Category Archives: Travel

I sold what I could and packed what I couldn’t

We’re in our third week in Boise, and Emma would like to update you on our status.

On the 18th, the moving truck came by our house in Vegas, and some very nice men spent two long days putting everything that wasn’t nailed down into boxes, and then loading those boxes into a large truck. They were even kind enough to pack things I asked them not to pack, just in cases I needed them when I got where I was going. Thank god I have all those empty tissue boxes here.

Our moving truck arrives.

Logan did his best to be on his good behavior and not help too much. As a reward for his Herculean effort, we let him sit in the cab of the truck and pretend to drive it. He even got to honk the horn, which was an anemic little squeak instead of the throaty baritone that I had come to expect from films like Smokey and the Bandit. Frankly, I think the driver found it kind of embarrassing.

Logan wanted to drive the moving truck.

For the road trip to Boise I rented an RV. The goal was to provide a larger and more comfortable ride for all involved as well as providing a way for Cameron to breast feed Emma without us having to stop the car every 2 hours. An unexpected bonus that I hadn’t even considered was the on board toilet.

The RV we rented for the drive from Vegas.

Naturally, because he had “driven” the moving truck, Logan wanted to “drive” the RV as well.

Logan wanted to drive the RV

If you rent an RV, remember to buckler in your monkey.

Please fasten your seatbelts and return your monkeys to their full upright position.

When we got to Boise, it was in the middle of the longest and coldest winter weather pattern that any of the locals could remember. Snow, which usually only last a day or two, stuck around for several weeks, and it even snowed a few more times before it turned warmer earlier this week. It was overcast and snowing and foggy so much that it wasn’t until we’d been in the house for two weeks that I realized we had a great view of the Boise foothills out our front window.

The view from our front window of the Boise foothills

Logan, for his part, has loved the snow. He has energetically taken to shoveling snow. Unfortunately, he tends to shovel it out of the yard and into the driveway.

Logan loves the snow.

Emma, is not really a fan of the snow or cold weather. I’m betting that will change as she gets older.

Emma doesn't appear to like the cold as much as her brother.

After a few days of eating off paper plates and sitting on folding chairs, the movers showed up and spent one cold day unloading everything. A great way to meet your new neighbors is to park an 18 wheeler in their yard for twelve hours.

Our household goods arrive during a cold snap.

The new house is a room smaller, and has a two car garage instead of a three car garage. Towards the end of the day it was getting challenging to found places for boxes. For over a week the house looked like the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As we’ve reached some livable truce with the packed boxes, and cleared enough space to sit by the fireplace, our momentum has dulled and the house now simply looks cluttered.

We're all okay here, how are you?

We’re hanging in there though.

Disneyland

At the end of August we took Logan to what’s turning out to be an annual trip to Disneyland. Since it’s been a month and a half, I figured it was just about time to share the trip with you.

There will be no new king today

On our previous trips Logan didn’t really seem to understand what was going on around him, and seemed overtly traumatized by some of what he saw. His reactions were pretty dramatic to what I perceived as simple illusions. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. As parents we spend the first few years teaching our children the rules of the universe, how things look and operate, and Disneyland has a way of breaking reality for a mind that’s only just got used to bipedal locomotion.

Not impressed with Stitch

This year was different though. Logan had a very good grasp on what was going on around him, and was exceptionally keen to do things like see some of the characters. Some of whom he recognized.

Hugging Tigger is much better than accidently being kicked over by Tigger.

Minnie didn’t make much of an impression.

Don't bother me when I'm eating pancakes Minnie

When he saw Pooh though, Logan launched himself at the poor old bear and engaged him in a fierce and warm bear hug. It was hard to get him to turn around enough to take a picture.

Hugging Pooh.

When we posed in front of the statue of Walt and Mickey in California Adventure Land, Logan wanted to high five Mickey.

Logan wanted to high five Mickey

Instead of being afraid of the rides, Logan was insistent on visiting some. We had to ride Mater’s Junk Yard Jamboree twice, and I suspect he could have ridden it all day long.

Lightning McQueen

I let him drive the car at Autopia and he cackled and laughed uproariously nearly the entire time. He is not a good driver. I should cut him some slack though, he’s still only two years old.

Breckenridge

Cameron takes an annual trip to visit with friends of hers that she went to college with. In recent years this has resulted in a long weekend trip to Denver accompanied by Logan. This year, two of the other ladies have infants in addition to their previously acquired toddlers, and Cameron is pregnant.

