mountain getaway {mammoth}

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"Going to the mountains is going home". This John Muir quote was posted on a sign for departing visitors of Mammoth and as we drove past it - leaving behind an incredible weekend of reconnecting with friends and nature - I smiled and thanked Mr. Muir for the reminder. The mountains have never felt more like home than they do right now and I'm really relishing the opportunity to enjoy them while we're in LA. For Christmas they were just one and a half hours away and for this long weekend, it was six. One day I want to actually live in the mountains, but for now our current proximity is just right to satisfy my nature longings.

It's been a very dry winter so there was hardly any snow in the area and the snow on the slopes was mostly man-made. Not perfect for avid skiers but perfect for me as a newbie. I had only snowboarded four times prior to trying skiing on Saturday and since I never quite got into having my feet strapped into one single unit while facing sideways, I figured that skiing was worth trying. Joe, being the pro that he is, spent the day with me playing instructor and after only four runs (with breaks in between because my legs were giving in!) I think I'm on a good track. I have some balance and speed issues to deal with but at least the giant tennis ball size bruise on my left hip proves that I tried.

When we weren't on the slopes we relaxed at the condo/cabin. There were ten of us so it was perfect for playing a variety of card games, one of which was totally new for me: Cards Against Humanity. Have you ever played that? It's pretty awful/hilarious. You really need to be in comfortable company for it, and that we were.

On day two we took a break from the bindings to watch the US Snowboarding Grand Prix for the Olympics. There's nothing like watching pros to make you realize how much of a beginner you are...it all would have been so simple had I learned when I was five like all the other kids doing the "pizza" stance with me...

Luckily the rest of the day included a hike around Convict Lake, something that I felt very comfortable doing on my feet. It was beautiful and just the right time of day to watch the light change on the lake and surrounding formations. I say formations because every side looked different from the other - one with pine trees, one with jagged rock walls, and the other like an uphill prairie. We took our time making the loop, oooing and awwing with every turn that we made. Unfortunately on the last leg there were multiple stretches where the trail was covered in ice, and I slipped and fell on my right hip. Had to balance out the bruise from the previous day, right?! It was worth it though, to get that time in nature with friends, to be out breathing the fresh air, and to simply be surrounded by something so majestic.

Can't wait to go 'home' again.

a cozy cabin christmas

Christmas 2013 Hi guys! How have your holidays been? We spent our Christmas in the mountains just outside of LA and it was perfect. We booked a great little cabin via Airbnb, rented a car, and loaded up on firewood and groceries for plenty of cooking, drinking, and snacking. The plan was simple: relax and indulge.

Other than driving ten minutes to Lake Arrowhead for a brief visit, we stayed cozied up inside with a roaring fire (Joe is a great Boy Scout) and ate whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Christmas Eve dinner was just right but the food highlight of the holiday was my batch of Colombian buñuelos. I made them for Christmas in London but last year we sadly had to go without the traditional fried cheese balls of goodness since the cheese we needed simply didn't exist in KL. However, it only made them taste that much better this time around, especially since I got to share them with my family! My sister, brother-in-law, and nieces joined us on Christmas Day, just in time for my girls to help me roll the maza into little balls. After tamales and buñuelos, my nieces and I did Christmas arts and crafts and roasted marshmallows with Tio Jojo using sharpened branches he collected. Needless to say, those girls were two very happy campers!

And so was everyone else. Joe had been happy since we arrived because he finally had an excuse to use the hatchet I bought him three Christmases ago (couldn't take it to London with us) while my sister and bro in-law were happy to kick up their feet and relax while Tia Mu (me) entertained the girls with activities.

It was absolutely perfect. The family time, the quiet time, the nature time. I can't think of a better Christmas gift than the gift of an experience with the ones you love. So happy.

sedona rocks

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We're back from our mini road trip where we drove on the Historic Route 66, stopped in a few towns along the way, and took in the beauty of Sedona, Arizona. At first I thought "I can't believe that I didn't take more pictures!" but then I realized that I was enjoying just being there too much. The red rock formations, the sun light, the blue sky ... everything was awesome in every sense of the word and I didn't want to interrupt the moments by taking my camera out. However, during our hike on the last day I did make sure to get some snaps in. We had hiked at least four miles every day since arriving so by that point I felt more comfortable taking the DSLR out knowing that the trails were easy to navigate.

We had the most gorgeous morning sun and the air was perfectly crisp and cool. It was so nice to be outside and be active, a far cry from our activities in KL. There were groups of locals running along the paths and whizzing by on their mountain bikes ... can you imagine having Sedona as your back yard playground? What a treat.

I was surprised with how small the city was (and how sleepy it was at night) but they have done a great job at keeping the area's spirit and beauty in tact despite it's growth and popularity. With imposed height restrictions for buildings and signs, paint colors, and very few commercial chains, you can hike up to any vista point of the city and barely notice the city beneath it's famous rocks. For example, Sedona is so committed to maintaining its natural beauty that the city forced McDonalds to change their Golden Arches into the worlds only Turquoise Arches in order to open!

Also surprising was how much of a forest Sedona is. I had imagined just the red rocks and then maybe red desert sand everywhere else but no, the area is covered in trees. Mostly evergreen types, and of course varieties of cacti, but even more surprising was the location of the wedding we attended. It was creek-side and between the scores of ducks swimming around and the yellow leaves falling off some of the trees, it felt like we could have been in Colorado or anywhere else that wasn't (what I thought) just a desert. Sedona was full of surprises like that. Beautiful beautiful beautiful surprises. Pack your bags and road trip there asap.

 

blue & sun for the jet lagged

UntitledUntitled Hello from LA! We arrived to bright blue skies and plenty of sunshine with a side of cool breeze, just how I like it. It's been a whirlwind of couple of days between settling into our current crash pad, running errands, attending a wedding, looking for a new temporary apartment/sublet, seeing family, and trying to get a solid night's sleep. I have never been so off before - jet lag usually hits me on the way back but since there's no return this time maybe I'm getting it all upfront. All of sixteen hours of it, making my eyes look and feel like I've been partying for days.

I'm hoping that this week brings a bit more calm and order to my schedule, emphasis on hoping. We leave for a mini road-trip to Arizona on Thursday for another wedding so if I can get just three days of productive work time (and good sleep) I'll be a happy camper. I'm happy now but very tired, definitely looking forward to feeling refreshed and on top of things again. Until I get there, please keep those blue skies and that shadow-play sunshine coming!

show & tell (japan part III)

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Just as we prepare for movers to pack everything on Monday morning, I'm admiring all of the new pieces we've added to our home. Japan turned out to be quite the haul of goodies even though we knew we'd be boxing it all up for at least two months. It was so hard to say no!

Looking at each piece I realize why we couldn't help ourselves ... they're all made out of natural materials. Paper, wood, ceramic, glass, enameled cast iron, cotton, and wool - the type of goods that when held feel familiar, comforting, genuine, and that much more special.

I've added descriptions to the caption 'dots' on each image so make sure to check those out. I also searched for websites to share in case you were interested in doing some shopping of your own but the only product I could find sites for was the Noda Horo Tea Kettle. And wow, what a price difference between buying it from Japan and from the US! Luckily there are plenty of Japanese-made treasures worth browsing through this weekend, too. Here are my fave sites to find them:

Analogue Life

Claska

Plam

Fog Linen

Okay it's time to pack these babies up! Have a great weekend!

 

taking takayama (japan part I)

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We've all heard that sometimes it's not about the destination, but about the journey. In this case, visiting Takayama, Japan was about both. The high-speed train ride up the mountains showed glimpses of rice paddy fields, communal and family farm plots, homes with traditional glazed clay tile roofs, and some mountain scenery to rival anything we've seen in places like Alaska. I could have just done the train ride and been happy!

We chose Takayama by accident. Finding an available ryokan in Kyoto proved challenging (and grossly overpriced) so we expanded our horizon and looked for a similar, culturally charming town with easy rail access. Takayama fit the bill perfectly on paper and exceeded expectations in experience.

It was a quiet time in Takayama: mid-week, after the popular autumn festival, and before the colourful fall foliage. I can only imagine how gorgeous the city looks when the leaves turn to bright reds and yellows. The backdrop of Edo Period homes and shops, all in shades brown and black, would really make those autumnal colors pop. But even lacking the seasonal changes, Takayama was breathtaking. During our first walk in town we went to the main temple, but got sidetracked on an older, obscured stone stairway.  It led to a smaller and more modest temple perched on a hill surrounded by tall cedar trees and peek-a-boo views of the city. After reaching the top, the wind started blowing, leaves started bustling, and music started playing on loudspeakers mounted in the trees. It sounds silly but it felt like such a magical spot. I know that the music was for the ceremonial performances happening down below but it felt like it was meant just for us to hear at the top of that path. From that moment on we knew that we were in for a great couple of days.

We spent the rest of our time strolling the streets stopping to indulge in local specialties like Hida beef, sweet dumplings (mitarashi dango), buckwheat soba noodles, and lots of locally brewed sake. We drank sake like water and it was wonderful. Also wonderful were all of the shops filled with locally produced goods in wood, ceramic, and paper. We didn't hold back in buying souvenirs as we're big fans of the Japanese design aesthetic. Okay, we did hold back a little because there were plenty of hand-crafted chairs that I would have liked to take home with us. It's amazing how they work natural materials so beautifully, everything is treated with the utmost respect and love.

That's the way the entire area felt. The locals were proud of their heritage town and treated it with respect and love. Everyone from our ryokan hosts to the cashier at the riverfront snack shop showed genuine interest in, and gratitude for, our patronage, offering nothing but smiles and good cheer. The streets were pristine and clean, centuries old homes and shops were well maintained and revered, and every effort was made so that visitors had all the info they needed for a positive visit (i.e. directional signposts, tourist info desks among the shops). Even with all the helping hands, Takayama didn't feel overly touristy. It was just right. Just the right amount of traditional charm, ease, and comfort.

At the end of our trip I couldn't help but think "Thanks, Kyoto, for being so popular that we couldn't book ya'". Takayama, may have been a second choice but it sure came out on top.

 

 

 

happy friday

ryokan We arrived in Takayama yesterday. Tired from the red-eye flight and multiple train rides but happy to find a peaceful, friendly, and charming town. Our Ryokan is perfectly traditional and modern with everything we need for a Japanese home stay experience, low door frames and all. I don't know how Joe has managed to go this long without a few bumps on his head, old Japan just wasn't built for a man of his stature (he's 6'3")!

We just finished a traditional breakfast of fish, miso, and local veggies in the room, while sitting on tatami mats and wearing our yukatas. It's all been pretty great so far so I can't wait to have a full day of exploring. Maybe we'll even wear our yukatas out as the locals do ... or save them for a sake pub crawl tonight ;)

Have a great weekend!

 

 

reminiscing rio

Old Rio De Janeiro Centro Back from Rio and major jet lag aside, it was a great trip. We went for Joe's work so we stayed in a business hotel in the old part of Centro, far from the more recognizable beach side spots like Copacabana and Ipanema. I was hoping to be by the water - not gonna lie - but our location ended up being perfect. Had we stayed in a tourist hotel by the beach I might have never been forced to use my Google translator app to speak Portuguese with the staff.  I might have never had lunch with local office workers in a tiny well-kept restaurant overlooking a building facade of decorative hand painted tiles. And on Joe's day off, we probably wouldn't have spent an entire morning walking around the downtown city streets discovering little alleyways full of old European charm. It was quite the surprise. We never expected to come across such a neighborhood in Rio since all we've ever been shown are the parts of Zona Sul that look more like Miami Beach with a tropical backdrop. We went back for dinner and what a different scene it was from the morning...tables and chairs filling the alleys, office workers enjoying beers and baskets of fries, and every other restaurant blasting their stereo or showcasing a local band - we opted for the spot with live samba music. As we ate, I danced in my chair, shoulders shaking, making elaborate plans to be in Carnaval one day (I did say elaborate). It was a short and sweet trip but I'm already longing to spend more time there exploring its many facets. What an interesting little big city...I'm sure it's full of surprises.