Sunday, June 26, 2011

Daytripping for a Sunday pilgrimage!

Yes, Sunday does seem to be the appropriate day of the week to visit some holy site. Yesterday, Michael and I were looking at a wide-open day and considering our options. So, after a not-too-early morning that involved buckwheat pancakes and a run, we loaded up the car - dogs and humans in tow - and headed northwest! While a drive to Santa Barbara (90 miles, give or take a few) seems like a long haul for a day trip, it IS a beautiful drive and totally worth it. Especially if you have a few choice places to pay homage to!

We arrived in Santa Barbara around 11:30, just in time for the line to not yet have wrapped around the block at Taquería la Super Rica. My first Super Rica experience was on the drive up for the Senior Trip at the end of the year. One of the other faculty members in the van suggested that we make a stop, and the other chaperone and I did not protest one bit. So we arrived about 30 minutes late - big deal? It was TOTALLY worth it. The food is amazing at this little place. Apparently Julia Childs used to frequent the taquería when she was in Santa Barbara. Who can argue with that? A fairly humble abode for such highly esteemed cuisine:

Since that first time there, I've raved about Taquería la Super Rica to Michael, and apparently I convinced him that it was worth it just for a drive up. That's right - drive 90 minutes, eat some amazing food, and return to our corner of the world. It wasn't such a quick trip since we did have to wait to order and then wait again to pick up our food. Michael agreed, however, that the food was unbelievably good. Not heavily seasoned or sauced - just extremely fresh. I also think that the homemade tortillas are key. While I waited, I was enthralled, watching the woman pat out the tortillas, press them down and then cook them up. Anyway, we went with "La Super Rica Especial" which is just a big mess of cheese, pork and peppers. I've never had anything like it at a Mexican restaurant, and it's just all goodness. Since we had the dogs, we got our order to go - went to a park by a local school and licked our plates clean.
After THAT pilgrimage site, we headed back south and stopped at the original Patagonia retail store in Ventura, CA. We had been there once before, but we decided that we should return. This was the store that Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and über-climber, surfer, outdoorsy dude, environmentalist, all-around bad ass, opened in 1970. It has obviously been upgraded since then, but the original shed where Chouinard made his climbing gear is still there. Seriously!
I was taking a picture of Michael and Gus and Milo outside the store, feeling like a huge dork, when this guy comes skateboarding down the street, stops and asks us if we want to go to the back of the store and see the original shed! I was surprised and felt like an even BIGGER dork at that point because obviously he picked up on my slight Patagonia obsession. I asked about the dogs, and he said, "Oh, bring them on back!". See, THIS is why I LOVE Patagonia.
Here is the lame picture that I took of Michael in front of the store:

And then here I am at the "tin shed" - I was so excited to be there! So were Gus and Milo!

After the excitement of visiting the (ORIGINAL!) Patagonia store, we ended up taking a walk on the beach and watched lots of surfers catch a wave or two. And as I'm writing this, I'm wishing that I could quit my 'real' job, move to Ventura, work at Patagonia and go surfing every day. Even though I don't surf!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A few notes on June

Life has slowed down to a fairly luxurious pace these days. My main question of the day is: do I swim before the water polo team practices or after? Usually it's after, which explains the lovely tan-line that is developing, despite my efforts to remain as pale as I possibly can (and that is pale!). Also, after weeks of procrastination, Michael and I got our butts back on the saddle after a month-long hiatus from biking (we do not cycle; we bike). The good news is that the Angeles Crest Highway finally re-opened after a massive mudslide dramatically closed it off about 15 months ago or so. After a bazillion dollars in repair, it's now a great place to bike, if you can handle the crazy elevation gain and the equally crazy descent. And sharing a fairly narrow road with lots of traffic. No super crazy rides for us - but we did gain something like 2,000 feet in 5 miles. That was painful on the bike!

A few other highlights these days:
- Gus is wearing the cone of shame which we find very entertaining! I know that we shouldn't, and we are mainly thankful that he has made such a great recovery. He started to lick the stitches and on Sunday, we noticed that two of them had come out. So, we 'coned' him. He doesn't seem to mind the cone as much as we thought that he would, but he does run into walls and eating is more of a challenge than he would like. He should get the stitches out on Friday, and then he will be a 'free man', more or less.

