Day 2: Tiger Leaping Gorge: I hiked three hikes today

The uphill. Light rain – enough to keep the air cool and the gorge hidden. We begin to climb and start counting the infamous 28 bends, only to realize the teahouse stop is not only closed but also the signal to start the real ascent of the bends. More heavy breathing, and many short stops along the way. Red numbers painted on the rocks signal our progress – until #16. Then they seem to stop. We reach the summit which offers no view. Lisa says to take a picture would yield the same result as showing someone a white piece of paper. Still, going up was easier than I expected as the pink flowers that helped me so dearly yesterday were replaced by their vivid yellow sisters. I felt confident that I would make it the entire time.

the summit

Soaking wet, we made it to the top! Trust me, this is the summit — the flag proves it!

Then came the downhill. Though the rain had stopped, it had left its treacherous mark. Mud and slippery rocks made up the narrow pathways we needed to descend. Out group naturally broke off into three again, and like the day before I was by myself in the middle of our sprawled pack. At least I knew there was someone behind me in case I fell, but there were many times that offered little comfort. Sometimes the path was no more than 8 inches wide, with a steep drop-off providing strong motivation not to slip on the shiny, wet rocks. I reminded myself I was out of shape. The pine smell was beautiful.


Around a bend I saw our group leaders stopped, admiring the view. We had descended far enough that the clouds were above us, and the gorge made an appearance, the Yangtze River rushing below. I caught up with them, but then stayed behind to take more pictures that didn’t come close to capturing the textures, depth, and complexities of reality.


Trust me again. It’s super cool.

Alone again, I slowly made my way down dirt paths, bamboo-covered paths, and rock “paths.” I thought my legs were going to give out. The painted red arrows assured me I was going in the right direction even when the paths vanished – not even burro droppings made it clear which way I should go. I could no longer hear my friends – or anyone for that matter – ahead or behind. For awhile it felt like Oregon, though, with pines and rhododendrons lining the path. I looked down at the hiking skirt I wore, once owned by my friend who is now gone. Alone, I was surrounded by familiar halfway around the world. Not alone, just by myself.

I reached Tea Horse Guest House, our chosen spot for lunch only a few minutes behind the leaders. I could have sworn they were miles ahead. Ten minutes later, we were all together. The trailers weren’t so far behind after all. We ate amazing food, my favorite dishes being the broccoli and yak (yum!), and warmed ourselves with the tea that greets us at every stop. Sated, we put our packs back on and walked the last leg of the day’s journey. There was sun and baby goats. The paths were still narrow, but the terrain flat. We tended to stick together as a larger group. The mountains met us at every turn. Sun, scenery, and company all together as we reached our stopping place for the night. My legs are wobbly, but I’m energized. The view from the room is as breathtaking as it was from the trail. Still, electricity is reserved for later, and once again I handwrite this documentation of the day.


The view! From our room!


Farmers working below our room.


View from the deck.

I give thanks to all three legs of today’s trek and the gifts they brought. And now it’s time for a beer.

Note: I didn’t write anything about Day 3. Rest assured, we made it safely. The terrain was mostly flat and the weather was nice. There were more super-cute baby goats.


Ten ways I embraced the holiday season (mostly in pictures)

Usually I don’t do much over the holidays. I’m not all “Bah, Humbug,” but then again I tend to feel sort of “Meh” when the jolly season comes around. This year, however, I went out of my way to savor the time since last year I pretty much missed the whole thing being in Oman (though we did celebrate a little). This is how I got into it:

  1. I got a tree. After several years of not doing so, I bought a tree. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh tree. It makes me so happy. As soon as it gets dark here, I turn on the lights and eat my dinner to the ambiance.


    My view from the couch as I watch TV

  2. Saw lights. My friend has a house on Peacock Lane, Portand’s street of holiday cheer. I also saw the big tree downtown. Pretty. It’s hard to hold back holiday cheer when seeing so much festivity.

    The Portland tree. The local statue is dressed for the weather.


    Crazy lights on Peacock Lane.

  3. Spent time with friends and family. I love how the holidays is one huge focus on getting together with people who matter. I’m lucky enough that this is a relaxing time and feeling.
  4. Saw movies. I saw The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D, and the Hateful Eight in 70mm. There was a long dry spell in my life where I really didn’t see many movies in the theaters (or at all, really). This is slowly changing, thanks to being overseas where seeing an American film felt like a special treat. I like going to the movies again. Yeah, the snacks are still too spendy, but I have found that belief that the ticket price is worth the fun and escapism I see on a huge screen.
  5. Experienced holiday entertainment. I went to a former student’s Christmas cabaret. I heard carolers at the hospital where I work. Played Christmas carols in my house and in the car. These musical events left me laughing, touched, and nostalgic. Magical.


    These young carolers helped the mood at the hospital.

  6. Gave to charity. In lieu of presents, my parents and I give to charities. This year I donated enough to Heifer International to send a young woman to school for a year. I also donated to help support Syrian refugees. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this.
  7. Drank silly holiday beverages. I drank the controversial Starbucks pumpkin latte (I liked it better with the real pumpkin, but maybe that’s just me) in a controversial Starbucks holiday cup. It was delicious. I also tried some weird chestnut latte thing. I wasn’t as excited.
  8. Made cookies and traditional foods. Friends came over and we baked sugar cookies and decorated them as if we were five. We made our own colored sugar and used it liberally, mixing all the colors together. I also made Latvian piragi like grandma used to make; I made them over Thanksgiving weekend and again for a Winter Solstice party. Yum.
  9. What are the holidays without leaving the house, at least for a little bit? Despite leaving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I still encountered airport woes, as my plane was a full two hours late. Thankfully, my friends had come to the airport with me to do some last-minute shopping and so to the bar we went! It was decorated in a strangely, confused festive way.  In the end, I made it to Sacramento to spend Christmas with Dave’s family. Saw movies and the sun! I need to see the sun more often.
    Penguin at Beaches

    Strange bar decor.


    Sun and palm trees in Sacramento. Hooray!

  10. Went to lots of parties. How did this happen? My social calendar was full of house gatherings complete with silly gift exchanges, laughter, yummy food and drink, and connection. I have a ton of outgoing friends who are warm enough to open their doors to others. So much fun – thanks to all of you for hosting and thinking of me when creating your guest lists.
    Peacock Lane party 2


The sun came out – just for a few hours – and I wept tears of joy. It’s been dark and flooding and heavy for so long, and I didn’t think I was going to see a blue sky for at least another week. Yet, there it was, waiting for me as I caught the bus to go downtown.


The few hours of non-rain in days.

On the bus already was an old, frail, white man at the front in his wheelchair. Both legs were amputated from the knee down, khaki pants tucked neatly under stubs. He looked lost and confused, but then again so did so many others I shared the bus with every day as we leave “pill hill” and the myriad hospitals that fill it. Yet, this man seemed particularly distraught, and the others who say close to the front talked to him in soothing voices.

The hospital-issued wheelchair he sat in was the first clue something was the matter. The second was the semi-torn-out IV in his arm. He wasn’t supposed to be on the bus but had decided, on his own, that it was time to go. Go home. One of the men chatting with the escapee alerted the bus driver. A nurse confirmed that a man with an IV in his arm like that should not be going home, but going back to the hospital. The man soon realized his attempt to flee was discovered, and his distressed grew. He began to wail and cry as the bus pulled over next to the children’s hospital:

“I want to go home!

Move! Move!

Roll the bus, roll the bus!”

His cries became more frantic and became less convincing in his commands:

“I don’t want to go back to prison! They’ll lock me up. Don’t make me go back!

Roll the bus, roll the bus.”

The men at the front – one sporting a Veteran’s ball cap – told him it would be OK. The driver told emergency services to come quickly, please. She was calm, but adamant. She turned to reassure the man that help was on the way.

“No. I want to go home. Move the bus. PLEASE.”

He was crying hard, begging for his life.

I stood in the back and choked back tears.

The driver eased the man off the bus and stood with him until help arrived. She gave him a cigarette – forbidden on a hospital campus – and smoked alongside of him. Offering a small pleasure to a man who had none. Two policeman walked up slowly towards the two, doing their best to look gentle despite being visibly armed. The man was calmer now, and the driver got back on the bus.

As we pulled away, I heard the cries build again. Cries from the man who had to go back:

“I just want to go home….Please.”

His voice was weaker and less insistent. Defeated, but still with hope.

According to the man in the Veteran’s cap, the man’s home was a shelter on the edge of the city.

The bus made it down the hill before it stalled out. The driver stared ahead and said that it was her grandfather – mad at her for making her passenger go back. She said she was sorry. Passengers said she did a great job and thanked her. The bus started up again.

At the next stop, a woman got on, yelling at the driver for being so late. The driver smiled at said, “I’m truly sorry ma’am, but sometimes the unexpected happens.”

The sun was still shining.

Thank you

The house is still. The thick coat of morning frost is gone as the sun is bright. After snuggling in bed for a few hours, reading a mystery novel, I brave venturing out from under the covers and plod downstairs. The house is warm; one of the many things I am thankful for.

Morning is spent dusting and straightening. I turn on the television, and the house fills with the excitement of the football game – just like it does in thousands of households across the country. A weird national bond. A hometown touchdown, and the crowd roars. I check in with loved ones who won’t be joining me today, and read an online update from a friend whose struggle with cancer is going as well as we ever could have dreamed. I am thankful for the ability to do all of these things with the help of modern communication. I briefly think about the time when handwritten letters full of delayed news were the only means of reaching out and my heart aches a little trying to imagine the challenge of staying connected back then.

The house is clean enough. Now I sit, watching the game. A moment of rest before guests arrive to begin cooking. This year, we will feast on Ethiopian cuisine, forgoing the traditional turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Though we’ve never made any of these dishes before, Doro Wat, Gomen, Atakilt Wat, lentil salad, and a lamb stew will fill my table this evening. Six wonderful friends to share it with.  I am thankful for my friendships, and our willingness to break from the norm and use a major holiday to venture into the culinary unknown. I dug out an old, Latvian tablecloth for the occasion.

Books, warmth, friends, communication, food, heritage, courage, health. May you have these things, and more, this Thanksgiving.


Singing Oregon (#5)

Note: It’s my goal to karaoke in all 50 states. I’ve done 20 so far, and although Oregon was the 5th state in which I ever sang, I am reflecting on a time that happened just last weekend. Because, you know, I karaoke all the time here.

The Facebook notification intrigued me: “Julie posted a video on your time line.” Since I was on my phone, I didn’t look right away, waiting until I got to a computer to see what it was. I saw the video was of me, singing “It’s Raining Men” at her birthday party. I clicked “play.” The first thing I heard was me singing off key, and I cringed. I actually couldn’t listen to the whole thing the first time around. I debated on taking it down; I didn’t need anyone else hearing that. Only three people “liked” it, so I placated myself to the idea that not many were seeing it and, if they were, not many were actually playing it all the way through.

I felt embarrassed. I thought I was a better singer than that. I had other data in the form of compliments from both friends and random strangers that leads me to believe I have a decent singing voice. The voice in my head sounds pretty darn good, too. But listening to this video made me think differently: reassess how I feel about singing. It didn’t feel right, but at the same time, how can one argue with evidence?


I sort of thought I sounded more like these lovely ladies. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After a while, I got up enough courage and played it again. I swore I would let it go the whole way through. Again I felt uncomfortable – why is it that we tend to sound so much better in our heads than in reality? – but powered through, fighting all desires to stop it.

And during that time, I took a deep breath and really listened.

I heard people having fun.

There’s dancing, singing, laughing, shouting, cheering.

Those are the important sounds – not my flat belting of the strong notes, or throat-dominant chorus. I still gritted my teeth and winced a little (OK, a lot) as I listened to the whole thing, but try to see through the imperfections and focus on what really mattered. That night, a bunch of people gathered together to celebrate a birthday. We crammed into a room and sang, and laughed, and had a great time. There were Jello shots and cupcakes. People had a good time when I sang, and they didn’t just sit back but they participated in the joy. And, while I was up there, I was having a great time too.

keep calm and karaoke


I am still not happy with what I hear, and I probably will never listen to the video again. But I am doing my best to look beyond it and refocus my energies on what karaoke is about. I am not at all critical when others sing – I enjoy lovely off-key renditions of so many songs sung from the heart. Yet, here I am, feeling embarrassed by what others heard from me. I recognize the hypocrisy here, and I will try to be more forgiving of myself. Karaoke is entertainment, not because of the quality of the vocals, but because it brings people together. One giant sing-a-long.

Someday, I’ll be able to apply the message I give to others to myself as well.

You can read very different posts about singing in WyomingPennsylvania and New Jersey too.