River of Lights

I am on a mission to be as Christmasy as possible.  This weekend Aaron and I went to River of Lights, which is Albuquerque’s version of a large scale light display of happiness hosted by the Botanic Gardens.  Neither of us had been in years, and it looks like Christmas light displays have come a long way since then.  Before, there were a lot of flat light displays.  Technology now allows for 3-D animated light figures! My newly discovered “night scenery” camera mode was in picture taking heaven!

The River of Lights opens at 6:00 p.m. daily and runs through December 30 (closed Dec. 24 and 25).  Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.  Adults are $8.  There was plenty of parking when we went and it was free.  Hot chocolate is available throughout, which is nice because standing outside for over an hour at night makes for some very numb fingers and toes.

Cactus

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What I’m Loving Wednesday, November 30

Linking up for What I’m Loving Wednesday at This Kind of Love.

With Christmas in the air and the amazing 60 degree weather we’ve been having (until tomorrow and Friday when the high drops down to an almost unbearable 38), there is so much to love! (and some stuff not to love too).

Black Friday: Yes, we drove to Santa Fe at midnight, got back into town by 2:30, went to Target then the mall, got home and in bed by 5, after a 5 hour nights sleep, got up and back out to ABQ Uptown by 11.  We caused some SERIOUS damage, but got some RIDICULOUS deals! My favorite purchase was the aerater/decanter from William Sonoma that was 50% off! I’m not really crazy.

Thanksgiving Dinner: We had dinner with my family and then dessert/wine/games with Aaron’s family.  Easily gained 5-10 pounds. But it was so tasty! (and my mom manages to make Thanksgiving dinner look like art!)

Minted Christmas Cards:  Friend (and graphic designer) Katie referred me to Minted for my Christmas cards, and WOW, what a great experience.  I submitted my order, got an electronic proof designed by a real person, enjoyed Thanksgiving (a day when no one works or gets mail), and got my beautiful cards, all within 6 days.  Aside from my wedding invitations, this is the most excited I’ve been to send something out.

The Nutcracker: We went with my family to see The Nutcracker at Popejoy Hall on Saturday.  I  hadn’t seen it since I was 6.  The show, the costumes, the music, everything, was perfect! They even had explosives to keep Aaron interested!

Seeing my house transform into a Winter Wonderland: We won’t buy our live tree until this weekend to make sure it is still fresh for Christmas, but Aaron spent Sunday putting lights on the house, and my Department 56 Dickens Village is out, so it is beginning to look like Christmas around here!

My soon to be gingerbread house: I used to make a gingerbread house every year.  The last 3 years I’ve started and haven’t finished.  In 2008 I was proposed to right in the middle of my baking. in 2009 we were coming down off our wedding/honeymoon and I was just TIRED. Last year…I don’t really have an excuse. But this year I am determined! Baking will start this weekend! (this is my last complete one from 2007).

MEANWHILE….Stuff I don’t Love today: (I tried to stay positive, but…you know).

Comcast.  If they weren’t almost the only option available, we’d switch. They wanted to charge us for something we don’t have access to, and then charge us to fix the problem.

ABC for cancelling Pan Am! That was the only new show I’ve continued to watch this season.  Filled with some of the more independent, intelligent, compassionate, stylish female characters on T.V., I’m sad that I won’t see the flight crew navigate through the social and political turmoil of the 60’s.  Yet Jersey Shore lives on?

Winter Weather: Seriously? 60 mile an hour winds tomorrow? 38 degree highs on Friday and Saturday? Massive amounts of snow? Did I move to Chicago and not realize it? YUCK.

My Training: My next half marathon is in 7.5 weeks…and I haven’t done a long run (or anything except a few 3-4 mile runs) since San Francisco.  Am I trying to sabotage myself? I can’t imagine I’ll be particularly inspired by the Antarctic weather conditions coming up either.

HAPPY DECEMBER!

I Won’t Stop Believing, Journey

Everyone has their  quirks.

Mine just happens to be an obsession with Journey.

Even though I didn’t discover this obsession until well after Journey entered the music scene, and even though the current touring group is sans Steve Perry, and even though I have no idea what the new lead singer’s name is aside from  “adorable little Filipino man”  I cannot help myself.  I am a Journey fanatic.

For my birthday present, I got tickets to the Knight Ranger/Foreigner/ Journey concert this past weekend.  Heaven!

Turns out these 80’s groups still can turn out a nearly sold out crowd!

