leisure, travel

A quick trip report – annual Shakespeare Festival trip

Third annual trip to Cedar City to see the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Here are the highlights of another amazing trip.

  • Recall we go with the Selwoods, great friends, my former boss. This was their year to drive. One year, I want to hire a driver for the whole weekend.
  • This year, I got to exchange books at Main Street Bookstore. Picked up an eclectic mix of new books, including a cool “bracket” book where they take any topic and do “bracketology” with it (like best chick flicks, or animal food mascots), while Joyce stayed true to her romance books by getting Beauty and the Beast.
  • We made the annual visit to IronGate Winery, but this year they are in their new location, which is beautiful. A first class wine room.
  • This year we had dinner at Milt’s, which is sort of a legendary local steakhouse, on the way to Brianhead. We took advantage of free corkage as well, and all had a great time except Joyce who still likes exactly one restaurant in Cedar City – Centro Pizza. Oh, and the Chick-fil-a in St. George, where we stopped on the way up. We had The Fugitive and Kim Crawford for wines.
  • The next night we of course went to Centro, once again with free corkage and an amazing meal of salad and two pizzas, plus gelato. The Paring and Four Graces were the wines.
  • The two plays we saw were Romeo and Juliet and Guys and Dolls. Both were quite good. We barely got the end of Romeo and Juliet in with an impending thunderstorm, and then ran back to the hotel in a downpour. Fun!
  • Our hike was back to the Alpine Pond trail (same as two years ago), and it was lovely. Of course we grabbed coffee at The Grind before the drive up. Bob and Ginny make the absolute best rollup sandwiches for snacks, and this year we drank a lovely Josh rose wine. At the visitor center, Bob bought a lifetime all-National Park pass for $10 (cool senior rate), and we looked at the sun through two super powerful telescopes, something I’d never done before (they are getting prepped for the eclipse).
  • The BrianHead beer and spirits event wasn’t as good as last year in terms of variety of vendors, but the band was good (Closure, based out of St. George)and, hey, it’s fresh mountain air!

That’s a pretty quick summary. My favorite part of this trip is having an “anchor” deep in the summer that we can look forward to, knowing we will be with great company and relax as much as possible. We are already planning for next year – might stay at a different Best Western than the one from this year and last, will we ever find a restaurant Joyce likes other than Centro, should we go up earlier, and maybe try a matinee one day? These are all things to look forward to for next year!

 

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leisure, personal

Restaurant Review – Other Mama

Other Mama is a Japanese/sushi restaurant near Desert Breeze Park (Durango and Twain, near one of my favorite sushi spots, Sen of Japan). It has been open for a couple of years under the direction of Chef Daniel Krohmer. It is one of several relatively new (post-recession-recovery) restaurants in the west/southwest part of town that are making this area somewhat of a mecca for quality cuisine off the Strip; see for example Pier 215, Andre’s Bistro, DW Bistro, Ohjah Noodle House, Komex Fusion. We have seen this trend in waves before in areas like Green Valley/Anthem and along Spring Mountain Road. I look forward to seeing how this one plays out also.

To summarize my review: I’ve heard and read so many good things about Other Mama that I had pretty high expectations. Other Mama met or exceeded all of them. A truly great dining experience.

Now let’s be clear, it’s not overly fancy – in food or décor. It definitely feels like a neighborhood place, but a hip neighborhood place, I felt vibes of Santa Monica or a place like that. We went with a group of six, and I think it’s definitely one of the new style restaurants that is better with a group so you can order more of the largely sharable dishes.

DRINKS:

Beverages are outstanding, with inventive cocktails like the Svetlana, made with horseradish vodka which I had never tried before. Typical beer and wine selection including sake. And a host of Japanese whiskeys which is always a positive.

FOOD:

Raw options were outstanding. The sashimi is very fresh, well presented. Oysters were lovely and were accompanied by unique sauces along with the traditional cocktail sauce and mignonette. Tuna tartare was very nice, served in a mason jar and waffle fries to spread it on. But the highlight for me was the ceviche, also served in a mason jar, alongside light tarot-type chips. Perfectly refreshing, a bit of spice, and mango for sweetness.

Other small dishes were also good. Chicken wings were flavorful and had the right “snap” to them. Chicken fried lobster was perfectly balanced, the light batter not overwhelming the quality lobster. The kimchi fried rice was outstanding, once you got the egg and poke belly properly mixed into the piping hot rice.

The highlight of the meal for me was the New York steak, served sliced with a miso hollandaise sauce on top and accompanied by more waffle fries. It was like a Japanese version of steak frites and it was sublime. The steak was incredibly tender, the fries the exact right thickness, the perfect amount of sauce.

DESSERT:

Japanese cheesecake was different, not sure I loved it but I liked it. Sort of dry and spongy. Then we had an amazing (literally the best brownie I’ve ever had I think) brownie with ice cream. Our final dessert was a scoop of “Miso Honey” ice cream – fantastic, plus the jokes about its name and a link to a certain rap song from the 1990s lasted well beyond the table that night. All of course were well accompanied by the Japanese whiskey.

I highly encourage you to get to Other Mama for a meal. I think you will find it very satisfying the level of quality a neighborhood restaurant can create.

fun, leisure

Strip photo 1991 – redux

Last time I posted this photo courtesy of @classiclasvegas. The photo is an aerial shot of the Strip, largely the west side of the Strip, from just north of The Mirage. Of course, the Mirage had just opened a couple of years earlier.

strip 1991

My challenge to you was to find/list/share interesting things from the photo. Here are some things I found:

  • The old Dunes golf course where Bellagio, CityCenter, Monte Carlo and T-Mobile Arena are now.
  • In the very bottom of the photo, there is just a parking lot for The Mirage, where TI (Treasure Island) stands now. I remember parking in that vast lot (which extended past the photo all the way to Spring Mountain Road).
  • There are not one but two temporary outdoor arenas in this photo. The classic Caesars Palace arena where they did major boxing matches and tennis matches. But when The Mirage opened, Steve Wynn had the goal to take a big chunk of that business. The one at Caesars kept getting encroached on by new hotel towers (see next bullet) and larger pools and parking garages. The one at The Mirage got overrun by a bigger convention center.
  • Caesars Palace has evolved so much – even at this point it was much bigger than when it opened; but look at all that has happened since this photo:
    • No more Omnimax (do you remember the Omnimax???), now it’s the Colosseum;
    • I don’t see the Forum Shops in this photo.
    • The Augustus and Octavius towers were both built after this photo.
  • The MGM Grand is not yet a reality. You can see the Marina Hotel in the top left of the photo, which was retained as part of the MGM Grand (the West Wing), and behind that is the old Tropicana golf course. How ironic that after 26 years of development, and a theme park (oh my gosh, we had a real-life theme park in Las Vegas!!), we are back to using that land for golf, in a slightly different form as TopGolf.
  • Look at the median of Las Vegas Boulevard – there were a lot less lanes and much more “stuff” in the median.
  • On the far left you can see the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, now the AXIS at Planet Hollywood.
  • Farther south, no Luxor or Mandalay Bay yet.
  • Something is getting built near Harrah’s and the Imperial Palace (now Linq), I’m not sure what it is.

I’m sure I’m missing a bunch, but what a great way to realize how much Las Vegas has grown and adapted over time.

 

leadership, leisure, personal

The most important time we spend

One thing I’ve struggled with since spring 2015 when I was asked to take on a role leading our arena management team, and then in 2016 leading our larger entertainment division, is where to spend my time. I have also been asked several times recently about the related global topic of work/life balance.

First a preface – I feel incredibly honored to work with the team I lead. Not because of the role or title or anything that comes with the job. I just genuinely love working with the people I work with. I don’t know if it’s luck or what, but I’ve felt that multiple times in my career – three distinct roles at MGM Resorts and my time in public accounting at Arthur Andersen. In each case, I really looked forward to going to work. There have been times between those periods where I didn’t have that feeling and I’m glad the vast majority has been the other way.

Similarly in our personal lives (certainly mine), there have been times when I have truly enjoyed the people around me and others not so much. So the first thing I often tell people when they ask about the next topic – work/life balance – is be around people you like (family, friends, loved ones, kids when they are behaving, etc.) and find a job or career you can be passionate about. As a bonus, hobbies that give your mind time to breathe and rest from the first two are nice also.

As I mentioned, work/life balance, or what I sometimes refer to as work/life integration, is something several people have asked me about lately. Interestingly, I’ve noted a trend – those who are my peers never or rarely ask me about it (and vice versa), we only ask each other questions about where to prioritize our work time. We must assume that by now we’ve either figured work/life balance out or just given up, like we can’t make adjustments anymore (no new tricks for the old dog). The folks that ask about it are those who are earlier in their career, maybe they are just starting a family and wondering how to manage everything or just starting a new role where they anticipate the hours may get longer.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed, you have to spend time thinking about time. Every week I try to look ahead in my calendar, it’s usually Sunday, so I’m checking Monday (to ensure the week doesn’t get off to a bad start), that week, and maybe 1-2 weeks forward:

  • Where are the weeks with three dinners scheduled? Because I’m going to find the one I don’t need to go to, so I can ensure quality time at home?
  • Where am I double booked, or too many back-to-back meetings with no travel or down time (to recharge, since I’m an introvert)?
  • What has snuck onto my calendar that just isn’t value add time for me?
  • Have I ensured that all my personal commitments – must do like a dentist appointment, or want to do like a Sunday movie with my wife – are included?

One thing I like to tell them that they simply have to look at the pros and cons of work requirements as they move into leadership roles. Sure I’m expected to be “available” pretty much 24/7, but I also have significant control over my time. My boss does not feel like he needs to approve my hour away from work for a dentist appointment, or when I arrange a work trip to meet partners and take a side trip to see family. I also have some control over who I meet with and when; for example, I love having lunch with former colleagues, or current friends (many times those are the same people!). And my favorite time is often when I get to teach, like when we do coffee chats with the staff.

So based on all that, it sounds like I have it all figured out. But I don’t, so here is where I am struggling, and therefore focusing:

  • I am not prioritizing enough at work, and with my leadership team. Too many balls in the air, and more harmful, too quick a pace of adding new balls – in other words, we aren’t being selective and critical and disciplined. Action to correct: Next 1-on-1 meeting, all the big and medium projects on a list, and we don’t leave the room until we feel comfortable we’ve “thinned the herd.”
  • I sometimes fall into a trap of not respecting my wife’s time at night. If we have an event, or a work function, I mis-judge how long it will take, setting expectations that will lead to disappointment, and I am inconsistent about calling to let her know the timing has changed. Action: Think about each instance before it happens, set time realistically in my calendar, alert her weekly as to what is happening and when, and set reminders to call. I just have to be disciplined, and maybe you have an area in your life where telling yourself to do it just isn’t cutting it. So…look to use tools at your disposal. If the above doesn’t work, I am going to engage one of my team to be my “coach” in this area, and empower them to remind me to leave, or call, or whatever action is required over a period of time until it becomes a habit.
  • I am not doing terrible with this next one, but I periodically notice that I am not engaging “deeply” with those close to me – my wife, my friends, my key leaders on my team. Action: Take extra time leaving an interaction. With my wife I noticed it yesterday morning as she was leaving for work, and I was headed to the airport for a three day work trip. I did the same hug and kiss I might give for a “normal” day when we will see each other that night. I realized it was that “perfunctory” goodbye we all often do. But that’s not good enough, and frankly I want to have a meaningful interaction EVERY time we leave and then see each other again. So we stopped, enjoyed just being with each other for a few moments, and ensured we were being meaningful to each other. And I realized that while I don’t hug and kiss the men and women who work for me, some of the lack of prioritization noted above has me distracted when we are talking or working on something – and they deserve all of me, and the best of me. So I am trying to trigger myself to stay in the moment, and doing tricks like putting my cell phone somewhere else when we are chatting.
  • Finally, I am still working to integrate hobbies into my time. Maybe it’s the closest thing to a New Year’s resolution for me. So far this year, my wife and I have seen two movies, and I’ve golfed once and gone to the driving range twice. It’s a start. For me, as mentioned above, these things are important as they give me a mental break, something hard for me to find otherwise.

Obviously my problems are not your problems. But what I know is that no one has this figured out and sometimes it helps to see or hear someone else’s story. Even if me and my peers won’t ask each other about it, or when we get together for beers we bitch about other stuff and not our failings in this area, this is a problem for many of us and we need to spend more of our time, energy and focus on it.

So if seeing my problems (and the extent of self-reflection and intentional planning I put into managing my time) helps you, then I am glad to have written this post.

 

leisure, sports

Dealing with failure

I am headed to the College Football Playoff championship game in Tampa, Florida. I know, tough job. I could be closing the year-end books and preparing the SEC reports right now. Just remember, I actually have work meetings during the trip and will miss my wife terribly, so not all roses. But yes, I will enjoy great hospitality and hopefully a great football game.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead I want to write about dealing with failure.

Visiting the athletic directors this weekend (the reason we are here is to meet with them, the athletic directors are members of an association and they hold meetings during the CFP weekend and we are a sponsor of their association) reminds me of how excellent they are at dealing with failure. Their coaches as well. I admire their resolve, maybe because it’s much more difficult for me.

You might call me a sore loser. Luckily as I’ve aged it’s toned down (no more throwing the monopoly board at Mom after she charged me rent for the hotels she built on Pennsylvania Avenue) and what remains is relatively healthy competitiveness. But I still wouldn’t make a great sales person, where they fail far more often than they succeed. I just don’t handle loss or rejection well.

And there is no way I could be a college athletic director or coach. I am the guy that takes two days to get over my team losing – and I’m just a fan! Coaches have literally hours or minutes to come to grips with the loss that just occurred and refocus themselves, their staff and their players on the next opponent and the next game.

I saw Gene Smith, athletic director for “the” Ohio State University, a few weeks ago in Las Vegas – his basketball team was playing at T-Mobile Arena in the CBS Sports Classic. He was as social, jovial, courteous and professional then as all the other times I’ve been around him. Just a class act. The thing is, his football team just suffered a really tough loss, they weren’t really competitive in the Fiesta Bowl/CFP semi-final game against Clemson. Yet when I see him this weekend, I know he will be the same friendly, professional and jovial Gene Smith I am used to. I admire him for this, and I know there are many ADs and coaches just like Gene. We can all learn from them.

I know there are some key drivers of their ability to be resilient. Gene is very grounded in family; he posts the best pictures of his grandkids on twitter!

Gene also takes a long-term view, he views his job as a being that of a steward building a program. That “program” mentality is common among great leaders – it’s a great thing to win a championship, even a one and done – but it’s much better to build a long-standing program that regularly competes at the highest levels.

And folks like Gene don’t “do” life alone. They rely on their peers (who perfectly understand their situation) and their families (who DON’T CARE about their situation because they love them unconditionally.

These are lessons we can all take to heart and apply in our own situations. I am still pretty steamed that my Denver Broncos didn’t make the playoffs though – gonna take some more time to get over that one.

 

leisure, personal

It’s a complicated world

How are our brains supposed to keep up in this day and age? How can we process horrible deaths and incredibly sensitive racial and other societal issues one week, and the next try to understand how an augmented reality game is supposedly changing the world of entertainment as we know it?

I know our brains have probably matured and become better through evolution, but it sure feels like the outside world is moving faster.

Thank goodness cars will be driving themselves soon – I can free up that brain space for other functions. Except the brain doesn’t seem to work like that either, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to recall the entire lyrics for “Ice Ice Baby” almost 30 years later.

I was at a speech by a wellness consultant/coach and she said our sleep ritual needs to be 45 minutes, and reading doesn’t count as even though it relaxes you physically, and depending on the book mentally, it still is stimulating the subconscious; hence my weird dreams sometimes I guess. So I know the brain is working hard if it needs a 45-minute cool down from its daily workout.

I guess we all try to create our own little bubbles where we can. I recall, for example, being much more interested in small stock price movements for our stock and our competitors when I was in corporate finance; as though every $0.08 drop in our stock price was a damning conviction of some strategy we had just put in that no one even knew about; or that a competitor’s stock price going up must mean they have been paying off analysts. Now that I am in a more operational role, I rarely focus on stock prices, trying to stay in my bubble of doing things that should actually move the stock price.

Luckily my brain can get some different exercise now – flashbacks to childhood as ABC is running Family Feud, $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game shows all summer; yes, my brain still kept all the old episodes in its head so it better make some room (it was so hot…HOW HOT WAS IT? It was so hot that Frosty’s BLANK fell off).

I hope your brain an get some rest and relaxation this summer, we may need it going into election season. You never know when Trump is going to BLANK himself on twitter.

 

leisure, personal, travel

Summer Days

Yikes, summer came early in the southwest this year, us in Vegas included (though I REALLY wouldn’t want to be in Phoenix this weekend). I think this happened last year too, and the rest of summer actually was more mild than usual (at least that’s what I recall), so maybe that will happen again. Hopefully for now you are near a pool, or somewhere else to stay cool.

Last weekend we got to “escape” to Southern California and enjoyed seeing everyone start to turn the corner into summer in their own ways – volleyball on the beach, camping by the shore, walks along the strand, drinks at the beach-side bar.

I got a chance in the last couple of days to spend some time with some friends for drinks and dinner and also with some friends golfing – yes we played in the morning and yes it was still super hot.

The friends we had drinks and dinner with had young kids, four total ages 5 to 8. When we arrived they were throwing themselves into the pool with reckless abandon. I remember those days, school just out, not a care in the world, and I noted to the parents how lucky they were that summer had arrived so the kids would be guaranteed almost every day to tire themselves out this way and plop right to bed later. We also had grilled ribs and corn, great choices for a summer night.

Our golf group was one where we have played together several times in the past, so we were just totally comfortable with each other. You know, able to razz each other about bad shots without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings. Beers always taste better at golf, plus no need for restroom breaks and no drunken feelings when you are just sweating it out as you go.

Then I got to relax at home in my own pool with my loved one. Summers spent with a book and a journal, comfortable surroundings and supportive and peaceful companionship. This is the good stuff.

Maybe it’s because I’m from Las Vegas and so I’ve always been a warm weather person, but I love summer. It’s great for me to capture some of the summer days of the last two weekends, I can refer to them in November when the cold and nastiness of winter (yes even in Las Vegas) makes its presence known. I hope you get to take time to savor some summer days, with your own perfect pastimes to go with them.