By Land Or By Sea?

The husband and I aren’t exactly flush with vacation time right now after both starting new jobs in the last year. And actually, I’m not really accruing that quickly since I started at the bottom of the federal scale. A big vacation was out of the question this summer and so was our planned 15th anniversary vow renewal Vegas trip [first I typed vowel renewal and giggled to myself for a few minutes]. Instead, we loaded up the kids (and dog!) for a long weekend at a rented house in Sea Ranch, California.

All we wanted out of this trip was quiet, relaxation, and waves . . . and it delivered in abundance!

Sea Ranch is this picturesque planned community about 100 miles north of San Francisco. It is this fantastic little architectural marvel – all of the homes are abstract with large windows and definite 70s flair. Wikipedia tells me that this is called Third Bay Tradition that was “characterized by turning the horizontal form of the California ranch house into a vertical form.” I don’t know anything about architecture, so I’ll just show you these nice creative commons photographs to explain.


Sea Ranch, California is noted for its distinctive architecture LCCN2013634736

The architecture was actually what first attracted me to the location when I was searching around for a nice beach location to visit. It is right up my alley. Sea Ranch is absolutely the place I would buy a vacation home, if I was the kind of person who could afford a vacation home. I was happy to see that the house we rented had a copy of the original plans framed in the dining room. The archivist in me was happy to learn a little bit about the family who built the place in the 70s.

The second thing that attracted me to Sea Ranch was the view. Here is an unfiltered image of what we woke up to every morning. I took this from the deck – that entire side of the house was large picture windows to capitalize on the unobstructed view.

And every evening we were able to enjoy unbelievable sunsets.

We stocked the refrigerator and spent most of our time lounging in the living room. The little man got a bit bored by day three, but the rest of us had one of our best vacations. Reading, surfing the interwebs, and playing card games filled the time we managed to stay in an upright position. Bonus: a family of wild turkeys visited the house each day.

We weren’t total hermits during the trip – we did make it down to the beach one day. Absolutely beautiful and so peaceful.

Instead of driving back down Highway 1 on the way home (because frankly I wasn’t up for driving it again), we rerouted through redwoods and along the Russian River. We stopped at Russian River Vineyards for lunch (+ oh so much wine) and enjoyed a couple of hours on the patio. Marv (the tiny dog) was a huge hit and I especially loved the guitar player rocking out slow jazz versions of 90s alternative favorites. I didn’t know I needed a slow jazz version of Smells Like Teen Spirit, but my world if definitely a better place now that I know it exists.

Photo time! Asian Art Edition

A couple of weekends ago we took advantage of free admission day and visited the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Wikipedia tells me this particular museum houses one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world with over 18,000 pieces (some dating back 6,000 years). I’ve been to a lot of museums and this one was pretty typical – exactly what I expected, I mean. They had some very interesting pieces, including some unlike anything I’d seen before. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern and antiquarian works in the same gallery space.

Bonus: The wonton soup from the café was unexpectedly delicious.

Touring the Winchester Mystery House

I took the day off from work on Monday to spend some kid-free time with the husband. We ended up at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose – someplace we could never visit with the little man as it isn’t wheelchair accessible. You’ve heard of this place, I’m sure. It is the house built by Sarah Winchester and kept in constant construction for 38 years, obstinately to make amends for those killed by Winchester weapons.

The front of the house. You can’t take photographs inside.

It is a standard feature of any show about unique architecture, historic places, or ghosts. Watching shows like that put the house on my to-do list, but there are some major difference between that television house and what I saw in person.

Specifically –

1) It is a lot smaller.
2) It is less crazy.
3) It is more interesting.

You pull up to the house and it looks a little tourist-trapish. The gift shop, café, and tour-waiting area (complete with arcade shooting gallery) certainly doesn’t help. The husband and I were getting quite a laugh out of the tacky, but also wondering if we’d wasted our money. The tours aren’t exactly cheap; $36 per adult for the basic mansion tour. We had pretty much decided that we were about to walk into a space that looked like a Victorian catalog threw up all over it. You know what I’m talking about – those historic homes or attractions that are just too much. Too over the top. Too ridiculous.

I’m happy to say this was not the case when we made it inside. So let’s talk about these takeaways –

It is a lot smaller. It is a mansion, don’t get me wrong. But it is hardly a sprawling Rose Red-esque estate. An entire floor plus a 3-floor tower were lost after the 1906 earthquake, leaving a house that varies from 3 to 4 stories depending on what part you are in. The interior is large, but the constant construction left all but the front original rooms small and cozy. The grand front rooms were gorgeous and looked a bit more like what you might expect of a mansion, but were still lovely and homey. I quite liked it.

