The creative spirit

Or: write on, Psalmists.

About a month ago, I went to see The 1975 play in Charlottesville. They, while not of the mainstream-radio set Stateside (yet…), have cultivated an impressively dedicated following. I can’t help but think that it’s not only because of their copious output and obvious talent/hard work combo, but also because of their utter sincerity. In their performance, and in their lyrics, it’s impossible to ignore. To me that is something beautiful – something to be proud of.

Sincerity. Complete emotional honesty. It’s what so many of us seem to be craving lately.

It’s why I love The 1975 unabashedly. It’s also one of the many reasons why Julien Baker and her echoic power have drawn me in. The poet with a guitar that rings out like a harp, her simultaneous rejoice and complain – her sincere, raw music is a gift to this world.

Music. Stories. Sincerity. Crying out in verse, reaching out to others in melodies, letting one’s spirit be free as it reveals itself between the notes of a song or the lines of a page. These are spiritual acts.

But of course it is, you think. You might think, for example, of the Psalms, of the Song of Solomon – then of Paradise Lost – or of Emily Dickinson’s plaintive queries to the Almighty. My mind goes to a gorgeous book of poetry called Bucolics a friend gave to me: pastoral verses that invoke the relief of nature, that send the writer’s wonderings to the God he calls Boss. Serious, curious, sweet. It’s refreshing.

I think this idea was re-awoken in me, though, by a sermon I heard on generosity. (Not the kind you’re thinking of, probably. Bear with me here~)

What I mean is: generosity is a spiritual act, too. To give what you’ve been given back to others, or to the one who gave it, is to share the light that is love. It is a way of making the impossible suddenly so possible. Of course it’s true in a financial context, but it’s also true relationally, and definitely artistically.

Isn’t this one of the reasons why we create in the first place? Are not our painted, composed, concocted works offerings in themselves?

I am trying to tease out what this looks like in my own life. But I wonder what it could look like in yours. I wonder what it would be like to have more and more people turn to this form of offering and of connection.

So until these questions are answered, I’ll probably just have Julien Baker on repeat. She just casts that kind of spell.

Tapas for beginners

IMG_0638

When you can’t go to Barcelona for Father’s Day, this is the next best thing.

Inspired by a visit to a brand-new Mexican place in Charlottesville, The Bebedero, and especially the meandering, flamenco-style guitar music playing there, we wanted the meal for last week’s holiday to be a gift that honored everything good about relaxation. Something that hearkened to a culture known for siesta and abstract architecture and amor.

(Bear with me: I realize that Mexican and Spanish cultures are totally unique from one another, but the music led from point A to point B. And you can’t really argue with music.)

Vibe solidly in mind, some online research led me to the refreshing and beautiful blog Salt and Wind. If you want to armchair travel through gorgeous pictures of food, recipes inspired by stories, and globally-minded articles, my goodness but this is the place to go.

Using a recipe of theirs, as well as a few from ever-faithful Saveur, this first venture into tapas was an enthusiastically received success. Which may or may not have been due to the whole adult-children-serving-and-honoring-their-parents thing, but even if it was, just couple that with some really savory wine sauce and crispy prosciutto and you’ll understand. Results may vary, but should equal something close to a moment’s happiness.

The recipes were as follows:

Gazpacho andaluz

Albóndigas en salsa

Crispy black lentils with asparagus, Jamon Serrano, and crème fraiche mustard sauce (not the sexiest name, but make it, and I promise the sauce will change your tune)

IMG_0640IMG_0643IMG_0642

Morals to this story:

Take simple ingredients and put love into their preparation.

Share your creativity: that’s a real gift.

And never say no to juicy, home-grown tomatoes when you find them. Otherwise you will be missing out on a very fine sandwich. And that is just a crime.

(At least, that’s what my father would say.)

Zen in the city

It’s been awhile, but not without good reason. I.e., sometimes – most times – you’ve got to do your growing away from the world of Interweb. Over the past few months, I’ve started full-time work, began exploring the potential for a(/another) new career path, gone to a concert, planned a vacation, and tried, countless times, to sleep in this noisy humidity. Did I mention ruing the day I left California?

Richmond’s not bad. I’m being unfair/mostly kidding. But my favorite places tend to be the quieter ones. The North Shore of O’ahu, for the most out-there example: I absolutely adore the country towns there. Not everything about them, but the beating heart of the entire area. It is a small, but sufficient haven; a home that is quiet, but calming.

Richmond, as I said, is not bad, and it’s not the Big City, but it is also not the country, and by no means is it quiet (she wrote, waiting for the next siren to whistle by).

There’s a beauty to this cacophony, of course. Music pouring from car windows and balconies; dogs barking; the racetrack abuzz – it’s a bizarre symphony of sorts, but it is uniquely ours. And it’s exciting that there is so much possibility living here.

But then there are moments when the noise mellows out, and if one pays attention, there are pockets of serenity to be found. And this individual revels in such spaces.

(That, or one could live with jaw clenched ad infinitum. It’s up to the individual, I suppose.)

I’m spoiled to have to take just a few steps to get to this first destination: the VMFA Sculpture Garden.

IMG_20160408_190041583_HDR

Whoever designed this area deserves a hug. It remains gentle and traps no chatter even when people are about, not unlike a park or bigger green space. That joyful echo of laughter and footsteps… swoon.

IMG_0628

IMG_0630

I am writing, in fact, from this very location, cool blissful breeze rustling the grasses, leaves, flowers, edges of water. With the art just in sight, it’s soothing. Wouldn’t miss it.

IMG_0620

You can’t talk about peaceful places without mentioning the trails at Dogwood Dell and the Pumphouse ParkSomehow I always end up drawn back here, to the grassy expanse by the amphitheater and the short yet winding trails. You could lose hours wandering here.

IMG_0618
ah.. cliched, but truly a sight for sore eyes

Then, on a more spiritual level, there’s Richmond Hill: a longtime spiritual haven and monastic spot for those committed to praying over the city.

IMG_20160401_160234858

I can think of no better place than this. High in Church Hill, its sweeping views of the streets, buildings, and river below keep it utterly engaged with Richmond’s heart. And its garden (notice a trend, eh?) is a relaxing place to sit, read, or pray.

Rest is important. Real rest is hard to find space for. There are so many demands on our time, energy, headspace. And that’s part of why environment matters: it’s an all-natural way of compartmentalizing between busyness and rest. There’s a reason we have happy hour and pau hana; there’s a reason we have a day of rest between workweeks. Because sometimes, just one step is all it takes to move you from stress-laden to chill.

I personally tend to have a hard time taking that first step. But these places are such an encouragement. How about you – where can you find such encouragement in the space around you?

How to get free: step one is to run

I run quite a lot. Not to an ultramarathon extent, or, frankly, even a marathon one, but maybe a little more than what’s considered average. It’s the path I’ve chosen for over 12 years now; while there’s no real physical reason to have kept with it this long, it’s proven to be mentally and emotionally stabilizing, so there it stays, a mainstay of my days. Give me a quiet morning, a riverside trail, and a solid pair of trainers, and I’m at peace for the rest of the day. Or at least a few hours, anyway.

Over and over again, this is about overcoming inertia. Not just of my physical self, but of my mental and emotional selves, too. It takes trying (and/or trials) to get something new out of running, and likewise, out of life. We alone contain our brightest ideals and shadowiest fears, and the work of overcoming inertia is that of choice. Do I choose to believe in the bleakness, or in the brightness? Do I choose balance? What will it be today?

Running through the woods is beneficial, yes, but only when I choose to (a) actually do it and (b) put my heart (and lungs) into it. Or, as some say, “embrace the pain.” What I mean is, even though it’s a habit, sometimes it’s still a hard choice to make. But it’s rare that I regret choosing it.

IMG_20160304_174655885_HDR

Sometimes that pain-resisting instinct – the one that makes decisions difficult – is part of my running and regular life at the same time.

For example: have you ever used physical pain to try and numb the emotional kind? I have, more times than I can count. The worst time was a sunny spring day in Southern California – mid-morning, dusty, and hot. Deciding to go far and fast enough to escape seemed helpful at mile one, but by mile four or five, there was a sinking realization that I wasn’t getting anywhere good. Just angrier, thirstier, and more confused.

It’s too easy to forget that pain can have purpose, and so much of life can be redeemed from its dark corners. Avoidance, resistance – can there truly be resilience when those two lead the way?

No, but a hard look at oneself – embracing that pain – can change everything.

Sometimes when you face the hard things, you come out on top.  There was another run on the North Shore of O’ahu, where I was living at my hanai aunt’s and dogsitting for the summer, on a gut-wrenching trail frequented by those who want to reward their physical efforts with a gorgeous sweeping view.

The day before I took on this steep switchback had been a tough one, workout-wise, and my legs were zapped. Yet somehow it seemed right, on this particular day, to get submerged in the thick greenery, choke down just one more bite of challenge.

