Saturday, February 11, 2017

california | sparrows lodge + palm springs

sparrows lodge
I was recently talking about Palm Springs with some friends and I exclaimed "Oh, you have to stay at Sparrows Lodge! It's the best place we've ever stayed!"

Which I quickly realized wasn't exactly true. There's no way I could pick a best or favorite from the many awesome places we've stayed. For some people, finding a place to stay when traveling is just a necessary expense and a bed to sleep in at night. But for me, one of the best parts of planning a trip is finding unique accommodations. In fact, when another friend recently asked me how I find such great places to stay, I confided "It's my super power!" (Ha!)

My idea of a great place to stay is not the same as everyone else's though. I couldn't care less about room service, package deals, the thread count of the sheets, etc. What I am looking for is something architecturally interesting. I like modern design, uncluttered spaces, and beautiful scenery. We like cabins, cottages, treehouses, and tipis, and occasionally a small inn or bed & breakfast. We generally like places that are cozy and secluded or that give us a taste of local culture. And I like all of that on a fairly modest budget. (Which isn't to say that I don't like a bit of luxury - I do love a hot tub and a good cocktail!)

And we've picked some winners over the years - from staying at an artist's estate in Maui, to the most scenic cabin in Maine, to this awesome modern prefab in our home state of Virginia, to this cozy little camping cabin in Canada, there's no way I could pick a favorite! I'll have to come up with a different superlative adjective for each one because they are all equally incredible, but for different reasons.

But back to Palm Springs. Sparrows Lodge was incredible and definitely the most luxurious place we've ever stayed. And with only 20 guest rooms, it was just our speed. We went there to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. At the time, there was a lot of news about the zika virus, so we nixed our plan to go to the Caribbean, and decided to stay in the U.S. I'd been curious about Palm Springs, and in retrospect it was probably because certain hipster hotels there have done a pretty awesome job of promoting and marketing themselves on social media. After visiting, I am SO glad that we didn't end up staying at one of those hotels. The hipster party scene is definitely not my thing!
palm springs
I'm not even sure how I stumbled on the Sparrows Lodge website, but it was perfect. The prices there vary widely from night to night (the room rate often DOUBLES, or more, for a weekend stay vs. weekday!) and depending on what time of year it is. It isn't the kind of place that is usually within our budget, but it happened to be affordable during the week of our anniversary, so we booked three nights. And we were celebrating our anniversary, so a little splurge was worth it!
sparrows lodge
We arrived in Palm Springs in the evening and were blown away the minute we reached the Sparrows property. It felt like a secret garden. There were fragrant flowering trees, flickering lanterns, outdoor fire pits, and a glowing pool on the property. There was no concierge or check-in counter - instead you walked past the pool to the bar, said you wanted to check in, and were handed a cocktail! Welcome to paradise:
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
No extra charge for the bathroom creeper!

We were shown to our room off of the garden, and spent the next few days in pure bliss: In the mornings, we ate toast, jam, and hardboiled eggs in the garden under the citrus trees. (It smelled incredible!) During the day, we lounged by the pool (it was cold, but I braved a swim!), read our books, drank beers from the bar, cooled off under the misters, and took dips in the hot tub. We ordered food that was delivered to our lounge chairs (I guess I do like luxury more than I thought!) - the fruit topped with burrata was delicious. Periodically, the staff would walk around with burning sage to smudge the grounds of negative energy. (This was California after all!) In the evening, more of the same, plus alternating between soaking in the world's deepest tub in our room, and outside in the hot tub by the fire under the palm tree. In fact, Sparrows Lodge was so nice and relaxing that we had very little desire to leave the property and explore Palm Springs at all. (And when we did, we weren't that impressed. The palm trees and mountains were nice, but the architecture was very suburban. I'm sure we missed something, but we didn't care...) We did have a fantastic dinner for our anniversary at Workshop, but for the most part we stayed at Sparrows and I wouldn't change a thing! In fact, I'd do it all over again. I often write about how we overextend ourselves on vacations trying to do/see everything. This experience was the opposite, and I think we definitely need more zero/relaxing days when we travel.
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodgesparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodgesparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
sparrows lodge
It was a truly glorious three days. We checked out on the morning of our anniversary (because that was when the room rates skyrocketed) and drove out into the desert for another three nights exploring Joshua Tree. Before we left paradise though, we asked one of the Sparrows staff to snap a pic of us in the garden. He obliged, but we realized a few minutes later that he probably didn't realize we had just checked out and thought we were tourists who had just wandered in from the street!
sparrows lodge
Next stop: the desert...

