Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Nifty Thrifty

For those of you know me, you'll know I'm thrifty.  And while thrifty has gained some negative meaning over the years, I'm gonna stick with good ole' Merriam-Webster's version:

Full Definition of THRIFTY

1:  thriving by industry and frugality :  prosperous

2:  growing vigorously

3:  given to or marked by economy and good management
— thrift·i·ly  adverb
Pokemon hat "Gotta catch em all!"
Sold at SA for $1
(Retails for... priceless)
— thrift·i·ness  noun

My "thrifty-ness" has gotten me farther than many people realize.  For one, I moved to California with a mere $300 in my pocket, found a job, place to live, and even paid for my own groceries, thanks to being as thrifty as ever. (Thank you Grocery Outlet Bargain Market).  I am an avid coupon collector in every sense of the word.  And we're not talking your mother's coupon cutting at the kitchen counter (although I still get monthly PennySavers and RedPlum coupon books) If there's a bargain site, you bet I subscribe.  If there is a deal going on, I'm probably the person tweeting about it.

But my obsession goes slightly beyond deals and discounts, it's about getting the most bang for your buck, especially when it comes to fashion.  Since I was a little girl I have been fascinated with thirft stores.  I had my regular haunts in Boston at The Garment District and serial thrifted in neighborhoods like Earls Court and Brick Lane in London, where strings of 'Charity Shops' lined up one after the other.  And like every thrift-er, I recycle the gift of thrift using things like eBay.  I quickly learned I could use eBay to recycle these finds, and in return the sales actually paid for themselves and more.

Here in San Diego, I have my regular haunt.  The Salvation Army has stores across the nation, but their downtown San Diego Location is also one of the largest donation facilities in southern California.  What's more is (like most thrift stores) they have daily specials.  For example on Tuesdays all furniture may be 40% off, or on Thursdays anything older than 30 days may be 75% off.  But the best sale of all runs every Friday and Saturday, where visitors can get 50% off everything in store.  I have literally outfitted my entire apartment with furniture, kitchen wares, linens, and of course stocked my closet by visiting the store on a 50% off day.  Each time I make the trip I keep a few things in mind; tips that I will pass along to you (for survival of course):

Go with an item in mind.
100% Silk tank top
Brand: Lilly Pulitzer
Bought at SA for $2.50
(Retails $108)
Keep in mind these stores are big and they'll take some digging.  So if you're not prepared to get a little dirty then don't bother.  That being said, go with something in mind.  When I'm "browsing" (a.k.a. on my hands and knees dripping with sweaty digging through racks) I am on the look out for things that will sell on eBay.  I look at color, trending fashions, brand name, and size.  I found a lovely silk tank top from Lilly Pulizter, and while it's not something I would ever wear (no offence to entire East Coast) it retails at $108.  Oh and did I mention it's this season?

If you get stuck on an item that you want to sell, break out the eBay app and do a quick search to see how much your item is worth.  And if you're not looking to sell on eBay, just think, you're going to look like $100 bucks pretty soon without breaking the bank!

But remember to keep an open mind too.
I used to have an eBay rule: Don't sell something you, yourself wouldn't buy.  My last Lilly Pulitzer example just proves sometimes you gotta break the rules and keep an open mind when looking at brands and trends.  Just because you'd never wear it, doesn't mean it won't sell!

Price will always be a factor.
Okay okay, I'll be the first to admit that sometimes even thrift stores can be expensive.  We all have different ideas of what is cheap and what isn't.  But sometimes you gotta spring for the extra buck.  If you're shopping for yourself, basic neutrals, whites and blacks are gonna be the things that you keep next spring cleaning season.  And if you're shopping for eBay, you'll soon figure out somethings are just not worth it!  I rarely pay over $5.00 for anything unless I absolutely LOVE it or know it will sell for a higher price.

It's all about the feels!
So you're tired.  You've been digging through racks and you just kind of want to give up right?  Shut your eyes and run your hand over the rack of clothing.  What do you feel?  I have found some of my favorite tee shirts this way.  I'm all about soft cottons, none of that starchy itchy stuff thank you.  Talk about being "one with" the fabric eh?

And the brand.
Brand: Lululemon
Sold at SA for $4
(Retails $140)
When eBaying Brand is key.  I can't stress that enough!  For example.  I recently found a Lululemon jacket in a size 6 (one of the most coveted sizes on eBay).  I thought long and hard about whether to sell it or keep it.  But remember I'm thrifty, so of course I listed it on eBay at a starting auction of 99 cents.  About an hour later, my inbox was full of messages about the jacket, buyers wanted more details, more photos, they wanted me to put it up for a "buy it now option".  One buyer offered me $100 when the auction was only at $38.  The auction ended 7 days later with a final bid of $97.

Just remember to always have fun with it!
Suede shoes with leather strap.
Brand: Fergalicious by Fergie
Sold at SA for $7
(Retails $60)
I came across these blue suede babies and thought they were ridiculous.  They're by Fergie's Fergalicious brand (who knew) and were priced at $7.  They just happened to be my size so I stepped into them and Voila! They're actually really not that bad.  That's the thing about Thrifting, you've got to have fun with it and be willing to try something on, even if you think it's going to look ridiculous.  You might just find you new blue suede shoes that you didn't even know you were looking for.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Abandoned at Bokor Hill

Nostalgia is like an ex.  You go months, years, decades without thinking about it.  Then suddenly out of no where they show up, with a text message, a Facebook update, a certain smell.  Something intoxicates you, brings you back to a place where you were a different person and the whole was ultimately a different place.

Four years ago I grabbed my BA of Communications from the deans hand as I crossed a stage in an old Christian Science Church in the center of London, only to pack up my things and move across the globe to Cambodia.  It would be my first "job" in the real world, an internship with an Non-Governmental Organization based in Phenom Penh, and would change my life.

