Meeting of land and water

Point Lobos photos

There’s a beautiful natural state park near Carmel called Point Lobos – “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” as the artist Francis McComas said.  I like to think of it as my now secret park, even though it’s a renown public reserve.

It’s filled with sandy trails that lead into secret beaches and coves, eerily intricate trees with twisting branches and copper-colored moss, hollow caves with noisy sea lions, and rocky cliffs that overlook the ocean. I discovered it last month when my dad, stepmom, and younger sister invited me to spend the day with them in Carmel to celebrate my birthday. I’ve been to Carmel a few times now and visited sites such as Pebble Beach, the charming downtown scene where J & I shot our engagement photos at the L’Auberge Carmel hotel, and the coastal views along the 17-mile drive. I have never heard of Point Lobos. My sister and I were impressed that my stepmom had discovered the park and lovely Mission Ranch via a simple Google search. She was excited that we could explore the new scene together. My dad was excited at the opportunity to capture more landscape photos. I was excited to spend an entire day with them –an event that has not happened for several years.

Point Lobos photos

We started with brunch at the Mission Ranch, which provided a beautiful countryside backdrop –sprawling green meadow, hazy ocean in the distance, and a herd of sheep. Sheep during brunch! I sipped my mimosa, sliced into the prime rib with au jus, and bit into my french toast while I watched 35 Scottish Blackface sheep idly resting beneath the shady tree. The scene was odd and comforting.  Another odd fun fact: I learned that Clint Eastwood (former mayor of Carmel!) helped restore the Mission Ranch and were fond of the sheep, the popular pets of the establishment. A worker in the gift shop told me that after one of the sheep had surgery for its broken leg, he was named Clyde as an homage to an Eastwood film.

Point Lobos photos

We spent a few hours meandering through the Point Lobos trails to counter our sleep-inducing brunch buffet. My dad snapped the polarizing filter onto his trusty DSLR Canon and slung the strap over his neck. It was a move as familiar to him as tying his shoes or adjusting his glasses. These days, my iPhone snaps more travel photos than my Canon Rebel XS or newly purchased Canon S95, so I admired my dad’s consistency and dedication for quality images. We stopped every 15 minutes to admire the scenery and attempt to capture the rich landscape with our devices – my stepmom and I with our iPhones and my dad with his more substantial camera.

Point Lobos photos

Point Lobos photos

I felt like I was wandering through the haunting and enchanted forest of a Tim Burton film. I imagined that the shadows of a headless horseman could very well have dashed across the ghostly thicket of trees. It was fun trekking down the path and turning the corner to be delighted by sights such as the Gibson Beach or China’s Shore. It was an enclosed spot that invited lingering, long talks on the soft sand or dipping your toes in the chilly water.

The photos could not capture the blue-green water of the coast, the way the fog gently draped above the mountain top, the earthy smell of old rock, seawater, and trees, and the delicate cobwebs of moss adorning the branches. It also couldn’t capture the pure elation I felt rising in my chest.

Point Lobos photos

I loved the sight of my dad with his camera and excitedly leading the way down the path. An adventurer in worn jeans and brown walking shoes, his khaki baseball cap turned backwards. I wanted to be next to him, peek over his shoulder and wonder how his world looked through those heavy lens.

Perhaps taking me and our family on these fun trips and vacations was his nonverbal way of sharing that perspective and excitement with us –with me. My dad and I don’t engage in a lot of deep, ongoing conversations. We love each other, but our exchanges are usually affectionate and light in nature. For lack of speaking, my dad made up for it with small acts and grand gestures of family trips.

When my sister, brother, and I were kids up until our tween years, my dad and stepmom planned family trips every year. Childhood summers brought road trips to Los Angeles and Disneyland, camping in Yosemite, weekend stays in Reno and Las Vegas, and one time, a trek to Phoenix, Arizona. I would rest comfortably in the backseat and drowsily stare out at the left window to see the sunset and night air fall. Sleeping to the sounds of the moving car along the freeway and my dad and stepmom humming along to a CD was a safe, familiar place. My dad led our family through thousands of miles, steering with his hands and tired right foot. This was my dad’s way of communicating his world with me. I just wasn’t listening carefully.

