Spending NYE outdoors

Spending NYE outdoors

This past New Years’ Eve, Jonathan and I drove to the very southern tip of Illinois to camp in Shawnee National Forest. We spent a very brisk winter night sleeping under in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area, a landscape of layered forests and hidden limestone cliffs. It was a mild January. We had almost no company at the modest campsite, which accommodated about a dozen parties. To start, we had one neighbor, two spots over from us.  Later on, as it grew dark, another camper pulled up. They backed their truck into the spot on the far side of our first neighbors, then proceeded to set up camp.

As darkness fell, they turned on their generator. A roaring, thundering beast from the pits of hell. A slobbering sound machine of death, calling on the demon spawn of ten thousand lawnmowers, a hundred and fifty chainsaws, a host of jackhammers, the rumbling baritone of diesel engines idling in a Midwestern parking lot. They turned this thing on, crawled inside their tent, zipped it up and, allegedly, went to sleep.

Read More

Inside of a Cloud in Iceland

Inside of a Cloud in Iceland

The Ring Road is Iceland's only national highway. It is 828 miles long and runs in a loop that circumnavigates the country. For most of its length, the Ring Road is just two lanes wide, allowing for one lane of traffic in either direction. Sometimes, though, the road decreases to a single lane—typically to accommodate the sudden presence of a steel bridge that rattles the hell out of you, physically and emotionally, as you cross it. Of the 828 miles, nearly 20 are unpaved gravel. The unpaved stretch of road happens all at once, up in the mountains in the east, between Breiðdalshreppur and Egilsstaðir. In the winter, the road there is impassable.

But Jonathan and I didn't know that when we started. We'd driven Blueberry Betty from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón, the ethereal glacier lagoon on the southern coast, without incident. Betty had traversed the black sand beaches at Solheimasandur, along with some pitted gravel parking lots and questionable construction zones. She'd dodged errant sheep and led us through unsigned crossings. We had full faith in her.

At dusk on our fourth day, we came to a fork in the road at Breiðdalshreppur, a pinprick of a town amid the eastern fjords. The GPS indicated that we should depart from the Ring Road and take a winding path along the fjords, while a signpost indicated that we should veer left to continue along our route. We pulled over to consult each other. We hadn't come all this way not to take the Ring Road, we reasoned. It was a shorter distance than the route along the fjords, and perhaps the GPS was mistaken, anyway. We turned left. Night began to fall. 

Read More

A Day in Pilsen

Mexican food. Street art. Vintage shopping. 

La Vaca on 18th Street. (Try the "El Green" tacos with fried avocado).

La Vaca on 18th Street. (Try the "El Green" tacos with fried avocado).

Church under construction. View from 18th and Ashland. 

Church under construction. View from 18th and Ashland. 

Street art, sweet car. 

Street art, sweet car. 

Modern Cooperative. Gorgeous midcentury modern furniture, glassware, home decor and such. Mostly reasonably priced. Deals in the basement.  

Modern Cooperative. Gorgeous midcentury modern furniture, glassware, home decor and such. Mostly reasonably priced. Deals in the basement.  

From Verdant Matter. Plant store/boutique. 

From Verdant Matter. Plant store/boutique. 

Tavern mural. Again, 18th Street. 

Tavern mural. Again, 18th Street. 

Market Supply Company. Great vintage clothing store. Super darling people. 

Market Supply Company. Great vintage clothing store. Super darling people. 

Painted across the front of a taco joint. 

Painted across the front of a taco joint. 

Nite Cap, a coffee shop on 18th, just past Ashland. Laura reads Tarot there on Tuesdays. 

Nite Cap, a coffee shop on 18th, just past Ashland. Laura reads Tarot there on Tuesdays. 

Verdant Matter again. They make unique pottery for each plant. 

Verdant Matter again. They make unique pottery for each plant. 

Up close (clothes) in Market Supply. 

Up close (clothes) in Market Supply. 

Outside La Vaca. Can't wait for the patio to open. 

Outside La Vaca. Can't wait for the patio to open. 

 

THIRTY-THREE

Camping with an Abandoned Airplane in Iceland

Camping with an Abandoned Airplane in Iceland

We hit Skogafoss just before sunset. From the car park, we walked out across a lawn dotted with intrepid campers, their tents trembling in the wind, then made our way to the base of the falls, which descend 200ft from the former coastline of Iceland. There's a precarious, steep stairway of stone that winds up the cliffside, affording sightseers a view of the falls from a newly constructed observation platform at the top. Our legs trembled as we made the climb. Sheep grazed freely along the hillsides, viewing us with masterful indifference. At the summit, we stood listening to the roar of rushing water and looking out toward the true coastline. We breathed deeply.

It was our third day in Iceland. We didn't know where we would sleep that night, but we weren't worried. In Iceland, the law of survival states that a person may spend one night on any piece of land, so long as there isn't another safely accessible lodging option. Back in our little blue camper van, we pulled out onto the Ring Road and headed east. The sun was sinking into the horizon behind us. We didn't have much time left to make our goal. 

Out on the black sand beaches of Solheimasandur rests the fuselage of an abandoned US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 plane that crashed back in 1973. 

Read More

Abita Mystery House

Abita Mystery House

About forty-five minutes outside New Orleans, there's a little town called Abita Springs. You may recognize the name from a bottle of beer you had down that way. The Abita Brewing Company is located hereabouts, sure as spit, but we didn't come for the brewery. We came to see a place called the Abita Mystery House. 

Formerly known as the UCM Museum, the Abita Mystery House is a small roadside attraction built into a vintage service station, an old barn-like structure, an airstream and a bonafide Louisiana Creole cottage. The place is a self-described "folk art environment with thousands of found objects and homemade inventions. Tourists see a miniature Southern town with push-buttons that activate animated “displays." On exhibit are odd collections, memorabilia, pure junk and old arcade machines." Like most folk art, it's hard to tell how much is intentional.

 

Read More

Favorite Photo Editing Apps

Favorite Photo Editing Apps

I'm not a professional photographer, but I happen to like taking pictures, despite relying more on intuition and luck than on any actual technical skill. Part of what makes a good writer is an ability to observe and understand the world around you. That same ability lends itself naturally to the art of photography. The pen is one way to shape the world you see. The camera is another. 

I'm learning a lot lately, but as I said, I'm not particularly adept. I shoot with an old Sony Nex 5-N. It's a mirrorless camera, smaller than your typical DSLR, but a big step up from a compact. I recently upgraded from the kit lens (which I broke) to the Sony 35mm f1.8. My first lens purchase. My first prime lens. I've finally sorted out my f-stops and ISO, my aperture and shutter. I'm not all that quick at adjustments, but I know a little about what I'm doing. 

Anyway, when I post a photo here or on Instagram, it goes through several processes of editing from the original raw version that I first snap. I never use any Instagram filters. I don't edit my photos using the native iPhone photo app, either. I rely on a few good apps to take my photos from "eh" to "YEAH."

I'll share my secrets. Here are my favorite go-to editing apps.

Read More

Flagstaff at Night

Flagstaff at Night

When I was twelve, my mother and I moved from California to Maine. We packed our lives into an enormous moving truck and drove 3600 miles across the country with 3 dogs, 2 cats and an old Ford station wagon in tow. Up on the dashboard we had one of those folding Randy McNally maps of America with our route traced in pen across it. My mother starred the major cities we'd pass through. 

She's a brave woman, my mother, letting me direct her through complicated interstate exchanges in that big rig. Then again, she didn't have much of a choice. She couldn't look at the map herself and GPS wasn't around in 1998 or '99, whenever it was. I did my best, but a twelve year old does not have the wherewithal to contend with split second lane changes or confusing business routes or unexpected detours.

So we got lost. A few times. We drove through a regional airport, through a cornfield in the middle of nowhere, through innumerable wrong turns that I stubbornly insisted were right.

Read More

When it Rains in Chicago

When it Rains in Chicago

It is dark and grey and rainy. I have a view straight down Michigan Avenue from the 6th floor of the Wrigley Building, right at the Chicago River, and I'm feeling uninspired as I listen to hustle of traffic. The low, consistent din of cars. The occasion horn. Buses passing over the bridge. Ka-thunk, ka-thunk. A group of school children with umbrellas crowds down the steps for the architectural boat tour. I can hear their laughter, their shouts. On the river, in the rain. 

Some thoughts on Chicago, climate and culture...

Read More

Hygge Mornings: Earl Grey Tea Latte

Hygge Mornings: Earl Grey Tea Latte

Unique to the Danish language (and lifestyle) is the word hygge. Long, dark winters can breed depression, but the Danes do not despairthey have hygge, pronounced like hooga. I've heard hygge described as a "coziness of the soul," but I like it best when explained in context. Hygge is warm spiced tea in a beautiful mug and a soft white blanket to curl up with. It's a good book and a crackling fire. It's thick socks, flannel pajamas, a big scarf. It's sitting with your favorite person in the entire world and feeling content with the world. Essentially, hygge describes a warm atmosphere that encourages you to enjoy good things with good people. 

Winters in Chicago are also long and dark. Spring is a precarious season that sways between grey, chilly days and tempting hints of summer. The days grow longer, but the good ones are precious and far between. In the mornings, especially on grey days, I like to get up a little early and make myself a treat. 

Right now, my hygge is a homemade earl grey tea latte in a clear glass mug.

Read More

Love Song for California

Love Song for California

I once wrote a short story about an imagined mythology of California that was born out of a year where K-9-T and I drank too many beers, wrote too many poems, and sat on our fence all summer watching for UFOs. Some creation stories involve fire and ice or great battles between monsters or growing an entire world from a spark struck in a vast, dark expanse. For our part, we went swimming in our clothes, wandered the botanical gardens at night and believed that alligators possessed a third eye. Later, we moved to other parts of the country and California grew tall in our absence. 

I have lived many places, but when I think of home, it's California. I remember the jacaranda blooming in a neighbor's yard, the white petals snowing across both our lawns. I think of the sun-scorched hills, which are right now abundant green from the storms of El Nino. In my mythology, they have never been so alive. I see pictures of them and the breath goes out of me. Will the wildfires still burn in August? Will the mudslides shake the mansions from their perches? I try to peel a kumquat, then laugh. If I no longer recognize this place, can it be my home anymore? 

Read More