Category Washington

An Introduction to Mounted Archery

Even before I bought Navani, I knew that I wanted to get into playing mounted games, and having had some practice at and aptitude for archery, it felt like an ideal place to start. I signed up for a two day intensive clinic with Heart Horse Industries in southern Washington, and resolved to become a good enough rider by the time it rolled around. 

June came so, so fast. In the intervening 8 month period between signing up for the clinic and driving to the clinic, I had come to learn that owning a horse and riding your horse are two distinct hobbies. I also fell off Navani in late December (my first fall since returning to riding) which did a number on my body and my confidence. It was hard to practice riding when I felt anxious about falling and hurting myself again and being anxious on the back of a horse is essentially asking to fall or be tossed off, as they are a half ton of empathetic nerve endings waiting to fire. A horse takes its cues from its rider, and if you’re afraid, they will also be afraid, and if they’re afraid, you’re going to have a bad ride which isn’t going to help your confidence any. It’s a feedback loop of fear and inadequacy*. So I’ve had to do a lot of mental and emotional work since then to deal with my anxiety and build my bond with Navani to help me get my confidence back. Unfortunately, that meant that I hadn’t made nearly as much riding progress as I had anticipated, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t even be allowed to take part in the riding portion of the clinic when my inexperience came to light. As there was nothing I could do about that, I determined my best course of action was to go in as confident as possible, and to that end, I borrowed the mare on which I’d learned to ride and rode her easy trot hands-free up and down the arena, turning my torso left and right and pantomiming drawing a bow. It must have helped, because I had a couple of good rides on Navani after that, and managed to stay aboard when she was startled on our most recent ride by that noted danger to horses and public menace, a butterfly.

It’s a three hour drive from my neighborhood to Brush Prairie, give or take, and so I elected to spend the weekend in nearby Vancouver at an Airbnb in the Hough neighborhood in order to be fresh for class and fresh for the drive both ways. The drive from my accommodations to the clinic wound past all manner of homes–mansions with great lawns situated across the road from run down trailer parks surrounded by debris. Several homes in a row had signs advertising the potency of their CBD oil (“with 0% THC!”), one behind a chainlink fence with a pointy Doberman stalking the yard. Almost everywhere had horses grazing nearby.

Our group of learners was small: four women. We took some time to discuss our riding and archery backgrounds and how we came to be interested in this fusion of two highly specialized sports, and it all essentially boiled down to wanting to be horseback riding warrior women, to claim power and space for ourselves. “I’m just tired of women being diminished,” said the woman seated next to me, and that is how I came to know and admire Kim, because I feel very inch of that sentiment. My other classmates were Kristi and Magalyn, two fierce women whom I also came to admire over the course of the weekend.

Introductions made, we were each issued a hip quiver, the side effects of which include at least 50% additional swagger in one’s step, and a heightened sense of both competence and coolness. We were introduced to the principles of loading, drawing, pulling, and releasing on the bows, and I learned that the technique is very different from the recurve three-finger archery I learned at Next Step Archery. In mounted archery, the arrow goes to the outside of the bow, you twist your draw arm to stabilize the arrow, you thumb release, and the arrow rides over the thumb of the bow hand. I also learned firsthand that you can crack your arm with the bow string if you hyper-extend the elbow in either form of the discipline. 

After we learned the basics, we started playing shooting games, like walking at a consistent pace on a track around a beam on the ground, loading your arrows without looking at them (because your eyes should always be seeking targets), and shooting at the targets as you walk by. We also practiced shooting at moving targets (rounds of duct-taped sound board rolled across the arena). After we broke for lunch, it was time to mount up. Magalyn and Kristi rode Ronan and Columbia, both Lipizzaners, and Kim and I rode Tuffy and Tommy, both American Quarter Horses. Our position in the lineup also reflects our horse’s status within the herd: nobody likes Tommy. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, it’s because Tommy is kind of an old curmudgeonly jerk, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. When we would wait in lineups, Tommy would constantly be trying to fidget with Tuffy, rubbing his face on Tuffy’s hindquarters, wanting to just groom and be in Tuffy’s space. On our way into the outdoor track, Tommy tried to take a bite out of Columbia’s butt, and on the second day when Ronan was watching from the sidelines, he made it clear that he would love nothing more than to take a chunk out of Tommy. Tommy was also the only horse who necessitated the wearing and use of spurs, something I have never worn or done before. With those spurs jingling on the back of my boots and the hip quiver combined, my swagger became almost unbearable, because every time I walked, I felt like I was off for a showdown at the O.K. corral. 

Tommy knew I was bluffing, however. He could feel my reticence to use those spurs and took full advantage of it, attempting to cut through the track and crack my knee into walls and other objects and this continued until I finally did bump him with the spurs on the second day, because I had tried and tried and tried to ask him with a strong leg and no spur and treat him like a fragile egg and he told me again and again that he wouldn’t unless I got more assertive.

I also had some struggles with the saddle on the first day–the stirrups had been adjusted as short as they could go, and still my left foot kept sliding out which makes it difficult to impossible to be in the 2-point position, where you’re standing in the stirrups, because with one foot out, it’s more of a wobbly 1-point-I’m-gonna-fall-off-this-horse-in-front-of-everyone-and-either-I’ll-die-or-I’ll-wish-I-had position. I’m sure it was also challenging for me because I’ve not yet learned to post the trot, which is the thing that I think marks me most as a very beginner rider. Posting involves rising from a seated position into a 2-point and settling back down in time with the horse’s gait to compensate for the bounciness of the trot. Going from not having that piece of the puzzle at all to having to learn to do it in front of an audience while clapping my hands overhead and/or juggling a heavy ball hand to hand, combined with my need to be immediately good at something despite never having done it before was almost too much for me. It was one of those times where I manufactured pressure for myself, and that self-generated pressure was making it harder for me to be successful. Another negative feedback loop. Thankfully I recognized it and self-corrected. 

At the end of day one, I was exhausted from four hours of drawing a 25lb bow and three hours of riding with strong leg cues while also drawing a 25lb bow. Exhausted. It was 5pm, and I drove back to my Airbnb, walked to the nearby Vancouver Pizza Co where I guzzled ice water on their patio and devoured half of a calzone stuffed with mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage, goat cheese, and cashews, served with a creamy garlic sauce, and I maintain that this meal had just barely enough fat and protein in it to keep me alive as all I’d eaten that day was a croissant. The other half of the calzone I saved for my lunch on day two, and I decided that a successful day of riding a horse I didn’t know hands-free while juggling a ball at a trot deserved some ice cream, so I walked down the street to Ice Cream Renaissance. It was a hot day and they were jammin’. I ordered a scoop of lemon raspberry cheesecake in a waffle cone and brought it outside to enjoy, but ultimately ended up discarding it after two bites, the second bite to confirm that it was oddly gritty-icy-crumbly and not worth the effort it would take to eat it. That is how tired I was. After binning the ice cream, I walked back to my Airbnb, took a cool shower, and immediately went to bed. 

I was surprisingly not sore when I awoke the following morning. Not very sore, anyway. Aside from the sunburn I’d gotten and the hand-sized bruise blooming on my forearm, I mean. 

We started off the morning again with stretches and a series of archery games and exercises, my favorites being launching arrows 50 meters downfield at a Hungarian target which required you to use every inch of draw, and a supremely fun game called “Battle Bows” wherein two people stand inside of a hula hoop across from one another at a distance, you’re armed with arrows with big soft foam heads, and you shoot at one another’s knees.  You can’t leave the hoop but you are otherwise allowed to dodge. If you strike your opponent, you win. If they catch your arrow out of the air, you lose. If they touch the arrow but fail to catch it, you win. Any arrow that lands within reach of the hoop can be reused. This game ramps up your adrenaline in a major way and really forces you to keep your eyes on target–you can’t risk looking at your arrow to nock it, because that lapse in attention could make you an easier target for your opponent. I struck two hits on Kim and managed to escape Battle Bows unscathed…this time.

Magalyn departed at lunch to attend a Portland Thorns FC game, and the rest of us were put into a friendly competition with one another. Of course, all it takes is the word “competition” for me to get in my head and start biffing things, and the teacher, Lisa, came over and spoke with us about her technique of dealing with pressure by treating it as a wave: something that can pass over you and beyond instead of carrying you away. Breathe, allow it to pass, and move on. She also encouraged me to engage with more intensity, ferocity, aggression and that’s an entirely different way of being for me but it feels freeing. We had several rounds of competitive shooting on the ground, and then we mounted up. As Magalyn was gone, I got to use her saddle instead, and found it much easier to sit properly and keep my feet seated in the stirrups.

