Monday, June 6, 2011

Knowledge is Power

So, as a few of you might know, I am enrolling in school here in Austin.  I am excited because I really put it off for a long time.  I made excuses for myself why I shouldn't have studied science or taken Organic Chemistry at Berkeley, but I spend all my time working in healthcare and reading about infectious diseases.  I look up to my dad, yet I never wanted to study medicine.  I am going back to school to complete pre-requirements for a Physician Assistant program.  PAs are basically trained doctors that are limited in what they can do on their own and within a practice.  I am not saying I am going to be an MD someday soon, but I am excited to have the opportunity to practice and help individuals with their medical ailments.

Best part is soon, I will be qualified to be a Texas resident!  Can you believe it's been a year since I moved to Austin?  It's been a long road, but I would be happy to do it all again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Star-crossed Day

I generally feel on top of the world.  I mean, I circumnavigated the world in 90 days, conquered the Mongolian dessert, braved the Siberian permafrost, and survived a bed bug infestation in Ukraine.  For some bizarre and inexplicable reason, this past Saturday I felt something no one should ever feel - defeat. 

It is true that worse things have happend to more amazing people, and I will attest that my group of friends had a great time and nothing went infinitely wrong.  There is no real explanation why, on Sauturday night, I anxiously counted down the minutes until midnight.  I am not a superstitious person, but I am positive that my stars and planets were not aligned on May 14th.

The day started off just fine.  It was the day after everyone's last final and we were going to celebrate by inner-tubing down this river located far south of Austin in New Braunfels.  My previous experience tubing with my friends in California led me to the logical conclusion that it would be an epic journey.  One year, we planned a tame 5 mile float in Healdsburg, but on the way to our entrance point we took a wrong turn.  We jumped into the river about 15 miles away from our end destination.  We realized how cold it was getting when the beer ran out, so we started calling out to our land-bound neighbors.  "Where's Healdsburg?" we would cry out.  In response, we received mocking laughs and sympathetic head shakes.  We realized our attempt to float to our friend's house was fruitless, so we all waded out of the water and blazed a trail through a local vineyard.  The owner saw our pathetic group of crying women and men wearing their boxers as shoes.  As Blanche would have put it, "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers."  He was our guardian angel; we would have spent hours in the cold hiking to our cars without him.  It was quite the Independence Day river trip.

This year's trip was much more regimented. We drove down to New Braunfels, rented our tubes, and jumped into a groomed river filled with hundreds of oddly shaped bodies, tattoos and personalities.  Although my bad luck started earlier in the day, it hit its peak soon after we hit the water.  Nat and I lost our group after funneling through a tube shoot that catapulted me and Nat into a wall.  In trying to catch up, we didn't realize there was a dangerous man-made 3ft waterfall.  At the fall, one of our friends got trampled by strangers, Nat bumped his head very hard, and I got assaulted.  Don't really need to get into the details, but a middle-aged man decided to take advantage of my half-drowned and mildly panicked state to make a move.  It took me a while to float over to Nat and scout for some cops, but by the time we led them to the scene and I gave an account, he had slowly creep away.  I watched this pervert escape, to live another day free to molest unsuspecting women.  

This violating episode combined with a few other scattered encounters left me afraid to even drive home at the end of the day.  A part of me seriously feared that I would get into a catastrophic car accident.  I felt generally defeated and couldn't wait for the day to just end.  Luckily for me it could have been worse.  At least I have an amazingly supportive and loving boyfriend and hysterical friends to laugh about this incident with. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

"How cold does it get in San Francisco?"

When I started my trip through Siberia in late September, it was roughly 40 degrees Fahrenheit out, frosting a little bit, but far from freezing. I was wearing gloves, a scarf, nylons under my pants, a mink fur hat, and at least two shirts under my leather jacket.  My first naïve days on the Trans-Siberian Railway, I would ask locals if it would be getting colder soon; they would just look at me with the sternest blue eyes I had ever looked into and say, “Yes…you have no idea.”

Along my travels, it was always so funny to see people’s reactions to the statement, “It does not snow in the city where I live.”  A conversation once arose that went something like this:

Siberian local: “How cold does it get in San Francisco?”

