Friends are kinda like good art and music and stuff.

I love when I'm experiencing artistic expression - getting completely lost in patterns, rhythms, expectations and predictability - and then the anomaly happens. The variant. The surprise.

Like when you're listening to a song you've never heard before and you can sing along the first time. But then you find yourself surprised by a dissonant note.

A key change.

A bridge.

It's clashing colors.

An accessory that pops.

A lyric that doesn't rhyme.

It's the juxtaposition of styles and genres.

Like the first time you notice color in a black and white photograph.

Or an object protruding from a painting.

It's mixed media.

The essence of jazz.

And improv.

Pure comedy.

Twisting plots.

Interesting character flaws.

It's when I know I love a friend.

When I'm getting lost in their patterns, habits, predictability, loyalty.

And then they surprise me. Share a new layer of themselves. A fascinating story. An unusual hobby. A simple, unexpected gesture.

Here's to the friends and family who surprise us daily.

One gaudy little Christmas mouse.

It's hard this time of year to not be a tad pensive; reflective on the year that passed and the years that have passed, collectively. It's a season that evokes intense emotion for many. Total bliss and quiet sadness dance together in unexpected ways.

We're over-induldging in comfort foods and favorite treats while anticipating the lifestyle shift as we embrace health in New Year's resolutions, right around the corner. After at least one last evening of imbibing on sparkling wine, that is.


Earlier this year, my mom's oldest sister, Delphine, passed away.

My Mom is the second youngest of seven children - 5 girls and 2 boys. The men moved to Southern California, the other siblings raised their families in the Midwest, but my Mom and Aunt Delphine raised theirs in the Northwest.

Delphine and her husband, Gene, had six children of their own. I have so many fond memories over the years spending the holidays with the Kettler family.

One year, Aunt Delphine and Uncle Gene were living in West Seattle and all six kids were still at home, and they were hosting Christmas. My Mom figures this was probably in the late 1960's.

My Mom had gone to Gov-Mart Bazaar, a place where you could find very inexpensive (read: cheap) little things. (Looks like it was later acquired by Thirfty Payless.)

She got a bag of little tie-ons for Christmas gifts. Most of them were little bells, etc. One of them was a little mouse.

But this was no ordinary mouse.

This was an ugly, gaudy little mouse. It wore a gold lame dress. It carried a baton. It had dangly little legs. It was tacky.

It ended up on a gift from my Mom to Aunt Delphine. Who knows what the actual present was. The kids couldn't stop laughing.

My Mom recalls that Maxine laughed so hard, she cried. Everyone was rolling around on the floor laughing. The Kettlers are known for their fabulous senses of humor, afterall.

And a tradition was born.

This ugly, gold-lame-wearing, baton-holding, straggly little mouse became an annual joke. Year after year, it would be passed back and forth. Pieces and appendages started to fall off. The lame dress looked more and more tattered with every year.

Some years were missed. Hectic holidays. My Mom started her own family (enter Carter and Noelle). Grandma Kampa rotated through living with her children.

One particularly hectic year, my Mom just hadn't quite gotten around to taking down the Christmas tree. When she finally did, on March 31st, she found the little mouse tucked away in its branches.

My Mom joked with her, "You put that mouse in the tree just to see when I'd take my Christmas tree down!"

The mouse broke free from only being a Christmas tradition. The two sisters would tuck it into a birthday present. Mail it for the 4th of July. It would end up in a kitchen cupboard or a bookshelf - just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes it would show up at the kids' homes, where Aunt Delphine had been visiting.

This mouse was passed between Priscilla and Delphine for, likely, around 40 years!

When Aunt Delphine passed, my Mom had hoped to place it in her coffin. When this didn't happen, she realized it is probably because the mouse needs to live on. When I go there this holiday season, I'm going to try to find it and, at the very least, take a photo of it. And, cousins, don't be surprised if the mouse continues to circulate for many more years to come.

I'm thankful for the time we shared, earlier this year, celebrating Aunt Delphine's life.

In loving memory of Aunt Delphine. You are missed.


At the crab cracker


Intentional Gadgetry. And reveling in the moment.

I'm on my way home yesterday, commuting via public transportation from one end of downtown to the other. Earbuds in, listening to music. In my own little commuter world. Headed home, but first to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to make mac 'n' cheese for book club. Making mental grocery list.

I take the bus tunnel. Could walk from Westlake home, but the streetcar is at its southern stop. I get on. Find immediate seat. Thinking about ingredients. Listening to music.

And then I look up. The young man standing next to me is filming another young man and an older gentleman. Small handheld video camera. Pause.

Earbuds out.

Nothing life altering, but I sit and watch the younger man ask the older man about his paper-folding business. As the older man works slowly on folding a flower and talking about his website domain on go daddy. Look for a documentary featuring an interview of a paper folder on the Seattle Streetcar, coming soon to a theater near you.

It was a good reminder, however ultimately uneventful it was, to take the earbuds out. Put the phone away. Raise my gaze and pay attention.

It's a frequent topic of conversation in these iphone/crackberry/camera/mp3-player days. We all have these gadgets that can do some pretty phenomenal things.

As our guide in Thailand took video of us interacting with Burmese children, I was thankful he had that gadget on him.

When I get a funny, random text message from a friend, I'm thankful for our mutual gadgetry.

But when it takes away from our capacity to be in the moment; to truly listen to and witness the world around us; to be present with the people we are interacting with - That's where our technology has the potential to fail us.

I'm no luddite. I think technology can be used for good, and can actually help connect us in remarkable ways. It is powerful stuff. But it can also be addictive and distracting and take us out of the moment.

