Reflections on Rain on a Rainy Day in SF

In Ireland, it rains a lot.

It’s one the things we’re known for. One of the frequent comments I get when people over here find out I’m from Ireland is:

“Oh Ireland! You guys get a lot of rain, huh?”

To which I reply, in my most hammy Irish accent:

“Ah sure, for the love of Jesus, Mary, and St Patrick himself, where would we be getting all the green from if it didn’t rain?”

It rains a lot and the Irish people have come to accept their lot in life and prepare accordingly.

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In San Francisco, it doesn’t rain a lot.

In fact, we are in the midst of a four-year drought- the worst in 500 years apparently. It’s so severe that water wastage vigilante groups have cropped up all over the city, lurking outside bathroom windows, hunting down anyone who may be reckless enough to leave the tap running as they brush their teeth.

(Not really…but I personally wouldn’t want to risk it.)

So, when it does rain (as it’s been doing this week), it’s kind of a big deal. In fact, it’s more than just a big deal – it’s ABSOLUTE and EPIC CHAOS.

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When I first arrived in the city, I played the smug and chiding Irish person, as I listened to my Americans friends bemoan and be-wail an upcoming rain storm.

I would exclaim (again in my best hammy Irish voice):

“Ah sure, for the love of Jesus, Mary and St Jude the Patron Saint of desperate causes, there’s nothing to be despairing about here. Sure, ’tis only a bit of auld rain…”

(Note, my Irish accent is actually not that Irish, nor is my lingo, thanks to a Canadian mama. Sometimes the crowds just expect it, and who am I to disappoint.)

…Cue flooded streets, car accidents, four hour commutes, leaking windows, ant invasions and general rainy misery. Misery.

And so, suitably admonished, I held my hands up and hopped on the bandwagon. Hunter rain boots were purchased and worn everywhere. Plans were canceled on rainy evenings and if I did have to go out, I’d dress in full on wet weather gear (albeit sexy wet weather gear – I’m not an animal). I participated in, and even initiated, fear-mongering conversations about the rain.

I had transformed into a fully fledged, rain-fearing Californian.

And it was only when my Irish-living-in-Ireland friends and I visited Portland, did I realise this. In Portland, it also rains. Maybe as bad as Ireland. In the lead up to the vacation, my Irish-living-in-SF friend Mags and I worked hard to plan a weekend’s worth of outdoor wandering and hiking, naively expecting the blue skies and sunshine we’re used to in Cali.

When, upon arrival, we were greeted with clouds and drizzle, we went straight into panic mode- frantically googling ‘Things to do in Portland when it rains’ and looking up the nearest Hunter rain boot stockist. We were just on the verge of pitching the benefits of a day spent visiting the Historic Belmont Firehouse, when I noticed my friends looking at us like we were mad.

“The drought’s gone to your heads girls. We’ll be grand. Sure ’tis only a bit of auld rain.”

And with a toss of their hair, clicking their umbrellas open, they stepped outside.

Suddenly the spell was broken – so stoic, so…regal was their acceptance of the rain and its consequences. It was mesmerizing. I used to be like that – what had happened to me?

Here’s the truth – SF really can’t handle the rain when it comes. The infrastructure is not set up for it. So it is kind of miserable.

But here’s another truth – the rain is also kind of beautiful. Especially when you’re on the tail-end (hopefully) of a really long drought.

Over the past week I’ve started noticing the lovely things about it – the steady patter against the skylight as I fall asleep, the rivulets of tiny drops on the window pane as I ride the bus into work, the ominous black clouds as they roll over the horizon, the sudden and striking verdant green of the city hills.

It’s melancholy, but also revitalizing.

Rain has been glorified for centuries – how many movies have played out their finales against rain-soaked backdrops, how many novels have used rain as an analogy for inner turmoil? Not to mention the millions of rain-scented bath products and stormy soundscapes on offer.

Ultimately, rain is good, and nothing to be feared. I’mma stop complaining so vociferously about it.