I didn’t really know anything about Knight Ranger going in, and I still don’t know anything about them.  I recognized one song, but I don’t even remember what it was.  Originally I had called them “Knight Rider” before Aaron called to correct me.  Obviously they made a huge impression…

I was surprised to find out that I am a big Foreigner fan.  I’ve loved their songs, but never knew they were all by Foreigner.  Even though the group that performed should really be a Foreigner “cover” band because they didn’t have an original member in their ranks (the crazy rock star stud of a lead singer has only been with the group since 2005), I’ve decided that they are fantastic and they put on a GREAT SHOW!

Singing "Juke Box Hero"

This is the second time I’ve seen Journey.  I love Journey, but I wasn’t too impressed with their performance or their set list.  Nobody wants to hear stuff off their new albums.  Its not that “City of Hope” was all that bad…it was just unfamiliar.  We just want to jam to “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin.” And long, drawn out guitar solos might work for Jimmy Page or Hendrix, but again, we’d rather be jamming to “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin.”  You can’t sing along to a guitar solo.  This, and knowing that Real Housewife/White House Party Crasher Michaele Salahi was probably playing groupie backstage is kind of making me question if I have an obsession with Journey, or with the Journey of the 80’s.  In any case, I still loved the show (including some fabulous lighting effects), definitely danced the night away with a bunch of middle aged women, and had a wonderful time!

I Wish Every Day Could Be A Summer Weekend

Another great weekend is coming to an end.  We’ve had some absolutely wonderful weekends this summer.  The weather has actually been (dangerously) full of sunshine (great for being outside, not so great for the city’s water supply)  and it seems like there is a never-ending supply of new places popping up around town, and we’ve been trying to get to as many of them as we can in between our regular weekend chores and our long training runs.

Take me to the car wash, baby!

My poor car gets washed about once a year which makes it quite embarrassing to drive around.  Apparently, though, not embarrassing enough for me to do anything about it I guess.  I’d rather spend money on almost anything else than a car wash, and the thought of doing it myself brings up bad memories of high school car wash fundraisers and having to wash dirty, dirty cars for dirty old men who liked the thought of scantily clad teenagers washing their car.  Aaron on the other hand tends to keep his car in much more pristine condition.  Probably doesn’t hurt that he has a much nicer car than I do and drives his around much more than I drive mine.  Because we’ve had about 2 days worth of rain since last summer, we decided it was safe to wash both cars, and I even helped…even though it doesn’t look like I did more than take pictures of Aaron.

Around Town

We probably hang out around Nob Hill every weekend.  We do a lot of our shopping there, and the restaurant/bar selection is great.  This weekend we also took a quick stroll around Downtown.   I try not to hang out in Downtown Albuquerque as much as possible.  There isn’t much there except office buildings and a bunch of bars that we don’t like with crowds that we don’t like.  But there are a few neat little corners of Downtown (The Kimo Theater, Chama River Microbrew, and Gold Street Cafe), and the area is in the middle of what is looking like a fantastic urban renewal.  We even stumbled upon the 2nd location of the cafe that inspired Giuseppe’s name! (The other one is of course in Nob Hill).

One of the new restaurants we tried out was The Slice Parlor in Nob Hill.  We walked by it last weekend during Summerfest, and thought we’d give it a try.  The pizza is New York style (thin crust, big slices), and they have the typical pizza toppings and three different sauces to choose from (tomato, white, pesto).  The food and atmosphere were good, but what Aaron enjoyed the most was the bathroom decor!

All That Jazz

I have been stalking Jazzbah since friend Peter (owner of BRGR downtown) mentioned that a new, upscale jazz bar was opening on Gold.  As the weirdo who listens to more Frank, Nat, and Ella than Katy, Bruno, or Ke$ha, I was quite excited to imagine an entire establishment dedicated to Amy music.  After “liking” their Facebook page I found out about their soft opening this weekend, and would stop at nothing to make sure we got there.

I knew I was in the right place when I saw a huge picture of Frank hanging on the wall, and comfy looking couches surrounding the tables.  In between sets of live music (last night there was a piano player and a bassist), my beloved crooners played in the background.  The menu was surprisingly CHEAP.  The entrees are smaller than the average heaping portions you find most places, but my shrimp entree was $8, so I’m not going to complain.  I think the steak was the most expensive thing on the menu at $16.

The cocktail menu is quite impressive, and our speciality cocktails actually ended up costing more than our entrees.  But our drinks were pretty and tasty, and from what I can tell on the Facebook page, the bartender is kind of a big deal.

