Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Journey Continues At Home

It’s always an adjustment when the back-to-back travel ends and I find myself at home for an extended period of time (longer than a week or two). Putting the suitcase away and unpacking the toiletries is the final concession that I’m staying put for a while. . . NOW what do I do?

I try to get back into my daily routines: wake up early, go for a run on the beach, go to the office, have dinner with friends, go to a concert. It takes a while to settle in and I find myself missing the airplanes, taxis, new restaurants, different experiences, and meeting new people. It takes a lot of will-power to not just jump on the next plane to Kauai, San Francisco, or Vegas, or hop in the car and drive to San Diego (although any number of those things may happen within the next week). Thankfully, there’s plenty of adventure at home!

Mile 6

Mile 6

I’ve been home for 3 weeks now – quite possibly the longest stretch I’ve gone without traveling this year – and have had several fun journeys. It’s been a nice reminder that I can travel in my own city. Earlier this month I ran the Pasadena Half Marathon with my good friend, Jen. I haven’t been to Pasadena in years and forgot how simply going to another community can feel like a vacation! First, we ran through the beautiful tree-lined streets, passing by some magnificent homes. The colors of the leaves had changed and there was evidence that we actually do experience “seasons” in LA. It felt like we were in New England, only warmer.

The second third of the course was spent on dirt trails in the hills. You can truly get lost in the mountains and forget that you’re anywhere near a city. There was one hill that was long and steep. Most people walked it (myself included) and many were out of breath at the top. I couldn’t help but laugh when we arrived at the top of the hill to find a sign marked “Devil’s Gate.” We hit the pavement again for the last portion of the course. Crossing the finish line was fantastic because it signaled the end of the run… and the beginning of breakfast!

The Getty - sometimes it's too nice to inside!

The Getty - sometimes it's too nice to inside!

The following weekend my friends Juston and Laura came to town. We spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon up at The Getty. Juston and Laura are both artists so I felt inclined to warn them that while we have every intention of going inside the museum, many visits to The Getty are spent entirely outdoors. They chuckled (perhaps in disbelief) and said, “well, of course we’ll go inside!” But we began our adventure outdoors, walking the gardens, admiring the way the buildings “framed” LA perfectly, looking at the ocean on one side of the property and snow on the mountains on the other side. We ate brunch and then attempted to go inside the museum. We were in one building for a few minutes, then another, and then Laura said,”you know, it’s so nice outside, I feel like we should be soaking up the sun!” And so, as most days at The Getty are spent, we ventured back outside, sat on the grass, watched kids roll down hills and scale walls, while we caught up and took in the view.

Sunbathing pelican in Newport

Sunbathing pelican in Newport

And finally, last weekend my friend Heather and I planned a mini-vacation. She lives in San Diego so we met in Newport Beach, half-way between Santa Monica beach and Mission Beach. We spent the day at the beach, bouncing between restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and bakeries, with outdoor seating. It was so warm and beautiful that we had to keep reminding each other that it was December 28th.

Ben Harper at The Mint, Hollywood

Ben Harper at The Mint, Hollywood

In between all of that was a bunch of live music. From Ben Harper at The Mint to Ozomatli at House of Blues, to Hotel Cafe family reunions and holiday shows. . . it’s been a non-stop adventure since I returned home!

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Taking Action for Polar Bears

My Arctic Adventures Blog featured on MySpace

My Arctic Adventures Blog featured on MySpace

I woke up this morning to an email from MySpace – they’re featuring my blog on their Our Planet channel: http://www.myspace.com/ourplanet.  Many thanks to MySpace for sharing these stories and helping spread awareness about polar bears and how we can all help preserve the Arctic region.

Also, big thanks to Chuck (Dr. Jonkel), Shannon, Matt and everyone at The Great Bear Foundation for the amazing experience and sharing their wealth of knowledge.

The main reason I spent 8 days on planes, buses, and trains, traveling to the Arctic was to experience first-hand the affects of climate change on polar bears and Arctic ecology.  It seems awareness of climate change has increased and more and more people know that the survival of polar bears is threatened, but it can still feel like “a problem over there” — not part of our day to day consciousness.  I don’t believe this is malicious, it just isn’t top-of-mind for many people, most of the time.  I live in LA where it’s 73 degrees and beautiful almost every day of the year.  It’s hard to expect everyone in LA to think about ice caps melting and polar bears heading toward extinction, on a day to day basis.  People all over the world are consumed with their own survival, happiness, and daily responsibilities – global warming is not top-of-mind, even though they’re aware of it.

The thing to remember is that it’s all connected. The way we live, wherever we live, has an impact on the environment as a whole, which in turn has an impact on us. Dr. Jonkel (Chuck) reminded us that people are wasting time debating whether Global Warming is something people are causing or just “part of mother nature’s natural cycle.” He encouraged us to recognize that both points of view are valid – some of the climate change we see is mother nature “doing her thing” AND some of it is caused or accelerated by what we’re doing. All Chuck asked of us is that we help the part that we can control – the impact we have on the earth and the things we can do to minimize that.

Several groups have put together lists of simple steps to combat global warming in our everyday life. Stop Global Warming has a great list: http://www.stopglobalwarming.org/sgw_actionitems.asp

The NRDC is also doing work on climate change: http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/default.asp

Global Warming Solution is a Missoula, Montana based organization founded by a Great Bear alum. Their executive summary is really helpful:

http://www.globalwarmingsolution.org/pdf/Summary.pdf

Global Warming Initiatives, Inc is a really cool company that helps businesses to reduce their carbon footprint while at the same time saving money on energy efficiency:

http://www.gwi-nc.org/

The lists of simple steps are great in that they are easy to achieve and anybody can do things like switch to energy efficient light bulbs, etc. And if we get enough people to do these things, we can make a difference.

We can also support initiatives like the Western Climate Change Initiative:

http://www.westernclimateinitiative.org/

This is an alliance of seven western states and two canadian provinces working on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We can pressure our schools, workplaces, and local and state governments to conduct greenhouse gas inventories, to determine how much impact they are having and how they can reduce that impact. It often saves money in the long run on energy costs.

The bumper sticker, “think globally, act locally” has never meant as much as it does today. The average meal travels 1,500 miles to our dinner plates, consuming fossil fuels for transport, processing, refrigeration, etc. One of the biggest changes we can make in our everyday lives is to buy locally, eat locally, and eat seasonally. By gardening or participating in CSA’s, we not only reduce the fossil fuels used to feed ourselves, but the plants we grow also help to produce clean air and to sequester carbon. Can or dry the extra food from your harvest, and you can eat your bounty year round. Grow squashes, potatoes, and other hardy vegetables that can grow late in the season and keep throughout the winter.

Chuck would say that one of the most important things we can do is to raise awareness of the polar regions. There are few people living up there, and their voices are rarely heard. Most people think of the north as a barren waste of ice. The more people learn about the Arctic, the more they will care about it. That’s the point of Chuck’s “Learning to Talk Arctic” lecture. As people become more familiar with the polar regions, they will care more.

I fell in love with polar bears during this trip.  I stood 30 feet away from them and watched in awe as they played, searched for alternative food sources, and walked across the ice with power and grace. I think about them every time I put gas in my car or ask a business to turn off the air conditioning when it’s cold outside (and inside). I think about the collective positive impact we can have by taking simple steps in our own lives and educating (and sometimes pressuring) business owners to make positive changes.  And then I do everything I can to help ensure the survival of polar bears and make a positive impact on the Earth.

Curious Bear

Curious Bear

Counting Shooting Stars: Big Sur

Sunset in Big Sur, November 29 2008

Sunset in Big Sur, November 29 2008

For all the good times, defining moments, and magical experiences I’ve had (and there have been many), it’s always a blessing when another comes along.  I just returned from a long weekend in Big Sur.  It’s been tradition during the past 3 Thanksgiving weekends to drive up the coast and attend my friend Shiva’s yoga retreat. It’s something I look forward to every year. But this year, having literally just returned from back-to-back trips to the Arctic and Turks & Caicos, I actually considered not going. I wasn’t sure I felt up to more travel and was enjoying my time at home.  I also felt completely relaxed and re-treated (or so I thought).

Thankfully I listened to the other voice in my head – the one that reminded me how important it is to disconnect from the phone, computer, and daily routines, and to reconnect with myself, friends, and a more natural rhythm of life.
 
I drove up the coast Friday morning and was immediately at ease, with the ocean by my side the entire way. I turned my phone off before I officially went off the grid and dropped completely into the experience.  Life still happens without a phone – in fact, it happens without interruption. I took my time driving up the coast and found a little beach town to get lost in along the way. 
 
Saloon in my newly discovered beach town

Saloon in my newly discovered beach town

The town had one main street, only 5 blocks long. There was an old saloon and a restaurant that looked like a pirate ship.  I ate lunch at the pirate ship restaurant, and sat on the upstairs deck outside, overlooking the ocean.  The town was simple and charming – if I ever dissapear, it’s possible I took up residence there.

 
 
 
 
 
Elephant seals sunning themselves

Elephant seals sunning themselves

As I continued driving I noticed an Elephant Seal viewing area on the side of Highway 1. In the dozen times I’ve made this drive previously, I never noticed this turn-off.  It’s easier to pay attention without the cell phone! I pulled over and checked out the elephant seals.  They can weigh up to 2 tons and are NOT pretty animals.  It was odd to see all these huge beasts lying on the beach – they looked almost prehistoric.  There was one little, white seal who was loving the sun and appeared to be smiling as she scratched her head with her fin and then settled back to sleep – she was pretty cute.

I arrived at the retreat center around 3:30 and went straight into the hot springs.  The hot springs overlook the ocean and provide instant relaxation.  As it turned out, all my friends decided to take a leisurely drive up to Big Sur, so we all arrived “late” (between 4 and 6pm instead of 2pm).  With no phones, we just trusted we’d find each other there whenever we all arrived.  And of course we did. We connected at dinner and then went dancing in the dance dome.  After we finished dancing we each picked up an instrument (my friends provided the live music) and started jamming.  We were just playing, free-form and having so much fun.  I looked around at this group of 10 particular friends I hadn’t seen in a few months and just smiled. It felt like home to be reunited.  Also, while this was billed as a “yoga retreat,” this group of friends inherently makes the dynamic more of a party.  Y’know when you have a friend who you have too much fun with (not that there is such a thing); that person whose eyes light up when he looks at you and says “uh oh, trouble is here!”?  Well, there were 10 of us who feel that way about each other so needless to say we  had a lot of fun! After dancing and our impropmtu jam session, we went back down to the hot springs for a couple hours (they’re open 24-hours).  We caught up and relaxed some more. 
Saturday was probably my favorite day of the retreat (although they were all fantastic) and one of the most fulfilling nights of my life so far.  We had a wonderful breakfast, practiced yoga, ate lunch, and then went down to the beach.  There was a 4-6pm yoga workshop and session but none of us ended up going.  Some went surfing, some went to the tubs, some of us just sat on the deck and watched the sunset.  We reconnected at dinner and had some wine.  At 7:00pm I headed down to the massage room for one of their signature massages, with the sound of the ocean waves crashing all around me.  When I emerged from the massage room our yoga group was in an enclosed room with hot tubs, candles lit, singing.  The acoustics were phenomenal.  Now comes the really good part…
Counting Shooting Stars

Counting Shooting Stars

Ambika, Joey, Kishan, Janet, Kristin, and I gathered in another room on the property, sat in a circle and caught up for a little while.  We laughed and plotted our night’s activities – sleep was NOT on the agenda.  After everybody else went to bed, the 6 of us returned to the hot tubs, reunited with our other friend Matt, and soaked for a couple hours. At about 2am Ambika and I went upstairs to the deck, pushed a couple massage tables together, laid down, and looked up at the stars. There were no city lights obstructing the view and so many stars that it almost looked like there was more light than darkness.  And then we saw a shooting star. “Let’s count shooting stars!” I said and Ambika agreed. 

We turned it into a game, keeping track of how many shooting stars each of us saw.  After about an hour (and 7 shooting stars later), our friends Janet and Matt came up and joined us.  “What are you guys doing?” Matt asked. 
“We’re counting shooting stars,” I replied.
“We’re not just counting them,” Ambika elaborated.  “It’s a game – we’re keeping track of how many each of us has seen.”
“Ambika has 4 and I have 3,” I said.
“There’s one!!!!” exclaimed Matt.
Soon, the score was: Ambika 7, Colette 6, Janet 2, Matt 1.  Then our friend Joey joined us, which required adding one more massage table to our star gazing station.  We explained the game to him and before long Joey had seen 2 shooting stars himself.  Finally, we heard “awwww, wow…. what’s going on here?” as Kishan approached.  He took a picture of us (which I’ll post when he sends it to me). 
At one point security came by and shined a flashlight on us.  “What are you doing?” the guard asked.
 
“We’re counting shooting stars,” I replied.  Not the answer he was expecting…
“Oh wow! That’s really cool!” he said.  “Ok, you can stay here and stargaze.  Just don’t fall asleep here.”
The final score was Colette 11, Ambika 10, Janet 5, Joey 2, Matt 1.  This is one of my most favorite moments in life so far (and not because I won “the game”).  To be able to lie down, look at the sky and count shooting stars is so simple, beautiful, fun, and fulfilling.  Everybody should do it! And if you can do it with a handful of close friends, it’s even better.  It felt familiar as if I’d done it once before when I was a little girl (but I don’t think I have done it before).  It made us all feel like kids.  At one point Matt said, “This is a dream, but it isn’t a dream.  This is amazing!” It felt like we were characters in a fairy tale.  Many of our adventures involve travel to foreign countries, all-night parties, long hikes, or some involved plan.  It was a striking contrast to have so much fun and hear so many giggles engaging in the simplicity of counting shooting stars. 
“We have to come here every year. This is our thing. We created ‘a thing’ and it’s important that we always come back here together and share moments like these,” Joey said.
And we will. 
Eventually, we made our way back to our rooms – the sun was about to rise and put a damper on our shooting star game and we had about 4 hours to sleep before our morning yoga practice.
Hot springs tub overlooking the ocean

Hot springs tub overlooking the ocean

Sunday was another beautiful day.  It felt like summer, clear skies and warm – rare for late-November in Big Sur.  We had brunch after yoga and then made our way back to the tubs.  Our Sunday departure tradition for the past 3 years has been to spend the day in the tubs and leave in the evening after most of the holiday traffic has died down.  At one point Daphne and I were discussing options during Labor Day weekend 2009 – Burning Man, Spirit Bear trip in British Columbia, or a trip to the South of France.  “Well, it’s a win-win-win decision,” I said.

“And look where we’re sitting now,” Daphne reminded me as we soaked in hot tubs, suspended above the ocean.   
Message written in stone

Message written in stone

Another great part about the weekend was this place on the property where somebody left messages written with rocks.  The messages were updated several times daily.  They were messages written in stone, yet not “written in stone.” And if you didn’t pay attention, you may miss a subtle change.  It said “Like fixes like” for a few hours one day and then it switched to “Life fixes life.”  The night we did our stargazing, the sign said “Starlight” with an arrow pointing over the ocean.  You could never take for granted that the sign would be the same and you never knew when it would be updated.  There was no “schedule” that sign changed and it may have changed more frequently than we even observed. Nobody saw the sign being updated (even in broad daylight), it just seemed to “happen” and the message was always perfect.  As I was leaving Sunday, the sign changed again.  “I’ll miss you”

Sunset from the deck in front of our room

Sunset from the deck in front of our room

View of sunset from our room

View of sunset from our room