Saturday, December 19, 2009

1 Day: Won't You Be My Neighbor

It's snowing. No where to go, nothing to do. One last day before the big four-o. I was putting away my clothes from my recent trip to Austin and listening to WTMD when I heard the DJ mention that we're expecting 1-2 feet of snow. Not inches. Feet. And then he suggested checking in on our elderly neighbors. Boom. My idea for my last "first" before 40.
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I shoveled my elderly neighbors' walks. Carmen's house is directly next to mine and Anne's is down the way. Anne is my favorite neighbor ever. She looks out for me. She clues me in on the neighborhood gossip. She gets me a bottle of red wine for Christmas. She tells me I deserve a good woman. Anne says she'll put in a good word for me with God. She doesn't believe I'm turning 40 tomorrow. Even after all of this 40 days to 40 stuff, I'm not sure I believe it either.

Anne recently fell. She doesn't remember what happened. She's got a sore shoulder and bruises on her face from the incident. Apparently she took her recycling out without her cane. She's a got a sweet yappy little black dog named Jazzy. Anne used to be a dancer. After shoveling Anne's walk, I took Jazzy for a walk. She peed.

Tomorrow's the day I mark my 40th year on this earth--whether I look it or not. I'm excited and admittedly a little nervous about the new "firsts" ahead. A used car to buy. An old house to possibly purchase. A new year with work already lined up. A new decade to investigate. Thanks for coming along on the journey with me. I hope there are many more firsts to come!

2 Days: Perring Place

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Nearing the finish line I went for a staple on my list--trying a new local restaurant. Perring Place was suggested by my friend Tom. I went with my friend Greg. I ordered my favorite meal, veal parmesan. This place is in a very unlikely spot--at the end of a strip mall off Perring Parkway. It looks like something out of a 1950s movie. It's the perfect restaurant to follow up a long day of Bingo playing. I believe the average age of their patrons was about 72. Looks like I'm a couple days away from the early bird special.

3 Days: Skydiving or Bingo

Skydiving was one of the big build-ups on my 40 days to 40. Sadly, rain prevented my opportunity to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. So, I needed something big to replace it. Something that would provide a huge rush. Something life-threatening and thrilling with all sorts of risk, excitement and girl-impressing. Something that very few people have done! And B-I-N-G-O was his name-O.
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I credit Bryan for this sweet skydiving replacement. I never knew there was so much tension and excitement in this senior citizen game of chance! And so many varieties of games. We played kite, triple bingo with double reverse lucky number, stamp and 4 corners, and L-shapes. And the money you can win...amazing. Anywhere from $150 to $750 all for only $13 a session! One game I needed only 2 numbers to hit after applying my bonus numbers. I hit the first number and only needed one more for $500.

Clearly, there's no picture of me with a wad of money, so safe to say I didn't win that game (or any of the other dozen games I played). But I did meet Ruby. She's been playing for 40 years. She was our mentor--explaining how each game was played and giving us strategies to stamping our cards and making it easier to see what we needed to hit BINGO. She also would come over to our table and check our cards for any numbers we missed all the while filling in her 36 cards and winning one game for $250!

Who says skydiving is a bigger thrill than Bingo?

4 Days: Juan in a Million

Perhaps the best named restaurant north of the border!
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Juan in a Million is this small hole-in-the-wall family style restaurant with amazing food. For breakfast, I had their famous "Don Juan" - El Taco Grande: A secret combination of potato, egg, bacon and cheese in a deliciously hot tortilla for only $3.60. Actually, it took 4 tortillas to finish the meal which held me over until dinner.

I'm a huge fan of locally-owned and non-franchised one-of-a-kind restaurants. As my 40 day list displays I enjoy me a good meal in a place I've never been. One of the glories of life is experimenting with new foods and new locales. In a future life, I'd love to be a food critic.

5 Days: Bone Daddy's

Austin, Texas was the site for 3 of my 40 days. I was visiting my good friend Bryan who I know from my Nashville days. He's out in Texas for some job training with a cool Mexican restaurant called Chuy's. It's difficult to describe what it's like when Bryan and I get together. Let's just say we laugh a lot!

I've been to Austin before--so that's not the first...but pretty much every experience I had there was a new one for me. So, for today's entry, I'll focus on Bone Daddy's. Driving into the parking lot, it reminded me a lot of the movie Porky's.
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Picture Hooters but with very good looking women and outfits that make Hooters look like a cheesy carnival compared to this 6 Flags level amusement park. And, the food was really good. I had a full rack.

The highlight was listening to our waitress who said that she had to quit her full time job because the work place was inappropriate. Apparently one of the lawyers in the office hit on her. Things that make you go, "Hmmm."

Monday, December 14, 2009

6 Days: Dr. Sketchy

About three months ago, I was walking to a restaurant in Hampden with a friend of mine. We bumped into a friend of hers, Alexis, who is an art teacher. I asked Alexis if she could teach a non-artistic fool like myself how to draw. She was adamant that she could teach even me how to draw. So, I put her to the challenge. We met a few times and truthfully, I was blown away with how quickly she conveyed to me how to draw a face. After only one lesson I drew a self-portrait that didn't suck! She's good.

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I think that experience help set the stage for much of what I've tried during this 40 day experiment. And tonight, it sort of came full circle. I had three goals in my drawing lessons with Alexis. We really only accomplished the first--drawing a face. I really didn't think it would happen so pursuing the other two were mere fantasies. A second goal was to be able to draw my own tattoo. Honestly, I didn't want to wait as long as it would take for me to get that good--so my friend Jesse was a much better choice to get that done. I did help with the design--but am very thankful it's not my artwork on my arm. But the last goal was to learn how to draw a full body.

In order to draw a body--it's pretty essential to have a model. So when life got busy and I stopped meeting with Alexis, I kind of put that one on the back burner. Well, tonight--I went to Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. And very last minute, I emailed Alexis and guess what--she was already planning to go tonight. So, I picked her up and off we went. I am so glad it worked out. Serendipity.

And now, one funny little incident to share about the experience...I thought I had read there would be food and drinks available. Drinks, yes. Food, no. If you know me well, you know that I don't do well when I haven't eaten. We arrived at 6:30pm and the event ended at 10pm. The bartender said I could order from a Joe Squared menu and they would deliver it. I called up and ordered their Bacon and Apple Risotto. It's good stuff.

Thirty minutes later, while our model is posing for us, someone in the back of the room calls out, "Who ordered the pizza?" Yeah--that's me. The guy "sketching" the naked lady who ordered pizza. Everyone cracked up. I felt like Spicoli in Mr. Hand's class from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Hilarious. Of course, at our next break--several other people ordered pizza from Joe Squared. So, I didn't feel that bad.

Guess which sketch is mine--and which is Alexis'
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Clearly I still have some work to do.

7 Days: A Christmas Carol 3D

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When I saw the latest Harry Potter movie it was at the iMax theater at Maryland Science Center on their gigantic screen--and the first 20 minutes were in 3D. Pretty sweet. During the previews, they showed a 3D coming attraction for A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey. The effects were so good I wasn't sure if it was animated or just make-up. So, I was pretty interested in seeing the full movie in the newest 3D technology. I think the last time I saw a 3D movie it was Jaws 3 and you wore the paper glasses with the red and blue thin lenses. The new glasses are much sturdier and simpler. However, I still get a bit sea-sick watching through the things. Not sure I can handle the 3-hour Avatar. Oh well.

My review of the movie...pretty good. Definitely not for little kids--although there were plenty of them in attendance. I'd say 10 years old and up would enjoy it most. It's pretty scary and the dialogue fairly adult at times. As for the message though--it's a good one. I suppose I'm a bit sensitive to the "getting old" theme as well as the near-death experience (the Tahoe smash up). The recent message in my life has been--Am I living a worthwhile life? Am I telling a good story? Am I taking risks with purpose? What matters most? And how does my life show that?

Despite the coming unknown days and weeks ahead--a new year, new car, new projects, new experiences...I feel confident in some old standards in my life as well--my family, friends, God's faithfulness, my love for learning. I don't regret my past. I'm enjoying life in the moment. I'm excited about what lies ahead.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

8 Days: Ballet

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I didn't know that my French would come in so handy...learning ballet from my friend Katrina (aka Katgirl, Big Sister and Amish Chick). Somehow Katgirl thinks that now that I've learned how she's been brought up with dance that I won't make fun of her for tying her shoes without bending her knees. I think now I'll just be able to say some French words while I poke fun of her.

Honestly, I really learned a ton during this event. I now think I could watch ballet and see the three basic moves that make up all of the dancing. I also really respect Katrina all the more for what she's capable of doing. And lastly, I learned I have muscles in my foot that I didn't know existed before!

Only a week more of new things to try before I'm 40. Any last minute suggestions? Speak fast--I've only got a couple of days unplanned.

9 Days: The Candy Man Can

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My good friend Jed is man of traditions. He is a loyal friend and the quintessential family man. Jed and I watch the Eagles every Sunday. When he's screaming, I'm calming him down. When I'm losing it, he tells me to have hope. We balance each other out well.

When Jed offered to teach me how to make his late grandmother's chocolate covered candies--I was quick to say, "Yes!" He didn't give away her secret recipe--but allowed me to join him in creating these sweet treats. Every year since Jed was a little boy he'd go help granny stir the chocolate and since her passing he and his brothers have kept up the tradition each Christmas.

It was an honor to join him on Friday to produce some old standards--buttercream and peanut butter filled milk and dark chocolates. He also let me experiment a bit--my favorite was the marshmallow and cinnamon filled ones. How come there's no chocolate bar on the market with cinnamon? But the best part of the 6-hour production was just chilling with my friend, listening to music and hearing his stories about his grandma's candy making tradition.

10 Days: Oysters

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I can't lie. I've had oysters before. They were disgusting. Chewy, tasteless, sea-water nastiness. So, this first is really a second chance--which we all deserve. I think second chances is a "first" for a lot of people. We are quick to dismiss something...or someone after they've disappointed us. I believe in second chances--third and forth and fifth chances as well.

I'm beginning to realize I have some philosophies I live of course is a willingness to try almost anything once. But another that I find equally important is to move on after bad situations. I'm not the same person I was yesterday--and neither are the people around me. Not to get too philosophical about giving oysters a second chance, but I thought I'd share a deeper truth as I see it lived out in something as simple as trying a food I didn't like a second time.

Guess what. I liked them this time. My friend suggested I try cocktail sauce with the oyster and showed me how to mix it up in the sauce and then suck them down. Pretty tasty. Growing up, I hated shrimp. Now, I love shrimp. We change--every day, little by little--and so does the world around us. It's what gives me hope. We have the ability to receive second chances--as well as to give them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

11 Days: COMCAST

Uh huh--I said, Comcast. The evil empire which now finally has all sorts of competition and therefore a much friendlier attitude. I've heard friends tell me recent stories of getting free HBO for 6 months due to mistakes or installation delays. So, I knew they were operating very differently from the days of when I'd try to steal cable from a neighbor or attempt to unblock the blocked movie channels--this was when I was a teenager.

So, you must be wondering what this "first" is. I am singing the praises of my once esteemed enemy of entertainment. "Why?" you ask. I received our bill and saw that the total was $45 more than it had been for the past couple of years. I read through the bill and saw that several of the package programs and free add-ons had run out of their time-based bonus period. I called expecting to return the couple of extra boxes we had and cut out the HBO/Showtime/Starz package at a minimum to get our costs down--not to mention canceling phone service which we really don't use anyway. After speaking to the billing department and getting the 2 extra boxes fee removed--mind you, without having to return them--I was sent to the subscription change guy.

This "specialist" had some computer glitches, which gave us time to chat over the 25 minute phone call. He was clearly a local Baltimorian. Apparently he wants to change lives with me--or at least the part where he has to go in to work every day along with the headaches of his wife and kids. I told him of my recent bill increase and requested that he cancel all my movie channels (no more Dexter--very, very sad). He said he could offer something and tapped away on his computer. He mentioned a price that was $20 less than what I was currently paying. He did a double take and said, "This doesn't seem right. Hold on, let me check that I added this up right." He did the math right--and we agreed to leave everything as is and that our new price would be less than we've been paying for the last several years. So, instead of a $45/month increase we now have a $20/month decrease all for the same service. WOW. Now, THAT is a first!

Lesson learned: Whenever you get your increased bill from Comcast--give them a call and see what deals they've got for you.

Only 10 Days remain til I'm 40. I'm heading to Austin, TX next week for a few days. But look for an invite soon to the big PARTAY on the 20th!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12 Days: Shih Pa Lo Han Sho

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I was enlightened and educated in the 18 Hands of Lo Han (Shih Pa Lo Han Sho) via the Hawaiian Kempo style by my Karate-trained brown belt friend, Chris. I learned all 18 moves as well as several self-defense techniques. After a mild warm-up and the occasional disciplinary push-ups on my knuckles, I successfully received a great overview of the philosophy, history and technique involved in this martial art. My belt is still white--but don't try to choke me (in front or from behind) or you'll get an elbow to the chest, some knuckles in the face, a finger knife to the bladder and a kick to the crotch before I finger push you and take my protective posture--of course, I'll smile at you first ;-)

Monday, December 7, 2009

13 Days: Lake Trout

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"Oh, no you didn't"--I can hear you say. Oh, yes I did. After nearly 7 years in Baltimore, I finally bit. All of those attractive signs trying to lure you in. Lake Trout! It's not trout and it's not from any lake around here. It's a long headless deep-fried, bone-filled, tail-attached piece of something else. And once I got passed the odor, I managed to eat a few bites. But I am definitely not a fan. This is one of those firsts that will also be a last.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

14 Days: Español Gigante

You have to give me some room here since my car accident last night--so this "first" will probably not impress anyone. However, it was more difficult than you'd think.

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I'm on my way to our church's monthly first Sunday lunch with my newly acquired friend and forced chauffeur Molly (she's got a very safe Volvo), when I direct her into the Giant (that's a grocery store for those unaware) parking lot. We were told the theme for the lunch was red and green--so we bought some spinach tortellini and tomato sauce. Mmmm, mmm, mm. We went to the self-checkout lane. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong lane. As the person in front of us was having technical difficulties requiring the manager to come over 3 times to help them. And then, they had like 37 coupons--for only about 12 items. Anyway--the point is, it took forever.

For some reason, I was in a rather goofy mood--I think the adrenaline from last night's accident was still pumping through my veins. So when the screen requested us to pick "English" or "Spanish" I decided to go with "Si." And quickly determined this would be my "first" for the 40 day countdown. I know, pretty lame. But it turned into quite the mini-fiasco.

It was easy to scan our two items in Spanish. Choosing to end the order was a decent guess and then picking "credito" and sliding my card weren't too tough to figure out. But then the tricky part came. I realized I wanted to snap a pic of the screen saying "¡Gracias!" to add to this blog--but was nervous we'd take too long as the line behind us had gotten quite long especially after the previous customer needed so much help (and had WAY too many coupons). My trusty iPhone did its job and then we were heading out--but then we were confronted by the manager saying, "You have to sign." D'oh. I forgot about that. And both the main screen and the credit card sliding machine screen were not showing any place to sign--no plastic pens dangling. No english telling us what to do. The manager pointed down where we saw this thin LCD screen on the scanning area with the dangling plastic pen. Ahhh. I signed and then still wasn't done as the computer was waiting for me to press the signature accept button--at least that's what I think. I found some random spanish words inside the signature screen and pressed my finger and Voila, c'est fini!

15 Days: Ticket Sales

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Every year, Young Life Capernaum in Baltimore hosts a great holiday music concert with the likes of Allen Levi and other cool acoustic musicians. And most years I make it out to the concert, enjoy the music and sort of kick off the holiday season in my mind. This year, I decided I should lend a hand to this great event and focus on serving rather than receiving my own entertainment. I had a great time with Greg and Nan selling tickets to folks and doing what I could to maximize their sales dollars so the good folks at YL Capernaum can continue to do the great work that they do with special needs kids. And a bonus--they played the video I recently produced for them at the concert. A friend of mine who saw the video for the first time said she cried while watching it. I think she meant that as a compliment.

On a side note--I drove home from the event and hit some black ice. After fishtailing, I spun out of control and went heading toward the side wall driver-side first. Somehow the car continued to spin so that I didn't hit my side and instead slammed against the wall destroying the back end of the car and then smacking into another car that had previously slid out of control onto the side of the highway. Two guys were working on that car--attempting to change their tire--when my Tahoe punched their car into them. One of them went over the sidewall and fell down the grass slope. He was able to get his way back up the slope and we helped him climb back over the sidewall onto the road. He may have bruised or broken his leg. Other than some bumps and bruises, we all walked away fairly unharmed.

I'm looking for a new or used car...if you know of anything, let me know!

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

16 Days: Arcos & Paco

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Who doesn't like Mexican food? Honestly, I don't. But every once in awhile, I eat Mexican and don't die. Recently I heard from two different people about this great hidden Mexican restaurant gem in Fells Point. And to cap it off--as all good things come in threes--I was sent an invite to the same restaurant to see a friend of a friend of a friend's yarn art exhibit. What is this 3-time recommended restaurant? Arcos on Broadway. The best Mexican food I've ever had. And that is saying a lot.

The restaurant has a covered outdoor area in the back with heaters (that mostly work) and a Mariachi band traveling from table to table. The hosts were two 10 year old girls--probably the owners kids. There was a large birthday party seated next to us and they added to the festive atmosphere. I really dig this place.

Next door was the art show along with Paco the artist. He sees in 3D. He creates these yarn pictures that come alive with 3D glasses. He told us how he always tried to explain to people his pictures were in 3D--but it wasn't until he accidentally looked at them with the special glasses how others could see what he already saw. Even without the glasses--his work is pretty cool. Check it out here!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

17 Days: Azafran

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In 7+ years of living in Baltimore, I've made a point of trying to go to as many different restaurants as possible. I love trying the locally owned and unique hole-in-the-wall places--and Charm City has a lot of them. It seems like I've tried everywhere and then someone will mention another spot that I hadn't discovered yet. My roommate Jenn mentioned a place called Azafran that catered a wedding she went to recently. This cafeteria-style shop is inside "The Hubble Building" on Johns Hopkins campus--right behind where US Lacrosse is headquartered. I've driven by this building hundreds of times and had no idea it was there. In fact, I even had a fellow documentarian friend, David Gaynes, stay with me while visiting this building for his upcoming documentary, Saving Hubble.

So, I swung by and picked up my favorite US Lacrosse employee, Erin, and we grabbed lunch. I had a turkey, cheese and pineapple panini--also a first for me. It was very good. Sharp cheddar punch with a sweet and tangy pineapple flare. Erin got a veggie panini that she claims was quite good as well. It's a very cool tucked away place that most folks who do not live in the Hopkins campus community know about. Oh--and the window view looking out over Wyman Park is a great bonus. Two thumbs up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

18 Days: Postal Service

For the past seven years I've pretty faithfully gone to my local post office (21210, or as the cool people say.."The 10") about two times a week. Over this time, I've seen a lot of postal service workers come and go. Some have been moderately kind and others pretty painful. Of course, they have to put up with a lot of wealthy old (even older than me) people from Roland Park and Guilford--so I don't completely blame them. However, the nicest and most sincere postal service worker I've met there is getting a promotion. Friday is her last day. She and I chat during my twice weekly visits often. So, today--I bought a Thank You card and handed it off to her while doing my usual shipping business.

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While I've been doing my 40-day countdown, I've also been reading a great book by Donald Miller called, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. He's the guy who wrote Blue Like Jazz. I've read all of his stuff since reading and loving Blue Like Jazz--and honestly, they've all been so-so. This one is a keeper. His best yet, I'd say. I didn't really know what the book was about before getting it--but a friend of mine who read a preview copy mentioned it reminded him of me and the thing I'm doing with turning 40. I must say, that may be why I like it so much--it feels like a very strong encouragement to me to continue living out a unique story each day.

What is your story? How are you living it out today?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

19 Days: WJZ

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I took Darius, the 5th grade boy I mentor through Acts4Youth, downtown for dinner at Matthew's Pizza. On the way, I decided to show him the view of the city from the top of Federal Hill. While we were there, we spotted WJZ doing some stand-ups for the special news program they were running about Mayor Sheila Dixon. They asked if I were willing to answer a question about her recent conviction. Wouldn't ya know it--I didn't have anything planned yet for my 40 Days to 40 today--so here you first news interview on WJZ.
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Monday, November 30, 2009

20 Days: Kabbalah

I can't remember who said this to me recently, but some friend mentioned I should study Kabbalah as one of my firsts before turning 40 because "they" say you shouldn't study it until you are 40. I did some research and found that is a common perspective. Meanwhile, I just read an interview today in Relevant Magazine with reggae/rapper and Hasidic Jew, Matisyahu whose recent album, Light, has a song called The 7 Beggars based on a "Kabbalistic" story of the same name. I just read the 8-page translated story online and found it intriguing at points, confusing at others and overall certainly very mystic if not mystifying. Perhaps I should've waited 20 more days.

I've got about 7 of the remaining 19 days planned--so if you've got an idea for one of the other 12--let me know ASAP!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

21 Days: O Christmas Tree

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After watching the Eagles beat the Redskins in a close one--my buddy Jed said his wife Kate needed the Christmas tree they just put up righted. Well, I've never put up a Christmas tree nor righted one--so realizing the hours were ticking down for my "first" for the day--I stole the opportunity to right the tree for Kate. Mission accomplished!

22 Days: 7 Card Stud

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In the past couple of years I've begun playing Texas Hold 'Em on a fairly regular basis. I've hit the casinos once in awhile, but have pretty much stuck to this one game that I know fairly well now. My poker buddy Chris suggested I try something new. So, we went to Atlantic City and played a couple of hours of limit 7 Card Stud at the Taj. The first half went well--winning about $50. It's a very slow game and not a lot at risk since betting is between $1-5. The second half--not so hot--I lost the $50 I won and then another $80 or so. D'oh! Fortunately, I decided to head back to the game I know much better. The second hand at Texas Hold 'Em I had pocket Kings and won all my money back lost at Stud. In the end, Mr. Trump is $75 poorer ;-)

I've got 21 days til December 20th...the day of reckoning--and I've only got a few things planned for my 40 days to 40 countdown. So, if you've got some ideas for me...especially something you'd like to join me in completing--please let me know and we'll plot and plan!

Friday, November 27, 2009

23 Days: Pottery Works

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My dad sent me a list of potential ideas to do together for my 40 days to 40...things like:

- install light fixture
- glue pieces in basement
- apply veneer to bookcase
- remake an animated gif

As you can see, he seemed to think that celebrating my 40th b-day should somehow include doing some chores. Also on the list was taking the grandkids to Pottery Works. This place is owned by the daughter of an old family friend of my folks. Clearly I chose the the least chore-like option. And bonus--three of my nieces, my sister Mona and my sister-in-law Jennifer joined us. Some of the girls made jewelry and a couple of us painted some pottery. I'll get my finished mug after its been fired.

24 Days: Karaoke

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I really didn't think this was going to work out. In fact, I was plotting what else I could do last minute to replace this "first" attempt. The idea of my family singing karaoke during Thanksgiving was beyond my imagination. I was wrong. It's amazing what can happen when you just say, "Screw it" and put yourself out there. Although it was awkward and completely out of all of our comfort zones (except my dad apparently)--we sang. I expected at best, I'd just do one song with my sister, Kate, snap a pic and get on with my life. Well, we wound up singing for like 30 minutes and had all sorts of group participation. I'm impressed with my fam.

25 Days: Art Purchase

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I've never bought a work of art from someone I know. I can't say that anymore. I'm now the proud owner of a signed print by Michael Owen (the guy who let me help him paint a mural in Baltimore--see day 35). It's a very cool image of jazz great, John Coltrane. Checking out the studio in one of the many old school Baltimore warehouses was a great treat as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

26 Days: Lamb Stew

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Katie is a foodie. So, when she volunteered to help me cook lamb for the first time I knew I was in for a treat. She bought everything we needed to complete a recipe I found online except fresh thyme and rosemary. I swung by the fancy grocery story on my way over to her place to pick up the 2 missing spices. Sadly, I must admit I didn't really know what either looked like--I've only used them dried in a jar. The thyme was easy since it was labeled in a clear plastic container. However, the rosemary was labeled on the shelf in front of several green plant looking things. I will say I felt better when I asked a woman shopping next to me which one was rosemary and she wasn't sure either. She suggested I ask the guy who worked at Eddie's of Roland Park. He grabbed a pack of stalks for me and assured me this was the stuff. He was right.

We (I mean Katie) skinned the potatoes and carrots while we (I mean me) cut the lamb and chopped the shaved carrots. I browned the meat while Katie boiled the potatoes. She seasoned the meat while I mashed the potatoes that she seasoned as well. We both put together the salad with sliced apples and goat cheese. She made the dressing. A few friends joined us and we ate an incredibly tasty meal followed by frozen yoghurt with blueberries. Mmmm, mmmm, mmm.

I learned what thyme and rosemary look like...and also that you can add a ton more of the fresh spices compared to the potency of the dry stuff. I learned that making dressing is better with rice vinegar. I learned how easy it is to make mashed potatoes. I learned that you don't need to let lamb stew 50 minutes before adding carrots and cooking it all for another 20 minutes--you can just throw it all in and serve it up in about 30 minutes. And lastly, I learned that cooking and eating food with friends is really one of my favorite things to do. I suppose I already knew that--but it was a great reminder.

Monday, November 23, 2009

27 Days: Like a Good Neighbor...

Believe it or not, I was in a bit of a panic all day today. I had no new experience planned for this lovely experiment. I started going through emails folks sent me about their ideas for the project. I chatted with a friend on line to help me think up something. He actually found a great event--but it involved driving somewhere--and I was really hoping to chill tonight. It's raining. I'm worn out from a long weekend without much sleep. And I'm still limping around with a sprained ankle.

And then at 5:30pm there was a knock at the door. With the outside light busted, I couldn't see who was at the door and was a little nervous about who could be knocking. I opened it to find the "punk neighbor kid" (that's his description of himself) Kyle. He's in his early 20s and I've seen him over the past year since he and his brother and mother moved in a couple of doors down. I nod to him from time to time in the parking lot and wondered if he was in college or had a job or what.

Anyway--he asked to use the phone--due to the cable being out at their place. I said sure, thinking I'd let him use my cell, but then remembered we actually do have a home phone. He made his call, but the person on the other line seemed to be avoiding him and hung up. He called back and got voicemail. I overheard him mentioned something about needing to get to work and looking for a ride from the person he called. I smiled wide and offered to drive him. He wanted to give me some money, but I told him about my 40-day plan and how it was clear to me that this was what I was supposed to do. Fortunately, he only works about a mile away (at my most hated restaurant--Egyptian Pizza).

This may wind up being my most spontaneous and least adventurous new experience in the 40 days. However, it really was a cool thing that just sort of happened. I dig it. Sorry--no photos--hopefully you can picture the "punk neighbor" and my big smile ;-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

28 Days: Ann's Famous Foot-Long Hot Dogs

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My old roommate, Ben and his wife Torrie suggested we visit this 59-year old hot-dog establishment in Glen Burnie. This fun little shack of grease and grill has a very simple menu of dogs, burgers and cheesesteaks served on these great big buns. The fresh french fries and old-school Baltimore servers top off this unique experience. The place is pretty small with about 8 bar stools set up at the counter and a solid flow of customers ordering their favorite high nitrate items. The staff remembers your topping choices with no notes and quickly feeds you a bag of grub. It's not the most conducive environment for eating and catching up with old friends--but it's definitely got a cool vibe and has a distinctly Baltimore edge.

29 Days: Caving

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Tim is one of the best ultimate frisbee players I know. And within the crew of folks I've played with over the last several years he is one of the oldest guys out there--yet is in the best shape. He's one of those guys who likes adventure and pushing his body and mind to its limits. I admire Tim. When he asked me if I'd like to try caving as one of my 40 days to 40 new experiences I thought, this should be a fun adventure I won't quickly forget.

Actually, I kind of thought "spelunking" was kind of a chill, low-key stroll underground. I should've realized that Tim's passion for this hobby could only mean it would be a stretching experience. After a 2-hour drive to West Virginia, we walked into the woods in the middle of nowhere and stepped inside the Whiting's Neck Cave. We crawled on our bellies, slid through tight gaps, climbed up and down slopes, stepped through mud, slipped on wet rocks, belayed down a 45-foot drop into a pit, rope climbed back up out of the pit and with the exit only a few minutes away after several hours underground, I sprained my ankle in a crevice on the rock floor. A great experience minus the last few steps.

Fortunately, my Thanksgiving week plans for new adventures involve a lot less physical activity. Hopefully I'll be walking tall again by the time I head to Austin, Texas where the plan is to skydive. We'll see how that all works out.

30 Days: Shabbat with Shmuel

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Twenty-four years ago I went to Live Aid with Sam Shoham--my high school friend from Israel. He went on to graduate the following year after his junior year. I haven't seen him since. Thanks to Facebook we reconnected a couple of weeks ago via the internet. And finally, on Friday night we got together in person. We shared Shabbat dinner with his wife, in-laws and two sons. It was a first in many ways, one of which was eating a birthday cake prepared for me a month before my actual b-day and baked by someone I never met (Shmuel's wife, Ruth). It was a great reunion and a pleasure to meet this wonderful family.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

31 Days: Tattoo

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Well, this was a big one. A 40th birthday reminder that will last quite awhile. I've often said I didn't have anything I'd want to put on my body for the rest of my life. However, for the last year I've been chewing on an idea for a tattoo that would mean something to me. And I suppose this 40 day countdown gave me a good excuse to move forward with the plan.

My man, Jesse, really helped me a ton with his amazing artistic talents. His wife Rebecca taught me how to make a ring a few days ago. This is one creative couple! I shared my ideas with clips of art stolen off the internet and Jesse produced a sweet design that incorporated all of the elements I wanted. I think it's pretty sweet. Thanks also to the folks at Have Fun Be Lucky Tattoo Parlor in Hampden. Awesome work.

I'm not going to lie, it hurt! But two hours later it was all over and I am now an inked man. And since you asked...the meaning behind the tattoo is this:

1. The circular design is modeled off of an Iona cross which to me symbolizes community.
2. The Aramaic words going around the outside say, "Father to the fatherless" which is a reminder to me of a promise God gave me several years ago for me to live out.
3. The Aramaic word in the center is "Dreamer" which is a reminder of the story of Joseph in the old testament and the passion God has put in me to live out His dreams for me despite the obstacles along the way.

32 Days: Glass Mosaic

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A hundred pieces of broken glass--different shapes, sizes and colors all conformed into the image of the beholder. All thanks go to Briah for her creative and relaxing studio. She let me kinda do whatever I wanted and coached me through the process. The end result was a whole lot better than I could have imagined in a short 3-hour session. However, if you want to see some real works of art, check out her creations.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

33 Days: Yoga

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"Observe without judgement. It's your practice. OK, Downward-Facing Dog position."

Ninety minutes of hot yoga was not as bad as I thought it would be. I only refrained from a couple of because of my thrice dislocated knee and the other from my previous C6 broken neck. All-in-all, it didn't suck. I did sweat a ton. But it felt kinda good to stretch out my body and feel my lack of flexibility pushed to the max. The music was also very good. However, I did not participate in the "Ommms" at the beginning and end of the session. And yes, I sat in the back and had some pleasant views ;-)

Thanks Mary and Katrina for your insistence.

Monday, November 16, 2009

34 Days: Ring Making

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Rebecca taught me how to make a ring in 3 hours. After our first test ring in copper--we went straight for the silver and I'd say we were pretty darn successful. I'm wearing it now and it looks pretty good. I'm amazed at the talents of my friends and even more amazed at how easily they share those talents with a wannabe artist like myself. I loved the whole process...from measurement to cutting to filing to sanding to soldering to sanding some more to blackening to polishing. What a great experience and something I can carry with me into my old age!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

35 Days: Mural Painting

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Wow. This was by far the coolest thing I've gotten to do so far on my 40-day count down. Michael Owen who is a mural artist is in the last stages of a huge mural that stretches from Highlandtown to Greektown through and underpass. He is a friend of a friend and let me help him for a couple of hours today. I painted some background spots that needed some touch up a slightly different color. I climbed a ladder and used a pole and small roller to fill in a few spots. He is a very talented artist and beyond that a very cool guy. I had a great time getting to know him and learning more about his work, his family and his life. Every time I drive by this mural I’m sure to remember my tiny role in helping with this public act of beauty!

36 Days: Coffee House Music Festival

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In an attempt to raise funds and awareness about Acts4Youth, a non-profit that I sit on the board of, I helped put on a coffee house with four bands performing live music--blues, gospel, jazz and pop rock. It was a great time, good crowd and we raised some dough. The highlight for me personally was seeing the response to the 10-minute video I made for the event. In particular, several folks clapped during the video in response to one of the boy’s stories about how he is improving in school due to the motivation Acts4Youth is providing. Musically the highlight was the jazz band--AWESOME!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

37 Days: Formal at at Friend's

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Katgirl invited a slew of folks over for a formal at her new house. It's not much of a "new" event for my 40-day countdown. However, there was one crazy moment to recount. I was chatting with a buddy who I hadn't seen in a year or so and the girl next to him says, "Are you Michael Schwartz? I'm Laura Fritz." Holy crap!! I used to babysit this 24 year old girl when she was 8 along with her 3 younger siblings. She was my boss' daughter when I worked in Colorado right after college. It was quite the surreal moment. Damn, I'm old.

Tonight I'm hosting my first Coffee House Music Festival!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

38 Days: The Most Interesting Show in the World

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My good buddy Chris Baron knowing about my 40-day goal suggested we go to this very unique event hosted at The Recher. It was a show sponsored by Dos Equis. Free entry. Free beer. And a show to remember. The MC for the event was Angelo Moore of Fishbone and included live music, crossbows, knives, beatbox, burlesque and something called the human slinky! The most interesting part of The Most Interesting Show in the World was when "Mark the Knife" tossed a 13 lb. bowling ball from his foot to his head and softly balanced it there while the ball was on fire and had 2 knives protruding from the holes--and of course to top it off (or should I say bottom it off) he placed a scorpion in his underwear. Alrighty then. Chris felt the most interesting part was Mei Ling who performed extraordinary feats of strength which would make any Festivus celebration proud!

Coming soon is a newly added new thing to do...I'm going to help paint a mural that is going up in Highlandtown! This will be my first legal community painting project ;-)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

39 Days: Singing Lessons

When she asked me to pant like a dog, I was a bit skeptical. But truly, Alana Kolb, who is an opera singer grad student at Peabody, is a phenomenal teacher. She guaranteed me she could teach me how to sing in an hour--and she did. She also said singing beautifully might take a little longer. After my lesson, I think she might have to reevaluate how long that would take in my circumstance. My favorite part of the lesson was the breathing--apparently I'm a quick learn on low breathing. Good for me. The toughest part was when Alana tried to shove me from behind with all of her weight on my lower back while I faced a mirror trying to sing Amazing Grace. There was nothing amazing or graceful about the performance. And I'm sorry to say, I forgot to take a picture--the snapshot in my head is pretty hilarious. Another highlight was sitting in on her singing lesson with her teacher. Listening to her Mezzo Soprano voice only a few feet away was truly amazing. Best of luck to Alana in her coming auditions. I look forward to hearing her on stage as a professional opera singer and nudging the person next to me and saying--I took singing lessons from her!

By the way, the Tiramisu didn't suck. The bottom layer of finger ladies were a bit too soaked for my tastes--but the rest of it was actually pretty good. On another note, it's looking like a strong possibility I'll be skydiving on December 16th in Austin, Texas with my buddy Bryan Matthews. Anyone want to join us?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

40 Days to B-day: Tiramisu

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OK--so, I finished making my first Tiramisu. I found this interesting note somewhere on the web, so you know it's true, "Did you know that the literal meaning of Tiramisu is ‘pick-me-up’ and that Venetian courtesans used to eat it before their gentlemen arrived for the evening because they believed it would give them the energy to make love all night?”

Well--no love making tonight. However, I will share this dessert with my reading group tomorrow night. I'll let ya know how painfully bad it is. I messed up in three spots with the recipe. I should've video taped the experience--it was pretty ridiculous. It all started with going to Starbucks and trying to order a "tall espresso" -- apparently that makes no sense. I'm not a coffee drinker so I'm pretty ignorant to the scene. The recipe called for 12 oz. of espresso--a "tall" is 12 oz. However, espresso is not the same as coffee. What do I know?

My mistakes:

1. The book said to very quickly dip the lady fingers into the coffee-Kahlua mixture so they don't get soaked...oops. I ruined half a row. I put them on one side and then flipped them--the next thing I knew I had a ball of sopping wet sponged nastiness and it was falling apart in my fingers. I chucked them out.

2. I put down the second layer of ladyfingers before putting the chocolate shavings on I just put the chocolate on top of the ladyfingers and then again on top of the whole dessert.

3. I clearly don't know how to divide in half...there's a lot more of the mascarpone mix on the bottom half--not so much on the top portion. Oh well.

My reason for making Tiramisu is it's my favorite dessert--so I figured it was time to try my hand at making it from scratch. Between the costs of the ingredients and the crappy creation I made--I might just stick to pre-packaged Tiramisu. We'll see how the taste test goes.

Singing Lessons
The World's Most Interesting Show
A Formal at Katrina's
Hosting the Coffee House Music Festival
Preparing a Gourmet Meal
Welding a Ring

I've still got plenty of days to fill in. If you've got an idea for me...especially one you'd like to share with me, let me know!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tuesday starts the 40 day countdown

OK--so, I've got a bunch of planned firsts for my 40 days to 40 celebration. Some of those include:

Getting a tattoo in the next week (thanks to Jesse for the design)
Going to a pocket book/bag sale with products created by women in shelters
Going to a formal hosted at a friend's house
Hosting a coffee house music festival fundraiser
Preparing a gourmet meal next weekend
Welding a ring with Rebecca next week
Caving with Tim in 2 weeks

I'm still plotting several ideas including:
Creating pottery
Brewing beer
Eating kangaroo
Hiking in Maryland

I need some more ideas...and I'd love for others to join me in what I'm doing. So, if you've got something you'd like to join me in or a new idea--please let me know ASAP! I really need to get a couple of things planned for the first 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday)--I've got Thursday through Monday scheduled with activities.

Look for daily blog posts beginning on Tuesday where I'll tell stories of my experiences and hopefully some photos as well!

Monday, November 2, 2009

8 Days til 40 Days

For the past 10 months or so I've been contemplating my 40 year oldness. As people have asked my age, instead of saying 39, I've said--I'm turning 40 this year. I suppose it was mostly to get used to the idea of hearing the word forty coming out of my mouth. Well, now the time is approaching very quickly and I've decided instead of avoiding or down-playing the inevitable--I'm embracing it.

With that in mind, I've decided to count down the 40 days until I turn 40 with a sort of bucket list. My goal is to do something I've never done before on each of the 40 days. Ideally, I'd like to share these unique experiences with my friends and family. If there's one thing I've learned in my 39+ years it's that who you are with is much more important that what you are doing.

Here's where you come friends and family. I'd love your input on ideas that I should consider doing in my 40 day fest. Things like:

Prepare a gourmet meal
Hike in Maryland
Get a Tattoo
Sing Karaoke
Hot Air Balloon
Rock Climbing/Rappelling outdoors
Throw on a potter's wheel
Travel to ...

And as you share ideas...if you'd like to join me in one or more of them--let me know. I aim to make these 40 days as communal as possible. Come help me celebrate making it to 40 (almost). And sign up to follow me on this blog as I update each day with a little story about what I experienced and sharing a photo or two of the experience.

Thanks for being a part of my life.

Oh--and one last birthday is December this all begins on November 10th. I'd like to finish up on Sunday, December 20th with some sort of big shin dig...but I'm not sure what or where. So, if you have any ideas on what to do for the final day--throw your thoughts my way!!

Post your thoughts and ideas!

-michael ivan