Saturday, May 29, 2010

Greeted by the albino squirrel

Well, I've made it to Ohio. I can't get over how strange and absolutely surreal it is that a few hours ago, I was walking briskly through the streets of Seattle under a dusky darkening sky in order to catch my light rail to the airport...I promptly fell asleep at takeoff, and woke up at 10,000 feet to a stunning sunrise eclipsing the full moon.

And now it's morning in Oberlin, and I'm back in this place for the first time in nearly a year, and it feels very odd indeed.

A couple times throughout the flight, my eyes drifted open. I'd forgotten that the moon is (nearly?) full right now - so the view was unbelievably spectacular...the moonlight was so bright it reflected off the clouds we were flying above, lending them to a sort of golden-silhouetted look, and the whole dark blanket was punctuated with occasional holes into the glittering night-lit towns on the ground below. I love red eye flights.

In the interest of not disturbing my kind host too early in the morning, I have staked out a swinging bench in Tappan Square to listen to the birds and bask in the sunshine that's pouring through the trees and evaporating the morning dew on the grass. It's so much warmer here than it is in Seattle right now. The albino squirrels are here, as they've always been, and came out to greet me.

I'm warmed by the thought of the lazy days ahead I have here to lounge in this good Midwestern sunshine, indulge in the simultaneous relief to have moved on from this place and yet still mourn the loss of my past life in this state, and catch up on some general, much-needed self-reflection.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

G.O. Saves the Day Again

Three work shifts today...I haven't had time for a darn thing lately, including buying myself food to eat. I somehow managed to get semi-lost between tutoring in Madrona/Capitol Hill this evening and getting up to Greenlake, and just as I was lamenting my rumbling stomach for lack of a proper dinner between everything, I turned a corner, and BOOM, there was Grocery Outlet. Like a sign from God.

Highlight of my haul this week:

'Nuff said.

Leaving on a jet plane in 72 pumped as I am to see good friends and for Black River pancakes and running at French Creek and Cedar Point and Feve tots and visiting Dick's and Great Lakes microbrews and West Side Market and Commencement and lazy afternoons at Oberlin Market...the biggest excitement on my list right now of Things to Look Forward To is just catching up on sleep. Slumber is so sweet. Speaking of which...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Impromptu rooftop concerts and urban sunsets

Overall, this has been a good past couple weeks of working hard, but maximizing my relaxation and enjoyment of the outdoors with the free time I do scrounge up.

Random Oberlin sighting of the week! Saw this window sticker as I was sitting in traffic passing through Wallingford over the weekend.

I went for a long run on Cougar Mountain truly is a trail runner's paradise there...50+ miles of trails, ranging in difficulty level from flat stretches to steeper, more technical single-track routes, and all interspersed with intriguing landmarks like a giant clay pit, an old mine shaft, several small waterfalls, a glacial boulder called the "Fantastic Erratic", and an old anti-aircraft military base. I've run at Cougar several times before, but this was the first time I set out on my own with a trail map in palm, water and energy gels strapped to my back, and just took to the woods for hours of solo exploration. It was 70ish degrees and sunny, but the forest is highly dense in most places. I ran in and out of cool stretches, warm pockets of air, sunshine and shade alike. Great way to spend my day, though it thoroughly wiped me out. I napped away my afternoon.

Jess is moving back to North Carolina at the end of this month, but we spent last Friday afternoon wandering around the lovely neighborhood of Ballard. Alan and I went back the following day so I could buy (finally, Tom, finally!) a cute lunchbox for myself to encourage more creative, thoughtful lunches to take to work. (Yes, expect a lunchbox blog post in the near future.) We also stopped in a cozy outdoor beer garden in Ballard to soak up the afternoon sunshine and watch the beginning of the Sounders game amidst a sea of fellow futbol fans. Did I mention that I love this city?

Zoe came over from Bainbridge Island later that evening so we could hang out. I met her at the ferry landing and we went out for Thai food down by Pike Place Market before going to the Hard Rock Cafe to see a band that she'd seen at the Ballard Market perform: Luc and the Lovingtons. The Hard Rock Cafe is a new addition for Seattle, having just opened its doors in February. I'm no Hard Rock Cafe groupie, but in all truth, it was a sweet venue. In addition to showcasing dozens of dolled up high schoolers for their prom dinner on Saturday, it boasts a super-sweet rooftop terrace with a nice view of the market and the Sound. In exploring up there, a couple members of the band recognized Zoe ("You're Ballard Market Girl!!") and we all hung out on the roof until the show started. The show itself was spectacular; their album got reviewed by the Seattle Weekly in the same breath as the Blue Scholars' album...woohoo local music! They're a feel-good reggae/funk sort of band whose music is all about peace, love and happiness, with special interest on their album in post-Katrina New Orleans, Latin America, and Africa.

Oh! And Jason Mraz has covered their "Freedom song." Rad.

After they played, some guy gave them $500 in cash to continue playing on the rooftop around the "campfire." It worked for a while, until condo neighbors complained and Hard Rock's bouncers kicked us all off the roof...but all in all, it was a truly magical night.

Cell phone photo. Pardon the poor quality.

In other news about my friends whose names begin with the letter Z...Zanna's birthday was this week! She had a rockin evening picnic, complete with Lady Gaga (in Ipod format, not in the flesh, sadly), volleyball net, yummy Trophy cupcakes (which just broke a record!), watermelon, frisbees, and a lot of good company.

Good, silly times were had by all.

There were also some lovely sunsets this week. Here's one Alan and I managed to catch from atop the Mount Baker neighborhood - a totally under-appreciated part of Seattle on the southeast side with spectacular views that most people don't seem to know about.

Most Seattle skyline photos are taken from Queen Anne hill, where the Space Needle features prominently in the view of the skyline. It's in this picture, too, but so tucked away behind the buildings that it's barely even a speck.

+ the moon.

So, I'm feeling much calmer and balanced than I was awhile ago. Crazily enough, I'm still averaging anywhere from 40-50 hour work weeks, but somehow I feel like I'm just managing better. The extra sunlight hours are helping my energy levels a lot. Running regularly again helps. And vacation just around the corner is a big deal! Onward...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Mom's Day, i.e. ik wil het Nederlands leren!

Photo circa 2007: My mom and I hanging out in Amsterdam, Dutch newspaper ("een krant!") in the foreground.

Every year, when it comes time to make resolutions and set goals for the new year ahead, "Relearn Dutch" makes the list. It's been a long-standing index card in my box of Life Goals. Most of you already know this about me, but for those who don' parents tried to raise me to be bilingual with Dutch and English...and, as a very young child, I did speak a little bit of both. But come time for kindergarten, I hated mixing up my words and not being a "normal" American kid like everybody else, and so over time, the Dutch faded out.

Needless to say, as an adult, I've been pretty bummed that I lost my Dutch way back when. It's all the more heartbreaking these days, as we get a surprisingly large number of Dutch customers at REI. I'm always sad that I can't really interact with them more in their native language, even though I always surprise them by being able to identify their accents. Likewise, I'd love to be able to talk with my mom in her native tongue again, too.

It was my hope that my study abroad program (complete with Dutch classroom lessons!) in the Netherlands would help me relearn the language for good - and, true, my understanding was better at the end of that semester than ever before. But even immersed in the country and in a Dutch homestay, I wasn't fluent, let alone really even conversational, by the end of the program. I had a Dutch teacher, a Dutch homestay host, a Dutch guy I even dated for awhile...but I also had a program full of other American students, an American program director, an American roommate, and oh, 90% of the Dutch population is fluent in English.

Well, the time has finally come that I'm taking charge of my long-standing and long-unfulfilled goal. I'd mentioned to Alan several times the possibility of getting the Rosetta Stone Dutch program - generally considered to be the most effective language-learning software out there - and he finally convinced me to take the plunge. We are both going to learn it, so we can practice together at home, too! Obviously, I have an unfair head start, but I'm excited Alan wants to be a part of my effort to reconnect with some of my own cultural roots...and infinitely appreciative of his helping push me toward my goal.

My biggest excitement since starting the program? In brainstorming ways to get more exposure to the language outside of just the computer software, I realized I can listen to live streaming of Dutch radio stations on the internet. So while most people spent Sunday out to brunch or on picnics with their mothers, I spent my morning doing lessons on Rosetta Stone and listening to a radio station based in the Dutch city of Hilversum, picking up snippets of understandable speech among the DJ's and listening to mostly American pop music, with the occasional rockin' Dutch hip-hop or French rock. And even though I wasn't on the same continent as my mom for Mother's Day, and in fact, our temporal overlap of the holiday only lasted 16 hours (thanks to the epic time difference between Seattle and the Netherlands), it felt really comforting to be immersed in Dutch for the day.

Rosetta Stone Photo Album:

This screen made me choke aloud on my laughter.

Here's what the whole screen actually looked like. (The program gives you a phrase, and you click on the picture that matches.)

Not all the vocabulary is particularly challenging.

The Dutch says it all.

Tot ziens!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Summer's coming.

They don't call it the Evergreen State for nothing.

Ah, what glory, the seasons! After what's been a relatively dry winter for Seattle, April unleashed days on end of relentless rain. This weekend, the sun finally emerged again - just in time to illuminate all the beautiful flowers and greenery that have blossomed under profuse watering last month.

Because all of my prior visits to Seattle occurred between late April and early June, I'd really had no concept of the Northwest during any season but the verdant, sunny one. In the past few rainy, gray months, I'd almost forgotten that I'm living in the same city with which I fell in love five years ago. But this weekend - with the skies blue and cloudless, the air crisp and humidity-free, the sliding glass walls of open-air cafes pushed aside to let in the summer breeze, and all the people outside basking in the sunshine - I was reminded.

Not that I don't still have some appreciation for the rain. Two friends from work, Jenica and James, and I miraculously all had a shared day off this week. Though I found what seemed like a great hike for us off of the infamous Mountain Loop Highway, my plans were foiled by a late-season snowstorm in the North Cascades. Instead, we stuck to lower elevations and went for a rainy trek to see Wallace Falls:

This area typically draws a lot of hiker traffic, but because of the weather, we had the trail and the falls pretty much to ourselves. And even though we missed out on some views due to the heavy mist, it was kind of nice to hike in fog; light rain can be really therapeutic, in ways...cleansing, renewing. And just a little more hardcore than your usual, sunny day hike :)

Supposedly, the Olympic Mountains are on the other side of all that mist.

The trees were gorgeous and stunning, as always.

Also: best trailhead sign ever. We had a photoshoot at it on our way out.

As with all good hikes, we finished up with - what else? - a trip to Grocery Outlet. There's one in Monroe, which happily, meant all new random surplus groceries to explore! Needless to say, we enjoyed some fantastic snacks on our drive back to the city...including: oatmeal raisin cookies, milk chocolate with sea salt almond nibs, and lots of tasty trail mix. Jenica needed to go home, but James and I rounded out the evening at an old favorite - the Hopvine Pub on Capitol Hill - for yummy soup and the beginning of open mic night.

I'm just happy summer is on its way - and for once, it won't mean 100+ degree temperatures and stifling humidity. Instead, it's going to mean: many more mountain adventures, fresh fruit smoothies, camp outs, backyard barbecues, summer concerts, long runs again, playing outside with friends, hiking the Grand Canyon this July, swimming in Lake Washington, riding my bike, and more mornings like this one: having no trouble waking up at 6 a.m. because sunshine was pouring through my windows.

Peace out, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Adults are, like, this mess of sadness and phobias.

So, with many of the students I'm tutoring getting all revved up for SAT's and AP exams this month, I dove back into my journals from high school. In doing so, I recovered the following entry from the last month of my senior year of high school, and couldn't help but post it on my blog (with apologies to the privacy of my 17-year-old self.) It's uncanny how much, despite my predictions, I still relate to myself back then, and that darned obsession with musing over memory and the nature of identity.


Can't sleep...I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT COLLEGE. And yes, I realize that I obsess often over that fact in this journal, that I rave repeatedly about how little time is left, how excited I am, so on and so forth. But it's like the reality of it (and simultaneously, the surrealism of it all) just keeps on hitting me like a wall of a good way.

I keep thinking back to this time last year, when last year's senior class was absolutely fraught with senioritis - and how crazy it is to be in their shoes now - in the shoes of Camron and Katharina and Reshad and Allison and Desi and Josh and Brad and Jordy and Carly and everybody. Sure, I feel like a senior, but I guess because AP exams and yearbooks and the whole cap-and-gown deal have yet to actually manifest themselves as real parts of my life, I have a hard time grasping that THIS is really happening to me.

I remember those posters way back when that hung in some classrooms and said, "Ten years from now, it won't matter what jeans you wore..." blah blah - but it's true - I know that even as immediate and familiar and significant and REAL as my life feels to me right now, this is nothing in the scheme of things. I will go on and meet new people, gain and lose talents and hobbies, see new places, learn infinitely, and change and change and change...and someday, I will be somewhere, reading this entry and perhaps hardly even being able to relate to it or feel all that I feel at this point in my life. The halls of my high school will feel like antiques, and childish, only vestiges of familiarity remaining among their tiles and rooms and lockers and endless, endless circles. God, I can't wait to quit running around in circles.

You know what gets me? The estrangement I feel from my own memories - as if I witness them merely in a movie or a dream, not steadfast in reality. All of these things come back to me in bits - the smell of my body spray from middle school, an old favorite song, journal entries from the past, recalling books and TV shoes and magazines from years long gone - and even though these things are a part of me, they feel so foreign.

I have changed so much it scares me. I remember the pathetic lull of insecurity from my early soccer team days. I see pictures of myself at seven in my Tae Kwon Do uniform. I know what it is to feel deathly afraid of the world and still excited at the idea of a first kiss. It's this plethora of memories I have, and yet it feels like a storybook, an anthology of experiences that happened to someone else. And to think that in a few years, this very moment will fade from me as well, recede into the abyss of my memory, and eventually, come to feel entirely alien to me.

I am not sure if I am conveying any of this the way I wish to, and the abstract semantics are frustrating me...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Haagen Dazs For Cheap, and Other Adventures in the West

Spring is alive on Cougar Mountain!

So, I was supposed to run the Eugene marathon this morning. Sadly, that darn foot injury sidelining me all last month prevented the marathon-running, and instead, I spent today tutoring, grocery shopping, and attending a department meeting at work.

But no complaints, as my blessings still exist as such: I'm employed, able to afford my own groceries, and all healed up and able to run again! I went for a delightful trail run out on Cougar Mountain a few mornings ago...managed to drag myself out of bed at 5:15 a.m. to go squeeze a lovely jaunt in the woods in before a single other soul was on the trail.

I tried out a new trail - less trafficked than many of the trails along the I-90 corridor - and had only one minor disaster: didn't screw the lid on my water bottle quite tightly enough, so half of it leaked out inside my backpack in the first few minutes of my run...miraculously, my camera and phone survived the deluge...but my trail-running guide to Western Washington? Totally destroyed :( It's now four inches thick with wavy pages that still haven't fully dried out. Oops.

I also got to spend a fun evening with my (non-REI!) friend Elodie, helping her move into her new place, then going out for killer Mexican food in Kirkland (on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle.) On a sidenote...I don't know how I manage to always make friends with crazy names, too, but it is a pattern in my life. Zanna and I went out to listen to some live music at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill last week, and in making quick friends with the guy running the hot dog cart outside the tavern (which we had access to from our booth via a sliding window), we got the familiar, amused, "Wait, your names are...whaaat?"

In my final moment of celebration for the week...I have discovered the joys of the west coast's Grocery Outlet. After almost a full year now living in a city whose cost of living is 32% higher than the US average, I am downright thrilled to discover a place where I can seriously slash my grocery bill. It's a store that carries overstock and surpluses, and though it was initially presented to me as a sketchy last resort for food (not-so-affectionately earning its nickname "Gross Out"), I've found that stereotype to be totally inaccurate. It *does* carry a bit of the haphazard vibe of Gibson's in Oberlin, and there's more of a need to be diligent about checking expirations - but there are also FANTASTIC deals, and on quality foods including organic produce, soy milk, teas, spices, fancy cheeses, microbrews, ice cream, Trader Joe's overstock, beef jerky (for 80% cheaper than anywhere else!), etc.

My haul for this week included:

- Baba Ghanoush! Haven't had this yummy stuff since Amsterdam!
- Trader Joe's goat cheese, half price, expiration still months away
- Smoked gouda cheese!
- Amy's (organic/vegetarian) frozen entrees, half price

I am speechless - and fully planning to post regularly here about my weekly G.O. finds :) As well as my continued love for the trails...

Life is feeling good again.