Monday, October 29, 2012

R-O-C-K in the USA

I've now been stateside for a few months and have been procrastinating this post for several weeks.  I kept convincing myself I was too busy, or just always found something I'd rather be doing.  But now there's a hurricane at my door and it's not letting me out.  So I guess I might as well get to this.

I suppose I should recap the last few months as best I can.  I arrived in Los Angeles on Aug 21st.  Technically, I landed 9 hours before I left, so now I can check 'time travel' off on my bucket list.  Score.  Right after I landed in LAX, my brother Dan took me out for Mexican food.  Bless him.  I missed it so much.  After stuffing myself with 8 months worth of missed guacamole and and assortment of Mexican entree's, we headed back to Tehachapi where I had the privilege of playing auntie to 4 of the cutest kids under the age of 5 for a little over two weeks.  It was a blast to pal around with them, and I could tell Dan and Kelli appreciated the extra set of hands.  We spent the first week in Tehachapi and I tried to help Kelli out as best I could.  There is no doubt in my mind that parenthood is the single most exhausting and important job one could ever have.  I feel a great reverence when I consider my own desires for children one day.

The second week in Cali, we decided to go for a road trip.  Dan and Kelli had a 1/2 marathon they were going to run up in San Jose, and I offered my babysitting services while they ran.  On the way up, we stopped in Monterrey, where we spent the girls birthday at the Monterrey Bay aquarium and finished the night off with cake and ice cream.  I think this picture conveys everything else I could add to that.

The next day, we headed up north to San Jose.  After dropping Dan and the kids off at the hotel, Kelli and I went grocery shopping.  We were welcomed home by a stealth pillow war.  Dan had recruited all the kids onto his side and proceeded to teach them how to throw pillows from the loft at the innocent spectators below.  It's a good thing Kelli and I know how to put up a good fight.  That evening, I went ballroom dancing at a dance studio nearby.  It was the first time in several months, but after dusting off my heals, I got the feel for it again.  I considered going salsa dancing, but in lieu of the arrival of my buddy Jacob the next day, decided to save that for then.

After Jacob showed up, we talked...for a very long time.  I made dinner for that evening so he kept me company while I cooked.  Then we planned to go dancing, but ended up just talking the entire evening away.  It's amazing to me that I've had the privilege of getting to know such wonderful guys.  Jacob is definitely a gem, and all in all, I think we ended up chatting for about 14 hours that day.  It may have been longer, but exhaustion was caught up to us somewhere around 3am.  He is such a stud, and I'm excited to see what he ends up doing with his life.

On our last full day in San Jose, we decided to hit up the Redwood Forest nearby.  It was a winding, slightly nauseating drive, but absolutely worth it.  We took the kids on a short hike and enjoyed the beautiful weather California always seem to offer.  I tried to get in some family pics for Dan and Kelli, and enjoyed what time I had left with them.  I'm so grateful to have a family that I enjoy spending time with.  Kelli is such an amazing woman, and I love seeing how her and Dan navigate parenthood and marriage together.  It's quite an impressive feat.

The following morning, Kelli and Dan ran their race, and after that we packed up the kids and headed to San Francisco to drop me off in the care of the one and only Ani Nachtajler.  It was a wonderful reunion, long overdue, and after enjoying the talents of a few street performers, I bid Danny and Kelli adieu.  Ani and I caught up over lunch and a quick visit to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory for some nostalgic-laden ice-cream sundaes. 

We headed back to Sacramento that evening and I spent the next two days being a bum at Ani's house.  Mostly, I just enjoyed her pool and running in pleasant California sunshine while she worked.  It was nice to be a bum for a few days.  It wasn't long before we caught a flight out to Salt Lake City though.  Ani was going to visit Paul (her boo), and I was Utah bound for more family fun.  After meeting Paul and catching up with Leandrew in Provo, I headed north to set up shop for the next few weeks with my sister Sarah and her oh so adorable daughter, Shelbi. 

Again, I love playing auntie, and it was a blast to really get to know Shelbi in such an adorable stage of her life.  She's and incredibly good baby, and loves to watch and observe everything around her, so we had a blast together.  It also helped that we were in the company of Drake the German Shepherd...aka best dog ever.  He was always up and ready to play and make Shelbi laugh. 

It was really nice to spend the next several weeks in Utah.  It gave me a chance to catch up with everybody I hadn't seen all year, but also allowed me to transition back into western culture with some degree of familiarity.  I got to kickbox with Tiffany, bake and hike with Olya, go to the circus with Tron and my sister (thanks to an old high-school buddy - you rock Tatton) and even threw a mocktail party while in town.  I felt like I stayed just long enough, because by the time conference weekend was over, I was ready to move out east and start getting settled into my next phase of life. 

But I had one more pit stop on the way.  Kansas.  I only had two days, but I did manage to have dinner with my Grandma G, visit the new Kansas City temple, have a sleepover with my sister Jenni and her six chilluns, and grab dinner with Christy Griffin and her new hubby.  We went to Texas roadhouse and I actually ran into my friend Taran while I was there.  It was a very efficient, though short, trip home.  

Before I knew it, my stuff was all packed up in the Ford Escape my parents rented, and I was driving back east with the craziest, most awesome old man I know - my dad.  :)

We drove from Kansas to Boston through the night, but had some wonderful pit stops along the way.  We stopped in Louiville to visit my old roommate Brigitte.  It's been years since we've been able to catch up, but it felt like no time passed at all.  She's still intelligent, funny, sweet, and drop-dead gorgeous.  She's just finished her masters in elementary education and is teaching at an inner-city school in Louisville.  No doubt, she will be the most amazing and compassionate teacher some of those kids will ever have the privilege of learning from.  No doubt. 

After dinner, my dad and I headed north and drove through the night to catch breakfast with another one of my old roommates Jenny Laub (now Smith), her hubby Jordan, and their new baby.  It was great to get the heads up on their life and plans.  I hadn't really seen either of them since they got married almost 4 years ago, so there was a lot to catch up on.  I don't know if I've said this enough in the past, but it's worth repeating.  I've had some of the most amazing roommates.  And it's safe to say, the trend continues.  After breakfast, Dad and I headed to Boston where I met roommate #74 and #75: Hannabeth Franchino and Anne Gordon. 

Anne is the one who greeted us at the door.  Within about 2 mins I knew I was physically, and figuratively, in the right place.  She had likewise, had the impression that she needed to move out to Boston, and after two people moved in and backed out on the lease with her, she was beginning to wonder if that was still the case.  It's another example to me of just how amazing the Lord is.  I had no idea who this girl was two weeks ago, but almost instantly, I knew we were meant to be great friends.  Within a few days, I can't imagine being room roommates with anyone else out here.  Turns out, she's an old roommate of my cousin Angela and lived with her in my favorite Provo complex - Campus Plaza.  She's such an awesome girl.  She's 29, super spunky and fun, incredibly kind, and very patient with me.  Again, I'm definitely blessed. 

Hannabeth is our other roommate and equally awesome.  She's working at Beth-Israel Hospital in some kind of cardiac research lab and currently applying to medical schools.  She's a beautiful and very funny girl with wicked pie-making skills.  It's a wonder to me she hasn't been snatched up yet. 

It was through Hannabeth that we met our now newly adopted roommate, Annie Johnston.  Annie grew up in Lexington, MA just north here, and is one of the wittiest women I've ever met.  She's been gracious enough to share her knowledge of New England and spent her weekend last week helping us celebrate Anne's 'birthday-reloaded.'  Anne is a big literary buff, so we went to visit Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House and Walden Pond.  Walden Pond was ablaze with colors, and the place does live up to it's reputation.  We spent some time contemplating and discussing Thoreau's work, enjoyed the crisp fall air, hiked around the pond, and laughed while Annie decided to go for a swim in it.  It was a fantastic day.

