Sunset at Grand Canyon NP, Upper Rim, 2012
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Why I love national parks

Happy Earth Day, earthlings! So many things I can write about to dedicate this post to Earth Day, but I’m going to go with my love for national parks, since it’s also National Park Week (April 19-27)! Test how well you know your national parks here! I sure learned some fun facts from it.

These past couple of yeaIMG_20140421_225117rs, I’ve grown very fond of national parks, nearly to the point of obsession (a healthy one I would say). Hiking through national parks have been some of the most rewarding and memorable trips I’ve taken thus far. I wish I can turn back time and be a junior park ranger! Though growing up in nyc, I doubt I even knew what a ‘ranger’ was. That didn’t stop me from getting a junior park ranger cup when I went to Yellowstone last year! —>

Since we’re celebrating the existence of national parks (nice work, Teddy, nice work), I thought it’s high time to reflect on why they’re so wonderful. Here are my three reasons:

1. People at national parks seem to be the happiest people you’ll meet. Everyone’s there to take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy the outdoors; there’s nothing else on the agenda. This positive energy is contagious; it makes you also a happier, nicer person while there. If not, you’re just a grumpy jerk. There’s also a great sense of camaraderie among hikers. It’s un-calculated and easy to lend a helping hand, warn of a bear up ahead, or share some snacks. And the park rangers; they seem to really love their job, and why wouldn’t they (perhaps I should read “Ranger Confidential and find out”).

2. I often find myself drawing life lessons while hiking through a national park. Like…the path less taken can lead to surprising rewards. The harder you have to push yourself to keep moving forward, the sweeter it is when you finally reach what you were aiming for. The easier way could also be the more boring way. It’s all about perspective. Cliches maybe, but it’s good to be reminded of these simple lessons. You can come out from a trip feeling different, perhaps freer or happier, than how you went in, if you allow yourself to be.

3. National parks remind us Mama Nature is still the greatest architect…and the greatest. You will find so many peculiar sites, other-worldly landscapes, panoramas of mountains and more mountains (some snow-capped, those are the best). We’re missing out on so much when we’re hiding away behind our concrete walls. Then, we’re also reminded how small and (debatably) insignificant we are in Earth’s history when we’re standing on or next to million-year-old formations, and how vulnerable we are to a single misstep into a seemingly slow-flowing river or thinning glacier. It’s both humbling and alluring.

My next trip to a national park can’t come soon enough (but is already planned)! Happy National Park Week!

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Perfect Spring day at the National Arboretum

Saturday morning, I decided to wake up early (if you consider 9am early) and visit the National Arboretum for the first time. An excellent decision to kickstart a beautiful weekend in DC; what a hidden gem! I felt happy the second I stepped out of the car. It was serene, lovely, big enough to feel completely isolated from the surrounding roads, but small enough to not get lost, and lots of grass land to frolick about and swing my arms around, if I were inclined to. That’s how I prefer to enjoy the cherry blossoms!

One cool landmark in the arboretum are the 22 corinthian columns in the middle of the Ellipse Meadow, originally meant to support the Capitol dome, but were later found unsuitable. So calming to walk through the columns, like walking through a labyrinth.

I will definitely visit again for a nice jog or a picnic!

Downtown Boston
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Weekend Escape to Boston

Truth be told, my weekend escape to Boston to visit friends revolved largely around food. So. much. food. I got off the plane, took the train to Kendall and met up with Joyce, who wasted no time and took me straight to the first stop, Brick and Mortar, for some snacks and delicious cocktails. I basically didn’t stop eating except to drink coffee, visit the Boston Public Library (which was beautiful!), check out Newbury Street (where we had Georgetown cupcakes), walk about town, and dance. We also set a new record for longest amount of time I’ve ever waited to get seats for a meal: three and a half hours for Neptune Oyster Bar. Was it worth it? Hard to say, I reached the point of insatiable h-anger and my lobster roll was less than spectacular, but Nancy’s seared scallops on a bed of baby brussel sprouts and duck confit were THE best scallops I’ve ever had; I don’t even like scallops, but these were amazing.

I’ve never been a big fan of Boston for some reason. It’s always rainy or cold or gloomy every time I’m there (except last summer when I went to a Red Sox game and we baked in the 100+ degree clear skies and blazing sun). But my last few visits have definitely turned my impression of it around. Now with more friends moving there, I foresee another trip back to New England very soon!

Thanks mucho for a wonderfully fun weekend, friends!

