Sunday, November 05, 2017

Society, where none intrudes

I've discovered a new mystery series that helps me escape the existentially terrifying year that is 2017: a whole series with a female detective park ranger, with each book taking place in a different National Park!

The heroine is a kind of tomboy loner, which is probably why I like the series. And after last year's centennial celebration of the National Park Service, it's piqued my interest in visiting more parks, especially since I've had an America the Beautiful pass for the past 2 years.

Speaking of National Parks, we made it to Glacier! Unfortunately we didn't have time to do more than a few short 2-hour hikes, but based on the small taste I got this summer before the wildfires decimated chunks of the park, I need to go back to do some actual hiking.

Two things I was not expecting about Glacier:
1) IT'S DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS EVERYWHERE You can seriously just take pictures at pullouts along the highways, and it looks like you've hiked in the backcountry to a secret, serene spot.  
2) THERE ARE BEARS! Googling "bears Glacier Montana" before leaving was both a mistake and very educational. PSA: you can rent bear spray in the park! It helped calm my paranoia about unexpectedly encountering a grizzly or black bear on the trail... especially on the one hike I did alone, at 5am, on one of the more isolated trails, while my friends were all 40 miles away lining up to run a half-marathon. (The half-marathon had armed guys in ATVs on bear patrol.) 
Before I saw the sign about bears 
being spotted on the trail.
I didn't see anybody (or bears) on that eeeeearly morning trail for at least 2 hours, but I did see a handwritten sign saying bears had been on the trail the day before.

I did, however, see a bull moose! By then there were a few other people on the trail. The moose, with his huge gore-tastic antlers, stopped all foot traffic for about 20 minutes on the trail while he moseyed around finding his breakfast. 

Mt Baker: So close, yet so far!

Speaking of glaciers, it's been almost two months since our Mt Baker summit attempt. Our group had three chances to summit: it was stormy and rainy on the first two, which meant the last day on the mountain would be loooong. No one made it to the summit, though some made it to the crater rim; our party had several injuries or health issues. I think we are all glad we attempted the summit, though.

The mountains are calling, and I must go... where, next?

New Zealand, actually, to visit La Otra Hermana, the nieces and nephew I haven't seen in 5 years except on Skype, and the nephew I've only ever met over the computer. They're all too young to go on the Great Walks or multi-day tramps I want to try, but I'm researching kid-friendly short hikes.

A friend recently reminded me of the Japanese term "forest bathing," and the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.

I could use some more forest bathing.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Frosty, but kindly

Seattle is currently 1) in the middle of a disgusting heat wave and 2) under a smoky haze stemming from a record number of wildfires in British Columbia.

Hiding from the heat gives me a lot of time to catch up the readings and the writings and the watchings that I committed to reviewing at the dawn of one of the most depressive eras known to modernity, this post-2016 election age.

Building our snow cave.
Lots of shoveling!
The atrocious temperatures also remind me of a pleasanter time, namely February of this year when I finally went snow camping and build a snow cave! Two years ago I signed up for this annual class with The Mountaineers, but uh, stayed out too late partying the night before and missed it. This year I wisely abstained from temptation and made it to Mt Baker armed with a snow shovel and winter camping accoutrements.

Let's just say, making a snow cave big enough for the 4 ladies on your team to sleep in takes HOURS, and involves a lot of shoveling and carting away of extra snow. But it was worth it, because at the end of our 6-hour-long snow-carving ordeal, we got to sleep inside the snow cave we made! It was super cool.

The forecast calls for continued 90+ degree weather in the Northwest. I would give anything to be in that snow cave right now.

Or on any snow-covered mountain, really. I finally got around to reading Into Thin Air and my God, it was horrifying. I didn't know anything about the 1997 accident on Everest or any of the controversy surrounding Jon Krakauer himself, but the book was pretty damn compelling. It also solidified that anything involving Everest is definitely NOT on my bucket list!

The main thing I took away was the awful choices facing people at that altitude, where lack of oxygen, water, food, and visibility: the story of one climber found near death and left to live his last few minutes in a storm because carrying someone that near death would expend unnecessary energy. He then miraculously survives, staggers into camp on his own, with severe frostbite. Everybody assumes he'll die in a few hours and won't be able to make it down to base camp, so they wrap him in blankets to make his last few hours comfortable. And he survives AGAIN, eventually making it to base camp and then home (where I think he had a bunch of amputations due to frostbite). Imagine being a fellow climber and having to look that guy in the eye. I get that those are the realities of survival, but that's just harsh.

Aaaand, in one week I'll be back on Mt Baker, this time to summit.

Eek!



Sunday, February 05, 2017

Aiga

Back in July, I visited the nieces and neffy in Michigan to help them move into their new house.  We took the kids out to see Finding Dory. (Who knew at the time that the new President would later screen it at the White House?)

Nothing beats Finding Nemo, but Finding Dory was cute. There's a new cast of characters, including a hilarious escaping octopus. I like the fact that Dory's parents and friends support her in living her reality with short-term memory loss.
In another ocean-related adventure, over Thanksgiving I took the same nieces and nephew* to see Moana. We were excited to see it because yes, a Disney "princess" movie finally highlighted a South Pacific culture, but also because their cousins in New Zealand (where the film didn't open until Boxing Day) are part Islander.

Representation matters. And I loved Moana.  I loved it despite the very legitimate controversies about Disney telling peoples' stories, an annoying crab character, a Maui demi-god that was basically a reworked Hercules (see: colonialism and previously mentioned issues with Disney storytelling), and a vague blending of all South Pacific cultures into one (Tokelauan, Tongan, Samoan, Maori) that a Western audience wouldn't truly understand. And though I love Lin-Manuel Miranda, I'm not entirely sure his lyrics and singing style were the perfect fit for Moana.

