Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Sometimes being crunchy in the Big Apple means getting the hell out of it.

That's just what I did over the weekend. Went home to Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, hugged a few trees, and went for a bike ride with my dad. We got caught in a crazy downpour, which was amazing. I may have frightened a few people near the wharf with my exhilarated whooping. Have I mentioned that I love fall in New England?

I also ran to Ned's Point lighthouse in my FiveFingers. Man, it felt great to take a deep breath and smell living things!

I took Megabus there and Lucky Star back, since Megabus doesn't let you transport a bike. There are all kinds of cheap bus options going from NYC to other major cities on the east coast. A couple more are Fung Wah and BoltBus.

Other trips I'd like to make at some point are the Long Island Railroad to Montauk and Bus 137 to Toms  River, NJ. I've been dying to visit the fabled Pine Barrens of New Jersey ever since I started reading about Tom Brown, Jr. I highly recommend his book The Way of the Scout, if you're into stories involving ridiculous tracking abilities and badass psychological warfare.

But that's another post for another day.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Urban Survival Tip #1

In my experience, if you find yourself in a pinch somewhere in the middle of civilization, a willingness to forego some of society’s more frivolous conventions can be a real advantage.

For instance, I packed a yogurt in my lunch recently and found that the kitchen at my school was out of spoons. In the wilderness, I would have simply picked up a stick and whittled myself a utensil. Since there is a dearth of woody debris just south of Times Square, I peeled off the tinfoil cover and fashioned it into a scoop. Worked like a charm. Then there was one morning last week, when I got out of the shower and couldn’t find my hairbrush. In a rush to get to class on time, I pulled a Little Mermaid and used a dinglehopper. Effective, efficient, and probably caused less breakage to my hair.

Today’s urban survival tip is one I’m sure most women will be able to relate to. You’re at a concert, or a bar, or an airport, and you have to pee. Bad. You’re at the point where you’re even breathing carefully, lest a particularly jolting inhale cause you to wet yourself. You waddle up to the ladies’ room – and alas! There are twenty-five women ahead of you in an unmoving line.

And -- naturally -- there’s no line for the men’s room.*

We’ve all done it. We’ve all stood in that interminable line, shifting our weight and stealing resentful glances at the occasional guy who breezes right through the door. We’ve all ground our teeth at the sound of that merry stream. 

My advice to you ladies? Do what I did at an Arby’s somewhere between Boston and New York this afternoon and tell that long-suffering line of women, "I'm going in."

1) Maybe I’m unusual in this respect, but after months of playing fart baseball in the wilderness with a bunch of teenage boys who subsisted on a diet of whole grains and rehydrated chili, I just can’t get too worked up about bodily functions, mine or anyone else’s. So if a dude wanders in to use the urinal while I’m in the stall, I’ll just wait patiently for him to do his thing, zip up, and depart before I mosey on out. (You don’t want to startle the poor guy into early-onset prostate issues.) 

If a man walks in just as you’re leaving, give him a saucy smile. If you’re shy, you'll save face because you seem confident.  If you’re like me, and find that an irrepressible streak of mischief surfaces in such situations, you can delight in his discomfort when he stammers out a “Sorry!” because he thinks for an instant that he’s the one in the wrong place.

2) The other women won’t judge you. In fact, they’ll probably thank you for it. I guarantee you that most of them have been eyeing that door the whole time, wishing they had the nerve to just go for it. They just need a little push. You can be their William Wallace. (After I emerged from the little boy’s room at Arby’s today, the next girl in line smiled at me and was in there before the door had started swinging shut.)

#3 Public men’s restrooms aren’t that bad. Okay, sure, some of them are atrocious. But there’s a rule I just invented that says that on a scale of one to ten (if one is a bathroom at the Ritz Carlton and ten is a Tau Kappa Epsilon bathroom on a Saturday morning), the men’s room at a given establishment will be only one or two points more disgusting than the women’s room. Girls are gross, too.

Try it. It will set you free.

*Sporting events are an exception. Often the line for the men’s room will actually be longer because of all the beer that has been consumed since 8 a.m. Guys, crash the ladies' room at your peril.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And the moon is the only light we'll see

The Playing for Change fall tour is coming to New York this Sunday. You should go.

Man, that video gives me "Where the Hell is Matt?"-type feelings. (You 
know what I mean. The part where all the people crash together in the 
plaza in Madrid? My heart grows three sizes every time.)

Playing for Change is such an incredible idea. Music? Facilitating 
peace? All over the world? My music-lovin', travel-buggin' little ass 
can barely even handle it.

From their website:

Musicians from different cultures uniting together for the common purpose of peace through music is a powerful statement. For the past four years Playing For Change has traveled the world with a  mobile recording studio and cameras in search of such inspiration. Throughout the journey we created  a family of over 100 musicians from all walks of life. We connect these musicians together with "Songs Around The World." 

They'll be at the Town Hall at 8:00 on Sunday - just three blocks from 
where I go to school! gah! - and I'd be all over it if tickets were a little 
cheaper and I wasn't planning on being out of town this weekend. But 
as it is, I'm getting out of Dodge and going home to Massachusetts to 
see my parents and breathe in a little non-city air.

My hometown on Buzzard's Bay.

So please send some of those musical vibrations my way.

I'm also planning on bringing my old bike back to New York with me. Stay tuned for some island bike trail adventures!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Refined taste

What does it say about me that at a comedy show I attended recently - one that contained a fair amount of intelligent political and social humor - the thing I found funniest, by far, was a poop joke?

Don't answer that.

Monday, October 19, 2009

So long, 3.4 oz toiletries

After a nice long day of swimming and yoga-ing at Chelsea Piers, I just put both my feet behind my head at the same time. I think I was like 14 the last time I did that. Yesss.

It's counter-intuitive because school is absolutely balls-out insane right now, but I feel like now that I'm in New York, I'm way less stressed out than I ever was when I was living out west. 

That's right. The city that doesn't sleep is chilling me out. 

I can totally feel it physically. I'm not as wound up. Even my blood pressure's lower. I think it comes down to the difference between the toll that normal, day-to-day busy stress takes on me and how I handle emotional stress. The normal stuff feels like a breeze right now.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved my time out west. It was a ride and a half. I smirk when I look back at some of my my escapades. At various times I was homeless (voluntarily, and never friendless), literally down to my last dollar (I may or may not have visited the plasma center in Spokane, Washington a few times), and marooned at a motel in northern Montana after Canada rejected me.

Snowshoeing in Canada after I finagled my way in. Suckers.

I was also freaked out, in love, terrified I was making huge mistakes, adrift, far from my family - a ridiculous cocktail of WHOA THERE WHAT AM I DOING? I lived out of a duffel bag a fair amount. And sleeping on the ground and backpacking all the time really did a number on my body. No wonder I was wound so friggin' tight I couldn't get my feet behind my head.

I know I'll start to get that adventure itch again, probably before too much longer, but for now it's really nice to have a breather. Last week I went to Duane Reade and bought the gigantic bottle of Listerine because I'll actually be in one place long enough to use it all! IT WAS AWESOME.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Getting in touch with my inner spider monkey

I took advantage of my Groupon today and went climbing at Chelsea Piers.

It was sweet. I tried three different routes and even if the second one might've gotten a little dicey, I made it to the top each time. I like how climbing is as much a mind game as it is a physical one. You really do have to think a few steps ahead.

Now everything from my elbows to my fingertips is burning. A lot of my friends in Colorado were really into climbing, and now I get why their forearms were bigger than their biceps.

There were a few people there who were obviously really experienced climbers. I overheard them talking about how they used to live in Calfornia. (Of course. Sophia, were they part of your crunchy crowd out there?) It was crazy watching them scurry across the part of the wall that was nearly horizontal. It's billed as the biggest wall in the Northeast, which wouldn't surprise me. It's huge.

I can see why climbing is so addicting for some people. I'd love to keep doing it, but I can't afford a membership at the moment. The Groupon gives me access to the whole Chelsea Piers facility for a whole week, though, and I'm planning on making the most of it. They have everything, even an indoor beach volleyball court. I have my eye on some yoga classes, maybe some boxing, and definitely the pool.

Oh, yes. It's gonna be a good week.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I might even crack the window open tonight

It has been absolutely freezing in my apartment lately. The heater is broken and my wimpy quilt just hasn't been up to the task at night. I started wearing layers and more layers to bed, and when that didn't cut it, I brought in the big guns.

That's a -20 degree bag. It kept me warm on many a frigid night in the desert last winter. It smells like campfire and unspeakable grody-ness, which is making me nostalgic. (After 100+ field days, it might be due for a wash.)

Didn't expect to need it here, but let this be a lesson to all of us. New York is a wilderness full of drafty buildings and unresponsive landlords. BE PREPARED.

When you get old and start losing your hair/Can you tell me who will still care?

Since my last post,

1) The Red Sox left their heads most decidedly up their asses and got themselves eliminated.
2) The Rockies, my backup team, flamed out shortly thereafter.
3) I don't even want to talk about the Patriots.
4) I saw Barefoot Truth, and they were an explosion of awesomeness and flannel.

I took some pictures, but either my camera was having issues or I just suck at taking low-light photos. I salvaged a couple that weren't too horrible and tinkered with them a bit in Photoshop so that instead of crappy and blurry, they look cool and artistic. Or maybe pretentious and contrived. Your call.

And the next night?

Okay, look. I did something that you might judge me for. And it's cool if you do. I'll understand. But if seeing Hanson in concert makes me a bad half-assed hippie, then I don't want to be right.

With the exception of a few guys (either gay or putting forth an inspired effort to get laid that night), the audience was female and mid-twenties: legions of "MMMBop"-singing teeny boppers all grown up. It was glorious.

Oh, the days when a toss of Zac's long tresses made my heart flutter. I remember going to the orthodontist's office in eighth grade after someone threw a frisbee into my teeth during a game of Ultimate (yet another reason why I'm a bad half-assed hippie: I now freak out when a disc whizzes even remotely close to my face). I had to get my front teeth fixed and I was a teary, hyperventilating mess.

But then a Hanson song came on, and I felt like everything was going to be okay. (How adorable was I? And pathetic?)

Anyway, my point is this: I would have done terrible things for a chance to see them when I was twelve, and I never got the chance.

...until yesterday. Boom. Full circle! No regrets!

As for why I'm talking about them in a blog that's supposed to be about crunchy stuff, they actually organized a one-mile barefoot walk earlier that day as part of their "Use Your Sole" tour. They're raising money for a number of different causes including AIDS treatment and research and drilling wells for clean water in Africa. Good stuff.

I've heard a lot of 1997-themed punchlines in the last 24 hours, but the crazy thing is, Hanson is actually totally legit now. Great musicians, great performers.

And yes, they played "MMMBop."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Barefoot Truth: Certified Crunchy

Music post!

Fellow New Yorkers, there is a band I would like you to meet. I've known about them for a few years now, but I recently rediscovered them, and holy crap have they gotten even more awesome since the last time I checked. They're playing at the Canal Room in Manhattan this Wednesday, and they're called Barefoot Truth.

I know what you're thinking. 

You're thinking, are they a hobbit band?

Wait, wait, just kidding. (BFT, if you're reading this, you know I love you.) Here are some better ones.

There we go.

I first started listening to these guys when I was in college. Back then they were just "Barefoot" (for a cautionary tale in karma and what happens when a big label muscles out an independent band, check out these clowns). It started with just two of them: Will and Jay, college boys out of Connecticut. They were really mellow and acoustic, great beach-y music that reminded me of Dispatch (my first love). I actually bought their album "Changes in the Weather" on CD Baby. 

I say "actually" because I was a dedicated music mooch who copied all my music off my hallmates' iTunes libraries. But no one else knew about these guys, and so I shelled out some money, figuring it was the least I could do to support a young independent band whose music made me happy. I was glad I did. Soon other music mooches on my hall were approaching me to tell me they'd ripped off the entire album from MY iTunes library and who the hell was this Barefoot band, anyway?

They sort of fell off my radar screen after I graduated. I didn't have a functional computer or an iPod over the next two years, so updating my music collection wasn't much of a concern. But then a couple of months ago, I landed back on the east coast, bought a laptop, and thought, "Huh, I should see what those guys have been up to."


Are you familiar with John Butler Trio? They're this really sick band from Australia, and when I saw them live in Philly in 2005, it was easily the best show I'd ever seen. The musicianship was astounding.

When I caught up with Barefoot Truth and started listening to their song "Broken Road," I thought, "Whoa, am I listening to John Butler Trio?" Except it was like a JBT with a fuller, richer sound. And a better lead singer. (Sorry, John Butler! You know I love you!) Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about, but trust me on this. I can't think of much higher praise. The bass, the slide guitar... it just sang.

The dudes in BFT have graduated and added three more members, an upright bass, a harmonica, a Weissenborn lap guitar, a keyboard, a didgeridoo, and a whole lot more rocking-your-face-off. The growth they've shown as a band is startling.

They have a new album called "Threads" coming out early next year, and they'll be playing some of its songs on this fall tour. They streamed the first half of it on their website for a limited time recently, and it's all kinds of awesome. A great song to check out now is "All Good Reasons," which I may or may not have had on repeat for about a month. I may or may not be listening to it right now.

Tickets for their Wed. Oct. 14th show are ten bucks in advance, twelve at the door. It's 18+ and the show starts at 9, with Spiritual Rez opening. Come on out and say hello!

Now I'm going back to bed, because I did more than 100 sun salutations before 9am and I need a nap. The yoga-thon raised $1,652 to feed and educate Maasai girls! Night, folks.

P.S. Red Sox, get your heads out of your asses!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bringing the mountain to Mohammed

What's a girl to do when, after basically living in the wilderness for a year, she moves to Brooklyn where there isn't a mountain or a desert in sight? How does she keep from going all "Requiem for a Dream" from tree withdrawal, digging through the pavement with her fingernails and forlornly howling at the light pollution-obscured moon?

A) She sets up a shelter in Central Park and learns Jiu-Jitsu to help her fend off the crazies. 
B) She flies back to Colorado every weekend, because she's filthy rich like that.
C) She busts bowdrill fires on the sidewalk for loose change.
D) She crunch-i-fies her room.

If you guessed D, congratulations! You win some granola and a 30-pack of PBR!

It's not finished yet - I still have to fill in those purplish areas, add some shading, tweak a few things. I might even get super fancy and attempt a tromp' loeil kinda thing where it looks like there's a hole in the wall opening onto the scene. (But let's not get ahead of ourselves here, Emily.)

That's not the only thing I've done to make my room feel like a little oasis in a concrete jungle. Note the earth-toned wall paint. That's important.

A few potted plants (low-light plants, because my window is almost entirely bricked over by another building) go a long way. And check out my prayer flags.

Gotta have prayer flags. They remind me of my beloved Eastern religion-obsessed hippie friends. And I found them at a really sweet Tibetan store on St. Mark's Place in the East Village. I have a feeling it's going to be my new go-to store, since the Animas Trading Company in Durango is now about 2,000 miles away.

Then there's the obligatory incense/candle collection. (Note that the picture of aforementioned Eastern religion-obsessed hippie friends is strategically located next to the Nag Champa.)

Then there's the token guitar that I can't play very well. That's key. I might pick it up every once in awhile and pluck out a few Dispatch or Ben Harper tunes, but mostly it sits there looking impressive for anyone who happens to visit my room.

Finally, there's my prAna yoga mat.

I'm no yoga master, but I did whip a bunch of unruly sixteen-year-old boys into sun-salutationing shape last year, so I feel that I can say with some credibility that prAna has some excellent products. This mat was a little on the pricey side, but it's super sweet and I got a pro deal with them when I worked for Open Sky. So, neener neener.

And finally, for an extra little dose of the wild, my roommate's fat cat can occasionally be spotted stalking through the room. Don't be fooled by her unthreatening appearance - she's dangerous, all right. In fact, she once peed on my bed! Talk about taking a walk on the wild side!

I hope you enjoyed your little tour of my crunch-tastic abode. Namaste.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

108 Sun Salutations

Three years ago, I spent a semester in Tanzania with the School for International Training. While I was there, I did a three-day homestay with a family of Maasai, the traditional pastoralist people who believe all the cows in the world are theirs by divine right. Here's an excerpt from one of the emails I sent home in March of 2006:

They dressed me in traditional Maasai garb; long blankets draped over the shoulder and tied at the waist, and lots of beaded and metal jewelry. With my hair in braids, one of the other students told me I looked like Pocahontas. I felt a little ridiculous, but mostly fabulous. I used my outer blanket to carry jugs of water over my head and played with the kids under a tree, hoping all the while that the warriors who stopped by would take me dancing when they left at dusk.

On Wednesday night, my last night of homestay, my yeyo put one of the big beaded collars over my head and showed me how to shake my shoulders so it jingles the way the young Maasai girls do. My papa beckoned me to follow and with three of the girls from neighboring bomas - all from around 8 to 11 years old - we set off across the sandy hills to where the warriors, who had returned home with their cattle now that the rains had come, would dance with the girls who might eventually become their wives or mistresses. 

It was a walk that will always stand out with complete clarity in my memory, though it felt surreal at the time: the silhouette of my Maasai papa with his blanket wrapped around his shoulders and fembo walking stick in hand, navigating with only the moonlight softly illuminating the land to guide him, the three little girls in their head wraps, their necklaces tinkling as they walked, the approaching lightning flashing silently, still too distant to hear the thunder, and behind me, the faint red glow at the summit of Oldonyo Lengai. 

As we entered the boma, the layered chanting of the warriors and the high-pitched responses of the girls started and I was swept into the dancing. Warriors would stomp forward and whip their blankets under a girl's chin as a sign of flirtation. Several did it to me and once it coincided with a lightning flash that showed the whites of his eyes inches from mine. They're not messing around. Girls would disappear with a warrior for a time and then return, giggling, and jump back into the dancing. Loud thunder signalled the arrival of the storm that had been threatening, and the dancing was cut short so that we could walk back to the boma in the pouring rain. I fell into bed next to sleeping little Monica, sopping wet and deliriously happy.

Those were the craziest three days I'd ever experienced. Sleeping on a cowskin with my host mother and her three children, a volcano erupting ten miles away... man. It was epic. 

Me and my little brother, Troima, at his boma by Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, March 2006.

At the end, along with the rest of my American classmates, I was given the opportunity to ask a group of women questions, and they were astonishingly candid about any number of topics, including circumcision. Many of them regarded it as a normal rite of passage and didn't seem to feel too strongly about it, but there are women out there who want something else. They were all very young when it happened to them, and there was no alternative in order for them to become women in the eyes of their culture.

I think it's important to respect unique cultures like the Maasai and the traditions that make them so distinct, and also to respect the rights of young girls who historically have had very little say in their own fate. I don't think I can emphasize enough how important it is for these girls simply to have THE OPTION to pursue a different path. 

So, this coming Saturday, I will be participating in the Houses of Hope Yoga-thon in Central Park.  From the website:

"The organization is run by Agnes Pareyio, a Maasai woman, who has been working to end FGM for over a decade through education and the development of an alternative rite of passage for young women... Agnes has built two safe houses where young women live, are educated and do not face pressure to undergo FGM. There are plans to build 6-9 more houses across Africa."

I feel like this is a small way I can create a little more good karma in the world. Thank them for the amazing experience, you know? And I love yoga. It's all one big win!

If you're interested in helping me support this awesome cause, go here (or, better yet, create your own fundraising page):