It's my birthday in a few days and I've been looking back on the last year thinking about what has been my favorite things about it. It's been a year much better than last year for starters so, that's good. I lost both my pets last year and that took a lot out of me. There were other things but I think that was the hardest. This year has had a fair number of annoyingly expensive issues but whatever. Money is money, sometimes there's enough of it and sometimes there is not and that's unlikely to change.
One thing that has been stellar is that I have traveled more this year than any previous year. I usually spend about 2 1/2 weeks to three weeks traveling per year. This last year I've already traveled over a month's worth of time and that is amazing to me. I hope it continues to grow.
One of the most remarkable places I've ever been, I went to in Jan. It was the Cloud Bridge Nature Reserve in Costa Rica. Located high in the mountains it is a place of astonishing beauty. Cloud forests have become one of my favorite places to explore. They are usually amazing and honestly, the temperatures are often the kind I like.
Cloud Bridge is no exception. Plus, I am a total butterfly obsessed nut and this a great place to be for that interest. Including getting to see the glass-winged butterfly in the wild. We took more pictures than I can count so, I picked a few favorites and they don't even begin to do this place justice. I might add, this is not an easy hike and as such I get to have pride in how hard I worked to get around the reserve.
Good grief, I've been meaning to write this post for some time now. I went to Houston at the end of January and start of February. My sister was getting married and it was a wonderful time. I didn't go out to eat too much as we made food together as a family a couple of times and of course, the wedding.
I did write about one place I went when I was there and I had wanted to go for a long time: The Johnson Space Center.
So here are a few food places in Houston and around Houston (my sister got married on Galveston Bay) where you can get some good vegan food, donuts and coffee.
I always have a tough time finding good vegan mochas. Especially in the south. Somehow I got lucky this time and there was an adorable place a few blocks form the hotel called The Art of Coffee. It was filled with local art on the Kemah Boardwalk. An adorable neighborhood filled with candy colored homes.
We found a veg place that had really great reviews by the name of Field of Greens. I thought my tofu sandwich was simple, grilled, flavorful and of course, seasoned fries as I was on vacation. I also had a smoothie that I thought was not too bad. Not the best but still good.
My favorite, FAVORITE thing about visiting Texas is the Mexican and Tex-Mex food. This amazing place where they made fresh guacamole was one of the best I've been to in the last few years. Mamacita's was excellent. The margaritas were on the rocks and tangy. The food was fresh and they had no issue accommodating dietary requests. I loved my food here.
My new favorite naughty food adventure to take when on a trip is to find vegan donuts. This is a new tradition and Houston didn't disappoint. The place that was open when I had time to go (there are other options) was Hugs and Donuts. They had several vegan cake donuts for the taking and the blueberry one was divine. We got there near closing time in the early afternoon and they gave what was left to the kids outside so as not to waste them which I thought was even better.
I went to Las Vegas again this year. It happens when tickets are cheap, the room is free and you need a break from reality. I am not a gambler so it's sort of funny that I've been here so many times. However, I love shows especially Cirque Du Soleil. I've seen 14 of their shows. I saw "O" this year and wow, it blew me away. There is also great vegan food in Las Vegas these days. I wrote about it here last year and now I'll share some old favorites and new ones.
I went back to Slice of Vegas because the food is so good and of course they have an entire vegan menu. I am quite glad however that I walk tons and tons in Vegas.
This year our server at Slice of Vegas suggested we visit their other restaurant Hussong's.
The food was pretty good. I enjoyed my tacos quite a bit. They have an entire vegan menu as well.
We try to go to one nice place each time we're there in between the causal dining. We love the Wynn for this.
Last year we ate at Wing Lei which is the amazing Chinese restaurant there. This year we ate at Costa di Mare. An Italian, Mediterranean place. The food is out of this world. Rich, aromatic, with excellent cocktails to match. The service at the Wynn is always above and beyond. We get absolutely no attitude about our dietary restrictions. We also eat at the buffet at the Wynn when we are in town as it's one of the best.
The atmosphere is gorgeous and romantic.
Off the strip we visited the not so fancy but magically delicious Ronald's Donuts. They have nearly 2 cases of vegan donuts. And the prices are so good. Most of the time you pay up to $6 for a single donut. Not here. $1.5-2.50. Lovely owners as well. I read the most stellar reviews of the donuts and they did not disappoint.
