Monday, April 7, 2014

Erin's car gets stolen

A week ago, I walked outside my house to go to work and found my car was gone. I looked around to make sure I wasn't crazy, left a note for the neighbors, called the primary Seattle tow company, then the police. Within an hour an officer was in my living room filing a stolen car report. When I told him the make and model he nodded; late 90's Hondas are notoriously easy to steal. Thieves break in in under a minute and start the car with a screwdriver. Great, now they tell me! So, what are my chances, officer? He said stolen cars are recovered "more often than not, and more often than not are drivable". In fact, 85% of stolen cars in Seattle are recovered, indeed most in driving condition. I already felt on the bad side of luck, but was hopeful.

There isn't a lot you can do when you car gets stolen, but I took a few extra steps. My housemate posted on our neighborhood watch board. I recruited the garbage and mail men to keep an eye out on their routes. My sister canvassed my neighborhood with me for over an hour looking for my car the day it disappeared. As I scanned cars we passed, she pontificated on car modification techniques she would perform to disguise a stolen car and measures she would take to not get caught. I pshawed. They weren't that tricky, right?

I spent a week wondering, keeping an eye out everywhere I went. My supervisor and friend at my part-time job was incredibly generous and trusting to loan me his mother's car for a few days. I received emotional support and disbelief from my friends and co-workers. I shared my stolen saga with a friend and he mentioned there might be a stolen car dumped in his neighborhood. (Something I never would think about--if a car looks abandoned, it's worth giving the police a heads up just in case it's stolen!) He notified the police, they picked it up, and he sent me his car karma. But chances of recovery statistically dwindled by the day. After a week, I started believing poor little Ginger was gone for good and began planning longer term transportation options

Then, after dinner with my housemates at about 10pm, I received a voicemail from an unknown number. The sheriff! He told me to get down to Dearborn and 5th, by the stadiums: they found my car. My housemates and I raced to the scene. Unexpectedly, we found my car at a gas station surrounded by sheriff cars with their lights on. They had apprehended the thieves while they were driving my car. This was no joy ride theft (the most common scenario); the thieves had been planning to keep it. They swapped my plates with those from another another stolen car, removed the roof rack and other identifying features, just as my sister would have. They even decorated the rear view mirror with good luck tchotchkes. I anti-identified the tweaker driver ("nope, don't know him and did not give permission to drive my car") who was in custody.

I was shocked to get my car back, I really thought she was gone for good. The good news was she was certainly drivable, but the inside was a mess. All my possessions--save my ice scraper and a pair of shoes in the trunk that went undetected--had been thrown out and replaced with criminal crap. It reeked of cigarette smoke. We found various spills throughout, including tapioca pearls all over the center console and unidentified green goo on the passenger side. The police provided us with trash bags to cover the seats, plastic gloves, and anti-bacterial wipes. We rolled the windows down and drove off.

 Trash, messes, and crack.

Back at home we inventoried the car. The cops didn't want any of the stuff as evidence so tasked us with disposal. Time to loot. Highlights of the haul include shaved keys, bolt cutters, crowbars, other heavy duty tools, crack pipe, bowie knife, ski masks, many pairs of gloves, two prepaid cell phones, sugary cereals, watermelon, fast food trash stuffed in every corner, a Wii, computer accessories, and a shit ton of ramen noodles. As my friend Wendy said "Also: mouthwash. Because you don't want your breath to smell like meth and Trix." :-P



While the car was missing, I didn't have an emotional reaction to it being stolen. People who I told were often more outraged than me. But I felt like a victim once it was returned. I'm in the process of getting the car cleaned and road-worthy, and notice small reminders of violation constantly. They adjusted my steering column angle. There's a burn hole in the driver's door from a cigarette; they used many surfaces as ash trays. The passenger's visor is now busted. They superglued my AC button down (thanks guys, who needs fuel economy?). The plastic casing around my radio has been cut, even though the radio is in tact. All of my radio presets were changed to crappy pop music. Tonight I reset them all to the one station; I didn't want to have any connection to the thieves, not even the music they listen to.

I'm very thankful to the police. It feels the same as when my tire blew out on the highway and the DOT Incident Response Team came to my rescue. There are so many people out there working to serve and protect who have your back if something bad happens. Feels really good we live in a society where that is the case. I heart public services.

I got new plates and registration, had the interior ultra detailed (super expensive!), and bought a club. I feel angry now. I want to do all in my control to make this guy regret stealing my car. I'm interested in the upcoming criminal proceedings and my options to participate. It's difficult for me to understand blatant disregard for other people and property. Even if it's stolen, why trash it? Fuckin' jerk.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Seahawks FEVER!


Twelfth man represent!
Photo from http://seattletimes.com 

Seattle and I have SEAHAWKS FEVER!!!! I'm damn lucky to be back in Seattle to experience the Seahawks stellar 2013-14 season. We are in the Superbowl, baby! 

