To Grandma & Grandpa's house we go...

Over the mountains, and through Las Vegas, to Grandmother's (and Grandfather's) house we go... 

Am I the only one out there that puts a song to everything? Well, besides my mom. Just me...well, that's awkward. Let's move on then.

Josh, Caleb, and I headed out to Ivins, UT to visit the Brown Grandparents in early October. They recently moved from Indio, CA (near Palm Springs) to Ivins, UT (near St. George). They have a beautiful new home nestled up against a red mountain (check out Day 5 collage to see it). The area is quite stunning. It's not far from Zion, so use that to help picture it. The weather was fantastic - our last taste of warm, sunny weather until next summer since we're headed into the rainy season here in the Pacific NW. 

We have a wonderful time visiting. It was relaxing and nice to catch-up. Visiting family is always so great. Plus, I got some extra help with little guy, which is always nice. And Caleb just loves his grandma and grandpa. It's so cute to see him with them. 

Here's a quick look at our visit:

Day 1 -

Our first day was mostly travel. We took a flight from SeaTac to Las Vegas. I was so proud of Caleb on the flight. He didn't cry out once. At the end of the flight, people walked by commenting that they didn't even realize there was a baby. SCORE. He even laughed at take-off when the engines roared - it was adorable. Planning it around a nap worked perfectly. Go us! 

Once we arrived, my father-in-law picked us up and we drove to Ivins - about 2 hours. Again Caleb did great and slept most of the time. So the day of travel was very successful. 

Hey look, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's Super Dad (in the photo).

Day 2 -

We got a preview of the Ivins area. We drove by Kayenta Homes, a beautiful development, and got some tasty treats at Nielsen's Frozen Custard. Caleb got spoiled with a taste of custard. Speaking of spoiled, Caleb always got some new fun toys from grandma and grandpa. He absolutely loved the Learning Walker toy. 

Day 3 -

We made a day trip out to Zion National Park. This was Caleb's first National Park visit. Grandma Nada got him a National Parks Passport. I had one of them when I was little (I wish I knew where it was, bummer). Zion is such a beautiful area. It also brought back good memories of our trip in 2012.

Day 4 -

Unfortunately, Grandpa Don got sick and was stuck in bed (poor guy! we later found out it was pneumonia). So, Grandma Nada took us touring around St. George. We walked around the cute shops and grabbed lunch at TwentyFive Main.

That evening, Josh and I went out on a date night - just the two of us! We celebrated our five year anniversary with dinner at Xetava Gardens Cafe. We enjoyed a glass of wine and dinner al fresco. It was a lovely evening and great to get out. 

Day 5 -

We did some shopping around town and then mostly chilled at home. Caleb was a bit fussy with his bottom teeth coming in, but sitting out on the grass really cheered him up. While Josh and I soaked up the good weather. 

Day 6 -

We had a nice, relaxing day. Nada had to take Don to urgent care because he wasn't getting any better. It's a good thing, too, because it turned out to be pneumonia. Poor Grandpa!

Josh and I decided to help out and make dinner. We went to Harmons Groceries, which is an awesome grocery store. We went there a few times during our visit. And that mountain in the photo, that's just us driving home from groceries. Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.

Day 7 -

Lucky me because I got a massage at Red Mountain Resort. It was heavenly. The massage therapist said I was pretty tight - uhh, yea. thanks to lifting a car seat, baby, stroller, chasing baby, etc.

In the afternoon we drove through Snow Canyon State Park. It was a beautiful drive and we'll have to go back for some great hiking (or camping, if Josh can convince me). 

Day 8 -

Happy Birthday to Josh! We celebrated with breakfast at Bear Paw Cafe, delicious shakes from Larsen's (OMG the banana cream pie shake is to die for), and a hearty dinner at Rib & Chop. Otherwise, we enjoyed a nice walk in the neighborhood and just lounging. 

Day 9 - 

Ho hum, we had to head home. Another day of travel from Ivins to Las Vegas, then onto SeaTac. Caleb was quite a handful (to put it nicely) at the start of the flight. By the time we were in the air, he settled down into a nap and the rest was fine (whew!). Luckily the people behind us liked to play peek-a-boo. 

We had such a lovely time. It's so great to spend time with family. I wish we could go back right now! 

Off to the Pumpkin Patch

Oh boy, oh boy, the holiday season has finally arrived. I've been waiting all year for it and this year will be even more delightful since we have Caleb. It's always been a dream of mine to have a little one to share all my holiday joy. I LOVE the holiday season. And Halloween is a good holiday to kick-off the holidays. 

When I was a little one, my parent's would take my sister and I out to Bates Nut Farm. I just loved all the pumpkins and then the store with all the apple and caramel goodness. I do remember my parents made my sister wear sweatshirts in the 90 degree weather so they could get a Christmas card photo. I said to myself then that I wouldn't do that to my child. Luckily for Caleb, it's not 90 degrees in the Pacific NW for October. However, I did find myself wanting to get a great Christmas photo. So I guess I'm turning out like my parents after all. Again luckily, they are pretty great people.

What do you think...do any of these have Christmas photo potential?  

You'll see from the photos that we went to Spooner Farms (Bates Nut is just a bit far away - haha). It was a cute place with pumpkins, a maze, a pumpkin sling shot, food, barn, and a gift shop. We just did the pumpkin patch, barn, and store. I'd hate to get lost in a corn maze with a screaming baby. Seems a bit nightmarish - a good store for a Halloween horror movie, perhaps. 

Anyways, we took lots of photos (and by we, I mean me. I did warn Josh beforehand that I'd be a photo commander). So of course, we had to put our little pumpkin in a wheel barrel. Yup, I'm that mom. But isn't he the cutest? There was some lady behind us that was just making him giggle. 

And get this. I'm here eat Josh's parent's house for the week and Nada shared this photo of Josh and her. Josh is a bit older in his photo, but it's I think it's pretty awesome. 

Caleb and Mom had a good time together trying to pick out a pumpkin. Caleb was just indecisive about which pumpkin to pick as his mom.

Dad was very macho pushing the wheel barrel with all our pumpkins and gourds. Plus, carrying our little pumpkin.

There were some farm animals there as well. Caleb was very interested in the piglets and turkeys. 

