Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Autumn Class Schedule

One of my goals this quarter is to develop a balanced routine that includes cooking delicious food at home, swimming at the IMA, running the streets of Capitol Hill, and doing yoga in my apartment. I thought I would start the quarter off right, so I decided to go swimming today during a break in our orientation. My graduate academic life starts tomorrow, and I am feeling ready (it is amazing what a google calendar can do).


Once we returned from our backpacking trip, we had about 36 hours to scrub, eat, and organize ourselves before our departure to Toronto, Ontario. The main purpose of the trip was to attend my cousin's wedding, but during our 8 day stay we had some entertaining adventures.

1. Getting picked up. Perhaps the most stressful moment of the trip, was our arrival at the Buffalo International Airport. My family had volunteered to retrieve us, a solid 2 hour drive from their home in Cambridge, ON. There would be a total of 6 people returning from the airport and for space reasons, they decided to commandeer their Winnebago RV for the journey.

There were no cell phones involved in our communication capabilities, so they knew approximately when we were to arrive and decided to come early to park and greet us at the baggage claim carousel. This plan was soon abandoned when they realized the RV was too tall to fit into the parking lot without ripping off the newly installed air conditioning unit. At this point a U-turn was the only option, so the security guard stepped up to the plate and stopped all incoming traffic flow to the Arrivals Terminal so my Uncle Joel could continue.

On the first circle around, they spotted us and Brenton was shoved into the RV while my aunts and other uncle came to greet me while simultaneously trying to locate my bag (which had to be checked). Brenton and my Uncle Joel (they had never met) then went around the airport thrice before we were able to reconnect, at which point we all hurriedly piled into the vehicle and sped away!

2. Lake Erie. Once again, we piled into the RV and jetted-off to the nearest lake for a swim and relaxing day at the water's edge. I have never swam in a great lake, and it is bizarre being in such a large body of water without the salt of the ocean. The water was refreshing and we were able to walk out a significant ways before being able to swim. After a dip, we sauntered back to our towels and folding chairs to tackle a crossword with the help of my seasoned aunts and uncles.

3. Old Order Mennonites. One day we ventured to St. Jacob's community where we toured the local farmers market, a cattle auction and barn, and a small broom production facility. This rural country is appealing because it is a glimpse into the lives of tight knit Mennonite families. We learned there are varying schools of Mennonite people. Old-order groups typically use a horse and black buggy for transport, refrain from electricity in their homes and on their farms, employ 18th century farming methods, and dress in a traditional style where the men wear hats and have beards, and the women wear bonnets and full length farm dresses. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the more "risque" Mennonites, who drive black cars (all chrome has been painted), and use electricity in their homes and farms.

Old Order Farm, notice there are no power lines

We visited the cattle auction in the market and when you are there, you can smell it (and nearly retch). It is very surreal, you can walk out above the animals who are moo-ing, baa-ing, and talking to each other in every way. The bulls are gigantic, separated from their compatriots and not very happy about it. The light-brown Jersey cows are sold to farmers to make butter because of the high fat content in their milk. There are sheep, calves, black and white cows, and sometimes horses all packed into these stables that are in constant flux. The farmers walk about eying the days selection, out in the cattle pit you can hear the auctioneer spitting numbers.

4. Toronto. From rural Ontario we made our way into one of Canada's greatest cities. The transit line is very easy to navigate and dropped us about a 15 minute walk from our hotel at Dupont and Spadina. We walked all over the city and spent time in Chinatown, the Annex (where the University of Toronto is located), the Distillery District, Yorkville, Greek District, and took the ferry to Toronto Island. We visited the Royal Ontario Museum, and entered through the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal 2007 addition designed by the American architect Daniel Libeskind. Interestingly enough, in 2003 he won the competition to be the master plan architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.

Tomorrow I start my Architecture program at the University of Washington. I can guarantee there will be more architectural tid-bits to come. Until then... 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Backpacking in the Southwest

I just returned from an amazing 10-day trip to some of the nation's great National Parks, including Zion and Yellowstone. 

On the first leg of the journey, we flew from Seattle to Sedona in about 6 hours with 2 stops to refuel. The weather there was a comfortable 90 degrees, a nice break from our gray-ish Seattle summer. We spent the first couple days swimming and hiking. 

Pine Flats Campground, Sedona, AZ

Flying over the Grand Canyon

Upon arrival at the airport in St.George, Utah, we were immediately sweating and blasted with 104 degree dry sauna-like heat! We soon made our way to Zion National Park, where we did two of the most amazing hikes I have ever experienced. The first was Angel's Landing, 5 miles round trip with a 1200 ft elevation gain leading to beautiful canyon views. 

View from the top

Part of the trail

The Narrow's Hike, named after the gap created by the Virgin River which runs through the park, is a 16-miler where the majority of the time is spent traversing through the river between 1000 ft high canyon walls. Your feet get wet and stay wet! We got lucky and were granted a permit for an over-night stay, which made the hike a bit more leisurely. 

The last leg of the trip was in Yellowstone National Park where we hiked to Mallard Lake for an over-night. It is a small, beautiful lake (Mallard's were actually swimming there) with 3 camping sites but we had the whole place to ourselves. We slept away from where we cooked, hung our bags, and took all necessary precautions against those grizzlies!

Campsite #2 at Mallard Lake
A storm rolls in...

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling refreshed and ready for my next adventure. Bring it on!