East Coast Adventure Part I: The Fun Stuff

Grand Central. Speaking of which, have you read the newly-released “Grand Central?”

My East Coast adventure started as soon as I walked off the plane in Connecticut. After a red-eye flight with a connection in Detroit and rocking bed head from trying to sleep sitting up, I was reunited with my dad who had flown in a week earlier for work.

There was no need to go to the hotel. Who knew that I was wearing the same thing I was wearing the day before? And for that reason the sightseeing started instantly.

Our travels took us from Connecticut to New York City, back to Connecticut with a finale in Mystic. I’m breaking the trip down to two posts: The Fun Stuff and The Food Stuff, because there was a lot of both. Here are the highlights (from most amazing to amazing):

1. Two words. Idina Menzel. Or, Adele Dazeem. Live! This was my second visit to New York City. The first was in 2006 where I saw Chicago on Broadway. With the opportunity to see a Broadway and vocal star live, there was no contest of which show I chose when my dad asked me what I wanted to see.

My new favorite show.

If/Then is the story of a woman (Menzel) whose life plays out in two different scenarios based on the decisions she makes. I’ve been impressed with Menzel’s robust pipes since she starred as Maureen in “Rent,” but was absolutely blown away by the power of her voice and presence live.

It’s not often you see a Broadway show interrupted by technical difficulties. Unfortunately during the saddest number of the show the set was having some issues and production was halted for a few minutes. Once the show resumed, Menzel handled the mishap with sass and had the audience cheering during her ad libs. Her fellow actor had a hard time continuing on because he was even caught off guard with laughter.

I ordered the soundtrack online during intermission and have been listening to it in my car every day since I returned home.

2. Another two words. Katherine Hepburn. I just so happened to be in town the same time the Katherine Hepburn Dressed for Stage and Screen exhibit was at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Me and Kate. Black and white for a dramatic effect. Is it working?

Kate’s personal collection of stage costumes from her stage and film career that spanned six decades was given to Kent State University. The collection has been at the Hartford museum since April.

What makes it extra special is the fact that Hepburn’s hometown is Hartford and the exhibit was viewed as a “coming home.”

Her unique sense of style was on display along with photos and movie posters. Glamorous gowns, size zero pants and stage costumes were all on display. And it was amazing.

3. This time three words. Mark Twain House. After visiting the Kate exhibit we dashed over to the Mark Twain House to walk through the historical landmark where the author lived and worked from 1874 to 1891. Unfortunately photos were not allowed so I’m writing strictly from memory, which isn’t difficult because it was definitely memorable.

The house where Mark Twain lived and worked. Pretty cool.

Our tour was led by a spunky boarding school teenager home for the summer and working her first job. The “historical interpreter in training” does so many of these tours every day, you can tell she jazzes it up not just for the paid visitors, but for her sanity as well.


“This is the bed where Mark Twain died. Pretty cool. [Pause to allow the historical nugget to sink in] And this German beer stein…”

And on it went. I was bummed to learn only 40 percent of what’s inside the house is actually authentic to the family, but the Downton Abbey fan in me was very interested in the upstairs, downstairs dynamic of the house.

4. Again, three words. ESPN The Picnic. My dad is an employee of ESPN, which is based in Bristol. Part of the reason I traveled to the East Coast was to be my dad’s plus-one for the annual family picnic. ESPN rents out local amusement park, Lake Compounce, which fun fact, is the oldest amusement park in the country.

Dad and me outside Lake Compounce after a day of food and fun.

The day was hot and we stayed cool in the shade eating snacks, lots of them. The daylong event wrapped up with a BBQ of ribs, chicken and burgers, and ice cream sandwiches, and cookies, and…

It was a great experience to meet some of my dad’s coworkers, ride the Ferris wheel and take selfies with the Heisman Trophy (true story).

5. The finale is just one word. Mystic. My dad has lived and worked in Connecticut for some time off and on, and has seen a lot of the tourist hot spots. So he asked me how I wanted to spend our last day in town. I chose a spot I had never been to, but was intrigued by the idea of a historic coastal town.

On deck of the Charles W. Morgan, America’s oldest whaling ship still afloat. Pretty historical.

Mystic Seaport is the largest maritime museum in the world. A tour of the museum includes walking on foot through a 19th-century village and on board of historic whaling ships. The history lover in me was disappointed to learn all of the historical buildings included in the museum are all transplants, but it was still fascinating history.

A visit to Mystic wouldn’t be complete without stopping to take a photo outside Mystic Pizza, the setting for the 1988 Julia Roberts film of the same name. Unfortunately we didn’t eat a slice because I was still full from our seafood lunch (see following post).

Plenty of pizza, but sadly no Julia Roberts.

Did you know?

Connecticut is home to the first hamburger, Polaroid camera, helicopter and color television.


Thirty in Victoria

Eating our way through Victoria.

It’s official. I have reached the 30-64 age bracket of car insurance. While we save a couple of dollars each month, there really haven’t been any other differences in reaching the big 3-0.

No new gray hairs (yet), no new smile/frown lines (or wrinkles) and my hearing and memory is still very much the same as it was at 29 (very poor).

Over the last year I had hoped we would celebrate our birthday (yes, my husband has the same birthday) in London. It’s a place we both want to visit, Trevor so he can visit Rolling Stones-type stuff and me so I can visit everything related to the Tudors, Jane Austen, Downton Abbey and all things historical.

Unfortunately it didn’t happen for my 30th. Instead we visited what my husband calls “poor man’s London” — Victoria, B.C.! No offense, Victoria. Your tea is delicious, the food delicious and the city as a whole is, well, delicious. It was much more feasible for us to take the ferry across the pond instead of the trek to the U.K.

Victoria bound!

In order to save even a few more dollars, we drove more than two hours to board the Coho Ferry in Port Angeles rather than the convenient Victoria Clipper out of Seattle. Ninety minutes later we were in the land of international cell phone service, tourism and afternoon tea. Because we were celebrating 30 and 29, we decided on a dinner on the fancier side. Luckily our hotel was across the street from a shopping mall as well as fine dining. When I think of the name Earl, I don’t think fine wine and steak, but that’s what it was, including amazing bare bulb chandeliers. Our Canadian mini-holiday started at Earl’s as soon as we checked in and discovered the wifi worked in the hotel!

We toasted to another year older and enjoyed an amazing steak and seafood dinner, with dessert of course.

I woke bright and early on Day 2, because that’s what I do on vacation unfortunately. With afternoon tea reservations at The Empress at noon, we had a couple of hours to check out the scenery, after Starbucks of course.

Afternoon tea (not to be confused with high tea) was the highlight of the trip for me. For Trevor, he was fulfilling his husband of the year duty to make his bride happy. My poor husband was just one of maybe two males in the tea room (No. 2 being our waiter Yosef). The pretty tiered trays of sandwiches, scones and desserts was amazing, presented after the strawberries and cream appetizer. We stuffed ourselves with miniature food over a pot of The Empress black tea, one of the best black teas my palate has ever tasted.

While the tea and treats are a little pricey — a little more than $100 — you’re paying for the experience, channeling your inner Lady Mary (Downton fans!).

Tea for two.

The rest of the early afternoon was spent at the Royal B.C. Museum, where our timing couldn’t have been more horrible. We happened to visit when the IMAX theater was closed for upgrades, and two new exhibits, including “Vikings” were not quite ready to open to the public. Alas, we still enjoyed the history lesson from the exhibits.

Even though our hotel was across the street from a mall, we did most of our shopping at a fun vintage clothing store called Patch. Trevor found this cool vintage letterman’s sweater from whenever school’s still had sweaters.

We ended the day eating as much food as we could, literally. Being right there on the water you start to crave seafood, and for me that craving was specific to clams. We had an appetizer of clam and mussel steamers at a spot on the water just so we could walk up the block to gorge on sushi. So. Much. Food.

We started Day 2 at a fun, very Portland-like style breakfast place called Jam. You know the lines of people you see outside of night clubs downtown? Well that’s what the outside of this place looks like during morning business hours! And for good reason. Not only is their menu unique, Trevor ordered the pulled pork pancakes, but it is delicious!

With our bellies full and our table open to a couple who waited patiently outdoors, we were off to explore Victoria. I drug Trevor to antique shops, souvenir stores and the mall to make sure we had purchased all we wanted before we left the next day.

Because of convenience of location we had breakfast at Burger King a couple of hours before we were to board the ferry back to the mainland. While eating our breakfast sandwiches we made friends with a local named Mike, a 66-year-old crooner singer. This guy had so many stories to tell, complete with song samples and a fedora. It was the perfect ending to our holiday.

Victoria is definitely a place I will return to. Save me a seat at The Empress.

Ramen Girl

ramen3_sI’m on the hunt for a good bowl of noodles. I’m not talking about spaghetti, Cup of Noodles or even pho. I’m talking about ramen (not to be confused with Top Ramen).

The area I live in seriously lacks quality ramen options. I’ve been told the nearest place is in a different county than which I live in and I’m darn near ready to make that drive! Lately (as in the last couple months) my noodle craving was peaked and pho and packaged noodle soup just aren’t cutting it.

My brother and I grew up enjoying the fruits of the Asian culture with our Japanese grandmother. She makes so many amazing dishes and as a result we have become Japanese foodie snobs. Our grandmother took us to Japan about 10 years ago where we had the best of the best Asian cuisine.

