Ode to Upstart Crow

It was a crisp December afternoon in San Diego and I was plotting an escape. Five-year-old me had been sitting in an armchair in the Nordstrom women’s shoe department surrounded by a fortress of shopping bags for what felt like days. I was along for the ride on one of my aunt’s infamous shopping marathons at Horton Plaza mall. These trips always sounded like great fun when proposed – just us girls, shop till we drop! Inevitably though, the luster of the new sweater I’d been gifted or shoes I’d picked out wore off after about an hour or two. I’d start to want to make a run for it.

My feet hurt and my hands were pink and sore from hauling bags all over the store. I was ravenously hungry and bored to tears. Even the smooth holiday musical stylings of the Nordstrom piano player I genuinely loved had started to sound cacophonous and mocking. Off he played effortlesssly, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” I asked in turn, “Is it though? IS IT??”

Observing how my eyes had begun darting back and forth between the nearest exits, my aunt got the hint and wrapped up her purchases. Relief had just set in when instead of heading home, she pulled up to Seaport Village, an adorable waterfront collection of boutiques and restaurants butting up to the San Diego bay. I could see even at my young age that the place had a certain charm, but all I remember thinking was, “This is a trap! More shopping!” I just sat there in quiet terror, then noticed a beautiful carousel in the distance and a horse-drawn carriage pulling a family of four to my left. I looked up at my aunt with a “what is this place???” expression and she smiled. “No more shopping!” she said, “We’re going to go get hot chocolate.”

Stoked, I jumped out of the car and followed her up a winding path nestled between a few gorgeous trees. I noticed a small duck pond on my right and felt my excitement swell when I saw several mallard ducks swimming along peacefully. I could have sat and stared at the ducks and been satisfied - mallards had always been my faves with their beautiful emerald green feathers. That hot chocolate was an offer I couldn’t refuse though, so I tore myself away from my duckies and kept on walking behind my aunt. Moments later, we arrived at our destination: Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse.

I know what you’re thinking here: I must have passed out from excitement, right? Not exactly. Sure, I’d been read to since my days in utero and liked (loved) to read (be read to) from the time I knew what books were, but I hadn’t yet reached peak book obsession. I’d only recently learned to read on my own and had only just discovered what a library was (mind *blown*) but didn’t really grasp that there were places you could go to buy books and take them home where they’d be yours to keep… forever. What I saw was plain subterfuge: my aunt clearly had more shopping to do and had lured me here with the promise of a warm and sugary beverage. Sneaky, Nina. So sneaky.  

I joined my aunt in line for my hot chocolate, resolved to claim what I was promised if I was to be subjected to more sitting and staring. Then my aunt handed me my prize, piled high with whipped cream and beamed at me, “Ok! Now go find something to read.” She seemed so excited to deliver this directive, and I just stared back at her in disbelief. I thought, yeah ok - sure buddy. I’ll just go get lost and be unsupervised like I’m totally allowed to do all the time. My sarcasm was strong from an early age, even if only in facial expression.

After a few moments, I finally grasped that she might not be kidding. Feeling a sudden mixture of nervous anticipation and outright panic, I took a few cautious steps away, backing away slowly, to test the waters and be sure. When my aunt didn’t stop me but instead looked at me with what I now recognize was a Herculean effort not to laugh at my confusion, it became pretty evident that I really was free to go wandering. By myself. Alone. In this big, strange, hot-chocolate-serving palace of wall-to-wall books. Deep breaths.

Seeing a family with a few small children ascend a staircase behind me, I figured maybe the second level was a good place to start. I approached the steps and slowly mouthed out the words painted on each one:

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

Be truthful, gentle & fearless.

This day will never come again.

Good things are to come.

Celebrate your existence.

Live, love, laugh.

One day at a time.

You made my day.

Many of the words were foreign in both pronunciation and meaning – I was after all only five. I only knew that the words felt special and the stairs some portal to another dimension. I climbed slowly until I reached the top and my eyes nearly burst from their sockets. Children’s books and comfy chairs lined this place. More deep breaths.

I grabbed a couple of selections hastily from the first shelf I could reach, one dedicated to popular reads and new releases. I claimed a table overlooking the right side of the store and opened up a “Where’s Waldo” book, taking sips of the warm, delicious chocolate and wiping cream from my face in between page turns and Waldo locates. I stopped and looked over my shoulders every few minutes; I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that aaaany minute now, the book police would haul me away for daring to drink inside the store or handling the merchandise. I got over that notion when I saw others following my lead, then worried instead that I’d plain old been left behind. Every time I looked down though, I saw my aunt downstairs, browsing and sipping a warm beverage of her own. I relaxed my tensed shoulders and moved onto the second book I’d pulled, one with bright yellow cover art of a little girl perched on a stack of books. It was Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”

I held the mug of chocolate in one hand and held the book up with the other, devouring the words more rapidly and sinking into the story more deeply than I’d ever recalled doing with the more simple picture books I’d read before. I fell in love with Matilda instantly, with her story, with the experience of taking in groups of words on a page that struck up vivid and effortless imagery in my mind and made me feel things big and beautiful. I smiled, I scowled; I cheered, I laughed. I did these things with abandon, lost and immersed in the experience of reading.