 

 

The Portland mini break

One of my 2016 goals is to travel more around the US. This country is vast, varied and beautiful, with enough must-see places to fill a lifetime. That’s probably a reason why many Americans don’t leave to go on vacation (as well as the abysmally low number of personal leave days).

To that end, I’ve lined up a number of fun long-weekend destinations to hit up over the course of the year. First on the list was the artfully hip, the achingly cool and the wonderfully weird city of Portland, Oregon.

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We looked all over for this guy, he looks like fun

My travel companions were a group of my Irish besties who are over in SF for a work conference. We’ve known each other for 10 years and love nothing more than to take ourselves off for sneaky city mini breaks. And given the fact that we do eating, drinking and general aimless wandering pretty well, Portland was the perfect destination for us.
The city and the sights

Whilst there are tourist attractions in Portland, it’s not like the bigger cities, where you’re rushing around trying to check all the sights off a list, frantically trying to grab at least one good shot of the experience for Instagram. (If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen).

A weekend in Portland is more about soaking up ‘the vibe’, and trying to experience it as a local (hipster) would.

(I realise the irony of this. No self-respecting Portland hipster would ever do anything as contrived as trying to fit in with the locals. They’d rather eat their own vintage vegan clogs.)

This city is so livable – just like SF in my mind. It’s a collection of super walkable districts on either side of the Willamette river. Each district has an infinite number of kooky stores (which mostly sell perfumed products and hipster cat paraphernalia), fairy light bedecked restaurants, warehouse style breweries and funky food trucks.

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Sacred heart candles get a makeover in a Portland store. Is praying finally cool? Unclear…

There’s a fairly industrial vibe to some parts of the city, which surprised me a little. Or maybe urban hip is a better way of describing it. It kind of reminded me of the Dogpatch in SF.

There are definitely classically beautiful parts of the city – the riverfront is lovely, with a view of Mount Hood. And there is an abundance of cherry blossoms flowering at the moment, which I was thrilled about – I’m a big fan of their work. Huge.

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Ahhh, cherry blossoms with cherry blossoms

 

Fun things to do include a spin around the Portland Saturday Market (also open on Sunday, never fear) and a browse around Powell’s City of Books (an entire city block dedicated to books). We also wanted to try the aerial tram, but it was closed sadly.

All fun things, but really, Portland is all about the eating, drinking and people watching…

The eating and the drinking

When I asked around for generic Portland recommendations, I exclusively got back restaurant and bar suggestions. I thought San Francisco was a foodie city, but Portland takes the biscuit (food related pun intended).

Artisan donuts, craft beer and pinot noir seem to be the main things to try when you’re there. And we tried them all!

Donuts: The best known donut store is Voodoo donuts. The line was out of control though, so we grabbed a quick pic for posterity (ie Instagram) and then buzzed over to Blue Star donuts.

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Come for the donuts, stay for the tech lols. I especially like the last one

Craft beer: There are sooooo many breweries around, 1 brewery to every 1.5 hipster apparently. Somebody recommended Deschutes to me, and not knowing much about beer, we went with it. A bustling, wood-beamed, vaulted ceilinged warehouse, with a massive selection of beer and tasty fries.

Pinot Noir: I don’t have much to say on this matter. I’m not a fan. Napa Cabs till I die…

Other restaurants: 

  • Pok Pok is a really cute Thai place, that all the locals RAVE about. Think picnic tables and stainless steel plates. The food was out of control. We didn’t go for the chicken wings (which are famous apparently. I’ll regret that until the day I die.
  • Tasty n Alder has amazing brunch food and cocktails, including the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had made from Tequila! I’ll forgive them for the 1.5 hour wait.

Unfortunately for me I missed out on a lot of the culinary adventures. I had decided that this was the week I would give up gluten and sugar…again. If I could survive a weekend in Portland, off the hard stuff, I could survive anything. Actually, turns out it’s probably easier to do in Portland than anywhere else. Every time I inquired about gluten/sugar free options the server would present an entire allergen-free menu with a flourish – not an eye roll or judgey sigh to be seen or heard. Portland is my spirit animal.

