Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tomorrow: My Dead-On Thanksgiving Prediction

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday of the year, and I'll be home to celebrate it!!  I'll be flying through PANAMA today, so if you know anything about geography you'll know that this equates to many hours of travel, but its worth it for Thanksgiving.

I know exactly how the day will go.

My yiayia will wake me up by calling at 8:00 AM to tell me that she has "been cooking since 4 in the morning" and will ask what time we're coming over.  

We'll arrive around noon and the parade or American football will be on the TV.  I'll admire the 13,204,584 Christmas decorations around the house, even though she's told me that she isn't putting any up this year (she says this every year).  

I'll set the table and we'll struggle to find room to fit all the food on it.  We'll comment on the fact that we are 10 people but that there is enough food to feed a family of 35.  

We will dig in to our Greek/American Thanksgiving feast.  We will have the standard dishes - turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc - and Greek things - spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, pastitsio..  We will hope that she hasn't made anything "special", like lamp soup with the eyeballs still inside.

We'll talk about things.  My grandma will try to bicker with my grandpa, and my grandpa will just laugh right back.  My uncle, the king of sarcasm, will make jokes and try to pick on me.  My brother will eat quietly and try to wander off to the other room.  My grandma will accuse boyfriend of not eating enough (regardless of whether he's on plate 1 or plate 5) and will manage to slap more food onto his plate.  My mom will tell me that she's too sick with indigestion and that I have to do the dishes.  

The combination of the warm temperature permanently set by the thermostat and the pounds of food we will have consumed will make us feel overheated, and we'll open the patio door to let the chilly Chicago fall air come in.  We will clear the plates, and then somehow find it in us to make room for dessert.

Me, Yaya, Aunt Costi, Mom
We will ask yaya to "read our cups" (the grinds in Greek coffee) and fight over who gets to go first (the mind gets tired after a cup or two).  I'll argue that I live abroad and never get to have her read mine, and hopefully I'll get to be #1.  She'll say she's too tired to do it, but does it anyway.  She'll look deep into the grinds and tell me that I recently told someone off {always says this}, and that I have a promotion coming up.  I don't know if I believe any of it but I choose to look on the bright side.  

By the time we leave I tell boyfriend that I'm going on a diet and that I'm not eating again until December.  We later eat Thanksgiving leftovers and some baklava around 9 PM.

This year I am thankful for Thanksgiving!  
Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Swimming with Yaya

A couple weeks ago my yiayia came to visit me.  It was her first visit to the DR in more than 20 years and so we packed in lots of things.  Within 48 hours, she had swam in the Caribbean sea, a couple pools at our resort in Punta Cana, and in a chilly, fresh water river.  

My grandma is one of the bravest people I have ever met, and at 67 years old I think she's just as.. ballsy.. as she was at age 16.  At the beach it didn't matter how strong the waves were, she would repeatedly walk straight into them intending to get farther from shore, even though they would roll her body all the way back into the sand.  Every.  Sixty.  Seconds.  Wheres the camera when you need it? 

Yaya braving the waters, it was much choppier than it looks here!
After the resort we took her to A's family's farm, one of my favorite places {see my foodie rave post here}.  With 1 kilometer of river in the property, its the perfect place on a hot afternoon.

Picture from a previous visit, isn't it beautiful?
Since it had rained there was a strong current, so I told her to stay close to the rocks where we were getting in.  But, her fearless self decided to jump right in and try to make it across the river without telling anyone of her plans {she wanted to catch some sun and the other side was sunny!}.  She was dragged down the river instead, but managed to grab onto some rocks before reaching the next mini waterfall.  At the time, the rest of us were all in shock, half laughing and half worrying, but Yaya?  She barely flinched.  Typical. 

When she made it back we spent some time getting back and shoulder water massages by a mini waterfall.  In her words it was a massage worth 1,000 dollars.  

Handpicked fruit post-swim; the bottom center one is star fruit
Do you prefer the beach, pool, or rivers and lakes?
When I was young I preferred pools, but in my older years I've grown to appreciate the beauty of natural beaches..  I'm spoiled to be able to swim in the warm Caribbean waters every few weeks!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where I Live: Life in a 3rd World Country

I live in a place where people of all ages, many with missing limbs, knock on your car window while you're waiting at a traffic light to beg for money.  A place where young children walk into the coffee shop where I work to ask for a glass of water because the 12 pm sun beating down on them in the streets is dehydrating.

A place where its too dangerous to walk outside due to robbery at gunpoint.  I live in a place where I only feel safe if I wear my purse across my body.  A place where poverty is a 5 minute drive from my home.

A place where a slightly fancy dinner for one equates to the biweekly salary of a person earning minimum wage (the majority of the population).  A place where the majority of the population cant afford to step inside a movie theater.

I live in a place where electricity is VERY expensive, yet its a miracle to have 24 hours of continuous electricity, or nonstop running water in many places for that matter.  A place where gas is VERY expensive, and where its common to see five people riding on one moped at the same time, because its more affordable and safer than the "public transportation."

A place where there are drive-thru alcohol bars, so that you can actually drink your rum and coke in a styrofoam cup while driving.

A place where many traffic lights don't work, where there is no regard for rules of the road, and where the abundance and depth of the potholes are enough to cause accidents but more commonly to destroy your overpriced, imported vehicle (they have been enough to turn me off to driving completely).

I live in a place where only 4% of the population has an education, and its not college level that I'm talking about.  A place where a couple of the people in my own company can barely right their first name down on paper when I ask them to sign their paycheck.  I live in a place where the middle class must send their children to private schools (which don't guarantee a good education) and struggle to pay the yearly tuition fees which start from the age of kindergarden.

I live in a place where its normal for men to carry guns around for their own personal protection and where most security guards stand outside stores with rifles.  I live in a place where many people fear the police rather than feel safe if approached by an officer.

So, how do I deal?  At first I felt fear when grown men would continuously tap on my passenger side car window to ask for money; the 90 second traffic lights felt like an eternity.  When I eventually got past the fear, it became easy for me to feel annoyed.  Annoyed that people would press their faces against my window to stare at me through the tinted glass, or drop their wet, soapy sponge on our windshield to try and clean it without permission (to make about 30 cents).

I won't say that "annoyance" has become a default feeling for the poverty I see day after day, but it makes me wonder, has living in the DR hardened me?  What happened to empathy?  Have I actually adjusted to the things I witness every day?  Is "adjustment" the same thing as "acceptance"?

I don't know how to answer these questions, but I do know that living here has changed me.  And if one thing is for sure, it is that it has made me more grateful for the life I lead, more grateful than ever before.  

I sound generic, but if you are able to read this post, know how lucky you are.  Lucky that you are able to read, lucky that you have access to a computer, and lucky that you have hobbies that enable you to learn and grow as a person.  Its easy to hear, but harder to process.  Process it and be thankful this November, the US' month of gratitude! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Coronado Island & Hotel Del

San Diego view from lunch on the island
When I was in SoCal a few weeks ago we visited Coronado Island.  Have you been there?  Its a small island connected to San Diego by a bridge.  Its the best place for a skyline view of the city and has   plenty of restaurants and boutiques making it a fun little day trip, especially if you like window shopping.  

In addition, it is home to Hotel del Coronado, known to many as just Hotel Del.  Since 1988, this historical landmark has been visited by royalty, presidents, movie stars, and tourists from all over the world.  You don't need to be a guest to roam the grounds, shop in the boutiques, and eat in the restaurants and cafes, and the best part?  Its located right on America's #1 voted beach! 

My advice for visiting the Hotel Del: 
Sit under an umbrella - a bird once pooped on me there while having lunch!
Try the fudge at the candy shop.  
It makes a yummy souvenir if you have the willpower to not eat it first!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Most Bizarre Burger

Before my trip to California a few weeks ago, I googled the best restaurants in San Diego for 2012.  It was easy to see that Slater's 50/50 had won best in multiple categories, including best new restaurant, best burger, best happy hour, and best beer selection.  I scoped out their menu online, and from the moment I saw The Peanut Butter and Jealousy on the menu, I knew we needed to eat there!  

I think the average person would shy away from a bacon topped burger topped with peanut butter and strawberry jam, but not me.  I'm a PB lover and I'm not afraid to try it on anything!  

50/50's was packed with people, so we spent our 30 minute wait getting happy hour beers at the bar.

When we sat down we began with onion rings and french fries served with bacon infused ketchup.  I'm not a big bacon lover, but the ketchup definitely impressed me!  

As we waited at the table I eyed all the glorious, monstrous dishes that the waiters were carrying around the restaurant and doubted if I had made the right choice, until alas, my peanut butter slathered burger was placed in front of me.  I took a few pictures and dug right in.   

..And it was delicious.  I promise. 

Bacon brownie for dessert
Normally I would consider myself to be pretty darn adventurous for ordering this meal, but I bet I would only be a 5 on a 1-10 adventure scale at Slaters 50/50's.  They have a Hawaiian burger topped with pineapple and Spam, and, get this..  A bacon gravy smothered, sunny-side-up egg topped fried chicken breakfast sandwich that replaces the bun with fluffy buttermilk pancakes drizzled in maple syrup!  Yuck.

The next time I'm in San Diego I would love to come back to this place.  Although the heavy emphasis on bacon makes it seem like a stereotypical "guys" eatery, I think it has something for everyone.  They have a gluten free menu, and lots of choices for vegetarians, including a build your own gourmet mac-and-cheese, and veggie burgers topped with whatever your heart could desire.

5 thumbs up!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Carlsbad & Deepak Chopra-Style Yoga

A couple weeks ago I spent five sunny days in Southern California visiting my nuna [godmother] - the woman who gave me my middle name - Renie!

She lives in Carlsbad, about a 40 minute drive north of San Diego.  If you're looking for a big-ish little town to visit in California, I highly recommend Carlsbad - its the perfect little city.  Why?  It has a picturesque downtown area with vintage shops and restaurants, a never crowded beach with a running path that goes on for miles, the solution to every shopping need you may have, friendly people, hiking paths around the lagoons, LegoWorld for kids... etc, etc, etc, I could go on.  In addition to all this, there are plenty of resorts in the area, making it easy to get your occasional spa treatment as well. ;)

Grounds at the resort
One of my favorite things we did during my stay was practice yoga at the nearby Chopra Center for Wellbeing at La Costa Resort & Spa.  This place has the #1 wellness spa in the nation, which explains why its the home of the only Deepak Chopra Centre in the country.

Complementary tea at the centre
The centre offers daily yoga classes, meditation, ayurvedic treatments, and all different kinds of workshops and courses.  The style of yoga that is offered is much more meditative than the yoga that I take here in the DR; but although it was slower paced it was just as enjoyable.  The biggest difference I noticed was the centre's focus on the chakras (energy points within the body) that I never hear about in my own yoga classes.  I now want to learn more about them.

Post yoga breakfast at the resort
The Centre also has a gift shop that left me wanting oh so many things!  They even sell products based on your dosha.  I'm a Pitta-Kapha, what are you?  You can take a 5-minute Dosha quiz here.

If you're in the area you should definitely stop by the resort, even if its just for brunch on the terrace or to window shop in the boutiques.  Guests may also take a yoga class during their stay, gratis!