Done.

I’m done. I’m done with people being ridiculous about gay marriage. There is no reason there should even be a discussion about it or that it is an issue being fought over in the Supreme Court.  What ever happened to separation of church and state?  And why does the church think it is ok to push their hateful beliefs on everyone else? My blood boils when I see pictures like this:

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

“Every Child Deserves a Mom & Dad”… In my opinion, Every Child Deserves a Loving Home. Period. It does not need to be caveated with a gender or a number of loving parents. I think a big root cause of the issue is people using God and the Bible to cast judgement on others and perpetuate fear and hate for people who are different from them.  If you believe in God, do you really think he or she intended for the Bible to be used in such a manner? I doubt it.

The Bible was written by humans. Living, breathing, made of skin, muscle, fat, blood and bones, living humans.  Now I am sure that every Bible believing person who just read that had the same thought (for the Old Testament), “But it was God speaking through them or They heard the voice of God”  (Author’s note: People who hear voices typically have a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, John Nash is a well-known schizophrenic, you may remember the movie about him, A Beautiful Mind). For the New Testament, Jesus’s disciples followed him around and wrote about things he said or stories of his teachings and his life, which makes it a bit more plausible.   Whatever you believe, if God was speaking through these humans or not, the FACT still remains that a human, with a tablet and a chisel or whatever implement they had, wrote the words down.  And the funny thing about humans is they have this lump of neurons and glial cells in their skull called a brain which thinks and interprets things.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in the times of Jesus, there were no iPhones, tape recorders, video cameras, etc, so anything written down was an interpretation of whatever was said or happened (kind of like that old saying, there are 3 sides to every story, his side, her side, and what really happened).  So humans wrote down the “Word of God” and they wrote down stories and teachings from Jesus and compiled these writings over many hundreds of years.  According to several sources I looked at, the original Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.  It has been translated into hundreds of languages through the years since then.  Anyone who speaks a different language, even just a tiny bit, knows that languages do not translate perfectly from one to another. Words often mean different things and combinations of words can mean very different things. And the people who did the earliest writing, interpreting, and translating did not have the luxury of Merriam Webster’s on-line dictionary to consult if a question of meaning happened, nor did they have a Greek or Hebrew translation dictionary as a reference.

There are numerous Bible verses that supposedly present reasons people who believe the Bible have for being against gay marriage.  I picked  two for the sake of keeping this blog post from becoming 50 pages long.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (King James Version)

9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

The word effeminate in modern society is used to describe gay men. However, the translation of effeminate comes from malakoi, the original word in the original language of the Bible, which means soft.  Back when Bible was written, a malakoi was someone who was lazy, or a degenerate or who lacked courage, basically a person of moral weakness.  The phrase “abusers of themselves with mankind” comes from the single Greek word, arsenokoitai. The exact meaning of this word is not known due to its very obscure use, however based on research, is thought to mean a thief, greedy person, or one who uses power to obtain sex, which is interpreted to reference a man who forces himself sexually on others (Source http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.org/).  So it seems, based on factual research of the actual meaning of the original words, that 1 Corinthians is not referring to homosexuality, but instead is referring to people of moral weakness and rapists. Quite a different meaning, and one that quite frankly, makes a lot more sense.

Jude 1:7

(King James Version)

7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

(New International Version)

7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of an eternal fire.

(New American Standard Bible)

7 just as  Sodom and Gomorrah and the  cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the  punishment of eternal fire.

I added the same verse from three different modern versions of the Bible and you will note the blue text in each is quite different, which is what happens when humans interpret and translate things; Jude 1:7 can be interpreted in different ways, depending on what modern version you read. So this verse is taught in many churches that “strange flesh, sexual immorality, and perversion” are all words that describe homosexuality.  And based on the end of the verse, you will suffer an eternal fire for homosexuality.   Here is another way to interpret this.  You could say sex in any form other than a penis penetrating a vagina is perverse.  And couldn’t one say that strange flesh could be another body part, not for use in baby-making? So if you interpret it that way, you would have to give up oral sex if you really want to abide by the what the Bible says.  Sorry guys, no more blow jobs, it’s considered perverse for you to stick your penis in your wife’s mouth.  A mouth was made for consuming food and water, not semen. And wives, sorry, it’s a one way ticket to that eternal fire to have your husband’s tongue anywhere near your lady parts; his tongue was made for licking ice cream, not your labia. Seems to me that could be a literal translation of the verse. However, neither the anti-homosexual interpretation nor what could be considered the literal interpretation is the actual meaning of this verse. It is taken out of context. This verse is actually referring to humans fornicating with angels, and has nothing what-so-ever to do with homosexuality.  The thing I find interesting, is it seems like people who use the Bible as their reason for being against gay marriage, like to add interpretation to some of these verses, that isn’t even actually true, based ON THE REAL MEANING OF THE VERSE IN THE BIBLE!  This leaves me scratching my head with a dumb look on my face. How is it even ok to do that?!?

The Bible leaves a lot to interpretation, by whoever is reading it. When you look at the root words, from the original version of the Bible, and their meanings, it becomes clear that the Bible doesn’t actually say anything is wrong with a woman and a woman being together, or a man marrying a man. In fact, based on looking at the real meaning of words in the original language, there are numerous instances where homosexuality is mentioned and is ok. One example is the following, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.  For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  Let anyone accept this who can.”  (Matthew 19:11-12).  In ancient Jewish culture the term “born” eunuch was a term used to describe a gay man, and therefore, Jesus himself said, some people are born gay, and they should be accepted (http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.org/biblical_evidence/born_gay.html).

We can’t seem to have separation of church and state on this issue, and those of us who don’t believe the Bible is the end all be all book to live life by are stuck having the church insert itself into state matters, and I find this very aggravating.  So if someone doesn’t think gay marriage is ok, based on the Bible, I’m curious what other reasons they would have for being against two people who love each other getting married? Because the “reasons” in the Bible have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, AND there are verses that clearly state that it is ok to be gay. So without the Bible as a reason, the only reasons I can see are ignorance, fear, and hate, which I am quite sure Jesus or God would not be a fan of their followers spreading around.

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A roaring bear, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night

How does one describe the noise an angry bear makes? If you ask a little kid, “what noise does an angry dog make?” the kid would say “grrrr” or “rrrough!”  But what would the answer be for a bear… “only YOU can prevent forest fires” perhaps? I never thought about this question, until I thought I heard a bear on a backpacking trip.  I thought I heard a ferocious roar coming from the dark woods, just as dusk was turning the sky shades of deep blue.  It sounded like what I imagine a lion would sound like in the wild, a menacing, make the hair stand up on the back of your neck sound, followed by an eerie silence from all the little forest creatures.

On any other trip, I wouldn’t have paid the noise much attention. But this trip was different. I was alone.  Alone with my dog about 3-miles from the trailhead and the sanctuary of my car.  During the hike in, all the people I had passed on the way into my camp spot were headed in the opposite direction, out of the woods. This delighted me because I wanted to be alone.  I was pissed off at the world, and just wanted to spend a night in nature with my dog, away from people, computers and cell phones. I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need anyone, that I was self-sufficient. I don’t think I even told anyone where exactly I was going.

Bella checking out Downey Lake

I set up camp at a lovely open spot just outside of the woods. I could see a beautiful valley with lakes, snow, trees and flowers, had a nice giant boulder for wind protection, and was literally miles from another human. Perfect.