When I was sitting at Banya5 the other night with two dear friends, this came up. Our phones were all locked away. Other than a clock on the wall (which reminded us how long we had until they closed) - there were no signs of the outside world. We were able to relax, relate and be completely present.

We reveled in this.

A word surfaced in our conversation. Being intentional with technology.


Music can set a mood and a soundtrack to your day. Intentionally disconnecting from the world around you and listening to songs that will lift your spirits? Sounds like a good use of time.

But then, so is intentionally leaving your phone off for awhile. Letting it settle to the bottom of your bag. Leaving it at home altogether. Easvesdropping and people watching on the bus. Paying attention to things as you navigate downtown streets - like music echoing through alleyways and creative grafitti.

(Like the little silver stencils of people figures that showed up rather recently along 9th Ave N.)

The second night of our island stay in Thailand, we went to the beach to watch the sunset. The night before had been stunning. But when we got to the clearing and saw the horizon, there were a lot of clouds. It was hard to tell whether we'd get a sunset as bold as the prior night's.

And then we looked up and noticed a little rainbow up above the clouds. We all sat and watched as one little rainbow turned into three - colors shifting, moving, dancing, playing off eachother.

Definitely goes down as one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.

And I didn't take a single picture.

I couldn't.

It was too beautiful to get behind another gadget and spend time playing with settings and trying to capture it perfectly. (Which never would have happened.)

I needed to just watch it, through my own eyes, and fully experience it. Our group got a photo in front of it. I didn't join. Because that would have required taking my eyes off of it. And I couldn't.

I didn't want to understand the science behind it. I didn't want to break it down or have it explained to me. And I know I'm not doing it justice by attempting to describe it here.

I don't have a picture (that I took at least) of one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my entire life.

And I couldn't be happier about it.

Part of something bigger.

We'd just eaten an amazing meal of fresh fish and vegetables and rice.  Oh, so much rice.  We sat on the floor of our homestay in Tung Dap with our Moken hosts.  Beautiful, airy beams.  A home built by hand. 

Our host asked us why we were there.

Why would ten farangs take two weeks to travel to the other side of the globe to spend a few days painting a school and planting mangroves?

Jan's answer, as I paraphrase, was about family.  In our culture we don't live, with multiple familial generations, under the same roof.  But we still seek that connection.  That community. 

We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

I've been taking these service trips through Seattle Works since they first gathered a group of people together to travel to Biloxi, MS in early 2007.  It had been a year and a half since the storm devastated the Gulf Coast.  I was deeply moved when I watched the storm coverage.  I was glued to the TV, thinking about my cousins who live in Biloxi, thinking about the beautiful city of New Orleans I'd visited a few times with my family before the storm.  So when Seattle Works decided to send a group to help hang drywall, I knew I had to sign up.

We stayed at a big church, most of us sleeping on mats on the floor.  Taking four minute outdoor showers.  Hanging drywall.  Cleaning a nearby neighborhood.  Meeting longterm volunteers who'd been there since just after the storm.  Spending some time at the pub next door, playing cards - Apples to Apples. Being genuinely inspired by fellow humans from various walks of life.

One of our first nights there, a gentleman named David, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday by volunteering with his family in Biloxi, shared about Tikkun Olam.

... There’s an important principle in Judaism – it’s a commandment of Jewish law – called Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. The Talmud says: “It is not up to you to finish the work, yet you are not free to avoid it.” No one can fix it all; but we all have a part to play. What’s going on down here could not be more important as an example of Tikkun Olam.

Upon our departure, I realized that experience changed me.  I was definitely part of something bigger than myself.  I met a very dear friend, Jaxon Ravens, on that first trip.  Did you know he's the son of a preacher man?  Take 5 minutes to watch this and you'll be a believer too:

I returned to the Gulf Coast that summer.  Spending a week in New Orleans volunteering with Katrina Corps.  Then went back once more, right before Mardi Gras, volunteering with Hands on New Orleans.
Seattle Works partnered with Crooked Trails last year, sending a team to Peru.  I had some friends go and was convinced to take these experiences abroad.  So, despite feeling like I had no vacation time and no extra money, I signed up to go to Thailand.

Thailand was amazing.

Now that I've been back a few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about what makes these experiences so powerful.  It isn't just where we're going or the work we're doing.

It's the people.

I've met some remarkable people in the Seattle Works community.  Spending time traveling, serving, and bonding over beers (whether Chang or Abita!) takes you into some pretty profound relationships in a short amount of time.  You learn a lot about someone when you're spending every day with them.  Often in less than luxurious accomodations.  Challenging days.  Sharing in breathtaking vistas.  Reflecting on the work you're doing, the people you're meeting.  Remembering what's important.  Finding shared values.

Then these lovely, overlapping social circles emerge when we're all back in Seattle.  You take a group of volunteers and recruit them for your kickball team.  You take a soccer team and recruit them for your volunteer project.  Before you know it, you're attending feasts in church basements and friending inanimate objects on Facebook.

At some point, you're not just a part of something bigger than yourself.  You're creating it.





Ethical Consumption. Am I a jerk? Let me tally my mitzvah.

First, read this article in Slate.  It's a good read and conjures up a healthy, constructive dose of self-criticism.  Hard not to read and wonder where one's own ethics fall.

Also, read this.  Good quote here:

The word “Green” has become a separatist adjective. A term used to separate something from the norm. Until products become Green by default, Green will always be an outsider.

I find myself in regular discussions with certain friends about the buying choices we make (or don't make) in our daily routines.  The ubiquitous conversations are happening with books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma.   Films like Food, Inc. and The Future of Food.  (Here's a longer, fantastic list of movies.) 

You ask yourself questions like - Is it better to buy organic food at Walmart or local, non-organically certified food (that may actually be grown organically, just not labeled as so) at your local grocery store?  Should dairy have RSBT in it?  How free-range are those chickens?  Do I really need to eat so many corn, soy and wheat products?

In one of my past lives, I worked a short while as a sales rep for a really high-end pet food.  We were only distributed at one, big-box pet-supplies chain.  For six months, my job was to drive up and down the I5 corridor, from Bellingham to Eugene, OR, and try to get people out of the habit of buying their Purina kibble and into the habit of buying a more expensive, but vastly superior brand.  Without grains, filler, by-products, etc.  With added nutrients.  It wasn't organic (nor raw, which is really what makes the most sense), and there are lots more products in this super-premium category now available.    But, in its time, it was a great product, but not everyone wanted to pay for a food that might actually relieve their pet's itchy skin, crystals, or joint issues.

Times have changed.  This was less than 10 years ago, and when I worked for this company a lot of people didn't read their food labels.  A national rep mentioned their observation that people in the Northwest were more likely to read labels.  I found this true in some stores - Bellingham, Portland, closer to downtown Seattle.  But there were still lots of people who refused to look at or care about the ingredients in their pet's food.

I'm not sure when I became a label reader.  Maybe when I decided to no longer consume high-fructose corn syrup and chemical sugar substitutes?  I know the studies waver on this, but I can feel the difference.  Maybe I'm in tune with my body, maybe it's placebo effect.  Either way, diabetes runs on both sides of my family and I've learned that many sugary foods make me feel sick.  And sucralose and aspartame make me feel sick as well.  And healthy fats and proteins and fresh vegetables and whole grains make me feel good.  And not in a morally-superior way. 

Maybe I started reading labels when Breyer's started to market their all natural ice cream brands.  Remember those?  With the little kids stumbling over difficult-to-pronounce additives?

I try not to even talk about these topics unless I know I'm in company that wants to.  And I'm only bringing them up here, because this article sparked some thoughts I felt the need to lay out.  If you've gotten this far, you're obviously interested in this topic as well, right?

And that's just food.  What about green products that are greener, but still just disposable products that emphasize the throw-away culture we live in?  Is it better to buy cloth napkins than paper napkins made from post-consumer materials?  Is it better to use a handkerchief than a facial tissue?  (I just can't seem break this habit.)    Is it better for me to buy a handmade dress off Etsy, or an organic-cotton mass-produced American Apparel dress, or a custom-tailored dress by someone making $1 a day in Thailand, or a second-hand dress at Goodwill?

A brand of deodorant may not contain aluminum, but it still contains propylene glycol.  I'd be happy to tell you all about the glories of menstrual cups, depending on your level of comfort discussing female hygiene products.  I can tell you, I haven't purchased other products (like tampons) in years, and that, in and of itself, is quite liberating.  Then there's the question of phthalates in toys, both of the children's and adult varieties.  As you can tell, the discussion of "green buying habits" can get very personal, very quickly.  (We haven't even touched on the ingredients and materials associated with things like condoms and lubricants.)

Anyway, I've managed to bring up a lot of topics, without really offering solutions or conclusions.  Typical.  I also only talked as a consumer, not about the habits and lifestyle modifications that likely have much more impact on the world than buying organic produce. 

Back to the ideas in the original article, I'm not sharing any of this to pat myself on the back.  I'd love to believe that my personal actions and lifestyle choices are altruistic.  But, while I may spend my time and money doing do-gooder stuff like volunteering abroad, I can't deny that I get a lot out of these types of experiences.  And I probably lack some humility in the way I discuss them later as well. ;-)  I'm proud of some of the choices I make, but more-so, I hope to share positive stories in a positive spirit that may inspire others to give.  Is this ego-based? 

As a wise friend pointed out recently, "Only the ego wants to get rid of the ego."

Ponder that one.

Tung Dap

After leaving the school, we spent two nights with a host family in Tung Dap, on Koh Phratong Island.  This part of our voyage was filled with amazing beauty, gracious hospitality, and even more delicious food. 

I wrote this while I was there.  Words won't do the experience justice, but they are the only way I can convey the two days we spent there:

I am listening to conversations in languages I do not understand.  The wind talking to the trees.  The clucks of chickens and roosters beneath the beams of the house I am sitting in.  The scent of onion, sizzling as our hosts prepare dinner.  Children's brief calls.  The silence of cats and dogs sleeping.  The rumble of man and machine.  The dash of geckos on the roof.  I may not understand them, but knowing them, in this moment, gives me peace.

We are in paradise.  Where a flicker of light could be a spark on a tractor or a firefly.  Where little boys catch bugs and give shells as gifts on long beach walks.  Where the crescent moon catches where the sunset left us on the last horizon.  We can get lost in stars and styrofoam signs.  The water is warm.  Did you feel the foxtails tickle your arm?  Did you let the sand fill between your toes?  Did you breathe in the salty air?  Breathing in and out with the currents.

May I remind you again that we are in paradise.  Where bright eyes meet ours with smiles.  Where the baby sits behind his father's wheel. 

What woke you this morning?  The far off fisherman's boats?  Scooters?  Ducks?  The booming, buzzing sirens of the cicadas?  Or did you rise when our host tossed the dry grains of rice in her pot?  Did the alpha wake you with his growl?  Or the roosters echoing each other's calls?


As my eyes closed to rest on our mats, the vision of a miracle played itself out on the backs of my eyelids.  My toes still felt themselves being sucked into the muck near the newly planted mangrove seeds.  I feel the layer of fine sand coating my skin.  And now we rise to Nescafe.  Rice and shrimp.  Folded mosquito nets and textiles.  Let us never finish this conversation.  As the sea gypsy "Noi" tone loops in our memories.







Kuraburi School. Where the children captured my heart.

Once we had all successfully arrived in Bangkok, the volunteer and cultural exchange portion of our trip began.  First, a quick flight down to Phuket.  Then we loaded into a van for a three hour ride to Kuraburi.  We thought it would be a shorter ride, so we arrived with a healthy appetite and ready for Chang.  After having a chance to drop our stuff off at these amazing little bungalows (with western style toilets, front porches and everything) we sat to the first of many family-style dinners.  Most meals had staples of rice and seafood.  Vegetables.  Often eggs.  Always at least one dish would catch everyone's attention as a spicy one. 

Our mornings in Kuraburi were delightful.  We'd wake early (still adjusting to the time difference) and head to the market for breakfast.  The market bustled.  We'd sip thai coffee or thai tea.  Strong with sweetened condensed milk.  (I'd often have seconds.)  Then we'd sample an array of yummy treats.  Rice, sugar, and coconut concoctions, wrapped in leaves.  Some of the wraps played out like puzzles - figuring out which way to unwrap it to reveal the sweet treasures deep inside.  I loved the waffles, about the size of an eggo, with coconut and turmeric in them, producing a yellow tint.  There were chinese doughnuts - little fried puffs of flour that weren't sweet.  There was the coconut pudding.  Absolutely delicious.  We were always thankful for the little sheets of paper on the table we could use to soak up the oil from our fingers.  Finally, the staple breakfast dish was a rice soup.  I only had it with pork, although some mornings it was offered with shrimp.

We'd ride in the back of a truck to Kuraburi School, where Burmese children greeted us.  At first, a tad shy, they quickly warmed up to us and melted our hearts.  Even after years of clowning and interacting with kids from various cultural backgrounds, I don't know that I've encountered children with so much affection.  Their genuine eagerness to interact forced us quickly beyond our language barriers.

I'm always fascinated by the universal languages - ones that surpass a common tongue.  Laughter and play.  As the days unfolded we all had turns at patty cake and thumb wars.  The delight of victory, the quick, fleeting frown of defeat.  And then the want to play again.  And again.  And again.

At the school our goal was to paint a few classrooms, prime and paint a mural wall, hang a door and hang some shelves in their library.  We powered through on the painting and ended up getting to even more rooms and did the exterior as well.  The second to last day we divided the wall in subsections and worked with the kids to paint their school's mural.

It was hard not to think about the last two times I've volunteered in New Orleans, also painting schools.  One was an interior of an elementary school, the other was murals and the sidewalk at a newer, sterile school of portables.  All of the painting projects seem simple, but provide the students with a sense of pride in the space they are receiving their education.  It gets you thinking about space and aesthetics.

An excerpt from my journal:


I have fallen madly in love with some Burmese children.  They follow you with their eyes until contact is made and then they might smile at you.  Once these two things have happened, you realize your heart is no longer your own.

We rode on the back of a truck to the school.  Nearby there is a bridge over water.  By midday, the tide produced a thick, living, muddy place.

We painted a few rooms while some scrubbed and later primed a wall.  The children were moved into other classrooms and we could listen to them learning their lessons and singing their songs.  In the first room we painted, there was a hole near the floor - big enough for kids to take turns sticking their heads through as we pretended we'd paint their faces.

By afternoon, the children started to help us.  They found paint brushes.  What began as one little munchkin helping ended up being 30 tiny hands trying so hard to help.

There's one little girl I have a very special bond with.  Don't remember her name, but she captured my heart.  We spun, danced, clapped hands.  She sang to me.  She blew me kisses, let me hold her and she kissed my cheek.  She is precious.

... One little girl, Michew, is my new best friend.  She clings to me like a little monkey.  Places her head on my stomach, the softest part, and kisses my cheek...
I brought my journal out at one point to write my name and have the little girls write their own names.  It is a precious page.

 We ended our work at the school with gifts of toothbrushes, toothpaste, wash cloths and soap for each child.  Then we performed skits to help encourage good dental hygiene, hand washing and recycling.  I wasn't feeling well, so I sat with the kids (meaning they sat in my lap) and tried to encourage them to interact with the skits.

We heard later that the kids were being encouraged to bring their toothbrushes to school.  They also continued to recycle like our skit taught them - shouting "no" as they hovered over the wrong container, and a resounding "YES!" when they dropped their item in the correct place.

These days went by quickly and I found myself in tears as we pulled away., waving goodbye to sweet little Michew.  A sigh of sadness that I wouldn't be seeing those sweet little faces.  A sense of wanting to keep in touch and return, in some capacity, sooner than later. 

Starting off on the right foot - First Day in Bangkok

Travel is so much more about the attitude you bring to it than your itinerary.  It's about expectations, or lack thereof. 

I arrived a day early in Bangkok, before the programmed portion of our trip began. Nora, Todd and I explored the Khaosan Road area, discovered the cooking school we returned to later on.  I had my first Thai massage and then we began our custom tailor experience and found ourselves in a complete downpour.

Perhaps it was the Seattle in us, or the pool beckoning us back to the hotel.  Perhaps it was the warm, sticky goodness of street coconut pudding.  We were totally the crazy farangs, running through the streets of Bangkok, completely drenched.  We were those crazy farangs jumping in the pool in the storm (and asked to exit the pool for safety reasons.) 

After rinsing and drying, Calsee joined us as we continued to explore.  We ran into a random parade.  We visited a Wat and gave some offerings.  We had dinner.  One turn took us over a bridge into a more residential area.  We spotted a crocodile in the water.

Jan and Kevin arrived, and we took them out to dinner, followed by beers and live music on Khaosan Road.

And then to grab a banana pancake.

Let's take a moment to revel in the beauty of a banana pancake, shall we?  Sweetened condensed milk and nutella or chocolate.  Banana.  A beautifully fresh, thin crepe.  It's fried perfection after a couple Changs.

Nora and I decided to do even more pampering (besides my massage and her facial earlier in the day).  On our way to get manicure/pedicures, Leigh spotted us from a nearby bar.  We joined her for a quick margarita, and she joined us for getting nails done.

It was in good contrast to the forthcoming paint and sand that would find its way under our nails, on our faces, in our hair, and on everything we wore.

It really was a fantastic day that showed us there are no wrong turns.  Every alley provided another adventure.  Every bridge took us to a new perspective.  I adopted the role of Zen Master.   A tad tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, but a role I took seriously.  I have no formal training, but I took a moment, here and there, to reflect on the simple joys of the day.

Trying to avoid quoting John Denver lyrics.

Some of my favorite travel related lyrics come from a Jump Little Children song, recently covered by Joan Osbourne.

In the cathedrals of New York and Rome
There is a feeling that you should just go home
And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is

First, let me start by saying, I'm not a lyrics girl. I can anticipate melodies and harmonies, but it is entirely possible that I have heard a song a bazillion times and have no idea what the song is about. So when I actually hear lyrics, and they mean something to me, they stick. They find a place deep inside of me that's hard to get to and they don't leave.

There are lots of travel songs out there, but this defines what travel is all about to me. About finding yourself, and figuring out what home really means. I call Seattle home and I'm deeply in love with my city. But to see the world is to see home with added perspective. To see yourself through a worldview. To get out of yourself, your routines, your ruts, and discover new layers.

Ok, I admit it. In the last several years, I've gotten a little addicted to "voluntourism." Service projects. Taking my own vacation time and money to pay and spend time in a place where I'm volunteering. Tonight I leave for two weeks in Thailand.

My addiction enabler is Seattle Works. I've been passionately involved with this organization for the past 4 years or so, participating in just about every program they've offered and even receiving their SWVOTY award in 2007.  I participated in their first week long service trip to Biloxi, Mississippi in early 2007. I met some amazing people. Most I have kept in fairly close contact with over the years. It's a pretty special connection you get traveling and volunteering with a group of like-minded folks.

I went back two more times. Each trip exposed me to more of a city I absolutely fell in love with. And I connected with even more wonderfully amazing people from Seattle. NOLA has a solid place in my heart. And the people I've traveled with on these trips are some of the people I am most honored to know and consider friends.

But I told myself after my third trip that I needed to get out of the US and do some more international travel. I was super tempted by Seattle Works' first partnership with Crooked Trails. They went to Peru a year ago. I wasn't able to make that one happen (I was moving into my new condo and figuring out how a mortgage works!), but some dear friends and people I had traveled with before did go. And they all had nothing but wonderful things to say about their experiences.

So, when I heard about a trip to Thailand, one of many countries on my list of places I'd love to visit and haven't yet, I was stoked. Even though it seemed like I couldn't afford it, and I would *barely* have enough vacation time saved up, I made it happen. I watched airfare prices drop. I made my deposit. And now, tonight at about midnight, I'm leaving on my Next Adventure.

I'll be traveling with 8 other folks from Seattle and a guide from Crooked Trails. I have traveled with 3 of these people before - Jan and Kevin on my first trip to the Gulf Coast post-Katrina and Nora, who I met on my last trip down to NOLA. Our super simplified itinerary is as follows:

Nov 14 - Arrive Bangkok (I'm actually getting in a day earlier)

Nov 15 - Fly to Phuket and go to Andaman Discoveries office in Kuraburi

Nov 16-18 - Work at Burmese Learning Center school grounds

Nov 19 - Burmese Learning Center until lunch and then to Tung Dap

Nov 20 - Mangrove restoration in Tung Dap

Nov 21 - Tung Dap, Kuraburi,  Phuket; Bangkok

Nov 22 - Explore Bangkok

Nov 23 - Bike Riding on Koh Kret, back to Bangkok

Nov 24 - Ayutthaya (History)

Nov 25 - Go Home!

Lows will be in the 70s and highs just under 100.

I don't plan on actually blogging while I'm there, but I do plan on keeping good notes/journaling and then transferring some of that, with highlighted pictures and reflection after I get back.

I have gotten a really great vibe from this group at our pre-trip meetings. I am really excited to get to know my fellow travelers, stay in our homestays, take tons of pictures, and come back home, being just a little closer to finding out just where that is.


I was posting a bit there for awhile, wasn't I? Then life happened. You know how it goes. Insert cliche "acknowledgment I haven't written in awhile" monologue here.

I was driving north on Aurora the other day, through that no man's land between SLU and the Queen Anne exit from hell. (You know, the one right before the bridge with 5 stops that takes half an hour to get through when traffic is bad?) I looked up and noticed a squirrel crossing a wire.

Sure, there's a pedestrian bridge that takes you from Westlake Ave to Taylor. It isn't used very much. People sleep on it. But I don't see a lot of commuter pedestrians utilizing it.