That sensation has never gotten old for me. Books were my first love and are my truest to date, where I turn when I need everything from comfort or inspiration to an education or a hearty laugh. And while I carry a book or e-reader (and more often both) in my purse or car at all times and will read practically anywhere, there are those beloved places I go to envelop myself in a more complete reading experience. Upstart Crow has been that place for me since that very first visit. The place is warm and inviting and its layout hasn’t changed in as long as I can remember. My favorite post is now a plush chair by a large window, my beverage a Mexican mocha. My wonder at the place is the same one I felt as a child, albeit backed by a higher discretionary income.

I was then nothing short of devastated to come across the announcement that my beloved Upstart will shut its doors after thirty five years at the end of this month. I reverted to my most basic of bitchdom and literally couldn’t even. I called and messaged friends and family to inform them as though a cherished pet had just perished. I did that thing where I blamed myself, like I personally could have saved the place if I’d just purchased more books. I looked at my Kindle with resentment. You did this. You made this happen. You couldn’t just leave well enough alone, could you? Irrational, I know. I did after all buy a ton of books from them. Such is just my affection for this treasured establishment.

I ran down to Upstart that very same evening and walked every square inch of the place. I took big, deep breaths to soak up the smell of coffee and books. I dragged my fingertips against books and displays like someone who’d just lost their first home, wanting to soak up every last memory of the place they’d been a newlywed and raised their children in before they were forced to leave against their will. I grabbed bags and bags of their coffee blends though I seldom drink coffee. I purchased a paperback though I generally collect hardcovers. I ordered my usual Mexican mocha and struck up a conversation with the barista. I learned that the closure is a result of a huge hike in the rent by the landlord that the owners just couldn’t manage. In light of the recent announcement by the city of San Diego that Seaport Village will be leveled in its entirety by 2018 to make room for high-rise condominiums (queue dramatic chest grab and “Santa Madre!” on my part), a move to try and stay open only to be forced to close within the year made no sense.

I am not the first to see an establishment rife with childhood memories shut its door, nor will I be the last. Independent bookstores, like so many small businesses, face a constant battle to stay relevant and capture a big enough piece of our purchasing power, and this is old news. I know this in my heart but I can’t help but be saddened. I won’t be able to stop by on a Friday night to read to the sounds of a local musician. I won’t get that Mexican mocha on a Sunday morning while I gaze out of that giant window with a stack of books on my lap.

Oh, Upstart Crow: I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Thank you for the charm and warmth you brought to my hometown for these thirty five years. It was within your walls and in the pages of your books that I learned happiness is a journey, not a destination. Those books taught me to be truthful, gentle and fearless. It hurts to know this day will never come again, but I know good things are still to come. Today and for as long as I can, I celebrate your existence. I’ll remember to live, love and laugh. One day at a time, you truly did make my day. 

I invite all of you to visit this beloved bookstore while you still can – stop in for a book, a quirky bookish gift, a cup of something warm and toasty or a blend of their brews to take home and enjoy. Website, address and other fun facts found below.

Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse
835 C West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village
San Diego, CA 92101
Open daily from 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM


About the name… 
According to Upstart Crow’s website, the name is a reference to the ol’ Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Rumor has it that back in the day, many of his fellow playwrights were jealous of his rampant success, including one Robert Greene. In one of his pamphlets, Greene referred to big Willy Shakes as an “Upstart Crow”. The nickname stuck! 

The store features among its many books and bookish gifts a variety of Shakespeare-themed items and hosts (err- hosted. Waaaaaah) a live Shakespeare reading once a month. 

Click here for a list of remaining live music performances and events.

Click here to ease my pain over this formidable loss. 
-    kidding, unless you’re down in which case silly me! I’m totes not.

The Look of Love

Buenos Diaz! I’m putting this post together on Valentine’s Day, a perfectly lovely day that I spent most of at a secret solo sanctuary away from home. I read and wrote in a Harry Potter t-shirt with a bottle of wine and snacks of all sorts. Because I forgot to bring a glass to drink out of or any kind of cutlery, I drank the wine straight from the bottle and took bites of cheese straight from the block. I am nothing if not the picture of classiness.

Today is supposed to be about love though, so earlier I joined some of the people I love most for breakfast – my parents and brother. We noshed at a favorite Mexican spot where the tortillas are made right there in the restaurant and are as thick as the hips they go straight to when I eat them. My favorite element of the meal was that for once, we weren’t approached like we usually are by a camera-toting female offering to take a free photo of us. That “free” photo is tiny and plastered with the restaurant logo, clearly meant to be a gateway to prettier, higher-quality prints costing $15.00 each. It’s uncomfortable enough to have to refuse the accompanying sales pitch; it’s super f*cking awkward to have to let the chick know that my brother and I are indeed siblings and not the “cute couple” she keeps referring to us as. This is what happens when you look nothing like your brother and he’s a good looking dude.

Keeping with the trend of surrounding ourselves in love, we made our way as a family over to a place near and dear to our hearts: Costco. After picking out a gorgeous arrangement of roses and lilies for my brother's fiancé (plus one for my mom - dad wasn't going to be upstaged), we walked towards the back of the store and approached the aisle containing the camping gear. My dad has had his eye on a dome tent, a model that boasts a 60-second setup and can accommodate five or six people, for at least a year. He has longed for that bad boy, excitedly explaining how useful it would be for trips to the park or beach or for toting around the grandkids, should my brother and I ever get it together and actually decide to produce any. He’s caressed the damn tent lovingly while walking away from it each time though, whispering “Someday!” to it the way I do to pricey rings, private libraries or travel ads to the UK. The tent was only around $80 but this amount has never been justifiable to my retiree father, who’s always been frugal and not one to indulge his fancies.