And like we had done so many times for several years, my sister and I nodded off in the backseat while my dad contentedly drove us home from Carmel. As we were headed to get pho for dinner, my stepmom spontaneously decided to take me somewhere new. My dad turned around and drove to a Vietnamese restaurant in a ubiquitous Asian plaza where she ordered the staple dish cha ca –sizzling fish with turmeric seasoning and dill. The fish was perfectly crisp and charred on the outside. At the light touch of chopsticks, it easily came apart. It was meant to be devoured with small bowlfuls of cold rice vermicelli, shredded mint, basil, and parsley leaves, and a plentiful sauce of nuoc mam and mam — fish sauce and shrimp paste. It was my first time that I could recall eating and enjoying cha ca. It’s been a long time when I had felt completely at peace sitting around the table with my family after spending an entire day together. The flavors were all familiar, yet the combination surprising and satisfying.

Posted in Travel, Writings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Birthday cake1

This month, I will turn 30.

Even though some of my peers dread the enormity of this number, my journey to turn 30 feels like a victory. I learned so much about myself and the way I see the world — shaped by a decade of internal struggles for self-acceptance and forgiveness to the external challenges that come with exploring careers, owning a home, and getting married. It was a decade of turbulent growth, and I am grateful for it.

In honor of my milestone year, I wanted to reflect on the major lessons of my 20s and to celebrate a better, wiser version of myself. Thank you to my husband, family, friends, mentors, students, and admired writers and artists for showing me the way. I dedicate this entry to you.

1.Dream big, and start small.
2.Perfection is not ambition and happiness.
3.There is no one path to success.
4.Forgive my parents. They did their best.
5.Forgive myself. I did my best.
6.I am enough.
7.Allow those whom I love to choose their own lives.
8.People show love differently.
9.We all are climbing our own mountain.
10.Ask for what I need.
11.True listening is an act of love.
12.Give support more than advice.
13.Ask big questions.
14.It doesn’t have to make sense to feel right.
15.Jump and have faith.
16.I can change my mind.
17.I can choose to change.
18.Thinking positively is a practice.
19.I can’t prepare for everything.
20.Failure has been my biggest teacher.
21.Be humble about how much I still have to learn and grow.
22.It’s okay to still dream about who I want to become.
23.My health involves my mind, body, and spirit.
24.Write from a real place, even if it’s messy.
25.Be brave enough to say “thank you”,“I’m sorry”, “I don’t know,” and “I love you.”
26.Practice gratitude everyday.
27.Life is not a race; it is a marathon. We can finish strong together.
28.Be both a map-maker and a traveller.
29.The world can be good.
30.Begin with love.

Posted in Writings | Tagged | Leave a comment

Deciding how to eat and live | In Defense of Food

Healthy Eating

Last year, I was truly unhealthy in mind and body. It was a rough, emotional period, and I lacked the motivation to eat well and live well. I stopped caring about certain activities that used to matter. I stopped writing (for awhile). I stopped exercise, cooking, and physical activity. Toward December, I was ready to put an end to the many “stops.” Dear Sugar once said that the way out of a hole is to climb out. So I dug deep and began the hard work inside to begin the steady climb.

By the new year, I vowed to pay more attention to my health and diet. I signed up for a gym membership with my husband. Slowly, I began to incorporate a healthy habit of exercising three times a week. I also started to plan out some of my meals more in advance, including a daily, hearty breakfast of toast, almond butter, and a protein smoothie. I cooked large meals to have leftovers to bring as lunch for work the following day. I wanted to limit the number of times my husband and I went out to eat at restaurants or buy take-out food, which can get expensive.

