Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Crazy Wonderful Year in Review Part 2 - Wanderings Around the USA

With my rotational schedule, I decided I wanted to visit some places in the US that I had never been before, namely those I had friends living in and could stay with. There are so many amazing places to visit in the US, nearly all within a 3 hour flight of Houston, which seems very short now after traveling back and forth from Alaska so often.

My US adventures started out in familiar territory with a family trip to the Florida panhandle. I was very excited to be able to join my family again for our annual beach vacation. It was perfect to get some sun and relaxation time for awhile. It was also a major sand dollar year, we found so many! 

Drip castles on the beach

Beautiful vibrant sunsets

So many sand dollars

One place in Alaska that I didn't make it to was Valdez. I decided to go back up a weekend before my rotation started and meet my friend Katie, who had wanted to visit but didn't get a chance while I was living there. We made the lengthy drive out to Valdez and decided to stop at Matanuska Glacier along the way. I'm so glad we stopped because it was really awesome to be able to walk on a glacier with such interesting shapes! There were several people ice climbing with axes but we were just walking around with spikes on our shoes so couldn't head up anything too steep.

Scenic lookout along drive to Valdez

First views of Matanuska Glacier

Katie and the glacier

Me climbing up the glacier

We watched some ice climbers

Such a cool trek. For scale look at the people in the upper left they look like ants!

Once in Valdez, we headed out to Prince William Sound for an all day kayaking trip through the icebergs of the Columbia Glacier. It was a lengthy boat ride out to the glacier bay where we passed some pretty waterfalls and sea lions. Katie and I were in a tandem kayak and my friends Jodie and Alex were in another and we paddled through lots of icebergs, never getting too close. We saw and heard a couple of them roll or break apart, which was pretty neat. Once we got back to Valdez, we took a hike to some other waterfalls and enjoyed the abundant fireweed. It is definitely a beautiful quaint small town, but the only thing I felt it was lacking was fresh seafood at the restaurants.

Boating to the Colombia Glacier

Sea lions lounging

Paddling to the icebergs

See them all in the background

Jodie and Alex and a berg

Katie and I up close

Our tour group

Vibrant iceberg

Pretty Valdez morning

Hiking near Bridal Falls in Valdez

After the long drive back to Anchorage, we decided we needed to stretch our legs and hiked Flattop. Despite the drizzle, we made it to the top and felt like we were walking through the clouds. Afterword we had a well deserved crab leg feast at Glacier Brewhouse. I can't let any Alaska visitors leave without trying Alaskan King Crab legs! Before heading out, we took a morning bike ride along the coastal trail and came across a mama and baby moose, which of course warranted some selfies since they were walking the opposite direction.

Top of Flattop

Moose on the Coastal Trail

Mama and baby moose sighting
I've also spent some time in Houston and it's been fun to do things during weekdays when most people are at work! My brother Andrew has come down to visit a couple times during the week to go on some nice bike rides around town. I also got to spend a couple days with Becca and baby Alexander on her maternity leave :) It was fun to go on lunch dates with them and see this new baby boy start growing right before my eyes! My cousin Iannelli hosted a fun girls night wreath making party so we could create holiday masterpieces for our front doors. I ended up with a Halloween themed one! I had it on my front door starting in mid September because I was so excited. And I got to go to my cousin Vanessa's beautiful wedding in Austin which was such a treat to be in town for.

Andrew and I on a bike ride

Cedar Creek noms

Lunching with baby, crepes, and rose. What else could you ask for?

Birthday lunching with my besties at Tiny Boxwoods :)

Holiday wreaths

Andrew and I at Vanessa and Noah's wedding

The beautiful bride and groom
It's been on my to-do list for the past 2 years to compete in an Olympic triathlon. I've done two sprints and was ready to try the next level. Andrew and I signed up for one at Towne Lake in NW Houston in early September. It was hard to train while I was at work and only had a treadmill and stationary bike to log some miles on. It was a record humidity of 97% on race day morning and so scorching hot by the end of my run. But I was so excited that Lucas and Iannelli came out to cheer us on. It was a much needed boost of energy to hear them on the bike and run laps! I ended up beating my goal time by about 10 minutes despite having to walk once a mile at the water stations. They also had ice baths you could jump into and cool off since it was such a scorcher! I think I want to do another Olympic to see if I can get under 3:00, but I'll have to do it earlier in the spring or later in the fall when it's not so warm outside :)

3 miles to go, still smiles

Andrew crossing the finish line

Me sprinting to the end!

Olympic triathlon finishers

Our awesome cheer squad

One major US city that I have never seen outside of the airport is San Francisco. I polled a couple of my girlfriends to see if they wanted to meet up with me there on my way back from Alaska. Luckily, we were able to pull together a fabulous girls weekend in San Francisco and Sonoma. It could not have been more lovely fall weather, even slightly on the warm side, which was ok with me coming from the Arctic. It was fleet week in town so there were constant air shows going on overhead! We spent the day touring around Fisherman’s Wharf to see the sea lions and the Embarcadero before calling it a night for our early morning departure to Sonoma.

Blue Angels at Fleet Week

Sonoma is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. I got some great winery recommendations from a coworker and we hit up 5 amazing wineries and had a driver take us around on the beautiful sunny day. I came back with 5 different bottles of wine that I loved!

Beginning the day in Sonoma

Picture at every winery

Enjoying the patio at VML

Selfie with the vineyards

Beautiful lunch spot

Perfect warm weather
Cheers to a great day in Sonoma

After hitting up another winery the next morning, we headed back into San Francisco and stopped for some hiking in Muir Woods for some views of the giant redwoods.

"The mountains are calling and I must go"

Giant Redwoods

HIking through the redwoods

Pretty trail

Dwarfed by the trees

Abbey staring across the valley

Finishing our hike

Our last day in San Francisco we rented bikes and took a ride around town and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Riding through Golden Gate park was so lovely, it is such a perfect urban park for joggers and bikers. We had a quick lunch and stopped into a couple shops in Saucilito before taking the ferry back to San Francisco. I could definitely come back and spend more time in Saucilito, it was so cute. We brought a bottle of our chardonnay from Sonoma to enjoy on the ferry ride back, the other passengers were quite jealous.

Cruising around SF
Riding across the Golden Gate Bridge 
Katie and I amongst the fog and bridge

Ferrying back to San Francisco with our chardonnay and braids

Cloudy bridge and sailboats

On my way back to Texas from San Francisco, I stopped in Denver for a couple days to see my friend Katie's place and enjoy a little bit of the fresh mountain air. I love getting the chance to see my friends and family in their element! We fueled up for our day at the Denver Biscuit Company where I indulged in a biscuit cinnamon roll yum! Then we drove up into the mountains and did the 6 mile Herman Gulch hike. It was at the tail end of the bright aspen season but we saw a couple patches of vibrant yellow trees along the highway and on the hike. We summited at the pretty Herman Lake and had a snack before it got pretty chilly and we were ready to head back down. It was 12,000 ft so I was definitely winded :) always living at sea level doesn't boost my lungs ha. On the way back to Denver we stopped at the TommyKnocker Brewery from some well earned drinks.

Denver Biscuit Company - biscuit cinnamon roll mmmmm

Katie and I hiking in Denver

Made it to the lake - over 10,000ft

Katie hiking back down

Glimpse of the last aspens before losing the leaves

Local brews post hike

Katie had to work the next day so I slept in for the first time in what felt like ages (4 weeks) and took a nice bike ride on the Cherry Creek Trail (literally 1 block from her place!) and did a little afternoon shopping. I found this wonderful crepe place and treated myself to a glass of rose and the most phenominal savory rustic mushroom crepe for lunch. After Katie got off work, we ended the day with a sunset jog around the park. It was a nice relaxing day in a new city!

I drew the short straw with my alternate and had to work over Christmas and he had to work over Thanksgiving. So I wanted to go all out during my 3 weeks off over Thanksgiving and early December and really celebrate the holidays. We had a fantastic gathering in Houston for Thanksgiving with all my aunts and uncles and cousins from my dads side of the family. My super artistic cousin Danielle, sketched out a thankful tree with charcoal and we all got to add a leaf with what we were most thankful for this year. It was a really neat display in the dining room that week. And of course dinner was the best and my plate was overflowing per usual on a holiday about the food. My evil cousin Christopher woke me up from my post feast nap to tell me the pies were almost gone (impossible since there were at least 10), but I was up in a matter of seconds haha. It was all well deserved after the turkey trot that some of us partook in that morning.

Family turkey trotters

Family thankful tree with the first of the leaves attached

Thanksgiving greatness - time to feast!

To continue in my holiday celebrations, I visited New York City for the first time in early December with my good family friend Elizabeth. My cousin Danielle lives in Brooklyn so it was awesome to stay with her and see her whole life up there. I felt like a legit New Yorker riding the subway into work with Danielle the first morning. Her architecture firm has a lovely office in Manhattan that I got a tour of. Elizabeth and I then wandered around some of the holiday markets in NYC as well as visited the decorated window displays and the Rockafeller Christmas tree. We also saw a really cool tree in the Library.
Library Christmas Tree

Rockafeller Christmas Tree

Lights along store fronts

We ate some pretty tasty food, including lots of thin crust New York style pizza that was phenom! I didn't feel bad about any of though since we were walking 15-20k steps a day according to my fitbit. We explored the Hi Line park through the city, a bit of Central Park, and I spent an afternoon at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Danielle. The weather was so perfect the entire trip with sunny skies, cool temperatures, and gorgeous late fall color.

Central Park

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Beautiful fall color in the botanical gardens

Pretty trees
Some other highlights of the trip were seeing the Statue of Liberty via the free Staten Island Ferry as well as the 9/11 memorial. I got there right when it opened so had a lot of time to explore the exhibit without any crowds which was very emotional and touching. White roses are placed over victims names on their birthday and I was able to find one that day. The One World Trade building is pretty spectacular in the background. Elizabeth and I also went to Mass downtown at St Patrick's Cathedral and saw the pretty nativity scene. I think my favorite thing was the Brooklyn Flea Market with lots of cool booths with antiques, artwork, and interesting things. I found some cool cuff links for my brother for Christmas as well as an original piece of art by an artist that sketches on post-its. I thought the dimension of the multiple sized post-its was really neat and I love hot air balloons.

Lady Liberty

NYC skyline from the ferry

One World Trade

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Museum

Structural steel where the plane hit the twin towers

Underground remains of the twin tower foundations

Nativity in St. Patrick's Cathedral

Happy hour with Danielle in NYC

My post-it find at the Brooklyn Flea Market

After my holiday of fun in NYC, I did a little bit more celebrating with my family in Dallas going to a Christmas concert at the Dallas Symphony and catching up with an old friend Aubrey at Trinity Groves for some delicious Mediterranean noms. I also went to the zoo with my mom, Andrew, and Tori which was awesome since it was a weekday and hardly anyone was there. We had the place to ourselves to check out the gorillas and the great giraffe exhibit. Back in Houston I had a favorite things gift exchange with my girlfriends where we each brought a variety of our favorite things for under $10 and then walked away with lots of goodies that we traded in kind of a white elephant style haha. It was a good way to end my "pre-Christmas" celebrations before heading back up to the North Slope for actual Christmas.

Giraffe exhibit at the Dallas Zoo

Hi giraffe

Christmas at the Zoo

Dallas Symphony Christmas concert

Lunch at Trinity Groves with lovely Aubrey

Delicious lunch platter at Souk
Holiday party in Houston

Favorite things gift exchange goodies

In January, I went to Salt Lake City for the first time to visit a friend from high school that lives out there now. It was neat to see her place and all the fun activities she has nearby in Salt Lake City. I decided this was the time to really break in to my ski boots and become a proficient skier. I took a day of ski lessons at the Canyons in Park City and for the first time skied the blues without having major anxiety! It was such an accomplishment and I thoroughly enjoyed the next two days skiing with Katie and Ashley on the blues :) Except for the time I accidentally went down some ungroomed moguls and had to stop every 15 seconds to give myself a pep talk that I could do this. Eventually, I did have a bit of a panic and waited until Katie and Ashley went back up the lift and came down to rescue me. It was quite a hoot having people cheer for me from the chairlift haha. I will say that skiing during the week is awesome and not crowded and now I'm spoiled and I never want to go to the slopes on the weekend again! We also did some fun shopping in Park City, made and consumed two entire batches of rice krispie treats, and visited the Olympic Museum and ski jump from the SLC games in 2002. It was awesome to catch up with these ladies and I love that I can visit my friends that live in such wonderful cities.

Canyons Park City skiing with Ashley and Katie

Artsy goggle shot

Skiing with gorgeous views

Posing for the camera

Yay I made it down another blue run haha

My glamour shot

Visiting the Olympic Ski Jump Park

Ski jumps, with a pool in the summertime

Lighting the Olympic torch

Soooo manyyyy rice krispie treats