This time though, he decided it was time to treat himself – well, almost. My brother and I overheard him telling my mom that with his next pension check, he’d finally pull the trigger. My brother quickly chimed in to remind us all that he was the only one of the group with a Costco card, so he was going to pay for everything anyway and had no problem spotting my dad the cost of the tent. He and I will likely end up splitting the cost anyway as a present; it’s not that my parents can’t afford it, it’s that they feel guilty spending money on themselves.

I can’t help but look back on my childhood here. My parents put both my brother and I through private school as kids, a feat my parents struggled to afford but figured out as best they could in the name of giving us a solid education.  At one point, the financial burden forced them to evaluate whether they could continue to keep us in Catholic school. This caused my parents a great deal of consternation; the part of town we lived in didn’t boast a particularly stellar public school system but did have the advantage of being $Free.99.  When they sat me down to tell me that I might have to switch schools, I cried my freckly little face off. I begged and pleaded with them to let me stay with my friends, as though they were exacting an unjust punishment and not trying to keep their heads above water. I was breaking their hearts without a clue that I was going so.

So they continued to make it work, taking advantage of every possible tuition break available: endless volunteer shifts at every carnival, gala and bake sale, helping out at the school itself, signing us up to sell a ridiculous amount of those World’s Famous Chocolates or any other item the school asked us to hock. When it came time to pick a high school, I can only imagine my parent’s horror and simultaneous relief when I asked to be sent to a public school. My dad loathed the idea of me going to the local high school for a variety of reasons, insisting he'd find a way to afford one of the two Catholic high schools that were the natural next step for the majority of my classmates. Still, the idea of a free education held significant appeal; my parents sure as hell didn’t have a five-digit sum of money to fork over every year, not by a stretch.

One night I walked by my parents’ bedroom on my way to bed, and through a sliver in the mostly closed door, I saw my dad wringing his hands through his hair. Even if we hadn’t just discussed my educational future at length over dinner, I wouldn’t have had to think too hard to guess the source of his agony. I was starting to get it at the tender age of 13, to grasp the enormous weight that accompanies the making of choices that affect your children’s futures. He was stressing over me, over what to do with me.

The following morning, I formulated a plan: I’d file a request with the school board to be allowed to attend a high school outside of my district. The process took several weeks and involved multiple interviews with counselors, principals and board members. plus carefully written letters and presentations with graphs and fancy pie charts. The school I’d selected after careful analysis of the entire district's AP curriculum, graduation rates and college acceptance ratios was already significantly over-populated; I heard a lot of "no" during the process, an already daunting one for a kid of my age.  Imagine my family’s surprise and collective sigh of exuberant relief though when we got the call informing us that my request had been granted. Something about a pre-teen in her best clothes and a giant portfolio with big dreams must have won someone over. Thus was born the story my dad would tell about a thousand time in the years that followed. He was so proud of me, and elated that he could send me off to high school in peace.

My parents’ sacrifice was far from over though. Attending a school out of my district meant a longer commute; this meant that my mother had to pick up and drop off her two children in different parts of town every day, a challenge even before factoring in the many sports practices, dance rehearsals, study groups, volunteer shifts, etc. Then after high school, both my brother and I decided to pursue education at private universities. The scholarships and grants helped but weren’t enough; my parents took out loans to help afford the cost of our education. They held on to cars that badly needed replacing but managed to help my brother and I get cars of our own. They never took a single vacation or bought themselves one nice thing for themselves. They put their children above all things always – and what’s more, they were happy to do it.

The thing about all of this is that 98% of the time, my parents hid their struggle. They rarely let on to the fact that making ends meet was a challenge, never made my brother or I feel like we owed them anything or like it was all a lot to manage. Instead they celebrated every good grade, every victory, every performance. They made us feel special and treasured and important and unstoppable. They loved us every day, unequivocally, unwaveringly.   

So as I stood in line at Costco with my successful, educated and soon-to-be-married brother and my goofy, affectionate parents, I felt pride. I’m proud to be the daughter of a man who has brought his wife flowers every Valentine’s Day and anniversary as far as I can remember, the first man to bring me flowers and to put a ring on my finger. I’m proud to be the daughter of a woman who is loved by everyone everywhere and who leads always with her heart. I’m proud that, though a little bit lost and a lot of a dreamer, I am still deemed worthy of their decades of enormous sacrifice; they remind me of this fact every chance they get. To them, it was all so worth it.

To get these people a Costco camper then seems a little anti-climactic, especially with no cute offspring to load it with and sweeten the pot. “Thanks for all the self-denial, folks! Here’s an $80 camper thing to even the score!” Still, look at the man’s face, the sheer, unbridled joy of a wish made reality. This is the man that taught me how to love, folks. May you all feel this kind of love in your lives today and every other day.  

King Kylie and the Thirst Trap Kids

I’ve struggled with body image issues all my life. Growing up, I hated my face and body so much so that at the tender age of fourteen, I made a list of things I would change about myself as soon as I’d saved enough pennies. My nose was too big, my face too freckly. My hair was wavy, my waistline too thick and my hips were wide as hell without much of a butt to match. My boobs were an ok size but not the shape I wanted; my lips were bird-like and my chin looked like an ass. If someone had handed me a blank check and the name of a decent doctor, can you only imagine what I might look like today?

Why yes, yes you can, actually. I’d look like Kylie Jenner.

