09 December 2011

Final Day

We started our last day in Bogota with a trip up to montserrate, a church on one of the highest peaks in Colombia. Much to the chagrin of our cab driver, I pronounced it without the "e" on the end (like in Barcelona), and because of that he almost wouldn't drive us.

They may explain how crazy he was driving, though. There were several times I thought we would plunge right off the side of the mountain we were zooming up. As our cab had no seatbelts, I was grabbing onto the handle in the back like it was my job. The church is rather high up there, so even after the huge climb in the car, you still have to go up further,  either by cable car, funicular, or walk. We certainly weren't going to walk, and since the cable car wasn't open, our choice of the funicular was made for us.

The view from the top is pretty spectacular...I imagine even more so if the skies are clear. Being so far up, it is probably kind of foggy up there most days, but yesterday we had the added bonus of rain. It was still very pretty! Since it was a holiday, there were lots of local families hanging around up there, and there was a mass going on (feast of the immaculate conception, I think). While the names are similar, this Montserrate didn't remind me much of the one in Spain; where that one felt like an overhyped tourist trap, in Bogota it felt more true... It didn't feel so commercial, prices weren't completely jacked up. There were lots of vendors selling traditional food...I had a hard time walking through that part as I watched them unfolding intestines. No, really, intestines.

After a while of walking around, the cable car opened (and funicular closed), and we headed back down the hill to catch a cab and head back to our hood.

Again, our life was in this driver's hands, but luckily this time there were seatbelts. This dude was screaming down the hills, weaving in and out of traffic...my heart was in my throat throughout the ride. When we got back to the Parque 93, we had some trouble understanding the cost of the cab, and he then chastised me for my Spanish.  In fairness to him, it wasn't totally correct and I'm totally rusty, In fairness to me, I was trying really hard, and after week of constant translating, I was a bit tired.

At any rate, I wanted to spend my last day walking around, checking out our neighborhood and another nearby. Bill went to get some tea and hang out near the park. I tried to go to the Usequen (sp) neighborhood, thinking it was just 10 blocks or so away...I was wrong, it was more like 20+! Once I realized this, I turned back around to head back to my hotel and reset my day. On my way, I passed a bunch of very young members of the Colombian military, cruising the streets with huge automatic weapons.  Needless to say, this was a bit intimidating!

Back to the Zona Rosa (Zona T on the maps) I went, and decided to grab a beer a the local brewery. Bogota Beer Company is the kind of place my dad would have loved...lots of good home brews on tap, dark wood bar, locals hanging out watching futbol. This area is definitely the place to be, and where I would recommend anyone visiting bogota stay (or Parque 93, just a few blocks away). Tons of bars, restaurants, shopping, and local life. The Candelaria seemed like it would get quite seedy at night, whereas the area we were in felt super safe. On this particular night, it was hopping by about 4, since it was a holiday, the sun had made an appearance,  and the Colombian national championship soccer game was on.

Soon we were done with dinner and on our way to the airport...another hair-raising cab ride, in which I grabbed the oh shit handle so much, my hand was sore! All the flights have been without incident..I lost Bill somewhere between customs and the transfer area in Houston; he sped outta there and our flights were in different terminals.

Overall, I enjoyed Colombia. It's fun going somewhere rather unexplored, and the heat in Cartagena forced me to really relax a bit and lounge; a nice transition between jobs! I loved getting lost in the old part of the town,watching the inner workings when not many tourists were around. The availability of fresh fruit, sliced,whole, or as juice, at every corner, was awesome. And so inexpensive! Then experiencing a version of the paseo, where the people of neighborhoods all seem to gather in the local plaza  in the evening to eat and socialize, seemingly the only time of day they can do this and not be absolutely done in by the heat...it was a great way to get to know the city. And, of course, our roof pool was the bomb.

It was also cool to see a city like Bogota, which has so much history and so wants to start attracting the tourist dollar, but has some ways to go before it does (and, speaking as someone from a heavily touristed city, there are ways to do this-- carefully-- without pushing out those who have lived there a long time...and the infrastructure improvements and money coming in could be beneficial, once they ready). A guy that was staying at the same hotel in cartagena remarked to me that many people compared Buenos Aires and Bogota, and he felt Bogota had more charm. I could see that. Nestled there in the mountains, the landscape is just lovely. I think, someday, they could both be vying for the same tourist monies.

07 December 2011

Día de las Velitas, Bogota

Tonight was a big celebration throughout Bogota (and Colombia), and I wanted to make sure to get in on the action! 

We headed down to the Zona Rosa, where the guy from our hotel recommended we go. Sure enough, it was crackin'. The restaurants were spilling over, and there were tons of people enjoying the "snow" on the street.

We ate and walked around a bit...by the time we left the area, people had finally started lighting the candles (las velitas). We came back to our hood and Parque 93 was all aflame with candles,and teeming with people. It was very cool to see...while the candles gave it a solemn feel, the holiday music and cheer made it very celebratory!

La Candeleria de Bogota.

Well, today got off to a roaring start, literally, as my travel partner got sick somehow (flu? Altitude? Food? Who knows.). He was definitely not up for touring, so I headed out to La Candeleria district. This is the old center of the city, and has lots of churches and sites.

