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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

If there is one book you choose to read in 2008, let me recommend "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Relin. It is by far the BEST story I have read in a really long time. The book is all about Greg Mortenson's amazing journey to the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan. Greg originally was there to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world, but after weeks of climbing he was too weak to go on. He was guided down the mountain by his Balti porter and they stumble into the remote mountain village of Korphe. It is in Korphe that Greg recuperates before heading back home to the States. During his stay, Greg marvels at the hospitality and kindness shown to him by the villagers - all this despite their insurmountable poverty and the harsh conditions in which they live. Greg finds out the village is so poor they do not have a school nor can they afford to pay the wages of a Pakistani teacher ($1.00 a week). But what really breaks Greg's heart is seeing a dozen or so children, huddled on the icy ground, learning their numbers by scratching on the earth with sticks. He vows to build Korphe a school.

Back in the States, he faces great odds in raising the funds needed to build a school. Greg is even forced to sell all his belongings and live in his car before finally receiving a donation to build the school. Fast forward a year later, Greg is back in Pakistan and still faces obstacle after obstacle in getting materials, transportation and permits needed for his school up in the mountains. He finally fulfills his promise and erects a 4-room school. But as he spends more time in the region - he finds himself wanting to do more, reach out to other villages, help more children. Through countless efforts (both local and abroad) he finally gets funding and establishes the Central Asian Institute (CAI). But it was never smooth sailing even then. Greg endured being kidnapped, butting heads with local religious leaders, even sitting down for tea with the Taliban. But he also met much success in reaching out to those who needed him. Today CAI has over 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and educates over 24,000 children till 5th grade and have set up scholarships for advanced studies. More than that they have built vocational centers for the women and training centers for the men in the villages. CAI has also assisted with community projects such as building bridges, water sanitation systems and bringing medical aid to these areas.

Greg's philosophy is that education is the key. The key to bettering the lives of villagers who rely on a hand-to-mouth existence, who have an alarming infant mortality rate, who are being taken advantaged of by the more powerful in society. But in the long run it is also the key to the war on terror that America is fighting in those regions. Greg believes that the war is not going to be won by bombs but rather by books. I totally agree. After all a message that is sent thru violence and destruction only fosters fear and hatred. There can be no rationale for senseless destruction. When their villages and cities are bombed, children grown up to fear and to hate their attackers, and are easily brainwashed into taking revenge. How can the world be a safer place when we fight violence with violence? But a solid education can move mountains. Teaching children and giving them a chance to better themselves will counter ignorance and growing hatred. It is the long-term but steadfast way to end the pervasive threat of terrorism. One of my favorite lines in the book is "education is giving them a chance to choose life over death".

The story was so inspiring to me. I normally breeze through books but this one I really wanted to savor. I read and re-read sections, looked at the inset of pictures trying to identify names and faces, and even referred to maps of Pakistan and the Baltisan region over and over again to understand where this was all happening. I really have to hand it to Greg Mortenson. He is a true American hero. He truly epitomizes what it means to live your life to the fullest and be of service to others. People always ask what can they do to make the world a better place. Greg Mortenson shows us this is what one man can do. And although he claims that what he does is only one drop in the ocean, the fact is the ocean will still be missing water without that one drop.

Greg's story and the continuing mission of CAI is not just something that's "nice to know" but "later forgotten". It should make us realize that life is too short not to live to the fullest but at the same time it is also too short for us not to do anything to make this world a better place. We may not be humanitarians like Greg who can travel to far-off places to save the world, but we can make a difference in our corners of the world. Even small acts of kindness can be one more drop in the ocean.

In the Acknowledgments Section of the book, Greg asks for people to help and there are several ways listed on how to do that. One of the things he has asked is to purchase the book (proceeds go to CAI) and also to donate the book to public libraries. Since the more we get the message out there, the better. And also, since there are so many libraries with depleted book copies there is a "line" of about 7 people on average waiting to read the book. I was so moved and touched by this story that I will be ordering copies of Greg's book and donating it to all the public libraries in Torrance. Stories like these need to be told, it's the very least I can do.


