Monday, June 27, 2011


Well, I've managed to get in a few minutes of time all alone. Mark is watching Czech TV, my parents are napping, and Julie took the kids to the pool. Seeing as how I'm allergic to chlorine, I only like to go swimming if it's REALLY hot or I'm in the mood. By the time they got out it was so late that paying just didn't seem worth it. It's about 80 degrees (hallelujah at last!) but according to my phone (which supposedly knows all since it's smart) it's going to be in the 90's next week, and I'd rather save my swimming time for days when I really need to beat the heat.
Last weekend I had the amazing chance to catch up with some of my old HK friends. There have been a few transplants to the Portland area, and our friend Ann, who I met up with in Prague shortly before heading stateside, was here on a business kind of trip, so I decided I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to see everyone. Nothing like a nice long road trip to help me mellow out and process life. I was pretty ready to arrive after 7 1/2 hours of driving, but for the most part, I just enjoyed having the time to watch the world fly by and to think about this period in my life, at least when I wasn't singing at the top of my lungs. It's so different traveling alone than it is when you have a passenger. Don't get me wrong, I totally love having the company, and would have been happy to take Mark with me, but he had work he needed to do in a nice quiet house, and so it was just me and the road this time around.
I actually stayed at Jessie's house, which was also lovely. Nice to catch up and see how much her little beauty is growing. Hard to believe she's two and a half already. They grow up so fast. I was also there on Sunday and got to celebrate Father's Day with their family. I didn't feel like I was letting my dad down too much since I'd been up to visit him just the weekend before. It was just nice to have a sort of family time on the day.
Anyhow, on Saturday I got to go and see some other transplants. It was so great to have a chance to be around other people dealing with crossing cultures. One of my friends is currently feeling a little stranded as his wife was detained in Canada and not allowed to continue back to where they're living in Portland. She's Canadian, and they're making them jump through all sorts of hoops in order for her to return to the US. Not fun. In the meantime, it's their two year old who has to deal with all the complications. So frustrating, but he's super cute and it was great to meet little Ethan who was born after I was back in the US.
It's always so surreal to run into people in different countries, out of context with how you originally knew them. I've now spent time with Ann on three continents. How crazy is that? Next time I'm probably going to have to visit her in Australia.
In the afternoon we spent some time looking around Saturday Market. There were various and sundry people wandering around down there. Lots of costumes, including people with tails or furry ears or even wings. Hmmm... But in the midst of the crazies we did find an amazing little Vietnamese restaurant that served some of the best bubble tea I've ever had. While most places provide flavoring in the form of a sugary artificially flavored syrup, this place clearly used real fruit. While it might have only been canned fruit, it was still positively delicious. Yeah for Bubble Tea!

We really made quite a day of it, just wandering around and exploring different things in Portland. We hung out at a mall for a while, and then went to a Mexican Restaurant for dinner. Sadly, my Love is not the biggest fan of Mexican food ever, so I was glad he didn't have to feel miserable as I enjoyed both the flavor, and the messy, gooey, drippy juice that ran down my hands. Okay, so maybe I don't really enjoy being a soggy mess, but you just can't eat tacos with a fork. Totally doesn't work.
Next stop on our list: Voodoo Doughnuts. Apparently this place is legendary. In truth, I'd never even heard of it. But they'd been talking about it all day, so I definitely wanted to give it a try.
The place really is pretty cool. There was a line that twisted through the store and was backed up out the door, despite the fact that it was after 11 PM. It's an all night store, and apparently is always crowded. Going slowly through the line gave us plenty of time to contemplate the bizarre doughnuts and the fascinating decorations.

If you want a large order for a party you can get them delivered in a coffin box. Seriously, how cool is that?

According to the signs on the wall, they even do weddings. Too bad I didn't know that a few months sooner.
After finally making it through the serpentine, we sat on this coffin bench

and enjoyed our Voodoo Dozen.

