Saturday, August 30, 2008

Signs of the times

No, I am not writing about the end of the world. Maybe to some people this economic crisis feels like it's the end of the world for them. I truly am sympathetic but in business cycles, periods of expansion is usually followed by periods of contraction. But this period of contraction seems awfully severe, more severe than any of the past ones that we've experience and is affecting more people. It is scary but just as in any business cycles, not everyone is affected and then not everyone is affected to the same degree, some more badly than others. We went out to eat last night, the Chinese restaurant where we ate was full, they were doing a buzz ling business. We went shopping at the Citadel Outlet Mall, there were a lot of shoppers there. Other people said they are experiencing tremendous slowdown in their business. I see a lot of vacant commercial shop lots, something I've not seen in the last 10 years, there are a lot of 'for lease' signs.
But even thousands of years ago, it has been recorded in the bible that periods of plenty will be followed by periods of empty. In the story of Joseph, he had dreams which foretold of 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. In times of plenty we are supposed to save up for times of famine. Famines, ever since the beginning of time, are common occurrences but in all of them the people of God were provided for, as in Isaac, 'Isaac sowed in a famine and reaped a 100 fold', Elijah was fed by the raven as he waited on God by the little brook and later by the widow and her son. In times like this we need to reach into the word of God and find our assurances there.
I was at the Orange antique mall last week and happened upon a going out of business sale. I scored this set of French crockery for $90, I would have paid $180 otherwise. There were others in the other shops who were packing up their store and closing their businesses.
Six months ago, my 2 brothers fell victim to the current business climate, they were among the first to pack up their business. Lately they found out that others in the same line of business have followed suit, they kind of gave permission to everyone, saying, it's no shame to close. Because they were among the first to do it, they were able to liquidate most of their assets.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The hybrid life

This is me in my new Keen shoes. I went shopping to get ready for my upcoming trip. I needed a new pair of shoes to go gallivanting in. I read an ad in Outside magazine about Keen shoes and how people wearing Keen shoes are living the hybrid life, working and playing in their Keen shoes. It also invites people to submit stories about their hybrid lives and what they do in their Keen's. So I decided to take up the challenge and see what I can do in my Keen shoes. First order of business, I wore them antiquing this morning. I bought a basket from this guy and then asked him to take a photograph of me. Next I'm going to wear them to work, I don't know yet if it'll work, I do need a lot of support, so the verdict is still out on that. If it works I'll buy some more Keen shoes. Of course I'll be traveling with them on September 14, that when I leave for 2 weeks, starting in Rome and ending in London. My aunts and cousins are already excited about seeing me again in London. We hope to have a gigantic reunion.
These are from Ghana and costs $20 each. I bought one and went to the farmers' market with it.

A vendor's truck spilling over with goodies. I love antiquing.

This is one of my favorite at the Santa Monica monthly flea market near the Santa Monica airport. The people sells vintage European feed sacks and night gowns made from butcher linen. I have spent a fair bit of money here every month.

Aren't they gorgeous? It's one of the highlight at this flea market.

Another vendor that I buy from, looks like they need to go to Europe to replenish their stock. They're running out of cute things. I didn't buy anything from them this morning.

They still have a lot of cute things, they go frequently to Europe on buying trips. I bought 2 pillows from them this morning.

This morning's loot.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crossing borders

A few years ago, while planning a trip, I needed to go from Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain to Bayonne in France ( Where the heck is Bayonne?). I was to walk part of the camino from St Jean Pied de Port (France) to Santiago de Compostela but decided not to. I did want to see Santiago de Compostela and St Jean, the starting and ending points of the camino. So I flew into Santiago and now I want to take the train to Bayonne, France and from Bayonne, go to St Jean. I logged on to to check on the trains, I already know that the train from Santiago will take me to Hendaye, France. Hendaye is the border town between Spain and France, then from Hendaye, I need to take another train to Bayonne. It's going to be a 12th hours kind of trip. While checking on the train times, I started answering questions (all in French because I didn't realize I could translate the page, so silly) and I gave them my credit card number, so silly again. After I finished all that, I told myself that I think I just bought a train ticket on the Internet, I didn't even know if the French people is going to mail the ticket to me. They did, I was so amazed, the ticket for the sector between Hendaye and Bayonne. I still couldn't believe it, even at the Hendaye station, I had to ask the train officials if the ticket was 'bon' (good). I did finally reach Bayonne at almost midnight, from Bayonne, one takes another train up the Pyrenees to St Jean. I stayed the night in Bayonne, everybody kind of assemble in Bayonne, then take the train to St Jean and start their camino, a 500 mile walk to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. I had planned to walk the last 60 miles but didn't.
From that day on, I was on SNCF's mailing list. I get updates on train offers every so often. The new one says, Paris to Geneva for 20 euros or for 2 nights hotel and train for 211 euros. Wow, I wish I live in Europe. It is so easy to cross borders and get from one country to another. A friend was just in Eastern Europe, she said a short bus ride and you would have gone from the Czech Republic to Poland. It is amazing. The Spanish train rolled right into Hendaye which is actually France, there was a little metal fence that separated the train tracks and we passed it and was in France. When we took the train from the Cinque terre in Italy to Nice, France a few years ago, the Italian train stopped at the border in Ventimiglia, a French immigration official boarded the train to check passports to make sure we were legit travelers and not undocumented people. Then it went on, all the way into Nice. I was amazed to see the Italian train on the tracks in Nice, France. Wow!
The next trip, we'll be crossing a lot of borders and I'm really looking forward to it and the many other times I'll be crossing other borders in the future.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


What gets me up in the morning and going to work, besides bills to pay especially the hefty mortgage?
A healthy breakfast is one, this was done on a Sunday. I don't eat like this on days that I work, I grab a pastry from the nearby shop and munch as I work. I try to eat a healthy breakfast on days that I don't work, I have to dress it up for this blog. Energy is very important in my work. I have to get through an eleven hour work day of frenetic activities, both physical and mental. I'm more inspired after I have eaten. I take 6 vitamin pills most days,
1 multi vit (usually Centrum)
1 iron pill
1 b complex
1 folic acid
1 ocuvite ( 3 times a week)
1 calcium
I make sure I eat fish a few times a week.

Trade publications and newspapers - I've had my subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal and Businessweek for over 10 years. I started blogging after I read an article about it in Businessweek. I first went to the south of France, 7 years ago, after reading an article about airfares in the Wall Street Journal. So every morning I wake up to the Wall Street Journal and every Friday, the Businessweek arrives. I get my other news online.

Every morning I open my bible to read a passage, I'm not into those daily devotional books, I prefer a commentary. I read another passage from another inspirational book usually about the joy of working (joy in working?????) And a magazine, usually foreign, usually French (mai oui!) All these gets me all charged up and ready for another day at work. This is a lot, it is taking more and more to get me up and out of bed and raring to go.
Next I remind myself of the benefits of a paycheck,
- 401K contributions
- social security contributions
- pay off mortgage
- private investments
- savings
- travel, with family, sharing of joys of travel
- a substantial rainy day fund

There are all kinds of inspiration artwork around the house.

What gets people up and going varies. You just have to find your button and press it. It might change. What gets me inspired today may not do the same thing tomorrow. I'm constantly looking for ways to get inspired. My views changes, my desires changes..... so the search for inspiration is constant.

Rest is important, I try to go to bed early, at 9.30pm. They say enough sleep can boost the brain power by as much as 30%. I believe that. The next day at work, I'm ready, it's showtime!

Friday, August 22, 2008



An atelier, a painter's studio. His paintings were so good, we started taking pictures of every one from the window, there's me in the foreground and Sophie in the back, reflected in the window. This was Lyon, France.
Lyonais food, so rich and delicious.

I think this is an illustration of a product label. It was a cute shop.

A water color

This shop sells one of a kind creations, this is one of a kind of scarf.

Lots of pastry shops, selling one of a kind creations, pretty French macarons looking tempting and tantalizing, calling to shoppers to come and buy some.

We first ate at a Le Pain Quotidien restaurant in Nice a few years ago. It was such a novel experience, communal tables, all of pine, the fixtures were all pine, so much like a Provencal country home. There were pots of jams and sugar on the table, we sat at a corner, a few other parties sat all around this long pine table. It was here I ate my muesli, not with milk but with delicious French yogurt. It waa a lot of fun, it was right next to the market in old Nice and I had just bought some raspberries which I added to my muesli. We ate breakfast there the next day and at 13 euros for the both of us, it wasn't cheap. The next time I ate at Le Pain Quotidien was when I was with my niece, Ashley and this was lunch in Brussels. There are a few of this chain in the US and one in Santa Monica which I frequent.