It is less crazy. One of the strangest things about the house you see on television is the weird, tiny, winding staircases located in closets and back passageways. These actually have a perfectly logical function – Sarah had severe arthritis and installed small easy-rise stairs so she could get around her home easily. With these stairs you only had to raise your foot a couple of inches, but retrofitting the new access points meant a lot of turns and narrow openings. At the beginning of the tour we went up 44 stairs with 7 turns just to make it to the second floor. The tiny stairs for the 4’10” lady didn’t occupy any more space than a traditional staircase. They were hilarious to navigate, but made perfect sense for her situation. Once you could see the entire house at once, a lot of the weird just looked like a house that had been added to haphazardly.

It is more interesting. Sarah Winchester was an extremely wealthy woman. When she started construction on her home in 1881, she had $20 million (equivalent to nearly half a billion today) with shares in the Winchester company that generated an additional $1000 a day (between $20,000-$25,000 today). She started her staff at twice the regular rate for the area, gave pay raises, fed everyone, and built houses for families on her land (single workers lived in the house). She had funds to bring in all sort of modern conveniences for both her and her workers. Including the ability to just try things out and design efficient systems inside her weird house. Sarah Winchester closed up the front rooms of the house after the 1906 earthquake, so you were able to see details about building construction and the damage the house sustained when you toured those rooms.

So yeah, it is a weird house built by a troubled woman. But there is a lot more to the story. I suggest checking it out.

Back to our visit. For the $36, we got a guided tour of 110 out of 160 rooms in the house. It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our tour guide was great! It did occasionally lean a little to the hokey side – talking about the unusual things spiritualists did, could it be haunted, you could get lost and we’d never find you, etc. – but she was very knowledgeable. She spouted off facts about the house without even having to think and the sillier side of the tour kept the two kids that were with us fully-engaged. It was a great balance between fun and facts.

Overall, I had a lot of fun and I’m really glad we went. Totally worth the tour price.

Georgia On My Mind

I’m back! Maybe. Hopefully. I have several posts banging around in my head and think I have time to write again. So let’s get on with it. . .

Last week I took a red eye flight from San Francisco to Atlanta to present at a conference. This was my first time on a red eye and my first time flying across that many U.S. time zones in one go (international travel doesn’t count, as it’s a whole other ballgame). It wasn’t quite what I expected.

Red Eye Misconception #1: The flight wouldn’t be as full.
I’d always heard that late night flights were appealing because they weren’t as packed. Boarding would be smoother and empty seats would leave room for spreading out. Nope. This flight was 100% full even after bumping a few volunteers. Coming home, I landed at the same gate at 11pm and saw a similar crowd waiting to fly out.

Red Eye Misconception #2: The flight would mostly be adults.
Again, nope. Lots of kids, several toddlers, and even one infant. We didn’t board until 11:30 and those toddlers were in that extreme-hyper-to-avoid-sleep phase. You parents know what I’m talking about. This might have been a product of the flight distance – I can see the appeal of taking my kids cross-country during a time they would easily fall asleep once belted into a seat. And – despite the nervous energy at the gate – they were quiet on the flight.

Red Eye Misconception #3: The flight would be cheaper.
And another nope. This flight was the same price as daytime options. It was about $20 less than other non-stop options; that is a plus, but not a huge one. I mean, $20 is $20, but that isn’t enough of a discount to compensate me for the inconvenience (if price was the only reason I was flying at midnight).

That brings me to a big plus of this flight – it was nonstop. I’d gladly fly out at any time to go 2500 miles without having to change planes. Living in Little Rock, it was next to impossible to go any large distance nonstop. I’m enjoying this big city perk.

And of course, you take the red eye so you can sleep. That was nice, but my internal clock lost four hours so it wasn’t quite as helpful as it might had been if I was traveling the other direction. Overall, I’ve always enjoyed evening flights more and the red eye was no exception.

Another plus – congestion at the Atlanta airport at 7:30am was well above manageable. I stopped to go to the bathroom then picked up a coffee and by the time I reached baggage the first class* luggage was already taking a ride on the carousel. No line for a taxi either. I was at my hotel downtown within half an hour of walking off the airplane.

In this case, I picked the red eye because I needed to make it to Atlanta with enough time to take a short nap and put in a full day of work in my hotel room. I could have worked all day Wednesday in my office and traveled to Atlanta that evening, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t as jetlagged for my Thursday morning panel. That went great, by the way. Standing room only for our session and excellent feedback afterwards. I was talking about a couple of projects I worked on at my last job and it was a really nice send-off for something I’m passionate about and hated to leave behind.

*I’ve mentioned this before, but when I fly alone I like to fly first class so I have room for my fat ass.

Thirty Hours in DC

Last Tuesday/Wednesday I took a bit of a whirlwind trip to Washington DC, waking up at 4am on Tuesday to catch a 6:05 flight. I immediately regretted my decision to book such an early flight when the alarm went off.

My flights were uneventful, going first to Atlanta then to DC. I had an hour layover in Atlanta, but it wasn’t needed as I arrived in one gate and left in the very next gate. Oh well. I spent most of my flights (going and returning) listening to an autobiography of Catherine the Great. So good. This audiobook is thirty-something hours long, but I can’t really tell. I’m really into the story, but sorry that I’m going to have to struggle to find time to finish it now that I’m back in the real world.
Washington DCSo, why exactly did I go to DC? It was work thing. Sometimes instead of an over-stressed mom, I’m a badass archivist who works very hard at her job. Sometimes I’m both.

This particular work function was to attend a reception in the Senate building for the unveiling of an official portrait of Blanche Lincoln, former Democratic senator from Arkansas. I’m in charge of her senatorial papers at the moment and went to represent my archival peeps. Don’t worry, I didn’t say “peeps” when I was in the Senate building. I did wander around though, explore the basement, and ride the senators only elevator.
Senate Building

Blanche Lincoln
Former Senator Blanche L. Lincoln doing her thing.

After the reception, I walked over to a restaurant called The Monacle, billed as sort of an old-school Capitol Hill spot. The restaurant was a pleasant place to be and was busy, even on a late Tuesday night. I made the mistake of ordering the vegetarian pasta. I forgot to take a photo before I stirred it up, but here it is, non-food porn style:
The Monacle This dish was a disappointment. The menu said it included wilted spinach and wild mushrooms. I expected an inspired, delicious dish. I got a throwaway pasta dish only added to the menu so the veggie-people would have something to eat. My dish had six pieces of spinach. There were more mushrooms, but they were covered in this thick sauce – not the light far I expected. It really seemed like they had a chicken pasta dish and just removed the chicken to make it veggie. I had intended to treat myself to dessert, but the pasta dish was so heavy I just wasn’t up for it. The pasta wasn’t bad, exactly, but it was Olive Garden fare. Bummer.

On Wednesday, I purposely booked a 6pm flight so I would have time to do at least one thing DC. I decided to set out for the Newseum, as I’d never been there before.

Newseum - Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall and an unfinished statue of Lenin that eventually lost its head too.
Newseum - 911 Overview Nellie
Left: a piece of the World Trade Center. Top: the open lobby of the Newseum. Bottom: Nellie Bly getting some attention.

The best way I can describe the Newseum. . . it was like a punch to the gut. The current exhibits veered into painful territory and I really felt like I needed to do something lighthearted afterwards. Not to discourage you from going though – it was spectacular.

On the flight home, I decided to take advantage of my free-drink first class perk and helped myself to three glasses of white wine during the leg to Atlanta. I noticed I was getting a little tipsy when I opened my window to watch the lights below (something I usually don’t like to do because it makes me nauseous). Then as I walked up the gangway, I started to contemplate the origin of the phrase “drunk as a skunk” while laughing to myself. At that point, I realized I hadn’t had anything to eat in nine hours except for three pimento cheese crackers. I headed for a sandwich on the way to my next gate to rectify that situation and avoided the wine on the second leg of my trip (I was driving home afterall).

I fell into my bed at 11:30, exhausted, but happy to be home. I really enjoy DC – I think it is my third favorite US city (after Chicago and Kansas City).

Adventures in Nashville-ing

The husband, the daughter, and I took a short trip to Nashville over the weekend to hit up an Ed Sheeran concert. The husband is a huge fan and I enjoy several of his songs, so it seemed like a good thing to do.

Nashville or Mordor?
It is a little known fact that Mordor was based on Nashville. Tolkien had a bad experience with the Coyote Ugly girls and the rest is literary history.

An Aside: Do you guys ever listen to entire albums now that things like iTunes and Spotify exist? I don’t. This means that I end up liking individual songs rather than artists. For example, right now one of my favorite songs is “2 Heads” by Coleman Hell. I can’t tell you a single other song by that person/group/robot. I’ve never even clicked on the band name to see their other songs until just now when I went to discover that Coleman Hell is in fact an individual.

So, Ed Sheeran was all sort of awesome.

First of all, as I already posted on Facebook and Instagram, I’m thrilled to live in a world where a shaggy ginger in cargo shorts can stand on stage and command the attention of a sold out arena.

