Thursday, March 29, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Driving down the California coast

My time in Santa Rosa with Meagan was restorative, productive, and a lot of fun. Tuesday was some much needed downtime, including one of the best massages I've ever had. On Wednesday I visited my first WWOOF location, a small dairy farm in Petaluma. I learned more about cows in three hours than the previous 30 years combined, and the family was very welcoming. Here is their three-year-old, who oscillated between telling me I could "never ever leave" and I could "never ever come back," all while holding my hand.

They also very kindly sent me home with a half gallon of uber fresh raw milk from their most prized cow. Meagan and I both swooned - it was the sweetest milk we'd ever tasted.

Wednesday evening Meagan's brother Geoff came over and we went to Healdsburg, a nearby town deep in wine country. We sat at the general store which is across the street from fields of bare vines, had a picnic, and played Scrabble. Here I am being a tourist:

As the sun set we drove into the town itself to eat local ice cream before heading back to Santa Rosa for a few more episodes of 30 Rock.

Thursday morning I got on the road to visit my next two "farms," one in Big Sur and one in Cambria. (Quotes explained in a moment.) It blew my mind when I realized I'd have to drive through San Francisco to get to the coast - every time I've been to San Francisco it was a specific destination, not a drive through. I asked if there was an alternate route, but Geoff explained that would be like driving from Portland to Vancouver without going through Seattle. Luckily there was zero traffic, and I did get a tourist's kick out of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. I love this picture and have no idea how the sky turned out that way considering it was filled with pure white clouds:

I decided to stop in Monterey since it's famous for being beautiful. I drove to Fisherman's Wharf and watched some people surfing weak waves.

Unfortunately it was cloudy and cold so I got back in my car, only to get lost trying to find my way back to the freeway. I was frustrated several times to find a northbound but no southbound entrance, but I did eventually figure it out after some cursing and backtracking.

The entire drive was lovely, rolling green hills with intermittent clouds and sun. Getting next to the Pacific on highway 1/101 was exhilirating, especially considering a lot of the drive is on steep cliffs that wind around mountains. I felt compelled to get to my first destination after wasting half an hour in Monterey so I didn't stop at any of the scenic lookouts, but I did try to soak up as much of the scenery as I could without careening into the ocean. There was a particular corner I rounded where the deep blue ocean mingled with vibrant turquoise water close to the shore which was so stunning I yelled "oh wow!" Here's the one stop I did make:

My first destination was at Treebones Resort in Big Sur. I don't plan on sharing the names of most WWOOF locations I visit but Treebones is a fairly large commercial operation so I don't feel like they need any privacy. It turns out that to be a member of WWOOF, properties don't really need to be farms. Treebones is a yurt resort with a restaurant and a small garden. It seemed like a cool place, but looking for farms online is a little like online dating - you can only get so much of a sense for them via computer, and you really need to meet in person to see if there's a connection. I knew within 3 minutes of arriving that this was not a place for me. It felt like an overpriced camp ($200 a night to sleep in a yurt!) for aging tourists run by clueless college kids. When I tried to make an appointment to visit they told me to just show up whenever, but neither of the kids working knew anything about the WWOOF program and the one in charge wasn't particularly interested in showing me around. He took me on a whirlwind golf cart tour, going so fast up steep and curvy hills I nearly fell out, and then dropped me by the front door and walked in, calling over his shoulder, "have a good day." I was there for less than 15 minutes and, suffice to say, I won't be returning. But hey, I never would have known if I didn't visit!

Back on the road, the highway had flattened and the sky was blue. I drove past Hearst Castle and decided to check it out. All the tours were sold out but I did get a look at it via telescope. Can you find it in this picture?

Then I walked out on the pier across the street, but unfortunately didn't see any sea otters, dolphins, or whales.

From there Cambria was just 6 miles away and I was driving through this quaint tourist town in no time. I stopped for a cup of locally roasted coffee (delicious) and meandered down the road, observing the many antique shops and art galleries, almost all of which were closed at 5 pm. I guess March isn't high season here. I arrived at my next destination, a small B&B with private gardens. They also have these inventive toilet sinks which spouts the water used to fill the tank after each flush:

WWOOF volunteers are the primary employees here, with stays of 1-2 months. After shooting the shit with the manager and WWOOFers I headed into town for an overpriced but enjoyable dinner at Indigo Moon. I was in bed by 9:30.

I woke up at 7:00 to 39 degree weather (wtf California?), bundled up, and drove to the nearby cemetery which I had heard was charming. It was. This was the road leading to it:

There were so many animal statues than when I saw a deer standing perfectly still I assumed it was another statue, until it flicked its tail and walked slowly in front of me. I appreciated the individuality of each grave - you could tell that each was designed specifically for its inhabitant. It's hard to read but one of those low headstones reads "future home of (so and so)."

Then I went to
Nit Wit Ridge to see a house built by an artist and garbage collector made out of found objects. It's now a historic landmark.

This is the view of Cambria from Nit Wit. Just beyond those trees is the ocean:

Next was Moonstone beach, a hop skip and jump from Cambria. I love having the beach to myself in the morning:

Now it's 10:00 and I need to get on the road to Los Angeles before Friday traffic gets unbearable. I plan to stop at the Santa Barbara Vedanta Gardens, which also accepts WWOOFers but under pretty strict conditions.

I'll spend the weekend with Annie and her dear mother Kathleen before several days with Gramma. Los Angeles, get ready - I'm coming for you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Road tripping down the west coast

Yesterday I left Seattle at 6 am, the start of a 3-week long road trip through California. I had as my co-pilot a college junior named Alek going to Humboldt for his spring break to visit friends – Craigslist is always a great place to find rideshares! I figured it would be nice to split gas and not be alone for a 10-hour drive, and I was right on both counts.

I was worried about traffic but, unbelievably, there were more cars at 6 am in Seattle than 9 am when we rolled into Portland – we practically didn’t even slow down. The sky was filled with bright clouds pretty much the whole day, with some rain and snow through Oregon. Luckily, the Siskiyous were bare and dry and we flew through them.

Just as we had entered Oregon at 9 am exactly, the clock turned from 1:59 to 2:00 just as we hooted about the “welcome to California” sign. Mount Shasta was socked in by clouds but we could imagine how cool it looked. Here's a haphazard photo of the lake out the back window:

Two hours after crossing the border we were in Redding, which took exactly 2 tanks of gas to reach. I had assumed this would be my first stop of the day. Alek’s friends were coming from the coast for him in Redding, but I couldn’t imagine stopping at 4 pm just 3.5 hours from my Santa Rosa destination. So I dropped Alek at a coffee shop, gassed up, and pushed through. Alek was an excellent road trip companion and even drove for a few hours. The trip was downright pleasant and flew by. Plus he saved me $50 on gas! Here he is with a truck rainbow behind him - this was a random row of very brightly colored semi trucks without trailers.

I called Meagan to let her know I’d be arriving that night and to find out the best route to take. After 10 hours in the car I was on my own, and I’ll drive almost entirely by myself for the next three weeks.

After another stretch on I-5 I turned off onto 505 south - Meagan chose a slightly longer route for me that didn't go through the mountains and I applaud her choice based on the scenery alone. I had been enjoying the verdant scene outside the windows – sheep in green fields throughout Oregon, moss- and lichen-covered trees in the mountains with some snow scattered through the evergreens, tidy rows of new crops and budding trees in California:

I’ve made this trip probably 15 times in my life as a kid, but always in the summer when the land was scorched. It turns out I-5 can be lovely during the right months! But turning onto 505 was even more vibrant. Suddenly I was on a low country road, feeling like part of a pastoral painting.

I haven’t yet shared the nature of this road trip, but my plan is to visit half a dozen farms along the northern California coast, pick 2-3 of them, and volunteer as a WWOOFer for 3-6 month stints starting in September. Next year I’ll be a farmer, or at least a farmer-in-training, and I'm grateful to finally be able to follow a calling I've felt since I first got excited about growing food many years ago.

Being on the 505 and then again on the 37 driving over the Napa-Sonoma Delta made my whole body tingly. This was going to be my home for a year or more and I felt very welcome. I cruised up the 101 belting out Elvis’s greatest hits, marveling at how fast the day had gone, how soon I would see a dear friend, and how ready I was for this trip and the year ahead.

I made it to Santa Rosa in 12 hours and was enveloped in Meagan’s cozy apartment. She made the most amazing broccoli soup with buttered French bread toast, followed up with homemade sugar cookies and a few episodes of 30 Rock. I retired to the guest bedroom a little delirious and very happy.

This morning I woke up several times and had the luxury of going back to sleep each time, finally hauling myself to the couch at 9:30 to drink tea and write a few emails. I made a massage appointment for 4:00 to work the driving kinks out and then headed to Les Scwab.

I had my tires rotated before I left Seattle and the car was pulling to the right on the trip so I figured I needed an alignment. Here’s why I LOVE Les Schwab – rather than make $80 off me on an alignment I didn’t need, they drove my car around, diagnosed the issue, and fixed it by switching my two front tires. It didn’t cost a dime. Now I’m sitting at the East West Restaurant, eating a falafel wrap and drinking hot chai tea. I think after this I'll take a nap... I’m happy to have this day of downtime before I visit my first farm tomorrow morning, which is a family-run farm and small dairy operation in nearby Petaluma.

Mileage: I started the day at 118,023. The Matrix made it 350 miles on the first tank, about 30 miles a gallon. We filled up again at 118,650, only 277 miles on that tank but it was through the mountains. Gas is about $4.35 a gallon here. I ended the day at 118,870 – 847 miles in 12 hours, more than 70 miles per hour! Dang good time if I do say so myself.

Special shout out to my mom and brother and sister-in-law, all of whom bought me treats for the car that more than sustained me (and Alek) through this leg of the trip, with enough bounty to last many more legs.

Next stops after Petaluma are Big Sur and Cambria before spending about 10 days with family and friends in Los Angeles.

California, here I am!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Tonight is my last official night as a Capitol Hill resident. The movers come tomorrow at 2:00 to scatter my few belongings across three households. Earlier this evening my friend Mark came over, and after a long day of packing while watching intermittent snow and driving rain I was happy to get out of the house during a sun break and walk around my 'hood with an old friend. We ended up where I usually end up on Broadway, at Pho Cyclo. Here I am with a sudden snowstorm behind me:

Mark satisfied after a big bowl of pho:

Once the snow let up we made a break for it. Here, the wide blue sky we'd been walking under collided with a snowy, rainy sky near my apartment:

It's cheesy but I was nostalgic thinking this was the last time I'd walk around as a local. I doubt that wherever life takes me it will bring me back to this neighborhood. I'm too damn old here, and I'd rather be young somewhere else. Still, I have enjoyed myself. Between a fantastic apartment and a central location surrounded by worthy establishments, I've had a pretty memorable year and a half.

I wasn't really sad until this evening when friends came to take the big split-leaf philodendron that has grown from a two-leaf whippersnapper into a massive man-eater in its sun-drenched spot above a steam heater.

The corner was so empty without it there, and it sank in - I'm leaving this place! I know this feeling won't last much beyond Thursday at 5:00 when I officially have to hand over the keys, and then it'll just be another in a long line of wonderful places I have lived (I really do get lucky with housing). But tonight I plan on being a nostalgic sap and blubber about my boxes before curling up in my bed - the last time I'll be able to say I'm sleeping in MY bed for who knows how long (the luxuries of moving into a furnished house mean a better bed awaits me).

Owning an apartment's worth of furnishings has been an experiment this last year and a half, and even as I fought against it I knew the vagabond instinct would reclaim me. Still, I lasted longer than I thought I would... I lived here almost a year longer than anywhere else during the previous six years. That's progress, right?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Kony 2012

I've been doing a lot of crying lately - what can I say, there's a lot going on - but today it felt good to cry about something that wasn't mostly or even partly about me. Since I'm not on Facebook I'm possibly the last person in the U.S. who hasn't heard of the Kony 2012 project, but here's what I learned in the past 30 minutes by watching this powerful video:
  • Joseph Kony has been committing unspeakable crimes against humanity for more than 20 years in Uganda and other African nations
  • Due to a massive group - primarily teenagers - started by Jason Russell, enough visibility was brought to the issue to sway American policy and deploy military advisers to help with the capture of Joseph Kony in 2011.
  • Kony is still at large, and visibility among Americans must remain high for the government to continue supporting his capture, hence the Kony 2012 campaign.
This has tremendous significance outside the scope of bringing justice to the hundreds of thousands of people terrorized by Kony over nearly three decades, though that unto itself would be well worth it. But what's especially powerful about this movement, to me at least, is that it highlights the technological revolution we're all a part of, one in which borders and nationalities are irrelevant and real change can be enacted by the majority - yep, that 99% everyone was talking about a few months ago. If this works, it will be a dramatic step toward yanking some of that power away from the few, the rich, the corrupt, and giving a loud voice to a population that is increasingly demanding one. I want to be able to say I was a part of that voice.

The teenagers who overwhelmingly comprise the support for this campaign already get it - not because they're young and idealistic, although that helps, but because they are the first completely internet-based generation. To them, using social media to spread a message for change is the most logical thing in the world. Older generations are struggling to keep up, asking questions like: How could you use the internet to enact global change? Meanwhile, the teenagers are staring them down in impatient disbelief, asking: How the hell else would you do it?

There has been speculation, especially since this video is gaining so much attention, that this whole thing is a scam. I did a fair bit of reading on the accusations and feel comfortable that this is a legitimate organization that is making real inroads toward global awareness, something we need to fight the Konys of the world. You can read the organization's response to the negative press here.

If you're interested in learning more or want to get involved, watch the video or go to And keep your eyes trained on the streets when you wake up on April 21... if this goes as planned, you should see Kony everywhere.

Friday, March 02, 2012

I quit

The title isn't meant to be clever in any way. I literally quit my job and today was my last day. After 8 years with Apex I decided it was time to do something new with my life, so about 5 weeks ago I gave my notice, helped them train my replacement, got as many of my ducks in a row as possible, and exited gracefully and not too drunkenly after two loving farewell happy hours. On Monday I will wake up and have absolutely nothing to do. I can't be sure how I'll react to that, but I bet it will be pretty awesome.

To all my coworkers past and present, thank you for helping me grow up. Personally and professionally, I am a different person than I was when I started as a college intern at age 22, when the company itself was also young. I should have been fired on more than one occasion, but both times (maybe three...) someone saw my mistake as an opportunity to help me mature. I tried to quit so I could move to South America, and was met with the shockingly simple "why not just work from South America?", allowing me two years to live a totally different life while still remaining financially stable. As the company has grown, I've had multiple positions at every office we've ever had (Bellevue, Seattle International District, downtown Seattle, Philadelphia), and I've thrown a lot of company parties. In some ways Apex and I grew up together, and this feels like high school graduation where we each go our own ways to start down the path toward the adults we're destined to be - we'll still keep in touch and have many fond memories of each other, but it will never be the same.

Today I throw financial stability to the wind. I don't have a job lined up and I don't plan on looking for one any time soon. Instead I will drastically cut my living expenses by moving back in with K, M, and Toddler J (what joy is all of ours!) and providing occasional childcare in exchange for reduced rent. I can't tell you how often during the past month I've fantasized about the spring and summer ahead, evolving our three-year-old garden, going swimming and reading books and eating fresh fruit a three-year-old I love like a nephew just helped me pick. Tomorrow morning, my first Saturday of funemployment, I will wake up and head to their house to start planning this year's crops and do some winter weeding in preparation for spring. It all seems a little too bucolic to be real, but here I am.

It's funny how people react to news like this. "What do you mean you won't have a job?" "So you're just going to do... nothing?" "Oh, to be young and have that freedom!" But by far the most incredible reaction has been the overwhelming endorsement from my close friends and family. I was expecting no small amount of skepticism, but they have been nothing but enthusiastic and supportive. To know that the most important people in my life have complete faith in me... I tear up just writing about it.

So there you have it. I, Elizabeth Archer, am officially unemployed. So why do I feel like I just won the lottery?