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Privilege Creek Ranch: A Southern Thanksgiving

Babette and I arrived in Austin just in the nick of time for Thanksgiving. During the last portion of our trip I continued to quote the great John Hughes film Plans, Trains, & Automobiles as it seemed fitting. We had been invited to spend Thanksgiving with my Texan and his family out on the family ranch near Bandera, Texas. Privilege Creek Ranch has been a beloved family destination for multiple generations. I had heard so many wonderful things about the ranch and its splendor.  The Texan told me stories about how he had spent summers out there with his granddad fishing on the lake and hunting on the acreage.  I had built up the ranch in my mind to be this absolutely astounding and beautiful piece of Texas land where the family would gather and share  many wonderful moments.

We made our way down the unpaved winding road, my Texan driving, Babette in the back, while I rode shotgun. I was still in awe that it was some 70 degrees on Thanksgiving. The sun was shining and we wound around until we arrived at the ranch gate. I was so excited! We continued on and finally arrived at the house. Such a warm and loving welcome. We were with our southern family at last.

Final preparations were made, and we gathered to give a prayer of thanks. All were in joyous spirits, and we laughed as each person squeezed around the large dinning room table that wasn’t quite large enough for elbow room. Everyone accepted this humorous eating challenge with excitement. It was a wonderful feast with plenty of left overs. After dinner, many retreated to watch football, some to walk the grounds, with others preparing for pie, coffee, and other goodies. This dessert portion of the afternoon was actually doubling as a wedding shower for a pair that had eloped within the previous month. Laughter and love filled the room as each person shared advice and warm words for the newlywed couple.

After copious amounts of cake, pie, and sweet treats were consumed, it would be assumed that all would return to football or a nearby couch. Not the case. This would be the first round of Thanksgiving hunting. Prior to my departure, my grandpa had gifted me his Winchester 30-30 from the 1920’s. The Texan rounded up the rest of the gear including shells, targets, ear plugs, a 10-20 rifle, and his 30-06. We took the ranch SUV out to the shooting range and set up. After a thorough course on gun safety and operations by my love, Babette and I were ready. AMAZING! What power!? Not too bad of a kick, and I at least hit the target (that was 100 yards away) at least once with the 30-30 and once with the 10-20. Loved it. Of course the Texan was an amazing shot, but he was very supportive of Babette and I spreading our gun wings…..

While we were on the shooting range, we could hear shots in the distance, which we assumed to be the rest of the family who had headed out to the dear blinds. We didn’t return to the house until dusk and when we did, we discovered that 15 year old Zachery had got a buck. While he and some of the other men were bringing it in, we had some bits of delicious leftovers, and plopped down to watch the Cowboys play the Redskins. Apparently, there was a secret cellar in the “Trophy Room” where we were lounging. The Texan took us down there and we discovered a treasure trove of collected items from the ranch including fossils, arrowheads, old bottles, horns, and other dusty items. After we emerged, the Texan disappeared. I didn’t find him until I ventured outside, where he and Zachery, along with two of the other cousins, were beginning to skin the deer. Oh Boy. This is not for the faint of heart. Nor are my photos (you have been warned). I watched (and documented) the entire process and can now say that I know what it sounds like when a severed deer hoof is thrown into a bloody bucket of its insides. Yep.

That night Babette, the Texan, and I stayed awake laughing until the wee hours of the morning. I’m not sure about what exactly, but I remember commenting on the dried deer blood on the Texan’s shirt as he went to hug me… I laughed and accepted my southern fate, and gave him a big hug right back, deer blood and all.

There had been discussion about getting up at 5:30am to go hunting during round 2–this time actually going out to a deer blind and not just the shooting range–however we were simply too tired when the alarm went off. Around 9am, I strolled out to the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee and yummy breakfast of bacon, eggs, and fresh fruit. The hunters returned around 9:45am with 3 more deer who had not been so fortunate. All of the deer made there way into the walk-in cooler, right in between the left over turkey and pies.

For our final ranch activity, the Texan took Babette and I, with several other family members, on a drive around the land. It was a beautiful, warm, and sunny day. It was a perfect way to end our first southern Thanksgiving at Privilege Creek Ranch.

The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You

As the sun was beginning to set, we neared the border between New Mexico and Texas. Of course I had my heart set on a picture of the ‘Welcome to Texas’ sign that I assumed was going to be larger than life. Everything is bigger in Texas right?! Well apparently not if you cross over in Farwell, Texas on I-84.

