Monday, December 31, 2007

Saying Goodbye to 2007

It seems like 2007 was ushered in just the other day - now it has to move over and allow 2008 into the room. For me, the last year has come by quickly, and just as I was getting used to writing “2007” I now have to remember to date everything with “2008.”

Right now it’s 11:31 pm, and in about 29 minutes all the countdown shows are going to be singing Auld Lang Syne (which literally means “old long since,” or “once upon a time”) at the stroke of midnight. The only lyric I remember is the first line, which goes:

Should old acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind

What does that mean anyway? Does it mean to say that we shouldn’t forget old acquaintances? Or does it mean to say that we should forget the old ones and look for new ones?

Today, in an effort NOT to forget my friends, I spent the day with two old friends Nikki and Rachel.

Rene and I had fun catching up with Nikki and playing the game Rock Band. Have you ever played this game? It is a lot of fun! For those who have never played, it’s a game where musical notes are shown on the screen and the players use a drum set to hit the notes on the screen. The player gets to pick the song they want to play, and at the end of the set they are given a grade, like 75%, for accuracy. Here's a picture of Rene rocking out and a screen shot of the game:



Nikki says that the game could also include a guitar (which she owns) and a singer, and we promised to come back for a Rock Band party and play with a full band. How awesome would that be?!

After pretending to be rock stars with Nikki, we visited Rachel at LACMA, where they were showing the Salvador Dali exhibit. Unfortunately, Rachel was working today and only had enough time for a late lunch and a belated gift exchange. She did, however, manage to get us passes to see the Dali exhibit for free (thanks Rachel!). If you haven't stopped by, you should come and see the Dali exhibit before it goes away on January 6.

Tickets for the exhibit assign times to when you can enter, so we had two hours to wander the museum before we could look at the exhibit. We spent the time exploring the museum grounds. There are a few outdoor art installations outside the museum that we explored, including this untitled cinder block work:


A is for Abby

Next to LACMA are the La Brea tar pits. It's amazing that tar has seeped up from the ground in the heart of LA for tens of thousands of years, forming hundreds of sticky pools that trapped animals and plants that happened to enter. The biggest pit has a statue of a family of mammoth elephants with the mommy elephant getting trapped in the tar. The pit is still active and bubbles up so that methane gas is released into the air. It's a pretty cool place to visit if you've never been.

After visiting the tar pits, Rene and I climbed to the second story of the George C. Page museum. Once there, you can view the tar pits and the museum complex, and look down at the Page museum below. The museum didn't have a ceiling but an interesting rooftop structure made of steel instead, giving it an open-air (and futuristic) feel.






We got to see the Dali exhibit at 5 pm (they assign viewing times due to the crowds), and the most famous piece on exhibit was The Persistence of Memory, which shows melting clocks in a severe landscape. I liked this piece because of its subconcious quality; I always feel like this image is something people see in their dreams. Rene and I learned that Dali worked on a lot of films (including a Disney cartoon called Destino, An Andalusian Dog and Spellbound) and incorporated images of bicycles, ants, eyeballs, pianos, and burning giraffes in a lot of his sketches and paintings. It was an interesting exhibit, a definite must-see before it travels to the Dali museum in Florida.

After catching up with friends and exploring LACMA, Rene and I called it a day and stayed in for the rest of the night. We rang in the new year in bed, in between watching movies and surfing the internet. 2007 has been a good year, and we hope 2008 will be even better.

Friday, December 28, 2007

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation, Part 3 of 3

I always spend Christmas Day with my family. My family is quite large; between my parents, brother and sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces there are 20 of us. My family is quite close.

