Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor


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Japan in Season

I went to Japan last December. It was the perfect month to visit and my favorite time of year. In late December, you feel fall slowly fading, the leaves almost all gone, but a few strays that cling to the trees, the exact way my toddler clings to my legs when she gets shy.

I love the rush of cold air, the constant threat of first snowfall, the lights, the people in the city rushing around with bags of gifts for loved ones. It’s what I look forward to most during the heat of summer, the same way I look forward to the beach in the gray and rain of winter.  

Fushimi Inari Shrine

In Tokyo, most of the buildings are in muted beige and gray, the color comes in Shinto shrines with red-orange doors, splashes of neon signs, gardens tucked away with fiery fall colors and spotted koi.

It was a strange choice for a pre-Christmas vacation, but they do celebrate Christmas in Japan. They have Christmas cakes, an all-white whipped cake with strawberries on it and according to my sister who was living there at the time—strawberries in Japan taste better than the ones here.

Better strawberries. Can you even imagine?

And there were elaborate light shows, “illuminations” and lit trees all around the city.

You can’t see your way out of Tokyo, it feels infinite. It’s big and pulsing and electric, but at the same time, quiet. There are tucked-away gardens, shrines, and temples everywhere.

I took public transportation in Seattle daily for seven years and because of that, I appreciate Japan’s unspoken rules–drinking on trains, talking above a whisper, talking on your phone— all considered rude, punishable by glare.

Vegetables are in.

Things that have happened on the Seattle bus:

  • A rotisserie chicken rolling around and getting grease everywhere
  • A person so out-of-his-mind, when his friend punched him hard in the face, he didn’t even realize it. One of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed.
  • A woman who (while I was pregnant) asked me about hepatitis vaccines, then coughed right in my face.

It’s tempting to compare where you live to where you travel. To see how safe Tokyo feels, how meticulous and efficient and magical it all seems. The genius of hot coffee from a vending machine and the comfort of train station ramen.

Home is easy to take for granted.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback

 Portrait of the Artist as a (Near) Middle-Aged Mother

Excuse my longtime hiatus. I went on the craziest adventure of all. Into the trenches of motherhood, a wild journey from one laundry-filled day to the next.

The Baby is now almost one and a half and I just celebrated my second mother’s day. The newborn phase was one part acid-trip in the desert (holy mind expansion) and two parts wilderness survival (please send water wine.) And the toddler phase—well, everyday is an athletic feat of either wrangling her like a wild horse or leap-frogging the dog to get her before she does something dangerous.

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mind-expanding acid trip + wilderness survival = motherhood

Having a human baby was like one of those extreme home makeover shows. We were taking down walls at 2:00 am, thinking we’d never survive and then, the house was renovated, the staircase was in a different spot, the cement-floor garage became a warm, sage-green nursery.

We adjusted.

The house would never be the same.

Is Parenthood…Interesting?

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How does one pose with rocks?

I know, I know, parenthood is not interesting, in the same way you would find a South America motorcycle trip interesting, but it’s the MOST interesting thing about me.

I’m watching a little human I created learn new words and concepts.

She somehow just understands that putting a paper bag over your head and slowly lifting it off is hilarious. She has a sense of humor. Already.

She grabs both of my hands sometimes and pulls me onto the dance floor, aka, that unused spot just in front of the TV. She understands that dancing is a right. Already.

YES, it is the most “interesting, exciting” thing I’ve personally experienced.

And (humble brag) I’ve been to Japan! I lived in Quebec! I once wrote a Fodor’s travel guide! I was published in the Delta Sky airline magazine! I say all of this in jest, knowing that none of it really matters, as in parents are not “better” than non-parents, people who travel are not “better” than people who don’t.

All of us just ARE.

But, for some reason moms are stereotyped as boring, uncool, spit-up covered people in high-waisted jeans who listen to terrible music.

The “Used-to Women”

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Who’s watching baby while you take vegetable photos on the dark streets of Kyoto? Oh yeah…

The thing that terrified me most about parenthood is becoming a “used-to woman.” Otherwise known as a “before-I-had kids” woman. You know, the woman who when asked about herself looks down and replies, “well, I used to take pictures, before I had kids.” Or “Joe and I used to travel a bunch before I had kids.” Or “I used to love my dog, before I had kids.” (That last one is unacceptable).

Translation: I USED to be a person….

