Category Travel

Season’s Greetings: Squeaking in under the wire

Merry Yulesolsticeweenmas!

A lot has happened these past two years while also not much has happened these past two years. I keep drafting and nothing feels right or complete, even as it expands far beyond its scope and the attention span of any reasonable human being, boiling ever outward but largely full of nothing, like a universe but comprised of navel-gazy pessimistic ill-informed bullshit. Or as Yoast SEO calls it, “unreadable.” Like this one is, two paragraphs from now!

What has there been to write about, when I’m largely either at home or a barn? The pandemic? Travel? The business I started? More horse stuff? Regular life stuff?

The Pandemic?

No one in my household has caught it, which is no small feat given that some half of Americans have had it at least once. We’ve had both the privilege which allows caution and the human hardship of living in isolation in a world that is determined to move on despite experts warning that we are not yet in the endemic stage. Particularly now, given the “tripledemic” going on this winter and what appears to be humanity’s total exhaustion with safety precautions. At Fred Meyer yesterday, nearly every elderly person I saw had their fingers in their nose, on their mouths, or were just open mouth coughing into the air because??

I’d experienced a brush with covid very shortly after it first emerged in the US: at first, it felt like a timely subject about which to write, but as “fifteen days to stop the spread” expanded into months and then years of fighting over masks and vaccines, with communities of color suffering and healthcare workers pushed to their limits, who cares about the two weeks I spent in my house, running on my mini elliptical and focusing on the day I could again go outside? I didn’t even get sick! The biggest hardship was underdeveloped grocery delivery infrastructure–the horrors of eating expired food from the pantry!! Riveting.


I’ve got a backlog of trips with photos that I could write about but my type of travelogue hits different in the context of the pandemic. Everywhere has changed. I’ve changed. How do I write about being a shit at a hotel at the grand canyon now?

Yes, for the record, my room did smell like Mark Twain died in there, but I dunno, everyone is trying their best and the desk employees certainly can’t help it if the room’s outlets zapped me when I tried to plug something in and that the in-room coffeemaker didn’t work or that my parking lot view afforded me the natural serenity of an intermittent stream of car headlights sweeping through the room and the sounds of engines all night or even that the deathbed smell is proving impossible to remove. People are dying, our systems collapsing and I’m taking this time to write about how I took this trip and stayed at this place mere steps from the Grand Canyon and my big problem was hearing everyone’s bathroom noises in a way which suggested they’d designed the bathrooms for that purpose? (I said I’d changed, not that I’d matured beyond all pettiness.)

I’ve also been feeling weirder about travel in other contexts and pursuing notoriety or success or whatever with it as a primary component. When emissions from one flight can rival many people’s output over the course of an entire year, is a lifestyle of extensive travel ethical? Does the purpose matter (traveling to well/unwell family, for a much-needed vacation, or for a meeting that could’ve been a zoom call?) or does therein lie the means for self-deception and exoneration as “not part of the problem”? In an interconnected world in which people are very capable of telling their own stories, has travel writing become another act of colonialism? Does the world really need another privileged white woman’s snarky, petty screeds, posing as reviews? Is there something so special about me that I deserve to see everything in the world personally regardless of its indirect, cumulative toll on others? Have the travel, travel publishing, influencer, inspiration curation, and review compiling industries unwittingly forced a form of colonialized homogeny everywhere, making lots of places feel kind of the same?

I flew to my brother’s wedding this year, and I’m still riding the high. I’m so happy for him. It was wonderful to finally meet his beautiful wife and it seems like they have a great partnership. I hope they have a lifetime of happiness. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for his special day, celebrate with so many awesome new-to-me family members, and reconnect with my family. The ceremony was beautiful and the food was so delicious and the music kept me dancing so hard that my knees ached while climbing stairs for a solid month afterward. Worth it!

Shaun T taught me how to dance like a hot mess in 2021 and I fully embraced it so I guess we’ll see if anyone still wants to admit to a relation with me by blood or marriage.

The business I started?

