least one in particular....

Enjoy your summer, Kings fans!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who Needs a Concierge?

It's been a few months since my last trip to Arizona, and the Hilton Garden Inn in Scottsdale has added some cool new features since my last visit. The latest was hard to miss since it's 46 inches tall and parked right in the middle of the lobby next to the front desk.

Meet Monscierge.

I was quite intrigued by the concept, so I checked out their company website, which describes this unique device as "A fusion of technology and elegance to enlighten guests, give them the power to explore your city at a touch, while freeing up more time at the front desk for smoother registrations, prompt service and cheerful greetings." Their mission statement? "Empower Your Guest, Regain the Front Desk™."

OK, makes sense to me if I'm a hotel owner. But what about the guest experience?

In my view, it depends on the experience you want. I'm moderately tech savvy, and already have an iPhone that can do most of what Monscierge does in a different way. The benefit of Monscierge is that it accomplishes the same thing FASTER. And when you're on the go, speed is good!

For example, if I want to find a good steak restaurant, I would have to use an app like Urban Spoon, or go to a review site like Yelp, and first input some search parameters, including the city where I'm located, to find the information I want. Since Monscierge is already focusing on data in proximity to your location, it streamlines the search process. And because it's hard wired, the data speed is faster than my iPhone - not a big surprise there. The best part is that when you find what you're looking for, you can have the information sent to your smart phone or other hand held device for navigation and help en route.

And it's more than just restaurants. Flight information, local attractions, arts and culture information, and real time weather are all available - basically lots of the things front desk staff get questioned about routinely, while you wait in line for the information with the other guests.

Now, if you're looking for the kind of personal, detailed recommendations a quality hotel concierge can provide, Monscierge isn't for you. But it might help you weed through some possibilities quickly, so you can take your top 2 or 3 choices to the actual concierge to get that "expert" opinion you want.

And wouldn't you rather be out exploring than stuck in the hotel?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Deep Dishing

When can a pizza make you do 5 pound curls? When it's the Numero ONE-O from Oregano's Pizza Bistro in Scottsdale, Arizona. Check this out....

If you're thinking, "OMG! That is the thickest pizza I've ever seen outside of Chicago" you couldn't be more right. It felt like one slice weighed at least 5 pounds, which explains why it takes 45 minutes to prepare. But it's SO worth the wait. I could only eat one piece. And since I have no shut-off valve when it comes to pizza, that's saying something. Of course, the generous serving of "Italian Gold" wings I had to start this meal could have been part of the reason.

Great food and great company....simply a GREAT EVENING. And even better because I got to share it with Pat, Mike, Jim, Linc, and Debbie.

Next time you're in Scottsdale, give Oregano's a try. And make sure you bring your appetite.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Day In Pictures

Business travel (in general) isn't terribly exciting, so I thought I'd spice up the first day of this trip by taking a bunch of photos of random things that inspired me visually and otherwise.

Welcome to my life on the road...

Friday, May 7, 2010

My 21st Century Pen Pal

Connections between human beings can happen in magical and unexpected ways.

Most often, people connect face-to-face, but it doesn't always happen that way. When I was a kid in the 20th century, everyone had a pen pal some point. It was a person who went to a different school, or lived in a different city, that you never met in person. You learned about each other through letters, and sharing your experiences going through your lives. In spite of your physical separation, you found out how much you were alike, and learned about the world outside your own from the things you experienced differently. Sometimes you exchanged photos, but the words, and most importantly ideas, you exchanged were the critical piece that developed the relationship.

Fast forward to the 21st century. When you really think about it, technology allows people to meet and connect in a very similar way to the pen pal concept, but at lightning speed. Through social networking sites, blogs, and even e-mail, like minded people separated by incredible physical distances can share thoughts and ideas, and build actual relationships. Since I've gotten more active in the on-line community, I've been blessed to build some very special relationships. This post is the story of one of them.

Erika Zimmerman is my 21st century version of a pen pal. We met via Twitter while sharing our mutual passion for hockey, and that conversation quickly became the start of a friendship I cherish in spite of the fact that we've never met. Erika is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and a rabid Pittsburgh Penguins fan, but the Kings are her West Coast team. In particular, she loves Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds. She is a madly creative writer and blogger, and she has the same in-your-face, totally honest and authentic kind of personality I have myself.

Every year, the LA Team Store at Staples Center has a clearance sale of all the prior season merchandise. Since I'm committed to making sure ALL my Kings fans buddies are properly outfitted, I sent Erika a note asking if there was anything she'd like me to pick up for her. She wanted a t-shirt with Kopitar on the back, which I found at the sale and sent off to her. Dedicated pen pal that she is, I got a lovely thank you note in response that made my day.

So this season, when Kopi and Simmer were both made into Bobble heads, I managed to snag a couple and send them to Erika for her collection. That prompted a causal conversation about whether I had a favorite Penguin, which I confirmed I do. Then a week or so ago, I got a note from her advising I would be receiving a package. And right on schedule, it arrived today!

I was stunned by her generous gift. I've gotten her a couple of Bobble heads and some t-shirts, and she cared enough to send me this.

Could it really be?

Yes, it is. An AUTHENTIC Sidney Crosby jersey, with the tie down in the back and everything.!

And if that wasn't enough, she got me this INCREDIBLY AWESOME University of Pittsburgh t-shirt. GREAT COLOR!

So from one writer to another, this is just the start of my thanks to Erika - for our conversations, her generosity, and ultimately her incredible long-distance friendship. I'm working on getting her out here to LA for a game so I can thank her properly, but if that never happens, we'll still always be connected.

And I will cherish that connection...always.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Think YOU Had a Bad Day?

I've had my share of bad work days. We all have. But when you see something like this, it really helps you realize maybe what you're struggling with isn't all THAT bad.

Imagine having to call your boss and explain this.

  • You damaged the company vehicle.
  • You damaged other property.
  • You caused the police to come redirect traffic for 2 hours around a busy parking structure until a concrete contractor could come out and reattach the pylon supporting the height warning pole you hit.
  • And you had to stay there the entire time and have people look at you while thinking, "What an idiot."

If I wasn't busy working in the office building next door when this happened, I would have been tempted to go say hello to the driver and share a story from my college years that would make them feel a little better. Because they aren't alone. This has happened before....
  • My story involves a band truck loaded with percussion equipment.
  • The truck got stuck under a railroad bridge, which caused the top of the truck to peel open like a sardine can.
  • A rescue crew was deployed, which freed the truck by letting the air out of the tires until it was safely below the level of the bridge, then pushing it out from underneath.
  • The driver of the truck, who I will politely not name, is still ridiculed at alumni events to this day and regaled with tales of the incident.
Have you ever had a day worse than one of these? If so, I'd love to hear about it, so leave your comments! You'll have my sympathy.