Chicago

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I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Chicago, my first time! The day of travel would have been just fine if the plane actually took off and arrived at the gate when it was supposed to, however we had a lot of down time on the tarmac. Dinner reservations were at 8:45 that night so we went straight to the room and back out into the city in search of the restaurant.

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard was a must do. Unfortunately her flagship restaurant The Girl and the Goat was booked out until November so we decided to try her Asian restaurant Duck Duck Goat. “Reasonably authentic Chinese Food” is what the waiters say when they greet you at the table. The place was buzzing for a late Thursday evening. The space was tight and the volume loud. Sitting almost too close for comfort next to other diners, we ordered off of the “chef recommended” menu. I only have a couple pictures since the lighting wasn’t doing me any favors.

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We started off with the wood fired duck hearts.  The were tender, smoky and served on a creamy bed of garlic aioli. Delicious.

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Along with those we ordered the duck spring rolls, braised pork belly and ended with the   char siu bao. The bao dough was probably the best I have ever had, so light and fluffy. It was all really good. Happy with our decision we moseyed on closer to the hotel to meet a friend for a drink.

The next day we walked out on the river and hopped in a water taxi toward Willis tower.

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Not wanting to wait in line for the sky view we kept on walking to Union Station where I had my first Chicago dog.

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I’ll come clean, I don’t really like hot dogs. I felt that I had to try it and see what all the fuss was about. Eh, it tasted like a hot dog that had too much stuff on it. I won’t need another one.

The rain started to arrive as we were along the riverwalk so we tucked into a winery for a couple glasses of wine. I really dig the vibe of the river front, I can see spending warm afternoons out there listening to music and people watching.

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Cold and ready for a hot shower we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner numero dos.

Reservations weren’t until later that evening so we started at a speakeasy bar called Brando’s. Remembering I am too old for crowds, we weren’t sure if we would be able to stand the elbow to elbow nowhere to sit room. However the happy hour prices and delicious dirty martinis swayed us to fight the sporadic nudges of the flannel wearing strangers. Then a barstool opened up and we made ourselves comfortable until dinner.

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Rick Bayless, he’s my favorite . He was who graced the screens of my early culinary classes and whom I grew to admire years after. Eating at his restaurant Frontera Grill was the first thing that came to my mind when I decided to finally see Chicago. I wish I had a better experience to share but it was just very underwhelming.

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We started with pork tamales and tamarind margaritas. Both were just OK. I’ve had much better in San Diego and our waiter was less than gracious.

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The entrees were molé enchiladas and a fish dish. The fish was better than the enchiladas. If you want really really good Molé Enchiladas head to El Comal or JV’s tacos in San Diego. Can’t be beat.

The best thing we had were probably the plantains, they could have stood to cook a little longer but dipped in crema and molé they were pretty darn good.

 

Unsatisfied we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.

I had the next day solo, so after lounging in bed with multiple cups of coffee I ventured out. I walked down to Navy Pier and had a mango smoothie along the water. I had some company stop by.

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I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the afternoon so I just started walking along the lake.

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So unreal, just breathtaking! Are we sure this is a lake?

I found myself not far from Lincoln park, I decided that would be my destination and a place to stop for lunch.

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I found a little restaurant outside the Lincoln Park zoo that suited my needs. A glass of rosé and a sandwich. The wind picked up and my toes were going numb, yes I wore flip flops, duh!

I also found that cabs were much easier than ride shares out there, do you guys agree?

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Back at the hotel I poured a big glass of Syrah and submerged myself in a piping hot bath. We were invited to an event at the House of Blues later that night, so with time to kill we went to the hotel bar for a bite to eat and a drink.

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The short trip ended with an open bar, live music, late night pizza and amazing company!

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It was a perfect little getaway. I love being in a new place, it’s one of my most favorite things. Like any place, I could have used a couple more days. If I ever get back there, I have a list ready!

 

 

 

Weekend at the Lake

We decided to spend Memorial weekend up at Lake Arrowhead. It has been over a year since we were last up there and now that Averi is a bit older and a tad easier, we thought….why not?

We rented the same VRBO that suited our needs perfectly last time. Plenty of rooms, a fire place and a nice deck with a hot tub.

