Trip to Tijuana

A fellow friend told Parker and me about an Ohio native who conducts tours in Tijuana and, after hearing about her great experience, we signed up to do a food tour. If anyone knows anything about me, they know I 1) love to travel and 2) love food and when those combine it’s like magic.

Traveling to TJ is a pretty divisive topic among people around these parts. While some are anxious or downright against the idea of traveling across the border, I talked with people that had actually been there to make an informed decision. Parker’s former roommate has family there and visits often and, though we’ve been wanting to go with him for a while, the opportunity for this food tour came up quickly and we jumped at the opportunity.

The organization that Derrik, the Ohio native, has set up is called Turista Libre (meaning Free Tourist) and it’s fantastic. Derrik moved to San Diego eight or so years ago and said he found himself traveling to TJ so often that he realized he’d rather live there than in SD. So he moved across the border, developed him impeccable Spanish, and started work as a freelance journalist. He’d show his friends around when they came to visit and, after finding himself without work, used his knowledge of the city and the desire to show people the TJ he loves, started Turista Libra. Now he does tours of all sorts: food tours, market events, art walks, and apparently he’s got a Mexican wrestling visit coming up!

Even better, Turista Libre has been getting a lot of publicity! Derrik was featured as part of an NPR piece on TJ, and I really hopes it brings more people to the city. Our first experience in TJ was a great success, and I’m already looking forward to going back.

 

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In Progress

Somehow I blinked and it’s the end of April. How did this happen? How have the past four months come and gone in a way that feels like two weeks? Keeping busy, obviously! I find that I’m a better person when I’m busy, really. If given too much time with nothing schedule, I tend to squander it on websites like Apartment Therapy and Sunset, bookmarking sites for DIY project/home decor inspiration and landscaping ideas. I love wasting time on these sites, and yet I would love even more to start tackling actual projects around the house.

But it’s been a busy couple of months! It seems that we’ve had plans every weekend since mid March, and my marathon training is wiping out most of my Saturdays. It turns out that running 16 miles, eating a giant burrito with hash-browns and three types of meat in it, and then napping until early evening is now what I would call a “typical” Saturday.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m happy with the way training is going, but my brain has yet to develop enough stamina to keep itself entertained on these long runs. Music helps (yay, Pandora Alternative Endurance Workout Station!), and running with others is a huge boost to my morale; there is no way that I could have done this without others to run with.

Unfortunately, a wrong move this past week while playing a game of kickball (stop laughing!) pulled/pinched/hurt my hamstring. After emailing my coach through the training program about it, and who emailed me back with an emphatic “Call me as soon as possible!”, I got set up with the program’s resident sports massage guy who worked wonders on both my legs. I also learned that most things I was doing to recover after runs was horribly wrong, so there’s that too. Yay, improvement! (Fun fact: I’ll be using my foam roller more often to do things like this).

As for the home projects, there are many. We had a working list a couple of months ago, but it needs updating: front yard, but first we need to replace the waste line pipe; backyard, but first we may need to cut down the rubber tree; cleaning, patching, and painting the basement…the list goes on.

Most of this will probably have to wait until the summer, but until then it’ll be smaller projects and becoming closer to my neighborhood Lowe’s paint center.

Knowing that I can get samples of colors for $3 has been a bit of a mixed blessing.

Knowing that I can get samples of colors for $3 has been a bit of a mixed blessing.

Record player stand win!

Record player stand win! Just needs some fresh paint. Ha! Maybe one of the bathroom colors?

 

 

 

 

 

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Roller Skating

I can’t remember the last time that I roller skated, but I have many a fond memory of birthday parties at roller skating rinks. The best (and only?) spot to skate in my hometown was Olympia Family Fun Somethingoranother. It was a chaotic sort of place, with questionable over the counter food and a skates so slick that you’re surprised the carpet even slows you down. Kids were everywhere and there was a batting cage outside. I loved it.

