Ending the 101

In other goal-related news, I decided last night that I’m ending my 101 in 1001 (which should go until November 9, 2009).


When I started the 101 in Febuary 2007, I was in something of a life funk. I’d been doing the same basic thing for almost a year — same job, same apartment, same social life. It was good as far as it went, but something wasn’t quite working. I figured I’d give myself a motivation to try new things, as well as do some things I knew needed doing, and see if I could figure out what was missing or not working.

Almost two years later, I did figure out what wasn’t working, and my life is drastically different, but mostly because of things I decided to do that were only tangentially related to the 101. I don’t regret setting it up, because it did push me into a mode where I was trying new things, and therefore trying other, different new things was possible. And I did do some neat and needed things — I’m particularly proud of completing goal #25, which was to visit 10 Bay Area regional parks; I started it in March of that year with Sam McDonald County Park and finished this fall with Purissima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve (that’s one new park roughly every two months!). I started contributing to my 401k, volunteered for Bike to Work Day and other SVBC activities, baked birthday treats for work, visited some great places, found a dentist and a doctor, and made pizza on my own.

But many of the remaining goals are more in the spirit of “things I think would be good/interesting to do” than “things I really want to do”, like the transit daytrips and reading lists, while other things I’ve done are things I would have put on the 101 if only I’d known at the time: Waves to Wine, blueberry pie, jigsaw puzzles.

The list will continue to be a great source of future activities for me when I’m looking for something new. But I don’t want to be comprehensively guided by it; I want to be more focused on the things I see as really key and really rewarding. So I’m taking it off the table — for now.

The 101, trimmed

I was starting to find my 101 list very hard to read, especially with all the commentary and editing I had done, so here is the trimmed-down current list. Completed or negated goals removed, including completed parts of goals (so, e.g. sushi and onigiri is now just onigiri), and all goals in edited form only. (I went on an editing spree a while back when I decided I had made this too hard and it was annoying me.)

Reposted from the original, and from 101 in 1001: my list (go there if you want to see where I’m at with commentary/completion dates).

My 1001 days goes until Nov. 9, 2009. When a task is complete, I’ll remove it from this list, strike it out on the original and note the completion date, and perhaps post about it.
I’m substantially behind percentage-wise, but W2W ’08 was not initially on my list of goals, so I’m interested to see what will happen after I finish that.

1. Bake my own yeasted bread.
3. Make vegetarian tom kha gai that I like so much I actually want to make it again right away.
5. Compile all my regularly-used recipes into a personal storage system (database, recipe box, website).
6. Make onigiri.
7. Cook a full Japanese vegetarian meal.
8. Make 20 more Vegan With a Vengeance recipes from among a list of recipes that pop out to me as interesting (recorded elsewhere).
9. Go a whole week without eating random crap as a substitute for any meal. Making progress in understanding why this happens.
11. Find a recipe with barley but no mushrooms that’s tasty and easy.
12. Figure out how to use amaranth so it tastes good.

13. San Diego Zoo
15. Seattle
19. Washington DC and see friends/family there.
20. Yosemite.

Local Interest
24. Hike on Angel Island.
26. See the Monterey aquarium.
27. Camp in Big Sur.
28. Go on 6 more new-to-me stairway walks listed in the Stairway Walks in San Francisco book.
29. Photodocument at least 2 more of the stairway walks.
30. Ride on each of the ten public transit systems that reach the inner Bay Area at least once specifically to see new destinations.
31. Visit the area around the five remaining Caltrain stops I haven’t explored: 22nd St, Broadway, Belmont, Lawrence, and Santa Clara (walk or bike around, go to a restaurant or place of interest).
34. Go wine-tasting again in Napa or Sonoma or Santa Cruz county.
35. Visit 3 more museums in the Bay Area.

