Monday, June 29, 2015

Picking lavender while the sun shines

A few weekends ago was the Lavender Festival in Blanco, about 45 minutes outside of Austin. I'd wanted to go, but we had friends in town and it also wasn't ideal outdoor festival weather, so we stayed in town. The existence of the Blanco Lavender Festival did give us the important information that there are a bunch of lavender farms (enough to create a festival around them anyway) right outside Austin. I looked a few up, weighed my options, and then Sam and I sat out to day trip to the Blanco area and specifically to Hill Country Lavender where you can pick your own for a nominal fee.

Sam is a seasoned lavender picker. 
It was a lovely drive out and perfect weather. Arriving at the farm, we had the whole place to ourselves, although when we left several groups of people were arriving. The farm is small, but they have a number of lavender products for sale (your soaps, your candles, and weirdly sachets that can double both as tea bags and bath fragrance). They also sold several different varieties of lavender. I bought a small plant for my garden and am hoping for the best.

Strolling the fields.
We also partook of the pick-your-own lavender to have a little something nice to smell for the trip home. I hadn't thought of what to do with it other than occasionally pick up the bouquet to smell it, but now I'm considering infusing it in oil as well.

Now that's one of many summer day trips crossed off the list! Many more to go...

Monday, June 22, 2015

2 years and a month (well, almost)

Our second anniversary was celebrated a little late this year. We had planned to go for dinner at a nice restaurant in Austin we haven't tried yet. Unfortunately, that was the day after we came back from our trip to New York to flooding in Austin. The resulting 8-hour unplanned diversion to Houston had us arriving home at 3 in the morning. After a late night and a full day of work, we both decided to bag our dinner plans, order take out, and pass out around 8:30. 

Luckily, Sam had already booked follow-up plans. Knowing my enjoyment of a good high tea, he arranged to have one at the Four Seasons in Austin as a surprise. (So much of a surprise was it that he actually forgot about the plans himself and we had to reschedule). At any rate, nearly a month after our official anniversary, we had tea this weekend and it was lovely and decadent as high teas in fancy hotels so often are. 

We had already eaten two scones before we thought to take a picture. Quite a spread!

Me, as seen by my tea partner, when his head is presumably tilted. 

The waitress asked if we were celebrating anything special,  and I told her it was a late anniversary tea, so she came back with this. Since it came after we had already consumed the above tri-level of food, this little guy had to come home with us. 

A rare shot of the two of us that isn't a selfie. 
All and all a lovely way to spend a rainy Saturday (or a sunny Saturday, I imagine, but there's something nice about joying tea while watching the rain). Looking forward to drinking tea together for many years to come.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Feasting with friends: a weekend in Austin

I know, I've been a terrible blogger. I haven't been taking many pictures lately, and haven't wanted to subject my readers to a visual-less post. That said, you're in luck this week! Sam and I entertained some friends in town this weekend. In addition to forcing us to get out and enjoy touristing in Austin, one of these friends is also a constant photo taker, so I stole all of hers and can now entertain you with them. This friend is also very effusive and positive about pretty much everything. In a way, I feel like she made me appreciate the city in a new light. Or maybe it's just nice to take a break and have a weekend of eating all the things and spending money with abandon. After all, they were on vacation, so we might as well be on vacation too.

I collected one friend from the airport and then her husband from a hotel downtown (he had a conference here which was the reason for the timing of their trip). Their first request was BBQ, so get BBQ we did. I enjoy the picture below because it is one of a series of rib eating shots she took. In none of them are both Sam and Ryan looking at the camera and in most they're just varying degrees of ignoring her and eating the ribs.

Rib-eaters, in the wild. 
After BBQ, we took them to Rainey Street, which is a pedestrian friendly area with a ton of bars and restaurants. I've been there a few times but always parked on the other end of it, so there were several places I hadn't seen, including a bar made out of shipping containers. We also stopped at the only sports bar on Rainey Street to watch the U.S. vs Sweden women's World Cup game. Turned out to be a boring game, but at least the company was good.

Now that I am reminded the World Cup is happening, I've decided I'm routing for Thailand (in addition to the U.S., of course)
On Saturday, we lucked out. There had been talk of thunderstorms all weekend, but we were given a reprieve and the weather was sunny all day. We got some breakfast tacos and then headed to Barton Springs. The popular cold spring had been closed for the last few weeks because of damage from the floods last month. Definitely fun that it's back open. After Barton Springs, we went for a hike on the Greenbelt and did a little swimming there as well since the creek was pretty high (another result of the aforementioned flooding) and we already had our bathing suits. All in all, a nice day full of things that would not have been possible in a thunderstorm.

We're the ones in the middle, waving. 
That night we took them for Mexican food at Curra's (home of the avocado margarita). You would think having had tacos for breakfast, we would choose a different dinner spot, but you can never have too many tacos in a day. After dinner, we walked around South Congress, mostly to work off some of the many-taco-day, but we also ventured into the few shops what were open.

