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Spring arrived early here in Texas, so I’m anticipating the heat to follow soon.  Last summer was the hottest I’ve ever experienced.  Fortunately, I got a little respite from the sweltering Texas heat last August when I visited my brother in International Falls, Minnesota.  It’s the northern-most town in the United States. Canada is literally in its backyard.

Lake view

I-Falls (as the locals call it) is not easy to get to.  You have to have determination and a pioneer spirit.  And a car.  Definitely rent a car.  I was traveling with my parents and my boyfriend.  We flew into Minneapolis Saint Paul Internationa Airport, picked up a rental car, and drove about five hours due North.  Minnesota is gorgeous, so the time flew by.  The clear blue lakes and towerring pine trees were a welcome change of scenery from our part of the country that had turned brown from being scorched by the heat. 

Sha Sha Bar and Grill. Image via turbofan on Flickr.

We stayed in a little cabin on Rainy Lake at a resort area called Sha Sha.  The location was perfect, as our cabin was steps away from Sha Sha Bar and Grill, which was the epicenter of the area’s night life happenings (and one of the few places to find decent grub).

Enjoying sunset on the dock.

The purpose of our trip was to visit my brother who was working at Camp Kooch-i-Ching, a wilderness adventure camp for boys.  He spent the summer overseeing a cabin full of teenagers, taking kids on canoe trips, and doing various manly outdoorsy things.  It was so much fun to see him in his element.  The camp is on an island and can only be accessed by boat.  It’s an incredible place for a young man to spend a summer.

Camp Kooch-i-Ching teaches campers about Native American traditions.

I-Falls is a great place to visit if you want to escape summer heat or fast-paced city life.  We had a peaceful, relaxing stay.  This summer my brother will be working at an art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I’m sure he’ll expect another visit from us, so I’m already planning a trip to the mountains. 🙂

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This weekend some friends and I saw Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest.  Some may say I have no taste in movies as my interests are limited to rom-coms and documentaries about evil corporations, so take this review as you like.  I absolutely loved the film.  It spoke to me as it addressed issues to which I relate.  (At least four people walked out in the middle of the movie, but I doubt they knew what they were getting into.  It was typical Woody Allen, and that’s not for everyone.)

Gil, the main character played by Owen Wilson, struggles to find balance between trying to make a living at a craft about which he’s truly passionate (writing prose) and one that pays well (writing movie scripts).  I’ve always been creatively inclined and tried to “follow my dreams” my first two years of college, as that’s what you are told to do when you’re a young person thinking about your future.  I quickly realized my industry of choice (apparel design) wasn’t a practical one and switched schools and majors in favor of something more secure.  Only time will tell if this will result in a mid-life crisis.

Just for fun, here's an outfit I designed and made my junior year of high school.

In addition to being creative, Gil has other endearing qualities.  He’s a romantic, a francophile, and falls in love with La Ville-Lumiere.  Who can blame him?  It’s Paris’ fault that I live with an incurable case of the travel bug.  Although I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like, I adore every moment I get the chance to explore a new place, and it all started on my sixteenth birthday when I arrived in Paris.  It was magic.  (I envy my expat friends in London who have five weeks of vaca to my two and weekend Eurotrips at their fingertips!  Lucky!)

Outside of Le Louvre with some classmates, 2001.

The trip to Paris was offered by my high school as an opportunity for students to expand their cultural repertoires.  My parents were generous enough to fund the trip, and I can’t ever thank them enough.  If they hadn’t, I might not have become obsessed with travel or pursued a career in the industry.  It was my first time to go abroad and it opened my eyes to history, language, public transportation, wine, food…  Imagine spending a lifetime in a bubble in Mediocre City, USA; going to sleep one night; and waking up in Paris.  Like I said: magic.  (Disclaimer:  I LOVE Oklahoma City and think it’s an excellent place to grow up, but I think we can all admit it lacks an abundance of cultural opportunities.)

A sculpture ouside of our Paris hotel, 2001.

I’m thrilled to finally get to “thank” my Mom in a huge way by taking her across the pond this fall!  (I’m “thanking” my dad by letting him stay home- apparently the travel bug is not genetic.)  Paris is absolutely inspiring and Midnight reminded me why artists flock to this gorgeous city.  I’d love to rub elbows with the greats like Gil did in the film.  Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, and Dali were just a few of the legendary artists with whom he became friends.

La Tour Eiffel, 2001.

The film jumps back and forth between the Roaring Twenties and the present.  In the former Gil gets to know the artists personally and in the latter he experiences the legacies they left us.  It reminded me why I love art for art’s sake…

  • Having a passion for any method of expression allows one to see things from a different perspective and better appreciate the world in which one lives.
  • A work of art captures a moment in a certain place and time and allows it to potentially exist forever.

I recently read a quote on an interior design blog that I love, because it’s so simple and true:  “If you are passionate about something, inspiration is all around you.  It shows up on any given day and in every possible way.  When your passion fades, inspiration stops revealing itself.”  Kyle Bunting

Although Midnight probably won’t claim any Academy Award nominations, it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, as it sparked my passion for art, history, and la belle Paris.  I’d better start brushing up on my French!  Au revoir mes amis!

Today was a glorious day in Norman, Oklahoma.  The University of Oklahoma‘s graduates of the class of 2011 were awarded their diplomas!  My baby bro Nicholas was one of them, receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art from OU’s prestigious Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts!  Hooray!  I can’t help but brag about him.  Nicholas’ talents range from graphic design to photography to painting…  I could go on, but you can see for yourself here: http://thetoltec.wordpress.com.  Nicholas is working as a camp counselor this summer but will be available for hire in the fall.  (Shameless plug, I know!  That’s what good sisters do.)  Congrats, Nicholas!  We are so proud of you!

Nicholas and Sarah, his adorable girlfriend

I was honored to be invited to the ceremony, BUT I admit I’m not a fan of graduations.  Most people can probably relate.  I didn’t even want to go to my own college graduations (yes, there were two of them) but my parents kindly insisted.  As the benefactors of my education (for which I am forever grateful), I couldn’t say no.  We sat through hours of pomp and circumstance, speeches, and loooong lines of graduates receiving their diplomas and hearty handshakes.  Now it was Nicholas’ turn to walk and my turn to take pictures.   In anticipation of a a long car ride and a good three solid hours sitting in an auditorium, my brain must have switched into “travel mode.”  Before we left the house, I grabbed a warm jacket, a blanket, four magazines, some bottled water, and quickly sliced a cucumber and threw some grape tomatoes in a plastic bag.

My nomadic habit

My dad looked over at me strangely in the middle of the ceremony and said, “You look like you’re on a plane.”  I had to laugh.  He was exactly right.  I am on planes quite frequently and after months of living nomadicly I’ve grown accustomed to carrying my stuff with me.  It feels natural to have extra clothes, snacks, and other creature-comfort things on hand.  I guess “being prepared” is a good thing, but today I may have crossed the line.  Who brings this much stuff with them to a graduation?

The Glam Nomad, that’ s who!

This weekend I took a quick flight to Oklahoma City to celebrate Mother’s Day with my family.  Of course, I think I have the world’s best mom!  Let me count the ways… She always puts others before herself, supports all of her kids’ zany projects, she’s a fabulous travel partner, and she makes the most decadent chocolate chip cookies from scratch!  She’s also the only person I know who would bike across the Golden Gate Bridge after she’d just fractured her shoulder and not even mention it!  (Yes, it happened on our recent trip to SF.  She’s still in trouble for that one!)

My lovely Aunt Arlene and Uncle Jim  invited our fam to their home today in Jones, Oklahoma for Mothers’ Day brunch.

My mom and Aunt Cathy prepare the table. These hard-working gals never stop!

Fresh eggs, courtesy of Grandma Cattie's chickens.

Aunt Arlene's French toast stuffed with strawberries and ricotta. Absolutely decadent!

Heart-shaped waffles. Put a little LOVE on your plate!

Hot syrup ("For hot people," says Auntie Arlene), chocolate chips, powdered sugar, granola, and walnuts to dress up our waffles and French toast.

After a long leisurely brunch, we took a stroll through my aunt’s gardens.  She has a green thumb Martha Stewart would envy!  Everything is lush and green from the recent rain and most of her flowers are on the verge of blooming.

Our garden tour turned into a hike when we wandered down some recently cleared paths in the back of the property.

When we made it out of the woods, we rewarded ourselves with some of my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies!  The best part of these cookies is their perfect chip-to-dough ratio.  (I cannot be held responsible for those of you drooling on your keyboards right now…)

I’m blessed to be part of a family full of strong, smart, and loving women.  Happy Mothers’ Day to all of the world’s moms, grandmothers, step-mothers, and mothers-to-be!   xoxo

My mom and me, 1985

Happy Earth Day 2011!  What a lovely coincidence that my post today is about my latest trip to San Fransisco, one of America’s greenest cities!

San Francisco is my favorite city in the US.  It has everything – from world-class wine, savory seafood, shameless shopping, amazing architecture, easy public transportation, temperate weather, and plenty to do outdoors within the city and just outside its borders.

I was excited to take my mom there for a girls’ weekend getaway last month.  On Saturday we flew into Oakland International airport and made our way to SF via the BART.  The Bay Area has an expansive public transportation system that includes the BART as well as buses, the famous cable cars, and ferries.  The city has also implemented many no-emission vehicles.  Brilliant.  Another pro: many of the places visitors go are within walking distance, if you can maneuver the hills!  (I lived in my trainers.)

We came above ground at the BART station on Powell and Market Street, adjacent to Union Square, ground zero for tourists.  The area was teeming with people.  My mom’s first reaction was, “What is this place?”  (Love it!)  We maneuvered through the crowds pulling our rolling suitcases uphill about four blocks to our lovely boutique hotel, The Orchard.

Saturday was cool and drizzly, so we designated it our “shopping day”. The giant Macy’s, Williams Sonoma, Forever 21, H&M, and countless other household name stores provided shelter from the rain and loads of entertainment in the form of fabulous finds and people-watching!  The weather cleared up later that evening so we strolled down to the Ferry Building on the water and ate dinner at The Plant, an organic restaurant with a view of the bay.

We started with the shitake mushroom bruschetta...

...and finished with the avacado, grapefruit, arugula salad with macadamia nut dressing. Yum!

On Sunday the weather was slightly better, so we took a tour to Sonoma.  I typically avoid tours but without a car our means of transportation outside of the city were extremely limited.  Luckily, the tour did not disappoint.  I chose Sonoma over Napa because it’s closer (about an hour drive) and much less commercialized.  Our first stop was Imagery Estate Winery, a biodynamic vineyard.  This is the first time I’ve heard of biodynamics.  Maybe I’m late to the party, but I learned that it’s “real” organic farming in which farmers use self-regulating ecosystems to maximize the yield and quality of their crops naturally.

The drive to Sonoma was overcast but gorgeous!

Lance was our viticulturist at Imagery, and he looooved to talk and pour.  My mom and I were late getting back on the bus because we were so busy “learning about” wine.

Our next stop was downtown Sonoma, a quaint area centered around a town square with tasting rooms, shops, and restaurants.  We grabbed a panini at the Sonoma Cheese Factory, after taking advantage of their free cheese samples for our appetizer.  After lunch we tasted at Roche Winery, then tooled around the shops before we went back to the bus- this time we were NOT late!

The last stop on our tour was Buena Vista, one of California’s oldest vineyards.  We drove down eucalyptus-lined road to the winery, which is about five minutes from downtown Sonoma.  It started to drizzle, which added ambiance to the ivy-covered stone building that housed oak casks.

After a relaxing tasting, our driver gave us a quick tour of SF’s must-see spots.  My mom and I jumped off in the North Beach (Little Italy) area so we could find some carbs to soak up the wine in our stomachs.  We happened upon a trattoria  at the corner of Green and Columbus and had the best bruschetta!  Heaven!

We continued our tour on foot through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.  It’s historic significance is visible today, and the area and its inhabitants have retained a bohemian feel.

On Monday, our last day, the weather was perfect!  It was sunny without a cloud in the sky.  We walked through Chinatown to Telegraph Hill.  Although I didn’t see the famous wild parrots, we had amazing views of the city from the base of Coit Tower.

We continued walking to Pier 39.  We arrived just in time to catch the sea lions, who have been coming to the pier to sunbathe since the mid-eighties.  It was fun to watch them play and lounge around on the wood platforms on the edge of the pier.

Our wine tour guide had recommended we rent bikes and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to the cute beachy town of Sausalito.  On such a perfect day, we couldn’t resist!  There are plenty of places to rent bikes by the Pier.  My mom couldn’t remember the last time she rode a bike, and it’s been a couple of years for me, but it was just like riding a bike… haha. On our way to the bridge, we stopped at my favorite place it the city, the Palace of Fine Arts.

The structures in the park look like ruins from ancient history.  They were originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition.  Over the years the edifice has been rebuilt, keeping its original form in tact.  After a short walk through the park, we were back on our bikes heading to the bridge!

There were a few steep hills we had to pedal up to get to the bridge, but once we crossed, it was all downhill to Sausalito!

Sausalito is adorable, and reminds me of the seaside towns of Cape Cod.  We grabbed lunch at a sandwich shop overlooking the water, visited some boutiques, and watched a very talented artist balance rocks.

When it was time to return our bikes, we walked them onto a ferry and cruised back to the city.  We had our last fabulous meal there at a French bistro, and called it an early night in preparation for our flights out of Oakland the following morning.  My mom and I had a blast in SF!  There’s still so much more to do and see, we’re already planning our next visit!

“There’s no place like home…”  Dorothy said it best.  No matter how old I get, I still feel like a kid when I visit my childhood home in Oklahoma City.  My parents’ house is uber-cozy and relaxing and my mom goes above and beyond to make her kids feel welcome.  We even get turn-down service before bed, complete with a chocolate mint on our pillows!

On Friday night I took a quick flight to OKC to my parents’ place.  They’ve done a great job updating their home over the past few years, most recently redecorating their living room.  I love what my mom did in my bedroom- there are nods to old memories (framed photos, yearbooks on the shelves, my favorite stuffed animal) but the decor is much more chic today than when I was in charge of decorating!  Here’s a what it looked like from sixth grade until about four years ago…

I think I was in eighth grade in this picture.  Look how focused I am on my homework!  (haha)  Notice the gaudy wall paper and coordinating carpet.  Don’t you love the fake quilt with the marble effect?  If you look closely at the heart-shaped bedside table, you’ll see a scrunchy next to a cassette!  My Pound Puppy and Beanie Baby collection is proudly displayed on my window sill between random stickers of a happy face and a hand with a peace sign.  Oh, the nineties!

Aaaaaahhhh, that’s better. Neutral cream, soft lighting, and a real quilt.  This room is still my little sanctuary, although the twin bed is smaller than I remember it!  No matter how stressed out I am about work, life, etc, a visit home usually does the trick!  Thanks Mom and Dad!  xoxo

Last week my friend visited me from London.  She’s been living there for about three years now, and I’ve taken advantage of her ex-pat local a couple of times, but this was the first time she’s visited me in Texas since she moved across the pond!  I wanted to show her a good time, and she wanted to eat as much Mexican food as possible, so the day after she arrived in Dallas we caught a flight to Austin!  My brother and his friend were there house-sitting for my cousin and her husband, so luckily they were nice enough to let us crash at their lovely home.  (Thanks April and Ben!)