37. Give up soda except for at parties/dining out.
38. [private]
40. Make emergency preparedness kit and keep it stocked (rotate perishables).
41. Stop feeling my blood pressure go through the roof when I see cyclists on the sidewalk. I’m making progress on this. Toronto helped, and for a while I thought I was cured, but I still get a strong aversive reaction at first.

42. Ride a century. (Does not have to be in a race.) I’ve ridden several half-century-length rides in prep for W2W 2008. The century will have to wait for next year at a minimum…
45. Ride my bike everywhere I need to go for a week. (No transit or anyone else’s car!)
46. Get a cart for my bike to haul stuff, or a cargo bike, or retrofit current city bike as cargo bike.

51. Grow 3 herb plants for a season.
52. Frame at least 10 of my interesting posters and best photographs.
53. Get a cat.
54. Take another Pilates class and develop a routine I do at least once a week.
55. Get strong enough to do 50 modified pushups (allowed to do 2 sets of 25 but no smaller ones count).
56. Get strong enough to do a bridge.
57. Stretch 3x per week for 1 month.
58. Find a massage therapist and get a massage every 3-6 months.
63. Go running at least 20 mins 1x/week for 1 month.
64. Do Feldenkrais 2x per week for 1 month.

67. Tag all my past LiveJournal entries in both journals.
68. Set up a regular backup routine for my computer.
70. Set up “data guardian” mutuality with someone.
71. Don’t check my email, blogs, etc. at home for one week while not on vacation.

72. Learn conversational French or German and return Spanish to fluent-level.
73. Learn all the countries of the world: name, capital, and location.
74. Meditate 3x per week for a month.
75. Submit a linguistics paper for consideration for a conference or journal.
76. Attend a course about sustainable living (permaculture, etc).
77. Knit at least a scarf.
78. Find a spiritual group that I feel comfortable with and go to a gathering at least six times.
80. Read the book Design Patterns.

81. Volunteer in a non-advocacy way. E.g. Humane Society or teaching reading at the Menlo Park library.
82. Do something where I play at least once a month, like start a clarinet choir with my friends in the area or buy a recorder and play it during lunch breaks.
83. Do/help organize in a board game or dinner party night five times.
84. Draw at least 15 pictures in my art notebook.
85. Procure the complete works of Eddie From Ohio, Carbon Leaf, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
86. Explore my whole music collection and make a list of new artists to check out.
87. Donate blood. (This counts if I go and find out I can’t for some reason. If I can, I have to do it at least twice.)
89. Write to or call [family] at least once a month.
90. Help put the family photo albums into new albums on archive quality paper with labels.
91. Try to negotiate a change in policy by an organization that affects me.

94. Get renter’s insurance.
95. Make a will.

97. Finish watching the complete Buffy seasons. Currently in mid-S3.
98. Read 5 books about modern politics (no biographies).
99. Read all fiction Cory Doctorow has published.
100. Read 8 more books about European history (max 3 more books can be about the UK).
101. Watch two modern movies and read two modern books in Spanish.

101 in 1001 #49: Bike advocacy volunteering: BTWD 2008

So Thursday was Bike to Work Day, for which I was determined to do something more than just biking to work. After all, every day is already bike to work day in that sense. So I decided to volunteer to help out as an Outreach Host for SVBC at an Energizer Station, to provide information and make contact with potential members, as well as to help manage the station.

My first stop was Outreach Training, where I learned what the goal of being an Outreach Host is and how to talk to people about SVBC. It was a fun night with some pizza and meeting other members of SVBC interested in volunteering.

The day of, I had to be at the Energizer Station by 7 at the latest, so I got up at 6:15, hurried through my prep, and made it to Cal Ave with five minutes to spare. The day was scheduled to be almost 100 degrees, so I brought a hat, sunscreen, sandals to change into, and plenty of water. We were between busy and inundated almost the entire time I was there, from 7 to 9:15 or so (after that we were mostly packed up). We gave away all our new VTA maps and many old ones, all our bags, all the bananas, and most of the bagels and coffeecake, along with lots of coupons, goodies, smiles, and support.