But my neighborhood was not conducive to roller skating. A small cul-de-sac with asphalt so thick it would rattle my teeth and a (gently) sloped driveway that I would be too timid to go fast on. Not so gently sloped was the large hill down from the cul-de-sac, followed immediately by an incredibly large hill. No thank you. I would just skate circles around that cul-de-sac, staring at the hill and thinking I would never go down.

But I did. Once. I’m pretty sure after that I swore I would never go down a hill with anything strapped to my feet, but then I took up skiing and realized that falling on snow in puffy jackets is a lot better than skidding across hot asphalt in shorts and a tshirt.

Almost, but with more straps and less pink.

Almost, but with more straps and less pink.

I’ve looked everywhere on the Internet (read: 30 minutes) for a picture of the beginner skates I had as a kid. In retrospect they were a bit of a deathtrap and probably caused a number of my falls, but I thought they were pretty cool at the time. In short, I could just slip the skates on over my sneakers and just tighten the straps and off I went! They were big, bulky, and white with pink trim.

So when we moved to our neighborhood and saw a roller skating rink nearby we knew we had to check it out, if only for nostalgia’s sake. So what better way to ring in Parker’s 32nd birthday then hitting up “Adult Night” at the rink? Besides, how else are you supposed to celebrate a birthday that falls on a weekday?

And let me tell you, nothing is better than going to a roller rink on adult night. These skaters have moves smoother than jazz. It was like going to some exclusive party where everyone knew each other but skated to their own tune (Literally. A lot of them had earbuds in).

I’ve never seen finer skating in all my life. The splits, spinning, skating backwards, and choreographed moves/dancing with fellow skaters made for fantastic people watching. And like with most physical activities, it all comes down to skill and the gear. While I have neither, I couldn’t help but appreciate how much more comfortable everyone else’s feet probably was. While I was strapped into the typical worn down rental skates, most people had on looked costume made.

Skateworld, where dreams come true.

Skateworld, where dreams come true.

Never happier! He didn't stop smiling all night.

Never happier! He didn’t stop smiling all night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will definitely go back again. Between the classic 90s hip hop and jams (like The Gap Band’s “You Dropped the Bomb On Me”), the stylish skates with lights underneath, and the nonstop smiles I think Parker’s birthday was a resounding success.

Also, some fun San Diego history for you. According to the Skateworld website, the building itself has had many purposes: “We are the only remaining building that was part of the very first American shopping center that Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated when it opened in 1941. Originally built as a community meeting and recreation place for military families, it provided entertainment, workshops, orchestras, and communities meetings (thats why we have a fireplace!). The Dome building was for camouflage purposes and protection from a submarine attack. It was built to resemble a hill and had a large green canvas that had the ability to cover the building to make it blend in with the landscape. It was also built to withstand a direct hit from a submarine, the beams that stretch the entire inside of the dome go more than 9 feet into the ground.” The site goes on to explain that the building later became a gym, and then a skating rink in 1975.

Always something to new to learn living San Diego!

 

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Korben Dallas

Note: This post has been updated since published on March 31st.

A cat has wormed its way into my heart.

And honestly, I think I knew that was going to happen when I moved to this neighborhood. It’s teeming with stray and feral cats, all of which have different comfort levels with humans. There’s one in particular that I’ve talked about, Sean Connery, who I thought I could befriend over time. And while he doesn’t run for the hills whenever I stare at him anymore, he’s pretty content on his own.

Milk does a body good. (Actually, most cats are lactose intolerant).

Milk does a body good.

But when it came to a little kitten meowing away in the backyard in December, I knew I was hooked. He was just. so. stinking. cute. This little ball of puff with little tiny meows won me over instantly. And really, he’s the only kitten I’ve seen in the area. Lord knows what happened to the rest of the litter, but I knew this guy wasn’t going to make it in a neighborhood filled with adult cats that were already constantly hungry and battling it out for food at our neighbor’s place.

 

No. I was going to take care of him, no matter what.

The first steps: food is the way into anything's heart.

The first steps: food is the way into anything’s heart.

Playing hide and seek.

Playing hide and seek like a jungle cat.

