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Monday, December 30, 2013

Two Surgeons For Every Boy

Today would have been my final pre-surgery meeting with my surgeon, but as the fates would have it, I now have two surgeons, and one can't make it to the meeting today so I have to haul my mass (get it?) back to Walnut Creek a second time after this in order to meet with my newly appointed Lymph Node remover.  See, because as it turns out, cancer in the Thyroid just isn't enough  - no no no no no.  No Sir!  It has to go into my Lymph Nodes and create more problems.  The "good news", if you can call it that, is the type of cancer I have - Papillary Carcinoma - is slow-moving, which sort of makes it the retarded little brother of other cancers.  Normally when you have cancer in your Lymph Nodes, you are Stage 3 and it's really serious.  With Papillary Cancer, you are still at Stage 1.  Like I said, good news ... sort of.

So I have two people now that will be inside my neck during the same operation - one to pull the Thyroid and the other to pull the offending Lymph Nodes.  What this means is another time in hospital, more pain management, and higher bills.  Can't wait.

I can see why cancer patients can lose hope - this is really depressing stuff.  You feel as if your whole life has to be put on hold until you deal with your illness and the bills it creates.  Taren and I were couch shopping the other day.  We found one we both loved but had to pull back from the purchase because I have yet to receive a bill from the first round of tests, and there is so much we don't know about the surgery costs and hospital stays.  How do you justify spending more than $200 on something for your ass that at least doesn't go inside of it, when you know you have this looming gray cloud of future, unavoidable debt over your head?  It's not easy to want to get out and have fun.  Every expense becomes a question without an answer, you know?

When I first was watching Breaking Bad, for example, I thought about how large a stretch it was for this guy to go out and cook meth for cash.  I mean, come on, dude, you can make it work, can't you?  Sitting here and thinking about the setup of that show and the pain and the bills ... while I can't really relate because my situation is different, that show seems a bit more real to me now.  A bit.

So that's the latest.  I've pretty much just spent my time reading up on this stuff and trying to reassure myself that things will work out somehow.  Part of me wants to know how much this will cost me, and part of me doesn't.  Because what will that do - it will worry me needlessly before the surgery, and it's not like I can go flip through the phone book for a better deal.  I don't even know what a phone book is.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

No Really, Merry Christmas

After a long two days of driving and visiting family for Christmas, you sort of realize what's important in your life, right?  I'm not saying my newly-found cancer is some form of mutation that granted me super powers or anything, but sometimes all you need is a little perspective to right your world.  I have never been close with my family - a gift from my Father to all of his children.  My brothers are almost 15 years older than I am, which has a lot to do with it maybe.   Overall, I just always felt left out of the party because I was (and still am) socially awkward with anyone and everyone.  Especially family.  Not in the normal, every day way.  Like, bizarrely and staggeringly uncomfortable.   My brothers and their kids are all great at sports and I'm awful, so when we all used to get together, I'm the goofy ass-face trying to fit in with the football team, essentially.  Of course this is all in my head, but you can't tell me that.  I love my brothers and nieces and nephews, and I constantly blame myself for not being more involved.

But lately this year - and even more so since this whole diagnosis thing - I've let all that go and tried to connect to my family, and it's been great.  Today was a different Christmas in that it was so much more than gifts and driving and putting in time.  It was about these people around me, enjoying their lives, watching them be themselves, and just sort of taking that all in.  I'm not saying that now thanks to cancer, I have perspective on life; this is something that has been building for awhile, but the cancer certainly has advanced it.  I want to connect with my family, because you never know when all that could end.  And they are all nice people who actually like me back.  And laugh at my jokes, which never hurts.

The constant theme with this cancer has been trying to downplay it, because honestly it feels like I'm walking into the ER with a nail in the foot  - it's not a big deal but it IS a big deal at the same time. The wound won't kill you ... but it also has the potential, right?  Infection and all that. The type of cancer I have is called Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma and it's the most common and the most easily dealt with ever in the world ever.  Like, ever.  So on the one hand I think I sound like a winging baby, but on the other ... I have fucking cancer.

And that's really where I'm at right now with this whole thing; how do I put this into perspective?  Do I really need to?  Honestly, the only thing I'm scared of is dying on the operating table and missing out on my family.  The cancer doesn't bother me, it's just this mental block of finding the right way to look at my newly mutated cells.  Will it kill me?  No.  So don't call me a fighter or anything.  This is like me going to the elementary school and punching a kid dead in the face - it's not a fight at all.  I just have to sit and wait it out, and then get better.  Will it be tough?  Sure, but what isn't?  Besides punching kids in the face.   That's both easy and hilarious.

