Summer at Ross Lake, part 2

The day after hiking up Desolation peak for a view of a mountain that Jack Kerouac called “the most mournful mountain I’ve ever seen” (he also called it “the most beautiful”), we spent a more leisurely morning around camp, drinking instant coffee and eating a hearty breakfast.



Yes, a perfectly balanced breakfast.

Then we decided to get back in the boats and paddle across to the lake’s western side. Ross Lake is over a mile wide, and to be sat in the very middle of it, the water black and bottomless, your arms tired and your boat not feeling like it’s going anywhere, could have been cause for panic. So lucky it was that I had teamed up with the most upbeat group of companions, always making bad jokes, singing 80s hits, and quoting eloquent and charismatic naturalists (Richard Proenneke is a favorite).






By the time we made it up Little Beaver Creek, we were ready to stretch our legs, so we pulled up to the dock and got out to explore. Never ones to turn down the chance to scramble (up a rocky cliff, down a crumbling slope, or even a skillet of eggs at breakfast time), the boys saw the opportunity to cross an inlet via floating logs as one they absolutely had to take. Me, I stuck to the bridge that was just within eyesight and poised myself with my camera to capture their moment of triumph. Ahem, “triumph…”




After making quite a splash, we spent the rest of the afternoon returning to camp, stopping to swim, eat lunch, swim, and swim. Awaiting for me back at Lightning Creek was a challenge I had the courage to undertake: making and consuming my first campfire s’more. I may have even helped start the fire – a real nature-woman!





Heavenly. Glad I packed the big bag of marshmallows! I am forever changed.

After the sugar crash, we climbed one last time into our sleeping bags and set our alarms for before sunup. We anticipated a long, strenuous paddle back to the Ross Lake Resort, with early-morning winds blowing against us and four days of fatigue slowing our strokes. But things in nature seldom happen in the way you’d expect, and we cruised on calm waters, making it back to civilization in half the time we’d expected. After a quick stop on Cougar Island (the guys couldn’t resist making the same joke over and over again), and a rock-skipping competition, we turned in our canoes and headed west on State Route 20.




To celebrate the end of our escapade, we stopped by a tried-and-true favorite – Cascadian Farm, for organic berry ice cream and espresso. You know, to soften the shock of reintegrating ourselves into society, of course. Society, man – SOCIETY! Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to make another such escape with these guys, one day soon.



Summer at Ross Lake, part 1

This time two years ago, Phillip and I pulled out our gear in preparation of a fourth of July spent hiking and canoeing at Ross Lake in Washington’s North Cascades with a few great outdoorsy buddies. A trip a bit unlike any other we’d embarked on before, we had a total of 40 nautical miles to tackle en route to and from our campsite and for various other destinations around the lake. My arms twitch in protest just thinking about all the hours spent paddling.



We camped nearby to get an early start the following morning. The trip started with a mile-long hike, downhill to the shore of Ross Lake, where we found a wooden box with a telephone inside. We picked up the phone, which connected us to the staff of the Ross Lake Resort (known for its picturesque floating cabins) who sent a big electric boat across the water to pick us up and take us to the resort.



There we stayed long enough to rent our canoes and for me to slip into the new pair of chacos I grabbed for a steal at the REI garage sale. Very PNW of me.





Then the five of us piled into two canoes and paddled out, destination Lightning Creek Boat Camp. As the crow flies it’s about twelve miles away, but we were some seriously waterlogged crows and with some crooked steering I would be surprised if we made it there in less than fifteen!


After a few sappy pit stops, we eventually got our “sea arms” and cruised into camp. But we didn’t stay put for long and after unloading the boats we were out exploring some of the lake’s many inlets.






Exhausted, we returned to camp for a quick dinner before turning in for the night. Breakfast the next morning roused us only so much – we were really feeling the previous day’s paddling. Luckily, this day’s itinerary only featured two miles of rowing – the distance to and from the trailhead for Desolation Peak. We had prepped for the trip by reading a few chapters of Jack Kerouac’s “Desolation Angels,” written while he manned the fire lookout atop the peak in the summer of 1956.



If Jack could make the trek (4400-foot elevation gain over 4.8 miles), then we could, too. Only later did I learn that all of his gear, while arguably a lot bulkier than our daypacks, was carried up the mountain by a donkey. What luxury!



I lagged dramatically behind the group, which would have made for a triumphant photo finish, if I hadn’t been a bit skeptical of having reached the top. A number of false summits had shaken my confidence, until I finally found the guys again, each in a state of either napping, snacking, or downward dog. Then I caught sight of the fire lookout and that magnificent peak to the north: “Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen!”









After much rest and relaxation, we started our descent back down to our canoes. Back at our campsite, celebratory drinks were consumed (thumbs up to Phillip for packing in a couple of limes).



After a spot of dinner and some light reading, we were ready to say goodnight to Ross Lake.


Hi there, 2016

As Justin Bieber croons: “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Blog, you’ve been on my mind more than ever, but you’ve been hopelessly abandoned for a good six months. Such is not my wish. Sorry, bloggy.

Contrary to the school of thought that “If it isn’t on instagram, it didn’t happen,” I actually have been doing things, every day in fact, despite the radio silence around here. Speaking of instagram, I’ve got a hugely underwhelming one myself now – late to the party seems to be my modus operandi (see months old Bieber reference above).

So here’s hoping that I can inject some life back in to my blog. As I am sure that so many are ready to wax nostaligic for 2015, here’s a recap of the year about which I blogged nary a day!


January – Hardly a week after moving from Washington to California, we hopped on a plan for Guatemala and spent a month stumbling around the country. We enrolled in intensive Spanish lessons, bumped down dirt roads, and looked forward to our morning serving of platanos fritos.


February – Stateside and squatting at my parents house (thanks ma and pa!), we escaped the suburban sprawl by bike, with trips into San Francisco for Chinese humbao and other snacks, and a jaunt to Napa for wine-tasting while dodging bachelorette party buses.


March – We zipped up to Seattle to celebrate Phillip’s brother marriage – a lovely ceremony at the courthouse followed by dinner and dancing. Perfect! We even managed to squeeze in a stop at the Tulip Festival and a hike up to the Oyster Dome, some Pacific Northwest favorites.


April – At the tail end of our long weekend in Seattle, we found out that we had secured the (one! and only!) apartment to which we had applied. We were moved in to our new spot in Oakland by the beginning of the month, and started exploring our new neighborhood right away. (Note: the heroin-chic set-up in the above photo was only a brief decorative choice while we purchased a bedframe.)


May – After a month-long search, I started a new job, celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday with a Korean feast and two (and a half!) of the most wonderful people – our first guests in Oakland! We showed them the sites and made them promise to come back.


June – We stayed pretty local this month, spending many a sunny afternoon getting to know our neighborhood; its restaurants, its coffee shops, its library, farmers’ market, and parks. Turns out there is plenty to appreciate, and plenty more to discover.


July -In the heat of summer, Phillip and I took many a bike ride, the best (and hottest) of which was to a town with the coldest name (Winters). Then there wasn’t much time to catch a breath before I flew out to see a friend in Colorado for hiking, fancy cocktails, and some light altitude sickness.


August – Making the most of our weekends off, Phillip and I stayed in our saddles and made tracks all over town. Despite its hot temps, we couldn’t resist another trip to the Sacramento Valley for a long ride along the American River and a refreshing dip at the end!


September – Not yet ready to give up the last days of summer, we took a weekend in Tehama County for a wedding and tacked on a day and half for a bonus trip into Lassen Volcanic National Park with Phillip’s sister.


October – Phillip’s first niece was born in early September, so we jumped at the chance to visit with her up in Washington. And typical of her ma’ and pa’, we spent the time getting to know her on a whirlwind weekend trip to Walla Walla – my first time in Eastern Washington.


November – Phillip and I celebrated Thanksgiving three times over this season; once with my parents in California, once with our Seattle gang, and once with Phillip’s family in Bellingham. Oh, and of course we made time for another pie ride (“when in Whatcom…”).


December – To close out the end of 2015, I had the bright idea to welcome in 2016 in an unheated canvas tent for two nights in Yosemite National Park. Bracing for the cold and bracing for the new year! How’s that for a metaphor! Phillip and his sister decided to join in, so we cross-country skiied, hiked, and huddled around an electric kettle for warmth.

And 2016 is shaping up to be a good one, too! But first, feel free to check out 2014’s review here, a hello from 2013, and the best of 2012 and 2011. Time sure does fly!

A few favorites: Seattle markets

December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.

Seattle Markets

When I travel, the first place I want to visit is a market – a grocery store, a street vendor, a farm stand, it doesn’t matter. I love markets, so when a visitor asks for a good introduction to the city, I suggest a market and luckily Seattle has options far beyond big box stores like Fred Meyer (though, according to my mom, it’s the place to be – her undying/unyielding/unexplainable love of “Freddy’s” is as odd as it is sweet). There are over a dozen farmers’ markets, serving every neighborhood, and some grocery stores who really make fresh, local ingredients a priority. Washington is best known as the apple state, but let’s not forget that it produces 92% of the nation’s raspberries! 50% of the country’s cherries! And nearly as many pears! The largest food co-op in the United States is headquartered in Seattle! The food culture here is strong and I enjoyed getting to taste a part of it.



Wallingford Farmers’ Market // Wallingford // 4800 Meridian Avenue N

Where the children of yuppies run barefoot on the grass, and the kombucha runs six dollars a glass – that’s the Wallingford Farmers’ Market! From late May through the end of September, the Meridian Playground behind the Good Shepherd Center is an idyllic place to spend a Wednesday afternoon. It is one of Seattle’s smaller farmers’ markets, but you won’t find it lacking – on the contrary! It has fresh, PNW produce as you’d expect, as well as live music, hot food, meat and cheese, pastries, and what’s more, it all takes place on a lawn so lush, you’ll want to kick your shoes off and wander the stalls barefoot (and in a hippie love-child daze, you’ll “feel more connected with mother earth” and probably buy that expensive granola). Phillip and I would often bring a picnic dinner, blanket, and books, and do a lap around the market, stocking up on ingredients for the rest of the week. Be sure to take a peek at the flower stall, as we would often find huge bouquets of basil leaves selling for a dollar or two!



Ballard Farmers’ Market // Ballard Avenue NW, between Vernon Place NW and 22nd Avenue NW

Beyond its tasty little donuts, the Ballard Farmers’ Market serves up a feast for the senses every Sunday. For the fingers: there’s a fair bit of fruit and veg to poke and prod; for the nose: freshly baked bread and herbs ripe for the picking; for the tastebuds: goat cheese, pickles, raspberries (try ‘em all!). Stare mouth agape at pay-what-you-can typewriter poets; overhear the oddest of discussions*. Find a seat along Ballard Avenue at one of many cafés or restaurants for some fine people watching (Phillip and I always try for a spot at one of Anchored Ship’s tiny outdoor tables). It’s a lovely way to spend a weekend morning in one of Seattle’s most charming neighborhoods.

*A man approaches a butcher cart with his Great Dane and says, “So I was thinking that it would be good to start feeding my dog organ meat. Do you guys have any, like, cow hearts that you were gonna throw away that I could have? Or like, would I need to order a dozen?” The butcher declines with a shake of his head, giving a look that says, “You know, each cow only has one of those, right?”



Pike Place Market // Downtown // 85 Pike Street

The most famous food market in all of Seattle (and in all of the US?) is Pike Place, perched above the Puget Sound in the heart of downtown. It is perhaps most well-known for flying fish, but there is really so much more to see. Too much, in fact, as Pike Place hasn’t managed to escape the ravages of tourism (souvenir t-shirts, gemstones, and model airplanes made of soda cans) – and that says nothing of the hoards who line the other side of First Avenue. That being said, I love visiting the market for a chance to browse the stalls, sample what’s in season, and grab a bouquet for the kitchen table. I’d recommend that you wake up early to avoid the bulk of the crowds, and take some time to explore the market’s multiple floors – there’s always something new to see! My favorite spots are Lion Heart Book Store, First & Pike News, and Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt.



Uwajimaya // International District // 600 5th Avenue South

The Disneyland of Asian grocery stores, Uwajimaya’s brightly-colored aisles of common and uncommon sauces, snacks, and ingredients may take you a few hours to digest. I have certainly spent a weekend afternoon loading fruits and vegetables into my basket, tempted by bittermelon and dragonfruit though thoroughly unsure how to consume them. Uwajimaya has an impressive seafood department too, featuring live geoduck, sashimi-grade fish, and PNW salmon. There is also a great selection of prepared foods as well as an extensive food court whose offerings cover the entire Asian continent. Come hungry. Or come with a mind open to the idea of getting very hungry, very quickly. With so much to try, there is always a reason to return. I’m even planning my next trip as one thing I never did when I lived in Seattle was to make sushi with friends, with fish from Uwajimaya. It’s on my list and should be on yours, too!

The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. Has a new farmers’ market popped up in the neighborhood? Did kombucha girl finally cut her blonde dreads? Are gluten-free bakeries a thing of the past? If you know the answers to any of the aforementioned questions, you are someone with whom I need to talk!


One year (later), a video flipbook

Scroll to the bottom for the video, because why wait a moment longer?

Most of my creative pursuits seem to end up in a state of perpetual incompleteness, which is why it is such a pleasant surprise to me that, just this once, I completed something – and only fourteen months later than anticipated. From the time that I started this project on May 2, 2013, days before I closed the book on my TAPIF year, to the same day in 2014, I recorded a one second video clip each day.

A lot happened: I destroyed my computer, crossing my fingers as I salvaged months of shoulda-woulda-coulda been lost footage; I struggled with the limitations of iMovie, screamed at every spontaneous shutdown, made myself a snack each time it froze, and powered through clunky workarounds (365 times, no less). And that’s just the technical side of things! It says nothing of all the moments that actually made the days worth recording in the first place, from the exceptional (touring the falls at Plitvice) to the ordinary (time spent with friends).

A one-second clip on its own isn’t particularly interesting it turns out and it wasn’t until I strung together about sixty of them that I started to see anything at all. Half a dozen times I have tried to take a photo a day and I’ve never made it more than a week; to think I’d have a different experience with moving pictures (a medium with which I had much less practice) seemed like I was setting myself up for disappointment.

But I did it. Every day. Sometimes not until moments before the clock struck midnight, but I did it all the same. Not every day was photogenic, and there are way too many clips highlighting what I had to eat for dinner that night (like a horrible, foodie instagram come to life!), but it certainly paints an accurate portrait of the year. Even the bad stuff, like an angsty evening scribbling in a journal, and the aftermath of a bicycle accident, my worst injury to date.

If there is anything that I would want to change, though, it’s not any of the moments themselves, but rather how I captured them. In still photography, I am hopelessly shy about working with human subjects – friends or strangers, and while I was more confident when my images were moving, I could have pushed myself to invite more animate subjects into the frame.

But in the end, I really enjoyed the process of making my little film, and am so happy with the final result. I’m a better videographer for it! Most importantly, a big thank you to all who got in front of the camera; I always tried my best to make you look good (it was easy). Glad you’re in my life.

Let’s end the text before I get too nostalgic…I thought the point of a video was that I could avoid having to write! Oh well…I’m done! Action!

A bike ride in the county

Follow along for a moment: If everything that Phillip said about bicycles was simultaneously transcribed and published, he would have tomes so numerous that even Marcel Proust would think it excessive. His love of bicycles overflows and he wistfully tells tales of favorite rides – along the banks of rice paddy fields in Korea on a rusty, old cruiser; up endlessly steep Austrian mountains on a trusty steel Peugeot; down the Pacific coast and into Mexico on a beloved blue Raleigh Grand Prix. But he is perhaps the most nostalgic for rides in Whatcom County where he grew up. So when the opportunity finally, finally came up for me to join him on his infamous “Pie Ride,” just days before we moved out of Washington state (forever?!), I threw my hands to the heavens, tears streaming down my face, and after the sobbing had subsided, I whispered “yes, I am ready.”

Okay, so we are both fairly dramatic about bicycles.

A country ride, how novel, I remember thinking. If the scars on my face and the missing part of my tooth are any indication that city riding isn’t ideal, I didn’t realize this until we packed up and pedaled out of Bellingham into “the county.” Phillip’s sister being in town and joining us was an added bonus!







