Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

In my fourth and final post of 2012, I shall do my annual Year in Review.

2011 Year in Review
2010 Year in Review

This is what has been going down this year:

The MBA Project

In 2012 I joined the pilot of USD's new Leadership Fellows program, a program in which second year MBA students facilitate conversations with (mostly) first year students to assess their team dynamics, individual behavior, and leadership role(s).  It's been a pretty enriching experience for me and we are receiving positive feedback from the other students that they are getting something out of it as well.  I've been glad to be a part of the shaping of USD's MBA program and will continue to participate as a Fellow next year.  Over the past year, I've steadily raised my GPA and found more of a focus for my future career plans, and perhaps most importantly, I've made lots of new friends, which is easier to do when you start to take classes with more folks outside of your cohort.

As of now, I am 2/3rds of the way finished with my degree, approved for graduation in August 2013, and a mere 4 days away from flying to Shanghai, China to work on a student consulting project for a fashion accessory company.  To say that I am excited about all of this is an understatement.  USD only does one big commencement ceremony in the spring semester, so I'm going to go ahead and walk in May and finish my last 5 credits in July & August.

Fun and Fitness

Well, even though I have been spending a lot less time on the pavement or in the gym since I started school, I am glad to report that I have still done a bit here and there.

Iron Girl 5k in November 2012 (a smidge better time than my 2011 time, too!)

Awesome 80s Run in October 2012

The Hot Chocolate 5k in March 2012

The Mermaid Run in February 2012

I can think of at least 3 or 4 more races that I need to sign up for in 2013.  I was on a Ragnar team with my company (click here to learn more), but I've given up my place on the team because I was offered a spot in the inaugural Kappa Kappa Gamma Leadership Academy 2.0 that same weekend!

As for the dancing, Desert Silk officially disbanded early in the year.  It takes a lot to run and support a dance troupe.  Between the six of us, we were dealing with school (me and my MBA, another gal and her PhD dissertation), family illnesses, jobs, and just the day to day.  I made peace with my decision not to dance again until I finish grad school.  In the meantime, we're all still friends who get together socially and for the occasional 5k race which is the #1 most important thing anyway. :)

Friends and Family

I wrote earlier this year about how we lost our Cousin PJ in February.  It's still bewildering.  The family is still healing.

I turned 30 in September, and my Auntie Carmen hosted an 80s Themed Birthday Party for me at her home up in LA, at which many family members and my friend Beth were in attendance!

Totally awesome cake courtesy of Ana and Ben, whom I commissioned for the task.

I was really glad to see so many get 80s crazy and dress up with me

Later that month, I finally, FINALLY reunited with my 2705 girls.  For those of you who don't know, in 2002 I participated in a Disney College Program internship in Orlando, FL.  I met many incredible people that I still keep in touch with to this day, but four of them are particularly special to me, because we managed to live in an apartment for 5 months and still come out the other side of it as friends. Haha.  I've seen Tina and Alyse several times over the past decade (!), but I haven't seen Michelle since 2006.  Well, Michelle got married in her home state of New York and I flew out a few days early to have adventures in upstate NY and Vermont.  And, as if that excitement wasn't enough, Alyse will get married next June.  Two reunions in as many years?  I can hardly believe it!

Now and Then: September 2012 vs December 2002.  Looking good, ladies!

In November, I kinda sorta surprised my BFF for her baby shower.  I say kinda sorta because she's just too damn smart for her own good and pretty much figured it out by the time I flew out there. ;-)  It was a real toss-up as to whether or not I could make a short trip to Pittsburgh work with my crazy schedule, but in the end I did it.  It was an insane three day whirlwind that included an all-day stay in that cursed Newark Airport, but it was soooo worth it!  It's not every day that your best friend has her first baby, let alone boy and girl twins.  They arrived just over a week ago in time for their first Christmas, and I can't wait to meet them the next time I go home!

Auntie Ria can't wait to meet the twins!

Speaking of new babies, my brother and his wife announced that Baby Taylor #3 is coming in April 2013.  Whose got two thumbs and is super stoked?  Tia Maria, right here.
You guys ready to share those with baby brother or sister next year?

The Wanderlust

I suppose that since I already devoted an entire post to Eurotrip 2012, I don't need to re-cap that again.  Suffice it to say, it was one of the brightest spots in my year and, as always, I am raring to go back, especially to the UK.

Eleanor Rigby and me in Liverpool, May 2012
Meanwhile, I did some traveling Stateside to new territory.

Over Labor Day Weekend I saw the Bay Area for the first time when I spent a few nights with my Kappa sister Cat and her fiancé (now husband) in Burlingame.

Cat was gracious enough to play host and tour guide for the weekend.

The Golden Gate bridge was hiding from us when we got to the lookout point.  Jerk.
It was a great trip that I would definitely make again.  In fact, I wouldn't rule it out of the short list of cities that I would leave SD for.

As I mentioned earlier, I visited upstate New York and Vermont for Michelle's wedding.  I've done NY, but Vermont was new to me and I. loved. it.  Absolutely gorgeous state and extremely friendly people.

"Ehmagerd, Vermernt!"
Happy Holidays

This Christmas, Dad and Pam finally returned to California for a visit.  I say finally because the last time they were here was in 2007!  They'll be in town through a few days after New Year's and I've been having a ball showing them around the city, eating at both great local restaurants and here at Chez Amelia, and we even made a trip to Disneyland for Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas from the Browns!

Their grandkitty is getting spoiled by all the attention she's received this week!
In 2013...

I look forward to my first trip to Asia at the end of the week and hope that I'll be able to squeeze in some more international travel again by the end of the year.

My eyes are on the prize with my second and final spring semester about to start in a little less than a month.  It'll be another crazy 4 months crammed full of coursework, but I remain optimistic that I'll continue to learn and enjoy time with my classmates.  After that, I am still very much interested in pursuing work abroad, and I will be particularly interested to see how I hold up doing an intensive consulting project in Shanghai.  How well I do there should be very telling of how well I would be able to cope with a management consulting position in a foreign country.

Other than that, I aim as always to be healthy and happy in the New Year.  Wishing the same to you and yours! Cheers!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tapas Night!

I love "small plates".  Appetizers, starters, Vorspeisen, amuse-bouche, dim sum, tapas...whatever you call it, I want it.  Little bits of lots of things.  One thing I had put on my "30 by 30" list (thirty things to do before my 30th birthday) is to host a tapas party at my apartment.

I actually don't have much direct experience with proper Spanish tapas--so I'm mentally adding that to my much longer term list of things to do whilst traveling abroad--and I did some research.  Well, first I invited my friends over, then I did my research.  I figured that sending out the call to gather would be my chief motivation.

Anyway, this Friday I had a couple of my gal pals over and we enjoyed the following...

Tortilla de Patatas
A classic Spanish tortilla de patatas.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was a popular tapa because I've actually eaten it several times before. When my three brothers and I were quite young and both our parents were active duty military, they decided to participate in an au pair program so that we could have in home care when they needed to go on TDY.  (For you civilians out there, that means "temporary duty", or in more civilan equivalent terms, going on a business trip.  And I will confess--I just Googled that.  I grew up just using the acronym, as many military brats do, and didn't know the actual words.)  Anyway, we had two au pairs in succession, and they were both lovely young women from Spain.  Silvia and Maria both made tortillas all the time and we just gobbled them up.

This time around, I solicited Facebook for help, knowing that my cousin Carmel, who is an excellent cook and has spent some quality time in Spain, would answer my call.  Which she did.  About 30 seconds after I posted. (I loved that.)  My Tia Alicia, who happens to be Spanish, also shared this YouTube video with me.  

So between the recipe I got from Carmel and this video, and a chat with my Mom that bridged the two, I managed to turn out what I believe was a pretty damn tasty tortilla.  My friends Danielle and Stephanie agreed! Yay!

Then, I laid out the classic cold meats and cheeses.  Starting from the left: Iberico, Cabra al Vino, and Manchego cheeses, with champagne grapes nestled in between.  Middle: a big dollop of goat cheese, marinated bell peppers, and big fat Spanish olives stuffed with pimento.  Right: Jamon Serrano, Salchicon, and Chorizo Cantimpalo, garnished with some basil I had laying around.

And what tapas party is complete without something from the sea?  This is shrimp cooked in olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon, and cumin.  The sauce was kinda weak after the initial pass, so I actually removed the shrimp from the pan and let that sauce cook down some more with a dollop butter and it was fantástico!

And what's that behind the pan of shrimp, you ask?

Sangria Ria strikes again
Delicious sangria.  My recipe is an amalgamation of a few recipes that I found on  It involves rum, citrus fruits, sugar, and a bottle of dry red wine.  I've made it before, but it's been several years.

Steph also brought over some Campo Viejo Rioja that tasted like liquid velvet and paired well with pretty much everything.

And then there was dessert.  I've been experimenting with flourless baked goods lately and decided to try my hand at this recipe that I found on Pinterest.  This is were I perhaps departed the most from the Spanish theme.  I just wanted something dark and chocolatey.  You'll never guess the secret ingredient...unless you look closely at the top right of the photo.

