Snow has never been my friend. In fact, I’ve lived a remarkably snow-avoidant life. So when I got the opportunity to visit Door County, Wisconsin in the freezing winter, my first thought was, that’s crazy. But I’d heard it was a beautiful place – at least in summer – and I found myself considering. Maybe it was finally time to befriend snow. Or at least make its acquaintance.
I had two deathly fears of spending time in snowy Wisconsin: one, I’d die of frostbite (or at least lose several digits); or two, my comrades would do me in because of my incessant whining about the cold. So I took full advantage of a massive sale at the Columbia Sportswear Outlet Store before leaving Portland. I got several pieces of their thermal reflective omni-heat gear, which is supposed to reflect your own body heat back to you, thus retaining it. The hat and long-sleeved top worked pretty well. But the gloves were useless for somebody like me with Raynaud’s Syndrome, a circulatory problem in the fingers and toes. However, I did find the most awesome concept in boots: heated by a rechargeable battery! You can recharge them via wall socket or computer through a USB. I chose the wall socket as these boots would probably make my laptop explode. With 200 grams of insulation, I hardly needed to turn my heated boots on at all. I borrowed a long, padded North Face coat from my cousin. That coat was a lifesaver!
Once I got to Wisconsin, I learned the secret to keeping my hands warm was pairing those weird chemical hand warmers with mittens. But they don’t work so well with gloves. The mittens allow the warmth to spread up to your fingers.
Door County is a 75-mile peninsula that sticks out into frigid Lake Michigan. I managed to get up and down the peninsula quite a bit in my long weekend. Here are a few highlights.
I stayed three nights at the Country House Resort. It was mostly deserted in winter. Check out the cold lakeshore!
But they had the perfect set-up for me: A warming tank right beside the bed. And a super comfortable pillow-top mattress.
When I’m in a cold place – or anywhere else – I always crave coffee. Door County Coffee & Tea provides the region with some of its finest caffeine. I visited twice during my stay. It was the only place in Door County that I dared to ask, “Do you have soymilk?” And the answer? Yes!
I took a tour of the coffee operation. It was very educational. I learned about decaf processes, saw how flavored coffee is made and witnessed the machine that bags the coffee. But I also stumbled upon an intriguing secret: Toucans and parrots deliver the coffee beans to Wisconsin, as pictured in this back-room delivery diagram. I hope Customs doesn’t read my blog!
I went snowshoeing in two places, both very beautiful, the Ridges Sanctuary and Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was my first snowshoeing experience. Since I managed to retain all my digits and even stay upright, it was a raging success. But was that wind off Lake Michigan ever cold! I heard all too much of those three dirty words: wind chill factor.
I also went for a snowmobile ride. John Zettel, owner of Zettel’s Sales and Service, has been renting, fixing and selling snowmobiles for about three decades. One things his years of experience have taught him is that when somebody comes in and asks for the fastest snowmobile, he’d better give that guy the slowest. He was full of good cautionary tales about wipeouts and expensive damage to snowmobiles. Moral of the story? Stay on the trail and obey the speed limit, which is 55 on most trails. Slower in places where snowmobilers share trails with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
Will I Starve?
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering if there is vegetarian food in Door County. I was immensely relieved to learn that yes, most restaurants have a vegetarian dish or two. And some even feed vegans.
Door County Art
Much as I enjoyed snowshoeing, temperatures were falling. Going inside started to seem like a good idea. So I spent an artsy afternoon. First I visited the Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, a nonprofit art center that offers classes to adults and students. Winter is pretty quiet at the school. About the only thing that was going on was a watercolor miniatures class. But in warmer months they bring in teachers from around the country. Peninsula has a gorgeous round main building plus outbuildings. Every summer they host a plein air painting festival. Now in its eighth year, 40 artists will come from the US and beyond beginning July 20 to paint Door County landscapes.
Next came the really fun part of the art afternoon, a visit to the Hands On Art Studio. Artists Cy and Karon Turnbladh own this amazing complex of drop-in art studios. Even with no training or special aptitude, anybody can show up and make a metal sculpture, jewelry, pottery, mosaic or fused glass piece.
