during an afternoon excursion through a neighborhood garden along Tower Grove Ave. The house on Tower Grove Ave.DSC_0632DSC_0652DSC_0636DSC_0637DSC_0649DSC_0645DSC_0644Nikon D40.

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The savings jar.

Over a year ago, I told myself that I would hit as many friend-residing cities along the east coast, hopping from DC/Baltimore and heading north until I made it to Burlington, VT to visit Kathy.  I have a silly–probably more symbolic–savings jar, rising in value at fluctuating rates but usually at an average of half a cent per week.  This is gonna happen, I told myself…eventually.

But a quick turn of events, right when Dave and I were supposed to vacation with his family at Deep Creek this past week, led to a last-minute decision to embark onto this city-hop adventure.  Did I save enough money?  Not quite.  Was I bummed about not being able to hang out and be lazy on the lake with the family?  Of course.  But I needed this.  I can’t just say that I like traveling when I haven’t traveled enough.  It was a now-or-never kind of moment.  I had to make it work.

With a flight already booked for Baltimore, I contacted a bunch of friends, bought several mega and bolt bus tickets, and found a cheap flight from Boston to Chicago, where Dave and I would meet before driving back to St. Louis.  Thanks to Dave’s tech-savviness, I finally joined the smart phone club…and naturally, the instagram club, too.  Fifty emails later, I departed St. Louis with just a backpack and purse, flew into Baltimore, and began my 10-day journey…

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First stop: Milk and Honey Market in Mount Vernon.  Baltimore.

Day 1-3

Baltimore was a hectic criss-crossing of meet-ups at coffee shops and re-connections in an out of Mount Vernon.  Friends–old and new, native and recently-transplanted–helped me re-discover and fall in love with the city again.  My first two days both started out with coffee at Milk and Honey, first with Sarah, then with Ariel.  I opted for an amazing trail mix cookie at Lamill with Sasha, had a little a reunion with Jess at her place, before heading to a bigger one at the Bun Shop–with Dave R, Angela, Nick, Lacey, and J-stenz.  Ate dinner with Dave’s family in Old Ellicott City; dinner with my family at Jesse (not Jenny, Dad) Wong’s in Hunt Valley suburbia.  Met up with friends again, danced at the Get Down until 2 am, crashed at Lacey’s, woke up to stroll with Mae underneath the Jones Falls at the Farmer’s Market before noon, but running a little late for…

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Lacey and Lin at the bottom of Meridian Hill. DC.

Day 3-4

a picnic with more friends in DC, by the drum circle on Meridian Hill.  Carolina, Sohie, Lin, Lacey, and Chris–all such fun company…I said my goodbyes; a final one to Lacey at an awkward stop by the Dupont Circle, and I metro-ed towards Rockville, where I had my imperative Taiwanese dinner and bubble tea with Cheryl and Amanda.  I crashed at Amanda’s, and headed to Union Station to catch my first bolt bus ride to…

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Brooklyn Bridge, NYC.

Day 4-5

NYC started with a beeline to the High-Line, which went above and beyond my already-high expectations.  And then the endless walking began… along the Hudson River, through streams of shoppers on 7th Avenue, in and out of Korea Way’s ridiculous but charming “French” bakeries, where the Koreans donned berets…I waited for Fay around 6pm at the Madison Square Park, where I could see the Flatiron Building stand among the trees, from my bench among benches that continued endlessly around tables and chairs, flocked and occupied by kids, parents, couples, workers, chess players, tourists, and a bum that was playing the harmonica and singing Avril Lavigne songs really obnoxiously.  We ate “Asian Fusion” food for dinner, fro-yo for dessert by the East River, and saw the Empire State Building from the rooftop of Fay’s apartment building on Murray Hill.  The next morning I took the subway to Brooklyn, walked along Bedford through Sarah’s old neighborhood in Williamsburg, got lost in a Jewish community, hopped onto a bus towards downtown, and walked the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan.  Skyscrapers loomed ahead, skyscrapers towered above.  I couldn’t stop taking photos.  I took a photo for a tourist.  I made a quick stop at Central Park, walked and wandered some more before hopping onto the megabus that slowly drove out of the city, along the west side, through Harlem, through the Bronx, and onto the highway.  LCD Soundsystem’s “NY I love you…” seemed appropriate, and then some Freelance Whales…until I reached…

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Pink-lemonade and PBJ square donuts with coffee. New Haven.

Day 5-7

New Haven to see Kathy.  (She is working at Yale for the summer).  We shared pink-lemonade and PBJ square donuts for breakfast, split some Ethiopian and Mediterranean street-vendor food for lunch, went on a photo shoot at Louis Kahn’s addition to the Yale Art Gallery and British Art Museum, climbed like champions up the Giant Steps of East Rock, reached the top to view the whole town, and climbed back down.  We met up at BAR to have dinner with Kathy’s beau but mostly to reward ourselves with beer, excellent thin-crust pizza, and ice-cream.  Kathy and I had our usual late girl’s night at her place afterwards, snacking, chatting, plotting my next trip to see her in Burlington (roomies forever)…I woke up the next morning to a heavy thunderstorm that cleared up just in time for my bus departure towards…

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Somewhere in Back Bay. John Hancock Tower behind. Boston.

Day 7-9

Boston was overwhelming at first with its medieval-like streets (I forgot how old the city is) that I first encountered from South Station.  But Emily quickly arrived to save the day.  She offered me a thorough itinerary of her home-town, gave me a quick tour through the North End, and led me to the Quincy Market before heading back to work.  From there, I semi-followed historic walks on cobblestone paths, through graveyards, through the lush and intimate streets of Beacon Hill, and through wider ones of Commonwealth Ave.  It was a “Great Streets” kind of day that led me to Copley Square.  From there I metro-ed to Davis Square, where Helena and I had some build-your-own falafel sandwiches.  The next day was like a junior-year-fall-semester-architectural-precedent-field trip–first at Harvard, then at MIT, with a quick break at the Flour Bakery along Massachusetts Ave in between. By the time I reached the ICA along the waterfront, I was getting precedent-ed out.  I met up with Helena, who like a mother, took me to Chinatown for dumplings, pastries, and tea, and drove us out to Quincy for fried clams, a beach, and a sunset behind the Boston skyline.  Yes, we were stuffed.  I was ready to fly west to…

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View of skyline from water taxi on Chicago River. Chicago.

Day 9-10

Chicago!  with it’s unbelievably, brilliant blue sky and water along Lake Shore Drive (versus the grays, browns, and greens of the east coast).  Right before this, Dave and I got our airports confused (he was at O’Hare; I was at Midway…who knew?), so we delayed our already-abbreviated day-trip by about two hours.  But we made the most of it.  We joined the hordes and hordes of peoples strolling through Millennium Park and its beautiful gardens, met the Bean, and watched all the kids playing and splashing each other by the two fountains with faces.  We took a water taxi down the unexpected Chicago River, watching the skyline shorten and fall away from us as we approached a park in (surprise, surprise) another Chinatown, only to see it re-emerge and heighten again as we walked back towards downtown on State and Michigan Ave.  After dinner at the Little Goat, we were homeward bound.

Day 10

St. Louis: We arrived around 2am and woke up maybe 12 hours later.  Feeling exhausted yet refreshed, I reasserted several things.  First, I knew those sandals were gonna make my feet blister all over.  Second, I will always have the worst sense of direction (even with a GPS), but prefer getting lost anyway.  (At some point I lost my hoodie, too).  But most importantly, my friends are incredible, and I couldn’t have done this without them, as they welcomed me into old and new grounds.  (As much as the distance between us can suck, having friends living all over the place, in this case, is a luxury).  I can not wait for my next trip, wherever it might be…Burlington, of course…the West Coast, for sure.  For now, it’s good to be back home.

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Dave long-boarding. Back home en route to Chouteau’s Garden.  St. Louis.

All photos taken on an LG optimus.  Filtered and made cool-looking using Instagram.  

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2013 didn’t start out the most gracefully…I’ve been juggling 2-3 part-time jobs and barely scraping by; my work computer decided to completely burn out on me; and as the winter dragged on and on and only fed into whatever negativities that filled my head, I was really starting to make this whole quarter-life crisis thing come true.

Pretty melodramatic, I know, but it’s an experience I’m sharing with a lot of other 20-somethings, I’m sure–or with just people, in general.  What am I doing? Am I getting too old for all this?  Should I be settling down now?  Am I losing my focus?  I’m excited to be learning new skills and knowledge as much as I’m terrified of losing old ones.  I love how passionate I am about a lot of things, but hate how I feel like I compromise quality of my abilities over quantity; focus over distraction.   I consequently rush into things, get scatter-brained, and try to do and hold on to too many things at once.

If it’s not about making the right decision–it’s about trusting myself and making the most of it.  I recently accepted a freelance position with a storytelling firm to assist in the production of two short animated films.  From architecture to urban gardening to film over the past 3 years, I’m not sure where I’m going, but I’m willing to keep exploring, pushing new boundaries, and making it count.  Maybe I just need to be more patient with my experiences, less distracted with those of others, and just do whatever it is that I’m doing right now.  Because I’m sure I’ll be standing somewhere between liking and (closer to) truly loving it.

Meanwhile, as spring is here in full swing, there’s too much to be grateful for.  From the dewy morning bike rides through the city, to the plethora of free events sprouting in parks, blocks, and gardens, I’ve forgotten how much fun St. Louis summers are.  Not to mention, I’ve been meeting so many passionate, intelligent, and determined people, young and old, who remind me that we’re all constantly learning and discovering new things about ourselves.

For almost a year now, Dave and I have been living with our talented designer friends in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, which seems to have a thing for rusty/rusted metal sculpture.  Sarah and I joined the nearest community garden on Chouteau Ave.  I miss Vito’s and engaging in broken conversations with the curious Chinese and Russian gardening elders.  But I’m excited to be a part of Chouteau’s, meeting neighbors and soon enjoying a new irrigation system, berries, bees, and fruit trees.

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While the soil in my garden bed has been feeling too clay-ey and crappy, I’m determined to revive it.  To start off, I cleared out whatever wimpy crops I attempted to grow in early spring, tilled in 2 bags of chicken manure, and planted several rows of beans–which apparently fix nitrogen back into the soil.   Meanwhile, I’ll be anxiously awaiting  the garlic chives and cilantro to germinate amongst some red leaf lettuce that was left from the spring and overwintered leeks that I’m letting go to seed–just because they look cool.  (I owe that idea to Anne, a new friend and an incredible urban farmer.)

Here’s to an adventurous and fulfilling second half of 2013!

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This post surely doesn’t do enough justice to how much fun I had at Vito’s and how much I will miss it.  I’ve been bad about documenting lately…but Dave and I have been in super-nomad mode the past month.  But here’s what I got from the last time I was there in late July, with a special visit from an amazing friend.

See you later, summer squash. You’ve been sweet and tasty.

Good riddance, harlequin bug. My kale’s been a trooper even with you around.

Miss you, mystery melon fruit thing.

And you too, ant!

Farewell, Vito’s. Your gardeners are insane.

And take care, Mae!! I will miss you the most.

6.23. 3 days into summer.

Cucumbers continue to take over…It’s amazing how just one plant can vine so much and so quickly.  They’ve sprawled so much that I felt too lazy and too late to try to trellis them now.  The other gardeners have been prepared to vertically grow their cucumbers and beans and whatever else I can’t identify with all the bamboo, branches, poles–even a small dead tree–that they’ve inserted into their beds.  I’ve only tried to keep the cucumber vines temporarily away from the neighboring carrots, peppers, tomato, and summer squash with whatever branches I could find.  On the other hand, the cucumbers are growing well; I’ve been able to harvest several every other day, and they’ve been looking plump and have tasted crisp and delicious!

In the meantime, for future reference, I will look into building a trellis next time.  Here are some helpful sources:

The Veggie Gardener, Apartment Therapy, Garden Desk

Vining.

Conquest!

Baby cucumber, fruiting.

Growing elsewhere…

I guess that’s another way to use a dead tree.

Peering through one of the other Chinese gardener’s beds.

Wiry…beans?

and spiky.

 

This past weekend, Dave and I had our own little homemade pizza-making party in our 6×15 square foot kitchen.  We used Bobby Flay’s pizza dough recipe and this demonstration video.  In total, we made 8 10″ pizzas topped with whatever veggies we harvested from the garden and other pizza essentials from the grocery store.  (My goals for next time: more people, more pizza, homemade marinara, and with that in mind, a bigger ratio between garden and store-bought ingredients).  These did turn out pretty amazing though.  We’ve frozen the leftovers…but knowing our weakness for pizza, these may or may not last us the next week or two.

The Ingredients:

From the garden: beets, carrots, arugula, kale, chard.

From the store: flour, cornmeal, yeast, tomato puree, dried oregano, garlic, olive oil, pepperoni, shredded cheese, jalapenos.

The Menu:

1. Beet Pesto Pizza with my friend Danie’s awesome home-made beet/radish pesto topped with mozzarella, roasted beets, carrots, and greens.  Maybe a sprinkle of feta or goat cheese for next time. Otherwise, it turned out sweet and tasty!

2. Stuffed Crust Red Pizza with mozzarella, pepperoni, jalapenos, and arugula.

3. White Pizza with mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, chard and kale.

4. Pepperoni Pizza with “Cheese in the crust. Cheese on the crust. Cheese everywhere.”

4×4: brassicas are looking beautiful. Planted a compact summer squash variety, where the bok choy was, between the kale and chard…not sure whether this was the ideal spot; might have been a little tight and shady, but we shall see!

The garden’s looking super lush, and the harvesting continues.  Each week I’ve been able to harvest a good (15L) bucketful of produce a week.  (Would’ve been nice to have a photo of this…But it’s hard and sometimes really annoying to multitask both gardening and taking pictures of the gardening–especially with dirty hands!  I share this same feeling when I travel to a new place: I get overwhelmed by taking photos and feel that it just distracts me from just soaking up the experience first-hand.  Obviously, no one’s telling me to photograph everything in sight.  And I made this blog mostly for the photo/visual documentation, as I’ve been most inspired by blogs that do so beautifully, pornographically.  Maybe it’s just about finding that balance, and just making the photographing, sketching, or whatever form of documentation be a part of the experience rather than a distraction from it.)

Anyway, if I really wanted to, I could probably harvest yet another bucketful of veggies.  But for now, I’ll just be feeding two people–myself, living off a meager Americorps budget, and Dave, being a deeply indebted out-of-state grad student.  Lately in the kitchen, we’ve been eating a lot of salads and stir-fried kale, chard, arugula, and even lettuce with rice and chicken.  Nothing fancy.  Broke, but healthy and happy.

Back in the garden, I’ve cleared a good portion of the 4×8, to make room for warm-season crops.  Out with the arugula, spinach, peas, and some lettuce.  In with the summer squash, the new peach tomato, (which I got from Bell Garden, after my own lame seedlings have failed/got eaten by rabbits or something), the re-transplanted pepper plants, and pickling cucumbers.  The cukes have been vining like crazy!   And they’ve been overtaking and grabbing onto the pea plants with their curly tendrils.  I should consider training this crop to grow vertically for next time.   But for now–just crossing my fingers for a bountiful warm-season harvest!

peach tomato seedling + pepper plants behind.

Cucumber vining and overtaking peas.

Curly cucumber tendril.

the male flower or the female?