Getting there was an adventure all its own. The cabs here are...well...loco. There are a million of them, they are cheap, but they drive like maniacs and have no seatbelts in the back. We to ok. A shortcut over some hills, which was nice, but wow, was I a little nervous!

The sun was trying to peek its way out when I arrived to La Candeleria. I walked around quite a bit, past the Plaza Bolivar, into the First Church, and then through a few streets. I ended up getting myself a bit turned around and wandered into a rather sketchy hood! Once I figured this out,though, I turned myself right back around and continued to explore.

I spent quite a bit of time in the Museo de Oro, or Gold Museum.ot has a super extensive collection of Colombian gold artifacts,and is laid out in a way that tells a very good story. I spent a couple of hours in there,and by the time I can out, it was POURING. It soon passed, and I once again climbed into a cab to get back to our neighborhood.

This cab ride was scary as all get out. The traffic here is also a it nutty -- they have marked lanes,stop lights,right-of-ways,but no one seems to follow them. Add the rain to these facts, and,well, that oh shit handle got plenty of use by me!

Tonight is the Día de las Velitas, the kick off to the Colombian holiday season,and then tomorrow is a holiday (the guy I spoke to at the hotel yesterday told me Colombians will use any excuse for a holiday), so if bio is up to it, we'll head down to the zona rosa and watch the festivities.

06 December 2011

¡Hola Bogota!

We arrived to Bogota today, and by the time we left the hotel, it was rainy and rather dreary. So it was kind of a lazy day. 

But this lovely image of Bocelli and the muppets met us when we walked through the park near our hotel. And,to me,nothing says Christmas like the muppets.  

El Final Día en Cartagena

I think yesterday may have been my favorite so far. It was cool(er), the city was rather peaceful, and I fell a bit in love with it.

I woke up, mowed down un desayuno tipico, and headed out on my merry way. The level of tourists had reduced considerably, and I felt like I was experiencing a more "true" Cartagena. 

I decided to put myself on a little "Love in the Time of Cholera" tour, so my first stop was Fermina Daza's house and the bench from which Florentino Ariza watched her...also known as the Parque de Ferdinand Madrid. We had been there a few nights before when we went to the Wiskeria Zorba, but I loved seeing it during the day. I could imagine Florentino writing love poems from this little bench underneath the lush trees, pining in the heat for his crowned goddess.  At the same time I was t asking this flight of fancy, there was a huge argument ensuing between an older woman, a male driver, and the police. When I arrived, there were only about 5 people involved...after I had walked around a bit, there were probably 20 or so, and the argument had moved around the block. 

After that, I think I walked up and down every street in the walled city. I loved it. I got to see people lounging, people at work, tourists getting screwed, mass in session, tourists enjoying themselves...I feel like I finally got a good sense of the city, and it was lovely.  

I felt I had to try as mush of the street food as possible...but it was so hot I wasn't ever hungry in the least.  But I was thirsty, and I had the most delicious orange juice (.50$). Then, I finally had a small appetite, and chowed down on some underripe (delicious) mangos with salt,pepper, and lime (1$). It SO hit the spot.  I continued my wandering, and eventually decided I should head back to my hotel for one last pool afternoon-- as someone who lives in  SF and is from the inner Bay Area, a pool is a real treat! -- I found this cool bar in an old fortress part of the Wall. It wasn't open, but the security guard let me take a look and take some pics (I put the self-timer on for the one above). That as about two blocks from our hotel.

Instead of heading back though, I decided to gab some money. From the ATM, then get some coconut water.  Coconut water is a rather new thing in the states (at least...it's suddenly more popular), and while it is not my favorite, it looked so delicious in its bolsita (little bag). And, .50$ later, it was soooo yummy!

I headed back to the pool for a few hours, reading the Steve Jobs biography...I was pretty into it and had a hard time tearing away! For dinner we went to a little German bar then back to the Wiskeria Zorba for a nightcap. Eventually, it was time for bed, since our flight to Bogota was early this morning.

I must say...while I am not sure I would ever go back, my last day definitely gave me a case of the smittens with Cartagena!

05 December 2011


Look, there I am!

What you can't see in the pic is that I am nice and crispy from the sun... Three days walking around in 90 degree heat will do that to even the most well-sunscreened person. (Don't worry, mom, it'll turn to brown and fade soon enough.)

Yesterday we took a loooonnggg walk all the way to the other end of Cartagena -- Bocagrande ("big mouth"). It's where all the high-rise hotels and resorts are, and the beach. The ocean breeze felt nice, but other than that... I think we made the right choice to stay in old town. Bocagrande lacks the charm of this side of town, and mainly feels like an old Hawaii or something.  I think there will be a lot of updating happening in the next few years as Colombia becomes more of a destination; it will be interesting to see how that area changes. 

We came back and once again it was siesta time for me by the pool. I was up there for a few hours reading, and was joined for a bit by two other guests at the hotel... They were originally from the Caribbean, but were currently living in NYC...for about a month, then going to Brasil. They were super nice and gave me some background on the hotel (owned by a coworker of the man's) . 

For dinner we went back to the old town for some street food...unfortunately there weren't many options on a Sunday night! After that, there was just a lot of hanging out and drinking beers.

 A struck by how many stray dogs there are here. It is rather sad...some look healthy but most are pretty raggedy and emaciated. They are all pretty friendly, and a few follow the police officers around as they patrol the streets.  Last night one sat at my feet for a while as I ate a snack...I gave her a few pieces and she was my new best friend!

03 December 2011

Storming the Castle

I did not pack well for this trip, at all. I think I'll be ok when I get to Bogota, but I am not quite sure what I was thinking when I packed for Cartagena. Apparently, I forgot what heat + humidity is like. And neglected to take heed when a friend, who has been down here the last week, said it was so hot he hadn't worn a shirt in several days. No...I simply packed like I do for any other trip: a few tops, skirts, capris...

I realize now I have no real clue how to deal with hot weather, and certainly do not have the clothes for it. In SF, it gets not for a day or two, we whine, out on a cute dress, and get sunburned. It usually works of to; it's not humid and only lasts until nightfall. That is not the case here. Lesson learned. 

We kicked off today with a desayuno tipico de Colombia -- a bunch of delicious tropical fruit, arepas, patacones and a bunch of other delicious fried things, and café Colombiano. It was so good and filling, we haven't had but some fruit since. (it's 5.30pm)

Off to Castillo San Felipe we went. This is a 17th century fortress not too far from the old town (and visible from the roof of my hotel). It's a pretty extensive castle, lots of nooks and crannies to explore. W found a few pockets of cool... There was one tower where the windows formed a sort of wind tunnel; somehow the air was cool and it felt like our heads were next to an air conditioning unit. We hung out there for a while - largely because we found some shade and couldn't move much more!

After a bit,we headed back down to el centro to cruise around the wall. The old city of Cartagena is surrounded by a huge wall, and you can walk pretty much the whole thing. We found that it was about beer o'clock,and luckily came upon a supermarket that had cans of Aguila. Once procured, we headed back on the wall and continued our walk.

It was a pretty cool way to see the city. The views were awesome and we got to see a few hidden alleys I'm not sure we would have otherwise seen.  I found myself wondering if there was ever a time where the city cools down and gets quiet, and one can just wander without being covered in sweat?

We eventually ran into the end of the accessible wall, and landed in the old city. I grabbed some mango with salt and lime (fruit with salt,lime & sometimes pepper, is sold all sliced up on the streets for just about 1-2$ US), Bill got some local  candy, and we headed back to the sweet airco of our hotel. I decided to take my siesta again by the pool (and actually took myself into the pool!), and have been up here reading and enjoying the music since!

Drinking like a Local

A margarita?

Nope...this drink combines two of my favorite things -beer & salt - along with lime juice to form a michelada.

I had heard of these drinks before...an old co-worker swore by them, but they always included tomato juice (or clamato)...sort of like a bloody Mary sans vodka plus beer. I think that's the typical way in most of Latin America.

But here in Colombia, it's much simpler (and more to my taste). Threw back a few of these last night, using Aguila Light (Colombian beer...tastes kind of like Amstel light).

It's nice that much of the food here is corn-based (more on that deliciousness later) so I can enjoy the beer (balance the gluten intake). In fact, it's only 10am, already hot as hell, and I'm ready for a nice michelada already!

02 December 2011

And We're Off!

First, I must comment on this... Our cab ride from the Cartagena airport to our hotel cost about 5$US. This is astonishing to me. First, because Bill was ready to book us a car for 40$. And second...5$!?

Whew, with that out of the way...we made it safe and sound to Colombia. Not without some issues, of course.  My flight out of San Francisco was late by about 25-30 minutes...not a great thing when I only had a 50 minute layover. The flight attendants on this United/Continental flight were very nice, however, answered my questions about the tight connection and even comped me a drink.  I was sure I couldn't be the only one trying to make that connection, but it turns out, I was. Or, at least, no one else was running through the Houston airport on the same path as me.

Luckily, the flight from Houston to Bogota was also late, so I made it there as they were boarding. Whew, crisis averted! The second flight was very bumpy, with very ornery flight attendants who lost patience with some customers because they couldn't decide what they wanted to eat ( 1. It was past midnight and we had no clue they'd be throwing food at us, 2. They never told us what it was that they were throwing, 3. We were on our way to Colombia, and many of the passengers didn't speak English and thus had no idea what the flight attendant was yammering on about.) Shame, United/Continental.

Once we arrived to Bogota, we had lots of time to kill between flights. And our flight was delayed. The lack of concern by the airplane staff led Bill & I to believe that this delay is a normal thing. Eventually, after what seemed like forever (at least an hour delay), we were on our way...and hour after take off, we were touching down in Cartagena. 

After our amazingly cheap cab ride, we arrived to the lovely air conditioning of our hotel. Man, this place is HOT. And humid. Those two things, plus approximately 1.25 hours of sleep in over 24 hours do not a happy Annie make. I needed a nap!

After lunch, that is exactly what we did.  I went up to the roof deck and laid by the pool;  Bill enjoyed the air conditioned room.  That was about 5 hours ago... I am still by the pool. HOT, I tell you!

30 November 2011

Fall Slips Away

I know, I haven't written in a while! Lots of good reasons, lots of lame reasons, but I will be better going forward. But, for the time being, I thought I would share a few things I've been up to!

First, we celebrated my dad's birthday with a trip to the zoo!

A hummingbird followed us around the children's zoo

Later that night, we had a family photo shoot. Here are a few fun ones!

The following weekend, I headed down to SLO and was hosted by my wonderful friends Vanessa& Ben. Highlights included Bailey's-spiked capuccino in bed, a flight over SLO, and a dinner of delicious finger foods while watching a Sons of Anarchy marathon and playing Kinect. Love.

The fun didn't stop there. The following weekend, my mom, Aunt Pebbles, Luca & I took a little trip up to Carneros (near Sonoma) and did a little wine tasting, enjoying the gorgeous views!
Beautiful view from Gloria Ferrar

Hanging out at Larson Family

The bat ears were at full mast

Then, finally, Thanksgiving. This was a big, happy day in our family, as my brother got engaged to his girlfriend! Congrats to Tony & Sasha.

The Big Annoncement

So, as you can see...things have been a little busy!

02 November 2011

Run, Annie, Run!

The Finisher Medals are Wine Stoppers!

Some pumpkins @ Dry Creek General Store
I did it! The Healdsburg Half was a great time...I actually ran the full 13.1 miles (a first for me; I usually have to walk some), and it was a really beautiful course and morning.

When we started, it was probably about 40 degrees. BRRR. I don't think it has ever been so cold when I've started a race. It was still dark, but the sun was trying to peek out over the Coppola winery as we started. We ran right along side the freeway for a mile, then turned onto a lovely road that took us through vineyards and past wineries.

My friend Mark, pictured above, ran the whole time with me, which was really nice of him (he is a lot faster than me). While I didn't finish in the time I had originally hoped, thanks to some poorly timed bathroom stops and me just being slow, I am so excited that I ran the entire thing. W00T!
Sweet Daji
I assume I had a treat

After the race, we headed back to the cabin and rested for a bit. Then off to some wine tasting!

Our first stop was at the Dry Creek General Store, a gem of a deli right on Dry Creek. We had run right past it that morning, the sun barely shining, so it was great to visit with the heat turned up and the sun shining down. I truly love the autumn here in Northern California.

After that, we headed to Amista Vineyards, a dog-friendly spot right on Dry Creek Road. We grabbed a bottle of Chardonnay and lounged on their lovely patio. The dogs absolutely loved it, and their owners did, too!

Running 13.1 miles will tire a person out, so we soon went to rest our weary muscles. I can't imagine what running further would be like...and I don't think I will ever find out. I'm perfectly happy and proud of myself for finishing this bad boy!
A few late-harvest grapes
A cool trike at Amista

My boy.

21 October 2011

In just a week, I'll be racing in my 5th (or 6th...can't remember) half marathon, the Healdsburg Wine Country 1/2 Marathon (or "Wine Run," as I call it). Last weekend I did my last "big" training run...9 miles. Felt pretty good, I really had the legs at the end so am feeling pretty good going into next week.

This is the first time I have really trained (and I use that loosely) for a half since my first one. It dawned on me that I am not as young as I once was, and maybe trying to get some mileage in before the race would be a good idea and prevent some injuries. Imagine that!

This race will be a special one for me. I've always dedicated my races to someone -- usually someone who has passed on (except the one for my gpa, as he is still alive & kickin'.) -- this time it is for my dad.

The race starts at the Coppola winery, which is the last place I really spent time with him. It was also a place we loved to go together; we discovered it one very hot day when we decided to go wine tasting. My mom thought it was too hot to leave the river, and dad & I were too hot to stay there (and tasting rooms have airco!). We went up to hit another one of our favorites, Meeker, then Geyser Peak, then, as we were driving back to go to a few others, we spotted what at the time was called "Unnamed," now called Coppola. It is a beautiful property, and I remember standing outside, overlooking the vineyards, and telling my dad it was so beautiful, it would be one of the few wineries where I wouldn't mind having my wedding. (his response? "Let's work on the boyfriend first.") We stayed and tasted, and discovered the Sofia Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine, something he always made sure to buy me when he was there (and I will always have on hand here at my house).

When I signed up for this race, I didn't realize it started at this special place. Now, looking back, it seems pretty serendipitous. While I know he wouldn't be happy that I signed up for another half marathon ("Annie, why would you do that? You know it hurts your knees. Can't you just do a shorter race? Or just not race at all."), I know he'd be proud. The first half I ever did, with Team in Training in honor of my grandmothers, ended with him in tears as I stepped across that finish line. This one, a week before what would have been his 59th birthday, I know he'll be watching me start from the balcony where we once stood, arms crossed with a little cup of Sofia, smiling his "I'm really happy but can't show it too much because I am supposed to be disapproving of this" smile.

