Sunday, September 6, 2015

California Highway 1 Road Trip

My husband Paulo and I during our California Highway 1 road trip
One of the many highlights of our one-month long U.S. vacation/honeymoon was our road trip from our home-base, Fontana, to San Francisco via Pacific Coast Highway.

California Highway 1
The view from the highway was always breathtaking. My husband and I were so happy we did the road trip. 
Beautiful California Highway 1 road and view
Paulo on the driver's seat of the Lexus NX 300H
We went on the road trip mid-March and the weather was generally nice. Although  late afternoons to early mornings were biting cold, so a thick jacket was essential. I also had a light hoodie, scarf and beanie in tow, which I was able to put in use since I am sensitive to the cold. 

Matching blue hoodies
Along California Highway 1
Our automobile for the road trip was the Lexus NX 300H. My considerations for an automobile were very simple--comfort and reliability. The NX 300H did not disappoint at all. Legroom was more than enough and more importantly, the chairs were adjustable and very comfortable. The seats also had a heater and cooler. Which I think was essential with how the weather fluctuates from hot to cold in the west coast. 

The Lexus NX 300H and I in Asilomar Beach, Monterey

The Lexus NX 300H and sunset in California Highway 1

The road trip started at 4:45am. We set Solvang as our first destination on Waze and was there around 7am-- just in time for breakfast.
Charming Solvang windmills

Solvang was very charming. It is the Danish capital of America. Breakfast was also good at Paula's Pancakes, which was recommended by a friend. 

Bacon, eggs and hash brown breakfast in Paula's Pancakes, Solvang

After Solvang we were officially on Highway 1. We followed the California Pacific Coast Highway via Waze. Waze will always want to use the best, shorter route-- most of the time it will choose the freeway. We set these destinations one after the other: Morro Bay, San Simeon, Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, San Franciso, to make sure that we were always on the Highway. In times where the internet connection was down, for as long as you we were beside the ocean, we knew we were on the right track. 

California Highway 1

The trip to San Francisco took us two days. We had to stop every now and then to enjoy the scenery. We really took our time. The Earth is really beautiful along Highway 1. 

Breathtaking view of land and water from California Highway 1 

Mother nature and I along California Highway 1
A cliff on California Highway 1
Elephant seals on California Highway 1
More of Earth's wonderful creatures seen on California Highway 1

Paulo on California Highway 1
Sunset on California Highway 1
Along California Highway 1

Railroad along California Highway 1
We spent a night in Monterey. There was a strip of mid-range hotels in Monterey and so the more practical thing to do. It would have been great to stay at Big Sur but rates were too expensive for us. Monterey's Days Inn rate was $60 per night with breakfast for two already; while Big Sur rates were $150++, no breakfast. 

Our plan was to drive via Highway 1 going to San Francisco only and use 
the freeway going home. But my husband enjoyed it too much that we also drove back via Highway 1

These were the things that made our trip easier and more fun: 

1) Reliable automobile

2) U.S. Phone line for easier coordination with family and friends and access to Internet, we got an AT&T sim
3) Waze on our smart phones
4) Snacks and water
5) Sunblock
6) Thick clothes for the cold
7) Shades
8) Money, credit card
9) Camera; there were lots of photo opportunities! Although my iPhone camera phone worked well for me already
10) Wonderful companion

Paulo and I on California Highway 1

Paulo and 1 on California Highway 1
I will always treasure our Highway 1 experience. The road trip was an event in itself. And more than anything, I was with a very cool, wonderful person-- my husband. 

As Leo diCaprio said in The Beach, "'s not where you go. It's how you feel for a moment in your life when you're a part of something, and if you find that moment... it lasts forever..."

Maximizing Small Spaces with Customized Cabinets and Shelves

I love cabinets and shelves. Even more now that I am forced to live efficiently, because my husband and I live in a one-bedroom 41 sqm condominium unit in the city. We have to maximize spaces. Which is why our couch has a storage compartment and bed has drawers and built in shelves. 

We recently had cabinets and shelves installed in our condominium unit and are really happy with them. 

The dining area

We transformed a free space into a cabinet for storing items we don't use on a daily basis. This also eliminates the clutter at home, because we can now hide them neatly inside the cabinets. 
The construction workers prepping the cabinet location

Preparing for the installation of cabinets

The cabinets were already pre-fabricated based on our agreed design.
The construction workers just need to install them.

New cabinets in our dining area. 

The living room 

My husband and I felt bad that we weren't able to take a photo of how our TV area used to look before the new rack and all. It would have been very nice to compare it with the new improved living room area. The before looked really messy--the cords were all over the floor, which ended up easily catching dust. Now there are shelves for the consoles, DVDs and even books that are attached on the wall, and it easier to sweep the floor. The place also looks bigger and more organized. 
Before the installation of the TV rack
TV Rack with shelves and mood lighting
Our new and improved living room

The installation only took around five hours, as everything was already pre-fabricated based on our agreed layout. The design, however, took us three meetings-- including agreeing on the design, measurements and color. 

Our contractor is Carlo Blanca of A'Quinto Personal Furniture. He is very professional, respectful and most of all, delivers quality service. You may reach him at (0917) 534-4946.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The search for the best shrimp-in-a-bag in Manila

Paulo Subido and Esay Querubin in Boiling Crab
Our first time in The Boiling Crab 

After our month long honeymoon in the USA, my husband and I can't help but dream about Boiling Crab shrimps. We ate there twice, and even tried two other restaurants with the same concept called Star Crab and Stinkin' Crawfish. I loved every experience. The flavor in each restaurant is just a bit different from each other, but all very tasteful. They all have a version of the Whole Shabang, which is a mix of all flavors (butter, garlic, lemon, pepper and Cajun). I liked Star Crab's mix the best. 

Boiling Crab Los Angeles
The Boiling Crab in Los Angeles
The day after finishing the LA Marathon, I just had to get The Boiling Crab shrimps again. 
The Boiling Crab

heard of Bag O' Shrimps even before we left for the USA, so I immediately scheduled a lunch date with my husband there. We went to the one in Megamall. 

Bag O' Shrimps in Megamall

The restaurant has a harbor theme and friendly staff, and is clean and new. No wild comments about those really. More than anything, we are excited about the food. 

I am surprised that prices are the same with USA rates: $10 to $14 (P445 to P623 + tax) in the USA; P565 in Philippines. I'm not sure if it's now cheaper abroad or the Philippine restaurants are now ridiculously expensive. At first, I thought it wouldn't be fair to compare the flavor with those we tasted in the States. But maybe since the prices are the same, I should. 

The Bag O' Momma of Bag O' Shrimps
The Whole Shabang of Bag O' Shrimps is called Bag O' Momma. If the one in the States is a ten, Bag O' Shrimps's is a 6. The shrimps are not as succulent and fresh-looking, plus the sizes are inconsistent. Some has heads, while the others may have lost their heads while being cooked. Not great to look at but still it's the taste I want to focus on. 

The sauce lacks umph, unfortunately. It should be a mix of butter, garlic, lemon, pepper and Cajun flavors of perfect proportions that will work so well for the palate. Although the taste is there, it is very faint. Maybe because the sauce is too little. Which is again a big difference since the sauce in the USA usually reaches an inch or more when holding the bag vertically, one hand bundling it in the middle. And because of these reasons, Bag O' Shrimps is "okay lang, pwede na." I then continued my search for the best shrimp-in-a-bag in Manila. 

Being a borderline millennial, I went straight to the Internet to research on our next shrimp-in-a-bag date. There are Claw Daddy in Alabang and SM MOA; Shrimp Bucket at the Fort; and another Bag O' Shrimps in McKinley. I work at the Fort, so I planned to try Shrimp Bucket next even though they don't have a version of the Whole Shabang sauce. I am also open to give Bag O' Shrimps another chance seeing that there are good reviews of their McKinley branch online. Yes, I am easily affected by that. 

So one Sunday, unplanned, I was with my friends and found my way to Bag O' Shrimps, McKinley. I  was pleasantly surprised with how the sauce tasted that I ended up going there the following day to share the good news with my husband. And again five days after to satisfy my craving. 

Bag O' Shrimps in McKinley

Bag O' Shrimps in McKinley-- this was on a Sunday and we had to wait for a table. 

Inside Bag O' Shrimps in McKinley

Bag O' Shrimps in McKinley has a better tasting sauce than the one in Megamall! Not 100% the same as USA's shrimp-in-a-bags, but close enough. The Bag O' Momma flavor is really there--zesty, spicy, tasteful and has the same satisfaction from the mix of different flavors. Although the shrimp is still not as good looking, it's okay. The flavor we are looking for is there anyway. We also discovered a new favorite sauce which is the Lemon Pepper. We discovered this when we ordered clams and got the best seller sauce for it. Later we realized that getting clams is not a wise move. Orders are by the weight and the shells are heavy. Plus, the meat of Philippine clams is small. 

Both the Bag O' Momma and Lemon Pepper flavors are now our staple orders. We get two pounds of shrimps, each with the different sauces; and one order of corn. These sauces are great to put on rice, too. As for the rating, it is now an 8.5 to 9 for Bag O' Shrimps. Because ten is just for The Boiling Crab. 

Bag O' Shrimps Bag O' Momma and Lemon Pepper--
perfect combination

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My First Marathon-- the LA Marathon 2015

Running for me is a good example of "no pain, no gain." I don't usually like the act of running. It's most of the time pain and suffering (most specially long distances of more than 21km), but I run anyway. More than anything, it's the feeling after that I love and crave for. The fulfillment of setting a new personal record, accomplishing a specific goal or simply being able to drag my ass off the coach on a lazy Sunday afternoon to clock in a few kilometers. 

So after training for 6 months, I was able to accomplish my goal of completing a marathon. I am really proud of myself. 

I finished the LA Marathon 2015! I flew 11,800 kilometers, Philippines to Los Angeles, to run my first 42 kilometers. Yes, it was more costly than running in the Philippines; plus, I also had to consider getting used to the timezone. But still, I am glad I chose to have my first marathon in Los Angeles. Philippine running events are far from the very festive, highly attended, yet organized LA Marathon. I wouldn't mind going through all the preparations again to experience LA and see its lovely people. 

After finishing the LA Marathon 2015. The best medal-- heavy, thick and top quality--ever!
The LA Marathon, Stadium to the Sea: 

Two days before the race, we checked in at Ritz Milner Hotel in downtown LA. It was more convenient to be near LA Convention Center (where the expo was held and I picked up my race kit) and Dodger Stadium (where the starting line was), so we didn't have to go back and forth LA and Fontana (our homebase in California) when I picked up my race kit and went to the actual race.

3:50am: about to go to the shuttle station

The shuttle pick up station in Figueroa street was also just a 3 minute walk from the hotel.

All set! I think I caught the first shuttle

I got to the stadium around 4:30am. At that time vehicle traffic near the stadium was already close to heavy and runners were just starting to arrive. There were more than 26,000 participants, and getting early in the venue was an advantage. 

I was happily surprised that there was free breakfast available of banana, bagel and energy bar. I lined up to get mine and immediately looked for the open seed waiting area. 

Early birds at Dodger Stadium

I was aiming for a 5:30 time, so I stayed at the 12 minutes per mile group. I was really impressed with this strategy. Runners with more or less the same speed were together, so human traffic was smooth for everyone. In the few  Philippine races I participated in, which were not really as big, I spent the first few minutes overtaking slower runners and being passed by faster ones. 

Targeting 12 minutes per mile 

Before I knew it the energy level at Dodger Stadium got really high and exciting. Music blasted from a local band, runners here and there were preparing themselves--some doing their warm ups, putting petroleum jelly and sun block on their body parts, using the porta-potties; while clear announcements about bag deposit and start time could be heard.

LA Marathon 2015 runners waiting for the gun start

These porta-potties were such a joy! There were a lot in Dodger Stadium-- maybe 100+. I was loading up on water and drank more than two litters a day seven days prior the race that I had to use the pottie 3 times before the gun start and on the 6th mile. Thankfully, there were also portalets on the course.

Porta-potties in Dodger Stadium

There were also runners who went out of their way to spread good vibrations. This Smiley face balloon did a good a job of cheering me up and shaking off my nerves.
One runner brought a Smiley balloon

Another proof that it was going to be a good run-- all of us runners were lucky to have this colorful sunrise. I just love a great sunrise. It's a promise of an awesome day ahead.

Sunrise during the LA Marathon 2015

And then it was race time. One by one each corral was called with the open corral being the last. Once I passed the starting line, I was in the zone. 
LA Marathon 2015 starting line

I wasn't able to take as much photos that I would have wanted to on the course, because doing so would have affected my time. Though like what I said, it was such a joyous event. Aside from refreshments--water and Gatorade--on each mile marker, there was also entertainment from a local band. But what I was surprised with was the people. Spectators--young and old-- went out of their way to cheer, support and prepare placards for the runners. Seeing and hearing the cheerers were more than enough already. But they even prepared food like orange slices, jelly beans, ice candies, ice cubes, gummy bears, pizza pie slices, chips, pretzels, and twizzlers for the runners. I tried some before I realized that munching on ice cubes was the best. It was hard to eat during a run, even energy bars. Sweet or sour food on a really hot weather made me more thirsty. There were also refreshments and sometimes free hugs, high fives and Vaseline. Who would not be motivated with all of that!? As for the placards, I can still remember some that made me smile and want to push myself more like Your feet hurt because you are kicking ass; Pain is temporary, pride is forever; Believe me, hell is hotter; Worst parade ever; Run like you stole something; There is beer in the finish line; Smile if you peed a little; Smile if you need to poop.
LA Marathon 2015

The legacy runners were very inspiring. I want to be just like them.

LA Marathon Legacy Runner Ruth

It became challenging for me on the 10th mile. Suddenly I felt really heavy. Might be because of the mix of unfamiliar air, extremely hot weather--reached 90 degrees, and jetlag. I started counting and looking forward to each mile marker. I wasn't expecting this since I already had conquered a very comfortable 21 mile race in the Philippines. 
LA Marathon 2015 runners

Another group that helped me a lot was my host family and my fellow Filipinos on the 13th mile. Apparently, my tita Precy--who took care of me when I was young and she was still in the Philippines--and her family volunteer as water station operators, together with the APO fraternity in LA, every year. Her husband Tito Rocky is the APO member. Seeing familiar faces and fellow Filipinos and getting hugs from them right exactly on the half mark of the race gave me an additional boost. I even have my own signage.
LA Marathon Mile 13 with APOGLA

For some reason, I did not notice the 24th mile marker, so it was a very pleasant surprise when I saw the 25th. One more mile left!
LA Marathon 25th mile marker

The last mile seemed the longest and composed of a lot of walks. It was where "you are almost there" felt the farthest. At this point, I had to be extra careful not to get into any injury. One wrong move and my leg would had easily gave up on me. 

I just made sure that I was running as I crossed the finish line. Approximately 250 meters from finishing, I gathered all the energy I had left and ran with all my heart. I finished my first marathon and the fulfillment is tremendous! 

I cried when I finally saw my husband. After running for 5 hours and 38 minutes-- just 8 minutes off my target time-- there were just a mix of so many feelings: I was dead tired, I was very happy with my accomplishment (quitting was not an option and it wasn't easy), I missed him, my family and friends and I realized I'm so lucky to have them (running makes me think and reflect about my life). He cried, too. Out of relief that I made it in one piece. 

LA Marathon 2015 Finisher! 

Right after our small, happy reunion, we saw a medic station. Ice bags then sounded like a very good idea. Those cold bags helped relieve my aching tired legs. 

Ice bags for my tired legs

This, by far, was the best race I ever ran. From the time I registered online, to the expo, actual race, medal--heavy and high quality, post race and up to now, the support and updates have always been grade A. A million thanks to all the organizers, volunteers, spectators, my family, friends, coach and husband for making the LA Marathon a very memorable milestone for me.  

The Expo: 

Here are some photos from the expo when I picked up my race kit. It was also the first and so the best pre-race event I've been to. 
NutriBullet Heath and Fitness Expo 2015

Of course, I'll have a photo here. I have to post it on Instagram! 
LA Marathon NutriBullet Expo 2015 entrance 

I am officially part of the run! Race bib number 15775.

LA Marathon 2015 race bib number 15775

I had to make sure that my transponder was working and it was. 

Transponder test 

They even set dedicated walls for photo ops and possibly Instagram-worthy shots.

LA Marathon 2015

LA Marathon 2015

LA Marathon 2015

And there was a free wall, too.

Dear LA, Let's do this! 

The excitement just went up some more when I saw my name on this list among 26,000+ other runners. I easily spotted my name as it was in alphabetical order. 

Good thing the list was in alphabetical order

Ta-dah! My name is there!