A random male colleague asked if I was still writing about 10 months after the baby. I couldn’t see my expression, but I believe my mouth twisted into a grimace/sneer and I raised my “would-you-ask-a-man-that” eyebrow (the right one).

Of course I STILL write. I STILL exist.

I’ve learned that while it’s difficult (for me) to work out three times a week anymore, it IS possible to meet with my writing group twice a month. I learned after dragging The Baby cross the country to Chicago on a SOLO flight that I will not be whisking baby to Paris for a girl’s week anytime soon. Brunch is a no-go as she turns into a gremlin just when the mimosas reach our table.

So yes, there are a lot of things I USED to do that I don’t (tennis! movies! camping!). But my house is just as fun as the trendy brunch place with the mango mimosas. The dance party hasn’t gone away, it relocated to my living room.

This is the untold story of motherhood, the one not seen in the dark circles under my eyes and my wistful gaze at the glass of wine sitting just beyond my reach, as I read her Brown Bear, Brown Bear for the 100th time. It’s the complete, ineffable, sudden JOY.

I hope to bring my writing to a new place. I hope you’re still along for the ride. I hope that this adventure is “interesting” to you, whatever that means.

It’s not WHAT you experience, it’s HOW you experience it.

(Full-disclosure: I lifted that last line from an exceptional FB post written by a stranger I can no longer find.)

(I refuse, at least for now, to post public pictures of The Baby on this blog. She’s entitled to her privacy, at least while she has food all over her face. So no baby pics!)

(Credit to LL for the title, just in case I’m supposed to do those kind of things)


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Great Expectations in Iceland

At a well-attended reading here in Seattle, Patti Smith said (paraphrasing), when you travel, keep no expectations, because a place can rarely live up to them.

This made me think of my grandma, who loved her Irish ancestry but never went to Ireland because she was afraid it wouldn’t meet her expectations. The fantasy she had was far better than reality could provide.

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“I am afraid I would be disappointed,” she told us. At the time, it seemed silly and kind of sad, but now I get it. She wanted Ireland to be this perfect place and kept it that way.

I went to Iceland in November, right after the election. It was great timing; after Tiny Hands was elected president, I really needed to de-stress in natural springs.

We went to Iceland in November because all the travel brochures convinced us that the northern lights would be dancing over our heads the moment we stepped off the plane. Spoiler alert: We did not see the northern lights.

I should have known better; I am well-acquainted with nature and I realize that it’s meant to surprise you. You never see whales when you’re looking for them. Or you do, but they’re less exciting than what’s in your mind. You never see shooting stars at the perfect time (at least, I never do). You see them when you happen to look up. That’s the magic of it.

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Everyone asked us why we would go to an arctic island in winter. And when we arrived and it was still pitch black at 9:00 am, I started to wonder myself.

It had all the makings of a terrible trip. Expensive food ($16 for a glass of wine). Icy roads. Unpredictable weather—the only thing predictable was the wind, which was so strong (and so consistent), at times we struggled to open the car doors.

But that’s the thing – because I tried NOT to imagine what Iceland would be like, what it SHOULD be like, I enjoyed it for what it IS. Unspoiled nature. Snow-covered lava fields. Birds diving into the roiling ocean.

So no, we didn’t see the Northern Lights, but I really wanted to photograph an Icelandic horse. Icelandic horses are more than just hip ponies with emo hairstyles. They are half-wild, they have two extra gaits and if an Icelandic horse leaves the island, he or she can never return.

They’re fascinating.

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We were driving on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

“Stop,” I shouted (not something you should do on an Iceland road in winter.) “There’s a horse.”

There was this beautiful red horse, just standing right by the side of the road, bathed in golden light. And I swear, it started posing. Because Iceland is so far North, the sun seems like it’s constantly rising and setting. ‘Magic hour’ is more like magic four hours. The horse turned vibrant red, all of its cinnamon highlights shining in the light.

There were other unexpected surprises. Insanely good hot chocolate topped with real cream. Walking between tectonic plates. Looking over Icelandic parliament and crying a little bit at the place where the first woman in the world was elected “head of state,” aka president.

We all have great expectations. For places. For people. For what things are going to be like. What they should be like. For ourselves. Great expectations are exhausting.

Sometimes you get the northern lights, sometimes you get the little red pony.* If you keep your expectations at bay, either one will seem like a bonus.


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Sometimes You Just Need the Desert

Last month, I went to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. It was a surrealist dreamscape with furry trees that twist into whatever shape their little tree hearts desire.

You have to admire anything that survives in the desert.

I hiked to 49 Palms, a three-mile trail to a lush green oasis amid beige and burnt-orange rock, sage and brush.

I had never seen a real oasis. 

The trees clustered like a family; the way they were looking at us reminded me of meer cats. It’s magical, because even though you expect to see them (it is called 49 Palms Hike after all), you feel like it’s never going to happen.

You walk and walk and just when your walk turns into an exasperated trudge, just when you never expect to see green again, the trees appear.

I know there’s a lot of metaphors in there about stressful situations, about finding peace in troubled time, about relief and journeys.

But it’s currently 1:03 am and I am tired.  So I am saying it in photos:

 


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A Heartbreaking Blog Post of Staggering Genius

(This title is an homage to Dave Eggers.)

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(Life goal achieved: Lionesque hair). 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. There are a lot of reasons why. There’s so much “content” coming at us from all directions that it makes writing a blog post less appealing. It’s maddening. I can’t even hear myself THINK in here. Do you feel that? Maybe it’s just me.

I am working full-time at a company I adore and moonlighting as a travel writer. I’ve been BUSY. Last month, I went to Switzerland for three days. I’ve never flown that far for such a short amount of time. It was insane in that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening way, like a first kiss.

I also just bought a house. Woot. Seattle tried to push me away with its high rents and influx of yuppie-hipsters “yipsters”, but I am officially here to stay.

At almost 35, bumping up on 10 years in this city, I feel old enough to dole out the advice from the comforts of my rocking chair. (Ps. I don’t believe in old.)

The advice I would give my not-that-much younger self:

1. Sometimes, from certain hills, on certain nights the city will look like a pile of gold sequins and promises put there just for you. Savor this. After awhile, it dulls.

2. Call your grandmas more often.

3. When you go to that grand poetry conference don’t assume the guy in the cowboy hat and bolo tie won’t be a good poet. His first poem reveals he’s a Vietnam Vet and every word is as deep and powerful as the ocean. Exercise humility.

4. Be generous. It will come back to you.

5. Allow yourself to tell the deserving to f—off. You let people get away with too much.

6. Repeat: Not everything is about me.

7. When cancer threatens your nearest and dearest, forgive those who turn cold on you because it makes them uncomfortable. It makes you uncomfortable too.

8. Forgive yourself.

9. Being an artist has nothing to do with black glasses and cocktails and blue hair and city lofts and Instagram accounts. It has everything to do with the work. So do it. Submit it. Wait for the inevitable rejection. And shut up.

10. A thigh gap is unattainable and wouldn’t look good on you anyway.

11. Pizza cures everything.

12. When someone invites you to a “party” and says, “You don’t even have to buy anything,” just say no. Save your money and your time for people who want to be friends, not for you to buy something from a catalog.

13. Don’t worry so much whether the college you went to isn’t or is prestigious. After a few years, it matters so little it’s laughable.

14. When you reunite with your childhood friend and she tells you she’ll call you, take her number too. Just one year later, she’ll be gone and you will never have  another conversation.

15. Your real friends will be happy when you win. Being a real friend is not just consoling someone when they lose, it’s being happy when they win. Especially when they win something you want.

16. Don’t waste too much time obsessing over the corporate ladder. Work hard, do a good job, go home.

17. Don’t turn your back on the most important lesson, the most important gift—what it’s like to struggle. Carry it with you. Remember it when you feel like you have endless money and endless opportunity and when you feel like you’ve won a life lottery. Recognize the humanity in others, no matter who they are. Err on the side of kind. Always.

18. When you get the chance to move to Quebec, do it. It will be hard and cold and awful at times, but those are just growing pains.

19. Stop obsessing over beauty. Pretty isn’t an achievement, it is luck. Pretty is made up to sell you make up. Don’t let magazines and shallow people dictate how you feel about yourself. You are beautiful because you are human.

20. Travel. See the world so you can understand your place in it.

21. Hold tight to your sense of humor.

22. Getting married and buying a house and having a family aren’t cliché trappings of the American dream. It’s real life. Silence those who judge your life choices and don’t judge others for theirs.

23. Being ___by age ____ becomes irrelevant after 30. Thank God.

24. You won’t realize how young you were until you grow older. This goes for then and now.

25. Stretch.

26. Go to that wedding. Go to that funeral. When it’s important and when it’s something that will only happen once, spend the money, take the time and go.IMG_0309


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My Spirit Animal: The Sleep-18-Hours-a-Day Sloth

I love animals. It’s ridiculous how much. Enough to spend a lot of money to feed sloths at a wildlife conservation center.

Yes, sloths. Let’s face it: sloths aren’t the most lovable animals. Most people seem to think they’re gross.

Thankfully, these sloths didn’t have moths or moss on their backs. They were friendly, cute and moved so slowly and carefully, it felt like being surrounded by a group of lovable geriatrics. I half expected one to start telling me a story from the old days.

Why don’t sloths play the wise old one in cartoons more often?

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(The last one is a baby monkey. Sloths are not primates. They have more in common with anteaters and armadillos, species-wise.)

Typically, I’m against animals in a for-entertainment setting (see my kangaroo farm post). But the sloth center is a research and education center and only allows small groups to visit a select few of their animals ambassadors. The animals aren’t asked to perform; there’s no glass to bang on and no parade of tourists. Most of the animals are never seen by humans. You can feed wolves, walk exotic cats, play with lemurs.

This could get expensive.

Things I learned: 

  • Sloths pee and poop out the same hole.

    Three-toed sloths can’t be kept in captivity because of their specialized diet. (We encountered the two-toed variety.)

    Sloths French kiss to exchange bacteria

    Sloths come down from their trees every three days.


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Detroit: Got a Good Feeling in a “Bad” City Tonight

Got a good feeling in bad city tonight. Got a good feeling it’s going to be alright…(Detroit, Rancid) 

I passed through Detroit a couple times, once during a raucous road trip I took to Niagara as a teenager, two other times when driving to/from Quebec City. Each time, we zipped passed, the skyscrapers tall and strong against a gray winter sky.

This time, I got to experience the city for real, visiting close friends who left Seattle for Detroit. (There’s a giant hole in my heart now and I fill it with reruns of The Office and glasses of cabaret).

I wanted to walk inside blighted buildings, snap trees winding around staircases.  I wanted to capture misfortune, the ruins of a cultural hub. Peeling wallpaper. Graffitti. Empty museums. People in big coats bracing against the bitter cold.

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But that’s one story of Detroit. It’s not the whole story. Detroit denizens remind me a bit of kids I grew up with in Chicago: Tough. Prideful. All survivors of something. Also, friendly.

I snapped photos of empty, dark mansions that line the streets like abandoned doll houses. I tried to capture the sun filtering through punctured glass of factory windows. I took a photo of a calico stalking prey in a vacant lot.

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But there’s fresh paint on Comerica. There’s the jack-hammer buzz of construction. There’s Greek Town and Midtown and they look just like every hip town in America. There’s brunch in the haunted Whitney Mansion—an impossible experience in Seattle. Our brunch places are overcrowded and definitely don’t include bottomless mimosas. In the Detroit Public Library, there’s a whole floor dedicated to illustrated car manuals. Not something I’d ever read, but I loved the vintage car posters on the walls and the ornate details.

I charmed my way inside the Detroit Opera House. I buzzed the door and walked to the box office, fully expecting to get the boot. A guy wearing a hard hat asked what I was doing. I said I just wanted to take a few photos. That’s it. No mention of this blog or my mediocre rise to travel writer stardom or any press of any kind. He let me in and gave me a behind-the-scenes tour.

Detroit Opera House

“Usually they want people to be on the tour. But go ahead. If anyone asks tell them you’re friends with D*, the Head Electrician.”

When I opened the door to the stage, I actually gasped in awe. Hundreds of lush velvet chairs await for the derrieres of fur-clad opera-goers. Intricate suns curve up the dome ceiling. The balcony made me nostalgic for something I never experienced.

The workers were blasting Papa Roach (yes, seriously) and I still felt transported to the 1920s. D* led me to the lobby; chandeliers dazzled from above, candelabras glinting orange and gold. He told me to take a picture of one of the fixtures while lying on the ground with the camera pointed up. “This will be your best shot. It looks just like a doily.”

I don’t know enough to comment on the city’s financial health or whether it will turn around. All I know is that I spent a lovely few days in the city and I saw a glimmer of possibility.

Sometimes to find the beauty of a place, you just have to change your angle.