Sunday, December 19, 2010

Get a haircut.

I don't hold many beliefs that I would define as conservative, but I have one very clearly defined one: I like short hair on men. This applies to myself, of course. The difficult part of this is that keeping ones hair nicely trimmed can be difficult when traveling in foreign lands. I encountered this just a few weeks into my travels in the Middle East. At the time I was still very shy about making transactions in languages I didn't speak, and a haircut is certainly a very sensitive transaction. But sick of my my shaggy hair I finally ducked into a barbershop in a small Syrian town and got a haircut. Thankfully the barber set himself to work without requiring much of me. It was (and still is, actually) the most meticulous haircut I have ever had. He worked with only scissors, no clippers, and at the end of it shaved my neckline with a straight razor and foam.

The end result was this:

It seemed super nerdy to me at the time, but it looks almost like the exact haircut I'm trying to get my hairdresser to give me now (I think it's called an 'ivy league').

A few weeks later, and I was once again in need of a haircut. Not trusting that I would again encounter the ease of my first haircut, I avoided finding a barbershop, and on a strange whim bought a tiny pair of scissors at a stationary store in Aqaba. I cut it that night in my hotel room, with little help from mirrors or much of an idea of what I was doing.

This was the result, which I have to say I don't totally hate:

The back, however, looked like this:

Like I had alopecia or something.

Despite this obvious drawback, I pretty much continued cutting my own hair for the subsequent four years (though I eventually purchased a pair of clippers to make it an easier job).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An open-ended ticket.

Last month, the first month since I began writing on Primitive Culture in which I did not post a single entry, a major anniversary quietly slipped by. November 2010 marks five years that I have spent living outside of the US, my home country. Though I've been back to visit several times, nearly the entirety of my adult life has been spent living in lands that are not my own-- first South Africa, then Thailand, then South Africa again, and now Taiwan. The fact that I only thought to mark the date a week or so after it had passed is in away a statement on my living abroad. I don't live abroad out of exile, I'm not staying away with a single-minded purpose. While I spent much of my teenage years dreaming of living abroad, I have to admit the fulfillment of that dream seems to have come more through happenstance than choice.

Of course, there had to be an initial choice to set me on that course. Prior to the five years I've just detailed, I was a recent college graduate with little going on in my life, no clue what to do with myself, employed in a travel bookstore. It was a bad combination. Slow days in the shop gave me hours to page through travel guides, making imaginary escape routes. The more I looked the further I went into the unfamiliar. And finally I decided I was ready to buy a ticket. I sent in my application to a University in South Africa, mailed in my passport to get more pages added, and bought a one-way ticket to Istanbul.

In the aftermath of that decision, I've had little opportunity to really look back on the strange place it's taken me. But five years on, I think I'm ready to sort through the history, to become an archaeologist of my own past. I'm ready to open up maps and trace my route back to where it began. I'm not sure yet what I'm looking for. But, somewhat circuitously, I think it might give a hint of where I'm going next.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In the kitchen with Primitive: pumpkin season.

This was my first year celebrating Halloween since 2005. A combination of living in tropical climates and in the Southern Hemisphere has meant that my Octobers have been spent in warm climes unsuited to spooky atmosphere. So I was happy this year to have the holiday just as we plunged into chilly weather; I was even happier when a small blue truck appeared at our local morning market, loaded with some incredibly beautiful pumpkins.

I picked up a few (along with a handsome squash) in unnatural shades of pale dusty orange and mossy blue-green-- they were so beautiful, that I felt some strong reservations about carving them. Gravity settled the decision for me when the squash toppled over and gashed the perfect incision to start carving an eye. I drew a face, cut the squash open from the bottom, and scooped out the seeds-- and was flashed back to my childhood with the sickly sweet smell of a pumpkin's insides hitting newspaper. I enjoyed the experience enough that I ended up carving a second pumpkin.

The pumpkins that were spared carving are being roasted in batches. I grew up thinking that the only way to eat pumpkin was to start by scooping it out of a squat orange can, but starting from is actually incredibly easy and much tastier. Just cut the pumpkin in half, roast it cut-side down, and then scoop out the flesh once it's gotten soft. We've frozen 1.5 cup portions in plastic bags, so we'll have a November full of orange baked goods spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

A single pumpkin will produce a surprising amount of flesh, but even if the charms of pumpkin pie and bread wear thin, there are load of other ways to use pumpkin. We made pumpkin sandwich cookies (nutmeg and cinnamon cookies with a filling of cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin), spiced pumpkin muffins, and an incredibly rich pumpkin ice cream. You can also use it in soup, curry, pastas...

And with all of those seeds you scoop out, you can sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds, which make a fantastic snack (especially with some nuts and chocolate chips), a tasty addition to muesli, and a fun topping to sprinkle on pumpkin muffins.

Though I must admit, just carving the thing might be the best way to celebrate the season. Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Joys of a home bar.

As I mentioned in one of my most recent entries (recent being, well, a month ago) we've found ourselves a little hard up for places to go out in our new town. So in the absence of a good spot in which to go out, we've been working hard to make our apartment a great place in which to stay in. Aside from switching out the florescent lighting for paper lanterns and sprucing up our kitchen, this has mainly been achieved through starting out a home bar.

By focusing on our favorite liquors, gin and bourbon, we're building it up slowly and organically. We're trying and comparing different bottles, and branching out into other alcohols through experimenting with some classic cocktails. Gin has led us to Campari and Sweet Vermouth through the Negroni, while bourbon has led us to bitters via the Old Fashioned.

And while so far it's mainly just been a bit of fun, it's always threatening to bloom into a little of an obsession-- the temptation is growing to begin seeking out obscure liquors in Taiwan bottle stores, and laboring in the kitchen to make better cocktails (I really should stop reading T Magazine's Case Study).

The only thing we're missing, unfortunately, is the bar itself. We have yet to find a handsome, compact piece of furniture on which to store our bottles and tools. We're open to alternative ideas-- any tips or ideas? Come up with a good idea for me, and I'll mix you a drink the next time you're in Hsinchu.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tomorrow is October 1st.

Is it reasonable for me to start getting excited about Halloween yet?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Into the wild green interior.

You might have noticed me casting some green envy on Bali in a recent post-- well, I officially withdraw my envy. Bordeaux had an urge to get out of the city yesterday, so we loaded Japie into his basket, climbed onto a scooter, and headed off out of town. We had barely left behind the gray concrete of the city when we were suddenly and totally swallowed into the green of Taiwan's interior. We were surrounded by lush hillsides draped in bamboo and banana plants, dripping with vines and creepers. And really, we weren't anywhere that special-- a lot of Taiwan's interior is just like that. It's one of the surprising sides of the island that not many people expect when they think of Taiwan.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

around town/hsinchu: longing for a little style.

In most ways, we really can't complain about our life here in Hsinchu, Taiwan. We've found a great apartment that we're making into a very 'us' home, we're eating delicious and varied local foods, we've met some fantastic people, and we're enjoying shopping for produce at the little market up the street from us. I am much happier settled here than I have been in a long time. But if I am allowed one complaint, this is it: I wouldn't mind being surrounded by a little more style.

I definitely don't mean that it's totally missing. I'm constantly checking out well dressed guys and girls, and there is some incredible shopping here. Where it's mostly missing is in eating out. Cafes in Taiwan seem to have missed out on some style lessons, particularly on the lesson concerning minimalism. As soon as we enter a new restaurant in Taiwan, we always glance around for the requisite tchochkes, and we are always disappointed to find them. And especially, I should point out, Christmas related ones. Even restaurants that serve great food seem to make a least one big misstep: a wooden Santa Claus, a kitsch statue of a man playing a saxophone. It's certainly worse here in Hsinchu, but honestly, I'm rarely that wowed by interior style in Taipei either. Anyway, it's all a compromise. I can eat fantastic local food here, I just can't do it in great surrounds. I'll just have to use my vacation time carefully, and hit up some style centers abroad.

Pictured above, sadly, is not in Hsinchu. It's Square One Dining, a cafe my sister introduced us to last time we were in LA. It had great coffee, a tempting brunch menu including muesli with seasonal fruit and decadent waffles, and a nicely styled patio. And on this warm late-September morning, I wouldn't mind being there now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

out west/far east.

And I am trying to figure out a way to be both, at once.

Monday, September 20, 2010

things make me happy: paper lantern.

Part of the deal with moving into a Taiwan apartment is that you're tacitly agreeing to be bathed in florescent lighting no matter what room you're in. After almost three weeks of living in an undead glow, we'd had enough. The light in our dining room was the first to come down, and in it's place went a squat lantern of white paper. We have a different lantern waiting to go up in the living room, and plans for lighting changes in the bedrooms and the office. Even with just the one lantern up, I can really say I'm seeing my new home in a whole new light.

Ikea väte hanging lamp.

And on a terribly belated note, I was recently profiled on Girl in Asia's behind the blog feature. Check that out here. Thanks for inviting me to participate, Liz!

On the subject of white.

Here's how that look works on the other side of the Pacific. Shot taken in June in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, California. Sunglasses from Bangkok, T-shirt from H&M, shoes and shorts a mystery.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

White hot summer, Taipei.

Another reason I was lucky to snag my husband: he agrees that travel is not an excuse to dress down, but a reason to dress up.

White V-neck T-Shirt H&M, White Bangkok sunglasses, Navy Blue H&M shorts, white Muji espadrilles, Rooftop's Life @ Taiwan tote from Eslite.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Island living.

As I mentioned on Monday, I'm not actually on the island I've been writing so much about lately, but on another one somewhat further north: Taiwan. Aside from having so much to say about Bali, part of why I haven't written much about my new home is because things have been happening in stages (getting a job, going through the visa process, finding an apartment, trying to get the place furnished) so I'm still not feeling totally settled.

But I am pretty happy to be here. And though I came to the island repeating the mantra "this is a temporary arrangement", a few things have happened to make me feel more settled. They're blurring the lines between for me between expat living and just living.

1. Learning to love a scooter. Like a lot of Asia, the roads of Taiwan teem with motorbikes-- and in moving back here, I knew I'd have to be joining the speeding throngs. I never learned to ride a bicycle as a child, so the idea of now getting on a heavy motorized bicycle and speeding it into traffic seemed a little terrifying. So through a year living in Asia and two visits to Taiwan, I never even attempted to climb on. But when we moved here I decided I would have to make an effort. Within an hour of working up the nerve to try it, I had found that not only was it not that hard-- but that actually, it was pretty fun. I've now got my own Yamaha Vino, a handsome black retro-styled model, that I love finding excuses for zipping around town on.

2. Moving in. The search for an apartment in Taiwan was... depressing. We saw tiny new places with no space and no character, massive damp caverns plugged with heavy ugly furniture... and little else. So I'm still feeling incredibly lucky that Bordeaux found a cute old-fashioned apartment with green tile floors and some built in kitchen cupboards. It's within walking distance of several parks (good for item #3), near cafes and breakfast shops, and almost equidistant between our workplaces. Now if we could just bring in some non-florescent lighting...

3. Japie. My husband is not into dogs, and I'm not really into pets, but we've always had a weakness for French Bulldogs. So when on our first weekend in town we met someone who was looking for a home for her little Frenchie, it seemed too fated to question. So we agreed, tentatively, to foster him for awhile. But within an hour of Japie (pronounced Ya-pee, pictured above) crashing around at our feet and looking up at us (in two directions), we knew we weren't going to be giving him back.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A glimpse of paradise (good luck for Monday).

I should point out that due to a general slowness in posting, I am not currently in Bali as may be suggested-- I am back in Taiwan, currently working a 9 am to 9 pm schedule (only for four more days!). But I'll keep us on the island a little longer-- I thought maybe you and I could both use a shot of Bali green on this Monday to keep us going.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Order the pig.

I couldn't decide whether seeing the pig's head pointed at me was actually appetizing or not, but at the very least I was intrigued. My eyes had originally been drawn to the neatly arranged rows of jars and bottles at this Bali market's stand, but the pig certainly was an attention grabber. So I stopped, and tried to find out more about it. The woman behind the counter greeted me, and showed me to a glass display case containing bowls of fresh salads. "Lawar babi", she explained to me; the words meant nothing to me then, I would have to look them up later. She pointed to the pig again, and then her own cheek, indicating that if I tried the lawar, I would be treated to some of the animal's face. I wasn't hungry, but I had to try it. She grabbed a paper cone, scooped in some rice, then spooned on some of the lawar. To complete the dish, she ripped shreds off the pig's head, and folded them up into the parcel.

I didn't open the package until later, when we were sitting, legs tucked under the tables at Ibu Oka. Specializing in Balinese suckling pig, babi guling (a heap of which is pictured top right), Ibu Oka is famous worldwide. We had just had our plates set before us: waxy brown paper holding small mountains of rice, topped with tender shreds of pork and crispy squares of skin and fat. The first bite explained and validated the restaurant's fame: the crunch of the skin released a melting burst of rich, luxuriant pork flavor. 

Mid-meal, I remembered the package from the market still in my bag. It might seem like over-kill to pull out the lawar babi at this point, but I decided that if I was already indulging this much, I might as well just give in. I pulled it out, unwrapped it, and put it on the table to share. Amazingly, and this may just have been the rush of fat to my brain, it outshone the meat we had been consuming. While the pork in the lawar was not as good as Ibu Oka's-- the skin didn't crackle as much, the fat wasn't as tender-- the rest of the dish compensated: young jackfruit, green beans, shrimp paste, and shredded makrut lime leaves gave it an intensely exotic flavor. 

But either way, market stand lawar babi or Ibu Oka babi guling, order the pig in Bali and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


While visiting the puras of Bali I was really struck by a feeling of balance. Yet while religious spaces may generally have an air of serenity, what makes these temples most striking is how that feeling comes from the drastic use of both the beautiful and the grotesque in the same site: a grimacing guardian may look over a pool of delicate lotuses. For while to my Catholic-school reared mind concepts like 'good and evil' exist in dichotomy, they cohabit in the Hindu traditions of Bali; creation and destruction are not discreet forces, and that which is the most terrifying can also be the most protective. And certainly, the beauty of these spaces would not have been as sharply illuminated without their equal use of the grotesque. 

Yet another product of my schooling I'm happy to leave by the roadside.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

culturedPRIMITIVE/stockist: Muji Hex Double-Ended Pens.

I love to travel and I love to sketch, but I've never been able to be the kind of traveller who sketches. I think that when I'm exploring a new place, I have an easier time pulling out my camera than pulling out a sketchbook and some pens. But I'm trying to change that. On this trip to Bali I packed a new sketchbook (in the hope that I would feel compelled to fill the clean white pages) and a variety of Muji's Hex Double-Ended Pens. With one end a felt-tip brush and the other a thin pen, I could vary my line without having to dig a different pen out of my bag. And with a variety of nuanced greens and bright tropical hues on offer, I was really able to capture some of my island surrounds.

Island of the gods.

Many people visit Bali just to do a little pura gazing, and understandably so; they're rewarded with some of the most spectacular Hindu temples in the world. Moreover, the beauty of many of these sacred sites are multiplied by the incredible natural environments that surround them, whether they are perched on the edge of a rice terrace, or hidden in a valley dripping with tropical plants. Perhaps the most spectacular was Ulun Danu (pictured above), which rests in a mist-enshrouded caldera lake in the island's breezy highlands.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bali Bamboo.

I loved the abundance of bamboo in Bali, where it was seen not just growing alongside rice paddies, but also as a material for architecture and design. It's such an incredible material; easily renewable and incredibly strong, but also beautiful in a very subtle way. The above shot is of a building under construction, and while the bamboo is just a temporary frame for building, I think it would be stunning if they could complete the house with the tangle of bamboo visible and intact. Who wouldn't want to live in their own personal bamboo grove?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bali Colors: heat and relief.

For my color series I usually isolate one color that defined a place for me, but the color scheme of Bali was a little too complex for that tactic. So much of the beauty of Bali was in its carefully balanced opposites; the good and evil in its religious epics, the beautiful and the grotesque in its temple architecture, the fire of a sambal and the cool bite of lime in its food. So in its colors too, it makes sense, there was a balance; between the heat of bursts of pink, orange and red, and the relief of deep green. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I have just returned from Bali, and I think I am still recovering from what an incredible destination it was. I had expected to like it, but not to love it-- and certainly, not to love it as much as I did. The idea of 'Bali' seemed like such a cliche that I was sure it would be one big tangle of resorts, or perhaps just feel like a letdown. But this island was full of surprises. Like the seemingly endless miles of brilliant green rice terraces, hemmed in by bamboo groves and coconut palms. And the grandeur of the temples, trimmed with ornate details and surrounded by lush gardens. Or how incredible mealtime was-- the fresh bite of lawar, the richness of suckling pig, the flavors of coffee, vanilla and palm sugar. Or how neatly the quiet threads of ritual seemed to run through Balinese daily life. The island not only surprised me with every day, but it also shook me out of my jaded state, and reminded me of what I love about Asia-- and made me thankful that I'm able to live here.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

to Taipei.

I would really like to write a little about my new home city, Hsinchu, but with our schedules filled with apartment hunting and settling in at new jobs, we haven't had much chance for exploration. And, to be fair, I guess the problem is compounded by the fact that we seem to slip up to Taipei whenever we have some time off. Which is, I guess, one of the best things about Hsinchu-- it's only a quick half an hour trip away from Taipei. This makes a day or an evening in the big city a very easy outing.

And so we embarked on such a trip yesterday, with only two things in mind: shopping and museum going. We stopped first at Eslite, a massive department store set in the shadow of 101. Though the Eslite bookstore itself is incredible, we spent more time slowly working through the other levels of design items. After a quick stop at a disappointingly small Muji, and some time spent caught in a tropical storm, we headed to the Taipei Fine Arts museum to see a show of Gaultier clothing.

Taipei is a really exciting city right now, but it's not just because it has become such an international center. It's partly because Taiwan is developing such a unique identity, and designers and artists are finding so many exciting ways to explore it. While it was awesome being able to see the Gaultier show and browse among Japanese design items, it was even more exciting to find a creative bag by a Taiwanese designer, and to see a local artist's video installation that reflected the island we're living on. So while we may, in a sense, have the world available just a short train trip away, right now I'm even more excited to have Taiwan there too.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Eating Taiwan Famous.

And in news related to my last entry, I have started a second blog: Taiwan Famous. It's going to be a Taiwan only blog, a journal devoted exclusively to my explorations in eating on this island. I'll be chronicling my journey here as I effort to eat and shop locally on the island, seek out interesting local dishes, and try to learn the basics of good Chinese cooking.

I will of course still be continuing writing here on PRIMITIVEculture-- I say continuing even though my entries over these last few months have been pretty sparse. But in a way, I think this blog split will give me some new energy on PRIMITIVEculture. As I prepared for our move to Taiwan, my thoughts on blogging were starting to get so muddled that I really couldn't even write an entry. I wanted to write about all the different foods here, but I didn't like the idea of PRIMITIVEculture getting bogged down with so many minute details about a single subject that, admittedly, not everyone would be interested in. So in the end, a split seemed the best idea. This blog can continue as a visual exploration of the world (including, but not limited to Taiwan), with a focus on style, food, design and photography. And the new blog's project will have a very singular focus, which I think will give it a lot of strength.

So I hope you'll join me for a meal over there, and still continue to travel with me here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

My green home.

With the completion of this weekend, I will have been in Taiwan for one month. In that time, I have written a total of 0 entries on Taiwan, and taken only a few more photos than that. For some reason I'm no longer taking these 'little' transitions in stride; after five years of continent hopping I should be an expert, but I'm getting a little more reluctant with each hop. But at the end of it all, I am happy to be here, and excited about the possibilities our move to Taiwan presents. I hope to explore a bit more of Asia (especially East Asia and the South China Sea, this time), learn more about the food of Taiwan, and develop as an artist through exploring my new home.

This last task is especially important to me, and thankfully it's the one I'm most able to act on. While I haven't been doing much photography, I have been doing a lot of sketching and painting-- and the island has been a great source of inspiration. What fascinates me most at the moment is not Taiwan's fascinating culture, but rather, its greener side. For while Taiwan may be known for its advanced technology and plastics manufacturing, it is also an unbelievably lush island-- my sketchbooks are filled with bats and toads, bamboo and banana trees.

Anyway, I think I am finally getting settled-- mostly. So hopefully I'll be back on here a little more often, showing off my strange new island home.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eating well in LA.

When the weather heats up in the summer, the kind of foods I start to crave become much simpler. Yogurt with homemade granola. Grilled meat. Fresh fruit. And LA is a great city for this. Because while it's always been a city that cared about its diet, its increasingly a city that loves its food; its a combination that means you can easily tailor your eating to be spare, fresh, and healthy, but still delicious.

Taco stands are probably the last place one would think of going for healthy eating, but a good taco can be a thing of beauty in its spareness. Grilled marinated meat, a fresh salsa of chile, onion and cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. A great meal for a smogy LA lunch.

Almost every neighborhood in LA seems to have its own Farmer's Market, one day of the week when stands set up selling overflowing baskets of fruit, vegetables and herbs. We visited a nearby market at Echo Park, where between buying peaches for a clafouti and heirloom tomatoes for a simple salad, we even ran into a few friends.

We picked up a mixed basket of berries which were u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-e. They fat and sweet, perfect in the morning with just a little tart yogurt. The evening after the Farmer's Market, we attempted to muddle some in drinks, and despite our weak mixology skills, the drinks still shone thanks to the flavor of the berries.

Of course, when you would like to be eating badly, that's easy too. Near the intersection of Echo Park and Silverlake, we found a truck fresh churros, dusted with sugar. The were still hot, the golden exterior crunching to give way to a doughy interior. They certainly made all that healthy eating worth it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Los Angeles is Beauty.

Not for everyone, sure; but definitely for me.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Take a Roadtrip.

The 4th of July is so perfectly timed-- a celebration of America right when the country is looking its best. We've got blue skies, full green forests, warm weather, and open highways just waiting to be traversed. So why not celebrate the country by getting out and admiring it on a road trip?

We celebrated my homeland just a little early, on our way out of the country late last month. Taking off from Albuquerque, NM, we headed to Los Angeles via Utah. With the detour, we treated ourselves to unbelievable landscapes, some glimpses of offbeat rural towns, and some very restful nights in the great outdoors. And along the way, I put together a few tips for letting go and enjoying the road.

1. Stop to photograph any cool signs you see. Who knows when you'll be taking this route again, so it's always worth taking a moment to stop and memorialize it. I made Bordeaux pull over in Cuba, NM to snap up this one.

2. Splurge on one good bottle of alcohol. Just make sure to enjoy it at the campsite, not while you're driving. To me, campfires and quiet desert nights just seem to set the perfect atmosphere for relaxing with a stiff drink. For a touch of Alcoholic Americana, we picked up a bottle of Knob Creek bourbon-- which, interestingly enough, tastes just like vanilla coke when splashed with a can of Blue Sky Cola.

3. Stop for a slice of pie. Support local cafes, where you'll usually get much better meals than at the chain diners or drive-thrus. We had a fantastic plate of green chile huevos rancheros at Cafe Eklectica in Moab (despite the unfortunate name).

4. Check messages. Zipping through small towns, you rarely get much of a chance to gain an in-depth look into local social life. But paying attention to small details, like general store message boards, can give you an instant glimpse into the lives of locals.

5. Have a bad meal every now and then. While there is some very good food to be enjoyed across the country, some trashy diner food can be a fun indulgence every now and then. Bad burgers and bad mexican are especially tasty.

6. For that matter, take some bad photos. The West seems to have been sculpted for photography, with it's dramatic forms, intense contrasts in light and shadow, and rich natural colors. But taking pictures too carefully in effort to conjure Ansel Adams can leave you with a very tame album. So point the camera wildly, snap away, and maybe you'll get some fun surprises.

7. Make sure to stop somewhere spectacular. We have a pretty unbelievable country, and it's a shame how many of us don't make the effort of really seeking out its best angles. Being from the Southwest, I'm pretty spoiled with unbelievable landscapes-- The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches, and the pictured above Canyonlands are all within half a days drive from my parents doorstep-- but I hadn't seen any of them until the last few years.

8. Try out some facial hair. Or a new hairstyle, or some odd new clothes. You're going to be spending your days either alone or with total strangers, so it's the perfect time to try a new look.

9. Treat yourself to a pool at least once. I'm a fan of quiet isolation of tent camping in gorgeous national parks, but a big bright swimming pool can be a different way of celebrating the US of A. We swung by Las Vegas, where in the heat of summer a hotel room at a decent spot can cost you less than 3 ten dollar bills. Just remember that the Las Vegas shock takes an hour or so by the pool to wear off.

So that's all I came up with! Anyone else have some tips? Or suggestions of where to go? Or what to toast on the camp fire?

In the meantime, Happy 4th of July and enjoy the country while I'm gone!