I dunno.  Sitting here with a glass of port and listening to the last night of Christmas music with Taren, the tree lights, and reflecting on the nice day we had got me all introspective about family and friends.  I've always been a loner with regards to relationships.  Just a few close friends, any more than that and I get uncomfortable within my own skin.  I'm fighting that more than I am this cancer.

This Christmas was a good one, and I really needed it.  I hope yours was good, as well.

Happy Christmas, friends.

One of my favorite Christmas songs ... 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas ...

What I've tried to do with this blog is to make it an extension of me, of my personality, and the things that matter to me.  I've tried to at least keep it humorous and somewhat informative, though I'm not sure I really did that in the way I wanted.   I like to make people laugh, so much so that I tend to say things at inappropriate times because the first thought I have usually is, "How can I squeeze a laugh out of this person?"  It's something I have always done - in school, with friends, on the air.    Growing up you get asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?", and thinking about it, maybe I actually am doing the only thing I have ever wanted to do in life.  Entertain people.  Hence my post on a very personal issue - I simply can't keep my trap shut.

A lot has happened to me over these last few weeks.  Most of it is very private, so not many people are aware.  Which is interesting, because I have had to squash this need to over share and actually keep stuff to myself, or at least in my inner circle.  Another anomaly: I have an inner circle.

Recently I was diagnosed with Hyperparathyroidism, which really means nothing, other than one of my parathyroid glands located within the Thyroid itself is over-active and is producing too much Calcium.  This leads to kidney stones and eventually a lower bone density as the hyper gland pulls Calcium from my body and into the blood.  Typically this requires surgery to remove the hyper gland, of which your Thyroid has 4, and all is well.  They gave me a Nuclear Medicine scan to isolate the over-active gland and bam - I suddenly had a surgeon.  

Going to an appointment with my surgeon is when things got, well ... real.  She did an ultrasound to locate the gland and to talk to me about what it meant to undergo surgery like that, taking still images of my Thyroid and the glands within it.  She takes a printout and tells me she wants to show this one segment to her partner for a second opinion.  5 min later she says she wants to do a FNA, or a Fine Needle Aspiration.  Meaning, she wants to stick the Thyroid with a bunch of real small needles to pull fluid samples because it might be cancerous.  But it's more than just a simple poke to the neck and off you go with a pat on the bottom. I got a local anesthetic, but it was more for the gland I think.  The surgeon inserts the needle and it keeps going and going - naturally its a long needle because it has to get from the side of your neck to the middle.  This intense pressure came on as she pressed the needle deeper into my neck.

Feeling a long, sharp, metal object pushed into a gland in your throat - even through the anesthetic - is a bizarre experience.  Because you aren't really feeling pain so much as pressure.  Take your index finger and place it about 2 inches to the side of your voice box.  Then push in slowly, as far as you can. Then start poking yourself, moving your finger into and out of your flesh.  This is kind of what it feels like to get a FNA done, although much worse.  The whole thing was fairly traumatic.  I could see the surgeons hands as they moved the needle around rapidly within my thyroid and I could feel my neck give way each time and all I could think of was, "This is how a chicken feels when you cut it."  Whatever the hell that means.  At one point I began to cry - again, not due to the pain so much, though there is a lot of that - but more because of that pressure on my neck and the visualization of what is going on inside me, combined with the possibility of what this test could reveal.

Done.  I sat up, tear-stained and feeling violated.  The rest of the visit was a blur.  Suddenly I'm in my car driving home, crying.  Why?  I can't say.  There isn't one thing I can point to, it was just the entire experience of going in to see a doctor for a pre-surgery visit and then to come out with a swollen neck and the fear of the unknown.  Plus the surgeon's hands moving up and down as she stabbed me over and over didn't help.

This was on Friday.  By Wednesday I got the call.

I officially have cancer.

How did this happen?  What does this mean?  How does this feel?  These are the questions I have and the ones I'm going to explore, sort of taking you on the mental journey that I'm now forced on.  I want to let you know what it's like to hear that you have cancer and how that changes the way you think about everyday little bullshit that normally doesn't phase.  Little things become bigger, and big things that once consumed you don't matter any more.  And yes, it's only Thyroid Cancer, which I'm told is just about the easiest form of cancer you can get, and it's super treatable, and everything is fine.  But it's CANCER, right?  It's SCARY and FUCKING SCARY, even if it is localized and contained.

Anyway, this is now my cancer blog.  So if you want to know the weird things that go through an idiots head on the subject, now's your chance.  I plan on being as open as I can about this whole deal, and hopefully the end result will be the spreading of knowledge about Thyroid Cancer and how you can get screened for it.  Even though it's a fairly simple cancer, if unchecked it will spread, and that's never good.  Unless Cancer is a stripper.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Elder Sign Game Review

Recently, I have found myself playing lots of "board games" with friends.  Some Monopoly, some Risk, but mainly I've been on the lookout for some real nerdy type games.  I put board games in quotes because i'm not sure what to call a game that doesn't have a board.  "Card Games" just doesn't sound the same, and would take more explanation as to how it was not a traditional card game like Poker or something.  So I stick with Board Games.

