Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top 10 favorite lists, 2012

I've done this "year in media" retrospective almost every year since I started this blog. (Just for fun, here are 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006.) 2011 and 2008 were notable exceptions, as I was going pretty crazy with work and my thesis, respectively, at the end of those years. It's not really a top 10 list for this year per se, as most of these weren't even released this year, just a record of my favorite things viewed, read and heard this year.

Movies
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2
The Hunger Games
The Way - best movie I've seen directed by Emilio Estevez
Perfect Sense
Biutiful
Another Earth - really interesting sci-fi movie
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Bridesmaids
Monsieur Lazhar - maybe the only French Canadian film I've ever seen?

Books
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee - surprisingly readable and not too sad
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner - my foray into chick lit
The First-Time Manager by Loren B. Belker and Gary S. Topchik - a lifesaver
You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
Wild by Cheryl Strayed - thank you, Oprah, this was a good memoir
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

TV
In Treatment, Season 3 - brilliant, per usual for this series
Mad Men, Season 6
Girls - uncomfortable viewing but in a good way
Chopped - obsessed with this show
Iron Chef Masters: Redemption
Project Runway

Music
Charmer by Aimee Mann - try "Labrador," amazing duet "Living a Lie," and "Gumby"
"Take My Breath Away" by Tuck and Patti - how had I never heard of them before?
Bach by Anne-Marie McDermott
"So Long" by Melody Gardot - amazing
"Bartender" by The Royalty - so much fun
"All the Rowboats" by Regina Spektor
"City Love" by John Mayer
"All Things Must Pass" by George Harrison
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift - lol

Radio
Fresh Air - Terry Gross is seriously my hero

Sick

So I was just thinking this week about how lucky I am not to have gotten sick (other than with allergy-related ills) this season, and how fortunate not to have a cold on Christmas as has happened many a year before. And then...ugh, it started with a sore throat on Saturday morning, which I attributed to not taking my allergy medicine the night before. But by Saturday night I had chills and well, given how I felt today, with the hacking cough and simultaneous nasal congestion and runny nose, I am officially sick. Yuck.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bootsie, recovered


My dog Bootsie had a tooth extraction this week that required her to be put under anesthesia. I was extremely nervous about this. A few years ago my aunt's Yorkie was put under anesthesia for a teeth cleaning and didn't wake up. My aunt's dog was not even as old as Bootsie, who is 11.

But there wasn't really an option not to do it, as the vet said the foul smell from Bootsie's mouth would continue and an infection might spread throughout her body if her tooth wasn't removed. I looked up the procedure on Google and it seemed safe, apart from a few horror stories.

I buried my nose in Bootsie's furry neck and kissed the top of her head the morning my mom took her to the vet. What would I do without Bootsie? The sight of Bootsie wagging her tail and her eyes lighting up when I get home from work makes me feel human again after a long day. There is no sight I'd rather see than Bootsie fetching her rope toy from her "toy chest" when she is excited, inviting you to play with her. In those moments I can believe there is such a thing as pure joy. When I have lied down on the carpet out of utter exhaustion it is Bootsie who comes to comfort me. Before I leave for work in the morning the last thing I do is run my hands through her black fur and look into her eyes. I love this dog. No, I don't think "love" is too strong a word. To think about losing her is just so hard to fathom.



I got home Thursday not having received a frantic call from my mother, and took this as a good sign she would be OK. I found her in her usual spot on the couch. Her eyes were scared and the fur around her face was all matted inside the white cone around her neck, but she was animated and above all alive. Oh, Bootsie, you are alive to see another day. Thank you, God.

This week I found myself asking, is it worth it to get so attached to an animal, only to see her decline and eventually die? What a tremendous grief it will be. On the other hand, thinking of all the good times I've had with Bootsie, every day we have with her is a gift. She has brought joy into our lives every day we have had her for 11 years. That's no way to live, to deny yourself an attachment simply because you fear losing it in the end. In the end we will have to let go, realizing she was never really ours to begin with, and her affection was something we never really deserved in the first place. But fortunately that day is not today, and there is time to enjoy every tail wag, every walk, every nap where Bootsie snuggles up next to you. I *heart* Bootsie.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Advice for 20-somethings

Some worthwhile advice from none other than Cheryl Strayed, author of Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick "Wild." Link via the ever-awesome Brain Pickings:

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a s***?
...

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue.
...
The useless days will add up to something. The s****y waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Definition of evanescence: the event of fading and gradually vanishing from sight; "the evanescence of the morning mist"

Saturday, December 01, 2012

So apparently there are still some good blogs on the Internet.

Allergy season

I'm allergic to something in the air and it is causing some major annoyance this week.
Anne..straight from the hip describes an amazing Peter Gabriel concert:

"Just before 'In Your Eyes,' which we all knew was coming because he was playing 'So' in the same order as the album, John Cusack walked on stage, holding a boombox, paying homage to the iconic scene in 'Say Anything.' Total. Epic. Moment."

Wow.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

RIP Sherman Hemsley

I was trying to recall this week how I remembered Sherman Hemsley, because it wasn't really from "The Jeffersons." I've seen an episode or two of that show, but it aired before I was born. Actually, I remember seeing him in "Amen" in the late '80s, when my mom would watch TV on Saturday nights and my sisters and I would watch along as my mom wound our hair around pink rollers. Funny how even now I can remember Hemsley's mannerisms, his voice, and all the laughs that he got. In that sense I know he will live on for a long, long time.

I did find it interesting that a famous actor would want to live in El Paso. According to this article, he told a friend, "I'm from Philadelphia, but El Paso is my home." It's a great compliment for the city that he found it so welcoming.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving

So there I was outside of church on Sunday, driving away after hearing another sermon from the book of Luke. I was in my car waiting as two women, an older woman in a purple sweater and a woman with dark hair who looked in her 40s, were walking on the sidewalk and I was waiting for them to cross. These women looked like they were from the neighborhood, not from the yuppie-ish demographic church that I go to.

Then for some reason the women walked into the parking lot, until they reached my window and motioned for me to roll the window down.

"¿Cab-les?" the younger woman said in Spanish, making a downward motion with both her hands. I could see her gold-outlined front tooth as she spoke.

Cab-les? Cables?

"¿Hablas español?" she asked. I would describe my Spanish as a work-in-progress. But when she asked I told her what I always tell people.

"Poquito," I said with an apologetic look. "Battery?" I said. I was thinking they wanted me to jump start the car.

"Sí," the younger woman said.

"Pero no tengo cab-les. Sí tiene?"

"Sí, está bien." I assumed that meant she had cables?

"OK, sí puedo ayudar," I said.

I crawled behind the women as they walked over to the car in their Central El Paso neighborhood, about half a block away. I made a U-turn until I was nose to nose with a white car, 90s model, with its hood up.

It took me a couple minutes to figure out how to pop the hood. The younger woman set up the other car then brought over the clamps. The red port on mine had some build up on it but eventually the clamp was on tight.

