Saturday, March 29, 2014

Roanoke's Biggest Supporter

Living in Lexington is a little difficult socially. The young professional population is very small. So I usually find myself going to Roanoke, Virginia more often. I had developed a few friendships over the early years in Roanoke but without the influence of John Park I don't think I would have met so many people and developed so many quality relationships and connections.

John Park is Roanoke's Biggest Supporter. 

He organizes a FREE meet up of young professionals in the area every first and third Monday of the month called Monday Funday. Each event is hosted at a different bar/restaurant/brewery and brings swarms of people to hang out meet each other. If you are new to Roanoke this is a fantastic way to meet new people and network. If you have been around the area for a while, then you will likely run into a familiar face.

He also organizes a Cash Mob occasionally. It is similar to a flash mob, where instead of dancing, the masses of people show up to a local business and buy their local products providing and infusion of cash.

He organizes Bar Crawls, Pub Runs, Derby Fundraisers, Singles Mixers, Salem Red Sox outings (baseball), Food Truck shenanigans, and other events around the season which gives people an excuse to come out and celebrate living in Roanoke and Downtown Roanoke area. 

I personally know how my social circle and friendship grew exponentially just because of his individual effort. I know John's personal desire to make Roanoke a wonderful place to reside in has significantly made an impact and a profound experience during my stay in Lexington and visits to Roanoke. And I hope that whatever city I end up in that there are people similar to him who have a deep desire to impact the community life through social engagement.

John Park you are a great friend. Thank you for putting together my Farewell Party at Blue 5. I will miss you and Sharon greatly.

Friday, March 28, 2014

All good friendships start ... at LexCoffee

John and I have known each other for a few years. It started like all good things do ... at LexCoffee. We would find ourselves sitting down near each other at different tables week after week, and figured we should chat more often since we see other that often. 

We 'progressed our relationship' into sharing the same table at LexCoffee, then eventually to the occasional dining/beverage experience at the local restaurant, the Southern Inn.

My fondest memories of John are notably political and law school conversations at LexCoffee, dinners with the NEST, and most importantly having someone physically present to celebrate the day I received my Green Card.

John, I am sorry to be leaving you as the one-man wolf pack, the lone NEST member in Lexington. Fortunately though, your fiance will make sure that you are never alone if you are in Lexington. More than likely you will be traveling to see her. Congrats on the recent engagement.

I will miss our LexCoffee conversations. Thank you for being a great friend, and being there in person to celebrate my Green Card that 19th day of June. It was a special night for me, and I'm glad I could share that memory with you. Also, thank you for the farewell dinner. And while I am away don't ever talk to people from Maryland hauling a smoker.

I guess I should also thank you for saving me from being BITTEN by a rabid law student.

Neighbors with Stories to Tell

My neighbors BJ and Mary have lived in Lexington for many years. I've known them for almost 4 years. I stopped by their house to inform them that I was leaving and give them the specifics about my going away party in Lexington. The next thing I know is that they invite me to sit down and break bread with them (dinner). 

I go with the flow and say Yes to the impromptu invite. JB and Mary have lived a good life, traveled various places in the United States and have great stories to tell. One of the stories takes us St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands where they spend some of their downtime. JB whips out the picture album to show me all about St. Croix and tells me more about their experiences on this beautiful island by point to his map.

... and then the technology geek in me kicks in.

I excuse myself, run to my house, grab my iPhone, run back, and pull up the Google map and we look at his old St. Croix apartment from the hybrid satellite view of Google maps. For him this experience is just amazing. He doesn't use computers but is amazed at what technology can do these days. He sees the ship lanes that they arrived on, the harbor they docked into, the streets he drove by, the country club that he lived near by, and the actual apartment and pool where he and his wife lived. His eyes light up and a wide smile blushes through the various images and street view pictures.

Technology allows him to vividly reconnect with his memories, and share an emotional experience with a neighbor about something so important to him. It is experiences like this that make me excited about being a tech geek: creating either empowerment or connectedness or both through technology.

People who have lived are filled with wisdom from their unique experience. They tell me to go on my trip and live it up as much as I can. There is no value in saving travel money for retirement, if you are too old to enjoy it. Those experiences are better experienced in your youth when you are more mobile and agile especially if you can afford it.

