Solo Travels: Spokane

Nothing quite says adulthood like renting a car for the first time. It means you are free from age constraints and limitations (one can’t rent a car without huge fees until one is 25 years of age or older). It means you are traveling for one reason or another (work, school, play). It means you are as independent as you can be within your limited travel budget (I guess not all that independent–wah, wah).

I rented a car for the first time this past weekend in Spokane, Washington. I had never been to Washington before, so it was a weekend of firsts. My proclaimed primary reason for visiting Spokane was to visit Gonzaga University School of Law. (Apparently you pronounce the ‘zag’ as in zig-zag, not as in zahg as I’ve been saying it.) I say proclaimed because I had mostly decided against law school in general prior to my trip. Still, it was nice to visit and have a confirmation that that is not where I need to be. Other than the few hours I spent at Gonzaga, I spent my days exploring, hiking, taking photos, and absorbing–all the things one ought to do while traveling.

Rental Car

As a first time car renter, that detail played a big part in my trip. True, it wasn’t as exciting as one might hope looking forward to it, but it was a first and a milestone. That rental car was mine (for the next few days, at least).

I will say that the person at the rental counter quickly became an irritant. She began with a nice conversation, asking what brought me to Spokane and whatnot. And then–the switch! Over and over again she asked me to upgrade. I really wanted to throw up my hands and yell, “Hey! I have no money! I’m on a strict budget! STOP WITH THE PESTERING!” But I didn’t. Instead, I just said no time and again until she finally handed me the keys to my inexpensive compact car, perfect for one person.

When I made my way to the small Hyundai and sat inside I thought, “So this is what it’s like to fit in the driver’s seat.” You wouldn’t think 5 foot 4 inches would be that short, but in most cars I have to crane quite a bit to see blindspots. If I ever buy a car, a compact one might be in my future.

When I turned on the radio, a university jazz station filled the car. It was then I decided Spokane and I would probably be friends.

Where to Hike

With only a few days in Spokane, I only had time for two hikes. But of those two hikes, Iller Creek was the more amazing and noteworthy.


I had planned to go straight from the airport to Iller Creek. However, Google Maps led me astray so I spent about an hour being lost before I finally found the trailhead. Having landed in the morning, this wasn’t a problem and I started hiking the five-mile loop at about 11:30 a.m.

When I got out of the car and while I gathered my gear, I noticed an unusual smell. What was that smell, you ask? Pine! To my desert-accustomed senses the smell of pine was surprising and delightful. The bold fragrance perfectly matched the vibrant green of the surrounding forest.

Iller Creek trail takes you to a stunning view of farmland and forest. At the top are “Rocks of Sharon,” a collection of giant boulders, perfect for climbing and catching a view. I climbed, I sat, I looked, I enjoyed. The peace and beauty made me excited to see what else was ahead on the trail.

After the rocks, the trail heads downward. It was a pleasant descent with wildflowers in abundance and a cozy afternoon sun. I reached a slightly muddy patch during my downhill, which when stepped in triggered the flight of about twenty blue moths (butterflies?) that fluttered around my ankles. It was like being in a forest fairy tale.

With a lot of uphill behind me and a rumble beginning to intensify in my stomach, I looked forward to reaching my rental car and heading to Spokane proper for some well-earned food (the uphill on Iller Creek while not the most intense I’ve ever done, does make you earn your downhill). I reached the parking lot and… it was the wrong parking lot.

Of the two trails I did in Washington, both were criss-crossed with side trails and alternate routes. I missed my turnoff to continue on the Iller Creek loop and ended up at Stevens Creek trailhead. The trailhead map said nothing about a road to Iller Creek so I figured my safest bet for not getting lost was to retrace my steps and find where I went wrong, tacking an extra two miles onto my overall hike, including one mile of the most intense uphill of the walk–back up the steep switchbacks I had just descended.

The extra two miles were fine–I’ve done more than seven miles in a day many times in my life of hiking. However, I ran out of water and food, and was not fully convinced I was on the right trail until I finally saw the familiar trailhead, the stress of which probably added to my need of adequate supplies.

Overall, this is a great trail. But, when hiking in Washington, pay attention to all trails.

Riverfront Park

You can’t go to Spokane without visiting Riverfront Park. The Spokane River runs right through this park and features multiple stunning bridges. There are also rides, a giant Radio Flyer wagon slide, statues, a carousel. It’s a great park. I explored the park after checking into my hotel and ordering what felt like decadent room service after my tough hike with depleted resources. A trail runs alongside the Spokane River, and my hotel had easy access to it making my walk to the park a breeze.


As I made my way to the suspension bridge to look at the raging river, sirens blared and cops put “Police Do Not Cross” tape along the opening of that particular bridge. Apparently a woman had just leapt from it and they were searching for her body from that bridge and all bridges downriver from it. The way the Spokane River rages, it is tragic and disturbing to contemplate her experience. Suffice it to say, the Spokane Falls are likely an efficient way to accomplish what she sought.


Suicide notwithstanding, Riverfront Park is a great addition to the city. It’s unique, it’s fun, it has character. It unites nature, history, and modernity in a beautiful design.

Where to Eat

As a note to Benny and Joon fans, that movie was filmed in Spokane. As such, I took it upon myself to honor said film and make grilled cheese sandwiches in my hotel room with an iron. It was effective, though it is important to clean the ironing board and iron very well when you are done so future hotel guests don’t get melted cheese and crumbs on their clothing.

The two restaurants that captured my attention the most were Sante and Madeleines Cafe &  Patisserie. Both are French in theme (perhaps it’s time for me to visit France again, there seems to be a trend in my habits and interests) and both are delicious.


Sante is a charcuterie with incredible food and a stylish ambiance. The staff knows their stuff in regards to what food is being served and is very concerned with making sure you enjoy your meal. Prepare to spend a lot here, but also know that the price is worth it–you’re tastebuds will agree.

The chef at Sante orders entire animals from local farmers, curing the meat himself on the premises, while doing his best to use the whole animal. That is meat consumption I can stand behind.

I ordered an item from every course, something I had never done before and now know requires minimal eating for the day leading up to such a meal. My tummy was happy but tight by the time I finished my meal.

