Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Teavana is Right

There's something so soothing about a good cup of tea. With its delicate flavors, comforting warmth, and mellow tenderness as it sits on your tongue, tea does wonders for the soul.

Most days, I drink coffee, needing energy to push me through when I'm running on fumes. And lattes and cappuccinos are my decadence when I want a rich treat.

But I've recently discovered truly superb tea. A new tea shop called Teavana just opened up in Santa Barbara. They have a wide selection (even better than the one at Vices & Spices--and the staff is more knowledgeable about the teas) of real quality teas, all loose-leaf and sold by the pound. They do free tastings, and I fell in love with the ones I tried. I picked up two blends. One is a blend of Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls and Rooibos Tropica. The combination has the fragrant undertones of jasmine, with hints of strawberry, citrus, and rose petals. The other blend is of Samurai Chai Mate and White Ayurvedic Chai. This more invigorating combination bursts with cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass and coconut. Both are amazing, perfect for a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down, depending on whatever suits your mood.

And so tea (like this really good tea I found) is something else altogether. It's like a warm blanket and a mother's touch for a tired heart. I brew a pot and let it steep in my pretty little glass teapot. I pour a cup and then take a sip, savoring the delicate herbal, floral and spicy tones. And my heart gives a little sigh.

Tea reminds me of rainy days and good books, of my grandmother and soft, wrinkly skin, of honey and lemon on a sore, scratchy throat. It feels feminine and lovely. Sophisticated and elegant. It feels like the perfect ending to a beloved story; a feeling like you've finally come yourself.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

In Limbo

This year is the year for forks in the road; for choosing between paths and praying they lead somewhere towards happiness. I have officially finished collecting data for my dissertation and now must start writing it. Which means this fall I will start looking for a job. With the job market being so tight, it will be a tough search and if I'm lucky enough to find a job, it almost certainly will entail moving who-knows-where. Meanwhile, I will start sending out my manuscript, in hopes a publisher will see promise in it. Unsure which road will lead to a career, I'm pursuing both simultaneously.

On top of all this, my husband and I have been talking about moving somewhere completely different--as in foreign country different. Berlin and Thailand are probably the best options, given our ease with the languages, family connections and job possibilities. We both would love to live in a foreign country for 6 months to a year, and we wonder whether we should do it now while we're young and relatively mobile and responsibility-free. We don't want to wake up 70, and regretting never having taken the chance.

But the housing market is prime right now for first-time buyers. We could probably afford a nice-sized three bedroom house where we could settle down and have a place of our own. Which means we could also have the dogs we've been jonesing for, for almost a year now. We could get a home with fairly little down and amazingly low interest rates. It would almost be stupid to wait too long. My parents are pushing for this option, saying it's such a great investment that can't be passed up. Part of me wonders whether they're also pushing us to settle down and stay close to family rather than wandering off some where far away.

I always wanted to study abroad when I was in college as an undergrad, but I never did because I was too close to my parents. Plus with a boyfriend, I usually had too many ties keeping me at home. I have a strong belief of never having regrets in life, and I can honestly say I've held to that belief. But never studying abroad is probably the closest thing I have to regret. Now, I don't want to make an irresponsible decision. I don't want to do something that will set us back financially or unduly jeopardize our careers. But I also don't want fear and worry to be what prevents us from doing something we've always wanted to do. I don't want choosing security and responsibility over the opportunity of a lifetime to become something to regret.

I don't know what we will choose. But we are fast approaching the proverbial fork in the road, and I wonder whether we will choose the road of home, career, family, responsibility and settling down, or whether we will choose the road less traveled.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sorry I'm Lagging

Just wanted to let any readers who're wondering where I've frittered off to, I'll catch up on posts soon. The parents have been visiting, and would probably find me rude if I hide in my room for an hour to post. They're in town until tomorrow, so I'll resume Tasting Grace then. Much love!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lessons From My Father

1. We are always on stage. Whether we like it or not, we always have an audience and should dress and behave accordingly.

2. When you love someone, you take care of them. You find ways, little or big, to show you care, without having to be asked. To do for others is to show them they are loved.

3. To always be gracious, say thank you, and genuinely appreciate the gift, even if you hate it.

4. Hopskotch is the happiest time.

5. Appreciate good wine, good cheese, good friends, and good music.

6. Sometimes capturing footage of a rampaging elephant is more important than staying in the safety of your vehicle.

7. Sometimes making your loved ones happy is more important than being right.

8. Always act so that you'll be proud of yourself 5 years from now. And 10 years from now. Live life with no regrets.

9. Start with an outline: who, what, where, when, why and how. Can you say it in 25 words or less? And look it up in the dictionary.

