Wednesday, January 18, 2017

La La Land

I think my new blogging policy will be to update whenever I go on a trip. Not sure if I have any readers left here, but for my own sake, I do like having a record of things. And what else am I supposed to do with all the photos I take? It seems too late at this point to take up Instagram.

Anyway, this time our travels took us to sunny Southern California and the Los Angeles area. It seemed surprising that I had never been there after all these years, but then I so often focus my California travel up north. Sam also hadn't been back to LA since living there over a decade ago. It was fun to visit friends, see a new part of the state, and see a few of Sam's old spots. (We didn't make it to see his old place on Rodeo Drive, but we did see the Sears where he once bought a VCR in Santa Monica.)

The first day, our wonderful friend Ryan picked us up at the airport and took us to Santa Monica to stretch our legs and get burgers. We rewarded ourselves for the long walk on the beach by getting lots of cheesecake. We ended up getting five slices of cheesecake for four people because the flavors at this place Rocco's were so interesting. For example, he had a shitake caramel one, although we stuck to flavors like tiramisu and green tea.
Sam said people are always falling off these cliffs. 
The next day was sunny (but then isn't it always?), so we went for a hike in Griffith Park. We didn't make it up the Hollywood sign, but we got some nice views nonetheless. To rest our legs after the hike, we went to the Planetarium show at the Griffith Observatory and walked around the museum for a bit. We got to see a demonstration of the Tesla coil (although I didn't take any pictures of that for some reason).
With LA and the Griffith Observatory in the background. 
After the Observatory, we met some of Sam's old friends and another mutual friend from back in Astoria for a late brunch. Some of our group continued on to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits.

We didn't actually go in the LACMA, but I did want to see this sculpture out front. 
The tar pits were somewhat underwhelming because it had rained the week prior. The layer of water on top of the tar, made it hard to see the bubbling. We did get to see them the partially excavated hip bone of a giant sloth though!

Sunset reflecting off the tar.
 On Sunday, we decided to take a break from LA and go to parts north. The friends we were staying with live in the Valley and were keen to take us to an Italian pastry shop near Simi Valley. The pastry shop was indeed worth the drive and the drive itself was also very scenic. Since we were in Simi Valley, we decided to visit the Reagan Library. Having been to four presidential libraries now, it's always fun to see how they gloss over the less great stuff. There was an excellent portrait of Reagan made out of jelly bellies. Also, they let you go on Air Force One.

Air Force One, as it was back in the 80s. It didn't even have a shower yet. 
After the library, and having eaten our fill of lunch and pastries, we decided to go to the beach at Ventura, which has a nice pier to walk out on. There were a lot of surfers out, which was impressive, given that it wasn't super warm. We were told the sunsets at Ventura were particularly nice. It ended up clouding over before the sun completely set, but I still would say it wasn't too shabby.

Me with three LA transplants from Astoria in Ventura. 
On Monday, we met a friend for one last coffee in her neighborhood in LA. We had planned to do a little more in the city before heading to the airport, but after a busy couple of days, we decided to just relax and take it easy. It was a lovely time and so nice to see so many former Astorians loving the California life.
A parting shot from the boardwalk in Ventura.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A hell of a town

I haven't had time to update my blog since we got back from New York last week, but I wanted to add a few photos. Not sure if anyone still checks in here anymore, but for my own sake it's nice to at least post about trips. I've frequently found myself referencing this blog in the past to see when we did certain things or went various places.

Anyway, last weekend we were in New York for the wedding of some dear friends from back in Astoria. The wedding itself was at a cool studio in Long Island City, so we ended up staying in an AirBnB in the neighborhood. It was fun having an apartment there again, although we both agreed, it didn't really feel like home since Dinah wasn't there to greet us.

Most of our time in town was spent either going to the wedding or meeting up with friends and family for copious amounts of food. We never did get to sate Sam's craving for Korean food, but we did managed to get Rice to Riches. The first day we were there, it was cold and rainy and all our friends were at work, so we thought we'd go to a museum. There was an hour long line to get into the Guggenheim, presumably because we were not the only ones to want to go museuming on a rainy day in the city. We mulled over it for a while, and tried to check their website to see if the exhibit was even worth going to, but alas their website was having issues. In the end, we toughed it out, and were sort of underwhelmed:
Sam amidst the art
 The other big attraction was an exhibit called "America" that is actually just a solid gold toilet that apparently cost $1.5 million and was installed in the fifth floor bathroom. The exhibit is participatory in nature, meaning you can actually use said toilet. Naturally, there was a two hour line for that as well, so we demurred. I'm satisfied spending my life without ever peeing in a solid gold toilet in the name of art, and the rest of the Guggenheim's bathrooms were delightfully line free. For posterities sake, I did get a photo of the line though:
I imagine having people wait 2 hours to sit on a gold toilet when porcelain ones are available no waiting is all part of the artistic message. 
 Once the rain stopped we took the long way down to happy hour by walking through Central Park. The leaves haven't quite changed yet (apparently it's been unseasonably warm there as well), but it was still lovely as always.
Autum in New York and Sam.
 I ended up putting most of the pictures of friends on Facebook, but here's one of Sam and Adam in a tiny British cafe in the West Village.
Sam and Adam
 We'd held off on going to the Met on our first museum day because we'd wanted to see the roof exhibit, which is closed when its raining. This is said exhibit: a reproduction of the house from Psycho. From this photo, it looks like a complete building, but the back was open so that you could see it was just a shell.
Beautiful day for a murder house.
 After the Psycho house, we mostly explored the new Asian wing, but we did stop briefly in the Egyptian area. It's definitely one of the most iconic parts of the museum for a reason.
Almost looks like proper fall here.
This was in the Japanese art section. It's an actual taxedermied dear under there. 
Okay, I think that about covers the trip. I realized now that we didn't actually get any photos of our time in Astoria. I guess that's part of it though. We don't really feel like tourists there, so I don't really think to take pictures. I did at least make a concerted effort to get photos of friends though. It was definitely fun to visit our old life and to see all the people we miss. We were talking while we were there about how we don't know when we'll next be back, which is kind of sad. But I know we'll meet again someday, Astoria. After all, I still haven't won Hamilton tickets.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oh Canada!

I'm afraid this blog may be succumbing to the grad school curse. (This is real affliction that affects blogs when their owners start putting their writing energy elsewhere. It sounds slightly better than just saying I gave up.) I can't guarantee I'll keep recording things as they happen on a weekly basis, but I do promise to make exceptions for really cool things like our recent trip to Canada. As many of you know, I spent the last week in Banff National Park in Alberta with family. I have a million photos, but I'm culling it to a reasonable number.

For those concerned, Carolyn and Aileen are only pretending to stumble on the thin and rocky precipice that was the last quarter mile of this hike. 
Our longest hike on the trip was from Lake Louise to the Plain of Six Glaciers. My guidebook said it would take 90 minutes each way, but the guide was clearly meant for more motivated hikers than we were because it took us pretty much all day. The hike provided beautiful views of the lake for the first mile or so before snaking up the mountain. After a couple of miles we were rewarded with food and beverage at a rustic tea house. There's no electricity and all the ingredients are brought in periodically by horses, and then everything's baked on a wooden stove. In addition to a great tea selection, they had some excellent apple cake. I would definitely recommend it, should you find yourself on this particular mountain in the Canadian Rockies. After our little tea break, we continued on to where the six glaciers were visible (see photo above). We heard and saw a big ice fall as some came crashing off the glacier. A beautiful site, and I hope those glaciers survive the century.

I like this photo because it looks like Sam has a dog on his head. 
In the photo above you can see the Fairmont Lake Louise in the background of the lake. It was very cold and dipping our feet in was plenty. There's a polar bear swim every year where everyone jumps in (I think in honor of Canada Day?). Had it occurred while we were there, I don't think I would have participated. At 39 degrees year round, this glacial lake makes Barton Springs feel like bath water.

