Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Makings of a Believer

No, no, no, this is not a new post about how Puerto Rico has made me into some kind of fanatical Justin Bieber fan.  That says, "BelieVer" not "BelieBer"...Got it?  Okay good.  Just wanted to clarify the heck out of that point before we get started here.

So it's been a while, eh?  Seems like most bloggers go through this.  You start the blog with perhaps too much time on your hands and then, as life evolves, you drift away.  Like a friend you've known since childhood,  you figure "the blog will be there" "the blog is fine without me for now".  Then, when the journey finds a moment's quiet, you think, "I should give that old blog a call before it stops liking my status updates on facebook".  So heeeeeeyyyyyy, how are things?

Things with me?  Things with me are um, AWESOME!  The period of transition is over and I find myself on the other side of it happy, strong and renewed.  We are entering the dry season which welcomes cooler temps and I can wear my hair loose without quickly developing a sweaty neck.  Being uncomfortably hot is less frequent and Zorra gets more cuddly.  Cuddly Zorra always makes life better.

I'm not going to lie, it was tough there for a while and I know that there are still challenges in my pathway.  There was a major shift that occurred though.  I'm not sure if that shift was due to being out of the rat race, out of day-to-day fluorescent light and swivel chairs or simply being caught up on sleep but something has changed and it is pretty freaking incredible.  One of the main reasons I was so willing to leave LA for a land I had spent very little time in was because I knew that I needed to shake things up.  My soul needed a defibrillator and taking a calculated risk was the jolt I decided to run with.  I wasn't proud of my life in LA.  I was proud of the people I knew.  I was proud of the family I had close by. I was proud of those I saw living their dreams but I felt outside of these circles.  Life was so full  of "I'd really like to"s and "if I had more time I'd"s.  That being said, I did a lot with my time, a TON really but I never felt remotely satisfied.

So we get here, it's crazy and unfamiliar.  There was a lot of uncertainty, a few wrong turns and yet with time and good intention we've managed to find sight to our pathway.  Rincon has embraced us into their community and we are running with it.  Quality Thyme Private Chef Services, the business that Tommy had in LA and which I worked with him at, has been transferred here as and he and I are now co-owners.  We decided to start with this as opposed to opening a full-on restaurant.  Maybe down the road we'll go back to that plan, but for now it was just too much.  With Quality Thyme we are catering to the foodie population that is also somewhat health conscious.  As you probably know, I'm gluten free and we've been having a lot of success offering gluten free dishes and menu items. Although both Tommy and I are carnivorous, we are also  having a lot of success offering Vegan options to our clients. You gotta find the market gaps!  It makes me so happy to be able to offer tasty and HEALTHY options for folks.  One of the hardest parts of moving from CA for me was leaving the abundant healthy food options.  We have found a way to cater to the people here who are also looking for these options yet don't want to go through all the trouble to find them.  It's a lot more hassle than in the states but for me, on a spiritual level to be able to bring my passion for health foods to folks who are craving these things is very satisfying.  We've encountered many new ingredients as well which has been fun and interesting.  We are making food out of things we didn't even know existed!  Exotic fruits and vegetables such as Pana and fresh Turmeric have been on our recipe table.  We are building relationships with the local, organic farms and have heard some very interesting stories about the wild monkeys that eat their crops.  The busy season is just getting underway, and I know we still haven't seen it in full force but we've got gigs on the books and I just love the momentum building at our Farmer's Market table.  Come visit us there every Sunday from 8am-1pm in the Rincon Plaza!
Tommy being a cutie at the Rincon Farmer's Market 
Perhaps the most unexpected joy I've experienced has been with my renewed relationship with painting.  I started doing watercolor work since I've been down here and it's been so fun!  I never worked with the medium before but now I've got a little side business going on that is paying some of our bills.  Pet Portraits by Juni (Like me on Facebook please!) is taking off!  I've always loved animals and now I get to showcase it by making one of a kind art pieces for obsessive pet owners like myself.  Sweeeeet.
Lucy and Lola, "The California Grrls" painting I did

Last but not least, I've FINALLY gotten the chance to start doing Crossfit.  I love it!  I've got a weird extreme side to me that just wants to be a jock so. damn. bad.  I guess growing up as the chubby, artsy kid amongst two athletic brothers did some damage but hey, all good!  Crossfit is really teaching me what true fitness is and how to look at my body in terms of it's ability to do things as opposed to it's ability to look good in a slinky dress.  With Crossfit, the latter ability is simply a consequence and by taking my focus off of the vain elements of fitness, I find I'm a lot less neurotic about things. Less neurotic Juni is a very, very good thing.

kenny powers 
seriously, don't freak.  I'm not going to get huge.  
So what is the lesson learned, the epiphany realized?   I believe again.  I believe in possibility, in myself, in one's ability to turn things around.  I believe in the power of perseverance.  I believe in the importance of a peaceful environment, proper rest and a daily connection with nature.  I know it's not like I was homeless in LA with no love in my life.  The turn has been very personal, very internal.  I have found my ability to dream again, but this time I BELIEVE that I can achieve that which I can dream.

Keep an eye out for my Time Traveling Marshmallow Space Ship...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top Five

Miss you, Insinkerator!
We have had our share of ups and downs but we finally hit our six month anniversary of arriving in Puerto Rico on September 5th.  Like others who have gone before us, I think six months may just be the magic number for acclimation to a new place.  The distinct comfort that comes with some semblance of understanding one's surroundings has arrived.  Thank God. 
I am happy and find that the seeds I've been trying to plant are sprouting up nicely.  I'm meeting people and starting to make plans with living beings who are not Tommy or Zorra.  
That being said, I do miss a few things from CA that I don't know if I'll ever get over.  Here is a list of the top five things I miss:
1. I'd be a jerk if I didn't write "Friends & Family" here.  It's true though, I miss you guys!
2. Grocery Stores---you statesiders have NO idea how good you have it
3. Laundry Facility accesibility--good, clean laundromats are insanely hard to come by.  Think we are going to buy a washer/dryer soon.  Bucket washing is not cutting it!
4. Garbage Disposals!  I have never seen one here.  
5. Lack of Humidity-it's been great for my skin but it's a constant battle to keep things from getting mildewy

Now, I don't want to end this post on a negative note so I am also including the top 5 things about PR that I love.  Gotta have an "attitude of gratitude":
1. The Beauty---with colorful birds and little yellow butterflies that float through the skies, it's hard not to stop for a second and think "wow"
2. The pace-Island Time is real! And it's sooo nice
3. Community-Rincon especially is a place where people look out for each other.  Puerto Ricans in general are just nicer about helping out fellow humans
4. Warm Ocean Water-I will never EVER get tired of this
5. Our apartment-it's so nice to have a lot of space with a great view.  We are doing a lot in the next month or so to really make it feel like home.  

So there you have it, Folks.  A short post to commemorate our six month anniversary.  Let's see what the next six months have in store!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wish You Could Come Along/Culebra FAIL

Our friends Jesse and Holly arrived in Puerto Rico almost two weeks ago and were supposed to both head back to LA on Monday.  Unfortunately, work obligations made it impossible for Holly to change her ticket but without any arm twisting,  Jesse decided to stay on another five days.  It's been so great! We've had a ton of fun and are going to put the crown jewel on the trip by heading out to a spot Tommy and I have yet to go to ourselves, the gorgeous CULEBRA island.

Culebra is one of the small islands off of Fajardo (Southeast of San Juan) that boasts one of the world's most beautiful beaches, Flamenco Beach.  There is world class snorkeling, white sand beaches (my favorite), crystal clear turquoise waters and some of Puerto Rico's most untouched land.  Tommy and I have been dying to go and are excited to share the experience with Jesse. We will leave our place in Rincon this morning around 12 or 1am as we have to catch the ferry at 4am.  This is the cargo ferry which is much easier to score a ticket on unlike the regular ferry which leaves around 9am and is very often sold out.  Here are a few preview photos. Prepare to get jealous...

Flamenco Beach

look at that water!

I hope to meet this guy
I don't hope to meet this guy, but I'd like to see him

I'm sure we'll have many more great shots after tomorrow.  We'll be spending the night camping on the beach.  S'mores anyone?
Mmmmmmmm, S'mores........
Oh boy, that was an epic FAIL if ever there was one!  We left the house a little later than expected---12:30am as opposed to what should have been 12am but were optimistic considering Jesse zoomed across the island in record time.  He made it from Rincon to Fajardo in about two hours and thirty mins.  If you lived here, you'd know that that is INSANE.  Once we arrived to the Ferry station at Fajardo, it started to pour.  Tommy and I forgot to bring rain gear so I fashioned a poncho out of a plastic trash bag.  It still wasn't enough to keep the torrential downpour from soaking any exposed clothing so I was uncomfortably damp.  We stood in the confusing line and then, with only about 5 people in front of us, they declared the 4am ferry full.  So aggravatingly close!  The next ferry wasn't going to leave until 9---about 5 hours later.  I volunteered to hold our spot on line, popped in my earplugs and fell asleep on the concrete.  About an hour an a half after that, we decided it may just be too risky to try getting Jesse back in time for his flight the next day so we abandoned the endeavor with heavy hearts.  We ended up hanging out in San Juan for the day but only settled on a spot after a little bit of mindless meandering---it was only about 6am after all and we were all super brain dead.  The story doesn't end so tragically, as Jesse booked a hotel room and we got some good rest and showers with nice water pressure (a luxury I haven't enjoyed since I have been on this island).  We were up early the next morning, got in some snorkeling and then dropped Jesse off for his flight to LAX.  We miss you already, Buddy!  

Here is what we learned
When planning a trip to Culebra you MUST:
1. get to the Ferry station TWO hours ahead
2. bring rain gear
3. have some flexibility on when you plan on returning, nothing is guaranteed
4. be prepared to deal with a very poorly run system
5. try to bring as little as possible, they will charge you for extra bags.

Culebra has eluded us once again, but mark my words, we will enjoy you one day!!!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Me Encanta

When living somewhere where the language spoken is not primarily your own, you have to translate.  Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the experience of translation, especially when you are translating a "romance language", is learning that which cannot be translated.  When you switch over the meaning from one language to another, there isn't always a way to say it with the same feeling.  The literal translation of "me encanta" from Spanish to English is "I love", but it's really more poetic than that.  I always think of the word, "enchanting" and when you put "me" in front of a word in Spanish you are describing something that is effecting you or being done to you.  People in Puerto Rico love to use the phrase "me encanta" when describing something they enjoy or are enamored with.  I never really heard this phrase much within the Mexican Spanish I am more used to hearing in California.  It always conjures up an image in my head of a beautiful spell falling over one's being.  Puerto Ricans also love to say "es de....." which is kind of like their version of "ummm....".  That last one always cracks me up for some reason.

So we are settling into life in Rincon and well, me encanta. :)
I feel a sense of belonging here that I didn't feel in Hatillo or Old San Juan and I'm so relieved.  There is a big health movement making waves here.  I guess it's only been in the last year or so that the Yoga/Health community has really taken the reins from the more party-rific folks.  As we continue to try to find our business path, it's becoming quite clear that we may fit in best providing cuisine for the local villas who host Yoga retreats and other vacation getaways.  As opposed to opening a restaurant, we are moving towards just transferring Tommy's Private Chef business, Quality Thyme to the island.  We'll likely have to supplement our income beyond the Chef/Catering services but that's pretty standard here and we're thinking we'll likely try to sell some prepared foods at the local Farmer's Markets. The FM's here aren't nearly as big as the one's we are used to out in CA, but the health conscious folks are certainly hungry for what they offer.  We've already met a handful of Yoga teachers and Villa owners who are looking for exactly the type of services we are used to providing and if we go this pathway, we'll be able to make our own schedule and have full control over every aspect of our business without a huge start-up cost.  I just love the idea of providing healthy food for people on a case-by-case basis.

I'm super anxious to get working and feel like things are finally unfolding---it's been a huge undertaking transitioning to this new life--BUT it's happening.  Rincon is special and meeting so many like-minded individuals has been food for my soul.  It's country out here and yoga pants are becoming a bit of a uniform but you know, it's starting to feel like home.  And well, that feels unbelievably good.

