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August 2004

Tour de Xi'an

It was sunny yesterday with a tiny bit of blue sky peeking out. We even saw clouds! Just being able to differentiate between the color of the sky and the color of the city made my day. So instead of sitting in on one of Blondie's classes that afternoon, Phillip and I opted to take advantage of the good weather and go downtown.

Everyone has been telling us to take a walk along the city wall, but we decided to one-up them- we rented bikes. Strangely enough, Phillip and I had trained for this event several weeks ago when we rented bikes to ride along the Burke-Gilman trail. Those were American bikes, though, and better suited to the Large People we are. These Chinese bikes were rickety and even though the seat was comfortable at first, 100 cobble stoned-yards later you felt as if you were sitting on a pile of sharp rocks. Also? Our knees were practically up to our chins. Phillip looked like he was riding his 10-year-old brother's Huffy dirt bike. (Phillip also doesn't fit on Air China airplanes or Chinese tour buses. His legs are about a foot too long.)

It's a pretty big wall, about 10 sidewalks thick. The South Gate is heavily populated with souvenir stands and people trying to get foreigners to pay more than 50 cents for a bottle of water (5 kwai! Unbelievable!), but once you get going the wall is pretty much deserted, save for a few other foreigners on bikes.

After we'd left some Italian foreigners in the dust, Phillip announced that we would ride around the entire city.

MAGGIE: Ha ha. You must be joking.
PHILLIP: We can do it! It's not that far!
MAGGIE: We can't even SEE the next GATE!
PHILLIP: Oh, that's because it's hazy. C'mon! Don't you want to tell everyone that you rode all the way around Xi'an?
MAGGIE: Do you WANT me to need a butt transplant??

But because I did think it'd be kind of cool to tell everyone we rode around the city wall, I kept going. It wasn't like it was uphill or anything. So we're passing the Peace Gate and the East Gate and suddenly we're turning the corner so we're riding on the north side and oh! The wall! There is no more wall! And suddenly I felt very triumphant. We didn't even make it halfway! We had arrived at a metal gate set up so that we would not careen into the divide. We did, however, have a good view of the polluted insanity that is the train station and a spectacular view of the workers restoring the wall on the other side from us. There is so much construction going on in this city.

Later Blondie met us for some good tourist-junk shopping (we bought some paintings. For 20 kwai. 8 kwai to the dollar) and dinner (yet more dumplings. This time everyone was happy. Except the waitress who was REALLY REALLY SICK of dealing with the foreigners and their ridiculous demands and WHY are they only ordering dumplings and dude, I SHOWED them the menu with the PICTURES and they totally ignored it so whatEVER.)

We also bought airplane tickets for our return to Beijing. We thought about taking the train, but a 15 minute bus ride to the train station was more than enough experience on Chinese public transportation for me. So Blondie called up her travel agent who got us 40% off airfare to Beijing on September 9. Yay! Going by plane also means we might actually feel like doing something when we get to Beijing. Anyway, the tickets will be delivered to the apartment sometime in the next 20 minutes and we will pay with cash. Because that is how they do it here. I have no complaints!


Our brush with celebrity!

The other night Blondie and Phillip and I took a taxi downtown in search of a dumpling restaurant recommended by another English teacher. The taxi driver said he wouldn't be able to drop us off right by the restaurant, but pointed us in the general direction when we got out. Then we walked 10 minutes in the wrong direction, asked a girl in a shop where the restaurant was, walked another 15 minutes in the right direction and finally found the restaurant. And when we got there, they were out of what Blondie wanted and out of what Phillip wanted. And me? I'm not so big on those dumpling thingies.

So we were all just a tiny bit disappointed when we got back in a taxi to come home. And then? A traffic jam.

I think I've become a little more used to the driving here. It's best if I don't look out the windshield and I just concentrate on what's going out outside my window. The goal is not necessarily to drive fast, but to never stop. The drivers who figure out how to use their brake pedal the least are the ones who end up with careers in public transportation. Anyway, riding in the taxis and buses is even a little thrilling for me- no one else is concerned with dying so why should I?

But there is lots of stopping involved in a traffic jam and our driver was unhappy. "There must be something going on," he told us. "Some kind of gathering spilling into the streets."

And there was! I was on the wrong side of the taxi to see most of the people hanging out on the side of the street, but I could tell that everyone was very focused on the opposite side of the street. Maybe it was a political demonstration! No one was holding a sign or chanting anything, but Blondie had told us earlier that most demonstrations in China just mean a whole bunch of people standing around in one place doing nothing, waiting until it's time to go home.

As our taxi kept inching forward, the throngs of people grew. We saw policemen lined up about 10 feet apart on my side of the street- it turned out they were positioned there to keep all the people from swarming through the traffic to get to the other side. When we were a few yards outside of the city wall, we finally saw what was going on. Sort of. On the next bridge over (there's a HUGE moat-like ditch around the entire city wall and every gate has a bridge) there were giant movie set-type lights hovering over the intersection where you turn to head into the city wall gate. Right at the gate were dozens of people in medieval-looking red and gold costumes (or China's version of medieval, I guess. I thought I saw suits of gold armor.)

"Ooooh!" Blondie shrieked. "Maybe JAY is here!"

Jay is China's Justin Timberlake. He's cute, he sings, he's introduced rap to China, and he's holding a very large and very well-promoted concert here tonight. Signs for the concert are all over town and you can even find copies of Jay's CD that aren't pirated.

It did kind of look like a huge photo shoot. Since we were still on the bridge heading out of the gate, our taxi was now being used as a barrier between the people and the police. The people kept getting closer and closer and the police kept yelling and yelling. We even saw one policeman storm out into the crowd waving his baton. Everyone shrank back a bit after that, but a few minutes later they were squeezed right up to the window. Phillip had a good view of an assortment of Chinese belly buttons.

Blondie was beside herself. "WHAT IS GOING ON?" she asked the driver, but he had no idea. So she asked him to roll down his window so she could yell at one of the policemen. "WHAT IS GOING ON?" The policeman was about 16 years old and had a toothpick in his mouth, so we couldn't quite tell what he was saying. It's entirely possible he was saying, "Get your head back in the car you crazy foreigner." Finally Blondie rolled down her own window and began shouting at the people crowded around our taxi. (Keep in mind that there were officially supposed to be about 3 lanes of traffic next to us and unofficially maybe 6 or 7. These people were very brave.)

"I don't know! I don't know!" they yelled back. And we realized that no one had any idea what was going on, except that there were lights and flashes and people in costume on the next bridge and SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING.

Then one kid yelled at us, "Jackie Chan is here!" And we looked at each other and said, "NO!"

But it turns it out it was Jackie Chan.

We really really wanted to get out of the cab and gawk with everyone else, but none of us had much education in the skill of Chinese Onlooking, especially when police and traffic are involved, so we stayed in the taxi and went home. Blondie and Phillip were a little jealous of me because, as I had the only actual view of what was happening on the next bridge, I might have actually SEEN Jackie Chan! I rock! Blondie asked the school's Foreign Affairs department about it and they said that Jackie Chan was in town because he will be filming a movie in Xi'an. Then they told her the name of the hotel where he was staying in case they're looking for foreign extras to be in the movie. We thought this was pretty funny. Imagine knocking on Jackie Chan's hotel room door. "Hello, Mr. Chan? May I please be in your new movie?"

That was our first time going downtown and the first time it really dawned on me that there ARE 3.3 million people in this city. The street we live on, about 10 minutes outside the city wall, is large and tree-lined, but so is every single other street in town. (And the trees are the same color of gray as everything else.) What matters is how many cars can fit on your street. Then you know if you're downtown or not. The shopping malls are seven stories high with flat screen TV monitors posted outside. You have to go underground to cross the intersection by the Bell Tower. There are couture gowns displayed in shop windows and street food vendors on every corner. It's pretty exciting. It's also been rainy and gray every day and there is constant danger of getting your eye poked out with unbrella spokes. Phillip was the only person in Xi'an last night wearing a rain coat instead of carrying an umbrella. (I, the foreigner, decide to "fit in" and NOT wear my rain coat. I get stared at anyway.) It's too hot to wear a jacket. It's 80 degrees out, but gray and rainy and dark. Kinda weird.

Today we're heading out to see the Terracotta Warriors. It's a half hour bus ride to the train station and an hour bus ride to the site. The woman at the noodle shop across the street says it's "boring", but we're going anyway. We are also taking some Chinese students with us who, hopefully, can score us the local ticket price and not the foreigner price. I will be hiding in the back.


Some wine with my cheese

Yesterday I saw some bottles of Chinese wine in the little convenience store down the street and thought it might be fun to try some.

BLONDIE: Chinese wine is like grape juice.
MAGGIE: Well, which bottle has the highest alcohol content?
BLONDIE: Let me see!

But we needed to go find a police station (explanation below!) and didn't think it'd be appropriate to haul a bottle of wine around town, especially in front of police. So last night we went back to the store and while Phillip bought more yogurt and Tang disguised as peach juice, Blondie asked the store owner which wine he suggested. (This was the third time we'd been to the store that day. We are now his favorite customers.) Of course he suggested the expensive bottle on the top shelf and cornered some teenager in the store to climb up there and get it down for us. 12%- score! The teenager was also a little confused because the foreigner speaking Chinese was the loud blond girl and not the tall Chinese-American man and started up a little conversation with Blondie about, and I quote, her "excellent Chinese." By that time we had acquired a small audience of Chinese boys who were standing outside the store trying to get a pack of cigarettes out of that arcade game with the claw. You know, the game in Toy Story with the cute little alien toys who are all, "Oooooh, The Claw!"

The store owner rang up the peach juice and the yogurt and the wine and then asked Blondie if we had a corkscrew. We had no idea. The apartment we're staying in belongs to none of us and who knows if the actual residents drink wine? Visions of happy wine-soaked evenings were beginning to drift away when the owner began to rummage around in some boxes and pulled out his OWN corkscrew. He then offered to uncork the bottle for us right there! What a saint!

BLONDIE: We can start drinking before we get home!
MAGGIE: Why not party with the store owner?
STORE OWNER: Hee hee!
PHILLIP: Uh, I find this all to be slightly embarrassing.

On second thought, Blondie and I decided that we were not utter lushes and did not have an urgent need for Chinese wine right that very second. If we weren't able to find a corkscrew in the apartment, we'd walk back to the store and ask the owner to open the bottle. We tried to explain this, but the owner wanted to send the corkscrew home with us. (Did I mention that we are his favorite customers?) We talked him out of it, thanked him profusely (the only Chinese word I've learned so far is 'thank you' and I barely whisper it because I'm so afraid of mispronouncing it), pried our way through the crowd of boys snickering at the Wacko Foreign Girls, and went home.

Where we immediately checked to see if our recently purchased DVDs were any good. Here I should mention that China has somewhat of a counterfeiting problem. The Britney double disc I bought the day before (there will be no slandering of Britney, thank you) cost about 90 cents. Anyway, our DVDs were no good. The Terminal kept skipping around and Collateral looked as if someone brought his camcorder to the movie and dubbed it over with his own voice. I guess you get what you pay for.

Oh yeah, the police station. Well, we're supposed to register ourselves with the local authorities. The government is able to track us up to our night in Beijing, but since we're not staying at a hotel, anyone who wants to pick on us wouldn't be able to find us. Bummer! So off we went to placate the police- and they turned out to be super nice! Unfortunately, they weren't the right police- they were just extremely helpful when we asked a group of them walking down the street where we might go to Follow The Rules. They led us to the right building and one of them even took us to the right office and knocked on the door. No one was there. That officer was probably still out on his afternoon break playing mah jongg somewhere. Kind of embarrassing for our friendly officer who quickly escaped and let someone else deal with us. Then they told us this wasn't the right office anyway. We had to go to another office across town. So we get back on the bus and with the help of Blondie's mad rad Chinese skillz, we found the second police station. (After walking by an entire block of people selling fish tanks and all the little plastic things to put your in fish tank. I mean, DOZENS of fish aquarium stores. ???)

