Monday, October 30, 2006

Semana de los Muertos

I love Halloween and I super love Dia de los Muertos. We're gonna celebrate all week long. Here's the first entry of a series of photo essays coming this week.

Saturday we went to a Halloween party. Dudes, I'm Mother Nature. And Husband is the Burger King King. Kind of ironic, but still funny. Dancing around in the mask was especially funny. People really didn't know I was Mother Nature, but when I told them I'd follow with comments like, "Thanks for the degradation of me. Thanks for ruining me. Thanks a lot." I was really uplifting.

Yo, fear me. Or just give me a cross already.

I did this pose a lot, apparently. Is this what Mother Nature would do? I thought I was looking all heavenly powerful, but it looks more like complete surrender. And the King? Always funny. This did not get old to us.

How great is Tee's Whale Rider costume? So great. And MattyP came as a half-assed pimp. We renamed him Richie Rich. Pimps are so 1997.

The Rider and me. I was losing steam with my heavenlypowerful pose. Feh fuck it, one arm is enough.

Here's a group shot for good measure. That's a box of tissues in the back. The box says Blow Me.

Sunday we went to the Bower's Dia de los Muertos celebration. Here is the gorgeous group of dancers waiting to go on.

Mina's choice of face paint:

Maya's BD and Sanne came with us to the Bowers. They brought along this precious morsel, BabyR. So beautiful! We're one big familia, people. Mina calls BabyR her little sister too. No reason to stop her.

Wishing you a Happy Semana del los Muertos. Here's to honoring our dead and living our lives fully.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Madness vs. Vacations

I'm not sure I like taking vacations. Or I love them too much. Either way it takes me a long time to recover. Going to Hawaii was like dropping out of the front pack of marathon racers, the six-minute milers. And now trying to regain my footing in the race has been tough. Maybe the back of the pack is ok. I dunno.

I'm an island girl. The second I step off a plane into some breezy humidity where waving fronds greet me, I am instantly at ease. The race falls away too easily. I have an instant urge to kick off shoes, slip on flip flops, yank the tight ponytail from my head, babywipie makeup off my face; island air is the perfect skincare regime.

It kind of pains me to write about the vacation now because I'm almost back full-throttle to normal life. I am grateful for my life -- every aspect -- but the yearn to feel breezy free jerks hard at me. It's a fantasy world though, the vacation life.

We arrived in Kona at night and though I could smell and feel the island, I knew it all wouldn't officially begin for me until I could see the ocean. In the morning, I was out of the room as soon as the sun lit things up. I picked up a felled plumeria blossom on the way to the beach and put it behind my ear. The entire trip I was not without a plumeria hair accessory. My friend, Tee, got us a sick hook up at a swanky resort. Looking at the beach that first morning, I wished the manicured lawns and pricey teak furniture would fall away; stop trying to compete or compliment. A swank resort could never be better than what was naturally there. The colors of an island are just like the flavor of the fruit there. It all has more snap, deeper hues, much more acute. There is no filminess blocking the senses.

Every morning I ate a hallowed half papaya filled with strawberries, chopped mint doused in lemon juice. It was unreal. I've tried to recreate it a few times since I've been back. Maya loved it, but Husband and I looked at each other after tasting the recreation. We knew it was much duller than the original. We sighed. I thought, vacations suck.

It's not like I don't put my feet in the ocean here and sing Her praises every day, right? But it's that sharpness of island color that pulls at your appreciation more. It's looking at the tops of your feet in thigh-high water as schools of tiny fish flow around like one piece of sheer fabric. It's swimming around with sweet, peaceful sea turtles that fly through water. It's the intensity of the sunrise/sunset. The ocean sings the same song every where; the melody of the tide is just as beautiful at home, but the Hawaiian wash is whiter, fuller, softer. It's zaftig.

The four of us took a trip to Hilo one day. We went from the barren, lava westside to the rainforest eastside. The drive is like a spectrum ride. It gradually greens; goes from rocky flat to lushly tall. We wound down a side street. The road cut through towering thick trees and vines and bamboo which crowded and pushed to take over the road. A group of teens hung out casually at the entrance of a one-way bridge. They were facing each other, feet poised on rocks in a purposeful way. They spied us out as we drove by, twirling leaves in their fingers until we were over the bridge.