I really enjoyed the experience, even more than the Amgen Tour of California bike parking volunteering, which I didn’t count for this goal’s purpose because the Tour isn’t a bike advocacy event, it’s a competitive event. This was all about supporting utility cycling and traveling by public or self-propelled transit (walkers, skateboarders, scooters, and others are, of course, also welcome at Energizer stations). It was nice to connect with other people who have high bike-to-person ratios in their households and commute or do errands with their bike setups. My bike and pannier setup got some appreciation. I saw the full gamut from kids (in bike seats and trailers, or on their own bikes or trail-a-bikes) to roadies (there was a Webcor Alto Velo photo op at the station around 8, a good follow-on from last week’s BTWW kickoff event at Webcor).

It started to get pretty hot around 8:00, and by 9:25 when I headed out to work it was very hot. I had to stop several times on my ride to cool down and guzzle water, and I was not appreciating the conductivity of my metal water bottle. Every time I had to stop for a stoplight in the sun, my self-created breeze disappeared and I felt like I was melting. But I made it to work all right, even with a bagel stop. The bagel shop employees kindly let me bring in my bike and gave me some tape to make sure the bagel bag stayed shut and attached to my bike.

One of the most encouraging things for me is that this year I got a lot more positive response from my coworkers. Two of them already bike to work either regularly or occasionally, and did on Thursday. Another rides a lot but doesn’t normally commute that way, but decided to map it out and ride in for Bike to Work Day. Three more are considering it, and our CEO said he will ride someday when he doesn’t have meetings. I am hoping for a company BTWD later this summer, maybe when it isn’t 99 degrees outside! If we really get everyone who’s considering it we will have 8 out of the 25 people in the office riding — 30 percent. And everyone else at least appreciates the bagels. :-)

The day ended with a trip down to San Jose for the Bike Away From Work Bash at Gordon Biersch. I wanted to bike down, but work called, so I grabbed a Caltrain and enjoyed more conversation with fellow cyclists. I missed the food at the party, but got drinks and good company, and missing the food only provided an excuse to go to Ben’s later, so it wasn’t so bad. I finally got home, tired and happy, around 10:30.

I’m sure this is only the first of many SVBC volunteering events I’ll be doing, and it was a great start.

101 in 1001 #8: 2 recipes from VwaV

I made two recipes from Vegan with a Vengeance this week as planned: orange-glazed beets and sweet potatoes with five-spice and watercress.

Both are good. Beets I’m ambivalent about. Not to put too fine a point on it, they taste a bit like dirt to me. A nicer way of putting it would be to say they have an earthy flavor. But I wanted to give them a chance. The orange glaze is sweet but not too sweet, and mellows them out a bit. Not bad. If I wanted to eat beets regularly I’d probably include this recipe in my repertoire, and given the nutritional profile and cheapness of beets, I probably should. No B12 though — damn!

The sweet potatoes I can rave about unreservedly — the five-spice combines nicely with them, the garlic adds a bit of savoriness, and the watercress a topping of freshness. This is listed as a brunch dish but could really be any meal. You could substitute other light, fresh-flavored greens (arugula and similar), but spinach would be too, well, spinachy, in my opinion.

Both recipes are easy and quick, with most of the work devoted to peeeling and cutting the vegetables and stripping the stems from the watercress; a little more prep for the other ingredients and you stick them in a skillet and cook them 10-20 minutes, and you’re set.

By and large, a double success on this one.

101: revised

I did end up revising my 101 goals, and I’m feeling much better about them. Many of the biggest changes I made were to change “Do all of this” to “Do N of this”, and that had a bigger psychological effect than I realized it might. Knowing that instead of cooking all the rest of recipes from Vegan With a Vengeance I’ve now picked 25 that particularly appeal to me (I plan to do 20 of them) makes me a lot more excited about doing them, because I know they’re the ones I’m excited about. Likewise for Stairway Walks of San Francisco — I know all the stairway walks in that book are nifty, but knowing I can finish that one by just picking a small variety that particularly appeal to me makes things easier, more fun, and more concrete.

