Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The daily card, week 40

For Monday through Thursday, I went with a theme of black brush script, mostly of quotes I like on magazine tear-outs and a photo. (Quotes are from Hafiz / Bob Dylan / Virginia Woolf / Liz Lemon.) But I got a bit bored with that and switched it up for the weekend. I did actually make seven cards this week, just redacting Sunday's for my personal records.

In some ways, it feels like the year is wrapping up - even though we have (almost) a full quarter of it left to go. I'm already trolling the web for 2016 calendars and thinking about what, if anything, I'll do next year. I would love to keep up the habit of daily, or at least regular, creativity - but I would also like to take some of the pressure off.  I will confess, I am looking forward to the day when I don't have to make a card. It is so impressive to me that Crystal Moody went right from a year of drawing everyday to a year of painting everyday.

Right now, I'm thinking I would love to try something a little more free-form than completing a card. Like art journaling, or maybe just "making something," (almost) every day, and not worrying so much about missing a bubble on the goal tracker. It would also be fun to try drawing or doodling every day since this project has made me want to build my skills in that area.

What I love about this project is that it got me creating every day. But I don't like that it meant that I had less time to art journal and make minibooks and do all of that other good stuff. But then again, I'm not sure that I would have done much of that without the creative habit in place either. The beauty of the daily card is that it can be quick and simple, while my art journaling and book making processes tend to be longer and more involved. Maybe the trick is just to bring some of that permission to be quick, simple, and imperfect to my other creative endeavors.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The daily card, week 39

This week I felt like drawing a Bloody Mary and getting a bit messier. I made fake blackout poetry with a line from Sister Corita Kent's rules for creativity. (Blackout style and quote both via Austin Kleon.) I played around with tissue paper and used a paper clip as a stamp. And then I spent the weekend in Chicago and prepped simple cards based on vintage Chicago posters. All good stuff.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Our California adventure

For what was originally meant to be a travel blog, I have, ironically, done a very poor job blogging about my travels. I'm going to try to do better - and first up is a recap of the nine days Austin and I spent in California in early September. This was not an adventure in that it was very far off the beaten path - but we did do a lot of moving around and made a lot of decisions on the fly.

A few months back, Austin and his parents started talking about meeting up for a long weekend in Napa over the summer, and were kind enough to invite me along. I mentioned that as long as we were on the West Coast, I'd like to combine it with a visit to my sister in Southern California, since I'd been hoping to make it out her direction this summer anyway. Austin was game to join me - and so the idea was hatched of doing a mini-road trip down the coast from Napa to Newport.

Lonely Planet recommended you take a week or two to travel down the coast. I scoffed a bit at that suggestion since Google Maps only showed seven or eight hours of driving time between San Francisco and Newport Beach - a trip that could technically be knocked out in one day that we would be taking a leisurely route on over two or three. Oh man, have I seen the light. Sure, the driving time is one thing, but there is so much to stop and see along the way. This was a fantastic trip but I would love to go back and hit some of the spots we missed.

We landed at SFO early on Saturday morning and made our way to Fisherman's Wharf, where we stayed at The Argonaut hotel. That was a San Francisco highlight for sure - it was converted from an old cannery with some of the original wooden beams still showing (and the best and only octopus wallpaper I have ever seen). After Irish coffees and a bit of wandering around the piers, we hit Zuni Cafe (I believe on a recommendation from Tom Sietsema, who can do no wrong in my book) for roast chicken and several glasses of rose in the hour it took them to roast the chicken. (No complaints here.) We hit City Lights bookstore and the cable car museum, and then the bar at the top of the Mark hotel for happy hour. We had been wondering whether it would be a better stop by day or by night - the obvious solution is to stay for a few hours and several drinks to watch the sun set and the city lights come on.

We capped off Saturday with dinner in Chinatown and an impromptu driving tour, including Lombard Street and a stop at Coit Tower. I had never heard of it but would definitely recommend it for the fantastic views - though there seemed to be no shortage of those, what with all the hills. It's a cliche but they were SERIOUSLY SO STEEP. And it wasn't like the city was just a tilted plane, they went up in all angles in all directions with no discernible pattern - hard for us swamp-dwellers to wrap our heads around.

On Sunday morning, I went for a walk along the Embarcadero to see the sea lions at Pier 39 (spoiler alert: seals and sea lions were my absolute favorite thing about this trip). Before heading across the bay bridge, we stopped at the Ferry Building for lemon-lavender-charcoal juice and artisanal mushroom jerky. Similar vibes to Union Market in DC but pretty cool that it is still a working ferry terminal.

We stopped in Berkeley for fantastic Mexican food and a quick self-guided campus tour, then continued on to Napa - just in time for happy hour at Mumm, where the two-drink limit was a source of some disgruntlement among our party. We then embarked upon the first of several vineyard photo shoots. Let the record reflect that I would have been happy with a few profile pic-worthy snapshots, but Austin egged me on into an extended session featuring a number of jumping photos. (Foreshadowing.)

We continued just a few more minutes down Silverado Trail to our airbnb. We had opted to stay in St. Helena since it seemed a bit less congested than more southerly areas of the valley, and it ended up being a great location - we could have drunk for weeks without ever going beyond a five-minute driving radius. Austin found a fantastic two-bedroom airbnb, of which everyone's favorite feature was a palm tree in the middle of a vineyard. Doesn't get more California than that.

On Monday, we hit Sterling Vineyards for its tram ride to the top, had a nice lunch in neighboring Calistoga at Solbar, got inspired by the idea of port and hit Prager Winery and Port Works, and capped it off drinking a lot of cabernet sauvignon (including some of the really good stuff) at the beautifully-designed Hall Wines - of which my favorite feature was the rabbit sculpture. This was, predictably, the site of another jumping photo session - the results of which I will spare you.

Tuesday morning, my back started bothering me. Some back story (do you see what I did there?!) - my lower back has been hurting on and off since April (the hilarious thing is, I remember that's what it started because I made a daily card the first day it was bad enough to leave work early). It flared up the week before we left, but I was hopeful that I would be over it by the trip. It never felt 100% back-to-normal - the cross-country flight didn't help - but it didn't feel like a big deal until Tuesday, when it appeared that all the jumping photos came back to bite me.

Nonetheless, we had a great wine-tasting at Frog's Leap and learned about the perks of growing organic grapes and not irrigating your vines (so they grow deeper, hardier roots) - the community gardener in me was totally fascinated that the same principles that apply to my vegetables apply to wine. But it got harder and harder to stand up, and by the afternoon I was yowling every time I had to get out of the car. Since we kept passing the turn for the St. Helena hospital on the way to and from the wineries, I put in a request for a quick emergency room visit. I left a few hours later with a bunch of drugs and a new lease on life for the rest of the trip. It sucked to spend part of vacation at the hospital, but it did have the nicest views of any I've been in.

Wednesday morning, we got an early start to drop Austin's parents off at the airport, passing through Sonoma and over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then drove to Palo Alto to pay Stanford a visit.

We made it to Monterey by late afternoon and checked into a fantastic airbnb, about ten minutes in the hills surrounding the town with fantastic views of the area. We had gone back and forth on the idea of staying in Monterey - initially we thought we'd spend Wednesday night in Big Sur - but it looked like most places in Big Sur were inland, and Austin was adamant about staying someplace with views and NOT staying in the woods. We walked around the wharfs as the sun set and then had fish at a Tiki restaurant in town - the first of a few restaurants with a "water only on request" because of the drought. We would have liked to visit the Monterey aquarium, but it didn't quite work in our schedule - that's top of the list for a future trip.

On Thursday morning, we did a quick driving tour of Monterey to see Cannery Row and the Middlebury Institute, and then headed onto California 1 through Big Sur. It was everything Instagram promised and more. We pulled over every few miles to take in the view and saw some whales along the way. We skipped Nepenthe and ate an impromptu picnic lunch of the various foods we'd accumulated during our stay. We took the can't-miss-it trail (a little over a mile round trip) in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see where the waterfall hits the sand. Probably one of the most Instagrammed parts of the park and worth a visit for sure.

This photo makes me laugh - I love the composition (nice eye, Austin) and the pictures of just me in front of the ocean are a little misleading. (I actually didn't mind the throngs since hey, it's cool to be around people who are just as excited as you, and it was a good way to pick the "best" scenic viewpoints to stop at.)

After leaving the Big Sur area, it's a short drive to San Simeon, where the elephant seals joust on a beach near Hearst Castle (which we didn't hit - it wasn't top of my list but I'd definitely be curious on a future trip). We made something of a mad dash to Morro Bay to watch the sun set by Morro Rock. On a recommendation, we hit Taco Temple for shrimp and swordfish tacos that did not disappoint. (But tortilla chips that did. Somehow none of the tortilla chips in California were up to par.) If there's one contribution I have to what is an amply-covered part of the country, it is that Morro Bay is a super-worthwhile stop.

We knew Friday was going to be A Lot of Driving to get to Newport Beach. (We'd given some thought to spacing it more evenly, but based on where we were interested in stopping for the night - and the fact that Big Sur seemed like the part of the drive we'd most want to linger on - we gave into a longer drive on Friday.) If we'd had more time on Friday, we would have kayaked around Morro Rock - but we satisfied ourselves with gazing upon it from the shore. We got coffees in a charming bakery - full of salty dogs and bread in the shape of various sea animals - on the embarcadero and then hit the road. We ventured away from the Pacific Coast Highway (I think) in the interest of efficiency, but the views through Santa Barbara were surprisingly scenic. I think we dipped into the Santa Ynez Valley - another place I'd love to go back to for wine-tasting and more fantastic views.

When choosing the airbnb for Newport, the two front-runners were a room in a beach house on Balboa Peninsula by Newport Pier, a couple blocks from the beach, and a room on Balboa Island facing the harbor. We ended up opting for the latter and oh man, was it the right call. Our room had French doors opening onto a little terrace, and then right across the sidewalk there was a private beach where we flouted the rules a bit to have some sunset chardonnay.

After sundown, we took the ferry across to the peninsula for a private Ferris Wheel ride and a fantastic sushi dinner. We sat at the bar at San Shi Go in Newport and, like the proper hipsters we are, asked what fish were local and in season - which led to course after course of delicious sushi being presented to us and a much higher bill than anticipated. It was well worth it though and a huge highlight of the trip.

Saturday morning, we had frozen bananas for breakfast on Balboa Island and geeked out at staying where Arrested Development was set. We then picked up my sister and kayaked for a few hours in the harbor between Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island - we even pulled onshore across from our airbnb and lounged in the sand for a bit. There were more sea lions there - swimming around and hanging out on the backs of boats and honking when anyone got too close. We got more fantastic tacos at Sancho's tacos and leaned into SoCal life with acai bowls for dessert. After chilling on our little beach that afternoon, we had dinner with my sister in Huntington Beach.

Sunday morning, we were up at 4:45 to drive to LAX - foregoing the smaller, closer Orange County airport for the promise of a nonstop flight back to DC. We were a little nervous about tackling the traffic and figuring out how to return the rental - but at that hour, there were very few people on the highway and the airport was a cinch. And it was cool to drive into LA as the sun came up.

So that's it! Overall thoughts: I could probably vacation in California for the rest of my life and never get bored. And I have a newfound appreciation for the fact that a road trip is a tricky thing to get right. It's hard to balance the on-the-move parts with let's-explore-this-locale parts with let's-sit-and-drink-wine-and-enjoy-the-view parts. And to balance the fun of spontaneous adventure with the stresses of last-minute planning. I wish we had had the time to spend two nights at our stops down the coast - so we could explore the aquarium and the castle and do more relaxing in our lovely airbnb spots and to not have to pack up and drive several hours every day. If we did it again, I'd want to stay longer or try to cover less territory.

In summary, the big winners: Airbnbs, tacos, views, wine, sea lions, and health insurance. The losers: tortilla chips and sciatica.

...and if you made it to the end of this post, we both deserve a nice glass of California wine. Even if in my case, it's from the nearest grocery store. Cheers!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review: The end of the world as we know it - The Circle

(You can read the first two parts of my apocalyptic summer reading book review series, on The Last Days of California and Station Elevenhere and here.)

The Circle by Dave Eggers | Recommended by Erika

Favorite line: "Not every human activity can be measured. The ceaseless pursuit of data to quantify the value of any endeavor is catastrophic to true understanding."

If Station Eleven depicts a post-technology world, The Circle is one where technology has taken on a new degree of authoritarianism over our lives as social creatures and as consumers. It follows Mae, a twenty-something who gets a job at The Circle, a Google-like technology company quickly expanding its reach over a variety of human endeavors. If we're being technical, this is more dystopian than apocalyptic - but it definitely focused on a radically changed world. This was a quick and enjoyable, if a bit predictable and slow-to-start, cautionary tale about the direction we're headed in our social media-obsessed world. Once you grasp the basic conceit, you see where the story is going. But then again, it was also more thought-provoking than I anticipated.

At the Circle, any experience that's not shared socially is essentially worthless. You are expected to be "on" constantly, and to be able to package your interests and travels and achievements in a way that makes you attractive to others. It's the logical conclusion of the idea that "if it's not on Facebook, it didn't happen" - and the temptation to, when you're traveling, get caught up in thinking about how you'll caption your photos later instead of enjoying the moment. I've found myself thinking that about some of my own endeavors - like what good is this if no one knows about it? - so it was a good reminder that there is value in private experience.

Unexpectedly, the book also made me think about how we approach social change. The Circle uses its technology - tracking devices and video cameras and the like - to combat countless social ills. When that leads to a disastrous conclusion, the book (implicitly) challenges the idea that all we need is the brightest minds and the latest technology to solve the world's toughest problems - that there is a simple technical solution we can come to if we just think hard enough / do enough coding / design enough reusable widgets to distribute in the developing world. While widgets are well and good and sometimes necessary, what we need most are political and social solutions.

The line about the "ceaseless pursuit of data" quoted above (which comes from a Circle naysayer) was an especially good, and broadly applicable, reality check. It's certainly an indictment of us Fitbit obsessives who consider a walk wasted if our beloved devices ran out of charge. And it applies broadly across a number of sectors, to education policy and - most relevant to me - to the increasing push to quantify our difficult-to-quantify results in my field of democratic development.

I have loved Dave Eggers' work in the past - both the classic A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and especially loved his inventive and playful short stories in How We Are Hungry. I actually met him at an event when I was volunteering for his literacy organization, 826DC, a couple years ago - he was gracious to the volunteers and so friendly about signing my book. This book read like he was pulling his punches or writing like a "normal" writer and I don't think it's the best showcase of his talent. If you're interested in a "near future" futuristic novel, I would instead recommend Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, which similarly depicts a world in which our devices are more and more integrated into our identities, but layers it with broader commentary about social change.

And that's it! I'm currently reading All the Light We Cannot See and enjoying it. I'm not sure if I'll continue to do book reviews in the future but this has been a fun writing exercise for sure.

Links throughout this series are not affiliate because I am not that legitAnd because I checked these all out of the library anyway

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The daily card, week 38

In the interest of full transparency, I will confess: the cards for Saturday and Sunday were made after the fact (like, on Monday and Tuesday). If a card needs to dry, sometimes I'll wait until the next day before applying finishing touches. But it's been a while since I flat-out haven't made a card - the only other times have been when I'm literally traveling all day long, and even then I end up doing it ahead of time. On Saturday, I ended up crashing at a friend's house after an all-day beer olympics birthday party and a late night catching up around the fire. And then the festivities continued on Sunday and I was too beat to make a card. Both days, I came up with an idea for a card that I promised to execute later and called it good enough. Good to remember that the point of this project is to encourage creativity, not to squeeze it so tightly that it gets crushed. 

Commemorated this week: the pope visiting, learning the phrase "Netflix and chill," watching Wild, and playing a Lovecraftian board game with friends. It was a good week.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fantastic news

I remember waking up in February 2013 to the news - delivered by Austin's daily NPR fix - that a leading Tunisian opposition activist had been (presumably) assassinated, and worrying what that would mean for the country's transition. Since then, I've woken up a few more times to bad news out of Tunisia - when the second politician was killed in July 2013 and then, this year, to the terrorist attacks on Bardo and Sousse. So I was thrilled to learn when I woke up Friday, in my half-awake Facebook-scrolling state, that the National Dialogue Quartet had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

There's lots more information on the Nobel site (though they overstate it when they suggest that Tunisia had been on the brink of civil war). But in short, the two assassinations resulted in political tensions and a stalemate that threatened to derail the transition process in summer 2013. A Quartet of civil society organizations stepped in to negotiate a path forward, leading to the passage of a new constitution and historic elections last fall.

This Nobel feels huge. It's tremendous recognition not just for the leaders who negotiated the deal, but for so many Tunisians who have worked so hard over the past few years to make the transition succeed - and who have weathered the challenges it has meant for the country's economy and security situation. I think it's significant that the award recognizes civil society actors rather than elected politicians. The transition is far from over, and there have been some bumps - most recently, the state of emergency following the Sousse attack - but I am hopeful that regardless of what political leaders do, the country's strong civil society will continue to safeguard the process.

The Nobel doesn't necessarily change anything on the ground. The challenges are still challenging. But it does signal to the international community that we should not give up on Tunisia. In the wake of the headlines about the tragic deaths on the beach in Sousse, I'm hopeful that the Nobel will refocus positive attention on the country - and remind us that there is still so much reason for optimism.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The daily card, week 37: Q4 edition

After our trip to California, my new plan is to move out there and start a line of Central Coast-themed letterpress greeting cards. The hitch is I'm pretty sure a bunch of people are doing that pretty well already and that the September 16 card is my only design so far. September 15 features a quote from Crystal Moody. This week also features the first naked card I've done... both one of my lazier and more brilliant moves. Word to the wise, this is what happens when you do your crafting late at night after too many beers.

Now that we've rounded the bend of October 1, we're in the last quarter of 2015. (When will I get used to how quickly the years go nowadays??) I keep thinking about trusting the process. When I started writing this post, that felt like a totally new idea until I remembered I'd said the exact same thing at the end of the first quarter. Between then and now, I feel like the habit has become more established and it's easier to come up with new ideas. Though there are still days where it's like, "you mean I have to do this again? I just did this yesterday!" But then again I have the same reaction to doing laundry and grocery shopping and exercising.

I've been thinking about trusting the process in other areas of my life too, as I try to figure out how best to move forward in my career and life. About trusting that if I take the next step, the step after that will reveal itself to me - or at least be clearer, if not magically delivered on a silver platter. You just have to chip away at what's in front of you, not knowing exactly what you'll be doing tomorrow or the day after.

At the same time, the daily card challenge hasn't magically made me better at tackling other projects one day at a time... even when I'm faced with a big binder of evidence of the cool stuff that can result when you do just that. Just like Bar Method didn't magically make me more confident and effective at work, or like how I doubt that cleaning my closet would give me the boost to change careers like Kon Mari believers sometimes say. I guess I'd like to think it would carry over more than it does... but it has reminded me that I can set and achieve goals and keep commitments to myself. I just have to work on building that discipline - and establishing good systems and processes to support it - bit by bit in each area of my life.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.