Tee and I pointed out birds and flowers and leaves to each other. We widened our eyes because we couldn't seem to take in enough. We recited things we had read about the area. The boys, Husband & MattyP, ignored us and talked about Mainland crap. And we ignored them because nothing could be more important than what was in front of us right then. The similarities between Tee and me emerged and meshed probably more than either of us expected. It's one thing to be deeply affected by things and let that race around within the walls of yourself, but it's another to lower the wall a bit and let someone else see it. Deep appreciation is a completely vulnerable state, and Tee and I eased it out little by little in front of each other. We can't ever pretend now that we don't feel a shitload about a multitude of things. And I love her for that.

We had a similar experience when we took an oceanside yoga class together on the second day of our trip. It turned out to be a highly meditative and spiritual type yoga, a mix of styles, partly Hawaiian, partly any indigenous culture that knows the connection between oneself and nature, which is most. Our instructor was a small white woman in her 50's with waist-length grey/blond hair and she was illuminated from the inside. Her name was Callie and the first thing she had us do was stand in a circle and hold hands. She chanted a Hawaiian morning song which twinged my heart with slight embarrassment. She then asked us all to reveal our intentions for taking this class. It was eight in the morning and we all stood on beige sand under palm trees. The ocean hushed behind our nervousness. I thought, Fuck it, I'm going to ride the coat tails of Callie's spirit, man. I'm in this 110% at the risk of sounding and acting new-age corny, at the risk of completely embarrassing myself in front of my fairly-new friend, Tee. I answered truthfully and I did every one of Callie's movements with mucho gusto and I reaped great reward from it during the class and for days after. I realized soon into the class that Tee had made the same pact with herself, to move with full intention to cleanse the spirit, massage organs, stop the internal chatter, connect feet to earth, bring about world peace and the hundred other great things that Callie said was possible. Callie called Tee and I by name and said we moved beautifully, but we knew that already because we had sent all inhibitions away. We floated away from the class, physically tingling and giddy. Throughout the entire trip we quoted Callie and spontaneously did her moves without a trace of mockery. After the earthquake, Tee and I practiced many of the movements we learned. We did them right there in the middle of the diner parking lot while the boys stressed away on cell phones making arrangements to get home on time. But Tee and I felt good and connected. Our minds and organs were calm and we knew we were sending out a sonic wave for those near us.

And of course I've tried many of the moves at home, on my balcony. It is a duller version than what I practiced in Hawaii, but still the residual effects are enough. As Callie said, this was my "gift from Ha-vy-ee."

I could live in Hawaii. A few months a year for sure. Maybe when the girls are off to college. I'd live in Hilo, next to the farmers market that sold melon-sized mangos and papaya for pocket change. Maybe by then Husband would agree to that even though his parting, post-quake words to Hawaii were, "Get me the fuck off this island." Sigh. But I think he could adjust to island living too in another 10 years or so. We went to a luau one night during our trip because I had to see some dancing. I asked him to wear a sarong because I think island man-sarongs are hhhoootttt. He said yes without any hesitation. He's an island man at heart too. Maybe Hilo dreaming is just vacation residue which makes me hate vacations even more. Or maybe I'll return to island living some day for reals and drop kick the race to kingdom come.

Check out my hot island warrior:

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Talking Hawaii Stories

Let me tell you about the time I left California to survive a 6.6 earthquake in Hawaii. Husband and I, we like to end our vacations with a bang!

The earthquake was nine miles off of the northwest side of the Big Island, and we were staying on the west side of, yes, the Big Island. We were nineteen miles from the epicenter. I suppose I could've gotten closer had I kayaked out into the ocean to, you know, really deepen my appreciation for life and everything dear and precious to me.

