Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Northwest Hike #2: Tiger Mountain Trail

Last weekend I went hiking at Tiger Mountain Trail.  Tiger Mountain is about 30 minutes from Seattle, and the whole Tiger Mountain Trail is around 16 miles and has a few offshoots, trail heads, and other un- or poorly-marked paths.  I followed the directions on the Washington Trails Association website but be warned - if you look at two different sets of directions, or you look at Tiger Mountain, Tiger Mountain North and/or Tiger Mountain South, you can get conflicting directions.  The ones I finally settled on included the notion that there was a well marked trail head and parking lot, which was not the case.  I ended up parking on a wide shoulder of Tiger Mountain Road and finding the index-card-sized trail marker stapled to a tree.  Apparently there are better directions, but if you end on Tiger Mountain Road, beware that it's not super clear where the trail begins.  Also, Tiger Mountain Road is just a loop off of another main road, and that the distance from the trailhead to the main road will depend which turn you take onto Tiger Mountain Road.  That said, the trailhead was also supposed to be around a mile from the turn, but it was actually far more than a mile from one turn on to Tiger Mountain Road and far less than a mile from the other turn.

The Trails Association website also promised a waterfall about two miles in, which seemed a good turn around point, but we never did see a waterfall and I went decently past the two mile mark.  Turns out, you have to be really, really careful which site you read and which trail head you are at, because you could just see nothing.  Which is not to say that it is an unpleasant hike - it's a lovely fall hike.  From where I started it was uphill at the start and flattens out, and it's nicely forested.  The trail is for hikers and horseback riders, so you might happen upon some people on horseback like I did.  Just don't expect to see anything spectacular unless you're planning to go for closer to at least five miles.  Or possibly two miles just from another trail head.  I guess either be flexible, be in for a medium to long hike, or be careful.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Yoga Lesson: Awareness

I just finished a month of yoga (almost) every day.  I was going to write thoughts at the end of each week and I did at the end of week one, but then I felt like I didn't have any revelations each week.  Now that it's done, there's been enough time that more thoughts have bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness.

~ When class starts, often I feel like my muscles and bones and skin are tight, and even within the hour they open up.  It seems like often, if I don't head to yoga, a lot of time could pass before I even realized this restriction existed.  Yoga is mindfulness of the body, after all, which most jobs and pastimes don't integrate.

~I found two teachers I really like, who have quite different styles.  If I had not done the 30 days, I doubt I would have explored so many teachers - either because I would just pick a convenient time and stick with that and so simply not find them, or because I'd find one I like and stick with that.  I also found out that I quite like restorative yoga mixed in with vinyasa, which, admittedly I previously would have expected to be a little too, well, wimpy, where in reality it fits a different bill (see the point above).

~ There is a stunning amount of fine-tuning.  The more you're aware, the more you're aware of being aware of.  Something like that. 

~ If you relax your throat and mouth and focus on that, you can have ease even in the midst of stress and intense experience. 

~ The more you learn about one thing, the more those lessons apply to everything.


I made my first ever batch of preserves today!  I made Ginger Pear Preserves from the Ball Canning recipe collection.  It was much simpler than I expected!

I've been wanting to do some canning for a while now, but I hesitated because it seems a little intimidating.  You need to sterilize things, have equipment you get from a hardware store, and deal with some light chemistry (pectin?  fruit fresh?  pH levels?).   So, I took a one-hour canning class from Seattle Can Can to learn the basic techniques.  Vic, the teacher, has over 35 years of experience preserving foods using the water bath process, and she could not have simplified it more.  A few supplies, basically explained, one recipe demoed, and voila.  I went home and made this.  Well, to be fair I did stop at City Hardware, a local hardware store that has a big canning section, to get some supplies.  And I went to the farmers' market to get pears - because why not use the local ones if I'm going to all the trouble to make jam myself?  This led me into a great conversation with the woman at the booth, who is the only one of her five siblings to carry on the canning tradition of their family, about preserves, some tips she had, some pear type recommendations - all kinds of stuff which was both useful and a good reminder to talk to the people at the farmers market. 

I won't presume to write anything about canning, lest I send someone on the path to mistakes, but I would say to give it a go and talk to someone who does know what they're doing if you have questions.  It makes me happy to think about how this one thing got me to meeting a local teacher, local farmer, and local hardware store. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

 Yes, Halloween is tomorrow.  But, that doesn't mean it's too late to get into the spirit!  Here are two craft ideas that are super simple and that you can execute very quickly!  One is a twist on the usual pumpkin-carving, and the other is a sparkling addition to a table top that doesn't have to go away with Halloween - it might even look great on a Thanksgiving table as well.  Enjoy!

Black Pumpkin Carving (and a bonus recipe)

Black craft paint
Paint brush
Knives of various sizes

For Seeds:

Paint your pumpkin black.  Yes!  All the orange you can see, cover with black paint. 

Let the paint dry.  Once dry, use the chalk to outline the face you want to carve into the pumpkin.  I am not adept at knife skills, so my pumpkin faces only have straight lines.

Cut off the top of the pumpkin.  Using your hands, a spoon, or an ice cream scoop, remove the flesh and seeds from the insides.  If you want to toast the seeds, you can separate them from the fleshy bits.  Don't worry about being too thorough at this point, but if you can make two piles (one flesh + seeds and one just flesh with no seeds) it will help out later.

Cut the face out.  You will probably need to touch up the black paint after you cut the pieces out.  Look how the orange of the inside stands out against the black!  It adds a bit of contrast that makes the face really pop during the day, and makes the face stand out even more at night when the black pumpkin fades into the darkness of the background.  Spooky!

I like to use Alton Brown's pumpkin seed method, and this is it.  If you separated the seeds to toast, you can put them into a bowl and fill with water.  The water will help you further separate the seeds (which rise to the top) and the flesh (which sinks).  

 Pull out all the seeds and place them on a lint-free towel.  Dry them as thoroughly as you want - ideally, you would leave them out overnight because the drier the better, but you can use your discretion and work with your own timeline. 

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add a tablespoon of oil and then enough seeds to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toast, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until your seeds look toasty.  Remove to a bowl, cool and eat.  Yum!  You can also add other spices if you want - paprika is good, or cumin, or red pepper flakes, or a combination.