Sante starts your meal by giving you an amuse bouche, a gastronomic bite to whet your appetite. The amuse bouche of the day I visited was a blini (a tiny pancake) topped with tomato whipped cream, cashew crumbles, and a touch of oregano. I was instructed to eat it all in one bite, so that’s what I did. That tiny bite was a nutty extravagance in my mouth. As it was just one bite, it left me wanting more and I suppose that was its intent.

My cheese plate was next. As a lover of cheese, this was heaven. However, the cheese plate is also what did me in in terms of eating too much. The cheese plate is probably designed for two to three people, but I was on my own. I ate as much as I could but had the rest boxed up.


The cheese plate consisted of a double cream French brie, a valdeon blue, and a cana de Oveja sheeps milk cheese. The cheeses were complimented with strawberry jam, mustard, and curry chicken charcuterie with toasted baguette slices as a vessel for the luxury of cheese. It ended up being too much, but it was oh so delicious.

The brie was smooth and ripe. The blue tart and pungent. The cana nutty and buttery. The charcuterie chicken was my first venture into eating meat in years, and it was a good venture. Spicy and fragrant, it went well with the mustard and blue cheese.

My soup course featured a curry carrot and ginger soup. Creamy and smooth, it had an obvious bite of curry flavor accented with a strong taste of carrot. The layers of flavor opened with the carrot and closed with the spice lingering on your tongue as it dripped down your throat. Yum.


A palette cleanser was brought in between soup and the main course. This was a strawberry and ginger ice sorbet. Light and tangy, it was very effective at cleansing the spicy curry from my palette in preparation for the main course.


My main course was a fish course consisting of tomato risotto and arctic charr. This dish was beautiful to behold and scrumptious to ingest. The collard greens were light and fresh. The fish was flavorful and featured a subtle kick. The foamy basil beurre fondue was to die for, and the crunchy parsnips added a final and elegant touch to the dish. My only complaint was that the risotto was a bit salty for my taste. But, after three cheeses, charcuterie, and a soup, maybe my sodium intake had simply met its limit.


For dessert (yes, I even ordered a dessert), I had basil ice cream with a basil sauce over a bed of chocolate “sand.” I had reservations about ordering dessert because I was so full, I thought I might bust. But, I ordered it because I was determined to have every course and because basil ice cream. I did not regret my choice. In fact, contrary to what I would have guessed, the ice cream helped to settle my very full stomach. Maybe it was the change from savory to sweet, maybe it was the cool temperature, or maybe it was the light freshness of the basil. Whatever it was, my stomach felt more at ease after my scoop of basil ice cream. The chocolate sand was bitter and crunchy, giving the ice cream a perfect contrast of textures. The sauce added just enough extra basil flavor to give the ice cream a solid basil taste. It was decadent and wonderful.


Overall, Sante is unique, fun, and delicious. The use of local ingredients and the entire animal is applaudable, while the ambiance is the perfect blend of modern flair and French haute-cuisine.

Madeleines Cafe & Patisserie

I won’t go into as much detail for this cafe as I did for Sante. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy French pastries and a casual dining experience, this is the place for you. Madeleines offers delicious breakfast and unusual details. For example, my blueberry pancakes were topped with maple butter. The pastries are excellent and the various prepared foods (such as quiche, salads, and pastas) looked wonderful.


Where to Watch Movies

Coming from Salt Lake City, I am spoiled with the Salt Lake Film Society and the many independent films they offer. Nonetheless, Spokane’s Magic Lantern Theatre is available for viewing independent film. It is charmingly shabby and has only two screens. I saw Hello, My Name is Doris for the second time at this theatre. Wherever there is independent film, find it and imbibe.

Where to Buy Books

Apparently when I am on vacation I buy books. I found two great bookstores: Giant Nerd Books and Auntie’s Bookstore.

If Giant Nerd Books hadn’t been real, it would possibly have been cliche. The store was small with stacks of used books and the proprietor played obscure punk rock. The books smelled delightful and with a large selection, it was easy to pick out a few.

Auntie’s Bookstore features a mix of used and new books, and regularly has events such as book signings and poetry readings. It has a rich children’s section and a small second floor. Auntie’s is a bookstore that makes me giddy upon entering.

All in all, Spokane is a great city. It is small and features fabulous details that give it character and life. The neighborhoods feature historical and beautiful architecture and are lined with trees. With nature nearby it is a perfect destination for outdoorsy types and will surprise you with its hidden treasures.

The Little Big Problems in the Mormon Anti-Porn Video

I am a Mormon and am against porn. I commend the effort behind a video released by the LDS church that provides support and instruction on how to react if one accidentally views pornography.

The video–which was released in September, but which I hadn’t seen until now–is aimed at older children and young teens and encourages open communication and is free of shame for accidental viewing. The video distinguishes that a body’s natural urges and reactions are normal and are not sinful or shameful. These are great things that I fully support. It is difficult to impossible to overcome a problem such as porn addiction if at the onset the viewer is met with shame.

However, there are two instances in the video that I must nitpick because they send incredibly toxic messages. It is one o’clock in the morning and I am in recovery from surgery so really should be sleeping, but my mind keeps going back to those two moments in the video and I won’t sleep until I decry them.

First, when defining pornography, the video describes it as, “bad pictures of people with little or no clothing on.” This video stars children, so perhaps the intent was to avoid making them uncomfortable by including a more well-rounded and accurate description, but this definition is horrendous.

What does “bad” even mean? It’s too ambiguous to be helpful. And “people with little or no clothing” is a perfect definition of pornography if your intent is instill a Puritan-esque abhorrence of all nudity and to teach that the human body is sinful and shameful. But… I suspect that is not the message we want to send to our children, right?

Nudity isn’t inherently sexual.

There are cultures in the world where little to no clothing is worn. Images of these people are not pornography.

Underwear is a fact of every day life for most people. Advertisements for such items are not necessarily pornography.

Women breast feed. Not pornography.

Beautiful art and photography often include nudity. Not pornography.

I don’t deny that normalized porn exists in the world. The ladies at Beauty Redefined have done wonderful research on normalized porn as it exists in our culture. But to equate all nudity to pornography sets the stage for sexualization to occur where there is none, and paves the way for objectification of the body.

The definition also fails to include video, which is an important inclusion if you are attempting to prepare kids for what to do if they accidentally encounter porn.

