Wednesday, June 02, 2004
Four Seasons

Around mid-week last week, my friends and I decided that we should make good use of the 3-day Memorial Day weekend.  So, we decided to take a road trip.  My idea of a road trip was to go to Vancouver or even Portland, something manageable (3-4 hours each way).  But no, apparently, I wasn't thinking wild or crazy enough.  My friend Shirley suggested Vegas!!  Vegas--now that's wild!

But alas, Vegas was not doable.  The 19-hour drive from Seattle would basically leave time enough for 2 hands of blackjack before we'd need to head back.  So, as a compromise, I suggested we drive somewhere else...somewhere neither of us had been to before (by this time, our other friend Danny had decided a road trip was not his cup o' tea)... and so it was; we decided to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

The 800 mile, 12-hour (each way) driving adventure was nothing short of amazing fun and good quality bonding.  We packed the Shirley's Corolla (a car I'm very familiar with) with munchies, juice, water, blankets, camera gear...we packed that sucker to the gills!  You'd have thought we were traveling across the country!  We were off and running Sat. morning to begin our 800-mile trek to Yellowstone! 

Below is my recollection of the trip (2 days after the fact) along w/ mental notes I'd made to myself to be sure to write up and share:

We had plenty of good music, good conversation, and plenty of naps along the way.  And it was smooth sailing until it was time to figure out where to sleep for the night.  Having brought plenty of blankets (I even had my pillow), we were prepared to sleep in the car if it got to that (or maybe that's just what we were telling ourselves). 

The open road
The long trek took us across Washington state, straight through Idaho, down through Montana and finally to the park, which is in Wisconsin.  The country-side was pretty amazing to see.  I noticed that Washington was flat, dry and sparse.  Idaho had some really fun curvy, windy roads that were SO fun to drive.  I took leisurely racing style turns one after the next -- outside-in, outside-in, outside-in ... Idaho was also pretty because it was greener and more hilly.  Montana had many rolling hills and mountains.  One queer thing I noticed in Montana is that they have a perpencity to brand their mountains with the first initial of the particular city that part of the mountain resided in.  For instance, in Missoula, there was a huge 'M' which had been branded into the mountain side.  Apparently the grass was salted over and/or the trees felled to form the "M".  On the way back, we realized that the branded letter also lit up at night!  Pretty nifty.  I don't remember exactly where we were, but at one point there was an "L" to the left of me and an "M" to the right...I was searching hard for the "V" that would have completed my initials.  =)
Ten Thousand Silver Dollars
Shirley's co-worker suggested we make a pitt stop here, so we did.  It was just a stop off the highway.  It has the largest collection of silver dollars.  You get to pay $1 to have a silver dollar put up on a board with your name & date under it.  Pretty nifty, eh?  So, if you're driving I-90, and come across this place, stop by and look for my name!  =)

The best part
By far, the coolest part of the road trip was the breath-taking way the scenery was lit.  The day was cloudy but not overcast, a cool blue in some areas of the sky and a darker more ominous blue threatening rain in others.  But every so often, the sun would peak through and kiss the land beneath it.  It was as though the sun had chosen a small nook in the mountain to highlight with its rays from above the clouds as if to call it out as a special secret known only to the sun.  It was as though the sun was struggling to fight through the thick clouds and where it was able to break through, it gave light and splendor to the beauties of the nooks and crannies of the country.

It might scare Shirley to know that even while I was driving, I could hardly take my eyes off of the the natural beauty of this country. 
We stopped for dinner in Bozeman, MT, which was about 90 miles outside the park.  For the past 150 miles I had been anxiously reading the roadway signs looking for an Outback...I blame Shirley for my sudden craving for steak.  She'd spotted and pointed out about 3 Outback Steakhouses, which were still in the early parts of civilization from Seattle to Wisconsin.  But alas, we had to settle for Bennegan's, which surprisingly enough had steak!  =)  So, Shirley and I split a steak, crab cakes, skewered shrimps, green string beans, and mashed potatoes.  Now, I should note that everything but the crab cakes was *one* meal...ONE meal!  Shirley & I were absolutely stuffed!!

Then we drove another 70 miles and started looking for hotels.  Of course...Memorial Day weekend, big national park...need I explicitly state the obvious?  There were no hotel vacancies. We'd stopped at 3 hotels that were about 20-miles outside of the park and all of them were booked.  We were told there were no vacancies for at least 50 miles!!!

We drove back, nearly most of the way to Bozeman (where we'd had our dinner) before finding a hotel w/ a room available.  By that time, it was around midnight Saturday; we'd spent the whole day driving and finally fell into a sound, peaceful slumber...that is until the heater decided to bake us in our sleep.  Surprisingly, even though I slept in the bed next to the heater, Shirley was bothered so much that she actually woke up, walked over and turned the heater off.  All I remember was in the middle of night being on top of the covers and then waking up under the covers...the rest was a muggy blur. 

Sunday morning, we awoke refreshed and ready to soak in the natural spendor that is Yellowstone Park.  The news had been forecasted for rain and storms, which made the bright, warm sun a welcomed surprise.  After a nice free continental breakfast, which actually turned into a not-so-free, but meagerly discounted eggs sunny-side up with sausage and toast for me and french toast and bacon for Shirley. 

After having driven the extra hour or so into the park, we were finally there...Yellowstone National Park!!  By this time, the 70 mile distance, 2 hour time lapse since breakfast, and crossing from Montana to Wisconsin had somehow morphed the nice sunny weather to wintery chill with a splattering of rain.  Well!  This means, of course, we won't be hiking around the shucks!

So instead, we decided to drive the 142-mile driving trail, which looped through the entire park.  Shirley was a good sport about stopping and pulling over so I could take pictures or just napping through my pitt stops when I decided to stop.

About Yellowstone
  1. Once you've seen 1 hotspring, you've seen them all
  2. Once you've seen 1 geyser basin, you've seen them all
  3. Old Faithful was a must to see, but anticlimatic, so don't pump it up to be the greatest of all things
  4. Wild animals are right on the side of the road as close as 10ft from your car--you might feel tempted to do so, but don't pet them!
  5. The speed limit in the park is 45 max (I know this all too well)
  6. The magnitude and expanse of the park melted away my concerns and stresses...or maybe it was all the bitching I did to Shirley that did that
  7. The forest naturally reseeded itself after the wild fires which burned down what seemed like a large majority of the park
  8. The Yellowstone fires left a forest of tree skeletons, which was somewhat creepy and depressing
  9. Geyser basins look a lot like how I'd imagine Mordor to look
  10. The rolling hills look a lot like how I'd imagine the Shire to look
  11. The mountains and greenery look a lot like how I'd imagine Rohan/Gondor to look
  12. Lord of the Rings could have been taped in miniature scale in Yellowstone!
  13. There are mountains
  14. There are dead trees
  15. There are ponds
  16. There are lakes
  17. There are hot springs
  18. There are geysers
  19. There are basins
  20. There are bison
  21. There are elks
  22. There are deers
  23. There was a fox (I think)
  24. There's probably a lot more than that
  25. It's beautiful
  26. It's serene
  27. It's breath-taking
  28. It's amazing
  29. It's wonderful
  30. I'd go there again

The best part

What was really surprising was the varying weather in Yellowstone.  Firstly Yellowstone is huge and has a lot of varying natural splendors--mountains, valleys, canyons, etc.  I guess those things combined made for the incredible weather cycles.  I felt as if in 6 hours I had experienced an entire year's worth of weather.

Fall was in Mammoth was chilly, dry and windy.

Spring was in the Norris region...rainy & wet but no so cold and not so hot.

Winter was in Geyser region...beautiful white snow flurries and a chill that necessitated hot chocolate.

Summer was in the Canyon region...sunny, bright, and a hint of warm.

It was so amazing that it was almost surreal.  How could driving a few miles plop you in the middle of a snow flurry storm?  How could a few miles and a few minutes cover and reveal the sun just like that.  It's pretty damn cool!!  Absolutely phenomenal!

We left the park, and drove straight for Bozeman to get dinner.  We made it there in good time, by 8pm or so.  Had a nice, light dinner at Applebee's.  Looking like complete nerds in Bozeman, Montana, we figured out roughly how far/how long we had to drive to get to the next biggest city which we were hoping would have plenty of hotels to choose from.  Missoula happened to be that city.

