Back in the Saddle…

… but honestly, car seats are way more comfortable. I was reading our history book to the boys a while ago and the story was about the Texas cattle drives. I mean, those guys were sitting in a saddle for weeks at a time! Dang, I’m not complaining about my lumbar supported auto-adjustable saddle ever again.

So we’re on the road again! This time we’re covering the Pacific Northwest and then over into the Prairies of Canada and down through the Midwest into Colorado. Between some conferences, retreats and a big 60th birthday, we’ve got a full calendar of events to chase across the Western skies and we couldn’t be more stoked.

We really loved hanging out on the East coast last summer and spending a winter on the Forgotten Coast of Florida was pretty perfect. But now after spending a week out on the Left side of the country, we realized that our hearts truly settle in the West. It’s good to be cruising up the Pacific for a while.

We jumped headfirst into a 12 hour day from Phoenix through L.A. and on to the Bay Area. After a getting lost down a literal memory lane for me in Redwood City, we tackled what we could of the beautiful San Francisco in a day. And we packed it in: a tour of the USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier, lunch in Chinatown, winding down Lombard Street, taking in Fisherman’s Wharf, munching pastries at Tartine Bakery and waving goodbye over the Golden Gate.

In short, we crushed it. 🙂

The next day we were blown away, yet again, by nature’s massive beauty. The Redwood Forests of Northern California were so powerful and majestic that as a whole family we just stood in awe of the silent giants in these peaceful woods. Truly a deep experience. Even with Aven and Kai needing to “find a tree…” These were just a little bigger than the one’s we would send them to hiking in Flagstaff.

Then we cleared into our 35th State in the last 12 months. Oregon has been incredible! Good friends, fantastic weather (I know, right?!), delicious food and beautiful nature. This state is something else. I can honestly say that if the sun peeked out a little more, I’d set up camp here for a little while but the good vibes can only float me so long before I need some sunshine. In any case, here we are now and we’re loving it.

And for real, we were ready for this trip. We sat in Florida for a while, then saturated our life with some solid family and friends for a bit in Arizona. But something about getting back on the road brought a sense of familiarity to all four of us. The conversations flowed easily, laughs were shared and ideas percolated as they always seem to do for Lanna and I as we cruise the highways.

I was also pretty stoked cuz the boys and I had basically just haphazardly poked around school here and there this past month. We were in a good groove in Florida and then we hit AZ and it was all cousins, cousins, cousins!! Throw in a couple sleepovers with Nona and Grandpa and it turned into a month-long Spring Break. And still, anytime I thought “Oh man, we gotta jump back in…” I had to sit back and remind myself: they are fine.

Seriously, check this out…

One of the highlights in San Francisco was the tour of an aircraft carrier. They spent more time peppering the docents (to there absolute delight) with questions and stories than they did running around the planes. Kai even figured the math out as to whether the Titanic was bigger! (It was, FYI)

Then we talked culture in Chinatown and just watched all the people. The constant comparisons to our trip to Hong Kong reminded Lanna and I that these boys have a pretty good grasp on cultural awareness and geography.

One last story: Halfway down the twisting Lombard street, Aven yells “Hey! I know this street” and pulls out a book from his backpack and flips to a page of San Francisco, highlighting the “crookedest street in America…” The dawning on his face that we were literally in the middle of the street he had read about a few days before was priceless. That’s some serious Roadschool right there.

So that monthlong Spring Break? Yeah, it was good. I’m not so worried about the boys. Although it’d be nice if some city set up a Museum of Multiplication Tables… Oh well, time to bust out a bit of a lesson.

Take it Slow… Joe

Advertisements

Food

So we don’t go around announcing it all over the place or making a big deal over our familial food choices, but we “don’ eat no meat.” (Bonus points there if you can name the movie.) We’re veg-heads; you know, herbivores. There, I said it. I’d even say that we lean more vegan than anything else, but shhh: don’t tell anyone. That’s when things get can get weird.

We don’t actually keep it a secret, we just don’t make a big deal about it. We have awesome friends and family, and this summer we cruised around the continent and let those of you who hosted us in on our little secret. And you know what? Pretty much everyone gave it the “Cool, that works.” At least they did to our faces. I’m sure that there’s been some talk about it when we’re not around. I mean, why wouldn’t you? It’s a little weird. And it can be just a tad difficult to tip-toe around the carnivores when you want to go out to eat in central Texas. Or when you spend almost six months in North Florida (the only state where the farther north you go, the more Southern it gets.) We were literally in one of the seafood capitals of the country and the self-proclaimed oyster capital of the world. And if that wasn’t enough, the majority of our neighbors were meat-and-potatoes Mid-West folks in town on vacation.

