July 31, 2008

Ms. Smiles Sees All

There she is, the Ms. Smiles balloon looking down on me as I read a trashy magazine and eat carrot cake. Please do tell me Ms. Smiles what is going on with Madonna's face? Britney's kids, Selma's break up and Angelina's twins?
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Increasing Your Happiness Factor

Here are three easy steps to increasing your happiness factor.

1. A giant piece of carrot cake - room temperature
2. Really junky tabloid like People Magazine or In Touch
3. An oversized happy face flower shaped balloon.

Yes, it is a $15 investment but I guarantee you happiness will increase by a significant factor.

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Musical Uplift Towards Solution

Now watch and listen Obama's ad in response to McCain's. It begins with a direct response and then mid-way switches to positive solutions. Notice the uplifting music and imagery.

Gosh, I feel so tired of the same old politics. All the negative attacks. With the current economy and our slumped shoulders we need solutions.

McCain's Mixed Message

John McCain's people putting out these anti-Barack Obama ads that try to compare him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are so bizarre. The narrative and visuals work against each other - making Barack look very powerful in a way that I think is great.

View From My Bedroom Window

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July 30, 2008

Triathletes Across Generations

This past weekend my brother AND father participated in the New Jersey State Triathlon. Matt has been training for months. He's a super strong cyclist and runner. To get up to speed in swimming Matt trained with a professional swimmer. When I stayed with him and Rachel in DC in May and June Matt was always up early and staying out late riding his bike, plus, riding to and from work. Totally amazing. My dad is a strong cyclist and runner - swimming is also a newer sport for him.

Triathlons are really about individual athletes competing against their own best times. Ask my dad and he won't agree - it is just as much about the competition. Good thing my dad's age group only had two participants and guess what - he won a silver medal!

Above is a great shot of my mom, dad and Matt.

July 27, 2008

Pulling Myself Together

Yesterday I rented a Uhaul and picked up my final two moving boxes from San Francisco and brought them to Alameda. It was like a right of passage riding my bike to the Uhaul place, renting the truck, sitting in Bay Bridge traffic, paying the toll, working my way across San Francisco, picking up the boxes, again sitting in Bay Bridge traffic, dropping the boxes off at my new place, returning the truck and then riding my bike back home. This was bookended with my favorite yoga class and seeing the movie Mama Mia.

Unpacking the boxes this morning I discovered all the little bits and pieces that make a place feel like home. These are the collections of things I brought to London and continued to grow over the years. A collection of glass hearts, hand crafted eggs, my etchings, scarves, and ceramics. Placing them around my place I instantly felt like this is home. Unfortunately there were a few broken items but not bad considering they were shipped from the UK to DC and then on to SF.

Seeing Mama Mia with Rachel and David was the ultimate ending to the day. Meryl Streep, as always, is an inspiration. Clearly I identified with her character as I dreamt last night that I had her long, long blond hair. More than her hair I felt touched by the duality of her character's strength/vulnerability, calm/panic, age/agelessness, creativity/practicality. This photo captures it all, especially the setting - her bedroom in Greece.

After leaving the film we chatted about saving for the future. What is it that I am saving for? Rachel reminded me, the farm and continuing my work in international civic leadership. How quickly I was distracted from my clearly-stated goals during my whirlwind reconnection with Bay Area life.

This image of Meryl stretching herself apart and at the same time pulling herself together while jumping madly on her bed is how I'm feeling these days.

July 25, 2008

The Accent Again

Here I am sitting at the bar at Applebee's satisfying my Friday night burger craving and again I get the accent question.

Drunk man #1: Are you from Australia?

Amy: Are you saying you think I have an accent?

Drunk man #2: Where are you from with that accent?

Amy: California but I just moved back from London.

Drunk man #2: They speak perfect hoity toity English over there in London, even if they don't think they have an accent

You gotta love how we Americans let it hang out on payday.
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Looking Bohemian

Me doing the Bohemian thang in San Francisco South of Market
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Visitng the Frida Kahlo Exhibition at SFMOMA

Check out my post about visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibition on my Frida in SF blog.

