Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adventures in the Land of Enchantment

"Under a sky of azure,
Where balmy breezes blow,
Kissed by the golden sunshine, 
Is Nuevo Mexico." - Elizabeth Garrett

E and I visiting the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the wonderful fortune to be able to visit my home state of New Mexico over the weekend. My good friend and I had been talking about doing this trip for years, and it was so good to finally make it a reality. I spent the majority of my life in New Mexico, but the central part of the state will always feel most like home to me. The people, the weather, the vast turquoise sky all welcome me, and I feel comfortable in their embrace. 

E at El Pinto

My fellow New Mexicans sometimes disagree with me, but one of my favorite places to eat at and visit on my trips home is to El Pinto in the North Valley. Arguably the largest and most well-known restaurant in New Mexico, El Pinto has hosted thousands of visitors since opening in 1962. Famous fans include Presidents (GH and GW Bush, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton), actors (Mel Gibson, Quinton Aaron, and Idris Elba), musicians (Clint Black, Joel Madden, and Teddy Riley), and athletes (Brian Urlacher, Tommy Lasorda, and Hank Baskett), and of course... yours truly. Ha! 

Some of my best friends and me after dinner at El Pinto

I'll be honest - I don't go to El Pinto for the food. Yes, the food is pretty delicious, but I really go for the ambiance and the salsa. Oh, how I miss El Pinto salsa! Shame that I haven't found a grocer in SoCal that sells it yet. The restaurant itself is beautiful though. The property sits on over 12 acres, and is housed in a 5,000 square foot hacienda. Indoors or out, you really can't go wrong. It's definitely worth a stop if you have a special occasion. They don't take reservations unless you have a party of 14 or more (holy cow!), so be prepared to wait... especially on the weekends. Don't worry - the bar is open and the margaritas are plentiful! Grab a cocktail and get comfortable while you wait.

E waiting for the train to Santa Fe

E and I decided to take the Rail Runner Train from Albuquerque to Santa Fe for day two. The Rail Runner is my new favorite way to travel between the two cities. Since opening in 2008, over 5 million people have taken the train - definitely the most comfortable and relaxing way to commute. E was very excited to ride the Rail, his first train ride in the United States.

Outside the Oldest House in America (circa 1200 AD)

Upon arrival, E and I quickly made our way to downtown to find a place to eat. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch on the rooftop patio at Coyote Cafe - home of the most delicious prickly pear cactus margaritas in the world. After that, we made our way to the Old Santa Fe trail to do some sightseeing. In addition to the churches mentioned in my last post, E and I took a quick tour through the oldest house in the United States - La Casa Vieja de Analco. Dating back to 1200 AD, this is the oldest currently inhabited home in the United States. This may surprise visitors familiar with St Augustine, Florida, but keep in mind that New Mexico was inhabited long before Europeans ever landed in America. Originally inhabited by Pueblo Indians, the home was left vacant for over 160 years until the Spanish arrived in 1598. The home has a rich history, with stories of war, witches, and even ghosts! I could write an entire blog about it, but instead I'll let you read a much better written blog about it (click here). 

E and I enjoying the warm weather (and entertainment) of The Plaza

From the Oldest House to the Plaza of Governors, E and I took our time winding our way through Santa Fe's crooked streets. One of my dearest friends lives in Santa Fe, and made plans to pick us up to see her new house that afternoon. We sat and enjoyed the ambiance of the old city, complete with artists and crazy hobos (literally - there was a fight between two while we were there), waiting for her to arrive. 

The view from my friends' new home in Santa Fe

When M finally picked us up, we had only an hour to see her new home. I was amazed! Her new home has expansive views on a prime, hilltop location. Her husband (a photographer) has the home decorated with his amazing photos, and it's such a better fit for their family than their home in the city. I couldn't be happier for her! I only wish we could have stayed to visit longer.

