February 19th, 2015

camping // big sur.

“And when the fog’s over and the stars and the moon come out at night it’ll be a beautiful sight.” – Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Lately I feel as though I can’t sit still — I find myself on long, meandering walks through the tree-lined parks of San Francisco attempting to sufficiently tire both my body and mind. I can’t stop processing, over-processing really, everything from dreaming up social justice projects for my students to the stress of my upcoming graduate school thesis to planning our next California microadventures.

The ever-reaching strands eventually become so tangled that I can no longer extricate myself without some serious lifestyle shifting. So, when the invite was extended for a weekend sojourn to Big Sur, I jumped at the chance to spend some time among the trees.

Big Sur is still one of those ethereal places for me, a place that I can’t quite believe exists with its craggy coastlines and towering redwoods. My first drive there was marked by rain and fog while this one brought only a ubiquitous sun. February mistook itself for June and everyone had donned swimsuits — we sipped Chardonnay on the beach, spotted spray from migrating whales, ran into the still frigid waves with Sherman and I learned how to play bocce ball via keen observation. There were tomatillos and breakfast burritos and campfires and ghost stories and s’mores. All perfectly quintessential and comforting and just what I needed.

On the way home, I also managed to stop and view the Instagram-famous McWay falls. Just as quickly as we’d snapped a few photos, the fog rolled in, pressing itself heavily against the cliffs. Suddenly, there was no more ocean and I was simply standing on the edge of the earth. The whole trip was refreshing and a keen reminder of all the things I am so grateful for.

January 26th, 2015

book talk // the night circus.

While I acknowledge that I am definitely a few years behind the times in reading this book now, it has languished on my “to-read” list for far too long and I intended to (finally) remedy that this year. I recall this book having quite a bit of buzz around it because it was a NaNoWriMo book that had achieved a certain level of book club fame. Typically, I find that I avoid books that have ascended to this level (re: my weirdness about not reading Harry Potter) but, I am trying to remedy myself of that as well. So, since I’ve been feeling very under the weather recently, and spurred awake by a midnight coughing fit, I began reading The Night Circus while sipping my hot lemon and honey water. I then continued reading, interrupted only by a few fitful hours of sleep, well into the following morning. I absolutely did not want to be separated from this book without discovering how it ended.

After perusing other reviews on Goodreads, I’ve found that this particular novel is quite polarizing and people are either extremely complimentary or irrefutably frustrated. That said, I do think this book is meant for a specific sort of person. I was utterly ensconced by the imagery and writing style from the very outset. Normally, I don’t enjoy random characters being thrown in the mix after a main storyline has been established — but, somehow, when the author decided to introduce a new, and seemingly unimportant, character, I was immediately intrigued — Herr Thiessen and Tsukiko come to mind. I even liked Isobel. I suppose some people may have felt misled by the promise of a love story and, yes, while there is a love story (or maybe a few love stories, actually), what you’re really reading about is the circus as a living, breathing thing. And the circus is not actually a circus in the traditional sense, but more of a place to practice magic so as to not strike fear into muggles, because it’s all deception and illusion, don’t you see? There are no peanut shells or carnival games at this circus.

The plot itself is slow, gradual — not action-packed, but more like a chess game played over an extended period of time. Except the pawns are manipulated by sociopathic father figures who force their charges into a situation neither of them are prepared for. Additionally, although the magic system utilized in this world is not explicitly explained, I didn’t mind. I thought the mystery regarding the “game” and the circus and even the characters simply added to the mystical quality of the night circus itself. I will say, I wish Bailey had arrived in time.

Overall, I had no expectations going into this book and perhaps that’s why I allowed it to envelope me so wholly. The night circus is definitely a place I can see myself returning to in the future.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: anyone that’s not in a hurry

January 14th, 2015

backpacking // lake tahoe.

The thing about having dreams is that you have to start somewhere. Dreams initially seem unattainable, thus their intangible monicker, because they require effort beyond what is comfortable. I’ve found that in life you can be a dreamer who is also a doer, or a dreamer who holds ideas like fireflies in a jar, too afraid to ever take a chance. I used to be the latter. I had a bulletin board filled with things I never thought I’d do, but slowly, one by one, I’m achieving them. One of my dreams is to take a multi-day backpacking trip, hopefully along the John Muir Trail. This past weekend, I went backpacking overnight for the first time and it was littered with hardships and triumphs both impossibly large and deceptively diminutive.

It was a weekend filled with firsts. Prior to setting out, I had never been to Lake Tahoe, or backpacked, or snowshoed, or sledded, or used any of my backpacking gear. I had thrown myself into a challenging situation (as I am wont to do) to essentially test my mettle. I strapped on metal snowshoes and walked into the wilderness. The packed snow crunched loudly underfoot where the jagged toes of the snowshoe dug in, it drowned out any other noise that threatened to impose. My bare hands stayed clasped around ski poles as I pulled myself upward and upward toward an A-frame cabin in the woods –  a Sierra Club hut, more specifically, situated at 8200 ft elevation in the Tahoe backcountry. I carried with me a 65L backpack, equipped with a 3L Camelbak bladder, my sleeping bag, pad, a stove, food, headlamp and personal clothes / toiletries. The weight rested heavily on my hips, where it would remain for the duration of the journey. Soon, however, the pack became second nature. The pain diminished and I swung the weight onto myself with ease. Days later, the skin on my hips is still raw and, as I navigate reality once more, a sudden bump fills my tender nerve-endings with muscle memory and my field of vision blurs slightly because, suddenly, all I can see is snow.

Yes, it was desolate and wild and beautiful, but it was rough. Not only was the trek physically challenging, but the physical drain coupled with my own emotions caused me to require a bit of alone time. I am an extreme introvert and often need isolation to recharge lest I simply breakdown. So, alone on a snowy mountain, watching the sun set, I struggled mightily with myself. I fought back the natural response, which was to accuse myself of being a failure for not continuing all the way to the top with the rest of my hiking group. The thing is, even at that point I had accomplished a lot. More than I would have thought possible for myself  a year ago. And, watching the sunset from a slightly lower ridge than the rest of them did not make me a failure. It did make me honest. I needed time to myself — and, to me, that’s what going to the mountains is all about: getting real with yourself. The snow-capped Sierras turned golden and I rubbed my hands together in preparation for descent. As I switchbacked down a steep, snowy ridge in the impending darkness, I felt both exceedingly humbled and tentatively confident. Maybe I can do this.

(first image: credit to Trail Mavens)

December 23rd, 2014

camping // joshua tree nat’l park.

Determined to incorporate a bit of fun into our 30 hours in 3 days holiday road trip — I suggested we make an overnight stop in Joshua Tree National Park. I’ve been wanting to visit Joshua Tree for a while; the Seuss-like trees appeal to my continuing love of fantasy landscapes — plus, they allow dogs. To be honest, the first day of driving was hellish. Also the sun sets at 4:30pm presently. So, we arrived at the park chasing daylight, exhausted and cranky; then, upon finding a campsite at Jumbo Rocks (my ideal spot) I was so pleased to be able to set up our site with the last few remaining rays of sunset. Unfortunately, we belatedly realized we’d forgotten our tent. n.

In the morning, despite the freezing walk to the pit toilet that initially drew us out of the car, I was very pleased we got to watch the sun rise across the Joshua trees and craggy rocks that encircled our campground. Desert sunrises are my favorite, they take on such rich, warm hues that require no filter or adjustments. So, despite the fact that this was not an ideal camping experience, it was an adventure. Sometimes an experience is truly about who you travel with rather than where you travel to.

December 10th, 2014

tv shows with strong female leads.

I have not had regular cable in several years, but I do watch Netflix and sometimes Hulu. I don’t keep up with current shows and, instead, I tend to become immersed in a particular show or genre then binge watch it into eternity. So, I may go several days without watching TV, then watch an entire season in two days, becoming quickly infatuated with the characters. My favorite shows of late tend to have strong female characters that are all “Eff the patriarchy! I am going to get shit done!” and lots of period clothing. Obviously. I’ve decided to compile a list of appreciation for strong females on TV. All of these shows have the shared commonality of taking place during a time period when women had little power, or what power they had was only attainable with the assistance of a man — making them, in my opinion, badass trailblazing bitches.

Reign (on Netflix & Hulu)

Reign follows the story of Mary Queen of Scots and her ascent to the throne of France. It’s a campy teen soap complete with the Forever 21 version of period costumes and a delightful ability to display copious historical inaccuracies while still holding my attention. For example, Mary and her ladies attend a ball where the minstrels strike up a version of Lorde’s “Royals” amidst all the dance floor scheming.  It’s fanfiction of the 1500′s French court.

However, unlike so many of the shows that have come before it (Gossip Girl comes to mind), Mary and her ladies are determinedly friends, despite some pretty thick barriers that emerge between them. The girls support each other and are shown at times in moments of childlike play, for example: tossing snowballs in the courtyard. It illuminates the bond between women that can grow both weaker and stronger as life weaves its endless tale;  it also explores how marriage, children and family can affect these bonds.

Despite the knowledge that one cannot be single at court (everyone is essentially married off in season one), Mary continually asserts her independence in surprising and varying ways. As her character grows and she takes on the full mantle of her queenhood, her naivete falls away and she becomes the only person she could possibly be — a queen. 

Vikings (on Hulu)

Vikings is a show I already knew would be easy for me to like. What I was not expecting was how empowering some of the characters made me feel as a woman. The show is much more sexually-suggestive than Reign and shows the open relationships many of the Viking men enjoyed, as well as married couples being pretty open about discussing adult relations with their children. Although I’m not cool with getting jiggy in a hut full of people, this old-school version of sexual freedom feels brazen, and even modern, in a way that’s natural to the characters, something that shows like Girls try so hard to attain.

From the outset I was drawn to Lagertha’s character (featured above). They describe her as a powerful shieldmaiden whose popularity among the other women is obvious. Despite having children with her husband, Ragnar Lothbrok, she continues to travel with him and fight in battle — she’s never expected to give up battle because she is also a mother. These two warrior-lovers have some pretty aggressively epic disputes. As the story continues, Lagertha makes exceedingly difficult decisions regarding her own freedom and well-being, ultimately attaining prestige few women of the time knew.

Throughout the show, there are examples of strong women who overcome great tragedies. Additionally, I enjoyed seeing more than one token woman in battle — there were always several, fighting just as hard alongside the men. Vikings also has the most accurate period clothing of all three shows, perhaps because it’s created by the History channel and they have a vested interest in such details.

Salem (on Netflix)

To be honest, I still have really mixed feelings about Salem. The first time I watched it all I could think was: “What the literal eff did I just watch?” There is so much wtf-ery. Once I got over the fact that this show is batshit crazy, I started being able to appreciate the characters. As a literature teacher, I also enjoyed drawing parallels between the show and The Crucible, as many of the characters have the same names: Giles Corey, Cotton Mather, Magistrate Hale, Mercy Lewis.

Again, this is a show that exemplifies how little women could do without men — but the witches of Salem have essentially made the patriarchy their bitch. The main character, Mary Sibly, began as a poor girl living in a Puritan town that branded “fornicators” and put promiscuous women in the stocks. Her lover was sent off to war and she was left behind with no husband and a hidden pregnancy. To get rid of the baby, she asks the devil to take it, thus saving her from public humiliation and death, and in turn becoming a witch.

It sounds awful, because it is — she had no other choice. To exact her revenge she marries the leader of Salem and turns him into a drooling, pooping invalid. Thus, Mary Sibly is the head witch in charge and uses her husband as a sock puppet in her plan to complete the Grand Rite (some witch thing that requires sacrifice that I still don’t really understand). She turns the Puritans against themselves, convincing the ruling males to kill innocent people in a rabid pursuit of false justice, proving that these men are inherently evil. Overall, it’s an interesting show filled with strong-willed women, but definitely not as light-hearted as Reign or as action-packed as Vikings.

What are some of your favorite shows with strong female characters?

October 31st, 2014

exploring // big sur & hwy 1.

October 22nd, 2014

book talk // fangirling over fangirl.

I fully intended to write this as a brief response on Goodreads, like I normally do, but somehow it SNOWballed (pun alert!) into something much more detailed that I felt I should share here as well.

Alright, so I’ve read two other books by Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor & Park and Attachments. I did not particularly care for either one. I didn’t really identify with any of the characters and I believe my Goodreads review for Attachments sums up how I felt about both stories: “Meh, it was cute.” So, I went into Fangirl with similar expectations of fluffy cuteness and disentanglement.

