Austin!!!

It's surprising to me sometimes how hard it is to trust your instincts. Given the nature of the thing, you'd think it would come entirely naturally, but for me that has not been the case. Some days are easier than others. When my friend texted a couple months ago to say she and some friends had found cheap tickets to Austin, there was no thinking it over. I was in. A few weeks later, I flew out of Pittsburgh with 10 lovely WV ladies to experience a town I've been wanting to visit for years.  

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Naturally, we made a beeline for Torchy's Tacos as soon as we landed, suitcases in tow. Having selected two delicious options, I got in line to order, only to discover my wallet was not in my purse. Panicked, I went back to my suitcase to look. I found it there, the result of a last minute shuffle in my rush to board the plane without paying for an extra bag (See Michele? I did it.). When I got back to the line, the cashier was holding the credit card of the guy behind me,  who had offered to buy my lunch. Welcome to Austin. 

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Next up? Boot shopping and dessert.

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For a girl who loves delicious food, succulents, cowboy kitch, and alt country music, you could not order up a better place.

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My one regret for this trip is that I did not make it back to eat these churros a second time.

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The city is sprawling, and we got to see a lot of lovely architecture and landscaping as we wondered through various neighborhoods.

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Good design was absolutely everywhere. Even the dry cleaner had a beautiful storefront with an amazing sign. Art is so important to this town that they designated an entire park for graffiti. Anyone can show up with a spray can and make their mark on this multi-leveled dilapidated structure-turned art park. (Though apparently the city's Historic Landmark Commission recently voted to demolish this park, making it hard to keep pessimism at bay.) 

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Next we checked out a lovely sculpture garden featuring the work of Charles Umlauf, and that evening we went to White Horse for some Texas two-steppin' and honky tonk. It was only a few years ago that I came to the realization that I do in fact love country music, so long as it's the RIGHT kind. I don't know what it is about honky tonk, but we get each other. No pictures from that venue because we were busy dancing.

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The next day we were moving a little slower, and so we meandered through an amazing botanical garden complete with a Japanese koi pond and a designated succulent section.

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Sunday afternoon we made our way to Jo's for--wait for it--Sinner's Brunch. Just the name makes me happy, 

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There we celebrated Liz's birthday with her family and some awesome live music.

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And then? On to chicken shit bingo at Little Longhorn Saloon of course. Real chickens. Real shit.

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The scene was in the parking lot. I took advantage of the moment to practice my portraits.

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Not only did we experience some authentically Austin bingo, but our girl Sarah won $114! 

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After we soaked up Sarah's winnings and the good music there, we made our way to the Skylark Lounge for some blues. Three standout events at that place. 1) The music was amazing; 2) I met a man named Cornelius Rumblejunk (I checked his license and friended him on facebook to make sure this was real. It appears to be.); and 3) Out back was a fire pit and Frito pie. We heard there was gumbo, but it turns out there was also this other amazing, very Texan offering on tap. Oh yes. Not gonna lie. THAT was some delicious junk food. 

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The last day we had brunch at South Congress Cafe, outside of which was this quintessential Austin scene. 

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And I haven't even mentioned the run I did in a nature preserve with a coyote warning, which was tucked in amongst residential neighborhoods just blocks away from our air B&B, OR the speakeasy we had to have a numeric code to enter, featuring swings as bar seats and babydoll head lights...

Needless to say, I love Austin.

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A Dolly Sods Adventure

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Dolly Sods has long been my favorite spot in West Virginia, but even so, this fall was my first time camping at Red Creek. The guys made the great sacrifice of driving out early Friday morning to snag our spots, securing themselves a little kid-free beer drinking time and allowing the rest of us to swoop in after dark and avoid the task of camp setup. Win-win.

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There's something about seeing a tundra-like landscape where you don't expect it. It's surprising and beautiful and such a lovely respite. I need these times of seeing our state only for the beauty it has to offer and not for the heart-wrenching sadness that often pervades.

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After the soft morning light came these clouds hanging low over the Allegheny Front under a crisp blue sky. Nothing short of exhilarating.

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As only kids can, these guys had the most fun at Bear Rocks playing in the little ephemeral puddles that had formed in the many rock craters.

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We only managed a few short hikes with seven rascals in tow, but the rest of the time they ran non-stop, making their own forest adventures and leaving us to relax in a way you can only achieve when you're outside with good friends, no cell service, and nothing to do but drink beer and enjoy each other's company.

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This is the pre-sunrise shot from Sunday morning, which I got because I could not deny the child who said from outside our tent, "Mom, are you going to miss the day break again?" No. No I am not. And I'm so thankful I got to sit out on the rocks in the blowing wind with that little boy, waiting for the sun.

A Wild & Wonderful Table

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My friends from the Bridgeport Farmers Market know how to throw a party.

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Last Saturday was their second annual fundraising dinner, A Wild and Wonderful Table, featuring delicious dishes prepared by West Virginia chefs using local meat and produce, two signature cocktails, and my very favorite WV beer, the Halleck Pale Ale

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Not only did everything look beautiful, but I loved the way so many people contributed their particular talents to make this event come together. In addition to the organizers, who coordinated and orchestrated many moving parts, one person designed and constructed the long community-style tables using lumber he sawed himself.

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Another envisioned and executed the "look" for the event, complete with vintage place settings and natural tablescapes made from brown paper and fresh herbs, topped with gorgeous flower arrangements (made by yet another market vendor), all underneath long strands of twinkling lights.

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Several Sargasso bartenders made sure everyone had delicious drinks throughout the night, served up in Ball jar glasses of course.

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Local musicians played throughout the night.

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Did I mention the food? Yum. 

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This whole night would have been amazing and lovely no matter where it took place, but the fact that one group of people came together to make it happen here in North Central West Virginia . . . well, let's just say I think everyone involved truly appreciates the sense of community it represents.

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Naturally I took many more pictures than this, all of which are view-able here.