E and I on top of Sandia Crest

The next day was the final day of our short trip, and we made sure to make the best of it! Having talked about the mountains all weekend, I thought it was only appropriate that I take E to the top of Sandia Crest to show him the amazing views. Sandia Crest sits at an impressive 10,678 feet above sea level (just over 5,000 feet higher than the city of Albuquerque itself). There are two ways to access the Crest, but I almost always choose to drive - the backside of the Sandias are such a beautiful contrast to its western face. I could go on and on, but I'll let the views speak for themselves.

Looking down on Albuquerque's north side, near Sandia Casino

E taking in a scary cliffside view

Looking south towards Los Lunas and Belen

Alas, all good trips must come to an end. I am so grateful to have such good friends to have back home. It was wonderful to see each and every one of them! And I am so happy that E was able to join me for this trip. I truly enjoy showing off my home state to friends and strangers alike, and hope that he came to find New Mexico as lovely as I always have. I made sure to show him as much as I could during our short stay, including stops at my favorite restaurants that I used to haunt during my college days. Which were those, you ask? No stop back home is complete without a visit to Saggios, Frontier, Flying Star Cafe, Weck's, and El Pinto. We also had time to stop at Nob Hill Grill and Coyote Cafe. Next time, I must make sure we stop in at Zinc, Artichoke Cafe, and Milly's too! Ah, the food of New Mexico, the only state with an official question (Red or Green?) and official cookie (biscochitos) because we love food so!

Well, tomorrow it's back to work I go! Until next time...

--- Becks

A final gift for my viewers - one of the many new murals painted in Albuquerque. Crazy, but cool! 


"I like the silence of a church, before the service being better than any preaching" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

E and I outside the San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, NM

My friend and I just returned from a short trip to New Mexico over the holiday weekend. Living on opposite coasts (he's in FL - I'm in CA), getting together for such trips is not easy, so I'm glad we were able to make it work. We had wanted to take this trip for quite some time. I talk about New Mexico constantly, so it was nice to finally show him the place I will always call "home." 
San Felipe de Neri Church - Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico has a very rich history, and is full of stories that I love to share with out of town guests. As an out-of-towner myself now, it is fun to go back home on vacation, and fully appreciate the beauty of the architecture and scenery there. Some of the most amazing architecture in the state can be found in the state's churches. The above church was the first we saw on our tour, located in beautiful Old Town Albuquerque. 

Inside the San Felipe de Neri Church

The San Felipe de Neri Church, prominently placed across from the Plaza in Old Town, is one of the oldest standing structures in Albuquerque. Commissioned in 1706, the original church was so named by the Duke of Albuquerque to honor the then King of Spain. After the collapse of the building in 1792, the current structure was completed in 1793 and stands to this day. This is an active church, continuing to host regular services and events throughout the year. If you're ever in the area, it is definitely worth a visit. 

The Loretto Chapel - Santa Fe, NM

After a busy day in Albuquerque, we headed north to Santa Fe. The first church we stopped to see here was The Loretto Chapel. Commissioned in 1872, the church is built in Gothic Revival style - a stark contrast to the Pueblo style buildings in the surrounding area. The church itself is beautiful, but its beautiful staircase to the choir loft is what puts it on the map.

Dubbed The Miraculous Staircase, the double-helix staircase has been the subject of debate for years. Legend tells us that shortly after the church was constructed, the architect unexpectedly died leaving the nuns with no way to access the choir loft above. After being told that the small space only allowed room for a dangerous ladder, the nuns turned to prayer, asking for a carpenter to come into their lives to construct a staircase in the small space. Their prayers were answered on the 9th day of prayer when a mysterious stranger appeared. He reportedly carried only simple tools, and completed the staircase with no nails and non-native wood after only 3 short months. The man vanished after completing the staircase, his identity remaining a mystery to this day. The nuns of the church (as well as many believers) attribute the construction to Saint Joseph himself. It is a stunning feat of architecture, and definitely looks as miraculous as it sounds. Although no longer functioning as a church, you can visit the Chapel during its museum hours on most days. It also can be rented for events and weddings. 