Of course, all my lotions are from L'occitane, I like the shea butter in the lotion, it lasts.

Shop at any mall in the US, it is not hard to notice the sameness of everything, a Starbucks, a Gap, a J Crew, an Old Navy, a Barnes and Noble etc. all selling the same thing. Then is there any reason to visit another mall other than the one you're dealing with? Probably not. One thing about Europe and especially France, there are lots of Ateliers, shops that sell one of a kind stuff. It is always fun to walk into one, any one, each one reflects the owner's taste and style and is so different.
But even France is becoming to be more like the US with the increasing numbers of chain stores like Zara, H&M, Promod, Monoprix etc. Still it has a larger number of Ateliers.
Our visit to Lyon last October exposed us to a lot of Ateliers. The usual chain stores were almost absent, we didn't see any Starbucks, Monoprix, H&M, Zara or Promod. So everywhere was an interesting Atelier including this cute curio store in the basement run by a very young lady.
No matter, there's a few reminders of Europe in town, a few stores selling English groceries, Le Pain Quotidien and L'Occitane. These will have to do till I'm actually on the ground again in Europe.
C'est la vie!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My pick for first lady

What a knock out. She could give Carla Bruni Sarkozy a run for the money. She looks as comfortable in her Prada clothes as in jeans, t-shirt and a baseball cap with the word 'navy' on it. One of her sons is in the Navy.
A recent visit to Rwanda, she was there in 1994 also.

In Cambodia (I think) for World Food Programme, witnessing the poverty of the people as they rummage through the city thrash dumpsite.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Catania, revisited

A drizzly morning, the first morning of our second trip to Catania. Looking through old pictures made me nostalgic. It made me think of not just revisiting Catania in pictures, not just in spirit, but I want to revisit in person. When? I don't know. There's not much in Catania but if you are flying in, most likely you will Catania airport, it is the main airport on the island of Sicily. It makes a good base to see some of the nearby towns. Then you can venture out into the interior, to Agrigento, to Palermo and to the west side of the island to Trapani. The 1674 (I think) earthquake demolished much of the eastern portion of the island, Catania included and most of the towns in the eastern portion was rebuilt in the baroque style. So baroque buildings abound on the eastern side, Catania included. It rains in Spring, Fall and Winter. I'm glad but even so they do not have enough water, some towns have water tanks that have to be filled by city trucks that bring in water. One needs only to read blog, to know this. She lives in Modica, quite close to Catania, she posts about the city trucks having to bring in water. Her last post mentioned the water situation being pretty dire in Agrigento. I've been to Agrigento, a really lovely place, the valley of the temples has one of the biggest collection of ancient Greek temples outside of Greece.
Outside the train station.


Catania sits right next to the sea, the winds are particularly strong especially when it rains.

The train tracks where we've been on so many times, north to Taormina, south to Siracusa, inland to Enna and Palermo. I love Catania, I wish to be back soon. There are trains that go to Rome, even night trains, they go as far north on the mainland as Milan, taking Sicilians to work on the mainland. At the water between Sicily and Reggio, they break up and get ferried across, one can remain on the train when they do that and then the train is reassembled and placed on the tracks. I've not done this yet but it certainly is something I will do in the near future.

Via Vittorio Emmanuele, we've been up and down this street too many times, we stayed in a hostel pretty close to where this was taken. I can still hear our luggage rolling over those cobbled stones.

The cathedral in Catania, a very impressive place.

Palazzo Biscari, another gorgeous baroque place, the interiors are supposed to be really sumptuous. I have yet to go in to visit but I will. It is now a hotel.

A baroque church on via Cruciferi

A side street from via Cruciferi looking down on via Etenea.

A baroque courtyard, this place is now a University. It is so gorgeous.

A new stand

Remains of an ancient Roman site.

There's a fancy hotel in this building across from the cathedral. I had a reservation here but because I came in too late that night, they sold my room and said they never received my reservation. I even have an email confirmation from them. Pity, it was a very pretty place, we went to another less stellar place up the street.

Doesn't all this makes you want to visit Catania? It does me, I want to visit again.