Beautiful camp site

The dog and I ate an early dinner, hiked around a bit, and returned to the tent to relax. It was glorious, the birds were singing and a soft breeze was wafting the sweet smell of incense cedar trees through my nose.

And then, a bear roared in the woods.

And then, I realized it was getting dark in those woods.

And then I said, hey wait a minute here, stop being such a pansy, the dog isn’t scar… and I looked at Bella, and she had a doggie mohawk and was staring into the black shadowy woods.

And then, I went into full on “Oh my god, what was I thinking, I led my dog on a death march and now we are going to DIE out here” panic mode.

I’d like to pause the story for a moment, to ask a few questions. Why is it that having another person with you in the woods is so comforting?  And why was I so freaked out by this bear, but I had never been scared by a bear being nearby before? And was that noise REALLY a bear?  Couldn’t it have been the wind? These are questions a sane, calm person would ask. But I was neither sane nor calm in that moment.

I tore down the tent, shoved everything in my pack, and looked up at the woods. I couldn’t even see the trail past 5-feet into the forest now because it was that beautiful time of night when the sky is a deep purple and the trees and mountains are silhouetted black along the skyline.  And the dog was looking at me like, uhhh, mom, we are not REALLY going to do this are we??? Hmmm. Three miles in pitch black woods. Also, I forgot to mention earlier that I had gotten lost on the way in, in the daylight, while trying out a shortcut I thought I saw on the map. So lost in fact that a nice man who was out on a trail run saw me with a perplexed look on my face while trying to find my location on the map and stopped to help me.  He actually gave me his map, because the one I had printed out was zoomed out so far that it was fairly useless. So three miles in the dark on my short-cut that wasn’t really a short-cut and would likely lead to me getting lost again, or 4 miles on the actual trail.  Either way it was going to be at least an hour, probably more, in pitch black woods with a roaring bear. And god knows what else. I mean come on, everyone knows that zombies, bigfoot, the boogie man, velociraptors, snipes, and packs of rabid kittens hide in the woods at night. I was imagining all sorts of things lurking behind every tree waiting to eat the idiot and her faithful dog who decided to go walking through the woods at night.

So I decided to stay. I got the tent back out and up in record speed. Because we all know that there is no better protection from roaring bears and rabid kittens than a shelter of aluminum poles, mosquito mesh, and canvas. That was the longest night of my entire life. I did not sleep for more than 5 minutes. And neither did Bella. She sat in the doorway of the tent all night, growling at any and every noise that came from outside the protective mesh walls.

At the first sign of daylight, I was up, packed up and ready to go. As soon as the woods were light enough we set out for the car. On the real trail.  We got to the car in record time, and Bella hoped in and passed out; didn’t move a muscle the entire ride home. And wouldn’t you know it, on the drive out, who do I see along the side of the dirt road? Why yes, it was none other than Mr. Black Bear, happily munching on twigs and berries, completely unconcerned with the mental damage and lack of sleep he caused me the night before.

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Backwards

In the island nation of Vanuatu there is not a word for ‘homeless’.

This is something I did not understand at first. How could there just not be a word for homeless? How did the people there not know what that was?

During my visit there with 3 friends, I quickly learned why.  People in Vanuatu take care of each other. Families take care of their own. And if a family is unable to take care of someone, the village they live in takes care of them.  They have the same philosophy with elderly people, and people with disabilities. They don’t stash them away in a nursing home or cast them out on the streets. They just take care of each other.  One of the villages we visited had a local crazy person. He was straight up loony. He introduced himself to us as a Head Chief of the area, to which our guide for the day (George) just shook his head.  The “Head Chief” singled out my friend Avi, as he was the only brown guy out of the 4 of us, and informed him that he was associating with white devils.  He gave Avi his phone number and told him The Revolution was starting, and that Avi needed to join him and ditch us.  He then informed all of us that he had a sacred fire burning in his hut on the beach, and we should be careful when walking past because it had some strong kustom magic. I thought, yeah ummm, more like strong Kava, the hallucinogenic drink of choice in Vanuatu, but hey, who am I to judge?

After the Head Chief left us to make an important call to the President, and to meet some people who were joining his Revolution, George told us that he was not right in the head.  He said he did not have family in the area and he lived on the beach and the people in the villages on either side of the beach took care of him. They made sure he ate and helped him keep his magic fires under control so he didn’t burn down his home.  This sparked some conversation about these type of people in America, and how many of them end up on the streets and homeless. George pondered and asked what was “homeless”? He did not understand this english word.  After more conversation, he was appalled to learn that the villages in America did not take care of people like the Head Chief. How could it be that a family or a village would just leave a person to fend for themselves? It was something he could not comprehend, and soon after other ni-Vanuatu people we met had the same reaction if the subject came up.

The more I travel to other countries, the more I think we in America have the whole developed nation vs. developing nation concept backwards.  We in America live in a supposedly developed nation. Where many people don’t even know their neighbor’s names. Where people take offense to the idea that their hard-earned money should go towards helping someone who does not have the resources to take care of themselves. Where we stash away our parents and grandparents in a nursing home to live out their days when they start pooping their pants.

I was embarrassed after seeing the look on George’s face after we explained the word homeless to him.  Seeing how people in other parts of the world live sometimes makes you feel embarrassed by the way you live and the choices you make.  I realize that there are reasons people end up on the streets.  Some of them do bad things to their family to make them unwelcome, some choose drugs, some cause physical harm to others. But it all still goes back to the family and society at large. In Vanuatu, it just isn’t even an option for people to not take care of their family members and fellow villagers. If one family makes too much lap-lap for dinner, they send the kids out with a banana leaf full of food to give to a family in the village whose garden isn’t producing enough. If an elderly woman doesn’t have the strength to wash her clothes, her grandkids wash them for her.  And if a crazy old man moves onto the beach next to a village, the village helps him build a house, keeps an eye on him, and accepts him as one of their own.

I realize I’m a dirty hippie and am idealistic in my views of the way the world should be. But we All live here Together,on Our Home, planet Earth.  I am ashamed to live in a country where people measure their worth and the worth of others by the amount of money they make and things they own.  Where buying a new flat screen TV is more important than giving some of your excess money to a family member who might not have enough to buy food. America is so big that of course it would be impossible to try to organize taking care of everyone in your village.  But if you treat your family and friends like your village, it becomes realistic and manageable.  In the 2.5 years after I bought my house in Sacramento, I can think of very few times when there wasn’t someone part or full-time living on the couch. For a while, my house was jokingly referred to as “Sarah’s halfway house for broken-hearted ladies” because there were quite a few ladies staying there.  People used to ask me all the time why this happened or why I “put up with” my friends making themselves at home for extended periods of time.  The fact is, I never thought there was another option, to not have people stay there, that just didn’t make sense.  I would do for them what I know they would do for me, it was really that simple.

So what’s my point to this you might be asking yourself (and how come this isn’t a funny post like all your other ones, you might also be asking). My point is this, (and I take this seriously, which is why this isn’t a typical humorous post) that people need to treat others like human beings, and have a little respect and compassion, and put yourself in someone else’s shoes once in a while.