The second moment that bothers me (and this one makes me grit my teeth quiver with buried rage) is when the video starts to list three steps of what to do if you see pornography. The first step is to Call It What It Is, telling you to say, “That’s pornography, that’s immodest.”

Ahem… Immodesty is NOT pornography! I am tempted to copy and paste my previous sentence a hundred times just to drive the point home. Modesty standards and pornography have no business being in the same conversation. Modesty and pornography have about as much business being together as organic chemistry and literary theory: they belong to completely different worlds. They are not the same, they are two separate conversations, and equating them is unbelievably toxic.

Modesty is relative. As a lifelong Mormon I know there are plenty of people in the church who think we have a monopoly on what constitutes modesty, but we really don’t. What is considered modest varies from culture to culture and holding other people to your own standards of modesty only creates judgement and shame.

Modesty is not a matter of inches and styles. True modesty is in your attitude and your behavior. One can be covered from head to toe and not be modest, while another can be scantily clad and as humble as can be.

What happens when we equate modesty to pornography is, for example, a guy sees a girl dressed how he considers to be immodest. He finds her attractive, perhaps he feels aroused. He feels ashamed, like he did something wrong (though he shouldn’t, these things are normal and natural). He remembers learning that immodesty is akin to pornography and blames her for how he feels and turns her into a sexualized object.

Girls and women–no matter how they are dressed–are not pornography. 

You may not be able to control who you are attracted to, but objectifying someone is a choice you make. When you equate modesty to pornography, you choose to place blame and shame on someone else for what you think and do.

This is a big deal. It is one of the most damaging and toxic messages taught in Young Women and seminary classes all over. I for one had a major struggle overcoming body shame because I was convinced that my curvy body was a “problem” for guys and it was my fault. And that’s just bollocks. No one should have to feel they are responsible or to blame for someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or acts. That is the kind of thinking that leads to rape culture and victim-blaming.

In short, pornography is pictures or video of a sexual nature designed to stimulate sexual arousal. Expanding the definition to include nudity in general and immodesty is dangerous, inaccurate, and can cause long-term harm.

Here is the video:

Musings on Gun Violence in America

second-amendment-rifleI feel like a mere drop of water in a sea of voices now discussing guns in the United States. But, I still feel the need to contribute my thoughts on the matter.

The gun culture in the United States is unique. To us, guns are a romantic vestige of the Wild Wild West and a fierce reminder that there will always be a need to defend ourselves. In a culture born of revolution, guns have remained a hard-wired need in our collective consciousness.

At the time the Second Amendment was penned, Americans were fresh from brutal treatment at the hands of the British Army. It made sense to include a method for protection against similar violence in our new Constitution. However, whenever people declare, “But the Second Amendment!” in defending gun ownership rights, I wonder what “well regulated Militia,” that person is a part of. That is a line I don’t think people think about, and I honestly think many of the people touting the Second Amendment probably haven’t even read it. In case you are wondering, the Second Amendment reads thusly:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

In the span of a week, three campus shootings occurred, two on the same day. During the summer, I spent about a month in Alaska two weeks at a time. During my first two weeks there, two shootings occurred, with another happening just before I arrived. And I can think of a handful of recent shootings besides. So many mass shootings happen in this country whenever I read about another one I feel no shock, no surprise, just mere numbness. Mass shootings are so common, they are no longer news.

Let’s get a little more personal. About two years ago, I was training for a half marathon and did one of my long runs up a seven-mile trail near my home. It was a Sunday and pouring rain, which meant the trail was mostly empty. However, on my way down I encountered a hunter. He was also heading down so didn’t see me coming. When he heard me behind him, he whipped around and stuck his rifle in my face. Needless to say, I was terrified. The hunter quickly put down his gun, apologized, and explained that he had thought I was a deer.

First of all, a hunter shouldn’t be sticking his gun up on a trail even if it is a deer coming along instead of a human. Actual trails are generally too populated to safely take down a deer. Second of all, if this guy is so trigger-happy his instinct is to stick a gun in a human’s face, he shouldn’t have a gun.

I didn’t stick around after he put his gun down. I took off and learned what it feels like to run from something instead of just run for exercise.

I reported this incident to the local police department. They said because it was on the mountain instead of in town it wasn’t their jurisdiction and did nothing to help.

Here in America, we’re not going to give up our guns lightly. That is plain cultural fact. But, when we choose what could arguably be called a certain level of lawlessness about our guns, we ignore a huge problem. We ignore the lives that have been lost because our collective pride matters more than human life. And that is an atrocious sin against humankind.

All this is not to say I think all guns should be banned. Despite my horrid encounter with a hunter, I do think subsistence living is a good thing. Hunting responsibly and sustainably can be an enormously positive lifestyle. I also have a hard time imagining a farm or a ranch being without guns. Regardless, things regarding guns in our country must change.

imagesPeople can’t have the ability wantonly stock their gun safes. The function of a gun is to rip a hole through a body. That function shouldn’t be taken lightly, and as such people who want to own guns should have to prove they have the training and health to safeguard and handle their weapons responsibly.

And you know, we need to stop calling every person who commits a mass shooting crazy. Mental illness is complicated and comes with a massive stigma that isn’t helped by calling every criminal crazy.

Sometimes mental illness is a factor in committing a crime, sometimes it isn’t. The reality is, a mentally ill person is more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator. Calling every shooter crazy doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It denies the many facets of our culture that contribute to violence, a major one being that we simply have a high tolerance for violence, another being that we glorify warfare in our history and our entertainment. It also does a huge disservice to people who suffer from any kind of mental illness. And let’s not forget that most people in their lifetime will have to deal with some kind of mental illness at some point, whether it is minor or major. So in light of that ask yourself: do most people go on shooting rampages?

Now, a lot of people argue that we shouldn’t change the gun laws because criminals will always find a way to hurt people if they want to. Humans unfortunately excel when it comes to devising ways to hurt each other, so it is probably true criminals will always find a way. However, many of the people shooting up schools and churches aren’t hardened criminals with connections to the black market. These are people who had easy access to a weapon capable of large impact with fairly minimal effort. These are people who obtained their weapons legally and didn’t have criminal backgrounds. For many of these people, there was no reason prior to their crime to suspect they would commit such atrocities. So. Tell me again how “criminals will always find a way” is relevant.