The county was full of new tastes, smells, people, likes, loves, and a beauty that no mere words or photographs could ever encapsulate.  While speaking with a co-worker recently, the topic of Cambodia came up as they prepared for a trip to see the country inside and out.  I sent her blog posts about my experiences, the major tourist attractions, Angkor Wat, and the astounding experiences the county gave me in return for three and a half short months in the tropical south pacific heat.  I began to reflect upon my past, the memories flooding in wave after wave.

So what is the one thing I shouldn't miss on my trip? She asked.

I thought for a moment.  What kind of traveler was she?  Would she keep her nose tucked into a Lonely Planet and follow the Banana trail like a "good backpacker"?  Would she do her research, making a strict itinerary and follow daily regiments without any room to breathe?  Would she follow my advice?  Or perhaps lead with her heart?

I opened a photo album and flipped through the digital memories, each more vivid than the last, finally settling on a photograph of myself.  There I was, a smile on my face, literally skipping out of the fog into a clarity only myself and the photographer could have known.  There I was in the middle of the photograph discovering myself.

You have to go to Bokor Hill Station.  I replied.

Built in 1925, the now abandoned hotel was once the spot to vacation.  The hotel and casino drew in the likes of the Kennedy's (can't you just picture Jackie-O?).  But the retreat was abandoned just a few short decades later and used as a hide out during the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime.  Today the regime's dark past has left more than a few bullet holes in the walls, but scarred the country as a whole, killing nearly 2 million Cambodians.

The fog rolls over the ruins like a thick blanket, hiding it's past, it's secrets.  As I walked around the ruins I saw the country for not what it was once, but what it could have been.  All the what ifs came flooding in.  What if Pol Pot had never risen to power?  The french influence is overpowering, and grandeur consumes you from the moment you step inside the rotting building.  I held my breath as I took it all in, making my way from room to room all while telling my own story to the walls.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Monday, 8 September 2014

When to eat that Frozen bird

In a world of 'instant gratification' we're used to having whatever we may need in moments, whether it's a text message over snail mail (or even email at this point - how archaic!) or ordering Chinese with the click of a button instead of picking up the phone or even more old school, actually cooking dinner!  The instantaneous lifestyle spurs consequential laziness, and perhaps a form of procrastination, knowing that when we need whatever it is, we won't have to wait.

All of this translates into our refrigerators, we don't buy for the month or week anymore, we buy for perhaps a few days at most.  And our freezers are jammed packed full of things that we can instantly take out, defrost in our microwave gadgets and voila! dinner is served.   It's an easy solution not only the lazy-generation but to solve the age old question of how to avoid wasting left-overs.  But how long is too long when it comes to what's in your freezer?  And what exactly should you be freezing anyways?

Here are some of the National health guidelines (courtesy of the Today Show) of when you should probably empty out your fridge.

Ground Beef — 3-4 months
Uncooked roasts — 8-12 months
Uncooked poultry — 9-12 months
Soups/Stews — 2-3 months
Casseroles — 2-3 months
Meat Balls/Meatloaf — 2-3 months
Bread — 1-2 months
Hot Dogs/Lunch Meat (opened or unopened) — 1-2 months
Bacon/Sausage (opened or unopened) — 1-2 months
Ice Cream (opened) — 1-2 months
Fresh Vegetables/Fruits* — 5-6 months
(*fresh produce loses original texture with freezing for any amount of time. Best used for soups, stews, or in blended mixtures.)

Oh and an FYI, my new favorite frozen obsession (no that was not a Let it go reference nor will you ever catch me making one) is frozen coffee ice cubes!  Left over coffee in the morning?  Don't pour it out, just put it in an ice cube tray.  And in a few hours you'll have the perfect afternoon treat: Iced Coffee!

© The Traveling Barnacle

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fears: Then & Now.

Kids are afraid of the darnest things, aren't they?  The monster under your bed, broccoli or in my case the dreaded snow plow.  But we grow out of these fears, or at least we're suppose to.  But what happens when you realize the things that terrified you as a child have just morphed into all too real fears as an adult?  Or maybe it's not just fears, but the crazy things you believed, the rules and regulations and the consequences that fuelled your everyday 6-year-old self.

A friend of mine told me recently that she really dreaded Christmas.  As a child, her parents told her that Santa and his elves used Christmas trees to spy on children.  Her parents rightly put Christmas trees in every single room of the house, including my friends bedroom.  Now as an adult, she dreads the holiday, it makes her paranoid, she dislikes the feeling of nostalgia, family, and she never has a tree.  Of course she's no longer afraid of the tree itself, but the holiday holds an ominous sense of pressure.  The pressure to be good, to do your best, because at the end of the day no one wants coal in their stocking.

It got me thinking about fears and beliefs then and now.  I made a list of my fears as a child and realize none of them had ever really gone away. 

The Snow Plow

Then:  One season a year, like my friend, left me with nightmares enough to last the other 9 months.  Living on a dirt road in a very rural suburb of Boston, the snow plow was our life line after a snow.  But on that small dirt road, there was only enough room for one, and when that plow came trudging down the road there was no where to run.  of course you could climb up one of the snow slopes and hope you got out of it's way.  As a child I of course didn't understand that someone was driving the plow and if they came across me playing in the street (yes I was always playing in the street) they would stop. 

Now: The plow represented everything control.  Something coming that I saw no way of avoiding, and sure someone could stop the machine but would they?  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still terrified of the snow plow, mostly because if the mass-hole driver were to ever plow into me that'd be my end.  The snow plow was my control in a harsh environment, the winter, the snow, the wind.  Maybe I should have become a snow plow driver.

 Tea will become Beer

Then: My dad always used to tell me "if you let my tea steep too long it becomes beer".  This is something I believed way too long, too long to admit.  There were times when he'd come upstairs from his office demanding his tea, only to realize I'd made it 20 minutes ago, left it steeping on the kitchen counter.  He'd promptly tell me it's turned to beer and he'd pour it down the drain.  It made sense to me.  They were the same color, if you're drinking a dark ale or stout that is, and how else did you make beer?  I didn't know.  My worst fear is one day I would serve my dad a beer instead of the tea he had asked for.  And then it happened.  He caught me pouring out a perfectly good cup of tea.  I had made it for myself and when he asked why I dumped it out, I simply said, it's beer and I'm underage.

Now: It all comes down to failure.  Not making the perfect cup of tea, especially for someone who's opinion seems to define my very existence.  Unfortunately I still haven't been able to live down taking the phrase "the tea will turn to beer" literally.

I was adopted... or perhaps an alien.  Nope just a "stalker".

Then:  I was the odd one out.  I was pale and fat while my tan brother's rib cage was always showing.  We ate the same things, drank the same drinks, even played the same sports, yet somehow he burned it all off and I packed on the pounds.  He made friends, while I played by myself in the nearby woods.  I didn't understand how we came from the same womb, it made absolutely no sense.  I related more to the characters in the fantasy novels and films I'd read and watch.  And when I found out that sometimes children don't aren't necessarily blood-related to their parents, I thought I had figured out the deep dark secret.  I tried my best to discover any evidence, searching through my home for anything that may reveal my true identity.  Perhaps I wasn't even from this planet, after all I was so unbelievably different from the rest of them, and not just my family but my friends as well.  Then in the third grade, my best friend told the guidance counselor I was "stalking" her.  Her proof was that I called her on the weekends, setting up sleepovers and play dates and since we lived down the street from one another, she said I was around "too often".  I was quickly placed into a one-on-one counselor meeting during my lunch hour, secluding me from the rest of the children.  They told me I was different and needed to talk about my feelings.  Looking back, I still don't really understand why the school guidance department saw my calling my "best friend" to have sleep overs and play dates as "stalking".  Perhaps if my friend had simply told her parents she didn't to be my friend anymore, we would have avoided all of the unnecessary therapy.  Perhaps if I had spent my 3rd grade year eating with my class I wouldn't have felt so left out, I would have made more friends instead of believing my guidance counselor thought I was cool.  But instead, I spent the rest of elementary school utterly confused as to why I didn't have any friends, why I had somehow lost my "best friend" and why the guidance counselor wanted to eat lunch with me so badly.

Now: It's safe to say the whole third grade debacle scarred me for life.  I do not trust easily, especially when in the 8th grade I finally spoke to that "best friend" who confessed her admission to the counselor in third grade.  She told me she hadn't wanted to be my friend anymore, after all I had just started gaining weight at that point and was quickly following the un-cool route.  So she did the next best thing, she lied and told the counselor I was obsessed with her.  Which to be completely honest, what 8 year old isn't "obsessed" with their best friend?  Anyways it's safe to say, I don't make friends easily, and I still doubt whether I actually came from the same womb as my brother.

Santa was for "stupid" children.

Then: As a child, Santa was a costume that my friend's Aunt from Sweden wore every year around Christmas.  Santa was also a costume that a Fireman wore when the fire truck made it's rounds the week before Christmas.  My family would take me to see these "Santas" and I would sit on their lap and go along with the charade.  I always recognized the person underneath the beard, mostly because it was a family friend or the fire fighter who the summer before had showed me his truck.  Oh the life of a small town.  It was clear "Santa" was a character, and for those who believed?  Well they were just "stupid" enough to follow the charade.  The presents under the tree were from my parents, who always reminded me to go to bed early not so Santa would come, but so they could put out presents themselves.  And the best part?  None of this bothered me what-so-ever.  It didn't hurt my childhood, I still had a fantastic time visiting the various "Santas" around town, at the mall, my friend's aunt, the Santa at the mall that smelled a bit like booze and moth-balls.  They spread the holiday cheer, even if Santa was purely a figment of the other children's imaginations.

Now: Have faith much? Many of my friends now fear the "mall Santa".  He's that creepy man who lets little boys and girls sit on his lap.  I don't fear the creep for in my mind he was always a little bit creepy, pretending to be something I clearly knew he was not.  

I'm sure if I dig back deep enough there was more than a snow plow and brewing a less than perfect cup of tea.  I'm sure I feared 'normal' things like the "bad guys" on my regular Saturday morning cartoon or sharks.  But these are the phobias that stuck with me the longest, impacted who I am now the most, and ultimately shaped a child, who may be in need of some serious therapy as an adult.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Feeling Japan-easy

So very often I find myself venturing eastward with my evening palate.  Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean, Cambodian, Thai, mmmm bring on the noodles, spice, and everything nice!  So when Isakaya Ouan opened in Hillcrest, I knew it wasn't long before I'd find myself settling into what I would later describe as the best Japanese food in San Diego.

Takoyaki (Octopus Balls)
We made a reservation for 7:30 on a Friday night, unsure of the crowd and were pleasantly surprised.  The restaurant that seats just 20, was half full, alive with chatter and free flowing sake.  The menu offers a myriad of 'snacks', of which we ordered three: The takoyaki (octopus balls), a evening special of chicken hearts, and another octopus dish with vinegar cucumbers and seaweed styled greens.  The three dishes decorated the table at different times through out the main, each offering a different fresh taste.  Each a different type of ballad dancing upon our tongues.

Piggy Ramen

Spicy Tuna Bowl
For a main course, came the Piggy Ramen; a perfect blend of soft pork, perfect noodles, and a creamy broth that can only have been intended for the gods.  On a more milder side, came an order of a spicy tuna bowl, with brown rice, spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber, and ginger.  As our bellies filled with San Diego's finest, I relished in the feeling of being satisfied and not too full. 

We finished the meal with a bowl of black sesame ice cream, the ultimate palate cleanser.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Races

The Races has always been an elusive idea to me.  One that embodies having a lot of money, wearing a large hat, and possibly looking ridiculous in a frilly loud floral dress.  In 2008, I received the first ballot since my 18-year-old voting status had taken effect and quickly voted for the banning of dog racing in Massachusetts.  Other than it's cruelty to greyhounds, my knowledge of 'the races' didn't go much farther than that and the British television channel with the same name.

Flash forward to 2014 and here I am, living in southern California with some of the world's most famous racing tracks at my finger tips.  The Del Mar Race Track opened in 1937, it was the toast of the town.  By the next year, Seabiscuit was a fan favorite, bringing in 20,000 spectators to the track and entertaining a national radio crowd.  Like everything, the track has an incredible past, which perhaps is why the races have the reputation they have today.  Whether they add up to expectation or are just mere show, well that's (like many things) a matter of opinion.

I was given tickets to the races as a gift from the Del Mar Fairgrounds and eagerly boarded the train northbound from Santa Fe Station.  The train ride is no more than 30 minutes and the best part?  The county of San Diego has yet to introduce an alcohol ban on board.  Can you say pass the bubbly?  So there we were, classy as ever - wearing our best races attire - riding north towards intoxication.  It wasn't just the wine taking effect, but the experience.  An American experience of the races.  Something sophisticated, surreal, and suddenly I wondered whether I should have worn a bigger hat.

Upon arriving, you're given the chance to buy daily booklets, guiding bets and making suggestions based on a calculated past of wins and loses for each horse.  We picked up a yellow guide written by a witty "Mr Dave" and tried to decipher it.  No luck there.  Over the course of the day I learned the lingo.  I could easily throw about a bet for the horse to win, place or show, along with an 'exacta', 'trifecta', combined with a box bet.  Suddenly you're part of the exclusivity that comes with the races,  Your hat is big enough, the liquor is endless, and you're ready for the big leagues.  You're drunk on power, intoxicated with the races.  You're part of it's history, part of what makes the upper class so upper.

Suddenly it's all over.  And the next morning's hangover leaves you broke and wearing a smaller hat.  Till next time.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Drinky Clinky

A special thanks to the Huffington Post for today's post.  As a traveler, drinking customs are some of the strangest and most serious traditions that any tourist need learn.  Over the years I've learned to drink when asked, least I'll offend,  even if there is a decaying monkey carcass in the rice wine.  

© The Traveling Barnacle

Monday, 1 September 2014

Surviving on Pennies in America's Finest City

When people find out I live in California their usual response has something to do with just how expensive the West Coast is.  And while yes San Diego is expensive, landing the #10 spot in the "most expensive cities" of the U.S., it can also be very affordable with the right knowledge.

Having moved to America's Finest City with $300 in my pocket (yes literally in my pocket, the bank account came later) I quickly learned how to eat, sleep, and play for close to nothing.  Here is my own list of rules & tips to live in the 10th most expensive city of the United States (in no particular order).

YELP! when you're hungry.
If you've got a smart phone, then you've got this app at your finger tips, and believe me your stomach is going to thank you. The "check in" feature is not just to let the world of social media know exactly where you are in the world, but can also get you some great discounts and even some freebies!  Take Jimbo's Natural Grocery Store in downtown's Horton Plaza for example, "check in" and get a free breakfast burrito (for a limited time).

Cool off for free.
The newest addition to San Diego's Embarcadero is the Waterfront Park.  Spanning 12 acres, including grassy areas to take a nap, shaded sitting areas, gardens and an interactive fountain.  Yes, you heard right interactive.  Let your inner 6 year old run wild through the jet streams of cool water and enjoy your free shower.

Free your mind, the rest will follow.
Every Tuesday, Balboa Park boasts it's "free resident Tuesdays".  Each Tuesday, different museums open their doors, free of charge, to San Diego residents.  Not a resident?  At least we don't have a pesky accent to fake!  If music is more of your thing, stop by the Spreckles Organ Pavilion on a Sunday for a free concert, played on one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs.

Take a trip back in time.
Old Town Historical State park is the most visited state park in the United States. Take that Yellowstone!  The park itself has no entrance fee and can be easily walked in an hour.  Window shop the Mexican souvenir shops or visit the (free) Wells Fargo Museum.  If you've got a fee bucks, head over to the Whaley House, also known as the most haunted house in the United States.  Day time tours will set you back around $6, or if you're like us, simply stand outside and gaze up at the windows looking for it's ghouls.

These boots were made for walking... so is San Diego.
There is a major benefit to having sunshine and 360 days of perfect weather year round, and that my friends is not the tan or the beckoning beach, it's the ability to be outside, moving, walking, and cycling, year round.  I have lived here now two years and do not yet own a car.  I walk everywhere and when my legs get tired, well that's what public transportation is for.  And surprise, surprise, the  city is doing something right in the transportation department.  A bus ride will cost you $2.25 one way, $5 for a day pass and if you're really mobile, monthly passes start at $72.

Get sweaty.
You might be broke or trying to save money but that doesn't mean you shouldn't still get in a good work out now and again.  Yoga One offers free yoga classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, as well as Friday mornings.  And if Yoga isn't really your cup of karma, then log onto and find free weekly boot camp sessions and people who actually want to do all those crunches.

Get a Goldstar.
Goldstar is a free membership ticket service that offers heavily discounted tickets (including the elusive free show) to it's members.  Just log on and tell them what you want to see and voila!

Shop till you drop.
Shopping is one of the biggest places I save money, how you ask?  Two words: Salvation Army.  Every Friday and Saturday, the local downtown Salvation Army drops their already low prices an additional 50%.  Not only do I find great brands, but I am able to make a few bucks on the side by ebay-ing all my excellent finds.

1. New York City, NY
2. Honolulu, HI
3. San Francisco, CA
4. San Jose, CA
5. Standford, CT
6. Washington, D.C.
8. Oakland, CA
9. Los Angeles, CA
10. San Diego, CA
Cost of Living: 30.0% above U.S. average
City Population: 1.3 million
Median Household Income: $63,990 (U.S.: $53,046)
Median Home Value: $477,800 (U.S.: $181,400)
The sun, surf and sand might be free in San Diego, but you pay a stiff price to live there. Housing costs are more than double the national average in this Southern California city. And while typically high household incomes help offset inflated living costs, you may have to hustle to find work in the area. The local unemployment rate of 6.9% remains a bit worse than the national average of 6.8%, as of March 2014, though the labor situation has improved since 2013.
Military and government workers may fare best, with about one-fourth of all local jobs related to defense, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Besides the federal government, Northrop Grumman, SAIC and Lockheed Martin are major area employers.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Death of a Childhood

It was the first day I ever saw you cry.  I remember the morning exactly.  The dew not yet disturbed from the night before in the New Hampshire Berkshires.  I woke up early, too early for a 9 year old enjoying her last summer vacation before her first day of 5th grade.  It was our first summer with the camper van and we were on a mission to make the most of it before the 'real' world started again, along with an autumnal welcoming of Jack Frost.  It was a perfect late summer's day.  The sun was sparkling into the open space.  I rolled over onto my younger brother, still asleep in August's bliss.  I could smell Mom's coffee and assumed you were out getting the morning paper, a life-long habit which I always admired.  You wanted to know what was going on in the world, a habit which I have gladly inherited.  But today was different, little did I know it would change everything I knew about life, loss, and love.

You car door slammed as you took heavy steps towards the camper van.  You entered and my mother put her coffee cup down abruptly. What's wrong?  She asked in a hushed tone.

She's dead.

As a 9 year old, the concept was death wasn't something I had dealt much with outside of Bambi loosing his mother to a hunter eager to have a new rug and Simba loosing his father in a family squabble.  I understood death was permanent, but I had never seen first hand the type of pain it causes, the sound it causes, or heard that sound come from you.

Princess Diana & My Grandmother
Princess Diana was loved by all.  Whether it was her smile or her lineage, my English father had a soft spot for lovely Lady Di, and news of her death in the early hours of August 31, 1997, took him by surprise.  Her death silenced the world, masses heartbroken her smile would no longer bring joy to their lives.  It was in every sense of the word a tragedy and the first time I ever saw you flinch.

I got up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, knowing something was different.  Little did I know, the death of the Princess of Wales would change my life, end not only my summer vacation in New Hampshire but show me that no one, not even a steadfast father is immune to pain.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Super Charged

"In the U.S.A. what is the most popular sport?" he asked in his thick Swiss-German accent.

Growing up on the east coast, we bleed our sports teams, especially in the Dirty Watah.  In the springtime, we've got our beloved Sox who charm us with their green monster.  Our football team represents more than just the Bay State, and our winters are a battlefield of black and yellow B's mixed in with that beautiful Celtic Green.  We are proud, we are the underdogs, we drop our "r"s and we win.

When I moved to London as a young woman, I was introduced to football culture.  I wore my Chelsea blue at work in Kensington, but underneath I bled red for their rivals.  Arsenal ran in my veins, but not in my neighborhood.  Games were a frenzy of life and death, a series of holding your breath, drowning in the sheer fear they may not make it.

Then I moved to California.  Let me rephrase that, then I moved to Southern California.  The land of the glamorous, sunshine, surfing, where sports consist of yoga, juicing, and if you can do both of those on a stand-up paddle board then you're doing it right.  But baseball?  Basketball?  Football?  Where do they fit in?

So there we were, sitting in the nose bleed section of a pre-season NFL Chargers game, watching the celebration below.  Clearly San Diego loves to "bolt up", support their blue and yellow players, but something was different about their admiration for the husky men on the green field below.  For every touch down the spectacle began.  Flames shot into the air, followed by a series of fireworks, and the sound of what I can only assume is supposed to be a "lightning bolt" sounded on repeat.  The cheerleaders twerked and shook their gold pom poms.

And the music began.

And the crowd around me sang along, I wondered how a sport taken so seriously on my lovely east coast had transformed into such a spectacle here.  Perhaps Hollywood's charm is too deeply rooted into the culture not to "bolt up", sing the song, and drink commercial beer.  On the other hand perhaps that's what's missing from East Coast Sports mentality.  Because win or loose, at least the beer is cold.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Summertime Sadness

You know Lana Del Ray sings about a summertime sadness, that beautiful kiss before the fall, the season is ending and goodness it's palpable.  So as we pull another blanket over our toes at night and prepare for colder weather, we reflect.

There are certain things that one only does in the summer, despite living in southern California, where it is summer year-round, I firmly hold onto the idea that summer is special.  Summer is meant for sunbathing, beach days, beach nights, and a few BBQs thrown in the mix.  So here's a summertime list, full of the things we all should have done by now... and if not, you've got some homework to do before "school" starts again.