We were in the slight minority, to say the least.

And in all honesty, we’re not pushy about it. We don’t buy meat to cook and I was nicknamed “Veggie Man” at the local grocery store, but the boys eat it when we are at other peoples places and they’re quick to tell you that pepperoni pizza is their favorite. I flex here and there (like when I tried out a lobster roll in Maine and ate up a delish clam bake in the OBX.) I even ordered a “dozen raw” in Appalachicola, the afore mentioned oyster center of the universe.

And if we do come over, we usually have already let you know. But if not, we’re big fans of sides and salads and I’ve learned that it’s really not the end of the world to skip a meal now and then… I know, gasp! People sometimes wonder how we can skip the turkey at thanksgiving (when we all mainly gorge on the other stuff anyway, right?), how much we must miss BBQ (a little tougher…) and how we ditched burgers (actually, my last stand) for all veggies. The truth? We just kinda’ leaned into it. We were already eating meat only a couple times a week and even then it was a couple strips of steak or we’d chunk up one chicken breast for the whole fam. The “third plate” concept of having meat as a side was already firmly in our psyche so by the time we dropped it, meat was kind of an after-thought anyway.

The results were pretty cool: after three years of ditching red, white and the other white, we get sick a little less and our grocery bill plunged. I’ve learned some pretty wicked ways to fire up veggies and make some drool-worthy dishes. The boys latched on and they barely skip a beat. Although sometimes I try a recipe that’s a little more out there (the avocado gazpacho was a total bust…) they’ve fully embraced it. Even if Aven announces “Yeah, we’re vegetarian except for when there’s hotdogs.” So close…

Lately on instagram I’ve been pushing some of my food creations a bit. Mostly it’s to share a bit into our life and it’s kinda’ turning into my thing. I never rant against meat, never go off on saving the animals and the only way you might see the word vegan is if you cruise through my endless #hashtagging. I kinda’ like to say we’re #vegannotvegan. But cooking for me has evolved from Mac n’ Cheese and quesadillas to actually asking for cookbooks at Christmas and getting stoked when a house we rent has a gas stovetop. It’s turned into a passion and someday I’m hoping to broaden my audience beyond the four hungry mouths of this family and maybe open up some sort of food truck or little shop somewhere. Although for now it might be tough to run that out of the Subaru.

The thing is, everyone’s gotta eat. I’m not hear to preach one way or the other and you won’t find us judging anyone for their choices. Choose however you want, just make sure it feels good and you feel good. Keep it in balance (donuts and ice cream still seem to surface over here) and enjoy what you eat. And if you invite us over for dinner, we’ll be thankful no matter what. But if we invite you over, beware of the cold, green soup… it’s not that good.

Take it slow… Joe

Open Up.

“Ya’ll fixin’ to stay a while?”

I was picking up some mail at the rental agency we’d been working with over our first month in Florida. Drew was the Man: he’d been more than accommodating when the house we’d rented for a month was day-by-day losing any view of the ocean due to a three story behemoth house being built next door. The listing had said you could hear the waves… but it was tricky over the jackhammer and saws.

So Drew put us here instead:

Yup, for the same price and everything. So that one month turned into five and Drew became my bro. Within a week we were friends with the local coffee shop owner and the woman who owned a gym. Lanna was teaching yoga there a week later. Glenn ran a little stand selling the best donuts, Mary cleaned vacation homes, Becky ran the bakery, Jennifer sold veggies at the market, and every week a teenage kid who worked at the Piggly Wiggly (only groceries in town) welcomed me with a “Veggie Man! How are you, sir?”

Yes, Drew: we’re fixing to stick around.

If you told me I’d end up in the South for half a year; that “ya’ll” would sneak into my vocabulary; that I could tell you the different seasons for a dozen fish species migration… I’d be fixin’ to laugh out loud. But you know what? We opened up. We were in a beautiful spot, with beautiful people in the most unlikely spot whose nickname is the “Forgotten Coast.” And by opening up our hearts a bit, a piece of us is still on the panhandle of Florida and new friends will be in our hearts for a long time.

So we’re gonna stay open. The Dueck train is still cruising along and who knows what else might open up as we roll through town.

