Friday, December 31, 2010

Final book reviews of the year!

I believe that one of my random 'goals' for 2010 was to read more. While it's uncertain that I read more than in 2009, I will say that I read some very high-quality books, in addition to a few totally crappy quick reads. I won't mention the crappy reads, which I consider to be junk food for the brain that normally come out during long airplane trips or family visits. I did finish strong, so I'll give myself credit for that.
The most recent reads are:

Americans in Paris by Charles Glass.

My uncle recommended this book to me, and I'm not much of a history buff, don't spend hours watching the History Channel, but this sounded fascinating. It's about the American community that lived in Paris during the Nazi occupation. There were moments of great sacrifice and selfishness, heroism and treachery. All in all, a very interesting book. It did take me months (literally) to finish it - I think that I started it in October and finally finished it up over Christmas break. Shew!

Then came a quick read: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

This book was SO GOOD. I know that I've said that about a multitude of books this year (okay, a handful, the handful that I've read), but seriously, there was so much to like about it. Funny at times, devastating yet restrained at other, it seemed to reflect the entire range of human emotions and experiences in it's slim 200+ pages. I loved the structure, which made it not seem like a novel in some ways, more like stories connected, but then very much novelistic in others. And the end? I cried. I was so sad that it ended. Very few books that I've recently read pulled my emotional cord, and this one did, but without manipulating or contriving. It was a brilliant, funny, sad book.

Finally, I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

I read this book years and years ago and very much enjoyed it then. Michael and I have been watching the HBO series Rome, so I gave this book to Michael for his birthday. He took it with us to Colorado, and I ended up reading it on trip back. It is filled with intrigue, politics, war, perversion... All of those fun aspects of the Roman Empire that historical fiction can bring to light. Graves slyly plays with history, fiction and narrative, and he writes quite well too. I've now sworn to Michael that I won't read Claudius the God until he reads this one. We'll see if I keep my promise!

Just to recap a few old favorites that I read this year:
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead - Definitely one of the most original novels that I've read in recent years.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark - Billed as "Harry Potter for adults", it's actually much, much more. A fun, wonderful read.
Travels with my Aunt and The Quiet American by Graham Greene - Both are REALLY well-written books that seem to catalogue a different era and generation, and the melancholy and nostalgia of growing old. Mixing in politics and intrigue, they make for satisfying reading.
Next on the list: Some Mario Vargas Llosa. I have a book in Spanish and one in English, so I'll work through both of them in the new year and refresh my Vargas Llosa base. I'd also like to read Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler which looks marvelous.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

'Tis the season for presents!

And for being with friends and family, of course. I know that it's obnoxious, in bad taste and somewhat taboo to talk about presents in relation to Christmas, which is so hypocritical. So, I confess that I do like the present aspect, both giving and receiving. Our 'holiday-celebration-extravaganza' season seems to begin with Michael's birthday, at the beginning of December. The bargain that he and I struck a few years ago was to give each other a blow-out birthday but then Christmas would revolve around friends and family and presents for them. It has worked beautifully, although I am thinking about going the stocking route with him next year, just so that we have fun, little items to open up. The otherdeal about our birthdays is that the birthday boy or girl also gets to give the NON-birthday "celebratant" a present, which makes it an exciting day for both people, in one way or another.
Anyway, for Michael's b-day, he gave me a Patagonia t-shirt which made me immensely happy. I did not give him one "major" present, but some of my favorite items were a Lonely Planet California Trips guidebook (which is awesome!) and these uber-cool and totally non-usable shot glasses:

As for the presents that people gave us, these sweaters may be my favorites:

It's not really about the sweaters, of course, but how INDIGNANT our ever-dignified dogs look, especially Gus, who is in the pink sweater. My mother-in-law apologized for not giving us/them two green sweaters, but I told her that Gus likes to celebrate his masculinity wearing pink. Who doesn't, after all?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Out of the "Boulder Bubble"