- I have enjoyed some pleasure reading these days, although I really need to crack a few more challenging books this summer to stimulate my brain cells. However, I would definitely recommend Just Kids by Patti Smith, This Is Water by David Foster Wallace, The Private Patient by PD James and am currently reading Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré.

- Along the same lines, Michael and I are watching movies rather than TV shows (although we do watch an episode of Law & Order once a day thanks to our DVR). A few notable movies we've seen recently: Mother (not to be confused with a 1996 Albert Brooks film), is a Korean suspense thriller that was sharp, intense and quite bizarre at times; Flame and Citron, a movie about the Danish Resistance during World War II which was good but definitely not great and seemed to want to be a gangster movie at times; Dr. Zhivago, which definitely fits into the "epic" category, all 3 hours and 20 minutes of its sad, sad story; and last but not least, Barton Fink, a movie that I probably haven't seen in 18 years or something ridiculous like that and that I should watch at least once a year now that I live in the LA area. It is SUCH a great movie! Best Coen Brothers' movie? I'm still a sucker for Miller's Crossing, but this one might actually trump it.

- We enjoyed another weeknight out on the town with a family friend who also works in the "Independent School World". We ate mediocre Thai food and swapped lots of shop talk. There are times when I fantasize about quitting my job, but then these moments make me wonder if I could ever enjoy anything as much as working with teenagers, school curriculum and program development and talking about crazy colleagues!

- Mentally packing for our trip to the East Coast! We leave next week for a bit of a whirlwind tour of DC, NYC and Rhode Island. I am mixing business and pleasure as I do have a workshop to attend in Delaware, but we also plan to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the urban chaos of NYC and the peaceful sleepiness of a small Rhode Island beachfront town.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Out and about in LA: LACMA and Umami

I've decided that this past Thursday marks the *true* beginning of summer, after several false starts. I finished up the "College-essay-writing-workshop" at noon, took my lucrative earnings from the 2-day event and went out on the town! It wasn't the most beautiful evening, but Michael and I enjoyed leaving our small corner of the world to head into "the city". Adventures awaited us!

We had tickets at LACMA (LA County Museum of Art) to see the Tim Burton exhibit. I'm always torn in regards to my feelings towards LACMA. Their Magritte exhibit, a few years ago, was pretty fantastic - maybe one of the better museum exhibits that I've ever seen, which says a lot.
Here is the entrance to the no-longer new addition to the museum - the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.

Before our viewing time (6:00 pm), we wandered around some of the other exhibits and took photos. Here is Michael, admiring the view of the Hollywood Hills.

And we finally entered the exhibit! I felt pretty un-Goth and not very artsy-fartsy. The best part of the exhibit may have been the entrance, as pictured below. The exhibit itself? I would give it a B-; the props from different movies were very cool, especially the glove with the scissors from the movie Edward Scissorshands. I admit that I am not a total Tim Burton fanatic, so that probably influenced my experience because a lot of the drawings/illustrations seemed fairly repetitive. It also annoyed me that there was little to no information regarding specific pieces - just general information about Burton's career that different rooms supposedly showed. You know, 'The early years" and then "Early successes"... Why not give more information about his influences? Very frustrating.
Still, I had fun posing for the camera here, trying to be scary and creepy!

By the time we walked through the Burton exhibit and also stopped by a few other exhibits that also lacked background information, we had built up an appetite. Museuming is hard work! We did have time to stop by the La Brea Tar Pits, where they portray a woolly mammoth perishing while a baby looks on. It is a tragic scene, and I shed a tear or two.

