A Perfect Day in San Sebastian – Part 1

Sundays in Spain are pretty hard to beat.  One can choose church in the morning or, if you were like us, opt to let your 4 year old and 8 month old sleep in after a typically late Spanish Saturday night.  The majority of the morning was rainy and gray so we hunkered down until around 11:00 as the clouds drifted away leaving a blue sky and gleaming cobblestone streets.

Stop 1: Churros

Mrs. NH and Little NH were determined to start their final day in Spain with the classic churros con chocolate.  Considering our late start, we had to travel to the “parte vieja” to find a restaurant offering the tasty breakfast.  The one we found seems to offer delectable churros 24/7.  With breakfast out of the way, it was time to begin on the rest of the culinary day out.

Stop 2: Basque Lessons

I have a pretty good conversational grasp of Spanish.  In the preceding week, I hadn’t missed a lick of conversation with any Spaniard.  However, in La Cepa I was fairly lost.  To this day, I’m not sure if the first conversation I had with the man behind the counter was in heavily accented Spanish or Basque.  Yes, I muddled through and got a plate of delicious pinchos, but I was left stuttering as if it was my first day speaking Spanish.  Confused, I brought the pinchos, sangria and zumo de manzana back to the family; the fellow behind the counter winked and gave me a small brochure with English, Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Dutch and other translations of common phrases and words.  “Ah, ha!” I thought.  “When in País Vasco…”

We gobbled up the pinchos and finished our sangria.  Having studied my translations, I was ready to make my next order as a local.  A Basque local.  “Bat sangria!” I hollered to my ostensible new professor.  He smiled and winked, “Eh, sangria bat! Pero gracias!”  It was a correction, and a good natured ‘thanks for trying.’  It was also my first word in a new language.  No one will ever confuse me for a linguist!

Stop 3: ¡Foie!

San Sebastian is Basque country and that means there is a good mix of French influence in this region.  Considering my weakness for foie gras, it was also a culinary jackpot.  We pulled up napping Little NH2’s stroller outside of Munto Jatetxea and I went in to place the orders in the midst of a bustling Sunday crowd.  I ordered stuffed peppers, out-0f-this-world croquetas for Little NH, and the aforementioned foie.  Ordering the foie gras was almost as fun as eating it.  I relayed my order in Spanish to the sprightly girl behind the counter and she repeated it with incredible vigor over her shoulder to the open door that contained the kitchen.  Seeing my reaction and smile at the power of her voice, she filled a caña and a clara and handed to me with a wide grin.  I. Love. Spain.

Stop 4: Plaza de la Lasta and the Waterfront

Fat and happy from several tapas we decided to take a break from eating and stretch our legs for a short walk to the waterfront.  The sun was now shining brightly and the town of San Sebastian seemed to be cast in Technicolor.  We sat on the pier for an hour, digesting and soaking up the sun while Little NH practiced her Spanish on a group of boys wrestling with a fishing pole twice their combined height.  Approaching them, she yelled, “¡Hola!”  They all gave her a disinterested look and went back to untangling their line.  Realizing that it won’t always be that way, I laughed and began plotting the rest of the day in my mind.  Across the way, a string of seaside restaurants beckoned.  Am I ever not hungry in Spain?

Continue to Part 2.

The Surprise of Pamplona

There are certain places you hear about in the world that you almost feel like you know even if you have never been there.  Names like “Paris” and “Rome” bring up images of the Eiffel Tower and Coliseum respectively, right?  Of course, when you picture, “Pamplona” you picture the running of the bulls, correct?

I thought the same thing up until a couple of weeks ago when the family and I had the good fortune to make a slight alteration to our northern Spain journey and dip into Pamplona for the day.  It was a last-minute decision on the way to San Sebastian and ended up as one of my favorite surprises of the trip.

