Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tribute to Princess

Dear Princess,

It’s been almost a year since you’ve passed away and not a single day goes by that I don’t think of you in some small way. Had you lived, today would have been your 10th birthday.

You were my first real pet, the first pet that I’ve been solely responsible for. I tried my best to keep you fed, walked, and entertained. If I fell short during your lifetime, forgive me. I was trying to focus on some things that turned out not to be very important when I could’ve been spending that time with you.

We never knew what caused your sudden illness. You were so patient, even during the difficult last days when we visited vet after vet, who could never diagnose or understand what was wrong with you. You gave me great joy during the nine years that we were together and you passed away way too soon. It’s become clear to me that that’s the way life is – it’s always the good ones that die too young.

I hope that you are having fun in doggie heaven, going for long walks and sleeping in enormous feather beds like you loved to do here on earth. Most of all, I hope you get to eat as much chicken as you want without getting an upset stomach.

I love you, I miss you, and will never forget you.



Tuesday, April 29, 2008

So Proud

Today my sister passed the NCLEX exam. For those of you who have no clue what that means, it is an entry-level competence exam for licensure as a registered nurse and/or a vocational nurse. My sister Genevieve has been studying for the exam since January of this year, and all that hard work has finally paid off! Congrats to my smart and lovely sister!

Wherever the Day Takes You

It was HOT last weekend in SoCal! Temperatures soared to a whopping 95 degrees in my 'hood on Saturday and Sunday, making for very lazy afternoons where we napped and watched the NBA playoffs. Rene and I thought about visiting some beaches in San Diego on Sunday, but this happened last week. Supposedly the Great White Shark that attacked a triathlete is still in the area, so authorities closed San Diego beaches as far north as Carlsbad for the weekend.

We ended up running six miles on Saturday (followed by push-ups and tricep exercises whose impact I still feel today – ouch!), and on Sunday we got up extra early (6:30 am) to tackle five miles before the heat came. Where I live, the heat feels like a dozen lasers pointed at you whenever you come in contact with sunlight – on really hot days it is that intense. I usually make it a point to run in the morning or late afternoon to avoid getting burned alive.

Our run on Sunday was tough. We ran a trail called Towsley Canyon, and the first half of the run (roughly 2.5 miles) was a never-ending climb with an elevation of, oh, HALF A MILE. It wasn’t too bad in the beginning, during the first mile or so, but there were some sections that kicked our butts and we ended up walking some parts of the trail. I normally hate stopping during my workouts but it was too much – the hills were killing my calves so I decided to take it easy and walk long strides. I also had to stop during the downhill portion due to really bad side cramps, which has plagued me for the past week. I’ve been trying to make adjustments to my diet and workouts to get rid of them but I can’t seem to shake them. Rene thinks it’s because I bounce too much when I run, and consequently irritate or shake up my insides, resulting in side cramps. Have you ever had side cramps like this? If so, how did you get rid of them?

After our run we ate breakfast at Way Station Cafe in Newhall. It’s a nice local place with a small-town atmosphere, where the waitresses called you “Hon” (even though ours was not a day over 18, making it a little awkward for me to be called “Hon” by someone ten years younger) and is decorated with old license plates, framed newspaper articles from the 1970s, and other vintage signs. It was nice seeing license plates from states like West Virginia (Wild, Wonderful), Montana (Big Sky), and New Hampshire (Live Free or Die) while eating breakfast.

On our way home we came across the William S. Hart Ranch and Museum, which piqued our interest. We stopped to see if there was anything interesting to see when a friendly old man came up to us and told us that further up the hill were bison (bison! In SoCal!) and a historic house that gave free tours every half hour. Since I love tours, and free ones at that, we climbed the path to the house, where we came across these babies:

Don't they look a little like my dog Chuy? They were given to the property by Walt Disney back in 1962 and have been residing there ever since. It's really quite a sight to behold, bison in the heart of suburbia. I was really happy to see them, considering that bison don't run around SoCal, and the only ones I've seen live in Catalina Island (they were left there after filming wrapped for The Vanishing American).