Last night was the first night spent trying to sort out the latest aquisition - Elder Sign, part of the Arkham Horror series of games.  It is very much a part of the resurgence of H.P. Lovecraftian-type games, where the player battles all sorts of tentacled creeps and ghouls - including Cthulhu.  I like dark, sci-fi games like this, so Elder Sign sounded like something I'd enjoy.

The premise is simple - you and your pals are investigators, trying to fight off evil in a darkened museum.  Spooky, eh?  There are different rooms and scenarios you have to solve called "Adventures" and they are represented by cards - the whole thing is card based, by the way.  No boards.  As you move your character through these rooms, you have to roll dice in order to clear the room and claim your prizes, which consist of artifacts or Elder Signs.  Fairly simple.  As the game is set up and you have chosen your heroes, you draw a card from the monster pile to find out which of the The Ancient Ones you must stop during the game.  The goal is to acquire a predetermined amount of Elder Signs in order to seal The Ancient One away before it gets awakened.  Included in the game is a clock face that keeps track of game time, with the clock advancing 3 hours after each players turn.

Elder Sign, with all it's little cards and pieces

As an added twist, the game has a deck of Mythos Cards.  When the clock hand reaches 12 Midnight, you must draw another Mythos Card.  These little things throw wrenches into your game play, as most of the time they require you to add what's called a Doom Token to The Ancient One card in play.  If you add enough tokens, the monster comes to life and generally eats your insides out.

Elder Sign is for 1-8 players, and I played it with 4, with a game taking about an hour, give or take.  Gameplay was fast, once we got the hang of combat, and the characters were rich enough to make you want to read the small text on each card for more background.  I really enjoyed this game, and will be playing lots of it as we draw closer to Halloween.  I cannot see myself playing alone, as it is a cooperative game that encourages you to share information among your fellow Investigators, but the artwork and design is cool enough that solo play isn't out of the question.

If you are looking for a fun, nerdy game to play, I recommend Elder Sign.   The rules are lengthy and it will take at least one round of gameplay to understand them, so play with a group that is fine with waiting for you to look their questions up.  You can find this game at most specialty game shops, or pick it up from me right here!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Petros Farms: A Removal

In case you weren't aware, I have been raising chickens in my backyard for just about 2 years.  I built them a nice coop, took care of them, stepped in their crap, and in general made their lives the nicest ones I could.  Why chickens?  I'm not really sure, even now.  It seemed like a nice pet to have, and things that give you food by way of a single hole (called a "vent"), well, how can that be bad?  Plus, their cuteness factor is just off the charts ...

Our youngest birds, Rhoda and Buffy, after about 3 weeks.

Over those two years I learned a lot about what it takes to raise chickens to adulthood and beyond.  The man at the feed supply where I bought the chicks said that they really aren't that loud, and rarely make noise, save for when they lay an egg.  All the research I had done online had pretty much confirmed this, so I felt confident that I would get some birds that would just peck around the back yard and fire out eggs once a day while being quiet and nice things to own.

It's nice!

For some reason, I seemed to get the only loud bird in existence.  My girlfriend named her "Mrs. Butterworth", for reasons yet unknown, and this fucking bird loved to just yell all the time.  It was almost a scream, and it was unleashed for no particular reason.  Over time, it was almost as if Butter taught the other girls to yell at the Sun or whatever, and for those two years we always had at least two chickens that would start screaming at 5:30 - 6:30 each and every single morning.  And of course, we are good neighbors, so one of us (usually me) had to whip out of bed and run outside to quiet the chickens so as not to piss off anyone in the neighborhood.  Then, once the garden started to come in, the birds were all over that thing.  Eating everything in site, they are more like goats than birds.  First it was the lawn, then the cauliflower, then tomatoes, squash, flowers - name it, they ate it. Over two years we only got one complaint, which is nice, but all of this waking up early and being stressed out about angering others made us realize that our current living situation just did not facilitate owning chickens.  So after several months of talking about it, we decided that it was best to find a new home for our girls.
A rare group shot, taken on their last day at Petros Farms.

Enter: The Dineens.  Eve and Danny are in the top 6 people I know that are super positive and loving, and one minute with them makes you want to celebrate life.  And eat really well.  They have a large farm and were willing to take our four chickens to their place to lead a better life than in my decimated backyard.  15 acres and 20 other birds to hang with, plus other animals - it really was a no-brainer.

Buffy and Butter clear-cutting our plants. 

