05 Oct '18  — the last place I expected to be creatively stimulated
There’s a subtle difference between the life I have access to and the life I wish I had access to.
Yesterday, I watched On the Other River Banks In Berlin: Sasha. During an artist residency program, Liu Xiaodong, a Chinese artist, paints a beautiful trans woman. It was so storybook Berlin. People flock to Paris for croissants and the Eiffel Tower in the same way they flock to Berlin for a certain flavor of queerness. The artist paints inside an alt bau building, similar to the ones I’ve lived in.
However, the Berlin I lived in was nothing like the city expressed in the film. I knew artists who weren’t as fancy. My life was more similar to flea market art. Everything I made was not refined, less technical in skill and consideration, often derived from some other cool idea. Lacking confidence, I didn’t dare to be original. Since I wanted to please, my work lacked a sense of creative freedom. Just an unnecessary mess.
As much as I’d love to make ‘living in Europe’ part of my story, it’s not.
When I got back to the US, I gained an extraordinary amount of confidence. I’ve been able to explore and create in ways I never had the confidence to.
How is it, in the suburbs, that I find such creative stimulation?
The life I have access to is the life in the American suburbs, where things I need are taken care of. Everything is accessible, I don’t have to trip through a foreign language in order to get simple things done.
A part of me has bought into the story that Europe, especially Berlin, is a place for artists. I could make my life in Berlin, it could technically be a life I have access to. However, it’d take an enormous amount of work every day. And if it takes that much work, then I have less time to make things.
So that’s the fine line. I’ve been provided already with an opportunity, but often, I see my opportunity elsewhere, in a particularly inaccessible place.
03 Oct '18  — an unexplained mystery
About twenty years ago, I recreated a meal I saw on The Naked Chef. I remember finishing mini trifles (so British, exotic for a high schooler in the suburbs of Chicago), layering custard, fruit and cake in glasses for my ‘guests’ (whoever was around at home). Over the past few weeks, I’ve been recreating meals from Jamie Cooks Italy.
I’m easily inspired to cook. Or maybe Jamie is really good at getting people into the kitchen? His recipes look so simple and they’re different from normal dishes I’m bored of making.
How is it that others don’t feel like cooking after watching an episode? I’m ready to grab ingredients for risotto first thing tomorrow.
I’m reminded that people’s worlds can be very different. While I was strongly inspired to recreate dishes I saw, my husband–not so much. And I’m sure other people who watch the same show wouldn’t feel as compelled.
That’s how different everyone’s worlds are. A tv show can get me to physically move, drive to the shop, and spend money, yet, it can be totally ineffective in causing anything to happen for someone else.
Although it seems obvious, we’re all inspired by different things, the force of an individual’s interest is strange and mysterious. There’s no reason behind why we’re each interested in what we’re interested in but it drives a lot of our decisions.
While it’s easy to believe I know what’s going on in someone’s head, it’s actually quite hard to fully know.
02 Oct '18  — an unexpected direction
“many people have never actually had the pleasure of wearing a garment that fits them well. The fact is that much of what we call fashion today is designed to look best on extremely young and slim bodies” - Natalie Chanin, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns
Most of us wish we looked young and slim, is that why we continue to buy clothes displayed on young and slim bodies? There’s a reason why the fashion industry continues to show bodies of only one kind. They must have a strong effect on the consumer.
Maybe one day, we’ll all agree we’re not all young and slim and stop buying clothes that look good on such bodies. Some fashion shows are putting in real people, it’s refreshing but I don’t know how long the ‘trend’ of using normal people will last.
I remember in high school when I learned that clothing from stores was not made for me. Pants were always too long. Shirts were always too short. I have a longer torso than the average body. Other kids didn’t look like they had an easier time, but there were a few girls in the class, skinny with long legs. Clothing looked perfect on them. That’s when I realized that the pants in shops were made for that fraction of the population.
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize, but the most amazing thing that could happen is if I acquired the skills to make my own clothes. Not only clothes that fit but also for design.
If I see a neat design, I want to be able to create it in any fabric of my choosing and take out details I find extraneous. Whether it’s using natural materials, cotton, linen, wool, or choosing the color and pattern, having the ability to create my own garments is something I’ve always wanted.
It’s strange at this age to finally recognize a dream of mine. I’ve never pursued it because I never thought it was possible.
‘Me? Make my own clothes? It’d be too good to be true.’
The skills required seemed impossible for someone like me. Back in high school, I did a lot of sewing by altering clothing but I could never finish an entire garment.
I didn’t have the patience, to pour over the directions and redo the stitching when it was less than perfect.
But now…I’m starting to see that it’s possible to learn and improve. A seemingly impossible dream has suddenly become a possibility.
At first, I thought my newfound inteerst was magical. But now, it’s opened me up to thinking, perhaps this is what I’ve always wanted–I just ignored it because it didn’t seem in line with the success I was taught to wish for and acquire (career success in terms of a highly respectable job in an office).
This dream of being able to make my own clothing is specifically mine. I wasn’t taught it.
Although I’m just getting started, already, I’ve been able to create a shirt close to what I imagined. It feels so empowering.
I’ve got a couple pattern books and I’ve been measuring myself to create custom patterns.
We’ll see how far this goes, but for now, it’s hard to get enough.
01 Oct '18  — if my marriage were a dish
after four hours
Having lived as an expat for many years, I’m accustomed to using only ingredients I can easily get a hold of. They’re often different than what recipes call for.
In Germany, there was no vanilla extract and cheddar cheese was hard to come by. That wasn’t going to stop me from making chocolate chip cookies or mac and cheese. I used vanilla sugar (found in every store in Berlin–no one wants vanilla extract??) and Emmental and Gouda for mac and cheese.
Today I’m making bigos, or ‘hunters’s stew’, and instead of regular cabbage, I’m using Taiwanese cabbage. I can get regular cabbage but I thought it’d be fun to add a cross cultural twist (as if I were stuck in Taiwan). The cabbage tastes the same, it’s just less dense, bigger and the shape is more of a flattened sphere. Bigos is traditionally made with a mixture of meat (that you hunted). Since I’m vegetarian, I’m leaving meat out.
My husband tells me in Poland, sometimes they let the cabbage cook down for a week.
chop and carmelize
The shredded cabbage takes a lot of space. I added a bit of water to steam the veggie until the volume went down. Then I added fresh amounts and a bit more water until all of it softened and fit into the pot.
Garlic, caramelized onions, bay leaves and peppercorn were then mixed in. We had dried mushrooms from our last trip to Poland so I included some as well.
This dish is meant to be slow cooked on low heat, perfect for the crockpot. I put ours on the stove at the lowest heat.
After an hour and a half, the green from the cabbage disappeared. Looks ugly but smells delicious!
so much flavor
After three hours, the cabbage became mushier and I placed tomatoes in for the last 10 minutes.
Lastly, my husband seasoned the pot with salt, pepper, one drop of smoked liquid and a few shakes of smoked paprika.
The bigos came out far more flavorful than I expected. A perfectly warm dish for today’s rain.
30 Sep '18  — the longest I've spent without lunch
worth the work
“Should we sign in?”
My husband asked at the trailhead.
“No, this will be easy. We won’t get lost and it’ll be over quickly.”
I should have signed in. There were moments I thought I’d never make it back.
While I’m aware how little I move daily, I don’t ever think I can’t handle physical activity.
Reading reviews of Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene trail, I expected the hike to take 4 or 5 hours. Others took 3.
We came back after 7.
looking up at the falls, views in all directions
The hike to Bridal Veil Falls was easy. We got there fast and the payoff for the amount of exercise wasn’t bad.
‘Lake Serene should be the same.’
The trail started out by going downhill. ‘Where is this lake anyway?’ Later I realized Lake Serene is at the top of the mountain, above the water falls. I didn’t realize how high the mountain was, and while the trail began with a slope down, we eventually had to climb all the way to the top.
There were so many stairs, so many moments where my legs felt like lead. On our way up, my husband and I made a long stop to rest.
“We have to be almost there! How much further can this hike go? The peak is right over there!”
sheets of water and unmelted snow on the lake
Unfortunately, we were only halfway there.
I couldn’t turn back–I worked so hard. I’ve never physically worked that hard in a while, there was no way I wasn’t going to get my reward.
So we continued, taking a lot of breaks while heading up. There were other hikers we’d meet on the trail, they’d pass us, then we’d pass them. Everyone was taking breaks to catch their breath.
The last quarter of the trail gave us views of the entire valley. I’ve never been at that altitude, but from our vantage point we could see all the hikes we’ve done in the area. We could also spot endless layers of mountains in the distance with snow covered peaks.
I started to get cold. Completely drenched in sweat, I wished I had brought another jacket, one that was dry. Would I be able to stay and enjoy the lake? It’d be too chilly. I’ve been sick for most of summer, really didn’t feel like getting sick again.
As we got closer, we passed a couple hikers who encouraged us to keep going–“just one mile left!”
came across a prettier waterfall on the way to Lake Serene
‘Yes!!! Just one mile…’
They were joking. Five steps further we saw the lake. I didn’t know how to feel. I was confused, delirious. Looking into the teal waters, I couldn’t believe it.
As I slowly realized that I’d made it, I started to panic. ‘How am I going to get down?’ We sat on a steep boulder looking over the water. There was snow. As a bit of ice collapsed we heard a grand echo from the stone wall. The lake is tucked into the peak, an insulated space warmer than the trail. There were mosquitos.
My husband spotted fish in the water. No one was fishing here. Perfect spot.
Going back, my calves trembled and my legs were so tired that I started tripping. There are many sharp rocks on the trail and it’s quite steep–I saw how dangerous it could be.
We took our time heading down. I couldn’t believe how long it took to get to the car.
But… we made it!
Super hungry, we ordered Papa John’s. The garlic sauce was cleaned within minutes.
28 Sep '18  — vitamin-tree
get in there
I came across The Japanese Art and Science of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. What is forest bathing? How do I practice?
Forest bathing is hanging out in the forest for at least 2 hours. You could do anything, but the best way is to take in nature through the senses, smell the trees, touch the branches, moss, listen to the birds, the rustle of leaves. The book is more of a coffee table book with lots of pictures, white space and large text. Without much hard evidence, the book infers that forests may cure (or prevent) ailments commonly complained about: cancer, depression, sleeplessness.
Of course being in nature is healthier but the book doesn’t provide much definitive evidence. While I was disappointed by the lack of science, the book provided new concepts on how to enjoy nature thoughtfully.
I. Tsukimi, moon viewing
The harvest moon was up in the sky a few days ago and it was glorious. I can see why people historically held parties in castles in Japan just to view the moon.
I’m also reminded how fascinating the moon can be. Back when I was young, Apollo 13 was a hit movie. Space Camp was more desirable than visiting Disneyworld. My family spent a lot of time driving between Chicago and Springfield, Illinois to visit relatives. I had a lot of time to stare at the moon over fields of corn.
The moon has always been a marvel and I continue to enjoy looking at it when I do see it today. Although it gives me incredible joy, I don’t spend time trying to seek this experience. Perhaps, like forest bathing, I need to work it into my life. Find the next clear night, find a good spot to look at the moon. These are not easy tasks.
II. Being Outside
“Americans spend 93% of their time indoors”
93% seems like an excessive amount of time indoors and I do spend approximately that amount of time. Conscious of the time spent inside, I went out for a walk yesterday. Now I’m sitting under a tree on my patio. I always feel physically better outside–why am I not out as much? (Too lazy?)
In 1984, the term technostress was used to describe unhealthy behavior around new technology. Now ‘technostress’ is just normal (not even stress).
Have you seen people’s posture? I sling my neck forward to bend over the phone. It takes too much work to lift my arm closer so I can scroll through reddit on my phone.
Throughout the book, author makes the claim that we, as humans, crave nature. It’s in our DNA to be around natural things because we are emerged from nature (aren’t we still part of nature?!). So, fractals found in nature are things that make us relax.
“Looking at natural fractal patterns can reduce our stress by as much as 60%.”
I’ve never heard of such a thing but while camping a few weeks ago, I was examining tree silhouettes at dusk. They can be amazingly perfect, more balanced symmetry than the spread out branches you’d find on a wall paper drawing. Perhaps there is something about fractals–there are so many mesmerizing youtube videos with infinite fractals to get lost in.
V. Going barefoot
It feels great to go barefoot. Not only on dirt and sand but on cement and different surfaces outside. Similar to moon watching, it’s an activity I deeply enjoy but don’t do. I don’t want to take off my socks! (Too much work!)
Perhaps these activities seem too basic. Not special enough for me to put energy towards.
‘Driving to a place to watch the moon?’ Isn’t there something on Netflix?’ It’s amazing to stare at the moon, to breath in fresh air at night but it’s also not exciting enough to inspire me to get out there. It’s like taking a shower–once I’m in it’s great but before…so difficult to get in.
It takes a lot of work to enjoy things I truly love. So I’m more often doing things I mediocre enjoy, like tv. There’s a payoff, energy is limited despite whether we have free time.
But in terms of health, I should start working to have fun.
27 Sep '18  — more wholesome than back in the day
“He had tested 198 samples of candy and found that a full 115 were tainted by the use of dangerous dyes, mostly arsenic and lead chromate. Forty-one out of forty-eight samples of yellow and orange-colored candy, in fact, contained lead.” - on the bad old days of pre-regulated food consumption
Most of the things we enjoy today are overlooked. I’ve watched too many period dramas in my life. From when I was little, I’d fantasize what it’d be like to live in the past (having read all the American Girl books), making everything from scratch.
Just over a hundred years ago, there was no regulation on food sold in stores. You could pick up flour or pepper and it could be made from sawdust or burnt sea shells.
Access to whole ingredients is something that seems more available in the past but it’s actually more possible today through technological improvements. I can get affordable spices from across the planet. There were shortages in ingredients back in the day, it was probably more lucrative to whip up a mixture of colored sawdust to sell as spice.
Of course less of us grow our own wheat, raise our own chickens, but there are many other ingredients we have access to that make life good now.
Handmade craft, the use of whole materials and ingredients, is getting redefined today.
“Our pizza is sourdough based. The traditional pizza is on yeast and it is a fast fermentation. It’s a fast food. If you do a really Neapolitan pizza you will probably have the outside be bigger. But what I think is a huge factor is when you open this, if you smell this [pizza crust], it doesn’t smell of yeast. And there’s no pizza with yeast in it where you cannot smell the yeast. And for me, it’s like, you put a cap on it. It is not possible to, flavor-wise, develop something that is not that thing.”
“It’s funny to me because Italians should be proponents of the sourdough method, and not the yeast method.” - Ugly Delicious
We are more wholesome with certain foods today than other periods in history.
26 Sep '18  — so 2010
hard to see
I remember laughing at adults who thought they were hip. They’d talk about things that were once cool but no longer are. It’d be something they heard about much later than everyone else.
Guess what? I’ve become that adult. Now when I come across something interesting and new, most of the time, it’s been out for a while–younger people knew ages ago.
Yesterday, I was watching a funny video by a youtuber who’s in high school. Things I consider cool now is described as “so 2010-2012”. Am I really so out of touch?
Strangely, when I’m around younger people, I want to list all the things I think kids are into. Why is it so natural to become such an adult?
There was no moment where I definitively crossed into ‘not knowing what’s in’. I continued to assume I was young and with it’.
But I’m not.
25 Sep '18  — unexpectedly uplifting
I spent the last two days watching Last Men in Aleppo. It’s slow moving so I would turn it on while waiting for something to simmer in the kitchen or while waiting for some files to be processed.
I really enjoyed the movie because it felt close to reality. Unlike most stories which show only dramatic moments, this movie shows slow paced moments, moments I relate to. One guy cleans up a patio for a future fish pond. Another scene, a bunch of guys are chatting and smoking cigarettes. Having watched so much tv on Netflix and Youtube, It’s so refreshing to see something more in touch with reality.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I saw how death is everyone’s destiny. Everything we think is our destiny, who we fall in love with, what we end up doing, where we end up living–it’s all debatable whether any event in life is our destiny. And how can ‘destiny’ be fulfilled in the middle of life? Someone can become a well known pop star for a couple years and become completely forgotten for the rest of their life. Death has proven again and again to be where everyone heads.
It’s a strange idea, we came here on this planet to die. We entered life–just to die?!
Most people would want to believe that there is a world here, and that it matters, and our entrance into, our activities that affect it, matters. But by seeing the world as one that can be entered into and exited, such belief acknowledges a seperate world, outside the one we collectively agreed on.
It’s kind of arbitrary to draw the line on where the universe matters: the one I enter into when I start living to where I die. Looking at the universe as a whole, there are animals that are born and they die. There are many planets, possibly many Earths where all this is going on. That’s all there is to it.
The movie was refreshing in that it allowed me to see how simple life can be. All the questions I’ve ever pondered, everything I’ve stressed about go out the window when I see I may be here to serve one purpose: to die.
So until death comes for me, I’m free to do whatever.
24 Sep '18  — motorcycles
Anacortes via motorcycle
On Sunday, my husband and I went to the Oyster Run, an annual event where everyone nearby who has a motorcycle heads to Anacortes. On the highway we rode with many other bikes and passed motorcycle clubs riding in packs.
After arriving I noticed there were many bikes from British Columbia. At first I was confused but then I looked out and saw Canada across the water. It’s so close.
grilled by one of the motorcycle clubs
I’ve never seen so many motorcycles in one place. My husband enjoyed the oyster part of the festivities. He also had his first corn dog (jalapeño flavored) as we walked around, checked out bikes. There were so many Harleys.
I’ve really come to appreciate the brand. Harley Davidson has so many logos, fonts, each version so different yet each relates to its brand. It can be space age 70’s or a sleek mid century–I’m impressed by how much attention their is to design through so many decades. The logos are always proportionally elegant whether the decals are found on the footrest or the gas tank.
favorite flannel of all the ones I spotted
You wouldn’t typically consider Harley Davidson elegant. But as I’ve become more and more exposed to motorcycle riding in the US where Harleys are dominant, I’ve realized how much of an American treasure it is. People often talk about Scandinavian design–this is just as magnificent, just as expertly considered. I never knew.
There was a performance put on by the Seattle Cossacks, guys on motorcycles doing pyramids and acrobatics while moving. It looked very dangerous.
Afterwards, we headed away from the festival to go for a ride. We went up to Mount Erie and got a nice view of the surrounding area. Then went to check out Deception Pass and I wanted to grab lunch in a small town, La Conner.
chrome or neon?
To get to La Conner, we had to drive through an Indian Reservation. The road through was full of trees, it felt like we were heading away from any civilization. Incredibly beautiful ride.
Multiple people mentioned Seeds, the restaurant, to have the best veggie burger in Washington. When we got there, I asked for the veggie burger. They didn’t have one but they had a veggie gyro. It turned out to be extraordinarily delicious.
La Conner is surrounded by farms. It’s got a town center listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The place is charming, quirky. I love finding these small towns that I’ve never heard of–it feels refreshing to be in a place so different, new.
view from Mt. Erie