So who is William S. Hart, and why is his estate open to the public? William S. Hart was an actor in the silent film era famous for playing cowboys. He was famous for carrying two six-shooter pistols (rumored to be from Billy the Kid) and was nicknamed Two-Gun Bill. Mr. Hart was the inspiration behind characters played by Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. He had a horse named Fritz, who had his own fan club, and owned many dogs. The Spanish Colonial Revival home, called La Loma de los Vientos, was designed by Arthur R. Kelly during the 1920s. Arthur R. Kelly also designed many other homes in SoCal during that time, including the Playboy Mansion. I was very impressed with the house, especially with the quality of the materials used to build it. According to our tour guide, all the doors are made from a single piece of wood, and the structure sustained no damage from the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. After William S. Hart's death in 1946 he willed the entire estate to the LA County Museum of Art, and it has been open to the public ever since. I recommend stopping by if you are in the Valencia area.

We spent the rest of the day getting ready for the week and relaxing at home. It was nice discovering a place I didn't even know existed, another gem in the crown of LA.

More pictures here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Vera Lovely Spring

I love spring and all that it represents: awakening, renewal, and growth. I love seeing trees sprouting brand-new leaves, like a bald man whose hair has started growing again. I love seeing flowers bloom from the ground, displaying their colorful petals and shiny leaves. This time of year everything is so gorgeous, especially here in Southern California, that simply being outside is like being in a garden.

My allergies, however, are telling nature to suck it. Every morning this week I’ve woken up to a stuffed (and sometimes leaky) nose. Euhhh! During the day I sneeze about 1,523 times and I constantly scratching my itchy nose and eyes. (No wonder people don't want to shake my hand at work.) I’ve had to start taking my allergy medication this week, which I normally don’t do unless my allergies are superbad (and they are). The thing is, my medication has a teeny, tiny bit of steroids in it to help shrink my sinuses but nowhere near the amount that would, say, cause me to turn into the Ultimate Warrior anything. But still, a part of me thinks that all the tiny steroid amounts I’ve ingested are being stored somewhere in my body and will someday get together and form a revolution. I fear that they will turn me into Vera De Milo from In Living Color (dude, remember that show?!):

It’s just a thought, one of the million random ones I have throughout the day. If you use Flonase or Nasonex, don't you think about it too?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Olympic Hoopla

For weeks now I’m been mulling over whether or not to write a post about the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Olympic Games. I LOVE watching the Olympic Games: the thrill of seeing athletes from around the world represent their countries in the opening ceremonies, the elation of watching track & field events not broadcast in the networks, and best of all, learning about the journey of the athletes to the games: the struggles they overcame to compete, and their inspiration to keep going. In my opinion hearing stories about the athletes is the best part of the Olympics. Some of them have had to overcome so much just for a chance to compete at such an elite level that it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. I heart the Olympics and cannot wait until its broadcast on 8.8.08 (have I mentioned that 8 is my favorite number?!) from Beijing.

In January I visited Shanghai and found that people were really excited about showcasing their country and having people learn about their culture. For me, China is a country shrouded in mystery, and having them open up just a small part of their country and culture to the world is so exciting for me. I’m disappointed that instead of having the Olympics focus on the athletes and the good aspects of the host country it’s turned into a big political statement instead. For someone so excited at the thought of the Olympics I am disappointed in how events are unfolding.

Let me start by saying that I appalled by the treatment of Tibetans (and for that matter other ethnic minorities in China) by the Chinese government. It is inexcusable to deprive people of their basic rights and treat them as less than human. In my eyes there is no greater evil out there than the pain we inflict on our fellow man. I highly respect the right of people all over the world to call attention China’s abuses towards its own citizens. The Chinese government should be held accountable for these abuses. I believe that sanctions, particularly economic ones, if executed properly, could be useful weapons in letting China know that the world will not tolerate these abuses. Money talks and withholding it will certainly get China’s attention.

