Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays!!!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Hanukkah and a very Merry Christmas to the rest of you this week!  December was a whirlwind for us - lots of work (did you hear about the emergency EVA the astronauts on the ISS had to perform this week?  Oh, and while we're talking space, how about SpaceX sticking that amazing booster landing last night?!?), more wedding prep, TONS of baking (I made 12 dozen chocolate chip cookies this holiday season, no joke...), gift shopping, and get-togethers with friends and family.  It's been fun, but we're definitely looking forward to laying low and just relaxing a bit over this next week and a half.

Happy Holidays to all and a very Happy New Year! 

(picture here)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Playing Catch Up

Wow, so it's already been over a month since my last post.  I'm totally failing at this whole blogging thing lately.  Last post (posted in late October) was covering things that happened all the way back in July, so I'm only about 4 months behind, which is just pitiful.  Devoting full posts to all of the major events over the last few months just isn't going to happen, especially with the holidays taking up any free time I had leftover after travel, work, dog training, and wedding planning, so here is one big post with just a few quick summaries.  Hopefully this will bring me back up to speed and make me at least a little more likely to keep up with posting from here on out.

I went to a total of 4 weddings this past summer (the first being the one in France), so we did a lot of travelling, mostly to Florida, where the following 3 weddings took place.  The weekend after I got back from France, S took off for a bachelor party in Louisiana, and the weekend after that we had the next two weddings.  Amazingly enough they were both on different nights but in the same general region of Florida - it worked out almost too well.  We flew in late Thursday night and stayed in a hotel near the Tampa airport and the next morning drove down to Sarasota for wedding #1.  Our good friends S and P totally lucked out and the grey, rainy skies parted briefly just in time for their wedding on the beach.  Afterwards they had an intimate dinner for their guests at a delicious Italian restaurant and we finished up the night at the hotel bar.  It was a lovely evening and we couldn't be happier for them!

The following morning we hit the road again and drove up to St. Petersburg for our second wedding of the weekend.  We checked into a sweet little airbnb rental and changed our clothes and then headed out the door to see our friends J and M get married in a lovely church.  Between the ceremony and the reception we had some free time, so we checked out 2 of the local St. Petersburg breweries with a few of our other friends before we headed over to the yacht club for some food, drinks and dancing!  Afterwards we hit up a few more bars in downtown St. Pete with our friends - definitely a fun day!

Since S and I hadn't spent much quality time with eachother in about a month due to all of the traveling we'd both been doing (but mostly me), we decided to take an extra day off of work so we could stay in the Tampa area, explore a bit, and relax.  We slept in a bit on Sunday and then met up with a couple of our friends at Cigar City Brewing for lunch and a few beers before they caught their flights home.  That afternoon we went to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Pete and then drove south to check out Darwin Brewing Co in Bradenton (S tried a LOT of new beers on this trip...)  The next morning we slept in again, snagged some pastries for breakfast, and then walked a block to the Chihuly Collection glass art museum, which was breathtaking - we would highly recommend it if you're in the St. Pete area.  Our only regret was that we went on Monday, because it's the only day that they don't also offer a tour of their glassblowing studio!  After the museum we drove into the Ybor City area of Tampa for lunch at the famed Columbia Restaurant where we gorged on bean soup, their famous salad, and Cuban sandwiches - yum!  We had extra time after lunch and before our flight home, so we just went to a book store and read and relaxed.  It was the perfect way to end our trip!
We were home for a few weeks then, during which we worked on training intensively with the pup at the local dog park.  The improvements have been amazing, though we still have a little ways to go.  I'm currently training with her once a week now.
Our next trip was to Destin, Florida for wedding #4, S's brother!  We stayed in an airbnb rental with S's parents and his aunts and uncle.  It was another weekend where the weather was grey and rainy and gross, so we didn't get to spend much time outside at the beach or the pool.  However, the weather amazingly shaped up just in time for the beach wedding.  K and Y got married in a small ceremony on the beach and then we spent the rest of the evening in a small banquet room at the hotel across the street, noshing, drinking, and putting on funny photo booth props with the kids!
The next weekend I flew home to Chicago to help my mom throw a bridal shower for my future sister-in-law B.  We spent the first morning cooking up a storm to get food ready for the party and then we headed to my mom's best friend's house to decorate.  The bridal shower wound up being a lot of fun, it was great to see family and old friends.
Unfortunately the fun was sort of short lived as my dad and a couple of his friends and brothers had been moving all of the remaining furniture, boxes, and general stuff out of my parents house and into their new rental house in town.  My parents had sold the house and the new owners were taking possession the following week.  So we helped load up cars and empty out the house.  I was doing just fine until I stood for the last time in my (then empty) childhood bedroom and realized it was the last time I would ever see it.  I lost it at that point.  This picture is the last time I left the house I grew up in...
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of housework and social events.  S tore out the dilapidated floor in our guest bathroom and worked so hard on replacing it with the gorgeous black and white tiles you see above.  I love it.  We had dinners out with friends, talked to retirees at the retirement home my aunt works at about what it's like to be an engineer on the space program, got engaged, took an Aerial Yoga class together, started wedding planning (finding a venue was the biggest pain in the ass), went on a pub crawl, attended a Beer and Cheese pairing event at St. Arnold's Brewery, helped some friends move, celebrated another friend's 30th bday, had a visitor, held our annual Oktoberfest party, celebrated S's birthday, and went to Halloween parties.

We had a lot going on around Halloween,  The parties started 2 weeks before the end of the month with a costume party and a pumpkin carving party the following week (we got super space-nerdy with our pumpkins!).  My brother J was actually in town Halloween weekend.  He got in that Thursday and so I took off of work on Friday and took him on a space center tour, hit up Killens for some awesome Texas BBQ, and then S joined us that evening for a few beers at 8th Wonder Brewery and then dinner out with some friends at the original Ninfas on Navigation.  We made sure to give J the full Houston experience!  The next morning (Halloween day) the weather was cruddy, so instead of braving the storms, we stayed in and had a breakfat taco and bloody mary brunch at home.  J was supposed to fly home that night, but his flight got cancelled last minute (as in we'd already driven the 45 minutes to the airport to drop him off), so he grabbed some of his tennis clothes from the back seat and we dragged him to 2 more Halloween parties with us.  I know he was bummed that he had to miss work the next day, but we were psyched to get to spend a bit more time with him!  The next day we drove him to the airport and then headed to a friend's house for a grilled cheese party (best idea ever...).  It was delicious!

The next weekend we went to a friend's son's 2nd birthday party at the zoo.  And then the weekend after that we were Chicago bound again, this time for OUR bridal shower!  We flew in late on Friday night and then the following morning the girls kicked the guys out of the house and I tried on 12 wedding dresses I'd ordered online and had sent to my parents' place.  My mom, sister in law J, future sister in law B, and best friend K were all there and they helped me pick out my wedding dress!  That afternoon my parents threw us a co-ed party at their friends' house. It was fun to have S there with me to meet all of my parent's friends, get to know family a little better, and open our gifts.  Our friends and family were so wonderful and generous, and it was just so much fun to get to spend time with them all!  The next day B and J had to catch early flights home, and then S and I spent the rest of the day with my parents in the city.  We returned a few of the dresses I hadn't picked, checked out Mario Batali's Eataly shop/restaurant, and ordered ties for S, his groomsmen, and our officiants.  The next morning my mom and S helped me mail back the rest of the dresses and then we went on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House on the south side of the city.  After lunch my mom dropped us off at the orange line and made our way to the airport and then back to Houston.
The next weekend we did our yearly trek to the Texas Renaissance Festival, northwest of the city.  We camped out the night before with a few friends, checked out the new Masquerade Ball, and drank plenty of hot toddies nex tto he fire.  The next day we packed up our supplies and then spent some time in the festival, gorging on kettle corn, hot chocolate, spiced nuts, and stew filled bread bowls.  I also splurged this year and got a henna tattoo on my hand!
 And finally we're almost caught up!!!  Last weekend was Thanksgiving and we drove up to the Tyler, TX area to spend the holiday with a big group of S's family.  His aunt and uncle hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and I got to meet a whole slew of new cousins and kids that I hadn't met yet.  S's parents and brother and his family drove up as well, in addition to a few other aunts and cousins from the Houston area that I had met before.  We at a lot of delicious food, played with babies, played hide and seek and some board games with the kids, and had some great conversations.  S and I opted to spend the night at his aunt and uncle's place and the next day we got to hang out with them and their family a bit more - get to know them better.  We played a rainy game of disc golf with S's cousins and their wives, and then in the afternoon I helped out with a fun holiday craft project.  We drove home after dinner that night so we could get stuff done around the house the rest of the weekend - our to-do lists have been rather intimidating lately between the holidays and the wedding.

So I think that's it for now.  Next up, holiday parties, lots of baking, a friend's baby's 1st birthday party, and celebrating the holidays with family!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

France Trip Part 3 - Paris!

Sorry this post has taken so long, but there is a lot to write about Paris!  I actually contemplated breaking it into two separate posts, but then I got in a groove and just started writing and it all managed to fit into one (barely...)  So after our driving tour of the Burgundy region, K and I drove over to Vernon, a small town about an hour west of Paris, to crash for the night.  The next morning we woke up and headed straight to Monet's Garden's at Giverny in hopes of beating the crowds.

We didn't really beat the crowds and spent a good chunk of our time weaving in and out of the many Asian tourists , but crowds aside it was a beautiful spot and I can see why Monet would find the area so inspiring.  Just outside of Giverny were beautiful rolling hills and picturesque trees and homes dotted the view.  On our drive to the Paris airport to return our rental car we also happened upon a random, quirky sculpture on the side of the road paying homage to the area's artists.
Returning the rental car was much more difficult than we expected because we drove into the airport on a non-standard road after stopping to get gas and there were NO signs for rental car return.  We drove around for at least half an hour before K ran into one of the many terminals we'd driven past multiple times to ask for help.  That plus the traffic going into the city made for a rather stressful afternoon.  So to ease our stress, we immediately set out after checking into our airbnb rental to explore the Montmartre area we were staying in!  We took a quick peek into the neighboring and expansive Montmartre Cemetery, swung by the Moulin Rouge, walked up to the Sacre Couer Basilica for an amazing view, and checked out the Salvador Dali Museum.

We got a quick dinner at a random restaurant we found and then spent the rest of the night at a movie theater watching a local (read: amateur) French film.  The next morning was perhaps the most enjoyable part of our trip.  K signed us up for a French cooking class!!!  We met up in the oldest open air market in Paris with the rest of our classmates (there were 12 of us) and our instructor where we decided real time what foods we would make based on what foods were seasonal and available at the market.  The class voted and settled on a melon and fennel salad appetizer topped with hard boiled quail eggs and a citrus vinaigrette, seared duck breasts in a fig sauce with roasted carrots and onions and a celery root mash, and a desert of fresh berries topped with a pistachio whipped cream and pistachio brittle.  We got to participate in all aspects of the cooking and yes, it most certainly was as delicious as it sounds!

I'm getting hungry just looking at those pictures again.  I made the dinner and desert portions for S after I returned from the trip and I'm planning on making them again for my family when I go home to Florida for the winter holidays, but I'm thinking I may have to sneak it in again sometime before then too...  After we left the class, completely and happily stuffed from our amazing lunch, we swung by a food shop the instructor had suggested to us to stock up on specialty French culinary supplies (I had to hold myself back.  Best purchase by far was the pistachio paste used to make the pistachio whipped cream.)  And then we headed over toward the Louvre.  We didn't go in as neither of us wanted to be crammed shoulder to shoulder with other tourists jostling to see the Mona Lisa and we didn't really have time to check out even a small portion of the rest of the art.  But I did want to see the famous pyramid outside of the museum and there also happened to be a fair going on at the time in the Tuileries Garden so we meandered through that area and also took a ferris wheel ride!

That night we were supposed to have yet another cooking event that K had discovered through a website called EatWith.com where a local with some sort of cooking chops will cook a dinner for guests in their own home.  It exists all over the world and we were so excited to try it out for the first time in Paris.  Unfortunately that wound up falling through because of a miscommunication in the date.  We were pretty bummed, so we tried to check out a hip Parisian restaurant that was recommended to us, which was of course completely booked.  So we tried one other place that also didn't work before resigning ourselves in extreme hunger to a local American-style cafe that we were passing by.  Oh well.  At least we had an amazing lunch!  We ended the night with some rose wine (from the bottle!) on the Pont Neuf bridge while we watched the Eiffel Tower light show!

We also made up for it the following day by hitting up another local fresh-air market and eating bread and cheese for brunch.  On our way to the river to eat it we walked through a huge garden with some of the most unique flowers I've ever seen!  Once we finally found our way through, we snagged a bench overlooking the Seine and dug into our haul from the market.  It was SOOO good...

From then on it was a day of exploring!  We wandered through the Jewish quarter, got some amazing ice cream, bought souveniers, had an afternoon cocktail at a cafe and people watched, and went on a boat tour of Paris!

 That evening we hunted down a cafe for dinner where K finally found her elusive Salad Nicoise, which we both ordered with a foie gras appetizer to share.  And we ended the evening with a hunt for some French wine.  We wound up finding a shop that offered wine tastings from these snazzy little machines and hung out there for about an hour, tasting to our hearts content, before leaving with a few bottles of wine and heading back to our apartment.
The next morning we caught a shuttle to the airport and started the journey back to the states.  As usual, it was an amazing vacation with K and I eagerly look forward to our next!