For those less familiar with Seattle sports history, let me spell it out for you: we need this. There has not been a championship of a major Seattle sports team (to me this means Mariners, Seahawks, Supersonics) in my lifetime. Seattle has won so few major championships ever:
  1. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans became the first American hockey team win the Stanley Cup.
  2. In 1979, the Seattle Supersonics made it all the way to win the NBA Championship. 
  3. The Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship twice, in 2004 and 2010, but I'm sorry (and I feel awful saying this, but it's true...) does anyone *really* care about the WNBA?
All to say, now is the time! This year of all years, today of all days, our Seahawks can make it happen. And we the fans are psyched, we are ready, we are hungry. We are the 12th Man. We are the extra player beyond the eleven on the field, cheering our heads off, and kicking up the decibel level at the Clink with the loudest roaring fans in the league. The city has been lit up the with 12, 12th man flags fly high atop the Space Needle and in what seems like every window. But some local spirit that is baller? Boeing flight #12 flew a path over the state of Washington in true twelfth man spirit:


Look familiar? So freakin' awesome!

I like to represent too, in my own way. Laura and I had a craft day before the NFC Championship game: we made Seahawks themed feather hair pieces for us sisters. Oh yeah. Super stylish. Girls throughout the pub were jealous of mine. :-P


Don't they look so lovely?

All the cultural institutions are getting in on the action. The Twitters are blowing up with smack talk and challenges. The Seattle Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum have placed a wager: whoever wins get to display on loan a piece from the loser's museum representing their defeat. If Seattle wins, they get to show off the aptly titled "The Broncho Buster" by Frederic Remington. If we lose, Denver gets a screen print depicting a seahawk, "Sound of Waves". The zoos have a similar wager. If Seattle wins, the Denver Zoo Curator of Birds will deliver a case of trout and feed it to the Woodland Park Zoo's sea eagles while wearing a Seahawks jersey. The science museums and even the airports want a piece of the rivalry.


Sport in art. Images: Denver Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum

Photo courtesy of the Woodland Park Zoo.

Science burn!

The Space Needle of course is a center icon in displaying team pride, flying the 12th man flag every weekend. I love the energy of working the Space Needle before a big game, bantering with Hawks fans and whoever their visiting rivals are for the week (thank you playoff home field advantage!), and leading cheers in the elevators.


Seattle pride!
Photo by @rodmarphoto.

Before the last playoff game, Q13 Fox came to the Space Needle for a brief shoot. I got to work *just* after all the fun ended. Literally. I was the elevator operator who took the hostess and camera man all back down to the ground. Good lookin' Space Needle bunch, hey? ;-) 


Today's the day. The one we've all been waiting for. Kick off is 3:30pm PST. Put on your best blue and green, and GO HAWKS!!!!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

San Francisco and me are in a fight.

I was almost tricked. The drive down the North California coast was beautiful. Across the California border the air smelled enchantingly sweeter. I was surrounded by things about California I love: the color of the dry landscape and the feel of the sunshine and the scent of eucalyptus trees. Why don't I live here anymore? Maybe I should move back...

The Route 1 coast north of San Francisco, as the sun goes down. Stunning.

Yeah, I appear in non-selfie pics occasionally.

But then I arrived in San Francisco. It took forty-five minutes to drive six miles through town from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Mission. I arrived at my dear friend Simran's house irritated and ready to bitch. It's a nightmare to drive anywhere, pedestrians and drivers alike are super jerks, the city lacks an effective thoroughfare, and there actually is no parking. Public transport (IMHO) sucks; BART only serves the Financial District, neglecting most of the city. Even when you're not going anywhere, it's still horrid; every time I go get my car off the street--which is every two hours to move it--I pray that it won't have a ticket or its window smashed or both. In the first 36 hours, I got a $62 parking ticket because of freakin' street cleaning. Street cleaning! I really aught to have known better; I did used to live here. But in Seattle we have something called rain, which means street cleaning and subsequent parking restrictions AREN'T A THING.


Double whammy--ticket and break-in, just around the corner from my car. Yikes.

This city is unfriendly to those without money. It is an economic system that assumes all the participants have lucrative tech jobs. The fight between "old" and "new" San Francisco is alive and well, just look at the protests against the Google busses that have raged over the past few weeks. Real estate is a particular problem. In 2013, San Francisco supplanted New York City as the least affordable housing market in the country. Any rent under $2,000/month (for a one bedroom or even a studio) is considered a steal. More people move to the city every day, but the city is resistant to changing to accommodate its growth. Seattle is held up as an example of adapting to the influx of new people, as for 2010-12 it experienced the same increase in residents (12,000) yet issued nearly three times the number of new housing permits (26,000 vs 10,000). Come of SF, admit you have a problem--make that, crisis--and do something about it!

It is no surprise that San Francisco's cost of life is expensive given the continued economic boom of Silicon Valley, but reentry is a shock to my system. As a traveler on a shoestring budget, I feel constantly intimidated by prices and luxuries taken for granted. And I dig quality. I believe it's worth it to pay more for a better, more responsible, healthier, etc product. But SF takes it to a whole new level. For instance, the new Big Thing hipster cuisine craze is $4 designer toast. A year ago I probably would have sampled many and had opinions. Now I feel it's ludicrous. How did I used to think this type of thing was "normal"?!

I should be all about this, but instead I hate it.

Sim and I have been largely hunkering down in her apartment together and cooking. One night, we needed a red cabbage and head of cauliflower. If we had a bigger list I would have trekked to Safeway, but as it was only two things I went to nearby Bi-Rite, a famous local grocery known for high quality and prices to match. My two vegetables came to eight dollars. EIGHT DOLLARS. At the register, individual caramel candies--just like the sea salt ones I made as gifts for my couchsurfing hosts, about the size of a quarter--were priced at two dollars apiece. I made pretty kick-ass 50 candies from $4 worth of ingredients. I used to think Bi-Rite was crazy, but now I believe it is downright out of control.

Walking along Valencia Street, everyone looks hip and rich. I feel I have to strut to keep up and express my own coolness. (Yeah, I'm rocking knee high boots with shorts, on purpose, right. It's alternative.) Looking around, I realized lots of people wear hoodies in SF too--something I've come to see as a signature of Seattle--but here they're brightly colored and expensive-looking or branded with a startup logo. I stopped into Betabrand--a creative hipster company I had seen online--and was immediately propositioned to take a picture with Bigfoot dangling from the ceiling. They handed me a compound bow, snapped a pic, put it up on their site, and emailed me a copy. Flash and dazzle, selling $200 hoodies. I'm ready to go back to Seattle, where people rock the same grey hoodie they've had for fifteen years. Legit.


This photo makes no sense...

Don't get me wrong. I've had an excellent trip here catching up with friends. There are some people in the Bay Area who I completely and utterly adore (you all know who you are! xoxo!). But how can San Francisco as a city, economy, and culture simultaneously have so much that I love and hate? I'm so frustrated.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The fundraiser in me reemerges: Help support my travels! :-)

I've been turning over in my head ways to generate a little income from my writing. I want to keep complete control over what I write and I want it to stay from the heart. I don't like the feel of ads and don't have the massive traffic to make them worthwhile. But still, some money would be incredibly helpful! So I've decided to return to my fundraising roots, and openly and gently ask my readers for their support: I just added a "Donate" button to this blog (see it all orange and lovely in the upper right corner above all my selfies?). 

If you have enjoyed my stories and want to help me make more of them, please consider tossing me a few bucks to cover a beer or a bus ticket or a new pair of socks. Think of me as Katniss and you as my live-saving sponsor. ;-) It's super easy: click the orange Donate button or right here to kick in a little something via Paypal. I would so appreciate it; every bit helps, I promise! And my birthday is coming up... :-)

Thank you everyone for reading about my adventures. I love sharing them with you. I look forward to many more in the year ahead!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thus begins my Great Seattle Sandwich Hunt: Salumi

My happiness is best expressed with salami.
Photography by Decktor.

Oh Sandwiches. How is it possible for you to be so simple, yet so delicious? I love a good sandwich and will go to great lengths for an exceptional one. Favorites of mine dot the country: roast beef with peppers and cheese at Sam La Grassa in Boston (I laughed for *years* at their claim to be the World's No. 1 Sandwich until I finally had one. Oh. My. God.), Jim Rome or Elvis Kieth at Ike's Place in San Francisco, or pastrami at Katz's Delicatessen in New York.

Two years ago, with a plus one coming with me to visit Seattle, I thought I'd branch out from my family and go out to eat. After a little research, I learned that Mario Batali's family runs a salumeria and sandwich place in Seattle called Salumi. Say what?  How on earth did I miss out on that happening? I shared my discovery with my family but they all already knew, yet no one had told me. WTF family?! Three weeks later, my sister Laura sent me two Salumi salamis for my birthday. :-)

Since then, I knew a pilgrimage to Salumi was in order. In the shadow of the Smith Tower, this small unassuming shop is known for tasty house-made meats and lines down the block. Their hours make it tricky if you don't work down near Pioneer Square: Tuesday to Friday 11am-3:30pm, and many sandwiches sell out early (at my visit, the daily special was already gone at 11:45am).


 
Make-a mine with-a mott-zer-rellah!
Left, from www.salumicuredmeats.com. Right, photography by Decktor.

I was accompanied by a fellow sandwich devotee and my visual composer for the day. Standing outside in the bright January sun and feeling a little under the weather with a cold, I placed my hopes in the healing properties of pork. While waiting in line for about twenty minutes, we snacked on free slices of mole and spicy paprika salami and negotiated which sandwiches to order and split. Luckily we were on the same wavelength: Leonetta's Meatball with mozzarella ($8.50) and Muffo (cotto salami, hot sopressata salami, provolone, and olive tapenade; $9.75).


Time to dig in!
Photography by Decktor.

I started with my half of the meatball sub; it was served hot, dripping with sweet tomato sauce, with sautéed peppers and onions on top and melty mozzarella underneath. The roll was just crispy enough on the outside, substantial enough to hold up to the drippy goodness, yet soft enough to eat easily. Pork meatballs broke apart softly with each bite. I found it all a lovely savory balance, the homey flavors hitting the spot.


 
NOM!
Photography by Decktor.


I devoured my portion, licking sauce from my fingers. It completely filled me up, so I took my half Muffo back home for dinner with a cup of tomato soup. I crisped it in the toaster oven, partially melting the cheese. I really dug the olive tapenade and the overall flavor, but wished for an extra helping of salami! I'm still getting up the guts to try their other hot sandwiches: Porchetta (their tribute to pork; looks insane!) and Grilled Lamb. Always good to save something for the next trip.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Christmas Story

'Twas the night before Christmas, and I was spreading the holiday spirit on the evening elevator shift at the Space Needle. Guests were in their sparkliest holiday finery and brimming with cheer. The holiday sound track played "...'cause Santa Claus comes tonight" and for once it was true. Two of my friends came by for a Christmas Eve date night. A little girl on the Observation deck gifted me a bag of chocolates, giggled, then ran away.

I have a lot of fun entertaining and chatting with guests in the elevator. I have so much Seattle-joy and silliness to share that sometimes it overflows even my normal enthusiasm. On one ride down that night, I gave my standard "if anyone has any questions..." prompt, but when no one spoke up I shared my guilty pleasure: singing in the elevator when no one else is there (great acoustics and way cooler than singing in the shower!) and threatened to break into Christmas carols. People called me on it then listened as I sang a solo verse:

There's no place like home for the holidays
No matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home!

"Seattle is my home, I'm so happy to be here and I hope you are too! Thank you all for coming to the Space Needle tonight and Merry Christmas!!" I'll be here all week. I was tickled and flushed and oh so happy. My final ride of the night I made the same threat, then a woman said "why don't we all sing?" and led us in a glorious chorus of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, ending just as we touched down. Best shift ever.


All decked out for Seattle Santarchy 2013. Photo by IRDeep, http://facebook.com/irdeep

I celebrated Christmas day at my mother's house with family. My sister's boyfriend Dave joined us for his very first ever Christmas; we tried to ease him into it but instead accidentally threw him in the deep end, discussing religion and making him pass out all the presents. :-P I am usually a rather prolific and joyful gift giver, but it was nice to tone down gifts financially a bit this year and just enjoy the holiday and each other's company. We ate beautifully the whole day, beginning with a champagne brunch, nibbly cheese/crackers/veggie/salmon lunch, and a steak dinner at my mother's lovely table. We were visited by my stepsister and her husband at lunch and then my grandma for dinner, after which we played trivia games and listened to folk music (anyone with a Boston connection needs to memorize "Charlie on the MTA" immediately, btw). A chill and happy Christmas indeed.


Me and my sister Laura taking in a midday Christmas hot tub. Photo credit: my mom! :-P

"The Space Needle is 605 feet tall
and was built back in 1962..."
Photo courtesy of JD Andersen.
Boxing Day. A day of detox, filled to the brim with awesomeness. It started with a morning at the Museum of Flight with my "travel buddy" JD. It was a super cool museum! We saw planes of all types, astronaut admin and gear, moon rovers (that must make it to the burn!), Space Needle memorabilia, Blue Origin's Charon, so much more, and walked through the fake Space Shuttle used for training and the Air Force One that took Nixon to China. Extra baller to experience it all with someone who has the perspective of being in the space industry.

Keeping the fun going, we continued to the old Rainier Brewery for a surprise spa day. As I lay there being massaged and feeling crazy spoiled, I struggled to bring my mind to peace. My thoughts kept wandering, even as I wrangled them back to the present. Partway through, I realized that there was direction to many of my thoughts: I kept being led back by multiple threads to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I released my mind and let myself go back there, that place where I met so many, felt so relaxed and free, at such a critical junction in my growth last year. After a bit of extra basking in post-massage glow (I love how aware you feel of your body after; it always makes me want to move with intention and creativity), we capped it all off with happy hour sushi. Thank you JD for a lovely day!

After dinner, I headed to a viewing of "The Room" at Central Cinema (loved!) down in my old hood. Known as the Citizen Cain of bad movies and a cult favorite, it was all new to me but sure to be a blast. Beforehand, I almost died laughing en route to the theater as my friend Shaun made it rain Jeffersons all over the street. (That's 10% of a high school cuddle right there! And I don't even care because I'm an ADULT!) The movie did not disappoint and was insane with audience chanting, a crazy nonsensical "plot", curry popcorn, throwing plastic spoons at the screen, and the most stilted dialog every uttered by human beings. The scene below was replayed for us five times in the theater so we could absorb all the nuances. Shaun, you only take me the classiest places.


--

After the faerie dust of Christmas settled, I couldn't help but remember how difficult my life was one year ago at this time. The morning of the 27th, I snuggled into my bed, feeling reflective, surrounded myself with pillows, and dug out my journal from November 2012 to February 2013. My writings from that time are a swirl of anguish. Ben and I were in an on-going spiral of agony where I was filled with pain and confusion and fear, I had just left a job I loved, it was the one-year anniversary of my Grandmother's death, the future was uncertain (I didn't even know what continent I was going to travel to); tension was everywhere.

This year, instead I feel so happy to be here and now, connected to so many incredible people, having so much fun, reaching out to friends and loved ones who touch my life in wonderful ways. Thank you to everyone who made this Christmas and past year so special.

All my love and wishes for a wonderful 2014 to you all,
Erin


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why I love Seattle

Back in the 206, what what! Seattle. My beautiful, funky city. I adore you! Yes, I admit up front I am biased. I am a native fourth-generation Seattleite, born and raised here, but have been essentially absent for the past twelve years. Since moving back six weeks ago I have been getting reacquainted with the city, seeing the changes and what has stayed the same, loving her ever more for both. I am head over heels and here are a few reasons why:

1) Funky grown-up Seattle. I left Seattle when I was 18 so never experienced any city nightlife. But on this trip that has changed dramatically. One of my top priorities is to get to know this side of the city, and it is fantastic. I flit around the city every day/night discovering something new and fun. There's the weird, the curious, the fun, the delicious. It is alternative, enough to fascinate but not so much to alienate. Bars have heaps of personality. Clown pinball, mythical creatures, chill loveliness, barrels of fun. Speakeasies are apparently a thing, and I love buzzing in to a virtually unmarked door into a warm room with a vintage vibe and great booze. Knee High Stocking Company and Bathtub Gin & Co (ask for a dealer's choice with a flip!) are two favorites. There's music of all types either in concert form (Seattle Rock Orchestra!) or in bars on theme nights that race the gamut. So many different sounds and weird art, I want to bar hop every day just to hear/see them all. Art and performance is fabulously funky. I love the crazy themed video mash-up Collide-O-Scope at Re-Bar and can't wait to check out Dina Martina's holiday drag show there too. Cherry on top is the burlesque scene. I went to a two-night only burlesque show called The Naked Show (From the Stranger: "Are you irked by the few clothes that remain on the bodies of burlesque performers throughout the show?...") and it blew. my. mind. Ask me in person for stories. ;-) Need to get my butt over to the Pink Door after dark...

Knee High Stocking Company on Capitol Hill, which serves the aptly named "Cup of Awesome".
Photo from seattletimes.com.

Celebrating the repeal of prohibition at Zig Zag Cafe.

2) Logistical ease. Compared to living in San Francisco, Seattle logistics are a DREAM. Nowhere is too far away (max 30 minutes), there's plentiful parking (often free), and drinks/tickets/going out is comparatively cheap. Seattle's fanciest cocktail will run you $10; I'd call $14 normal for SF. Throw in a happy hour (which many bars do on weekends too), and I feel like going out in Seattle is a steal. Other people laugh at me when I say this, but for what Seattle offers it really is quite a reasonable city.

3) Seattle fashion. It's so grungy, colorless, alternative, dear to my eyes. It general we're casual: I admit, here I wear pajama bottoms and leggings out in public far more than I really should. Now I understand where my historical fear of color came from; the grey-black-khaki color scheme is alive and well in Seattle. Two years ago I made a personal resolution to embrace brightness and haven't looked back. Here in Seattle, I'm now on a crusade for COLOR, bright from the toenails on up. It may be ultimately futile, but wearing a hot purple dress with neon tights does make me stand out in a bar amid all the grey hoodies. And the outerwear... I remember arriving in Boston for my freshman year in college and being surprised that mountaineering outerwear isn't actually the norm in other parts of the country. But here in Seattle, I get tons of compliments on my magenta North Face micropuff jacket, it's ridiculous!


Breaking out the caboodles to create some stylishly colorful accessories. Cousins may recognize these from my grandma's Kennewick bead shop back in the 1990s.

4) Natural beauty. The Pacific Northwest is a gorgeous setting. The mountains, lakes, sky, evergreens, Puget Sound... they surround Seattle in a picturesque embrace. Everywhere you look--when the sky is clear--there is beauty. And it's all shockingly close by. Day trips from the city to the peninsula or mountains are easy. Under an hour to Snoqualamie Falls, 90 minutes to Mt. Rainier or the Cascades.


My city skyline, on a clear day with Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier out.

View from the top of Crystal Mountain.

Snoqualmie Falls. Photo courtesy of JD Andersen.

View of Lake Washington and the Cascades from my mom's hot tub. Something I take advantage of often.

Tea over Lake Cle Elum at my family's cabin in Ronald, WA. Less than 90 minutes from Seattle, it's incredibly easy to escape to the mountains. (Notice the stylin' jacket?)

5) General happiness. If you believe depression rules Seattle, I think you're wrong. Yes, light boxes are a thing, but people here wouldn't put up with the grey if they didn't adore the Pacific Northwest. Natives stick around and Microsoft transplants soon fall in love with this place and stay even after they escape Redmond. People appreciate the city's beauty, culture, and quality of life; residents are genuinely happy to be here.

6) Nostalgia. The Seattle of my childhood bubbles up as part of the landscape, a familiar brand, a landmark, a comment. I love driving past downtown and seeing the Edgar Martinez Drive exit leading to Safeco Field. Yeah, I still have a childhood t-shirt of his jersey in my dresser. Not to mention Dave Niehaus Way! I picked up a job as an elevator operator at the Space Needle, where my family used to always go at the end of the summer to celebrate going back to school. The Stranger's dating personals (no, I'm not on them so don't go looking) ask for your route of choice: are you I-5 or Aurora? At the Seattle Rock Orchestra Pink Floyd show, a singer reminisced about going to the Pacific Science Center for the Floyd laser shows as a teenager. I cheered to share that memory. Moments like that happen to me every day. No place else can the natural history of my early life come back to visit me and give me such joy. For me, there's only Seattle.

EDDDDDD-Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

7) Casual quality. The Seattle food/drink scene is good. And you can enjoy it in your grungiest grey hoodie! Beyond just edibles, I feel so much of Seattle follows this mantra as well. Quality can come without pretension.

Freemont Food Truck Rodeo!

8) Neighborhoods. Seattle is divided into neighborhoods with their own centers, and each have a distinct flavor. One of the first things I asked when I arrived was where are the cool places? I was shocked to hear of the ride of two neighborhoods during my absence--Ballard and Georgetown. What? How is Ballard a thing now? And Georgetown I hadn't even heard of before, but is apparently the land of warehouses filled with beer! Since then I've hung out significantly in both, plus Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Capital Hill, Freemont, Belltown, U District and of course my home base: the ghetto LC! Ah Lake City, home sweet home, land of the far north (yet still in Seattle proper) gloriously filled with strip joints and used car dealerships. Still lacking in sidewalks, but I'm just going to say, we do have a Dick's. Take that West Seattle. :-P

9) The people. I love that for the first time in twelve years my whole immediate family lives less than two minutes away from each other. Laura and I have impromptu beers and hot tub dates often and it is awesome. Every week there's a Seahawks viewing party at my dad's with a growler of Lucile IPA from the Georgetown Brewery. I live with my mom and stepdad so enjoy their company often. I love Seattle burners and that a solid chunk of my camp is based here; it's a community I am delighted to explore more. I love old friends and new, who I have been lucky to get to know better as they introduce me to their favorite hip Seattle haunts. And perhaps share Trekkie or Lord of the Rings or zombie geekery with me. ;-) Adore.

Mermaids in the menagerie catastrophe at SeaCompression 2013.

Impromptu home hair cut adjustment (with beer!) from Laura. 

Halloween with my beloved Seattle Sacred Cows at Casa Marsh-Posh.

Cheers! Beer with my awesome dad and sister at the Brick--the longest continuously running saloon in the state, complete with a running-water brass spittoon trough along the bar--in Roslyn, WA.

And I've just scratched the surface. The dangerous secret about my Seattle experience is that I might want to stay here...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Central America trip CliffsNotes

As I meet people now who are curious about my adventures in Central America, I want to share this blog with them but my prolific 100+ entries from the trip are a daunting pile to sift through. So to help I have put together a collection of entries that to me represent the essential narrative, the most important/meaningful/highlight moments of my trip. It's not the whole story, but they are my favorites. It's still a good chunk of reading (it was a crazy six months ok? There are a lot of stories!), but hopefully it is more a digestible guided tour. Enjoy!

Let's get this fun in the sun started!
Origins story
Safety concerns for a solo woman traveler
What's in my backpack
Mexico: Day 1, arrival in Merida
Mexico: My first cenote, the beginning of a water love story
Mexico: Tulum ruins
Mexico: Tulum cenotes
Mexico: San Crisobal de las Casas
Guatemala: Border crossing and arrival
Guatemala: Hiking Santa Maria volcano
Guatemala: Colored chicks, the first sign of Semana Santa
Guatemala: Lake Atitlan
Guatemala: Bugs
Guatemala: Chichi market
Guatemala: On traveling solo
Guatemala: Semana Santa in Antigua
Guatemala: Alfombras
Guatemala: Semuc Champey
Belize: I decide to get SCUBA certified
Belize: Open Water course, day 1
Belize: Open Water course, days 2 and 3
Belize: Caye Caulker, sunset at the split
Belize: Cat calls and drug dealers
Belize: Erin's Caye Caulker food manifesto
Belize: Just say yes
Belize: Crystal Cave
Belize: Iguana photo shoot
Belize: I heart stew chicken
Honduras: Epic transit to the Bay Islands
Honduras: Roatan
Honduras: Deciding to extend the trip
Honduras: Settling in to Utila
Honduras: Advanced Open Water
Honduras: Le sigh roommates
Honduras: Makeshift rum cake
Honduras: Rescue Diver
Honduras: Falling in love with Utila
Honduras: Perpetual illness
Honduras: Snorkel vanity shots
Honduras: Stability in Utila
Honduras: Thunderstorms
Honduras: A birthday party
Honduras: Photo dive
Honduras: Nico's 100th dive day
Honduras: Last Utila dive
Honduras: Leaving Utila
Nicaragua: Erin gets a travel buddy
Nicaragua: Lady at a cock fight
Nicaragua: The Fourth of July
Nicaragua: Granada
Belize: Epic three-day transit to Long Caye
Belize: The Blue Hole
Mexico: Diving cenotes
Mexico: Swimming with whale sharks
Mexico: Isla Mujeres
Utila throwback
Erin's top 5 Central American hostels
Gratitude

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My cooking show debut on xoxocooks: shakshuka!

Taste testing shakshuka.

While in New York, I was invited by my friend Adrienne to appear as a guest chef on her YouTube cooking show xoxocooks. A 3-minute "adult cooking" blitz complete with beer breaks and swearing, the only way to cook! :-P My episode features cooking my most favorite easy-cheap-healthy-anytime dish: shakshuka. It was a super blast to tape and pretty entertaining to watch if I do say so myself. I'm really excited to share it with you all. You must must must check it out. :-)


For the recipe-inclined, here are the deets:

* olive oil - 2T to start, then another 2T for frying spices
* tomatoes - 1 28oz can or approximately 4 fresh, or a combination of canned and fresh
* 1 yellow onion, chopped
* 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
* vegetables, chopped: my favorites are carrots, red bell peppers, and butternut squash, but use what you like/have
* leafy greens, thinly sliced: I like to mix in chiffonade spinach, bok choy, or other leafy green, but this is optional
* chili pepper, minced
* spices: this can also be adapted to what you have/like. I usually use a mix of cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cinnamon
* 2 eggs per person
* salt
* pepper
* toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, feta cheese or greek yogurt

1) Dice vegetables into small pieces all approximately the same size.
2) Heat 2T oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sautee for 2-3 minutes then add other vegetables and chili. Sautee a few minutes until they begin to soften and are bright in color.
3) Add a little more oil, then fry spices in the oil for 60 seconds until they are fragrant.
4) Reduce heat to medium and add tomatoes with their juice. Cover and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
5) Return to your pot; juices should have been released so it's now a thick soupy consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
6) Add leafy greens.
7) Reduce heat to low. With a spoon make indents in the vegetable mixture and crack in the eggs, evenly spaced. Cover and cook for a few minutes. Return and base the eggs gently with juice from the vegetable mixture. Cook eggs to your desired doneness, often covered, jiggling the pot to test how cooked they are. I prefer a runny yolk so cook my eggs longer on a low heat, watching closely so as not to overcook.
8) Spoon out eggs and vegetables into a bowl. Top with salt, pepper, chopped fresh cilantro, and feta or greek yogurt and EAT!! :-) Great served with bread and a green salad.

All said, this is a customizable recipe. If you like butternut squash or mushrooms or chicken or whatever else--throw it in! Don't like spinach? Take it out. Cook with what tastes good to you, be creative, and enjoy. Here's another take on shakshuka that is more classic than mine, and I bet would be super tasty. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Erin's top 5 Central American hostels

Thinking about traveling in Central America? Do it, it's awesome! :-) Before the overcast Seattle sky sucks away all of my travel tan, I thought I'd share some of my favorite backpacker-friendly places to rest your weary head in Central America.

As a solo backpacker, where you stay has a huge impact on who you meet and how you interact with a place. I stayed in a bunch of hostels in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but coming up with my top five was EASY. There are a few that stand out in my mind as utterly fantastic experiences, where a wonderfully-run hostel environment teed up awesome experiences and connections.

First, let me share a little about what I believe makes a great hostel, in order of importance:

1) Social scene: I want someplace with a bustling common room filled with my awesome fellow travelers. Let's form a crew and have a blast for the next few days. That said, you don't attract other badass travelers without the next three requirements...
2) Setting and grounds: Rooms and grounds should be clean, bright, and beautiful. Be it in the city, up a mountain, or on a beach, the surrounding location should be both breathtaking and convenient. 
3) Amenities: I'm a backpacker; I aint got no money, honey! I want as many of these freebies as possible: drinking water, breakfast, wifi, kitchen access, movies, and social activities.
4) Caring management: Hostels are often a labor of love, and people who actually love running them and love backpackers do the best job.
*) Cost: This is a no brainer, so I'm not even going to truly count it but it is an important criteria. All of these fit into the backpacker budget, ranging from $3.50-$14 USD per night for a dorm bed.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to my top five favorite hostels in Central America:


Zephyr Lodge, Lanquin, Guatemala
$4 USD for a dorm bed
I heard about this place on literally Day One as a must-go spot and it did not disappoint. My three nights (the perfect amount of time) at Zephyr were KILLER fun. A party hostel at its finest. Two things make this hostel: the spectacularly beautiful natural setting and awesome other travelers who all hang together on hostel tours. Located in central Guatemala near the Semuc Champey national park, Zephyr is perched atop a peak overlooking the hills and river. The grounds are spectacular.

Overlooking the hills.
More palapas being built as new dorms.
Chilling in the open-air main lounge after a day of tubing.
It takes effort to travel to, but the cool kids come here. Shuttles are offered to Lanquin from hostels in Antigua, Tikal, and surely other hubs like Guat City, but the ride is a twisty one through the mountains. There is much fun to be had on inexpensive group tours, which everyone does: Semuc Champey for swimming and caving, then booze tubing down the river.

Everyone all loaded up in the back of a pickup truck for a bumpy ride down to Semuc Champey.
The gorgeous pools of Semuc Champey national park.
What better way to relax than a day of tubing and beer with friends?
There's no wifi and very limited internet access, so everyone hangs out together in the common spaces. Games and drinking rule the night. You are at the mercy of the bar for most of your drinks and meals (breakfast is not included); expect standard Guatemalan hostel gringo food options. Pizza is their specialty. Be sure to check out the semi-enclosed showers with views of the mountains to experience the natural beauty more privately. It can be raucous and a little rough around the edges but overall I had an utter blast here. It is a special spot that stole my heart a bit. Find the full story of my Lanquin/Zephyr experience here.

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Yuma's House, Caye Caulker, Belize
$14 USD for a dorm bed
Oh, Yuma's. Yuma's is the longest time I spent in any hostel, two and a half weeks. Right off the beach, it is well run, bright, smartly appointed, and clean. The rules and management can seem strict at first, but it is all to protect the experience of responsible guests and management actually cares a lot. In fact, excellent management, facilities, and guests are what make Yuma's special in my book. Most definitely get reservations well in advance as Yuma's fills up often!

Yuma's as seen from walking the beach.
Yuma's courtyard, guests only inside the orange fence.
Yuma's dock, my fave place to catch the sunrise.
The kitchens are clean and well equipped--a huge plus for me--for when you crave something other than bbq or fry jack. The common areas are a great place to hang out, scattered with chairs, hammocks, and swinging benches. The six-bunk dorms are comfy, cooled by fans and ocean breezes. Private rooms are also available. Quiet hours are enforced by a night watchman, as diver guests are often getting up extremely early the next morning headed for the Blue Hole.

It is a chill place where you and your new crew of friends (over the course of two plus weeks, I rotated through three full crews) can easily slip into the Caye Caulker mantra of "go slow". The slow life is oh so good. I took my Open Water course here and got good at day drinking at the Split. There's a sweet rhythm to Yuma's and Caye Caulker that is enchanting. After not too long, it felt like home. Read more about my Caye Caulker experience here.

Sunset happy hour at the Split with the crew... an essential part of every day.

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La Iguana Perdida, Santa Cruz La Laguna (on Lake Atitlan), Guatemala
$3.50 USD for a dorm bed
The Iguana is peaceful, homey, and friendly. It's a great place to take a load off and chill around Lake Atitlan; far superior to any place in San Pedro, IMHO. There is a convivial spirit that permeates the hostel and just made me happy being there. I intended to stay just a night or two, but found the Iguana so relaxing that I stayed a whole week. The restaurant, balcony, and patio area is gorgeous. Right on the shores of the lake, the common areas offer awesome views of the opposite volcanoes.

Just a few steps from the Santa Cruz dock.
View of Lake Atitlan from my fave breakfast couch on the restaurant patio.
One of the awesome things about the Iguana is that is isn't just a hostel. There are bunks but also private rooms and cabanas--so people of all ages and travel budgets can stay here comfortably--and activities that feel more like a relaxed resort. It's a very versatile and pleasing place. I stayed in the open-air dorm, in the attic bed in Castillo.

My dorm. I was up in the tippy top bunk. :-)
There is a full restaurant and bar, plus other services and activities are available on site too. There is a spa on site with reasonably priced facials (I got one and loved it) and massages. Yoga happens often in the mornings, there's a well-stocked movie room, private Spanish lessons can be arranged, they were piloting trivia night when I was there, and best of all there is a dive shop: ATI divers. They do high altitude diving, Open Water courses, and more. Internet at Iguana is limited; there is no wifi and wired computers are sequestered in a side room for a fee. 

3-course family meals are served in the dining room every night. Santa Cruz is a small town with limited dining options, but there are other hotels nearby that do a similar prix-fixe meal deal. But I often liked to stay at the Iguana (even though I never dug the soup course) for the social aspect. It's where most people at the hostel go and hanging in the dining space is a great place to meet new friends. One of the owners, Dave, often makes musical appearances at the weekend costume party. Ask to hear his signature: the Chicken Bus Song! Read more about my Lake Atitlan experience here.

Waiting for dinner time...


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Oasis, Granada, Nicaragua
$9 USD for a dorm bed
Stepping into Oasis is just what it sounds like: beautiful, relaxing, and filled with little extras that make a traveler smile. The central courtyard is filled with greenery and rimmed with hammocks, swings, and lounging spots. The architecture, furniture, and marble floors bring you to an old and classy colonial Granada. Centrally located near the main square, it's the perfect base to explore this charming city.

Who wouldn't want to hang out here?
Amenities abound. Find free filtered water at a spigot near the communal kitchen (which has a blender... handy for making rum smoothies!). A movie library and book swap are available if you need entertainment. At the free breakfast, unlimited pancakes are doled out by the plateful accompanied by fruit and coffee. Off the breakfast courtyard is a small, shallow pool if you want to go for a dip.


The dorms are spacious with the tallest bunks I have ever seen and ceilings up to the sky. Private rooms are available, but the ones I saw were stuffy and small compared to the beautiful dorms. It's a large hostel (easy to make new friends!) with people of all ages and background, including numerous families. A great place to stay. Read more about my time in Granada here.

Awesome dorms. Even with railing up top so you can't fall off!

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Nomadas, Merida, Mexico
$11 USD for a dorm bed
Nomadas was my first hostel experience on the trip and I still remember it fondly. The helpful and kind staff assisted this day-one traveler with everything she needed and more. It is *the* place for backpackers to stay in Merida, but I would also recommend it to people who don't usually stay in hostels also.

I stayed in a double bed in the large, airy female dorm just off the main courtyard. Private rooms are also available. Everything is brightly colored, clean, and well-kept. Nomadas is full to the brim with freebies: free breakfast (bread, cereal, fruit, coffee), water, computers and wifi, salsa dancing classes, morning yoga, Mexican folk singer in the evening, and cooking classes (love!!) multiple times a week.

Central courtyard, with communal kitchen through the right archway.
Escape the sun in the spacious women's dorm.
A stand-out feature of this hostel is its pool, with hammocks draped leisurely over the shallow end. It is the perfect way to spend a hot Yucatan afternoon after a day out in the city sight seeing. It makes you forget you are in the middle of a city. Nomadas was welcoming and friendly; I'd recommend it as a beautiful refuge in Merida. Read more about my Merida experience here.

Ahh, the pool!
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Best wishes in planning your trip to Central America. I hope you enjoy staying at all of these hostels as much as I did!

Pro tip: all of these places do fill up, especially Zephyr and Yuma's. I know it's not the typical backpacker way, but I *highly* recommend making reservations even just a few days in advance for all these places. A little bit of planning goes a long way and you won't regret it. :-)