It’s nice having everyone get together during the holidays because it means catching up with my nearest and dearest and letting them know how much I love having them in my life. However, it does present a dilemma of sorts during Christmas Day when presents are handed out and opened. With so many people giving and receiving gifts, I find that it’s hard to do the following: present the gift, read the card, open the gift and thank the gift-giver for their present. What usually occurs is a frenzy of gifts being opened at the same time, followed by words of gratitude as the wrapping paper and boxes are being cleared. Sometimes I’d like to have everyone take turns opening their gifts – but if this actually happened I think we’d still be opening gifts three hours later. Given everyone’s plans for Christmas Day (some see a movie in the afternoon and some take a nap to unwind later in the day), I can’t think of any other way to resolve this dilemma. Maybe I’ll find the solution next year.

Here are pictures of Christmas spent with my lovely family:


Lots of presents waiting under the tree

Posing for a picture (from L to R): Dad, Vieve, Sabrina, Gigi, and Jalen

Uncle Art and Aunt Bing with Sid

Samantha and Sid

Sabrina almost buried by gifts

My lovely cousins Gigi and Sharon

Rene showing off his Christmas gifts

My sister Vieve, me, Mom, and Dad posing in front of the tree

Sabrina, Samantha, and Mom with me in the background

Got tickets to the gun show? Me and my gun (er, Play-Doh under my sweater)


You can find more pictures here.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation, Part 2 of 3

Every year Rene and I spend Christmas in two places: Christmas Eve with Rene's family, and Christmas Day with mine. Luckily our families live nearby so there's no travel involved.

Christmas Eve with Rene's family is a low-key affair. We usually have dinner around 8 pm, then hang out/watch movies/play games until midnight, when the gifts are opened. At midnight, everyone's gifts are grouped by person, and we all take turns opening our gifts. Here are pictures of us opening gifts on Christmas Eve:


Rene showing off his present

Rene's first gift was a 10 million candlepower flashlight from his mom. This is Henry modeling it for us in the house...

... and this is Henry showing off the flashlight outside the house. It looks like we're trying to summon Batman on Christmas Eve.

My mother-in-law Juana opening her gift

Henry opening his gift from us, an iPhone cover

Rene and Henry posing with their Las Vegas t-shirts from their dad

Chuy using his Christmas gift: a food and water bowl set

Me wearing my Christmas gifts (loved the scarf and jewelry from my mother-in-law)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation, Part 1 of 3

Alas, Christmas is over!

I can honestly say that the work leading up to Christmas – the fretting over what to give, the shopping, the wrapping of gifts – was all worth it. I truly enjoyed Christmas this year, and it was nice having lots of family come over to share a meal and open presents. This feeling was unlike Christmas of prior years, when I felt like I was just going through the motions and focusing too much on the gifts I gave – do they like it? Should I have gotten them X instead of Y? Did I give too much or too little? – are the questions that bounce around my head all day. I finally came to the realization yesterday that focusing on the people, rather than the gift-giving part, is the true meaning of Christmas. Even if I lose all my possessions in the world, nothing can take the place of family to comfort and protect you. I hope this Christmas feeling lasts all year.

That being said, since Christmas fell on the last day of the four-day weekend, it was tough getting up this morning to get to work. My sleep pattern was ravaged this weekend by late nights watching season 3 of Lost (my husband and I refuse to watch series TV until it comes out on DVD because we hate waiting a week to find out what happens next – we like the instant gratification box sets provide) and days filled with visiting malls or wrapping gifts. Thankfully, the malls did not turn out to be the nightmares I had envisioned. If you are willing to park far away and come with a relaxed attitude the mall experience is actually a pleasant one. It would have been more pleasant for me had I worn flat shoes to the mall, but wanting to be stylish, I stupidly wore shoes with three-inch heels. My feet are plotting their revenge.

I had so much planned this weekend for this little blog of mine. I was going to overhaul the design by making the post column wider, putting up a new banner, adding a new "About Me" page, and re-arranging the format of the existing information. Unfortunately, NONE of these planned changes were executed. Somehow my time disappears into a black hole every time a four-day weekend comes around.

On Saturday, Rene and I hit the mall and bought presents for everyone left on our list. We shopped from 11 am to 8 pm. If that's not dedication I don't know what is!

On Sunday, I spent part of the day organizing said gifts. I ended up crashing around 2 pm from hunger and made myself a pizza bagel from pasta sauce and leftover mozarella cheese in the fridge (necessity truly is the mother of invention). At night the whole family dressed up to the nines to attend my sister's graduation from the Nursing Program at LAVC. Congrats Vieve! This ceremony was unlike typical commencement exercises and was more like prom, complete with a DJ and dancing at the end of the night. Here are some pictures:

Dad, Vieve, and Mom posing in front of the tree before leaving the house

Chuy getting into the mix

My brother and Rene waiting for the food to come

Ken and Vieve

Rene and I

Check out the decorations - very prom-like, no? They also hired a harp player to play during dinner time to add some class to the evening.

Vieve and her fellow graduates

Vieve receiving her diploma

Posing with fellow graduates in the background

The whole family posing for a picture after the ceremony

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Quiet Time at the Office

There’s a hush in the office this afternoon, which is not surprising given that it’s the last work day before Christmas, and many are taking the day off and not coming back until December 26 or after the New Year. I’m one of the unlucky ones still sitting at my desk at 4:30 pm.

It’s not that I forgot to schedule vacation time – I would’ve been nice to take a vacation next week. It’s because I only have two weeks’ vacation and I am saving the days for a trip next May. In my past job, I had five weeks’ vacation, which is almost unheard of here in the US (but common for European countries). Even though I like my current job more than my previous one, it’s this time of year (and summer time) that make me miss my old job. Is it shallow to love a job because of the benefits?

Now that my vacation is reduced to two measly weeks I have to be really careful with how I use the days. Last year I took the week between Christmas and New Year’s off then took three weeks off in January – just because I could. I don’t remember much from that lazy three week vacation apart from sleeping until noon and watching Oprah whenever the mood struck. I also remember spending a few days exploring the newly-opened mall near my house and giving my credit card a serious workout at Nordstrom’s.

This year I will be working hard throughout December and next January in preparation for a work trip to Shanghai, China. I have never been to China, but have always wanted to visit, so this work assignment is exciting. The work will be demanding, but I have no problem with that since I will only be coming home to an empty hotel room at the end of the day. Hopefully I will have a chance to relax and explore the city during the weekends. I have already checked out several guidebooks from the library and will be drafting my weekend itinerary over the long weekend.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stocking Up on Office Supplies

What is it about supplies that I love so much?

I looked forward to going back to elementary and high school because it meant that I would be buying brand-new school supplies. Thoughts of new crayons, paper, binders, colored pencils, mechanical pencils and pencil cases from Hello Kitty, and perhaps a new backpack, danced in my head. I remember having a Hello Kitty pencil case that included a pencil sharpener, magnifying glass, and ruler once, and that was my prized possession for two school years – 6th and 7th grade. I still have a pencil case from Hello Kitty that I carry around (see above photo) but it’s nowhere near its 6th grade counterpart.

This love of supplies never waned, and one of my favorite things to do is check out the supply room for cool new things. Today, I visited the supply room for tape and came back to my desk with the following:

1 can of office and desk cleaner
2 rolls of tape
1 can of cleaning duster (you can never keep your keyboard too clean)
1 glue stick
2 refills for my click eraser
1 Sharpie pen
1 Sharpie accent highlighter
1 “Copy” stamp

I’m very particular about keeping my workspace clean and organized. I hate rifling through my desk to look for things – important documents are sorted and filed, and notepads and post-its are displayed prominently in my cube for easy access. The last thing I want to do is forget something important by not writing it down.

I think the reason I love supplies so much is their usefulness and specificity. I love it when I find a pen that writes smoothly – it makes handwriting a breeze and a pleasure. I also love having different colors of the same pen (my current favorite is the Precise V5 rolling ball pen from Pilot) so that I can color-code tasks (red for urgent, green for next week, pink for notes, etc.) and/or highlight notes that I’ve taken. My office doesn’t supply these pens so I’ve had to buy them myself from Staples or Office Depot – that is how much I love having certain supplies.

