We made an overdue visit to the Pacific Northwest to visit family and friends.
Fires are burning all across the area, and in Canada as well, so smoke was thick everywhere.
A drive up into the Olympic mountains made for a lovely day trip, but you could not really see the mountains, even standing amongst them at 5700′.
Port Townsend is one of my favorite places. I just can’t visit there too many times. We walked through the Maritime Center and watched shipwrights work, and walked the docks where the Wooden Boat Show will be in a few weeks.
The next day we took the ferry to Seattle and spent the day exploring the waterfront, Pike Place Market, and Seattle Center.
We took a boatload of people out on the lake yesterday. We enjoyed a nice long sail down the lake and back, then anchored for a couple hours. We even had a few floaters, though I’m waiting a couple more weeks for the lake to warm up a tad. The sun was out, wind was up. Another great day on the lake!
With no commitments until Easter dinner with Julie later in the day, we headed out to visit Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It is a beautiful place to see in the spring, full of gardens teeming with wildflowers, and several miles of lovely trails to explore.
I don’t think the wildflowers have peaked yet in south Austin, based on what we saw here, so there’s still time to get out there and see them!
There is a great-horned owl family roosting in a wall ledge just inside the entrance. There are two owlets, but they are not sticking their heads up in this shot.
I made Monte a chocolate Guinness cake for his birthday (recipe here). I put a little chocolate powder in the icing (link for that is also in the recipe for the cake) so it would be tan colored instead of white. You know, so I could put a little beer foam on top along with the signature shamrock 🙂
Monte and I took another road trip at the end of February. Some stats: 10 nights & 11 days on the road, nearly 3,000 miles driven, over 1000 photos taken, 2 states visited, 18 holes of golf played, 3 birthdays celebrated, 5 relatives thoroughly enjoyed, my 1st ringer in a game of horseshoes, and 25 new lifer bird species seen!
It was a fantastic trip. The only downside is that Monte picked up a cold somewhere along the way, so he’s laying low for a few days.
Susanne flew to Austin to drive with us to Tucson. Though I have been to Tucson many times for work, I guess I never took the time to enjoy the place. It is really beautiful. And late-winter was a terrific time to visit.
Here are a few of places we explored in Tucson, and I would recommend all of them if you, too, get a chance to visit:
– Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: an outdoor museum showcasing the diverse ecosystem of the surrounding desert, and its teeming flora and fauna species. Simply an amazing destination, with so much to see. I will do this again next time I’m in Tucson.
– Saguaro National Park (the western Tucson Mountain district location): saguaro cacti for miles. MILLIONS of them. An informative visitor center. Also some very nice petroglyphs at Signal Hill, only a short hike off of the Bajada Scenic Loop.
– Catalina State Park: a lovely park at the base of the Catalina Mountains. Lots of nice hiking trails and many of my lifer birds were seen here.
– Mission de San Xavier del Bac: a national historic momunent, it is the oldest in-tact Spanish colonial structure in the Americas, built in the late 1700s. It is still a working parish church, serving the Native American Tohono O’odham nation, on whose reservation it resides. An informative free tour gave us an overview of the history of the Spanish, the native Indians, the Mexicans, from the 1700s through today. We wanted to see one historic mission, and decided to do this one instead of the Presidio downtown. I’m glad we did.
– Catalina Mountains at sunset: simply stunning to view
Susanne flew home after we all had a nice visit with her. And after a week, we bid adieu to Gene & Jo (and Dan & Patrick, who were also visiting) and took off on a loosely-planned trip home, on a northern route instead of the southern one we took on the way west. Taking an I-40 eastern route home also gave us several opportunities to drive along portions of the Historic Route 66 (and, yes, we played the song when we did).
There were 3 things we wanted to see, and we left Tucson with no plans on where or how long to stay at each one:
1) Grand Canyon National Park: neither of us had been there before. The park needs no introduction, so let me just say it is all that it is cracked up to be. And again, late winter was a wonderful time to see it with a minimum of crowds. The park has a really well thought out visitor center, shuttle bus system, and easy to hike trails that run along the rim of the canyon with stunning views. The Yavapai Geology Museum is another must-see inside the park, along the rim trail. We had originally planned to make the park a quick stop, spending 2-3 hours there tops, and then head back down to Flagstaff to continue our trip east. But as we were driving there, I decided to check out lodging options in the park. I figured it was a long shot, but since we had to stay somewhere overnight, the park would be a much cooler place to stay than somewhere off the interstate. I am SO glad I checked it out, because we were able to book a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge for that night RIGHT ON THE RIM of the freaking Grand Canyon! What a treat. And so we did spend much more than 2-3 hours exploring the park. I’m so glad we did.
2) Meteor Crater Natural Monument: a hole in the ground about a mile across. Formed by a meteor that fell to the earth 50,000 years ago. It’s only 5 miles off of I-40. The admission was (relatively) steep, compared to other tourist sites ($18 per person), but we knew that going in, and still just really wanted to see the crater. It’s been on Monte’s bucket list for a while.
3) Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe: a spiral staircase in a 1880s-built Gothic chapel, with a mysterious legend regarding how it was constructed, and by whom. Another last minute hotel search turned up a simply lovely location right next door to the chapel, the Inn & Spa at Loretto. Yes, a staircase is an odd reason to visit Santa Fe, as there is so much to see and do there, but that was what took us there. Our drive brought us into Santa Fe after dark. The original plan was to stay one night, see the staircase at 9AM, and then proceed immediately east for the 11-hour drive to Austin. Once we got to our luxurious room, and saw the private patio (which alone was bigger than my first apartment!), and thought of all the things we could do to fill a day in Santa Fe, we extended our stay another night. Again… awesome!
On the way back into town, we picked up a baguette and some nibbles to go with the bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the winery, and enjoyed a late lunch al fresco on our ginormous private patio. It was a tad chilly, but it was lovely.
After a big lunch, we chose to skip dinner and tried out a good place for margaritas and chips. We chose Tomasita’s, in a restored railway station building, and enjoyed walking there and back.
That’s it. 🙂 We drove non-stop to Austin the next morning, and are enjoying being home again.
Yesterday we helped Julie move into her new apartment. Then she joined us for dinner. I shouldn’t have, but I made a very decadent pasta dish, and we pigged out while watching The Princess Bride (for probably the tenth time). If you are craving a high-calorie, savory, down-home, soul-food kind of pasta dish. This is the one for you.
Sausage & Basil Baked Pasta
1 small sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz dry penne or ziti pasta (makes about 3 cups cooked)
1 lb fresh mild italian ground sausage
24 oz jar of tomato & basil sauce
15 oz carton of ricotta cheese
2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped
Boil pasta per package directions, drain and set aside.
In medium saucepan, cook & crumble italian sausage. Drain off fat. Return skillet to heat and add onion & garlic to sausage. Saute until onion is soft. Add tomato sauce, heat through and set aside.
In large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, eggs, and half of the mozzarella. Fold in the cooked pasta to combine well with cheese mixture.
Into a 13×19 pan, add half of the pasta & cheese mixture, spread evenly. Add half the sausage & tomato sauce mixture. Layer again with remaining cheese and sauce.
Cover and bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, until bubbly.
Remove cover, add remaining mozzarella cheese and place back in oven for 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted.
Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve. Makes enough to feed an army.
Last night we enjoyed a fun New Year’s Eve celebration at our house, clocking in at 3AM by the time we went to bed. Temperatures have dipped into the 20s, for the next few days. We even got some snow last night, so the merrymaking was pretty much restricted to indoors. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all.
The day after New Year’s Eve has come to mean spending the afternoon at Ann & Dave’s house, playing games with friends and friends-of-friends. It is a very-low-key, come-as-you-are, and bring-your-leftovers-and-libations kind of affair. Some people creep in, looking a little worse for wear after a fun night of celebrating. Other regulars are missing in action. But, eventually, everyone perks up, ends up laughing, telling stories, and making plans for the new year that has just begun.
One of the New Year’s Day games that has become a regular is a home-made version of Jeopardy. The mistress-of-ceremonies for the last several years has been Doray. This year she, again, painstakingly prepared the categories, questions and answers. Very fun!