Banff from above
We were staying in the town of Banff within the park. National parks in the U.S. (at least the ones I've been to) don't have towns within them, so this was a new experience. There are actually a ton of shops and restaurants (some of them quite good). There are also a lot of sights to see quite near Banff. From our rental house, we could walk to the trailheads of several hikes, including up Tunnel Mountain. That's the one visible in the center. It looks quite shrimpy there, but it did take about an hour to climb up. Banff is also home to a wonderful hot spring and gondola that you can take up Sulphur Mountain. The gondola takes you to an observation deck where the above photo was taken. For those playing Pokemon Go, there's also apparently a Pokemon gym up at the top of Sulphur Mountain.

Vermillion Lakes, on the outskirts of Banff. 
Downtown Banff on our morning walk to the bakery. My mom's shirt matched the flowers perfectly 

Our home for the week. It has an indoor lap pool, which seems important to mention. 

Moraine Lake 
The above photo shows the glacially fed Moraine Lake. It's an even more brilliant blue than this photo can really show. You can also see from the clouds on the mountain that this was our one rainy day, which meant we skipped our original plan of canoeing the lake. We still took a lovely hike here though. I definitely recommend this song while looking at photos of this lake.

Two of my favorite hikers in Johnston Canyon.
Our final hike was apparently one of the most popular in the park. You can hike into Johnston Canyon along metal walkways attached to the side of the canyon. Leads to some great views of the Bow River and some waterfalls (none of which are seen in the photos I'm posting, actually). It's nicely paved which makes it more of a walk than a hike, especially since you're dodging strollers at times.

Ground squirrel at Consolation Lake
We didn't see a ton of wildlife while we were there, which in the case of grizzly bears was perhaps for the best. We did see one elk in town and a couple of pika. The one thing we saw in abundance was ground squirrels. There's apparently a $25,000 fine (Canadian dollars, but still!) for feeding the animals, but clearly some people ignore those because (as evidenced by the photo above, courtesy of Aileen), these guys were not shy. 

Castle Mountain. We did not attempt to climb this. 
Overall, it was a wonderful trip. In addition to hiking, we went horseback riding, enjoyed high tea at the chateau-like Fairmont Banff Springs, soaked up the mild weather, and caught up on our Canadian Olympic coverage. Already looking forward to the next family vacation!

Monday, July 4, 2016

The last two weeks

Happy 4th of July, readers! I've been lucky the last two weekends to get to hang out with some of my favorite family members. Last weekend my aunt, and loyal reader, Barrie came to see us in Austin. It was mercifully not so hot, so we were able to go on a decent hike on Barton Creek without melting. We also tried a Thai place in South Austin that was spicy enough to lead to some melting on my part, although it was also delicious. 
I think we meant to photograph the food as well, but at least we got a photo of Barrie at the Thai place. 
On Saturday, we did some farmer's market peach buying and then (because it still wasn't brutally hot), some yard work. Thanks to Barrie's excellent hedge cutting instincts, we dramatically improved our house's curb appeal. Turns out there were little bushes under the large, overgrown bush, the whole time! Now we just need to update our siding and we'll have the cutest house on the block and can start judging our neighbors with impunity. Thanks, again for all your help, Barrie! You're welcome back in Austin anytime.

The finished product, in as much as landscaping is ever really "finished."
This weekend, Sam and I traveled to Houston and were put to work ourselves. I know many readers will be interested to see some photos of my parent's new house. We hung a lot of pictures this weekend, and it's really starting to come together. Our greatest triumph was the dining room photo gallery:
The Safari Room, as it will henceforth be called, and the architect of the installation. The artist herself is of course not pictured. 
This didn't come out so well, but those plates were a chore to hang, or so it sounded like from my vantage point of reading on the couch while Sam and my mom fussed with them. If the lighting were better, you would see that they look awesome. 
The living room with two longhorns staring longingly out the window at the open range (golf course) just out of reach. 
The last couple of weeks have certainly instilled in me that houseguests are best when plied with wine and food and put to work on house projects. Hope everyone else had an equally productive and happy independence day!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Taste the rainbow

It was our turn to host our monthly wine club last weekend. Truth be told, as much as we maintain the pretense of caring about wine, it's really become more of a dinner club where we just happen to get drunk. The focus is 100% on the food. We normally pick a region, country, or cuisine style as a theme, but this time I got a little more conceptual. Inspired by a book Sam gave me (specifically this one), the theme for each course was a color. With so much fresh summer produce right now, it didn't seem like too much of a challenge. Plus it finally gave me a chance to buy the purple cauliflower I've always been curious about. 

It seems fitting that I include some photos of our escapades:

Orange: pimento cheese dip and monkey gland cocktails to start

Green: salad with greens avocado, shaved asparagus, and cucumber

Purple: Blue corn tacos with chorizo, purple vegetables, and a purple potato based salsa. Yellow: corn salad

Most of our colorful menu was all natural colors, but we certainly weren't going to say no to these rainbow cupcakes
As a bonus, here's the purple vegetables before roasting. Aren't the beautiful? 
 Definitely a very tasty and fun meal! I might spring the extra $1 for purple cauliflower again sometime.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Gulf

Last weekend, we took a little drive south and east to the Port Aransas/Corpus Christi area. I had been craving a beach trip for a while, and since at that point I hadn't just read an article about someone getting flesh eating bacteria from swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, it seemed like a swell way to spend a weekend. We left on Friday night after work which meant hitting a bit of traffic and just barely making it to the Dairy Queen before it closed (apparently freeway exit Dairy Queens that are the only thing to eat for miles close at 8 pm on weeknights), but otherwise it was an uneventful, and actually rather scenic drive. 
The sunset as viewed from the Dairy Queen. Some days I think about getting an Instagram, but then I remember I already have a blog.
Prior to the trip, there had been a 90% chance of rain forecasted for the weekend. We vowed to bring martini fixings and to suck it up and make the best of it. As it turned out, it didn't even rain once (although we did experience some actually rather pleasant cloud cover). Now I feel vindicated in my usual lack of trust in and ignoring of the weather app. We didn't spend too much time at the beach, which is how I managed to not get sunburned despite negligent reapplication of sunblock, but I did take a few photos. These are from the random public beach near Mustang Island State Park.

Under the fishing pier. Don't know if people were having any luck, but there were tons of fish jumping in the waves.
The beach we went to was nice enough and pleasantly uncrowded, although that could also be because some people are more scared of foreboding weather than our crew. There were decent waves to make attempts at body surfing, and the sand wasn't outrageously hot. That coupled with the lack of jellyfish made it an instant win over Galveston.

Those skies look ominous, but it was all for show. 
Sam kicking back with his monster margarita at a restaurant by our AirBnB.
All in all, it was a fun trip. I didn't quite get my fill of the beach, so I might try to go back later in the summer. Flesh eating bacteria be damned!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

3 Years

This past Memorial Day weekend, we did a great deal of errand running and moving. The good news is Sam's parents have made a lot of process. The house is really looking like a home. I think they're starting to settle in, although it's done nothing but rain since they've been here, so at some point they may think we lied to them about Austin having a sunny, arid climate. They arrived on Sam and my anniversary, which was an enjoyable gift! We did sneak away to have dinner the next night at a restaurant and apiary out in hill country. I wanted to post a couple of pictures because, after all, we will only have one three year wedding anniversary. Posterity demands we record these things.

Flowers Sam got me. The rest opened up over time. 

Sam at Apiary with his amuse bouche. 

Our first course
I included the last photo because the presentation of my scallops was really interesting. You can't really tell in the picture, but it was served on a large shell on top of a bed of kelp-like seaweed and little rocks. I was in the process of remarking on how funny I found it, when the waitress rushed over to make sure I knew not to eat the seaweed and rocks. I assured her, I understood they were intended to be decorative, but she said it happens all the time. The seaweed, I can understand, I guess, even though it was not the kind typically served as a garnish, but pebbles?

At any rate, the last three years seem to have just flown by! It seems like just yesterday I was getting ready to head to Queens Farm to meet up with Sam and feed some llamas. Although in that time, we've moved across the country and bought a house, so I suppose some things have changed. Looking forward to the years ahead and all the new joys and changes to come!