Criminals will find a way, if they are clever or determined enough. But does that mean we stop trying? Does that mean we make it as easy as possible for them, just because we have this romantic and fantastical misunderstanding of what the Second Amendment actually says? Without hesitation, no. I’m going to throw in a Hell no, in fact. If we stop trying, we are part of the problem. If we stop trying, we might as well be pulling the trigger ourselves.

On International Service Trips: America’s Feel-Good Hobby

I don’t doubt other countries participate as well, but as an American I’m going to write about America’s love of voluntourism, the participation in international service trips.

First, let me assure you there is nothing wrong with wanting to help people. Obviously. But we as Americans seem to have a paternalistic view of helping people in different countries, thinking we know best and that if other countries would just do as we do there wouldn’t be a problem.

It’s not a mystery as to why people like these trips. If you participate in these trips you get to travel, you get to feel good about yourself, and you get to help other people. It’s a win-win-win situation.

But here’s the problem: We tend to go on these trips with the attitude that if only these people we are trying to help would be more like Americans they would have better lives. We try to help them in such a way that in the long run does’t help at all, but instead forgets the traditions and beliefs and abilities of the culture we are trying to help. We go, we “help,” we leave and show people our photos of the “unfortunates” we helped.

Here’s the part where I admit I’ve been on one of these trips. In many ways, it was wonderful. I travelled to a place called Santa Rosa, Peru. It is a village right on the Amazon River smack dab in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. It is only accessible by river boat and is about two hours away from the nearest city, which in turn is only accessible by boat or airplane. It’s a fantastic place.

My two weeks in the Peruvian jungle showed me how resilient humans can be. It showed me how wonderful the Peruvian Amazon culture is. It showed me that often the simplest food is the most delicious (Beans, rice, and fried yucca anyone? Best. Food. Ever.). It also showed me how blind well-intentioned Americans can be.

I travelled with an organization called Youthlinc. While I have come to see problems with my specific trip, I think Youthlinc does have great philosophies. In order to go on an international service trip with Youthlinc, participants must do a certain number of local community service hours. These hours of service help to offset the cost of the trip through an agreement with the local Rotary Club. What is exceptional is, even if you can afford to pay for the entire trip without help from the Rotary Club, you are not allowed to go without providing the local service hours. Youthlinc’s goal is to create lifelong humanitarians, not simply to provide opportunities for Facebook photos that make you look like you are a deep and caring and adventurous person. In terms of genuine intent and a desire to help the entire world, Youthlinc is the real deal.

I went on a trip in 2008 so I don’t know how much Youthlinc has changed over the years. But as of 2008, there were problems. First, we took a bunch of toothbrushes and t-shirts and other things to donate. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a problem. But if you think about it you realize there isn’t garbage removal in the middle of the jungle. Worn out toothbrushes can’t simply be thrown into the recycling bin and forgotten–there simply isn’t a place for them to go. Additionally, even if a group of Americans donates a bunch of toothpaste to go with these donated toothbrushes, toothpaste runs out. Then what? The locals can no longer brush their teeth, which the visiting Americans assured them is essential for their health, and where does that get anyone?

Second, we told the locals that the Amazon River, which is their lifeline, is not clean so they shouldn’t use it. Prior to my arrival, filtered water towers had been installed in the village by the Rotary Club. I hope I don’t need to point out that telling a culture they should no long use the thing they rely on for almost everything is a bad idea.

Third, we built sidewalks through the village. The main problem with this is, the locals can’t maintain them without donations of money and/or supplies from outside sources thus the sidewalks are likely to fall into disrepair and become safety hazards.

The overall problem with the things we did on my service trip was we provided what we considered great services and improvements without consideration of resources Santa Rosa already had for maintenance and development. Neither did we consider self-reliance or the overall culture. Our services were short-term solutions instead of long-term self-reliance.

If a village in the jungle needs help with oral health, it is much better to work with that village to determine what resources they already have to take care of their teeth instead of bringing a bunch of toothbrushes, leaving them, and saying hasta luego.

There are a couple of experiences that led me down this path of rethinking how Americans do international service. First, while on my trip with Youthlinc, there was a participant from Colorado who joined us as part of research for her schooling. As best as my recollection serves, she was studying water and usage or some such thing. She mentioned one day that if you take a bucket of Amazon River water and store it covered, it will have the same amount of microbes as would a bucket of water from the water towers stored uncovered. This got me thinking about the usefulness of the donated water towers and how strange it was to tell a bunch of Amazonians their primary water source is bad. (Interestingly, I recently ran into this girl and she didn’t remember telling me any of this, despite how much of an impact it had on me. Isn’t that often how it goes?)

Then, I studied Anthropology in college. I learned about ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. I heard anecdotes and studies about how well-meaning groups would enter a culture and improve overall health (seems like a great idea, obviously), but would leave, not taking into consideration that improved health means a bigger population, which can mean having less food availability so instead of people dying from disease they are dying from starvation.

I learned about roads in Haiti that had been paved by service organizations, but left to fall into disrepair because the local infrastructure couldn’t maintain them. This meant that the paved roads became so hazardous cars had to travel on the side of the road instead.

In short, I learned that the American Way isn’t the Only Way and that being well-meaning in your service isn’t good enough, and can in fact do more harm than good.

I don’t think the solution to all this is to stop doing service. People worldwide need help, and helping your fellow man is good. I do think the solutions are fairly simple.

First, work locally. Youthlinc is unique in its approach because of the local service requirement. Plenty of organizations will take you on an international service trip without consideration for local service. But ask yourself, “Why am I so amped to go on an international service trip if I don’t even think about what is needed locally?” If you don’t serve in your own backyard, traveling abroad to do so is plain illogical, and I would hazard to submit doesn’t come from a place of true love and service. Pardon my bluntness, but if you want to do international service but don’t care about local opportunities, what the Hell are you doing? It’s a common bumper sticker and full of truth: Think Globally, Act Locally. If you can’t act locally, revisit your intentions.

Second, service organizations need to work with the cultures they are visiting to figure out what can be done to both provide service where needed, but also to ensure self-reliance. It isn’t helpful at all to donate a bunch of American t-shirts if the culture you visit doesn’t have a way to clothe themselves on their own (and while I’m on the subject, let’s make sure we understand that dressing in Western clothing is not the only or best option; there are innumerable facets to every culture and clothing is just one of them). It does no good to pave a road if the local infrastructure can’t maintain it. It does no good to assume you know more about the local river than the locals themselves.

