Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pedalboats, Ponds & Wicked

2 weeks on, 1 week off, lather, rinse and repeat -- that is how Alan's chemotherapy goes. He is now about six weeks into the 6-month stint, and this weekend coincided with one of his off weeks. Because of that, we decided to get outside and enjoy what might possibly be the last weekend of 90 degree weather for the rest of this year.

Pedalboating at Vasona Park

We liked staring at the reflections on the water best.

Melting in a cool, sparkly purple sort of boat

Suggesting cheesy poses to Alan often gets me pictures like this. Remember this one from 5th grade school portraits?

Bird watching


Stair sitting

Wicked: we won rush tickets! Best $25 ever spent.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hoops Are Cathartic

On TV, cancer patients are forever clinging to shiny white toilet bowls, their hair slick with sweat and matted to their foreheads. The person's overwhelming anxiety and depression are dealt with through a late night game of hoops. The dribbling will awaken someone else in the house, a fundamental character in the story necessary to facilitate conversation. Because she is fundamental, she will pull on a sweatshirt and some slippers and make her way outside. From a distance, she quietly watches the bounce, bounce, stop, and shoot of the first player for just a moment or two before asking him to pass the ball. He is startled at first to see her standing there, but then seems relieved that someone else is awake and with him now, as if his thoughts are too much for him to handle by himself. He passes her the ball. They are quiet, playing ball, the two of them, under the milky light of the moon. Neither one talks until, after a while, they are both exhausted, sweaty and out of breath. They will sit down on the side of the driveway, and here, after reminiscing about playing basketball together that one time way back when, she will make a statement, one that sounds profound, something that a character would say on Lifetime. The other might seem resistant at first to talk, but then decides it's late, and late at night, when time seems to be frozen, is the best time to talk about such things. The whole thing will be cathartic, and then they will go inside to eat chocolate chip cookies...

We don't have a basketball hoop, and I don't even know how to play Horse. So when I see that Alan is struggling, I encourage him to go to a support group. I imagine that I would enjoy such a thing, a group of people all brought together to share stories in an open, welcoming circle. Alan is not particularly hammy and does not enjoy the spotlight like that, but since I can't offer him a late night game of hoops, I encourage him to attend. It takes a bit of convincing on my part to get him to go. His surgeon has found one close by that meets on Fridays, and when he tells me about it, I am glad. He'll be able to meet and talk with other people in similar situations, maybe they will take turns bringing in cookies like at that one AA meeting I once followed a friend too. They will share stories of hope and discuss the resiliency of the human spirit. They can offer him the cathartic talk I can't.

Alan cuts into my daydream. "It's called Living with Dying," he says.

I try not to react, try not to undo the convincing and cajoling I had done to get him to agree to go in the first place. But inside I think, Maybe this is a bad idea. I had convinced him to go to a support group with a name that screamed "You Might As Well Get It Over With." When he went to his first meeting on Friday, I wondered if I shouldn't go check on him, make sure they weren't handing out pints of Jim Beam and shotguns.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Albion Castle, San Francisco

Well, now, here we are, and it's Friday again. Since Fridays are best for dreaming about what we are going to do over the upcoming blessed weekend and for dreaming in general, here is a picture of the castle Tanu would like me to buy. I, too, would love to buy it, if only just to have a fitting place to wear my suit of armor and to joust with friends.

It is only $2.9 million, so I'm sure if each of us just contributed a dollar today and maybe a dollar tomorrow, and I somehow managed to have Oprah's baby, then we could find ourselves having a really splendid holiday party here. There are even 200-feet deep caverns that lead to natural springs -- pretty much what I've always said I wanted in my dream estate! What are the chances!

No castle would be complete without a dungeon!

(Pictures from Laughing Squid)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sing Like No One's Listening (Except When People Are Listening)

There is a wall in our bedroom that separates our half of the duplex from the neighbor's half. Our units are mirror images of one another, with the shared wall acting as the mirror. That means that he sleeps right alongside us on the other side of that wall.

Now, to say that the wall separates us might be giving it too much credit. It separates us in the way that it makes passing a cup of borrowed sugar through it pretty darn hard, but that's pretty much it. I am convinced that it's not actually a bona fide wall made of bona fide wall materials but that it's constructed from a very thin layer of papier mâché. One day I will forget and roll over with too much emphasis, breaking through it and falling out on the other side on my neighbor's bed.

There is no way it is anything but papier mâché because we can hear everything. For example, I know he likes county music. So much so that that is his preferred genre to wake up to. I know this because one long weekend he forgot to turn off his clock radio before leaving town and for three days I, too, woke up to country. I also know there is some strife in the family caused by a "punk ass little brother who deserves to get his teeth kicked in." I know because I heard him on the phone as I was washing dishes in the kitchen while a man mowed his lawn across the street. In the early mornings, before the truck depot next door roars to life, I can even hear him tinkle.

One of the most annoying things about the wall is that we both have to pretend like it's there and that it properly does all of its wall duties. One day we both arrived home at the same time and after the usual hellos and how do you dos, as we both stood unlocking our doors, I found myself wanting to ask, "So how's that kid brother of yours?" Maybe I could say it in a Boston accent, a South Boston accent. That would feel right. But as soon as that thought flew into my head, I remembered I had learned about this kid brother through way of The Wall, making it an off limits topic for discussion.

As I can hear his every move, I am pretty sure he can hear everything we do too. He is probably thinking Again? More of The Wire? How many episodes of that show are there?? So because I'd like to be a nice neighbor and because I was raised to believe that neighbors should be good to each other, Alan and I live as though we have a third roommate to consider. Just because he can't be seen, only heard, doesn't mean we should keep him up late with our TV shows and music and gossip. So after 10 we take things down a few notches. It is not very fun, but that is what we are willing to do since he is such a good neighbor himself.

On Saturday afternoon, the neighbor came by to tell us that he was going out of town on business for a few days and that we should park in his parking spot. When he left I beamed with excitement. This meant that we could watch The Wire loudly and all night. What a treat!

Monday rolled around and Alan asked when the neighbor would be getting back into town. I shrugged, I think he had said something about Tuesday.

After getting out of the shower that night, I decided to -- oh, what the heck -- take advantage of our last night of audible freedom. I did the only thing one could do in a situation like that: I got on my laptop and played Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" full blast. Have you heard this song? How can anyone not like this song?

Alan finished brushing his teeth and came out of the bathroom. He took a step and stopped.

"What is this?" he demanded, bewildered.
"What do you mean? It's Taylor Swift!" I said happily.
"It's so cheesy!"
"No it's not!"
"She's on the bleachers, I'm cheer captain?" he quoted from the song.
"That's not what she's saying," I retorted. And then, in the most obnoxious, teeny-bopper voice possible, I began belting out "You Belong With Me" to prove Alan wrong.

I had my eyes closed I was so into it, and I had just gotten to the third verse -- was preparing to hit the high notes -- when all of a sudden, loud, disturbed disgruntled rumblings came from next door.

I stopped singing and opened my eyes.

"I think someone is in the neighbor's place," I whispered, afraid there was a burglar on the loose.
"Oh yeah, he's home. I saw his truck pull up earlier," Alan said.

And then I pictured him lying in bed, sound asleep, being abruptly awoken by my terrible, really bad singing. But I wasn't just singing, I was pretending to be Taylor Swift, twang and all. I even had my eyes closed. And then I pretty much wanted to curl into a small ball and die. Today we pulled up at the same time after work, and truth be told, I could not look the man in the eye.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Near Naked Man Escapes Heat, Frightens Neighbors

Today is the first day of fall, and as much as I love summer, I find myself looking forward to the changing seasons. With fall comes cozy, nice things, like hot chocolate. And the lights in the trees on bustling streets. It also means that the holiday line up is fast approaching and for some reason I cannot wait to kick start the season by carving pumpkins. But first it needs to get cold. It is very much the opposite of cold, especially in the duplex tonight. I know this for a fact because after dinner, as we both sat as still as possible so as not to create any extra body heat, Alan said, "I know what I'll do." For a brief moment I thought he might surprise me with an air conditioning system or even just a few kind people he'd found to fan us and feed us grapes. But all he said was, "I'm going to go stand outside in my boxers." And he did.

(Pictures from Martha Stewart)

Monday, September 21, 2009


Saturday night found me driving up the bay to San Francisco to meet a room full of strangers in a nice apartment overlooking the Embarcadero. Irene had described the soiree as a "small, intimate, grown up" affair, and in my head that translated to black ties, cocktail dresses and prosciutto wrapped bites of sea scallops. It had been some time since I had been to anything described as "grown up," so I hastily prepared a short spiel on 401Ks (to keep in my back pocket should a conversation run dry) and away I went.

When we arrived, I was thankful I had decided against wearing my long white gloves as everyone was lounging around in casual shirts and jeans. There were also no prosciutto wrapped bites to be had, but there was Glenlivet. I accepted a small glass of it and pretended to take long, thoughtful sips. In between each sip, I'd comment on the smoothness of it, the robustness of the flavor. I thought about asking if anyone knew if it had been aged in oak barrels because I could have sworn I tasted a hint of that. If I had been at a non-grown up party, I might have asked if it was supposed to burn and make my eyes water or if this was actually something people drink for fun. But seeing as how I was at a mature party, I kept that to myself.

Holding my glass, I soon found myself talking to the new people around me and saying the things I have heard myself say so many times before . Yep, grew up in San Jose. Nope, I don't live in the city. I used to, but not anymore. I work in San Jose, too. How'd we meet? Well, I'd always heard of Glen, but haven't gotten around to trying him 'til today. Oh, oh, you mean me and Irene? Oh, of course. Through a mutual friend in L.A. Behind me, I could hear Irene recounting something similar to someone else.

Some opened up the conversation with "where do you live?" and still others preferred the classic "what do you do?" I used to cringe at that question, had hated when it would come up, had hated answering it. But now I look forward to its arrival because I am so curious to begin picturing each person each day in their work role. This person behind a desk, this person deciding on cabinets, this person checking on cells in petri dishes. One woman that night had it all together: she held the title of Director, she had her MBA, she had long, sleek hair. She probably never ate lunch unaccompanied, and never, ever alone at her desk.

As we gathered our things together to go down to the bar a few blocks away -- and made mad last minute dashes to the bathroom -- I thought about having my stuff together. I wanted to have my stuff together. I wasn't sure exactly what that would involve, but it was a nice thought, and with that we went down the elevator and into the brisk night air.

The night progressed and it soon became evident that the night's theme was waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting on street corners, waiting, waiting. At times it was unclear why we were waiting or if we were even waiting for anyone or anything at all. But there we were, a group of waiting individuals, all of us so unevenly matched in our levels of intoxication.

Our first stop of the night was the Bubble Lounge, a place with a tiny dance floor on the bottom floor. If you could contain your body movements and mind where you were swaying your hips, it was not so bad at all, but it was soon decided that the waiting must take precedence and so we found ourselves outside again, waiting. The waiting afforded some time to think about one's life. The bright sounds and lit up streets helped provide inspiration. I tried picturing my stuff. And having it all... together. I imagined suitcases lined up in a hallway, in front of a door. That didn't seem right, but I couldn't piece the image together...

After a few hours, the issue of food came up, and there is no denying a waiting group food in the very earliest hours of the day. At a taqueria, we took turns ordering, and I sat across from the woman who had it all together. Except at that particular moment, she didn't look as though she had it all together, not while she was being held up by the man next to her, her eyes closed, her long, sleek hair draping over her face.

When we left, I rubbed my belly in satisfaction. Then I looked up and saw the Together Woman being led out, her hand over her mouth. And then, as she walked down the sidewalk, she did something very un-together. Her hand, hard as it tried, couldn't hold it back, and out spewed throw up all over. It even hit a poor passerby's heeled foot. And then she fell in front of a group of policemen.

So although I'm not sure what it is I need to have it all together, I think I've started crossing things off the list. Like that scene. That scene is definitely not on my Having It All Together list. That should count for something.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Worst Assassin

I first discovered that Irene sometimes left her front door unlocked some years ago when I’d go over and occasionally try the knob before knocking. Living in a such a diverse, large, frenzied city such as L.A. – where thousands of people routinely have their dreams crushed when not making the cut for the next big reality TV show – I sometimes worried for her and her over-trusting nature.

One day, I found the door unlocked and stealthily let myself in. Upon entering, I could see her directly in front of me, sitting on the couch reading a book. She was so absorbed into it, that she hadn’t noticed my entrance at all – which is exactly what I was worried about. I stood completely motionless. It was quiet in her apartment, eerily still. I could even hear the ticking of the second hand making its determined way around the clock. It was perfect timing. I clasped my hands together, bent my elbows and pointed my index fingers up in the shape of a makeshift 9mm. With a wide stance, I cocked my gun and pulled the trigger.

“Bang! Bang!” I yelled. And then, after recovering from the recoil, “Oh my gosh! I could have killed y---“

I knew you were going to do that!” she cut in, whipped around and smiled with twinkling eyes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Do You Really Feel

Whenever someone asks how Alan is doing, I'm never sure what to say, and specifically, how much to say. Should I keep my response general, light and fluffy and easy to digest? Or should I tell it how it really is and talk about the latest thing that's come up? Because that is how cancer seems to work -- there is always something new coming up. It's almost like we have a newborn baby on our hands, a little person doing new, Tweet-worthy things all the time: the baby just smiled (and a real smile too, not just a passing gas one)! the baby just giggled! the baby likes banana tapioca!

