Monday, October 27, 2008

It Hasn't Rained Until You Came Back

It seems that yesterday was the biggest rain Oahu has had in almost a year. Of Course, is all I have to say. The forecast said that it would be most sunny with scattered showers--in other words fairly typical Hawaii weather. However, I woke up yesterday to a gray low hanging sky--you know the kind that signals that it is hear to stay for a while. There was no wind to send it elsewhere so I went down to the ABC Store to buy an umbrella. I came back, reconsidered my shoes and decided that my slippers were the best bet, my feet were going to get wet anyhow, I might as well wear shoes that dried out quickly. I decided to walk down to Ala Moana--about 2 miles from Sand Villa where I am staying. I called S and later A, friends and former co-workers to arrange a meeting at Brew Moon in the afternoon.
I headed out, got past the Royal Hawaii Village which is all covered, and stepped out on to the sidewalk only to find a few minutes later, the sky had decided to open up and dump thousands of gallons of water on Waikiki. Of course! I quickly reconsidered my shoes again, my feet were sliding around in the slippers, I decided I might as well take them off until I got to Ala Moana. So I did and walked barefoot for the next 30 minutes. When I got to Ala Moana, once again under covered walk ways, the rain relented. Yes, that's right. Of Course.
I checked out the Ala Moana expansion, so that some shops have come and other have gone. Next, I walked over to the Ward Center and Ward Warehouse. Compadres, the Mexican restaurant I had my first meal in Hawaii in and drank a lot of wine with M on Sunday afternoons at is now gone. A said in the just the last several weeks. Runner's Room, where I went to see if I could buy a new pair of shoes also gone.
In the afternoon, A and her husband T, met me at Brew Moon. This is were I spent numerous Happy Hours with the free WiFi eating Happy Hour Kaulua Quesadilla's and drinking Happy Hour Beer while working on my Master's. I discovered the Quesadilla was no longer on the Happy Hour Menu--it was no longer the $4 I paid for it but was now $12.95.
A & T had just returned to Hawaii after several years in Japan and DC. It was fantastic to catch up with them again. We regaled each other with stories. Later S came with his family. His wife had to take the new little one home but 6 year old R stayed with him. She remembered me, so I was really happy. I was the first person other than Mom, Dad & hospital personnel to hold her after she was born. I was so nervous holding her. She had turned into a beautiful child. S and his wife C are fantastic parents.
We talked story until about 8:00 pm and then A & T dropped me off at my hotel. It is great to reconnect with friends. It felt like we hadn't ever been apart and the four years that they were gone & the two I was away dissipated without a trace.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Flooded with Memories

It was good to reconnect with former classmates at the conference. Yesterday at break time several was sitting around the table and Lori mentioned that several were there from the flood. The fourth anniversary was heavy on our minds, another 4 days. We talked about my miracle laptop and I told everyone that I had it with me on this trip. In fact it is the computer I am using to write this post. Yesterday's events have reconfirmed the status of my laptop. Here is the story.

There was a silent auction at the conference. I successfully bid for a nifty wine accessory set that includes wine glass markers, corks, & a corkscrew. After I picked up the set, I placed it in my backpack carry on that included the computer. When I was standing in line for security, I realized that the set had the corkscrew and that it might cause some problems but it was too late to do anything. I took off my shoes, took the computer out of the backpack, put my purse, backpack and everything else in the plastic bins. Sure enough, the corkscrew caused problems. The TSA guy asked to open my back, we discussed the corkscrew and I told him to remove it because it wasn't worth the $25 to check the backpack as an extra piece of luggage. He removed, it I collected my backpack, put on my shoes and went to my gate to wait for the plane. About 15 minutes before the flight they began to board the plane, I got up to the cabin door when I realized that my backpack was lighter than it should be. I hadn't collected my computer in the confusion over the corkscrew. I explained to the flight attendant, she told me me to go try to retrieve it. I ran out of the gate area, flagged down a security cop roving around on a modified three wheeled Segue, he wheeled over to the security area, and went down. By the time, I told the older guard what was happening and he explained that corkscrews can actually be taken on planes if they don't have a knife attached--go figure--my guard called me down to identify my computer. I ran downstairs, identified it, collected it, and ran back to the gangway as the guy announced that the gangway was closing. I settled into my seat clutching my computer. My supervisor looked at me, astonished that all this took less than 10 minutes.

I am not sure what made me realize at the last possible minute that my computer was missing, but I am convinced that my computer needs to stay with me through thick and thin. This is the second time. The first time, it was on the only table in the whole freaking library that floated.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Back in Hawaii

At 5:30 am Thursday morning we fled a burning LA for a few days of work in Paradise. Fortunately, I wasn't making it to the airport on my own because I would never have made it. The 405, the only freeway I know how to get to the airport on was closed down due to a fire near Bellaire--the neighborhood the Fresh Prince (Will Smith) made famous. We got to the airport about an hour before the flight by taking freeways I have never heard of. Fortunately, my supervisor's husband is an expert on the roads of LA.

The flight to paradise was very bumpy--like driving on unsealed roads in Oklahoma--needless to say I was keyed up for the 5 hours across the ocean. My main thought being that I hope I pass out before I die and become shark food in the event of water landing in the middle to the worlds largest pond. I am not particularly interested in having a friend called Wilson, I would rather my mom collect the insurance. I'm generous that way.

But of course we landed in Honolulu without incident and the flight to Maui was short and sweet. I excited the airport in Maui to a gentle island breeze with overcast skies. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed seeing grey skies, feeling a cooling trade wind and knowing that the wind was not likely to spawn a major fire.

We drove from Kahului to Wailea to check into our condo. Wow, what a nice condo. Fully appointed, great Hawaiian paintings painted by the owner and two bedrooms, two bathrooms with a lanai looking out onto the Pacific. Man, I miss Hawaii.

Yesterday I woke up and decided to go for a walk that turned into a run in the morning before coming back to enjoy coffee and sweet bread on the lanai before showering and getting ready for the conference.

I attended sessions until 9:30 pm and came back tired. The sessions were good. A few people might be interested in interviewing especially since the news that morning was that Hawaii is now slashing 10% from their library budget and now have a hiring freeze. Everyone asked how the LA is doing. It is a difficult question to answer because we don't know yet. It depends on the election and if people vote to keep taxing themselves. I certainly hope the measure is worded well and people decide it is a good thing to keep paying for enhanced library services. Also the next round of property taxes haven't been collected yet, so we are not sure how deeply the housing situation will effect the budget for the next fiscal year. But because the system is so large there are always openings some of them have to be filled, so maybe things will be OK. If the recession gets really ugly I may be packing up my car and doing a reverse dust bowl and heading back to my roots where everyone is broke, so one more broke former Californian won't make much of a difference.

But on a higher note, this evening we are off to Honolulu. I am going home and it will be nice to walk around my old haunts. My hotel is the Sand Villa which is next to P's old apartment where we started our weekly runs around Diamond Head. I have the chance to catch up with everyone and I am really happy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Out & About

Last weekend, I celebrated by 42nd birthday (YIKES!). I am thinking that I should be more mature and together at this age that I actually feel. But alas, I am not. My friend M suggested that we spend the weekend in Solvang, a quaint Danish Village in Santa Barbara County aka wine country. M and her sisters got really great rates at a local hotel owned by the Chumash Casino. So M and I drove up on Sunday morning stopping for lunch in Santa Inez at The Vineyard. It was a lovely restaurant and we had a comfortable lunch. I was excited because there was a drop in temperature so I was able to wear shorts, sweatshirt, socks and my Birkenstocks--this is my favorite outfit and I really miss San Francisco which has the perfect weather for such clothes.
After lunch we meandered into Solvang and parked the car to walk around the town. Right away I stopped at a wine shop with a tasting menu. I had never done a tasting menu before, so I was a bit intimidated. The first shop, I didn't get much of a reception so I left without experiencing my first tasting. However, the next shop happily walked me through the process. I bought a couple of bottles of some really sweet wine--J said it was like drinking sweet fizzy soda.
I tried a couple of more shops and their tasting menus before we headed to the hotel to check in and wait for M's sisters to arrive. M and I sat out on the balcony enjoying the view and the fine weather.
Later after dinner we headed for the Chumash Casino. I didn't have much to spend in the slot machines so I played the penny slots. I wasted about $40 and then headed over to the slots at that M and her sister E were playing. E had already won the big jackpot on one of the machines--over $300. Since these were nickle slots, I decided to sit down and play the minimum bet-5 cents for one line. As M pointed out the idea is to try to get the added feature for a chance a the jackpot. I put my final $20 in the machine and am playing for a bit, winning, losing, not straying far from my twenty. The next thing I know, I win on my line. M says "Look you won $30." I say wow that is great. I continue to play for a bit, and then I thought, no this is a nickle machine--my $30 is really $150. I get nervous after that. M cashes my ticket out so I have my money in my pocket and won't get stupid with it. I leave the casino that night at 2:00 am with $120 in my wallet. A first for me--but it was my birthday after all.
The next day, we walked around town, I did a few more tastings, bought a few more bottles of wine--added to my free glass collection from the tastings--and then headed to the casino for the lunch buffet. I ended up winning a few more times and losing some but by the end of the day I left with $80 in my wallet so I didn't do so badly. I had a fantastic time, got several bottles of wine to add to my growing collection, bought some cheese and a few jars of olives. It was a great way to spend my birthday weekend and promises to be a good year.
This weekend P came down for a job interview tomorrow (Monday). He came up yesterday evening. It seems like we haven't lost three years. We are the same and it was great catching up with him. This morning we had breakfast at the Halfway House Cafe and then headed to Vasquez Rocks for a light hike.
In the middle of this week, Thursday, I will head to Hawaii for work and the opportunity to catch up with other friends and old haunts. I am going to stay at the Sand Villa which is the hotel next to P's old apartment. I look forward to starting out for a run around Diamond Head the way P, C, and I went. My friends will be with me on my run and I look forward to running with our ghosts of happy times.
I am optimistic that this year will be a good one, it is getting off to a good start which is a good sign.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

China, Cannibals, and Stoned Savages

J. Maarten Troost, the author of the highly readable, laugh out loud book Sex Lives of Cannibals and the follow up companion Getting Stoned with Savages has recently released his new adventures in China called Lost on Planet China. I ask you how a book with a provocative title like Sex Lives of Cannibals not be good? Sex Lives is about Troost's years on a small island in the South Pacific. Anyone traveling and living in Eastern Europe, Asia and/or the Pacific will know that Troost has nailed all those little irky things that make life overseas an adventure. He talks about the time the island ran out of beer. I remember having orange juice my first week in Estonia only to find that it could be found no where in the capital city for the next two months. Then there was the three months in Slovakia that I had to wash my clothes in the bathtub because there were no laundromats in the country. McDonald's had made it the month before I arrived, yet you couldn't find a washing machine that didn't actually belong to you. You never know how long how long you can wear a pair of jeans until you have to do the "I Love Lucy Dance" in the bathtub. You know the episode where she was in the wine vat squashing grapes--I re-enacted this scene about once every two to three weeks in Bratislava. Yes, Mr. Troost knows his stuff.
I have just started Planet China. I was a bit nervous about picking it up. After all I was so extremely disappointed and outraged by Camilla's playboy son's Year of Eating Dangerously and his made up adventures in China--the worst book I have ever read! I haven't been to Kiribati, Vannatu, Fiji or any of the other places that Troost wrote about. Did I just like him because he writes about things that sound true but I have no directly knowledge of them? After all, I decided that Paul Theroux was a pompous ass after reading his Ride the Iron Rooster after I had just left China. I was worried my high esteem might slip down the drain along with the ripped pages of the book. Since the book belongs to the library, I would have some explaining to do.
However, any qualms I may have had were laid to rest with the Author's Note. Troost is in high form. I quickly sped through the first 50 pages and decided that I needed to pace myself or I might meet my carpool at 7:00 tomorrow with saucer eyes. I have a 4 hour training session to get through in the morning--saucer eyes would be a bad idea.
Troost talks about the trouble of being a pedestrian in Beijing. I can fully sympathize with him. It was bad--really bad--in 1995, just imagine 13 years of economic growth in the steroid economy that has become China. While I was in Beijing I decided to rent a bike to get around. Here was my reasoning. Getting killed riding a bike in Beijing is highly probable. Getting killed walking around in Beijing also highly probable. Since biking is faster than walking, I would actually be increasing my survival rates. Neither is for the faint hearted. Seeing what a chicken I am these days, I am not quite sure how I managed. But I think I was still being buoyed along with the knowledge that I did not die of travel sickness in Hong Kong and I survived my little float down the Li River in Southern China. I even survived the god awful boat down the Yangtze through the Three Gorges where there was an open sluice with feces running through it on deck that we had to step over to escape to the first class dubbed second class lounge (this was Communist China after all and there are no first classes). Tracy and I felt the need to spend long hours in the second class lounge after we witnessed our cabin mate hold her young son over the side of the bunk to pee through his split pants. As long as I had enough beer, China was a fantastically bizzaar place that I loved. Thankfully at approximately 5 liters of beer to the dollar there was always enough. A Japanese friend who had spent a long time travelling on almost nothing in India had told me that when travelling hard it is always better to drink beer than water because beer kills all the little germies running around. After my illuminating experience in Hong Kong from drinking the water at Pizza Hut (Pizza Hut! for heaven's sake) I was very careful to follow his advice to the letter.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Really Want to Be an Optimist but...

They are really making it hard! In approximately 104 more days I will no longer have to listen to President Bush talking. I wonder how he feels knowing that he took a perfectly working country and in a mere 8 years he and his people have run it into the ground. He is going to leave the office with the lowest approval rating of any president. Even Hoover in the midst of the Depression had better ratings. Currently Bush has a 22% approval rating. That mean if you get five people together 4 of them are not happy with Bush. That is a lot of negativity floating around.
I woke up this morning thinking, I really should not be adding any more negativity out there in the world. I will only think happy thoughts. I took a nice long 15 minute hot shower filling my mind with relaxing positive thoughts. I never take 15 minutes showers, I don't have the patience. But this morning I did. I enjoyed my coffee and read my book. Then I got in my car to take take timesheets to our regional office. On the radio, the Dow is down and no one has seen anything like this since ever. I switch the radio to my University of Northridge radio station, but it was off the air--I'm thinking budget cuts here. I turned off the radio and found my happy place again. I went to the bank and Bush was on TV--happy place no where in sight. I left and realized it is stinking hot outside. Feels like the end of the world. So much for not adding negativity today.
But on the positive side, I still have a job. I am in love with my new doctor because she order the tests I want the first time I asked. And I just went through three really great days of training. After feeling like I went from front row student to back seat bad kid in trainings and meetings, it was fantastic to receive outstanding training. So focus on the positive and let the world sort it self out. I think long showers are going to have become de rigour.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sushi Tabemasho!

Several months ago I noticed a sushi shop called Aomori Sushi in Canyon Country not far from my apartment. Now, I know what Aormori means (blue forest--or perhaps green because Japanese has a bit of confusion over the two colors). The confusion is most evident when you should go on a blue light and stop at a red one in Japan. They have the same traffic signals we have--they just see it as blue. Also when we call someone Green as in inexperienced that say that you are in your blue years. Any I have digressed, my point here is that I know what Aomori means but I doubt that other people in the US actually would. The point being here that I deducted that this particular sushi shop might actually be owned and run by Japanese as opposed to all the other Japanese restaurants owned by Koreans. I find this a bit odd since the Koreans and Japanese don't particularly get along. However, the Koreans are fantastic business people so I am guessing that if Americans want Japanese food then that is what they will serve. It is a shame there aren't more Korean restaurants around because I really like Korean food as well.
I explained my theory to J several weeks ago. Last Sunday after our Sunday reference at Valencia he asked if I wanted to try the restaurant. I agreed and we met at the gate to walk over to the restaurant. I was right, the shop is run by what appears to be a Japanese family. The wife is from Yokohama. I don't know about the husband--yet. J and I ordered Chirashi Zushi. Chirashi Zushi is a bowl of sushi rice. Just to clarify matters here Sushi means vinegar rice--it has nothing to do with raw fish, seaweed or anything other than the fact that is it often but not always served with raw fish. Chirashi Zushi is a layer of sushi rice with a layer of other stuff. At this restaurant the sushi chef piled it on with maguro (ahi tuna), ikura (fish roe), squid, scallops, yellow fin, egg blocks, and a bunch of other stuff. J and I tucked in with much enthusiasm. Wow, fantastic. We ate until we were super stuffed. J had warm sake and I had a Kirin. This little hole in the wall sushi shop is really the best sushi I have had since I left Japan. How is it possible that a restaurant in Canyon Country can be so good.
Well, actually all the restaurants I have been in at Canyon Country have been above average. Within a reasonable walking distance from my apartment there is the Amori Sushi, 3 Italian restaurants, a Thai restaurant, a Panderia (Mexican Bakery), a Mexican Seafood restaurant and then some others. I started thinking about the Santa Clarita communities and Canyon Country is where all the locally owned restaurants are. If you want to go to Olive Garden, TGIFridays, BJ's, Chili's or any of the other big chains outside of Denny's and IHOP then you have to go to Valencia. I am pretty happy with my neighborhood and enjoying the local flavor.
On Thursday, I sent J an e-mail asking him if he wanted to do dinner at the Aomori's again. He agreed. We had both been thinking about the fantastic sushi all week. The second time did not disappoint either. It will become a regular place for me know, I think.