Monday, October 29, 2012

Ethical Eating and Cultural Sensitivity

I love to eat and I love to do so ethically, which for me means avoiding meat unless I can look the animal in the eyes and kill it--which I did once but can no longer do. But eating ethically also means trying to be a smart consumer of other foods and produce, which usually results in the yummiest, healthiest food anyway. You know, supporting local farmers and whenever possible growing things yourself or foraging or just not buying meat or dairy from big nasty farms or whatever. Generally trying to be a Decent Human Being who knows that honestly, you're not going to make much of a difference, but you may as well try because otherwise you'll not be able to live with yourself sober--and since you can hardly live with yourself drunk, you'd better not eat that lunch meat, b@#ch. 
Some of my food related ethics are negotiable though. When I'm travelling, especially in another country, I consider any sort of pickiness in eating to be considerably rude. This is, of course, dependent upon the country and culture, but I think it's equally important anywhere really. I don't want to hate on anyone here, but let me just say that I've encountered some truly awful Americans abroad who expect to be catered to by everyone and are so ungrateful and superior that they give us all a bad name and are generally miserable to be around. And so, my motto is eat what your host gives you, or, basically, don't be a dick. 
Before I studied abroad in Russia, I did not like mushrooms or tomatoes and I was a baby vegetarian. There just aren't many vegetarians in Russia, and I knew that I would be staying with a host family, so I had decided before I left that I would eat everything they served me without complaint. I started thinking about it as an adventure and a chance to make myself more open to trying new things. And it was mostly awesome. My host mom did feed me hotdogs for breakfast for the first week or so, and most of the hunks of gray meat that they served in the cafeteria were hard to get down, but I loved their soups and bread and I learned to love mushrooms and tomatoes--I can't get enough of them now. I also started liking buckwheat and different kinds of porridge and I actually enjoyed the raw fish with vodka as well. Also, Russian pastries are delicious. Sure, I would not choose to eat a lot of these things (namely the meat) here in the US, where I cook for myself, but it's part of the experience of traveling to try new food and to be a good guest. 
Now, don't think I'm encouraging people to lie about what they like and don't like. There is a big difference between being polite/grateful and lying. If you are certain you cannot compromise your morals and eat meat or you are allergic to peanuts or something, you need to tell the people you are living with in a sensitive way. I guess what I'm talking about is more a more general openness to trying different food. I mean, when my host mom actually asked me if I liked hotdogs, I told her they were okay but I preferred porridge and that was that. But if I had just been visiting her for a couple days or a meal, I wouldn't have said anything. 
Anyway, this won't happen in Ecuador probably since I'll be staying with my aunt and uncle and there are a lot more vegetarian options available from what I've read and heard. But, there is the infamous roasted guinea pig, which I will try if it is offered to me in someone else's home. After all, I did grow up eating deer hearts; I can handle a small rodent, no problem. 
I loved Russian soup so much that I've since become quite the soup-cook. This is me making soup in Aaron's kitchen last week. Being unemployed helps with this. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Importance of Rising Early

Getting up early has always been a big deal in my family. I don’t remember ever getting up in the dark wintry months before Dad made a fire or before Mom had fed the chickens or milked the goats. I mean, except for Christmas mornings, when Mom and Dad were always a bit sluggish—which was obviously just to tease us, since we had to do the chores, eat breakfast, and read the Christmas story before any unwrapping of presents. I’m sure it had nothing to do with staying up late to wrap presents or stuff stockings.
Anyway, Mom used to wake us up to begin our chores and schoolwork by grinding wheat or by singing and whistling things like “Rise and shine and give God the glory!” or “Up at ‘em!” and turning lights on. (Side note: I thought “Up and at ‘em” was “Up and Adam” for most of my life.) Sleeping until 8am on Saturdays often earned us a stern look from Dad and an exasperated, “You’re burning daylight!”
Some of the things I learned growing up in this environment:
1. Wheat grinders make a surprisingly loud and shrill sound for their 
2. Unplugging your light at night instead of flipping the switch will only work once before Mom catches on. And it’s kind of like hiding the spanking stick—you’ll regret it.
            3. Pretending to be sick doesn’t work when you’re homeschooled.
All of this is simply to say that my parents were and are firm believers in rising early. So much so that I feel a little like I’ve given up on life if I sleep past nine. If/when this happens, I feel like I may as well stop showering and wear sweatpants and/or no bra in public. (North Idaho doesn’t count as “public” so I’m claiming I’ve never done this).
I remember getting up at 4:30am one morning when I was very young, simply because I wanted Mom and Dad’s approval and was excited about whatever we were going to be doing that day. I was probably four or five years old and I had myself all dressed and was sitting on the couch (nodding off) when they got up and were confused and entertained by my efforts. Of course, my siblings made me feel like a suck-up (which I was), but I was still pleased with myself. All through my homeschooled elementary years, I rose early and finished my homework by noon or one or two o’clock, which meant I could play in the woods for a full afternoon before it got dark.
When I was in high school, I started hating mornings. Probably because I stayed up so late reading books of Aaron’s I’d hidden under my bed so that he didn’t know I’d stolen them from him (in order to read them before he did). My hatred of mornings continued into my freshman year of college, where I routinely stayed up until 3-4am just because I could. During this time, I heaped insults on morning people, especially the ones who were chipper and happy before they’d even had coffee or Nutella. Over breaks when I visited home again, I’d be especially annoyed with Aaron, who would not only rise early, but also have chopped some kindling, made coffee, and in general proved to our parents that he was the best child ever. Douche.
All of this changed again when I worked for the Forest Service after my freshman year. I had to start work at 6am. I was at first pretty nervous about this as getting up for a 7:40am class in college had nearly killed me—by which I mean that I slept through class often and got a B even though it was some gen ed course that should have been simple.
But, as the weeks and months progressed, I learned to love my mornings. I started getting up before 5am so that I’d have time to drink my coffee and do a little writing before I went to work. Not only did I get stuff done, I was chipper. I was a morning person all of the sudden. I’d finally trained my body and I had time to enjoy the sunrise and listen to some music and get myself in the right frame of mind for a day of physical labor.
It’s about more than that though. Getting up early means being excited and prepared for the day ahead. It means establishing a routine and being productive. I understand completely why my parents stressed it so much growing up. I think it makes me a better person to be able to exercise a little self-discipline in that way. I don’t mean to say that people who like to sleep late are always lazy. I mean, sometimes they are, but they are probably just more productive late at night or something. Fine. That’s fine. But I am sure to annoy the crap out of them in the morning just because I can.
However, the whole rising early thing is much easier when there is a job or a class or some sort of something that I eventually need to do in the morning. Since my unemployment, I’ve not been able to consistently get up early. I mean, I don’t sleep past 8:30 usually, but I don’t get up at 6:30 regularly either. And I’m feeling pretty guilty about it lately. I feel my dad’s raised eyebrows and hear him say “Good afternoon” sarcastically when I get up at eight.
So, henceforth I resolve to establish a routine, at least while I’m staying in my storage closet, so that I’m up and sitting in the “reading nook” of this house by 7:30am. I feel better about myself and I get more work done this way. Plus, I get so frustrated with people who sleep in a lot when they’re traveling. I mean, there is only so much time to see and do everything. Sleeping in says to the people I’m visiting and the city I’m staying in that I don’t care, that I’m not excited to be there. 
But by golly, I am excited.
See? I'm excited. Also, this is the "reading nook." 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


My sister and nephews and I went to Shenandoah National Park on Thursday and I finally got to see a deciduous forest in the fall. I'm not going to describe it, because I would just try and fail desperately in the form of empty, overused adjectives and pure sentimentality. Instead, I'll include a few pictures and the fact that the whole experience was like stepping into the ambiguous possibilities of a Robert Frost poem, as narrated by Robert Frost--possibly on a scratched vinyl record that I found at a yard sale and played sporadically until it somehow magically disappeared, like most of my belongings, never to be listened to again. 
I digress. Pictures!
With the nephews.
Peak colors.
Clark and Dawn on a section of the Appalachian Trail. 
Helping Clark balance. 
Calvin, knee deep in leaves. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Richmond, Baltimore

Last week I spent with my aunt and uncle in Richmond, Virginia. I know, I've been slacking a bit as far as blogging about my travels. 
But anyway, Richmond is an awesome little town steeped in Civil War history and full of southern charm and big front porches, while still having the most dreadlocked hippies I've seen outside of, say, Eugene or Portland. Me and my hairy armpits fit in pretty well. Also, outside magazine voted Richmond the "Best River Town in America." It's the only city with class four rapids going right through it. And, it turns out, it's way more outdoorsy than I'd thought. There are a ton of biking trails right by the James and on islands in the James such as Belle Isle, which also was home to a well known Confederate prison. I borrowed a mountain bike and rode around there a bit and was impressed at the trails and their proximity to the city as well as their history. 
Of course, there were also Neo Confederates waving the Confederate flag around--a form of protest known as "flagging"--while I was there. And Richmond, while much safer than it used to be, is still pretty well known for crime. 
But still. The people there are far more relaxed than those in Washington and it sort of reminds me of a bigger, much more diverse, interesting, and historic version of Boise--what with the river running through it and all. I loved it. 
Baltimore has also been a fun city. I've not gotten to do a lot there since my class is all day Saturdays and Sundays, but I like what I've seen. I've been down to the Inner Harbor and Fells Point and I stayed in a hostel close to the downtown area and close to the University of Baltimore, where my class is. Baltimore is grittier than Washington but it feels just as important and more like a real city. It doesn't have quite as much of a touristy nature or a highly transitory population as DC, and something about the architecture makes it seem more serious and academic. It's the kind of place I'd like to be a student in; I like it. 
I'll be glad when this weekend is over though, because that means I can just relax in my storage closet for a few days without running from train to bus to metro to couch to futon, etc. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Brief Note on Nostalgia

I’ve been on the run for nearly a month now. When I’m not wrapped up in the glory of being without a care in the world, when I’m not busy seeing this or that, or traveling from storage closet to couch to hostel to storage closet, I find myself continually reflecting. Part of this is probably because it’s fall. Seasons changing, especially the transition of summer to fall, always turns me inward. So do train rides and autumnal music, which I’ve had plenty of in the last week or so.
The other day something—the rain probably—caused me to think of when I lived in Oregon, which caused me to think of all of the places I’ve been able to call home and of how impossible it is to find that sense of belonging again once you’ve lost it in a place. How each time you go back to that certain place you approach it differently and interpret it differently, like how every time you reread your favorite book your experience with it changes. 
When you go back to a place that you have known intimately, you can’t see a certain corner without a backstory, without painfully remembering a whole period of your life—who you were then and how you’ve changed since. Nostalgia. It’s the loneliest feeling. It forces me to realize that I make a habit of forgetting who I have been; I recreate my past. I am totally comfortable and happy with who I am now, but I wonder if any of that has to do with me being able to trick myself into thinking I’ve always been this person. I wonder what my former selves would say about my current self and how my future self will change. And I really wonder how it is that so much of my understanding of self is caught up in a certain place or time, a certain context. 
But anyway, all of this is not me being a Debbie or a Dannie Downer or whatever (I hate that those names are typically female). Without this impermanence, life would be boring. I love being involved in a community and becoming invested in a place because it makes that place a home, but the minute I feel somehow stagnant in that place, I must leave. I don’t want to be complacent; I don’t want to be comfortable. I crave change. I need change or my creativity will be stifled by busyness and empty familiarity. Sure, I want to know myself, but I want to know myself in every context and without context. 
And so, I keep running. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Geocaching DC

Many of my readers have doubtlessly heard me explain/rant and rave about how cool geocaching is, but those of you who are still somehow unfamiliar with this not-treasure hunting game for adults, here's a pretty good explanation:
And if you'd rather watch a youtube:
Or, if you hate links, this is what I have to say about it:
Geocaching is all about using GPS coordinates and a clue to find a small container or tiny object of some sort containing a "logbook," which you sign when you find it. The idea is to place geocaches in places that are unique, interesting, beautiful, etc. So that people enjoy not just that satisfaction of being able to find something hidden, but also the area in which the thing is hidden. Some caches are large and contain maybe a keychain or a button or something, which a geocacher can take if she leaves something of equal value in its place. 
I've been a registered geocacher for about a year now, but I don't have a GPS or a smartphone, so I haven't done a lot of it. But I daydream about it pretty consistently, so I always get on to my account and look up caches close to where I am living at the time. This summer I found exactly one cache (in one of my Forest Service campgrounds) which was the first time I'd found one without a GPS. It made me incredibly happy, but I figured I kinda lucked out since it was a family cache in a really big container with a bunch of toys. And the hint was obvious. 
Anyway, so after moving into my DC storage closet, I naturally looked up caches in the area and was downright giddy to find the "DC Hidden Murals" series, which consists of about twenty caches hidden around the city near murals. What got my attention about this series is that the person who made them specifically stated that the GPS coordinates were "approximate" and that one had to rely more on "geosense" than their GPS. WHAT!? Good thing I'm unemployed with nothing to do but EVERYTHING. Needless to say, I've since become obsessed. 
Here is the first one I saw, which is close to my storage closet:
The whole point of the series is to bring attention to these murals and the neighborhoods near them. I love that the geocacher who placed the caches includes some of the history about the area or the artist or why the mural is there. It's a way better way to see the city and go to neighborhoods I'd otherwise probably ignore. I've found five of the caches so far and they've led me to some pretty great explorations of the city, including stumbling upon a highly-rated Ethiopian restaurant, finding some good bookstores and coffeeshops, historic churches/bars/etc. This afternoon I found two caches. I couldn't find the third, but ended up near the American Art Gallery, which I'd been wanting to visit anyway. 
Also, I found a cache that was not by a mural but just steps away from my brother's house. It was a larger cache with stuff inside and I had just realized that I didn't have any small containers of shampoo for traveling to and from Baltimore, Richmond, Reston, and DC. So I was thrilled to find a little bottle of shampoo inside of it! Perfect! 

First (and biggest) one of the mural series! I was giddy. 
Failed to find this one because I had written down the wrong hint. 

This one is a magnetic little guy, stuck up under one of those squares on the iron there.
Close up of the above magnetic nano cache. Julia (friend from Boise) found it. Her first cache!
Found one in that fence to the left.

To keep muggles (non geocachers) from knowing what I was doing, I took a ton of these pictures of The General. I'm so sneaky!

Close up of the cache. Easy grab this time. 
The logbook (from above mural) and "micro" cache container, pen and moleskine for sizing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Life on the Hill

I’ve been in the DC Metropolitan area for almost two weeks now with no responsibilities—no job, no homework, no nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere jobless/not going to school for two whole weeks without getting bored, but this time I’m not bored at all. There is always a new neighborhood to explore or a new museum to check out. I love it. 
I’m mostly living in my older brother Aaron’s storage closet in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is basically near the center of everything. I love my little storage closet. It’s practically not a closet. There’s a window and a light and I’m much better off than Harry Potter (minus the magic). Plus, it’s free.
The very first weekend I was here I attended the Library of Congress National Book Festival, during which I got to hear Jeffery Eugenides and Junot Diaz speak, among a few others. What an awesome thing to have happen, practically in my backyard. I didn't like the crowds or the sun really (nothing new there), but it was worth it to listen. Diaz especially had great advice for writers. 
I’m now pretty used to walking/riding past the Capitol on the way to and from the Metro, and I even joined about 300 other people for a little jog on the Mall one night. Also, even when I’m not trying to, I feel like I’m photo-bombing every tourist I see.
I’ve now been to two of the Nationals’ games—they clinched the NL East last night, while I was at the game, even though they lost! I’ve never been in that nervous or happy of a crowd at a MLB game. It was something else. 
I visited the Museum of the American Indian and the Newseum for the first time, and revisited the Library of Congress and the Air and Space Museum. I love that I can take my time and soak up a lot of different places like this. I still need to see most of the art galleries and the Natural History Museum, etc., but I have a month and a half or so, so no pressure.
I snagged an old $50 road bike on craigslist and have named it “The General.” Her brakes aren’t the best and the frame is a little small for me, but she’s great for getting around with. I’ve been getting to know the general layout of the area, which is way easier when you’re not just metro-ing everywhere. I’ve only managed to wreck her once so far—don’t worry Mom, I’m borrowing a helmet. What can I say? I’m from Idaho, I’m not used to contending with traffic AND light rail tracks!
But seriously, I love public transportation. Aaron and his girlfriend were complaining about the metro or something the other day and I just shook my head, remembering being car-less in Boise in the winter and having to try to rely on our bus system for groceries. Not fun.
Anyway, my time not on the Hill has been spent in the suburbs—which I can metro/bus to easily—with my sister Dawn and her family. It’s also nice to just hang out with her and Brian and the twins without rushing from one place to the next as I usually do when visiting. I spent three or four days sleeping on their couch last week and am going back tomorrow as well. My nephews have been hilarious and cute as ever, wearing their Nats uniforms and acting out homeruns, getting me beers out of the fridge, and having the occasional melt down about not being able to bring their giant pile of sticks into the condo with them. There have been some interesting exchanges as to my presence in their home since I got there, including this one:
Calvin: “Mommy, where does Aunt Bean live?”
Dawn:  “She’s staying with us for awhile.”
Calvin: “Where does she work?”
Dawn: I don’t remember, something a little nicer than “She doesn’t have a job.”
Calvin (panicking slightly, looking from me to his mommy): “When will she go home?”
Me: “Aunt Bean’s don’t have homes.”
(For more on why I am Aunt Bean, check out my sister’s blog:
At the end of this week, I will begin my course in Baltimore. I’m ready. I’m getting pretty excited about this whole Ecuador thing. It’s so soon. In the mean time though, I’m still enjoying my freedom from any and all obligations. 

Home in the closet. 

I have some sort of organization going on here.

The view from my mattress. (Only the rack of shoes/clothes is mine.)
The General! 

The General out in front of Aaron's house.