Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Holidays

Hopefully, all the presents are wrapped, your bags are packed or unpacked (if you’re traveling) and the tree is trimmed. Hopefully, you aren’t planning on frantically shopping for all of your gifts Monday. Allegedly, my great-grandfather would do this every year. Wait until Christmas Eve and knock it all out. God only knows the crap he gave. We all know the “pressure” gifts we’ve bought in the past. Hell, the stores know we cave under pressure. Why do you think Victoria’s Secret has the cute jammies packaged to go? Pottery Barn has frames pre-wrapped. (Which strikes me as strange since I usually give frames with pictures in them hence making more work. Unwrap, put picture in, rewrap. It’s a whole extra step plus feeling badly about unwrapping the nice wrapping.) The perfume gift sets at Macy’s? Those scream, “Help me! I’m clueless, but this looks nice and kinda smells good.” We’ve all caved and bought crap.

Our family is so lucky this year. First, they get a great picture of us from our wedding in a nice, wrapped-only-once frame. Just what they all want! (At least my mom does and I’m hoping we make the photo wall at my dad’s, father-in-law’s and brother-in-law’s. This is a milestone photo, people!) And then, they get some goody from Vietnam like a Tiger beer t-shirt or lacquered coasters or purses from the peddlers in Sapa. I mean, these are things people really, really want. (I swear they are cooler than they sound.)

So, I hope everyone loves the presents you give, and in return, you get all the goodies your heart desires.

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hannukah!
Fabulous Kwanza!
Wonderful Solstice!
Dreamy Days Off From Work!

May your holidays be drama-free and full of love and laughter.

Peace out ‘til 2008. I have to go drink some schnapps.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Birth of a Hypocrite

I’ve been told Los Angeles has one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. (40,000 is the estimate –that’s a TOWN!) Just in case you didn’t know that includes the infamous Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles and Venice Beach. From what I understand, the shelters are over-crowded and no one wants to pay to help resolve the problem.

Since it’s winter (yes, we have one) the homeless seek shelter (homeless does not mean stupid). As recently as last year there were areas on the boardwalk that offered refuge in front of stores. Many evenings, when Pete and I went for walks, we would see groups of people settling in for the night there. Now, there are metal gates that prevent them from getting cover. Where do they go? Parking garages – including ours.

In the past week or so, our garage (more like a large car port) became a homeless haven. When I left for work in the morning, I saw people lounging on a mattress, bikes propped up, people asleep between the cement parking stop and the wall. When I came home from work, they were either still there or back for the night. Everyone was really nice, and even said good morning and other niceties. But honestly, they bother me.

For all my life I’ve considered myself a liberal. I vote Democratic. I believe more funding should be spent on social services and education than the war. I believe we should fix the domestic problems before we meddle in more international ones. I believe there should be shelters and rehab facilities for people who end up homeless. I even think homeless have a right to someplace public to sleep. But then again, my garage isn’t public.

I’ve become one of them. You know, the “it’s all good as long as it isn’t in my backyard” people who claim to be liberal. It was easy when I didn’t smell urine walking to my car every morning. It was easy when I didn’t come home to a junkie puking in the corner by my neighbor’s car. It was easy when I had a washer and dryer and didn’t have to go to the garage to wash my clothes where the washers are conveniently placed so when I’m loading the washer, my back is to the door. There is nothing like doing laundry and looking over my shoulder making sure a crazy isn’t going to jump me (I’m not the only woman in the building who won’t do laundry after dark). It was easy when I could park my car at night and not worry that a person high on drugs wasn’t going to pee (or worse) on it. Before he knew better, Pete sometimes left his car unlocked. Once, he found a crack pipe, and once he found a person who’d been smoking a crack pipe. These things don’t happen in the suburbs.

It’s easy to be liberal when everyone is like you. I still believe the same things, but I thought I was a bigger, better person who could empathize with homelessness, and in theory, I do. I just don't want them in my garage.

I loathe to admit, but when I drove into the alley the other night and saw police officers herding the homeless out of our garage, I did a little cheer inside. And I hated myself for it.

A Birthday Experience

Last Saturday was Pete’s birthday. I woke him up by yelling, “Happy Birthday!” I bounced on the bed asking, “You want your presents?” before running off to the living room to retrieve the little pile of goods I’d wrapped. You’d think it was my birthday I was so excited.

To top the day off, I took him to Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse CUT in Beverly Hills. For our wedding, we’d received a $200 gift certificate for it, and I thought his birthday was a great excuse to go.

As stated before, I love food. I love to cook. I like reading cookbooks, cooking magazines, restaurant reviews and most of all, trying new restaurants. When I was single, my favorite pastime was dining out. Even when I was in high school, my friends and I would go to the American Café near Tyson’s Corner over a party some weekends. (I know, I’m a geek.) My favorite thing is finding great, authentic food at reasonable prices (of course), but I am not one to shy away from highly recommended, expensive places. Food is my one splurge. No matter how broke I ever was, I always found money for good food (to make or order).

Earlier in the day, I introduced Pete to the concept of King for your Birthday. For logistical reasons, we haven’t spent a birthday together until this one. Apparently, his family didn’t’ play this game. I mean, some years, my brother and I even stayed home from school because, hello! royalty doesn’t need to go to school. How unbecoming. (My senior year a teacher even called home and yelled at my mom for being a bad mother and I was actually sick – a first.)

Pete knew we had the gift certificate and he was, for the first time in his life, crowned king and quite enjoyed it. He ordered what he wanted without even a glance at the prices. I tried to manage what I ordered, but it’s not easy.

This is what we ordered:

A Kettle One dirty martini
2 glasses of Cabernet
A plate of beef sashimi (that would be raw beef to ya’ll) (Guess who ordered that?)
A fancy apple salad with dates and almonds (I think I can make it with some imagination)
A bone-in filet mignon
A bourdelaise sauce for said filet (yes, the sauces cost $2)
An aged New York sirloin
A horseradish sauce for said NY sirloin
A side of mashed potatoes
A side of roasted carrots and artichoke bits
A chocolate soufflé

We were also given delicious cheese puffs, great focaccia (though not a great pretzel roll so deemed by the German birthday boy), a tasting tray of four mustards for the steaks plus small pieces of sweets (a chocolate bar thing and a lemon bar). Everything was incredible (minus the pretzel roll). The service was almost impeccable except we were without a candle for awhile after Pete accidentally blew it out for the second time. (The first time it was promptly relit. Maybe they were trying to teach him a lesson? EAT IN THE DARK, YOU CANDLE-BLOWER-OUTER!)

The experience was truly birthday worthy. We had fun. The people-watching was excellent although a bit intimidating since everyone seemed to be a millionaire. I kept waiting for someone to shout, “IMPOSTERS!” and be thrown out.

I knew Cut was going to be expensive. It’s a steakhouse. They are all expensive (at least the ones without salad bars). Before we went, I thought back to a dinner I had at Mastro’s, another Beverly Hills’ steakhouse for $150 (in hindsight, no apps or martinis) and actually thought we might have money left over to pay for part of a meal at Chinois on Main (Wolfie’s restaurant we can walk to). Oh how naïve I was.

Our meal was the MOST expensive meal I’ve ever been a part of (and seen the bill). $322.53 (including tip). As I mentioned before, I splurge on food. I’ve spent $80 on myself for dinner more than a few times. We’ve had prix fixe Valentine’s dinners that cost $100 per person. But $160 per person???


When Pete woke up Sunday morning, he said, “Do you know what we could have bought with $300?”

“Yes. And we bought an experience we don’t need to have again.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yin and Yang

I’m kind of cheap. I mean, I’m not the person at a group dinner splitting the cost of the appetizer, adding up my entrée and one glass of wine, loudly declaring, “I only had one glass of wine. I’m paying $20 instead of $40!” We all know that person. No, I’m not her. I guess I’m more “frugal.”