That being said, I do not agree with the tactics used by some protestors during this year’s torch relays. Assaulting torch bearers or threatening to disrupt the relay doesn’t undermine the Chinese government – it undermines the individuals who were selected to carry the torch (which is an honor) and more importantly, it diminishes the spirit of the Games. The focus of the Olympics should be on the athletes and their struggles to make it to the world stage. The Olympics should transcend borders and political agendas and provide us with inspiration. The Olympics is a time when we get together as a planet and celebrate each other’s talents. The best part of the Games is seeing the expression on the athlete’s face when they take their place on the medal stand and their national anthem is played – don’t your eyes get misty just thinking about it? I know mine do.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Feeling Touristy

One of the things I wanted to be when I grew up, circa 1991, was to be a tour guide – seriously. I got the idea after riding the studio tram at Universal Studios, where visitors get a chance to see movie sets and visual effects. Some highlights include the Bates Motel from Psycho, King Kong (but only from the waist up), a re-enactment of a San Francisco earthquake (complete with BART replica), the Jaws shark, and a flash flood effect. Back then all this was magical to me because they’d made these rather fake-looking effects look good in the movies. My tour guide’s name was Lisa and she was terrific – she made the tour informative and fun, even though she probably gave at least a half dozen tours a day. Going on that tour made the world of movies exciting to me, which is probably why I work in the entertainment industry (on the periphery).

Sometimes Rene and I pretend we are tourists here in LA, even though we’ve lived here for most of our lives. The thing about LA is that it’s so big and many people who’ve lived here for years haven’t seen everything. There’s a lot to see – just the other week we drove up to the Antelope Valley to see California poppies bloom, and a few weeks before that we visited the Getty museum. In the coming weeks I’ll be visiting Olvera Street, a historic landmark here in LA. It's fun exploring this city and finding ways to fall in love with it all over again.

A few weeks ago we also visited Citywalk, which houses several restaurants, retail stores & a movie theatre, and is sandwiched between Universal Studios theme park and Gibson Amphitheatre. This was THE place to hang out back when I was in high school a decade ago; now it's probably been replaced by The Grove, where they sometimes film scenes for shows like The Hills.

We visited Citywalk on a Sunday afternoon and found that the majority of people fell into two categories: (1) tourists or (2) people who came to watch a movie. We were in the minority Рlocals visiting just because Рand found it interesting how the place had changed. Gone are the old places we used to visit, like Wizardz (a bar-slash-magic theatre) and Gladstone's (now replaced by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.). Back then the most popular attraction was people-watching, especially on weekends when teenagers and college kids would show up with their friends and try to meet new people. Now the most popular attraction is iFly, where skydiving is simulated inside a giant plastic tube using a badass fan. Lessons were being held when we stopped by, and we glimpsed a few brave souls getting blasted to the top of the tube. The instructors seemed pretty blas̩ about the whole thing Рthey're probably used to having people like me gawk all day long.

The second most popular attraction was a street show – a couple of guys performing breakdancing moves and stunts. They had attracted a pretty sizable crowd by the time we got there so we didn’t get to see them performing their act. We did, however, get a solid half hour of people watching before we called it a day. Check out these kids celebrating a Quincenera:

And of course I took a picture of Rene "riding" a motorcycle because it was there:

More pictures here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hankering for a Haircut

About two years ago I got a haircut I didn’t like. You see I usually get my hair cut on a whim – the feeling is strongest whenever I have to deal with split ends or have too many consecutive bad hair days. Sometimes I want to just wash my hair and go, instead of having to blow dry and style it. As soon as I get this feeling I schedule an appointment with my stylist and feverishly go through as many magazines as I can two to three days prior to my appointment to decide on a style. If I’ve learned anything from these sudden urges to get my haircut, it’s this: I regret the decision the next day, after I remember that short hair requires more blow drying and styling than long hair, which is what I wanted to avoid in the first place. After getting this haircut two years ago, which made me look like Florence Henderson circa 1972, I vowed to grow my hair out and make it stay that way for a while:

Yep that's me on the far left ,with the shag cut that took forever to grow out. In the middle is my cousin Gigi and on the far right my lovely mom.

Now my hair is the longest it’s ever been, and so far I love it:

This length is perfect for workouts because I can easily pull it back. It is also good for my morning routine because I only have to style it every other day. What’s more I can put it up in a ponytail when it becomes unmanageable or when I don’t feel like doing anything to it. So why do I get an urge, every once in a while, of visiting my stylist armed with pictures of Posh Spice or Ellen Barkin from Ocean's 13:

Rene thinks that I should get a haircut once I’ve become a bad-ass runner. One of my goals is to run a 5K under 20 minutes (around 19:45) so I was thinking about getting my hair cut then. The thing is, well, I have no idea when that will happen – it could be towards the end of summer or it could be next year or it could be never – who knows? What do you think - should I cut my hair this summer or when I reach my 5K goal? Or should I keep my hair the way it is now?