Sidenote: In Japan you can order sushi and it will be delivered to your doorstep!

I’m starting to get hungry…

I traveled to San Francisco with my dad and brother a couple of years ago and as we wandered around unfamiliar surroundings we stopped for lunch at a ramen restaurant. It was pretty warm outside, but we had found ramen!

Have you seen the movie “The Ramen Girl” starring the late Brittany Murphy? No, just me? Brittany’s character learns the true art of making ramen in Tokyo. I’m not trying to endorse the film here, I’m just trying to say the ramen in the movie looks amazing!MV5BNjMyNjE3NzE0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDI3MjY1Mg@@._V1._SX355_SY500_

Recently I gave in to my noodle craving and decided to settle on a trip to a pho place near our house. My husband was busy so I made the trip to a sit-down restaurant solo. I pulled up in the parking lot only to see the neon light for bubble tea aglow but the open sign was dormant. Closed?! Nooooooooo!

I was defeated and dejected. So I settled. I walked over to the grocery story and straight to the Asian food aisle where I picked up a package of instant noodles.

Can anybody else relate to my story? Have you ever wanted a food so badly you didn’t care what the cost? What food do you crave?

Disney is for grown ups, too

What is the one ride at Disneyland or California Adventure you absolutely have to ride? It’s the first ride you think about when planning your Disney vacation. Once you enter the park it’s the first ride you race to and it’s the last ride before you leave. And we won’t even talk about the devastation we would feel if that ride was closed.

For this girl that ride is Toy Story Midway Mania. Two years ago my husband and I were nearing the end of Day 2 of our anniversary trip in the Anaheim parks. We were squeezing in every last ride we could before we headed back home and along California Adventure’s Paradise Pier, we noticed a ride we hadn’t noticed before.

2499381553_ae7babd520_oWith an interactive Mr. Potato Head outside we waited in the line of our final ride of the trip. My husband and I put on the 3-D glasses and sat in the two-seater cart. In front of us were our individual toy cannons. The ride spun us through an interactive game in which we had to fire our cannons at targets in different classic carnival midway games.

Always game for a little competition my husband and I went out firing aiming for the highest score. But alas my erratic aim during the excitement of the game led to the husband finishing victorious.

Two years later as we planned our California vacation there were two must do things on my list upon entering the park: 1, ride Radiator Springs (check!) and 2, Toy Story Midway Mania (check, check, check and check!)!

Yes, I made my husband ride Toy Story four times (even waiting up to 45 minutes once), because each time we played I continued to lose! I just kept thinking one more time! I know I can beat him!

But it wasn’t meant to be. By the fourth time our right arms were exhausted from firing our virtual cannons off in rapid succession. Again, I finished the runner-up.

During that trip I learned there is one game my husband can’t beat me at: Toy Story’s Astro Blasters. I made him “drive” the spinning cart so I could focus on my targets and maybe that gave me an advantage? So be it. I am a two-time Astro Blasters champion!

So what’s your go-to ride/game? Indiana Jones? California Screamin’? Splash Mountain?

Conan From the Front Row

IMAG0724-1My husband and I have an evening weeknight routine that goes like this: 1, make dinner; 2, catch up on each other’s day while making dinner; 3, watch “Conan.” Thanks to the magic of the DVR we never miss an episode.

When my husband and I took a California vacation two years ago I entered the ticket lottery to see Conan live. No luck. Instead we spent a day in Hollywood and saw the WB Studios from the freeway. As we planned for this summer’s California trip I again threw our names in the hat. This time, SUCCESS!

We received an email about a month ago that said we’re in and instructions for the day: where to park, where to check in, no cameras, etc. Conan’s website has a comedic video explaining how to be an audience member. To sum it up, it’s a lot of waiting. And when you think you’re done waiting, there’s more waiting.

On our second day in California we rented a little bitty Chevy Spark (dubbed Sparky) and took to the craziness of California freeway driving. The day of waiting began. We arrived to the designated parking garage outside the WB Studios at 11:30 a.m. We went through security and were given the No. 12 (12th Man to the Seahawks fans!) to hold our place in line. We sat in a holding pen of benches and other Conan fans waiting for the first set of instructions.

Riding the elevator down.

About an hour later Conan’s people came out to say we were free to go for a couple hours as long as we returned by 3 p.m. Being the worrier that I am, I was fearful we would drive somewhere and get lost or we would lose our parking space, so I made the suggestion to my husband that we explore on foot. He graciously followed along and we walked and walked and walked under the very warm California sun until we came upon a Taco Bell.

After our afternoon snack we hiked back to the holding pen that was bustling with excitement and music. It was almost showtime! But first we had to wait.