Lots of pumpkins and gourds to chose from! We had such a wonderful time as a family together. 

By the end, Caleb was tuckered, but I think he had a good time. I know his parents had a good time! I got some baking pumpkins as well for some delicious pumpkin goodies. 

Happily Celebrating 5 Years

Today we celebrate our fifth anniversary. Can you believe it? It seems like just the other day, yet so much has happened over the past five years. I'm not going to get all mushy, but I do have to say that I love Josh more than ever. I sure found a keeper! 

I love to look back at the wedding photos and remember what a great day it was. Such wonderful memories and such a wonderful day. 

To celebrate we ate leftovers (ha! there's having a baby for you). HOWEVER, I did manage to make a pumpkin pie with graham cracker crust. This was one of the pies we had at the wedding. It's the one we did the "feeding the other a bite" at the wedding. Having pie instead of cake was one of the best decisions of our marriage. Just kidding, or maybe not...

And here we are today. Yup, with an addition to our crew, Caleb. He's 9 months next week - I'll write about that in my next post probably. 

Happy Fourth 2016

On the Fourth of July I always want to blast the song God Bless America by Lee Greenwood. I know that's totally geeky...but, hey, that's me. So this year I played it for Caleb. Poor kid. 

Usually, the fourth of July is the first great summer day here in Seattle. But so far it really hasn't been that way. It's been a fine weather day, not cold or anything, but it's cloudy and overcast. But we still got ice cream anyway. Soon we'll be out grilling up some hot dogs and hamburgers to chow on with the potato salad and zucchini I cooked up. The grand finale is dessert...a berry tart! This will have to do in place of fireworks because Caleb will already be asleep - and I am NOT about to wake a sleeping baby for fireworks. Plus, the dog is going to freak out. She already did last night and that was just for a few neighborhood fireworks. 

It's been a great day - and this family is totally proud to be American. God bless American (come on, sing it!)

Curious Caleb goes on Vacation

Last weekend Caleb had a few firsts. It was his first...

  • Flight
  • Time in California
  • Night away from his own crib
  • Earthquake
  • Stay at a hotel
  • Going to the beach (California style)
  • At a Wedding

With all these firsts in just four days, it's a good thing Caleb is a curious little fellow. He's our little traveler and did such a great job. I was super nervous about the flight, but he did great. We had a 9am flight down to Orange County (SNA). He feed, slept, and then hung out with me in the carrier in the back of the plane with the flight attendants. 

For our return flight, we tried a night flight. He did just what we had hoped: slept the whole flight. Although I felt bad because we had to move him around a bit once landed and home, but he was a trooper. The only problem was then Josh and I didn't get to sleep until about 1am, so we were pretty pooped. 

Sadly, Alaska didn't have any wing stickers, but Caleb definitely earned his wings!

Our trip started at my parents house. We decided to head to Moonlight Beach and take a walk. Caleb had his first California beach experience.  He kept looking all around and I think he was amazed at the vast ocean. His eyes were like the color of the water - I love his eyes so sparkly and blue. 

We also went to lunch and enjoyed the gardens at Stone Brewery. It was so relaxing to sit outside while Caleb napped. It was beautiful outside and I enjoyed some time with my mom while my sister, her boyfriend, and Josh went on a brewery tour. 

By the way, look at Caleb reaching for my sandwich! The pork thief...he wishes, but maybe someday soon he can have some delicious pork. 

Did I mention there was an earthquake? Yup, our first night in Cali and there was an earthquake - a 5.2 quake. My mind immediately went to Caleb and get to safety. It's funny how a baby changes you...my mind went straight to his safety! Luckily, it was not a big one so it was over by the time I was up and going for Caleb. Caleb slept right through it!   

One of the big events of the weekend was our friend Heather Richardson's wedding. It was a beautiful reception at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. We brought Caleb along so he attended his first wedding. Pat, the mother of the bride, announced him as the youngest guest at the end of her toast. He got a round of applause! 

His little outfit was the cutest! We got it from Etsy and it fit him perfectly. Isn't he just the little gentlemen? So dapper in his bowtie! 

Mom and dad got dressed up, too. 

After a few days with the O'Neill family, we headed up to the OC to spend time with the Brown family. Caleb got to spend his first night in a hotel. The hotel had a crib, so we were all set. Caleb loved rolling around on the big bed - it was adorable. 

While in Orange County, we had the chance to see some Brown family friends. We enjoyed lunch with Sy and Mary Ellen at the Sherman Library and Gardens. So beautiful there! 

Caleb was impressed with all the flowers and plants. Look at the picture with his eyes so wide open in wonder. He also liked to reach out and grab the plants. 

We saw Carolyn and Rich for dinner as well. It's so great to see good family friends!

We also got to spend some time just chilling with both families, too. 

It was a wonderful trip and so awesome to see Caleb get to do some more "firsts" in his life. We're so lucky to have a pretty easy-going, happy baby. Hopefully we get to take many more trips together. 

And cheers to many more "first's for the little guy!

Joining the Mom Club

I feel pretty darn privileged to join the mom's club this year with Caleb's arrival. I had no idea what being a mom would feel like, but it's the best. thing. ever. My heart bursts with the love I have for Caleb. I can't imagine my life without him now. In fact, I can hardly remember not having him. If I am driving around without him (Josh watching him as I run an errand, for instance), I keep looking back in the mirror to check on him. I also have picked up this rocking motion, which I'll do even if I'm not holding him. And you know what, if he splits up or poops on me, I am actually okay with it (ok, so the latter only if I know he's hurting from tummy aches). I just can't believe how the love keeps growing every day.

Even though I feel like the greatest gift is just to be Caleb's mom, I still got treated royally for Mother's Day. (Am I getting mushy enough for you?). My in-laws were in town, so I got to celebrate with my mother-in-law, too. It was a wonderful day! 

It started with a banana muffin and french press coffee (yea, yea...I made the muffins). Then we went to church, which was a big thing on it's own actually. It was the day we did Caleb's Baby Dedication. I'll do a separate post on this later once I have more photos (my father-in-law took them and is going to share them with me soon). So for now I only have this photo with Caleb eating my arm.

After church, we enjoyed brunch at Tilikum Place Cafe. I had the best dutch baby pancakes - savory ones with broccoli, bacon, and Beecher's cheese. Yum! Josh was a good Dad and took Caleb out at the beginning when Caleb was crying/fussy. He got Caleb to fall asleep and brought him back inside...and Caleb slept the rest of the meal. Yay! 

While at brunch, we opened gifts. I got a gift certificate for a massage from Josh (oh yea baby! my shoulders/neck are KILLING me from lifting Caleb and the car seat). I got this very cool multi-use nursing cover from my in-laws plus some macarons. Caleb got me a cute t-shirt with a mama elephant with a baby elephant. I just loved all the cards, too.

We made a pit-stop at home and then went shopping at U-Village. I was gifted some cute things from my favorite store, Evereve. Here's us at the mall.

We ended the day with take-out from Tigerly Ox since this mama didn't want to cook. Not to mention, I love Bun. Oh, and I got my super favorite pumpkin cookies for dessert. SO GOOD. This was from a friend who was visiting Eugene and brought them back from Palace Bakery for us...isn't that the nicest! 

I couldn't ask for a better day. I felt so special! And Happy Mother's Day to all my mother friends out there. xoxo

Insta-Caleb

I know I've said it before, but I really can't help myself. I take photos of Caleb everyday. My photo stream on my devices (phone/laptop) is exploding. But I ask you this: how can you not take photos of this little guy? 

I want to capture everything - his smiles, his feet, his laughs, even his cries. I know in a few years I'm going to want to look back at these magical moments. Heck, I'm already looking back at his newborn photos. I'm sappy like that. I now cry at Hallmark commercials...okay, it hasn't gotten that far...yet. 

Rather than letting the photos sit on my computer to be seen only by me, I have been sharing many of them on Instagram. Correction: I have been sharing a LOT of them on Instagram. I want to be sensitive to my Instagram followers and not post too many, but it's really all I take photos of these days. #sorrynotsorry. But before you stop following me, hear me out. I have a purpose for all this baby posting (besides the memories I just mentioned). I want to make a book at the end of the year. Yup, you can do that. I am probably going to use either Blurb or Artifact Uprising. They both have tools to make Instagram books. I think this will be pretty cool to have to remember our first year with Caleb. 

So please bear with me and all the Caleb photos, or if this sounds exciting to you to see then start following me on Instagram. Below is just a snapshot of my Instagram photo stream. Yup, 6 out of 9 photos are Caleb. ;) I hope you find the photos cute at least! 

Spring Visitors

Now that Caleb is here, I think my parents will be visiting more often - yay! My mom got a Seattle raincoat so she's all set. If it comes between rain vs. Caleb, Caleb wins. Those San Diegans, I tell you (ha, I say that like I wasn't born & raised there - shh don't tell anyone). 

It's amazing how much he's grown since my parent's first visited Caleb. Back then he was 3 weeks. This time around he was 10 weeks. The difference is crazy! He pretty much doubled in size and was totally more aware and alert. So for this visit, we got to get out and about much more. 

This time Aunt Lindsay came along as well, so we had the whole O'Neill family together. Here's all of us...

I love spring especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. We enjoyed the cherry blossoms at University of Washington. Apparently, it's a thing here to go to the UW quad and see the trees. I was my first time going since moving to Seattle, and it didn't disappoint. They grow all over Seattle, but when there are a bunch of them together it so pretty. I think the O'Neill clan enjoyed the flowers, too.

Of course, we took some photos of ourselves with the cherry blossoms. We didn't want to take Caleb out of his car seat/stroller as it was pretty chilly outside. My sister kindly held a flower up to the seat, though, so we got a photo of him with the flowers.

We also went down to Georgetown and took a Taste & Tour at Fran's Chocolates. They first took us in the back where we got to see all the chocolate in the making. They were hard at work with Easter chocolates. We even got to see Fran herself in action (see the lady in the black jacket below, that's Fran). My favorite was watching the lady make the chocolate eggs. She hand designed each egg, which is amazing. Check out my video of her pouring the chocolate and making the design. Then they did a little tasting of 5-6 different chocolates. Needless to say, we weren't too hungry for lunch afterwards. 

Of course there was a rainy day and we had to go indoors. We headed over to Mohai to learn about the history of Seattle. There was also a hip hop special exhibit. 

There was some good eats, too. We enjoyed some tasty meals at Little Water Cantina, Giddy up, and Cascina Spinasse (one of my favs!).

Good fun, good food, good family. Life is good! 

Every Morning is Easter Morning

Every morning is Easter morning from now on... (hear it here)

This song is forever ingrained in my memory from my childhood church. I totally remember driving around with my parents and they would belt this song out. It wasn't Easter without it. Naturally, I find myself singing it today. It's the only Easter song that I can think of actually, which is funny because there are tons of Christmas songs. Isn't Easter just-as important (nay, more important!) of a holiday than Christmas? If you know any good Easter songs, let me know! 

Anyway, it was a good Easter here in Seattle. It was special for us since it was our first Easter with Caleb. He was handsome in his little Easter outfit. I can't wait until he can go on Easter egg hunts - his mom loved Easter egg hunts as a child.

We started with church this morning. We got into our Sunday best...

And then we enjoyed some tasty food. I made a mini Easter feast for us. We had Whole Foods glazed ham, scalloped potatoes, brown butter roasted asparagus, deviled eggs, cardamon rolls (from Byen Bakeri), and carrot cake oatmeal cookies for dessert. And because I'm crazy, and had more shredded carrots from the cookies, I made carrot-spiced oatmeal muffins for tomorrow morning.  Boom...Easter feasting. 

In other words, this Easter we dressed up, went to church, sang, cooked, and ate. Pretty good Easter if you ask me!

Welcome Baby Caleb

I would love to introduce to you our son, Caleb. You might recall my due date being mid-January...well, he decided to join this world a bit early on Saturday, January 2nd, taking both Josh and I a bit by surprise. We were released from the hospital on Wednesday after a few days in the special care nursery due to some heart rate concerns. Fortunately, he proved to be healthy and we headed home to start our new life as a family.