In fact, I’ve already got ingredients for two new recipes this week: orange-glazed beets and sweet potato hash with five-spice and watercress. And per Shari’s request I may post pictures, even if it isn’t very photogenic in the end.

101 in 1001: feeling stalled

I’ve been keeping a list of my 101 with all the completed goals removed on my wall over my desk to remind me of what to try next. Today I put up a picture using the same thumbtack that I wanted to look at for a while, of Candace Wiggins (Stanford star basketball player). It was in the Stanford Daily when I picked it up for some light reading recently. I find the picture compelling in its mixture of human power, triumph, joy, and determination. But it also occurred to me that covering over my 101 acknowledges something I’ve realized in the back of my mind for a while: my 101 is stalled.

A lot of things I’ve been trying to get done are stalled, some for boring reasons like I’ve been working a lot or I forgot. But some seem to be stalled because right now I’m not in a mode where I can deal with things that require a lot of overhead. I’ve had trouble trying to get more organized at home and work, trouble getting excited about meal planning and cooking, and been more borderline on timely completion of house and finance chores. I don’t exactly know why that is, though I have a suspicion it’s because I’m dealing with some personal things that require a lot of internal overhead and so I just don’t have a lot to spare to deal with other things.

I also think it’s worth asking myself if I just don’t want to do some of the 101 anymore, or if I need to clean up the goals that are overwhelming so that they’re more manageable. Or if I even don’t want to do the project at all anymore because I need to focus more and having 101 goals (well, about 75-80 now) is just too overwhelming. I did realize that I put a lot of goals that have to be done repeatedly or completely, instead of picking a smaller number of the same thing to complete. The fact that I still haven’t completed about 75% of the goals even though a whole year has passed indicates that it’s not going to add up easily. It’s not supposed to be easy but it is supposed to be fun, and it doesn’t feel fun right now.

And part of the problem is tracking and blogging it, too. I don’t really plan to 100% blog it, but if I skip too much I have a hard time remembering what I’ve done so far and what I haven’t, and then the posts themselves tend to take a long time and are often, I think, a little bit boring because I go into round-ups instead of detailing the interesting aspects of something.

For now I think I’ll try paring it back and see how that goes, but I think won’t be surprised or (ideally) disappointed if I end up needing to focus more energy on a smaller number of things and ultimately not being able to complete it.

101 in 1001 #8: VwaV Chickpea-Hijiki Salad Sandwiches

For probably only the second time ever (the first time was the chickpea broccoli casserole, coincidentally), I’m not really happy with a recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance. The Chickpea-Hijiki Salad Sandwiches (and also, I must say, I am not amused by calling them sammiches — it’s not cute, it’s annoying) are … odd. The concept of the salad is that you add hijiki to chickpeas and standard cold protein salad ingredients (mayonnaise, vegetables) to get a taste and consistency approximating tuna salad. And I like tuna salad. So I bought some hijiki a while back and have been meaning to make this.

But. Although I think it’s probably about as similar as it can get, chickpeas and hijiki are not tuna. The hijiki is black strands of sea vegetable that look disturbingly like worms, and chickpeas are much firmer than tuna (especially homecooked ones rather than canned — I meant to food-process them instead of just mashing by hand, to make up for this, but I decided not to food-process at 11pm in order to not annoy my neighbors). The fishy taste is too much (for my fish-not-loving self anyway) when you get hijiki by itself, and not enough when it’s not in the bite. I also had to put in a bit of mustard to counter the Nayonnaise taste — again, I don’t think this is Isa’s fault since she actually recommends Vegannaise, which I’ve heard is better-tasting, and I could have used soy yogurt instead.

Also, the vegetables are minced onion and carrot, and I’m used to my tuna salad having celery, apples, and pickles. Maybe I should try this again with more resemblance to the tuna salad I actually like — and perhaps food process the combination of chickpeas and hijiki to reduce the worm factor.

At any rate, it’s one worth giving a try to see if you like the combo, and if you aren’t enthralled, see what happens if you change it up a bit. The recipe gets good reviews when I google for it, and a number of suggestions to try other sea vegetables like arame or nori. Though I have to suspect that a good number of these people are vegans who don’t really remember what tuna tastes like. I last ate it only about two years ago, so I’m pretty sure I remember and I’m pretty sure that while this is not far off, it’s Not Really Tuna.

101 in 1001: #2 (pizza) and #60 (tennis)

I knocked off a few more of my goals today, as well as doing my taxes (which were actually pretty easy).

#2: Make my own pizza with no help.
This wasn’t a huge deal because I’ve made pizza a number of times as half a team, but I wanted to do it by myself. I planned to also knock off a few more recipes from VWAV — the tomato sauce, and the potato and tempeh sausage pizza (the pizza dough was already checked off, so this was iteration #2 for it). But my potatoes had started photosynthesizing, so there went that plan. Instead I ended up making the sauce and doing caramelized onions and wilted greens with garlic and a sprinkle of parmesan. It was a really nice combo and I enjoyed it a lot. I did more or less make the sauce from VWAV, though the herbs I changed up a little and the amount of tomatoes wasn’t exactly the same as called for. I thought it was a good base, but I should have put in less liquid, which is probably my own fault. The pizza turned out well anyway; it was nice and crispy on the edges and not really at all soggy in the center. Caramelized onions? Take forever, but totally worth it, especially after deglazing the pan with sherry!

#60: See a live tennis match.
My dad came down to help with taxes, so I mentioned to him that I was thinking of going to see the SAP Open exhibition match tonight. He likes tennis, so he decided to come along, and we had a lot of fun. We got there early and were able to see the end of the day session, which turned out to be a great treat — the players (Jesse Levine and Steve Darcis) were very good and there was a lot of excitement and tension at the end. The exhibition match, between Pete Sampras and Tommy Haas, followed. It was just an amazing thing to watch. Those guys are like poetry in motion, and it was fun to watch Sampras basically just dominate, even after being out of the circuit for a few years (though a tiebreak might have been even more fun). There were some nice long rallies, stunning aces, and great smashes. It’s really better to see in person than on TV. You get more replays and angles on TV. But the grace and power are far more impressive in person. I’m really glad I went, and I’ll probably try to go to more live tennis in the future.

I’m happy to be knocking a few more of these off! I think I’m over 20 now.

101 in 1001 #9 & #10: Eating well

As part of becoming aware of what I’m eating, I started keeping a food diary again. Keeping a food diary for me is sort of like keeping a budget. It’s something very picky and obsessive that I do okay with for about a month or two at a time, which is all I really need to do in order to give myself a baseline. I did one over a year ago when I was having trouble eating enough to stay satisfied, to figure out why. Turned out I wasn’t eating enough breakfast then.

So I decided to try it again, mainly to monitor how much I really am eating, when, and why. When I found out about the B12 stuff, it was easy to add keeping track of B12 to the goals of the food diary. (I don’t keep calorie counts but I do record the type and rough amount of food, so it’s pretty detailed.) Another goal it dovetails well with is my goal #9 for the 101: go a whole month without eating random crap as a substitute for any meal.

This goal, I realized, is one of those that I put in there without really thinking about what that actually means, and how I could accomplish it, besides willpower and record-keeping. It turns out that willpower doesn’t really work for me so well in this area. What I think will work is reasonably alert planning. The whole thing is much more complicated physiologically and psychologically than just saying to myself “Ok, I’m going to just eat three good meals a day now.”

What made me finally realize this was what happened when I volunteered at the Amgen Tour of California Prologue yesterday, parking bikes so that people could walk around safely without worrying about their bikes. It was fun, but hard work, and it messed around with my eating schedule because we were volunteering over lunch. I’d been doing reasonably well since starting the diary, but it kind of broke down yesterday.

Here’s what I ate yesterday (in case you all think I’m kidding when I say I don’t always eat very well):

Pineapple cupcake
1/2 blueberry vegan waffle with tofutti cream cheese spread
Coffee with 1/2&1/2 (1/2 cup total)
1/8 bagel with cream cheese
1 pc cranberry bread
Cranberry Almond Cherry Clif Bar
1 lemon sugar cookie
1 fry
1 potato chip
Veggie burger from stall at PA Amgen Tour (at 3:00 pm)
Butternut squash soup (2 smallish bowls, at 9pm)
2 cupcakes (one dessert and one late snack)
3 pcs TJs English toffee (finished the box)

I ate a lot of random stuff, and I didn’t really need to, and I didn’t really need to eat anything after I had dessert at all, except that for some reason I felt like it. My stomach was upset between lunch and dinner, too.

What I think is going te really help me improve my eating is planning and sticking to the plan more. I did plan for the weird eating: I brought the Clif bar and an apple with me, so I knew that I wouldn’t get too hungry before I could get off to eat something. And I probably should have chosen not to eat the veggie burger at all, because fair food is both expensive and not necessarily well-chosen or -prepared. I wasn’t really that hungry, I just wanted a real meal, and I could have said “I’m going home soon, I’ll have real food when I go home.”

The important part of planning for me is going to be not mainly the logistics, which are not that hard, but the confidence that with planning I’m doing the right thing for myself. One thing I’ve learned with the food diary is that I absolutely need to eat a reasonably-sized nutritious breakfast, and that it’s going to be better if I just stick to a routine most of the time because then I won’t get caught up in other things and forget, or run out, or want to eat something else but not get around to it. Now that I know that, I’m more confident about doing it and about believing that I can make it between breakfast and lunch without eating if I do it.

I’ve also discovered that if I have to go more than four hours between meals I will really want a snack, and if one is easily available I will want to eat it even if I don’t really need it because food will be here in an hour. I also won’t really go more than six hours without food, even if a real meal is only 20-30 minutes away, if there’s something that’s available quickly. So if I don’t eat a snack, and I get home at 7, I’ll eat something random before I eat dinner if dinner isn’t already ready, which will leave me weirdly full and then weirdly hungry later and I’ll eat snacks, and then I won’t sleep as well or be properly hungry for breakfast and the whole cycle repeats. It’s amazing how realizing what I really need in the food department, rather than what society dictates, and planning for it, makes everything run better.

A lot of this also ties in to eating too much too quickly, and that sort of thing. There are steps I can take to work on that, as well, once I understand why I’m gulping (often because I’m very hungry; I can eat a snack occasionally to maintain reasonable hunger levels). So I think I’m well on my way to solving this problem in the long term, not just in the “well, for a month I tortured myself to reach my goal” sense.

Relatedly, #10 I knocked off! At Mudai on Friday, we ordered one veggie combo, and I ate less than half. I was quite full, but I was prudent in how full and ordered and ate wisely, so I consider that one done.

101 in 1001 #88: See the SF Symphony live

A few days ago I got a message from the San Francisco Symphony about a deal they were running on a bunch of concerts: all remaining tickets $25 or $55, if purchased through today. I looked through the list and noticed a couple that interested me, including one that was tonight. Resphigi’s Fountains of Rome was on the program, which I thought I recalled having some good clarinet bits. It turned out I was thinking of the Pines of Rome rather than the Fountains, but I’m still glad I went. Since it was on short notice most people were busy, and I ended up going with my dad. We went out to dinner first, which made the whole thing more of a fun event — definitely needed since it was pouring rain this afternoon and evening. After calling around about a table in a few places in the area (note to self: don’t try to make dinner reservations on a Saturday night in a hopping area of San Francisco starting at 5:30 when you have to eat before a concert at 8), we ended up at a wine bar on Market called Cav.

Unlike going to the SF Symphony, going to a wine bar has never been on my to-do list in life. I like wine, and I’ve learned a bit about it since I moved here, but I’m not into it particularly. Wine people are sometimes snooty, and the food at a wine bar often isn’t the main attraction. Fortunately, this wine bar turned out to be great. It was definitely ‘hip’, but the people behind the bar were friendly and helpful, and the food was excellent. I had butternut squash ravioli with little turnip cubes and swiss chard, and it was really way beyond my expectations. I always like butternut squash, and I figured it would be some nice big ravioli with your standard thick puree inside. Instead, it was the kind of dish you end up dreaming about several years later when you realize you haven’t been back and now the place is closed and you can’t have anymore. The ravioli were small and delicate, the squash filling was pureed and very sweet but light, the turnips were flavorful and not bitter, and the sauce was a clear one, light and salty enough to counterbalance the sweetness of the squash.

I knew that that’s what I was going to have when I came, because it was the only vegetarian entree, so when I was picking a wine I did keep in mind what I’d be eating it with. I ended up picking a pinot blanc from Skylark Wine Company, which was really nice and just as described, fruity with a bit of weight (those are my words — they said something about tangerines and nuts). Funny enough, the guy told me that the wine would go well with the dish. So I guess I’m not as clueless as I sometimes think I am, or else I’m just lucky. We were both right; they went well together.

But to get to the actual point of this post, the concert was excellent. The highlight of the evening actually turned out not to be the Fountains, but rather the Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra by Bruch. The violinist, James Ehnes, was almost certainly the best violinist I’ve ever heard perform. After a while of listening to him I realized that he sounds exactly like I expect a violin should sound. He had an extremely pure and clear sound, and a great deal of precision. Everything was just so, but he was still very expressive as well. I also found it mildly hilarious that he is from Brandon, Manitoba. 1) Canadian! 2) Brandon?! (Brandon, it turns out, is near Winnipeg, actually a town of 50K+ people and the second-largest city in Manitoba, and not all that far from Fargo, in the realm of “places I’ve been”.)

Overall, while I enjoyed the concert a lot, I found the SF Symphony less mindblowing than I suppose I had expected. I think it’s because I’ve been terribly spoiled for hearing excellent orchestras, from NMSO to the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra, from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to the UC Berkeley University Symphony Orchestra. The SFS is definitely a cut above all of these, but it’s also costly and doesn’t provide me with good seating pretty much automatically. Yes, I said I was spoiled.

Still, I was highly impressed. It’s everything a top-notch symphony should be, plus a certain extra delicacy of touch and increased precision. I particularly noticed that the orchestra only once got to the volume where music, for me, disintegrates into noise. This tends to happen to me fairly often during loud pieces, but they definitely brought the intensity without bringing the noise.

The principal woodwinds (the only ones I’m really fit to judge) are definitely mindblowingly good. The clarinettist was highly fluid and navigated incredible intervals without the slightest squeak. The oboe and English horn tones were distinctively double-reed without being nasal in the least, and the bassoonist executed some amazing high notes. The flute solos were smooth and clear.

I also tremendously enjoyed watching Vladimir Ashenkazy conduct. I love his playing (many of the piano recordings I have are of him) and so it’s a treat to see what he can do in another realm. He has clear and descriptive movements, but doesn’t seem to have to exhort the orchestra as some conductors do; he has the kind of energy that often results in dancing conductors, but with a groundedness that keeps the music stable and him from actually dancing off into the air.

To top it off, the symphony hall is also quite beautiful. The place is pleasantly warm from pink tones without being too pink, and the organ behind the orchestra is amazing to look at. I can only imagine how it must sound! From the outer lobby, you get a view of City Hall.

I’m looking forward to going back to see them in May, this time for Brahms’ German Requiem, which I absolutely adore. If that doesn’t blow my mind, I don’t know what will.