Take care of the people in Your Village, your family and friends.  Take care of them because someday you might lose your job to a machine that can do it faster, you might lose your house in a fire, and you might lose people who you care about.  Kindness comes back around in many forms. People don’t forget if you help them when they need it most.  And someday, that person who needs help, just might be you.

Sunset on Malakula Island, Vanuatu

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Princess Kiki, Part 2 of 2

If you missed Part 1 of this exciting 2 part series, please scroll down for Part 1 of 2 before reading this.  The following is Part 2 of the 2 part series about my “angelic” cat.

Ruuuuun!

One fine evening, I was out of the house and my friends Heather and Krissy were getting ready for a swanky event in Sacramento.  Krissy was in my room standing next to my bed, the side farthest from the doorway, when Kiki waltzed in.  The Princess barely likes it when I am in the bedroom with her, so when she walked in to see two people who were not her mommy, she was unimpressed.  She sprung into action, literally.  She leaped onto the bed, hissing, and headed straight for Krissy.  Krissy screamed and also sprung into action, by leaping across the bed in the opposite direction and headed for the door. Not the bedroom door, the front door.  She ran all the way out of the house and onto the deck and did not go back into the bedroom.

Khya goes to the vet

There have been many, MANY, interesting visits to the vet with the Princess. My favorite one was right before moving back to NY.  Just getting her to the vet is a challenge because she knows darn well what the cat carrier is and wants no part of it. I have to stand the thing on its side so the top is facing up, and hold her above it and drop her in. She sticks her feet out to keep from going in and sticks her claws and teeth into me at the same time. It’s great bonding time. Really. So anyway we get to the vet, and I let her out of the cage in the exam room.  The vet gets about 30 seconds into the exam before Kiki has had enough. She went for the vet, then she turned and came at me, thought better of it, and jumped to the floor and proceeded to yowl. He instructed his technician to go get a blanket to wrap her in so they could take her in the back to draw blood and give her shots. She comes back with what looked to me like an infant sized snuggie, and the vet laughed. He said, “no, The Comforter.”  So she trotted away and reappeared with a super thick queen size comforter, which the vet used every last shred of fabric to burrito up Kiki. She was throwing a fit, yowling, hissing, growling, writhing around, it was awful, and I blurted out “it’s ok little angel, calm down, you will be ok.”  Both of them looked at me like I was crazy. The vet hauled the writhing shrieking cat burrito off and the technician took her cage and told me to go out to the waiting room. All eyes turned to me when I came out, sans cat, and I sat down next to a lady I had been chatting with before going into the exam room. She was wide-eyed and said “wow, you were not kidding when you said she doesn’t like the vet.” Uh no, no I wasn’t at all. So about 10 minutes go by, and the exam room door bursts open. The vet technician was carrying Kiki’s cage; she all but threw it at me and said “Here’s your Little Angel,” and stalked off.

This might be my favorite story of all time

My friend Ginger had only been to my house a handful of times before a large Saint Patrick’s Day party last year.  Usually she was there when there were several people at the house and so Kiki would magically vanish. Kiki does not like crowds and Ginger had never seen her and did not know that I even had a cat.   So at the party, Ginger went upstairs to use the bathroom.  It was dark and she reached into the doorway to turn on the light.  Before her hand touched the switch, she heard a menacing growl.  She paused, found the switch, and quickly turned it on.  She looked in the direction of the growl, which had turned to a hiss when she turned on the light, saw gray and white fur, and quickly turned the light off. The hissing stopped. There was an opossum in the bathroom.  How on earth in the middle of a crowded party would an opossum get into the bathroom? Wanting to be sure before freaking everyone out, she reached for the light switch and the hissing started again.  She was thoroughly scared by now, and the hissing was getting louder. She quickly flipped on the switch in time to see Kiki dart off the counter and onto the sink, which was right next to her.  This time she saw that it was no opossum, but an angry cat. She bravely went into the bathroom at this point, with Kiki sitting on the sink growling the entire time. After finishing her business, she decided that hand washing in the bathroom sink was not a viable option and neither was reaching for the light switch, and she headed for the safety of the kitchen sink.

The Princess travels cross-country from California to New York

While making moving plans, I decided there was no way I could subject anyone in the airline industry to shipping my cat from California to New York.  Plus I feared that someone actually might steal my dog if I shipped her, so driving cross-country became the only option. My friend Courtney flew out from Virginia to make the drive back with me. And my future brother-in-law Tommy also agreed to fly out from New York and drive back with us. Now, Courtney used to live in California, and knew full well what she was getting into with Kiki. Tommy had heard stories, but I don’t think fully appreciated what was about to happen.  We tried to make the ride as comfy as possible for everyone, and Kiki had the most room, a giant dog kennel that took up the entire rear of the Subaru. We set off early in the morning and she yowled and panted for about an hour, and then decided that sleep would be a prefered option.  Once she woke back up I let her out of the kennel and she contentedly sat on my lap and watched the trees and cars go by.  That night, I was driving and we were just about to the Hoover Dam. Courtney was sitting in the back seat with the animals, and she is a cat person, and usually can make friends with even the meanest of cats. So she decided to let Kiki out of the cage.  She promptly started hissing and growling, climbed over the center console, hissed and yowled at Tommy in the passenger seat, and then climbed into my lap. Every time I moved, she dug her claws in and hissed at me. Which is not helpful when driving a stick shift on hilly mountain roads at 1 am in the morning. This scenario repeated many times during the remainder of the trip, and Tommy and I finally banned Courtney from letting the Princess out of the cage.  We arrived in New York very late at night a few days later and hoped for the best when we released Kiki into Tommy and my sister’s house, with their three cats.  Kiki promptly made herself at home by skulking around the house sniffing everything and helped herself to the other cat’s food.  The cats hid upstairs for DAYS before they would come out, in their own house. She’s a great houseguest.

Kiki’s heart grew three times that day

Now, you might find yourself asking why I keep this beast around. Well, she has redeeming moments.  My friends Kristina and Mindy and I were enjoying cold beverages one night when we all lived together with the Princess.  She was in a particularly grumpy mood and was lurking around us in the kitchen just looking for trouble.  The Bonnie Tyler song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” came on the iPod, and suddenly Mindy started singing it in outdoor voice. Kiki stopped what she was doing and just sat there, transfixed by Mindy’s singing. Mindy sang the entire song to her, and Kiki just sat there listening, like she was spell-bound. It was a most magical moment between them, and I think Kiki has had a soft spot for Mindy ever since.  The next magical moment came with my brother from another mother Ryan.  Ryan was spending a lot of time in my house couch surfing on weekends and finally just moved in for a while.  He would stay in my room if I was gone for work or away for a night so he got to spend many nights sleeping in bed with the Princess. One day, he sent me the following picture, and I about fell over.

He was holding the Princess. And she had not ripped him to shreds for trying to touch her. And she actually seemed pretty content. And it happened again a few days later.  Is she getting soft in her old age I wondered? I thought this might be a fluke, but then she made another friend.  When I moved in with Keith recently, she wanted nothing to do with him at first. She slashed at him while he was feeding her and showed displeasure in his general direction at all times. And then one night, she was sitting next to me in bed purring away when Keith came in. Typically in that moment, the purring turned to growling followed by a leap off the bed. But on this magical evening, she kept purring and just sat there. So Keith sat next to her and started petting her. And for 10 full minutes we sat in stunned silence while she purred and allowed him to pet her.  She snapped out of it eventually, hissed at him and jumped off the bed.  But in the end, it appears that the Grinch cat really does have a heart, albeit a small one.