It still wasn’t easy though. The others got a bit sick of my constant staring as they tucked into their sugary, glutenous treats and my persistent requests to have a sniff, or asking them to describe their eating experience in salacious detail. Salacious…

The people watching

The first thing that comes to mind when you think about Portland is the people. Specifically the hipsters.

Portlandia has a lot to do with this obviously, but there’s no smoke without a hand-rolled cigarette as they say – and the people of Portland are without a doubt, off-the-charts cool.

(I wish I could think of a better word than cool – it’s so not cool).

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And it’s not just the tattoo sleeves, lumberjack beards or beany hats that make them this way. It’s a quiet, unflashy confidence that simply oozes out of their pores. Oozes in a sexy way? You know they couldn’t give a shit about what you thought of them. And equally, you get the impression they’re not thinking about or judging you at all. (For better or for worse).

One of the slogans of the city is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ and there are definitely people who embody this to the full – from the no-pants wearing shop assistant (he was just getting prepped for the naked Sunday Shopping spree at 4pm) to the girl who ran up to the restaurant window where we were sitting, blew on the glass, drew a heart and then ran off.

All of them are amazing.

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Real naked life, right here!

 

The company

All of us girls have pretty similar travel styles – we like to have a loose enough itinerary so we’re not missing anything vital, with solid dinner reservations so we’re not wandering around in a hangry panic looking for something to eat. Generally, we’re just content to take the weekends as they come, which makes for a very relaxing, no stress vacation.

Aside from marveling at the city and talking (obsessively) about the food
we spent a lot of time playing Cards Against Humanity, answering the 36 Love Questions, talking about weddings (we have two upcoming nuptials and one new engagement), singing Justin Bieber songs and complaining about Justin Bieber songs getting stuck in our heads.

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All in all Portland provided the perfect backdrop for two wonderful days of catching up and reminiscing, side clutching laughter and emotional D&Ms,  Irish craic and good, clean American hipster fun.

Announcing ‘100 DAYS in SF’

Well folks – it’s that time of year. December 31st is fast approaching and most intelligent people are stuffing their faces with as much unhealthy fun as they can cram in before they have to give it all up for a healthy new year and a healthy new life of drinking green smoothies (and moaning about drinking green smoothies).

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I, in turn (trend-bucker that I am), have decided to do EXACTLY the opposite. I have decided that 2016 will be the year that I un-healthy myself.

Well, in blog terms that is.

I am happy to announce my new blog “100 DAYS in SF.” This is of course dramatically different to my old one “100 HEALTHY DAYS in SF.”

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Just in case the caps didn’t bring the message home…

So why the change Michelle? What went wrong? Did you overdose on collard greens? Sweat the enthusiasm out of you in Bikram Yoga?

Never fear – I’m still like majorly into healthy shit and well being and all that. And I’m still prepared to blog, lecture, pontificate and full on nerd out about it in a major way.

But I’ve just come to the conclusion that one does not live in San Francisco by healthy stuff alone. (Well, in the non-literal sense of course). One lives in San Francisco by having as many FUN DAYS as possible. At least 100 of them.

While writing my blog last year (when I actually wrote regularly…) I realised that there were so many things I wanted to talk about, that did not necessarily fit in with my healthy theme. The fun nights out in the Mission, the trips to wine country, the photography, the fun dates, the awful dates, the amazingly crazy people, the beautiful souls. And yeah, the unhealthy but delicious food and cocktails.

These all form an integral part of my life in San Francisco and I CAN’T DENY IT ANY MORE.

So from now on you’re going to hear about it all- every last crazy, healthy and unhealthy (but fun) minute of my time in the city.

(Well, maybe not those minutes spent on the couch being a loner eating chocolate and watching The Office. Neither healthy nor fun…)

Stay tuned!