  1.  Sunbathing. Whether it's on a rooftop, beach, or in your front lawn, summertime is meant for striping it all off and getting in that vitamin D.  Just remember to use sunscreen!
  2. Swimming. Dip those tan toes into the sea for goodness sake.  Swimming is not only a great way to have some summertime fun, but it's also a great full body workout.  And did I mention it's relaxing?
  3. Skinny Dipping.  So now that you've got those epic tan lines, why not show the world what a full-moon really looks like and get naked!  
  4. Build a Sandcastle.  I'm sorry how old are you?  Did I mention I don't care?  Seriously get down and dirty, put those hands in the sand and build your dream house!
  5. Get your butt in a boat. Even I, the worst Barnacle ever, someone who gets incredibly seasick, got into a boat this summer.  And despite loosing my lunch, I kayaked past sharks and even saw some beautiful Garibaldi.
  6. Play a Game.  Preferably an outdoors game.  Why not grab a football, soccer ball, or join in a beach volley ball game?  Again, there is no such thing as an age requirement or cut off, so what are you waiting for?  And if it's raining, monopoly awaits.
  7. Go for a Hike.  As someone who hikes year round, hiking in the summer is actually my least favorite time to do it, but that's besides the point.  
  8. Camp. Or "Glamp" if you'd prefer, but get outside your own four walls and sleep underneath the stars.
  9. Road Trip.  One of our favorite summertime adventures.  Unfortunately this year has been pretty quiet on the road trip front, but we'll be heading up to Ojai, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo in September.  Stay tuned for our adventure!
  10. S'mores.  Mmmmm please, more s'mores!  Get together around the fire and roast up these tasty treats before it becomes autumn.  Something about autumn makes marshmallows taste less like fun. 
  11. Go to an Outdoor Concert.  We recently found ourselves listening to (and watching) Disney's Fantasia played live by the San Diego symphony on the waterfront.  There is just something so magical about a summertime concert.  Have you been yet?
  12. Picnic!  There are so many foods that are only available during summer.  Ok so maybe that's not true.  But who eats hot dogs and s'mores in the winter?  Grab a watermelon and make that egg salad and pack a lunch, go to the park!  And lets not forget the most important picnic accessory, the vino!
  13. I scream for Ice Cream.  As a Bostonian, I eat ice cream year round.  It's not something that is easily explained to these Californians.  Ice cream is somehow different, better, amazing even.  Californians are all about their fro-yo and soft serve.  Where is the Ben & Jerrys?  What do you mean too fattening?  I'll have a double scoop with some jimmies please.
  14. 50 cent Lemonade.  Little Susie down the street is selling.  Get it while it's cold and sweet!
  15. Gone to the County Fair.  And by go, I definitely mean eat your weight in cotton candy, see the world's largest pig, and taste something fried that should never be fried, like an Oreo or cookie dough.
Whats on your summertime list?

© The Traveling Barnacle

Monday, 25 August 2014


Every weekend I sit and listen.  It's part of being an assignment editor.  Firmly planted in a swivel chair, agency scanners buzz around me with "breaking" news and all I do is listen.  So what makes it news?  How do you learn to tune into the important stuff and tune out the mediocre?

 It's not something you can teach, it's a combination of something you are born with and something you learn on the job.  People assume learning the codes is the most difficult aspect of the job, but soon you hear it's not just about the code, whether they're responding to an 415 (disturbing the peace) or a 245 (assault with a deadly weapon) or maybe an 11-14 (dog bite), it's not about the numbers, it's about the tone.

We're all human, whether you're a janitor, President Obama or a dispatcher at the local fire department.  And whether it's our job to be human or not, sometimes our humanity breaks through.  Sometimes it's a sense of urgency, a sense of despair, a lack of hope.  It is that urgency that breaks through when it's a matter of life and death.  A fatality has a certain sound, and while a suicide sounds different than a deadly crash or house fire, but that low dark human sound when calling a 11-44 (coroner's case) over the scanners remains the same.

Once in a while you'll hear something.  It's not an easy something, it's difficult, gut wrenching, life changing even.  The first time I heard it, it was one of my first overnight shifts.  There was a call to a high-rise apartment complex in Little Italy, reports of a serious fall.  The officer arrived on scene and began reporting to dispatch.  A man had jumped from the 12th floor.  The radio lit up again, this time full of agonizing cries.  The man's wife had arrived in the lobby.  Her cries were for help, not to save the man she loved, but to save her own soul from breaking. Suddenly my own heart was aching, broken with the loss the woman was enduring.  The officer's sterile words broken through her cries.  Each word clear against the sorrow, he called for a clean-up crew, calm, cool. collected.

We're told to listen our entire lives.  Our parents reprimand us when our ears stray, our teachers remind us to listen carefully, and as we get older, our relationships thrive when we learn to listen to what our partners need all while they in turn listen to us.  And while I get paid to listen, I'm learning it's never been about what is being said, but the emotion behind it, the actual sounds, the human melody that keeps the beat to the sterile words.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Monday, 18 August 2014


A visit to San Diego isn't complete without a trip to La Jolla.  Rightly name, the jewel of southern California, the affluent neighborhood sits overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  And right in it's heart, lies the cove.  A picturesque inlet, surrounded by cliffs, sandy beaches, and environmentally protected waters, the cove is the perfect place to catch a wave or try your chance at spotting a leopard shark.

Dozens of companies offer kayaking and snorkeling tours, where you're able to kayak through the waters of the cove, over the sharks (if you're lucky) and into it's caves.  Most tour guides are more than informative and will tell you about the areas environmental and social history.

The La Jolla Underwater Park is made up of two artificial reefs, designed to enhance and encourage marine life. And let me tell you, it looks like it's working.  The reef makes the waves minimal adding to the popularity with divers and swimmers.  Just keep in mind the rules of the park: Look but don't touch.

The sandy bottom is the perfect feeding ground for stingrays, crabs, and leopard sharks.  They move underneath visitors effortlessly with each stroke of a paddle or an arm.  The non-aggressive sharks munch on crustaceans and crabs on the seafloor and don't mind the company in the protected water.  And while the sharks keep to themselves, curiosity has been known to get the better of the local seals.  Unfortunately with the seals comes "seal lovers" who will do whatever it takes to keep you at a "safe" distance from the lovable pups.