For more information on the book, please click here. For more information on the Central Asian Institute, please click here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bare Escentuals

I must admit that I have my fair share of "kakikayan" and do have a girly-girl side that enjoys experimenting with make-up. Although I am by no means a make-up junkie or a cosmetics fashionista - I do enjoy wearing what I consider the "basics" of make-up. I can not live without good moisturizing foundation and pressed powder plus I really think that at the very least some blush, eyeshadow, and a natural shade of lipstick is necessary when leaving the house. Well, naturally, it depends where you are headed for the day - but being well-groomed is pretty standard for most places! And I do think that make-up (the right amount and combination) is part of good grooming.

My fascination with make-up started when I was much younger. I remember sitting on the floor of my mom's dressing room watching her get ready to go out. She would work on her hair, carefully apply her make up (never forgetting to press and blot), choose her clothes, select her jewelry and then spritz on perfume. It was always so interesting to watch my mom get ready and I could not wait to try it for myself. When she would leave, I would sit in her chair and play with her brushes and make myself up (of course my "finished" look was more clownish than glamorous).

I was only allowed to wear make-up when I enterred college and had turned 18. Since then I've experimented with many different brands. I started with Almay products (it worked so well on my oily skin). Then I went thru a Shiseido and then a Shu Uemura phase. My mom, sisters and I were convinced that these were the perfect brands for our Asian skin. When I moved to Berkeley, my friends and I were so excited about this then new line called Benefit and even went to the outlet store on 4th Street to stock up. Then I got hooked on Clinique (especially their moisturizing and skin care line). I would spend hours in the Clinique counters at Macys getting makeovers and then buying everything the skin care specialist recommended. I also went thru an Origins and Prescriptives phase. Those were the brands that worked for me. In between were many others but they were shortlived especially those that caused my hyper sensitive skin to redden, dry up, or break out.

Lately, I discovered yet another line that I am absolutely crazy over. It's called Bare Escentuals. Last Christmas, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend got me the starter kit. The kit comes with a moisturizer and skin rejuvinator, various make up brushes, two shades of foundation/concealer, bronzer (which can be used as an eyeshadow too), and a face powder for a finishing touch. It even came with a DVD showing a first time user various tips and techniques when using the products. It was really easy to use - there are three basic steps: "swirl, tap, and buff". I really liked the results too. The look is very natural and and makes your skin look almost glowing. What's even better is that it is good for the skin (so good you can actually sleep with it still on). My hubby (who normally does not like make-up) even complimented me while we went to dinner the other night. And friends at work have noticed it too. This is a really great product and I'm so glad I found it. I plan on ordering starter kits for my mom and sisters too (I really think they'll like it). For those that are curious, here's the link to the website: http://www.bareescentuals.com/

Friday, January 25, 2008

Here Come the Rains!

The weather the last couple of days has just been beautiful. I'm not being sarcastic. I really love this kind of weather. It's been alternating between heavy downpour, light but steady showers, and overcast, balmy skies. Last night the news had a Weather Advisory saying there was a Tornado Warning (yes, a tornado warning!) in all coastal cities from Malibu to Long Beach (Torrance was one of the cities). Luckily that passed without event. Then there are countless flash flood warnings, storm warnings and strong wind advisories. On the news, we saw several cities getting pounded by hail and snow was falling in areas that don't normally get any snow. This certainly does not happen very often in Southern California.

On days like this, I wish I could burrow under the covers and finish the book I've been reading. I wish I were making my mom's Beau Beef Stew and enjoying a hearty bowl with crusty bread. I wish I could sit by the fire and enjoy some hot chocolate (not the instant kind but the one with real pieces of dark chocolate). I wish Jojo and I could just stay in and enjoy a game of Scrabble. I wish I could snuggle on our comfy couch and watch sitcom reruns all day. I wish I could watch the rain pour and listen to the thunder roar from the window by my side of the bed as as I lay all warm and toasty.

But then reality sets in and today I got to enjoy this beautiful weather in a different way ... first, I woke up extra late (it's always nice to sleep in when it's raining), almost froze to death as I got out of the shower, dragged myself to work, got my umbrella blown upside down (resulting in me looking like a wet dog when I stepped in the office), worked 9 hours (facing a blank cubicle wall and not once getting to enjoy the rainy day), stepped in an ankle-high puddle as I trudged to my car (was wearing leather slingbacks and slacks too!), drove home with crazy LA drivers who never seem to know how to drive when the ground is wet, and was welcomed home by our trashcan that the wind toppled over resulting in wet trash lying scattered across the front lawn (we'll get to it when the rain stops!).

Anyway, I won't let that get me down. At least we get to enjoy this weather all weekend long. I only feel bad for those that may be adversely affected by the weather. Everyone whose home is in danger of mudslides, flash floods or hailstorms. I hope homes stay intact and people get thru this with roofs over their heads. I hope the cold weather does not spread any more of the cold and flu virus. I hope drivers out there are careful since the roads are slick with water and ice. I hope that families stay indoors and enjoy this time to bond with each other. I hope everyone has a good weekend and gets to enjoy the weather safely and warmly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Birthday (2008)

A lot of my co-workers have been asking how I spent my birthday. Since my birthday this year coincided with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I was lucky enough to get the day off. Because it was a 3-day weekend, my friends at work have been speculating that it must have been a wild, crazy and extravagant weekend. Haha - this just goes to show how little people here know me. My birthday was anything but wild, crazy and extravagant. I got to spend the weekend shopping with my hubby, having lunch with friends on one day, going for dimsum with family on another, and on my birthday itself - I spent the day all alone.

That may sound kind of sad but honestly it was a good kind of "alone". The kind where you can indulge yourself in doing and eating the things you most enjoy. The kind where "me, myself and I" take priority over everything else. The kind where I can just let myself be me. After weeks of having guests and family stay over and going on out-of-town trips, eating out, shopping and sightseeing - I needed some down time. Of course that's not to say I don't have a blast when I'm in the company of my family and friends - and yes, going out is a lot of fun too. But sometimes, being alone, and having the whole house to yourself, and not having a schedule to follow, and just staying in, and spending the whole day in your comfy flannel pajamas ... well, that can be a blast too.

On my birthday, since Jojo had to work, I took my time waking up, had coffee and cereal while watching HGTV and Food Network shows, I browsed through my emails and surfed the net till it was time for lunch. I leisurely made my favorite comfort food and had it with my hubby who came home to join me. After lunch, I alternated between napping and watching a tv movie. The rest of the afternoon, I snuggled on the couch with a fleece throw and some hot apple cider sprinkled with cinnamon powder while reading Greg Mortenson's super inspiring book "Three Cups of Tea". All the while the rain fell lightly and made the day gloomy and cold (could it have been any more perfect for me?). By the time it started getting too dark to read, I soaked in a long hot bath and was so relaxed and definitely ready to welcome family over for dinner. It was great not having to prepare all that much since my sisters-in-law took care of most of the food. They even ordered and brought my birthday cake. Then came birthday presents and sharing strawberry ice cream with the kids but the best part was my hubby shooing me away from doing the dishes just because it's my special day.

It was such a perfect day I could not ask for anything more. It was also really nice too to get phone calls, birthday cards, presents, emails and text messages from family and friends both here and abroad to remind me that they remembered my special day and to let me know how much I am loved. Thanks to everyone who helped make my special day even more special!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Phantom of the Opera

A couple of weeks ago I had written about watching The Phantom of the Opera at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. It was such a wonderful experience. I can not begin to describe the feeling when you hear the familiar and haunting songs, watch the spell-binding performances, and get caught up in the splendid theaterical effects. The Las Vegas version is shorter than the Broadway production (about half an hour shorter but features all the highlights and all the songs - however what it lacks in length, it makes up for with much more spell-binding visual effects). I guess the best description for the show is to describe my reaction to it: throughout the play I got goosepimples and felt a tingingling running up and down my spine. I would grip Jojo's hand and whisper to him my favorite parts. And yes, there were times, I actually held my breath and got all teary-eyed. In short, I LOVED IT. But enough about me, what was even more surprising was Jojo's reaction to the show. He was so fascinated by the music too. I guess we all were. All 5 of us (Joy, Marc, Jules and Jojo) were humming Phantom tunes and singing snippets of made-up lyrics as we walked down The Strip.

When we got back to LA, Phantom-fever was still high. We watched all the performances that featured the cast, songs and even the spoofs on You Tube. We saw the movie version featuring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum - which was also good but nowhere near as great as the live performance. Jojo and I downloaded the show's musical score onto our Ipods. My hubby even changed his cellphone ringtone to the Hannibal Overture (the intro to the Phantom of the Opera). We would sing karaoke-style to such songs as "Music of the Night", "All I Ask of You", "Angel of Music", and "The Phantom of the Opera". Joy and Marc were our captive audience and listened to those earsplitting renditions without too much protest. Lately we have been playing the musical score right before bedtime (every night this week!) and we've been drifting off to sleep lulled by the music.

