The Huntington & San Diego

Last September, Joseph and I took a vacation to Southern California. The draws? Disneyland (of course) and visiting my friend Genevieve.

As lovely as all that was, we were really pleased with some of the last-minute additions to our trip: a day at Huntington Library and a few days in San Diego.

The Huntington isn’t just a library, although its library is impressive enough to be a draw on its own. It also hosts several art galleries, all situated among beautiful botanical gardens. The above photo was taken in the rose garden.

We spent our morning with Genevieve’s family at California Science Center and headed to The Huntington around lunchtime. It was a longggg drive. Because everything in the LA area is a longgggggg drive.

We ate (it was actually pretty good food), and then we started walkin’.

The Desert Garden

From the Huntington website: One of the largest outdoor collections of cacti and succulents in the world, the Desert Garden includes more than 5,000 species of desert plants in sixty landscaped beds.

The Japanese Garden

Since our visit, I’ve noticed this garden featured in several tv shows. I think I spotted it in the season 2 premier of The Good Life.

The Library

This was absolutely the highlight of the trip for me. I had no idea this was here until I walked in. Don’t you love when you stumble upon something that’s perfectly in line with all of your interests?

Can’t contain my excitement outside the library!

This is from the natural history section of one of their permanent collections: Beautiful Science.
See to the left the word “observation?” I love the way this exhibit broke down the process of scientific discovery and dissemination.

Fangirl-ing. You know how we all have those things that are really important to us but that you know other people wouldn’t be able to understand? This is one of those things for me. I know you don’t care, I don’t expect you to care, but I have to tell you anyway.
Left: Me with a copy of Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands!!!!!!!!!!! Catesby was my introduction to one of my new passions – natural history publications – when I wrote a review of his biography for my workplace’s peer-reviewed journal.
Right: When I saw this one I said to Joseph, “Oh my god. It’s Gessner! It’s Gessner!!!!” This is a page from Conrad Gessner’s Historia animalium, which was published in the 16th Century and is considered the first modern scientific treatment of the natural world. This book set the stage for the way scientists and naturalists looked at and described the natural world for centuries.

Maria Sibylla Merian. I’ve never seen any of her works in person either, so this was super exciting! If you want to read about her, Stuff You Missed in History Class recently did a great episode on her: link here.

The exhibit about light was fascinating! As were the other scientific exhibits – on astronomy and medicine – although I for some reason didn’t take any photos of those.

Outside the library. Can you tell we were happy? That’s nearly as big a smile as Joseph has ever made for a camera!

San Diego

I have visited Genevieve in LA three times, twice by myself, and they’ve all been great trips. But that’s partly because she and her husband do all the driving and thinking for me! When Joseph and I are left to our own devices in LA? It’s not nearly as fun. We did really love San Diego, though!

We stayed at The Pearl. It is super cute, obviously, but it also had a lot of other things we enjoyed:
– great cocktails
– great food
– great happy hour, daily!
– salt water pool & a succulent wall
– outdoor movie screen playing classic films

Joseph enjoying himself despite his commitment to scowling at the camera.

The food was SO good. Almost too good. It was hard to get us to actually leave the hotel! We also ended up trying every single cocktail on their menu. Lotsa fun!

And our room came with a fish named Moby!

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Because California was really hot (even to us Texans), we decided to nix the hiking plans I’d made and instead go to Torrey Pines. The ocean-side walk was beautiful, and there was a nice breeze!

Other Things in San Diego

You can’t go to San Diego without going to the zoo. It definitely lived up to the hype!

Balboa Park, which we walked to after our morning at the zoo.

I was realllly into this coffee. It’s called Best Drink Ever. And that’s a good description. Joseph has tried to replicate it at home for me, but it just can’t be done.

How I Discovered the Secret World of Plants

Two years ago, I fell into an amazing job I never would have expected to love so much. I work with botanists. They speak in a foreign language (of Latin names but also very technical science speak). Honestly, I don’t fully listen to a lot of conversations. I’ve learned to pick up what I need to.

And what I’ve learned and seen has transformed the way I view the world.

