Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Send in the Clowns

This Halloween we decided to stay home instead of checking out the par-tay in West Hollywood. That's how we usually roll - home by 8 pm on school nights and lights out by 10 pm. I'd be lying to you if I didn't say this also applies to our weekend nights, when our idea of a good time is watching an entire season of shows like The Office. C'mon, you like Dwight K. Schrute, don't you? We think he is hilarious with a capital H.

Tonight we did not have any candy for our neighborhood trick-or-treaters. I've been out of the country for the last three years during Halloween and it escaped me that I should buy something for the kids while I was shopping at Target last weekend. Anyway, I was really scared that some mean kids might egg my house because I didn't have any candy to give out, so I made sure the house lights next to the window were turned off. We didn't want them to even entertain the notion of us having candy, so pretending like we weren't home sounded like a better plan. Luckily, there were plenty of other houses in the neighborhood giving out candy, and our house was not missed.

A funny thing happened tonight while walking El Chuy. First of all, some kids in costume scared Chuy and made him run towards the middle of the street like a little girl. These kids were not dressed like scary monsters, mind you: one was an angel, one was a ninja, and one was a prisoner. Maybe the prisoner kid looked dangerous and scared him off.

A few minutes later some little boy pointed at Chuy and asked, "Is that a raccoon?"

Sure kid. This dog looks exactly like a raccoon. Not a bear, or even a lion, but a raccoon. I was tempted to ask the little boy if he knew what a raccoon looked like but let it pass. Makes you wonder: what are they teaching kids in school these days?

Jester for Hire

TJ Maxx Rocks!

Last weekend I found the cutest pink flats at TJ Maxx. What do you think?

The real kicker? They only cost $5.75... that my friends, is one of the reasons I heart TJ Maxx.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What Not to Wear

A few years ago I bought this cute cashmere sweater: it was cream and had an interesting pattern on the sleeves. Basically, they slit the sleeves in half and sewed it back together at two-inch intervals, with made it look like my sleeves had a pattern.

Anyway, what made me remember this sweater vividly was how I chose to wear it to work the following day. Back then I had not yet discovered the joys of the nude shade of underwear compounded by the fact that the sweater was thinner than I thought. So I went to work with a white bra under a cream sweater. You could totally see the bra under my sweater, so it looked like I meant to advertise the fact that a) I own a white bra, please look at it and b) it's cold in here.

I think I go through these faux-pas moments from time to time, and I might have committed one last week. I went to work wearing this shapeless black dress that I cinched with a skinny belt and paired with opaque purple tights, as seen here:

It looked fine in the morning and I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it except that my boss (technically my boss' boss) gave me the once-over during the day and gave me the look. The that's what you're wearing to work look I dread. For the rest of the day I felt like I lost my pants and kept to my desk as much as possible. It reminded me of the time we shaved Chuy's fur and he looked like he lost his pants. Too bad I don't have a spare pair of pants in my car.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

Sometimes when there is nothing going on, like this past weekend for example, I like to supplement this blog with my past travel experiences.

I went to Madrid almost six months ago as part of a business trip to France with my old job. It sounds so hoity-toity, doesn’t it? My business trip to France. It’s really not that big a deal; I’m just an average Jane, not some executive who makes big business deals. Six months ago this blogging business was way too complicated to me, and it still is in many ways, so I have been “catching up” by writing about these past trips to preserve my memories of the place.

I visited Madrid with my friend (and former co-worker) Erin. Erin had already been to Spain during a trip to Europe after college and can speak fairly good Spanish. Apparently, I am a closet Spanish speaker myself, but more on that later. Also, there was sangria and paella to feast on during my visit.

We flew out to Madrid on a Friday night after work, and got there around 10 pm. Erin’s fabulous (and well-traveled) friend Melanie and her boyfriend Kevin were staying in the same hotel as us and met us there. We stayed at the amazing Westin Palace Madrid, located in the heart of the city, right next to Retiro Park and mere steps away from the Prado museum (which would be the equivalent of the Getty here in LA).