Let me know what YOU think by placing your vote on my handy dandy new poll!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Going Dumpster Diving

To the untrained eye, my dog Chuy is a dumb dog. He doesn’t understand the concept of fetch – at first he will go after the ball, put in his mouth, and proceed have a fight with it. When you take the ball away from him to throw it again, he has this expression on his face that says now why did you do that? I just got that ball – THANKS for making me get it AGAIN. After five minutes he gets tired of the game and is exasperated: why do you keep making him go after the ball only to take it back and make him chase it again? To him it just doesn’t make sense.

Chuy does not have any concept of the term “heel.” He begs and whines for his daily walk, and as soon as you hit the pavement he has no idea who you are and why you have a leash attached to his collar. It’s like he’s possessed: he lurches forward and drags you along as if it’s his last walk ever. He acts like you work for the city pound and practically runs to avoid you. Thankfully he’s gotten better on his walks and he no longer drags me halfway down the street. However, his walks have a developed a new dimension and he now stops for long periods so that he can lick other dogs’ pee from the grass, or the mailbox, or the tree. Great, my dog has a taste for golden showers. That’s real classy.

Despite my initial assessment of his stupidity, this dog is actually quite smart. So smart, in fact, that he plays mind games by showing you how dumb he is only to perform tricky and clever acts, acts you’d never suspect were master-minded by the dumb dog. He probably rubs his paws together and laughs at how clever he is when we’re not around.

I first discovered this “I’m such a dumb dog” act last year. Rene and I used to avoid using the word “walk” around my dog Princess (who passed away almost a year ago) because she would get so excited when she heard it. She knew exactly what it meant – that we were going to put on her leash and take her around the block. Playing the dumb dog, Chuy never let on that he knew what the word meant, until one night he showcased his skills as the clever dog, which I wrote about here. Not only did he know what “walk” meant but he also knew how to let us know he wanted to go for a walk. Before she died Princess was his boss, and she was the one who let us know when she needed to go outside (and Chuy came by proxy). She wasn’t nearly as bossy as this red ball of fur that whines and begs for his walk every day. As if bucking like a bronco every time we approached the area where his leash is kept isn’t enough of a hint.

Today my mom and brother came home for lunch and found the contents of the trash can all over the kitchen floor. The trash was sorted in a meaningful way; in the middle of the floor sat my almost-empty boba container with the end crushed, as if someone was trying to squeeze all the leftover boba out. So where was Chuy when this discovery was made? He was lying in the hallway, acting innocent. He was all like dang someone threw all your trash on the kitchen floor. My mom tried to scold him, but he stayed put and wouldn’t look her in the eye. He was so busted.

He’s had priors – this is the second time Chuy’s knocked over the garbage can and eaten the contents. My mom just couldn’t bring herself to punish him because he was being so funny. At first he gave her the puppy dog eyes and wagged his tail at her, and when that didn’t work he looked away and avoided eye contact like he was pleading the fifth. He managed to push his way through my room’s closed door and he stayed there until she left the house.

Chuy is such a punk; for the rest of the week he will have the most horrible diarrhea. He eats garbage like fine cuisine and his stomach pays for it. He just got a bath yesterday, and now I will be spending the rest of the week wiping his butt and making sure he doesn’t have any sort of poop stains on his fur. Thanks a lot Chuy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kiss and Make Up

About two years ago H&M and I had a falling out. My family and I were shopping at the H&M in New York’s Herald Square, and when it came time to pay the cashiers were rude to my mom. My mom picked up a pair of jeans in a rack that said $19 but at the register the jeans rang up as $49. My mom pointed to the rack where she got the jeans from, and the cashier (who clearly had NO idea what customer service meant) rolled her eyes and said something along the lines of “the jeans are $49 live with it.” What upset me wasn’t what she said but her tone and attitude were so condescending, like my mom deliberately tried to cheat them out of money.

After my mom finished her transaction I went back to that cashier and told her she was rude. I told her that I didn’t like her disrespectful tone towards customers and that last customer happened to be my mom. She was nonchalant about my complaint, like I was nitpicking the way she folded clothes, and even asked her co-worker if she was rude to customers. Her co-worker said that if someone didn’t know the price of jeans then that wasn’t being rude – that was just setting them straight. So I asked her why didn’t she explain that it was on the wrong rack, that it happens all the time – why the attitude? To make my point I returned all the stuff I just bought and told her that I wasn’t going to shop there ever again. There are so many other stores out there that deserved my business, so why should I waste my time with one that clearly did not appreciate my business? For two whole years I avoided H&M like the plague.

I’ve been living an H&M-free life until today, when I went to the mall to get my watch battery replaced. There was an H&M store nearby, and since I had twenty minutes to kill I decided to go in. There were some good deals – cute summer dresses for $16 and accessories under $5. Then and there I decided that two years was long enough to make my point. After all, that H&M was in NYC, a city that seems to have it out for me (every time I’ve gone to New York someone’s been exceptionally rude to me). Customer service in LA is different – for the most part cashiers are pleasant and eager to make a sale. When I got to the register I was greeted by a nice cashier who asked me if I found everything ok, and I was all why yes, thanks for asking. Then H&M and I went to the back room and made out.

These are the things I bought, all for under $30:

A light summer dress perfect for the season

A great pair of earrings for $3

Big hoop earrings I’ve been searching for

A long, delicate necklace

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Shoe Rx

When was the last time you got measured for a pair of shoes? This hasn’t happened to me since I was nine or ten years old, when a salesperson at Kinney Shoes measured my feet for a pair of sneakers. I’ve been wearing the same size (size 7) since high school. Then last week Rene and I noticed a cool new running store next to Trader Joe’s called Roadrunner Sports. Our friend May, who runs with us on Sundays, needed a new pair of shoes so we went with her to visit the new store.

Roadrunner Sports offers this fantastic service where they determine the best kind of running shoe for you based on the shape of your feet and your running style. It’s really high tech: first they make you step on this gray pad with sensors to determine how high your arches are and which parts of your feet absorb the most pressure. You view the results on a computer screen, with color and everything (you’d think I was having a medical procedure performed!) and the store associate talks about your feet – apparently I have high arches, absorb pressure with the balls on my feet and heels, and push off with my big toe and second toe (who knew?!).

Going over my foot scans with Tana, the best sales associate EVER

Then they make you run barefoot on a treadmill so they can capture video images of your feet striking the ground. This shows whether you overpronate (run with your feet pointing outward, supinate (run with you feet pointing inward), or have a neutral gait (your feet are pointed straight, which occurs in only 20% of the population). I found out that my left foot is neutral but my right foot overpronates slightly. According to the foot and treadmill analysis, I need shoes for stability/cushion, as well as inserts for my high arches.

They made May and I run down the middle of the store to try out our “prescribed” shoes. It was like a little runway up in there, with customers running up and down the store all gussied up in new shoes.

May working those shoes and lookin' fierce!

I was impressed with the shoes I tried on, the Asics Gel Kayano 14, but I just bought new running shoes last month and couldn’t justify buying another pair of shoes. They cost a whopping $135, which is beaucoup bucks for a running shoe! They were so pretty though, with turquoise trim around the bottom, that they will most likely be my running shoe purchase six months from now. Here’s a picture: I felt bad about taking up so much time and not buying the expensive shoe that I ended up buying the arch supports inserts (which I did need). The inserts feel great but yesterday I laced my shoes too tight and got a blister on my left arch. Honestly, who gets a blister on their arch? I am hoping that it doesn't sideline me for the rest of the week - I'm feeling good for the first time in a month!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why the IRS has a Rotten Reputation

I’ve wanted to write a post about getting audited by the IRS for the past week but this post has eluded me. At first I thought, how ironic, getting audited by the IRS. You see, I used to be an auditor but I didn’t work for the IRS. I’m an accountant, and right after college I worked for a public accounting firm as an auditor, and after that, as an internal auditor for a large company. The shoe is now on the other foot, so to speak, and the auditor has become an auditee.

