Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best of 2013: Songs

Hello? Is anyone out there? *dusts entryway* Hello?! Oh, hi, if you're reading this. I know I disappeared after I came back from Germany and stopped blogging, but I have a valid reason: I returned from Germany a different person, with supercharged priorities and new priorities and no idea how I felt about being back in the US or how to re-integrate myself without feeling massive resentment.

It took me a few months, and a lot of life changes, but this week it made sense to come back. It's nearly the end of the year somehow (!) and I am trying to do some fun projects, like making end-of-year best-of lists.

I've been thinking about my top 10 songs of 2013 list all year. Really, I have. This year has been rich in great music and I feel so, so lucky to get to talk so passionately about the songs below. I hope you'll take a listen, because when have I ever led you astray?! Never, that's when!

There is an eclectic mix of gothic/industrial/synthpop and indie on this list. Just the way I like it. My music tastes have evolved and diversified more this year than anytime since my teenage years, so I have been doing a lot more thinking about music in general this year than in others. I'm so thrilled with these songs. I guarantee that you won't find this mix of songs on anyone else's list.


1. VNV Nation — Retaliate

This song. It's ... everything I could have ever hoped for in a VNV Nation song. It is totally deserving of #1. It's part of an album that I truly believe is the best album this band has ever made (and they've made a lot!). It's hard hitting, it's incredibly catchy, super danceable, and it makes me so happy every time I hear it. It makes my heart swell with joy, and my body feel like I could fly. It quite simply blows my mind every time, and I dance around the house like a crazy person, and yeah -- it's perfect. It gave me the "I am so happy my chest is going to burst open and my face is going to smile itself to death!" feeling. Quite an honor bestowed upon this song, as it has to be pretty special to cause that kind of reaction.

Justice never waivers
it is my single purpose
relentless the pursuit
I will find you where you hide
counting on your indecision
deciding when to strike
calculating movement
the senses of the chase

2. Holy Ghost! — It Must Be The Weather

The first time I played this song to Scott, he said "When was this made, 1986?" in a snotty voice. But it's totally true: this song is straight out of the 80s, and 80s appropriation has never sounded so good. Holy Ghost! is one of this year's discoveries for me, and their sophomore LP, Dynamics, is a superb record. This song blew my mind the first time I heard it, and I spent the rest of the day looping it in Spotify. I would count the songs until I'd get to this one again, and then I'd desk jam in my cube, hoping no one saw me. It's just an awesome song. Great music, great lyrics, and yes -- oh so 80s. I dare you not to boogie during the refrain!

Tell me what to do cause I don’t know how
Sitting in my room when it’s all blacked out
Tell me don’t love it cause I like you now
Violence in my heart comes out my mouth

Holding on nothing just as fast as I can
Tell me what to do, tell me what’s the plan
Holding onto nothing
I’m holding onto nothing
I’m holding onto nothing just as fast as I can

3. System Syn — Daydream From a Deathbed

I love every song on Clint Carney's latest System Syn album. I read in an interview that this record is a tribute of sorts to all of the people he's known (or known of) who were young and screwed up and didn't see that one day they'd come out of it (and committed suicide). The result is a haunting record about despair and hope -- of course bittersweet. This song, named after a painting of Carney's (yeah, he's a talented artist in at least three disciplines, and is in at least three bands!), is particularly catchy, and the first time I heard it I had "the moment" where my brain (figuratively) exploded and I realized just how much the energy level had been brought up -- exciting! This track has great lyrics, a great dance beat & it's just fun.

You can't taste the sweet through the sorrow,
Because you don't allow yourself to fail.
That's all it is, sweetheart;
The struggle.
That's all it is;
Always something just beyond your reach

4. Shout Out Louds — 14th of July

Shout Out Louds were another of my 2013 discoveries, and I'm really shocked it took so long for me to finally listen to them. They are nothing like I'd thought, and their latest effort, Optica, instantly went into heavy rotation in my cubicle. I immediately latched on to a song in the middle of the album, "14th of July," and for whatever reason -- I'm not sure -- it became my easy favorite. I had the pleasure of seeing SOL live last spring, and when they played this song? I went just a little CRAY CRAY. What a great band. Also, I'm assuming the 14th of July is a holiday in them there Swedish parts? Or French parts? France is in the song.

Take me down on the 14th of July
And take me to the fireworks
And show me how the fire works

5. MONO INC. — Kein Weg Zu Weit

Oh, Mono Inc. How I love you. We discovered this band before this year's M'era Luna festival, and they were one of our favorite performances all weekend. They often sing in English, but on their latest album, Nimmermehr, they acquired a new co-vocalist and a new appreciation for singing in German. I liked this song when we heard it live, but when Scott & I returned from Germany and watched the video, the true emotional impact of this song hit me. I am overcome with that chest-swelling-with-emotion feeling every time I listen to this song now, even though I don't understand exactly what the words mean as they're sung. This is an important lesson -- I don't really need to know. I get it. Emotion is a universal language.

Kein Weg zu Weit, zu weit mit Dir,
Kein Meer zu kalt, gemeinsam segeln wir,
Kein Stern zu hoch, ich flieg mit Dir,
Bis der Himmel untergeht

(translates roughly to)

No way too far, too far with you,
No sea too cold, together we set sail,
No star is too high, I fly with you,
Until the sky goes down

6. Arctic Monkeys — Do I Wanna Know?

I will never forget the first time I heard this song. First of all, Arctic Monkeys are one of my favorite bands of all time. Anyway, I was sitting at the table with Scott at our Airb&b flat in Prague, playing games on a rainy afternoon. We were watching mtv.uk, and they were doing an hour of Arctic Monkeys videos. Near the end, Scott went to take a nap, and I came back into the living room to find this on. Not only had I never heard it before -- it was god damn sexy. Like, overwhelmingly sexy. And that's pretty much why this song is amazing: it's sexy in every way. And little did I know at the time, the rest of the album would be, too. O_o

Have you got colour in your cheeks?
Do you ever get that fear that you can't shift the tide that sticks around like summat in your teeth?
Are there some aces up your sleeve?
Have you no idea that you're in deep?
I dreamt about you nearly every night this week
How many secrets can you keep?
'Cause there's this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow and I play it on repeat
Until I fall asleep
Spilling drinks on my settee...