July 23, 2008

Sailing at Sunset in Berkeley Marina

I was able to post this and the previous image directly from my crackberry while on the boat on the Bay. Needless to say it was a perfect recipe for seasickness. There were moments I felt like my dad as we were pulling out to the Bay and I was busy looking at the crackberry not at all being "in the moment". It was a fantastic evening. I actually took the helm for our exit out of and entrance into the Marina. This made up for the last time I went out on the Bay and I got so scared about "driving the boat." Now new good memories and even the confidence to be working the sails.

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Amy Sailing on San Francisco Bay

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July 22, 2008

Ike the Bike on BART

I figured out how to send photos from my crackberry to the blog! Now you're going to see some good stuff while I'm on the go.

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July 21, 2008

Foot Fet[f]ish

My friend Leigh, who loves to share all things gross, just informed me that a new trend in pedicures is to have little carp fish in the foot soaking bowl to eat away the dead skin. Can you think of anything more gross? Well, Leigh was the first person to tell me about the finger in the Wendy's chili. Remember that one?

Photo from the El Paso Times: AP Photo Jacquelyn Martin

July 20, 2008

10 Course Tuscan Dinner Anyone?

My friend Dave has an amazing group of musical friends who love to cook and entertain. For the past seven years they have been presenting 10 course Tuscan dinners for lucky silent auction top bidders around the San Francisco Bay Area. The first one sold for a little over $100 and now they are going for thousands of dollars. What a fantastic fundraising idea!

I had the pleasure of participating as a prep cook and waitron at last night's extravaganza. Let's just say that the volunteer staff eats just as well as the 10 guests. Starting at 1pm and working through to 10pm we ate, cooked, cleaned, served and sang. Well, they sang and I listened. The guests commented that it sounded like we were having even more fun in the kitchen then they were having in the dining room.

Highlights from the meal included Red and Green Gazpachos, Pork Ragu with Polenta and two kids of Tiramisu - regular and Berrymisu which uses berries and citrus liquor instead of chocolate and coffee. The hosts to their menu to a wine shop and had each course paired with a lovely wine. In the kitchen we had our own supply too. Luckily we had lots of leftovers so I'll be enjoying this meal again over the next couple of days.

Here is Dave cooking the Pork Ragu and a photo of the Gazpacho ready to go out to guests.

I've linked to recipes but these are not the ones used by our Chef Jonathon Moon.

July 18, 2008

Do I Have an Accent?

Riding good old Ike to my neighborhood shopping center and nearly smashed into the security guard who was also on a bike.

Security guard "nice bike!"

Amy "thanks, it folds."

Security guard "nice accent!"

Amy "accent, what accent? Must be because I'm talking about my UK bike?"

Security guard (now looking at me all gaga) "Yeah, nice accent."

At this point I had to end the conversation before he proposed marriage or something more extreme although I can,t think of what that would be.

July 17, 2008

Living Sustainably

For the past few months I've been writing about finding personal sustainability most often in the emotional realm. Now that I'm back in San Francisco I feel like that is so quickly becoming a reality. But sustainability is more than just about emotion it encompasses economic and environmental issues as well.

I experienced this in action when I stayed with Matt and Rachel in DC for May and June. They are living what I would call a sustainable lifestyle and perhaps others would call it Green. Their home operates more as a collective in terms of sharing a house with roommates, keeping expenses down through conversation, a focus on recycling and using public transit and bicycles as much as possible.

Last night I had the most wonderful conversation with a new friend Miriam who is a sustainability consultant who believes that collaboration is the key to success. Needless to say we had a lot in common. During our conversation I reflected on my choice to rent a room in my friends' house, to use public transit and my bike to get around. Yes, some of this is motivated by the high costs of living in the Bay Area, but it also stems from my desire to live sustainably.

Sustainable living in the East Bay of San Francisco seems to be the wave of the present (as opposed to the future). In a conversation this morning I learned that the Fruitvale BART station has a free valet bike parking from 6am to 8pm at the Fruitvale Bike Station operated by Alameda Bicycle. I was so concerned about riding my bike and parking it at BART. Today I tried it out and the service is fantastic! Riding my bike adds 20 minutes on to the commute into San Francisco but it saves me $1.75 each way and I get my exercise. Plus, the route is direct and safe with a really wide bike lane.