The new thing lately with the cancer baby is the diarrhea. It's one of the side effects of Alan's chemotherapy, and perhaps one of the most annoying. It is so relentless that it keeps him from leaving the house all day and insists that he gets up 10 times a night to pay it attention.

Because anytime he moves in the night I worry that his bowels are obstructed or that he might be running a dangerously high fever (seriously, I don't even know where these concerns come from), I wake up each time he does. So although the majority of me wants this new bother to go away so he can feel better, a small part of me (the part that loves sleep almost to a fault) wants it to stop so I can get a good night's rest.

When I get home from work, I find him in bed, with an arm strewn across half his face, covering his left eye. He is staring at a point in the exact center of the room and is wearing a look that is asking me please can you dig a hole under the house and just bury me there and also can you drive the car while I take my bat and smash mailboxes on the other side? When I ask him how he is doing, he responds, "I'm sick of it all." And I am impressed with how his answer is both easy to digest and conveys how he really feels. We discuss the issue of the loose stool and the immense amount of suckiness it brings. He then adds in sound effects to let me know what his stomach has been sounding like (a sort of RowwwrRoowwrRowwrrr) so that I don't confuse the noises for violent trucks thundering by in the night time. It is a sweet, thoughtful gesture that moves me so much I decide to call and order Chinese take out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leifsdottir Fall 2009

The other day I was walking through Nordstrom because I remembered that I had a few extra thousand dollars on me, and I needed some new things to wear. OK, so actually, Alan and I both had to pee and Nordstrom bathrooms just so happen to be one of our favorite places to pee (because 1) there is a mother's lounge for all our mothering needs and 2) we get to use those really cool hand drying machines). As we were leaving I feigned weakness so that I could linger among the clothes that taunt and tease me. Look how cute and superbly cut we are! they all chant. That day, the clothes chanting the loudest were by Leifsdottir. Do you not just want to wear the top below and push wheelbarrows with daisies in them around?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Falling off the Bandwagon

While walking around downtown earlier this year, down a not so often traveled sidewalk, I noticed that a Philz Coffee was coming to town. I had been to the Philz in San Francisco, and although it was good, it was in the opposite direction of where I lived and so I never made my way back. Now that it's in San Jose though, and within walking distance of the library, the taqueria with the tantalizing orange sauce and our local independent film theater, it is even better than ever.

I had completely forgotten that Philz was there until this weekend when we were coming out of the library and Alan started grumbling about the rumbling in his belly. As we zig zagged across streets and around college kids on skateboards, we found ourselves once again on that street.

Now, in case you aren't familiar with Philz, they make their coffee one cup at a time. I have no idea what they do or how they do it. All I know is that I told the nice man behind the counter that I like light blends and then he nodded. Then he did something that was bold and said, "I'm going to make you something good. Don't worry." This (if you are a sensible, somewhat cynical person) is a saying that immediately makes you think that you are not at all going to like what is being made for you. Good thing I am that person because it made my cup of coffee that much more of an unexpected surprise. When he asked, I told him that I took cream and sugar, and in a mere minutes, a hot cup of coffee was placed before me, with a nice frothy foam on top and a delicate mint leaf to top it all off. It was one of the best cups of coffee I'd ever had. In fact, I can't stop thinking about it. And here I thought I had given up coffee.

Look! Even the chairs there scream cozy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Changing Looks

It had seemed like an eternity, like decades upon decades had passed. When I turned 26 I was surprised to find that I really was turning 26 and not 46 because that is the length of time that seemed to have gone by since I first noticed the aching, empty, concrete lined void in Alan. I had been living with someone who couldn't move, who couldn't eat, who didn't smile, who couldn't go inside a mall or even bear to sit at a table inside a restaurant. I focused on food, mainly trying to get him to eat some of it.

Then one day, his first 2-week chemo cycle ended and he began a week long reprise from swallowing all those many pills. The doctor had increased his anti-void meds and then something amazing happened. Alan came to pick me up from work on Tuesday, and I found that after I got in the car, he did not immediately crumple into despair. He even suggested that maybe we could go get some sushi and then my jaw fell off my face. At the restaurant, it was almost like old Alan had come back from a very long vacation away. He had such an amazing glow, and I could only imagine the beauty of the beaches he had seen and the sun he had drank in.

The next day, I came home from work and Alan had a friend over. I hadn't seen Alan with anyone else but his sadness for a long, long time. They were sitting on the couch, Alan all relaxed like, with a button up shirt on, the sleeves rolled up. (A habit he must have picked up from that island living).

With old Alan back, we all decided to go to this benefit at a swanky hotel to see what there was to see. One of the sponsors of the event was a modeling agency, and naturally, had some of their models in attendance. Nathalie and I walked around gawking at them all, these beautiful creatures with superior stature and willow like frames. The boys, the girls, they were all so pretty. And they seemed to only talk to each other -- their fellow lookers -- or to their significant others, men who looked busy trying to plan their weekend yacht getaways. But it wasn't just their looks, it was also in the way that they walked. They held their heads high, more above their shoulders than normal, and while making sure to keep their heads perfectly still, did a relaxed strut with the rest of their bodies. It was like we were in the Lion King, and they were the graceful giraffes and everyone else the petty hyenas.

After we left and said goodbye to everyone, I thought about the recent Alan and the old Alan, and I hoped old Alan was here to stay. Then I thought that if Alan could go change his looks with a new shirt and a brighter outlook on life, so could I. And if I was going to, then I wanted to be a model. I told him I was going to lose 40 pounds and grow 6 or 7 inches. He smiled in a way that said either "Sounds like a plan!" or "Haha! You hyena, you!" (I like to think it was the former). I figured losing 40 pounds would be the hardest part, so I immediately set my mind to it. I'd start eating all sorts of health foods, lots of seeds, lots of fish oils, lots of --

"What do you want to eat for dinner?" Alan asked.
"Tacos," I said.

And as we walked to the taqueria, I tried my best to imitate the giraffe walk, looking down at all the small children hyenas that passed by.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Karin and Dan's Wedding

Once upon a time, when Karin and I were both single, we used to spend time hanging
around on fallen trees in Jamaica with Lisa.
Fast forward to a few years later, and Karin and her man Dan are getting married! Here are the pictures from her breathtaking, romantic wedding this past weekend.

Irene was my date. So we decided to take a prom date picture.
The ceremony was held at the Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge. In the middle of all these trees and warm Indian summer air, we sat in those white chairs everyone loves so much.
Some people were lucky enough to nab umbrellas to shield themselves from the blinding sun. They also self-selected themselves into an umbrella dance later in the day.The flowers everywhere were so beautiful.
Lisa was a radiant bridesmaid.
Karin was a stunning bride.
The wedding party.
A closer up of the neat gazebo thing they were under.
The kiss! I love the sweeping line of her dress in this shot.
Officially man and wife.
The Descanso Gardens is one of the prettiest wedding locations I've ever been to. It even had this fountain.
And it had this archway leading into a mini maze behind us.
The reception was held at the Masonic Temple in Pasadena.
Here we are again, just like we were in Jamaica. Oh, except she's wearing a fancy white dress and we're not clinging to pieces of wood in water. OK, so except for those two things...
We dined on salmon, chicken, asparagus, mashed potatoes and cheese tortellini.
Outfit change for the father/daughter dance. Her hair accessory and dress are so gorgeous!

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Ho!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Food Tour, Los Angeles edition

When I first started thinking about my trip to L.A. and planning it all out, a few thoughts ran through my head:

1) L.A. is home to some of my favorite food haunts. A few places which I have not enjoyed in a long while.
2) A three-day weekend affords enough time to visit quite a few of the places I have missed so much.
3) I know people in L.A. Some of these people like food as much as, if not more than, me.

These all swirled together to formulate my final thought: I am going to organize a Food Tour. The requirements were simple: you had to enjoy food to come and the food had to be good.

Here are the highlights.

In Thai Town there is a most heavenly sanctuary serving authentic Thai desserts. This place is called Bhan Kanom Thai. You will never remember the name, only that it is long, three words long. When asked about it, you might even swear it has an s in its name, but none of that matters. What matters is that you can buy the best bananas in sticky rice wrapped up in banana leaves here. There they are sitting pretty wrapped in those green organic wrappers behind me on the left.

They can be tricky to unwrap but are so well worth it.

They are mind blowing when eaten warm.

This is no ordinary banana tucked furtively inside. It's a much sweeter Thai banana sent from God. It is that good.

On the West side of L.A., just off of Santa Monica, is my favorite izakaya, Nanbankan.

I have dreams about these mixed mushrooms in their garlic-y wine butter sauce.

Sue and her man provided cupcakes for dessert from Violet's Cakes. Now I dream about these red velvet cupcakes.

Did I mention we spent a lot of time watching The Food Network, specifically the show The Best Thing I Ever Ate? One of the best things one of the hosts on the show had ever eaten was from a L.A. restaurant called bld (which stands for breakfast, lunch, dinner -- so clever, they are!) They were bld's blueberry ricotta pancakes. They were good, but not as good as I had hoped. The best part, though, was getting syrup in a mini log cabin (upper right corner).

The chorizo home fries were pretty darn good. But aren't potatoes always good?
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