 

Jazzbah was great.  Upscale atmosphere, good food at a reasonable price, fancy drinks, classic background music, live music, and couches to relax on while taking it all in.

I really hope that this place not only makes it, but does well enough to not lower their standards.  Albuquerque is in desperate need of places like this that offer an alternative to the usual late night bar scene where you don’t feel overdressed actually wearing a dress or button up shirt and where the music doesn’t involve lyrics so vulgar that you hope your parents (or kids) never hear them.  Jazzbah is having their grand opening tomorrow, and I’m guessing once they get the typical new business kinks worked out (for example our berry flambe dessert didn’t quite flambe because the alcohol wasn’t quite flammable enough), they will find a loyal client base.  I hope to be among them!

And so, there we are.  Another wonderful summer weekend comes to an end as the Lavenders enjoy mojitos (except Giuseppe who is enjoying his frog toy).

Sales, Summerfest, and the Untimely Death of a Musician

First,  I can’t do any sort of weekend recap without acknowledging the death of my favorite modern musician, Amy Winehouse.  I will never forget the exact moment I was introduced to this extraordinary talent.  I was in my senior year of college.  I was in my bedroom one morning getting ready for class with VH1 Jumpstart playing in the background on the TV in the other room.  I suddenly heard this amazing jazzy beat start playing so I stopped what I was doing, went to the other room, and planted myself in front of the television to hear “You Know I’m No Good” for the first time.  I immediately became a devoted follower of this amazing artist.  She managed to take an outdated music form and make it relevant with lyrics far deeper than the upbeat rhythms suggested.  She talked about such serious issues like addiction, alcoholism, and depression without making the listener judgemental toward her or even feel pity for her.  Apparently she also greatly influenced some other major industry staples like Adele and Lady Gaga.  I recently wrote that she was one of my favorite things about Britain, and I always was hoping for her recovery from addiction.  News of her death devastated me on Saturday the way most celebrity deaths do not.  Perhaps listening to her albums made me feel like I knew a deeper part of her, or maybe I know that she could have done so much with her talent, but either way, I think the music industry lost something very special on Saturday.

ANYWAY…. (there really is no good way to transition off of this into the next subject).

This weekend was filled with some crazy shopping experiences.  After getting a 5.4 mile run in on Saturday morning, Aaron and I ventured to the REI Scratch and Dent Sale.  I actually have never been, but WOW.  The sale opened at 9 am, and when we got there shortly before, the line was around the building.  It was a complete mad dash for the best Birkenstocks and camping backpacks.  I helped Aaron grab some stuff, and then made my rounds at about 9:10, and everything was pretty well picked over.  It was kind of like the Day After Thanksgiving for hippy outdoorsy people.  But I can see why.  We snagged a Garmin for $100 and a fuel belt for my half marathon for $20 (regularly $50).  If I had known how crazy it was, I probably would have made my game plan ahead of time and went for the women’s apparel, but luckily Aaron knew just what he was doing, and scored some great deals.

On our way home, we stopped by the Border’s liquidation.  As a true book nerd who is mortified by the thought of e-readers and the lost art of book publishing, I was sad to find out that another book retailer was going out of business.  Admittedly, Borders does charge more than the likes of Amazon for the same product, but, as the weirdo who can spend hours browsing around the literature section, I have one less place to indulge myself.  The sales really aren’t that great yet.  Most books are only 10% (still more expensive than Amazon).  But CDs and DVDs are 20% off and magazines are 40% off.  We mostly grabbed a bunch of magazines, and then waited about 30 minutes in line to purchase.

In the middle of all our sale shopping, we went to Summerfest in Nob Hill.  For Summerfest, the neighborhood closes down Central Ave. to traffic allowing for lots of walking across what is usually a busy intersection.  The convenience was nice, but in all, it wasn’t too exciting.  I know as the event gets bigger (I think this is only the 2nd year that it has occurred), it will draw better vendors and more activities, but for the most part it was kind of like it is on any normal day with more people and less traffic.  It was also windy and rainy when we were there.

Sunday continued our sale shopping madness (after another 5.4 mile run) with a 10% shopping spree at Dillard’s, a perk hat you earn when you spend insane amounts of money  on their store issued credit card.  Dillard’s is really the only department store worth visiting in Albuquerque (we have no Nordstrom and our Macy’s carries about half the inventory that most normal Macy’s carry).  I kinda forgot that 10% off isn’t really a good deal until AFTER my two pairs of shoes were rung up. 10% off isn’t really helpful at all.  But, oh my goodness, I am in LOVE with my new shoes.  I may or may not have been wearing them around the house the last day.  I also bought Aaron a present.  This summer he will be smelling like Justin (Timberlake, NOT Bieber) with Givenchy Play Intense (or Intense Play?).  I figure Justin probably smells pretty good.

