Monday, September 29, 2008

I don't watch TV. Really.

So I always tell people that I don't watch TV. Except that it's not entirely true. I own a TV, but I use it only to watch movies. Where I live, the ONLY way to get any channels at all is to get cable. Literally -- you can't even buy a $40 antenna to get three network stations. But I actually DO watch a few shows online. Here's what I think about the season premiers I've seen so far:

1. Heroes. This was a solid C for me. Okay, but I don't GET why people thought this premier was so great. I used to love this show, but the season premier just didn't re-hook me. I may not watch at all this season.

2. Grey's Anatomy. Eh. It was decent but not spectacular. WTF was up with the gratuitous Denny cameo at the end? Denny is DEAD, Grey's Anatomy writers. Just let the man GO already! And I was freakin' pissed at the whole "play with your emotions thing" of having Rose tell Derrick that she's pregnant and then be like "just kidding" and having Mere dream that Derrick was dead but the viewer doesn't know that it's a dream at first. Just stupid -- totally designed to fuck with the viewer's head, not to advance the plot. And it is annoying. So no more of that BS, okay? Shonda Rhimes I'm looking at you.

3. Dexter, on the other hand, had a kick-ass season premier. I think this is the best show on TV right now. Though I am admittedly disturbed by the "help Dexter dispose of the bodies" game on Showtime's Dexter website. Who thought THAT was a good idea?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh Give Me a Home . . .

. . . Where the Buffalo Roam.

This was my first buffalo sighting, on the drive from Zion National Park to Bryce. I wish I could say that they were wild, but sadly, they were not -- it was a herd in a fenced pasture next to a resort. I suspect that they are destined to be burgers. There were baby buffalo in the herd, though! And if that's not freakin' adorable, I don't know what is. (Sorry - I didn't manage to get a very good picture of them.) Are you surprised that Buffalo are so skinny in the ribs? I totally was.

Also, on the drive between Zion and Bryce, we stopped for lunch in Hatch, UT at this small town diner called Cafe Adobe. SO good! Dan had the burrito, which was delicious -- it was huge, and crammed with chicken and beans and veggies, not just lots of rice as a filler. I had a southwestern chicken sandwich with hot peppers and avocado and all kinds of other goodness. Oh, and beer-battered fries to die for! Definitely plan to eat here if you're driving through (you don't have many other choices, anyway). A great road food find.

Monday, September 22, 2008

On Being a Regular

As I've mentioned here before, I've lived in a LOT of different places since college. Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; San Francisco; East Lansing, Michigan. Plus short stints in Philadelphia and Houston and a lot of travel for work to Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Austin, Madison, etc. One of my favorite things about having moved around so much is the way that I was constantly getting to discover something new. Some favorites:

--Alamo Drafthouse in Austin and Houston.

--Diedrich Coffee in Houston - the only time I've ever actually been able to taste the subtle flavor differences in coffee the way I can with wine and beer.

--Reading Terminal Market in Philly. A huge indoor farmer's market in an old train station downtown. It's full of fantastic farm stands, fish mongers, amish dairies, etc. Plus, you can get a killer good cheesesteak at the counter at the front. Just don't expect it to be lowfat :-)

--Capigiro Gelato, whose Pinapple Cilantro and Blueberry Thyme gelato flavors might just be the best things I've ever eaten. So good that I've actually been seriously tempted to spend the $100 plus it would cost me to get 6 pints shipped to me.

-- $2 beer and hot dogs on Thursdays at Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball games. Their mascot is called "The Big Lug" -- a dinosaur with a bolt through his nose. And they do things like having people down on the field between innings to try to slingshot rubber chickens into a dumpster. Methinks that the dumpster company is, perhaps, a Lugnuts sponsor :-) And did I mention the wading pool behind the outfield lawn and the fact that tickets are only $6? Yeah, you really can't go wrong.