Let me start by admitting I am one of those people that generally harbors no hatred for the Kardashian/Jenner squad. Call me crazy but I really do think Kim and Khloe’s’ butts are God-given, and I’d for damn sure give my kingdom but for one hour to pillage their closets. Sure, they’re often pretty ridiculous - North is the only one I’m really and truly down with because that little girl keeps it real. At the end of the day though, I feel like they’re probably halfway decent people who sometimes do frivolous things like so many other people in possession of gobs of money and fame.

That being said, the youngest of this reality TV’s supreme reigning family infuriates me.

Miss Kylie Jenner has become quite the social media giant, boasting over 36 million followers on Instagram and 11 million on Twitter alone. Via these and other outlets, we occasionally see snippets of a young girl trying to spread some love in the word: shots from a recent visit to Children’s Hospital on the eve of her 18th birthday, for example, and the #IAmMoreThan anti-bullying campaign she started up on Instagram. Along with each of her sisters, she recently announced the launch of a newly revamped website: she touts the accompanying mobile app as a labor of love for her fans.

These warm and fuzzy posts, however, are the exception and not the rule. Her followers are more commonly flooded with a barrage of carefully selected selfies, many of them overtly sexualized or dripping in material excess. Every day a different wig, a fresh batch of lip filler; a shot of ample cleavage, a frame focused on her derriere (the young kids call it “thirst trapping.” I call it “conceited as sh*t”). Several months ago, amidst the flurry of now-confirmed suspicions that Jenner’s lips had been cosmetically enhanced, she posted to Twitter that she “was happy w the way God created” her. Honey: it’s hard to buy the authenticity of this statement when your lips are fat full of injectable irony.

I’ll give the girl credit: she’s got an edgy sense of style and one mean makeup game, traits that have millions of teenaged girls (and boys, and grown-ass folk) wanting to cop her look. But go ahead – do a quick Google search. Take a peek at the before and after. Those aren’t minor touch ups and tricks of light. No amount of over-lining is going to get you that pout. This is the part I take issue with - not just the drastic beauty measures but the hyper sexed tone. Kylie’s transformation promotes a dangerous ideal of beauty that is spreading like an (overly contoured) cancer. It screams, “Hey kids! If you weren’t born with it, change it! Blow a couple grand on it! Flaunt it, record it, slap some sex on it; call it a tutorial or #OOTD and poof! You too can be a thirst trap!" 

The part that really, really gets me is that Kylie is a gosh-damn teenager. This girl got work done before she was even of the age to legally consent to it without parental approval. How much is up for debate. And I get it - she’s probably facing formidable pressure to look a certain way – being in the public eye will do that to you, especially when you were birthed by Kris Jenner. Still, she has a very powerful platform and is unfortunately using it for the exhibitionist glorification of her heavily made-up and surgically-enhanced form. She isn't teaching young girls how to be comfortable with the skin they’re in - and how could she when she didn’t learn this trait herself? Instead she’s inspiring her faithful flock to plump it up, push it out and throw it on the gram. Again - Google her. Insert Mexican Abuela voice: "Mira esta sinverguenza!" 

At age 30, I happen to like my wavy hair, and lip liner works wonders for my tiny mouth. A good bra keeps my boobs looking good and these freckles? They remind me of my mom. I’m still often insecure, who isn’t? I’m still thankful that no one ever gave me the option of taking my teenage insecurities under the knife. Kylie sure is lovely, but to be honest – she’s cheating. Girls: take what the good Lord gave you and love it for yourself. Aspire to be more than a thirst trap.

Kylie at 18... you know, chillin'. Reeeeeal natural lips tho.

Kylie at 18... you know, chillin'. Reeeeeal natural lips tho.

Me at 18, swearing I was a behemoth at this size.

Me at 18, swearing I was a behemoth at this size.

Crying In My Car

It finally happened. In May of this year, after 34 combined years of service as a U.S. Marine and in the U.S Postal Service employee, my father retired! It almost snuck up on us, to be honest. He’d worked so hard for so long to get to this point, which always seemed an eternity away. But he made it. We made it. Free at last, free at last…

My mother, brother and I planned a surprise retirement party in secret that took place just a couple of weeks later. We invited tons of friends and family and hired a taquero like the good Mexicans that we are. For entertainment, we brought in an act that my dad had seen and loved at a family party long ago: a comedian and musical impersonator who takes on the likes of Vicente Fernandez, Juan Gabriel, Antonio Aguilar, Paquita la del Barrio and more. All you paisas out there are with me so far and would have gotten a kick out of it; the rest of you are probably lost as f*ck, and there really isn’t much I can say here to clear things up for you. Sorry, dude.

Dear ol’ dad was absolutely blindsided, totally believing the lie we told him about taking my mom out to dinner the night before Mother’s Day to avoid the crowds. The party was a success; the food was delicious, the company great and the entertainment was a huge hit. The entertainer apparently woke up with a terrible cold the morning of the party which could have been a disaster; however several shots of hard liquor supplied by my brother seemed to help the guy hit the high notes, which in all honesty probably made the Chente experience that much more authentic.

Señor Diaz dove into retired life, scheduling visits with friends and family, heading to a Dodger game in LA with my brother, even jet-setting off to Guadalajara with my aunt for a quick trip to see some extended family. It all seemed like sunshine and roses with one minor thorn in his side: he’d recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis. To make a long story short, my obstinate father convinced himself that certain digestive issues he’d suffered for years (you read that right: years) were a perfectly normal occurrence in the life of a perfectly healthy person. They weren’t, of course, and we unfortunately learned that in suffering through this condition for so long, my father had essentially gone years without properly absorbing much nutritional content from his food. It was time to seek treatment and make some major changes to his lifestyle; though begrudgingly, he made the adjustments.

Then a few weeks ago at 5:57AM as I was loading my gym bag into my car, I received a text message from my father that read, “Call me asap.” I dropped the gym bag on the floor and onto my foot as I dialed, toe now throbbing and stomach uneasy as the dial tone rang in my ear. I know my dad, and he wouldn’t ask me to call him early in the morning like this if it wasn’t urgent. I quickly learned that he’d been in the emergency room for hours waiting to be seen. He’d been suffering from pain in his abdomen for a couple of days and had reached the point where he couldn’t stand it anymore. 

I was relieved, to be honest. The more I probed into his symptoms, the more convinced I became that my father had appendicitis. Painful though it might be, it didn’t appear to be life-threatening. The doctor saw him, checked him out, sent him off for a CT scan, confirmed appendicitis, and scheduled a same-day surgery. His appendix was swollen but had not burst, so that was good news.

I sat with my mother in the waiting room and waited a couple of hours for my dad to get out of surgery. At one end of the room was a TV monitor displaying a list of patient ID numbers each color coded for status; one color meant the patient was in pre-op, another that he/she was in surgery; a different color meant the patient was in the post-op recovery area, another that he/she was being moved to a bed within the hospital. There were throngs of us packed into the same waiting area, each staring up at the screen with impatient eyes like DMV patrons waiting for our number to show up. My eyes were glued to the monitor when my mother touched my arm- my father’s surgeon had entered the room and wanted to speak with us.

Dr. Poon pulled us into the hallway and said the surgery had gone well. The appendix had been removed without much difficulty but the mass was in a difficult extraction spot, so he ended up having to excise both the mass and a chunk of the colon entirely. He kept on talking, explaining that since he’d cut open the abdomen instead of the originally planned and less invasive laparoscopy, the recovery would be more complicated. We’d know in a week what the pathology of the mass was; the results might further explain some of my dad’s recent digestive issues.

Wait - mass? What mass? I outwardly maintained my composure as I politely asked what mass he was talking about; in my head, the questioning went more like, “What the f*ck do you mean, ‘the mass?’ What mass? This mass and I have not been properly introduced. We aren’t bloody familiar, Dr. Poon!” My mom wasn’t as surprised; she knew there was a blockage in his colon. She knew because my dad had told her, but only very recently; he’d kept it to himself for some time. I made a mental note to slap the taste out of his mouth once he recovered.

I was upset, but I still felt optimistic in spite of my flash of anger. The surgeon had after all parted by letting us know that the type of blockage he found ends up being benign more often than not. It was more the shock of finding out the way I did, from a stranger in a white coat with my father recovering from surgery nearby. I have told my father once, twice, if not seventeen hundred times that he needs to be honest with us about his health. He does this every time though: he says he doesn’t want to worry my mother, brother and I, but ends up giving us a cardiac episode when we find out whatever he's been hiding inopportunely.

He was in post-op and still very groggy when a nurse came by to tell my mom and I that we could see him one at a time for ten minutes each. Mom went in first but Dad was still pretty out of it: he kept asking for his wife when she was there holding his hand all the while. In the meantime, I ran to my car to charge my dying phone.

I took the opportunity to contact two of my best friends to cancel my plans to visit them in LA the next day. One of them was going to ask me to reschedule anyway since his girlfriend had tickets to see the Anaheim Ducks playoff game. He apologized and said he felt especially bad since he’d be leaving to Europe for almost three weeks shortly thereafter, a fact he swore he’d mentioned previously and I was adamant he had not. I knew I had to stay with my dad, I mean: duh. Not even up for discussion. In my emotional state though, given that he was only home for the summer from law school and for so many other stupid reasons, all of this news made me spiral into an emo fit. I sobbed right there in my car and he listened patiently. I missed him and felt stupid for crying about that when my dad was in the hospital, then cried because my dad was in the hospital. This was hard. 

After getting some good tears out of the way, I pulled it together and made my way back inside. It was my turn to see my dad, and I felt my hands start to shake as I approached. Lying there tucked under a blanket, hooked to an IV and breathing tube, machines beeping and booping every few seconds in that sterile room with curtains separating beds from one another, my six-foot-tall father looked so pale, so small.

I came close to the bed in silence as he appeared to be asleep, then felt a hand digging its way out of the covers before closing its grip on my own. He squeezed hard as he writhed in pain and it felt like a stab in my chest. The nurse watching over him told me she’d asked for his pain level on a scale from one to ten and that he’d given her an eight. She said that kind of pain level more than warranted at least a mild painkiller, to which he replied, “Then never mind, my pain is a four.” He hates taking medication, even when he’s been sliced open.

I lightened up a little when he whispered in his Godfather voice that I needed to help him break out of this place; I smiled through glassy eyes and told him he’d need to take it easy for a few days, then outright laughed when he replied, “That’s ok. I’ll get your brother to get me out of here. He’ll help me.” And later on, he really did try to conspire with my brother to stage a jailbreak. If you know my dad, this isn’t much of a surprise.

Then I was reminded what it’s like to feel like all of the air has been sucked out of the room and ice water poured down your spine. He opened his eyes for a few brief moments and looked straight into mine and said, “I just wish I’d gotten to walk you down the aisle. I’m sad I won’t meet your babies, my grandchildren. Take care of your mom. You and your brother, please take care of her.”

Panic. Panic, panic everywhere. My brother walked in at that precise moment when I felt like my eyeballs had been doused in hydrochloric acid, and I’m convinced that his arrival was Jesus doing me a solid: “Oh boy, she’s about to lose it. Quick! Send in the brother NOW!” I walked down the long hallway back to the waiting room choking back sobs that threatened to strangle me. My mom and brother’s girlfriend made conversation, and I engaged but only vaguely remember doing so.

Before long, my father was admitted to a regular bed up on the fifth floor. A slew of family members came in spite of my dad’s request to keep visitors at bay. Hours passed and he became more lucid. My mom would spend the night with him, so my brother, his girlfriend and I say our goodbyes and left to grab a late-night bite to eat.

What no one knew was that I’d stolen away to my car again earlier in all the commotion, shortly after my dad lamented, fearing the worst of his condition, that he’d never get to see his firstborn child and only daughter as a bride. I sat there in my Altima coupe with the windows rolled up and cried my F*CKING face off. My chest heaved, my mascara ran, my breath became elusive. He’d hit me where it hurt. There I was, Miss Love-Will-Find-Me-When-Its-Meant-To, the girl who believes that love can’t be rushed and is best when it happens organically, suddenly reevaluating all of my life’s choices. It was silly, really. He was just groggy and would probably be JUST FINE. But what if he wasn’t? What if for once my insistence on positivity in the face of his worrying was misplaced? What if he really was sick and all the time I thought I had was suddenly stolen from me?

I spun out a little. I started to overanalyze every detail of my past relationships and asked myself if I would and should have been married by now if I’d done things differently. I thought maybe I should give an ex who keeps on contacting me a second chance, even though my heart isn’t really in it and never really was. Then I cursed that wretched, gushing heart for its insistence on loving a man who would not love me even when I told (and tell) it to quit that sh*t. I chastised myself for being so picky- maybe it wasn’t so bad if a guy used “your” when he meant “you’re,” and perhaps I should stop judging guys online so hard for their gym selfies. I resolved to give online dating a try for the umpteenth time; not a minute later, I saw that a self-proclaimed pansexual couple on a dating app had messaged me to compliment my exotic eyes and propose that we arrange a mutually pleasurable encounter. God has a sense of humor.

I fixed my face before heading back up to my dad’s room, no trace of a tear left as I joked with family about my dear dad’s stubbornness. With each day that passed, though my father was in pain and clearly stressing over the pending pathology of that stupid mass, things got a little easier. In typical fashion, he repeatedly questioned various health professionals on the possibility that his surgeon had removed the wrong organ; he kept sneaking down the hallway by himself even though he was on strict orders not to get up without assistance. He even got up and shaved when he wasn't supposed to, having to kneel down and take deep breaths between shave strokes to steady his dizziness. He could have fallen and knocked himself unconscious, but he'd sooner do that than go another day without a clean shaven face. His refusal to listen was maddening in the moment but of course made me laugh in spite of myself. I remember thinking that these were the types of behaviors that have always made my dad such a character, and how much I'd miss him if he weren't around to be a pain my ass.

You’ve all heard it before, you probably hear it every day. If someone isn’t telling you that life is short and unpredictable, then a Facebook post or some Instagram inspiration remind you to live life to the fullest and to carpe the sh*t out of each diem.  You’ve probably become desensitized to it by now, and I don’t really blame you. I’m still going to tell you though that it’s all true; life is precious, and I beg you not to wait to fully grasp that until your dad is saying his goodbyes, premature or not.

A few days later, I got another text from dad, this time with a much happier message. I stole away from the office I’m working at for the summer and practically ran to the parking garage, once again breaking down in my vehicle as soon as I’d shut the door. I cried harder this time, a cry that started way down in my stomach and exploded on my face in maniacal, tear-soaked laughter. By the grace of God, my daddy is going to be ok. His one-liners will continue to serve as writing material. He’ll proudly ask me to sign a copy of my first published book someday. He’ll continue to spend way too much money at the USC bookstore each time we head up to catch a game. He’ll walk me down the aisle someday, whenever that is, sporting a mixed expression of pride, joy and utter terror; he may or may not cry, but God knows I will sob. He’ll spoil my children rotten and feed them gummy worms and Cheetos even when I ask him not to, and he’ll love them in a way that he’s been waiting to do his whole life.

I recently told my dad that he is one of my greatest inspirations for writing, so now every time he does or says something ridiculous, he follows up with "Are you going to write about that? If so, please remember what my own dad used to say: 'No digas que soy terco, soy fino!' Hehe!" ("Don't say that I'm stubborn, I'm refined!")

So this one is for my padre fino, may he give me creative fodder for years to come.

When my brother had surgery last year, my dad brought a stuffed Ninja Turtle to the hospital as a good luck charm because my brother loved the TMNT as a kid. When it was my dad's turn to go under the knife, my brother got him this little guy. Excuse me while I go sob.

When my brother had surgery last year, my dad brought a stuffed Ninja Turtle to the hospital as a good luck charm because my brother loved the TMNT as a kid. When it was my dad's turn to go under the knife, my brother got him this little guy. Excuse me while I go sob.

Bookishly yours,


Chones and Champs

Buenos Diaz!

This post was originally drafted (to 85% completion, anyway) back in May. Yep, MAY. You know what I like about May? This.

Its Gonna Be May.jpg

But I digress.

May was… eventful. It signaled the beginning phase of Bridalpalooza (two of my BFFs are getting married next month, so shower and bachelorette season are upon us) and my father was hospitalized for acute abdominal pain. That pain turned out to be appendicitis which meant an immediate surgery. That surgery uncovered a mass in his colon, which his surgeon had tested because he thought it might be cancer. And then it wasn’t cancer. Sweet baby Jesus. There were a lot of ups and downs there.

One of the other big happenings of that time period was my father’s retirement! After 34 combined years of service to the United States Marine Corps and the United States Postal Service, my daddy is now a free man (one recovering from surgery, but a free man nonetheless). In my next post, I will go into more detail about that whole situation. For now though, here is the post I meant to publish weeks ago right around the time of his surprise retirement party. Have a good one, folks!  


Happy Thursday, y’all! Je suis currently house-sitting deep in Escondido and keeping tabs on two very energetic springer spaniels while their humans are off soaking in the Barbados sun. I’ve learned that they’re called springer spaniels because those mother f*ckers are springy as sh*t. They ate my sandwich clean off the kitchen island in the ten seconds it took me to pour myself a glass of milk. Hmmpf. How rude.  

I’ve been watching the house and pooches since middle of last week and invited my cousin/BFF Alexis over to help me put together a slideshow for my dad’s surprise retirement party.  We took a small detour on Friday and ended up visiting Orfila Winery down the street. Sure, it was the night before the party, and I had a lot of work to do since I’d accidentally deleted my first attempt at the slideshow, but hey! YOLO! Wine just begs to be tasted.

We each enjoyed a tasting, which at Orfila includes six pours of wines of your choice for only $12! Alexis favored the Sparkling Moscato Bianco which really did taste like bubbly peach perfection. I loved the Viognier, my favorite of the white wines, with its lovely floral bouquet and bright, crisp notes. I also really dug the limited release Petite Syrah- bold and big and delicious! The only bummer here was that the weather was crappy and cold and rainy, otherwise we would have wanted to roam the beautiful property some more and have a seat outside in the adorable courtyard. Orfila regularly features local musicians, like the amazing acoustic guitarists there that night playing everything from Gypsy Kings classics to Uptown Funk. The stupid rain also screwed us out of Food Truck Fridays, a regular occurrence at Orfila that was cancelled on account of the weather. Guess we’ll have to go back!

If the glass fits....

If the glass fits....


Before we knew it, it was closing time at the winery. We decided to keep the wine flowing back at the house and for Alexis to spend the night instead of driving 40+ minutes back home. She hadn’t brought an overnight bag though, which prompted me to flick her on the forehead since it is an unspoken rule that our visits end in sleepovers. Fortunately, I had 99% of the items she’d need to get clean and pretty in the morning. For that last one percent (you guessed it: panties!), we made our way to a nearby Target.

When we got to Target, we were hit with a moment of divine inspiration: Mother’s Day was just two days away, so this would probably be a good time to finish (read: start) shopping for our mothers’ gifts. We walked over to a department store in the same mall and also decided to call in a take-out order for dinner later.

All was going according to plan until we got in line to pay for our purchases. I glanced at my phone and realized it was 7:51 PM. Skrrrrrrr….. say what!?! We now had only nine minutes to pay for our merchandise, run back to Target, grab a pair of underwear (and more wine, of course) and then jam over to grab our takeout before the restaurant closed at 8:00 PM.

Picture then two Latinas running through a mall with shopping bags in tow bursting into Target like they were giving away money. Alexis booked it to the panty section while I took off in a frantic search for booze. I sprinted and scanned the aisles like I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, hearing that Chariots of Fire song in my head’s internal soundtrack. I turned a corner sharply and almost took out a small child, knocking over a few boxes of crackers instead. Alexis decided on a pair then gunned it for the cash register while I ran towards her with a bottle of almond champagne (cuz we classy). There we were huffing and puffing at Register Three, and the cashier was grinning in spite of her best efforts not to do so. Her last customers of the night were two flustered females: out of breath, in a hurry, and buying a single pair of cotton panties and a bottle of champagne.

We were able to get our food in the very nick of time, then went back to the house and enjoyed our delicious meal of chicken adobo and pancit while watching Scandal. We then settled in and cracked open the bottle of champs as I began editing the video for my dad’s party and Alexis studied for her Chemistry midterm. The video became a collaborative effort; I arranged photos and picked transition types and speeds, she helped with song choices and in converting You Tube videos to MP3 audio clips. We picked captions for the slides and broke into booze-fueled fits of laughter as we cruised down memory lane. I’ve included some of those photos for you below. Yeah.

Brother had an opinion from the jump.

Brother had an opinion from the jump.

Why do my bangs start at the top of my damn head??

Why do my bangs start at the top of my damn head??

Rhythm in a dancer. 

Rhythm in a dancer. 

I guess I know where I get my resting b*tch face from... what a photobomb, Abuela! 

I guess I know where I get my resting b*tch face from... what a photobomb, Abuela! 

Just Dad being Dad. 

Just Dad being Dad. 

Why yes, that is a bucket. 

Why yes, that is a bucket. 

The champagne had long run out and my contacts were grappling my eye balls when I realized the room was getting brighter. It was the sun, because it was past 5am. I looked over at Alexis and felt very thankful that God gave me a cousin who is also a best friend, one who isn’t just down but chones-and-champs down, because that’s, like, as down as it gets.

Items of Note:

Orfila Winery

13455 San Pasqual Road, Escondido, CA 92025


A view of the vineyard from Orfila's website. OMG.

A view of the vineyard from Orfila's website. OMG.

If you ever find yourself in northern inland San Diego, visit Orfila Winery! Just be warned: you’ll probably think I’ve sold you the bill of goods until just moments before approaching the winery when this lush little vineyard just sort of emerges out of nowhere in the middle of the some of the underwhelming hillsides of the San Pasqual Valley. You can also opt to visit their tasting room in the lovely and quaint town of Julian. Get some apple pie while you're there! 

Like I mentioned above, the winery regularly features live music and food on Food Truck Fridays and also on Sundays at their Tunes on the Terrace event. Go here to see the complete calendar of events (including trivia nights and painting parties)– I am personally looking forward to the Grape Stomp on August 29th!

Want to buy their wine? The sparkling moscato and viognier I mentioned above are available for online purchase! Click here to get yours- both are perfect for summer!

Lastly, they do indeed host private tastings, tours, corporate events and of course- weddings! A friend of mine got married here a few years ago - I can see why! 

Almond Champagne from Wilson Creek Winery

35960 Rancho California Road, Temecula, CA 92591



I love me some champagne; dry, brut, sweet- bring it. If you’re more partial to sweeter champagne or just feel like switching it up with one not as commonly available, try the Almond Champagne from Temecula’s Wilson Creek Winery. I love this for summer as well - the almond infusion gives it that extra something special.

The winery itself is beautiful and their wine selection is impressive. They feature a lot of sparkling wines if that is your jam, as well as a very popular chocolate port.

The almond champagne is available at many local grocery stores, or click here to purchase online.

Carin di Ria – Filipino cuisine

This is the name of the Filipino spot from which we got our take-out. It’s located near Westfield North County off the 15 Freeway at Via Rancho Parkway. We had the chicken adobo, the pancit and the leche flan for dessert. All delicious, and the service was great!

3440 Del Lago Blvd, Escondido, CA 92029



On My Bruce Wayne

Buenos Diaz!

Holy shitake mushrooms, people. It’s April 23rd. That means I’ve been 30 for exactly six months. Six! WTF!? I guess time flies when you’re busy shaking up everything about your life.

If you keep up with my blog or are a member of the People Vanessa Texts Entirely Too Much Brigade, you know that I’ve been living that Funemployment life. It’s not all sunshine and roses admittedly, in fact it’s a little bit terrifying. I firmly stand behind my decision though. I needed to be uncomfortable. 

Why? Well, it’s like Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises. You may recall that painful scene where Bane kicks the living daylights out of Señor Bruce, finishing the brutal beat-down with a crippling blow to the back. Rather than killing him, Bane has his mercenaries dispose of Bruce’s broken body at the Pit, a cavernous prison where Bruce is meant to rot with the knowledge that he could not save his beloved Gotham. Legend has it that only one person, a child, has ever escaped the Pit. After months of recovery and training, Bruce resolves to make the climb.

He starts off strong then reaches the infamous spot where the would-be escapee must take a giant leap to proceed up. Bruce attempts the leap twice but falls short each time, saved only by the rope that tethers him to the side of the cave. A wise old prisoner has some words for Bruce here:

Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?
Bruce: I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns with no one there to save it.
Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce: How?
Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

Now, not all fear is healthy. It can sometimes make you do some really dumb sh*t. For example: when I was seven years old, I burned the hell out of my hands on a hot stove. I endured a 20-minute car ride to my tap dance lesson in tortured silence with second-degree burns, but I refused to admit I was in pain. My skin bubbled, my eyes watered and little beads of sweat dripped down my forehead. I sat there screaming on the inside when I should have been getting medical attention, all because of the fear that I'd be punished if I admitted I'd touched the dang stove. Smart, kid. 

In my adolescence, the burns were of a different nature. Fear made me reluctant to take chances or believe I was worthy of certain affection. It made me keep emotions bottled that ate away at my self-esteem. It made me lie to cover up people's transgressions, and even worse- ignore them at a detriment to myself. Let me tell you, one can only take enough of that before a) people tell you to stop being crazy, and b) you get tired of feeling crazy yourself.   At some point, you have to hold yourself accountable for rising above your issues. If you carry old fears around as an excuse for not bettering yourself, that is the real tragedy.

Right now, fear is triple-dog-daring me to live the life I want to live because I have in order to survive. I know I've taken a risk, I’m reminded of this all of the time. I’m asked if I think I made a mistake, if I should try to turn back, if perhaps all those years of expensive schooling have all been put to waste if I'm making less money than I could if I'd stayed where I was. Sure, I'm hurt by these objections, by words said hastily and hurtfully though coming from a place of love. The temptation to give into the fear of being loved less or seen differently is a potent one, but I'm too damn old to give into it any longer.

So! That's today's lesson from life in my thirties: fear doesn't always have to be unhealthy. Harnessing my fear is giving me so much fight right now. It's my impetus to try harder, do better, and think more clearly. It makes all the clichés I've ever heard (and gagged at) suddenly speak to me powerfully, pushing me to imagine the impossible, strive to achieve it, and Pinterest the heck out of way too many quotes.

I'm ever thankful for my super supportive friends, companions who remind me on good days and bad that naysayers come with the territory. I thank them for reminding me that I can in fact do this. As one friend reminded me, I am indeed MexiCAN, not MexiCANT. On that note, I recently won a contest to have a story published in the San Diego Reader! I will also be contributing to a couple of local newspapers and get to write about the San Diego communities I love. Thank you, Fear. Thank you very kindly. I'll just be over here on my Bruce Wayne game- I'm using my fear to climb.

Bookishly (and writerly!!) yours,