Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Just for those people who have forgotten the human cost of this war. This is a Facebook Update from my 18-year old stepson about the guys from his unit who have recently been killed in Afghanistan.

"Anderson got hit by an ied (broke his femar and had a bad concusion) Swingle also got hit by an ied broke his femar and hurt his back, the BC got back injuries from the same ied as swingle, doc mitchel got shot in the thigh, peak A. and Ward from Catt both were killed in a ied."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Champagne, Fireworks and Dancing Germans

Picture it: New Year's Eve 2009. The Mittlere Bruck Bridge, Basel, Switzerland. It was a mild Swiss night as we set out for the Mittlere Bruck, the first bridge to cross the Rhine River. My friend Laura had grabbed a bottle of champagne and two glasses before we left.

This is a little of how the conversation went:

Me: But we won't be allowed to drink alcohol on the streets! Especially not with real glass! Don't you have a paper bag and we can do it NYC bum style?

Laura: What are you talking about? Of course we can drink on the street. This is Europe, not the U.S. Besides, the town council is giving out free hot wine to everyone!

Me: To everyone? What about kids?

Laura: Sure? Why not?

Laura: There will be fireworks too, but I didn't get a chance to buy any.

Me: Now what are you talking about? They won't let us set off fireworks on the bridge. Only the city can do that.

Laura: The city is doing fireworks, but we're allowed to do our own too.

Me: And there's no people fighting or vomiting or planning a date rape due to all this free alcohol and craziness?

Laura: Ah, you Americans.

So we get down there and it's as great as she promised. There were people of all ages and there weren't any problems. A few people should have watched where they were pointing their bottle rockets but overall, it was no big deal.

We met some random Germans and ended up dancing with them during the countdown. And by dancing, I mean forming a big circle and jumping up and down. Not the most traditional Bavarian dance I think.

I was all for it until someone started blasting "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver and the Germans went crazy trying to sing the loudest. It was a bit surreal.

Although this was the 2nd time I had heard this song during my time in Europe--the other was a busker on the street.

Here is the chorus in case you need reminding how weird it is to hear this song anymore period, let alone in Western Europe.

"Country Roads, Take Me Home
To the Place I Belong
West Virginia, Mountain Momma
Take Me Home, Country Roads"

I'm not sure if they really understood what they were singing or not. And I'm not sure what way would be better.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cute Spanish expressions

In an effort to remember Spanish expressions or idioms, I'm going to post my favorites here.

The first two that come to mind are:

  • Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente"--which literally means, "
  • The shrimp who falls asleep, gets carried away by the current"
  • or in English, "You snooze, you lose."

The second, which I think might be more of a Spain Spanish idiom is,

  • "Te conozco tu bacalao aunque vengas disfrazado" which translates to:
  • I know you bacalao (codfish), even though you are disguised" or in English
  • "I know what your little game is/I know your type"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hiking San Diego's Highest Mountain

In honor (or in spite of) Valentine's Day, I decided to tackle the Matterhorn of San Diego. Duhn duhn duhn....Cowles Mountain. At just over 1.5 miles, it's our own little version of Mount Everest.

So gathering up Lil' M (plus a plastic dog bowl and doodie bags for her), bottled water and plenty of sunscreen, my little sister and I headed out to East County.

On-street parking was pretty easy, considering how crowded it was. There were people carrying babies vying for trail space with serious fitness nuts who were trying to jog up the path. There were the couples out for a Sunday stroll squeezing past the octogenarians with their walking sticks. And there was every shape, variety and mix of dogs bounding around and tangling the leash up between their owner's legs.

Ok, so this isn't the most flattering shot but considering we were hot and sticky and had to hold the camera ourselves, I don't think it turned out too bad.

Since San Diego is basically in a desert, the mountains here are very dry and look like God or someone up above got mad one day and rained rocks down on the landscape. (I've been way out in the desert, near the AZ border and it looks like Mars--the only thing you can see for miles are rocks).

The climb up is pretty steep and you will get winded (although there is a taco shop at the bottom of the mountain for that post-workout snack--although word to the wise on something I learned the hard way, the Spanish word for lard is manteca and in a lot of the mom and pop taco stands around here, they love them some manteca).