Yes, I am a freak. A super-organized, tidy, and prepared freak.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

I’ve had several conversations with different people about how it doesn’t feel like it’s the holidays, even though Christmas is right around the corner. Maybe it’s because it’s been a warm winter in LA so far; perhaps it’s the slumping housing market and possible recession (hey when you hear it almost every day on NPR you start believing it). Or maybe it’s because we didn’t decorate our house this year?

Well, it finally began to feel like Christmas to me last week. It all started with my book club meeting last Wednesday, where I had saw people I haven’t spoken to during the past year (I have been MIA for most of the year due to work travel and general laziness). When you haven’t seen people for that long it’s almost like making new friends again; so much happens over the course of the year that just catching up can take half an hour. It was a lot of fun catching up with all the lovely and smart ladies from the book club, women full of great insight and opinions.

This past Saturday I had lunch with my old co-workers from BDO. We all started at the same time and kept in touch even though we’ve all left the company except for one person (partner track!). Again, it was fun seeing all of them and listening to what they’ve been up to.

Lunch at Il Tiramisu


After lunch, I went Christmas tree shopping with my mom, my sister, and Rene. It was a pretty quick trip at Home Depot – we ended up buying the first tree we saw. After hauling it home, we placed it on the stand and decorated it. Here are some pictures:



My sister and mom hamming it up while shopping for a tree



Finding a place for the tree and setting it up


What I do to help out: pose with tree cuttings to imitate a turkey



Pretty colors


Tree decorations are hung and the lights are on


Chuy admiring the tree

Now that the tree is decorated and the presents are under it, I'm beginning to feel the holiday spirit. It's amazing what a tree, lights, and fancy wrapping can do.

Cupcakes - yum!

I've gotten tired of looking at my old post but I'm not quite ready for my next entry, so here's some food for thought courtesy of Blogthings.com (you should visit, they have some fun quizzes):

You Are a Cupcake


Cute and fun, you never take life too seriously.
People are constantly surprised by how delightful you are.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's in a Name?

A pregnant friend recently found out that she's having a boy. She and her husband both wanted a girl this time, a sibling to their adorable three-year old boy. Until now, she had been thinking of girl names: Sydney, Peyton, and Sophia. Since she's having a boy she wanted to know if I had any ideas for boy names and I told her I’d think about it.

To start, I looked up the most popular boy names of 2006 according applications submitted to Social Security. Here they are, in ranking order:

Jacob
Michael
Joshua
Ethan
Matthew
Daniel
Christopher *
Andrew
Anthony
William

For the most part those are nice, solid names for a boy. Of all of them I like Christopher the best because it’s versatile (the boy could be called Christopher or Chris) and also because I have a cousin who's always made me laugh with the same name. On the other hand, I’d be hard-pressed to name any kid Anthony because it’s such a common name and also because I had a really lousy manager named Anthony who made me cry at work (not in front of him, thank goodness, because it might have freaked him out; I cried in the ladies’ restroom). It’s amazing how our choice in names is influenced by people we’ve had in our lives.

On my drive home from work the other night, I thought about all the names that I’ve liked throughout the years. Oh, there were some horrendous ones:

Tzeitel Anastasia - During 8th grade, we read and watched Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye's (the main character's) oldest daughter was named Tzeitel: the one who was in love with the tailor named Motel Kamzoil. Anyway, she had been promised to a fat old butcher named Lazar Wolf in the beginning of the play, and when Tevye found out that she was in love with Motel Kamzoil he broke off the engagement by making up a dream where his dead mother came to him told him that Tzeitel should marry a man named Motel Kamzoil. The fact that I can spell all these names correctly is a little scary but I really loved that musical. With songs like If I Were a Rich Man and Matchmaker Matchmaker, how could I not? I added Anastasia as an extra flourish.

Chantal Giselle - There was a period in my life when I was obsessed with French names. Of course, I always like the unique ones, ones that you didn’t hear too often, hence Chantal. Sounds tragic and romantic at the same time, no? I also liked Chloe but only the way it’s spelled and not the way it’s pronounced – like Zoey, a name I don’t like.

When picking out these names I wanted them be unique, but now I realize that names should symbolize something and be unique, but not so unique that they get teased in school. I mean, can you imagine the horrible teasing Tzeitel Anastasia would get from other kids and the number of teachers and principals that would mispronounce the name? Unless you lived in Russia before the Cultural Revolution, of course.

Speaking of weird names, I have come across some that have either grated my nerves or made me laugh:

Nimrod - Seriously, someone had this name at a company I used to work for. I don’t even want to know how many jokes were told at this poor guy’s expense. His last name was Johnson – I kid you not!

Tolu - A girl from Peru (named Tolu – hey that rhymes) was in my third grade class. She sat next to me and liked to talk but I always got into trouble, not her. She had a thick accent that sounded like Penelope Cruz.

Priscilla - Only drag queens should have this name, plus the nicknames are horrible - Prissy or Cilla, anyone?

Cherry/Apple: It’s only recently that fruit names have become acceptable (or have they?). Gwyneth Paltrow naming her daughter Apple didn’t come as a big surprise to me – I once had a neighbor named Apple and friends from school named Cherry (Cherry is a pretty common Filipino name). I like both names but Cherry bothers me, only because teenage boys can be crass and might joke about “popping the cherry.” Gross!

After all that, I'm probably the last person she wants to consult for a baby name, but there's a few months left to think about the right name for her new baby. Good luck!

'Tis the Season for Gifts

According to Blogthings.com, I am a

Practical Gift Giver


Your gifts are useful, appropriate, and custom tailored to each person.
In your opinion, the best gifts are gifts that someone will actually use.
Your gifts may not be the most glamourous, but they are always appreciated.



I only have a few more gifts to go...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Upper Las Virgines Hike with Chuy - A Photo Essay

Rene, Chuy and I went for a hike last Saturday. After a brief stop at a donut shop (for some reason I was fixated on having a donut for breakfast), we made our way to the Upper Las Virgines trail in West Hills and sat down for a breakfast of donuts and green tea. Chuy ate half of my glazed donut. We started our hike soon after, amid sunny skies but cold temperatures. It had rained the night before, meaning all the ugly gray clouds and air pollution had been burned off, leaving only beautiful blue skies and fresh air.

Chuy and Rene at the start of the hike. Check out that lovely blue sky!

Chuy running ahead to meet us on top of the hill. I love how the picture captures the lone oak tree, blue sky, dry brush, and red dog - it all looks great put together.

Close shot of Chuy - what a poser.

Chuy surveying the valley.

Posing with Chuy - notice how the oak trees on the right-hand side line the valley? There must be a stream or creek down there providing water to the trees.

Two guys posing for a picture - finally, both of them are looking at me!

Looking away and checking out other things...

We sat in this hill for about 20 minutes while Chuy roamed nearby, checking out the large oak tree and bushes and making sure that he peed everywhere he needed to. Chuy started to get bored and was sitting down when Rene started throwing rocks towards to tree; Chuy likes to chase things, so we entertained ourselves for a few minutes by watching Chuy chase rocks we were throwing around. While chasing the rocks we were throwing, Chuy found a big rock that he mistook for a turtle (remember Mr. Turtle?) and started pushing it around with his paws and trying to get it into his mouth. This lasted for about half an hour. Here's a short video of my crazy dog:

video

We called it a day after Chuy got tired of chasing the rock around. We started hiking down the hill when Chuy saw something shiny and bolted. We continued hiking down the hill without him, thinking he'd hear us talking but he got lost soon after and bolted downhill in the other direction after seeing other hikers (probably thinking it was us), so Rene went after him. Chuy was tired after charging up the hill full-speed to catch up with us:

Reunited and it feels so good!