Cy bought the abandoned farm about 17 years ago. The 100 year-old farmhouse lacked electricity and plumbing. The couple has done wonders with this place. It appeals to kids and adults of all ages. “Even the sullen teenagers get into it,” Cy said. He loves walking into a room full of families working on art and finding it pin-drop quiet with concentration. He thinks most adults haven’t done art for so long, they’re scared of it. Hands On gives them a friendly atmosphere, access to tools, materials and guidance, and lots of encouragement.
You can choose projects of varying sizes and prices, from a piece of jewelry for a few bucks all the way up to big sculptures that will set you back a few hundred.
Hands On makes things really easy. You assemble your piece, they stick it in the kiln. If you’re local or going to be in the area for a while, you can pick up your work. Or if you’re a tourist like me, they’ll ship your work when it’s ready. I made the piece below, which should be showing up any day now via UPS. After firing in the kiln they’ll put it in a metal stand. I plan to use it as yard art. If it comes out good enough, perhaps I’ll be inspired to weed!
So, are you convinced yet? Door County is well worth a visit.
Snow and I will probably never be BFFs. But despite my curiosity to see Door County in the spring with its dragonflies and dwarf irises, or to take a summer dip in Lake Michigan, I really enjoyed the quiet of the quiet season. I suspect it’s a pretty nice place to visit any time of year.
This accessory called a duelette doubles as a bracelet and hair holder. It’s made for people like me, who throw their hair in a ponytail when they go to the gym, then later suddenly realize their hair would look better down, or their scalp feels stretched to headache proportions from being pulled back too long. They take off the hair holder and either throw it down on their desk, if they’re home writing, or on the passenger seat, if they’re driving. Or they put it around their wrist, which both looks stupid and cuts off circulation.
Enter Chilly Jilly hair holder. This elastic band is decorated with gold and/or silver-plated beads. The knotted ends have an additional sliding bead for adjustment. It’s a great idea. But the execution isn’t quite there.
Granted, it looks better than a regular hair holder. But it’s not that pretty, especially the white one I received as a sample. And the ends that stick out are kind of scruffy looking. To avoid cutting off circulation, it’s much looser than a regular hair elastic, which is good from a bracelet point of view. However, this backfires when you put it in your hair. I wrapped it around my ponytail three times. My hair is fairly thick but very straight, which might partially account for why the duelette wanted to slide off. Really, it has that feeling of a sad old stretched elastic that’s on its last leg, bound for the trash bin. I kept trying to tighten it by pulling on the beads. It survived a weight lifting class, holding my hair in a very loose ponytail. But I had to jettison it halfway through Bombay Jam. Don’t even think about jumping rope in this.
Now if you want to use this accessory for a low, non-athletic ponytail at the nape of your neck, it might work okay. The duelette comes in black or white with gold, silver or a combination of the two beads. Chilly Jilly also makes lounge pants, gloves and jackets. All can roll up and fit into tiny drawstring bags.
One of the delights of travel is trying products you can only get regionally. So on a trip to San Diego around Christmastime, I got a couple of containers of a new local granola brand. It’s made with ingredients like wildflower honey, sunflower seeds, maple syrup, shredded coconut, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, pumpkin seeds, flax meal, blueberries, sea salt and other things folks like me eat. Now I hope Nandog’s Naturals widens its distribution so I can get it in Portland.
I was able to e-interview Nancy Peritz, owner of Nandog, to get the story behind starting an artisan granola company in San Diego.
Teresa: When did you start Nandog?
Nancy: Nandog’s was unofficially started in May, 2012, but officially in June, 2013.
Teresa: Why did you decide to make granola?
Nancy: I have always liked to bake and cook. I started making granola about eight years ago when I needed to bring something for “healthy snack” to my daughter’s first grade class. I also showed them how to make it and it was a huge hit.
Fast forward six years and my other daughter needed a way to fundraise for a high school community service trip to the Dominican Republic. Her friends were always stealing her granola out of her lunch, so I told her we could make it and sell it to friends and family. People bought and bought, and I think I ended up making 200 pounds of granola that summer. Once she had reached her fundraising goal, we closed the “factory,” but people still kept asking me to make it for them.
Teresa: How did you come up with the name?