As it turns out, there were no bulls in the street (despite Little NH’s imagination) but the streets were filled with great restaurants and the plaza mayor was sun-soaked on this fall afternoon.  The old town of the city is warm and hospitable.   The food, as in all of Spain, is top-notch – even in the touristy areas.

Pamplona’s biggest claim to fame isn’t hidden away, however.  Along the streets that make up the 826 meter “encierro” to the Plaza de Toros, are signs that demarcate the path that the bovines take, hot on the trail of targets for their sharp horns.

I don’t know about you but I prefer to find my surprise in the charm of the city rather than the surprise that awaits some poor runner on a sunny day in July – particularly if it comes at the ends of the horns of a bull.

Prague Towers

One day, earlier this summer, I christened this summer the “Summer of Prague Towers”.  Grandiose name notwithstanding, I meant to rally Mrs. NH, consummate planner of all free time, to set aside the coming sunny summer days as time to explore many of the climbable towers of Prague – as a family.  Unfortunately, life and a really rainy summer have gotten in the way of this grand plan and we scaled the first two of our towers today.

I would recommend both to any tourist coming to Prague for even a day.  The fact that we have lived here for seven years and have just now visited them is fairly laughable.  At any rate here are some shots from the towers: The Town Hall Tower and the Charles Bridge Tower.  Both were reasonably priced (free for the kids) and the Town Hall had an elevator for those not willing or able to walk to the top.

Thunder Review: The Replacements – Live: Peony Park Ballroom – Omaha, NE – May 25, 1989

I have forever changed the name of my “Lightning” reviews to “Thunder” reviews.  If you don’t know why, you should buy some Replacements albums.

I was almost 16, had the Don’t Tell a Soul album dubbed on cassette from my college sophomore brother and was determined to get to see this band in Omaha.  It was another hour’s drive past the pilgrimage to Lincoln, the capital.  Lincoln had Football and the University of Nebraska.  Omaha had Peony Park and according to the Sunday Omaha World Herald, Peony Park Ballroom was rock and roll Mecca.

<<Rewind a few years…

The first I had ever heard of the Replacements was from a cassette tape in my brother’s [READ: Dad’s] metallic blue Ford Grenada, in the parking lot of Soundwaves records and tapes in Grand Island, Nebraska.  “IOU” came on and it took me no time to become a ‘Mats aficionado.

Fast forward>>

Imagine when my brother came home from college with a 12″ Replacements “Waitress in the Sky” promo single signed by the band – including a scrawled quote that said, “The dog took a crap.”  I’m writing this from memory since mice ate that 12″ single a few years ago in a basement in Kansas City.  However, those little rodents dined on some of the best music ever put to wax.  Just like we did that night back in ’89.

I don’t remember many details about the show, frankly.  I’m too old and the whole event exists in my brain more as a feeling than as a solid memory.  From what I do recall, I was way too young to be there and thanks to the noble efforts of my brother, I was only intoxicated at the end of the concert.  According to my recollection, The Replacements didn’t fare so well.

“Are they going to play ‘Bastards of Youth’?”

The girl that asked me that question was the object of my desires up until the moment she asked that question.  I had kissed her on a late night jungle gym earlier that spring and was instantly smitten.  She and a friend rode with us to the show, all the way from Grand Island, in the back seat.  She just as quickly fell out of favor when she called the song ‘Bastards of Young‘ by the aforementioned, bungled name.  At that point, I didn’t care if she rode on the roof on the way back.  No room for error in Replacements fandom, my dear.

Back to the show:  Peony Park Ballroom was tiny; the ceiling was low and my brother and I drank bourbons and smoked Camels.  The Replacements were semi-coherent, perfectly sloppy, loud and absolutely as great as I thought they would be.  At one point about 2/3 of the way through the show, a pizza sized tray of shots came out to the stage.  They devoured them like, well, pizza.  We roared in approval.  Undoubtedly, we lit another smoke, got another drink and shouted every lyric as if we were in the band.  A bit out of tune, but we meant every note.  Just like the band itself.

The Replacements are legend.  Kind of like thunder.  Hard to explain but you sure know when you hear it.  Especially when you’re a kid in the Peony Park Ballroom.

Rock and Roll Birthday Navel Gazing

I turned 38 yesterday.  For the fun of it, I decided to take a look at the progress of my life in relation to 3 of my top musicians of all time: Sting, Bono and Lou Reed.  So I asked myself, “Where were these guys at my age?”  Yes, they were all huge rock stars but I thought it might be interesting to see what albums they were working on at the time to see if their subject matter correlated with my mood.

As it turns out, they’re no too far off.

Sting – Sting appears to have been 38 back in 1990.  During that time he would have been composing “The Soul Cages” album.  The work is introspective, focused on his childhood and parents and almost allegorical in nature.  It’s a deeply personal work that was one of his least commercially successful albums but remains one of my favorites to this day.

Bono – The lead singer of U2 and his cohorts were about to make the heralded “return to form” on “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”.  The album is a soaring mature work after the gritty, hip shaking albums before.  Again, as a songwriter, Bono seems focused on family and in wonder of the world.  Much of the cynicism contained in the albums that preceded it is gone.

Lou Reed – Uncle Lou was beginning to see his way out of years of drug and alcohol abuse.  He was in the midst of composing “Growing Up In Public” – an album whose title says it all.  He was reflecting on his life and figuring out how to pull himself together to continue on with the rest of it.

All in all, these guys were in pretty good periods, though, some would say had already peaked in their careers.  That’s probably a matter of taste for many but the fact remains that these guys all put out some great work in the years following their 38th.  So there is hope for me as I near the big 4-0.

Navel gazers all of them, but I can always look at it this way – Jim Morrison was already dead.

Gone Fishin’

It was a pretty awesome Texas day on Thursday. Highs were in the 80’s with some fast-moving clouds overhead.  So, Little NH and I headed to Wal-Mart to pick up her very first fishing pole.  She passed on the Disney Princess pole and went for the Dora the Explorer model instead.  Not a move I would have predicted but such is life as a father of two girls.

After the trip to Wal-Mart, we met Mrs. NH and NH2 for a tasty outdoor lunch at Los Cucos.  I had a margarita and enjoyed the sunny day with my girls.  Little NH2 had plenty of shade and slept through the whole meal, seemingly smug from having gained 4 oz over the last 48 hours.

After that, we all came home and took a nap as a Texas rainstorm blew in and scattered as quickly as it came.  When little NH awoke, we tied on the Dora practice plug and threw a few casts in the backyard.  With the concept firmly down, we hit the lake in the subdivision where we’re staying.  The whole family.  Yep, little breastfeeding baby and all.

Little NH is generally a lucky kid.  On her first time playing the arcade “claw” game with me she won a stuffed dinosaur.  On her first trip fishing, her luck was mixed.  She caught something on her 3rd cast.  Unfortunately, it was a turtle.  Lucky for her dad, he slipped off the hook about a foot from the dock.  Little NH was momentarily crestfallen and I was relieved.  After that expedition, we made the requisite excited calls to the grandparents and went to sleep dreaming of more fish to come.

On day two, Friday, we stacked the deck in our favor of packing a wheat bagel as bait as well as the can of corn we had used the day before.

I mentioned that Little NH is lucky a couple paragraphs above, right?  Well get a load of these numbers: 5 casts, 3 hooks, 2 weights, one bagel, one snapping turtle, one 3″ crappie and one 16″ largemouth bass.

It was an exciting 45 minutes before the sun went down, I’ll tell you.  You should have seen the way the Dora rod bowed in two as we hauled in the fat ‘ol bass.  The folks canoeing on the lake and sitting outside their houses shared in our elation by saying, “Wow, that’s a big fish!”  “It’s only the second one she’s ever caught,” I yelled back.

Much like catching the big dinosaur with the claw on her first try, this experience is going to be tough to top.  That said, I think we both look forward to a lifetime of trying.

