Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wheels Turn Slowly, But It's Good News Anyway

A short post tonight.

There's a crap load of stuff going on in my life right now.

I'm just emerging from coming face to face with my biggest (and long forgotten) childhood fear. A very close member of my family was in the hospital for a few weeks, and it was looking like they might not be coming home.

Plus work is kicking my ass.

What's the good news? (as my manager always asks me)
  1. My close family member is going to be all right and is coming home tomorrow! I found out this critical information yesterday morning. I closed the door to my office and cried. Then I called a very good friend to tell her about it.
  2. Work might be kicking my ass, but it's a good thing. My workload got moved around and I now have a renewed appreciation for my working life. My new work motto is "Get out from under the FUCKING radar and step up the plate!" Too many people are hiding and avoiding and pissing and moaning. I'm sick of it. Shut up and be grateful you have a good job for crying out loud!
I survived these last six weeks or so by cutting out some unnecessary stuff (like a he's-not-into-me dating situation and too many social invitations) and stepping up the stress relievers. I've been spending time at my family's and the hospital, something like three or four times a week, and doing a hell of a lot of driving along the way. One thing about a crisis is it makes you take a good hard look at how you spend your time.

Now I can breathe a sigh of relief and slowly start to add some of my creative pursuits. Plus I need to do my laundry in a big way. At least I remembered to pay my bills.

The next post will be Part 2 of To the Border. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

City Life: Today's Lunchtime Photo

View of the TransAmerica Pyramid from Embarcadero 2

I see people taking pictures of this shot all time while wandering around on my lunch hour or during a break. People often ask me if I sneak out during work hours to catch a movie at the Cinema there. I would never do that. I'd be so busy checking my Crackberry that I wouldn't be able to enjoy myself. It is fun to go there right after work, though.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

To the Border, Part 1 of 2

Last summer I took a spur-of-the-moment trip weekend trip to Seattle. In addition to wandering around and doing everything on the fly, I took some "Mascot" pictures of the trip. You can see them here from a previous post.

I arrived on Saturday and wandered around downtown. I saw Pike's Place Market (wonderful!), the Seattle Aquarium and took a locks cruise. I had a great time on the cruise. They talked about everything: the boating communities, the locks, neighborhoods we were floating past, the bridges we went under, the salmon running, the seals we saw, traffic laws on all the bodies of water we were on, the fishing industry, Puget Sound, the weather in Seattle, tugboats, the traffic in Seattle, the grain silos and the shipping industry.

Sunday, I drove out of Seattle for a look at Snoqualmie Falls and wound up on an impromptu Twin Peaks tour. The Falls are featured in the opening credits of Twin Peaks and I ate lunch at the diner featured in the TV show. I didn't realize it was the same diner until I went to the restroom in the back and saw all the newspaper articles and photos.

Here's a picture of the Falls. Aren't they amazing?

On the way back to Seattle, I missed a turn and ended up going in the wrong direction. I was going to find a place to turn around, but the traffic was so awful going in the other direction that I decided to keep driving for a while. It was Sunday afternoon around 5:00pm. I wasn't due to fly back home until early Monday morning. I kept driving, thinking I would find a mall or a place to hang out.

Then I saw a sign, a sign that beckoned me, a sign that shone with the lights of opportunity and curiosity. The sign said:


The sign didn't say how far it was to Vancouver, a place I had never been to, but the seed was planted and I kept wondering about it. Then another sign said it was only 140 miles to Vancouver. It was around 5:25 pm. I figured I'd get there by 8:15 pm. I could either go to the world famous jazz club that night in Seattle and see Manhattan Transfer or I could run to the border.

I ran to the border.

As I drove north in my rent-a-car, I experienced that giddy feeling of pushing the limits, of doing something so completely unplanned in a weekend full of spontaneity. I bought a guidebook just to get a layout of Seattle then I left it in my hotel room. I wandered and did everything completely on a whim including booking this trip only a day and a half before the weekend.

It was a good drive.

One of many pictures of the road signs I took. This is one of the few that you can actually read.

As I kept on driving, I became excited about crossing the border. I have never crossed the border in a car (not counting the time I was a toddler and my family drove to Mexico) so this was going to be a new experience for me.

I was counting down the miles as I went along and listening to the car radio. Seattle radio is much better than Bay Area radio, by the way. For all the diversity in this area, especially in San Francisco, the radio is so lousy that it's embarassing.

Here's a road sign showing "Customs and Immigration 1/2 Mile"

I got to the border in Blaine, WA right around sunset. As I waited in line with the other cars, I took in the site. The Freedom Bridge is located there which allows visitors to stroll back and forth between the two countries. It's a pretty little park.

When I finally got my turn, I handed the lady in the booth my driver's license. She stared at it, then looked at me.

"Is this all you have?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah. Is that a problem?"

"Well, we prefer you have a U.S. Passport with you," she said.

"Really?" I seemed to recall something along those lines, but didn't say anything about it. She asked me where I was going and what I was going to do. Then she said I could go.

"Do you think this will be problem when I come back," I asked, getting nervous for the first time.

"I don't know," she shrugged. Deciding not to let this put a damper on my enthusiasm I pressed on. Only 30 something miles to go!

As soon as I got on the freeway there was an immediate problem. Everything is in kilometers, not miles. I have no idea how to convert miles to kilometers and as long time readers of this blog know, I'm lousy at math. No problem. I checked the car's speedometer was only in miles. This is very odd because even my little Hyundai Accent has kilometers. Then I remembered I was driving a CHEVY and I guess American Car Makers are so egocentric that they can't be bothered with putting kilometers on their cars!

As I wondered how much 100 kilometers an hour translates into miles (60 miles an hour, by the way), I set my car to go with the flow of traffic.

The sun had set and the road was flat. I worried briefly about whether I would have a problem getting back into the U.S., but decided to cross that bridge when I find it. As I drove along, I realized Canadian radio is GREAT! It's even better than Seattle area radio.

Then as I got closer to Vancouver, there was another problem. A serious problem. I had no map of the city, I had no idea how large it is, I had no guidebook. I don't even know what the city looks like. I only knew that it's a waterfront city and very beautiful.

Hm. How to solve this problem? I'll let you know in Part 2.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Food at Family Gatherings, Part 2 (Mexican)

Food at family gatherings on my mother's side usually meant going to my grandma's house. During holidays someone would bring turkey or ham (most likely that person would be my Dad). We would have refried beans, homemade tortillas, spanish rice and tamales. To this day, Mexican food is still my overall cuisine of choice.

The center of all this food prep, of course, is my Gram. First off, no one makes refried beans like she does. Her beans are a little less "mashed" and more whole than some of the others I've seen. My Dad makes great refried beans, but they aren't like hers. Secondly, there's nothing like real homemade, still hot tortillas, and we had lots of homemade tortillas for holiday dinners.

A large cast iron skillet of spanish rice would sit on the table, Dad would be standing at the head of the table carving up the main event meat and I would have to sit in the kitchen with the rest of the little kids, being too small to join the adults. As a child, I was very small so even my younger cousins insisted upon cutting my meat into small pieces for me.

The real centerpiece of the meal, though, were the tamales. Now I can safely say that my Gram makes the best tamales on the planet, but everyone says that about their grandmother's tamales. Gram spends days making tamales for her church and for family and friends. I've spent my fair share of time helping out with the cause. Both times I was given the task of husking the corn wrappers. That is, taking the dried wrappers and soaking them in a bowl of water and pulling all of the remaining residual corn silk out of the wrapper. After about an hour of doing this, your hands start to turn red. After three hours, your hands start to swell a little and sting from irritation. After three days of doing this task with very few breaks, I was howling. It seems Gram makes hundreds of tamales in this manner. My mother and aunts would be doing other parts of the prep: cooking the pork, making masa, smearing the masa on the soaked corn husks and assembly.

They taste sooo wonderful. My parents make good tamales too, but not like hers.