Supposedly, on a clear day you can see all the way to TJ (Tijuana), although truth be told, I'm not sure why you would want to see TJ, on a clear day or not.

We only made it about a third of the way up because little sis needed a potty break and trying to be a good role model, I didn't want to suggest that she squat behind a rock (even though I had napkins in my backpack, lol).

The climb kind of reminded me of Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica., except this was a lot hotter and drier. But you still had to climb up a mountain of rocks to reach the top (although this time tour guides didn't make you hold hands with the creepy tourists behind and in front of you--the idea being that they could steady you if you fell. But the reality being if one person fell, they would take down the whole line of tourists like a stack of dominos).
See picture to the left.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sometimes Southern California People Just Don't Get It

Having lived here for the past 3 years, I sometimes wonder if it's all the sunshine that's addled SoCal people's brains. Often they just seem so oblivious to the rest of world including history, culture and geography (I've met people here who can't point out all the 50 states, let alone name 1/4 of them. And this is someone who has graduated college).

A lot of people have never lived anywhere else and it really shows.

I've had people here act as if they are experts on race relations, despite the fact that in the whole city of San Diego there are like 2 black families. There are tons of Mexicans but the vast majority of white people don't have any Mexican friends and vice versa.

Having lived in Detroit, Philly, Virginia and Atlanta, which all have a sizeable black community, I think it's hilarious when people here talk about black and white race relations. Too funny.

Especially because they think they actually know what they are talking about.

However, the kicker today was when I was driving behind a BMW with a Che Guavera bumper sticker on it.

C'mon. Really?

You're driving one of the most expensive cars out there in one of the most expensive cities in the United States and you put a picture of a South American Marxist on your bumper.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Best Birthday Ever!!

I have to say this was one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long time. After you hit 21, you kind of lose track but this one was memorable on a number of levels.

First, Leo, my wonderful husband, got me the present I asked for (4 days ahead of my birthday no less); then I walk into work and everyone (meaning the other 3 people who work there) had decorated my office with balloons and Happy Birthday signs as well as a bouquet of flowers. How sweet!

But the best part of the day was a couple of phone calls I received. First, it was my oldest friend in the world Stephanie calling from Grand Rapids, Michigan. We’ve lost touch and had our differences over the years (mostly due to me being an idiot), but it was so great to hear her voice again and to catch up with her life. She’s doing so great (which I always knew she would) and seems so happy.

I’m so proud of her and can’t believe I’ve known her since I was in 4th grade! I know for some people this is no big deal-they have friends they’ve grown up with, but I’ve moved about a dozen times since then, there have been marriages, children, divorces and other life changing events since then and we’ve still been friends. And that’s something I’m eternally grateful for.

The other great phone calls were from my Dad and Step-Mom, who sang Happy Birthday and then my aunt called. I never get to talk to her, so that was such an unexpected surprise. Not to mention, she had tons of cool stories, including being airlifted out of Darfur after almost being arrested there.

She’s a pediatrician in Michigan and went there to help out, but apparently the local government tribunal is very strict about practicing medicine there without an African license (even though the charity she was trying to help told her she was fine).

To make a long story short, the penalty for this could have been imprisonment in a Sudan jail, but she made it out safe. Although she said she didn’t breathe easy until she was on the plane and in the air. How cool is that story?

Leo and I went out to dinner at Kous Kous, a Moroccan restaurant in Hillcrest. It was delicious and I would have taken pictures except the gay mafia who are the waiters in that part of town would have made fun of me (that and I forgot the camera).

We had cumin-spiced carrots for an appetizer and I had the vegetarian Berber’s tangine (which had tons of peas that I surprisingly didn’t mind—this is normally the one and only vegetable I hate with a passion) and he had the lamb tangine.

Then Leo decided to tell our waiter that it was my birthday and he brought out a strawberry dish and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday, a capella and more or less in falsetto.

When the bill came, it was so difficult to decide how much to tip. We knew it had to be 20% or more since he was so nice and gave us free dessert and sang and everything, but then we were like, “What if he doesn’t think 25% is good enough?”

Even as a former waitress, it’s always stressful when the bill comes and its time to tip.

I’m not sure if I like the European system of not tipping better, because it was really hard to get the server’s attention there and you could go for hours without your glass being refilled.

