Snow.Snow.Snow!

Snow.Snow.Snow!

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The tires of the car whirred, spinning in place, and spewing snow out the back. The Honda was stuck halfway in and out of the driveway blocking the 4-Wheel Drive vehicle in front.

“Take the sled, shove it under the wheel to give it some traction,” I suggest.

The neon green sled, the thinnest ten dollar plastic is brought forward.

“Ayla will be so sad if we destroy her sled,” my friend says about her daughter.

But we need something flat. We’ve tried medium logs, the base of a shovel. The green slide is shoved under the tire. We all stare at the car, the neon is garish against the snow. Collectively we change our mind. If we’re stuck in this cabin in Lake Tahoe, at least one person should enjoy her time here.

James removes the sled from the ground and passes it back to Gena who takes it to snow covered backyard, treasuring it like a lost relic found. The snow isn’t stopping. A small, wet falling turns to light flurries. The limbs of the trees are weighted down with it. Large crashes resound around the house as branches break off and send plumes of white wafting from above and below. Brad revs the engine again. James digs around the wheel base.

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I walk away to grab my camera. I meet Gena and her daughter in the backyard. It is the first time for both of them seeing snow. One is three the other is thirty-four, sharing this moment for the first time. Gena is on her knees, scooping the crunchy white matter into a ball. They are building a snowman. He is tiny. No higher than my knee. Ayla leans down and pushes a baby carrot into his face for a nose. Two coffee beans become his eyes and a macaroni noodle is placed upside down as a frown. This is not a happy snowman, but he exists.

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Ayla doesn’t want the snow in her glove. She is cold. She stares at the glove on the ground and laments it. We try to tell her that if she wears the glove the snow won’t get in and it will keep her hand warm. The snow continues to fall. The backyard is turning into a swimming pool of tufts of white snow.

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Gena grabs the sled. Ayla climbs in. They circle the backyard. Baby-voiced “weees” circle me as I take photos. A louder shout is heard from the front yard. The boys have unstuck the car. We run to the front to meet them.

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James has piled enough small sticks and logs to make a flat, snow free area from which the tire was able to break free. Brad pulls the Honda into its original spot. The driveway is free. I look around. The snow is only getting thicker. In the distance all I see is white sky.

The boys crowd into the car. Will I be going to the mountain today? No, thank you. I follow the girls back into the house as the boys head for the ski resort. We watch the snow fall outside the window, warm inside, covered in blankets and drinking hot cocoa.

We remember the turkey. Gena bravely pulls out the innards while I stand behind and watch. As she rips the plastic tubing that holds them inside the carcass a miniscule piece of turkey flesh flies through the air and flings into my eye. We laugh. I wipe my eye incessantly while Gena rubs butter into and under the turkey skin. Soon the house is filled with the heartwarming smell of slowly cooking turkey meat. It feels like Christmas only its February.

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The boys come home. We join their snowboard aching bodies in the hot tub. The snow continues to fall. Our feet are freezing as we carefully try to jump through the slush on the ground to make it to the tub. Everything is pins and needles. Then we look up. The snow coats are faces. We’re so warm we can’t feel it. It floats around us, falls on our shoulders, catches in the buns in our hair and makes us look like we have mini-snowman on our heads. Our sad snowman in the yard looks on at us disapprovingly. Gena is amazed. We linger even after the boys have gotten out.

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The snow never stops. Loud cracking sounds bang against the windows as snow and limbs break off and fall around the house. We jump each time we hear it. We wake to an even thicker coating on the ground, the trees almost pure white. Our friends go sledding. James and I make it halfway to the ski resort and turn back. We get hot toddies at a bar by the lake that we can’t see through the blizzard. We return home. We read snuggled together in bed with the blue light of the storm swirling outside the window. Suddenly everything is dark. The lights have gone out.