Don't think this was an easy decision for us.  For two years we have been dealing with these animals, and we have come to love them like ... well, like cats!  They each have their own little personality and they each like certain treats that the others don't.  It became less about having nice pets and more about just getting quality sleep.  They really interrupted our sleeping patterns a lot, and some mornings it was impossible to go back to sleep after trying to quiet them down at 6:30 in the AM.  Chickens are really unique animals, and now that they are gone, I am pretty sad about it.  Sadder than I thought I would be. Every time I went outside, they came running.  Every time I turned the hose on to water the plants, they were digging around looking for bugs.  Then they'd waddle-run to the next newly watered patch of dirt to look for more.  It was a great experience for us, and one I would do again, but not without having some property, first.  Chickens get under your skin and work into your soul.  They become part of your day and part of your family, but we just couldn't hang on to them any longer.

Me being the big girl that I am, I can't help but look out the window at our empty coop, wondering if it really was that bad having chickens and thinking of ways to get them back.  But knowing they are living a better life than they were here sort of brings me back to reality.  The romantic in me wants to drive up and take them back, to hell with the neighbors and our sleeping!  At least there's always cats to pet ...

Bye, chickens.  We'll miss you very much.  So long, and thanks for all the eggs ...

Everyone loaded into the Dineen's truck, bound for a real farm. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Down With Facebook ... Sort Of!

For all of it's positives, this modern age of technology kind of blows.  I realized the other day after, a few visits to Facebook, that I have rarely ever seen or read anything there that has changed or bettered my life in some way.  Occasionally I'll have a good interaction or read an interesting story, but for the most part, it's full of baby photos, blurry pics of food, and you telling me how bad traffic was.  It's always been like this, too, it's not new.  So why did I start hating on Facebook so suddenly?  I think I just hit my saturation point with it.  I got tired of seeing folks I like posting infographics with incorrect information on them, or photos of them at dinner, all blown out and red-eyed.  It did nothing for me but inflate my ego, because as I hit "Post" I knew lots of folks would be seeing it, and that's real exciting!

Facebook is information overload at its most pointless, and the amount of time and thought that we put into crafting our little posts and typing out our inside jokes could be much better spent on improving ourselves.  Think about the last time you were in a group, with people you knew and enjoyed spending time with.  Now, remember how many times you checked Facebook - not out of interest, but boredom. I guarantee that most of you have done this, and it's really stupid.  We have given up personal interactions for small status updates.  It's like our very own tabloid paper, updated and current at all times.  

I've been pulling away from Facebook for awhile now, favoring Twitter instead, which is much more freeing and simple.  In fact, I enjoyed not being connected so much that I have done something new - left my phone on silent over the last 3 days.  Yeah, it's true!  My phone has not rang once.  Sure, I've missed calls and gotten text messages, and yet the world still kept spinning somehow.  Those people that called me I called back, and those who texted me I responded to, and that was that.  After a day, I felt like I was in control.  Of what, I have no idea, but at least I didn't feel like a slave to my phone.  Not that I was on it all the time, but you know the feeling you get when you see someone calling and you are not sure if you should answer it, or if you do you have to go outside first.  I suggest you give it a shot - put that thing on silent for a week and only check it when you have time.  I bet you'll love it.

Who knows - maybe you are different than I am, and you don't have these issues of checking Facebook and your phone all the time.  I sure did.  It just became a habit.  The thing to do when you didn't know what to do for 2 min in traffic.  I hated it, but I never really knew how much until recently, when I went cold turkey.  Things have slowed down as a result.  I dunno, things just feel better.  If you try it, let me know if you felt the same.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


My friend Morgan Cox from Ale Industries and I used to joke years back about putting on a Pale Ale fest, in response to the rise of the Alcohol Robot fests: the IPA fest, the "big beer" fests, the 5 barrel-aged RIS fests.  10 years ago this was real funny to us, because the idea of a festival with nothing but beers coming in under 6% just seemed ... well it seemed the beer drinking world wasn't ready for celebrating lower ABV beers.  They were too hung up on the extreme side that there was no room for the subtleties that smaller beers require.  Attending a beer fest with the same old IPAs that you see everywhere just got real boring after awhile, and I stopped going to fests on my own.  I longed for beers under 5%, and have been advocating and pushing for them for the last 5 or 6 years on The Brewing Network, and brewing nothing but low ABV beers for about as long.

Then I heard about the Session Fest at Drakes Brewing and realized that this is what I had been waiting for - this was a beer fest made just for me!  The first fest I had heard about like this was at Eagle Rock brewery a few years ago, but my travel plans never synched up with theirs.  So this one at Drakes was a must-attend for me.  Fests like this are great for many reasons - sure the lower alcohol is a bonus, but it's much more than that.  Session beers are delicately balanced, and require skill to pull off.  I suppose so do IPAs, but you can hide flaws and imbalance behind all those hops.  Usually, session beers show off malt more than anything, focusing on sweet flavors instead of crushing them with alpha acids.  In my opinion, anyone can make an IPA, but it takes a good brewer to pull off a session beer.