BCBGeneration

Vince Camuto

In other news, Giuseppe drank too much this weekend (but really, this was posed and he can’t drink until he’s 3 so no alcohol was actually consumed).  He also got kind of freaked out by the rain storm (like, the first rainstorm in 2 years), and decided peeing on the carpet was a much safer option…7 times in a row.  Back to square 1.  But before then, we had 9 accident free days, so hopefully it will be a fast transition back to being house trained.

Giuseppe, no!

Tailgating, Santa Fe Opera Style

As fore mentioned, my family is a little crazy about the opera

After seeing productions of Tosca and Madame Butterfly, I have a particular fondness for Puccini.  About 10 years ago I was a die-hard Rent fan, and I can still belt out almost every song on the soundtrack (Would you light my candle?), and get excited every time I see Idina Menzel on TV.  But, despite all this, I had managed to go almost 27 years never seeing what is one of the most famous of all operas, La Boheme.  I knew the basic storyline because of Rent, I know most of the music (Musetta’s Waltz = happiness), and thanks to Moonstruck, I hold the belief that this particular opera holds a special power over the people who see it.  

On Friday, I was finally able to experience La Boheme for myself at the Santa Fe Opera.  As much as I don’t LOVE Santa Fe like the rest of the world, I will say that the opera house is stunning with its outdoor theater concept and AMAZING view.  The productions themselves tend to be pretty world-class although I sometimes take objection with their set design.  All in all, it is a treat to be able to go to a show there every year.  Santa Fe’s La Boheme didn’t disappoint.  Even though I would have been ok if Mimi’s death scene was a little shorter, it was a perfect production. 

Not the best picture, but the view from the balcony

Again, not the best picture, but the Santa Fe Opera House from outside

Another unique aspect to the Santa Fe opera is the tradition of the pre-show tailgate.  Much like Seasoned football fans, seasoned Santa Fe Opera-goers have tailgate parties in the parking lot before the show.  Obviously, however,  this isn’t your typical Bud Light and burgers tailgate. 

Tailgaters

New Mexico sunset

I think every security guard needs a scooter

With no dinner plans, Aaron and I decided to try out this tailgating tradition. Turns out Aaron is great at picnic planning. We had sangria, a deli meat selection , a cheese selection, hummas, pita chips, apples, and bruchetta to munch on while enjoying the beautiful northern New Mexico sunset. Thanks to our friends at Trader Joe’s the meal was perfectly pre-packaged and very inexpensive. But even at that, our tailgate didn’t compete with some of the tables we saw complete with table clothes and flower vases. Maybe next year!

Well stocked cooler

Cheese!

 

Our humble table setting

Friends in Low Places

I’ve heard the argument that with a culture of music videos, YouTube and music artists who are computer generated, the live music scene is losing its relevance.  I’m not sure what the stats are as far as concert ticket sales or the number of live music performances now compared to 10 years ago, but Rebecca Black has nothing on sitting in a small venue and listening to an unknown talent work his way through 4 hours of music.

We accidentally stumbled upon Ryan McGarvey about a year ago when we were having some drinks at the Zinc Cellar Bar.  He was a long haired, fairly young blues artist who definitely knew his way around a guitar.  We liked him enough to go to Scalo’s Il Bar just to watch him play an acoustic set a few weeks later.   While the live music scene in Albuquerque is getting much better, we are not too much of a Blues town, so to find a local talented Blues musican was very exciting!

Last week friend Robin invited us out to a blues performance.  The blues singer ended up being Ryan McGarvey, and we absolutely jumped on the opportunity to see him perform again.  

holdmyticket.com

The music venue is called Low Spirits.  I had never heard of it before, and was a little concerned to find out it was on 2nd street between Candelaria and Menaul which is a more industrial, less polished part of town.  Plus, a place called Low Spirits made me envision a shady dark  hole-in-the-wall where unsavory characters hide out in between evil deeds. 

We completely missed it the first drive-by.  The lavender neon sign is pretty dim, and the parking situation is less than ideal.  We parked a couple of buildings away hoping that our car would still be there when we left.

