Category Travel

Orlando Adventure

I have a lovely friend that I have known since we were Freshman in high school. She is someone I admire deeply, we have shared much of life together – the ordinary, the musical, the artistic, the silly, the ‘learning-how-to-manage-those-eyebrows’, the architectural, the darkest moments and some of the most beautiful celebrations. It is one of those rare, special friendships.

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Riding the Dumbo Ride!

Well, we will be celebrating her (and her wonderful fiancé) in April for her wedding and in preparation, about a week ago, eight ladies joined her for her bachelorette ‘hen’ party in Orlando to visit two magical places. (Best big sister award goes to Rosie – the best bachelorette party planner I have ever encountered! She did so much to ensure the success of the weekend and then kept doing more! Thank you, thank you, thank you!)

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Riding the ‘High in the Sky Seuss Trolley’

First, we visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which is a part of Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure). We had pumpkin juice, butterbeer, enjoyed lunch at the Three Broomsticks and rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (which, oh my, the detail of waiting in line for that ride – totally blew my mind).  On top of all that goodness, my friend’s lovely fiancé went way above and beyond and bought all of us wands from Olivander’s Wand Shop. Tonk’s wand ‘chose’ me (ok, I chose it) – she is one of my favorite characters in the book (because the movie does her no justice) and the hand hold of the wand is a pitcher plant – perfect for a plant nerd like me.

We did spend a little time in other areas of the park, Seuss Landing, Marvel Island (where I got to meet Rogue and Storm) and several of the ladies visited the Simpson’s Springfield. I also rode three pretty intense roller coasters. Yeah, my 31 year old body wasn’t so happy with me for that. But so much fun.

Hogwarts Summary

The next day we geared up to meet Mickey! We were lucky to have one of our party that was very familiar with the parks! We started at Magic Kingdom, ate lunch in Beauty and Belle’s ballroom (tuna niçoise – fancy!), rode some rides and headed to Epcot. Now, you all may laugh, but my strongest memory of Epcot from my childhood is Club Cool – the place where you can try soda’s from around the world. The girls were gracious enough to indulge me and my favorite soda as an adult was Beverly – a bitter, Italian soda! It’s similar to many apétifs that are popular in Italian culture. We quickly ran through all of the countries and settled down to a delicious pizza dinner in ‘Italy’! After we stuffed ourself to the brim, we headed back for late night rides at Magic Kingdom! As you can see below, we met Minnie, Donald and Snow White (not pictured – Daisy and the wicked step-mom and step-sisters from Cinderella).

The most impressive things to me about Disney were the attention to detail – beautiful mosaics and artisanship everywhere, great food and such happy ‘cast members’! It’s quite a treat to go back as an adult to enjoy many things I didn’t pick up on as a child.

Disney Mosaic

It isn’t often that I get to cast off the need to be the ‘adult’ at all times and both of these parks allowed me to tap into a childlikeness that we all need to remember that we have. It was such a pleasure! Wonderful women, lovely vacation, perfectly planned, all to celebrate a very special bride!

So many more picture here!

Chicago

A couple weeks ago we got to spend a week with some good friends in Chicago, having a great time and exploring their city. It was the counterpart to our Austin staycation last year. I have a feeling this is going to be a yearly thing in some city. I hope. I mean, look at these kids.

Chicago in August

They really are such good buddies. And their parents are pretty good buddies too, if I do say so myself.

We took a Sunday morning to go downtown and visit the zoo, which was quite incredible for being a free zoo. Jude got to meet Trent, the Kenyan Sand Boa.

Chicago Zoo

Which sadly ended with a feverish little monkey that slept on me through our whole lunch and took a two hour nap after. Thankfully it was just a one day bug. Kids, so resilient.

sick little monkey

And I finally got to visit Millenium Park – a space I feel like I knew from all of the pictures I have seen. I mean, haven’t you seen this iconic bean (yes, I know, “Cloud Gate”)? It was even better in person.

Chicago in August

Not pictured, a hungry, tantruming four year old that wanted to ride the ‘L’ train. So after lunch . . . a trip on the iconic train (and much happier children)!

Chicago in August

Then, we got to spend a lovely evening sans kiddos in downtown Chicago at the Girl and the Goat. Love that we got to visit the winner of Top Chef season 4 in Chicago. And the food, so delicious. An epic meal.

Girl and the Goat

We walked around downtown Chicago and got better perspective on how small my beloved Austin really is. What an amazing downtown!

Chicago in August

And of course, our friends have friends that own a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Because, who doesn’t? So we got an amazing tour of the ‘Ravine House’ and I got to geek out on architecture (which I had been doing the whole time – so much history! And Fredrick Law Olmstead! And, and, and…!). Not pictured, the tantruming four year old.