Now, he is already a week old - can you believe it?! Josh and I are still settling down and figuring out the parenting thing, but Caleb has already captured our hearts. 

I'll share more details with you soon since writing a whole post right now is probably not going to happen given I keep starting a task and only halfway completing it and/or falling asleep. So for now I wanted to share some photos from the hospital. 

And a few more...

Isn't he the cutest? Expect many more photos of this little dude. ;)

Christmas Everything - A 2015 Recap

Wow, the holidays flew by faster than Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve (do you like what I did there?). Our holidays were jam packed and full of merriment. I thought I'd share a holiday run down through photos. Let's do it...

My parents and sister flew up for Christmas and a few additional days. It was so wonderful to have the whole family here and to spend some quality time together.

Even though I had a million other things happening in my life, I just had to get a tree! I think this was our tallest tree yet.

Josh picked out the pig ornament. It makes me think about the dog trainer telling us to read the book, When Pigs Fly: Training for Impossible Dogs (ehh, that's encouraging...NOT). And so I dedicate that ornament to Asha's first Christmas with us. 

Of course, one of my favorite things is getting all the holiday cards and greetings from friends and family. This year I had a little ribbon to display them all.

There should be a Christmas song about Christmas cookies. Well, I bet there is one really, but let's start our own. "Oh Christmas cookie, how sweet thou art. You fill my tummy with happiness and glee." Uh, that needs some work. 

I kept the cookies simple this year - no macarons or pepakakor like years past. But these were delicious! Here's what I made this year:

Oh and for Christmas Eve dessert, I made a delicious Salted Caramel Apple Pie with a crumble topping. Oh man, so good!

I also organized a cookie exchange at work. I had organized it last year as well and it just so much fun to swap cookies and get new recipes. Lots of deliciousness. Let's sing that cookie song again.

And to round out the sweetness of the cookies, we enjoyed some delicious savory meals. Being preggo for Christmas, I opted to have us go out for dinner. Christmas Eve we celebrated at Bastille and Christmas Day at Rays Boathouse. I did manage a Spinach & Cheese Strata for Christmas morning brunch, though! 

Of course, we went to our church for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. This is always a favorite of mine, probably because we get to sing so many Christmas songs. 

Presents! Gifts! Oh boy! Apparently we were all very good this year. ;)

And do you like my wrapping paper. I think it's the cutest!

Then we opened all the gifts. Look at those Christmas smiles!

As you know, I was pregnant this holiday season. This little guy will be the greatest gift - a bit late for Christmas, but I'm sure he'll ring in the new year.

This was also Asha's first Christmas with us. She was a good dog and didn't drink the water out of the tree. I do think she wondered why we brought the tree inside, though.

Well, that was one mighty fine holiday. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday as well. 

Much to be Thankful For!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wow, we have so much to be thankful for this year. We feel so blessed! 

Baby Boy Brown (aka B3) - We can't believe the wonderment this little guy has already brought to our lives and he's not even born. We can't wait to meet him, but we are thankful for him already.

Josh - I am a superbly lucky gal to have such a kind, loving, and smart husband. I’m so happy that I get to spend my life with my best friend.

Family - Our families are so supportive and loving. We are so grateful to have such wonderful parents, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents (in our memories!). 

Friends - We are lucky to have great friends here in Seattle, but also all around the country and even the world! We don't know what we'd do without such friends. 

Asha - Our little pup has grown so much this year. In December, she will be one year old. She has brought so much joy to our lives. 

Seattle - We felt in love with our city the first time we visited. We are so grateful to live in an exciting, beautiful city with nature all around, good food, and decent weather (yes, even including that occasional rain we get here).

Ballard Church - We joined Ballard Church earlier this year and already feel integrated to a supportive, church family. We've meet some awesome people and are so grateful we found this community.

Jobs - As much as we whine about work, we are so grateful for good jobs. I’m especially thankful for my co-workers, who are more friends than co-workers. They keep me smiling at work and are pretty fantastic, creative people. 

Country - Not to sound hokey, but I’m thankful for our country - the founders, the opportunities, and the freedom we so often take for granted. Thanks to the brave pilgrims and explorers, too! 

Thanksgiving Feast - I’m sitting here typing with a full and satisfied tummy. We had a most delicious feast and everything turned out so delicious. I’ll share that in another post soon. 

This list could go on and on. Like my thankfulness for coffee, pumpkin, fall leaves, technology (yes, that’s you iPhone - you keep me from getting lost and connected with long distance friends), and so much more. 

What a wonderful life! I hope you all had a great thanksgiving.

Now, let Christmas begin! 

Our Next Adventure: Three

Josh and I have enjoyed many new adventures this year: 

Towards the beginning of the year we moved into a rental house in Magnolia a real house with a yard and no shared walls.

Shortly after moving, we got our little Asha puppy. 

And now, we want to share the biggest of them all...

Wait for it...

Here's a hint: it involves a bump.

WE ARE EXPECTING TO BE THREE!

(well, Asha just pawed me and reminded me it actually going to be four).

Oh man, it feels so good to share the news. Finally! 

Little Baby Boy Brown is expected to join our family in mid-January 2016. I'm sure you have many questions. (guess what? so do we!) 

Let's see if I can at least answer some of your questions. 

  • Special delivery is coming January 17th, 2016.
  • It's going to be all snips and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails - a boy!
  • The mama? I'm good! I was pretty lucky in my first trimester mainly dealing with fatigue, tummy aches, and my super sensitive sense of smell going into overdrive. Now, I'm in the second trimester and feeling better (more about all that in a separate post). 
  • The papa? He's so excited, especially to have a little boy.  

Unsurprisingly, we're psyched and thinking a lot about babies now. Pretty much 110% of my thoughts are about babies (especially our baby). I get to compare the baby to a fruit each week. Last week he was a peach, and this week a lemon! 

We contemplated some other ways to share the news in pictures. Our friend Aaron Smith was kind enough to take them for us. 

Because of my love of baking, we thought of saying there is a bun in the oven: 

Also, we got this cute little onesie with a heart in Seattle. Pretty darn cute. Ha, with the one photo below, you can see why Asha wasn't included in most of the shots. In fact, after that shot, the little rascal got lose and ran in circles like a crazy dog.