The next weekend, we all went to a Halloween party in Brookline.  I wore the saree I got in India, Anne went as a 1970's prom queen, Hannabeth went as an owl and Annie went as the baker's daughter (basket of home-baked cookies in tow).  For those Shakespearean nerds, hopefully you'll appreciate that.

The party was at a mansion, converted into an apartment complex that's now shared by a bunch of Mormon ysa's.  Each main room was decked out.  From the creepy circus themed living room, to the mad scientist laboratory kitchen.  The cellar was converted into a dance floor, complete with ICP adorned DJ and black lights.  I was actually really impressed by the DJ, and the floor stayed hoppin' pretty much all night.  After driving home a classy clown, Sherlock Holmes, and a black Abe Lincoln, we called it a night. 

The next day, after sleeping in past noon, the girls started plotting a visit to a nearby castle.  It was built in the early 20th century by an eccentric (aka crazy) millionaire named John Hays Hammond Jr.  Aside from being just and all-around weird dude, he had a fixation with living in the past.  He built the castle, complete with secret passageways, dungeon, and drawbridge, and turned it into his lab, company headquarters, and a museum.  That day was the last day for tours until spring, and since Halloween was Mr. Hammond's favorite holiday, it was decked out for the Haunted Castle tours they do every year.

The tour itself was manned by screaming volunteers in creepy make-up, but wasn't all that frightening.  I don't really like being scared, so I didn't mind.  Annie and Hannabeth were freaking out and screaming the whole way through, and Anne was more fascinated by the art collection than anything.  After the tour, the curator approached us dressed as Hannibal Lector and Anne struck up a conversation with him about her efforts to get into some kind of restoration apprenticeship.  He took quite a liking to Anne and talked to her for almost an hour.  He offered to take us through the castle when it opened up in the spring and show us through all the secret passageways and include all the info they don't provide the general public.  Before we left, he took us inside and let us try on a crown Hammond had bought his wife.  Haha silly as it may be, I did feel like a princess wearing it in the middle of this castle.  I would post pictures of it, but I promised not to put them up online.  Those who come by my apartment will be able to view them.  We just have to get them printed and framed first.

Anyway, it was a great weekend.  Sunday was stake conference and did not disappoint.  There were several very good talks and I'm more and more convinced that there is just a different breed of Mormon out here. I can't quite put my finger on it yet.  I can't say it's better/worse than any other LDS culture I've been exposed to, but it is different.  I'll try to figure out what I mean by that.  In the meantime, hurricane Sandy is well under way, and I'm going to go cook my dinner before we lose power.  

Before I go though, I've decided to list a few things that I appreciate about the United States.  Before I left, I wasn't really sure what 'American culture' consisted of because it seemed to vary so much from region to region.  But I think I've narrowed some things down that, though not exclusive to the US, we do have cause to be grateful for.   So here are the top 10 things I appreciate about America (in no specific order).

1.) Regard for traffic laws - it's nice to see that, even in traffic, people usually stay in a lane
2.) Emissions laws - not breathing in thick black smoke everywhere you go is a plus
3.) Clean streets - I hereby declare the anti-litter campaign in our schools a success
4.) Food safety - eating fresh fruits and veggies without having to worry about later violent digestive repercussions --> priceless
5.) Food, product, and cultural variety - if variety is the spice of life, then the US is the phrik khi nu suan (super hot thai chili) king
6.) Improvement - though it may shoot us in the foot at times, our perfectionistic work ethic has helped us accomplish some impressive feats and probably plays a large part of out overall success
7.) Customer is always right - this philosophy makes our customer service unsurpassed (especially where tips and the restaurant business is concerned).
8.) Cheap internet access - you might not realize just how lucky we are until you see how slow and costly it is elsewhere
9.) Gyms - because who wants to exercise in muggy weather and 100+ temperatures --> genius
10.) Honesty - though there are those who lie, cheat and steal, at least most people value and practice the concept