Thirteen doughnuts that were chosen for us. No worries, we didn't just sit there and eat all thirteen. We just split a few for sampling purposes before heading back to Brooke and Ephraim's place. It was a bit late and they convinced me to stay the night rather than risking an exhausted drive back to Salem.
Everything worked out for the best, and I just had a glorious weekend. Probably can't afford any travels like that again for a bit, but it was great to see old friends and just get out and move around a bit. Now time to enjoy more fun with the nieces.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

All those life changes

Well, things have changed again, therefore leading to less time sitting quietly in the living room keeping up on blog updates. I've got pictures and news to add about my fun weekend in Portland seeing HK friends, but I haven't the energy at the moment to download them. It will happen. Life will settle and I'll find routine again, but with my parents back in the house everything has changed again. No more of the quiet little peaceful life. The world revolves around food, and keeping track of what everyone is doing. Mark is hard at work helping on the countless projects Dad hasn't been able to get to on his own, and my work schedule makes sure I keep getting up bright and early.
Two of my Alaska nieces arrived today, meaning that everything around here will take on new vitality and a bit of crazy. After living with them for the better part of a year in '06/'07, it's great to have a chance to catch up with what they're interested in and doing these days. Crazy that the youngest is now the age the oldest was when I was their downstairs neighbor.
So forgive the lack up updates for a bit as I try to find a new pattern to my days and sort out the ins and outs of yet another upheaval of sorts. Transience right here in the house so to speak.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garnet Ghost Town

During the weekend trip to Seeley Lake, we also had the chance to visit an old Ghost Town in the Montana mountains. Garnet, once a booming mining town with a population of around 1,000 is now home only to the rangers who protect it. There has been some work done to clear out the surrounding forest to make it less susceptible to forest fires, and different groups have come up to reinforce the remaining buildings to preserve this wonderful witness to frontier life.

The town started in the 1880s I believe. As the name suggests, it was a mining town, although they were mostly interested in gold. While the town had four stores, four hotels and a booming 17 saloons, it still managed to be more family oriented than many of the other towns around. This is made evident by the building that I found most fascinating: The Newlywed House. I'm not sure if the whole sign will be legible, but basically a wealthy man built this house for the use of newlyweds. They could live here rent free until their own house was built, or until the next couple got married. Pretty cool if you ask me, although, despite having it's own two seater outhouse near the back, I'm not sure I'd be very well suited for this sort of living.

Wandering around this place actually made me stop and evaluate what matters in life a bit. I've been reading a blog lately by someone who has stopped buying new clothes. She's been at it for several years, and shares a lot about ways to declutter life. Having spent several years out of country, I know what it means to live with little. In Hong Kong I had about a 6 by 6 foot space to call my own. With one suitcase and whatever I could buy as a volunteer, I learned to live with little. But all along I knew I had at least two bedrooms full of stuff at home. Every time I return from life abroad I cut down, but the thought of living in these cramped, cold, dirty quarters chills me. What would these people think if they saw an episode of any of the design shows on HGTV that I enjoy so much? It would be like traveling to a completely different world to them. Really makes me think.
Well, enough of my soapbox, back to the town. Walking around between the little buildings it also made me think of how much these people had to rely on one another. Living out in the boondocks in those days was beyond tough. It was hard to get supplies in, despite the lovely local stores.

I was amused to see that they had Hills Bros Coffee, which I enjoy even today in mocha form. But mostly life's pleasures were of a simple nature for these hard working people. They had to take care of one another, to really live in community if they were to survive the hard Montana winters. The trails between houses were well worn, and no doubt everyone knew everyone's business. Including who used the back stairs to visit the ladies' parlour at the finest saloon in town.

It's kind of tragic to me to think of how isolated we have become in this world of social networking. We might know exactly when our "friends" have gone to the shopping mall (apparently sometimes leaving themselves open to thievery by the detailed state of their affairs) but more often than not we don't know anything about the people living right next door. While I have no choice but to know my neighbors, seeing as how my sister lives next door, and the people on the other side are chatty and friendly, this is the first time since leaving my parents home after high school that I can make such a claim. And while I would naturally ask my sister for a cup of sugar, I'd be hard pressed to ask anyone else around for anything except in the most dire of circumstances.
Really didn't think I was going to get so deep on this Ghost Town post. Who knew?
Anyhow, I'll move along now that I've put some thoughts in motion. Along with the various and sundry shacks that remain, and some information that is known about the old dance and community hall, or the store house relics, the most impressive building in the town was and is the hotel. This place was a work of art, completely out of touch with the rest of the village. The woman who had it built and owned it wanted it to be just as fine as if it were in a major city, and I would say she succeeded. After seeing the relative squalor that the common people lived in, it was almost shocking to see the luxury she managed to maintain in this fantastic lodge. I imagine many of the women experienced envy at the thought of the beautiful wall paper and fashionable furniture that decorated this place of convenience for outsiders, as well as housing the occasional miner who paid for a spot on the third level to roll out his sleeping mat on the floor or a little cot.

There was a story displayed there about the woman who came to be the cook. She arrived at the last coach stop before the town only to learn that there were no more rides to town for the night. She was supposed to start work the next morning, so she walked some 8 to 10 miles in the dark in order to be there to get food on the table in time for breakfast. Another reminder of how hardy these people were. They wouldn't outsource all their production to China in order to save money and line their pockets. They'd work hard to see to it that they took care of their own. Wow, bandwagoning again. What's gotten into me? Maybe I've been hanging clothes for too long and am finally just needing to get it out. I think I'm still trying to deal with American entitlement culture shock, and just haven't had a whole lot of chances to process it. But, not ever really enjoying being political, I'll try to reign myself in a bit.
After seeing all the town had to offer, we also checked out some of the old mining area. They didn't dig deep holes down into the earth, but mostly made trenches and searched through the quartz for those valuable veins of gold. A few remnants remained, but it was obvious that the frenzy has long since gone out of this place.

And so we had an amazing opportunity to step back into the past and really contemplate the way people used to live. It's an incredible gift really. Eye opening in more ways than one. After living in Europe with it's ancient castles, and history that is still evident stretching back before the birth of America, it's nice to have at least a small chance to see some of what America was built upon. These were brave and daring souls. Far from perfect, as evidenced by the number of saloons, and the jail cell that was reportedly used most often to house drunks while they slept it off, but they knew the value of the land and their community in ways that we have largely forgotten with all our technological advancements. If there ever were some disaster that wiped out our technical capabilities I'd be totally at a loss for how to survive. I see the way they live and it makes me cringe. I love electricity and my ever expanding closet of clothes, not to mention my cell phone, digital camera, and computer. I have enough trouble cooking on a modern stove, and where would I be without a comfy bed to sleep in?
There is so much more to life than we realize. So many things to contemplate, to see, to learn. I hope I never close my eyes to all there is to experience where ever in the world I call my home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Short Note on the Passing of an Old Friend

Before anyone gets concerned or teary eyed, this is one of those inanimate friends, so I promise it will be okay.
I don't know exactly when I got the travel bug. It wasn't something I always had. See, as a child I lived in the little town of Horse Creek, CA, WAAAAAAAAY down the Klamath River on HWY 96. Anyone who has ever driven that road knows the meaning of the word "curvaceous." (I was going to say "windy" but as that could be seen two ways I chose otherwise.) We lived about 35 miles from the nearest town, Yreka. Still not much of a town in case you're curious. That meant every time we needed something from the store and didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for it, we had quite a trip to make. My siblings actually got the joy of a bus ride down this incredible road twice a day during their high school years.
I love this drive now. It's a beautiful trip through the mountains along the river, dotted with wildlife and minimal traffic. I know every curve, and used to know the people living in many of the houses as well. As a child, however, it almost always made me queasy. If I looked out the front window, and didn't do anything crazy like trying to read, I could make it okay, but otherwise I was not a fan of the trek.
As time passed, however, I developed an insatiable desire to see more of the world. Perhaps it's precisely because I grew up in such an isolated place. I wanted to know more, to see more, to experience more.
In 1996 I had my first out of country experience. I've always enjoyed history, and been fascinated by all there is out there in the world to see. Traveling to Italy on a mission trip gave me a beautiful opportunity to meet new people, expand my horizons, and see some seriously old stuff. Let me just tell you that standing in the Collesium, and knowing it's the real thing, is awe inspiring.
I was only 17 back then, almost half a life time away, and I gave the camera a big grin that was slapped into a handy little passport. A couple of years later I wanted to put the thing to use once more, and I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Hong Kong for a summer. Wow. What more can I say. I entered into an entirely new world and felt so alive. Giving my life and love to the babies at the orphanage changed me completely. The first night I was there I knew that three months were not nearly enough time. However, passports acquired by minors are only good for five years, so when it came time to head back to Hong Kong after completing college, a new travel book was required.
I can still remember the day I drove down to Kinkos to get my passport photos taken. It was hot. Like seriously hot. Medford, Oregon can be that way. I was dripping by the time I got there, and my hair was short short short. I was a bit deflated from the heat, but I beamed in the photo, knowing that it would soon be my ticket to the world. I was hesitant to mail in my old passport, fearing that it might be lost or not returned, but I had no other options. Away it went and a few weeks later I was given a ten year pass.
Today, it's time is up. With a July 2011 expiration date, there are no more stamps to be had. Granted, they don't stamp passports as readily as they once did. I've visited a number of countries that didn't make their way visually into the book, but it has still become a dear friend. I have carried it literally around the world. There are visas to Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, and the Czech Republic inside, as well as stamps from Korea, Macau, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and perhaps one or two others from transit points as well. It even has a fat section of beautiful new pages I had to have added when I ran out of visa pages. The visa photos record varying lengths of hair and roundness of face. It's a map, a guide, a journal of sorts. And today it is on it's way to being replaced.
I'm feeling a little squirmy in my stomach thinking about it sitting in an envelope at the post office. I worry again that something might happen to slow its progress, shuffling it off in unknown directions. It has been a source of protection and identification. Without it, I'm stuck, grounded not just on this continent, but in this country. No longer can I even take a quick jaunt up to Canada. I feel as though my legs have been tied.
Despite my worry, I tell myself it will all be okay. The post office won't lose my precious passport. They'll deliver it safely along with the astronomical fee that has nearly doubled in the past ten years. It will arrive and be replaced with a new book with beautiful pages and a new fancy data collection card. And the old passport, now used up and seemingly useless, will have a hole punched through it to show that it is no longer valid for travel. I don't want it to be sad about this change in status, but to feel as though it is time for a well deserved break. It's seen me through a lot of transitions after all. The new photo will have updated hair, but the smile has been removed. For some reason we've also gone over to the somber photo group. Makes me sad really, but at least I don't have those ridiculous corn furrows on my head like I get every now and then.
So there you have it. The entire saga. Now I just have to wait a few long weeks until I have the lovely new little book in my hands and I'll be capable of transit once again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weekend Trip to Glacier National Park

Over this past weekend Mark and I were able to go and visit my parents in Seeley Lake, Montana where they've been serving at a small VM church for the past several months. They'll be finishing up their time there next weekend, so this was our last chance to visit them there and enjoy the beauty of their location. The whole time I was there I kept thinking about the time Rebecca there in 2008.
Unfortunately, due to a long hard winter, only 16 miles of road were open from the West Entrance. We would have enjoyed being able to wander around more, but we did the best with what we were able to do.

We headed in by McDonald Lake and then continued along and stopped at different places along the way. I could spend all sorts of time trying to come up with descriptions to do the place justice, but the pictures tell it better.

It was really great to have the chance to spend some time cruising around with Mom and Dad. We were also joined by Mitzi and Trixie just because.

The river provided lots of lovely views and posing opportunities.

On our way to take a break by the souvenir station, we did have a nice encounter with nature. Since I wasn't as ridiculous as the people who got out of their cars to take photos of the bear my photos don't do it justice, but it was pretty cool to watch a bear just enjoying a bite twenty feet away from us.

We enjoyed the local transport, although we stuck with our own car for the ride.

Then we went for a little nature walk to St. John's Lake. I'm pretty sure that was what it was called at least.

In all it was a really beautiful trip. We all enjoyed the chance to see these natural marvels. It would be nice to go back some day and see a bit more of the place, but for the time being we did enjoy the visit.
I'll leave the rest of our trip for the next post since I had so many pictures for this post.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

'Cause I'm Cool Like a Grandma

When I was eight years old I lived in a world inside my head. Being five and a half years younger than my closest sister, and living out in the middle of nowhere in Horse Creek, California, there weren't many playmate options. I had what I dubbed "play people," a whole entourage of invisible friends at my beck and call whenever I needed them.
I know they showed up at school sometimes. There were even those who played copy cat and started having imaginary folk following them around, but none of them relied on them quite as heavily as I did. As the years passed and the social structure of our little school fluctuated, I was left on the outside, a pasty, pudgy outcast with a head full of dreams and ideas. They called me "Teacher's Pet" or "Miss Goody Two Shoes" and had no interest in me except to acquire answers on assignments. It's actually a little hard to recall exactly what set me on the outs. While many places in small town America remain structured around whether you're a true local (I was two when we moved there) or not, it didn't seem to matter so much in the first years. Our school was super small. We had K-8 with only three teachers, which meant three years in each class. The first three years were fine, but when we moved into third grade, things shifted away from me. I moved more into my own head, and away from the maddening crowd.
It was during this stage that I began to spend more time during recess sitting at the metal picnic table with Viola than playing with my peers. Viola was a rather crusty old bird. Years of smoking had given her a gravelly voice, and her threatened growling was something to be avoided at all costs. We all feared her and loved her at the same time. Being sentenced to sit on the tire, a large tractor left over, next to her table was a fate to be avoided at all costs. Yet I chose to sit with her willingly.
In contrast to her somewhat harsh manner, Viola was a Crafter. She was always working on some crocheting project as she kept a cautious eye on playground politics. Every year at Christmas each student received a hand made ornament. I still cherish those trinkets, and they have hung on my parents tree every year up to the present. Being the focused and outcast kid that I was, I decided I wanted to learn how to make blankets like Viola.
When I first approached her with my plea, she was wary. "You'll never stick with it," she said. "You'll get bored. I don't want to waste my time teaching you if you aren't really serious."
But I was serious. I begged and pleaded, and finally she told me to bring a hook and some yarn. I was so excited by the prospect, and eagerly showed up with my shiny green "G" hook and a skein of red yarn.
"If you really want to learn," she told me gruffly, "I'll teach you how to make a basic chain. If you can crochet a basic chain that stretches from the picnic table to the fence (about 100 feet or so) then I'll teach you the next stitch."
I was determined not to let her down. Recess always haunted me with the fear of feeling alone and rejected, so I was grateful to have something to concentrate my time on. It's possible that the other kids laughed at me for my endeavor, but I really didn't care. My grandmother was a master with a crochet hook. Her blankets and booties kept us warm in the winter, and her delicate angels and snowflakes hung elegantly on our Christmas tree. I wanted to be able to do things like that.
So, day after day, the metal bench pressed lines into my chubby legs, and I wrapped the string around my finger and learned how to make the hook work magic. I don't know how long this project went on, no doubt the better part of third grade, but I never managed to make it all the way to the fence. Even though I stuck to it pretty faithfully, I ran out of steam somewhere along the line, and the dream died. At least for a while.
When I was ten, an exciting thing happened. I was informed that I was going to be an aunt. I was thrilled by the idea, and I wanted to be the best auntie any baby ever had. I decided that, whether Viola would teach me or now, I was going to make a blanket for this baby. I informed Viola of my intent, and I'm sure she was laughing inside, but she agreed to give me some basic guidelines to get me started. Since we didn't know what the baby would be, I made neat rows of alternating blue, pink, sea green, and white. Much to everyone's surprise, by the time David Kirk West entered the world, when I was only 11, I had made him a blanket. Two years later, when Ryder was born, another blanket, this time purple, teal and white, was produced. I'd like to be able to say that additional blankets were made for all 13 of my nieces and nephews, but high school wasn't exactly the best time for such projects. I got out of practice, and the thought of spending hours and hours and hours crocheting just didn't appeal the way it had when I was younger. During that stage I did make one other blanket for my sister Julie, but it took about 5 years to finish because I just couldn't make myself focus.
Basically, I stopped really thinking about this odd old world hobby of mine. There were too many books to be ready, topics to be studied, and friends to entertain. I traveled, I attained higher education, and lost touch with some of my roots.
After my first year in Hong Kong, I came back depressed. I had trouble finding myself in the land of my birth. Despite my experiences and education, I ended up working as a maid (hmmmm...) and was basically miserable, despite having lovely roommates. I decided that it was time to take on a new project. Having never made anything for myself, I decided to make a blanket just for me. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to finish the project, and how much my skill level had grown. While the edges were still a bit wobbly, it actually turned out pretty neat and even.
A good friend of mine from high school was getting married that summer, and two weeks before the wedding I decided I would make them a blanket. Let me just say that when they pulled out the whopping afghan I made for them they were beyond surprised. I'd told them I was bored, and now they finally believed me :)
After that I decided that reviving this skill was definitely a good thing. I started making blankets for my sweet babies in Hong Kong when I moved back. I also made all kinds of scarves as Christmas gifts. I found I could finish one in a few hours, which was just perfect. Watch Christmas movie, complete scarf. What could be better? Sadly, the pictures of most of these blankets are only hard copies, so I can't quite catalog everything. Wedding and baby gifts have almost all turned to yarn. I'm still trying to master new stitches, but with the help of some books and internet tutorials I think Viola would be very proud at what I've managed to figure out on my own.
My backlog or photos doesn't go back very far, and some pictures I know I have somewhere have not yet been transferred to my hard disk, but here are a few.
This first one is from Amy and Scott Slinkard. I was so sad not to be able to attend the wedding of one of my friends who knew me from before I started to crochet, but at least I was able to make a little tribute to her wedding colors. It's too bad I don't have any pictures of my really early work where it was mostly just a basic double crochet. By this point I was already experimenting with new designs.

Next up, in a very similar style, is the blanket I made to welcome Citlali Zavala. It ended up being a bit long and skinny, but it worked just fine for a baby. I actually made this one in Czech with local yarn. It was so hard to know how much to buy because they measure it differently, so I still have quite a bit of leftovers stashed in Czech.

While the actual creation time only took about a month in and out of my work and social schedule, it took me almost two years to finally get around to making this blanket for Nate and Amy Sarchet-Waller. I brought the yarn with me from the US this time, which made things a lot easier. During our long CA meetings it was great to have something to help occupy my hands so I could stay focused.

I've always loved zigzag blankets, so I was really excited to finally figure out how to make them for myself. My first attempt was for my mom, and the second was for Jessie's wedding. No pictures, I'm sorry to say, but I whipped up something similar for Julie and Chad Granum. I was pleased with how the blanket was turning out, only to realize I was going to have a lot of yarn left over, so I decided to make them two. What newly married couple doesn't want a matching set of blankets in their wedding colors, right? Julie, who has become really accomplished in crochet herself, making a vast variety of things that I wouldn't even think of being able to do, made me a really cool blanket for my wedding in return. Perfect :)

Finally, I'll end with a couple more pictures of the Sunflower Afghan. I'm really so pleased with how it turned out. I think it really does look like a field of sunflowers with their heads all turned up in the pale blue sky.

I'll leave you to be the judge. Do you think Viola would be thankful for what she started with me?