7. Disclosure — F For You

As a lady of a decent age who in a former life raved it up in the bay area nearly 15 years ago, I've been a bit appalled at the decline of "edm" as you kids are calling it today. This is why Disclosure are so refreshing. Even though they're just kids, they're leading the charge in making electronic music interesting again. In fact, a lot of the interesting things these brothers are doing reminds me of what I'd consider the heyday of house music, in the 90s/early 00s. But it's not like they're rehashing the past, and that's all -- no, they are definitely putting their own creative spin on it. Get it? Spin? Anyway, this is my favorite song off of their debut album, Settle.

I've been infected with restless whispers and cheats
That manifested in words and lies that you speak


8. Bastille — Pompeii

I have a confession to make: I never wanted to like Bastille. I knew they were a band from England composed of guys that most of the younger set find attractive (OMG GET OFF MY LAWN). I also knew that they were blowing up, getting really popular, playing Popscene, that sort of thing, so I decided before I heard them that they were generic, just like every other hipster band. I kept coming back to them, though, because I really loved their name, and that they had a song called Pompeii. When I finally watched the video, I loved the song, and I loved Dan Smith's voice. I got the chance this fall to hear that voice in person, and it was every bit as advertised. This song is pretty classic, in my opinion, however poppy it may be.

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?


9. Hot Chip — Look At Where We Are

When this record first came out, early this year, I read a review that said "'Look At Where We Are' is the most beautiful song Hot Chip has ever made." I listened, and as the waves passed over and through me, I believed it was true. What an incredibly emotional, delicate ballad ... and it's about love, not losing love. I am really personally touched by this song because of my own nearly 10-year relationship being so sweet, and all of the ups and downs we've gone through to get there (as any couple does). It touches my heart. Yes, the icy one. It thaws a bit when I listen to this.

Look at where we are
Remember where we started out
Never gonna be without each others love again
Look at where we are, are, are


10. CHVRCHES — Recover

Interestingly, I probably wouldn't have given CHVRCHES a chance if I hadn't heard so much about them via my many friends who saw them at SXSW this year. You see, not only were they a breakout star of the most hipster-est of music festivals, but they also have a female lead singer. I can count the number of bands I listen to with female lead singers on one hand. It's just not generally what I'm into in the post-Lilith Fair era of life. I listened to this song one day, though, after it was posted on Facebook, and wow. To me? This is what good pop music sounds like. I mean, I've since discovered that this band is excellent across the board, but when I heard this song, my jaw dropped and I immediately began rethinking my worldview. Cool stuff.

I'll give you one more chance
To say we can change or part ways
And you take what you need
And you don't need me

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Whew! There were many deserving ''honorable mentions" including "Teleconnect 1" by VNV Nation, "R U Mine?" by Arctic Monkeys, "Return the Favor" by We Are Scientists, and "Devil's Game" by Desdemona, but I wanted to challenge myself by sticking to 10 choices and 1 pick per artist. It worked out. Go me! J/K.

Did you enjoy this list? Share it! Feel free to do your own and comment with a link to yours. Though I don't suspect many people are coming round here anymore.

OK. I'm done with this beast. Enjoy the music, and hopefully I will be back to do my album list soon! 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Landscapes

We are home from our trip after a crazy, exhausting, unpredictable trip home that involved 24 hours, four of the world's busiest airports, and three flights, two of which were not the flights we'd booked (ours was canceled, long story short). It really is good to be back, but this was the greatest vacation we've ever taken, and I am absolutely in love with Germany. The Czech Republic is also incredible, and we have much unfinished exploring to do in both places. Today I am attempting to get back into the swing of life, ever so slowly -- but here are some of the gorgeous landscapes I captured last week.

Bavarian countryside | puffy clouds in Bavaria | the mighty Rhine River in Mainz | Prague skyline

Bavarian countryside

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Germany, M'era Luna & other dispatches from abroad

I don't know where to start. I really don't.

Right now I am writing in an effort at trying to stay awake. We are on an ICE train currently on its way from Hannover back to Berlin, and the ICE train, I now know, is the mortal enemy of my conscious life. The second I sit down on one of these trains, I fall fast asleep! I want to be awake right now, really badly, so here I am ... trying to write my way to an awake arrival in Berlin.

There comes a time when it's been so long since you've written about your life, or you've experienced so much, that it seems far too "Cliff Notes" to write a blog post and dress it up with Instagrams and put it on the internet. It seems half hearted somehow. Of course it's hard for a blog post to describe something like travel very well, unless you're a travel blogger or are one of those elusive "perfect people" I keep hearing about. Life moves on, and by the time you get around to writing about it, the moment is gone. It feels like posts, and writing, like that is there because it ought to be, not because it deserves to exist, or be highlighted.

I never finished my Oregon posts because life got way too overwhelming in the last few weeks. Work, stressful times at home, my best friend's bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas, and a surprise bout of summer bronchitis the week before we left for Europe allowed keeping up absolutely impossible. It wasn't that I managed my time badly -- usually that IS the reason -- but that I couldn't find the time to focus. And now it seems silly to write about a trip that was two entire trips ago. Ugh. Why do I care so much about this? It seems like overthinking. Maybe blogging is a silly enterprise, after all.

I don't know why I am writing about this. It seems like a digression of a tangent in and of itself.