Erika: “Maybe about 10-15 degrees.” (roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit)

Siberian local (incredulously): “Minus?”

Erika: “Dear Lord, no!!  Positive…!”

Of coures, by the end of my trip, I would occassionaly leave the hostel without my nylons, and always without my hat.  I guess a dead giveaway that I am not a Ukrainain local is to be wearing a Russian fur hat - go figure.


When I lived in San Francisco, I would throw on shorts, grab my parrot “Pearl” and run to Dolores Park if the fog had burned off and the sun was out.  Of course, 65 degrees used to be hot weather for me.  It is funny how our bodies get used to weather changes and climates over time. 

Tomorrow, we are going tubing down a river with laundry bags full of beer and I was concerned about the weather conditions.  It poured like the sky was going to fall yesterday, and although it has since cleared up, I decided to check the weather to be safe.  My initial thought was, “84 degrees?!?! Really??  It’s going to be too cold to get into water and go tubing.” I am a spoiled little Texan now.  I was ready to soak up the 100 degree rays tomorrow, but will have to settle for 84. Probably better this way, as I really am not in the market for Melanoma.

Friday, May 6, 2011

No Idle Hands Here!

My last month has been packed with adventures, visitors and non-stop hooping!  My AOII sister, former room-mate, Castro-club hopper and, of course, best friend, Tara came to visit.  She is a UT Law admitted student who made it to the finals for a scholarship.  She was flown out here to check out the campus and inteview.  I made it a personal goal to show her how amazing Austin is, cowboy boots and all!  We danced all night on 6th Street, went to my favorite restaurants and bars.  All in all, it was a successful weekend, though I believe she is leaning towards a different university that has a better program for public interest.  I told her if she went here, maybe we could be room mates again, but she told me she doesn't think she could live with Pearl!  Nat, I guess you are stuck with me and the little Pearl! 

After my visitor left, I devoted my time to the Austin Parrot Society.  We had a fundraiser for Bird Haven, a non-profit bird rescue, so we had a lot of work to do in preparation.  I am so happy to be a part of a group where telling people that I take my parrot on walks isn't an automatic "this girl is crazy" red flag.  I have an amazing group of passionate bird owners who are helping me find out about local vets, training techniques and feeding advice.  I even get recipes for birdie cakes!  We carpooled the the San Antonio Bird Mart to table and promote our fundraiser, but really it was the perfect excuse to buy Pearl and new discounted cage and toys!  I was told that I have the "gift of gab" by own of our members, since I was able to chat up any casual on-looker.

My parents decided to make a random trip to Austin to visit the same weekend of our fundraiser and I am so glad that they did!  I am sure that the event would not have been so successful without their enthusiasm and constant silent auction bidding.  We all learned a lot from Barbara Heidenrich from Good Bird, Inc.  She is a work famous bird behavioralist who has had amazing success with positive reinforcement and parrot training.  I am excited to get Pearl back next month and test out her new techniques!  We also did a Segway tour of Austin which was a fun mix of history lessons and rugged adventure.  Of course, thanks to my mom's Atkins diet, we dined at some of the best restuarants in Austin, Fogo de Chao and the Driskill Hotel.  Don't you love when family is in town? 

I am eager to receive my brand new LED hula hoop, compliments of Lighted Lifestyle.  I got to play with one in my class and cannot wait to that this baby to Burning Man!  It will look so cool out at night on the playa!  I am loving hooping.  It is an amazing cardio work out and I love just spinning and dancing with my hoop.  I would love to go to Hoop Camp this year in Santa Cruz, but I think due to Burning Man and lack of PTO, I will probably put it off for a year.

I have even been toying with the idea of becoming a Russian tutor.  I currently have one awesome beginner, but she is going abroad in the fall.  I think it would be a lot of fun to teach others and make a little spare change on the side. 

And that's what you missed...on GLEE!  just kidding, but I do love that show!   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Erika Erikovna: Trans-Siberian Collection 2010

Imagine this: Beautiful young brunette inspired to explore new territories strikes out on an epic adventure of a life time. Her rugged yet refined style turns heads as she traverses the globe via the longest railway in the world. Her adventurous attitude is captured through her wardrobe: a delicate straw hat, khaki colored shorts, strappy sandals, and big sunglasses - Oddly, it looks like that collection was already done by Banana Republic, but no, this is Erika Erikovna: Trans-Siberian Collection 2010.

Please do not sue me Banana Republic. I am already your walking billboard, ok!

So, I know my sisters will understand this, but all of my life, I have lived off of hand-me-downs and thrift store clothes. Going skiing with a group of 5 is expensive! So, naturally, we all fought over the one "cool" pair of black ski pants. The ones that don't look like the 80's ski gear you see in Hot Tub Time Machine. Now that I am an established young adult who makes her own money, I have kissed thrifting good-bye and have become that Ski Bunny I could never have been with the teal colored over-all ski pants that smelled like the Salvation Army.

Recently, I have started fantasizing about the select few pieces of clothing that will be found worthy of making the journey with me. The best shots from this 2 week photo shoot of the Trans-Siberian Collection 2010 will have the honor of adorning my new house in Austin, Texas along side St. Petersburg 2006, Cancun 2007 and Yellowstone 2008.

One major flaw to my stylish collection, Siberia really is the cold place everyone has expected it to be. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but this unknown territory I will be gallivanting about is really not all that "unknown" thanks to the Internet. After spending 10 minutes on Wikipedia, I decided to see for myself- Irkutsk, for example, averages as low as 37°F in September. So, there goes my fantasy about strappy sandals and a straw hat. Back to the drawing boards. Not all is lost because I was planning to expand my collection to include exotic fur purchased along the route. I guess that elegant Siberian fur hat will be making an appearance down the run way sooner than expected!

Monday, March 21, 2011

In Loving Memory of Rosa Garcia-Viteri

My Family before UCLA vs Cal football game, 2004
Robert and Rosa Viteri are some of my parent’s oldest and dearest friends.  After years of unwavering friendship, they would become my older sister's God parents.  About 24 years ago,  we were all sitting around the pool behind the Viteri home when they decided to find a nickname for the newest born, little Erica Mari.  They came up with the phrase “Qui, Qui, Qui! Erica Mari!”  Today, you may not know me by "Qui," my original nickname.  For obvious reasons, the attempt at shortening my already short name failed.  Four years later, my parents successfully tried again with my little sister, Elizabeth.  She still uses my old nickname with pride and it suits her better than it ever could have suited me.  I tell this story because last weekend, I attended the funeral of my aunt, Rosa Garcia-Viteri.  It is my deepest sentiment that when someone good passes away, we should honor that person by telling her stories and celebrating her life.

Robert Viteri and my father had competing bicycle routes when they were kids growing up in Los Angeles and often fought over the $0.35 a month clients.  They later attended the same high school and eventually reinforced their relationship while attending Pomona College.  Robert Viteri went on one blind date with Rosa Garcia and they hit it off instantly.  After four hours of conversing at a local pub, it was a given that there would be a second date.  The friend that had set them up called Rosa at work a few days later to ask when she and Robert were going out again, but apparently Robert never called her to make plans.  When speaking about that phone call, Rosa always said, “[My friend] couldn’t get off the phone fast enough!”  Robert got an upset ring minutes later asking why he never asked Rosa out again.  Robert explained that his plan was to call her on Thursday to invite her out on Friday.  It's a good thing his friend had encouraged him to call her as soon as possible, because everyone who knows Robert knows he is late to everything!  The second date only solidified what everyone believed to be love at first sight.  After that they became inseparable. 

A few months into their relationship, the unthinkable happened: Rosa found a lump in her left breast.  She was dumfounded because she was in the best shape of her life, and cancer had not run in her family at all.  She remembered the moment she realized how bad the cancer really was when her doctor’s eyes got three sizes bigger during her exam.  This fledgling relationship seemed like it would end before it even had a chance to mature.  Most cancer diagnosis like Rosa's result in less than two years of life, but this did not stop the soul mates from loving each other.  A mutual friend stated at the funeral that after she had gotten her test results, Robert had talked to him in confidence about Rosa’s diagnosis and possible grim future.  Robert never once asked if he should stay with her or even if marry her, but rather asked, “Will I be good enough for her?”  Two years later they got married and began battling the disease together.
Rosa Viteri fought off the cancer five separate times over the next 27 years.  I will always remember her for her fighting spirit, love of UCLA, and her ability to see the light in any dark situation.  She had the happiness and enthusiasm for life that many completely healthy individuals lack.  She won the prestigious Susan G. Komen Survivor of the Month Award and gave hope to hundreds of young women who faced similar bleak medical diagnosis by speaking at a myriad of fundraisers over the years.  After giving an inspiring speech at one particular fundraiser, one woman ran through the crowd to speak to her.  Rosa had given this young woman hope, because like Rosa, she had been diagnosed with cancer at such a young age.  Rosa was a beacon of hope and managed to touch every individual she ever came in contact with.    

Robert and Rosa were only one short month away from celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and cherished every minute of their time together.  If Rosa was put on this Earth to give hope to friends and strangers alike, Robert was put on this Earth to be her rock and support her every step of the way.  I am still in awe and proud of the loving and supportive relationship they had, for surely without each other, Rosa would not have lived long enough to touch the lives of so many people.  At the funeral service, it was apparent the effect she had on all those in her life.  There were so many people that most of the chapel was standing room only.  This is because for Rosa, regardless of how well you knew her, you were her sister or her best friend.  There was no in between.  She loved everyone to her fullest capacity, and it showed.  I only hope that someday, people will say about me half of the amazing things that were said at my Tia Rosa’s funeral.  My new goal in life is to keep my aunt's memory alive by embodying her selfless and compassionate ideals. 

I know you are looking down on us and smiling, Tia.  We all love you and will never forget the impact you had on all of us. 

See you later, alligator.  In a while, crocodile.     

In Loving Memory of Rosa Garcia-Viteri

Article about my Tia Rosa: Ford Selects Three Latina Breast Cancer Survivors for National Education Awareness Campaign

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Flash a smile, get some beads

Last weekend, I took a road trip to the infamous Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I had many preconceptions about how crazy it was going to be, so I adequately prepared myself.  I imagined Disneyland during its 50th celebration meets Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.  I packed boots, dark make up, and plenty of Asprin.  I was even more excited because  my sorority little sister, Mary, was flying in to Austin to join us on our weekend to Mardi Gras.

Mary, me & Megan on 6th St.

I met Mary at the airport on Thursday evening and was extremely excited to show her Austin during our one night before heading off to Louisiana.  We chatted, got dressed up and picked up Nat and a friend, Megan, before heading downtown.  For those of you who are not familiar with 6th Street, Austin, it is a site to see.  The police, rather than deal with cars hitting drunk pedestrians, close down a large portion of the street by setting up blockades.   This makes it legal and extremely convenient to do my favorite pass-time: jay-walking.  We bought $5 pitchers of alcohol from one of my favorite bars called Shakespeare’s.  We even saw our bartender at Cheers light shots on fire to make the famous Austin beverage “Flaming Doctor Peppers.”  It was quite the way to start the weekend.  We had to be up at 4AM to start our road trip so a good night’s rest would have been appropriate, but you know me better than that, right?  We finally crawled into bed at about 2AM, making the following morning brutal as I realized I was still in a mildly altered state of mind.  I went from sleeping in the parking lot on top of a suitcase to dancing up a storm in a matter of 60 seconds. 

My bed away from bed
The drive was entertaining.  We stopped for a meal of deep fried alligator tail, with a side of deep fried frog legs and deep fried craw fish- a true Cajun feast.  It rained on the way there, forcing the men folk to get out and wrap our baggage in trash bags while the ladies snapped photos.  After 12 hours of rain and traffic, we finally arrived at our off-Bourbon Street hotel.  A thorough inspection of the mattresses at our 2.5 star hotel concluded that our room was not infested with bed bugs, so we settled in and hit the town.

 We got so much look from flashing!  Flashing our beautiful smiles that is!  Check out my high neck dress if you don't believe me.

My lovely group of friends

Balcony where treats fall from!
We came out decked with bead, boas, yo-yos and many other random treats.  That was only the first night!  The following day we wandered around the city and had lunch at a traditional Cajun restaurant where I got my first order of jambalaya.  My only complaint about the weekend was the creepers waiting to snap pictures of your drunken bartering mistakes, and the rain.  The unfortunate weather conditions forced us to stay indoors most of Saturday.  Although we do look cute in ponchos!
Nat and me on a terrace during our lunch

Mary, me and Anna

At our refuge from the rain, we had jello shots out of a tube that looks like a syringe.  Does that sound familiar?  Remember my post about the injection shots in Kiev, Ukraine (Shot of Death)?  

Jello Shots!
I am convinced that since I did not see a parade during Mardi Gras, I should just take a trip to the capital of all Fat Tuesday celebrations: Carnival at Rio de Janeiro.  I can feel the wander lust rising…

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Life just ran with that idea

The past two months have been full of more flights, adventures, old friends, parrots, entreprenurial ideas, BBQ, hula hoops, failures and successes.  I apologize for my delayed posts, but life just has a way of running when you aren't looking.  Now that I have wireless internet  forward to those precious two hours when you have wireless internet.  I lived my life abroad very meticulously.  I valued my Facebook more than I do now.  I actually checked my email once or twice a a day, rather than every 15 minutes thanks to "fetch new data."  So, here is my low down.  

Last time we met, I was on a last minute flight to San Diego to visit Nat's family for the holidays.  We had a splendid time, enjoying the weather and not throwing up all day.  I say the later because last time I met Nat's family for a family reunion, I successfully managed to inject about 75% of his family with the Norovirus aka stomach flu.  I am not sure if I will ever out grow my nickname "Typhoid Mary."  

After that, we were on a flight to Las Vegas for our 4th Annual Santa Rosa Crew Vegas Trip.  I think every year gets better and better!  I guess the first year we went was 10 days after my second nose surgery which in retrospect was probably not the best idea.  I was on hydocodone, couldn't drink, and got a bloody nose after being wacked in the face by a drunk friend.  Oops!  Since then, we have made so many fabulous memories I can't even begin to relay them all.  I got to ride a mechanical bull hands-free, watch an electric violin and DJ chick duo and stay out almost as late as I did in Ukraine!  The best part was playing cards in the back of our rented RV all the way back to Santa Rosa.  Some of us didn't get enough sleep, so they crashed together in the one little bed in the back. 

Next stop, San Francisco!  Let me tell you how nice it was to be back in my city!  I got to see my old roomate, best friends, old co-workers and my old favorite spots.  It was kind of difficult to get over the fact that last time I was in SF, I lived there, had a room, and my parrot.  I really miss my friends, but we got to go out in the Castro for an amazing night of dancing.  Then we got to hit up a couple of places for bottomless mimosas and brunch.  I might even be on the wall at Hot Cookie 

I now have an amazing group of close friends here in Austin and I am getting to know the sites much better.  The night life and outdoors life is amazing here. 

Random facts about my new life:
  • After a couple of weeks of turning down offers, being rejected from employers and weighing out my possible options, I am now working full-time at an OB/Gyn office in North Austin.  I may now know more than I wanted to know about the miraculous journey of pregnancy, but hey, never hurts to start doing research early...way early.
  • I have decided to take up new hobbies to keep busy while Nat studies.  Last week, I made my first set of hula hoops.  Good exersize, a must-have skill for Burning Man, and will look amazing if I can eventually set them on fire!
  • Speaking of Burning Man, I bought my ticket and cannot wait to join my sisters, and Mark, along with our new additions to the playa, Tristan and Kara!
  • I made arrangements to fly Pearl to Austin on May 22nd!  I am excited to start wandering the streets of downtown with her and continue to support the motto "Keep Austin Weird."
  • I was elected Events Coordinator of the Austin Parrot Society and look forward to start organizing their fudraisers, events, etc
  • I have decided to collect feathers from the parrot rescue I volunteer at, make jewelry out of the molted feathers and sell them to raise money for the organization.

This Friday I embark on an 8 hour journey with 5 best friends to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!  I imagine I will be yelling at people to throw me beads as I used to yell at the patrons of the Blue Bayou to throw me pieces of bread before I came face to face with the Pirates of the Caribbean.  Let's hope that my experience dodging hords of people at Disneyland has adequately prepared me for the madness that will ensue this weekend.

I think that just about covers it all.  Do I like to keep busy or what??