-- Pecan bars at Alliance Bakery in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Alliance is also, by the way, a great coffee house for a poor grad student to hunker down for an afternoon with a stack of papers to grade. :-) And so much good food in Chicago in general!

I could go on and on with this list. But back to the point of this post. It's also, of course, incredibly emotionally challenging to move around so much. Just when you finally start to feel like wherever you're living is "home" you move somewhere new and start all over again. When you move a lot, you're constantly having to scour Craigslist for apartment listings, as you try to figure out whether apartments in this town usually include heat and electric, where you'll feel safe walking home late at night, who will take pets. You have to sort out where the hell the grocery store is, and whether it is possible to shop in your new town without having to patronize Safeway (uh, in Rockville, Maryland, the answer is pretty much NO). You have to seek out a new favorite coffee shop -- Starbucks does NOT count. Oh yeah, and then determine out how, exactly, one goes about making friends in Washington, DC or Lynn, Massachusetts or wherever you may be living (my go-anywhere strategy - join a sports team. Kickball totally counts!). While I find all of that stuff really exciting, on one level, it's also pretty exhausting and lonely, at times. Especially when you do it again and again and again. (And when you're not so great at keeping in touch with friends from past residences).

So, anyway, I realized yesterday that I'm coming up on my 2-year anniversary of living in the Bay Area. This is the longest I've lived in a single town since somewhere around 2000 or 2001. Normally, at this point in my "relationship" with a town, it'd already be just a "place I used to live." But, instead, I'm still here, and lately I've been really appreciating the joys of staying put. One of those joys that has really struck me lately is being a regular.

I don't mean to go all Cheers on you or anything, but it IS really nice to go someplace where everybody knows my name. Or at least where the wonderful barista knows my name and that I like my double Americano in the medium-sized cup, not the big one. Where someone greets me by name and with a big smile first thing in the morning.

I've got a few places where I feel like a regular now -- Della Fattoria, the bakery/coffee shop a 5 minute walk from my house. Their coffee is better than the Starbucks on the next block by MILES. And Vanessa really is a wonderful barista. I'm a regular, too, at the fabric store where I've taken sewing lessons, and I'm starting to feel like one at the pizza place in Point Reyes where they make the BEST brick-oven pizzas. Dan and I go out of our way to be hungry everytime we're driving through there so we can stop for pizza and an organic greens salad. Yesterday, the owner remembered us and chatted with us about how we hadn't been in for a while. And it felt good to be remembered.

I've also just started my second season with the same soccer team, I know all the back roads to get anywhere I could possibly want to go in my town, and I'm even starting to get TIRED of some of the same old places in town. I can't remember the last time any of those things happened to me. And you know what? It feels really good to be a regular, for once, instead of the new kid. It's a feeling of belonging that I don't think I've had very often in my life. My parents still live in the same house they brought newborn me home to 32 years ago, but as an adult, I so often feel like the new kid at school, an outsider. Like everyone else has more friends, more people who know their name and smile at them in greeting. But maybe part of that is just a matter of staying put for once. Putting down roots, and seeing what grows.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

I think I'm coming down with a cold (AGAIN!), so I can't quite wrap my head around writing anything intelligent. Ugh. But here's a picture of Bryce Canyon to tide you over.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reading Update: September 20

Well, crap, the book I just finished reading and LOVED just got picked as the latest Oprah book. Now it looks like I just read it because Oprah said I should! That's what I get for waiting to post my response, huh? (Why, yes, I DO, in fact, dig through the shelves at the bookstore searching for a copy without the annoying little Oprah medallion when I buy a book that has been an Oprah book. What of it?)