If you're a Mainlander, you wake up early in Hawaii. You wait for the sunrise. It's like waiting to open birthday presents. Is it time? Is it light enough to see the ocean yet? On Sunday morning, the day of the earthquake and the last day of our vacation, Husband and I had been lying in bed talking. We were reconnecting, actually, not talking about fluff, but about important stuff like, how to decompress better from work, staying positive, how much we loved each other. It was the only morning of our whole stay that I did not leave the room by 6:30 to be with the Ocean for a morning baptism. By 7:00, we were lying on our backs, thinking, almost back to full connection with each other.

For those of us that have been in a few earthquakes, there is very distinct wave of sound that is a precursor to any actual movement. It is a deep rumble in the foundation of a structure. It is an awakening of sorts that progresses to a higher-pitched creaking of walls and windows rattling. Barely any movement, only That Sound. When I heard it coming --you know exactly what it is when you hear it -- and when I felt the first small vibrations, I thought, "For real? An earthquake?" Then the movement climbed violently. The large, resort-style lamp on my night stand crashed to the tiled floor. Drinking glasses from the table flew off and shattered. Husband said he saw the room twist. I didn't see much because I go deep into my mind during times like this. I try to feel and hear how far the earth is going to take things. At the crescendo of the shaking when the king-sized bed was tossing around, an unfamiliar stream of thought seeped in: Something truly terrible could happen right now. This thought washes over dreadfully, minimizes you to one tiny mortal spec that has no control of anything; of your own life or of others. What could help you? Only instinct is left. Husband and I leapt up and we ran to the doorway of the sliding glass door. The shaking was slowing. We opened the door and looked outside. We put on flip flops and Husband grabbed his wallet and rental car keys and we jetted to the parking lot. I was dressed in a tank top and boxers. Our friends MattyP and Tee, who had come to vacation with us, arrived at our room right before we bolted through the sliding glass doors. In California, you're not supposed to go outside during an earthquake. On this flat side of Hawaii, it seemed like the thing to do.

An emergency siren was sounding and hotel guests flowed into the parking lot too, some in robes, some clutching children or an armful of possessions. I was happy not to have the girls with me. The worry to protect them and stay calm for them would have drained me completely. Everyone nervously chattered. And we waited. The sun was shining hard, but it was mild. We looked up at palm trees wondering how easily they could fall. The next earthquake was a 5.9 and it didn't build like the first. It jerked in one, terrible movement like someone was trying to pull the road from under us. The entire crowd lurched and everyone's face drained. I had just seen the pavement physically yank sideways. Husband reached for me and I looked around. It was the first time I was completely fearful because the collective look was one of not knowing what to do. It's how I imagine everyone looks before all disasters. This scared me. Finally, a staff member advised us to starting walking away from the water in case of a tsunami.

My husband is the type that watches every single Discovery show on tsunamis and other natural disasters. I know a tsunami was on his mind since this ordeal had begun but when he heard someone local actually speak the words, he said, "Let's go." The four of us jetted towards our Grand Marquis rental car. We weren't going to wait for further instruction. We were going to head to higher ground, near some locals. They'd know what to do.

The west side of the Big Island is a desert of barren charcoal-colored lava rocks. You see them for miles. The main road that runs north-south was littered with boulders and smaller rocks that had loosened in the shaking. Some locals parked and removed rocks themselves, while others directed traffic. The Ironman Triathlon is happening in this exact area next weekend and hardcore cyclists, who were probably in mid-training during the earthquake, precariously swerved around road debris with the string-thin tires of their highly specialized bikes. Their aerodynamic helmets shaped like teardrops bobbed and jerked back checking for cars. I'm sure they didn't train this hard and come this far to stop because of an earthquake no matter how large. We pressed north to Waimea until we got to a local breakfast spot where we had eaten a couple days before. This place serves troughfuls of food for about $1. Husband had eggs and a serving of hash browns as big as a sheet of paper. And he had fried Spam. This all came with a "side" of pancakes that were as large as the Grand Marquis' rims. Uh, I had a cup o' rice with catsup because this spot had not one fruit or vegetable on the premises. The power was out across the entire state of Hawaii and I happened to get the last half cup of coffee in the diner. So that was a blessing.

