Friday, October 5, 2012

I love love LOVE this bracelet. Here's hoping I win it

Made by Starlight Jewelry & Designs.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Cup

Here I sit, on the big red cloud of a couch that I used to sleep on during lunch breaks, drinking a large soy gingerbread chai latte with no foam (AKA heaven in a cup), my ears flooded with the familiar sounds of Regina Spektor. It occurs to me in times like this, times of adversity and aimlessness, that I subconsciously try to surround myself with things that feel like home. The concept of home is a curious thing to me; I’ve never lived in any one place for more than four years. I have small comforts, sanctuaries and havens that evoke in me what I imagine “home” evokes in others. The Neighborhood Cup is one of these places.

I first came to the Cup in early September of 2005. I had just returned from my first cross-country road trip with Erin, begun classes for the semester, and parted ways with my boyfriend of 5 months. The shop had opened in May of that year, and I had been following their barista ads on Craigslist since before they opened, waiting for the right time. The right time came and I was their 17th employee. 17 being my favorite of numbers, I tipped my hat to providence.

Funny thing about me and coffee; I spent 10 years hanging out in coffee shops and 4 years working in them, but didn’t start drinking coffee until I started sailing. Equally curious is that I was still very passionate about it. I loved to toil with the espresso machine, adjusting the grind and timing to produce the perfect shot, mixing this flavor and that, trying to pour the perfect rosetta. It was my craft and I took great pride in it.

Now, let me get this straight. The Cup isn’t just any coffee shop. So much care and thoughtfulness went into this place. You will find no caramel-containing machiattos here. The Cup is family owned, they recycle, and save coffee grounds for customers to use as compost. They host live music every Saturday night, display the work of a new local artist each month, host classic car shows on Sunday mornings, and make some of the best sandwiches you’ll eat in your life. They sponsor Saturday morning Yoga, Friday night swing dancing lessons, open-mic (that doesn’t suck), AND it’s connected to the library. A far cry from my last cafe, or any that I’d given my patronage in the past. For a coffee shop snob like me, the Cup was, and still is, a dazzling beacon of hip in the heart of suburbia.

One thing that always fascinated me about this place was that so few employees were California natives. It’s like the Cup beckoned us who needed something to feel like home, who needed family. The Cup wasn’t a job, it was a lifestyle. We worked together, hung out together, slept at each others’ apartments, laughed, danced, partied, and cried together. When we weren’t working, somehow we were still here, and that was OK. When we weren’t here, we were still together.

What a sundry group of kids we were. If there’s one thing I learned here, it’s to never judge a book by its cover.

There was (and still is) Stephanie from Kansas, admittedly raised by the movie “Clueless.” The quintessential valley girl, but also an incredible artist with questions and concerns for a world outside her own and one of my favorite people.

Lalitha, who worked on the human genome project when she was 16, who wrote and spoke with unmatched eloquence and wit. She struggled for a long time, and I miss her. I expect I always will.

Alex, a local, who went on to compete in latte competitions with extraordinary skills acquired at the Cup (I think she won). An accomplished writer; you’ll find her in the NY Times before long.

Romak… well, he’s Romak.

Rebecca, from Iowa, is the Cup’s longest running employee, a pianist, and one of the kindest people I have ever known. Meet her once, and you will never drink and drive again.

Jen, who played big sister to each of us. She guided us through crises with admirable patience and grace while struggling through her own. A truly remarkable woman, she worked open to close and I don’t think she had a day off until the shop was in its second year. We didn’t always see eye to eye, and I regret that I was not always as kind as I should have been. There are few things in my life I would go back and change given the chance; that is one of them.

Steve, Jen’s father, works in a San Bernadino crime lab when he’s not at the Cup, and always has a gleaming smile on his face. If he struggles, it doesn’t show.

And the customers, some with which I’ve formed lasting friendships, notably Ken the Nomad, who trekked hundreds of miles solo through Death Valley. Then there were Jill and John, Dr. Martinez from across the street, Benedict, the sheriffs, the firemen, the Soka students. Second to the camaraderie with my coworkers was the kindness of my customers.

There were others, many others; the list could go on.

As all good things, though, it had to end. We have a way when reminiscing of remembering the happy moments, forgetting the negative. It wasn’t always peachy, and I remember trying for weeks or months to muster the courage to put in my notice. My feet were getting itchy and it was time to move on. One average afternoon in April 2007, after clocking out, I found the strength, and cried the whole way home.

There was a store meeting shortly after, sort of a going away party for me and another girl, Meghan, who was leaving to Africa on a mission trip. Everyone took turns going around the room sharing prominent memories they had of us. I most remember Jen’s; she said to her father after my second interview “well... she’ll definitely add some color to the place.” Little did she know. I received a Neighborhood Cup mug with the year and my name engraved that I still use with fondness.

For months after I quit, you could still find me sitting on this big red couch studying algebra and sipping hot chai, not quite sure what to do with my newfound freedom. Incidentally, this is when I discovered tall ships, which is another story altogether.

The Cup was a really cool thing to be a part of. I’m proud that I was here from nearly the beginning, that I played a role. I’m proud that I was here when we won the Small Business Award in Aliso Viejo, ousting Cox Communications from the previous year. I’ve been able to watch it evolve and grow, maintaining its familiar quirkiness and care. It will be a sad day in my life when the Cup closes its doors, and I hope to never witness it. No matter what we went through, despite the differences and vexations, I will always think on my Cup family with unconditional love and gratitude.

If you’re ever in Aliso Viejo, stop by and get a lavender latte, check out the local art, strike up a conversation with a stranger, and know that you’re experiencing a very special part of my world.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

happiness is...

Watching dolphins ride the bow beneath you. The soothing sounds of little waves crashing ever so gently against the boat in the middle of the night. Drifting in twilight as I'm so benevolently rocked to and fro in this cradle of wood and rope. 9am zombie gatherings disguised as crew calls, after which we assemble in the galley to enjoy the morning's precious first cup of fair trade Colombian coffee (mine always spiked with chocolate). Slowly we come to life and meander around to complete our designated tasks before the students arrive. Checking the engine, testing the small boat, climbing aloft to unfurl the t'gallant, followed by the lower then upper tops'ls.

The kids arrive, and we all gather in the "jacuzzi" to listen to Captain John's speech; a speech we've heard enough times to recite without a second thought. The most important component of this speech being the proper way to use a marine head. ("The pressure's gonna build up, and it's gonna come shooting back at you!").

Some of us take this opportunity to eat bagels with cream cheese, or granola and rice milk in the galley until we hear a resounding "Hands to dock lines!" We take 1, relead 4, take 2 and 3, take 4. Once on deck, each dock line is neatly coiled (ideally), and heaved on top of the nearest deck house. If we're lucky, there's enough wind that we may sail off the dock without starting the engine.

"All hands to sail stations!" Each student is designated a number indicating whether they will be on the foredeck, port, or starboard braces. The crew takes time to learn the name of each student in their group, some of which have sailed before, so much of what we tell them is review. "Hands to set the mains'l," and just like that a handful of kids and crew alike are stationed at the peak and throat halyards to haul up this beast of wood and sail. "2-6-heave! 2-6-heave!" "That's well!" The stopper knot is tied, "up behind," and the line is belayed. This dance continues with the main and fore stays'ls, the inner and outer jib, hands to set the squares. Hands to set the braces. Bracing on a port tack. Let go and haul. Pass your headsl's. It's a struggle getting these novice sailors to understand when to haul and when to ease, which line will control which sail in what fashion. But by the end of the afternoon, after six or seven sessions of bracing back and forth, we hand the boat over to them and they understand what they're to do.

At around noon we break for lunch. The crew convenes in the galley for sandwiches, banter, and a few "your mom" jokes. Some of us take time to interact with the kids, and we can't help but pick our favorites. Often those who remind us of ourselves; those who don't quite fit in; those eager to learn and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Lunch is over, hands to sail stations, bracing on a starboard tack, bracing on a port tack, wash, rinse, repeat until it's time to get the kids back on their bus. Passing through Angel's Gate, given enough crew, we take the kids aloft and teach them how to furl. Many climb the shrouds and stand with hearts racing on the platform, some climb back down, and some muster the courage to trust that little black rope to keep them aloft. It's simple; don't let go and you won't fall. A crew member climbs to the yard arm to tie the clew lashing, then together we lift up the sails for harbor furls (not to be confused with sea furls), tucking each handful beneath our bellies.

“Hands to dock lines!” We drag the dock lines off the deck houses and prepare to heave them on to the floating dock. If we’re lucky, each line makes it to the dock, to its designated cleat, and is hauled in before we drift too far from the dock. Fenders are hung from the port pinrail to ensure the safety of this vessel we all love so dearly. We muster aft, say our goodbyes and good jobs to the kids, and send them on their way, hoping maybe this adventure has stirred in them the same wonder and inspiration it stirs in us.

The kids are gone, we meet in the nav to discuss the day’s sail, how to improve our program, and address issues regarding boat maintenance. The globe is struck, Captain John goes home to his wife, and we continue to furl and wash the deck. Matt and Laura find their way to Exy, maybe to help them with their chores or steal kisses from significant others. Sometimes we all go out for dinner after chores and deck washes, maybe for “cheap ass Chinese” or falafel at the family owned Lebanese restaurant on Pacific. Our boisterous laughs and sailor-speak raises eyebrows of fellow patrons, and it’s not uncommon for us to find the restaurant far emptier after our meal than when we arrived.

Eventually the volunteers go home, and the deckhands return to their respective boats. I often steal away for the B-compartment shower, our Mate to the office to read status updates, Laura to climb telephone poles in the alley and get splinters in her thighs, and Matt to A-compartment to canoodle.

Sometime around 9pm, we may run into each other in the galley looking for a late snack in the form of cookies and Nutella, and these are the times I look forward to most. Not for the ambrosia that is hazelnut spread, but for the conversation. You never know in which direction these late night conversations will go. Sometimes they are personal, often they are silly, always they make me feel that I’ve found my place in the world. Life, love, death, health, sailing, passion, books, poetry, adversity, your mom, travels, hopes, dreams, aspirations...

I’ve never felt such infinite trust in anyone as I do my crewmates. We have to trust in each other, depend on each other, and likewise be trustworthy and dependable, if we want to keep the ship afloat.

I’ve never felt so at ease with a group of strangers in my life. The journalist turned sailor (and my new favorite writer), the sheltered adventurer with a heart of gold, the misfit humanitarian. We’re all misfits, really. Each of us unique, with a relentless desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to be an integral component of something bold and beautiful while still maintaining our independence and self-reliance. We’re here because society couldn’t live up to what we wanted it to be, or maybe we didn’t live up to what society wanted us to be, so we founded our own society and instead live by the ocean’s rules. And we are lucky, so lucky, that we may survive in this world with our dreams in hand.

Yes, we need to shower, and we’re crude, yes we need to do laundry and yes I know I’m developing dreadlocks and need to shave my legs. But dammit, I’m doing what I love.

Happiness is being a tall ship sailor.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I had so many writing ideas racing through my head while in the shower, after which I pumped no grey water, nor did I have to unclog the drain of my hair. Wait a minute.. could it be? Has my hair stopped falling out? By god, I think I'm happy!

Well, I'm happy as I can be. I've been quite reflective these past few days, particularly today, as I continued the Easter riding tradition and rode from Dana Point to San Pedro. I still stand by the belief that time does not heal all, rather forces you to sink or swim. It doesn't matter how much time passes, it hurts just as much today as it ever did, but I've become accustomed to it's presence. It's like the ugly carpet you just can't get rid of. You're usually quite adept at ignoring it, but sometimes you're sitting there, sipping on that day's precious first cup of coffee, staring at this carpet, reliving every little step, newcastle splatter, tear droplet, digging your nails into the ceramic, clenching your teeth and wondering how the hell everything got so fucked up, and why the weren't you consulted?

Aaannnnd then you realize the past is past, and that's all it will ever be, and add "carpet cleaner" to your grocery list. Anyway. Enough carpet allegory. (Is that even allegory, or just metaphor? Oh well, it sounded good at the time).

Soooo boat life. Oh wow, boat life. I feel very fortunate. My crew mates are all beautiful brilliant misfits in their own sailor ways. All of us are so different, yet so very much the same. I am terribly fond of them all, and even feel that I've found a kindred spirit brooding about. It's a comfort to be around like-minded people, and I think on some level we all need each other for much more than just keeping the ship afloat.

I'm only a week into it, but I know I've made the right decision. This is the closest to "home" I have felt in years. But it's definitely work and the relentless pessimist in me is just waiting for the day I start to dread getting out of bed in the morning.

In other news, I get to sleep naked tonight, and that is glorious!

Friday, January 22, 2010

If music was the food of love
Then I'd be a fat romantic slob
Well music, it's my substitute for love

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frank Turner - Photosynthesis

"Well I guess I should confess that I am starting to get old
All the latest music fads all passed me by and left me cold
All the kids are talking slang I won't pretend to understand
All my friends are getting married, mortgages and pension plans
And it's obvious my angry adolescent days are done
And I'm happy and I'm settled in the person I've become
But that doesn't mean I'm settled up and sitting out the game
Time may change a lot but some things may stay the same

Oh maturity's a wrapped up package deal so it seems
And ditching teenage fantasy means ditching all your dreams
All your friends and peers and family solemnly tell you you will
Have to grow up be an adult yeah be bored and unfulfilled
Oh when no ones yet explained to me exactly what's so great
About slaving 50 years away on something that you hate
Look I'm meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity
Well if that's your road then take it but it's not the road for me

And if all you ever do with your life
Is photosynthesize
Then you deserve every hour of these sleepless nights
That you waste wondering when you're gonna die

And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I will not grow up"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Every moment of my life, every tragedy, every crazy random happenstance, every smile, every breath, has led up to this moment.. and that is beautiful.