Brighten up Your New Year

On New Year’s Eve it poured without ceasing. It was relentless. There was no way to place so much as a nose out the door without soaking yourself to your innermost layer of intimate garments. The ten day forecast said: “Get used to disappointment,” and “P.S. Adversity builds character.”

I wanted clear skies. I wanted to end the year, begin the year, and (this is crucial) continue throughout the year, with clear skies. I also wanted a clear counter. What was all this detritus? Why were there earrings, and my husband’s family menorah that I broke, spread all over the place? Actually the kids broke it; definitely the kids. I wanted better weather, an orderly, obedient household, and a renewed fervor for life. But no pressure.

I have little compulsion to ring in the New Year with razzle or dazzle, novelty or noise. I wasn’t going to go dancing, kiss a stranger, and drink too much. I did all that in 1996 and I’m still recovering. But I did want to dream up a meal of such surpassing scrumptiousness that the rain would cease to matter as I transcended external reality. I believe in the restorative power of the right meal. Again, no pressure.

Salad for Dinner by Jeanne Kelley, has yielded several recipes for my cooking classes at Bayview School of Cooking. I regarded the photo on the cover and felt inspired to make a salad…not at all like it.

Everyone knows I can’t follow a recipe. Not that I am unable, but that it just isn’t where the spirit leads me. I had a jar of marinated, grilled artichoke hearts, and thought they would be satisfying in a salad, along with some roasted vegetables. Because I had leftover basil, pumpkin seeds, and olives, those seemed to fit as well. So you see, by “the spirit,” I mean my fridge.

This salad was colorful, flavorful and healthy. It was also crowd-pleasing (crowd=one husband) and had my oldest been home instead of spending time with younger, funner people, I could easily have made a vegan portion for her. The other daughter was gone too, also because she didn’t want to spend the last night of the year journaling, reading, and falling asleep 30 minutes into a movie. I would make this again, (if I ever made something the same way twice) but would sprinkle in some chili flakes or pepperoncini to give it more…fervor.

I woke up to the new decade and…clear skies! I burst from the house screaming with purpose (sort of). That’s the power of the right meal, Eaters. Resolve to enjoy more of them in 2020.

“Clear Skies” Flexitarian Salad

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 golden beets, cut into approximately 2-inch long chunks
1 can chick peas
a handful of basil leaves (depending on how intense you want that flavor to be)
One head butter – or other favorite – lettuce
3 boiled eggs, peppered
1 small sweet bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup pepperoncinis and/or olives
Parmesan, shaved
4 rounds pepperoni, slivered (optional)
purple carrot (optional)

Olive oil
flaky salt
cracked pepper
red wine vinegar
chili flakes

Spread cauliflower and beets on a rimmed sheet pan and lightly coat with oil and a sprinkling of salt. Roast for about 15 minutes, then add the drained can of chick peas and roast perhaps 10 minutes more until char is to your liking. Allow to cool.

Toss lettuce in oil and vinegar – the amount depends on your taste, but begin with a light touch. Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper. You can add some of the remaining ingredients and give another toss, then arrange the rest on top. If you add them all at once everything tends to drop to the bottom. Plus you might be styling this salad to send a picture to a friend to show them how healthfully you are starting your new year. But again, no pressure.

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Thank You Note

It was time to leave for my annual dinner at Marzano with my long-suffering husband, and I was completely unable to get dressed.

So to avoid confusion, this is the same husband who, seventeen years ago, endured my oaths while I tried, and failed, to bring our oldest daughter into the world. Friends, it was grisly. This is also the same one who sees me, every morning, in a green bathrobe that would drive a weaker man to drink or mistressing. Why did I care how I looked for this birthday dinner? Don’t worry – I am not really asking that question.

Of course I care, everyone knows I care, because everyone cares. It’s a common misconception, perhaps foisted on us by every form of media, that women dress for men. Sure, that happens, but often we dress for ourselves. I’m not opposed to curb appeal; I wanted him to have a pleasant view across the table, but mostly it was my own vanity and grumpiness dictating the three costume changes.

