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.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Equipment failure!

I believe that in a fit of overconfidence I said that I would post a few tips on hiking, camping, backpacking. In retrospect, I spoke far too soon. Not that we didn't have an incredible time, because we did. Words fall a bit short, but I will try to describe the experience in the next post. And despite my trepidation, my knee functioned fine, and was a bit sore, but no more so than my neck, shoulders, butt, calves, back. You know, my entire body has a few aches and pains.
But for now, let me just say that before one sets off on a hiking/backpacking adventure, it is always a plus to check one's equipment. Let's just say, for instance, that if your long-beloved boots fail on you, it is good to have this piece of information WELL before you are on the trail. Also, rather than scoffing at packing lists that include "Duct tape" as a necessity, you should go directly to the Home "Despot" and buy rolls and rolls of the stuff so that you can tape your boots back together.
Aaaaah,hindsight is 20/20.
Anyway, my boots did not totally fall apart, but I did not even look at them when I put them on. Obviously I looked at the laces and strapped myself in, but the boots felt fine as usual. Then, once we arrived at our destination, I took them off when I was putting on my long-underwear (very sexy detail, that is!), and when I put them back on, I noticed that the sole was starting to separate entirely from the boot. I believe that the hiking gods had cursed me because I had been so smug about these boots! Just as we were driving up to Sequoia/Kings Canyon, I boasted about how wonderful they were, 8 years old and still going strong.
Despite my fantasies of a barefooted trip back to the trailhead, the boots did survive the trip back down, but they might be headed to the land of dead boots. This makes me incredibly sad because I have a strong attachment to them. My parents bought me these boots as a birthday present before I hiked down the Grand Canyon, back in the spring of 2002. They've accompanied me to Ecuador twice and on several other overnights and any sort of snow adventure that I might encounter.
Here they are now, having seen better days:

In an effort to salvage the boots or to get something from them, Michael and I headed to REI today. He was convinced that I could ask for a refund because of their very generous return policy, but I felt that in good faith I could not tell them that I was disappointed with their product. Yes, I was disappointed that they had fallen apart after eight years, but I didn't see it as "equipment malfunction". The woman at the return desk was skeptical about them, but she sent me to the Dave, the shoe guy. I, in turn, was skeptical about Dave, until he took
the boots and gushed about what wonderful shoes they were and ruminated about the fact that REI no longer makes the product. I felt like ruminating too, but he did give me one glimmer of hope - REI would send them to their "shoe repair guy". If he could fix them, then he would.
I should find out in just a few weeks, but I'm going to keep my fingers double-crossed!
I can't even tell you how excited I would be if if REI sent resoled boots back to me.
Nor can I tell you how bummed I am going to be if the shoe wizard cannot fix them. While I like to shop and love a new pair of shoes, I am also faithful to those shoes, like these boots, that truly symbolize the places where I've been and proudly show the wear and tear of years and excitement. I know, they are just shoes, but I just might shed a tear over them.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A busy life and weekend plans!

I always forget that at this point in the year, I am completely overwhelmed and totally behind. I now have a stack of tests AND essays to grade. I did, however, survive a week of meetings, in addition to classes. The three-day weekend seems like a nice way to celebrate that I've made it this far, being the veteran that I am. Usually, I like to hunker down, relax and get through piles of papers when a long weekend presents itself. This time around, however, I refuse to succomb to that temptation.

So, our bags are already packed, the food is prepped, more or less, and we have a full tank of gas. Kings Canyon National Park, here we come! Tomorrow night, if all goes as planned, we will be sleeping as snug as a bug in our sleeping bags, hopefully under a blanket of stars.
It's rather symbolic that we planned this trip to Kings Canyon - symbolic to me, at least. The last time I did a short, overnight back-packing trip was in Kings Canyon. Four years ago in August, Michael and I were still pretty much newly-weds (such a silly term), and we did a quick trip to Seville Lake. Since then, my knee became progressively weaker, and I nixed backpacking as an activity. It is with great excitement and trepidation, then, that I undertake this trip. We're still not sure what our route will be, but there should be several good options (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the park isn't full up!). The excitement is pretty obvious - weekend getaway, breathtakingly beautiful scenery, physical challenge. The last item also brings with it a bit of trepidation on my end. Since I haven't done an overnight backpack in a while, I do feel a bit anxious about the demands that the trip will exact, but I'm also hopeful and optimistic about my strength and ability.
If it is a successful trip, I'll post an update and expound poetically on the joys of backpacking. I'm not actually very experienced, and this is one of my major goals in the next few years - to become a more experienced camper, hiker and backpacker. In the meantime, I've checked our list at least twice, and I *think* that we have all the necessities and even a few luxuries! I'm not sure if my Thermarest compressible pillow counts as a luxury, but it is official "gear", and I happen to love this item of comfort!
Ah, it's the small joys in life!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bachelorette fun: A recap


So, there comes a certain point in your life when you think that you've crossed the threshold, that all of your close friends are married (more or less) and the possibility/necessity/requirement of attending all of the wedding shenangins is OVER for you. You become smug and content, and while you still attend weddings, you feel that your obligation extends to gifts, the ceremony and drinking plenty of wine at the reception. Plus, a wedding conveniently gives you the excuse to get a pedicure.
And then, out of nowhere, you make friends with a FEW younger people, and suddenly you find yourself included in the party of all parties: The "Bachelorette party" (sometimes it is a weekend).
First of all, I want to know when and why did it become imperative that people invest so much time and energy in these bachelor/bachelorette weekends? Was it because of those stupid reality TV shows (Confession: I actually really liked the first season of "The Bachelor")? Or can I blame yet another societal ill on Hollywood? Is "The Hangover" a product of it or has it contributed to the feverish planning of those moments of mad debauchery?
A wedding is already, in my opinion, a huge financial commitment to the people tying the knot and also to friends and family. And then you add to that these extravagant weekends in Vegas, Napa or Cabo that some people plan, it smacks of narcissism.
Oh, that's right, we do live in the Facebook and Twitter age where narcissism IS rampant. Afterall, my life is so important and scintillating I must let everyone know what I'm doing every fucking second of the day. Okay, I'm a hypocrite - I do have a blog, afterall, and while I think it's interesting, clearly other people do not. Losers!
Anyway, despite much reluctance and feeling too old to be attending a bachelorette party (almost 40 - doesn't that give a me a "get-of-jail-free" card when it comes to these sorts of things), I committed to it way back in the spring. The date moved around a few times, and finally the bride and the party planner decided on October 2. Fortunately, it was only an evening, not an entire weekend, dedicated to raunchy panties and penis candy. Although it wasn't necessarily my favorite way to spend a Saturday evening, I must admit that drinking champagne in a revolving cocktail lounge was kind of fun and offered us nice views, and the planner did make reservations for us at an excellent restaurant, Drago Centro. I admit that I wished that I had been there with Michael because the food and ambiance were great. However, I did not feel *totally* awkward with the other attendees. I was happy, however, that I didn't wear a sexy little dress like some of the other 'ladies' - I thought that the instructions to "look hot" were ironic! Apparently irony is not a usual part of bachelorette parties.
I opted out after dinner, going home, while the rest of the party went off to nightclubs. Also, I will say that the bride-to-be is not or has not been a 'bridezilla', but is pretty low-key about her wedding and all of the festivities leading up to it.
So, all in all, not a bad night, considering that I slipped under the covers before midnight!
What do other people think about bachelorette parties and the extravagant wedding circuit in general? Fun times or another sign of the narcissistic epidemic?