Return of the Native

In all my travelling, there is one vacation I least look forward to: going to the Philippines. Although I always invariably have a great time, this trip is always met with lukewarm enthusiasm because I was born there. It’s not new, it’s not unchartered territory.
And packing for it is a bitch. You’d think it would be easier, as it’s a tropical country and you really need bring only the lightest of clothes and flipflops to match. But there’s the myriad stuff to take home to relatives (called pasalubong) which often takes up more space than your own stuff. And then, because of photo-op moments with the family and world-class tourist destinations, I have to pack three different cameras: my SLR, my pseudo-SLR point-and-shoot and my waterproof point-and-shoot. And because I’m a geek and a writer: my ipad, laptop and writing journal (I suppose I could get away without bringing the laptop, but my writing software is on it, and damn it, I am going to get writing done as I lounge on white-sand beaches drinking mai tais and coconut water. I refuse to tap away at my manuscripts on a tablet.)
I started to regret bringing books when the check-in agent notified me that my carry-on was at 30 lbs (or 15 kilos) – double the allowed limit – but mercifully marked it down to 9 kilos anyway. But I’m way behind on my reading list and if I can’t get caught up during a vacation, when can I do it? And curb your judgment, they weren’t available on Kindle.
Another thing not to look forward to is the physical trip itself: a 17-hour ordeal on the national airline my cousin and I were dreading taking because it’s not exactly up to par with Southwest or KLM. On my last trip to the Philippines, I was spoiled by the gracious and superb Cathay Pacific, which had  upgraded me to business class. We were pleasantly surprised that the plane and service were actually quite decent (it was a 747, and it had been a while since I’ve flown on one of these ginormous birds) but coach is not the best place to be when you’re sitting on the aisle seat and the woman in window is an older lady who also happens to be a diabetic. I’d have slept on the actual aisle itself if aviation regulations would have allowed it – there was a time that it was, and I’m pretty sure that was the last time I flew PAL, when getting to the bathroom was like having to do an obstacle course.
Good thing for a decent movie list, finally saw “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (sweet and entertaining) and got a second helping of “Pitch Perfect” (I would’ve moved on to “Lincoln” but I needed something peppy.)
The #1 thing I dread is the weather. had informed me that the temperature was in mid- to high-80s (Fahrenheit) with 78% humidity (87% as of this writing.) Disgusting. If I lock myself in an air-conditioned room or car all day, I would be quite content.
And then I think of the creepy crawlies that bugged me as a kid: lizards (you’ll see them scurrying across walls and ceilings), cockroaches (they’re bigger than matchboxes and they fly across the room) and mosquitoes (if the pure annoyance of having them buzz and peck at you like you’re a Vegas buffet doesn’t get you, there’s also the threat of dengue fever.)
Then there’s the smog and traffic and ridiculous air congestion. The air is thick with pollution and if you can’t feel it, you can at least see it. Sure, I remember there being a lot of traffic, but it was sort of orderly and people respected the white lines that served as demarcations between lanes. During my last visit, I was shocked to see the chaos that ground transportation had devolved to: sure, there were still lines divvying up the lanes, but a 6-lane street had turned into 10, with motorcycles weaving in and out (I fully expected them to run over the cars James Bond-style.) Once a bus ran a red light without even slowing down as we approached the intersection.
And I’m from L.A. so this is saying something.
And there are the crowds.  Americans take for granted how much space we have and just how many people are in the world.  Either that or Asians take for granted how much space there is in America. This is evident as soon as you step into the international terminal at LAX. Asians will crowd around you even if there is 10 feet of space behind them. I used to wonder why this was so, until you land in Asia and realize that space is at a premium there.
The Philippines ranks as the 12th most populous country in the world (says Wikipedia) and boasts a headcount of 92 million concentrated in a country that could fit inside California. The streets, the malls, everywhere:  they’re positively overflowing with people and in your unluckiest of moments, you’ll be packed in with them like sardines on a 90-degree day with 90% humidity. Thank goodness for deodorant.
Then there’s abject poverty.  FDR wanted to make sure that every American had a chicken in every pot and despite the economic tumbles we’ve seen the past few years, Americans can’t ever know what real poverty is until they visit a third0-world country.
Sure, there are homeless people littering the sidewalks of any American metropolis but they really don’t have to be. And if you can’t possibly imagine eating on government assistance, imagine that the poor people of my homeland erect homes from sheets of metal that blow off roofs during a typhoon and buy half-eaten leftover scraps in the back alleys of restaurants for food. We’re not just talking about surplus food from the kitchen, this is food left on customers’ actual half-eaten plates and scraped into bins for sale to the starving later.
This isn’t to make anyone’s stomach turn or make you feel bad. It’s just the way of the world, and you really can’t spend too much time worrying about it because you are never going to fix it. Maybe donate to Sally Struthers or Alyssa Milano every month, but that will only ease your conscience, not effect real change. Sometimes I think the only thing you can do is be grateful for what you have.
And in the face of such adversity, here we were, Filipino-Americans coming “home,” hosted by family in walled mansions with food prepared by hired help awaiting us every time we walk in the front door.
We arrived shortly after 6 a.m., picked up from the airport in an air-conditioned van and chauffeured around in a mini driving tour as we traversed the city to our lodging, an aunt’s house not too far from my childhood home. (It no longer exists, by the way, having been razed and replaced with a commercial building when my parents sold it in the 80s.)