One thing I do know is we’re fixin’ to travel a while and we might end up with quite the accents once we’re through with this, ya’ll.

Take it Slow,

Joe

Less

It’s no surprise that our family doesn’t live with a lot of stuff. I mean, we have been living out of our car for almost a year. You know that it’s something sitting deep in our family values when Kai, our eight year-old son makes his allowance spending choices based on whether or not it will fit somewhere around his feet. Or Aven (who’s five) contemplates the fact that since he likes tank tops more than t-shirts, he saving us space in our luggage… Well, at least we’re making an impression.

And it’s not like we’re really living out of our car. We contemplated RVs, camper vans and if Lanna lets me, someday I’ll buy a VW bus. But in the end, we’re not those people who like to roam with our house behind us. We love to camp and plan on doing more once we replace the tent that I tossed in a dumpster the last time we got blown around in a gale force wind on the Florida coast. Honestly, it’s all good: however you like to roam, just get out and roam.

Our approach is more of a sharing of space. Sometimes, that’s literally: we’ve stayed in a few hostels across the country sharing breakfasts with college kids traveling the world. Other times, we share a home with a young couple who open up a couple bedrooms on Airbnb and swap recipes before we leave. Lately we’ve been grabbing a place to ourselves for a month or more which works nice in the “off-season” meaning when everyone else is chasing their kids around school schedules and soccer practice. But our favorite way to roll? When we stay with friends and family around the world. Connecting over the summer and fall with so many people rekindled some old friendships and formed more fantastic new ones.

So when we decided to sell or give away most of our stuff, stash some in a small storage unit (Aven just couldn’t let go of his kitchen!) and stuff the rest into the back of Stella, our Subaru, we knew we would be living with less of our personal possessions. I gave up a bunch of kitchen tools and my beloved sourdough starter. The boys could only take a few thousand pieces of their LEGO and Lanna had to leave behind a good amount of her books. But we knew that by going with less, more would happen. We knew we couldn’t truly free ourselves up for more adventure, more friends, more life unless we learned to live with less.

And guess what? We’ve found that most places have a better kitchen than we had, some people have cooler toys than us and there’s a serious amount of free lending libraries around the planet.

Some people laugh at all this; especially if you’ve ever hung out with me around a fire. “Minimalist? You guys hardly had anything to begin with!” Yeah, I get it. But you can always, always figure out how to let go of a bit more. Do you need to? Probably not. But practicing letting go of things helps you understand the importance of living the fullest life. Trust me: I really want to stick my cast iron pots in the back of Stella…

Take it slow,

Joe

Full Sail

“Don’t wait for the wind to change; adjust your sails.”- Thomas Monson

It was a late night during Spring break five years ago that I sat on the counter next to the sink in our house in Tempe, Arizona pondering thoughts about the future. I was a little bummed out on my teaching job, curious about being a stay-at-home-Dad, and the week at home with my boys (then 3 and 14 months) was going so well. I had just cracked my second beer of the day and while I wouldn’t say the best inspiration always comes from liquid libation, the Full Sail Brewing company hit me with some serious Universe Juice.

See, on their limited release bottles, Full Sail prints little quotes under the bottle cap and in the span of a few hours during spring break they literally spoke to me. I sat on that counter, staring down at the two bottle caps, chuckling to myself.

I was about to adjust my sails.

And as a family we’ve been adjusting ever since. We scraped the barrel of our savings account that first year I stayed home; then Lanna got a promotion; then she switched jobs to work from home; we sold our house; we traveled the country; we blew up one car; we bought another one; we lived in Florida; now…?

Sometimes we wait till it all lines up. Like everything one day will just fall into place. Someday, that wind is gonna be perfect and that’s when my life will start. Well, good luck with that. The wind IS blowing. If you want to harness that wind and blow out your boat with full sails, sometimes you just need to trust that the wind is there and let the adventure begin.

Take it slow,

Joe

Sit for a Bit

It’s an interesting title to be sure, right? I mean, let’s be honest: this is essentially what I’ve been doing for the better part of five months. I wake up and meditate for a while. Then after a walk, some yoga and brewing up my first cup of tea, I sit and read, blog and journal. Then some breakfast, get the boys hair somewhat tamed and sit down to some school. And the day goes on: do a bit of something, then sit a while. Do a few more things, then grab a chair, a beer, my ukulele and head to the beach. Prep up some dinner, clean up said dinner and sit by a fire watching the sun go down.