Nancy: My best childhood friend, Penny, called me Nandog, and I called her Pendog. Unfortunately I can’t remember how or when it started. One day my kids asked me what I would call my granola business if I ever decided to do it for real and the name “Nandog’s Naturals” just popped into my head.
Teresa: Where do you sell your granola?
Nancy: Right now I am only selling at two local farmers’ markets in San Diego: the Tuesday Pacific Beach market and the Saturday Little Italy Mercato. Little Italy has grown a lot and is now one of the largest and best markets in San Diego.
Teresa: Any chance you’ll sell it online for those of us outside San Diego?
Nancy: I am working on getting it online, but for now, people just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)or message me via Facebook and I can ship it anywhere in the U.S. I am also working on getting it on sites such as Etsy and Jackeez.com. I also work as a teacher, so it is a huge juggling act trying to find time to do everything. I never knew how much work running even such a tiny little business such as this can be.
Teresa: What do you like about being in the granola biz?
Nancy: I love working in the commercial kitchen I rent. I just get into a groove and bake. I also love all of the people I have met at the farmers’ markets–both the customers and the other vendors. And finally, I like knowing that I make a product that is both healthy and delicious and that makes other people happy. I like to feed people, so this is one way to do it. I guess I could have dinner parties or brunches at my house, but then I’d have to clean my house!
Teresa: Hopes for the future, business-wise?
Nancy: I have tons of ideas, but not sure which ones will take off. On a small, short-term scale, I would just like to get a website up and running where people could order online. I would also like to sell wholesale to local cafes and perhaps markets such as Whole Foods, but that would require a whole different business plan and some investment dollars. Bigger picture, I would love to have my products in airports because I always feel like healthy breakfast and snack options in airports are so terrible. Lunch and dinner items have improved a lot, but breakfast choices still tend to be bagels and muffins. I have this vision of little Nandog’s kiosks in the airports selling granola-fruit-parfaits and Acai bowls.
Teresa: Tell us a little more about your product and flavors.
Nancy: Go Nuts (oats, almonds, walnuts, honey, maple syrup, etc.); Seed You Later: Blueberry (oats, organic chia, organic flax, pepitas, sunflower seeds, organic agave, honey, etc.). All are naturally gluten free and veganish (vegan lite?), but I do not use certified gluten-free oats. High in fiber, no cholesterol, good source of Omega-3s, Omega-6s, magnesium, manganese, etc.
12 ounce bag is $9.75 or 2 for $18.
I am working on developing new flavors. Stay tuned!
Compression socks, long used by people with vein conditions, have recently become more popular with athletes. Many studies have shown good results from squeezing your legs into these tighter-than-normal socks. Some possible benefits include increasing blood flow to the heart, preventing injury, perking up tired muscles, minimizing vibration during exercise and improving blood lactate removal during exercise. One Australian study even found that athletes jumped higher when wearing the socks.
I recently tried some out for the first time. They were definitely tight. But I’m not sure if they enhanced my performance or not. However, “performance” is hard to define when you’re jogging two miles on the treadmill, taking a step aerobics class or teaching Bombay Jam. If I pursued more hardcore feats of athletic derring-do, perhaps I’d be better able to assess the socks.
But one thing I do know: Some compression socks are cuter than others. VIM & VIGR launched a new line last September of 12 cute patterns/colors. This line is designed for women, with the different sock styles named for goddesses: Eos, Athena and Artemis. They come in wool, cotton and nylon. My new black and purple argyle Artemis socks are wool and match lots of my workout outfits. Another thing I know: They definitely compress. When I take them off, I have argyle skin!
VIM & VIGR recommends their socks to workers who sit a lot or stand a lot, claiming that excessive hours in either position can harm leg circulation and oxygenation. I know that some folks wear compression socks on airplanes to avoid deep vein thrombosis to minimize inflight swelling of feet and ankles. I checked out a vein treatment forum (yes, I do weird things in my spare time) and this practice seems to be endorsed by vein doctors. Now I’ll have to plan a travel outfit that looks good with argyle.
Last weekend I went to the annual LA Times Travel Show. This big event in the LA Convention Center includes travel companies and visitor bureau reps from all over the world. Even Azerbaijan had a booth! And yes, I did have to look at their map to pinpoint exactly where that country is (north of Iran).
