Archive for June, 2008

Oyster adventures north of city

a successfully shucked oyster

This weekend we went to Tomales Bay to eat oysters for K.’s birthday. This was a little intimidating, as I was concerned about the shucking process — Would we be able to eat any oysters at all, or would we just end up tossing ours back into the bay in frustration? — and that perhaps I would be a bit squeamish about the whole situation.

As it turned out, with a little practice, shucking oysters isn’t that hard, and, mostly, I wasn’t squeamish, although I did mention to K. that this was as close to hunting as I’d ever come. But the whole thing turned out great. In fact, I’d say that this was one of our best daytrips yet.

We hung out at Tomales Bay Oyster Company, which we’d heard got pretty hoppin’ with with families picnicking in the afternoons. And it was crowded, but we found table right away and set up shop. And, in a nutshell (or make that an oyster shell), it was awesome. Here are the pictures.

I’d also be willing to try Drake’s Farms Oysters, which we visited, as long as we took the oysters to a better picnicking spot. We like the idea of going to Hearts of Desire beach or the Vista Point picnic area in Tomales Bay State Park, too, so maybe that’s what we’ll try next time if we want a bit quieter dining experience.

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Originally uploaded by evh711.

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The opera at the ballpark.The opera at the ballpark.

On the topic of marriage

So, last week I mentioned that we paid for our marriage license. We have an appointment to pick it up next week, and intend to “solemnize” it sometime later this summer. But let me reframe this a little: We are not getting married for the first time, nor are we having another wedding. We’ve already had our wedding, and we’ve been married for a while now. We have pictures and paperwork to prove it. Here’s a picture right here:

and another:

However, we have decided to register our marriage with the state of California, and we’ll have a civil ceremony of some sort to make it official.

When it was announced last month that same-sex couples would be allowed to marry in California, neither K. and I were very excited. Of course, there was also the announcement that right-wing groups were already well on their way to getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ban equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and it just seemed like another chance to be disappointed and frustrated. We didn’t go out and party in the Castro the night it was announced, and we didn’t plan on getting ourselves a marriage license.

I know we’re not the only ones who weren’t particularly over the moon about this. There was a great story in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle profiling people who got married last time San Francisco had weddings, in 2004. Here’s a quote from that story, talking about a couple that has been together for 32 years:

“Here we go again,” was C.C. Manning’s first thought watching TV news reports about the state Supreme Court’s May 15 ruling granting gay and lesbian couples the right to wed.

Her response wasn’t cynical so much as weary. … “After a while, it becomes just so much bull-, pardon me,” she said. “You get tired of being rejected so many times. How long will these religious groups not want to share their happiness with other people? What have we done to destroy the religious feelings these people have? A lot of these homosexuals are Catholics, they go to movies, go out to dinner, go to lunch have friends…”

“… they volunteer in their communities,” Strugnell [her partner] interjected. “We do all the things that everyone else does. We want the same happiness everyone else does.”

Anyhow, you can read the story and get the picture. This sort of thing gets tiring.

Nonetheless, after hearing from our friend L., a lawyer who pointed out that the legal decision was very important, in that it forces any discrimination by the state on the basis of sexual orientation to be subject to “strict scrutiny” by the courts; and that it was unusual in its many references to diginity and respect, we did take heart. We also know now that marriages performed before the November elections will probably not be nullified even if an anti-equality amendment passes; and that these marriages will also be recognized in New York state; and that polls are now showing that more than 50 percent of California voters are actually in favor of marriage equality.

So, basically, we’ve decided to allow a bit of cautious optimism to seep in and participate in this historic movement by getting legally married in California.

The weddings start today in San Francisco at 5:01 p.m., the earliest time the law allows. The first people to be married legally will be the first people who were in line in 2004, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, activists who have been together for 55 years. And you don’t call that a marriage?

The high price of gas

This morning I stopped on the way to work to fill up my scooter and gas was a whopping $4.699 a gallon, making this my most expensive fill-up to date – $7.32 cents.

I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if I’d filled up my old Volvo V70 this morning. I’m sure I would have paid over $60. I miss having a car sometimes, but right now, it’s easy to be pretty psyched about not having one.

I’m seeing a lot of Smart cars these days. Walking home from work on Wednesday, I saw three. Two in Hayes Valley:

and then in the Mission:

These theoretically get somewhere in the 33-40 MPG range in the city, so the scooter is still a better bet … but they’re interesting. And relatively cheap – $12-$18K. I don’t have one on my list of things to buy, though — I’m happy with my scooter-plus-Zipcar lifestyle for now.

Gas isn’t the only thing I bought today. I also bought a marriage license. But more on that later.