But I loved it for my half-Samoan Kiwi nieces with part-Maori cousins. Brave was great: they are part Scottish too and come from many traditions of strong women. But Merida didn't look like them; Moana does. Frozen was great: they dressed up and did their hair like Anna and Elsa and dreamed of snow and ice. But Arendelle's Scandinavian balls bear little resemblance to the Island dances and hakas they are learning and performing in their mixed suburban community.

I am, however, preparing myself for endless Skype sessions filled with "How Far I'll Go" renditions.




* the Latino/Filipino/German/Scottish ones

Friday, January 27, 2017

Home to roost

It is currently closer to the advent of the Year of the Rooster than it is to the dawn of 2016, but either way, now is a good time to reflect on my annual "firsts" from the past year.

2016 didn't see any exciting international trips (except a triathlon in Canada), but there were certainly a lot of new places I experienced.
  • Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in Utah, a state I have visited only once before and only for work. This time, I got to explore it with friends. The parks are beautiful! And the Pacific Northwesterners learned a lot about how flash floods happen and how eons of them shaped the canyons of the southwest. We're used to glaciers doing that in our neck of the woods, not water! We also took advantage of our flights out of Sin City to see the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon, which I will admit made me think a little more highly of Las Vegas.
  • Spoke at my alma mater (on behalf of the ACLU). I've spoken at high school around the Seattle area, but never at my own. It's changed a lot! But it was kind of comforting to see a lot also hasn't changed.
  • Volunteered for a major international sporting event -- the Copa America! It was really cool to see how all the pieces come together for a huge event. And once my pre-game volunteer shifts were done, I got to be inside the stadium for the games themselves!
  • Drove a big-ass U-Haul truck because Mi Hermana y Mi Cunado had never done it, and yet as first-time homebuyers in the Michigan 'burbs they had a ton of stuff.
  • Hiked to base camp on Mt Baker accidentally with a friend who wanted to rebuild her climbing skills after a surgery. We just kept going and going until we found ourselves at the bast of the mesmerizing and beautiful Easton Glacier, with a bunch of climbers in tents scattered around us!
  • Participated in a triathlon! Well, a sprint triathlon, in which everything is smaller or shorter than a full tri. I only ran the 5K part; teammates did the swimming and biking. Still! It sounds bad-ass, and I wore the medal as I drove all the way home. The border guard even commented on it. :-D
  • My triathlon team's mascot
     was this little squirrel. 
    He was my only companion
     on the long drive from 
    Vancouver, WA to Vancouver, BC
  • Drove to (and around in) Canada. I've only ever been a passenger in someone else's car as we drove 3 hours up to the border, waited in line, and crossed. This time I did it all on my own -- and from Vancouver, WA to Vancouver, BC!
  • Got rear-ended by a young lady who'd recently moved to the PNW from Arkansas and wasn't accustomed to heavy rains. She was visibly shaken, and neither of us was seriously injured (though my back and neck hurt later and I felt nauseous for a few days, all signs of whiplash). I guess I'm incredibly lucky that I've never been in a car crash before. And this particular instance was pretty clear-cut (I stopped at a red light, she didn't and hit me); I thought dealing with insurance would be a nightmare but it hasn't been at all.
  • Worked on a political campaign outside of Washington State! I doorbelled for Catherine Cortez-Masto (who won and made history as the 1st Latina in the U.S. Senate) and Hillary Clinton in...
  • Reno, NV -- a city surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains that I tried to explore on my short breaks, mainly because the town itself is a little sad. But I also got to see...
  • Lake Tahoe -- I wish I could have spent more time exploring, but the lake was pretty and gave me some needed downtime during the campaign cycle.
  • Cried at the result of an election. And in public! I've gotten a wee bit teary before, but never actually shed tears on E-day. And not just in the bar where I was watching the final returns with friends, but on the street afterwards and on the walk home. I guess "sobbing" more accurately describes what occurred. Which brings me to...
  • Understanding the phrase "My blood ran cold" because it happened the minute I got an AP alert calling the presidential election results. My entire body literally went cold. I'd never truly understood that phrase before until that moment.

Despite the election results which have spilled into a horrible start to 2017, 2016/ the Year of the Monkey itself was actually a pretty good year. I started a new job that I love, where I have more creative direction and agency. I got to see parts of the country that I hadn't explored much before -- specifically, the American Southwest. I got to spend more time with my nieces and nephew as they moved to a new city and started new schools.

So bring it, 2017.  Let's see what you and the Rooster have in store!


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Suspending belief

Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone can surprise you in pleasant ways.

I don't normally like hokey comedies, ghost stories, or bizarre supernatural tales. I'm not the biggest fan of Melissa McCarthy or Kirsten Wiig (I have come to love both Leslie Jones for her Sounders enthusiasm and Kate McKinnon for her SNL brilliance). And I wasn't allowed to watch a lot of movies "normal" kids did in the '80s, so I have still never seen the original Ghostbusters.  

But I really, really enjoyed the 2016 remake! Maybe it was the all-female vibe, or the deliberate way the gender roles were reversed, or the cheesy un-scary aspect of the ghosts, but I really liked the movie more than I actually thought I would!

In a similar vein, I'm not a big comic book fan, of either the Marvel or DC universe varieties. (However, I do love Marvel's Agents of SHIELD: even without an understanding of the Avengers' back stories, the show stands on its own.) I'm not entirely sure how Dr. Strange fits into all the nerd-dom, but as a movie it was pretty fun to watch.