I hate paying full retail price. HATE IT. I hate it so much that last Saturday I waited not one, but TWO HOURS to get into the Citizens of Humanity sample sale. TWO HOURS!! (Okay, we left to check other sample sales and came back to our same spot in line the nice women in front of us held while they thought we were eating but it was still 1 hour and fifteen minutes.) On the bright side, I found four pairs of pants for $320 instead of $800, but come on! It was almost my ENTIRE Saturday! Do I really NEED four new pairs of pants? Probably not. (See? Frugal, not cheap.)

Which brings me to my yang. Pete is generous. I mean, really, really, makes-my-tight-fist-clench generous.

I’ll go online to buy a wedding gift for a wedding we didn’t attend, and think, “This lovely vase seems like a good purchase.”

“No, you can spend more.”

“Um, okay. The platter is nice, too.”

“Get them the platter AND the vase,” he’ll declare.

My little, cheap heart shudders.

To give a little perspective, I was broke for years after college (like twelve). I graduated and moved to Los Angeles, which isn’t the smartest thing to do without money or nice clothes or parents to live with. Luckily, Visa and MasterCard thought I should look stylish and eat at fabulous restaurants so they sponsored me. After I grew tired of all the trying so hard, I decided I needed to move back to Colorado. Again, Visa and MasterCard took pity on me and helped finance it. My pals Visa and MasterCard never wanted me to go without, and kindly stepped in to buy me new furniture for my apartment in Boulder. They paid for lift tickets for skiing. Dinner out with friends. The outfit I wore to go to dinner and the one for skiing. They were like fairy godparents. Until I had to pay them back.

I always worked over the years, but it seemed like none of the jobs paid very well. When I realized those nasty fairy godparents weren’t going to help, I battened down the hatches. Money squeaked out. I stopped spending as frivolously. I started thinking, “Do I need another pair of black shoes or could I send that money to Visa or MasterCard?” My mindset around money shifted completely. I learned to respect money, but it took awhile. It wasn’t like I just woke up and thought, “By Jove I’ve got it! Stop spending!”

And then finally, one bright day, after scrimping, respecting and limiting my eating out habit (it is bad), I found that I was no longer indebted to Visa and MasterCard.

Which brings me back to Pete. He has never been indebted to the ugly fairy god parents. He’s German. Europeans don’t understand the concept of getting in debt to build credit so he never did. He had low points in his financial life, but not with the noose of debt hanging around his neck. He approaches spending very differently than I do.

Which brings me to last night and why I am lucky that he’s my husband. My friend Heidi produced an indie film, and had a silent auction to raise money for it last night. He was intent on finding things to bid on, and we did. When I didn’t want to bid more for something, he would say, “But it’s for Heidi! It’s a good cause.” While I agreed, I didn’t see the need for us to have flip-flop coasters or pay over the retail price for a cool travel book (plus I donated a few items for the auction).

We ended up with the winning bid for a beautiful antique watch Pete had to have and winning the raffle ($50 gift certificate for a local restaurant). Unfortunately, most of the people there didn’t bid on anything, and things (other than the travel book) went for far under value. Thankfully, I have him in my life to loosen my purse strings and let some of the money flow. Not to mention, support my friends.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Saigon a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City

We arrived in Saigon late on a Sunday night and found out that Pete’s bag was still in California. So by the time we filled out paperwork, it was really late. Like midnight. Our first taste of Saigon, therefore, was really quite mellow. Our taxi driver introduced us to honking and optional stoplights (it seems as if they all are), and then, after passing the hotel I tried to get us a room in, dropped us off and pointed down an alley. He said our hotel was down there.

This is the alley AFTER we went down the creepy alley. Looks kind of nice in the late day.

To preface this, I spent hours reading forums on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree researching places to go, money (what’s best to bring – answer: crisp $100US, $1 and $5 bills), and of course, safety. All over the boards are warnings about bogus taxis, getting dropped off at hotels that one didn’t ask to go to. The list goes on.

So, here we are at midnight in Saigon handing a taxi driver $8US to drop us off in the middle of the street and point us to an alley. Naïve American travelers? Yes. But here’s the thing: our hotel really was down the little alley.

I’m frugal. I don’t see the point in spending hundreds of dollars a night on a room I’ll barely spend time in. Most women, when it comes to their honeymoon, would have never agreed to stay anywhere besides top tier hotels because they only cost about $200 a night instead of $500 in Hawaii. But, I found us a room for $13 a night. Why spend so much on a hotel when we could spend that on more travel or great meals? This is the same mentality I use when booking coach tickets.

Sometimes my frugality bites me in the ass. This would be one of those times. Our lovely host led us to our cell, I mean room, on the first floor. It was just large enough to fit a double bed, small refrigerator and small wardrobe. I was glad Pete’s bag was missing. It wouldn’t have fit. Did I mention the window looked out onto the hallway and had BARS ON IT?

Pete’s clothes were in California. We were sleeping in a cell. This was our HONEYMOON. If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have cried.

The next morning, we asked our host if he had any other rooms with windows looking OUTSIDE and also, higher in the building because we heard everyone stomp to breakfast and their plans for the day. He showed us a nice room on the third floor with a window to outside, but he told us it was more. It was $16 more. I thought this was a little steep, but at that point, my cheapness was keeping quiet. We moved our (that would be my) things to the new room with the hope Pete’s would arrive that day.

The first day was like being thrown into a circus ring with all the shows going at once. Saigon has 3 million motor scooters (motos), and they function similarly to cars. People pile whole families onto them, shopping bags, refrigerators, bookshelves – you name it, it goes on a moto. Coming from a country where kids stay in car seats until they are 80 pounds, it shocked me to see toddlers sitting between their mom or dad's legs or STANDING between mom and dad as they zipped and dodged across the city. Most of them didn't have helmets. It was mind boggling.

Once we processed the moto craziness, we realized we had to wade in to cross the street. All intuition and rules about crossing the street had to be abandoned. The only way to cross through the madness was to step into it. Luckily, motos are agile and weave around pedestrians. We paused for buses and large cars to pass, but otherwise, it was best to keep moving. I admit, the first time we crossed a major street, we followed a local woman who was about, oh 90. Please note, we didn’t help her across; we followed her. Trembling.
Note the family crossing the street with traffic flowing. Totally normal.
We spent the day alternately getting scammed since it was our first day and we didn’t know better, avoiding crossing the street and absorbing the chaos around us. It was incredibly overwhelming, and at the same time, exhilarating. Aside from the fact that there are cars, people and buildings, it was like nowhere we’d ever been before. It was organized chaos. And we loved it.
This is my "stop taking my picture and let's get some food" face. I'm very serious about food.

Friday, December 7, 2007

My Husband

When I started this blog, my husband thought it was a really bad idea. He doesn’t like the idea of personal information available for public consumption, and because of that, I try my best to keep our lives slightly veiled. I published a post prior to leaving for Vietnam that said how long we would be gone for and how excited I was. I wanted to share the excitement, but then, I started thinking about it all. What if someone was reading my blog and knew we were out of town…. All the “what ifs” starting creeping in, so I deleted it.

Although he has warmed to the idea of my posting about our lives, he asked me not to use his name, which is why I refer to him as “my husband.” I hate writing that because it seems so… well, unlike me. I thought about just calling him, “The German,” but that’s a nickname I would have given him if we’d dated and it hadn’t work out.

He has a German name that isn’t common in the US, so he saves himself time at restaurants and coffee shops by simply telling them his name is Pete. So, to honor him, I won’t call him by his real name. From here on out, he will be known as Pete.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Oh right... there was a war.

In school, I never learned much about the Vietnam War (called the American War there). My school district made time for the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, a brief snippet of the World Wars, and a quick, off-handed reference to the Vietnam War. Maybe it was too close for comfort. Maybe some of the district planners were there, or lost family there. Hopefully, Ken Burns will make a documentary so I can fill in the parts I don't understand.

It's hard to avoid the War in Vietnam. The main tourist attractions in Saigon and Hanoi center on it. We duly played tourist and went to the museums and landmarks.

