Monday, July 27, 2015

South of the city

This weekend we made the journey south on 35 to New Braunfels to the much ballyhooed Schiltterbahn. It was a nice way to beat the heat, but I didn't take any photos. (Water parks are no place for cell phones). Instead, I'm finally posting some photos taken from our last jaunt south to San Antonio and Greune (so pretty much New Braunfels) the weekend before Sam's birthday. 

Sam is now an official Texan after experiencing the timeless passage of being underwhelmed by the Alamo. 
 We didn't really have too many plans for our brief time in San Antonio. Mostly we just went to the Alamo and did the obligatory walking in circles along the Riverwalk for a while. I'm sure there are other things to do in San Antonio; I just don't know what they are.

A pretty impressive wall sized mosaic under a bridge on the Riverwalk.
Riverwalk, in all its glory. 
 Rather than eat dinner in San Antonio, we decided to stop in Gruene to go to the Gristmill. I had fond memories of that place from a trip I took with friends after prom in high school. One of my friends got together with her husband on that trip. Although in my case the main thing I remember is the delicious chicken fried steak and the lovely river views. Sam is nothing if not a fan of steak (chicken fried, or otherwise_, so I figured we should stop in and see if it lived up to my memories. You couldn't see the river from where we were seated, but the chicken fried steaks were suitably massive.
Supposedly Gruene Hall is one of the oldest continuously operating dance halls in Texas.

Picturesque Gruene
We were really just stopping by Gruene for dinner on the way out of town, but I'd like to check it out more in the future. Especially since it's only about 45 minutes from us. It has a number of cute little shops and restaurants worth a look. And now at last, I'm all caught up on blogging. And a good thing too as we have a visitor coming this weekend, so I suspect we'll doing plenty of photogenic and blog-worthy things.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I don't hate California

Prior to the wedding, we had a few days to spend in California. We spent them in Mountain View, San Francisco, and the cute wine country and coastal areas around Occidental. I hadn't been out to California in about four years, which made me realize I've been pretty lax about visiting. I suppose my sister should get married more often. I am also committed to coming for the first niece or nephew. In the meantime, it really is a beautiful place and earthquakes, drought, and high cost of living aside, I can't help wondering why everyone doesn't live there. Everywhere you look are stunning vistas, perfectly rolling hills, and lovely and diverse flora. Not too shabby, northern California. 

My mom and I in the Mission.

These are a bit out of order, but we spent one day in San Francisco. On the advice of my parents, we checked out the free San Francisco Cable Car Museum. It's small, but very interesting. They have a real cable car bell you can ring which is surprisingly loud and gets quite old when kids won't stop ringing it. It was also just very interesting to read about how the city changed and rebuilt after the earthquake and fire destroyed it in the early 20th century. Perhaps the coolest thing though is that you can see the actual sheaves (a new word I learned; pronounced 'shiv') and cables running the eight cable car lines in the city. It's a pretty impressive show of simple but powerful machines at work.

Sheaves and cables, labeled by line
 After the transportation museum and a quick pop in to Grace Cathedral, we commenced our much-missed favorite activity of city walking. We walked to Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square and from there down to the Ferry Building for snacks. Completing the giant loop, we stopped in Chinatown for dim sum and returned to our hotel in Nob Hill for a break because I had a tiki bar crawl bachelorette party to attend that night.

We took a bunch of pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, but those are all overdone. This is my favorite picture from our city walk. 
 The day before all this (I was just too lazy to re-sort the pictures when they loaded like this), we went out to Silicon Valley to a party at my sister's then-future-and-now-current in-laws place for a party.

The stunning view from their house. Their neighbors have their own small vineyard.
 On the way out, so as to beat the apparently notorious traffic out of San Francisco, we stopped in Mountain View to visit the Computer History Museum. This museum made me realize just how much of computer technology is over my head, but it is a very interesting museum and very well organized. We only had about an hour before it closed, and I think I spent a little too much time puttering around the early stages of computer development and didn't get to appreciate the later stuff. Luckily, I did at least make time to sit in the self-driving car.

Sam took many artsy pictures of the displays at the Computer History Museum. 
 After our time in the Bay Area, we headed north to Occidental for wedding-central. The day before we had some time to go wine tasting and to visit a grove of Redwoods nearby. The Inn kindly provided us some passes for a few free tastings.

At a winery with my parents and cousin Mark. I realize, per the usual, Sam is in none of these photos.

Family amongst the trees. 

On the morning of the wedding, a few of us took a quick jaunt to Bodega Bay and to see the Pacific. It really made me miss seeing the ocean every day. I usually don't think about living in a landlocked city now, but there's something very refreshing about being so close to the crashing waves.
The mighty Pacific.
That basically wraps up our trip. It was nice to be able see some family, I don't get to see very often. And the wedding was of course the highlight, but the whole vacation was a nice getaway. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Double the brides, double the fun

I've gotten terribly behind on writing about all the busy and important things in my life because I was obviously off doing busy and important things. The last two weekends have been full of fun things at least, but then this week I was too busy due to less fun things like catching up on all the work that accumulated while I was away. That said, catch up I will! I feel like each event deserves its own post, so I hope to post several times over the next few days and in reverse chronological order: wedding, trip to California, and Sam's birthday. This is not to say that the latter is the least important, of course, just that in reverse chronological order it shall come last.

This post, however, will focus on my sister's wedding to her longtime girlfriend (and all around awesome lady) Aileen. They got married on July 11, which makes for not only a memorable date, but also will entitle them to free slurpees at all participating 7/11s on their anniversary. The wedding was in a gorgeous bed and breakfast in the small town of Occidental. In addition to being an idyllic wedding locale, it was also the perfect location for going both wine tasting and visiting the coast (both of which we did, and will be covered in the upcoming vacation post). Sam took a bunch of pictures as is his way, but I'm only adding a few because I'm holding out to see what the professional photographer came up with. He seemed to be everywhere all the time, so I imagine they got a few hundred excellent shots.

As part of their ceremony, the brides had a water communion. It's a Unitarian Universalist tradition, or at least it was done at my parent's church growing up. People would bring water from their travels over the summer and pour it into one bowl to symbolize coming back together each new year. Wedding guests were instructed to bring water from their homes or place of meaning to them. I collected some from Barton Creek here in Austin the week before the wedding. Guests could pour the water into either Aileen or Carolyn's vase (or some in both if you were a mutual friend). Then during the ceremony they poured the two vases of water together. They actually ended up with too much water which added another nice layer of symbolism. Their cup runneth over with love and also their friends and family are very good at following directions.

My mom pouring her Houston water. 
During the ceremony itself, photography was verboten so as to better appreciate the service, therefore the rest of the photos I have are from the reception. Sam took this photo of the courtyard from above. The space looked so small without tables that we were amazed everyone could fit, but it turned out to be absolutely perfect. Another bridesmaid and I took bets to see which guest would get too tipsy and fall in the fountain, but, as was probably for the best, no one did.

The courtyard. Our table was later moved so people could dance.
The beautiful brides! You can also see a corner of the cool succulent centerpieces they made. I wish I could have taken one home. 
My one job (other than a short reading in the ceremony) was to give a toast, but I totally botched it. I had come up with some ideas of what I wanted to say, but then for some reason decided I could otherwise wing it. I'm not a great public speaker, but I figured the problem would be nerves and forgetting some of what I wanted to say. What I didn't anticipate was that I would get emotional and totally lose it up there in front of 80 people, some of whom I had just met. A bit embarrassing, and if I'm ever asked to do a toast again, I will be rehearsing it until I can recite it robotically in my sleep. Nevertheless, the gist of what I wanted to say, since I don't know that any of it came across through the blubbering, is that I feel very lucky to have had Carolyn as a sister and I'm so excited to have another sister in Aileen now. And that seeing them together is a wonderful thing because it's clear not only how much they love each other but how much they like each other and the genuine pleasure they get from being together, even just doing everyday things.

Aileen's dad Hoover, giving a toast like a champ in a not-at-all embarrassing way. 
My parents at the reception. Just thought it was a good shot of you two.
I realize I don't have any pictures of me from this wedding. The only ones Sam took were of me walking down the aisle pre-ceremony, but I didn't want to post those because he was not supposed to be taking photos. And again, I suspect the professional photographer may have gotten a shot or two of me. All in all, it was a wonderful wedding, and I'm so happy we were able to be a part of it. Now, stay tuned, as I'll try to post about all these other things over the next few days. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A porch reborn

Mostly for my own pride in homeownership, I wanted to post a recent project Sam and I conquered. When we bought this house, there was a wooden deck in the back. It wasn't a major selling point for the house or anything, but it did seem nice to have an elevated place to put a table and grill. In fact, one of our earliest new home purchases was to buy a table and umbrella to rest on this deck. 

It wasn't too long after that that we noticed it was rotting. It turns out the wood was never weather treated (one of the many rather confusing choices of the previous homeowners). That combined with the lack of gutter on the back of the house dumping water straight onto it, led to pretty fast deterioration. We considered painting it to slow the rot at least on the top side, although then it would still be getting moisture underneath. Before we could begin this project though, we had some people over at the house for a dinner party. It was our first time hosting people and since some of them were smokers, they spent a fair amount of time enjoying the chairs and table on the back porch. Then Sam went to turn the lights on for them, and his foot went right through the porch. 

It was at this point that we figured we might as well demolish the rest of the thing as it was now dangerous, as well as unsightly. Sam was between jobs at the time, so he was able to devote himself full time to the demolition of the deck. 

About half done. 
Ripping up all the boards with a crowbar and sledge took about a week. The deck had a pretty simple construction, but it did have five cement blocks to anchor it, so those had to be dug up as well. I will say, seeing all the wood and screws that went into constructing it, as we removed each individual board, it really compounds my fascination that someone would go through all that trouble and then not make sure it was actually weather proofed. 

Once the deck was gone, and the rotting wood hauled away, we realized we still needed something in its place. The demolition of the deck uncovered a small cement slab porch, which would have sufficed for a couple of chairs. Since we already had an outdoor dining set that wouldn't fit on the existing slab, we needed a way to extend it. We didn't want to sink the money into building a new deck (and definitely wouldn't invest in one without also getting gutters). As a temporary solution, we decided to gravel a larger area around the slab.

First we needed to level the area with some dirt. We made a perimeter with some landscaping border and filled it in with excess dirt from our extensive plumbing repairs. Always nice to save a little money with free dirt (or $15K dirt, depending on how you look at it). We then covered the dirt with landscaping fabric. 
Free dirt! This is pre-landscaping fabric and before Sam had a chance to tamp everything down. 
The last step was buying gravel. We'd originally decided on pea gravel, but after I accidentally bought 10 bags of Colorado river rocks and lugged them home, we decided to switch to that. To save on the delivery fee and because we weren't sure exactly how much gravel we would need (my estimations turned out to be way too high), we just made multiple trips over the course of a week until the entire area was graveled. We also put up a wooden border to hide the ugly landscaping border and keep the rocks from spilling over. 

The finished product
It started out as a temporary solution, but I actually really like the way it came out. I'm also hopeful it will take care of some of the mosquito problem we were experiencing because I think water was pooling up in places under the porch. Now we just need to get that BBQ grill and we're ready for summer in our backyard.

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.