Sunday, March 30, 2008

In Bloom

The golden poppy, California’s state flower, blooms every year from mid-March to mid-April. It’s a glorious sight transforms the dead weeds and grasses of Antelope Valley into fields and hills of gold. We’ve gone to see it a few years ago, and returned on Easter Sunday to see it again:

More pictures here.

If you live in Southern California and have never seen the poppies in bloom, you should try to catch a glimpse before all the new blooms die off. Click here for a link to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, located in Lancaster, CA (approximately an hour from the San Fernando Valley).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting a New Set of Eyes

I normally wear contact lenses and only use my glasses for times when my eyes need a break from contacts (usually at night) or when my eyes are irritated and can’t tolerate contact lenses. Because I don’t use my glasses that often I don’t upgrade the prescription every year; I can usually wear the same pair for two or three years, depending on my prescription.

I’ve had my glasses for about three years now, and was due to replace them in May. That was the plan until three weeks ago, when my glasses fell apart. The bridge that connected the lenses broke in half for no reason at all (well, it seemed random to me, but a technician later told me it's because I take them off using one hand, which puts stress on the bridge and causes them to fall apart). At the time I was hesitant to replace them because I only had two more months to go, and I figured I could hold out for at least that long. I mean, I only use the darned things at night anyway, so surely I could come up with a temporary solution until May came around.

At first I put tape around the bridge to hold it together – very nerdy, like the head geek from Revenge of the Nerds – except that mine were brown frames held together with clear scotch tape (as opposed to black frames and white tape). That worked out for about a week, until the adhesive ran out and couldn’t hold the two sides together. I didn’t want to keep taping the bridge so one night I came up with a great way to fix my glasses: why not fuse them together by melting the plastic and fusing the ends together? Genius! Totally WWMD, as in What Would MacGyver Do.

I was successful the first time out. Very carefully, I put each side of the bridge over the stove’s open flame and waited until the plastic melted on both sides, then fused the two ends together. Then I ran my glasses under cold water to strengthen the heat bond (right?). The thing about fusing plastic lenses together is that you have to melt just the right amount of plastic from each side and connect the two parts together at just the right angle so that you don’t get a lopsided frame. If done incorrectly, you end up looking like you’re sporting a pair made from two distinct glasses, like Sawyer always wears in Lost. I looked like I was wearing Sawyer’s glasses, only uglier. I was pretty happy with the result despite the awful-looking glasses. The people I lived with didn’t seem to care, so why should I?

The glasses stayed fused for a few days – they came apart as I was putting them away one night. The fusing method wasn’t so bad, I thought, so why not try again? Only this time I’d connect them at the proper angle and stick them under cold water longer so they wouldn’t fall apart so easily. Once again, I stood in front of the stove and held the two pieces together over the open flame. I was just about to fuse them together when I felt an intense heat near the top of my head and realized my hair was on fire! I dabbed at my hair and splashed water at my head. I surveyed the damage and was relieved to find that I had lost only a few strands of hair near the scalp. I combed out the burned parts as best as I could and tried to blend the rest with the longer layers. It was then that I stopped messing with my broken glasses and wait out the next two and a half months. So that night, and for the next week, I wore my contacts until bedtime, and read by pushing my books close to my face. It sucked. Toward the end of the week my eyes were burning from wearing contacts all day and my arms hurt from pushing the book so close to my face.

It finally dawned on me last Friday that I should just go to Lenscrafters and have new glasses made. After all, I had already budgeted for new glasses this year, and even though I'd be missing out on my insurance discounts I was prepared to spend the money now instead of putting up with my current situation, which sucked.

The next day, Saturday, I visited my optometrist, got my prescription, took the prescription to Lenscrafters, picked out new frames, and my glasses were ready in about an hour. It was amazing and I regretted not getting new glasses earlier. The price turned out to be around the same amount I wanted to spend for glasses, fancy new frame and all. Here were the finalists:

The first pair turned out to be too wide for my face, the second too petite, and the third too similar to my old pair. I ended up getting this pair, which combined the color and shape I wanted, and it fit nicely:

I came back an hour later to pick them up, and this is how they look on my face:

I am really happy with these new glasses, and might even consider wearing them to work whenever I need a break from my contacts. Unlike my previous pair, these frames hide the thickness of the lenses pretty well (my prescription is -6.25 on both eyes, which means that these would look like coke bottles if I didn’t choose the thinner, lighter, anti-glare lenses). They are worth every penny.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

No matter how many times I mention how I love living in LA (the lovely weather, the near-constant sunshine, the number of places to explore) there are inevitably downsides to the City of Angels. Chief among them is the relentless, never-ending traffic and its twin counterpart, rude drivers. On most days I co-exist peacefully with traffic and rude drivers, however painful, but an incident that took place last Thursday that really shook me up.

Last week was Spring Break here in LA’s public school district, and traffic was uncharacteristically good. Almost scary good – for a few days I kept checking my dashboard clock, my watch, and my iPhone to make sure that it was indeed a weekday and that I didn’t oversleep by accident. In my mind, that was the only reason why traffic was so good – I was horribly late for work. Thirty minutes to get to work was like a god-send, a rare luxury in the world of LA commuters. For once, I had gotten to work by 9 am everyday.

Last Thursday my husband needed a ride to work. It was only a mile out of my way, and given the little congestion on the freeway during rush hour, I agreed. After dropping Rene off, I had to make a right turn into a big street in order to get to the freeway entrance. I looked to the left and the right (to make sure I wasn’t mowing down any pedestrians crossing the street) then back to the left again. I saw a pack of cars approaching the intersection a safe distance away and decided to make my right turn. Right after I turned I cut across two lanes to the left (thinking there was no one behind me) so I could make a beeline to the freeway entrance – big mistake. Within seconds of changing lanes, I heard the roar of a motorcycle engine and an irate motorcyclist was soon riding next to me in traffic, on the driver’s side, revving his engine and muttering curses, throwing his fists in the air for emphasis. I was feeling very badly about the situation and my huge miscalculation when he pulled in front of me and kicked my car. That’s when I began to see red. To me, it was the equivalent of being shoved while walking down the street and I was not taking any abuse from this motorist.

After kicking my car the motorcyclist crossed over in front of me and began yelling more obscenities to the passenger side of my car (keep in mind that all of this occurred while in motion, IN TRAFFIC, when cars were moving). I’d had enough – I rolled down my passenger side window and started yelling out things that would make Andrew “Dice” Clay blush, complete with middle-finger action. Oh it was a sight to behold – a screaming match during the morning commute between a white sedan and a motorcycle. This continued for a good minute and finally stopped when the motorcyclist sped off and made a right turn before the freeway entrance.

I was LIVID! It took the rest of the drive to work to calm me down. I called my husband and described the incident – he rides a motorcycle everyday to work – and he said that some motorcyclists will kick or hit cars to make their point. I asked him if he’d ever done anything like that – hitting a car to make a point – and he said no. He said there are too many crazy drivers here in LA, and who knows what kind of retaliation he’d get in return – that driver may have a gun and may be ticked off enough to use it (drive-by shootings do occur here in LA), or worse, the car driver might mow him down and catapult him into oncoming traffic. But apparently, despite these gruesome scenarios, it is common practice for some motorcyclists to bang on cars with their hands or feet. My husband makes sure to stay alert, stay out of blind sides, and generally avoids cars to prevent potential accidents. He said that I shouldn’t take it personally and that it happens to a lot of people, but I couldn’t help but feel slighted for something that I felt was a personal attack. After all, that motorcyclist did curse me out and kick my car – it’s hard to feel any empathy for such a rude reaction. I would’ve been extremely apologetic had he tapped my window (once we came to a stop) and told me what I did wrong – after all, my husband drives a motorcycle, and the last thing I wanted to do was cause an accident.

In retrospect, the incident was entirely my fault. I didn’t see the motorcyclist when I scanned for oncoming cars but SHOULD have looked behind my shoulder before making that left lane change. I was STUPID for not looking, and I caused a motorcyclist to brake hard to avoid colliding with my car. That being said, kicking someone’s car and cursing them out while in traffic is not the appropriate way to point out their mistake. I felt cornered and abused, and the only way I could react at the time was to throw the cursing and hand gestures back to his face. It was not my proudest moment, but I really hated being yelled at and put on the spot. To me, it’s like getting backed into a corner, and I’m left with no other choice but to claw my way out.

There was another instance about three years ago when a taxi driver and I totally went at it. I was in San Francisco for a weeklong business trip, and my co-worker and I hailed a cab at the airport to take us to our hotel. I didn’t sense right away that the cab driver was having a bad day – I politely told him where we were staying (Palace Hotel) and the address. When he didn’t respond I told him again where the hotel was located and its cross-streets – to which he angrily yelled that he heard me the first time, that who was I to think that he was an idiot, and that he was tired of having people repeat things over and over to him. My co-worker Juna later told me that after the cab driver started yelling I stiffened up and my eyes widened in surprise. I yelled back to him that I was NOT going to accept his rudeness (which may have been peppered with F- and S-bombs) and that if he had problems with someone else to not take it out on us. He replied with more F- and S- bombs, turned the taxi around, and took us back to the airport. He practically threw our luggage out of the cab once we got there, and I made sure to give him a piece of my mind before he left. The nerve! I couldn’t believe that I was arguing with a cab driver first thing in the morning, and in my favorite city of all places. Luckily, we ended up getting the next cab and got to our hotel without incident.

