Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"The heat, my God, the heat!"

If you can identify that quote from Elaine (of "Seinfeld" fame, do I need to say more?), then kudos to you. I actually remember seeing that episode (the one when she discovers that Puddy is religious) when the show was prime-time. Wow, does that ever age me!
In this case, I'm not referring to my eternal damnation. I can leave that for another day, thank you very much.
This is a much more literal reference, to the mercury that is SOARING! I suppose it soared and peaked and has now dropped about ten degrees, so I can enjoy the fact that it's only 95 or 96 f-ing degrees instead of 106 or even 111. Seriously, Michael and I actually went to the gym yesterday afternoon because we needed to get out of the house but couldn't imagine anything else, and the car thermometer bounced between 112 and 113. I thought that maybe it had broken, but then I saw the news which couldn't do much more except report on the record-breaking temperatures.
These are the times that I hate living in Southern CA.
I suppose it happens everywhere, those days that trick you into believing that you can put away sandals and breezy little skirts. But it is RIDICULOUS, I think, to go from 70 degrees as the high one day, and then just 2 or 3 days later, you don't even want to leave the house because it feels like a furnace outside!
I realize that this is a pretty boring topic - the weather. But I hate that people in other parts of the country can wax poetically these days about fall and the crisp temperatures while I've cancelled all weekend plans to do anything outside because it's so f-ing hot.
The good news is that there is a downward trend in temperatures and that, so far, there are no fires (there was one yesterday, but they seem to have it under control). Oh joy, oh joy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Siren song of summer

There are unequivocal signs that summer is waning (has waned?), you know, small details such as going back to work, procrastinating and not grading students' weak analytical essays, but it isn't officially the end of summer. Almost, I know, but it seemed like a good opportunity to give one last, dying shout-out to summer months. Friday night's "adventure" has inspired this, and I finished my last summer book last week. These are the final nails in summer's coffin, I suppose.
Not to be too morose, because summer has gone out with a bang. On Thursday night, a friend called and asked what we were doing on Friday. Not much, since my preferred Friday night involves a lazy and an early evening. She, however, offered us tickets to a Dodgers' game, and since we hadn't gone to a game since June '09, it seemed like an opportunity that I/we couldn't refuse. By 6:00 pm on Friday night, I was regretting my decision - Netflix and my bed both called to me. However, a commitment is a commitment.
It ended up being a fabulous experience, of course! First of all, it was fun to go with our friends, and I always forget how much I love attending baseball games. While I'm not much of a baseball fan, the experience at the ballpark is definitely unique and the energy in the crowd is contagious. I may be a bit partial, but I do think that it's a treat to go Dodger Stadium, which is old-school. Plus, I love the palm trees that are all around it! The added plus for us on Friday was that these tickets were crazy, amazing seats! I've never experienced such an "up close and personal view" of a sporting event. We were right by the Colorado Rockies' dugout, and the players were 20 feet away from us! Finally, the food... When isn't food a part of the baseball experience? I'm not a huge "Dodger Dog" fan, but the spread to which we had access was definitely NOT 'regular' baseball food, and Michael and I must have had a bite of everything! We ended the evening in a food coma, a bit sad that the Dodgers lost, but very happy to have shared the entire experience with good friends. We also decided that we must remember to attend at least one baseball game every year!

And now, summer reading. It wasn't, to be honest, a very reading-heavy summer for me. Perhaps the Internet has eroded my ability to focus on longer texts? I doubt it, but it seemed like a lackluster summer reading-wise. That said, I did enjoy the books that I read, and there was a trend amongst them - travel and adventure. Ha! It was completely unintentional, but perhaps some unconscious, 'id', part of my psychic apparatus dictated this connection?
A few highlights:
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke. I must say that I was quite envious of her when I finished this book. It was SO good! I had started it years ago, when it was toted as "Harry Potter for adults". While it does involve magic, it is so much more! That was a fun read.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. My parents gave me this book which I then left for my fried Sara in Paris. Not the "best" book I've ever read, but it was an entertaining read. Part personal reflection/experience on running, part treatise on running, part science, and a great chronicle of adventure and athleticism and some amazing athletes, this book did make me want to run an ultra-marathon. I have yet to do that, however!
The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn. A memoir about attending the Cordon Bleu in Paris. It was a quick read after our trip, and I wanted to enjoy it, but I felt that it lacked much substance. The stories/experiences shared were quick, and I somewhat identified with the writer, but it was a poorly-written book. It actually annoyed me that she was/is a professional writer and could be so lazy in her writing.
Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. I thought that I had read this book years ago (like 15 years ago), but my memory of the book differed starkly from my experience of reading it this time. Funny how that happens. I thought that it was a bit more light-hearted, but I found it much darker this time. It was, however, a good read, full of surprises, and Greene is an excellent writer. I'll actually leave it at that.

And, while the siren song of summer calls to me now, I absolutely MUST grade these papers!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Taking on the hills! (Bad metaphor)

So, I survived the week with only one major f-up: forgetting (not checking) my Friday schedule, only to be informed that I have class right at that moment. I didn't miss the entire class, fortunately, but I did arrive very unprepared. Like, extremely so. Ah, well.
On another note, I have actually graded ALL of my senior class's essays. This might be a record for me in turn-around time, but before I become too pleased and smug with myself, I have to admit that they don't count for a grade. Still, I would like to think that this action might counter-act my "bad teacher moment" yesterday.
Enough of the tangents - the topic at hand: sports as life metaphor. Yes, it's cliché and overwrought to resort to this pat and easy metaphor, but I'll get over it. I'm not much of an athlete myself, being more accident-prone as an adult than anything else, but as I've recovered from surgery last year and found renewed pleasure in running and have even begun to enjoy cycling a bit, I can't resist the temptation to delve into this territory.
So, here it goes: For the first time in YEARS (maybe ever), I'm finally able to do the downhills. When I say "do" the downhills, I mean attack them and/or sit back, relax and let the moment carry me along. Either way, it's a fairly new sensation, both in terms of my running and biking experience and also in terms of my life experience!
Let me explain:
Running has been a no-no for the past 6 years, pretty much. While I tried to run consistently a few years ago, I realized that my body (knee) could not take the pounding. An operation and a year later, I have the strength and stability to head outside for an easy run around the neighborhood or I can try to push myself a bit harder by tackling horse trails and some wicked hills. Last week, while I was running up a hill, I came to the crest and started down it. In the past, the downhill was actually MUCH more problematic for my knees and psyche than the uphill - this was the terrain that seemed to trip me up, where I felt much more off-balance. Tuesday afternoon, however, I just cruised downward and enjoyed the speed that I gradually picked up. I don't know if I can quite describe the freedom and excitement that I felt by my full "embrace" of the hill.
Recently, the same sort of thing happened on my bike. When I gave up running a few years ago (before surgery), I decided that I should transition to biking. It hasn't been an easy "fit" for me, and I still sometimes struggle mentally when I ride. Rather than just enjoying the experience, I hear my drill sergeant's voice shouting out commands: UNCLIP NOW!!! SHIFT GEARS, SHIFT GEARS, SHIFT GEARS. PRACTICE LOOKING BACK. And the main one: RELAX GOING DOWNHILL! That final command always eluded me - I felt a bit terrified going downhill. On my most recent ride, however, I found myself looking forward to the downhill, excited to get into "my drops", able to enjoy the momentum that pulled me along. What a freakin' difference!
And so, what does this have to do with life?!
I think that I'm finally able to enjoy the downhill moments - whether it's losing myself in a moment that just pulls me along or whether it's leaning into the downhill all on my own, the "easy", fast, fun moments don't pose a threat to me. I don't always have to be working but can sit back and enjoy life.
I know, I know, this could turn into "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handy at this rate. But it has been a pretty big realization for me, and I'm content to revel in it for a little while.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Summer's end: Angst and excitement ahead!

Today marks THE END of summer! Although that end has drawn near for a while, what with a student writing workshop a few weeks ago, and then last week and its meetings and planning and speaking in a full faculty meeting (major stomach butterflies!) and prepping, this is the proverbial "rubber-hitting-the-road" moment. I wish that I could say that I feel extremely able to strut into class on Wednesday and dazzle all of my students with the witty presentation of the class and the material to which they will dedicate the next ninth months of their lives. That I will compel them to work their hardest at every moment, and that I will keep well apace of their every move, thought, wish and desire!
And then pigs will fly!
Seriously, I am excited to return to school, to feel the energy that comes from students and teachers running around campus, to watch the year unfold with all its promise and hope. But I will also miss the summer months very, very much, and not just because of the crazy trips that I/we took but because of the small, little moments that define and distinguish the summer months from any other time of year. Today, for instance, I took a nice bike ride at 10:00 am on a Monday - when will that happen again?! Afterwards, I prepared lunch for Michael and me: a melted cheddar-carmelized onion open-face sandwich that I followed up with an ice cream sandwich. I also took the dogs on an easy stroll in the morning, something that eludes me during the school year. No nap today, but I could have taken one, had I been in the mood.
All that changes, which is normal and necessary. I will hurry out the door tomorrow morning, after downing breakfast and a cup of coffee with cream, quick good-byes to the household (that includes the dogs). I will struggle to remember my students' names and my schedule for the first quarter and it will take me time to re-learn the flow of the day, the week, the month. I will never feel that I have the flow of the year because it will (or usually does) fly by. I will try to dress professionally and act competent and at some point in the year I might believe that I actually AM competent, but then there will come a reminder that I need to work on a few small 'issues'. I will also spend a lot of time in the faculty room, making copies, gossiping (never about students! Gasp!), catching an elusive moment of peace or frantically preparing for the next class which begins in 5 minutes!
I wonder if I will ever tire of the start of the year, if it will bore me or if I will feel "over it", just blasé and full of ennui. I suppose that is the moment when I will have to step back and evaluate my life.
As for this year, it all begins again.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Weekend update: Old familiar favorites and few new finds

This weekend, for me at least, feels a bit like the "last hurrah" as summer winds down and the school year shifts from neutral to fifth gear. Fortunately, we stayed close to home and planned few activities, which I needed after a quick trip to South Texas last weekend and then a week full of meetings at school. Despite no "major" structure, the weekend, per usual, has taken shape, and we have taken advantage of the three-days as a chance to really rest and relax while being somewhat social. We've delighted in a few "new" discoveries and have returned to some old haunts on the Westside, which is always a treat.
First of all, we met a friend-colleague for drinks and snacks on Friday night in Pasadena at a new place called Dish Bar and Bistro. I do sometimes despair that we live in a rather stodgy and boring area (seriously), and Pasadena offers some good options but also a lot of chain and mall-like places. So, this was a pleasant find for us! I'm not confident that it will survive in the long run, since there weren't too many people there, but I liked the atmosphere -low-key with pretty decent food and a great happy hour menu!
Yesterday included a run to the Pasadena Farmers' Market, a nap, and a new dish for dinner, "Shrimp and Grits" although it was more like "Shrimp and Polenta". It is a keeper - fast, easy and tasty!
TODAY, then, has been the banner day. To escape the heat of the Pasadena area (triple digit temperatures!), we headed west to Venice, CA for the morning. I do believe that if I were rich and really cool, I would totally pick Venice as the place to live. Since I'm neither rich nor
cool, I just visit the area and pretend that I don't care that I'm poor and kind of lame. Anyway, we arrived in Venice, and I thought that we might have to come all the way home since it was a BRISK (to me) 63 degrees! How does that happen? First, we stopped off at Intelligentsia for a latte and a pain au raisins (ALMOST as good as those that we had in France - you could definitely taste the butter!). There are all sorts of crazy people who frequent Intelligentsia, as you can see from the photo below:

From there, we wandered down to the beach and the boardwalk and spent some time ogling surfers and gawking at families and other people hanging out. If I had a family, I would definitely be packing the kids up to spend a day at the beach! Fortunately for me, I don't have children, so I don't have to force fun on myself or them.

Finally, we walked back to Abbot Kinney, one of my favorite places to poke around, especially places like Surfing Cowboys, where we picked up a Christmas present for a family member - total score!

We also saw a few of our favorite obsessions: Classic VWs!

Is it kind of sad that a VW van is my dream car? I'm seriously obsessed.

I can't say that the morning was entirely without "incidents". I stepped RIGHT INTO a big dog poop. I'm unsure whether it had been a "pile" before my foot squashed it, but you can see me trying to get some of it off below. I cursed myself and the dog, but then I decided that it was fortunate that I had on my Chaco sandals which I can just wash off. Imagine if I had been wearing some designer sandals?! Or flimsy little flip-flops? Ewww!

Finally, I made a purchase as one can see below. Sorry for the crappy photo quality,
but what can I do? Anyway, I'd been looking around for a casual but funky and very functional black purse for ages and I found one at some random store. The price tag was right and so is the look, and now I've sworn off any purchases for the next few months. Seriously! But I do like that it isn't a "brand". I don't know - I don't mind buy clothes that are from the usual suspects, but I really prefer purses and jewelry that are more unique. Maybe it's because I don't buy those pieces very often for myself?

And the grand finale will be tonight: Lotería Grill, one of my favorite Mexican food places in LA. I'm so psyched! It's been ages since Michael and I have eaten here. We are meeting up with some friends of his and gave them a few suggestions, and they opted for Lotería. Mexican Food Nirvana, here I come tonight!

Now, a few random questions for you, my random one or two reader/s:
  • Any random and non-utilitarian car obsessions or am I alone in that?
  • Purses, jewelry, shoes and other items that you prefer to NOT buy from a 'typical' store?
  • Have you ever stepped into a pile of dog shit?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Road trippin' and other random thoughts!

September 1st seems timely for a last-ditch effort to celebrate the final days of summer. Sadly, I can no longer enjoy those halcyon days since I've been neck-deep in meetings all week. Shew, my brain is tired! Before I fully embrace the reality that comes with the back-to-school fun and madness, I would like to wax poetic about the joys of road-tripping and exploring the 'great outdoors' during the summer months.
I know, I know, I spent plenty of time in Spain and France, so why romanticize the rest of my summer when it pales in comparison to those "grand dames"? Especially when I'm on the topic of road trips which can evoke a few negative emotions from me!

Still, there are just as many positive ones that also emerge in that murky pond that I call "memory". I believe that the trek from South Texas to Arkansas, every summer to visit my grandmother, instilled a slight appreciation for road-tripping. Not that it was a serious road trip - it took two days, but those seemed like centuries when my brothers were poking me and I was getting carsick by reading one book or another, even though I just KNEW that I'd feel pretty crappy after a while. It did have some of the elements of a good road trip, however, such as the Dairy Queen in Nacogdoches, TX and crossing over the Red River, seeing trains and then getting out of the car and smelling the pine trees.

These days, Michael and I are huge fans of roadtrips, which we frequently take with Gus and Milo (our dogs). Usually one of the main attractions is Colorado, and we've almost memorized the route from I-15 to I-70, anticipating certain curves in the road, convenience stores, rest areas, and the sun and shadows at different times of the day. With some frequency, we just blow through the entire state of Utah, oooh-ing and aaaah-ing from St. George on, but this summer, I begged Michael to stop in Moab, UT, and he acquiesced (he's great like that). Personally, I love Moab, and have visited this random outdoorsy paradise five different times now - while on a road trip of one sort or another!
I must admit that I was a bit nervous - what if Michael didn't like Moab? Would that be a total "deal-breaker" for us? What if the developers/tourists had ruined it completely? While it IS a bit more developed each time I visit, it is still clinging to a vibrantly independent spirit. One of many highlights of our short (14-hour stay) was the Apache Motel, which is not fancy at all, but John Wayne and John Ford stayed there and so did I!

We spent the night in Moab and then woke up early and headed to Arches National Park, another jewel in the Utah national parks crown. Again, I've hiked up to "Delicate Arch" at least three times in my lifetime, but I do not tire of the spectacular scenery.

Finally, back in the States, after our European sojourn, we were fortunate enough to spend a few days in Colorado and ended up on a hike at Brainard Lake. I think that we had finally recovered somewhat from jetlag and then we found ourselves with major headaches from the altitude. Despite being at 10,000 feet and enduring somewhat inclement weather, Michael and I completely enjoyed the experience! I am a total sucker for alpine meadows and wildflowers and alpine lakes. As much as I love being close to mountains here in the LA area, they don't have quite that "breathtaking" quality of the hikes in Colorado and other western states. Not to me, at least! And so, the hiking bug and travel bug continue to strike! Even though it's the beginning of the school year, I have already started to imagine the 'places we will go' next year. Hiking in Colorado is definitely on the list!