This retro candy store is one of my favorites. And it turns out the best time to go to a candy store is when you're too full to be tempted by anything.
 Sunday the promised rain happened, so we confined most of our activities to indoors. We got brunch at 24 Diner, which has an amazing plate of chicken and waffles if you're willing to wait an hour to get a table. This was actually our last big meal of the trip. After this one, we realized we all felt terrible from our binging of previous days and switched to salads and light sandwiches for the remainder of their trip. That said, the chicken and waffles is worth it.

The only group picture. Thanks, waiter!
 Because the weather wasn't as nice, we decided to do a little self-guided tour of the capitol. I hadn't realized there was an enormous extension underground you could go in. It's mostly offices, but they also have a gift shop and restaurant down there.

Francesca and I, dwarfed by the enormity of Texas pride. 

Members of the Texas House of Representatives in the 1890s. All the other posted photos of different years were normal, but this one was kind of terrifying. 
The rain stopped for a bit, so we drove up to Mount Bonnel to give the out-of-towners a nice view of the city. It's a short walk up to the top. We managed to walk up, enjoy the view, and walk down in maybe 20 minutes. Right as we got to the bottom and into the car, it started pouring. Excellent timing.

The Austin skyline, probably being rained on. 

Sam and I walking up. 
It's nice to return to normalcy and eating healthy again, but it was a fun vacation in our city. It reminded me that the thing I miss most about New York is the friends I made there, and those can always travel.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Friends, family, and the importance of reliable public transportation

Over Memorial Day weekend, Sam and I journeyed to his former homeland and our old stomping grounds in New Jersey, New York, and yes, even Astoria. Our trip was even a little longer I think than when I was there at Christmas, but the time seemed to fly by. I also found myself missing New York more than during that December visit. I guess because it was cold then and this time we were blessed with beautiful weather constantly. Also, last time many friends were traveling, so while I got longer quality visits with those folks that were in town, there were fewer people to see. Riding the subway from Astoria into the city to meet friends, even though the train was unreasonably slow (the rumors are true: the MTA service is definitely suffering), I was nostalgic for riding that same path however many hundreds of times before.

Sam was supposed to be taking a picture of the adorable Fiat that was our transportation for the weekend. It's basically a vespa masquerading as a car. 
 For some reason rather than plan one group meet up, I arranged to meet friends from different groups in rapid succession. This allowed for more quality one-on-one time, but shorter meet-ups in general. Since we met four groups of friends for drinks one after another over the course of the evening, it also led to our getting very drunk. (Which reminds me, another thing I'm nostalgic for: the not-worrying-about-driving-home-end-of-the-night-two-martini-special).

Drinking and chatting took priority over taking photos with friends, but I do have some from earlier in the day at Central Park. This was a cool art piece. All the cable spools have colored roped representing the length of different paths through the park. 

The site of some of our engagement photos years ago. The angel from the Bethesda fountain looks like it's coming out of my head, but otherwise this is totally on par with the professional pics. 
After spending the night with friend in Astoria, we headed back to New Jersey for a BBQ at Sam's parents house. Friends, kids, dogs, and good food were all in attendance. The next door neighbors were also having a big party complete with what we can only assume was the Spotify playlist "Lesser Known Songs by 1990s One Hit Wonders" which provided a nice background ambiance to our own festivities.
BBQ party people!
The whole crew! Except whoever is taking the picture, I guess. 

Actually the above picture was a lie because it didn't include the gracious host and hostess of the party. 

 We had a devil of a time getting back to Austin on Memorial Day due to the massive rainstorms and flooding. After an unplanned 7 hour diversion to Houston, we finally made it back to find our house un-flooded and our cat only mildly perturbed. The tri-state area has some wonderful things and, more importantly, some wonderful people, but it is always nice to be home. That said, I'm still bummed about missing Shakespeare in the Park with Sam Waterston. I mean, it's Sam Waterston!

One final shot. From Madison Square Park and their summer art piece. Always may favorite public art piece in the city. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A visible representation of life lately

I've been a rather terrible blogger lately. Some deadlines are all coming at the same time at work, so my writing energy has been focused over there. And truth be told, that's still true, so this won't be much of a post either. Still, to tide you over until I'm back in blogging shape, here's a few photos from my phone over the last few weeks. A window into my life, as it were, without all the unnecessary paragraphs of text.
Got a zoodler for turning zucchini and other vegetables into noodles. Turned out awesome. with a pork Bolognese  (the secret is a quarter pound of pancetta…)

It finally stopped raining enough for us to start demo on the porch. Goodbye sweet porch, we barely knew ye!

Shakespeare in the Park at Zilker. Production wasn't quite on par with Central Park's, but it was a smidge easier to get in to and they didn't care if you took pictures of the set. I can see why Taming of the Shrew isn't performed in modern productions that often though. 
Did one of those drink-a-bunch-of-wine-and-paint lady's night classes. Our painting was of bats on the South Congress bridge…in case you couldn't tell. 
Got my hair cut and the guy did some cool styling with expensive products. Alas, left to my own devices, my hair will never look this good again. 

