Friday, May 31, 2013

Quit My Day Job

The summer semester is on. It's a beautiful Friday morning and I'm buzzing on a latte, enjoying student papers, working to the beat of some fun 80s music in the background. I'm at Twiggs, my favorite coffee shop, and I just had a full-circle moment. About this time four years ago, I was in a government job I hated. Ugh. I had the boss from hell, and while I loved the students I was working with, I felt like a cog in a bureaucratic machine, no longer fulfilled or challenged, watching some of the senior employees rot as they wilted and waited for retirement and a pension. It was a dark time. 

I remember coming into Twiggs one morning before work, looking around to see people happily clicking away on their laptops, reading, enjoying coffee and music, peaceful and productive. I was so sad to be headed off to another miserable day at work. I literally felt sick and remember thinking, I hate this. I need a new job. A job where I choose my own hours. A work environment that lets me read, and learn, and think every day. A career that challenges me and lets me be creative. An employer that gives me autonomy and lets me do some of my work from a coffee shop. Postsecondary teaching seemed to be the answer. It was at that moment, that morning when I first seriously considered leaving my relatively well paid, permanent position with the state. It was 2009 and the recession was in full swing. A lot of people told me I was crazy to leave such stability. My dad, who always has pitch-perfect advice, told me to follow my heart, and reminded me that in this country, we're lucky that we can find what we love and go make a job out of it. With the encouragement of my family and friends, I had a timeline to leave. Though I was terrified, a heavy weight was lifted. I resigned three months later, and received a teaching job that same week. As I wrote in this post, teaching has its ups and downs, but an unfulfilling 9-to-5 under fluorescent lights is just not for me. And life's too short to spend 40+ hours a week doing something that doesn't make your heart sing.

I haven't thought of that sad morning in Twiggs in years, but here's the lesson: You can have any life you want. Unhappy at work? You can change things. If you follow your passions, and work hard to craft a life that is meaningful to you, even if that meaningful life means deviating from a stable plan or your comfort zone, you can build something fulfilling, and find your bliss.

Happy weekend. xo

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dark 'n' Stormy

The weather this week is in full sun-shiney bloom and to celebrate, nothing beats a refreshing cocktail on our porch. I love ginger-flavored beverages (make mine a moscow mule, please!) and when a friend ordered a Dark 'n' Stormy at a recent happy hour, I knew I had to learn how to make these gingery-limey libations at home. In all my years, I had never heard of a Dark 'n' Stormy. From what I gather from 5 seconds of internet research, this is the drink of those who yacht on The Cape and who own a home in Bermuda. So, it may belong to fancy East Coast folks, but requires 3 non-fancy ingredients, no special hardware, and is ready in mere minutes. I used this recipe, but made it with equal parts rum and ginger beer, and added a whole lot of extra lime juice (3 wedges squeezed in, 1wedge dropped in, plus I lined the rim of the glass with lime - the lime balances the sweetness). I will be adding these fizzy, Bermudian delights into our summer rotation.

Cheers to my best friend in Boston, the Chooch! I love you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer To-Do

{last summer, Ensenada, Mex.}
I accepted a last-minute offer to teach summer school online and will be teaching a couple classes at SDSU, and while I love my job and am happy for the opportunities, it won't be the lazy summer I was envisioning. I start classes this Thursday! When I get busy with work, I forget to make plans and then find myself in an evening/weekend routine that involves little more than the couch and movies.  I love a good list, and to make sure summer doesn't fly by without proper celebration, I'm making note of some of the things I'd like to do in the next few months.
  1. Attend a Summer Pops concert under the stars with wine, cheese, a blanket and my love
  2. Do something fun to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary
  3. Have friends over for a champagne and oyster-shucking party (and consequently learn how to shuck oysters)
  4. CrossFit 3xs a week so I can enjoy summer-y treats and spirits without guilt
  5. Take a day trip out of town. Maybe Puerto Nuevo for lobster
  6. Dine al fresco whenever possible
  7. Try out some new summer salad recipes, like this one and this one
  8. Take after-dinner walks, at least a few times per week
  9. Spend more time with my parents
  10. Do an end-of the summer cleaning and donate old items and clothes

Monday, May 27, 2013

Weekending, Memorial Day

{La Jolla sunset}
This weekend was all about simple pleasures.

A mani/pedi and a cheeky trip to Anthro Saturday to celebrate my belated half birthday. Date night at Polite Provisions (first time there and we loved it!), and then drinks and more drinks and lots of dancing at a summer kick-off party at our gym. They had an alcoholic snow cone machine and things got very festive.

