Penguin Parade

I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of animal sightings, even after our Sydney zoo tour featuring the koala breakfast, so I rallied Mike for another one-day bus tour, and we took a voyage down to Phillip Island to see the parade of penguins. Every night (I think) at this point about 2 hours from Melbourne, a number of tiny penguins waddle in from the sea and make their way up to their wooden nest boxes on the coast to sleep or feed their kids or mate (very noisy) or whatever else penguins do in their nests. I was told there would be hundreds of penguins to view, so it sounded like a sight worth seeing. Count us in.

But first, we needed to find more kangaroos, so we were taken to a stop at an animal sanctuary where they had koalas, emus, and a dingo for viewing and a bunch of kangaroos for feeding.

sleeping koala
emu

The kangaroos were very relaxed and open to being fed, but the whole feeding event really was a testament to the ridiculousness of human behavior when new animals are present. Everyone was crowding, poking, and generally bothering the very calm kangaroos, so it was a little disheartening.

Maru animal sanctuary

After the sanctuary, we visited the beach and ordered iced coffee, which is actually either coffee with ice cream or with a whole bunch of sugar. I should’ve just gotten a Golden Gaytime like everyone else was doing.

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We stayed in our habit of not listening to the time we were supposed to be back on the bus and then arriving to find we were the last ones on the bus. Then it was time for a stop at a place called the Nobbies, which held excellent seascape views and the Seal Rocks where, unfortunately, the seals are too far away for the naked eye to see.

The Nobbies

Finally, onto the much awaited final destination. We arrived at the penguin march around 7 and entertained ourselves with a light dinner and sunset vistas while waiting for the penguin migration.

Phillip Island

They started coming in around eight o’clock and, I must say, there were far fewer penguins than we were expecting. Like, we saw 8 when we were expecting hundreds. Still cool to see I suppose, but also a bit anticlimactic after all the hype of waiting. However, when we turned around to walk back to the van, we did see at least tens, if not hundreds of the tiny birds. The trip was saved, either by the viewing of the penguins or by the hot chocolate that was waiting for us when we got back.

Fairy Floss

During the trip, I overhead someone say that a visitor to Australia will take one of two sides: you’ll either decide that you’re a Sydney person or a Melbourne person. I had heard cool things about the art, music, and culture coming out of Melbourne, so Mike and I decided to make a weekend out of it and flew on the budget Tiger airline to check it out. I’ve also heard that Sydney is more like the west coast of the US and Melbourne is more like the NYC area. So, you can probably figure out which one I prefer as I sit here writing this from my sunny SoCal apartment with lots of grass in the backyard.

Melbourne botanical gardens

I didn’t dislike Melbourne at all, I was just surprised to find it so similar to big cities that I’ve seen a lot of before. Hip bars, delicious restaurants, but overall not much newness. Well, there was one new thing… Melbourne is well-known for its coffee, and we were promised some of the best cups of coffee in the world. However, I hadn’t been that huge of a fan of Australian coffee at that point. I don’t like to add cream, so I found the long and short blacks all too bitter and the lattes much too milky (even though they sometimes came with adorable koala designs!) I (and Mike, too) missed the good old fashioned drip, which, while it might not be the fanciest or highest quality, felt familiarly like a satisfying cup of home.

Melbourne coffee

On our first day in Melbourne, we were off to try this famed coffee, but I decided to mix it up and sample something new based some intriguing Yelp reviews. Enter, fairy floss. What was this? It looked like a cloud in a cup and appeared to be more about novelty than actual taste. I can be into that, especially in the midst of an impromptu vacation down under. I ordered what looked like (and was like) plain cotton candy and selected the matcha to pour over top. There was also a hot chocolate option, but when I tried to order a coffee version, the waitress looked at me like I was crazy (which was a lot coming from someone who seemed like they had inserted an IV drip of caffeine for her entire shift), suggested the matcha, then brought me an extra shot of espresso just in case I wanted to try it.

Matcha fairy floss

The pouring experience was quite a treat, and it was the best matcha I’ve ever had. No joke! Our caffeine choices gave us the energy to continue on explorations of the botanical gardens, figure out the public transportation system (some free, some not free, some trolleys), and eat the most incredible Italian dinner from this unbelievable restaurant, which you should go to and tell me seriously, how is it all vegan??

While I might label myself a Sydney person, I enjoyed the rest of our stay in Melbourne, playing hipster Guess Who?, drinking craft beers, and checking out the local music scene. I would certainly go back for more of any of what Australia has to offer.

Basking in the Blue Mountains

Towards the end of my time in Sydney, I was able to make a little excursion to a place I had heard a lot of wonderful things about—the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters rock formation. I joined a bus tour, though I found out later it would’ve been just as easy to take the train, but I was happy to have company and a guide. We started the day with a lovely waterfall hike, where we saw some beautiful nature and some not-so-beautiful homes of the famed Australian spiders that will all quickly kill you.

Blue Mountains
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Then it was off to scope out the breathtaking landscapes around the Three Sisters. There wasn’t much hiking here, just a hop off the bus and take pictures sort of situation, but the views were certainly worth the trip.

Three Sisters

Afterwards, we went off to search for kangaroos IN THE WILD!!! And we were handsomely rewarded with three sightings. Two of them were moms carrying joeys in their pouches! The babies were actually pretty big, and I’m still not sure how they fit into the pouches. I also learned during this trip that kangaroos have two uteruses and can be perpetually pregnant. Yeesh.

Kangaroos

The day ended with a stop at a swimming hole, which was really nice, but would have been even nicer had I known that “wet clothes” is Australian for bring your bathing suit. Whoops!

Steps through Sydney

After our week in Bondi, I was back on my own to wheel my giant suitcase through the buses, trains, and city streets until finding my way to Redfern to stay with Mike, one of my bff’s from college. Redfern appears to be the Brooklyn of Sydney; it’s hip, featuring cute parks and coffee shops, and less crowded than the central business district. Mike has a very sweet and very adult real-life apartment there, and he was gracious enough to accommodate me on the couch-bed for the week.

Redfern, Sydney

Mike was working during the days, so I had some time to explore more of actual Sydney, which I hadn’t seen much of yet since I’d spent most of the first weeks in Manly and Bondi. I walked and walked, and sometimes took the metro. I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens and sought out fancy donuts that my friend had seen on Instagram.

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

I did more yoga (at an amazing studio) and afterwards indulged in the famed Australian meat pies (mine was chicken; it was just okay).

Yoga Moves Sydney
Australian meat pie

When Mike got out of work, we visited pubs and found fish & chips, among other foods. I was grateful to have some extra time to explore Sydney, and glad that my visit took me to three very different parts of the city so I could get a feel for it all.

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Best of Bondi

Much to our dismay, our coveted beach week in Bondi, which started out looking like this:

Bondi Beach

Ended up, by the third day, and for the rest of our time, looking like this:

Bondi Beach

Oh no!

We ventured out on a scattered showers day for our Bondi to Coogee trek, but most mornings we were resigned to stay inside.

Bondi to Coogee walk

Although we had to content ourselves with the yoga and the sampling of Bondi’s outstanding places to eat and drink, we were able to make the most of it. For heaven’s sake, The Nine even made me this koala latte while I worked inside on a stormy day:

Koala latte The nine

Some of our other favorites were:

  • Bad Mama: We stumbled in here on a night when we were planning to go into Sydney, but the rain kept us home. We hadn’t made a reservation and Bondi restaurants can get crowded, so we weren’t expecting too much when this cocktail bar had open tables and seated us right away. We weren’t even sure they served food. How wrong we were! Everything was mind-blowing and we would happily come back for more.

  • Bangkok Bites: Incredible Thai food! Super crowded, but super excellent and fast service!

  • Bondi’s Best: Yummy seafood. We tried to come here without a reservation and ended up having to make one for later in the week.

  • BondiTony’s: The BEST burgers! Grass-fed, organic stuff, craft beers, healthy-ish options, and vegan milkshakes. We came here twice during our stay.

  • Fonda: Our first stop after the first day of practice. Of course you should drink multiple margaritas and much Mexican food after three hours of yoga, who’s to say you shouldn’t?

I was lucky on my final morning at the beach, when my mates had departed, that the sun finally came our for a few AM hours and I go to do Yoga by the Sea. It was a much appreciated way to wrap up a rainy week.

Yoga by the Sea

Koala Brekkie

Just to confirm that Australia is every bit as amazing as you’ve always imagined it to be, here are some photos of our brekkie with at the zoo with the koalas.

Koalas

Yup, they do call it brekkie in the Aussie way of shortening everything to make it sound 100 times cuter and more fun.

Tasmanian Devil

We saw all of the Big 5 (kangaroos, a crocodile, wombats, platypus, and the aforementioned koalas).

Wallaby
Koala selfie

The Anti-Plan

Usually, when I go on a trip, I’m at the forefront of the planning process. I want to see and do everything, so I fill up every second of the day with activities and places to go. I love being able to experience all that a city has to offer, and I don’t want to waste any time.

Because this trip to Australia was a recent surprise, I didn’t take many of the usual steps in scheduling out an itinerary for every day. I made sure I had places to stay and friends to visit, and there was the yoga training, but beyond that, I left the schedule pretty open. Much to my delight, the results of the non-plan have been incredibly positive so far!

On my second day here, I decided to walk down to the beach while Amanda was at work. As I strolled along the sand, I looked over to my left and noticed a tall, sporty blonde woman stretching about 20 feet away. “Is that Kerri Walsh??” I asked myself. I creepily walked a little closer and then noticed the nets and setup for an obvious volleyball tournament that was going on behind her. Pretty certain it had to be her, I circled around to the top sidewalk to find out which teams were playing in the tournament. I perched on the wall and checked the schedule on my phone. It was her! And the US team would be playing next on the court that I was now sitting on the wall right above! I played volleyball for about 15 years, and I definitely didn’t think I would ever have a front row seat to watch the USA women’s team play, so this was a Pretty Big Deal. I settled in to watch the match, and they won! It was definitely a point for leaving a day unplanned, since I wouldn’t have been wandering around the beach if I’d scheduled a snorkeling appointment or a tour.

USA Womens Volleyball

Lucky for me, the ladies I was traveling with in week two did have a plan, and I was able to join in for some key experiences. On one of our first nights in Bondi Beach, we went to a show at the Sydney Opera House. I hadn’t even thought it would be possible for a normal person like me to go to a concert inside the building I’ve seen in so many images from afar! It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience (or many times in a lifetime when I sell all my belongings and move down under) that we had to seize, and if you’re ever coming here, I recommend checking the schedule because you may find something you like.

Sydney Opera House night
Sydney Opera House inside

And finally, a top reason I’m glad I opened my planning palms and left my vacation fate in the hands of others on this trip was the KOALA BREAKFAST! Yes, you read that correctly, and in Sydney at the zoo, you can eat breakfast on a patio in full view of about 6 koalas. After you finish your eggs and Vegemite toast and weak instant coffee, you may enter the koala enclosure and have many many pictures of yourself taken with koalas. And the staff members are actually very patient and don’t even rush you through the whole koala photography experience. And the koalas are sleepy, so they don’t seem to care what you’re doing either way. What a treat!

Koala

So I’m here this month supporting the non-planning process. When you’re booking your next adventure, consider leaving some time open to see what kind of magic takes hold.

Manly to Bondi

I’ve gotten used to managing my way up and down public transportation stairs wielding my backpack and giant suitcase, that’s for sure. After Amanda and I finished doing yoga on grassy hilltops and taking coastal walks to swimming holes, it was time to trek to Bondi Beach for the yoga workshop.

On a Monday morning, I took my favorite and the most exciting form of Australian city transport, the ferry! Like, this is the view that people are getting when they take their regular commute to their regular jobs (or wherever else they happen to be going that day):

Sydney Opera House

Wow!

The ferry brought me to the train, which brought me to the bus, which brought me to Bondi Beach where I would meet Colleen, Katie, and Laura and where we would spend the seven days.

Bondi Beach



Mysore Practice: Day One

How did I end up here? I'm wondering as we're doing the 100th jump back of this afternoon's class. I feel like a kindergartener in a fifth grade classroom. I also feel like I shouldn't have eaten so many french fries during the first few days of this trip. I look around the room, and it seems like everyone is able to hold themselves up with their hips off the ground in a cross-legged seat. I'm hot and humbled. My hips are firmly rooted on the mat.

Body Mind Life Bondi Beach

One of the main reasons I came to Sydney was to participate in an Ashtanga Mysore yoga intensive. It was an interesting choice considering I've hardly taken any Ashtanga classes in my ten year stint as a yogi. I've checked it out a few times, but never really got hooked or felt like I could figure out what I was doing enough to feel comfortable. I've recently become more curious and have been feeling like my usual practice could benefit from the consistency and discipline of the Ashtanga method.

If you're reading this saying, “What the heck is Mysore/Ashtanga and how is that different from any 'normal' yoga class?” I would say that Ashtanga yoga is a very traditional sequence of postures and the practice can be pretty intense. There are three series or levels of poses, so you always start and end with the same opening and closing sequence, but what you do in between depends on your level of ability. Mysore means that you're basically conducting your own solo practice in a community room, and the teacher will come around to offer one-on-one advice. Usually, you won't add variations or more difficult poses until you 've mastered the ones earlier in the series. The style of yoga that I practice is more varied, flowing, and (I think) forgiving. But it can be easier to develop bad alignment habits when you're not getting the same strict level of individualized attention. In Ashtanga, I'm learning that there can be a bit of an ego check when you realize you can't just fake it and slip through the cracks, even though, like in any yoga class, you're meant to be accountable only to yourself.

I was relieved to hear that the first day of class would be led by our teacher, Maty, the famed instructor I've heard so much about. That didn't make practicing any easier, but at least it wasn't so apparent that I don't know the correct order of the sequence. I've realized that by only attending classes with familiar teachers and in teaching my own classes, I've managed to avoid a lot of the poses that are hard for me or that I don't like. I realize this while I'm attempting to hold my leg out in front of me and, impossibly, trying to reach my forehead towards my shin. I try to find the silver lining in the struggle. A new experience with an amazing teacher! I'd better get some sleep so I can survive the rest of this thing.

Australia: First Impressions

Whenever I travel to a new country these days, there's a certain need to categorize it and figure it out based on other countries I've visited. I've been working to label Australia in this way. When we were walking at night, Amanda told me that she was trying to imagine the familiar with new eyes and see our walk the way I'd see it, so I tried to take a deeper look at the way I was absorbing it all.

Spit Bridge Australia

I'd always thought Australia would be so similar to California that it wouldn't make much of a difference to come here from LA. There would be tan laid-back people, beaches, and the same Pacific Ocean. Yes, the same one I'd been seeing for 15 straight hours on a plane— isn't that incredible?

It doesn't quite feel like I'm in a new country, but so far, Sydney isn't fitting into the bucket I'd set out for it. The air is different here. It looks like the west coast of the US, sort of, but the humidity reminds me more of an east coast beach town. The way I transported from the airport seemed like I was landing in Singapore, since the public transportation was so easy and efficient, and there's that European influence that can't be ignored.

I feel a little like I'm repeating a cycle of life. In October 2017, I flew to Singapore and then to Thailand for a yoga retreat (where I met Amanda). Now we're here together again, and I'll be participating in a yoga intensive next week. After that first adventure to this side of the world, I went on to teach yoga at a hotel in Nicaragua. This summer, I have plans to co-teach on a retreat to El Salvador. Same, same, but different.

What's the need to get a handle on a country anyway? Australia is Australia. It doesn't have to be broken down into bits of other places I've seen. It's the same way with people. As I get older, I think I can determine upon meeting someone what type of person they will be. I'd better stay away from that one because she's this way, or, ugh, why am I meeting another guy like him? I wonder if I can let my eyes be as new to this experience as they are. Can I take in a situation without judging it or predicting an ending just like one I've been through before?

Prawns Manly Wharf Bar

Amanda says she feels like a completely separate person than the girl who went on that first retreat. I can tell when I look at her life now. She's content in her job and lives in a beautiful, walkable town where she's dedicated to building a life of healing spiritual practices. It's been an incredible transformation, and I'm so happy for her! My own life looks different from the outside when compared with fall of 2017, but I still find myself repeating patterns and thought cycles from that time. There must be more that I have to learn here.

Long Flights

It's already tomorrow in Australia. And I'm here to confirm it for you! It's sunny and everyone's wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts or flip-flops and bathing suits that show their whole butts. It's a nice contrast from the cold and rainy “winter” we've been having in LA.

Spit Bridge

One of the things I most appreciate about myself is my ability to sleep for nine hours of a fifteen hour flight. Last night (nights?) I did just that. Our 10:15pm plane was delayed on the runway for two hours, almost unbeknownst to me. I kept falling asleep and waking up to find that we were still on the ground. I didn't even take Tylenol PM this time.

I made my groggy way through TSA pre-check to find that Shake Shack is located at Terminal 3 and I was, sadly, posted up in Terminal 2. Bummer. After an uneventful wait at the gate, I boarded into my window seat, blocked in by two guys who became unlikely yet fast friends. I'm shocked I was able to start my nap so soon with the amount of chatting they did for the first half of the trip.

The one in the middle seat was a teenager with a few diamond lip piercings and a very large vape pen. He introduced himself by reaching under all the seats to find the electrical outlet and asking the aisle guy if they could switch because he'd be getting up a lot to smoke the vape in the bathroom. To my surprise, the other, older guy agreed. Later on, the older guy saw that I was leaning my head uncomfortably forward and offered me his neck pillow. I turned it down because I don't think that's a thing to be shared, but I guess the now-middle-seat guy is a guy who's here to help in any way he can.

I didn't learn the teenager's full story, only that he was born in Virginia to an Australian couple, moved to Melbourne for his childhood, and spent the last five years roaming the US. The flight attendant keeps warning him that if she smells the vape, she will need to confiscate it. He assures his seat mate that it's much better than nicotine. He started smoking when he was fourteen, which couldn't have been long ago because he looks that age now.

I sleep on, catching bits and pieces of their conversation. The older guy has an accent that I think is Spanish. He used to run a freelance accounting business and sold it. Now, he's heading back to Australia to try to repair an old relationship.

During the last third of the flight, I wake up and decide to join their chatter since they've kindly saved a sandwich for me while I completely slept through all the meals. We've become bonded in our last row not-fully-reclining seats.

Manly Beach

Ok, now that we’ve caught up on all the Mexican and wintry romps, it’s time to talk about Australia. Wow! Has it been over here this whole time? Why haven’t we been visiting yearly or monthly or daily? Actually, why don’t we live here?? I haven’t found an answer to that question yet and will continue seeking until I can come up with one, but if I don’t, you might have to come visit me here in a couple of years.

I came to visit a couple of friends and to participate in an Ashtanga/Mysore intensive workshop (which is currently kicking my butt). My family is having trouble keeping track of me, and I am too, because I only decided to come on this trip about a month ago. But when your bff from college is going to be living in Sydney for the next two years, you might as well check the prices of flights. And when some other college comrades are already planning to visit in March to train with a renowned instructor with whom all of your current instructors have studied, you’d better sign up and buy the tickets.

That’s how I got here, at least.

acai bowl

I spent the first weekend in a town called Balgowlah with my friend Amanda who you might remember from our impromptu travels together in Thailand. She’s living her best life with a quick and beautiful coastal walk to the beach from her apartment. If this is the view on your lunch break and you get to swim in the sea every day, I say you’re doing a lot of things right.

Manly Wharf

It was a truly lovely way to get over the jet-lag that I really didn’t have because I am remarkably able to sleep for ten hours of a fifteen hour flight and to adapt to Australia which isn’t really a major achievement because if there’s anything that’s not perfect here, I haven’t come across it yet.

Yoga mats

Winter Wonderland

If you’re at a standstill wondering if you should go on a ski trip or be practical, stay home, work, and not go on the ski trip, I’m here to tell you that you should most definitely go on the ski trip. Even if you just got back from Mexico City and are leaving three days later for another continent, just go on the ski trip.

I was invited to go skiing with a group of friends last month, and I immediately wanted to go, because Mammoth, of course, and what a dream it was to be there last year. As the trip got closer, I started having doubts because 1.) all this travel means I haven’t really been working (ie. earning money) that much, and 2.) I was feeling wildly disorganized by the lack of time between trips. I couldn’t make up my mind about going, but I guessed that it had been made up for me since we’d already purchased lift tickets and booked the Airbnb.

June Mountain

Then, sort of miraculously, a * normal * person from Craigslist decided to sublet my room for the month. She came on the last day of February—she was the only one I showed the room to and mine was the only room she looked at, but we were both ready and it seemed like a good fit (and still does). Around the same time, I got an offer for a new freelance writing job to bring in a little side income while I flutter around teaching yoga for two hours a day. Two loads off my shoulders. Whew!

(I’m sure many of you who read this wonder how I can afford to do the things I do, and the answer is somewhere between my grandma giving us an early inheritance along with my being a bit reckless and very resourceful when opportunities for adventure present themselves.)

So all that could’ve fallen into place did, and the ski trip was happening. We drove the 5 hour trek up to the snowy mountains (not a problem for Suzie’s Suburu Impreza) , checked into the very 80’s ski condo, and sipped some cocktails, because, well, of course. There were four of us in the first car, waiting until later in the night when the rest of the group would arrive. Once the second car made it to the condo area, they got stuck at the bottom of the hill, and we had a bit of an exciting time putting chains on their tires (ie. me holding my phone flashlight while the guys did the work).

The first day of skiing was hampered by the biggest blizzard I’ve seen in a while, so many of the lifts were closed. We drank Irish coffees in the lodge and almost called it quits, but as we were about to pack it in, we found an open chair with great conditions and did laps there for the rest of the afternoon.

Mammoth Mountain

On Sunday, we decided to avoid the crowds and possible windy conditions and opted to check out June Mountain, which is still as much of a gem as the first time I saw it. What a perfect day!

Anyway, the moral of this story is to stop all of your non-skiing nonsense, expect everything to fall into place, and go on the ski trip.

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Ciudad de Mexico

I’m still in Australia, yet still behind on everything I’ve wanted to share since the beginning of the year. Getting out of the ordinary routine and into the sunshine has given me a renewed source of energy to put it all out there. I shared in a video a few weeks ago that I’d written an intention for the year to travel internationally at least three times. The first of those trips came at the end of February.

CDMX

My friend Karina asked if I wanted to join in on a surprise birthday trip for her boyfriend, Trevor. The two of them are living in Mexico for a while, but he had no idea anyone else would be coming. La Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX for short) is a hop, skip, and jump from LA, so I was in. Somehow, ten of us were able to gather in the same time, same place to make the whole event happen, and Trevor was, as you might expect, very surprised.

Barcas de Xochimilco

I was surprised as well, at the amount I was about to fall in love with Mexico City. I knew it would be modern and sprawling, and was likely to be full of nice people because most Mexican people I’ve met so far in life have the most kind and generous hearts, but I didn’t know it would hold so much beauty and zest.

Panaderia Rosetta

The streets are lined with green spaces and parks, and the Spanish Colonial architecture calls to mind gorgeous Southern US cities like Charleston, Savannah, or New Orleans. The restaurants range from greasy street taco stalls to the most upscale dining experiences. The Friday night Lucha Libre wrestling is enough to convert even the least likely wrestling fan.

Castillo de Chapultepec
Lucha Libre

It is enormous and some parts are dangerous, but I felt as safe as I have in most Central and South American countries I’ve visited. It’s important to take precautions anywhere, but I didn’t find that Mexico City was any extra exception to the general rules of watching out for yourself while traveling.

Mexico City

Since this was a party-celebration-friends reunion trip, I left wishing I’d done a bit more sightseeing, but that only gives me more of a reason to get back soon, as if I needed an additional reason for that at all.

Mexico City

What To Do with Parents in LA

Hi! I’ve just freshly landed in Australia, but before we get to that, I better tell you about the time in February (too long ago now) when my mom and stepdad came to visit me in LA. It was kind of “cold” for visitors (ie. it was 60 degrees and I had to wear my ski jacket), but they were en route to Cabo, so I didn’t feel too bad. I almost went to Mexico with them, but the hotel they were staying at only had couple’s suites and that would have been a bit too much togetherness for us all. Instead, we had a few days in LA.

We were able to do a lot of the sightseeing stuff that I’d not gotten to yet. I showed them the worst of traffic—only once! They tried In-N-Out (overrated) and a few of LA’s other most fine and trendy eateries, like Sqirl, Republique, Manuela, and Donut Friend (not overrated).

