A Busy Fall’s Survival Kit

The Nightstand, vol. 8

I’ve been in a very, very good mood lately. Maybe it’s because it’s definitively winter in Oregon now, and I’m strangely appreciative of the freezing weather. Maybe it’s because my recent trip to California over Thanksgiving weekend was such a good one that I’m feeling extremely refreshed.

My own guess is this– I’m thrilled this quarter is finally over.

I knew what I was signing up for prior to this Fall term. I’ve dealt with the faster-paced quarter system all throughout my undergraduate career, and now again for grad school, but I think this has been the quarter that’s felt the most demanding. On top of trying to get my thesis research all squared away and arrange travel, it was also my most academically demanding term.

I bit the bullet figuring that in the big picture, by having this quarter be a rougher one, I was allowing myself a more pleasant time during all the other ones. Here’s hoping that comes true.

But anyways, I’m not that interested in meandering on any further about grad school. That crap is officially on hold for right now, as I’ve got a ton of adventures and travels to look forward to in the next couple months. That’ll make up for my limited activity since school restarted.

Every now and again, I’ll make a list of some of my recent favorites from music, food, movies, and such. Sometimes I call it a list of things that have been recently inspiring, things I recommend, or things that will always bring me back to that particular season of life… that isn’t always totally accurate, but it’s gotten the job done.

This time around, this list resembles more of a survival guide. A few things that have helped me make the most of a stretch of time where I spent way more time working at a computer than I would’ve liked and where I’ve spent a greater portion of my weekends catching up on rest by doing hardly anything at all.

Under The Same Sky by Joseph Kim

BOOK

“Everyone in the West talks about the oppressive, invasive government of North Korea, but what I experienced then was more frightening to a child: a complete absence of authority of any kind. A child wants someone to be in charge of the world. But it was clear from the train that the people in charge had abandoned it to the masses. No one was enforcing the rules any longer.”

My goodness, what a read. The title of the book is alluded to in a scene towards the end of Joseph Kim’s book. After he’s told his story with brutal honesty, and after he’s taken us through the reality of fighting to survive in a famine stricken North Korea, a simple personal reflection reminds us that this happens on the same planet that we’re on right now, underneath the same sky.

This is now the third or fourth North Korea-related book I’ve read and completey loved, but the first one that I’ve picked up in quite some time. I’m honored to have met Joseph a couple years ago. We talked for a short bit but we mostly played with Legos. His warmth and frendliness stand out as even more impressive after hearing all the details of what he’s lived through.

Tillamook Cheese Factory (Tillamook, Oregon)

PLACE TO EAT

On one of my lone weekend outings this quarter, Deanna and I made it to the Oregon Coast and toured the Tillamook factory. I’ve written about that earlier. We loved it a whole lot.

One of the best parts of our visit, as mentioned, was the Tillamook Café. Their selection of variations on the classic grilled cheese sandwich made ordering just one a challenge. The menu also had some impressive looking burgers and macaroni dishes, making it even harder to choose. In the end, I decided to keep it as classic as possible so I wouldn’t miss out on any grilled cheese goodness. The Tillamook ice cream bar was just around the corner, and so the sandwich was chased down nicely with a scoop of Oregon Hazelnut.

Jane the Virgin

TV SHOW

It’s funny how much I used to pride myself on not watching TV. That was college and perhaps I was unaware of how much sweeter getting to wind down watching Netflix with my wife would get as I got older. Especially with this being the quarter that it was, I could really appreciate some lighthearted entertainment at the end of the day.

Jane the Virgin was that show for us. It’s a telenovela designed to mock telenovelas, which makes it the only true “mockenovela” that I’m aware of. It’s an extremely self-aware show with strongly developed characters and ridiculous plot lines. Each character seems to have a half dozen mini-crises per episode, but that’s what gives it that telenovela flavor I suppose. Despite the fact that it’s a parody of one of the hardest genres to take seriously, the show is also surprisingly sincere most of the time and actually handles a lot of facets of life with a strong sense of reality… living with religious convictions, having undocumented loved ones, parenting styles this decade.

Escape the Room

EXPERIENCES

These things sure exploded in popularity over the past year, didn’t they? I’d been wanting to participate in a room escape since I found out about them. Of course at the time, the only ones I knew of were in New York and San Francisco. It’s only been about a year since then and you can find them all over the place. Vietnam has six venues. Even Bakersfield has a couple, and that’s where I got my first taste of Escape the Room.

If you’re unfamiliar, imagine that iPhone game where you’re looking around a room for clues to crack codes and figure out how to unlock the final door that leads to freedom. Escape the Room is pretty much that, but not on a phone. Instead you’re in a real room, with a big fat clock staring you down.

They gave us an hour to finish, and it went by so fast with how engaging the activity was. I’m a big fan of opportunities to employ lateral thinking patterns and problem solving, so I clearly had a blast. I left my first experience at the Bakersfield Room Escape wondering when I could go again.

The Bier Stein (Eugene, Oregon)

PLACE TO EAT

The Bier Stein is not a new discovery for Deanna and I. We’ve been well aware of its existence since we first moved to Eugene, and we keep coming back frequently. Sometimes to eat. Sometimes just to take advantage of the selection their bottleshop has when trying to track down a more obscure beer release.

It wasn’t until this fall when we brought Deanna’s parents there for a second time that I realized how lucky we are that this venue is around. Their beer selection is indeed amazing and that goes for their bottleshop just as well as their on tap offerings. The food is also consistently great, which means I usually read their seasonal items page a few times over before making up my mind.

The Columbia River Gorge

PLACE TO VISIT

Deanna and I went here on what I had suspected would be the last warm weekend of the year, and I think I was right. Multnomah Falls is the obvious attraction, but the entire gorge is like an amusement park of nature, with there being so many hidden waterfalls and offshoots of hiking trails that you can keep coming back and finding new things to discover.

This time, I tried to make it a point to go past the stuff that usually tends to get all the attention– Multnomah Falls, Punchbowl Falls, etc., and yet, those still ended up being some of the highlights for us. I got to take a dip in Punchbowl Falls’ pool, which was completely freezing in spite of the warm day. It took a good twenty minutes to adjust to the water, which made it all the more rewarding by the time I got to the waterfall.

Original Broadway Cast – Alexander Hamilton: The Musical

ALBUM

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scottsman dropped in the middle of the Caribbean grow up to be a hero and a scholar? If you’re at all familiar with the Alexander Hamilton Mixtape, you should know exactly how that line should be recited.

This is probably the most unlikely and most surprising of any album to have made my list, and yet, it’s one that I haven’t been able to stop listening to since I casually discovered it on Spotify. Each song is addictive in its own way, and yes, you actually do learn a ton about American history in a way that still feels more like entertainment. Lin-Manuel Miranda was already on my radar because I was such a fan of In The Heights, but this sort of cements him as one of the most innovative names on Broadway.

This show and its soundtrack have taken off in popularity quite a bit since I first discovered it, but it deserves all that attention for the ten dollar founding father without a father. Now if I could just see this live on Broadway, all would be wonderful.

El Vy – Return to the Moon

ALBUM

Another album! This one’s far more conventional, though.

El Vy’s actually a side project of the National’s Matt Berninger. As I’ve mentioned before on my podcast, he’s the guy I would want to swap voices with more than anyone. The sultry baritone is definitely the centerpiece of El Vy’s work, but their sound is far brighter and warmer compared to the National. If a typical song by the National conjures up a harsh wind sweeping through a bleak Midwestern February, El Vy sounds like the washed out tones of a Late August day in California.

Per usual with Matt Berninger, the lyrics are quite cryptic and weird, and that’s all alright when sung in his voice. I haven’t liked an album the way I like this one for a really long time. It totally spares me the worry that my taste in music is no longer a fit for anything today.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseni

BOOK

It took me a while to pick up this book, and I was really curious to see how I would like it. I liked The Kite Runner a great deal. Actuallly I’d venture out to call it a favorite of mine. Then I attempted to read Hosseni’s next book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and for whatever reason, it just didn’t take and I had trouble staying engaged. I was curious to see where his third release would fall on the spectrum.

I can easily say it falls on the positive end. I absolutely love the style of storytelling employed. Accounts, fables, and descriptions of moments sweep through half a century of different characters connected to an Afghan village. The story takes a form of a baton race. You hear of a small family in the 1950s, then the youngest girl, you learn about how her life turned out through the 1970s. Then young cousins who barely came into contact with her way back when are brought back into the picture circa 2003.

All in all, it’s a really impressive piece of work, weaving together the stories shared by a single family.

Settlers of America

PRODUCT

I doubt that there are many people left who haven’t heard of the glories of Settlers of Catan, a game which I think hits the perfect balance between luck and skill the way that other games should try to emulate a bit more.

Well, as a wedding present, Deanna and I received the Settlers of America version. It’s shaped like the USA, and resources correspond to what grows best in various regions of the United States. We’re in wood country over here!

Actually, though, it’s not very much like Settlers of Catan. Number chips can move to new tiles. There’s a whole different economy. No development cards are the same. Gold is involved. This game has a steep learning curve. It’s a lot of fun once you figure out what you’re doing, though, and it can add some more variety into game night.

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