Thursday, August 25, 2022

Whidbey Island

Last year while the kids were at camp we opted not to go anywhere aside from some day trips, because we'd just spent a bunch of money on our family vacation. We instantly regretted it upon arriving home, so made sure not to repeat that mistake this year. 

Somehow, despite our decade plus in the PNW, we have never made it to the San Juan Islands or Whidbey Island. I had found what looked like a nice Airbnb on Whidbey the previous year and it was available for our dates still, so booked that - our first time ever using Airbnb. We dropped the kids off at camp successfully and and took the requisite picture of the beach at camp before heading toward Whidbey. 

We took some time to stop at Deception Pass State Park along our way. Walked partway across the Deception Pass Bridge and took this picture while feeling terrified of both the long fall down in front of us and the highway traffic just inches away behind us:

Then we walked down to the beach and just soaked in the beauty from what felt like a safer footing for a while. And took this picture from the path down, which felt like a much more secure vantage point.

We could've done a lot more hiking in the park, but I had my clarinet with me (and I never leave my clarinet in the car unattended) and we needed to be getting on to our rental, which was on the southern side of the island.

As we drove up, Ryan was dubious because it looks so tiny. And, despite having looked at the pictures online and making the booking myself, I had a moment of doubt:

But no. The cottage extends back/below what you can see as you pull up and really was perfect. I'm not particularly into hunting/fishing lodge decor, but I get why they chose that. And all of the details that matter where comfortable and well-thought out with this place. The owner left breakfast items for the next morning and the cabin is the only place on the multi-acre property, so you feel really secluded even though you're not far from town. The kitchen allowed for plenty of cooking and the bed was comfortable.

As usual, Ryan immediately got to work figuring out the TV and how to connect for streaming.

Most ridiculous photo, but the toilet is a Toto and automatically opens when you walk near it, heated bidet and dryer. Ryan was sad to leave the toilet behind, lol

One of the two decks - we ate breakfast and dinner here most days/nights

There was a grill that we made sure to use

And a pond

Ryan brought his wok and cooked us a stirfry the first night

We enjoyed the firepit, roasted marshmallow, and stargazing

Our first day we headed into town and meandered/window shopped a bit. Unfortunately, our timing being there Sunday-Wednesday was a little weird - clearly the town runs a little more on the weekend crowd. But we found a decent place for lunch and enjoyed a wine tasting before heading back to the cabin to relax and make dinner.

The next day we took it easy in the morning since I hadn't been feeling great the night before - watched some shows and I practiced a bit. Ryan had booked us a kayak rental for the afternoon. It had been ages since I'd kayaked, but the rental place was great about getting us set up. It was way more tiring on my arms than I remember from when I was a kid! But fun to see the water and shoreline that way. Some people wrapping up as we arrived were very excited about having seen a whale. Sounded like the whale had moved on, but I kept an eye out while we were out anyway. Partly because it would be cool to see but also because I really didn't want to accidentally get too close to a whale. Not only are you supposed to leave them lots of space, but a close whale encounter in a kayak seems like it would be mildly terrifying. We did not see any whales, or much wildlife at all, while we were out. But just as we were pulling back in, the woman helping us saw the whale at a beach not far from where we were coming in! She ran and got us all binoculars - it's out of season for whales, but this one grey whale has been coming close in to lots of the harbors this year, enjoying more of the ghost shrimp. It was really cool to see and I'm glad we enjoyed it from the shore. 

We headed out to dinner at a local restaurant, Prima Bistro, which was excellent (and one of just a few restaurants open on a Tuesday evening). The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before packing up and heading to the ferry to go back home. It was a thoroughly relaxing few days and we'll likely stay at the cabin again in the future - there are a lot more parks and little towns to explore on the island, but honestly the cabin is also a great place to hole up away from everyday life for a bit as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Little Things

So many little things make me happy as an adult, things I would have found very mundane and boring as a kid. Maximizing our space is always something we're thinking of, so got inspired by my sister and brother in law's storage of their spices and set about to mimic their system when we got home. Got the first dozen spices set up and just got more boxes delivered to finish up the rest of the herbs and spices.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Utah 2022

We finally pulled off the trip to Salt Lake that was supposed to happen in 2020! My sister's kids are the closest in age to our kids of all the cousins and we really enjoy hanging out with their family, so have been looking forward to this trip.

Because airfares were ridiculously expensive, we had to opt for layovers and leave on a morning flight. We left for the airport before 6am to allow extra time with all the flight shenanigans that have been happening lately. However, all went smoothly (aside from having to dodge a couple dead rats along our sidewalk, gross)

We decided to try out a loft-style room, which provided us a little separation from the kids. The concept was kinda cool, but there was still just the one bathroom and I couldn't decide if I preferred that this was up in the loft or if I would have rather had it in the main room. Some other awkward points - the only mirrors were up in the loft (bathroom mirror and full length) and the only dresser was down in the main room. So, cool idea but could have used some better execution. The kids had to sleep on the sofa bed - ideally I think I'd love a room with two kings, but that seems rare to find in a hotel. Lifestyle creep has not got to the point where I'll pay for two separate rooms yet.

The mattress on the bed was good at the Sheraton, however lots of other frustrations. We obviously checked in with 4 people there, yet they didn't ask if we needed bedding for the sofa bed. So then we had to call to ask for it. Twice. There were only two towels in the room and we also had to call twice to get more towels - I'm honestly not sure that would have done it if we hadn't run into the housekeeper and just asked them for extra ourselves. Don't know why the front desk wasn't actually conveying those needs to housekeeping. And we'd paid extra on the room fee to include breakfast - the package was for 4 - 2 adults + 2 kids under 12. I wasn't expecting to get it for G, but on check-in they went ahead and gave us 4 tickets for the next day, which I appreciated. The breakfast was not that great, but if you stuck to fruit/toast/yogurt it was palatable enough. We were told we had to ask for breakfast tickets daily and they continued to give us 4 without issue for a couple more days. Then they claimed that we should have received all the tickets at check in and that it was only for 2 breakfasts per day. They "didn't want me to feel bad" (um...I don't? I was up front about my one kid being older than the rate and they kept giving me 4 anyway and now I'm just annoyed that you're pulling a bait and switch on me and claiming the deal was always for 2 breakfasts). 

We are just floating in undefined space, apparently

Add onto that that some of the electrical outlets stopped working part way through our stay, the broken hand towel bar, and the generic fire escape route posted on the door (that neither has the room actually marked nor matches the actual layout of the floor) and the place overall just felt a little sketchy for what is supposed to be a 4-star hotel. The good mattress was clearly leftover from pre-Marriott takeover days and based on everything else I wouldn't trust Marriott to keep the good quality mattresses much longer. Thankfully we weren't spending much time actually in the hotel, so it wasn't worth trying to find another place. But now we know for next time.

Our first morning we started with a trip to the King's English Bookshop and all chose some books - the kids and I had brought books/kindles with us, but you can really never have too many. I picked out Lessons in Chemistry, which I highly recommend, with the caveat of some pretty serious trigger warnings for rape, sexual assault, suicide, and death. And while from those trigger warnings you can tell there's some very serious content, it also managed to make me laugh frequently and the characters were utterly delightful. After the bookstore, we headed to their pool. My sister had told us the cantina there was better than a pool/health club cantina had any right to be and she was not wrong. They had tacos and homemade tamales and someone who works there knows how to pick mangos, because they were delicious. We hit up the pool twice during this trip on days where we just needed time to relax.

Over the next couple days we visited Red Butte Gardens and hiked up to the Living Room lookout - it was so hot and there's very little to no shade and we all needed about twice as much water as we had. Ryan turned around a little early with our niece, who was struggling as we neared the top. The rest of us made it to the lookout and then back down, and managed to stretch our water supply to last, but it was definitely rough there are the end. It's not a long hike, and in the PNW we would've had more reprieve from the sun (and probably lower temps generally). So, lesson learned to always bring way more water than you think you need when hiking in Utah. One of our pool days was the day after this hike to make up for overworking everyone.

One afternoon we went on a distillery tour at Dented Brick Distillery. It was really cool to learn about the distilling process and see the very steampunk looking stills. As with breweries, the spent grain from distilleries is also sent off to farms to feed livestock - during my internship, we met up with a cow nutritionist at a local brewery and learned about how they use the spent grain plus other food to carefully balance the feed they give dairy cows; before then I'd never realized there were people with PhDs in animal nutrition, but it makes sense once you hear them talk about it and realize it's not as simple as just putting animals out to graze! This distillery sends their spent grain to a local pig farm. We tried white whiskey, which is whiskey that has not been put into barrels, alongside standard barrel-aged whisky and the difference between the flavors of the two was surprisingly stark. The white whisky does taste like whisky, but very single-note flavor. You can immediately smell and taste a lot more depth to the regular whisky - vanilla, clove, etc. I particularly enjoy gin-based drinks, so we also tried that and was very impressed with the flavor packed into this gin. I'm not usually one to drink liquor straight, but after you have an initial sip and get past the "omg, alcohol" throat-burning feel, this one was really good. Martinis are quite possibly the stupidest "cocktail" ever, because it's literally just gin (or vodka) in a glass that's had some vermouth swirled in it. And I guess some olives, but I don't like olives. So basically just straight liquor - why does that need it's own drink name?? And why would you use vodka which usually tastes like nothing?? But I could see a martini actually being decent with this gin (or with their vodka, which also had a little pleasant flavor to it). We picked up a couple bottles of their gin to bring home as well as a rum finished in cabernet barrels, because Ryan is a sucker for anything barrel-aged/finished. 

We also dragged the kids to BYU one day, mainly because Ryan was interested in seeing what things were like after not having been on campus in 15 years. It was really hot and we were all pretty miserable walking around. But some fun nostaglic moments. We entered campus through the Museum of Art since we parked there and did a brief walkthrough of the main floor exhibitions. They're tearing down the music building next year, so I did end up being a little glad I walked through there one last time. Ryan and I spent a significant chunk of our getting to know each other time in the HFAC hallways, and of course most of my classes were there. We also went to the room Ryan had most of his classes in. While walking on campus we overheard a missionary telling someone that they had been out for 16 months and it was "so much fun" and that being in the BYU mission was a really great experience - which made Ryan and I laugh because we know that opening up a mission call to BYU campus has to be one of the most disappointing moments in a young Mormon's life.

Visited what we dubbed the "Joseph Jensen Memorial Hallway", because Joe could always be found there - many of us spent a lot of time in this hallway chatting

Found an old school sharpener to be fascinated by

We tried to find the spot where we got engaged, but they tore down Heritage Halls and replaced them and I think they redid the whole walkway/water area when they did that, because there were parts of what we remembered there, but the exact spot didn't seem to exist anymore. I think it's nice they at least kept Heritage Halls as the apartment style rather than converting them to dorm style housing, but I was disappointed to see that they just re-named the new Heritage Halls buildings with numbers - those had to have been some of the only buildings on campus named for women. 

We took the kids to see Regency apartments, where I lived my junior year and then, for comparison, took them to see Park Place, where Ryan lived for a couple years. They could easily see that Park Place was significantly crappier than Regency. Regency was a unicorn kind of complex because it was incredibly close to campus, relatively nice (not rich kid nice, but quite good compared to a lot of student housing), and not insanely expensive. We had to get up really early to line up for a contract there back in the day. 

Ryan and I spent a lot of time talking on that landing before he left my apartment each night

Regency also still had the same porch swing that Ryan and I would sit on sometimes - kinda crazy that 15 years later some of those things are still around. Around the corner from Park Place, there is now a boba tea place which we tried out (someone selling fake coffee in the same building tried to get us to buy their stuff, but no, we were there for boba). Everything was too sweet and they had run out of tapioca pearls, but the student working was really nice about trying to make things less sweet for us - I had to remind Ryan that we were in Provo after all and most people there don't actually drink tea or anything that's not incredibly sweet. And the employee did a great job adapting what she had available to a less-sweet palate. 

I was quite surprised by all the new food places that have sprung up in the area. My sister gave us some recommendations for places they like there, but we didn't have time to try them out, unfortunately. And there were Korean and Peruvian places near our old apartments - no idea how good they are, but way more variety than when we were in school. After boba we were all refreshed enough to make the trek back up to campus, where we tried to make things a little less boring for the kids by taking them to the student center for some bowling. Then we hit up the Creamery for ice cream before heading back to Salt Lake.

We also headed over to City Creek and got some Italian Ice - I'm so jealous that they have a place there and we don't have one here!! My sister gave us a driving tour of the city as well - texting us from their car while we drove behind them worked quite well. One day we stopped by the houses in the Avenues where my great-great grandmother lived and where our grandmother would visit. The house next to that was one that my great-grandmother moved into at some point and was inherited by my grandmother's brother and he lived there until he passed away as far as I know. We ate lots of delicious food at many of their favorite eateries, of course. And the cousins spent lots of time playing video games together. Our oldest kids are pretty much mirrors of each other and immediately bonded - it's always a little mind-boggling just how similar they are. The younger two are also incredibly similar, but they seem to have a harder time bonding - though they did seem to make some progress in that they weren't actively ignoring each other anymore by the time we left.

For our final day, we all got up early to make the trip down to Arches. Ryan and I (and therefore the kids) hadn't been and it's been on my list of places I want to see for a while, so it didn't take much for my brother-in-law to convince us to go. It was quite a drive to do it in one day, but I think worth it. We got up early and hit their favorite bagel place (Utah has real bagels now!) - aptly named The Bagel Project - before heading down to Moab. Ate lunch in Moab and stopped at a rock shop before heading into the park. The rock shop has some very nice, very expensive items - we let the kids each choose one not very expensive item, because M is very into rocks right now and we knew he'd come back with his hands full of things if we didn't set some guidelines. 

The park has timed entry passes right now, which worked smoothly. After a stop at the visitor's center to refill water and buy some small souvenirs, we headed through the park. We definitely did not do the park how Edward Abbey would want us to, but the goal was not to give anyone heat exhaustion and to get a taste of it/see some of the nicest parts while achieving that goal. So we mostly drove the park. Saw Two Windows and Double Arch - the only "hike" we did actually to an arch, which was more like a short walk. But in the heat it felt quite long, especially for some of the kids. We considered also walking out to two windows, but some of us were pretty worn down from the heat just doing the walk to double arch, so we settled for viewing those from a distance. Then we drove on to a couple more viewpoints, before heading to Delicate Arch. We did not hike out to delicate arch either as we had neither the time nor the stamina/water for that with the sun beating down on us. We did an even shorter walk from the parking area to a viewpoint. It doesn't sound like much, but we did spend a few hours in the park, even with as little as we did. 

Learned about the jobs people do in the park

We knew we'd get back to Salt Lake really late, so we stopped in Helper for one last meal together at Balance Rock Eatery & Pub - none of us had been there before, but were delighted with it. The only downside was the portions were huge - the 3 chicken strips were more like 3 chicken breast halves plus served with multiple (delicious) sides. No way could I finish it all, which was sad given how delicious it was. But excellent way to wrap up our time together, as we were flying out the next morning, to the disappointment of all the kids. Here's hoping we don't have to wait so long before we all get together again!