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Journeys Notes from the Road

Adventures in Wonderland

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Is there a particular age where wonder leaves us? I always mused when I was younger about the idea of abandonment of art. What happens in a person’s life to give it up? Is it gradual or quitting cold turkey? You’ve seen it too? Guitar perched in a corner, collecting dust. Sketchbook long ago traded in for company-owned computer. Thatch of music pages where notes titter across the cage in silence. I started this blog in what now feels like could have been someone else’s life. How funny that a decade can bring that kind of distance from the person we were, the dreams we fed in secret. Yet, I am still in many ways the same. Still wrestling time with poetry from the maw of paid work, except now, the paid work is writing. But for the first eight months of the year, my proverbial well harbored only caked mud. And then, I opened a door. Discovered a “drink me” vial that transported me all the way to a life-changing place. I left revived and reassured.

—I read those words now—written in 2019. The world we inhabit is a changed place.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Here I am, stuck in pandemic quarantine at home, much like you.

Everything looks different and yet I tipped my hat this past August in memory of boarding a plane last year to attend “poetry super camp” as my best friend called it, but really known as Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. A conference for writers with bread in its name—is that what first caught my eye? I jest when I say that’s why I applied. But, it did endear me to the conference off the bat (even after learning about the mountain range that gave the conference its moniker). The intensity of the time—that focus of intent and vision for 10 days changed me. Because I knew life would change afterwards and this was my one chance to go all in.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Vermont holds a particular place for me—it speaks to me of poetry, yes, and creameries and winding roads flanked by green trees and green fields that break into golden and copper song in autumn. I sometimes willfully don’t like to learn about a place before going because I don’t want to let others opinions or experiences color my own. I want to be awash in my own senses of the place and so it was at Bread Loaf.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Every day held craft talks in genres that might not be the one I relate to most but in having all of us in one space allowed this cool cross-pollination where poets learned tactics from fiction writers on POV and fiction / narrative non-fiction writers considered how concision of poets might tighten their work in interesting ways.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Plus! I met so many fascinating people who became friends on the dance floor, over late night conversations with gingery Vermont hard cider, from meals spent in the cafeteria, or even from spying a writer pull out their bag of matcha and whisk at the hot drink station. I found community and shared work aloud, battled on the page in edits after workshop critiques, holed up in the library continuing a story read aloud by one of the fellows.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

I camped out on the cavernous front porch in a rocking chair. Set out in the meadow of many wonders across the street, stepping first through the tiny gate in the rock wall, as if playing a character from Star Dust. I cackled aloud on the hayride. Got dolled up for the book signing on the lawn. Spent moments locked in contemplation. Clinked wine glasses in a tiny impromptu reading with new friends in their living room. Hunkered in darkness of the laundry room reading and listening. We were never done sharing work. Encouraging others with snaps or claps.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

I am landlocked as we all are right now. I so wish I could return once more to Bread Loaf. And so, let us go. Our imaginations can take us wherever we want to venture even if our bodies are bound and mouths masked. I’m grateful for the experience and the mighty small team that pull all the details together so it can bloom fresh ideas while creating a community of creative expression and kinship.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Back roads, blind tasting and staring into the black hole

When I was a kid, my mom occasionally toted me to blind taste tests where we would be paid for our opinions. I remember trying different unmarked hot dogs as a child and giving my opinion on which one tasted best. Even as a child, I was never short on opinions, though I was short. One evening the power in the building extinguished and I could hear a woman let out a blood-curdling cry of, my baby! When the lights went back on, the person behind the scream emerged as a sheepish mother and her seven-year old son red of embarrassment. Years later, my mom and I tell that story of sampling hot dogs punctuated with a blackout and bone-chilling scream and break out into laughter. While working at the tea company, I attended a professional tasting training where they had brought in an expert to teach us the roles of the different parts of our palates and how to better describe what we taste.

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All of my previous tasting experiences served me well on a Tuesday morning in a wooden folding seat, a tray of capped plastic ramekins on my lap. In the brightly lit room, Jack Bishop began giving us instructions on how we would conduct the audience portion of the blind taste test before Chris Kimball emerged onto the set. The setting was inside the white house in Rupert, Vermont where Cook’s Country by America’s Test Kitchen is filmed. After two weeks of filming, this Tuesday was the final day of what I imagine must have been something like a professional boot camp. A work trip took me to the beautiful backdrop of back roads where the leaves were just beginning to crisp up with color, and into that studio audience folding chair. I had been to America’s Test Kitchen before and happily revisited it during my brief stint in Brookline before heading north.