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You can imagine my disappointment.

Just as I was about to have a major rant, Texas pulled through in all of its glory.

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Hallelujah!

4284061We had finally made it! Captain didn’t quite understand why I had woken him up for this photo op but he obliged. Holden just sat in the cat tent/cage meowing uncomfortably as he had done for the majority of the trip. A sense of great accomplishment came over Babette and I which solidified our plan to drive straight through to Austin without stopping in Lubbock. We had just about 8 hours of driving left. Babette was finishing one of her shifts, I would drive another three hours, and she would bring us into Austin.

I sent the Texan a screen shot of us, finally in the same state.  I was overjoyed to have made it to my new home state safely and with no major barriers.

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The west Texas sunset was gorgeous that night.

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Babette and I made it to my new Austin home at about 1:30am Wednesday (or very very late Tuesday night) just in time to prepare for Thanksgiving, Texas style! Our road trip was epic. There are so many details that I can’t possibly cover, as I still feel as though I’m recovering from this move half-way across the country. Suffice it to say, she and I are closer than ever and we have perfected the southern accent 😉

I am finally at home with my Texan.

Sigh.

The Hoover Dam and Albuquerque, New Mexico

After leaving Vegas, we made a quick stop at the Hoover Dam. Too bad this was when I was able to get the ‘Welcome to Nevada’ sign…

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

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Made our way through Arizona with a brief stop to visit some of Babette’s family, and finally made it to Albuquerque, New Mexico late that night.  It was so late and we were staaaarving. Rough because we had quite the hankering for this “New Mexican” food we kept reading about, but all of the restaurants were closed! We finally found Frontier Restaurant and had some enchiladas that were meh. By the time we made it to our lovely Econolodge in Old Town Albuquerque (total amount paid for hotel rooms during entire trip was $135) the town appeared deserted. I’m pretty sure it was only about midnight but there wasn’t a soul in sight. Very odd…of course I checked the Life360 when we arrived in our room and decided to turn off the “unsafe” alerts about chi-mos because it was just getting to me. At that point, I called the Texan to check in and wished we were there already. The next debate was whether we would wake up early and plow through the next 12.5 hours to Austin or if we would stop in Lubbock. I had previously checked the Life360 about Lubbock and it was no bueno. Babette and I compromised and decided that if we slept in until 9am, and were well rested, we could push through and get to Austin by midnight or 1am the next day.

The following morning Albuquerque was more alive and we walked around Old Town and looked at some turquoise, silver, and native art. Having a leisurely morning, we were prepared to make the final trek.

Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico

Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico

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It was pretty funny because Babette and I finally set our pride aside on this last day and decided to drive in 3 hour shifts, trading even if we felt we were awake enough to continue. The previous days, either she or I would drive the 10 or so hours…no real reason other than stubbornness. We decided that if we had been rotating like this for the duration of the trip, we could have made it in one sitting…probably.

Now we just had to make it into Texas.

Las Vegas: Sin (Read Highly Debaucherous) City

We made it to Vegas around 7pm. The strip was glowing. We checked in to our very glamorous Motel 6 (which was pet friendly) and got dressed for the evenings festivities. Captain was a champ and Holden hid under the bed. We decided to head to Fremont St. since we were informed that this was where we would find “Old Vegas.” Upon our arrival, we walked into the light show that happens at the top of the hour. Everyone was standing around starring at the ceiling while smoking and drinking from those weird tubes that look like miniature water towers…liquor towers I suppose. Babette and I shuffled down a few yards to pop into the Starbucks which was more cost effective and more desirable than the liquor towers. While inside the Starbucks, which adjoined a casino–because everything adjoined a casino–I noted that there were people smoking inside. Also of note, there were lots of children running around. You know, small kids, like 5-8 years old. Babette and I continued to wander down the street, past the weird non-official performers, with no real desire to enter any of these “old casinos.” All of a sudden two adult men began assaulting one another. There was quite the crowd of on-lookers, but the men began to run and dash about while attempting to maul each other so I shuffled Babette away. It’s generally my concern in those situations that a firearm might present itself, which may lead to stray bullets. Needless to say, whether my fear is rational or not, there really isn’t any good reason to stand around watching drunk men assault each other. Did I mention there were small children around? So apparently a whole slew of parents were trying to decide between Disneyland and Vegas for their family trip and they went for Vegas. Like a lot. It was at this moment when I checked my Life360 app. My dad had requested that I use this app to be able to check in and track my trip and safety along the journey, but the app has several features that both should and shouldn’t be used. In the midst of this sinfully aggressive and child-filled street, I checked the app which showed the surrounding registered sex offenders, crime alerts, and fires in the area. Useful yes, but once you see how many registered sex offenders with FULL PROFILES AND PICTURES there are, you began to worry that everyone around you is a chi-mo. This isn’t even funny. It was really not funny because of all of the parents who decided to bring their young children to Vegas as a vacation, the parents who had liquor towers in one hand and a child in the other.  Sure, I may be a little conservative about this whole Vegas ordeal, but I’m okay with that. Perhaps I’m just past the point in my life where it seems appealing to spend $50 on a liquor tower, only to stumble around between the sex offenders and pre-traumatized children…but that’s just me.

So we cabbed our way to Caesar’s Palace for dinner, never to speak of Fremont St. again (not really). Dinner was fabulous. We made our way to the 1 cent slot machines and in total gambled $20. The earnings documented below were quickly lost. I figured that was a pretty good limit, and that allowed for enough time to have one complementary martini. We were high class slot jockeys. I couldn’t help but continue to quote one of the most notable Simpsons episodes ever, $pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling) from Season 5.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGc3ZEBmzEQ]

I’m glad that we went through Vegas. One of those things one does for the experience. I can say with confidence however, that it really is the most debaucherous city I’ve visited.

It is safe to assume I will plan for Disneyland when it comes time for family vacations.

Reno to Vegas

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Sand Island: Swept Away By Summer Love

This past week I took my summer vacation. It was absolutely wonderful. It started off by spending some quality time down on the Willamette River by myself on the boat, and with a friend out on the river. There is no way I have time to detail all of the adventures that ensued that weekend, but basically it consisted of sleeping on the family boat–a Tolman Skiff, cruising the Willamette with a good friend, being boarded by the Coast Guard (yes I’m aware of how that sounds), seeing some horses running and swimming on Sauvie Island, enjoying Jimmy Johns on the deck of the boat, swimming off Kelly Point, and alas spending hours talking to a boy. A southern boy–a Texan more specifically. More on that small (read huge) detail later.

My brother and his wife flew in from NYC eventually and we crammed in some Portland musts including dinner with grandpa, a trip to Powell’s Books, and of course, our family breakfast at Bertie Lou’s Cafe in Sellwood. Breakfast filled with eggs, home fries, bacon, and of course biscuits and gravy marked the beginning of our annual voyage to Sand Island. I’ll probably be harassed if not killed by my family and our extended non-related relatives for divulging the existence of said island, but the fact is, there is no place quite like it, and it must be celebrated.

Looking south on Sand Island State Marine Park

Sand Island is located on the Columbia River right across from the small town of St. Helens, Oregon. One of the state’s beautiful marine parks, it was created to serve as a sand bar to protect the riverfront town from the wake of passing freighters. Over the years, tall cottonwood trees and an unknown number of wild animals such as racoons and deer have made this small oasis home. The Columbia River surrounding the island (as we refer to it) gives the much needed sanctuary from the hot summer sun, and has provided years of memories filled with swimming, sailing, and amazing river sunsets. My family has gone camping on the island every year of my life. We spend 51 weeks waiting to be reunited with its beauty–with daydreams of the sand between our to toes, and the cool evening breeze rocking the hammock as we gaze at the stars. Surely there could be no better place in the great northwest to spend one’s summer.

Looking north on Sand Island State Marine Park

Growing up, our family would camp anywhere from a weekend to several weeks on the island. No electricity, no running water, and no plumbing. Our non-relative relatives also camped with us. They had 5 kids. One couldn’t possibly fathom the amount of stuff they would cart across the river, then again, there were 5 kids. The oldest sibling was a boy my brother’s age, to this day they are still best friends. The second of the five was a girl–my best friend and kindred spirit–Babette.

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The final three siblings were all boys, so I really lucked out with Babette. The 7 of us were wild on the island. Swimsuits were the only clothing item worn from dawn to dusk. It was common to not even bring shoes to the island. Most days, the 7 of us could be found down at the beach creating the most elaborate mud pit you’ve ever seen. After all, it needed to fit all of us.

From left to right: Michael, Babette, Stephen, Sammy, Jeremiah, Me, Christopher

Luckily our parents documented these events. It would take hours of swimming and pretending to be mermaids (for Babette and I at least) to wash the evidence of earlier mud fights away. Our parents would force us to bathe in the river, which as we became older, was quite the tradition. My mother always said that there was “nothing sexier than a woman keeping up her appearance while camping.” So Babette and I would (and still do) suds up in our suits and wash our hair as the sun set over the hills.

Several summers, we made treasure maps and wrote notes claiming the island as our own, and sealed them in empty bottles. After adding several layers of duct tape, we would fasten a rope to the bottle and then swim it out to the old wooden pilings off the north end of the island.

The north end of Sand Island, standing on top of the dunes

Once used in the logging industry, lthe decaying logs now jet out of the water like totem poles. Hoisting each other up onto the wooden crossbeam, we would tie the rope off and hide the bottle inside of the metal cables binding the logs. The bottle never did make it until the following summer as we had hoped, but we all liked to imagine that some other kids found it and followed our treasure map to nothing–our punishment to them for thinking it was acceptable for them to spend time on our island. Who did they think they were anyway?!

When night fell more adventures ensued. Capture the flag would span across the entire island, with our little shadows darting around trees and the sand dunes, scaring each other and then shrieking with shear terror/joy. Our dad’s would tell ghost stories around the campfire about graveyard rats, and about “Herman,” the scary man who lived below the glorified outhouse. Strange as it sounds (because how on earth did he live under the outhouse?) we believed that one for years.

When Babette and I had enough with the boys, and were tired of waiting for our turn with the BB guns, we would spend hours painting rocks and driftwood, trying our best to capture the beauty of the island.

Nighttime on the river, circa 1998

This past week we sat together at the picnic table once again, listening to music, drinking iced coffee from the cooler, arguing and laughing over whose depiction was better. We laughed about how we used to argue about who’s tent was cozier, and whether or not straight hair was better than curly. These are the moments that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I look forward to many more summers to come on Sand Island. Laughing, swimming, and being with the closest of friends and family.

;

Below are some more photos of the journey to the island.

Docked at the Willamette Sailing Club

Behind Ross Island, stopping for a dip and some relaxing in the sun

It really is a must to by smutty celebrity magazines while on vacation…

Lusting after the floating homes near Sellwood

On our way to the island, under all the Portland bridges, including the St. John’s Bridge

Close to the island at last!!!!
Warrior Rock Light, Sauvie Island, Oregon

Sand Island. In all of its glory

Sunrise on the island

Sleeping on the hammock might be the best part

It’s an island, so we obviously have to be well prepared…

And by being prepared I obviously mean being well-stocked with coffee options

Painting driftwood

Sailing at sunset

Yale Reservoir: Al Morrison Regatta Part II

A little photography follow-up on the Al Morris Regatta 2012. What a great way to combine the two passions!

Yale Reservoir

Crystal clear water!!! Who wouldn’t want to swim in this?!

Getting ready for the start. Quite a few boats were over-early although you can’t tell at this point. The roof of the Tolman (the red boat) proved to be a great place for taking photos (I was riding in the Whaler for this race).

Irie, my dad’s retirement restoration project. A fully restored 1957 wooden Thistle.

Sailing downwind

Probably going to enlarge this one…

Rounding the leeward mark

Look at my mom hiking out!

Red Rascal, the Alaskan Tolman Skiff that my dad built. My family is so cool.

Yale Reservoir: Al Morris Regatta

Currently en route I-5 north to Cougar, Washington to partake in the Al Morris Regatta–otherwise known as The Pacific NW Thistle Districts.

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Irie will be making her maiden voyage in less than 24 hours. She’s a 1957 entirely wooden Thistle that’s been lovingly restored by my dad over the last year.

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A labor of love for sure. More photos to come, and of course champagne!

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“A Boat; A hole in the water in which one pours money.”

Swiss Miss

Currently wishing I was in the Swiss Alps.

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I nearly made it down the mountain with that cow’s bell–which would have been the best souvenir–but I felt bad and left it. The size of bell reflects the quality of the milk produced by the cow i.e. biggest bell equals the best milk (or so I was told).

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Parapenting over the Bernese Alps near Leysin Switzerland.

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Every morning the clouds would roll in from the valley floor, floating over me while I lay in bed. Breathtaking.

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That’s when the wanderlust really set in.

City on a River

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