We are so ecstatic about this baby that we're jumping up and down! 

I'll be sure to keep you up-to-date on all the news. 

Cruising the Chuckanut

Imagine it's Memorial Day again. It's sunny, family is in town, and you have a three day weekend. Doesn't that sound nice? Well, I can tell you, it was nice. 

My in-laws, Don and Nada, were in town in May. Two bookend weekends since Nada had work down in Tacoma for a week. The second weekend was Memorial Day weekend. We decided to show the Browns some Washington beauty and cruise down Chuckanut Drive. It's sort of like Hwy 9 for you Californians. You may remember Josh and I cruised this drive previously and really enjoyed it. 

And guess who joined us for the ride. This little pup. She was ready to ride!

We started our drive in La Conner, which is a cute little town near where all the tulips bloom each year for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.  We didn't see tulips, but we did see some beautiful flowers. Oh wait, one of those photos is not flowers - eh, close enough.

The Rainbow Bridge is near La Conner, which connects you to Fidalgo Island. We did a little jaunt over the bridge and back just to see what the other side was like. There were some nice waterfront houses over there, but we didn't explore too much over there. There was much more cruising ahead of us. 

But before we left La Conner, I had to get one shot of the pup because she's the cutest. Don also got a similar shot - plus some others - check it out.

After La Conner, we jumped in the car and headed up to Edison. Yes, it was named for the inventor, but I'm not sure why. It is a teeny, tiny town but super cute.

While in Edison, we enjoyed lunch at Slough Foods - tasty sandwiches and soup. We had a great time...

We grabbed some cookies from Breadfarm and then headed on our way - back on the Chuckanut Drive. I don't know what the next spot is called, but to me it's the start of Chuckanut Drive. I think it's what you see on some of the Chuckanut Drive brochures, and if not, it should be. We just pulled over, so you just got to be careful with the traffic zooming by with other Chuckanut cruisers. 

We hopped in the car and cruised some more and hit Taylor's Shellfish. While I don't like oysters, it's fun to drive out to Taylor's. You have to cross over some unprotected train tracks. A train came and freaked out Asha. And not surprisingly, there are lots of oyster shells on the ground out there. 

I must have gotten tired since my photos stopped after Taylors. But we did continue to drive (sorry, I should say cruise) up the drive some more. It twists and curves and has some awesome sites. and ends up in Bellingham. We didn't spend too much time in Bellingham since we needed to head back. The road back was just the 5 - nothing too special there. 

It's really a great drive. I've done it twice now and enjoyed it both times. I tell ya, you can't beat Washington's natural beauty. Now, cruise on my friends!

A Few Hours in Chicago

I told you I'd tell you. I sure did, and here I am fulfilling my promise. I'm good like that - keeping promises.

As you know, I was in Chicago this past April for my Grandma Ruth. There was one afternoon, where Lindsay and I found ourselves with a few hours to spare before the next family gathering. So we looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to hit the town. Downtown Chicago.

Boom. 

We started out with filling our bellies at Little Goat Diner. I knew the chef (uh, not personally) from one of my favorite shows, Top Chef. She was the season 4 winner and has since become very popular, especially in Chicago. 

Yes, there was actually goat at Little Goat Diner. Lindsay got goat sloppy joes and I got a goat cheese & smoked blueberry quesadilla. Both were delicious. See Lindsay ohh-ing and ahh-ing and me ready to devour? Dang, I look hangry in that photo. Don't I? Roarrrrr. Food. Eat. Now.

Every time I write "goat" I say "bahhh" to myself. I'm weird. But we enjoyed the lunch experience. 

With bellies full, we decided to have a little adventure out at Millennium Park. For one thing, it's free (except for parking). And another, Lindsay had never been. 

My favorite thing at the park, and I'm sure it's everyone's favorite considering the amount of people, is the bean. It's just cool. 

Cool bean. 

What's cool is how it reflects stuff. It reflects the skyscrapers. 

It reflects people. 

It reflects off itself. 

We took some photos of ourselves with the bean because it's cool and we're cool. 

It's just reflects everything. And it's in the shape of a bean. The end.

Side note: I guess it's really called Cloud Gate...whatever.

But keep going because it doesn't end with the bean. 

There are other structures there, too. Like the Crown (right) fountain and the somewhat creepy people/faces structures. Lindsay posed...such a model, especially the bottom one.

Nearby was a cool Stock Exchange building arch. And the buildings nearby are cool, too. Umm, Should I stop saying cool? 

Not pictured, but there is also a new addition to the park since the last time I was there. It's thing mega kids land/park. It was pretty wild (see what I did there, used wild instead of cool).

We ended the adventure walking along Lake Michigan. The water was incredible blue. Okay, more like teal. It was quite pretty (and windy, and cool). 

Then we got to our car, which was parked by the fountain. Sadly, the fountain was dry. But cool still. 

And there you have it. A few hours out in Chicago. Plus good sister bonding time. Can't beat that. 

It was cool. 

Grandma Ruth

I've been debating as to whether to write this post or not. Ultimately, as you can see, I decided to write it. You may have been wondering why my blog has been so silent lately. Well, the reason is that I've been grieving since my grandma passed away the week before last. While we knew it was bound to happen, especially since she's been slowly going down hill, it nonetheless hit me pretty hard when it really happened. 

I was really close to my grandma. She made a point of making such close relationships with all her children and grandchildren. She was the quintessential grandma - sweet, kind, loving, and had that cute grandma hair cut (you know, the one that required going to the salon about once a week). I have such fond memories of our time together over the years. She visited us often out in Encinitas and we spend many hot summer days out in Chicago. She even came out for many Christmas and Easter holidays. So she never really seemed far away.

As she was with me, she was with others - always there. And there was no doubt of the love and connections she made over her lifetime as I witnessed the hundreds that showed up to pay their respect over the course of the two days when I was in Chicago last week for the wake and funeral. I felt so honored to be her granddaughter.

I have some many good memories with my Grandma Ruth. Here's just a few...the list goes on and on. 