Another reason these types of fests work is you truly get to try beers from brewers that you don't normally see at other festivals, which is the flaw built into the system, right?  What this fest made me realize is that there are so many breweries making session beers and the general beer-drinking public knows nothing about them.  All they get hit with at standard beer festivals is a flagship beer - your Pale Ales, your Ambers, your IPAs - but what about your line-up makes you unique?  Tell me how much different another IPA will really be from the next IPA down the line, if you can.  SessionFest opens doors like these and gets people to realize there is more to beer than simply the standards we are all bored with.  It's a very refreshing thing to see in the beer-soaked Bay Area.

The fest started off slow at first, but after about an hour there were lots of folks enjoying the nice weather - about 400 of them.  It warmed my heart to see so many people enjoying beer for beer and not for the ABV.  Ok, I can't prove that last statement, but whenever I see someone with an IPA, I can't help but judge them silently.  I think they must not know the virtues of a Mild Ale, so they are sticking with what everyone else thinks they should drink.  OMG, if it's not killing your taste buds with hops, it's crap, right?

As I walked around, I spoke with some of the brewers there, just asking how they liked an event like this.  My favorite quote of the day came from my favorite brewery (odd how that happens) Lee from the aforementioned Eagle Rock.  He said, "It's been great - nobody has asked me what my highest alcohol beer is yet!"  Now folks, if you have never worked a beer fest, this question is constantly being asked of whomever is pouring the beers, and it is about as boring a question as there ever has been.  As brewers, they are serving you beer so you like it, so you enjoy it, so you come back for more.  To them it's an art form at best, and an enjoyable beverage at least.  It is not an alcohol delivery system, but that's what most fest have turned into and, in turn, fests have turned beer drinkers into mindless ABV counters.  Not at SessionFest!

I had a great time here, and I never wanted it to end, but , alas, four hours went by in a hearbeat and I had to say good-by to one of the great beer fests in the Bay Area.  I was assured that this will happen again, though, and when it does, you bet you can find me at the head of the line just waiting to find my next favorite beer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Do You Brew Bad Beer?

If you are a homebrewer, the answer is probably "yes".  Now don't get mad, it's the truth.  As homebrewers we just don't have the time to perfect a hobby, especially as one as fluid as brewing.  Lots of variables to consider, ingredients, temperatures, all sorts of shit.  It's cool, I'm not judging you.  Not much, anyway.

For years now, listeners of The Brewing Network have been asking for a way to send us their homebrews and get our opinons on them. We tried this a few times, but it just didn't fit well within our format.  For whatever reason, I have been thinking of a way we could start to do this again.  There are plenty of beers that need help out there, and plenty of brewers that don't have access to qualified beer judges.

Eventually, I came up with the concept of a new show that would call out for listener submissions, evaluate the beers, and offer suggestions on how to improve.  We'd pull the brewer on the air to give us details on their beer and to find out exactly what they want to know.  Think of it as an interactive BJCP score sheet.

Knowing I couldn't do this on my own, I reached out to two very nice, very good-looking guys - Mr. Brian Cooper and Mr. Lee Shephard - both of whom are BJCP judges and know what it takes to make a good beer.  Together, we form "Dr. Homebrew"!  Defender of your beer!  Or some such business.

Now to the point: we need beer.  If you have some beer that has flaws, please contact me.  It could be an off-flavor you need help pinpointing, or perhaps you can't score higher than a 35 in competitions - Dr Homebrew can help you.  Send an e-mail to jp@thebrewingnetwork and I'll get in touch with you.

This is your show, folks.  We are just here to look good.  And to drink.  Both at the same time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

SF Beer Week Part II

One thing there is no shortage of during SF Beer Week is, of course, beer events.  Another is a real good description of what the event actually is.  It's hard to make an informed decision when all you have to go on is "Tap Takeover from Sierra Nevada".  Might as well say "Hey you - just come here.  it's easier."  In looking for something to do Monday Night, I found a great event at the World Famous 21st Amendment, in San Francisco called simply a "Library Stash Tasting".  A chance to drink some aged 21A beers in a small setting away from large crowds, farts, and large farts from crowds?  Perfect!  It was also a chance to try out my new camera: The sleek Canon 60D!

Contrary to my initial thoughts, we did NOT lick moustaches
surrounded by leather-bound books and rich mahogany ... 

Sampling beers that are almost 8 years old and still being blown away by them is a rare treat.  Too many breweries are quick to say, "Age this for 2-4 years ... trust us".  Yeah right.  I have never had a beer I was told to age be better than when it was maybe 6 months old.  But perhaps that's me ... 