Once we hit our first destination on the mountain, Lou Eddies Pizza, Kaili hopped out of the truck and threw up. We high fived her for making it to the top and saving us a huge mess to clean up.

After a few sips of 7-up, she was ready for pizza.

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Full on delicious pizza, we checked into our rental, unloaded ALL of our stuff (crazy the amount of stuff we need for just a few days) and hit the store.

Then it was time to play.

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We wandered around the Village and stopped at a new Tap Room for a couple of coconut margs and snacks for the girls.

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It was absolutely beautiful up there.

Dinner was enjoyed on our patio. Grilled rib-eyes and wine, while the girls splashed in the hot tub.

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After bath and pajamas, we indulged in S’mores while the sun went down.

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The next morning we woke up and headed out for a hike to “Heart Rock”.  We had zero phone service by the time we got to where we thought the beginning of the trail was but it turned out we were in the wrong spot. Luckily other people were in the same predicament and working together, finally managed to find where we needed to be. Unfortunately, Averi decided she was done with nature and her mood went to shit.

There were loads of Ladybugs all over the place, to the point where it was actually making my skin crawl.

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About a 1/4 mile up the trail Averi had given up and I had to carry her. I wanted to throw in the towel and just let Shane and Kaili finish it,  but Shane talked me into continuing. We took turns carrying the little terrorist to the end. We didn’t really get to explore the waterfall or the heart shape rock since the girls were well, you know.

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Kaili did a great job and had a lot of fun, that is until I told her I wanted to take her picture. Tell me how you really feel Kaili.

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Shane carried Averi all the way back to the paved road where she managed to use her two feet to make it to the truck.

We were all famished and ready for lunch so we stopped at a highly recommended Mexican spot that sits cliffside the mountain. The food was really good as were the views.

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After lunch, Averi’s mood lifted so we headed down to the village for some play time.

The girls finally got to go on a few the rides, something we have been hearing about nonstop since we arrived.

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The pirate ship was the clear favorite.

Then it was our turn, we sat outside and had margaritas while the girls had ice cream.

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We wandered up to the grocery store for some goodies to build a charcuterie board for dinner.

Once the girls were down for the night, we sat outside enjoying our meal when a visitor let himself into our yard.

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We tried calling the number on his tag but no one answered. Shane said he remembered seeing this dog the last time we were here so while he walked down to that house, Zuess and I enjoyed some cured meats. Then he was happily reunited with his owners.

Sunday morning after some espresso’s made with my new Staresso, which I LOVE, we went back down to the lake for lunch.

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We shared some appetizers and a few cocktails, which were all really good.

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A neighbor of the house we were staying at invited us to a block party later that afternoon. It was an interesting group of people and after an hour or so of chatting, we had had enough and decided to head back to the house to try and eat up some leftovers.

Before heading home Monday morning, we took once last glimpse of the lake. We left beautiful weather and headed back into town welcomed by a grey sky and cooler weather.

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It’s always a good time up there and I am ooking forward to enjoying a Christmas in Lake Arrowhead some time in the future.

Little Getaways

Kaili had this week off of school for Spring break and instead of us sitting around the house we joined Shane for a week in Oxnard, Ca.

We left Sunday early in the day and made a pit stop in Irvine for a visit with family before making our way up to Malibu. The drive along the coast up there is just breathtaking. We stopped at Paradise Cove for lunch. With tables in the sand and amazing views, you really do feel like you’ve reached Paradise.

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We easily devoured a bottle of Cakebread 2012 Merlot for a very reasonable price considering where we were. It’s hard to beat sitting on the beach with a good drink while the kids are entertaining themselves in mother natures playground. The food was underwhelming, which seems to be a reoccurring theme for us lately but the atmosphere made up for it.

dThe last leg of the drive was an easy one and we got to the hotel by check in time. Our room that was supposed to be ready, wasn’t, and being a Hilton Honors member we got upgraded to an ocean view suite. Still full from lunch we decided to skip dinner and just go with happy hour beverages. We watched the sun set on the balcony before tucking in for the night.

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Shane still had to work so the girls and I were on our own for most of the days.  We played at the beach in the mornings and then spent the afternoons at the pool.

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One day I brought my book down thinking I might be able to read a chapter and then I laughed and laughed and laughed at myself.

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We would meet Shane at happy hour in the evenings and then head into town for dinner. We had some very good steamed mussels at la Petit Cafe in the harbor, after we managed to make it back to the hotel bar to catch most of the USMNT soccer match. The girls ate ice cream on the floor, we had some wine, it was perfect.

We also found a good Mexican spot in Oxnard called Cabo Seafood grill and Cantina and everyone was happy with their meal, a rarity these days.

Thursday morning we took one last dip in the hot tub before packing up for the drive home.

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The hotel service wasn’t as good as it should be for a pricey resort but overall the stay was very nice. One of my favorite things is being able to hear the waves crashing from the couch as the ocean breeze blows through the room.

Kaili was complaining of an earache on the drive home and Averi was super tired and cranky. Turns out K had swimmers ear but luckily we caught it fast and she’s good as new now.

Little getaways like these are just what the doctor ordered.

Thanksgiving and Homebound

We had a very nice and low key holiday. I don’t know why I say “low key” because there were 17 of us but since the kids were so entertained it felt, well calm.

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The girls had so much fun with their cousins, it’s too bad we don’t live closer.

No one went hungry. We had Brie en croute and plenty of snacks,  ham, turkey, all the side dishes and a plethora of desserts which I couldn’t even manage to eat until late that night.

I didn’t take any food pictures which is very odd and I have no excuses.

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We  woke up way too early the next morning to hit the road, home bound. We drove from 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night, went through five states and saw much of nothing but the girls did amazingly well considering. A good book doesn’t hurt either.

imageWe stopped for the night in Bishop, Ca. Luckily there was a Holiday Inn express with one room left that suited our needs. Once we were checked in we headed to a small Italian place for a decent pizza and then to bed so we could do it all over again But since we went so far the first day, the second day was much shorter. We pulled into San Diego by lunchtime.

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Wine About It

We spent most of the day wandering from winery to winery. Downtown Walla Walla is basically one after the other, the only problem  is deciding which ones to skip. You could easily wine taste for days just downtown.

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We started the trip with a list of wineries we haven’t been to so we could try some new wines.  Some were great, some too expensive and a few just amazing.

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K Vitners, also known as Charles Smith has  very good wine, especially their Syrah’s.

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We headed to the airport to try a few new ones and revisit an old favorite.

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Of course we had to pop into Sleight of Hands since we are members.

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And luckily two of the wineries we are always hoping to visit but are always closed were open.

Va Piano was a great experience. Not only did they have playmates for the girls,

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we met the winemaker. He gave us a taste of his Rose out of the barrel and although it wont be ready for months is was already delicious, all of his wines were five star.

We got to visit the cellar and witness the aftermath of a wedding proposal.

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Hard to follow that but we still tried. Dusted Valley had some above decent wines and a large lot for the girls to run around.

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We have done some pretty good damage in the wine department.

On the Road Again

I pulled Kaili out of school a tad early so we could hit the road, destination Walla Walla.  The girls did good, better than I expected to be honest. After a pretty decent dinner in Stockton, we finished up the days drive in Dixon, a town outside of Sacramento. It was 8:30 p.m by the time we were all ready for bed and the girls crashed without a peep.

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Dinner at Harvest Moon, Stockton, Ca.

After a quick hotel breakfast we were back on the road again by 8:00 a.m. It was a long day in the car and the weather wasn’t great. We saw Mount Shasta and a few beautiful rainbows but besides that our sights were set on Newport, Oregon.

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We hoped to get there while there was still daylight but by the time we checked in to our hotel and made it down to the bay front for dinner, it was pitch dark outside. Dinner was good, we have been wanting to try Mo’s for a long time, it was fun to check that box.

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Too cold and dark to walk around, so we went back to the room to get the girls and myself in bed. I fell asleep before 8:00 p.m.

Kaili woke up around 6:00 a.m so we had an early start to the day. With cheese and ice cream on the mind, we made our way to the Tillamook factory. Kaili seemed to enjoy watching the cheese packaging process and pretending to milk the fake cow. Averi was just enjoying being out of the car and neither of them seemed to care about the cheese. We were disappointed to find out the cafe was only serving breakfast since we had our minds set on grilled cheese, so we settled for ice cream instead.

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The only other stop we planned on before arriving in Walla Walla was Multnomah falls.  It was a perfect spot for a bathroom break and a stretch of the legs.

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On the third day and the final stretch  of the trip, Averi decided to give into a nap. It was bliss.

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We made our arrival into the town and conveniently drove by one of the wineries we are members of, so of course we had to stop.

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It’s good to be here and it’s good not having to get back into the car for another day of driving tomorrow. Maybe wine tasting downtown instead.

 

Closing Time

“Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Closing time
Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer.
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

It’s amazing how fast two weeks can go by.

We woke up Sunday morning and ate whatever was still in our fridge for breakfast. Thinking it was a good time for a second go at faceTime, we called the girls. Even though we were coming home in a few days Kaili still took it hard and it was a sad moment.

To shake the sadness, I  packed up the essentials and headed down to the pool, Shane soon followed.

After a few hours of relaxation and a slightly darker tan we slipped into the bar for lunch. Since it was Sunday most of the restaurants offered the national dish of Brazil, Feijoada on their menu. Shane wasn’t being a team player, he got the host to put on American football and ordered a hamburger…side eye… but he promised to help me a little with my order, since it’s meant to be shared. I jumped in head first to my delicious lunch and it was probably the best meal I had. Although, my mom can give them a run for their money.

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After lunch we met  Cathy and Patti at their place, not far up the road for a car to drive us to Maracana stadium. Apparently the drive to opening ceremonies was a long haul due to traffic and closed roads, this time the driver to precautions and we went through the mountains and Favelas to get there, it worked out great. We had time for a snack and then we made our way to the stadium.

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This was a sight to see and a pretty special place for me to walk into. The turnout of people was pretty spectacular.

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The athletes came in and took their spots and then the show began.

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The show started out strong but I have to say that after London, I am not sure anything can compare. Once the semantics were over, the party began. It was a concert for the Cariocas, which was awesome for them. They were having the best time. But for us Americans whom didn’t know any song or performer it became an old story after awhile.

The rain picked up and it was getting later by the minute so we decided to start our journey through some wild weather back to Barra.  Our driver Max was waiting for us where we left him, luckily. We had an interesting ride back, Max told us about how two men tried to carjack him while waiting for us. He was telling us the story in very broken english and google translate all while driving in the rain. He wanted to show us what he did so he leaned over Shane and opened the glove box and pulled out a knife. Apparently he threatened these men with it and scared them away but it was a interesting play of events, especially for Shane who was in the front seat and not sure what was going to happen. We laughed about it the rest of the night. We made it home just fine and I’m pretty sure the closing ceremonies were still going after we fell asleep.

If there was any day to sleep in, this was it. Our final day in Rio. Nothing really to do as the pool is closed on Monday’s and we had check out after lunch. We lounged around, grabbed some food and chocolate for the girls and then met Patti and Cathy at theirs for our ride to the airport. We were very lucky to have access to the Delta sky lounge this trip. Free food, drinks, wifi and a place to relax really can’t be beat.  The airport was swarming with media trying to catch interviews with athletes and even artists entertaining waiting passengers.

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With that our trip home was a cinch. After a very good meal and some free wine I watched a couple of chick flicks and then reclined myself down for some sleep.

It’s really too bad the media made Rio out to be this terrible scary place because it was brilliant. I can really appreciate the hard hand that came down on Lochte because this city of Barra did not deserve that negative bullshit. The people were funny and went out of their way to take care of us, even with a language barrier. There was no harm in grabbing a taxi, and even alone I would have felt safe…(that is taking common sense precautions.)

That said there were a few things that I missed being out of the states. Their paper products leave much to the imagination as does their plumbing. There were zero signs posted outside of stores or restaurants so you have no clue if a place is open or when it’s closing. And their food, well let’s just say we have it really good here in the states. But after two weeks, it gets easy. The transportation, the shopping the language and ok not the food but most everything becomes easy and natural. I will miss it and I get why people love it there, it’s a pretty awesome place to visit.

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Obrigada Rio!