I also read a book that changed my entire perspective about healthy living. I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. He starts with the conundrums of our time: How is it that a health-obsessed nation such as ours is one of the highest in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates? Why are magazines, books, diet fads, and celebrity culture saturated with information on healthy living and yet we still don’t know the right answers?  It seems that the entire, confusing industry of healthy living has been defined and dictated by a select few –nutritionists, the food industry, medical professionals, and journalists. Pollan’s book shows that we as a society have greatly overcomplicated and disconnected ourselves from the root issue of health –eating whole, natural foods that our families and culture have cultivated and cooked for generations. He distills healthy eating down to a simple food philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

At first I thought the reasoning Pollan proposes seemed far too simplistic. On a common sense level, I assume most folks know that eating vegetables and fruit is good for the body. People even know that diet and exercise are suggested. Why is there such a huge disparity in our country? As I read, I start to see the dots connect.  Our culture’s response to food, health, and diet are constantly in conflict. Our culture’s priority on convenience and fast-paced lifestyle puts a high value on fast foods, restaurants, and processed food items. With the evolution of our working families and booming economy, it was a prime time to industrialize food en masse.

We cook less at home and have less control over what we put in in our food; we are letting the food industry decide what to create for us to eat. To maximize profits, they are constantly tinkering with new ways to give us the greatest amount of artificial and cheap flavors and textures for the lowest cost. And we keep buying it.

While we do eat fruits and vegetables, we also eat plenty of other “food-like substances” such as processed breads, sugar bowls of cereal, yogurt, and oatmeal for breakfast, and snacks with an astonishingly high shelf life. We eat “light” versions of things in the hope that we are making healthy choices, and we don’t realize that foods with health claims are cleverly packaged and contain greater amounts of processed, artificial ingredients to maintain flavor and texture.

We are expected to read confusing nutritional labels because the discourse of food revolves around invisible nutrients, not foods we can easily recognize. We are told to eat a diet rich in proteins, fiber, good fats, and Vitamins A – Z, which the food industry exploits by enhancing and labeling their products with those nutrients. The language of nutrients remains confusing so that average consumers can’t decipher them and must rely on information from food industry experts, scientists, and nutritionists. Instead of eating a diverse diet of meats, vegetables, and fruits, we pick and choose based on the current fad nutritional diet such as low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar, etc.

We are also eating excessively. We mindlessly eat when we are distracted –usually in front of a television, in a hurry, or grab onto whatever is front of us. In a culture of more, portion sizes are larger and cheap, super size options are the norm. We also stop paying attention to when we are satisfied and when we are full. We stop listening to our bodies.

In the Information Age, with countless articles and videos on proper work-outs, diets, labels, and new X factor nutritional ingredients, we become paralyzed with the inundation of information. We see extreme reality shows and celebrity diets and think that being healthy is too difficult without a personal trainer like Jillian Michaels or a food program like Jenny Craig. As we shop at larger convenience stores, we become further disconnected from the food we consume — including the knowledge of our foods’ origins and growers. We become passive recipients to our health and nutrition because of fear, uncertainty, and a lack of knowledge. When I see how complicated and contradictory our culture’s answer to the health problems is, I can understand why so many people are defeated. I was the same way. If only we realized how much control we truly had –that we already possessed many of the resources that we need to live healthier and better.

Pollan ends the book with a message of hope and empowerment. We can be the ones to change the tide and demand a new way of eating and living. We can vote with our forks and choose an alternative to the default stream of fast, convenient, and unhealthy eating. We can make small, everyday choices on what we buy and support. We can decide how we want to eat and live, and how we want our families and communities to eat and live. There is a better way out of the hole.

I liked that Pollan’s book is not about the latest trends or exact set of rules. It is not a diet to follow, a list of bad foods versus good foods, the latest gadget to buy, or even that I should never eat at a restaurant again. Much of what our society looks for is a quick-fix solution to our health concerns: this over-simplified and immediate-gratification approach is part of the problem. Pollan’s goal is to provide guidelines and a new philosophy of eating –eat everything in moderation, cook more, learn about where your food comes from and who grew it, eat slower, savor the food, eat a diverse range of natural whole foods, and eat enjoyably. This is not a revolutionary philosophy. Many cultures in the world already eat this way. We used to at one time, but have forgotten how.

After Pollan’s book, I started to read a few other books and resources throughout these past months such as Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat, Marion Nestle’s What to Eat, Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, Cooking Light magazine, and Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks website. I educated myself on the consequences of a diet based on processed foods, the difference between real food and food-like products, the industry and supermarket’s subtle, powerful influences on persuasive selling tactics, and an array of other healthy, delicious alternatives that exist. Hungry and inspired, I am ready to eat healthier. The possibilities are hopeful and fruitful.

Healthy Eating

Posted in Inspiration, Writings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Road Trip with CiCi

roadside in Sonoma

Last month, I retired my old car and bought a new one.

A brand new gleaming white 2013 Honda with the scent of installed buttery, black leather. She’s quite pretty. She’s also technologically savvy –equipped with bluetooth capability, eco drive button, and a rear camera for those awkward reversals. This new baby is a huge upgrade from my former car, a glamorous makeover from its humble predecessor. I’m not used to it.

Letting go of my previous car, a 1999 black Honda Civic affectionately named CiCi, felt like the end of an era. If a person is approaching 30 (like moi), the last ten years of one’s life warrants being called an era. My car definitely showed its battle scars from a long life lived. My ’99 had two nearly identical scratches on either side of its front bumper from two separate parking incidents in the same damned garage, a visor that no longer stayed put and would occasionally bop the driver on the head, a faded Civic marking on the back from where the car label fell off, and a disintegrating parking sticker in the back windshield from an apartment complex back during my undergraduate college years. She was a beauty weathered by age and experience. She was certainly eye-catching to the various carjackers throughout the years who had unsuccessfully attempted to steal her (at least four times) and to the occasional admirers who randomly inquired if I would be willing to sell her.

She was my companion on many road trips and milestones throughout my teens and twenties. She was the first car I inherited when I got my driver’s license –a moment I reverently prepared for by burning five mixed CDs for my driving ambiance and by promptly calling my best friend. “Hey, what are you doing? Let’s go hang out at the mall. [dramatic pause] I’ll come pick you up.”

I took her with me to college, memorizing the windy stretches along the route to UC Davis and anticipating when I’d need to gun the accelerator during the steep upward hills. She was the first car I had when I met my then-boyfriend J, who would later become my husband. We drove it on our dates to Sacramento, to the fairground, and to stand in line at the popular buffet sushi spot –a treat for all college students on a scraping budget. As my birthday gift, J and a friend, had “borrowed” my car and installed it with a shiny, sleek mp3 car deck. I finally had an MP3 player of my own –no more measly 15 track songs on one CD! Now I could fit entire albums on one disc! In a pre-iPod world, this was mind-boggling. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. It would get stolen three months later. Only to have my second deck stolen about two years later. So far, the third one has been a charm. I’ve learned a few car-savvy lessons along the way: a brake lock works wonders.

She was the car I took when I drove to Los Angeles for the first time, taking along my two younger brothers who would see me off for graduate school. As a small car, she thrived on weaving in and out of Los Angeles traffic on the I-10, though she did start to break down a bit more often. Tired and old as she was, she still carried me home to the Bay Area where I started a new career and eventually got married. While I was busy transitioning from a teen to a young adult to a full-fledged adult, my car noisily struggled to keep up. At some point in the middle of last year, J began to mention the prospect of buying a new car. I pretended not to hear him –in denial of what was inevitable.

I suppose it’s bittersweet that the next car I owned would be one that I purchased together with my husband. I felt like I was betraying my ’99 CiCi as I started the process of car shopping and hunting around dealerships. As much as I could appreciate nice-looking cars, I never saw myself driving a luxurious one. I had never thought about driving any other car period. I assumed that I would always have the same car, and run it to the ground. I much preferred a practical car –a loyal car. And right then, I felt like the opposite of loyal.