Monday, February 6, 2017

new mexico in 1 second everyday



In November, Larry and I spent a week in New Mexico. I decided to try documenting the trip with short video clips using the 1 Second Everyday app. (I also took thousands of photos on my Nikon, but per usual, those will take me months/years to sort through, edit, and post.) While it took a little time to arrange the video clips in the app, it was still a pretty quick process, and I filmed and arranged the whole thing on my phone! It was near instant gratification, and it's pretty cool to be able to watch a 3 minute video summary of our trip. I got a new phone a few weeks after we got back, and was just able to retrieve the video from my old phone the other day. I had intended to do a few more edits (eliminate some of the more awkward clips, create a better intro/ending), but these little things are usually what keep me from ever completing a project, and since it was 99% done, I just decided to go with what I already had.

A few comments on the 1 Second Everyday app: 
+ I really wish there was the option of using longer clips (maybe up to 5 seconds?). I realize the point of the app is to use quick clips, but the 1 second clips make me a bit dizzy, plus you can't film a conversation.
+ I wish there was a way to turn off the date that appears in the bottom left corner. It makes sense if you're making a year long video, but not so much if you're making the video about one event/trip. And if you edit a video clip on your phone (like if it is rotated the wrong way), the date that shows up on the video is the date that you edited the video, not that date that you filmed it, which is why some of the dates on my video seem like they're out of order.

And yes, I know we are huge dorks on camera (and off camera, too). My video skills aren't that good, and neither of us know how to act natural when we're being filmed, hence all the awkward waves and funny faces.

Still, it was a fun little project, and more importantly, one that I actually finished! I hope to make more of these in 2017.

Monday, January 30, 2017

17 goals for 2017

17 goals for 2017
It's been a while since I've written about my goals - mainly because I'm really good at making them, and really bad at accomplishing them. Part of the problem is that I tend to set really ambitious (read: unattainable) goals (like a list of 50-100 things to accomplish in a single year - whaaaat?) and part of the problem is that I'm lazy.

But I limited myself to 17 goals in 2017. They're all fun/personal goals - things to do for my own enjoyment. (Though I totally cheated and I also have business goals, and a list of house projects, and habits that I want to work on that aren't included in this list. Oh, and I want to make a difference in this world, because things really suck right now.)

It's unusual for me not to set a reading or a cooking goal, but I realized that I'm already good at doing both of these things, and there's no need to make an assignment out of something that's supposed to be fun and that I'm already doing pretty well at. So, I plan to read and cook a lot in 2017, but I'm not putting any numbers on it. I also hope to make good art, establish a daily meditation practice, simplify my life, reduce the amount of time I waste on social media... (You know, the usual: ACHIEVE PERFECTION! Did I mention that I tend to set unattainable goals?)

But back to my 17 personal/fun/selfish goals. And yes, I realize these are pretty darn ambitious, too. And many of the them have been on my list for several years. Maybe I'll find a cure for laziness in 2017?

1. Travel
     + a new continent
     + a new country
     + a new state
     + a new U.S. city
     + a new national park
     + a Virginia getaway weekend
     + Luminhaus
Traveling as much as possible will always be my number one personal goal. I hope this is the year I can make it to a continent I've never been to before. In December, I thought it would be Africa. At the beginning of the year, we thought it would be Asia. Now we're really not sure. Our travel circumstances seem to always be changing, so I know better than to count on any travel being certain. In August, we're going to Alaska (new state) and plan to visit Denali (new national park). And I'd like to explore some more of our own state, particularly, southwestern Virginia, and return to Luminhaus in the fall (a trip we've been trying to take for 4 years, but keeps not happening). I'd love to finally visit Savannah, visit Portland, and road trip across Texas. Can't wait to see where the year takes us.

2. Hike 3 major VA hikes.
Last year, we set a goal of hiking 100 miles and it was one of the best goals I've ever set. 100 miles isn't that far, so it was an attainable goal, but we also had to dedicate ourselves to going hiking a couple times a month, so it was challenging, too. My only regret is that we didn't tackle some of the longer (by longer, I mean 7+ miles) and more challenging hikes within our own state. (This is mainly because even though these hikes are in Virginia, they are far enough away, and long enough that most of them require an overnight stay.) We will definitely hike many more than three times this year and we will hike in different states (and hopefully a foreign country or two), but my goal this year is to take advantage of some of the incredible day hikes in Virginia. Virginia's Triple Crown is McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon's Tooth. Old Rag is still on the list, as is Virginia's tallest peak, Mount Rogers. Brumley Mountain Trail in The Great Channels of Virginia looks awesome. And I'd love to tackle Devil's Bathtub and Devil's Marbleyard. I want to do them all, but I'll settle for crossing 3 of them off my list in 2017, especially since my joint pain has been consistently getting worse.

3. Embroider 3 large pieces.
Embroidery became my new favorite hobby last year. I love that I can sit down and work on it any time I have a few minutes free, or while watching TV or listening to an audiobook. (And there are no brushes to clean!) It is definitely a slow art form, which makes it relaxing and almost meditative. I started two large abstract pieces at the end of 2016, so I need to finish what I've started. And I have the colors picked out for a third project. I might like to challenge myself to a mixed media painting/embroidery piece, too. Hopefully, I can finish these projects without ending up in a neck brace again!

4. Swim x48.
Looking for consistency here, which is not my strong suit. Swimming is my favorite form of exercise - I'm not fast, and I'm not good, but I enjoy it and it makes me feel good. Strike that, it makes me feel AWESOME, which is pretty incredible, because as a non-athletic person, most exercise makes me feel like dying. But I'm pretty inconsistent with this - I'll swim several times a week for a few months, and then I won't swim at all for months. If I can average 4 swims a month, I'll call this a win.

5. Paint family portraits.
This project has been on my list for a while. I keep putting it off because I don't feel that comfortable painting faces.

6. Frame and hang art and photos.
And this one has been on my list forever because I can't make decisions. No more blank walls!

7. Take lessons/a class.
Another thing I keep putting off because of...fear? It's hard to be a student again and even harder to be a beginner when you're an adult. But I've always wished I had learned to play piano as a child. It's never too late, right? And I have a ukulele I want to learn how to play, too. I'd like to take a ceramics class. (I took wheel when I was a teenager, but I'm more interested in hand-building now.) And I've always wanted to learn how to paint with encaustic.

8. A big painting!
No fear! No blank walls!

9. Learn to use chopsticks.
This skill has eluded me since childhood. I've never been able to use chopsticks. It's embarrassing when I go to Asian restaurants, and it's a skill I definitely must master if we go to Asia this year. Larry and I decided that we would eat all our meals in 2017 with chopsticks, which also sounds like a good weight loss plan since less than half the food will actually make it into my mouth. But at the beginning of the year, I watched a bunch of instructional YouTube videos, and I'm happy to say that I can now feed myself an entire meal with chopsticks. I need to keep practicing, but I think I can do this!

10. Bike a quarter century.
25 miles is not far on a bike. But the point of this goal is to just get back on my bike (which currently has two flat tires) and ride. A couple years ago we started to really enjoy cycling, and then last year we only rode once because we were working on our hiking goal. So this year, I just want to get back on the bike, have fun, and pedal for 25 straight miles.

11. Sew 4 accent pillows.
Giant sectional sofa with sad puny pillows needs a make-over!

12. Finish 2 quilts.
I sewed 2 quilt tops during the 2014 Olympics. Just finish them!

13. Make photo books.
This one is overwhelming. There's so much backlog and so many photos to edit. Over ten years of travel, plus our wedding...

14. Get rid of 1/3 of our stuff.
Goodbye, crap!

15. Make a video.
Potential videos: travel, a hike, the dogs, a day/week in our life. Oh, and I need to practice using my GoPro this year, too - I got frustrated with it last year.

16. Learn to make a great cocktail.
Most fun goal on the list, right? Cheers!

17. Minimal wardrobe + organized closet.
A simple, curated closet would be life-changing for me. Or maybe I'll just get rid of all my clothes and wear nothing but black yoga pants and black t-shirts from now on.

Alright, now I've made all my goals public, so if you run into me in public you can ask me "How are those ukulele lessons going, Rachel?" and watch me turn 37 shades of red. But I really would love to be able to cross all these off by December. However, I know that it's important to roll with whatever life throws at me in the coming year and that things change and my goals/situation might change, too. For now, I'll try to make progress on the 17 things on this list. I've already been working on the cocktails and chopsticks...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

a southern new year's eve

New Year's Eve 2016
At our New Year's Eve party this year, our group of friends was talking about when spending New Year's Eve together became a thing that we couldn't miss. The tradition started on the last day of 2002 - a group of co-workers gathered in Bethesda to ring in the new year. I had only known these new friends for six months and was happy to have an invitation to a New Year's Eve party. And we all got to know each other a lot better that evening as about eight of us crammed into a taxi to ride from Maryland back to Virginia. I remember screams of "My kidneys! My bladder!" as we barreled down the highway, crammed in that cab like a can of sardines. (Luckily I was riding on top of the pile, so my internal organs stayed intact.) From that year on, the same group of friends gathered at various bars and restaurants to ring in the new year together. At some point about nine or ten years ago, we started tiring of the DC New Year's Eve scene. When Larry and I got charged something like $200 for a taxi ride from DC to VA one year, we decided our New Year's Eve in the District days were over. So our group started hosting dinner parties to ring in the New Year instead. We've been celebrating New Year's Eve together for 15 years and the dinner party tradition is now in its seventh straight year. Larry and I don't really have any family holiday traditions, so it's awesome to have such a strong tradition with friends. We all agreed that our annual NYE party is something that we just can't miss.

This year Larry and I hosted the party at our house. In my head, I love entertaining - choosing a menu! Fun decorations! Liquor! But in reality, I'm always in the weeds and panicking at the last minute trying to get food on the table before 10 pm. This year I was pretty proud of myself for having time to decorate ahead of time.
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
Ready to party!

I had this great idea to order clear balloons and fill them with confetti. The balloons arrived and, um...
New Year's Eve 2016
Have a SAFE new year, people! 

Yuck! I quickly nixed the condoms balloons from the decor. Luckily, I had twinkle lights and streamers that didn't resemble prophylactics. Ok, the streamers might have looked a bit like TP. My original plan was to cover the entire ceiling with streamers, but I quickly got the F-its. And my helper (who boasted that he had streamer-hanging experience from setting up the gym for homecoming in 1988) put the kibosh on hanging more streamers after we got about 10 of them up. Good enough.
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
Now onto the food: Each year we choose a theme and everyone brings food to share that fits the theme. This year the theme was Southern food. It may have been our most delicious (and least healthy, note lack of vegetables) New Year's Eve yet. On the menu:

+ Jambalaya
Fried chicken
Biscuits
Pimento Cheese
+ Hush Puppies
+ Cornbread Spoonbread
Texas Sheet Cake
+ Key Lime Pie
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
There were Southern cocktails, too...

+ Apple Bourbon Delights
+ Cajun Lemonade
+ Mint Julep Jello Shots
+ Alabama Slammers
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
...and a wide selection of southern beer. Larry made a southern playlist, too, which consisted of lots of county music and lots of Outkast. (Which our friends kept trying to change.)
New Year's Eve 2016
The pups may have gotten a little something from their Uncle Mike.
(Photobomb by Bud Light.)

New Year's Eve is a prime counter-surfing holiday for the pups. One year Gravy ate a 1/4 pound of New Zealand bleu cheese and another year he swallowed a shrimp skewer. At one point in the evening, we feared one of the dogs had disappeared a jello shot...
New Year's Eve 2016
"Did someone say fried chicken?!"
New Year's Eve 2016
"Everybody look to the left! Hmm...now what's this on the coffee table?"

When I said we hosted a dinner party, did you think that meant something elegant...and not fried chicken, Alabama Slammers, and Outkast???

But wait, there's more...
New Year's Eve 2016
New Year's Eve 2016
We burned stuff! Specifically, our Christmas trees from 2014 and 2015, which had achieved a nice patina and depth of flavor after aging in the corner of our backyard for the past few years. A raging bonfire was a very fitting send off for 2016.
New Year's Eve 2016
Burn, 2016, burn!

I did not realize how much the kids would love the fire. They invented a little fire dance, and chanted "Fi-er! Fi-er!" while roasting things on sticks. We foolishly were not prepared with marshmallows, but according to the kids, roasted gummi bears and roasted tortilla chips are "Mmmmmm! Good!" (How he was able to roast a tortilla chip on stick, I'll never know, but I saw it with my own eyes, so I know it's possible!)
New Year's Eve 2016
When the clock struck twelve, we toasted 15 years of friendship and the pending end of America with Alabama Slammers. They tasted like ass Robitussin. Sorry, friends. I guess we should all just get used to swallowing bad medicine. (Not really. Resist!)
New Year's Eve 2016
We sound like assholes.

In all seriousness though, I'm really thankful for these guys and our not-to-be-missed annual tradition.
New Year's Eve 2016
Mug shot.

All good parties must come to an end, though:
New Year's Eve 2016
Too many jello shots.

After our guests had left, I popped the camera on the tripod and convinced Larry to pose for a quick pic since we hadn't gotten a photo of the two of us all night. It was about 2 am. I'm pretty sure Larry is asleep.
New Year's Eve 2016
Stay woke, Larry! Stay woke!

So here's to friends, traditions, and 2017. I really hope you aren't terrible.

P.S. Any ideas as to what I should do with six dozen condom-colored balloons???