It looked great coming out of the oven, however, it had, like, no rise, so I decided to double layer it up by cutting it in half, then filling it with a fruit mixture that I made with some cherry preserves, rum, half and half, and a drop of almond extract.  The result was this...

I wrote it down in case I had too much sangria to remember it later.
 A chocolate torte with cherry rum filling.  It was pretty darn sweet and would have paired well with cafe con leche.  Unfortunately all that beautiful powdered sugar reabsorbed into the cake and disappeared by the time I brought it out for consumption so it didn't look as pretty later. Haha.  My friend Danielle also brought over a bunch of gorgeous fresh strawberries and a whipped cream/cheesecake mixture that complimented the sweetness of the cake nicely.

All in all, I'd say it went well!  Good food, good conversation, and pretty easy to clean up.  I'd definitely do this again, and I'm thrilled that I had half a tortilla left over to eat for breakfast this weekend.

But before I go, I must make another huge confession...

I cheated.

Just a little...with the help of my friend, the one they call Trader Joe.


Worth every penny!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Whole Wide World

I've just returned from another amazing trip to Europe, with a bonus side trip to the UK!  Some highlights include... very first venture into the actual city of Frankfurt.  I've been flying in/out of the airport exclusively since 1995, but had never been to the city itself before.  Neither had Ralph, so it worked out nicely for both of us to walk around for a few hours and see the police getting ready for another Occupy Frankfurt protest.
Behold, the mighty Euro!
...another visit with my high school buddy Liz and her new husband Stefan.  What wonderful company, such laughs!  I wish the four of us all lived closer so we could get together more often.

Having a drink in a random biergarten after walking around Dortmund all afternoon
...spending a day at Europa Park, a theme park that I can only describe as the love child of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Epcot, and Disneyland.  We lucked out in having gorgeous weather and little wait time for anything.

...visiting my cousin Elissa in Liverpool, England.  I had been wanting to go see her ever since I found out she was living there.  It was my first visit to the UK and I absolutely loved it.

Elissa, John Lennon, and me near the Cavern Club
...spending a day in London all by me onesie.  I am in love with this city, no question.  The highlight of my day (and there were many, in fact), was just after I had finished walking around the Borough Market and the Southwark Cathedral, a Brit came up to me and asked for directions to Upper Borough Street.  I had been traipsing all over the city with nothing more than a little purse and a bottle of water and conspicuously snapping photos with my iPhone, so I'd like to think that I really didn't give off the air of a tourist.  (Or an American, for that matter.  Not that being an American is a bad thing.)  Anyway, I just happened to know where he wanted to go, and was more than happy to reply!

In front of "Big Ben". (Yeah, I know that's technically the bells inside and not the clock/tower.)
...briefly visiting France (the city in Germany where I was staying as my "home base" is only about a 20 minute drive across the border)

...and, finally, I use this photo of a delicious chocolate cake and raspberry torte to represent the fact that 
a.) I ate really well for those two weeks, and
b.) I was extremely well taken care of by Ralph, and his family, and his friends.  
Mrs. M's birthday cakes were delicious! Super lecker!

We stayed at his folks' house in southwestern Germany after the initial weekend up north in Dortmund.  The last couple of days at the end of my visit, Ralph had to go to France for work, so I was there "on my own", but not really.  I hung out with local friends, the got taken on a tour of the Black Forest by his older sister and her beau, and got a ride to the airport from them later...I was in quite good hands!  This arrangement was of particular advantage to his mom, who finally had a chance to practice her English with a real live American, and likewise I was able to get some practice in on my German.   Our conversations started out with her speaking in English and me answering in German, and gradually became a mish-mash of both of us using both.  It was fun!  Yeah, all this time I could have been speaking German with Ralph as well, but, let's face it, once you establish a relationship in a language, it's very difficult to change it unless you both make considerable effort to do so.  R and I have long since established our friendship in English, so meeting his parents was an opportunity to do the same, but in German.  (In the case of pops, it was necessary--he only speaks Romanian, Hungarian, and German!)

It was a pretty fantastic two weeks with lots of walking, eating, laughing, napping, and all manner of craziness.  Next year I hope I can make it over to Spain to attend Elissa's wedding.  But, if not, rest assured that I will find some other excuse to hop back over to the EU.

Until next time!  Tschuß!

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Beginnings

Oh, hello there dwindling reader audience.  You're still here?  God bless you.

It's been a crazy four months since I last wrote my 2011 Year in Review.

Let's see...

  • I survived a 4 week Statistics class in January.
  • I lost a dear cousin to an undiagnosed chronic illness in February.  
  • And last month, I.FINALLY.MOVED.
  • And today?  I got drunk and a little sick on caffeine*.

But let's back up to February for a bit, because I wanted to write about it at the time.

A Loss
September 2007.  Cousin PJ is seated to my right.
I have a large family, the kind you don't often see now adays.  My mother has 5 brothers and 5 sisters, who went forth and proliferated about two dozen children between them.  The first set of cousins that I knew belonged to my mom's third eldest sister, Ana.  Or my "Auntie Ana", as I call her.  She also happens to be my Godmother.  I was born in Tacoma, and she and her family lived nearby in Seattle.  As such, I spent many holidays and garden variety visits with that little section of my extended relatives for the first 8 years of my life, and for that reason we have a special bond.

When my family moved away from Washington in 1991, I didn't see a whole lot of the Seattle clan after that.  There were a few visits here and there, and, thankfully, I have been able to see them a few times over the last 4 or 5 years since I moved to the West Coast.  One of my fondest visits was for Carmel's wedding in October 2010.

This February, on Valentine's Day, actually, I received a heart stopping text message from my younger brother around midday. "Hey ria apparently there has been a death in our extended family, our cousin PJ just died, auntie carmen just passed it onto Mom."

How do you even process news like that?  He would have been 36 this year.  Over the course of the next several days, we found out that he had been suffering from acute liver failure brought on by a childhood illness.  I flew up to Seattle to attend the memorial and support my family.  If there was any joy to be had in this, it was that so many of us were able to travel from all over the country to be there for my Aunt and cousins, and even in the dark hours there was laughter.  I didn't know PJ terribly well as an adult, but one thing that I know we shared was the extreme love of our big, nutty family.  I felt especially glad to know that he, too, made the move to Southern California with the intent to spend more time getting to know them.  (I had a similar goal when I moved here in 2006.)  He eventually relocated back to Washington, and I was glad to learn that Western Washington University granted him an honorary degree posthumously.  He was an extremely talented writer and would have finished his degree in journalism this summer.

So, dear Cousin PJ, here's to you and your life.  You are much loved and missed.  We will all see you again someday.

A Gain

Just over a month ago today, I made the move that I have been talking about since before I started school.  There have been several challenges leading up to it--mostly financially driven--but by fortunate timing and the help of a nice educational tax credit, I was able to find a sweet 1 bedroom apartment in the hip and happening Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.  It's technically nestled between Hillcrest and Northpark, and it's, well fabulous.  Those who know me well know that fabulous is usually my code word for gay.  And rest assured that I do not mean that in a pejorative or derogatory way.  It's San Diego's gay neigborhood, and I just love it.  LOVE it.  "If [Hillcrest] wasn't so gay," I said to a friend this weekend, "I'd marry it." 
Most San Diego neighborhoods have one of these nifty signs

There are great restaurants and shops nearby, it's a stone's throw from Balboa Park, and best of all, it's a 10 minute drive from campus.  It's also a 30 mile drive from work now, but so far that isn't ruffling my feathers.  As long as I'm in school, I have to make a long drive no matter where I live because the office and campus are a good 25ish miles apart.  So I might as well live somewhere great, right?  I happen to be very fortunate in working for an employer that allows me to work from home, which I do about twice a week.

Miss Amelia surveying the view from our new pad

Current Affairs & Beyond

School is going well.  I took a course during the "Intersession" period between Fall and Spring semesters this January.  I packed my schedule with 4 classes this Spring, and 2 of them have already come and gone.  One lasted from the end of January until mid-April, and the other was a 2 weekend crash course in March.  Now I'm coming down the home stretch with the other two.  I can already see the diaspora of my cohort as people start to accelerate or slow down to comply with their near term goals, but we still remain a pretty tight group.  I would give shout outs, but interestingly enough, I'm not Facebook friends with anyone...yet.  And Facebook is my main source of blog readership.  I don't really know why, but some part of me is still not ready to let my school and social network worlds collide outside of LinkedIn.

And in other news, I'm just a hair over 3 weeks away from Eurotrip 2012.  This time I'm going to spend the majority of my time in Germany.  My gracious host Ralph is starting a new job just outside of Munich this month, which is especially exciting for me because I've not been to Bavaria in all my journeys to Deutschland.  We will also likely enjoy a visit from my lately married friends Liz and Stefan who plan to drive down from the Netherlands, and since Ralph has to do some orientation training in France towards the end of my two week stay, guess who's going on a road trip along the Côte d'Azur?  Needless to say, I'm really, really excited.

In the meantime, I'd better get some dinner in me while I come down off of this sickening caffeine buzz that I hope never to repeat.  Seriously, who knew that the equivalent of 20-25 oz. Starbucks coffee over the course of the day would make me feel like I just knocked back half a handle of gin?  I leave you with this disturbing Public Service Announcement.