Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Hate Reading

This is going to be a little anti-climatic.  The end of the year always lends itself to "year-in-review" type lists.  I love lists, so love reading these things.  Assuming I respect the writer's taste, I find book lists especially interesting because I need recommendations when it comes to books.  Last time I went to the library was before a trip.  I wandered around the aisles, so overwhelmed by the choices that I just got a magazine.  (Real Simple, I think.)  However, when I got to the checkout, I was informed that the magazines can't actually leave the library, so I walked out empty handed.  Here's the other thing: I hate reading.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christmas List Done. Check it.. twice!

It's not even Thanksgiving, but I already feel like the world is in full-on Christmas mode.  The decorations are up at Union Station, friends are already setting up their Christmas trees, even my ipod seems to shuffle more carols into my playlist.  It fills me with so much nostalgia and panic at the same time.  Nostalgia because I love the traditions and family and decorations. Panic because so little time for so much tradition and family and decorations! I shake my fist at you and all your holiday craft decorations, Pinterest!  And I didn't have a "friendsgiving"! And since when has that become a thing? Am I a bad friend? I'm not sure I can handle any more cooking or decorating.  And so many sales! And what do I buy everyone? And what do I tell them to buy me?

Who am I kidding?  That last one is actually the only one I have figured out! I have been trying to keep a running list on my phone all year just for this occasion! See, this year is a little tricky because we are also moving around the holidays (extra fun!) and putting most household stuff into storage. So as much as I would love beautiful house/kitchen goodies, I also don't want to wait until stuff like that gets out of storage to use them! Maybe you know someone who doesn't need or have room for house stuff? Or you just  need help getting gift ideas flowing? Well I am sharing my wish-list today in case you need some inspiration! (Honestly not meant as a hint for anyone - except maybe my husband!)

1. Rain boots: commuting in the rain makes for some \ sad and wet feet.  I used to have some rain boots my mom got me, but after a few years of wear they developed a few holes and don't keep the rain out anymore.  I like the shiny look of these ones, and while this teal version from target is also nice, I really want them in yellow.  And a yellow rain coat.  Because I want to look like the Morton Salt girl.  (I mean, I don't actually want to look like her, but I really do want rain gear in yellow.  If you're already wearing something that huge, it may as well be a fun color.)

2. Long sleeve dress: Am I the only one who want a long sleeve dress that isn't a fitted sweater dress with a turtle neck collar?  Big collars get too hot, any amount if wool makes me itchy, and I need something that will still look good after I've eaten pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies for a month.  It's surprisingly hard to find winter dresses which meet that criteria! I love the colors and geometric look to this dress from LA/Ghana-based company Osei-Duro.  I don't love the price or that it's sold out, but this one is in stock and still has a nice shape.  Add some leggings and a belt and I think the cut would work well for most.

3. Yoga and other exercise gear: So, I am late to the party on this, but I started taking yoga classes at our gym a few months ago and I love it!  I also biked to Whole Foods for organic bread last weekend, so I have become the epitome of the millennial/ city-dweller/ hippie (not to be confused with hipster) stereotype. I'm usually not particular about what I wear for exercise and think some of the exercise gear is just a gimmick, but with all the stretching and upside down poses in yoga, appropriate clothing would come in handy.  I like this lulu lemon yoga tank because it is long and fitted enough to stay put.  I also don't think we're going to stay members of the gym too much longer, so I'm asking for yoga videos, new running shoes, and bike accessories like gloves and a water bottle.

4.  Buxom lip gloss: When it comes to beauty products, I often feel torn, wondering if higher priced stuff is actually worth it.  Here is one case that I am sure it is.  Buxom lip glosses are some of the only lip gloss brands that actually works for my super sensitive and always-chapped lips. (Health alert: I've read that common lip balm ingredients actually make your lips even more chapped, causing a sort of lip balm addiction.  The ingredients are camphor, phenol, and menthol.  This explains why my lips seem to worsen with certain chapsticks because they are worsening. Hi, my name is Sarah and I'm addicted to lip balm.)

5.  Jewelry: I have one long pendant necklace my aunt gave me for Christmas years ago. I wear it a ton since it works so well with any kind of neckline, and I think I would like another in another color.  For example, this one by Charming Charlie. I mean really, when is versatile jewelry ever a bad gift?