Sparkly Mini-Pumpkins

Bag of miniature pumpkins and gourds
Spray glue

This craft is super incredibly easy - so much that it probably doesn't even need a tutorial.  But I am endeavoring to start writing tutorials, so, why not?

Hold the pumpkins from the bottom and spray the top with glue.  Sprinkle the glitter over the top.  The glitter will stick to the top and somewhat down the sides of the pumpkins.  Turn the pumpkins upside down to remove any non-stuck glue.  Voila!  These look pretty spread around with candles to reflect the glow.

Bonus tip:
Soak your mini pumpkins in a combination of 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1/2 gallon of water to help prolong their life.  You can also brush this solution onto the cut edges of your pumpkin and all over the inside to prevent mold there too and elongate your pumpkin's life.  Just don't get any bleach solution on the seeds because you don't want to eat it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two Tastes.

Been reading a few books about tastes and food memories and its inspired me to write some of my own.  At this point I can't really design a recipe (I can follow one to great result, but not create one), so I'm not really in a place to have a 'food blog' of the recipe type, but I do like to write about food.  Like many things, I think eating is often about both the food and the surrounding events and feelings.  If this is interesting at all, I'd recommend Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain and Toast by Nigel Slater, who are both actual writers who sometimes write this kind of thing really, really well.

Fireman's Festival fried fish and french fries
It is one of the best times of the year.  At the end of the street I live on: a carnival.  A scrambler, a giant slide, a ring toss, bingo.  Lining the alley between the field and the police station: food stands operated by locals.  Funnel cake.  Italian sausage.  Hamburgers.  Lemon shake-ups.  All made by people once a year.  Not by restaurants and chefs, or even professional cooks, not by traveling carnies, not by food vendors, but by fireman and church ladies, probably the exact same way they've been making them for 40 years.  There are no fancy oils, no fusions, no mis en place or food handling posters.  There is a lot of laughing and talking to the passers by, who undoubtedly know the cooks.  I take my $5 straight to the fish fry and the french fry booths.  I cannot wait for the fries to cool so I repeatedly burn my tongue and lips on hot oil as my teeth snap the shoelace-thin browned shell and steam snakes out with the fluffy insides.  After the initial bites I douse them with malt vinegar and pump on Heinz ketchup from a giant can, warm from being in the sun all day.  I carry my food to some bleachers nearby so I can free my hands from having to hold two red-and-white paper boats filled with food.  Fish sandwich now, no trace of frying oil but crisp and flaky, between a sesame seed bun.  Tartar sauce oozes out from the bite and plops onto the paper boat.  I forget the rides and the games and the band crooning "Rock Around the Clock" and eat with total concentration.  It is to this day that I have never tasted fries or a fish sandwich so perfect.

Christmas Duck
Christmases when I was young were glorious affairs, not so much because they were fancy but because they were a childhood dream.  At the time my family was large, with aunts and uncles on both sides, two sets of grandparents, my own married parents, a few cousins, and an overabundance of cats, and everyone came together for Christmas.  Having got church over the night before at an eve service, I got three Christmas celebrations - one at home with my parents and brother with pancakes or eggs and fruit and cookies for breakfast, one at one set of grandparents' house for a quiet lunch of soup and sandwiches and cookies, and one at another set of grandparents' house for a buffet dinner overflowing with dishes and cookies.  There were many cookies.

Everyone in my family is always doing something.  TVs are always on.  Someone is cleaning something and someone else wants to show you an article they found in the paper and someone wants to try something on and someone is building a fort behind the couch.  Someone is always in the kitchen, cooking, drinking tea, watching TV.  There is very little sitting around relaxing.  Holidays were, if nothing else, an amplification of that spirit.

My grandma's house was cozy, with dark wood, old fashioned wallpaper, Victorian-esque furniture covered in cat hair.  She always tried to clean but it never managed to get done in time.  There was a great big fat tree in the sitting room laden with legitimately antique ornaments and tinsel that went down just far enough to be out of cat-reach.  My grandma herself buzzed around the kitchen for the majority of our visit, hopping from oven to toaster oven, shouting not unkindly to my grandfather to check on a thing or do a thing while she did another thing.  The upright mixer never shut off.  Despite valiant efforts few people could help her.  Grandma was of the generation and type of person who never wrote anything down as far as a recipe goes and couldn't really tell you what to do.  Grandpa could help because that's just how they were together.  I was often underfoot trying to hurry the preparations, just on the verge of passing out with anticipation because supper wasn't done yet and we couldn't open our presents till after people ate, and people eat forever. 

A crescendo to the flurry of activity.  Everyone carries things into the dining room, where a massive wood buffet squeezed in next to an even more massive round dining room table, doubtless a decorator's nightmare in that it took up 80% of the room.  Cozy.  I was much then as I am now - if there is a buffet I want some of everything.  Of course then I did not have quite an expansive of a pallet as I do now.

This was the year that there was ham, of course, but also duck.  I had never had duck.  Had never seen duck dead and dressed out.  It looked like a small, auburn chicken.  I would have it!  I was warned that it might not be what I expected.  I would have it!  They ate it in all the Christmas movies (chief among them A Christmas Carol and The Little Princess and the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where maybe neither actually featured a duck eating scene but I was pretty sure about they ate it). And so my mom cut for me a slice of duck.  Duck, however, is not the same as a chicken.  It tastes so much more like duck than chicken tastes like chicken.  Oil oozed all over my tongue.  Red gaminess meant chewing and chewing and chewing some more.  I did not finish the duck.  Among all the food, no one noticed the sliver of meat pushed to the side next to a pie crust and a sprinkling of peas, and this was not a clean-your-plate type of family.  I am not sure if it was cooked poorly or if I just didn't know what real meat tasted like, but it was many years before I would eat duck again. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Month of Yoga: Week 1

The yoga place across the street has a new student special, where you can do 30 days for $30.  I signed up for the class with the intention of doing yoga each (or nearly each) day for 30 days, and seeing how I feel physically, mentally and emotionally after.  I ended up not doing any sort of 'before' to which I could measure an 'after', but I figured I would have some thoughts about it anyway - which I do!

Of the first seven days, I did yoga six (one day I was too busy - oh the irony!).   The first three days were rough.  I'm just terribly out of shape since the move - I have done little more than walking around (up hills, the dog, etc. but it's definitely not much), and have crammed myself in a UHaul and worked from home in probably not the best ergonomic conditions (for example, my desk chair arrives tomorrow, finally - although some days, I did work standing up which is even better than sitting).  Consequential, muscles are tight enough that now I know what they mean when they say 'screaming pain'.  I often had to back way off of postures I used to be able to do with no issues.  My shoulders in particular are so tight that one teacher asked me when I had my shoulder injury (I have had none).  I am also much weaker than I used to be - holding some arm, ab and leg posters ended up with much more shaking and counting the seconds instead of the breaths until they were over. 

How terrible it feels, and how easy it is to become out of shape compared to how hard it is to get into shape!

The last two classes showed some physical progress.  While I'm sure I wasn't actually more flexible or strong, I did feel much less resistant.  The final class of the week was a restorative/yin type class. Normally I like the intensity of a vinyasa/ashtanga class, but there was something about the week and the move and the rainy-ness of the night that convinced me to do a more contemplative practice.  Turns out it was just the ticket to be holding fewer, gentler poses for longer periods, and it was soothing to my mind to have the teacher work in some spiritual/intellectual study with the physical.

Speaking of the spiritual/intellectual, trying to quiet the mind in meditation at the end of the session got easier too as I stopped resisting the moves.  One day we did a guided meditation that was particularly good, and the last night was very peaceful.

When I was at the last boot camp I did, the instructor would talk about how he keeps in shape so that he can do whatever he wants to when the chance arises - he can go hiking or swimming, he can run a race next weekend if he feels like it.  And that's also what the instructors in the Buddhist pod casts I listen to also say - that we practice quieting thoughts and becoming mindful so that when situations arise where it is easy to lose track, we can stay centered.  And that's, of course, why practice - 'the harder you work, the luckier you are.'  This is one way I think about yoga, that helps keep the focus on the practice instead of a goal (weight-loss, some bliss experience - which, while nice things that would be great, don't help experience the moment): maybe that I am practicing for the sake of practicing, growing for the sake of growing, and then, it expands to fill everything.


Side note.  It is something I've learned from improv and yoga and various other outlets that you should not hold back from giving everything you can and doing the best you can, which for various reasons people do, and lead by your shining example.  I think it's also maybe even more important to do what you can even when you now it's not as good as you want it to be, as everyone else wants to see, because when other people see that, they can understand that it's not the only excellence that matters, but also the practice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I liked it, but what was it?: Some Thoughts on Directing Pocketful of Posies

 Photo by Steve Rogers

“I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.” - Miles Davis

“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take things to.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Apologies about the spacing issues.  Blogger isn't letting me correct them.

All right, this is a long time coming.

A few weeks after Pocketful of Posies closed, I was sitting at a bar with one of the cast members.  He said something to the effect of, “You know, I was pretty sure this show wasn’t going to work and might even be bad.  But then, in the end, it was amazing.”

I had those thoughts myself.  Are there directors that don’t?  Are there people who are creating something and have no moments of doubt, no times when they panic that they’re not executing their idea properly or communicating right, and that if they did communicate it right that it was a terrible idea to begin with?  With Pocketful of Posies, I had started with something relatively obscure, made it even more obscure, then asked people to go on a journey with me with very few guideposts and nothing but trust.  My thankfulness for a willing cast and audiences cannot be understated.

About a year before the show, the artistic director of Gnap! proposed that a female company member direct a feminist improv show based on some foreign films from the 60’s, including “Celine and Julie Go Boating” and “Daisies”.  Films that few people I know have seen, belonging to a genre that not too many more people know a lot about.  I, however, am into all those things, so I jumped at the chance.  Women!  Comedy!  French New Wave!  Psychaelia!  Yes…and then I sat down with it, took a good look around, and realized I had no idea what to do going forward.  Gnap! traditionally does narrative shows.  How to make one out of these non-narrative sources?  How to create a format from a genre that intentionally subscribed to no format?  How to get anyone to understand and care? 

To make something out of this disparate set of stuff, I went to the basics.  What is there about New Wave that I could set up as a guide?  Some history: New Wave filmmakers were rejected traditional film forms and rebelled against their reliance on plot.  This is old-school, they said (I paraphrase), keeping the genre of film linked to the genre of the novel.  Film is a different medium, and could be used to create a different experience.  They sought neither to mesmerize the audience with narrative images, nor to encourage the audience suspend their disbelief, but rather made films identified the essential elements that were the film-y-ness of films.  They let the audience be involved in and aware of the process, the glory, and the agony that was movie-making.  They made movies to celebrate what was unique about  movies.  This, more than the specifics of the source material, even more than the very lose idea of a feminist adventure, is where Pocketful of Posies came from.  What if I did that with improv?  What if I stripped away the expectations of the audience and the cast and left only the bare bones of the form?  What if I subverted the expectations of improv to celebrate improv?  What if anything really could happen?

Exciting.  This is the kind of thing that really gets me going.  So now, New Wave improv.  Not a point by point show set up like a specific film or films (which not too many people in my target audience would clearly identify, which is not how New Wave filmmakers made their own movies).  Nope.  I was going to give an improv audience the experience of the New Wave aesthetic captured within the genre of improv.  So… that helped?  It got me ready to create.  I have done all the major improv styles that I know of – short form, Harold and the children of Harold (living room, deconstruction, sliding doors, etc.), narrative.  I love them all.  They all exist in Austin.  I was going to combine them into something that used all of their beautiful bits and pieces to make a new thing, under the very loose heading that we’d follow a pair of female friends on an adventure.  Fingers crossed, time to jump, the net will appear (right?).

