Tag Archives: travel


{Travel} Palm Desert and Anza-Borrego State Park, California

A native of the east coast, my impression of the desert has always been as follows:

  • You are always crawling through it on your knees.
  • Saying “agua”.
  • Then you see an oasis. But you collapse before you get there.

Since I’ve lived in California, though, the desert has become a restorative place for me. Nowhere is the sky bigger, the vista larger, the hues more serene. The desert has a majestic quiet about it, coupled with a resolute sense of determination. The desert lives on through the harshest conditions, and surprises us with its resilience.

I’ve been in the desert a couple of times in the past few months. In February, my parents, my brother’s family and mine spent a week in the Palm Desert area.

While we were there, my parents celebrated their 45th anniversary.

I posted this cute picture of them on Facebook and got a bunch of comments from relatives in Taiwan. Embarrassingly illiterate, I had to rely on Google Translate:


Sprinkle loving, very layout laudable, you would like to spend their days on the earth in hand carnival.


You enjoy duck paddling in the warm, we became the earthworms in the refrigerator

I’m a little worried about what I wrote in response, but Google Translate would never lead me astray, right?

We did spend a good amount of time floating around in a pool:

…but we also found time to enjoy the vistas at the top of Mt Jacinto, via the aerial tramway:

The girls had a great time playing with their baby cousin:

It was a fantastic, relaxing vacation and I left restored.

Until a week later.

Back in the full swing of life and work and acquisitions and activities, I was tired again. It was time for a weekend getaway, this time a camping trip to the Anza-Borrego State Park.

This was our first time camping in the desert, and we were excited. Not the least of which because we had finally invested in a tent that actually fit 4 people — not the 4 person tent we had before which entailed my husband sleeping diagonally across the legs of the children.

This was the view from our campsite:

I love those two palms. At night, they look like a frizzy-haired couple watching the moon together.

This was the first time that the kids were able to do some pretty serious hikes. I’d say there were only 3 wpm (whines per minute) as opposed to the 45 or so that we’re used to. And they made it to the top! Of what I don’t know, but it was definitely the top of the trail.


One of my favorite new plants we encountered is called the ocotillo:

I just love its vibrant red flowers and its weeping yet sturdy form.

We also did a 3-mile hike to an oasis — this involved a bit of climbing, and it did get pretty hot along the way, so maybe it wasn’t so far off from the desert I had in mind originally. But eventually, we did get to the oasis. Sound advice for the desert: bring lots of water. You’ll need it before you get to the oasis.

On the hike back, we ran into a rattlesnake. I was too chicken to get close enough to take a picture, but then we ran into this guy later on:

We also came upon a group of people with binoculars who had spotted some big horn sheep in the distance. I’d like to think that I saw them too — I just couldn’t tell which part of the brown they were.

But what I did see was the utter vastness of the desert. The open expanse of big sky and mountain ranges as far as the eye can see…I love this feeling of being diminished, of feeling that I’m but a small part of something so much bigger. For an anxious person like me, it takes the pressure off. It’s a nice reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
— Mary Oliver

Popular Travel

Postcard from Paradise

I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

I’m on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, surrounded by lush greenery, birdsong, and the gentle breeze of the trade winds. It’s a quieter version of home, really, and arguably I live in a sort of paradise already. But what I was really looking forward to on this trip was being in the moment. Being still.

Most of my life has been spent in a mad dash to get on to the next thing. It was always a moving target, that next thing. And I wasn’t really sure why I was chasing it in the end. I suppose that it got me to a place where I can have nice vacations, but that wasn’t really why I did it. Maybe habit. But most of the time, I wasn’t really living. I mostly stressed and exhausted.

Two years ago, I decided I needed to change that.

It’s hard for me to slow down and be present, but this is the perfect place to practice. When dawn comes with the chatter of birds and the sound of rustling leaves, you listen. And somehow when you take the time to listen, time becomes, like the universe, an ever-expanding entity, and suddenly, hurry makes no sense.

Day begins with the early stirrings of the sun through the slats of the shutters.

The birds sound busy — like they’re rattling off the tasks for the day and urging their little ones along (or maybe I’m just projecting). There’s a lovely variation in their chatter…unlike the roosters. The roosters strut around saying the same thing over and over again (“Making NOI-ses! Making NOI-ses!”), with one leading the chant and the others echoing as if they’re kids at a YMCA summer camp. They’re kind of like the Ryan Lochtes of the island.

We feast on fresh laid eggs brought to us by the owners of the house we rent, and overlook the garden.



A hungry cardinal visits us regularly hoping for scraps.

We take a magical path down to the beach.

Some people get so excited they jump right in with their clothes on.

There are so many beautiful beaches with turquoise waters. They imbibe us and bring us to the present.

I begin to notice the tree roots.

The clouds.

The scale of things.

And the stillness. Be still and know that I am God.

We head back to the house and enjoy a refreshing shower outdoors, surrounded by plumeria and ginger, coral and moss.

Back out to see the sunset.

The rhythmic lapping of the waves a reminder of the eternal cycle at work, that tomorrow will be here at its own pace, moving along in slow ripples of time, slow enough for me to notice.


{Travel} Grand Canyon / Maswik Lodge

Grand Canyon

You know how some things are so awesome that they almost become cliche — like bacon, ninjas or Chuck Norris? The Grand Canyon is one of those things.

So it was only recently that I thought perhaps I should check it out. Kind of like how five years after the iPhone came out I finally got one and thought, huh, maybe this Apple thing is here to stay (except that maybe it isn’t).

My kids get a week-long break in February, but I don’t, so we planned a half-week road trip from SoCal to the Canyon. We decided to stop in Vegas on the way there and back to break up the drive.

We saw a lot of this on the drive:

Open road

Lots of wide open spaces that make you really feel just how big America really is, and how small you really are. And truckers. I thought a lot about truckers on our trip, about how lonely it must be, and how poor the food choices are. At one point I fantasized about starting a non-profit to improve the eating options of truckers, and then I started to get emotional from all the conversations I had with the imaginary truckers who engaged with the non-profit and were so happy to see arugula salads and juice bars. I never said that I was stable.

As we progressed through the mighty Mojave desert the landscape was painted with beautiful luminous coral brushstrokes:

Mojave desert evening

and finally, sunset:

Mojave sunset

We did a quick jaunt to the Vegas strip, which included stuffing our faces at the Bellagio buffet that was amazing but totally not worth the kids eating just mac and cheese, and headed back to rest up for the drive the next day. Not without passing a billboard for Crazy Horse 3, to which my 9-year-old responded, “Let me guess. It has nothing to do with horses.”


The next day we picked up and drove to the Hoover Dam, which is only about 30 minutes outside of Vegas. There, you can be in Nevada, and then Arizona, and then Nevada, and so on within minutes, which is kind of fun since they’re in different time zones. I won’t dwell too much here on the dam except to say that it is very big and and an engineering feat indeed.

Hoover Dam

We also stopped in Arizona to get gas here, because how could you not:

Uranus Gas

Now, the Canyon. We arrived at the South Rim around 4 PM and hurriedly drove around looking for the Maswik Lodge, where we were staying and which is just at the edge of the canyon. You can see the outside of the lodge here:

Maswik Lodge outside

We walked the quarter mile up to the rim where there were mule deer at every turn:

Mule deer

Path to rim

and were greeted with this:

Grand Canyon panoramic

Grand Canyon view

There’s really nothing that prepares you for the vastness and the grandeur of the view. It was a quiet evening, and we were nearly alone along the rim as the sun was beginning to set. The majesty of the canyon literally takes your breath away. We couldn’t help but be silent as we took the view in.

It looks like a painting. It changes constantly. It’s different at every turn. It brings you a certain peace. At least, it brings me peace. Grand landscapes and sweeping swaths of sky give me the perspective that I am but a tiny piece of this world. That my stressors, no matter how big they seem when I look inward, are infinitesimal when I look outward. That’s why I love big skies. They help me decompress.

After a quick walk around, we headed back to the lodge.

Walking back

Now, a bit about the Maswik Lodge:

  • It’s inside the National Park and you can make reservations here. We went in the off-season so rates were very reasonable and easy to get; you will likely have to reserve early if you’re going anywhere from April through October.
  • There are two choices of room types: the North rooms have been renovated and have nicer bedding and furniture; the South rooms where we stayed are perfectly reasonable and clean, though basic. I didn’t see any of the renovated rooms but will post photos of our room here. The room is very small — not much more than what you see in the pictures.
  • I wasn’t sure what to expect from a park service lodge, but shampoo, conditioner and lotion was provided, as was an ionic hairdryer — nice touch, I thought.
  • We went in February so it was cold and snowy outside, but the rooms were very warm. VERY warm. We turned off the heat and were still pretty hot, and the air was drier than we were used to. But we live in SoCal so are inherently weaker than other people.
  • I’ll be making a separate post about the food at the lodge, which was very reasonable as well and exceeded my expectations for what I’d be getting at a park.
  • I’ve heard good things about Bright Angel as well, but it wasn’t available when I checked. Bright Angel is right on the rim.

Ok, now for the pictures. I forgot to take them before we settled into (read: made a sty of) the room, so please forgive the mess but you’ll get an idea of the space.