Being a bit of a health nut, I was interested in wholesome destinations involving natural beauty, exercise, yoga, relaxation, quiet, and vegetarian food. On travel trade day, I attended a presentation about medical and wellness travel. Diana Wright of the Global Spa and Wellness Summit gave an especially interesting talk about the components of wellness travel, which were pretty much the things I just listed above. Ah, I thought. I’m in the right place.
According to Wright, about 14 percent of all tourism dollars go to what could be considered part of the wellness tourism economy. However, this doesn’t mean 1 out of 8 people attend a yoga retreat for vacation. No, she’s counting what’s called secondary wellness travel. That is, a person might go on an ordinary vacation but be looking for healthier food, spa services, yoga classes, or other activities that fall within wellness. Spa services account for 41 percent of wellness tourism spending. Top five countries for wellness tourism? USA, Germany, Austria, France and Japan. But Wright predicts more wellness tourism in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East by 2017.
Linden Schaffer, the founder and director of Pravassa, a NYC-based tour company, organizes trips around wellness. Pravassa takes travelers on domestic and international trips in line with its five-point philosophy: physical activity, stress reduction, good food and nutrition, spiritual connectedness (often involving nature) and cultural/community involvement. Sign me up!
Walking through the exhibition hall made a travel lover’s head spin. Tour companies from every continent detailed their packed itineraries. I want to go there! No, I want to go there! Wait, can I go there, too?
Life is unfortunately too short to go everywhere. Plus, there’s always the question of $$$. Here are just a few places/groups/ideas of interest I stumbled upon at the LA Times Travel Show.
Muddy Shoe Adventures
Michael Bennett, founder and managing director of Muddy Shoe, takes travelers on combination adventure/life coaching trips. With Muddy Shoe Adventures, you might surf, go rafting, hike and eat dinner with a local family. This sounds like a good bet for people who think travel should change their lives.
Tours By Locals
Do you want a local tour guide to show you where to get vegetarian food in the Azores? To introduce you to the architecture of Dubai? Book through Tours By Locals, based out of Vancouver, and you can find a local guide to design your own special tour. Independent guides set their own rates. Tours By Locals started in 2008. Judging from their website, they cover a lot of the world already.
Sure, I wanted to go to Fiji anyway. But these folks were so sweet and friendly! And I loved their booth full of flowers and tropical plants.
While I was walking between sessions, I met Ruth Bridges, who runs Literary Sisters. Ruth is a librarian in Chicago who organizes tours for book club women. Focused on African American, faith-based literature, past and future trips include San Francisco, Alaska, Washington DC and an extra special Senegal-Zambia-South Africa journey. What a cool idea!
29 Palms Inn
I love the desert. This hotel in the town of 29 Palms, on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park in California, really appeals to me. Guests stay in old adobe or wood-framed cottages. Some are painted pink or purple which to me is a plus. You can hike the nature trails and look for tortoises and migratory birds. At night, the stars are supposed to be phenomenal. I hope to visit 29 Palms Inn soon.
My friend and I thought that by meeting for lunch at the abnormally early hour of 11:30 a.m., we could avoid the crowds at Harlow. No such luck! When I arrived, I found her in a long line waiting to place her order at the counter.
This newish restaurant opened last summer. Karen Pride and Brittney Galloway, the force behind health-conscious Prasad in the Pearl, founded Harlow, too. It quickly caught on with people from SE Portland and beyond. Harlow is where gluten-free meets shabby chic. The space is one big open room, which looks very modern, but filled with repurposed old tables and a charming old cupboard at the self-serve water station. A row of mismatched chandeliers hangs over a long, communal table. But you can also choose your own four-top or two-top.
After planning to visit Harlow for months, I finally ate there twice in one week. Once with a friend for lunch, once with another friend for dinner. During my crowded lunch experience, I had an excellent African peanut stew with quinoa and greens. The quinoa was light and airy. The stew was rich and probably full of fat. My friend ordered a breakfast dish called The Maverick, the cashier recommended. It’s described as “mustard maple roasted vegetables, garlic herb polenta and steamed kale with choice of bourbon bbq tempeh or two poached eggs.” She chose tempeh. It looked so good I wanted to eat both lunches. But my stomach is only so big, and not wishing it to grow even bigger, I stuck with my stew.
When I returned a few days later for dinner, I chose the bourbon barbecue tempeh plate. It comes with “garlic herb polenta and steamed greens served with jalapeno cashew cheese, house pickles, scallions and raw onion bread.” The tempeh was definitely a success, flavorful and plump, if I can call tempeh plump. The greens were also good. But the polenta was flavorless and the raw onion bread was the most oniony thing I’ve eaten in all of 2013 and the first week of 2014 combined. The “raw” refers to raw food, and the “bread” to something more resembling a flat strip of pepperoni. It tasted pretty good – though nothing like bread – but I was awakened by my own onion breath at four a.m. and had to get up and gargle with industrial-strength mouthwash before getting back to sleep. Only eat the raw onion bread if you can live with the results! Be forewarned!
My friend made a better choice with the tanuki bowl, which is rice noodles and seasonal vegetables served hot in housemade miso broth with sea vegetables, scallions and black sesame seeds. She ordered a side of greens and mixed that in, too. I only had a bite but the broth tasted good and probably allowed her to sleep through the night.
Harlow has an amazing menu of smoothies, juices, cocktails, teas and espresso drinks. I have not tried any yet. But here are a couple that look intriguing: The tempest, which is mango, spinach, coconut oil, avocado, date and cayenne. And the warrior, consisting of strawberry, avocado, maca, date, vanilla and hemp seeds.
You can get breakfast until two p.m. on weekdays, three on weekends. The lunch menu goes into effect at 11 a.m., the dinner menu at 5 p.m. Most entrees cost about $10.
Despite my brush with raw onion bread, I am ready to return to Harlow for any meal. I especially want to breakfast on their lemon poppy quinoa pancakes with blueberry compote. Judging from Portland’s response to Harlow, it looks like this restaurant will have a long and happy run.
I have to admit that before I got my Dynablend, I had one of the grungiest old blenders known to humankind. I just tried to Google my blender to see what decade it sprang from and found a similar one on eBay sold as vintage with the selling proposition, “Own a piece of kitchen history.”
So, in short, I might be easily impressed.
But I think my new Tribest Dynablend Horsepower Plus is a good looking and powerful piece of kitchen equipment. It’s a high-power blender that features a glass pitcher and both pre-programmed buttons and a variable speed dial.
It was easy to use right out of the box. The only mystery were a couple of silicone seals. I couldn’t figure out where they went, if I needed to attach them or if they were just spares. So I followed my favorite tactic in such a situation: ignored them. And the blender worked fine without them.
So far, I’ve made smoothies. But the nifty little recipe book included with my new blender includes recipes for soups, salsa, rice porridge, puddings, tapenades, nut patés and baby foods. I feel more blender creations coming on.
To clean the blender, you fill it 1/3 full of water and add a few optional drops of dish soap, then run it for a minute or so. Dump out the dirty water. Refill 2/3 full with clean water and run again. Seemed like a very simple way to clean a blender. The only problem was water came out from between the lid cap and the lid when the blender was that full. It was just water, so didn’t really matter. But if I were making soup, this could be an irksome mess. I’ll have to try to remember not to fill it too full.
The blender comes with accessories, including a lovely stainless steel utility scoop. Also, a blade opener for when you get food stuck beneath the blade. I haven’t tried this yet and hope to avoid it for long as possible. I’m usually better at taking things apart than I am at reassembling them.
I’m looking forward to many culinary adventures with my Dynablend Horsepower Plus.
Here are a couple of smoothie recipes I made as a trial run. Dump the following ingredients in your blender and mix till smooth.
½ cup pumpkin
1 frozen banana
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
½ cup ice
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp molasses
Blackberry Banana Smoothie
¾ cup unsweetened soy milk
½ cup ice
½ cup blackberries
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp milled flax seed
Jay Fields started teaching yoga at a very young age. The gymnast-turned yogini was only 18 when she first led students through poses. Predictably, she wasn’t sure what she was doing. But 14 years later, she’s condensed her wisdom about teaching into a tiny gem of a book. Teaching people, not poses: 12 principles for teaching yoga with integrity weighs in at less than 80 pages, but packs scads of 100 percent bullshit-free advice.
Jay offers group and private classes from her home base in Ojai, California. She also runs the website Grace & Grit, which offers resources to teachers. She believes the point of practicing yoga, and of teaching yoga, is to become more ourselves. She wants us all to be more present in the moment and rooted in our bodies.
Of course, obstacles prevent us from being as present and rooted as we might want to be. Chief among these are our expectations of what we should be and our perceptions of what others expect from us. For yoga teachers, this means we can run into some cringe-worthy clichés. Jay nails some of my pet peeves, including the yoga teacher voice. She mentions almost leaving a vinyasa class “where the teacher said ‘downward facing dog’ as if she were a cheesy sportscaster on the evening news…Do you know how many times a teacher says downward facing dog in the course of a vinyasa class?”
Even worse is the received but undigested spiritual knowledge. Jay warns: “Your students can sense when you’re regurgitating something you read or are just channeling a spiritual teacher’s words. And if your students are anything like me, it kind of makes them want to throw up.”
So what’s a yoga teacher to do? Jay covers the voice and the spiritual knowledge in principles 1 and 4, “be yourself” and “teach from your own experience.”
Students are looking for more than a sequence of poses when they come to yoga class, Jay says. They want connection. And if they’re coming to your class regularly, they want to connect with you. This means letting them see your humanness and vulnerability. Jay discusses the territory a teacher navigates between being human and being professional. She shares her vulnerability with her classes by admitting that she’s scared about something in her life or needs a good cry. But she doesn’t go into the back story of her messy breakup and personal regrets or whatever else is bothering her.
This can be a fine line. Because it’s not just the students who feel connected to the teacher. The teacher feels connected right back.
Most yoga teachers are caretakers, Jay says. So when we walk into a room we can feel responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of our students. Which can feel overwhelming. In principle 11, “remember who and what supports you,” she discusses various forms of support for teachers, from the ground we’re standing on to whatever our conception of the divine.
Jay’s writing is wonderfully easy to read. It’s spare, honest and to the point. She doesn’t hesitate to share embarrassing moments when they might help readers avoid the same. I especially liked her story in principle 12, “don’t try to please everyone,” about how student feedback has changed as she’s become more confident in her teaching. Early in her teaching career, she was very uncertain. Students constantly suggested ways to improve her class and teaching, and she tried to accommodate them all. Over the years this decreased to the point where she now feels secure in what she’s teaching. If students don’t like it, they don’t return to her class. She no longer gives off a vibe like she’s needy for their input.
Yoga teachers at all experience levels will enjoy reading this book, even though there will probably be points where they freeze and recognize themselves in a less-than-stellar teaching example. Busted! Newer teachers will benefit even more.
To entertain yourself in San Francisco – and to build awesome calf muscles – all you really need to do is take a walk. During a recent day spent in the city, I walked, visited Alcatraz, and found several good veg meals.
Here’s a suggested itinerary for the vegetarian/vegan who likes to explore on foot.
Fort Mason Hostel! I love this place for many reasons. One is nostalgia. I first stayed in the dorm here many years ago when I was 17. I’ve been back several times since. Now that I’m older and more crotchety (you damn kids make too much noise!) I sprang for a private room. I also love that this hostel is in a historic building. First built during the Civil War, it was later used as a hospital during World War Two. I stayed in room 14, which was once the eye examination room. Fortunately, no eyeball-related bad dreams.
The hostel has many excellent amenities: a downstairs movie theater that shows a free movie every night (I missed a showing of Blade Runner), spacious common areas including a fireplace, kitchen facilities, a traveler’s library and breakfast included in the price. Breakfast is in Café Franco, which looks out on the bay. The meal consists of vegan bagel or toast, instant oatmeal, a piece of organic fruit and unlimited orange juice and organic coffee. I’m a coffee snob, and this coffee was really good. You can also buy additional pastries and espresso drinks. The café is also open for lunch and dinner, and features veg dishes like a hummus plate.
The location is also fantastic. First, there’s green space around the hostel. If you’re traveling with kids or hyperactive adults, they can romp in a big grassy area. Walk around behind the hostel and you have views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Mason is in one of the safer sections of San Francisco. Walk over to the Marina for dinner or, if you’re feeling touristy, it’s a short walk downhill to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s also a fitness center down the hill going towards the wharves where you can drop in for yoga, Zumba, or other classes.
Dorm beds start at $30 and private rooms at $75. My room was basic yet comfortable, with a bunk bed (single bed on top, double down below), dresser, mirror, chair and locker. Strangely, no electrical outlet. But they’ll charge your phone behind the desk if you ask them.
Even though I lived in San Francisco in the early ‘90s, I’d never visited Alcatraz. I decided it was time.
The prison island has intrigued people for decades. So strangely close, yet so difficult to escape from. And so strangely close to a major city, yet so filled with super violent criminals.
It amazed me how popular this attraction is. Alcatraz Cruises, the official government concessionaire, runs a dozen tours a day at 30 bucks a head. And they’re not driving empty boats out to the island. I visited on a sunny yet nippy day in November, and I had plenty of company. In summer, many of the cruises sell out a week ahead.
Cold was one of my major impressions of Alcatraz. Walking down a crumbling corridor of one of the old prison buildings, the wind whipped through after me. I doubt the prisoners had my fake fur scarf or cozy gloves. The chill was just one of the hundreds of reasons being imprisoned in Alcatraz must have sucked.
If you visit Alcatraz, make sure you take the cellblock audio tour. This excellent production brings the prison to life. Listening to the voices of former guards and prisoners, I felt like I could begin to grasp the prison experience. A few features:
- Tiny cells
- Vicious neighbors
- Extremely creepy solitary confinement in total darkness
- Only one visitor per month, and you were lucky if anybody came to see you
- The torture of San Francisco in view but beyond reach
- A strange obsession with playing bridge
- Usually fatal escape attempts
- Families of guards – including children! – lived on the island
Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant
After Alcatraz, I hightailed it to Chinatown for lunch. It takes about 40 minutes to walk to Chinatown if you don’t stop and look around. I was very excited to get some Chinese dim sum for lunch.
Lucky Creation is one of those holes in the wall that gets mixed reviews on places like Yelp. Some people dare to call the restaurant’s hygiene into question. I wasn’t too worried about that, but I’d say the folks could have been a little friendlier. As soon as I ordered, the proprietor shoved my dim sum into a plastic to-go container. When I said I wanted to stay, she grudgingly indicated the table right by the drafty front door. I had to scrounge a plate off another table. The proprietor also seemed a little put out that I didn’t want to eat with my fingers, but she finally handed over a fork. Oh well. I got four pieces of interesting dim sum for $2.95. Not sure exactly what everything was, but it was pretty good. And it’s always an interesting cultural experience to be the only whitey in a place. Kind of like leaving the country without having to.
After lunch, more walking awaits. China Town, North Beach, Russian Hill and the Marina are all close and full of shops and coffee places. I’ll assume you can entertain yourself in these areas, and skip right to dinner.
I chose Benjarong Thai for dinner because I was walking by and remembered it had gotten good online reviews for vegetarians. The restaurant was totally empty of customers on a Wednesday night when I walked in around 8 p.m. While some people take that as a bad sign, there was nothing to fear. They made me a lovely dish of tofu, vegetables and shredded ginger. Garnished with a gorgeous pink orchid! I sat in the window just in case there was any people watching in the Marina on a Wednesday night. Benjarong has really cool hanging lights, which the proprietor said she ordered from Thailand. They also have a bunch of ornate Thai bowls behind the bar, which she said is the meaning of the word “benjarong.”
So there you have it, a lovely, touristy walking day in San Francisco. Suitable for solo travelers like me, or couples, or a small group or family who enjoys walking and veg dining.
The world of yoga is a great place for seekers, as evidenced by yesterday’s second annual Yogi Roots Festival. Yogi Roots, our own Portland yoga nonprofit, worked hard to bring together teachers and students from very different traditions. Participants could choose from active ashtanga, quiet yin and lots in between.
There were a lot of highlights of this all-day event. But here are a few that stood out for me.