Right now: we are in Germany. We have been here, on this trip that has been months in the making and never felt real until we got here, since Tuesday, August 6th. I cannot believe it's been nearly a week already. I have seen and experienced so much that it's tough to write about already, as words seem so insignificant, so unable to express how I feel. I remember a time when words were my best friend and never let me down -- but even then, to write about travel always seemed a bit futile. Perhaps because I am so stubborn, I will try anyway.

Right now, when I look out the train window, I see woodland, marsh, rivers with cattails on their banks, and seemingly endless grassy farmland punctuated with cornfields. Perfectly round bales of hay occasionally appear. Everything is very green here -- did you know that Germany's rainy season is during the summer? Ahem. I think I may have known this in theory before we arrived, but events have led me to know it firsthand now (more on that later - lets just say, your geography lesson of the day is that it rains a LOT here in August!). I find this landscape and climate so different from the bay area, and even Oregon, and I love that -- the novelty of it. I also saw a swan floating in a river in Berlin, you know, just chilling in the wild, because it LIVES THERE and didn't have to be trucked in or anything. Swans are the Aston Martin of ducks, as we all know, so it's cool to see one just living its life in a river somewhere, all elegant and huge and stuff. Wait, did I just compare a swan to a car?

DIGRESSIONS.

There are so many things I love about Germany that discussing them all would take far longer than I have to write about them (these trains go really fast -- right now it's going 162km/hr, but I've seen one go 230km/hr, which is about 150mph for you metrically-challenged Americans). At the same time, making lists like these always seems like a cop-out. Where to compromise? Oh well.

-- The train system is incredible. You can get anywhere, seriously anywhere, by the myriad transit systems that seem to all work together, are incredibly well-funded, and put US transit to absolute shame. The high speed rail (ICE) trains are really luxe (ac, reclining seats, bar car, totally quiet inside and that's just 2nd class seats). The trains are generally on time and using each system has so far been way easier than anticipated.

-- The German people have blown me away with their kindness. I never thought Germans wouldn't be kind, but they are really, really awesome beyond expectations, and I have a new appreciation for them, and what it means to be German, and what it means to be a part of a culture, and to be human. A lot of this has to do with the endless feelings and experiences I just had at the M'era Luna music festival this past weekend -- more on that later, since I don't want to forget a thing.

-- The rebuilding of East Berlin has resulted in a very funky, ethnically diverse and arts/culture-heavy atmosphere. By chance, we have ended up staying in the east Berlin neighborhood of Kreutzberg, and I am so glad -- it's inspiring. The East Side Gallery, which is a 1.3km remaining part of the Berlin Wall that's been turned into a mural, was a block from our first hostel, and I will say this much: we both cried while looking at it. East Berlin has transformed much since 1989, but everywhere there are little reminders of the past, Soviet-style buildings, the endless graffiti, words on walls and a history that cannot be ignored or painted or built over. It's so meaningful. Also: cheap Turkish food is eveywhere, and I've never seen so many Turkish people in my life, so that is another cool added bonus (a huge number of Turks immigrate to Germany).

-- This is not necessarily a good thing, but basically everyone here speaks English. I've never experienced anything like this before (not even in England ... ha ha ha, just kidding) and certainly did not expect it. My culture shock, as it is, that I experience when I visit a new country, has been SO much less this time. I've been trying to figure out why that is: is it because of the decreased language barrier, or is there an element of cultural kinship I feel here that I did not feel in a place like Rome? Note that I absolutely love Rome, and I'm not dissing it -- it just has far more of a "foreign" feel than anywhere I've been in Germany so far. Then again, I felt far more comfortable speaking Italian, or attempting to speak Italian, because I'm more familiar with the language; speaking German has been really hard for me so far (like, embarrassingly hard: after a week here, I can now say good morning, thank you, please/you're welcome, and the numbers 1,2 and 4 -- that's it). If Germans didn't speak such good English, I'd be in a world of trouble, and Germany would certainly have more of that "foreign" feeling I felt so strongly in Rome (again: that's not a bad thing). Anyway -- cultural kinship: I do feel that German culture and American culture have some similiarities that say, the Latin European countries do not, and this is the first time I've really gotten to immerse myself in that, and I really really love it. Deep thoughts on this pending.

-- Beer. Bier! Biergartens! Need I say more? This country loves its beer and takes the drinking of it very seriously. Not in the same way that the west coast takes microbrews seriously, though - it's steeped in history, not a quest in "how hoppy can I possibly make this beer before it becomes undrinkable?" (sorry, I am biased). There may not be 250 different options on tap, but if there's one beer on tap at a hole-in-the-wall bar, chances are: it's great.

-- Oh my goodness, M'era Luna. I am in full festival afterglow at the moment, so it's hard to write about -- but it was AMAZING, something I'll treasure forever, an incredible weekend and something that started in our minds last winter as a "hey, let's just decide to DO THIS" kind of adventure. We made it happen. It was one of those weekends that I'll never forget, where every single moment was magical. I will write more. For now I really want to share some of the Instagram photos I took over the weekend, since I was unable to post them. It was one of the best weekends of my life. I can't wait to edit the photos I took this weekend (I had a photo pass and am covering the festival for local media -- I made this happen entirely with my own effort). Gah. It was just SO GOOD. There is no way I can do it justice ... but I will try. For now, these:

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Sunset over Hildesheim Airport, Friday <3

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In the medieval market (SO COOL YOU GUYS) -- sack wrestling!

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Lasers were a constant. These lasers, in fact.

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I don't know why I found this tent so funny, but I found it really funny.

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Our little campsite -- tent and chairs were rented by us & set up/taken down by the company. How awesome is that? It wasn't cheap but it made a huge difference for us.