I turned the key and the engine revved to life. A couple of minutes later the white car's engine revived. I could see the belts spinning.

Así esta bien? I asked the younger woman. The older woman was standing to the side. It seemed like this might be her car.

Sí. Muy amable, she said. She unhooked the cables. The car continued to run.

I knew I wouldn't be able to formulate anything else meaningful to say in under two minutes. So I just smiled, waved goodbye then drove away.

I found this incident so strange, because it seemed fateful, and I tend not to believe in such things.

I've been wrestling with this idea of giving lately. I like to think I'm good to the people in my life. I try to show my family, my friends and my boyfriend I appreciate them. I try to be nice and not a pain in the rear to my coworkers. Not that I always succeed, but I do try.

But I always feel there is a missing puzzle piece to the giving I do in my life. I should be doing something more. Feeding the homeless. Giving to a missionary. Spending time with poor children. Sending money to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. But I confess I don't do it. Am I hard-hearted because I don't go looking for these causes? Am I just lazy? Have I become the rich ruler, ignoring Lazarus day after day, year after year?

I prayed to God recently to show me where I can help.

And God speaks. And I am surprised.

I think the truth is, as this incident so clearly illustrated, even in my so-called insular life there is no shortage of people I encounter who could use some help. And I have the choice of whether to open my heart to offer that help or not. I could easily have told that woman to buzz off, or pretended I didn't know Spanish.

The right choice this time was clear as the morning sun. This incident happened moments after I stepped out of church, literally about 15 minutes after I received the holy communion. If there is such a thing as a church afterglow, I had it. But would I respond the same way if I was leaving the parking lot at work after a long day? At that point would I, exhausted, just not roll down the window and drive away? I think that tends to be my attitude toward giving -- sometimes I'm willing to do it, sometimes I'm not.

Another question -- am I so unwilling to take the initiative with giving that someone literally has to block my car for me to help them? What could I do if I took the initiative, if I approached giving with the aggressiveness I do when I take on a project at work, and drill down to every last detail? I imagine I'd find I could do more than I ever thought possible.

But I do think that giving should come from the heart. It should feel like something you do because you are responding to what you feel God has asked you to do, not like a business transaction.

I don't know quite what the lesson is but I think it has something to do with being open and seeing opportunities. Sometimes I fear if I give too much of my time, money and energy I'll be left depleted and not have enough for myself. The fear of discomfort also makes me hesitate. After all, someone might ask me to break out my broken Spanish. But surely I am not in such a tight place that I can't afford to be generous. The closed fist needs to open. Day by day, opportunity by opportunity, I can put aside my fears and choose to give. Now is the time to do this, not the day when I am suddenly blessed with endless time and endless money, because that day will never come.










Saturday, November 03, 2012

I'm liking the Smitten Kitchen blog after hearing about it on NPR this week. Photos are amazing and most of the recipes seem simple enough so that I could actually make them. I'm going to try the apple mosaic tart with salted caramel.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How to get a funny look from the baristas at Starbucks

Put $30 worth of loose change into the CoinStar machine at Wal-Mart, then choose the option to put it toward a Starbucks voucher.

Every single time I've handed the barista the receipt from the CoinStar machine, he or she has given me a funny, doubting look, then scanned it and been amazed that it works. Several times I've been told that I'm the first person to try to pay that way.
I came across this post during a bout of late night blog reading last night. It's a mish mash of ideas about religion and community that starts with Mr. Rogers and ends with "Lilo and Stitch."
And as I examined my own feelings about Mr. Rogers, I began to feel that perhaps this was how the truly devout feel about their deity.

A figure of overwhelming goodness and wisdom, who knows my deepest, darkest secrets, yet loves me anyways. A caring force that accepts me for who I am, yet also helps me to be a better person. Doesn't that sound like the kind of relationship that believers want to have with their God?
Yes.

I think we all have a need to be known, really and truly, and then accepted for what we are. Call it love. Call it friendship. Whatever it its, we need it.

I don't know if it is my age or the age we are in, but for me it's a struggle to find community. And when I do find it I value it and hold on to it for as long as I can.
My computer is functional again, after a trip to the computer doctor. The technician said it had multiple viruses. Eww. I really need to change my antivirus software, if anyone out there has any suggestions...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

E-mail from Amazon

I received an e-mail notice from Amazon.com on Saturday that begins like this:

Dear Kindle Customer,

We have good news. You are entitled to a credit for some of your past e-book purchases as a result of legal settlements between several major e-book publishers and the Attorneys General of most U.S. states and territories, including yours. You do not need to do anything to receive this credit.
...
While we will not know the amount of your credit until the Court approves the settlements, the Attorneys General estimate that it will range from $0.30 to $1.32 for every eligible Kindle book that you purchased between April 2010 and May 2012.

Woo hoo, I'm thinking this may come out to about 1 free e-book.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Another Friday night. I'm hyped up instead of tired, possibly because of the Cafe Mocha I had at Starbucks. Though halfway through drinking it I was convinced it was actually hot chocolate because it tasted really sweet and not coffee-like.

Lately I've been obsessing over time management. It just seems like I have so little free time that I wonder exactly what I should be doing with the time I do have. Web design seems to fit the bill, since it's both creative and an investment in my career. Spending time with people is a must, for my sanity mostly. No, seriously, because it's the right thing to do, and it makes all other things seem unimportant. That leaves a tiny little sliver for other pursuits, and that's the part I obsess about. I wonder if TV should be a part of that time at all, or if I should cut out Project Runway and Chopped. Should I use it for extra sleep? Read a novel? Write a tweet? Write a blog post? Research money or health or fashion? Watch a movie? Read about spirituality? Do more work stuff? I'm always convinced there is something I'm not doing that I should be doing, some area of my life I'm lagging in that one day is going to come back to haunt me.

I even turned to the Internet and came upon some tables, charts and tips. Really, most of this stuff is common sense or things I've already read over the years. But I think it shows my desperation.

It is a situation that calls for asking myself some tough questions, like what is *really* important to me? Where is my heart, really, as evidenced by how I spend my time? I ask myself, if I'm doing A, then I'm giving up B, so is thing A really, truly worth doing? Ugh, maybe I am obsessing about this too much. Or maybe I need to quit some things so as to free up more time so I don't feel like this.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Craft project


I actually managed to do a craft project today, which is funny because I never do craft projects. I was cleaning out my closet and saw two shoeboxes that I was keeping hoping to find some use for them. I tried to think of something to do with the boxes when I thought of this idea of using the lids to display some of the ridiculous number of photos I have. I used a shish kebab skewer and some yarn to rig the hanging of the bottom lid. After doing some adjustments to the yarn length, I hung it up and wow, it worked. My mind doesn't usually see craft projects around every corner, much less actually execute them, so I am quite proud of my improvised project.

Last night my mom, sister and I went to Red Lobster to celebrate my mom's birthday. I was unbelievably tired. Why this week felt like one of the longest I've ever lived I'm not quite sure. As I looked at the faces of my mom and sister I read they felt exactly as tired as I was. I joked that we should all go home and take a nap instead.

Is this what it means in general to work, to feel so tired at the end of the week you can barely enjoy a nice dinner? We work in three different professions -- teaching, news and restaurant management -- but all achieved the same intense level of weariness. I know work is by definition supposed to take something out of you, but should it take every last speck of energy you have?

Some cheddar biscuits and fried shrimp helped bring some energy back to us. But it was a pretty lackluster celebration and I was in bed by 10 per my usual Friday night routine.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Monday night

I've been so swamped lately. I crave down time like chocolate. A moment that is purely unscheduled, time to go to a coffee shop and sit around for an hour. Coffee shop time didn't happen this week.

I'm now eating sugar again and in some ways it is fantastic, but my tummy fat is, um, growing back. I catch myself eating for comfort at the end of a long day. I dove into a Dove bar last week and it tasted fantastic. At least now I can stop at half a large bar. I have also made banana bread and can actually eat a slice myself. Eh, but I've been trying to put a lid on the comfort food. I think life is pretty pathetic when the highlight of a day is eating a chocolate bar or drinking a Frappuccino.

I think the same rule of problem drinking applies with eating -- if you're eating desserts alone you would probably be better off not doing it. Chocolate cake on a special occasion, not to numb yourself after a long day at work.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Liked this interview with Caitlin Moran on NPR's Fresh Air. From her book How to Be a Woman:
What part of liberation for women is not for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man that you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that stuff just get on your nerves?

Boston

Heard this song while having lunch at The Percolator on Friday. I saw Augustana in concert once upon a time, tried unsuccessfully to play the intro on the piano. Aw, memories.

Friday, August 17, 2012

End of the week

Ahhh, the end of the week. There's always a combination of feelings on a Friday of a regular week:
1) Tired. Despite my best efforts I'm usually spent by 10 p.m., 11 at the latest.
2) Head spinning trying to process everything that happened during the week. This mental state usually lasts until late Saturday.
3) Body slightly amped up on caffeine, sugar and fat, which I allow myself to have on a Friday night, not so much during the week.
4) Excited. It hits me that I'm actually free to do what I want. I resolve to finish that book and watch those movies and go on a long hike and reconnect with friends and family. Usually my reach exceeds my grasp.
5) Lonely, now that the boyfriend is away. I wish he was around.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Refined sugar fast: The aftermath

Finally I have time to write an update on the results of the refined sugar fast. The last day was Tuesday. Yes, I did stick to it after my NYC vacation days, no moments of weakness where I sneaked in a candy or two.

Some thoughts:
- The last few days of it I felt particularly energetic. I don't know if it was purely the result of my diet, but I'm sure it contributed. I was trying to memorize that feeling for the next time I feel lethargic and start wondering why, after I've eaten two chocolate bars and drunk 20 oz. of soda. Nutrition does matter after all, who knew?

- My mom made cinnamon apples (with sugar) on Monday night and the smell of it was soooo tempting. But I didn't eat them.

- On Wednesday I had some sugar again. I had a bowl of cereal that had sugar and a small chocolate candy. And that was it. It's funny, 30 days of not packing in the sugar had the intended effect. It made me not want it all the time. I didn't even eat any of the leftover cinnamon apples. Seeing how much healthier I feel I don't want to jeopardize it by bingeing on junk food.

- My stomach-area fat has gone down a little bit and my pants fit more loosely. So I have lost some weight. This has been the best diet I've been on, because it hasn't been so much about losing weight. Usually if I diet I rely on portion control. Two cookies instead of four. A small sandwich instead of a huge one. Cutting down at lunch and letting myself go hungry until dinner. But in these 30 days I never let myself be hungry for too long. I did go hungry a couple of times when I couldn't get to a sugar-free snack. But usually I allowed myself to eat as much of sugar-free snacks like fruit and nuts as I wanted and I also allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted on the salty end of the spectrum. So it didn't feel too much like deprivation, and I think that's what allowed me to get through it.

- I'm not putting myself on another diet right now but maybe there could be another round. No meat for 30 days? No fried food?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

New York, Part 2 update


My second visit to New York was equally interesting to the first. My first visit was like visiting an alien world, or actually more like discovering that a fairy tale city that I only knew of from TV and books actually did exist. I was beyond glamour-struck at the subway and the skyscrapers and the lifestyle.

Probably because of the impression that initial visit made I've been back to big cities again and again in the following years. I love big cities and won't rest until I've been to them all.

And yet New York still found ways to surprise and amaze me.


High Line Park amazed me. A park above the city, how does that work? There were colorful flowers and amphitheatres, a walking path, food and art vendors, and some young people just out there chilling during the middle of the day. It seemed like a place that could easily not work, and yet it absolutely did. It's an oasis of peace above the big city.




I was excited to see the Statue of Liberty this time around, as tourist-y as that might sound. I'd never seen her green copper panels up close. I got photos of her from every angle, trying as well as I could to see the writing on the book she was holding (it says July 4, 1776).  Even by 2012 standards she is towering and impressive. She's an artistic as well as technological marvel. Did you know the copper on her surface is only two pennies thick, and her structure (designed by Eiffel Tower engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel) is similar to that of a skyscraper?




I wondered why there were so many foreign tourists at the Statue of Liberty. I guess you really can't say you've been to America unless you've taken a picture with the Statue of Liberty in the background. No other icon says "freedom" and "America" like the Statue of Liberty.

What else in New York amazed me? My sister took me to a Brazilian restaurant where I had one of the best meals I've ever eaten, a stew of sweet shrimp and perfect sauce made of yucca root. I savored every last grain of rice and scooped every last drop of the sauce I could with my fork. The second best meal was at a bagel shop in Queens. An egg on a sesame seed bagel and hot coffee, how New York is that? I could taste the freshness of the bagel. No place in El Paso could compare.



One thing I've discovered that I like about big cities is the stores. Not that I am much of a shopper, but the variety and quality of what you can get in a big city really exceeds anything you could get in middle America. Mood had endless rolls of silks and jerseys and chiffons, feathers, buttons of every kind, and even a dog.



And two independent bookstores, St. Mark's Bookshop and The Strand, fulfilled my literary fantasies. I bought two books and a copy of New York magazine at St. Mark's and picked up a free copy of the Village Voice. The Strand has three stories! I think my fantasy New York life is of the hyper-literary sort, hanging out at coffee shops and bookstores and finding an interesting crew to talk to about news and literature, writing a column called Books and the City :-).



During this visit to New York I really took notice of all the public art -- a mosaic in a subway tunnel, a stained glass window in a subway platform, fountains and sculptures in parks around the city. I was impressed because in my older age I'm more aware that it takes money and effort to have things like that. Yes, I would rather have a functional subway over a pretty-looking subway tunnel, but a mural did give me something to ponder on my way to the next platform. It sends a definite message -- art is important. Thank you, New York.