Secondly, it was just him in stage with a guitar, a couple of microphones, and a foot-operated loop board. Every song had a really long intro while he laid down the individual parts and started them looping. Even if you don’t care for or know who Ed Sheeran is, you have to have some respect for a dude who can do that. I can’t even walk in a straight line. Plus, he is only twenty-four.

Thirdist, it was loud. I mean, really loud. Ed Sheeran was as loud, if not louder than, the System of a Down/Rammstein/Slipknot concert I went to once. [Fun fact: I went for just Rammstein, one of my all-time favorite bands.] How is that possible? My ears were ringing when we left.

Ed Sheeran
Tiny dude. Big stage.

This started me off on a concert-going-nostalgia party. I’m not a big concert goer (more of a broadway play seer, really), but I do get out occasionally. Here is my short concert life rundown.

Who I’ve seen with opening acts, if I can remember:
Maroon 5/Sugar Ray/Matchbox Twenty
Uncle Cracker/Kid Rock [well, this one is embarrassing]
Barenaked Ladies [some lady opened for them, like Alanis Morrissette, but not Alanis Morrissette]
Mudvayne /Rammstein/ System of a Down /Slipknot
Queens of the Stone Age /Nine Inch Nails
Justin Timberlake [no opening act]
Jamie Lawson/Christina Perri/Ed Sheeran

Who I tried to see:
Bush [sadly, I was only 13 and this kid was shut down]
Rob Zombie/ Ozzy Osbourne [ Ozzy broke his leg]

Who I could love to see:
Die Antwoord [but that seems like the kind of place you would get stabbed]
Mumford & Sons [as long as they don’t play anything from that last album]
Adam Lambert/Bruno Mars [Seriously, I’d like this to be a thing.]
MIKA/Scissor Sisters

Who I can never see:
The Doors
Hanson [shut up]

Aside from the concert, we hit up the County Music Hall of Fame and explored a four-block radius from our hotel. I’m not a fan of country music, but the museum was interesting and did a good job appealing to people who aren’t visiting because they know anything about the style of music. Also, I saw Dolly Parton’s handwritten copy of Jolene. Worth it.

I do love me some Dolly.

What else did we do: ate duck fat tater tots, bought candy, visited Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch on the drive home, bought a t-shirt, took NyQuil. Head on over to Instagram to see the rest of my photos.


I am writing this from the six floor of the downtown Cleveland Public Library around 2pm, Friday August 20. After a fourteen hour conference day Wednesday and a fifteen hour conference day Thursday, I welcomed an unexpected 2 ½ hour break to eat lunch and retreat to an introvert-recharging-station. Since I have some kind of archivist-radar, I landed in the history and genealogy area. It is a bit hotter in here than I would like, but I blame that on the weird Midwesterners who don’t understand the glory of blasting air conditioning in every building like us southerners. [I should probably point out that it is 71 and gorgeous outside. I’m sure the temp in this building is actually fine.]

As of right now, I have forty-five minutes until I need to head back for my next meeting. Then the evening is pretty much full, especially if you count the later evening mixer with my regional association. And I do – networking is a required part of conference attendance.

Oh, the air conditioning just kicked on. Awesome.

I thought I was going to share a few days of posts about this conference like I did last year for DC, but I haven’t really left a six-block radius in the downtown area. Plus, the conference has been kind of spectacular this year so I’ve concentrated on attending as much a possible and soaking up knowledge. Usually when I return from a conference, I feel energized about my career. I’m not sure if that is going to be the case this time, but it has been really great anyway.

So, what have I done? The neatest by far was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I walked around with a big smile on my face and passed several people actually crying – seeing this type of history really moved them. I enjoy music, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect me to see costumes and memorabilia from The Doors, David Bowie, Elvis, and even Beyonce.

Photo time! My battery was running low, so I wasn’t able to take a ton. I snapped as much as I could. Also, I spent $75 in the gift shop. I recommend visiting it before you see the exhibits and get your nostalgia going.






Stay tuned Wednesday for some more photos of general Cleveland!

Meet Me in St. Louis, Day 5 (Goodbye!)

This was going-home day, but we did have a couple of more things we wanted to do on the way out of town. I don’t have much to say about this day, but wanted to share some photographs. Overall, it was a great day and a nice trip back. Shorter too!

Stop #1: Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Wow! Gorgeous and probably the prettiest cathedral I’ve seen in the United States.
church 1

church 2

church 3
Stop #2: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. I love frozen – especially a concrete with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This custard was good and I’m glad we made the stop and respect Ted Drewes for setting a high standard, but it wasn’t any different than what we can get ten minutes from our house at Shake’s Frozen Custard. Just keep that in mind – yummy, but don’t expect a life-changing experience if you are already a enjoy-er of the frozen custard.
Ted Drewes