The beds (and knitting children):


The bathroom was small but clean and the water pressure was excellent:


There isn’t a closet but there is an area for hanging clothes, and a sink and mirror just outside the bathroom:

Mirror and sink

There’s also a little desk right next to the entrance that you can make look like this:


And here’s the outside of the lodge again:

Lodge outside

The next morning we headed out to explore the South Rim of the Canyon again — the North Rim is inaccessible in the winter due to snow. Unless you have traction equipment, you can’t walk down into the canyon either in February because it’s icy, so we walked along the easy, paved trail that has convenient lookout points throughout. There’s also a free shuttle bus service that runs along the rim and to the various lodges in the area.

There are a few lookout points that the bus doesn’t reach, so we drove out to those; as I said, the canyon looks different throughout the day and from different vantage points:

Canyon again

After a couple of hours we packed ourselves back into the car and drove away, peace and beauty at our backs.

Food Restaurants Travel

{Paris} Creperie Beaubourg

Summers in Paris are so lovely from the seat of a creperie. I love how the chairs at the cafes in town are turned unabashedly outward, for better people watching. How the vibe that says to enjoy all the richness in food and life, but to do it in chic measure.

Paris for my husband is about bread: one of his chores growing up was to do the daily bread run for the family, during which he would rabidly consume an entire baguette on his way home. Paris for me is a visual feast of architecture, arts, fashion and of course, food. And when it comes to food, few things make a meal as satisfying as a simple, perfect crepe.

We arrived early in the evening, and, wanting to stretch our legs after the journey through the Chunnel, headed out to the vicinity of the Centre Pompidou in the 4th arrondisement. It was 95 degrees and humid with all of Paris seeming to want to be on the metro at the same time as we did. It was like we were a bunch of sardines who decided to douse ourselves in fly paper glue and get canned together in a sauna.

Out of the metro, we headed straight for the fountain behind the Centre Pompidou.

 Just beyond the fountains is the Creperie Beaubourg.

The creperie has outdoor seating, with a view showcasing a juxtaposition of old and new:

We were thirsty so asked for a pitcher of water; we were treated to a peppery concoction which was surprising yet pleasant (I think it was water, flavored with white pepper. It was unusual enough for me to wonder whether it was an accident, but I’ll assume for now that it’s a signature offering there). I ordered a galette called a Quimper, which is a thin buckwheat pancake stuffed with ham, mushrooms and cheese, and topped with a fried egg.

The pancake was crispy on the outside with nice big crannies, and soft on the inside as it nestled the ham, mushroom and cheese into a cozy little packet. Simple, but good.

Dessert was a chocolate crepe with molton chocolate and cocoa powder, and a Crepe Suzette topped with sugar, lemon and a generous helping of butter:

Both were very good, solid executions of classic crepes.

A meal for four plus the two desserts cost us 46 euros, which was quite reasonable. Average menu items hover between the 4 and 9 euro range.

Is this the best creperie in town? I wouldn’t say so; I’ll be writing a review soon of one that just may be. But if you’re looking for a very good, no-frills, kid-friendly and affordable place to eat near a tourist trap, this is an excellent option. The presentation is basic, and the service is efficient. It does the job it’s meant to do.

Afterwards, we headed back in the heat toward the flat.

Isn’t Paris beautiful? Luckily you can’t see the whining in the picture.

Creperie Beaubourg
2 rue Brisemiche
75004 Paris


Rancho Valencia

A couple of months ago, I had the Best.  Day. Ever.  Me and four of my friends spent the day at Rancho Valencia , in Rancho Santa Fe (California).  Despite the picture on the spa website, rest assured that there is no requirement to stand in an outside shower half-naked.  To the right is another picture of the resort, right outside the relaxation room.  I didn’t take that picture.  In fact, woman in the picture isn’t even one of the friends I was with that day.  The woman in the picture is my friend Alice, who went to Rancho Valencia on a totally different day, and who has no idea that I’ve nabbed her Facebook photo for my own selfish purposes.

From what I hear all the Auberge resorts are to die for, and the service is spectactular.  Rancho Valencia in particular has a seasonal “quench”, which is a service that varies by season that’s 60 minutes long and costs $100.  It’s great value when you consider that you have access to the resort grounds, which includes a huge, gorgeous relaxation room with a big fireplace and silk tea bags, yoga classes, pool and hot tub, and cabanas for lunching poolside.  Even though the place was only minutes from where we live, we felt that we had escaped to a serene paradise where our sanity could once again be restored.

Next on my wish list?  Solage Calistoga, which is affiliated with Auberge.  I am pretty sure from looking at the website that I should be living there.