However, once I started reading, I almost immediately latched on to Cath’s character. I feel like this book, and Cath’s character specifically, was written for the introverted, Internet obsessed, socially anxious loner in all of us. To trace my own roots of Internet loner-dom, I was deeply involved in the pixel / doll art online community in high school and college. Although it’s something I’ve traveled back to experimentally at various points, I’ve never rekindled all the super-deep connection that I felt with a lot of my online friends from that period or the obsessive creative drive that allowed me to hone my digital craft. I also played FFXI in college and was moderately involved in forums and discussion boards and even designed a website for my Linkshell. These hobbies were my secrets, my borderline embarrassing secrets — not stuff I told people at the sporadic parties I dragged myself to at my roommate’s behest. I felt that my own secrets were easily interchangeable with Cath’s Simon Snow fanfic writing. No one would understand! It was my mantra as I ensconced myself in imaginary worlds.

“To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.”Fangirl

If you read fanfiction, you know how immersive that culture can be. It’s consuming simply because it’s never-ending. And slash fic, well… we’ve all read one (or written one). I love how Rowell understands the culture of fanfiction and carefully steeped her story in said culture, despite the mainstream reader potentially knowing nothing about it. Some reviews have maligned Rowell for her extended use of the Simon Snow fic sections, but I kind of loved it — Cath’s story-writing defined her in a way that all art defines true artists, it’s an inextricable part of them. Plus, I liked Rowell’s grittier version of Harry Potter.

Again, perhaps I am injecting my own personality into the story, but I was happy (ecstatic?) to read a NOT steamy new adult, coming-of-age novel. Most of the one’s I’ve read have involved really triggering topics or gratuitous sex and this book was incredibly chaste (all that hand holding!) without being boring. Plus the main characters were all geeks, not in sororities or frats, just ordinary people trying to survive college.

I unintentionally marathoned this novel in one day. Unlike Rowell’s other novels, this one made me laugh out loud in parts and recall what it was like to be alone and scared in my dorm room, or to be kissed by a boy I liked, or to be intimidated by my roommate, or avoid the commissary because I was afraid to sit alone and I didn’t know which sandwiches I was allowed to take and stockpiled ramen noodles instead. The characters linger in a way that the others did not. My one real complaint was that the ending was too abrupt, in my opinion. I mean, did Cath ever finish her fic? What did her fans think? Did she spend the summer on a Nebraskan dude ranch? There are so many questions and I all I got after the book release was an acknowledgements page! However, I’ve noticed the abrupt ending seems to be a part of Rowell’s style in her YA novels. I really hated the way Eleanor & Park ended, it was almost on par with One Day.

Overall Rating: 4 stars
Recommendation: Fellow geeks, introverts and fangirls
artwork of Cath writing from here.

October 14th, 2014

hiking // jack london state park.

Recently, I’d heard talk of a state park that harbored the remains of Jack London’s dream house – The Wolf House – as well as his grave. A flurry of keystrokes revealed that Jack London State Park is actually located just outside Sonoma in Glen Ellen, CA, approximately an hour drive from San Francisco.

I packed 2L of water, 1 bag of trail mix, a pocketknife, sunscreen (so hot!) and my camera in a daypack. I wore my Keen hiking boots and thick socks, but kept the rest of my outfit light. I hit the trailhead around 9:30 and did the Lake Trail Loop followed by hiking up (and then back down) the Vineyard Trail to see the Ancient Giant (a 2,000 year old first growth Redwood). Overall, it was about 5 miles of moderate terrain.

The park itself is gorgeous and quintessential wine-country with sweeping vistas of vineyards and rolling hillscapes. The sky rained golden leaves upon us in a halo of morning sun as we meandered through the woods. Since the acreage was originally London’s “model farm” there is actually a vineyard within the park (hence Vineyard Trail). There are remnants of this farm at every turn, we encountered several displays of old equipment and buildings. Non-native Eucalyptus groves still thrive near the now silt-filled lake where London and his wife swam. His mark endures everywhere. This particular excursion had the added opportunity of historic significance and we spent some time exploring The Wolf House ruins, a Jack London museum and seeing where London’s ashes were buried. Then, on the way home, we stopped for a free 5-flight wine tasting at Cline Vineyard (because when in Sonoma… or something). History, books, wine and nature — you win again, California.

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” – Jack London

September 29th, 2014

hiking // china camp state park.

September 5th, 2014

the mountains are calling // camping in yosemite.

A few weeks ago, I applied to co-lead a Trail Mavens trip. My first experience had been so overwhelmingly positive that I wanted to become a more integral part of the group in the future — little did I know how quickly that “future” opportunity would present itself. Sasha asked me to co-lead the Labor Day weekend trip to Yosemite, naturally I responded with a resounding, “Hell yeah!” Having never lived in California at any previous point in my life, I never had the opportunity to explore America’s first National Park, the one that inspired idols of mine like John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson to compose lyrics, letters and poetry. Because how can you not write poetry whilst ensconced in the winding trails that climb craggy, purple mountains and snake between sprawling Sequoia groves. Because this is a landscape that can make you believe in something greater than yourself. The very least it deserves is poetry.

Getting to Yosemite is a three hour trek from SF, and there was a caravan, fruit stand and cafe involved in our sojourn — but eventually we arrived at the Crane Flat campground and pitched our tents. This time I was an active participant in the tent pitching demonstration (insert muscle flex). For extra adventure points, Sasha and I created a sleeping palette on the ground, where we were covered only by Yosemite’s thick blanket of stars. The first day involved a quick jaunt around Tenaya Lake. Although I slowly became accustomed to the awe-inspiring sights that accompanied every turn in Yosemite, Tenaya Lake was the first place to take my breath away. The impossibly blue water seemed to reflect every inch of sky in it’s mirrored pool and I could have stayed there for hours, basking contentedly in the beauty. Then, we stopped by Olmsted Point to take copious jumping photographs before heading back to base camp for fire starting, veggie packets and wine.

The next morning was D-day. I knew going into this weekend that I would also be completing my longest, most grueling hike yet. My interests tend to go from zero to obsessed in a matter of days, and hiking has been no exception to that rule, so I was all in. Sasha and I rose early to get breakfast and trail snacks ready for everyone. We made it to the trailhead and began. Start time: 9:07 AM. Four Mile Trail was first, and it provided a quick, switchback-filled ascent in elevation, also it should be noted that the trail is not actually four miles. My trail buddies, Katie and Suki, and I took our time ascending and that decision was for the better. Our brief breaks left us with enough energy to complete the hike and allowed us to really enjoy the panoramic views.

Four Mile Trail ended at Glacier Point (elevation 7,200 ft) where we reconvened and ate lunch under the sun’s persistent glare — the clouds remained stoically absent. Collectively, we stared down the tourists who had driven to the Point for perfectly posed photos. “We earned this view,” was our mantra, and it was nothing if not empowering. The Panoramic Trail was our longest trail and wound in and out of trees and waterfalls, most importantly, there were very few people and I didn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed by anyone’s presence. At the top, an older European couple offered us raspberry Milano cookies as a reward. I smiled, dug a cookie out with my dirt encrusted fingernails, and proceeded to proclaim it the singularly best cookie I had ever eaten. Perhaps it was.

We descended down the Mist Trail, which was an exercise in controlling my anxiety as I navigated the crowds and treacherous stone steps. It was not an experience I am in any rush to repeat. I saw the JMT, just to my left, and was reminded of my goal to hike the entire thing, a dream that seemed significantly less impossible by the completion of my first 14 mile hike. End time: 6:34PM. That night I ate the best black bean and avocado burrito I’ve ever had (to accompany the best cookie), talked about lady things and nursed my feet in the warmth of our campfire. Adventure through adversity.

We ended the trip with an open air tram ride (to spare our feet) through Mariposa Grove to view the giant Sequoias. I don’t feel adequate enough to describe the majesty of Yosemite’s Sequioas. How can you describe a tree that reaches indefinitely toward Heaven in an earnest search for endurance, a tree that survives what would destroy any lesser flora, a tree that has become a metaphor for eternity. Theodore Roosevelt went camping with John Muir in Yosemite’s forest and wrote: “The first night was clear, and we lay down in the darkening aisles of the great Sequoia grove. The majestic trunks, beautiful in color and in symmetry, rose round us like the pillars of a mightier cathedral than ever was conceived even by the fervor of the Middle Ages.”

And now I am back home, just waiting for the mountains to call again.