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Alpine ski, snowboard, telemark ski… Why pick just one, when you can do all three poorly

My first memory of skiing was at some janky little mountain in NY.  I was in high school and went with a friend who actually knew how to ski. Being a good friend, she got me set up with the rental skis, then said, “Ok, this is how you snow plow, make a pizza wedge. That’s how you stop. I think the bunny hill is over there. See you later.” And she promptly left with whatver dumb boy she was dating at the time.

So off I went in the direction of the bunny hill. I looked around for the smallest looking hill and got on the lift.  Hill steepness is quite deceptive from the bottom. I got to the top, got off the lift, miraculously without taking out any small childen or myself and turned to face the hill.  It looked a lot steeper from the top. Like, a lot steeper.  Since there was only one way to get down, I went for it. And within the next 30 seconds anyone within eyesight of me got a great show. I promptly got going too fast, the snow plow trick was not working, and I flew right off the groomed area and into one of those orange plastic delineator fences and got completely wrapped up on it.

Some kind hearted young man came rushing over to help untangle me. He inquired as to my experience level, and I told him this was my first time ever on skiis. He looked increduously at me for a moment, and said, “well you might have started with the bunny hill for your first attempt.”  I informed him that I thought I was on the bunny hill and he found this uproariously funny. Yeah, laugh it up buddy.  I decided that skiing was a dumb sport and did not go again for many years.

Since skiing had not gone well, I decided upon moving to California that perhaps snowboarding would be a better winter sport.  After many years of falling on my face, and much patience from my friends that were foolish enough to go with me, I got good enough to make it down blue runs and I could get down black runs with minimal falls.  A master of snowboarding I was not. This became very evident one day when I went in the back country with some friends who were tele skiiers.  (Author’s Note: Telemark skiing is where you only have your toes clipped into bindings, leaving your heel free. It is sort of like cross coutry skiing, but more bad ass because you can go down much steeper terrain, in theory anyway. This makes uphill travel easier in skiis. Going downhill, you bend one knee to make a turn and basically you do leg lunges down the entire mountain.) I made it to the top just fine in the 2 feet of fresh powder, but it was a painfully long decent with my buddy Matt pulling me out of tree wells and keeping me from flying into rocks.  During this decent, I thought hmmm, I wonder if tele skiing is what I should be doing? My friends made it look so easy and graceful. Surely this was the answer, don’t get better at snowboarding, buy new gear and get mediocre at yet another sport, yes, this was a great plan indeed!

So later that season I was at one of the resorts actually having a good day with minimal falls on my snowboard, when I saw it. The snow clouds parted and blue sky shone down upon it. There was a telemark ski demo tent at the lodge!  I could try any skiis I wanted and test out my skills! Winning!  So I got boots, skiis, and poles from the tent and off I went.  Now recall that I was having a good day on the snowboard, so confidence in my snow skills was high.  I went to the bunny hill and couldn’t get up enough speed to make any turns. Now any normal person would have perhaps gone to the easiest green run, but no, not me, I thought it would be a much better idea to try a blue run.  Because I could get up far more speed to make turns on a blue run. And tele skiing looked so easy when my friends did it. What could go wrong, it was just a blue run, not like I was attempting moguls on a double black diamond, I would be just fine.

So up the lift I go to a run I had been down at least 10 times on the snowboard that day. Got off the lift with no problem, and started on my way.  And suddenly that incident in high school came back as I started to fly down the hill totally out of control. I finally fell just to stop myself. WTF was I THINKING!!! Really, REALLY, a blue run for the first time on skiis since the orange fence incident in high school?!?!  I got up and started to go again because, well, there is only one way down.  I was doing ok when suddenly out of no where a little kid came darting accross my path. Little kids at ski resorts piss me off. They only have 2 or 3 feet to fall and their bones are made out of rubber bands so they whiz around all but taunting people like me with their inability to get hurt. So then I thought, what if that kid had fallen in front of me, there is no way I could have stopped in time.  So I sat down, and proceeded to take off the skiis. I would just walk down the mountain to avoid maiming small children. Problem solved.

Approximately 10 steps into my trek, I hear a “Hey. HEY! Are you OK?” I look over at the ski lift and there are 2 ski patrol guys heading up.  Not wanting to admit that I was a total idiot and that I could not actually ski, I yelled over “Yeah, I’m fine, just twisted my knee a little but I can just walk down.”  They were having none of it.  They told me to sit down and wait for them. Now I was really in trouble. There was no way I could walk faster than they could ski to me, so I had to stay there and wait.  A few minutes later I saw one of the guys coming toward me. With a sled.  The siuation just got a whole lot worse.  Now I had to really pretend I was hurt because if I admitted that I was just a complete idiot they might take my pass away.

So I get in the sled feeling like the biggst jerk EVER. And then he starts going. And then… it became the best winter sport moment of my life.  He was FLYING down the mountain, I had never gone so fast before on a sled. You can’t normally go that fast on a sled without killing yourself because you can’t steer. But insert a ski patrol guy on the front of the sled, and you have the best sledding experience of your life.  We were flying past all those annoying little kids, and they were eyeballing me enviously.  Take that little kids! I’m on a sled you are not!!! Woooooot!!!!

At the bottom of the hill, my chariot driver kindly dropped me off near the lodge and told me to make sure I went to the First Aid station for them to have a look at my leg.  I assured him that really it wasn’t necessary and my leg would be fine and he eyeballed me wairily.  I promptly found my friends at the bar and told them the whole story over a cold beer. They all thought I was a complete moron for my antics, but they all also admitted they were jealous that I got a sweet sled ride down the hill.

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Princess Kiki – Part 1 of 2

Cuntzilla

Devil

Wretched Beast

Princess Muffin Top

Do these sound like names that a beautiful, soft, white and gray kitty with the biggest blue eyes you have ever seen should be called?

Uhhh, yeah probably.

I live with the devil. Khya, or Princess Kiki as I prefer to call her, poses as a pretty kitty, but she is the devil.

I’m pretty sure that nearly all of my friends and family have had an “incident” involving my Princess. Usually it involves an alcoholic beverage for courage followed by an attempt to “make friends”, immediately followed by bloodshed.  Human blood. The devil does not bleed.  Over the years there have been some incidents with Princess that stand out from the rest, many of them involving no attempt at making friends with her, just pure evil freely given away by the Princess.

Kiki and Paul, sharing a magical moment on the couch together.

Stalking the Mommy Stealer

Princess Kiki was nice at one time, when she was a small little kitten. (Author’s Note: Actually, I take that back, she never was really nice, even as a kitten she tourtured my ferret. She would sit on top of the ferret’s cage, and when my ferret was sleeping peacfully in her hammock, would slip her paw through the bars and smack her in the face.  Kiki took great delight in this game.) My friend Holly would kitty-sit for me when I would go out of town for work. Holly and young Kiki bonded, until one day adolecent Kiki decided she was over it. She was at Holly’s house, and she hid under the table, growling and striking out at Holly and her cats for the duration of her stay. It was at this point that she realized Holly was the “Mommy Stealer.” She caught on that everytime Holly was around, mommy was gone.  Soon after Kiki had this realization, Holly was at my house for a BBQ. There were at least 20 people in the house, if not more. Kiki spent the evening stalking Holly.  She literally chased Holly around, and slashed at her feet all night. She did not attempt to attack anyone else, just Holly, the Evil Mommy Stealer.

Katy Becomes a Piece of Furniture

One fine day, when “Sarah’s Halfway House for Broken Ladies” (a blog for another day…) was in full swing, my friend Heather was living downstairs in my house, and my other friend Katy was living part-time on my couch. The following incident occurred (as told in Katy’s own words).

“I remember the events as follows:  I was one of the girls couch-surfing through your halfway house for brokenhearted ladies and I was distracting myself with West Wing, probably.  I was laying on your couch with your sleeping bag as a blanket, lost in the show, when I felt a bowling ball land ever so gracefully on my back and begin to curl up between my shoulder blades, near some really important blood vessels in my neck.  My body went into high-adrenaline survival mode.  I had to think quickly.  I think of it like that moment when a bee lands on you, and you’re pretty much screwed unless you wait for it to fly away, but your instinct is to flip out a little.  I reached for my phone and the beast let out a low growl.  It was a close one.  I knew I couldn’t move too much or she might snap.  I texted Heather downstairs and let her know I was in a jam, to which she responded with something along the lines of, “Go with it!”  She left me to fend for myself.  I decided to try and slither out from under the sleeping bag, leaving it and her behind on the couch.  It worked, but the beast had some words with me.  Then, when I walked away, unscathed, she got up and moved.” 

Get Up!

As soon as Kiki hears me move a single muscle in the morning, she starts to yowl until I feed her. She is pretty certain that if she is awake, then a human living in her house should be awake and available to feed her.  One morning when I was away, my friend and roommate Kristina was peacefully slumbering in her bed.  Her headboard was a shelf, just the perfect size for a 13 pound cat to quietly land upon while not disturbing the occupant of the bed. (Author’s Note, Kiki does not like to be in a position where a human besides me can touch her, so sitting on top of furniture where she can reach out with a claw, but can’t easily be reached is a favorite place to be.) Kristina recalls being in a deep sleep, when suddenly, she felt a tapping on her forehead.  She was confused and tried to go back to sleep. The tapping continued and she opened her eyes just in time to see a white paw smack her right in the face.  She looked up into the blue eyes of a fat hungry cat, who let out a yowl that said “Get your butt out of bed and into that kitchen and get me my breakfast lady!”

New Years Day Potty Emergency

A couple years ago, my friend Kirsten was kind enough to come to my house on New Years Day to feed my animals while I was away. Upon her arrival at the house she needed to use the bathroom immediamente.  One of Kiki’s favorite places to hang out at the time, was in the bathroom.  Kirsten walked into the bathroom, to find Kiki sitting right next to the toilet. As if guarding it like a sentry. Everytime Kirsten approached, Kiki would growl. (Author’s Note: My house was in mid-town Sacramento, surrounded by other houses and the yard had no grass, only crushed granite and patio pavers. And zero privacy, windows of several neighboring houses had a view of the yard).  Kirsten was caught in the midst of a serious dilema.  Her options were 1.) Brave the beast and bare her bottom inches from razor sharp claws or 2.) Pee in the yard, and bare her bottom for the neighborhood to see.  She bravely went for option 1, and hovered just within claw reach over the toilet while Kiki growled the entire time but miraculously, never slashed Kirsten’s bare butt.

Stay tuned for the Part 2 of 2, in which Kiki chases Krissy out of the house, travels accross America, is tamed like a cobra with a meatloaf ballad, Ginger mistakes her for an opposum, and the happy ending where she actually makes a friend.

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Broken

I don’t understand the world we live in sometimes.  One of my best friends recently lost her mother to a horrific crime, it was senseless and has left her and her sister without their mother long before that time should have come. And they will never know why.

My friend has literally dedicated her life to bettering the lives of others, she gives of herself constantly. She works for a foster care agency and helps bring families together. She volunteers for children with HIV in foreign countries. She hugs random strangers.  She makes people around her feel important and loved.  She cooks meals for the homeless just because it’s the right thing to do.  She asks how your day was and really listens to the answer.  She is the reason a young man in Swaziland was able to go to high school to better himself and his family.  She is the friend who picks up the phone at 2 in the morning no matter what the reason and comes to your house to hug you while you cry on her shoulder and tells you everything is going to be alright.

I don’t understand how someone who gives so much of herself is the person who has to loose her mother in this way.  I don’t understand how she can possibly recover from this and still be the same person inside.  The person who unabashedly cares for strangers. The person who hugs you with fierceness and no concern for the safety of your ribs or organs she is crushing.  Someone who gives so endlessly should not have so much taken away.  So many joyful things will now be clouded for her because of the senseless acts of one person.

It’s not fair. And I don’t understand it. I’m the friend who is the strong one, who my friends turn to to fix things and make them better.  And I can’t fix this.

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Times I Thought I Might Die…Seriously.

Author’s Note to her mother: You might want to skip this one.

I’m pretty optimistic. I can find something good in just about every situation. But there have been a few times in my life when I legitimately thought “I might die right now.”  These were not moments where I could find any good in the situation.  They were moments of straight up sheer terror. These moments are now minorly amusing. Minorly.

The first time I thought I might die was during high school.  My friend Alyssa and I were out riding horses, which we had done, ohhhh, I’d say at least 827 times before without any near death experiences.  We were on the way back to her house, coming out of the woods into a field.  Suddenly, both horses spooked and took off.  (The author would like to note, that if you have never riden a horse, this story might be a little lost on you.) There is no way to really describe the power of a 1000 pound animal that you “control” with a piece of metal stuck in its mouth held on by a few straps of leather.

I had a false sense of control over a horse before this moment, I pulled back on the reins, he stopped, no matter how fast he was running. I had heard stories about horses getting spooked, and thought that whoever had the experience was just a crappy rider and didn’t know what they were doing. Wrong. SO wrong. Those horses took off as if Satan himself had lit a bonfire fueled by habanero peppers up their butts, and the only way to put it out way to haul ass back to the barn as fast as possible.

All I remeber was Alyssa being in front of me on her horse, and seeing her go under a large branch while ducked down, and watching a piece of said branch stick directly into the back of her neck, and snap off.   I didn’t want a piece of the branch in the back of my neck, so what did I do? Well I just turned my head and let the entire branch rip the side of my face up.  Because that seemed like a good decision at the time.  The horses continued to run with a fury, I was pulling the reins back so far that my horse’s head was literally up in the air looking back at me, and he was still going full speed. I decided this was a bad idea, because if he wasn’t going to stop, perhaps he might need to see where he was going. We always rode bareback, which added an extra level of difficulty to staying on at this new-found top speed, and all I could think was I am going to go flying off the back and get kicked in the face, and die.   Eventually they stopped, and by eventually, I mean three steps before the barn entrance . Lesson learned: Do not trust horses.