We meet our friends down stairs. All our iPhones brandished in front of us with the lights on. A glimmer of light emanates from the corner of the room where we only just started a fire. We search each cabinet for candles. This is someone else’s home. An AirBnB. We find one tapered candle and light it for the table. We have the leftover turkey in the fridge. We make a sandwich assembly line in the kitchen by the light of our phones. We eat around the candle light. The light flickers back on. It is time for Ayla to go to bed.

We set up Catan, our fifth round of a different expansion. We grab our wine. We stoke the fire. We throw aluminum foil covered smores into the wood stove. The chocolate melts around the marshmallows as we build our cities and conquer Catan. We laugh. We are warm. We are fed.

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The next day, the sun comes out. But a little part of us wishes it hadn’t.

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Snow by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH2KGboA35c

Sanctuary City: Part Two

Sanctuary City: Part Two

As promised, this second post is about being home and taking refuge in the place that we rest and come back to. I live in San Francisco, CA. I have lived in this city for over 12 years and I am also a Bay Area native. I am happy to have grown up in a liberal bubble and have the privilege to travel the world and see what is beyond the boundaries of the area I was born in. Not everyone has that privilege and I would just like to name that, I can afford to travel and I take the opportunity to do so often. Maybe you are an arm chair traveler and this blog is your way to see the world, and if that is the case, I salute you. Please come back and please keep reading. Home can be a wonderful place to explore and to find solace in just as much as the newness and exoticism of travel.

In that respect, this blog post is dedicated to my home and the ways I incorporate my travels back into it. While I attempt to make a trip once or twice a year, let’s be honest, the bulk of our time is spent in the place we pay our rent or mortgage to be in. We have to live our daily lives doing things like feeding the cat, making dinner, going to our jobs. This shouldn’t mean that our homes can’t be lovely reflections of our travels.

When I was younger (remember I started my world travels at 15) I would buy a lot of tchotckes, little cheap trinkets that they sold at tourist attractions. They had no real purpose and they all eventually ended up in boxes to be packed away in the back of my closet.

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The totem was from Seattle or Vancouver, the Buddha from Hawaii and the watercolor was bought in Italy. These are on display in my bookcase.

As I got older, I wanted to be sure what I spent my money on was useful in some way. I didn’t want to just fill my house with things for thing-sake or bring useless gifts home for friends. I became more mindful about my purchasing decisions. Perhaps I’d rather spend that money on an experience or food from a local vendor. Where would my money be going when I spent it on a tourist goody, to Chinese manufacturers or to the local people?

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One of the storage boxes containing shot glasses and old honey and olive oil jars. In the background you can see a mug I actually use daily from my travels in Iceland.

I find the best way to decide on my purchases is by asking the following questions: Can I eat it and if so can I get it home? Can I display it in my home and will it stay on display or end up in a box? Am I supporting the local population with this purchasing choice? Can I afford it?

Due to these questions, here’s what I buy the most of: honey, alcohol, art and local artisan crafts.

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I love this Iceland puffin mug-bought in a tourist shop but something that I actually use. In the background you can see the carved hippo I purchased in Kenya on display.
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Different types of alcohol specific to each region: Peru, Costa Rica, France, Italy. The rooster is a wine stopper from Portugal. These are great to share and bring home as gifts for a tasting party.

I would rather share an experience with my group of friends or have art that will last on my walls forever. After returning from Portugal, my friend Caroline and I hosted a Portugal party and broke out are ration of sardines, olive oil and wine we had bought in the country while on a Douro Valley wine tour. We shared our love of the food we enjoyed for those two weeks with our friends and family over the course of one afternoon. What a great way for them to experience the tastes of a foreign place from home!

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I am a big fan of Afternoon Tea and these boxes highlight some of the tea I’ve picked up in France, Iceland and England. You can keep reusing them to fill up with different tea year after year. Functional, pretty and a good memory from that time period.

The other things I love to bring home are artisan goods. Something that I can wear, put on my walls or use in my house. We visited a local artisan collective in Peru where we bought woven table runners straight from the women who made them rather than from the big name stores in the cities. The table runner lives on my kitchen table most of the year.