If you’ve never known a botanist, you know that going anywhere with them is difficult. They tend to walk one step at a time, stopping to crouch and look at plants. They shout out plant names (always the scientific name) and families. They disagree. They collect and identify later. Sometimes they encourage you to smell or chew on a leaf. Which I always do because the botanists I work with are my friends, and I trust that they aren’t trying to kill me (don’t get any ideas from this, y’all).

I’m not anywhere near that level (I never will be), but the little I know is enough to annoy the non-botanists around me. Joseph doesn’t care about the names of the plants we walk past in the parking lot, but I can’t help but say them. Is that what it feels like to be a mansplainer (although I hope I’m less awful)? 

There’s a whole world of plants around us that I didn’t care about or notice before. How did I go about my world not seeing this before? And new species are discovered every day.

Joseph and I have always liked hiking. But now that I know to look at the vegetation, I can’t even remember what I got out of hiking before. I am finally really looking at the world around me – and it’s unlocked this key to being outside that I didn’t know was missing.

Although Joseph would say otherwise, I think it’s started to rub off on him as well. On our recent trip to Palo Duro Canyon he fell in to the same habits as me. As we walked, we noticed the vegetation and how it changed along each trail. He joined me on pointing out when we encountered a species we hadn’t yet seen. What fun! Seriously! Try it!

There are a few other benefits to my job in the world of botany:

I work with rare botanical books dating back to the 16th century, like the one above: Flora Londinensis by William Curtis, published in 1777. (I can also go on and on about William Curtis….)

In my building is an herbarium full of over 1 million dried plant specimens. I’ve spent a lot of time marveling at how pretty they are, although they are also used by hardcore scientists for other reasons! Like… actual science!

The natural sciences is one of the few STEM fields that employs more women than men. And for me that’s a huge bonus! I love working with badass smart women every day. Even better when we get to work outside.

And some pretty cool men too. How do you get a West Texan man to walk around with a handful of pretty, pretty flowers? It’s science!

Palo Duro Canyon

Have you ever booked a vacation months in advance, and when the time finally comes it’s exactly what you need? That’s where Joseph and I were last week. We desperately needed a break from work. Things had been crazy for the both of us for a few weeks, but they were just starting to calm down enough that we didn’t feel guilty about taking a break. Lucky for us we had a wonderful trip to unwind and disconnect.

We spent two nights at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle. At 126 miles long, it’s the second-largest canyon in the U.S. (behind, of course, the Grand Canyon). And it’s beautiful.

Every sight was stunning. I knew it wasn’t going to translate well into photos, but ya know what? I took lots anyway. Just just gotta trust me that it’s 100x more beautiful in person.

We stayed in one of the “limited service” cabins in the park. Much of the park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, including these adorable cabins.

The cabin was exactly what we wanted. It was secluded and it had A/C (essential during this time of the year in the Texas panhandle!)! We also had a mini-fridge and a microwave, both of which were really useful. We had to walk a bit to the bathroom, but we didn’t mind. Especially since the cabins were only $60/night.

Here’s my cute husband inside our cabin (isn’t it charming?), trying to put sunblock on himself. He got it all over his shirt.

It took us 6 hours to get to the canyon from Fort Wroth (with a break for lunch). But when we got to the canyon it was well worth it. We were tired, so we just hiked for a few miles the first day.

We were so excited to see the stars at night! Big and bright (clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas.
This is the best photo I could get without a tripod. In the bottom left corner you can see a bit of our cabin. We hadn’t seen the stars like this in several years.

I woke up early in the morning and looked out the cabin window to find wild turkeys!

Everything I read before and during the trip told me we needed to do the Lighthouse Trail, 3 miles each way. We got an early start (around 8am) to avoid crowds and heat. We only encountered a few people on our hike in, but on the way out we passed several crowds of hikers. I recommend starting as early as possible if you do this hike!

The terrain varies throughout, and each view is incredible.

Something about this view made Joseph and I both think of The Land Before Time.

I love this view of the canyon. It reminds me of a beautiful layered cake – lavendar, lemon, and then a coffee layer. Undecided what the bottom layer is. Maybe a red velvet that hasn’t be properly executed?

The famous Lighthouse formation! We didn’t realize to see this you have to do a pretty intense climb. Joseph made it about halfway up, and I continued without him (leaving my backpack behind – so this is a cell phone picture). It was a nice view, but you have to like scaling boulders to do it! I was exhausted.

Obviously only one of us liked the challenge… Not sure if you can tell, but at this point in the descent I had to shimmy down with my feet gripping the sides of the rock – the bottom was full of loose stones. This is not for the weak-ankled or those without proper hiking shoes.

A view on a different hike. Hard to believe this is just one park, right? Throughout the day we ended up hiking 3 different trails for a total of 13 miles. That’s a lot in Texas heat, especially for two people who are pretty out of shape ;)

Joseph is a weird photographer sometimes.

We were both excited to have a few days without TV, but all our outdoor excursions really exhausted us. We were too tired to play the games and read the books we brought. We ended up buying a deck of cards from the gift shop and spent a few hours playing gin rummy (while repeatedly checking the clock to see if it was yet an appropriate hour to go to sleep).

I borrowed a macro lens and spent a bit of time playing with it around our campsite.

I photographed plants, Joseph did an important camping activity. Roasted marshmallows for smores!

A shot to show you how beautiful and secluded the site was. Can you spot Joseph in the green shirt walking to our cabin?

Can’t wait to go back!

New York City Luxury

This January I got to take a weekend trip to New York City with a coworker and a friend. This was half-business, half-pleasure, although it actually was entirely pleasurable!

Because I wanted to pack light, I didn’t take a camera. I fit all my belongings for three nights in one tote bag, which I’m still pretty proud of! All photos below were taken with my iPhone. Technology has come a long way since I started this lil ole blog back in 2008, at which time I didn’t even own a cell phone.

We were very lucky to spend our nights in a beautiful home outside of the city, and I woke up every morning to a spectacular view of the Hudson River.

I’ve only been two NYC once before, on a long layover where we got out of the airport for a few hours to explore. We weren’t quite sure what our weekend was going to look like, so we didn’t make any plans and didn’t have any goals. We had a few things we needed to do and few people to visit, but we spent the rest of our days wandering around.

I normally plan all vacations to a tee, so this weekend was a good lesson in appreciating an actual relaxing vacation. No hurrying between museums and dinner reservations, no sore feet because I made the group walk miles further than they wanted, no nighttime nausea after going all out at every restaurant because I’d read too many reviews of good dishes…

An unexpected highlight of my weekend: Italian food! We have missed authentic Italian food so much here in Fort Worth. I try to replicate it myself (just this weekend I spend 4 hours making a lasagna – every piece from scratch), but it’s just not quite the same!

And French cafes on the Upper East Side. More food I’ve tried to replicate at home without total success (but not total failure, so that’s something right?)

I got to hang around some really beautiful places. The city is full of little gems!

Agenda-less with a central base in the Upper East Side, we walked into the Met our first afternoon… and subsequently returned every day. And we didn’t see nearly everything. What an incredible place!

Of course I was also like, “ohmygod this is where the Gossip Girls ate” when I saw the front steps. #millennial

This room reminded me of the tiny cathedral Joseph and I stumbled onto when hiking in Italy one day.

We’ve all got our things right? Byzantine art is one of mine. Don’t ask me the appeal. I really don’t know.

Lesson learned this trip: I really want to go back, and I especially really want to take Joseph with me! It’s weird traveling without your typical travel companion! We’ve been touristing together for over a decade now, and I want to force him to look at more Byzantine art with me.

A John Mayer-less Rodeo

Where I grew up in Houston, the annual rodeo was, to me, merely a vehicle for concerts. My very first concert was in 2004, and I got to see my favorite artist at the time – John Mayer. At the rodeo… a fact which seems really strange to me now.

My chaperones were brother Brent and his wife Melissa. And I was super annoyed that they made me sit through the, like, rodeo activities before the show. Excuse you, I was just there for John. What’s with all the barrel racing?? What does this have to do with finding out there’s no such thing as the real world, that it’s just a lie you have to rise above?

So I was surprised when I first went to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. It’s a big deal here (I’d argue it’s even more culturally significant to the city than Houston’s is), but it’s not a concert. It’s all about the animals and serious competition – no pretty boy singers! I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

I have a thing for cows and have since I was a kid. I want to be a cow.

I like walking through the exhibits when the rabbits are here. They are all so funny and beautiful!

This breed reminds me of the Heavy Boobs song in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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