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This was me after taking the most frozen shower in the world during the most frozen morning in the world after less than three hours of sleep. I was definitely miserable, but it was all part of the experience. Scott thinks this picture is really funny :P

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Oregon | Day 2

Oh my. I am so embarrassed that I am writing up my trip that already has become almost two trips ago, and certainly more than two weeks ago, on this ridiculously abandoned blog. I have major excuses, like some of the worst life-at-home stress of my entire life, and financial horror, and a wild trip to Vegas that bumbled along in an Amber-like fashion, to my being ridiculously sick all week so far, this week leading up to a 10k race on Sunday and our trip to Europe on Monday. OH MY GOD. Anyway, somewhere in there I must finish these blog posts, so ... here we go. 

I feel bad saying this was my "favorite day" of the trip given the amazing wedding days on the river that followed, but this was the day I had totally, completely to myself in Beaverton, so it was special to me. My mom and Larry were both at work until mid-afternoon. I woke  in the morning, had some breakfast (tempeh bacon and sauteed spinach), watched Good Day Oregon, and got ready for my run.

I was really stoked about this run because I never get to run in new areas anymore, and nothing makes running more fun for me than running in new areas. And in this case, it was the best of both worlds: the new-old area. A place I grew up in or around but haven't been to (ever) or haven't seen in a long time. These things all make my brain buzz. Little did I know both how tough of a run this would turn out to be, and how much I pretty much didn't care. Because ... friends ... I am not even kidding:

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Five miles later and I was definitely worse for wear. The run had taken everything out of me. I wasn't used to running in such harsh sunlight or warm conditions. Also? Can't escape those hills, not even in Oregon! I was actually dragging myself back to my mom's, where I then pretty much collapsed for the remainder of the afternoon until my mom arrived home from work, in serious dehydration mode. Good thing I had this dude with me the entire time I napped or I might have felt sad about it:

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Things brightened considerably after my mom and Larry arrived home from work. Shenanigans / hijinks (!) ensued when my mom busted out her eagle mask she bought at the World Forestry Center. Her reasoning: "I thought it was a seagull." I love my mom so much. We are truly cut from the same cloth and no one will really understand me in quite the way she always has and will. I appreciate her so very much. How could I not?

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Oh, and here's a photo of the aforementioned breakfast I made:

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This was a really good day of Oregon bonding and family bonding and I wouldn't have had it any other way. We ended this one with Thai food and more Criminal Minds before an early bedtime. It was good I had an early bedtime, because the next day began essentially three days of wedding madness in Central Oregon, and I knew I needed to be at my best. I can't wait to share some of those adventures with you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cloud Encounters of the Cloud Kind

I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it's cloud illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds at all
—Joni Mitchell | Both Sides Now

On Saturday night I had a photo gig on Gough & Bush Street, at the Gough Street Playhouse. My job was to shoot two sets by a local pirate band, The Boarding Party (yep, they do shanties, and they wear the full garb, but they are also all really talented).

Before I left the house I was in desperate need of pepping up. My usual tactic is to wear my happiness, so I put on a pair of cloud patterned tights I rediscovered recently in my storage unit:

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Yay, right? I headed out and encountered a million things trying to ruin the night for me before it even began: rude bus passengers, stopped traffic on Geary, a steep uphill walk in the freezing cold. When I finally reached The Gough Street Playhouse, I realized just how long it had been since I'd been to a real, working theatre. Growing up a theatre kid in high school, I was never far from those smells. The smell of a wood stage seems to smell the same as it did in high school. Is there one company that does all the theatre stages and makes them all smell the same? These are the things you ponder!

I walked into the main stage area, where The Boarding Party was just about ready to start. There wasn't a huge crowd, but for a threatre benefit/auction it was pretty good. It wasn't until after the band had started and I was fully immersed in photography that I happened to look down and see that ... that ....

MY TIGHTS MATCHED THE FLOOR!

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The current play running at the theatre, The Book of Liz, painted this floor with a cloud pattern. I cannot even express how awesome it was to wear my cloud tights out for the first time in something like 10 years and encounter this floor the very same night. Crazy, right?

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The show was really fun, and theatre people are just really awesome. I miss them.

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One crazy random thing: I ran into one of the professors I work for at my day job. Turns out he's the music director for the musical being staged at the theatre beginning in September! This is what I really love about Computer Scientists -- a LOT of them are also ridiculously talented at music. Since music is math-based I am not surprised, logically, but still .... it adds a depth of character to all of the computer scientists I know when the majority of them are making beautiful melodies & contributing to arts and science.

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So, to sum up: ART! Photography! Pirate band! Wenches (coming soon!) -- life is good.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Oregon | Day 1

I've actually been back from my awesome, amazing Oregon trip since Monday, but I've had a crazy week of work and stress on the home front, so I decided to continue my blogging break until today. I had a wonderful time on my mini-vacation last week. I hadn't been home since Thanksgiving 2011 and there are very few things I enjoy more in this world than spending time at my mom's house in Beaverton, seeing old friends and reconnecting with the place I grew up (and would love to return to someday).

My flight was uneventful enough. Seeing my homeland out the window of the plane is always one of my favorite things (you are going to hear "my favorite things" a lot in these posts, just warning you). I got on the MAX and headed toward downtown. My destination was not Beaverton -- not yet.

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First, I headed to the up-and-coming industrial-turned-hipster district of East Portland, where I attended an amazing yoga class at Yoga Bhoga. I met all manner of interesting people and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the class. It's fascinating to practice yoga in different places; in many ways all studios are the same, but each has its own flavor. There is also a regional flavor, as I've now found out.

