Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is it Spring Break yet?

No, it is not.
But it will be soon! I just have to make it through tomorrow. My mantra today, when I woke up at 1:55 am, after first thinking, "Thank God it's almost 2:00! I slept an hour longer than I could have...", was "Make it through today". Once I survived, I now have to make it through tomorrow. This is all DOABLE, it's just not enjoyable.
I don't feel like delving into too many details or revealing too much about my life. Suffice it to say I've been responsible for a large part of an "event". Responsible for planning it, that is, but it's a two-day event that isn't really MY vision. Not that I have much of a vision these days, except that I'm keeping the finish line, June 13th, well within my perimeters. So, not my vision, but my responsibility. Is that the worst of both worlds?!
The good news is that I plan to take a Tylenol PM and sleep through the night, happily self-medicated. Also, it is a fairly short day, and if something goes horribly awry, vacation begins soon after, so who really cares?!
Plus, on Friday morning, we leave for a long weekend in the SF Bay areas. I am so excited about the trip that even if tomorrow's event is a total bomb, I will try not to care. We will stop in Monterey on Friday and drink some wine, look at the bay, take a walk or two and enjoy seeing friends, and then it's off to San Francisco. Once we are there, we'll bounce around between the City and the East Bay and maybe even a hike in Marin?! The weather does not look entirely promising, but we will survive. Plus, we will be eating well, staying in hotels and hanging out with friends. How is any of that bad?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A random Saturday morning

Yes, yes, I know that it's Sunday, but I'm talking about YESTERDAY morning. Which was one of those low-key, random Saturday mornings that offer lazy poking about a neighborhood or two. We debated going to the west side, hanging out in Venice and stopping by the Santa Monica Farmers' Market ("Is this my life?" I sometimes pause and wonder) or just hanging out more east - Silverlake, Los Feliz and Eagle Rock. We opted for the latter, taking off at the reasonable hour of 9:30-ish, checking out the Farmer's Market and a random thrift flea market in Silverlake, stopping by a few stores with some success (getting 'epazote', a random spice, for our black beans and more polenta from a natural food stores that was NOT Whole Foods). At the spice store, we enjoyed the conversation that a hipster couple was having with the proprietor, how they were new to the area (they just moved from Venice; WTF - that isn't REALLY "new" to an area) and wanted to meet cool people. They were writers associated with "the industry". Eye-roll on our part.
After such uber-coolness, we hit up a Thai grocery store on Hollywood, in the heart of Thai town, and managed to make a killing. The last time we bought curry paste, we picked it up at Whole Foods (that's embarrassing, I know, we live in LA!) and paid something like $5 for a container. I am happy to say that we
found it for $1.99. That is more than 50% off! Awesomeness. We also bought other 'key' items as we explore Thai cooking - galanga, keffir lime leaves and lemongrass. And we bought a container of "coconut chips" which we snacked on as we drove back to Silverlake. They were oddly addictive, kind of sweet and salty at the same time with a nice crunch. I felt that we had to buy something random, and that was probably the 'safest' random item in the store. I'm used to going into Hispanic markets and having a good idea of what products are, but I definitely felt a bit at sea at the Thai market. Still, it was a fun and good experience. Michael actually found the market a few weeks ago and had been raving about it since.
The last stop in Silverlake was to one of my favorite stores: Yolk. I bought a card for a friend, and I found a pair of earrings that were amazing (hint hint - Michael, if you read this...). They were sparkly and kind of dressy, but they also had sort of a rock-and-roll edge. I'm obsessed with them now.
By that time, we realized that we were a bit hungry. Sometimes, Michael can figure out what I want even when I don't say anything. A big, fat burrito was on my mind, and we stopped off at the Taco Spot in Eagle Rock, my old stomping grounds. We split a burrito, which was pretty standard, but we did order it "mojado" which means wet, literally, but when it comes to a burrito, it means that it's covered with sauce. This one also had melted cheese on top. While it wasn't the best burrito ever, I was pretty content. The chips were great, the guacamole fresh, and they had a nice salsa bar. Yum!
As we were eating the burrito, I told Michael that I could never live where Mexican food was seriously lacking. I mean, that burrito wasn't even that great, but it sure as hell beat anything coming out of Chipotle. So, yeah, there are times that I think my stomach keeps me more tied to LA than work or personal connections. Are my priorities completely out of whack?! Just maybe.
But who wouldn't be happy at a place like this on a random Saturday morning?!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Le weekend

I survived the week, which is saying something, and now I just have four more work/school days to endure until Spring Break. Finally! The long-awaited, blessed respite. Even more blessed because we have Friday off, being that it is "Good Friday". "Great", I would say!
The week was not a disaster, but I wasn't firing on all cylinders. To be honest, I haven't felt great for the past few weeks, which is quite unusual for me. I'm accustomed to a once-a-year cold from which I usually recover after a few days. This time, I even took the preemptive day off so that I would recover prontito, but that failed. Tuesday, I felt my voice starting to go, but I managed to get through the day and even attended a work-related dinner, during which I ranted and raved to one of my many bosses (not the smartest thing to do, but he likes to provoke and push buttons, and I never learn that I really shouldn't rise to those sorts of challenges, whether it's my father, one of my brothers or certain male faculty members that are presenting them; do I have an issue with men? Maybe). By the end of the evening, I had lost my voice, which is problematic as a teacher.
Well, it depends. I sometimes fantasize about being one of those teachers who assigns pages to read in class and absolute silence. If I were that type of a 'teaching professional', then I wouldn't mind losing my voice. And the day wasn't terrible since I had planned on a test in most classes, but then I still had to struggle through one class which I just CANNOT miss for the rest of the year. We don't have the time. It must have been a painful experience for the students, to listen to me struggle through the reading and analysis of Rubén Darío's poetry. So much for musicality!

Fortunately, I'm feeling better now, and I even ended the week (yesterday) meeting a colleague before school yesterday to lift weights for about 20 minutes. I have about zero upper-body strength, so it is a good challenge to me. The day ended with a nice dog walk, home-made pizza thanks to Trader Joe's pizza dough, and a viewing of the movie "The Damned United". Not the best movie I've seen, but one of the most enjoyable in recent weeks.
Today, we are getting out to walk the dogs and maybe poke around Silverlake, our old 'hood' in Los Angeles. Fun times!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

No pain, major gain!

Growing up, in high school and even a bit beyond, I suppose, I was never talented athletically, but I did strive to be active in sports and played several of them competently, if not well, and participated with a 'good' attitude. I was one of those sorts of players/athletes. I did like to push myself, and I very much prescribed to the "no pain, no gain" attitude that my coaches and even my dad espoused. Post-college, I *discovered* running and sort of got into it, running different road races and enjoying them, on the whole. I lived in Philly at the time, now does not strike me as an ideal place for running, but I was a bit naive back then.
As I've aged, my interest in running has waxed and waned, depending on other commitments, the weather, my physical and mental health. When I first moved to California, I was living in Monterey, and I optimistically signed up for the Big Sur marathon, a behemoth of a race, thanks to the killer hills. Still, it seemed like it would be a great personal goal, and I felt confident that I would embrace the challenge. I had started to log in those 12 to 15 mile runs, long slogs that give a person plenty of time to contemplate the meaning of life while tackling the next brutal hill, when I went skiing in Squaw Valley, went down a challenging black slope, and screwed up my knee, tearing the meniscus. That was two or three weeks before the marathon - not too smart. After that accident, I was tentative with my knee.
Flashback to last year when I was playing ultimate frisbee with students, my competitive spirit not content with watching the game (not that I was playing well, mind you, but I was playing). A quick cut produced a sharp pain, and then I limped, pathetically, off the field. That was in April, and I decided to finally see a doctor in May. And THEN, it was two months later when I begrudgingly decided that he might know what he was talking about, seeing as how he has spent years dealing with knees and elbows, so I should get that MRI that he recommended. One MRI later and a clear diagnosis: a torn ACL. I must admit that there was SOME relief that I had a legitimate complaint and ailment. After all, the first time I went to the see the doctor, I walked in there just fine, while all of these other individuals limped in, barely walking or on crutches or in a wheelchair. As much as I felt relieved to have a clear diagnosis, I then had to prepare myself for that next step - surgery.
There was little preparation, to be honest. I went on a road trip for a few weeks, pleading with the doctor that the surgery would have to wait because of the trip. He agreed, warning me that being active with my knee was like "driving without a seatbelt". Nice simile. I wonder if he uses that often on people?
As for the surgery, it was successful but the rehab process has been far more exhausting than I had expected going in, probably because I did not ask those types of questions. I definitely looked at the final product, a strong and healthy knee, and not the process. Still, throughout the process, I have tried to be a good sport and to maintain that "positive" attitude while going to physical therapy twice a week for 90-minute sessions, more or less, dealing with repetitive lunges, squats, and other exercises whose names would amuse the average person but bore me by now (flamingos, butt-burners, pile-drivers, axe-chops, up-and-overs, dolly-tucks, three-way step-down, just to give a few examples). In addition to the PT sessions, I probably lived on Advil and generic ibuprofen since September just to get through the day without pain.
Suddenly, without any warning, the pain stopped two weeks ago. The dull ache that would overtake me by 3:00 pm after being on my feet all day, or the sharp pain that accompanied some of the exercises that I had to do. Gone. Done. Over.
It's been transformative - I don't live on advil anymore, I have more energy at the end of each day, and I can actually run at the gym for the first time in years. Not that I'm running too far or fast, but I'm building up my strength, little by little. My shrunken left leg has begun to develop muscle tone, and each time I go to the gym, I try to run just that much further on the treadmill. Yesterday, I kicked the speed up to 6.2 miles per hour (for a minute). So, I didn't keep it on that speed, but it will eventually feel good.
Not only will I be able to run again, I have plans to ski (downhill and cross-country) again in this lifetime and take a major backpacking trip one of these days.
I had resigned myself that these activities, and maybe others, would not be a part of my life, and I had accepted that limitation. And so now, it is incredibly exciting and even liberating to think of all the places that I can run, the races in which I can participate, the ski slopes and trails that I will cruise along and the mountains and passes that I'll climb and explore.
I can't wait! And I thought that life would be downhill as I got old(er)!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

High School Musical!

Ah, March, it's that time of year. Not only does this bring the advent of March Madness, as people fill out brackets and start to pay attention to college basketball rankings (which, until now, are pretty useless, and even following the rankings can be useless - case in point, Kansas losing today), but in my *very* exciting world it means that it's MUSICAL time! Not that I involve myself in the yearly production. I have zero artistic talent, visual, dramatic or musical. That said, I do enjoy seeing our students on stage. It also helps that the director always puts on a great show. He's a genius working with the students and creating an entertaining, well-acted and well-choreographed performance, but he also wants the students to learn from the process, so it's not all about the BEST cast or performance possible. Although, the musical productions tend to be pretty damn good. I haven't seen the movie versions of the high school musical concept, but I can't imagine that they truly capture the stress, exhaustion and sleep-deprivation from which our students suffer.
Anyway, we had tickets for Thursday night, and I even cancelled homework for my students, feeling generous and supportive (keeping in mind the sleep deprivation and stress). Plus, I knew that it would be a futile effort because all of those involved would simply not do the homework, as little as it might be. I have actually learned a few things from experience.
So, back to Thursday, opening night of "Fiddler on the Roof". Despite that we left during the intermission, I can say with some confidence that it was quite a good production. Act I, at least, was. There is always a tinge of nostalgia as seniors are up on stage for their very last production, one of many "lasts" that begin to accrue for them, but then it's exciting to see young and new faces that are participating. For me, I enjoy watching students that may not shine in the classroom, particularly, but who possess an amazing voice as they belt out "Tradition!" or are surprisingly light on their feet as they glide across the stage.
Next week, life will return to normal - I'll dole out the homework like it's going out of style, hit students with a quiz, a test, an essay. In the meantime, however, we all might be whistling "If I were a rich man" to ourselves as we get through the day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good reads: "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"

So, despite the fact that I have some awesome 19th-century Spanish Romanticism works that are calling my name so that I'm prepared to teach for the week, I finally finished up Haruki Murakami's work, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I very much enjoyed, except for the end. I hate that! Not that the end was a total 'let-down', per se, but there were several loose ends. Still, I think I need to re-read the final chapters. You know when you are just racing to see what HAPPENS rather than taking in the experience of the fiction and the language? Yeah, I think that happened last night.
I am glad that I finally read a work of Murakami. It's funny because I had wanted to read something by him for a while, but for some reason, I hesitated, year after year. For Christmas, a student (or her parents) gave me a gift card to a local bookstore, so I decided to buy a book that I would remember and that I wanted to read. Somehow, Murakami jumped out at me.
On the whole, I would highly recommend the book to most people. Although I read the translation (of course, which I just read was cut WAY down because the publisher demanded a certain word length), it's such an interesting work, with different pieces to it and, of course, a very open ending. I loved the different spaces and times that Murakami created and evoked with it, presenting the reader with the timeless question "What is real and what is fiction" but doing so with a compelling narrative. Just a few quotes by more 'authoritative voices':
"Yet what Murakami lacks in finesse is more than compensated by the brilliance of his invention. (...) Murakami has written a bold and generous book, and one that would have lost a great deal by being tidied up." -Jamie James, The New York Times Book Review
"Wind-Up Bird has some powerful scenes of antic comedy and some shattering scenes of historical power, but such moments do not add up to a satisfying, fully fashioned novel. In trying to depict a fragmented, chaotic and ultimately unknowable world, Mr. Murakami has written a fragmentary and chaotic book." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

For my own reading pleasure, I will return to the Romantic movement, and I'm also going to try to get through "Tiempo de silencio", a Spanish novel that I was supposed to have read years ago for my master's. Better late than never, no doubt! I'll also try to read the school's book club choice, which I can't remember at this point.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Week in review - Nadir and Zenith

In my world, April is not the cruelest month, March is. It's a long haul between February and the end of March, when the quarter ends and spring break beckons. Yes, there IS that carrot, the promise of a week that offers trips and lazy days.
However, we all must get through March.
This past week was definitely the roughest of the year (so far? Perhaps I have forgotten things like giving a student the option to withdraw or to be expelled. Hmmm...). No, it was. Between feeling like I was hungover for the entire day for a few days thanks to a really awful sinus-cold-thing that I've been struggling with, dealing with our school's accreditation process, and finally chaperoning a school dance on a SATURDAY night, I'm not sure what was the nadir. I'll process, however.
The cold/sinus-thing has been a major drag. I usually get sick about once a school year, but I'll be really sick for a day or two and then bounce back. I have felt low-energy for over a week now, and I am so tired of and frustrated with the sinus headaches and occasional coughing bouts. I've also been getting through the day self-medicating, which I hate.
The WASC accreditation - this was actually the end of what has been a long process, starting last year, but it was the most stressful point. An outside committee comes to evaluate the entire school, interviewing people, meeting with departments and randomly dropping in on classrooms. Of course, the class of mine that they visited was less than scintilliating - last period of the day, half the class missing because of a track meet, and a lackluster (on my part) discourse on "adverbial clauses". FUN times. Not that they were evaluating ME, per se, but there is still that sense of paranoia because I did not "perform" appropriately. Also, the entire school, being under a microscope, gave off a general impression of high stress.
Obviously we are going to be accredited, that is not the question, but the process is rather grueling.
Finally, the school dance last night. I can now say that I have definitely heard a Lady Gaga song, a fact of which I had been dubious before said dance. I actually don't hate being a chaperone, but it's a long and a late night for me and I usually have thumping music and pop-y songs stuck in my head for at least 24 hours afterwards. No drama last night, except when the
DJ (a student) decided to play a song with extraordinarily sexually explicit lyrics. I'm no prude, and Idon't mind the occasional F-bomb in a song here and there, but this went far beyond anything like I had heard. To me, it sounded like porno in a song. Maybe I've become an old hag, but the other chaperones were equally outraged. I played the 'heavy', but it's times like that when I wish I were really tall and imposing and could scare the shit out of a 16-year-old kid.
Okay, the GOOD part of the week?
The major excitement for me is that I bought a new skirt at Anthro. I did not get a new, spring-summer print skirt last year, for whatever reason, so I felt that I was due one. Plus, the temperatures next week will be balmy - in the 70's. Perfect timing for a new skirt!
And so:
I always have such the dilemma when I buy something that I really like: do I wear it school and then it becomes tainted because it is for "work" or do I separate the item and wear it for fun? I do think that I'll wear this to work, as it will be nice to throw in a fresh look, but hopefully it will still be 'fun'. I may have bought some other items too (oops!).

Michael and I have been experimenting with curries, and we made a fantastic chicken red curry for dinner this past week. It was a welcome change from the Progresso chicken soup that I had been eating to combat the sinus thing. Not only does it look pretty nice (I think), but it tasted great and is so easy to make. We will definitely incorporate it into our standard repertoire.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekends are for brunch

Random side note: While we have a big-ass television set on/through which we watch movies and play video games (I don't really do the latter, although I have tried out "Little Big Planet" and it is fun), we do NOT have cable and cannot watch regular television. Yes, I missed the Olympics and I have also just now missed the Oscars. That said, the Interweb is a wonderful place where you can follow the entire Oscar ceremony on NPR's live blog. Pathetic, I know, but it kept me rather entranced for a few hours of the evening. I must say that I don't have anything against "Avatar", but I did not want it to win.

Back to the main story: Brunch.
I happen to love brunch, although I am always torn between the decision: sweet or savory. Sweet, in the form of pancakes, waffles and french toast; savory, in the form of eggs and sausage, omelettes, scrambles, chilaquiles, burritos, bacon, grits, bicuits. The ideal, of course, is to have sweet AND savory, which I can usually swing because I'll order the sweet and Michael will go for the savory. We are a good team like that.
Yesterday morning, we were supposed to meet up with some friends for brunch. They ended up canceling on us, but I swear the brunch idea was firmly lodged in my brain. So, after an early dog walk, we headed out for brunch. It seemed decadent because we almost never "just go out" to brunch on our own. This tends to be a 'social' activity. We threw caution into the wind, however. The experience did not disappoint - banana bread french toast for me and a Southern egg concoction for Michael. We shared our meal with each other, of course, and left completely satisfied and stuffed.
Then, this morning, as we were walking Gus and Milo around the neighborhood for their morning walk, we smelled breakfast cooking, the aroma wafting out of one of the houses along our route. Once again, the brunch idea inserted itself into my 'breakfast' plan. So, instead of coming home and eating a "typical" breakfast of cereal and fruit, I made waffles and eggs (with goat cheese and chives). I've had a waffle maker since I lived in Seattle (ooh, long ago - 2000-2002) but rarely use it. However, about once a year, it comes in VERY handy. Today, the waffles hit the spot, and the eggs were great. Topped it all off with fresh strawberries from the farmers' market and a lovely cup of French press coffee, we couldn't have been happier or more satisfied.

Tomorrow is the beginning of what will probably be a very long, crazy-busy and stressful week, so I will try to keep the memory of lazy weekend breakfast/brunches close to me.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Traveling: Trips or Vacations?

Ah, relaxation. Spending a week in the Bahamas or the Caribbean, hanging out by the pool, taking walks along the beach at dusk, waving down the pool boy for another margarita, daiquiri or piña colada. I can't wait!
Except for the fact that Michael and I do not travel in such a way. Or at least, we have never gone anywhere together that resembled this fantasy of total relaxation. Abandoning all of one's troubles and thinking about nothing except whether to take a nap or have another beer sounds quite nice, when I come to think of it, but we function rather differently. I remember this past summer we were talking to a family friend about her honeymoon (we, by the way, went fly-fishing with family members for our honeymoon. It's a long story) and their experience. They went to a resort in Cancun that was similar to Sandals and highly recommended it to us. I really try not to judge people, but this is a woman who has traveled to Chile and Argentina and all over Europe, but she recommended an all-inclusive resort in Cancún, Mexico?! No. Not gonna happen. Ever.
Not that Michael and I dislike travel. If that were the case, we would not even be together, since we spent two years "together" thanks to coast-to-coast travel. Despite all of those miles logged, we actually only traveled together twoice before we got married and moved in together (we ended up being rather traditional, not living together, but it wasn't really planned that way). The first trip sort of resembled something like the image above - we went to Baja California, and we really did relax and enjoy ourselves. Fortunately we missed out on Cabo San Lucas, except for the day that we departed and we had to spend some time there, unfortunately. Most of the week was spent in a small town called Cabo Pulmo which is easy to get to - if you don't mind driving along dirt roads (they may be paved by now!). Despite the ominous sign of several buzzards feasting on a carcass as we drove into town, it was a beautiful little place, and we spent much of our time just hanging out.
The second travel experience was definitely NOT a vacation, although we had some great moments and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in Ecuador
As one can see:

Very exciting, as we wrestled with donkeys, suffered from altitude, and crouched in weird positions, looking cool and relaxed in all of these activities.
Although we have a very exciting upcoming trip in July/August, I fear that yet again we will be taking a trip and NOT taking a vacation. I shouldn't say I "fear" since we are going to France and Spain to visit friends, family, sightsee and hang out, but I must admit that I am gunning for a long weekend when we can be alone and do nothing but drink wine, eat cheese and stroll around a small village, preferably in the mountains, by a lake or by either the Mediterranean or the Cantabrian Sea (like San Sebastian, as a small example!).
Not that I am complaining about the fact that we are traveling to Europe - don't get the wrong idea. But I don't see a "vacation" in our future! Rather, we will be staying with friends in Paris as we tour various museums, see the final day of the Tour de France as they ride through Paris (I'm SO psyched about that), eat lots of baguettes, walk tons, go visit family and do more eating, walking, and touring. Shew!
And so, Michael and I were talking about travels over dinner on Thursday, and rather than specifically talking about this upcoming trip, we were daydreaming out loud to each other about our wish list. I said that I'd love to plan a trip to Thailand at the end of 2011. I think that trip actually WOULD let us vacation. I'm already dreaming of sparkling, warm water and amazing Thai food to eat every day. Maybe it was no coincidence that we were eating Thai food?
But, yes, a real vacation would be so nice one of these days...

What about others? Do you take trips or vacations? What places are on your 'wanderlust list'?