Sun Chips, etc.

Little NH2 had us up a good part of the night.  She wasn’t happy with something and as a result, we didn’t sleep a lot.  However, Mrs. NH is now taking a nap (I can’t sleep) and Little NH2 is dozing right next to me.  Little NH just got home from church with her Grandmother and is snacking on some chicken nuggets.

For my lunch, I fixed a turkey and swiss sandwich.  On the side, I had some Sun Chips.  I don’t get Sun Chips in Prague but have read about the loud, compostable bag.  I say it’s much ado about nothing.  I mean, I had it crinkling right next to an infant, and she didn’t even bat an eye.   Maybe if it was 3:00am it would be a different story.

Anyway, even in my slightly delirious state, I can appreciate how lame it is to blog about my lunch and a chip bag.  Sorry.

She’s Out!

The newest addition to the NH family was born last night.  She’s pretty, pink and she’s already got daddy’s heart firmly in her grasp.

Mommy is resting comfortably and was pretty dang incredible during labor and after.  I am one happy dad.

Thanks for all of your well-wishes.

Texas Time

“Are you bored yet?”

That’s the question I get from, well, pretty much everyone who isn’t around me here in Houston.  The answer is, “No, not yet.”

Not at all.

Between the doctor’s appointments, sojourns to the grocery store, post office and whatnot, I’ve actually been keeping up with what’s going on in the office.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see friends from all over.  Sometimes in the same day.  Did I mention the grocery stores?

Oh, and then there are the wineries, museums, the zoo, brewery and ice cream factory that we’ve managed to visit.  Life’s good here in Texas.

Now, if we could just get this baby thing underway…

Near Miss in the Maternity Ward

Mrs. NH and I were at the hospital last night from around 11:00 until 3:00.  Nothing ended up happening but for a while it looked like the birthday I was betting on was going to happen.  In the end, it wasn’t to be and we drove home in a chilly Houston night.  It was a good dry run for the big day anyway.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me even more excited to be a poppa again.

We’ll keep you posted.

Merry Christmas from Texas!

We made it, we made it, we made it!  Flying through Amsterdam was a breeze and the flight to Houston was complete with generous wine service, movies in the headrest of the seat in front and all in our party had a really great flight.  We arrived to see Gigi, aunts, uncles and cousins and got a decent night’s sleep.

I got up this morning and set up Gigi’s new wifi router and now I feel right at home.  Merry Christmas to all of my faithful readers.  We’re looking forward to seeing some of you soon in person and we’ll be on skype with the rest of you!

Merry Chrismas!

Still in Prague (or) What are You Doing New Years?

Yep, we’re still here.  Went to the airport and came back home again this morning.  I loaded the bags into two (two!) taxis, rolling them through about an inch of snow.  The cars fishtailed their way to the airport, but we made it.  We got checked in (they didn’t even charge us for the extra bag) and made it to the gate and were doing hi-fives until about 5 minutes before we were supposed to start boarding.  Somebody passed us and said there would be a 5 hour delay.  Cinco horas, peeps.

Bye, bye connecting flight to Houston!

We called the airlines and they were characteristically clueless.  About another 20 minutes passed and they told everyone to go to a ticket counter – outside of the secured area.  As we went that way, we passed by a luggage carousel and saw our bags.  We loaded up and took another big van back home.  No sense in being stuck in Frankfurt with the other poor punters.

But we’re all taking this in stride.  With so many people in such terrible shape these days, even with some aborted attempts to get home, we are infinitely blessed.  We get to spend the lead-up to Christmas in a warm, semi-stocked house with an internet connection, Christmas music and each other.  Texas and family will wait.  It may not be the 25th or even the 1st but it’ll still feel like Christmas to us.