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I ate lunch after class at Boke Bowl, a ramen shop in the same building as the yoga studio (loved that!) and made my way toward my mom. We had a joyous reunion, decided to go straight to her house, and proceeded to enjoy the heck out of our first night together in two years. Oh yeah, and this guy:

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Spencer is my buddy. Of my mom's 4 cats (yes, that IS where I get it from) he is the only one who likes me. And boy does he ever! This was right after we got to the house, and he began to totally freak out because I was there. It was so good to be home. Our night included Thai food, a hot summer night, lots of local wine, local news & an episode of Criminal Minds. I know I said this, but -- so good to be home.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from my Wet Hot Oregon Summer.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Here // There

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It has been a few days since I've posted. This really wasn't intentional -- see, last week was crazy. We had a transit strike here in SF and I was literally unable to get to work all week. It's the beginning of the month, so I couldn't take time off, I had to work from home. Scott is currently at home 24/7 as he struggles to find a job. We ended up being together 24/7 all week long, unexpectedly, and I still feel terrible about it. Poor Scott. We are both far less productive when the other is in the house, and last week was just not a good week for something like a BART strike to happen. Also, it's incredible how much BART being on strike crippled not just my ability to get around, but so many others as well. Go across the bay? Forget it. Though since I've heard they have a full bar on the Oakland-SF ferry, I'm a bit tempted to try it ... :)

Scott is at his mom's house now until tomorrow night (he left yesterday). On Wednesday morning, I leave (alone) for a trip home to Oregon ... which I am ridiculously, ridiculously excited about (I haven't been back since November 2011). I plan on doing yoga, running, eating doughnuts & seeing my family & friends before spending the weekend (Friday-Sunday) in Belknap Springs, shooting the wedding of one of my friends from middle school. As you might have guessed, it takes place at a hot springs. I've never been to a hot springs, so this is doubly, triply exciting for me. Plus, nothing beats a Pacific Northwest summer.

Nothing.

I return next Monday, and go back to real life -- but this week, it's going to be great. I hardly even care about the severity of our financial situation, or about how I shattered my phone screen last weekend ... those things are not going to touch me right now. Plus, my phone still works!

I admittedly am nervous about flying after a plane crashed at SFO this weekend. I'm flying out of Oakland but that is hardly the point. I have this really weird "thing" where I'm absolutely convinced  I'm going to watch a plane crash someday (it's the subject of my only recurring dream, since childhood). I used to have a severe phobia of flying but I consider myself over it these days; except ... how could I not be impacted by this, a jet crashing at my local airport?!?! To me this has hit (literally) too close to home. I am in shock about it. When you fly into SFO there is always a thrilling/scary moment where you think you're going so low, so slow that you're going to land in the water. Well, let me tell you, I am never going to think about that landing the same way ever again, and that's really too bad. My heart goes out to every person impacted by the crash.

Anyway, watching the local and national news has become mostly awful beyond words, seeing  them talking about a plane crash at my local airport, and yet I can't stop watching. I have a journalist's blood, a lifelong affliction, and it's true what they say: I can't ever miss out on a disaster. Adrenaline? Check.

I hope my flights coming up are non-events. I hope all is well. Yuck. Trying not to work myself up about these flights (especially because I'm going to be traveling alone!) but I'm starting to overthink, so I think it's time to change the subject.

The photo above is me having discovered Snapseed for Android! Welcome to overprocessing land.

Monday, July 1, 2013

SF Pride 2013

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I hadn't planned on going to Pride this year. But a photography opportunity opened up to me on Friday -- taking photos of a dance troupe, Hot Pink Feathers, IN the parade -- and that coupled with the Supreme Court's rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA sealed the deal.

I had never experienced the "back end" (ahem) of a parade before, and certainly not SF Pride. Obviously things were even huger and happier and more amazing than usual this year because of marriage, but it struck me while on the parade route that, hey, I'd never really been in a parade before -- ever.

The privilege of getting to hang out with these fun, talented people, and the opportunity to participate in the parade was a much more meaningful experience, personally, than I'd imagined.

I was with float #108. Amazingly, there were apparently more than three hundred floats/groups in the parade this year, which took up more than five hours of broadcast time (I later found out). There was another official photographer for our group, a nice guy, and as we walked up to the first turn onto Market Street, I bounced along saying "Ahhhhh, I am SO excited!" He asked, "Have you ever done this before?" I responded, "I think I danced along with a float or something many years ago, but not really." He looked at me and said "Just wait til you turn the corner."

Just wait til you turn the corner.

It really HIT me at that moment exactly what he meant and the profound meaning behind what I was doing. Having become disillusioned with Pride years earlier due to what I felt was a hijacking of festivities by other communities, I hadn't even planned on attending this year until I got the invitation to work with a dance troupe, taking photos of them before & during the parade.

Being a part of the parade was so unexpectedly important to me. The people of SF -- not the bandwagoning, wasted fall-over drunk, can't-miss-a-party group who attends the party in Civic Center, but families and people who actually care enough to stand eight-deep on either side of Market Street screaming for 5 hours ... I mean, wow. For the first time I felt like a part of this community, where no one judged me because of my marital status, where I could beam the entire way to Civic Center and people weren't just supporting the dancers, or the community at large -- they were there for me, too, along with all of those people. It felt like the world's most awesome celebration in the world's most beautiful city and the corporate floats and the Manning supporters all had their moments and it was just ... everything it should have been, and more. I've been waiting for this day, for this year, passionately for half a lifetime, and it felt even sweeter than I imagined it would.

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When I got home yesterday, I recorded the re-broadcast of the parade on local TV. I ended up watching nearly three hours of it in order to get to the part where my group went by. I'll admit it: I was dying to know whether I could see myself on TV. I totally could, for a couple of seconds I enter the frame and take a photo, then retreat. How freaking cool is that?! I was already feeling so liberated, and had also been doing something unusual -- I wore a miniskirt to the parade and left my legs bare. For me to do that is a really big deal and something that never happens because I am not a huge fan of my legs. But when I saw myself on TV last night ... at first I didn't recognize myself, and I mean that in a good way!