Third, we need to do better at learning about and understanding the culture we visit. If the only thing you know about a place where you are about to provide service is where it is on a map, you don’t know enough to fully understand how to help. Having a well-rounded understanding of the culture’s beliefs, values, traditions, daily activities, etc. will only help volunteers understand how temporary service can become long-term help.

I’m not claiming to know everything–I really know nothing. But, going with the example of the supposed contaminated river, in the future instead of saying, “This river i contaminated. Don’t use it anymore,” I would approach it thusly, “What do you use this water for? Do you see a need for something else? Am I being an overbearing ethnocentric jerk? Teach me things, and show me how I can help.”

I recall on my last day in Santa Rosa, the Youthlinc team leaders met with the local leaders to discuss what could be done for the next year’s trip. I wasn’t in on that meeting so I don’t know all that was said or how detailed of a discussion it was or how culturally relative it was. Regardless, it says to me that with Youthilinc at least there is some level of working directly with Santa Rosa to see what is needed. However, based on what I saw and did, there was still a certain level of paternalism and ethnocentrism. Perhaps by now it has changed. (I currently have a desire to interview Youthlinc just to find out. We shall see.) But even if Youthlinc has improved, America’s overall attitude towards international service is paternalistic, ethnocentric, and often rooted in appearances and a temporary warm, fuzzy feeling instead of doing actual, long-lasting good.

To recap, wanting to provide international service is not inherently bad. Humans helping humans is good. But the way it is gone about can often have bad effects. Working locally and letting go of your own cultural biases is a great way to make international service a genuinely positive experience.

*Note: If anyone from Youthlinc is reading this, please know I love you all as well as my experience in Peru, and don’t at all think of Youthlinc in a negative light. I merely have anecdotal criticism of things in which I participated. Hopefully we can all improve. Also, if you think anything I’ve said is inaccurate let me know. I would love to do that interview I mentioned in this post.

Back From the Dead Zone

And by dead zone I mean my blatant absence from blogging.

It all started with preparations for departure on a trip to France and Italy. Too excited and busy to write, I let it slide. And while there I only wrote in notebooks. Since returning, it’s been a transitionary phase. Transitioning from travel, transitioning to a new job (really kind of an old job to which I returned. Nonetheless, transition I must!).

It has been three weeks since my return. Three good weeks, yet I feel homesick for Italy. And Paris. Can you feel homesick for places you don’t live? Regardless, I think upon the entire country of Italy and the few spots in France I’ve visited and feel sick not knowing when I will return. Some places just reach inside your heart and camp there. They put permanent stakes in and become a part of you as sure as your arms and legs and head are a part of you.

Italy and Paris are embedded in my heartstrings forevermore.

Upon my departure from Europe, I teared up a bit. I cried at Charles de Gaulle and cried again when I landed at Salt Lake International. I’m not talking heaving sobs, here. Merely stinging eyes and a few solitary drops. It felt like I was leaving home, taking off from Paris that morning. Don’t ask for a logical reason for why this happened. I don’t have a logical explanation. It is what it is.

I want to talk about Paris for a bit.

I know multiple people who don’t like Paris. Or France. Or the French. I don’t understand it. I’ve never encountered a rude French person. Granted, I don’t speak fluent French so the few times random locals spoke to me for all I know it could have been insults. But even if that is the case, there are rude people everywhere. Most French people I have met are wonderful. Doesn’t it take a wonderful person to give a visitor a free macaron? Doesn’t it? (Side story: I bought two macarons at a patisserie in le Marais. The guy working there threw in an extra one. It was nice. And yummy.)

Perhaps people don’t love Paris because so many visitors mainly hit the high spots? The main tourist attractions? If you only visit those parts of Paris you probably won’t love Paris. Too many people, too many gimmicks, too many vendors hawking their goods, sometimes including an umbrella for fifteen euro at the sudden change in weather.

The historical and cultural attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Le Louvre and Le Champs Elysees are worth the visit. They have power and meaning. But they are not the “real Paris.”

One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to get lost. Just wander around looking at shops and bakeries. Finding the street musicians and listening. The details of Paris. That’s Paris.

This is going to sound completely full of snobbery, but I think if you come away from France and Paris thinking the French are rude and Paris is terrible, you probably had your eyes closed the entire time. That’s not to say everyone has to think of Paris as their most cherished place in the world. But to completely hate it and dislike the French… I just don’t see how that’s possible if you are truly absorbing the place and interacting with the people.

One thing about traveling in Europe is I often feel embarrassed. Embarrassed that I don’t speak the languages better. I always attempt to speak the local language and speak it as much as I can, but without fluency I am limited. However, most Italians and Parisians seem to speak a little bit of English. “A little bit of English” really means way more English than my Italian or French. It’s somewhat amusing. I’m trying to be considerate, in addition to practicing my language skills. They in turn are also trying to be considerate by speaking what English they know. Well, that and simply trying to get through to the ignorant tourist.

I always appreciate when locals let me run the course of my local language skills before they chime in with English. It lets me practice what I do know, which only helps me to learn more.

So what did I learn this trip?

Always eat the brie when it is nice and warm. Warm to the point of oozing. That is some delicious cheese.

If you are in Italy at a restaurant and they bring you a bread basket and some oil and vinegar, DON’T dribble the oil and vinegar on the bread. That’s not the intention. Use the bread to clean the sauces from your plate. Use the vinegar and oil to add any seasoning to your dishes.

The machines at the airport aren’t the only place to buy an RER ticket. Seems so obvious now…

In Paris at least, you can order a pitcher of water for free instead of buying mineral water.

The metro is great, but often it is just nicer to walk.

Piazzas can be at their most pleasant at night.

Don’t hesitate to go into the vintage stores. Do it NOW, when you see it. Planning to return often doesn’t pan out because there’s so much to do.

Don’t bother packing any scarves. You’ll just buy more.

The best olive oil comes from a little stand by the side of the road near a tiny localita, where only Italian is spoken.

Life Lessons From Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks is a TV show that only lasted one season on air, but will last forever in our hearts. Few things beat coming-of-age comedy, especially if it’s a TV show starring now famous actors when they were just starting out. What follows are some of the life lessons I’ve learned from Freaks and Geeks.

1. Just dance

I’ve heard many people say, “I hate dancing because I don’t know how.” But when it comes to dancing, you just have to go for it. Move! Give it a go! You don’t learn dancing by sitting still.


2. Everyone cuts the cheese

Oh, the horror!!!! You’re hanging out with a friend or maybe even a significant other and… AAAAHHHH! Your stomach starts a gurgling and you know it’s coming and… there it goes. The cheese. A toot. A fart. Whatever you want to call it. Oh, the humanity! But, hey. It’s a normal bodily function. Deal with it.


3. Sometimes what is winning and hilarious in TV and movies can be kind of weird in real life

Lindsay is noticeably uncomfortable in this scene, despite that in many ways it is a classic, romantic grand gesture often lauded as the best way to get the girl in romantic comedies. It’s one of the most hilarious scenes I have ever seen in TV. But Lindsay’s reaction is a life lesson in itself.


4. Smashing pumpkins in broad daylight can be tough


5. Be nice–you never know when that robot is actually your little brother


6. Don’t be afraid to speak up

I couldn’t find a video clip or image to illustrate this one, but there is an episode in which Vice President Bush visits the school and Lindsay is selected to be a student representative and pose a question to him. When she submits her question for approval, it is deemed too controversial so she is told to stick to a simpler question. When the moment comes to ask her question, instead of sticking to the watered-down, simple and pointless question, she asks, “Why did your staff reject my question? Are you afraid of an open discourse with students?”


7. Dodgeball is vicious 

An additional note on this scene: Do you know what it really means when you insult a guy by telling him to not be or act like a girl? It means being a girl is the worst possible thing you could be. It encourages sexism and degrades women and girls. Just a feminist plug for you, there.

8. All bodies are beautiful


9. Awkward love + Cat Stevens = a great montage

Uggh! Why can’t they just get it together????


*And just a bonus scene/song: 

Author: Tamsen Maloy |


Favorite Foods Ranked (But Not Really Ranked)

It might be the lack of good food near my place of employment making me sad, or maybe just the summer months because summer is the best in terms of food, but I feel a need to rank my favorite foods. But since it is nearly impossible to actually rank them, they are randomized. Because how’s a girl supposed to choose between falafel and brie as favorites? HOW???

1. Olive Oil


I don’t know what it is about olive oil. It’s tangy, it’s sort of sweet sometimes, it’s a lovely color, it adds delight to anything you put it on. I love dipping bread into olive oil, but will often say the bread is more of a vessel for the oil because it’s really the oil I’m after. If it wouldn’t be a gigantic waste of food, I would swim in olive oil.

But not all olive oil is created equal. The only olive oil worth eating or using for sunburns, dry skin, or any other topical use is extra virgin olive oil. This means it is 100% pure olive oil with less than 1% acidity. It also means it tastes the best and is overall superior to just plain olive oil or refined olive oil.

I become oddly excited about bottles of olive oil. When I did a study abroad in Siena, Italy it was the biggest kick to buy a bottle that was made from olives grown just a few miles away (oh, and it was delicious). At home, the best olive oil comes from Tony Caputo’s. They have the best selection of oils and their samples cause me to swoon.

2. Brie


Brie with a sourdough baguette and some fruit is a favorite. I love the colors and the tastes. I used to work at a cookie bakery where my manager and I ate baguettes, fruit, and brie fairly regularly. Last Valentine’s Day she sent me a virtual valentine via Facebook that said, “Brie mine.” Best valentine ever.

The sad part about my love of brie is, apparently brie sold in the United States–even if it’s imported from France–is not the same as the brie sold in France because here we have absurd raw milk laws. Brie is supposed to be made from raw milk, but that is illegal in the States so it has to be made with pasteurized and homogenized milk. I’m certain it’s not as good, but I still take great delight in it.

Am I a brie fraud because I can’t eat the real thing?

3. Falafel


Falafel has been having a major moment since I went to New York City in April 2013 and tasted it for the first time. It wasn’t even great falafel but it was good enough to begin within me an obsession for the food.

It’s just everything delicious rolled into one substance! I don’t even really know what to say about it. It’s the perfect food, especially for vegetarians. Protein! Delicious protein! And in a pita pocket! With tzatziki sauce! It’s enough to make one dance with hungry delight. Honestly, I wish I had a magic falafel-producing contraption to carry around so I could have falafel whenever I want it.

4. Chocolate (duh)


Who doesn’t love chocolate? I know some people don’t, and that just weirds me out. It’s like not liking The Beatles.

I love chocolate, but not all chocolate. There exists in this world chocolate that is not worth eating because it is disgusting or is sourced despicably (read: sources cacao from places using child slavery). Hershey’s falls into both those categories.

Personally, I love Ritter Sport Alpine Milk. German-made with cacao beans sourced from Nicaragua. While I like to maintain healthy skepticism when it comes to well-to-do companies, Ritter Sport says they pay farmers a fair wage and source from co-ops, so that’s nice.

Additionally, there are brownies. And local to Utah, The Chocolate Conspiracy where you can buy a raw chocolate bar for a whopping $8.00.

What is it about chocolate? I wrote a paper about cacao for a Classic Maya course in college and I still don’t quite understand why chocolate is the ultimate food.

5. Kale


I’ve been munching on kale for years now and only recently learned it is apparently a trendy food. Who knew? Food trends are possibly the oddest trends in existence. Eat what you like and maintain a variety of different foods. Grow food, eat locally when you can, recognize that the ultimate superfood is simply a variety of real food. But moving on…

Kale is just an all around great green crop to have, and super easy to grow. One could easily grow it in a pot if one lacks a backyard and garden.

Kale is best when sauteed with garlic and dried peppers and olive oil. If done correctly, it will remain fresh and green, but might accrue some crunch from being cooked. I always like a crunch. When cooked this way, kale can be its own side dish, added to pasta (my favorite), added to eggs, added to whatever screams, “I need some kale to be complete!”

6. Squash


I don’t even know how many varieties of squash there are. Some grow in the summer, some grow in the fall. I’ve never tasted one I didn’t like.

Zucchini and yellow squash are staples for summer. Pasta, hummus wraps, omelettes, raw dishes. They’re such warm and comforting foods.

In the fall, squash helps me to relish the cooling weather instead of look toward winter with foreboding, as I am wont to do. Pumpkin curry soup. Pumpkin pie. Butternut squash pasta. (I have a thing for pasta, too.)

Pumpkin is a vague descriptor for a squash. People tend to think of pumpkin as the bright orange, possibly roundish pumpkins used for carving. But the number of pumpkin varieties is staggering. Every fall the farmers’ market bursts with different pumpkins. Cinderella pumpkins, fairytale pumpkins, Galeux d’Eysines (often known as brain pumpkin in my house), pumpkins with names I can’t pronounce. They’re all delicious and all beautiful. At my house we buy far too many and freeze what we don’t eat quickly enough. Frozen pumpkin and butternut squash make frozen months bearable.

7. Garlic


People who stop eating garlic because they are in a romantic relationship might be a bit on the sad side. I would NEVER stop eating garlic for a relationship. Garlic is a necessity in life and makes everything better.

Garlic is supposedly one of those foods that smells bad, thus the tendency for some people to stop eating it if they’re coupled up. But I really like the smell. When I’ve been cooking with garlic and my hands smell of it for the next several hours, I’m okay with it. I love the smell. I love the taste. I love how garlic completes a dish. Without garlic, so many dishes fall flat in the taste department.

And there is something terribly pleasing about peeling off the papery layer and smashing the clove with a knife. It is a true happy place for me.

8. Baked Goods

Some of these apricots from my backyard went into pies

Some of these apricots from my backyard went into pies

My love of baked goods mostly pertains to my own homemade baked goods. While there are a few local bakeries I do love, nothing beats my own baking, and I think that’s good. One should love one’s own creations the most!!!

I love cookies and pie and pain au chocolat best of all. Interestingly, I used to think I hated pie before I started baking pie myself. As it turns out, I’m a superior pie-maker and must have intuited that other pies just weren’t up to snuff! How do I know my pies are superior? When people eat them they can’t say anything except groan in delight.

Pie is best when it is made from ingredients you grew yourself or purchased from a farmers market or co-op. Pumpkin pie from a can is not pumpkin pie in my book. Using fresh ingredients will always, always, always beat frozen or canned ingredients. And unless the crust is handmade, don’t even bother. I may or may not be a baking snob, and I’m okay with that.

I got my start baking by making cookies as a child. I was following a recipe and completely messed up, but the botched version turned out much better than the original. Now, I invent cookies and improve upon recipes that already exist.

And there you have it: the best foods. Are you hungry now?

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

America the Beautiful

Ray-CharlesGearing up for Independence Day (more often called the Fourth of July) I always listen to Ray Charles–especially his version of “America the Beautiful.”

Once you hear his version of that song, every other rendition feels empty. I think his version of that song is a far superior personification of this country than our current national anthem. But that’s just me.

As I listened to Ray Charles sing that song again, a few lines stuck out to me:

“America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness

And every gain Divine!”

It is common that I receive a lot of angry feedback to any criticisms I make about my country. It is no secret that I don’t exactly fit in with American culture and would love to live abroad. But I am continually frustrated by the attitude that by criticising America’s faults I am somehow detracting from its “greatness.”

Those lines from “America the Beautiful” stuck out to me today because I want them to become true. I don’t want America to happily skip down the path of arrogant self-righteousness it has been travelling. I want all our successes to be noble. I want to see the end of what I consider to be a mockery of our claimed values. I want the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to be true. I want America to stop acting like Regina George.


We proclaim liberty, equality, and freedom. Yet we have a distressing legacy of inequality, hatred, paternalism, and imperialism. When people try to come to our country for a better life, we kick them out, separate them from their families, spit on them–and that has been true with each wave of immigration.

All cultures experience some level of ethnocentrism, meaning each culture believes it is the best culture–it’s an “Us v. Them” attitude. The United States is no exception, except we take it to the next level. An Italian might say Italy is the best, but  the sentiment won’t be filled with resentment toward everyone else. Italians might think Italian-made pasta and leather and football is the best (come on, they’re probably right) but they won’t behave like it’s their way or the highway. Instead of attempting to enforce their culture, they’ll share it.


We constantly judge other cultures by our own standards and conclude that non-Americans must suffer so, or are pitiful because they don’t live here. We are not better than everyone else. Country lines do not decide value and happiness and worth. All cultures are different, all cultures matter.

I don’t like to say there is a “best” country in the world. That is impossible to measure, especially since so much depends on personal opinion and values. However, of the measurable markers, the U.S. does not measure up. We are one of three countries that doesn’t require maternity or paternity leave. A recent report says at the current rate it will take until 2121 to reach parity in the federal government. On the Global Peace Index our rank is 101 out of 162 (a drop from 99 several weeks ago). Our government is basically owned by big business. We claim to welcome the tired, poor, and huddled masses, but we absolutely reject anyone who dares come.

We are categorically not the best, but not only do we insist we are the best, we stomp on anyone who disagrees–even if that someone is not American.


My purpose in writing this isn’t to spew America-hate. My purpose is to propose an alternate way of thinking. Namely, instead of insisting America is perfect the way it is, we work to make all our successes noble. Instead of yelling, “We’re the best! We’re the best!” while running an interior monologue detailing why America is better than everyone else, we embrace our culture while loving everyone else’s. It is possible to love your own culture without hating on others.

And the idea that ignoring a country’s problems is the ideal form of patriotism is just plain bizarre. As the song says, we need to refine our gold. Or in other words, we need to refine ourselves. We need to refine our attitudes, our politics, our intercultural relations. The world doesn’t revolve around us and it’s time we stop acting like it does.

So this Independence Day, celebrate the great things in our history. Celebrate that a small band of revolutionaries beat the British army and navy against all odds. Celebrate that we value freedom and independence and individuality and bravery. Celebrate the men and women who have worked and fought to preserve those values. Please, celebrate these things! But don’t forget that America is far from perfect. Don’t forget that other cultures and countries matter and don’t define themselves against an American backdrop. Don’t forget that there are people within our country-lines who suffer and don’t experience the freedom we claim to value so highly.


America has a long way to go. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get there.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |


Flour Fermentation: A Love Story

I find that one of my new favorite smells is a sourdough starter. And that sentiment seems to apply to my starter regardless of the stage in the feeding cycle. When it has been recently fed, it smells sort of sweet and bready. When it’s close to feeding time, it starts to smell, well, sour. I like it all.

