September/October 2016 - Sydney, Australia

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(Written by Caitlyn)

Jeff had taken Thursday and Friday off of work, and I took a half day off Friday so we could leave for our 6:30 PM flight on Friday. Our short flight from SBN to ORD was fine, but the ORD to LAX was significantly delayed, causing us to have to literally run across the terminal to make our LAX to SYD flight, which we made within minutes. Ironically, our final flight taxied around the airport for an hour or two until it was canceled because of a strange smell in the cockpit. 


At this point, it was early Saturday morning, and we waited an hour in line at the terminal desks to get our flights re-booked. They offered us a couple of options including one with a layover in Hawaii, but we choose to wait in LA until the next evening to take an American Airlines flight.  We had sushi delivered to our hotel room and purchased a commemorative mug at Starbucks to remember our time in LA “fondly”. I called our hotel in Sydney to let them know we weren’t going to be checking in on time.

Our hotel room view was super great.

LA sushi tasted better than our view looked.

Some notes about flights: 

  • Zika warnings are everywhere, as are Samsung Note phone warnings. 
  • United seemed more persistent about telling people to turn off their Note phones.
  • Airlines no longer care if your phone/mp3 player is on during takeoff, only that they are in airplane mode. 

We arrived on Monday at 7 AM after our 15-hour flight. A positive aspect of our canceled flight is that we were able to check in directly to our hotel instead of waiting until 3 PM, as we had paid for the previous night’s stay. We then unpacked, showered, changed, and had brunch at one of the hotel restaurants.

While we could hear the beautiful clock from our room, thankfully it did not make noise after about 10 PM.

Brunch.

Australians, like the British, drive on the left side of the street. Common knowledge taught us this; what we didn’t realize is that people also walk on the left side of the sidewalk instead of the right, which forced a week-long habit change.

After brunch, we walked to the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and Wild Life Sydney Zoo. Both the aquarium and the zoo are owned by the same company and are laid out in a similar way to a Disney-theme-park line, in that there is only one way through and includes many switchbacks. While I would not rate either of them among my favorite aquariums or zoos, they did have some neat creatures that I hadn’t seen in others, which gave visiting them value.

They had a few walk-through aquariums.

The top views of the walk-through aquarium.

Nautilus

Wallaby 

Cassowary

I asked Jeff if there was a similar sign for the men's room, and there was not.  

Our next stop was the compulsory visit to a local yarn store, where I picked up some lovely local yarn.

We then napped a couple hours until dinner time, and finally went to 11 Bridge, an Australian fine dining restaurant for dinner. 

Desserts from our dinner


Tuesday morning after a quick breakfast, we walked around the Royal Botanical Garden, enjoying the Australian plants and birds.

I'm not sure if this is in support or not.  Probably not.

Me, taking pictures

This is why I never go swimming anywhere.

We ate lunch at the Garden Cafe, and walked to the Sydney Opera House which was located next to the park.

After capturing the Opera House Gym in Pokemon Go (we were there for barely a minute before another team took over), we walked a half hour (and only got lost once) to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and climbed up onto the lookout. I would advise against wearing a skirt if visiting, as it was very windy at the top of the lookout, and Jeff had to hold down the skirt of my dress while I took pictures.

Our long day of walking all around town ended with dinner at a fantastic Mexican restaurant called Mejico.


On Wednesday, we went to another very high place, the Sydney Tower Eye. In our opinion, the one in Vancouver was better as the views were more interesting.

My sushi came with the most adorable soy sauce.

After descending, we went to an older neighborhood in town called The Rocks. This area featured smaller local shops, and we purchased a painting of the Sydney skyline to add to our wall. We ate lunch at a local sandwich and sushi place and traveled back to the Opera House for a tour, dinner and a show.

Our tour guide led us through a few different areas of the Opera House, including the concert hall and the playhouse. He told a story about how a parcel delivery person went missing for a half hour in the theater a few years back; they had accidentally gone through a door that went directly onto a stage, and of course, he walked out in front of an audience. The poor guy froze, and the actors covered for him, interrupting their script with, “Oh, thank goodness, the package arrived!” and continued with the show.

The bathrooms had a lot of neat designs, including this sink.

After the tour, we enjoyed our “anniversary” dinner at Bennelong, a fine dining restaurant attached to the Opera House.

We had a great view of the outside from our table.

Hervey Bay scallops with Israeli couscous, young carrots, prawn custard, and chili oil.

Roasted black kingfish, green capsicum, eggplant caponata, capers, and olives.

Mulberry ice cream, vanilla parfait, almond nougat, fresh berries

Dinner was followed by our anniversary present from my Aunt and Uncle, two prime center seats to My Fair Lady (directed by Julie Andrews) in the Opera House.

Our view from our seats.


On Thursday, we explored the Pitt Street Mall, which was a local mall right outside our hotel. We walked 20 minutes to Paddy’s Market and strolled through a lot of small booths. After a nap, we ate dinner at a “sushi train” restaurant, which was our first time experiencing that type of sushi restaurant.

Moving objects don't make for an effective Pano.

We then walked to the Capitol Theater, to see the Broadway show Aladdin, which included the Genie pulling a jar of vegemite out of his pockets as well as mentioning his craving for Tim Tams.

The view from our seats.


On Friday, we stopped to grab a few items at a local grocery store (including more Tim Tams) and had coffee at a local coffee shop.

We walked to The Rocks area to drop off laundry and found that there was a weekly foodie fest, so we stopped for lunch.

We then walked to Circular Quay and took a ferry to Taronga Zoo, a much larger zoo across the harbour. We enjoyed the zoo much more than the smaller zoo we had visited earlier in the week, although I’m glad we visited both.

On the ferry.

The view from across the harbour.

The zoo had a few different aviaries, which contained many different colorful birds.

Forest kingfisher

White-headed pigeon

It was around 60 degrees and windy, and this wallaby was as cold as we were.

Found a Kangaskhan in one of the zoo enclosures

After the zoo had closed, we took the ferry back to the city and walked back to the hotel. We had dinner at Chicano, which was busy and mediocre. Back at the hotel, we packed up most of our things for the next day’s travels


On Saturday, we finished packing and left for one of the train stations, and took the train to Mount Victoria. Our train was delayed by about an hour, but thankfully the train seats are much more comfortable than airplane seats. Mike, one of my Aunt and Uncle’s friends, picked us up at the train station and we were driven back to his property. The roads through the mountains constantly go up and down, and the air pressure changes were noticeable because our ears were constantly popping. Mike and his partner Carl own a B&B that is on their lovely 125-acre property, on top of some of the Blue Mountains. A lot of the surrounding land is used as cow pasture and is regularly inhabited by kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats.

Their lovely house.

The inside was just as beautiful as the outside.

The view from their yard.

Mike and Carl had a wide variety of neat plants on their property, including this blue-flowering bush.

They showed us around their property, where they grow olives, fruit, and a lot of vegetables. We were lucky to taste some of their olives and olive oil, and it was unlike any olive oil we’ve tasted; very fresh and not at all bitter. We at dinner, and retreated to our rooms for the night.


On Sunday, Mike and Carl drove us around to different spots to view the mountains and valleys, including taking us to see the Three Sisters rock formation.  The blue haze you see in the pictures is from the gum trees, which densely populate the mountains, emitting eucalyptus oil into the atmosphere.  During the summer, the haze is more intense.  (We were there during spring.)

We stopped at a small deli to get some pork rolls and went to another lookout area. This one had the opportunity to go further out onto rocky areas (which I don’t think would have been allowed had it been in the US due to liability reasons) where we climbed out for a different view. It was nerve-racking because one misstep meant a deadly fall, and we were not wearing harnesses.

Covered by the trees in the center is the rocky area we climbed out towards.

It was thoughtful for them to fence this tiny area.

The view from the fenced area

The narrow climb back to solid ground.

After rock climbing and back on solid ground, we enjoyed the pork rolls for lunch.

After lunch, we traveled to the Six Foot Track, a walking trail of 44km. (More on the track here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Foot_Track) We hiked for about thirty minutes to get to a suspension bridge for a spectacular view.

The view from the center of the bridge.

The day ended with drinks and snacks on the deck of the B&B, watching the sunset.


On Monday, we visited a few small towns in the mountains, including Bathurst and its Fossil and Mineral Museum.

The museum holds almost 2,000 different specimens, including minerals, fossils, and bones.

We stopped for lunch at a local pub and went to visit the Jenolan Caves. Jeff and I went through the Orient Cave tour, which is a very large and old cave, 470 meters long. It is filled with impressive calcite formations, and cave systems are still being discovered in the area.


On Tuesday, we rode to Leura to look through a few shops and then caught the train back to Sydney. After checking into our hotel, we rode the train and ferry out to Manly, a suburb north of Sydney. We walked through the downtown area and enjoyed frozen yogurt on the beach, and then had dinner before riding the ferry back to Sydney and the train back to our hotel, where we stayed until our flight the next morning back to the US.

The Manly beach

Our final ferry back to Sydney.

October 2015 - Traverse City, MI

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(Written by Caitlyn)
On Saturday, we left mid-morning for the spot I had secretly chosen for our vacation, just like Jeff had secretly chosen for us last year.  I drove the five hours north until we reached Traverse City; I had spent the past nine months researching and planning activities for us to enjoy there.  We made it into town a little early; Jeff, the Best Husband Ever, spotted a yarn store that, despite my thorough efforts, I had not found in my research. After a yarn purchase, we drove past the turn for the bed & breakfast and headed further north up the peninsula. 

The sign on the driveway of our B&B.

We went to the northernmost point to visit a lighthouse and log cabin; unfortunately the lighthouse was under renovation, and we weren't able to enter.

The beach below the lighthouse.

The cabin's display featured an old spinning wheel and a swift!

We returned to the B&B to check in, and I was pleased with how beautiful the area was.  The B&B was on a vineyard and decorated with wine and grape themes.

The view from the side of the property.

The entire house had big and small details, like the rabbits and vines painted on the walls.

The dining area.

The hallway and exterior seating.

 Our bedroom.

Our bedroom.

The view from our window, overlooking the grape vineyard and cherry orchard.

We were greeted by the owner of the property and we got settled in.  They offered us hors d'oeuvres and wine, and we conversed with the other guests.  We finally enjoyed a late-night dinner at one of the restaurants on the peninsula.

I surprised Jeff with some wine with our name on it.

The wine surprised us with a cork with our name on it.

Sunday morning began with breakfast made for us at the B&B; the owners seem to enjoy going all out for a delicious two-course meal every breakfast time, regardless of whether we could eat it all.

Their breakfast nook.

We hopped in the car and went exploring downtown Traverse City, enjoying the diverse local shops. When 3 PM neared, we went to the second big surprise of the trip - a helicopter ride that took us over the peninsula and Traverse City.

This is the helicopter we flew in; it only contained the pilot, Jeff, and me.

2015-10-04 15.11.41.jpg

Facing the west end of the peninsula, within the view of Traverse City.

The white building at the end is the lighthouse we visited the day before.

Downtown Traverse City.

After returning to the B&B and relaxing, we ate dinner at one of the local restaurants and enjoyed some dessert back in our room.

Monday began with breakfast at the B&B and then a trip to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, the project that is converting an old insane asylum to apartments and locally-owned stores and restaurants.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, previously known as  Traverse City State Hospital and the Northern Michigan Asylum.  

We enjoyed coffee and then walked through a tour of the facilities that took us through what hadn't yet been renovated as well as some areas that had.  Our tour guide talked at great length about how special the facility was before it was decommissioned, as the facilities prided themselves because they treated their patients as people and family rather than being fearful.

The kitchen for the Asylum, which is awaiting renovation as soon as someone wants to use the area for a restaurant.  The tiles are worn from walking; they plan to keep as much of the original floor as possible when it is renovated.

Areas that have been made non-toxic, but await renovation.

This isn't destruction due to natural elements or time; this is vandalism.

Old tile floor of a bathroom that will be wonderful once cleaned up.

A reception hall, formerly a church.

Tunnels beneath the campus, because it gets cold in Michigan.

"White" spiders periodically appear in the tunnels.  The spiders turn white because of the high humidity and mold.

During the tour, our energetic tour guide gave the history of how he was hired for the job.  "They were looking for someone who wouldn't bore everyone to death," he said.  Jeff interrupted, "So have they found someone yet?"  Jeff's quip caught the guide off guard, and the guide had to take a moment to collect himself after laughing.  

I'm fairly confident that nobody else on our tour had this shot of the facility; it was taken during our helicopter ride.

While we were walking in the tour, Jeff asked me, "So what do you want to do during the exact time we got married?"  I looked at him, recalling our earlier discussion of lunch plans and said, "Um...eating burritos?"

After eating breakfast on Tuesday, we decided that we wanted to drive around some of the peninsulas to see what was around.  We visited Empire, which was a tiny town with nothing much to see.  We drove to Leland next and enjoyed looking at local shops and the older "Fishtown" buildings.

For lunch, we stopped in Sutton's Bay.  We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the B&B and roamed around the peninsula taking pictures, and enjoyed our final evening in northern Michigan.

December 2014 - Orlando, FL

(Written by Caitlyn.)
We woke up very early Saturday morning to travel to O’Hare Airport, and Jeff, my mom, and I found ourselves going through the fastest security check ever.  I was prepared and pre-emptively took off my belt and shoes, only to have a TSA agent tell us that we didn’t need to, nor did we need to take our laptops out of our bags.  After putting my belt and shoes back on, I walked through the beeping metal detector and ended up having to take off my belt anyways.  We believe the process went so quickly due to the mass amount of people wanting to travel the Saturday after Christmas, and I applaud their efforts.  Our flight was delayed about three times, but we were able to meet up with my Aunt and Uncle in Orlando’s airport.  We made our way to the condo we were staying at, and checked in.  All of us then headed to Carabba’s for dinner, taking almost a half hour to travel 5 miles due to heavy traffic from the nearby outlet mall.  People had parked on the side of the road as if there was a special event going on, but according to our bartender, this was normal.

A street in our condo's complex.

The pond behind our condo.

The condo's main building.


On Sunday morning, we ate our breakfast at the condo’s restaurant and then went grocery shopping for the week.  After grocery shopping, my aunt Leslie and I went shopping at the outlet mall, and I enjoyed people watching while Leslie shopped at the high-end designer stores.  The entire mall was very crowded, and we occasionally had to wait in lines just to get into the stores. The rest of our day was spent relaxing, and we ordered pizza for dinner.

Imagine a world where poinsettias are planted in the ground...that world is Florida.

These guys were all over the place.

Irises were also common, despite it being December.

Ferns!


Monday morning started with my mom, my aunt, and me visiting a local yarn store called Needle Craft World.  It was a nice small shop that featured yarn with other needlework crafts.  While I wasn’t able to pick up anything local, I did buy some yarn that I don’t normally see in my local yarn stores.

After eating lunch at the condo, we drove to Magic Kingdom with the intention of parking and taking a bus to Animal Kingdom.  We waited in long lines for the cars to enter the park only to find out that Magic Kingdom was filled to maximum capacity.   Because of this, Disney gave us free parking at Epcot; we headed over there to park and went onward to Animal Kingdom.  

Animal Kingdom set up a Disney-animal-themed christmas tree, and it was very neat.

These birds were everywhere.  I caught some kids trying to feed them pulled pork.  I'm pretty sure that's not a normal diet for them.

After walking around for a while, we went to the Finding Nemo Musical, which was simultaneously wonderful and bad.  The show uses puppets with puppeteers/actors and they were absolutely beautiful.  The performers sang well and often matched the original voice of the characters pretty accurately too.  The first disappointing part was the lack of quality in the story; I love the movie, but cutting any 107-minute movie down to 40 minutes comes with sacrifices. The story had little character development and didn’t make me feel emotions.  (The one exception was at the beginning when the barracuda kills most of their family, but that was mostly because I remembered the feelings from the movie, and not because they portrayed it well.)  The second disappointing part was the music; it felt adequate, but forced.  There were no earworms I walked away with, and I’d be surprised if anyone buys the soundtrack to the musical.  It seemed to me that the producers of this musical had to follow the writing prompt they were given, and they really did the best they could with it.  They excelled at the theatrical stage production, but failed on parts that are probably impossible to do well.

The glass blower at one of the shops was starting a castle.

After more wandering around the Animal Kingdom, we ate dinner at the adjoining Rainforest Cafe, and then headed to Magic Kingdom.  The park was slightly less crowded because people were leaving after sunset, but it was still pretty packed.  We were able to enjoy the shops and some of the rides; it was hard for me to enjoy some of the newer parts of the park, because my night vision is awful.  We rode the Haunted Mansion ride, which reportedly was updated since my mom last rode it.  I thought the technical tricks they used throughout the ride were really neat, and the staff manning the rides seemed to have fun with their roles.  We also rode on The Little Mermaid ride, which featured a lot of animatronics and music.  (My mom informed me that, at one point, we both knew all the words to “Under The Sea”, which played during one part of the ride.  I don’t recall this, but I find it plausible.)

The Frozen-themed castle.


On Tuesday, we visited Universal Studios with the goal of visiting both Harry Potter sections.  When we got near that area of the park, we found out that the Hogsmede area was full. They were allowing people to stand in line for tickets that told them what time they could enter that area.  The line took about a half hour to get through, and it moved pretty often.  We joked with some of our line neighbors that this was the second ride we had been on today, with the first being the moving sidewalks near the parking structure.  

When we got our tickets, it was conveniently already the time we were allowed to enter the Hogsmede area, which was stuffed full of people.  Hogsmede has two sections - one with rides and one with the “downtown” feeling.  Everything was packed with people, which discouraged us from doing much.  We decided to take the train to the Diagon Alley in hopes that would be less crowded, and spent 50 minutes in line again (ride number three of the day).  It had been misting rain throughout the day, so most people had grabbed plastic rain coats, but the people who were in their Hogwart’s robes seemed to be pretty comfortable as well.

Once we were finally on the train, Jeff and I were paired with a group of foreigners who were blissfully unaware that there was a no-flash-photography rule for the train ride.  The gimmick for the train is that there are video screens that Harry Potter-related content is shown to make you feel like you’re actually riding from Hogwarts to London.  Unfortunately, the group we were with decided that taking a flash picture every 30 seconds was the most enjoyable thing to do, which made watching the screens unrealistic and uncomfortable.  I even asked them to stop, but they either did not understand English or they ignored me.

When the train arrived, we saw how packed Diagon Alley was, and decided to hang out until the rest of our party was finished in the area.  During this time, I also had my first IBS attack of the trip, possibly induced from how cranky I was at the crowds.  (Considering my history with vacations and IBS, this is actually a pretty good record.)  Jeff and I were both very disappointed about how busy things were in the park and our experience, but when you go at a peak time, this is a risk.  We finished our day eating at Bubba Gump, which was the best (and most delicious) part of the day.


On Wednesday, Jeff, my mom, and I went to Epcot early in the morning to try to avoid some of the crowds we had previously experienced.  We wanted to go through the World Showcase, and started by watching the Canada 360-degree movie.  I found it to be entertaining, and it was nice seeing some of the places we had been when we visited Vancouver.  After looking at all the different shops, we ate at one of the restaurants in the Italy section, Tutto Italia.  

After visiting all of the countries, we met up with my Aunt and Uncle and waited around for the 6:00PM fireworks, which seemed to be their normal program with an additional segment at the end.  After the fireworks had ended, we waited five minutes for the exiting crowds to die down a bit, and then headed towards the World Showcase exit ourselves.  We were met by a standing-still crowd which filled the street, where we pondered our existence for 20 minutes.  We were finally given word by some of the cast members to turn around and use another exit; they had opened a pathway that didn’t seem like it was seen by visitors particularly often.  We concluded our day by eating at Boatwright’s Dining Hall, which offered New Orleans-style cuisine, and Jeff learned that his new favorite wine is sauvignon blanc.


Our Thursday started by visiting Hollywood Studios, and we went straight to Star Tours.  I recall enjoying the ride when I was younger, and I found it amusing to ride again despite the plot holes.  Outside of the ride, they were hosting hourly demonstrations featuring a Jedi Master training younglings against Darth Vader, which is the most adorable thing I saw there.  Each youngling was dressed in the brown robes and armed with a plastic lightsaber; they’d each get a chance to battle Darth Vader, and some of them were more successful than others.  The Jedi Master commented towards one of them, “I’m not sure how you’re still alive, but you did it!”  

Darth Vader up against one of the younglings.

The stormtrooper actors were very good too; everybody looked like they were having a tremendous amount of fun.

The best weird fountain.

Next, we saw the Muppet 3D show, which hinted that it might have been updated since the most recent movie; the waiting room pre-movie movie has a spliced-in scene with Constantine, but they didn’t seem to follow through with the idea.  Our next show was the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which was very entertaining and funny. After eating lunch we split up; Jeff, my mom, and I went to see The Great Movie Ride, and then we looked at the many shops in the park.

"Working with explosives is dangerous."

Later in the afternoon, we visited Downtown Disney, and much like the other places we visited during the week, was absolutely packed with people.  There were some unique art shops there, but most of them contained the same stuff we had already seen in the parks; an exciting find was some locally-designed teas in one of the shops.  Our day ended with a wonderful seafood dinner at Fulton’s Crab House.

Treats that we found in Downtown Disney.

The LEGO Maleficent outside of the LEGO store.


They had a few aquariums outside of the ride, with one of my favorite fish.

On our last day, Friday, we returned to Epcot to eat lunch at the Coral Reef, which is a restaurant that features an amazingly large aquarium to gaze upon while eating.  After lunch, we went to the Finding Nemo ride next door, which I found to be mostly confusing.  It doesn’t exactly recreate the story line, as you can watch Nemo join us while we travel through; it also doesn’t clearly explain what story it’s trying to tell, which left me feeling confused at the end.  They did have some neat tricks with projection onto some windows of the large aquarium, making it seem as if the characters were actually in the tank.

The one ride I really wanted Jeff and me to go on was Test Track, as Jeff enjoys cars, and I enjoyed the last time I had ridden it.  We waited in line for almost an hour, and designed a relatively powerful car that accidently had police lights on top.  The ride used to feature cards that you would carry from station to station so it would remember which car we were working on; with the newer RFID-enabled tickets, we used them instead.  (The wristbands were also an option if they were purchased.)  

We then went on Spaceship Earth and enjoyed all the updates that had been made to it as well; most notably, the touch screens on the backs of each seat.  Our pictures were taken at the beginning of the ride (with the comment that they would be sent to the future), and we were rolled through the history of time featuring technology.  It was very neat to smell the different scents that were chosen for each exhibit, although some were more pronounced than others.  After we had reached the top, they wheeled us back down while we played on the touch screens, with Siemens telling us fictional stories about what the future could be like based on what we enjoyed doing.  (I can only imagine the dataset they’re collecting with thousands of people entering in information, as well as where their home is.)  When we exited the ride, we entered a room that showed where everybody on the ride called home on a large touch screen.

Earlier in the week my uncle had expressed an interest in riding Soarin’, so I had arranged fast passes for him, Jeff, and me so we could skip the 90-minute wait time.  I wasn’t familiar with the ride and found it a bit underwhelming.   You sit in chairs that are similar to airplane seats and are carried upwards; then a large IMAX-like screen shows you video of different places in California.  I enjoyed how they used scents to mark the different locations, but I’m not sure why it draws the crowd it does.

Spaceship Earth at night.

We finished our afternoon by going through Spaceship Earth one more time, and enjoyed our evening eating the rest of the food we had purchased at our condo.

A new pin added to our map.

October 2014 - Mason, MI

(Written by Jeff.)
I am not good at planning ahead for events, birthdays, holidays, trips, gifts, vacations, honeymoons, anniversaries, etc., while Caitlyn, on the other hand, gets excited and looks forward to planning events.
 (She is already planning our second anniversary vacation.) To that end, I had been thinking of ideas for a couple of months for our first anniversary, asking co-workers what they have done, advice on how I can become a better ‘gift giver’. After bouncing a couple of ideas off of Caitlyn and her shooting them all down, I decided not to tell her anything else and took her along for the ride.

In order to keep my title as Bad Planner, I only did minimal planning and lined up a bed & breakfast for the weekend and dinner for one night of our weekend. (I also neglected to pack clean underwear.) I had some vague ideas of a couple other places to visit, but not much set in stone.

Barnes Street Bed & Breakfast

Our bedroom.

Our weekend started at noon on Friday, as we drove home from work, ate lunch, and packed the car. Fast forward 3 hours, and we arrived at the Barnes Street Bed & Breakfast in Mason, MI. After we were given a quick tour of the house and unpacked into our room, we were on the road again. We went to a restaurant suggested by a co-worker, The Beggars Banquet in East Lansing. The atmosphere was great, and the bar had an impressive wood carving hanging on the wall. The style of the food was trying to be sophisticated pub food, and was tasty.

We walked a two or three block route that lead us past typical college town shops, such as a hookah shop, skater shop, and a bookstore juxtaposed. We found a shop that sold air plants and other neat trinkets and clothing, and we bought some inexpensive maps of the US and the world. We plan to attach them to corkboard, mount them on the wall back home, and then stick pins into the places that we visit in the future.

On our way back to the car, we stumbled upon a cookie shop. They serve and deliver cookies; what college student wouldn’t pay for warm cookies late one night while cramming for a final?

Saturday morning started with breakfast; it was a menagerie of breakfast foods. Toast (YEAH TOAST), bagels, fruit, Cheerios, OJ, milk, coffee, and the centerpiece was bowl of oatmeal with bananas, chocolate, and brown sugar.  I drank a second cup of coffee while admiring the antiques and enjoyed the atmosphere.

This was a statue of an older style of spinning wheel, complete with the wool being held on the distaff.  Note that she is reading a book on her lap as well.

The victorian house was full of original stained glass.

The next thing I had planned for us was a visit to the Mason Antiques District. The first few stores we visited were fun, and I enjoyed looking at the items and thinking about the people, the moments in time and memories that were made while holding or using the items.  However, I quickly realized that while I enjoy looking at the stuff, I still see a lot of it as junk and could not envision it in our home.

Two dragons from the toy store.

So after that disappointment, we ended up wandering around downtown Mason and stumbled into a toy shop that was also a Hallmark, candy and jewelry store. The best and final surprise which we walked past twice was a staircase leading down to the studio of Twisted Fiber Art, which also was a yarn store. We had met Twisted Fiber Art at some fiber festivals in the past, and Caitlyn really enjoyed the tour of their studio and dye process.

While we were walking around, Caitlyn and I reminisced about how nice it was having coffee every morning on our honeymoon.  We found the nearest coffee house, and each enjoyed a warm cup of coffee while staring out the windows at the busy people.

After we had finished in Mason, we drove 35 minutes to Charlotte, MI. I had planned our first destination in Charlotte to be our first yarn store visit of the weekend. Unfortunately, they had closed early for the day, so we were thankful we stumbled into Twisted Fiber Art earlier in the day. We wandered around Charlotte until we found a coffee/cafe shop and decided it was time for lunch.

 A beautiful shop dog.

A beautiful shop dog.

With our stomachs full, we ventured back onto the streets of Charlotte, going up and down two or three streets and visiting some stores along the way. We had successfully spent two hours, but we still had 3 hours until dinner, so we went back to the coffee/cafe shop, ate some cookies, used their Wifi, Caitlyn spun yarn with her drop spindle, and I napped. About an hour and a half later we decided to go sit in the car and be more comfortable and listen to Radiolab, while wishing I had planned a little more to occupy our time.

5:30PM finally rolled around, and we drove four minutes to our dinner location. Dinner was scheduled to start at 6PM, so we were a bit early. When planning a surprise for your significant other you sometimes need to lie to hide the true details, and when I say, “scheduled to start” that is one of those lies. I really meant that boarding started at 6PM for the Murder Mystery Dinner Train!

Apparently, I am a bit of a smart-aleck troublemaker and often stand out in a crowd, and this time it landed me the role of “patsy”. Even though I wasn’t chosen as one of the “suspects”, I was the center of many of the jokes and was the last person to see the victim alive. While all of the “suspects” had costume pieces and back story provided, I was all on my own. Fortunately, I was not an actual suspect; I was just the subject for all of the scripted comedic relief. The part that makes me smile a little was when I was able to make the actor laugh and almost drop character.

Sunday's breakfast was just as impressive as Saturday’s, but with the oatmeal dish traded out for a type of pastry topped with all sorts of sweet things. I think it had cream cheese and jam, with fresh berries.

Itty bitty tea cups.

We spent the morning relaxing and enjoying the house. We checked out around noon and headed to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Mongolian BBQ. If you have not heard of Mongolian BBQ, its essentially a create-your-own-stir-fry place. I had one final thing planned before our drive home; something that I learned is a sure fire winner with Caitlyn and an easy thing to plan while traveling is visiting local yarn stores. My first attempt on Saturday had failed, so I was happy that we had better luck on Sunday. We purchased yarn and fiber, as I hope to learn how to spin yarn. Our drive home was quiet and uneventful, and we were happy to be back home with our dogs again.

April 2014 - Piloting a Cessna

(Written by Jeff)
On my 37th birthday, I was able to live out a lifelong dream: to pilot an airplane. Caitlyn’s Christmas present to me was a 1 hour beginner flight lesson and tour of Chicago; the lesson allowed one guest to join us, so Caitlyn would be in the plane with me.  After finding out about the lesson, we scheduled the flight in April on my birthday so that weather would be more pleasant, and it would be a wonderful way to spend my birthday.  Caitlyn knew this would be an extra special gift for me, as I’ve spent hundreds of hours on flight simulators.(

The day started with a two hour drive to the Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling, Illinois.  Upon arrival, we had a short wait for our instructor to arrive. Once our instructor,  Mike, showed up, we were able to get started. We entered into his office, and went over all the information we’d need to know.  Mike showed us the weather reports pilots use (www.aviationweather.gov), and taught us how to read aeronautical charts.

Mike gave us a brief tour of the facility, then lead us onto the tarmac to start the preflight check of the plane.

This is the plane Jeff flew.

We looked over the entire plane for any large cracks or defects that may be a sign of damage or fatigue.  During the inspection, Mike talked about plane-related vocabulary, and while I am very familiar with the parts of a plane, I was too nervous to remember all of them. The preflight check also included checking the fuel levels and testing the tank for water. The fuel tanks in each wing have a special hole that allowed us to drain a little bit of fuel at a time into a little shot glass-sized cup, hold the glass up to the light, and look to see if there are any water bubbles.

Checking the ailerons

 Untying the plane

Untying the plane

Checking the oil level

The plane's instrument panel (or "look at all the dials!")

We finally were ready to get in the plane, but there was a lot more to check and set before we started the engine. Starting a plane is nothing like a car; first, you have to turn on a few switches to get the plane powered on, then you have to listen to the weather radio to make sure your dials are all set to the right air pressure. This step is important, as the altitude gauge works with the air pressure. If it's set wrong, we would have been at the wrong altitude and could have entered into restricted airspace, or worse, the ground won't be where we thought it was when we tried to land.

Thankfully, we never had to press the panic button.

Once all the dials were set correctly and enough switches were on, the servos and things started to make noises, and Mike told me to turn the key to start the engine. Then, with a couple more checks and switches and even more checks, Mike contacted the tower to declare our intentions and get cleared. The tower cleared us to taxi to the runway, and Mike told me that the plane is in my hands. I don't recall at what point I got excited, but at this point was when I got nervous, scared, anxious, and excited, almost like the first time I drove a car.

Getting ready to take off

Once we were cleared from the tower, we taxied onto the runway, applied the breaks, increased the power (or throttle) to full, let the RPMs increase and released the brakes. The whole time I had controlled the plane, and if Caitlyn (who was sitting behind us) could have seen my face, we would have a picture of the biggest smile ever to come across my face. Once we were up to speed, Mike instructed me to pull back gently on the yoke. After some corrections and turbulence, we were high enough that the ride smoothed out. Mike told us that because the winds were so calm, our flight would be very smooth, but the city would be a little hazy. It was calm enough, that once we “trimmed the plane”, we took our hands off the controls and let the plane fly itself, which afforded us some time to sightsee and enjoy the city of Chicago from a unique point of view.

Downtown Chicago was to the right of us.

We flew south along the lake shore, past Wrigley Field, downtown, over Navy Pier, and past Soldier Field; we then turned around and headed back north. When we were north of the city and into the wealthy areas with the fancy homes on the shore, we dropped down to 1500 feet and got a good view of the roofs. We then turned west, and followed one of the east-west roads until we were directly north of the airport. Mike called the tower, and requested clearance to land.  He took over the plane and landed us safely.

Downtown Chicago now to the left as we headed back.

Downtown Chicago & Navy Pier

We returned to Mike’s office for one final piece of paperwork: the certificate that proves that I have now piloted a plane.

February 2014 - Moving Across Town

(Written by Caitlyn)
Five years to the week that Jeff and I started dating, we closed on our new house.  This blog post is to document the renovations that we do to transform this new space into our home.

Right now, all we have are "before" pictures; "after" pictures will be added when available.  As well, when the snow melts, we will get better pictures of the outside areas.

Our house when we first moved in.

Our house in the summer

The south side of our house.

The back of the house.

The view from our deck.

Front entryway.

Changed: Light brown wall color, entry way light updated to match style of light above stairs, artwork on walls, removed curtain from front door window and put on a layer of spray-on frost, changed doorknob of coat closet, new light switch panels, installed Nest thermostat, removed rug.

Front entryway.

Living room.

Living room.

Dining room.

Kitchen

Changed: Green paint, new lighting fixture, crates

Kitchen.

Changed: Green paint (darker green above cabinets), new lighting fixture, new knob for laundry room door. 

Laundry room.

Changed: Brown paint for walls, dark brown paint for cabinets, brown paint for cabinet doors, new hinges and handles for cabinets, removal of sink hardware, washing machine and dryer, new light fixture.

Kitchen.

Changed: Green paint (darker green above cabinets), personal appliances.

Kitchen.

Changed: Green paint (darker green above cabinets), brown paint in hallway, fish tank.

Hallway.

Changed: Brown paint, door knob, wall art.

Master bedroom.

Changed: Dark red paint, dresser, rug, curtains, fan, bed, wall art, lamps

Master bedroom.

Changed: Dark red paint, bed, rug, door knob, closet door knob, fan, dresser, curtains.

Master bathroom.

Changed: better light bulbs, floral arrangement, knobs, rugs

Shower in master bedroom.

Hallway bathroom.

Hallway bath.

1st bedroom.

1st bedroom.

2nd bedroom.

2nd bedroom.

Stairs.

Changed: Painted wall light brown, hung artwork, changed lower level light to match lamp above stairs, replaced light panels.

Jeff's workshop.

3rd bedroom.

3rd bedroom.

Basement bathroom.

Basement bathroom.

Basement shower.

Dye studio.

Dye studio.

Dye studio.

Dye studio.

Dye studio.

Heater room.

Heater room.

October 2013 - Honeymoon in Vancouver

Autumn was at its peak outside of the hotel.

(Written by Jeff)
The first day
Sunday, we arrived in Vancouver and noticed while waiting for our bags that we had shared the plane with a hockey team that we weren’t able to identify.  They all had suits on and were pulling off what was clearly hockey equipment.  The taxi from the airport to the hotel was a harrowing trip for us; the guy who was driving was so jerky with the gas pedal and the break, we were both starting to get sick. Fortunately, we both survived the drive without any lasting effects or emergency bathroom trips. When we arrived at the hotel, it was before the time that we could check in, so we stowed our luggage with the concierge and had a quick bite to eat in the hotel restaurant.

After our meal, we enjoyed a leisurely walk along the Seawall. It was a gorgeous day; the temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, and everyone was out enjoying the fresh air with us. According to the waitress and the cab driver, it was warmer than normal. We enjoyed the evening air while dodging people who were running in a marathon.  On our walk back to the hotel, they called to inform us that the room was ready and that we could check in.  We unpacked and settled into our new home for the next six days and relaxed for a couple of minutes.

Our view from our hotel room.

When we decided it was time to eat, it was a little early in the afternoon in Vancouver, but it was about the right time for our stomachs due to the 3 hour time difference. We decided on a place we had passed while walking along the Seawall called Lift. There were many visually impressive things about the bar: the interior lighting was visually stunning with the bar being spectacularly lit up, and the menus were iPads. I ordered the special, a Venison steak, medium. I think my tastes are changing some as I wished I had ordered it medium rare.  We both liked the bread that they brought to the table as it was very sculptural in appearance. One of the two types was a normal run of the mill cut up roll while the second was a flat unleavened crisp bread with seeds stuck to it.  Very expensive, but very good food.

iPad menus at Lift.


Monday started with coffee at the Starbucks located in the hotel. Caitlyn got the Salted Caramel Mocha while I got the White Chocolate Mocha. We strolled along the Seawall and enjoyed our morning coffee on our way to the Vancouver Aquarium, which was a twenty minute walk.  Their main exhibit featured an incredible variety of jellyfish, and it was special to see other species besides the common Moon Jellies. We both enjoyed all the jelly fish in the huge exhibit and saw everything at the aquarium by noon. After we sat and ate lunch, we began our walk back to the hotel.

The Aquarium had a few of these bubbles inside fish tanks for kids (and Jeff) to look through.

Jellyfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Jeff behind moon jellies.

It was feeding and cleaning time at the big tank.

The aquarium had a tropical butterfly and bird room.

A beautifully textured frog from the Aquarium's tropical area.

Our day continued with a free bus ride to Capilano Suspension Bridge park, which included our first trip over the Lions Gate Bridge.  The Capilano Suspension Bridge park has three attractions, the first of which is the suspension bridge over the river. The day we visited was overcast and rainy, so even though the sights were awe inspiring, I imagine on a clear and sunny day it would be even more so. The second attraction that we visited in the park were the platforms and bridges that are suspended 30+ feet up in the trees. We were also able to treat ourselves with hot chocolate from a concession hut, which warmed up our chilled hands. While it was very beautiful and it was neat to walk up in the trees, it didn't lend itself to many photos; without any subject to focus on, all that the photos looked like generic forest images. Caitlyn struggled trying to juggle camera equipment with the hot chocolate and an umbrella, multiple times I ended up holding the umbrella over her and the camera while the hot chocolate and I got wet. After a second trip across the suspension bridge, we then visited the Cliff Walk, which was a series of catwalks bolted and suspended from the cliff face. Caitlyn was able to capture a couple good photos along this walk even with the clouds and rain. Finally, we spent some time in the gift shop, where I purchased a hoodie that I found invaluable the rest of the week.

Tourists crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

This is what we could see while on the suspension bridge.

The view looking down from the catwalk.

The catwalk in Capilano Park.

After returning to the hotel room, we planned out our potential meals for the week.  Before we left the room, we decided on a sushi restaurant for the night and we thought we had it mapped out. Because we had a limit on our cell phone plans, we navigated by a paper map the hotel had given us. We arrived at the location of the sushi place, but oddly the name didn’t match up with what our research on the internet had given us. We walked up and down the block to make sure we hadn't missed it, and we decided to eat there anyway as it was the only sushi place on the block. (Ironically, there were no shortages of sushi restaurants nearby as we would find out later.) When we finished eating, we decided that we still had energy and figured we would walk around part of the city. The desk clerk at the hotel had told us the best route to take around the city to see a lot of shops and restaurants. As we walked, we found that one block away from our dinner location was the Sushi place we had intended to patronize, but we had turned the wrong direction earlier. We both ended up buying umbrellas as the rain had no plans to stop; I purchased a functional small black one to use later at work while Caitlyn found a ridiculous pink umbrella with corgis and poodles holding roses in their mouths. One of the neat things that we came across while walking were the rainbow colored crosswalks in the LGBT part of town.


Tuesday our day, again, started with a visit to Starbucks, and with the same flavors of coffee in hand as the previous day, we enjoyed a leisure walk through town, south to the ferry. We waited ten minutes while enjoying the bay and mountains, and we boarded a small 10 passenger boat to Granville Island. Once on the island, we wandered around the farmers-market-style building and found some sweets to chase down the Starbucks. We each had a mini lemon-meringue pie; I hadn't had lemon meringue for a long while, and it brought back good memories from my childhood summers at my grandparent’s house in Blue Eye Missouri. We continued to walk around the island, and while attempting to find a silk shop that Caitlyn wanted to visit, we found a woodworking shop. This was the highlight of the day for me; we talked with the guy working in the shop and had a good time helping him draw out the ergonomics of a footstool he was designing for a beautiful chair that he had just finished. All the while, we were entertained by his shop pal, a sawdust colored terrier mix, who (like Dwight) loved tossing his stuffed toy into the air and running after it. Eventually, we found the silk shop that we were looking for, and Caitlyn was in the first of many fiber stores she had long ago planned on visiting. While I think she was in heaven feeling all the different types of silk, I found myself entertained by the machinery they had in the store: from looms to skein winding devices, and even a device to harvest the silk from the cocoons. After the first of many fiber purchases, we were on our way via taxi to another fiber location.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at SweetGeorgiaYarns. It is currently the headquarters for a well known yarn-dying brand, and we were fortunate to get the nickel tour of the dye studio. Caitlyn was admiring the fiber and the pretty colors while I was admiring the techniques they used for the different processes, followed by another yarn purchase.

On the taxi ride back to the hotel, we decided that we were surprised that we hadn’t seen any crab restaurants (as we were so close to the ocean). When we got back to the hotel, did a fair amount of research to indulge our craving, which was interrupted by a nap.  We settled on a place that served dungeness crab called Coast. It was a very busy place with modern decor, and the crab was wonderful.  We ended up being sat outside, and while it was a chilly night, we were very toasty sitting under the heat lamps.


The Vancouver Lookout

Wednesday, continuing our pattern, our day started with Starbucks and a walk along the Seawall. This time, we set off in the other direction towards our first stop of the day: The Vancouver Lookout, which is a scenic observation deck atop a tall building. The view was pretty awesome and we could see the majority of the city. We continued our walk through the city headed towards a yarn store named Wool is not Enough, but were sidetracked when we spotted some incredible graffiti that was based off of The Simpsons. Once at the yarn store, Caitlyn purchased more yarn and this time it included a skein for me. I plan to make a Canadian toque (hat) out of it. It is spun in Canada and dyed on Vancouver Island.

The view from The Lookout

Hidden graffiti that was a delight to discover.

A short walk from Wool is not Enough, and a couple of local beggars later, we arrived at the Vancouver Police Museum. The museum is directly across the street from the Vancouver police main building, and one block away from the first time we noticed the smell of marijuana. The museum is smaller than we expected, but then, I had never been to a police museum. The most interesting part for me were the mock crime scenes they had set up. They coincided with the audio tour phone app, and were designed to test your skills of observation.

Lynn Canyon Park

After the Police Museum, thanks to Google Maps, we were then able to navigate the Vancouver public bus system, and we arrived an hour later at Lynn Canyon Park. Upon arrival, our first priority was to visit the gift shop, not to buy any trinkets, but to make sure we had change for the bus fare back to the hotel. By this point in the day, we were getting hungry and had hoped that there might be a place to grab a snack at the park. Unfortunately for us, the cafe had closed for the season, but the cashier at the gift shop told us about a place to eat very near one of the start/end of a trail. We were then able to fight off the hunger with a stash of jerky, and we started our trek thru the Canadian wilderness. The cashier undersold the difficulty of the trail that she convinced us of, but mind you, she did warn us that it has a lot of stairs. I still feel she undersold it as we were exhausted by the end of the trail. The good news is that, by the time we got to the cafe, we were thirsty and hungry. The shop was a very nice and  quaint small-town grocery & dime store that had a number of quirky gift items for sale. We sat and enjoyed our food, and after debating if we wanted to head back into the park or head back to the hotel, we decided on the hotel. So with our bellies full of food and our pockets full of change, we rode the hour long bus ride back to the hotel.


Thursday, after our now ritualistic stop at Starbucks, we visited a bank and got 50$ worth of Toonies for bus fare. Our trip that morning took us to a part of town called the Punjabi Market. This market consisted of a stretch of 2 or 3 blocks that were all Indian shops. It also referred to as Little India, and we were both hopeful because neither of us had been to an all Indian part of a town before. We were disappointed as we didn’t feel very welcomed when we wandered into the shops, as well it was essentially the same store over and over again all up and down the street. I had seen Indian clothes in discount stores before, and noticed that it was usually in plastic wrap. I figured that was because it was cheap discount, knock off stuff for tourists, and I was surprised to see in all the stores everything in plastic wrap and I still wonder about it now. We spent about 30 minutes walking up and down the street and ventured into maybe a handful of stores, but did purchase a thing. On the bus ride back, we decided that we would get off in Chinatown. Just the same as the Punjabi market, Chinatown was a bust.

The view from the sea plane.

After another bus ride back to the hotel, we then walked to the sushi place that we had intended on visiting Monday. It was very good and made me wish that we had turned right instead of left the first time. We relaxed and rested for an hour or two until our scheduled time for a floatplane tour of the city and surrounding wilderness. The 30-minute wait in the terminal watching the operations of the busiest water aerodrome in Canada was the highlight of the trip for me. I was glued to the window watching as the planes were serviced, loaded, taxied, took off and landed. The flight was a blast and Caitlyn got awesome pictures. After the tour,  we slowly walked along the Seawall and watched as they last flights of the day landed and took off.

We flew very near the mountains north of Vancouver.

We had decided early on that while we were in Canada we needed to visit Tim Hortons. Before this trip, I honestly had no idea what Tim Hortons sold, and even though they are essentially a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts combined, we were able to find some tasty sandwiches that we could eat. The best part of that was the combo deal, that came with a drink and a donut. We each had a donut for dessert!

The day concluded with a leisurely walk along the Seawall back to the hotel. The whole time we were hoping that we could avoid a guy begging for money as we had run into him a couple days in a row while walking in that area.


The clouds managed to part long enough while in the wind turbine for a nice view.

Friday, our last day of the trip, started the same as the previous four, with a stop at Starbucks. With our warm coffee in hand, we walked to the nearest bus stop, this time headed to Grouse Mountain.  Privately owned, Grouse Mountain is a park atop the mountain to the north of the city. Any visit to Grouse Mountain starts with an accent to the top of the mountain, but you can either hike up a trail which is called the Grouse Grind or you can take an aerial tram; we opted for the tram. After paying our admission fee and boarding the tram and waiting for more people to board, I decided to clean my glasses. As I'm cleaning them, the left arm of the glasses comes off in my hand. This is now the second pair of glasses of mine that have broken while being cleaned. By the time we got up the mountain it was after 11AM, and so we enjoyed a lunch in their restaurant.  The table was next to the fireplace, and while we were also next to a window, it was too cloudy to be able to enjoy the view. At this time of the year, the park is in transition from summer to winter activities, so some of the activities had been shut down for maintenance. We were fortunate to get a tour of the wind turbine, which was the main reason why I wanted to visit the park. Sadly, the wind wasn’t blowing so the turbine wasn’t turning. We enjoyed the rest of our evening in the hotel room, and Caitlyn was able to experience her first room service, as we concluded our honeymoon eating dessert in our bed.