So, of course, we are excited beyond words when I came across an ad for this:


3/26/2008 - 4/19/2008
Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center

http://www.ocpac.org/home/Events/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=575

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Life's Reasons

It's uncanny how things always seem to happen for a reason. It's true that most of the time we never realize that there is a "reason" and we find ourselves questioning why we are faced with a particular predicament. It's always easy to question especially when we aren't privvy to the bigger picture and are limited only to the part that is exposed to us. But it's a fact - things do happen for a reason - even random, spontaneous and seemingly serendipitous events.

I have had the chance to understand this concept a little bit more lately. Let me explain. Yesterday, I was given the opprtunity to explore the possibility of moving to the next step in my career. Had I pursued it and had it worked out, it would mean a job with a lot more responsibility, power, and prestige, not to mention a subtantial jump in pay and benefits. Of course it goes without saying that it would mean longer work hours, more pressure, more stress and more anxiety too. I decided to re-think that offer but was really flattered to have even been considered for it.

I was talking to my hubby about it last night and while describing the offer and the job, I started having thoughts like "can I do this?", "am I qualified enough?", and "why would they even consider me?". Of course Jojo eased all my doubts by saying "if you wanted to, you can definitely do it. It's what you're doing right now". I had to stop and realize that well, yes, I guess in a way I'm already "at that level". At that stage in my career.

Then I thought about it some more. How did I get "here"? (Professionally speaking, of course!) My thoughts kind of snowballed. Every professional step I've taken was preceeded by an experience that helped me take that step. I got my current job (Company A), because of my last job (Company B). And I got there because of my masters degree (and the internship program that sent me to work for Company B). I went for grad studies because of my course at Berkeley which happened because of my first job back in Manila (Company C). And I started with Company C because my grandmother plays mahjong with my former boss' mom (who told guama about the job opening!). Thank God for mahjong!

But now that I backtrack, I realize that there were undoubtably good times at every stage but along with that I had done my fair share of complaining and wondering what my life/career meant at that point. It's so strange cause I recall that while working for Company C, so many people asked me why I chose to work there and I kept asking myself where I was going with that career. But honestly as my first job and it was such a great work experience and really helped me definie what I wanted to do - it also made me think about going for further studies. That led me to coming here and while at school (Berkeley and AIU) I kept wondering if I had made the right choice and what the hell was I thinking going back to school (when I barely made it out of high school and college alive!). But I met some great mentors at school and really got a solid foundation in my chosen field. Then when I got the internship at Company B and had to work for free (as in no pay!) I doubted my self worth and kept questioning what this all meant and why was I doing this. But truthfully that internship opened up the doors that eventually got me hired full time (still by Company B). Even then I still had so many concerns about what my purpose was, whether I was living up to my potential and why I had to work such a (in my mind) dead-end job. But those 2 and ½ years were really defining in helping me understand this profession, gave me exposure to working in Corporate America, and even gave me the chance to learn from my bosses who are such experts in my field. Then at a networking event (and now armed with more experience), I got this job (Company A). But my first year here I kept asking why was I given this job with all its challenges and pressures. I kept thinking I'm not ready and I'm not going to last but strangely it's been over a year and a half and I'm still alive (haven't been fired AND actually got bonuses and salary increases along the way). And sure, it's still tough, and there are days where I still want to tear all my hair out, but I have to admit it really is a great opportunity for professional development and for building one's character (it's taught me so many things about myself) - and of course, it's also opened up further opportunities like the one I was given yesterday.

