Uke Your Way to Happiness

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When I bought my first ukulele on a whim a number of years ago I never imagined I would end up buying two more and playing uke performances every few months in Los Angeles California of all places! But since then, the uke has transformed into so much more than just a cute yet mostly decorative instrument that I “should learn to play some day”. That “some day” is now and I’ve been taking group lessons for nearly two years in Manhattan Beach at Dietz Brothers Music School. Let me tell you something, music lessons are not just for kids, silly rabbit. They are for everyone of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. It’s not just an instrument for people who spend most of their time on the beaches of Hawaii either. The only thing it requires is a love of music… well practice and a little patience too. 

  
Such a sense of fun and nonjudgmental acceptance by a group of people brought together for one reason: to learn and play the ukulele! I love that our teacher is less about theory and all about about playing. She teaches us theory along the way, but we get the instant gratification of learning new songs every week at class. The school is very close to my place, class starts later in the evening so I’m not being rushed through rush hour AND I get to bring Elliott, who has become the class mascot. What’s there not to love about this set up? 

Music has been an integral part of my being since the womb, I’m sure. And a life without music would be a terribly sad existence. I played the recorder for the Recorder Society in elementary school, and then went on to be the first chair floutist in the State of Colorado through Colorado Honor Band and now, many moons later, here I am strumming and singing a wide assortment of hits, both past and present, on the ukulele. I can certainly say, your brain will never dull while learning something new like an instrument. Man, it sure takes some hand/eye/brain coordination to pull this all together and I’m hardly a pro, but I do okay! Of course I practiced my other instruments a lot more and didn’t have an office job to drain my brain like I do now, but such is life, right? Hell, if a woman 20+ years older than me can learn to play the banjo then I can surely learn the ukulele.

  
The point I’m trying to make is, these little 4 (and 6) stringed pieces of carved wood have brought me such joy, accomplishment, belonging and happiness while feeding music to my spirit on a regular basis and then, every so often, I get to perform a few songs within the safe confines of a group for others to enjoy. And if and when I’m lucky, I can wrangle up someone I know to come watch!  

After last night’s performance, I just felt the need to share my love of music from a different perspective than my usual concert replay. Playing an instrument as an adult is highly underrated and is a somewhat untapped source of happiness that every single human could benefit from. Don’t just listen to other people’s music. Make your own music! It’s good for the soul! 

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Rice Sake & Real Food: Barioishii!!

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Last minute visit from a couple of friends this weekend and I scrambled a bit at first wondering where we could possibly eat on a Saturday night with no reservations to be had? That is, until I remembered RICE Sake and Real Food on Manhattan Avenue and 9th Street in downtown Manhattan Beach. I called and of course they gladly made room for us. How can you not love a place with such friendly and outstanding service right from the start? Not to mention being far enough away from the crowds of people a few blocks over enduring two-hour wait lists at other establishments. Ridiculous.
RICE is housed in a classy, simple and quiet atmosphere. Definitely not pretentious, loud or overcrowded. You are greeted at the door and treated with 5-Star customer service all the way.

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Owner Hiroyuki Igarashi, born and raised in Tokyo, Japan spent 10 years working in Los Angeles restaurants and mentoring under some of the best before stepping out and opening his own place in 2012. RICE offers healthy, vegan and macrobiotic food with no use of chemical preservatives, artificial colors, or chemical seasonings. All dishes are created originally and made to order from scratch using organic ingredients whenever possible. And this attention to every last healthful detail shows. The brussels sprouts and Kabocha pumpkin appetizers are beyond equisiste…you MUST order them both. Scrumptious!!
We got a bottle of the Dassai Nigori unfiltered sake (my favorite and always an excellent compliment with sushi) and a homemade gingerale. Who doesn’t love all natural gingerale? Add to that the Sunset, MB Rainbow, S.G.A. and White Sand sushi rolls and we were ready to indulge in this magnificent feast. The food is absolutely flawless! Could not be any better. Our waitress was very pleasant and would check in on us occasionally without hovering. Of course we had to share a vegan and gluten free Coco Chocolate cake, Pineapple Mousse and Cream Brulee for dessert. Just the right fininshing touch! Hands down… a sensational dining experience!

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Samurai Sam’s Teriyaki Grill: Fresh, Easy and Made to Order

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I happened to be in a strip mall around dinner time and found myself famished. I looked up and like an oasis in the desert, there was Samurai Sam’s! I gave this quick-serve Japanese restaurant a try and was completely impressed! Not only was the girl at the counter incredibly friendly, but she even offered to have the cook make something just for me if I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for on the menu. What? How awesome is that?! In the interest of not OD’ing on carbs but not fully neglecting myself either, I ordered steamed veggies, cabbage and a few pieces of grilled chicken with a small portion of yakisoba noodles and teriyaki sauce on the side. I also ordered a small bottle of hot sake to keep me company until my food arrived and sat outside unwinding from the day watching the busy people go about their way. My dinner arrived in few a blink of an eye and it was absolutely delightful, not to mention HUUUGE. I was able to enjoy half of it and take the rest home for lunch the next day. I love friendly, helpful people in the restaurant business. Fresh, healthy, easy food that was super inexpensive and totally hit the spot! Two thumbs up for Samurai Sam’s!

Pitfire Pizza: Pizzas and Pastas and Brews, Oh My!

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Pizza done Manhattan Beach style. Feel like an uber delicious 10″ pizza? Go to Pitfire Pizza!
Feel like a healthy kale salad? Pitfire Pizza’s the place!
Feel like pigging out on some of the best mac n’ cheese you have EVER tasted? Head over to Pitfire!
Like Microbrews? That’s right…You got it…Pitfire!
Hate the sound of screaming children? You will most definitely want to sit outside on the patio at Pitfire Pizza!
Super casual pizza place in downtown Manhattan Beach. Really great food and ultra laid back employees. But unless you enjoy eating while being serenaded by screaming children, be sure to sit outside, where the noise can dissipate into the atmosphere vs bounce off the high ceilings inside. Great for pre or post-beach day meals! Oh and don’t forget to taste their chocolate chip cookies either!

The Hummus Factory: A No-Brainer For Fast and Fresh Mediterranean

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Want a quick meal on the go without succumbing to the evils of actual fast food?
Fresh, flavorful health-conscious food that won’t break the bank? Easily accessible and fast service? If you answered yes to any of the above, then Hummus Factory in Manhattan Beach is your answer! I had a long day at work, wanted to grab something on my way home and could not have been happier with my decision. I chose the chicken kabob plate and it was just delicious! Tender chunks of grilled marinated chicken, a side green salad and thick, creamy, garlicky hummus…just the way I like it! I was able to sit outside and enjoy the warm night air while I wolfed down every last morsel. So simple. So quick. So tasty! So affordable! Highly recommend!

F Grill: Cute As A Button and Tasty Too!

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F Grill, the latest restaurant addition to downtown Manhattan Beach.

Strolling through downtown Manhattan Beach on a recent Saturday afternoon, we noticed a new kid in town, F Grill. We were looking for a nice dining spot for lunch, so we decided to stop in. What a great choice! I love the look and feel of this place. Petite but artfully appointed. Be sure to choose a seat facing outside so you can watch the world go by. I felt like I was on vacation in a European seaside village. The wait staff were very pleasant and attentive but not hovering in any way. We chose the ahi tuna and breaded fish sandwich as our entrees and neither of us left one bite on our plates. The carrot ginger coconut soup and wedge salad were to die for as well!

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Really good food…the carrot ginger coconut soup was fabulous!

Tasty bites washed down with a couple of wheat beers and we were ready for a day at the beach! Definitely a more inviting and intimate setting than some of the other neighborhood restaurants and void of any hipster attitudes or foodie vibes. A perfect setting for a quiet, truly pleasant lunch in downtown Manhattan Beach.

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Cozy, quaint and friendly atmosphere.

Cake Bake Shop: The Ultimate Baking Fairy of the South Bay

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Co-worker’s birthday at the office and somehow I found myself nominated to find a bakery that would not only create “pig” cookies and bacon-flavored treats, but as a bonus, I also happen to work with the most diet-restricted bunch of humans I have ever met, including organic, vegan, gluten-free, and lactose intolerant. Fun task right? Thankfully my Guardian Angels were looking out for me as I called the Cake Bake Shop in Manhattan Beach. As luck would have it, I had the chance to talk to the owner herself, Laura. What a saint this woman was. She calmed my nerves and not only offered to bake pig cookies that were vegan and gluten free(!!!) but also said she could whip up some bacon, rosemary, buttermillk scones for our pork-loving friend. Apparently most lactose intolerant folks can indeed stomach buttermilk. She knew this information off the top of her head and after my Doubting Thomas co-workers Googled to confirm…it appears as though she was correct. TOO AWESOME!
I arrived at her little bakery and what an adorable place she has! Such a personable, talented and creative woman! The place is super tiny but impeccably clean, and smells heavenly! Her miniature works of art were absolutely precious! The real victory was that all of the office folks LOVED them! Every single crumb disappeared from those boxes before lunch. Unfortunately, I was unable to snap any photos of the cookies and scones. But believe me, they were darling and delicious. If you ever have a need for a first-rate baker who can meet the needs of even the most dietary-challenged people, go see Laura at the Cake Bake Shop! Of course, if you just want to indulge in something sweet, savory and mouthwatering, you should head over as well. Fantastic job Laura! Thank you for making me look like a Birthday Treat Genius at work! Best wishes for a long and successful run!

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