Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Into the Wild, Review

I just read Jon Krakauer’s, Into the Wild. Good book. It’s about a 20-something year old, McCandless, who has a falling out with his parents and society and tries to live off the land. His biggest challenge is Alaska, but he fails and dies. I liked the way the story was written; it was not so much in chronological order as a progression of the people and events that influenced his last adventure and death. Upon first hearing of the story, a person might think that McCandless was a total nut, ill-prepared for an extended stay in the Alaskan wilderness. Krakauer was pretty good about presenting an objective view of the details while at the same time injecting his personal experience to give a perspective on what McCandless may have been thinking and experiencing during his adventures. I don’t think McCandles was a nut. He just made a couple of mistakes, and those, coupled with a little bit of bad luck resulted in his death.

I definitely recommend the book. It’s quite an easy read and a very good story.

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I just added it to my Netflix queue.

Catch-Up Post

I have been terrible about posting. Sorry! So let’s see, what’s hapenned…

Our friend Tim was visiting from Austin two weekends ago and he came back for round 2 on Thursday. He basically played video games all day and I peeled him away for lunch before I took him to the airport. Every time he visits he finds a game he really likes for the xBox and plays most of the night. A previous time he discovered Baldur’s Gate. This time it was some superhero video game. He did take some awesome cat pictures that I will post when I sort through them.

While he was here, we did go to La Taqueria in the San Francisco Mission District. That is always a crowd pleaser. We also had dinner at Fiesta del Mar which is the best Mexican seafood (and carnitas for the husband) that we’ve had. It’s expensive for Mexican food but it is all really good. The only “weird” thing is that I’ve never seen a female employee at the restaurant. We had lunch at Cafe Sofia, which was a coffee place with Afghan food. It was our second choice after the Thai/Vietnamese restaurant next door was closed. The food was not that great. I love the Afghan food at Kabul and this place wasn’t nearly half as good as Kabul. Too bad.

Over the weekend I went on a long hike with my friend. We went to the Purisima Creek Open Space Preserve in Half Moon Bay and hiked for about 2.5 hours. We finished off with some delicious, and famous, clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from Barbara’s Fish Trap. It was delicious! I've heard their fish and chips are also really good. My experience with fish and chips in America is that I hate them all. After having the real thing in the UK, the ones here just are not that good. But the next time I eat at Barbara's, I'll try the fish and chips (as long as someone orders the clam chowder and they let me have some).

Over the weekend I also coached a couple of indoor soccer games. The first one was at 7:30 am! That was painful. We lost. For the second indoor game, we only had 6 girls total, and that’s after we convinced one of the girls that had come just to watch (she was sick) to play. In indoor, a team usually plays with 6 on the field and a goalie. Not having any subs is painful. Playing short is even worse and I’m glad that hasn’t happened to me. Having a sick player on the field only makes it worse. But the surprising thing is that we scored the first goal and for a good ¼ of the game, we were winning. We haven't won a single game indoor game because all the teams we play against are club teams that have been together for years. Our girls play AYSO and they have been playing together for 3 months. We ended up losing 8-2. Still, I was proud of the girls.

I had an indoor game last night. It was a playoff game. We won, 3-0. I am still surprised we won. Our record this season was something like 2-6. We had lost to this team before during the season. But either they were missing some key players or we’ve improved a lot (we too were missing a lot of our team and had some injured players). But, it felt great to win. And I scored (I was too tired for any celebration). Our next playoff game is next Monday.

I was looking through a list of what movies are out right now and I was happy to see that most movies are less than 2 hours long. For a time every single movie was super long – 2.5 hours, almost 3! I just can’t sit still for more than 1 hour. But the bad news is that most movies nowadays are crap. If I were to go to the theater today, I would probably see Vantage Point, or maybe 21.

I have been really good about working on my scrapbooks. I’ve finished the Bremen, Bergen, Montreal, Mexico summer, and Mexico Mardi Gras (La Danza) sections and am moving on to the Mexico summer 2007 pictures. So I’m less than 1 year behind. The way I organized everything is one album for trips (as many trips as I can fit in there) and I will have separate yearly (or more than 1 year) albums for the small stuff that happened (birthday parties, weekend getaways, cute kitty pics, etc.). I am going as far back as 2005. Sorry if this is all boring to you, but it is my blog.

