Category Travel

Atlanta: Popsicles, pupsicles, and Sir Walter of Old 4th Ward

In July, I went to Atlanta to visit Carrie. Of course I was most excited to have hang time with her, but I was second most excited to meet and have hang time with Walter, her french bulldog puppy (@sirwalterofold4thward on insta). This little wrinkled sweet potato stole my heart immediately, along with the hearts of everyone we met, everywhere we went. Walter’s first thought is about whether or not he can eat whatever happens to be in front of him, his second thought is about whipping off into the forbidden bushes where dogs rule and humans’ stubby arms lack the power to stop playtime, but his third thought is pure loveback to food, probably. But among his other interests, he’s willing to accept love from anyone. Although he would probably prefer if you give your love in the form of an edible gift. 

We immediately popped Walter in his skulls & roses shirt (because he was due to outgrow it in about five minutes) and walked to Barcelona to get drinks and tapas. I didn’t take any photos at lunch, but the plate of chorizo with sweet & sour figs and balsamic vinegar was outstanding. Each fig was a bomb of rich, sweet, spicy, salty, tangy flavor. This is the sort of small plate that I really love with a crisp cocktail, and Barcelona didn’t disappoint there, either. 

On our walk back, we stopped at King of Pops to make an agonizing choice between their extensive flavor selection, and to buy a ‘lil King of Pups for Walter, made with bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, and honey. From the way he scarfed it, it was clear that he was in no way ambivalent about the flavor: Walter was all in. I got the raspberry rosewater flavor and it was super refreshing in the hot dishwasher air that is Atlanta in July. 

Northern White, by David Landis 2012

Carrie’s place was just a short walk back up the beltline, and I took the opportunity to check out what had been sprayed on and around the pillars nearby. 

One of many tiny doors sprinkled throughout Atlanta.

BBQ Becky strikes again!

Later we met a few of Carrie’s friends at Bantam Pub. The night was still sweltering somehow and the air conditioning in the pub was broken, so most people chose to sprawl out into the extensive cement and grass patio area, drinking beer from cans dripping with condensation, making the vibe very “chill lawn party”.  From there we hired a ride to The Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, which is exactly the level of permadim it takes to order the fried-to-order bbq seasoned pork rork rinds without having to make eye contact with anyone. They are served still crackling from the fryer and they are leagues beyond any grocery store pork rind experience I’d ever had. Plus, they have built-in portion control: after two, your teeth are so full of them that they automatically lock together. 

A closer look at 2018: An Oregon Weekend

As I’ve talked about before, Navani is from Eugene, Oregon, which meant a road trip to meet her to decide if I wanted to buy her and another when it was time to bring her home. Jason had already gone with me on a couple of trips to meet horses I didn’t buy, and so he elected not to come this time. I could’ve done it in a one day there-and-back trip, but I also didn’t have the kind of time pressure that would make that exhausting round trip necessary. Instead, I drove to Portland the night before which was its own ordeal (driving Seattle to Portland on a Friday afternoon: just don’t do it) and stayed in my favorite hotel for immediate highway access: the Red Lion on the River Jantzen Beach. The hotel itself is fine,  but really it’s that ability to immediately launch myself onto the highway from, essentially, the parking lot that makes it my go-to for this kind of waypoint trip. 

I left early enough in the morning to allow for a couple of stops along the way and still be on time, ideally a bit early. One of the horse-buying tips I learned from the more seasoned people in my circle is that you should try to be early enough that the seller can’t hide or otherwise mask the horse’s behavior. Very high-tempered horses might be worked hard beforehand or even administered a sedative. Horses that are hard to catch in the pasture or are cinchy are already brought in and saddled up. Turning up a little early gives you a better opportunity to observe more about the horse. Hence, blasting straight out of the hotel parking lot onto the highway instead of grabbing breakfast at some amazing Portland restaurant. 

Instead, my first stop was to Sesame Donuts in Sherwood, where I purchased their namesake donut plus a pumpkin spice donut, and a fancy latte that was definitely seasonally flavored, I just cannot remember exactly what those flavors were. The sesame seeds did impart an interesting nuttiness to their cake donut base and really helps fill in that gap in the breakfast spectrum where you aren’t in the mood for a bagel but you still want to get a bunch of sesame seeds stuck in your teeth.

My other pre-Navani stop was at Grove of the States, located off French Prairie Rest area near Wilsonville. Here, they have (or had) the state tree of every tree in the United States along with a plaque featuring the state and the tree name. The grove was initially planted in the mid 1960s to honor Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act (which I got to learn a bit more about at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center when I visited there last spring),  and its creation involved a visit from the attorney general of every state in the nation. Unfortunately, it was planted “in symbolic geographical locations” (I presume in the shape of the United States) without accounting for the long term space and light needs of these non native specimen trees and as a result many of the original plantings have failed over the ensuing fifty years.  

To ensure that the symbolic project lives on for future generations to enjoy, a grove restoration project began in 2016.  Now, new saplings strive upward among the beautiful mature trees of Grove of the States. It’s wonderful to have such a fine place to stretch your legs at a rest stop. I hadn’t known before that several states share the same tree as their state tree–I don’t know why I assumed that each state had to choose a unique state tree and if their favorite was drafted already, too bad, Vermont. Maple is taken.  

I see now that my home state of Wisconsin has taken the initiative of designating a state pastry, which sounds exactly like something my people would do. I can only hope the rest of the states follow suit and then I’ll be able to go to Bakery of the States. That’s how America is going to achieve unity: every single state pastry mashed together in my stomach like the mighty globe of fat, carbohydrates, and sugar I knew it could be.

After meeting Navani and calling everyone to tell them about the horse I was going to buy, I was wiped out, so I drove back to my convenient highway side hotel, ate the other half of the sandwich I’d bought on the harrowing drive there the night before, and passed out.  The next morning, I immediately headed over to Ken’s Artisan Bakery, where the line was already out the door at 8:30am.

I wasn’t bothered by the existence of a line itself but rather people’s shocking behavior in the line, specifically the family behind me, the adult members of which said and did nothing when their 6 or 7ish year old son pressed his face and hands against the glass and then smeared himself like human butter across the entirety of the case, in the style of a Japanese novel, right to left, shoving past me and several other people to make certain he got it all, because nothing makes a pastry look more appetizing than through a film of oily secretions. This child then attempted to scale the structure because surely nothing is more loadbearing than the thin glass on the front of a pastry case, it’s probably the same kind of glass you can stand out on over the Grand Canyon, or that they use to contain the more venomous snakes. It was at this point the dad took decisive action, by picking up his coughing baby and hoisting her completely over the glass barrier, presumably because the glass was no longer serving its function as a clear window to the food beyond. A little known fact is that this glass performs a secondary sanitary role, acting as a physical barrier between the mouth  of the customer (and/or sack of crap strapped to its waist) and unpackaged food so as to reduce the risk of contamination. It cannot provide this function when you lift your baby over the glass to cough directly on the bread. Why not just cough into my open mouth, save us some time? 

I made my selections away from where the coughing action went down and ended up with a couple of marionberry croissants, a maple pecan croissant, and two canneles, since I knew I’d be home by afternoon to share with Jason. Of those items, the marionberry croissants were a standout, the fat juicy berries studding the flaky pastry and making it a luscious pie-like experience.  Plus anything sprinkled with pearl sugar earns bonus points in my book. 

A thick fog blanketed the road near Sauvie Island  that morning, and when I saw a sign advertising a pumpkin patch, I had to pull off to check out what a field of pumpkins looked like in that much atmosphere. 

I don’t know how this ATM works, I assume you tell the witches your pin number and then money shoots up into the cauldron. 

Everything looks super spooky in this much fog. Everything including this cow train, which felt like a Twilight Zone episode where you’d find out that these are the cars the cows, who are now in charge of society, use to cart humans to the abattoir.  Bovine University.

From Sauvie Island, I drove to St Helens, also known as Halloweentown. Halloweentown festivities were in full swing, and I had a blast getting my photo taken in the upside down photo studio, checking out all of the awesome vintage Halloween stuff at the 2CS vendor mall, and catching up with my friend Kat while I went ham buying fancy candles and chocolates at Woodland Cottage Handpicked

From St. Helens, I drove to Longview, the place where I’d once attempted to eat the largest cinnamon roll in the world (with help!). Longview has a series of squirrel bridges up throughout town  to help prevent car and squirrel related accidents. The first was called the Nutty Narrows and it was installed in 1963 for the cost of a thousand dollars.  Every time I have occasion to come through town, I find my way to at least one squirrel bridge to see if I can observe it in action and each time I have been disappointed by no-show squirrels. What I’d really love to see are some webcams monitoring the comings and goings of the bridge, which seems like it’d be even easier than booking Cherry Poppin’ Daddies for their annual SquirrelFest which is in fact a real thing and not something I just made up, where you can “Enjoy: no car/squirrel fatalities!” Thanks, will do!

I walked alongside Lake Sacajawea, enjoying the sunshine, petting dogs, and playing Pokemon until my cell phone battery got low enough that it threatened my ability to listen to Spotify the entire way home, as in their wisdom, Google’s decision to remove the aux jack and route sound through the USB port means that I cannot charge my phone and listen to music at the same time.  All these phone manufacturers arbitrarily removing the aux jack really jacked up my road trip flow, where I want to use battery-heavy GPS and listen to music or podcasts for hours at a time. I like to keep the phone plugged in to a charging source so that I don’t have to worry about the state of the battery and, in the event of some kind of incident, I know that I have a full charge regardless of my location. That’s a thing I can’t do with my Pixel 2.  I can listen to music in my car now if I have a usb-c to aux adaptor (they’re so easy to lose, I asked Santa for three, he brought me one, and I’ve lost it already) and an aux cable, but now that phone aux jacks are going away, they’re going away in newer models of cars, too. The last loaner I had from MINI, I couldn’t connect my phone and the car physically at all, and I don’t feel great about allowing a rental car access to my phone. 

You know what else isn’t a joke? Facing a road trip with no music. #bringbacktheauxjack

A Closer Look at 2018: River tubing in Leavenworth, pet pigs, and wigs and guns

Last summer I finally went river tubing for the first time. A friend rented a bus and a bunch of us went to Leavenworth Outdoor Center to rent tubes and spend a lazy afternoon on the water. It started off…a little sketchy when the driver of our shuttle from the outdoor center to the river almost immediately started making gross sex jokes, which turns out can tend to make a person feel a little vulnerable when they’re sitting in the back of a van wearing only a swimsuit.

Things improved when we made it to the Icicle creek and introduced asses to tubes. I was a little nervous about tubing at first as one of my other friends told me about a near-death experience she had river tubing, how fast it happened and how helpless she felt, and all it takes is one story to get my brain spinning. I was seriously analyzing my swimming skills in the days leading up to the event, and when we got to the creek I nearly laughed in relief when I saw we’d be floating in approximately six inches of water. No doubt, people can drown in that amount of water, but it wasn’t the mariana trench underneath my tube I’d been envisioning–as long as I could stand up, I’d be fine. We were instructed to each bring “a bucket of sunscreen” so I dutifully slathered up and successfully managed to avoid burns which means that (a) I am finally an adult and (b) being an adult means being vaguely ghostlike and greasy from head to toe. Being an adult doesn’t mean that I’m too mature to learn something new: for example, that day I learned that those insulated canteens’ greatest purpose is to hold frozen slushy beverages at the perfect temperature for hours. HOURS. The biggest downfall of any frozen drink is how fast it melts and becomes mediocre, and this completely changes the game. Aside from our mobile snack and drink stations (we rented an extra tube just to hold a cooler, being an adult also means that you’ve learned to keep an appropriate amount of snacks handy), we got to chat and relax and enjoy the scenery on the river, while actively paddling to avoid being clotheslined by tree branches, and at which our group was mostly successful. There are also a lot of people-watching opportunities on the river, with people riding down on pool floaties and air mattresses with their dogs and tinny speakers bumping The Weeknd. As the Icicle merged with the Wenatchee river, the water got wider, swifter, and deeper, and there were a lot more types of river craft to navigate around. The most challenging part of the day was finding a place to change before and after–there’s a restroom at the bar next door but they probably aren’t thrilled about a line of soggy people waiting for their two stalls. 

After dinner at Munchen Haus (their mustard selection and that vat of apple cider sauerkraut are top notch) we attempted to shop around town, and everything was either closed or about to close…at 6pm at the peak of summer tourist season. I’d say I don’t understand how any of these businesses remain in business, but during the four hours a day they deign to sell goods they’ve got people packed in their shoppes nose to armpit and they have three solid tourist seasons with summer turning to Oktoberfest turning to six month Christmas. They’re doing fine, and I’m just bitter that I couldn’t get any pear cinnamon caramel from Schocolat.  

On the way back home, we made our mandatory stop at The Alps, a two story candy shop (it’s on the outskirts of town, thereby escaping the designation “shoppe”). In addition to every candy you’ve ever heard of and several you haven’t, they sell preserves, hot sauces, unusual sodas, and horse figurines in case you needed something to look at while eating candy. As is usual for me, I go in and have a look around and don’t end up buying anything because it’s like my hedonism is on a switch and it can’t extend to the car ride home from an activity.  


My orchid rebloomed for the first time in spite of me not knowing how to trim them back. I have since trimmed them back and I feel pretty confident that I have, in fact, killed one of the stalks. But the other one is going strong!



One of my neighbors got a pig. Her name is Lily-June and I’ve seen her out on walks a couple of times but a sighting is exceedingly rare. I was out pulling weeds from the new grass when she walked by and so I finally got my opportunity to make a proper introduction. She found my new grass very tasty.


The Japanese garden at the arboretum. My behavior this day was atrocious and now I have this lovely photo to remind me that I can do better. 


I love the color shifts in these leaves.



Well? Someone listen to that stepladder and call the police!


My inlaws sent me the gorgeous bouquet above for my birthday and the gorgeous bouquet below was for our 5th wedding anniversary. 


I gave Africa her first-ever allover bath and her coat took on this amazing metallic sheen. Afterward, I took her into the front pasture to graze on the long rich grass there as a reward, and instead of putting her head down and going to town on food like I expected, she got the zoomies and thundered around. Showers make everyone feel good!


The trading card section proves as enticing to Jason today as it was in his childhood. The selection of cards at Subspace Comics and my love of period dramas has broadened the range of cards he buys, and for a while, he bought a Downton Abbey pack every time we went in to the store. He ended up getting a couple of special cards, one with a swatch of fabric that was used to create one of Cora’s dresses, and the other being this small Sir Richard Carlisle on brown cardstock. I wholeheartedly approve of how Jason displays it.


Virtually next door to Subspace Comics is Katsu Burger, another favorite of mine. They introduced a katsu dog and I tried their spicy garlic one, but I was nonplussed about this tube of crusty deep fried meat and elected not to finish it. I had a boss who was nuts for those taco time deep fried meat and bean paste burritos and I bet he would’ve loved this because it’s the same kind of odd crispy-squishy texture. I don’t see it on the menu anymore, and I’m not mourning its loss. I am kind of sad they stopped selling the super umami wagyu burger though.


We almost made more trips to Portland this year than into Seattle, and a few of them involved a stop at Powell’s books, where I spotted one of the great book titles of all time.

I know going after spelling is nit-picky but this is a bookstore. Also, I was just moving through this section on my way back to the mythology section and the misspelling caught my eye, I’m not getting divorced, separated, or interested in being a good enough parent.


I made it into the Screen Door Cafe three times this year and I still haven’t been able to stray from their fried chicken and biscuit sandwich. It’s so good that tears spring to my eyes on my first bite, every time. That tender, buttery biscuit! That perfectly fried peppery chicken smothered in even spicier, creamy sausage gravy! It’s decadent and always precisely what I need to power my day. The cheddar grits really benefit from a healthy dose of crystal hot sauce, and then I really benefit from an antacid tablet because being an adult also means not being able to eat this much spicy rich food without consequence anymore.


When driving somewhere on I-5, my favorite landmark south of Tacoma was the building with a giant banner proclaiming “$1 Chinese Food”. Even my sense of self-preservation is too strong to personally experience the kind of quality you get when you’re paying a dollar for your meal but I did enjoy reading the reviews of more foolish people. Whenever  I saw $1 Chinese Food, I knew I was either off on an adventure or I was almost home from one, and when that banner came down, I knew I was going to have to find a new landmark in order to preserve that feeling. Enter WGS Guns, or as Jason and I know it, “Wigs & Guns” because that’s what the sign looks like it says when you glance at it from the road. WIGS AND GUNS! Sounds like an event I once planned.

A closer look at 2018: the Frye, land shopping, tiny house, hairless kittens, and my garden

My friend Felix maintains a blog that he has updated daily since 2002. I love that he can drill down into any day of any year of the last seventeen years of his life. I can only assume that now that he has this incredible timeline resource, he will never need an in-depth alibi to prove he was falsely accused of murder, because it’s something he is completely, utterly prepared for. Maybe too prepared.

I can’t really do that with my blog. I used to post a lot more frequently when I was on LJ, but when I moved to my own domain, the sort of big-emotion confessional dear diary type thing I was publishing just felt less and less appropriate. And then for a few years work-wise I moved into a more visible place on the internet and talking about my daily life felt even less appropriate, and in that time period everyone got a lot more interconnected online, so I narrowed my focus to trips and primarily out of town trips so I didn’t have to deal with the ethical conundrum of publishing photos of my friends’ faces along with their real names and, like, photos of their homes and quotes from conversations they assumed were private. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would encourage people to continue to be my friend. 

But as I was going through the photos I took in 2018, I realized there was so much that happened that I didn’t want to just disappear into the mental archives. I was going to post them all in a megapost, but I took all these photos and am therefore the most interested in them, and even I couldn’t scroll all the way down the page without feeling like I wanted to die. So instead, I’m divvying it up into several reasonable posts. Because as it turns out, a year is a long time.

 

Jason, Tristan and I went to the Frye Art Museum and ogled some art last January. The fabric in this painting is so beautifully rendered it blows my mind. 

The texture. THE TEXTURE. Look at that filmy tulle, that wrinkled satin, all with proper weight and drape.  Those frothy feathers in her hat make me want to light my art supplies on fire.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the subjects, I’d like to postulate that as the years passed and their marriage cooled, the gap between the portraits grew ever wider, eventually accommodating a third portrait featuring nothing but the table’s spare leaf and the family cat. I’ll further assume that one is in the hands of a private collector, and I’ve taken the liberty of recreating it here:

 

Cat photo by Nick Savchenko

 

I felt like both of these paintings are prime candidates for really good jokes but so far all I’ve been able to come up with are mediocre jokes.

 


 

Earlier in the year, I got on a real tear about looking at purchasing a larger property, spurred on by the arrival of the annual Puget Sound Special Olympics dream house raffle. For those of you outside of their mailing area, this raffle combines the heady, wholesome feel goodliness of giving to charity with the loin-rumpling allure of gambling and for your however-many-hundred dollar ticket, you could win page after glossy page of prizes. Dream vacations, luxury sedans, electronics…the grand prize was a waterfront mansion in a very ritzy part of Kirkland with a pool, hot tub, and a dock, OR you could choose to take four million dollars in cash instead. I did a little computer chair sleuthing and was able to determine exactly which home it was through satellite imagery because there’s only so much lakefront property in Kirkland with a pool  (because even the rich think an outdoor pool in the pacific northwest is an extravagance), and the shape of the pool itself is unique. Address in hand, I was able to get a better look inside from a time it had previously been on the market and literally none of that matters because if I won, I was obviously going to take the four million dollars. Obviously. It doesn’t matter if I liked or didn’t like the countertops, or if it seemed like the neighbors could see if I was in the hot tub, or if it ever gets a weird smell because it’s on the lake, or if I have to do some real self-reflection about whether I’m a living-in-a-mansion-on-the-waterfront kind of person, no. None of it matters. If I won, I would be in such a rush to take the money that when they called to let me know I won the grand prize, I would have already been there, taken the check, and all they’d hear is a ghost on the wind saying “I choooooseee the moooneeyyy” by the time they finished saying the word “prize”. On the phone. And then they’d hear my tires squealing in my rush to get to my financial institution to get it in my account before someone can strongarm me into taking the house because I choose the money

I started thinking about what I would buy with four million dollars (approximately 2 million dollars post taxes, the government would not want anyone’s loins getting too rumpled), and the conclusion that I came to was that I would buy land somewhere, a good horse property, and build a home, a barn, and a gothic cathedral of an arena. And then I realized you don’t need four million dollars to do that (except that last bit), so Jason and I started looking at properties. This place in North Bend wasn’t suitable for what we’d have to do to afford it but whoever ends up with that view is a lucky, lucky person. And they definitely shouldn’t just dump their horse crap in the stream like the owner at the time was doing because come on.

After checking out this place, we stayed at a nearby tiny house for the weekend to see what it was like and if we found the lifestyle suitable. The answer? Hard maybe. I could do it for a while (say, if we were traveling in it or visiting our retreat in it or living in it while we were building a new non-tiny home on our retreat) but I think the lack of personal space would be challenging for me and negotiating with a ladder for any middle of the night business isn’t something I’d be willing to do long-term. I also spent half of the first night overheated* and nervous about opening a window because what if a bear just happens to wander by and catch the scent of hot, salty human meat laying on a poorly defended slab, presumed easily reachable by bears? What I am saying is, I am the consummate outdoorsperson, precisely the sort of person who has business buying a parcel of land adjacent to wilderness. 

*And if I was that hot in the loft in February, how damn hot is it going to be up there in August?


My urgency with this idea has cooled, so we’re no longer spending one day per weekend at an open house or two, but I still open my realtor’s emails and casually browse plots of land. It could be such a good way to establish a friend-based community of slightly-larger-than-tiny homes and/or a way to be with my own horse on my own property that I can’t let the idea go. 


 

This is Angus, who was born into a litter of hairless kittens right around the time Poppy found her new home with my farrier. Angus had lots of curly red hair for a hairless kitten and he was very curious and cute. 

 


Two years ago, I planted a boatload of tulips in a patch of my landscaping. They came up great, and I was emboldened to plant more last year, with two colors interspersed in an organic, flowing shape in front of my house. This looked spectacular and so this year I bought and planted two hundred more bulbs including hyacinths and some others to fill in some other areas of the front yard and really make it scream SPRING. All the green moss on the roof would’ve coordinated nicely but sometimes glorious hobbitiness has to be sacrificed for the greater good of not needing to buy a new roof.

Last year at Halloween, my friends Daniel and Rebecca thoughtfully gave me some bulbs for dark purple/black tulips and their color was absolutely luscious and a true pleasure to behold on my patio, and I hope they come back.


This was, without a doubt, the most spesscell sandwich I had the entire year. Maybe in my life.

 


I haven’t traditionally grown the same things in my garden every year. For a while, I was focused on rare seeds and unusual varietals for unique tastes, then I tried to see how much sustenance I could grow in this relatively limited space. Both of these have had their successes and failures– the honeyberry bushes are just now starting to mature and make an amount of berries I can harvest and cook with and I’m excited to be able to do more experimentation with the flavor this summer. For failures, the moon and stars melons looked beautiful but it doesn’t get hot or sunny enough here to ripen them, I got busy and never ended up making marshmallows with the marshmallow root, and I grew and ate so much zucchini that I grew myself a zucchini intolerance and I’m pretty salty about it. Because of said saltiness, in 2018 I decided to grow only for beauty and the joy of flowers, and that’s part of how I ended up with a raised bed full of dahlias. The other part is because I went plant shopping with Emily at both Molbak’s and Flower World, and we both enable one another to buy far too many plants, which is definitely how I ended up with a peony plant so large it barely fit on Flower Worlds’ largest cart.

Until that peony bloomed, I feared every day that it wouldn’t, as I’ve had that happen with peonies I’ve attempted to grow previously due to lack of sunlight where I’d planted them. I didn’t even know what color this plant’s blooms would be and so I hovered over the buds every time I had occasion to be out in that part of the yard. The gentle release as the bloom sighed open mimicked my relief at having found a suitable part of the yard for them. Their creamy white petals with a splash of scarlet fringing toward the center were exquisite, as was their fragrance. 

I really got a lot of pleasure out of gardening this year. The dahlias kept such a heavy bloom that I was able to pick mini bouquets to brighten up various nooks of the house all summer and even into fall. I could’ve picked larger bouquets but I liked to be out among these huge clumps of flowers out on the beds and observe the ecosystem I’d created and the inhabitants who moved in, including a garter snake we named Hermes and, later in the year, some of Hermes’ children.


 

A surprise to my garden this year was this borage plant, the seeds of which had been part of an engagement party “grow your own tea” kit gift from my friend Beth, whose privacy I’ve probably egregiously violated more than anyone on my blog by reminiscing about all of the things we got up to during that first tumultuous year we knew one another and became very close friends, living abroad in Taipei. I planted them after she gave them to me, and they grew vigorously that first year, and grew back even more vigorously the second year, popping up from cracks in the cement and in entirely new planters. Last year there were none, so my imagine my surprise to see this spiky stalk emerging from the mint pot this year. The year that Beth died.

I feel a gutteral howl inside me whenever I confront the thought. At the loss, at the rage that comes in to fill the void. My friend Beth is dead. I’m so hot with anger and despair. I’m angry at the injustice that someone as good as Beth is gone, that surely if there were some…force guiding the lives of humanity they could find some way to spare the life of the woman who wore herself ragged caring for the sick and dying, who spent her life concerned with the needs of those less fortunate than herself. And oh, but I’m angry with Beth, too, for pushing everyone away, for being too proud to let anyone care for her, at her reticence to get care lest her coworkers discover she’s sick, for insisting she was fine and that no one pay her any mind while she was slipping away. Because damn it, she fooled me. I never thought she wouldn’t pull through, reasoning that I knew she was sick but if she was really sick she wouldn’t keep pushing me away and now she’s gone and here I am, knowing full well that I did not do anything to help my friend Beth before she died. I have to live with that.

I cried when the borage appeared.

 

Breadfarm in Edison, WA

Last July, I found myself reading a longform article by Joe Bernstein on Buzzfeed about a shocking regional event that occurred on Samish Island in July of 2017.  At the bottom of the article, Bernstein wrote, “I left the jail and drove northwest into the Skagit Valley, past potato farms and through a tiny town known for its artisanal graham crackers. ” 

Artisanal what now?! In my backyard? Article finished, I turned my attention to the pursuit of the identity of this mystery boulangerie, suddenly acting like a master detective who specializes in the geolocation of baked goods, and in no time found my way to Molly Wizenberg’s Saveur article about the trip-worthy graham crackers in Edison, Washington, which “smelled like browned butter and cinnamon and comfort. ” Edison! 💡 The only thing left for this detective to do to seal the case closed was slap a graham cracker in my mouth, and that involved a pleasant drive on gently winding roads through green farmlands, observing hawks dotting the telephone lines, scanning the grounds below for prey. 

Edison, much like Madrid, New Mexico, is a town that has had many identities and has most recently been taken over by an influx of hippies who rebuilt the community in their image. There are more restaurants with good food than you’d think a town of just over 100 people could support. And this is good food, the kind of food that that I wouldn’t feel guilty describing to Gwyneth Paltrow as “whole food” even though I’m talking about fried local oysters, pastries rich with butter, and fresh goat cheese eaten by the spoonful. As I approach Edison on West Bow Hill road, a small white sign on the right reads “Welcome to Edison, the kindness town”. It is immediately charming.

Breadfarm’s graham crackers are everything Wizenberg said they were. I had never eaten a non commercially produced graham cracker before, and had also never really given a thought to the idea that they were something someone could bake and were something people did bake before everyone decided that this sort of cardboardy tasteless substitute in a blue box were graham crackers, period. The graham crackers at Breadfarm were a revelation, crisp to the tooth but with a melting texture on the tongue, rich and warm with a depth of flavor. I paired them with some homemade marshmallows as part of a s’mores bar at my Labor Day weekend barbeque, and it ruined me for traditional backyard s’mores.  Pro tip: homemade marshmallows toast gorgeously with a kitchen torch, I’m talking deeply caramelized on all sides perfection

Graham crackers aren’t the only noteworthy item at Breadfarm–over the course of our visits, Jason and I have eaten our way through most everything in the shop save their dog biscuits. Their squat round shortbread cookies sing with a cup of tea, all of the seasonal pastries (pear galettes, pumpkin cream danishes, orange currant brioche) have been well-balanced, flavorful and never too sweet, and their croissant and pain au chocolat rival any that I had in France: flaky, buttery, and tender. Their decadent kouign-amann are only available for those brave enough to wait to go until afternoon, which means I’ve generally missed them. Breadfarm’s pastries are so good that I would rather take the mini road trip to Edison than settle for the pastry shop down the road that used to be my favorite, and that’s saying something, because Jason and I used to be at that one down the street so often we knew all the employees and they all knew us. Now, about once a month, we hop in the car, fire up a podcast, and take the scenic route to Edison. This time, I’m planning on branching out and dining at the Old Edison Inn. If I get their Bow Burger, made with local beef and cheese, I’d still be getting a Breadfarm fix: they bake the buns.

A visit to Funko Pop Headquarters in Everett, WA

Wetmore Theatre Plaza

The only reason this photo is here is because I never want to forget “Duke of Churl”.

It’s appropriate that Funko’s logo contains a crown as they are the undisputed kings of the niche pop culture casual collector’s market (say that five times fast!). I see legions of their creepy blank dead eyes watching me from a surprisingly wide variety of retailers–not just comic shops and video game stores but also museum gift shops and the occasional grocery store (?!). They’re everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous that somehow even I have one and you know how I feel about them because I just called them creepy two sentences ago! And it really makes sense–they’ve got a product that taps into nostalgia and is easy to mass produce at a price point that people don’t think twice about. They’re like…licensed beanie babies, except there’s thousands of designs from nearly every tv, movie, and game that ever had its moment in the pop culture lexicon. There’s even a Princess Diana pop figure that you can add to your collection

Funko’s brand new world headquarters opened up in Everett in August 2017. Given their massive popularity and its relative proximity to my home,  and furthermore knowing I’ve escorted out of town visitors to the space needle approximately 1,354 times (it’s a very rough estimate but it feels right), I knew that I never needed to self-motivate toward the Funko headquarters but that someday I’d find myself there all the same. And sure enough, less than a year after opening, I found myself inside Funko’s world. 

I do have to say that world is very appealing: candy-colored and larger than life, everything for sale in a setting that feels like its natural environment. Because the company’s most well known products are all housed in virtually identical packaging, these larger setpieces are vital to create an atmosphere of play rather than of a warehouse. It’s also in these setpieces that Funko feels less calculated, less (in their own words) focused on “rapid growth in the licensed gift and novelty world” and more like a really big fan of that thing that you love–and not just a fan of media but a fan of fandom, a meta-fandom, if you will, one that celebrates a person’s ability to fork out ten bucks every time they see a slightly different piece of plastic that reminds them of something better they like.  Whew, that might be a speed record for sliding back into cynicism!

…because I know somewhere you can get a lot of it. Especially if you need an unbent wookiee.

This didn’t deserve its own post: Texas

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about Texas.

There’s a donut shop in Round Rock that’ll sell you a donut the size of Texas for just under eight bucks. This behemoth, weighing in at around two pounds, is the equivalent of twelve regular donuts, and it absolutely dwarfs the largest donut I’d had prior, at Universal Studios. I may, in fact, never eat a larger donut in my life…but one can hope. Round Rock Donuts sells ’em glazed, chocolate frosted, and for the indecisive like myself, a split donut. Both sides had their charms, but ultimately I preferred the glazed half as the chocolate frosting can overwhelm the flavor of the donut itself, and it’s a donut worth tasting, tinted yellow from all the golden yolks of the farm-fresh eggs they use in their yeasted raised dough recipe. But y’know, maybe share it with a friend. I was particularly delighted to know that the donut could support its own weight when being picked up to do a size comparison selfie with, say, one’s own head.

I was so excited to go to Chicken Shit Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon, which they do every Sunday between 4 and 8pm, in four rounds. There’s a live band, and an array of picnic tables around a central tent, providing shade and protection for a large chicken wire cage, lined with a board with 54 numbered spaces and littered with feed to encourage movement(s). The band announced a table number, and it was from that table that the first round of tickets were sold. Excuse me, “exchanged for a donation”. Tickets are sold exchanged first to kids under 13, then adults over 92 (with ID), and then they’re exchanged with whoever hustled over to the line fast enough, one per person. I saw a man straight vault over a table and determined that the only way for me to win was not to participate. When the chicken finally came out, people crowded around the cage six deep, shouting at the chicken and cheering. Between them and the whole camera crew in there, I could not see anything and I didn’t feel like elbowing a bunch of people to try and see a chicken take a shit, so I left.

I wandered by this place while waiting to get into my movie at the nearby Alamo Drafthouse. Or so I thought. You see, the nearby Alamo Drafthouse, on S Lamar, was busy with SXSW screenings, and the ticket I had purchased was actually for a movie showing at an Alamo Drafthouse in Fort Worth, which is also on S Lamar, just a mere three and a half hour drive away. 

In general, I really really liked Alamo Drafthouse and I’m pretty devastated that there aren’t any locations nearby. The food is delicious, the service is unobtrusive, and they’re serious about ensuring your good experience which includes none of the ubiquitous modern commercial advertising before the start of the movie, choosing instead to take you on a nostalgic tour through tv clips, movie clips, and old timey cartoons and ads for toys and candy, curated from what must be an extensive collection by someone who has love for media. And I cannot confirm this, but I think they may have invented the endless popcorn bowl, because I happily munched on herbed parmesan popcorn all throughout Annihilation and when the movie ended, I still had 70% of it left. Some of the volume left may have had to do with my drive to eat as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the other moviegoers with my excessive crunching. 

The Jackalope was…a bar. With a Jackalope. That I tragically had no one to take my photo riding.

Looking for dinner one night, neither Jason nor I could resist the allure of “Jason’s Deli” for obvious reasons. It was, sad to say, kind of mediocre. My baked potato was almost unfathomably big–it was like they crossed a potato with a loaf of bread and planted it in radioactive soil. But it was bland and the chili was unpleasantly sweet and I was glad I’d paid the extra whatever to have access to the salad bar.

We took a ferry from Galveston to Crystal Beach and regretted it almost immediately. Jason got some freezer burned ice cream, I used the bathroom, we laughed at the “BUY SHRIMP I NEED MONEY” sign, I witnessed a wholly brown wave crash onto the “crystal” trash-littered beach and turned around and headed back to the ferry. 

I wrote one word in my travel notebook for the Houston Space Center: “Yeesh.”  It’s almost like a chaotic evil engineer designed it so that the high pitched shrieks of children reverberate endlessly. 

I like that this building looks like a cockatoo.

Umlach Sculpture Garden

I saw lots of couples taking engagement and wedding photos in Mayfield park. It’s also a lovely place for a stroll or to sit and read a book, punctuated with the haunting, mournful screams of the two dozen peacocks and hens who have the run of the place.

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Colorado River

And that’s it for Texas! Anything I didn’t talk about really didn’t deserve its own post.

Spotted on the Roadside Around Austin, TX

Giant couch potatoes spotted on N Interstate 35 Frontage Road in Austin, TX

World’s Largest Cowboy Boots (check out that ostrich skin, time for some new boot goofin’) spotted on I-410 access road in San Antonio

Giant fork spotted in front of Hyde Park Bar & Grill on Duvall St in Austin (The object being forked changes!)

Light Bulb Shop spotted on Burnet Rd in Austin (now permanently closed)

Nessy spotted on Simond Ave in Austin, TX

 

Of course someone would vandalize a sculpture meant to recognize the magnificence of all humanity. Of course they would.

 

Roadside America had Your Essential Magnificence listed as a “your face here” photo op, and there are indeed small cutouts where one could conceivably put one’s face, but it seems obvious to me that this sculpture is intended to be a throne for your magnificent ass, with roughened steps to ascend and a golden halo around your head instead of a dark hole where you could barely be seen.  Your Essential Magnificence spotted on Bartlett St in Austin, TX 

Gordough’s Big Fat Donuts in Austin, TX

Gordough’s is a public house, a food truck, an experience.  …An experience I had three times in two weeks, because DAMN. The first time, I went solo to the public house and ordered a Popeye’s Roids: spinach salad with grilled chicken, honey balsamic vinaigrette, blue cheese crumbles, red grapes, roasted red peppers,  walnuts, and the star of the dish, the savory garlic donut that acted as the crouton. This glorious torus, this crispy-on-the-bottom still hot perfectly seasoned wonder of a vampire-repelling donut is the only thing about that salad that mattered.  The rest of the salad was mediocre and that’s being kind–the roasted red peppers were cold, slick, and obviously from a jar and they screwed up the entire flavor profile by fighting with every other ingredient. But that garlic donut, man. The bottom was crisp in a way that suggested it had been fried in garlic butter, and it tasted like the best garlic bread in the world. It is divine. I want THAT garlic donut with everything, especially if I can use it to mop up some kind of pasta sauce. That garlic donut is the best donut I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve blogged about donuts a lot (and I’m sure there’d be more results in that link if I was consistent with my spelling of doughnut), and will continue to blog about donuts in the future, because hard-hitting donut journalism is one of my niches, and also I just really fucking like donuts. And THIS donut is the best of the best. I’m so far behind on writing about the stuff I’ve done this year that there are donuts that I’m going to blog about in the near future, and you should know that none of them are as good as this garlic donut. 

That donut is why I went back to the public house after Jason joined me on the trip. He ordered a Dirty South: chicken fried steak, potato pancake, white gravy and a spicy cranberry jam served open face atop a piping hot donut, and for dessert, a Funky Monkey donut with cream cheese icing, grilled bananas, and brown sugar, and he really enjoyed both, despite traditionally not being a fan of the cranberry. I elected to try a donut sandwich this time, going for the Dirty Bird (I guess in addition to donuts, the theme of this visit was ‘dirty’): lemon pepper chicken with spinach, pesto, mozz, and roasted red peppers. For dessert, the Squealing Pig, with cream cheese icing, bacon, strawberry jalapeño jelly and candied jalapeños. My Dirty Bird was decent, but it didn’t really have the magic of that first garlic donut, and having had this one, I don’t think I’m down with the donut-as-a-bun experience in general. In fact, nothing I had at Gordough’s since came anywhere close to rivaling that first, perfect donut. 

It’s probably because with the exception of that salad, everything at Gordough’s is a LOT, seemingly under the guiding principle of “if some is good, more is better”. Like one donut? Have two as the bun for your sandwich! Enjoy the flavor of brown sugar? Have an entire handful on top of a thickly frosted donut! This is especially evident with the dessert donuts, even moreso with the donut hole dish I ordered at the food truck, the cherry bomb. These were served swimming in so much goo that they crossed the line from decadent to disgusting. Nothing else was disgusting–I do want to emphasize that the food at Gordough’s in general is very good, it’s just extremely decadent, even if it was being split among several people. It’s just a shame, because they have a great donut, a REALLY great donut, and in most instances you can’t even tell how great the donut is because of all the crap on top of it. And I’m getting to a point in my life where I don’t want to leave a restaurant feeling bad or throw away 90% of what I ordered because I know that eating any more of it will make me sick. The waste sickens me.

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop going to restaurants like Gordough’s entirely–as previously mentioned, I just really fucking like donuts, and I’m coming to find that I also enjoy writing about food in more than a perfunctory “nom or vom” way.  I don’t know how all of this is going to affect where I go and how I eat and how I’ll write about it–who knows, maybe this change has been coming on so gradually all along that I’m the only one to whom it comes as a shock.