Here are a few pics of our neighborhood.  Looking forward to a full moon beach bonfire tomorrow, which I'm sure will yield more great photos.  Love to you all y gracias para leyendo, Juni
Tommy enjoying a  beer at La Copa Llena

One of the most amazing snorkeling beaches, Steps

Sunset at Villa Cofresi

One of the local Yoga studios, La Paz

a neighbor's cool tree with interesting white leaves

Got Green?

large pods on the ground 

the pods come from these trees with the red flowers

close up of the red flowers

Hummingbird Paradise

We cannot figure out what these large round fruits are...literally the size of bowling balls!

My favorite coffee shop :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Visitor's Guide To Old San Juan

Hey Folks-
Juni here!  You may or may not have noticed that it's been a while since I have posted.  Or Tommy has posted.  Zorra has seemed unusually quiet as well.  What's been going on?!?!?!
Wellllllllll, let's just say that we moved beyond the "Honeymoon" stage of ex-pat living and have entered Phase II (aka "I'm so homesick!") and have been dealing with a few challenges.  I don't want to go into the details but the long and short of it all is that we are LEAVING San Juan (yes, ANOTHER move) and heading to where we originally intended to be, Rincón.  Rincón  is on the West Coast of the island and is a surfer mecca with a large ex-pat community.

Like the states, the West Coast is definitely the "crunchier" area.  You have your beach side yoga spots, fresh squeezed juice joints and plenty of sea glass jewelry floating around.  The air is sweeter, the breeze a little more soothing and the desire to take deep breaths more instinctual.  Kind of like a Spanish speaking Hawaii, with the addition of Caribbean mosquitoes (my only complaint, but I'll deal).  

Yep, that's where this California girl belongs.  Believe it or not, my Philadelphian fiance is also more at home there.  Sometimes he even surprises me with his "Granola Boy"ishness.  
So it's back to Plan A.  
We found a very spacious, and very cheerful little spot on the top of a hill with a view of Pools beach.  We are beyond anxious to get there and settle in to the life that we feel we really intended to live when we decided to embark on this journey. The lower unit/carport are ours:

At this point, you may be asking yourself, "Am I reading the right post?  The subject line says this is a visitor's guide to Old San Juan. WTF?".  Have no fear, it's not you, it's totally me.  I just wanted to get the aforementioned news out the way before I set you up with all the spots to check out if/when you come to visit the Old City.
Don't get me wrong, Old San Juan is amazing in it's way.  It has gorgeous architecture and history unlike any where else I've been in this world.   We've met wonderful people, with kind hearts and artistic souls.  We're just over city life and frankly, can't hang with the party lifestyle that exists here on a live-in basis.  There is a strong indication we are rapidly approaching middle age.  Or are we there already?  OH boy.

So without further ado, I present to you my guide to Old San Juan.  Come enjoy all this beautiful city has to offer!

 Old San Juan is a walking town and parking is quite difficult.  If possible, don't drive when you are on this leg of your trip.  If you do drive, however, street parking can be found if you are patient and parallel parking doesn't spin you into an anxiety attack. Buy the insurance on your rental though, dinged bumpers are kind of guaranteed...If you have more money than patience, park in one of the lots---the cheapest one is near the bus depot across from Banco Popular.  I think it maxes out at $15/day.  If you are going to be there more than three days, buy the monthly pass for around $45. 

Good walking shoes and/or flip flop confidence are essential.  If it rains, which it tends to do, or you happen to have a few drinks, which you will tend to do, slips are very commonplace.  Both Tommy and I have had the cobblestone shaped bruises to prove it too.

Pick up a free tourist map in practically ANY establishment.  It may be a little outdated, but it will really help you get around.


You'll have plenty to choose from, but here are our favorites:
La Taberna Lupulo, Calle San Sebastian
This hip joint boasts the best craft beer selection on the island.  Tommy worked here too! They have over 50 taps and about 120 bottles of different beers.  They also have lots of craft whiskey on hand, although some of it tastes like lighter fluid.  It does to me, at least.  The staff is super cool and they will give you tasters of different beers.  They draw both locals and tourists so you are sure to meet some interesting folks in this popular bar. 

The Mezzanine, Corner of Calle Cruz and Calle Sol (upstairs from St. Germaine Cafe)
A converted house of a deceased Puerto Rican revolutionary, this spot is really cute and almost has a San Fran vibe to it.  It's chill, stylish and has the best happy hour in town.  From 4-8pm they do half price on many awesome drinks and their tapas menu (you can get a glass of wine and a tapas plate for $8 total).  The service has always been good in my experience and the prices really can't be beat. 