Despite these two incidents, I’m normally not one for confrontations – I always try to avoid them and go about my business whenever possible. If a salesperson is rude to me, I don’t get huffy and yell – I just stop shopping at that store (this is why H&M is on my banned list of places to shop). If someone cuts the line because they’re friends with the person in front of me, I just let it go. But if someone yells at me out of anger, for no good reason, then I’m on the defensive and I come out swinging. But talk to me in a respectful manner and I'm all ears, apologetic for the incident and eager to have it resolved.

We should all strive to give each other a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A little goes a long way.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'm a Night Runner Yes I Am*

About 11 years ago I ran cross country and track in college. I was a decent runner, always placing somewhere between the faster and slower girls.

I haven’t run consistently since due to lack of motivation and lack of time. Back in college, we always had our workouts from 1-3 pm, sometimes in the middle of a blisteringly hot day. I always looked forward to practice because there was always someone my level to run with, depending on whether I was having a good day or bad day. There was always someone keeping pace with you and sometimes you even got to chat and get to know your teammates. It was like a sisterhood of runners.

Because of this I’ve been apprehensive about starting to run again. Running is very much an individual sport, and it’s very common for people to talk themselves out of a workout, or even a race. It’s because running allows your thoughts to let loose and totally take over your head – at least that’s what happens to me. Sometimes the most inane songs pop into my head and I can’t stop it from replaying over and over again (like Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head – ugh!). At least when I had the sisterhood someone was with me all the time, helping me get the most out of my workout by having something to focus on instead of the random stuff rattling around my head.

I’ve been running consistently for the past three weeks, always after work, and have been surprised to find that it’s not that bad. I’ve been afraid of starting up again because I wouldn’t have anyone to keep pace with me, which is different from having someone run with me. My husband runs with me but I feel bad sometimes because I’m rolling along at a snail’s pace, which is equivalent to him taking a brisk walk. Bless his heart, he mostly stays on pace with me but I hate feeling like he’s missing out on getting a good workout himself. I feel as if he’s now hanging with the back of the pack instead of surging forward and running with the better guys. His presence helps a lot.

Last night we had our first “hard” workout. Up to now, we have been running three miles at 10-minute pace during the week with longer runs during the weekend. Since we couldn’t find an open track at 9 pm (yeah, kinda late), we found this one mile stretch on Topanga Canyon where we could do some interval training. Interval running means starting at a comfortable pace then running faster (for a minute or for a lap) then settling back to a comfortable pace – slow quick slow. This goes on continuously (depending on time or distance), and running at the comfortable pace is meant to be the rest period. Runners also call this fartlekking (I swear I am not making that term up), and it’s meant to get your heart rate pumping and start acclimating your body to run faster. It also helps build your endurance base, which is helpful when you want to run longer distances. Anyway, last night hurt – as in hurt so good. For the first time in a long time my body felt stronger (wrecked but stronger) compared to the person who started running three weeks ago. I didn’t shuffle (much) and I didn’t sound like I was on the brink of collapse. Now that’s what I call progress.

* The song playing in my head last night was Punkrocker by Teddybears.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beach Blanket Chuy

Last Saturday Rene and I took Chuy to a dog beach in the LBC. Normally dogs are not allowed on beaches; there are only a handful that allow dogs on a leash, and an even smaller number that allow dogs to roam free. A portion of the Belmont Beach in Long Beach allows dogs to roam free, and this is sectioned off by orange cones. There’s a few ground rules: dogs must be registered with the city, be up-to-date on their vaccinations and rabies shots, and owners must clean up after their pets. Other than those rules it’s pretty relaxed, and most of the dogs in the beach were having fun chasing waves and going after tennis balls.

Chuy wasn’t like the other dogs. He was a real priss: at first he wouldn’t go play with the other dogs and would only hang out with us in the sand. Other dogs came by to say hi (meaning they sniffed his butt and the really friendly ones attempted to mount him) but Chuy wasn’t having any of it. Chuy always sniffed back but he never went off to play with his new friends. They overwhelmed him. My dog is a real priss.

Rene and I decided to walk around the beach so Chuy could get some exercise. It was fine until Chuy got distracted and after wandering off a few feet became utterly lost. He’d crane his neck to look for Rene and me, as if we’d abandoned him at the beach. He had this worried look on his face even though we were only a few yards away from him. We had to keep calling his name every time he wandered away so he’d stop worrying so much.

After a while we started inching closer to the water, hoping Chuy would take the hint and jump into the water. Instead, he stayed right at the edge of the beach, almost to the water but not quite. He acted like his paws would fall off if they touched the water. Rene and I thought about carrying him to the water and dropping him in but we didn’t want to traumatize him. Chow Chows were bred for many things but a love of water was not one of them. I don’t blame Chuy; can you imagine having to wait for this much fur to dry?

(More pictures here)

Oh, and before we visited the beach Rene bought a truck from an old man in Carson. His name was Jerry, and he lived in a nice trailer park across the street from the Carson Sheriff Station, pictured here:

Does this place seem familiar to you? If you watch Reno 911, it’s the police station exterior from the show. And you know that trailer park where Lt. Jim Dangle lives? It’s here:

It's featured in that episode where Lt. Dangle asks Officer Jones to help him move from one trailer to another.

Here's a picture of Rene's truck:

It's not new but it'll help him get around when he's not tooling all over town in his motorcycle. He said that riding a bike got old after a while because he was always carrying things on his back and not having any place to store his stuff. Now he'll have a lot of storage space and a vehicle that can haul stuff to the beach. I guess the next thing on his list is that surfboard or kayak he's been talking about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Running

I’m not what you would call a graceful runner.

I’m one of those that breathe heavily, like that creepy guy who calls in the middle of the night and does nothing but breathe on the line except multiply that by ten. Add to that the sound of someone alternately shuffling and stomping their feet hard against the pavement and you’ve got me in a nutshell.

People I pass on the street can hear me coming a block away. People who are running look twice, as if to ask themselves if they look as uncoordinated as me. Because I’m so loud and clumsy I prefer running on the streets as opposed to a treadmill; running on a treadmill stresses me out. For me, there is a very good chance of stepping on the sides and falling over or punching the wrong buttons so that the belt speeds up instead of slowing down, or forgetting that the conveyer belt won’t stop just because I decide it’s time for my workout to end. Because of this I am a disaster in the gym, and my biggest fear is embarrassment from falling off the treadmill. Forget about any injuries sustained – the shame is waaaay worse. I am always hesitant to join a gym because of this, and in the event that I do embarrass myself I may have to forfeit any pre-paid membership fees.

It’s always awkward starting a running program. In the beginning it’s all about making it to the end of your workout no matter what. At first the runs are slow and halting; you have doubts about making it to the end of the block, let alone surviving three miles. Your clothing bothers you – your sports bra is too loose or too tight, your t-shirt feels like it shrunk in the dryer (yeah right), your shoes are too tight around your ankles and too loose around your toes. All these things distract you as you soldier on, hoping the pain in your side would just go away already. Eventually, if you train consistently, the runs become smoother. The heavy steps morph into graceful footwork. The ragged, tired breathing becomes more controlled and disciplined. At its best, running is your body in perfect sync: endurance with speed, getting faster as the miles keep coming, the clock slowing as you complete yet another mile.

I tell myself this as I will my slow and heavy body to run. I always envision another sleek and graceful runner ahead of me, my future self if you will. My hope is that my initial suffering makes my future self stronger and faster. And this motivation works every time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wishing Gunner a Speedy Recovery

Dear Internet,

My cousin's beloved Rottweiler, Gunner, is sick.

He's lost a bit of weight (12 pounds) and has lost his appetite. He also has a runny rose and has become lethargic. He's visiting the vet tomorrow to undergo some tests.

Please channel your positive thoughts to this dog that loves to cuddle and give wet kisses.

Nick & Jessica: Newlyweds Part 2?

Overheard while giving Chuy a bath at Dori’s Pet Wash last Sunday:

Customer: So you two are getting married? Wow! You guys are so young. What are your names?

Boy: Nick

Girl: Jessica

Customer: Jessica, what a pretty name. Good luck to you Nick and Jessica!

I don’t think their names were really Nick and Jessica – these kids working the front register were just having fun with a customer asking way too many personal questions. Still, it was pretty funny seeing the kids carry on this conversation with straight faces.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Gloom and Doom: Part II

I don't know what's been going on with SoCal weather lately. It's been sunny during the week for the past two weeks but when it comes time for the weekend, the clouds roll in and the temperature drops on Saturday morning. Last weekend was the second in a row this happened, and I hope that the weather is not planning on a three-peat performance. It's hard to appreciate the outdoors when it is so gloomy but Rene and I dealt with it and visited the Getty Museum.

The Getty Museum opened back in 1997 but this is the first time we've gotten around to visiting it. Back when it first opened everyone needed a reservation to get in. Now all you need to do it pay $8 for parking and the museum is free. The parking structure is on the base of the mountain on Sepulveda Boulevard and you need to ride the tram to access the museum and garden.

I have to say that the Getty staff are dedicated and always make sure you know where you are going. There are guides that point the way to the tram (even though you can see it as soon as you step out of the parking garage elevators) and let you know how long it will take for the next tram to arrive. The tram ride itself was nice – you have a view of the 405 freeway and the houses that dot the hillside.

Once the tram reached the top of the hill, we made our way towards the garden. It’s a decent-sized garden with wide grassy areas (perfect for picnics and naps) and filled with different types from plants, from succulents to flowering trees and bushes. There’s a stream that starts at the entrance and makes its way downhill towards the garden’s centerpiece: a circular lake with a floating maze in the middle. Surrounding this lake is a path filled with more flowers, shrubs, and trees – it’s quite a sight to behold, even on an overcast day. Already a number of plants and flowers were in bloom but the trees were bare. Rene and I will come back in the springtime, when the weather gets nicer and the trees are showing off their new leaves.

(more pictures here)

We didn’t have an itinerary to follow, so after visiting the garden we wandered off to the nearest building. The gallery had a photo exhibit called Goat’s Dance by Graciela Iturbide. Almost all of these images where in black and white and featured scenes from the Sonoran Desert in Mexico, and village life in a rural area called Tlaxcala. It also featured pictures depicting gang members in East LA from 1986, which I liked the most. She mostly photographed the females (Cholas), and it was interesting seeing how they looked then and now – it doesn’t seem like much has changed. It’s all about over-processed hair, heavy foundation and eyeliner, red lips, and eyebrows plucked into a thin line. I think the ladies in the exhibit looked best when they didn’t have any makeup on.

Rene and I can only tolerate museums for about two hours before we get bored and grumpy (ok, I get grumpy), and after visiting another exhibit for decorative arts (read: furniture), we made out way to one of my favorite restaurants, Houston’s, for dinner.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What a Racket

The Mafia’s got nothing on the little operation Girl Scouts run this time of year: selling Girl Scout cookies. Sure, it’s for a good cause, even if each box costs $4 (when was the last time you paid $4 for a box of cookies?). You may say to yourself that by buying these cookies I am helping these girls attain their goals. But you are deluding yourself, my friend. The only reason I buy Girl Scout cookies year after year is because I am seriously addicted to them. Be they Samoas, Thin Mints, All Abouts, or Tagalongs, I heart these cookies. I am also convinced that they have some sort of addictive chemicals mixed into their ingredients – how else can you explain cravings for Thin Mints that can never be fully satiated unless you get a box of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies? I kid, of course, but I seriously love these cookies. This love, coupled with them being available only for a limited time, means that I usually eat my weight in cookies at this time of year. They should seriously consider changing the name of All Abouts to All About Me Getting Fat. Or how about Samoas to Samoa: The Size of Your Ass?

Old cube, new cube

Last Friday I moved from here:

To here:

You can definitely tell how exciting my life is from these two pictures - that I actually took the time to take them and post them. It was the highlight of my week.

The move itself wasn’t so bad; I had two boxes of stuff to transport and the tech guys took care of my computer and phone right away. The new location, though, is a bit perilous. I sit in the cube directly in front of my boss’s office, who is a VP. This space used to be occupied by her assistant, who now sits in front of another VP’s office (the assistant now has two VPs to service and sits sitting in front of the more demanding one). At any time of day the VP can see whatever I am doing, so surfing the internet during the day is risky. I have to make sure she is out of her office before I can open my browser. I’m even afraid that she’s going to start reading blog posts I’ve been typing up on Word so I’ve made my font smaller.

Despite all this, the new cube location isn’t terrible. The best thing about this set-up is this: everyone who brings goodies to share puts them on top of a filing cabinet in front of me. This week it’s been Cadbury chocolates, Girl Scout cookies, and snacks from Thailand. Since I sit right in front of the snacks I get first dibs. Check it out:

I’ve actually been really good and had only two chocolates last night. But that’s not to say that I won’t take all the chocolate donuts if someone brings them. I probably will.