I’m very into building itineraries, so I packed way too many activities into each day. We sprinted around Huntington Gardens, stopped by the Getty Villa, and ate in the Arts District all in one day, which are all in opposite directions if you didn’t know (hence the traffic).

Huntington Botanical Gardens
Getty Villa

I brought my mom to work (aka yoga and Zumba class in Monterey Park) and was wildly impressed that the Zumba teacher made up a special dance with costumes for Chinese New Year. To be a conscientious teacher like that!

24 Hour Fitness Zumba

We saw the Rose Bowl Stadium, which is kind of just there and you can’t go inside, so maybe strike that one off your list if it’s not football season and you aren’t staying in Pasadena.

Rose Bowl Stadium

We had a very Hollywood day when we took a celebrity van tour—so much fun and you must, must do this when you host visitors or are a visitor to the area, if not for the celebrity homes then for the views and for seeing parts of LA that you wouldn’t normally feel like driving to. Then we went to the Pantages Theatre to see Hello, Dolly! where everyone promptly fell asleep because I didn’t calculate our energy levels when planning the ultimate Los Angeles experience. Oh well.

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Overall, it was an amazing few days and I’m so happy they could make the time to stop here before their beach vacation. I love showing people around as well as finding new fun places for myself, so come visit whenever you can!

This Year So Far

Where have I been? Maybe you are wondering.

Everywhere, it feels like!

Something about January has felt powerfully rejuvenating, but in the way that I want to stay introverted and careful about letting the heat leak out from within me. So I’ve been in my room, working on projects and experiencing what it’s like to plant my feet back in this new home. At the end of December, I really was everywhere. I took the most successful red-eye flight yet to New York to have a full day in NYC with my sister.

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We saw the tree and ate some yummy brunch foods. What more can you hope to get out of a wintry day in Manhattan?

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I didn’t get much recovery time, because the next day my dad drove us up to Vermont for a beautiful day of skiing. It was sunny and warm and everything ideal for a now-turned-California girl returning to the East Coast in December! Of course, we included our usual stop at the Vermont Country Store. I showed that I haven’t grown up all that much over the years— I ate all the free samples and a whole bag of assorted candy!

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The rest of the week at home in New York was refreshing and full of fun and family. I was so grateful to be home this year because, if you remember, last year was a little lonely for me in another country. But I’ll take a Christmas wherever I can get it!

Then it was back to NYC for a full family fun day. Big aLICe Brewing kept us all happy and getting along, in spite of conflicting opinions about how we should spend the day. I’m glad my sister got to take charge and show us around her part of the city a little bit.

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I returned to LA with a few days left of 2018 to spend enjoying the beach. I definitely wanted to close out the year with the ocean, taking some time to reflect on the big move out here and how I never have any idea where it will all go from here!

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Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 4

The last morning of our trip came quickly, and we were already feeling nostalgic about having to return back to, sigh, regular life. Blah! My mom and I imagined out loud someday returning with my sister, since the three of us have always wanted to go together, yet we can never seem to get our schedules to align. My mom said maybe someday I could round up a group of girlfriends like she used to do. Apparently, if you visit with a group of friends, there is a way that the group organizer gets a free vacation out of the deal so, um, hi friends! ;) The last day was just a morning for my mom and a half day for me before I made my way back to the smoke scene of Los Angeles. Here’s what it was like:

6:15am Why are we getting up so early on vacation again?

7:00am We join the 50 minute speed and hill interval walk, which is enjoyable. We had considered taking an 8 mile scenic walk to check out a nearby canyon, but obviously that is a crazy amount to walk on a whim, so here’s a picture of it. You can imagine that we were there:

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8:00am The last breakfast! I cry into my french toast and bowl of yummy fruit muesli.

9:00am My mom does a multitude of exercises while I attend acrylic painting class. The description doesn’t tell me much of what to expect, and I’m worried it will be like one of those paint and sip parties where everyone has to paint the same thing and it’s a cherry blossom or a bridge or something else that you don’t really care about. Then I’m nervous because we start really slowly, learning about color theory by blending different quantities white and black into a single color. This lesson actually improves my knowledge of making colors, and after that we can paint whatever we want. I totally copy one of the paintings I’ve seen hanging on the walls at the Ranch, and it comes out pretty nicely.

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11:00am My mom’s flight is a few hours before mine, so we eat an early lunch and more dessert bars at the outdoor cafe.

12:00-4:00pm We’re rushed to say goodbye, but we’re both glad to have had this week of bonding together. I stay for a few more hours, enjoying the sunny desert weather, taking another Zumba class, and treating myself to one last soak in the hot tub. Then it’s time to turn in my plushy robe and slippers and head for the airport.

Between Tucson and LAX, I rope myself into helping a couple of Guatemalan women locate and reunite with their relatives, so I feel like I have done my part to give back to society after taking a week of luxuriously selfish pampering. Goodbye Canyon Ranch! I hope we see each other again soon.

Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 3

Our last full day of fun! I’m not too sad because my regular life is a lot like life at The Ranch, and I’m sure my mom’s is, too. I was nervous to fly back to LA the next day in the midst of all the wildfire crises, but I am lucky enough not to live in the evacuation or danger zone. It feels extremely sad and scary to have a natural disaster hit so close to home. I feel guilty for not being in LA to endure the chaos, but thankful to be somewhere safe and flame-free.

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6:15am We wake up early again. Today is a little easier because mom agreed to turn on the heat in the room last night, so it’s not quite so chilly as we crawl out of bed and out the door.

7:00am Another morning walk. We decide to join the 50 minute power group this time. It ends up being much like the normal paced 40 minute walk because a couple tagged along who didn’t know what they were getting into. I just like walking and being outside, and I don’t wear a watch, so I don’t mind either way.

9:00am Zumba!!! I love taking Zumba and I love that the instructors here give us belly dancing wraps with fancy silver coins hanging from them. We dance and dance and dance.

10:00am I take a yoga class on surfboards. The surfboards are indoors on platforms, so it feels a little silly, but I’m pretending to branch out and try new and different things while still doing what I do every day.

11:00am My mom and I take a TRX fusion class with straps that hang down from the ceiling and heavy kettlebells. I’m a little worried since we’ve already been working out for like 3 hours at this point and it’s marked on the schedule as a Very Difficult class, but we have a good time anyway. The instructor is entertaining, and I appreciate his enthusiasm although we stop giving full effort about halfway through the class.

12:00pm We return to lunch in the main restaurant. This time, there’s a pasta bar plus the usual lunchtime offerings. I again eat everything and end up feeling much too full after. I’m glad there is enough exercise around here to balance out all of the deliciousness.

2:00pm I meet with Leslie the psychic for a Tarot card reading. They really do have everything here! She tells me that I attract narcissistic partners (I’m a blindfolded woman surrounded by swords!) and that my near future will contain a wonderfully sunny period followed by the image of two people leaping from the windows of a burning tower. Things are looking good…

3:00pm I’m back in the room trying to write a book for National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been sticking to the daily word requirements, and I won’t let vacation knock me off track. I will end up getting knocked off track after vacation, but that’s another detail for another time.

4:00pm We make our daily visit to the spa for a quick dip. I bounce back and forth between the cold and hot tubs, and I think I could get used to this. The cold pool is very icy, but I can definitely feel a difference in my muscles the following day.

5:00pm It’s Spanish paella night! We’re excited so we get there too early and end up having some time to kill. We look around to find the “Live Ranch Music” and find that it’s an elderly man playing piano in the lobby. We run back to the room to grab our books to read on the couch by the fireplace. Someone requests that the pianist play “Thanksgiving Songs”, but isn’t sure if there are any or which ones he would like to hear.

6:00pm BINGO time! They’ve moved the game far away into one of the conference rooms, and we walk along the winding paths to get there. The adobe buildings all look similar so it’s easy to get lost here, at least for us, but there are usually signs and friendly employees to point you the right way. We have a nice time playing Bingo for prizes, but neither of us comes close to winning unlike the group of women behind us who each win 2 times in a row!

8:00pm We have to exit Bingo early to get our second round of massages. It’s not a huge loss because our cards are all duds, and getting an immediate massage is a much better prize anyway.

Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 2

Pardon the interruption as I was taking a little Thanksgiving break, but I’ll return to our detailed account of a Canyon Ranch vacay! Day 2 was our first full day of taking advantage of everything the resort had to offer.

6:15am My mom’s alarm goes off and I reconsider my level of interest in the morning walk. It’s cold! And I didn’t sleep well the night before. But I decide to urge myself out of bed so I can see more of the scenery around the ranch.

7:00am We meet in one of the gyms with a group of other walkers to split up into three groups. There are 30, 40, and 50-minute guided walks and the leaders are very peppy for my 7am self. We decide to stick to the middle and head out for a nice walk. I decide to decorate my future home in the color scheme of a Saguaro cactus desert.

8:00am The air warms up on the walk and I see some of my favorite cacti. We’ve worked up an appetite so we head to one of the breakfast options for pretty much anything we could possibly want to eat for breakfast including a fruit/yogurt/oatmeal bar, omelette station, pancakes, waffles, eggs, and other special menu items.

9:00am We take another yoga class, foregoing my promise to try new and different things.

10:00am We stumble upon some kind of cardio class that uses exercise balls and Bosu trainers. I like it and it gives me some new ideas for my own workouts. Then I head back to the room to work on a writing project for a little bit while my mom goes off to join another class.

12:00pm We visit one of the lunch and learn sessions in the demo kitchen where a chef shows you how to make yummy healthy meals while you watch him work and then get to eat whatever he’s making. We learn about brown butter shrimp and winter squash gnocchi, and I’m happy to devour it. I learn that you can make gnocchi much, much more easily by putting the dough into a pastry bag, and then squeezing out a bit and slicing it straight into boiling water. I’ll have to try this at home.

2:00pm Water aerobics! I am not usually a fan of swimming in outdoor pools when it’s below 80 degrees, but the water is heated and I’m trying new things so I join the pool full of eager classmates. It’s not bad, but too cold for me and run-swim-leaping from side to side across the pool is not enough to warm my spirits. I want to quit early but I like the teacher and don’t want her to think it’s because of her. Probably won’t do water aerobics in November again.

3:30pm We stick to our afternoon spa date and enjoy the hot tub(s). I try to master my mind and body by dipping into the cold tub. I turn my back to the clock and try to last a minute, which ends up being the longest 60 seconds of my life. I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to stay in the cold dip so I retreat back to the scalding waters of the hot tub. I think the cold helps my muscles though since I don’t feel sore at all the next day.

5:00pm We return to the room to get ready for dinner, and my mom spots a group of these babies just outside our door:

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6:30pm We eat in the same restaurant as the night before. There’s no need to branch out when the entire menu looks and is so good!

8:00pm My mom booked us massage appointments, which is one of the best ways ever to round out the day. My masseuse is a little heavy on the foot massaging, but I’m thankful for the overall pampering. I fall asleep easily again.

Our Canyon Ranch Vacation, Day 1

In case you missed it, my mom took me to the most wonderful wellness retreat in Tuscon, Arizona a couple weeks ago, and I promised I would tell you more about it. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate my belated 30th birthday. I moved to LA about a month before my b-day, so I wasn’t ready to make any travel plans to close to the move date. Luckily, my mom is retired and her golf and tennis schedule allows for frequent vacations. And, if you didn’t already know, my yoga teaching schedule does too!

I learned about Canyon Ranch when I was younger, because my mom used to go with her girlfriends for a week every year. She would come back carrying logo-bearing tote bags and fancy water bottles and tell us about pampering spa treatments, so my sister and I have always been curious. Unfortunately, Elayne the vet was busy slaving away at her internship and couldn’t join us this time. Hopefully there will be a next time when the three of us can go together.

Before leaving, I knew that we were going to a nice, outdoorsy type of spa place, but I didn’t know what to expect. My mom had revealed that there would be yoga classes and healthy cooking demos, but that’s the extent of what I knew. I imagined a bunch of older, already pretty healthy women treating themselves to spa day. But during our 4-day relaxcation, I found that Canyon Ranch actually offers a lot more than spa services. I was pleased to find a more holistic approach to health— the classes range from cardio bootcamps to lectures on technology addiction or running on an underwater treadmill. There were people of all sizes and adult ages. People suffering from loss, mental illness, and addiction. Families celebrating together. Men and women on their own learning about self-care. There seemed to be something for anyone interested in improving their physical, emotional, and mental health or simply looking to recharge and reset the system.

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Here’s a daily schedule of some things that we experienced:

Wednesday

11:00am I arrive after a quick up and down flight from LAX. Driver Dan picks me up at the airport with a sign that has my name on it. I feel very elite.

12:00pm I check into the resort and find my mom at the outdoor cafe. We split a tasty portion-controlled salmon burger and some desert bars. I learn that everything on the menu is all-inclusive, but it’s not a buffet, so you can really order one of everything on the menu if that’s your game.

1:00pm We’re early, so our rooms aren’t ready yet, which doesn’t bother us. We stop at a shoe shop in the hallway to talk to the foot specialist about my lingering foot problem (I have a bone spur on one of my heels). Before I even stand up out of the chair, she comments on my right foot collapsing inward. She watches me walk from 4 angles on a treadmill and has me step across a sensory pad. My mom and I both end up getting new running/walking shoes. Mine are meant to correct the way I’ve been compensating for the heel spur. This ends up being the most valuable life takeaway of the trip for me. I can run pain-free again!

3:00pm We take our first class— Yogilates. I realize that I miss the strength and slow control of Pilates; it was my gateway into yoga and my first teaching stint. I feel inspired to incorporate it more into my yoga classes.

4:00pm We stay for Yoga Vinyasa flow, even though I said I was going to branch out and try other forms of movement on this trip. Oh well. You can take the yogi off the mat, but you can’t put the yogi back into a room full of mats and expect them not to practice.

5:00pm We decide to skip meditation class, having just done two hours of controlled movement and breathing. We head to the room to check in and unpack.

5:30pm We visit the spa area and change into our bathing suits and plush robes. There’s a eucalyptus aromatherapy room, a regular steam room, a sauna, two hot tubs, a cold dipping pool, showers, a nude sunbathing area (maybe good for sunning the skin, but I’m with my mom, so come on…), and a room where you can apply masks and body scrubs. And if you lose your towel or robe there are about 600 other towels and robes available to you.

6:30pm Dinner time. I order almost everything, and it is all delicious.

8:30pm My mom made us facial appointments. What a treat! I would pay a lot of money just to lie down on the facial bed again because the way it is sloped and padded makes me the most comfortable I’ve ever been. Usually I would change someone’s name if I’m going to talk about them, but Euvgenia, my Eastern European facialist, has the most amazing presence and facial skills. Seek her out! Afterwards I visit the restroom where all the walls and ceilings are mirrors and there is a hanging chandelier. I can’t tell if I’m just extremely relaxed or I’ve been transported into a Las Vegas drug-induced experience. 10 out of 10 either way.

10:00pm Easy bed time.