Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Ride: Chilly Hilly

The cycling season starts early in Seattle!  Every year on the last Sunday in February, thousands of cyclists turn out for the Chilly Hilly on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound.  It's a short (33 miles) ride and, as you might have guessed from the name, famous for it hills and chilly weather. 

I had heard about the ride last summer from some friends who live on the island but had forgotten all about it (a convenient thing to do when it's cold and dark and rainy outside).  But then last Wednesday, Colin (a friend of mine from law school who now lives here) asked if I was planning to ride -- the weather was forecast to be clear and registration closed that night!  Of course I signed up.

I spent the next couple of days wondering whether I had enough cold-weather cycling gear to survive.  After a quick inventory of my various tights, arm warmers and gloves, I discovered I was better equipped than I'd thought.  One quick trip to the bike shop for some toe covers and a new pair of gloves, and I was set!

Sunday morning dawned crystal clear and super cold (about 36 degrees F).  Colin picked me up and we headed down to the ferry terminal, where we collected our packets and waited in line with several hundred other crazy people.

The Seattle cycling culture may be a little more laid back than what I was used to in DC.
My fancy bike and color-coordinated spandex outfit stood out amidst the locals in their puffy
coats and commuter bikes.  (Colin may or may not have said I looked like a Power Ranger...)
There's our ferry in the distance! Happily, we all made it aboard.
The ferry ride is only about 30 minutes long, and we rode right off the boat.  That's when I realized that I'd forgotten my bike computer at home in its charging station and was faced with this terrible existential question:  If you ride a race without a satellite to track your route and your speed and your elevation gain and elapsed time, HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU'VE RIDDEN THE RACE AT ALL??  You don't.  I stopped on the side of the road and tried to emergency download an app to track all that for me, but alas! no use.  The app didn't work and so I have basically no record of the ride. 

Colin, on the other hand, had an app that worked just fine, so here's his map of the route we rode:

In case you're wondering, I live on the Seattle side right below the "O" in Fremont, a couple blocks up from the water.
It was a terrific little ride.  Although the air was cold, the sun was bright and clear and warm.  And the notorious hills came fast and often, so there was no time to get bored or cold even in the shadows.  The crowd was a little annoying at first -- the ability level was all over the place, and so you'd have people stopping to walk or swerving out into the middle of the road suddenly -- but eventually I passed those people and settled into a good pace that was fun and fast.  At least, I assume it was fast.  Without my computer I can't say what my average speed was; all I know is that only six people passed me in the course of the ride, and more than one spectator waved at me shouting "SLOW DOWN!! THIS ISN'T A RACE! IT'S NOT LIKE YOU'RE GOING TO WIN ANYTHING!!"  To which I said, "Screw you! What's the point of riding up a giant hill if you can't ride fast down the other side?"  I finished in a little under 2 hours (which, by comparison, is about an hour faster than Colin and the other guys I started with).

The best thing, though, was the scenery.  Bainbridge Island is a gorgeous, lushly forested residential community with beautiful homes and by breathtaking views of the Puget Sound, Seattle, and snow-capped mountains all around.  I kind of regret that I didn't stop to take more pictures.  I guess that's what I get for going fast...

By the time I reached the end of the race, my legs had definitely decided that they were done riding hills.  They cramped and spazzed and it was pretty hilarious how painful it was to walk like a normal person.  I thought perhaps a bowl of chili would help the situation, but it turns out chili was not included in the price of my registration, so I stuck with the granola bars I'd brought with me.

Fortunately for my spazzing legs, I didn't have to head back to Seattle on my own.  My friend Justin is from Bainbridge Island, and he had come over on a later ferry to meet me at the finish line.  We threw my bike into Justin's car and went to his parents' house to clean up and have Sunday dinner with his mom and brothers before heading out for a quick tour of the island. 

Mostly we just drove around looking at the homes and shorelines that I'd glimpsed during the ride.  We stopped at Bainbridge Gardens (a lovely little nursery, where I bought a plant but took no pictures) and Bay Hay & Feed (an eclectic general store of sorts, known for its t-shirts and other products with repeating patterns of small animals).

Turns out these animal patterns are super popular on the island.
Then we stopped for photos at the so-called Frog Rock.  I'd seen it on the ride, when it had been thronged with cyclists posing for selfies, so I thought it worth a second pass.  (I hadn't even noticed the ladybug rock the first time around.)

That's Justin in the foreground; his mother took the photo.
We had intended to see a few more things on the island, and had hoped to stop at a famous ice cream shop, but Sunday evening rush hour foiled those plans.  By the time we got back to the downtown area, we discovered that the ferry line was already super long.  We got in line and waited for a couple of hours before we could board -- so instead of ice cream, we bought hot dogs and chili from the ferry restaurant and made plans to go back for ice cream and real food another time.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Playing in Portland: Gardens & Art

We got up early on Sunday morning and headed back out to the Division Street neighborhood where we'd been the day before.  Vanessa had recommended Pine State Biscuits as a good place for lunch, so we thought we'd check it out.  In what began to feel like deja vu, we stood in line for a long time waiting to get in.  

The weather was still clear, but the temperatures had dropped quite a bit,
which made waiting in line outside much less fun.
 By the time we got in and seated with our order, we were more than ready for some delicious biscuits and fried chicken.  They were tasty, but not quite to the level that would warrant the crowds and the waiting time.  I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that we didn't order the best thing on the menu.

Oh, and we also got fried green tomatoes, which were terrific.
Leaving chicken and biscuits behind, we made our way to the Portland Japanese Garden, which is reputed to be one of the better Japanese gardens in the Pacific Northwest.  It's perched high on a hillside and has lovely meandering paths around the water features and plantings.  Our reactions were mixed:  I thought the general plantings lacked some of the miniature wildness that the gardens we saw in Japan had; they just felt tame.  And the zen rock garden clearly was intended to fall into the tradition of Ryoanji, but we both felt it lacked the abstraction and design sophistication of Ryoanji.  On the other hand, the moss and winter flowers were lush and gorgeous.

Our main critique of this garden is that the orientation of the smaller rocks toward the monolith
felt too literal for us, too easy to impose a meaning or narrative on the scene.  Also, we liked
how, at Ryoanji, the stones were arranged so that you could never see all of them at any given
I have no idea what this plant is, but it looks like a popcorn tree to me.

From the garden we headed back downtown to visit the Portland Art Museum.  We had passed the museum the night before on our way to our Valentine's dinner and seen that they had a special exhibition on Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945.  We were intrigued and wanted to check it out.

Turns out, the exhibition was pretty interesting.  It looked at the fashion industry in Italy from the end of WWII, when the country was in poverty and ruins, to now, when Italy ranks with France as one of the top fashion powerhouses in the world.  There were lots of lovely dresses (and a few less lovely men's suits), and I enjoyed learning the history.  I didn't see any real standouts, though, among the pieces that were on display, and I found myself missing the really exciting, provocative fashion exhibits that the Fashion Institute puts on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (such as the Punk exhibit I saw in 2013).

Here's a completed dress (on the left) with a paper pattern demonstrating the construction.
I liked seeing how the colors were clearly mapped out in paper, and I also really like the
On our way out of the museum, we noticed that another temporary exhibition, which we had thought was already gone, was still on display.  This one was a display of porcelain figurines by Chris Antemann called Forbidden Fruit, and I really loved it because it was smart and skilled and beautiful; I came away having had both an intellectual and an aesthetic experience.  Essentially, the artist took the stuffy, kitschy tradition of porcelain figurines and reworked it with a modern sensibility.  It was witty and beautiful and a little inappropriate in its own right, but it also was deeply in conversation with important strands of art history and decorative arts traditions, from the 300-year-old Meissen firm that makes the porcelains to the Rococo French painters Watteau and Boucher to the age-old stories of the Garden of Eden.  And I also appreciated that it represented extremely fine workmanship -- this is the sort of contemporary art that does not appear to be something that any fourth grader could have made.

A five-foot sculpture referencing a 1750 piece called Temple of Love
Detail of the bacchanal going on inside the temple
We used to squirt our cat with water when she tried to get on the table like that
Crumbs in bed!
Here's more about the pieces, if you're interested:

We didn't have time to see anything else in the museum because we were on a tight schedule to get back to Seattle.  I have seasons tickets to the Village Theatre in Issaquah (a suburb of Seattle), and we were on deck to see their production of Around the World in 80 Days -- an appropriate topic, don't you think, for the two of us?

The production was fine, but the play was mediocre.  The plot basically consisted of "first we went to a place, and then we went to another place", which meant it was kind of boring.  And the poor female character suffered from having been written in the 19th Century.  But still, it was fun to see a show with Amanda -- and it meant we had something to discuss on the way back home for the night.

And that was it for our weekend!  Amanda took off the next morning back to Denver, which means it's time for us to figure out our next adventure...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Playing in Portland: N Mississippi Ave & SE Division Street

Okay, so if it's Presidents' Day weekend and you don't get the holiday off of work, it's just a normal weekend, right?  Wrong!  It's time for a road trip to Portland with Amanda!

Amanda flew in from Denver on Friday night and I picked her up at the airport.  We were both on THE VERGE OF DEATH from starvation, so we warned each other of potential orneriness and trained our Google maps on the nearest restaurant we could find.  What we found isn't worth writing about, but it did restore us to our typical selves and got us almost all the way through the three hour drive to Portland (we did stop at a gas station to load up on Twizzlers and Coke, only to discover that we were like a mile outside of Portland -- nothing like a sugar/caffeine high right before bed!). 

The hotel was right downtown and had wrap-around views of the city (thanks Will and Susan!).  We changed into our sleepwear -- a voluminous burgundy nighty for Amanda (I keep telling her that diaphanous white nighties are what all the best heroines were wearing 150 years ago are wearing, but she doesn't listen) and a borrowed hotel bathrobe for me (someone may have left his pjs at home...) -- and discovered something great about road trips:  When you've just talked through the entire three-hour drive, you can go to bed at 12:30am like normal people instead of staying up all night talking!! 


We kind of slept in the next morning but made sure to get out in time to beat the brunch rush at Broder Nord, a Swedish cafĂ© on the north end of Portland.  I had heard great things and was eager to try it -- and it did not disappoint!

I ordered Forlorade Agg (a.k.a. Lost Eggs):  two eggs on a bed of sliced ham and spinach,
baked under a parmesan-panko crust in an iron skillet
And of course we shared a plate of Aebleskiver (because delicious)
little balls of fried dough, with powdered sugar and lemon curd and lingonberry jam for dipping
Having breakfasted like the hardy Swedes of yore, we set off in search of Hipsters.  Because, I mean, this is Portland, Brooklyn's rival capitol of Hipsterdom.  The New York Times had recently profiled a neighborhood that seemed particularly appealing, so we started there.  We quickly discovered that, while we may not be Hipsters per se, we certainly like buying all the things they're selling.

We started at The Meadow, a shop dedicated to chocolate, salt and fresh flowers . . .

Don't worry, we definitely bought all of the above
. . . which was only a few doors down from the adorable Pistils Nursery filled with succulents, orchids and chickens . . .

Naturally, I bought a cactus.
I needed it for my house, and it added to my Hipster cred to be walking around the
neighborhood carrying a cactus named Agatha.
. . . which, in turn, was en route to a random shop full of witty t-shirts and postcards that help you evaluate how you're living up to social norms.

Eventually we landed at Paxton Gate, the motherlode of Hipsterdom.  The New York Times said the shop verged on self-parody, and well, that's about right.  It's essentially a taxidermy shop full of odd and beautiful creatures and staffed by odd and beautiful (in a pierced, tattooed, dyed sort of way) people who (with basically zero prompting) will super enthusiastically explain the mating practices of a giant bug pinned in a glass box, or anything else you might or might not want to know.  I kind of loved everything about it.

Not the most artfully compose shot, but it's the only one that (kind of)
shows the extensive collection of mounted butterflies.  They had some
gorgeous specimens and I wanted to buy them all for my bathroom at home.
I did get one lovely one, about which I'll write more later.
I kind of want one of these. I would hang it in a closet.
Seriously people.
And in case you're looking for raccoon penis bones,
just look in the beaker on the second shelf down.
With arms now full of cactus and salt and chocolate and butterfly and witty postcards, we went back to the car and discovered that we were hungry again.  So off in search of food!  We followed Vanessa's recommendation and tried Pok Pok, a Vietnamese-Thai place in south east Portland.  The chef won the James Beard award a few years ago for this place, and there's been a lot of buzz (as well as a second location in Brooklyn -- because hipsters).  The line was long, even at two o'clock, but oh man, IT WAS WORTH IT!  The pork curry, in particular, was really, incredibly delicious.

It only took us about 45 minutes to get a seat; by the time we left, the wait was closer to 2 hours
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (best wings I've ever had)
Papaya Pok Pok (Central Thai-style spicy green papaya salad)
Kaeng Hang Leh (Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry)
Once we had finished (and bathed in wetwipes to get the wings sauce off!), we walked across the street to Salt and Straw, an artisanal ice cream shop with unbelievable ice cream -- and by "unbelievable" I mean both in terms of the flavors (tomato water and olive oil sherbet, anyone?) and how good they taste.  When we finally got to the front of the line, we took the same approach to tasting that I took to paint samples:  We tried as many as we could get away with and then still ordered a tray of four different flavors (and if the line hadn't been so long, we would have gone back for another round!).

Sea Salt & Caramel Ribbons
Pear & Blue Cheese
Missionary's Ginger & Tamarind Chocolate Sorbet
Cinnamon Snickerdoodle

We left the ice cream shop delighted and full and without any plans for the evening.  It occurred to us that it was Valentine's Day and that our chances of getting into any decent restaurants without a reservation were basically nil, so we decided to see a movie.  And in the best tradition of JJD/AJW travel movies, we picked the worst American blockbuster we could find: 

Well, given the other movie that was playing that weekend, I guess it's not the absolute worst movie we could have picked
We laughed and rolled our eyes and dozed off for a minute during this sci-fi farce, and emerged from the theater ready for dinner.  By that time it was late enough that we were able to find a table amidst all the people on dates.  The food was fine and the decor eclectic, but the fun part was asking each other a list of questions that are supposedly designed to make strangers fall in love.  We weren't strangers and neither of us was looking to fall in love with the other, but we wanted to see if we would learn anything about the other person that we hadn't already learned through our gazillions of hours of conversations and travel adventures over the past 16 years.  I'm not sure that we did -- although we didn't exactly play the game right; we kept getting side-tracked on tangents that were more interesting, so we never got to the really meaty questions.  But it was fun to think through the questions that we did get to, and also amusing to think of how we must have looked to the other people in the place:  Two people on a first date with so little to talk about that they resort to asking each other questions from a news article to make it through dinner... Oh, how little they knew!

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Oh man.  How can it already be February?  This year is going by way to quickly.

And of course I've written about basically nothing that's happened so far.  A lot of it's just going to need to be water under the bridge, but I did want to capture a great little trip I took a couple of weeks ago to Utah.  It was one of those weekends where I flew in on Friday night, back home on Sunday, and in between managed to see way more awesome people than I ever thought possible.

I left for the airport straight from work and got into Salt Lake City a little after 10:00pm.  Salt Lake doesn't have the liveliest of downtowns, but that suited me fine:  I just wandered among the buildings, soaking up the cold mountain air and noticing the things that I recognized and the things that had changed.  I ended up in front of the LDS temple and paused for as long as I could without freezing to death.  I was the only one there, and it was tranquil and beautiful.


The next morning I got up early to meet Peggy and Mary for lunch at Lamb's Grill.  It's an oddly divey place downtown that we've used for the past few years as our rendez-vous spot of choice.  The food isn't delicious, but it's never crowded and they let us stay there talking and laughing for as long as we want.

Peggy and Mary, we go all the way back to Brussels!

After breakfast, I went straight to lunch with Dad and Lady, who had just driven in from Reno.  We met at Hires Big H drive-in for hamburgers and fries, and then headed out in search of (i) new temple clothes for the parentals (they've just been called as temple workers) and (ii) all the things on Lady's list of Things To Get From IKEA.  Why, you might ask, would I fly all the way to Utah and spend the day shopping for white polyester suits and halogen track lighting with my parents?  Because this is part of my whole "Moving to Seattle" plan -- for the first time since I've been an adult, I live close enough to see my family easily and relatively inexpensively and without client demands looming over me.  The fact that I've seen my parents now three times in the last three months means the plan is working!

I did, however, abandon my parents mid-way through the IKEA adventure.  Another priority of mine for this trip was to spend time with Grandpa Davis, whom I hadn't seen for years.  He's the original JJD, and I figured we needed to catch up.  So I drove up to Huntsville and we chatted for a while in the living room of the little house I remembered so well.  He asked me about my job and my life, and I asked him to retell stories that I remembered from when I was a kid.  After a while I helped him into the car and we drove down to Ogden to meet my parents for dinner (where we got to hear even more stories).


Next morning I got up early and met another good friend of mine, Anna, at the house she recently bought in one of the historic neighborhoods of Ogden.  Anna is a historian and museum curator -- and much, much braver than me -- and so perhaps it's not surprising that she bought an old victorian house and doing a complete renovation.  As in, she's got the place stripped down to the bare boards!  She had told me all about it when we met in Seattle last fall, so now I wanted to see it in person.  Talk about grateful lessons!  I was suddenly so pleased that all I needed to worry about was fixing a couple of sconces and buying some furniture.

By the time Anna and I had frozen to death in the unheated (shell of a) house, it was time for me to meet up with my parents again for lunch -- only this time Heather's family joined us!  I was so surprised and delighted to see them.  I had known my parents would be in town, but I hadn't known Heather's family was coming.  So this was a real treat.

Brynn, Moi, Shae, Adri, Heather, Jordan, Jaron
Yours truly as "The Favorite Uncle"
Selfie with the Grandlady!

Lunch was prelude to an even larger family gathering.  My cousin, Wilson, was about to leave on a 2-year mission for the LDS church in Cambodia (!!) and this weekend was his "farewell".  For those who don't know, a traditional LDS mission farewell consists of the missionary speaking to the full congregation in church, and then having a big family/social event afterwards.  In an effort to keep the cost of these things down, the church has been encouraging folks to scale down their farewell celebrations, but my aunt Laurel went all out.  She had rented a giant barn and filled it with tables and centerpieces and delicious barbecue -- and friends and family turned out in droves.

The Red Barn
Wilson and me.  He's off to Cambodia for two years!
I loved everything about the event.  Not only did I get to see Wilson and Laurel and the other aunts, uncles and first cousins, but there were also many members of the further extended family whom I hadn't seen for years and who I had no idea would be attending.  We hugged and talked and laughed.  I met new spouses and expressed dismay when I saw children who were once so little now all grown up.  People asked me why I was there, and seemed surprised when I said, To see you!  But I meant it 100%.  Like I said, part of the deal I made with myself when I moved away from everything that I loved on the East Coast was that I was going to fill the gaps in my heart with different things that matter just as much to me, but which had been neglected for so many years.  I want to be part of my family and to feel more deeply connected to them.

But of course I still had my flight to catch, so I made my way quickly through the party and then bounded out into the winter sunset to find the airport and head back home.