“How about a Prius?” J suggested. “The Prius-C looks cute for you. Great mileage, and it’s compact.”

“A PRIUS?” I scoffed. “That dinosaur egg? It’s pretentious and annoying.”

“Fine. A Passat? A Corolla? A Civic Hybrid? A Honda Fit?” he countered. Too foreign-sounding. Too boring. Too expensive. Too boxy. I had different excuses to combat each car.

After several months of hemming and hawing on my end, he declared that by the middle of March, I will decide on my top three cars. End of story. He was no longer amused by my sentimentality (or stubbornness). When I shared with him my choices, he assured me that once I went and started test driving cars, I would feel better about the decision. That I might find something I liked. That I would be okay with moving on.

Of course, he was right.

During the last week of March, and after much haggling and expert game-playing on J’s end, I drove home in my new car. Later that weekend, we took the car out to test its legs on a mini-road trip to Napa. It was a fun and romantic trip, and I slowly realized that it would be the first of many trips that we would share in our new car. New trip, new memories. It will likely be the car that will carry our first family. The smell of leather is still fresh, the odometer is clocked at a clean slate, and the stories in the car are still untold and waiting to fill the space. It’s a road trip that I’m finally ready to take.

Posted in Writings | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Prima Donnas and Barbecue Shrimp | New Orleans

New Orleans

Last month, I hopped on a plane and spent a festive weekend in New Orleans with 11 other girls for a bachelorette party.

It wasn’t as crazy as it sounds.

As my friend D’s Matron of Honor, which meant I was also the default trip organizer, I was both excited and antsy about planning for such a large group in the heart of the south.  Given that our weekend trip was sandwiched in between Superbowl Sunday and Mardi Gras, there were plenty of events and activities to fill our days and appetites.
New Orleans

Strolling through the streets in an evening Haunted French Quarter Walking Tour was one of the best ways to start our trip.  It was on a Thursday, so while the rest of the city was uptown enjoying the start of the Carnival parades, our group followed an elder man named Frank through the darkened and quiet streets of the usually vibrant neighborhood.  Mardi Gras feathers, garland, and masks – colorful and festive during the daytime – cast eerie shadows along the building balconies as Frank recounted tragic, historical stories of the spirits “unresolved issues.”  These spirits ranged from unrequited loves, tormented slaves and owners in the 19th century, a notorious pirate named Jean Lafitte, and nuns who guarded the church during the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

New Orleans locals and workers loved telling stories.  We visited restaurants and bars that were built in the 1800s, each containing its own history beyond the brick walls, iron-wrought gates, and antique chandeliers.  Our first night, we stopped by Lafitte’s Black Smith Shop, which was built in 1722 and arguably the oldest bar in America.  Dining at the Court of Two Sisters for their popular brunch buffet, our waiter regaled us with the background of the sisters – two aristocratic Creole women named Emma and Bertha who used the court’s patio as a specialized boutique and shop in the early 1900s.


As I stood in line for the Cajun shrimp, I struck up a conversation with a woman in a pink and black beaded corset dress with skulls, her hair adorned with a nest of wild pink feathers.  She was part of the Prima Donna parade later that afternoon and it was an annual tradition for the other Donnas to eat brunch at the Court of Two Sisters.

“Where does everyone get their costumes?  They’re lovely,” I said.  Next to her, I spied one of her friend’s in a blue and green tutu with fish swimming on our beaded bodice.  Her lashes are bright blue, and I imagine her as a Mardi Gras mermaid who looked with interest at the King’s Cake dessert platter.

“Oh, we gather together and have bead and outfit parties every week just to decorate!” she giggled.

New Orleans

On our way out, we caught the Prima Donna parade –marching band and official banner – and waved our hands to collect their souvenirs.  Among them are bright colored thongs, pink and purple beads, bracelets with crowns, and bare-breasted rings.  It started to feel like Mardi Gras.


New Orleans

With colorful parade floats and crowds that block the streets from all over the city, we spent most of our days and evenings walking through the French Quarter – less than 10 minutes away from our hotel.  When we weren’t wrestling our way through the bead-crazed thick of Bourbon Street en route to popular bars such as Channing Tatum’s Saints and Sinners and Cat’s Meow, we were shopping or eating.


New Orleans

New Orleans


New Orleans

We caught a late night snack at Café Du Monde for their powdered beignets and chickory coffee.  In the daytime, we spent a few hours browsing the French Market‘s endless tables of fancy hats, cheap masks, jewelry, and souvenir trinkets.  At the other end of the market, there are food stalls that sell yummy snack items like freshly shucked oysters, fried crawdaddies, and fried pickles.

When we had dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro, I finally understood the fuss and hype over their famous barbecue shrimp dish.  As the rest of the girls conspired with each other over the menu (Do you want to share?  Maybe an appetizer and an entree?  I’m not too hungry).  Granted, it was 5:30 PM and we were stuffed from fried pickles.  My friend D pushed her menu aside.  “I’m having a barbecue shrimp plate all to myself,” she declared.

I stifled a laugh when the wait staff came around to tie a delicate tissue bib around our necks.  The restaurant was surprisingly fancy; was this necessary?  The dish came out – a jumble of succulent shrimp covered in a rich and subtly sweet sauce – and as soon as we took a bite, nobody laughed or said a word.  We were all too busy eating – our fingers and mouths biting, slurping, and peeling all at once.  It was the best shrimp dish I ever ate.  When the last shrimp was devoured, my table mates and I continued to ravage the sauce with table bread.  I almost protested when they finally hauled the plate away.  At one point during dinner, a girl friend and I looked at each other and grinned messy, sauce-sticky smiles.  We originally were going to split the shrimp plate, but decided at the last minute to bite the bullet and order separately.  A wise decision.

On our last full day in New Orleans, we wanted to venture outside the French Quarter and into the Garden District.  It was an adventure just to leave the area.  Parades were starting in one end of town and wrapping up at another part of the city, which meant that most of the main roads were blocked off.  People were gearing up to catch the much anticipated Endymion parade, which featured the royal court and an endless stream of marching bands.  It was nearly impossible to reserve a taxi or flag one down – much less two to fit our crew of 11.  “Drive out of the French Quarter?  Sorry, no.”  We lucked out and found a nice gentleman who volunteered to take one half of the group, and return back for the other half.  That’s the sort of hospitality we found throughout our trip in New Orleans. 

New Orleans

New Orleans

We had our final brunch at Commander’s Palace, another excellent dining experience that involved wearing golden crowns, pastel rooms with chandeliers, a jazz group serenading “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”, dressed up wait staff who quietly set down plates in unison, and rich, decadent food such as eggs poached in cream, incredibly tender braised beef on top of buttery cajun grits, and warm bread pudding served with whiskey sauce.  The restaurant was built in 1880 and only closed temporarily to undergo renovations following Hurricane Katrina and Isaac.  Apparently, U.S. presidents make it a point to dine here.  This meal provided a glamorized snapshot of the New Orleans culinary experience – service that is hospitable and warm, indulgent flavors of sweet and savory meals, and a bit of history served up with a little liquor.

New Orleans

New Orleans

It feels oddly nostalgic for me to walk through the city – like I’ve been here before or someplace like it.  The French Quarter district of New Orleans feels like a blend of FranceSpain, and – oddly – a surreal Disneyland Main Street.  It’s no surprise that the Creole people have cultural roots in a mixture of French and Spanish.  I see the European influence in the street architecture, the elegant doorways and balconies, the tiled street signs on the floors and walls, the open air markets, parade of musicians, and bursts of purple, green, and yellow decorations adorned on buildings.  It was a slice of old European charm in America.  This historically rich and vibrant city was the perfect backdrop for my friend’s milestone celebration.  Needless to say, the bulk of our group’s accumulated Mardi Gras beads remained sheepishly behind.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Posted in Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment