Thursday, October 8, 2015

Setting the Right Pace.

One step at a time is good walking. – Chinese Proverb

It's officially the last month of my twenties, and I think I'm half thrilled and half scared shitless. I often catch myself thinking Am I where I should be in life? That's a hard question to answer, but for the most part I think I've figured it out: I am exactly where I should be. I've also figured out that one should not ask themselves that question, because it's all relative.

I am where it makes sense for me to be in this exact stage in my life, and I'm going to embrace the hell out of it because that'll change before I even know it. (Or when I do know/expect it to, should things go as planned this summer.) Time goes by so fast, and I want to make sure I'm living in the present moment, rather than being so concerned with what's next. I'll get there - wherever "there" is - one step at a time. And let's be real, a casual stroll is a lot more relaxing than a sprint. (Especially when taken in Malibu.)

Friday, September 18, 2015


"Guys, someone's coming. Should we grab our things?"

My two friends and I began walking hurriedly in the direction of our purses and shopping bags, piled on the ground in an alleyway close to where we had just finished lunch. The plan was to take some photos for my friend's new website, so when we spotted a wall splattered with brightly colored paint (a perfect background), we dropped our belongings right there on the sidewalk and began to shoot.

A man wearing a backpack and carrying a water cooler was slowly approaching. I scanned my friend's faces for any signs of nervousness, only because they don't live downtown (there's a lot of foot traffic here). "There are great backgrounds for photos over that way," he called out to us, pointing toward his left. "Really great, over there by the gun club."

Catching us off guard - but in a good way - I could see everyone was more at ease as he drew closer. "Oh really?" I replied. "Thank you so much!" and just as he passed by I blurted out "Can I take your picture?"

"Me?" He seemed surprised. "Sure," and he began to pose.

"Thanks!" I replied, positioning my camera at him. "What's your name?"

"Anthony," he answered in a strong, matter-of-fact voice. "I was in the Navy for seventeen years."

I had already gotten the portrait I wanted, almost within seconds. He was one of those people whose faces tell their story; a person whose eyes run deep. He proceeded to tell us about his Navy experiences, places he'd served (Desert Storm was one of many), and about life post-war. All things I could never in my life fathom.

"I've been homeless for one hundred and seventy-two days," he said. "I'm trying to get work wherever I can, man. I just picked up a thousand shells at the gun club for ten dollars." I didn't know how to respond. I was dripping sweat just existing on that particularly hot day, never mind working outside in the heat - for ten dollars.

"I don't do drugs," he continued, "and I'm not an alcoholic. I'm just trying to get some work wherever I can," he reiterated.

Anthony talked some more about life as a military veteran and how people need to pay more attention to the struggles that ensue. Ultimately, he said, people just want jobs. A sustainable life and future. All of which he plans to discuss with the City Council.

I felt bad that I didn't have anything valuable to offer him: advice, a job opportunity, City Council friends. I even regretted not having any cash on me. The least I could have done was buy him lunch or dinner as a kind gesture in return for what he gave me. There were a bunch of takeaways from this encounter, to be honest. The simplest one? A nice reminder that not everyone sucks. Not everyone is out to get you, or to get something from you. My friends and I didn't see this particular individual and think, Wait! Is HE going to take our purses? I'd be cautious of leaving my belongings out in the open anywhere, around anyone. This guy didn't care to take our stuff or even care that we had stuff; he offered us advice on where to take a good photograph.

It was clear that he was struggling, but you wouldn't know that because he wore it on his sleeve. This man was kind and gentle, optimistic even, despite his circumstances. He had an abundance of positive qualities that maybe a person in his shoes shouldn't have, which was the beauty of it. It made me reflect and think, what did I have? Luck, among so many other wonderful things, to have met him that day.

Monday, September 14, 2015

September 14th.

Life is short. Really short for some people, which I think about often. Sometimes consciously, and other times I'm handed a reminder. Like two hours ago, when a birthday alert for my best friend Kenny flashed on my iPhone, balloon emojis and all. I knew it was his birthday today. I've known this day, September 14th, as Kenny's Birthday since the seventh grade. Today, I would have been making fun of him for officially being "old." Today, Kenny would have been thirty.

A few years ago, I sent him a photo of us from elementary school. Happy birthday to my favorite guy! 

No, he corrected me, your favorite person in the world. 

So that's exactly how I captioned the photo when I posted it later that day, as a birthday tribute.

Happy birthday to my favorite person in the world, my brother and best friend, Kenny.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tulum: The Movie.

I'm throwing a video into the Tulum mix now, so I hope no one's getting sick of my mini vaca-spamming since I still have a couple days' worth of photos to post. (Sorry not sorry?)

I don't know why I always forget to record video because I really, really love being able to relive a moment, which is likely the reason I take too many photos as it is. Maybe it's because I never had a video option on my old dSLR, so I forget that I can even switch from camera to video mode? I don't know, but I need to start remembering. I used to be obsessed with my mom's massive black camcorder back in the day though. Remember those beauts?

Anyway. Here's Tulum, in the form of a little video montage. There are a bunch of wobbly clips because I'd of course think at the very last second Ah! I can take a video of this!. but what can you do. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Long Weekend in Tulum: Food Edition.

I need to preface this post by saying that since I've been back in LA, I have realized the following: holy guacamole (c'mon, it was wide open), was I spoiled with what I ate in Tulum, and there is no restaurant in LA that even remotely compares, which I gather is somewhat of an obvious fact. I'll continue searching and sampling of course, but as of right now, there's nada. NADA.

If you find yourself in Tulum, which you seriously should for the food alone, here are a couple of suggestions for what and where to eat, from a girl in LA who will be utterly jealous of you.


This one's obvious. Don't judge the guac by its cover photo here, depending on how hungry I was or how lame I wanted to look photographing my food, the photo quality varies. Christian and I had guacamole twice a day in Tulum, and we thought it appropriate to rate each restaurant as we tried them, because why not? (And by no means are numbers 4-6 bad or anything, they were honestly all great.) The consistency of the mix, the amount of citrus (or lack of), and the ripeness of the avocados really made a difference for how it tasted. (I'm kind of a guacamole connoisseur at this point.)  

Anywhere you see "salbutes," and I mean anywhere, pull over and order like, four per person. They may not look like much (you'd think they were tacos), but oh man are these puffy fried tortillas with shredded chicken good. Toppings typically include cabbage, pickled onions, avocado and salsa, differing just slightly from tacos which can include beans, cheese, and rice.

If you check out the Mayan Ruins of Coba, you have to stop at the very first place on your right when you exit the parking lot (or the last place on your left before you enter). I'm not sure that it has an actual name, but you'll see a sign for "Refrescos Bien Frios" and a bright little in-house dining area. It was here that I had my very first salbute, made fresh to order. And when I say fresh, I mean there's the sweetest woman cooking a whole chicken right behind the counter and making tortillas from scratch. At first we did the whole "oh I'm not hungry" thing and ordered one salbute to share, and then we promptly ordered seconds after we demolished the first one - in two bites.

(Tip) Ask for Humberto and tell him we sent you to eat the best salbutes in town. He will also ask you if you want to see the crocodile that apparently lives in the reservoir across the road...
I asked permission to take photos and she asked, "Facebook?" Can't get much better than that.


Casa Violeta!
For the Numero Uno guacamole and a beach with crystal clear waters, it is here you go. Grab yourself a fine lounge chair, order a drink, some guacamole, and extra totopos. Repeat.

(Tip) This place is dog-friendly, hotel accommodations and all! 

Papaya Playa!
I'm not suggesting you dine here simply because it's where I stayed. Anywhere that serves you food - really, really good food - while you're doing this (see first photo, below) is pretty fabulous in my book. 

(Tip) Order the tuna ceviche! It was our pick for the best ceviche in town. (The guac here was #2!)
Also: Papaya's bar decor was killin' it. (Get it?)

I wanted to go here for obvious reasons, but besides the fact that this restaurant shares a name with my dog, it got really great reviews. They just changed their menu and we were lucky enough to sample a new appetizer and dessert, courtesy of the chef. (Winning!) And I mean, look at this place.

(Tips) Ask for Pablo, who will hook you up with some seriously strong margaritas, and you have to order the Mahi Mahi! I'd never had it before, and it was ohmygod good. Also, I can't stress this enough, but APPLY BUG SPRAY GENEROUSLY (in particular after it rains). If not, you will be wearing your napkins as protective outerwear like I did.
Do you see the swings for barstools?! 
I'm telling you, swim in the bug spray.

Casa Banana! 
Play foosball or grab a cocktail from the bar while you wait for a table at this Argentine hot spot. Christian and I came here for dinner on a night we both "weren't that hungry," and then we saw the menu. Not much of an appetite turned into ordering guacamole and totopos plus two entrees: bacon-wrapped filet mignon skewers, and the most succulent chicken in some sort of white wine/butter sauce (so, so good). And I can't forget the best cauliflower dish I've ever had in my life. Oh, and then there was the chocolate gelato we split for dessert when we were so full we couldn't even sit up straight. Yeah. The food here is good.

(Tips) You can't make a reservation at this place, so maybe head out for an early dinner if you want to avoid a wait. And if you order the whole fish, you get the best ever truffled, cheesy cauliflower side dish. Like, out of this world good. It was accidentally placed in front of me instead of going to the neighboring table and I immediately tried to request it - except that I couldn't, because you can only get it if you order the fish. (I even asked if I could pay $100.00 for it and they wouldn't budge.)  I continued to playfully hassle the waiter about everything being fantastic except for the missing cauliflower, and he must have gotten sick of me complaining about it because he brought me a side of truffled, cheesy cauliflower. And then I hugged him.

As I mentioned before, everyone here is super friendly and accommodating. I also like that this place offers dishes on the healthier side, should you want to throw something green in your diet other than guacamole.

(Tips) Try the traditional Mayan pumpkin seed dip called Sikil P'ak, and if you're up for it, a Mezcal shot for dessert (chased with lime, blackberries,and raisins)!

You can't get much cuter than this little gem, and I certainly don't want to undervalue it by calling it "cute." We saw this place as soon as we got to Tulum and immediately began to snap photos of its rustic, romantic decor. As far as food goes, this place has anything you could want, from sliders (sometimes you just want bacon cheeseburgers and fries) to paella to pasta, and you can choose to cozy up inside or dine on the terrace out back, directly on the beach.

(Tip) Skip the burgers and fries and order more traditional Yucatan dishes here, which I should have done. I'll spare the photo. (There are nothing but rave reviews online about the food, so get the real-deal plates.)

A sandy walkway to the beachside terrace.

La Malquerida!
After searching for salbutes for what felt like an eternity in 100 degree weather, we settled on the nearest restaurant in downtown Tulum that had seating in the shade. I'm not sure I would have initially walked by this place and thought Let's eat here!, so I'm happy we stumbled upon it because it sure was good. (Which was actually better than good, because it was our last meal in Tulum.)

(Tips) Most places don't have air conditioning downtown, so get comfortable with being hot. Or, grab a seat at the bar - and by a seat I mean a swing - and catch a breeze to cool off. Also, don't be put off by what may seem like weird flavor combinations; chicken, pineapple, mushroom, green pepper, and onion fajitas? Oh. Em. Gee.

Most important tip of all: you must go to Tulum with an appetite.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

When you least expect it.

I've watered my plants twice since coming back from Mexico, including the last plant on my windowsill that I still water despite thinking it's dead-dead. It's a dried-up succulent - now, a small pot of dirt - with two teeny succulent petals sitting on top, wisps of silvery-white roots still attached. I was getting ready to toss it in the trash this morning when I saw this:

Well I'll be damned, I thought. The two random petals had decided to plant roots (pun intended) into the soil of my succulent graveyard. And then they decided to blossom. Just like the guy at the flower shop, Carlos, told me they would.

About a month ago, I bought teeny succulents for a friend and asked a shop employee for advice on how to not kill my own plants. A man named Carlos offered up some "how-tos," and basically told me to never give up. He told me that even when you think succulents are dead, they aren't. They may conk out for a bit, but they'll learn to adjust to their new environment and grow back stronger than ever.  He then handed me two succulent petals unattached to a plant, with barely visible roots hanging from their inner corners. I was instructed to set them right on top of a pot of soil. To water them. To watch them grow.

I told him he was crazy.

I'm not sure how I missed these teeny blossoms when I watered the plants a few days ago. Or yes I do, it's because I didn't take the two seconds to look. I was probably paying attention to my phone - while watering plants, of course - or to my TV, or to the dogs, whatever, instead of paying attention to what was going on around me. Or, they weren't even there a few days ago and they've newly sprouted, leaving my wannabe philosophical reasoning for the birds. Or for the plants. Petals, specifically.

