Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounced To Miami For My Birthday

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

My semi-annual trip to Miami for my side-hustle collided with my birthday weekend. Just like I like it, absurdity ensued.

I’m really fortunate to have a crew of brilliant and hilarious friends down in the 3-0-5, so Friend Chris organized a whole day/night featuring my favorite activities: beachtime, sunshine, pooltime, delicious cocktails, celebrity sightings, Justin, meat and cheese, Korean liquor, the 90′s and private karaoke. These are some things that happened:

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Justin, my partner-in-crime, came down for the shenanigans and while we were catching up at Starbucks, Jesse Something, The Bachelor circa 2004, walked in. He’s still on TV as an ESPN commentator, and he paused at the sugar/cream station and kept looking at me as if he either knew me or was waiting for me to realize who he was, but it took me too long. Wah-wah. I didn’t get to invite him to my birthday party.

After getting drunk on the beach thanks to a pitcher of some refreshing vodka concoction, we decided to do some poolside time at Soho House even though the water was flooded with children. I looked left and BAM! Spotted Sofia Coppola reading a magazine just a few chairs down from us. I was too chicken to say anything to her, so Justin and I took weird surreptitious photos. Then we noticed her husband — the lead singer of Phoenix — and her daughters, playing in the water. We avoided taking sketchy photos of the kids.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

Tim Elfrink (who just won a Polk Award, woot) lives in Miami, and our mutual Mizzou friend Nick was also in Florida escaping DC’s wintry gloom, so they joined in on festivities. We started at a divey pool bar with excellent cheesesteaks and $5 drinks.

We got some ridiculous Coors swag and posed with the beer girls. Then we had to drink some free Coors Light.

Tucked away in our private-karaoke room by midnight, these are some of the selections performed by the group to celebrate the 1990′s, my halcyon days of youth:

“Birdhouse in your Soul” They Might Be Giants
“Spiderwebs” No Doubt
“Always be my Baby” Mariah Carey
“The Sign” Ace of Base
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” Ricky Martin
“Man in the Mirror” Michael Jackson
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” Garth Brooks
“Unpretty” TLC
“Too Close” Next
“Mmmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” Crash Test Dummies
“Thong Song” Cisco

So much fun.

So much fun.

Despite four attempts by different people, the song system was unable to choose R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” which is infinitely superior to what kept coming up — just plain ol’ “Ignition.”

Karaoke participants — on four separate occasions — chose R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” which is an inferior song that is most definitely not the catchy, viral “Ignition Remix” of 2003. Then I came home and discovered Jimmy Fallon had sang it for us.

While squished on our leather karaoke room couch for 12, pal Michael and I went through two and a half bottles of soju on our own. I think Justin enjoyed his own bottle on the other side of our karaoke coffee table. He nursed a hangover for two days, since we started drinking some kind of refreshing vodka stuff around 3pm that afternoon.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

There is something involving 3am sandwiches at some famous place on South Beach, but I don’t remember it clearly except that Justin awoke the next morning with two of those sandwiches in bed with him.

On the actual night of the birthday, Michael Maness took me out to a smokey dive bar where he got to control the jukebox. Yes, there was David Allan Coe. And yes, we did stop to eat 1am Cuban sandwiches on the street. Happy birthday, indeed.

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I Had A Really Weird Weekend In Nashville

This is the "Delta Island" that was in the middle of my hotel "lobby."

This is the “Delta Island” that was in the middle of the spectacle/hotel “lobby.”

I lost. In my increasingly tech-dependent existence, this was the weekend I completely disconnected from the physical world. It caused me great stress and a Saturday I’ll never get back. Here’s what happened:

I went to Nashville Friday night to give a Saturday morning training session for the Society of Professional Journalists, a swell group that I’m always happy to help out. I do a flying short course on the latest digital tools I like and use to make my journo-life easier, and it’s always fun to meet new people or go somewhere I haven’t gone before. Plus, Nashville is supposed to be a lot like Austin and my friend Val is down there, so off I went.

Things started out smoothly. Friday night, Val and I caught up over pork ribs and catfish and sweet tea before proceeding to a really swank bar next to a Sherwin Williams paint store. As it turns out, Sherwin Williams was a real theme of the weekend, since we meeting-goers were put up at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is the size of a planet, and so self-contained with plants, restaurants, bars and other amenities that you really could just live there — for years — and sustain yourself without ever leaving the premises. It’s like a cruise ship on land. Or a dystopian biosphere. And that’s where Sherwin Williams sales guys hold their big annual convention, so I had to walk over a fake bridge (is anything “real” at a Gaylord property?) of about 600 men in order to reach the path to my room. And there were many turns and escalators and gaudy CONCOURSES I had to get through before I actually FOUND my room, which really was like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there's some taxidermy behind us, natch.

Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there’s some taxidermy behind us, natch.

So the completely artificial lodging didn’t help in keeping me grounded to reality. (The training session did go well and was a highlight of my time there, as I loved the engaged participants.)

But then came my flight home, for which I arrived at my gate 40 minutes before takeoff. Which meant I was at least 15 minutes from boarding. I sat at the gate next to mine (C13) under a TV monitor, keeping myself busy by tweeting, texting Sudeep about stocks and watching news of the Columbia Mall shooting while wondering why my flight wasn’t boarding yet. I got up to wander around a store (where I saw a Taylor Swift album cover blanket, true story) and got back to the gate to ask what happened with my flight.

“It’s probably over Raleigh by now, it took off ten minutes ago.”

I was aghast. It was the only direct flight from Nashville to DC, and I cut my presentation short 15 minutes early just to make it to the airport on time. What. The. Fuck. Happened. Tears started streaming down my face as I asked for options (this is futile), and the gate agent did walk down the jet bridge just to be sure the plane was gone (yes), but responded by saying, “I don’t know ma’am, everyone else seemed to make the flight just fine.”

My only theory is that I was so lost in my texting and tweeting that I separated from the physical world and missed the FLIGHT THAT WAS BOARDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I ended up having to wait another agonizing hour to get on a flight to Dallas — flying way west in order to connect to a flight back east — and not getting home until 11, missing my chance to see my darling daughter.

It is time to take a vacation from my devices.

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So Much Taiwan. So Much Awesome.

When I was 20, I spent six months in a vortex. (Not a polar vortex.) It jumbled me up and made me see the world and relationships and food in a whole different (and more appreciative) way. That vortex was one of the world’s best food cities and just an endlessly fun, urban place — Taipei. Friendships from the vortex lasted, so any time I’m back — even if many of us have children now — we make it out to see each other, reuniting over bowls of Taiwan’s religion (beef noodle soup), partying it up in the smoke-filled clubs and lounges (no smoking ban), and wandering the gritty alleys which are naturally full of food vendors selling buns and soups and Taiwan’s second most popular religion, bubble tea. The only key Taipei activity that we didn’t do this trip was karaoke until 5am and then hit the all-you-can-eat congee bars, but I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. And with Mandopop stars, naturally.

After five years in Holland, my parents just moved to Taipei. Mom bought a place up near Tamsui, which is a beach town with a boardwalk where women sing karaoke covers of Alanis Morrisette’s mid-nineties hits. So we spent Christmas and rang in the New Year with lots of family — many of my forty or so cousins made the trek for a big family reunion trip. Hadn’t been back since the halcyon days of 2011, before I went to NPR and the CEO quit two days after I started. (Correlation is not causation.)

Getting there and back is the worst. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s a 14 hour flight plus another three hours after a layover in Tokyo. Or it’s broken up differently and also horrendous. The plane goes from fresh and full of promise to a filthy, lived in, farted-in trash tube. (The flight back, which included our toddler, head colds and an inhuman experience at Dulles in which the agriculture cops busted us for bringing back grapes in Eva’s food bag and not declaring it, was hands down one of my most difficult days.)

Instead of family photos, I’ll show you some of the atmospherics that make Taipei so much fun for us. Like WHITEMEN toothpaste, guardian of tooth:

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Taiwanese signs are accompanied by great images. I love the bump on the armless woman:

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And hey, don’t fail at speaking:

photo

My cousin got my grandma 3D printed. She said her fake head fell off after a recent earthquake and one of her aides found the head had jumped and landed on a table. She rushed her 3D-printed self to a jeweler to get her head re-attached. You can’t even tell it was missing:

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What the F. Doctor Drill ‘N Fill is the scariest toy I’ve ever seen:

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This traffic warning guy had moving arms. Amazing:

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Why was there a baby with a scary perm on the side of a building? These are the mysteries one encounters when one can’t read Chinese.

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And I discovered a great new party game/app through my old roommate (Joe) and his buddy Mike (at right, with phone on his head). Don’t know the name of it, but it’s the electronic version of the board game Taboo or Catchphrase, where your team has to give you clues for the item shown on your forehead, without actually saying the item. Great fun. Let me know if you know what the app is called.

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Y’all know how important I think Taiwanese news animations are. So naturally I set up a visit for an upcoming piece. And naturally I found a bunch of motion capture actors just sitting around in leotards, waiting for an assignment:

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Thanks for the memories (again), Taiwan. I’m a huge fan.

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Impromptu Collisions in San Francisco

One of the co-living homes I'm featuring in an upcoming NPR story.

One of the co-living homes I’m featuring in an upcoming NPR story.

Most of my favorite collisions with people come with less than an hour’s notice. That kept happening in San Francisco — a mark of my similarly last-minute friends, and maybe the ethos of the Bay area. I shall award my trip various arbitrary points, below:

+500 This view (from previous post) will never get old.

+60 The purpose of the trip was reporting for our upcoming Bay Area theme week and to attend the TED Women conference. Both went really well.

Why were our TED badges the size of our faces? (With Guy Raz.)

Why were our TED badges the size of our faces? (With Guy Raz.)

+50 When I landed at SFO on Wednesday, I saw on Foursquare that fellow Texas Tribune original gangsta H.O. Maycotte was in San Fran, too. Thank you, Foursquare, for the “people nearby” filter. We met for lunch 30 minutes later in the Ferry Building, right on the water.

Raina's sweet boy.

Raina’s sweet boy.

+ 20 Gal pal Raina and I ran into each other in the lobby of the Jazz Center where the conference was happening. She’s a new mom of a seven-week-old, and her darling, delicious baby was with her. I got to babysit so she had a minute to go to the bathroom. I mainly just stared at him and took pictures.

+75 Impromptu lunch with another gal pal from the Knight Foundation super-friends circuit, Kara Oehler! My producer on the communal living story, Cindy, happened to be Kara’s mentor from more than a decade ago. Kara also used to babysit Cindy’s kids. We three were able to do a delicious lunch at a french cafe in Lower Haight. Love those gals.

+35 Sneaking in some real bonding time with my digital news coworker Dana, who I’ve worked with for years but never spent any social time with. She invited me to join her at TED Women in the first place. We had a swell time getting beers together on opening night.

+ 10 I met interior designer Elizabeth “Beth” Martin while she was freshening up all the fresh flowers in Friend Matt’s condo. She offered a flower arranging tip since I asked — Don’t be too matchy. Soft flowers like peonies and roses should absolutely be paired with woodsy choices.

The amazing Japanese toilet that both excited and confounded me.

The amazing Japanese toilet that both excited and confounded me.

+1,600  Japanese toilets. Thank you, Mr. Toto, wherever you are, for your seat warming, automatic lid-raising technology.

-400 I was too scared to try any of the rear or front washes, and don’t even know what it is that oscillates or pulsates, but I dig having all the options.

Best night of the week was with brother-from-another-mother, Dave. I found him in the Twitter cafeteria.

Best night of the week was with brother-from-another-mother, Dave. I found him in the Twitter cafeteria.

+100 I dropped in on Twitter HQ with 30 minutes notice and didn’t text my brother-from-another-mother Dave to tell him I was in his building until I was actually sititng in “The Perch,” er, Twitter’s cafeteria. That resulted in a quick lunch room gab fest until we met up again for happy hour, during which Dave introduced me and my pal and colleague, host Guy Raz to The Hot Spot, a divey dive dive bar that serves a smooth shot and a beer with a scratch-off ticket. Guy actually won another ticket, only to lose on his second try. Maybe it’s a trap?

-25 Due to too many shot-beer-scratcher combos, we ended up drinking and eating at a random bowling place in the Mission (after first attempting and bailing on a sketchy food place that smelled of urine) and stayed out too late for me to watch Scandal on Matt’s new 4K TV.

Matt was kind enough to update his new TV for Scandal, but none of us made it home in time to watch it.

Matt was kind enough to update his new TV for Scandal, but none of us made it home in time to watch it.

+5 The television is now updated.

My best friend from high school in Plano, Texas, Erin, is 9 months pregnant. So excited.