We did a couple of laps around the outdoor track shooting at a walk, then we practiced shooting at the trot (a first for everyone), and finally we had a few rounds of free-for-all shooting at myriad targets including styrofoam heads and a half buried small green target worth fifty points. You could shoot at any target you liked, but the points only counted if you were trotting. You could enter the track with your first arrow loaded, and it was wise to do so as that fifty pointer was on the first stretch and you don’t want to be fumbling with an arrow instead of drawing on it. Immediately after the entrance was a larger yellow twenty-five pointer, and I committed to shooting at them both on every lap. This meant that the arrow I had loaded upon entering the track was dedicated to the twenty five point target, and I had about a third of the track to draw, load, aim, and fire on the fifty pointer, at a trot. I didn’t hit either one of them on any of my attempts, but my misses were close, and hearing Lisa compliment my gutsiness for going for those targets was all the reward I needed. Plus I nailed a couple of bullseyes off of the back of a moving horse when just a day earlier I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of riding.  Kristi brought home the championship golden arrow keychain, and I brought home a confidence boost to end all confidence boosts.


 

 

 

*Feedback Loop of Fear and Inadequacy would make an excellent title for my memoirs.

A closer look at 2018: ren faire, archery class, Director’s Cut


I spent a summer afternoon at the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire and once again, fully enjoyed myself. I finally have enough body confidence to not care if my ass looks wide if I drape it with a period-inaccurate but very festive jingly coin bellydancer’s sash, so I jingled my way around the shoppes and bought myself a very nice Mongolian horse archery bow which I have yet to really use because I don’t have the right kind of glove to keep my hand from being cut by the fletches (there’s no arrow rest on a Mongolian bow, or any horse bow to the best of my knowledge). I could just buy a glove but I’ve been wanting to get into leatherworking, and the possibility that I could make my own at some point in the future exactly how I want it has prevented me from buying a glove which means the bow has sat. Just buy the damn glove, Melissa. Just buy the glove.


I signed up for a six week introductory archery course at Next Step Archery and half-filled the twelve person class with friends. I was glad to finally get some in-depth instruction as I’d just been shooting from instinct up until that point. My skills really leveled up over the course of class, and it was so much fun to learn with friends. The six weeks flew by. If I had signed up for the next course, I could have stayed with many of the same people, but timing wasn’t good with my France trip and each subsequent class is shooting with a more complex bow with more gadgets and balances and finer adjustments, and the goal I’m working toward is horse archery with a bow with…none of those things. I’m signed up for a two day horse archery clinic in southwestern Washington in June, so I’ve got between now and then to get good enough at riding to be comfortable hands-free at a trot. I’m thinking I’d like to take a private lesson or two with this bow in order to be more comfortable without the rest, which will also necessitate buying the damn glove already.

When I shot from this distance…

…this is what my target looked like.



My archery school was right near Arashi Ramen (perfect dinner for a chilly evening) which is next door to 99 Ranch Market which means I found myself browsing though specialty Asian groceries more often than usual. I had a brief, intense love of garlic cracker nuts (it’s a nut! encased in a shell of cracker!) but I must’ve eaten them too often because just the thought of their taste makes me feel a little nauseated. Because why enjoy something every once in a while when you can have a whole bunch of it at once and ruin it for yourself for life? I’m operating on broken logic.

On one trip to 99 Ranch market after lunch at Arashi with Erika (the same trip where she introduced me to cracker nuts!), I bought this tea, and we discussed that 3:15 is about the perfect time in the afternoon for a little caffeinated pick-me-up. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling a little snoozy from lunch and decided to try out my new 3:15pm coffee milk tea to see if would indeed perk me up and I looked up from the box to find it was precisely 3:15pm. The tea was…not good.

I know for a fact this package says oat noodles. But literally every time I see it, I think it says “cat noodles” and I’m left to wonder what kind of cat demands freshly-cooked noodles. One with fiber issues, I guess.


And here I thought it was a painful reminder to use protection.


I’ve been to Casa Que Pasa a bunch and never blogged about it. It’s this dive in Bellingham that serves as a community art gallery, with many pieces for sale. I go there for their potato burrito, but the best version of it is the deep fried fame: the potato burrito deep fried like a chimichanga, especially when I pony up for added carne asada (for flavor and texture variation, it’s important in a burrito this large!) or carnitas (they’re triple cooked for a crispy exterior and a meltingly soft interior) and get them to slather it with extra potato sauce, because whatever is in it, it’s creamy-spicy-tangy and gives potatoes a reason to strive.



I was able to make it to the SAFE show at Donida this summer to see my friend Alex compete in some rail classes with his horse, Jesse. Would you believe this horse is a senior citizen? He is RIPPED. They took third in their last class of the day!

I’m thinking about going to a show or two with Navani this summer, but I also don’t know how well I’m going to do losing to a six year old.


My husband is the handsomest. 


Leg courtesy Christopher Bragg

I realized at the end of the summer that I’d bought a smoker and hadn’t had a single purposeful gathering of peoples for the consumption of smoked meats. I put together a bbq party for Labor Day weekend, and the plan was to culminate with watching the movie I’d helped crowdfund but had never seen/just received in the mail, Director’s Cut, ideally on a screen in the yard. As it turns out, Labor Day weekend is a popular weekend for outdoor screen rentals and none were available. I briefly pondered buying an outdoor screen setup so that my vision could continue unhindered but now that I’ve seen the movie I can say it was absolutely positively 100% for the best that this was not playing on a screen in my yard where my neighbors could see and/or hear. Its number of strip club scenes rivals or exceeds that of Showgirls and I’d like to remind you that in that movie, the main character was a stripper.

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.

A visit to Epona Moon Farm

Horse mustache!!

 

Recently, I was invited to a friend of a friend’s ranch, Epona Moon Farm. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Rainier, they casually breed friesian and vanner horses to ride and drive. Though I spent but a few short hours there, I can safely say that it’s one of my favorite places on this earth: dappled sunlight playing over the backs of these healthy, strong, and content animals, the air teasing your nose with pine and rain even in the summer, the lofty barn that glows inside like a cathedral, the fat and happy barn cats that want love so much they’ll flop directly onto one’s feet. I got to help bathe one of the friesians and detangle the mane of one of the vanners, who thought my mango-scented organic hippie sunscreen tasted delicious and proceeded to lick it off of my arm.The mare in the last photo, Edain, has since had a healthy filly named Grace: I love her from afar and I cannot wait to have an opportunity to go back and meet her.

The Elk Bugling Tour at NW Trek

I could practically hear the bloodlust in their voices. It was early morning, and I was sitting in a tram at Northwest Trek with Jason and about ten other people, waiting for the elk bugling tour to begin. We were the easily the youngest people there by decades, and also the only ones not wearing camouflage. As the morning mists swirled about the tram, inside, discussions swirled about the various forest animals the other riders had killed and failed to kill and wanted to kill in the future. Perhaps I was misinformed about the nature of this tour–were they going to let us out at the back end of the park, first one back to the gate dragging a carcass wins? Surely not.

But neither was it going to be what I had pictured: a steady train ride through a quiet forest, elk bugles shivering in the distance, while everyone winked at one another about the saucy time they must be having and sipped mimosas. I was wrong about everything, most woefully about the mimosas. 

It also wasn’t a train ride. Northwest Trek has 435 acres of free range land for its grazing herds (bison, elk, moose, bighorn, blacktailed deer, mountain goats), with roads running throughout, accessible by their tram. They call it a tram, but it’s not like any tram I’ve ever ridden–since there’s no guiding rail above or below, I’m not quite certain what makes it a tram. I suppose the fact that a “bus with the windows open” tour doesn’t sound as pleasant as a tram ride has something to do with it. Terminology aside, the series of roads meant we were able to go to the animals wherever they were on the property. Occasionally, one of the keepers would radio in with a hot tip, and off we’d go, careening around corners to find them. As I mentioned, we were primarily there for the rut–the elk breeding season when males challenge one another for control of harems of females. If we were particularly lucky, we’d get to see some sparring behavior as well. 

To encourage the males to sound, the tram driver would play a recording of their bugle. It sounded like a disgusted ghost trapped in a trombone: oooooo-wheeeeeeeeeee-ah! Ew ew ew!  I think the elk at Northwest Trek are on to this tactic, because they did not show much interest in reciprocating with bugles of their own, for a musical ghost throwdown that the ladies couldn’t resist. For further encouragement, people on the tram began using their own special elk calls. Because with the exception of Jason and myself, and I am not exaggerating, everyone on the tram had their own special vocal elk lure. Everyone. From a dying frog in a windstorm to fart sounds through cupped hands, they all had a method to lure the beast’s head into their laps. Not wanting to feel left out, I quickly devised my own. “Hey Carl! Hey Bob! How ya doin?” For some reason, my best efforts went unanswered. We did get some reedy replies eventually, and in the meanwhile, I got to hear a lot of exciting jokes about how the women should know their place, because the general public can just never get enough of those old wifekneeslappers, evidently.

I didn’t lie about the camo, but I assume you thought I did.

NW Trek feeds them on the roads because otherwise why in the hell would they hang out near the road? They wouldn’t. This bighorn is trying to bleat at us through a mouthful of grain and looks uncannily like me whenever I end up at a party around people I don’t know and the only time they ever ask me anything is the second I take a particularly dry bite, followed by internal panicking at how long it’s taking me to chew and swallow and not wanting to keep people waiting (RUDE!) but not wanting to talk with my mouth full (RUDE!) and the horrible compromise is that I take too long to answer and also my mouth is still kind of full so I mumble behind my hand some dumb answer that wasn’t worth waiting for. Why am I not good at networking events? IT’S A MYSTERY.

So I was definitely ready to be off the tram by the time the tour finished and away from these hootin’ hollerin’ presumably gun-toting senior citizens. Fun fact: according to NW Trek’s website, many things are prohibited inside the park, including the aforementioned mimosas, drones, balloons, segways, barbeques, but somehow, firearms are missing, which seems like a big oversight for a business centered around tours of game animals. Just sayin’. 

NW Trek also has a small zoo with natural-ish enclosures along a walking path, featuring animals native to the NW forests. Also along this path are trailside encounters, where keepers handle and answer questions about an animal so people can see them up close. The two I saw were with an opossum and a slug, respectively, and not to brag, but with regards to the latter, I have to say I see slugs up close and at a distance quite frequently as I pick them out of my garden and huck them over the back fence so they can eat the county’s weeds instead of mine. It’s a rare and privileged experience, I know. Be on the lookout for my upcoming memoir, Banana Slugs in the Mist.

I’m stupid about wild animals, because a lifetime of Disney movies has indoctrinated me into believing that if I go walking out into some strange forest and need help, I’ll soon be making some animal friends. I’ve previously discussed how huggable I feel bears to be, and now these freaking wolves at NW trek just look like cute floofy white puppies to me. I took a video of them and realized I was making smoochy sounds to get their attention. The attention of a predator. If I go walking out in some strange forest and need help, I’m doomed. Especially if I try to lure over an elk friend with my newly-learned calls.

Hiking Point Defiance Park

This December, we bought Jason a new (used) car, because you could hear his old junktrap Saturn squealing down the street from a block away, its bumper held on with a bit of string, the oil puddle in the garage growing into a horrible pond. It was ridiculous, and we were both determined to get him into something that was less likely to heave a sigh and collapse in the middle of the freeway. Ultimately, we bought a Mini Cooper. It had some flaws in the chrome pieces surrounding the headlight and taillight, and since it was certified and the trim should have been pristine, they gave us a thirty day IOU to replace them.

When replacement day rolled around, they gave me a new Mini to tool around in until the work was done, and since it was a gorgeous day, I decided to go to Point Defiance Park and walk around. 

I parked near Owen beach and climbed the staircase back up to five mile loop road, backtracking to the rhododendron garden. I started wandering the trails and found myself on this absolutely magical moss pathway: 

How is it even possible that this didn’t lead to a witches’ hut?

While the branches here don’t sigh as heavily with mosses as the ones at the Olympic National Rainforest, it’s a close thing. Even in the winter, with dead leaves carpeting the ground, this place is verdant and full of life. Very few other people, however, so I almost shrieked a couple of times when someone I had been unaware of suddenly passed me by because I had been looking too intently at my camera and too deep in podcast land to sense their presence. I might as well wear a sign on my back that says “Murder me“. 

What a neat mushroom!

Olympic mountain range

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Speaking of getting murdered out in the woods somewhere, I misinterpreted the map and ended up getting a little lost. Not, like, “oh shit I need some survival skills alone out in the wilderness for 72 hours” kind of lost but more like “this road keeps splitting and somehow every fork is marked with the fort going one way and the zoo going another but I never arrive at either”. If I only had access to those signs, it could have turned into the former kind of lost situation, but thankfully T-Mobile’s coverage has improved since I switched to them and I was able to use GPS to figure out that I was nowhere near where I thought I was. 

Once I had that information, I was able to orient myself back on the path toward Owen beach, and took myself out for a celebratory “I didn’t get myself killed out in the woods” lunch at Duke’s Chowder House. This wild salmon with goat cheese and blueberries was so good, and while I’m still iffy about mixing cheese and seafood (probably from hearing it my whole life and not because I’ve had a particularly heinous cheese seafood experience), the tangy goat cheese paired beautifully with the flaky, rich salmon, the balsamic blueberries a burst of earthy summer on a cold winter’s day. A window seat with a beautiful view of the sound was the cherry on top. 

I can’t believe how long I’ve lived in this area and had never been to this park before. I’ll have to make it a point to go back during the other seasons to see how it changes–maybe I can twist Mini’s arm into giving me a loaner for oil changes.