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So they invited the husbands.

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I suspect this was largely a ploy to get babysitting services, and provide them the opportunity to do girl things. Like pedicures, and gossip, and engineering.

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After a short visit to the Denver Mint, of which we have no photos because photos are not allowed, we drove up into the mountains to spend a week in a time share at the bottom of ski slope. Breckenridge is a beautiful town with alpine forests. The air is thin and crisp, the evenings cool, and the sky blue. It reminded me a lot of my childhood in Alaksa, and I took a little time to try and infatuate Logan with the forest.

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A word of warning; if you ever get the opportunity to spend a week in a time share with a pregnant wife suffering from morning sickness, five other adults, three toddlers, and two infants, think hard about your answer. I love my friends, and I cherish the time I get to spend with them, but I can only cherish them so much before I need peace and quiet.

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The time share had a great kiddie pool, and so Logan got to do a lot of swimming. If you ask him, that’s all that really matters.

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That, and the giant Nutella crepe he got to eat. That was pretty important too.

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Napa Valley

When my Aunt called to wish Logan a happy birthday, we hadn’t intended to visit them. But there it was, the invitation hanging in the aether between our two telephones, “You should come out and visit, we’d love to have you.”
Fascinating

I’m accustomed to getting these kind of invitations from friends and family, and I find that I usually have to run them through a social interaction filter to determine if the invitation was made as a polite gesture, never intended to be accepted, or as a genuine request for a visit. It wasn’t necessary for this invitation, as my Aunt Linda is among the most sincere people I know. Also, she lives in Napa, and who doesn’t want to take a trip to wine country?

Practicising his toast

As it turned out, we didn’t have any plans for Veterans Day weekend, and we had been looking for some kind of short trip. A weekend in Sonoma County sounded like the perfect thing. Schedules were compared, plans made, websites looked at and plane tickets purchased.

Can I help you?

For the first time, Logan got his own seat on the plane.

Leaving Napa

Michael and Linda have a beautiful home in what must be one of the most beautiful places on the west coast. I can see why people want to live here. The weather is pleasant, even in November. As the vineyards turn to autumn, the gentle hills are transformed into a patchwork quilt of fall colors.

Fountains at Artesa Winery

Even the roads are picturesque.

Just one of hundreds of scenic roads in Napa Valley

We visited the Robert Sinskey winery and sampled several of their outstanding red wines. We really went to see the fish though. The winery has a pond stocked with koi near the entrance. Fish food is available from the counter, and the koi are accustomed to receiving treats to such a degree that they’re nearly domesticated.

Feeding the Koi at Robert Sinskey Vineyard

I can now say that I’ve pet a fish, an achievement so unlikely that I was unaware of it. Logan had a ball feeding the fish.

Where did all the fish go?

We also visited Train Town, a mini amusement park with a working rail line in 1/5 scale. Passengers sit in the cargo cars, and are pulled through an extensive wooded area featuring waterfalls, bridges, and stops at a tiny frontier town with a petting zoo.

Riding the tiny train at Train Town

Two full sized cabooses are open for excitable toddlers (and adults) to scamper through. In between the cabooses was, inexplicably, a passenger car outfitted with precambrian video games, most of which were in varying stages of decay.

Trying to leave the caboose

A short walk from Linda and Michaels house is Connolly Ranch, a 12 acre remnant of Napa’s agriculture heritage with a focus on teaching kids about nature and sustainable living. They weren’t open for general tours, but were kind enough to open their doors and let us wander around anyway.

Connolly Ranch in Nappa Valley

We saw a lot of critters,

Peeking in the chicken coop

took a short hike in the hills,

Hiking with Mommy

and tumbled off a hay bale once or twice.

Sitting on the hay bale pile at Connolly Ranch

Logan spent some quality time with gourds,

Picking out a squash

,sat on a saddle,

Sitting on a saddle

and spent some more time with gourds. He loves gourds.

Inspecting the pumkin

Mostly, he just loved Connolly Ranch.

Heyyy!

Logan got to spend some time with his cousins we rarely get to see.

Check out all my ladies!

He spent enough time with them that Cameron and I were able to get away for some adult time and visit Artesa winery.