  • She taught me how to draw a daisy.
  • She was always joined me for frozen yogurt outings.
  • Her love for Navy Pier and Chicago was totally infectious.
  • When she visited for Easter when I was young, she would play endless rounds of egg hunts.
  • We would take long bike rides together through the park (over crunchy locust, yuck!).
  • I can't eat a Frango without thinking of her. 
  • The time at Heathrow when she insisted on us following her, only for her to turn around moments later to confess she didn't know where she was headed.
  • Driving along in the torture mobile, eh hem, I mean blue Oldsmobile.
  • Her infamous German Chocolate Cake and manicotti - a must when she visited. She always made me a cupcake without the gross coconut frosting. 
  • Celebrating St Patricks Day with brownies that had wintergreen tic-tacs on top as "green sprinkles."
  • Every bit of her was Irish even though her ancestry wasn't really Irish, but she had the last name O'Neill.
  • When she was in town, she's get bagels and cream cheese on weekend mornings and have it waiting for us for breakfast.
  • Johnny Pat, in Chicago when it rains and you have the wind shield wipers on you need to put your lights on as well. Dad turns off the wind shield wipers.
  • On our Hawaii trip, I looked at Grandma and asking why she's wearing the same clothes as yesterday. She gently reminded me that her luggage had be lost. Oh vey!
  • The tiger blankets she had at the Frontage Road home.
  • Grandma told me once that a young man raised his middle finger at her, and then proceed to ask me once if there was road rage in California. I said of course not.
  • While on our Colorado trip as a child, I asked about thunder. Grandma explained it was the angel's bowling.
  • She had no fear of garlic, she would just lather it on at Little Joe's in San Francisco. 
  • During college, she would send cookie packages (with a slice of bread to keep them fresh!).
  • Hooters. We should go there sometime. 

If you knew Grandma Ruth, I'd love to hear your memories in the comments! 

Also, I created a video full of photos of Grandma. As a longer term project (I had to put this together pretty fast), I hope to make a book full of photos of her. If you have any, please send them my way.  

If you'd like to download this video, go to the video on Vimeo. There should be a button to download underneath the video. If you have any troubles, please let me know.

You are not forgotten, loved one
Nor will you ever be,
As long as life and memory last
We will remember thee.
We miss you now, our hearts are sore.
As time goes by we’ll miss you more.
Your loving smile, your gentle fact,
No one can fill your vacant place.

Lastly, here is her Obituary.

Orcas Island Family Getaway

Let's rewind for a minute, shall we? It may seem like a long time ago now, but really December was just last month. And I have to tell you about Orcas Island. I just HAVE to because it was too beautiful and too fun not to tell you. 

My parents and sister all flew into Seattle to spend my mom's birthday weekend here in the Pacific Northwest. Then we all went together up to Orcas Island, which is one of the San Juan Islands. 

Remember when Josh and I went to San Juan Island (oh wow, that post was pre-blog refresh)? Well, yet again the San Juan's swept us off our feet. We had such a great time, and we lucked out with beautiful, sunny weather...in December...yea, lucky. 

We started out the trip by jamming all five of us into my car. It was a wee bit tight but we made it work. Sometimes it's lucky to be the driver.

Then, like all good Washington trips, our trip started and ended with a ferry ride. Ferry rides are awesome. They make me feel like little kid again - running to the front to catch a mountain sighting or just standing in the front with the wind in your hair. Or, to just chilling inside on your phone - cough cough (ha! caught ya mom & dad).

We stayed the night at Outlook Inn, which was an adorable hotel. With it being the low season, the prices were great. I'd definitely recommend it. It was decked out for the holidays, too. Love it. 

We arrived late in the day, so it was practically dark already. Being more north, it tends to get dark around 4pm in the dead of winter. UGH! Honestly, it's the worst thing about winter. But on the island, it was sort of cool since it was so dark the sky was super clear and the stars sparkled. It was weird to have to use the brights on my car; I do that so rarely so when I do, I get sort of excited. 

Dinner was at Sound Bite, or at least that's the name during the winter. Normally, it's Westsound Cafe. Actually, a fair warning, if you go in the low season, a lot of restaurants close. I tried two other restaurants before getting reservations at Westsound. I was nervous about everyone liking it, but it was really delicious. 

Josh and I capped the night with a drink at The Barnacle. It's a great bar...go if you ever visit Oracas Island. Do it. Do it. 

When we woke up in the morning, we looked out the window to see the fog resting over the water; it was magical. Then the sun started to break through, and the water shone with blues, pinks, and greens. I have to say, it's not a bad way to wake up.

One more photo of the morning fog for good measure.

Breakfast was equally as good as the view at Brown Bear Baking. Oh man, the orange sugar bun was killer. So So good. I'm drooling.

With full bellies, we headed out to Moran State Park and Mount Constitution, which boasts the highest point on the San Juan Islands. Admittedly, the views were awesome.

In good ole John O'Neill style, we stopped at many viewpoints. If you know my dad, and have traveled with us, you know what I'm talking about. I drove, so I had to take on the Captain duties. 

While on the mountain, I convinced a random guy to take a family photo. The sun was a bit harsh (oh boo hoo, the sun was shining), but you can still see how beautiful my family is...we're like models really.

Sure, okay, I'll show one of just the view. It was hard to get the photo to match what we saw. The fog was like blankets in the valleys. 

We went a little photo crazy at this viewpoint. What did I tell you? A good looking family. 

After Mount Constitution, we spent some time at the shops in Eastsound. It's a quaint town with fun shops; my favorite was Darvill's bookstore. Then, we caught a few tastes of wine a the Orcas Island Winery. And that was about it. We had to catch the ferry back to the mainland.

The ferry ride back caught some great views of Mount Baker. Well, that is what I believe it was...definitely not Mount Rainer, though, I know that one.  

As we rode the ferry, the sun started to set. Sooo pretty. Boats and sun and water.

Ah, I almost forgot, on the way to Orcas Island, we spent a few hours in Anacortes. It wasn't really planned, but we had to kill a few hours until the next ferry. My sister found entertainment in taking photos with all the sasquashes. Oh, there are more than just these three my friends. We roamed some antique stores and grabbed lunch at Gere-a-Delis

So there you have it. A good weekend getaway to Orcas Island with the family. I can't wait to go back!

Adventures in Death Valley: Part 2

Here's Death Valley Part 2, which I pinky swore in Part 1 that I would share. When I pinky swear, I mean it. I keep my pinky swears. I'm not sure what the cost is if you don't keep a pinky swear, but I don't want to find out. 

We did a lot on our second day. Well, we did a lot on our first day. I guess we just did a lot on the whole trip. But the second day, we took the road more. We met some locals like Mr. Mule below. He had a friend, Mrs. Mule. They told me to say "hey" to you.

Oh man, the roads were crowded, I mean look at all those cars on the road in that picture. Crazy, right? Heh, got you. It was just wide open road folks, wide open. 

The Open Road & Locals

The locals & Open Road

Scotty's Castle

Out in the middle of the desert, there is a castle. It's Scotty's Castle, but it doesn't belong to Scotty (I should turn this into some kind of riddle). But seriously, it's in the desert and Scotty did live there. It's a long, fascinating story and we heard all about it on the tour. Basically, it's about a con-artis, a banker, and their unlikely friendship. Funny how life works out and surprises us. Here's the story as it was told on the tour (there may be some inaccuracies ; hey, I'm not perfect):

Scotty was from Kentucky and at a young age headed to the West to become a cowboy. He joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Shows. After about a decade with the show, be ventured on his own and started to tell everyone he found gold in Death Valley. He convinced some Chicago investors to support his mining expeditions, but went on to use the money all up in San Francisco pretending to be a rich from all his gold. The investors got smart and wanted to see the gold mine with their own eyes. Scotty took them, but staged an attack before entering the valley. It didn't go as planned and the investors caught on to Scotty's scheme.

Luckily, this didn't phase Albert Johnson, one of the investors, and he went on to become friends with Scotty. When it came time to build a vacation home, Albert picked Death Valley (it helped his health and full of beauty). Albert didn't want to make a ruckus about his vacation home, he just wanted a nice place to relax, so Scotty got to call it his castle. 

 Scotty's Castle

Scotty's Castle

There were so many intriquite features of the castle - like the red gate really and the J-S seals. The JS made sense after the tour and learning the history - J for Albert Johnson and the S for Scotty. 

The gates of Scotty's Castle

Funny enough, our tour guide was named Scott - he was sure to clarify that it was not Scotty. The history and the beautiful surroundings made this one of our favorite sites of the park. 

Touring Scotty's Castle

Ubehebe Crater

After Scotty's Castle, we drove to the nearby Ubehebe Crater. Just the name itself is fun to say; try it: Ubehebe. The crater was created from volcanic activity - specifically, a large steam explosion. As a kid, volcanoes both terrified me and fascinated me. I have to say, Ubehebe gave me the hebegebes.

The other photo below was just a random stop on the way to the crater. It's rather funny because there was nobody stopping, but by the time we left about a half dozen cars had also pulled over. People see you looking at something and assume it's cool then they pull over as well. If you ever go to Death Valley, see if it works. Pull over and check if others follow...I bet you it will work. Seriously, though it was gorgeous - the blackened sand was really cool.

Ubehebe Crater & Surrounding Area

Rhyolite

Rhyolite's prime was just a mire six years - from 1904 to 1910. The town sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. From there it boomed and people from all around flocked to the town. It even had a stock exchange and electricity. But it fell quickly, and is now a lonely ghost town in the middle of nowhere. My pictures show the casino, general store, bank, and a brothel (scandalous!). 

Remains at Rhyolite

There was a random Union Pacific train sitting in the ghost town. It's sort of sad to see a city just die and dwindle to rocks and rubble. I wonder if there are any ghosts hanging around. Oh my!

Roaming Rhyolite

There was even a deserted truck (although, I'm guessing it's not from 1910 - just a hunch). And random cans and rust. But rust is pretty, don't you think?

Rusty Rhyolite

Bottle House 

One place still stands structurally intact in Rhyolite and that's Tom Kelly's Bottle House. No joke, this house is made out of bottles. Can you imagine living in a bottle house? I learned it was made out of about 30,000 bottles, and they were mostly Busch or medicine bottles (you know, Busch as in Budweiser). Pretty crazy stuff.

Bottle House

Borax Train

There are not very many places to stay when you visit Death Valley. There is the Furnace Creek Resort, which if you can afford, looks to be pretty nice (we had dinner there one evening). Or, the Furnace Creek Ranch, which is where we stayed. At the ranch, is the Borax Museum. We didn't go to the museum (there is only so much time!), but we did get a few pictures of the train used to transport the borax

Borax Company Train

Red Rock Canyon

It seems backwards, I know, but before we left I grabbed a photo of t he Death Valley sign. Then we drove onto Las Vegas. Quite the change -- nature and nothingness to mega city and everything. We grabbed lunch at Honey Salt. It wasn't in the strip, just outside in one of the suburbs. And oh my it was good. I really loved the decor and the food was great. 

We had some time to burn before our flight, so heck, let's see yet another National park. We did a quick drive through Red Rock Canyon. Yup, it's red. Actually, it's quite beautiful and we all agreed it would require a return but with more time. 

Goodbye Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon

We really fit a lot into two days at Death Valley. I would definitely suggest a visit, but maybe keep it to the winter season. The summers seem a bit hot, to say the least. I was also happy to be proven wrong about it being "just a desert." It's full of beauty and history - two of my favorite things! 

Adventures in Death Valley - Part 1

I want to tell you something...Death Valley is rad!

Hold up, let's back track a bit so you know where this is coming from. 

After Christmas, my in-laws brought Josh and I to Death Valley National Park for a fun holiday trip. To be honest, I always assumed Death Valley was a large desert with nothing much to see - just hot and boring. Silly me! It's actually like a small amusement park with different "lands" (like Disneyland has "Adventure Land" and so on). There is Badwater Basin, Artist's Palette, San Dunes, and so much more. 

I loved it so much I took over 275 photos. Wowza! So lots of photos to share. But, do you know what I have a problem with? Decisions. You know what's not good for a blog? Lots of photos and poor decision-making. I've had a heck of a time deciding which photos to share. Argh! I wish I could show them all, but that's guaranteed to bore you to death. I'll do my best to limit it, but I really want to show you the awesomeness that is Death Valley (not to mention, show the handsome people that visited it - eh hem, that would be the Brown family). 