So off we rode into the early morning fog, past the dreamiest of barns, the lushest of fields, the noisiest of cows. Farm dogs snapped at our heels, puddles were narrowly avoided, and wardrobes were swapped as storm clouds rolled in and heart rates rose – I think every single configuration of neon yellow reflective jacket and Paddington Bear-blue rain slicker was tested (Phil in yellow, his sister in blue; Sarah in blue, Phil in shirt sleeves; etc. in perpetuity).







But Phil called this a “Pie Ride” so where was the pie? In Lynden, of course, twenty miles north of B’ham. Once in town, we coasted down Front Street to the famous Dutch Bakery, hitched our bikes outside, and scurried in for warmth and treats. Lining the walls of the shop, boxes of pies towered a dozen high for the Christmastime rush, and we queued up for slices of our own. Bumbleberry, a mixture of berries for which the region is renowned, was generously dished up and we stuffed ourselves silly. Our blood sufficiently sugared, we saddled up again for the ride back home.







We had grown cold from sitting at the bakery for so long, and we tried to pick up our speed for the return, but by that time the light had changed, and we were seeing everything from a different angle and it was so beautiful that we had to stop for photos of highland cows basking in the golden hour, even as we cursed ourselves for not wearing thermal pants.



We lingered at this wooden tower for a spell; Phillip’s seen it countless times and is no less impressed by its construction and intrigued by its history – it looks like it is from another time and frankly, from another continent. We searched for clues, but with the wind picking up, we started on the final stretch to Bellingham. A truly spectacular ride, one that I would be happy to repeat!


The next morning we were treated again to pie, a lovely rum raisin and apple crafted by Phil’s sister, but this time we only needed to go as far as the kitchen, so it all averages out, I guess. Forty miles or a couple of steps, if it’s pie, I’ll take it!

The Subaru

I’m traveling home to California tonight to spend some time with my parents and to participate in a very ceremonial rite of passage: the handing over of the keys.  That’s right, the car that used to drive me to soccer practice and school dances, will now be driven by me – to pottery class, to the mountains, but first, it’ll take Phillip and I all the way back to Seattle on an end-of-summer road trip.  We’ve planned to ramble our way north over the course of a week, but other than that, we’ve only marked our map with some mighty fine looking bakeries, as well as wild hot springs far up winding dirt roads.

My forest green Subaru Legacy Outback will be in fine company with all of the other forest green Subaru Legacy Outbacks that line the streets of Seattle.  I haven’t had much desire to share pictures of the glorified tin can on wheels we’ve been driving since last November (but really, I do love that shabby thing), though some of the stories of its various breakdowns may make good blog fodder one day.  The Subaru will be the first car that I have owned in the United States, and only the second one I have owned in my life, after my dear Peugeot in France last year.  I’m excited for my own set of wheels…and the adventures that await us this week and in the months (and miles) to come!  C’est parti!



Pottery class: weeks 3 & 4

In our third week of pottery class we started showing up at the studio more and more frequently.  A big benefit of taking classes at the Ballard Community Center is that enrollment in a course entitles you to free studio time whenever the center is open to the public.  Due to city funding cuts, this unfortunately means we can’t throw on the weekends, but on a chilly Tuesday or Wednesday night, why not?




What a surprise, more short round things.  I must say, even I was a bit unimpressed with my lack of imagination.  Or rather, I think it’s more a matter of execution.  If memory serves me right, both times I think I was attempting to make a pitcher – HA!


But then a stroke of rare genius hit, my hands slid together and when I pulled my hands away (slowly, slowly) I had a vase standing about 3 inches high.  And boy, is this thing sturdy.




We also learned another important step in pottery-making: trimming.  This is the time for the novice potter to erase all of the mistake he or she has made up to this point.  Sure there are ample opportunities following this step and definitely during this stage to mess everything up, but once your clay is ¡leather-hard! the task of trimming down the base and smoothing out the rough patches is relaxing and a bit hypnotic.  And when that’s done and your name is carved into the underside, you’ve got a piece ready for its first firing!