San Miguel Mission - Santa Fe, NM

Our last stop on our tour of churches was the beautiful San Miguel Mission, also in Santa Fe, NM. This is the oldest standing church in the continental United States, built and in use since 1610. Archaeologists have excavated the floor, finding the site may have once housed Native American dwellings dating back to 1200 as well. Amazing! Although the location was originally occupied by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico, the church was claimed (and rebuilt) after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 by Spain as a chapel for its soldiers. The wooden alter screen at the back of the chapel is stunning in person - it's hard to believe that it dates back to 1793. The church still holds weekly services in Latin, which is a testament to both the city and the church itself.

Deerskin tapestry - carbon dated to 1630

In addition to the gorgeous alter screen, the walls of the mission are adorned with a couple of deerskin and buffalo hide tapestries dating back to the 1630s. These beautiful pieces of art were used by the missionaries to teach the Tlaxcalan Indians about history and the stories in the Bible. They have been carefully preserved by the caretakers of the church, having survived the above-mentioned revolt and the earthquake of 1872. 

Ringing the San Jose bell - Santa Fe, NM

If you still aren't convinced to visit the church, perhaps the very old, very heavy San Jose bell will do the trick. The 780 pound bell was originally commissioned in 1356 in Spain to commemorate a victory the Spaniards had over the Moors. It somehow made its way to Mexico, where it was bought by Señorita Ortiz in 1812. The owner of the church purchased the bell in 1848, relocating it to the Mission towers. It hung there until the earthquake of 1872, finding home on the ground where it stands today. The huge bell contains many precious metals, including over 600 pounds of brass, copper and iron along with 155 pounds of silver and 20 pounds of gold. The walls of the bell itself are very thick (over 3 inches), and visitors are encouraged to touch the bell and ring it with a hammer. Legend says ringing the bell will guarantee you will one day return to Santa Fe.

Although our trip was not intended to be a spiritual one, I am glad I was able to show my friend some of the amazing historic churches of New Mexico. These beautiful structures are very much a part of the state's rich history, and have influenced (to some extent) my own spiritual beliefs. If you're ever in New Mexico, I highly recommend you check these (and other churches) out. 

Until next time...

--- Becks

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Speaking for Autism

This is Bella, my now five year old niece. She was about a year old when this picture was taken, and it was about the time that we started realizing something was not quite with her. She had only just started sitting up on her own by her first birthday, and had not yet started crawling. Her mother (my sister) and my mother both questioned her doctors about her development, but had been assured again and again that children just develop at different stages. She did slowly develop, and we celebrated every little improvement she made. She was a very happy, easily amused little girl who liked camera flashes, music, and her toys. But Bella wasn't like other babies. She sometimes didn't enjoy being held or comforted. She didn't react when you said her name. She had a very difficult time adjusting to change.

Not long after her 1st birthday, we noticed interesting behavioral changes in our Bella. She frequently covered her ears, especially if she was excited. It normally signaled something was upsetting her, but sometimes she would do it out of the blue. She would do repetitive motions too - she learned how to "kiss," but would kiss you five or six times in a row every time she kissed you. We thought it was cute. We didn't realize these things were necessarily the signs of autism, although we had our suspicions. 

By her second birthday, she was finally crawling. My mom was able to get her the help of various therapists (physical, occupational, and speech therapists), but doctors still would not give Bella a diagnosis. We were told she had a tactile defensiveness disorder, explaining that as her reason for not wanting to be held or touched. She continued with her repetitive movements, and still was not speaking. Some of us were able to get her to "sing" along with us to her favorite songs, but while she could mimic the melody, she couldn't say the words. My family was unbelievably frustrated. As any parent or relative of a special needs child can relate, we wanted to help her but were finding it difficult to do so when we didn't know what was wrong.

Shortly before her 3rd birthday, my little Bella underwent a series of testing at the University hospital hours from my family's hometown. The doctors tested her hours before a doctor told my mom he thought it could be cerebral palsy (a diagnosis none of us had considered). When the report was finally released, my family was left more confused and frustrated. Again, we were left without a diagnosis, with doctors instead claiming it was my family who suggested it might be cerebral palsy. UGH!

We finally received the "autism" diagnosis when she was 4. It was a relief, but only because now we could get the appropriate help for her. Bella started walking last year, albeit apprehensively. We joke that she looks like a mini-Frankenstein - her legs are fairly week, and she often walks with her arms out to balance her. She doesn't look ahead when she walks; instead, she looks around, usually with at least one hand in her mouth. That being said, she's fairly fast for being so unbalanced, and we find she quickly vanishes if we turn our backs for even a second. 

Bella still does not respond to her name. Although she loves to sing, she mostly mimics melodies and not actual words. She is still, for the most part, non-verbal. She's very affectionate, and loves animals (especially my basset hound, Diego). She is literally the joy of everyone's life she has touched, and we couldn't imagine life without her. 

I write this post today in memory of a sweet nine year old girl, Mikaela Lynch. Mikaela also had autism, with many of her behaviors sounding eerily similar to our own sweet Bella's behaviors. They are both non-verbal, do not respond to their names, and love water. Sadly, little Miss Mikaela tragically drowned near her home here in California last week. When the story broke that Mikaela had gone missing, my family immediately thought of our Bella and how easily it could be her. While we try to watch her like a hawk at all times, even we have stories of instances where we turned our backs and found her either playing in the toilet or pulling a dish down on her foot. Despite our attempts to be perfect, we're tragically human and fail to protect her from harming herself on occasion. My heart broke when I heard Mikaela went missing, and I cried when I heard she had drowned. I did not know the girl or her family, but I could only imagine how much pain they were in after losing their beautiful little girl.

What saddened me further was to hear the almost immediate accusations of blame against the parents from complete strangers. "Why didn't they watch her?" "Where were they while their children played outside?" The accusations ran the full  gamut, from child abuse to neglect. This angered me. I was happy when I found an article from the National Autism Association later in the week. Titled "The Wrong Questions Are Being Asked About Mikaela Lynch," the author goes into perfect detail in answering some of the "whys" while asking questions of her own. Shame on those "strangers" for kicking the parents while they are down - unless you've had to walk in their shoes, you honestly don't know what you're talking about. 

While I hope to one day hear my sweet Bella speak, or even have her recognize her name, I am so blessed to have this little girl in my life. I will continue to educate myself on her disorder, and hope that others will do the same. Children and adults with autism disorders are still people, and we need to treat them as such. They are not "less than," they're simply different. And how boring would the world be if we were all the same? If you'd like to learn more about the various autism disorders, please visit either the National Autism Association or the Autism Speaks website. Both have a lot of great resources and tools to teach you about autism, and what you can do to help. I appreciate you taking the time to read my niece's story - I know it was a long one, but it's one that will continue to grow from here.

Until next time...

--- Becks

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Deep End

"Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." - D. Thompson

I have been described as brave, outgoing, and fearless... all adjectives which I think only have a smidge of truth to them. I guess one could call my relocations all over the country brave... I call them "safe" as each was made to ensure I kept my job.  And I suppose I could be called outgoing... as long as I'm not in a crowded room (I'm fine one-on-one, but add 10 and I immediately find a corner to hide in). And fearless? Hardly. I overanalyze everything! If I were to describe myself, I would say I'm cautious, awkward, and analytical. Funny how we see ourselves, right?

Last month, I attended a conference headlined by Giuliana Rancic. Having always been a huge fan of hers, I was very excited to hear her speak. I was not disappointed. She was warm, charismatic, and funny! Although she was talking to a couple thousand of us, she could have just as easily been talking to a small group. She was amazing! She talked about her childhood, and how discouraging her teachers were when she told them about her dreams (my high school counselors were the same to me). She also talked about how being good at something doesn't mean that it's something you should be doing. This really hit home - should you do what you love? Or should you do what you're good at? Are they the same thing?

Giuliana talking at lunch (stupid plant blocked the view)

Following that speech, I decided one thing was for sure - I was going to step more outside of my comfort zone. First step? Meeting my super cool internet friend Pinky Lovejoy at this event called The Hollywood Show. We had been tweeting about it for a while, and although I was initially a little shy about attending... I decided I HAD to go. I did not regret it! We had so much fun. Not only did I get to meet several of my favorite actors from my childhood (Loni Anderson, Lou Ferrigno, Keith Coogan, Jeremy Miller, Diane Ladd, etc), I got to hang out with one of them! Keith Coogan is the now fiancé of my friend, so we spent the majority of the day hanging out with him and helping him out with his booth. He is the coolest! While I was initially super shy and awkward around everyone, I quickly got comfortable and had a great time! Thanks, Pinky, for inviting me and making me more at ease!

Me and The HULK!

Diane Ladd - Loved her in so many films, but especially in Enlightened. Buy her book - it's great!

Keith and me - such a nice guy!

The super cute Pinky Lovejoy herself!

Shortly following the event, my friend Pinky started to talk me into attending the LAPD Celebrity Poker Tournament held at the Saban Theater. Several actors that she knew that I liked were going to be there, and the funds raised were going to a great cause. I was initially hesitant - she couldn't go, I didn't know anyone else that was going, and it was all the way back in LA. After several days of texting back and forth, I decided to go. Best - Night - Ever! Not only was everyone at the event friendly, I got to meet my favorite actor from my favorite show! And he was super cool! I met some tremendous people, celebrities and not, and floated on cloud nine for the entire week afterward. Stepping out of my comfort zone is proving to pay off in droves!

Scenes from the LAPD Poker Tournament
Michael Cudlitz, C. Thomas "Tommy" Howell, and my Peyton Manning signed mini helmet

In an effort to live for what makes me happy, I have kicked off a number of projects that will put me where I want to be a year from now. I recently started running again (Couch to 5K - proving how out of shape I really am), took up two fitness challenges at work, and started working on a side project that I hope will turn into a business a year from now. I made a difficult decision to not take an opportunity that would have required me to relocate (again), and I've never been happier! I have changed my perspective on so much in such a short period of time - I am excited for the journey I am taking. It's not always easy to dive in the deep end, but once you prove you can do it - you feel tremendous! Guess we'll soon see how this works out for me!

Until next time...

--- Becks

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Songs for a Rainy Day

Ok, so it was 95 degrees outside and sunny, but it was sure rainy in my heart. Like a lot of people, music means a lot to me. I use music to wallow in sadness when I'm down, to dance my shoes off when I'm happy, and to express my opinion when words don't say enough. Yesterday was a fun and still somewhat sad day. It was fun because I had a great workout, had an even better drive, and got to hang out in LA in celebration of a friend's birthday. It was sad because my favorite TV show - the only show I have ever felt passionate enough about to write about and advocate for - was canceled unceremoniously by its network. I'm glad I had to leave shortly after the announcement - I would have wallowed a bit in my disappointment for sure. My disappointment became outright anger when I logged on later in the evening and discovered they hadn't even had the decency to tell the show's stars before announcing it on Twitter. Completely classless (for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, the show is "SouthLand" and the horrible network is TNT, which I will be boycotting from now on). 

Anyway, a girl I follow on Twitter was posting the top five songs that make her cry. Her songs were some of my favorites, and got me to thinking about songs that reflect how I'm feeling in reaction to yesterday. These songs reflect all parts of yesterday, the happy and the sad. While these are not my favorite songs of all time, they are great songs just the same and I hope that you enjoy them. 

This song will forever remind me of my childhood, and is the perfect soundtrack for long road trips - especially in California. It is the perfect mix of hedonism, entrapment, and harmony in the most deliciously seductive way. The lyrics in the above video are not perfect, but the pictures are amazing.

My brother got me hooked on Imagine Dragons last summer, and I'm oh-so-glad he did. The song is not only catchy, it's uplifting and will definitely appear on my summer mix again in 2013.

Yes, John Mayer is a douche, but he's also a masterful guitarist and musician. This is by far one of my favorite songs of his, and means a lot to me personally. I spent the bulk of my late 20s living to work instead of working to live. It took finally moving to California in 2011 to understand and appreciate the benefit of the latter.

This song is beautiful, and could have easily plopped into the 80s as much as it has today. I relate to this song in so many wonderful ways... I'm glad someone finally penned it. I sometimes feel I never do enough, but sometimes good to appreciate when you're not the problem too.

My own love song/goodbye song to my favorite TV show. "May you return to love one day... well I hope and I pray... you get what you gave...." Sad it went out the way it did, but appreciate the 5 beautiful seasons it gave us while it lasted. 

Until next time...

--- Becks

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy Thoughts

It's a little before midnight, and my mind is racing. It's racing with thoughts about tomorrow, thoughts about today, and thoughts about the weekend. There is simply too much for my brain to process, and I need to decompress so I can go to sleep before a big day tomorrow. Rather than sit here thinking - thinking - thinking, I decided to go through old pictures and find pictures that make me happy. 

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post reviewing my bucket list. When I was writing that post, I realized how many dreams I had realized that I had never written down. Bucket lists are fun, but the unexpected surprises life has brought me have given me a lot of joy too. Here are some such surprises:

A random trip to Los Angeles with my best friend - easily one of the best vacations I've ever taken.

A trip later that same year to San Diego with another best friend - best birthday ever!

Flew 200,000 miles in one year without leaving the USA. This included moving to New Orleans, and visits to Mississippi, Alabama, Chicago (IL), Tampa (FL), New York City (NY), San Francisco (CA), Sacramento (CA), Scottsdale (AZ),  Lake Tahoe (CA), Reno (NV), and several trips to New Mexico.

My first Saints football game - with seats in the suite!

First visit to New York City (with another trip less than 2 months later)

Front row seats to Boyz II Men (dreamed about this since I was 12 - finally realized at 28)

Attending my first Mardi Gras - and throwing beads from the best balcony on Bourbon!

Having the privilege to manage properties in beautiful western Wyoming 
(and staying in Park City, UT almost every trip!)

First visit to Disneyland on my 30th birthday, with a first visit to DisneyWorld with my best friend for her 30th!

After many trips to Vegas, finally a trip with my best friend that was Hangover worthy fun!

A year of commuting via private plane - not a bad gig if you can get it, folks!

Treating my mom and my niece to a trip to LA and Disneyland, complete with lunch at Club 33!

My solo trip to Seattle - such a cool experience!

Standing on the sidelines of a NFL game (Texans v Saints) thanks to my good friends K & A

I got to say hi to Drew Brees and watch both teams as they warmed up before the game!

Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time ever!

My visit to FIDM - one of my now favorite places in LA.

Whale watching with my brother in the Channel Islands

Taking my mom and brother to see the Sequoia National Forest - dream come true

Visiting my best friend in Denver for my birthday - and she treated me to a Denver Broncos game!

Where I got to see my favorite QB, Peyton Manning, in the flesh! So cool!
(Fun fact - I just won a mini helmet signed by Manning at an LAPD Celebrity Charity Poker event!)

And speaking of celebrities...

Meeting Lou Ferrigno - The Hulk! Such a nice, friendly guy.

Meeting one of my favorite actors, Ponyboy (and Dewey) himself - C. Thomas Howell

And meeting my favorite actor from my favorite TV show - Michael Cudlitz from SouthLAnd 
(he was also Tony Miller in 90210 - swoon - and Bull from Band of Brothers)

I have to look at these pictures from time to time to remind myself that even when things look bad, I have been pretty fortunate over all. I am thankful to have a good job, a wonderful family, and a terrific circle of friends who allow me to be me, support my decisions, and help me experience levity even during difficult times. I am so, so blessed and will never for a moment take anything for granted.

I feel much better, and am off to bed. Good night, my lovelies!

Until next time...

--- Becks