So go, do, see, swim.  Skip Seaworld and skip the Birch Aquarium and opt for the real action... just remember to do the stingray shuffle.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Soaking a Nation in the name of ALS

By now you've seen the videos.  People everywhere dumping buckets of ice water over their heads in the name of charity.  I guess you could say the phenomenon has quite literally soaked the nation, but why?  I've watched my east coast friends soak themselves pool side, in front yards, back yards, parking lots, in Jacuzzis, and even in the shower (you are a wuss by the way).  Each of them give a short speech, which lets face it, I always mute, they challenge a few more people to soak themselves and then the big finish.  Somewhere between the speech and the big finale, they mention "ALS" or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  The neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which leads to loss of muscle control and for some patients in later stages, to be completely paralyzed.

According to the The Ice Bucket Challenge began July 29th as to way to get the public involved in funding research for the disease.  It's safe to say, America accepted the challenge.  Unfortunately there are some reports the Ice Bucket Challenge began as early as June 8th as, guess what folks, just another random Internet challenge.

But is it just an excuse for a facebook post?  As I watch 80% of my facebook friends take on their own challenge, I find myself asking a few key questions.

To my New England buds, what if you were challenged in December?  Would you still dump a bucket of ice over your head?

To my California chums, do you really think dumping a bucket of water and ice over your head is a good idea when we're in the middle of one of the worst droughts the state has ever seen?

Ok so your lips are moving (of course I have you on mute) and then you stand there and act like you weren't expecting a bucket of ice water to be freezing as it's dumped over your head.  Tell me again how this video is benefiting ALS?

Here's one more question, perhaps most importantly, did any of you actually donate monetarily to the challenge or is this just one massive wet t-shirt contest for the Internet?

Ok so maybe those last two were a bit stupid.  After all the whole point is to raise awareness right?  And the entire world seems to be slowly dumping water over their heads in the name of ALS.  But isn't there something more valuable, more important, more meaningful than wasting a bucket of water for a facebook update?

So instead of dumping a bucket of water over my head, I will be donating to each of these charities, so my bucket of water can go to someone whose life depends on it.
Charity Water

© The Traveling Barnacle

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Travel Inspiration: San Luis Obispo

Stay in style at the Madonna Inn
In just a short month I'll be more than a quarter of a century old.  The big 2-6 is approaching and I've yet to see anything in California north of Los Angeles... I know, I know... the travel-bug hasn't been doing it's job.  But let me assure you, I'm covered in fresh bites from that little bug and I'm preparing myself with a vivid collection of photographic inspiration for the up coming adventure to San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo. Image courtesy of National Geographic

Bubblegum anyone? 
© The Traveling Barnacle


Living in the flight path can be terrifying at times.
© The Traveling Barnacle

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A Lifetime of Laughter

"It's amazing how this can happen to famous people."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  What did he mean he couldn't believe something like this, like depression, or in this case an alleged suicide.

To most of us he was simply a comedian, a funny man who starred in the movies that defined our youth.  But it wasn't a secret Robin Williams battled drugs, addiction and depression through out his entire career, all behind the facade of a smile and quick whit.  When I first heard he had passed, I didn't need to read the fine print.  I remember first hearing about Williams depression years ago when the star relapsed in 2003, after 20 years of sobriety and again in 2006 when he publicly checked into a rehabilitation center.  And while suicide is not something one can predict, for someone battling demons it's a constant possibility.  What's more, it's an unfortunately truth that more often than not, someone who is suicidal can't necessarily be stopped.  It's shocking to those of us who lost someone they loved, and when it happens to someone who we think we know, someone who makes us laugh, celebrity or not, it rips that magic carpet from under our feet.

It's been nearly 24 hours since Williams was found unresponsive in his California home, and our newsroom is buzzing more than ever.  Perhaps it's out of shock that the world has seemed to stop laughing, but what about those of us who are not surprised.  Are we bad people for understanding why someone would take their own life?  Is that cause for concern?  Who am I to voice the opinion of "I'm not surprised someone like Williams, someone who has been battling drugs, alcoholism, someone who has been to rehab multiple times, took his own life."

Williams even joked about his battle with cocaine in Live at the Met stand-up performance.

The world seems to idolize the rich and famous.  We see them as less human, stronger, more beautiful, super-human heroes.  We tend to forget they are just like us. Singer and child star Demi Lovato spoke candidly about her battle with drugs, depression and how celebrity amplified the negative effects.  I remember reading her powerful story, as she recounted the rush of fame, being surrounded by thousands of people all smiling, wanting to meet you, taking your photograph, screaming your name.  You then are rushed into your hotel room, alone, in silence, somehow cut off from the real world.  And while you're loved by millions around the world, you're still alone.

So why are we so surprised?  Perhaps it's because many of us don't understand what it's like to want to take your own life.  Or what it's like to slowly poison yourself with drugs and alcohol, knowing it's killing you, but you keep taking because you're afraid you might die without it.  But for those of you battling your own demons in that hotel room, despite loved ones easily reached by phone on the other line, you feel alone.  After all we're all human.

call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) ----National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
© The Traveling Barnacle

Friday, 8 August 2014

Justice Served?

It was the summer of 2010, I was a hopeful graduate with a fresh diploma in hand.  I packed my bags and moved to Phenom Penh, Cambodia to work for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called The Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR).  The Organization worked in conjunction with the Extraordinary Chamber Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), specifically by educating the public about the Khmer Rouge Regime of the 1970s, the genocide of the Cambodian people under Pol Pot and his Goons, and future democracy in the country.

I took my time getting to Cambodia, stopping over in Thailand, adventuring in Bangkok and the surrounding villages, even taking a moment to meet some pretty cool cats.  I stopped off in Angkor Wat to see the ruins, trying to figure out where a young 22 year old from Boston fit into the world.  Then I got to Cambodia....  Suddenly the world was no longer about me, about petting tigers, or sharing a large beer with fellow backpackers along the banana pancake trail.  

After unpacking my bags I was introduced to the leader of CJR, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, Theary Seng.  I liked her immediately.  She was charismatic, compassionate, and incredibly beautiful.  Everything she touched seemed to glow with hope, with justice, and with an undying spirit.  I bought her novel from a 9 year old boy on the street a few days after meeting her, the yellow paperback stood out from the knock-off "Lonely Planet" guides.  I read her story cover to cover, with each page not only understanding her contagious hope, but the spirit of Cambodia and why I was here.

On July 26th 2010, just three weeks after I arrived to help with the organization, Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his Khmer Rouge alisas as "Duch" was convicted for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life  in prison.  We organized public forums leading up to the sentencing, trying to educate the public on their own past.  A past that even today, isn't spoken of among it's survivors.  Fear of the government is a daily reminder of the country's genocide, where nearly 2 million people lost their lives in senseless killing.   I remember the day clearly.  Those lucky enough to get close to the courts waited outside, holding our breath, hoping the ECCC made the right decision.  It had been more than 30 years since these men ruled the earth, killing the educated, innocent women and children, leaving a country in a constant state of fear and confusion.  It was time to lock them up.

4 years have passed since I was that young woman sitting in a Cambodian office, organizing educational forums, holding my breath for the 2 million lives lost, hoping for justice.  This past Thursday, two more leaders in the Khmer Rouge were found guilty for crimes against humanity by the ECCC.  Nuon Chea, the former deputy secretary of the Communist Park of Kampuchea and Khieu Samphan, a one-time president of the Democratic Kampuchea received life sentences, joining Duch behind bars.  The 3 men are in their 80s and have spent the last 40 years living the high-life.  Raising large families, in even larger homes, denying their involvement with Brother Number one.  Both men say they intend to appeal the verdict.

3,500 victims participated in the trial.  An incredibly small amount of "witnesses" considering a quarter of the nation's population, nearly 2 million, were slaughtered during the regime.

While the UN and Amnesty International welcome the verdict as an important step towards justice, one can't help but ask, is it enough?  Three life sentences later, the country is perhaps a baby step closer to justice, but reconciliation? The UN backed ECCC also announced a decision to endorse 11 reparation projects for victims, but many believe the government also needs to act.  A sentence doesn't fix what the regime left, what the country has been living in for the last 40 years;  a public fear and lack of knowledge and democracy.  

Theary was of course vocal about yesterday's verdict, saying; "Cambodia hasn't got to the heart of the genocide. It's a missed opportunity... it completely missed the mark. What have we seen from $200 million and eight years (of the existence of the ECCC)? (It is) really a disservice to the other Cambodian victims."  She did however comment on those baby steps saying this verdict will "serve as a catalyst for conversations in Cambodia about our past."  They say everyone has a past, and for Cambodia it is one that continues to wait for it's serving of justice and reconciliation.

© The Traveling Barnacle

Saturday, 2 August 2014

America's Finest Convention

What I'm about to say may have some of you up in arms, but for this blogger, living in San Diego is pretty boring.  Unlike our past homes of London, Boston, even Puebla, "America's finest city" lacks.  I often find myself trolling hundreds of event listing sites trying to find something to do with my afternoon or evening off from work.  The border city isn't a mixture of Mexican/American culture like we discovered in El Paso, but is a border, segregated in culture, except when it comes to the spice on your plate.  The museums are somewhat stagnant, the same exhibitions remain for years, and pop-ups?  What is a pop-up show? They're very few and far apart.  Perhaps this is simply the rant of a spoiled child who once lived in one of the most fascinating cities in the world, one that never sleeps, never stops, and never gets stale.

But the one thing San Diego has that no other city does quite the same: Comic Con.

For one weekend in July, the city gains 150,000 visitors, dressed in their superhero best, all ready to hear what the imminent year has to offer in terms of fandom.  It began in the 1970's when a group of comic lovers decided they wanted to host their own convention.  And while it all started with the superheroes and villans in between the pages of a glossy magazine, it soon included other aspects of popular culture that those same fans found worth merit.  Nearly 50 years later, I'd be surprised if half the attendees had ever read a physical comic book, but the characters have leapt from their original pages onto the big screens of Hollywood and onto our video game consoles.

As a resident, my city streets are transformed into a parade of fantasy.  Spider man is in Starbucks ordering his green tea latte with extra soy milk, while the Mayor rides a zip line through Gotham City.  Each year the costumes get more elaborate and with that comes elaborate issues.  Feminist groups demand these women dressed in little more than duct tape not be oogled at and are using these conventions as a platform for their anti-sexual harassment campaigns. For residents, the convention is both a blessing and a curse.  While the tourism gives our lovely city a boost, it makes going anywhere downtown or remotely near the Convention Center incredibly difficult.  Our favorite dive bars have been transformed into themed invite only haunts, restaurants are a 45 minute wait for the table in the back (you know the one near the kitchen with that awkward swinging door that slams into you every time someone delivers a plate), even the prices at the local grocery store go up.  Locals complain about the crowds, how everyone comes to their city, to enjoy their weather, their food, blah blah blah.  While secretly venturing into the masses to steal some swag, including a Hello Kitty headband and a Simpsons themed blow up doughnut.  We love it, we hate it.  But it's one of the things that defines us, that gives our home a place in modern history, a place in popular culture.  All while giving event starved bloggers a place to go and meet Robot Chicken.

The sad news?  Comic Con is set to remain in San Diego through 2016, and then?  This blogger only hopes "America's finest city" holds onto it's finest event.

© The Traveling Barnacle
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