The bar itself was close to what I imagined.  Dark, no frills, skulls painted on the walls.  But the clientele and staff were actually relatively young and lively.  The place was packed with about 150 people.  I only saw two wait staff, but our girl managed to keep our orders straight and wasn’t too inattentive considering the amount of people she was serving.  Low Spirits doesn’t serve food.  The beer list is about what you would expect with one or two craft beers and a lot of bud light, miller light, Tecate, and, if you’re really brave, Milwaukee’s Best.  The cocktails were weak (as in, I’m not convinced my $6 mojito had any rum in it)

My phone doesn't take good pictures

But really, I don’t think most people come here for the ambiance or drink selection.  Low Spirits is a music venue, and I’m guessing the crowd changes based on the act.  If an interpretive mime was on stage, then I don’t think Low Spirits would have any redeeming qualities.  But luckily, Ryan McGarvey was on stage, so the place was tolerable. 

Ryan is a local musician who can sing with a wide range, jam out on the guitar, perform a respectable Jimi Hendrix, and play three sets (5 hours) without losing his voice.  He’s great to watch in person, because he seems so emotionally connected to his music.  The entire place froze with mouths wide open to watch the way his fingers moved.  He is raw, amazing talent, and recordings don’t do him justice.

If live music is losing the battle to virtual video, Ryan McGarvey proves that we should seriously reconsider.  Low Spirits is keeping live local music alive, and even if it isn’t the most glamorous place in the world, I would go there again to enjoy good company and good music.

Farina Pizzeria and La Traviata

Verdi’s opera, La Traviata has the usual storyline: Boy meets prostitute, boy falls in love with prostitute, boy loses prostitute, boy gets prostitute back, prostitute dies in a long drawn out dramatic ending.   But even if the story line sounds like a plot not even Lifetime would touch, Verdi’s amazing music sets this opera apart and makes it my favorite.  In fact I’ve seen it 4 times now.  The chick flick movie buff may actually recognize La Traviata as the opera that Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to in Pretty Woman (probably to emphasize the point that she too is a prostitute).

Albuquerque’s  opera company, Opera Southwest, is running their version at the downtown Kimo Theater (converted from an old movie theater) complete with a beautiful set, amazing costumes and a fantastic soprano in the title role. 

For better or worse, Aaron married into a family that is a little opera-centric.  We go to two productions a year, one here in Albuquerque during the spring and one at the Santa Fe Opera House during the summer.  While both opera companies have very different ways of producing a show, Opera Southwest usually has more extravagant sets and costumes than Santa Fe making the spectacle a little more interesting to watch, plus sitting in the glam Kimo theater almost makes me feel like a 1930’s movie star sitting at a movie premier. 

 

The occasion also let us get a little swankified.  Aaron pulled out his Cole Haan shoes and the cuff links and tie clip that I bought him for Christmas (I savor the rare occasions when he dresses up…the boy cleans up very well).  I also finally wore an Anthropologie dress I bought at Christmastime.  Definitely one of those dresses that I spent too much money on only to wear once a year but I’ve noticed that Anthropologie has that effect on me. 

Before attending a show at the Santa Fe Opera House, it is customary to “tailgate” (usually with wine and steak rather than beer and burgers) in the parking lot.  Because there isn’t really a parking lot directly associated with the Kimo and no definitely no tailgaters, we usually attend a preshow dinner downtown instead.

 

I’m not sure when Farina Pizzeria opened, but sometime in the last couple of years this little restaurant popped up in the “EDo” neighborhood in downtown Albuquerque (What realtors are now calling East Downtown)  on Central a few blocks west of I-25.  While this area of town was constructed before the invention of cars making parking   harder to find, Farina actually shares a large parking lot with the Artichoke Café, so parallel parking/driving over and over around the block isn’t necessary.  On Saturday night there was even a parking lot attendant (tips appreciated but not required).

The result of trying to take an inconspicuous photo with my phone

This is one of those places that suggests Albuquerque is really coming along with the Urban Renewal.  The walls are brick and covered in art, and the restaurant is narrow and cozy giving it a San Francisco feel.  They offer Marble Brewery selections on tap along with a good wine and bottled beer selection.  The menu is somewhat limited…about 5 salad choices and 5 pizza choices along with some other non pizza options, but everything is super tasty and beautifully presented.  While similar to Nob Hill’s Il Vicinio, Farina is a little more under the radar, making it less crowded and more laid back, and everything seems a little more organic.

Verde Salad

Farinia's Saturday Pizza Special

We ended the night with a drive home under the beautifully full moon. 

Happy Spring!

-A&A