In Saigon, I had a quick lesson from the winner’s point of view at the War Remnants Museum. I felt awful being an American. I am not a flag-waving American, but I am happy to be one. Looking at the pictures of the defoliation destruction, the birth defects caused by Agent Orange and the devastation that the war caused made me sick. Recently, I watched Ken Burns' documentary on World War II (it's amazing if you haven't seen it), and in it, veterans talk about how during the war, they did things they are ashamed of. Because of that documentary, I felt I better understood the savagery of war, but still, it’s awful. And whoever thought we could beat the Vietnamese had never spent time with them. Small, strong, stealth and proud - I couldn’t imagine battling them.

The Cu Chi tunnels only furthered my thoughts on that. Over 20 years, hundreds of miles of tunnels were dug that went down 3 and 4 stories. They included rooms for meeting, making weapons, sleeping, hospitals and cooking with the smoke vented far from the actual kitchen. It was ingenious - and hellish. The tunnel openings were about 12”x8” and completely camouflaged by leaves. They created escape routes and, in places, made the tunnels narrower to prevent the larger American GIs from crawling through. (They've since widened the tunnels for the tourists.) We went though about 40 meters of tunnel. Crawling through, I put my hands on the wall in front of me to feel where I was going (or used the light from my camera). It was pitch black and hot. Sometimes, they stayed underground for weeks. I was happy to be out after 5 minutes. How do you win against this?

Where's the opening?
The opening we went into was dramatically larger and had stairs.
It looks bright only because of the flash. It was pitch black. Note my wide-open psycho eyes.
At one point of the tour, there is a rusty skeleton of a bombed-out American tank. The tour stops, with the tour guide telling us that it is a defeated American tank. Since litigation isn't as popular there, people are allowed to climb all over it. I've never been in or on a tank so I took the opportunity to climb on it. While I was on it, I couldn't stop thinking that someone's father, brother, son or husband died here, and now I'm climbing on it like it's part of an amusement park. It was haunting.

The whole thing was kind of creepy: laughing and posing for pictures in tunnels (snapping away blindly and hoping the camera is facing the right direction) that people hid in, climbing on tanks, seeing traps that ensnared Americans, shooting guns (we didn't because we decided that was something we could do in the US with safer, newer guns), and making sure to stop for ice cream. And despite all of that, it's interesting and I'm glad I went.

We also went to the Reunification Palace, which was taken the day the US evacuated (April 30, 1975 for those who, like me, had no idea). I still don't know all the details of the Palace other than the "puppet" leader (so called because they say the Americans were really in control) lived there until they assassinated him. Then, the new regime moved in and redecorated the place (and the 60s decor remains to this day). There were two stories underground that served as a mission control. But apparently, I was paying more attention to the 60s sofa than the lecture because I don't remember the details.

Cruising the halls of mission control 2 stories down. Much more comfortable than Cu Chi.
By the time we were in Hanoi, I wanted to avoid the war stuff, but again, it is the main stuff on the tourist map. After wandering the French Quarter and walking around the lake, we decided we needed to check out some more history. Unfortunately, Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) was on vacation in China getting a little work done. Otherwise, we would have gone to see him at his mausoleum. I mean, how often do you get to see a dead person?

We decided to go to the infamous Hoa Lo Prison (a.k.a. Hanoi Hilton). The Vietnamese don't mess around. They put mannequins into the racks that people used to be in just in case your imagination went on hiatus with Uncle Ho. My personal favorite was peering into small cells, and getting the crap scared out of me because a life-like mannequin was chained-up inside. For years, the French used this prison to house Vietnamese, and that is the main focus, but the part that most interested me was that it was used for POWs during the Vietnam War. John McCain was in the “Hilton” from 1967 to 1973. I had no idea he was there for so long. From the photos and information, life in the “Hilton” was pleasant and full of comforts. I haven't done my research, but I find this hard to believe. I mean, it was a WAR.

After all the war sites, going to the War Museum was overkill (and I wish we had skipped it for the art museum). Although it covered all of the Vietnamese wars, there was a large portion dedicated to the American war. It was interesting to see information on the American anti-war protests in support of pulling out of Vietnam. I never would have thought those would end up in a museum in Vietnam. Outside, they had the requisite US Army helicopters, tanks and planes they recovered during or after the war.

All in all, it was a lot to process. The death. The hand my country had in it. The rebuilt country. The bad curating. Someone needs to tell them to unfold the uniforms and put them on mannequins. I could only handle so much before I needed to sit outside with a coffee, and the Vietnamese definitely know how to make a good coffee. But more on that another day.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sapa: Flip-flops and Socks

I planned on writing about our trip to Vietnam in chronological order, but that’s not how it’s coming out. I wrote a crap bit about Saigon, our first stop, but like I said, it’s crap. I was writing a letter of thanks to Robert Reid of Reid on Travel when this bit started flowing. Not one to deny the flow, I kept going and stayed late at work. So, here are excerpts from our honeymoon in Vietnam.

The only part of our trip that we splurged on was Sapa. We booked our tour with one of the nicer tour agencies, Exotissimo. For train tickets on the sleeper train (1 night there, 1 night back), a night in a nicer hotel (don’t recall how many stars), a guided trek, two meals and a private car to and from the station, we paid $134 each. Yes, Vietnam is cheap.

I felt like a VIP. Someone met us at the station in Hanoi with our tickets (we were in Halong Bay the days before and couldn’t pick them up) and walked us to our berth. At the station near Sapa, we were greeted by our guide who took us by private car to our hotel. He said we’d be able to check into our room before our trek (we arrived at 6am and didn’t trek until 9am), but it wasn’t available. My husband got a little pissy since he wanted to take a nap. I just wanted to wash my face so I was ecstatic that he arranged for us to have access to a bathroom with hot showers.

Compared to Hanoi and Saigon, Sapa was freezing. I have no idea what the real temperature was, but I’d guess it was around 50-ish. Again, cold in California is 60, but it felt colder than that. I piled on the layers of Patagonia tops I’d brought, a hat, a scarf and anything else I could think of to keep warm. My tough German husband wore shorts, a t-shirt and a cotton sweater. I pushed my raincoat on him. I’ll be a hell of a mother.

Our car and guide picked us up and drove us to the trailhead. Even before we got out, people were swarming around the car. Our guide explained that the local people (ethnic minority Black Hmong and Red Zao) would try to befriend us so we would buy their stuff. They’d ask, “Where you from?” and use our naïve friendliness as an excuse to badger us for cash. We were to answer, “No, thank you” to everything. In LA, I feel poor because I can’t imagine spending $1000 on a sweater. Seeing as the average annual income in Vietnam is around $700 (how's that for perspective?), we were walking dollar signs.

As soon as my dollar-sign and I got out of the car, we were surrounded by sales people. Their native dress is gorgeous, and I found myself wanting to take pictures of them like they were specimens in a zoo. We were dollar signs; they were objects. Sure enough, we were met with a cacophony of “where you from?” and “what you want?” We answered as the guide told us to, “No, thank you,” and pushed through the crowd. It must be a little like celebrities feel pushing through fans.

Every trekking group ends up with some escorts. We had a pair of young women who first asked us the questions that we ignored. They just kept walking with us, defiant to our indifference. They waited while we took pictures. They waited while our guide explained things to us. They waited and waited and waited until we finally bought some things from them, and then finally, I could take their picture.

All of a sudden we were surrounded by kids with smaller kids strapped to their backs trying to sell us stuff. They were like locusts circling us. I don’t know if they were too young to travel on, but eventually, they left us, but we picked up two more women. If you are ever worried about hiking alone in the mountains of Vietnam, don’t be. There is always someone to hike with. You’ll have to buy some goods, but you’ll have a companion.

For lunch, we stopped at a home-stay house. I was a little concerned as to what we would be eating, but our guide took our lunch out of his backpack. It was a simple, American style lunch, but tasty. It was the plum and rice wine we drank with our hostess that should have concerned me. Towards the end of our lunch, she offered us some plum wine, which we couldn't refuse. We raised our glasses and shouted out the cheer we’d learned in Halong Bay. “One, two, three (in Vietnamese), YO (or ZO)!” We did this about, oh, twenty times with plum wine and then rice wine and then beer.

After about two hours (our hiking companions waited for us), we staggered off for the remainder of our hike. I don’t think the drinking is included in the tour, and many people would probably want to skip the heavy drinking lunch. In hindsight, I would, too, since I don’t remember the second half of the trek.

The bits I remember after lunch include this: much hollering in French (don’t ask me why this started. I don’t recall.), thanking South Africa for helping me walk (somewhere we met up with two sisters from South Africa who we started calling just “South Africa.” We were “Los Angeles” and our guide became “Vietnam.”), arriving at a shop/restaurant and getting on our private bus with “South Africa.” Luckily, there is photographic evidence of things that happened. Even with those, the afternoon is blurry. NOTE: I do not recommend getting shit-faced drunk in a foreign country (or anywhere) with all your money and two cameras on you. I consider us incredibly lucky that we ran into “South Africa” and didn’t get hustled by anyone.

Being led on the trek by "South Africa" and followed by our companions.

That night, being a Californian, I thought I could wear jeans, a fleece and flip-flops to dinner (unfortunately, “South Africa” took the train back to Hanoi so couldn’t join us). It was freaking cold, so I bought some socks for about a $1.50 and let my Asian genes flow by putting them on with my flip-flops. My husband was on a quest to eat as many strange things as he could, so requested the guide take us to a restaurant that served snake. He did one better: he took us to his friend’s birthday party at an apartment 2km from Sapa. I know this because we had to walk back to town. In flip-flops and socks.

We hopped on his motorbike with him and buzzed off into the night (yes, there were three of us on one bike). Then stopped. I thought our American asses weighed too much for his little scooter, but it ran out of petrol. (that’s gas, if you only speak American English like my husband.) He hailed his friend over, and the friend drove us up to the party. We were sitting on the back of a scooter with a man we didn’t know cruising up a mountain in a country where we didn’t speak the language. The road turned to dirt. The houses thinned until there was only one every 100 yards or so. I started wondering what a Vietnamese “Deliverance” theme would sound like.

Finally, he turned left into a driveway. It was foggy, and I couldn’t make out much except for a large concrete slab, a larger house and the smaller building where we entered. We walked into what I presumed was a kitchen. A group of people zipped into coats sat around a feast of bowls and plates piled with food. At either end of the circle, there were two bowls filled with rice wine that they dipped shot glasses into. I felt like shit from all of the drinking we did earlier in the day so I declined. My large, still drunk husband dove in with gusto. They loved it.

Guess which one's with me.

There was no snake, but there were small birds (they said doves) cooked (broiled? Bbq’ed?) with their heads still intake. To me, they looked like unlucky fowl found after the Malibu fires. Apparently, they tasted great. My husband popped one into his mouth and went to town. Head and all. I wanted to throw up.

On the other side of me sat our guide with a boiled chicken head. He explained to me that in Vietnam, the head is a delicacy and proceeded to pluck the eyeball out and knaw on the skull. I was hung over with a queasy stomach and almost wretched. Every two minutes or so, someone would want to do a toast, so cheering would ensue and more rice wine was consumed. My husband, game as he is to try foods and drink wine, became the center of attention. People wanted their photos taken with him and everyone wanted to do a toast with him.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of sitting on a cold floor (the mat wasn’t big enough for all of us), we moved to someone’s bedroom. It was sparse with just a bed, desk and a small rack for clothes. It put life into perspective. Our apartment in Los Angeles is a palace in comparison. We sat around on the bed and a few chairs drinking tea before I finally said we needed to head back to our hotel (it was the nicest hotel we stayed in the whole trip).

But before we could start our walk back to town (there was no way I was getting on a scooter with anyone there), they wanted to show us where they worked. By this point, I was cold, tired, hung-over and slightly annoyed with my drunken husband, but of course we went. It was the polite thing to do.

We walk out to the large building. Someone opened the door with a key. It was dark inside before they turned on the lights. No one was around but us, and it felt eerie. We stampeded up to the second floor where they opened the door to a lab with another key. All the while, I am chanting to myself, “We are safe. We are safe. We are safe.” They work in bio-technology and do research on potatoes. The room smelt loamy. Inside, were racks and racks of beakers filled with potato sprouts. I felt like a fool.

We finally made if back to the hotel around midnight. Despite my paranoia, I made it back without stepping in any puddles.

The next day, completely unjust, I still felt like shit and my husband felt fine. After choking down some breakfast (fried rice works well in place of greasy eggs and toast), we wandered around town and stumbled upon the market. I love food. I love cooking and I love farmers markets. One of my favorite things to do in other countries is to check out their markets. Sometimes just for the shock value. Sapa did not disappoint.

The vegetables shimmered in the drizzle of the morning, looking fresh and scrumptious. The meats… the meats reminded me that we aren’t that far from life when we eat meat. Gone were the sterile Styrofoam containers. Instead, pig heads sat next to cuts of pork. Intestines piled in baskets next to the tables. Chicken and duck feet stuck up in the air, with their heads lolled to the side, beaks intact. There were live chickens and ducks in basket cages waiting their fates, but worst of all, was the dog. We knew it was dog, which is an expensive and well-liked meat in Vietnam, because the skinned paws and head were sitting next to the meat.

A few hours later, after finding the one pub in town with heat, we drank tea with other foreigners waiting for the train to Hanoi when the power went out. Without a hiccup, the bartender grabbed a battery powered light and stuck it on the bar. Someone else lit candles in the stairway and bathrooms. Power. Just one more thing we take for granted.

Sapa wasn’t my favorite place in Vietnam. It was beautiful, and I’d imagine even more so if we could have seen the views of the distant mountains, but I definitely have the most distinct memories from there. If we’d had more time, and it was warmer, it would have been interesting to go further into the mountains, off the beaten path, but at least our dinner provided an experience not included in the guidebooks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

mini mac

While traveling, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have an iPhone or an iTouch to surf the web with the free wi-fi and maybe even BLOG?" Well, my job involves lots of computer stuff so one of my kind co-workers loaned me an iTouch to play with. The first thing I did was to see if I could post from it. The last post is what I managed to do.

I surfed around for more information on it because seriously, this is BASIC. I found there is mobile blogging, and sent off an email to get access. What I got was a really lame blog name and no access to this blog. I'll keep playing around to see what I can do so I can post to THIS blog from the road. If it works out, I might just sink a little deeper into the cult of Apple. Until then, I'll post from my iBook or Mac Mini (and possibly even from the evil PC at work).

No matter what, the iTouch is damn cool.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Maybe a week...

This woman wouldn't last a week in Hollywood, or should I say her bosses wouldn't? I mean, four months? Seriously. This was the first time the woman verbally abused her. THE FIRST TIME. Your skin has to be thicker than that to work as an assistant. I know. Lord, don't I know. Every assistant in this town knows.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Crossing the Line

The WGA went on strike on Sunday night. This doesn’t really affect me since I am not a late night TV watcher, and honestly, the shows I watch, well, I can live without them. From what I know, I am on the side of the WGA. Why shouldn’t they get a piece of all the pies they are a part of? All I hear is that digital is the next wave of entertainment. It seems only SMART to want a part of those residuals. Wouldn't anyone?

Today, as I drove across the line on my way to work, I wanted to shout, “Hell yeah! Hold out for the money!” But, I can’t really yell that as I cross the line into the studio where I work. At the end of the day, I need my paycheck and my day rate is a lot lower than most of the unions in Hollywood. So, for any writers out there, I’ve got your back. Silently, but I’m with you.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Saturday in Venice

I peruse lots of blogs and I love to see where people live. Yesterday, I finally remembered to bring my camera with us when we went for a late afternoon walk down the famed Venice boardwalk on route to the bank. Here are some of the images.