Sunday morning we were hungover and tired so we slept in and snuggled, watching a whole lot of Mad Men (we're obsessed). When we finally emerged from the couch and our hangover, I made my favorite cheesecake, Flavio BBQ'd and we had a couple friends over for a little hair of the dog, plus dinner, board games and lots of laughs. Happy to report Flavio and I remain reigning champions of Taboo. Woot!

Monday morning we took you-know-who to the beach, then enjoyed an afternoon nap. We had big plans to cruise up to La Jolla for a sunset picnic by the sea, but as May in San Diego does, the evening quickly turned grey and chilly. We'll have to wait till July/August for San Diego's May grey/June gloom to clear up at the beaches. (Photo of La Jolla above from late last summer.) We ended up making dinner at home, which was lovely just the same.

The summer season is upon us, friends. :)

{Overexposed cellphone photo, with a Negroni}
{Haven't killed her yet. Lily is actually sprouting!}
{cheese, marg spread}
 {mascarpone cheesecake}
{Fiesta Island, Memorial Day}

Friday, May 24, 2013

This Week

Something about this week just worked. The days were productive and fulfilling and somehow, Flavio and I were home early each evening to enjoy leisurely dinners with wine, sunset walks, and then dessert over Mad Men episodes. (We must be the last people to get into Mad Men, but it is so, so good.) I think we're trying to keep last week's vacation vibe going and I like it. This is a routine I could definitely get used to.

Happy (long) Memorial Day weekend.
{Mom enjoying a manhattan, Me with an old fashioned
In Las Vegas last weekend, cocktails Mad Men style
Not the most flattering pic, but I love it anyway.}

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Lady at Trader Joe's

The 30-year-old+ San Diego ladies have gone from the ubiquitous blonde hair extensions, fake boobs and acrylic nails to a whole newfangled creature walking around with all the aforementioned fakey-ness, but now with botoxed foreheads, eyelash extensions, orange spray tans, overly bleached teeth and Meg Ryan's trout pout. Is this happening other places besides SoCal? Things here are getting out of control. I noticed one of these plastic, middle-aged ladies today while standing in line at Trader Joe's, and while I'm not judging - to each her own! - I'd like to make a social commentary on our craze for ageless beauty.

I know. Women age and our society doesn't accept it. Women are expected to meet a standard of beauty and when they don't, they're ignored. Women who've been told they're beautiful their whole lives are looking to keep the validation going as they age, or else become invisible. And other women who believe the barrage of media messages that say they are not beautiful enough are paying plastic surgeons and med spas so they might be lusted after now. We're bombarded with images every day that say your beauty is your self worth. And I don't know a single woman who doesn't want to be told they look younger than they are, or that they're beautiful and sexy. So I am not judging anyone. And I wear makeup and paint my nails and dye my hair and want to look youthful and pretty, too. So I too am in the trap. No mockery.

But message to the ladies desperately trying to look young: We're all aging; you're not fooling anyone with your botoxed domes and juvedermed lips. As comedian Bill Burr points out - you don't look younger with plastic surgery. You just look weird.

I remember an old Oprah episode where Raquel Welch was talking about aging 'gracefully'. She compared women aging gracefully to a game, and said women either choose to play the game i.e.,  they work hard to look good as they age/they don't just "sit around and do nothing" about aging. OR, they bow out of the game and completely give up on their looks, becoming what she calls a "spectator." Ouch - spectator to me indicates someone on the sidelines, someone invisible.

But ladies, are these our only two options? Play the game of ageless beauty with nips and tucks or become an invisible spectator? Can we at least look at the messages we women are sending and living? While I think maintaining your health and feeling good about yourself are key at every age, I think we need to champion a new cultural narrative -- one that tells women, especially young girls, that what matters is their minds, their role in society, and the beautiful wisdom they gain as they age. Ladies, our value increases as we age.

We spent last week with my parents, two fun-loving baby boomers who've been married for half a century and who have some great tales to tell.  In talking with them and hearing their stories,  I am reminded why aging is so cool. You get to mess up, and learn, and make come-backs, and teach others, and in the process, gain a ton of wisdom that seems to make all the ups and downs of life worth it. You have a story to tell, accomplishments to share, resiliency others can model, and you can use your time on earth to do some really amazing things.