There was breakfast waiting for us, after which we piled into the car for a shopping excursion.
Despite the overwhelming chasm between the rich and poor in this country, economy is alive and kicking. There are 53 mega-malls in the greater Manila area alone. This commerce is fueled, I’m told, mostly by external money, by overseas workers and returning natives called balikbayans who make their fortunes in Europe, America and the Middle East and then go on a spending tear back home. (Shopping, homes, business investments… you name it. Look, the country is #3 in the world for call centers – the folks you are talking to when you report a lost credit card are located here. Trump is building a luxury condo tower here. Medical tourism is on the rise, as is regular tourism, especially now that TripAdvisor named two longtime Philippine favorites as the #1 and #3 beaches in the world and a few more spots identified as up-and-coming hotspots for surfing and diving.)
Doing our part to help the economy along, we made our way to my favorite flea market in Greenhills, which we were saddened to hear would not be fully set up until the next day. This market is good for knockoff Rolexes and Louis Vittons (I needwantmusthave the iPad carrying case), jewelry and crafts, all of which can be haggled on.
The secret to successful flea market shopping is to be able to walk away if you don’t get the price you want. And yes, it does help to be fluent in the local language, but with a couple of cousins who don’t speak a lick – so it is crystal-clear to the hawkers that we’ve got US dollars in our pockets – I will not be getting super great deals. But, there are still deals to be had, and that’s okay with me.
If there’s one thing we’ll do more than shop and eat here, it’s that we’ll eat. If there is anything Filipinos do better than shop, it’s food. For all the poverty, you can eat well here. A little too well.
We had some “snacks” during our shopping run (I had to indulge in some fish balls, crab balls and lobster balls), lunch waiting when we arrived at the manor, dinner a couple hours later, and then a midnight snack of schwarma after some night sightseeing in the old Spanish section of Manila called Intramuros, enchanting,  half-a-century-old stone, brick and ironwork, some of my favorite architecture in the world. If I thought it was beautiful at night, it is resplendent in sunlight.
The city is looking better than my last visit. Looks like measures to curb air pollution (called coding, when cars are only allowed to be used a couple of days during the work week) and seems like a lot of the shanty towns in the city have been evacuated (or moved, I hear.)
I still get nervous driving through the streets as there is no such thing as road rules around here. I try not to look out the windows, but it’s hard, because there are a lot of familiar buildings and places, like my old elementary school, now swallowed up by mega-malls, the light rail, Asian Bank and high-rise condos. Back in my youth, there was nothing but open fields and marshes around the school property, the biggest building around was the utility company, itself now dwarfed by the same developments. We used to be able to walk across the main thoroughfare to the shopping center that now houses my favorite flea market, but wouldn’t even dare do it today for two minutes out in the open streets and one is aching for some black lung disease.
And on a jampacked first day, we managed to fit in a spa visit too. If there is anything I love, it’s $2 pedicures and $10 quality massages. I’d do this every day if I could.
On cue, while I may not have been totally looking forward to this trip, I’m certainly having a grand time now. Not as much as our older relatives, mind you, but we “youngsters” are still having fun.
(It’s wonderful to see my 82-year-old uncle’s unadulterated joy at being back home after 35 years. He’s as happy as a kid in a candy store, reminds me of my own Dad on his first trip back here after expatriating. Old people are so cute.)
This is it for now. I’d write more, except it’s time to eat breakfast.

To Meat or Not to Meat

A few years ago, I dated Steak&Beer Guy, so-called because wherever we went he only ever ordered a steak and beer. Which was totally expected at a place like Houston’s. It became a little suspect when we went to Border Grill and he ordered the same thing. But when he didn’t even pick up the menu at PF Chang’s and straight up ordered the steak and beer, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.
Which was unfortunate because the guy was handsome, smart and played beach volleyball. He ended up getting back with his ex, THANKFULLY, which meant I didn’t have to become that girl who rejected a guy because he couldn’t order anything but steak and beer.
But you know what? I’d kill to have Steak&Beer guy. I’ve now seen what it’s like to date Non-steak and beer guy. And it’s not pretty.


I’ve dated two vegetarians back-to-back in the last month and I don’t think I can handle anymore. 

Last night’s Joe went meatless because he turned Buddhist. Listen, Buddha Buddy, if you are not eating meat for philosophical or moral reasons, then you shouldn’t be going out with a girl who states on her profile that she went to culinary school and LOVES FOOD. And you really should have mentioned your non-meat-eating tendencies on your damn profile. Why torture us both?

The previous guy simply decided to be healthier, and actually didn’t have a problem that I loved my meat. Obviously, it didn’t bother him enough to sneak in a kiss. (I mean, I think if I was a non-smoker and I kissed a smoker, it would bother me. I assume the same rule applies to carnivorism, but I also don’t have a penis deciding things for me.)


We’ve since drifted apart, but before then I had been trying to assess the long-term possibilities there and if our eating habits were a dealbreaker. I took stock of what it might look like down the road if it did work out:
Quiet evenings cooking at home would look less chicken-y and more tofu-y. I see a future of homemade soups, pasta, risotto – hey, those are actually weapons in my culinary arsenal. This isn’t looking bad at all!
But what about dining out? What about getting two different dishes and sharing? I’ve been guilty of that whole eat-half-then-tradesies thing with at least one ex. (It was so sickeningly cute that I’ll never do it again. OK, maybe for true love.)
I’ve seen veggie-carne couples make it work. My vegetarian friends married to carnivores simply cook meat for their husbands but not for themselves. Of course, let me point out that one eats fish and the other cheats for bacon. Who can blame her? Bacon is Christmas morning and your first puppy all at once.


I respect the choice to turn your back on meat, for whatever reasons. But can I be with a man who can’t love bacon?

I think of all the qualities that would make me fall in love with a man – humor, kindness, intelligence – and think of common bonds and shared interests… and not one of these could be upended by an inability or unwillingness to eat meat.


But then I close my eyes, and imagine a romantic candlelit dinner, sharing with my love a plate of spaghetti Lady and the Tramp-style. I see noodles.

And goddamned meatballs. 

What Happens When a Dream Dies?

Yesterday, I officially laid a dream to rest.

It had been comatose for a while, I merely pulled the plug, to draw an analogy.

Around this time last year, I had the opportunity to realize my dream of opening a cooking school. It started five years ago, after attending numerous cooking classes and feeling like I wasn’t really learning anything, that I felt I could do it better. So I went about making the dream a reality: I went to culinary school then got experience teaching at Epicurean until it closed down.

Meanwhile, my day job was killing me. Literally. Killing. Me. There I was, in the best shape of my life, running marathons (okay, at that point it was just the one), and I was waking up with chest pains. Suddenly I felt like Phoebe in the bizarro Friends episode where she was a lawyer and had a heart attack in her 30s.

So I quit that lousy job, doing everything in my power to stay classy and not flip off my bitchy boss with both middle fingers.

The original plan was to take time off and write. Write the memoir I had been working on for three years, finally finish it. Hey, maybe get working on the screenplays I had put aside for a few years. It was high time I put my creative side front and center, and not let work or a social life get in the way for once. I had won some money from a game show and it would be enough to live on for a while.

Easier said than done, as I found myself in a kind of “hangover.” A depression even. That lousy job had taken so much out of me that I only got a chapter done in a week. And even then, I was spending another week revising that chapter. But at least I was writing. And I was going to writing class and working on assignments so I felt I was making some kind of forward movement.

But what about the cooking school? The universe had been dropping some hints about this for a few months- which I won’t get into now, that’s another blog for a slow news day. So on a lark, I decided to check out Craigslist and bam! There was a space to sublease, at a reasonable price, and the landlords turned out to be one of my favorite chefs from culinary school and his wife.

And there was the game show money, which was enough to get me started. The stars really did line up to make it happen.

Despite making a careful plan to start slow, building a business – especially a cooking-related business – costs a LOT of money. Those racks, those stainless steel worktables, ovens, cookware, knives – NOT cheap. It was clear that my seed money wasn’t going to last six months, so I started freelancing at my old career to get some more capital in.

I got about four hours of sleep every night, but it didn’t matter. When you’re making a dream come true, you don’t need to sleep.

A few months later, the unthinkable happened: I finally got my dream and realized I didn’t want it.

I never thought that owning a business was going to be easy. I expected and prepared myself for a few hard years ahead of me. But when it came right down to it, I didn’t like much of it.

I realized that I hated dealing with customers. Especially stupid, demanding customers. I’d always been surrounded my a lot of smart people having worked in the tech and interactive business since I got out of college. So it was striking to experience first-hand what “real people” were like. And trust me, I’d been in advertising and entertainment too, and I know what stupid and rude look like.  But the daily encounters of it was a real eye-opener. You’d be surprised how many calls I got from people asking how to sign up for classes, when instructions were clearly spelled out on the Web site, with online payment availability. When the customers started getting indignant, or demanding, it took every ounce of self-control not to make them feel like the true self-important, entitled idiots that they were.

On top of it, my landlady was a psychotic raving bitch. I only tolerated her because her husband is one of the nicest, most talented chefs I’ve met in the business.

And I was exhausted. Bone-tired. I hardly had time for a social life, save for my weekly poker game, which I kept going to for my sanity. The problem with the food business, and this kind of food business, is that I’m working when everyone else is off. My nights and weekends were no longer mine. When I had to cancel a class due to not enough enrollment, I was actually grateful. And it’s never a good thing to be glad not to have to work when it’s your own business we’re talking about.

I like to think that I’m pretty good about responding to signals when the universe sends them to me. Even when they’re harsh.

First, I got into a major car accident on my way to a class one Saturday in June. The car was totaled, and worse, my back was hurt. Which is something you can’t have when your work calls for being on your feet for about 8 hours. Cooking is hard labor.

Second, my landlords were vacating the space. They said I could move my school to their new location once they find it but they’ve been too busy with other projects that school space had to be put on the backburner.

It was nice to finally have some free time. Time to rest, catch up with friends, watch TV. Time to just sit, let the back heal and not have to be anywhere or do anything. With the business in full swing, I never had enough time. I was always running around, trying to get something done or bought, answering calls or e-mails, running back and forth between home, school and wherever it was I was freelancing for a dayjob.

It was also time to think.

It occurred to me that I was so busy trying to build something but I didn’t even have time to ask myself what I was doing it for. I didn’t even have time to date, to meet anyone. All my friends having babies made me sad that the only baby I had in my life was this thing I thought was my dream. And it hit me: I didn’t want to wake up three, five, ten years down the road to have this business built up but no one to share it with, and no kids to build a legacy for. What’s the point, right?

It became clear what I had to do and my heart broke.

Working so hard to make a dream come true and watching it die: it hurts. Feeling like a failure: it hurts. Feeling lost: it hurts. Not having a sense of purpose: it hurts. Not having a reason to get up in the morning: it hurts.

It took me a while to work out the feelings of failure and being lost. I started to regret spending all this money on a failed experiment when I could have put money down on a condo. I wanted to kick myself for wasting time when I could have been writing. I started seeing a life coach to make sense of the mess I felt my life was in.

After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I can’t regret any of it because it was an experience I needed to have. There were lessons here I needed to learn. If I didn’t do this now, then I will always hold it up as some kind of dream-to-end-all-dreams kind of ideal.

At least I’ll never have to wonder and ask myself “What if?” I had to remind myself of one of my life mottoes: Never regret the things you do, just the ones you don’t.  I have the satisfaction of knowing that I had this goal and did everything I could to attain it.

So last night I deactivated the Facebook and Twitter accounts and announced on my website that the school is closed for good. It will take a while to fully close the chapter as there are taxes to pay in April and equipment to liquidate. But I have mentally and emotionally moved on.

So what happens next after a dream dies? You make new ones.

Confessions of an Infomercial Shopaholic

Once in a blue moon, your local team wins a hockey championship and your lousy drunk neighbors feel it’s okay to scream and whoop into the wee hours of the morning. Work be damned. Sometimes, anxiety prevents you from getting a fitful sleep. Sometimes, it’s too hot or you’re too sick, and you spend the night tossing, turning, fidgeting, until the alarm jars you into consciousness and you begrudgingly drag yourself out of bed to face another day.

Whatever the reason, I’m prone to bouts of insomnia. Many times, I would fall asleep on the couch while watching TV and wake up between 2-4 AM. I used to burn time smoking and/or playing Galaga and Ms. Pacman until the sun came up or when I finally felt sleepy again. Whichever came first.

Sometimes when I’m lucky, I wake up to the same episode of  “Cold Case” over and over again. You know the one: in which the kid from “The Nanny” plays a recovering junkie who thought she lost her baby in a fire only to realize someone stole her child and set fire to the apartment building. (It makes me cry. Every. Single. Time.)

Every now and then, I have the misfortune of waking up to Joel Osteen. Hideous, just hideous.

But more often than not, I wake up to an infomercial. And more times than I care to admit, I’ve found myself grabbing the phone or logging online to snatch up whatever it is that they are pushing. I don’t even reach for the credit card anymore… I know all the numbers by heart.

I’m an infomercialholic. You name it, I have it.

It started out innocently enough. One of the first items I ever bought was some “miracle” product that wiped scratches off glasses without dissolving the tint on sunglasses. (I never tried it, it’s still in the box.) Then there was that laser leveling thing that was supposed to help you put up paintings and shit evenly. (Never used it. Except to fuck with the neighbor’s cat.)

Then came the plethora of workout/diet stuff: Kathy Smith’s yoga (still plastic-wrapped), pilates (used a few times), Zumba (still in the box), Gunnar Peterson’s core secrets (the ball’s been gathering dust since 2010), Food Lovers for Life (I gave up after day one), a pole dancing workout (declined the pole option as I had 15-foot ceilings at the time).

I even bought the Tracy Anderson method. We oughta know that anything endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow should be completely dismissed. I’ll be posting this up on ebay soon.

I also have “Debt Cures” though I have yet to read it (I’m several months behind on my Food & Wine subscription, you think I have time to for this? Besides, there’s only one cure for debt: pay it off as soon as you can.)

There are some pretty neat and useful stuff though. Tai Bo was pretty darn awesome until I got rid of my VHS player and eventually gave up the tapes. The pilates and Hip Hop Abs DVDs got some use and I do plan on working out with Zumba fitness. As soon as I clear the clutter in my apartment and am able to move around.

I have the space-saving Swivel Store spice rack (two, actually) which is only useful for bottles that are small enough (but my good stuff comes in jars too big to fit.) The rub (pun intended) is that I couldn’t fit them into my cabinets, so they’re sitting out on the kitchen counter. I bought the Smart Spin tupperware set but, ironically, the carousel took up too much room and had to be chucked eventually. (And yes, I got the second set for free, only paid shipping and handling, because one can never have enough tupperware.)

I love Total Pillow but I wish I had discovered this when my tailbone was broken and sitting down was a pain for eight excruciating months.

The Magic Bullet has proven to be a nifty little gadget. It’s mostly used for grinding spices as I own a Vitamix, food processor and immersion blender, which individually accomplish their specific tasks magnificently. (I am, after all, addicted to kitchen gadgetry.)

No infomercial shopaholic is worth his/her salt if he/she doesn’t own a Snuggie (I have three. One for the office, one for the car, and one for home.) Be very careful ordering this online, by the way. Those Snuggie purveyors are sneaky bastards. Rather than take you to a confirmation page before putting your order through, you are taken to a “Wait, but there’s more…” offer page in which they tempt you into buying another two-for-one deal. The submit button takes you to a new page that looks just like the one you were on, tricking you into thinking that the order didn’t go through. You think you’ll have a chance to review your order before submitting it, but you don’t and before you know it, you’re paying $100 in shipping and handling fees and left wondering what to do with a shitload of Snuggies. (Merry f***ing Christmas, family!)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I bought the Genie Bra (several, actually.) I didn’t realize how much weight I had put on at the time and discovered that my underwire bras were bruising my skin. This was a welcome addition to my, uh, intimates drawer.

Then there are the beauty products. I’m the proud owner of the NoNo hair removal system but I still get waxed. Couldn’t bring myself to cheat on my long-time waxer Tamara. (No one should accuse me of being disloyal.)

I’ve even tried Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty. It’s that skin care regimen formulated with extracts from the wonder melon from France that keeps your skin looking young.Allegedly. I really should know better than to buy a product being hawked by a supermodel whose face once evidenced a botched plastic surgery job. Have you seen my mother? Genetics will do more for me than hundreds of dollars’ worth of skin care products.

I tried my hand – correction: head – at Wen. That’s the shampoo/conditioner all-in-one that’s supposed to unfrizz frizzy hair. Which is bullshit, as photos from my week in Mexico show. It does a good job of preserving my highlights; however, I’m in love with the usually-discounted Suave shampoo and conditioner. (The smell of apple in my hair is intoxicating.)

But the most helpful of all the products I’ve bought and tried (or not tried) over the years is ProActiv. Jessica Simpson and other celebrities might be paid handsomely for their testimonials, but I’ll give one for free. I’ve been on ProActiv for ten years and it has done wonders for my acne. I still get the occasional breakout but I don’t think any product on earth can totally prevent it (maybe the Martians have something better.) Since you can now buy this from vending machines (there’s a dispenser at the Century City mall by the chair massage), I believe it has transcended infomercial mockery into legit status.

But I don’t believe I’m completely ill. I never felt the need to get the thighmaster (though in the spirit of full disclosure, an old roommate had one and I borrowed it occasionally.) So give me a little credit: I have successfully avoided buying the Sham-wow and the shake weight, and until I buckle, there’s no need for an intervention. And heaven strike me if I ever buy the pajama jean.

Let’s Get (Meta)physical

I had a long, honest conversation with a dear friend last night, which led to a restless night of sleep (or lack thereof), which then prompted me to shoot off  a 5 a.m. e-mail to my favorite astrologer declaring, “By golly you might be right!” Which then prompted the writing of this post, which will, in some parts, scream crazy talk to those of you who might actually care about this topic enough to read on. So, please, bear with me.
See, I have a mild fascination with astrology. And before we go further, let me disclaim now that it’s more a curiosity than a steadfast belief. I know it has no basis in fact. But I have also considered that cultures across time and geography have been studying the stars. Since some of their hypotheses have preserved this long, let’s just consider the possibility that maybe they were on to something. For shits and giggles?
Regardless if it’s all hogwash or not, it gives me something to chew on when introspection is called for, when I talk to and argue with myself.  (No, I am NOT crazy. You want to be a fly on the wall for these conversations, trust me. You could learn something.)
What I do is read my annual and monthly forecasts, make a mental note of the big-ticket items, then go on about my business. Then next month/year when I’m ready for the new forecast, review the previous write-up to check if anything was on point. Note that we are not using the word “prediction” here. Like when a weatherman says there’s an 80% chance of rain tomorrow, you plan your wardrobe based on the chance that it will probably rain. But if those warm clothes are dirty and smelly, you could take a chance on a less appropriate outfit on the 20% chance that it won’t rain.
And when I find myself soaked in my mini-skirt and my toes freezing from wearing flip-flops, I understand it was my choice to against the odds on this one. But what the heck do the weathermen know anyway? That Doppler is a flighty prick.
That said, there is a lot of cosmic shit in the air and whether or not it has a bearing on us mere mortals and the trivialities of our lives, who knows. All I know is that my annual forecast said the first half of this year was going to be shit, with better days in the second half and a better 2013.
I’m just now coming to accept that it’s a letdown year after having a banner 2011. Akin to an athlete’s sophomore slump after having a kickass rookie season. Can I really top a year that saw me run a marathon, win huge on a game show, open my own business, leave the country three times (on holiday), and play the World Series of Poker? The answer, it seems, is a resounding NO. If I had known then what I know now, perhaps I would have paced myself.
This year, according to the charts, I am – correction, we are – dealing with Mars retrograde (blahblahblah shitty forward-progress stuff), Venus retrograde (blahblahblah shitty love stuff), Mercury retrograde (shitty stuff, period). I believe Saturn and Neptune take a turn at retrograde too. Anyway, the gist of it all means it’s not a year for smooth sailing, lots of hurdles.
Right now, we’re coming out of back-to-back eclipses (which mean good/bad news) coinciding with a Venus retrograde that also includes her marching across the face of the sun in a once-in-a-lifetime event called the Transit of Venus (though what this means for astrology is anybody’s guess. It hasn’t happened enough for anyone to make out a pattern.)
Of all these, the thorn in my side is Monday’s full moon lunar eclipse – which supposedly means the end of something – touching on my career sector. Thought maybe this had a bearing on my freelance gig, but on further examination looks like it has more to do with my business.
Which sort of explains the overall feeling of over-it-ness I’ve been feeling toward the biz the past few weeks.
I worked my ass off to change course, to get away from what I felt was sucking my soul and to find my way to something I felt passionate about. In short, I worked very hard to get something I wanted, and now that I have it, I’m over it.
This depresses the living hell out of me because I thought this was the answer!
I’ve been trying to work out the issues and what to do to fix. And while I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel, I may very well get there soon and no one ought to be surprised if/when that day comes.
I never set any expectations for this whole being-a-business-owner business. I only expected it to be hard. Other than that, my attitude was: [***cliché alert***] Let’s give this thing a shot and let the chips fall wherever they may. It’ll all turn out okay in the end.
There’s no guarantee for that last part, by the way. First, my definition of “okay” will differ from your definition of “okay.” And if we want to get metaphysical about it, “the end” is a sliding scale too. Could mean the end of this phase (whatever “this phase” is), or this year, maybe the next decade. Could mean when I finally bite the dust. Could mean when YOU finally bite the dust. Oh, my head is starting to hurt. (You know, it’s been hurting every day for a few days now. I might be doing too much thinking. Or drinking too heavily. Or not enough drinking. Oh, I don’t know. Jury’s out.)
Now, even though this career sector is highlighted, it is suggested to look back eight years ago to this day and recall any themes going on then.
Uh, let’s see. Eight years ago, around this time, I went through the worst breakup of my life. What lesson did I learn from that eclipse period? Not sure I learned anything really because I haven’t looked at love  the same way since. And while I’ve repeatedly said I’ve given up, we know I’m full of shit because at my core, I’m  an optimist (despite my bitching)  and I’m a Pisces, which means I’m a hopeless romantic. (Which means I’m just totally screwed.)
So it’s not a big surprise that this eclipse season has brought bewilderment and disappointment in the love department in addition to turning my career prospects topsy-turvy.
Curiously enough, a career shift got me out of the heartache-induced slump from eight years ago. Is it possible for things to work out the other way around this time? Eh, only time will tell. (This actually speaks to one of the more complicated concepts that astrologers like to call ‘mutual reception’ – it makes my head spin so I won’t go there.)
All of this is my long-winded way of saying, those of you with a passing fancy for astrology and feeling some kind of weird vibrations lately may want to check your forecasts. It’s ugly out there, and I think I’d feel better knowing it isn’t just me getting fucked by the stars.
After I wrote this and was getting ready to post, I re-read my forecast. There was a tiny mention of some planetary aspect offering a sliver of hope. Interestingly, received some good news this afternoon. So far, the forecast has been on point.

Ode to My Father

My father died nine years ago today. Got the call about this time, actually, which  validates my belief that nothing good ever comes from the phone ringing in the middle of the night. (I once chastised a late-night booty caller, as I have a lot of aging family members, and my first impulse is to wonder, “Who died?” as I go through my mental rolodex of who is battling what ailment.)

I knew it, too, the minute the phone rang… I had just talked with my Dad’s doctor earlier and made plans to head to Vegas that very day. I was just a few hours too late, not that it makes me angry or sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye one last time. These things happen.

I miss my Dad. Not all the time, mind you, I’ve gotten used to not having him around. But I do see him every time I look in the mirror; I have his face, after all. (Some people say I look like my mother, which technically is a compliment, but I suspect they’re just trying to be polite.) I have the shape of his face, his nose. The way the corner of my upper lip thins out unevenly on one side when I smile, I’ve seen it on my Dad and his siblings… it’s a Barreiro thing.

But there are moments that hit me like a mack truck. Like the time I dreamt that I had a beautiful baby boy… it was a few months after my dad had passed away. The kid was screaming bloody murder and I couldn’t get him to calm down. I remember saying “Please stop crying, your grandpa will be here soon.” Then I realized his grandpa was never going to come, and if I ever have kids, they will never get to meet their awesome granddad. I woke up crying worse than I did at the funeral.

Though Dad did humor me once… my mother scoffs at my prized, beloved teddy bear Strawbeary. I told my parents to buck up, she was my baby and just might be their only grandchild from me. My dad then tightly hugged that ratty, raggedy old thing as if it were a real child.

And there was the stressful, crazy 2008 when I was on my way to culinary school after a full day at work. I had been stuck in traffic for almost 3 hours and had asked myself why in the world I was putting myself through that hell. And when I realized it was what my Dad would have wanted me to do, I bawled the whole way from downtown LA to Pasadena.

It’s not all sad memories. My dad was the sweetest, most good-natured, big-hearted (weak-hearted, as it turns out) guy you’d ever meet and he was ALWAYS telling jokes. He was ridiculously smart too… the only thing I miss about going to church was him teaching me Latin by translating the inscription on the altar walls just so he and I could stay awake during the sermon.

He was by no means a perfect man, but the way he loved my mother set the bar for how I want to be loved. People ask what I look for in a guy. Well, to be honest, someone a little like my Dad: a kind, smart guy who’ll make me laugh and really, really LOVE me. And have flowers waiting for me every week. Nothing sick and Freudian, right?

And Dad was my biggest fan. Those who know my story know that my childhood wasn’t all peachy. And moving to America, while fairly seamless, had its rough patches. My faith in myself wavered – still wavers – at times, but Dad was my constant cheerleader. It would have been easy for me to stray off the “path” but my Dad’s love and presence grounded me.

I’ll never forget the day he picked me up from school in 8th grade. Through a sea of electric red sweaters (Reno-ites will tell you that shit can blind you) and plaid skirts in the playground, my dad said he had immediately spotted me.

“You may be short, but I can pick you out in a crowd. You’re head and shoulders above everyone else,” he said.

I told this story to a friend of mine right after his daughter was born. He said he was going to tell her that when she was old enough. I told my friend it might just keep her off the pole.

A few months before he passed, Dad had remarked how my eyes had lost their sparkle. It stung. I didn’t even know I was unhappy then, but he knew. I’ve been chasing my bliss ever since… and in moments of uncertainty and doubt, a voice in my head reminds me that I can do it. Head and shoulders above… head and shoulders above.

My Favorite Cities in the World … with a Twist

Just got done talking with a neighbor about my favorite cities, when I found myself using celebrities to describe them. Thought maybe I’d share it here, for a little fun light reading after the past week of serious shit.

What are your favorite cities in the world, and what celebrity would you use to personify them?

1. LondonTina Fey. Fun, witty and cerebral. I’ll never tire of it.

2. VeniceVanessa Williams. A beauty that stands the test of time, my magical place.

3. BudapestCatherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Gorgeous and elegant.

4. SydneyJennifer Aniston. Pretty and easygoing.

5. FlorenceNatalie Portman. Cute and charming, you just want to pick it up and put it in your pocket.

6. PragueZooey Deschanel. Cute and quirky and you’d keep visiting even if you can’t understand the language.

7. BarcelonaLindsay Lohan. Party all the time.

8. VancouverAngelina Jolie. Beautiful and in equal parts familiar and exotic, you forget how much you appreciate it until you see it again.

9. Las VegasDrew Barrymore. Like a friend you want to hang out with ALL the time… but there are things you just don’t want to find out.

10. ParisCameron Diaz. Everyone loves it but took me a while to warm up to it. Ten years.

Of Mice and Men… and Meltdowns

Ms. Smarty Pants had a meltdown in the past week.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m glad for it. We need to be knocked down every once in a while, not so much to keep us grounded, honest or humble… none of that heady shit. I actually like to hit bottom every now and then to remind me that there’s nowhere to go but up.

I cried all week, which is more crying than I’ve done in the past two years. And believe me, I’m a crier. I cry at weddings. I cry at movies, funny ones even (didn’t shed ONE tear at “Titanic” and that’s how we know that movie blows.)

But there’s this thing called “momentum” and I just can’t seem to catch it.

Let’s backtrack a little bit to 2008, most challenging year of my life. I had decided to take on full-time school in addition to working full time. You’re thinking, big deal, a lot of people do this. Of course, that’s true but it was a struggle in my own experience.

Many people make it work for their circumstances as I did for mine. Picture this: waking up at 6, being at work at 7 or 8, leaving work at 4 to spend the next two hours in rush-hour traffic, then spending the next 5-6 hours on your feet sweating in a hot, noisy kitchen, then coming home at midnight, staying up for another hour or two to do homework and check on work e-mail, then getting four hours’ sleep, and doing it all over again the next day. You think you can unwind on Friday? Not really. There’s class at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, followed by lab.

By the time I got home on Saturday nights, I was usually too tired to do anything else, even eat. A cup of dry cereal and then I’m out until Sunday morning, when it was time to do laundry, homework and a little bit of office time to catch up on work work.

And along the way, I had to move residences TWICE (once in January and once in September.) The economy was in a freefall and I saw my backup plan dwindle to 10% of its original value. I lost my job by the end of October. In November, the IRS put a lien on my bank account. This was my own fault: I was so busy that I had forgotten to pay my taxes.

(In the ’90s, I remember reading an interview with Sherry Stringfield, one of the stars of the hit show ‘ER.’ She had talked about how LADWP shut down her electricity because she had forgotten to pay her bill. I couldn’t fathom how someone making millions could possibly have this happen to them until a similar thing happened to me. I still have unopened mail from 2008, tucked in boxes somewhere in my mom’s garage.)

All through that I only cried once. (And only because I was stuck in traffic for THREE HOURS and nothing – NOTHING – sends me into a tailspin quite like LA traffic at a standstill.)

But then I got a job with a boss who was flexible about letting me leave early for school. There was the possibility of scoring an internship at the L.A. Times (didn’t pan out). Things were looking up. One of my favorite teachers had said that I had momentum, and to take special care not to lose it.

After all that work to change careers, I found myself back at the desk job full time a few months later, trying to rebuild what I had lost… savings, 401k, good credit rating, even confidence. It was a temporary but necessary glitch. Then I landed a part-time gig teaching cooking and I got to write reviews for a food review blog/publication. I was getting momentum back.

And then I found myself in the job from hell… which wasn’t the job from hell when I first started. Like most of my relationships that start out so promising and end up in the toilet. Except this job was the worst experience I could ever have gone through. I’ll take a bad breakup over this any day. (And that’s saying something.)

It was stressful and painful and for many reasons lasted longer than it had to (we won’t go into details). The one mitigating factor was that I had gone on a game show and won a lot of money. Insurance in knowing that the nightmare would end soon, but it would be several months before I can breathe easy… that check is no good if the show doesn’t air and it took about six months for that. Add another couple of months to get the check, and I languished in hell for nearly a year.

All the time this was happening, the universe kept sending me signs that it was time to leave all this behind and go full speed on my culinary adventures. I have a culinary memoir to write. And the school that I had dreamt about opening for all these years, the reason I put myself through all that stress just a couple of years back… it could actually happen now. Not to be dramatic, but the stars really were lining up.

And the day came when I triumphantly gave my bitch of a boss the finger. Momentum. I had it again.

But we don’t realize what hell we put ourselves through (ok, maybe just me) until we’re out of it. Instead of go-go-going, I found myself spent. For at least two weeks, I could barely get out of bed. The promise of a “new life” was a bit of a letdown, it was anti-climactic. I thought that I might have been depressed, but after talking it out with several people, we concluded that the job-from-hell had wiped me out mentally, physically and emotionally. And it was imperative that I spent some time healing.

It was all good and necessary, but that meant giving up momentum.

At some point during my respite, a series of fortuitous events led me to find the space for my cooking school, even though I was hoping to wait until the new year to pursue this. I found the right space, the right people to get behind me and things were moving. But there are lots of little things that one has to attend to when setting up a business… some of these administrative and some personal. And each little thing does its share of chipping away at your momentum. They’re like little potholes in the road and after a while, your tires take such a beating that one of them loses air and the whole damn car is stopped.

That’s what the past few months have been for me. I understand perfectly well this is how the journey goes and have been managing it pretty well. And while I have a high tolerance for shit, there comes a point where I’m oversaturated and explode. And that was last week.

The joy of seeing my best friend’s brand new baby was diminished hours later when I rammed my car into a pole. I couldn’t even look at the damage for a couple of days, and then discovered it wasn’t that bad, just a bunch of scratches. And while the business is going, I had also realized that I’m going to have to go back to the dayjob to pay the bills. (The game show money is a nice chunk, but it’s certainly limited when I’m bleeding expenses on the business.) Add to this a bit of anxiety over my upcoming birthday, and being reminded that I’m growing older and not being in a place where I truly feel comfortable, and a slight depression sets in. When you’re in a downswing, each little thing adds up to cause a tailspin and you find yourself out of control.

Found myself breaking down every few hours, frustrated that I can’t seem to get the momentum going. It’s like driving up a hill in a manual car, and just when you think you’ve gotten over the hump, you stall and roll back down. Think of this as a crappy metaphor but if you’ve had problems driving a stick shift, you’ll know it’s frustrating as all get out.

Saturday came the low point but I’m thankful for it. As I said earlier, I like hitting the low point because there’s only one way to go and that’s up. It’s time to reset, re-evaluate the flight plan, get the engines started and get the next climb going. And hope that at some point, sooner rather than later, momentum will actually catch.

Ignorance is Bliss

So a friend of mine suggested that I should apply to Mensa. After all, what kind of world is this when the blogger of a site called is not a card-carrying member of the world’s foremost nerd fraternity?

I’ve long thought about this and had even started the process years ago. There’s a test you take. I’m no stranger to tests. I take them all the time. I’ve also proven that I can pass them. (Pregnancy tests included, and for the record, PASS/FAIL is subjective here. Passing is when your desired result is achieved.)

But I’ve also been known to fail them. And Mensa’s IQ test is the one test I’m scared shitless to fail.

You see, my whole confidence as a person is built around the knowledge that I have my brains. And whether I was skinny or fat, popular or not, a success or failure, motivated or uninspired, loving or hating a job… none of that mattered because I could always tell myself I was smart and no matter the situation, I had that.

I’ll admit I’m an intelligence snob. I like to surround myself with smart people. Even my friends are smart. (If you’re funny though, you can stick around.) I become less tolerant of stupid people as time goes on. When it comes to dating, non-smart men don’t have a chance in hell, and likewise prefer that a man appreciate me for my brains. (Yes, the only online dating I do is a site called Geek to Geek… and for the record, the pickins are slim there too.)

I live for trivia nights at my local pub. I used to watch game shows all the time but, having appeared on a few of them, find them unwatchable now. (It frustrates me when I see “easy” categories, enrages me when the contestants don’t get the answers and brings back memories of my own experiences when I went down on what I considered tough questions.)

I don’t think there’s ever been an instance where I questioned my intelligence, even when in a room surrounded by multiple Jeopardy champs, Millionaire millionaires or even Mensa members. I think I hold up: I did win Ben Stein’s money, I did win twice on Jeopardy, I did take down six figures on Millionaire.

And I have taken a few IQ tests over the years, though not Mensa-sanctioned. I always land in the “genius” range, albeit in the low- to mid-range. Which is fine, at least I’m in the range… if I was smarter than that then I wouldn’t have felt the need to drop pre-calculus in high school. And math was my strong point. (In all fairness, I had gotten early acceptance to a great journalism school and knew I was never going to need math again. I wish someone had warned me about my future in poker though so I would have kept up with the math skills. Hindsight = 20/20.)

But to officialize it, to put an official seal and stamp on my so-called smartness is making me anxious. Because what if… what if I fail this test? What if Mensa says “You are NOT smarter than a fifth grader”?

My core will be shaken. Those who know me best know I take forever to bounce back from heartbreak. I get over it eventually. But this? I fear I won’t recover from a Mensa rejection. Ever. There will be no getting over this, I promise you.

Of course, all this is on the side of negative thinking. I could just be working myself into a tizzy for nothing and I could very well ace that damn test.

But in this moment, Ms. Smarty Pants, the girl with a voracious appetite for knowledge, would rather not know. Ignorance really is bliss.

So, Here We Are

Apparently, I don’t know how to handle free time. I quit my lousy job two months ago to concentrate on the things that really matter: finish my memoir, lose weight, get the apartment in order, travel, and most importantly, open the cooking school I’d been dreaming of launching for the past few years.

The only thing I have to show for the past few weeks is a few extra pounds… clearly, I’m headed in the opposite direction.

But it seems the only way for me to get anything done is to have a million of them to do.

When an old boss came calling about a position, even though I promised myself I was done with corporate America, I succumbed to the lure of a good paycheck. And as luck would have it, the minute I accepted that job, fate winked and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime: the ideal location and circumstance to open my cooking school.

We’ll be musing about the ups and downs of opening one’s own business in the coming weeks. But for now, let me just take a moment to say that Murphy is a real asshole.