What a day!! I get treated to dinner with friends, an opportunity to make a difference, and great wisdom to live by.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hiking with an experienced Peregrino

I have four friends (Ben, Tim, Cathy, and Allison) who have done the Camino. Following in their footsteps, I plan to become a peregrino (pilgrim) and walk the "French Way" from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. My friend Ben who lives in DC wanted to come down to Lexington, Virginia one a weekend for one last visit before I headed out on my adventure. Over the last few months I have been asking Ben a gazillion questions about the Camino, gear, packing, bed bugs, rain, shoes, etc. to prepare for my adventure.

Ben and I have been friends since mid Oct 2008. He lived and worked in Lexington as the local Obama Field Organizer for a short stint before heading over to DC. Over the years we've kept in touch and become great friends. Ben invited his friend Jane along for the weekend, and on Saturday morning we headed out to Big House Mountain for a 5-6 mile hike. Good priming work out for the Camino.

Prior to the hike, we missed a turn and kept on driving for miles before I turned back and got back on the right way. I should know better than to second guess myself (which left turn should I take Route 641, or 640, or do I drive further). I think this doesn't look right... let's keep on going. It doesn't help when there are also incorrect directions on the interwebs. But alas, after a few retraces I get it right. 

We get to the top. It is windy and getting closer to the edge is frightening for me; I can jump out of a plane with little fear, but without a parachute on my back and near the edge I feel completely paralyzed. The view is expansive and Virginia beautiful. The incline to the top was moderating challenging - and at one point Ben and Jane looked at me with misled eyes as if to say "I thought you said this was going to be an easy peasy hike". It is even more challenging when you realize you forgot to bring your water, but knowing we accomplished it without some H2O feels like a small achievement. 

Okay, I acknowledge that the picture ... is not my best selfie. I was a little nervous with the wind, holding my iPhone and being at an elevated gain of 2850 feet.

Ben is having a Jesus - Sermon on the Mount moment.

Jane having a little fun with the wind. Careful girl.

Yeah, right!! I'm not getting any closer to that edge.

A quick drive back into town, lunch at Mano Taco, back to the house for a quick shower, change of clothes and we get some well deserved wine at local Rockbridge Vineyards.

Exhausted yet ... no we are not. We drive to Devil's Backbone Brewery, have some beer talk to a very wonderful couple who have lived all over the world and have great stories and experiences. Later we meet up with our friend Katherine and grab dinner at The Bistro on Main and a crawl to the local watering hole Macados for a drink. Yes, we are tired now!

Saturday was eventful. Sunday continued in similar tradition with a small hike up one tiny hill to a historical place called Foamhenge. No, that is correct, I said Foamhenge. It is a replica of Stonehenge made with styrofoam. Ridiculous and entertaining.

We continued our adventures with a stop at Lexington Coffee shop, Walkabout Outfitters for some Ali-Ben student-teacher Camino lesson time, then touring W&L Campus, Lee Chapter and Stonewall Jackson's burial site. 

Notice the Confederate flags and Lemons. Whether you are for or against 'the flags', I should note seeing Confederate flags in this region of Virginia is not strange especially with it historical reference. On Lee-Jackson day they actually march down the street in full Confederate Regalia waving the flag. What is really STRANGE is seeing the lemons at a grave site. Rumor has it that Stonewall liked (or 'the ghost of Stonewall' likes) to eat them.

Something about the lemons probably made us a little hungry, so we went back home, made some delicious paninis. And on a full stomach we said our goodbyes, and Ben and Jane returned back to DC from their Lexingtonian adventure. I will miss you my soon to be peregrino brother (Ben). Look forward to seeing you and Jane in the near future.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Embracing my inner Cajun

When you spend 3.5 years in Thibodaux, Louisiana as your first US experience you get indoctrinated into a couple of things
  • Crawfish
  • King Cakes and Pralines
  • Poboys, Gumbo and Jambalaya
  • LSU football on Saturdays & Saints football on Sundays.
After leaving Louisiana and moving to Virginia, I definitely miss a lot of my 'Cajun' upbringing and people. One thing I have limited access to is Saints and LSU games, although there are very few Who Dats and Tiger fans in southwest Virginia.

In 2009, I decided that I was going to talk to every Saints fans I ever met, get their contact info, and start a Saints fans club in Southwest Virginia. I did not know that would be the year we win the Superbowl. Co-incidence? Maybe!

Samantha, I and David at Jack Browns for Mardi Gras

I met David on Nov 15th 2009 at Buffalo Wild Wings. I saw his Saints tee and he saw my jersey. My inner Cajun fired up. We struck up a conversation, and we decided to watch future games together. Next thing you know he becomes one of the most loyal fans of the group showing up at most games when he is not traveling, and doing what most Saints fans do: pulling their hair when frustrated and dancing and hi five-ing when things go well.

David is well traveled in the United States. He loves to take pictures of nature, animals in the wild, rock formations, National Parks and anything that would go in an 'America the Beautiful' brochure. Speaking of rocks - he collects beautiful rocks, and carves them up in jewelry, ornaments, or other mementos - as a hobby. I've seen his collection. The Man has and eye for beauty and the hands for craftsmanship.

David invited me over for homemade gumbo with fresh meats from local farms and also some good ol' boudin. Delicious! We talked about my soon-to-be travels, his past and future expeditions and he shared a gazillion pictures of how beautiful and diverse American lands really are and how to appreciate them. His travel experience has resulted in more added locations for me to visit.

Crystal, Melanie and I at Fork in the City, Roanoke, Virginia.

I met Melanie on Nov 8th 2009 ... according to my iPhone. I was watching the Saints play Carolina at another Buffalo Wilds Wings near Valley View Mall. At some point I walked outside and noticed someone wearing a Saints hat sitting down with a guy watching the game outside and chatting. The inner Cajun darted towards her. I introduced myself and what I was trying to do - create a Saints fan club. Next thing I know we trade our cell numbers. Funny story is later after a couple of games together she tells me that she was on a date with that guy; it was both odd and funny giving a number to a random dude while on another date. Of course context matters - but it is still funny. 

I met Crystal on Nov 6th 2011 ... yes, also according to my iPhone. I was with some friends at Applebees. She, her mom and dad were about to walk into Applebees. Her dad was wearing an LSU tee. There is an LSU fan in Roanoke, Virginia?? I have to meet this guy. I walked up, asked them if they were LSU fans, told them I was a loyal fan too. Assuming they were from Louisiana, I ask them which part? They were hesitant to reveal the city at first since not many people in Virginia would be well versed with city names except for the traditional ones like Baton Rouge or New Orleans. The next words out of their mouth was "We are from Thibodaux". "No way, I went to school at Nicholls State", to which Crystal responded "Me too." Turns out Crystal was soon to be moving into Roanoke, Virginia and I was the first person (outside of her employers) that she met. Small world - especially if you embrace your inner Cajun. 

Crystal, Melanie and I met up at Fork in the City for pizza and drinks... and lots of funny stories, ghost stories, and horror stories. It was so good to catch up. Melanie, I cannot wait to read the horror story you wrote. MAKE IT HAPPEN! Thank you for the pizza and friendship. Crystal, I hope to run into you in Bayou Country - keep me posted on the date. Maybe we can go downtown and hit up all the tradition college bars for ol' time sake - if they are still open. Thank you for the drinks and friendship ~ your Bigger Bayou Brother.

By 2011 the fan club grew from a wolf pack of one to about thirty. Our best turnout was when we had #30 Lynell Hamilton watch the last game of the season with the entire group. Lynell was one of the running backs on the Saints Superbowl team. Who Dat Roanoke was watching the Saints play with a Superbowl Winning Saint. 

This was my most fondest memory of the collective Saints fan club. Good things happen with great people when you embrace your inner Cajun!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A hungry immigrant, a farmer, and a goat walk into a ...

A hungry immigrant, a farmer, and a goat walk into a ... well, there are a couple of misleading problems with this intro.
  1. The goat didn't walk in. It was more 'carried' in ... and before the hungry immigrant got there.
  2. It wasn't a bar, but I know that is what you might be thinking. It was just the local restaurant in town Mano Taqueira a.k.a. Mano Taco
I'll just chalk up the 'misleading' as 'marketing' the blog.

Bob is one of my good friends. He lives near San Francisco, California, is a dedicated volunteer for Sigma Nu (Grand Historian), and writes fascinating articles for the Fraternity Magazine along with preserving Sigma Nu's History through archival management and preservation. I've never been interested in history, but through our friendship and fraternal connection, Bob has illuminated my view on the value of history and preserving it for future generations.

I told him that we need to check out the new restaurant in town on Day 1 of him getting here. He comes to Lexington, Virginia multiple times a year for two weeks at a time just to serve Sigma Nu. I told him that I really dig the restaurant. The food is really good - and supports all local farmers since they buy their meats. And the price is good value for money, so I definitely am encouraged to come more often.

I order the chicken burrito, but the gentleman beside me suggests to try the goat. I like goat meat! It's something new, not on the menu yet, so why not? After I get my order changed, we sit down next to the gentleman who suggested the goat and chat with him.

Turns out that Spencer is the farmer, who raised the goat at his local farm (Kohl Family Farm) and brought it in, and was trying out his self-raised product along with us. Talk about food being really local! I never imagined I would be sharing food for the first time and conversation with a local farmer who raised it at that very moment.

Just so amazing! Support your local farmer; eat at local restaurants that promote their products.

Thanks for lunch, Bob. Next Mano Taco - and goat - experience is on me!

A Man of Unheralded Service

In all my years in Lexington, there is one person who comes to mind who is very humble, appreciative, dedicated and sincere all at the same time. I cannot specifically remember when and where I first met him, but we shared a Sigma Nu connection. I would run into him at Lex Coffee, around town, at the W&L radio station, W&L baseball fields for the Rockbridge Rapid games, and I guess The Palms, when it used to be the only watering hole of the town.

We never really talked for long when we did run into each other nor hang out often, and in some cases we wouldn't run into each other for years, but he is one of those people that when you meet you innately want to keep in touch with whenever you can even though your paths don't cross often.

I recall the first time I asked him if he could assist Sigma Nu Headquarters with providing audio equipment for our team building activities and ritual sessions. He was more than willing to assist and definitely helped the organization in meeting those needs. Every two years, I would ask him again, and he would come through for Sigma Nu until we shifted our leadership conference Sigma Nu: College of Chapters away from Lexington, Virginia to other locations. His small but yet important contribution allowed the organization to impact over 1000 students through the years through ethical leadership training.

His impact was not just for Sigma Nu. I recall listening to him at WLUR 91.5 FM radio, and watching him volunteer and assist with Rockbridge Rapid games. His passion for radio and sports broadcasting is self-evident as he has taken W&L from very little to leading the way in the ODAC conference in those areas of operation.

Jeremy Franklin, it was great to be your friend all these years in Lexington. Thank you for your service to the Rockbridge Community, to the W&L Community, and more specifically to Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc. I know what contributions you to made to what you worked on over the years... and the impact is has felt. Also, thanks for lunch - I know what to get you the next time I visit (minus the mayo and the onions). You are awesome!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Boylan Evening

I met Ellie during canvassing in 2008. Since then we became friends and Survivor fans although we don't root for the same person. Over the years I have gotten to know her husband Scott and her kids Daniel and Katie.

Ellie and Scott invited me over for dinner at their home. We talked about my travels, watched interesting videos on YouTube, caught stink bugs that decided to play with me, and learned about dub step and jazz dub step from her kids Katie and Daniel. I always thought I was in touch with the current music scene. Yeah... next time I feel that way, I'll just ask teenagers what they listen to, and then realize I'm soooooo out of touch.

We had salmon, couscous, spinach, some amazing butter, wine and lots of interesting dinner conversation. By the time we finished dinner, I realized that I had forgotten to get a group picture so we decided a selfie during dessert would be ideal. But first an evening walk around the block.

Delicious brownies and vanilla ice-cream topped with fudge syrup. I'm glad I ran a 5K earlier. During dessert, we talked about my upcoming trip to Spain (Camino), and our mutual friends (Tim & Cathy) previous travels on the Camino de James in 2012, their blog, and their upcoming Camino adventure in 2014.

I realized in mid-stream conversation that they had never seen the movie The Way nor the trailer. What???? You have three friends - two who have completed it and are going again, one who is about to undertake it, and you follow both our blogs ... but have never seen the movie.