My best friend from high school in Plano, Texas, Erin, is 9 months pregnant. So excited.

No points, just saying: There were white dudes everywhere. The ratio of men to women seemed to really favor women, at least everywhere I was at. I felt outnumbered by groups of men at breakfast, at bars, everywhere except the TED conference for women.

+500 Reunion with my bestie best best friend from high school, Erin Baudo, four weeks before her due date. I’m so psyched for her little bruiser.

+30 Erin let me nurse my hangover with breakfast at the Zynga cafeteria, where she works.

+50 The three-man NPR tech reporting team — Steve Henn, Laura Sydell and myself — got together in person in one place for the first time. We hung out at member station KQED and got some delicious coffee.

+30 A nice afternoon walk with Code for America’s Catherine Bracy.

+45 Sneaking away during TED lunch hour to shop in Hayes Valley with my pal Tina. Stopped in Chantal Guillion to sample their signature French macarons, had them shipped to a girlfriend in Texas. Should get there Monday.

+24 Pre-gaming one evening with a new friend from the 2013 collection — another Matt — Matt Wilson.

-10 Having to squeeze in so much in four days felt a little too intense.

 +5000 Seeing my favorite toddler this morning after being away from her for almost a week. Swoon.

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Why I Bring My Daughter To Professional Conventions

Eva in the audience of her dad's session at AAJA's National Convention in New York.

Eva in the audience of her dad’s session at AAJA’s National Convention in New York.

Eva joined me at the Online News Association convention in Atlanta last week, where I spoke about civic data on Thursday, and took part in a responsive design panel on Friday. In her one year on this earth, she’s also attended NewsFoo in Phoenix, AAJA’s national convention in New York and South by Southwest in Austin. It’s always great to see colleagues and heroes of mine at these sorts of things, even though confabs require constant natural language processing (you talk to people ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT) and generally take place at sprawling Sheratons and Marriotts, which can feel impersonal. But I wouldn’t even go if I weren’t able to bring my Baby E along. Which is why I hope conferences think more caregiving when trying to attract interesting speakers and attendees.

Eva is able to go with me to these professional conferences partly because my husband is also an NPR employee, so we both have flexible jobs and bosses that allow for us both to be gone and take turns caring for the child while we’re also doing our jobs. But besides this week’s Mozilla Fest, which provides free, high-quality babysitting for all its attendees, most of the time these conferences don’t make considerations for caregivers.

At South by Southwest in March, a huge industry conference which many say has outgrown itself, I had to leave every three hours, give up my hard-won parking spots and drive through traffic snarls in order to nurse Eva, before turning around and rushing back to work. My colleague, Kate, who was there the year before, was forced to pump every few hours from the crowded bathrooms of the Austin Convention Center.

My primary reason for bringing Eva with me to these conventions is because I want to be near her even though I’m working. When I was nursing, I had to be near her since the alternative was tedious, mechanical pumping. But the bigger picture reason she comes with is that I think we should normalize the need. Moms, working or not, should be with their babies — and that general philosophy should be better embedded into our work cultures. Ideally, parents shouldn’t be forced into a choice between traveling for work and being with their children. A few relatively inexpensive fixes could help — conferences could make childcare available or offer a way for parents who are bringing their kids to connect and at the very least, make sure the sites chosen include places to change and feed babies.

As Anne Marie Slaughter writes, “The United States lags behind almost all other industrialized countries in providing the goods, services, and incentives that make it possible for women and men to be caregivers as well as breadwinners.”

By making caregivers and caregiving a consideration, diversity in conference rosters can include really interesting women who would might otherwise decide it’s not worth the trouble of attending sans baby. You’ve seen the photos of long lines for men’s rooms at tech conferences, signaling the dearth of women who take part in these events. Perhaps just thinking a little more about meeting the needs of caregivers could mean a more well-rounded group of conference participants, and richer experience for all.

Weekend At Harvard With The Nieman Fellows

Just got back from the tremendous pleasure of spending the weekend wandering the campus of Harvard and the streets around Cambridge with some of my favorite people and colleagues. It was all part of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard’s 75 year anniversary, for which they invited back the decades of former fellows whose careers and lives were transformed by their 10-month experiences as fellows at Harvard.

Nieman alumni include the indefatigable Lincoln biographer Robert Caro, more than 100 Pulitzer Prize winners and altogether amazing, globe-trotting, muckraking journalists around the world. It was just preposterous to even get to meet some of these people in such a relaxed setting. They are ALL SO INTERESTING.

My friend Kara Oehler (co-founder of storytelling tool Zeega) and I both got invited to speak about innovations in storytelling before about 400 Niemans, with New Yorker Editor Dorothy Wickenden as our moderator. AGAIN — PREPOSTEROUS. But we just ate it up and had a great time. And god, the weather was just perfect and the whole scene — tents out on the lawn of Harvard’s Lippman House and outdoor bluegrass concerts in the park near Harvard Square and little babies of Nieman fellows taking tentative steps in the grass — it felt like a vortex.

NPR represents itself well in the Nieman family. So many of my colleagues are former and current Niemans that it was a special treat to spend time with them outside of work and meet some of my colleagues for the first time, in some cases. Here’s a shot of me with some of the NPR Nieman fellows, but it’s missing ATC producer Alison MacAdam, my radio editor Uri Berliner and a few others, who we couldn’t wrangle into one photo.

At the Walter Lippman House at Harvard, hanging with the NPR Nieman fellows past and present: Clockwise from left: Howard Berkes, Marilyn Geewax, Sylvia Poggoli, David Welna, Margot Adler, Dina Temple Raston, Jonathan Blakely and me.

At the Walter Lippman House at Harvard, hanging with the NPR Nieman fellows past and present: Clockwise from left: Howard Berkes, Marilyn Geewax, Sylvia Poggoli, David Welna, Margot Adler, Dina Temple Raston, Jonathan Blakely and me.

A huge thank you to the curators at Nieman who put on a memorable weekend and were so generous to invite me to be among this special group. I’ll remember this for many years to come.

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Footnotes From Our Time In West Virginia

No cell phone service, no problem.

For me, the best parts of the job are a.) being out in the field, discovering people/places that are new to you, and b.) doing that discovery as part of a team. It’s pretty sweet that they pay me to go random places, but it’s even better with a photographer partner-in-crime. Luckily for me, NPR photojournalist John Poole was game to go out into the country to explore the National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia.

We booked themed hotel rooms at the remote Mountain Quest Inn, which is part of a 350-acre farm run by a nuclear physicist and his spiritualist wife. Their hobbies include taking photos of mist formations, or myst, as they call it, since their “myst” shows up as a result of human energy brewing with the dew.

Theme room options include: The Nautical Room (waterbed and regular bed), Universe Space (where you can “Take a trip to the far reaches of space,”) Safari Room (Serengeti mural and mosquito-netted beds) and so many more.

We got lost twice trying to find the place since the quiet zone is cell service and wifi free.

The trip, by the numbers:

Miles driven: 711
Stoplights in town: Zero
Number of times lost: 3
Deer spotted: 7, one dead
Roadkill counted: 4
“Groundhog/woodchuck-looking” animals: 2
Llamas: 2
Goats: 2
Cross-eyed cats: 1
Conversations with people suffering from electromagnetic sensitivity: 3
Yard sales: 1
Dollar General Stores: Two
Roadside Phone Booths: One
Total hours without service: 27 long ones
Trips down the new zip line at Snoeshoe Ski Resort: One (I went, John decided to hang back and take a picture)

Books referenced while talking in the car: Unknown, but a lot, including The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond

Films referenced: 5
Sherman’s March
Vernon, Florida
Ace Ventura Pet Detective
Winnebago Man
The Sheriff of Gay Washington

International places discussed: 10
Libya, Mongolia, Poland, Russia, Eastern Europe (generally), Holland (because of the tall people), China, South Africa, New Zealand, Hawaii

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Audrey and Patrick’s Montana Wedding Spectacular

Wound up back out West a week after leaving Colorado. En route to the Bozeman, MT airport I changed planes in Denver and landed at the gate across the walking escalator from the one I left a week ago. This time, I traveled sans husband and baby, which meant such a light load that I kept feeling like I was a bag (or six) short.

The Beam, Andy, The Nurse and I joined forces and shared a cabin in Big Sky for the nuptials of our friend, Audrey, to her sweet man, Patrick. You may remember Audrey from the time we went to Honduras and got attacked by sand flies. Audrey is a spirited adventure seeker from Houston-by-way-of-Austin-and-Berkeley whose mind runs 800 miles a minute and none of us can quite comprehend. But we love her for the candor, authenticity and joy she brings to all situations.

Audrey spent a few years as a scuba divemaster in Australia and the Caribbean before settling down and getting two masters degrees and moving to DC to work for the Defense Department in sustainability issues. Patrick is a phD whose heart is in the mountains and one of the most talented amateur skiiers any of us know. So we knew they’d pick somewhere beautiful and outdoorsy, and as soon as they chose Montana, we committed to being there.

And what a place. They wed at the 320 Ranch, just miles away from Yellowstone National Park, where there were a couple grizzly bear attacks on humans this week, so everyone brought bear spray on their hikes. The weather was dry and beautiful, we walked along babbling brooks to get to and fro, got lifts from Belgian horses to picnics by the Gallatin River, made smores in a shared firepit, took long and interesting hikes, met the couple’s favorite people from all parts of their lives and all over the world, heard their stories in a rehearsal dinner evening of lovely and hilarious speeches, and on Saturday, watched them wed against the stunning mountain vista. They are enchanted with one another, and we were enchanted by the weekend.

Some other trip notes:

On the flight there I got seated next to a couple trying to soothe their crying four-month-old. The father joked about lethal injection. I told them I didn’t mind and that the baby would be a great traveler — turned out, I was right, and I soon learned that he was a fellow journalist: a Reuters correspondent based in New Delhi, India.

While waiting for a third wedding guest to arrive at the Bozeman airport, The Beam and I decided to check out downtown Bozeman and somehow wandered into a college bar full of bros. We were the oldest people there by at least a decade. The whole scene was rather humorous, watching young women twerking on the dance floor and the fratty Montana boys acting like big men on campus and what not. We are old.

Huckleberry everything! Huckleberry vodka, as pictured in my hand in one of those photos, was my favorite huckleberry concoction. But huckleberry bars were also quite delicious.

Wildlife: Saw a ram getting a snack on the side of the road, plus a fox, a few horses and many, many, many flies. Beam, who drove into Yellowstone, saw a lot more.

In Big Sky, which we visited briefly on wedding day, there was a CrossFit Convention or something at the Big Sky Resort. For people who love CrossFit so much that they traveled to a resort to be with other CrossFitters to do their CrossFit workouts together. No comment.

Escape To The Mountains

In the backyard of our Colorado rental.

Eva in the backyard of our Colorado rental, sporting her NPR baby tee.

 

The spouse, Stiles, spent a few of his formative years (middle school) in Estes Park, Colorado, a gallop away from Rocky Mountain National Park. Since the early days of our now-decade-long relationship, I’ve heard him wax rhapsodic about his time in the Rockies — riding horses, shooting guns, drawing pictures of guns and that one time he watched his stepdad threaten his next door neighbor after the neighbor stole their dog. You don’t steal a man’s dog.

Jimmy and Skyler are two of the most fun people we know. We are indescribably lucky to count them among our closest Texas friends for so many reasons, not least of which are Jimmy’s mad skills in the kitchen. Jimmy is a natural who was trained in the kitchens of Spain and South Carolina. He and I have a special chi because we both believe in living a Dionysian lifestyle and I love to eat his food. (See: New Year 2011 Mussel Throwdown)

So two weeks ago, when Jimmy proposed we join his brood and three other families in the Rockies for a vacation, we moved everything around quickly to make it happen. We eight grown-ups and eight children stayed in a gorgeous, 7,000 square foot, nine-bedroom house perched high up on a knoll in Fraser, Colorado. We spent our days and nights eating Jimmy’s freshly-grilled fish and lamb and steak and other culinary creations, drinking outside underneath shooting stars  and playing with the wee ones during the day. The other families included The Haley’s, who we knew well from Austin, and The Hall’s, headed up by Jimmy’s college roommate, Clay. In keeping with the fun times, Clay is a muckity muck at Francis Ford Coppola Wines. He got two cases of wine shipped to the house before our group’s arrival.

We saw moose, elk, beavers and every afternoon a fox would come visit us in the backyard. Eva enjoyed herself so much and loved playing with the older kids, ranging from age 3 to 7. I enjoyed the food and company so much. Stiles got to take us to the continental divide up in Rocky Mountain National Park, which made him so happy.

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