Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A little inspiration

Recently I was inspired by this blogpost by Chris Gillbeau on how to write 300,000 words a year. Chris is a go-to read for quick inspiration whether it’s in regards to travel, writing, or challenging societal norms. In this particular post, he mostly he encourages his readers to be self-disciplined enough to write 1000 words a day, six days a week.

It made me feel validated for starting a blog as a means to practice writing. Even if it’s terrible and nobody reads it, it is productive as part of a larger goal. So I’ve decided that in addition to my goal of reading two books a month, I will also write 5,000 words a week. Some of my best writing came when I was forced to write due to a deadline or class assignment.

From now on, I will hold myself to the same level of accountability and challenge myself to write more every day. Seriously, if I can make time to watch How I met Your Mother, I can surely carve out 30 minutes to keep my writing muscles toned. And it really is achievable. In this post alone, I’ve contributed 205 more words to my weekly total. Baby steps.

Running= Cure for Introversion

Million Dollar (ok, maybe more like 3 million-dollar) view of the island of Molokai from the lanai of our rental house:

My favorite thing about Maui was jogging while I was there. The mornings were usually a dewy 65 degrees, the sunrise views were unspeakably beautiful, and the steep hills kept my heart rate at about 160 the entire time (which allowed for guilt free participation in my second, third, and fourth favorite things about Maui- Hawaiian Pizza, Shaved Ice, and chocolate covered macadamia nuts).

The house we (ok, my parents) rented was on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton of Kapalua, so the rocky beaches, wide pedestrian sidewalks and manicured gardens of the resort were my running trail for the week we were there. Though in retrospect, our Hawaii trip seems pretty flawless, a house full of family (including two rambunctious nephews) + substantial jetlag at the time had the potential to make for a pretty grumpy Laine. My morning runs completely absolved me of any moodiness I was feeling beforehand.

I think my family would agree that my two crankiest days were the ones where we piled into a car at sunrise and didn’t make it home until sundown- leaving no endorphin inducing exercise for me. You see, I’m one of those people who loves to run to the point where it’s fair to label it an addiction. Combine running with travelling and I couldn’t be happier.

As a textbook introvert, jogging gives me that time I require for reflection and introspection to “work out my stuff”. In Hawaii, it allowed me to distance myself from whatever insignificant thing that was irritating me and refocus on the fact that I was in freaking Hawaii with my fabulous family and nothing, not even a snorkeling-induced panic attack was going to bring me down. As an introvert, being surrounded by socialization and stimulation all day long can be exhausting. While my extroverted friends and family feel energized by social interaction, I’m actually depleted by it.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t love to socialize, because I absolutely do. Quality time is even my number one love language. It’s just that I have to re-energize afterwards by spending time alone with my thoughts to “work out my stuff”. Running on family vacations has made such a difference in my socializing stamina.

Now running isn’t merely a tool to process the negative parts of life, but it also give me time to practice gratitude. It’s pretty easy to express gratitude when jogging in Maui, but I often include praise music on my playlist so that even when I’m jogging next to a sewer drain in Houston, I’m reminded of God’s hand in my life. It can be a noisy and busy life sometimes, but I always seem to find a few hours a week to hit the pavement, so it’s good to multitask and use this as a time of prayer and praise.

My family enjoying their morning coffee as I prepare for my morning run. Oh Hawaii, I miss you terribly.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mama's Fish House

It’s hard to write about Hawaii, almost as if I sat down to write about it I’d be admitting that the trip is over. I’ve been back in Houston three weeks and I’m still on the bummer elevator going down. How do you come back to Houston from Hawaii? Our solution? Go to Colorado. We’ve been some traveling fools lately and I absolutely love it. However, after this month’s ski trip, my vacation time at work will be completely depleted. I guess it wouldn’t be fair to Breckenridge unless I put Hawaii behind me and started the healing process.

I’ll break the ice with a post about Mama’s Fish House. If you’re ever lucky enough to visit the sleepy island of Maui, you’ll hear over and over again that you have to eat at Mama’s Fish House. And it’s true. You absolutely have to go.
Not only is the restaurant located on what’s likely the best piece of real estate on the island, but the atmosphere and the food is something you just must experience.

What I recommend is to go before your flight out. The restaurant is on the north shore, very close to the airport and it’s likely that you’ll have a later/overnight flight back to the mainland. It gives you something to kill some time between when you have to be out of your hotel/rental house and when you have to be at the airport. The grounds of Mama’s are some of Hawaii’s finest and there is even an Inn with a few Cottages on the premises.

But the exterior isn’t the only thing of beauty; the inside is full of interesting details. The restaurant is set up similar to most Hawaiian architecture with an indoor/outdoor pavilion-like space.Even when inside, you have an open air view to the ocean; to the ocean where the fish are caught daily and served up at Mama’s Fish house. And don't even get me started on the fruity umbrella drinks. It was the perfect way to end our family trip in celebration of my parent's 30 years of marriage.
Going before long flight is also a good idea because since Hawaii is considered a “domestic” flight, no meals, not even peanuts, are served. Our strategy to avoid paying $10 for an airplane meal was stuff our faces at Mama’s to hold us over to Houston. Believe it or not, it worked (which might also have something to do with a sleeping pill that knocked us both out for the whole flight). We sure showed Continental United who’s the boss.

Alright, one Hawaii post down; about 50 to go. But for today, it’s all I have the heart to share. Sigh.

January and Febraury reading lists

My “read two-books a month goal” is still going strong. I’ve amended the resolution slightly to allow for only1 book a month if the book is longer than 1000 pages and filled with teeny tiny print. James Michener’s Hawaii was a massive undertaking which took all of December. However, I’ve more than made up for that in January since I am now on my 5th, yes 5th book of the month. So far I have finished Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, The Man from Beijing by Henning Menkel and The Giver by Lois Lowry (How I went this long without reading The Giver, I’ll never know. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and go read it right now). Currently I’m about ¾ of the way through The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

I recently took my reading habit up a notch thinking it might give me inspiration to start writing again, which is also why I started blogging. While College was definitely the best 4(okay, 6) years of my life, I think it somewhat stifled my creativity. I spent so much time reading textbooks, it hardly made me want to read in my free time. The same thing happened to writing; I spent 6 years writing research papers which completely ruined the writing process for me. I came to loathe something that had come naturally to me since I was 6.

So reading has rebooted some of my creative juices. And blogging is slowly helping me to get the words flowing again. I think blogging especially helps because there are no rules. Many times, writing a good blog posts requires you to break every grammatical and paragraph structure rule in the book. It’s a total rebellion from the research papers that I was automatically defaulting to. Now, I am just stretching out my storytelling muscles and writing what I know. Slowly but surely, I’m getting my sea legs back.

The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain, which I am currently reading, it a real treat. The author’s voice is so lyrical it’s like reading poetry. The narrator is Hadley Hemingway, the first wife of Ernest. The subject matter is especially interesting because it centers on the start of Hemingway’s career and how he learned to write. He had a natural gift, but he had to direct and develop that craft in a substantial way. He learned a lot from the other authors in Paris at that time and was actually mentored by Ezra Pound and Scott Fitzgerald. McLain really brings the love story between Ernest and Hadley to life. I had no idea Hemingway was such a hunk, but I have to say I’m developing quite a crush on him. Now, as is the case with many historical novels (my favorite genre), I know that this story does not end well. But as I do when reading Romeo and Juliet or watching Titanic, I always cross my fingers that this time something might change.
Another reason why I am so entranced by this novel is its focus on ex-pat living. I first fell in love with the romance of expatriating while studying Hemingway in high school. As luck would have it, moving out of the U.S. is almost certainly a part of our near future due to Jonathan’s career path. Reading a novel from an expatriate-wife point of view is especially relevant to me right now. As romantic as it is, the reality is that it’s a huge sacrifice and substantial adjustment to make for your husband’s career. And of course, Jonathan’s job won’t be moving us to Paris anytime soon.

The Paris Wife, so far, is a truly delightful read and I strongly recommend it. It’s an instant favorite and one that I don’t want to end. However, the irony of not wanting to finish a good book is that they are usually so good that you can't help but rushing though it. I’ve zoomed through this one and will likely be done by February 1st. On the list for February are The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. A girlfriend recommended The Girls from Ames as it chronicles the lifelong friendship of a group of women. I have a feeling it will have me feeling quite sentimental over my high school group, the “Naughty Nine”.
Amazon suggested Miss Peregrine, and I am assured by the reviews that the book is not nearly as creepy as the cover suggests.
It’s likely that I will be reading more than 2 books this month since Jon and I are taking a ski trip with another couple. I’m envisioning lots of full day ski activity for Jonathan and friends, and hours of reading by the fire with a spiked hot chocolate for Laine. Sounds perfectly heavenly to me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome to my dark side. Ranting starts now.

If all is well that ends well, does that mean that all that ends badly, is bad? Exhibit A: LOST.

For 6 years, I invested myself emotionally into the TV series LOST. I enjoyed the symbolic references, the in depth character development and the intricate plot lines. There was such a build up for the finale of LOST. Jonathan and I treated it like it was a holiday. A few months ahead of time we rewatched seasons 1-5. For the finale we bought our favorite snacks, bought a nice bottle of wine (aka more than $8) and watched with anticipation, waiting for all of the mysteries of LOST to finally be explained. While Jonathan was satisfied with the lackluster touchy feely ending, I was infuriated. I steamed over it for weeks, identifying greatly with this video .

There were just too many unanswered questions. It seemed the writers dragged the series out, backed themselves into a corner and then ignored 90% of the questions they posed. They developed everything so well and then they (in my eyes) ruined it by rushing the ending. Afterward, they defended their disregard for the disregarded storylines, explaining that they wanted the audience to create their own answers. You know what I call that? LAZY. Cowardly. Maybe even a little bit unethical. Now I could reveal my mega-nerdness by writing 20 blog posts on the subject, but the point of this blog post is possibly even more distressing. Exhibit B: The Hunger Games. Oh, my sweet and perfect Hunger Games, what did your author do to you? When I read book one of the trilogy, I couldn’t wait to read books 2 (Catching Fire) and 3 (Mockingjay). However, with an extreme amount of self-discipline, I waited to indulge myself in the final 2 books during my trip to Hawaii. (Reading a great novel by the pool with a perfect view of Molokai was truly a life affirming experience. You should try it sometime.) Catching Fire (Book 2) was a great book. Not quite as tailored and poised as the first, but still among one of my favorite books of all time. Mockingjay, the final book, almost made it there. Almost. If it just weren’t for the last chapter.

After all the effort Suzanne Collins went through to weave a perfect story and create authentic, vulnerable characters, the end just felt rushed in comparison. In a trilogy that seemed so effortlessly written, I couldn't help but feel like the ending was forced. I wondered to myself if Collins had the pressure of a deadline causing the abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion to the Katniss Everdeen story. Maybe she just got sick of it. Maybe she just got lazy.

But I just have to imagine, that with as attached as I felt to her characters, she must have been that much more involved. I won’t spoil it for you, and it definitely was not as infuriating as the ending of LOST, but the ending feels simply incomplete. She could have made an entire book out of the last chapter of Mockingjay, and maybe she plans to. I just can’t imagine that she would just “give up” at the conclusion of the series.

And if that weren’t bad enough, examine Exhibit C : The LSU tiger football season. After what was being hailed as the best SEC season of all time, the undefeated Tigers failed to perform at the National Championship game vs Alabama, a team they had already defeated in the regular season. And LSU didn’t just get beat; they were humiliated.

The Tiger offense only got past midfield once during the entire game. I’m used to rooting for the team that does the humiliating, not the other way around. It was humbling to say the least.

Sorry to be such a bummer today.

Maybe it’s like Ben F.’ The Bachelor’ said to Ashley Hebert when she rejected his proposal “Good things don’t end unless they end badly”.

Maybe so, Ben F., maybe so.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I'd rather go to Alcatraz than walk over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Now in a previous post I mentioned that we walked pretty much everywhere during our stay in San Francisco. This of course was not true for our trip to Alcatraz Island. If it were, having a maximum security prison there wouldn’t have been so effective.

We did walk to the ferry which was about a 1 ½ mile stroll from our hotel and from there took a 30 minute ferry-ride to the Island. When you get to Alcatraz you first watch a 15 minute movie about the history of the Island. It wasn’t just a prison, you know. Here are some fun facts about Alcatraz:

Translated from Spanish, Alacatraces (Anglicized to Alcatraz) means Pelicans, so the Island was originally known as Island of Pelicans. The island currently serves as a bird sanctuary.

Due to the island's centrally located spot in the San Francisco Bay, it was also used as a strategic military base during the California gold rush.
The original prison on Alcatraz was a military prison, converted into a Federal Prison in the 1920s.

In 1969-1971, Native Americans claimed Alcatraz as Indian Territory and a large group moved to the island.

All of these are great trivia facts, but probably the most important thing you need to know about Alcatraz Island is: there is no food service. Our trip was drastically cut short by the appearance of Jonathan’s “hungry monster” about 15 minutes in. Now, since I didn’t pay $60 bucks and take a 30 minute ferry ride to watch a film about the island, Jonathan agreed to tour the cell house while munching on the gummy bears I had stashed in my purse.

I enjoyed speed walking through the audio tour of the prison and Alcatraz has a great view of San Francisco. I know it's not a hospitable place to live, but it sure beats the view from my front porch. It’s definitely worth the trip and if you’re ever a tourist in San Francisco, it’s like an American rite of passage. And now I can’t wait for the TV show to come on!
The only other site we didn’t walk to was the Golden Gate Bridge. We did however, walk across it. Those who know me know that I am a big fat scaredy-cat. I have a phobia of pretty much every clichĂ© fear in the book. (Except for snakes. Somehow, I’m cool with snakes. Go figure.). But phobia of heights + even more intense phobia of water= phobia of bridges.

Lucky for me, I married an engineer who isn’t the least bit interested in anything that defies the law of physics. Yea, right. We were walking across that bridge even if I wet my pants in the process. My anxiety was in no way alleviated by 40 mph gusts of wind, huge 18 wheelers driving past, or bicyclists whizzing by me and the sidewalk. Oh, and did you know that the bridge moves?
But it really is no big deal to walk across. Locals actually run on the bridge all the time. But if you do have some hesitation, I would advise going early in the morning. We were finishing our trek at about 10:30 and the tourists were just starting to pour onto the bridge. Earlier in the morning, except for a few joggers and cyclists, Jon and I had the whole thing to ourselves which is more convenient for having a Panic Attack.
Now the bridge is 1.7 miles across, so round trip its 3.4. If I did it over again, I’d ask the cab to drop us off on the far side so that we could have just walked one way and caught another cab on the flip side. There is nothing like getting across the bridge, patting yourself on the back for your extreme bravery and bladder control and then realizing you have to turn around and face the whole terrifying ordeal all over again. But I did it. Now, I have a really cool fact to use in my next game of “I never”.
And by the way, I was truly impressed with myself over this tiny accomplishment until on this season of The Bachelor they made poor Emily climb to the top of the Bay Bridge on her one-on-one date. I would have been like “Sorry Ben F., but you’re hotness is no substitute for Xanax.” Of course, since Jonathan has a huge man crush on Ben and an obsession with all things terrifying, I’m sure he would have gladly taken my place.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

If you're going to San Francisco

It’s been awhile, but man, have I been busy. One of the perks of working at a University is that you usually get some holiday time off around Christmas. This year I followed my week off by taking a week of vacation to Hawaii with my family. We celebrated my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary by renting a luxury house in Kapalua, Maui and it was glorious! I’d love to get into it, but then I’d be completely skipping over another vacation: San Francisco.

My brother and sis-in law went to San Fran about 3 weeks before Jonathan and I. They were pretty “eh” about it, so we weren’t sure what to expect. From what we’d seen on the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchises, San Francisco seemed pretty fantastic (and what better place to get travel inspiration than a reality dating show? Remind me to tell you the Portugal Panic Attack story. It’s a classic).

Well I will end the suspense and let you know that we absolutely loved San Francisco and take back every bad thing we’ve ever said about California. When comparing notes with my brother, I realized 2 big differences between our separate trips that could really make or break your stay. Photos of Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco
(This photo of Orchard Garden Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

1: Location of Hotel. Jon and I stayed at the Orchard Garden Hotel which is next door to the gate to China Town. We were about ½ mile from the pier and a few blocks from Union Square. We could walk everywhere.
Which brings me to the number 2 difference: Driving. Jonathan and I didn’t rent a car. We took a cab from the airport to our perfectly located hotel and walked everywhere once we got there. The only time we took a cab was to the Golden Gate Bridge and back, and that was only because construction had closed down some of the pedestrian paths.

My brother rented a car and said driving and parking in San Francisco was confusing and stressful. Plus, driving cuts down on your ability to drink good wine. Plus, when you walk everywhere (I’m guessing we clocked about 6 miles per day) it lessens your guilt about eating all the fabulous food San Francisco has to offer.

So do your research on your hotel location and do not rent a car. The rest will take care of itself. We stayed at a boutique hotel called the Orchard Garden. The rooms were adequate, roomy, clean, and updated, but most importantly the rates were $100 bucks cheaper than anything else I found in the area. The location is prime. There are tons of bars and restaurants within a 2 block radius. My favorite thing about the hotel was the rooftop terrace. It’s a super romantic spot with a great view of the city. My second favorite thing was its location across the street from two super authentic French restaurants. We ate at CafĂ© de la Presse twice for breakfast and I seriously felt like I was smack dab in the middle of Paris. Photos of Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco
(This photo of Orchard Garden Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

However, visitor be warned: other than the touristy spots, the city shuts down on the weekends. Our poor jet-lagging selves could find no French Breakfast when we woke up at 6 AM Saturday morning, and you can forget about finding anything open on Sunday morning either. By lunchtime, things seemed to pick up a bit and we were able to score some French Brunch, so don’t feel too sorry for us.

So to summarize: if you're going to San Francisco, make sure to stay in a central location and burn off that French Toast breakfast by walking everywhere. And of course, it wouldn't hurt to wear some flowers in your hair.