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Fighting the mid-winter blues

February is such a dreadful month; winter is in full swing and this year has been especially awful with the unrelenting, record-breaking low temperatures. I’m counting down the days until we get 8pm sunsets again and going outside won’t require a 3-minute bundling-up routine. To combat my annual mid-winter blues, I agreed to take on the 100 Happy Days Challenge with my dear friend, Jessica. If you recall my new year resolution blog post, I set a resolution this year to stay positive and be grateful. My action plan was to exchange Sunday gratitudes with my motivation buddy, Haruka. That’s still going (yay us, Haruka!), but now I’m stepping up the game and taking on this new task. The 100 Happy Days Challenge (which really shouldn’t be a challenge at all) entails taking a photo daily of a happy moment and sharing it. It’s a good reminder that there is always something to be happy about, some days more than others, but always. Follow my 100 days @leapnbound on Instagram!

Today was Day 1. I happened upon this West Elm blog about La Colombe coffee, which every West Elm market serves. I’ve always been a fan of their coffee and frequent their Soho and Noho branches. A moment of curiosity about where they got their start brought me to their website and locations page. There it was: “DC”. I couldn’t believe my ignorance of there being a branch in DC and was convinced it was opened just recently (which I later confirmed with the barista; it only opened three weeks ago). To add a giant cherry on top, it’s only a few blocks away from my apartment. So I went to check it out right away before heading to work this morning. I couldn’t find it at first and almost thought they were lying and it actually wasn’t there (I tend to develop doubts in my head when things are too good to be true). But I found it eventually down an alley way in the middle of the block in a renovated brick building. I was beaming as I approached and walked in; it felt like a little piece of home was planted near me in DC. That was my happy moment of the day, followed by blissful sipping of a yummy cup of coffee.

IMG_20140220_161149On a different note, my dog, Keiko, turned three on Tuesday! In dog years, that’s equivalent to turning 21. I would get her doggie beer (yes, there’s such a thing), but she dislikes it (like a proper lady), so instead, I got her a rotisserie chicken. I had to sit there and monitor her feast to make sure she doesn’t eat all of it and throw up after. Happy Birthday, my little buttercup!

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“Wild”: An Incredible Ride (Book Review)

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I was skeptical, as usual. This book gained popularity so fast and was showered with accolades. I picked up the book expecting it to be yet another memoir of someone trying to cope with hardships and self-discover by indulging in travels (yes, I was not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love – think me crazy, but I personally wouldn’t call deciding to go eat delicious food and spend a year in Italy, India, and Bali, Indonesia, a “tough decision to make”). In a way, it is, but fifty pages into the book, I realize I was approaching it all wrong. I shouldn’t be seeking out what makes Cheryl’s experience so outstanding and different from any other person’s to make it worth its praise. Instead, I started to see how her experience is one that people can relate to, without having been in exactly the same situation. The author gives an engrossing account of her journey up the Pacific Crest Trail, while weaving in stories of her struggles with the loss of her mother and the unraveling of all the close relationships in her life, which led to her decision to pack her bags and go on this hike to experience a different kind of struggle. She talks of fear of the unknown, finding excuses to get out of things we committed ourselves to, death and loss, failure to do what we know to be right despite ourselves, and learning to find comfort in solitude; these are all themes that people can relate to.

The story was also just brilliantly written, thoroughly entertaining  and full of wit and surprising candor. One of my many favorite parts is her description of her strapping on her fully packed backpack, which she later named Monster, for the first few times. It was so vividly and comically described; you can just picture her rolling around struggling to stand up with the backpack on her back and not wanting to put it down every time someone suggests it lest she must face the onerous task of picking it off the ground again. It might not sound like anything here, but read it, and you’ll see what I mean.

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Escape to San Francisco

While most of the U.S. was experiencing record-breaking cold weather, California was sunny as can be. They are, however, also experiencing a climate abnormality, a drought. So not only are they enjoying 60-degree days, they have to cope with clear sunny skies every day.

This is my second time in the Bay Area and I got to see so much more of it, thanks to my dear friend Luisa, whom we were visiting. As a proud San Franciscan (like every San Franciscan I know, literally), she made sure we experienced as much of the city and the surrounding areas as possible in 5 days. We love a good balance of the outdoors (kayaked in the bay in Sausalito, walked through Muir Woods, hiked along the Pacific to Land’s End) and of life in a beautiful and lively city (had amazing brunches, hung out in the rad Mission District, toured the city like real tourists). The diversity and endless number of things to do and the all-around pleasantness of the people, who all seem to be so happy and content living there, make it truly one of the most enjoyable cities to visit.

Click here to see my photo journal of the trip.

On our last day, the Northeast welcomed us back with more snow and below freezing weather, which made it extra hard to leave. Already daydreaming and planning my next trip to the west coast…