Chicago in August

Despite how difficult it is to try and sight see with kiddos (and yes, despite what it looked like on social media, it was extremely trying), the real gem of our time in Chicago was the time spent with our friends. It was easy and meaningful and such a lovely break from our everyday life.

Looking forward to next year!

 

30th in NOLA

For my 30th I knew exactly what I wanted – to take a vacation to somewhere that I could eat a lot of good food. I struggled with this for awhile because everywhere that I wanted to go was 1) too expensive (Europe, South America, Thailand, Australia …) or 2) too cold. I did not want to be cold on my birthday which is unfortunate because my birthday is in winter. Not much I could do about that. I thought about Cali, Florida . . . and finally landed on New Orleans.

Back in the days of yore, I had visited New Orleans with my high school jazz choir – we sang at the International Association of Jazz Educators Festival but New Orleans in high school is not exactly the same as New Orleans when you are an adult. Oh the food. We ate so. Much. Delicious. Food. And my healthy appreciate of Chef John Besh has bloomed into full blown amazement (we may or may not have eaten at three of his six restaurants while there . . .). In case you ever end up in New Orleans, you must go to Domenica during happy hour (4-6) for the 1/2 price pizzas (get the clam pizza!) and 1/2 wine/beer/well drinks. The pizza crust is divine. And then go to Luke for happy hour (4-6) for $.50 P&J oysters and 1/2 off drinks. And then make sure to go to Restaurant August for their prix fixe three course lunch menu ($21 per person) – I could not get over the quality of the food we ate there. One of the best meals of my life at such a great price!!

This was the view from our roof top deck at our hotel (a special shout out to my incredible Aunt that paid me for my time building her a website with the use of her timeshare). Yep. That’s the super dome.

NOLA 2012

As with any city that I spend any time in, I have to get to their museum. New Orleans was no different. Did you know Degas had a house in New Orleans? Yeah, totally biked by it.

NOLA 2012

The museum had a lovely sculpture garden that was in the middle of City Park.

NOLA 2012

And street music. Everyone had their take – bucket drumming, saxophones, and Delta River Blues bands like this – don’t they look like river rats from Huck Finn? I still can’t figure out how they can sing with a cigarette in their mouth.

NOLA 2012

On the day of my birthday, we took a culinary biking tour. Yep. It was as awesome as it sounded (Little Dizzy’s for fried chicken and Liuzza’s for their NOLA style BBQ shrimp and gumbo). Our guide had some knowledge about the horticulture of the area so I asked her if she could mix things up by sharing some of it if we happened to come across anything noteworthy. Enter giant live oak that is the oldest live oak in New Orleans – the McDonogh Oak. 600 years old. Crazy.

NOLA 2012

We didn’t have a whole lot of room in our bellies after eating so much on the tour, but we still made it out to grab a bite and they were sweet enough to write me Happy Birthday in chocolate.

NOLA 2012

There are some super old churches in the area but most are deserted. Apparently if you are looking to buy a cheap historic church building, NOLA is the place to do it. Saint Louis Cathedral on the other hand, is still gorgeous and in great shape. It was also the site of an unlikely Christmas jazz concert that we attended!

NOLA 2012

And of course, beignets and cafe au laits. We took a mandatory stop at Cafe du Monde to get hyped up on sugar.

NOLA 2012

Other food worth noting? Elizabeth’s Restaurant for fried green tomato egg’s benedict, Surrey’s for fresh juice and boudin breakfast plate (and brie, avocado and crab omelette), Cochon Butcher for just about anything and everything (including bacon pralines), Old New Orleans Rum Distillery (for the tour), Three Muses (food and great jazz!), Cafe Amelie (gorgeous courtyard), Bellocq for drinks, French 75 Bar (upscale bar), and finally Jacque-Imos for alligator cheesecake.

I came away from this trip with more than just a full belly of incredible food. For a town that started out as a bunch of French convicts, Haitian refuges, African slaves, Sicilians, Irish, and a whole hodge podge of other influences… So much character and mystery from their fern and moss covered hidden courtyards, flickering gas lanterns, double tiered balconies and cities of the dead .. there really is no other place like it.

6th Anniversary

This past Sunday was our 6th anniversary and we headed out of Austin to a little town in the hill country, called Fredericksburg. Now, most people come to Fredericksburg for the beer (consumption is legal on the sidewalks which means you can take a beer to go!) and antique shopping but it is also along a road known as the Wine Road 290. I won’t spend much time on Texas wine because while it’s good, it’s no Sonoma (and that’s where we spent our first anniversary!) but I will show you our favorite winery of the trip. Now most of the wineries have this ‘Texas Tuscan’ feel, which I think is pretty silly. The Texas Hill Country has it’s own aesthetic, and personally, I don’t think it’s even close to Tuscan. Now, when a friend suggested we check out the newly opened Four Point O Cellars, we were happy to see a distinct difference in the look and feel of this winery.