So, we drove an additional 4 hours from Bozeman to Missoula after dinner, which resulted in 1 very sleepy girl (me) and 1 very tired girl (Shirley) looking feverishly for a hotel.  Thus began our second hotel debacle...

We stopped at a Motel 6 -- no vacancies.  Then a Super 8 Motel -- smoking rooms only.  Holiday Inn -- charging $160+ for a double room!  Hampton Inn -- charging $80 for a double room...hmmm...more than we wanted to spend but at 1am, and after yet another day of driving we caved and stayed there.

Someone should explain to my body what it means to be on vacation.  For some reason or another, I've gotten used to getting up at 6:30am unaided and just like that!  It's eerie and something of an inconvenience to say the least.  Monday morning hurt the most, not in terms of tiredness but in terms of sheer disbelief that I'd yet again woken up HOURs before I wanted to.  I had stayed up to 1:30am trying to watch all of Taming Eva (or something like that).  Not only was I too tired to stay up and finish the movie but my ass was up at 6:30am for some reason!  Anywho, I fell back asleep and just like Sunday morning, I awoke at 7:30am.  Then I just resigned myself to closing my eyes and resting.  Mild insomnia sucks sometimes.

In any case, I took the first leg and was making amazing time!  I drove about 5 hours and covered roughly 300 or so miles of the 450+ miles left to Seattle.  I probably could have taken us the rest of the way but my butt was getting numb and the car needed gas.

Shirley took over driving and all heck was let loose.  She somehow got us all caught up in Memorial Day traffic back into Seattle...guess a lot more people left the city than came in cause there was no traffic going the other way.  I was so relieved Shirley took over driving cause I got the nice windy roads in Idaho and she got stuck in traffic.  In an hour and a half, we'd moved maybe 10 miles!  It was torturous ... the parts I was awake for anyhow.  =)  Thanks, Shirley!!

We finally made it back into Seattle and headed straight for Chinatown, where we had yummy viet food at Huong Binh.  =)  Mmmm...Bun Chao Tom and Nuoc Dua Tuoi...mmm...makes me almost wish I lived downtown just so I'd have quick access to Chinatown.

So, after a lot of driving, I got a lot of good memories, good pictures, and most importantly good quality time w/ a good friend who was able to put up w/ my singing along to just about *every* song on the CD's...that is until we played the requisite 2 CDs of my Andy Lau mixes.  =)

In two weekends, I've managed to see the Rockies in both in Colorado, Montana and Wisconsin!!  =)

Posted at 11:54 pm by lvan
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Sunday, May 09, 2004
Summer in Seattle

One of the first things I noticed about Summer in Seattle wasn't the dry heat and cool breeze which was not just welcomed but relished with gleeful greed for it all year round nor was it the beautifully landscaping nearly was how much it reminded me of early winter back East.

I stepped out into the radiant sunlight, the sky a strong, clear, vibrant blue caressing soft billowy white clouds.  It was the kind of day that made you just want to lie down on a soft bed of closely-knit blades of even-heighted grass that was giving enough to conform to your body but sturdy enough to hold your weight aloft...much like that Swedish foam mattress!  Alas, rainfall from the previous night left this vision unseen. 

I was reminded of Winter...or at least what Winter would look like on a bright Summer's day.  As I strolled lackadaisically down the street a flurry of white swirled and gently cascaded all around me.  I couldn't help but twirl mid-stride with my arms outstretched as if to embrace the gentle breeze which had been given form to its otherwise unseen yet ever palpable presence. 

Yes, this was the Winter I'd dreamed of seeing. The beautiful flurry was even more glorified in the luminous sun, contrasting, almost sparkling, against the blue of the sky...a sight that Winter would not normally afford in its gloomy grey haze.  This was the way winter should be...the air was warm to the touch and yet a cool pocket of air formed effortlessly and instantly as I pierced through it ...all the while magically ensconced in the white flurry. 

I had to resist opening my mouth like I'd done on so many a Winter's day to enjoy the not-so-frosty goodness of the ragweed pollen wafting through the Summer air. 

It's a good thing I don't have allergies!!  =)

Posted at 11:45 pm by lvan
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Tuesday, April 27, 2004
oh how the months go by...

I've just realized that I never post anymore...I was shocked to find that it's been months! since I've posted anything.'s my is hard.  I have a new found appreciation for it.  I started taking yoga classes with a friend of mine last week.  I should clarify and say that these are "power yoga" classes (not that I really know the difference but I'm sure someone out there does and for that person hopefully they're nodding knowingly as I describe just how challenging yoga is). 

My preconceived idea of what yoga was about was just stretching and breathing and a whole lotta tranquil music.  Such is not the case.  In my very first class, we had to balance on what's called a "bosu"'s mad crazy hard!!  This was the first good picture I could find on the net:


 I'm sure everyone is familiar with the regular exercise ball.  Imagine cutting one of those in half and putting a hard plastic board on the cut side and that's what a Bosu ball is.

What this woman to the left is doing is a bit challenging though manageable even for novices.  It still requires quite a lot of balancing, but this wasn't what we did in class.

Imagine flipping the Bosu over so that the blue bouncy round part is on the ground and you're standing on the black, hard plastic part...that is what we had to do and on my first day too! 

Firstly, I couldn't even manage to just step onto the Bosu...I had to crouch, put one foot on the Bosu while gripping the edge of it w/ my hands to balance it.  Then slowly but surely bringing the other foot onto the board.  Now, crouched on the Bosu I had to stand!  Just standing on the darn thing sent my knees and to legs visibly and uncontrollably shaking!  After I got used to just standing on the thing, the instructor tells us do what the lady on the left is doing...move one foot to the center and edge the other foot slowly off the Bosu...I could barely stand on it w/ two legs and now she wanted me to stand on just one!  I think I'd have a hard time standing on one leg just on the flat ground much less on a bouncy ball! 

Nevertheless, I took some deep breaths and dutifully did as I was instructed.  I pictured myself perfectly balanced and poised on the Bosu.  I took more deep steady breaths and slowly but surely manuevered my feet while maintaining my balance and equilibrium...success!  The right leg was in the middle and the left leg was at the edge of the Bosu.  All that was left was to lift my left foot off the Bosu...slowly...slowly... CRASH!!  Yeah, I fell off my  Bosu...not onto my bum but I lost my balance, started flailing my arms and rocked off the ball. 

It's all good though.  I go again tomorrow and I'm hoping to teach that Bosu a thing or two!!

Posted at 8:40 am by lvan
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Thursday, January 15, 2004
My Glorious Trek Home

If you've been wondering why you haven't been hearing much from me, here's why:

On the day I flew back to Seattle, apparently a snow storm (very rare) was playing out all day long and wreaking havoc on the city.  The city, ill-equipped to handle the massive drop in snow, was all but frozen--literally.  This of course, added delay not only to my flights but also to my trek back to my apartment from the airport.

Here's a play by play:

4:00am EST i go to bed (after having stayed up for game night #2 w/ my family+)
3:00pm EST Truong & I head off to BWI
4:30pm EST we arrive at BWI
6:00pm EST i board my plane

11:00pm EST i arrive in denver, colorado

12:00am EST i board the plane
3:30am EST i arrive into seattle
4:00am EST i finally get my luggage from baggage claim
4:30am EST i finally get to the front of the line to sign-up for the airport shuttle bus
4:32am EST i begin my crap shoot wait of 30 mins to 2 hours for my shuttle in the blistering cold
6:30am EST i finally get into a shuttle bus
7:30am EST i arrive at microsoft campus, which is where i left my car
7:35am EST i begin driving home
8:00am EST i arrive home in my apartment, having left my luggage in the car cause i was too sleepy/lazy to drag it up 3 flights of stairs.

The TWO HOUR wait for a shuttle bus out in the cold eventually penetrated after a few days and inflicted me with a cold of my own. 

I'm still coughing a bit and have a runny nose but other than that, I'm finally feeling better...and I finally got my luggage out of my car.  =)

Posted at 10:47 am by lvan
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Week 2 & 3 of cooking

Week 2: Hoisin Chicken Wings

They came out really well, but I'm not sure I like hoisin sauce on my chicken wings.  Maybe if there  was more ginger and sugar that would have been better.  But it's like eatting chicken pho without the pho noodles.  All-in-all a success I'd say.

I'm kinda liking the cooking thing since I normally get 2-3 meals out of even halving the recipe, so it's great!

Week 3: Tom Rang Muoi
This is probably the only Viet dish I know how to make without a recipe.  You just need salt, pepper, flour and shrimp.  And of course some cooking oil to fry the shrimp in.  I skipped the second step which is to stir-fry some green peppers, onions, hallupeno peppers, and the shrimp.  I didn't have any of the veggies for that.  So instead, I made a honey-mustard dipping sauce to go w/ the shrimp.  The sauce was good...kinda like what they make for you at PF Changs.  It gave the shrimp a sort of tangy/spicy taste combined with the saltiness of the shrimp.

I think I'll cook again this weekend, I'm not sure what I'll make for myself though...something out of the book this time.  =)

Actually...I did make a dessert out of the book, which turned out tastey.  It was too sweet for me time I'm gonna have to test-taste my creations and not follow the recipes so blindly. 

Posted at 9:32 am by lvan
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Sunday, December 07, 2003
Progress on New Year's resolution

My goal is to make one home-cooked-from-scratch meal once a week. 

Week 1
I started today with bar-b-que sesame  I realized while I was eatting the ribs that fat tastes good.  Granted, I avoided eatting it, but every now and then I'd get a bite of meat w/ a bit of fat laced in between.  And boy, let me tell ya, it's some good stuff!  Ribs are not an everyday food.  =)

Next week will be Hoisin Chicken wings.  Mmm...good.

Posted at 4:46 pm by lvan
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Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Seattle can't handle the rain

I'm driving to work today, and it's raining pretty moderately (a lot for Seattle but it's nothing compared to East coast rain).  I realized that Seattle can not handle rain!!  It's just not equiped for it!  Here's why:

  • I look to my left and on the median there are huge puddles of standing water!  The roads aren't graded properly so that the water runs off to the sides of the road. 
  • I look to my right, and the water has flooded over the sidewalk!  There aren't any sewers on the side of the road to drain off water that does roll to the sides! 
  • I look ahead of me and I see a cop car that's blocking off a side road that's been flooded!  It's not even raining all that hard!
  • I listen to the radio and they're talking about how traffic into and out of Seattle is blocked miles and miles due to the rain

Geez...a little rain and the whole city starts to fall apart...I can't imagine what would happen if it actually snowed here!  Oi....

Posted at 9:53 am by lvan
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Early New Year's resolution

So...I've decided once and for all that I am going to learn how to cook!  Granted, I make a pretty mean PB & J (and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!!) but I think it's time to expand my recipe box to dishes that don't involve some type of processed food sandwiched in between bread.

To facilitate the adherence to this early resolution, I've gone ahead and purchased some cookbooks.  Since I no longer live w/ my mommy (who, btw, is the best vietnamese/chinese chef there is in the world past, present and future) and I miss home-cooked Viet food, I purchased some Vietnamese cookbooks.  I made sure to get the ones with pretty pictures in them -- the bigger the picture the better--big pictures = fewer words = less ingredients = fewer instructions = hopefully lil' ol' me can produce something edible.

My back-up plan is to look at the pretty pictures as a savior my PB&J and train myself to think I'm eatting the dish I'm looking at.  =D 

Posted at 8:19 am by lvan
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Saturday, November 15, 2003
Bloggidy blog blog blog

I was at my high school alumni site and reading ppl's, I feel like such a loser!!!  Everyone is in Med school or Law school or getting a PhD.  Gee wiz...makes the rest of us college grads look like we've accomplished diddly squat!  Maybe it's time to reconsidering getting that PhD in sales shopping I've always wanted.  Part of the application process is to submit your best shopping deal, so I better high tail it on over to the closest mall and get goin' on that!  =)

Posted at 12:32 pm by lvan
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003
rain rain go away

monday we broke the record for the most rainfall in the seattle area since...forever.

and so marked the beginning of fall and winter...or more appropriately, "the rainy season".  It'll be another 8-9 months until we see sun again.  =(

Posted at 8:31 am by lvan
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