The next serious scare came many, many years later on the Kern River.  The section of river our group decided to paddle was a Class IV+ (with three Class V rapids).  It was a three day two night wilderness run.  The only real way in or out of the canyon, was on the river.  We were a group of 16, 14 of us were raft guides, and everyone on the trip had significant rafting experience. This was a bomber group, to say the least.  There was one rapid on the river we were all pretty on edge about: Vortex.  Here is a description from the California Creeks website:

Hazard: The Vortex itself is a concave hole that recirculates for many meters past the main falls. Please avoid Vortex at flows above 600 cfs. At flows above 1200 cfs, rafts can take a sneak route on river right, as shown in the pictures below. Even the sneak route is risky, however. Years ago a commercial trip was lining oarboats down this side when one boat piled on top of another, completely sinking the first boat. Not until autumn of that year did they find shreds of hypalon raft fabric and a bent metal oar frame deep in the rock tunnels below. Kayaks can portage easily on river right. In the winter of 2008, the right side changed and reportedly has a whirlpool formation at certain flows.

Now I know you are thinking to yourself, was the flow over 600 cfs? You betcha, above 600, and below 1200, so no sneak route option.  Our entire group eddied out well about the rapid, and most everyone went down to scout it out to see if it was runnable.  We decided that it, in fact, was not. And there was one slot in particular that the unanimous consent of the group was if you ended up in that slot, it would drop your boat right into the hole, causing a mass of recirculating bodies and gear.  Also, if by some miracle you washed out of the recirculating hole, you would find yourself in perfect position to swim the next rapid, a Class IV, called Gauntlet.  Gauntlet was basically a boulder sieve, with GIANT body entrapping boulders everywhere.

First drop into Vortex Rapid (giant recirculating hole on right, for scale, the drop into the hole was about 6 feet, hard to appreciate that from this picture)

View downstream of the second big drop in Vortex Rapid, followed by Gauntlet downriver

Before telling the rest of this story, I first need to explain the crew and captain of our raft, so you can fully appreciate just how badly 5 experienced rafters can screw up.  If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you know who John Lane is (if not, I suggest you pause here and go read the first blog entry on this site, called “Get Tough”).  John Lane is the most bad ass raft paddle captain I know. I would, and have, paddled for this man in all sorts of conditions, on many rivers.  Next in the boat, the boys, Avi and Danny.  Avi was formerly the water sports coordinator for the UC Davis Outdoor Adventures program and is an excellent guide.  Danny and I were both currently guiding for the UC Davis program and both had a lot of paddling experience.  Carrie (John’s wife) was the 5th person in the boat, and is probably one of the best paddlers I know.  (The author would like to note, that Carrie was the only member of the crew who did not scout Vortex rapid, she opted to stay with the boat, so she did not know what the rapid looked like up close. This information will become important in just a moment).

Back to the story.  There were 4 rafts total in our group.  Our raft had been the lead raft for the majority of the trip. We ended up being the slowest to get back into our raft, so we watched the other 3 rafts safely eddy out above vortex rapid.     Everyone was unloading gear and beginning the portage process.  (Author’s note: portaging boats is a pain in the rear, you have to unload and carry all the gear downstream, typically over unsafe terrain, and then either line the boat downriver with ropes, or pick it up and carry it on land. So the shorter the distance, the quicker the portage process).  John spotted an eddy a little downriver from the other three boats, and we all decided it looked good and would provide a much shorter portage distance.  It was the last eddy before the entrance to the rapid, but it looked safe and we went for it.

The river had other plans for us, plans that did not involve that eddy.  We took off and were like a fright train heading at a fast pace in the wrong direction.  No matter what we did, we just kept heading for that drop. The exact drop that lead to Vortex Hole.  We back paddled mightily trying to get to shore, and finally John turned us straight for the drop and screamed “FORWARD PADDLE!”  Now, Carrie was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen because the entrance to Vortex looked pretty harmless from the top. The rest of us however, knew exactly where our boat was headed.  I have never paddled so hard in my life. When you are going to hit a water feature you know is going to flip your boat, the phrase I learned in guide school is “Wrong and Strong.”  Basically, if you have screwed up beyond the point of return, you better hit it hard and hope that you have enough speed to punch through it.

As we started to go over the drop, I looked up, and thought, this might be the last time I see the sky.  And then in the next instant we were over the drop, the rapid stole all our momentum, flipped the boat up on one side, and dump trucked us all in the freezing cold water. Everyone, except John. Somehow that man stayed in the boat.  I remember being underwater and seeing through my eyelids brightness and then darkness as I got pushed back down, then brightness again as I circulated up, then darkness, and then bubbles, and then breathing AIR. We all got recirculated, and luckily were all eventually washed out.  Carrie, Danny, and I all swam the next drop and the rest of the rapid before we made it to shore, luckily before Gauntlet.

Now this is actually the moment where I was the most scared in all this. Even more scary than your own death, is escaping that death and realizing that someone you care about is drowning and dying.

Avi was not with us.

We could see John, but Avi was gone. Holy crap, he was still being recirculated in the hole! That’s all we could think.

And everyone was just standing there, looking at the river, doing NOTHING. The three of us scrambled on shore screaming at our friends to go get Avi. They were all looking at us like we were batshit crazy. And then we saw why. Somehow Avi had washed out further left, nearer to shore than the rest of us, and he was clinging to a rock about 10 feet from shore.  Now here is the funny part of this story. 15 experienced water people, all with swiftwater rescue training, stood there and looked at him. For at least a minute. Finally the youngest member of the group thought, gee, maybe we should throw him a rope.  Uh, yeah, you think that might be a good idea!?!  I feel that John, Carrie, Danny, and I were exempt from the stupidity of the group since we had just almost died and were not exactly thinking clearly.  Lesson learned: None.  We got right back in the boat and kept on going.  Only one way out of that canyon, and it did not involve dry land.

Several years went by before my next near death experience. On this trip, there were several times I thought I might die.  And funny enough, who was I with on this trip? Yes, it was Avi, and John and Carrie Lane.  The four of us ventured to the island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific for a month long, self-supported sea kayak adventure.  We had limited beta, but what we did know was that nobody had ever done what we were about to do, island hop in known shark infested waters with mostly unknown ocean conditions.   John is very good at planning trips like this, and had done a lot of research before we left, so we were all confident that while things would likely go wrong, it was what would put the A in Adventure.  Or… maybe A for Assholes, who ASSume they are better than mother nature…? Either way, confidence was high-ish among the group as we started out.

The first big scare on this trip came during our first open ocean crossing.  We had only about 3 miles to cross to hit the next island, so in theory no big deal.  We started out in the shelter of the leeward side of the island of Epi, we could see some swell and waves out in the distance, but it didn’t look too bad.  Waves are funny like that, they look so benign from a distance. We made our way out into the swell, and soon found that not only was the swell HUGE, but also travelling perpendicular to us. So we were travelling north, and the swell was going due west, hitting us dead on the sides of out boats.  The swell was huge, and some of the swell was turning into breaking waves, which created a very challenging cross.

View from the shore of Epi at the waves breaking in the distance. Our goal, the island of Pama, in the far distance.

You know those stories you hear about rogue waves?  They are the waves that pop up seemingly from nowhere, and if you are not paying attention during a stroll on the beach or whilst check out tide pools, can knock you off your feet and drag you right into the ocean.  Well, I’ve always HEARD about them, but I had never SEEN one. Well, mother nature, not being one to disappoint, decided that our group of two double kayaks needed to not just see one, but experience one. How cute!  Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly saw this F*CKING HUGE ASS 19 foot wave on the brink of breaking. How do I know it was 19 feet you ask? Because my kayak is 19 feet long, and I turned my boat straight into that wave in hopes of getting over it before it broke.  I’m pretty sure Avi and I paddled faster in the following 10 seconds than any olympic kayaker ever has, or ever will. And my kayak spanned the height of that wave, and it crashed over the back end of the boat. And I thought that was going to be the end of us, dumped into shark infested waters in the middle of the Coral Sea with a mangled boat.

Clearly, we lived, and I remember looking back and seeing Carrie’s face. Her eyes were approximately the size of dinner plates, she was mouth breathing, and I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something along the lines of I can’t believe you guys did not get flipped.  Roger that sista. I couldn’t believe it either.

So fast forward like 4 hours. We begin our second open ocean crossing of the day, this one is about 6 miles between the island of Pama and the island of Ambrym.  We make the crossing without incident, however, as we are getting nearer to Ambrym, all we can see is white mist along the shore, and as we get closer we hear what sounds like thunder.  The thunder and mist was the waves crashing along the shore with ocean spray flying high into the air. Along the ENTIRE shore as far as we could see in either direction.

If you have never had the “pleasure” of experienceing a surf landing, let me explain what happens.  You are attempting to navigate a boat that is twice your body length or more to shore in waves that are crashing with a fury on said shore. These waves like to catch the boat, turn it to the side, and then flip you over, resulting in your head, neck, and upper body being pummeled against the ocean floor.  When you do it right, you surf in, land and get the heck out of the boat to pull it all the way onto shore before the next wave hits. When you do it wrong, you end up (if you are lucky) with a face and boat full of sand, a few scraches and bruises, and a very bruised ego.  If you are lucky. If you are in a 19 foot long boat that weighs about 800 pounds loaded with gear and two bodies, that is constructed of an aluminum frame with a hypalon bottom and canvas top, your chances of luck dwindle.

Also of note, was that we had about 1 hour of daylight left, so not much time to paddle around looking for a nice place to land. Also of note was the thick jungle that appeared to be coming right down to the water’s edge.  There were cliffs, steep beaches, no good camp spots, and giant waves as far as we could see.  Finally we just had to pick a spot and go for it.  As we were paddling in, I remember discussing what could happen with Avi. We both decided that if the kayak got turned to the side, there was no way we would have time to straighten it back out before the next six foot wave flipped us.  We paddled in silence mulling this over.

As we got a little closer, we could see rocks, everywhere, big ones, near our landing spot. We then decided that if the boat got turned, it would be certain lower body entrapment inside a mangled mess of aluminum and canvas against those rocks. We both got ready for an emergency exit from the boat, and then started to paddle in.  By some miracle, we managed to surf the boat in, and there was no part of surfing a fully loaded double kayak in six foot waves that I EVER want to repeat again. I feel like you get a one-time hall pass for that and it should never again be attempted. I in fact am 99% certain that I peed my pants during that minute of terror. I can’t be sure, but I do remember that before we landed I had to pee (we had been in the boat for at least 3 hours by then), and I did not go for a very long time after we landed.

Near death experience number three of the trip came about a week later. It was during the biggest open ocean crossing of the trip, 16 miles.  16 miles is a LONG way to be in the middle of the ocean in a very tiny boat, especially after you already traveled 14 miles in the morning of that day.  Even more especially difficult when you can’t get out of the boat, for fear of being eaten by a shark or flipped by a rouge wave.  On this day I found out an open ocean crossing in aforementioned conditions is made even more difficult when you have explosive diarrhea.  Just sayin’.

So we head off, leaving the comfort of Ambym island with it’s many spots for pulling off to take care of aforementioned diarrhea issue, for the unknown landing conditions of Malakula island.  We had big swell, but nothing to terrible, and even had favorible winds for sailing for a good part of the cross. Our winds died after a while, and we were left to paddle, listening to the silence that can only be heard in the Coral Sea with no wind, boat motors, or people talking. Just peaceful lapping of the paddles in the water, and splashing of waves over the bow.

And then, something happened that seriously disrupted my zen paddling. My rudder fell off of my boat.  I looked back and it was GONE. I screamed to John and Carrie, “My rudder fell off!!!!”  They were far away, and all I could hear was them mumbling followed by a “What???” They could both tell something really bad had just happened by my tone, they didn’t need to know exactly what my major malfunction was to know they better hustle over. Instantly they were next to my boat, and John had retrieved the rudder, which was dangling from the connector wires and a small piece of rope.  It had snapped, and was not repairable, at least not in the middle of the ocean. So we started paddling. And realized just how difficult it is to paddle a foldable kayak loaded with gear in a decent size swell with no way to steer. Every wave that hit us turned us the wrong direction. So for 5  miles, Avi paddled and I used my paddle like a rudder and steered us, paddling when there were breaks in the waves. It was SLOW going. Painfully slow.

We finally neared the island, and what did we see? Giant crashing waves. Now we knew that there was an inlet to a nice calm bay, but it had taken us so long to get across that it was now low tide, and the coral reef surrounding the bay was nearly exposed, with just enough water left to create giant crashing waves.  Also, we had been warned by nearly everyone we came across about the tiger sharks in the mouth of this bay.  By this time we had paddled/sailed nearly 30 miles, I was experiencing serious motionsickness, and Avi and I were both physically exhausted.  But we had to summon the energy to paddle over this coral reef that was just waiting to rip the bottom of the boat, and out skin, to shreds if we made one false move. Followed by those stupid sharks smelling blood and coming for us. Seriously?? Seriously!!! That was all I could think. Seriously, we just paddled 30 miles, the last 5 without a rudder, and this was going to be the end of us?

We started to head in, and surfing the boat was difficult in the waves. Avi was  physically done, he had no energy left, and I wasn’t far behind. I actually screamed at him several times during that paddle over the reef, because he was not paddling hard enough and I did not want to have my face ripped off by the razor sharp coral inches below the boat!  We did not come all that way to end it in this reef.  No way.

We finally made it in. Upon landing we realized that we had an audience, what looked like the entire village had come down to the water to watch us come in. And they all looked as relived as I felt when our boat finally hit the beach.

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Can I have the bowl without the chicken foot please?

I travel pretty frequently for work, and for fun. And I try to eat things besides the familiar when I travel, which sometimes proves to be a challenge.  I don’t consider myself to be a picky eater, but I guess when it comes down to it, perhaps I am.

I’m fairly certain that Surinamese cuisine is not going to take off and become a big hit in America anytime soon.  I am also fairly certain that the baseball stadiums across America, from the pros to little league, ship ALL of their stale hot dog buns to Suriname.  My first experience with ‘breads’ was on my first flight on Suriname Airways.  I was about 15 hours deep into travel at that point, and was actually hungry. I recall my coworker Jason waking me up with a huge smirk on his face saying, hey, you have to wake up and try this, it’s what you are going to be eating a lot of the next 2 weeks. Now, keep in mind, I had just met Jason about 3 hours prior to this at the airport in Aruba. I didn’t know that he, much like me, finds humor in other people’s suffering.  I also did not yet know that he too is a master of sarcasm. So it eagerly opened up my first breads and took a bite.

Stale hot dog bun + luke warm mystery meat + butter= not my new favorite.  I tried to eat a few more bites in hopes it would taste better, no luck.  Jason was openly laughing at this point.  And he was quick to point out that this was pretty good for breads.  I suddenly regretted that decision to leave all my energy bars at home to save space in my bag.