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At Murphy’s to have a hot hamburger with gravy over all.

My first ukulele is for sale

Beginner Uke Set for Sale – $35

UPDATE: This little uke has found a new home! Sold.

I’m ready to release the first ukulele I bought out into the wild, along with enough accessories and good stuff to get some other beginner started. I plan to put the money from this sale toward the purchase of a cheapo baritone uke I’ve been reading good things about on the EZFolk forums.

Here’s what I’m selling:
A Santa Rosa soprono uke (here’s an example).
Not a bad little uke at all; especially when you put good strings on it.

Upgraded with
Aquila Nylgut strings.
These seem to be the majority string of choice on every uke forum I’ve been to, although there are other good strings out there. These are about a million times better than the strings that came on this uke. Sound quality and volume are both really affected by the quality of the strings you use, and switching to Aquila strings is a notable upgrade for any cheap uke.
– a metal strap button on the bottom, in case you find you want to use a strap that doesn’t hook into the sound hole.

And to round out this package:
A chromatic pitch pipe (it’s important to have the tools to tune your uke, but this one stays in tune; see below).
A Jumping Flea Collar Uke Strap (except that this one has a flame pattern, which is way hipper looking than any of these shown here, I don’t know why they discontinued it).
– A felt pick. I haven’t use these much myself, but some people like them. You should try one just to hear how they sound.
– A CD including PDF versions of uke chord charts and tips, plus hundreds of songs with chord diagrams for soprano ukuleles. This is really the most awesome part of this package.

Why buy a cheap uke to start out? Basically, because it’s cheap, and playing a cheap uke is still a great experience. You could try to pick out your first really wonderful ukulele before you ever learn to play one, but, honestly, picking up a cheapo and learning that you really can play it gets you excited about the instrument and, if/when you choose to upgrade, you’ll have a better grasp on what you’re looking for when you shop. You won’t be relying just on a bunch of web reviews and forum posts; you’ll have your own experience as well. Plus, obviously, you’ll have more money in your pocket to spend, since you’re not blowing a bunch on your first uke.

You’ll read that some cheap ukes won’t stay in tune, but this isn’t the case with this uke. It stays in tune for weeks, even months at a time. Anytime you put new strings on an instrument, you’re going to have trouble with it staying in tune for a while, but these strings have settled in and won’t give you that problem — and you won’t want to change out these any time soon, because they’ve been nicely upgraded.

However, there are some caveats. For example — and I suspect this is a problem with a lot of cheaper instruments — you may notice that as you play chords, some sound a little sharp as you play down the neck. If you have perfect pitch, this might annoy you. My ear wasn’t even tuned to notice this when I started, but I do notice it now that I upgraded to a better quality ukulele. (I checked with an electronic tuner and my new uke also isn’t 100 percent on key at every fret. Maybe if you buy something in $800+ range that diminishes even more, but that’s a bit out of my price range.)

Another thing to note is that cheaper ukes are simply a little harder to play than higher quality ones. By that I mean that you tend have to press a little harder to make the chords play without a buzz. If this is your first fretted instrument, you probably won’t notice this. If you’ve been playing on somebody’s Kamaka for a while and then switch to this Santa Rosa, yeah, this could be a problem. I personally found that I gripped and pressed really hard when I started out, hard enough that my thumb got sore! My solution was that I started using a strap so I didn’t have both hang on to the uke itself and play it too, and the pain went away. Thus, with this uke package, I’m including a strap, complete with rock-star flames, that hooks into the sound hole; I’ve also added a strap button to the bottom of the instrument itself in case you want to use something fancier. (I use this one now.)

That’s my list of pitfalls. If you spend another $100 bucks or so, you might avoid some of those, but — and this is a guess — you’ll still find yourself wanting to buy another higher quality instrument after you get some experience. My path to success was to go cheap at first and then upgrade more significantly. (By “success” I mean I play the uke and enjoy it; I certainly won’t be going pro anytime soon.)

With this stuff and the help of beginner uke sites on the Web, you can be playing your uke within an hour of picking it up. There’s a ton of helpful sites out there, but I’ll list a few to get you started.

Pineapple Pete
EZFolk Tutorials
Funny Starter Tutorial
Learning Uke with Benny

However, if I was starting over again, I’d still buy a book. I had both “Mel Bay’s You Can Teach Yourself Uke” (I found a cheaper copy without a CD, which was fine) and “Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes” both of which were a great help.

Anyway, I spent about $70 accumulating the stuff I’m selling now for $35. I invite you to purchase it, learn to play and enjoy making music on it, then upgrade and send this one back out into the world for somebody else to learn on. Drop me a line if you’re interested.