Standouts from the 21A event include a 2009 Monks Blood, which gave me a nice and soft marshmellow sweetness, capped off by real nice caramel notes and a very subtle coco powder thing going on.  A hint of dry cherries came through as the beer warmed, and I was impressed right off the bat with this beer.  The 2005 Lower de Boom American Barleywine was very interesting, as I thought it had a surprising amount of hop bitterness left in there for such an old beer.  It was almost like the things was re-hopped before serving!  The bitterness contrasted the deep brown sugar tones that prevailed throughout.  Very well done, and very well cared for.  Contrasted with the 2009 LdB, which was more hop forward, less bitter and with a lighter brown sugar note.  

Strong beer tastings are pretty new for me, seeing as I don't really drink them.  Which made it even more important for me to make it to this one, because I need to get out of my comfort zone every so often and give my liver a workout.  You hear "strong beer" and you might just thing everything is going to be sweet and have a high ABV, which is true, but if you are like me and don't drink one every now and then, you forget just how much they change as the beer warms up.  After a couple of these beers, I was letting them just sit for 20 min before really jumping in because I knew they would be totally different beers. 

The close-out event was the 25th Anniversary of Celebrator Beer Magazine.  Held at the Marriott in Oakland (site of NHC 2009), this is always a great party.  Like any great event, it's not packed.  Good fests know how much room their guests need, and Tom knows where the line is between comfortable and not.  
Happy 25th, Tom!

And like that, SF Beer Week is over!  I didn't get to too many events, but the ones that I did go to were a lot of fun.  To me, that is how you handle something like this - choose carefully.  Sure, there are lots of good places to go and I'm sure there is great beer at each and every one (except for that one.  And maybe that one), but you have to survive if you are going to make it to the next one.  Pace yourself.  It's just beer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SF Beer Week In Review: Part 1

San Francisco Beer Week is hard to describe, as it's not 100%  about San Francisco beer, nor is the time limited to one singular week.  It's more like a collection of small beer festivals scattered around what is a very loose definition of the SF Bay Area.  I think it's a huge testament to the love for craft beer that we have in this state, and it's pretty neat that there are even enough venues around to hold this many events!

Each year, SF Beer week gets a bit larger, with the number of events this year topping 500!  I was determined to attend a small number of them in order to bring a portion of what we go through to you, the folks at home.  I suffer for you, I really do.

Anchor Brewing
The first event we went to was more of a pre-opener at the Anchor Brewery as they unveiled their newest beer, California Lager, which is a re-release of the beer they brewed last year for their Zymaster Series, but are shifting it into full-time production this year. The beer is a nod to the very first lager brewed in California by the obviously now-defunct Boca Brewing, up near the Truckee River.  The label that Anchor designed took several elements from the old Boca Brewing labels, and brings back the heritage of this beer.  Looking at it, you get a sense of history.  Or it could have been the beer in my head.  For more info on this beer, hit up the Anchor Blog.

I thought the beer was great.  I got some nice, spicy / sweet notes, along with some good fruity esters (green apricots).  Very much reminded me of a Mexican Lager, but with more body.  If that makes any sense.  Grab some, you'll like it!

The Boca Brewing Label
I love this label!
If you are into the whole outdoors thing, Anchor is donating a portion of the sales of the California Lager to the California State Parks in order to preserve the places that snakes and bugs and spiders call home, and where regular folks like you and me get lost.  And eaten.  By animals.  But don't let the fact that you are just staving off a parking lot or an IKEA prevent you from buying this beer - it's fantastic!

We got to interview Keith Greggor, the CEO of Anchor, about the new beer, which was a real pleasure.  Keith said the partnership beween Anchor and the State Parks was a "natural one, and much more meaningful than a sponsorship", which is a great quote.

Anchor puts on an event like no other - tons of food, and the beer flows and flows.  Lots more photos of the event on The Brewing Network Facebok page ...

SF Beer Week Opening Non-Gala
After it's demotion from Gala to simply Opening Event, the official kickoff to the Week (that's not really a week) began two days after the Anchor event.  In a hall full of craft beer from around the state (didn't I tell you it was more than just SF beer?), people lined up by the hundreds to get in.  Of course, since I'm media, I got to walk around and try all the beers first.  And they were great!  Once the general public were let in, a great chunk of them made a bee-line to ... Pliny the Younger!  Look, its a good beer and all, but that hall was packed with great beers from new breweries and old ones alike, and after waiting for 2 hours outside, then 30 min inside, why on Planet Earth would you want to wait an additional 30 min just to drink a beer?  I'll never understand that.

Another year, another great event!

For me, there were a couple of standouts.  One of which was Tree Beer - a collaboration between Drakes Brewing and my close, personal friend Mr. Rodger Davis and his new brewery, Faction.  It was brewed with Grand Fir leaves (like the tree.  Get it?) And that beer had a wonderful pine / sap aftertaste that just made me smile.  It was like getting drunk off of Christmas itself!