Heck, when you look at it that way, it’s Christmas already.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve done this before…

Girls, Girls, Girls

It’s official.  I finally wore Mrs. NH down and got her to agree to find out the sex of the Baby NH on the way.  Little NH helped wear her down, too.  As a matter of fact, it was little NH that got the news from the Dr. here in Prague.  She got exactly what she wanted, too.  A little sister.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little nervous about becoming a dad of girls.  I don’t understand them one bit.  I don’t know what goes through their minds and I’m aware of the fact that it’s probably going to get more difficult to understand as they age.

But for every part of me that is scared stiff, another part is really looking forward to being “Dad” to two girls and watching them grow into women.  In the 3 and 1/2 years I have had the pleasure of knowing Little NH, I’m always amazed at how fun it is to be a dad.  She’s full of wisdom that I certainly never had at that age and it’s hard not to be a little giddy when I realize that kid number two will bring a whole new set of quips to make me smile.

I’ve also concluded that I’m going to have some good weekends in the field in the future while the girls are out doing girl things.  I’m also glad I have a nephew who seems more than ready and willing to carry on the family name and the tradition of hunting.  I just hope he doesn’t mind that there are a couple of girls carrying guns beside him, you know, when the shopping’s done.

Fresh Penne Train Wreck

“I gotta go get the camera!”

“You’re not going to blog this, are you?”

“Sure, you can blog your failures, too.  Besides, it’s so lame it’s kinda funny.”

“Yeah, it is.”

This was the conversation Mrs. NH and I had as we were peeling apart once beautiful fresh penne (pictured above) that had become stuck together (pictured below) after we failed to separate it and put it on a floured surface.  We’re still trying to perfect the procedure with our new KitchenAid pasta attachment and last night’s attempt was an abject failure.  We salvaged what we could and what we couldn’t turned into more of a spaetzle than a penne.  The sauce was delicious as usual (alla Vodka) but we’ve got a ways to go until we take this pasta maker to prime time.

However, last night’s failure brought back memories of family failures in the kitchen when I was a young kid.  The one that is most memorable was the time the wine bottle fell off the top of the fridge and smashed into the batch of freshly made green tomatillo salsa.  And of course, our numerous attempts at frying stuff always seemed to yield greasy and soggy results.  The failures weren’t terribly numerous but were always a letdown.  But still, we laughed.

Mrs. NH and I laughed last night as well.  This wasn’t our first failure in the kitchen and it won’t be our last.  I’m just glad we didn’t do it in front of company.  Of course, by posting it here, you can laugh but you don’t have to be polite and eat it.  You’re welcome.

Cleaning with Vodka

Mrs. NH and I are expecting the 4th member of our family in February.  The lead up to that occasion has caused me to reflect on some of the ways our life changed way back when were expecting Little NH a few years ago.  I remember the biggest bummer for me was that I had to take a more active role in house cleaning.  Mopping floors was a more physical activity that Mrs. NH convinced me wasn’t advisable in late pregnancy.  That I could handle.  But I also had to switch from Mr. Clean, Ajax and 409 to vinegar, baking soda and vodka.  Well, maybe the vodka wasn’t that much of a stretch.  But I preferred it in a glass, not on a sponge.

The reason we did it didn’t have anything to do with the environment.  Instead, it’s the feeling you get on your hands after scrubbing a counter with 409.  I don’t know about you but after using that stuff I always washed my hands.  With vodka, I don’t have to.  Yeah, I may smell like a martini but some of you know that’s commonplace anyway.  I’m not as big of a fan of using vinegar but Mrs. NH uses it all the time to clean fruit and vegetables.  Finally, I’m struck by how well baking soda works on a dirty tub.  It requires no more elbow grease than Ajax and you don’t end up smelling like a pool after you use it.

Sure, I’m sure our mom’s did plenty when we were in the womb that didn’t totally deform us.  But if stuff works this well and is considerably cheaper, why shouldn’t we use it.  Not to mention, if some sort of natural catastrophe hits, you’re going to have a hard time pickling anything in Mr. Clean, much less kicking back with a tumbler of 409.