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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Yixing Hunt

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Sarah and I drink a lot of roasted oolong tea, and we're starting to think we should find a yixing clay teapot to devote to the category. Tea wisdom suggests that brewing the same kind of tea in a clay pot time after time will help bring out aspects of the tea that you don't get brewing in a gaiwan (our preferred method at home). These pots are an investment: they are expensive, and need to be seasoned — a well-used pot is far better than a new pot. Some yixing pots are generations old. Some are Chinese national treasures.

The real difficulty is finding the right one. Shiuwen at Floating Leaves Tea tells us that different pots are suited to different teas. This is due to the shape and size of the pot, and the type of clay used to make it. Furthermore, whenever you devote time to something, you get pickier about everything associated with it. For us, tea is an important part of our lives — most our coffee table is occupied by a lovely tea tray my parents brought back from China as a wedding present. It is not a trivial decision.

We have been looking at pots, and compiling in our heads a list of requirements. The handle should be fairly normal. It shouldn't have undue ornamentation. It shouldn't be too squat. It should be either a classic red, or a dull green-tan color. The spout should be just so. Either we'll find a teapot that meets our standards, or we'll get tired of waiting and get something close.

The Great Email Winnowing

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Today and yesterday I tackled my Gmail inbox: at least 6600 messages from the past eight years.

Most mornings when I wake up, I am met by four to ten mass emails. Most of them are from mailing lists, scheduled to be sent at midnight somewhere in the world. These are things that I've signed up for, that I want to be aware of (programming news, social network digests), but that I don't need with any sort of urgency. I can skim through in batches once every week or so without missing anything. So I set up filters to review them at my leisure.

A vast majority of the work entailed purging old mailing lists, followed by labeling and archiving emails with "Friends" or "Family", "School" or "Jobs", among others. My taxonomy evolved as I sorted, and eventually I was left with a solid core of emails that were more difficult to categorize. Some of them prompted new labels (or the broader application of an existing label), while others simply didn't belong in Gmail. The most numerous of these were assorted messages to myself. I moved a few links to Evernote. I typed up a scan of a passage from a book that I liked. I merged a couple college essays into my school archive directory.

All but three emails have been either archived or deleted. Success!

Vancouver 2012

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

This year, instead of buying each other Christmas presents, Sarah and I decided to plan a trip to Vancouver. We found a Groupon for a nice hotel, and bought round-trip train tickets, and the night before leaving, we packed. The train up was lovely. It was an overcast morning, with all manner of birds out the window: ducks, seagulls and crows, and a few bald eagles. The ducks were my favorite. You'd see a solitary duck sitting serenely on the waters, and then, like magic, it would be a pair of ducks. When they dove there was some warning, the flip of a tail and a flash of feet, followed by a slight ripple; but when they returned it was as if they rose like sudden bubbles from deep underwater. Each time it happened I had to laugh. Soon I was trying to watch all the ducks at once to see them re-emerge — a losing proposition. Altogether it was quite a pleasant ride, with islands across the water and mountains in the distance.

When we got to Vancouver we went to The Chinese Tea Shop, which sells excellent Chinese teas. Daniel, the proprietor, had us try a few: a Liuan tea, a raw puerh from 2005, and a 20-year aged roasted tieguanyin. The tieguanyin was fantastic, and had considerable life to it, so we bought a couple ounces. We also bought some Liuan, since it was new to us and we wanted to share some with our tea friends. I have decided that I need to start my own personal tea glossary to define the various tea terms that I come across. That way, if I mention something that might be unfamiliar, I can just link to my own definition of the term.

My favorite new experiences from this trip were wandering through Gastown, a charming district of small shops and restaurants; taking pictures of the float planes taking off and landing, the floating Chevron station and the mountains behind them; and seeing a little bit of Stanley Park, the enormous park in the Northwest end of the downtown peninsula.

Here is a rundown of our food experience in Vancouver. On Friday we got Dim Sum at Jade Dynasty, a place we discovered on our honeymoon. It was good, though their Xiao Long Bao wasn't as contained as it should have been. That night we ate at the Alibi Room, a great little pub/bistro in Gastown. Both mornings we got croissants (and other delicacies) from Cho Pain, a French bakery near our hotel. On Saturday we took a train ride down to Richmond to have a late lunch at Kirin, which we'd heard was better than their location in downtown Vancouver, but from what we ordered it seemed pretty comparable (the pot stickers weren't quite as amazing, but the Chinese broccoli was perfection). Richmond itself was suburban and a bit bland, crammed with malls both large and small. That night, after wandering around looking at various possibilities, we ate at Hapa Izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese-style bar with lots of small plates; the West End is simply packed with them. Afterwards we went to Market for dessert. We were a tad underdressed, but the crackling key lime pie was amazing. Crackling in this case means sprinkling pop rocks on top, which makes for an interesting experience if you're not expecting it. The next day, on our meandering way to Stanley Park, we ate lunch at Kingyo Izakaya — their special bento is excellent. I didn't recognize half of the items, but I enjoyed all of them.

We resolved next trip to spend less time at restaurants.

Snow in Seattle

Friday, January 20th, 2012

I had almost despaired of getting any good snow this winter. Saturday teased us with a brief flurry in Wallingford, which dropped about an inch on the plastic chairs outside of Irwin's Bakery. Monday sent more snow at us, and for a day the tantalizing possibility of "Snowmageddon" hung in the air, before being downgraded. But after the snow began to fall early Wednesday morning, it just didn't want to stop. Here in Fremont it never reached a full-on blizzard, but the snow remained steady most of the day.

Sarah and I walked around the neighborhood that afternoon, taking pictures and enjoying the change of pace. There were only a few cars on the streets; people brought out whatever makeshift sleds they could find — we saw garbage can lids, plastic bags — even a cookie sheet was pressed into service. People were friendly, perhaps because the only ones out wandering the streets were those who were determined to enjoy it. We devoted the rest of our day to drinking tea, and watching the snow accumulate outside our windows. After night fell it grew even more peaceful. The snowflakes fell past the streetlights in endless succession.

Early Thursday morning the freezing rain hit. This is hardly a positive thing from a practical standpoint — a snowy road merely wants to impede your uphill progress, whereas an icy road actively tries to kill you. It causes power outages and property damage from ice-clad tree limbs breaking. However, from a photographic perspective, the thin layer of ice adds a new vibrancy to everything, refracting light at the edges of all the plants, preserving the delicate forms in clear amber. Against the white of the snow, and the shadows of trees and buildings, it's perfectly irresistible.

So I went on a meandering walk to our local tea haunt, Teahouse Kuan Yin. On the way there, I stood beneath a large cedar tree, trying to find a picture of ice on its leaves. At the time, the major precipitation was small, light ice pellets instead of snow, and I noticed that the tree gave no protection against them. Unlike rain and snow, which change their character as they fall against a tree, accumulating on the edges, or coalescing into bigger drops, the ice pellets just bounced through it like a giant rain stick. They made a sound, too, a light rattle, a little like falling grains of sand. I thought of the tree as an hourglass, slowing time for the ice crystals on their way toward the ground, and it was strange and otherworldly.

The one thing I regret is that I didn't have skis. When I walked up near Fremont Peak Park, I felt that the most amazing thing would be to ski the backstreets of Upper Fremont, to glide past parked cars and around the traffic circles, and then fly down the slopes of Fremont's ridgeline. I hope I'm prepared the next time we get snow like this.


Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Seattle is still shining, the towers lit up by sunlight across the Sound. It's dusk here at the apartment, but Seattle has a straight shot to the West, past the Olympics. Our view of the Sound is blocked by the hill. We got engagement photos shot in a park there on Queen Anne Hill as the clouds burst over the Sound. The sheets of rain came closer, and the wind tossed our hair out behind us. It is a beautiful park, looking down at a surprising angle into the heart of downtown, with the Space Needle out in front. Whenever at dusk the city still holds the red glow of sunset I think of that park, and the hidden geography made visible by light.

Mountainous Thoughts

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

One of the great things about our apartment is that we have an excellent view of Mt. Rainier. On clear days it provides a nice backdrop to the skyscrapers. Even on cloudy days we can often see the snowy lower slopes beneath the overcast.

I was wondering to myself why this was possible in Seattle, where Mt. Rainier is in the vicinity of 50 miles away, but not in Portland, where Mt. Hood is a mere 30 miles away. (These are straight line distances estimated using Google Maps.) Rainier is about 3000 feet taller than Hood, but I wouldn't think that would affect the visibility of the slopes. Both cities are at approximately the same elevation.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that since Rainier rises much more quickly out of the surrounding landscape, the clouds have the opportunity to bunch right up against it. In Portland you have foothills for quite a ways, and the clouds bunch up against hills that are much farther away from the mountain. Nice and simple, at least.

Really, I'm not sure. I would like to know, but I wouldn't know who to ask. It could even be that I just have more experience with Mt. Rainier, because of the location of our apartment. So, anyone remember whether the same effect occurs in Portland? Can anyone offer validity to my interpretation, or an alternate explanation?


Monday, November 9th, 2009

As of October 25th, 2009, Sarah and I are engaged to be married.

We proposed to each other early in the morning on a beach on Puget Sound, and exchanged simple hammered bands of sterling silver. This was the culmination of a camping trip to Deception Pass State Park, a beautiful landscape of rugged cliffs and wind-blown fir trees, rocky beaches tucked in between headlands.

We celebrated that day by exploring Seattle: we shared a tea service at Remedy Teas; we wandered the streets of Chinatown and peeked into the busy markets; we explored the nooks and crannies at Elliott Bay Book Co; we visited Discovery Park for the first time, and looked out over the Sound towards the Olympics; we dined at Brad's Swingside Cafe; finally, we returned home to sit by a crackling fire and read, snuggled up in blankets.

It has long been our desire to honeymoon in the Canadian Rockies. Since next summer is already incredibly busy for a time most of a year away, we are planning the wedding ceremony for late July of 2011. This will hopefully give us time to reduce (though by no means eliminate!) the hectic nature of wedding planning, and allow our friends and family time to plan around it.

We think of our wedding as a time to celebrate with the community and proclaim our commitment to each other. It is a symbol of our futures entwined.

Our love goes out to all of you (but most of all to each other).

Halloween 2009

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Halloween was pretty awesome this year. We went to a farm to get apples, which we made into juice upon our return. On the drive back we saw a bunch of kids in crazy costumes. Little ladybugs, princesses, and giraffes. The highlight was two parents who dressed up as bunny rabbits; the kid who sat on his dad's shoulder was a little carrot.

Aaron, Cami, Sarah, Paff and I carved awesome pumpkins: a crazy face, a kitty, a spider, a zombie turnip, and a velociraptor, respectively. Soren, Alice and Austin came over to watch Evil Dead II with us. Then we all went home and slept.

Next year's pumpkin: Escherinspired.

Technology Update

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Fireplaces are perhaps the cleverest invention yet. Soon I will have to get an axe so that I can split more kindling. Another clever invention: the axe.

Early Seattle Photosets

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Pictures have finally arrived! Two photosets: one from moving and getting settled; the other from a picnic to Gas Works Park. They are taken with my lovely new Nikon d90. After a long time drooling over DSLR cameras, now I finally have one. So I may post more pictures than usual.