Connie is really into Native American culture, which includes exploring natural remedies. She heard that this one plant, Manzanita, was fairly prolific down here and wanted to find some fresh leaves to take back with her. This led her to the Santa Monica Mountains where they’re said to grow. This led to me hijacking her hiking plans and planning an excursion for all of us.

I am in love with the Santa Monica Mountains and have been ever since I moved to the Hollywood Hills 5 years ago and would wake up every morning looking at the beautiful mountain outside my window. Then I embarked on a quest to run the entire Mulholland Corridor, which entailed 100 miles of jogging over the 50 mile path across the Santa Monica Mountains, and my love became a passion.

The Santa Monica Mountains are not big snow capped mountains, they’re fairly short as mountains go, which is why in Hollywood they’re simply called the Hollywood Hills, but in my estimation they are hands down the greatest thing Los Angeles has to offer. They create the border between LA and the San Fernando Valley – the place where valley girls come from, or in my perspective, LA’s New Jersey – and they stretch from the city (in the east) to the ocean (Malibu). They are the hills that the landmark Hollywood sign lies in. The famous Mulholland Drive begins at the Hollywood freeway, which cuts a swath through the mountains linking the Valley to the city, and extends in some form or another all the way to the ocean.

My quest to jog the length of it led me to discover the most amazing, and amazingly unknown parts of Los Angeles. It starts out on a crest above Hollywood and the Valley, on a clear day you can see for miles over the city, the movie studios, and many many houses. It’s all residential as it passes from Hollywood, to West Hollywood, to Beverly Hills and then Bel Air which brings Mulholland to the 405 freeway, our westernmost north/south freeway. After crossing the freeway in what is known as the Mulholland pass, there are just a few more miles of residential neighborhood before Mulholland stops being an actual road and becomes a trail.

This is where the real adventure began on my quest and it continued to get better. The trail is wide and flat and perfectly maintained. It traverses state park land, where the only things gracing the mountains are a few trails, a few radio towers, trees and an amazing view of the west side, the valley and the ocean. It’s amazing, you’re in this relatively isolated rural park, but you’re in the middle of LA. I’m still astonished that I was nearly 30 by the time I discovered this.

Day 39 – Nothin’ doin’

December 26, 2008

I could have done something productive today, but it didn’t work out.

Day 38 – Who knew?

December 25, 2008

I didn’t fall asleep so easily last  night.  Actually I haven’t fallen asleep so easily in a while.  So when my mom knocked on my door this morning a little bit after nine and asked, “Are you gonna come down and do Christmas with us?” I really just wanted to stay in bed but knew that that would grant me all-time asshole status in my family, so I said, “Yeah, I’ll be down in a few minutes.”  What was strange was that my mother somehow sensed my mood, so when she asked if I was going to join them, it sounded like a genuine question, as opposed to sarcasm.

I put on some sweats and headed downstairs where I made myself an herbal tea and warmed up the Pannatone.  We then proceeded to open the paltry collection of presents under our tree.  When I was a kid there were so many gifts under the tree that it was a sea of presents that extended through a quarter of the living room, you simply couldn’t cross that part of the room because there was no floor left.  This year, with just the five of us, it was the most spare I’d ever seen it.  Which was fine, it’s not like I could afford to get people a bunch of exciting gifts, so I wasn’t really looking forward to being given a bunch of gifts, but much to my surprise we had a really nice time.  Everyone was far more generous with me than they should have been and I got my Barney Stinson T-Shirt that I wanted so badly, so that made me endlessly happy, and my family all seemed to enjoy their gifts as well.

After breakfast I opened up the jigsaw puzzle I was given, brought my computer downstairs, and proceeded to listen to a marathon of This American Life podcasts (I got a bit behind this fall) while I assembled the puzzle.  Josh showed up as Jesus around dinnertime.  I gave him the honorary Jesus title since it’s the first time we’ve had a Jew for Christmas, though granted, he’s not a carpenter, but hey, we can’t be picky when waiting for messiahs to show up.  We had a nice meal and it was great to have an ally at the table for once.  So great.  Then Josh headed home after dessert and I went back to my puzzle and my other beloved Jew, Ira Glass, till I finished assembling all 500 pieces sometime before midnight.

It was a pretty great day and for the first time in ages I had a good time doing nothing.

Day 37 – Meltdown

December 24, 2008

My hatred for Christmas hit its apex today.  Ever since Connie and Brett arrived Saturday night I’ve been living in a constant state of boredom and alienation.  I like Brett and I like Connie, and I like my parents, but I have almost nothing in common with any of them.  Add that to the fact that there are people in the world that I can relate to, and that I love spending endless hours with, and it makes it that much worse, because I miss you guys so much.  I miss laughing and brunching and drinking and going to the cinema and on random excursions and wandering the city.  I miss laughing so hard with Hakim and Teo that I cried when we were at the Afghanistan exhibit together.  I miss us!!!!  I just don’t know a single soul that’s like our group here in LA.

The holidays seem to require us to spend all this time with our family, partly because they’re here and it’s the holidays, so it’s our obligation, and partly because the world seems to shut down just so we can be imprisoned with these people.  Seriously.  Christmas is like prison with high speed internet.  The constant sports on the television only got more extreme after Brett showed up.  He might possibly be a bigger sports addict than my father, and Brett, like all Sharmans, is fiercely stubborn, so the sports barrier in the lower half of the house had super strength.  There was just no way to penetrate it, so after my first couple miserable days I learned to just camp out in my bedroom with my computer.

Today however, I did get to escape for a few hours to drive up to Los Feliz to see Synecdoche, NY, Charlie Kaufman’s new film.  It was the first time in days that I didn’t feel like an alien.  For two hours of my life I felt completely normal, at home, and blissful.  The film was perfection.  Charlie Kaufman perfection.  It made me so happy to sit in a space for a couple hours with people that laugh at the same twisted things as I do.  It made me so happy.

Then I came home for Christmas Eve dinner at The Red Onion, a local family owned restaurant that has the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten in the States.  I was so happy at the cinema, but having to return to my alien nation for a meal with people that I have absolutely nothing to converse about with was just torture.  I sat there at the table silently drinking my wine, remembering how much fun we all had together at our sometimes marathon meals because we just couldn’t stop talking and laughing, and this, this purgatory where nobody gets a thing that goes on in my head so why talk at all.

But I couldn’t help myself, on the drive home I had an anti-Republican fit.  I just couldn’t take it any longer and Connie said, “she doesn’t want to hear anyone else’s opinion.”  I was walking away from the car at that point so I didn’t grace her with my response which is, “hell no I don’t want to hear anymore goddamn Republican opinions!!! It’s all I’ve been hearing for 37 fucking days!!!  I’m living in hell having to be bombarded with this crap all the time.  So no, I don’t want to hear your defense of the rich, or the oil companies, or the car companies, or George Bush, or our vile health care system.  No, I don’t want to hear it thank you very much!!!!”

I’ve run out of television shows to watch, so I locked myself in my room for the rest of the night with a bottle of wine and three seasons of Ghost Whisperer downloaded onto my computer (yes, I’m desperate) and had a meltdown.  Turns out a good crying jag is quite liberating (and Ghost Whisperer is better than we might have thought).

I’ve been homesick today which caused me to start speaking German on facebook.  I just didn’t feel like acknowledging the Americans today, so I wrote all my little status updates in German.  If I can’t speak German to anyone in person at least I can refuse to speak English.  It got so bad that when I spoke to my brother Kevin I accidentally ended the call with, “Viel Spass!!! Tschuss!”  I think I’m losing it.  I miss home.

What was cool though was talking to Shota on the phone.  He’s such a riot.  He still says Ke-lly like a pro, and even though I was only around him in Seattle and Portland for a couple of days with my Beetle, Yoko tells me that whenever he sees a Beetle on the road now he points and says, “Ke-lly!”  Yes, he is a genius.  I’m so obsessed with him that I’m still having a hard time comprehending the idea that his little brother Genkai will be arriving in April.  How can the poor kid compete with the perfection that is Shota?  Is that even possible?  Even though I’ve been around Yoko with her big baby belly, my brain still can’t wrap itself around the fact that Shota will soon no longer be an only child.  Weird.

I’m sure Genkai will be brilliant, and while the whole world was dissapointed that he won’t be a girl, Yoko was happy.  She wanted a boy.  I too have misgivings about raising a girl, but Yoko’s were great, as she said, “I don’t want to raise a girl like me, I was such a bitch growing up.”  So while everyone else is sad they won’t be getting a gorgeous little baby girl mutt, or as Josh and I came up with, Whasian, I’m glad Yoko got what she wanted.

Day 35 – Xcelerator

December 22, 2008

My family and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm today.  Knott’s is an amusement park in Orange County and when I was growing up we divided our amusement park going time between it and Disneyland.  In the past decade or so, that’s changed.  I love Knott’s but I’m a Disneyland junky and when they added a second park a while back they just doubled the fun.  Nowadays when you go to Disney you spend the few extra dollars to get a parkhopper ticket that allows you to pop back and forth between both parks all day.

When I moved to LA for the first time back in 2003 I asked for an annual pass for Christmas which was awesome.  For an entire year I got to go to both parks for free, park the car for free, and got a 15% discount in the restaurants and shops.  Not like I bought anything, or ate for that matter.  I got it down to a science, so much so that I could do all my favorite rides in both parks in two hours.  Pretty sweet.  And I went all the time.  Even went during work one day when I was working as a messenger.  I had down time between pickups and I was in Anaheim, so I was like, “screw it.  I’m gonna go ride Space Mountain,” and I did.  I popped over to the parks, spent 45 minutes having fun then went back to work.

The reason Disneyland rose in my esteem as an adult is because of the rides, that and because Disneyland just makes you feel good, but mostly the rides.  It just had a lot more, and though Knott’s was fun and cool with its wild west theme, it was a lot smaller and only had two or three good roller coasters.  What Knott’s does have however is a great restaurant.  It actually started out that way.  It was a Boysenberry farm, then they started selling boysenberry pie, then they started selling a very famous chicken dinner, then they added an amusement park.  We still go for the chicken dinner, even me, minus the chicken and the gravy.  It’s awesome.

Knott’s also has one of the most fun activities on earth.  For a month or so around Halloween they close the park at sunset and re-open after dark for Knott’s Scary Farm.  Sooooo fun!!!  The park is transformed into a giant haunted house like experience, ghosts and ghouls will walk down the streets and alleys jumping out at you freaking you out, and then all over the park they build all these different haunted house like mazes where they do the same thing to you, just in an enclosed space.  It’s mad fun.

It’d been a long time since we’d been to Knott’s.  My last time was for Knott’s Scary farm, and that had to have been about five years ago.  The park’s changed a lot since then.  It appears that they decided that in order to compete with the many amusement park options in Southern California they’d have to add rides, a lot of rides.  There were at least five new roller coasters.  At least.  Some of them were really innovative and different.  Which was cool.  And one of them has quite possibly outranked Space Mountain as my all-time favorite roller coaster.  I’m a Space Mountain junky, I’d be happy riding it several times a day, but this ride, Xcelerator, is just unbelievable.  Quite possibly the most fun a person can have in a minute and two seconds.

The thing rocket launches you straight out of the loading area for forty five meters or so then straight up into the sky, then you peak for half a second and the world looks so amazing, it’s like you’re suspended in air, then you go straight back down, and I mean straight back down, seriously at a 90 degree angel.  It’s awesome!!!  Then you loop and turn, and do all that fun stuff at 82 miles an hour before you return to the station.  Just the most amazing ride I’ve ever been on.  I’d go back to Knott’s any day of the week just to do that a few times in a row.  So, so cool.

I got recruited by a football team last night.  A really good football team. Fifteen minutes after I submitted my info to the local women’s league one of the team managers emailed me trying to recruit me.

The league is divided into four divisions:  Premier, First, Second, and the Over 40’s for, naturally, women over 40.  When I submitted my info I said I’d like to be in the First or Second division.  I miss soccer and I am a fairly violent bad ass on the field but my skills have got to be pretty crappy after all these years of not playing and I don’t want to be on a team of hardcore competitive bitches who get all nasty with you when you can’t sprint after your opponent because you’re having your fiftieth asthma attack of the game.   Plus, while I’m always recruited as a goal keeper, I prefer to play defense.  Actually I prefer to play midfield, but my asthma stopped me from doing that well over a decade ago.  So if I can’t play the position I’m in love with, I at least like to scrap it up in D.  However, I’m beastly tall, I have ages of goalkeeping experience, and I can admit that the position doesn’t completely suck, so I’m willing to play it just so I can get my ass out on that field for the whole game as opposed to part of the game till my asthma sidelines me.

Naturally, this team recruited me because of my goalkeeping, as all do.  However I was a bit hesitant to say yes.  They’re a Premier division team.  Which means 1) they’ll probably expect me not to suck, and 2) I might not be allowed to play on the field.  But they really wanted me even after I told them all my faults and wants.  I told her I was happy to play in goal but always negotiated with my coaches that I would also get to spend time outside of goal as well.  Usually the agreement got me one quarter per game on the field, but since this team is good and I don’t want to be responsible for making them bad I told her that I like to play on the field a bit, like when we’re winning.  She thought that could be arranged, so despite my hesitation, I agreed.

Fortunately they’re not the best team in the division, or even second best.  I checked the stats after I agreed to join the team and they’re in the middle.  They win half their games.  Which is cool, I so don’t want to be on those two teams that win all their games.  I’m sure those chicks are way too hardcore for me.  And I’m glad I’m not on the team that lost every game, that’s just depressing.  Right in the middle sounds like the perfect mix of sport and silliness for me.  So here’s hoping I don’t drop the team’s stats when we begin January 11th.

Day 33 – Call me Scrooge.

December 20, 2008

No, I’m not a miser like Scrooge – you have to first be rich in order to be miserly – but I’m beginning to understand the man like I never have before.  My shopping trip yesterday was so unpleasant that I got to the point where I decided that it’d be wonderful if I could raise my future children in a land where Christmas doesn’t exist.  Now, it turns out, I’m genuinely warming up to the idea.  We’ll begin with my facebook headline from yesterday:  Kelly Ann is officially opposed to Christmas shopping.

The trip after my doctor’s appointment proved futile.  I tried one bookstore, two toy stores and a luggage store (I honestly have no idea where a person buys an umbrella).  The first three stores didn’t have the presents I was searching for and the luggage store was selling umbrellas at fifty bucks a pop.  Seriously what the hell is that umbrella shielding you from for fifty bucks?  Will it protect me from nuclear winter?

I returned home in a rage declaring, “I hate Christmas!”  After finally eating breakfast (at 13:00) and finding all the gifts (except the bat) on Amazon I decide to make one last ditch effort before giving in and paying Amazon the $15 it would cost me in shipping to get the presents here on time.  I head back down to Torrance (five or so miles away) to the Del Amo Mall (at one time the biggest mall in America – it’s been many times surpassed – but you can see it in all its middling glory in Jackie Brown and Bad Santa).

The drive there sucks.  I have to wait through two red lights to get through each intersection.  It takes me nearly a half hour to drive five miles.  Then when I arrive at the land of nightmares (I’m not a fan of malls), there’s nowhere to park.  It takes twenty minutes of my circling around and trying various alternate parking lots before I finally find a place to stash my car.  A friend of mine managed to get all of his shopping done in one record breaking 51 minute trip today, I’ve already hit 51 minutes and I’m not even in a store yet.

I’m so frustrated at this point (tears already sprung while I was endlessly circling), that I know I won’t be able to get through this without both the moral support that my ipod provides and the social barrier it puts up to protect me from assholes.  At this point I’m a woman on a mission.  I storm into Barnes & Noble, headphones blasting, water bottle in hand, and peruse the various possible sections that the Wee Free Men might have been placed in, all to no avail, I then decide that since it took me twenty damn minutes to park I’m going to get this shit looked up in the computer before I leave.

I go over to an employee and ask her where I can find Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men.  She proceeds to type his name into the computer, look at it confusedly, then head to the fiction section to search for him.  At this point it’s confirmed that I’m with an idiot and I could have done better on my own, so I give her a hint, “He wouldn’t be in Fiction he’d be in Sci-Fi.”  She heads there (where I know the book won’t be) only to pick a book off the shelf so she can spell his name right.  Damn, bitch!  I could have spelled his name for you if you’d told me that was the problem.

We head back to the computer where all I want to do is shout, “if you don’t know who Terry Pratchett is, you’re not qualified to work in a bookstore!”  But instead I stand there festering as she discovers that they have one copy in the Teen section of the store which I failed to find because it wasn’t attached to the giant Kids section.  There I find all three books, one copy each (too bad for the next poor sap with good taste), and proceed, mildly appeased, to the register, where the chipper check out boy asks, “how are you doing today?”

“I hate Christmas, but other than that, I’m great.”

I then stomp across the parking lot to the dreaded department store where I find the tiny umbrella display completely picked over (no doubt due to our sudden influx of rain this week), but I manage to find two not soooo expensive umbrellas that aren’t “missing parts” (why would they be selling an umbrella with missing parts? I mean it’s nice that they label it for us, but why put it on the shelf in the first place?  it’s broken) and dammit, I’m done!  I’ve given up on finding mom’s bat, I’ve made it through the four necessary gifts and I’m heading home.

I get back in the car and am saved by a brilliant edition of Jonesy’s Jukebox Jury where he and several excellent comedians are rating songs from a Metal Christmas Album.  Too funny, and the only way to survive the long, trafficy trip home.

I managed to get through the ordeal with only one meltdown, and a whole lot of sturm und drang.  I leave you with what I told a friend, mid-shopping fit, when he questioned my anti-Christmas ways:  …it’s not just Christmas shopping, I hate all shopping, always have, and the obligation to go out and buy a bunch of crap that no one needs, to celebrate a holiday that I’m really not a fan of is just getting to me.  Bah humbug I say.

Don’t worry, I will pull out of this funk, it might just take a few days.

After I got out of my final doctor’s appointment this morning I decided to attempt a bit of Christmas shopping since I was already in the shopping part of town.  This proved to be a bad idea.  It took me till just yesterday to even figure out what to get people on my paltry negative budget, then the challenge of actually buying the gifts brought on its own nervous breakdown.

Thanks to negotiations that I arranged between myself and my two other sisters-in-law, I only had to buy presents for one brother, one wife, and two parents.  Not too bad.  Except that these people are impossible to buy for.  Over and over when I asked my parents what they wanted for Christmas the answer was “nothing”, and Connie had said over Thanksgiving that the ideal gifts for her and Brett were gift certificates to Powells.  Both of these “suggestions” were out of the question.

First of all, Brett and Connie are ridiculously rich  (seriously, they’re so rich that they’re one of those couples that requested donations to the ASPCA for their wedding gifts), and ever since Brett was a teenager he’s loved buying extravagant gifts for people – getting them gift certificates would only highlight my cheap-ass poverty while they’d be giving me a few cool, and usually expensive, gifts.  So no, I’m not giving them gift certificates.

After days of my trying to mildly disguise my growing hatred for Christmas so as to not completely ruin my mother’s favorite holiday, all the while bemoaning it loudly, my mom finally had some suggestions.  Finally.  She had an extra gift she had bought for Connie that I could give her.  Great.  One down, three to go.  I figured out that I could get Brett Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men books using my classic brainstorming method of engaging my mother in a one-sided conversation in which I talk and talk and talk until an idea shows up (got me through every paper in college).  Excellent, halfway done.   Our country’s crazy arctic storm helped with the other two – my mom expressed dissatisfaction with her own umbrella on the very day that my father’s fell apart in his hands – done!  It may be practical, but at least it’s something for them to open so I don’t look like a complete asshole on Christmas morning.

My mother and father both have birthdays right after Christmas so that dilemma fell into the mix as well.  Since last year I’ve been comfortable getting away with just getting my dad a card.  He geniunely desires nothing and has few interests – money, golf, his dog…  So after years of getting him lame gifts (with the exception of the water cooker I bought them a couple years ago – it revolutionized their lives), I succumbed to the fact that indeed, all the man needed was a card.  Mom on the other hand, well, she helped by “reminding” me that during her Webkinz buying frenzy this summer she had suggested I buy her the bat (Webkinz are stuffed animals that go with a kids website, it’s… whatever, she’s obsessed, got herself her own laptop to support said obsession), but amid all the Webkinz shopping I witnessed, and my own personal disasters this summer, it was completely lost on me that she had told me I could get it for her as a gift.  So, a stuffed bat is added to the list.

After my last appointment yesterday my mother and I tried one crowded bookstore for Brett’s books with no luck.  I was exhausted after a somewhat emotional day and didn’t have the mental or physical fortitude to take on more shopping, so we headed home, and today I embarked on my journey to Christmas insanity…

to be continued…

Not that they’re bad people, they’re not.  Some of my best friends are doctors.  And no, I’m not saying that like, “some of my best friends are gay,” indeed several of my dearest friends from high school are brilliant, gorgeous doctors (the ones I told you about that put the “pretty” people on Grey’s Anatomy to shame).  But I was ill a lot as a kid and consequently over-medicated to the point that it had serious repercussions on my body, repercussions that I live with to this day.  So by the time I got out of college I refused to take drugs and the only doctor I was willing to see was a practitioner of what we Americans like to call Alternative Medicine.  I’ve lightened up since then, just like I’m no longer a practicing Buddhist or a vegan, I will also now visit a doctor on occasion… but I still don’t trust them.

My mom thought that since I hadn’t really been checked out by a doctor in years (except when I was direly ill), it would be a good idea of I met up with her GP that she loves.  One side effect of dealing with cancer for years on end, is that you get to know a lot of doctors and you end up with a few that you adore so much you have to pass them on to others.  I said, “that’s fine, whatever, but you have to make the appointment for me (yeah, I hate the phone too)”.

So this week I ended up with seven appointments over five days.  Granted three of those were my regular visits to the Chiropractor to fix my screwed up back, neck, legs… the whole set up really – but I had to go, lay on a table and be manipulated, so they count.  Then there was the hour and a half I spent with my wonderful dentist replacing fillings, the visit with the GP, and today the gynecologist for the yearly check up that I started doing again after my beautiful ob/gyn friend was horrified once upon a time when she heard that I hadn’t been in five years.  Good times.

As you ladies know, going to the g-doc (gynecologist is just so… eeesh!) is just something you do – you wish for a swift appointment that you can forget about as soon as you walk out the door.  My friend Neha, as an ob/gyn, has a different perspective on the whole thing, when she spoke about her field of medicine around the time she chose it she said, “it’s great!!! I get to talk about sex all day!”  Which is an excellent way to look at things.  However whenever my g-docs talk about my sex life there’s always a bit of condemnation thrown in there (though I did get bonus points from her this time for not having to use the morning after pill she prescribed me – though I do take it with me everywhere I travel in case the inner slut gets lucky).

This doc, Jade, is great.  She’s a New Yorker so she’s totally direct, which I like, and while very compassionate she doesn’t coddle – that said, I still didn’t want to be there.  Then, when I got there, things went from bad to worse – she starts talking about my weight and how I need to get it down and why I got fat in the first place and about stress and do I have a secure job?  “No,” and what kind of job do I have? “No, job,”  and what’s my money situation like? “None to speak of,” and the tears start rolling… uncontrollably.

I didn’t sign up for an appointment at the therapist!!! I’m here to be papped and leave!!!  But I’m trapped – naked in a paper gown on a table with stirrups – in an involuntary therapy session till she decides that I’m not quite on the verge of a nervous breakdown and I get to leave, but not before she signs me up for yet another doctor’s appointment (that day no less) with her colleague so he can address my fat… again.  Jeez!!!  Not like LA doesn’t make a girl feel bad enough about herself, she has to get assaulted by a bunch of docs as well, you’d think I was morbidly obese.

Still, I survived the torture, even with the fat doctor, and though the GP referred me to two specialists for allergy type issues she gave me the option of going or not, and I declared a strike on doctors visits till at least 2009… maybe at that time I’ll be willing to return to the table for negotiations, but till then my body is off limits to all wielders of M.D.’s – at least during office hours.