Four Point O Cellars

I little closer to what you typically see in the Austin area and surrounding hill country. Love it. This is where we had our wine tastings which was $10 for 8 pours and we got to keep the glasses. Pretty good deal.

Four Point O Cellars

After the tasting we enjoyed the open air covered patio and listened to some live music. The breeze was blowing through and it was just perfect.

Four Point O Cellars

One of the other highlights of the trip was a visit to the only bourbon distillery in the state of Texas – Garrison Brothers. We got a tour of their beautiful facilities and learned a lot more about how bourbon is made. Here is a picture of the sweet mash fermenting. . . smells SO GOOD!

Sweet Mash

And the bourbon aging in charred oak barrels. . .

Bourbon

Apparently, rocking chairs are a theme in this area of the state. I can’t complain about that.

Garrison Brothers

Our little trip was a nice little getaway from our normal lives. . . we got to nap, eat (pie!), rest and generally take life at a much slower pace. It was lovely.

Happy 6th anniversary love, and here’s to the many more that are still to come.

 

birthday staycation

I know, my birthday is in December, but this year Jason outdid himself and gave me a birthday present of friends coming to town to visit in mid May. I like getting to celebrate my birthday twice – pretty sure this needs to happen annually. As you saw in Toddler Tuesday a couple weeks ago, Jude was getting to play with his friend P, from Chicago and that meant that the rest of his family came to visit as well!

Monica and I ‘met’ long before our kiddos were born through blog-land. You may remember that Monica came to visit for a sewing retreat some time ago and that’s when we met in real life for the first time. I still can’t believe that we are such good friends in real life because of our blogs. It kinda blows my mind! And what blows my mind even more is that our families as a whole get along so well together. And it all started from blogging. Crazy. Technology can be so great.

Beth and Monica

Well, one of the things our families both appreciate is really good food. And you guys, Austin has some of the best food. I really, truly believe that. And when you’re in Texas, one of our food groups is BBQ so we had to show them Franklin’s BBQ – the best BBQ in the nation. I mean, it has to be true if Bon Appetit says it, right? 😉

Franklins BBQ

I’m a huge Uchi/Uchiko fan so I was pretty pumped that Paul Qui won Top Chef Texas – he is the executive chef of Uchiko, the best sushi restaurant in Texas. So good. I wish I could eat there every day.

Uchiko

And a visit to Austin wouldn’t be complete without tacos. . . and our favorites are Taco Deli and Torchy’s Tacos. Oh and TexMex. OK, I’ll run through the rest of the list faster now – we also ate at Phil’s Ice House, Amy’s Ice Cream, Olivia (hear me sing “kid free Mother’s day!!”), 400 Rabbits, the Elephant Room, Contigo, Midnight Cowboy, Second Bar + Kitchen AND Austin Beerworks 1st Anniversary Party. Whew. That’s a lot. But it was all so good. I like acting like a tourist in my city if it means I get to eat like this!

beerworks

And we didn’t just eat the whole time (although it kinda felt like it!), we did visit some Austin icons like Mount Bonnell, Alamo Drafthouse (the new South one), Zilker Zephyr and Playground and the All Abilities Park in Round Rock.

It was just such a good time – the kids totally occupied themselves, the parents got to relax and talk uninterrupted (who knew?) and we got to spend time deepening friendships. I’m sad that we live so far apart but so grateful for the time our families got to spend together. Best staycation and birthday ever!

ladies at the lake 2012

On to another one of the other fun things that has been keeping me busy! I was lucky enough to get away for a weekend at my friend’s beautiful lakehouse once more for another Ladies at the Lake weekend (see here, here and here for the past visits)! It was so. Much. Fun (and thank you Beka for letting me hijack the photos you took).

We ate a TON of good food. Like seriously. These are the Sour Cream, Cherry and Tequila popsicles that were just out of this world. Also worth sharing, although not pictured, sea salt brownie cookies (without the caramel), Orange Pecan French Toast, and crab linguine with Basil, Lemon & Chile. So good.

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We saw the biggest full moon of the year over the water…

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while roasting marshmallows and making s’mores.

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We enjoyed a picnic lunch of some decadent goodies:

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My favorite was the Dai Due chicken liver mousse with white mulberry jam!

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We enjoyed some yummy cocktails like the French 75.

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And I got to take naps in the hammock! Yay for naps!

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While I napped, the other ladies kayaked. I think napping wins but they had fun.

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We indulged in some yummy Summer Berry Pizza with Nutella and White Chocolate (um yes please)!

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As well as ward of these little guys that seemed to be everywhere:

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Oh happy little lakehouse, you treat us very well.

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Such a nice refreshing time with good friends. Toenails are still painted and looking pretty and I’m still thinking about the ending of Another Earth. Looking forward to doing this again!

Taos, NM

We had the pleasure of a vacation the week between Christmas and New Year where my parents took care of Jude and we got to visit Taos, NM. We went with my awesome brother-in-law and lovely sister-in-law and it was so much fun. Let me tell you, they know how to do road trips well!

On the way to Taos, we stopped outside of Amarillo at Cadillac Ranch – a landscape art installation that I studied while in school but never had the chance to see in person.

Cadillac Ranch

Turns out it’s really fun to vandalize cars. Ok, ok, I didn’t really vandalize anything (my rule-loving nature would not have that) – it’s encouraged to stop and paint on these cars. It’s an interactive art installation.

caught in the act

It was a fun, snowy, muddy mess out in the field but it was so worth it. Even if I did get some mud on my rear.

cadillac ranch

And just across the street we found a viable establishment to stay the night if we ever needed to stop outside of Amarillo.

bates motel and taxidermy

And forgive me, but I had a hard time narrowing down the pictures of the house that we rented. It was called the Enchanted Hobbit House and oh my, it certainly was! There were so many details about this house that were just amazing: all of the walls curved, the plaster had mica mixed in with it to make the walls sparkle, an iridescent green powder was added to the stain for the cabinets and beams in the ceiling, almost everything in the house was custom made – doors, cabinets, mirrors . . . so quirky and amazing!

Here’s the outside:

Hobbit House

And from another angle:

Hobbit House

And the view from the backyard was just stupendous (yes, those are teepees):

outside of the Hobbit House

The kitchen (so fun to cook in, let me tell you!):

Hobbit House: Kitchen

The living room:

Hobbit House: Living

Master bedroom:

Hobbit House: Master Bed

Master bath:

Hobbit House: Master Bath

And oooo the sunsets. Gorgeous:

Hobbit House: Sunset

Now, one of the reasons we went on the trip was to visit Sipapu to do some winter sports. A few years ago I gave snowboarding a try and cried the whole time – I have never felt so inept at something in my life! But I owed it to myself to give skiing a try and I did. Turns out I’m more suited to the lodge and a good book. But thankfully that didn’t stop everyone else from enjoying the slopes and the snow! Jason had a great time getting reacquainted with his love of snowboarding. What a hottie. Glad he’s mine!

snowboarder hubs

We did a bit of site seeing – this is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge – fifth highest bridge in America. The Rio Grande flows through it and it just appears out of a otherwise flat bit of landscape. It’s terrifyingly high but amazingly beautiful at the same time.

royal gorge

We did a scary little trip into less deep part of the gorge and saw some beautiful scenery, but for some reason, this bridge is just amazing to me.

bridge in Taos, NM

And if you know me at all, you know I sought out the best food and Taos delivered! They have a focus on local and organic foods which just thrilled me. The Dragonfly Cafe had some delectable bites that we got to sample. Here, the salted dulce de leche tart and an ancho infused raspberry baked chocolate mouse tart. Mouthfuls to say but better mouthfuls to eat! We also enjoyed dinner there one evening and it was delish. Other noteworthy stops on the trip? Michael’s Kitchen, Mante’s Chow Cart, Tune-Up Cafe (in Santa Fe), La Cueva Cafe (ooo the guacamole!), and Five Star Burgers (happy hour burgers!).

salted dulche de leche and chipotle infused raspberry jam chocolate mousse cake

And can you believe every single one of those photos was taken and edited on our iPhones? Technology these days. Ridiculous!

What about you guys? Did you go anywhere fun over the holidays?

Beach Bums

We are back from the sunny world of Florida!

Turns out that as much as Jude didn’t like the snow from our Colorado trip in January is about as much as he adored the sand from this past week. What can I say, he takes after his mama. He sat and played in the sand for almost an hour without moving (fully slathered in sun block, mind you) and allowed me to lounge in the sun uninterrupted. It was very, very nice. Although in typical mother fashion, I lathered up the kiddo with plenty of sunblock and neglected a few spots on myself. Oops.

Beach Bum

After the lounging, I took my little sand man into the water. Turns out he thinks the waves are hilarious. Quite a few passerby’s were amused by his giggles.

Playing in the Surf

But now we are back in the land of the green rolling hills of Austin, and I have computer access again! So we are back! Hooray!

Cincy Visit: Day 3

After our wedding debacle on Saturday night, we decided to try and make the most of our last full day in Cincinnati. Like I said before, we wanted to seek out the local flavor of the city, and what better way to do that then visit the local market? In Cincinnati the market is Findlay Market and it’s a permanent market that’s open Tuesday through Sundays. It’s a beautiful exercise in revitalization. Much of the architecture in the area (known as Over-the-Rhine – a fairly rough area) is 19th Century and full of unique detail.

Findlay Market

There were local meats, fishes, and of course the local fruits and veggies:

Findlay Market

And a counter I could stay at for hours, the butter and cheeses. Do you see that huge hunk of butter back there? They are speaking my language!

Findlay Market

We also had the joy of eating some of the best gelato I have had since being in Italy. Of course, the owner of Dojo is originally from Austin. :) The nutella ice cream was to die for, as was the salted caramel and Vietnamese coffee. They had an interesting flavor called Porkopolis that tips it’s hat to Cincy’s history of a pork packing city. That was candied bacon in a maple syrup ice cream! Yummy, but I wanted my nutella!

Findlay Market

My favorite part about the market was the diversity. You could tell that people were coming from all different places of the city, socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, races, etc. Pretty amazing.

Findlay Market

After enjoying our time at Findlay Market, we headed over to the Krohn’s conservatory. A greenhouse of sorts that is free to the public. We were greeted by an awesome display of milk jugs. What a way to upcycle!

Krohn Conservatory

There were so many plants and beautiful features! Gorgeous!

Krohn Conservatory

Our next stop was at the Cincinnati Museum of Art and I was enamored with the courtyard. Simple. Modern. Usable. Loved it! The museum was fantastic as well. Lots of great exhibits. Oh yeah. And it’s free.

Cincinnati Museum of Art Courtyard

Finally, we stopped to take a look at Eden Park which is the area that binds together the conservatory and the museum. It had a beautiful view and lots of areas to sit and have a picnic.

Eden Park Panorama1

After all of this excitement, we went back to our friend’s house and got ready for my friend’s wedding again. This time we were at the right place at the right time and we had a lovely evening. The wedding was outside and the weather was perfect. It was a magical night – just the way you would like for a sweet wedding!

Cincy Visit: Day 2

Sorry guys. Not many pictures from day two, and really only one good story, which I’ll get to in a minute. The two awesome places we went on Saturday were Take the Cake for brunch and Trader Joe’s. Yes, I went on vacation and made it a destination to go to a grocery store. Trader Joe’s, will you please come to Austin? I promise you that we will be very good friends and that you’ll like it here a lot. OK.

Crazy story #2: We came to Cincy for a wedding right? Jason and I brought some of our nice clothes and I had the opportunity to shave my legs, tweeze my eyebrows AND put on makeup all in one day! I know, right? What mom gets to do that all in one day? SO nice. And we looked awesome. See?

All dressed up. . .

It’s not very often I get to bust out the red lipstick. (P.S. Thanks Ellie for letting me borrow your dress. It was awesome!)

We then load up into our rental car and drive across Cincinnati to the nature center, where the wedding is going to be. We park, and walk up to the site, not seeing anyone we know, yet. I figured since the wedding was out of state for most people, it was unlikely we would see more than 2 or 3 people we knew.

I then walk up to the table where you sign your name on the wedding mat, pick up the pen, and pause to look at the picture.

Pause some more.

Feel very awkward. I DON’T KNOW THE PEOPLE IN THE PHOTO.

I sign our names and look around and find more clues. There is a picture of a dog and a note explaining that they gave money to the ASPCA in memory of their dog so there are no wedding favors.

My friend and his fiance don’t own a dog.

Uhhhh. At this point I start to freak out. Did we fly into town on the wrong weekend? No, not possible. My friend that is meeting us confirmed that she had just got to Cincy too. Wrong place? Nope.

We retreat to the car and I look at the wedding invitation. SUNDAY. Sunday. SUNDAY. The wedding is on Sunday night, not Saturday night. We are at the WRONG WEDDING!!! So quietly we get back in the rental and drive away and head back to our friend’s house to formulate a different plan for the evening.

Oh. My. Goodness. We had almost crashed someone else’s wedding! I felt mortified. But I also thought it was hilarious. But really I just felt mortified. But we ended the night the most eclectic meal I’ve ever had: wine, cheese, leftover Indian food, bratwursts, coucous salad and chocolate covered pretzels so I got over my mortification very quickly!