But this morning I was baffled. How did these petals not blow away outside? How did the roots not die? And how are roots flying off of petals, anyway? Seriously, how the hell did these things grow!?  More thoughts came flooding. About growth, about life and love and what lies ahead, about death. All these emotions and life metaphors came rushing into focus.

Over a fucking plant. Over the growth of a fucking plant.

It's when you least expect it that things happen, big or small. You leave one relationship and wind up finding one better suited for you; you're offered a new job opportunity in a different country; hell, your dad calls you one day after almost eight years and you learn you have somewhat of a green thumb and can apparently grow plants from just a damn petal. Growth. Always when you least expect it. Or don't even expect it at all.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Long Weekend in Tulum: Day 1

The trip started off with a complete bang: I ran into my friends Ingrid and Andrew at LAX while Christian and I were waiting for our flight. They were on their way to El Salvador to look at wedding venues (I blogged about one of their first dates and now they are affianced!), which I for one am happy about. Holler for another passport stamp! As if that wasn't good enough, I was happily munching on smothered truffle fries from an airport restaurant when I looked up and saw my old friend/manager of my favorite restaurant, Takami. Raf! I screamed mid-bite, and sure enough, he looked up to see me shoveling french fries into my mouth, likely the same as the last time he saw me. Turns out, he had recently opened that very restaurant after returning from Thailand, where he'd been for the last couple of years. Hell of a way to run into someone after so long, right? So yeah, I'm not too sure how to trump that for the best way to start a vacation.

(Tips) I always keep myself up the night before I travel so I can knock out on the plane and combat any jet lag (as evidenced by my tired eyes in the photo, below). A window seat is the way to go so you can lean against it while you sleep, and I've found that the last few rows of the plane can have some empty seats, if you're lucky. (I swear, it's like the airplane gods are speaking directly to you when there's a whole row open so you can lay down.) I also wear an oversized sweater that can double as a blanket for when it gets chilly in-flight.

We took a red-eye flight and landed early the next morning in Cancun. We booked round-trip transportation to and from the airport via our hotel, Papaya Playa Project, simply because I figured it'd be the easiest option. I usually try to aim for the most economical option, but traveling is tiring, especially after a connecting flight. For a 90 minute drive to Tulum, my goal was a hassle-free and safe drive directly to our destination.

(Tip) Book transportation one-way to your hotel if you want to do the hassle-free thing, and find a friendly taxi driver with the best rate to take you back to the airport. If you don't rent a car, you'll likely take several taxi rides to and from town and surrounding villages, and will get a grasp on rates in pesos. You'll know what a good negotiated rate is and who to ask. (It would have saved us about $50-75.00 this way.) Also of note: we exchanged some currency prior to traveling and found a better rate than what was listed at the airport (and pesos will allow you better negotiated rates than dollars).

Our bungalow, the most charming bungalow that I ever did see.
This view! I meeeeean...
The lobby of Papaya, which can't get much cuter. (Eco-chic, as they'd describe it in Tulum!)

After settling in, we headed straight for the beach in front of our hotel. The beach cabanas had my name written all over 'em, each and every one. We plopped down and immediately ordered food and drinks. And by food, I mean a massive Mexican feast, which we managed to somehow eat in entirety. (And then Christian fell asleep, so I naturally used the opportunity to take a bunch of selfies.)

(Tip) Downtime is necessary on your first day, especially for a shorter trip. Trying to squeeze too many agenda items into an already-tight schedule will only wind up exhausting you; relaxation - even for a hour or two - is a must.

Since we had planned on Saturday being our chill-out day, we thought it was best to schedule a nice dinner for that same evening. Christian had a connection for one of the most popular restaurants in Tulum, Gitano, and we scored reservations ahead of time. The food was fantastic, a healthy spin on traditional dishes (more on what to eat/do later) - and so was the tequila. I'm not a tequila drinker, but right before we left, we were brought Mezcal shots on the house. When in Mexico....

(Tips) Ask for Amanda and tell her we recommended Gitano! She also gave us great advice on what to do during our short stay, and scratched some things off our original list that she mentioned were either too touristy or too family oriented. Also, make sure to buy bug spray, and apply extra at night! (Seriously.)

Tulum's beach zone, as a whole, looks just like this. It's absolutely beautiful.