Anyway, I just finished reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, and it was absolutely lovely. (I can't believe it only has 2.5 stars on Amazon. Oh wait, it's only 6 reviewers. Who all must be idiots. ) Anyway, this book is beautifully written, with the most compelling characters I've met in a long time. And I use the word "met" on purpose -- these characters felt SO real to me, so fully formed, I felt as if I knew them in real life. The book has these wonderful moments of thrilling happiness, but it's also heart-breaking. I cried pretty hard at the end, in fact. The way Wroblewski captures the interior lives of the characters (including the wonderful, loyal, amazing dog Almondine) stunned me. I didn't want this book to end, and yet I also couldn't put it down. Spectacular.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just in Case I Had Any Confusion About Where, Exactly, I Live. . .

. . . there was a grape spill on the highway this morning.

Yes, you read that right. No, I didn't get to see it (I am currently avoiding the highway because they've shifted the lanes and turned a 20 minute commute into 1+ hours of traffic HELL).

Only in Northern California, people. Only in Northern California.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Zion Wrap-Up

Before I talk about Bryce Canyon, I thought I'd do a quick wrap-up of Zion odds-n-ends. Both Dan and I thought Zion National Park was beautiful, but we also both thought it wasn't nearly as spectacular as, say, Yosemite. When I go to Yosemite, I feel constantly in awe. I just didn't feel that in Zion. However, the two hikes I've already written about were completely spectacular, and we did a couple other less spectacular but still perfectly lovely hikes.

Camping: We stayed in Zion for 2 days and 2 nights, camping at the South Campground in the park. It's first-come, first-serve and wasn't at all crowded the days we were there (right after the big Labor Day holiday weekend). However, as far as campgrounds go, it was just so-so. It's not especially pretty, and there are no showers, no privacy, not a ton of shade. What was great about this campground was proximity -- we could literally walk 2 minutes to the visitor center to catch the shuttle bus up to whatever trailhead we were aiming for. If you go, the campsites along the river are quite lovely, though they're right next to a biking path, so privacy is completely out during the day. It's $14 bucks a night, pretty standard for a National Park Campground -- bring exact change or your checkbook, as it's self-register only.

Getting Around: And speaking of the shuttle bus, at Zion you can only drive as far as the park entrance for most of the year. Once you're in the park, you need to take the free propane-powered shuttle bus wherever you want to go. Despite the minor inconvenience of not having your own car with you, we both loved the bus system. To be sure, the bus was slower than molasses in February, but it was really lovely to be able to just sit back and enjoy the view as we drove up through the canyon. And I've always HATED all the car traffic you have to fight in places like Yosemite. (And don't even get me started on RVs!)

Gear and Activities: Other than that, a few recommendations in Springdale. First, I've already mentioned the Zion Adventure Company. Not the friendliest or most helpful folks I've ever met, but they've got the gear you want for the Narrows hike. In fact, as far as we could tell, they're the ONLY ones who've got the gear, so you're pretty much stuck with them, anyway. They also run lots of guided trips. We didn't do any of those, as we'd rather explore on our own, but some of them looked fairly cool. Someday I'll try canyoneering!

We didn't end up going bicycling, because there wasn't really a route that was long enough in the area to make it worth our while (my boyfriend being the type who thinks nothing of riding 100 miles in a day). However, we if we HAD, we totally would have rented bikes from Zion Cycles We stopped in to investigate, and the woman working their (the owner?) was WONDERFUL! One of my favorite vacation strategies is to NOT do a ton of pre-planning. Instead, I like talking to the locals once I get to a place and finding out what THEY think is can't-miss. The lovely bike shop lady gave us all sorts of great advice on everything from the best place to eat in town (The Whiptail Grill-- Yum!) to where to camp and hike once we got to Escalante in a few days. So helpful!

Eating: As mentioned above, we loved the Whiptail Grill. It's not much to look at -- a tiny little place in what looks like a converted gas station. But if you sit outside under the canopy, you get a great view of the red rock cliffs around Zion. The service is friendly, helpful, and fast, and the food was SO good! Dan had the spaghetti squash enchiladas, which were to die for. I got about one bite because he didn't even want to share. And I had the steak tacos, which had the most tender meat I've ever tasted, not the sub-par meat you often get disguised inside tacos. Yummy! We never would have gone in if it weren't for the recommendation from our bike-shop friend, but I'm so glad we did.