Every once in a while, Gram would make a really special soup for everyone: Menudo. I've tried it many times, but simply could not get past the fact that it's made out of tripe. Gram makes the red (rojo) version and it's smells really good. It's somewhat spicy. I'm told the preparation for this dish can take quite a while which explains why we didn't have it each holiday.

When I was a little girl (probably around 8 years old) sitting at Gram's kitchen table one day, she told me she was making a special sauce for the holiday meal. Then she told me there was a special ingredient: chocolate. I didn't believe her at all and told her so, thinking she was teasing me. My uncles and cousins confirmed this odd truth and I had my first taste of mole. I recall being surprised that it didn't taste at all like chocolate and it wasn't sweet. I thought I was going to be eating the equivalent of chocolate sauce. Since growing up, I have learned there are many different kinds of moles available, and it comes in a wide variety of colors. Gram's mole was a deep dark red. It tastes so rich and substantial. Difficult to describe. A cooking project I want to try is learning how to make mole which apparently takes many hours of prep and more hours of simmering.

I'm also quite fond of Mexican pastries. My uncles would bring them for us, usually for the next morning's meal. They all have a similar taste that I find comforting.

My parents make enchiladas regularly, but they don't make it like most people. No wrapping the corn tortillas up in rolls and putting it in the baking pan. They make the sauce, a deep rich red sauce, and then we soak the corn tortillas in the sauce for a short time then put them on each plate. After that, we put in meat, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, etc. in an assembly line fashion. My brother is particularly adept at making enchilada sauce. Each time it's slightly different, but always wonderful.

Another family recipe that we make is Albondigas, a meatball soup. My Dad added the touch of mixing the meatballs with white rice (of course). It's one of my favorite soups to make myself and is great when it's cold outside. I've asked my mother a few times and she said the recipe came from my Gram, but I don't remember her making this dish.

Some memories for me relating to Mexican food or rather food at mom's side of the family:
  • One of my most vivid memories is of being a small child sitting in my Gram's kitchen after the holiday meal. I would sit quietly, sometimes drinking a Shasta soda, listening to my mother, my aunts and my Gram all talking in Spanish while cleaning the kitchen and doing the dishes. The men, of course, were all sitting in the living room watching TV along with my cousins. I don't speak Spanish at all, but I can understand it a little. Most likely, this little understanding of the language comes from listening to all the women talking in the kitchen year after year.
  • My uncles would make marvelous floats for us on hot summer nights: 7 Up and pineapple sherbet. God! Just thinking of that combination of tastes makes my mouth water and takes me back to standing in Gram's kitchen while waiting for my uncle to scoop mine for me.
  • A favorite luxury food of mine are what my Mom calls "Gorditas." Us kids would sit in the kitchen making thick patties out of masa and water, and then Gram would dip them in more masa before frying them in a cast iron skillet (in lard, no less). They would come out golden brown and lovely. We would pile on cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, etc. tostada style. HEAVEN!!! I call this a luxury food because it's rarely made in my family although if I beg and plead, my parents will make it for me when I go over there for dinner.
  • I have an deep fondness for Taco Bell although I hardly eat there anymore. Even though my well educated palate can tell the difference between homemade and canned refried beans (or worse, their spanish rice), I still enjoy eating there every once in a while. The first time I went there, I was astounded that food similar to Gram's would sold in a place that was a lot like McDonald's.
Too bad I don't have more food stories to post. It's been a fun topic to write about. The memories have been vivid and I am reminded that a lot people didn't grow up this way. I guess I'm lucky.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

City Life: Sunset Outside My Sliver of a Living Room Window

My window again. If you look on the right side of the picture and squint, you might be able to make out the two towers of the pink church.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Food at Family Gatherings, Part 1 (Japanese)

I often get questions/comments about my ethnicity. I am a mutt: half Japanese, half Mexican. Even stranger is my father is the one who is Japanese, not my mother. Until recently, the father was always Caucasian and the mother Japanese.

When I was in Kindergarten, all the kids in my class held a contest during recess where they tried to figure out "what" I am. They finally settled on Eskimo. I was very pleased to be an Eskimo because it was one ethnicity. I also liked the idea of people looking at me and thinking about snow, igloos, polar bears and wearing those hoods with fur around them.

My growing up years were interesting, but I'm sure not anymore remarkable than anybody else's. The place where this is NOT true is food, especially at family gatherings.

We would typically spend time at one of my father's sisters and then go to my grandmother's house during holidays like Christmas. Full on Japanese food and then full on Mexican food.

On the Japanese side of the family everything was very aesthetic. We had a wide variety of foods like turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and salad. We also had sashimi and sushi. My aunt, who passed away a few years ago, made two types of sushi. I don't even know what they were called, but they were very simple. Perfect, really. One was a brown ball with rice and raw fish inside, the other was eel in rice wrapped with those green seaweed sheets (Nori) and sliced. My aunt spent all of her growing up years and a good deal of her 20s in Japan before coming here. That woman made sushi better than anybody I know. None of this California Roll stuff or sushi rolls made to look like caterpillars. My aunt's sushi's were a study of simplicity, taste and perfection.

When I was a child I was a notoriously picky eater. I was one of those kids you just wanted to smack around at dinnertime because all I wanted to eat was Chef Boyardee Mini Raviolis (I still love eating them, by the way). To add insult to injury, I would not eat anything with fish in it. I tried eating my aunt's perfect sushi, but I was so grossed out by the thought of it that I couldn't. When I got older, I came around and was able to enjoy it.

As a teenager, I decided to be more open minded and try new things at my aunt's house during family gatherings. I tried raw octopus (I ate one of the legs, I could see the suckers on it), crab guts, my cousin's sushi (wrapped in grape leaves) and sashimi. I didn't really start to enjoy sushi and sashimi until I tasted super fresh raw tuna. Heaven.

The first time I tried crab was at my aunt's house on New Year's Day. My uncle had bought the just-pulled-from-the-water crabs at Fisherman's Wharf here in the City earlier that morning. My cousins were working on the crab legs with those little forks and nutcracker looking things. Intrigued by the process, I asked them what they were doing. They were amazed that I'd never had crab before and made me taste it. Yum! We spent the rest of the afternoon taking apart crab legs, dipping the meat in that sauce and chowing down.

To this day, there are other dishes that show up at each family gathering, but I have no idea what they are. They're definitely Japanese. I'll have to ask someone next time.

One odd thing I've notice about myself is I no longer say "shoyu." I say "soy sauce." I was raised from when I could talk to refer to Kikkoman soy sauce as shoyu even if I had to explain to everyone what I meant. Somewhere along the way in last few years I stopped saying shoyu. It's time for me to reclaim shoyu even if no one knows what I'm talking about. Perhaps someone will learn something new from my efforts.

My parents used to take us to a Japanese restaurant run by family friends. I didn't eat much, but I love Miso soup. They always included a lot of tofu in the soap for me because they knew I liked it so much. I was always disappointed that there was no Miso at my aunt's house with a huge block of tofu in it. Miso really reminds me of my childhood, as does rice and anything teriyaki.

Some odd things about me relating to Japanese food:
  1. I didn't learn to use chopsticks until I was in my early 20s when my ex-husband taught me. Everyone in my family always made fun of me because I had to eat with a fork. I think this partly explains by I really enjoy eating with my hands.
  2. Although I've been eating tofu since I was a very small child, I had no idea what edamame was until just a few years ago. I'd never eaten it before although it looked oddly familiar the first time I saw it.
  3. I used to enjoy eating Nori (dried seaweed used to wrap sushi) from time to time. We'd get it in a can and I would nibble on it here and there.
  4. My Dad loves eating kokos, some kind of pickled yellow vegetable. I still don't exactly know what they are. I like to eat them too with rice. The smell is bad, like smelly feet. They have a satisfying crunch to them, though, that goes great with rice.
I've strayed off the subject somewhat. Later this week I'll talk about the Mexican side of Miss Turtle's food growing up years.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Paris Hilton's Pillow

I was waiting at Forest Hills MUNI station while on the way to the Aquarium yesterday. My energy was low so I was sitting quietly on one of the benches.

An older man stood at the platform. The trains were running late so a lot of us were standing around. The older man was wearing a uniform that suggested he works at AT&T/Pac Bell/whatever the name the Giants ballpark is now. He and an Asian man struck up a conversation. The Asian man was also older and wore white shorts, tan ball cap, t-shirt and carried a backpack. He had good sized calves and a lot of spots on his skin.

The men talked about the Warriors (very exciting what's going there), working at the ballpark and why MUNI runs all the trains in one direction and no trains in the other sometimes.

Then the older man started rattling off some jokes:

"Paris Hilton's going to jail. When she gets there, they're not going to put a mint on her pillow."

"When Paris Hilton's in jail she's going to have a bunch of bad hair days."

The older man then explained that he writes stand up comedy. He was just getting warmed up. He proceeded to launch into a series of very bad jokes. So bad that we all just stood/sat there without reacting. Throughout this entire exchange, I sat on the bench looking steadily at the floor. When the guy first started talking I could sense something like this was coming and I didn't feel like pretending I cared. Sometimes you don't feel like talking to people you genuinely aren't interested in.

Next to me was a kid about twelve or so. She was wearing a yellow hoodie and reading "Sabriel" by Garth Nix. I'd see that book around and wanted to ask her about it, but decided not to. At one point, she looked up at the older man as he cracked his jokes and then went back to reading her book in that dismissive kid way. The Asian man moved to the wall and stopped pretending to chuckle. We just waited for the older man to stop talking. He finally did and then the train came a little while later.

Looking back on this incident now I wonder about my apathetic reaction. There are so many lonely people in this world. When I was younger, I used to be a magnet for them. People would seek me out and talk my ear off. A lot of them were strangers, people I didn't know and would never see again. I got tired of pretending to care, I got sick of pretending to chuckle so I make a conscious effort to avoid these situations. These people just wanted to talk and talk. They weren't interested in me, or my opinions or thoughts at all. I can spot these folks coming at me from a mile away so now I completely ignore them.

I wonder about myself, though. Will I be alone someday, even more alone than I am now? Will I seek strangers out just so I can have a conversation with someone, anyone to assuage my loneliness? Will the tables turn and will I find myself there in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Long shot of that jumping sign, visible shivers running down my spine..."

Elvis Costello and the Imposters at The Warfield, SF

Just back from this concert. I had a wonderful time. I almost didn't go, but a new friend set things up for me.

The Setup

I was a member of this online group that had a large number of events you could sign up for such as hikes, wine tastings, plays, etc. It's a good group; they place a high value on attendance, they ding you if you cancel an event. I signed up for a large event taking place three hours from SF. I was really looking forward to going, but then I got sick and slept through the deadline for a refund. I got into a very unpleasant email exchange with the host (someone I had never met). He was angry, I was angry. He managed to secure me a refund, the source of our dispute, but told me that I was rude and insulting and to never RSVP for any of his events again. I informed him that wouldn't be a problem because I was leaving the group.

The last event I signed up for was this one. Several of us were supposed to meet at the Warfield for this concert. I'd already bought the ticket and had no one to go with. After I canceled my membership, I realized I didn't want to go alone. I mentioned this dilemma to my new friend and he told me he knew the guy hosting and he would ask him if I could still go (not the same host I got into the email fight with).

Well, the guy said yes and he was just as laid back and relaxed as my friend told me he would be even if I was "crashing" the event. I really enjoyed myself at this concert and I enjoyed meeting the other people who attended. They asked me why I left the group just because of one bad experience with one host. I told them it was because the emphasis on attending events was a little heavy handed for me and had always rubbed me the wrong way. I feel very strongly that if you RVSP for something you need to do your very best to attend, but I don't need to be hit over the head with it all the time.