I had such an incredible cast.  They came from all the improv styles and everyone brought something completely wonderful.  The analytical plot-makers.  The beautiful characters.  The intellectual commenters who clarified ideas.  The theme-guided move-makers.  The sillies.  And, to top it all off, they were all willing to do this crazy thing that had next to no structure!  The plot-makers learned theme-moving.  The theme-movers learned to be protagonists.  Everyone got to be erudite and silly (sometimes at the same time).  They brought their own thing and mixed it up with the other things.  The whole was even greater than the sum of its parts.  And we used everything.  The show had the loose structure, the larger conventions of New Wave films and of improv, but mixed linear-focused with thematic-focused structures.  Shows broke out into short-form games to emphasize themes, to help the plot, to just have fun.  Much to my delight and surprise, every single show had audience involvement.  We had talked about breaking the fourth wall, about monologues and takes to the audience, but without making audience members feel on the spot.  For the most part I think that was accomplished (although it’s hard to tell for sure if anyone was made uncomfortable).  But even I was surprised how each week the audience became an active part of the show not only by cast encouragement but also by more organic responses to the energy.  

Each week the show got better.  It took a while to get everyone on the same page - I would say, the entire time of rehearsal plus the opening weekend.  I was asked many questions about how to emotionally connect with such an intellectually-based show.  Create a character with wants and needs, and the show will happen around it.  There was anxiety about not having enough of a linear story, and contrasting anxiety about not being willing enough to let go of that same thing.  My advice to this was always the same – you do what you do, and let them do what they do, and from that, this show will come up.  You may not think it makes sense from the inside while it is happening, but in the end it will come together.  The audience builds connections and the others are there to catch you.  There is a delay between those two particular concerns is a pit of despair – there is a) everyone on board with executing a specific structure and joyfully working in that, and b) everyone trusting each other, the show, and the audience completely enough to let nothing but characters and ideas happen long enough for those to become a whole.  Between the two there is a place where nothing happens but confusion and chaos because there is neither enough structure nor enough letting go.  Fear will mess you up every time, make you try to force things to happen instead of letting them happen.  Fear was happening to me, too.  It was at this point when both the cast I and I were possibly thinking something along the lines of ‘OH  MY GOD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN THIS COULD BE THE WORST THING EVER LET'S CHANGE EVERYTHING NOW’.  I had to stay the course.  I'd seen the flashes of what I wanted in rehearsals and I knew it was there, and I (for my own mental well-being and the future of the show) had to hold on to that and act like I had no doubts.  And then… the click.

Opening was a little bit of crazy-town, creating no small exuberance but left some cast and audience thinking “That was fun, but…what was it?”  The second week the cast settled into the show and some tweaks were made – the  click- and by the third and fourth weeks, it had hit the sweet spot.  The last weekend of shows was wonderful.  It was all there, all of the elements, all of the trust - it was like that darts game Cricket.  We'd hit all the elements individually and gotten all the other points, and then finally we hit the bullseye over and over to win.

People ask me, “Did that show look like what you wanted it to look like?” and I can only respond “I didn’t know what it was going to look like because it could have looked like anything.  If you want to know if the show felt like what I wanted it to feel like, then yes, it did.”  It was funny, it was tender, and it was alive.  I go back and forth wondering if I should have put show notes in the program to explain more to the audience what it was all about, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t.  Part of the idea was for people to experience that night’s show experience, to be embraced by the warm hug of improv.  I think explaining too much would have lost that possibility - would have given the audience the guidelines that I specifically didn’t want them to have.

Did I succeed?  Ultimately, for the goals I had for the show, yes.  Always there are sayings and the idea that art should push you, scare you, take you places you've never been before.  I've been doing improv for 12 years and I'm not really nervous on stage anymore.  Sure, sometimes there are butterflies, but it's more excitement.  Directing Pocketful of Posies was the first time in my recent memory that what I was doing that scared me and pushed me to try to be better - better idea-making, better collaborating, better encouraging, better organizing, better clarifying, better leading.  The response I got from cast and audience leaned towards this: “This show reminded me that in improv, everything is possible.  This show reminded me to enjoy the playing and the process.  This reminded me why I watch/perform improv.”

I mean this with my whole heart and vision - I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eats: Dot's Deli

This is the best BLT I've ever had.  I've been to some other allegedly bacon-and-or pork-themed restaurants both before and after this pork trend has popped up, and none of them hold a candle to this. 

Let me back up a little.  Seattle is a food town.  Before heading up here, in anticipation, I watched Anthony Bordain's No Reservations where he comes to Portland and Seattle. He goes on about how it's so great to eat up here because not only does the climate produce some truly top-notch produce and animals, but also the intellectual atmosphere of Seattle generates an obsession with 'craft' foods - foodies who specialize.  Not just foodies - but salumi-ies.  Donut-ies.  Coffee-ies.  People who learn the crap out of ONE (or two) processes and then make it so amazing you can't imagine getting it anywhere else.  So far, it's appeared true.

Part of the cool thing about living in Fremont is having dozens of these places literally around the corner. 

Dot's Deli is one of those places.  I wandered by one day, peering in as I window shopped, and a guy coming out says 'If you haven't eaten here yet just go in and do it.  Trust me."  Okay, stranger.  You've sold me.  So I went in and even though they have some truly delicious looking special sandwiches, featuring things like house-made sausages and pates, I felt like something simple so I got a BLT.  A place that can make a BLT this amazing... I can't wait to eat the other food.  Perfect, crunchy sourdough.  House-made mayonaise.  Perfect yellow tomatoes and crunchy lettuce.  Bacon!  Not too thick, not too thin, crispy but not burned.  You think, I've had BLTs.  I've made BLTs.  Why have none of them ever been this?  You have, in fact, much to learn about even the simplest of things.  Looks like, I'm in the right place.

Northwest Hike #1: Old Sauk

After much discussion, set out on a first hike in the Northwest last weekend.  It had to fit a time schedule, not be too hard (no hiking boots... yet!), and after some consideration of what we wanted to see (lakes?  old growth?  mountain vistas?  rivers?), involve some water.  We chose Old Sauk trail, somewhere about an hour from Seattle (I didn't drive so I didn't pay enough attention to where exactly it is).  It has semi-old growth and follows the Old Sauk River.

Lots of this awesome moss hung off the trees.  Moss covered everything.  There were all kinds of trees - I don't know from trees, but I do know there were leafy-ones and pine-y-ones.

The trail wandered relatively flat along the banks of this river.  Apparently there are salmon in these waters, but we didn't see any. 

Mossy moss moss.

There were a couple of little bridges to cross.  They came with these little railings just small enough to trip over (but we didn't).

The whole 6 miles (3 miles out and 3 miles back) we only saw one other lady and one other couple.  It was wonderfully peaceful and smelled great - the outdoors where its damp and mossy with piney trees smells so sweet and comforting.  It's pretty amazing to live in a big city and yet so near this kind of stuff.  The Northwest has it all!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Seattle Central Library

Last weekend, I visited the Seattle Central Library.  It's a contemporary building designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, and is both a destination to walk through and marvel at, as well as a large functional library with a million books, DVDs and CDs to borrow and 400 computers for public use.  Being in Seattle, of course, it also has its own underground parking for 148 cars, as well as its own coffee shop.

I gotta get a camera instead of relying on this iPhone. 

The floor with the meeting rooms is all red.
You can pretend you are going into some kind of Doctor Who spaceship, or just admire the modern aesthetic.


Take the escalator straight to the top, where there is an incredible view of the city, and leads you to the book spiral.  As far as I can tell, you go look over the city, then walk down in a huge spiral leading you through the whole Dewey Decimal system WITHOUT STOPPING OR HAVING TO GO TO DIFFERENT FLOORS OMG HOW AWESOME.  Sarcasm about the library's enthusiasm aside, it was actually pretty neat.

Looking down you can see all the people on computers.  Much to my confusion, it was far more than people actually reading books.  Maybe they were looking up books to read?  Who knows.

The elevator is pretty rad.  I'm not scared, though, I'm amazed at how long it is.

Look down onto downtown Seattle!

Look down onto the fiction stacks!  They are not in with the rest of the Deweys.  They are on their own floor.  I'm a big fan of how the stacks are not in neat rows, but look kind of organically placed wherever they happened to fall.  Much more interesting that way, no?  Those Dutch really do know how to maximize humanity in design.

Here are some of the more interesting details I saw:

 Familiar AND obscure!

Obscure, but not for long.

 Two words I don't see together often.

Two more words I don't see together often.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Seattle Arrival: A Rambling Review

So far Seattle has been wonderful, meeting every expectation (and exceeding some).

After a long, more-expensive-than-anticipated drive in a UHaul for three 12-hour days with a dog and a tow-hitch, we arrived.  Most of the first half of the drive was boring, annoying, and full of problems (Texas, New Mexico and Colorado), but the second half was beautiful.  The route took us through a beautiful part of Utah on the edge of Arches National Park and through Moab, across small towns in Iowa and rolling hills and farms in Oregon and eastern Washington.  Washington is stunning - patchwork farms in hills, with pine mountains in the distance that plunge down into white-blue rivers and oceans.

We drove over the Cascades and into Seattle.  The city glistens with glass and water, vibrant with lush green everywhere.  It's one of the greenest cities I've ever seen, both because of the climate allowing trees and grass to thrive, and because literally everywhere there can be a garden, there is one.  People are mad about gardens here.  Vegetables, flowers, herbs - anything that can grow is grown, in the front and back yards, in hanging pots, in old cans, in the holes of cinder blocks.  There is lavender, sage and rosemary everywhere you see.  Tomatoes are still ripening.  Nuts are falling off the trees.  It's so different from the hot, dry climate of Austin we just left.

Friday we moved in with the help of another post-Austin friend.  I love our duplex and the location.  We have a small fenced in yard, a deck, and over twice the space from the Austin apartment.

Our front neighbors are delightful.  After two long conversations with them, I'm now armed with enough restaurants and breweries and parks to go to (and secrets about how to avoid their lines and attend their happy hours) to last the whole first month here.  On the next block are a bunch of delicious looking restaurants.  We went first to Uneeda Burger, which had some of the best fries I've ever eaten, the best kombucha I've ever had (on tap!), and three of the juciest hand-made hamburgers I've had the pleasure of tasting.  Over the course of the weekend I've had Molly Moon's strawberry balsamic ice cream in a sugar cone, found an independent video store called Scarecrow, tasted pumpkin and beet beers at Elysium (both delicious), and gone to a concert and discovered three new bands.

Talah has had the pleasure of exploring a huge, wooded park with a fenced in off-leash area, the walk to which passes by a zoo and a rose garden.  Got to shop at Trader Joe's and have myself some $2 Chuck (which I've missed dearly since leaving LA).  Explored the winding vendor playground of the Fremont Market (to which we can walk) - and despite the funds being low from the move, look forward to going back for a hat, some spice rub, and a few other intriguing finds there.  On top of all this, I also did an improv audition (why not start off with a bang?) and crocheted some granny squares for a little tabletop knic-knack.

It's just wonderful.  All the people we've met have been friendly and helpful.  Food has been delicious.  People have dogs and bring them everywhere.  It's way, way more bike-friendly than Austin (although the hills are enormous) - which is great since I could use the exercise and gas is $4 per gallon.  The cars yield to pedestrians and bikes!  Bike paths everywhere!  The food is diverse and delicious and high-quality.  I feel very confident that this is a place I want to be, and that the choice was the right choice. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Two Days Out

This dog knows something's up.

Everything is boxed except the things that will be needed on the road.  Tomorrow is active moving, yesterday was errand running and celebrating.  Today is a strange day of nothingness.  Just Talah and I here, for this brief moment of stillness.  She wanders around confused, sitting on my foot when I stand still for any length of time - stay here

The flip side of starting out on an adventure is all the wonderful things that beg you to stay.  In one multiverse, I do.  Depth, breadth.  Which is which? 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Two Truths


                                                                              from here

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good Things in Austin

I'm leaving Austin behind (at least for now) but there are a lot of good places here that I would like to recognize before I go.  This is less a list of 'best of's and more a list of my favorite spots in Austin.


Cherrywood: This is my favorite coffee shop in Austin and they have good food and beer, too.  You can be there pretty much all day for something - be it caffinating, drinking, meeting friends, working, watching a movie... they even have a farmers' market once a week.  They show all the Saints games and it's often very crowded for a laid-back brunch on the weekends (with good reason), game or no game. 

Counter Cafe: Best Benedict I've had in Austin. This tiny restaurant has great brunch but very limited seating. Worth the wait.

Casa de Luz: This is a very unique place. They're open for a few hours around breakfast, lunch and dinner. They only make one meal per time slot (Taco night! Guatemalan night! etc.) It's vegan and macrobiotic food. You only wish you could make a bowl of greens this good without a ham hock. If every I'm up insanely early, I love to come into this quiet, open dining room and have a healthy breakfast.

Boldin Creek Coffee: I only ever get the Garden Breakfast. You can order it a lot of ways but my favorite is vegan (they do some kind of delicious scrambled tofu unlike and worlds better than any other scrambled tofu I've ever had, and I get that with steamed spinach, sliced tomatoes, and rye bread). I make special trips to get it, it's so good.

El Chilito: My personal favorite breakfast tacos in Austin (a highly subjective subject).  I also adore their fish burrito. 

Hoover's: Southern comfort food. Chicken fried steak. Mashed potatoes. RIBS! BRUNCH! I used to come here at night just for decaf coffee and hot cobbler a la mode. You will eat a week's worth of calories at once (you can balance it out with a breakfast at Casa de Luz....)

Quality Seafood: Speaking of fried food, best seafood in Austin. They do craw fish boils in the spring (get about a pound per person plus sides). 

Noble Pig: Everything you've heard (if you've heard about this place from the Food Network or the national food mags) is true.  They have incredible sandwiches and know their way around a pig.  I've only been there once and it left a mark on my brain forever.  Don't bother with the sides - the sandwich is what you want.  Maybe get two.

NeWorlDeli: Significantly closer to the city center, this place also has delicious sandwiches, especially the Reuben.

Royal Blue Grocery: I would go here for lunch a lot when I worked downtown.  They have sandwiches and salads and other quality pick-up items.  Beats your average mini-mart by about a million to one.

Veggie Heaven: This tiny spot is always crowded and yet I never seem to have to wait. It's on the Drag near campus so parking can be tough but they have a small lot. The menu seems to have one million items. If you've never been before, I recommend you start with Protein 9000 with brown rice.

Homeslice: Best pizza in Austin (again, highly subjective).  The whole place smells like a garlic so that's pretty much wonderful.  You may also have to wait a long time here, but again - worth the minutes.

Your Mom's Burger Bar: Best burgers in Austin (by now I think you understand that I'm not afraid to make a bold claim).  There are a lot of good burgers in Austin (Alamo Drafthouse, Wholly Cow, Justine's and Flat Top come to mind).  But Your Mom's burgers are massive, and my favorite part is that the cheese is inside the burger.  YES. 

P Terry's: Austin's fast food joint. They make my favorite fast food fries, the skinny kind with the skins still on fried in some kind of tasty oil that leave them brown and crispy. I think this is one awesome veggie burger, too, even if you're not a vegetarian.

Man Bites Dog: Come for the hot dogs, stay for the bun. It's a hell of a thing when the bun is a draw! Very casual place. Tots on the menu!

Blue Dahlia: I love the simplicity of this lovely bistro. It's got a rustic feel without being cheesy-theme-y. Buy some bread to take home. The daily quiches with a salad is what I almost always get.

Buenos Aires: This is a great date spot, with beautiful food without being wildly expensive. I've always had great service here, too.

Chez Nous: I've only been here for lunches so I can't speak to the nighttime crowds, but at midday it's not a bad wait.  It's small and tucked slightly into a nook downtown.  The simple French fare is quality stuff. 

Hopfield's: Casual gastropub (*gastropub sounds lame but it's not) with a lot of good beers on tap and some tasty simple food. The sandwiches on baguettes credit the aesthetic that you only need a few high-quality ingredients to have an amazing meal.

Contigo: This place is outdoor-only, which can be hot in the summer and cool in the winter, but it's worth it. In the winter they have fireplaces and in the summer misting fans. You can bring your dog. They have $1 fried chicken on Thursdays (or they do at the time of this writing). They have tasty drinks. They have local produce and get meat from their game reserve outside of Houston. Good place for relaxing with friends.

Parkside: The most amazing happy hour in Austin is at Parkside weekdays from 5-7 (I think - check the website to be sure).  Stunning craft cocktails are half off.  The bar menu is half off, and that includes oysters, ceviche, sliders... and the fries.  Oh, the fries!  For garlic-lovers only.  It's really a drinks-and-dinner happy hour, and both are delicious.

Justine's Brasserie: Tucked in a neighborhood without any other restaurants around, while you're looking for it you might give up and feel like you've gotten lost, but no. Keep going, it's out there. Once you see it it's super cute. They pork chops and the burger are awesome. The drinks are good. Play boccie while you wait. Sit for a while. It's worth finding it for sure.

Foreign and Domestic: A little upscale and a little small and with no waiting area. Get here right when they open. They give you a little amuse bouche. The kitchen is wide open to the restaurant. Everything is good here from soup to nuts. The portions are small so be ready to order a few things, over time, as you go.

Uchi: Do I really need to say anything about the best sushi place in Austin? This is not a cheap meal but if you like sushi, you should do it. I mean, Paul Qui worked here!

Barley Swine: This is one of the best restaurants in Austin.  Very fine dining with delicious flavors that really play off each other.  And look at that plate!  It's stunning. 
G'Raj Mahal: My favorite Indian place in Austin.  It's technically a large food trailer that sits beside a large outdoor seating area under a giant tent, so 10 points for ambiance.  They have table service despite that it's a trailer.  It's reasonably priced and so, so good.

Titaya's Thai: Best Thai in Austin (did you see that coming?).  It's in a strip mall in a nondescript portion of North Lamar.  You'll know it by the throngs of people waiting outside.  The waits can be enormous - but you can call in an order for pickup.  Actually, sometimes you even have to wait then.  Majority rules!  This place is great. 

Ho Ho: Chinese BBQ at its finest, Ho Ho is in a strip mall off of super duper North Lamar.  It's filled with Chinese people speaking Chinese, so you know it's good stuff.  The BBQ pork is spectacular.  Go with a group and everyone get something different and share it. 

Sweet Ritual: Vegan soft serve ice cream in vegan cones with vegan toppings.  They make their stuff in house, in special flavors - salted caramel, green tea, etc.


Longbranch Inn: A fine dive, with good prices and little ambiance, but they do allow dogs and it was convenient to where I lived. 

The Grackle: This is my favorite bar on East Sixth Street, way way at the east end of the strip. It's often crowded and loud and just a little dive-y. It's just a good place to be around people. There are two food trucks outside in case you get hungry.

Nomad: In a strip mall in North Austin, this place has a cool bar and cheap drinks for the place.  It's just a pleasant, not too exciting atmosphere.  Come and talk and enjoy.

Dog and Duck: This is one of the first bars I went to in Austin and I've had many a night with friends playing games, shooting the shit, and having a pint at this pub. Pint night is Tuesday and the beers are all on special.  Its just such a great place full of fond memories (and admit to being partial to British style pubs).

Hopfield's: See above. Good for just beers, too, so I thought I'd add it in both.

Contigo: Same.

Drink. Well.: This place is small and closes super early, but has enjoyable food and good drinks at a moderate price.  Something about it is just comfortable and cute.

Easy Tiger: I love this place, and I wish it weren't downtown where parking is crap and the fratty portion of Sixth Street looms threateningly close. However! What's delightful is the beer-garden atmosphere downstairs (inside and out), that is below a bakery that sells bread and pretzels. 

Parkside: See above.  These cocktails are delicious so it bore repeating.

Weather Up: For fancy drinks, go here.  They cost $10 each.  This is probably the only place I like to go where I'd actually call the bartenders mixologists and feel neither pretentious nor like I'm misusing the word.  The menu is broken down by alcohol type, then by style of drink.  It is about the size of a small novel.  The location is beautiful inside and out. 

Farms and Farmer's Markets and Other Local Food:

Springdale Farm: Within the city itself are several small urban farms, and Springdale is my favorite. Its run by a friendly family and the farm stand is Saturdays in a little farmhouse with a farm dog by the owners' feet. They have ducks and chickens, and two big blocks of farmed land right off of Springdale Road. Their prices are very reasonable when compared to other similar farms, and they are just sweet people. Try some duck eggs and some herbs.

Green Gate Farm: Still within Austin city limits but outside of the real urban-feeling area is the much larger Green Gate Farms. They have chickens, of course, but also goats and giant pigs (and two enormous furry laid back farm dogs). The pigs are as sweet as can be, lying around under the trees, and you can pet the goats. You can wander through the barn and the fields, take a tour if you want, and shop at the lovely farm stand. You can buy produce, eggs, and other goods they bring in. You can also buy shares in the pigs and chickens and feel good about the meat you get. They have a CSA that has done some of my friends quite well.

Farmhouse Delivery: This is the CSA I belonged to because 1. they deliver to your house and 2. they sell produce from a bunch of different farms in the area (as well as their own) so you get a big variety of goods. They have a beautifully designed website chock full of recipe ideas. The farm has events for the members (and I suspect the community at large), which I highly recommend attending.

Hope Farmer's Market: There's a great big farmers' market downtown on Saturday morning, and a lot of others around town (from the Triangle to Cherrywood to Barton Creek Mall to several others), but this is my favorite of the small-scale ones. It's Sunday morning, too, not Saturday - so if you can't quite drag yourself out of bed after a long week to hit the big market (not that I'd know anything about this....), this is a fine option.


Antonelli's: What kind of cheese shop is NOT a dream come true?  This one certainly is.
You get to sample the cheese!  You can tell them what you're having then they'll help you pick a cheese to go with it - and I firmly believe there is a cheese to go with anything ever.

Spice Works: A whole store devoted to spices!  It's a cook's dream!  Well, along with the cheese store.  A spice for every cheese!

Con O'lio: Whilst expounding on the delight of speciality food shops, I'll mention this purveyor of olive oils and vinegars.  It's hard to find, but once you do its got such a variety of its few products that you'll spend enough time sampling and comparing to make the effort worth it.

Central Market (North Lamar): This is my favorite big grocery store.  I'd go here for fun.  It's just a great, big, probably overpriced, definitely well-curated grocery store.  Enough said. 

In.Gredients: This is my favorite little grocery store.  It just opened recently.  They only sell products in bulk.  It's the first of its kind!  Its in a little house.  I love the idea.  Bring your growler (or buy one) for beer or kombucha. 

Strut: Cute, trendy clothes. Bright colors, yummy patterns.  Get on their email list and you'll never pay full price for anything.  Every single thing I get here, I get compliments on.  Definitely my favorite overall clothing boutique.

Coco Coquette: This is a fun little place that is part salon, part wig shop, part vintage store, part burlesque costumery.  They have fun makeup, amazing hair pieces, and a small but well curated selection of jewelry and clothes.

Room Service Vintage and Feathers: Side by side off of Congress, these vintage clothing stores have the best selection I've found.  Their side-by-side nature makes it easier to see more stuff faster! 

Underwear: Small store with lovely underthings at a not-outrageous price. 

Hill Country Running: When you come, they'll have you run on a treadmill and film your gait, then show you shoes to help you correct your stride, reduce injuries, and increase effectiveness.  You get to film yourself running in all the shoes you try on, too, so you can see which works absolutely best for you.  They also have running groups to train and motivate you, if you're into that kind of thing.

Bows & Arrows: A very well-curated home store.  They sell small items (more blankets and candles and less furniture) and I love the simple aesthetic. 

University Cyclery: Reasonable prices on bikes, nice helpful people.

Natural Gardener: Set outside of Austin, this has everything you need for gardening in Austin.  Everything they have out can be planted at the time of purchase and is acceptable for Austin's climate and environment.  People here can help you with any questions you have.  The only time I'd go anywhere else is once a year, to the Sunshine Community Garden Plant Sale - and when you go to that, go early before they sell out!

Girly Stuff:

Peacock Salon - As with many women, I had a hard time finding a place to get my hair cut that was both not too expensive and also provided a consistently good haircut. I found that with Annie, the salon's owner. It's also a hip space that's easy to get to and has lots of parking.

Viva Day Spa - I avoided waxing for a long time after my initial experience with it was bad, but then a friend recommended this place to me and I tried it out. Viva is a beautiful, relaxing, high-quality place and the aestaticians are very friendly yet professional. Towards the end of my time in Austin I also went to Megan Deterling at Grapevine Salon. She works for herself (not in a salon) and has a small office in a corporate park. I admire that self-starting ethic and would also recommend her to anyone.