Trader Joe's lady: Who do you think you're kidding? We can see that you're in your 40s, trying to look like you're in your 20s. It's a losing battle. I don't know you, but I wonder if you've acknowledged this game you're buying into, or the messages you're sending and living. I hope your life is happy and meaningful. I hope you've taught the littles around you that how you spend your time here matters and that it really is the inside of a person that counts. And an inside with some wisdom, a legacy, and a good story to tell, topped off with some well-deserved laugh lines is absolutely beautiful.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Our Grand Canyon Vacation

We're back from our trip to the Grand Canyon and it was...grand!  We enjoyed camping, hiking, relaxing and stargazing in this truly majestic place. Here are a some pics, if you'd like to see.

We got up early, packed the car, strapped Guiri in, loaded our music and we were on our way.
{Selfie in the car - Grand Canyon or bust!}
We arrived in the late afternoon, pitched our tent, and hiked over to catch the sunset. Such an amazing start to our trip! This was our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon and the scale of it is truly mindblowing. It is gorgeous and at the same time, its size is almost incomprehensible. We sat on a cliff and watched the sky change colors. We were 3 little specks in a huge landscape.

The next morning, we made breakfast, packed a picnic and set off for a full day of hiking. Isn't Guiri the cutest in her backpack?! :)

{paleo pancakes, goofball}
{Rim Trail}
{love these two}
{with backpacks}
Flavio is CrossFitty McFittster -- he can hike for hours without tiring. It was a crazy workout for Guiri and me (the Grand Canyon is steep!), and in the evenings we'd all relax. You could hear the coyotes howling in the distance as we sat with our books and cold beer, cooking, waiting for the elk to visit our campsite.
{relaxing in the shade}
{tired eyes, dusty nose}
{elk at camp}
Flavio and I don't like s'mores, so every camping trip we make some kind of dutch oven fruit cobbler. This time we made blackberry cobbler -- it was so good and really cozy on cold nights.

Each day we tried to cover different trails to see various parts of the Canyon. The geology is amazing (some of the rocks are 1.2 billion years old!) and there's so much area to explore. We can't wait to go back and see more.
{In front of Vishnu Temple}
{Bright Angel Trail}
{view of the Colorado to our right}
{view of the Colorado from the bottom - the colors are amazing!}
{Desert Floor, Colorado River}
Back at camp, Guiri thoroughly enjoyed burying her bone, digging it up, and re-burying it in a new place. We loved watching her funny wilderness instincts come out. Dog versus Wild.

{mama and baby elk}
Finally, on our last night, we went back to Pima Point to watch the sunset. The three of us snuggled under a blanket in the chilly air and watched the evening sky change colors over this natural wonder of the world. It was one of those spiritual, magical moments I'll never forget.

My favorite part of the trip was being completely disconnected from technology, which let me be present and enjoy every minute. We played games, told stories, laughed a ton and our time there felt really long in a good way. It was a special trip, with memories I'll always cherish.

After the Grand Canyon, we headed to Vegas to see my parents, which was also lots of fun. More on that soon..

Random memories not pictured: Guiri barfed in Barstow;  our camp neighbor was the creepiest 50-year-old cheeseball we'd ever met - he repeatedly blasted songs like "Blame it on the Alcohol" and Lady Gaga, rarely left the campsite, and had been camping alone for weeks - so bizarre;  the zipper on our tent broke and we nearly froze to death until Flavio jerry-rigged it in the middle of the night, saving us from certain death; the night skies were spectacular - I finally saw a shooting star.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Road-tripping with a dog can be tricky business. Here are some tips for succesful travel:

:: A long walk before we go
:: Plenty of bathroom/play breaks in between
:: A couple of naps along the way
:: Soft blankets to snuggle with
:: Lots of things to chew on

Well, those are all the things I need. But, Guiri? She's happy just riding along. She settles into the backseat, sticks her head out the window, smiles at all the cars that go by, and it's hours before we hear anything from her. This dog loves the road.

We're off to the Grand Canyon for the Annual Castillo Family Camping Trip and then to Vegas to spend some time with my parents. I can't wait. I won't be on the interwebs while we're there, but will post a full re-cap when I get back.

Besos! xo

PS. I'll be back on the blog around May 21. Hope to see you then.

{Grand Canyon photo from here}

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Weekending, Cinco de Mayo

The weekend was chilled out with fiesta, friends and family - as Cinco de Mayo should be.

Saturday evening we had a couple friends over for a very relaxed dinner (ribs) and margaritas. I spent the morning baking and it was so great to have some time in the kitchen. I hadn't baked in forever (like a month!) and as usual, it calmed and centered me. I chopped chocolate and beat eggs while singing in Spanish to Caifanes and Mana. It was heaven.

Sunday we ran a bazillion errands with Guiri in tow and then had my mother-in-law over for a proper carne asada. The dinner was in celebration of Flavio's grandfather's birthday and not in honor of Cinco de Mayo. You know Mexicans don't really celebrate Cinco de Mayo, right? :) Flavio's grandpa was a professional soccer player for Mexico, and he passed away a couple years ago. We found this Wikipedia on him, which was pretty cool. After our taco-licious dinner, we all snuggled on the couches and watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a fantastic documentary about an 85-year-old sushi master, his 3-star Michelin restaurant, and his dreams of perfection and self-improvement. It is so beautiful - I highly recommend it. And I've been dying for sushi since.

I was busy enjoying the company, so I didn't get as many photos as I'd like, but here are a few I did snag...
{chopping chocolate}
{margs, chips - Cuatro de Mayo}
{ribs - Cuatro de Mayo}
{Guiri - running errands}
{Sunday night snuggles - movie, wine}

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bomba Chocolate (Chocolate Lava Cake)

We've been reminiscing about Spain lately. We lived there for 2+ years after college, and sometimes we wonder why we ever came back. During the Spanish summers, we'd spend evenings outside at our favorite cafe near the Puerta del Sol, sipping sangria and nibbling on tapas. We'd park ourselves for hours, chatting with whomever happened to sit next to us, the heat radiating long after the summer sun had gone down. The Spanish don't hurry you, and never ask if you're ready for the check. They let you sit, and savor, and be. Spaniards teach you to slow down, to be present, and to delight in the little things. More than doing in Spain, we were just being.

One of our favorite streetside cafes in Madrid served Bomba Chocolate, also known as souffle, or maybe molten chocolate lava cake. Whatever you call it, it's a decadent crowd pleaser that will seriously impress despite its simple preparation. It's probably my favorite dessert; a rich, bittersweet cake for rich, bittersweet nostalgia. Vale? Venga!

Bomba Chocolate
Adapted from here

Makes 4 - 6 bombas, depending on size of ramekins.

This is the perfect dessert for a dinner party because you can prepare it (up to a day) in advance and then throw it in the oven 12 minutes before you're ready to eat it. If you make it in advance, make sure to bring it to room temperature before baking. I like to serve it with vanilla bean ice cream and some berries, but it's amazing on its own, or with freshly whipped cream.

12 teaspoons plus 5 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces *Lindt or other high quality bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, but divine! - just a pinch, taste batter and make sure you can taste it, but faintly)
Small squares of *bittersweet chocolate, or one per ramekin
Ice cream, freshly whipped cream, or berries

Generously butter ramekins. Sprinkle inside of each dish with 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar.

Stir chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat. Using electric mixer, beat eggs, egg yolks, and remaining 5 tablespoons sugar in large bowl until thick and pale yellow, about 8 minutes. Fold 1/3 of chocolate mixture into egg mixture, then fold in remaining chocolate. Fold in flour. Stir in cayenne pepper, if using. Divide batter among ramekins. Place a small square of chocolate in the middle of each ramekin and submerge it in batter; this will ensure a runny center. (Can be made 1 day in advance. Cover with plastic and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place ramekins on baking sheet and bake uncovered. Watch cakes carefully, especially after 10 minutes! Bombas are ready when the edges are puffed, have started to pull away from the sides, are slightly cracked but the center 1 inch of each jiggles when ramekins are shaken gently, about 12-13 minutes. Be careful not to overcook.

Remove from oven. Using a potholder (ramekin will be hot!) place your serving plate flat on ramekin and invert cake onto dessert plate.

Top with ice cream and serve immediately. Ole!

*I use Lindt 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark. The secret to this recipe is high quality chocolate.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Last Night

Last night the air was warm. The sunset sky was yellow-orange-purple. We walked to Kensington in the balmy weather, bare arms dangling and flip flops clicking. There, we sat outside with milkshakes, watching the light fade.
{sunset, our street, May 3, 2013}
Home, we went to bed early, the windows open, the fan humming, listening to a party next door. We whispered in bed, falling asleep slowly on crisp sheets, feeling comforted, limbs sprawled, like tired children.

Summer is coming. :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Get Married?

Did you read this fascinating op-ed in the New York Times? It explains that 80% of people in the United States will marry at some point in their lives, but the reasons for marriage are different than they were in the past. According to the sociologist author, people in the United States are marrying as a status symbol. The author writes,

"It is something young adults do after they and their live-in partners have good jobs and a nice apartment. It has become the capstone experience of personal life...People marry to show their family and friends how well their lives are going...[Marriage] remains an important part of American life -- not in its older role as the first step into adulthood, but in its newer role as the last step one takes after becoming an adult in almost all other respects."

The author goes on to describe widening US wealth inequality and how this affects the demographics of marriage and specifically of childbearing. Unsurprisingly, college educated Americans are getting married after earning at least one degree, they have children within marriage, and their marriages last longer.

In contrast, he writes:  "Non-college-educated adults seem to treat reproduction as mandatory or at least axiomatic, and marriage as more of an optional add-on. Most do eventually marry, although not necessarily to the person they had their first child with."

So tonight, I read the essay to Flavio and asked him why he thinks we chose to marry. His answer:

"Because I love you and you are my family, and I want everyone, including the state, to recognize that. If someone is in the hospital, it's sometimes only family who can see the patient. I'd never want anyone to tell me you're not my family. And if we have to get a piece of paper from the state that says to everyone that you are my family and that we are a team, then that's what I want. We're a team for life." :')

Interestingly, marriage seems to have had positive professional consequences for Flavio. His (married) bosses often ask him about married life and when we'll be having kids. Marriage is a common topic of unity and conversation between Flavio and his superiors. I'm not sure if there's a correlation but he's been promoted twice since we got married. Of course, we all know the discouraging stats that show that married women are still less likely to be promoted and earn less than married men.

We both feel getting married initiates you into a different social group - both professionally and personally. Flavio and I were together for more than a decade before we got married, and neither of us imagined anything would feel any different after marriage. But you know what? Things feel different after marriage - not between us, but in the way people treat us. I can absolutely feel that people take my relationship more seriously when I say my husband as opposed to my boyfriend, even if we were just as committed to each other pre-marriage. Also, a boundary is defined when you're married. Our families of origin seemed to step back and respect the privacy of our relationship, our decisions as a couple and seem less worried about us individuals. And of course there are tax, health insurance and other federal benefits. In our overall experience, most people, including the government, treat you differently after marriage.

For most, marriage is still the ultimate social goal in the United States, and according to the op-ed, now seems to be a status symbol and class marker. You're expected to marry. And just as I don't think parenthood should be expected of everyone, I don't think marriage should be socially expected, either. It is an option, and one that should be available to ALL citizens, but not required of all, nor a social determiner of the legitimacy of your relationship. As Kim Kardashian and others have proven, a marriage contract does not a legitimate relationship make. So, while marriage affords some social benefits, it is the loving, respectful union between two people that is the real gift.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pity Party - May 1 - You're Invited

So, it's May 1st. On April 1st I promised to return today with tales of inches melted and pounds lost after a month of paleo eating, CrossFit, and general self-improvement. If you've been following along, you know that paleo eating never really caught on in April. Paleo-faileo - carbs for the win. I cordially invited you to today's pity party, thrown by me, in honor of me, to discuss the following bad thoughts from April:

:: Using work stress as an excuse to drink every night.

:: Telling yourself time (not diet and exercise) will make your ass smaller.

:: Telling yourself your body needs an extra hour of sleep more than it needs CrossFit at 5:30am.

:: Telling yourself that your husband is eating pizza, and it would be rude to let him eat it alone.

:: Telling yourself that gaining weight this month must mean you've gained muscle. (Highly unlikely.)

Not meeting goals makes me feel really blue. This morning I did my measurements and weighed myself and then the train was parked in Mopetown, USA. I'll spare you the measurement and scale details, but I did actually gain weight this month. Woops.

Serendipitously though, I am currently reading French Women Don't Get Fat {Damn those carb eating Frenchies and their hot bods! See photo above.} Have you read it? I love it. In it, the French, baguette-eating author shares their skinny secrets and writes:

"French women do stray [from keeping a balance in their lifestyle], but they always come back, believing there are only detours and no dead ends."

So I may have had a detour this month.  The train took many a trip to Carbville, parked in Bluestown today, but is now back on its way to Healthifornia, USA.

As the French seem to know, self improvement is a journey, not a destination, and I'm looking forward to continuing CrossFit, eating better and staying on track going forward. I can honestly say that although I wasn't as healthy as I could have been, I feel better today than I did April 1.

Pity party cancelled. But the fit-y party is on!

{Photo via Pinterest}