Outside WB Studios.

While we sat staring at people around us (we were trying to save our phone battery for Google Maps) we noticed a Conan writer walking about the crowd, taking notes and observations of the crowd for a skit. After 3 p.m. we were gathered in groups based on our place in line and were herded on to the WB properties. We walked past massive studios where shows like “Friends,” Two and Half Men,” and the “Big Bang Theory” are filmed, but unfortunately no photos allowed.

We then waited outside under a semi-covered area. More waiting. And did I mention it was hot? But soon Conan’s people arrived in golf carts with Popsicles for everyone! Eventually we made it into Conan’s studio where we were blasted with amazing air conditioning.

As the 12th group in line we just so happened to be directed to the bottom of a column of two-seater seats. Front and center! Which is only really awesome when Conan does his monologue because he stood right in front of us, but when he interviewed Eric Bana and Josh Gad the seven cameras on the floor caused an obstructed view.

My husband proudly wore his bright green Seattle Sonics T-shirt and Seattle Mariners baseball hat to represent home if we were seen on TV (which we were!). But sadly, Conan didn’t notice us.

After the show was filmed Conan addressed the audience and asked if he could record his monologue for the following day’s pre-recorded show with Harrison Ford. So not only could see us on TV on Wednesday’s show, but you could see us on Thursday’s show, too!

That’s us on the left of the screen!

By the time we were escorted off the studio property it was 6:30 p.m. and prime freeway traffic time. But luckily the Dodgers were in town so we made a detour before heading back to Anaheim.

We’re glad for the opportunity to experience Conan’s comedic genius in person and I encourage you to try to snag tickets if you’re in town! The wait is definitely worth it!

What shows have you seen live?

Wilkommen to Leavenworth

Leavenworth’s finest.

Sometimes you just need to get away for a weekend. Lucky for us in the Pacific Northwest there are so many mini-vacation spots just a quick drive away. Last weekend my husband and I enjoyed a getaway to Leavenworth, Wash., a Bavarian-themed village surrounded by Alpine Hills in Chelan County.

Everything about Leavenworth is cute: the storefronts, the dogs that wear lederhosen harnesses, the year-round Christmas lights outside, the music that plays through the outdoor speakers…What’s not to love?

Oh, and the food! On our way to our weekend getaway we had already mapped out some of the things we knew we had to do, which included a stop at the Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill for a warm pretzel and a Bavarian sausage. The best part of the experience is trying to decide which mustard to decorate your meal with because there are seriously too many too choose from! And don’t forget the topping of their famous apple cider kraut.

No line is too long to wait at the Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill.
No line is too long to wait at the Munchen Haus.

We also had to be sure to visit A Matter of Taste, a quaint shop where you can pick up hot sauces, mustards and the like to take a little piece of Leavenworth home with you. We stocked up on garlic and jalapeno mustards and our favorite habanero pepper jelly. And a visit to Leavenworth would not be complete without stopping by my favorite shop: the bookstore — and we did not leave empty handed!

We tried out new restaurants where we ordered dishes we couldn’t pronounce, but we also returned to the familiar spots. We spent our weekend at the Leavenworth Village Inn which had a jacuzzi tub in the bedroom (genius!).

At night in our room with the window open I fell asleep listening to the horse-drawn carriage walking down the street. You really feel like you’re transported to another place in another time.

In talking with the locals there’s definitely something magical about the place, even to those who were born and raised in the town, because they never left.

Whether it’s during the holiday season, when the town looks like a decorated Gingerbread house village, or during the summer when the sun is hot and the town is overflowing with people, anytime is a good time to visit. Wilkommen to Leavenworth!

From our visit February 2012.

Countdown Begins: Philly Bound!

One month from today my friend Blaire and I will be immersed at The Justice Conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I just read a story today that about 6,000 people will be gathered for the conference!

We are beyond excited for the conference speakers, artists, the film festival and to meet people and organizations from all the over the world pursuing justice. But we are also excited to explore Philly, the City of Brotherly Love, the city we all sang about at the beginning of each Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode and the city where Rocky conquered the steps of the Museum of Art (which I hope to recreate).

We have two days post-conference to explore Philly and aren’t entirely sure what we should be sure to see, eat and do! Anyone have suggestions?

We’re into history and are looking forward to all the museums we get to explore. We were instructed from more than one person to eat a Philly Cheesesteak, but just any Philly Cheesesteak or should it be from a specific place??

I have placed holds on Philadelphia guide books at the library I need to pick up and study. Blaire has compiled a list of places to see. I have reached out to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau who said they too would put together suggestions. But we want to hear from the locals!

Please share your tips, suggestions, warnings, stories, etc. of Philly with us!