Sometimes I smell it and my nose goes a little crazy. But I love it! Maybe it’s just the fact that maintaining a sourdough starter is like a perpetual science experiment. Maybe I just love the potential of bread! Maybe I just have a weird nose.

Today, for the first time I brought my starter to work with me. I usually just leave it on the counter after I feed it in the morning and go about my day, but this has bothered me because it means I can’t see what it is doing. So today my lovely starter is tagging along, and I am watching it rise and develop different smells throughout the day.

Isn’t there a quote somewhere that says something about love meaning you can appreciate each other’s smells? If not, there should be. Because I love my starter and all its weird smells!

Below is an expertly shot cell phone photograph of my starter at work. It’s beautiful.



On Reading and Communicating



Reading an article or book or blog post and being able to understand what you read is a pretty basic skill. You read with your eyes, your brain interprets the meaning, and in an instant you understand. It’s truly amazing.

However, more and more I realize that there is a lot to be desired from the ability of the general populace to understand what is actually being said, as opposed to what isn’t. This inability to understand surfaces in general conversation, as well as when reading.

Here’s an example of what I mean: I love Italy. I love to travel in general. I have a deep desire to live abroad  for at least a few years, if not permanently. Often, when I speak about my love of Italy or my desire to see places outside the United States, the person with whom I am conversing will say, “Why do you hate America?”

Mmm... falafel.

Mmm… falafel.

It always shocks me to hear someone interpret my declaration of love for one thing as a declaration of hate of another. It’s similar to if I said, “Man, I just love pizza! I could eat pizza every day!” just to have someone respond with, “Why do you hate falafel?” (By the way, why anyone could hate falafel is beyond me. In reality, falafel is probably the food I could eat every day.)

At any rate, the logic just doesn’t follow  yet I see this fairly frequently, especially with what people read. There seems to be an epidemic of readers who attempt to “read between the lines” when they should really just be reading the lines. There is a time and place for interpretation… like in an interpretive literature class or maybe when deciphering the muddled comments of politicians. And there is a lot to be said for symbolism and poetic devices that leave room for interpretation. But when you read an informative article or blog post, or are part of a simple conversation, reading in between the lines might be a bad idea because there might not be anything in between the lines to read. If you are intent on “reading in between the lines” no matter what you might open yourself to the possibility of “defensive reading,” where you read in order to be defensive instead of to enjoy or learn or assess.

Maybe sometimes there is something in between the lines. But if you focus your all your conversational and reader energy on that, you’re going to miss what’s right in front of you. I’m sure I’m not alone as a writer who has faced the reaction to something I’ve written and thought, “You’ve completely missed the point.” But if you are concerned about what is in between the lines, ask questions. Authors love questions!

wonder_woman_portrait_post_cards-rfa4c505046da444cba3d32b7e824584b_vgbaq_8byvr_512I see this habit surface especially frequently in conversations dealing with hot topics, such as feminism. One day a few months ago, I expressed on Facebook my frustration at not being able to find pictures of female superheroes for Halloween costume inspiration that were not pornographic or objectifying. Almost immediately multiple people began to comment about how it’s unfair that I expect male superheroes (and by extension human males) to be outrageously muscular and tall. I was flabbergasted.

First, my Facebook status was about female superheroes. While that particular thought might have excluded male superheroes, it does not mean my entire life excludes male superheroes. So why the outrage that I am supposedly ignoring male superheroes, instead of dealing with the presented topic? Can we just focus on the lady superheroes for once? (Wonder Woman, I’m waiting for your movie.)

Second, expressing frustration about one topic does not mean I am ignoring another. As a female feminist, I will likely spend a lot of my time thinking, reading, and writing about women’s issues. However, that does not make me blind to the issues men face. Neither does it mean I ascribe to a belief that all men need to look like a Superman/Incredible Hulk hybrid in order to be attractive.

In short, not everything is black and white. If a girl says she doesn’t like Victoria’s Secret because the advertisements objectify women, that does not mean she thinks all women should wear burqas (actual response that has multiple levels of inappropriateness–assuming all women who wear burqas are powerless or subservient is insulting to Muslim women, in addition to there being many options in between female objectification and religious attire). If a woman is a feminist, it does not mean she hates men. If a person loves French baked goods, it doesn’t mean she hates ice cream. See what I mean?

So how do we solve this problem? It’s good to ask questions when reading anything. But don’t let your questions morph into a non sequiturs that parade as the point of what you just read or heard. These kinds of reactions detract completely from the point of the discussion.

Another good habit is, don’t assume the worst. When these situations arise, it is often the result of the reader/listener assuming the worst about the situation, comment, article, person, etc. Someone who doesn’t assume the worst will see a frustration about the lack of female superheroes depicted as actual people instead of sex objects and might rally behind the dilemma, instead of assuming that because I see this one problem, I must have a secret desire to insult all men. See?

Once upon a time, I heard this quote by Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (haven’t read the book), “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I have been guilty of this, so I’m not pointing fingers. But how true it is! Especially as one with a quiet voice, it’s a miracle if I finish half a sentence before people busy themselves with replying instead of understanding.

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly, that adorable, thick-framed glasses-wearing rock ‘n’ roller who stole my heart sings a song called, “Listen to Me.” One refrain pleads, “Listen to me, hear what I say. Our hearts will be nearer each day. Hold me darling, listen closely to me.” Mmm-mmm. I can hear him singing it now. The line I want to zero in on is, “Our hearts will be nearer each day.” When we listen, when we read carefully and intentionally, our hearts really do grow nearer. Even if we completely dislike or disagree with what we are reading, understanding is the first step to taking action.

After all, can you really do anything about something you don’t understand? In my–albeit relatively short–lifetime, the people whose advice and opinions I value most, even if they aren’t the same as mine, are the people who would rather listen than presume. These are people who, when faced with something that is completely at odds with their current philosophy, will still learn, ask good questions, and ponder, instead of jumping on the train to Argumentative Non Sequitur Land.

42230_proWe live in a world of instant gratification, a myriad opinions, and an intense clamor to be heard through the mire of Internet and social media, so it isn’t a wonder the temptation to speak instead of listen is so strong. But as the great Einstein once said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Author: Tamsen Maloy |