The real reason I jumped ship was because I didn't want to attend the same events as that unpleasant host and I didn't want to have to constantly monitor my RSVPs to make sure he wasn't going to sign up for the same events as me. If he did, I would have to cancel and that would suck and be a pain in the ass.

The Concert

We managed to secure seats at a table in the general admission area. I was amazed at our good luck. The seats had bright red folding chairs packed tightly together. Directly above us was the "Reserved" section. We ordered drinks and settled in, getting to know one another.

The door guy told us Elvis would be performing from 8:15 - 10:15 pm that night. Sure enough, he came right out at 8:15 pm and just started playing. Better yet, there was no opening band. Very nice indeed. The Imposters are The Attractions, but with a different bass player.

Although I'm not as familiar with Elvis' music, I recognized almost all the songs. As soon as one song was over, they launched into another one. He didn't talk much at all. He wore a dark grey suit, tie, shirt and sunglasses. He's so cool.

Directly above us, in the Reserved section, a guy was chain smoking doobies. I don't where he secured that stash, but it was some powerful shit. We had pot smoke blowing over us all night long. Several of our group complained about the smoke. I wondered if the smoke was really that bad or if I'm just getting old. Then at one point the smoke was so bad my lungs started burning each time I took a breath and I got a pounding headache.

Being slightly stoned with a headache failed to put the damper on my enjoyment of the evening, however. My favorite song of the night, as you can tell from the title of this post, was "Watching the Detectives." An ex of mine has the 7" EP of Elvis Costello and the Attractions Live at Hollywood High (1978). The version of "Watching the Detectives" on this EP is so great. It's very different from the reggae version we usually hear on the radio. Elvis sang the song more like that Hollywood High recording and it was dripping with cool.

Other notable songs were a lovely acoustic version of "Alison" and a killer version of "Hey Bulldog." Chain smoking doobieman kept yelling/croaking out "Hey Bulldog" during the wrong parts of the song. There were other great songs, I just didn't know their names. Many times I settled back in my chair, smiling. I felt myself easing into the music and I was feeling a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude. He finished with "Radio, Radio" "Pump It Up" and "What's so Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?" in that order.

I'm so glad I went. I'm so glad my new friend set this up for me, and I'm so glad the host was open to letting me attend.


While taking the 6 Parnassus bus home, I overhead the following conversation. The two young men speaking had just come from seeing Elvis too.

Guy in Yellow Rain Slicker: "So yeah, do you know what happens when you leave vinyl records in the sun? Have you ever seen that happen?"

Guy with Dreadlocks: "No man, what goes on?"

Guy in Yellow Rain Slicker: "They get all warped and shit."

Guy with Dreadlocks: "Whoa."

Both men couldn't have been more than 23 or 24 years old. The Guy in the Yellow Rain Slicker was tall and thin. He spoke slowly and deliberately. The Guy with Dreadlocks was African American and wearing black rain jacket with white piping on the sleeves. Both wore really baggy pants and very large sneakers. The conversation continued.

Guy in Yellow Rain Slicker: "So? My favorite record got all warped and I decided to fix it. Ever try that?"

Guy with Dreadlocks: "No. How'd you do it?"

Guy in Yellow Rain Slicker: "I turned my oven on really low and put the record in there with some books on top of it."

Guy with Dreadlocks: (laughs) "Did it work? How was it when you played it again?"

Guy in Yellow Rain Slicker: (his voice gets a little lower, softer) "No, man. It just got even more warped. I put it on the turntable and the whole thing was wavy."

Guy with Dreadlocks: (laughs again)

Guy in Yellow Rain Slicker: "Hey, at least I didn't try using an iron."

Guy with Dreadlocks: "Whoa! Why didn't you try that, dude?"

At this point, they both got off the bus at Haight and Fillmore. I'm sitting here at my desk at home, my lungs are still sore from second hand pot smoke. I feel like laughing my ass off when I think of these two guys, but I refrain. I refrain because we all have our own warped vinyl stories.