On the balcony at Artesa Vineyard

On Veteran’s day, we drove down to the veteran’s cemetery.

Stopping to let Logan run in circles at the Veteran's Cemetary

Even though it was sprinkling, the view was still breathtaking.

Nappa Valley Veteran's Cemetary

A good trip isn’t just marked by the places you visit, or the things you do. The best part about a trip is the people you visit and the ones you travel with. I couldn’t have been in better company.

Family portrait

In conclusion, here is a picture of Logan in the bath wearing a lunch pail as a hat.

When you're two, everything is a hat.

8th Wedding Anniversary

On the 24th of August, Cameron and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary, and we celebrated in three special ways.

Riding Heimlich's Chew Chew train

The sharp reader will note that the 24th of August was smack dab in the middle of our recent trip to Disneyland. This was by equal parts planning and happenstance. Ok, mostly the latter. I tried to pretend that I planned it, but Cameron saw right through my thin veil of deceit. We took advantage of the opportunity, and the Grandma babysitter we had brought with us, to have a nice dinner at Steakhouse 55 in the Disneyland Hotel. It was very good. I had a giant ribeye and a double helping of béarnaise. Unfortunately we have no pictures of this event, as it had been a long day and I started drinking as soon as we sat down. Instead, here’s a picture of us at another fancy restaurant at a different Disney Resort, the week after we got married.

Our special dinner at Victoria and Alberts.

The eight wedding anniversary is traditionally celebrated with gifts of ceramic. When we returned from our Disney trip, we took advantage of Grandpa babysitting and lit out for the Artful Potter, where we made this platter.

Our anniversary platter

Well. “Made” is a strong verb. “Designed” would be more accurate. “Painted” would be even more accurate, but lacks a certain implication of artistic endeavor and romance. When you’ve been married for eight years, have a toddler, and spent the previous day driving through the wastelands of Nevada and California, a few hours painting a plate is what passes for romance. Don’t judge me. I ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I expected, and I think the platter came out very nice. Next time you’re at our house, chances are you’ll be served appetizers on it. And by “appetizers” I mean “whatever chip or cracker Logan hasn’t eaten all of.”

Dinner at the Wine Country Trattoria

Lastly, and think most romantically, I took the opportunity of our 8th wedding anniversary to upload photos from our honeymoon.

Self portrait of the happy couple
I asked you not to judge me.

Here I pose with a moisture evaporater.
I can’t figure out why, but for some reason, the photos from our honeymoon trip have been sitting on my hard drive for 8 years.

Cameron self portrait

It was a great trip. We spent a week in Disney World in Florida, and then a week on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Our ship

It’s been so long that I don’t know which islands we visited, but for some reason I took an inordinate number of photos at a 400 year old jail during the course of the trip.

An old prison.
I also made best friends with the bartenders on the ship. Stop judging me!
My bartenders on the boat.
Despite being miserably hot most of the time we were in Florida and the Caribbean, it was one of the most enjoyable trips we’ve been on. I am eagerly anticipating taking Logan on his first cruise.

Yes, quite.

Disney Adventure

Logan had a two week break from pre-school, and Cameron and I had our 8th wedding anniversary. It seemed like the only appropriate thing to do was go to Disneyland. When we took Logan to Disneyland for his first birthday in October of last year, he didn’t really seem to enjoy it much. The rides mostly frightened him. When he wasn’t strapped into the stroller, he was strapped into a high chair. The only time he appeared to really enjoy himself was when he was let loose in the hotel room.

Riding Heimlich's Chew Chew train

I vowed that we wouldn’t return until he was older and more apt to enjoy himself. Cameron reminded me of that vow in the car while we were winding through Cajon Pass. It’s been less than a year since our last trip, and here we were returning.

Dinner at the Wine Country Trattoria

Luckily, Logan was more engaged this time. He still put up some fuss about the stroller every once in a while, but the rides seemed to interest him a lot more this time. In particular he really seemed to enjoy the Tea Cups and, surprisingly, Pirates of the Caribbean. After both he made the hand sign for “more” and demanded “again! again!”

AAAAR!
My mother came along this time, to provide some extra hands, and to babysit so we could go on some of the more adventuresome rides together. She brought along her friend Jenny. The two of them met through the penpals section of Western Horseman Magazine when they were 12 and have stayed friends ever since. This week was the 50th anniversary of their first letter.

Grandma and Jenny

Naturally, they wanted their picture taken with a horse. The horse begrudgingly allowed it.

Grandma and Jenny pose with a horse

We visited Toontown to see Mickey and his friends. I rarely go to Toontown, and I realized on this trip why. Toontown has essentially no shade. Other parts of the park are lush with foliage, and while still hot during the summer months, there are places to rest out of the sun. Not so in Toontown. In Toontown there are barely any trees, and everything is made of painted fiberglass that sits in the sun.

Logan taking the whole family for a ride

Still, we got to meet Mickey.

Meeting Mickey

And Logan got to spend 20 minutes being hypnotized by the dishwasher in Minnie’s house. Interestingly, the kitchen was the focal point of Minnie’s House.

Logan was entranced by the dishwashing machine in Minnie's house.

Mickey’s house, by contrast, didn’t even have a kitchen, and sported things like a writing desk, and a barn area featuring chickens ready for the slaughter.

Sitting at Mickey's desk

At first I chalked this rather blatant sexism up to an anachronistic Disney world view from decades past. Then I discovered the Toontown was opened in 1993. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Logan was entranced by the dishwashing machine in Minnie's house.
Despite my politically correct criticisms Toontown is a fun place for kids, who are neither intereseted in the social and political commentary of adults, or properly respectful of the fearsome ball of nuclear devestation that hangs 93 millions miles above our heads. Naturally, Logan beheld all the craft and spectacle of Toontown, and spent the most time playing on a slide.

Mom! They totally have a slide!

We did the usual meet and greet of characters.

Princess Aurora made an impression on Logan

Pooh and Tigger were tracked down in their normal spot, as well as Eeyore. Tigger caused quite a stir when he bounce bounce bounced Logan to the ground accidentally, as Tigger’s are wont to do. At first Logan had no reaction, but when the 7 foot tall anthropomorphic animals in pastel shades of terror attempted to console him, he figured on crying just to be sure.

Grandma and her friend Jenny pose with Pooh and Tigger

Because it was a Disney family fun adventure, I was forced to ride It’s a Small World again.

Daddy is stoic about Small World, Logan is cautious.

Last time we went, we stayed at the Grand Californian hotel. It’s a nice place with a direct entrance into the Disney California Adventure park. I decided to stay at the Disneyland Hotel this time, for the simple reason that we’d never stayed there before.

The early morning view from our room at the Disneyland Hotel.

The Disneyland Hotel is under major renovation. The rooms were nice, but the rest of the property was divided up into inconvenient construction zones and the noise during the day was cacophonic. The pool was nice, the part that was open anyways, with interesting water slides and a zero entry area that kids could enjoy. We have no pictures of this, because cameras don’t like water.

Mommy and Logan on Flik's Flyers

In the end, it was a long and tiring three days, but a good time. I seem to have a relationship with Disney that is conflicted. On the one hand, I grew up on Disney films and many of the properties are deeply rooted in nostalgia for me. I love the parks, the sense of magical relocation, and wonder of the spectacle. As I get older, I find myself more and more interested in the craft and engineering of the park and it’s attractions.

Logan crawls through a tunnel

On the other hand, I loathe the crass commercialism of the entire escapade. From beginning to end, I find myself assaulted by the hypnotic appeal to consume for the sake of consumption. I hate the abhorrently long lines that are measured in hours sometimes, with a reward measured in minutes. With a murderous hatred I despise the enormous crowds, most of whom seem to have no idea that they share their immediate surroundings with other people,. They gleefully rebound off other pedestrians, or vapidly block entire traffic ways while their extended family stand in a large circle to discuss how best to get more fat and stupid.

Logan ponders the deserts

On the gripping hand; Soarin’ Over California never fails to erase all that ugliness and paste a nirvanic smile across my face.

All tuckered out after a long three days at Disneyland

JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag

Traveling with a child can be challenging. That is likely something of an understatement. Until they get to be about 4 years old, children are uniquely unsuited to the rigors of travel. As adults we accept the depressing reality of travel inconveniences because we understand that in many ways it’s unavoidable and required to reach our destination. Unwanted molestation at security checkpoints, terrible and expensive food, uncomfortable seats, loud droning noises, hours of sitting quietly and waiting for something, anything, to happen; these are all things that, while we tend to dislike, we’ve come to terms with in some ways.

Children live in the moment though, and they won’t put up with that crap. Not without making your life hell. They cry, they scream, they throw food. In the time it takes you to blink while sneezing, they will disappear from sight and begin a curious assault on the pilot’s cabin. They will pick up anything that contrasts with the floor, and eat it. Toddlers are especially bad about this, because it’s impossible to reason with them, or explain why they have to be so terribly inconvenienced.

That’s just one heinous part of traveling with a toddler though. On top of the significant challenges of removing a small child from their comfortable environment while mitigating the terror they inflict on everyone around them, there is the additional challenge of equipment.

Toddlers are like mid century Italian sports cars. They’re fun to have around, but they are ludicrously high maintenance and require the frequent use of highly specialized tools. Not even counting the assorted extras necessary to maintain proper trouser hygiene, toddlers require special chairs for meal time, special tools to cram food in their gullet, a special bed to prevent death and nighttime wandering and a special chair just to sit in a car.

Hotels tend to have cribs, and restaurants tend to have high chairs, but the car seat is a different thing altogether, and it’s really only a significant problem during the toddler years. When they’re infants the car seat is a multipurpose device that they will happily sleep in. It’s on the small side on account of the child being small, and has a large handle making it easy to tote around. Once they grow out of that though, things change significantly. The car seats are transformed into monstrous and awkward devices that weigh as much as the child. Because they’re designed for more or less permanent installation, they don’t have carry handles. Carrying one of these things around is about as easy as toting around a Barca lounger made for hobbits. It’s a pain in the ass, and absolutely essential.

When we started looking around for ideas on how to transport this thing, I recalled seeing other parents carrying around special made bags for things like strollers and car seats. It turns out there are only a few companies that make bags for car seats and they come in essentially two different styles, fitted and sack. The fitted bags are roughly the shape of the car seat, with desirable features such as shoulder straps, roller wheels, zipper closures, and extra pockets. The sack style is, literally, just a sack with a draw string and appear like they are designed only for gate checking a car seat. If they’re as durable as they appear, then you would likely get more protection from a plastic bag.

The most popular of the fitted style bags appears to be the JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag. I got it thinking it would be a valuable investment considering all the travel we were planning for the spring and summer, and we first used it on our trip to New York in March. The shoulder straps made it easy to carry the car seat like back pack. The material seemed durable and it had padding for the sides of the car seat. There were no extra pockets, but the zippered closure worked smoothly and the car seat fit in snuggly. I did note that there was really no way to secure the zippers, but the packaging claimed the zipper had a special features that would allow locking the bag. That “special feature” was the closed loop at the end of the zipper pull tab that is common on all metal zipper pulls. I guess if I had a spare piece of twine I could have tied a knot through the zipper pulls.

When we collected our baggage in Dulles, the Ultimate Car Seat Travel bag had burst it’s zipper, and our car seat was slid half out. Thank god I hadn’t taken the advice of the ticket agent who suggested I transfer some items from our over weight luggage in to the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag, or it would have been all over the conveyor belt. Still, the bag had done it’s duty and the car seat was unharmed, and the zippers appeared okay. While pulling the zippers closed, I also noted that the bottom of the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag now had two holes worn through the bottom. I can only presume the baggage handlers drug it around behind the luggage cart, doing wheelies on the flight line. I didn’t thing much of it. Normal wear and tear. If it got too bad I’d just give it some duct tape treatment.

This last weekend, Cameron and Logan went to Denver, and we again employed the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag. It was something of a life saver, and made it a lot easier for Cameron to handle the luggage without me. When she returned to Vegas though, we had something of a surprise.

When I retrieved her luggage from the conveyor belt at McCarran, this is what I found.

JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag

The entire bottom of the JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag had blown out, the seams neatly ripped. The car seat was again half out of the bag, but this time it protrude from the destroyed bottom. After just 2 round trip flights, the bag was completely useless. I think if I hadn’t seen the damage it had incurred after only a single flight, I would have been surprised. As it was, I was only curious and slightly irritated. The Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag cost just under $50, so it wasn’t very expensive, but I still expected it to last longer than two round trip flights prior to a catastrophic loss of hull integrity.

I can’t say that I’d recommend a bag with such a swift failure rate. Maybe I had a faulty product. Maybe it got some extra rough treatment. I can’t say what caused it to fail, all I can say is it was a good thing it happened on the return flight, and that no damage was done to the car seat. If the car seat had been damaged beyond safe use, how would we leave the airport? Unlike Tom Hanks, no one is going to let my toddler live in the terminal.

Bachelor Weekend Cooking: The Shooter’s Sandwich

Cameron and Logan went to Denver to visit with friends this weekend, leaving me home alone.

Grocery Store Mobile

I’m told that Logan has spent his time playing in the snow. Snow is something of a novelty in Las Vegas, and on those rare occaisions he’s encountered it in his short life, he seems to have enjoyed it.

Playing in the snow

Mostly he just seems to enjoy eating it.

Snow Slide

Instead of fighting off comically bungling burglars with an array of increasingly complex Rube Goldberg machines assembled from common household objects, I have elected to spend my time cleaning, playing video games, and watching reruns of Babylon 5. Also, cooking extraordinarily manly food. The kind of food that enriches a man’s spirit and despite being delicious and satisfying, is the kind of thing that wife’s tend to roll their eyes at.

The Shooter’s Sandwich first came to my attention sometime in the late 90s by way of an episode of Two Fat Ladies. If you’re familiar with the show, then you likely know that what follows is unlikely to be considered diet food. If you’re not familiar with the show, you could probably deduce the same from the title which accurately described the two hosts. Fun Two Fat Lady fact; the surviving member of the pair’s full name is Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright, and prior to spending time homeless and as an alcoholic, was the youngest woman called to the Bar as a barrister in the United Kingdom.

According to the history I’ve heard, the Shooter’s Sandwich was despised in Britian as a hearty meal that could be easily transported and serve as a meal, or two, for a hunting party. The sandwich is, at it’s most simple level, meat and a sauced mix of vegetables, crammed into an entire loaf of bread and then smashed for hours under a heavy weight and wrapped in layers of paper. You can use any meat that can be safely prepared raw, but as I understand it beef is traditional.

Ingredients

A loaf of bread
4-7 oz of butter
2 yummy steaks
Mushrooms
Garlic
Shallots
Stone ground mustard
Prepared Horseradish
Tarragon
Bourbon
Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Start with a crusty loaf of bread approximately the same size as the cuts of meat you’ll be using. You want a strong bread, because we’re going to be abusing it. I’ve selected a large sourdough boule. Lop off the top of the loaf and scoop out most of the interior. Hooray! You’ve made a bread bowl. Save those crumbs if you want, we won’t be using them. Set your steaks out to warm up on the counter, and give them a good sprinkling of salt. I’m using rib eye steak because it’s the most flavorful of all the beef bits.

Prep the loaf

Time for your miss en place. That’s a fancy French culinary term for getting your shit together. It helps. Mince up the shallots, and garlic, and roughly chop the mushrooms. I’m using about 6 cloves of garlic, 4 large shallots, 6 mini portabellas and 6 of whatever variety of generic white mushroom every grocery store seems to have on hand. There’s also 2 teaspoons of tarragon, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire, 1/3 cup of bourbon and an Armscor 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. The pistol isn’t strictly necessary I guess.

Mise en place

Melt the butter in a medium hot skillet and toss in the shallots and mushrooms. Don’t add any seasoning yet. Cook the veggies until the volume is reduced considerably and most of the liquid is cooked off, stirring frequently. About 10 minutes. Toss in the garlic and Worcestershire sauce, and continue to cook until the liquid is mostly cooked off. Deglaze the pan with the bourbon, being careful not to set yourself or your kitchen on fire. The traditional alcohol to use here is cognac, but I’m not French and I drink bourbon. Continue to cook until most of the bourbon is cooked off. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the tarragon and give it salt and pepper to taste.

Soften the veggies

Get a skittle, preferably cast iron, hot. Don’t screw around, you want that thing as screaming hot and dangerous as a junior varsity cheerleader. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can use an aluminum or stainless pan, as long as it isn’t a non stick pan. Get a nonstick pan this hot and it released toxic fumes. No, really. If you don’t have an appropriate skillet, cook it on the grill. If you don’t an appropriate skillet or a grill, stop reading this article and go reflect on the errors you’ve made in your life.

Get pan smoking hot

Give your steaks a light rub of olive oil, you won’t need a lot. Slap the steaks in the pan, and don’t touch them. We’re going for a high heat sear and we want the steaks to be rare. If you’re uncomfortable with that, I suggest you stop being such a whiner. If you’re the kind of person to get squeamish about a rare steak, this sandwich may be too much for you. The more the beef is cooked, the less it will compress in the sandwich and more tough it will be when you eat it. About 90-120 seconds on a side should be enough. If you have an exhaust fan, now would be a good time to turn it on.

Sear steaks

Look at that rich brown crust on those steaks. Now, this is important. Using all your will power, DO NOT eat those steaks. Also, don’t let them cool or rest. You want them oozing juicy goodness into the sandwich.

Begin prep

Cram the first steak into your bread bowl. There’s no cause to be gentle. Treat it like the guy who dinged your car door at the grocery store.

Pack in the first steak

Layer in the veggie mixture. Hopefully you worked fast enough and it’s still hot. At this point, the bread bowl is probably going to be looking a little full. That’s okay. We’re going to smoosh it all down later. That being said however, don’t feel like you’re compelled to use all of the veggies.

Pack in the veggies

Now jack in that other steak. It might take some work. Don’t be afraid to show it the back of your hand.

Slap on the second steak

Smother the top of the steak with a thick layer of prepared horseradish. Slather the inside of the top of the loaf with mustard. Lay it on thick, like a Saturday morning lie.

Spread em

Place the top back on the loaf. Try to match it up so it’s even. See? It all fit.

Replace cap.

Wrap the load up in several layers of waxed paper and then bundle it up with butcher’s twine. Tie it up tight, you want the pressure contained as evenly as possible.

Wrap

Put some heavy weights on top of the sandwich. I’m using a cast iron dutch oven filled with half a dozen cans of refried beans. That’s about 16lbs. Heavier is probably better. Books also make good weights. I would advice against using anything filled with water, as the balance may shift and spill water everywhere.

Weigh it down.

Now comes the really hard part. Wait at least six hours. At least six hours, but you can press it for longer if you desire. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it’s still cooking. When I cut into this one after six hours, it was still warm.

Slice and enjoy

Once you’re done pressing the sandwich, cut through the entire bundle, string and paper and everything, and slice the sandwiches into wedges. Revel in the delicious aromas that fill your head. Luxuriate in the earthy sweet flavor of mushrooms and beef. Don’t forget to chew. Chewing is important. I recommend serving this delicious monster with beer, and for god’s sake, don’t try and eat it by yourself in a single seating. Remember, it is an entire loaf of bread stuffed with two steaks and a giant handful of vegetables and fungus.

New York City!

Every few years Cameron and I talk about leaving Las Vegas. Las Vegas is an abominably hot and dusty, windblown bit of unpleasant desert popped down in one of the most inhospitable locations within in the borders of the United States. Traffic is terrible, the housing market has collapsed, Lake Mead is rapidly evaporating, the local economy is a monolithic weak link, and the school district is overpopulated and underfunded.

Despite all that, we have many friends, family and roots in this city. That is a tough thing to abandon. I’ve been here for 17 years, longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. Cameron has for all intents and purposes lived her entire life here. Time makes friends of many unpleasant things.

Lunch with Steve.

The writing is on the wall though. As bad as Vegas has always seemed to me, it’s getting worse. The economy shows every sign of collapsing on itself with the weight of a regretful mountain, and it’s taking schools and social services right down the rabbit hole. It’s not really a place I want to raise my son.

Since Cameron completed her Phd. it seemed like an opportunity to cast our net, and look for new digs. She’s been submitting her resume to a number of universities looking for a research or teaching faculty position. We’ve been aiming for the pacific northwest.

On the airplane again.
And so we ended up taking a trip to New England so she could attend an interview. We made a little family vacation out of it, visiting New York City and Connecticut.

While Cameron was attending to her interviewing, Logan and I got to do a lot of exciting things.

Like visit the Bronx Zoo.

Bronx Zoo. Still a little nippy in March.
And the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk.

Huge turtle!
And the Beardsley Zoo.

An Andean bear that Logan has identified as

And the Discovery Museum.

Ralph Kramden training simulator
Logan liked the sea otters.

That blur is a sea otter swimming past
And the Prairie Dogs.

Ground hogs!
But like always, he was most excited about the hotel room.

Travel crib.
When Cameron was done, we did other tourist things.

First trip to the beach.
We visited the beach.

First trip to the beach.
We ate yogurt with fury and vigor.

THIS. IS. YOGURT!!!
We tried to go to the Statue of Liberty.

We never made it to the statue of liberty
But it was much colder than we anticipated, and the line for the ferry was very long.

Waiting in line for the ferry

After an hour of standing in line and only making it a third of the way to the end, I decided we’d spent enough time in the cold, and we crossed the street to the National Museum of the American Indian.
Iniside the tipi
After we warmed up in the teepee, we walked up the street to see the construction progress at Ground Zero.

Logan does not understand our interest in this building under construction

All that activity can be hard on a little fella though. On the way back to the hotel, he nodded off. It was a tough couple of days for all of us.

Long day playing tourist

Happy Valentine’s Day

Here’s a Valentine’s Day greeting from Logan.

Come at me bro

What’s up ladies? Looking for some loving?

A little assist

With our weeknight schedules being so tight, Cameron and I knew we wouldn’t have any time for something special tonight. It’s a shame, but that’s one of the challenges of being a parent. To make up for it, I planned a picnic lunch adventure at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

Spring Mountain Ranch

Spring Mountain Ranch is inside the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just west of Las Vegas. The ranch has a colorful history as a way point on the Old Spanish Trail and was the base camp for several well known outlaw raids. Sitting directly under the eastern cliffs of the Wilson Range, the ranch sports a number of natural springs for which it was named. Sitting at 3800 feet above sea level, the ranch is well above most of the rest of the Las Vegas valley in elevation, and the result is a significantly cooler local climate.

Spring Mountain Ranch

A number of historic buildings are preserved on the ranch and are home to living history programs that feature costumed guides, demonstrations and reenactments of historic events. In the summer the ranch hosts a night time theater program that’s having it’s 35 season this year.

Picnic lunch

I’ve lived in Las Vegas for seventeen years now, and I’ve never been.

Spring Mountain Ranch

So I raided the pantry and packed a picnic kit with the essentials. Some nice crackers, bits of cheese, olives, salami, roast pork medallions and a bottle of Pinot Noir. We would head out as soon as Logan was done with his nap, cutting it a bit short to accommodate for the day’s adventures. To start the morning off though, we ran some essential errands. And that’s where things started to go wrong.

Picking out new tools

Things went well at the hardware store. I got what was on the list, and Logan picked out a cordless reciprocating saw. He was disappointed that I wouldn’t let him keep it, but was instantly mollified when we let him play with a yard stick.

Story time

A trip to Barnes and Noble to use a gift card was in order, and while Logan got some new books that he seems to enjoy, the Starbucks wouldn’t take my gift card, and I got so irritated by the long line at check out that I forgot to use the gift card for the books. The long line also meant we were off schedule to get back home in time for nap, which meant nap ran long.

Always so serious

The drive out to the Ranch also took longer than expected, closer to an hour than the half hour I had estimated. We puled into the ranch at 3:20. Closing time at this time of the year is… 4:30.

Exploring Spring Mountain Ranch

We rushed out the picnic area and made the best of it, trying to take in the mountains and the clean air while Logan did his level best to step in all the food. The wine helped.

Picnic lunch

We let him wander in the grassy meadow for a bit. Not straying far, he would occasionally return with an interesting looking treasure; a stick, a rock, a discarded cigarette butt, some horse manure. He seemed to enjoy himself, but eventually, and too soon, the park was closing and he had to be reined in.

Overalls are also an effective handle

On the way out we stopped at nearby Bonnie Springs. Bonnie Springs was another way stop on the Old Spanish Trail, now gussied up as an old western town and petting zoo. I hear they stage gunfights in the street and have regular hangings. We seemed to show up just as everything was closing down. We had just enough time to wander around a bit, let Logan fall into a merry go round and bust his lip, and then get locked up in the city jail.

Locked up at Bonnie Springs

The adjacent petting zoo featured the largest number of free range peacocks I’ve ever seen. Wandering the grounds, perching on vehicles and scratching in the dirt for seeds, they were something of mystery to Logan. He spent a good deal of time point at them, softly exclaiming his toddler word for bird and making them nervous.

Spring Mountain Ranch

I was a little disappointed that the trip didn’t go off as planned, but such is life. We can’t plan for everything, only try and mitigate the disasters as they occur. So we stopped at Havana Grill on the way back into town for Cuban food. Roast pork will cure any ill.

Picnic lunch