Signs on the Beaches

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On the beaches in Oahu, I couldn’t help but notice that they had these lovely signs to tell you where you were, what you might see, and what the rules were.

It occurs to me that this would be extremely useful on Guam.

I mean, I have seen tourists stand on coral. I have seen people toss trash off the side of boats. I have been in a heated argument with a woman “looking for sea turtle eggs” because she wanted to eat them. And, I have asked people not to pet or feed the endangered species more times than I can count.

 

I am getting really tired of tapping people on the shoulder and trying to educate them, because most people are really not open to suggestions from some random white girl.

So I think we need signs.

I want signs in several languages telling people what our endangered species in this area are, and why it is wrong to cook them in soup or BBQ them. I also want signs explaining that coral is alive and not to stand on it, and signs warning people that there will be a fine for littering.

I know it wouldn’t solve the problems. I get that. But it would help. We would need  English for the locals, and Japanese and Korean for the tourists. I don’t think it would cost that much. The ones in Oahu didn’t look expensive.

So get on it, Guam. Let’s try to do something about all the abuse of our oceans that I see every day.

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What I Am Reading

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I always heard that it is important for a writer to read a lot. I think that’s true, although there is only so much time in a day, and I do love outdoor activities.

Currently, I am reading a book called Gulp, by one of my very favorite authors, Mary Roach. She has written some amazing books, my favorite of which is BonkBonk (because I actually giggled out loud a bunch while reading it.) But I have loved everything she has ever written, and been following her since she had a column in Reader’s Digest called Pardon My Planet.

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I also recently re-read the Harry Potter Series for the 20th Anniversary. They were good books to bring on our recent vacation because they are engaging enough to read on a plane with screaming kids.

Some books are good, but maybe not the kind of books that you can read in a train station in Calcutta or a subway in Seoul.

My battered paperbacks of Harry Potter have served me well through all the chaos of travel, and have managed to grab my attention no matter how loud my surroundings. If you need to ignore someone else’s screaming kids, Harry Potter will never fail you.

Plus, the TSA in the US is always scary and often they are not very nice. But, I got one of them to laugh out loud when he asked: “Do you have an e-reader, tablet, laptop, or other device in your backpack?” And I replied, “No, Sir. I have a book.”

The line got quite and everyone stared at me like I had horns and a tail. It was awesome. I pulled out my copy of The Half Blood Prince and flashed it around, and I got a lot of laughs.

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Another series I was recently reading was the Sookie Stackhouse books. If you have seen the HBO series called True Blood then I am sorry, because it was pretty awful. But the books are awesome and I had read them ages ago as they came out. I recently found out that the series was finally complete, and so I bought the last two and re-read the whole thing. It was a lot of fun, and each book only takes a day or two at most. Wait in a few lines at the post office or the bank, let a few meals simmer and stir occasionally while reading, and you’re done before you know it.

My students in Korea used to be aghast that I would walk while reading. They thought it was perfectly scandalous. But like any avid reader, I have read while doing pretty much everything, even showering (holding the book out of the spray, of course.)

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Sometime else I took a second look at recently was the Anne of Green Gables books. I hadn’t read them since 8th grade, and I forgot how… let’s say “dated” they are. But, I loved them dearly.

I actually cried reading them because it was so intense to read something that I had been reading back when I was an awkward pre-teen in a loveless home full of abuse. During some parts, I remembered my biological mother screaming at me so clearly that it was almost like she was in the room. It was always in such stark contrast to the books, where Marilla and Matthew love Anne and think of her as the light of their life.

Point is: If you never read Anne of Green Gables, they are charming and worth a look.

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I know a lot of people are re-reading American Gods because of the TV show. I thought about it. But American Gods is another one of those really engaging books, and so it used to be my go-to book on long plane rides. I think I can actually quote nearly the whole thing from memory by now, so I decided not to jump on that boat.

I do have the new Mary Roach book, Grunt, on the way. I am looking forward to that. But if you have any other recommendations, please get in touch and let me know. I always need book recommendations. I don’t have enough friends that read now, and I find that extremely depressing.