Love Michelle xxx

 

7 Healthy Days Finding Myself in the Utah Desert

About a month ago I found myself in a situation. And the situation was this – I was burnt out. Capital B, Capital O. Two periods.

Burnt. Out.

In an effort to re-light my fire, I decided I needed to flee the city, and go ‘find myself.’ And what better place to do so, than in a desert in Southern Utah. Obviously.

This is a desert rodent, just in case the context isn't obvious...

This is a desert rodent, just in case the context isn’t obvious…

“Burn out, schmurn out”, you might say. “You’re in Silicon Valley. Being honest, if you’re not burning out I would really question your dedication to life.”

But the struggle, as they say, was real. I was spending long, sad hours in work, dancing the corporate two-step, followed by longer, even sadder, hours in the city, battling it out on the SF dating scene. I was stressed, making poor food choices, skipping exercise classes, plagued by feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt and crying ugly tears in sushi restaurants (true story).

And then, one day, I snapped. This wasn’t right! Sushi restaurants are for eating and taking pictures of sushi rolls. I needed an intervention, and the only person who was in a position to intervene…was ME! (…although the waiters in the sushi restaurant were perilously close, being honest…).

Decision made, I rather impetuously booked myself into the Red Mountain Resort, in St George, Utah.

Red Mountain Resort is the perfect place for someone looking to take a break from it all, and reconnect with themselves. In fact, I have no doubt that it’s been designed as such. Situated in the small city of St George, the resort looks out onto a vast expanse of red desert and nothing more. Regardless of whether or not it’s the case, you get the distinct impression that you are in the wilderness, far, far away from everything that you’ve left behind.

The view from the resort. So red!

The view from the resort. So red!

Every hour of the day is filled with some kind of activity designed to nourish your mind, body or soul. You have daily guided hikes into the nearby State Park, Snow Canyon, exercise classes every hour of the day, biking, canyoneering, paddle-boarding, horse back riding, shelter dog walking. The restaurants serve clean meals only, not a french fry to be found (unless it’s sweet potato). They have an on-site spa, acupuncture, Louise Hay books in the gift shop, and for the more spiritually liberal you have the option of balancing your chakras and healing your soul using crystal bowls.

Being honest, when I first arrived, there was a tiny, skeptical, Irish part of me that was like ‘WTF?!! You want to color my psyche? Create balance in my energy fields?!”

And, know this, I’m like, already into personal development and general hippy shit. Angel cards, meditation, talking about your feelings in the pub – classic Michelle. But this all seemed like a step too far into the self-help realm.

And then, after one little walk into the desert that first day, I capitulated. I capitulated in a major way.

Over the course of seven days I hiked, I rapelled, I bouldered, I kayaked. I journaled, affirmed, mantra’d and balanced. I walked the meditation circle, marveled at the scenery, exchanged life stories, sought meaning and looked for signs of the universe speaking to me.

The result? Cynics (especially Irish cynics)- hold your tongues! But I actually felt like I had a genuinely spiritual, healing experience. After my week, I felt like something imperceptible had shifted in my brain, making room for just a little bit of peace and harmony.

Since coming back, I’ve spoken to a few people about my week. Hesitantly, with trepidation, and fear of slagging (ie making fun of), I started describing my experience. “You know I’ve never been to the desert before, but there was something almost…”, only for them to cut across me and finish my sentence; “Spiritual?!? I felt the same when I was there”. No word of a lie – this happened at least twice.

And it’s true, there’s something spiritual about the desert. When you’re out there, walking through the sandstone, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sense that you’re truly connected to the earth and your surroundings. Now, be it because this is actually the case, or because you’re actively looking for something ‘more’, it doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say, when you get home, and you’re shaking the sand out of your hiking boots, you suddenly realise that you’re feeling just a little bit better about life than you did before.

Watching a lightening storm

Watching a lightening storm

Feeling so tiny in Snow Canyon

Feeling so tiny in Snow Canyon

At the amazing Zion National Park, one of the natural wonders of the world.

At the amazing Zion National Park, one of the natural wonders of the world.

Day 8: Food of the Week – Pico de Gallo

I’ve been making an effort to cook a lot more since I re-started this challenge. I would normally come home from work and just have a salad with some smoked salmon or something, but that’s not so appetizing when it’s dark and cold outside. (Well, cold-ish. Let’s be serious, we’re in California. It never gets full on cold. Like you Ireland. Teehee. Smug emigrant moment happening.) 

However, I typically don’t feel up to cooking a huge meal when I get home either. During the week I’m all about simple and easy but nutritious and wholefood-ious (totes a word). This is not an easy task! BUT there is one thing that has greatly contributed to the healthy eating cause and that is…drumroll…Pico de Gallo – my food of the week!

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Actually, full disclosure, it was Mags who pointed out the amazingness of this food

For those of you unfamiliar (and I would imagine that’s everyone in Ireland as I had never heard of this before coming over here) Pico de Gallo is a fresh salsa (or salad) made from tomato, onion, serranos, coriander leaves, salt and lime juice. Hailing from Mexico it’s got an amazing zing to it, and is perfect for jazzing up the most boring of dishes. (A lot of zing-ing and jazzing going on with this – I’m obviously excited about it.)

This is so easy to make (see recipe here), but if you’re really, really lazy like me, you can buy it ready-made from Wholefoods. This week I paired it with some frozen, white, wild-caught fish I bought from Trader Joes, roasting them in the oven with some cherry tomatoes and capers. I also steamed some green beans to accompany it. All in all 25 minutes to make. And I made a second one for the next night!

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Any other good uses of pico del gallo out there? I have a half a tub left!

Comment on healthy living today

Today was a good day – but then again Mondays always are! I always feel like if I have too much fun on a Monday (both in terms of food-fun and fun-fun) it throws me off kilter for the week. I really tried to eat fewer calories today as my weekend was probably a little excessive.

Food and exercise

  • Hot water with lemon and fresh ginger
  • Breakfast: 1/2 cup of scrambled whole eggs, 1/2 scrambled egg whites, steamed kale
  • Lunch: Salad with veg, 1 cup of chicken, tbsp olive oil, tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Snack: Celery and carrot sticks with little container of baba ganoush
  • Exercise: 35 mins spin class
  • Dinner: See above
  • Snack: 6 almonds

Day 7: Working those calves on Bernal Hill

San Francisco loves a hill. And San Francisco adores a steep hill. So much so that my roommate Venessa specifically warned me that my calves were going to explode, hulk-style, as a result of walking around – pointing out her own monster calves as an example. (FYI they’re tiny, dainty little things). Risk of monster calves aside there’s no denying that a walk around your typical SF neighborhood will provide you with a satisfactory burn in the legs.

If Ryan's OK with it, then so am I

If it’s good enough for Ryan, it’s good enough for me

One of the hills near me is the beautiful Bernal Heights Hill. If you can believe it, I’ve lived in my house for 8 months now and I can see Bernal from our deck, but I’ve never actually made it up. Ridiculous! My new year’s resolution is to get outdoors more so I decided to take myself up there for a nice walk with my other roommate Lysbet.

The walk itself is very short – it probably only took us 15/20 minutes to get up to the top. But most of it is vertical with lots of stairs so you get a lot of bang for your buck. If I had been taking the outing seriously as a workout, I probably would have run it. As it was, I was just happy to get out in the warm, Californian sunshine and take in the view. My calves did burn though!! I’ll run it the next time…

The view from the summit is spectacular – on a clear day you get a 360 view of the city. It was fun trying to pick out our fave spots. One thing I also noticed was that there were so many more green areas that I didn’t even know existed. Plenty more exploring to be done obviously!

A lot of people had the same idea as we did – we were joined by a lot of dog walkers and couples having magic moments. Bernal Hill is an amazing place to either pledge your undying love to someone or decide to go your separate ways.

The walk home was fun as well. One thing I love about SF is that they put such effort into making public spaces pretty and interesting. There were so many cute little look-out points and even a slide in lieu of some stairs (see video!). A simple walk around the block can turn into a mini adventure.

It was a lovely day indeed and it’s made me realise that I need to get out exploring more. Any San Franciscans know of any other hills/green areas/fun places to explore in the city?

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Video of Lysbet and I going down the slide.

Such lovely views!

Such lovely views!

Comment on healthy living

Today was a good day. My one slight slip was another trip to Toast. I’m obsessed. My new favourite activity is to go early by myself and people watch. No major exercise – just the walk up Bernal. Great to get some fresh air though and to get your body moving.

Food and exercise

  • Breakfast: Scramble with bacon and avocado, fruit salad, half an English muffin
  • Exercise: Walk up Bernal Heights Hill
  • Lunch: Salad from Wholefoods with prawns
  • Dinner: Vegan Tamale

Day 6: The importance of a work out buddy

Workout buddies – there to share the pain of your hill run, high five you after a new deadlift PB, compete with you on squat reps and most importantly…save you from your hangover.

Sometimes some tough love is needed

Sometimes some tough love is needed

Yes, the inevitable happened. After the excesses of Day 5’s night out at Zeitgeist I woke up with a hangover. I felt cheated! Surely that’s not supposed to happen when you only drink vodka soda(s x 3 large ones). As soon as I woke up and felt my head pounding I groaned into my pillow. Today was Barry’s Bootcamp day – the first one after the holidays and guaranteed to be horrendous even for normal-headed folks.

After lying there for a while, trying to assess the damage, I sent a message to Mags, my workout buddy, who had also been out with me the night before.

‘There’s a small family of leprechauns having an actual Ceili in my actual head. I don’t think I can do Barry’s today.’

Confident in the knowledge Mags would also be in the throes like me, I dragged myself down to my fave Noe Valley diner Toast for some consolatory eggs and smoked salmon. (Healthy.) Just as I was about to tuck in, a smug little smile on my face, squirming in my seat with happiness, Mags replied.

‘None of your guff, girly – I’m feeling amazing. Friends don’t let other friends skip Barry’s Bootcamp.’

(FYI – Mags is also Irish, hence the excessive Irish-ness of our conversation).

Goddammit, I thought. Fine, fine FINE! I’ll go. I’d never live it down if I skipped out. (How she managed to escape the damage of those three vodka sodas is beyond me. I’m convinced she’s a genetically superior human being).

So, we went to Barry’s, we ran, we lifted, we squatted, we crunched. I would lie if I said it was enjoyable at the time. It was disgusting. And I felt like puking. But the victory was in participating as far as I’m concerned. And as we walked out, with our skinny peanut butter protein shakes in hand, I had to admit- my workout buddy done good. Without her I would have certainly gone back to bed after Toast, followed by a day of unhealthiness and self-loathing.

Thanks Mags!

Trying to take a selfie at the Bay Bridge. 8 pictures, no bridge.

Trying to take a selfie at the Bay Bridge after the class. 8 pictures, no bridge. Well maybe a corner of a bridge

Comment on healthy living

On account of the hangover the day was probs not as healthy as it could have been. BUT I didn’t go mad. The unhealthy things were an English muffin and then sushi and more alcohol later on when I went out for Karaoke. Could have been worse though.

Food and exercise:

  • Breakfast: Lox scrambler from Toast, with an English muffin and fresh fruit
  • Exercise: 1 hour Barry’s Bootcamp
  • Snack: Skinny protein shake (unsweetened almond milk, no sugar peanut butter and vanilla protein powder)
  • Lunch: Sweet potato with a handful of pistachios (random I know)
  • Dinner: Split with Lysbet – edamame, miso soup, poki salad, 2 sushi rolls, sake
  • Drinks: 2 x glass of wine
  • Entertainment: Karaoke at Encore, a go of a friend’s massage chair and Super Mario (also random.)

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