Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Berkeley Brunch at Dona Tomas

On Sunday morning, I woke up at ten and almost stayed in bed to go back to sleep before I remembered: today was the day for the Vanderbilt cohort's "meet and greet," a brunch at a restaurant in Berkeley I'd never been to before. I excitedly got up and got ready, though I didn't eat breakfast because I was sure there would be excellent food at Dona Tomas. (I was right.)

I got my mom to leave the house ten minutes early because I was afraid we'd get lost, and we did have to circle the block a few times before finally spotting the sign for the restaurant (it didn't exactly stand out). Luckily, though, we were still five minutes early, and only Hummd was already there. Jenny arrived at the same time I did, and Arnold shortly after, and then we were led to our table. We chose to sit outside, since it was such a nice warm day.

While waiting for Katherine, we looked over the menu and saw churros... they were irresistible, and we promptly made two orders of them as an appetizer. When they arrived, not only were they still warm, but there were dishes of melted chocolate to dip them in. We were able to hold ourselves back enough to leave one for Katherine, but it was a close battle.

Before our food arrived, we discussed everything from SATs (which Hummd and Arnold had taken yesterday, and which I am so, so glad I got out of the way back in January) to languages and summer plans (Jenny is learning Portuguese because she's going to Brazil, which sounds incredibly exciting!). 

Our food was absolutely amazing--I had scrambled eggs with potatoes and bacon, which was simple but delicious. Everyone else's looked really good too, and when asked they confirmed it. Jenny certainly made an excellent choice, and I hope this trend will continue when we travel to Tennessee!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Berkeley Bound Brunch

Finding my way to Dona Tomas was surprisingly difficult. First, I had missed some turns finding the street itself, Telegraph Avenue. Then, once I did find the street, I discovered that I was actually going towards the wrong direction. When I finally thought that I stopped at the correct destination, I drove around to find parking, only a block away. The restaurant was on the side and was not labeled largely, but I enjoyed the openness of the area. I accidentally tried to open one of their doors (there were three) to find that the first one was the entrance and walked back a few steps to enter the restaurant. 
The Front of the Wonderfully, Delicious Restaurant

Once I had gotten inside, there was a very nice waitress who escorted me to the table where Jenny, Gwennie, Arnold, and Hummd were sitting. I could already feel the excitement running from head to toe while I walked toward them. As I greeted each of them, I noticed that there was a plate with chocolate dip and a churro saved for me. My first bite of it was so amazing. By the time that I had finished the churro, a waiter came out to take our orders. I was not so sure what I wanted at first because the menu was filled with tons of food that I did not recognize at first. Then, Jenny suggested sharing plates with Arnold and I, so we quickly got on board with that and asked for an extra three plates. They had gotten (I think) the chilaquiles verde and carnitas hash. I ordered the tacos carnitas, which had pork with Mexican oregano along with a side of pico de gallo, rice, beans, and corn tortillas. 

While waiting for the food to come, we all had interesting topics ranging from more details on our trip to Vanderbilt to a language learning app, to Brazil, other plans for the summer, and beyond. I learned that Jenny was traveling to Brazil really soon, so she wanted to learn more Portuguese, and told us her tricks of getting it done. She recommended a really great application to me called Duolingo to download on my phone, which was made by a German man who wanted to learn English, and decided to create something that anyone can access easily, for free. I found out that Arnold has been using it as well, so I wanted to give it a try whenever I would want to learn more about a language or of one. It seems really unique to me how Portuguese is kind of like Spanish and French combined, for example, Jenny told me that the letter "r" is pronounced like an "h" in Portuguese. From there, we talked more about languages and our knowledge of other ones like Spanish, French, and American Sign Language. I even got to teach Hummd how to sign, "My name is Hummd." 

Soon enough, the food came. Gwennie had a marvelous looking breakfast plate with eggs and bacon on the side, Arnold accidentally had Jenny's dish, and Hummd had an enchilada. Arnold's and my plates came out around the same time a few minutes after the rest had already received their food. We split our food by putting a little of each on the three smaller plates and passed it around to each other. I really loved the egg from Arnold's carnitas hash, all together in one piece while nice and runny on the inside. Everything that I ate and tried was so great and fantastic! Dona Tomas truly has such delicious and scrumptious food, if I can say so myself from my own experience. While everyone was eating, I was really thinking to myself that we are all going to be doing this again, in a month, traveling together. It is really unbelievable that summer has already started, but I am glad that I was able to begin with this brunch full of uplifting attitudes and personalities. 

As we were all finishing up, we got to talking again more about the trip. Jenny especially emphasized on the importance of getting as much sleep as possible a few days prior to traveling. I think that out of the stops that are on the way to Tennessee, my favorite will be Atlanta, Georgia. Jenny talked about how much of a blast it was when she went there, and as future first-timers in the South, Gwennie, Arnold, Hummd, and I sat in awe. Then, she asked each of us our other plans for the summer. Personally for me, I have Camp Royal for Interact, a voluntary community-based club that will last a week long, and Drum Major Camp, a program that is 2-3 days long to gain more experience with conducting for band, a few days right after Camp Royal, until the trip to Vanderbilt. 

After chatting for another half an hour or two, Gwennie's mom showed up to pick her up, so she left a little early. We ended up leaving around 2 p.m., leaving way later than we had expected. The time had passed by so fast, and we did not really notice it flying by.  Hummd and I continued our conversation on how unreal it is that summer has already arrived. It does not feel like we are about to be seniors, and I asked Arnold this too, whether or not they think that as each class comes into high school, there are less expectations and more disappointments coming from them. In comparison with the classes above them, they do not seem to uphold the older classes' legacy. This talk went on for a while longer, and then we all were leaving (I was going to drive Arnold and Hummd home). 
3/4ths of the Vanderbilt Cohort (Missing Gwennie)

We all gave Jenny a huge hug before heading to my car, and wished her a fun and an unforgettable experience at Brazil. One mistake that we all made was forgetting to take more pictures, especially with the whole group. Unfortunately, Gwennie did not make it into the photo with us, but there will definitely be more future pictures taken of us all. It was a really nice day outside, but even better when well spent with such astonishing people (and appetizing food). 

Once my car had warmed up, I headed out on Telegraph Avenue and went straight down to reach the freeway. Hummd saved me with her maps to reach her house, but when we were about to enter the freeway, I had already taken the wrong turn. If it were not for the one short exit ahead of us, we might have been headed to San Fransisco or something. The exit that I took was a new road for me, it was between the shores of the ocean and the freeway. I never knew how to get to the shores, but now I do. I proceeded with the road to get on the freeway and get Hummd home. When I had completed that task, it was surprisingly not that hard getting out of her neighborhood to find our way to Arnold's house. The car ride was filled with singing along to the radio and talks about how excited each and every one of us are to see each other again in exactly a month from now. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Whole Enchilada

So, school ended on Friday, and it was sort of anticlimactic. I don't know, for some reason I felt like the summer before my senior year would start off with more of a bang. However, it is also nice to relax sometimes, and that is what I did today with my cohort. 

We split an order of churros,
and they were absolutely heavenly.
At around one in the morning I jerked awake, worried that I had overslept. I glanced at the window and realized my mistake but since it takes a while for me to get back to sleep I thought about packing for my trip to San Diego tomorrow or beginning my summer assignment (and promptly decided that these were terrible ideas.) This process repeated at three and five and eventually I gave up and decided to start my day. I began to pack haphazardly and repeatedly got distracted by clothes that I had forgotten about for years. At around ten I decided that I should probably finish getting ready to leave for Dona Tomas since it's in Oakland and I was sure that I would get lost on the way (spoiler: I did.) It took some time to find it, but eventually
I reached the restaurant around 10:50 and was thankfully the first one there.  

After about ten minutes of waiting, Gwennie and Jenny (our chaperone) came in, with Arnold not far behind. We decided to sit outside because it was such a nice, sunny afternoon, and ordered some churros to start us off as we waited for Katherine. 

The unique thing about this ILC "event" is that it isn't really an event at all, it is just a day where we get to know each other better. I learned about everyone's summer plans, including Jenny's plan to go to Brazil, and Arnold's endeavor to widen his linguistic horizons by learning Portuguese. Apparently, Jenny also speaks Portuguese, so they chattered away while Gwennie and I smiled and nodded at each other like we knew exactly what was going on. When Katherine arrived (she also got desperately lost) we decided to order, and after a lot of indecisiveness, I went for the Enchiladas. (Sorry that this post is so heavily centered around food so far, it was just fantastic! Jenny made a very good choice.)  

Sadly, Gwennie had to leave a bit early, so our time with her was cut short, but we talked about a wide variety of things and I felt like I grew a lot closer to my cohort over the space of a few short hours. Katherine even taught me some sign language! I now know how to say my name, as well as yes, no, and sure in ASL. That was one thing that I did not expect out of my day.

We sat chattering away until the customers we saw arrive had left with a smile and after almost three hours of bonding, we decided to head home. Katherine was nice enough to offer to drive Arnold and me home and I  tried to contribute by using my phone's GPS. It did not update our route fast enough, and we ended up taking a wrong turn towards San Fransisco. However, we kept our wits about us, and I recommended that we took the road that passes by Point Emery. The ride home went by all too fast, and we were soon at my house. I said my goodbyes (one month until the trip!) and headed inside.  

Bonding Anew

There's something I enjoy about using different words. Sometimes it's to sound fancy shmancy, but "Anew" felt like the right one for this title. Of course, just to be sure it makes perfect sense, I double checked the definition on Google: "in a new or different, typically more positive, way." This perfectly describes today's brunch with the Vandy cohort, otherwise known as out Meet and Greet in ILC terms.

In the past, our cohort has bonded well, becoming more and more familiar with each other with every milestone event. This afternoon was a milestone event within our cohort. Our brunch was at Dona Tomas in Oakland.

This morning, I woke up at around 9, relieved that I would be able to get a ride from my dad. I slowly eased into the day with a quick session of surprisingly energizing stretches. As I transition into summer, I am really trying to make all the efforts I can to change my lifestyle habits into healthier ones. Among some of the things on my list this summer, this new stretching regimen is one of them. I'm really interested in anything health and wellness oriented and it's kind of my goal to improve on my own- especially because it will be a arduous journey this upcoming year (a.k.a. senior year... with the associated problems also known as "senioritis"). I know I am going to have to learn how to handle myself and my work a lot better, so this is just the start. I also heard it takes around 30 days to settle into new habits, so this is my time to get to work.

Photo Credits to Katherine

That was slightly besides the point, but anyway, after my stretching, I showered, got ready and waited it out until it was time to leave. It was a new experience. I've had a history of not going out too much, so any chance I get to head out is always exciting! I had some trouble finding Dona Tomas; it was rather small and hidden between the other shops with larger signs along the block. Once my dad and I found it, I got off and made it in, meeting Gwennie, Hummd, and our chaperon Jenny. The restaurant had a really casual and fun atmosphere, especially once we got outside.

To start us off!
With today's blazing sun above us, we sat at our table, settling into the moment and deciding what to get. Ultimately, we decided on some churros to start us off. The thing about those churros, though.: they were pretty good...and luckily we had one saved just for Katherine for when she arrived (Sorry, Katherine!)! With the many options we had on the brunch menu, most of us decided that we were so indecisive and Jenny, Katherine, and I decided that we'd share each of our meals. We all ended up ordering pretty different dishes. From the churros, we went to Huevos Rancheros, Carnitas Hash, Tacos de Carnitas, Chilaquiles Verdes, and Enchiladas en Mole. The food was superb! I loved that I was able to share and get a little bit of everything, satisfying my indecisiveness.

Carnitas Hash

While eating, Jenny informed us of her upcoming trip to Brazil and her inspiration of learning a new language. Luckily for me, I'll soon have someone to converse with in Portuguese, because that's one of the other things on my "Summer Bucketlist." I've never had one, but it all came from the ideas that I want to make the best of it, considering I'll be having half of the summer off for myself before flying down South. Anyhow, my experience was terrible with trying to practice Portuguese. I had downloaded an app, Duo Lingo, to get started on learning a new language- one not too challenging, but one I find reasonably feasible given that I speak Spanish. I'll have to practice before I see Jenny again; anyhow, the conversation progressed real smoothly. We went everywhere with the conversation: from school, sports, colleges, trip excitement, languages, traveling, herbal medicine, family, and even a conversation with out waiter, who saw my eczema bothering me and gave me some tips for it, having had skin problems in the past himself.

