Wednesday, May 6, 2015

maine | exploring acadia's coast

Maine 2014
Our first order of business when we travel is getting the lay of the land. And so, after a relaxing morning waking up in our cabin surrounded by trees and water, and eating veggie pitas for lunch in Southwest Harbor, we set out by car to get our bearings of the island. Mt. Desert Island is shaped like a pair of lungs. The land belonging to Acadia National Park is scattered throughout the island - the majority of the land on the eastern lung is within the park. There is also a big chunk of land that belongs to the park on the western lung (where our cabin was located). And then there are random smaller parcels of land scattered throughout MDI that also belong to the park where residents of the island have donated pieces of land to the park. (In fact Acadia is one of the few national parks created almost entirely of donated land.) But the eastern part of the island is where most of the major points of interest (and entrance stations) are located, and that is the area we set out to explore on our second day in Maine.

For me, the priority was hitting Sand Beach. Just because the water temp only reaches a high of 55 degrees here and swimming would require a wet suit (or a very large set of cojones), doesn't mean you can't spend a day reading a book with your toes in the sand. It's a beach after all, and a pretty perfect one at that. Sand Beach is located in a beautiful secluded cove surrounded by rocky outcroppings, pine trees, and clear blue water. Oddly enough, it actually reminded me of the beaches on the east coast of Maui.
Maine 2014
Maine 2014
Maine 2014
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Anyway, back to spending the afternoon relaxing with our toes in the sand. One of us was into it...
Maine 2014
...and one of us was not. Yes, this is what he wears on the beach:
Maine 2014
Must. Not. Let. Sand. Touch. Skin.

Larry also doesn't like "sitting around on the beach", so after we read a bit and he waited for me to take photos, we got back in the car to explore a few of the other sites along the east coast of the island. (If it had been up to me I would've spent the whole week reading my book at Sand Beach - definitely my happy place!)

The Maine coast looks exactly like you'd think it would. Rocks, pine trees, blue water:
Maine 2014
Maine 2014
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Maine 2014
As the sun was going down, we headed back to the western side of the island for the evening - dinner outside in the town of Southwest Harbor as the sun set, and then back to Sans Souci where we wrapped ourselves with blankets and sat on the deck gazing at the stars.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2015 read harder challenge

I keep track of my books (and drinks!) on Instagram with #booksandbeverages.

I didn't write about my goals for 2015 at the beginning of the year, but one of them was to complete Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge. I love book lists and at the end of 2014 I was poring over the end of the year best books lists, vowing to read all the books in 2015 and frantically adding more and more to my library queue.

Here's a sampling in case you're a fellow book nerd:
Washington Posts' Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014
Book Riot Round-Up: The Best Books of 2014
Slate's Best Books 2014
New York Times The Ten Best Books of 2014
Time Top 10 Fiction Books 2014
Time Top 10 Non-Fiction Books 2014
NPR's Best Books of 2014
Wall Street Journal's Best Books of 2014

Oh, and here's a new one: Oyster's 100 Best Books of the Decade So Far

I found that I saw a lot of the same titles mentioned again and again, so I thought Huffington Post's Ultimate List was really helpful - it ranks the top 20 books by the number of other lists that the title has appeared on. There are a couple titles in the top 20 that don't appeal to me, but if I do nothing else, I hope to read most of the others in 2015. I enjoy reading highly acclaimed/recommended books, but if you don't trust other people's opinions and like to choose books on your own, this might not be your thing.

Anyway, the lists were a little overwhelming, but they got me pumped to read a lot in 2015. One thing that the end of the year lists don't help me with, though, is all the books from past years that I still want to read. I like reading current books, but I also like reading everything from classics that I should've read in school to popular books from the last few decades that I missed out on. Book guilt is a whole different topic, but after listening to the Dear Book Nerd podcast, I've realized it's quite a common phenomenon. There are just too many books and not enough time to read them all.

I was pondering how to choose which books I would read in 2015 when I heard about the Read Harder Challenge - 24 different categories to read throughout the year, but you're free to choose whichever books you want (and to interpret the challenge as you wish). This seemed like a great way to read some of the highly touted books of 2014 along with knocking off some of the titles that have been lingering on my To Read List (and cluttering up my nightstand) for years. And of course it's a good way to challenge myself to read genres that I don't usually pick up. For example, sci-fi and romance are not my thing. Poetry makes me think (not fondly) of seventh grade English class. And reading a book published before 1850 might be torture.

Anyway, now that we're a third of the way though the year (and I've completed nine books for the challenge - which conveniently fits into a nice little graphic collage), I thought it would be a good time to check in.

Here are the categories I've completed so far:

AUTHOR OF A DIFFERENT GENDER | A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
TAKES PLACE IN ASIA | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
AUTHOR FROM AFRICA | Things Falls Apart by Chinua Achebe
YOUNG ADULT NOVEL | The Giver by Lois Lowry
SCI-FI NOVEL | Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
AWARD WINNER FROM THE LAST DECADE | Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
GRAPHIC NOVEL/MEMOIR | Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
GUILTY PLEASURE | Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little
BOOK PUBLISHED WITHIN LAST YEAR | Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

*See the rest of the categories at Book Riot.

(I've also read books that aren't part of the challenge - in fact the best book I've read so far this year is Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True. Multiple friends commented that this was one of their favorite books and they were right!)

So that's 9 down and 15 to go toward the Read Harder Challenge. Several friends on Facebook also committed to completing the challenge, so I'm interested to see how others are doing, and of course get book recommendations. Do you make reading goals? What are the best books you've read this year? What else are you planning to read, or do you decide in the moment like my husband does?

maine | sans souci camp

Maine 2014
Ahhh, Maine! I'm not really sure where to begin (so many photos!), so I'll just start with Day 1. Actually, I'll start before Day 1...

A trip to Maine (specifically Acadia National Park) has been on our U.S. travel bucket list for years. It always looked so idyllic and unspoiled and the pictures of the Maine coast looked breathtaking and perfect for a water lover (me) and a mountain/forest lover (Larry). Also, my Nana spent part of her childhood in Maine and my great-aunt is from Portland, so I felt a family connection, too. Anyway, year after year when Larry and I would decide on a vacation destination, we'd say "Chicago or Maine?", "Colorado or Maine?", etc and for some reason we never chose Maine...until 2014, when we decided to book a full week at a cabin on Mount Desert Island. Larry was feeling super stressed at his job and it seemed like the perfect place to go to relax.

I think this was the first vacation that Larry and I have taken in our 11+ year relationship that we actually booked several months in advance. (We're last minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants people, usually! See How to Plan a Wedding in Ten Days...) And it was the only trip we booked in 2014 that was for pure pleasure - in retrospect, if we had known we'd be doing so much business travel, we wouldn't have ended up taking a personal vacation. But the trip to Maine was already paid for before we knew we'd be going to Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico for business trips in the latter half of the year.

We booked the trip for the week after Labor Day in September and it was perfect! Great weather, not crowded at all, and we saved a ton of money on accommodations since it was after the summer season, but before leaf-peeping season. I found the cabin (called Sans Souci Camp, which translates to "Without Worries") through Bar Harbor Acadia Cottage Rentals, and I have to say, I totally nailed this one.
Maine 2014
We arrived in Maine after a mere 80 minute flight from DC (No connections! No delays! No lost luggage! Such a treat after our 36 hours of travel time returning from Wyoming a few weeks before!) and drove from the Bangor Airport to Mount Desert Island, where we stopped in Bar Harbor for lunch and provisions (beer) before heading to our cabin on the western half of the island. Our jaws were on the ground as soon as we parked the car, walked down the path and glimpsed Sans Souci Camp through the evergreens. The cabin was nestled on a private peninsula overlooking the north end of Echo Lake and the whole place smelled like a Christmas tree farm and felt enchanted. Idyllic, indeed.
Maine 2014
Maine 2014
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Maine is probably the only place I've ever been that looked exactly like I imagined it. And even though this was my first time setting foot in the the state, I was smacked with nostalgia as I walked down the pine needle-laden path. It smelled exactly like a pillow filled with pine needles that my Nana had when I was a child. It never occurred to me that she had this pillow to remind her of her own childhood. I later learned that these pillows are called Balsam Pillows and they are a Maine thing. Of course I bought one to remind me of Maine...and my Nana.
Maine 2014
Anyway, the setting of Sans Souci Camp really was idyllic. And then we walked inside...
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This is my dream cabin - it was cabiny and cozy with mid-century modern touches.
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Outside was equally awesome:
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Maine 2014
And check out the view across Echo Lake:
Maine 2014
We took our beers down to the rocks overlooking the lake for happy hour, and then had a simple snack dinner in the cabin while listening to the rain on the roof as a thunderstorm rolled through. Perfection.
Maine 2014
Maine 2014
Maine 2014
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Sweet dreams.

Monday, May 4, 2015

wyoming | jackson favorites + random photos

jackson, wyoming
This is the last Wyoming post, and I thought I'd list some of our favorites and share some random photos that didn't make it into my other posts.
grand teton national park
BEST EATS
Eating plant-based was a bit of a challenge in a state where taxidermy reigns supreme and cowboys love their meat. (They shoot to kill in Wyoming.) Jackson has become a hip place for the rich and famous and there are now a number of top-notch restaurants in the area, but most of them have menus that include a lot of steak...elk steak, bison steak, etc. We avoided the meat, but did allow ourselves a little cheese and eggs during this trip so that we weren't stuck eating a diet of only french fries. We also enjoyed making snack dinners at the campground: bean dip, crackers, olives, fruit, chex mix, cookies, and a few cold beers.

+ The Local - We arrived in Jackson both starving and frustrated (our flight was delayed then cancelled and then the airline lost our luggage). We ran over to the K-mart next to our hotel to buy toiletries and a shirt for Larry to wear to his business meeting the next day. Then we drove into town in desperate search for a restaurant that was still open. The Local had a great modern/trendy vibe and the kind of menu we would have loved when we were omnivores. The only things on the menu that didn't contain meat (our first clue should've been the cattle logo...) were french fries and the cheeseboard (and beer!). We were famished and so we went for it, and after not eating cheese for months it was such a delicious treat. Mmm...Humboldt Fog!

+ Cafe Genevieve - After attempting dinner at a place with a cow logo, we then attempted breakfast at a place with a pig logo.(They have something on the menu called "pig candy"...) Did I mention they like meat in Wyoming? There was a table full of old ranchers in stetson hats sitting next to us. The smell of bacon permeating this place was rather torturous, but the (meat-free) huevos rancheros were delicious.

+ Lotus Cafe - Finally a restaurant with vegan options and a flower for a logo instead of an animal. Fun and funky vibe and they feed all the restaurant food scraps to pigs!

+ The Bird - This is a casual burger and beer joint with a deck that overlooks the mountains. Great stop after a day of hiking and they have veggie burgers.

+ The Rose - Best cocktails I've ever had, hands down AND an amazing bartender, Laura. Who would've guessed that one of the country's top craft cocktail bars is in Wyoming, the least populated state? They made all the ingredients from scratch and watching the bartenders (mixologists?) create a cocktail was like watching a work of art being created. Don't miss this place and don't let the fact that you've never heard of any of the cocktail ingredients scare you away. Chat with the bartenders and have them make a suggestion. My favorite was a cocktail made out of sugar snap peas. Sounds so gross, but it was SO unexpectedly delicious!

+ Cafe Boheme - We ate breakfast here a couple times because they had great veggie sandwiches. This place is not in the downtown area and has kind of a weird location, but it was close to the Motel 6 and the sandwiches were so satisfying. Coffee shop vibe.

+ If you're going out for a day of activities you can also grab a sandwich or a bagel at the deli at Dornan's.
grand teton national park
BEST ACTIVITIES
I covered this pretty thoroughly in my other posts, but here's a recap:

+ Hiking Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park
+ Rafting the Snake River
+ Biking the Tetons
+ Photographing the bison herd at the Moulton Barn

One thing that I'd wish we'd had the chance to do was try stand-up paddleboarding on String/Leigh Lakes. I've never SUPed before, and I'm fairly certain I would suuuuuuck at it. But the water was so calm, clear, and shallow here, that it seemed like a good place to try.
grand teton national park
BEST ACCOMMODATIONS
Good luck with this. Jackson is expensive. Like crazy expensive. Also, it is small and there are not a lot of places to stay and they get booked months and months in advance during the high tourism seasons. I highly suggest booking way ahead of time. Our trip was last minute and we stayed at the Motel 6 and the Snake River KOA campground because they were the only places that had availability for less than $400 a night. I'm generally really good at finding unique places to stay, but I felt totally desperate searching for accommodations in Jackson. (The KOA was fun, but like most commercial campgrounds the cabins were really close together so there wasn't a sense of being out in the wilderness or any privacy. But there was a sense of campground community, which was fun. If you're a tent camper, this would be a good place to stay as the tent sites were along the river. If I remember correctly, Site #10 was the best.) Larry has stayed at the historic Wort Hotel during the off-season, but the rates are sky high during the summer and ski season.
grand teton national park
jackson, wyoming
The businesses along the Jackson Town Square are super touristy and packed with t-shirt shops and people taking photos, but luckily it's a really small area. I usually steer clear of touristy photo ops, but I wanted a photo of me in front of the elk antler arches because we had taken photos there during our family vacation of 1992. There were throngs of tourists on each corner trying to get the same photo and no one seemed to understand the concept of waiting your turn.

Finally after waiting patiently, everyone got out of the way, and I ran over to take my turn, and this happened:
jackson, wyoming
Step 1 | They run into my photo. I was there first!
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Step 2 | She looks back and gives ME an annoyed glare. The hell, lady?
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Step 3 | Cheese! I should've made a funny face in the background, but their photo was already ruined by her own daughter's scowling face! Mwahahaha!
jackson, wyoming
Step 4 | And THEN after they got their photo, they still stand in my photo to check their camera! Ruuuuude!

On our last day, we checked out of the campground and took a drive to Idaho since our flight didn't leave until 3:40. We drove back to Jackson Hole to get lunch and only then realized that our flight was actually at 1:30. Womp! Rookie mistake. We called the airline and got booked on a later flight (the last flight out of Jackson that day), headed to the airport and waited around for hours as the flight is delayed, delayed, delayed and finally cancelled. The airline teold us there was no vacancy in all of Jackson that night - not a single room. (Ok, there were rooms, but they were $1400 a night which was not going to be covered by an airline voucher. What the hell, Jackson?) Anyway, Larry made some frantic calls and finally the office at the Kudar Motel told us that they had a last minute cancellation just minutes before we called and we could have the room if we can get there in 30 minutes.

The Kudar was cheaper than the other places we stayed in Jackson and I'd totally stay there again - great location and an old school neon sign. You'd have to be ok with rustic/campy to appreciate this place (more personality, in my opinion!). Don't expect luxury:
jackson, wyoming
We enjoyed the unexpected bonus night in Jackson and after more delayed flights the next day, finally made it back to DC after 36 hours of travel time.

As a parting shot, I leave you with this...
jackson, wyoming
I sent this photo to several friends expecting babies as a suggestion for nursery decor, but none of them were interested in using a taxidermy theme. I wonder why? I thought all babies loved cute cuddly stuffed animals! Sweet dreams, little one...