Friday, April 27, 2012

Memories Fill the Imagination with Joy!

It’s been almost week since we got back from Peru. The first few days back in San Francisco were a bit difficult because it was just the 2 of us (and Bomber) in the house, a big change after having been with family and friends all the time while we were in Lima. After having lived in the US for almost 9 years, I sort of got used to a more individualistic lifestyle in which every person minds their own business and where gatherings are a bit more planned. Spending over 10 days in Lima made me really miss those casual meetings, the unexpected visits, and the constant contact with people. I guess you can take the girl out of Peru, but you can‘t take Peru out of the girl after all.

Since getting back I haven’t had much time to go out and about and take photos. It is sort of a bummer because a couple of days ago the sky looked gorgeous with small puffy clouds on it. I was walking Bomber and wished I’d grabbed the camera. Next time.

Meats and cheese in Madrid
While I was in Lima I also was able to sell several sets of greeting cards. I had made some sets to have ready to ship, and decided to bring them with me in case anybody was interested. Turns out some people were. Also in Lima, my lovely sister in law (who got some cards herself) told me about some fabulous ideas she had for the final decorating touches in her home. She mentioned a very specific kind of art wall she was looking for to hang up in her kitchen. She wanted a black and white photo with a splash of red in it. Her kitchen is quite modern and has some touches of red, which makes it look really cool. Anyway, I told her I would browse through my photos and see if I could come up with something she might like.

Cafe/Restaurant in Lisbon's Alfama district
Yesterday I was finally able to go over some of my over 30,000 photos and I did find some awesome food-related photos that could do the trick for her. I edited the ones I thought she might like, and ended up with a pretty good selection. I’ll be sending the photos to her later today.

Browsing through my photos also brought me back to some of the amazing places Joe and I had traveled to. I often find myself getting lost in my thought, thinking about magical places far away.  I think my next entry will be about one of those adventures, or at least about a part of them!

A door in Spain - Puente La Reina
Upon my return to San Francisco, I also had two more photo-related projects to deal with. My good friend Kirthi, who lives in Chennai, India, had ordered a set of cards right before I left for Peru. She ordered the Doors of Spain collection as a greeting cards set. On Monday I put the set together, made the cards and shipped it out to Chennai. I was so happy with her choice of photos.

The Doors of Spain are a small sample of the gorgeous doors we saw while walking 300 of the 800 kilometers of the Way of St. James on September-October 2011. Some of the doors belonged to medieval buildings, some to cathedrals, and others to homes. They are one of my favorite collections and, from what I see on Etsy, they are one of people’s favorite collections as well!

For my second project I had to print a large photo to donate to a non-profit organization in Sacramento, California. Shortly before leaving for Lima, I was contacted by a person at Born Free USA (, a non profit working to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, and protecting wildlife (including endangered species) in their natural habitats. They also work to encourage compassionate conservation globally, which is really cool!
Beautiful Giants at Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Wendy, the person who contacted me, was looking for in kind donations for an online auction Born Free was going to be conducting later this year. In her search for donations she found my Etsy store and, in it, she found a photo she thought would make a great item for the auction. The photo was that of 2 elephants in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

In 2010, Joe and I went to Tanzania to volunteer at a locally run orphanage for 2 weeks. During one of the weekends we were in Arusha, we decided to try and go on a safari. After looking around we found a great place (Sunny Safari) and on we went to Ngorongoro Crater, a place some people believe to be the Garden of Eden. We decided to only do a 1 day safari, and we think that was enough for us. During our 8-hour safari we saw all the wild animals you can think of (except maybe for giraffes!). We saw over 20 lions, several hyenas, zebras, water buffalo, ostriches, hippopotamus, foxes, jackals, several kinds of birds and other small mammals, and we also saw 4 amazing elephants. We spent a long time looking at the ones in the photo I’m donating for the auction. They are such majestic creatures!