After almost three hours of conversing and eating great food, it was time to depart and say our goodbyes before seeing each other again in July. We walked to the corner of the block and said our goodbyes to Jenny. Since Gwennie had to leave a bit early and since Katherine was nice enough, Hummd and I decided to ride with Katherine. That was a whole other experience! We took the wrong exit, almost heading towards San Francisco, but quickly found a way to make it back the right way along the running trail  running along the Bay. Did I mention we were jamming to music? It was a good experience to end our brunch meet up.

With this afternoon in mind, and just like I said in my previous Tutorial blog, I have great hopes for what our trip to the South will be like. With venturing out into a completely new place, to meeting new people, learning from my class, and even practicing Portuguese, I'm sure this summer will be great. As for today, it's already bound to new and fun things. Considering we'll be in for quite a year this upcoming year, I have to remember to enjoy everything and soak it all in. I think I'll start with a nap.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


On Monday evening we all arrived at Pinole Middle School before 6:00 to sign ourselves in and get settled so that we could start promptly. There was a flurry of anxious movements when Don announced that we weren't supposed to fill out all of the forms on the clipboards, just the top one (oops... and here I thought we were just trying to preempt Don's instructions), but it was fine in the end.

My family paying rapt attention as the chaperones talk about their programs
First the chaperones and some ILC alumni introduced themselves to everyone, and then after just a short speech by Don we went to our "breakout sessions" with our individual cohorts, to discuss our itineraries and any questions. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Vanderbilt alumni had left right after introducing herself! Don instead got two current ILCers who had gone to Vanderbilt last year (Shanti and Chiamaka) to answer any questions we had about the Vanderbilt program. From what they said, it sounds really fun and a great opportunity, but also exhausting!

Arnold, me, Katherine, and Hummd as we wait for the other cohorts to finish

After the individual sessions for the cohorts, we all returned to the main room and after a short wait for all the cohorts to finish Don explained about loaner items--like giant suitcases that you don't want to have to buy yourself for just one summer trip. I will definitely be borrowing one of those. It was over surprisingly quickly, considering how long the previous events have been.

Now we just have to the meet-and-greet brunch left, which will be this Sunday, and then we'll be off to see the wizard--er, I mean Texas, Georgia, and finally Tennessee--on July 8.

Final Step Until Unlocking the Path to Vanderbilt University

As I pulled up into the filled parking lot at Pinole Middle School, I felt a quick rush go over me and think of nothing but excitement because I knew that this was the last official event before everything was set in stone. My mom was already waiting for me outside of the multi-purpose room, so when I signed in, we headed indoors to find seats. 

The whole room was filled with tons of conversations and familiar faces. About ten minutes later when it got to 6 p.m., Don called everyone to attention and introduced himself as well as Mr. Ramsey. He talked a little about the importance of the parents asking questions at the orientation rather than not finding out about anything. Each chaperone was called up in front of the stage and spoke briefly about the stops that the cohort and the chaperone would be making before actually arriving at the college. Then, I spotted some alumni who were from my school, Pinole Valley High School, as the attention was moved from Don to each of the alumni who came to shortly talk about the classes that they took and which college it was from. 

While the introductions were closing up, there was a break out session to move into rooms down the halls to join with our cohort and chaperone. In the rooms, separated by each college, the chaperones went over detailed information about the flights and travel dates. For us specifically, we will be leaving on July 8th on our way to Houston, Texas to check out Rice University and then Atlanta, Georgia to see Emory University. In between all of the travel dates, we will also be viewing MLK's hometown and revisit where he made history. Everything sounded so mesmerizing, and I remain entirely grateful and excited to be able to go on such a worth while trip to Vanderbilt. Luckily for us, we had two other students who went to Vanderbilt the summer before and told us all about their trip. It seems like there are a ton of on-campus activities already, and they described Vanderbilt's schedule as pretty structured, which I like since I enjoy doing things in an organized way if it is going to be packed with a variety of activities. 

Around over half an hour later, everyone came back from the rooms. We had a limited time in between transitions to have small talks, so I was able to talk with Hummd and Gwennie (also in my cohort), and found out about this school-wide known game that they play at El Cerrito High School for the upperclassmen called Assassin. It was pretty interesting to find out more about the details, but Gwennie is one of the top three, and if you're reading this Gwennie, I'm rooting for you! In addition, Hummd was declared as a speech captain on the same day too! I am truly ecstatic for the summer and wonderfully amazed at how talented my cohort is. It really is an honor to be able to take the same classes as other magnificent people and meet them. 
Wonderful Cohort of Mine (Arnold, Gwennie, me, and Hummd)
The orientation surprisingly went by quicker than I had imagined, I thought that we would not be getting home until at least past 8 p.m., but Don quickly brushed on the loaner items, went over the checklist, and explained every single detail about them. Then, all the questions that the parents had were asked (there were really a few) so Don dismissed all of us. Coming to this orientation was like hearing the words, "It is official now, all the work has been done, and now you just have to wait until it is time to pack your bags," and that is what I will be doing. 

Getting Oriented

I have been having a wonderful day in spite of finals looming over my head, so coming to the orientation only added to that because every new ILC event helps to make me more excited about Vanderbilt. I didn't even know that was possible, but I suppose it somehow is. In an effort to make it easier to write her blog post, Gabi, one of my friends from the Brown cohort, (go check out too!) decided to take notes, and I decided to take a page out of her book. Literally. I asked nicely, and as soon as I procured a pen from her dad, I was writing away.

We were in the multi-purpose room of Pinole middle school, and after quickly checking in, I looked for my cohort so that I could sit with them since I try to get to know them better any chance that I get. The room was filled with people wearing shirts with Hawaiian print, so it is either spirit week somewhere, or a whole lot of people took Don's suggestion about the dress code a little too seriously. At almost six exactly, Don launched into an explanation about what tonight was going to be all about. He told us that we would be forming "breakout sessions" where we would get the chance to talk to our chaperone in greater detail, and ask any questions we may have. We also would be going over our trip itinerary. After a few words from some ILC alumni and the chaperones, we separated into classrooms that had a flag of each school hanging outside. 
My amazing, ever photogenic cohort.
The Vanderbilt alumni, Ayana had introduced herself to the group in the multipurpose room, but when it was time for our question session, she was nowhere to be found. Our ever-amazing chaperone, Jenny, asked Don to find her, since Ayana would know more about the whole "Vanderbilt experience." Nobody really seemed to have any questions about the itinerary, so we just waited for Don to send someone to us so that we could ask any questions we had about the program. After they were done with their own session, Shanti and Chiamaka came to talk to us about what Vanderbilt was going to be like. I found out a surprising amount about the food, presumably because we were rapidly approaching dinnertime. However, we did find out about the activities that would be available to us in Nashville, and the brutal truth that we would apparently "Grow to love country music!" 

Around half an hour later, we were called back into the multipurpose room to discuss the loaner items that would be available to the ILCers. I already have gathered the majority of my items already, so I fought to keep my mind from wandering to my impending doom. Finals are coming for me, I marshaled my thought back to the matter at hand, and soon Don wrapped up and let us know that we were basically now ready to go home, pack our bags, and wait for him to call us and let us know that it is time to leave to meet up at El Cerrito High School so that we can begin our journey.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Some Adventures Are Worth the Wait

To clarify on this blog's title, I have to say that the orientation we had to go through this evening simply another one of the progressive milestones as part of the ILC process. There was quite a lot going on as far as information, loaner items, and all and any questions that our parents or other ILCers might have had. Back to the title, though, it was a milestone event with loads of information and clarification, but that's not what the buzz was about this evening.

I had just finished eating before I headed out to the orientation. My mom, who came with me this evening, waited for my sister to pick up my nieces, who we were babysitting. Promptly after, we made it just at about 5:35 PM to Pinole Middle, amidst the bit of traffic we encountered, and arrived just before 6:00 PM, when the orientation would begin.

Our great group of this year's chaperons.
With so many people there, I had no idea who to look for, so I took my seat and waited for both my mom to get back for parking (I had to make sure someone was in here at 6 PM) and for Don to begin. The wait wasn't long, but after a short while we all settled to listen to a few words by Ms. Kronenberg, who had an adult school graduation to attend and speak at in less than an hour. After her thoughtful words, this year's chaperons reintroduced themselves from the school board meeting a couple weeks ago to "shake off any of our parent's worries or curiosities" as to who'll be in charge of heading out with each cohort in the summer. Adding on to that, we also had the pleasure of having ILC alums who had participated in programs from as early as 2012, which from where the ILC stands now and to me, seems like a while back. Anyhow, knowing we would have some people who have made it through the program and have matriculated into a new school was great to know; I don't recall if the three of them mentioned the school they're currently in, but I do know that a fellow, former ILC alum was one who attends Syracuse University. Of course, Don took it over as they all introduced themselves. He established what today's evening what comprised of and then released us into our cohorts to talk with our cohort members, cohort's parents, and chaperons as to some of the specifics of the trip.

Paying close attention.
Our returning ILC veterans (alumni).

'15 ILC Vanderbilt Cohort
Unlike last year, the cohort groups made it through the double doors and settled down in our own individual classrooms, marked by our respective school's flag next to the classroom'd doors. It was still sunny at that moment, in fact it was sunny 'til we finish up at around 8 PM, and the sunlight added the perfect lighting for ourselves as a smaller group. As our chaperon refers to all of her students, fabulous, I'd also like to say our chaperon, Jenny, introduced her fabulous self to us and handed out a basic, preliminary itinerary of what our summer endeavors out in the South would be like. That's where the excitement was. Ever since the School Board Meeting, I was ecstatic to find out that the '15 Vanderbilt cohort would be able to visit Rice University in Houston, Texas as well as Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, both phenomenal places. One of my friends who is a senior actually told me about Rice, which is how I found out about it, and have ever since felt hopelessness as far as visiting it first hand and about what the vibe there is like. Knowing that we're visiting there now, though, brings me excitement as I know it's truly an outstanding academic institution. Emory in Atlanta itself is also nothing less of exciting of Houston, as Jenny has mentioned great things about the places to visit there; it's also as new as New England, Brown, Providence had once been to me, so I look forward to what there is to visit. Just thinking about it makes the nostalgia kick it. This last summer was honestly a roller coaster that I am more than thankful for and that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world- and it makes me just as, if not substantially more, thankful having the true honor and privilege of being in this program.

Before things get to exciting, I know there is much more to the story than traveling and campus touring. Unfortunately, the ILC alum from Vanderbilt from a few years ago left, without having had the chance to ask her questions about her experience, but thankfully we had Shanti and Chiamaka, last year's veterans, to tell us more about the great food, which we've been forewarned to watch out for in terms of grubbing up too much of, the wholesome country accents, hearty country music, the buzz about Hunter Hayes, the weekly Arete classes we'd be having all three weeks right before dinner (I'm hoping for the yoga, bootcamp, henna, and probably some other of the many options on the Welcome Packet), and in general, the community and Southern vibe Nashville is imbued with.

I don't know, but for me, writing that up right now just gave me a more than charmed outlook towards this summer and the wonderful opportunities and adventures our cohort will be fortunate to embark on soon. It's surreal. I have no idea how I even got here. One minute I was a shy freshman, intimidated by Don in my school library during his presentation on the ILC, and now, here I am- I am a very fervent and enthusiastic ambassador of the ILC, ILC partner for my school, and emphatically excited member of a fantastic group that will head out to a completely new world this summer. I have no words anymore, because I can only imagine how nostalgic I'll be once I look back at my experience. But that's a worry for later, though. At the moment, I'll just have to take a huge leap back and think about which luggage I think will be best fitting and all the other items, like bed liners, pillows, shower caddies, desk lamps, I'll need to loan down the course of the summer. It's a handful, but I'll be sure to take everything one step at a time. Speaking of which, I've got a final art project from my Jazz Dance class and a Jefferson vs. Hamilton paper for my AP U.S. History class, so before I get my hopes and ambitions for the summer too high, which I think I might have already done, I'll tone it down with a dose of reality and begin on that. Some adventures are just worth the wait. I'm sure waiting halfway through his summer will be more than worthwhile.

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