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”
Brooke and I raise a glass!
Logo by Great Shoals.
My (half-devoured) bottle of Riptide.
Photo by Great Shoals.
My first experience doing a wine tasting was at a dear friend’s bachelorette party, when we did a marathon session at five different vineyards in the Midwest, starting at the early hour of 11 a.m. (Don’t worry. We were safely D.D.ed by our handy-dandy limo driver.)
Needless to say, by the time the tasting portion of the day was starting to wine-d (get it?!) down, I was very ready to stop sipping and get something more than cheese and crackers in my stomach. But I was also pretty sold on this “tasting” thing. It was like a little adventure in a glass–you never knew what flavors awaited you in the next sample.
But I’m not into doing tastings solo, so my opportunities have been pretty few and far between–living overseas for long stretches and often being far from family and friends has that effect. But I’ve rustled up the occasional partner in crime. My bro invited me to join him and his friends at a lovely Texas winery. And on her recent odyssey to visit us in our new homestead in the D.C. area, my sis-in-law Brooke was good enough to accompany me to Great Shoals. (We abandoned the husbands at home. #SorryNotSorry.) Continue reading “Wine Tastings & Touring New Towns”
Texas SouthWind Winery’s tasting room.
An up-close view of it’s awesome door.
A Texas native, this white-tailed deer watches over proceedings in the tasting room.
This winery’s won just one or two awards.
Miles and miles of Texas… grapes.
The lovely outdoor tasting area.
Wine tasting for two?
Early spring is when Texas wildflowers throw their most extravagant gala. But these sunflowers, black-eyed susans, and other blooms of my childhood are making a respectable showing.
A grill–a necessary accessory for every Texas home.
Me and this guy I’m SO blessed to call “bro.” Though I don’t think I can accurately call him “little” brother anymore.
Bye-bye, blueberry wine. You were delicious.
There’s that gorgeous Texas sky.
Perfect spot for a swing.
And no Texas institution would be complete without at least one pickup truck.
At a party this weekend, a dear friend (another American diplomatic spouse) and I were chatting about our home states. She’s a California/Colorado girl, and I’m Lone Star State born and bred.
“But you aren’t one of those annoyingly proud Texans,” she said, reassuringly.
I felt obligated to come clean. “Oh, no, I totally am. I just try to keep it at least a little bottled up, for the sake of my Indiana husband.”
And that’s the absolute truth. As proof, here’s Exhibit A: Today’s coffee cup, last night’s wine glass, our welcome mat, a piece of decor in our living room:
Given all this, it likely comes as no surprise that some of my favorite wines are also Texas born and bred. Continue reading “Wine Not? When in Texas….”
This gorgeous, peculiar thing is the pod that holds all that cacao goodness.
Chocolate tea & a chocolate cupcake. Hard for me to be a happier girl.
Those purple beans (aka nibs) are the fresh, natal version of what becomes chocolate.
Cacao tree flower–from which the pods apparently grow.
Our work table. Let the cacao-powder producing fun begin!
Cacao nibs, empty husks, and chocolate powder (post-nib-grinding accomplished via mortar & pestle).
Spices to adorn our cacao powder (from the spoon and moving clock-wise): cinnamon, ginger, anise, cayenne, cloves, nutmeg.
Our chocolate bar tasting score card–just like a wine tasting!
Half a cacao pod, looking kind of like a mangled space-ship. The flesh around the nibs is actually pretty tasty–a flavor akin to lychee.
Because what would a Dutch/Surinamese-run business be without a pair of wooden shoes?
Our baby cacao trees! (Note the nibs on the stem of the nearer plant.)
Our tree to bar chocolate treats.
Chocolate-crafting in action.
I may have mentioned this before, but my writer-self tends to make me a bit of a homebody. Left to my own devices, I burrow anti-socially into whatever authorial project I’m currently engaged with, avoiding distraction (i.e. people) at all costs. Upon taking a quiz to determine which of the six types of writers I am, I scored as 100% weird recluse (with only a 33% dash of Ray of Sunshine to cut the Yikes!). That kind of says it all, I think.
But these last few years, I’ve made an effort to try to prioritize people, experiences, and adventure, as well as my writing. So I’m always grateful when friends who are cooler than I am come up with un-pass-up-able activity ideas.
A few weeks ago, this meant a visit to Tan Bun Skrati, a chocolate-making operation run by Rutger (Dutch) and Ellen (Dutch-Surinamese), a husband-and-wife duo. Built upon traditional cacao-processing techniques bequeathed to Ellen via her Surinamese mother and grandmother, Tan Bun Skrati offers workshops as well as various cacao-oid products (teas, chocolate bars, wine, vinegar, etc.). This operation is run out of their home, a quaint dwelling set behind high flowering shrubs and heavily-leaved trees–so well hidden, we passed it twice before realizing where it was. Continue reading “Cocoa & Craftsmanship”
As mentioned in last week’s photo-gallery based post, I recently had the blessing of vacationing on the beautiful arid island of Aruba. The trip was made all the better by the company: my husband, my best friend, and her fiancé.
For my readers contemplating their own Caribbean getaway, I wanted to offer reflections on what made our Aruba trip a successful escape: Continue reading “All About Aruba: 5 Hints for Making the Most of Your Trip”
If you’d asked me about our Cambodia trip pre-arrival, I would’ve said this particular vacation was my husband’s baby. And I was okay with that. After all, he was very gracious about my dragging him back to Thailand for a second, more-beach-centric trip. So it seemed only fair to make getting to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat a priority.
Pretty quickly into our trip, however, I grasped why everyone we knew who’d traveled to Cambodia gave it such glowing reviews. “Kingdom of Wonders” is a lofty title for any locale to hold, but Cambodia manages to live up to its self-hype.
In the future, I hope to blog in more detail about our trip. But for now, here’s 5 things you should know if you’re thinking about your own Siem Reap escape. Continue reading “So Siem Reap’s on Your To-Visit List…. Here’s 5 Things You Should Know”
Husband and me, rocking our tailor-made formal gear at Marine Corps Ball.
Sunset in Thailand
Me, cuddling a baby tiger.
Great Wall in Autumn.
That’s a lot of bamboo….
Quick visit to a Russian ice castle, anyone?
Mountains in Jiuzhaigou.
Tree o’ panda babies.
Usually, I’m fairly responsible about my time management; I make sensible decisions, putting work and other obligations first. But this past Thursday night, I found myself still up at 2 AM–even with the start of my workday at the Consulate looming a mere 6 hours away–because I couldn’t tear myself away from a casual ladies’ night that brought together women from the Consulate ( a shoutout to our awesome hostess, if you’re reading!). I drank 3+ glasses of wine (amazing, since I’m usually a 1-glass-and-done kind of girl) and laughed until I had tears in my eyes… laughed harder than I have in months.
In the back of my mind, sensible Lauren was reminding me that I had to get home, that I still needed to shower and send off a bit of correspondence, that I had work in the morning. But I was having a desperately hard time prying myself away from the company. The women at the Consulate–Foreign Service officers and diplomatic spouses alike–come from incredibly diverse perspectives, experiences, and places. Occasionally, these differences cause conflict. But 95% of the time, I’m amazed by how lively, accepting, and kind our community is. Sitting there at 12:30 in the morning, trying not to wet my pants from giggling, I had two simultaneous thoughts running in the back of my mind:
“I can’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these women, against all odds, despite the long distances we’ve had to travel to be here.”
“I can’t believe I have to say goodbye in two and a half months.”
Continue reading “China, In Review”