Mainland Goodness

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Living overseas can be really cool. I see all kinds of new and different things, and that’s always neat. How many people get to go to a Buddha’s Birthday parade in Seoul or swim with a sea turtle? I know that I am lucky.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that you just can’t get in other places in the world.

Fun Fact: Did you know that cocktails were invented in the United States? Some claim it was in New Orleans, and some claim that it was in New York, but no one disputes that they are a uniquely American invention.

This means that it is also pretty uniquely American to find a wide variety of alcohol and things to mix with it. (For non-US friends, I am talking about things you mix with alcohol like bitters, grenadine, and vermouth.) So, it is cool to see things like that on the shelves.

Then there are produce options!

In South Korea there is a poisonous berry that grows wild. It looks a lot like a raspberry. As a result, they do not think raspberries are food and do not import or grow them. This is a shame, as they are my very favorite fruit.

In Guam we mostly don’t have fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything has to go through costumes in Hawaii (as per US law,) so by the time it gets here it is rotten. And unlike Hawaii, we are not a volcanic island where it is easy to grow things. We are a coral island, which means that the soil is harsh and infertile.

So it’s apples and oranges, and broccoli. That’s what can make it here, so that is what we eat.

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I also miss things that are hard to explain. For example, we do have Chinese food here. However, we are very close to China and so we have Chinese Chinese food here. As it turns out, I don’t really like Chinese Chinese food. I like American Chinese food.

Fun Fact: Fortune cookies are American.

Another thing I really miss is good tortilla soup and carnitas. The people of Guam have some Spanish influence in their culture, but it’s just not the same.

I went all through High School and College in Arizona, and every now and then I am just dying to have some really good Mexican Food.

Thankfully, I can get good Korean and Thai food on Guam, so at least there is that.

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I guess the hardest part for me living overseas is shoes. Even in the US, I have absolutely broken down crying while looking for shoes.

See, I wear a size 12 in women’s. Yes, that’s right, a size 12.

Don’t bother leaving all the jokes in the comments. I have heard every single one. Yes, if I am in a hurricane I won’t blow over. I don’t need skis to go skiing. I am probably related to big foot. Ha. Ha. Ha.

All I really want to cute shoes like girls wear on TV. I want sexy pumps and cute boots and adorable sandals.

However, no one makes those things in size 12.

In Asia I can’t buy shoes at all. These just aren’t any. I tried ordering online, but so many places have sizes that “run small” and they don’t tell you. I ordered a pair from Chinese Laundry because I was so excited to see a size 12 on their site. I don’t know whose idea of a size 12 it was, but I could have cut off all my toes and still not fit my foot into it. So, I have to buy shoes in person.

I was excited to do this while stateside.

I went all the places that folks had suggested to me, like Nordstrom’s Rack and DSW. And I have to tell you: I have nothing nice to say about those places or the people who work there. Same for Target, Walmart, Journeys, and every other shoe store besides Payless.

Not only is Payless literally the only store in the United States that still carries shoes in my size, but the lady there was nice. I have no idea why shoe salesmen in other stores have to be nasty, act shocked, or ask if I am transsexual (I am not.) However, there are some mean and really rotten shoe salespeople, and I think I talked to all of them.

So at long last, I got two new pairs of shoes. With one more year in Guam, and likely another Asian posting in our future, I sure hope these two pairs last me a long time.

Anyway, I think a lot of times people look at my blog and they think that it’s really glamorous living overseas. And yeah, sometimes it has its moments. But I do live a life without raspberries and shoes, so maybe keep that in mind before you think my life is “perfect.”

Shoes that do not come in my size, sold by a very nasty person who thinks women with size 12 feet are subhuman. Thanks DSW.

Halloween Overseas

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I think a lot about the fact that the United States of America is a huge melting pot. It is full of different cultures and different types of people, and sometimes it seems like we don’t have much in common.

However, living overseas for most of the last decade has made me realize that we have more in common than we think.

One of those things is Halloween.