We hung out with Melanie and Kevin the first night, and visited a bar down the street. Spaniards love to party, and even though it was already 1 a.m. by the time we got there, the party was just getting started. We talked, watched the locals get their groove on, and called it a night around 4 a.m. This party lifestyle wreaked havoc on my Grandma ways, and I spent the whole morning sleeping. Erin and I did not venture out of the hotel until 2 p.m. because we were so sleep-deprived.

The next day (Saturday) we walked around the city and visited Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is the central square in Madrid, filled with old shops and cafes within its walls. Historically, the square has witnessed the Spanish Inquisition, and people convicted of heresy were actually executed in the square. I had a late lunch with Erin, Mel, and Kevin at Plaza Mayor. I had bread and cheese while everyone else had something that looked like salami. This was during my period of not eating meat, so while everyone else was having Spanish delicacies (mainly of the pork variety) I stuck to my guns and had ate bread and cheese. We washed our meal down with sangria, which was delicious. I tried to have Sangria as much as possible during that weekend.

Erin and I had plans to visit the shops and walk around Madrid some more after lunch; unfortunately the weather did not agree with us. After alternating between sunshine and overcast clouds all morning, the sky turned gray and unleashed big fat rain on us right after lunch. We walked back to our hotel in the rain. The downpour did not let up until after 5 pm and dashed our plans; it also ruined my flats, which was way worse in my book. I stayed in for a few hours, surfing the internet and watching Spanish television, then made my way to the Prado museum after it stopped raining.

I had to stand in line to get into the museum. Fortunately the line moved quickly and I was inside within 20 minutes. As expected, the museum was crawling with tourist (ahem, like me). Eager to see the master works (Goya, El Greco, Raphael, Titian, etc.) before the museum closed for the day, I consulted the map and made a beeline for the second floor immediately. I have a one-hour attention span when visiting museums – it’s not something I am proud of, but after a while everything starts to look the same or have the same themes. Sorry art lovers out there! I felt satisfied after seeing the artists I wanted to see. My favorite paintings were from Velazquez, particularly the ones with midgets (is the PC term “dwarf”?). I think that during his time a lot of the prestigious art was religious in nature, and it was nice to see portraits of something other than religion displayed in the museum. For some reason it did not occur to me that midgets would be part of the court that as jesters or buffoons.

On Sunday Erin and I made plans to visit the local shops. The problem with our plan was that all shops (except those that sell food and restaurants) are closed on Sundays. Being American and spending many Sundays at the mall, this was a big surprise for me. It didn’t even occur to me that a staunchly Catholic country would close down its shops in observance of the Sabbath, so we went across the city trying to find shops that were open. Five train stops and hours of walking later, we came to the conclusion that no shops were open. Thankfully, cafes and restaurants were open for business or else we’d starve.

We ended up visiting Retiro Park, located near our hotel. Retiro Park is a big space, filled with families, puppet shows, fortune tellers, and musicians. It looked like the place where Madrilenos came to hang out during Sundays, and it was fun seeing a slice of their lives. Erin and I had a mid-afternoon snack there and watched the people interact. Afterwards, we went back to our hotel and gathered our things for our flight home. The best part about getting to the airport? We took the train and it cost only one Euro!

Throughout my visit, I kept thinking about how Spanish culture is so entwined with Filipino culture. This is because the Philippines was colonized by Spain, and was even named after Phillip II of Spain. The Spaniards brought their language, customs, and most importantly religion to the island nation. Until the Philippines were liberated by the US during the Spanish-American War in 1898, the locals spoke Spanish. What’s more, a lot of Filipino surnames are Spanish in origin: Santos, Legazpi, Gonzalez, Garcia, and Vergara, my family’s name. Erin was surprised to find that I understood Spanish in some capacity, not entire phrases but one word or a set of words in a sentence to figure out what somebody was trying to communicate. Tagalog has lots of Spanish words in it – zapatos, mesa, bano, ventana… the list goes on. It would be great to revisit this place with my family and compare notes on their experiences. Of the European countries I’ve visited (except for the UK), I’ve felt most at home here in Spain because of the language: for once, I can figure out what someone is trying to say (well, not all the time, but sometimes). Perhaps I should’ve taken Spanish in high school instead of French.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All Aboard the Birthday Express

In my family, October kicks off a bunch of birthday celebrations.

During October, we celebrate the birthdays of Henry, Vivi, Sharon, Sean (and of course Chuy). In November, we follow that up with Sabrina, Sid, and me. Afterwards it's Thanksgiving and Christmas, then New Year (aka Rene's birthday). I am getting tired just thinking about it.

This month we celebrated Henry and Vivi's birthdays (twice) and had a dinner for Sharon. Sean had a bowling party with his friends last Friday.

Henry & Vivi's Birthday
We celebrated Henry and Vivi's birthday on October 18. This is the first time in four years that I have been in town during October: in 2004, Rene and I were in Australia, in 2005 I was in Australia again, and in 2006 I was in London. Needless to say, I was not around to see Vivi being born and not around to celebrate her first birthday. It's great to around to celebrate her second birthday - she is growing up so fast!

Sharon's Birthday
I was planning a nice little birthday tribute (complete with photos from our childhood) on this blog for Sharon's birthday; unfortunately, I did not think of this in advance and had to settle for e-mail instead. All of the childhood photos need to be scanned, and that is another project onto itself. I am saving the Sharon tribute for next year.

I have had to call Sharon during her birthday for the past three years and bring something home for her after my trip. This time I was on hand to celebrate her birthday at her favorite restaurant, A&W Seafood.

Happy Birthday to you all - Henry, Vivi, Sharon and Sean! May you have a great year ahead of you. I love you all!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Celebrate Good Times C'mon

Chuy had a little part-ay in honor of his sixth birthday today. It wasn't a big gathering, just the three of us took part in the celebration. Chuy wanted to invite all the neighborhood dogs and have them wear lampshades on their head but we said no. Besides we didn't want to have to clean up their "presents" after the party.

The first order of business was putting on the party hat. What's a party without a hat? Chuy agreed.

Then came dancing...

Chuy knows how to get down with his bad self

Chuy got tired of dancing after a while and got hungry. So we presented Chuy with his cake made of fillet mignon and kibbles. Looks delicious, no?

Needless to say, Chuy ate the cake within two minutes and was asking for the next cake. What other cake, Chuy? It's one per birthday my friend.

Chuy opened presents after eating the cake. Surprise - we got you a fizzy bath ball! (That means you stink Chuy)

All this partying has made Chuy tired, so we called it a night.

Sweet dreams, birthday boy!

That concludes Chuy's sixth birthday celebration. In dog years Chuy is 42 years old, but who's counting?

Happy Birthday Chuy!

Today is Chuy's birthday. He is six years old today.

To celebrate, I am posting the video Rene made last year to celebrate Chuy's fifth birthday (there is a typo - the video says it's Chuy's 6th birthday but it was really #5 for Chuy). Enjoy!

PS Princess makes a cameo here. We miss her!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chatsworth Hike: A Photo Essay

On Saturday morning Rene, Chuy and I took a hike in Chatsworth. It's been about a month since my last hike and we'd decided that fresh air would do us good. Rather than talk about the hike, which wasn't very exciting, I've decided to make a photo essay instead. Behold:

Chuy eager to pee on bushes and do #2 on several unsuspecting plants.

Chuy sneezing on a bush.

Chuy and I having a chat.

Halfway though the hike we found this cool rock ledge and decided to take a few pictures. Here's Chuy and I showing off our mad posing skills:

All this mad posing tired Chuy out so we headed home aftewards.

Rene carrying Chuy off the rock ledge.

Our photographer, Rene, who took awesome pictures.

How the Chow Chow Came to be Named

This weekend Rene and I were standing at the checkout line at TJ Maxx (where else would we be?) and were looking at a rack of books while waiting for the next cashier.

We found this book showing pictures of dogs, and on page 154 we found the Chow Chow breed. Apparently, Chows originated in China and were used by the Chinese for three main purposes: guard dogs, cart pullers, and meat. That's right I said meat.

Abby: Hey Chuy, want some chow mein?

Chuy: Sure, what's in it?

Abby: Chow Chows!

Chuy: D'Oh! That's nasty!

In all seriousness, chow mein does not contain any Chow Chows. Nor was the dish named after the Chow Chow breed. Chuy's breed is actually called Songshi Quan in Chinese, which translates to "puffy lion dog." When these dogs were shipped to England in the 1700s the boxes were labeled "chow chow," which was how the Chinese referred to miscelleaneous merchandise in the English language and the name stuck.

Now if only I can convince Chuy that there are no Chow Chows in chow mein, I'll be good.

San Diego Part II: Balboa Park

The same day after our visit to the San Diego mission we made our way to another San Diego landmark: Balboa Park. I’ve heard of the place but didn’t know too much about it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this park was huge. Apparently, it's the largest urban cultural park in America. Since the park was so big I don’t think our brief visit did it justice, and we will probably visit again in the near future.

We went mainly to visit the Desert Garden – Rene loves succulents and desert plants. On our way to visit the garden we came across the Botanical Building and decided to visit that first. Have you seen this building? Apparently it is the most photographed structure in the entire park:

Inside the building were lots of shade-lovin’ plants, as I like to call them. There were a lot of orchids, which I love but always manage to kill. I think orchids need just the right combo of light and sun, and my condo provided too much of both – too dark indoors and too much sun/heat outdoors. I tried to keep my orchids healthy, even bought them plant food and made sure they were getting enough light during the day, but ultimately both of them died. One was named Charlotte and the other one was named Clementine (I like to name my plants). It was a sad plant experience for me, especially since it was my first foray into Responsible Plant Owner. I hope that one day I can get rid of this black thumb.

Outside the Botanical Building is a pond with water lilies. Lots of pictures are taken here for weddings and special occassions like quinceneras. That day we saw at least three professional shoots. Here are our amateur photos:

After the Botanical Building, Rene and I walked around and visited the Artist Alley. That weekend there was an art glass sale so we browsed the different artists' tables showing off their wares. There was also a live glass-making demonstration. Apparently making glass is a very labor-intensive process that involves using different types of ovens/kilns in order to make the glass malleable. It is also very expensive since the process uses up a lot of gas to heat up the oven/kiln, sometimes costing as much as $1200/month if used daily.

We explored the park further and found a ton of museums, most notably the natural history museum, modern art museum, and photography museum. This is the statue that stands next to the modern art museum entrance:

We visited the Museum of Photographic Art, which had two exhibits: Picturing Eden and Public Privacy. Picturing Eden was a photographic exhibit that explored the theme of paradise with 30+ artists and I found the work interesting. It's amazing how photographers can distort photographic images using scale, perspective, light, and color. Rene and I liked a few pieces. Public Privacy was a video installation that explored how people use their personal space within public spaces. The work was mounted on LCD screens; each screen had a location where the video was shot: public park, subway, newspaper stand, etc. The artist look videos of ordinary people using her cell phone. I am by no means an art expert but I didn't enjoy this exhibit as much as I enjoyed Picturing Eden. I see reality everyday so I tend to gravitate towards art showcasing the unique and extraordinary. If I wanted to see someone picking their nose in public I'd look to the left or right during rush hour traffic.

The Desert Botanical Garden was our last stop of the day. The plant collection was pretty extensive, and Rene and I saw plants that we had never seen before:

My favorite plant is the last photo in the series, the short tree with the huge trunk. I forgot what this tree was called but it was an interesting tree. The tree had a hollow middle big enough for a child to fit in (that's why I'm standing inside it) yet the leaves were green and healthy, and it looked as if the tree could live forever.

Our weekends aren't complete without visiting Ross or TJ Maxx, so guess what we did after Balboa Park? Visited both stores, that's what! For a mere $25 I came home with these beauties:

Not bad, eh? This day was a good day.