Breakfast was had at Violette's Vegan. I've had dinner here before and breakfast was quite good.
Simple, hearty vegan fare.
I randomly was looking for lunch one day and wandered by a bar in the hotel I was staying at and found Holstein's.
It's not super vegan friendly, but they had a really great veggie burger with fries but what was truly the most YUMMY drink I had all week there was the Vegan Raspberry Coconut Milkshake. I actually went back and had one again at night the next day. It does have alcohol in it but I am sure they will make it without if you prefer. My pics are not great but wow, the food was a delightful surprise.
I tend to have a hard time finding a decent mocha in the mornings in Vegas. I always end up at Starbucks because they at least have soy milk. Hopefully, next time around I'll have better luck.
I have been reading science fiction and fantasy books for as long as I can remember. I am sure there are a lot of us who can say that because it turns out there are a lot of us geeks. You know who we are: not popular, not good at sports, not very social. Books were our life and that never stopped being the case.
As I have gotten older I have branched out to many types of books, but science fiction and fantasy in all its forms has always been my mainstay. In fact, I grew so enamored of it that I started attending conventions, working at conventions, have a room dedicated to geek fandom as well as my office being filled with geek toys. You know how it is, you love it, you love it all the way.
My new step this year was to become a voting member for the Hugo Awards. I am thrilled to have finally been a part of it. And what’s more, the convention itself was not far from my own home, so attending was also in the cards this year. WorldCon74 was held in KC, MO.
(BTW KC is great but that’s a separate post.)
Attending the world’s oldest science fiction convention has its pluses and minuses like anything does. I didn’t know anyone there and geeky people are not known for being easy to friend. Despite my efforts I didn’t do so well making new friends. But that’s okay. The panels were amazing and filled with great advice and world class writers. The Dealer’s Room took a lot of my money for books and gifts for friends. I checked out parties, the art show, a Paul and Storm performance (and I got to meet them!), a John Scalzi reading (which was remarkably fun), and of course I attended the Hugo Awards ceremony.
I knew going into it that there had been drama around the awards for the last couple of years. It was more than a little unnerving that there was strife in the community. That it was aimed particularly at women and people of color, different religions and countries is frustrating since to me Science Fiction is the place where all walks of life, no matter how different, are accepted by each and every one of us (HELLO STAR TREK).
A lot of the female writers especially have been enduring an endless amount of harassment. As someone who is seeking to become a full time writer and has dealt with plenty of sexism and harassment at other jobs, I was more than a bit wary.
However, women won big this year and that was truly inspiring. The community on the whole stood behind them and their amazing talent, myself included. The night of the Awards I was quite proud, plus Pat Cadigan was a funny, funny host. There is plenty of fallout from certain overly privileged people whom I refuse to acknowledge, but the winners are holding their own against them and it doesn’t change that they did amazing work and got the recognition they deserve.
The decriers rather baffle me as it’s not like there haven’t always been women writers or gay people or people of other races (besides white). They’ve ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF OUR WORLD. And them being here and also writing and getting recognition doesn’t detract from other good writers. The idea that it does is quite puzzling. Truly it does not even serve their best interest because people get bored reading the same old stuff all the time and if you turn people off to books, you turn them off to ALL books. Which means NO ONE IS BUYING ANYBODY’S BOOKS, which totally sucks.
Anyway, they don’t matter. The complainers are a group of hate-spreading opportunists growing ever smaller, most of whom just rile up who they can to get money out of them. There will likely always be a few of them, but hopefully they will join the rest of us here in the real world full of good books and many engaging voices.
A few snaps from my trip:
I am always looking for the less known spots in my adopted state. Not that I don't love plenty of popular spots but the dusty corners and lesser known nooks tend to be where the unusual and unexpected stories live. Caponi Art Park is no exception. I had learned about this park from a friend who has family that lives nearby. I've lived here 15 years + and had never heard of it till this year. I looked into the history a bit to learn that the founder had passed away not all that long ago at the age of 94. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 15 from Italy. Anthony Caponi served as a translator in World War II and graduated from the University of Minnesota. He was employed by MacCalester College in St.Paul for nearly 42 years, having a big impact on the art department there.
He bought the land that eventually became the park not too long after starting to work there and did all the labor on the park himself.
He accomplished a great many more things which you can read about here.
This is a perfect example of finding great accomplishment in the everyday person.
The park hosts many events throughout the warm months and I recommend heading out for a picnic. Be sure to bring a camera, there's lots you'll want to remember.
Some of my pictures from my visit:
Going back through my travel posts as I've gotten completely off track with them: I realized that I never even posted my favorite place that I stayed in Costa Rica at the end of January this year. I had some genuine adventures in the jungles and on the wild beaches but when we headed into the mountains to Cerro Chirripó, I was so in love. This is Costa Rica's highest mountain range and it is covered in what is called cloud forest. Meaning the elevation is so high that the land is often veiled in clouds. It is so beautiful and so ethereal it is like being in another dimension. The place is teeming with birds and butterflies all in the brightest, most magical of colors. Flowers grow in abundance and the hiking gives you glimpses of breathtaking sights. And when you are all worn out at the end of the day you can stay at Talamanca Reserve. A gorgeous, comfortable haven nestled into the mountains with luxurious accommodations that included hot water showers(solar powered), gourmet food and a great bar. They accommodated my vegan diet with a variety of delicious and healthy dishes. The cabin was near a river that as you walked you passed dozens of plants and species of butterflies. In one short walk I must've caught a look at over 30 kinds of moths and butterflies. I cannot recommend this place enough. The staff was phenomenal to us and took care of everything as well as answering our millions of questions. I had a hard time picking through my pictures to share. So here is some and the next thing will be Cloudbridge Reserve which you can hike to from Talamanca.
The news has been filled with amazing space things lately. From Scott Kelly returning from a year on the ISS to Space X landing a rocket successfully, it’s a renewed and exciting time to keep your eyes turned upwards.
I love visiting NASA facilities, any space related exhibits, museums, etc..I love to learn about the great adventurers of our time. I have to say I do often feel a sense of sad wistfulness that I will never go to space. My most recent visit at the end of January was to Johnson Space Center in Houston. It was glorious. This was somewhere I had wanted to go as a kid and many of my friends went. We never had money for vacations and as such rarely went out of town. Traveling is a pretty big deal to me no matter where it may be. When it happens to be somewhere that is the site of monumental human achievement: all the better!
To add to this I recently watched American Spacemen and followed it up with the movie The Right Stuff. I don’t often use fictional retellings as a point of reference but according to those involved in this movie the story is pretty close to reality. It shows the parallels of the American Space program and Chuck Yaegar breaking the sound barrier.
American Spacemen also tells the story of a Minneapolis company that helped break altitude records and was pioneered strongly by a woman(I feel a vested interest in this, being a female and all). There is a great article about it here: High Altitude Balloon Innovation
My visit to the Space Center was epic. It included a tour of not only mission control, you know: “Houston, we have a problem” but also the Vehicle Mock-up Building where all the astronauts come to learn how to use space equipment and the warehouse that stores the last Saturn V rocket that never got to launch because Nixon cut the budget. There is also a stray photo of the deer that live on the grounds. There were more animals as NASA does all that it can to preserve it’s surrounding environment. In fact, in Florida, all the grounds that belong to NASA are an animal sanctuary and protected space.
As Neil Degrasse Tyson would say: Never stop looking up. (I also listened to his Great Course Lecture Series…wonderful. You can find it here: My Favorite Universe.)
I've written about eating in Madison before, right here. The food is pretty great in this pretty great town. My most recent trip there a few weeks ago was no exception.
I've been to the Green Owl Cafe in the past but I don't recall having had a dessert that they serve. Well, I had one this time, a vegan Chocolate Lava cake with ice cream and it was scrumptious. I have not had a dessert that good and perfect and fabulously rich in some time. Dinner was tasty as well. In particular, the Vegan Caesar Salad with grilled lemony tofu. It's a cute place, casual. Most of Madison is casual and laid back.
A favorite place to eat in Madison is Monty's Blue Plate Diner. I love breakfast here and actually, had the almond milk vegan french toast for dinner one night. Other yummies: Vegan Country Breakfast, Vegan Curry and sandwiches.
Even though I love eating at Monty's I have to have coffee from EVP Coffee in the morning. A friend introduced me to this place and now I even bring it home with me from my visits.
A place new to my palate on this visit was a trip to The Roman Candle. They had these breadsticks that made my mouth super happy and the pizza was fantastic. They make a spicy sauce on a pizza called the Vegan Destroyer. Absolutely worth a stop.
Happy Eating! In Madison!