There’s a lotta sittin’ goin’ on ’round here…

Life is supposed to be crazy-busy-hard and all those other things. That’s what is expected of us: when someone asks you how it goes and you were to say any of the opposites you would be labeled pretty quick. Soon instead of a productive citizen you’ve been categorized as a lazy slob, right? We’re a culture of work-hard, play-hard; crazy lives are more popular on social media; busy means promotion. Sit? Be still for a few moments in the middle of my packed life?

That’s for vacation.

Now, when I say sit I’m not literally implying that you already do that: in your cubicle, at the coffee shop, on your couch… Nope, I mean to sit without distraction. TV doesn’t count. Neither does food. Beer… well, that’s tricky 🙂 I’m saying grab a journal, write a letter (on actual paper that might require an actual stamp), meditate, play an instrument, you get the idea. Just DON’T plan anything, watch anything (unless it’s a sunset), or do anything. Just sit and be in the moment.

Worried about being lazy and what that might look like? Concerned that you’ll lose out on productivity? Well, when you sit you’re in good company of meditators: Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Rivers Cuomo (singer for Weezer), Pete Carrol and 20 of his Seattle Seahawks, Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter), Tina Turner, 50 Cent… Google, Apple and other big tech giants have classes dedicated to it for their employees and the list goes on.

So at the very least, you’ll bring some calm into your crazy life and at best, you might found a billion dollar company or become of famous personality. No matter what, it’s important to just sit and slow it down a little bit in your day. Your life will thank you. Your kids will notice and think it’s weird and then they’ll calm down a bit. Maybe they’ll sit with you for 10 seconds. Maybe not…

Slowing Down is the new Crazy Life.

Quality vs. Quantity: a Cage Match. 

Earlier this week I posted a pic on Instagram about a field trip I took with the boys to a dairy farm just south of the Phoenix area. Like most families living in North America, milk is a part of our life: not a big part, especially when I think of the gallons we guzzled growing up, but we still have a good amount in our diet. Cheeses, yogurt, butter, and yup, milk. And not just the 2% gallon jug with a blue, red, or yellow lid. 

We do milk raw. 

Milk with a bit of fine print…

I know, right? Isn’t that illegal? Aren’t you going to die of a horrible disease? Well, no and no. Amidst all the, ahem, “interesting” ideas that come out of our state legislature (guns, under-funded schools…) a great thing about living in the Wild West is they sometimes kinda’ just let you, the consumer, take a risk now and then. And while the lax gun laws sometimes make me cringe, I like the “lax” idea in other areas. Give and take, I guess.

So we have a Milk Man. Not in the 1950’s deliver-to-your-door way, but we actually know the guy that milks the cows. Rick and his herd aren’t part of a giant conglomerate of dairies where millions of gallons of milk are poured into giant vats, mixed all together a poured into attractive jugs depicting a rolling, grassy field of cows which might exist in Switzerland but here look a little more like a mass of cow hide rugs bumping into eachother on a small, flat, brown chunk of land under a tin roof. 

We know Rick. And now we know his cows. 

Gettin’ after some organic oat hay. Tasty…

There’s Sue, kinda’ the matriarch of Fond du Lac Dairy. There’s Ju-Ju, daughter of the late Jesse who was Rick’s favorite. He seriously knows them all by name. As we watched the 34 brown beauties (the breed is Brown Swiss) line up in anticipation of milking, Rick pointed out a dozen of them, each with their own story. Some he had helped their mama birth them, others he has taken across the country to show at fairs. As he talked, Rick gently stroked Sue’s face, letting her curl a 12-inch sand paper tongue around his arms. 

Rick loves his cows. 

And this is where quality comes in. Sure, we can argue back and forth on the merits and dangers of raw or pasteurized, we can point fingers at whether corn-fed is demonic, free-range is angelic or whatever. But you can’t beat watching your milk come from a cow while she’s getting an ear-scratch by her farmer. But, considering the title of this post and to pass on some info, I’ll give you an idea of some of the differences I’m talking about. 

Kai feeds a third generation calf

The “big guys” (of which Rick used to be a part of, FYI) have literally 1000’s of nameless, numbered cows. They have to be medicated (dont’ be fooled by rbST: there’s new stuff, and other stuff… think of the high-fructose corn syrup switch to “fructose”) because they live too close together and often they stand in their own poop all day long. The milk comes out of a cow with brilliant nutrients, but since that cow was standing in poop, there’s a chance that bad bacteria made it into that batch. And since she’s one of a few thousand contributing to your gallon o’ goodness, they need to heat up the milk, now zapping away all the good stuff. But don’t worry, they add synthetic viatamins (D, E) and calcium to “fortify” it.

And I bet that cow on the front of the jug isn’t named Sue…

Ju Ju get hooked up!

When we first started on the raw milk journey, it was a bit nostalgic. I have clear memories of filling up a five gallon bucket (think the orange Homer bucket at Home Depot) at a tap sticking out of the wall at a local dairy. Fresh, raw milk for the week. Later, my dad came across a Jersey cow who had half a tail, battled fleas all her life and looked like her hips might pop through her back. But Bess produced the most amazing calves and we had milk straight from our barn for a while. 

Nostalgia aside, Lanna and I started hearing of the benefits we were missing out on. The good bacteria (think yogurt and kombucha) we could access, the support of a more local producer, not to mention the taste. Man, that taste! And like I said, we’re lucky. For a while you have to go directly to a dairy or be a part of a co-op to access raw milk. By the time we started buying it, it was sitting on our grocery store shelf. 

And it’s $7. For a half gallon. 

WHAT?!?! Yeah, we had to shuffle the budget around. We already spend way more than the average family on our groceries, but for us it was a matter of quality over quantity. For instance, if you’re eating food that has good nutrients, you don’t actually have to eat as much. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that eating a pastrami-on-rye is better than a Big Mac, not to mention for more fulfilling even when the burger has twice the calories. 

Good nutrients take less to fill you up. For real…


So we pay it. But it’s like a triple win. I mean, maybe even a win-win-win-win: our boys are healthier for it, we’re supporting small business, we know our farmer, he knows us and has watched our boys grow up, and I could go on. That’s a lot of wins.

And the cool thing is, Rick doesn’t really want his operation to get huge. He doesn’t have stock holders to please, no growth charts to reach, no expansion plans. If it happens, if demand goes up, I’m sure he’d love to give the good stuff to more people. But it’s the quality he’s talking about. Rick won’t sacrifice the quality. I hear this buzz around the market when I go. Benny makes, the best tortillas for us and a few restaurants. He makes 800 tortillas a week. 800! When I asked him if he’s looking for help, he says no. He’s good where he is. No need to grow bigger. Why, I ask? “Quality.”

The best tortillas in the world… for real. They are.

A few weeks after raw milk had been in our grocery rotation, I walked up to a guy sitting on a cooler with a spread of sample cups on the table in front of him. He was sitting under a pop-up tent with a banner that shared the name stuck to my half-gallon of milk in my fridge. He wore a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes, a black t-shirt, blue jeans and work boots. That day I met Rick. He’d been our dairy man for a a while, but that morning we chatted about farming, cattle, and kids. I left the market with two free jugs for being a loyal customer. But the transition had already been set in motion. Friend was a better suited word for this budding relationship. 

That’s quality. That’s living the slow, good life. 

Travel (Without Kids)

Sometimes Lanna and I just need a trip. This whole traveling with kids is good n’ all, and let’s be honest, the boys are at a perfect age to where it’s pretty easy and straight up fun. But sometimes our travel bug bites just the two of us. 


So when it works, we do it. We get out. Thanks to incredibly supportive grandparents on both sides who love hanging with the boys for a week or so at a time, we’ve been everywhere, man. 

So when Lanna had to sandwhich something between a conference in Lexington, Kentucky and a meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania (yup, that Scranton) and the most accessible place was a little town called New York City, we had the boys holed up with her parents faster than you can sing a Broadway show tune (if you actually knew some Broadway show tunes that were a little shorter in nature…) 

We were stoked. 


Neither of us had ever been and while we had just experienced a vast Hong Kong and Lanna had grown up in the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires, Argentina (I won’t mention my hometown size here:), this is New York. This is some deep history, some classic sights, and great food. This is an amazing city. 

We tried to pack as much as we could into our three full days so it was up early and back to our AirBnB late. We stood in line for to-die-for cronuts (croissant + donut: it’s a thing), waved from Lady Liberty in the rain, walked about 10 miles of Central Park, scarfed dumplings in Chinatown and pizza in Greenwhich Village, hit up a Broadway show, and scored two free beers from Brooklyn Brewery and one free hotdog from Papaya King… right? I know, New Yorkers are some of the nicest people. One guy even laid out the whole way the subway works on our first “we’re lost” moment. 


Seriously, I dig this city. 

And, surprisingly, the two cities that bookended the trip were a blast as well. We discovered the vast, beautiful world of horse and Bourbon culture in Kentucky. The people were so nice, the grits were delish (though Lanna tends to avoid this delecacy), and the countryside was beautiful. Fun fact: there are more places to eat per capita in Lexington than anywhere in the country besides San Francisco. Third on this list? New York. And the food scene was good. The focus on local ingredients at some of these places (often a renovated house from the 1800’s) was astounding and while we were bummed to miss it, apparently they have one of the better farmer’s markets in the country. Yup, Lexington: a metro area less than 300,000 people is rockin’ the culinary world better than most major cities, ya’ll. 


Meanwhile, a good friend and whiskey aficionado met up with me and we did a good chunk of the Craft Bourbon Trail. We were in massive, oak-barrel filled warehouses that smelled like a bowl of your favorite sugar cereal and poking around glorified garages listening to a passionate distiller in a dirty t-shirt describing their process while wiping off grass clippings because he’s also the landscaper. We dipped fingers into fermenting corn vats, bottles into hot wax, and lips into smooth samples of bourbon, moonshine, and a smattering of other local delicacies. 


Scranton had me humming the theme song to “The Office” pretty much for the full 20 hours we were there. Aside from the obligatory pic from the opening credits, this city offered up some great coffee (Cadbury creme egg latte… right?!) and some really nice Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, no Michael Scott or Jim Halpert sightings… maybe next time. 


And then it was done. We were so stoked to see our boys and while they had an absolutely fantastic time with grandparents and cousins, even they were excited to be together again. Although after squeezing Aven for a solid two mintues, he pulled away from me and asked “So, when is your next trip?”

Love you too, buddy. Love you too. 

Kai loses tooth #3 while we were gone…

Below I’m listing some of the sights we loved, places we ate, and little tips from our trip for those that are curious. If you’re thinking of hitting any of these places in the near future, by no means am I an expert, but I learned a few things by being there for a few days. Let me know!

Lexington:

Do: Kentucky Horse Park had everything you wanted to know about horses and a lot you didn’t. You can ride a horse, meet a Derby winner, groom a pony and lots more. At the Mary Todd Lincoln House you can get your history on with the wife of one of the most famous presidents. The Bourbon Trail is awesome. There’s tons of distilleries within a hour or so of Lexington. Check out TripAdvisor for the craft distilleries where you’ll get smaller, more intimate tours. But do one big one to see how Bourbon goes big. Also check out Universtiy of Kentucky and the Farmers Market. 
Eat: Stella’s, Village Idiot, Kentucky Native Cafe, Lexington Diner, Vinagrette
Stay: Everything from a modern, sleek studio condo to an 1860’s townhouse on AirBnb. 
Tips: It’s horse country so if you go during auctions (4x a year) or a couple weeks pre-Derby (the big race), it’s expensive. Otherwise, it’s a super affordable spot. Uber was easiest to get around, but rent a car if you want to hit up the Bourbon Trail

 New York:
Do: everything. Seriously, the tourist stuff is all great. We got cheap Broadway tix with an app (TodayTix) for “School of Rock.” We love history so look up “Free Tours by Foot” for great walking tours. If nothing else, it gives you an idea of the area and the guides hook you up with eating suggestions, where to go next etc. No cost, it’s tip based. (We usually give $10-15 a person) Carry a bit of cash: many smaller restaurants/food carts don’t take cards. Take the subway: You’ll get lost at least once, but for $30 a person for seven days, it’s your cheapest option by a long shot. Yelp and TripAdvisor are big in New York; find good stuff to do on there. And yeah, you should walk the Brooklyn Bridge: It’s really cool. 
Eat: We hit Bleecker Street Pizza and Papaya King Hotdogs (cash only) for street eats. Superiority Burger (veg burgers) the Little Beet and Buddha Bodai Vegan (dim sum… so good!) for great, healthy vegetarian options. And Trader Joe’s is a cheat place to grab snacks, breakfast/lunch on-the-go to save some money. Brooklyn Brewery is LEGIT: they’re one of the oldest craft breweries in the country and they have a pizza truck parked outside the tasting room. Great beer, cool vibe, and good tours. 
Stay: definetly AirBnB. Hotels start at $150 and you’re not close to anything. We stayed with a woman who gave us a room and one breakfast for $70 a night. Since you’re in the city that never sleeps, you won’t be home much so don’t splurge on anything fancy… at least, that’s how we roll. 🙂

Scranton:

OK, this is shorter because we weren’t there long and we stayed in the Hilton courtesy of Lanna’s work. But, stay close to downtown and walk by the brick “Dunder Mifflin” building, eat at Bar Pazzo, and grab anything at Northern Lights Esspresso Bar. Everything is good there. 

Every trip has learning experiences; even if you’re a world traveler. Here’s a few from this one…

– Carry at least $24: a twenty and four ones. This covers lunch in case they don’t take cards and money for tips. I was scrambling in Papaya King. They’d already made my hot dog, it was 11pm and I couldn’t scrounge up the money. But they were awesome and I got my dog for free. 

– Google Maps is your friend and knows NYC subways better than you do. (Can you hear Lanna saying that to me?) 

– Even with some research, let yourself be surprised. Lexington was way cooler than I thought it might be. Be open. 

I’m in love with my mechanic

I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my car to to get motor mounts put in. I don’t have any idea what a motor mount is or why it should cost half a pay-check to put in, but apparently when your car has over 160,000 miles, these mounts need to retire into a car-part Active Adult Community. So Tony and his guys are looking at it. 

Tony is indeed, the man. 

The Subie awaits some new motor mounts

I met this guy when we moved to Tempe five years ago. I needed work done on the car and I realized that we have everything within a skateboard ride: Trader Joe’s, a used clothing store for kids, a great bookstore, every ethnic food option you could think of (including three Mexican spots), three coffee shops, and the list goes on. Why not find a mechanic from which I could just walk home? So I turned to Google and found a place right on the corner that got 4 out of 5 stars in their reviews. What? A mechanic shop that rates better than most tourist destinations? 

Do you ever hear of people liking their mechanic?! 

It really became love when I took it in for a dreaded “check engine” light scare. I knew that shops routinely charge 80-100 bucks for just plugging in the contraption that then tells you what horrible expensive fix you need to do. So, as much as I was starting to trust Tony, I decided to go to a car part place where they do the plug-in contraption for free. After they kindly printed out a four page list of the thousands of things it could be, I drove across the street to Tony’s.

160K miles worth of some good Road Trippin’…

After explaining the issue he motioned for me to follow him outside. 

“I bet’cha it’s your gas cap, Joey,” he said. 

Sure enough, it was a bit loose. After telling me it would be about $15 to fix and then we’d check the light, I thought “OK, that’s pretty cool. He just passed up an easy $80: I like this guy.” So while he swapped that out and changed the oil, I jumped on my skateboard to head home. About an hour later I get a call:

“Joey, hey man, I’m really sorry.” Here it comes… “I know I told you that part was going to be $15.” Don’t drag it out, dude. Just hit me with it. “It actually came out to $17. Is that alright? And the “check engine” light doesn’t come on so you’re good.”

What?! $17?! This is an outrage… I mean, yeah, that’ll work. 

And this kept happening: he’d quote us something and it’d come back cheaper. After the first couple fixes where I called other shops just to compare pricing, even his quotes were better. I stopped calling other people. I sent friends and family to Tony for stuff that other shops would say “sorry, only the dealer can fix that.” Tony would have it done in two hours. One time he sent me to Discount Tire because he knew we could get a better set of tires there for cheaper than he could get them. Once we were headed out of town on a road trip and a part they had just put on failed (we couldn’t steer; not good) and he felt awful even though it had nothing to do with him or his guys work. Our car was up on the rack before I left the shop and we were on the road in less than an hour and he didn’t charge us a dime. 

My other Subie…

Even now: we visit the Phoenix area every month or two so I religiously take it back to Tony. He knows our car and us. He’s in our circle. And shouldn’t he be? We live in a car-centric city where we see him at least 4-5 times a year for brakes and oil changes. That’s more than we see some family members… Speaking of brakes and oil, we trust him to take care of our family: I’m putting our safety into his hands pretty much every day, knowing that he’s letting me know why that squeaking is important to fix or the suggestion that maybe your motor will fall out if you don’t get new mounts. 

So here’s to Tony. And to the tears I know I’ll shed when it just doesn’t make sense to drive two hours for an oil change. 