I was envying that little squirrel. For that moment anyway. To be able to cross 99 quickly and efficiently, with a great view to boot.

I had just experienced the strange phenomenon where Aurora is backed up and the bottle neck of I5 was backed up and so I opted for 4th Ave northbound through downtown. And it was clear. Open. Easy to navigate. Lights synchronized beautifully.

If Seattle wants to be super progressive, we should offer ziplines over busy streets. I get that pedestrian overpasses are cost prohibitive, but you can't tell me a zipline is going to break the bank. You just need a little height on both sides. And good, strong rope. And healthy individuals who want just a tiny adrenaline rush while crossing the street. I'd zip over busy streets every day if I could! Think of the arm strength you'd build.

Poetic wax.

Moving along and totally switching gears, I was quite inspired by the concept of the Moth that we ran into last night. Such serendipity. We had just finished having amazing beer at Two Beers Brewery's First Annual Harvest Party. We decided to go get pizza at Stellar, but they couldn't accommodate our large group. So we mozied to Calamity Jane's. We were asked if we were part of the moth group.



Ok, so we weren't and we told them we weren't, but we did decide to stay to see people get up and tell a 5 minute story. This sort of thing is right up my alley. Connecting with community. A few of us put our names in. Not too many people did. So those of us brave enough to get up did.

First, there's the interpretation of a theme. I heard "busted" and was ready to tell a story from junior high. Note found. Grounded. Didn't get to do Ski Club.

This was a common interpretation. Then a friend in our group suggested I tell the story of me busting my teeth. Busted! I like it! But how on earth would I turn a moment of me being incredibly klutzy into a 5 minute speech to a bunch of strangers.

With a little liquid confidence and attention to detail. That's how.

I was one of the first people called up and I managed to get fairly detailed. Who was there. Where we were. Recalling details like my urge, while in shock, to call 911 and Annika's level-headed advice that we take a cab. Since it was after a Mariner's game and there were about 100 cabs within a block of us.

There were details I didn't mention, like the fact that people walked by us, but no one asked if they could help. I talked about stitches, but left out how happy I was that the scarring is basically non-existent, except for a slightly lighter discoloration on my bottom lip that only shows up in summer when my lips see a lot of sun. I did manage to mention making the most of the situation and being a toothless hill billy for Halloween while this was all going on. Just took my flipper out and went toothless for the night.

All in all, telling this story was a good experience. And it was fantastic hearing friends and strangers share their own stories.

Of course, it got me thinking. How feasible is this as a social activity? A quick little evite, a time, a location, drinks, snacks - and a desire to connect with people in an atypical (in our culture), yet incredibly natural and human way.

I took a storytelling class in college. Part of my communications-journalism degree. I've always loved a good story. I love being in that moment socially, where the atmosphere is right, and everyone's in the right mood, and everyone can hear everyone else and the stories start. Pick a topic. Any topic. Taking turns. Telling stories. It happens by chance and I love the idea of it happening intentionally. A way to connect, to interpret. A conduit for laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

Yeah, so that's been on my mind today.

And the Sounders lost. What a season. I am so honored to have been a part of it all. While I obviously wanted them to go further, at least I won't be missing them take the MLS cup. But I will be there when they take it.

I'll be missing this year's MLS Cup because I'll be in Thailand! Leaving Wednesday night. Exciting stuff. More on that, of course, after I get back.


I was talking to someone recently about how often people in book clubs don't read the book. It's true. So she is in a short story club, and I kind of like that idea. And I've thought a film club could be fun. Then is dawned on me.

I like the idea of a themed discussion club. Pick a theme a month and read a set of articles, see a documentary, etc on theme. Then discuss. War, Food, Homelessness, Community, Local Politics, Transportation Issues, China, Sudan, Religion, Drug Addiction, Eating Disorders, Love, Current Events, Art, Roller Derby, etc.

These topics come up anyway, but they often feel like heavy topics for social discourse. Do the people at this table really want to be talking about _______? But having intentional discussions with people from varied perspectives would give permission to bring these topics up.

Same concept as a book club. Get together. Discuss. But maybe one night everyone gathered has watched the same documentary, looked at the same set of photos of art, read the same relevant articles.

Anyway, I'm letting the idea brew but wanted to write it down.


On Sunday evening, I had the honor of hosting a small birthday celebration for a dear friend of mine.

It started with fresh veggies and dip.


And a bottle of prosecco.


The main event was, but of course, macaroni and cheese. Made by none other than VoraciousGirl herself.



It was delicious. Note: This was just the first serving. We all went back for seconds.

Lorraine sprinkled a delightful salt from Secret Stash Sea Salts on the mac 'n' cheese.


Then we quartered and shared four lovely cupcakes from Trophy that Nora picked up.



It was not hard to eat them all.


Happy Birthday Susanna!

The Woodland Park Zoo

I took my Little Sister to the zoo on Friday. I've been wanting to go all summer, and with the impending seasonal change (it is fall now, isn't it?) the timing was perfect. The weather was ideal.

I picked her up after school and we went and got some bubble tea. Boy does she love her bubble tea! But then, as an occasional treat, so do I. I had lavender with tapioca. She had vanilla with tapioca.

We got to the zoo at about 5:00. I was a little worried that they'd be closing soon and we wouldn't be able to see everything. On the contrary, it was perfect timing. They let people in until 6:00, but you don't have to leave the grounds until 7. Two hours turned out to be just enough time to do one quick lap around the zoo.

I know there are often free tickets circulating for the zoo. They have a $2 off coupon pretty much all of the time. But, it turns out, they were offering $4 off on Fridays after 4:00 pm. Fun!

I have a few favorite photos from the zoo.

This baby gorilla put on quite a show for us. The angle was hard to shoot, but you can just tell he was adorable, right?


I remember when the flamingo campaign started. I actually thought it was for Dexter. It wasn't until I looked it up online that I realized I was seeing pink splatter.

Anyway, they were, indeed, quite pink.



Isn't this little guy cute?


We became fast friends with some emus.



This bear kept us entertained for awhile. Check out those teeth!


Look at his grin. Much less threatening when the teeth aren't showing!


We didn't get a chance to see the baby snow leopards, and quite a few of the animals were asleep. But it was totally worth it going on a Friday afternoon. No crowds. Few people in general. No waits. Just us and the animals.

Although this guy made me sad...


He was looking at us, looking at him.

St Germain Chapagne Lemon Rosemary Sorbet

Last Sunday, my dear friend Lorraine invited me to a boozy desserts party. Unfortunately, I overextended myself the day before and was too exhausted to be social. So, even though I had spent Friday making my mixture for the dessert I had planned to contribute, I bailed.

I recently bought a bottle of St. Germain. If you haven't tried it, I can't recommend it enough. Most liqueurs are too sweet for me, but St Germain mixed with a little sparkling water and a squeeze of lemon is just delightful. If you like subtle hints of flowery flavors, then you very well might fall in love with the elderflower taste of St Germain.

There aren't a lot of recipes on the internet that include St Germain, so I searched for some with limoncello. I found many results similar to this, which inspired my recipe.

St Germain, lemons and Cristalino, extra dry.

I decided a little additional herb would be nice, so I picked just a little bit of fresh rosemary from our community herb garden at my condo.

Fresh rosemary and lemon.

I put sugar, water, rosemary, and lemon zest into my simple syrup.

Rosemary lemon syrup

Then I juiced lemons.


I strained the lemon juice and the simple syrup and added champagne and St Germain. I love that those two beverages rhyme. The sound lovely together and taste lovely together.

I chilled the concoction and then began the freezing process in my ice cream maker. I added 2 egg whites to make it creamy. I put it in this container to let it freeze harder.

St Germain Champagne Lemon Rosemary Sorbet

Served in a small dish and garnished with a little rosemary, this would make a lovely pallet cleanser. Or just a refreshing dessert.

St Germain Champagne Lemon Rosemary Sorbet

Repost and some new thoughts on Fall

It's been strange transitioning into fall with this bizarre warm weather. This is also my first fall transition in my new condo/'hood. For my 5 years in the Queen Anne house, I marked changes in the season from spring into summer, and then summer into fall with the opening and closing of a window.

I lived on the top floor of an old house, facing west. In the winter, it would get frigid. Even if I wanted fresh air, I couldn't bare opening the window. Summer, in contrast, meant my room was a good 10-20 degrees hotter than the rest of the house. It was awful. Window open, blinds shut for the duration of the summer months. Staying up late in the living room, waiting until I was super tired to ascend into the oven that was my room.

I have noticed conversations about changing seasons. People are getting their pumpkin spice lattes, but the weather has still been in the 80s! I know I'm not the only one a little out of sorts. I'm noticing the sun setting a little earlier. There's a chill in the evenings that wasn't there a few weeks ago. But the leaves still look pretty darn green.

This morning I woke up to gray skies and a chill that wasn't there a few weeks ago. The marine layer burned off, but it's a sign of things to come.

I'm saying good-bye to flip-flops and sandals. Good-bye to being able to leave my jacket at home. Good-bye to iced beverages.

I'm saying hello to layers, sweaters, boots, corduroy, plaid and lots and lots of wool.

Ok. I guess that's being a little dramatic. The beautiful thing about living in Seattle is... it's mild. We usually don't get too hot. And we usually don't get too cold. Which is why we freak out and complain when it snows or gets above 100 degrees. Actually, we complain when it merely frosts and gets above a breezy 75 degrees.

I saw some ad on TV in the last couple days where there's a guy standing in Seattle with the Space Needle in the back drop. And there's rain. But it looks fake. Because it's POURING. That's something that always gets me in movies, TV shows, etc set in Seattle. It really rarely pours here. We get less rain than many other major cities. Our annual total averages 37.1 inches per year. New York gets 46.2 inches. But, we get more cloudy days. 201 per year for us vs. 152 per year in New York.

We get the drizzle. The gray. And the drizzle.

Alas. I'll be breaking out my slippers when my concrete floors become too cold for my bare feet in the morning. I'll be wearing my REI rain jacket, with the hood up, as I walk to work. I might even bust out an umbrella on occasion, but that's not what real Seattleites do. I am looking forward to curling up more with good books. Cooking more soups and stews. Drinking more porters, stouts and red wine. Baking more. And going to the gym more! I mean, come on, what else am I gonna do when it starts getting dark at 5?

I can't wait to take my Little Sister to a pumpkin patch. To run around in a corn maze and get our shoes muddy.

And now... some reflection.

from September 19, 2007:
Signs of Fall
I saw my first leaf fall a few weeks ago. But I ignored it. Last week was still lovely.

But today I'm wearing a sweater for the third day in a row.

I almost closed my bedroom window this morning. As I've said before, I open it sometime in May and leave it open for the entire summer.

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale is being featured at Whole Foods today.

I'm enjoying an amazing Blackberry Cider. (Not hard cider, silly)

And on that note, a poem I wrote a few years ago about the fall...


With a harsh wind, but a gentle rustle, Autumn permits us to recoil into a courtship with comfort. She paints warm colors to help us transition into the death of winter. She allows us to build fires and turn the thermostat up a few notches. She is the school teacher in a denim jumper over a rainbow-striped shirt. She wears wool knee socks and sweater vests with atrocious patterns. She allows us to go to bed early and wear over-sized fleece sweats. She encourages us to wrap up in a down blanket and read a good book, or watch bad television. She is gracious as she dries the leaves and she is sweet in her thunderstorms. She raises our necklines, and layers us in casseroles and pot roasts and stew. She blows the whistle at recess, while we kick mud. She bakes brownies and chocolate chip cookies and apple crisp.

-Noelle, October 1, 2005

Thinking about the future of Seattle...

I really enjoyed this morning's ULI Seattle breakfast: The City in 2050: The Infrastructure of Innovation.

The speakers included: the Washington State governor from 1965-1977, Daniel J. Evans - Wonderful speaker - Here's a man who lead this state before I was born, and I felt like I could relate to what he said more than many current government leaders; David Brewster, and Uwe Brandes.

The entire breakfast was motivational and challenging. I really appreciated the message of citizen leadership that echoed during the discussion. (A conversation I could have listened to all day.)

A few interesting thoughts...

By the year 2050, it is projected that Seattle will absorb the equivalent of the entire population of Portland, OR. Imagine everyone in Portland getting in their cars, hopping on buses, trains and planes, and coming here. And staying.

When Metro was first proposed to this region, it was considered Communist. Just sayin'.

Second only to Austin, Seattle has a very high population of more recent transplants. Trying to find the exact stat online - not successful yet. This doesn't surprise me. I often find myself the only person in a group of people who is from here. I can only name a handful of other people who fit this description.

On a similar train of thought... Seattle used to be where people stayed. They had experienced bigger cities and smaller cities and found Seattle to be "just right." Now, Seattle is a "first city." We attract college graduates, who aren't necessarily tied down here.

Our world population is at a threshold - there are more people living in urban environments than rural.

All of these thoughts shape how we govern. There was talk of "de-centralizing" city government, and, although it seems paradoxical, perhaps we will see a renaissance in political involvement. The idea is to promote district/neighborhood level leadership.... hmmm...

It also shapes how we plan and build the future city of Seattle. How we create neighborhoods that discourage driving and offer people what they need. How we allow people to age in place.

The take away from this morning's breakfast is The City in 2050: Creating Blueprints for Change. I'm excited to read it.

Mashed Potatoes with Leeks. Steamed Rainbow Chard

As I've mentioned before, I've been loving having a small box of New Roots produce delivered every other Monday. I love that it's mostly local and organic (occasionally they will arrange to have produce sent up from California when it isn't in season here.) It forces me to prepare and eat many vegetables I may not be in the regular habit of eating. It's convenient and nutritious.

The challenge is that we lead fairly busy schedules. I find solace in cooking, but I get off work a little later than many. And one of us has soccer 3 nights a week. Which typically means smaller, lighter dinners. Don't want to run around for 90 minutes on a full stomach. And don't want to eat a big meal too late.

Last night was a perfect example of this. Jed went to soccer and I wanted something simple. My mission was to basically only eat New Roots vegetables. Not a problem.

Leeks and taters.  In a bowl.

I had 3 potatoes and some leeks from my sister-in-law. (Yep, it came with the eggplant!) I lightly peeled (I like a little skin left in) the potatoes and boiled them in water.

I sliced the leeks, focusing on keeping the whiter parts.

Sliced leeks.

Then I sautéed them with some butter in a skillet.

Sautéing leeks.

I mashed them with some sour cream.

Mashin taters.  With Leek.  And Sour Cream.

They went nicely with the steamed rainbow chard, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Leek Mashed Potatoes and Rainbow Chard.

Simple. Filling. Nothing fancy, but a very satisfying little meal.

I am...

excited to:

refinance my loan.
attend counter uncorked.
attend a ULI bfast.
play soccer.
attend a few political forums.
attend the seattle chamber lunch.
take rosy to the woodland park zoo.
see baby snow leopards at the zoo.
pick up freshly laminated art.
receive a couple impsandmonsters prints in the mail.
boat around lake union while learning fun historical facts.
participate in the Bridge Talks Back.
celebrate our new website launch.
attend a WCV breakfast.
spend a weekend in leavenworth.
go to thailand.

Baba Ghanoush

We had my brother and sister-in-law over for dinner a couple weeks ago. We had eggplant in our New Roots box that week, so we made a simple dish: sliced eggplant, broiled, with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Over risotto. And we had a side of steamed spinach. Lisanna brought over a leek and an eggplant.

And then I got another eggplant in the next New Roots delivery.

Fresh eggplant.

Time to make Baba Ghanoush!

If you know me well, you know I don't really like to follow recipes (or directions.) I think of recipes as inspiration, not a set of rules.

I roasted the two eggplants in the oven for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

Roasting in the oven.

You know they're done when they come our all wrinkly. Like a big, purple Sharpei.

Wrinkled eggplant skin.

I probably could have left them in the oven a tad longer (but dinner was ready and I didn't want to be a slave to the oven while I ate.)

I split the eggplant in half and scooped out the fleshy innards of it. Meanwhile, I juiced two lemons and mixed in a clove of minced garlic, a teaspoon of sea salt and a couple big spoonfuls of tahini. I also added a little chipotle chile powder. I may add more to taste.

Eggplant meat.

Put it all in the food processor. (I like black Kitchenaid, what can I say?)

Food processing.

The finished product is a light brown color, smooth and tastes awesome on pita chips!

Baba Ghanoush