At the very beginning of 2020, I started my business with the goal of making high quality pet accessories, starting with a line of dog waste bag dispensers painted with a portrait of the purchaser’s dog. I wanted to be certain I did it right and legally and as ethically as possible as well as creating a shipping and product experience which feel in line with the price. As it turns out, all of the everything involved takes a lot of time. I wanted to launch in April 2020, and had my website up and running December 31st 2021. So, you know, close.

I also wanted to make it as difficult as possible for a business with less ethics to rip off my products and manufacture them cheaply, like a certain Seattle-based retailer of cheap plastic trash and intentionally disgusting “food” did with my handmade ornaments, undercutting my prices and wiping me out of the market entirely. The customization aspect stands in the way of mass-production, but it’s also made things harder for me–I can’t sell my products at a craft fair or maker’s market or try to stock them in stores because there are hours of portrait painting and finishing work for me to do between the point of purchase decision and delivery, and shows are huge financial and time investment to only put the product in front of people.

Your dog here.

Sales and fulfillment (the fun part) are slow.

The ongoing tedium/confusion/frustration/anxiety/”what in dog’s name am I supposed to be posting on social media” paralysis of the administrative side continues like clockwork along with their respective bills: shop hosting and accounting software and the second phone line and email forwarding and licensing so people can look at my website for an average of thirty seconds apiece.

Well, not JUST for that, it also inspires within me a deep desire to walk into the sea come tax time.

I know I need to keep grinding if I’m ever going to find my customers, I just really did not think it was going to be this hard. So now I get to throw some extra shade at myself for being too slow at launching my business to capture the time period when people were at home with extra spending money *and* when the instagram algorithm still allowed businesses a chance of reaching a new audience without spending money.

It feels extra bad to be unsuccessful to the point of losing money every month when Jason has been out of work for so long and things are getting scary financially–not only am I not helping to support my family with this, I’m making the situation worse.

More Horse Stuff?

This year I started working part time at a nearby sport horse farm which I will not name, photograph, nor specify the sport because I enjoy this job, I want to keep it, and I definitely can’t afford to lose it. I take satisfaction in the immediate impact of the work I perform and knowing that I’m doing my utmost to ensure that each animal in my care is as happy and healthy as possible. The physical nature of the work helps me sleep well and stay fit, its outdoorsiness keeps me in tune with the cycles of nature, and horses are wonderful coworkers. This year I learned to drive a tractor and spent several afternoons in the late summer sun, mowing pastures and hauling wood chips.

Navi is doing well both physically and emotionally. Thanks to the generosity of another boarder at my barn, she’s able to be in shared pasture turnout with another horse, which, as herd animals, is important for them but difficult to find in a boarding situation because (surprise!) people are wary about allowing their valuable animals into a group situation where anything at all could happen, from disputes leading to minor injuries to manes and tails eaten off to serious injuries or even death. Navi and Tina are close enough in temperament that the pairing works without violence or crushing codependence. They’re close enough in appearance that the staff needed to label one of them, but when they’re side by side it’s quite clear who is who.

For one thing, she and I make the same face while exercising.

I’ve continued to work with her using positive reinforcement training, and she enjoys it so much that she is now annoyed with me if I’ve come to visit her and do anything else. Essentially, I’m a stupid human slot machine who refuses to pay out despite knowing where the hay pellets are stored and possessing the requisite opposable thumbs to access them. RUDE.

Here we are in our halloween costume: evil witch who dragged her faithful horse to this dumb loud party and kept her away from dinner so long she skeletonized.

Regular Life Stuff?

There’s not much else going on. We adopted Teddy Bear as an official member of the family this year when it became clear he wasn’t ever going to be able to reintegrate with his family of origin, due to his bitey jealousies about no longer being the baby. We’ve successfully trained him with positive reinforcement to the point where he no longer needs to wear a diaper inside, demonstrating that his issue wasn’t so much incontinence as it was him feeling like it was not worth his while to tell us that he had to go. I’ve had less success with his on-leash reactivity but we’re making progress there, too.