From a couple of weeks ago at the O Henry Museum Pun-Off. This is Sam's "listening to puns" face, I guess. 

Will return soon with more writing and more pictures and, who know, maybe hugely important life lessons. At the very least, I'll have more progress photos for that porch demolition. I think this might be the only time I've had a photo dump post without any photos of Dinah in it. Don't worry, she continues to thrive. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Spirit of St Louis

This past weekend and a bit of last week I had the privilege of spending time in the toasted ravioli capital of the Midwest: St Louis. I wasn't going to visit the city, so much as to visit friends who live there, but having never been, it was still fun to check things out.

As it turns out St Louis has a lot of city pride. They have their own style of pizza (which is not likely to ever be heard outside of St Louis), rabid Cardinal fandom, and an insistence on calling Panera's "St Louis Bread Co." Pizza aside, there's a lot to be proud of. Turns out St Louis has a number of wonderful free museums including a pretty awesome zoo. They also have the City Museum which is not free, but totally worth the price of admission.

Here are a few photos of my trip. I realized Sam isn't in any of them, but you'll have to trust that he was there some of the time too.
Friends on the zoo train. It went through some bizarrely long and narrow tunnels, but other than that a good time was had by all. 

I didn't take many pictures of the animals, but I did get a nice one of these two adorable woodland creatures. 
 I feel like before the series of photos on the City Museum, it needs some sort of explanation. It was the one thing I had heard about St Louis before going that I knew I wanted to do. I knew it had a large series of outside tunnels you could crawl through, but what I didn't realize was that the entire museum was like that on the inside as well. Basically the entire multi-floor structure is one big jungle gym for kids of all ages with everything from slides to fish tanks. The whole place actually seems like a liability law suit waiting to happen with very few safety measures and kids running every which way (and weirdly, I mean that in a good way). If I was going to get shin bruises anywhere, this would be the place. And really the only time I almost wiped out (as I wore completely inadequate footwear for the event) was just walking down the stairs to the food court, and that could just as easily happen at a less fun place, like a courthouse or a multi-floored dentist office.

The City Museum!

This is representative of one of the tunnels I didn't really climb through. Heights I can do, but not tight spaces. 

With friends at the bottom of the 10-story slide. Turns out the downside of a 10-story slide is mostly the walk to get to the top of it. 

Outside the St Louis Museum of Art
All in all, I would recommend a trip to St Louis, but especially if you have some good friends there. Thanks for hosting us! We'll have to come back someday to do that arch.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Art, horsemanship, and other poorly photographed things

 I feel like I haven't been taking as many pictures lately, or not any good ones, but I've decided that shouldn't stop me from blogging. There's a particularly photogenic part of my last couple of weeks, that I don't think I'll ever be able to capture. I've been taking horseback riding lessons (well really just a four week class) at these stables a 15-minute drive south of us. (As a side note: one of the things I love about Austin is that I can drive 15 minutes one direction and be in the heart of downtown and 15 minutes another and be in the middle of the country). The drive down is pretty unremarkable until you turn off onto a narrow gravel road that leads down to the stables. You have to drive 10 miles an hour for most of it as horses roam freely in the area. To one side there's a random emu farm which currently has the cutest little emu chicks, or more like adolescent emus, running around. Past that there's a beautiful field of wildflowers. Perhaps I've belabored this point too much already, but the wildflowers are really killing it this year. Due to driving, I'm unable to photograph any of this. I did however manage this poorly captured image while trying to take a photo of the horse way in the background bathed in light:

So you can't actually see the horse I was trying to photograph, but he's back there. 
In other mostly un-photographed moments from the weekend, I met a friend at a gallery show on Saturday night. The theme of the show was "bees" in that all the work was made with encaustic (beeswax based paint) and also featured bees in the images. They also had some lives bees there on display. I wasn't so impressed with the works themselves, but I did feel like I learned a bit about bees. Also, it was a fun night because it turned out that gallery was part of a little nest of galleries, so we were able to do a little gallery hopping. One of the openings had a person mixing very nice, fancy cocktails, which was a nice step up from the usual wine in plastic cups at these things.

This was a bunch of flowers hanging between the galleries, that I thought looked cool. Now I'm not so sure.
In other art news, Sam and I ventured downtown to check out Austin's Contemporary Art Museum. I wasn't terribly impressed. It has quite a small exhibit space and no permanent collection. I think it goes down with PS1 in Long Island City as one of those museums where the building is much cooler than the art inside it.
Contemporary art, such as it is. 
I feel this post is a bit meandering. I also still feel like if I'd taken better photos that that might have saved things. Perhaps that's something I'll work on this week, or perhaps I'll just write something more interesting.