(On the other hand, we thought that the Bit and Spur was a total miss, even though it had been recommended by a friend back home. Totally overpriced, for starters. We went in thinking we would eat dinner there, but after ordering margaritas, chips and salsa, and stuffed jalapenos, all of which were pretty mediocre, we decided dinner probably wasn't worth it. Confirming our suspicions, locals told us that The Bit and Spur is really hit-or-miss. If you order the right thing, it can be great, but if not, eh. They DO have a really lovely porch, though, so maybe go there for a beer :-)

Springdale Fruit Company. Great little stop on the way to Zion, right as you get into Springdale. This was a total impulse stop for us -- the cute store is surrounded by an apple orchard and Dan and I are both suckers for produce bought right at the place it was grown. We picked up a bag of apples, which were delicious. They also have all sorts of food-y treats and organic/natural soaps, shampoos, etc.

Other than that, we pretty much ate hiking food -- salami, cheese, and bread for lunch, stuff over the campfire for dinner the night we didn't eat at the Whiptail. Ooh, and campstove pancakes with bananas for breakfast. Yum!

More soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Narrowing it down

Look! Another vacation post! Maybe this small bites thing is working!

So another really cool hike that Dan and I did on vacation was the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park. This has to be one of the most unique hikes anywhere. Basically, the Virgin River IS the trail. You walk down this winding trail along the river's edge for maybe 3/4 of a mile and then the path bottoms out at the river and you just keep going up the river. You can hike as far as about 5 miles up the river and then turn around and come back. If you're more motivated than us (and if your very cute but sometimes absent-minded boyfriend didn't leave his backpack in, oh, say, Portland when you're supposed to be going on a hiking/camping/backpacking vacation), you can also do the hike as an overnight backpack from the top down (about 16 miles total). You hike a few miles down the Narrows, stop at a designated campsite for the night, and finish the hike the next day. We did the day hike version and I'd say we made it maybe 3.5 or 4 miles up the river and then turned around and came back.

We rented special equipment for the hike from The Zion Adventure Company, located right outside the park in Springdale. This included special "canyoneering" boots (which look like a cross between a cross-country ski boot and a hiking boot, but are much more flexible in the sole -- you can see me wearing them in the picture above). We also got neoprene socks to keep our toesies warm and heavy wooden staffs for balance.

Before we did the hike, we went back and forth about whether it was worth $18 each to rent this stuff. We certainly saw lots of folks doing the hike in tennis shoes and Teva-type sandals, but we ended up being glad we had the gear. It looked pretty miserable doing the hike without a walking stick, which helped with balance and also with feeling out what was coming ahead, as the water was the color of Earl Grey tea with milk, and totally opaque. This saved both of us from many unexpected steps into much deeper water. And since I'm always cold, I totally appreciated the neoprene booties. I was surprisingly uncold during the hike, even though the water temp was only about 65 degrees and the air wasn't much warmer when we started. And I was super-glad I didn't have open-toed sandals on -- it was impossible to not stub your toes on the extremely rocky river bottom.

So, as I said, most of the hike is actually IN the river. For the most part, the water came up to just under my knees or so. Occasionally it was thigh-deep, but my shorts, which stop a few inches above my knees, barely got wet. Basically, you wade up the river, using your walking stick to help you avoid obstacles and keep your balance against the current, which was strong at moments, but never really powerful.

The river winds through a towering sandstone canyon, which narrows to maybe 20 feet across in places. The picture above was taken in a part of the Narrows called Wall Street. It's a bit dark, but you can see Dan standing on the rocks on the right edge of the picture, which will give you some scale. It was really quite amazing.

Ultimately, Dan and I both thought that Bryce Canyon (more on that later) was more beautiful than Zion, but that this hike was spectacular. Even if you're a little nervous about it, I'd say The Narrows hike is a can't-miss if you're in Zion. We saw plenty of grandma-types doing it and they did just fine. (Though, confidential to the 40-something banker-type who let his 70-year-old mother flounder away without ever offering her a hand, even when she was clearly frustrated and in need of some physical AND emotional support -- you're a jackass).

If you go, definitely wear light-weight, quick-drying clothes, and stuff that will keep you warm even if it's wet (no cotton!) I wore polyester soccer shorts, which dry super-quick, a workout tank, a fleece, and a lightweight windbreaker. That felt about right -- mostly I kept all the layers on, though I did strip down to the workout tank a couple times when we were in the sun for extended periods. Also, spend the $ on the equipment rentals -- you'll have a much more pleasant experience. And be sure to look at the weather report -- this hike has a high flash-flood danger. Since you're in the river the whole time, and often between two soaring canyon walls, you don't want to get stuck in here during a flash flood!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Public Service Announcement

Dear Internet,

If any of you are planning on making the Caramel Pear Butter from the current issue of Bon Appetit, beware! That shit's like molten lava when it's bubbling away on the stove, and it splatters like you wouldn't believe. My poor hands . . . Also, it's really good with a few whole cardamom pods added along with the nutmeg.

Oh yeah, and if you're thinking about going to see Burn After Reading, you might want to reconsider. Brad Pitt is absolutely hysterical, but the movie as a whole was just . . . eh. I kept on looking at my watch to see when it would be over, even though it was only 1:40 long. Never a good sign.

And as long as I'm giving advice, the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is amazing, and it closes in just two weeks. Totally spend your $$$ to go see that instead of Burn After Reading.



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where only Angels Can Land

Every time I come back from vacation, I promise a big recap post, and then it never happens. So this time, I'm trying a different approach -- bite-sized posts about parts of my vacation. For vacation last week, Dan and I went on a road trip to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument (with a brief but terrible stop in Vegas on the way). The first hike we did in Zion was a whopper -- the 5 mile up-and-back to Angel's Landing.

Angel's Landing gets its name from Frederick Fisher, who visited Zion in 1916 and exclaimed about Angel's Landing that "only an angel could land there." The first 2 miles up are a cool hike, but fairly tame. First, you spend a lot of time zig-zagging up the mountainside on switchbacks:

Then you travel through a cool (and chilly) canyon called The Refrigerator. Me goofing around in a sandstone cave in Refrigerator Canyon:

Finally, you top out on a wide sandstone saddle called Scout's lookout. Once you make it to Scout's Lookout, things get pretty hairy, pretty fast, and many people don't continue.

The final half-mile of the hike involves climbing up a narrow spine of sandstone with a 800-1200 foot drop on either side. At times, the ridge is as narrow as 3 or 4 feet. The sandstone is actually quite rough, and therefore very sticky on your feet. And there is a heavy chain attached to the rock for much of this final half mile, to hold onto as you climb, but it's still scary as shit. 5 or 6 people have fallen to their deaths from this trail. (It's probably good I didn't tell my mom I was doing it till after it was done. Seeing as how it probably would have given her a heart attack, which would suck. Hi mom. I love you.)

Once you DO make it to the top, though, the view out across the mountains is astounding. Uh, as long as you don't think too hard about that chain that looks like it's going right over the side of the mountain into the abyss. Which, you know, you actually have to climb back down to get back to safety. Better to think about the fact that shuttle buses on the road below look like ants from up here, and the river is so green! And, hey, look at that pretty birdy!

Anyway, here's Dan sitting on the edge of the abyss. That's a 1200 foot drop underneath his feet -- can you see how tense his arms are? Can you hear me in the background saying "Ohmygod are you crazy?!? Don't put your feet over the edge! Well, ok, if you're going to do it anyway, at least let me get a picture." I'm such a good girlfriend :-)

Finally, here's me going back down after reaching the summit. I'm smiling because I'm pretty darn excited to be alive after that freakin' scary hike up (and I'm not even scared of heights!). And also because, as it turns out, and contrary to what I expected, going down was actually quite a lot easier than going up. (Though perhaps the women I saw going down inch-by-inch on their asses, white knuckles holding the chain in a death grip would disagree.)

Anyway, if you go to Zion National Park, I highly recommend this hike. Except, uh, not so much if you're afraid of heights. And do yourself a favor, and DON'T read anything else online about the hike before you do it. You'll just freak yourself out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reading Update: September 9

1. Aryn Kyle -- The God of Animals

2. Gillian Flynn--- Sharp Objects
Disturbing. It creeped me out, and not in a delicious thriller-ish kind of way. Can't say I recommend it.

3. Sarah Hall -- Daughters of the North
Eh. Do yourself a favor and read The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, instead. This book covers the same emotional and intellectual ground, but not nearly as well. It was a short book, but it still took me several days to read, which is a good sign that it wasn't doing much to grab my interest.

4. Frank McCourt -- 'Tis
Sequel to Angela's Ashes (which I tried to read once and gave up on after about 20 pages). I picked 'Tis up off of one of those book exchange shelves in a coffee shop in the tiny hamlet of Boulder, Utah. I had finished my book on vacation and couldn't wrap my head around the only other one I'd brought (Crime and Punishment -- not exactly light vacation reading. I don't know what I was thinking). Dan was about ready to kill me before I found this book. He wanted to lounge around the campsite and read, but I was whiney and grumpy, having finished my own book. And then we found the book exchange. So, in a way, 'Tis saved my relationship. How's that for praise? All kidding aside, this was an enjoyable little read, though far from my favorite of the memoirs I've read. One thing -- the narration suddenly changes from present tense to past tense (and becomes completely stylistically different) about 3/4 of the way through the book, which bugged me. I might go back and give Angela's Ashes another try.

Also, I'm about 50 pages into Crime and Punishment, and I don't get the fuss. So far, all that's happened is that I've gotten thoroughly annoyed with Rasholnikov's interior monologue. Anyone want to convince me that I should keep reading? Or even just explain to me why people think this book is so darn wonderful? I really feel like I'm missing out, since everyone raves about Dostoevsky, but it's just not doin' it for me . . . Instead, I've been reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I am absolutely loving so far.

The Only Thing I Liked About Vegas

As previously mentioned, I found Vegas to be, well, horrifying. I just don't GET why people love it there so much. It was full of incredibly drunk people acting incredibly stupid. Loud. Dirty. Gross weather. Did I mention absolutely filthy? D. insisted that we at least TRY gambling, so we dropped 10 bucks in a slot machine. That has to be the most boring way to lose 10 bucks EVER. Seriously.

However, I did take some really lovely pictures of the neon sign at the Paris casino. And the Bellagio fountain was pretty cool. And, finally, when we stopped for the night in Vegas again on our way home (staying well off the strip, thank you very much), we had a fantastic dinner at Table 34, an unassuming little family-owned place in an office park near the airport. Their mac 'n' cheese was, I think, the best I ever had. Yum.

So, in conclusion, having spent a little over 8 waking hours in Vegas, I don't feel the need to EVER go there again!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Vacation, Time to Get Away

For the past week, D. and I have been having wonderful adventures in the surprisingly lovely state of Utah. (Seriously, who knew that Utah was actually gorgeous? Vegas, on the other hand? Hell on earth. We stayed a night on the Strip on our way to Utah and OMG after about 5 minutes I was on the edge of a anxiety attack. Ugh.) The above picture is me relaxing in Bryce Canyon. Those crazy rock stacks behind me are called hoodoos, which is one of the best names EVER for a natural phenomenon. The colors were astonishing. Anyway, more pictures soon! (Which probably means, um, that I'll get distracted with other stuff and you'll be lucky to see a picture or two sometime next year)