Life, my friends, in spite of the challenges, is better than it has ever been -- especially for so many of my friends and so many in my community. Yesterday was so full of love.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Currently

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Pride at Whole Foods
WatchingWimbledon. It's always tennis season somewhere, right? This tournament has been filled with surprises so far! Currently I am losing it a little because my favorite, David Ferrer, is playing a close second round match and I can't get ESPN streaming to work. This is just the latest in a string of mornings this week where the live stream just hasn't worked. Come on, ESPN! (Update: he won in 4 sets. Yes!)

Reading — Still plugging away at Michael Pollan's Cooked. I'm onto the third section of the book now, which is about bread; this is a subject that interests me because the only bread we eat in our house is the sourdough Scott makes. We gave up commercial breads years ago, partially because they are so expensive, but also because almost every commercial bread is fortified with iron, and iron is not very good for boys/men -- in fact having too much iron can really screw you up and cause serious health problems. The way in which most processed, commercial foods are fortified with vitamins these days really worries me.

Eating — Well, nothing at this exact moment, but later I hope to be eating this Cold Thai Noodle Salad from Mandy at Harper's Happenings. I happen to have gotten some amazing, fresh tomatoes & cucumbers yesterday in my CSA box, and we're having a heat wave in the bay area right now, so a cold dinner that utilizes some of these fresh summer ingredients sounds delicious. Plus, I'm really trying to cook cheaply but well, and in ways that result in leftovers -- which this recipe should provide.

Drinking — Iced coffee with almond milk. Of course.

Learning — What it means to be a better person. Or a good person. How to balance my life. How to spend less money. Yoga postures. I probably should be learning German. Or Czech. Or how to really seriously be an adult ... like learning how to drive. But I'm not learning any of those things -- not yet!

Thank goodness it's Friday. This weekend will be a whirlwind of SF Pride festivities, hard work at home, working out & photo shoots in the hot sunshine. I can't believe it's going to be July on Monday.


HK

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The 2013 SF Marathon

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

"One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do."
—Henry Ford

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


I am finally going to write about this, because if I wait any longer, I'll forget the details.

I will get the negative part out of the way first: I really did not finish with a time I'm proud of. I know I said that my goal was "just to finish," but I am really not happy with my time. I was hoping to finish around 2:35 but ended up finishing at 2:51. Almost 3 hours. Granted, there were a lot of hills, like A LOT OF HILLS, none of which I ran up in order to conserve energy -- that's probably what did it -- but still. Still.

I have unfinished business.

On the upside: I ran a half marathon! I did it! 

The a few days before the half, I went to the SF Marathon Expo to pick up my bib, race shirt, and bag. I did my last run before the half on this day, as it was exactly 2 miles round trip from my house to the expo. I am not a huge fan of all the commercialism at the expo,but that's kind of what it's there for, and as long as people leave me alone and I can walk through the concourse looking at all the pretty shoes etc I don't mind. It struck me very much as I walked the floor this year how different I had felt just one year ago, when I came to the expo to pick up my 5k/Progressive Marathon materials. I never could have imagined last summer that I'd be running a half marathon this year, or ever.

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The night before the half, I decided I needed 8 hours of sleep. I know, novel, right? So I cooked up a batch of pasta (for dinner), a batch of tofu scramble (for breakfast), and managed to go to sleep at 8pm. Here I really must call out my wonderful husband for being so supportive -- even though it basically meant he couldn't do anything that was noisy or might wake me up after 8pm (he was up until 2am!).

The alarm went off at 4am. I stumbled around. I force-fed myself water, coffee & a breakfast burrito stuffed with tofu scramble. I knew I needed to eat -- but it was awful. I felt incredibly nauseous, like I'm about to throw up nauseous, for at least an hour, if not more. It was just from eating too early in the morning. I am not a person who can wake up and eat breakfast right away, so it was jarring to my system.

I got dressed, pinned my bib on and left the house at 5:40am. Since I did the first half marathon, the start line was within walking distance of my house at the ferry building, so I got to enjoy a leisurely early morning walk as the sun rose to my right. It was beautiful. I arrived at the start line, discarded my coat & got ready.

Wave 7 (my wave) took off at 6:22am. Here is the route below -- we started at the ferry building (upper right near the SF Marathon logo), went up the Embarcadero, through Ft. mason, across the Golden Gate Bridge & back, south through the Presidio and around into Golden Gate Park (basically the upper half of this map is what I did; the second half marathon/second part of the full marathon began in GG Park and winds around the lower half of the map, ending at the ferry building):



I'm going to recap things by mile now, since running is a ridiculously mental sport and things change a lot over the course of 13.1 miles, and man, was this ever the epic journey.

Miles 1-4:  I ran the entire time during the first four miles, with the exception of the first hill ascent (Ft. Mason). Feeling pretty good at this point, which was probably due to the adrenaline, my huge breakfast & all that sleep the night before. It's amazing what a difference those things make, I'm telling you. It became clear that it would be a beautiful day, and people began lining the road and cheering for us.

Mile 5-6: I began to feel exhausted for the first time, and my right leg, hamstrings and quads alike, got really stiff. This has never happened to me before -- not like this -- so I began to worry, but tried to put it out of my mind. I was still really nauseous at this point, too. I kept going but unfortunately had to slow down. As we went through Crissy Field, I walked part of the way & tried to make my leg feel better, to no avail. Right before we climbed to the Golden Gate Bridge, I made the executive decision to stop for a few minutes and really stretch and massage my legs. This turned out to be a really good decision because my leg no longer bothered me after I did this!