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On this day our task was simple: three kinds of corn chips – three kinds of salted butter – three kinds of Creole seasoning. A professional tasting panel had already tasted the samples waiting before us and our opinions would provide an extra set of data along with Chris Kimball’s blind taste test of the same samples, from which to determine the recommended brand. An assistant passed out our tasting sheets where we would mark our answers and rate taste, color, and texture. I eyed the corn chips like it might have been a noon-day showdown. The colors all differed and so white corn took on yellow corn took on blue. It was no contest really. Even without salsa, only one chip emerged as the victor with a rippled bubbly exterior, solid crunch, and corny flavor. On to the butter, this round definitely perplexed us more. Who eats butter out of hand? And yet some spread it on saltines and I tried to dip my knife into it for a more pure unadulterated tasting. This time two butters competed almost head-to-head, but one came out the winner with its creamy consistency, slight salt, and a sweetness that had almost floral notes in it. I’m pretty sure a few of us were imagining dabbing a pat of that butter on warm sourdough bread. Last up, the Creole seasoning ended up polarizing our group. And, Bishop pointed out that it might make sense depending on where people were coming from. I immediately determined my winner after a quick heat developed in my mouth from the seasoning sprinkled on white rice. If I closed my eyes, I could envision homemade gumbo or etoufee with this necessary ingredient. Results were tallied.

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One of the cameramen came out and moved us in our row so the view from the camera was just right. Out came Chris Kimball onto the set as the director yelled, action! Bishop and Kimball began their repartee as Kimball tackled the corn chip first, tasting all three options and agreeing with the audience, as he did with the butter, and Creole seasoning. Watching the two of them naturally gab in front of the camera (all told, I think there were five in the room), I’m reminded of how much I admire anyone willing to be on television. Kimball let his comments roll without reserve as he crunched one chip, then another, then back to the first batch. You can tell he’s been doing this for a while—he worked the camera (and crowd, let it be known) fluidly and with panache.

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Being on camera isn’t something I aspire to do. Years ago, after a tradeshow elicited an opportunity for the tea company, I flew out to New York to tape a handful of videos on tea for a popular website. I had written the scripts—all verbiage and content I regularly shared at food festivals with visitors to our booth. I felt comfortable and confident with what I had written and practiced a few times in an empty conference room at the office, in front of a colleague, as well as in front of a mirror. I arrived the night before the taping so my body could acclimate to the time change and I could rest. My nails had been freshly lacquered. I sported a new choppy hairdo. My closet had been reduced to one acceptable dress. Manhattan on mute—muffled taxi cabs and street sounds kept me grounded.

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Nothing could prepare me for what awaited. The camera trained on your face is a humbling prospect. It gives nothing to you—there are no eyes sparked with life that lift and smile, no eyebrows to crest up with surprise or furrow with skepticism. Instead you focus on a gaping glass eye that is all-seeing and unforgiving. I can’t tell you how many times I flubbed my words on that first video—words that I had written and essentially had to abandon in favor of keeping a steady rhythm and not pausing awkwardly searching for my next phrases. The director and content producer for the website were stellar—they kept me cool every time I grew flustered. By the end of the day, and after five videos, we had found our pace, and I had rediscovered my sense of humor. After that day of harrowing work, I felt no fear in front of the camera where I could ad-lib. Still, watching how Kimball and Bishop could nail their bits in one take or at most two—it was fascinating to watch how they would edit their remarks from one take to the next. I left the Cook’s Country house that day wiser for the corn chip, salted butter, and Creole seasoning, but wiser too from seeing people in their element getting their work done with grace.

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Notes from the Road

JOMO

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It’s a funny thing how acronyms come to life. In the world that twitter created with its 140 character count, acronyms bloom into meadows of meaning. LOL. BRB. YOLO. FOMO. I drove through Yolo County recently and snickered wondering if the people who inhabit those towns happen to be more feckless about doing whatever challenging! Exciting! Need to do it! event– you only live once. When my good buddy Irvin taught me about the fear of missing out, it is as if my tongue had been loosed from its desperate searching for a term to embody that feeling that sometimes arises from reading too many social media updates. Recently, I stumbled upon a new-to-me acronym that I want to breathe hot fire into that it may fan into a full-on five alarm movement of possibility. JOMO.

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An article printed in Ad Weekly asserts that busyness equals success—at least in other people’s perceptions. Think about it. The person who stays later than everyone else at the office- the person who never can accept an invitation because their calendar is crammed with commitments—do they seem like their lives are more full? I have been both of these people at different times of my life. That same article suggested that we actually are not as busy as we purport to be on social media. And yet, I’m here to tell you that we prioritize what we value. As a resident’s assistant in college, I gathered in a meet-and-greet with my residents in the lounge. Among different orders of business, I told them that I would try to be there for them when I could—if they came to me and the timing didn’t work, we would find another time. I would prioritize making sure their needs were heard and they felt cared for. I’ve tried to pull that idea with me into adulthood.

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While working on Steeped, I was persona non grata for months. I had no idea how the book would eat my breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea times too. In the beginning, I attempted to make dates with friends, only to find that I flaked out later. That is not my personality type and I felt wretched about letting friends down. So, I took a break from making any appointments, dates or anything that looked like a plan. Eventually, I worked my way out of my hermitage of culinary solitude. That time period truly was the busiest I’ve ever been for good reason.  One great take-away: while I couldn’t give friends in-person time, what they really wanted to know is that they mattered and that I still cared. So, I would call and talk with them for a few minutes, trying to steer the conversation so they could open up and share their lives with me. I didn’t have much to give, but found a way to make much of what I could offer. As a child, my mom once told me she never wanted to hear me use the word bored, so I instead supplanted it with busy. I never would have thought of myself as someone who glorifies being busy, but if I look at my track record, it’s not pretty. I worked three jobs in graduate school so I could earn two degrees at the same time. While working the next job, I took on another master’s degree. Instead of thinking that I am reveling in the idea of being busy, I consider this tact to be engrafted into me from a workaholic father. We share that gene of getting it done and thriving on the energy.

Dutton Farmstand VermontDutton Farmstand Vermont

This past weekend, I was pulled in three directions: a food blogging conference – a natural food tradeshow – a poetry festival. All three of them had merit. I have attended on numerous occasions two of the events and I guess you could say I opted to take the Robert Frost approach to decision-making and chose the road less traveled. As I spied tweets and instagram posts from the other two events over the course of the weekend, I began embracing JOMO—the joy of missing out. Whether I had elected to attend one event over the other two, I would inevitably miss out…on being present in what circumstance I had chosen. Isn’t that the kicker? There wasn’t a bad answer to the choose your own adventure question. But somehow, even after we have made our decisions about how to spend our time, we can pine after the other options, the what-could-have-been’s instead of being grateful for where we are and firmly rooted in the present. And I would posit that kind of behavior is to our detriment. Scaling the backroads of New Hampshire and Vermont meant spotty wifi signals and sparse social media engagement. This freed me up to be present for whatever might present itself: the roadside farmstand serving apple cider slushies, the ice creamery dive on the side of the road in Brattleboro with 25 flavors that included Vermont maple walnut and Mayan chocolate.

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We can’t be everywhere at once. In fact, sometimes life does not permit us to participate in something fun or desired, but instead forces our hand to play difficult cards we have been dealt. Can there be joy in that circumstance too? I would venture to say yes. The small moments make life magical—not just the over-the-top experiences. In an age where we are encouraged to stay plugged in, posting onto five or more social platforms throughout the day, and soaking up other people’s social activities, there is indeed great joy to be had in missing out. As a facebook friend commented earlier today, I took over 5 months off from Facebook. Guess what… life goes on, pretty well, I might add without it. And her reason for coming back to proceed with her social media presence is telling too, but I’m back for the convenience of organizing climbing trips and connecting with folks. So as we rethink the glorification of busyness, perhaps we might find joy in stillness and intention, of seeing where the road we’ve chosen might lead us.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Hey, Now

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Writing sometimes resembles wrestling a beast to the ground where the writer’s persistence on the page is rewarded. Rest assured, no animals were hurt in the statement above. Departures in writing can come about innocuously and perhaps some might say are causes of distraction, but I tend to abide by the idea of inhabiting Alice chasing the white rabbit on the page. The image of wrestling a beast came to me vividly today as I sat down to right about one thing even as the strains of the song in my headphones shuttled me somewhere else entirely. Before I could proceed with the writing at hand, I needed to grapple with that interloper head-on, knowing if I let it fight underneath my grasp, I might be able to access something real and true. Here’s where it took me:

In May, I had been refreshing my phone app’s weather program as if willing the weather to simmer down. I was traveling around Texas on book tour and so were the showers. I’m not fond of driving in Bay area rain where showers have garnered headlines long before the rain dried up. When I used to commute to San Rafael from San Francisco on a rainy day, the sky would turn the same color as the glistening road, blurring boundaries of street and sky. I had grown up in Texas where rain means business and takes on the adage that everything really is bigger in Texas. Growing up in that kind of place, you develop a healthy respect for weather systems. Tornadoes, flash flood thunderstorms, heat that bakes the back of anything in its wake appears regularly in the lone star state.

On one leg of my journey in the spring, I stayed at my mom’s house. She watched the weather channel with the frequency of conferring with it as one would with an oracle. The weatherman’s drone became the soundtrack of our days. That healthy respect transformed into an edginess as the darkening skies unfurled overhead. I have grown too accustomed to 24/7 sun that keeps the streets dry.

As one does in situations that test our mettle, I decided to try and make light of the typhoon of uncertainty growing within. I posted a photo of my driving route through the Texas and Louisiana legs of my book tour where not one but eight lightning bolts lit up the route I was supposed to take. I joked about being in a modern day rendition of the Odyssey and secretly hoped I didn’t spy any sirens on the roadside. An event in Dallas with overcast skies ended up blowing over. Another event in Dallas brought rain after the event had finished. Austin and Houston were on the horizon. My mother practically pushed us out of the house early on Mother’s Day to try and beat the storm headed to Austin. She had deliberated and treated herself to a one way ticket home that night. We beat out the storm. After several mildly wet days in Austin, I needed to leave for Houston. For days, I had been tracking the storms that lighted up the weather app that showed 80 percent precipitation days bleeding into one another. It was inevitable. I couldn’t avoid driving into the heart of the storm alone.

On the morning of my departure from Austin for Houston, the sky hung ominously like one large cloak of steel grey. A few fat raindrops dripped onto the windshield of the rental car and I made a decision to stop into Central Market for road snacks and an iced matcha latte. Blueberries and cherry tomatoes had made the cut of easy to pop snacks for the drive, and my caffeinated green drink would keep me energized. I headed back to the car, squeezing open the umbrella with my free hand to shield me from the rain that had picked up force, finally shutting myself inside the car. What had started as a light rain picked up force and gathered speed to become a full-blown gale.

In the parking lot, the rain pelted down with fury and the kind of force that would have made me pull the car over and wait it out. I hesitated to turn the key and shift the gear into drive. Instead, and without a sign that the rain would abate, I turned on the radio to listen to London Grammar and shifted the gear into reverse. As Hannah Reid’s ghostly voice pierced the quiet of the car amid the crazed percussion of the assaulting rain, I found comfort even as the peach pit of fear in my stomach blossomed in size. She sang Ooh, this is frightening and then followed it with Ooh, it’s like lightning. The words left my mouth, matching her pitch and with them recognition of a type of song onomatopoeia where her lyrics matched my circumstance. They caught in my throat as I tried not to cry.

With 15 percent visibility, the car edged forward as the other few drivers kept a very polite distance. Though the windshield wipers had been set to top speed, I couldn’t discern where one lane ended and the other began. My eyes shifted to focus on the brake lights of the car in front of me, letting them be a light unto my path. I found that if I sang along with the words, I could channel all of the nervousness out of my body and into the melody, letting it catch like a key turning in a door. I could separate myself from the myriad possibilities of catastrophe that could assail me on this road I had to drive alone. It was as if I had found a modicum of courage to just keep moving forward at an ant’s pace. And, eventually, the rain did abate. And, eventually, my coiled fingers around the steering wheel slackened.

This morning, without warning, I found myself back in the rental car, the rain thwacking the windshield as I was pulling out of the safe haven of the Central Market parking lot in Austin. The music unleashed a visceral response to something in the recent past on a day where I was sitting in front of my computer in Oakland, attempting to write something else. Perhaps that reaction came from not listening to London Grammar since the trip until this morning. Or, I could point to the fact that this morning, I woke up with a desire to listen to their music. Do you ever think about the cavernous rooms inside us that stay locked and inaccessible or how they quietly thrust the key into our hand at the right moment? What happens when we stop listening? What happens when we crane forward ready to receive what they have to tell us about life, about ourselves? On the wall of my office hangs a hand-lettered sign that asks a question. Everyday, I pass by it several times, reading the words and letting them take root inside. What is the story only you can write? My rental car rainstorm might be something different for you, but we all go through events we survive that feel harrowing and insurmountable at the time. It’s not everyday that they resurface. And, perhaps, it’s not everyday that we let ourselves be swept away into a memory we would rather forget. When you sit down to write, keep yourself open to what needs to be expressed. You might find as I did with the aid of that London Grammar song that the revelation given is something you need to see in order to move on and start working on the writing at hand. You, the writer-wrangler. Words, the elusive beast.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Leaving San Francisco: A Love Letter to the Richmond

Home. It can be such a malleable thing. Within the period of several weeks, it became evident that we needed to move—something we have been emotionally and mentally preparing ourselves for quite some time to fully realize, even as our physical selves coordinate the arranging of movers, the buying of boxes. In the wake of the upcoming move, I am holed away in upstate New York where the sun warms my arms and the bees buzz past my ears. Only in this third space- at once familiar and still revealing new corridors can I really consider what I am losing and what I am moving into in six short days. And so, it seems fitting to share a piece I wrote for the now defunct, but once brilliant site, I Live Here, a collection of stories of San Franciscans and the neighborhoods they cherish. As I move out of dwelling in one City by the Bay and into another city by the Bay, I will continue to unpack this identity shift and the role that living in the Richmond has engrafted for eight excellent years—where I could “bask and purr and be at rest?” as Sarah C. Woolsey describes in her poem, “A Home.” Let us begin.

leaving san francisco

Love Letter to the Richmond

If you walk down Clement Street on any given Saturday you will find it bustling with activity. Outside famed Asian grocery store, New May Wah, bins of fresh prickly Durian fruit sit next to Hawaiian papaya with mesh bags of lychee and plastic-wrapped almonds resting in the crevices below. You will surely happen upon family businesses like Golden Gate Liquor, the only place we’ve found within 10 blocks that carries cans of Ranger beer or Stein’s with their hearty goulash and big-screen TV’s as you continue your stroll. Fantastic dim sum is yours for under two dollars whether you go to Good Luck with its dumplings or down to Lung Shan for sweet barbecue pork bao.

While I have flirted with other neighborhoods like living so deep in the Outer Sunset that the air we breathed smelled of the ocean or dwelling in NOPA before it had a hip nickname, no place has transfixed me quite like the Richmond. Perhaps it’s the proximity of Baker Beach with its crisp climes and jaw-breaking beautiful backdrop that people drive long distances to visit. Some call it “the Avenues” with either a tinge of derision or indifference in their voices, but we call it home.

It’s easy to eat your way through 15 countries without leaving Clement Street. People like me think about these things when considering where to set down roots. My interest in other cultures emanates from a father who spoke seven languages and a mother who speaks two. This cultural hodgepodge of overlap makes sense to my insatiable craving for bridging the gaps. There is so much here to learn!

Here, in the Richmond, I attempted my first Beef Rendang with little success as the pot smoked and the beef crisped beyond imagining. Here, too, I found recompense in trying Beef Rendang as it should taste from take-out at Malaysia Singapore. Here, I learned how to decipher the bulbous galangal from ginger and found kaffir lime leaves with the ease of locating ketchup or mayo in a big box grocery store.

llama and pete from green apple

It’s easy to eat your way up and down the street without ever having the same kind of food twice. People like me think about food and relish the variety found on a street like this. After working over a decade in food, I seek out creative culinary expression. My penchant for creating food poetry finds fodder during visits to Asian fusion bistro, B-Star or among the stacks at beloved Green Apple Books. We have watched two rounds of World Series play-off games with locals bedecked in black and orange at Pizza Orgasmica, or huddled around another screen, at Toy Boat while licking Double Rainbow chocolate ice cream threaded with peanut butter ribbons.

The Richmond may not offer the hipster appeal and warmer environs of the Mission, but you can warm yourself over a freshly pulled shot of Blue Bottle at Village Market and watch neighborhood residents practice tai chi in the park. With the Presidio on one side and Golden Gate Park on the other, the Richmond calls to weekend warriors who take on the back roads with their bicycles for Crissy Field or long jaunts walking through the woods just to get a whiff of Eucalyptus. All this natural beauty within the city makes this neighborhood unforgettable.

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Here, I have found a friendly, family-oriented neighborhood where you can be easily known by shopkeepers and neighbors whether from slipping into Angelina’s before the morning commute or reading poetry on a Thursday night at the Bazaar Cafe’s open mic where the owner, Les, and I might commiserate on art, music and sometimes politics. Then, of course, there’s Lee Gray at Thidwick Books, whose book savvy and helpful suggestions keep my bookcase well stocked. People in our neighborhood tend to stick around. I may have continued moving, but never out of the Richmond.

Even still, it’s hard to imagine how a neighborhood can be both familiar and full of wonders yet to discover (welcome, Grindz Hawaiian). I am growing more into the person I will become as a result of living here. If you can, as the song says, leave your heart in San Francisco, you may just find mine residing in the Richmond.

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Apparently, I’m also not alone in my appreciation for the Richmond, as I discovered in this piece from chef Marcus Samuelsson about his favorite place in San Francisco. Don’t miss the video of him traipsing through some of my personal haunts, strolling through the stacks at Green Apple Books or snagging an egg sandwich and coffee (Jacob makes the best lattes) at Village Market. My only beef with his article is the assertion that the Richmond is undiscovered. One of the reasons we are moving is that it is quite the hot property right now. But, we look forward to being frequent visitors.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

The D Word

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Pants fit a bit snugly. People smile in a knowing way as though they too haven’t been hitting the gym quite often enough. If we were to divine how to fill in the blanks for the D word with these clues, one version we might grab hold of would be “diet.” I loathe diets and this probably has something to do with being on various forms from junior high on, finding them wanting and myself hungry.

Another word that just as easily might conjure itself into existence would be detox. And here, we are closer to the matter at hand. This first kind of detox, the one that calls for stiff swigs of all matters of green vegetable presents itself and naturally is something I reach for often enough anyway to hydrate my skin and give a bit of pep to my step. This kind of detox might also regale a person with notions of fasting and avoidances, which quickly for me gets into the territory of the first D word, which I’m sure gets defined as “fail.” But, the actual conundrum remains: how do you adequately detox from Alaska?

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What I am pointing to is something deeper than a regimen of juices, and a detox that does involve leaving delicacies like salmon bacon behind until a blowtorch can be procured. It does involve giving up two hour long hikes through old growth forests on moss-covered paths that make even the hardest step lithe and buoyant. It means saying sayonara to seeing bald eagles with the frequency of black crows back in the lower 48. Alaska snuck under my skin like the sap from the devilclaw attracts light.

Perhaps it involved the homesteading mentality of canning and preserving fresh produce now because winter is coming. It might have been discovering that the admiration for salmon even works its way into berry form, having procured a small pot of salmonberry jam. Perhaps visiting in a sultry summer of sixty degree weather spoiled me rotten, but something hasn’t been quite right since I left.

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True, I spent hours writing at a long table appointed with small lamps and poised under antler chandeliers, all stationed in the belly of a moored ship. It might have something to do with the camaraderie of fellow writers pouring themselves into simple writing exercises and leaving the rest of us breathless with the results. Each day, memories forged to the front and spilled out onto the page.

In Alaska, I let myself go. There, I could curtail any fearful thoughts that might assert themselves. There, I held an exquisite anonymity of being myself- not someone that someone might know online or from a brief meeting. It’s an arresting thing to realize that we become who we fashion ourselves to be in this online era. How do we grapple with the idea of actually being known? It’s an odd thing to be alone at midnight under sunny skies and begin to see the light fade in the distance. It’s tempting to consider the possibility that you can get lost intentionally.

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My love waited back home for me in San Francisco, so I relished the few days and the few people with whom I shared the hours, even as I swept the camera of my laptop over the backdrop of Sitka spruce to share a glimpse of the majesty with him. Alaska bewitched me with its natural beauty and rugged demeanor. So, how do you detox from that grandeur and worm your way back into urban living and the sound of the street dispelling the quirky call of the eagle? What becomes of the indulgence of discovering that oysters strung off the bay until time to eat taste like seawater?

Some of us wanted to nab a glimpse of a bear. Others wanted to stroke the calm waters of the bay in an early morning kayak ride. I went for the writing and I came home with companionship- both with the place and with my fellow Tutka travelers. I’m not sure I want to detox, so I’ll keep my focus singular and hope that sucking down green juice will bring my spirit back soon to land by water taxi.

homer alaska

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Journeys Notes from the Road

In Search of Star Wars

I fully expected to dislike Disney World but found myself sucked into the vortex. Appealing to an inner sense of adventure I often repeated a mantra, “When in Disney…” trailing off into whatever shenanigan I plunged into, particularly one evening spent in Fantasyland. While they claim this is a new area of the park, I find my thoughts often reside in a Fantasyland of my own making that usually involves a beach. This particular visit involved a three day park pass. What to do?

My last foray at the happiest place on earth easily can be summed up as me, a two year old desperately clinging to the legs of her dad considering the implications of falling out of the carriage at Space Mountain. That, and a rogue attitude toward pulling Chip and Dale’s tales about covers it. Like all children visitors, leaving with a mouse ear hat was a must and I’m pretty sure I had affection for wearing mine to deflect my young mischievous antics. In high school, I collected porcelain figurines of heroines, auditioned for community theater belting out “A Whole New World” and bequeathed a nickname to my cousin from one of the animated films we watched repeatedly when we were young.

So, where did I go wrong?

Growing up and notably working in marketing can make a person sensitive to… we’ll call it “opportunities.” I call it the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” conundrum. At first, an idea is fresh and its newness has appeal, but without restraint or perhaps let’s call it discernment, what can result is an oversaturation that can be quite vexing. I wonder about how popular actresses manage being seen, taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them without overdoing the exposure.

A champion in my youth of the game, “Where’s Waldo,” I found myself first surprised and then increasingly perplexed at all of the “hidden Mickeys” in the park and hotel. The suggestion of green mouse ears curled at the end of a banner woven into hallway hotel carpeting. Nearby, pink mouse ears whispered from the wallpaper donning hall walls. While I can sing the entire song of “It’s a Small World After All” from early childhood indoctrination, I mused that the hidden Mickeys gave new meaning to the lyrics. I began considering this some elaborate ruse and perhaps the finest example of invisible marketing I had ever seen, all in the name of storytelling.

As a poet, I can appreciate repetition and the intentionality of a concept creatively repeated, but perhaps in growing up and out of my Disney nostalgia, the adage is true that you can never go home.

I relished time spent at this one-day blogger conference with friends like Janet and meeting many others. As it happens, even to the curmudgeon inside some of us, Disney slipped back under my skin with the simple words, “Star Tours Weekend.” Visions of androids danced behind my eyelids as we arrived at the park and I espied a chewbacca backpack. My inner child sparked to life, in search of the ewok backpack and regalia of the bits of my childhood that still remain relevant. I squealed, surprising myself at an R2-D2 donning mouse ears (not so “hidden Mickey”) and glommed onto a new friend, Alicia with intentions of finding Darth’s Mall where I persuaded myself to pass on the toddler size Darth Vader, thinking TSA might find issue with his breathing apparatus, and settled on two t-shirts respectively. The anticipation of all things Jedi relaxed my reserve considerably.

Throwing caution to the wind, I repeated “When in Disney” and scarfed down a cheeseburger, trying not to think about how many ingredients might be in the bun or if there were soy isolates in the patty or even how they might address food supply chain management with a plethora of mouths to feed and also with knowledge that they are rolling out healthier park options for kids and adults alike.

After our band of star troopers, Kasey, Heather, Charles, Vijay, Erika, Alicia and I finished watching the water light show, Fantasmic, the reintegration might as well have been complete.  It should come as no surprise that we braved the threat of lightning and rain for an after-hours Magic Kingdom visit.

Waylaid this second evening by the musical mayhem of the Electric Machine Parade, I outpaced a Puff the Magic Dragon float festooned with lights as we set off to find the food blogger famed Dole Whip with the promise of a frosty pineapple soft serve float. For old time’s sake, we all packed into an “It’s a Small World” boat and jettisoned into the air-conditioned caverns of pint-sized animatrons clad in clothing representative of each country. Instead of thinking how this might be incredibly xenophobic, I snapped a photo of the Dutch girls clicking their mechanical yellow clogs together.

One more stop stood between us and a frothy Dole Whip. For the second time in two days, I made my way back to The Haunted Mansion with Kasey’s remarkable insight into the ride and her challenge to “find the hidden Mickey.” Sigh. I guess even Mickey can’t contain his devilish impulses to join the ghastly feast. Finally, my hair slick against my forehead and a layer of moisture pressing in against my skin from the tangible humidity, we worked our way over to Tinkerbell’s Nook for pineapple soft serve.

When my turn arrived to order, I leaned into the air-conditioned space, letting the fan blow through my thick and unruly curls and onto my face. Instead of considering the amount of fillers used in the soft serve, I chalked it up to “When in Disney” and just like the rest of the evening, rolled with it. The tangy swirl hit my tongue quickly as the creamy vanilla and pert pineapple began the time-honored process of body cool-down by ice cream. Sucking on the straw introduced pineapple juice to the mix and we all became pretty quiet in our own individual states of chilled contentment.

As one day faded into the near arms of another, and as the sucking of the straw pulled up air instead of any dregs of pineapple, our merry group disbanded with a few people making the trek to Space Mountain and a few of us taking the boat back to the hotel.  As for me and Space Mountain, I chose to cling to the two-year old memory of my dad’s legs and my grasping fingers trying not to lose their purchase in space. Some things don’t change and while my Disney appreciation has morphed into something different, I am grateful for a magical evening in the Magic Kingdom.

dole whip | heather likes food

To understand the cult phenomenon that is the Dole Whip, click on the photo above, posted with permission from Heather who masterminded a homemade version- no park required.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

The Plight of the Forlorn Lettuce Leaf

Nestled into a highly trafficked neighborhood in the city by the Bay, a popular restaurant draws people to it like fruit flies gathering at the fruit bowl. If you walk inside, the open-air windows and views pull at tourists and locals alike. If you sit along the bar, the rows of colorful glass bottles can make even the most teetotaler lunch guest think twice about getting something served up straight. A wood-burning oven beckons onlookers to order hand-thrown pizzas studded with broccoli or drizzled with pistou.

The servers buzz about the hostess stand as if returning to the hive is vital for life. We sit undisturbed, perusing the menu. I know several of the items by taste memory and skim the specials before ordering. It usually comes down to a tie between a whole grain bowl sauced with a well-seasoned array of vegetables or the burger. Nine times out of ten, the whole grain bowl is a card shy of a full hand. Nine times out of ten, the description of “mushrooms and caramelized onions,” means I’m a goner.

Something unsettles me, though, as the server begins the walk over to our table with our food. It jostles me to the core and makes me want to take on the mantle of judge and jury to try and bring justice where it’s due. The bravado of the cut-open burger smugly drips sauce and a string of onion. Resting next to it and the ho-hum roasted potato wedges, a pile of lettuce greens tries to crisp in anticipation of its delivery. Under the heavy hand of oil, it is doused with little else, though it might find an accessory or two of plum tomatoes that happily get popped. The lettuce tries to let the two slices of quick cucumber pickles play sidekick, but the damage is done. The travesty of boring salad greens is like an evergreen bridesmaid next to the bedazzled bride of the burger.

I haven’t been able to plumb the depths of why a restaurant that goes out of its way to encourage diners to eat vegetables cheerily, delivers such a deadpan performance in the side salad. It always comes down to guilt- will I eat the salad greens in spite of their lackluster appeal, even as I will happily sip a green juice, or do I leave them on the plate destined for the compost bin, their only crime, a line cook with more important dishes to plate. Why does this wrack me? Why can’t I let it go? Why can’t they make a proper vinaigrette? Something about the carelessness of some limp greens trying to do a can-can dance of look-at-me makes me wonder why they even bother.

If anything, I convince myself that other diners like me who sometimes want the heartier fare, perhaps also see the soggy greens as a last ditch effort to hitch up the price beyond the lunch-and-dash ten dollar range. But then, my magnanimous side chimes in that the menu planner must want the diner to feel more moral in their food choice and offers the greens like a sort of treaty that the meal isn’t really that indulgent, after all, the burger is vegetarian. Time and again, I sort out the dilemma of the greens before going, believing maybe this time will be different. This time, maybe the greens will be all dolled up with a hit of spice or pepper. But here lies a hard truth: those mixed greens nix change.

boring-salad-mixed-greens

 

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Pura Vida: an introduction to Nosara, Costa Rica

Pura Vida:  It’s a way of life. In Costa Rica, it kind of sums everything up. This catch-all phrase elicits smiles, nods, general agreement that in the end, it’s pure life. Costa Ricans get that distinction between living life and letting it pass by.

We’re smitten. The Costa Rican (Tico) way of honoring life resonates. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself!

As Lalo says, “pura vida is something a person says when everything’s good. ”

Pura vida indeed. The country has not had an army since the 1940’s, a fact proudly emblazoned on t-shirts in the San Jose airport. There is an open-armed welcome to tourists and travelers from all over the world with many restaurants, cabs and hotels taking American dollars as well as colones. Trash is separated into five categories. Only one is landfill. Their land is vivid, alive and thus they don’t want to spend more of it on landfill than possible. Their appreciation for the natural beauty makes toilets in the jungle part of a fragile septic system and they go to interesting lengths to not disturb the flow. Additionally, they have earmarked land near the beach that is off limits in Nosara from development. I spoke with our canopy guide and we agreed that environs like these can’t be bought. They’re precious as are all of the indigenous wildlife and birds.

Our merry travelers talk about their favorite moments in Costa Rica. Perhaps the zip line Beck describes or the Olive Ridley turtle tour at dusk might tip the scales for you. Costa Rica is calling…

Over the next few weeks, I will share recipes and restaurant reviews from our time in Nosara, so stay tuned.

Pura vida: How do you define the good life?

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Beside myself in a concrete jungle

And so it begins. A girl affectionate for cities and all their clash of overlap gets to work in the city. A love story begins to unfurl.

I knew I have a thing for cities. And I knew that San Francisco captured my attention in its unapologetic way years ago. But working in the city is so much different than just living in the city.

My body feels the earthquake tremors. My body scuttles along sidewalks at a furtive pace, knowing I have 20 minutes to get where I need to go without a second to lose. My body memorizes the divets on street corners, telling my feet when to cross.

Somehow, it seems as though bits and bobs of the New York I cherish are mine here, in San Francisco, hometown of my own making.

I can’t begin to underscore the exhiliration enough. The joy of waiting at the bus stop or better yet hanging onto the metal pole, body jammed next to other tuna bodies. And somehow I fall in love all over again. The world becomes new and the familiar shellacked with gleam.

Part of this newfound world is time not spent behind a wheel 30 minutes one-way and 30 the other. Instead, a book spine is cracked open in my hands. I have finished two books in one hectic week and find myself like a cup brimming over, find myself grateful and trying not to smile at each person I pass.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

March-on-the-move

I have been traveling. A lot. And even as I was filling in the blanks of what March would hold in my calendar several months ago, I knew this would be a rip-roaring time. So the blogging fell to the wayside. As did the writing to some extent (two new drafts notwithstanding comment).

On the leg of the flight from Chicago to Denver, I sat next to a man who I presumed was a Berber. Instead he just possessed that great from anywhere persona. After a moment of sitting in the seat and some back-and-forth banter, he told me, “I willed that seat to you.”

What ensued was an interesting conversation about spirituality and travels. Two of my favorite topics. He asked me to read him a poem and wondered aloud that traveling usually is the right space for writing until I described my March- what I could call “March-on-the-move”. After which he replied, “Oh, give it six weeks. The writing will come.” And I know he’s right even in the midst of an unimposed sabbatical I seem to be taking, but I crafted a color-coded “schedule” on the Denver-San Francisco leg of the flight helping me “see” what my time and life could look like. Schedules are more guides than anything else…

During this trip I took along Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”. Below is a quote I appreciated from the revisit of the book for you:

“Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

So I left my flights further amped up on the necessity for the new space in which I am dwelling at home; the necessity of working to provide finances that further artistic freedoms and a good reminder that we women are so much more on the move than ever before. And that’s a good thing. As is staying still for the month of April.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

hero or foe

MFA museum

I spent the greater part of the evening toggling between work emails and poetry revisions. In the midst of disemboweling weak verse from the pencil scratches on the taped into my Moleskine revisions, I watched “Heroes.”

The theme of this season centers around “Villains” and what its intent seems to be drawing out is there is a bit of villain in each of us. It just matters on who you listen to, who you hang around and what you choose.

I think one thing about the 30’s that I am finding refreshing is a sense that I don’t have to “try” to be anything other than what I am: Unapologetic to my convention friends planning to dance until they have to work the convention the next day; able to turn down an invite to dinner, in place of me, my journal of taped in revisions and a slab of haddock on a plate.

Boston, what am I supposed to learn from you? City of intellects, city of thugs?

So much remains a question mark- keeping score through its snaking like a river. River that will wash away the frozen minutes, the misspent hours, the telltale start of something on its way to excellence in place of the inert now, the reckoning of the present with the future. Hero, foe, all I ask is to speak aloud, “yes” each day and to inhale this mystery’s unfolding.