Me, begging for the camera back after a paparazzi-style attack.

Friday, November 2, 2007

An Autumn Poo

I moved to Los Angeles five years and 4 months ago to work in fashion. FASHION, people! Not entertainment where I currently work and could care less about. FASHION! And currently, I could care less about that, too.

When I started my job I was determined not to look like an assistant. This meant no obvious all Gap or Forever 21 outfits. This meant classic, well-cut trousers, expensive shoes (expensive for an assistant). This meant no boring, lame-ass outfits. I might be an assistant, but I could look like an executive. This was my mindset.

Currently, my division has changed to one more closely related to Silicon Valley than Hollywood, and slowly the attire in the department has slid closer to Silicon Valley than Hollywood. This means instead of casual Friday, we have casual Tuesday through Friday and sometimes even casual Monday. I wear a lot of denim and flats. I live in t-shirts (Club Monaco makes a great one for only $22 vs. the James Perse ones I like that are $48). It’s so casual around my office now that when I put on a very current pencil skirt, heels and stylish sweater, my boss asked where I was going later (an interview? Dinner? Why oh why did she shun the denim today?). It just didn’t make sense.

So, I’m wondering, when I dress like a poo, am I depressed or do I just not care anymore? Or does not caring anymore mean I’m depressed? It’s so confusing. Not only do I not look like an excutive, I look like a poo. An autumn poo from Banana Republic. What happened????
Please excuse the camera strap. I'm learning how to use a new camera and the other shot came out worse.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallow's Eve

I must be getting old. I feel really boring. To celebrate Halloween this year I carved a pumpkin (not the easy task I recalled from childhood). I didn’t even venture to put on a wig. In some blast of nostalgia, I wore an orange sweater to work today. Who knew I had it in me?

But back to those orange gourds we like to carve every year. “We” being Americans, not me. My friend Heidi hosted her annual pumpkin carving party last Friday. In years past, I’ve skipped the actual carving part for socializing and eating. This year, I decided to carve. I started tenderly scrapping the innards of my pumpkin with a spoon. Carefully avoiding getting too mucked-up with pumpkin guts, but after a few futile attempts, I remembered why I always stuck my bare hand into the pumpkin. It is just plain easier, and honestly, more fun.

All the tricks starting coming back to me. The spoon handle kept getting caught on the inside lip of the pumpkin making it difficult to scoop efficiently. This little thing brought me back to the kitchen floor of my childhood. Unfortunately, not enough to recall how to design a good jack-o-lantern face.

I’d forgotten to not only look for the smooth side of the pumpkin, but the side that tilted up. I came up with a lame attempt that sort of resembled an alien face but not really. My only saving grace was the star I dug out last minute at the urging of the only person there who had never carved a pumpkin before, and chose to stay that way.

After everyone is done carving, Heidi judges a contest and gives prizes. They judging is based on her criteria like the obvious best jack-o-lantern, but also the best effort, best recent return to carving effort and so forth. It’s a contest everyone wins.

The winner of it all? My German husbands mini-white gourd that he turned into a gorgeous candle votive. I had no idea he has it in him to create such beauty. Given, it was very symmetrical, but still. I had no idea I married an artist.

(And no pictures to show the results!! I accidently deleted them. Oops.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pregnant or Just Fat?

I like to keep my life simple. I like to be semi-organized and schedule all my annual appointments in the fall. No idea how this started, but it seemed to have fallen into place nicely. Just recently, I’ve had my eyes checked and a pap smear. Plus, I interviewed a doctor to possibly be our OB when we are ready to have a baby. So, I’ve been out of work a lot lately for all of those doctor reasons.

At my wedding, my friend Maggie blew out the side zipper of the dress she wore to her rehearsal dinner. She got married a month and a half before we did. She was planning on wearing it to our wedding, but her wedding body had morphed into married body. We laughed our asses off as she was half hanging out of the dress in a panicked attempt to get out of it after the big blow out. The honeymoon happened. Life happened, and well, the gym just wasn’t as important. When you’re not planning on having lots of people looking at you, you don’t care as much about what you look like.

Luckily for me, I was sick in the months leading up to the wedding so I was in the worst shape I’ve been in in years. No definition in my arms. Puffy tummy. I was what I refer to as skinny fat. I still looked good in clothes, but had almost no muscle tone. Because of this, I thought the only thing that would decline after the wedding was my skin, which I spent lots of time working on pre-wedding.

Wrong. A big fat wrong. I put on some capri pants this morning that I like to wear because they are comfortable. They are tight. They are no longer comfortable. I’ve noticed jeans that I used to love to wear are grabbing a little more than they used to. Comfy, but only when my belly hangs over the top. So not attractive. What happens when you get married??? If my rehearsal dinner dress had a zipper, I could probably blow it out right now.

It’s fine. I’ll survive. I have to readjust my eating so instead of a big lunch and big dinner, I have a small lunch and a big dinner. The best part is that the combination of doctor’s appointments and extra pounds have my boss looking at me a little differently. I just know he’s wondering is she pregnant or just fat?

To add to his pondering, I'm purposely wearing loose clothes and complaining about being tired. I figure I’ll milk it until I really am pregnant or he figures out I’m just married.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Sweet Breeze

Life is rough in southern California right now. Luckily, I live in a fully concreted-area (I never thought this lucky until recently), so we are only dealing with smoke from the fires. We didn’t have to evacuate or wonder what possessions are worthy of packing with a five minute notice. We are lucky.

Unfortunately, lots of people are not. Every day I watch the news and look at images of walls of flames engulfing trees, houses and hillsides. The skies are overcast because they are filled with smoke. A fine layer of ash coats cars. And this is miles from the fires. It feels like it will never end. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Last night, we went to bed with the window facing the ocean wide open. I thought about closing it because the news says to keep the windows closed right now due to poor air quality, but it was hot so I decided to leave it open. I had crazy dreams of people smoking in our apartment, of the apartment being on fire and my neighbor Bianca running down the hall to tell us to leave. I woke up to our room filled with smoky, humid, ocean air. My lungs felt like hell. I can only imagine what the people closer to the fires feel like.

I got up, closed the windows and said a thank you to Mother Nature for shifting the winds. A cool, off-shore breeze full of humidity and hopefully, a break.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Beauty Update

I'm in love with Eminence products. After just one Stone Crop Masque, my skin looks better. I also got a sample of the Stone Crop moisturizer, and I love that, too. It smells a little funny. Maybe because it isn't drenched in perfumes, but the smell is natural. It's nice. It's just not flowery-sweet. The packaging seems a little cheap compared to the fancy products I've used in the past, but if they are spending the extra money on the product rather than the package, I am okay with that.

I just ordered the Rose Hip Moisturizer that was recommended by my facialist (does her giving me two count?). I can't wait.

Back to the Kitchen

Weight has never been an issue for me. The only time I’ve ever been significantly larger than I am now (and I’ve been this size give or take 10 pounds since high school) was one summer during college that I spent in Nantucket. We didn’t have a car so we biked or walked everywhere, which would lead one to believe I would be the thinnest I ever was. I wasn’t. I was fit and fairly lean, but I packed on the pounds. I ate Ben & Jerry’s every afternoon, and washed it down with beer in the evening. Upon arriving back at the apartment in a drunken haze at night, I would make myself toast from locally made bread slathered with jam and butter. It was fantastic. And by August, I was the largest I’ve ever been. The pictures don’t really show it, but the clothes I wore were all 3 sizes larger than the ones I wore at the beginning of the summer. And still, by American standards, I was average – even trim. For reference, size 12 Gap pants fit. Snugly.

I was, for me, huge and a size 12. The irony is that today, because of all of the additives, high fructose corn syrup and cheap fast food, this is average for America. I’d even venture to say on the small side. Two-thirds of America is over weight. Recently, I saw photos of the rural poor in the United States. The thing that most struck me was the roundness of people’s faces. The soft double-chin that the husband and wife shared. The plumpness of their child. These photos contrasted dramatically in my mind with the ones Dorthea Lange took in the 30s. Her subjects had thin chests. Gaunt faces.

As recently as the 1970s, poverty was marked by thinness. Bones jutting out. Pronounced chins. Belts tightening the waists of too-large pants. Poverty today is plump. It’s fat. It’s filled with corn and corn by-products that people unknowingly eat all day. The meat we eat is fed corn even though cows can’t digest corn unless it is altered for their systems. All of the soft drinks we drink are filled with corn syrup. Ketchup, cereal, crackers. It’s hard to find a pre-made food that doesn’t have a corn derivative in it. Xanthum gum? Made from corn. And all of this corn and food processing are making people fat. It’s cheap now, but at what cost later?

I read books and articles on this plight, and no one has a solution that seems like it will work. The problem is that we are all used to the ease with which we obtain a completed meal. Changing our diets as a country means changing the way we live.

Recently, I decided that I needed to cook dinner every night except Friday and Saturday when we tend to go out. It is hard. I am exhausted from work, and usually just want to watch television with a bowl of cereal. The other night, I arrived home with a menu in mind. I turned on some music and started cooking. Twenty minutes later, when the tacos hit the table, I was relaxed, happy and hungry. My husband and I happily ate the healthy version of Mexican. We talked. We connected. I felt nourished.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Beauty Update

Turning natural is harder than I thought. No sodium laurel sulfate means no sudsy shampoo. And long hair and no suds feels like I’m washing straw. I don’t like it at all. So, I just don’t wash my hair much anymore.

So far, I am on board with Dr. Hauschka. The Burt’s Bees? I’ll keep my chap stick, but the shampoo? I’ll pass. I didn’t even make it to the night cream I was so unhappy with the shampoo. I’m making a return trip to Target. For now, I’m leaning towards the high-end organics and things from my kitchen.

I’m waiting for an Eminence masque to arrive with samples of moisturizers. If they work, I’ll be using Eminence and skipping Target. I don’t know why I thought I could use a $14 natural moisturizer when I haven’t spent less than $35 on chemical-laden one.

The quest continues....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Beauty Quest

In researching things for my side hustle, I got a book called The Complete Organic Pregnancy (great book!). It scared the shit out of me. There are chemicals everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Since we are planning on having a baby in the next year or so, I decided to start implementing some of the things they suggest such as using a natural dry cleaner, banishing chemical cleaners and using all-natural, paraben-free beauty products. The first two are no brainers and super easy (especially since my housekeeper uses the cleaning products).

The beauty products… well, I love products. Not love LOVE like people who blog about them, but I wouldn’t want to know how much I spend on them annually. When I went to Japan, I came back with two different shampoos, two kinds of smoothing cream and lots of make-up (the clothes are too small for tall Americans). Sephora makes me dizzy with possibilities. So, limiting my cosmetic purchases is, well, kind of like punishment. And kind of like a giant scavenger hunt.

During this hunt, this quest, this desire for paraben-free, silicone-free shampoo and lotions that works really, really well, I’ll post my results.

Since my husband is German, I feel a kinship with Dr. Haushka (that, and the fact I can get it much cheaper when I am in Germany). People are almost cult-like with their praise of his products. Last winter, I got a face milk (looks like this but not 100% sure it is the same thing since mine was in German and I used it all up and threw out the bottle) that was okay, but didn’t WOW! me. Recently, I tried the Rose Day Cream (I paid $39.99 at a local natural store and it's $20 on Sephora?!!). I give it a resounding thumbs DOWN. It was greasy feeling once on my face, and the cream is so thick, it’s hard to get on, which might be why it felt greasy. I probably put way too much on. I also have this crazy skin that breaks out in a fine rash, or in this case, cystic pimples if it doesn't like a product. Once I find a moisturizer I like, I usually stick with it for a long time. In the past, I’ve been a fan of all the Orlane creams, and now I am using Bioelements (hey! looks semi-natural!), which has an SPF of 15(until it runs out). Many of the natural face creams have no SPF because, hello! it is full of chemicals. The woman who gave me facials (all 2 of them) before the wedding recommended mineral make-up for sunscreen, but I haven’t gotten that hard-core yet. Eminence makes one that is all organic.

So, I am taking back the Dr. Haushka and trying Burt’s Bees Royal Jelly Night Cream ($14.99).

Currently, I am also testing:
Dr. Haushka shampoo
EO Conditioner
Burt’s Bees Shampoo (just bought today)
Burt’s Bees Conditioner (just bought today)
Burt’s Bees Cleanser (just bought today – guess who went to Target at lunch?)

On a side note, I also tried Stella McCartney’s line of moisturizers and they irritated my skin, too. (They were samples and I don't recall which one.) I’m trying to hold back on spending a million dollars on the Eminence line, but I’m heading that way.

Cheap thumbs up: honey as a exfoliater/masque. I tried it this weekend with some local honey I got at the farmer’s market. I just smeared about a tablespoon on my freshly washed face, let it sit for about 30 minutes while I watched TV, and washed it off. My skin looked great and felt good, too. Plus, I kept creeping out my husband by asking if he wanted to lick my face (he didn’t).

After linking to all the products I am using, I could have saved a ton of money if I'd just bought them online. Things are much cheaper than the natural pharmacy I went to in the Palisades, which, due to high pricing, will remain nameless for now.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Birds of a Feather

When I was single, I dropped married friends. I didn’t do it on purpose, but slowly, after a few invitations to do things got turned down, I just stopped calling. Then, on a whim, I’d remember how cool the person was and call again. We’d hang out, have a great time and promise to see each other more often. Then, as before, they would be busy with their husband and I’d stop calling again. It only seems to get worse with kids.

Or maybe it was a combination of them wanting to spend time with their husband and us not having as much to talk about. When I was single, I’d spend hours talking about who I was dating, analyzing why he did or didn’t call, wondering if it was going to work out, wondering if the woman at his office was indeed “just a friend.” I’d hike along with friends listening to them agonize over their recent asshole boyfriend and I’d empathize and tell my most recent asshole boyfriend story.

Once, when I was dating a great guy/asshole, I was bemoaning why he didn’t call more often and why he never asked me out in public with people if I meant so much to him when one of my married friends said, “Forget about him. There are much better guys out there.” WHAT??? FORGET ABOUT THE ASSHOLE?? Does this smug married woman have any idea what it is like to date in your 30s? She met her husband at 24 and married him at 30. They had their ups and downs, but she never had to face her 30s single. She was clueless. Needless to say, my calls to her, her husband and two kids grew less frequent. Clearly, we were in different stratospheres. And clearly, she did not understand me.

Or did she? When I finally met my husband who is not an asshole, I finally started to understand her comments. They weren’t said to be smug or demeaning, but because she could see what I couldn’t.

Sunday, I hung out with three single women. All amazing, beautiful, successful, smart women. And all single. (Stupid men.) And I felt like… well, like a fish out of water. I felt like when I opened my mouth I was on watch. And then, just like a smug married, I made an incredibly insensitive remark. We were talking about population control and how people shouldn’t just have kids because society says you should. One of the women said she didn’t’ think she wanted kids, but she better decide soon. I said, as the conversation pulsed along, “The decision might be made for you.” She shrugged. Simple. The conversation continued for a bit, and we all broke apart and headed our separate ways.

Then on my bike ride home, it hit me. That was a smug comment. I knew the feeling because I’d been there recently. I know what it is like to look down the barrel of motherhood. The clock is ticking. There is no man on the horizon, and the idea that motherhood – the most innate of all things a woman is supposed to be – might possibly pass by. The last thing you need is to be reminded of the clock. I know the comment came out as insensitive. Out of touch. Smug.

Maybe there is a reason married people and singles don’t hang out as much as they did when everyone was single. We’re just in different places, and sometimes, it's hard to understand the other place.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Colorado Dreaming

Autumn. Fall. It brings to mind warm sweaters, cool nights, leaves changing. That is, if you live somewhere with seasons. When I moved to Los Angeles over five years ago, I grinned when I realized fall meant a light sweater at night, no crowds at the beach and a new television season. I used to hike almost every weekend, and even nature in Los Angeles changes with the seasons. It is just more subtle. And I was happy with this.

All of this seems to have changed. I got married. Friendships got magnified. Between my wedding and my friend Maggies’s wedding, I spent most of the summer on trips and adventures with my Colorado friends. I love lots of things about Los Angeles. The year-round farmer’s markets. The Pacific ocean outside of my window. An endless choice of restaurants and shopping. But this year, I’m missing the cooler weather and my pack of friends in Colorado.

I talked to my friend Tricia who lives in Vail this weekend. She was talking about walking around in the village, the covered bridge, the place where we celebrated New Year’s eve 2001. She told me she’s taking a wagon ride to Beano’s cabin in Beaver Creek tonight. And all of a sudden I could picture it all. I could feel the cooler air and imagine walking around Vail near the creek; the aspens turning gold. Aspens catch light in an amazing way. It sort of bounces off the leaves, filtering the light so it twinkles. When I used to camp, I loved waking up in an aspen grove just to see the morning light.

It all made me miss Colorado. Of course, when it is 10 degrees there with a blizzard of snow, I’ll be happily walking around in flip-flops, but today, I miss Colorado and I really miss my friends.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gratitude and Lunch

Since I couldn’t have twenty bridesmaids, I decided to have a bridal luncheon honoring the women who make my life wonderful, full and hysterical. They are the women I call most often. The ones who saw me through way too many bad relationships, job changes, times of poverty and deep debt, the loss of my stepfather, graduations and of course, the development of my relationship with my husband. To me, this luncheon was incredibly important. The luncheon, just as I envisioned it, was sort of magical.

My mom and I decided to have the luncheon at her mountain house – the one she lived in with my stepfather that she now rents out as a vacation rental. This is the house that I thought of when I started thinking of North Carolina as home instead of Virginia. The house itself is nothing spectacular. It’s an A-frame house two miles up a dirt road. But once there, it is peaceful with a breath-taking view - on a clear day, it's a seventy-miles view. It was the best place to escape to after finals in college. In the winter, I would snuggle down into bed and sleep all day. Since it is about thirty minutes from town, the most there is to do is relax, take walks and relax some more. I couldn’t imagine all my friends flying to North Carolina without seeing this part of my life.

I felt like utter and complete crap the Friday before the wedding. I was fighting a cold and popping pills like a strung-out junkie. When I pulled up to the house with my friend Jen, people were already there. My sister-in-laws (I have 3 now!), aunt and mom had set everything up beautifully. My best girlfriends were mingling in the living room and on the deck taking in the view. My 90-year old grandmother chatted with them. All of these amazing women were in one place. And all celebrating me and our friendships.

Before we ate, my mom wanted to do a blessing. We gathered in a circle on the deck, and I took a few moments to introduce everyone and to say how I knew each person. All of my friends had heard of each other so it was great for them to put faces with names. Jen was my best friend at the University of Colorado. Cheryl was my oldest friend - 34 years of friendship! Krista and I met in the dorms freshman year. I met Heidi in Hollywood. Tracy is my local friend - a true North Carolina native who procured the moonshine for the wedding. Tricia, one of my always happy friends, is the one, ironically, I've shared the most grief with. When I met Maggie, we didn't like each other because we were in the shadows of our ex-boyfriends and blind to how cool each other are. Rebecca was my "husband" when I lived in LA right after college. She picked up the bills most of the time and I cooked and cleaned. Kristin is my calm, cool friend who I love to talk cooking with. And my cousins who were like sisters to me growing up. I didn't mention everyone, and if any of them read this, they know just by being there how important they are to me.

For 35 years I was mostly single, and these women made life so much more fun. They supported me when I was going through changes, but most of all, they kept me laughing. After lunch, I handed each woman a card I’d written for them thanking them for being in my life. Then, in a nice quirky turn, my aunt suggested everyone say why they liked me.

I sat like a queen at the front of the living room, sipping hot ginger tea on a 95 degree day in an effort to be healthy for the wedding, and listened as friend after cousin after friend told stories about me and said how much they loved me. It was amazing. My aunt said, “Only on your wedding and your funeral do all your friends come together. How lucky you are to be alive now to hear all the good things they are saying!”

Amen, Aunt Karen. I am incredibly lucky and blessed.

(And thanks to ginger tea, sudafed, nyquil and antibiotics plus a little wedding magic, I felt great on our wedding day!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Breathing Space

I promise I will write about the reception. I swear. I will do it. Just not yet…

A week after we were married, we moved. Stupidly, we decided to take our honeymoon in November when I am sure we won’t think it a stupid idea. So, three short days after saying “I do” in the honey pot, I walked back into my office. DO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE!!!! It was foolish. Stupid, and completely took away my wedding bliss buzz. Ride the bliss wave as long as you possibly can!!! Maybe the fall will be harder when you get back, the wedding hangover more severe, but dammit, just go for it.

On the bright side of being home (no bright side to work) instead of say Hawaii, which was getting blown around by Hurricane Floyd or the Caribbean, which was getting slammed by Hurricane Dean, or even parts of Mexico that Dean was aiming for, we were safely in Venice Beach. Boo! Hiss!! It’s home! But, a neighbor nicely pointed out that while we were getting hitched, a bigger, larger, greater apartment was being painted down the hall from ours, and it was available to rent.

We quickly called the landlord, and before I could say “Pack my stuff again?” my husband was moving boxes down the hall. It was as painless as a move can be. No packing involved since you can just walk your stuff down the hall. We didn’t empty drawers; we carried them twenty feet to the north full of stuff. Pad plates? Please. I stacked them in empty wedding gift boxes and walked slowly down the hall.

The best parts about the new apartment? Let’s see… where do I start…. There is a door on the bedroom! Shocking, I know, but we had a loft bedroom before which might be great for a bachelor, but two people with completely different schedules? Let’s say hell might be similar. And a bathroom right next door to the bedroom! We had to walk down the loft stairs to get to the bathroom before, and when you have puke coming up, stairs are the last thing you want to navigate. The kitchen actually has counter space and room to store things. We had to supplement with shelves, but they work in the room and even look kind of nice. The only thing that makes up for the piece of shit electric stove (I still dream of a gas one) is the view of the ocean from the kitchen window. It makes the day better to start by seeing the sand and the sea while drinking juice.

With the broiling heat of summer, the fact we have windows on two sides of the apartment creates a wonderful breeze. We actually sleep with a down comforter! In AUGUST!! Best of all, we have a loft that is an office, which means all the other parts of the house are used for what they were designed. Kitchen table nook? Filled with table and chairs for eating. Living room? Couch and TV for lounging. Bedroom? Bed and dressers for dressing, sleeping and getting busy. The bathroom? Well, there’s even a linen closet in there!

Needless to say, I love our new apartment. We even have two parking spaces which, in Venice in the summer, is almost like having a pot of gold. I feel like I can finally breathe in the new space. We can both fit, and best of all, we can both grow.

It’s so much better than this.
My husband and brother working side-by-side in the old place. Note the dining table next to the couch, next to the desks, next to the kitchen plus the bookshelf OUTSIDE of the kitchen with kitchen stuff. Thankfully, all part of the past.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Honey Pot

Like most brides, I think our wedding was wonderful. We were surrounded by family and close, amazing friends who came in from everywhere (Germany, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York , a 19-hour drive from Wisconsin!, Arizona and more places). It was like being in a honey pot –surrounded by so much love and support. My mom and I joke about the honey pot – being surrounded by love. I feel like that when my mom is in town, and I have her and my husband (!) with me. A wedding is the mack-daddy of honey pots.
My beautiful cousins (who could wear whatever they wanted in the pink/orange/red family) served as bridesmaids and nieces and a best friend's daughter were our flower girls/pink princesses.

Talk about laid-back, the groomsmen were chosen that week. His brother, his oldest friend, my brother, my cousin-in-law, plus a nephew for the ring "helper."

I don't even know where to start recounting our wedding. It's so much to take in and experience. It felt like a whirlwind - like time was on fast-forward. People told me to videotape it because I wouldn't remember much of it. We didn't, but I do remember the main parts of it. I had fun. In fact, I had a blast. I was grinning from ear to ear all day. I was nervous waiting to walk down the aisle, the first and only time during the whole process. I could hear the violin, and then people cheering for my husband. We asked our family and friends to call us to the wedding with nicknames, pet names and our own names. It was amazing to hear my husband's name being called, to see him enter into the garden, and say, "I can't hear you!" The crowd loved it, and cheered louder.

After I entered, he kissed me. Whoops....

My dad, my mom and I waited in the wings for my name to be called. The crowd let out whoops of joy, calling my name and the nervousness I felt earlier disappeared. I entered the garden between my parents, and was flooded with love and jubilation. I was smack in the middle of the honey pot, and life couldn't have been grander. My future husband stood in front of me, my parents were beside me and my closest friends and family plus my new family surrounded me. It was, to use a cliche, heaven on earth.

As I stood, reciting the vows I wrote for my husband, I looked into his eyes, and the rest of the people melted away. It was just us, together, saying how much we love each other, how important we are to each other and how excited we are to take this journey together.

And then, bam! We were married! And the party started, and the chaos kicked back in as people moved from the garden to the tent and the photographer gathered the wedding party together for more pictures. I never saw the tent before everyone walked in. In fact, I never saw the garden until I walked in. The flowers that were supposed to decorate the alter were missing. The sake and cups for the sake ceremony were missing. And none of it mattered. It all looked beautiful and worked out perfectly.

We're married!!!

More on the reception later....

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Breck Girls

My bachelorette weekend was everything I imagined and more. I feel incredibly blessed to have such a great posse of women in my life. A huge thank you to all of you who made my last single-girl trip one for the memory books.

We might be older, but we’re still fun….

Heading up the mountain for the shortest hike ever.

Pre-dinner Breck Girls. It was waaaayyy to light out for us.

We even had a sponsor from Kentucky who put on my super panties. (No idea why this pic isn't bigger.)

Walking up the street for some danicing.

Getting ready to "throw my panties to the wind." It's a Mexican tradition that we've completely bastardized. Rumor has it the panties are supposed to be sexy, not super-sized.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Growing-Up. Sort of.

We are 16 days from the wedding. I know because my registry at Crate and Barrel tells me so. And yes, when I am bored, I look to see what people have bought and not bought.

My stress level is amazingly low right now. I think there is a pulse of adrenaline flowing through me like a steady drip of an IV, but I am used to that now. There is enough in my system to keep me from falling back asleep when I accidentally wake at 6am, but not so much my hands jitter from it. I try to take it as it comes.

Tomorrow, I jet-off to Colorado for my bachelorette weekend. My friend Krista has been incredible with spear-heading the event, planning it, emailing the 10 women to coordinate things plus letting us use her family’s condo in Keystone. It’s not exactly Vegas, but I’m not exactly 25. I picked Colorado over Vegas partly because I knew more of my friends could make it, but mostly because I like Colorado more than Vegas.

I know they have some craziness planned for Saturday night. We’ll be hitting the streets of Breckinridge, and I’m guessing, since it is off-season, we will be a sight. There are no drunken spring-breakers to compete with. I told them no veil, no penis necklaces and no list of men I have to kiss or get underwear from. When did I get so old?

On a trip to Boulder a few years ago, we went to my favorite used clothing store where I always score things like Prada shoes. On this particular trip, I found a navy, marabou bolero. And I had to have it. In some small place in my brain, I thought I would wear it out in LA. It was fabulous.

Little did I know how fabulous… later that night, after way too many car bombs (the drink, not the explosive), the bolero became a prop in a series of modeling shots. Let’s just say it took on a life of its’ own. So, in honor of that night, I decided that I am wearing this gem for my big night out on Saturday. I can’t decide if I should take it a little classier with a just a plain white tank, or a little cheesier (does it get more cheesy than a marabou bolero?) with a gold tube top, jeans and gold sandals. I am bringing both get-ups so they can choose.

My friends like costumes so I am thinking (naively) that I am beating them to the punch. Plus, I’ve NEVER worn the jacket except for our modeling shoot. It’s amazing how easily women can entertain themselves. So, if you happen to be in Breckinridge this weekend and see a woman with a marabou bolero on, stop and say hello.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dewy vs. Shine

A bride should glow. She should look dewy and fresh like spring time. Or so the make-up artist at Barney’s decided. He said I should have a little shimmer on my upper cheeks so that when I turned just so, the light would catch and I’d look like I was glowing. He charges $300 for wedding day make-up so clearly, he should know how to look on a wedding day. The woman my mom has lined up for me in North Carolina charges $45. I mean, it’s North Carolina and not Los Angeles, but I decided I didn’t trust an NC make-up artist especially if she’s so cheap. Did anyone hear that bullet go into my foot?

Hair, I will pay for. I will live if it looks a little funny because honestly, I can’t do my hair to save my life unless we are talking a pony tail. But make-up? Make-up is like art. I’ve even been complemented on my make-up.

So, when we were at Barney’s last weekend, I decided to handle the make-up issue. I headed over to the Sue Devitt counter, who makes really nice make-up, and let Daniel take over my face. He took a whopping hour and a half to put on my wedding day face (including starting, removing everything and starting again). I looked, if I may say so, radiant. He did my eyes in this glimmering gold, but not Goldfinger gold. Just elegant with a chocolate brown liner and lush, thick black lashes. My lips were painted a bright, YSL red (their color was better – loved that he wasn’t limited by his own brand). My cheeks glowed and shimmered.

I happily purchased the items that weren’t in my make-up arsenal ($195 later the $45 NC make-up artist was sounding okay) and headed home.

I decided my mom needed to see how great the make-up looked so I insisted my fiancé take some pictures of me to email her. In the pictures, my face didn’t look glowing or dewy. I looked like a big, greasy, shiny mess. The flash bounced off my cheek, illuminating it in a bad, non-glowing way.

On the bright side, I stopped to get some tacos for lunch while made up like a bride. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash, so I couldn’t get anything. I was getting ready to walk away when the counter guy forced chips and salsa on me for free, insisting that I should have something. It may look shiny, but I looked good enough to get free food. If only it photographs as well.

Lipstick would help deflect from the "dew."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Earrings

After much searching (mostly online), I found these gorgeous earrings by Dana Kellin at my friend Jessica's shop Chelsea in Boulder. If you're ever there, you should stop in.

I think they are so elegant and pretty and special... and I couldn't be happier that things are finally falling into place!

Now, I only need to find the ring....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Elusive Shoes

It’s beginning to fall into place. This week, I’ve checked off: shoes, make-up and jewelry (posts to follow).

The shoes eluded me. I’ve looked for shoes in Barney’s, Nordstrom’s (Los Angeles, Austin), small boutiques (Los Angeles, Austin, Boulder), in magazines and on-line where, I thought I found some. They arrived yesterday, and were lovely. Gorgeous. And a size too big. I went into a panic when I couldn’t get on to their website to see if they had a smaller size available. So, last night, in an obsessive fit, I went to DSW, which was fruitless, and Nordstrom Rack, where I found…. TA-DA! My wedding shoes!! Yes, in amongst the piles of crap shoes with missing straps, scuffs and general ugliness, I found the perfect shoes for our wedding location. Low, wedge-heel silver sandals. I never would have looked twice at them in Nordstrom, but at the Rack, I had an open, desperate mind.

They kind of exude Miami grandma, but I swear, they are cute in person. Or at least cute enough. Last night, I thought they were even a little sexy.

I also found of pair of completely cheesy, bride-like flip-flops with pearls on them. Oh, I’m a bride!! I’m a bride!!