Pottery class: weeks 1 & 2

Four weeks ago, Phillip and I started pottery class at the local community center.  When I was a child, I took ceramics camps for several summers and for quite some time I had played with the idea of looking for classes in Seattle – when I mentioned it to Phillip, he seemed keen to join on, too!  We were particularly interested in learning how to throw clay, that is, to sculpt on a potter’s wheel (more on lovely pottery jargon later).

As an eight and nine year-old, my interest lay exclusively in creating an arsenal of very small pinch pots and unintentionally grotesque animal sculptures, so branching out to wheel work was a really exciting alternative.  We showed up to our first class poised and ready to be pottery prodigies, masters of the wheel – and anyway, by our instructor’s standards we were.  He was very complementary of our first bowls; mine the taller and lumpier of the two pictured below.  But despite the learning curve, I find sitting behind the wheel to be a very enjoyable, relaxing, mentally stimulating activity.  And messy!  Now like my more seasoned classmates, I’ve got a pair of dedicated pottery pants (not the pants you’re thinking of, Rosie…coquine madame!).  I’ve truly arrived!




As challenging as turning a blob of clay into a non-blob of clay is the vocabulary – some are completely new words and some are old words with completely new meanings.  Pulling, greenware, leather-hard, ribs, and wedging are all terms that I’m finding myself using more and more, while I have yet to find the word to describe the feat of clay flying clean off one’s wheel and onto the floor, or the act of overwatering one’s clay, or the phenomenon of sitting back to look at one’s work and happily proclaiming it done, only to accidentally tear through it with your thumb as you touch up a smudge.  But then again, I am still learning.




Over-confident from the first class, during week two I sat down at the wheel with a tall, curvy idea in my head, and ended up with a cylinder.  Twice.  Too short to hold anything upright and too fat to be a delicate drinking vessel.  Oh well.  Phillip left a nice bowl and beer stein drying, though!




In week three, we started turning up at the studio more often, so we can only hope that more practice time will lead to something a bit more interesting and a bit less cylindrical.


My fourth springtime in Washington state, and this year I finally saw the tulips.  I anticipated a day trip to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival as anxiously I would a vacation – a much-needed vacation.  Happy as my disposition tends to be, I’ve found that working-life post-TAPIF leaves something to be desired.  I need to be outside!  Out of town!  Out of body (ooh, groovy…) – as much as I look forward to the warming weather, the sunnier the days become, the more my limbs twitch, my mind wanders, my eyes go in and out of focus (mouth agape, I’m sure).  And it is only going to get more difficult as summer approaches, unless

This jaunt north to the Skagit Valley couldn’t have come at a better time – the second Sunday of the month was sunny, bright, and dry; the bloom map I had been checking for weeks indicated signs of life.  And what life!  Long I have been enamored of the greens that are so characteristic of the Pacific Northwest, but to see the valley alive with color was a spectacular sight, proving that all this rain is good for something!











And here I thought I would take a little pause for all to recognize and appreciate my self-restraint in the number of photos I decided to post…only forty or so!















After a stroll around Roozengaarde’s largest field, we stopped across the road at the show garden, which put on display its rarest tulips.  Most surprising I found to be the names given to many of the tulips, which ranged from the fancy (“plaisir” or “baronesse”), to the suggestive (“sensual touch,” “blushing bride,” or “secret love”), to the not-really-so-vaguely-politically-incorrect (“white triumphator,” “white king,” or “white ideal” – any of the white ones, really).  Some, like the “Fabio” pictured below, must have been named purely for comedic value; case in point: the “Fokker Fan-Fan” tulip.










What goes best with tulips?  Why, more tulips!  We tiptoed through another field, ablaze in reds and pinks and purples.  I slipped further into Tulipomania, remembering an interesting story that my father shared with me from Charles Mackay’s “Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” – it’s definitely worth a read, as it explains the life and times (and mania!) of the tulip in the Netherlands.  “Quis furor ô cives” it begins – “What madness, citizens!”  To spend one’s fortune on a tulip bulb seems extreme, pretty as they are, but to spend one’s afternoon surrounded by blooms makes for an entirely lovely Sunday.















Embrace the madness!  Come see the tulips before they are all gone for the season!