But at least it saves you from the waiter suck-up talk of things like, “I hope you enjoyed your time with us.”

“We’re so glad you dined with us tonight. Please consider us for your next celebration”

“This wine is a buttery-soft blend of apples, strawberries and kiwis. Try it sweetie, you’ll love it”

“Our main course tonight is a delectable blend of blah blah blah”

Sunday, February 7, 2010


On my 3rd to last day in
Switzerland, we drove from Basel to Lucerne, which is about 1 hour away (it seems everything in Switzerland is 1 hour away, kind of like Rhode Island or Delaware).

Lucerne, which is in central Switzerland, is what you think of when you think of Switzerland--rolling hills, cow bells and quaint mountain cottages. Picture Swiss Family Robinson here and you'll get an idea about how cute it is.

Below is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) which is the symbol of the city and was originally built in 1333. The bridge managed to last 660 years until some jackass in 1993 dropped a lit cigarette on it and burnt almost the whole thing down. There actually is a little chapel in the middle of the bridge. I know the name of the bridge is Chapel Bridge but I just thought it had connected to a chapel at one time in its history.

Since the city is divided by the Ruess River, there are several bridges including the Mill Bridge (Spreuerbrücke) which zig-zags its way across the water. Inside are a set of 17th century plague paintings, entitled "The Dance of Death". Sounds morbid but I love these type of paintings. They're intended, in part, to show the equality of man in that we all will die. Rich, young, poor, old, handsome, hunch-backed, etc.

This is also the oldest covered bridge in Europe, having been built in 1408.

I swear, tell an American that it's the oldest anything in Europe and we'll love it.

"Oh, this is the oldest stapler in all of Europe? Wow, this is so great!"

"What's that you say? This fire hydrant has been here since 1722? Oh my God! I have to get a picture with it!"

"I can't believe this garbage can has been here for over 900 years! Do you think they'll let me buy it as a souvenir?"

But I digress.

One tourist thing that I didn't think I would be that into, but was really pleasantly surprised is The Dying Lion Sculpture which is dedicated to the Swiss Guards who were killed during the French Revolution when a mob of the great unwashed rushed The Toileries Palace (where the unfortunate King Louis XVI and his family had fled for refuge) and massacred them. Over 600 Swiss guards died that day and another 200 or so died later in prison.

I wanted to see it because Mark Twain (one of the few American authors I actually like, although not the Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer crap everyone has to read in school) called the monument, "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world." I liked the idea of actually seeing something a famous author did way back in 1880. It's kind of like my own mini-Grand Tour.

(I tried to post the pic down here, but for some reason Blogger hates me and is stubbornly refusing to format the pictures how I want them). sigh.

We also saw the Church of St. Leodegar which I guess must not have been that interesting because I don't remember much about it. Sorry.

We tried to walk along the city walls but they were closed for the season. I would highly recommend doing this though. We could only walk along them at the bottom and we got fabulous views so the view at the top must be stunning.

I really wanted to hit The Rosengart Collection but, alas, we didn't have time. This private collection boasts Picasso's, Miro's, Cezanne's, Klee's and many other "modern" artists.

Anyway, if you only visit one Swiss city, I think it just might have to be Lucerne. Nestled in the foothills of the Swiss Alps, it's very touristy (no shortage of shops selling cuckoo clocks, Swiss Army knives and cow bells), but it's also so beautiful.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Town on Fire

I read an interesting AP article today about a little coal-town town in the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania that is finally being condemned after 4 decades of being on fire.

That's right. 4 decades of slowly disintegrating from an underground mine fire.

I first got interested in the this story when I lived in Philly and the alternative weekly paper did a story on it and for some reason, it just captured my imagination.

Centralia is located in Pennsylvania’s coal country, in the eastern half of the state, close to the middle. In its heyday, the small town boasted a population of over 2,000 people; its own school district, plus 2 Catholic parochial schools, 7 churches, 5 hotels, 27 bars, 2 theaters, a bank, a post office and 14 general stores and supermarkets.

The infamous fire was begun in the early 60's, allegedly by people burning garbage, when a stray spark ignited an exposed vein of coal and the fire has continued burning unabated until the present day.

