Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Review: After Dark

I've blogged before about how much I love the art of Takashi Murakami.

There's an author named Haruki Murakami who I keep hearing about. I finally got this book of his at the library, and *loved* it.

As the title suggests, the story takes place after dark, from midnight to the wee hours of the morning. Murakami creates a surreal atmosphere, one that is both enticing and eerie. Even after reading the book, I'm not quite sure what happened...it's like I was in the Twilight Zone with the characters.

This book left me wanting more of Murakami. I just picked up Norwegian Wood, which some say is his best writing. Can't wait!

Monday, August 25, 2008

plastic in the news

Two rather conflicting updates on plastic. Is it harmful or not?

The first news is that toxins found in children's products will be banned. This is progress. This is good.

In other news, the FDA has reported that trace amounts of BPA are not harmful. But what does "trace amounts" mean? And do trace amounts add up to large amounts over a lifetime, therefore making it harmful?

I say better to be safe than sorry. If there's a safe alternative to plastic, use it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

August garden

It's been mighty foggy here in the sunset, which makes it extra magical that there is some new growth in my yard and on my windowsill.

They may be tiny, but 3 of the 4 pots of basil seedlings have sprouted up. They need more sun though!

The mint that got burnt in the heat wave a few months ago is making a major comeback. I love it in my iced tea. And it's also a really good excuse to make some mojitos:)

I got this little pine sapling as a favor at a wedding. What a cool and environmental idea.

I don't know what this flower is. Anyone? I didn't plant it, so it was a pleasant surprise when it burst into this gorgeous color. It must have been planted from the previous tenants, or maybe a random seed got blown into my yard.

And this flower is a champ. It's been through so much...I had no idea a bulb was planted here, so I've accidentally knocked it around many a time. Then I dumped a ton of dirt over it, and I keep forgetting to water it. Bad gardener! But like a trooper, it grew a strong stem months ago, and then finally managed to sprout out this gorgeous stalk of flowers. I've been watching the closed flower buds mature, and just this morning this one opened.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

octopuses in love

This cartoon is beyond cute. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Book Review: Summer of Naked Swim Parties

Fourteen year old Jamie is growing up in the summer of '76, but this isn't your typical coming-of-age story. Jamie's parents are hippies, and they are the ones throwing the naked swim parties. Which is so not cool when you're 14! There are hilarious conversations between Jamie and her free-spirited parents. Jamie often finds herself in the parent role, asking to have a curfew, or begging her mother to put clothes on. It's interesting to watch Jamie struggle with freedom and getting to know herself, when she has no parameters to hold her back. Instead of indulging in sex and drugs like her parents, Jamie is constantly worried about something bad happening, and has little interest in rebelling.

This is a perfect summer read, as Jamie spends her summer in her pool, at the beach, finding her first love, and finding the meaning of friendship and family.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bigfoot exists?

This is too funny to pass by. I can't make this stuff up!

Two men are claiming to have a Bigfoot corpse. The photo is too much.

Even more surprising---The New York Times is printing the story!

There's a press conference, and DNA testing coming. If this is a hoax, you gotta admit, they put a *lot* of work into it...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Elusive gopher spotted.

I've blogged about how the gophers are tearing up my yard, but I never see them.

My four nephews recently came out to visit me, and were intrigued by all the holes. Of course they wanted to see a gopher. The last time I had spotted a gopher was in 2006 in Golden Gate Park, so I figured their chances were slim.

I took the kiddos to see the bison in Golden Gate Park, but they were hiding in the back of the park, way out of sight.

But a gopher came out to play. Ok, it's not a good photo, but you'll have to trust me that this little guy was not shy, and popped in and out of his hole for a good 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Aliens in San Francisco: I want to believe

Look who I found sitting on the curb by a gas station!

Guess that astronaut had it right...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Book Review: The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn

I read this book on the beach, by the pool, before going to bed, and during any downtime while vacationing in Costa Rica. I loved every minute of it.

Queen Elizabeth I is given her mother's diary at the beginning of her reign...her mother being the infamous Anne Boleyn. Anne was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, who ended up having her head lopped off.

The book gracefully moves back and forth from present time during Elizabeth's reign, to her mother's past, as Elizabeth reads through Anne's diary. I loved reading the innermost thoughts in Anne's diary, even if it is fiction. And Queen Elizabeth continues to fascinate. It's also a fiercely delicious look at women in power, at a time when this was not the norm. Feminists will delight!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Travel: Costa Rica

I spent a magical week in Costa Rica, and have been back for a few weeks, but I haven't had any time to blog about how fabulously fun and gorgeous this country is.

We flew into the capital San Jose, and spent one night there. It's pretty crowded in San Jose and not easy to drive around the one-way streets. We were renting a 4WD for the week, which would allow us to drive to see the active Arenal Volcano, and then further west to the beaches of Tamarindo, Playa Grande, and Papagayo. We stayed at the Hotel Presidente in San Jose, where we had a spacious room with a huge hot tub, and had good eats at the hotel restaurant. We were definitely off to a good start.

Arenal Volcano is a must-see, with fiery-red rocks literally tumbling down from the top. We walked as close as we were allowed, to the base, and stood on lava rock that had formed and then hardened when the volcano last erupted in 2000, killing 2 people . We were delighted to see and hear a howler monkey hanging out in the trees above us as we hiked in towards the base. It rained off and on, as it did most days in Costa Rica. Monkey did not like the rain, letting loose a banshee howl that lasted a long time and could be heard from far away.

My friend recommended Tabacon Hot Springs, another stop you can't miss. Lush forests of green plants and tropical flowers hide the many pools of hot springs, which are heated by the volcano. It's misty and foggy and about as atmospheric as you can possibly get. We stayed till it got dark, and it only got mistier, with shadows from the trees falling over us, and dim outlines of the stars in the sky. Yes, all while basking in the scrumptiously hot water...romantic is an understatement.

Another highlight (not for the faint of heart) is zip lining through the jungle! I was on a high for hours after this. We went to the Sky Tram company, and were lucky enough to be in a group of 2 (just us!), with two hilariously fun and funny guides. A tram ride takes you high up into the jungle, where we again saw adorable monkeys sitting in the trees--this time spider monkeys. From the top, we took 8 zip lines from platform to platform...the longest ride being 2600 feet, with a speed of about 30-40 mph. Such an adrenaline rush, and so much fun:)

After Arenal, we braved the roads and headed to the beach on the western coast. We stayed at the lovely Hotel Bula Bula in Playa Grande. The beach was pristine and empty, and we met the owner of the resort (a Texan) who was happy to hang out and talk about moving to and living in Costa Rica. Free entertainment was provided by Bert the African Parrot, possibly the biggest attention-whore ever. He loved doing tricks swinging on his perch, yelling out "hola! hola!", so you had to turn around every minute to see him in a new pose. He would literally look to make sure you were watching him. Here he is posing for a photo:

And Playa Grande:

We randomly ended up in a Hilton Resort in Papagayo after having trouble finding a place to stay. An all-inclusive price included buffet meals and all-you-can-drink drinks. This is usually not our style of traveling, and we felt like we were in the Twilight Zone half the time...such as when the staff had to get up and teach salsa dance lessons to guests. So we loaded up at the swim-up bar in the pool, and they weren't shy with the liquor:) Here is the gorgeous sunset we saw from our lovely porch:

We ended our stay at the Villa Blanca Resort at the Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve. I wish we could have spent more time here to explore, but alas we had a flight home the next day. The resort was darling, nestled in the foggy mists of the cloud forest:

Costa Rica is overflowing with tropical plants and wildlife. Irises are my favorite flower, and they grow mutantly huge there, in fabulous colors. Have you seen an orange and yellow iris before?

Iguanas were skittering around everywhere...this one slowly moved off the road as we approached:

As for the weather, it was hot and humid and in the 80's. It is the rainy season there now, which means less tourists. And the rain never lasted long and never held us back from doing anything...mostly it felt like a refreshing break from the heat. Nights could get chilly near the volcano and in the cloud forest, similar to San Francisco weather.

On a final note, we decided to venture away from the Lonely Planet guidebook, as the current edition out for Costa Rica was a few years old. We went with the Moon Guide, which I was overall pretty happy with. It led us to great destinations, and the accommodation recommendations were right-on. My only complaints were the maps were off, and the book didn't adequately explain travel directions and timing, a strong point of Lonely Planet.

Friday, August 8, 2008

cortisone shots in my knees: a love story

I finally did it!

I blogged in a previous post that I have bad knees. Over the past 8 years, I've been to 3 different doctors. The first doctor told me I had chondromalacia (wearing away of the kneecap), and that I should stop walking the 4 miles I was doing for exercise everyday. I cut back on the daily walking and picked up yoga.

The knee pain subsided but came back. I saw another doctor who took x-rays and proudly declared that I was an "anatomical freak" with *the* most pronounced angles of thigh bones and femur bones going into my knees that he had ever seen. Whoa. This doctor was an older guy and the head of Orthopedic Surgery. I trusted his opinion when he told me I had osteoarthritis. Then I almost passed out in his office as he gleefully went on to discuss various operations he could do, including a controversial surgery he used to do 'back in the 70's" in which he went sliced into the hip and turned out the hip bones out, to mitigate the angle in which they went into the knee.

I was in a bit of shock after all this. I cut down my walking even more and continued with yoga, and got into rock climbing. These both have less impact on the knees.

The last few months I really started to notice that the knee pain was slowing me down and keeping me from doing things I wanted to do. I love to hike, and I live in the city and don't have a car, so I still end up walking quite a bit. (In many ways I am a bad patient?!) I was also able to predict chilly and rainy weather by my aching knees first thing in the morning, before I even opened the blinds.

So I went for another opinion with a 3rd doctor, Dr. Akizuki. Thanks to the fabulous reviews on www.yelp.com, I felt like I was in good hands. Dr. Akizuki is the official doctor of the SF Giants. He is professional, knowledgeable, has a great sense of humor. But best of all, I love his positive attitude. He had me do an MRI of my knees and nixed the osteoarthritis theory, giving me back the previous diagnosis of chondromalacia. Osteoarthritis is the wearing away of the whole knee, whereas chondromalacia is the wearing away just of the knee cap. It is more common in women than in men because our hips put more pressure on the knees. I am also very bowlegged, which puts added pressure on my knees. And of course, my years of running and walking on the pavement didn't help.

Dr. Akizuki clearly spelled out my options---first start with physical therapy to strengthen the hips, then try a cortisone shot, then try fluid shots if it still hurts, then having arthroscopic surgery so he could see what was going on in my knee. At some point, I will probably need knee replacements, but I'll try less invasive procedures first.

I've been doing physical therapy for the last 6 weeks or so. I feel like my thigh muscles are getting stronger, thereby causing the knees to do less work, but I still have pain that holds me back from doing things. So I decided to go for the cortisone shot. This will hopefully decrease inflammation and decrease pain, although it's not a cure. Chondromalacia is a degenerative process that unfortunately will only continue to wear down my knees.

I got a shot in each knee. The needle was *BIG*, but the shot was quick (15 seconds) and completely painless, thanks to some pain-numbing stuff injected with the shot, and Dr. Akizuki's hilarious dialogue and constant checking in with me. For the next 6 hours or so, I tried to keep off my legs. My knees felt numb but I could still walk around. I ended up walking 6 blocks to my office and felt ok. But by evening, my knees had stiffened up considerably. My left knee had some pain, but my right knee was just tight. I ended up limping to bed.

Today they feel much better and looser. I'm keeping off them again, the doctor said the first couple of days this was to be expected due to the massive blast of cortisone. I can't wait to see how I feel tomorrow! Although there is no guarantee that this will work for pain, most people get relief for 3-6 months, some up to a year!