In yet another conversation today I was thinking out loud about how long I will live with Stacey and Stefan. The woman I was talking to said that I should stay as long as possible to save my money. Rents are going up as people move out of their houses and rent apartments instead. Living arrangements such as mine are going to become more common. Yesterday's New York Times confirmed this with their article, Homeowners Take in Boarders in order to make mortgage payments. That's exactly my current situation. It is such a lovely deal for all of us, especially since we've been friends for over ten years.

As the economics of living in the US get more challenging with costs of fuel rising, job market potentially dipping, food costs increasing - you'll start to see more people evaluating their lifestyle choices in order to live more sustainably.

July 16, 2008

Photos of San Francisco

I'm having a hella time (that's ghetto speak for "hell of a") getting my blackberry photos to my blog. Here are a few. I'm sure once I figure out how to do this in real-time there will be more.

Image 1: A new Heart in San Francisco.

Giving Off a Friendly Vibe

This evening I think I was giving off a friendly vibe. After hanging at my new favorite cafe in the Mission, La Boheme (great decaf Chai lattes, casual atmosphere, filled with creative types and always a place to find my friend Andrew), I headed down to 24th Street BART station and started tapping away on my crackberry. An older, professional looking man approached and asked if he could sit next to me. I made space and continued my crack addiction while he pulled out his crackberry and started looking over my shoulder. I didn't know what to make of his actions so I kept an eye on him and noticed that he was comparing his crackberry to mine.

"You're Blackberry is so sleek" he said.
"It is the newest one - I got it on Monday." I responded.
"Oh it is so nice. Mine is not so nice. It is too big. But it is for work so I have to carry it around."
"This is an addiction - you can keep getting the latest and greatest ones - just look at people going crazy over the iphone." I commented.
"Yeah, I guess this one works for me. Oh, gotta go, that's my train. Nice chatting with you." He reaches over and gives me a nice pat on the shoulder.

This guy didn't try to pinch (British term for stealing something) my crackberry, he didn't try to pick me up, he just wanted to chat about our technology.

Then I got on the train, took a seat and pulled out my new book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Chabon. The woman in the seat next to me said.
"Ooh, do you like the book?"
"Just started it, on page 11 and good so far."
"I'm reading Salomon Rushdie. His latest book is fantastic."

On and on went our conversation and it extended into clothing, mortgages, Victorian lifestyles, and Alameda - where we both happen to live. The woman offered me a ride home and I said yes. Well, should could have tried to kill me or something crazy but I decided to take the chance. We chatted the entire way.

It is still a reverse culture shock to have people be so friendly to me after my time in the UK, especially on London's Tube where even if the person next to you is reading the same book as you no conversation is made. I love that folks from the San Francisco Bay Area are eager to make small talk and get to know people. In the past I would have shied away but now I'm "living out loud" and trying to connect to people. Seems worth the effort.
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My first mobile post

OK, I'm giving this a try. Sitting at yerba buena gardens in San Francisco listening to live jazz.I have a photo but still need to figure out how to add it.

July 14, 2008

Crackberry Users Unite

I went a little over the top today and transitioned from no internet access (except via cafes) to full throttle internet access. Yes, I admit, I purchased a crackberry. Oh it feels so good to have internet and email at my fingertips. Plus, I bought a new wireless adapter for my laptop and now I have wireless at home too. Oh yes, I will never again leave the comfort of my room.

When it comes to technology I am anything but bleeding edge. So, giving up my super little mobile phone which I brought over with me from the UK is really hard, especially since it has that super camera on it. However, my blackberry has a camera (not as good) and I can blog and post photos instantly. Can't beat that.

July 13, 2008

West Oakland on Fire

This weekend The Crucible, a fire arts organization located in West Oakland, presented their 8th annual Fire Arts Festival. To celebrate my friend Rachel's birthday we headed out with her husband David and took the opportunity to practice night photography. Because of my fancy camera I was considered "media" which was fantastic since I got a photo pass.

The scene was OTT (over the top as they say in the UK). We arrived at dusk and all was pretty mellow, except for the growing crowds. But as the sun set we were jolted into the evening by a HUGE blast of fire. That pretty much set the tone - stand back from the roaring flames. Just writing about it has set my heart racing. Rachel, as always, was fearless.

As for the photography opportunity, we were not disappointed. Our intention was to get photos of the BART trains passing overhead. We were continuously amazed that this festival was happening, in Oakland, just feet from BART.

The image with the stilt walkers is very strange. Notice David in the right corner and a little bit of Rachel.

Images: The Crucible Fire Arts Festival 2008

July 10, 2008

Fitting Out Ike

Ike the Bike arrived the other day and I gave him an intro tour of San Francisco and Alameda. Here he is all fitted out from the Alameda Bicycle store with his new water bottle and locks. I like Ike.

You can see by this post and the previous one that the houses and businesses here in Alameda are located in old Victorian buildings.

In Pursuit of Wireless

Staying with my sibs in DC I was totally spoiled with continuous internet access. Now that I'm "on my own" accessing the internet has become like a religion - equivalent to needing to pray to the great big electricity god in the sky for laptop power.
Stacey and Stefan's house, in which I'm renting the top floor, has wireless but for some reason their IT guy can't get me to connect. The next best option - cafes with free wifi. I've found two in Alameda that are working well for me Java Rama and Julie's. One is a boy hangout and the other very girlie. Java Rama is dark, cavernous and plays 80s music. Julie's is bright, cute, plays jazzy tunes and serves yummy food. You guess which one is for guys and which for girls.

The fantastic feature of Julie's is that they have scones with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. Plus, decaf Chai (although it needs some work on flavor).
I'm going to have to figure out a solution to my internet access challenge because this is costing me some major money and calories living off of free wifi. Maybe I could hide in the alley and access their wireless.
Another option is to get a crackberry or a wireless access doo-hickly thingy from AT&T. Costing it out the wireless doo-hicky thingy actually will be less expansive than buying tea and cookies twice a day. But I do like the social aspects of meandering between the two cafes.
Photos of Julie's and my yum-food-hit.

July 8, 2008

Images from my first 10 days back in the San Francisco Bay Area

Balance Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is a book that has changed my life. I picked it up at a yardsale, the same one where I got my new wetsuit, hours before leaving DC for San Francisco. This yardsale clearly had a lot of foreshadowing about my landing in San Francisco as I now live in Alameda two blocks from the beach.

More about the book. Liz embarks on a one year journey to find passion, meaning and balance in her life. The book documents her journey from Italy to India and ends in Indonesia. For me the impact is of her constant question about the direction of her life being a 30-something that has just survived a horrific divorce. What she finds on this journey is herself as well as some incredibly deep friendships. It reminds me so much of my launch from London and my past two months of nomadic wandering along the East Coast and Jamaica.

Here are the biggest take-aways from the book that have helped me rekindle my inner spark:

1. Breath

2. Be honest

3. Love myself

4. Slow down

5. Meditate

6. Forgive

7. Friendship

Liz is a remarkable, brave woman and I aspire to live as courageously and honestly as she has done...and finding balance.

July 7, 2008

7-7 in Memoriam

July 7 is a memorable day because of the 7-7-5 bombings in London. I remember the day well because I had just moved to Houston and my best friend Simone was living in London. We finally made contact via email and she was totally safe.

Who knew that a year later I would be living there too - and that my job would take me to Kings Cross Tube Station every day - the location of the bombings. Flowers are placed by the memorial each year and I imagine that today there is a huge garden or remembrance.

July 5, 2008

Independence Day on the Move

It seems that I'm always moving to a new city over the July 4th holiday. Way back in 1995 I moved from Salinas, CA to San Francisco. In 2005 it was from San Francisco to Houston. This year it is from San Francisco to Alameda. Not a far move but a huge life style change.

Alameda is a secret little island off of Oakland. Getting to it is a bit like trying to find the mythological Avalon. Once you're there it feels like you've stepped back in time to the town that slept through the 1960s-2000 and is just arriving, somehow, at 2008.

I love Alameda and have always wanted to live there. My favorite yoga studio is there - Alameda Yoga Station which is a huge selling point. So to give it a try before committing I'm renting a room in my friends Stacey and Stefan's house for a couple of months. They live in an Easter Egg colored Victorian. The house is fantastically situated two blocks from the beach, Trader Joe's and cute shops. The big challenge will be the commute into San Francisco. Although it is close to BART the station is not walkable. A cross-bay commuter bus runs and so does a ferry to San Francisco, plus the famous casual carpool picks up just a few blocks away.

My second day back in the area I recruited my friends David and Rachel to drive me around Alameda. As we approached the beach the skyline was filled with parasailers and as we got closer to the shore we were blown away by the number of people biking, roller blading, running, walking and sunbathing. "This is Alameda?!?" asked David and Rachel. Yes! - see why I want to live there?

Mind Mapping at a Price

Tootling around the San Francisco Bay Area after a three year absence is like filling in the grey areas in a giant map. I kind of sort of remember how to get places in the big picture but the little details need completing. Nicole has been nice enough to let me use her car. Unfortunately it is a gas guzzler and my mind mapping exercise is a bit pricey.

So far I've made it to Oakland, Berkeley, South San Francisco and all over the City of San Francisco. The only landmark of note that I've not yet seen - the Golden Gate Bridge. Kind of hard to miss but I know those golden gates are waiting for me.

July 3, 2008

Zap! Reconnected

I've been back in San Francisco all of five days and it is like I never left. My calendar is filled with meetings with old friends and new ones. When you live your dream career your friends just naturally blend into being your business partners.

Amazing realization -I'm back to being the happy, optimistic, friendly, "connector" I was before I moved away three years ago on July 3, 2005. Although I quickly fit into the Houston scene it was such a brief respite of only 10 months. Then London was two years of extreme personal and professional growth. It never felt like home.

When I first landed here last Saturday I was nervous about being back in San Francisco. Was I going backwards? Was I going to over-commit to projects and get under-paid again? Were people going to ask me about my failed marriage? Was I going to be able to start again? But I have evolved and so have my friends, my network. We're all a bit more mature, a bit wiser and more grounded in what it is that makes us tick.

I found my heart again in my lovely home by the Bay, San Francisco.

Live your dream: make it happen

Nicole and I had a fantastic conversation about articulating your own personal vision and mission statements. "Once you've articulated what it is you are about so much more falls into place" was her advice. As a consultant and coach I certainly offer the same guidance but good golly I find it so hard to do for myself.

At first I came up with something very lofty and filled with lingo. I then tried to share it with Nicole and I couldn't even remember what it was. Didn't roll of the tongue, got stuck in the brain. Following the KISS theory (Keep It Simple Sister) I chunked up on the vision (meaning that I took it up a few notches) and this is what I realized.

Vision and Mission statement - all blended into one:

Live your dream: make it happen

That's what I'm about. I'm starting to reflect that more in my consulting and coaching website Leading-Together.

July 2, 2008

Getting Into Pace with the City's Dog Patch

Living in London it took me a while to match the pace of that city. I would say it is a fast moving place where you had better figure out where you're going and how you're going to get there on your own. There is with little interaction between people and on public transit you certainly don't make eye contact or polite chatter.

San Francisco, on the other hand, is a city that is easy to get into sync with quite quickly. Yes, the public transit is somewhat confusing but your fellow travellers are generally happy to help you out and give you recommendations for good sites to see along the way to your destination. Plus, they'll keep chatting with you even after you have figured out where you want to go and how to get there.

I've enjoyed my four days back in San Francisco and familiarizing myself with this friendly banter on public transit, meandering along sidewalks and general sun/surf gazing that happens along the Embarcadero. You really feel that Life is Good here in SF.

I'm temporarily staying with my generous friend Nicole in her house out in an area called Dog Patch or Potrero Hill and possibly classifiable as Mission Bay. Ah yes, the beauty of naming San Francisco neighborhoods. Geographically it is close to South San Francisco and is an industrial area with lots of lofts, warehouses and public transit storage facilities. Nicole managed to buy one of the beautiful old Victorians that dot the city. The foundation of hers is from the 1800s. Inside it is fitted out with all kinds of modern features. It is really a little slice of heaven.

Maps from the website Dogpotch.