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People from the US ask me “What is Halloween like in other places?” and I have to laugh a little. Most Americans don’t seem to realize that the tradition of Halloween comes from the good old US of A.

Yes, there were some traditions from Europe that we borrowed to integrate into the holiday. However, pretty much every part of Halloween is uniquely American.

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Carving Pumpkins: a pumpkin is a native American plant. It used to make me so sad when I was living in Korea and my friends would say “Are you going to carve pumpkins?” After all, how could I? They don’t sell pumpkins in Korea. Why would they?

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Trick-Or-Treating: This tradition was started by candy companies in the 1950’s. When I used to tell kids in other countries about it, they flat-out called me a liar. It is unheard of in other countries that a child could go up to a stranger’s door, say “Trick or Treat,” and get candy.

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Costumes: Okay, sometimes people in other countries dress up. British people sometimes dress up for bachelor parties, for example. However, it is nothing like it is in America. I remember the other teachers back at Avalon English being aghast at the thought of grown-ass adults dressing up as unicorns and stuff. I just laughed. Of course we do! And it’s awesome!

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Guam doesn’t really do Halloween any more than Korea did. They are technically a US territory, but the holidays are different. This is a shame, and I lament it every year.

See, Halloween isn’t just one of the coolest uniquely American things; it is also my favorite holiday.

I know, that’s weird for an adult. But the thing is, Halloween is for everyone. You might say: “All holidays are for everyone.” If you have a family, it makes sense that you think that way. However, some of us know that it’s not true.

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Example: Christmas. 

I hate Christmas. Let me tell you why:

If you don’t have a family, at first, you might try to go to other people’s family gatherings.

Then they do presents, and no one got you anything, and it’s awkward.

You realize that you are intruding. They invited you, but they don’t really want you there. You feel like shit, and you learn to never do that again.

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So then the next year, you do a Christmas “for people who don’t have families.”

You get a whole bunch of lonely orphans together, and you can just imagine how cheerless that ends up being. You all sit around and think about your family being dead, or on drugs, or estranged. And big surprise, it sucks.

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So after a few years you just spend it alone. You try not to cry, but at some point you know you will.

Maybe you go to a bar and get drunk. Maybe you microwave a dinner and sit there alone eating it. But it sucks. It is just devastatingly painful.

I spent nearly 20 years alone until I was adopted by the Layman family. You simply can’t imagine the pain of 20 years alone on Christmas. It hurts so much that even after being adopted, I still can’t stand Christmas.

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I know that people with families won’t understand this. They will argue that they really do want you to come be with their family, or that you should go volunteer or be with friends. They don’t understand that it’s not just being psychically alone. It’s having attention drawn to the fact that you are alone in the world. That is just a horrible feeling.

So screw Christmas and all the other family holidays. They are mostly foreign holidays anyway.

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Halloween is not like that. Halloween is for everyone! And it’s American!

Ergo, even though I am on Guam where no one celebrates, I will be dressing up and celebrating just like I did in Korea. People can stare and think I am nuts. That’s fine.

This is the best holiday in the whole world. It’s better than the Color Festival, Buddha’s Birthday, and any other holiday that has been dreamed up elsewhere in the world. I never feel more patriotic than I do on Halloween.
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It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a family or not.

You can buy a big bowl of candy and hand it out to the kids. You can go to a Halloween concert or party. You can throw a party. It’s an excuse to see friends, dress up, and buy dry ice. What more could you want out of a holiday?

Besides, visually, it’s just so pretty. Some people don’t like the aesthetics of a holiday that confronts death. However, as someone who has seen a lot of death in my life, I find it more comforting than anything.

So to all of my fabulous readers: Happy Halloween!!!

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College Reunion

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I recently went on a long trip.  One of the things I did was go to my unofficial college reunion in Arizona.

My best friends in college were two lovely women named Sidra and Clarice. Both of them are doing well now, and it was a lot of fun to catch up. I am really glad that I took the time and spent the money to make it possible.

The reunion brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings for me. Most of them are sort of private, but I did want to share a few things that might help others.

1. Keep in touch with snail mail.

I am always surprised at how much it means to people to get post cards and seasonal greeting cards. I guess this is because mail is always exciting. You can hold it in your hand, and put it on your refrigerator. It is a way to display that someone thought of you. Most people just get bills and junk mail, so getting things you didn’t expect that make you happy can be very special.

I have been sending post cards and holiday greeting cards for about 20 years, and I think this is part of what makes people feel like they are still connected to me, even after years apart. I had not seen Sidra and Clarice in 10 years due to all of us being in different countries, but we still felt connected and like we were good friends.

Though it might seem silly, I will also add that I never got a label maker, nor do I run envelopes through my printer. I hand address each envelope, write a personal message referencing things in the person’s life, and include a Holiday Letter talking about my year. People bring up these personal touches when they see me, and thank me for them. That is how I know that they matter.

2. Make connections in college.

We all know that nepotism is how people get the really good jobs. The narrative is that anyone can do anything if they go to college, but the reality is that without connections, your degree is meaningless.

In college, I was so busy working to support myself, studying, and looking after my wayward aerospace engineer boyfriend that I missed a lot of chances to connect. I should have gone to my professor’s office hours and “kissed ass,” as they say. I should have tried to make more friends on campus. (And, probably richer more powerful friends.) I should have seen the scholarship breakfasts I had to go to as an opportunity instead of a burden.

The truth is; I was so busy surviving that I forgot to live. I wish that I had put more effort into climbing ladders instead of just working hard and thinking that would be enough to succeed. I bought the lie. I regret that.

3. Take chances.

I still regret winning a scholarship to study in Costa Rica in college, but then deciding not to take it. I was afraid that my boyfriend would get kick out of school while I was away (since he had so much trouble getting up in the morning.) I was worried that my boss would replace me at work. I was worried about where to store my stuff…

The truth is, I still regret not going.

If you get the chance to have a new or different experience, just take it! Even if you have to find a new job when you get back and put your stuff in storage. Just do it!

It’s true what they say: You only regret the chances you don’t take.

Over the years I have done a lot of wild things, like running away with the Renaissance Festival and then taking off to teach in South Korea. I don’t regret any of those things. But I still regret not doing that semester abroad.

I am hardly an oracle of brilliant advice. I am just a person who has been wandering around the world for awhile now, and I would like to think that those three pieces of advice are pretty solid.

I guess it also goes without saying that you should never lose touch with your friends. I am so glad I kept in touch with Clarice and Sid all these years!

Bagby Hot Springs

A lot of people do the Baby Hot Springs hike because they want to soak in the hot springs. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do most of the time, but not while I was there!

I was in Oregon was the worst heat wave that they had seen in a long time, and even up around Mount Hood, it was still extremely hot.

Still, we went up to soak our feet in the cold stream near the hot springs, and to relax in the shade where it was cool.

After three years of hiking through jungle, I have to say, it’s really very pretty in Oregon. I forgot the dark shades of green that you find in the forest, and how beautiful the bark is on pine and cedar trees.

As you know,  love plants.

And, the plants in the forest near the hot springs are so lush and pretty even in the midst of the heat and the dry weather.

We even saw various kinds of neat fungus along the trail.

I went with my adopted mom and my husband. The three of us are not the kind of hikers who go for distance. We go for experience. And, this is an easy hike and a nice experience.

That reminds me, if you are interested in other easy hikes in Oregon, I would recommend The Creaky Knees Guide, which my mom got me for my birthday.

It has a lot of trails for those of us who are looking for more -shall we say- relaxing hikes?

I should warn that the stream is snow and glacier melt, so it’s not really a good idea to swim in it. We did see some people jump in (seemingly to prove that they could.) However, they got right back out.

Sometimes people don’t realize that you can get hypothermia in Oregon in the dead heat of summer. However, when you are in 35-degree water for too long, I assure you that you can.

The pools in the stream near the hot springs are absolutely deep enough to swim in. There is no reason you can’t swim in them. If you are hot and sweaty, there is no doubt that it would be refreshing.

Just, don’t stay in too long.

Mom soaked her feet because they swell when she hikes. She’s a nurse, so it was really nice of her to go hiking with us in spite of the fact that she spends 14-hour days on her feet all week at the VA.

However, I think we all enjoyed spending some time in nature. There is something about running water, moss, and deep green trees that soothes the soul, if you know what I mean. It just feels good.

There stream is mostly wide with a lot of deep pools, but it funnels through this one part where it is narrow, and I took a video because I love the way water looks crashing over rocks. Enjoy!

Thoughts on Seaside

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One of the places that I went while I was on my stateside trip was Seaside, Oregon.

This is a town that is hard for me to explain, because it strikes right at the heart of middle-class American life in a way that makes me nostalgic and a bit sad.

My biological family (who abandoned me, as you all know) used to go to Rio De Mar in California each summer for a family reunion. So, the adopted family also having a beach reunion can -in and of itself- cut a little deep.

However, there is more too it than that.

Seaside is a town full of what I can only call classic American kitsch and, it can make anyone Generic American feel nostalgic. I fear that bit might need explaining…

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I hate to talk about race/culture differences because people always attack people who bring it up (like if you ignore it, it might go away.) But if I want to be honest about the Seaside experience I have no choice but to mention it.

See, as a kid I went to a summer camp at Sierra College. My two best friends there were a Chinese girl who went by “Christine” (so white people could say her name) and a black girl named Michele.

I used to sit and eat lunch with them every day, and we talked about our lives and our toys, and things we did with our parents.

Their stories were different than mine.

Christine went to CLC (a kind of Chinese school,) watched her mom pay Mahjong, and helped out at the family business. They went on summer trips to visit family in China, too. Christine always brought food that I liked, so we traded lunches. She was excited to eat my peanut butter and jelly, and I liked to eat her cold noodles and rice crackers.

As for Michele, she usually had a bought lunch because her mom didn’t have time to pack her one. Her family came from Somolia and she didn’t talk much because English wasn’t her first language, but she did tell us bits about being Muslim and attending an Eid festival.

I want to stress that their experiences were no less American than mine. But they are not Generic American. They are uniquely American. (Which is maybe cooler since diversity is kind of our thing as a country.)

There are differences in race/culture in this country, and there is no point in denying that some of us had experiences that others didn’t.

The point is: Seaside is nostalgic for people raised in the Generic American culture of the 80’s and 90’s. Christine would not find Seaside nostalgic because her childhood cultural experience is not represented there. But, mine is.

Also, a disclaimer: When I say race/culture it is because it is not one or the other that determines experience. I know white people from Poland who were raised Polish rather than Generic American. I also know people of Chinese or Mexican decent who had the same Generic American experience as me with crystal-growing kits and light brights and the whole thing. So when I say Generic American, it is exactly that. It is the experience that Americans have when they are not raised with extras, and only get the generic culture laying around.

I hope that makes sense, because I think it helps explain Seaside.

Seaside Aquarium

Seaside is a small town with restaurants, an aquarium, shops, and boardwalk attractions like bumper cars and mini golf. It really can’t be described as anything other than Classic American Kitsch.

I saw a Simon game in a store and remembered the hours I used to spend playing with one of those. I saw a tie dye kit and remembered the adults bringing us one when I was a kid to keep us busy while they sunbathed (and yes, of course we all ended up covered in dyes of various colors, as you do.) I saw bottles to put sand in, bags of shells for sale, and every other generic thing you ever had or saw as a kid.

I guess some of it is classically west coast. I mean, I hear that the shells and beaches are different on the east coast. I have never been to an east coast beach, so I really couldn’t say. But my husband is from Massachusetts and he says its different over there.

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Seaside has a hat store full of silly hats that everyone goes in and tries on because the photos are amazing. There are squid hats and pizza hats. There are huge hats that look like Jacky-O would have worn them, and silly hats for festivals or Halloween.

There is also a carousel, because on the west coast I feel like every beach town is required to have one. The fee was $2, which I considered a bit steep, but what can you do? It might be things I remember from the 80’s, but the prices have inflated (as, I guess, is to be expected.)

And of course, there are store full of junk. I don’t know what else to call it. It’s just stuff.  I know lots of people like stuff and work their whole lives to acquire it. But, as someone who moves all the time, stuff is just dead weight to me. I guess that means I don’t appreciate it properly. Sorry. But you might appreciate it, so I took lots of pictures.

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We have been stationed in Guam for three years now. Before that I was in South Korea for three years. The plants are strikingly different in those places, and so there is something about walking down the streets in Seaside and seeing pots full of succulent cactus. There were also lots of lavender and hollyhocks, and post of petunias and violets.

As you know if you know me at all, I really love plants. I notice them more than I think most people do, and they are a huge part of what I feel to be the soul of a place.

Anyway, Seaside plants are of the same sort that you find in Northern California (Where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life.) So, it feels a lot like home. I even saw California poppies in front of the little museum the town has.

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The air is amazing too.

I post of lot of pictures of Guam. When you look at one, you can see what Guam is like, but you cannot feel what Guam is like. Each picture of a beach in Guam should come with the oppressive heat and sun that only the equator can provide, and mosquitoes buzzing in your ear the way that they always are in Guam. That’s the full experience, you know?

By the same token, pictures of Seaside don’t really cover what it is like. You are missing the biting cold wind that makes you snuggle into your hoodie, and the clean smell of the air that makes you feel happy and alive.

Another thing that I found striking was to remember the sound of the waves. In Guam, the waves break out of the reef, far away from the beach. But in Seaside, the waves come right up to the shore and you can hear them breaking. It’s a lovely sound.

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My adopted mom loves the salt water taffy. I think that was a big part of the west coast experience when she was young, about 50 years ago. She talks fondly of seeing it made in store windows and such. I tried it and it is rough on the teeth. (I have a lot of fillings.) However, I don’t hate it.

There are also a variety of other restaurants. When my friends drove down from Seattle to see us, we even found one on the main street that allows dogs (since they brought their new puppy.)

There are quite a few places to get elephant ears, cotton candy, and hot dogs. I guess that is pretty standard boardwalk food, although Seaside doesn’t have a boardwalk. I guess to sum it up, if you were feeling like an old-fashioned root beer in a glass bottle and something on a stick, you would be able to find it in Seaside.

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There are also a lot of places that are only a short drive away. Canon Beach, for example, is just up the road and full of all kinds of lovely art galleries and bakeries. It’s a nice place to spend a day.

There is also Astoria, just up the coast. It’s the town where they filmed a movie called Goonies, and also another cute little ocean-side town full of kites for sale and beach blankets.

We went to Hug Point this year, and the beach there is charming. I also loved the tide pools, full of sea anemones and star fish. There is even an old section of highways down on the beach, which is completely covered in barnacles and muscles.

So, if you get a beach house in Seaside and then want to take short adventures, there is no shortage of nearby places to go and see.

 

 

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I guess my strong emotional reaction to Seaside is rooted in growing up on the west coast in a very generic american household of middle class people. It is exactly the kind of place that people like I grew up with go on vacation, and it is really intense that my adopted family should hold their reunion there.

It is no accident that I was re-reading the Harry Potter series on this trip.

The family reminds me of the Weasleys. They are not rich or fancy, but they love each other deeply. And they adopted Harry because he was alone in the world and they felt that everyone deserves a loving family. That is, as far as I can tell, the same reason that the Layman family adopted me.

It’s not exactly the same as having a biological family. Nothing is. But when you don’t have a biological family, the next best thing is to have loving people adopt you. I am very lucky to have been adopted by the family, and I am very lucky that they let me come to their reunions.

 

 

tie dye kit and such

If any of you are also west coast kids, then I hope you can appreciate why Seaside is such a charming place.
And just because it is so different from my beach (or at least, the beach I live on), here is the ocean at Hug Point: