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In honor of my mom’s milestone birthday, my family and I started secretly scheming over 8 months ago. Knowing she is a hard lady to keep in the dark, much of the secret-keeping fell on my dad’s shoulders. However, we all pulled together — making plans, booking a beach house, coordinating various efforts, and in the end it was worth it. We all convened on Hilton Head South Carolina for a family beach trip to be remembered forever. Some highlights include a day trip to Savannah, Georgia, amazing “home”-cooked local seafood feasts, spotting frolicking dolphins just feet away from where we were swimming, bike rentals on the beach, creative cocktails, cavorting around town in the convertible rental car, and being endlessly entertained by the two youngest family members. Check out some of the moments we captured below, and happy birthday Mom! We all love you so, and are happy to be able to have gotten the chance to provide a small reflection of all of the gifts you’ve given us over the years by surprising you with this special trip.

 

2016 at a Glance

Last year, I resolved to document our fun summer adventures, which I was able to capture. here. This year, and hopefully for subsequent years, the plan is to do a full year in review, which may be a bit more of a whirlwind, but should be that much more interesting! It is always so much fun to look back, so I hope to keep this up as an annual tradition. 2016 was a year full of excitement, outdoor adventures, close friends, cherished traditions, new experiences, fun surprises and deep belly laughs. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Portugal Trip

Over 8 years ago, Anthony and I went to Europe for an epic tour. It was my first time traveling outside the U.S., and we hit 10 countries in 21 days, opening our eyes to the varied characteristics and rich history of the region. Because it was such a whirlwind, however, we vowed to return frequently, seeking additional experiences and exploring a single area in more depth. Well, more time passed than we had hoped, but we finally got to return for another overseas trip, this time visiting Portugal. We were drawn to it for its moderate climate, varied landscape and food, among other things, and we were definitely not disappointed!

We took a redeye via Newark to Lisbon and arrived around 7:30 am. Naturally, we were both a bit exhausted from travel, but luckily the hotel allowed us to have a very early check-in, so we could take a quick morning nap before starting our day. After catching a bit of sleep, we had lunch in the hotel to get plan out our first day. A light rain had greeted us, so we weren’t sure if we’d want to be out and about much, but as luck would have it, the rain let up just as we were finishing our meal and we set out on the town. Our hotel was located centrally on a main avenue, making exploration and sightseeing easy.

Because we hadn’t scheduled anything for the first day, knowing jetlag can be unpredictable, we enjoyed a leisurely, albeit grey afternoon. We loved the casual stroll without itinerary, popping into shops and exploring the main drag.

In the main square, we found a place to duck in and grab some drinks before wandering a bit more through the city as night began to fall. We happened upon a few things, including a lively market selling meats, cheeses, and goods from local artisans. Still pretty exhausted, we opted to head back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

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The next morning, we awoke early, well-rested and ready to do some more exploring. With a sunnier day, we were inspired to grab some bikes and see the city in our favorite way — pedaling around town. We found a bike rental place near the city center and walked down to get our wheels for the day. The rental guy gave us some great recommendations for routes, which took us along the waterfront down to the historic neighborhood of Belém. We made a pit stop under their iconic bridge to wait out a pop-up rain shower and grab some cheap beers and crab cakes.

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After the sun came back out, we continued on down the waterfront, snapping photos along the way. We turned around at Belém, where we visited an old monastery and also tried the storied Pastéis de Belém — a custard pastry made from a 100-year-old secret recipe.

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Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology

During our pastry pit stop, we dodged yet another rainstorm, this one more of a downpour, which pretty much eased up as soon as we were ready to move on. As we prepared to make the return trip, we remarked on how lucky we had been in avoiding the rain fall all day. Well, I guess we jinxed it then because the skies opened up at that point and we got to ride through the rain for about a half-hour as we made our way back to the shop to return our bikes.

Thoroughly chilly and wet, we headed back to the hotel to clean up, and then hit the town again to track down some dinner. Relying on Yelp reviews, we set out towards a local restaurant with high ratings, navigating the winding hills of a nearby neighborhood. We struck out twice (one restaurant was closed and the next one we found had a very long wait) and then found a quiet Indian-themed (? I think) restaurant that overlooked the city lights.

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After dinner, not quite ready to go back, we checked out Yelp and TripAdvisor again (what did people do before smartphones??) for more local haunts, and stumbled upon instructions to access a speakeasy nearby. It was a really unique experience, with some really fun drinks to serve as a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.

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Anthony’s drink was an herbal infused tequila cocktail, which tasted either savory or sweet depending on which side of the glass you drank out of. My drink is the one that looks like a box of chocolate covered popcorn — there is a delicious glass of old-fashioned underneath a layer of ice, separating the delicious popcorn from the drink.

The next morning, we did the hotel buffet breakfast again (naturally), and then met a Lisbon local, Marta, for a private walking tour that we had previously arranged. The tour was very interesting and Marta was incredibly informative on the history and culture of Lisbon and Portugal as a whole. She walked us through some of the streets we had already been exploring, as well as many other neighborhoods, explaining the sights and answering some of the questions we had been curious about during the course of our own exploration.

In addition to providing us with some local insights and information, Marta also took us to a large marketplace to introduce us to some local foods, such as an assortment of croquettes, several different traditional desserts, local wines from the Douro region, chocolates, and a traditional cherry liqueur called Ginja. After parting ways with Marta, we returned to a shopping area that she had shown us, just off the main square, to stop in a couple of places and eventually grab some afternoon appetizers while listening to a street band playing the popular Portuguese Fado music.

After returning to the hotel for a small siesta, knowing that the Portuguese restaurants don’t even open until 7pm, we cleaned up and headed out to dinner, upon a recommendation from both Marta as well as Anthony Bourdain. We were in search of good seafood, and good seafood we received after a short wait for Ramiro, a packed joint in the Baixa neighborhood. We shared a bottle of Vinho Verde and decided we were going all out on the most recommended dishes.

Our bellies full from all the delicious shellfish, we walked back through the city and once again visited the central marketplace we had discovered on the first night. This time, we spent a bit more time there, purchasing a few souvenirs and grabbing some hot mulled wine to sip as we made our way back to the hotel.

Day four began early as we navigated Lisbon public transportation, catching a bus to the train towards the coastal town of Cascais. Once we arrived, we met up with Joao (pronounced Jah-ow), our climbing guide, for a much-anticipated trip to enjoy one of our favorite new activities. I had built up the idea of climbing in another country in my head, and this experience was everything I had dreamed of and more. As we parked on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and proceeded to make our way down to the climbing base, I knew that we were in for some fun challenges and beautiful views.

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The approach

Having usually spent most of our time in the climbing gym, and on different types of rock when outside in Colorado, we were particularly challenged by the limestone. Sometimes slick and sometimes rough like lava rock, we made our ways up several different 5.9/5.10a routes, as Joao gave us some pointers on navigating some of the more technical spots. With the intense sunshine, it was the first time we actually got hot on the trip, working up a sweat as we enjoyed the amazing views. This experience, as much as I built it up, was still one of the most amazing memories of our trip.

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The view from the climb

After the climb, we wanted to visit the nearby town of Sintra, described to us by several locals as a “fairytale village.” Joao explained to us how difficult it would be to get to via public transport or taxi, so he personally delivered us to a walking trail that would get us there after a 30 minute hike. Along the way, we stopped at a lovely little crepery where we each had savory crepes from some friendly ladies, who were excited to give us more information about Sintra as well as some port-filled chocolates to send us on our way.

The walk to Sintra was beautiful and relaxing, as we stopped to take photos of castles and estates along the way.

Once we arrived in Sintra, we immediately headed straight for Quinta da Regaleira, which we had heard from several sources would be well worth a visit. “Worth it” would be a massive understatement. This property was, alone, worth the trip out to Sintra. An old estate that has changed hands and architects throughout the years, the property is filled with beautiful structures, hidden tunnels, and elaborate gardens.

One of the coolest thing that we saw was this “initiation well”, which we were able to wander down into. As we were heading down, we discovered several hidden passageways leading out to other areas within the estate. We spent some time exploring the labyrinth before exiting and taking a walking break, where we were greeted by some very friendly cats.

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After we had finished at Quinta de Regaleira, we did a little bit of exploring in the “fairytale village”, and then took the train back into Lisbon. After this incredible day (climbing! beautiful views! amazing architecture! cats!), we were pretty exhausted, and actually managed to miss our stop (by several stops…) as we were heading back to the hotel, and had a bit of an adventure turning ourselves back around in the middle of the city’s rush hour, so we opted for warm showers and a relaxed (and delicious!) dinner back at the hotel.

The next morning, we packed up to leave Lisbon for the southern coastal Algarve region. After we learned how to correctly pronounce our destination city of Portimao (poot-eh-meow), we were more easily able to navigate our way down using our Eurail passes. We did run into another transportation hiccup and spent the morning hanging out in the train station waiting for our ride, but eventually we made it to the new hotel, and were greeted by a beautiful (and empty) beach. As it was the low season, the town was pretty quiet, but it made for some excellent photo ops as we enjoyed another sunny afternoon.

After a walk down the beach to explore the many rock outcroppings and take a few selfies, we stopped at one of the beachside cafe for some cocktails and seafood appetizers of shrimp and calamari. We watched as some clouds rolled in but (thankfully) luck was on our side again and the only actual weather that came along was further in on the coast and made for a beautiful double rainbow as we made our way up to the road along Praia de Rocha (Stone Beach). While there, we visited an old fortress with a great view of town, as well as a spectacular sunset over the water.

After returning to the hotel, we enjoyed a buffet dinner back at the hotel. We realized that it was Thursday — American Thanksgiving — and were amused to see that they had turkey on the buffet table alongside the seafood and traditional Portuguese dishes. After filling up on the buffet, we headed to bed.

The next morning, we took advantage of the in-room continental breakfast — which was a feast — before meeting up with another local guide for a private tour. This one, however, wouldn’t be a walking tour, and instead we were greeted outside the hotel lobby by Delfim and his sidecar.

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Delfim was always the driver, but we couldn’t resist this photo op. It makes me giggle but was exactly what I was hoping for when we booked!

The sidecar tour was also highly anticipated, but we had been nervous in the days leading up to it as the forecast for that day had been calling for a 90% chance of rain. It didn’t look promising even as late as the evening before, as we slept through drizzles all night, but imagine our delight as we stepped out to yet another sunny morning.

Delfim’s tour was so much fun, and once again our guide’s knowledge of the area and of Portugal were incredibly interesting. He took us to several of the neighboring towns, stopping to get out and check the (incredible) views and also getting some interesting looks from passersby.

Delfim also gave us a bit of insight into the small downtown area of Portimao, which we returned to after the tour for a bit of shopping and further exploration. We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch, where Anthony ordered grilled mackerel (a local favorite of whole fish… with eyes) and I had a traditional shellfish and rice soup, along with the usual olive appetizer. Both of our meals, while a bit strange-looking and confusing to us, were tasty.

Feeling a bit beat from the go-go-go, we headed back to the hotel for a little rest, and geared ourselves up to head out on the town that night. After getting dressed up, looking up a couple recommendations, and then hitting the street, we were met with a very dead “nightlife” scene. We couldn’t even find an appealing place to grab dinner, so we tried a couple pubs before we just decided to go back to the hotel and have a late room service “dinner”, which mainly consisted of cheese, more olives, and a huge plate of french fries, and was absolutely delicious and perfect.

Our last full day was mainly a travel day, during which we’d make our way back to Lisbon to fly out the next day. Now that we finally had the whole train thing figured out, we knew we had a few hours to kill in the morning before we needed to be at the station. After breakfast at the hotel, we headed down to the beach to watch the many surfers taking advantage of a high tide, and relax a bit on the pier.

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After a few hours on the train, and grabbing a couple of fresh donuts from a train station pastry shop, we returned to Lisbon and checked back into the same hotel we had stayed in before. We walked back downtown to the Chiado district for a little bit of last-minute shopping, and were entertained to see that during our brief absence, the city had transformed for Christmas. The shopping district was bustling and there was an abundance of sparkly Christmas lights and decorations. After stopping in a couple shops, we found a local restaurant that was able to squeeze us in just as they were opening for the night, although they claimed that they were almost fully-booked with reservations. We felt like that might have been a bit of a stretch, as we were nearly the only ones there, but in any case, it lead to an incredible last meal, ranking as one of our favorites.

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Anthony’s (top) was a puff pastry filled with sole filets. He ranked it at the top of the meals he enjoyed. Mine was the grilled octopus (surprisingly tender and so so delicious), surrounded by prawns and gigantic mussels.

As we departed the restaurant, we emerged into another rainy evening, which was a fitting way to end our trip, as we had dodged so many raindrops throughout the course of the week. However, it didn’t dampen (ha!) our spirits as we made our last trek back up to the hotel. During our rainy walk, we discussed our highlights — hard to pick just one when every day was filled with something new and exciting. As far as travel, we were both surprised that we’d rank this trip high on our list of favorites, just behind our all-time favorite first trip to Europe. This time, we hope to return sooner rather than later.

Studio renovation tour

When we purchased our house, it came with a little bonus structure in the backyard. As someone who has always lusted after the “she-shed” detached retreats on Pinterest, with all of their tiny charm and multi-purpose usage, I could not be more thrilled with the opportunities held within the walls of the little studio that came with our Art District home. For the first few years that we lived here, the little studio was occupied by our dear friend Teddy, who took excellent care of it and was the perfect addition to our family and “commune.” However, when Teddy decided to take the next step in his life, which meant leaving Denver, we decided that we could not even imagine replacing him and would not be searching for a new tenant. Instead, my backyard studio dreams began to come to life!

Because Teddy took such good care of the place, there weren’t a whole lot of repairs to be made, other than the patching of a ceiling that had suffered from a leaky roof. Also, we decided that the bedroom area would benefit from a few extra feet of space by removing the small wall that served as a tiny closet. These seemed like small tasks, so I decided to forego a contractor and take care of these tasks myself with the renovation. I will spare you the gorey details, but I will say that the ceiling-patching and closet-demolition (and subsequent drywalling) were no small tasks, and I see why someone might choose to leave this work to an expert. Let’s just say these two add-ons ended up being, by far, the biggest part of the entire overall project, and did not turn out the way I hoped they would — at all — but they did get completed and were a total learning experience for me in home repair/renovation.

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In the thick of the demolition

After the closet/ceiling portion, the rest of the renovation was really the fun part. I chose some paint colors that are completely different than anything we have in our main house, but that I thought were fun and would inspire some creativity. I ended up absolutely loving the paint colors when finished — a soft grey that contrasts well with the bright white trim and baseboards, and a long, north-facing accent well in teal blue.

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Gizmo assisted with the color selection

One of my biggest goals for the studio was to create a large workspace that would provide ample storage, as well as allow for a comfortable area in which to complete a wide variety of projects. Ideally, I wanted a place where I could work on my laptop or sewing machine, while Anthony had plenty of space to also work on his paintings. I planned to use an entire wall of the studio’s main living area, but also wanted to make sure it didn’t overpower the small space. Knowing that our budget was somewhat limited, I wanted to reuse as many of our existing items as possible, and rediscovered some comfortable bar stools that we had used at a breakfast bar in a previous apartment. Since I’m used to a convertible/standing desk at work, I thought a bar-height workstation would be the perfect use of the space.

In search of the easiest, most affordable way to make this happen, I got a little creative in my purchases, and found myself at a couple of nearby construction warehouses for supplies. At the local “ReStore” I found the motherlode of cheap cabinets, and came home with the perfect three for my setup. They weren’t perfect to begin with, and got a little banged up on the way home, but they were solid, cleaned up nicely, and would definitely do the job.

I ended up painting all of the cabinets and chairs the same color as the grey walls, in order to achieve the look of built-in cabinets, and covered the chair seats with the most perfect print from the fabric store around the corner from us. On top of the cabinets, I attached a 10 ft slab of countertop that I got for a killer deal at a different construction warehouse in town.

When all was said and done, the work station turned out pretty much exactly how I wanted it to, complete with a couple accessory items and a collection of favorite art pieces.

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Art from left to right: One of my favorite paintings from Anthony, a print from a local artist, and my own digital representation of Miss Olive.

As for the other parts of the studio makeover, they came together with the help of a few different shopping trips. Although simple, I think that, along with the paint refresh, the space ended up looking completely different when all was said and done.

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I’ve already had a lot of fun enjoying this little backyard retreat and harnessing the creative vibes while I work at the desk, and we can’t wait to host our first visitors!

Return to Sayulita

Seven years ago, as we were planning our wedding, we asked a friend out here in Colorado where we should go for our honeymoon. Without skipping a beat, he immediately recommended Sayulita, Mexico, a small surfing/fishing town about 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta. We jumped on this recommendation, due to the relative affordability and accessibility, and had a wonderful time. Although we spent one day on that trip getting pummeled by “Hurricane Rick” (no joke), we loved the town, the resort where we stayed, and vowed to return.

Finally, we put the plans in place to finally revisit Sayulita and bring a few friends in tow this year, and returned just a couple weeks ago. Round two did not disappoint, and we are already talking about going back!

We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, and like our previous trip, opted to take the local bus into Sayulita. It’s definitely a bit of an adventure, versus taking the hotel shuttle or a taxi, but is a great way to kick off a trip off the beaten path.

Once we arrived in Sayulita, we were transported to the resort, Playa Escondida. The resort, which translates to “Hidden Beach,” is truly a hidden gem. Although it is not quite as undiscovered as it was during our last visit (it has become a filming location for the TV show “The Bachelor” within the last couple years), and has grown a bit, it was still the welcoming and relaxing retreat we remembered. With hammocks on the balconies of the individual thatched-roof cabanas, sandy paths meandering through palm trees to get around the property, open-air showers and bedrooms overlooking the rippling ocean, the connection to the natural surroundings makes for a uniquely immersive experience. On top of that, the service is personal and the food and beverage are top-notch.

We're suckers for hammocks!

We’re suckers for hammocks!

Balcony overlooking the yoga terrace

Balcony overlooking the yoga terrace

View from the bed

View from the bed

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Lounge chairs on our balcony

Lounge chairs on our balcony

After arriving and getting the grand tour and our “welcome drink” from the jovial bartender, Jorge, we settled into our room and began enjoying our private balcony and soaking up the whole “we’re on vacation!” vibe.

Our friend, Dawn, who had gotten to Sayulita and was staying at a hostel in town for the first couple of days, joined us the first evening for drinks and a poolside dinner, and then we drifted off to the sounds of the waves floating into our open windows.

Dawn and Antho: "We're on vacation!"

Dawn and Antho: “We’re on vacation!”

Heading to dinner

Heading to dinner

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Our view from the bar

Our view from the bar

The next day, after breakfast by the pool, we decided to head into town to meet up with Dawn again. On our previous visit, we had taken the walk into town several times, which turned out to be a comfortable stroll through the jungle into town. For reference, here is a map of the area, showing the preferred walking route.

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Knowing that this path existed, we thought we’d get a little creative, and attempt to instead follow the beach all the way into town. We knew it was a little longer, and that there were a few rocks we’d have to climb over, but with an open schedule and the laid-back vacation vibe on our side, we figured we’d give it a shot.

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Long story short, there were more than a few rocks to traverse, and some of the climbs got quite intense, especially as I was outfitted in a bikini and sandals (Anthony was smart and wore sneakers). At one point we turned a corner and saw this imposing cliff.

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I’m not sure if photos do it justice — it was about 50-60′ high and straight up — but let’s just say that even with our rock climbing experience, we managed to shimmy about halfway up before we realized that we had made a grave mistake. After getting safely back to the ground and assessing our options (I was hellbent against heading back after all that work), we ended up finding a steep path up and through the jungle that brought us out safely to the other side of the “Cliff of Doom” as I liked to refer to it, but only about halfway to our destination. After about 3 (!) hours, we finally made it to civilization and met Dawn on the beach in town.

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After some hard-earned beers and some lunch, I had recharged enough to dare a surf lesson, and I quickly found a teacher on the beach, while Anthony and Dawn explored town a bit before returning to watch me go.

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To my surprise, I did a lot better than my last couple attempts, and I actually managed to stand a good majority of the time!

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After I had become thoroughly exhausted by the surf, we headed over to Dawn’s hostel, where we relaxed for a bit in the hammocks and played some games until it was time to head to dinner.

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We got some delicious seafood at a local restaurant, and then returned to the hostel bar for some cheap drinks and mingling with visitors from all over the world, teaching them some of our favorite games. It was a fun night and reminded us very much of our Europe trip with the camaraderie of fellow travelers.

 

The next morning, we had a relaxing morning and then headed into town — opting for a taxi this time — to meet Dawn for some more beach-side drinks. Afterwards, we did a little shopping in town and then headed back to Playa Escondida for some R+R, relaxing on our balcony and beside the pool. That afternoon, our friends Glenn and Mandy arrived and the party really began!

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Sampling some of Jorge’s famous beer cocktail — El Toro.

We enjoyed *a few* drinks at the beach bar, and played on the beach a bit before dinner, which we enjoyed all together by the pool.

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Glenn and Antho toast beers from the infamous “Windpouch” (jury’s still out on that one…)


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After we finished a delicious meal, we hustled over to the infinity hot tub for one of my favorite moments of the trip. All together, we watched the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean, enjoying a seemingly-neverending sunset.

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It doesn’t get much better…

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The next day, we spent some downtime relaxing on the beach while our friends partook in the outdoor yoga class, and I collected a few seashells.

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After we had all grouped up, we decided to take the advised trek into town, arriving to the main beach in about a half an hour. After some lunch, we met up with some friends who also happened to be traveling in from Denver, who we found lounging under a beach umbrella. After a little more meandering through the small town as we digested, Anthony and I tried our hand once again at surfing. Although it was not as successful as with my instructor the time before, we still had a great time playing around in the ocean.

Afterwards, we visited our friends’ rental house, a beautiful villa overlooking the town and beach.

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That night, we headed into town for a nice dinner, after which we had some fun at some of the local bars, dancing and enjoying local music. We were reminded of how small a town Sayulita is, as we ran into our surf instructor and some Playa Escondida employees, all who were incredibly friendly even “off the clock.” After we had had our fill of the nightlife, we sampled some local street food — chorizo tacos, which were delicious — and headed back to the resort.

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Our view of the main drag during dinner

 

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Listening to great live guitar music while having drinks on an ironing board in the street. When in Mexico!

 


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On our last full day, we took it easy, basking in the vacation feeling, and lounging around more by the beach and pools (are you noticing a theme?). After some games in the palapa, accompanied by the most amazing quesadillas and guacamole, I decided that I’d take up the resort’s instructor on a quick boogie boarding lesson. I wish we had gotten a pic of the one wave that I actually caught on the boogie board — much, much larger than anything I had surfed — and before the instructor had even made it out to the water yet. I had accidentally started going when I saw a wave coming, knowing I’d either have to ride it or crash into it. I chose to ride it, and it lifted me so high in the air I felt like I was flying — both an exhilarating and terrifying experience, and as I glided into shore, I promptly returned the board to the instructor and headed back to the safety of the bar.

After recovering from my ocean experience, we decided to rent a couple golf carts and make our way into town yet again. As you might note, this is the fourth different way we made the trek, but was by far the most fun. Who knew we could have so much fun going about 30 mph on cobblestone streets?? We rode into town, and after doing a bit more shopping, eating and drinking (and cat discovering!), we headed up past town and found ourselves in a ritzy neighborhood that seemed to have another private beach.

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Michelada’s to-go, please!

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Our friends’ traveling mascot, Chuckles the cat, found a little buddy snoozing on a bench!

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Turning heads while we cruise through town

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Here comes trouble!



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That night, we book-ended the trip with yet another beautiful sunset, this time from the infinity pool instead of the hot tub. After watching the sky transform again, we headed back to the restaurant for another delicious meal, rounding out another fun — but much too short — vacation to Sayulita.

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Santa Fe neighborhood tour

The Santa Fe Arts District was one of the first neighborhoods we got to know in Denver, long before we even considered it as a place that we’d put down roots. We’d travel down from Boulder after work, for the “First Friday Art Walk,” during which the various art galleries along Santa Fe open their doors and the normally-quiet street comes alive with street performers, food trucks, live music and pop-up shops. Fast forward a few years, and when we made the move down to Denver, the neighborhood was an easy choice, with its close proximity to Downtown, relative affordability, and artistic vibe. We thought we’d stay in our rental for a couple years before moving to a different neighborhood when it came to buy, but instead fell in love with a house only a block away, and the rest is history.

When we first moved to this neighborhood, coming from quiet Boulder, we were aware of a certain grittiness, characteristic of many older neighborhoods close to a city center. It wasn’t exactly the “bad part of town”, but we knew it was far from a gated community as well. However, we fell in love with this ‘hood, and that love remains as the community grows and changes. While some of the housing is undergoing a revamp, and the real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years (as they have all over Denver), I wouldn’t quite use that dirty word “gentrification” to characterize the change. After all, the culture that makes the neighborhood unique seems to only be getting stronger, and we have yet to be permeated with a bunch of hipster spots or chain restaurants. Local coffee shops and cheap Mexican restaurants still prevail, and the art continues to be the central binding presence throughout.

Anthony took these photos last fall of some of the various murals, old buildings, and galleries throughout the neighborhood, and we wanted to share them with you. If you ever get a chance to visit during the First Friday of any month, we’d love to give you a taste of the energy and artistic vibes that inspire us.

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Santa Fe theater, which hosted the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in its heyday, now waiting for it's revival.

Santa Fe theater, which hosted the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in its heyday, now waiting for it’s revival.

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Olive likes this one.

Olive likes this one.

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This sidewalk is packed on First Fridays

This sidewalk is packed on First Fridays

 

 

Snippets of our summer

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live here. We, like everyone I assume, sometimes succumb to the occasional dreaming of where we’ll be next. But with the beauty, adventure and company we have at our ready disposal, it’s hard to imagine anything much closer to paradise. Our summer this year was filled with the usual outdoor adventures like hiking, camping and backpacking, in addition to our gorgeous visit to Alaska. Throw in a little bit of biking with pals — both in town and out on the mountain trails, incredible concerts (especially at our favorite venue with those infamous red rocks), road trips, entertainment from our four-legged buddies, moonlit game nights in the backyard, brewery festivals, and general mountain-gawking, and we’ve got yet another unforgettable summer for the books. This year, I made a little montage for us to look back on, in hopes that I can make it an annual tradition. Hope you enjoy it!

 

Alaska trip: Exploring the last frontier

Alaska, as many of us know, is a land of extremes. This was made all too clear to us almost immediately upon landing in Fairbanks. As my cousin, Alex, drove us from the airport to their home on the Fort Wainwright Army Post, she remarked several times, “I can’t believe it’s dark! I haven’t seen darkness in so long!” It was 12:30 am.

We had heard the stories of endless sunlight in the Alaskan summertime, and extremely low temperatures in winter, but somehow it didn’t sink in until we saw the blackout curtains and plugs hanging out of the fronts of car grills — a necessity when you have to start your car in the -50° weather of Alaskan winters. Luckily, we had planned our trip to see Alex and her family in August, and we were greeted with mild (if drizzly, in Fairbanks) temperatures and only stories of the dark days of winter.

Alaska has always been on our list of trips to take, but only when Alex’s husband, Tim, was stationed in Fairbanks did we actually consider taking the trip sooner rather than later. Knowing some “locals” in a new and strange land can always make a trip more enjoyable, and Tim and Alex’s hosting abilities did not disappoint. We hadn’t made a list of must-see’s, but to our delight, our hosts were prepared for our indecisiveness and plotted out a full schedule for our time spent with them in Fairbanks. We awoke Saturday morning to a beautiful, home-cooked brunch, including local smoked salmon, as well as a deliciously adorable little addition to their family. Miss Samantha’s sweet smiles may or may not have been a highlight of our time in Fairbanks.

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After playtime, we set out to Chena Hot Springs, where Alex and Tim convinced us to head into the “ice museum” at the resort. While it felt thoroughly touristy to suit up into the provided parkas and enter the 20º building, moseying up to the bar for an appletini out of an ice glass, it was actually pretty cool. Originally built as a hotel a couple decades ago (but failing to be able to secure the permits necessary to house humans overnight), the sculptures enclosed within the small, cold building were really quite fascinating.

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After the ice museum, we met back up with Tim, Alex and Samantha and took a quick dip in the natural hot springs. As a cool drizzle moved in, we retreated to the local brewery for a couple of beers — a natural stop for us on a visit anywhere. After the brewery, we enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked by Alex and a game of Settlers of Catan, which we were delighted to discover was a mutual favorite.

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The next morning greeted us with more grey skies, so we decided to have a rematch of the prior evening’s board game, followed by a tour of the post and some highlights of town. We enjoyed a leisurely hike up the nearby ski hill to get a view of the post and Fairbanks, and  then relaxed back at the house for a bit before saying our goodbyes and heading back to the airport for the next leg of our trip.

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While it was hard to say goodbye to family after such a brief time together, we were very excited to see some more of Alaska. To our delight, we were treated to some of those extreme views right away, from the windows of our flight. Between the late sunset (around 10:30 pm) and the low clouds, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the striking Denali (which only recently became the nationally-recognized name for this looming peak). As we sipped the complimentary wine and scooted between seats on the nearly-empty flight, in order to capture the best shot of the mountain that seemed to hover at the same height as our small plane, I was nearly giddy with excitement.

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The next morning, we woke up early in our hotel room to head to the train station in Downtown Anchorage. We had booked a glacier cruise in Whittier, and had opted to take the train through the mountains in order to take in the views, which did not disappoint. Not only did we check out a variety of landscapes on this short trip, but also got the chance to spot some beluga whales swimming off the coast.

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The glacier cruise, itself, was incredible, narrated by a very knowledgable and enthusiastic parks services member. We were blessed with gorgeous blue skies and mild temperatures to accompany the spectacular mountain and glacier views on the Prince William Sound. The cruise included a meal of local fish, and we treated ourselves to “glacier margaritas” (aptly named due to the radioactive color pumped into them — hopefully from blue curacao and not real glacier melt…).

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At one point, standing on the roof of the boat, I swore that I saw movement out in the water. Having spent the day scouring the landscape for signs of wildlife, I thought for a second I might have been imagining what looked like orca whales skimming the surface. However, sure enough, a moment later, the captain came on the intercom to announce that we were circling back to take advantage of a unique wildlife viewing experience. It turns out that they were not orcas, but dall’s porpoises, which were equally entertaining as they played together and leapt around the boat.

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As the cruise came to an end and the boat circled back to the dock, the captain announced one last wildlife view to our right. As the thousands of birds came into view, I quickly retreated back into the dining cabin, completely convinced that if I didn’t seek shelter I would bring this trip to an unfortunate end as one of the “kittewakke’s”, which were so fascinating to the rest of the cruise’s participants, would surely be divebombing me from my post. Nesting birds, in my extensive experience, are nothing to mess around with.

Anthony took this photo

Anthony took this photo

After my narrow escape from the glacier birds, we hopped a semi-private shuttle back to our hotel, for a quick freshen-up before heading to dinner. At the recommendation of many locals, we walked over to a brewery/pizzeria for a delicious dinner and drinks to end our day. While the pizza was good, we personally felt the beers at the Moose’s Tooth were the main attraction. Surprise, surprise?

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After getting up close and personal with the glaciers from the waters of the Prince William Sound on our glacier cruise, Anthony kept remarking how he was interested in seeing the glaciers from a different angle. Lucky for him, the next day we had booked a semi-private float plane tour to do just that!

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We took off from the water near the Anchorage airport, and were very quickly treated to some of the most amazing views either of us had ever seen. With a seasoned bush pilot as our guide and educator, we learned even more about the glaciers and were able to understand them a little better by seeing them from above. We were both intrigued by the vibrant blue hues created by light and color filtration, and the deep fissures caused by years of movement, melting and erosion. Above all else, the enormity and, yes, extreme-ness, of Alaska was overwhelming and beautiful.

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After our flight, we were shuttled back into Downtown Anchorage, where we were able to explore a little more of the town. Perhaps inspired by our adventures, we indulged in a little outdoors-wear shopping and took advantage of Alaska’s sales-tax-free merchandise. Afterward, we visited yet another brewery, Glacier Brewhouse, where we got our last seafood fix and indulged in some ultra-rich (but delicious) chocolate peanut butter pie. *Anyone who knows us knows that I devoured the dessert and Anthony humored me by taking a couple tiny bites. Good thing I have enough of a sweet tooth for the both of us!

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Alaskan Snow Crab and Rockfish

After these 4 short days, our trip was already over, and we headed back home the next morning. I have to say that the trip to Alaska definitely exceeded my expectations. While I hacw always heard great things about this far-removed northern state, I had also never really known what to expect. I live in a beautiful, mountainous state (minus the extreme temperatures and daylight hours), so I figured it would just be more views of snowy peaks and nice landscapes. Going into it with this mindset, I was blown away by the actual scenery that we took in, and I’m not sure the photos really do it justice. We only scratched the surface of this land of vast extremes, and I can’t wait to return and see more.

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Under Attack

Just a little update on my garden, for which I had such high hopes this summer after the bounty and lessons I gleaned from last year’s efforts. Not to be too dramatic, but so far, my hopes have been dashed.

After a storm on Mother’s Day (widely accepted as THE day to plant your garden in Colorado to be safe from future frosts), which accumulated over half a foot of snow and multiple days of below-freezing temps, I already had my concerns for the seeds that I optimistically placed in the then-warm soil the week before. However, after the melting of that late-season snow, as I saw some little green sprouts forcing their way out of the ground, my confidence in their perserverence was lifted.

Then, came Public Enemy #1: Commonly referred to as “slugs,” and known around these parts as “Erin’s Worst Nightmare.”

Artist Rendering

Artist Rendering

I saw a couple of the slimy, nasty little suckers in the garden last summer, munching the leaves of some late-season zucchini. They did some damage, but nothing that could slow the growth of the aforementioned relentless zucchini plants. I put out a bit of organic bait/killer, which seemed to have slowed them down enough for me to make it through to the last harvest without much loss.

This year, they came back with a vengeance.

After coming home from a week-long trip, I returned to find the leaves of my preservering little sprouts completely chewed up like swiss cheese. The hardiest of my plants – the kale and runner beans that generally sprout the quickest and seem to make it through anything, were struggling from the attacks. Other plants, like my watermelon, squash, zuchinni and spinach, were nearly all gnawed down all the way to the ground. What’s more, these normally night-dwelling creatures were bold enough to show themselves in the light of day, literally hundreds of them sliming their way through our yard, along the sidewalks, and across my plants, right in plain sight. Let me tell you – there is nothing more revolting than seeing these evil, slimy little creatures devouring all of your hard work and the beautiful home-grown produce on which you planned to feast all summer long.

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Immediately, I googled every slug killer and repellant tactic anyone had ever posted online. And then, I tried it all.

The most common advice was to trap the slugs in a vat of beer. In short, apparently slugs love beer, and the idea is to bury a vessel up to the lip in the garden near the site of the attacks, fill it with beer (preferably the cheap kind), and then let the slugs jump in, get their fill, and drown a drunken death. However, apparently my slugs have a very high tolerance because, while I caught a few of the little nasty guys, I saw several more climbing their way out of the beer vats. I guess they thought I was just setting out a brewpub alongside the produce stands, and were drinking on the house to wash down their stolen snacks.

After a few mornings emptying out nasty jars of beer filled with a couple slugs but way more beetles and potato bugs, I tried a couple other tactics. One suggestion was that slugs hate animal fur — something we have in no short supply here between the husky-type that never stops blowing her coat, and the gray diva cat who demands to be groomed — so I started collecting this hot commodity and sprinkling it around some of the slugs’ favorite foods. I’m not sure if the slugs were making sweaters out of the fur, or just collecting it for later, but it seemed to vanish gradually and the slugs continued eating the leafy greens. Similarly, other suggestions were that slugs hate crawling over rough surfaces, and I saved a bin of eggshells in my refrigerator, crumbled them up and scattered them in careful, witch-like circles around the bases of the plants. These super-slugs clearly were not deterred, and appeared to have moved the shells away to create paths into their plant prey for easy access.

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Eventually, I resorted to a more barbaric form of warcraft – I would wait until darkness fell, strap on a headlamp and some heavy-duty rubber gloves, and head out to the garden to take them on, one-on-one. Picking slugs off of plants and smashing them on the bricks with my garden shoes was a pretty gross yet disturbingly satisfying form of pest control, but an unsustainable one.

In the end, I’ve returned to the slug reppellant pellets that seemed to have made a dent in the slug population last year, and have been applying it faithfully. In addition, the relentless and uncharacteristic Colorado monsoons seem to have let up for the time being, and I think the slugs have begun to decrease in numbers as we return to the drier conditions that are more natural for this area. For now, the garden seems to be making a little progress, but nowhere near where we were this time last year, and we haven’t gleaned more than a couple strawberries and some (slightly holey) spinach leaves so far. Between the dirty little slugs and a nasty hail storm a couple weeks ago, my plants have a hard road ahead of them to start producing any fruit among their shredded leaves.

In short, I hate slugs. I hate them with all of my being. Of course, still not being dramatic in the least.