Pictures coming soon! Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Save the Seals

Did you know that Canada has a yearly seal hunt? Seals, including babies, are brutally killed and often skinned while they are still dying. Why? For their fur. How sad and inhumane is that? There is a lot you can do, including boycotting Canadian seafood and writing letters to the Canadian Prime Minister and Embassy. And most importantly, you can let other people know.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Weekend Preview

I am looking forward to the weekend. As always!

Last night we had our neighbors over for dinner. The husband just started his residency as an Ob-gyn, or “baby catcher”, as he likes to call it. The wife is doing some sort of bio-med postdoc. They are both totally cool. And both the husband and my husband are video game, music, and movie junkies. The doctor always has crazy stories to tell. Did you know that the residency phase goes on for 4 years??!! Talk about slave labor. Anyway, he was telling us about women who have heart conditions (such as a hole in one of walls in their heart) that isn’t a big deal in general. However, when they get pregnant and deliver a baby, they have an 80% mortality rate. The babies are usually fine. I can’t imagine knowing what the risks are and still wanting to get pregnant. What’s wrong with adoption? Twins+ can also lead to complications such as babies competing with each other for blood, premature birth, to name a few.

Our friend Tim is visiting from Austin. He’ll be here Saturday. On Sunday he has to go off to some conference in the area. He’s basically a big shot in whatever he does…something to do with the environment, water, I don’t know for sure. But his job and training that he provides take him all over the world (UK, Greece, San Diego, South Africa). I need to figure out what I am good at because I want to be in demand all over the world. Speaking of which, I’ve been working on a project at work that is basically all me. I do collaborate with my boss since he is much more experienced in this type of work. When we had the customer briefing, I put together a presentation and was ready to give the talk. But he ended up make a lot of last minute changes and then we had technically difficulties and so in the ended I conceded the briefing to him. But now the customer has wanted him to keep presenting and I am bummed because I wanted the experience. I should have just jumped on the opportunity. Next time!

Sunday morning I am helping a friend deliver a cat. No, she’s not pregnant with the cat, but she is going to return a cat she helped save back to its family. The parents aren’t very good at English so I am going to help translate. I have been wanting to do something to help educate the Hispanic population about the proper care of pets. In general, they don’t seem to think it appropriate and wise to spay/neuter their pets. And preventative care is also not a top priority. Some of it may be because of financial burdens and lack of awareness (low cost clinics). So I want to do what I can to help.

On Sunday afternoon, I am helping to host a going away party for our Scottish ex-houseguest. He’s finally headed back across the pond. He has a big fan-base here in the area so we are all getting together for some soccer, food, and drink at the park.

Apart from that, if I have time, I want to continue working on my scrapbooks. I finally finished my grad school album and am now working on my trips to Bremen, Germany and Bergen, Norway.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Wenesday Morning Thoughts

I need to work on my celebration after I score a goal. I had an indoor game Monday night. The game was pretty intense and there was a lot of back and forth. I assisted the first goal and when my teammate scored, I threw my hands up in the air in relief. We were up 2-0 towards the end of the game and I scored a pretty goal on a cross and I threw my hands up in the air again in celebration. Maybe I can pump my fists a la Mcguire. Or I can do a superman dive like the pros. One of my teammates did that after he scored. He’s bald and didn’t lift his head up and got major rug burn on his forehead. The Astroturf is rough on bare skin.

I played coed outdoor last night and we tied 3-3. The other team was pretty good and they worked well as a team (A LOT of passing). They even did warm-up laps and stretched as a team, which was a little intimidating. We tied mostly because our goalie is unbelievable and was great at stopping shots. My touch on the ball was pretty good but defenders easily got around me. I knew exactly what moves they were going to do but I was unable to move fast enough to either intercept their pass or stop their moves. I need to work on my agility and speed.

Ewww, our drinking water is contaminated with “A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.” I don’t like soda and only drink juice on occasion, so what am I going to drink?

I used to get about 9 hours of sleep. I would go to bed around 10 pm and the alarm would go off at 7 am (and I would press the snooze button for about 30 minutes). Now, because I’ve been very busy I tend to go to sleep around 11 or 11:30 pm and wake up at the same time. I love having the extra hour or two in my day to watch tv or work on my crafts. Sometimes I go to sleep not because I’m tired but because it is late. And I think I’ve been sleeping better. The only difficult part is getting past the crash I experience around 3 pm. It’s especially bad if work is slow or not too exciting.

How's this for keeping your students' attention - a college professor that started his first day of class with:

"Now I know some of you have already heard of me, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, let me explain how I teach. Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures ... one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day."

We finally got our vagabond, Monkey, microchipped. I was hesitant because I was afraid it would be a painful procedure. She didn't notice when it happened. She complained much more when she got her rabies shot. When I updated her information at the company website (HomeAgain), I decided to allow them to send me emails if there was a pet lost in the area. In about 24 hours I've gotten 4 emails. It's a bit distressing.

I still look at the SI NFL page daily. And it's not even football season! What is wrong with me??!! On our way in to work on Friday morning, the husband and I talked football. The whole way. I am glad I am playing soccer to balance me out.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wine Tasting in Baja

We just got back from a lovely 4 day vacation in San Diego and Baja California. We had a fabulous time. The theme of this trip was family, good food, and lots of wine. The in-laws had planned a trip to Baja for some Mexican wine tasting. They were kind enough to let us tag along.

Our first stop was Coronado, a cute island off San Diego. The weather was comfortable but cloudy and even misty at times. After we wandered around the island and checked out the old Hotel del Coronado, we went over to Tomaso’s Italian Restaurant. My uncle owns the restaurant and we had planned on meeting up with my parents and uncle for dinner. Ok, so your asking, what is a Mexican guy doing with an Italian restaurant? While I did consider the question, I’m too big a fan of Italian food to complain. Tomaso’s is an established restaurant by an Italian chef (the flagship restaurant is in Phoenix). When my uncle bought the restaurant, he was able to keep the chef. Plus, it will be neat to see if he’ll work towards a Mexican/Italian fusion menu. I had the prix fixe menu and enjoyed my four courses: bruschetta, linguini with a white wine sauce, a clam with a white wine sauce pasta, and cheese cake. The brushcetta was the best I’ve ever had and their secret was the super fresh tomatoes (and not the balsamic vinegar). I’ve had a clam pasta before but didn’t like it very much. Since this was the only non-meat dish on the prix fixe menu, I decided to give the dish another try. I loved it! Being surrounded by family as we all stuffed ourselves with Italian food and three bottles of wine made for a very memorable dinner. Thank you, Tio Mundo!

Here we are taking a picture under the Dragon Tree, which was featured in Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe.

Our next stop on the trip was the Valle de Guadalupe, just east of Ensenada, in Baja California. We took the scenic route and stopped in Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo. The Rosarito Beach Hotel is the birthplace of the margarita, according to one story. The margarita was born when a bartender made a drink for Rita (Margarita) Hayward so that she could tolerate the taste of tequila. So we all sat at he bar and enjoyed a margarita, even though it was only 10 am. We then moved on to Puerto Nuevo for more drinks and a lobster lunch. The lobster was tasty, although not as good as you would find in the Northeast.

We reached our destination in late afternoon, the Rancho Maria Teresa in the Valle de Guadalupe. Our goal was to go wine tasting on Monday and hit as many wineries as we could. The Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico’s main wine country. It probably looks the way Napa used to look about 50-80 years ago. It is free of all the commercialization you will find if you tour Napa or even Sonoma. And, as we were happy to discover, the wine is very good (and can be expensive). We were the only people staying at our hotel and during our tour of 5 wineries, we only encountered one other couple. How great is that?! We had the whole Valle all to ourselves. The food and wine at the Rancho Maria Teresa was pretty good. The hotel doubled as a winery and pool resort and the rooms were clean and pleasant. My only complaints are that the beds were quite firm, the walls were super thin, and since it was on the main road it was quite noisy even at night. After a nice dinner and a couple of bottles of wine we all headed off to bed. Despite the fact that we slept with the lights on (in case of scorpions) and we woke up many times during the night, in the morning we all felt refreshed and ready for our wine tasting tour.

Here is the husband wearing his Morelia shirt. The shirt was very popular and generated a lot of conversation, mostly because people were rooting for Chivas (imagine wearing a Yankees shirt in Boston). The husband ended up giving the shirt to our waiter at the hotel restaurant since he rooted for Chivas while his son rooted for Morelia.

We decided to book a taxi to take us around the wineries since we all wanted to enjoy the wine. However, getting a taxi was a bit complicated. It was a foreign idea to the hotel staff that we wanted a taxi to take us around the Valle and after much explanation they finally agreed to call some taxi agencies in Ensenada, about 25 minutes away. Why would we want to rent a taxi if we had a car with us? It cost us $100 with a generous tip to rent a minivan and driver. Well worth the cost!

The Valle de Guadalupe

Our first stop was the winery and bed and breakfast at the Adobe Guadalupe. I am glad we started with this place because this winery had the best wine and hospitality of all the places we visited. We had considered staying at the bed and breakfast but it was a little expensive. But now that we know how beautiful the place is and how good the wine is, we definitely will stay there next time. It’s $175/night and they have a maximum capacity for 12 guests. Anyone want to join us? We tried a non-sweet rosé, 4 reds all named after archangels, and a mescal named Lucifer (without the worm). We also tried their olive oil and olives. Most of the wineries we visited also sold olive oil. Olive trees are often planted in the perimeter of the vineyards to protect the grape plants from high winds, dust, etc.

Yummy wine at the Adobe Guadalupe.

Our next stop was Monte Xanic. This is definitely a larger production winery and I think they even ship outside of Mexico, while most other wineries only sell within Mexico. I was most excited about this place but ended up disappointed. The facility was very nice and impressive but the wine was only so-so.

We then stopped at La Casa de Doña Lupe. We had a light lunch of fresh cheese, bread, and chips. The husband smoked a Cuban cigar and we all sipped wine. It was perfect. By then we were all quite tipsy so most everything we discussed was funny. I'm not going to name names, but everyone was drunk. We also sampled a homemade hot sauce and we loved it so much we brought some back with us.

Smoking a Cuban.

Our fourth stop was L.A. Cetto. This is one of the biggest wineries in Mexico and the commercialization was evident. We actually encountered another couple wine tasting (they looked like total American hippies and had Colorado plates). The wines were quite tasty but the service wasn’t impressive. They certainly didn’t treat us like we were family or like they were happy to see us. But we were drunk by this time so we didn’t care too much.

Our final stop was Casa Pedro Domecq. This place had the best view from their wine tasting room. The wine lady was fluent in English and had a California accent as the husband easily identified. Again the wine was fantastic. We also sampled their brandy, Don Pedro, liked it, and bought a bottle.

When we got back to hotel, we all lounged by the pool and had more animated conversations as we waited for dinner time. We again had a lovely dinner with beer, margaritas, and wine. Did I mention that the theme of this trip was eating and drinking?

Lounging at the pool.

Our drive back to San Diego was mostly uneventful. It took us 1.25 hours to cross the border. That’s the fastest time I can remember. My father-in-law did a great job navigating the Tijuana traffic. The guard at the border looked into the car through the windows a couple of times, scanned our passports, asked us what we were importing (2 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of brandy), and waved us through. We forgot to mention the Cuban cigar.

We spent our last remaining hours of vacation in San Diego's Old Town, which is a working replica of the 1800’s San Diego (where “California was born”). It obviously resembles Mexico with its courtyards and adobe buildings. But after being in real Mexico for a few days, it wasn’t that great. It reminded me of the ghost towns at Knott’s Berry Farm. There were some gigantic cacti plants which were really cool – dinosaur plants as my husband likes to call them.

Old Town

Dinosaur plant

What a great vacation!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Little Something in the Meantime

I am working on a post about our trip to San Diego and Baja California. Until I get that ready, here's a cute picture of Mr. Noodles the Pirate and Sluggo when they had ringworm. This picture was taken by my mom when we left the kitties at my parents' house when we went to Costa Rica. My mom had just given the kittens a bath because they had gotten into the chimney. All the brown spots are where the kitties had ringworm. We had to treat them by giving them weekly sulfur dips, daily medicine, and twice-daily cream application to their spots. We all hated it.

But they recovered and the ordeal gave them a special bond. They are total BFF's now.