Bar at the Food Court, Calle San Francisco at the top of Plaza Colon
Another bar that Tommy works at is owned by one of the nicest guys in town, our friend Ozzie, the bar at the food court boasts no-frills drinks and open air socializing opportunities.  We only come here during the day when the vibe is chill and if you ask why they have a sign that says, "Best Pina Coladas on the Island", you will be told it's because, "we put the most booze in it".  Cheap empanadas available.  Artesian Cocktails NOT available.  If you come at night, I can't really tell you what you are in for. 

El Batey, across from El Convento Hotel
This is the bar that all the bartenders come to after their shift is over and as soon as you walk in the door, you know that you will probably leave with a little street cred.  Stabbings and sheisty behavior are always kind of looming although if you don't get lippy you shouldn't have any problems.  Apparently, Benicio Del Toro loves to come here when he visits the homeland.  If you are into dive bars, this place is a MUST (and musty). Smoking is allowed inside the bar, so that may be a plus or minus for you.
Douglas Pub, Calle San Francisco
There's nothing Irish about this joint but I have always liked it.  It's dark and divey but not as intimidating as El Batey.  The first floor has a jukebox and stripper pole and the upstairs level has lots of pool tables.  The vibe changes often so sometimes it's chill, other night's you will think you are in the middle of some kind of black metal fraternity party.  Does that make any sense?  No? That's the charm.  WILD CARD! Drinks are no frills, relatively cheap and the staff is not uppity.  If you are there, look for our friend, Brian.  He'll be the guy playing Bruno Mars on the jukebox and possibly getting punched.
Best Coffee Shops

If you drink coffee, then you MUST try the Puerto Rican variety.  It's awesome.  They don't do the regular drip style here, it's pretty much all espresso and it's most commonly served "Cortado" (short shot) or "Con Leche" (latte).  If you don't drink coffee, but need to get connected to some free WiFi, check out our picks:
Cafe Poetico, Calle Cruz (near Supermax)
Not the cheapest prices in town but the quality to back it up.  The coffee here is really good and I have been blown away buy the food.  Mostly vegetarian, the food is always fresh and super tasty.  The desserts are some of the best I've ever had.  Definitely from scratch.  I may have broken my "no gluten" rule here on more than one occasion and deemed it "so totally worth it".  Don't tell the Paleo Police...The other half of the cafe houses a little gift shop and they do a weekly open mic Poetry reading.  Each table has blank paper and pencils in a little bucket.  They encourage patrons to leave their creative writing in a basket by the door.  The staff can sometimes be a little aloof but overall, very nice.  Sebastian, our favorite barista, is one of the coolest/nicest guys we've met here.  Good vibes, creative energy and charm.

Cuatro Sombras, Calle Recinte Sur
Not quite as comfy as Poetico but still cool. They are a farm-to-table joint.  This means they grow, roast and sell their own coffee produced on their own land.  Pretty cool.  

Food is very expensive here.  Tourist prices for sure.  There are lots of restaurants to choose from but here is what we recommend:
Breakfast Spots
Breakfast is the hardest meal to find here  but these are the better places.
Cafeteria Mallorca, Calle San Francisco
If you don't feel like eating any more Puerto Rican food, you can get a cheap diner-style breakfast here.  Nothing special but kind of cool to sit and people watch.  I like their paper hats too.
St. Germaine Cafe, Corner of Calle Cruz/Calle Sol
They have a few brunch specials and one of the best breakfast menus in town that will appeal to a Californian palate.
Do not expect to find many veggie options here.  You may also want to consider suspending your dietary restrictions while you are here.  If you order something like Rice & Beans, be aware that virtually ALL bean dishes will include pork.  Never assume something is Veggie and always ask!
Verde Mesa, I think this is on Calle Recinte Sur (all the way at the end)
This is supposedly one of the best restaurants in town and the menu is fresh and locally sourced/organic whenever possible.  The atmosphere is very charming and the owners are very well liked in the community.  Prices are a little on the higher end but people rave about it.  We never made it here but hope to one day.
Cheap Eats
As I mentioned, food here is super overpriced.  The best value we've found has been the $7 plate at 
Delicias Columbianas, back of the Food Court, Calle San Francisco
The meat can be a little chewy but you if you are doing things on a serious budget, this is the kind of place that you can get rice and beans to last you all day if you need to roll like that...
Mezzanine, tapas Happy Hour, corner of Cruz/Sol
Are you sick of me jocking this place yet?  As I mentioned before, the Happy Hour here serves half price tapas.  Not the best tapas you'll eat ever, but more than decent. 

Puerto Rican Food
You have to at least try it!  I think it's delicious, but can be a bit heavy.  Lots of flavor!
Cafe Puerto Rico, across from Plaza Colon
A lot of tourists come here, but so do the locals.  That's always a good sign.
Barrachina, Calle Tetuan
They claim they invented the Pina Colada but so do a few other spots.  Just as pricey as any other joint but the service is very good and the atmosphere is nice. They speak good english too.
El Jibarrito, Calle Sol
I was told by Puerto Ricans that this is one of the best places to get Puerto Rican food  but the prices are a bit high so we haven't made it in yet.
The only real grocery store in Old San Juan sucks.  If you have a car, go to the SuperMax in Condado, about 15 minutes away.  It will be worth it, I promise, and they have an amazing/cheap deli section.  If you  have no choice though, you can get the basics at the Old San Juan location, but they'll be expensive and kind of lacking in quality:
SuperMax, Calle Cruz across from Marshalls

Buen Provecho!

I kind of think the only way to go these days is vacation rentals.  Usually cheaper than a hotel and with way more amenities, you basically rent an apartment or house.  You can also cook your own food if you have dietary restrictions.  Here are some good sites to browse what's available:


I've also heard that this hotel is the nicest boutique hotel in the city if you'd rather get that kind of treatment:
Hotel El Convento
This is an old convent, converted.  Some say it's haunted, but I've heard no real proof.

Live Music and Dancing:
Nuyorican Cafe, in the alley off of Calle San Francisco near El Asador

DON'T BE SCURRED BUT DO BEWARE------------------------------------------------------------------------
Like I mentioned, everything here is at Tourist prices.  I just ducked into a mini-mart to buy a roll of paper towels and a single roll was $4.25.  I was pissed but they have you by the balls.  Or in my case, your figurative "Lady Balls".

If you need to do laundry, there are a few joints around town but expect to pay a minimum of $6/load.  Also, don't expect the clothes to be dry when they come out of the dryer.  You can drop all your stuff off and they will wash/dry/fold but you can easily rack up a nice bill this way.  At this point, June 2013, they charge $1.50/lb of clothes.  You can easily drop $20 this way on a large load of laundry.  Boo!
Lavanaderia Del Sol, is on Calle Sol
There is another spot on Calle San Francisco near the Food Court, don't know the name, look for the sign out front.

If you don't see prices posted on things, ask first.  Tommy ordered a Ketel One Martini at a restaurant last night that was off the menu and they charged him $16.  Yowza!

Well there you have it, my unofficial guide to Old San Juan.  Go see the forts, make some friends and take photos. Old San Juan photographs beautifully!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

El Morro

So we are officially residents of Old San Juan. We are settled into our new apartment and are quickly learning the neighborhood and meeting lots of our neighbors  There are so many beautiful things about the old city. The architecture, blue cobblestone streets, fountains and sweeping vista points overlooking the ocean. But the most stunning of all for me has to be El Morro. El Morro is a 16th century citadel designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies. Luckily for us the days of seaborne enemies are over and now El Morro serves as a national park. It is only about 4 blocks from our new apartment and I can say with confidence that it has to be one the most epic dog parks around! Like almost everywhere in Puerto Rico it is dog friendly and I can only imagine how much it blow Zorra's little mind when we go on our long walks all around the grounds. Hell, it blows my mind! The grounds are said to take up 70 acres. More than half of that consists of a giant open grass field that approaches the fort. To put that in perspective, a football field is just over 1 acre. Yesterday we went on a nice long family walk together through the grounds and around a path that follows the water and leads you back into town. I brought the GoPro with me. Here are some shots that capture just some of the epic beauty of this national treasure. For more info about the history of El Morro click here.