The only thing I'd heard about it was the controversy regarding Tilda Swindon being cast as a character who is supposed to be Asian and male. Having no personal ties to the comic, though, made it hard for me to feel affronted, even if I sympathize with critiques of Hollywood whitewashing, and even if I generally try to support films that feature people of color.

Benedict Cumberbatch's American accent was a little off-putting, though.

...And then there are the times where you get out of your comfort zone and realize you like it nice and fine there, thank you very much.

A coworker and I were talking about bizarre mystery series we loved; I raved about Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and he recommended the Dresden Files. So I checked out the first book from the library. It definitely sounded intriguing: it features a wise-cracking wizard private investigator. But meh, it didn't really draw me in.

Usually I give a series a second chance by reading the second book. I'm still on the fence about this one.

I believe I know what I like.




Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Harpier cries, "'Tis time, 'tis time"


I felt compelled to to read the next installment in the Jade del Cameron 1920s Africa mystery series, mainly because I've invested so much time in it already (and also probably because I'm feeling nostalgic for my own African adventure.) The tropes are getting old, though, filled with mysterious and often supernatural-possessed natives. This one was no different: the murder-solving multicultural American heroine and her family embark on a trip to Zanzibar. They manage to destroy a cult, solve some murders, and free slaves, all despite local legends of witchcraft and sorcery.

Months ago, I accidentally abandoned my Newbery Medal-reading streak, but recently tried to re-start that by re-reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I liked it well enough as a fifth grader when I originally read it: after all, it features a strong teenage heroine who challenges 17th-century Puritan gender norms. Reading it almost 30 years later as an adult was interesting: I distinctly remember 10-year-old me being surprised and disgusted by the love triangle, dismissing it all as mushy crap. Re-reading it as an adult, it's a very obvious subplot. It's still a cute story, with a good message for young readers about doing good, treating all people with respect, and standing up for themselves and others... a somber lesson to take into 2017.

I'm not entirely sure how Blackbird rose to the top of my Newbery reading list, but I suspect it's because I've been listening the hell out of Hamilton. (I suspect that Hamilton's childhood in St. Kitts and Nevis reminded me of Blackbird Kit's childhood in Barbados.)

It took months and months of friends pleading with me to listen to the soundtrack before one finally had a Hamilton listening party that forced me to hear it in all its brilliance.

The play admittedly has its faults, and scores of critics have ranted about them more eloquently than I could -- about the whitewashing of slavery despite having a mostly black cast, the glorification of bootstrap ideology, failing the Bechdel test, etc. But as a history nerd, it's a freaking Tony-winning musical about the country's first Secretary of the Treasury! You can still appreciate that it's a fantastic story, without forgetting or demeaning its historical context. As a carefully crafted tale, its narrative structure is just sheer genius.

Along with Les Miserables and Newsies, it's now one of my favorite musicals. (Yes, I have a strong preference for productions with a fight-for-justice theme.)

Besides, wildly popular cultural phenomena are only relevant because they speak to something about the contemporary condition. Hamilton is actually a story about the here and now and the debate Americans have been having over national identity since electing a black president.

"History has its eyes on you.."

Carrying the banner

I bought Newsies on BluRay for my nieces and nephew for Christmas, after a conversation with Mi Hermana about exposing them to more history.

It's no secret that it's one of my favorite movies. I hope the kids like it as much as my sisters and I did.

Earlier this year, my mother took me to see the stage production. To my surprise, it featured not only new songs but a generally different character

Jack is apparently a great doodler and a talented budding young political cartoonist, rather than merely an orphan who wants to escape New York. I didn't mind that change so much, except that they revised the lyrics to "Santa Fe" so that when I was singing along at the top of my lungs, it was to the movie lyrics instead. Awkward.

The newspaper reporter (played by Bill Pullman in the movie) and David's sister were taken out and condensed into one character: a female reporter who is also the love interest for Jack. I didn't mind this change so much, either.

But the unforgivable change was that said reporter is revealed to secretly be the daughter of Hearst, and she and her rich kid friends (the children of Pulitzer and Astor) are super eager to show their support for the newsboys' strike. Rather than letting the story stand as one where near-destitute orphans empower and organize themselves to form a union and fight for a fair contract, this Broadway version makes the capitalists all friendly and nice after all. I think it detracts from the original story and lessens its power.

I left the theatre wondering why such a big change would have been written in to the stage, and the only reason I can think of is to make it accessible to the more privileged kids who are likely to be able to (afford and) see it performed.

I'm glad I finally saw the stage production; I'm just disappointed that the story took something away from the original tale that merged by tween love of musicals and history.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reboot

The past month has not been good. Having an established professional and volunteer life in the political realm, my anxiety levels have been off the charts since Election Day. It's heartening to see and hear so many political and previously not-so-political people stepping up and taking action, resisting, fighting the good fight, etc. And I'm slowly getting there.

I volunteered at work to be sent to Nevada in the weeks before the election to help the Silver State turn blue and to help elect the first Latina to the U.S. Senate. I've been clinging to those two successes in the past month.

But I still have to change the radio channel when NPR plays interview clips of the soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief. I still haven't entirely cleaned my apartment post-GOTV. I don't have the energy to plan my annual holiday party this year. I had mild anxiety travelling to Michigan to visit my sister, nieces, and nephew for Thanksgiving: they live one suburb away from where a student hung a noose in a middle school bathroom.

A few friends posted this article about surving the next four years on Facebook, and it sparked something in the depression-and-anxiety-riddled recesses of my brain. Numbers 6 (Prioritizing Mental & Physical Health), 7 (Making Lists), and 8 (Finding Positivity Every Day) in particular spoke to me.

I agreed to summit Mt Baker next August, so that's a good fitness goal I can steer toward. As is the Seahawks 12K I think I finally want to run. I'm good at calendaring and making lists; it helps me find order and peace in the chaos around me. And recently, some glad tidings of great joy have surfaced.

Yesterday was one of the most exciting days of my life as a Seattle sports fan: the Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup in a nail-biting final that took them all the way to PKs. (I always pace during PKs, even if I don't care about the teams involved. PKs are nerve-wracking.) It was such an amazing journey for the team... and though I was quite literally hyperventilating after extra time, for the first time in months it wasn't because of anything political.  It was a fantastic win, and my season ticket seatmate and I got to spend it together in a low-key atmosphere. Then I headed off to my home neighborhood to celebrate the milestone birthday of an old friend, and spent the rest of the night with good people I've known forever, who are basically family.

Today, I went to the small regional airport to welcome the team back home, cheering and chanting as they brought the MLS Cup off a plane. If thousands of fans cheering wildly and celebrating for two days straight isn't something to recognize as positivity, I don't know what is. Everyone was so happy and proud and excited, and in a bittersweet way it was what Election Night should have been.

Over Thanksgiving, while watching the MLS Western Conference final with my nieces and nephew, I noticed that 9-year-old Harmony was silent and not getting excited about the game. I told her, "Isn't it exciting? The Sounders can win this! I believe!" She looked sad and answered, "But Tia, you said the same thing about Hillary Clinton." (I did. I called her, jubilant and hopeful, right before heading out to the E-Day parties.)

I hope I (and frankly, our country) can restore trust and hope to my little niece's eyes. (At some point, my sister and I might need to talk to her about the differences between sports wins and political wins, and which of those scenarios we actually have a chance of influencing.)

So maybe this 12-year-old blog on a very outdated blog site (2017 goal: finally get around to purchasing a domain name) can help me re-center myself.
Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
    Would not we shatter it to bits -- and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
 (73rd quatrain, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Edward Fitzgerald translation)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Once more unto the breach

Every now and then, after I pay my overdue fines at the library, I get a slew of new books in my favorite mystery series. It can be a bit overwhelming. But I barricade myself at home until I am all caught up.

The latest two books in the Molly Murphy series have her solving a kidnapping and murder during the holidays, and then traveling across the Wild West to San Francisco just in time to experience the 1906 earthquake (while solving a case there too). All with a small child in tow, helpful well-connected bohemian lesbian friends, and a police captain husband who finally asks for her help in solving a case. All TOTALLY normal for the turn of the last century! But good fun even after stretching the historical imagination.

Even more of a historical stretch: the ongoing spy saga of Maggie Hope, the "secretary" who happens to have a mother who is an uber-Nazi strategist, a father who is a Bletchley genius, and a sister somewhere on the Continent in the Resistance. In the latest installment, PM Churchill lends her to Eleanor Roosevelt during a state visit. Mrs R, in turn, enlists her help in trying to overturn a capital punishment sentence for an African-American teenager framed for murder. The plot of each book in the series is so unbelievable (and the writing so breezy) that I think they'd make better sense in comic form -- a la Prince Valiant. And yet I can't stop reading. It's complete escapism -- modern social attitudes and barely-masked modern issues, wrapped in the quasi-nostalgic era of the "Good War".


In the opposite vein, I can't stop reading the Maisie Dobbs series for its utter melancholy. It takes the main character ten books and twenty years to finally get to a place where she can move beyond her personal trauma from WWI to find some happiness (which get snatched cruelly from her in Book 11); unfortunately, it happens on the brink of WWII so the readers watch as another war and trauma lurk in the future. The latest book has Maisie going on a mission to Munich to free a businessman important to Britain's war preparation effort. She solves a murder in the course of her duties, of course. And even though at the end of the story, she starts the process of setting up her old detective agency, it seems hardly likely that the next book will have her relegated to the sidelines of the coming conflict.

Or maybe I'm just bitter that The Bletchley Circle ended after only two seasons and Land Girls after only three.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Big rock candy mountain

Blarg. I've kept this blog so I can keep up with non-political, non-policy, non-work-related writing (mainly book and movie reviews and travel musings). Every now and then I get overwhelmed and ignore it for a few months. And then every now and then I have a chunk of free time to go back and reflect on half the stuff I'm feeding my brain.

Lately, it's been spy and superhero flicks: everything from Foyle's War and The Bletchley Circle on Netflix to cheesy blockbusters on the big screen. It's great escapism, and for the most part there are no gray areas in the battles against good and evil. Nice and clean, unlike real life.

Captain America: Civil War was about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. I've only seen a few of the Avengers movies or back stories, but you didn't really need the history to be able to follow the story. It's the age-old debate about whether it's better to work from within or without in order to create change. (Hello, 2016 presidential election! But crap, I was trying not to go there...) But really, it was just an excuse to put all the Marvel superheroes in one film. Every kid does that in their imagination. What, Rainbow Brite and GI Joe never teamed up in anyone's childhood fantasies? Just me? OK...


Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was also way longer than it needed to be. I've never been a fan of the Batman story, and Ben Affleck did nothing to further endear him to me. My motives for seeing the movie were pure Henry Cavill eye candy. (Plus, I like the Superman story as a better metaphor for America.) The whole movie is just one big misunderstanding between the two superheroes, who distrust each other's underlying cape-flapping philosophies. It gets boring quickly, and their eventual reconciliation is the most unoriginal thing ever.

Johnny English was a complete waste of my time, but I was in the mood for something stupid so it I saw it through to the end. I generally like Rowan Atkinson, and I understand that the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek and deliberately over-the-top like John Malkovich's French accent throughout the whole ordeal. It's just a pretty unremarkable, unmemorable movie unless it's exactly the kind of junk food you need after midnight. Unfortunately, now Netflix keeps suggesting the sequel to me.

I might need to hit the gym hard after this latest binge-fest.

But that's why I do the NYT crossword puzzle every day.



Sunday, February 07, 2016

Beginning the beguine in stormy weather

As I'm picking up in Downton Abbey where I left off after I abandoned it (so I can finally get closure when the series ends), I'm reminded that several of my favorite mystery series have similar underlying themes, though they take place 10 years after the Crawleys' stories end.

Queen of Hearts and Malice at the Palace take our 34th-in-line-to-the-throne but living-near-poverty sleuth to Hollywood and a royal wedding, respectively. Whodunits and shenanigans ensue, of course. The regular international and glamorous cast miraculously assembles. She and her love interest finally make moves toward marriage, after getting secretly engaged three books ago and doing the will-we-or-won't-we dance since the series debut.  All good fun, and good mysteries.  I await the next installment eagerly, as always.

On a less hilarious note,  A Dangerous Place has heroine detective Maisie Dobbs solving a murder in Gibraltar. It took me several tries to actually get into this book, because after finally giving Maisie some happiness in the last book, Winspear goes and kills her husband in a flying accident, inducing a miscarriage for our protagonist who has already muddled through decades of suffering and personal misery since the Great War. And now in Book 11,  we're back to the incessant suffering and misery. Maisie decides to give herself some time off in order to cope with her recent tragedies. In Spain, during its civil war. With the possibility of another World War looming. There can be no silver lining in her life story, can there? Can there??? Because of course the murder she decides to solve to get her mind off her emotional state is itself fraught with emotional trauma for nations as well as individuals. It was well written as usual, but still depressing.

Back to Downton and its own set of miseries...

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Goodly states and kingdoms seen

2015 was a pretty awesome year for me. I'm incredibly lucky to have been able to see a lot of the world. I visited three new countries on two new continents (both in the southern hemisphere) and embarked on two huge trekking trips. I pushed myself to do things I enjoyed but that would also challenge me, and I did them whether or not I had the easy security of friends. I've always struggled to have the courage to go my own way alone, but I think I mastered it in 2015. And it's made me stronger and more confident.

Notable "firsts" in 2015:

Had my own Sounders season tickets under my own name, instead of sub-letting from The Planning Committee.

Peru - Aside from being a new country I visited, was my first trip to South America and entailed  many other "firsts":
  • Eating alpaca (repeatedly!)
  • Being in the Southern Hemisphere, where I forgot to see if the water really does swirl down the drain counter-clockwise
  • Seeing the Southern Cross in a star-saturated sky, on a freezing night in the middle of the Andes and standing in utter awe
  • Being the primary Spanish speaker in a group, ever armed with my two travel phrase books
  • Experiencing altitude sickness, after traveling from 0 to 11,000 feet above sea level 
  • Drinking coca tea, even if I'm not entirely convinced it helped with the altitude sickness
  • Tasting local beverages chicha and chicha morada, a homemade corn beer and purple corn juice, respectively 
Tanzania - Climbing Kilimanjaro is still one of the most amazing experiences of my life. "Firsts" specifically involving this beautiful country include:
  • Communicating a little bit in Swahili
  • Being the lightest packer in a group, even if by total accident!
  • Taking Diamox and discovering its effects on me are not pleasant
  • Hiking the highest I've ever been
Kenya - Because I was there for a wedding celebration, I'm glad my experiences in a new, large city were with some of my oldest and dearest friends:
  • Going on safari, which included first-ever sightings (in the wild) of giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, lions, elephants, wildebeests, topi, zebras, gazelles, and so many other creatures
  • Seeing a predator take down its prey when a crocodile pounced on a baby zebra and we watched the whole feeding frenzy from our safari jeep
  • Eating crocodile at a touristy carnivore-themed restaurant
  • Feeding a giraffe at a sanctuary and discovering they slobber a lot
  • Haggling in markets and getting taken advantage of miserably because it's not a Western cultural practice
Two 10Ks! - I have only ever run one 10K, and my second and third attempts sadly did not beat that first record. But rather than remain an outlier in my sea of 5K runs, it seems I might be on a longer running trend!

Actually liked The Nutcracker  after years of being dragged to it by my mother. But Pacific Northwest Ballet changed up the choreography and costumes this year, and I found it as absolutely magical as my mother has always thought it is. 

"Flew" a flight simulator at a small museum in naval base town. I don't remember the type of plane (there were over 200 options) I "flew" but the program let me "fly" it around "Puget Sound" and it was one of the coolest things ever. It did remind me that I'm not the best at computer games that involve driving, but still. It was a fun thing to do on a lunch break while canvassing.

Watched a sports game with my mother, IN A BAR - Her missionary friend from New Zealand was staying with her during the Rugby World Cup, and of course we were rooting for the All Blacks. Neither of them had alcoholic beverages, but the situation was so out of the ordinary that I definitely had to imbibe.

Signed up for an online personal stylist service, because I get frustrated sometimes with having to shop for hours before finding anything vaguely fitting, and because I rarely try new colors or styles on my own. I've loved Stitch Fix with every box I've received so far, and it saves me so much time and energy! I think there's something psychologically comforting about trying on new clothes in your own home rather than in an impersonal department store dressing room.

2015 was amazing and wonderful. Here's to 2016 and its adventures!


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The play's the thing

The fifth book in Gary Corby's hilarious ancient Athenian mystery series focused on that still-resonant cultural development, the Greek play. Previous books in the series focused on the (original) Olympics and the Battle of Marathon, and the future of democracy itself is always at stake if our hero detective Nico and his partner-in-crime/wife Diotima don't solve mysterious murders. This latest installment was another captivating caper -- this time involving the feast of Dionysus, the hierarchy of ancient Hellenic actors, and a good old wine-vs-beer subplot. Corby delivered yet another funny and insightful tale, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes for a modern audience. I'll have to wait another year or so for the next book in this excellent series, though.

Over Thanksgiving, Mi Hermana and I went to see the final installment of the   Hunger Games film franchise.  It was largely faithful to the books, and like its three predecessors was a visual feast -- from the stunning architecture of the Capitol to the massive action sequences.  One thing that wasn't made especially clear in the movie, though, was the reason for Katniss' eventual rejection of Gale and subsequent acceptance of Peeta. Both Mi Hermana y La Otra Hermana were confused about how it played out in the movie, and neither had read the book. In the book it's much clearer that the love triangle represents war vs. peace; maybe that didn't come across on screen for the uninitiated.
But speaking of the initiated... La Madre drags family to see Pacific Northwest Ballet's The Nutcracker every few years. She mainly does it when family friends or boyfriends are in town. I've never particularly enjoyed the production or the story or the dancing (I've gotten bored every year), but I do love the music.

This year, I honestly loved the entire production. I'm not sure what exactly changed for me -- the CGI introduction, the costumes, the set, old age, the fact that I could pre-order wine for intermission... But whatever it was, I've only ever seen the PNB's Stowell and Sendak version. Their switch to the George Balanchine choreography this year made me actually love this ballet. Little details in the dances and set were hilarious, touching, beautiful. And I was never bored.  So kudos to PNB for trying something different and for finally getting me to appreciate my mother's holiday tradition!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Shaken, not stirred

60s-inspired spies are back! At least, for me. On the big screen.

I never watched the old classic series, but the remake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E  was good, cheesy fun.  Cold War spy thriller + Henry Cavill = reason I went to see the movie with no idea what it entailed. But the plot was outlined for us 21st-century newbies: an American and a Russian spy have to join forces to stop a nefarious secret organization bent on controlling the world. It's cute and HILARIOUS and chock full of great action scenes. Surprisingly, I wasn't drooling over Henry as much as I expected to be; the frenemy interactions between him and Armie Hammer were what stole the show. I will watch it again and again when it's released for streaming, and I really hope there's a sequel.

While I'm on the spy theme...

Daniel Craig is definitely my favorite James Bond; he brings a grittiness and brutal realism to the violent world of espionage. Some earlier Bonds were utterly ridiculous, little more than laughable fops. But I like how Craig's 007 continually makes us second-guess why Bond is so popular, 50+ years later and with all its sexist, colonial baggage.

Plus, his cars just get better every movie.

SPECTRE
 is now my favorite Bond movie. I wasn't the biggest fan of Skyfall (too much focus on Bond returning to his childhood roots, plus they offed Judy Dench). But SPECTRE was great.  It questions what makes a good spy tick, the relevance of field agents, and the limits of technology and privacy.  SPOILER ALERT:  You know when Andrew Scott, who plays Moriarty in Sherlock, appears onscreen, there's no way he's a good guy; he's just too good at the evil supervillain thing. Likewise with Christoph Waltz. But SPECTRE had its share of belief-suspending action and momentary honest introspection. It didn't go overboard with the love interests (which I always hate in Bond movies); and though it drew on Bond's personal past, unlike Skyfall it didn't seem like a Freudian-riddled therapy session.

Hooray for the return of uncomplicated spy films!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Whatever the cost may be

Connie Willis' books were what made me start to like and appreciate science fiction.

Blackout and its sequel All Clear are two of her time-travel stories I hadn't previously had a chance to read. History students in the late 21st century go back to various points during World War II: the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the London Blitz, and V-E Day. They each get trapped in the times they are only supposed to observe. Every failed attempt to return to the 21st century forces them to keep participating in the civil defense of Britain, possibly altering the future: crossing the Channel to rescue soldiers, sleeping in Tube shelters, driving ambulances, protecting St. Paul's.

The books were captivating, can't-put-down-even-at-4am reads, and a poignant testament to the legendary indomitable British spirit during the Blitz.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

On the rooftop of Africa

It's been a little over 10 weeks since my Kilimanjaro summit. I haven't had much time to reflect on the experience -- returning to the States, I hit the ground running with an annual work convention, canvass deployment, and then election season. But now that I'm suffering from the annual post-election cough and sniffles, I had the opportunity to go through all my Kili pics again and re-live the trip.

Like most vacations, I wish I could go back. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I never did find out the name of the flower whose nighttime scent welcomed me to Africa. As I deboarded the plane in Tanzania and walked across the tarmac, and the aroma was spicy and pleasant in the dark.

Day 1: Shira I camp (3550m/11,686ft)
Our trekking group assembled at the lodge - two British girls, an Australian, a California mother/daughter duo, and me. All women again, which was nice! I had misread the weight limit for our packs as 15 lbs when in reality it was 15 kgs, so by accident I packed the lightest and most efficiently. Turns out I didn't need much else than the bare minimum. Unlike our Peru trip, the weather was very dry so I didn't sweat as much, and luckily my hair didn't get so greasy-dirty-nasty! Both Rainier and Peru also taught me that I didn't need to carry as much food as I would otherwise normally do.

Day 4: on our way to Lava Tower Camp
(4550m/15,748ft)
It was eight straight days of walking. Except for the final summit push, the trails were not actually that difficult; the distance and elevation gain were on par with regular hikes around the PNW. It's the altitude that made it tough: standing up from a camp chair or the toilet or just walking would reduce your breath to gasps and cause your heart to beat like a rabbit's. Small headaches, lack of hunger despite nonstop walking, breathlessness.... but we were all very good about staying hydrated!

Dust was everywhere. It was windy everywhere. Our noses ran and dried up and were raw, and we practically choked on dirt and sand. It was cold at night and in the early mornings, but once the sun came out it became rather toasty.

Each time we reached a new high altitude (a record we would break daily), I marveled that I was higher than the tallest peak in my state, higher than I'd ever hiked before on three continents, and that mountains around the world can be so vastly, beautifully different at the same elevations.

Everybody but me took Diamox. I tried it once on Day 4, but it made my vision blurry so I stopped. Three of us had emergency oxygen, which I tested during an acclimatization hike on Day 4 and used for about an hour on summit night until it broke. Maybe that was kismet after all: in the end, I underestimated my own lung capacity and adaptability because as long as I walked pole-pole and followed our head guide Mussa's advice  to "Walk at your own pace," I didn't need the backup oxygen. If it's possible to owe a debt of gratitude to a mountain, there's a part of me that thanks Kilimanjaro for teaching me not to cop out so easily or question my own abilities. I made it to the summit on my own, at my own pace.

Day 6: Barafu Camp (4600m/15,091ft),
less than 8 hours before summit push
We saw fellow climbers being escorted down all along the way to the summit; altitude sickness is still the leading reason why people don't make it to the top. (Another sober reminder occurred just weeks after our summit, that Kilimanjaro is still quite dangerous despite not being a "technical" mountaineering feat.)

I had enough layers on both my upper and lower body to keep me warm, but during the coldest wee hours of the morning I honestly thought I might lose my fingers and toes to frostbite. My godsend of a guide, Julian, kept saying "The sun is coming, don't worry. Keep going."

Day 7: sunrise at about 6:15am, after
7-8 hours of climbing in the dark
I'll never forget the sunrise, about 85% of the way to the top from the final high camp. After seven or eight hours of climbing in the dark, of slogging through the bitterest, freezing hours from 2 - 4am, we stopped for a tea break to watch the sunrise. The minute the sun peeked up from the eastern horizon, every climber on the mountain cheered. It was a wondrous sound: whoops and claps and cheers coming from above and below, from near and far, echoing down the valley.

Reaching the crater rim at the top was the first tangible milestone. Like Rainier's Muir Snowfield, it is seemingly close but a never-ending anguish; like St Helens above the tree line, it is nothing but ash and pumice boulders and a humbling testament to the Earth's geological forces.


Day 7: Uhuru Peak, the summit of 
Kilimanjaro (5895m/19,341ft)
Out of a mixture of exhaustion and altitude, I cried when reaching the crater rim, then again at the summit for simply making it and thankful to Julian for pushing me... aaand then again on the descent down the ashy slopes (though that last tearful bout was mainly due to frustration and dehydration).

Climbing Kilimanjaro and going on a safari (accomplished three days later in Kenya with close friends from college) have been on my bucket list since before I knew what a bucket list was.

Somewhere back in time, teenage me feels the eerie tug of a future unknown accomplishment. The intervening twenty years will teach her that, through 6 deaths and 7 births, anxiety and depression, love and loss, two lessons from the rooftop of Africa can reorient her.

The sun is coming. Just walk at your own pace.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Flights of fancy

I was ridiculously excited about the entertainment selections on the plane rides back from Africa. And even though I probably should have been sleeping for some portions of the flights, I went a little crazy with the movie watching.

The Giver was really only loosely based on the book, which I only read recently, so I don't have any particularly strong ties to it. It gave way more plot time to minor characters from the book, which changed a lot of the book's relationships but that I actually thought rounded everything out better. The book's ending was pretty vague, but the movie made it a quasi-happy Hollywood ending. So at least it wasn't entirely dreary like the book was.

While on safari, I overheard some members of another party highly recommend Kingsman. Since it stars Colin Firth, it wasn't hard to convince myself to watch it. While it was pretty good cheesy fun, as a spy recruitment caper it tried way too hard to be story about class. Samuel L Jackson must have had a ton of fun playing the evil super villain. But it was actually a pretty gruesomely violent movie, for all its camp. And it definitely needs a sequel: as a stand-alone, viewers have invested too much emotion in a street kid who bests the toffs and saves the world to just leave him as he takes over a secret intelligence society.

Someone in my own safari party, during conversation about Disney cartoon plots, recommended the new Cinderella film. Basically, Disney made a film version of its 1950 animated feature. After the Kingsman bloodbath, I needed something happy and predictable. And to my own utter surprise, I actually liked Cinderella. There are some pretty bad retellings of this particular fairy tale out there; Ever After is still my favorite, but this one is pretty good.

Like a lot of fans of the musical Into the Woods, I was skeptical when a movie was announced. I've only ever seen a PBS broadcast of the Broadway version, but this film version was actually pretty decent. Meryl Streep is always a good villain (though still not better than Bernadette Peters!), and "Agony" is still one of the most hilarious songs in show tunes.

