Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fave Five: High Desert Spring Break.

Eastern Oregon is overwhelming in its vastness. It is full of wide open spaces, room to make big mistakes. But it's also not just a sage brush prairie. There are mountains and hills and gaping canyons that come out of nowhere. It's desert and forest and lava fields. And a whole lot of cows. A LOT.

But no matter what it is, it is big, incomprehensibly so. And mostly empty. An emptiness that leaves me feeling awed and slightly uneasy. But it is really, really pretty. 

We took a two and a half day road trip at the end of my spring break this month to see some of it. As we do with road trips, we crammed a whole bunch of stuff into a short period of time. Here are some of my favorite parts of the trip, in an absolutely random order.

5. Shaniko.

Our first stop on the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway (we REALLY LOVE a scenic byway) was the "ghost town" of Shaniko, Oregon. There were a bunch of old timey shacks and civic buildings and such that are a tourist draw in the summer, but at the beginning of a very chilly April, it was almost an actual ghost town. We did see a few other people but not many, starting a theme for the whole vacation, really. Still, cheesy tourist trap or not, it was a really fun spot to take pictures, AND we got to meet a friendly dog named Sadie. Win-win!

4. The High Desert Museum.

Visiting the High Desert Museum outside of Bend, where we headed for our last day, was a literal last minute decision after other outdoorsy plans were nixed due to it snowing outside. Because it snows in the high desert during spring break! FYI! The High Desert Museum is a little pricey to get in (although they take AAA discounts!) but it was awesome and totally worth it. You get a bunch of history and edumacation stuff, including a particularly good wing dedicated to high desert/plains American Indian culture, which is markedly different from the coastal nations that you most often see associated with the Pacific Northwest. There is currently another exhibit about the high desert during World War II, where I learned a bunch of stuff, including some particularly terrifying things about the Hanford Nuclear Site. Hoooooly shit. It is incredible that at 33, I am still learning new stuff about World War II. 

What makes this museum unique though is that there is also wildlife to see, and a ton of it! We watched a badass peregrine falcon demonstration, and did you know that peregrine falcons can fly over 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest animal on the planet, because they can and they are! We also saw owls, eagles, tortoises, snakes, lizards, a porcupine, and a bobcat. A BOBCAT!

And we saw this amazing band playing old timey folk songs, which made us feel real peak white people.

3. Fave Food: Little Pine Cafe and Spork.

Welcome to me not-so-sneakily squeezing more than one thing into a single number on this list; it is about to get even more ridiculous when I get to number one!

We stayed one night in Mitchell, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where we constantly worried about our survival, either from ghosts in the one hotel in town in which we were the ONLY GUESTS, or from the other folks in town who were REAL BIG FANS of open carry laws. BUT the one place in town where we definitely felt the happiest and most welcome was the Little Pine Cafe, also known as the Mitchell Stage Stop. The food here was standard American diner fare: burgers, sandwiches, salads, but everything we got was really good and the waitress was really friendly. And we learned that in Eastern Oregon, you take friendliness where you can get it. Even though we were, unsurprisingly, the only customers, it was a really cute space and we didn't feel uncomfortable at all. And their homesqueezed lemonade was STELLAR. 

Somehow we did survive our stay in Mitchell, even with Manda's Hillary sticker still on her car and Kathy's queer haircut. For this, I consider myself blessed.

Back in Central Oregon in a town where we didn't feel like we might get shot if we spoke positively about Obama, we ate at Spork in Bend, a food cart turned hip brick and mortar restaurant. And like all food carts turned brick and mortar, the local residents seemed evenly split on their Yelp reviews about whether this place was even more awesome now or TOTALLY SOLD OUT. Luckily, we are not locals, so I can say without any anxiety about how cool I am or not that it was neat and delicious and I really enjoyed it! While I got the spicy Korean chicken because like any red blooded millenial it is hard for me to say no to spicy Korean chicken, everything on their menu looked great and I would love to go back. 

Having been to Bend a few times now, I think the area where Spork is, on the west side of the Deschutes along Newport Avenue, is one of my favorite places to be. It's just down the street from Chow, which is also delicious, and a few blocks north of 10 Barrel Brewing on Galvelston. Of course, I think this area of town is newer, more manicured than older parts of Bend, but that's the nature of the beast with Bend--so much of it is new and manicured that as an outsider it's hard to figure out what's authentic, or rather what authentic even means, making Bend both really cool but kind of weird. While this can probably be said of any town in the West these days, it seems particularly true here. 