18 October 2011

Travel these Days...

Since my rather impromptu trip is coming up soon, I am in full planning mode. But, as always when planning, I start thinking back to when I first started traveling.

I am trying to brush up a bit on my Spanish, and so am listening to a podcast (hosted by some Scots; sometimes the English is harder to understand than the Spanish!). The topic was introducing and talking about your family. Yes, pretty basic, but it's been a while and everything is a good reminder.

At any rate, I started to think about my first trip off to Spain. I was going for a while, and I wanted to have some pictures with me of my friends and family back home. I thought this would be a good way to keep them with me, but also to show the people I would meet who I was back home, and allow them to put faces with the names that I may mention in conversation. Because space was limited in my bag, I cut out pictures and made a collage. Then, I photocopied that collage in color so it was small and I could carry it easily, or hang it on my wall.

(Where I did this color copying I am not sure -- Mom's work? Kinko's? -- as color copiers were not as common back in 1998 as they are now. )

Likewise, when I wanted my parents to know who I was meeting, what I was seeing, etc., I had to go to El Corte Ingles, get my film developed (gasp, FILM. DEVELOP.), put the photos in an envelope with a stamp, and send them on their way in hopes they would arrive in a week or two. This was the only way they could share my experience with me.

It just dawned on me today how I've taken advantage of how much this has changed. Now, I generally have my phone with me, where I can show new friends pictures and even videos from home. I can post things to Facebook (or, for my mom, email) to allow people to share in my trip...whether they like it or not. And, this is all done instantly, no need for them to hang tight for a few weeks until the letter gets there.

And I love it. I love the way I can share, if I want, or find out what my friends are up to and be jealous. While I do miss the ritual of the past, I really do love the way things have changed.

(see...I'm not that old. Kids, feel free to play on my lawn.)

16 October 2011


So far, I am about 50 pages into a guidebook (not much on a page, lots of pics)...I've just passed the "Things You Need to Know" pages, and I am already so excited I can hardly contain myself.


1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I get to go where he is from. I get to see where Love in the Time of Cholera is set. Yes, yes please.
2. I get to drink the best coffee in the world. (V- yes, I am excited to drink coffee)
3. I get to go to the beach in December.
4. I get to eat arepas on the regular.
5. I just read about patacones...PLANTAINS!

So we're going to Cartagena and Bogota...any and all suggestions would be really appreciated.
(and, yes, I know Medellin ROCKS, but we have 7 days, and choices must be made. Also, spare me about the 7 days. It's what we have. Those 7 days are going to ROCK SO HARD.)

06 October 2011

Travel Time!

I am not the most spontaneous person in the world...anyone who knows me knows this as stone-cold fact.

Several years ago, I booked a trip to Seattle on somewhat of a whim. Prior to that, I had watched Under the Tuscan Sun and rather promptly booked a trip to Argentina.

And tonight? Well...

I got a text from my friend BillE, saying,"Taipei first week of December, you in?" Promptly followed with, "You should probably come. Why not?"

I responded that I was game, but that I'd rather go to South America. Within minutes, we had decided on Colombia.

And, an hour or so later, my trip was booked. Hopefully BillE has also booked his ticket, but if not, I'm going. And I can.not.wait.

05 October 2011


"[A]lmost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
- Steve Jobs

12 September 2011

Shocked & Angry

The peace and hope I felt yesterday was short lived.

I was perusing Facebook today and came across a post by a college friend of mine, describing an experience of another college friend of ours.

Please read it.

First off...I am so glad she is ok. That she is safe is the only good thing I can find in this story.

It saddens me, this type of thing. That we have so lost control of our perspective that we find mundane things "suspicious" just because someone looks like they may be of a different ethnicity (even if they are American citizens, born & raised here); that these same citizens can be held without being told why, then humiliated with strip searches and further held JUST BECAUSE THEY LOOK DIFFERENT...well, it sickens me.

I get that there are bad people out there. I also know they come in all shapes and sizes. While the terrorists that hit on 11 September were middle eastern, Timothy McVeigh, also a terrorist, was white. This type of profiling proves that the terrorists are still winning, that we are still in a state of constant and often ridiculous fear.

Reading this story felt much like the book Zeitoun, and I was compelled to share. It is easy to distance ourselves from this problem, from the racial profiling that goes on every day, all around us (generalizing groups as terrorists, or illegal immigrants, or thieves just because of how they look)...stories like this remind us that there is a real human element behind these generalizations, and how easy it is to lose grasp on reality.

Peace be with you, Shosh. And thank you for sharing your story.

11 September 2011

10 Years...

Last 24 August was not the first time I realized that life can forever change in just an instant.

I first truly realized this on 11 September 2001, as I sat in a conference center hearing news of some planes slamming into the World Trade Center of NYC, the impenetrable (or so I thought) Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania. This was a world before Twitter, before Facebook, before true smartphones. Information was spotty, at best, and rumors ran rampant.

It's hard to believe this was 10 years ago. Over the years, I've often thought about my experience on 9/11, as I am sure all other Americans have. Would my experience have been different had I been here in San Francisco? I would have just been getting up when the first plane hit, and the TV would not have been on yet. But, I likely would have seen it all happen far earlier than I did that day -- because I was already working and didn't have access to a TV, I didn't see the footage until much later that day.

Would I have gone into work? I am not sure what happened here, if people were sent home, or they toiled away for the day, but what would have happened?

Would I have felt safer or more connected? This is probably the one I wonder about the most. I was across the country, with some coworkers. I was far away from my friends & family, and wondering how I would get back home, and when. We had no clue what the next hours would bring us, much less the next few days (rumor had it that Atlanta, where I was, was also a target due to the CDC being there... looking back, I think it may have been one of the safer places, since CNN was just blocks away and these terrorists knew they needed the media to truly accomplish their mission).

All I knew at that point was that I was scared, & felt small and far away from everything.

Everyone's experience on that day was intensely personal, yet we are all connected by it. We went through a collective grieving process; the roller coaster of fear, denial, anger, and acceptance was one ridden by all. And here we are, 10 years later, and the ride has not ended. We continue to battle with our fear and demons, every time we get on a plane we wonder...

I wish we could recapture the spirit of unity that really glowed in those desperate days. Strangers were kind to one another. When I finally did get to go home several days later, despite the security line being almost literally a mile long, it was quiet and no one complained or was rude. I met a local firefighter who had travelled to Ground Zero and helped in the recovery efforts; he carried the spirit of giving back with him and bought the homeless dude in the Mission a pizza at 2am. We had perspective, 10 years ago.

Amazing how things change. Someday, I hope, we will get back there. I'd like to have faith that we will.

Never forget. #911

08 September 2011

Yum: Chickpea and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

Though summer has yet to arrive here in San Francisco, it seems to have done so in other parts of the state, enough so that our Farmers Markets are teeming with the good stuff. I visited one this weekend, and left with bags of fresh, lovely fruits & veggies.

After my recent success in roasting red peppers, I felt inspired to do so again, and, with a different recipe. I visited my favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, and found this yummy-looking recipe for a light summer salad with chickpeas. I just happen to have a bag of Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans in my cupboard, waiting for the perfect recipe, and off I went. While this is in no way a cooking blog, I know I always like finding recipes my friends have used, so I thought I would share!

I have to agree, fresh beans are the way to go in a recipe that features them. But, this recipe can also be made with the canned type.

Chickpea and Roasted Red Pepper Salad
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 large red peppers
~3 cups of garbanzo beans, rinse if they're from the can
1/4 cup fresh parsley (I used Italian)
~2 tbsp fresh mint
~2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 dashes of sea salt
3 tbsp capers, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
~2 tbsp olive oil

Roast the red peppers. Let cool, then peel. Cut into thin strips.
Mix peppers, beans, mint, parsley & capers in bowl.
In separate bowl, mix remainder of ingredients. Pour over bean/pepper mixture. Let sit in refrigerator at least one hour (longer is better to let the juices really set).

This is a great main salad or a side.

05 September 2011

Putting the labor back in Labor Day

It was Labor Day weekend...which for me has always signaled the end of summer, as it's the last weekend we get up at the River.

Last year was extremely difficult, and I couldn't wait to get through it.  This year, however, it couldn't last long enough!

We started off Saturday with another run around the loop. I thought we had gone quite a bit faster...but I was wrong. I think. The final time was the same, but we had one slower mile than last go 'round... there was one point where B & I were going at around a 9.30 and that felt awesome.

The pain in my leg? Not so awesome. In fact...pretty much the opposite of awesome.

Once I got back to camp, it was time to take down the site. This may sound easy -- after all, camping is just a couple of tents, right? But no, at our campgrounds, the sites are like outdoor cabins, and include all the accoutrements of one. Tarps, tents, refrigerator...all needed to be cleaned, moved, stored. It was a good little workout. 

Such a good workout that floating down the river sounded like a good way to cool off. Boy was I wrong. This float lasted FOREVER, since the river was almost running backwards. Instead of floating, we had to paddle most of the way. At least I earned my many, many drinks that night (and burnt off even more at the dance).

Sunday meant a 2 hour walk, including a trip over to our rival park on the forbidden trail. We felt like teenagers sneaking back there, as none of us have been there since we were told not to go. Of course, the minute we exited the trail, someone caught us, and we all reverted back to our 15 year old selves. It was pretty humorous to me! After we arrived back to our park, I was extremely exhausted!

It was a great last weekend to an interesting summer. And we made it...through a whole year of a roller coaster ride.

Every day I'm shufflin'...

24 August 2011

A Year.

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.
- For Good, Wicked

As I sit here and write, a year has passed since I last saw my father. (and, on the date this is published, it is a year since he passed onto his next adventure) I actually consider this a lucky thing...many of us don't see our parents on a super frequent basis, and it could have been much longer between visits if not for the summertime & River. And I'm lucky that it was a really fun day -- some wine tasting, him being concerned about me & my friend D eating, game playing at the River, and him being concerned about me & D getting home. So typical of my dad...even though I am (allegedly) a grown up, he still worried constantly.

It's very hard to believe, still, that he's gone. My brain is still having a hard time wrapping around this fact. More than once I have gone to call him, and very recently said something aloud about having to ask my dad something. There's a fuzziness I can't explain, and a sadness I just can't shake. I don't know if I ever will; I think a little brightness will always be gone from my life.

That said, the days have indeed gotten easier. I never would have believed it -- not a day goes by without me thinking of him -- but it's true. Things start to feel a little more normal. I can actually smile with true happiness, and laugh with glee. I don't know that I will ever be the person I was, but I am getting closer to her.

The grieving process is a funny one. It is not linear, as the common lore will have you believe. You can be going on in your day, happy as a clam, then all of a sudden you are knocked on your ass  by a smell, a song, or a random comment. You can be really angry at the world, and then in the next moment be laughing your butt off. You can feel empathy even through your own hurt, and joy through the pain. It is weird. I wish it was something I didn't know, but...there's nothing I can do about it now.

My father was scheduled to have a procedure the day after he passed away, first exploratory to see if there were any blockages in his heart, and, if found, to put in stents. Many have asked me if I feel this would have changed things, if I am mad that this procedure didn't happen earlier (it was scheduled for a few weeks). I find it a waste of time to think abut these things, and there is no sense in being angry. I truly believe things happen that are out of our control (which is REALLY had for a control freak like me).

What I'd rather think about is his last day. I know I spoke to him less than 12 hours before he passed -- I can't quite remember about what, I know part of it was about my mom's birthday present, part of it was about me coming to the hospital for his procedure, but not sure what else. My uncle said he was walking around all happy that day, "annoyingly" so...which makes me happy. I once wrote a paper in college about death (in Spanish), and wondered if, in some subconscious way, people realize it is their last day, and make peace with it. Not thoughtfully, but deep down, their psyche realizes it. I don't know, but I'd like to think this was the case, I'd like to think of his last moments as peaceful.

And that's the thought that has helped carry me through each day over this past year, and will continue to give me strength in the years to come as I continue on this new journey.

14 August 2011

Skip it: Something Borrowed

It's been a day or two since I watched this movie...and I am still struggling to figure out who thought it was a good idea. Maybe they thought if they put together a good cast, the movie would sell on that alone.

**may contain spoilers...which shouldn't matter, because you should not watch this movie...ever.**

Because there is nothing more there, really. I watched it and was let there wondering why Ginnifer Goodwin's character would ever be friends with a girl like Kate Hudson's character, and how someone like Colin Egglesfield character would love her that much to want to marry her.

Then, we are asked to be sympathetic to the fact that Ginnifer & Colin are really in love, go behind her best friend's back, and he never considers leaving.

I guess underlying it all -- we all have a friend at some point who always wins, who never hears no. But that usually ends by the time we're in our mid-20's (if not sooner). These people are 30+. The only person based in reality, to me, was John Krasinski's character, who was telling his best friend that he was tired of her shit and to grow up...well, until he then did the totally chick-flick (and NOT based in reality) thing of confessing love.

Movies like this bother me, because they ask us to like profoundly unlikeable characters, without any development. And this isn't a knock against the actors; all in this movie did the best with what they were given (except Kate Hudson, who was just kinda Shouty McYellerson all over the place). They treat us like we are stupid and lack any sense whatsoever...which, perhaps in choosing to watch this movie, we are.

10 August 2011

Read This: Hunger Games Trilogy

I have always been fascinated by writers (well, artists in general, but especially books). How they can have an idea that can carry through two hundred pages, and hold the attention of readers. This is especially true of more intricate stories, where consistency and attention to the smallest of details really count.

I had been hearing about The Hunger Games Trilogy for quite some time...I don't always take to the  most popular books (i.e. Twilight, Harry Potter), but something drew me to this trilogy. Perhaps because there's a movie coming out next year that I know will be popular...who knows. A week or two ago, I noticed that the book was around 5$ on the Kindle, and so I thought, why not?

I started reading it last week, and finished the 3rd book of the series by Sunday. Read all three in about 5 days. They were that gripping and exciting that I couldn't put them down. And completely, totally f-ed up.

The Hunger Games refers to a horrible death match forced upon the constituents of a post-apocalyptical world as a form of control. The books follow Katniss Everdeen, a rebellious teenager drafted into the Hunger Games, who ends up starting a fire that cannot be contained.  

On the surface, it's a messed up, gory story full of craziness. But, if you go a step further, there is a scary message in there about mind control, and a more philosophical question of how do we know what is real and what is propaganda. And also how terrible people can be to one another when they are fearful of losing control and there are no checks and balances.

There is some very messed up stuff in there, and I would love a peek into Collins's brain that she could come up with it. And that she could continue to come up with new twists along the way. There must be some crazy stuff going on in there!

I seriously could not put these books down, and now I am so excited for the movies. I can not imagine how they are going to translate some of this to the big screen...I just can't imagine it at all.

07 August 2011

Earning the Wine!

This past weekend was the "big" wine tasting event up at the River.

I put big in quotes because, while this is probably the biggest weekend up there, the event itself is two hours, where we get dressed up cute and drink wine, possibly win a prize or two, and talk about how we can't wait for the dance. It is one of the most fun weekends of my year, and this year didn't disappoint!

For the first time, I did the loop with a few of my friends. I usually only run about 3-3.5 miles while I am up there -- breathing is tough with the allergies -- and I'll admit I was a little scared to do the full 7.5ish miles with them. I hadn't run that far in over 1.5 years!

Pretty excited that I completed it with no walking. And without too much pain in the hips (until the end). We chatted the entire time and the miles went by rather quickly...and, since we were on a highway, we had to be alert for the cars, too! 

This gives me great hope for the training I'll need to do for the half marathon at the end of October. I kept this pace pretty easily, and hopefully in the next few months can pick up the pace a tiny bit and up my distance. 10min/mile is my goal for the half!

05 August 2011

Score Tonight!

A few months ago, my friends and I joined a bowling league. On my way there on Tuesdays, and now Thursdays, without fail, this song gets stuck in my head. I wish I could convince my team to dress up and sing like this...it would be quite awesome.

I first watched Grease 2 with my friend K in high school. She hearts and rainbows loved this movie. I prefer the original grease, but the campiness of this one has grown on me over the years. I mean, Michelle Pfeiffer acting the tough but sensitive girl (the new Rizzo?)? The double entendres? The decade confusion? This is all priceless.

And...nuns bowling. Can you beat that?

03 August 2011


It's funny how things can change so quickly in life. The winds shift and suddenly things are moving in a completely different direction, and there's little we can do about it other than accept and go with the flow.

Sometimes things seem so hopeful and bright, and before you know it, a false move makes that hope disappear and the brightness dull a little.

I think people have an amazing capacity to deal with these setbacks, but I wonder how much pushing must be done to keep moving forward, and not give in to the headwinds.

26 July 2011

20 July 2011

Extended Family

On 4th of July weekend, we were lucky enough to have many members of our River family join us in a special tribute to my dad. The River is the last place I saw my dad, and if it wasn't special to me already, it is even moreso now.

We dedicated a bench in the bocce ball area, a place he was so excited to see when they first put it in, to him.

It has now been almost 11 months, and I can hardly believe it. Thankfully, we have a great support system everywhere we go, and his memory is alive all over the place.

14 July 2011

Best Things: Food & Wine Academy of Florence

I was so excited when my mom and brother agreed to do a cooking class with me in Florence. I've been to Florence a few times, and always found myself drawn to the Tuscan cuisine (perhaps because there doesn't seem to be a lot of fish?), so thought it would be the perfect place to learn a thing or two. Plus, my friends A & M had taken a class there and raved about it, so, off we went!

We decided on a class at the Food & Wine Academy of Florence, and booked through the Viator website.  You can also book through other sites, but I always like Viator to keep all my tours together in one easy place (and, you can often find coupons, which is always a bonus!).

Biscottis at the Central Market
The class started bright and early with a group meet up in front of the Florencetown offices. We met our chef for the day -- Giovanni -- and his sous chef, who promptly took us over to the Mercado San Lorenzo to buy the supplies for the day. We first stopped off at the Conti shop to taste some olive oil and balsamic vinegar...and grab some goods! (I personally got La Salamoia, a Tuscan grey salt mixture; I now sprinkle it on everything!)  We continued our tour to pick up tomatoes, eggs, fresh cheese, eggplant, bread, and freshly ground meat straight -- all necessities for our upcoming meal. I was already getting excited!

After the market, we were taken to a back alley and a closed stall of some sort...which we soon discovered was actually an old restaurant and our home base for the day. Once inside, Giovanni laid out the menu for the day -- Bruschetta, Eggplant Caprese, fresh pasta with meat sauce, veggie pasta, and tiramisu to top it off. And, as we all spied, sitting upon the counter, WINE!

Our class had about 12 people from all over the world -- the USA, Canada, Britain, Georgia (the country) were all represented -- and everyone got to take a part in the prepping of food. I personally sliced some tomatoes and possibly whipped some eggs, though I am not 100% positive on that one!

We started by making our tiramisu, as it took the longest and also needed to sit for a while to really build the flavor. Once that was done, it was time to start on the pasta itself. My brother did a fine job mixing up the flour and eggs to create a great doughy base. As that was setting for about 10 minutes, we started working on other parts of our meal. This was one thing I really liked -- often when you are in the kitchen, you are called on to multi-task so the food is all ready around the same time; in this class, we learned how to effectively manage all the dishes at once.

Soon it was time to finish off the pasta and sauce, all which took about 10-15 minutes total. This was a totally simple meal, and we were all jonesing to eat it right away! Luckily, they held us over a bit with some vino. Eventually the meal was all done and we were ready to chow down!

Of course, our group ended up being the last ones standing. We helped Giovanni polish off the wine (can't leave a wounded soldier on our watch) and got some details on where to eat that night! While I have seen some reviews complain about the lack of hands on activity, but I thought our class size was perfect, and we all got to contribute (if we wanted). And, most importantly, everything we cooked could be made easily at home. Cooking in Tuscany is one thing I would highly, highly recommend.