Lastly, because my nieces all loved Tangled and it was pretty short, I forced myself to watch this meh cartoon.  I get why it would appeal to several rather strong-willed small children, but I've never liked the Rapunzel story in the first place. None of the songs were memorable, Flynn the romantic interest is basically just Aladdin in a different setting, and the plot twist of Rapunzel's hair being magical threads made the climax no different from Beauty and the Beast. It's a pretty forgettable cartoon. I want those 100 minutes back.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

The same age inside

Back from Africa, but am still processing the experience. It's only been 6 days, during which our annual convention at work took place, so I haven't had much rest time since climbing Kilimanjaro and going on safari and seeing old college friends on a different continent and celebrating a friend's wedding.

I know Kilimanjaro changed me, but I've had precious few well-rested moments to myself to articulate exactly how.

In the meantime, other entertainment sources have flooded my brainwaves. I watched Midnight in
Paris on the plane to Amsterdam and LOVED it. Obviously, because it involves time travel to the 1920s and features both Fitzgerald and Hemingway (among other of my idols-between-the-World-Wars), it was practically tailor-made for me. It was also somewhat timely, since reading Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" in my formative years contributed to my wanting to climb the mountain. I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan, but this was a light-hearted, funny movie that hit home in many ways: a writer who loves the 1920s gets transported back, meets his idols, and reassesses his life and priorities in the 21st century. And when every famous artist (writer, painter, philosopher) appeared, I almost clapped with glee. So delightful!

Miss Buncle's Book also took place between the World Wars. It came up in the library's "You might also enjoy this" suggestion list. I enjoyed it a bit, but it took a while to get into. The premise is seems trite now, but maybe 90 years ago was novel: an anonymously published book about the lives of villagers in a small English town starts to come true, and the townspeople start accusing each other of being the author.  The real author is a dowdy spinster named Miss Buncle, and I think the main reason I couldn't really get into the book was because she came across as something of a country simpleton. She didn't mean to upset the balance of her town, but her reaction was something of a "Oh gosh, gee willikers, tee hee, look at all this" and it was a little off-putting. Definitely not a modern heroine, but not an entirely dislikable one either. She had an idea for a book, and subconsciously wrote her astute observations into them; it wasn't her fault they storylines all came true.

Like Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris, maybe there's a lot I can relate to in that.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Out on the wine-dark sea

A friend suggested the Queen's Thief series, and I quickly became addicted. I think it's meant for tweens, because the 4-book series is a quick (but thoroughly enjoyable) read.

Half ancient Greek and half medieval, it tells the stories of three kingdoms on a vaguely Hellenic Mediterranean peninsula. Sometimes warring, sometimes allied, they all face a common threat from a very Ottoman-like empire to the east. Megan Whalen Turner even completely makes up her own pantheon for the mythologies that drive the characters.

The three monarchs and their courts play a continuous but fascinating game of chess with each other, drawn out across the four books. Each one has several brilliant plot twists that had me laughing at myself for not seeing them coming and applauding the author for skillfully weaving a delightful saga.

Recommended the series to Mi Hermana, but also think my nieces and nephews might enjoy it in 4 or 5 years. Time flies!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tawantinsuyu

Since my adventure buddy was just diagnosed with breast cancer, I've been thinking a lot about our recent trip to Peru.

We read Turn Right at Machu Picchu  before we left. It's a hilarious memoir by a travel writer following in Hiram Bingham's footsteps, tracing the 1911 jungle trek that led to Bingham's (re)discovery of Machu Picchu.

Going from 0 to 11,000 feet was horrible; we felt the effects of the altitude within 2 hours of our arrival in Cuzco.  We had 4 days to acclimate before starting on the Inca Trail, and there were plenty of things to see in Cuzco: the Qorikancha, the Sacred Valley (Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Chinchera), and Saqsaywaman.  At every site, the ruins were a stunning testament to Inca engineering: amazingly precise stonework and astronomy.

And Peru is BEAUTIFUL.

Ollantaytambo
On the road to Chinchera
On the road to Chinchera

The Inca Trail itself was not as difficult as we anticipated it would be. (I think Muir Snowfield is a tougher hike.)  But there were SO MANY STAIRS. It's completely mind-boggling that the Inca road system, which stretches across thousands of miles in 5 modern countries, could be made up of so many stones and stairways.
 

The terrain was breathtaking: desert to alpine to jungle in all varieties, over every other hill.

And the highest I've now hiked is now 13,828 feet, to Dead Woman's Pass on the Inca Trail.

There were several more Inca ruins on the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu. Honestly, when our group got to the end of our destination, where a thousand international tourists roamed around us with cameras, it was a bit much - especially after being on the trail for over 3 days with few other people.

Huayna Picchu towering above
Machu Picchu
But then we climbed Huayna Picchu. In the rain. And though we didn't feel particularly bad-ass after the Inca Trail itself, we absolutely did after finishing Huayna Picchu. BECAUSE IT'S ALL STAIRS. 1,180 VERTICAL FEET OF STAIRS.

After the super touristy Machu Picchu experience, we headed west to Arequipa. There was a general strike going on in the region, so our plans had to be a little flexible. We took a tour of Colca Canyon, where we saw condors; the same tour took us to see more awe-inspiring mountains. And the bus sneaked up to 16,108 feet -- the highest I've been, period (even if I've only hiked up 13,828).

A condor flies over
Colca Canyon
Sabancay, the smoking volcano
El Misti
There was so much of Peru we didn't have time to explore: Lake Titicaca, the Amazon, the Nazca Lines, the foodie scene in Lima, other gorgeous hikes in the Andes.  But it was so beautiful, and the mix of cultures so proud and fascinating, that we just might have to go back some day!

And yes, I did eat a guinea pig....

.... Meh.