We walked into a room that contained one desk, one young lady, one old lady, one newspaper, and one sign in the window that probably said something like, Don't Bother Coming In Here, We Have Absolutely No Interest in Helping You. The younger woman informed us that she had nothing to do with registering foreigners and that, duh, Blondie just needs to tell her school that we're here. Which is contrary to everything Blondie has heard thus far, but we were all a little tired by then and not terribly interested in making any authorities happy. So we took the bus to Blondie's university where, instead of registering with the local authorities, we tried to get a good look inside the dorm rooms (there are EIGHT girls in one McMahon-sized room, people!), checked out the future Yao Mings on the eight million basketball courts, and were heavily disappointed when we realized the beautiful green grass in the middle of the track was FAKE.

It's a good time. Oh, and we had pizza last night. Yay cheese!


Staying inside the lines

As I have now experienced exactly three taxi rides in two different Chinese cities, I think I am qualified to say that those little stripey things they paint on the roads? Mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. One wonders why The People Who Build The Streets even bothered to waste the paint. At one point we found ourselves passing a car that was passing a truck that was passing a bicyclist- on a two-lane highway with oncoming traffic.

I don't know if it's to the credit of, or in spite of, our taxi driver that we made it to Xi'an in one piece. And here we are, in a 2 bedroom apartment a block away from the university where Blondie teaches. She's there right now, in fact, discussing an article about Yao Ming in her "Newspapers and Articles" class. Apparently he made some critical statements about his Olympic teammates and the government is none too thrilled. One official is quoted as saying that Yao Ming has picked up some "bad personality habits" during his stint in the American NBA. Hmm.

In the meantime we are holed up in our loaned apartment with its splendid air conditioning and internet connection. It's not that hot, though- I actually think it's raining outside. We will most likely explore a little outside before Blondie gets back, but I'm not sure how that's going to work out. We can't read a single thing and even if Phillip could figure out how to take the bus or order something in a restaurant, I'm not sure I could make it across the street for fear of being smeared into the concrete by a bus, three taxis, and seven bicycles.

Ah! My father-in-law just called. It must have been HIM who called at 11:30 last night. (I was so disoriented. "Is that the phone? The alarm? The doorbell? What? I've only been sleeping for TWO HOURS?!") He is concerned about me. "Is she eating the food?" For anyone who is interested, YES, I am eating the food. Sort of. I had to switch dinners with Blondie last night because my noodles were too spicy. But the tofu and green onion dish was yummy. And the green beans. And the spicy chicken (which wasn't TOO spicy). I am also drinking the tea, which is poured into tiny disposable plastic cups. (And our noodles last night were in dishes lined with plastic bags. I thought this was so we could easily wrap
up any leftovers and take them home. Blondie said its so that they don't have to do the dishes.)

This afternoon we will meet some Real Live Chinese Students and I'm looking forward to that. But right now I should attempt to take a shower. I say "attempt", because the shower is a nozzle hanging off the side of the bathroom wall, two inches from the toilet and the sink.


Leaving on a jet plane

This is what I was dealing with this morning:
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And this is what it looks like now.
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This was accomplished while watching the entire 4 hour womens' gymnastics all around finals on the TiVo. Thanks to the suspense-ruining force that is The Internet, I already knew that *SPOILER!* Carly Patterson was the champ, but I cried anyway. Her coach! So happy! Marta Karolyi roaring in the stands! The other American gymnast- you know, the one fifty times more personality than Carly- going through her routines with a bad leg! The gobs of free advertising for the clippy-manufacturing companies! And the glitter. Oh my, the glitter.

And now? I'm exhausted. Besides all the packing, I cleaned the whole apartment so that our apartmentsitter won't feel as if he is inhabiting a sty.

Things We Packed:
-Lonely Planet guides for Beijing and all of China
-iPod
-a Costco size carton of Handi Snacks and a can of Cheez Whiz (as per Blondie's request)
-the new InStyle
-rain coats for the predicted daily thunderstorms
-our host and hostess gifts: baby clothes in every shade of blue
-The Nanny Diaries
-Deet, originally purchased for the Montana wedding
-chai tea
-Crystal Light mix (Phillip says the water tastes bad)
-little shampoos and soaps from the Westin St. Francis hotel
-laptop full of Projects We Want To Work On, but which will only be used to surf the internet
-pirated copy of Waiting For Guffman, which we rented, but didn't have time to watch

Our flight takes off at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. Our hotel in Beijing boasts broadband internet access. Score! If I don't immediately crawl into bed, I'll be sure to let you know we're alive.


Five days and fourteen hours

Dear Matt Drudge: Stop posting Olympic swimming results before I have a chance to watch the races!

In other news, Phillip and I now have all of our China tickets plus a hotel reservation. We leave Saturday afternoon and get to Beijing at 9pm the next day. That seems like a long time. Especially since we are going BACKWARDS. Jeez. Ten hours to Tokyo, four hours to Beijing. Then we plan to locate a friendly and honest taxi driver who will deposit us at the Beijing Landmark Towers for the night. Our flight to Xi'an leaves at 9 the next morning and hopefully Blondie will meet us at the airport because we'll be absolute zombies by this point, stumbling around the Xi'an airport and muttering to ourselves. Gosh, I hope we don't embarrass her.

There's a bunch of stuff to do between now and Saturday, namely packing. I am an awesome packer. The Ziploc company should have paid me large amounts of money to promote their gallon size freezer bags among the college backpacker set. But on this trip we'll be spending most of our time in one city. With our own apartment. And I keep translating this into, "I totally think there'll be room for my hairdryer."

This brings us to the First Official Fight of the Trip To China: will Maggie allow Phillip to become one of those Really Annoying Airline Passengers who incur the wrath of thousands by insisting that their barely zipped-up carry on WILL fit in the overhead compartment, even if it takes thirty minutes and nine bloody fingers to get it done? I hate those people. I hate them more than the people who hog the arm rests and the people who keep talking to you, even when you are trying to make it obvious that you find your sociology textbook infinitely more interesting than any possible conversation. Although when you hold up the plane to stuff your bulging suitcase in the overhead bins AND hog the arm rests AND talk about personal matters on your cell phone AND stick your humongous knees and feet into the space of the person sitting in the middle AND pass the time by reading PLAYBOY next to me, then you are not just Really Annoying, you are The Absolute Worst Fellow Airline Passenger In The World and should thenceforth be banned from all manner of public transportation. Except rickshaws. And Playboy? Seriously?

And on a completely unrelated topic: what is up with gymnasts and their bizarre fixation with Hair Accessories? Back when I was a Young Athlete myself, the girls on my team sometimes wore matching sweatbands and sometimes we braided our hair exactly the same way and one year my volleyball coach's wife made us all matching scrunchies in our school colors. We were, like, SO EXCITED. So I understand the matching-ness. Even the sparkly eyeshadow and the glitter in your hair. Go team! You kick the most ass AND you are the prettiest. But the little hair clippies? Like, a hair clippie for each and every single strand of wayward hair? Is there a tenth of a point deduction for every flyaway? What's up with the skinhead look? Well, except for Romania who mistakenly thinks a little sprayed-stiff forehead fringe softens it up. I wish NBC was doing a feature on this. Really. "Next up in our Olympic coverage: Gymnasts and Those Metal Hair Clippy Things. The Mystery Revealed."


There's Nothing On

Here is something you should know about me: I love TV. Especially now that my brilliant husband turned one of our forty-seven spare computers into a TiVo-like machine, thereby making it fairly conceivable that I will never have to watch another car commercial again. (Although I recently saw the title "BMW Films" in my list of recorded shows and let me declare that having your commercial directed by Guy Ritchie does not make it a film. Please. And Phillip? Why are you contaminating my Recorded Shows with this dreck?)

My lovely and brilliant husband also acquired a copy of Jeff Buckley's Grace album for me (is the Russian MP3 site really legal?) and as I was listening to "Hallelujah" in the car today, I traveled to a very poignant moment in the Maggie Space Time Continuum- the season finale of The O.C.

As I was quite ready to call off my upcoming wedding and throw myself at Dave Rygalski's feet*, it only made sense that I became an O.C. fanatic this year. Did you try to call me between 8 and 9 pm on Wednesday nights? Right, well, I don't take calls when there are cotillions and Chrismukkah celebrations to attend. I'm somewhere between "writing fan fiction as we speak" and "hoping I won't be a drooling fool when God finally allows me to meet the Oh So Dreamy Adam Brody."

This fall The O.C. is moving to Thursday nights (if you haven't been watching Fox 24/7 like me) and it's a good thing Friends isn't on anymore because there would be Extreme Strife in my household if we were forced to choose. Another Chandler's-insecure-about-his-masculinity joke or Julie Cooper's evil plot-of-the-week? It's a tough decision.

And I'm quite comfortable with the fact that most of my Must See shows are total wastes of any normal person's time. That's fine. Although I do have some standards. I would never, for example, stoop to watching Trading Spouses.

But then I saw Trading Spouses the other night- by accident!- and I'm even farther into the dark dank hole of TV obsession than I thought possible. That rich blond mom with the wardrobe of a 16-year-old? She was SUPER NICE! And the poor country mom? What a meanie! Even her own kids didn't like her! So whatever, poor country mom, I hated the plastic country club friends too, but did you really have to kill Zach's batting-cage-spirit with your shrill and strident and downright snarky "encouragement?" I didn't think so!

But The O.C. , now that's art. What is this rumor about it not starting up again until November? Don't they know we have needs?!


*"If you don't know who Dave Rygalski is, what in the world ARE you watching??? Go tune your TV set to the WB and sit there until I say you can get up. Which won't be until, oh, NEXT WEEK.
**Confidential to The O.C. Powers That Be: Let it be known that I hereby add my name to the list of thousands who are waiting for Marissa to jump off a cliff and die already.


What do you mean, I'll have to bargain?

I know how to say two different phrases in Chinese: ni hao which I think means "hello" and and wo ai nee which is woefully mispelled and means "I love you". But I've been thinking about our upcoming trip and what it will be like to run up to, say, a magazine stand vendor and blurt "Hello! I love you!" when what I really want to say is, "Please please please point me towards the restroom!"

This is why I've asked a somewhat-to-mostly-fluent-in-Chinese friend to stop by later this week and label everything in my apartment. I don't know that I will ever need to say "potted plant" or "coffee table" or "beloved and holy TiVo", but knowing the right words can't hurt, right? She is also going to teach me Very Important Phrases such as "Where is the bathroom?", "How dare you attempt to snatch my purse, you filthy thieving rat!", and "Why thank you, Prime Minister, I think I will have a glass of wine."

This somewhat-to-mostly-fluent friend also tells me that the majority of signs in Beijing and Xi'an will use Chinese characters and pingying, the romanization of Chinese characters. Since not being able to read the signs was the thing most freaking me out, I feel a little better. At least now I might be able to look something up in a pocket dictionary.

Not that that is going to get me anywhere. As a very shy and incredibly embarrassment-prone white girl carting around a fanny pack full of U.S. dollars, I am sure to provide at least a dozen children of lying swindler types with a large assortment of counterfeit Nikes for the upcoming school year. My father-in-law cheerfully assures me that all the hustlers and their drunk hustler uncles will be gathering at the airport, just to be the first to cheat me. I am bringing an extra suitcase full of money because I know I can't win.

Northwest Airlines should be taking care of my naive and spineless self all the way to Beijing, but once we get off the plane it will be all terrified foreigners for themselves. Tonight Phillip and I will be reviewing that Friends episode where Chandler sucks at bribery because I imagine we'll need to master this skill. A set of pirated Simpsons DVDs to whoever wants to come over and teach us in person!


Jam? Goood.

What to do with the 4 pounds of raspberries we brought home from Sequim? Make jam!

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I completely forgot to document the initial jam-making process- the mashing of the berries, the exact and careful measuring of berry goop into the pot, the SIX AND A HALF CUPS OF SUGAR that was mixed into the berry goop. But here's another shot of the jam gloriousness:

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To seal the jars we melted paraffin wax in a water bath and poured it into the jars.

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Ta da!

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Nature: It's dirty and there are no stores

My aversion to Nature has already been documented on this website, so I wanted to let you know that I've just returned home alive after two nights in the wilderness- namely, the Olympic Peninsula. There was no camping, thank God, but there were spiders in our motel room in Forks.

And I don't know that we spent very much time experiencing actual Nature. The purpose of the trip was to use up the 8 rolls of film Malia bought for her fancy shmantzy camera. We were going to capture the colors of the wildflowers, the majesty of the rocks bursting out of the water at Rialto Beach, the soaring bald eagles high overhead at Hurricane Ridge, but for the most part we were in the car. To get anywhere in Olympic National Park, you must first turn off the highway and drive miles and miles and lots more miles into the park. And these are not pleasant roads. They are windy and twisty and narrow and dark and those are not the only dangers. There are giant obstacles looking an awful lot like deer hanging out on the road up to Hurricane Ridge. There are logging trucks ready to steamroll you near the entrance to the Sol Duc Hot Springs. And there are many many caffeine-deficient drivers going unholy speeds down the road to the Hoh Rain Forest because they've already driven hours to the entrance of the rainforest and they are incredibly unhappy about the eighteen more miles they have to go. Also, they keep getting stuck behind ginormous RVs. Beware.

There was berry picking. There was purchasing of lavender in the Lavender Capital of the World. There were prayers said for the sad little "town" of La Push on the Quileute Reservation. There was also rain. Rain! I know! After our eleventy zillion weeks of sunshine. And guess who forgot her rain coat and her hiking shoes at home? Washington beaches in good weather? Meh. Washington beaches in the rain? NOT A GOOD TIME. (I saw a bumper sticker today: RAIN HAPPENS. Awesome.)

I have a bunch of cousins up in these logger/drunken sailor parts and one of them was kind enough to let us crash at his house the first night. More cousins came over for dinner and soon we were discussing Wilderness and Why In The World Maggie and Malia Were Visiting It.

MAGGIE: Yes, I am not big on nature. I like to go shopping. Also, there are no showers. Anywhere!
JEFF: That's nature for ya. It's dirty and there are no stores!

There was also some disapproval of lodging choices.

MAGGIE: Tomorrow we are going to the Hoh Rain Forest.
NICK: Where are you going to stay?
MAGGIE: In Forks.
NICK: You're going to stay in FORKS?
MAGGIE: Well...
NICK, AMBUR, JEFF, BEN, ZOE, ALEXI, and UNCLE GEORGE: (in unison) That craptastic cesspool of leering loggers in dumpy pick up trucks, horrid 'restaurants' with sticky vinyl booths, and freaky dusty spiderwebs in the motel bathrooms? As well as suspicious-looking wet spots in the motel carpet and suspicious-looking, not to mention absolutely revolting, hairs left in the motel sink?
MAGGIE: Oh my God what are we THINKING?!?!?

Oh, we were not thinking. Had we been in our Right and Easy Going Minds, Malia and I would have tip-toed cautiously into Forks, spent thirty seconds driving through the town, and then beat the hell out of there. But we are both rather anal people who like Plans and we made reservations at a motel I shall not name here (but if you are visiting Forks any time soon, EMAIL ME. There are decent looking motels in Forks, trust me, and you want to stay at one of them.)

The peninsula, however, was redeemed by today. Today we saw the beach in clear weather, picked yet more berries, bought yet more lavender, and damned the weather gods the entire way home.

Tomorrow? PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE