The Siberian American: October 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Little River Canyon National Preserve: Fort Payne, Alabama

One of my favorite parts about road trips is getting to stop at interesting destinations along the way. On our Lake Michigan Circle Tour, that meant lighthouses. On our recent road trip to the Smoky Mountains, we were all about beautiful spots with nature and fall foliage.

To get to Tennessee and North Carolina from Texas, we had one long driving day and spent he night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The goal for the next day was to spend most of it in Chattanooga, Tennessee and get to Gatlinburg in the evening. Chris and I had done tons of research before this trip, and Little River Canyon National Preserve kept popping up when we looked into what to do in Alabama. Since it was on our way from Tuscaloosa to Chattanooga, we knew we had to stop by.

The biggest reason we wanted to visit the preserve was for the Little River Falls. Unfortunately, Alabama has been really dry this year, and the falls were non-existent. It didn’t spoil our fun, though, as we still got to see some pretty fall color and gorgeous views. Plus, we knew there were many waterfalls to come on this trip!

We love mini stops to break up hours of dropping, and Little River Canyon National Preserve was worth a visit. I would love to explore the area more if we ever come that way again.

Do you love mini stops on your road trips? What was one of your favorites?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Weekending: State Fairs and Samovars

Some weekends are just the best, and this weekend was one of those weekends. I got to do two things I absolutely love: go to the State Fair of Texas and spend time with my Russian extended family.

The fair is always one of my favorite days of the year. This year we went on a double date with friends and had a blast. We visited the auto show to see all the concept cars, the building showcasing all the products made in Texas, and the building featuring crafts and a giant butter sculpture. Of course, we also had to go see Big Tex and take our picture with him!

Once our friends left, Chris and I decided to go visit a few other museums. I loved the exhibit on the history of Texas, and it was fun to walk through the Taylor Swift Experience. Then, we got serious about the food. I always go for two fair classics: buttered corn and funnel cake. Chris loves to try something from the new fried food released every year. This time it was a hard choice between trying the fried jello and the barbecue-infused brisket balls. He decided to go for the brisket balls since we knew we would want funnel cake later. They were delicious!

We spent a little more time checking out some of the vendors before getting a funnel cake and heading home.

Chris and I had planned for Sunday to be a day where we got a lot of random things done around the house, but my parents spontaneously decided to have a Russian party, and one of my close friends from childhood was coming. It’s so nice to only live an hour away from my parents and get to see them more often! We had a great time chatting and watching my dad make tea from his samovar.

My parents brought home a samovar from their latest trip to Russia, and my dad has loved using it for parties. Samovars were used traditionally in the 19th century to make tea. Some of them were extremely ornate, but the one my parents brought was used as an economical way to make tea because you can use birch or pine cones to keep the fire going. It’s definitely not time efficient these days, but it’s a neat experience!

Linking up with Biana for Weekending. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Favorites: All the Fair Food

Happy Friday, friends! The first week back from a vacation is hard, and I’ve definitely felt some post-vacation blues. (Curious how I combat them? I wrote a post about it two years ago.) I also really miss hanging out with Chris. It’s such a bummer to go from seeing him all the time to barely having any time together. Thankfully, he only works till noon on Saturday and Sunday, so we get to spend most of the weekend together.

I mentioned it last Friday, but I can’t wait to head to the State of Fair of Texas tomorrow. We are going on a double date, so I’m excited to hang out and eat all the fair food! Look out for a recap of our day on Monday.

I think the weather has been crazy all over the country this week, and Texas definitely joined the party. We were close to record highs for most of the week, so I’m excited to be back in the 70s now. Hopefully, it will mean a much nicer day at the fair and that we are finally done with the 90s for the year!

My hair is still in that awkward stage after my haircut, so I pretty much exclusively used my new flat iron from Irresistible Me. It literally took me three minutes to straighten my hair, which was perfect for days when we had to hit the road early!

After reading so much this year (it’s been by far my best reading year), all of a sudden, I don’t want to read. I think it might be because I’ve read so many mediocre books in a row. I thought I would read a bunch on our trip, but we were so exhausted after everything we did each day that I only managed to read one book (and it wasn’t that great). I just picked up Siracusa, so I’m hoping it will make me want to read again.

You all know by now how much I love physical cookbooks, so I was excited to see Blogging for Books offer The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano. The cookbook is filled with recipes from restaurants and cafés all over London. England isn’t exactly known for its food, so I was interested to see what this compilation offered. It’s seriously jam-packed with recipes, and I want to try so many of them.

Highlights for me included the roasted corn and chorizo chowder from Brindisa, Alpine Fondue from La Fromagerie, scallops with corn puree and chile oil from Spring, and walnut cherry cake from Honey & Co. Of course, I definitely want to try an authentic fish and chips recipe from Tom’s Kitchen! They even have a section on chilled desserts with treats like black sesame panna cotta from The Modern Pantry and a deconstructed cheesecake from Rawduck. I also can’t wait to try the cocktails from the cocktail section such at the white peach summer martini from The River Café.

Other than the food, I really enjoyed the writing. It was so interesting to learn about London’s evolving food scene and the chefs who have taken it to new heights. I already bought a copy for a friend of mine who loves all things England, and I can’t wait to make some of these recipes soon!

I received a copy of this book for free from Blogging for Books, but all opinions are my own.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

European Train Travel Tips

There is nothing better than being on a train in Europe, looking out at the beautiful countryside (or reading a book!) while getting to your destination as quickly as possible. When we traveled in Europe for the first time, we had quite a few mishaps. Here is what we learned:

Book early. 
Book train tickets at least three weeks in advance, especially if you are using a Eurail pass. If you are going to a popular destination like Prague or Paris, book as soon as you can. We had friends who tried to book a night train from Cologne to Prague five days in advance, and they found out every night train was booked for the next two weeks. We always tried to book as soon as we decided on our destination.

Check platforms often. 
I will never forget the name Herzogenrath-August-Schmidt-Platz. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Trains can change platforms at the last minute. When we were traveling to Berlin with a big group, the regional train in Aachen arrived before our train to Berlin. We thought it was our train because it was at the correct platform and time, so we took the train and ended up in Herzogenrath-August-Schmidt-Platz. We didn’t make it to Berlin until 2 a.m. (Want the whole story of our Herzogenrath mishap? Read three European travel stories I will never forget.)

Also, be aware that some trains will split off in the middle of the trip and head in different directions. Make sure to listen to announcements that tell you if you are in the right compartment, especially if you are in the food compartment at the time of the change.

Write down the number of the train leaving after yours. 
Trains are sometimes late, so you should look up and record the number of the next train to take in the case of a late train. For example, when our train from Frankfurt to Brussels ran 20 minutes late we missed our train from Brussels to Liege. However, we had written down the next train we could take, so we were able to get to the platform in time to hop on the next train to Liege.

Have you ever traveled in Europe by train? What was your favorite destination?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Quick Thoughts: Smoky Mountains Road Trip

Today, I feel thankful. Our trip was even better than I expected. The weather was perfect, and the Smoky Mountains were simply stunning. The fall color hadn’t peaked yet, but we still saw some gorgeous color. Surprisingly, the best color was on our drive from Knoxville to Nashville.

I didn’t talk about it much before we left, but one of my big concerns was how my body would take such an active trip. At first, it was really hard. Hikes that I could normally do easily were a struggle. It did get easier, though. I’m definitely not back to myself yet, but I am getting stronger. I was able to eat more and walk more on this trip, and I could push myself without feeling like there would be major consequences (other than sore legs!).

I think a road trip is the best way to see the Smoky Mountains. We stopped by so many interesting places on the way, and I can’t wait to start sharing them with y’all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Five Things to Do in Las Vegas, Nevada

It's no secret that I love visiting Vegas for a short getaway. I am always looking for ideas on what to do there, so when Ashleigh from Mermaid on the Move asked me if she could guest post while I am on vacation, I asked her to write about five things she thinks you must do in her hometown of Vegas! Hope y'all get some ideas for your next trip to the city!

Lack of things to do has never been the problem in this city that I call home. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming the amount of things going on any given night. But there are some musts that you should take the time to experience when you’re visiting Las Vegas, Nevada.

Las Vegas Sign - Mermaid on the Move

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign It may seem a bit cliche, but honestly the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign one of the most iconic images of the city, not to mention a free keepsake, unless of course you feel like tipping Elvis to take the picture for you. My suggestion is to go early in the evening early in the week to avoid a long line. Also, if you’re going to be in town during a certain time check to see if they will be lighting up the sign a different color for a holiday or awareness, like St. Patrick’s Day when it glows green.

High Roller - Mermaid on the Move

The High Roller One of the newer must go-to spots is The High Roller, the largest observation wheel in the world standing 550 feet with an amazing view of the city, located at The LINQ promenade. Once you’ve taken in a 360 degree look of the city be sure to venture down the remainder of the promenade to check out the bars, cupcake vending machine and other fun and unique stops along the way.

Botanical Gardens - Mermaid on the Move

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden My favorite place to take people when they come into town is the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden. Beautifully themed arrangements spread along a 14,000 square-foot showcase that is changed out seasonally, usually around every 3 months, so that it is almost always new, different, and breathe taking each time I visit. Another wonderful thing is that they recycle 90 percent of the trees, flowers and plants when they turn over the new theme, giving back to the environment in a unique way. Also, take a short stroll to the lobby for a peak at Dale Chihuly’s amazing glass blossoms hanging above your head.

Downtown Fremont - Mermaid on the Move

Downtown Las Vegas There is absolutely no lack of things to do when it comes to Downtown Las Vegas, my personal favorite it people watching and grabbing drinks with friends and playing on the adult jungle gym at Container Park. Some other fun things to do is to take the zipline down the Fremont Street Experience on Slotzilla, grab a drink at the many themed bars down Fremont East or check out the Arts District, especially if you’re lucky enough to be in town on a First Friday.

Hoover Dam - Mermaid on the Move

Hoover Dam Hoover Dam is quite a breathtaking sight as you stand looking down over 725 feet below at Lake Mead. Yes, that one that Megatron is hidden beneath in Transformers. It’s a short 40 minute drive from the neon lights of The Strip through Boulder City, where ironically enough gambling is illegal. If you have the time, be sure to spend time in this beautiful city, I recommend grabbing breakfast at The Coffee Cup. These are just a few of the many things you can do in my twenty four hour hometown, with a million ways to be entertained and a little something for everyone.

Thanks for sharing your favorite things to do in Vegas, Ashleigh! Want even more fun posts on Vegas? Check out my list of best things to do in Vegas if you don't gamble or drink, my guide to the best shows in Las Vegas, my favorite buffets in Vegas, and our hike through Valley of Fire State Park.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Nine Books I Read in September

I may be vacationing in the mountains right now, but I couldn’t miss the second anniversary of Show Us Your Books! After a great reading month in August, September was a mixed bag. I read one really bad book, three great books, and five books that were just OK. I’ve been trying to read as much as possible to get through my NetGalley list, so this is another month of all NetGalley books. I’m hoping to get to a point where I can do a mixture of NetGalley books and other books on my Kindle soon!

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
(c/o NetGalley)

This book isn't a thriller. It's not even close. It's a character study. It was also extremely slow. It's the longest it has taken me to read a book in months. Still, I did like Manon, which made me want to keep reading the book. I didn't like that it was told in multiple points of view. I just didn't think the other people added much to the story, especially Davy. It was so slow that I lost interest in finding out what happened to Edith and was more interested in Manon's life. I don't really see myself picking up the next book in the series, especially since the epilogue made this book work as a stand alone novel.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
(c/o NetGalley)

I couldn't put this book down. It's disturbing, complex, and riveting. It's not a traditional thriller in that you know what is going on at the beginning. The book starts with a raid, and "Clara" being told by her husband Glen not to tell the police anything. As her story slowly unravels, Clara isn't sure what to believe about her husband and her past life. The "Now" and "Then" alternations were well done, and Clara made a great main character (though I struggle to believe she was that naive about the fate of her "daughters.") I was really impressed with this debut novel and will be curious to see what Rena Olsen writes next!

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass
(c/o NetGalley)

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I didn't like the beginning, and I didn't like the ending, but the middle was fairly interesting. The Cresswell children are severely abused controlled by their father, who thinks he hears visions from God and has created an insane book of rules the children must follow. The story is sad and interesting, but the plot has major points that randomly drop off and really lacked the emotion I thought I would feel. This is a decent read, but I am not going to go out of my way to recommend it.

Karolina’s Twins: A Novel by Ronald H. Balson
(c/o NetGalley)

I love Ronald H. Balson's writing. Last year, Saving Sophie was one of my favorite reads of the year, and I liked Karolina's Twins just as much. Lena's story of her life during World War II and her current search for the twins was beautiful and heartbreaking. I guessed the big "twist" early on in the book, but that didn't detract from the novel. If you're a fan of World War II historical fiction, this one is a must read!

The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti
(c/o NetGalley)

I don't know if it's because I've been reading a bunch of thrillers lately or it was that easy to tell, but I figured out the "big twist" about 10 percent into the book. I would have been much more surprised if it wasn't what I thought. It was still interesting to see how the author got the reader to the twist, but the book lacked suspense for me. I did think the ending was done well.

Margherita’s Notebook by Elisabetta Flumeri
(c/o NetGalley)

I know this is a translation and things are often lost in a translation, but the writing was too bad for me to handle. The whole story and plot was mediocre, and comparing people to food all the time was strange. I think this book had potential, but the execution was poor.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
(c/o NetGalley)

I think it's almost impossible to review this book without spoilers, so I'm going to be super generic. Jason Dessen is kidnapped one day heading home from the bar and wakes up in a totally different life. This book sucked me in. It's intense and overwhelming at times (the physics parts weren't my cup of tea). I thought the twist was unique, and the ending was interesting.

The Girl Who Came Back by Susan Lewis
(c/o NetGalley)

I have really liked the other two Susan Lewis books I have read (Too Close to Home and Behind Closed Doors), so this one was a bit of a disappointment. I really liked the second half of the book, but the first half was super slow. Also, this book is definitely not a thriller, and more about a family's journey to healing after the brutal murder of their only child. It was a good read but would have been even better if the first part of the book was condensed a bit.

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen
(c/o NetGalley)

I had a hard time getting through this book. I usually like women's fiction, but the author tried to make this too dramatic. It did get better for me as it went on, but it never really impressed me. I think there are better reads in this genre out there!

Favorite reads in September: The Girl Before, Dark Matter, and Karolina's Twins. 

Linking up with Steph & Jana.

I love book suggestions. What have you read lately?


Friday, October 7, 2016

Friday Favorites: The Mountains Are Calling

We leave for our Tennessee and North Carolina road trip early tomorrow morning! We have been really looking forward to this trip. With everything that has happened this year (and the trips we have had to cancel), we are so ready to relax together and see a beautiful part of the country. I’ll be snapping our trip, so follow me on SnapChat (SiberianOlya) if you are interested!

We were worried that we wouldn’t see any fall color since the only time Chris could get off is early in the season, but I checked a park camera today and did see a little color! I know it won’t be the spectacular fall foliage that happens later in the month, but I will take what we can get!

Christopher’s schedule is slowly getting harder and harder, so we are taking advantage of the time we do have together. Now that the weather is cooler, we love walking to dinner dates at places close to us or if he gets home late, we spend a longer time walking the dog. It’s been so nice to make time once a week to hang out together while it’s still possible.

Speaking of possible, I was worried we wouldn’t make it to the State Fair of Texas this year because of our trip. Chris had to switch the weekends he works to make the trip happen, and I figured getting out of town was more important than the fair. It turns out, though, that Chris is only working till noon on the last weekend of the fair, so we are going on a double date! I’m so excited it worked out since I know the next few years will be tougher.

I talked about it a bit in my Currently post, but after not buying anything for months, all I want to do lately is shop. I think knowing it’s fall and it being my favorite season for clothes, I want everything I see. Plus, there have been some amazing sales lately! Anyways, I am trying hard to put myself on another spending freeze until Black Friday, but who knows if I stick to it.

When I wrote my post on five reasons I love fall, I didn’t mention the food. I love that it is finally cool enough in Texas to eat soup and chili. We had chili this week, and I basically want to eat it every day now. (If you are interested in our favorite chili recipe and other fall favorite, check out last year’s post).

Linking up with AmandaKarli, and the High Five for Friday girls.

Hope y'all have a wonderful weekend! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Life Update: Food is the Best Medicine

September was the best month I’ve had in a long time. After I had my procedure on September 2, my health really improved. I still have bad days every once in a while, but it’s nothing like it was! (If you are interested in a more detailed health update, click here. I have started to feel a little worse since that update, but it still feels like a massive improvement.

After my procedure, all I wanted to do is spend time with friends and family. The next day, I went to a 30th birthday part for a close friend at Top Golf. Originally, I thought I wouldn’t be able to participate, but I was able to swing a golf club! It wasn’t my best effort, but it felt so great to be able to do something physical.

The next day, I was able to go to church for the first time in quite some time! We went out to brunch at Malai Kitchen to celebrate, and I seriously loved my Thai eggs benedict. Then, I met up with some doctors’ wives at a park in Highland Park that has giant teddy bear sculptures. It’s a park I used to visit as a kid because one of my close friends lived nearby, so it was fun to go back many years later. We had a mini picnic and chatted for several hours.

After getting my disastrous haircut fixed, I decided to reward myself with tacos. We enjoyed Urban Taco. The tacos are unique and delicious, they have lots of fun salsas, and I loved the blueberry mojito.

In September, I also loved meeting Helene, Sarah, and other bloggers at The Grove at Harwood for Helene and Sarah’s blogger meetup. It was so fun to meet Helene and Sarah and exchange ideas with other bloggers. The tacos from the food truck were super good and so were the boozy snow cones!

We also went on a double date to try a new (to us) barbecue place, 18th and Vine. I retried fried okra and actually liked it this time. We shared brisket, sausage, burnt ends, and pork ribs. If that sounds amazing, it’s because it was.

I spent the last weekend in September at a conference for doctors’ wives. I talked about it extensively here, but it was great to connect with other wives who are going through this crazy medical journey.

Now that the weather is cooler outside, Chris and I have been enjoying longer walks with Skyler and walking to restaurants close to us for dates. One of our current favorites is splitting sunset fajitas from Mi Cocina. If you’ve never had sunset fajitas, they are fajitas smothered in queso with fried onions on top.

Linking up with Kristen and Gretchen

Monday, October 3, 2016

Three Great Day Trips from Chicago

During our year in Chicago, I really wanted to make an effort to explore the rest of the Midwest. Since Chris worked on the weekends, we had to settle for places we could visit in a day. I’m a huge fan of day trips. It’s so fun to have a mini adventure and still come home to your own bed. Though we went on more than three day trips while we were in Chicago, today I wanted to share my three favorite trips in case anyone wanted some day trip ideas.

Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois
Time from Chicago: 1.5 hours
What to do: In the fall, hike and enjoy the fall color. Take a trolley tour to get an overview of the park. In the spring, hike to the waterfalls.
More information: Starved Rock State Park blog post
Bonus: Stop by Two Girls and A Cupcake for a post-hiking treat!

When I was researching day trips from Chicago with gorgeous fall color, Starved Rock State Park kept popping up. I could see why from the moment we got there. The colors were stunning, and the canyons were fun to hike. We had planned on a return trip in the spring to see the waterfalls but had to cancel when I got sick. It’s definitely on the list for the next time we’re in the Midwest.

Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana
Time from Chicago: 1 hour
What to do: Climb the dunes and be rewarded with amazing views of Lake Michigan
More information: Blog post mentioning our Indiana Dunes adventure
Bonus: If you don’t feel like hiking, there is a beautiful beach close to the Indiana Dunes.

I never expected for climbing the Indiana Dunes would be so hard! Don’t worry, there are easy trails, but Chris accidentally picked the most strenuous trail for us. When you are wearing flip flops a little too big for you, the result is entertaining. Still, the hike was worth it for all the pretty views of Lake Michigan.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Time from Chicago: 1.5 hours
What to do: Walk around the cute downtown area. Shop. Take a boat tour on Geneva Lake to see the mansions. Walk the trail for a closer look at the mansions. Visit Black Point Estate.
More information: Fall color boat tour on Geneva Lake blog post
Bonus: Have lunch or dinner at Oakfire for some delicious pizza and a nice view.

I loved all the day trips we did, but the one to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, was my favorite. I loved walking around the downtown area, but the boat tour was the highlight of our day. I loved seeing all the mansions and hearing stories about the families who built them. The stunning foliage made it the perfect fall adventure.

Are you a fan of day trips? Where have you visited?