Coffee & Costa Rica

This past weekend, despite multiple almost-changes to travel plans and the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named, I got to join the husband and a friend for a weekend in gorgeous Costa Rica.

I have majorly fond feelings toward Costa Rica, since the surf trip I took there in 2014 with my brother Hunter and our dad remains one of my all-time-favorite vacations. And I’ve seen quite a few cool spots during my years as a Foreign Service spouse.

2014 Trip: Please note that not one of we three amigos escaped sunburn; that’s what 2x daily surf sessions near the equator will get you.

Sadly, there wasn’t time to sprint off to the beach this trip. But an afternoon foray to Doka Estate–a coffee plantation–offered a fun substitute.

I’m not sure what I expected a coffee plantation to look like. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the mini-Eden we discovered after a 45-minute (and unsettlingly twisty) drive into the hills. As a gal from South Texas, I have a sharp awareness of landscapes that get plenty of water (having grown up in a place that didn’t). Evidence of tJuhat rain-fed lushness was EVERYWHERE, from hydrangea blossoms the size of basketballs to the flowering vines climbing over everything.

And the serenity of the estate, tucked into the mountain-scape…. It provided a vivid, lovely contrast to the close-quarter hustle of San Jose’s downtown. With glittering sunshine, cool breezes, and clear, flower-scented air, the landscape practically begged me to curl up in the grass with a book for long, lazy hours.

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Family & Fun in the Sun

You learn a lot about yourself living the Foreign Service lifestyle. There’s nothing like moving every 1-3 years, finding yourself constantly dropped in new situations and new countries, to speed the process of learning who you are (good and bad).

I, for example, have learned this: though I love me an adventure, I’m a rooted person at heart. Living in China and Suriname were irreplaceable experiences… but when all is said and done, I could be happy settling in my hometown, among the family and friends of my childhood. I’ve been to beaches in Hawaii, Mexico, Thailand, Ireland, Curaçao, Aruba, and Costa Rica. Every one of those places has stunningly beautiful coastlines, and I feel so blessed to have been able to visit.

But my favorite beach is still the slice of the Gulf of Mexico I call home.

Luckily, I have a husband who takes/sends me home whenever he can. And my recent Texas adventures didn’t disappoint. Of my 11 days back, I made it oceanside on 8 of them. That tallied up to:

  • 6 surf sessions with my dad and/or brothers.
  • 1 offshore boat trip to snorkel around an oil rig reef
  • 1 line-caught fish (though it was just a feisty hardhead we were happy to send back to the sea)
  • 1 jellyfish sting across the mouth (weirdest.sensation.ever.)
  • 1 stalking of a sea turtle through the waves
  • 1 very satisfying bout of “ocean-gazing”

Perhaps only my fellow ocean-lovers will get this, but for me, the sea truly is a balm for my soul. That’s where I’m my happiest, most whole self.

Continue reading “Family & Fun in the Sun”

Treat Yo’ Self: Gemstones & Georgetown Jewelry Shops

I should start by saying that though I’ve gotten to do some fancy things in my life, I am not a fancy person.

I’m happiest when covered in sand and sea salt, preferably mid-surf session. In my ballroom/etiquette class, I was a terrible dance partner, constantly stumbling, stepping on feet, mis-executing moves. When my husband treated me to high-tea at the jaw-droppingly posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel, I spent much of the time wondering why they let me in, recalling every time I’d been elbows deep in blood or mud or sweat after a father-daughter hunt.

But I can’t lie: I’ve also retained into adulthood that little-girl desire to be a princess. I loved getting gussied up for Marine Corps Balls. And when a chance to snag custom jewelry recently arose, I’ll admit: I got a little giddy.

The whole process started when my sweet brother brought me back a handful of gems after his stint serving overseas: one black diamond and three tanzanite drops.

Continue reading “Treat Yo’ Self: Gemstones & Georgetown Jewelry Shops”

Libraries & Leisure

Here’s my confession: I’m a workaholic.