Millions have been spent trying to extinguish the fire, but nothing has proved successful. In fact, in the early days, despite many people experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, much of the town either denied there was a fire or down-played the severity.

Until one day in the early 1980's when a 12-year old playing in his backyard was suddenly sucked down into a sinkhole that had opened up below his feet. He managed to catch onto something and was rescued, but it was a wake-up call for many in the town.

In 1992, the state claimed eminent domain and condemned all the properties in Centralia and in 2002 the US Post Office revoked the town’s zip code of 17927.

Today the population has dwindled from 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005 and 9 in 2007, making it the least populated municipality in PA.

There have always been a handful of holdouts who have refused to go--despite the fact that there are no businesses, churches, schools or other vestiges of a town left. They have remained virtual squatters in their own private ghost town for years.

It looks like their time has come as the government has gotten tired of the whole mess. It seems such a sad end to their saga, but authorities say they are worried for the tourists who go up there to view the smoldering remains of the once vibrant village. Sinkholes and poisonous gases are constant dangers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spätzle and Vanilla Ice Cream

Besides the usual Swiss chocolates I brought back from my recent trip, I wanted to bring Leo some typical Swiss food products.
So Laura and I went off to the local Migros (apparently there are only 2 grocery store chains in Switzerland--Migros and and the smaller Coop, pronounced like what a chicken lives in and not a hippie grocery store) and she helped me pick out typical Swiss foods.

(Yes, I'm sure there's tons more typical Swiss foods, but I needed to find stuff that was small enough to fit in my suitcase and was non-perishable).

The photo above is what we came up with.

The Rosti is basically like a potato pancake that you fry on both sides. It was pretty good, but I'm told homemade is much better.

The Farmer Soft Choc bars are basically like a Kudos bar but they have coconut in them. Yum!.

The Aromat seasoning is something every Swiss person puts on everything (so I've been informed). It has MSG in it, so at first I wasn't too excited. But it is actually pretty good. My taste buds have been deadened due to a salt addiction, but Leo gave it 2 thumbs up and now puts it on just about everything.

However, the funny thing was the Spätzle which is basically a pasta made out of eggs, flour and water. You can eat it plain or with some type of sauce or gravy, like normal pasta.

I brought some back for Leo and made it for him as part of dinner one night.

Leo: What's this?

Me: Egg pasta I brought back from Switzerland. Try it, you'll like it.

Leo: (chewing) Hmmm, pretty good.

After a few more bites.

Leo: Honey, I hate to tell you this, but this isn't pasta.

Me: What are you talking about?

Leo: It's cornmeal. We used to eat it in Puerto Rico, except people there put sugar on it.

Me: I promise you it's not cornmeal, it's egg pasta. I mean I can't read German, but Laura told me it's really popular in Switzerland and that it's an egg pasta.

Leo: Whatever. (said as he's getting up from the couch and going to the kitchen).

A lot of rustling around is then heard from the kitchen, as well as the opening and closing of the refrigerator (freezer?) door.

Leo comes back in the room with his plate, but now there's scoops of white stuff on it. At first I think it's mashed potatoes, until I realize I haven't made any mashed potatoes in awhile.

Me: (realization dawning). IS THAT ICE CREAM ON THE PASTA?

Leo: Yes, and it's delicious! I told you it's better with sugar on it. That's how we do it Puerto Rican style. (ok, he didn't actually say anything (ever) about doing anything Puerto Rican style, but I was on a roll and it just kind of came/typed out. Sorry)

Needless to say, I told my Swiss friend Laura and she was pretty horrified :D

I also brought back some Rivella. (I'm having some serious problems formatting photos for this entry, but the Rivella is at the top of the post). Basically, Rivella is pop that has milk whey added to it. Milk whey is the thin, weedy stuff that comes off the curds of cheese (or something like that).

I have to admit it's not too bad. You wouldn't know you were drinking pop and milk whey unless someone told you. And even now, I'm not too sure....

I guess a few years ago Rivella had tried to branch out but nobody except the Swiss and Germans were having it, so they decided to focus on their key demographic and move eastward into Austria.

There are 4 flavors of Rivella and everyone has their favorites. From what I was told, Swiss parents send this in care packages when their children study abroad.