Guess what we are doing now ... good ol' family movie time ... it always feels great sharing what I am about to do with friends and in the process re-kindle my own passion to undertake the Camino.

An awesome evening with awesome friends makes for some awesome memories.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dinner with the Fam.

The Sextons are my Lexington family. They have taken me in their home, treated me as their adopted son, invited me for countless Thanksgiving meals, Christmas and Easter dinners and various outings. They have also taken care of my mom when she came down to visit. When I returned back to the States after my 'self-deportation' they put me up in their home for an entire month until I found my feet and got settled.

I know my life in Lexington would be much more isolating and challenging if I didn't have them in my life. I can count on them for absolutely anything and I only hope one day I can return back their kindness and generosity.

I met Sharyn at church when I first arrived in 2001. She was in charge of Religious Education at St. Patrick's and also organized a Young Professionals event where I met one of my best friend's Amy. A couple of years down the road, she asked me to volunteer teach Sunday school which really made me discern my beliefs, opened me up to various faiths, and made me grow spiritually by challenging the status quo. We became much closer since we started to see each other more often while I volunteered for 7th grade Sunday school. Her husband Mike is retired Navy and worked for VMI for many years. He is the sole reason I can drive a car with manual transmission. Without practicing on his old blue truck on their hills I would still be stalling. I'm just glad he was patient with my slow learning process.

Sharyn, Mike, Sharyn's parents (the Porters), and I went out to our favorite restaurant: Southern Inn. Sharyn and I are big fans of an Old Fashioned so we enjoyed a drink together to toast to both our travels and talked about the future, my family and theirs, and mutual friends.

Food was delicious as usual. Can't really say much more than good things about the Southern Inn. It is my choice of fine dining in Lexington - even though there are other alternatives. I go there often and am always left very satisfied. Quality food and quality service is just the norm - and I think I take it for granted sometimes.

For my Spain travels they gave me a small but very important parting gift.

Sharyn watched the movie The Way and thought it would be important that I am well prepared for the winter-to-spring transition in Apr-Jun in Spain. The road to Santiago goes through different transitions and different altitudes and possibly weather changes, so it would be best to have a fairly light thermometer handy. Yes, it reads in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. And it does say Blue Ridge Mountain Sports so I definitely have a little reminder of Ol' Virginia during my travels... and who knows what conversations a Blue Ridge mountain keychain will strike up. It is a very small world.

The Art of a Selfie ~ Indian Style

I met Atin and Tinni in Lexington, by knocking on their door during one of my canvasses in Lexington for Barack Obama in 2007. They are of Indian descent so we instant bonded over our shared heritage in culture diverse city of Lexington (sarcasm) that we both live in .

Being ethnically Indian, when you see another person from the South Asian continent (namely Sri-Lankan, Indian or Pakistani) you instantly recognize the shared heritage ... and they do as well. The BIG question is do you nod or smile in acceptance of that fact or do you pretend that you didn't actually see each other and walk away feeling a small amount of guilt of not accepting your own heritage. Fortunately we nodded - I had to ... I was at their front door.

Atin, Tinni and I have shared backgrounds too. They came to the US for school in Mississippi, graduated, got jobs, got their green cards and now are citizens. I came to the US for school in Louisiana, graduated, got a job (soon to be had a job), got my green card, and only have to wait a little over 4 years for citizenship.

Over the years we have run into each other at the YMCA, around tiny Lexington, mutual friends, ... I wanted to reconnect with them because they are my closest "peeps" in area. I do have some close Indian friends in Roanoke, but none except for them in Sexy Lexi. Since there is no Indian restaurant in Lexington we went to the next best thing: Latin American food at Mano Taquira. It is amazing and very reasonably priced. I don't think there is a better DEAL in Lexington. Also, if you like a little extra kick in your food, then get whatever you order with the salsa verde.

They took me out to lunch, we talked about India and the US cultural challenges for non-Indian residents in the US who have culturally assimilated in the US to visit India which is going through its own evolution. Since they are well traveled, I asked for traveling wisdom and Atin was quick to share some 'really good advice' for single traveling Indian men. :P I'm still chuckling about it Tinni. Too funny.

And of course no Indian reunion is finished without an Oscar-styled Ellen-attempted selfie.