And back to "La-la-land". Safely, at least. We drove the same route - I-25 and I-40, mainlygaping at the sites and colors of New Mexico again. Last night, we continued through Gallup and made it to Flagstaff, AZ, where we ate pizza, drank beer and watched football before crashing and waking up early. Michael told me that I was the ideal college girlfriend, which I took as a compliment. Whether he meant it as such is entirely unimportant.
Leaving Boulder was, as usually is the case, difficult. Much of his family lives there, and at times it feels more like "home" than California. At other times, however, it seems far too young, hip, and outdoorsy for us. As much as I like all of the gear that we have and count Patagonia and REI as my favorite stores, I definitely consider myself to be somewhat of an impostor. I am not a hard-core ANYTHING, especially when it comes to outdoor adventure experiences or physical endurance. Also, my commitment to green living is lukewarm; I probably come out more environmentally friendly than some people, but I eat meat, probably don't recycle enough and I have yet to garden (although I would like to plant a garden one of these days and actually harvest what we grow).
Maybe part of the 'bubble' aspect for me is that we go to Boulder to VISIT, and we are not visiting my family or where I grew up (that's a different matter). So, the experience differs dramatically from life in LA - the scenery is different, cyclists can actually bike on the road without fearing for their lives, there is such an abundance of green, open space. We take walks almost every day, we buy lattes and scones and don't worry about our waistlines, we shop at Whole Foods and don't wince at the prices, we stop for mid-afternoon beers... What isn't to like about that?
On this visit, we also ate eggnog pancakes with a bourbon sauce at Lucile's, a Creole-style restaurant. After which, I swore that I would eat greens for my next meal, but then the night rolled around and we had happy hour and appetizers at Salt, a bistro that specializes in seasonal and local fare. We quaffed down a few glasses of Colorado red wine which surprised us both and accompanied the meal quite nicely. Right before our return trip, we stopped by Savory, our favorite spice shop. Yes, there are spice shops in LA, but we happen to *love* this one. We did learn that they just opened up a shop in Newport Beach which is another reason to visit the OC!
But reality eventually does set in, and we recognize obligations and constraints that pull us back to California. Maybe ONE day Boulder will no longer take on these mythical proportions to me; Mt. Olympus will shrink, and a mere mortal such as I will actually be able to live there?*
In the meantime, we are back to the rain in Southern CA! Our house is still standing and has suffered no damage, so that is all good news. I also thoroughly enjoyed our TJ's run this afternoon. At some point, we'll eat some dirt cheap Mexican food - or make some of our own. Home sweet home!
**I couldn't help that silly reference; I just finished the book "I, Claudius", and it inspired me a bit.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Snow and Skiing!

After an EIGHT year hiatus (almost), I was officially back on skis this week at Eldora, Colorado, a small ski resort just outside of Boulder, Colorado. Although we only played around on Nordic skis rather than ripping down the slopes on Alpine skis, I was so excited to be in the snow and on skis. I've never been a great skier, but I've always enjoyed the slopes. When I lived in Seattle, some family friends taught me how to Nordic ski, which is a lot of work but can be a peaceful and almost relaxing venture, especially when the trails are well-groomed and one is in good shape and can hit that sweet 'glide' spot.
All of the ski and snow fun stopped abruptly me for me when I stupidly tried to make my way down a black diamond at Squaw Valley back in 2003 and ended up tearing my meniscus. Being pulled around by the ski patrol is an experience that one should have at some point in his/her life, but I wouldn't totally recommend it. That incident, I would say, marked the beginning of the end for my left knee, and I avoided most snow-related activities like the plague. Well, I tried to convince myself that snow-shoeing was just as much fun as skiing. While I did enjoy the experience and certainly want to snowshoe again, I am SO PSYCHED that I can ski again! I have terrible luck on mountains (the knee issue, for instance, and a broken ankle that I had to hike out on), and one of my cousins has suggested that I try surfing, but I am happy to return to the mountains.
Based on our fabulously fun Nordic experience, we are returning to Eldora on Monday for a few runs on the downhill runs. I will stay mainly on greens, maybe venture over to a blue, but no black diamonds!
And I will keep my fingers and toes crossed that I don't fall and totally f-up another part of my body OR the same knee. That would just simply suck.
One last deep thought and then I'll close - being back on skis and feeling almost confident does make me forever grateful for physical therapy. I officially ended back in May, but then signed myself up for a few more weeks or months of PT this fall, when skiing became a possibility. The ortho doctor cleared me for skiing, but he said that more PT wouldn't hurt (obviously). It was painful in more ways than one to return to physical therapy, but now I will say that it was completely and totally worth it.
Here is a final shot of me, thinking about the wonder of the season (or something like that):

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hello Boulder, Colorado!