Zebra in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Ngorongoro was an unbelievably amazing place to go to. A place where animals roam freely, the way animals used to all over our world many years ago. I think the only other time I was lucky enough to get a glimpse into what the world must have looked like before humans took over and started displacing wildlife from their natural habitats, was in Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, buffalo have the ability to block the road and people simply have to wait for them to cross.

Us humans, we take up so much space and are sort of bad at sharing our planet with other animals… It’s nice to see that there are still some places on Earth where animals rule. But we must remember that many (or most) of them are under threat by development projects such as roads, bridges, mining, etc., and we should do our best to try to protect them.

San Francisco on a cloudy day
Going back to the donation, like with Kirthi’s order, I had asked Wendy if I could send the photo upon my return from Peru, so I had to do that right away on Monday as well. The photo I donated was printed in 11x14 size and it looked terrific! I’m so very excited about the idea of having one of my photos in an auction, but it’s even cooler that the money raised from the sale will go towards a cause I totally support: protecting wildlife! We’ll see how much it sells for!

That is it for right now. This week is supposed to be gorgeous and I’m looking forward to some beach photography! That is always good. I will post more photos soon!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Family and History as an Inspiration

Flowers at the park
I am in Lima, Peru right now, visiting my family. Joe and I came here to be part of my nephew’s 3rd birthday celebration and to spend a week with family and friends.  Our time here has been wonderful so far and we expect the days to come to continue to bring lots of fun and joy. Of course, for me, traveling to Lima also meant a good chance to snap some great photos of the city, and capturing some of the beauty you find all around it.

It’s been hot since we got here. The sun is so strong in Lima. According to my siblings, the radiation levels in the city are some of the highest. Despite these warnings, I still managed to burn myself by walking around the city without sunscreen. I have heard several times that Peru is one of the countries that will be most impacted by climate change and, experiencing such a warm fall (over 30 degrees Centigrade at times!) makes me wonder if the changes are already starting to be felt.

The birthday boy!
I would be lying if I didn’t mention that my favorite photography day so far has been my nephew’s birthday party. My nephew, Nicolas, is half Italian-Peruvian and half Japanese-Peruvian. We learned that in Japanese culture, it is important to celebrate the third year of life, so my sister went ahead and planned a big, fun party. At this moment, Nicolas is very into cars, trucks and anything with wheels, so my sister threw him a Cars-themed party that included big decorations, a gigantic inflatable slide and bouncy area, a trampoline, lots of yummy food, and a children’s show that revolved around car-racing!

It was a big party and they probably won’t be throwing another big party like this for a great while. My sister told me they had to work hard to make this happen!

Nicolas and his presents!
Some may say that such a party is too much for kids and, if it weren’t my nephew’s party, I might agree. But, once you are in the party and you see all the kids having fun, and all the family and friends spending time with each other while the kids play, it really seems worth it. For those who are not familiar with birthday parties in Peru, or at least in Lima, grownups are usually invited to the party along with their kids. To Joe, who grew up in the US, this is totally different as grownups are usually not included in kids’ birthday parties. I personally like the whole family thing because it brings everyone together to celebrate.

My cousin's exhibit at MALI
Once the party was over, we went back to my sister’s house and unloaded several bags of presents onto the living room floor. In total, Nicolas ended up with 71 presents from his friends at school and his aunts and uncles! He was one excited kid. My sister is now in the process of sorting through the presents and seeing which ones he’ll get to open, which ones he’ll get to keep and which ones he’ll have to give away to kids who are less fortunate. As she pointed it out, a 3-year old doesn’t need to have SO many toys!

Yes, that day was by far my favorite one. Not only did I see Nicolas celebrate, but I also saw my nephew Adrian and met my niece Julieta.

But, not all photos that are taken with love make for good photos to sell or turn into cards. I mean, I would buy a million photos of my nephews and niece, but except for my siblings and my mom, I don’t think many other people would be interested in them!

Historic Center of Lima

My second favorite photo shoot happened on accident.  On Monday we jumped on a cab headed to Downtown Lima, to the Parque de la Exposicion, a park that includes several art museums, a small lake where you can rent rowboats, a public art exhibit, and many other attractions geared towards public enjoyment. We were going there to catch an art exhibit featuring one of my cousins, David Zink Yi ( David is an artist who currently lives in Berlin, Germany, but who is now spending some time in Lima with his family while his exhibition is taking place.

Colonial Balconies
Unfortunately, we forgot that on Mondays most museums are closed so, when we got there, the guard told us we had to come back some other day. We were then forced to change our plans. We decided to start walking towards the heart of the historic downtown, an area which includes the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) and many other gorgeous historic colonial buildings and churches. The historic center of Lima was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

We walked through the different plazas, and along the Jiron de la Union, a pedestrian street lined with colorful colonial buildings that have now become stores, tattoo parlors, and restaurants. On the Jiron it is common for people to offer you services for your trip or products such as maps or tours.

Balcony in the Municipality
After walking in the heat for a while, we reached the Plaza Mayor, the main plaza, which is surrounded by the Palacio de Gobierno, the Municipality and the Cathedral of Lima. The Plaza in itself is quite impressive but the buildings around it are even better! Lima is nearly 500 years old (founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro) and was the main post of the Spanish Crown during the era of the Conquistadores. The buildings show the importance of the city and speak of the historical events that took place inside them. I personally think it is quite amazing and puzzling that some people who come to Peru skip Lima altogether!

Jiron de la Union
We walked around the plaza and I snapped photos of the monuments and buildings. My main interest was photographing the historic balconies of the buildings surrounding the plaza.

Apparently, besides having been known as the City of the Kings, Lima also used to be known as the City of Balconies, with about 1,600 of them still around the historic center. The balconies are of Arab influence and were built in the late 17th and 18th centuries, most of them during Colonial times, and some during Republican times. These balconies are made of carved wood and are closed balconies.

I had a photographic feast with these beautiful balconies. As you can see in the photos, they are huge in size and the designs are very varied as well.

Plaza Mayor
When we were done, we headed out to meet family for lunch and then to hang out with my older nephew Adrian. The rest of our stay here has been like that, hanging out with family, taking it easy and enjoying the low-key lifestyle of the city. It is going to be hard to leave and go back to work and life, but maybe, at some point in the future, we’ll be living this slow-paced lifestyle everyday.

Downtown Lima

Lima´s coast

Sunset on the coast

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just a Weekend in the City

Poppies overlooking SF
As I sit here, it’s raining outside. I don’t mind the rain, I actually really enjoy it. My father used to say that after it rained, or after you watered your plants, everything turned green to thank you for the water. When it rains, I think of our planet engaging in a wonderful cycle of love and reciprocity.

There is one downside to the rain, and that is that it keeps me inside. I mean, I could go out in the rain and try to keep warm and stay dry—in fact, I do, when I take Bomber out throughout the day—but I’d much rather stay inside, warm and dry.  This is why I’m happy that last weekend Joe, Bomber and I spent most of our time outdoors, walking around the city and discovering new alleys, new parks, new street art, and new ways to have fun in San Francisco.

Our wanderings took us to wonderful overlooks of the city where I was able to snap a few photos of Alcatraz, a pirate boat, Coit Tower, and more. But, my favorite walk of the weekend was the one through Chinatown, up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, and back.

Alcatraz and Pirate Boat
We usually go to Coit Tower at night, as an evening walk for Joe to stretch his legs, and for Bomber to burn some energy. It’s a great distance from our home and we really love the walk. The night walk is pretty fun and relaxing and there are not many people around and it’s pretty quiet.

The walk is totally different during the day, especially during a weekend day. As we started going up Telegraph Hill, we started seeing more and more tourists. I didn’t really mind. In fact, it was sort of fun to see all these people, most of whom are probably not used to walking around cities, very excitedly going up this very steep hill. I felt bad for people who reached the top of the stairs huffing and puffing, but I was also impressed at their determination to climb all the stairs, after having gone up a steep hill, just to reach the top of the hill, see Coit Tower, and admire the gorgeous views of San Francisco and the Bay.  I could almost hear them telling their families and friends about those darn steep hills in the city, “How do people live there?” The answer to that is easy: you learn what the flat streets are, and get lots of practice walking on hills when you can’t avoid them.

Classic Cable Car!
Anyway, back to the walk. After we reached the top of Telegraph Hill, we decided to go down a different side of the hill just for fun. We usually take the better-lit path in order to avoid any uncomfortable situation, but this time, during the daylight hours, we could choose any way we wanted! We found a new flight of lushly landscaped stairs and started going down. At some point we reached a road and, on the side of the road, an alleyway with stairs took us down to a beautiful garden. Now, it’s spring out here, so you can imagine all the flowers that were blooming and all the fragrances that were lingering in the air. It was quite magical to find this oasis of flowers and greenery in the middle of the city!

Red Door
The three of us walked around the gardens, trying to take it all in. We admired the views we got, and then started contemplating what are next move should be.  As we descended all the way down to Filbert Street, we again crossed paths with people who were really struggling to go up the stairs. Were we in any better shape? We asked ourselves and decided to test ourselves and see if we really were.
Coit Tower

Once we reached the bottom of the Filbert Stairs, we had a drink of water and, immediately, turned around and started going back up the way we had come from.  Even though, everyday we go up the very steep hill we live on, I have to say that climbing up almost 400 stairs was no easy task. We were not exactly out of breath, but we could certainly feel our hearts beating harder and our lungs trying to get a bit more air. All of a sudden, instead of being shocked at the fact that people would get winded going up some dinky stairs, we were quite impressed by the fact that people in their 50s and 60s, who are not used to hills, were going up the hill on foot. I guess you can say that you need to walk in someone else’s shoes (or up their stairs!) before you can form an opinion about them, right?

Flower in Bloom
After exploring new roads and new alleys, we started making our way home. This time we chose the flat road back. 

Walking around is my #1 favorite activity. I love it for so many reasons. Walking makes you healthier and allows you to explore places you cannot go on your car. Also, walking allows you to better take in your surroundings, it brings your closer to the Earth and to the people around you.

So, even though San Francisco has lots of very fun parks, I really loved the one we found. Yes, it is a bit overrun by tourists, but because we found it by accident, it still feels like our little secret. Look at some of the photos from our weekend to get a taste of the beauties I encountered while moving on my own 2 feet.

Fun truck on Nob Hill

For more photos, check out my Etsy store at:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Low Carbon Emission Photo Shoot

Store front in SF Chinatown
 Yesterday, March 31st, was Earth Hour. For those of you who are not familiar with it, Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 as an effort to offset the effects of climate change by turning the lights off for one hour. This year, it was expected that over 135 countries and territories were going to turn off their lights for an hour at 8:30 local time.  I know that an hour might not be much in terms of offsetting climate change, but at least it’s nice to know that so many people are willing to come together for one hour to do something symbolic for our planet. My husband and I turned off all of our lights and electronics at 8:30 and sat around chatting, in front of a nice fire, until way past 10 p.m. It was a lovely end to a lovely day.

Fun door in SF Chinatown
Our day started off great. We are both working on creative projects so we enjoyed a couple of hours of creative work before picking up a Zipcar to go meet the woman who will be taking care of our dog, Bomber, when we go to Peru in 10 days. The day started rainy and cold, so we drove 30 minutes West, in the rain, with a very unhappy dog on board. 

I have been nervous about leaving Bomber while visiting my family in Peru. This is going to be his first time away from us since we got him. Fortunately, meeting Heather, our new dog boarder, really gave me peace of mind. She was wonderful! We hung out at her house for abut 45 minutes, 30 of which Bomber spent playing with a little dog. I’m not quite sure what kind of dog it was but I know it’s the same as the lady in The Lady and the Tramp.

Statue at park in SF Chinatown
By the time we left, it had stopped raining. Watching the sky clear and the blue sky peaking out of the clouds provided a good image of how I felt now that I knew that Bomber was going to stay with someone so nice while we were away. I love my dog.

Bomber at one of SF parks
Speaking of loving your dog, today I learned that the 2 top favorite non-profits in San Francisco are both animal rescue groups. I don’t know how I feel about this.  I love animals very much and I feel like it’s our responsibility to watch over them, but I also feel like there are a lot of people suffering in our world who need the help, or people without a home right here in this city. How about children and youth who need guidance? Despite the fact that non-profits dedicated to these other causes were included in the list, I was surprised by the fact that they all fell lower in the list. Are our priorities a bit twisted? Or have we lost faith in people?

SF parrot!
Anyway, back to yesterday. After securing an amazing lodging place for Bomber, we came home, ate some food and then we spent the next 4 hours with Joe taking care of some projects, and me cooking gumbo for the first time. In between cooking times (gumbo took a total time of 3.5 hours!), I worked on putting together cards for a customized card order. After I finished and when the gumbo was ready, Joe and I took off to get lost in the city and to capture some great images with our camera. We brought Bomber along.

For this photo expedition, we headed into Chinatown. Chinatown in San Francisco is one of my favorite places to walk around. It really reminds me of traveling in South East Asia. The energy in the place is quite stimulating, I think.  We walked down to a park/plaza where people play a card game that seems to be quite exciting just by the way in which everybody around the players is drawn into the game. We then kept walking around, taking more photos as we went along, always being surprised by new alleys and streets that hide gorgeous buildings and vibrant colors.

Ferry Building, SF
Our walk ended up bringing us all the way down to the Ferry Building, by the water. When we reached the Embarcadero we went up into one of the many hidden rooftop gardens that are around the city. Those gardens are usually filled with downtown dwellers during the week days and the work hours, but yesterday, on a Saturday afternoon, it was totally empty and worked as the perfect playground for a doggy who is still working on coming back when called!
As the daylight was dwindling, we decided to turn around and start heading back home, but not before stopping at the Sue Bierman Park near the Embarcadero to take a look at the blooming trees and the wild parrots that live in the trees in the park. We had seen the parrots many times before but, this time, they were eating the flowers on the not-so-tall trees, which meant that you could get as close as a couple of feet to look at them. Obviously, they were not worried about people. We stood around for a while, admiring their red heads and bright green bodies, or should I call it parrot green? Either way, they were very fun to watch and surprisingly easy to photograph. Our only regret was not bringing our bigger camera that has a better zoom. If we had, we could have gotten a picture of their eyeballs! Yes, that’s how close we were to them!

A sample of SF architecture
After capturing many fantastic images of this lovely city, some of which I’m including in this post, we started walking back and, shortly after, we noticed very dark clouds were blowing in. Were those rain clouds? Yes, they were and no, we didn’t have our rain jackets with us. By the time it really started raining, we were back in the streets of Chinatown, about a mile away from home. We started walking faster and faster, and couldn’t stop laughing at the situation. Bomber, of course, was not as thrilled with the situation but he managed to keep his spirits high too. We walked up and down the last hill that separated us from home, and ended up running the last block or two. We got home a bit wet but didn’t mind. Soon after we started a fire, heated up the gumbo that was waiting for us, and we settled down to wait for Earth Hour to start.
Fun stairs in the Embarcadero

As we sat in our living room, with no light other than candlelight, we were reenergized by darkness, by our eyes adjusting to it and by the soothing effect of it. There is a new component to Earth Hour in which people pledge to change their habits in ways that will have a positive impact on our environment. Maybe I want to start having Earth Hour every day, or every weekend. It’s always interesting to see how the actions that seem to be best for our world, also seem to be best for us. I guess we are directly connected to our planet after all.

If you are interested in seeing more fun photos of San Francisco, make sure you stop by my Etsy store: