Thursday, July 13, 2017

San Juan 4th of July: Stuart Island

My family has a long tradition of holding a big family gathering on Stuart Island in the San Juans for the Fourth of July. I haven't been able to make it out there for the past five years due to general summer zaniness, and trying to get to the mountains as much as possible. For example, last year I was attempting to summit Glacier Peak

But this year was the right time to spent a long weekend out there with family and it was just what I needed. I got to hang with both my sisters, their husband and three kids, and a ton of extended family. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Two nieces: my oldest niece and her younger sister
Arrived at the island just as the sun was setting
New tradition for 4th of July weekend: outdoor family movie on the barn
Family picnic: Salmon BBQ/potluck and badminton tournament
Two nieces in their 4th of July dresses
Niece discovers I'm ticklish
Indoor activity after all the sun and playing outside:
Bingo tournament
Hanging on the bluffs and rocks of Turn Point.
We spotted humpback whales!
Monday evening: the kiddos soak the last of the sun
Bonfire and hot dog roast
My auntie with her great-nieces
Caught the sunrise over the bay, around 5 a.m.
I hope you had a fun, safe, and relaxing Fourth!

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Spring Roundup

This spring has been a whirlwind. A blur. A slog. I have been heads-down in front of the computer every weekend writing my first book, after being heads-down in front of the computer during the week writing for my day job. I feel like I have finally emerged from a word-cave, and it turns out there were some bright spots in the spring.

In March, I went to my first conference since high school, and the first one I've been to for editing. The ACES Society for Editing held its national conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, this year, and I got to spend two nonstop nerdy days learnings, talking, and breathing editing. There was some eating and drinking in there too.
Poolside editor happy hour
While I was in Florida, I got to visit my dad north of Tampa who I haven't seen in three years (!!!). We had a blast, dad style. That means letting me sleep in, drinking lots of coffee together, spending time with family, and going for motorcycle rides.
I took another special ride too---in a 1935 Boeing Stearman biplane over the Land o' Lakes area. It was a beautiful plane and a pretty awesome experience.
Another day, we went to the Rainbow River and went kayaking. We saw a ton of birds, ducklings, a swimming snake, and turtles and capped off the afternoon with a nice lunch.
My birthday was in early April, and I celebrated with my family and "birthday twin": my mom's best friend who I share a birthday with. She and my mom lived together when they were both pregnant at the same time, and she was there when I was born on her birthday in a little house in Wallingford. A month later, she gave birth to her son the day after my mom's birthday.
The following weekend I also had a birthday brunch, and amazingly, two of my dear friends happened to be in town from California and Texas, respectively. Seeing them was pretty much the best gift I could imagine.
Later in April on a rare weekend when I took a break from the book, I headed out to the Olympic Peninsula. I camped in the rain, hiked in the sun, tromped in the snow, watched the sun set over the Pacific, and dug razor clams.
I am so, so ready for summer, and for not sitting in front of the computer all the time. What are you excited for this summer?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Beyond Austin: Lockhart, Texas

One of my best friends escaped the grey Seattle weather moved to Austin six years ago. I have visited her four times since then, including the first time in 2011, her wedding in 2016, and a road trip to West Texas. Austin is awesome, but as the most rapidly growing city in the United States, traffic is getting predictably worse and the cost of living is rising far faster than income.

Turns out there are a lot of great small towns outside Austin that still have fast and easy access to the city. Last year my friend and her husband decided to buy a home in Lockhart, a small town 30 miles south of Austin. Lockhart is the self-proclaimed barbeque capital of Texas with several well-known, long-established joints in town. As this article, Lockhart Turns the Key claims, Lockhart is up-and-coming for more than its barbeque. I visited my friend a few weeks ago to do a writing retreat (more on that later) and here's what I found.

Barbeque:

Due to friends recommending this place, and the fact that it's in Top 5 Austin from the Travel Channel and this Foodie Post about Smitty's Market, we had to go there.

You walk in to the back first, and all the meat is cooking over old school grills with wood fires. It feels like you've stepped into a medieval market. You pick whatever weight and whatever assortment you want of brisket (lean or fat), ribs, and sausage, and then they wrap it in brown butcher paper plus paper for each person. From there, you jump forward 700 years and enter a brightly lit, 1950s-feeling cafeteria where you order your drinks and side dishes (potato salad, beans, pickles, coleslaw, and bread) separately. I'm no expert on Texas barbeque but it was pretty ridiculously delicious.
Lockhart on the big screen:

Randomly, a lot of movies and TV shows have had scenes shot in Lockhart.
Courthouse in the background, used in the 1993 film,
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Here's a partial list of more recent films, snagged from the Lockhart Wikipedia page.
It's just cute:

There is a lot of other charm to the town, like a great little coffee shop, a handful of good restaurants, shops, and bars. The city center is very walkable, and on a Wednesday night we noticed live music in two different venues--pretty impressive nightlife for a town of this size. There are a lot of empty storefronts but I don't think it will take long for tenants to come in and new businesses to crop up.  There is a beautiful old library from the late 1890s, which is the longest continually operated library in Texas. 
Eugene Clark Library
Pecan trees are really common and you find
pecans on the streets and sidewalks
It's a sweet town and I predict that it will be radically different in 10 years as more and more people more there from Austin and beyond.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 10 of 2016

It's been quite a year. A lot happened, but it turns out that my 2016 Top 10 is pretty similar to my 2015 countdown. The highlights are still outdoor excursions, weddings, hanging with family, and writing.

10. Texas adventures
In January I decided to visit my friend Lindsey in Austin in March/April to celebrate our birthdays together. Two days after I bought my ticket, her boyfriend proposed to her and they planned a June wedding. So I ended up going to Texas twice!

Our spring birthday road trip to West Texas was amazing. We had a blast and got great weather, mostly in the high 60s and low 70s, with a few sprinklings of rain.
Lindsey and I in Big Bend National Park 
The weather didn't cooperate so well when I went back for the wedding the first week of June. The area around Austin had been experiencing terrible spring flooding and the wedding day was no exception. The pretty venue at an old mill was right on a river that rose swift and brown in the torrential rain, and the ceremony was moved indoors.
But the rain did not dampen anyone's spirits, and it was still a warm day and raucous celebration.

9. Birthday hike
In April I organized a group hike for my birthday with my mom, a few siblings, and some friends. It was my first time hiking with my nieces and nephews--aged 7, 3, 2.5, 1, and in utero. It was slow going, but really fun and short enough to be reasonable. If you're looking for a short but steep walk off Highway 2 suitable for dogs and little ones, check out Heybrook lookout.
The whole posse:10 adults, a 7 year old,
3 kids under 3, and one in utero at 8 months

8. The birth of Faith
One of the absolute highlights of my year was witnessing childbirth for my first time when my younger sister had her third daughter. It was an amazing experience, especially since mama and baby were healthy and it was a short, uncomplicated labor. Little Faith even decided to come out on a weekend, so I didn't have to go to work a zombie the next day after being up all night for the 4 a.m. delivery.

Later in the year I started watching the BBC 1950s period medical drama "Call the Midwife." It's about nurse midwives in London's east end, and in season 2 episode 1, this line stood out to me: Birth was, and will always be, the most commonplace of miracles, an event at once familiar and phenomenal, timeless and immediate, briefly making angels of us all.
Faith, a few hours after being born (May 2016)
The newborn with her oldest sister
and a tired dad in the background
Faith at five months, a super
happy, healthy, chunky baby.
7. Snoqualmie farm wedding
One thing I love about weddings is that they are similar but different in ways that lets the couple's personalities and values shines through. One of the more unique, truly-theirs weddings I've ever been to was in June when my friends Rowan and Nate got hitched. It was at her family's farm property in Snoqualmie, Washington, and so full of intention, from the very first moment we arrived and got to pick our party favor: a ceramic mug handmade by the bride, to use for the night and take home. Next to the cup table was the drink table with ice, gin, seltzer water, and your choice of an array of homemade kombuchas in glass gallon jars to mix with, many of which had been brewed with ingredients grown on the farm.
Mugs for the wedding all handmade by the bride
The groom; four of us who met in college on a semester of 
backpacking in California; and our illustrious instructor
Speeches and toasts, in the greenhouse
The ceremony was in a field, and the reception was in the yard woven between barn, the house, and greenhouses. Dinner was delicious burgers of beef raised on the property (vegan quinoa patty option, too) with a dizzying assortment of home-canned and pickled condiments and accoutrements. The first dance was a square dance with all the guests, complete with a skilled caller and live string music.

6. Taking the month of August off of work
It's hard to even know where to start with this one. First of all, I'm so, so grateful that I have a job that allowed me to take this extended vacation. Second, you can read more about before the month and after the month. I traveled all over the Cascades, drove hundreds of miles of forest service road, and did a ton of hiking and backpacking.
Driving east on Highway 20 toward Okanogan at 6 a.m.
Central Cascades hiking
5. Hiking with Mom
In August during the month off, my mom and I went to Hidden Lake Lookout for our third-annual mother-daughter backpacking trip. She is such a trooper: she's nearly 60, only backpacks once a year, and is up for anything. This year, even though the hike was relatively short, it was a lot of elevation gain and also requires crossing snow and scrambling on rocks.
We hiked in to a mile below the fire lookout to set up camp. It was a stunningly beautiful evening and we had a clear view west and watched the sky change color around Mount Baker.
 In the morning we headed up to the fire lookout, passing Hidden Lake on the way.

4. Hiking with my oldest niece
I taught high school students back in 2006 and I really love that age group. My oldest niece is now 15 and a half, and just a joy to hang out with, hilarious and curious and so engaged with the world around her. She lives in Bellingham and I see her fairly often at family gatherings, but have hardly ever spent a full day hanging out, just her and me. I had a hike I wanted to do down the Mount Baker highway, and invited her along since it's close to where she lives and she was on summer break. We had a blast.
It was a short hike, but certainly not easy. It's steep and shadeless, and the day we went was well into the 80s. We stopped often to catch our breath and drink water, and it was all the more rewarding when we made it to the 1930s fire lookout at the summit, with sweeping views of the North Cascades all around.

3. California Coast Wedding
In September I went to Mendocino county to visit a friend and attend a wedding. I flew into Santa Rosa (just north of the Bay in Sonoma County) and stayed with a dear friend in Ukiah, who moved to down there from Seattle about five years ago. We went to a mutual friend's wedding together on the Menocino Coast.
Wine tasting on the way to the coast
Near the wedding: stunning coastline, even in the fog

2. October Seattle Wedding
In October, I went to a super local wedding of a college friend. It was a lovely ceremony in South Seattle on a sunny fall day, and a fantastic reunion of college friends who came from all over the U.S. to be there.

1. Writing a book and taking writing retreats
I am writing my first book and have devoted almost every weekend since October to writing. I sometimes work from home or coffee shops in Seattle, but I also love getting out of town to have a secluded place to focus, away from the dishes in the sink or other home projects.
Writing retreat: friend's place on a lake outside Olympia.
He graciously let me stay while he was out of town for a month.
Friend's lakeside cabin
View of Rainier from the cabin
Cheers to 2017, to more of what you already know you love, and the joys you have yet to discover. Happy New Year!