10. Always explain to your children why. Punishments are never unjust when kids understand why what they did was wrong, and thus the lesson will be much more quickly learned. Treat kids like adults and they will act with maturity.

11. Library is NOT pronounced “lie-berry”.

12. I can do anything I want, if I want it badly enough.

13. I have many talents and I can be a little good at a lot of things, or really, really good at just one thing, and this is the choice I must make.

14. A woman can never have too much adoration, especially from the special men in her life.

15. Sometimes you just need to let a man make his mistakes.

16. Parenting is on-the-job training. Have pity.

17. Let the man pay for dinner. It's good for his ego.

18. No matter what happens, there is never any reason you cannot come home. Your parents will always be there for you and always love you.

19. There is nothing you cannot tell your parents. (But there are things you probably shouldn't tell them.)

20. English muffins topped with sour cream and boysenberry jam is heaven on earth.

21. Tea with honey and lemon works wonders on a sore throat.

22. Sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them. If you wrap them first in saran wrap and then in tin foil, they'll stay fresh through lunchtime.

23. Hugs and snuggling are always wanted.

24. Take every opportunity to learn foreign languages. You never know when Norwegian or Zulu will come in handy.

25. Don't get high on acid and burn your dissertation. As much as you might want to, it just makes for a depressing story.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Things I Learned From My Mother

1. Arrange food artistically when serving it. Food tastes even better when it looks appetizing.

2. Respect your elders, even if it seems they do not deserve it. There is always something to be learned from them, if only a lesson in your own humility.

3. A good chef knows if food is well-prepared just by the smell, when there is balance between the salty, the sour, and the sweet. I think there's something true about life here too: it's about finding the balance between salty, sour, and sweet.

4. Be frugal if you must, but never in food. You can scrimp and save everywhere in life, but when it comes to food, eat like kings.

5. It is our actions, not our words, that define who we are.

6. It's the little feminine touches, like lotion or body sprays, that take no effort but make all the difference when you're traveling.

7. Laugh often and uproariously. Life is meant to be laughed at and there is no shortage of ways to find pure glee.

8. Sometimes you say the most when you say nothing at all. Well-placed silence can often be more effective than the slickest words or loudest shrieks.

9. It can be a powerful tool when people don't quite know what to make of you.

10. Family, above all else. When you are at the end of everything, when there is nothing left, only family can be trusted to be there.

11. When you are broken and bleeding, a mother's hand upon your face can work magic.

12. Tell your children you can't always afford to buy them the toys they want (even if you can) and make them do chores (even if it would be done more efficiently by you). This instills the value of money and hard work. They'll grumble, but they'll appreciate you for it later in life.

13. Stupid rules are meant to be broken. But always be prepared to pay the consequences—or at least to outsmart the authority figures.

14. Life's too short to wear uncomfortable shoes. And if you can get away with it, bras should be discarded for the exact same reason.

15. Diamonds really are worth it.

16. You should never be too uptight to enjoy a good joke about sex.

17. Do not imbibe margaritas when you should be cooking dinner for your husband's boss, who is about to arrive.

18. Don't be afraid to wear bright beautiful colors. Do it tastefully, but do it.

19. Don't be rude, not even to people who serve you or work for you.

20. Watching movies with someone, even when neither of you are talking, is spending quality time together.

21. This too shall pass.

22. Fear thy mother's wrath.

23. Weekends are for fresh-baked bread, smoked salmon or foie gras, shallots and lime. Paired with a good sauvignon blanc.

24. Travel while you're young. If you wait until retirement, you'll be too old and fatigued to endure the travails which inevitably come with travel.

25. Families require management. As a woman, it is your job to manage the family and do it in a way that they don't realize they're being managed...and yet they always come to you for advice.

Friday, May 22, 2009

How You Know Clothes Have Been to the Playa

And by the playa, I don't mean the beach. I mean Burning Man, the place where all collective intentionality coalesces generating a mind-bending, spirit-stretching, communo-phenomatic experience.

Yesterday I posted about the clothing swap. Well, at said clothing swap I picked up a gorgeous red-pink-magenta-maroon-toned, hand-knit scarf. I've seen similar ones at Urban Outfitters, but never could quite convince myself to pony up the cash for an accessory. So when I saw the scarf, I did not hesitate to grab it and stuff it in my pile of takens before anyone else did.

However, when I got home and pulled out the scarf, an overwhelming, overpowering odor hit me upside the snout. It wasn't musty like attic, or noxious like BO. It wasn't even a bad smell, really, just some indefinable brand of pungent. And there's only one thing on earth that could create a smell like that--the Black Rock Desert. And clearly this scarf had not been washed since. Most likely its former owner came back exhausted, euphoric and caked in playa, shoved the scarf into some unknown recesses not wanting to deal with de-playafying it and forgot about it until the swap. Tossing it in the swap pile is easier than coping with such an object.

This object, this scarf, was the succubus of clothing. The smell was so pungent it infiltrated all the clothes around it, and infused them all with its evil. I had to hand wash it separately to prevent further spread of the nefarious fumes.

And this is how you really know an object has been to the playa: it takes four separate hand-washings to get out the grey alkali mud that is so fine it is invisible on the object, but nevertheless fills the suds you rinse out of it. It takes four washings to turn the soap suds from grey to white. Then it takes a fifth washing to get the object to almost smell as if it had been washed. And your hands feel chalky even though they're clean. It almost makes you want to douse the thing in vinegar, set it on fire and have done with it.

Cleaning up after the Burn is a pain in the ass. I bitch, but anyone who has been to Burning Man knows, I bitch with love. (And would happily subject myself to it all over again.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fishbon Clothing Swap at the Pescadrome

Last week I went to a clothing swap--and it was pretty much awesome. A bunch of women got together and brought old clothes that they never wear anymore, laid them all out, socialized as they eyed the clothing and waited for everything to finish getting organized, and then had a free-for-all. Scarves, skirts, and estrogen flew everywhere as women scavenged for cute clothes that fit. Whatever you wanted and could get your hands on, was yours. All free! It's the best idea ever. Not only do you get rid of the old clothes sucking up space, but you get new (to you, at least) clothes in return. No minimums, no quotas. Just what you want to give and what you want to take. In today's economy, events like this one are a godsend. You get new clothes, and might try a style that perhaps you wouldn't normally wear because you don't have to worry about whether or not its worth the price. Paired with appetizers and cocktails, it's a romping good time.

If events like this happened seasonally--or perhaps even more regularly--it would be a great new way to update a wardrobe. And if you pick up something you eventually decide you don't like or never will wear, you can just swap it out at the next one. And any clothes that aren't picked up at the swap are donated to Goodwill. Fabulous, huh?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Got Milk (Suggestions)?

When it comes to the essential vitamins and nutrients, the one I always seem to have trouble including in my diet is calcium. Does anyone have any suggestions for low fat, low calorie options to get my daily double dose?

Mot dairy options I find (like cheese and ice cream--so yummy, yet so bad for you) are not worth the caloric content since this is supposed to be a daily part of my diet. I've picked up yogurt and those 100-calorie pudding snacks. But there's only so much you can eat before you get pudding-ed out. Plus I need two servings a day. Two of those and I've consumed 1/4 of my daily calorie/fat allowance, which frankly, I'd rather be spending on something else more filling.

I've started drinking a glass of nonfat milk, but I don't particularly enjoy it. Are there any options for dressing up milk (besides Nesquick or Hershey's)? I'm also taking calcium supplements but I don't really trust them as much as real food. I'm always afraid my body won't absorb the nutrients as well as with real produce, which comes with it's own natural carriers and absorbers.

Does anybody have anything they think I should try?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

House, Can You Give Us Something Different?

The Husband and I don't have TV. I mean, we own a TV, but we don't watch television. We watch only movies because cable is a lot of money for a heck of a lot of dreck. We used to have it, but mostly our time just got sucked away into a vapid nothingness, and we'd turn to each other at the end of the night and wonder why we just wasted a whole evening.

So now, it's just movies for us, and the glory that is Hulu and Netflix for the few shows that are actually worth watching. We Netflixed the entire Sopranos series, and now we are working our way through House, M.D.

I love House. I adore the show, with its snappy banter and acerbic wit. And yes, it is formulaic. After about 5 episodes, you get the gist that some medical mystery occurs, House has to be persuaded to take it, the first three or four tries only make the problem worse, and the patient is now not only peeing blood, he or she is also losing their skin in huge swaths, having a seizure, and their bones are disintegrating. Meanwhile House is busy brow-beating his team, abusing Wilson, and sexually harassing Cuddy. But then, at the last minute, a random conversation leads to a flash of insight and House suddenly solves the mystery. Meanwhile the patient (and family) hates his guts, but can't help being grateful that House saved their life. You want to hate House for his lack of morals or sensitivity, but you can't really, because you know he serves a higher calling than social grace. And he's damn funny as he does it; getting away with stuff you sometimes wish you could say, though you know you'll never have the cajones to.

And I'm okay with the formula, even if it is so predictable, because I watch the show for said banter and wit, and because I love House as a character. But there is one little micro-formula that drives me batty.

At the beginning of each episode, the medical mystery is introduced. We follow some unknown character until disaster strikes and they start bleeding out of their eyeballs. But quite often, disaster strikes on one character, another character rushes to save them and then suddenly a whole new disaster strikes the hero. The first character ends up just fine, but it's the hero who suffers from the medical mystery. Fascinating plot twist, n'est-ce pas? Not when it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.

So writers of House, M.D., I love you. But please...when it comes to this little mini-plot move...can you mix it up a bit?

ADDENDUM: As I mentioned, we watch House on a combination of Hulu (most recent episodes) and Netflix (prior episodes we missed), so this does mean we're rather behind the times. Having just now seen Season 5's finale, I must admit this post came at a somewhat inauspicious time. It was in response to episodes in season 3. Meanwhile, the end of season 5 came as quite a shock. Especially to my little romantic heart beating to the tune of the House-Cuddy relationship. So for any readers who wondered what the heck I could be blathering about, I apologize for the delayed reaction. :)

(House, MD promotional image taken from:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hollywood's Running Out of Ideas

Is it just me or do we seem to be hurtling toward a critical mass of re-hashed ideas dominating the silver screen? How many books/TV shows/previous movies are going to be spun and re-spun and regurgitated before we all, as an audience, regurgitate? It seems the list keeps growing: Chronicles of Narnia, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Iron Man, Spiderwick Chronicles, and The Reader just last year alone. Then we have Star Trek, The Transformers, and Dukes of Hazzard. I swear, I think the upsurge of indy-style flicks might be my only saving grace--though movies about awkward teenagers may reach their own critical mass pretty soon.

Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love some of these movies, and I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with taking something and re-appropriating it in a different form. But I do take umbrage when EVERYTHING coming out is a complete knock-off of something else.

Last night I went to Angels & Demons (see, I don't mind re-appropriation!), but I think every single one of the previews for the movie I saw was ripped from some other source. There was My Sister's Keeper, which is of course a Jodi Picoult novel. There was My Life in Ruins, which by involving the following three elements: Nia Vardalos, Greece, and awkward romance, manages to feel like the exact same movie as My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. Then there was another movie, whose title I couldn't be bothered to remember, involving Johnny Depp as yet another criminal we can't help but love.

And the one that really ticked me off was The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. This upcoming release involves Denzel Washington as the reluctant do-gooder who gets sucked into saving the world (or at least lower Manhattan) from an impending terrorist threat (terrorist played by John Travolta). John Turturro and Luis Guzman are also starring, and I'm almost willing to bet they will play two of the spunky, but endearing hostages. Anybody else sick of the reluctant hero saving the world from a terrorist attack? I'm bored already. All we need now is another man-against-nature movie about the Armageddon, and I might swear myself off movies all together.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bringing Nature into Writing

On Saturday, I went to a writer's workshop in Ojai and it was amazing. It was all about using the natural world as metaphor, or another language even, to express the self and life experiences. I've been wanting to find ways to slow down the pace of my manuscript in certain spots and to add an extra layer of depth and meaning to it, and I think what I learned in this workshop will really help with that.

The workshop just consisted of a series of writing exercises, to which we would do a free-response and then read aloud to the other participants. I really enjoyed this process, so I thought I would share a few of my responses.

We started with a meditation where we were to imagine our bodies as landscapes and then we wrote about what came in our meditations. Here's mine:

I am the rolling hills, golden and dotted with the lushness of deep greens. Golden and green like the strident colors of a battle flag. I am like the hills, gentle and sensuous, warm and inviting.

But a river runs through these hills, carving through the landscape, bringing with it life, vivacity, breath and energy. Where the hills would be soft and sleepy, the river awakens. Where the hills would be warm and glowing, the river brings coolness and slippery edges. While the whole of me is the gentle, sensual silence of the hills, a river strikes through my core.

In this river core, I am waiting, anticipatory. In this core, I am like the spark of electricity that lights a fire. In this core, I am vibrant.

Another assignment we had was to think of a person we love and describe them using clouds as imagery. Here is what I wrote:

My Asian grandmother was like a solitary storm cloud hovering on the south east horizon. She was silent and steady, heavy with the volition of ancestral spirits. But with her always loomed the potential of a sudden strike. Though diminutive in size, her presence was larger than life. She was hardened, tough, and weathered by the processes of time. But there was a depth to her. A depth so profound that one couldn't help but always keep her in the corner of one's eye, even when she was far away. She was the matriarch. It was foolish to make a move without first considering her. All of life moved below her, under her watchful eye.

When she passed, it was like the heavy storm cloud dissipating into the light. Though she is gone, the memory of her is an indelible imprint; like a footstep pressed into sand.

A different assignment was to take a character from one writing piece we did and place them in a landscape totally foreign. I chose India:

A world-weary traveler of the American heartland, I am overwhelmed by the discordant bustle of the streets of Bombay. Instead of floating through the wide open vistas of purple and gold, I am deluged in a sea of spices and curries, melodious car horns, loud voices and jostling vendor stalls. Bright orange wars with reds and greens and blues and pinks, the colors a riot on my fatigued eyes. Incense shocks the system, children clamor for money, cars screech to a halt and I can't see the sky. I am out of my element, tossed out of peaceful vistas into a brash landscape I can't comprehend. The heat and humidity are oppressive. Walking outside is like slamming into a wall of water.

And yet. And yet there is a happiness here. A joie de vivre unparalleled in the States. An endless extension of family and friends and neighbors who welcome you to a cup of chai. After the initial thunderstorm of shock, there is a pulse, a rhythm, the steady beating hear of India. And I find I am home.

The final assignment was to take a cumulative look over everything we covered in the workshop and write a poem as response to the whole experience. Here is mine:

Thick with history
Heavy with mood
They strum along the horizon
An ominous interlude

Wistful and transcendent
Dissipate in the light
Misty and ethereal
They slip through the night

So many magical shapes
So many wondrous forms
Whisking happy travelers away
Or comforting the widow, who mourns.

Where will they go?
Where shall they be?
Watch them flit whither and nigh
As they float by and by and by.

Definitely not Yeats or Whitman, but not bad, I think, for 10 minutes' work. :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Table for One, Please

The Husband is going out of town this weekend for some time with his boys. I'm invited, but I'm just not motivated to go. I like his guys, and I'm going to miss him every minute that he is gone. But I also truly love time to myself.

I love quiet time. I love to read a girly book, and I love staying up till 4 am because I just can't put it down. I love having my own space. I love girl-time; the time of gossip and chit-chat, of lemon-drops and appetizers, and of trying on each others' clothes. I love painting my toe nails and watching the chick movies we wouldn't watch together. It's all the little things I used to do as a Single Woman that no longer fit in the rhythm of Married Life.

And I love the time right when he gets back and we tell each other about all the little nothings that happened in each others' absence. It reminds me of when we were dating; excited to see each other and any minute apart seems too long.

Some people say I should keep him on a shorter leash; that we should do everything together. But I don't think so. I think that even when you are a We, you still need time and space to be just You. Time apart helps us not take each other for granted, helps us not feel smothered, helps us grow and change as individuals, and make us a stronger couple. It keeps us interesting and interested. I've seen couples who do stay too close and they don't last, or they make each other miserable. Maybe not at first, but 20-30 years down the line. Wives who keep their husbands too close sometimes create husbands who cling to secret information as their only lifeline for privacy. They keep secrets and hide things they don't necessarily need to hide, just for the sake of feeling they have some control.

I'm going to miss him every minute and I'll be sad to see him go. I'll be excited to see his name on my phone when he rings me to say goodnight. But I'm also going to love my little dose of independence.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fashion Forward?

My research involves spending a lot of time on high school campuses, which beyond making me relive tedious high school classes, observe dramas worthy of soap operas, and cringe at the gangly awkwardness, gives me a good synopsis of teenage haute couture. I got to see the hipster movement filter through the popularity ranks. I saw the proliferation of 90's plaid cut in 80's mod and I witnessed the mass resurgence of Uggs paired with Daisy Dukes. I know I'm getting old when I look at these kids immersed in the movement of purported irony and think out loud, “You kids don't know what you're talking about. In my day...” With those three words “in my day” I'm transported from young and hip to old and geezerly.

Still I don't say this too often. My initial dismay has worn down and I'm starting to like the look of the flat-footed, knee-high boots over skinny jeans, and I can appreciate the concept of the movement even if fashion flew ahead of thought on this one.

But I met my match today. I saw someone who made me channel my inner New Yorker and my senses were appalled. I saw a girl with barbell piercings in the middle of her cheeks. Now I have nothing against piercings at all. And I have nothing against multiple piercings. Depending on the piercing and the person, I think they can be quite flattering. But this little chicklet had an eyebrow piercing, two nose piercings, piercings on her top lip, piercings on her bottom lip, and one piercing in the center of each cheek. And those are just the ones on her face. Granted, a piercing in the middle of your cheek is no more or less arbitrary than one on your eyebrow or tongue or ear. But I'm sorry; teenagers have acne. And when your piercings are warring with your zits for space on your face, you've done something wrong.

What happened? Did she give up on a smooth complexion entirely and instead decide to rival the moon's surface? Did she think that a surplus of bright shiny metal balls would draw attention away from the bright shiny red ones? What would possess a person to do that to themselves? Does she really look in the mirror and think, “Hey, I look good”?

The logic in this fashion statement is beyond me. Although, having gotten my rant out, I suppose something might be said for being able to squirt your soda out of multiple orifices with one good belly laugh.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Loving the Local Borders

Last week I happened to bump into an old friend who mentioned the local Borders Bookstore in our downtown area was closing, and I was dumbfounded. That Borders is always packed. I know times are tough economically, but I had difficulty believing my favorite bookstore in town was closing down.

Then this morning, I went into the Goleta branch of Borders and talked to the employees there and apparently I wasn't the only one to be misinformed. The Santa Barbara Borders has no intention of closing; it is surviving well and still in business. The Barnes and Noble across the street, however, is shutting down. This information does not surprise me.

The reason I love Borders bookstores is because they give their customers oodles of communal space to just come, sit down with a book, and enjoy a cup of coffee where no one will bother you. In a society where communal spaces are diminishing in favor of virtual space, Borders offers a safe and welcome haven to its customers. I can watch people as I work, and quite often Borders has musicians and author events to attend as well. And the thing I most treasure is that not one of the staff ever makes me feel guilty for sitting down with a book I may or may not purchase in the end. Instead, they seem to encourage it, with their large cafe spaces and plush couches scattered about the store.

I admit there have been times I've read entire books or magazines that I didn't end up buying. But more often than not, I have picked up books, read them for an hour or two, and then purchased them. I've also wandered by books twenty or thirty times before eventually breaking down and buying them--and ended up getting the entire series. If I had felt rushed or in any way uncomfortable just hanging out in the bookstore, I most likely would never have bought those books And probably the largest chunk of my paycheck outside rent goes to Borders because I am able to do that; I am able to just hang out and peruse at my leisure.

At Barnes and Noble, one is hard pressed to find a space to sit other than the floor, and the cafe is shoved hidden towards the back, and there is less of an atmosphere encouraging one to stay and relax. Somehow the organizational scheme makes a little less intuitive sense than at Borders, and at the Santa Barbara branch at least, the store is darker. I am attracted to open, sunny spaces, and thus am a happier soul at Borders.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Life After Fire

She eyes me as I take another bite of pastry.

"All the women on her dad's side of the family have big hips," she says with a conspiratorial nod to our guests, who smile politely, though somewhat uncomfortably.

"That's a true story," I say, laughing it off a bit.

She pats her thighs. "But she gets the big thighs from me." She laughs. Our guests smile nervously, flitting glances over at me, trying to gauge how I react.

"I guess I'm screwed on both sides," I laugh. And the guests relax, relieved by the easy banter. Meanwhile, I think, Thanks Mom.

In less than a minute we have slipped into our old routine of half-joke/half-warning and feigned nonchalance. It fits like a favorite old pair of slippers. I know why she does it. She watches my weight like an eagle-hawk ready to shred any excess pound because she worries about my health. She has diabetes and doesn't want me to go the way of needles and insulin like she has. And I appreciate that about her, even if I don't appreciate the verbal harping.

But 20 pounds lighter and in a healthy weight I haven't seen since high school, I am still the fat girl. Still the one who must watch her poundage and battle the bulge. While I was losing the weight, part of me was looking to prove to her I could. Nearly a year since I lost the weight, part of me still hopes to prove to her I did, and could keep it off. And yet, no matter how skinny I get or for how long, I will always be the one who has big hips and big thighs and have to weigh each bite she eats.

And in less than a minute, I am struck by how, after everything happens and the dust settles, old patterns rise again like they've never left. After trauma, after marriage, after weight-loss, after fire, the life before returns and things are as they always have been. Some things in life will never change, no matter what you try to prove.

Bird Loves Ray Charles

Click on this link (not the picture):Bird Loves Ray Charles (at Maniac World)
You must watch this video immediately.

Most awesome thing I have ever seen. Ever.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Needing Space

How is it that sh** accumulates so easily? You know how, when you move, you always catch yourself wondering how the heck you managed to acquire so much stuff? At first, you carefully wrap items and place them neatly in boxes, but then you keep coming across stuff you didn't even remember you had. You're slightly amused at yourself at the beginning, but by the end of it you just start chucking stuff at random into the car or box truck? You don't care anymore, you just want it all to go away, and frankly, are wondering if maybe you wouldn't be happier just tossing it all into a bonfire and watching it burn.

I'm not in the process of moving, but I almost wish I were. I'm feeling stifled in our shoebox apartment. Coming from a studio, we were ecstatic when we first moved in to our 1-bedroom shoebox. We felt we were bouncing off the walls we had so much space. We were mostly excited just to have actual separate rooms. Well now, two years later (and post-wedding-gift-mania), we barely have room to walk in our bedroom, we can't really see our coffee table most of the time, and every single inch of space along the walls has some pile of something or other. (And most of it, I must admit, is mine). I could be a little more organized, but honestly, the biggest problem is that we just don't have enough space. Both of us work from home, so we have our myriad computer and photo equipment. Plus, I am a grad student working on a dissertation, so I have stacks of library books and research materials lining all possible floor space. I have my files all neatly filed away in boxes, but am running out of places to stack the file boxes.

What I would LOVE is to find a place where a) we don't work at the same table at which we eat--saves potential spillage on fancy computers, and b) we had some place for guests to stay--other than the couch or floor. Ideally, we would have a 3-bedroom place with a dining area separate from the living room area. One bedroom would be for us; one office for me, which could double as storage place for books, files, and other stuff; and one office for Toby, which could double as guest bedroom.

Seeing as how that is not financially viable in Santa Barbara (even the mortgage on my 2-bdrm townhouse--with garage! and laundry room!--was $150 less than what we pay now for a 1-bdrm closet), my options are either to move or get started on that massive pyre.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Santa Barbara On Fire. Again.

After the rampages of the Gap Fire and the Tea Fire which burned 200+ homes last year, Santa Barbara is on fire yet again. A new fire just started, burning more than 4 acres already in the San Roque Canyon in just a manner of minutes. Plumes of smoke are rising in thick columns up the mountains. Evacuation orders are issued for Tunnel, Foothill, Spyglass and Holly roads. The sounds of choppers and sirens fill the air as emergency crews enter the scene, and we're expecting the dreaded sun-downer winds later tonight.

I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

* All traffic on La Cumbre, north of State Street is being shut down.
* Orange Grove and Las Canoas roads and the area north of the Botanical Gardens are being evacuated.
* There are police reports that gunshots were heard in the area around the time the fire started.
* Winds are shifting to a southeasterly direction (as of 3:39 pm), which may push the fire down the slope.
* The Santa Barbara School District has cancelled class.
* As of 4:30 pm, more than 150 acres have burned. The entire canyon area has been evacuated.
* As of 10:00 pm, more than 400 acres have burned.
* CORRECTION: It appears the fire is not as large as originally thought. As of the morning it appears to have consumed less than 200 acres. However, it is not contained. Calm weather in the morning is helping, but strong winds are expected in the afternoon and evening. There is a lot of aerial support, but according to fire crews, teams on the ground is what is really needed to put this thing out--and that is difficult because the fire is burning up in very rough, very steep terrain.

**UPDATE: We are in the evacuation warning zone now, so we have packed up our stuff and hightailed it out of there.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dealing with Domestic Flights

I love traveling, but despise the actual act of traveling, especially if it involves airports. And the new "security theater" with all kinds of stupid regulations only make it worse. I could rant and rave about that, but before I get distracted, let me focus on my main point: the thing I hate most about flying is the lack of communication between company and consumer. Perfect market information, my ass.

For example, on both my flights to and from Florida on Delta, I checked in early with my flight and travel insurance confirmation number in tow for a flight I had booked in January. But somehow I did not get an assigned seat (despite having picked one out online). I just got a pseudo-ticket with a bold stamp on it saying "Seat Requested". WTF?! Yes, I paid for a flight, I do request a seat on the mother-f'ing plane. So I go through security, and go to my terminal, and the people at the counter say they will call me when they have a seat ready. What does this mean? Does this mean I might not make the flight? Both flights were overbooked with a mile-long "wish-list" (Since when did they start calling the waiting list a wish list and really does it make people feel better that they're wishing rather than waiting?). Was there a possibility there might not be a seat for me? Why do they do this? Why couldn't they explain it? So I wait around, praying I'm not getting bumped off the flight and preparing myself to raise hell especially as they're starting to board people and I still haven't gotten my seat. They finally call me when the terminal is nearly empty and I get my seat, but underneath the relief I am fuming because I've been stressed for no apparent reason. A little communication people! I'm just saying, it would have been nice to know in advance what was going on.

When you purchase your ticket, there is never any information about what you're getting for your money. All flights are not equal, and in the era of cutbacks, they're getting worse. Instead of getting the usual food, movies, blankets and pillows included in the whole flight package, you now have to pay for all said items--and hope they haven't run out of what you want because the airline didn't prepare for demand. Moreover, some flights offer some of these things and others don't. Some offer meals, others offer junk food you have to pay $7 for or go hungry. Some flights have pillows, others have blankets, and still others have neither. And now they're charging $15 apiece for check-in luggage--which of course means people try to squeeze their big-ass bags into the overhead bins and create delays, cramped space, and all around headaches for everyone else.

I, for one, would much rather have a set price included in the actual price of the ticket in order to have a comfortable flight, than to be nickeled and dimed every step of the way. But if they are going to charge separately for these items, they should offer a rundown of prices so you know what you're getting yourself into when you buy the ticket. Choosing flights solely on price and travel times can leave you stranded with a subpar or positively hellish flight.

So what is the consumer to do? Short of demonstrations, boycotts, and strongly-worded letters, the only thing to do is adapt. Having flown 8 domestic flights in something like 2 months, I have compiled a list of ways to have a smooth flying experience:

1) Prepare to play your part in security theatre:
  • Only carry liquids and gels in 3 oz. containers and keep them in a clear ziploc bag you can easily pull out of your bag
  • Wear shoes that are easy to take on/off so you don't have to bother with laces and such in the security line
  • Pack so you are prepared to slip your laptop out of its case and place it in a separate bin
  • Minimize the amount of metal accessories you'll have to take off before going through the metal detector
2) Pack light. If you cannot travel light, don't be a cheapskate. You're allowed 1 carry-on bag (please keep it small) and a purse or laptop case. If you cannot fit everything you want to bring in either of these items, pay the lousy $15 and check it in. The overhead bins are overcrowded and trying to stuff your duffel bag or almost-suitcase just creates problems for everybody. You'll hold up the line as you puff and sweat trying to shove your bag where it won't fit, piss off everyone behind you, and most likely end up having to check it anyway.

3) Be prepared to bring whatever you might need on the plane because there is no guarantee the flight will offer what you want and it most certainly won't come at a reasonable price. So if you want a pillow or blanket, go buy one of those little travel-size ones. A good quality travel pillow is worth its weight in gold when you want to get some shut-eye. Also, bring some food like a sandwich, fiber/protein bar and/or fruit; something that is filling and doesn't take up too much space. You'll be so glad you did when you see the flight attendants going down the aisle offering unhealthy, unsatisfying, and expensive snacks. Seriously, who wants to pay $5 for a bag of peanuts to sustain themselves on a 5-hour flight? No thank you.

4) Last but not least: arrive early. Better to be bored than harried and stressed out.

I hope this list is useful (especially for anyone who hasn't flown recently). Happy travels!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Rachel Getting Married"

I was all set to write my own little review of "Rachel Getting Married", but a quick glance online showed me the critics have already hashed it out well. Everything I had wanted to say is already out there. It's fabulous. Raw. Real. Emotional. Powerful. Anne Hathaway is brilliant in a way totally unexpected, given her past repertoire. Rosemarie DeWitt plays with unparalleled subtlety and grace the wounded older sister-bride. The cast of characters is multicultural, diverse, touching and spot on. And by not leaving any mention within the film of its multiracial nature, the filmmakers impart an even more powerful statement to the viewer: we are here, all the same, all human, with hopes, loves, needs and desires. As different as we are, we are all family.

And though the critics have already said all this, I still feel compelled to respond to the film because it so moved me. The film delves into the complex hurts and history of an addict and her dysfunctional family, but it also transcends that into something more. While the film traverses a world of pain, in the end, what you feel is hope. And even though the ending feels unresolved, it's okay. It's the perfect ending because it is real. In real life, there isn't always a happy resolution. Sometimes, things do just go on. But what matters is (what I thought to be) the film's ultimate message: that underneath and above it all, family is stronger than anything. No matter the hurts, no matter the history, family always has the power to forgive in a way no one else can. And family has the power to love, in spite of it all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What Am I Thinking About Today?

Pretty much nothing. After wracking my brains for oh about 5 minutes over what to write about today, I gave up and decided to go stream-of-consciousness today. I'm on vacation and apparently my brain went on vacay as well, so I hope you'll bear with me. If not, hopefully you're on vacation too, or at least thanking the powers that be that today is Friday.

I'm visiting one of my best friends, who lives all the way across the bloomin' continent in Florida. It's her little baby boy's (who, by the way, is pretty much one of the most adorable kids I've ever seen) very first birthday and I'm here for the fiesta. I took the red-eye from L.A., after playing translator in the airport for a lovely old French woman, and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 5:30 am. Since then I've been running on coffee and the fumes of excitement.

We ran some errands this morning and I was summarily reminded of how hot and humid Florida gets, even at 8 in the A-M. And I am giggling with glee because I love it. It reminds me of summer in Thailand. Not that hot, but remniscent of that hot. I'm also rediscovering air-conditioning. What a nifty little invention that is. We in Santa Barbara of course do not have air-conditioning because in theory it never gets above 75 degrees there. On the rare days it does, we all decamp to either the mountains or the beach and bask lovingly in the heat. The flip side of that idyllic weather is in the rickety, uninsulated, ramshackle apartments we fork over our life savings to have, we bake in the summer and freeze in the winter, regardless of what the weather outside the apartment is doing.

So what are my plans? Nothing other than digging out my bikini, making some Thai curry, eating a Columbian fruit salad and then hightailing it for the park and pool. I think I was born to live in tropical weather.