Miles 7-9: These were the GG Bridge miles. I knew that they were going to be tough because I'd run the bridge before, and it literally is an example of "uphill both ways." Plus, since we were running in the road, there were all kinds of interesting things to watch out for and avoid. The Golden Gate takes no prisoners: I saw multiple people fall while running across this bridge. I ended up walking quite a bit on the uphill bits, knowing I had a lot of miles left to go, but I have a rule called "never walk when going downhill," so I definitely pushed it on those parts. I had some Gu energy gel at mile 8 or so. On the way back over the bridge, I had my biggest mental breakdown when I saw a girl REALLY fall and eat it -- she was face down, being tended to by others, but she was covered in blood, on her face, her legs, you name it; and our eyes met as I ran by. She looked confused and absolutely miserable. I have to admit -- this really freaked me out. I am a really clumsy person, and I've fallen while running before, and at that moment I realized just how many things on the bridge there are to trip on when you're running and not in a car. I got out of my head for a while and really had to talk myself back down from the ledge. I was freaked. I didn't want it to be me. The image of her looking at me with her confused, bloody face haunts me now still.

Miles 10-11: This was where the weather began to go bad; I had no idea this was going to happen and was really surprised! The Presidio was socked in with fog, and it was freezing. There were also a lot of hills here, and I began to realize that I wasn't going to make my time. But still: 10 miles! Yes! I recognized that I had actually been through this part of the Presidio before, when I went on my hike in May. It was beautiful looking down upon Baker Beach with all the fog around it.

Miles 12-13: We were going up hills and down hills pretty consistently during this time, now through the residential areas of the Outer Richmond. I pretty much had to walk up the hills at this point -- all of them -- but I ran as much as I could, and we were all being cheered on by people in their apartments, and the event volunteers who always said "It's all downhill from here" as we crested a hill (guess what? They were always lying, but I totally forgive them ... they gave me hope). We descended into Golden Gate Park around Mile 13 and approached the finish line.

Mile 13.1: When I saw the finish line up ahead, I couldn't help it: I cried. I did it. I had done it. Somehow I ran 13.1 miles! I thought of all those who I was running for: my dad, Steve, Karen. I can't even express how proud of myself I felt in that moment, as I crossed the finish line & collected my medal, tarp, etc. I even overlooked my finish time with all the euphoric chemicals running through my body. I immediately texted Scott & my mom to let them know I DID IT! & went immediately to the Irish Coffee station. I also ate a couple of bananas, then made my way, shivering in the freezing cold now while waiting in line for the bus that would take me back to the ferry building.

I ended up walking home from the ferry building, still totally freezing, but warmed up considerably after arriving home & eating some food, taking a shower and collapsing for a series of naps. They were naps well deserved, my husband loves me and was so proud of me that day ... and the next day? My birthday.

It was a really good day. And like I said above: I have unfinished business. I want to do it again.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

You can blame it on me!

...the rain, that is.

We usually don't get any rain in the bay area after May or so. It's possible in early June but not common, and by now we're usually into our lovely dry season, which lasts until October. However -- yesterday through Tuesday we're experiencing some rare late-late-season rain, and I must admit: it's all my fault.

Not really. But last week I opened a birthday present from my mother-in-law, and that present was a new pair of wellies (which I desperately needed after mine broke last winter). I remember looking at Scott and saying "Now I wish it would rain, so I could wear these --but it never rains here anymore and it's too late in the year." Thanks, Mother Nature! You rock! You gave me exactly what I wanted. Sorry, everyone else.

The new wellies are awesome:

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So. I'm sorry about the rain, San Francisco, I really am. But it's just water! And at least MY feet are dry.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Happy Solstice!

I've posted a zillion times about how summer is my favorite season. And now ... it's summer! Happy solistice and happy Friday to everyone. I was talking with my Swedish friend this morning about midsummer celebrations up in those parts (a maypole is involved!) and it made me long for a culture of my own. But I guess I'll have to do with typical San Francisco summer shenanigans: Dolores Park weekends, long rides on the scooter without feeling freezing, outdoor dining, running in the sunshine. Of course, that assumes that the weather doesn't turn to gloom, as it often does, but given my location on the sunny side of SF, I know we'll always have more sunny days than gloomy ones.

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That's a photo of Berkeley today -- a sunny day in the 70s, perfect for the first day of summer.

This weekend will be busy: I'm planning on doing multiple yoga classes (time permitting) (at my gym), and tomorrow we've rented a van in order to move our stuff to a new storage unit -- ours lost its lease. Yep, that one is a major bummer, but since the new space is 1/2 as large, it's a great opportunity to get rid of stuff. And I have a well documented love of getting rid of stuff, so on that level it's quite exciting! We'll see how I'm feeling after an afternoon with our ZipVan, though (isn't it cool ZipVan exists?!).

It has been a long week. It feels like my birthday wasn't possibly only five days ago, but it was. Sheesh! And now I am going to escape into a night of bahn mi, wine & Family Guy reruns.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yoga: a love story

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I started doing yoga in 1999, when I was 17 and a senior in high school. I was lucky enough to be able to take a Hatha class at school to complete my physical education requirement for one semester. My teacher was Judith Sekler, and it's not really exaggerating to say she changed my life forever.

I don't know what I knew or thought about yoga before I started doing it, only that once I did start doing it, I fell in love at first pose. It played into some things I was already good at, like gymnastic flexibility, and added in some other elements that I hadn't known how much I needed in my life, like meditation and Buddhist principles of mindfulness. At the time, I was in the middle of one of the most stressful times of my life, attending a rigorous private high school and trying to excel in a system that seemed determined to make as many of us as possible fail (that's dramatic in hindsight, but it was cutthroat). I felt like yoga was something I could actually be good at, and the added bonus of stress relief was not lost on me.

Once I moved to the bay area a year later, it took me a while to get back to yoga, but I did: by the time it was 2002, I was a full time community college student & went back to the yoga studio. This time, I became a regular at Piedmont Yoga in Oakland. I loved the ambiance of this place -- there's just something about a good yoga studio (plus, I think it had heated floors!). This was when I bought my own yoga mat, yoga shorts, etcetera -- I was a serious student! I keep meaning to go back to my old journal entries from that time, because so much has faded ... but I think I was going up to three times per week. Yeah, wasn't it nice to have all that free time in the middle of the day ... ? Answer: YES.

I even continued to go to yoga after my dad died in May 2003. I think it was one of the only things keeping me even remotely sane that summer, that summer where everything changed and I'd never been so out of my mind in my life. "Magical thinking," indeed.

It didn't really drop off until three things happened: in February 2004, I broke up with my boyfriend at the time and moved to San Francisco from Oakland (and away from my studio, and my cheap rent); I became extremely depressed that spring, followed by elated and happy beyond measure in April 2004 when the love of my life, Scott & I finally got together. Happy people don't need yoga (erm...); and finally, the nail in the coffin was my gaining acceptance to UC Berkeley and starting full time school in June 2004, way in over my head, editing the school newspaper, taking classes at a real university after years at a community college. I stopped doing yoga entirely.

I always talked about going back. I became scared, over time, of going back. That's the thing with me: the longer I get up in my head about not doing something, the bigger I blow it up to be in my head, even if it really is no deal at all. Plus, I was always able to make excuses, always focusing on something else: work, photography, staying out super late shooting concerts/shows, money, money, money. If there's an excuse that could be made, I made it. But deep down, I always wanted to go back, and deep down, it always felt like something was missing. I just needed to take that step and go back.

This year I woke up one day and thought: what am I waiting for? Really, why not now? My friend Meghan, who is inspiring to me on endless levels, is a yoga fanatic, and on top of everything else has a membership at a yoga studio I'd been eyeing for literally years. Yoga Garden is one of those studios that looks like a Zen hot springs from the outside, and I could just tell it had the kind of ambiance I love so much. But I was still too scared to go, until the day I woke up last April and there was an email in my inbox from Meghan about a rooftop yoga class in San Francisco. WHY NOT? I swallowed my fear and registered before my mind could tell me otherwise -- this is a tactic I often use when conquering fear and it has usually worked out well: just don't listen to your brain, don't give your brain a chance to even speak until it is already done. That's not to say I wasn't scared still --but it worked out great.

It was love at first pose, yet again, all these years later. And since then? I've been rediscovering my intense love of yoga all over again. I am not made of money, so doing this has at some points (like now, with an unemployed husband) been difficult, and required creativity -- but there are options out there, deals to be found, donation-only classes, and classes at my gym.

I've been taking classes whenever and wherever I can, and I've found a sense of mental/emotional peace I've really been missing and looking for this year. I may not be able to do handstands anymore, but I've also branched out from Hatha yoga into Yin and Vinyasa. I feel great. It really helped me with my half marathon training and with recovering from the half marathon afterward. I love the yoga community and I love everything about this new/old path I'm on. I am so grateful that I decided to go back after all this time, I can't say it enough! I LOVE YOGA! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A birthday

Yesterday was my 31st birthday. I ended up taking the day off in spite of my belief that I wouldn't -- a number of things happened the night before that convinced me work wouldn't be a good idea, including poor Scott being up half the night (and thus ... me being up half the night). He had a phone interview for a job yesterday afternoon, so it was my job to basically stay out of the house for as much of the day as possible. This was fine with me...so yesterday, I spent a lot of time adventuring.

First I headed to the Moraga Steps, a place I'd been planning on going for years. It lived up to expectations, but in hindsight it was probably not a good idea to go hiking the day after a half marathon. Speaking of the half marathon, it was amazing, and I want to do it again, and I have so much to say about it but it's all very emotional and will take a while (and a separate post) to put down in words. It's coming, but this post is definitely easier to write, so it's coming first. Anyway...the Moraga Steps.

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The Moraga Steps are a ridiculously beautiful, steep, completely hand tiled art piece/set of stairs located at 16th Avenue and Moraga in San Francisco. This is a part of town I never visit, probably because it's pretty inaccessible from my house, but it's beautiful. A huge hill is the focal point of the Golden Gate Heights/Forest Hill neighborhood (the hill itself is Grand View Park)

And the view from halfway up? Ridiculous. I'm actually glad I took this where I did because the view from the top of the stairs was halfway obscured by trees. As you can see, this is looking west all the way to the Pacific ... so beautiful:

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After walking around here for a bit, I headed down to Golden Gate Park, then decided to take a bus to the Haight and get some breakfast at Whole Foods. While there, I decided to get a simple lunch for Scott & I and head home to feed us before I had to leave again (his interview, which was on the phone, was at 2pm). So we dined on black bean soup & black bean/quinoa salad for lunch, I took a too-short hour long nap, and I was out the door again, this time so Scott could have his interview.

I really, really wanted to go to yoga, but there were no classes that matched the time I needed to be gone, so instead I decided to spend my time at the gym. Now, if you're thinking this might be dumb considering I'd just run a half marathon the day before and a surprisingly strenuous hike earlier in the day ... you would be right. But I did it anyway, and I think it's worked out OK. Unfortunately my left foot really started to hurt while I was on the elliptical, but it's feeling much better today so I think I just overworked it. I ended up hanging out at the gym after my workout doing yoga poses to stretch out my tight leg muscles, which felt great -- but the icing on the cake is that Scott moved on to the next step of the interview process! Fingers, you know, crossed and all that jazz.

Last night we got to go out to our favorite wine bar, Hotel Biron, to celebrate my birthday. Yes, I ate cheese and yes it was worth it -- this is one of, like, two times a year I indulge, and it's very special. I also had my favorite olives in the universe, and great Spanish wine. Plus the wonderful company/conversation <3 I must be growing up or something, because I went to bed by 10:30pm and didn't have a hangover this morning! Ha. You think I'm kidding, but that surprised even me. Responsibility and fun can mix?!

So now I am 31. Here are my "birthday photos" Scott took of me last night before we left the house:




The dress is from Modcloth & the tights are from Target. A classy broad, indeed! I had a wonderful birthday and I am facing this year with determination and an open mind.
 
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