So, dinner...
We tossed around a few ideas - tacos, French bistro, sushi... And then a brilliant idea occurred to us: Umami Burger!
Umami Burger is an LA chain that opened up a few years ago. A friend told us about her experience eating there, and we would occasionally think about eating there, but then another place would take priority. Thursday night, however, seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the Umami experience. We headed to the restaurant on Hollywood, the space that used to be Cobras and Matadors, an old favorite tapas restaurant of ours until they changed their menu and raised all of their prices. It went under, and Umami Burger opened up in that space.
The crowd was typical Silverlake - very young, urban with lots of tats. Again, I felt pretty conservative and boring with my fleece.
We each ordered a burger - Michael got the Umami burger, the signature burger, obviously, and I ordered the port and stilton burger. The restaurant chain has quite the buzz because they make high-end burgers and don't let the customer make ANY substitutions. It's also responsible for making the word/concept "umami" as part of the LA vernacular. I had no idea what umami was before our friend told us about the place. There isn't an easy definition, but generally it means "the fifth taste".
At any rate, the burgers were amazing! Michael took a bite of his burger, looked very serious for a moment, and then proclaimed "This is the best burger I've ever eaten.". I challenged him, so he then backtracked a tad and said that it was ONE of the best burgers he'd ever had. I have to admit that his burger had just a small edge on mine, but they were both excellent. The total experience was pretty blissful, and we are already trying to plan another visit to Umami Burger!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

End of the year and thoughts on summer

Before I begin to ramble on - Gus is home and seems to be MUCH better! Poor guy. We are so happy that he is back with us and that he is clearly better than he was over the weekend.
Now, back to the 'real' post...
There is that ubiquitous quote "A picture is worth a thousand words" which at times is true and other times is just a cliché. However, I might agree with that saying when I consider the following photo:

Don't I look so academic? Graduation is now over a full week in the past, but only just now do I feel ready to embrace summer and the opportunities that it offers. Before I move to that topic, I will briefly sum up the school year as one of the best I've had in terms of teaching and administrating (what an awful verb, by the way.... "to administrate". I suppose that "to administer" sounds slightly less managerial and uptight and opens up to a wider variety of meanings, but I really do mean "to administrate"). Leaving the administrating thing aside, I had a GREAT time in the classroom with my students this year. They were funny and sharp, and I felt quite lucky to walk into the different classrooms every day.
The end of the year has sort of rolled to a sputtering stop with all of the meetings that we had last week (and a few that continue to this week). Also, I find my thoughts already wandering to next year. It will be a year of changes and transitions. Different classes to teach (although many of the same students from this year), a new administrative position and a change in office. I have spent a few hours this week packing up my current office, a process that I've made easier by trying to toss out as much junk as possible. I also agreed to help with a "College-essay-writing workshop", a commitment that I almost regret now. It is a short workshop, just two days, fortunately because I have a group that is reluctant to talk and/or reflect.
In other ways, however, I definitely feel summer's pull: Michael and I spend our evenings watching movies until the late hour of 10 pm, we went to an 8:30 am spinning class today, and I am about to sink my teeth into a PD James mystery that I expect to finish by tomorrow. At the very latest. Life is not bad!
There is, however, a brief moment of panic that sets in when I consider the days that stretch out before me. On the one hand, I wonder how to fill my time in a meaningful manner. Usually, I try to schedule summer school, professional development and plenty of other 'growth' activities that will make me feel like a productive member of society. Last year, for example, the day after our last meetings, I left for a conference, and then when I returned from that, I started teaching summer school immediately, and then Michael and I had a rather epic trip. This summer, while I do have one workshop scheduled, it doesn't seem overly intense, and the same can be said for our travel schedule. I believe that the free time that looms ahead scares me just a bit. Again, the thought "How to fill this time meaningfully" jangles around in my head.
And maybe that is the point? It will be an interesting experiment to see how happy, relaxed, or uncomfortable I feel with so much free time and a more open summer schedule.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer's delay!

Of course, if we consider the 'true' calendar definition of summer, June 21 or something like that, then there is no delay. However, I wrapped up my last day of meetings on Wednesday and fully expected to bounce out of bed on Thursday, wiggle my toes, and suddenly feel the thrill of summer as it unfurls.
There have been a few glitches in this idealized world of mine, however.
First of all, I do still have some work that I need to focus on. I finished up one or two items on Thursday and even had a phone call from work to me at home (WTF?!). This next week, I will help out with a workshop, and eventually I have to pack up my office so that I can move to another space. Joy oh joy!
Then, there is the case of the weather. While I understand that other parts of the country are suffering through record heat and I have no grounds for complaints, the "June gloom", typical of this time of year, has NOT been burning off by mid to late morning. Instead, it hugs tight to the San Gabriels until about 4:00 or 5:00 pm. These gray days leave me feeling seriously unmotivated to bike or hike!
Finally, we've had a serious household crisis around here in the form of one of our dogs' health. We adopted two mature dogs a few years ago, so we knew what we were getting into, more or less, in terms of many years together. However, that knowledge really didn't prepare me for the reality of dealing with a major health scare. After 2 trips to the vet in 24 hours, our dog Gus is feeling somewhat better, but we will be taking him to clinic again on Monday for surgery which we hope will be uncomplicated. This incident has scared Michael and me, and I've shed plenty of tears because of worry, panic and assuming the worst. Gus has stones in his bladder, but one has blocked his urethra, more or less, and that has made this a much more serious situation than it would be. He is on major pain pills and to describe him as "low energy" would be an overstatement. Somehow, his low energy seems to have infected the entire house - we are all on alert, in one way or another, and I feel like talking to Michael only in whispers so that we don't disturb poor Gus.
The surgery also postponed/cancelled a random trip that we had hoped to take as a summer opener. We first planned to go to Utah and hit up Zion and/or Bryce National Parks. Then, after much discussion, we scratched that idea and settled upon the Channel Islands. We even had reservations for a campsite, a boat ride and a kayak. This little trip is on permanent hold with Gus's surgery. As Michael said, the islands will always be there.
As for Gus, I'm more than happy to play nurse for him to make sure that he is as comfortable as he possibly can be.
Here he is, in more spry spirits:
Hanging out en casa...

This is "Gus the Flying Nun". Michael likes to dress him up on occasion!

Chilling on the sidewalks of Boulder, CO!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Signs of summer

There are definite indications that full-on summer mode is just a day or two away! Some of the more obvious choices to mention include graduation on Sunday night, finishing up grades for the year, and rather suddenly finding myself with such an inordinate amount of free time that I can take random naps (like today) and drink martinis on weeknights (like last night). I do still have plenty on my plate for the next few months - it's a myth that teachers take the summer completely off. Another sign of summer I could mention is "June Gloom", that strange LA weather phenomenon that almost makes me wish for a heat wave.
However, I would like to mention a few signs in my own life that indicate that summer is pretty much here. This isn't a top 10 list, although if I ramble on too much beyond that, then I'll condemn myself for self-indulgence. Here goes:
1. Sleeping in just a little bit!
I know that 6:30 am doesn't sound terribly luxurious, but giving myself the extra 45 minutes on a regular basis feels quite indulgent!
2. Along the lines of sleeping in, walking the dogs in the morning.
Michael claims that task during the work-year, so it feels like quite the treat to stroll through the streets and horse paths with our dogs. It tends to be more fun than the afternoon walks too because the squirrels are out and about, so Gus and Milo are usually very excited during the morning walk.
3. Lunch at home.
I love being able to spend the time to make a nice lunch en casa. That also feels like a luxury! So far this week, I've made scrambled eggs with feta and spinach and also open-face cheese sandwiches.
4. Moving all of my work shoes to the back of the closet!
Seriously, I just have open-toed and casual shoes strategically placed, while all of my other shoes are crammed in the back. I hope to not touch them for 3 months. Actually, I can say the same for all of my work clothes. I've banished them for now!
5. Beginning a summer reading list.
My reading habits have suffered greatly over the past two months, so I need/want to kick into gear. I am finally finishing up "Just Kids" by Patti Smith and am more than ready to move on to something different.
6. Fruit!
One of the pluses of living in Southern CA is that we do have good fruit year-round, but there are certain items that make their annual come-back around this time of the year. So far, I have eaten at least 3 watermelons by myself and a few pounds of cherries. Yes, it is summer indeed!
7. Ice cream?
I confess that I do like ice cream, but Michael and I try to control what could easily become an addiction by leaving our house free of ice cream. Somehow, that understanding has shifted, and I've been purchasing lots of Haagen-dazs ice cream for our consumption. Yesterday, I decided that enough was enough, so I bought Dulce de Leche frozen yogurt. I believe that we finished the pint last night!

There are more formal plans for the summer, but these are a few of the everyday joys that I've encountered now that classes have officially wound down. Yes, summer has definitely arrived!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sacrificing myself for the job!

As I mentioned, I returned from the camping trip with major windburn issues. My face was bright red, felt raw and stung, and was dry and peeling in a weird way. I am not a high-intensity lotion person, so I used what I have around the house, but it didn't seem to relieve many of the symptoms. Fortunately, by Saturday, my skin felt and looked almost normal.
Good thing, because I had to attend the Baccalaureate ceremony that night, and I preferred to not schmooze with parents looking too rough around the edges. In fact, by the time I set out, I looked half-way presentable and even wore a pair of black patent heels. A few parents complimented me on my pants which fall into the "dressy" category. That means that I pull them out of my closet about twice a year. I found myself very appreciative of these pants by the end of the evening because my zipper was down while I spoke to a small group of 400 parents and students, but no one noticed. Thank God because I would have resigned on the spot if it had been obvious.
By the end of the evening, my feet were killing me, and I had blisters on both of my feet, near the heel. This could have presented a problem yesterday when I had to dress up YET AGAIN. Having to look dressy and professional two days in a row? Talk about a sucky weekend! Don't get me wrong - I love clothes, but I gravitate to my Chaco or Dansko sandals, easy knit dresses, Patagonia t-shirts, sweaters and fleeces... Yesterday, I put on a mini-fashion show for Michael before he finally approved a silk dress and slingback sandals for graduation. Not that it really matters what I wear since we spend most of the evening in the obligatory cap and gown, but I did want to look presentable before and after (especially for the after-party for faculty and staff! Tons o' fun!). So, all was well, until the end of the evening by which time I had developed terrible blisters on the front of my foot! Seriously, my shoes hate me, or my feet hate my shoes.
Fortunately, I am home today, and moleskin is covering my entire body as I try to recover from the demands of the last week.
Need I say that I am so ready for summer?!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hello to June!

So, May seems like a blur at this point, marked by two rather epic events for me (Wildflower Tri and Mt. Wilson Trail Race). In between those fun challenges, reviews, exams, and plenty of end-of-the-year prep filled my time. I "celebrated" the arrival of June here, at El Capitan State Beach, north of Santa Barbara:

Beautiful, right? I know that it's a professional photo, but it really is one of the most beautiful places in CA, although there are lots of those "one of the most beautiful places" around here! Anyway, from Tuesday to yesterday, I woke up and could see the blue of the Pacific Ocean as I stuck my head out of my tent, and I participated in activities such as surfing (I even stood up on the board for a millisecond!), kayaking, yoga, a sunset hike, and several walks to the beach pictured above, and enjoyed beers and conversation around a campfire! It sounds like a total retreat, right? As if I were at a spa for a few days to rejuvenate...
Well, I also ate off dirty plates by the second day (impossible to really clean plates while camping), drank bad coffee, endured crazy winds thanks to which I am now suffering from wind burn, wore stinky clothes and felt grimy in general... Oh, and I was there with about 100 angst-ridden teenagers. Okay, not really angst-ridden, but yes, 100 teenagers.
Ah, good times - the annual Senior Trip. And then I returned yesterday and picked up exam packets, which I have yet to touch but really need to power through so that I can turn in grades on Tuesday.
Doesn't my life suck?
Just kidding!
The trip with the kids really is in a stunning part of the world, and we do enjoy some amazingly fun activities. This year, the kids were GREAT and there was limited drama, to my knowledge, and no injuries, which counts as a minor miracle (injuries = time in ER for chaperones). The wind was a bitch, but overall, I would call the trip a success. It does mark one of those final moments of the year, and for the seniors, of their high school experience, and can be a time for the students to hang out with friends and classmates and bond and maybe even reflect on the "high school experience". For the adults (the chaperones), we also hang out and bond and enjoy time with students and colleagues.
Still, I can't describe my happiness when I walked down our street and was welcomed by our wonderful dogs and Michael. A massage, a shower, pizza and a great night's sleep in a bed have made me feel pretty much back to normal.
Now, I just need to make it until Wednesday, the final day of meetings, and then the true celebration of summer's arrival can begin!