The locals next to us talked stories about the earthquakes they've felt over the years. The last one this big was in the early 80's which actually kick started the flow of Kilauea, the only active volcano of the islands. It still slowly flows to this day, growing the island inch by inch. I said maybe this earthquake will shut if back off. Some New Yorkers sitting next to us remarked, "Or maybe it will really blow its top now." Way to stay positive, NY'ers!

During breakfast, when MattyP and Tee were navigating cautiously through the light-less restroom, Husband looked over at me. He took my hand from across the linoleum table, pushing Costo-sized catsup and Tabasco and Aunt Jemima syrup aside. He kissed my hands and rubbed them against his eyes. We said nothing, tearing up a little. Nothing like a natural disaster to complete a reconnection.

Husband and MattyP spent the rest of the day figuring out with the airlines if we were going to make it home or not. Tee and I sat and looked at the ocean, calming our minds and soaking in what we could of paradise. The ocean was not as agitated as you would think. It was certainly not calm-before-the-tsunami-like either. It was like it was all a dream. At 5pm, a little earlier than usual, the sea turtles came ashore and rested their nerves too. They put themselves to bed among the white sand and dark lava rocks.

Our flight had been originally scheduled for 9:25pm and surprisingly we left on time, one of only four flights that got off that night. It was a rough flight, mad bumpy which sent us shaking flashbacks every few minutes. Husband said, and not quietly, "I survived an earthquake to die in the airplane. Great!" Way to stay up, NY'ers!

More Hawaii stories to come.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Coincidental Ramblings

You guys want a recipe for a great raw shake? It's called the I Am Delicious and that it is, my friends. Ok, first you have to get one of those intimidating-looking young coconuts from a good produce section. It looks like that white thing pictured to the left. I found out that there is no such thing as an electric young coconut opener so I resorted to a sort of hacking technique that seemed to work ok. Apparently a cleaver works best, but I used my largest chopping knife, slit a little reference cut on the top, put my other hand behind my back and whacked at it until I saw some coco water slipping out. Dump the coco upside down on your blender and let all the water drain out. Then, with super human strength, pry the coco open with your fingers from the hacked cuts until that mother rips in half. The flesh of a young coco is gooey and yummy. Scoop out all of that young meat and fling it in the blender. Try to avoid all the little shell chunks you've made from the infamous Choppy Chop Technique. Then scoop in three heaping tablespoons of raw almond butter. Then throw in ten pitted Medjool dates. Blend that on high. When it's mixed up to your satisfaction, pour about 3/4ths-ish of the mixture into a container to save for later, unless you're making the shake for someone else too, because I say this recipe makes about 3-4 servings. Add lots o' ice to what's left in the blender, then blend away. VOILA! Deliciousness. Mina said it tasted like graham crackers with vanilla ice cream and I say she's about dead on.

I just realized that if I'm going to share recipes, I better make them look more professional and easier to follow. Me culpa.

After the Junior Olympics, Maya, in a nondramatic fashion, wanted to quit Tae Kwon Do. We were sad to hear that, but we understood. We told her she'd never have to do a tournament again, but we wanted her to go at least once a week to practice the art of self defense, and to get a good workout. She agreed without resistance which relieved us. We signed Maya & Mina up at a new Tae Kwon Do studio a week and a half ago. I told the head guy, Master N, about Maya's broken spirit and how she was hesitant about going again. I told him she was out of shape. Master N is Brazilian. He is warm and smiley -- we aren't used to that in the TKD world -- and he nodded and said in a singsong fashion peppered with random "zzsh" sounds, "Ok. Noi problem." His studio is brand spanking new. Husband happened to notice it by chance as he was driving home one day. It's so new, you can smell the rubber from the mats freshly delivered. Maya said happily, "It doesn't smell like feet!" It turns out that Master N is an eight-time open world champion and he just happened to train two sisters that medaled in this past Junior Olympics in Atlanta, one of which is a 130lb twelve year old that is a quick and powerful bad-ass. We happened to stumble into a new gym -- we were mainly happy it was close to our house -- that happens to also be the exact den of training we needed before. I said, "Wow, ok, well, I'm not sure what Maya wants to do, but she'll be happy other competitive girls are on board." I do believe that was a big part of Maya feeling fed up with TKD. She's a social being. She craves interaction. She loves to show off for others. Training alone took it a major toll on her.

A week ago, after Maya's third training session, as Master N was realizing how good she is naturally, he asked me as he plotted in his head, "When's the next Olympics?" Maya was training on the bike when he said this. I knew she had heard him and I didn't want to sound excited or overly enthusiast. "The grown-up, real Olympics?" With each class that she has taken with Master N, I can see the love and tenacity for the sport finally fill back in. Master N has been hard and equally encouraging. He said, "Ok, Olympics too soon, but she will definitely be a champion next Junior Olympics." He rattled on excitedly about Junior National team then National team then ok, the Olympics, but I kind of tuned him out only looking at Maya's back as she pressed away on the bike. I couldn't tell what she was feeling. In the car, I said, "Do you feel too pressured by what Master N said about you? About being a champion and making the Olympics?" And she looked up at me and beamed. She said, "No! I love that he believes in me. I'm excited." My baby champion is back. I can't even fathom the possibilities yet, but what I do know is that since she's been working out hard again, there have been no after school 2 hour crying jags. If Tae Kwon Do can help her defend herself and make her feel emotionally more even keeled then that's better than any old Olympics.

Oh, Maya also went to her first junior high dance last Friday . . . Her peoples at school had been creating a huge dramatic dust up about this for the last three weeks. Maya had been asked to the dance by two different boys to whom she told, "Ah, I'll just see you there" which made them pouty and caused them to say mean things that have swirled around in the circle since. Maya's like, Jeez boys are lame. The dance started at 4:30 and I wasn't able to see her get ready with her three friends, but we thoroughly went over outfits and etiquette the night before. When I picked her and her soon-to-be-BFF Pam up from the dance, I got the low down. First off, the two other girls that they got ready with apparently put on so much make up, they looked like baby clowns. One girl said, "I've never looked prettier" and that broke my heart into many pieces. With every detail of the night, I'd interject reinforcements to their own behavior. Call it Trying Way Too Hard, but it seemed necessary. "I'm proud that you guys didn't feel a need to wear make up." (P.S. Maya's not allowed, but still) "You guys look great." "You guys are smart and beautiful." Then they got to the part where some seventh and eighth grade girls came equipped with Stripper 201 moves. Maya said, “One girl danced like this:” And she squatted, knees in opposite directions and then got back up, her ass leading the way; a hand felt the ass on the way up. I blinked and swallowed hard. I said, "Whoa." They said, "IKNOW!" in an oh-my-god tone. "Ok, so you know that's inappropriate right?" "YES!" "And sometimes girls dance like that to get attention, but sometimes it's the worst kind of attention." I feel like I've given this speech to one of my own friends only a few years ago. It's disheartening to give it to two wide-eyed, makeupless eleven year olds that just wanted to do the Sprinkler and other goofy dance moves. There was also freaking at the dance, which is good old fashioned fast grinding. I wasn't doing that until 17, but I was also paying rent at 17. I said, "How do you feel when you see girls or people dancing like that?" They said that they felt uncomfortable. We walked to the Italian Icee spot and then we walked Pam home. They talked about more drama in their circle --it never ends! --and how the dance was disappointing. I felt disappointed too. When we got to Pam's house, I noticed the living room was decorated completely in Tibetan Buddhist stuff; a tanka on the wall, gorgeous photos of the Dalai Lama and other monks lining everything-- which is KINDA ODD, don't you think? It turns out that Pam's mother, who is Tibetan, and her American father, a photographer of the Buddhist theme, are, in fact, practicing Buddhists. Oh, and they still know my mother's long-time live-in boyfriend from a million years ago, who is also Tibetan. "It's a small community," she said. They also knew the Rimpoche that gave my La Rim teachings when I was fifteen. It's a small everything as far as I'm concerned.