And so began our tentative relationship. He disappeared for a month and, when he came back, was much more receptive to me (read: food). From January until now, he’s eaten, run away, let us pet him, sat in our laps, and played with us. With much deliberation, we named him Korben Dallas, after one of our favorite movies. We took him to the vet, where even though he was obviously terrified he handled it like a champ and was deemed a wonderful, healthy 6 month old kitten. Heck, we’ve gotten so used to each other that he would sleep in our laps while we watched House of Cards.

He is our cat, and I looked forward to seeing him outside our door every morning for breakfast and every evening when I get home. It was part of our routine as much as it was his.

Which is why, when he didn’t show up Sunday morning to say hello, I was worried. I whistled and I called and no show. Maybe he’s sowing his seeds or Maybe he got picked up by another family all came to mind. And of course, so did the inevitable: he got hit by a car, he got attacked by a dog, he’s gone forever.

For the past four days I’ve tried to be calm and optimistic, which is why the news that he had passed was so devastating. Today I was planning on actively searching for him instead of waiting. I had posted a lost ad on Craigslist and was planning on walking around the neighborhood, so when I came home to a note from my next door neighbors that a dead kitten had been found in their backyard my heart dropped.

No evidence of trauma, no bugs or ants on him. He looked like he was sleeping, my neighbor said. I think he still looks like he’s sleeping.

I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon. I really loved this little kitten and when I think about him now my heart just breaks. But I’m so thankful he was found by people who care about us, and cared about him. I think we’re going to have a burial somewhere in the backyard, but honestly I’m not sure. And I’m so thankful that, if only for a little bit, we made each other very happy.

Best. Toy. Ever.

Best. Toy. Ever.

Hello, little one. Let's be friends.

Hello, little one. Let’s be friends.

 

Pounce, pounce, pounce.

Pounce, pounce, pounce.

He cut himself in the crate en route to the vet. All is calm after an intense day.

He cut himself in the crate en route to the vet, but all was calm after an intense day.

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South Africa and the Philosophy of Surrender

With about four hours left in the long flight home from Jo’Burg to Atlanta I was briefly and terrifyingly trapped in the lavatory with a small spider that I had unwittingly brought back with me from Parys. At it was on my head.

If it had been any of my students, the entire plane would have woken up to screams. I, on the other hand, am proud to say that I reacted quickly and used my washcloth to crush it. Ironically it was the very washcloth that it had unknowingly hitched a ride on from my accommodations. I feel almost guilty for killing it, but a plane is no place for a spider.

I was trying to find a way to romanticize this moment, like a tiny bit of South Africa following was following me home, but that’s hard to do when I killed it so quickly and without any hesitation. And honestly, my attitude on this trip can not be characterized as romantic in any way. Frustrating, productive, exasperating, engaging, numbing, and hopeful are words that fit my experience this go round. Romantic? I thought that my first year for the first two days of the trip. Now I know better, and now I don’t feel so burdened for saying that my experience can be as complicated as the country and the people I’ve met.

This trip was difficult for me on a more philosophical level. The first year I was upset and angry by a lot of things I saw, the second year I was sad, and this year I let go. Murray, and Irishman who’s lived in South Africa since the early 80s with his wife and is one of our closet contacts with the township, calls it “the philosophy of surrender.” You know you can’t control the situation, so you give yourself up to it. That’s hard to do in South Africa, but he tries to do it often. That and laugh when you can, and laugh often.

But surrender does not mean giving up or giving in quietly. On the contrary, surrender means being able to recognize the situation as it stands and acknowledge when trying to help improve it is not possible. For instance, there was a little boy of about eighteen months at one of the crèches who was born deaf in one ear and at six months became blind. He was obviously frustrated with his situation and wanted to be outside often, and he required constant care. Murray says there is no place for him in South Africa and he will be abandoned by his family over time. The state will eventually take him in and put him in an institution, but the quality of said institution is in question. While the emotions of others were a mix of angry, sad, and upset, Murray and I talked about this matter-of-fact and in a resigned sort of way. There is nothing we can do to help this child so we surrender to the situation and instead focus on people we can help.