At first I was going to write a witty post about how my experiences as an auditor has helped me prepare for this moment and how the poor IRS should watch their back because I was “bringin’ it.” I imagined my examination would be a big joke, like on Seinfeld: remember that episode where Elaine had to justify claiming a water pick and a down comforter as business expenses? She proved it by using the water pick to water her plants in her office and by wearing the down comforter as a toga? I wish my experience was something like that, but getting audited by the IRS is every bit as daunting and nerve-wracking as it sounds.

I’ll spare you the details – basically the results of our audit came down to a single statement I made during the examination, a simple statement that was twisted and misconstrued to the point where it resembled nothing of what I meant to convey. During my examination I had to dig my nails into my palms to prevent myself from having an outburst (and also from punching the IRS jerk in the face). Now I have to write a very detailed letter to the examiner (aka IRS jerk) supporting my position, as well as produce additional documents. All on account of one sentence! One simple, harmless sentence that I clarified a million times during our conversation. If there is a lesson learned here it’s to watch every single thing you say to the IRS because they will twist your words to fit their interpretation, and that means paying them money.

As soon as the IRS jerk heard something to "nail" us, he went to town and showed us the IRS code supporting his argument. Despite giving many examples of how the IRS code DID NOT apply to us, the jerk still soldiered on, almost gleeful that he “caught” us doing something wrong. My dad thinks that people like that love putting other people down because they couldn’t get a job elsewhere and are socially retarded. Before the audit I would’ve disagreed and said that IRS auditors are just doing their job but now I am in total agreement with him. I now think 90% of people that work for the IRS are socially retarded and/or have poop for brains (I would’ve written something else but this blog is PG).

So now I am writing my fact-laden letter to the IRS and collecting documentation for my position. If anything, my experience has helped me prepare for moments like these, and more importantly, put me in touch with very good, experienced writers to proofread my response. So take that IRS jerk and shove it in your file cabinet!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Things I Think About When I Visit the Orthodontist

Whenever I visit my orthodontist, I am the oldest patient in the waiting room. I think the Moms and Dads scope me out and wonder how old my kid is, totally unaware that I AM the patient. It’s only when I am called that they figure out I am there for an appointment, and not to wait for my kid to finish getting their braces adjusted. I imagine that they use me as a cautionary tale for their kids once I leave the waiting room: “See that? If you don’t take care of your teeth you will be coming back to have your teeth straightened again, when you’re old, just like HER.”

I do hope that my example makes kids want to take better care of their teeth. I once had braces for almost three years, from when I was 10 years old until I was almost 13. Back then, braces were metal (it was REALLY expensive getting the clear ones, and even then your teeth usually looked like you’ve been eating butter for days). My teeth were bad – I wish I had a picture from the third grade to show you (these will have to do for now) – but basically my top front teeth were almost facing each other, and I had this really big canine tooth on the right side of my mouth. They eventually had to file that bad boy down before the braces come off.

These pics don't showcase them really well, but check out my perm during the 7th grade in the bottom picture:

When the braces did come off my teeth looked great. Everything aligned properly, and for once I didn’t feel embarrassed eating in front of anyone. At the time I had a choice between getting retainers and positioners for me teeth, and I chose the positioners. Unlike the retainers, the positioners only required an hour commitment each day, and you could put them in whenever you wanted. The thing is, flexibility doesn’t really work for teenagers – I put off putting that positioner in my mouth for as long as I could, and after I was done with it I wrapped it in paper towels, put in on plates, on the coffee table… it was gross. Eventually I lost them (no surprise there with my carelessness) and I thought, eh, I could live without them. And live without them I did, until my teeth started to shift, and by the time I got my braces for the second time, my front teeth had started to face each other again. My teeth aren’t horrible, but for a person obsessed with good teeth, mine weren’t good enough and were getting worse.

I’m not the only one to get braces for the second time. I know two executives in my present and former job that now have braces (the clear ones thank goodness – how awkward would it be to talk to an executive with a mouth full of metal?). Both of them got braces again to fix their bites, and when I overhead my orthodontist explaining to a kid and his parents that the braces would have to stay a little longer to fix his overbite, the kid hemmed and hawed, and the parents gave in, telling my orthodontist that they would let him know next month. I wanted to pipe up and say “you should get that fixed NOW, before you grow up and have to have braces AGAIN!” but I shut my mouth. Sometimes people take offense when you are offering them advice, and they doubly hate it when you give them advice about their kids.

I am counting down the months till these braces come off, which is July this year. That’s only three appointments from now, and I can’t wait to get them off. This time, I will be wearing retainers for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Running for My Life (and I'm NOT Talking About Exercise)

The other day I was complaining that my runs have gotten boring. I mostly run after work, after it has gotten dark, and because of this my routes are mostly out-and-back affairs: 1.5 miles out (or two, depending on how much I’m slated to do that day) out, then turn around and come back home. In the Valley I run on sidewalks and on flat streets, and after a while these routes become tiring. Lately I’ve been looking forward to running on hills and trails, and the only place I’ve found to do that at night is Pierce College.

Pierce College started out as an agricultural college years ago in the Valley, and even now a part of the campus is dedicated to that curriculum. The west side of campus has fields where corn, tomatoes, and other crops are grown, an orange grove, and an aread where cows graze. It even has trails in the back where high schools compete during the Cross Country racing season. One night I decided to run a loop around campus, which is almost exactly three miles.

I had run the same trail with Rene the night before: the trail started at the school’s east entrance, followed the trail up to the stadium, down the hill and around a dirt trail in the back where a new road is being constructed, and back out into the streets of Woodland Hills, finishing at the same entrance where it started. That first night it was pretty uneventful – we ran at a relaxed pace and I made sure to pick up my feet while running through the dirt trail (I tend to shuffle, so I trip on anything – gravel, rocks, dirt – you name it). At one point Rene mentioned that wild animals lived in the orange groves and back trails. To me that likelihood seemed so far-off – I mean, I've heard of mountain lion attacks in the Santa Monica Mountains but we were running in the Valley and nothing like that ever happens in the Valley. Or so I thought.

The following night I followed the same exact route. Everything seemed to be going fine until I reached the other side of the hill, where the asphalt turned into dirt and tractors were parked on the side. This was the dirt trail, and that night I was rolling along, grooving to the music on my headphones and watching out for big rocks. A minute into it I heard a faint sound: aaawoooooo. At first I thought it was my music – I thought that maybe may have been an animal sound on the soundtrack that I never noticed before. Huh. I kept running, and not ten seconds later I heard the same sound again: Aaaawoooo, only a little louder this time. Panicked, I turned the sound down and listened for the sound again. Sure enough, I heard it again a few seconds later and it was coming closer: AAWooooooo. It meant only one thing – a coyote was nearby. AWWOOOOOOO. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was what the howling meant: was it warning me to stay away or was it telling me that it was hot on my tail and ready to pounce on me in the darkness?!

Fearing the worst, I stepped up my pace to the point where I was running all out but careful with my footing lest I twist an ankle and end up as the main course for a coyote. In my frenzy my thoughts were going a million directions: did the coyote smell fear in me? Was I making too much noise? Maybe I should be lighter on my feet! What if it jumped on me, what weapon could I find nearby? What about a rock? I need a big rock, a really BIG rock, in case that bad boy started nipping at my heels! And why are my lungs and legs burning? Where is the exit? Is it around the corner? How long will I take to get there? It can’t come soon enough! Where is my phone when I need it? Oh great, I am going to die out here and no one will find my body for weeks, not until they come to move the tractors out and find my ripped clothes or shoes near the brush.

So, yeah, I ran for my life! And when I finally did see the exit to De Soto Avenue (which felt like an ETERNITY), I had never been so glad to see a sidewalk, cars, and street lamps in my life. I had to keep running to get to my car, which was on the other side of the campus, but once I got there I gulped down the water I had in my car, stretched my sore legs, and drove home. The next day my calves were so sore that I didn’t run the next day. I figure running away from a coyote was such a good workout that surely I deserved a day of rest.

On Sunday I came back to Pierce College to run mile repeats, and after the workout Rene and I cooled down by jogging on the trail behind campus. I had a view of the construction area and from there the scene didn’t look so menacing. Of course, it was a bright Sunday morning, and it’s only scary when you’re running by yourself at night, with coyotes providing the soundtrack to your workout.