We leave for Hawaii on Wednesday. The planning is stressin' me because the girls aren't coming with us and I want to make sure I remember everything. Also Grandma Carmen doesn't drive so making arrangements has been a wee bit taxing. But I Am Grateful that G-ma Carmen IS coming because in the ten years that I've known Husband, these four days in Hawaii will be the longest we've vacationed alone together. I Am Grateful for Hawaii in advance.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

History of Epiphanitos

I suffered a mild epiphany last Saturday while waiting for lunch. It has faded since though, and there lies the real suffering. I can't seem to retain entirely the enlightenment of the moment. But it's there enough to build from and explore.

My epiphanito had to do with my spirituality. Again. I mean, I could say that the majority of my actions are driven by an unspoken spirituality, without an exact diety, if we had to label it. But aside from this general underlying that seems innate and amplifies with time, there have been very clear cut milestones of searching for religious belonging throughout my entire life.

Like when I tried to convince myself as a young kid that my Four Square Pentecostal grandmother really could rebuke the devil. I remember thinking, How is she so sure? Why can she profess so faithfully? What am I not getting? When I was six years old, she and I sat on a lacquered bench in front of her fantastic three-tiered organ that fixturized her living room. She wore a set-and-curl hair do and a flowered polyester dress with a cow-neck collar. She had me for the weekend or the week or however long my mother needed me to be there, and since she had me alone she knew it was a perfect opportunity to save me. "Do you except Jesus as your personal savior?" I remember so clearly the strong knots that formed in my stomach from her pressure. I nodded. There would be no end to it if I didn't. Later that afternoon, I contracted a stomach bug or a case of fanatical nausea and I puked. I hugged her dusty rose porcelain toilet and threw up until I was dry heaving so loudly it echoed off the bowl. Between heaves, I saw my grandmother stiffly sitting on her plastic-covered couch wringing her hands unsure how to comfort a sick six year old, but still probably satisfied that she had saved me. And I didn't like her church or religion or her personal savior after that.

Or the time that I tried to be a really good catholic in elementary school. I loved La Virgin statues. I thought She spoke to me; I still do. But in catholic school, I would argue about abortion and women’s rights because I was living with a crazy artist feminist and those were the things I heard most. I believed in those things too, which caused the nuns and priests to whisper about me. Our class would line up for mass and my teacher would say things like, "No hanging from the chandeliers, Madness." And I, flushed, would think, What the fuck? I felt so ill-fitted. I didn't like catholics then, anymore, but I still felt a love from the statues and the candles and the pews and the incense and the ceremony of it all. I loved all the symbols. I still do.

When I unintentionally studied the Buddhist Lam Rim teachings in junior high school, I didn't know this would stay with me for so long, to this day. I store these things in the not-so-far corners and contemplate them often. I might've understood then that this could be something lifelong, but I couldn't wrap my mind fully around the complex simplicity. Pure buddhism is mad hard.

Or how about when in high school I wondered if Haile Selassie really was the second coming. I read Rasta poets and philosophers and I dug it, but I couldn't yell JAH! without major twinges of embarrassment.

Then I became a Seventh Day Adventist. And even after the emersion, even while hearing the choir, the words Jesus is My Savior and He Died For My Sins got caught on my tongue. The rhetoric sputtered unconvincingly out of my mouth. I was baffled by what those things meant. I had simply latched on to the philosophy that this gospel gave hope to the hopeless, which was me at the time.

In my early twenties, I was formally and fully introduced to the santos of Santaria. This is a powerful and chilling religion and I had convinced myself that this was more culturally personal and this is how I should interpret my religion. The idea that natural forces WERE God is something I still believe. In Santeria, these gods have names and characteristics that are playful, destructive, powerful. They have a million symbols attached to them. They have favorite numbers and colors and food; they are wildly energetic. I was initiated at the first level by a padrino, and two sister goddesses attached themselves to me and haven't left since. Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and motherliness, and Ochun, the goddess of rivers and love & passion. But here's the thing about Santeria, the practitioners are caught up in the manipulation of these natural forces to get what they want, which is usually to maginify their own personal power. And that rubbed against most every spiritual seed that had already been planted in me. I have never sought power and I didn't see any emphasis on becoming a better person or contributing towards the greater good of others. From what I witnessed, all of the ceremonial gas and protocol was less about honoring nature and more about selfishly bending power. That power is real --there is nothing fake to me about Santaria-- but manipulating God whether by santeros or Christians or any other religion seems to always, in the end, burn someone. I keep my five beaded necklaces neatly stored in my closet. I don't dare toss them. I'm still close to Yemaya & Ochun; I feel them hover sometimes.

Then I just denounced structured religion. I curled my lip at any kind of religious pitching/pushing. I called The Church the Devil. I was sick of the many forms of god-proclaimed bullshit especially hypocrisy. I tried to reject most forms of symbolism no matter how drawn to it I was. I decided to work on cherry-picked philosophies of buddhist teachings; compassion, kindness, conscientiousness, patience. These alone were enough.

And then last Saturday, I was sitting in Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley. Cafe Gratitude is a raw-food restaurant that swirls with an undeniable energy. The charge is palpable, and it seems to strip away my embarrassment about still secretly wanting well-rounded spirituality. On the table were meditation cards that are part of a board game created by the cafe. I picked one up. It quoted Epicurus: "Nothing is enough to a person that thinks enough is too little." It moved me to write the quote on the back of a receipt from my wallet. I don't feel the same impact I did the moment I read it on Saturday, but I'm holding on to the quote. I know it's important to me now. I know how applicable it is. I picked up another card. It said, "I Am Grateful." And that was enough to send me into some soul-searching abyss.

I still think Buddhism is too hard for me. I still can't fathom doing things goallessly. And I'm not sure I want to live my life without high and low spikes. But I am willing to meditate. That was a promise I made to myself over the weekend; meditation. Will I be able to empty myself? Float away from possession and judgment and thinking too much? I'm not sure. I may just sit there and think “I Am Grateful” for fifteen minutes. Mostly, I feel energized by actively wanting to renew my spirituality. I don't think this side of me wanted to be ignored any more. Time to try something new, again. Something more tailor-made from the building blocks of realizations I've had over the last thirty years.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bay Area Trip 2006, Part 1

I just got back from my annual Bay Area trip. This trip does things to me; it's like I go up expecting an epiphany. I'm all, I'm going to see the light rriigghhhtt . . . .NOW! My yearly epiphany will be reported in the next post because this particular post is solely about the blast I had.

My BFF Betsy, who I have visited up there every year for the last million years, and her MF (man forever) Jim unexpectedly got married at a court house a few months ago. All of the friends, upon hearing the surprising news, smacked our heads and said DUH, you guys are perfect for each other. Before the news, we were respectful of their union, which had no need for a ceremony/piece of paper/government ok (and whatever else the unwed proclaim) to validate them as a couple. Betsy and Jim could've never married and it would not have changed their course of foreverness. But the news of their marriage sent a jolt of romanticism through their circle of friends. We are all genuinely happy for them; almost giddy even. And if it's Betsy and Jim's style to run down to a courthouse one day and blurt quick I DO's, it certainly was more appropriate for them to throw a huge party to celebrate, which they did this past Saturday.

Ok, before I get to the party, I will say that this trip was not just about bestowing blessings on free-spirited newlyweds because my trip would not have been complete had it not also been Vegan Restaurant Tour 2006.

I made Quaniesha come with me this year. It was an easy pitch because she's from the Bay Area and more importantly, on her birthday a couple weeks ago she became a vegan. It was her gift to herself, and she couldn't wait to check out the vegan eating scene. Since I am an anal-ass Virgo, I made a list -- including times and duration, of course -- of places to go and where to eat. And because Quan is also an anal-ass Virgo, I was not embarrassed to show her the list. She dug the list. We drove five lightening hours from LA to San Francisco. We didn't ponder the dull scenery because we've both made this drive many times so we blahblahblah'ed for what seemed like an hour until we suddenly saw the windmills gracing the Altamont Pass, dotting highway 580 and dutifully collecting energy.

Our first stop was the Rainbow Coop which is the Costco of natural food stores. We ambled around the cooking utensil aisle and the book aisle and the bulk body care aisle and the raw packaged-food aisle for an hour and a half ending up in the vegan bakery section by which time we were starving. We thought, we can get vegetables down in LA so why waste cart space when it's needed for blueberry cobbler and cinnamon scones and other ridiculously delicious items. We snacked on baked goods the whole glorious weekend long.

Later that night we met Betsy and Jim for dinner at Millennium. I've only been talking up this restaurant for, oh, 365 days since the last time I went. Quaniesha was probably thinking THIS HAD BETTER BE THE MEAL OF A LIFETIME for all the build up. But it was unreal. When you can look across a table, across an entire restaurant and see people's eyes closed, shaking their heads, quietly chewing, you know a level of perfection has been achieved. Highlights: Sesame Cornmeal Crusted Oyster Mushrooms, Seared Corn & Hijiki Cake, Egyptian Peppers Stuffed with Minced Tofu and Pecans (I'M NOT MAKING THESE DISHES UP) . . . one dish had a watermelon & jicama relish -- I mean, COME ON! And for dessert: Fig Polenta Upside Down Cake and Terrine Of Avocado & Lemon Ice Cream topped with salty crystallized ginger. It was mind blowing. It was all ridiculous. Quan said, "There is absolutely no need to eat flesh foods again." We spent two and a half hours there after which I asked the waiter, "Is it over so soon?" Then I sobbed on his shoulder.

Of all the things written on my neatly-scripted itinerary, we did only about half. Millennium, check. Cafe Gratitude (which I'll get to later this week), check. We bailed on going to Cha Ya the new vegan sushi spot in the east bay because we ran out of time and stomach room. We also ditched the Vegetarian World Day which was also going on that weekend at Golden Gate Park and decided to explore Berkeley instead. And, of course, Betsy & Jim's party, big-ass check.

Here's what makes a party spectacular: Good music & flowing libations are nice to have -- almost important --, a killer location is icing, but the key is when you get a group of people together that don't have sticks wedged up their asses. Then, voila, good times are suddenly steam rolling forward. At the party there were friends from each decade of Betsy's and my life: There was one woman I have know since I was nine; there were high school friends, people I befriended from Betsy's years at Berkeley, and lord, did we all know how to have a good time. The first dance music that Betsy put on was swing music. She yelled, "If you can't dance to this you're fucked!" Partnerless, we all looked at each other and then broke into versions of the mash potato, goofy kick-and-jive type movements, the floor worm, that thing where you swivel your feet around and shake your fingers; in semi-formal wear, we tried to jump and straddle each other . . .it was side-splitting, yo. At the fabulous party house that B & J rented for the occasion, there was a round, red love bed just off of the living room and we all took turns doing Austin-Powers type poses on the bed. We even got the hors d’oeuvre guys to put down their trays and strike a pose. Then we salsa'ed. Then a couple people got pantsed. Then we posed on the Vespa that was parked like a sculpture off the bar. We took action shots on it like it was in motion and we were hanging on for dear life through the streets of Europe. Then Betsy's mom tried to untie my wrap skirt. Then we samba'ed. Then Dirk asked Quan if he could try on her dress. But she didn't do that. She did get serenaded by one of the bartenders until the boss shoo'ed him off. Then Amy told me how drunk she was and showed me her stomach while proclaiming, "But I have a great ass!" Which is true. Then we all got in the 1950's Air Stream that was set up in the backyard like an extra room. Then we laughed and laughed, doubled over even, until the boss of the house told us we had to leave. Quan and I laughed all the way to back to the hotel room. We laughed while trying to fall asleep under stiff hotel blankets in a sterile wood-grain room lit yellow from the parking-lot light.

We laughed about it all again during the first half of the drive back home. But when we got to a rainy Grapevine as we snacked on the last of our vegan baked treasures, we became quiet and stared at dry, cream-colored hills. She surely was thinking about her own Bay Area epiphanies, and I was thinking about mine.

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