Monday, July 25, 2011

Colorado in July

The final leg of our summer vacation this year takes place in Colorado. Each time Erin and I return here we're amazed at the beauty of the countryside and this time was no different. Before long we had the motorcycle out of storage and were riding through the forested hills and meadow-filled valleys. Our first week back we rode up to Evergreen for a walk around the lake with lunch at the Morrison Inn.

That Friday night Erin's parents treated us to a Chris Isaak concert at the Denver Botanical Gardens. We had all the fixings for a delicious picnic out on the lawn while we listened. However we had failed to bring any rain gear which we were punished for as a massive thunderstorm rolled in during Chris's first set. It got so bad that the band was called off the stage and we were advised to seek shelter. Eventually the rain cleared and the concert carried on with Chris and most of the crowd taking it all in stride.

The following week Erin's parents left for a fishing cruise in Alaska leaving Erin and I with the house and their dog, Dante, to ourselves. While the week gave us many opportunities to see friends in the area it also gave us a chance to just relax a little after so much traveling. It was nice to get up in the morning to walk Dante and then return to read a book on the couch or watch some TV.

The latter part of the week was dominated by the wedding of our friends Leah and Pete. As a bridesmaid Erin got to take part in many of the pre-wedding festivities, but also had to deal with a dress that was the wrong size from what she ordered. It all got worked out and though the rain had threatened to make a mess of things all the events turned out wonderfully. The rehearsal/picnic in Washington park was fun and relaxed; the ceremony on the Denver University campus was beautiful; and the reception at the top of the Grand Hyatt was spectacular.

The following week was a whirlwind of friends, family, and activities. We saw my aunt, Janet, give a delightful rendition of Margaret Brown in the Molly Brown house. We joined our friend, Janice, for BBQ at her house followed by a small theatre production mixing acted scenes and improvisation. We toured the Denver Botanical Gardens with Janice. We had delicious burgers and drinks with our supper club at HBurger.

Our busiest day was Saturday after Erin's brother, Andrew, and his fiance, Sara, arrived. The four of us started the day by going to the Renaissance festival in Larkspur. It was amazing the amount of people and booths that were there. It was like a small town. We saw a jousting show, acrobatics, comedians, and all manner of costumes. It was also very hot and we were glad to get some cool drinks in the shade and enjoy watching the various people.

Later that afternoon Erin surprised me with a helicopter ride around Denver. It was exciting to see the city from above and to ride in the small helicopter. Our pilot was very knowledgeable of both the aircraft and the area we were seeing. We finished the night with some tapas at the 9th Door restaurant.

This last week we've been trying to get in a few more things before we leave. We went to the store to stock up on things we can't get in Taiwan; we've seen friends and family one last time; we've been on some hikes; and tomorrow we'll ride the motorcycle once more before putting it away in storage. It's hard to say goodbye, but as we plan to come back for our winter vacation it's easier to say, "we'll see you in a few months".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicago is for Food Lovers

The thing I think Erin and I enjoy the most about being back in the US, after seeing friends and family, is the food. While we've been able to find good food in Taiwan we have missed the vast diversity of quality food that is available in the US. That diversity and quality became very apparent when we visited Erin's brother, Andrew, and his girlfriend, Sara, in Chicago.

After arriving and putting our stuff down we went with Andrew to get some delicious Thai food for lunch.  We then went out to meet with our friends from California who had been touring Chicago on vacation.  We met them out on the Navy Pier as they were finishing up a short cruise on a pirate ship in the lake. That night we met up with a friend from Illinois that was in town for a few days with her baby.  We had dinner at a French restaurant called Mon Amie Gabi.  The steaks we had were delicious and we ended up sitting by "Meredith" from "The Office".

The next morning Andrew and Sara took us to a very good croissant place near their apartment. Erin and I then went downtown and eventually found "Fulton's on the River" for lunch with friends from Illinois. That afternoon we took an architectural boat tour of the city. It was very interesting to see the range of architectural styles and learn about how they were developed in the city.  Upon finishing the tour we met Andrew and Sara at the top of the John Hancock building for some drinks as the sun set.  We finished the day back at their place as they cooked us some delicious pizzas.

On Saturday we all went downtown for brunch at XOCO, a famous Mexican restaurant from chef Rick Bayless. With Mexican hot chocolates and churros we were all very happy with the food. Of course with all the food we were eating we needed to walk around so we went to Exposition park where they have a huge silver "Bean" sculpture. We then set off for Erin's, Andrew's, and Sara's Alma Mater, Northwestern University. There we got giant cookies from "Al's Deli" and walked around the campus while the three reminisced on their school days. We then went for dinner at Pita Inn for some good Middle Eastern food. Later that night we went out to the Kingston Mines Blues club. It was a great, relaxed atmosphere for hearing some really good blues musicians and a wonderful end to our stay in Chicago.

Sunday morning we were up early as Andrew and Sara thankfully drove us to the airport. The company had been wonderful and the food had been so delicious. After arriving in Denver later that day we learned that Andrew had proposed to Sara.  We expect that they'll be getting married in Chicago so we're looking forward to going back out there for the wedding (and some more of that great food of course).

New York Anniversary

After spending time with all of our friends and family with babies Erin and I spent some time on our own in New York City for our second anniversary.  We started off the day with drinks at the boathouse in Central Park. It was a nice day out and we enjoyed seeing the diversity of people. After lunch in the park we walked back to our hotel to prepare for the evening. That night we went out to a wonderful tapas (Alta) restaurant followed by a small jazz bar that we had been to last time we were in town (The Bar Next Door). The bar proved to be just as cozy and romantic as it was before and a nice finish to our first night of anniversary.

Not content to have only one day to celebrate our anniversary we continued the celebration for our entire stay in New York. On the following day we made our way to the Highline Park. We had recently read about this new park on the southwest side of Manhattan that had used to be a set of elevated train tracks. Instead of having them torn down after disuse the community formed a group to transform the tracks into a park. The result was stunning as we walked among shrubs and bushes while looking out on the streets of New York. After lunch we decided to forgo the usual museums and instead visited the Sex Museum. While the museum had some interesting exhibits on sex in cinema, in comics, and in the wild we were torn between their candidness and our sense of sexual norms.

That evening we went out to see the play, "A Bengal Tiger in Baghdad Zoo" starring Robin Williams. It was an interesting existential play with Robin Williams playing a foul-mouthed tiger amidst the war in Iraq. While the actors were all very good, Erin and I felt the story lacked definition at the end. We finished the evening at a delicious Cuban restaurant (Victor's Cafe 52). Though they didn't have much of the seafood on their menu due to a large party that night, the food we had was delicious.

For our final day in New York Erin and I went back to Central Park to read and relax. It was nice to just sit and watch the many different people walk and ride. Again we had lunch in the park, but in comically New York fashion we were seated very close to two ladies discussing intimate details that Erin and I could have done without hearing. After a stroll back through crowded Times Square we were packing up and heading out to Newark for our flight the next day. Among the many people, the delicious-but-high-priced food, and wealth of events Erin and I concluded that we love visiting NYC, but I don't think we would want to live there. It certainly is a wonderful anniversary location.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Babyland Tour Continues

As I mentioned in my previous post, Erin and I have been visiting babies and their families this summer.  It has been fun and exciting to see all of them, but also a little tiring as our schedule has meant that we haven't stayed in the same place for more than three days.

After Atlanta we flew to Baltimore for another difficult travel day.  Since we're flying American Airlines for this whole vacation we had to fly from Atlanta to Chicago and then Chicago to Baltimore on Monday (6/20).  The only problem was that once we got to Chicago we saw that our flight to Baltimore was cancelled and there wouldn't be any more until the next day. After some scrambling we were able to get an agent to book us on a United flight leaving out later. We made it okay into Baltimore, but our bags didn't, so we had to wait until Tuesday for United to deliver them to us.

Once in Baltimore our days took on some conformity as we helped Amy and Kevin with their 3-week old, Nora.  We would get up around 6:30 AM in the apartment that Erin's parents had booked for the month for visiting family to stay in.  Out by 8 AM we would get chai tea lattes from a favorite coffee shop for Amy and Erin.  We would spend the rest of the day at Amy's and Kevin's while Erin helped take care of our niece and I would cook the meals.  It was nice to be able to relax for the rest of the day without worrying about having to get someplace.  During that time we enjoyed taking her for walks around the neighborhood in her stroller.  I also enjoy cooking so I'm glad we could help out in that way. 

Erin and I could see how it is a full-time job taking care of a newborn baby.  They need to be fed every three hours and it often takes an hour to feed.  The schedule varies a little at night, but it doesn't leave more than a few hours for sleep.  In the past Erin had thought how nice it must be to get maternity leave as a vacation from work, but now we could see just how vital that leave is.  Of course, it gets easier as the baby gets older and we're looking forward to the time when Nora is able to start talking and sleeping through the night. 

On Friday it was time to go as Erin and I took a bus from Baltimore up the coast.  Had we planned better we would have taken the bus to Newark, but instead we took the same route we had done last year getting on the bus to New York and then taking a train back down to New Jersey.  After being delayed, the bus ride was long and hot.  We eventually made it to Stephanie's and Shawn's place in New Jersey late in the day as they cooked up some delicious grilled clams and scallops.

If we had thought taking care of one baby was a lot of work we saw with Stephanie and Shawn how taking care of twins means twice the work at the same time.  Last year Erin was mentioning how twins would be good since you could have two kids and get all of the work out of the way at one time.  The problem is that you have to do twice the work (twice the feedings, twice the changings) at the same time which looks to be exhausting.  Shawn and Stephanie seemed to be managing well with their six month olds, but were also happy on Saturday when they dropped off the twins with their aunt and uncle so we could enjoy some baby-free time.

The day was definitely geared towards relaxation as we started off with a delicious tea place.  From there we went to Queens for a stay at Spa Castle.  This is a Korean place where we paid a set fee to get in an then could spend as much time as we wanted in the numerous spas and saunas.  It was uncomfortable at first with the same-sex, nude changing areas and the rule that we had to wear gender-specific uniforms.  Erin and I felt like we were back in Taiwan with the same sense of uncertainty of what to do.  We eventually were able to relax and enjoy the accommodations before heading into NYC for dinner at a vegetarian hummus place.  On Sunday Erin and I had a chance to catch up on emails while Shawn and Stephanie picked up the kids.  We spent the rest of the day putting up a canopy out in their back yard and having a small BBQ.  It was nice to share the weekend with them before moving on.

As Stephanie drove us to our hotel in NYC for the next leg of our trip I thought about all of the babies we'd seen. All of them we're very cute and all of them demanded a lot of time and energy. I'm glad we got to see them and got to see our friends and family in this new stage in their life. As cute as the babies were, the amount of work and the sacrifices that they require didn't exactly make Erin and I want to rush out and have kids right away. We could see how rewarding having kids was, but for now it's nice to be an aunt and uncle so we can enjoy them (and potentially spoil them) in small doses. Whatever our decision in the future is though, I'm glad we got a chance to visit Babyland.