Synergy Fitness - I love a boot camp. I love the intensity of the workouts and the results that it brings. That said, my favorite boot camp I've attended in Austin is Synergy. The owner, Tim, is motivational without being too 'trainer-y', and was willing to work with me whenever I had a question or a special situation. They run a great deal on the cost of the classes, and when you sign up for one class you can go to any class at any time. I went to the camp at 7:30am at the park in the Triangle. The instructor, Ty, lead a fun class and was knowledgeable about fitness.

Eastside Yoga - I also love a yoga class. This became my favorite yoga spot. It's not too hip (No competition with the other yogis and they didn't play pumping tunes) and it's not too big (just one smallish studio space), and none of the classes were ever too cramped. The instructors I've had were all kind and thoughtful. Drop in prices are a reasonable $14 and as an added bonus, it's pay-what-you-can on Sundays.


Place to see a show: Mohawk: I love this venue.  It's outside set into a rocky hillside, with sails overhead and multiple levels for standing and seeing the (I think three) different stages. 

Place to see a movie: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar: This is the best Alamo!  I don't know why I'm so partial to this one.  Is it the parking?  Is it the layout?  All I know is that there is no reason to see a movie anywhere but an Alamo.  Of course, you might want to go to the Alamo Ritz as well.  Both theaters have special events but I think the Ritz has more - and by 'special events' I mean sing-alongs, quote-alongs, TV screenings, mocks, weird shows.... so many things.  I will miss having an Alamo around. 

Place to see a classic movie: Paramount Theater: The exception to the above rule about the Alamo is the Paramount Theater for its Summer Classic Film Series, which is three months of double-features from cinema history. 

Place to buy a car: Howdy Honda: The people at Howdy Honda are some of the best car salespeople I've found and their service department is top notch.  I felt like they really cared so they're either really well-trained or really genuinely excited about Hondas, and I'm okay with either explanation.

Place to swim: Barton Springs: $3.  Natural spring.  Consistent 69 degrees year round.  Nothing feels better in the Summer than a dip in the springs. 

Place to See Art: Pump Project during EAST: This multi-stuido space is filled to the brim with artists showing their work during the East Austin Studio Tour (which is in itself a larger, more city-encompassing thing worth doing - just if you stop one place, this is a good one for variety, quantity and quality).  Snacks and drinks, artists and art friends, children and parents... it's not at all pretentious and you'll enjoy supporting all kinds of craftspersons.

Place to find free stuff at SXSW: Showlist Austin: I know, SXSW can be a pain for residents and transit.  It does not have to be!  Big tips: 1. use a bike.  You'll be 10x faster than any drivers, you can park anywhere, and you will have less stress.  I cannot overemphasize this.  2.  This website lists all the free shows that don't require official wristbands - that means FREE MUSIC.  It's an enormous list.  Some you'll have to RSVP for free online (piece of cake).  You might have to wait in line so go early.  Some of these already free venues also offer free food and free beers.  If you don't know enough about indie bands, but you want to have free fun, I'd recommend checking out the French Legation, Emo's East, or Mohawk - they have well-curated selections.  You can also go see free big shows at Auditorium Shores - my last year I saw the Shins for free, with the Austin skyline in the background. 

Monthly reading series show: Encyclopedia Show: A monthly reading series based around a theme (the periodic table of the elements!  grammar!  Christmas!  Pfulguerville!), this is some of the funniest and occasionally most touching work around town.  The show is incredibly fun and you will be laughing to some of Austin's best and/or funniest and/or most literary performers.

Fabric and Classes: Stitch Lab: This funky, adorable converted house in South Austin is home to a wide selection of fabric art crafts, including sewing, embroidering, crochet, etc.  They also sell a good selection of mostly cotton fabrics and sewing accessories, good for quilting, bags and light clothes.

Video Rental: I Luv Video: You can't use Netflix for everything, and sometimes you just wouldn't want to.  I Luv Video has an enormous selection of TV and films for rent and a funky and knowledgeable staff to help you out, should you be lost physically or at a loss of what to watch.  Dogs are welcome!  Free beer on Thursdays!  Amnesty days on late fees twice a month!

Holiday Shopping Event: Cherrywood Art Fair: This ever-increasingly-huge annual event is held at Cherrywood Middle School one weekend in November or December, and is a perfect chance to buy unique, handmade goods for yourself or for holiday gifts.  There is a huge arts and crafts community in Austin and this is one time when it centralizes itself for fun and shopping.

Unexpected Outdoorsy Event: Zilker Park Boat Rentals: Sometimes you just want to do something different from swimming or hiking outside.  I suggest renting a canoe and paddling around Ladybird Lake.  You'll float down the center of the city, be out in the middle of the water, get a good workout and yet can laze around in the sun, too. 

Unexpected Indoorsy Event: Trapeze Austin: When you're really, really in the mood for something off-the-wall (literally), Trapeze Austin is a good time.  You learn to swing and fall to the net in a one-hour class, and you learn to release and try to get caught by a veteran trapeezer (?) in a two hour class.   It's a fun rush of a time and if you get hooked, they have longer term classes too.

Unexpected Underwater Event: Scuba Certification at Scubaland: All right, I know this is expensive and unusual, and you might or might not be planning a trip to an exotic beach location, but this is one of the most fun one-time things I did before leaving Austin.  The Scubaland staff teaches you everything you need to get an Open Water Dive Certificate.  It takes about a week of night classes (or two weekends) and you spend hours underwater in a pool then do some dives in Lake Travis, where you solidify your skills and get to swim around with fish and see sunken boats, cars, and other obstacles.  And you get to stay underwater for like an hour!  That's so cool!

Unexpected Learning Event: Motorcycle Lessons at Austin Moto Academy with a Scooter from one of the many scooter places in Austin: Perhaps another unusual suggestion, but if you're thinking of getting a motorcycle or scooter, these classes are great.  They take place both mornings of one weekend (there may be other times too) then you can get a special driver license certification to travel on two motorized wheels.  Having a scooter in Austin is fun, and you can park it virtually anywhere (alleviating a lot of the downtown parking issues...).

Dog Park: Redubud Island: You'll probably have to wait patiently in line for parking, but this is the only dog park my dog enjoys (she's very shy).  It's an off-leash island where dogs can run free, play, explore, swim and frolic.  It's got a nice path for you to walk around, too.