The most plentiful thing I saw at the fest was ... The Ironic HandleBar Moustache, in all of it's twisted, curvy glory.  Which, by the way, is no longer ironic.  It's just a moustache.  Like a joke that has gone on too long, or a houseguest that has overstayed his welcome, guys were wandering around the hall, drinking IPAs and twisting their wispy face hair in a vain attempt to stand out in the crowd.  It really made me hate going to The City, and I wish I never had to again.   More pics at The Brewing Network Facebok page ...

Part 2 in a few days ...

Monday, February 11, 2013

How To Save Money At Disneyland

"I can see my house from here!" - WD

No, I haven't worked at Disneyland.  And no, I haven't been there a billion times (though it feels like it).  What I have done is been around that park many times and talked with many people who do work there, and I've picked up a few tips - either on my own or directly from cast members.  Part of the magic of Disneyland is sharing it with other people who enjoy it as much as you do, and that's the point of this article - for me to let you in on some of the cool things I have discovered about my favorite place.

Lots of these articles have been written, I know, and many of them are by people who claim to know everything about Disneyland.  Maybe they do, but they aren't sharing it all.  But I will - I'll tell you how I'm able to save money while in Disneyland, which allows me to go more often simply because it costs less than it does for most.

Some tips might be old news, some might not be of help at all, but none the less ... here they are.

Arguably the most expensive portion of your trip.  At $125 per person (for the Park Hopper) per day, even the shortest trip can quickly turn into an expensive one, even before you start buying souvenirs   If you don't live in California, you probably aren't going to go to Disneyland more than 6 times in a year, so you are better off getting the multiple day passes.  Duh, we all know that.  You can get a 5-Day park hopper pass for $270 - a smoking deal off of the normal price!  They are tricky, though, because you have to use the passes up within 15 days of your initial visit, so they are best for out of town folks on vacation.  Also, once you go in, that burns a day, so if you are in town for a half day before going to the park, you can't get in without using a day up.  There are no blackout days with them (meaning you can use them 365 days out of the year), and they are a good deal off of the per day price, so if you only go to Disneyland once a year, these might be your best bet.

But if you are like me and you enjoy going to the park multiple times throughout the year, then you should check out the Annual Passports.  I have the Deluxe Passport, which gives me 315 days of Disneyland fun for $465.  When I go, it's usually for the weekend, since my girlfriend doesn't get too much time off.  We drive down Friday, come back Sunday.  Without a passport, I'd have to buy the 3-day park hopper for $235, burn one day by going to the park Friday evening, one day Saturday, and then one on Sunday for the few hours we go before driving back home.  Some of the best times we've had at Disneyland have been after a long, 6 hour drive, just hanging out on a bench in Main Street, enjoying the lights.  With a passport, when you go to the park doesn't matter - you aren't shorting yourself by enjoying a half day.  There are blackout days here and there, but most of them are Christmas, Thanksgiving, and random weekends and to be honest, we have never been to the park during a blackout day - so for us, they don't matter.

Ok, so how does the Passport save you money?  Besides the savings per day, you get 10% off on all food purchases in the park, 10% off of all merchandise sales, and 20% off of the cool tours they have!  Every penny counts these days, and buying a pass really does help.  Another quick note - when you renew, you save $20 off your renewal price AND Disney gives you a one-time coupon for 20% off merch over $50!  Let's face it - you are going to be buying that cool wallet or jacket anyway, why not save some cash doing it?

Update: There are some events that will save you money on tickets.  One that I know of for sure is Dapper Day.  This is a non-sanctioned Disney event that happens across most Disney parks - even Disney Paris!  Twice a year, folks dress up in smart, period-style clothing (1940's and 1950's generally), and hang out in the park for the day.  The inspiration for this event is the concept drawings from the parks.  Artists typically drew crowds dressed fairly sharp, as if they were going out on the town instead of fighting sweaty crowds in the Sun.  Hooking up with this group can save you almost 50% off your ticket (I'm unclear if it is a park hopper or not) and in some cases it can save you on your hotel costs, too!  If you are into costumes, check their website out at www.dapperday.com and sign up for their newsletter for event information.  Since it's not a Disney event, tickets are available from the Dapper Day site.  I'm not sure you have to be dressed up to use the ticket to get into the park, so if you don't feel like dressing up, perhaps you can buy a ticket through their site for their next event and simply dress how you want.

Disney concept art, and something Dapper Day pulls inspiration from

Here is where that 10% from your passport comes in handy!  Sure you only end up saving about $2 per meal, but hey .. it adds up.  You really can't save money on food at the park - there aren't coupons or anything - but you can shop smart, at least.  The absolute best place to eat for the price is Ranch del Zocalo, in Frontier Land.  For about $10 you walk away with a pretty nice plate of food that keeps you full for a long time.  Some days, I'll skip breakfast and just eat here, and I won't be hungry until well after 5pm.  Plus, there is hardly anyone else eating here, so the lines are short.  Another secret - there are bathrooms right before the entrance to RDZ, which are always a hot commodity in Disneyland.

There are two places in the park that will actually give you free things.  One of them is the aforementioned Rancho del Zocal, who offers free refills on fountain drinks all day!  Simply walk in, refill, and present your receipt to the person at the checkout counter.  That's the key - you do need to hang on to your receipt, but they have lots of soda and iced tea and water - plus a filtered water fountain in the outdoor eating area, right on one of the food carts.  The other place is the coffee shop on Main Street.  Save your receipt and you can get free refills all day long on some decent coffee (don't forget to provide your passport first to save that 10%)!  Working the system like this can save you $10-$15 a day, depending on how much coffee and fountain drinks you consume in a day.

There are certain places in the park where food and drink prices vary, believe it or not.  I'll work on a post on that later, but for now, if you are into coffee but don't want the free refills, go to the gumbo stand by Pirates - they have coffee for almost $0.25 LESS than at the coffee house on Main St.  I know, a quarter, what's the big deal, but I'm here to save you money!

I have saved the most obvious for last, and that is to bring your own food into the park.  Disneyland allows you to pack your own in, just nothing in glass.  This is a good way to eat some healthy snacks and such.  If you are staying for a few days, there is a Trader Joe's store 6 miles away - if you have a car, I recommend going there to load up on snacks and such.  Families who are staying for a few days will like this, because TJ's has good, cheap food and snacks, and if your hotel has a fridge, you are set for the entire trip.  This can save you big money over eating in Down Town Disney, though there is some good food there.

If you forget sunscreen or diapers or whatever, go to the First Aid station and you can get this stuff for free.  Not really a way to save money, but just a cool thing to know.

A word about parking:  The easy thing to do is find a hotel with free parking, otherwise you are paying $15 per day.  Most of the hotels are walking distance (under a mile) and have free parking, so use it!  If you are smart and you got a passport, you can take advantage of the free parking in Downtown Disney.  When we go for our half day before heading home, I'll park in DTD.  You get 3 hours for free, and any hour after that is like $6.  True, there are signs that say "No Theme Park Parking" but there is never anyone enforcing it and if you get there early enough, there aren't any people working the booths so nobody knows!

There are other experiences too, that - while not saving money outright - can make you feel like you got your moneys worth.  The thing I love about Disneyland is the effort they put into the place.  Everywhere you look there is something you didn't know about, like the old time flip card movie viewer in the Penny Arcade (try it, it's only a penny!)  Or the old time party line phones in the Main Street coffee house - pick up the receiver and just listen.  Don't forget the short audio plays that go on by the locker rentals! Then there are the two boats that cruise around in New Orleans Square.  They are free and a good way to escape the crowd for a bit.

My girlfriend, enjoying the Mark Twain

There you go - my guide to saving you a bit of cash on your next trip.  Like I said, it's not a lot, but it does help, and you always feel kind of like an insider asking for your free coffee.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mental Ramblings on a Tuesday

As human beings, it's our problems that make us unique.  Otherwise, we'd all just be the same person.  My problems are as vast and as varied as yours, to be sure, but it's how we handle them that puts enough of a spin on it to sort me from you and you from him.  No, the other guy.  Yeah, him.  

As a totally insane person, I try hard to sort my problems and fix my issues - at least I think I do.  More often I am realizing that I just dwell on my shortcomings so much that I end up beating myself into depression and it's the emergence from that state of mind that I take for clarity, or a problem being sorted.  

Lately, the cool thing to do inside my head is to be so afraid of fucking something up that I over-worry and spend my days wondering when I'm going to get fired/in trouble/fuck something up/etc.  Every e-mail I get is read into, words and fragments of sentences taken out of context and spun around so much that they might as well have been made up.  This comes from a place of wanting to over-preform at work.  To do more than anyone else so that I get the attention, the accolade, and the raises.  But instead of using that and driving myself to actually do better, I take it and turn it inside out and use it to make myself think I can never be the thing I want to be: successful.  Because I don't believe in myself for the most part.  I have thoughts and ideas but no track record to point to.  I want things out of life that take work only, I don't know how to do that work.  All I know how to do is feel rejected and injured. 

I need a new goal.  I need to figure out how to not be the guy who laments, rather, I need to be the guy who re-invents.  Who changes how he thinks and who does believe in himself.  That's really the key to everyones successes, I think.  You can't do shit in this world unless you believe that you can.  

I can give good advice, I just can't take it.