Photo bombed by the Mano Taquira staff ... Grrrr



We resigned to traditional pics. Indians cannot do good selfies (sigh).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A twenty year old gift

When I was a practicing Catholic, I used to attend mass/services at St. Patricks Catholic Church in Lexington, Virginia. I had gotten to know the Campus Minister David Kaufmann very well. He became a good friend and a spiritual advisor during my time at St. Patricks. Over the years, I left the Church in search of my own sources of spiritual growth. However, we still stayed in relative contact when seeing or running into each other occasionally in town. Just like old friends things picked off where they were with warm hugs, and friendly chatter.

Sometime last few weeks David, I and his wife Angela have ran into each other at Lexington Coffee Shop. David with his son, and we caught up again and I told them that I was leaving Lexington and planning to do the Camino in Spain followed up a trip across the US. Apparently they watched the movie The Way as well and were contemplating walking a pilgrimage possibility at some point in the future when the moment was right so our conversation about the Camino/Spain deepened.

I am always intrigued how the universe or God or 'insert your favorite spiritual name for a higher power or higher being' weaves old threads back together. Before I left Lexington I wanted to see them one last time. There is something deeply spiritual that I reconnect with when I'm around them. 

They look me out to lunch at the local Kind Roots Cafe. Food there is always great, although being located at the YMCA - as opposed to perhaps downtown Lexington - is a little odd.

Before I left, David gave me a card and a pouch. The card explained what the pouch contained.

Over the past twenty years, David has used these prayer beads as a part of his spiritual path and he offered them up to me on my journey to use it as I please. What an amazing gift! 

I'm looking forward to wearing it on my wrist during the Camino to remind myself to be present to the current moment, embracing the "nowness", and being unattached to the past or future, and allowing life to unfold naturally instead of focusing on following a master plan. Sometimes the right people connect with you at the right moment to give you the right message. Are you listening?

Shoe Shopping, Fondue Dinner ... what else would a guy want?

The weekend arrives. I wake up and after getting through my morning routine I realize that instead of starting my weekend at the office, I should take a much needed break before going back to the office grind. I go to my favorite weekend hangout spot: Lexington Coffee.

I'm perusing through the facebook newsfeed but my mind is still really at the office. Okay, I need a distraction.

I find myself at Walkabout Outfitters in Lexington digging through their shoes and their backpacks contemplating what to buy for my trip to Spain. After trying out some equipment, I return back to the coffee shop and think about calling my leisure day off and returning back to the office and the phone rings.

My two close friends Mary and Amanda are going to meeting up in Charlottesville, Virginia for a fondue dinner and want me to come join them and their families. Say what, fondue dinner. SOLD!

I drive up to Charlottesville, visit Ragged Mountain Running Shop, and explain to them about my travels and my shoes needs. I try about three pairs of shoes, walk up and down in them. The one great thing out Ragged Mountain Running shop is they watch you walk/run and assist you in picking up the perfect shoe. After trying about three, I decide on one that is hugs the shape of my feet, is breathable, not too light or heavy, has good stability for with my stride, and appropriate padding and grip for the various conditions I am about to endure in Spain. Seriously didn't think finding a shoe would be that hard but I'm feeling good about it.

Now, off to dinner with my girls.

The six of us (Mary, her husband Ted and their son Andrew, and Amanda and her husband John) sat down around 5:30 PM.  I think we left around 9:30 PM or so. All I remember is

  • I was starving before dinner. I had to loosen my belt at the end.
  • We all got caught up in each others lives and other mutual friends lives. 
  • Andrew provided endless entertainment with balloon disappearing acts, eye pokes, and various other acts of cuteness that would take a separate blog post to describe.
  • Appetizers: the cheddar cheese fondue (aged, medium-sharp cheddar and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses, lager beer, garlic and seasonings) and the fiesta cheese fondue (cheddar cheese blend with lager beer, jalapeño peppers and salsa made as spicy as you like.) served with chips and veggies
  • The lone salad without the dressing (you know who you are)
  • Main courses of sirloin, duck, pork (and yes, I can eat pork - thank you for asking only me dear waiter), shrimp, sausage ... cooked in a traditional season court bouillon (fresh seasoned vegetable broth) or the Coq Au Vin (burgundy wine infused with fresh herbs, spices and mushrooms.)
  • And who could forget the two different chocolate fondues we had. Actually I forgot their names... but they were too visually appealing to pass up on appearance - despite the enlarged bellies. They were served with  fresh strawberries, bananas, cheesecake, rice krispies treats, marshmallows, pound cake and brownies.
You should totally check out The Melting Pot. OMG! Expensive, delicious, and worth it!!

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Stone, my Cross to bear.

During my Camino in Spain, I will be passing by La Cruz de Ferro. La Cruz de Ferro is a huge iron cross on the Camino de Santiago and is located between the towns of Foncebadón and Manjarín on Section 6 of the French Way.

It consists of a wooden pole about five feet high surmounted by an iron cross, a replica of the original preserved in the Museo de los Caminos in Astorga. At its base there has been a mound forming over the years. A legend says that when the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was being built, pilgrims were asked to contribute by bringing a stone. The tradition is to throw a stone here, brought from the place of origin of the pilgrim, symbolizing what the pilgrim want to leave behind and get ready for rebirth on the last part of the Camino.

I have known James and Lucia since I starting working in Lexington for Sigma Nu in July 2001. James was one of the executives who hired me. Over the years he and his wife have been great friends and thoughtful, inviting me over to spend the holidays when most people are with their families - since mine are scattered all over the globe. When my mom came down to visit they were very kind to her inviting her and I out for dinner and welcome her to the United States and notably Lexington.

They took me out for dinner on Thursday at the Country Club in Lexington. I've always thought New Orleans, Louisiana had the best fried oysters, but the fried oyster appetizer at the Country Club is also to-die-for. I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. Do they accept to-go-orders from non-members? Seriously, do they??

We haven't spent time with each other collectively in while, but once we just sat down it felt as if we had seen each other yesterday. We caught up on old times, talked about the future, all things Sigma Nu, happenings in both our lives, someone's upcoming birthday, and the wonderful island of St. Lucia that they visit every year.

During dinner they gave me a card and going away gift. And after reading the gift cover I knew it was perfect for my journey.

It is transparent stone with an encased angel hugging/holding on to the world a.k.a Travel Angel

The front reads:

Wherever you may wander
Wherever you may roam...

May the Angels journey with you
And safely bring you home.

The back reads:

Use this Stone in whatever way feel right to you
Put the Stone in your pocket or purse to use as
a touch stone reminder  that you are
 indeed "Protected by Angels."

Some hold the Stone in their hands to use
as a Worry Stone to let go of stress or worries...

Others imagine Peace and Serenity flowing
into their lives as they hold the Stone.

However, you use it, know this Stone
 has come to you for a reason...

I knew you had to bring a stone from your city of origin for the Camino. But it totally slipped my mind. Not sure if Lucia (who picked it) pre-planned it since they have a friend who has also done the Camino, or it was just mere fate/co-incidence. But I know that after I held it in my palm, I felt called to use it as my Worry Stone, my temporary cross to bear, transferring all my life's burdens, stresses, and worries on to it, before placing it on the pile of La Cruz de Ferro ... and leaving them behind as I walk away towards Santiago de Compostela.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~ Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

100 Notches on Mardi Gras

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler - Let The Good Times Roll! 

Living in Virginia on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) makes me homesick (relatively). I miss The Big Easy - New Orleans, Louisiana. So when the New Orleans themed restaurant The Quarter opened in Roanoke, Virginia and started having a Fat Tuesday event, I routinely organized a get together with my local Saints fan club and celebrated the occasion.

This year I didn't plan on going down to The Quarter; primarily being stingy by saving money to fund my travels to Spain and across the US. But sometimes the universe knows better. I had to drive down to meet up with my friend Hetal to review and discuss health care options post employment. As a side comment: She is truly a genius at what she does (Healthcare Broker with Benefits Group, Inc.) and was able to assist me quickly. I highly recommend her if you need assistance with the Affordable Care Act and website. In the meantime, my friend Samantha, Robyn and Dave found out I was coming into town and asked me to join them for the Mardi Gras celebration at the Quarter. Wow, I cannot believe that just happened - so I agreed to celebrate after my meeting with Hetal.

After enjoying a short meet up with the gang, I said 'probably' my final goodbye to friend and fellow Saints fan Robyn. I will miss you and the times we shared together.  