Happy Wife, Happy Life…

Ever have those moments that pretty much slam you back in time? Like, slam: not just “whisked” or even “transported,” I mean full on, all five senses, pinch yourself kinda of slammed. Tonight I came around the corner into the kitchen and had to steady myself a bit: apparently I had jumped in a Delorean and was back in a little apartment, more than a dozen years ago. 

I watch an apron-clad Lanna dance around the kitchen to her beloved Maná album from the 90’s while prepping a delicious dinner of tuco (pronounced “too-ko,” a red sauce from Argentina) and grilled ciabatta. I was back to where the paychecks pinned us to rent, a water bill and $40 a week for food. Eating out was once a month at In-n-Out, we had no cable or internet (thank you, public libraries) and we shared one cell phone, one car, and just one of those resourceful paychecks. 

But we had each other, bunny-ear antennas on the TV, and tuco. Life was good. 

Clockwise, from top: simmering tuco, ciabatta prepped for the oven, ensalada mixta, Lanna works her magic. 

Yup, I could go through all the great cliches, the nostalgic reminisces about everything simple and fun about early life being in love, but you’ve read those books, watched those movies (we had a $1 theater to hit up and see those ones). It is good, however, to reflect back in my own head and remember that it was those hot summer nights where we kept the A/C above 83F, blasting Spanish rock that Lanna would yell over translated lyrics of the best lines, twirling around our kitchen as I lopped off finger tips and she worked her magic over the finicky stovetop: that was the foundation, the base layer, the bedrock we were building our future on and we didn’t even know it. 

For some reason, tuco has not been on the menu in a long time. Perhaps its because I eventually took over the planning and cooking a bit more as I shifted to home life. We don’t eat as much pasta either. Maybe we got all fancy and started to blow the big bucks on food (considering tuco costs about a dollar to make…) In any case, it was a pretty welcome dish that most likely will surface again in the near future. Both boys essentially inhaled as opposed to chewing and I believe thirds were consumed. 


Another thing that happened last night was a bit of a rekindling. Watching Lanna tango with a wine bottle, listening to her sing along in spanish, and smelling her delicious food was so good for my soul, my love for her, and our connectedness. We’ve never really struggled for long periods in our marriage, we’ve fought (especially early on, another bit of memories there…) but never held grudges or felt like we were drifting apart. But there are times that we both tend to get a little lost in ourselves and the routines of the day, week or those long months between seeing friends and family pull on us. It seems to be good timing when every once in a while we do something not just to shake it up, but also to remember why it is we’re on this journey together. Sometimes it takes a vacation, other times a date night. 

Sometimes, it just takes some tuco. 

Below, I’ve got the recipe for the good stuff. Obviously, this is to our tastes and you can mix it up a bit. Traditionally, it’s one of the only meals that doesn’t include meat in Argentina (kinda’ the beef capital of the world) but you can use it as a sauce for chicken if you want. Grab the ciabatta from a good baker, it seriously makes all the difference. We were spoiled this time around: I baked the ciabatta fresh with Jared from Proof in Mesa (check him out here.) 

Tuco (Lanna style… it’s a simple red sauce. Make it your own.)

Fire up a big skillet on medium with 3 Tbs olive oil and sauté 1 medium diced onion till it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2-3 diced garlic cloves and stir it for a minute. Add 1 big can of crushed and 1 small can of diced tomatoes, add some salt, thyme, basil and just a bit of oregano to taste and stir around. Throw in a 1/2 cup of cheap red wine and 1 tsp of sugar, stir a bit and bring to a strong simmer. Flip the burner to low and let the whole thing sit for about a half hour till it thickens up. 

Meanwhile, bring a big pot of water to boil and turn your broiler on. Throw in some thick noodles (linguine, papperdelle, or choice) and cook till al dente then drain, drizzle with olive oil, and keep warm. Slice some ciabatta rolls in half and generously spread a mix of butter and olive oil over them. Slice into strips and stick them in the oven to broil for 15 mins, or until brown on the edges. 

Grab some bowls or plates, heap some steaming noodles in a pile, scoop a load of tuco over them and sprinkle with some good Parmesan, not that powdered stuff in the green tube either. Even when we were poor, we splurged on good cheese (Thanks, Trader Joe’s!). Pull out that hot bread and commence inhaling… ¡Buen Provecho!


For more good stuff, follow along on Instagram and Twitter. Here’s to livin’ the slow, good life!