I soon learned that Jason was not kidding about the Suriname Airways breads being pretty good.  The first morning at our field camp, I shuffled into the outdoor kitchen and warily eyeballed the breads, piled high on the counter.  I picked one up, and foolishly took a bite without checking the contents.  Is that… peas? I opened it up. Yeah, smushed canned peas, and salt pork. And butter. Apparently butter is the condiment of choice there.  Which really wasn’t needed because the salt pork was approximately 13% meat and 87% fat.  Thankfully Jason was nearby and pointed me in the direction of the peanut butter and jelly (and butter, just in case you might need more), and stale hot dog buns.

Hallalujah, I could handle 2 weeks of PB&J for breakfast (and soon enough it became lunch too).  The next morning I wisely asked what was in the breads, and the cook said “salty fish!” very proudly.  The camp workers were gobbling it down like this might be their last meal.  I was not fooled, and went for the PB&J.  The “salty fish” was canned sardines, and, wait for it, wait for it… butter!  I don’t even know what was in the breakfast breads for the remainder of the trip, I’m sure some vile concoctions all topped with butter.

The dinners were not so bad. They mostly consisted of rice, some sort of vegetable, and chicken or fish.  And they use the WHOLE animal when they cook. I saw the cook chopping up chicken one night.  He used the biggest meat cleaver I had ever seen and chopped a whole chicken into 2 inch cubes and tossed it all into a pot.  Fish was always served with the head, complete with cloudy eye balls staring up at you.

A former co-worker of mine had once told me about chicken foot soup. He was Iranian, and apparently it was a delicacy there.  He said his mom would make it sometimes, and that it was quite tasty, but he hated it when she was “being lazy” and did not cut the nails off the feet before making the soup. I always thought that maybe he was just joking about this. I mean seriously, how much meat is really on a chicken foot?  And how much effort would really be involved in cutting off the nails?

Well, one night we arrived at dinner after a particularly grueling day, at least 15 miles of hiking steep hills in the jungle while lugging around sample equipment. By this time I was becoming unphased by strange things in my food. And then I saw it. One of our Surinamese crew guys walked by with a steaming bowl of soup, and right in the middle, was what appeared to be the scaly top of a chicken foot. I walked up to the kitchen window, and the cook handed me a bowl, complete with chicken foot.  I wanted to to ask for a bowl without a foot, but did not want to be rude.  I turned around and saw several of the guys happily gnawing away on the cartilage of chicken feet.  I was starving and the soup smelled amazing.  But looking at that foot in my bowl, and imagining all the stinky chicken shit that was walked through with that foot, and hearing the crunching of  cartilage from everyone eating the feet, I just couldn’t do it. I sat down next to one of our crew guys, and asked him if he might like to have my chicken foot. He happily accepted the foot, complete with nails. Apparently it takes a lot of effort to cut the nails off of 400 chicken toes…

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A Few Differences Between New York and California

I spent the majority of the first 22 years of my life in New York State, followed by 11 years in California, and now find myself back in the Empire State.  There are a lot of differences between the two, and several that I feel are worthwhile to point out. And yes I stereo type in this, if you don’t like it, feel free to stop now  and go read someone else’s vanilla blog…

1.) Pace.

The pace that people live life in each of these states baffles me. In NY, “instant gratification” seems to always be the word combo of the day. Everything has to be done fast, or someone is going to say something to you about it. Usually not something nice.  You don’t move your car fast enough when the light turns green, you get honked at, flipped off, if you’re are lucky maybe even an empty Dunkin Donuts cup hurled at your car.  You don’t order your pizza fast enough, you get skipped in line, the guy changing your oil doesn’t have it done in 10 minutes, you want to tear his head off and wish his unborn child’s armpits will be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels.

When I first moved to CA, I was a crazed New Yorker, people drove me insane with their chill attitudes and slow pace of life.  At first I thought everyone was just high all the time. But after living there for a while, I became one of them, and I wasn’t high all the time, and neither were most other people. So what is it about California that makes people so relaxed? I never figured it out, but I think people in NY could learn from it. I like that you can take as much damn time as you want to when ordering food, nobody cares and the people behind you probably are not ready to order yet anyways.  And I have sat in the Sacramento Subaru dealership for upwards of 2 hours just for an oil change, and couldn’t care less about it. I brought my laptop, did some work, enjoyed a cup of coffee…I desired no bloodshed or harm to the mechanic or his unborn child.  Maybe he was having a bad day, or covering for someone who called in sick… whatever.

2.) Women.

I never had very many female friends growing up. Girls talked about stupid nonsense like shopping and toe nail polish colors and which New Kids on the Block guy was their favorite. There were very few girls that did not irritate me, and as I got older, it got worse.  I had some female friends in high school, who were awesome and a few of whom I consider to this day to be some of my best friends, but mostly I hung out with the boys. They liked to do things like go outside, drive big trucks, drink beer, and not worry about their outfit or hair getting messed up.  I just assumed that most girls were silly and superficial and that was fine by me, I stayed away from them.

So when I moved to California, I started to notice a trend as time went on. I had more and more girl friends, and fewer and fewer guy friends. Girls in California it turns out, are cool.  And, in fact, a lot of guys I met in California were more “girly” than the girls.  (The author would like to note, these boys prefer to be referred to as “metrosexual.”  The author dated a metrosexual once, it did not go well and the mistake was not repeated.)  Girls in California are generally pretty bad ass; I know a lot of women who can out -drink, -kayak, -surf, -cycle, -run, -climb, –insert pretty much anything here, most men.  Before I moved back to NY, I had very few guy friends, and I was surprisingly ok with that.  This is another phenomenon that I never quite figured out, and again, the ladies in NY have many things to learn from California girls.

3.) Food

I love food and eat pretty much constantly, so I feel like I am a bit of an authority on food in both states at this point.  I thought that all pizza was good before moving out of New York. You can pretty much walk into any family owned pizza place, get a slice, and even if it’s not the best you have ever had, it’s still pretty dang good.  Before I moved, my Uncle Greg who lives in the Napa Valley in CA, used to complain about the pizza there, and my brain just could not even process what he would say. Multi grain crust? Monterey jack cheese and celery for toppings?  Surely he was making this up? Who would do such things to a perfect food?  Pizza in California is SO BAD, that I can’t even begin to describe it. Pizza is not meant to be a health food, don’t try to make it one. It is also not supposed to have crust the thickness of my forearm. It is supposed to be thin crust, folded in half so the grease from the mozzarella cheese drips off onto your arm while you gobble it down as fast as humanly possible so you can start on that second slice.

The flip side of this, is that California blows away New York when it comes to Mexican food. I seriously thought Taco Bell was Mexican food before I moved.  The best Mexican food comes from the smallest, hole in the wall places. These people know how to cook the most tender, flavorful meat, and make some HOT salsa. When you can watch the sweat drip off of someones face over the sizzling griddle and onto your carnitas, and you think, damn, this is gonna be amazing…and you are serious, that’s how you know you hit the taqueria jackpot.  And you New Yorkers who are getting grossed out by this, don’t you even think for one second that Cousin Vinny doesn’t drip sweat into that delicious plate of penne with vodka sauce or on your garlic nuts while he is in the back of the kitchen!

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