Anyhoo, Spork was great! And ALSO had good lemonade! Well, mint limeade, actually, but close enough!

2. Alpacas at Crescent Moon Ranch.

One great thing about having a friend like Manda is that she will always make you stop anywhere it looks like you might be able to pet animals, and it is ALWAYS WORTH IT. Crescent Moon Ranch is just north of Redmond near Smith Rock, and even though getting in and out of it almost gave me a heart attack because it's right off this section of 97 that has WAY TOO MANY CARS WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CARS, 10/10 I would go back again. You can buy feed in their store and then give it to ALL THE ALPACAS. They are so cute and so soft and they don't really like you except for the food and they might spit at each other or at you if you give the food to the wrong alpaca instead of them but gosh they are the best.

1. The John Day Fossil Beds.

A) Clarno Unit.

The John Day Fossil Beds were the real purpose of our trip. They are a national monument spread over three distinct units, with many miles between them all, full of geology and science and history and diverse landscapes. We hit all three and they were equally fantastic. The first one, heading west to east, is the Clarno Unit, these hulking cliffs that come of nowhere from the rolling hills surrounding them. 

We only walked part of one of the several trails here. It was full of placards that told you about the things that happened millions upon millions of years ago to make those cliffs, when there were no Cascade Mountains and the Northwest was basically a jungle, and it was at this point that I realized my small human brain cannot comprehend what millions and millions of years ago even means. Time + Earth = WHAT.

B. Painted Hills.

The middle unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills, is the most famous of all three for a reason. It is out of this world. Much of the landscape makes you feel like you are legit on Mars, or at least the closest thing most earthly mortals can imagine of Mars. A lot of the hills look so soft and smooth and inviting that you just want to throw yourself upon them, but DON'T DO IT. The rock that forms these otherworldly formations and striations has been here, again, for millions upon millions of years, and much of the landscape is so fragile and protected that while there are a number of trails here, most of them are relatively short and limited, including some boardwalk trails. You know, so that us humans can't eff up this magnificent place too much. *ahem* AND THIS IS WHY WE NEED THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM.

C. Sheep Rock Unit.

The biggest of the three units and the furtheast east, closest to the actual town of John Day, is the Sheep Rock Unit. It's also the hardest to describe. It is surrounded on both sides of Highway 26 by an incredible canyon, and then once you turn into the heart of the unit, there are sweeping landscapes of sage covered valleys and peaks that are just...breathtaking. The kind of landscape where you turn off the music in the car so you can sit in silence and fully take it all in. 

There is also a great visitors center here, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. You can walk through a rather impressive exhibit about the natural history of the area, where I learned about a bunch of ancient animals that apparently roamed this place that I had NEVER EVEN HEARD OF BEFORE. You can also watch REAL PALEONTOLOGISTS AT WORK through a glass window like you're in a scientist zoo! In addition, there's a small theater where you can watch a 20 minute video about the John Day Fossil Beds. We debated where the exact copyright of this video fell, although I feel pretty strongly that it was between 1990 and 1994, but whatever it was, it was fantastic! There is nothing I like more than a video at a national park visitors center! 

Manda and I also purchased National Park Passports here and got to stamp it THREE TIMES, once for each unit. Best day ever!

There are a ton of trails and things to see at this unit, but a storm was blowing through all of Oregon this day and it was so cold and windy that you could barely function outside for more than five minutes. In a way, this was good, because now I have more of an excuse to go back.

Some photos are just made for a harsh Instagram filter.

Man, that was fun to write. But now I miss vacation even more. Why can't every day be a day for exploring? 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Fave Comics of 2016.

One of my last real posts on here was about the Year I Got Real Into Comics (2015). 2015 really isn't that long ago, but looking back at that post, I remember how insecure I felt walking into a comic store, like someone was going to call me out for not belonging there. Now, my comic store is one of My Places. And while it's an extremely irresponsible part of it, picking up my pull list now feels like an essential part of my monthly budget.

I know we're well into 2017 already, but I do what I want, so here are my top five comic reads of 2016.

5. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Ryan North & Erica Henderson

Goddamn, Squirrel Girl is delightful. She is the goofiest, most lovable, nerdiest, most truly all-age comic there is right now, all due to the goofy, nerdy, lovably Canadian Ryan North. I would read anything Ryan North writes, because it's hard to be in a bad mood while reading anything Ryan North writes. 

If you didn't know, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is half girl, half squirrel, which gives her the power to EAT NUTS AND KICK BUTTS. She is also a computer science major college student, with an amazing best friend and roommate, Nancy, and an adorable squirrel sidekick named Tippy Toe. While she does, as aforementioned, have the power to kick butts, the truly lovable part of Squirrel Girl is that she almost always takes down her adversaries through logical conversation, empathy, and non-violent persuasion. 

I do admit that sometimes I put off reading my issues of Squirrel Girl these days if I'm looking for a quick read, because reading all the footnotes North includes on nearly every page requires more time and patience, but at the same time, the footnotes? Best part.

4. Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat!
Kate Leth & Brittney Williams

The first thing you need to know is that Kate Leth and Brittney Williams = DREAM TEAM, so there is no way you can go wrong with this comic.

The second reason that I like this comic, about a superhero who's trying to go low key in life by starting a temp agency for reformed superheroes (but who obviously gets caught up in a lot of superhero-ing anyway), is because of her gang. I just really love a good ensemble cast. After all, Buffy is nothing without her Scoobies. And the ensemble of Hellcat is particularly strong, and also particularly queer and feminist! I am OBSESSED with Ian and Tom (PARTICULARLY TOM), who are pretty regularly at her side, but her BFF is She-Hulk, and Jessica Jones is there a lot, and as illustrated in the cover above, a bunch of other amazing Marvel Universe ladies show up from time to time, including America Chavez (swoon). Plus, cats are the best.

Kate Leth has announced that this current revival of Hellcat will be coming to an end this year, which breaks my heart a little, but alas, such is the world of comics. 

3. Goldie Vance
Hope Larson & Brittney Williams
Boom! Box

Goldie Vance, and how much I loved it, was my biggest comics surprise of 2016. There are no superheroes here, just the charming antics of Goldie, a mischievous, sleuthing teen who works as a valet driver at a resort hotel in Florida in the 1960s. I've learned I really dig the hotel-as-primary-setting storyline set up (see also: Jane the Virgin), and there's something about the shiny, clean art style of Brittney's in this one that's really satisfying. This was originally just going to be a one story, few issues arc, but I am so glad it was successful and Boom! Box kept it going. 

This comic is all about Goldie solving mysteries and living her best life. The first arc involves solving a mystery for a hotel guest, and the second arc delves into the life of her best friend, Cheryl, who works the front desk at the hotel and dreams of being an astronaut. The third and current arc is all about cars, which I'm not as into, but it's still great having a comic out there about a girl who really loves cars. Goldie also has total googly eyes for side character Diane, which makes sense because Diane is a stone cold fox. 

This happens to be my only non-Marvel comic on this list, which is a little misleading because I increasingly love almost everything Boom! Box puts out. Their books are all-age gifts of goodness with huge heart, and I can't wait to keep following their work. Thank you, Shannon Watters, editor lady!

2. Ms. Marvel
G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona/Takeshi Miyazawa/A Whole Buncha Artists

While I still read most of the comics I included on my 2015 list, Ms. Marvel is the only one that's making a reappearance on this one. And that's because Ms. Marvel continues to be, simply, the best. Issue after issue, arc after arc, I am still in love with Kamala Khan. She had a real rough year this year, especially with all that Civil War II junk, and my heart wishes that she could go back to just hanging out with Bruno at the Circle Q and superhero-ing, you know, sometimes. :\ And honestly, I forget all the different superhero leagues that she's supposedly a part of now. But it's her continuing, mounting struggle between who she is as Kamala Khan and who she is as Ms. Marvel that makes her story, like so many superhero stories before her, compelling and heart-wrenching. Still. Bruno. :\

I particularly liked the issue last year where she went to Pakistan, and wish they had made that a full arc instead of a single issue story, but perhaps she'll return one day. My only complaint about Ms. Marvel is that while G. Willow Wilson has held steady for a few years now, I feel like they've rotated through guest artists A LOT, and it throws me off sometimes. I don't mind a guest artist now and then, but when it's too often, it really does affect the consistency of the reading experience.

1. Spider-Woman
Dennis Hopeless & Javier Rodriguez

I jumped into Spider-Woman without knowing much about her, but I'd heard such good things and was intrigued by the pregnant superhero storyline. Many issues later, I am just consistently blown away. It's the most stereotypical superhero comic I read (although in many ways, not, because again, the pregnancy thing), but man, Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez just know what they are doing. I'm still relatively new to the world of comics, but after a few years in, reading this comic feels like watching the work of masters. 

Jessica Drew is so deeply flawed, and so deeply stubborn, but you still love her to death anyway. She is fiercely independent and fiercely resilient at the same time that she is deeply human. And, she is sexy af. At all times. I love her friendship with Captain Marvel (ALSO SEXY AF) and I love her friendship with Roger. (ROGER! ~heart eyes~) The balance of action and character development is just right.

I also read and enjoyed the Spider-Women crossover event last year, which involved picking up some copies of Spider Gwen and Silk, and getting to know them and their back stories was enjoyable, as well. Silk in particular I could potentially read more of. But egads! So many comics, so little time. And money.

Honorable Mention this year goes to the Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover by Chynna Clugston Flores and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell (Boom! Box/DC). It took me a while to get into the art and concept of these two similar yet very different books coming together. Like, it makes total sense to put them together, but at the same time, it's hard to actually execute. Seeing all the characters together still felt a little clunky and weird throughout because it is just a goshdarn LOT OF CHARACTERS to put together. But I ended up really digging the storyline, which made it all worth it in the end.

Already in 2017 there are so many new series that I'm jazzed about (America! Lady Hawkeye going solo!) that I can't wait to make this list again next year. COMICS! ~flexes bicep like Jessica Drew~

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fave Five: Mom's visit.

My mom and her BF were in town last month over the course of a couple weekends. Even though February isn't the best of months to visit Portland (especially this winter), we were still able to squeeze in a lot of good stuff. And I'm committed this year to getting back to writing down the good stuff. Here are five highlights:

5. Wine and Girl Scout Cookie pairing at Hip Chicks Do Wine

Listen up, y'all. Even when it feels like the civil world as we know it is crumbling into dust and ash, remember that there are small wineries run by lesbians who put on a Girl Scout Cookie and wine pairing event each year. And it is officially endorsed by the Girl Scouts. I feel like that should make you feel better. Even if just for a moment.

4. Painting pottery at Ready Paint Fire

Painting pottery always seemed like a real yuppie thing to do, but it turns out--as is often the case with things you judge prematurely based on no facts--it is in fact super fun! I have had a great time both times I've done it now. Ready Paint Fire is in kind of a strange location in Northwest, but it's super chill. They have a hundred different things you can paint, it's all reasonably priced, and they set you up and then just leave you alone. This is a very Portland-y style of customer service, but here I enjoy it.

3. Brunch at Tasty n Alder

Tasty n Sons/Tasty n Alder are that variety of REAL POPULAR AND HIP PORTLAND RESTAURANT that we don't go to that often because we're too lazy these days to wait for a million years and we're almost always too poor to be hip. Visitors are nice in this way because you realize that maybe they want to see popular and hip, as opposed to the dive bar you play trivia at every week in your real life. And, they were paying. 

So we went to Tasty n Alder! And it was, very sincerely, one of the best meals of my life. Kathy and I had gone to Tasty n Sons once before but each only got one thing, but this time we did it the way you're supposed to, tapas family style, and ordered way more things than we should have and tried all of them. Highlights were: potatoes bravas with egg, the radicchio salad, and the cast iron frittata. But it truly was all delicious.

The other plus about Tasty n Alder is that while you will have to wait, you are within walking distance of a bunch of stuff downtown, including Powell's, and you don't have to stay close by because they'll text you when you're almost up. Win win.

2. Ping Pong at Pips & Bounce

This is a bar where you can get good drinks and play ping pong. I mean. This concept needs no further improvement.

1. Foot massages at the Barefoot Sage

So, this was blissful. It was TWO FULL HOURS of soaking and massaging our feet and ankles. And dipping them in wax and stuff. The things humans think of! I spent a lot of the first hour thinking about how everyone in the world deserves to experience such a thing, how good it is for our mental health, and how the people who probably need such services the most are the ones that don't have the money to ever experience it, and how unfair everything is, and do these workers ever get tired of massaging our feet because they are really going at it and they must get tired! I spent the second hour thinking about pretty much nothing. If I ever make it big, I will buy a two hour massage at the Barefoot Sage for everyone I know.