Planting Roots

Exactly one year ago, I moved out of my tiny house on wheels and into a bigger (but still small) house. I call it the little chalet, since it looks like a mini version of a ski chalet or winter cabin. I wrote a bit about it last July, but otherwise, I’ve been generally quiet — or I suppose not as explicit — about what’s going on in my day-to-day life.

I used to write pretty openly here, years ago. But things have changed. For a good while, I blamed it on writer’s block. But I’ve thought about this a lot over the past year, and because I work at WordPress.com as an editor and community moderator — a representative of the company among our bloggers and readers — I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable blogging about me, about my life. And when I do, I have to run a filter over it. Curation, after all these years, is still key.

In some ways, then, it feels weird for me to share photos below of my home — my most private space where I live out my life when I’m not at my laptop, typing here. But I’m open to posting new things and seeing how this blog evolves next, and am curious if I can rediscover the joy of blogging, which I felt when I started this site ten years ago. When I could simply post about anything. When my blog was me — all of me, even the parts that were unpolished, that I couldn’t compartmentalize. Now looking at the tidy categories in my menu (under “Blog”), I realize how silly it is that these labels I’ve created over the years have killed my passion and spontaneity. I’ve become a dusty, old cabinet of drawers.

This past year, I’ve practiced yoga a whole lot more, I joined a taiko drumming group, and I started gardening. I’ve quickly grown to love these three things, and I noticed that all three help me to be more present in the moment, to just be. I would love to experience this again in the context of blogging or even writing privately: when thought passes from mind to paper, and there is nothing in between.

Instead, when it comes to this blog, I feel like a clogged pipe.

In the meantime, here are photos of my home and garden, where I love to be as much as possible, and where — for the first time in my life — I’ve truly planted roots. Right now, my favorite thing to do is tending the vegetable beds very early in the morning, before I go to the gym, and before I start to work. It makes me happy and has introduced a whole new layer of wonder and curiosity for the land I’m fortunate to live on, so I thought to share a bit of that joy here. Maybe that’s what this blog needs.

The little chalet and vegetable garden. The structure on the left is our well and irrigation shed.
The vegetable garden, in between the little chalet and the tiny house.
One of the dwarf Japanese maple trees in the front of the little chalet.
A “before” shot from last fall, when our contractor began to excavate. He pulled a lot of interesting objects out of the ground, and knocked down a bunch of trees around this oak, which I now hope will thrive.
An “after” shot, not quite from the same angle, but you get the idea. The large, leveled area to the left of the tiny house became the location for the raised beds. This corner bed is primarily for strawberries.
A natural, non-manicured landscape with primarily native and drought-tolerant plants.
The first winter spent in this house was full of extraordinarily heavy rain — the most powerful storm systems California has seen in years. Despite having a lot of flooding and drainage issues, we were able to observe where and how water was flowing on our lot before we started construction. Our landscaper created a French drain system and a meandering dry creekbed, which will direct water toward the corner of the lot, where it’ll join a river that forms during storms.
An in-progress shot (some spots still need mulch) with a peek at my little redwood grove in the background. The bare patch on the left is for a shed, which will be installed soon.
This particular bed has bush beans, marigolds, and zinnias. Crossing my fingers that everything grows!
One of the seedlings in the pepper bed: King of the North.
A Meyer lemon tree near the tiny house.
The area behind the tiny house is mulched and bare — there’s certainly more space to build. I’m still not sure what to do with the tiny house — a space for guests? a long-term rental? an Airbnb? But for now, he’s got a pad and driveway all to himself.
The tiny house and a grapefruit tree (on the right). The purple plants — catmint — surround the entire vegetable garden.
Doors to my bedroom, which lead onto the main deck. Great for yoga and post-gym stretching, especially in the morning.

All photos taken with an iPhone 7. I post regularly on Instagram: @cherilucasrowlands

Wandering in Chania, Crete

The day after Santorini, we arrived in Crete.

I never thought I’d visit Crete in my lifetime, and wasn’t sure what to expect, but Chania turned out to be my favorite port we visited. I certainly felt and saw the mix of influences here in Crete’s second largest city, from its old Venetian and Turkish buildings, and doors and shutters and narrow alleyways that reminded me of both Florence and Valletta. We visited on a day where most shops and restaurants were closed because of a strike, while people were also in mourning over the passing of a former Greek prime minister.

As we wandered, I kept thinking about my AP art history studies in high school — our unit on the Minoans in particular. It was so long ago, but that class remains the most challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable academic experience of my life, and I was delighted that this trip to Europe as a whole reminded me of that year. It’s obvious to say, but I love when parts of my life come full circle while traveling: when I realize how much time has passed, how much I’ve grown and changed, but also how much I’ve forgotten.

It’s strange but nice to visit a place I’ve never been that conjures memories and thoughts that could only resurface right then and there — as if a new city unlocks something within you, and that inner experience is now part of your relationship to it.

And that’s enough half-formed musings for now . . .

Along the waterfront in Chania, near the Maritime Museum.
View of Chania’s waterfront, with the Venetian lighthouse in the distance.
Wandering one of the shaded, quiet alleyways in the beautiful Topanas district.
An old facade and door with crackling paint in the Topanas district.
A notice on May 31, 2017, on the door of one of the shops in town. Nearly all businesses and restaurants were closed due to a strike.
Because of the strike, most restaurants were closed, like this one next to Trimartiri cathedral.
It was relatively quiet on the streets of the Topanas district, which made the neighborhood even lovelier to stroll.
We found an open restaurant in an old, roofless building called Mesostrato, which was set in a cute, shaded courtyard.
Another shot of the waterfront, taken near the Nautical Museum.
Just one of many beautiful doors spotted in town.

Most of these photos were taken with my iPhone 7 (two waterfront photos were taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC‑LX100). A few were originally posted on Instagram — follow me there @cherilucasrowlands.

On Home and Tea

Illustration by Candace Rose Rardon

Perhaps the house I felt ready for
wasn’t a physical place,
but an emotional one.

 

Perhaps my search for home
wasn’t over just yet.

“Home Is a Cup of Tea”

Just a quick note to say I’m thrilled to see sketch artist Candace Rose Rardon’s illustrated essay, “Home Is a Cup of Tea,” up on Longreads this morning. At Automattic, I don’t just work at WordPress.com — I also edit stories at Longreads and work with awesome writers. It’s been especially fun to collaborate with people I respect and admire, like Vela founder Sarah Menkedick, who I interviewed a few years ago; and fellow writers from my MFA program, like Richard Gilbert, whose essays (“Why I Hate My Dog” and “Boom Boom Song”) I worked on over the past year.

I’ve never met Candace in person, though my husband Nick did when they crossed paths at the Book Passage travel conference last year. But I’ve followed her fantastic work for a number of years, early on mainly through the lens of travel writing, and in more recent years through her sketches and growing Moment Catchers community, which I follow on Instagram. As some of you know, I find most writing on travel and place incredibly banal, but I’ve always enjoyed Candace’s blend of illustration and writing.

I’m happy to have had the opportunity to work with Candace and edit an illustrated piece for the first time, which was fun. And because of its focus on finding home, I also found myself a bit more emotionally tied to the story, as it reminded me a lot of my own musings on home and love five years ago, before Nick came to the US.

Here’s the essay, which is a lovely, breezy read, especially for those of you on a long holiday weekend!

A Day in Santorini

We arrived in Santorini the morning after sailing from Athens.

Santorini had never been on my travel bucket list. Not that I didn’t want to go there — I’ll go anywhere, really — but with so many places in the world to visit, Greece in general had never been high on my list. Another cruise itinerary we’d considered started in Venice, sailed to Croatia and Malta, and toured more of Italy before ending in Rome. But ultimately, beginning in Athens and making our way west was a better sightseeing option for my parents.

We walked around Oia, the Cyclades village built on the slope of a caldera, with bright-white cave houses carved into the hillside. While stunning, Oia felt quite unreal. It was almost too picturesque, too postcard-ready — a set for Asian brides to take photographs (I saw a few photoshoots that afternoon). It didn’t feel lived-in, as perhaps Santorini’s capital (Fira) did, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as how can a pretty cliffside village with the best sunsets in the world be a bad thing?

That said, Santorini is lovely — I’d never been to a place quite like it.

White cave houses along a slope.
An iconic church with bright blue cupola.
Table with a view.
One of the main walkways in the village.
This cat loved the attention.
Panoramic view from the lookout point.
A narrow walkway.
Looking down to the shore.
View toward the sea.
Lava rock-filtered beer, with special Santorini honey.

View of the cliffs of Santorini from our boutique-sized cruise ship, the Azamara Journey.

 
Photos taken with an iPhone 7 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100. A few iPhone pics originally posted on Instagram — follow me @cherilucasrowlands.

The Cursor

The cursor is many things:
a megaphone,
a friend who listens,
that space deep inside you.

It meets the blank page:
where you ignite,
and change,
and feel your power.

A tool to share your joy:
your highs displayed for all to see,
your lows swept off the screen.

Through it your selves appear:
the enlightened,
the wistful,
the proud,
the vain.

Such a slender thing
through which we are born
over and over again.


Originally published on cheri.blog.

Goals

I’m remembering the time when my husband and I first talked about living in a tiny house at the end of 2013. It was a baby step that would move us toward achieving longer-term, would-they-ever-happen goals — like living on a plot of land in the country, for instance. At the time, we were living in an industrial-style condo near downtown San Francisco, newly married and both working for companies headquartered right there in the city. Sounds comfy and convenient for two young professionals: why would there be a reason to leave?Continue reading “Goals”

Exploring Athens

I just returned from a three-week vacation, which began in Greece and ended in England.

Along the way, we stopped in Italy, France, and Spain — countries to which Nick and I have been, but we stopped in many towns and islands that were new to me: Taormina in Sicily, Oia and Fira in Santorini, and Positano on the Amalfi Coast among them. These were all new places for my parents (our companions for the entire journey!), so it was nice to introduce them to bits of Europe.

We spent the first part of the trip on an Azamara cruise that sailed across the Mediterranean. I’m not a cruiser, though I’ve been on two in the past, and while I can see why a certain cross-section of people love it, this kind of traveling isn’t really for me. But when we brainstormed the easiest ways logistically for my parents to sample a number of different spots in this part of Europe, a cruise seemed like a good option — versus stringing together different city itineraries connected by short flights. This way, the daily planning and touring was mostly out of my hands.

All that said, I’d thought the cruise would be relaxing, and I was completely wrong. Unless you’re sailing at sea all the time, or choose not to disembark the ship and explore offshore, your routine on a cruise is very go-go-go — a new country or city each day, and a different excursion or on-foot itinerary that starts early in the morning. So, we were pretty exhausted each evening.

In all, it was a very active 21 days . . . we saw and did a lot, and I’ll slowly sift through my photos and share some highlights here. To start, here are a few snapshots from our first few days. I’d never been to Greece, and our brief time exploring the Plaka area of Athens was a nice introduction to the city — and our trip.

View of Athens and the Acropolis from the Electra Palace rooftop.
One of the houses on a quiet street near the Plaka neighborhood, in the shadow of the Acropolis.
A sign directing people to the Acropolis.
The Parthenon (plus scaffolding).
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus theater, located on the southwest slope of the Acropolis.
Atop the Acropolis.
Temple and sky.
Coffee and delicious baklava at Yiasemi, a cafe in the Plaka.
Steps leading somewhere . . . in the Plaka district.
A pretty facade on Adrianou Street, one of the main pedestrian streets of the Plaka.
Our first (and only) dinner in Athens: mezes madness at To Kafeneio, a traditional mezedopoleio.
A colorful wall.

All photos taken with an iPhone 7 — a few posted originally on Instagram. Follow me @cherilucasrowlands.

Finding Space

I read a story this week,
and when it ended
I went about my day.

But it lingered
because it was familiar.
Did I know versions of it?
Could I understand why?

But mostly, it stuck
because amidst others’ rage,
I saw no easy response.
And I wondered: is something wrong with me,
with how I view things,
with the place my family comes from?

Stirring for days, I still cannot explain
and I need to tell myself
that it’s okay to just be—
as a writer,
as a Filipino American,
as a human being.

* * *

I stare at this land we call ours,
and I think, “this is where I want to be.”
Not the constant stream
where the flow is quick
and the water is brown.

There was a time
when the screen
was all I’d need—
when to plug in was to be free.

But the noise seeps into the spaces
where I once met my silence.
The more there is,
the less it means.

I am learning how to breathe—
to reconnect with the quiet,
and as I look out the window
I know there’s a place for me.

A Week in Nashville

I can’t believe it’s nearly May and I’ve not posted anything here all year. To break the silence, here’s a little gallery of photographs from a recent trip to Music City.

It was my first visit and I wasn’t sure what to expect of Nashville, but I really liked it, especially the neighborhood we stayed in (Hillsboro Village) and the area where we spent most of our time (12 South). We caught glimpses of other areas — Germantown, East Nashville, and downtown — and I see myself returning to eat my way through the city and check out more places to listen to music.

 

The exterior of Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James in the 12 South neighborhood.
Beers at The Filling Station, a bar in 12 South.
One of the walls in the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville.
A mural next to a downtown parking lot.
The bar at the Listening Room Cafe, a venue for singer-songwriters.
Shelves of recommended books at Parnassus Books, a bookstore co-owned by Ann Patchett.
A cute house across the street from Monell’s restaurant in Germantown.
Jeni’s ice cream shop in Hillsboro Village.
Lunch at Husk: fried chicken and sides. Husk is located in a historic mansion in Rutledge Hill, a few blocks from the heart of downtown.
Desserts at Husk.
The “I Believe in Nashville” mural just off of 12 Avenue South, next to Draper James.

All photos taken with an iPhone 7.

Piercing through the fog

Shared this on Instagram and Facebook last month, when I got another tattoo:

For most of my life, I’ve been drawn to Sutro Tower, which sits atop a hill in San Francisco. While it’s iconic, it’s often overshadowed: not necessarily pretty, and certainly not golden. For me, it has a presence much like the fog, which is ever-present and something I’ve always felt connected to—and in my mind, one could not exist without the other. When the fog rolls in, it covers the city, yet the tips of the tower are often visible, piercing through the haze. Of all the structures that rise into the sky or span across the bay, Sutro Tower is at once a relic, representing what I once loved about San Francisco. And yet, as an antenna tower, it’s also a mark of now, of the future.Continue reading “Piercing through the fog”