And we did help. What makes these trips successful is that we listen to the needs of the community instead of blindly taking on projects that are unnecessary but supposed to make people feel like they’ve done something/changed the world. South Africa is not going to be changed in two weeks by a group of high school students. But two daycares now have shade ports for their children, who will get a reprieve from the sweltering summer temperatures inside their corrugated steel structures and a community garden was revived at an agricultural school with an irrigation system. But more importantly, my students formed strong relationships with a group of students from that very same agricultural school, and both groups are better people for having met each other.

The corruption and cronyism of the ANC is rampant and effects every part of the country, but complaining about it won’t solve any problems. Instead community leaders in Parys, both black and white, have informal meetings with the mayor and brainstorm, together, solutions to the city’s problems. Discussion, not violence, is working for this community. That’s not the case for a lot of other areas, where basic water service is inconsistent and/or unsanitary, and quality education in the townships is nearly impossible to attain with teachers who don’t come to work and where the pass rate is 30%. These complex situations have complex solutions that we, as a group visiting for two weeks, can’t even begin to approach. But we can work on the smaller, more intimate issues the community is facing.

Will the garden at the school be maintained effectively? We can’t say for sure, though there are plenty of local people that want it to thrive. And because we can’t control the situation, we surrender our control and hope (with a lot of vocal encouragement) that some of the other teachers and students will see the benefit of the garden and maintain it for themselves.

I’m struggling with whether I want to lead the trip again next year. I’ve formed these amazing relationships with people in Parys, and I feel deeply invested in the program. I can’t imagine going anywhere else, but isn’t that the point? To go to places that you’ve never seen or experienced? To help as many people as possible and, with each person you meet, to become a better and more accepting person? That’s what traveling means to me, but the people I’ve come to know have a place in my heart that I don’t want to lose. Even though it will take decades, I desperately want to see South Africa thrive and live up to the potential I know it has, but am I comfortable with leading this trip for next year, or even three or five years out? I can’t say.

It also bothers me that I wasn’t as affected as my students or the other chaperones were by their experiences. I’ve gone through those emotions, processed them, and surrendered to them. It’s hard being the only person on the trip who has done that, and at times I felt more like a psychologist than a participant (and not a very good one at that). I want to experience the same thing as the people I’m traveling with, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. Does that mean it’s time to give my efforts to another trip, or does this make me more qualified to lead this one? Where do I belong and how can I help the most?

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Track Club (And Other January Happenings)

I’ve been really hesitant to write about track club or talk about it with people, mainly because 1) It feels like I’m bragging, 2) I don’t want people to assume this was a New Year’s Resolution (because honestly, those usually don’t work out for me), and 3) I’m afraid I’ll jinx it somehow and 4) it seems overly trendy, and I tend to dislike trendy things. Like coffee shops that have a lot of Mac users.

Side note: I am one of those people.

But somehow I’ve come to that time period in my life where I run. And my friends run. And we do races for hot chocolate and getting colored flour thrown at us and crap.

When did this happen? When did suddenly everyone around me (both here and back East) suddenly become runners? I’m pretty sure this is a huge metaphor for something, but I’m still trying to pinpoint it. Or maybe there’s not one metaphor, but many? Or none? Either way, we’re all running to something. For me, it’s the wonderful ability to eat more food.

Haha! Just kidding (but not really).

The name Track Club is a bit deceiving, since I’m not actually hurling a javelin or shot put.

Side note: I was that girl in track in high school. The one that was in track, but didn’t actually run. I completely blamed the Georgia humidity/pollen count on my lungs for working like shriveled prunes, but really I just hated running and the way the shorts would creep up my meaty thighs as I ran. So instead I took said meaty thighs and put them toward another purpose: discus and shot put. I was, shall you say, hefty. Ah, no, I’m sorry. Husky. That’s exactly the term my mom used a year ago when describing my equestrian experience at Girl Scout Camp and the fact that I was assigned the biggest freaking horse that then-11-year-old-girl had ever seen . Let’s just say its qualities bore a striking resemblance to that of a clydesdale.

To be sure, I dominated that beast and got some fancy “you didn’t die on the jumps!” ribbons at camp and did moderately well in shot-put at matches. Discus, on the other hand, was no match for my lack of direction when it comes throwing flat, circular objects.

But this track club is all about running. And more running. And then some high intensity cardio. But really, I like it because I’m doing things I normally wouldn’t do on my own, and I’m meeting a lot of cool people (one of my favorite is a 40something ex-Marine who called me George because he couldn’t remember my name). The club has about 300+ members, so there’s always someone new to meet and someone to encourage you. Better yet, I’m in the club with two of my former roommates so it’s great girl bonding.

The end goal of the track club is to participate in the Rock N Roll (Half or Full) Marathon in June. So if you’re good at math, your realize that’s SIX MONTHS of training. I keep going between thinking “Man I better lose some weight” to “Man I can’t wait to eat after this run” so I have a feeling my thoughts will just cancel out after Month #3. The schedule is certainly keeping me plenty busy, and I like that. I somehow find that I’m more productive in other areas of my life now that I have this going on. Please keep in mind that my love for Internet distractions has not diminished.

Aside from my January being filled with running, I’d like to take a moment to let you in on other fun things happening in my life.

1. Kitten has returned! I was worried that this little kitten flew the coop when we discovered her before winter break, but she’s back and pretty friendly as well. I’m going to slowly gain her trust and take her to a vet to get spayed and vaccinated (which may actually break our circle of trust, but it’s for her own good). More on her later, because who doesn’t need more blog posts about kittens?!

2. I have trouble making big culinary decisions without the help of Cooks Illustrated and I was able to find an equipment review on an awesome blender that I use pretty often now. We caved on the blender because of the immense awe and guilt we felt every time we went to Costco and the Vitamix guy talked to us for an hour because I wanted to try every sample. We didn’t get a Vitamix though, but the Breville Hemisphere Control Blender (rated #2! by Cooks Illustrated).

3. We’re finally starting up kickball again in February. Kickball is how Parker and I met (funny story) and we played in Virginia until we moved away. I’m so looking forward to getting back into that atmosphere, but I hope it’s not overly competitive (it probably will be) and that we like our new team mates (we probably will).

4. My trip to South Africa (trip #3!) for The School is coming up in a couple of weeks and I’m getting pretty excited. It’s a bit surreal that it’s happening that soon. The trip is very different than last time (no more Kruger National Park in favor of much needed interaction with South African high school students and local community members). The one thing I’m not looking forward to is the 15+ hour plane ride there and back. Ugh.

 

 

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Home Again Home Again

When people say “Oh! My family loves Christmas! It’s our favorite holiday!” I just smile politely, but really I’m thinking Honey, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Because while their family may go all out for the actual holiday, my family’s love for “the most wonderful time of the year” runs deep. So deep, yet so subtle that it catches you off guard if you’re not paying attention.

My parents Christmas village is great place to start. You know the ones I’m talking about: the cute little snow-covered houses with matching figurines engaged in snow-related activities, such as caroling, sledding, and ice skating. Really, these villages remind me of the final scenes in Funny Farm with Chevy Chase and how he paid off his entire town to look like a Kinkaid painting in order to sell his house. So I imagine one of those figurines is just a city man who’s made a huge mistake and is bribing his town to put on a good show.

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Our small, but formidable, Christmas Village.

This village has been a constant fixture in my parents house. And by “constant” I mean “permanent”. As in 24/7/365. This village has been up longer than I can remember. But really, I kind of love it. It’s in a tucked away spot that you could easily walk by and not notice it, but it’s permanence says a lot about our love of the holidays. And no, I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s up all year round. All year round.

But when it comes to the month of December the army of Santa Clauses come marching out of their plastic bin slumber and take over the house. We’ve got a thing for Santas here. There’s the classic 2 foot Coca-Cola Santa that seemingly whispers Shh! to a little dog while snagging a Coke, Santa going down the chimney with a bag full of toys, a more old-timely, thinner Santa in the toy shop, even a Santa at a computer! (How modern!). Most of these guys are in the main room with (one of three!) Christmas trees. We just have to make sure to move them from the fireplace so we don’t melt them.

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A Christmas store exploded in here.

Beyond the village are the Christmas trees, which number at three this year. There’s one in the kitchen, the main room, and our living room (which is the biggest one). All of my trees growing up were fake (Mom says that they started with the fake trees because of the energy embargo in the late 1970s…), and only a handful of years ago did my parents upgrade to one that had built in white lights.

(Side note: Southerners love them some white lights. When my parents moved down from Kentucky/Ohio them came bearing colored Christmas lights, which for my mother became a bit of a scandal the first year she put them up. It’s only been recently that you see multicolored lights, even more so with the LED variety. But the typical Southern home has the following exterior decorations: wreaths hanging from every window, single candles in each window below said wreath, wreath on the front door, and white lights tastefully draped across the bushes in front of the house. It’s classic, but can be boring.

My house, on the other hand, never followed the tried-and-true Southern Christmas. Yes we would have the candles and wreaths in the windows (one of which I would inevitably drop outside while decorating), but we went crazy with our lights: I would make a multicolored light archway over our driveway, we’d have two old-timey “lamps” we would have on ever side of our front door, we would candy-cane the trees, and it wasn’t long before the 7ft blow up of Frosty and Mickey Mouse appeared on our lawn. To the classic Southerner we were an eyesore, a holiday abomination. We relished in our flair.)

Our fake trees were always fun to put together, mainly because of the stand that we used. This stand, ladies and gentlemen, rotates. AND it plays instrumental holiday music. Impressed? You should be. But let me tell you, having a rotating stand made stringing beads and lights a lot easier. I love sitting in the room with only the tree lights gleaming, slowly spinning around in a hypnotic swirl of ornaments from various vacations, but most from Disney World.

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One of these things is not like the other…

Yes, that is a monorail from Disney that you see circling the tree. Disney is a major…part of my family’s life. You know how some people are “Disney” families? That’s mine, and it becomes more obvious during Christmas. You’ll notice in other photos Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck nutcrackers, that the tree next to the fireplace is covered in Disney ornaments, and that throughout the house are Disney/Christmas figurines made special for this holiday season.

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Nothing says Christmas like Grandma’s plum pudding! And the troupe of Mickey and Minnies.

Nothing says Christmas like plum pudding! And Mickey and Minnie.

While I’ve gone through a love/hate relationship with Disney (especially during my teenager years; see below) every time I see different ornaments from the parks, or ornaments of characters, I smile and think about the memories associated with them. I’m a (closet) Disney person, and that’s okay.

But aside from our decor choices, our Christmas spirit was fueled by another outside force: the ever-present Christmas Light Show. There a two in Georgia that have always captured the hearts and minds of my parents: Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier (Atlanta) and the Calloway Gardens Fantasy in Lights (Columbus). Both of these “shows” are actually just drive-through events. Miles of Christmas lights fashioned into intricate displays of Santa’s workshop, the Twelve Days of Christmas, and a winter wonderland turned in to miles of cars filled with children gleefully starring out, the passengers taking photos, and the driver complaining about the lights from the driver behind him. You can imagine that, during my teenage years and 10th+ time seeing the same lights (Southerners also love consistency), I was a bit bitter and resentful about such outings. Each was a 2+ hour drive away from our place, only to drive through 6 miles of lights at a speed that is so slow you might as well be walking. On top of that one would have to deal with SOME people stopping theirs cars to take a picture of the exact same display that was there the year before. It was a challenge, one that I feel had a formative influence on my life (especially when it comes to patience).

So that, in a nutshell, is Christmas with my family. Add to that a beautiful Christmas mass (we no longer have the stamina, or eardrums, to deal with midnight mass), and hours upon hours of cooking/baking fun in the kitchen (ham! sweet potatoes! orange bread!) and various Christmas films and you’ve got yourself a more typical Christmas. But who wants to be typical? I’ll take all of that and a rotating fake Disney Christmas tree with multicolored AND white lights any day.

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