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© Michael Goode

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Making the dye from nature

I try to actually use things I bring home. This sheet from India hangs at the foot of my bed. Not only does it keep Bean’s cat hair off my white duvet, it also potentially blocks all those scratch marks she leaves on my bed from view.

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I still wear this bracelet that I picked up when visiting the Masai in Kenya
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Technically this puppet has no purpose other than to please me, but my father and I got a lot of kick out of what we dubbed “Elmer” when we road around the countryside of France after I purchased it in a toy store in Lyon.

It’s important to display the things we love. I added this hook on my wall to display a kimono my Japanese grandmother brought back for me after her last trip to Japan. I wear it on a cold day but I get to admire it year round.

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In the background, you can see art that I collected on my travels as well. I keep a gallery wall in the hall and basically add art to any open surface throughout my apartment. Buying art from local artists is one of my most favorite purchasing decisions when traveling. My favorite piece is from the Peruvian graffiti artist JADE. I found it in a trendy boutique in Barranco. My brother and I did a lot of shopping in the San Blás neighborhood of Cusco and found a boutique that featured local artists, where I got the painting to the left of the Jade Rivera piece by Natalia Lizarraga.

I also like to keep things to remind me of what the name of a boutique was or an especially good restaurant. After all, it helps me with this blog. I use to keep the mementos in scrapbooks but after reading a Martha Stewart article, I decided to start throwing things in keepsake boxes and displaying them on my book case instead.

All I have to do is pull one out and riffle through it. I keep my travel journals and a small photo album of some of my favorite images from the trip in the box as well. And that brings me to my last favorite item to bring home from travels: photos.

I don’t like to let my photos linger on my hard drive. Instead, I get them professionally printed out. I have used the Apple photo book feature in the past to make the small photo albums in my boxes but recently I branched out and used Social Print Studio for the first time. I ordered 48 of my Instagram photos and they were delivered within a week and were beautiful. I am not being paid to give them a shout out but I can’t sing the praises of this Bay Area start up enough. I will definitely be using them again.

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Some of my Valentine’s Day themed travel photos on display from Social Print Studios.

Passion Passport recently did an Instagram challenge featuring people’s favorite Travel Treasures. You’ve seen some of mine, what are yours? How do you display them in your home?

Sanctuary City: Part One

Sanctuary City: Part One

I called this post Sanctuary City for two reasons. One, San Francisco has been a sanctuary city since 1989. We have felt the need for that status more than ever in the political turmoil and unrest that is settling itself around the country right now. The title is a nod to that, for sure, but I also wanted to remind myself that a sanctuary is by definition a safe space, a refuge. San Francisco isn’t just a sanctuary city for the nation, SF is also my actual home, where I come back to after I travel, where I feel safe, where I recharge my battery before I can go back out into the larger world again.

For Part One, I wanted to explore a little of this sanctuary city that I call home, a little corner of my world. For Part Two, I will showcase a little of my actual home and how I bring the world into it. Both posts will be based on my desire to get better at photography this year, so this is less about writing and more about visual storytelling.

I asked everyone for photography lesson books for Christmas and am saving up to get a new lens for my Canon Rebel. With the sun actually out for once, I decided to take a walk down Divisadero St. in San Francisco this week and take pictures of things that I gravitated towards. Here is a little taste of one little street in the great place that I call home.

 

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I wanted to practice using the Macro feature on my camera to explore odd details you wouldn’t necessarily notice. I live in what is considered Lower Pac Heights which is directly above Western Addition. I loved the cracked paint on these old murals and the way the two interplayed with the late morning light.

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My walk took me to the Sunday Farmer’s Market at Divisadero and Grove where I purchased some tasty citrus fruit.

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On the corner is 4505 Burgers and BBQ which is a great place to stop for some brisket and sit out on the picnic tables with a beer in your hand when Karl the Fog takes a break for the day and lets the sun shine.

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I was more interested in the kegs against the red wall then the people eating on the other side.

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Even the dogs are enjoying the nice day
On our way back up the street, we stopped in to two boutiques I’ve always wanted to peruse but stopped myself solely because of my desire to buy things and not being able to afford it. First stop Tanner Goods to find the man a nice leather backpack. The shop was well-manicured and had everything for the SF modern man from bar supplies to hygiene kits. Everything was immaculate and perfect and the price was, not shockingly, well above either of our pay grades so we left empty handed.

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Funky table in the store that draws using a system with weights
I wanted to look at some girly things too so we hopped across the street to The Perish Trust where I could imagine what having a millinery in my kitchen might feel like…and also wish I had a house to interior decorate.

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The Mad Hatter’s closet
It may have all been hipster-inspired madness but I loved the mixture of textured ribbons, wide brimmed hats and checkered floors. I’m still learning the features of my camera and had wanted to focus on the hat in the center, but because of its depth in the back of the room, my camera brought everything in the foreground into clear focus. While not my intention I do love that you can really see all the texture and colors at the front while almost feel like the back of the room is sucking you through a rabbit hole.

As any good San Franciscan will do on a free Sunday, we skipped the line out the door at the Mill (though I love their cinnamon toast) and headed over to Mojo for some equally good Ritual coffee without the wait (Fun Fact: Four Barrel was started by the guy who started Ritual, so same same.) and took that coffee on the road to stop in open houses that we will never be able to afford. Yay SF and being one of the most expensive cities in the world right now. Makes a teacher feel good. After looking at the small three bedroom apartment, we rode the squeaky elevator to the roof and checked out the views of the Victorians across the street.

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I liked the juxtaposition of the two chimneys with the beautiful houses behind them. The chimney stacks look like prison towers. 
Remember this is only a hop, skip and a jump from Alamo Square and the famous Painted Ladies but who says you can’t see equally pretty house fronts from your roof deck.

If you want to get better at photography too, here are the two books I’m working through:

Sidenote: I’m not being paid by DK or Canon, I just really like these products. *I wouldn’t mind being paid by someone to promote their product if I like it so hit me up (wink wink nudge nudge).

Madonna and the Whores

Madonna and the Whores

Disclaimer: All photos taken on my phone. I apologize for the static and blur.

The girls were all wearing cowboy hats and glitter spread across their cheeks. They had cropped halter tops and plastic pacifier necklaces straight out of a 90s rave, only this was 2016 and we were nowhere near a DJ. It was a Wednesday night at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo and the party girls were hitting the empty dance floor alongside two couples in their mid-late 60s doing intricate line dances in their high-waisted denim. I asked one of the girls if their outfits were for a party and she said, “Every day is a party and we’re ready to party,” while not discreetly rubbing her nose. I have never done coke and I had to wonder if this was one of those coded references to gage whether I was “cool” or not. Without a response from me on my level of partying, the girl followed her two friends to the bar to park herself on a pink vinyl seat and wait for five other skinny blonde girls in equally strange outfits to join them.

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Paparazzi of the paparazzi

 

I became obsessed with finding out how they had come to be at this roadside attraction dressed the way they were. Was it a bachelorette party? A reality tv show with hidden cameras? I let my friend Instagram while I leaned in closer to the bar and eavesdropped with all of my hearing capacity. One of the girls told the bartender that they had been their for a modeling shoot. Was it legit or was it porn? They had that special brand of seediness that was either girls on drunken holiday or sex worker.

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One thing was certain though, the Madonna Inn was the perfect place to find them. It had a mixture of nostalgia, kitsch and a special brand of loneliness that can only be found in dive bars in cities that have no real industry. People huddled in dark corners or whispered over their shoulders, the customers were all slightly large like images one conjures of Middle America. But all of this was surrounded by bright pink leather, fake grapes hanging from ceilings, large rock fireplaces, and hidden gum ball machines. It was like the hotel was one large 90s rave, taking itself a little too seriously but only to those on psychedelic drugs.

 

We had found out there would be dancing in the bar when we checked in for our one night stay at the Madonna. My friend once tried out for So You Think You Can Dance and teaches salsa classes and I am an ex-cheerleader so we had a certain type of club level dancing in mind that was instantly shattered when we entered the Dionysian bar that night. The music was from a live band and it was of the swing and blues covers variety. One of the couples dancing was celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and had met in the pink dining hall of the Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steakhouse on that very dance floor. I tried to imagine what it must have been like 40 years before, at its height of popularity. Was this a destination? Did young men and women come here to mingle, to meet their future mate? Was this still the case? Did the party girls know something I didn’t know?

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My friend and I did our own twirl or two around the parquet floor then headed back to our Sweepstakes room for the night. I found myself slightly disappointed. I had come for kitsch and wanted kitsch to the max. There were a few paintings of racing thoroughbreds and curtains with horses on them. Part of the wall looked slightly like a stable and there were old lanterns surrounding our bed, but that was it.  I was hoping for a faux-horse hair sofa or a chair made out of a saddle. There should have been trophies lining the walls and images of jockeys. The walls should have been large stripes of bubble gum pink or lime green. The sheets should have been satin. I was paying for the experience to be overwhelmed by the over-the-top. This was underwhelming at best. The brochure tells us that the Madonna Inn has “whimsical decor and a timeless elegance.” The timeless quality is apparent but without a visit to the more expensive suites, I had yet to see the whimsy my heart desired.

 

Alex and Phyllis Madonna dreamed, designed and opened the inn in 1958. The Inn is still family-owned and operated and it has the feel of a legacy that you can’t touch, that you aren’t allowed to touch.

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Keeping tradition alive seems to be important at the Madonna, and it should be. The Madonna wouldn’t be the Madonna without it’s strange little quirks and it’s unprofessional aesthetic. That being said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want more. Keep the spirit of the original but add something that goes even further to each of the themed rooms. Go big or go home, right?

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My friend had childhood memories of the place so when we soaked in the hot tub with a family that makes a special trip every summer, trying out different rooms, the enjoyment of the hotel made that much more sense. A bed housed in a boat would be the coolest thing you experience that summer or sneaking into the boys’ bathroom to pee in the waterfall urinal would be a thrill you would remember the rest of your life. In a 1982 New York Times article, Aljean Harmetz shared “Some guests come for a week and change rooms every night. The first woman to sleep in all 110 rooms took seven years and finally made it in 1977. Several others have done it since then.” There’s something reassuring in that what made the hotel so odd during the year of my birth hasn’t changed since then. 

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The Men’s Room, infamous for the waterfall urinal designed by Hollywood set designer Harvey Allen Warren

Personally, I loved the cakes.

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The Madonna is also famous for it’s pink champagne cake, a monstrosity the size of your head that looked like the skirt of a Barbie doll on it’s way to a Gone with the Wind themed ball. It was covered with shavings of white chocolate, half of it dyed pink. Apparently there was a pink chocolate shortage (who knew such a thing existed) and the pink cake was temporarily on hiatus. Behind the glass case in the Copper Cafe there were other giant confections from yesteryear. A german chocolate cake. A toffee cake covered with broken pieces of something that looked like a Butterfinger bar. Lemon and cherry cake with perfect Maraschino cherries resting on top. This was my cocaine and I was happy to dive in. We bought four slices, each in a different flavor.

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When our checkout time arrived, we packed up my car, parked right outside our door like the true motor lodge that the Inn really is. In the morning sunshine, there was no sign of a troop of girls in iridescent bell bottoms and cowboy hats. The sun washed away the strobe light vibe of the hotel and left a patina of barnyard and pink gables instead. This was a family affair and you could see that in the daylight. Maybe one of the girls met their man of 40 years on the dance floor that night or maybe one or two just met a John. Either way, we were all embraced by the loving arms of the Madonna family that night, welcoming us into their 110 room home.