Finally, clothes on and weathered curls (see Birthday) corralled with products and swear words, I was out the door. I threw a lipstick* and wallet in my purse; unfortunately, at the last minute, I forgot to toss a good mood in there.

But on the drive to Parkland, I recalled another evening (perhaps also a birthday when I was dour?) when he said this, “You’re just hungry,” Eaters, that’s brilliant. Let’s throw some food at this.

I lean pretty vegetarian, and was prepared to do the same on my birthday. It didn’t turn out that way, so some of you may need to avert your eyes.

Photo by Theron Humphrey, 2012

We split an appetizer: bruschetta with goat cheese, onion jam, prosciutto chips and microgreens. It was suffused with rosemary, an herb that tastes wintery and that I love having at this time of year.

And then, because he’s a genius, he asked me about three of my favorite topics: my friends, travel, and travel with my friends. I’ve said before that people love to talk about themselves. Apparently, I am also people.

The Caesar we split was crispy and neither under, nor overdressed – a pleasing rarity. The pasta carbonara was silky and tasted like something you might request before being executed. The blood orange tart had a buttery pistachio crust.

This was all lovely and satisfying (and not overly filling, since we took half of our dessert and entrees home) but the real joy was my dinner companion. He was willing to reach into a pit of writhing snakes and pull me forth, out of my dark mood. It took awhile, but the man was like Christopher Robin tugging a chunky Winnie the Pooh through that hole. Pop! I came through.

I won’t say my cheer lasted through the night, (hey, the blues can be sticky!) but that doesn’t mean I won’t forget his exertions. I never cease to be amazed by the power of perseverance in our relationships.

We are often helplessly, but hopefully, saying “Don’t give up on me,” without uttering a word. We can’t say it, because beside it sleeps the silent question, “Will you?” and we don’t want to wake it.

It takes imaginative grit to see someone as you know they can be. To keep calling another person forth, reminding them of who they are – across many birthdays and dinner tables – is a quietly joyous surprise.

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*Lipstick shade was “Vixen” by ZuZu. This name tested better with focus groups than “Wife,” or “Midlife Crisis Burgundy.”

Birthday

My pre-birthday unrest screeched into the station like a grim, communist train, four days before the big day. Why, I wondered, is something this predictable not preventable? Though I am always grateful to be alive, I am not always happy to be so. I can hold an awareness of the wonder of my existence simultaneously with a yawning sense of futility. No, I do not get invited to cocktail parties very often; funnily enough.

I spent the morning at church, in a rehearsal for the children’s Christmas program. I know I am not the only one who sees these pageants as akin to daylight savings time: something that we are forced to endure on an annual basis, simply because we have always done so. This might not be the attitude you expect from a Sunday school teacher, but I prefer to think of myself as more of a “prophet”.

Think of it as a travel nativity

As an airborne tambourine narrowly missed my ear, one of my little students started to feel dizzy and ominously warm. I felt his fiery furnace of a forehead, regarded his rheumy eyes, and asked if he wanted to sit on my lap. We got rid of his polyester wise man costume, which may have been designed to create, and seal in, a childhood fever.

As the small wise man from the Eastside of Olympia sat on my lap in his Seahawks t-shirt, sweaty and a little sad, I was glad to be there, cringing through a murdered version of “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” I felt grateful then, that I got to grow up to be a safe, comforting adult, whose lap a child would like to take up. I told him to rest his head back on my shoulder, the better to breathe his whooping cough germs directly into my eye.

Once I got home, my bit of enlightened cheer had dissipated. I’d been having a good hair day, but my outer well-coiffed smoothness was not translating to inner calm, so I grabbed my oldest daughter for a walk in the woods. A little time in the trees would be a sure corrective to my birthday crossness.

I was beginning to feel a spark of life returning, when it began to mist from all directions, then let loose with a hair-dismantling drizzle. The walk could not work its magic on my mood, due to the destruction of my tresses, and it was all shaping up to be an O’Henry short story. “Frankincense and Myrrh!” I uttered. Finally, a chance to employ my favorite holiday fake swear.

And then I remembered that I had actually received a gift from a magi (or at least one dressed up as what a friend’s grandson calls “the three wise guys”). I had been reminded that it’s hard to be a child, and feel sick and sad. And it’s good to be a grown up who can remind a child that, though I may not care much for the Christmas program, I do care about him. He told me that he was supposed to go to a birthday party at Boomshaka afterwards, so he needed to not be sick. I hope Boomshaka, the indoor trampoline park, keeps a hazmat crew on retainer. That could be one hell of a birthday. In fact, mine was looking better all the time.

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Grove of the Pancakes

On an indigo blue September day, I beheld the stunning Ohanapecosh River and fulfilled one of my outdoor aspirations. But first, on the way east on beautiful Highway 12, my friend Kirstin and I stopped at The Mountain Goat in Packwood, where they have savory scones with cheese in them (I give them a starred recommendation). I paused – mid-chew – to text my husband with my whereabouts. We planned to complete a couple hikes that day, beginning with the short, popular walk through the Grove of the Patriarchs. He replied that his cursory glance at my message had read as: Grove of the Pancakes.

Kirstin amongst the patriarchs

This conjured a vision that was equal parts scrumptious and terrifying: a copse of buttery, syrup-dripping stacks – mammoth and precarious – and me with, not hiking poles, but giant forks.

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Ohanapecosh River

How to negotiate this landscape? Does one scale a stack and pull down a flapjack? Gad about, licking syrup? Or just fling oneself at the nearest pile (taking care to dodge an avalanche of juicy raspberries the size of your head)?

Oh to be faced with such conundrums! It reminded me of the lurid charms of Candyland,* that criminally dull board game children love to torture their parents with. In that fabled Eden, candy canes grow out of the ground, (practical at Christmastime but otherwise annoying) and one is ever at risk of getting mired in a molasses swamp. This place of excess fueled my sugary fantasy life when I was six. I have never forgotten those brown popsicle plants in the swamp. They looked like tooth-decimating taffy, and I longed for them.

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The only way to get pancakes off my mind

And apparently I haven’t changed much in my propensity to tumble into food reverie, because I was instantly enraptured by the idea of walking through a grove of pancakes. I got so worked up, in fact, that I needed an icy dip. I came to my senses and remembered that my days of pancake abuse are over. And of course, this place was truly an Eden, with the pure, teal-green water I had admired in so many photos, finally surrounding me and freezing me to near unconsciousness.

Though I can’t attack a stack the way I once did, sometimes there’s nothing like pancakes – preferably on a day when you are fortunate enough to be hiking. If so, try these:

Orange Maple Non-Patriarchal Pancakes

adapted from O, the Oprah Magazine, 2004

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (more if batter needs thinning – this is a matter of preference)
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons orange zest
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten

neutral oil for the pan

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add milk, orange juice, maple syrup, zest, butter and eggs. Stir just until combined and a few small lumps are fine.

Heat up a frying pan over medium heat, (be patient) then turn it down just slightly. Brush it lightly with vegetable oil. Cook these the way you usually cook pancakes. If you don’t know how then get in touch with me and I will show you, but you will have to go hiking with me.

Optional but delicious syrup can by made by combining 1 1/2 cups maple syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup orange juice and a teaspoon of zest in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove when hot.

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*Since the character, Queen Frostine, was demoted to Princess in 2002 (for insubordination?) I am laying claim to the crown. Yes I will be living in the Frosted Palace, but I want the licorice bats sent over from the Licorice Castle, and if Lord Licorice thinks I’m backing down, he doesn’t know me.

 

 

Quince Paste

Again, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I am writing again; so thank you for reading.

Public civility appears to be dwindling. Oozing along with it into oblivion we have polar ice and the availability of desserts that don’t feature cinnamon (have we talked about this?). But while most things are quietly going to hell, something has improved: yogurt. In my lifetime, only hotel bedding has made a similar leap from lousy to lovely.

When I was growing up, my parents had a yogurt maker. We ate its puckering-tart offerings with my mom’s raspberry jam. Early on I developed a taste for tart and bitter foods, one I have passed down to my daughters. Anyone could have told you I had the makings of a beer drinker. We were taught to shun store-bought yogurt; at the time there were very few brands, each one worse than the last. But that was then.

Before I rejoice, I will say that most yogurts still suffer from an excess of sugar. And there are far too many fat-free (those words!) varieties decking the dairy case, pretending it’s 1994. But let us not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, because currently there exists a splendid array of fat-loaded yogurt.

I had about had it with Iceland when Siggi’s showed up a few years back with 0% fat Skyr (no I can’t pronounce it). But then, (due in part to my threatening letters?) they developed their 4-percenter. Thank you Siggi’s, because 4 is the creamy, magic number. I also favor YQ by Yoplait, particularly the vanilla and coconut.

Truly it’s a good time to be alive. These are yogurts that will make you feel full (of fat).

So obviously I’m not a dietitian. Animal products are probably not good for you in large quantities. However, I choose not to dwell on this sad possibility, due to my relentlessly, irrepressibly sunny nature (also due to my equally relentless craving for creamy dairy products). I tell myself that something with that superior of a mouth-feel can’t be all bad. And that’s only the tip of the (melting) iceberg of nonsense I tell myself.

Twelve years ago, when my family moved to Olympia, I bought a little ice cream maker. I was fond of making raspberry rose sorbet, lemon verbena ice cream and other artisanal sounding delights. I haven’t made frozen treats in awhile (save our annual Yuletide pomegranate gelato) because these things come in phases for me.

But last month, my husband’s coworker gave me a huge bag of quinces. They resemble enormous pears, and are rock hard and so bitter as to be inedible in their raw state (I confirmed this). But cooked up with sugar and a little lemon juice they result in an enchanting little Spanish confection. I have long been an appreciator of quince paste, or membrillo, which pairs so well with certain hard cheeses that they really should grow on the same tree for ease of snacking. Quince paste is like jam, but firm enough to be cut into cubes.

I spent an afternoon peeling, coring, chopping, boiling, stirring and testing, while my house filled with a beguiling floral scent. In the end, I had delectable quince paste of a distinctive deep apricot color that… didn’t fully set. I found out that the giver of the fruits (formerly my favorite of my husband’s coworkers) supplements the pectin when he makes his.

With about three square meters of unset QP on my hands, I was grateful to hear the voice of God telling me to make a frozen dessert. I hear that voice a lot, and in case you are wondering, God sounds a lot like Nigella Lawson.

So here’s a way to integrate more saturated fat into your diet, get the health (yes, I insist) benefits of full-fat yogurt, and use that quince paste that you also probably have kicking around your fridge. Who doesn’t?

Quince Yogurt Ice Cream

9 ounces quince paste (store-bought is fine or come get some of mine)
1 3/4 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt

Use a mixer to beat quince paste, cream and yogurt until smooth. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instruction.

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Sister Golden Hair Surprise

This post is for Phoebe who, after all, gives”Wonderwall.” its best cover to date.

Once, when my older daughter was a toddler, “my little fruit bat,” as I called her, was eating bing cherries and I could see the pits collecting in her generous cheeks. “Spit them out,” I cautioned. She focused her gaze a few inches above my head and made an effortful, audible gulp, disposing handily of a cache of about fifteen pits. She affected an expression of insouciance; just below the surface was the glee she took in flouting my good counsel. Huh, I thought, I’m in for it.

And then the thought came: good for her.

On her sixth birthday, I asked her what she wished for and she said, “Just to be a great girl.” She’s now on her way to being 17, and wishing made it so; she is a great girl. I get complimented on her and in return, I tell the truth, “I just gave her room to grow.” She was going to do what she was going to do. From the first moment in the hospital when she looked at me like, “Try to keep up,” I’ve been trying, but it’s not easy.

In elementary school she told the principal that he should support a series of “Lunchtime Entertainments.” She kicked this off with an a capella version of “Sister Golden Hair Surprise” in front of a noisy, smelly cafeteria packed with kids. That’s not an easy song to sing. And she wasn’t a showy kid with a big personality. She was introverted, and prone to some nervous spells when called on to perform. How an eleven year could send her sweet, untrained voice out across a mob of Go-GURT chugging kids at a school where she wasn’t even particularly happy, I don’t know.

Watching my daughter grow into young womanhood so focused, imaginative and bold, has made me wonder how my life would have been different if I had taken, Dare Greatly, as my motto, or Live Out Loud? Or just Be a Great Girl? But you know, it feels late to change. I am so caught up in observing the unfolding wonder of my daughters’ lives, (and in driving them all over creation) that it’s exhausting to imagine doing much with mine except laundry, or making vague threats about dressing down the boys who come around.

Ah the boys…they have been polite and genuine so far. I can’t complain save this: why do they wear so much cologne? When I first realized how lovely and electric she was going to be, I assumed I would have to patrol the perimeter of my property with a gun, muttering into a walkie talkie. But I forgot that her self-assurance and ebullience would – so far – scare away jerks. All her male friends are kind and funny and sadly, not scared of me. So if I am not her defender, what am I?

She’s two years away from college, busy with school and theater and the ferocious pace of socializing. For me, it’s all bittersweet. I sometimes wish we were embroidering together side by side while listening to a podcast. But I don’t embroider. She does of course; she taught herself one free Saturday. But then I also think, “Yes. Go live it.”

Her high school years have been tough ones for me. I often feel like I am swimming upstream; maybe she feels that way too. And we’re in two different rivers, so it’s impossible to help each other. It has taken me by disappointed surprise that the person I taught to talk can sometimes be so hard to talk with.

We don’t share too many interests, (she started baking and now she’s better than me but I tell myself, through my tears, that it’s better if our offspring surpass us) but we both like a hike. In early July we climbed Mt Ellinor and were met by the same adorable, woolly herd of goats that thwarted our climb last year. I gave her my standard advice when faced with wild animals, or just anything unpredictable, really, “Look down.” I could tell she thought my advice was weird and uninspired. Maybe, but neither of us got gored by a horn.

Cookie Roasting – simple pleasures!

But then a dog barked, sparking a mini stampede of bewildered goats. As the shaggy creatures galloped by, I shoved her behind me because she’s supposed to be here when I’m gone. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and I am supposed to do everything in my power to ensure it. And that power is so limited, so feeble compared to everything and everyone who could hurt her. But I knew once she was born that I would now be walking through the world without skin, and everyday with her would be sparkling joy and looming catastrophe. And so…much…laundry.

But I did give her room to grow, and I gave her sage advice about cherry pits that she ignored. Hey, I didn’t take my mother’s advice either: “Learn to cook meat. Men love meat.” She was right, but I had to chart my own course.

The other day we hiked again, swam in our favorite lake, visited the High Steel Bridge together for the first and last terrifying time, ate ice cream. and then landed at our other favorite lake. We agreed it was a perfect day – the best day. We even had watermelon. I have decided to always remember it. And I will also always remember the look on her face when she swallowed those pits. It hurt a little, I think, but no one said being your own woman wouldn’t come at a price. It’s not always easy to be her mom, and it hurts a little too, but it’s humbling and inspiring, and great.

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Palm Springs Eternal

Many years ago, I read a Sunset article about date shakesThe farm stands purveying this happy marriage of fruit and cream are dotted along I-10, the highway that runs through the date growing capital of the world. And can we pause here to say that dates are a fruit, (healthy!) yet they taste, and sort of look, like caramel? We can pause, and while we do, I will eat some dates.

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Hotel room picnic

After reading the article, I was inspired to make a shake. It was delicious, though I didn’t know how to keep the sticky dates from caking into the bottom of my blender. So I made one of my famous “I will eat it!” food vows, that someday I would have a shake made by the experts in Coachella Valley.

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At last

When I found out my husband had a convention to attend in Palm Springs, I saw my chance. Not long after we touched down, I began scoping out the shake situation. I honed in on Great Shakes, but hesitated, so close to consummation, because I was afraid that it would be too sweet.

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Desert blooms

Well, it was quite sweet, but it was also the creamy culmination of this date-lover’s most cherished hopes. And please, note the wee cake encircling the straw. That’s right: a cake garnish! That idea definitely has more legs than parsley and a twisted orange wedge.

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Hanging up in Great Shakes

Not only was my shake yummy, but the service at Great Shakes was attentive and warm. The shake maker (shaker?) informed me that date shakes used to be served at the local sanitariums. I don’t know if they ever cured anyone’s tuberculosis, but given their silky-sweet spirit-elevating properties, I bet they didn’t hurt. If I ever return, I plan to rent a car to tour the Hadley and Shields date farms.

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Made some friends at the pool

I love the sunshine, and the mountainous backdrop, but the town felt a little eerie to me. Partly I am never sure if we are supposed to live in the desert. Is it really for us? Marylin Monroe lived here, (don’t ask me how she kept her skin so dewy) and I sense a collective mourning for all she represents, shellacked over in vibrant, nostalgic furnishings. I too, felt wistful for a bygone era (while simultaneously reminding myself that said era was before women’s/gay/civil rights).

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It’s hard to describe the vibe, but people are definitely here to party. The bulk of eateries seem geared toward a city-wide, perpetual hangover. I walked by Oscar’s Bar, where the Sunday night dance party was revving up, complete with DJ. For a full five seconds I considered going, before I remembered I am crowd averse, noisephobic, and generally skeptical of public merriment.

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As I turned away in relief from my brief mental foray into extroversion, I was nearly toppled by a gaggle of human females on bicycles, clad in “Team Bride” shirts. Holy Matrimony! I fled to my hotel room before Team Bride devolved into Gorgeous (Drunk) Ladies of Wrestling, complete with teary rivulets of mascara.

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Tahquitz Canyon Falls

The hike to Tahquitz Canyon Falls was more in keeping with my passions, especially since a dunk in the falls pool was on my list, next to the date shake. I also recommend the hike into Murray Canyon, where I discovered my own private swimming hole.

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Murray Creek
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Evening

I lounged by the pool *of course, but any poolside sloth took place in the shade, since I am the fairest of them all. A dermatologist once looked me over, sighed, and shrugged, “Wear sunscreen, and just try to enjoy your life.” I think he knew that for me, that would be a challenge (both the laborious slathering, and the enjoying). But oddly, it gets easier with every decade. The loss of collagen tends to concentrate the mind. And though my mind often concentrates on chasing down catastrophic scenarios, I do eventually perform a screeching, dusty, U-turn back toward a place of appreciation. Now I mostly enjoy my life, and mostly wear sunscreen.

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On a hot and hilly hike up the North Lykken trail, I observed this plaque. I treasure these sorts of trail surprises, and preferred this over the group of 92 (I confirmed the number) seventh graders, and a rattlesnake I met in Murray Canyon (though the snake and I parted as friends).

Did Carl Rose, who is so simply and evocatively memorialized here, love that rock? The trail? The mountain? The city? Or the whole shebang, this whole place? I just know that I want someone to think that about me: that I loved this place, enjoyed this life (and wore sunscreen).

To Carl Rose, and those who miss him in this strange, (but brightly hued) desolate (but effervescent) place, thank you for the reminder.

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*The pool made me itchy and on our last day it was closed due to a “public health hazard”- probably a coincidence.