6.  Small kitchen gadgets:  I know I said I don't want kitchen stuff, but I have two exceptions.  The first is this collapsible whisk.  I am kind of psycho about keeping my stainless steel pots and pans from scratching, which makes this plastic collapsible whisk not only fun but perfect for any kind of pot.   The second is a compact food scale. Because we often buy food in bulk, I have to guesstimate on whether or not I'm using the right amount in recipes.  A food scale would take out the guessing and would make a number-lover like me so happy!

7. Experience gifts: This isn't pictured, but I've seen articles that talk about how spending money on experiences instead of stuff makes us happier.  Of course, because I want to maximize happiness per dollar spent, I love the idea of giving experiences as gifts.  This could be a local cooking class, overnight hotel stay, tickets to a sporting event or concert, restaurant gift cards, etc.  (Ok, I didn't read all the articles I linked to.. some of them were a bit long, so I gave you many choices.)

So that's what's on my list and hopefully it provides good brainstorming on gifts for others (or maybe your own wish list).  Of course, there's always more stuff I'd love to have, but the entire J. Crew and Restoration Hardware catalog contents are not really an option.  (I shake my fist some more at you and your pretty stuff, Pinterest!)  Really, my big quandary now is what to get Jason?  I might have to look for ideas on Pinterest.  I clearly cannot win.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Go West, Young Man

When we first arrived in Phoenix, I kept anxiously checking new sources, hoping that the government shutdown had ended.  The main attraction to come to Arizona for was to see the Grand Canyon, but as our trip coincided with the government shutdown, it was closed along with all the other National Parks.  Once we arrived in Sedona though, we realized the shutdown was somewhat of a blessing in disguise.

If Phoenix had me wanting to be a cowboy, Sedona made the quote by Horace Greeley ring with truth, as not much has changed since 1865 except maybe the food: "Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country."

Sedona is beautiful.  It's beautiful in a way that's different than the Grand Canyon.  Known as "Red Rock Country," the mountains are a rusty red.  Rock formations rise up in all directions dotted with yellow flowers and green valleys.  With hiking trails are all over the place, wine country only 20 minutes away, and a beautiful resort to relax at, spending the day in Sedona instead of driving two hours each way to and from the Grand Canyon didn't seem like much of an inconvenience.  Without the shutdown forcing us to stay in Sedona, we wouldn't have had the chance to experience such a beautiful part of the country.  We've both seen the Grand Canyon before, so missing out on it this time wasn't too crushing.  I did feel pretty bad for travelers at our hotel from Europe who had their once-in-a-lifetime plans derailed.

We took the scenic route, SR 179, from Phoenix, and it certainly lived up to it's name. On the way we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument, which had some ancient dwellings carved into a cliff face.  Well, at least that's what the guide book said because it was also closed as part of the shutdown, and we were never able to see it from the road like we had been hoping.  We also stopped at Chapel of the Holy Cross, the church built into the rocks pictured above.

The town itself is a little touristy, but there's a section where 179 and 89A meet that's got a bunch of art shops that looked like they'd be fun to poke through.  Also, I'm not going to be the best person to explain this, but there's a lot of New Age belief in "vortexes" in Sedona, which from my understanding are places of spiritual energy.

One of the fun things we did the first night was go on a star-gazing tour.  We drove about 20 minutes from the town to where the tour group, Sedona Star Gazing, met, then walked into a field where chairs, blankets and telescopes were set up.  When we first got out of the car that night and looked up into the cloudless night sky, the stars were brilliant enough to see the Milk Way.  The woman who got out of her car next to us audibly gasped and the tour operator commented, "You must live in the city."  That's exactly how I felt.  Even growing up in the suburbs, there is way too much light pollution to see the stars like we could out there.  The tour guides had some powerful laser pointers with which they were able to trace out the constellations before giving us glimpses into the telescopes.

Armed with new knowledge about navigating by star and leftover airplane pretzels as rations, I felt like Lewis and Clark exploring uncharted wilderness on our hike the next day. Or maybe Jason was whomever was the cooler of the two, and I was Sacagewea.  Of course, Sacagewea probably didn't forget to bring a backpack for the water and camera, or use her Banana Republic purse with one strap over each shoulder as a substitute back pack when two hands were needed to climb up and down the rocks.  Also, Sacagewea probably didn't ask other hikers to take their picture, just not too close up because she forgot her makeup bag at home.

There are so many hiking trails in the area, but I thought the ones we did provided a good sampling of scenery and views.  Most of them are state run, so remained open during the shutdown.  The first was Cathedral Rock Trail, a short but pretty steep 3/4 mile hike up to the top of what's known as Cathedral Rock, a unique rock formation with nice views. We also went to Red Rock Crossing, where a few feet from the parking lot the river runs in front of a beautiful view of Cathedral Rock, said to be the most photographed view in the state.  We did walk along the river a little here, but as it was pretty flat and forested, so none of the other views were very spectacular.  I think you can access the spot from a few different directions too if you want to hike more (and not pay the entrance fee).

The Cathedral Rock Trail took us to the gap in the rocks on the left

The view of Cathedral Rock from Red Rock Crossing

The last hike we did was called Devil's Bridge.  Because we had a tiny compact, our car wouldn't make it up the road that lead to the trail head, so it was about a mile and a half from the parking lot off the main road to the trail head, and another mile and a half to the main attraction of the hike, a large natural rock arch, although the scenery on the way was pretty nice.

We picked up some more "wilderness survival tips" at one of the more themey restaurants in town, the Cowboy Club, where they served deep fried prickly pear cactus.  So I figured if we got lost, I could navigate by the starts, and if we found a deep fryer, we could eat cacti.  As far as eating goes, I think the best meal we had was at our hotel restaurant, Hundred Rox (Kimpton restaurants FTW again).  We didn't have time, but if you are going and need a recommendation, the Elote Cafe is supposed to be good too. A hot sauce shop in town, the Jerome Ghost Pepper Company had some great fresh salsas.

The day we drove back to Phoenix, we thought about hiking the Airport Mesa trail, which is supposed to have good views, but we decided stopping along the way for wine tastings sounded better.  So good thing we actually weren't Lewis and Clark because the maps would have only gone as far as one day's worth of hiking.  And without a way to fry the cactus, who know what we would have eaten.

We didn't take the scenic route on the way back, but we did take the wine route!  Go south on 89A to Page Springs Road, where at least three different wineries are all clustered in the middle of the road.  We did a wine tasting and got lunch at our first stop at Javelina Leap Winery.  The guide book mentioned they had tours, which we thought would be fun, especially since we made it right in the middle of the harvesting season.  We were directed to where the owner was sitting at a table in the middle of the outdoor work area and invited to take a seat for the introduction of the tour.  After explaining some background about agriculture, he started pointing to the vats that held the fermenting grapes, the presses on the other side of the patio and the barrels just visible in the room across from us, and then the tour was done.  Mind you, we were sitting in the same place the whole time.  Jason and I thought it was pretty funny, and probably the only one-stop "tour" we've ever been on.

At least we didn't have to go far on the tour at Javelina Leap Winery.  The view from Page Springs Cellars.

The next stop, Oak Creek Vineyards was right next door.  Good thing too, since we were pretty wiped out from that intense tour!  Our favorite vineyard was the last stop, at Page Springs Cellars.  The wines were less expensive and tasted better least to our unsophisticated pallets, plus a shady deck out back overlooked the scenic grape fields.  The guys pouring the tasting were extremely knowledgeable and chatty, which might have been more appreciated if we weren't ready to head back to Phoenix.

So even though we didn't get to see the Grand Canyon, we hope to come back for that in the future.  We both were glad for the unexpected chance to see more of Sedona, and also that we didn't actually have to blaze a wildness trail ourselves.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Should Have Been a Cowboy

"... Should have learned to rope and ride/ Wearing my six-shooter/ Riding my pony on a cattle drive"

That Toby Keith song was going through my head a lot on our recent trip to Arizona because it is so scenic out there that it made me wish I was a cowboy (cowgirl, I guess)! Plus, we rode horses for the first time, so it only fueled my cowboy dreams, while also making it clear that it is only in my dreams that I have the proper horse riding skills.

After our recent city-centric trips, we were itching for something a little more natural and scenic.  A few months ago, we took a night to look at our budget, vacation schedule, and how to use points for free travel, we settled on a trip to see the Grand Canyon.  (PS - most of it we did for free thanks to points.  More on that to come.)  The timing worked out nicely that we could count it as a bit of an anniversary trip, since that was later in the month, and, like most milestones in our family, turned into excuses to celebrate all month.

We flew into Phoenix and stayed that first night in Scottsdale, before driving out to Sedona.  Our plan was to stay in Sedona two nights and drive out to the Grand Canyon during the full day we had there, and then stay in downtown Phoenix before heading home.  The US Government shutdown started the day we left though, which meant that the Grand Canyon was closed.  (They reopened the Grand Canyon during the second week of the shutdown, which meant we basically went at the worst time possible.)  Of course, we didn't know how long the shutdown would last, and with plans and hotel deposits already made, we figured we would still go and make the most of it.

We didn't have a whole lot of time in Scottsdale and Phoenix, but I had borrowed the perfect travel book on Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona from the library and poured through it on the 5 hour plane ride down there.  The guide book, plus recommendations on where to eat from the hotel, gave us more options than we even had time for.

After checking into our hotel in Scottsdale, the Kimpton Firesky, we went down the street for some amazing gourmet tacos at The Mission.  The meat was so flavorful and the perfect place for a romantic date night, though the prices made me glad we had only stopped in for lunch.  Their salsa was also delicious, and this is coming from a person who doesn't eat raw tomatoes (me, that's me).  I also have to mention that I've been on a really awful streak of forgetfulness and while we were in AZ I left my credit card at the restaurant three times.  I had also lost it right before the trip so four times in one week.  One time was at The Mission, and when I called about it later, the person I spoke to, Sam, went above and beyond the call of duty to get it back to me.

Another good meal we had while in Scottsdale was breakfast at Breakfast Club, where the portions were enough for more than one meal.  That's my huevos rancheros with hot sauce in the picture below.  The curious thing about the Breakfast Club was that the wait staff, who happened to be all female, wore yoga/workout type clothing as their uniforms.  I think it made you feel like their breakfast was healthy for you, as if you too had just come from your sunrise yoga class? 

Delicious but small tacos at The Mission and delicious but huge breakfast at the Breakfast Club.

We only had time for a short hike through Papago Park where there is a good view of the city after a short 835 foot climb to Hole-in-the-Rock.  Another top attraction, the Botanical Gardens are also in that park.  If we'd had more time, hikes on Camelback Mountain and walking through Old Town Scottsdale would have been fun.  I also wish we'd had time to take advantage of the hotel bikes for a ride along the Arizona Canal.

The view through hole-in-the-rock - trying to be high tech with my iphone panorama app.
Besides the bikes I mentioned, the Firesky hotel provided excellent transportation options with a free shuttle to anything within 3 miles and free parking.  After acclimating to $40/night DC hotel parking prices and impossible street parking, this was a bit of a wonderful shock.  (Although as an economist, I cringed inwardly thinking of the inefficient results described in the "The High Cost of Free Parking" by Donald Shoup.)

Our time in Sedona deserves its own post, but we hung out there for a few days ten came back to the Phoenix before flying back home.  Back, in Phoenix, there was still more to do than we could fit in.  One of the highlights was riding on horseback for the first time for both of us.  It was just an hour long ride in South Mountain Park, but long enough for me to wish I had brought my faux cowboy boots and hat.  My horse kept wandering off the main trail, lagging behind, and stopping for snacks.  The more experienced riders in the group kept telling me to give her a nudge with my heels to keep her moving, but with tendencies to do the same, I couldn't blame the horse too much.  It also didn't help that the guide kept trying to give me directions in Spanish, so I could only guess as to whether or not I was doing what he said.  I think I'm either supposed to hold the reigns the way he is motioning or he could be saying never to do this as it will get me thrown off the horse.  Jason's first ride fared a little more smoothly though because his horse kept up with the rest of the group, we weren't really close enough to chat during the ride.  Afterwards, since we were in the park, we drove along San Juan Road where we got some more nice views of the city at the end.

Our hotel, the Palomar Phoenix, was about a mile and a half from the arts district downtown, so we were able to easily sample Arizonan culture as well.  We happened to be there for the monthly free admission night at the Phoenix Art Museum, which was my thing, and we also got to see a behind-the-scenes preview at the Arizona Opera, that was Jason's thing.  And yes, we were the only people there under the age of 65.  (Because of the time difference, we also tended to wake up at 6:30 NATURALLY and get tired by 8.  We also hate it when technology changes because it's hard to keep up.  So yeah, it was basically a real-life glimpse of how we will still be doing the exact same thing in 30 years.  Maybe with more prune juice.)

The hotel was also were close enough to walk through Heritage Square, where really, unless you have kids and are going to the museums there, or want to tour the old Victorian-era house that's there, the only reason to go would be Pizzeria Bianco.  The small restaurant (read: go early or prepare to wait) housed a wood burning oven and simple, quality ingredients made it clear why it was recommended.

While in Phoenix, we also ate at Matt's Big Breakfast, where the line is long, and the food was simple and delicious.  We were impressed enough with Pizzeria Bianco, that we got sandwiches for the flight home from sister restaurant, Pane Bianco.  We had a dining credit at the hotel restaurant, The Blue Hound Kitchen, which had some of the best chicken and waffles I think I've ever had.

Of course, we did our best to get in as many tacos as possible.  I basically make tacos every week because I crave cilantro all the time, so being in the southwest was like a food dream come true, because so many good, real (ie: with cilantro and corn tortillas), and cheap tacos were all over the place.  America's Taco Shop had surprisingly good tacos for a local fast food franchise.  A waiter at The Mission told us about the street taco shops he stops at in Scottsdale.  One was Jaylisco Tacos on Thomas, and the other, American Market Place (AMP) was on the corner of 68th and Thomas.  We went to AMP, which totally looked like a cheap convenience store on the corner, but with totally legit tacos at $1.50, it was definitely a highlight of our trip.  We went here the morning we flew home, so the day went something like this: breakfast, pick up sandwiches for flight home, eat tacos, go to airport.  So if it seems like all we did on this trip was eat, that's pretty accurate.

If we had been there longer, I would have loved to check out Taliesin West, which was another Frank Lloyd Wright studio, or the Japanese Friendship Gardens.  Hiking Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve also was on the list of things to do, and is supposed to have good views.  But since the government was still shut down by the end of our trip, Jason and I had to go back to DC and save it.  (Not really, we just sat at home another week and tried to cash in on some shutdown freebies.) 

Farewell, land of beautiful mountains, cowboys, and tacos.  I hope we meet again.  I hope remember my boots.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Deal Alert: Government Shutdown Deals

So begins the second week of government shutdown.  Taking advantage of the deals that have come up because of it are enough to keep a person busy for another week!  That's about the most I'm going to get into politics.  Here are some of my favorite deals:

-Free performance by Ford's Theater tonight at 7:30:
-Free sandwich from Jose Andres for government workers at his restaurants:
-Free admission to the Nation Geographic Museum to federal workers:

-Free admission to the Phillips through Friday, I think for anyone.

-Free glass of sherry at Derek Brown's Mockingbird Hill with federal ID.

For more, this is the most comprehensive list I've found, by the Washington City Paper.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Family Florida Trip/ Goodbye Summer

Now that it is officially fall, I 'm finally getting around to organizing my summer pictures.  Jason and I had the chance to go with my parents and my sister and her family to the St. Peterburg/Tampa area of Florida.  I was so excited because it basically meant a week straight with my cutie niece and nephew, who as you will see from the pictures below, were the major highlight of the trip.  Although the condo itself had a pretty stellar view as seen in that first picture.

We flew down with my sister's family.  To all you traveling parents, flying with kids is no joke.  You are braver than I.  I am just glad we were able to fly with them and that everyone on the plan seemed kind and understanding.  Southwest had direct flights from Baltimore and those free checked bags really came in handy with all the kid-gear.  Once we arrived, it was worth it!  We enjoyed some pretty amazing sunsets, walks on the beach and mossy trees. 

No edits on these sunset pics.  It was just that beautiful.


 And now for some gratuitously cute pictures of my niece and nephew. Jason says I am the president of the Claire fan club.  I think it's true, though I probably share the title with her other aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas.

Goofing around with Pop pop.  Aren't they the cutest?

Isn't she just the cutest?  She loved the water!  There were these tiny mussel/clam type creatures that would wash up on the sand with the waves and then you could watch them dig into the sand.  Claire would see them and yell, "Mussels! Dig! Dig! Dig!" then try to pick them up and throw them in the water.  There was also a pool where she would practice what she learned in swim class: going "unda" water and paddling or as she said, "pado pado."

Not to be outdone by his sister, Dillon is equally as cute.  Poor little man was not made for the sun like his tanned sister though and actually got a bit pink even when sitting under an umbrella all day.  One day a spot around one of his eyes that didn't get enough sunblock turned pink, so he had a pink spot around his eye for a few days, like a puppy with a spot around one eye.  I don't think it really hurt him, so thankfully it was more cute than anything.

One of the few times we weren't spending the day on the beach, the four of us adult kids did some scuba diving.  Although it isn't exactly "tropical," the water was so warm, it's the only time I've ever dove without a wetsuit.  We saw some amazing wildlife, including the Goliath grouper below.  Nature has a way of making you realize how helpless humans actually are, especially when it takes the form of a 500 pound fish swimming towards you. 

It was a little hard to pose in a warm embrace underwater.
Getting up before sunrise was the only downside of the dive, but it sure was beautiful.
For anyone interested, the dive company was Tanks a Lot dive company in Clearwater.  We picked it because it was the closest to where we were staying.  They were friendly, but it was the only time we've been on a dive where they didn't go over safety drills and the dive master wasn't with us the whole time, so it seemed like the perfect company to go with if you are more experienced and want to be on your own.  We are all certified, so know everything in theory, but had a few moments of nervousness since we haven't had much experience. 

We actually stopped at a local restaurant the captain recommended called Frenchy's where we ordered grouper sandwiches, mostly just to try, but also seemed somewhat timely.  (The restaurant was fine, by the way, though didn't blow us away.  I forgot to get the crab soup the captain recommended.  Easy to forget soup in 95 degree weather.) 

All in all, it was a great trip.  We're so grateful to friends who let us use their condo and for the chance we had to enjoy the beach and build some wonderful memories.  Now just 9 more months until next summer.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stuff my Mom Say (or How to Invent Words)

Sometimes I make up words or have unconventional ways of saying real words.  Sometimes I use words my friends' kids make up.  The best though, is using words my mom made up. When it comes to making up words, there are a few basic principles you can follow to be a new-word-inventor in no time.

If word-inventing is new to you, start out by using abbrevs.  That is short for abbreviations.  As in, "I got the hungs.  Are you ready for dins?" This means, "I'm hungry.  Are you ready for dinner?"  The trick is to choose words words that do not make you sound like you are the kind of person that says, "OMG. This cupcake is totes delish."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bathroom Before and After

One of the things that is fun about owning a home is that you can personalize it and make it your own.  Of course, when you are extremely indecisive, this can take a long time and therefore not quite as fun.  I spent months and month looking at paint samples, deciding on a "color-scheme" for our house and then finally finding the time to actually use the paint.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

In the Kitchen: Mushroom Veloute

You know that line in "You've Got Mail" about the fall?  "Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."  That is exactly how I feel about fall with the cool spell we got last week.  I want to smell that newly sharpened pencil bouquet, eat pumpkin flavored food, and wear sweaters around a bonfire.  Except it's not quite cold out.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Chicago Pt 3: What We Ate

The belated third and final installment of our trip to Chicago this past May.  Here's what we did and where we stayed.  I put so much planning into eating that it deserved it's own post.  Feel free to move on to something more interesting (ie: watching paint dry, peeling carrots, etc.).

Confession: sometimes when traveling, I am way more concerned about what we will eat than what we will do.  The Chicago trip we did earlier this year was so so long ago, but I figured since most of my planning was dedicated to meals, I'd share our experience, as well as my list of restaurant recommendations.   (I am a nerd.  This is a spreadsheet compiling recommendations from a few of my favorite sources, to which I added my own ranking based on how many lists the restaurant was on.)

So yes, I was that person at restaurants taking pictures of food when it came.  Jason is amazing that he patiently waited for me to get the right focus/lighting/iphone shot while his food got cold.  When did this become normal?  How did our country become so concerned with food?  And does anyone really want to know what we ate?  Here it is!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


"I want you to be the last person I see every night, and the first person I see every morning."

With that he gets off the bench and on one knee in front of me and fishes something sparkly out of his pocket.  It's getting dark, but my eyes are so watery I can't see it clearly anyway.

"I know you wanted me to wait, but I can't wait any longer.  Will you marry me?"

The tears are running down my face now.  "Yes!"

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bad Times at Good Stuff

When it comes to being out and about, especially when traveling, I consider myself pretty aware of my surroundings.  Maybe even slightly paranoid.  Paranoid as in: I lock the doors to the car when I go inside to unload groceries in case someone walking by tries to run away with my Costco bundle of toilet paper. (Since that's so easy to run away with!) 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The City of Brotherly Love... and Hotel Love

I promise you, I do not work for Kimpton. (I did look into one of their job postings for a media coordinator. I didn’t think checking Instagram every ten minutes is quite what they meant by 2-3 years marketing experience.) Nor do they give me anything other than what any other loyalty member gets. I just wanted to clarify since Kimpton hotels seem to be the only thing I can talk about recently. Today is no exception.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Maximum Utility: Interesting Articles + a Dash of Thought

(The economic unit for measuring preferences or satisfaction is utility.  Each person's preferences are different, but here are a few things that have been impacting my utility lately.)

A few weeks ago, I lamented to Jason that I no longer recognize most of the names in the lineup at the 9:30 club, likely DC’s best-known music venue.  I’m just not the music fan I used to be.  Back in the day, I’d have concerts on the calendar, knew a lot of the obscure bands, and had the perfect song for every moment playing on my first generation iPod.  Over the past few years though, music has taken a back seat.  It could be that I’m not full of angst or crying over boys or doing anything else that requires having the same emo song on repeat.  Instead of hanging out with musicians, I’m married to a guy whose last music purchase was over a year ago.  It was classical music.  I rarely drive now, so I never hear new music on the radio, and contrary to my college-years, I can’t think with too much noise in the background, so often go days without signing into Pandora or iTunes. Now I’m so out of the music loop, and I’m ok with that. 

So that’s why this article was interesting to me: "Are Foodies Quietly Killing Rock-and-Roll" by Chris Richards in May 10’s Washington Post.  An excerpt: 

"Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of the foodie class and decline of the record industry. Are the two related? When did we start talking about new food trucks instead of new bands? When did the line outside El Centro D.F. taqueria get longer than the line outside the Black Cat? Is $8 a reasonable price for an order of duck fat french fries just because we can stream our music for free on Spotify?... [F]ood culture isn’t linking arms with rock-and-roll so much as replacing it."

I wouldn’t consider myself a “foodie,” but we definitely love food.  And the article sure provided some “food” for thought.  (Groan!)

The next two articles also came out a while ago, and I've been stewing on them both lately because they both have to do with two of the affects social media can have on us. The first article is “Instagram's Envy Effect” by Karen Russell for Relevant magazine:

"I’m not anti-technology or anti-Internet, certainly, but I do think it’s important for us to remind ourselves from time to time that watching other peoples’ post-worthy moments on Facebook is always going to yield a prettier version of life than the one you’re living right now. That’s how it works."

It seems like her point is that prettied-up versions of what we see of people's lives can often make us envious and erodes community. I know I've seen a lot of other blog posts that are almost "confession-like" as writers try to connect with readers by admitting their lives are not just a slew of one perfectly curated images after another. It's a good reminder. It doesn't take more than a few minutes of scrolling through my blog reader before I start envying someone else's job or house or wardrobe or whatever. Throw in more pretty things I don't have or places I haven't been showing up on pinterest and instagram and I-need-to-have-it-too-and-it-doesn't-matter-that-I-already-had-x-y-or-z! No matter how many blogs or magazines I purposely don't read, it's so easy to compare myself and feel dissatisfied when I don't measure up, however realistic that comparison is.

And here's the thing, oh Internet readers, I don't want to do that to you. I think to some extent, Jason and I are aware that God blesses us in ways we don't deserve, and we truly try to be thankful for that. We also know that a lot of the traveling we do fits into this period of our lives, but won't be like this for long. I don't want to create “instagram-envy” or glamorize our lives or turn this into a brag. 

On the other hand, if I'm keeping it real, a lot in our life right now is really awesome. Blogging about trips or fun things we do is my way of remembering it for myself, sharing with friends who really want to know, and sharing the knowledge I've gained on the way. I'm a nerd, so it really helps me to plan when I hear a lot of detail about someone else's experience, which is my motivation to do the same.

This article, “Please Continue Instagramming Your Amazing Life,” kind of described the positive effects of hearing about other people's amazing adventures: it can inspire you to do the same, resulting in actually building community based on shared interest:

"Are we really comparing our lives to those of our 'friends' online? Do we do the same thing in person? Do you hang up the phone after catching up with a friend and say 'I hate her. Her life is so perfect.'? Well. I’m a big fan of social media. I like to know when friends find places that make them feel awesome, or do things they’re excited to share, or find joy anywhere."

I like this perspective, because it reminds me that sometimes others actually do want to hear about the stuff I'm excited about too. Recently, a friend asked why I hadn't instagrammed more pictures of a trip we just got back from. It made me realize that I often assume friends don't want to know when they actually do.

So with that, enjoy your weekend enjoying music or food and instagram it.. or don't cause I'll get jealous!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Chicago Pt 2: Where We Stayed

I will just start out by saying, my husband is very patient with me.  I think he was a little distracted when I asked him if he'd mind switching hotels every night when I planned our trip to Chicago a few months ago.  I had a good reason, of course, to get free stuff, and thankfully the hotels were so close to each other it was actually really easy.  So now that we did that, I kind of feel like I need to do a little report on all those hotels.  This will probably only be interesting if you are going to Chicago and need a recommendation on where to stay or like pretty hotel pictures.

Let me just back up a bit.  Part of the reason we decided to go to Chicago was that our new favorite hotel chain, Kimpton, has a few properties there.  When Jason was gone for work earlier this year, he signed up for the loyalty program of the hotel chain where he stayed.  (What a good husband.  He knows how much I love capitalizing on any travel perks, so signed up while he was there.  He also brings home hotel toiletries for me.  Two months worth of hotel toiletries!)  He was there enough nights that he achieved higher "status."  One of the nice things about Kimpton is that if you have status with another hotel chain, they will match that status by letting you into their "Inner Circle," something you normally get after 15 stays or 45 nights with them. 

Anyone can join their loyalty program, In Touch, which gets you free wi-fi and a mini-bar snack.  It's just once you stay enough times that you get to be part of the Inner Circle.  Inner Circle Perks include complimentary nights at their new properties, room upgrades, plus a welcome gift of your favorite snacks (chocolates, fruit, and even some wine - heck yeah).  There are four different Kimpton hotels in Chicago, so because they were all within a ten minute walk of each other, and because we are a little crazy, we (if you could call asking Jason a question while distracted "we") decided we'd try a new hotel every night.  All the bouncing around got us a free night since their "Passport Rewards" program, gets you free nights based on how many properties you stay at, in addition to their normal rewards.  Just Another Points Traveler has a good write up explaining the whole program here.  So without further ado, here are the Kimpton Chicago hotels:

Nicest Room: Hotel Allegro

The first Kimpton hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Allegro.  It was a great location, actually all the Kimpton hotels were very conveniently located within a block or two of the L.  We got upgraded to a King Suite after only booking the most basic room.  I think the hotel room was as big as our house or at least was the biggest hotel room we've ever stayed in. 

The lobby was beautiful and pretty spacious, which made it a perfect place to hang out during their complimentary happy hour (definitely another reason this is my favorite hotel chain).  The jacuzzi tub made it tempting to skip out on the sights entirely. 

Closest to the River: Hotel Monaco

These rooms were pretty small, so I forgot to take many other pictures, however, there was a reason real estate was so sparse: the hotel was right on the river. We had some great views in the evenings looking over the water from the window of our room.

The staff at the Monaco were extremely friendly, and there was a couch type thing overlooking the window, which was nice.  The rest of the room was so small though, it just wasn't our favorite.

Best View: Hotel Burnham

According to the staff, the building the hotel is in was the first skyscraper in the city.  It been renovated to looked it did when originally built as an office building, so the door to your room looked like a door to an office.  We got upgraded to a corner room with a view of Millennium Park in one direction and State Street in the other.  The bathroom was pretty small and basic.  Located close to an L station, we heard the hotel restaurant was good, but never actually ended up eating there.

The lobby here was the smallest, making it less comfortable to hang out for wine hour, and the elevators were really small.  We just took our wine back up to our room though, where we could enjoy the view that made it Jason's favorite hotel.

Most Modern & Nicest Bathroom: Hotel Palomar

This hotel was in one of the really big high rises on the north side of the river, so I think if we had been in a room on one of the higher floors it would have been even more scenic than it already was.  We really liked our "welcome snack," huge jacuzzi tub, and floor to ceiling windows.  They also had served pizza at wine hour and had a huge lobby with a glass-enclosed fireplace, making it my favorite.  (I am easily bribed with food.)

It was super funny checking into all these places since our reservations noted the "Inner Circle" status.  It seemed like most of the staff at all the hotels really went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and happy, more so it seemed than if we were normal guests.  It was funny to us because neither of us every received special attention anywhere before.  Back to reality at home, there were no wines or chocolates waiting for us, no one to welcome us by name.  At least I have enough hotel shampoos I'll get to enjoy a little sliver of hotel life for another few days.. or maybe weeks in my case!

(All opinions are my own.  I was not comped or paid by Kimpton in any way.)