American Country

While thrifting last week, I was in the home and garden book section of Goodwill, and there was a man also perusing the books beside me. His son was literally circling the both of us, knocking into me every time he came my way. Normally I would just walk away and come back to the books once they had left, but I was feeling uncharacteristically stubborn, feeling like there was a reason for me to be right there, right then. I saw this hideous-looking book called American Country, and liking the name, I grabbed it. As soon as I opened this gem and saw each page filled with wide plank pine floors, worn farm tables, hanging dried herbs, basket collections, massive well-used hearths, harvest bounties, cabinets of home canned foods, old weathered saltbox exteriors, untamed herb gardens, and country stores, I threw it into my basket and let the man and his son alone.

Later that night I poured a glass of wine, curled up on the couch with a record on, and started looking through the book page by page. Even though I was home alone, I audibly gasped at the sight of some of these images. Many of the interiors books I own are overly polished and marketed to a certain demographic (which I'm certainly a part of). This book, published in 1980, is the real deal. I think what I appreciate most about it is that it proves that this is a timeless lifestyle, not just a popular aesthetic.

Since getting American Country, I ordered four more of Mary Emmerling's books online, and they don't disappoint either. But that's another story for another day.

San Juans

It's been quite a while now since I made this trip north to the San Juans. It was at a really busy time as the summer was winding down, filled with lots of other trips, which is why it came and went without notice. My dear friend Lindsay and I used to take trips like this all the time when we were younger. In high school, our parents let us drive the 5+ hours from Eugene to Seattle for the weekend and stay in a hostel. Looking back, even though we were responsible enough, we were also really fast drivers and a little careless (read: u-turns on the freeway). I think our last weekend trip was for a Cat Power concert with our friend Jess during college. We'd been talking about a trip to Vancouver for a while, and decided to add a couple days in the San Juans onto it. And I'm so glad we did. It had been 10 years since I had been to Vancouver, and while it's a really beautiful city, I felt like much of what we were doing there could be done at home in Portland. Although, there were certainly a few highlights - getting to go to Old Faithful, the deliciousness and charm of Nelson the Seagull, a great meal at Bao Bei, drinks gifted by strangers, and MacLeod's Books. But I preferred our time in the San Juans.

The trip as a whole made me think a lot about the idea behind this blog, and the connection I have to both urban and rural life. I kept telling Lindsay that I could definitely live on the islands, and once we were home I was determined to find my own cabin up there. That obviously didn't happen, but it's still on my mind. Just like that cabin in the Berkshires that I'm always dreaming about...

Lindsay and I stayed in a teepee on an organic farm, with a little outdoor kitchen and shower. The posting online claimed there was a "composting toilet" which sounds like it could be charming, like in a wooden hut or something, but that wasn't the case at all. It was a generic plastic outhouse. But it didn't really matter.

Lindsay's younger sister Emily, who I've known since she was just a little girl, was working on San Juan Island during the summer for a whale watching tour company. Their family tells a story about when Emily was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, at age of 3 or so, she replied, "an orca!" So this was pretty much her dream job. We bundled up and went out one afternoon on a boat and saw tons of orcas and learned about their migration patterns. It was really beautiful and amazing.

The two little towns on San Juan Island, where we were staying, were also very sweet. My favorite of the two was this one, Roche Harbor. I have no idea if my grandma ever visited this area, but there was something about it that reminded me of her. I could imagine her staying in the old Hotel de Haro, sipping a martini on the front porch, eating clam chowder. I got my itch to travel from her. She kept files of all the places around the world she had visited, with ticket stubs, maps, brochures and postcards picked up along the way. When I was young, every time I'd go to her house, I'd ask to look through her files. Sometimes I'd sneak a postcard of New York or Paris and hang it on my wall once I was home. I'd have her tell me stories of far away places, and I'd daydream of visiting one day. When she was still alive but could no longer travel, I'd always send her a postcard from every place I'd visit. Sometimes I miss doing that, as I know how much she loved it too.

The San Juans are a truly special place. I can't wait to go back and spend more time there, like maybe an entire summer?

____________________ All photos were taken with my film camera.

Summer blur

A year ago this weekend -- Labor Day weekend -- my dear friend Christie and I were camping at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon. It was a memorable weekend in which the highlight was a 40 or so mile long drive along a gravel road not meant for cars like the one we were driving. At times we weren't sure if we'd make it to our destination: the highway. The map we were using was either inaccurate, or we (most likely) made some wrong turns. It was supposed to be about 20 miles, but ended up taking hours longer than expected because we were going so slow most of the way that we didn't even shift out of first gear! At one point I had to get out of the car while we forded a creek, so as not to weigh it down any more than necessary. We both silently made note of our mileage as we would pass a house in order to know how many miles back we'd have to walk to civilization if the car got stuck or we broke down. There were hills as far as we could see, cows wandering in the roadway, and not a person for miles and miles. We finally made it back to the highway at dusk, luckily, and headed to our camp where we were rewarded with the most refreshing beer we'd ever had. There aren't many people I'd want to be in that situation with, but Christie has a sense of adventure that is contagious, which is also paired with extreme capability when it comes to precarious situations like that one.

It's hard to believe a year has passed since then, as it seems like such a vivid memory. Over the past year a lot has changed for me, however. In June I left my job of four years, which has completely turned my world upside down. I'm able to pursue the kind of work I want to be doing, and am already consumed with three different jobs, tons of projects, and trips seemingly every weekend, that I'm busier than ever! It's certainly not the summer I had expected it to be: unemployed and lazily taking river trips mid-week.

In Portland, summer officially starts on the fourth of July, once it finally gets warm. I was lucky to go camping even before that in Central Oregon, where it's much warmer and dryer, for my roommate Alea's birthday. Sharing the weekend with friends in the desert while eating great food and swimming in the John Day River was the best way to kick off summer.

I love Alea for a lot of reasons, but the one of the first things that brought us together was that we were raised about fifteen miles from one another out in the Coast Range of Western Oregon. We both have a little bit of country in us. Anyway, it was a beautiful weekend of getting dusty in the desert and celebrating Alea. The first night we stayed at Pine Mountain Observatory, where we saw the most incredible sky filled with stars. More than I've ever seen. There were astronomers with gigantic telescopes who pointed out the constellations and showed us Saturn, which was recognizable with the ring around it. While laying on the ground for just a short while, I counted at least ten shooting stars.

The next day we drove out to the Painted Hills and planned to find somewhere to camp along the way. It was hot out, and we wanted to find a place to swim. But with no cell phone reception and a proven unreliable map that I had used last year in the same area, we didn't really have a destination in mind. As we were driving down the highway, I saw a local dude and his two young sons near their driveway and quickly pulled over. I asked him if he knew of any good swimming holes nearby. He asked how serious we were, because if we wanted to drive on a gravel road, up a hill, he could direct us to the best place around. Little did he know that I had traversed those roads with wild abandon just last year. I memorized his directions, but for good measure he drew us a map:

We made it to the spot without a hitch, and were all in awe of the picturesque spot we found. Even though it wasn't really a campsite, we couldn't tear ourselves away from the spot and pitched out tents right there for the night.

A group of locals stopped by and joined us for a bit, just proving to us that we were at the best spot around.

I suppose there are memorable elements of every summer, but for the last two, some of the greatest moments were spent in Central Oregon along the John Day River, amongst friends.


In case you didn't know, Christie and I have a blog called Summer Goals that we rarely update anymore, but has been the source of much of my excitement for summer of the past few years. We also curated a book of the same name, published by Publication Studio.

____________________ All photos taken on my film camera.

Small Houses

As I was scanning pages from the Lofts book that I recently bought, I decided to look up other books that Jeffrey Weiss put out. My quick internet search showed this one, Small Houses, which I realized that I already own but had forgotten about.  I got this book at a yard sale last summer for  25 cents from an older eccentric man who must have been an interior decorator based on the stuff he was selling. His taste seemed pretty gaudy, so I'm sure this book was a relic from years past when his taste was more modest.


When I was a little girl, in kindergarten, we would have breaks during class to play. Most kids would play house in the small model kitchen we had in the back of the classroom. At age 5, for some reason, I thought I was too old for that, so I would usually sit on the rug and do something else on my own. Similarly, throughout elementary school I didn't watch cartoons -- they were too immature. Instead, I would wake up just as early on Saturday mornings to watch a public access show called Show Your Home. This was pre-HGTV, and the only show like it that was on to my knowledge. On this very sophisticated program, the local real estate agents in Eugene would give tours of homes for sale. Usually they were split-level ranch style homes: three bedrooms, two baths, double car garage, wall to wall carpet, etc. Whenever I'd go into town with my parents, I'd always grab the free real estate magazines outside of the grocery stores. I got so good at estimating the value of a house that I'd walk into any home and guess the square footage and value. I'm sure this provides some weird insight into my character that I'd rather not delve into.

I have absolutely no idea where this interest came from, but it's stayed with me my entire life. Now my friends turn to me to find them apartments or houses, as sifting through the Craigslist rentals to find a rare gem is one of my resumé-worthy skills. I would forever be content if I could find a place like one of these small houses to call my own.

____________________ All photos are scans of the Lila Gault & Jeffrey Weiss book Small Houses.


Last Friday was my mom and dad's 38th anniversary. Ever since I moved out of the house, I never really paid too much attention to their anniversary. I always thought that it was something that the two of them should celebrate and recognize together, and that it wasn't really anyone else's business. There have been some milestones that I knew deserved celebration, like their 25th year together. That was the summer after my junior year of high school, and my sisters and I planned an elaborate semi-surprise party for them at the park where they were married with as many people as we still knew who were at the wedding. I can't remember at that point taking any time to reflect on how it felt for them to be there with all of their friends and family, 25 years later. Thinking about it now, it seems like it might have felt kind of crazy for them.

This year, however, I've been thinking a lot about my mom and dad's marriage. My mom was 20 and my dad was 24. They had been together for a year and a half before getting married. (I learned this as I read through their wedding album, which I sneakily took from their house to scan photos.) I've wondered many times how in the world they could have ever known at that young age, and after being together for such a short time, that they were the ones for each other. I don't think I've asked them this, but I don't think I need to either. What I've come to understand is that they didn't really know. They were just committed to making it work. Really committed. The second half of the 80s and probably the entirety of the 90s were rocky. They fought a lot. But they made it through.

We certainly weren't wealthy growing up, but we had everything we needed. My mom and dad have always shown my sisters and I so much love. And they still do. It's because of them that I truly believe in love and marriage. In fact, last November I was in Brooklyn visiting a good friend and she was telling me that her boyfriend's parents were asking if they'd get married. She told me that they said they weren't in a rush, and also that they were somewhat turned off by the display of a wedding. I told her a little bit about what I think of marriage, based on what I've witnessed with my parents. We had a good conversation about it, and afterward I think she thought a bit differently about getting married. A couple hours later I had to drive up to Connecticut. Halfway there she texted me to say she and her boyfriend talked more about marriage after I left and decided to get engaged. In May I went to their wedding on Cape Cod, and it was not only a celebration of love, but of commitment, too.

Over the weekend I was at my parents' house (as I had to return their wedding album without them knowing), working in the wood shop with my dad. I started to think of him as the guy in these photos for the first time in my life. As someone I could relate to and who I might even be friends with.

Just a few minutes ago some friends stopped by and I showed them these photos. My friend Shawn said, "any one of these people could be our friends."  I guess as I've been thinking about my mom and dad's wedding, and their 38 years together, I keep thinking that not only do I want to be their friends, but I want to be like them, too.

____________________ All photos are scans from  my parents' printed photos from 1974.


In the past year and a half, I've traveled more than I ever have before. For the entirety of this past fall, I was taking weeklong trips to the East Coast every third week for work. Once I was home I'd need a week to recover, then the next week I was busy planning another trip. Consequently, I've been racking up frequent flier miles which has allowed me to go on some real vacations. I just got back from a wedding on Cape Cod a few days ago, but before that a couple friends and I went on a dream trip to Texas. As the rain continued to pour down in Portland, we flew to Austin to work on our tans. We spent the first two days exclusively drinking coffee, eating tacos, laying around and occasionally getting into the water at Barton Springs, and then drinking micheladas at the bar at Hotel San Jose. If this alone was all we did it would have been a great vacation, but it was just the beginning of what turned out to be the best trip I've taken in recent years.

From Austin we drove to White Sands, NM, which is a place I'm not sure if I even knew about before we started planning this trip. When we were driving up, I was convinced that we'd pull up, look around, then go along our way. I don't think any of us expected to be so blown away by White Sands. Huge rolling white dunes that seemingly go on forever. I've ridden a camel in the Sahara Desert, and that has nothing on this place.

The clouds were beautiful and intense, but we didn't think much of it. We drove five or six hours down to Marfa, TX that evening, and the clouds followed us there.

We were driving south, just 50 or so miles from Marfa, in the middle of the desolate West Texas desert, and this was the view in my rearview mirror. At any point during the trip, if one of us wanted to stop the car and take photos, that's what we'd do no questions asked.

We got to El Cosmico after dark and after the reception area closed, but were instructed to just go straight to our teepee and check in the next morning. We were so excited to be there, and to finally shower after running through sand dunes and camping the previous night. We settled in, exhausted, and quickly passed out. Those thunderclouds that we had seen all day caught up to us and we were awoken just after 1am to extremely loud claps of thunder, rain and hail pounding on the canvas walls of the teepee, the wooden poles that hold it up rattling in the wind, dirt and rain flying in the sides where the structure wasn't sealed to the ground, and incredibly bright flashes of lightening. Christie's and Sarah's beds were more exposed to the rain and dirt, so they got in bed with me and we weathered the storm together in my bed with the covers completely over us. Of course we all had thoughts of the teepee collapsing or flying away, but we mostly just stayed quiet and let the storm pass. The next morning the girl at the reception desk told me that she was thinking about us all night, and how terrified she was for us. She was so sweet and said that we didn't pay for that experience, and didn't let us pay for that night.

We ate our way around the small town of Marfa. Food Shark was definitely our collective favorite. A month later I'm still craving the fattoush salad. My unexpected favorite thing I did there was tour the grounds of Donald Judd's home and studios. I realize this isn't what I was supposed to take away from the tour, but even just peering in the windows of his home left a lasting impression. I've never seen a house that I've wanted to live in more. No photos were allowed on the premises, but it looks like someone snuck a photo of the exterior.

Equally impressive was his library. His will stated that none of his thousands of books should be moved after his death, so in recent years an archivist photographed each shelf and cataloged his entire collection online. It was a massive project that took two years, but now you can type your zip code into the website and find the closest bookstore to you that sells a given book. Amazing.

I came home from this trip many shades darker (or redder?), and drunk on sun and friends. It's taken this long to be able to articulate anything about this experience, because more than anything, it just feels like a sweet dream that I really can't do justice with words.

*I almost forgot - I owe Michael M. Muller a big, public thanks for sending a list of recommendations for both Marfa and Austin at the very last minute. As our friend said, he's the salt of the earth.

____________________ All photos were taken with my film camera.


One of my favorite things to do is to go thrifting. Either alone or with a friend, or even my mom. At the Goodwill down the street, or in small towns around the state -- it's sort of an addiction. Not an unhealthy one though, I don't think.

Over the past few months, I've acquired some little treasures. A wool blanket for $6 in rural Oregon, a wooden cutting board for a couple dollars in the Berkshires, mismatched silver utensils in the Hudson Valley, a copper saucepan in some small town outside of Portland, and a bunch of other things in thrift stores around town. My sister found these ceramic plates at a local shop, and luckily knew I'd love them.

I'm usually too impatient to look for clothing, and always go straight to the housewares. At every store, my favorite aisle is the one with the baskets and wooden things. Glass jars, wicker baskets, ceramic mugs (or plates, or bowls...), wooden spoons and cutting boards, natural textiles -- these are all things I collect. I admit that I do enjoy a trip to Ikea from time to time, but it's important to me to have good quality, well-built things in my house. And because of that I prefer worn, imperfect to new and sleek pieces.

In her last years, my grandma would always send all her house guests home with something from her closet or kitchen cupboards. And they were definitely not always things we wanted. Sometimes I think that one day I'll be one of those old women who spends her time in thrift stores, buying strange and unique gifts for friends just because she thinks they'd like them. Then I remember that I already do that.

Cabin in the Woods

When I was back in Horton around Christmastime, I was strangely drawn to our old family friends' house. They moved away long before we did, and like my parents, kept their house. Also like our family, they had three daughters around our ages. But unlike us, the parents separated and went on to live their own lives. The father kept the house, and apparently he comes back every so often for a few nights, according to my sister.

I walked through the fence marked "Private Property," and made my way through the tall grass to the front of the cedar shingled cabin, which faces the creek. The details of the cabin didn't make me recall any specific memories, but the general feeling was familiar. Whenever I see that book Woodstock Handmade Houses, it always reminds me of the rustic cabins that my parents' friends lived in when I was young. This cabin has that same feeling as the ones in that book: cozy, natural, and kind of funky.

Once up the steps, I peeked in the windows and fell in love with the space. My mind started racing with all the things I would do to it if it were mine. Not that it really needs much added to what already exists, but it definitely needs an addition of a kitchen and bathroom. And I already have that worked out in my head. Needless to say, ideas have continued to swirl in my mind, and I can't quite shake the idea of living in this place. I keep imagining summer days with the big doors in the loft opened up to the outside, letting the breeze in. And the garden I would plant. And cold nights curled up in front of the wood stove with warm drinks.

____________________ All photos were taken with my iPhone.


  The week before Christmas, I visited my sister Julia out where she lives -- where we grew up -- in Horton, Oregon. Nobody calls it that anymore, but it still is on Google Maps as such. Horton is essentially a country road, aptly named Horton Road, with one little market at the end called the Horton Market. Our good family friends own the market, and they live in the attached house. My sister works there a couple days a week, just as my mom worked there when I was little.

I remember when both of my sisters were in school, but I wasn't old enough yet, I would go with my mom to work and just sit on the stool behind the counter at the store. I can't remember what I would do to occupy my time -- probably eat penny candies and color or something -- but I always liked to watch everything that would happen there. During the fall months men would come from all around to go mushroom hunting in the mountains around the little valley. The store bought the mushrooms, and presumably sold them to a distributor or a bigger store.

At the end of every year, our friends Sandy and Marilyn, the shopkeepers, need to take inventory of their stock and would invite their friends and family to help. It was a big event -- and still is -- that people of all ages would partake in. The kids were assigned the candy to count, and the adults tallied other higher up things. Once everything was counted, we could eat whatever we wanted from the shelves of the store. Or at least that's how I remember it. We always ended the night with a homemade pizza feast and plenty of long stories and board games.

When I was in elementary school I would have the school bus drop me off at the store so I could get a snack after school. I would then walk the two or more miles home, usually alone, because that was my excitement for the day!

So when I was just back in Horton, I had to go visit Sandy at the market. Walking into the store, and behind the counter into their home, always brings back such vivid memories of watching my mom and Marilyn can pickled beets, late night summer bonfires, the best salads in wooden bowls, playing horseshoes, petting rabbits, and so much more.

When I was there, Sandy reminded me about a little rendez-vous we had when I lived in New York, and he and Marilyn were visiting. He was born in the Bronx and spent the first 10 or so years of his life there, so he was back to explore his old neighborhood. It was a funny thing for both of us -- for him to see me, the little girl he knew in Horton, as an adult in the city; and for me to see the shopkeeper of the little market where I lived in the country in New York City, where he grew up.


I have a lot more to share about this short visit to Horton, so consider this just scratching the surface. It felt so good to get out in the fresh air, trudge in my rain boots, and sit in front of the wood stove.

____________________ All photos were taken with my iPhone.


Lately I've been thinking a lot about my environment, and what makes me happiest. At my age, it seems to make sense to live in an urban area, where I can meet up with friends and go out to eat on a whim. The quality of life in relation to the expense is a big draw to living in Portland. I've said for a long while that my ideal would be to have a home in the city, and also somewhere I could escape to in the country. But that may not ever be possible for me -- it certainly isn't right now.

I spent the first eleven years of my life in the foothills of the Coast Range mountains of Western Oregon. I climbed high in trees and caught crawdads in the creek that wrapped around our modest home. My childhood was rich in experience, having grown up outdoors and not in front of the television.

In my family, I've always been the adventurer. The moment I graduated from college, I moved to New York because 'why not?' I thought. As anyone who has ever moved there can attest, it was one of the best and hardest things I've ever done. In the end, it wasn't the right time in my life for me to live there, and I ended up moving back west to Portland just a year later.

Now I'm finding myself drawn to both extremes: bigger cities and rural escapes. The goal of this blog is to explore both worlds, and the details of my fascination with these vastly different environments.

____________________ I took this photo on Larch Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge while cutting down my Christmas tree.