Subway station in Queens

At City Hall Park

Fountain at Central Park

Ketchup bottle at City Hall Park

New York is a place of greatness, of imagination, of fun. Could I be a New Yorker? Maybe. I think I had the same reaction coming home as I did after my last visit. New York = fast, El Paso = sloooow. Driving home on the uncrowded freeway on a Sunday I could feel my body relax taking in the bright sunshine and still, dry air, realizing I could take as long as I needed to get home. I drove by Downtown El Paso and compared to New York it seemed like a cute dollhouse version of a downtown. Not that I have anything against our Downtown, or a slower lifestyle. They are just different speeds on the machine. Sometimes I want things to be slow. Other times I yearn for excitement and something that wows -- a giant statue to marvel at, a park above the city, a beautiful sculpture in a public park, a ride on a subway, a three-story bookstore. I *heart* New York still.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Refined sugar fast, Day 24

I'm eating my dessert of half a banana and a small fresh apricot. I successfully resisted my mom's Rice Krispies treats.

I'm realizing that one can get used to this non-sugar lifestyle. At times this adjustment has been very difficult, but at other times it's not been difficult at all.

It is difficult when my thoughts drift to food, especially when I think about taste and texture -- what cotton candy tastes like, what jamoncillo (Mexican candy) feels like melting in my mouth. At those times it is almost unbearable not to be able to have it.

But when I don't overthink it it's fine. So what, fruit instead of ice cream at night, does it really matter? Nuts instead of M&Ms, am I really denying myself very much? My body certainly doesn't miss the extra calories.

I do think it would be hard to eliminate all sweet things from my diet. Fruit has been my saving grace during this time. I bought a package of dried figs for 98 cents this week. Those are so sweet they almost are like candy. Plus as a bonus they remind me of Fig Newton cookies.

I suppose the point of this is that there is nothing impossibly difficult about this diet, mostly it is just a few simple substitutions and some discipline to not give into the cravings.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thoughts on ZAMM

A few thoughts on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I'll keep them brief since I'm no philosopher:

- I'm puzzled at the popularity of this book, since it gets pretty academic when it comes to philosophy. I suppose, as Pirsig explains in the Afterward, that it was a book that tapped into the public consciousness of the mid-70s. Still, it's dry at times, especially if you're not versed in philosophy.

- I haven't encountered a better way of thinking about technology: "The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer of the gears of a cycle transmission as does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower."

- On the other hand, the notion of "Quality" continues to mystify me. Is it really something new, or is it a new word for an old concept from Eastern or Western philosophy? The author substituted "Quality" in for "Tao" at one point, but didn't conclusively equate the two.

- I'm curious about the connection to real Zen philosophy. From Wikipedia: "Though it may not deal with orthodox Zen Buddhist practice, Pirsig's book in fact deals with many of the more subtle facets of Zen living and Zen mentality without drawing attention to any religion or religious organization."

From the Wikipedia on Japanese Zen: "Zen meditation ideally is not only concentration, but also awareness: being aware of the continuing changes in our consciousness, of all our sensations and our automatic reactions."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Refined sugar fast: Day 21

Last night I dreamed of eating a donut at church this morning. A jelly-filled one covered in powdered sugar.

Also, I am not going to consider dunking some French fries in ketchup today as cheating on the fast. I'm just not.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Refined sugar fast: Day 20

Could dessert for breakfast be the key to losing weight? It sounds too good to be true. Here is what I read in O magazine last week:

In the study, two groups of overweight and obese people were instructed to consume the same number of calories daily (1,400 for women, 1,600 for men); the difference was that one group ate a modest breakfast each morning, while the other went all out with a high-calorie (600), high-carb (60 grams), high-protein (45 grams) meal that included a sugary treat. (Imagine a scramble of cottage cheese and eggs—two with the yolk, one without—on whole grain toast, an eight-ounce container of low-fat yogurt on the side, plus a fudge brownie.)

After eight months, the dessert-at-breakfast group had lost an average of 38 more pounds per person than the traditional dieters.

Apparently the modest breakfast eaters started to cheat on their diet while the dessert breakfast eaters had fewer cravings for sweet and fatty foods during the day. Once you look at it that way it starts to make sense. I suppose it doesn't work if you eat dessert for lunch and dinner as well :-).
From the LA Times' obit of actress Lupe Ontiveros:
Veteran actress Lupe Ontiveros, the El Paso-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, once estimated that she had played the role of a maid more than 150 times during her career.

That's why the 4-foot-11 actress was so overjoyed more than a decade ago when director Miguel Arteta approached her backstage after a theatrical showcase and said he had a screenplay for her to consider.

"He said, 'Look at the part of Beverly,'" Ontiveros recalled in a 2009 National Public Radio interview. "I said, 'Beverly? You said Beverly? Her name is Beverly?' And I said, 'I'll do it. I don't care what the script is about, because her name is Beverly.' It wasn't Maria Guadalupe Conchita Esperanza, this Latino stereotype."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Refined sugar fast: Day 19

I've stuck to the sugar fast since I've been back from vacation. I successfully resisted a biscocho cookie and a piece of cake at work this week. Oh, temptation.

Two things I've continued to notice this week: my skin has cleared up. The month before the fast I was really breaking out. Now I still have a couple of zits but my skin is a lot better than it was.

The second thing is I'm sleeping better. Before this I would wake up with my heart pounding during the night sometimes. That hasn't happened to me lately.

I've never had cholesterol tests so I'm not sure if my change in diet is affecting that. But I would think so. I was putting so much junk into my body and now I'm not.

I think avoiding sugar has also helped me avoid putting more fat and calories into my body. For example, now I won't have a candy bar because of the sugar. That means 200-300 fewer calories and less saturated fat in my diet.

So there are some real benefits here, but are they worth giving up the comfort of sugar? It is difficult to resist and I don't know how long I could keep it up beyond the 30 days.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Refined sugar fast: Day 16

I think I am going to eat a bag full of jelly beans on Wednesday, Aug. 8. I can't get sugar off the brain.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Refined sugar fast: Day 15

I cheated on the refined sugar fast six times while I was on vacation in NYC:
- 1/2 cup of gelato in the Chelsea Market. Dolce latte flavor.
- Bowl of Oatmeal Squares with milk on two mornings.
- 1/3 of a tiramisu (split with my mom and sister) at an Italian restaurant
- 1/2 cinnamon raisin bagel when I was really hungry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- 1/2 Au Bon Pain blueberry muffin at the Denver Airport.

I might have passed on these but come on, this was vacation and I didn't want to be that kind of stick in the mud. I didn't want to make a big fuss in the mornings because there was no sugar-free option available or turn down a dessert that everyone else was sharing in. I admit, I also just didn't want to have my mom worry that I might be starving myself. My mom does worry, a lot.

I have to give myself a little bit of a break because on other occasions I would have eaten my way through New York one sugary treat at a time. The temptations are abundant. Gelato, pastries, coffee drinks, lemonade, Italian ice, popsicles, cupcakes and crepes lurk on nearly every corner of the city. My mouth waters just thinking of the food in NYC.

Funny how I did notice a certain sluggishness in my body after eating sugar again. A big bowl of cereal made me want to nap about two hours later. It really made my mind sluggish. And tiramisu, while absolutely delicious, may not be the best way to finish off your meal after eating a huge bowl of pasta.

One fear is I'm starting to pick up other food vices. I drank plenty of coffee on the trip (black or with milk or cream). Am I trying to replace that sugar rush with caffeine? Also, I could easily fall into the trap of drinking a 100% juice drink when I feel a sugar craving -- technically non-sugared but the idea behind the fast is to try to reduce the constant cravings for sweetness. That's also why I haven't done diet soda or Truvia-sweetened pastries. I haven't even touched Extra chewing gum, as I think these products feed into the sugar craving even if they don't have the same number or calories.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Refined sugar fast, Day 8

The refined sugar fast is getting easier. I think the weekend has been the hardest time so far because it is typically the time I allow myself to enjoy food more. On weekdays I eat pretty humdrum food.

I am starting to eat a lot of nuts. Whenever I eat them that song from an old commercial goes through my head, "Sometimes you feel like a nut..." I am starting to feel like a nut, for sure. But the thing is, nuts *are* a much better snack than say, a cookie. They leave you feeling more satisfied, not like a cookie where you always want at least one more, if not two or three.

I do feel more energetic in a lot of ways. I sleep better and I have less anxiety about my weight. On the other hand I've noticed this tension in myself, especially when I think about food. I suppose the feeling is one where I think to myself, can't I *ever* relax? Because food used to be how I relieved anxiety. Maybe that is the next step in this progression, to find another way to deal with stress.

New York, Part 2

I'm going to New York City tomorrow. Some random notes:
- I'm going to see the Statue of Liberty up close this time, not from the Staten Island ferry. We're also going to see the 9/11 Memorial.
- We have tickets to the musical Memphis. According to Wikipedia, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2010.
- I asked on Facebook about things to see and do. I got conflicting answers on whether to eat hot dogs from street vendors. My coworker told me to go to the Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridien hotel. Hmm, $7.35 for a cheeseburger and that doesn't include French fries. Grimaldi's pizza sure looks good, though.
- Weather in New York tomorrow: High of 98 and partly cloudy. In comparison it's going to be 95 in El Paso tomorrow. My sister has advised me to take an umbrella.

- I've asked my sister to take me to a real NYC bookstore that's not Barnes and Noble's. Not sure where she's taking me, but Gothamist has 10 cool bookstores where I would love to hang out. I envision that as my third trip to New York, a tour of bookstores and nothing else.
- I'm planning to take way more photos than I did in 2008. Here's what I wrote at the time. I wonder if the subways still smell like a public restroom. I bet they do. Also I'm not planning any studio tours this time. On my first trip I was quite enthralled by the NBC tour.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Check it out: my blog friend Stu has an instantly addictive interview series called The Sunday Seven.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Day 5: Refined sugar fast

Today was rocky on the sugar fast front. It's my habit on a Friday afternoon to have a nice sugary coffee drink at Starbucks. I decided to forgo Starbucks altogether after realizing that it would be torturous to go there and not be able to order what I *really* wanted. I didn't want to have to look at the display of muffins, cakes, pies, cake pops and cookies or see someone order one of those million-calorie drinks like the Caramel Frappuccino.

I thought about my options at Starbucks and there are a few that come to mind: regular hot coffee (milk or cream but no sugar), iced coffee, non-sugared iced tea, juice or water. As for regular food, my options are oatmeal or a banana. I've seen some stores sell sandwich items, I guess those could be an option, too.

So it wouldn't be sure disaster to go into a Starbucks. But it's funny how when it comes to food it comes down to a primal craving. When I want to feel better after a long week of work, sugar + caffeine at Starbucks is what I use to relax. It is very difficult to deny myself this comfort.

I thought the sugar fast would get easier after the first few days. In some ways it has as I find out what foods I can make a habit of eating that don't have sugar in them -- fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, nuts, etc. But in some ways it is harder, as it gets harder to deny myself things like chocolate and cookies and cupcakes that I enjoy, but more than that use almost like a drug to feel better during my day.

Here is a big question I am asking myself: Emotionally, am I happier when I periodically pacify myself with sugary treats, or happier when I can control what I eat and reap the benefits? So far I really can't tell.

One perspective is that it doesn't matter, it is all what you get used to. Now that I've stopped using sugar as a mood booster, other things can replace it. When I'm used to this diet I won't even miss sugar, I imagine.

But a second perspective is the "everything in moderation" view. If I allowed myself one sugary treat per day, I don't think it would put me on the path to diabetes and heart disease. It would bring me a little pleasure, a little temporary happiness and that is nice once in a while. Do I really need to not eat a brownie for the rest of my life?

For now it is benefitting me to go without sugar for awhile 1) to realize I can do it, 2) to realize what exactly I'm doing to my body by eating so much sugar. From there I can decide how much I will allow myself once the 30 days are over.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

It's the year 2012, why can't women have a high-flying career and a family, too?

Can women have it all? Not in today's America, Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter says in the most recent issue of The Atlantic, and she shares her own story demonstrate. Slaughter left a top-level State Department job after two years to spend more time with her husband and two teenage boys. After years of being able to make her own schedule, with much success, she found a demanding job with a rigidly structured schedule took too much of a toll on her family life. It's a discouraging message: If a highly motivated and intelligent woman like this can't make it work, who can?

Slaughter says the lack of women in top positions is not a problem with women not being committed enough, or not being ambitious enough. Rather it is a work structure -- a rigid schedule, a mindset that rewards long hours -- that was not built with women's lives in mind:

(Facebook COO Sheryl) Sandberg thinks that “something” is an “ambition gap”—that women do not dream big enough. I am all for encouraging young women to reach for the stars. But I fear that the obstacles that keep women from reaching the top are rather more prosaic than the scope of their ambition. My longtime and invaluable assistant, who has a doctorate and juggles many balls as the mother of teenage twins, e-mailed me while I was working on this article: “You know what would help the vast majority of women with work/family balance? MAKE SCHOOL SCHEDULES MATCH WORK SCHEDULES.”

She provides concrete examples of things that could be changed in the workplace, including flexible schedules, use of technology and scheduling in-person meetings during the school day.

In the meantime, Slaughter advises women to have kids before 35 (or freeze their eggs) and plan for their career peaks to be later, late 50s-early 60s (when the kids are out of the house) rather than late 40s-early 50s:

Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years.

I found this article to be both sad and hopeful. Sad because women *still* have to make these tougher than tough choices, when men often don't. It seems usually the result of the choice is that the family wins and women don't make it to top positions, and because of the lack of women at the top it seems we will be waiting even longer for change. But also hopeful because her solutions seem doable, if as she says it is a matter of prosaic issues like scheduling that hold back working mothers. Flexible schedules are more possible than ever with technology, and work-family balance seems to be becoming a more important priority both for men and women in today's workplace.

I also think it's brave for someone to be so candid about the problems women face in the workplace, and to risk being called a failure or not committed enough because she is willing to share her own story. Bringing that level of honesty into the conversation is a great step in the right direction.

Even more with Anne-Marie Slaughter:

An interview on NPR's Fresh Air

Video with the story from The Atlantic:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day 3: Refined sugar fast

As I write this I'm eating my breakfast of two pieces of toast, three strawberries and a glass of milk. Not bad for a quickly thrown together non-sugar meal.

I am definitely noticing the roles that sugar plays in my typical day. Yesterday I threw away a fortune cookie and dodged a suggestion from my sister to go get ice cream. I had a big lunch, but even then I would normally at some kind of sugary snack to get me through lunch and dinner, especially a long gap on the days I work the night shift. Minus the ice cream I got hungry around 7 p.m., at which point I ate some nuts. If I get hungry at work I usually buy a candy bar, but this time I actually had something healthy to eat.

I also normally would have something sugary upon arriving home very early in the morning, maybe a couple of cookies. I did get the craving as scheduled, but this time I had some Cheez-Its. Are Cheez-Its violating the spirit of this whole experiment, since I think they are considered junk food? Is refined flour much better than refined sugar? Still better than a candy bar, I suppose.

One thing I notice three days in is that I'm having less "food anxiety." While I am scrutinizing my food choices more I'm not worrying as much as I usually do afterward about packing on pounds. For example, if I had eaten that ice cream I would have enjoyed it for sure, but I would also have been anxious later about what it was doing to my body. Anxiety gone.

So far I'm not noticing any huge changes -- no huge boost in energy, major weight loss, or changes in my skin. Mostly it is subtle changes for the better -- a little more energy, a little less anxiety, and some weight loss instead of weight gain. But maybe the changes will become more noticeable as I keep going with it.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Day 1: Refined sugar fast

Today began my 30 days of no refined sugar. Breakfast went well. I poured a cup of water into five-minute quick-cooking oats and it came out surprisingly nice, very al dente. For flavor I sliced up a couple of strawberries to put on top. It was a little bitter compared to my usual sugar-fest breakfast but it was good.

Did I feel better than usual? I skipped that mid-morning lull that I usually get once the sugar is digested, at which point I usually feel hungry again. I think I also didn't feel quite as full as I usually do, by 11:30 I was ready to devour something else.

Lunch was leftovers, lots of vegetables plus chicken and couscous. I didn't even eat the apple I packed to go with it, it was so filling.

And then -- the first real test of my fast. My coworker brought me a perfect star-shaped cake cooked with strawberries and blueberries that looked SO good. OMG, I thought about breaking into the cake with my fingers and tasting the flavor of the berries and SUGAR. Instead I said thank you and tucked it into my bag. Ugh, sugar is so associated with pleasure for me.

I normally don't go for such self-denial but I made a pledge. I'm sure more temptations are up ahead. I'm talking like the cake is an evil trap sent by the devil, ha ha. But really I hate getting into the idea that food is bad. No, that cake in itself isn't bad, but on a typical day I'd eat that plus sugar with every meal, then dessert...well, you get the idea.

On to Day 2.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Day 0: Refined sugar fast

So one of the topics I plan to write about during my month-long writer's contract is that I plan to go 30 days without refined sugar. Starting tomorrow.

Why? I've noticed that I have started to use food, particularly sugary food, as a crutch when I'm feeling emotional. I will sometimes grab a sugary snack from a vending machine to eat on the way home from work. If it's been a really emotional day I'll reach for the chocolate. (I love chocolate. I'm certain I couldn't live without chocolate but 30 days might be OK.) I'm starting to think emotional eating is a really bad habit to get into, one I should try to end as soon as I can to avoid a myriad of health issues that might arise from it.

I also wonder if I would just feel better not eating refined sugar. Maybe I'd have more energy to deal with life. It might be nice not to deal with the sugar-high rollercoaster as often as I do. Or maybe not, but we'll see. It's been so long since I've gone without sugar I wouldn't even know.

This may sound funny, but many times (most of the time?) I feel like I'm not in control of what I eat. In the morning before work it's been quite a while since I've felt there was any other option besides sugary cereal and milk. My coworker brought some sugary Fourth of July cookies to work and of course I couldn't help but eat four of them. When I eat out, which is pretty often, it's always a diet train wreck. Bottom line, I want to achieve more control over my diet and eat things I feel good about instead of guilty. I think it will be good to shed some of that guilt.

And while my goal is not really weight loss, well, that might be a nice side effect. I'm not going to consciously restrict my calories, but I will substitute fruit if I'm craving cookies, or eat some nuts on the way home instead of gummy fruit snacks. I do not want to feel hungry.

I went to the store today and bought fruit, nuts and Triscuits as a start. That should help. For breakfast I'm planning to replace sugary cereal with oatmeal and/or hard-boiled eggs.

I'll report back tomorrow.

Friday, July 06, 2012

July photos


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good resource: Auto maintenance tips from the Car Talk guys. I like their Can I Do This Myself? matrix ranging from "There are two kinds of screwdrivers?" to "I've built a working nuclear reactor out of wood."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

30

What I wrote on Friday:

I'm two days away from being 30. I go back and forth on whether it is a big deal or not. I guess I made it a big deal with my 30 things project. On the other hand, I am doing less for my birthday this year than I did last year. I'm not having a party. I'm going to dinner with my family, but it seems like I do that every week. I'm not making a big purchase. I'm not changing jobs. I'm working the day before and the day after my birthday. The day feels mundane to me. I feel like there *must* be more drama.

Maybe I don't want to make more of a big deal because I don't want to feel old. I already feel old. A few weeks ago I asked my mom when she first got varicose veins. She said not until her late 30s. Sort of a relief, but it's not really that far in the future. My face isn't what it used to be, I think about sunscreen use more often than I used to. I worry about accumulating paunch if I don't watch what I eat. This seems pretty vain but I almost cried a few weeks ago thinking that my body is never going to be what it was.

In some other life maybe I'd have a big party but all I can think of is the awkwardness of who to invite and who will actually show up and the expense of it. My friends also aren't what they used to be. Not that I don't have friends, but there's not a group of people I would automatically think of to invite for a big, fun celebration.

Eh, but I am not in a terrible place in my life. I have an amazing boyfriend. My job is steady and interesting and absorbing. I have no health problems at the moment. My family is wonderful. Many blessings.

I was reading an interview with Candice Bergen in New York Magazine where she says, "It’s a privilege to get old." It is. It's experience that makes you better -- better in your career, better at managing life in general. And it's not automatic that you even get the privilege of being older, only by the grace of God do we live another day, another year, another moment.

*****************************************************************************

So I've passed the day and it was a tired, hectic, headache-y day that felt more like an obstacle course than a celebration. And I cried at the end of it. I really did have a good cry, and I'm not sure why that emotion came out, but it was not pure joy on my 30th birthday, it was happiness and sadness and anxiety and pain in my head. I feel so much better two days after the fact, having jumped the fence to the land of being a "big kid," and really, nothing has changed.

Isn't there a saying, "Do one thing every day that scares you"? If you're not doing that, you're not really living. Many days go by when I don't do a thing that scares me. But the days I do the thing and succeed, those are the best days. I think of this because last week I did something that scared me to death and could have gone up in flames at any moment. But it didn't and now I am so glad that I tried it. I should do more things like that. I say that now but when the thing goes up in flames I won't feel that way.

Monday, April 16, 2012

San Francisco


San Francisco. On my other blog I resolved to go to a place I had never been before I turn 30. Last year I decided that the liberal enclave by the Bay was the place that would fire my imagination going into my 30s.

I got a window seat for the ride from LA to San Francisco and I spent an hour looking down at the sea and the rocky coast. What is it about California? Whenever I go there I can see why everyone wants to live there.

I was going to be there a day ahead of my friend who was coming in from L.A. I was alone and nervous so I kept going over the sequence in my head -- get off the plane, get my bag, catch the tram to the BART station, buy a ticket to the Powell Street station, which cost exactly $8.10.

Waiting for the tram to the station I held on to my suitcase and looked around. It was an elevated outdoor platform. The sun was shining brightly. The decor was white, there was a leafy plant in a large white pot to brighten it up. A nice touch. I sniffed the air and it smelled like...flowers. Really, I'm not kidding.

It was about a 30 minute ride into the city before I emerged unto Powell Street and the whole world changed. It was like a cartoon to me of what a big city should look like. Big buildings with world brand names like The Gap, Forever 21 and J. Crew all around. A constant stream of people walking by the windows. Streetcars going by to my right. The turnaround for the trolley car yards away from me. And lots of homeless people who are not afraid to come up and talk to you.

(From Wikipedia: "The city of San Francisco, California, due to its mild climate and its social programs that have provided cash payments for homeless individuals, is often considered the homelessness capital of the United States, together with Los Angeles." That explains a lot.)


My first conversation with a San Franciscan was with a black man giving me directions, unsolicited, as I stood there with my backpack and suitcase on wheels, taking in the scene and looking slightly puzzled as to where to go next. He told me some directions I already knew, though I felt obligated to give him a couple dollars when he asked for a tip.



I wheeled my suitcase to the hostel, my home for the next four days. My French roommate was friendly and highly intelligent. Unfortunately I think I annoyed the hell out of her because all she wanted to do was sleep off her jet lag and I kept opening and closing my locker. Ah, the joys of communal living.

I walked through Chinatown on my way to the Beat Museum, the first destination on my list. Chinatown kind of reminded me of downtown El Paso, though with about a million more Asian people. The fresh vegetables practically glowed in the afternoon sun. A slightly rancid fishy smell at some of the shops reminded me of the back of a grocery store.


Then there was the Beat Museum and suddenly I'm in hipster San Francisco. Here were the altars to Allen Ginsburg, Neal Cassady and of course, the great Jack Kerouac. In the back was a small theater playing a video with friends and former girlfriends of Jack Kerouac talking about his life, his successes and failures and why the fame drove him crazy.



The museum itself was very beat, a low-budget operation with prize displays of one of Jack Kerouac's sweaters and a 1947 Hudson just like the one Neal (aka Dean) and Jack drove across the country in On the Road.

My favorite meal in San Francisco was Thursday afternoon at Caffe Trieste. I ordered a double espresso and a hot turkey sandwich, and sat at my tiny white table next to a man wearing a yarmulke and some cops who were discussing -- *poetry* *gasp*. Here it finally hit me, wow, I am in *San Francisco,* a place where being an urban intellectual isn't some silly pipe dream. I went to many cafes in San Francisco but there was something very genuine about Caffe Trieste. This place was no cartoon.



Then City Lights Bookstore, the greatest bookstore I've ever been to, where I spent a couple hours salivating over the books and magazine rack and just being amazed that such a place exists.



My friend C. arrived Friday afternoon and we took an evening tour of Alcatraz. Alcatraz is a place I would describe as scary beautiful. There couldn't be a place with a more beautiful view of San Francisco, the bridges and the bay. The island itself has this stoic beauty about it, all steep and rocky and green. But no prison can be called beautiful with the cell blocks, watch tower, solitary confinement area and general air of hopelessness. A tour guide said a prisoner once said the worst thing about Alcatraz was the view of freedom so close by.




The Golden Gate Bridge exceeded my expectations in every way. It's so long and so tall and the rust red color (officially International Orange) made me want to smile inside every time I looked at it. It is the perfect color. I almost got run over Saturday morning by cyclists on the bridge who apparently take their ride very seriously. Once I figured out how to stop on the bridge without getting hit by a bike, the views from the bridge of Alcatraz and the city are the surrounding area were breathtaking. I loved walking on the bridge. The bridge is 1.7 miles long and we didn't go all the way across, but we did get close enough for me to wonder what was on the other side. In my mind Marin County appeared as some rocky green coastal paradise where rainbows appear daily.




Fisherman's Wharf was a little too touristy for my taste, with no decent seafood at a decent price. I did like seeing the beach and the piers and the ice cream sundae shared with C. at Ghirardelli Square was heavenly. There was a jazz band playing with a drummer who was just a kid, and I think the kid was the reason that a crowd had stopped to watch.



We took a cable car back to the hostel that evening. I told my friend that a cable car really took you back to the San Francisco of the 1910s or 20s. I couldn't believe that the drivers manually turned the cable car around at the end of the line, just like in the old days. And the wood-paneled inside of the cars seemed original, definitely not designed for the girth of 21st century passengers. The ride is slow with lots of vibration, and it's nerve-wracking when you look out and see just how steep the decline is. Ah, but it's fun to ride in a packed car with all the other tourists looking out the windows, absolutely delighted to be riding this thing.

My last day in San Francisco C. and I went to the tiny Paris Cafe for huge croissant breakfast sandwiches. I asked her if she wanted to go back to Paris, but she gave a "been there, done that" sort of answer. She said once you've seen one big city, you've kind of seen them all. Yes and no. Despite their similarities every city plays a different song. San Francisco takes natural beauty and quality of life to the next level.



I spent the last of my time in San Francisco walking around Haight Street. Hippie culture has always fascinated me and I was eager to see where the summer of love happened. Ah, but I was disappointed. I imagine a hippie from the '60s wouldn't recognize this neighborhood with its upscale, tourist-oriented shops. Cartoonish is the word I'll go back to to describe it. It was too clean and too bright and shiny to have any sort of authentic hippie vibe. Also, this was a Sunday so the street was very empty, aside from a couple kids with dreads, and nuns and homeless people, not hippies, occupied Golden Gate Park. Still it was fun to see the psychedelic signs and shrines to Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and George Harrison.










A street over from Haight were beautiful Victorian row houses. How do these houses withstand earthquakes? I wondered. I walked until I got to Buena Vista Park, probably the most beautiful park I've ever encountered. Huge trees offered shade as I walked up steps until I got to a point with an unimaginably beautiful view of San Francisco. I could see what seemed like every house in San Francisco and even out to the Golden Gate Bridge once more. It brought me peace on this Sunday and was the perfect end to my trip.





I missed out on the window seat on my flights back and also forgot I had stowed away most of my magazines in my suitcase. So I pulled out the Kindle and finished my book about happiness, The Geography of Bliss. After traveling around the world, the author comes to the conclusion that place doesn't matter so much, happiness is purely relational. Family and friends are important to happiness, money matters less than we think and we should have trust and gratitude. Shocking! I wanted to request a refund from Amazon.

But surely if there was any place one could be happy it would be San Francisco. For the flowers in the air, the sunshine, the peaceful vibe, the beats, the water, and the color of the bridge. As Jack Kerouac wrote in the original scroll for On the Road, "It was okay with me once again I wanted to get to San Francisco, everybody wants to get to San Francisco and what for? In God's name and under the stars what for? For joy, for kicks, for something burning in the night."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Girls

From a gushing review of Girls by Emily Nussbaum in New York magazine:
Girls was a bold defense (and a searing critique) of the so-called Millennial Generation by a person still in her twenties. It was a sex comedy from the female POV, taking on subjects like STDs and abortion with a radical savoir-faire as well as a visual grubbiness that was a statement in itself. It embraced digital culture, and daily confession, as a default setting. Even before the Republican candidates adopted The Handmaid’s Tale as a platform, Dunham’s sly, brazen, graphic comedy, with its stress on female friendships, its pleasure in the sick punch line, its compassion for the necessity of making mistakes, felt like a retort to a culture that pathologizes feminine adventure. As my younger colleague Willa Paskin put it, the show felt, to her peers, FUBU: “for us by us.”

I'm definitely intrigued. Will have to check this out.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Twitter misses me

In my e-mail today:

"So much happens on Twitter every day, whether it's breaking news, a deal at your favorite shop, a local traffic jam or a funny pick-me-up from a friend. Twitter keeps you informed with what matters most to you today and helps you discover what might matter to you most tomorrow.

Aren't you curious to know what you're missing on Twitter right now?"

*sighs* No, not really. Let me deal with the noise in my head first before adding any more chatter.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review of On the Road: The Original Scroll:

"The biggest immediate difference between the first draft and the finished product, though, is that while we know 'On the Road' as a novel — the great novel of the Beat Generation — the scroll is essentially nonfiction, a memoir that uses real names and is far less self-consciously literary."

Maybe that is why I liked it so much.
From a New York Times op-ed, "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs":
"It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients....I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief."

Friday, March 09, 2012

Free sweets

It was a good day for free sweets. My coworker offered half her Whataburger apple pie to me and I couldn't say no. Then the HR director passed around a tray of cookies and I took a chocolate chip one.

But the greatest score was my friend in the reading club who brought two plastic containers full of profiteroles, one containing puffs with raspberry filling and white chocolate glaze and the other with puffs with vanilla cream filling and chocolate and coconut glaze. I limited myself to four.

Free food does make a day more pleasant.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I'm planning to post about San Francisco, but I think I need to be in the right state of mind to write it, not about to fall asleep if I close my eyes for 30 seconds.

Dusty season arrives in El Paso. As long as I have Claritin I'm good.

I had fun at work today. Work should be fun. Some of the time, anyway.

Loved this essay. *sigh*

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Worked 7-7 today. Going to San Francisco tomorrow. During the day I kept thinking, at this time tomorrow, I'll be...on an airplane...seeing some cable cars...checking into the hotel...etc. I really can't imagine what it will be like -- the consistency of the air, the Pacific, the people. But of course, per my usual course of action, I will take a million pictures and report back.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sorry for the inactivity on this blog. Work has been consuming most of my time. Outside of work I don't feel much like getting on the computer. Or thinking, for that matter.

It's Saturday and it hurts to type. Can you say carpal-tunnel syndrome? Anyone know how to avoid this?

I'm reading The Geography of Bliss. Interesting book. It beats the pants off The Happiness Project, which I read last year. Probably because the author actually *goes somewhere* and *does something.* Why do I read books on happiness? Somehow I think the secret of happiness is not found in books.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Check out Roger Ebert's piece on rewatching Contact, still one of my favorite movies: "The strength of 'Contact' is in the way it engages in issues that are relevant today, and still only rarely discussed in the movies."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: Down and Delirious in Mexico City

I almost don't need to visit Mexico City, I'm so convinced blogger/Twitter-er/foreign correspondent extraordinaire Daniel Hernandez nails the vibe in his 2011 book Down and Delirious in Mexico City. Definitely not a tour book, and not exactly a memoir, it's a collection of essays exploring the city's different subcultures. Punks, emos, fashionistas, hipsters, cholos, religious, etc. are among the observed. Meanwhile Hernandez, a San Diego native, explores his own relationship with these urban tribes.

We come along for the ride as he learns to embrace the city's passion, electricity, history, chaos and violence. Hernandez is not afraid to tour a neighborhood that used to be a trash dump to see the origins of Mexico City punk, risk his health in a sweat lodge ritual, or interview emos at a metro station as an anti-emo wave sweeps Mexico. Along the way we meet fashion designer/party boy Quetzal, late night bar companion Susana, and yellow and orange haired muse/philosopher Denise. Like an older brother Hernandez patiently explains the facts of life here -- kidnappings, street-level hustling, Santa Muerte, pollution, class differences -- at a level even a middle-class American who's never set foot in Mexico might understand.

Some of Hernandez's more interesting observations come when he turns his journalistic eye on himself and his own identity as a U.S.-raised Latino: "To capitalinos who know enough about what a U.S. upbringing produces -- our manner of walking, for one, quick and exasperated, our tentative Spanish, that starting pocho accent -- I am a gringo regardless of how dark my skin might be."

While he is technically an outsider, Hernandez appears quite at home in "the impossible megacity," which seems to satisfy his boundless appetite for excitement and new cultural horizons to explore.

The only things I didn't like about the collection are that I found it a little too focused on the hipster-esque side of the spectrum of Mexico City. *Another* interview with a fashion designer? The other thing is it seems like he wrote this for an audience who doesn't know a lick of Spanish and hasn't ever been near Mexico. If you've already traveled in Mexico, you will find some parts of the book very obvious. And using more Spanish (with translations, of course) would have brought the experience even closer, especially for those who know the language.

Despite this, Down and Delirious in Mexico City is a unique take on an amazing city. I highly recommend it, along with the author's blog.