Iyengar was the first style of yoga I ever fell in love with. And Julie Lawrence was one of my early teachers. I didn’t study with her for very long, but she made a big impression and I admired her a lot. Also, when I lived in Baton Rouge in the 1990s, there was no Iyengar teacher. I used to frequently practice to her yoga cassette tape. It was fun to take her class and hear her voice again. She is a master of clear and precise direction.
I’d never been to the ballroom before. It is gorgeous! Long red curtains separated the ballroom from the snack area. The organizers yogaed up the place with altars featuring Ganesh, Buddha and Nataraj. And the ceiling was one of the best yoga ceilings ever. I enjoy opening my eyes during savasana and contemplating ceilings. This one is painted dark red with gold metallic trim. During Karen Lerner’s Jivamukti class, East Forest played live music and a disco ball bounced light crazily over teacher and yogis. What a treat to watch the green and pink disco lights swirling around that ceiling during savasana.
Leigh Drake, who owns Unfold Studios, taught a fabulous yin class. It was crowded, but somehow it felt nice to all be in those quiet, relaxing poses so close together. Leigh is a lovely person who knows her stuff.
Debate on Gurus
What’s a multi-lineage yoga fest without some spiritual and philosophical debates? The topic of gurus came up in several different sessions. Presenters had a fascinating range of experiences with gurus. Swami Chetanandana, director of the Nityananda Institute, said only about one person in two billion doesn’t need a guru to reach enlightenment. Some teachers focused on finding the inner guru. Nitai Deranja, the founder of Living Wisdom Schools and a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda, addressed the situation of having a guru who left his body before Deranja was born. Which brought up the question, does a guru have to be alive? And does a guru need a body to be alive? Intriguing.
Matt Nelson gave an interesting and accessible presentation on bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. Matt’s practice is Chaitanya Vaishnavism, which considers Krishna the supreme godhead. This is different than most sects of Hinduism, for which Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu. So what is the vast appeal of Krishna? Matt said that the blue-skinned, flute-playing, milkmaid-teasing Krishna plays so hard he forgets he’s god, and is thus more approachable for devotees. Matt’s not ashamed of being biased toward Krishna over the other Hindu gods. “Bhakti is about bias,” says Matt. “Love is about specificity. If something’s formless, it’s hard to love it.” And Krishna does have a beautiful form.
I’m not someone who likes to skip meals. So I was thrilled to hear there would be an interesting line-up of local food purveyors, most of which I hadn’t sample. I considered it my writerly duty to try something from everybody.
Roshambo makes veg organic Indian food. I was disappointed they hadn’t brought any hot sauce with them, but I can highly recommend their pumpkin chutney to top a curry.
Pixie Retreat Raw’r Laboratorie & Makery offered raw pizza and raw tacos. These looked good but you can only eat so many entrees in the middle of a nonstop day of yoga. So I settled for trying a sample of their coconut-based caramel pudding, which is amazing. You can get their products at local co-ops and New Seasons.
I was especially excited about Kilikina’s Chocolat, a brand new local chocolatier. Owner Kristina Pescatore made her public chocolate-selling debut at the festival. She moved to Portland last year from Austin, where she studied chocolate making from ChocoSutra. She’s been selling to friends and preparing her website for online ordering. At yesterday’s festival, she brought three flavors of chocolates: spiced pecan, goji heart and peppermint “cream” patty. The base of the first two is Ecuadorian cacao, while the peppermint patty is coconut-based. She uses ingredients like spices, Himalayan pink sea salt, honey, maple syrup and essential oils. Since it’s my moral duty to support such a charming new business, I tried both the spiced pecan and the peppermint patty. Both were delicious and had that special feel of something handmade with love. While they looked professional, they weren’t entirely uniform. When I picked a particularl peppermint, Kristina said, “I like that one, too.” Ah ha! She does have a personal feeling for her individual chocolates. Just as I’d suspected.
To drink, participants could buy kombucha from SOMA Evolutionary Refreshment or a wide variety of juices from Portland Juice Press. SOMA features raw, organic, probiotic drinks in flavors like cherry chai. Portland Juice Press specializes in delivering juices to people for juice cleanses for people. They mix in surprising ingredients like romaine, cilantro, jalapeno and sweet potato. I tried way too many samples.
Here’s hoping there are many more years of Yogi Roots Festivals to come!