Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hot Pot

Last week was a total whirlwind. James and I drove from Central Michigan to the Hudson River Valley in New York last Tuesday. I stayed with him for a couple days before returning to school in Massachusetts, unpacking, repacking, and flying into Reagan the next day!

I spent last weekend at a conference in D.C. This isn't something I do on a regular basis. I'm actually not a huge fan of the capital. On some level, it's the perfect place for someone like me to live and work -- I love the food, the nightlife, the fast pace, the opportunities -- but there's just something about it that doesn't feel right.

I can't deny a weekend there is really nice, though. Partially for the people and discussions, but also for the food. Have you ever been to a hotpot restaurant? I hadn't. It's really cool. Choose a protein, a set of vegetables, and a kind of broth. In my case, the meat was sirloin, the vegetables broccoli, potatoes, and napa cabbage, and the broth spicy. All the ingredients are brought to your table raw, and you add them to the boiling broth until they cook through. Then dip them in a sauce of your own design, and enjoy! It's the perfect night out -- it's something the average person can't do at home (all those individual boiling soups? Too much hardware!), it tastes delicious, and the novelty aspect makes it far more fun than dinner at a more typical restaurant. I took these photos at Mala Tang restaurant in Arlington. Check it out if you're in the neighborhood.

I headed back to Massachusetts on Sunday evening. I could hardly form complete sentences when I spoke to James that night. It's good to be settled back in, though, and even better to have avoided early classes this semester. After weekends like that, I need the extra sleep!

*All photos taken with iPhone.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Final Fresh Start

I typically look back at my winter breaks and have very little memories of them at all. I like to spend my month off between semesters cooking, spending time with my family, staying warm, and settling in with books that have nothing to do with political theory. This last winter break had other plans for me.

It started with a power outage, a mixed bag of a Christmas, then several polar vortexes (vortices??), finishing my first scarf, cancelled flights, and a wonderful trip to Utah. I returned home in mid-January to hunker down and really start the work ahead of me -- reading for a conference in DC at the end of the month, starting the job search, taking advantage of post-Christmas sales. Then, of course, I had a minor car accident on my way to pick up James at the airport (everything's fine now, thankfully). That put a slight damper on my birthday celebrations, which on the bad side involved several failed attempts at ganache frosting (I know. It's two ingredients. How did I screw that up?!) and a fall down the stairs, but on the good side resulted in a cake that was delicious anyway, and some amazing presents, the best of which was a Nikon d5200.

So by the end of this break, I'm actually looking forward to going back to school. Nothing here could possibly be this stressful and busy, right?

(I know that's totally unrealistic and silly; it's okay with me for now.)

This is my last semester, and I want to live it to the fullest. That means finishing strong academically, crossing all remaining items off my college bucket list, spending lots of quality time with my friends, making progress toward a life as a post-grad, and taking some time to work on personal projects like this blog. On day one, I think all that is do-able. We'll see how I feel in a couple of weeks!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bristlecone Loop

We spent our last day at Bryce at the top of the Grand Staircase --Yovimpa Point. The elevation here gets up to 9,000 feet, and at this time of year, it requires trekking through some snow on the Bristlecone Loop to get to it. It's a pretty short, easy hike in spite of that, though, and the view is well worth it! On a clear day like this one you can see almost 100 miles into the distance.

Bristlecone is named for the Bristlecone Pines that grow up here, perhaps the hardiest survivors in the world. The fourth photo shows one of the oldest ever -- it succumbed to erosion after almost two thousand years of life.

After spending a while at the point, admiring the world, we began the trip north, taking a quick pit stop at a local diner on the way. Nothing rounds out a long weekend in southern Utah like a milkshake and a burger on Texas Toast!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


After several days hiking in Bryce, we elected for a minor change of scenery. Kodachrome State Park is only a short drive from the canyon (about 30 minutes), so we headed out for a walk and a picnic. Although Kodachrome is also a step in the Grand Staircase and has some features in common with Bryce, most notably the color of the stone, it has some very unique structures. We took the Panorama trail up to a beautiful view point, stopping along the way to see what wind erosion has done for the landscape. I was particularly struck by the formation in the sixth and seventh photos, which reminded me of petrified sand dunes.

The Panorama Hike in Kodachrome is only moderately difficult. But if you are woefully out of shape/unadjusted to the altitude, the following trick can be extremely helpful. Whenever you feel as if neglecting your yoga and climbing at least 7,000 feet above your usual sea level has become too much, turn to your companion and say one of the following:

"Look at that beautiful rock/tree/bridge/hoodoo/German tourist! Let's stop to take a picture."
"Darling, I'm parched. Wait a moment while I drink some water."
"You know what would be great with this view? Beef jerky. Let's sit here a moment and eat some."

Feel free to adlib!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Queen's Garden

On our second day at Bryce we woke up bright and early to snowshoe with a ranger. I'd be lying if I said I didn't fall over once or twice, but overall I didn't end up quite as clumsy as expected! Sadly I hadn't charged my camera in a while and it gave out on me early on in the walk, so I didn't get many pictures of that one.

Luckily, I juiced it back up over lunch, and it was in full force for our real venture into the canyon that afternoon, to visit the Queen's Garden. Apparently not many people take the hikes that go beyond the rim, but in my opinion, they're missing out! It's a totally different world down there, and it's the nicest part of the canyon during the winter -- the windchill can be quite brutal on the rim, but walk just below it, and all becomes peaceful.

Bryce is known for its red rocks, its bridges, and its hoodoos (the columns of orange rock that stand alone), and we got up close and personal to all of them on the Queen's Garden hike. We even saw the queen herself! She's the sixth photo. Personally, I see the Queen riding a camel backwards. But to each her own.

As usual, hiking into a canyon is far easier than hiking out of it, but in my opinion, it is worth the effort, especially in this case.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bryce Canyon I

Four and a half years ago, my family took a trip out west. We put over 3,000 miles on our rental car as we drove from Vegas to LA and Pasadena, and then wound our way through five national parks and a Cirque du Soleil show before getting on a plane back to Mittenland. I still have fond memories of the trip -- walking under redwoods in Yosemite, wilting in the heat of Death Valley, singlehandedly devouring an entire beef stew in a bread bowl after the ill-fated decision to walk 1.5 miles down Bright Angel at the Grand Canyon.

(PSA: 1.5 miles down feels like 3 miles back up, and results in a second degree sunburn if attempted midmorning with extremely pale skin.)

All those places were beautiful, but I liked Bryce best of all.

17 year old me never expected to return to Bryce, but as James' family not only calls Utah home, but is so outdoorsy it's almost surprising they live in a house, I found myself spending the first weekend of January hiking in and around the canyon.

We drove down the morning after I arrived, through mountains and canyons, and arrived just before lunch. We took a light hike that afternoon, in order to help me acclimate to the altitude (8,000 feet above sea level) and my new boots. By the time we got back up to the rim of the canyon, the sun had set, and we could see a sliver of the moon.

Absolutely magical.

Have you ever visited a National Park? What is your favorite?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


1.A Viennese Ball / 2.My first night in London / 3.Stonehenge / 4.Misty London from the Eye / 5.Vienna / 6.Visiting Geneva / 7.Budapest / 8.Kissing the Blarney Stone / 9.Barcelona / 10.Amsterdam / 11.Vienna Rathaus at Night / 12.Picnic at Schönbrunn / 13.Me, as seen by James / 14.Scavenger Hunt / 15.James in Bregenz, Austria / 16.The Alps in Spring / 17.Impromptu Portraits / 18.Ithaca is Gorges / 19.Back in the Saddle / 20.Inauguration / 21.Christmas Vespers

It was quite a year. I started it by flying off to live in Austria for five months. Between Europe and the wonderful boy I met in the airport, that was the happiest time of my life. With such highs also come lows, however, and I spent most of the remainder of the year trying to readjust to real life.

2014 is one big mystery to me so far. It started out with a cancelled flight; I'm hoping that's not a bad omen! One way or another, it will be a big year, and I'm optimistic about the outcome. I can't wait to share it with you.