When we started fostering him after his post-baby freakout, he’d lost most of his fur and was an anxious mess, constantly asking Jason or myself to hold him up on one shoulder like a baby being burped. Since then, his coat has grown back entirely, and he’s confident enough in us and this as his home that he’s not nearly as needy. He promptly got himself banned from Petco grooming because of his loud, bitey, goblinish behavior so I’ve started trimming him at home (which, I’d like to add, is not the same reason I started cutting my own hair at home). His vision is starting to go, his hearing is starting to go (silver lining: fewer shrill barking sessions at neighbors who had the absolute audacity to walk past our house on public sidewalks, minding their own business), his teeth are mostly gone, his kidneys are starting to go and I love him so much I’d fight an actual bear to keep him safe.

His little “shake and yank” maneuver is the cutest thing I have ever captured in any medium.

I started and made excellent progress on what began as a Halloween costume, took too long, didn’t have Halloween plans outside of the barn party anyway, and it’s shaping up into a pretty cool cosplay but I’ve run into a few issues and haven’t had the time, know-how, or energy to finish it, so maybe it’ll show up in 2023? And then, of course, it begins the transition.

Love to you and yours and a happy, healthy new year,


Night Market: The Flavors of a Friendship, Sugar and Nine Spice

I first met Beth on a train platform in Taipei. I was eighteen and she had just turned seventeen and we each knew we were meeting “the other American” in the large group of exchange students from around the world who would be spending the next year there, living in the homes of strangers we were to call our parents. We’d each just recently arrived, and I was nervous that she wouldn’t like me and nervous I’d be recognized for the imposter that I was in equal measure.

An imposter is what I felt like: I coasted through school with ease, and the parts that weren’t easy, I relied on my social ties with my smarter or more studious peers to pull me through. Frequently lamented in progress reports and report cards was my inability to apply myself; a fair criticism. Between the stress of my home life,  my after school and weekend job, and my desperate need to be liked by my peers, I took relief where I could get relief, at school, by doing the bare minimum that would get me the grade that would avoid repercussions at home. I did thoroughly apply myself to one area: telling authority figures what they wanted to hear, and I used that skill to carry me almost seven thousand miles away, to this train platform, with assurances that I was eager to learn the language, embrace the culture, and be an ambassador of sorts for the United States. I wanted to do those things well but what I really wanted was what the Rotary leaders had promised over and over again: the best year of my life. I wanted it and I was interested in any country that was willing to take me in and let me have it. At that time, we were required to buy an open-ended airline ticket, a ticket where your arrival date is set but your departure could be any date within a year of purchase, the better to be wielded by the program managers as a “behave or we’ll send you home” cudgel.

The nature of the ticket weighed heavily in my mind when I first met Beth. I was intimidated by her: she seemed much too cool and smart to possibly want to be my friend, and likely able to see right through my bullshit, and she could end the best year of my life before it could properly begin. But instead we went shopping and took sticker pictures together and ate food and became friends. Later, Beth confessed to me that she didn’t know if she’d like me at first because I was too pretty. I laughed–she had my number, all right. 

Our year was the last year the Taiwanese Rotary had all the exchange students together in a group: we had bonded together too much, they said, to the exclusion of making local friends. Of course we formed strong ties with one another; we were all teenagers going through a similar experience that was vastly dissimilar to our home lives. We were all schooled in Mandarin together, spending hours learning our bo-po-mo-fos and yi-er-san-sis, concluding our month of all day lessons by putting on a play. There were more exchange students than high schools, so even after we were split apart from the larger group, we still had familiar faces around which was crucial because the regular high school students were too busy striving toward college to have time for anyone still struggling with their Chinese ABCs. While all the exchange students had this experience in common to bond over and our individual friendships were based on personality, we also fractured along country lines, making Beth and I unquestionable allies and lifelong friends. We were American and that meant something, even though in the age of George W. we did occasionally pretend to hail from elsewhere so people wouldn’t ask us questions about our stupid president (2019: “Hold my beer.”). From elsewhere, together. That year was hard and all the exchange students clung together to survive it as we were used as pawns in subtle social games we didn’t understand while we navigated young adulthood and homesickness and culture shock and quasi-independence, and all of its assorted BIG feelings. Of course we bonded.  

So it wasn’t the best year of my life (how sad it would be to assume I could have none better in store ahead?) but I did make some of the best friends of my life, first and foremost Beth. We were obnoxious foreign tourist teenagers together, we hung around cafes for longer than was socially acceptable together, we shopped together, visited night markets and museums and slept on wooden beds and attended festivals and ate entrails stuffed with offal together. We got tattoos and $3 ear piercings together. We broke all the rules together, Beth lamenting that her host father was a police officer and she was constantly afraid of being caught with alcohol on her breath. We spent hours haunting restaurants that served free diet coke refills, assembling a yearbook which we mass photocopied in 7-11. We obsessed and laughed about things that German student Max deemed “a little bit stupid”. 

It was hard to go from a year of intense togetherness to being separated by thousands of miles, me in California and Beth in Pennsylvania, and though we kept in touch online, it was not the same. The best time I had in my tumultuous semester at Drexel was when Beth came to visit. I was overjoyed when over ten years later, her work brought her to Seattle and we could be in-person friends again. We spent a lot of time together, visiting museums, going to shows, taking tours, walking and talking for hours. 

Beth was more than cool: she was funny, and vivacious, and kind. At my bridal shower, Beth gave me a turquoise bud vase and told me that she’d been at a conference where the artist was selling them but the attendees assumed they were free and walked off with all of them, and that she felt so badly for the artist that she bought a vase whenever she saw them. That’s the kind of person Beth was, in her life, in her advocacy for causes she believed in, in her work as a nurse: thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic. She was a better friend to me than I have been to anyone, and she was that way with everyone. 

Last year, Beth died following a battle with kidney disease. Attending the memorial service felt useless, mingling with people she knew whom I’d never met in a part of the country where we shared no history. What comfort could these strangers take from me or I from them? I briefly entertained the idea of a return to Taiwan, with or without any of our mutual far-flung companions, but when I used Google maps to try and find the building in which my second host family lived and a point of reference to my favorite beef noodle soup shop, I couldn’t recognize anything. It’s been twenty years in a major metropolitan area: of course it’s different. I didn’t know what I hoped I would find there, the thing that would give me closure, that would help me accept her death.

So instead I went with mutual friends to a night market, to honor her memory by sharing the flavors of our past and a little bit of the unsavory carnival element inherent to the night market. The ones I visited in my youth were certainly seedier. They were places that sold bootleg CDs and DVDs, shots of snake blood, counterfeit designer goods, junky jewelry, a variety of marital aids and they just happened to also have food. This one caters more to foodies and families and also sells some other uncompelling crap: junky jewelry, special effects contact lenses*, thin onesies, stickers and some as-someone-has-seen-on-TV.  Things for which the night market is just a short stop on their inevitable journey to a landfill. The vibe was right. 

I felt it was important to take a group photo together, as taking photos together was one of our primary hobbies in Taiwan. It’d be even better if there were a few purikura booths** but handing my camera to a complete stranger is fine, too. 

I first experienced stinky tofu (臭豆腐) shortly after my arrival to Taipei; my host family took me to enjoy this “special taste” within days, as if they were afraid someone else would feed it to me first and they’d miss their chance at seeing my reaction. It was a simpler time, there wasn’t as much on TV, and watching your exchange daughter gag on the creamy garbage smell of cho-doufu was an entertaining diversion. Cho-doufu is tofu that’s been fermented in brine made from other fermented things in an unholy multiplication of stank alchemy. This tofu, puissant with odorifiousness, is then deep fried to put a crispy skin on its wobbling innards. In the second neighborhood I lived in, an enterprising vendor would make his rounds, pushing  his fry cart down the street, the wafting scent curling into people’s homes as he called out “cho! doufu” over and over again. He could have saved his voice: the smell is unmistakable. Twenty years later at a night market halfway around the world, the smell and its remembered associated taste could still make me shudder and my stomach flip-flop.

Cheese tonkatsu poutine: pork patty stuffed with cheese, breaded, and deep fried, served on a bed of french fries and green onions. A fan of anything stuffed with cheese, I was hyped to try this. Pro tip: find somewhere to sit, dump out that searing lake of cheese onto the fries and then stuff those cheesy fries back into the empty meat shell. You’re welcome.

On hot, sticky days together in Da’an Forest Park, we’d occasionally visit a shaved ice vendor who would load up a mountain of fluffy shaved ice with rivers of condensed milk and piles of chopped fruit, red beans, and tofu pudding. My favorite was ripe, fragrant mango. This drink from icy bar with its bubbles and jellies was refreshing and evoked a similar experience.

What are the six extra Ds beyond the mundanity of the mere three that people usually experience? Best guess: danger, dinosaurs, divestment from money…disappointment? That’s still two entire Ds unaccounted for. I’m going to venture that the disappointment is deep and all of these dimensions combined with a bunch of deep fried whatever could conceivably cause dry heaves. Disgorgement: that’s the word I’m looking for.


There’s so much food at the night market that everyone found something appealing, whether that was a chicken cutlet the size of a car tire or fish shaped pancake stuffed with custard. I got to share dragon beard candy with almost everyone, a pillow of fluffy strands of sugar around a core of chopped sweet peanut, black sesame, and coconut, dusted with more sugar that puffs around your mouth like smoke when eaten, the strands clinging to your face in a beard of sugar. Laborious to make with a freshness window of less than ten minutes, it’s very sweet and the texture is a bit like biting into a cotton ball. A nostalgic cotton ball. 

We found a table and wrapped our evening with gelato, flavors like tangy White Rabbit (Chinese milk candy), punchy yuzu, and nutty, roasty black sesame eddying into the bottom of our cups. In sharing this experience with our friends, Beth felt more present in my life than she has since her death. It didn’t lessen the ache but reminded me why I ache, why I loved her and love her still. Beth lives in the past now. I know where to find her.





*The very last place I’m going to put something sketchy is directly on my eyeball, thank you very much.

**I don’t know how they haven’t taken off in the USA yet but they’re like snapchat filters and stickers rolled into one and they can only have gotten better in the last twenty years.

Burning Beast 2019

“Welcome to the world’s best feast in a field!” Held annually at Smoke Farm in Arlington, Washington, and organized by chef Tamara Murphy, Burning Beast celebrates all things carnivore, inviting chefs to compete with one another for the title of Ultimate Beastmaster glory and a plaque with a skull on it. Each chef is assigned a protein, but it’s up to them how to prepare it to stand out from their peers and win the accolades of the 500 hungry attendees. 

This was the first year I was able to get my hands on tickets (they typically sell out in minutes and though I purchased my tickets in a harried frenzy, this year they appeared to still be available on the date of the event itself), and I was eager to experience the beefy bacchanal for myself. The chefs generally arrive the previous day, camping at the site and preparing for the event. Ticketholders are invited in at 3pm, with the dinner bell ringing at 5pm or thereabouts. As ticketholders arrive, they’re handed a menu for the evening and a station at which to start.

The lineup:

  • Chicken, Jack Timmons of Jack’s BBQ
  • Beef, Michelle Pegues of Carnivore
  • Rabbit, Jesse Smith of Smith & Coleburn
  • Octopus, Tana Mielke of Votano Hellenic Tavern
  • Goat, Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata
  • Filipino Pinakbet, Melissa Miranda of Musang
  • Turkey Tails, Dylan Giordan of Piatti
  • Catfish, Dana Neely of Girls Gone BBQ
  • Beef Tongue, Mike Easton of Il Nido
  • Pig, Adam Hoffman of Adam’s Northwest Bistro & Brewery
  • Duck, Robert Killam of Bread and Circuses
  • Grilled Corn & Eggplant, Mutsuko Soma of Kamonegi
  • Ram & Ewe, John Sundstrom & Rosie Cisneros of Lark
  • Salmon, Sadie White of Staple & Fancy
  • Lamb, Tristan Chalker & Mollie Turner of Salish Lodge


We arrived around 3pm and spent some time wandering the grounds: walking to the river, checking out the creative ways chefs were preparing their dishes: roasted on a spit, buried underground, strapped to a rack above a cinder block pit with a vintage chrome car grill mounted to the front. Above it all loomed The Beast, a giant plywood coyote that would be set ablaze at the end of the day’s festivities. 

Our chairs were parked near some Burning Beast veterans (whom we’d both worked with indirectly at some point in the past: games are a 135B industry with a teeny-tiny social circle) who’d helpfully explained to us how it was all going to go down. All too soon, the bell rang. I was to start at the salmon, and Jason with the lamb. I had seen the salmon cooking on posts, the accompanying bread grilling on a grate over hot logs and I was definitely ready to put it in my mouth. The sole dish that I knew I would not be queuing up for was the octopus, as I personally feel it’s unethical to eat them (too smart, no bargain with humanity), but that left me with a whopping 14 other dishes to try. 

The lines were huge but moved snappily, and once you’ve visited your starter station, you’re free to select a line at will, with many people choosing to eat the dish they got from the previous chef while waiting in the next line. I personally found the food to be a mixed bag. The salmon was sadly unremarkable, nigh-flavorless and wetly lumped on a piece of bread so hard and cracker-like it was difficult to bite through. While cleansing my palate with the lamb dish, I then entered the line for the rabbit tinga tostada, but when I got to the front of the line and saw that the dish was cilantro city, with a cilantro tortilla and a cilantro queso fresco, I passed owing to my passionate distaste for the herb that tastes like chewing on soapy tinfoil and declared it was duck season instead.

The duck wings were deboned and stuffed with a mixture of chicken and pork along with what appeared to be glass noodles and served with a side of pickled veggies and were excellent, one of the standouts of the day. 

“Who wants a rib?” I eagerly volunteered, accepting what I thought would be a pretty special morsel that turned out to be…not, when the meat on the bone was slippery and chewy, but not chewable. 

The catfish was perfect, flaky and crisp and somehow fried on a barbeque grill, because Dana Neely is a chef, and I suspect, a wizard. The catfish got my vote for Best of the Beast: it was just that magical.

I also tried the turkey tails, which is a part of the turkey that I had never eaten nor heard of before. It turns out to be a gland that attaches the turkey tail to the body and is filled with oil that the bird uses to preen itself: fatty, delicious, and the USA mainly exports theirs to the Pacific Islands. Dylan Giordan cooked his turkey tails on cast iron skillets above the fire until they were crisp and golden and delightful.

While watching the chefs cook, I did occasionally wonder how the amount of food they were cooking was intended to feed 500 people, but assumed the chefs knew better how to dial in the correct amount so that everyone would get to try everything. This assumption was incorrect and items that ran out early included the tuscan beef, the pinakbet, and the corn, that last which, unlike having to slice off 1/500th of a side of meat, seems countable. I was only able to try seven dishes before I tapped out, and maybe chefs take stomach capacity into their calculations, too,  but running out of food early makes ticketholders have to play a game of weighing what they think will be most popular so they don’t have an option taken from them and/or encourages them to pound down their food as fast as possible. It feels both in-line and out of line for the event: it’s first and foremost a feast, primal, meat and flame, but so many chefs cook with a nose-to-tail mentality and with sustainability in mind that eating as much as you can as fast as you can feels like it runs counter to that ethos.

Still: stomachs were filled, votes were cast, the circle was cleared, and the beast set afire, howling smoke and then jets of fire at the sky, finally collapsing into a flaming pile as people danced and digested and the sun set. 

I’ll give you $10 for the lightbulb hut.

Mmm, Beast Butter. 


Ram & Ewe


Tuscan beef

Chicken by Jack Timmons. Last year he took the trophy with his brisket and told me that if you win, next year you get assigned chicken. His chicken was bathed in mole for tacos, with a small snowy mountain of cheese.


Turkey tails