Because of all this awesomeness and lack of decision on my part, I'll be breaking this up into a two part blog post. This first post will cover our first day at Death Valley. The next post, which I pinky swear will come soon, will cover the last day. I might even through in a third post, if you're lucky, with some other random stuff. So get comfy, here we go...

Amargosa Opera House

We entered Death Valley from the Southeast entrance (map) since we were coming in from Palm Springs. One of the first attractions is the Amargosa Opera House. This was originally constructed in 1923 as a company town by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. It was abandoned and later discovered by Marta Becket who restored the building and turned it into an opera house. 

We didn't see an opera show, but it was an awesome building and we arrived at sunset, so the lighting was just right. This was my first taste of Death Valley, and I was instantly intrigued. 

Amargosa Opera House and Hotel

Badwater Basin & Below Sea Level

Our first full day in Death Valley started with Badwater Basin. It is one of the lowest places on Earth, at 282 feet below sea level, and it's the lowest point in North America. See Josh in the picture pointing up? No, he's not doing a disco move, rather pointing to the sign on the mountain indicating "Sea Level." (see that tiny sign?!)

 Below Sea Level @ Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin got it's name from a pioneer/explorer that was traveling with his mule, and the mule wouldn't drink the water...hence the name, badwater. All around is salt encrusted ground, likely the culprit for the bad water. We broke off a piece of the salt rock, and sure enough it tasted salty. My favorite part of this site was how the water reflected the surrounding the mountains (as shown in the photo below). 

Badwater Basin

Devil's Golf Course

Devil's Golf Course is similar to Badwater Basin except that the salt flat is more jagged and has all these crazy holes. The name comes from a guide that stated, "Only the devil could play golf" on its surface (according to Wikipedia). 

As we looked around, there was a kid that kept saying that it reminded him of Frosted Wheat. I could see what he was saying with the white salt layer and ribbed-like ground. Clever kid, although he got annoying after the tenth time yelling this to his dad...

Devil's Golf Course

Artist Drive & Palette

The colors here were awesome. Unfortunately it was mid-day, so not a photographers dream; however, you can still see the various colors from teal to pin to red. I'm no geologist, but apparently this is due to oxidation of different metals and from volcanic ash.  

We got out and hiked around a bit, but the drive through is also a must. This was one of my favorite sites of the park. 

Artist Palette

Devil's Cornfield

Another "Devil" named place. I guess the Devil comes to mind when you're at a place called Death Valley. Uh, hello, Death. Death...Devil...Hot....so, here's a fun fact: Death Valley is one of hottest (if not the hottest) place on Earth. On July 10, 1913 a reading of 134°F was taken, the world record hottest air temperature. Some other records say it's Libya is the hottest at 136.4°F. Oh snap! 

Back to Devil's Cornfield. These are actually Arrowweed plants. The are left with there roots dangling out after the wind blows the sand away. Poor things; roots all exposed. How embarrassing. 

Devil's Haystacks

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Sand dunes, now that's what I'm talking about. This is how I imagine Egypt and the sand near the pyramids. I love the ripple the wind creates on the sand. Sadly, there were so many tourists stomping around that finding a clean patch of sand was tough. But I found it! 

Get this, people were actually sledding down the dunes. Crazy. How dare they mess up the sand! I hope they got sand in their underwear. Just kidding...it looked fun.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

It was sunset as we explored the dunes, and I thought the silhouettes of the tourists was pretty rad. 

Dusk at the Sand Dunes

Harmony Borax Works

You might have picked this up when you read about Amargosa Opera House, but Borox was a big deal in Death Valley. You might have used 20 Mule Team Borax at home for cleaning. I used it to get rid of fleas once. Yea?

Well, back in 1883-89, Borax was mined in Death Valley by Harmony Borax Works. Guess what they used to haul the borax around? 20 Mule Teams and wagons. Yup, that's right. Borax is no longer mined in Death Valley, but the mines and wagons are around for tourist to view. 

Harmony Borax Works

So that ends our first day. Did you know you were getting a history lesson with this post. No sir ye. I surprised you, didn't I? But, not joke, we did all this in one day. There is still another full day to share with you. And as I pinky swore above, I will share it. 

Christmas 2014 Flashback

Dude, Christmas was sooo totally six day ago (in my best beach dude voice). It's like New Years now, dude. Ok, I'll stop the "dudes" but I do want to do a quick flashback to my Christmas. Dude.

Josh and spent Christmas down in California with family. The first half (the days up until Christmas) was with my parents and sister. It was nice to see the fam and just chill out (not to mention, nice sunny weather!). We did lots of fun things like mani-pedis with my mom, walked along the Batiquitos Lagoon, ate some great food (In-N-OutQ'ero, El Nopalito tamales, Honey's muffins, Lofty Bean lattes!!), played with the pooch, shopped, baked Christmas cookies - never a dull moment with the O'Neill family. It was a blast.

Then Christmas rolled around, and we got to opening gifts. I got some great things this year including a snug, puff jacket, earrings, booties - apparently, I was a good girl. Josh got some gift cards to go shopping (that's like two gifts in one - getting the card, and then using it!), t-shirts, and some other awesome gifts.

My parents and sister enjoyed the gift opening as well. My dad really likes the Geico Hump Day commercial (especially, the "Mike Mike Mike" part), so he got a t-shirt. My mom liked the fox wrapping paper I used (I'm a sucker for cute wrapping paper, darn you Paper Source!). Lindsay also liked the wrapping paper. Yay, foxes!!!!!

Sadly, Josh and I didn't get a Christmas tree for our apartment this year. Luckily, my parent's Christmas filled the hole in my heart and was really quite stunning.

And we can't forget the stockings. They are BIG for my family - both literally and figuratively. We have to go around a circle and open one-by-one. It really is a lot of fun. My stocking was made by my grandma, and I've had it since I was a little girl. 

Around 2pm, we transitioned families. Christmas Day evening was with the extended Brown family in Temecula. It was great to see Josh's aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

All in all, it was a darn good Christmas. Next, I'll tell you about my time with the in-laws in Death Valley. I just had to share Christmas before it turned to 2015!