So, the past few weeks really were super busy, filled with work and play, trying to wind down while also gearing up for the holidays. With all of that energy and excitement, Saturday morning we loaded up the trunk of the car, filling it with presents and suitcases and more presents, put the dogs in the backseat and then we headed east! Our timing couldn't have been better since Southern CA was due for six days of straight rain.
We drove through the rain for the first hour or so, and then popped out of the fog and the rain, pretty much a clear shot from the Mojave Desert to Gallup, New Mexico, where we spent Saturday night in a Motel 6 smoking room. As Michael described the experience, it was comfortable enough to sleep, but not comfortable enough to want to stay. Well put. We did eat at Jerry's, a local place that served up good New Mexican fare, which differs considerably from Texas and California Mexican food. I can't say how it differs exactly, but it does. We had pork in a green chile sauce, and it was definitely good and not something that we eat all the time! The jury is still out regarding Gallup, but I would stay there again.
Overall, the drive to Boulder was uneventful but beautiful, especially through New Mexico. Every time we drive through I-40, we comment on how we should actually stop and spend time there. The late afternoon/early evening light and the early morning sunrise were almost a cliché because they were so beautiful, filling our sight with purple, deep grey, golden yellow, all contrasting with a variety of greens. It made me think of Georgia O'Keeffe, whose work I don't necessarily love, but captures the colors, shapes and spirits of New Mexico. Or perhaps I'm more familiar with her work than with New Mexico, and so I see it through her paintings?
We finally arrived in Boulder yesterday afternoon around 3:30, driving directly to Snarf's, a local sandwich place that seriously makes some of the best subs EVER. I don't know what it is about Snarfs, but I seriously obsess about the sandwiches. I just learned that they are opening shops in Chicago and St. Louis, which makes me envy people who live in those locals.
This morning, we also hit up another favorite stop, Spruce Street Confections, which serves up a mean latte and makes their own delectable scones. I would consider working there for a summer if I could learn how to make scones as good as these. Obviously there is a stick of butter in each one...
In the meantime, we have plans to hang out with family, walk the dogs, take naps, go visit some of our favorite shops (like Neptune Mountaineering, one of the coolest outdoor gear stores that I've ever encountered) and go SKIING! It's going to be a good holiday week here in Boulder, CO!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Personal day!

I am a firm believer in taking advantage of the two personal days a year that are my "right". Some of my colleagues pride themselves on never missing a day of work, but I believe that the school where we work gives us personal days, mental health days and sick days for a reason - to be used. That said, I don't abuse sick days, and, knock on wood, I tend to be a fairly robust human being, so I never use up all of my sick days. In fact, at this point, they've probably accrued so that I could miss an entire month, if need by (fingers crossed that it won't happen!).
But personal days are different. They are guilt-free days that I happily take off. I normally use them for a random long weekend, but it felt GREAT to take this past Friday off. I had been feeling a bit sick, but a cold did not fully develop, so it seemed unethical to take a sick day. A personal day, however, was a totally different matter.
So, I put in the request on Wednesday night, got the okay, planned classes and on Thursday afternoon, I blissfully closed and locked the office, walking away from school for the weekend.
I must confess that I intended the personal day to also be a work day - the stacks of papers had piled up enough. Buuuttttt... It wasn't to be. I decided that the personal day would be truly personal. I enjoyed a leisurely walk with the dogs in the morning, then I went for a nice, slow, hilly run around mid-morning, followed up by an INTENSE massage. I rarely splurge on a massage, but someone recommended this cheap but clean place, so I've gone there twice. The deep-tissue experience was definitely intense but therapeutic. By the time early evening rolled around, I had baked this bread and made dinner, which was butternut squash raviolis with a sage and cream sauce. We washed dinner down with a Byron Pinot Noir. It was a far better bottle than we usually drink, but I think the massage and shopping left me feeling quite magnanimous.
Oh, yeah, did I mention that I went shopping?
I found this little number which I ended up wearing to the holiday party on Sunday night:

It was a fun dress to wear to a holiday party. Usually I stick to the comfort and familiarity of the LBD (I have one that is silk and another that is wool, so I can pretty much work them all year-long, if need be), but I loved the print and also the cut of this dress.
All in all, a successful personal day!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Coffee Conundrum(s)

So, I have a secret: I sort of love-hate Starbucks. Yes, the ubiquitous coffee place. It reminds me a bit of Disneyland (which I loath, even though I've never been there), because everyone seems so happy and cheery. Maybe it's the sugar and caffeine high that people must be on, as they gulp down their venti, chocolate cocoa-puff latte with soy milk and extra whip-cream. WTF?! What kind of a drink IS that? A friend of mine shared one of my favorite Starbucks story, how when the chain opened its doors in Spain, first of all, people did not know how to order. "Café con leche" is about as complex as it gets. Secondly, people would sit down at the tables and wait for someone to take their order, which never happened. Talk about a culture clash!
But, as much as I disparage Starbucks, I really like to take a break once every other week and walk to the local Starbucks during the school day. It's a nice "get out of the school-grounds" break - maybe a mile round trip? I never feel that I've gone very far, however, because I inevitably see students or other teachers there. One faculty member recently said that she calls the Starbucks trips her "vision walk". That idea has a definite appeal and sounds almost zen (or something). So, yes, I do the trek, and usually splurge on a small (I hate to say "tall" and all of that other lingo) chai latte, a drink that I could probably buy out of a box and it would taste just as good! However, I tried a 'speciality' drink twice in the past year, and both times I felt as though I were drinking a candy bar melted into coffee. NOT an appealing taste to me, but apparently the marketing does work on the general population.
My usual source of "crack" comes from a local coffee shop/purveyor, Intelligentsia Coffee, which makes the nectar of the gods, or something along those lines. When Michael and I lived in Silverlake, we would go to Intelligentsia at least once a week, which was a pricey habit. So, a few years ago, living on one income, we decided that we wouldn't sacrifice Intelligentsia totally, but we did limit the drinks MADE there and usually just bought coffee beans. This is still the case, but more for convenience than for economy.
Still, there are times when I do enjoy a cup of coffee from Intelligentsia, and that has become much easier since they opened up a coffee bar in Pasadena, just a few minutes away! Unfortunately, this also means that students, those beings whom I teach, have wormed their way into Paradise, just some parasite that would destroy the perfect apple. Don't get me wrong, I like the students whom I teach, but I also enjoy a clear separation between my 'school world' and my '¿real world?'. It's like clothes that I want to wear when I go out on weekends - these are NOT school clothes and an item will become tainted once I wear it to school.
In the same vein, Intelligentsia, that coffee paradise, has been tainted.
I went by there on Friday, after school, to pick up more beans for the next few weeks. Now, the Intelligentsia cafe in Pasadena is also a bar, so Michael and I talked about staying for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Unfortunately, all of the wind was taken out of my sails when I walked in and saw a group of SIX students. Fie! Damn you, all of you! I felt betrayed and violated. How dare they? Why don't they just stay at Starbucks, drinking their crappy coffee-whipped-cream drinks?
Hope springs eternal - maybe they will move along and find the "next cool thing"?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving weekend in San Fran

Oh, yes, I'm very behind everything right now. The stacks of papers to grade are piling up, holiday cards will probably go out in January, and I feel rather unmotivated to do much of anything except focus on cranberry-blueberry pancakes. I did get college recommendations out on time, which I consider to be a major coup. Also, I am finally getting around to a quick trip report: San Francisco!
We drove up fairly early on Thursday morning, and while there was traffic on I-5 (of course), it moved apace, so we arrived more or less on schedule, right around 1:30. We ended up staying in a studio in the Castro, which was convenient to several friends' places in the city and was blissfully untouristy, with easy street parking - totally unheard of! It was very much a low-key, friend-centered visit. We also took our dogs, which they enjoyed, and we experienced the dog-friendly-ness of San Francisco! The people at the Doc Martens store even let Michael bring Gus and Milo into the store so that I could model these to them. Other than hitting up the Doc Marten store in the Haight (where I ended up buying the much coveted boots!) and going to the ferry building on Saturday morning, we hung out at friends' ate plenty of good food, and went for long walks with the dogs. Not a bad way to spend a holiday weekend! Plus, the weather cooperated, on the whole, which worked out well for all of us. Here are a few images to document the weekend:

Michael, trying to "herd" the dogs or make them pose for a photo-op. They, as usual, are not fully cooperating.

What you can't see is Milo pulling me along here. The picture (taking with an iPhone) doesn't do justice to the day.

Around the Ferry Building with the Bay Bridge in the background.

Milo looking like an alien in the car - look at that big smile, though!

We definitely fall into the "lame" category in terms of photos. Michael took the good Canon, but we left it in the car or the studio during many of our outings. So, we don't have a picture of Fort Funston, which is, as a friend described it, "Doggie Nirvana". We spent most of Friday morning there, and it was a grand old time.
This visit DID drive home the fact that most of our friends that are around the child-bearing and -rearing age are doing what they are "supposed" to be doing: having children, reproducing, adding to our population. It is CRAZY! To me, at least! It also serves to drive home the self-awareness that I (still) do not want children. It's a good think that my mom doesn't read this blog - she'd probably start to cry right now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gobble gobble and gratitude!

So, our turkey arrived last week and it looks something like this:

We ordered it from this place in Tyler, Texas, Greenberg Turkeys that smokes turkeys. My parents turned us on to these smoked turkeys a few years ago, and we had already ordered our turkey (along with one for Michael's parents and the person who dog-sat for us all summer) when I read this article in the NYTimes. So, now I'm almost feeling hip, chic and cool.
Speaking of coolness, we actually leave town tomorrow, driving up to San Francisco, with the bird in tow. I always feel tragically unhip in that fair city, but it's also one of my favorite places to visit (and how I'd love to live there!). We'll be spending the afternoon/evening with friends, and we all opted for something fairly easy regarding the bird. We're also taking mashed potatoes, mashed yams (without marshmallows - that was never a part of my T-day experience), brussels sprouts (which we'll roast with bacon) and a fruit crumble-thingy. No pie. I'd like to learn to make pies one of these days, but this is not the moment.
I am excited to see lots of friends, be in San Francisco and also to travel with our mutts, Gus and Milo. They love road trips, and we enjoy spoiling them. We've rented a studio apartment for the weekend, so we will be in the Castro rather than a tourist-central area like Union Square. Other than stopping by the Ferry Terminal, Dynamo Donuts and the Doc Martens store, we will avoid the shopping frenzy like the plague.
In the meantime, I am grateful for many things this year. Just to name a few:
- The travel opportunities that I have enjoyed this year - the big trips and also the smaller weekend getaways.
- My health, in particular the fact that I can be active again!
- Family, friends and dogs.
- An amazing life partner (okay, husband). I know that it's cliche, but he really makes my life so much better than it would be otherwise.
- A short day today and two days off!
- Finally, the small moments that often present themselves everyday. For instance, we're listening to some great salsa music right now. Life's pretty good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The pre-ubiquitous Thanksgiving post

Although I'm really not "bah humbug" about the holidays and I have much for which I am thankful, I do feel the need to vent just a teeny-tiny bit. So, here goes:
1. At the school where I work, I am a "floater", a designation that sort of makes me feel like a second-class citizen because it means that I do not OWN, per se, my classroom. Rather, I teach in four different rooms (every class in a different room). It is often confusing, I usually forget papers, tests, books, and other useful materials in one place or another, so then I probably look like a bumbling idiot to my students. Anywhooo, one of the rooms in which I teach happens to be the department chair's classroom, which really isn't a problem because we get along, I know that he knows that I'm a competent teacher. But - yes there is a "BUT" - he often stays in the room while I'm teaching which drives me f-ing nuts! I realize that we are both adults and that I should grow some cojones and tell him that I find his presence distracting. However, he is my department chair and is responsible for evaluating me, so how do I tell him that?
2. I find it very annoying that a very young, first-year teacher routinely lets his class out early (This must be his reasoning: "Why use the whole lab period? I'll give you guys a break. In fact, just take the entire second half of the lab off..."). Today, he went off campus with his students to Starbucks! I do realize that I am a bit old and stodgy and it seems that I am a stickler for the rules, but I have an issue when it becomes a habit that other teachers don't actually use class time to teach. Call me crazy!
3. There is no third rant, but apparently people tend to like lists of three.

Tomorrow, the ubiquitous Thanksgiving post - I can't wait!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Change of seasons

So, I've been running around for a good part of the day in green cords and a purple sweater. I obviously look like a character from Sesame Street, but I feel as though I'm "rockin'" the look. I just debuted the sweater last week and love its comfort, but I actually bought it last spring. What a treat!
Anyway, I often wish that I lived in a place with slightly more dramatic seasons (nothing too extreme), and there are times when it could be either January or June - who really knows? But today, as I took the dogs on an early Sunday morning stroll around the neighborhood, just barely peaking out from the clouds were the San Gabriel mountains with SNOW! Although it never snows where we live, as far as I know, I do look forward to the first snow in the mountains and to seeing snow nestling there.
When I first moved to Central CA from Seattle, I erroneously thought that I would have to ditch all of my fleece pullovers and jackets, and so I prematurely mourned their loss. Then I experienced the Monterey Peninsula in August and fully understood Mark Twain's assessment of summers in San Francisco: "The coldest winter of my life was the summer I spent in San Francisco." The same could be said for Monterey, with the fog rolling in and just settling there, not giving an inch.
The move further south followed a few years later, and again, I had no idea what to expect weather-wise. I associated Southern CA with Baywatch (which I swear I never watched!) and thought that it would be like Florida without the heat. Again, I found myself to be terribly mistaken. Not that it doesn't get hot, but I don't think that the weather or the culture remotely resembles Florida. I don't know Florida well, but I think that I'm relieved that there is a different flavor here.
And relieved that there are seasons. Not, perhaps, the traditional seasons that one associates with summer, winter, fall and spring, but more like "June gloom", the "Santa Ana winds" AKA fire season, the "it's actually raining" season. Fall may be more a fabrication than an actual season that's based on temperatures; it rolls around with pumpkins and Halloween decorations around the neighborhood, which turkeys and pilgrims soon follow. However, we do enjoy a nice fire at night when it dips into the upper 40's (or 50's - I'm so lame), I transition sandals and light skirts to the back of my closet, and tonight, I actually made pumpkin pie bars as a fall and holiday treat. I just took a bite of one - not yet fully cooled - and I may have found pumpkin Nirvana. Plus, I have pot pie for dinner and a fire going! It must be fall?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A weekend of running around!

Literally and figuratively. Mostly the latter, but some of the former too!
So, it was a beautiful weekend in SoCal, a bit warmer than it had been during the week, but clear, rather than hazy, so I'll take that.
We started Saturday morning with a quick breakfast and cup of coffee before heading to Newport Beach where we enjoyed an early-ish morning bike ride up to the beach town of Sunset. It's a bit of a drive to get there, but we love cycling along Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, which is very bike-friendly in that area and doesn't present us with the steep hills that challenge us closer to home. I still consider myself to be a VERY novice cyclist, but I am happy to announce that I haven't fallen off (or over) since Summer of '09. Maybe I am actually developing some level of comfort in the saddle?!
After the ride, we took some photos of random signs before eating a messy, greasy and wonderful breakfast burrito (no photo).

I'm skeptical that this is a "national" organization, but who knows? Also, you can kind of make out our Toyota with the bikes on top.

The other sign that we like - which might be hard to read in this photo - says, "Patagonia wetsuits now available. Still cheaper than most cars." It really does inspire me to want to learn to surf, but I sense that I am not coordinated enough and too old.

The other "running around" was the Calabasas Classic 10K that I managed to start AND finish today! I realize that usually is the idea behind signing up for road races, but you never know with me. This is actually my third race in three months! I ran a 10K back in September in Santa Monica, doubting that I would finish and then just hoping that I could finish under 60 minutes (which I did - yeah). And then back in October, I ran a really fast (for me) 5 mile run in Huntington Beach where I actually placed for my age group (I think there must have only been 2 women between 35-39 running!). So, finally, I decided to make today's run public, at least on my blog. I tell as few people in my day-to-day life as possible, which is neurotic and secretive, but I don't want people to identify me as a "runner". I already work with a few people who use that as large part of their identity, and I don't want to talk about running that much. Don't get me wrong, I am SO SO SO excited that I can run again, I consider myself very fortunate because my partner/husband wakes up early on weekend mornings to wait for me to finish a race, and I love to compete, but I don't need to share this with everyone in my life. With the entire blogworld - why not?

Anyway, here I am pre-race at the "Expo" - it was at a shopping mall which felt totally fabricated, probably because it was. I don't know what it is with these Southern CA malls but they all seem to seek some 'theme' in their architecture. This one, I believe, was sporting some Italian-villa-esque ambiance. All I know, a mall is still a mall.

If I look a little nervous, it's probably because I was. This race started later than the other races I'd run, AND it was a warm morning already, AND I heard that people normally ran the course 2 minutes slower than their usual time because of the hills. I was a bit disappointed because I had hoped to run a bit faster than my first 10K, now that I have stronger legs.
I crushed my disappointment at the end when I finished significantly faster than I had in my previous race, despite some of those wicked hills. Woo-hoo! I usually start off way too slow - that has always been how I've run, but I tried to push myself not only at the end, but also at the beginning. What was nice was that the course was two loops, so I knew when to push and when to hold back a little.
So, here I am at the end, looking like a HUGE dork with the medal but smiling with happiness and relief:

After the race, Michael, a friend of ours and I went to a deli for a nice, big breakfast. Well, I actually ate lunch, mainly french fries. Then, I came home and face planted into bed. I think that I'm about to eat the biggest lemon bar/slab for dessert now. Life could be worse.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What's old is new and other odds and ends

Is it a bit selfish or myopic to say that boots and REI have renewed my faith in humanity? Since the electoral process left me feeling hungover and/or tired and certainly not very inspired when I considered our public officials. And to think that this was only the mid
-term cycle! All I know is that if I were Meg Whitman, I could have definitely spent 140 MILLION dollars on something better. Like supporting Prop 19. Okay, that's kind of a joke.
Since I don't have that much cash lying around, I try to find my happiness in smaller, everyday happenings. For instance, boots! REI sent my much-beloved hiking boots from Spring 2001 off to 'the shoe-sole guy'. I don't know who he is or what his name is, but he lives somewhere in Washington state and fixes shoes for REI. What a job! At any rate, I personally want to kiss this guy! Although the boots still look rather battered and worn, especially in the shitty light (and the photo, taken with a shitty iPhone), he fixed the soles! Well, replaced them. But the shoes should be more or less as good as new. I will keep my fingers crossed that they last at least another 8 years. Then, I won't complain when/if I have to invest in a new pair. In the meantime, it does bring me great happiness to have these back and to daydream about all of the trips that I will take in them!

On a different note, but still talking boots here, I have major lust for a new pair of boots this fall. Obviously boots are the "in" thing, and I already have two pairs of good boots that I like - one pair is black with a heel, the other boots are of the cowboy variety. I like them both very much, but an itch for a 'tougher' looking boot has certainly bit me. I actually went shopping for boots a few weekends ago but came up empty. And then, after looking on-line at Zappos, I discovered these beauties:

Yes, they are Doc Martens, and yes, I might be too old to pull them off. I am, however, obsessed. This obsession will have to wait until Thanksgiving weekend when we are in the San Francisco area and can go to a Doc Marten's store - how fortuitous! Until them, I will just dream about them.
And if they don't fit, I will cut off my bunion or my toes, just like Cinderella's sisters did. Beauty? At what price?

Finally, something that is both old and new: A French-press coffee maker/pot! Old, in the sense that I've used a French press coffee maker/pot for the past eight years of my life, but I've resigned myself to the fact that I have to buy a new one every few years because the pot breaks or one of the pieces falls apart. Last year, we bought a cheaper model - still Bodum, but, again, a cheaper model, and I kind of hated it. Well, we both did. I can't explain it, but the fit wasn't as tight and we couldn't screw all the pieces together well. If you have a French press, then you'll know about what I speak! So, yesterday morning, I woke up, put the kettle on the stove to heat up the water, and pulled out the coffee pot from the drying rack, only to discover that the glass carafe had broken - it was missing a huge piece of glass. I cursed the coffee pot, but then decided that now was as good a time as any to purchase a new Bodum.

And voilá! We have a new coffee pot - and it is RED! I was so set on replacing our coffee pot that I didn't even notice that it could be a different color. We pulled it out last night and after our initial surprise, we both decided that we liked the new color. This morning, when I made coffee, I also decided that I liked the new pot. All's well that ends well, or so it seems! Especially after a nice, strong cup of joe.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shew, it's almost November!

Obviously. And Happy Halloween to you too.
I actually kind of hate Halloween. Michael and I were just talking about it, and I think some of my bitterness about the day has its roots in my childhood. My parents only took us to their friends' houses who gave us boring "snacks" like fruit and nuts. I kid you not! Plus, I think they decided that when my older brothers were 10, they were too old to go, and if they were too old, then so were the rest of us. Totally unfair. It's obvious that I still haven't quite recovered from the scars.
These days, in addition to associating Halloween to the time of year that females of different ages and socio-economic backgrounds dress up as a prostitute, I find that it marks the beginning of the "Holiday Season". This, in turn, brings with it rampant spending (a negative) and vacation (a major positive). We experienced something of the rampant spending and holiday season buzz when we idiotically went to a craft store today to pick up some ribbon and wrapping paper. Such a mistake! Michael actually sent me out of the store to wait for him because he sensed that I was going to insult the cashier, a customer or maybe yell at one of the annoying children who were playing with noisy toys. Ahem, we did survive and managed to leave with the goods that we needed.
For me, October is a loooonnnggg month. While we did have a three-day weekend in there, the rest of the month was filled with meetings, social events and work-related commitments.
I can happily say that I survived:
  • Back-to-school-night: Possibly the WORST night and longest day of the year for me; I really don't mind it when I'm engaged and actually talking to the parents about the classes that I teach, but it's the build-up to it and the fact that I teach a full day and then have to return for the 'dog-and-pony show', as I like to call it. Plus, I have to get dressed up in work clothes AFTER work, which seems like a great injustice to me.
  • A friends' bachelorette evening and wedding: the bachelorette celebration could have been a lot worse, so I'll look on the bright side of that, and we had a very nice time at her wedding, which had good food, company and music. What else could you want? And it was in a very cool space. I usually don't talk much about decorations because I rarely notice them, but they used succulents and minimal decoration, which I really liked.
  • College recommendations: the first round of college applications came and went, and I only had to write ONE recommendation for the November 1 deadline. Sweet! December 1 will be a different story.
And there were a few other events, obligations, and duties, such as Homecoming, that don't warrant too much of a mention. I always feel that if I make it through October, then I can make it through the rest of the school year. So, here's to the 2010-2011 Academic Year! It feels like it's almost over. HA!
Michael and I have also enjoyed spending time outside this month, weather permitting (we did endure a week of rain - GASP!). He came out and supported me last weekend when I ran a 5-mile run, placing first in my age group. Seriously! It was a very small race, obviously, and a flat course. And this morning we went on a nice 18-mile bike ride. I hadn't been in the saddle since September, he hadn't since July, maybe, so we took it easy. It was a great ride, however, as we were on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, and could watch the waves in addition to watching the road. We even saw a few porpoises! We've now sworn that we'll return next week for another ride. Yee-haw.
On a different note, we've enjoyed our Netflix queu a ridiculous amount this month (okay, no more than usual). I wish I could say that we're watching all of the fabulous new releases but none of the new stuff interests me. So, we delve into other genres and decades. We've watched many movies/shows that we've enjoyed and a few that we've just LOVED. For instance, "State of Play" was great - the British version, not the Hollywood movie which was, of course, based on the BBC series, and not very good. The TV series - SO SO good! "The Ladykillers" falls into the category of dark humor and is well-worth watching. Also dark but not so humorous is "House of Cards", another BBC series. Finally, the series "Rome", also made in conjunction with BBC. We finished Season I which was great; I'm a bit tentative to start Season II because I have read that it is more of the 'just sex and violence' type of a show. Obviously it's been a bit of a British invasion at our house, but we did take a break and watched "Slap Shot" with Paul Newman. Can I say that I adore Paul Newman? Not the best show but quite entertaining, and I must admit that I do like movies that revolve around sports. Next up for our viewing pleasure - the final season of "The Tudors". Did I mention that we gravitate to darker movies and tv shows?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pear Lake: Trip Report!

FINALLY, a "trip report"! I realize that it's already two weeks after the fact, but life is busy these days. Also, it's a bit fun to review pictures and re-live the trip when it's not so present or immediate. It serves as a welcome reminder that life is joyous and that the simple things in life (like sleeping outside) can make one feel so connected to another person and to the world as a whole.
Deep thoughts, I know!
The other welcome reminder from this trip is that we can really "get away from it all" quite quickly and easily. While it was nice to have a three-day weekend, we ended up leaving early Saturday morning and we returned Sunday night. Theoretically, we could be camping in a different place every weekend!
Saturday night we were lucky enough to spend at the wonderful Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park. This hike is usually packed and requires a wilderness permit for which one must apply months in advance or arrive early in the morning the day of the hike, but since it was officially "off-season", we were able to pick the hike that we wanted. We had thought about another hike, but, while the distance was the same, the elevation gain was significantly more. We were already starting out a bit late, so I opted for the less-challenging hike. Also, we did not have a bear canister, and the Pear Lake campsites did offer lockers for our food stuffs. I felt like a bit of a rookie with that oversight, but I know that the last time we hiked in Kings Canyon we rented a canister. Live and learn. I was VERY excited about Pear Lake, however, because I had heard that it was a beautiful hike from an old colleague, but I had never had the chance to experience it. Now I did.
We were finally suited up and ready to cruise on up to our destination around 1:30 pm. Well, trudge and huff and puff rather than "cruise on up".

Here I am at the trailhead, my trusty backpack doesn't feel too heavy at this point! Thus, the smile.

It was a great trail, as most of the National Parks' trails are. For the first half of the hike, we walked among the trees.

Group shot! We are still smiling too.

Around the half-way point, we took a MUCH needed break and ate a snack. The snack was also quite necessary to fend off a terrible mood that had suddenly overtaken me. Also, I felt that I couldn't continue. Those awful Cliff gel-shots totally saved me from a full-on 'bonk'! I realized that we are both terrible at pacing ourselves and eating appropriately. Must remember that for our next trip.

Oooh, snow!

Not quite our destination, but we know that we are close! This was Emerald Lake, and at this point, we had ooh-and-ahh moments with every step that we took as we enjoyed the alpine lake-granite rock combination.

Finally, we arrived! Pear Lake! It was one of the most beautiful places that I had ever been. These photos do NOT do it justice. Here I am, looking tired (just slightly), but happy to be at our destination.

Admiring the views and feeling accomplished! Plus, we picked out a great campsite.

Ah, dinnertime, right as the dusk falls! We were tired, hungry and ready for some warm food, and whiskey (note the brown bag). Other important items - the camp stove, AKA "The Pocket Rocket" by MSR and our water filter. We enjoyed a nice dinner of Trader Joe's Wild Mushroom risotto to which we added onions and peppers that I had cut up and carried up in a plastic bag.

After we inhaled the pot of food, we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags and hunkered down for the evening even though it was probably 7:00 pm. My one regret - that we did not stargaze for a bit, but our aching bodies demanded rest and warmth, so in the tent we went!
We awoke to a beautiful morning - it reminded me of the constant line of "Dawn's rosy fingers..." in the Iliad! Fortunately, we did not have to get up and gird ourselves for battle. I wish that we could have snapped a photo or two, but our batteries died on us. Ah well. We did enjoy a lazy morning at the lake, as we ate a pot of oatmeal and watched the sun's golden cast slowly extend itself across the granite bowl that surrounded us. Before breaking down our tent and heading back down, we walked around part of the lake and said "hello" to a marmot - he/she was a fatty!
The hike back to the car was also beautiful, but at that point, I believe that we were focused on shedding the pack and our boots. We also had the idea of a hamburger stuck in our heads, which served to further motivate our quick hike back to "civilization".
Once back in the valley of the park, the hustle and bustle there felt a bit surreal. We had been quite alone for only 24 hours, but it is a bit jarring to return to what is a tourist destination rather than a hiker's peaceful haven. Still, we did enjoy the hamburger in one of the park's restaurants before returning to the LA area, which was even stranger. It seemed as though we had been away for a week because we were SO distant from everything in our lives, but it was a mere 36 hours, really.
Despite our tired muscles the next day (our calves were KILLING us!) and my broken-down boots, it is so exciting to be backpacking again, even if it is just a short overnight. This has certainly given me the confidence that I will be able to explore more of the Sierra come next summer, retracing John Muir's footsteps and taking in the beauty that the western US offers up to those who are willing to walk around a bit.