I guess what I am trying to say is sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we don't understand the purpose for our being there and we don't see how it can do us any good. This may be professionally speaking or even the personal part of our lives. We bitch and question and rant. Since we don't know what the future holds, it's easy for us to doubt and complain. But when we are given the chance to look back, it does all make sense and everything does seem to fit in place. God really is in control and He has a plan for each one of us. So now that I know this - will it make me more accepting of where I am and what life throws my way ... probably not ... I'm only human after all ... but it will make me think twice and try to exhibit some amount of patience for things to become clearer in time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wish List

Every year I work on a Wish List that I post just before the holidays. It's my list of things that I want, hope, dream of some day getting. Most of the items are frivolous and fanciful (hence the term "wish list") and I don't really expect to receive them all (well, it wouldn't hurt!). But to be honest, the "fun part" is in putting the lists together. My only criteria is they have to be somewhat "believable" - meaning there could be a (small, tiny, miniscule) chance of getting at least one of the items. I mean anyone can wish for a billion dollars or a tropical dream house with George Clooney on a private island. But let's get real! Other than that, there are no other limits - they can be anything, from anywhere, or from anyone!

Here's my belated-holiday (but pre-birthday) wish list:

Sony E-Reader – this is the Ipod of the literary world. Rather than downloading songs, you can actually download books! This small (6.9” by 4.9” by .5”) and lightweight (9 ounces) electronic book can hold up to 80 average-size books. Definitely something a bookworm like me would love to have – even if I’m officially a “low-tech” person – that’s what I have Jojo for! =)
http://products.sel.sony.com/pa/prs/index.html

Square-shaped Corelle Dinner Set – I’m not sure why but lately I’ve been obsessing about changing our dinnerware into square-shaped plates, bowls, serving sets. I love this Pretty Pink pattern from Corelle! I need a set for 8 (every day) or 16 (dinner parties).
http://www.corelle.com/index.asp?pageId=93&pid=353

A pair of white Adirondack rocking chairs for our front porch – I can just imagine people-watching with Jojo, sipping lemonade, rocking the afternoon away.
http://www.therockingchaircompany.com/catalog/GCHO-0301-00-White-Cedar-Adirondack-Rocker-p-23020.html

Chocolate-brown, knee length toggle coat – I must have been an Eskimo in my past life cause I love toggle coats with faux fur hoodies.
http://www1.macys.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=254164&PseudoCat=se-xx-xx-xx.esn_results

Leather Armchair and matching Ottoman – I want a comfy chair that’s designated as my “reading chaitr” where I can snuggle with a warm fleece warp and a good book. Pottery Barn’s Austin Leather Armchair is extra wide (so I can tuck my legs under me) and is soft enough to sit for hours. I love the Saddle Leather shade too.
http://www.potterybarn.com/products/p9161/index.cfm?pkey=cfurcaolth

Set of Samsonite luggage for our upcoming trip to Manila! I like Samsonite’s “Silhouette 10” collection – or anything else that’s durable, classic, lightweight and stands out in the airport carousel!
http://www1.macys.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=221113&PseudoCat=se-xx-xx-xx.esn_results


Since we're on the subject, I'd also like to wish for a total kitchen makeover (granite counters, please!) or better yet a garage makeover (and finally turn it into the family room we've been dreaming of!). What are the chances that Kenneth Brown (my absolute favorite designer) from HGTV's reDesign, will be knocking on our door? It could happen and yes, this is a "wish list" after all.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Holidays

The last few weeks have been so busy (I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record). But this time, it has not been all about work. I’ve been quite remiss from updating my blog for a far better reason! My sisters have been here the last 4 weeks and together with them were, of course, their special friends Mark and Marc. We’ve had a full house and many adventures together. I can’t believe how fast the 4 weeks have flown by. I think that is a true testament to how well we all got along, how much fun we all had, and how much I am starting to miss them all since they left two days ago.

Some highlights from the last 4 weeks:

- We spent a 3-day weekend in Las Vegas. While in Vegas we got to watch “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Venetian Hotel. Watching the show, listening to the music and being transfixed by the splendor of the story … it is far beyond any description I could ever write. Suffice it to say it was probably one of the best shows I have ever watched and I am forever indebted to Andrew Lloyd Weber for bringing this spectacular show to the theater! We also feasted at the Rio hotel’s Carnival Buffet. Now I’ve been to a lot of buffets both here and back home but this is the “mother of all buffets” in both quantity and quality! A total “must-do” whenever one finds him/herself in Vegas. And of course, the shopping – from Barstow, to Primm, to the Las Vegas Premium Outlets … what more can I say?

- We spent Xmas eve at home and dinner was a team effort. My husband and Marc grilled tenderloin steaks, I made a shrimp scampi pasta, Joy made my mom’s super Caesar salad and a made-from-scratch strawberry trifle, Jules brought champagne and a cherry cheesecake, while his friend In Sook brought us fresh fruits. Atsi and Mark spent Xmas with Mark’s family over in Borrego Springs. After dinner, we attended Xmas eve mass and went over to my sister-in-law's place where we spent the rest of the night exchanging presents, revealing our secret santas, and enjoying a light Noche Buena.

- Christmas Day we lounged around in our pajamas all day (perfect way to spend Xmas if you ask me). Watched DVDs, indulged in comfort food, and just enjoyed each others company.

- We also visited Marc’s place for a 5-day vacation to Glendale (AZ). We took day trips to explore the Red Rocks in Sedona, the city of Flagstaff and shivered our way to the top of the Snow Bowl. We visited Tempe, Chandler and of course Phoenix. We walked around Main Street by the Arizona State University, spent the morning in the Wild West town of Rawhide, enjoyed new places to eat (Cracker Barrel, Rock Bottom, etc) and of course were pampered by Marc’s mom and grandma.

- New Year’s eve was also at home: I made a rib eye roast with mushroom and white wine gravy, roasted baby potatoes with rosemary and garlic, and steamed green beans. Marc made shrimps with garlic sauce while Jules brought smoked salmon with capers and pita bread with three dipping sauces. Jojo opened a bottle of Riesling which we enjoyed with Joy’s super luscious chocolate bread pudding. After dinner we all headed to my brother-in-law’s place where we joined Jojo’s family – played games like Family Feud and Trivial Pursuit. And rang in the new year together.

- Atsi and Mark took care of our New Year’s day lunch – they grilled finger-lickin’ good ribs, had a creamy chicken alfredo penne pasta, and pita breads toasted on the grill with hummus. The rest of the day we enjoyed old movies and playing games.

- Those were the highlights but in-between we had many happy moments too. Dinners out at new places and all our family favorites, day trips to Balboa Island and picnics at Redland Park, endless shopping and catching late night movies at the AMC in Del Amo. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie of everyone pitching in to do household chores and everyone doing their own thing during the day but sitting down to home cooked dinners every night. Aside from our Iron Chef dinners, we had many memorable meals too: Mark’s delicious fried catfish dinner, Marc’s super beef stew, my chicken adobo and nilagang baka feast, Joy’s delectable tiramisu and Pinoy breakfast buffets, and even Atsi’s attempt to make guacamole sandwiches and turkey burgers. Despite living within 1,800 sqaure feet, sharing 3 bathrooms and 1 television, we all managed to have a good time and really rekindle our bonds of sisterhood (I couldn’t be happier about that) and really getting to know our “special partners” (no complains there either!). Of course we were also busy with Joy’s applications to FIDM and helping Atsi and Mark plan their wedding. It’s been busy but probably one of the best vacations I have ever had in ages. I can’t wait to do it all over again!

Here are some pictures of my favorite moments:

(Jojo, me, Jules, Joy, Marc, Atsi and Mark)
Walking the Las Vegas Strip - it was a really COLD night - we all ended up buying Las Vegas sweatshirts (like the ones Atsi and Mark have on) because we were freezing!


Freezing our butts off at the Snow Bowl. We looked so out of place in our trenchcoats and jeans - everyone else had snowsuits and boots on! And of course our constant picture-taking really gave away the fact that we were "tourists"!


Barbecuing in our backyard (where else can you do that in the US in the middle of winter ... well ... California, of course!)


Toasting the new year ... and the fact that we didn't burn anything we cooked for dinner. We wish mom, dad and Jim were here with us too!


Working our way through the Backyard Feast at Lucille's Smokehouse Barbecue. Those ribs are to die for!!!


Picnicking at Redlands Park (right by where Mark lives). It was really windy that day but we were determined to have a picnic (nevermind if we had to wear coast and scarves the whole time!)


Getting ready to watch "The Phantom of the Opera". It was awesome! Mom, we have to do this when you get here!!!

The view of the Red Rocks (behind us) was breathtaking. It was so worth the long drive :)


Noche Buena with my in-laws and three of my beautiful nieces.


Cook-it-yourself Korean barbecue - after this meal we headed off to Balboa Island smelling of grilled meat all day!