In the nearly thirteen years we’ve known each other, my husband and I have lived in a variety of locales: Indiana, Ireland, and the Czech Republic for college, Texas, China, Suriname, and Washington, D.C. for work. And every time we hit a new spot, I’ve vowed to prioritize getting out and experiencing whatever makes that place special.

But every time, my to-do list tugs me back: to my laptop to write, my palette to paint.

It’s a flaw I’m trying to pray through. But in the meantime, I’m super thankful when people like my brother–who’s infinitely better at sallying out to try new things–come visiting.

It’s that push I need to go forth and explore.

So my brother gets all the credit for coaxing me to visit the Library of Congress–the largest library in the world, housing millions of books, penned in 470 languages. Sad as it is to admit, this is my third stint living in D.C…. and my first trip to the Library. Which is kind of unacceptable, considering my bibliophilic little heart.

But better late than never, right?

Just a handful of the many, many highlights included:

  • The gorgeous architecture of the Thomas Jefferson building
  • A complete version of the Gutenberg Bible (the 15th century innovation that rocked the worlds of religion and books)
  • A still-in-progress replication of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, being gathered text by text from around the world
  • The Main Reading Room (one of several research enclaves accessible to anyone over 16 wishing to study… provided you can keep up with their code of conduct [Cue finger-wagging librarian])
  • The office of the Librarian of Congress (currently Carla Hayden)

Confession no. 2: I now have office envy. But it’s probably for the best that my own workspace isn’t quite so nice.

It’d be a poor fit with my efforts to combat workaholism.

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Mist & Menace

Loving the eerie, misty look washing in along the Texas Gulf Coast as my dad and I stroll our home beaches.

Feeling slightly less in love with the invasion of the beautiful-but-ever-so-painful Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish.

I think I’m glad I’ll be wearing a full-body wetsuit when I go surfing. 😬

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East City Bookshop

I admire my more fiscally-savvy friends who get most of their reading material free from libraries. These far-smarter-than-me women only buy the books they really love.

But I can’t help it. If I need a new read, I’m dishing out the cash for my own copy. I love accumulating books (always the physical kind–I just can’t talk myself into digital books). I love the record they make of my reading journey. I love their color, with covers that are works of art in their own right. I love the enchantment and history and adventure each embodies.

And I especially like buying them from independent bookstores. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a hater of the big box bookstore. They have their own role in the book-buying-and-selling ecosystem. But nothing’s quite like an indie shop–they’re lovingly-curated little jewel boxes, full of surprise reads and knowledgable booksellers. And they’re intertwined in the local community in a way a national chain can never be.

Which is why I was so excited to discover East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. (my new stomping grounds). Not unlike a good book, the store unveils ever better surprises as you progress. Reaching the store requires a jog down a flight of uninspiring concrete steps. You enter a small upstairs area with an artfully-shelved but small collection of books. A stationary section occupies much of the floor space. But then you notice a set of descending stairs and behold: a lower story that somehow manages to accommodate a beautiful children’s section, extensive shelves of adult and young adult fiction, a charming reading nook, book-themed art and knick-knacks, AND a seating area for author events… all without feeling cramped. Continue reading “East City Bookshop”

Texas: Home, Home on the Range

I’ve already admitted that I’m a spoiled creature. But my husband took it to a whole ‘nother level when he flew me home to spend my birthday weekend with my family at our ranch in the Texas Hill Country. It was a last minute decision and I was up until 1 AM packing… but it was perhaps my favorite birthday present of all time! (And particularly generous, since the husband was sadly unable to join due to work.)

It’s hard–nay, impossible!–to capture the Texas Hill Country’s rugged beauty in late October. It’s untamed and sunshine-y and serene, unspoiled by internet access or cell service. Some moments were almost ridiculously Arcadian–my stroll through wildflower fields rife with butterflies (the monarchs are migrating right now), or when my brother Hunter and I accidentally spooked two fawns, sending them leaping lightly from a thicket. But they say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so in defiance of my writer’s heart, I’ll let my snapshots speak for themselves. Continue reading “Texas: Home, Home on the Range”