Dave has never been to Jack Brown's, and I found out that my 100 notch shirt FINALLY came in. So I coaxed Dave and Sam to walk down check out JBs and celebrate getting my shirt.

What is JBs and the big deal about a 100 notch shirt? Let me tell you ... When I used to visit Harrisonburg there was this restaurant that specialized in beers and burgers. They had 100+ beers available and a simple but delicious burger menu. If you drank 100 different beers you would get a free 100 Notch shirt. I'm mean seriously after donating all that money & tips for a 100 different beers 'the damn shirt better be free!' :-D The shirt is personalized and there are discounts and special privileges that are tied to being 100 notch club, 200 notch club ... A couple of small but important rules, you must drink all the beers yourself* and you must drink at least a beer once every two months, otherwise your log is discarded.

I started my first sheet in Harrisonburg, but found it difficult to travel there consistently since most of my friends lived in Roanoke, Virginia area. When another establishment opened in Roanoke, I decided to commit to it. Started in Apr 2013 and finished in Jan 2014.

Now, there are many similar establishments across the US like JBs, but what appeals to me about them is the following in ascending order:

  • the dive bar feel - including the noticeable variety of bras hanging from the chandelier. 
  • a burger that comes a haberno pepper on it. 
  • the variety of beer, frequently changing mini-kegs, and steal-a-pint events.
  • the friendliness of local patrons and visitors
  • the quality of service by the staff
  • the sassiness of 'my girlz' and the camaraderie from 'my boyz'.

A small shout out: whoever manages their fb page and fb group/person does an aggressive and awesome job of fb advertising/marketing their product.

I drank down the 100 beer on Jan 11th 2014 with the worst beer ever - my choice though. A classic Pony Miller High Life served by one of my favorites Haley. Actually Natty Light or Michelob Ultra probably would have been worse.

The local - 300+ notch - patron George who drank my 100th with me.

And the staff who celebrated with me - minus Sarah (who doesn't do pictures).

Okay girls ... I know you are over-analyzing the pictures now... so get over it. I don't look perfect either. :P Secretly, Sarah is saying ... see this is why I don't do pictures.

Back to Fat Tuesday where I pick up my 100 notch shirt with my Ali Baba name tag and celebrate with my friends Dave and Samantha.

Jack Brown's, thank you for the service and the celebration of the journey to a hundred: Ian, Sarah, Haley, Jessica, Lesley, Joyner, Heather, Brandy, Trevor, Raymond, and one more person ... whose name I just don't remember (Sorry!)

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler - Let The Good Times Roll!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Goodbye Skydivers Lunch

Almost three years ago, around June 2011, I wanted to get something off my bucket list. I wanted to skydive. I kept postponing it for another month and year over and over, and eventually decided that it was unacceptable. If I really wanted to do it, I should make the plan to do it. So I set a date (July 7th 2011), sent out a note to all my friends and asked if anyone wanted to join me. Steve and Barbara jumped at the opportunity. It was our first jump ever, and we headed off to No Limits Skydiving in Victoria, Virginia - in the middle of nowhere.

Steve and Barbara went first on the tiny Cessna airplane. They were testing out the equipment prior to my jump.

And then I jumped out tandem with Kris. It was an amazing experience. One I will never forget.

I enjoyed it sooo much I went again and again and again. But the next 11 were all non-tandem jumps with instructor supervision and mostly at Skydive Orange in Orange, Virginia.

Over the next three years Steve, Barbara and I would occasionally run into each other at the local summer music festival, restaurants and bars, and sometimes in the streets of good ol' Lexington. So to catch up and say goodbye they took me out for a last Lexington lunch on an almost perfect Spring temperature in early March. Can't beat those Macados boneless wings on Sunday!!

In discussing about my upcoming adventure to Spain and US, I learned Steve has traveled to all 50 states. Wow, he is an amazing travel resource. One day Steve, I will catch up with you on the 50 count - and if I'm fortunate maybe by September 2014.

I also learned that if you want to find a significant other, get a puppy, go to the nearest Veterinarian Clinic and ask for assistance. Play the 'I don't know anything about taking care of dogs' card. Good one Steve. :P

I will miss you both.