20140705_075618

It was a rainy morning – not a rarity here, but still captivating in a gentle way. Permissive, not foreboding. It said, “Go ahead. It’s okay to feel this. This harsh uncertain feeling. It will be useful to you.” The grade was steep and the rocks were slippery, but the end of the climb did not disappoint. Gasping for air, already tired after three miles straight up, I looked across the expanse, to the ocean and the trees and the island rolling out in its majesty.

The challenge was redeemed. As they always are, even though it’s hard to see in the thick of it.

I like to think that’s what is so compelling about the natural world, even in a time when we live in houses and apartments and, generally, places with walls and roofs. Our spirits – they belong to the forests, the oceans, the rivers, and we can see ourselves more clearly there. Through the refracted light of the clerestory and canopy. A long trail jaunt, instead of a means of running away, becomes one of redemption.

Here are some of the places I find that respite in the city:

IMG_20151205_073018710_HDR

  • Pony Pasture (pictured above), a beautiful quiet place by the James.
  • Buttermilk Trail, for when you want to disappear for a few hours and be absorbed in the natural world. The ups and downs and obstacles make for a better adventure than I ever dreamed I’d find here.
  • Monument Avenue, aka the street where we live. Can’t get better cushioning than eight miles of straight grass.

IMG_20160306_172502114

  • Bryan Park (pictured above), not for mileage but for peace. This is a gem.
  • Byrd Park, a quick jaunt south on Boulevard from us. Makes me feel like I’m in a bigger city, and the fitness loop is pretty fun!

And for you globetrotters, some faraway faves mentioned in this post:

I’ll drink to that: on consumption, Port wine, and brownies

In the wake of holiday revelry, the impendingness of Mardi Gras, and some really stellar gifted Port (thanks Tara!), drinks and drinking have been on my brain. More specifically, the American relationship with alcohol – how historically vexed and fascinating it has been.

wineglass
wine: for drinking, for eating, for staring out windows in winter

From Big Beer to craft breweries, from local to well-sourced to biodynamic wines, this is definitely an area and industry always in flux. An interesting recent phenomenon is the fact that, during the recession, it was one of the few markets that stayed strong – and grew. For someone who has spent the last few years in and out of regular work, this is not hard to understand. When finances are tight, and you have to be extremely choosy about indulgences, a bottle of wine is one that you can share with a few friends any old time.

But this brings me back to the fraught relationship with alcohol we Americans have tended towards – that is, from a collective perspective, as I do know many people who have healthy relationships with what they drink. It strikes me as similar to our odd national eating disorder, wherein we’re obsessed with health and/or eating, which seems to make us unhealthier. So my question is: is this trend is a “bad” thing? Or even something to joke about being “bad”? That seems to be such a Puritanical relic sometimes, the word “bad,” but I’m curious: are we drinking more and harder during tough times, or are we truly seeking togetherness because work is lacking, and we suddenly have realized that true community is the most important thing?

Alcohol consumption gets to be so different in other countries: the standards, for one, are unique. So are the amounts consumed. And there doesn’t seem to be so much baggage. I’ve not yet got to the bottom of why (has anyone? if you have, let me know). But since, here, we’ve got to reckon with the ghosts of addiction and binges, I suppose that means that, if this is the indulgence you hang onto, perhaps it’s wise to ask yourself why. Just in case. Just like with anything.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do, still being among the jobless, and for me – as for many – it does swing back around to togetherness. And to flavor, of course.

gaia

I have never been a big drinker in terms of volume (too much of a lightweight, alas), but the taste aspect fascinates me after having worked closely with wine and food. The variations are endless; the pairings, innovative and fun. One of my favorite jobs was at a Charlottesville winery with rustically inspired energy, where I first was privy to adventurous and unique wine and food pairings.

(It was also the first place I ever had olives. A life without olives??)

So, disappointingly, I can’t offer any new information* on wine and beer, although I do love the supposed heart-health benefits. That’s something I’ll go ahead and trust.

But I’m up for achieving harmony in all things, especially when it comes to food and drink, so let’s add to the love with a recipe for port wine brownies. To be enjoyed with or without port, depending on your preference (and family history, and financial state). Salute!

Port brownies with dried cherries

adapted from Curly Girl Kitchen’s recipe

IMG_0608

ingredients:

  • 1/4 c dried cherries
  • 3 tbsp Port
  • 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (baking bar or chunks; regular chocolate chips are too finicky)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt

(note: Curly Girl includes a ganache; I did not, but check the link if you want to try it)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a small baking dish (5×5 or 6×6) with nonstick spray or butter.

On the stove in a small pan, heat the Port with the dried cherries mixed in.  Bring to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.

While the cherries are set aside, in a double boiler over medium heat, combine the chopped chocolate and butter, stirring the chocolate and butter as they melt. (Alternatively you can do this step in the microwave, combining the 2 ingredients in a bowl and stirring every 15 seconds or so.)

When finished, take the cherries-and-Port mixture, and puree in a food processor, or mash in a small bowl.

Then, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk or beat the Port mixture, melted chocolate and butter, cocoa powder, egg, sugar, and vanilla, until smooth and combined.  Add the salt and flour, stirring in with a spoon or rubber spatula, scraping the sides all the while.

Spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is set. (Check occasionally since every oven is different.)

Let the brownies cool for about 30 minutes before cutting into them.

brownies
so fudgy. so perfect

Recipe yields a small batch of 8-10 brownies; easily doubles to fit a regular 9×13 pan!

*For further thoughts on this topic, I love this article from Forbes. Highly recommended read! > Are You Drinking Too Much? The Myth of Moderation

On seasons and soup

They say that for everything, there is a season. During this particular one, I’ve got a strange ongoing challenge that I don’t get to wield any control over. It’s humbling, too, because it’s something I’ve poked fun at many times, or labeled “boring” (because usually it is). This topic is – what else? – weather. Weather and seasons.

IMG_0570

Before I left the Left Coast, a friend commented that it was too bad I was leaving when I was. It was late October. I went blank for a moment, a little confused. “Why?” I asked. “Were you planning something fun that I’ll miss?” “No,” she said. “Just because it’s going to be so cold.”

Cold. The real four-letter word.

I was a little dismissive of that, at first, since, la-de-da, there’s more to life than weather. Like Sleater-Kinney’s glorious “No Cities to Love” says, “it’s not the cities, it’s the people we love.” I.e. not the weather, because weather is just weather. It’s different everywhere, sure, but it’s still the last-resort cocktail party topic of yore. Everywhere I’ve ever been in the U.S., they say that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Everywhere. (Except California, come to think of it.)

So: weather is weather. That’s true enough. And yet here I am, feeling weird that I remain unadjusted to the admittedly mild temps. Each evening I realize that there was a certain lack of shivering I came to take for granted in Orange County. Y’all have it good there – really good. Now, a fifty-degree day gives me goosebumps; it’s, dare I say, borderline embarrassing. It feels like a huge weakness, actually – say, if we had some kind of apocalypse and lost all internal heating or sources of flame.

(Not that we turn the heat on here, so maybe it’d actually be okay. Who knows.)

I find this interesting not in a “typical-girl-is-always-cold” way, because that is truly boring, but in a seasonal way. That is, as it turns out, I did miss the seasons of the Mid-Atlantic – the autumn reds and golds and the barren winters and the whipping breezes of spring. SoCal has its own versions of seasons, sure (June gloom, anyone?). But it’s fair to say that it’s not quite the same. Which can be an excellent thing for those who live there (beach in November!).

That said, when you give up seasonal variation, you also give up – however temporarily – a certain adaptability. You can prepare with layers. You can adopt a never-say-die mindset. But other than that, you just gotta hold out hope that one day, it will return and you will be tough again, no longer a sunshiny marshmallow subject to the whims of the Pacific, but a stone-cold badass Katniss Everdeen in the face of the harshest of winters.

In the meantime, during this season (see what I did there?), what else can you do to stave off the chill?

Taking the meat from the squash

The answer, of course, is make soup. And not just any soup: one that is an ode to the West Coast and a blogger I find endlessly inspiring. This is an adapted version of a butternut squash soup from this lovely Orangette post – fitting, too, since her writing here is so beautifully dedicated to San Francisco and Seattle.

My changes were slight: since I was out of apple cider, I omitted it and upped the stock content, then added coconut milk towards the end of the simmering process. The result was a thick, almost-bisque with a whipped consistency and beautiful harmony of spices.

Apple & butternut squash soup

adapted from Orangette

IMG_6566

ingredients:

¼ cup olive oil
one 1.5-lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cut into 2-inch cubes
two small apples (I used Gala as in the original recipe), peeled, cored, & cut into 1-inch cubes
one medium onion, chopped
½ tsp each of cardamom, curry powder, and ginger
3 or 4 cups vegetable stock (can also use chicken, per the original)
½ cup coconut milk
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the squash, apples, and onion and stir to cover with oil.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and become translucent. Then, stir in the spices, maybe adding a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion’s edges are browned and the squash has started to soften.

Add the stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then lower the temperature. Continue to simmer – uncovered or partially covered – for 25 to 35 minutes, so the liquid reduces. Add half of the coconut milk at the end of the reduction time.

Remove the soup from heat and gradually – two batches, probably – add to a food processor or blender. (Keep your batches small so to avoid a hot explosion.) Puree the mixture until it is smooth and silky, without chunks. It should be more of a whipped cream texture than an applesauce one.

Return the soup to the stockpot and add the rest of the coconut milk as you warm it back up. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately (and with roasted squash seeds if you can!).

serves 3-4

Photo credit in this post goes to my lovely sister Rachel!

Eastward expansion*, part 2

*My filmmaking friend (and fellow East coaster) Brittany gave me this phrase, in case you’re wondering. She a forward-thinking, fun, and talented producer/photographer/videographer who is also kick-ass at life and at being a friend. I do not exaggerate when I say that I would not have survived California without her.

Today, she came to mind because I am thinking about the ways we need each other, and especially how being honest about that need makes it possible to experience what may have seemed very not-possible.

This part of the story is a little longer, but only because I don’t know how I could extricate one part from the rest. But I do know that Rogerson Service came first.

idaho h2o
Rogerson is also apparently home to the second best water in the country. Coming from Cali, ya, I’d say it was pretty righteous

That place is the best dang gas station in the United States (probably). But, I imagine that if you’re reading, you’re wondering what a service station/café/convenience store has to do with anything. That’s not unlike what I wondered when we stopped there to look for firewood on our way to Lud Drexler Park.

It turned out to be more relevant than relevant – a piece of Magic Valley magic, perhaps? – as it was where an amazing, hardworking woman named Terri hooked us up with two nights’ worth of logs, no charge, courtesy of her friend who had just chopped it that day. Magic, indeed. Not sure I’ve ever slept as well as I did that night.

Everything took a turn after that encounter. For one thing, since our campsite was a different one than I’d initially planned, we were slightly ahead of schedule. Eastern Montana was the intended stop, for no real reason other than the romanticization of Montana. So why not, instead, pass through part of Montana on the way to Yellowstone?

yellowstone pines

yellowstone stream
cleansing in every sense

Why not? It’s only the most unparalleled preservation of beauty in the U.S.

It was rivaled, though, by Granite Pass. As we continued on to Sheridan, our route included this tricky, treacherous path through the Bighorn Mountains, and layers of ancient (truly, beyond ancient) sedimentary rock. It was terrifying, steep as the grades were, but fascinating and fun to learn about the different ages of the rocks that surrounded us. I guess, technically, most of the rock out there is prehistoric, but every section of it was marked here. Plus, how many areas can claim to be the home of certain dinosaur fossils? That alone was worth the danger. We might have missed out on a real marvel, otherwise.

granite pass
Photo courtesy of another blogger at Lincoln Highway Ride (http://www.lincolnhighwayride.com) because my hands were gripping the steering wheel too tight to snap one of my own

I read after getting back that the Bighorn Mountains are considered sacred to the Cheyenne. It’s easy to see why.

We skipped camping that night in favor of knowing where exactly we were. Even that had its unexpected pleasures, albeit smaller in scale. Java Moon was the main one: should you find yourself in Sheridan, this place and its DIY oatmeal are a must. And maybe finding yourself in Sheridan is a good idea in itself – we loved what we saw of the small town. It seemed like a remnant of a West that maybe only exists in our collective memory.

Or maybe it’s real, and vibrant, and filled with the most unexpected of people and places. That’s what will stick with me, anyway.

Places in this post:

Eastward expansion, part 1

Now that I’m about 2700 miles away from where I spent the last year, I’m sort of swimming in the retrospect. It almost feels as if that year in Orange County was an extended road trip. Since getting back to Virginia, I’ve kept stumbling over this sense that almost no time has passed, and I’m just picking up where I left off last October. That maybe, after my mom and I drove to Irvine and she flew back to Northern Virginia, my dad met up with me in Thousand Oaks just a week later, and we drove back together.

It’s an idea I find interesting in a lot of contexts: what if the reality you think you’re living is not entirely … real? If perception is reality, then this is both true and untrue.

This sense also may be a sense that comes with the territory when you travel through a thousand towns in the space of a week or less. And at a time of year, too, that drags along with it a particular breed of nostalgia that no one can seem to escape.

Road trips, man. They make you think. (Maybe too much. Or maybe not enough.)

abandoned train

My dad (Tom!) and I left Southern California on a Friday; on that Friday, we landed in Mammoth Lakes. We had our first (gentle) encounter with plans and un-plans there. (For this trip, anyway.)

It started with our campsite, Lower Deadman: I found out just a few days before our departure that it was closed. Apparently, it likes to snow in the mountains. That was easy to solve, though: we just decided to look for a new one once we were near Mammoth.

hot springs sunset

Once we arrived to the beautiful gorgeous place, no exaggerations, we started asking around about the Hilltop Hot Springs. We ended up finding not only the route, thanks to the clerk at the health food store, but also the Mammoth Brewing Company. Not exactly a secret spot, but not a place either of us had heard of, either. In an age of Internet research and experiential travel, that’s kind of refreshing. Serendipitous.

We didn’t taste but a few, but if you get the chance to try the fruits of their labor, I heartily recommend their seasonal beers, especially the Owens Valley Wet Harvest Ale. I thought it was the perfect fall beer – a black IPA with just enough bite and a warm, toasty finish. Just be sure to be really hydrated if you’re drinking it at altitude. (Another new lesson I learned…)

As for the Hot Springs, they can be found by turning off the 395 by a green church just south of the Mammoth Lakes airport. If you drive down the dirt road and pass two cattle grates, at the bottom of a hill, there they will be. Not to be missed if you’ve been hiking, skiing, or sitting in a car all day (ouch).

hot springs folks

And you probably will be sharing the space, so get ready for good conversations with strangers, which was what we got, too. I always get nervous at those kinds of situations, anticipating what people will think, but maybe everyone gets like that. Either way, there was no need: our group was wonderfully relaxed, welcoming, and happy. We even got to meet the Internet-famous Anais + Dax (pictured above!).

Planning the trip was exciting, perhaps only because I didn’t have much else to do at the time, but each day, I learned again that the best parts are the detours that you could never plan. A platitude? Sure. But a true one. Maybe that’s why it’s a platitude at all.

Part two to come!

People and places in this post:

Quote of the day (or: first post! yikes!)

There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.

– Edward Abbey

Some words are more true than others. These words have been sticking with me lately, probably because this is the month that I bid farewell to the Golden State. (That, and “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” It’s a big state, okay?) It’s been just a year, but what a year it’s been.

laguna beach waves

To explain myself, if you’re reading and wondering: in October of 2014, I drove across the country, leaving Northern Virginia behind to live in Southern California. It was exhilarating, as such journeys are, the drive especially. Along with my driving companion (hi Mom), I saw those Great Ol’ Plains, the beauty of Wyoming, the unconcerned mountains of Utah. And then the gorgeous cliffs at Laguna Beach.

It was the ocean and the idea of opportunity that drew me here, mostly, after a few months spent living in Hale’iwa, Hawaii, and a few more questioning how to go forward in a writer’s life. What are you when you’re not exactly a journalist, or “real” blogger, or novelist (yet)? Why was California the answer? I’m not so sure I know anymore, but I tried, and learned quite a lot for it.

So after 12 months, five (!) jobs, awesome new friends, and too many Korean fusion tacos to quantify, I am throwing in the Bear Flag towel and returning to the Commonwealth of Virginia to live in its capital, aka Outside magazine’s favorite city in 2012, aka Richmond.

Starting over (and over and over) is something I’ve done a lot of over the past few years, and maybe it’s something we’ve all got to do to keep learning and growing. Maybe that’s something we should tell ourselves regularly. After all, even if we are always the same people at heart, we are always changing.

What I will miss: the gorgeous waves and the cold Pacific. the dusty mountains. good vibes and better friends. the laid-back way people say hello. the loose approach to life. the deep cultural diversity. Los Angeles. Encinitas. Santa Barbara. and, yes, the weather.

california mural

What I won’t: traffic, traffic, and traffic. plus the egregious lack of turn signal use. high taxes and other nanny-state tendencies. the highest cost of living in America. the safest city in America. and maybe, just maybe, the amount the weather gets talked about. (but everyone does that everywhere, i think. maybe scratch that last one…)

So to finish this explanation, what is this blog? It’s a chance to start over (again), and to turn my and others’ explorations into stories. Maybe about rock climbing, or the James River. Maybe about languages and cultures. Maybe about food, too. (Definitely about food.) And family, and friends, and perhaps you, too? If you’re coming along, anyway, and I hope you are.