The warm weather (75 and sunny) was enough to excite us upon arrival.  The vibe of Austin is friendly, homey, and creative.  Hippies, hipsters, vegans, cowboys, stoners, musicians, students, vagabonds, and yuppies have congregated in this city to enjoy the live music, parks, art, and food!

Later that evening we made the trek about thirty minutes outside of the city to a town called Driftwood for some real Texas bar-b-que at the infamous Salt Lick.  We started out after dark, so we weren’t able to fully appreciate the scenery.  Driving down the two-lane highway we passed ranches and cruised through rolling hills.  The restaurant was impossible to miss, as it’s lit up with twinkling white lights.  The facility is huge and was crowded when we turned in (there was a man in a cowboy hat directing traffic).  As soon as we parked on the gravel lot and opened the car doors, we were greeted by the smell of smokey meat!  Our mouths began to water immediately.

We had to endure a 45 minute wait, but it wasn’t all bad.  The Salt Lick allows you to bring your own booze, and we had a twelve-pack of Tecate to keep us entertained.  It was a perfect night- the air was still, the smell of smoked meat surrounded us, and we enjoyed some great people watching.  When our table was ready, we were seated in a huge glassed-in patio area with rows of picnic tables.  We ordered an array of meat (ribs, brisket, sausage, turkey), sides (crunchy coleslaw and the Salt Lick’s special potato salad, made sans mayo), and fixins (pickles, jalapenos, onions, and The Salt Lick’s amazing sauce).  After our Texan feast we managed to put away a blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  Heaven!  If you are in or near Austin, The Salt Lick is worth the drive!

The next morning we got up early to work off some cals from din with a hike.  Of course, we needed to fuel up on breakfast tacos so our first stop was Juanita’s.  The tiny restaurant is housed in a converted caboose.  We got a bag full of breakfast tacos to go and made the short scenic drive to Mount Bonnell, the highest point within Austin city limits.  The morning air was still foggy, but we had a beautiful view of the lake and the gorgeous houses that lined the water’s edge.  It was the perfect spot to enjoy our tacos!

Craving more physical activity (I blame the tacos), we drove to Town Lake Park, just south of downtown.  For twenty dollars, we rented two two-person canoes for an hour and went paddling on Lady Bird Lake.  (Kayaks are available as well, but if you rent one be prepared to get wet!)  It was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the water and the view of the skyline in the distance.  The water was so clear you can see fish swimming and the algae-covered rocks on the river bed bottom.

For lunch, we hit up SoCo, the hip, action-packed shopping/eating/hang-out area on Southern Congress Avenue.  The streets were crowded with people enjoying the weather, musicians, and food!  Our first stop was the SoCo Trailer Park, appropriately named for the food “trailers” that line the gravel lot.  We sampled fried pickles and “cones” (tortillas wrapped around fried chicken, coleslaw and avocado conveniently shaped to fit into a paper cone) from a trailer called “The Mighty Cone”.   I couldn’t resist a  gourmet veggie dog with all the fixins from “Wurst Tex.”  I recommend the Veggiano made with eggplant, red peppers, fennel, and garlic.  Delicious and filling!  For dessert, we were drawn to the shiny, silver airstream trailer with a rotating cupcake on the roof.  “Hey, Cupcake” has delicious sweets- cupcakes of course.  We indulged in the Snowcap and Red Velvet varieties.  Yum!

After lunch my friend and I went across the street and shopped around the fabulous vintage stores while my brother and his friend wandered around photographing street art.  One of my brother’s favorite artists is Shepard Fairey and he was excited to see his works in person.

When our stomachs were full and wallets less than full, my friend and I headed to the airport.  We felt great from the amazing food and spending time outside without freezing!  Our flight was delayed nearly half an hour, but it gave us a chance to enjoy a live blues band in the airport!  Austin is an amazing little piece of bohemia in the middle of Texas.  My ex-pat friend had such a great time; I will keep this short, easy trip in mind for future out-of-state (or out-of-country) guests!