Friday, December 28, 2012

For Always and Forever

At the beginning of December I flew down to Orange County to visit one of my favorite people, Shawn, and while down there we swung up to LA for a couple days to see a couple other favorites, Ian and Charlotte.  In Orange County we first took it easy in the city of Orange, just perusing antique stores, eating Cuban food and drinking Italian coffee, and picking up some artisan beer to enjoy later.  We strolled along the beach in San Clemente, catching up on life and sharing the highlights of our most recent year abroad, and got cocktails on the water in Laguna Beach.  We also hung out with his very sweet parents, who treated me to Mexican and filled me in on the latest happenings on Survivor and X-Factor as we watched that week's episodes together.

Then Shawn and I braved the traffic and bad weather to head up to LA.  It's no secret that I'm not a huge fan of the city, but every time I go my friends try to show me something new to appreciate.  Our theme song for the drive was Cherrelle's Saturday Love, which came on the radio multiple times.  We're going to add it to the repertoire of our throw-back cover band.  

The first day there Shawn permitted me to do the touristy thing, so we visited the Grove mall (where it magically snows for Christmas and there's a really cool international food market), Rodeo Drive (where I strode into Ferragamo to check out shoes and Shawn duteously waited outside), and also the prominent Beverly Wilshire (think Pretty Woman) and Beverly Hills hotels.


The rest of our time we spent with Ian and Charlotte (although not always at the same time), and Ian was sweet enough to offer up his place for us to stay.  With Charlotte the first night we went to Japan Town for a delicious noodle dinner and then to a couple really unique bars downtown.  It's amazing to go from living with someone and seeing them on the daily to just once or twice a year, but the reunions are always so much fun!

The next morning we, including Char's boyfriend, Josh, and another Bologna study abroad friend, Mikaela, who was also visiting for the weekend, all got together for breakfast.  I ate such a unique take on Eggs Benedict, with wild boar bacon and fennel-infused hollandaise sauce.  At the table, the guys whipped out their Ray-Bans to compare.

After, we drove up to the Griffith Observatory, which had been my main request for LA that weekend since I'd never been.  It had a great vantage point of the city, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the benefits of having an observatory in the bright, polluted skies of LA.  I mean, the place is star-studded for sure, but the ones in the sky might as well be hidden behind tinted windows and VIP rope like those ones on the ground.

That afternoon, in between fancy coffee and more snacks, we went to the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank to try to see Michael Jackson's grave.  Yes, I realize this is a strange thing to do, but Shawn and I had driven past the cemetery so many times and consistently commented about how neat it would be to try to visit him.  We knew that his gravesite was private and that we probably wouldn't be able to see anything and certainly wouldn't be permitted to enter, but we wanted to try to get close and pay our respects.  Plus, there are many other well-known celebrities buried at Forest Lawn.  What we didn't know is that there is more than one Forest Lawn, and MJ resides at the Glendale site!  So we strolled around anyway and managed to find the graves of Bette Davis, Stan Laurel (from the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy), and Liberace.  It was certainly a unique experience!

On our last day, we wanted to get breakfast with Char and Josh in Pasadena.  Char was house sitting for friends, and we had debated either going to a restaurant in town or just going over to eat at the house where she was staying.  That morning, when I called her and asked where she'd like to meet, she said, "Let's just do Mike and Anne's."  Me, assuming those were the names of the couple who own the house she was staying in, said, "Great, can I bring anything?"  Char seemed really confused and said, "No..." and then out of curiosity, "...well, like what?"  I thought I was just being polite and it wasn't a weird offer at all but let it go, and then she asked what time we could be there.  I told her that we'd leave in a few minutes and just get there when we get there, since I don't know how long it takes to get places.  She really wanted to set a time which I found ridiculous, so I asked, "What, you're not there already?"  To which she replied surprisedly, "!"  Finally, after much apparent confusion on both sides, I get off the phone and Shawn tells me, "Mike & Anne's is the restaurant in Pasadena."  What a good laugh we had over that one, let me tell you.

So after a delicious breakfast with Char and Josh (I had Red Flannel Hash with beets, bacon, and red potatoes, yummers), Shawn and I decided to go to the Norton Simon Museum instead of heading straight back to San Clemente.  The amazing thing about the museum is that the collection was completely privately-acquired, all by a man who didn't discover art until his 40s and then jumped in head-first.  Among my favorites were the Picassos, Van Goghs, and an extensive variety of Degas, particularly his sculptures.  There was also a fascinating collection of Asian art, which Shawn particularly enjoyed.

Putting aside the shallowness, the traffic, and the name-dropping, LA showed me a lot of its beauty that weekend: great art, delicious dining, and most importantly, good friends.  I'm always sad to leave those guys...until next time!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Better late than never, I figure, so here's my Thanksgiving blog.  It had been three years since I had spent a Thanksgiving at home, but since there's nothing like tradition to add consistency to holidays, it was as if I'd never left.  There were still crazy late-late preparations, Tia Diane's spinach dip and my parent's excellent Thanksgiving spread, and of course my dad dressing up like a goofball.

There were two new things this year, however.  One was the precious new addition to the family, Jax, Ashley and Ryan's new puppy.  He was so sweet and cuddly (when he wasn't nibbling on your hair or skin), and stole everyone's heart, even Emma's.  It was hilarious to watch them interact and to see Emma take on the role of the responsible adult who just wanted to rest.  Still, I think Emma missed him once he left!

Second was my mom enlisting the cousins' help to prepare post-dinner an apple crisp.  The boys were in shock that she was serious and one even said, "I've never had to actually do anything for Thanksgiving before."  Despite the early grumbles, they took to it really quickly and seemed exited to be crumbling and buttering and zesting the night away.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ghouls Come Out To Play (Baseball)


It's not every weekend that one of your best friends comes to visit, you get to dress up and go to a Halloween party in an old Victorian, and your favorite baseball team wins the World Series, but this was one of those weekends.

Shawn flew up to visit for four days, and he and I spent our first afternoon together having a picnic at Golden Gate Park and walking around North Beach.

That evening we picked up Gio and went to The Lookout for happy hour, where we were able to see people strutting around the Castro in the first round of Halloween Costumes (later that weekend we saw someone there with a cake hat walking around in his birthday suit-literally).  Later that night, Brittany and Jodi joined us for pizza and arancini at Delfina in the Mission.

On our way to brunch the next morning, this was the commotion that welcomed us on the street.  The firemen jumped out and pointed to us on the corner: "Did you call fire?!"  We hadn't, and they couldn't find who had.  At least four big trucks and many smaller ones reported for duty, but there was no smoke in sight.  The rest of the day was spent thrifting for last-minute costumes, watching Game Three, and getting ready for the Halloween party at Jessie's in Oakland.

Here's our crew ready for the party.  I was a Senior Portrait from 1982, and among the others you'll find Daphne from Scooby Doo, a Murderous Mechanic, a Scarecrow, and Rosie the Riveter. 

Jessie and her roommates really went all out with the decor.  Several of them are teachers and had access to great resources, like butcher paper and holiday creativity.  Oh, and I must mention that they had a Super-hero themed bounce house.  Awesome, right?

There were some fantastic costumes out and about.  A few of my favorites were a saucy male French Maid, the Tootsie-Pop Owl, and a chic, mysterious Raven.  Mary's Matador costume (down below) was a great one, too.


Our group spent the night dancing, munching on cupcakes, and bouncing (which leaves you feeling quite googly afterwards).  Highlights include Brittany getting her heel stuck in a floor vent, Mary breaking it down to Robyn on the dance floor and singing the Star Spangled Banner in opera from the porch, running from a band of racoons on the sidewalk and basically all the bounce house moments.  At one point, while dancing with the French Maid and a Tigress, Brittany exclaimed, "This is the best night ever!"  The following group shot is compliments of her. 

Driving back home over the bridge from Oakland, one could see all the buildings of the city lit up in Giants orange!

Sunday was basically dedicated to the Giants.  We slowly made our way down to Divasadero, climbing around Cole Valley, through secret stairways and up panoramic hills.  Taking in all the lovely houses in the area, Britt proclaimed, "I'd happily set up house and home in one of these!"  The first photo above, of the Detroit Tiger's tombstone, was from one of the elaborately decorated houses in the neighborhood.  

We made our way to Corona Heights Park, where we had sweeping views of the city, from Candlestick Park to the Bay Bridge and downtown.

Next, we grabbed burritos and headed to The Independent, a venue that was hosting a special showing of Game Four.  It was perfect because we got there early and had our own VIP section, there was a bar, we could bring in our own food, and they had set up a gigantic screen so that we could actually watch the game.  I was praying they would win not just because I love the Giants and a sweep would've been awesome, but for Shawn's sake.  He didn't quite expect a weekend of sports when he came up to a visit a bunch of girls, and I didn't want to make him sit through yet another game!

I was glad Game Four wasn't easy.  We had to fight for it, and it felt better (and more normal) to suffer a bit of Giants torture.  By the Win, it really felt like we deserved it!  The lights were flashing, people were jumping up and screaming and hugging.  It was completely unreal.  After missing the 2010 series while I was abroad, I was thankful to the guys for doing it again so I could participate this time!  What an amazing team they are, playing for the name on the front, not the one on the back.  Plus, they make it fun and they look damn good doing it.


We had to walk home because public transportation was so backed up due to the street celebrations, so we grabbed a bunch of orange foods (think Goldfish, carrots, etc.) and hiked back up the hill, wooing and high-fiving our way past crazy-exited fans, with honking and hollering coming from every direction.  Brittany snapped this great one of Gio as we were walking down the cordoned off Haight Street.  We made it home to eat our orange dinner and watch the celebratory madness on the news, and we even got to see my dad, discussing the impact of Sandy on airport delays.  I was in the other room when he came on and everyone yelled incoherently for me to come see, I dare say louder than they yelled for the Giants.

When the Giants flew home into SFO the next day, my dad snapped this photo of Larry Baer with the trophy.  He got to see all the players up close and personal, too!

On Monday, we went for a day-long walk through the Presidio, where Gio lives, and down to Fort Point, across Crissy Field, through the Marina District, and all the way to Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf.  Gio lives amongst the most beautiful old brick houses, which were part of the base before it was demilitarized.  Apparently I have to meet someone with a connection to be able to move into one, so it's time to start going to Presidio block parties. 

It was a lovely, albeit chilly day, and we just enjoyed the scenery and the last few hours of being together.  I think Shawn really fell for the city, and I fell in love with it all over again.  There's just no place quite like San Francisco.

"The glory that was Rome is of another day...
I'm going home to my city by the bay
When I come home to you, San Francisco  
Your golden sun will shine for me"
-Tony Bennett

And before I go, just one shot of the family (minus Daniel!) on Halloween night, after the parade coverage and between Hocus Pocus and trick-or-treaters.  Hope everyone had a safe and spooky holiday.  Trick or sweep!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Make You Feel My FALL Love

It's always the fall that sucker punches me in the nostalgia glands.  I feel that first chill in the air and I'm suddenly transported back to Italy, exchanging my wardrobe from summer to winter, sitting down to Sandra's pumpkin pasta, bundling up in scarves and boots, and passing the hills filled with rainbows of autumnal leaves as we ride to the local oil mill for the November olive harvest.  And yet, there's this other part of me whose nostalgic associations are inevitably bound homeward, the part that relishes memories of trick or treating, watching Hocus Pocus and Casper, and waking up to the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven.  Honestly, if California didn't have such blasted awesome weather, the fall here might leave me not thinking of Italy at all.

Still, even with lovely weather, us Californians find ways to enjoy the season!  The girls came over recently for a Halloween dinner, and we ate squash in several different forms before carving our ghoulish pumpkins, above.  My dad offered to pretend to be an intruder in the yard to scare us, but I figured someone would probably legitimately get wounded in that scenario, so I called him off.


Later that week, my parents and I threw Emma in the car and drove up to Apple Hill, a collection of orchards and farms near Placerville, CA.  Basically, you go to eat.  We had delicious BBQ chicken with macaroni and apple marshmallow salads, apple-infused beer, and apple-pumpkin pie.  We stopped by several farms, including one called Bavarian Hills, where Dad and his surprisingly hairy German barmaid took this photo.

We also went apple picking, which was neat because the lady said, "Try apples from each tree before you pick any to take home with you."  She wanted to make sure we loved them, and we found plenty of delicious ones, plus Emma loved the adventure.

Then this past weekend we celebrated my brother's 21st birthday.  He and I went to see Bob Dylan at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, which was one of the coolest venues I've been to.  It was really clever of them to transport this classic model here, what with its incredible acoustics and added lovely view of the bay.

I have to admit that while I admire Bob Dylan for his impact on music and his accomplished career, I'm not his most avid follower.  One of the reasons I appreciate him, though, is for his writing of "Make You Feel My Love," Adele's cover of which is perhaps my favorite song.  So, you can imagine my pleasure when he included his folksy version of that song on his set list Friday night!  Check out the video below, and that's Bob Dylan at the piano towards the right of the following photo.

That night we went out for Daniel's first (at least legal) beer, which the bartender Johnny offered him for free, and my brother hosted me at his place, even offering me his bed with freshly washed sheets and all.  The next day our parents met us in town and we ate at the 21st Amendment, a connection my brother just couldn't pass up.

Later that night, several of my UCSD friends and I headed to the Disney Museum in the Presidio for an alumni event.  It was cool to be in a room where you knew you have something in common with everyone, plus I had a handful of close friends and, of course, Walt by my side.

My favorite thing about the museum was the extremely detailed topographical model of Disneyland from the early '60s.  The guide was so helpful in pointing out to me all the various changes and developments over the years, and you could tell she was so passionate about it all!  One could really feel the magic of Disney in the museum, and I'd love to go again when I can spend more time appreciating all it has to offer.

But really the fall is just up, Halloween!