Old Friends With New Babies

One of my very favorite things is when two people I adore get together and make a third person.

It’s both terrifying (this little person will live longer than both their parents and myself, so hooray for the deep dark fear of mortality) and wonderful (this little person is made of great people, but will grow up into an entirely unique and separately great person), and weird (How is it that I’m now old enough that friends are reproducing and it’s not a scandalous big deal?).

The first stop Dan and I made in the great state of Colorado was in Almont, at Harmel’s Ranch Resort. I’ve never stayed at the ranch, but I tagged along with the wranglers at the stable for a lot of summers growing up, and wanted to stop in and visit some friends. The first year I was there I had just turned 12, was kind of a bother, and was assigned to follow a few wranglers around:

docandgaelan

These are those people, 11 years of life, 4 years of marriage, and a baby later. They now live close to the ranch and run the stables.

We tried to get their little miss to smile for the camera:

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But she was not having it (I wish I looked that cute when my unsmiling face shows up in photos).

After we ate dinner by the Taylor river, I took a walk down memory lane around the stables. There were a few horses corralled for the night, and one was way excited about the possibility of being photographed.

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After I took this photo, my camera promptly went on the fritz–so you’ll just have to take me at my word when I tell you that we saw marmots,  chipmunks, rivers running around mountains, and then we stayed at the cutest hostel in Gunnison before setting off for Denver.

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These are the roads I’ve been looking for.

 

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Haikus About Hosts (or “Leaving New Mexico Gives Me All The Feels”)

kale

Izzy

Your green thumb is so

successful, I wonder if

Gaia feels cheated.

 

dog

Cookie

No legs are safe from

your kisses. Your tongue is like

a guided missile.

 

dog

Dottie

Izzy was supposed

to adopt a cat. But then

she found you. ‘Twas fate.

 

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Doug

I was warned about

being interrogated-

but you were so kind.

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Indian Market and Festival

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Traditional dress (I believe Apache? Possibly Navajo) and dance demonstration

I went off to school in liberal Austin, Texas, and so it feels really weird for me to write about the “Indian Market and Festival”–that makes me feel like I should have come away from the event smelling like tumeric, with a belly full of curry, and eyes dazzled by saris in ALL the colors. Since I left this event with brand new turquoise jewelry, a lingering desire for Navajo fried bread, and eyes dazzled by traditional dances, I feel like I should be writing about the “First People’s Cultural Festival and Market”, or “Native American Festival” or “Navajo and Apache Market and Dance Day”. I don’t want to be offensive!

But the Farmington, New Mexico website totally talks about the Indian Market and Festival, and there was a banner at the event, and people mentioned it like it was no big deal, and so I think it’s time for the politically sensitive white girl in the room to get over it.

The event took place in Berg Park, which is a wonderful green space off the river in Farmington. There were booths set up selling pottery, jewelry, clothes, and pictures (I’m not posting pictures of what I bought, but some people at home should be excited), and another section full of booths selling things to eat: Navajo fried bread, crushed fruit, flavored ice, and what looked very similar to mexican street corn. We arrived early and lingered around the shops, but were really blown away by the dance demonstrations.

White Mountain Apache

White Mountain Apache

After the shows, we took a quick hike by the river to a veteran’s memorial site, and finished the day with a meal at a winery (where Doug and Izzy treated us to green hatch chile wine! Tastes far better than it sounds). To say Dan and I have been treated well here is a gigantic understatement.

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An Oasis in the Desert

I mentioned in my last post that Dan and I are being hosted by his wonderful Uncle Doug and Aunt Izzy. Know what else is being hosted by Doug and Izzy? A lot of plants. A LOT of plants. And most of them are fruit-bearing, meaning that Izzy and Doug basically have a food forest in their backyard, and oh my word, is it pretty. Pear What you’re looking at is a baby pear, but there are also all kinds of grown-up fruit: fruit Those are (R-L) apples, peaches, nectarines. The fact that we’re in Fruitland, New Mexico, seems really appropriate.

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Izzy starts each morning off with a kale smoothie, which also comes from the garden:

new mexico kale

And this basil plant reminded me of home (or, it reminded me of my last home, where a basil plant lived on a subleased balcony for 2 months):

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The garden here is beautiful–I have way more plant-porn photos, but perhaps you don’t actually need to see 15 pictures of flora today? No? Let’s talk about where all this is growing: in a desert.

Fruitland gets about 1/3 of the precipitation that Austin gets per year, on average, according to the weather channel–which is to say, it is a desert out here. The landscape is made of rocky plateaus and bare, sandy slopes, with some scrub brush, and supposedly there are antelope sneaking around out there, though I haven’t seen any yet this trip. There are some rivers that swell with runoff from Colorado mountain rains, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that these rivers look oddly out of place–like a toddler drew a green crayon-line through someone’s sepia-sketched masterpiece. It is dry out here. The land is parched.

Which is why it can be really useful to have a pump on an irrigation channel coming off of one of those funny-looking rivers:

irrigation pump

Doug tells me he pays the outrageous(ly cheap) sum of $76/year for “all the water [I] can pump out” (Doug also told me that upon discovering this, Doug’s father-in-law/Dan’s grandpa, who spent a small fortune on the annual upkeep of a small grass yard 10 miles away, stormed off the property in envy-fueled frustration). I haven’t calculated the overall cost-per-yield, but that means that there’s a lot of food that comes off this property every year for…um…pretty cheap.

(Is it too punny for me to say I’m green with envy?)

(I’ll stop.)

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The Final Frontier

I have chosen an ominous title for this roadtrip, for this journey that will take me from central Texas through northwestern New Mexico and across the great state of Colorado, because it is my last trip before graduate school. I’m so excited to be back on the road–having just left my job, but having not yet started classes, I feel like I can really rest in a way that’s just hard to do otherwise. And once school starts, it doesn’t stop or break for two years. And while I would love to take a trip immediately after school (but before my first post-graduate job), I know that I’m enough of a workaholic that that just might not happen. This might be my last roadtrip for like, a long time.

Also because my  dad is a Trekkie, and I can’t help myself.

Dan and I left Texas yesterday, striking out from Lubbock (where a family friend was kind enough to put us up–thanks, Michael!), and ending up in Fruitland, New Mexico, where Dan’s uncle Doug and aunt Izzy are being fantastic hosts. Dan is driving his car (which is a stick shift, and I haven’t gotten it together enough in my life to learn to drive a stick shift) the whole way, and that leaves me free to look at the landscape…which is one of my favorite things to do on a roadtrip. This country is CRAZY DIVERSE. The panhandle looked like this:

Texas

And then we started seeing things like this:

New Mexico

And then BOOM:

mountains

Mountains. Uneven horizons make my heart sing.

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Smorgasburg, with a side of gluttony

New York City

When Chelsea and I originally planned this trip a million months ago, we did it because we knew we’d both have vacation days to use, and I’d never been to NYC (she had, and was keen to go back). My plan for the trip went something like this:

1. Chelsea and I will board a plane and fly off to New York City.

2. Chelsea and I will arrive in New York City.

3. Chelsea and I will be in New York City.

4. Chelsea and I will leave New York City.

5. Chelsea and I will arrive back in Texas.

And that was about it.

New York City

Chelsea had other plans (which is not especially surprising, since I essentially had NO plans)–and those plans were 9 kinds of awesome delicious.

The vast majority of our days were spent eating, and walking to other places to eat. We saw an off-Broadway production our second night in town, hopped over to Staten Island, and went to Central Park, but those were our only non-food outings.

For 4 days. I may not eat for a week. I feel like a bear trying to store up for winter, except that it’s spring, and unless I *just* woke up, I just don’t have that much in common with bears.

New York City

One of the best/most concentrated food events, hands down, was Smorgasburg–a weekly shindig that happens in Brooklyn on Saturdays in the spring/summer. Local food companies set up trailers, carts, or booths from which to sell food. There was a huge variety–from vegan ice cream to St. Louis-style BBQ, coconuts to drink and spring rolls to eat, mexican street corn on a stick and a tent that sold nothing but biscuits. I enjoyed some prickly pear lemonade, and it tasted like home.

New York City

I also saw kombucha being piped directly out of a cooler (they were also selling ready-to-go SCOBYs, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get that past security on the flight home:

New York CityI didn’t buy these macarons (no regrets, I got my fill of dessert), but LOOK AT THOSE FLAVORS. I want to make cookies that taste like those things…

New York CityAnd lastly, in a remarkable show of self-restraint, I didn’t buy these vegan doughnuts.

New York City

…but I won’t tell you how many biscuits I ate.

You don’t really want to know.

 

 

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New York, New York

Guys, this country girl went to The Big City.

Not “a big city”. THE Big City. The Big City That Never Sleeps And Is Also A Big Apple.

…I might be getting my NYC monikers mixed up.

Anyway, I went, for fun, with a friend, and had a really wonderful time. I used to live in a co-op, and as luck would have it, a lot of co-op alumni have made their way to New York. This genius, who used to study at UT and now studies at Columbia, put me up for a few days. Thank you, Sebastian!

New York City

“How did you talk me into this?”

And this girl, who loves food more than anyone I know, painstakingly planned our meals. She looks tired here because she is a walking encyclopedia of New York eatery knowledge, and that takes a lot of effort. Also because she had to put up with me for like, 4 days straight. Chelsea, you were the best travel companion.

New York City

I’ll leave you with this picture from Central Park, before I post other trip details (bridges and food and subway tracks are on the way!). This adorable house was on the northeast corner of the park, and juxtaposed with the sky-scraping apartments, squatting correctional facility (directly behind, not visible in the photo), and to-die-for bakery (also behind the house), it sums up a lot of my NYC impressions. What a vibrantly busy, multifaceted place!

New York City

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Rachel’s Blessing as I Leave Seoul

Rachel accompanied me today to Incheon International Airport, where I jumped on a plane and flew home, feeling very bittersweet and really glad I took this not-summer vacation. In between subway stops, she crafted a blessing for my trip, which was just so gosh-darn touching that I had to share. Her words go something like this:

May the road rise to meet you, for starters, because Irish blessings are a good place to start. May the road not rise too meet you too fast, however, because you are leaving Seoul by plane, and too-fast-road-rising generally indicates crashing. May the road rise to meet you at exactly the right pace, and may the pilot time that correctly because she/he is well-rested, well-fed, alert, and gifted with an unprecedented inherent talent for airplane-maneuvering, which has become near-perfect through years of training.

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A Cultural Demonstration (and so many shop-signs) in Myeong Dong

May the security line not be too long, and may you not get pat-down, felt up, or rushed through like herded cattle. May all the security officers smile, instead of doing that scowly thing some of them sometimes do, which almost always garners some degree of sympathy. May your feet not stink too much when you take off your shoes, for the benefit of everybody.

May you not sniffle and look busy like you’re maybe trying not to cry in the security line. It’s ok to be the leave-er in an airport. Tuck it in.

May you get a window seat. I know you requested that, and it’s way easier to sleep when there’s a wall to lean on. You really ought to sleep. Maybe drink until you’re sleepy? Just kidding. Don’t do that. Or do. Or don’t. (Don’t.)

Street decorations for a cultural festival, bridge near Haneul Park, marigolds near park entrance, biking/running train on Han river

Street decorations for a cultural festival, bridge near Haneul Park, marigolds near park entrance, biking/running trail on Han river

May your seatmate be a tall, thin, smokin’ hot single man of appropriate age who is whip smart and totally down for conversation if you want to talk. May he be all about leaving you alone if you’re listening to that awesome feminist book I put on your ipod, or sleeping. May he buy you overpriced airplane drinks. May he be totally willing to join the mile-high club if you’re into that (please please may you not be into that, because it is impractical and gross and porny and you are way classier and it is illegal), but may he be too tall and and also too classy for this to work anyway. May he also have an awesome feminist book on his ipod. May he be a gazillionaire intent on spoiling you rotten.

May you experience no flight delays, for any reason. May you not have to idle on the tarmac, because that is obnoxious. May you experience perfect flying weather always, but most especially on landings and takeoffs, because those are scary.

May the meal service start quickly and consist of food that does not require chopsticks. May you be surprisingly upgraded to first class! May you sleep at times that make sense for your final destination, so you have no jetlag.

May the movies be fabulously entertaining, and also ones you haven’t seen before. May they be The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, because those are my favorite, except that you’ve seen them.

Cosmo from Haneul

Cosmos in Haneul

May the weather at home be beautiful and full of fall.

May the wind be always at your back–you’ll get there faster.

And may I see you soon.

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Namsam Tower (of looooooove)

On Wednesday, I ventured out to Namsam Tower (and I didn’t get any decent pictures of the tower, but it looks like this).

Namsam Tower (AKA North Seoul Tower) is the highest point in Seoul, and it’s like a needle sticking straight up out of the top of a hill near Myeong Dong (a shopping/tourism district in the city). Rachel and I actually approached the tower on my second day in Seoul, but I was wearing inappropriate shoes for hiking, and I was jetlagged, and we were distracted by myriad coffee shops (first. world. problems.), and so we didn’t make it to the top. Nonetheless, I hate to leave a hill unconquered, and so I came back while Rachel was at work.

There are three ways to get to the base of North Seoul Tower: you can take a gondola for $7, you can hike on a windy road for 90 minutes, or you can climb stairs for 30 minutes. I opted for the stairs.

NamsamSteps

About 15 minutes into this stair-trekking adventure, I was seriously questioning my decision. I am not a very coordinated stair-trekker, and these steps were uneven and slanted. I feel twice, and started wondering at what point in your life “fall” becomes a 4-letter word (like, kids fall all the time, but when someone’s of a certain age they “have a fall” and that maybe means you should head on up to their hospital room and visit them). I was very grateful that these stairs, unlike the ones in Haneul Park, were unmarked.

The summit was beautiful, and huge–the tower was obviously the main attraction, but there were lookout points for seeing various parts of the city, a misting fountain (patronized almost exclusively by children), cultural demonstrations, and (predictably) a souvenir shop.

The best part of the summit though, was this art installation. Look:

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Look closer.

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The locks are supposed to represent the shared commitment of 2 people to a relationship. I resisted the urge to call them “locks of love”, but did hear several people refer to them as “love locks”, which does sound better. There were 6 of the trees pictured above, but there was also an entire lookout point with fences covered in locks (which is SO MUCH LOVE). This one melted my heart:

namsamdad

And I didn’t even realize until after I took the picture, but someone up here (besides me) loves Texas, or someone in it.

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In addition to the love locks, this lookout point featured “heart chairs” that are supposed facilitate romance between you and a potential partner. It’s like love potion #9–but in seat form.

namsambench

There was a sign suggesting that if you’re shy, you should try to get your crush to sit with you on one of these benches… I think as a more subtle approach, you could just bean them over the head with a bag of heart-shaped bricks.

Or locks.

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Hiking in the Sky

Rachel and I were feeling outdoorsy and inspired after our sea-kayaking adventure, so on Tuesday, we went to Haneul (sky) Park. It’s one of Rachel’s favorite parks, a gorgeous, green oasis threaded neatly into the outskirts of the city.

It used to be not-so-green, in any sense of the word. In the 1990s it was a massive landfill, but South Korea wisely decided to fix that before hosting the 2002 World Cup 3 blocks from the site. Essentially, the refuse was covered in dirt (and other barrier-things), which was covered in grass, which is now carefully but delicately managed, so as not to disturb all the toxic trash-stew beneath the surface. Methane gas is pumped out from the landfill, and used to power the electrical features of the park (bathroom lights, maintenance rooms, etc) and provide supplemental electricity to surrounding city venues.

StadiumHanuel

The landfill really was massive–massive enough that when it was covered, 2 parks were actually formed–Haneul, the one we went to, is the highest of the 2 (though it’s not the highest point in Seoul–that’s Namsam Tower). It’s a popular hiking venue, and the site for several annual festivals–the biggest one being a harvest-themed celebration in October (which we saw some preparations for). The park is very open and free-looking, but meticulously maintained. There are sculptures and lookout points, benches and lined trails that cut through uniform fields of grasses, flowers, or (in one very small location) rice paddies.

In order to enter the park, you climb up 291 steps. They’re numbered, which is either encouraging or soul-crushing, depending on the number.

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After the stairs come some archways.

zuchinnitunnel

These will undoubtedly play a role in the upcoming harvest festival. Also, why don’t we grow zucchini this way in Texas? I’m adding it to my list of harebrained homesteading ideas.

Past the tunnels, the trails splinter off, leading you to lookout points and “manicured” landscapes:

woodrings

and rest stations shaped like weird, alien sculptures. Wait, what?

aluminumalien

This view from a lookout point summarizes my basic assessment of Korean landscape: Verdant, sloping mountains interrupted by swaths of dense, houseless cities.

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After exploring the park (and chasing SO many butterflies) for about 2 hours, Rachel and I headed home–only to discover that it was far easier to catch a taxi in the city, rather than find one out in the boonies. We managed, though, and then she went off to work like a responsible adult…

…while I lazed about and took a nap. Vacations are the best.

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