Ja, naturlich!

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The title of this post is my favorite German expression ever, as I patiently wait here in the Munich airport, I promise I shall use it before I leave. So far my ordering coffee did not warrant such an exclamation.

So I really wanted to do a post before I left, summarizing the Brain Trust visit in DC, my pack out and my final weekend at home with the fam, but I clearly over estimated how much free time I would have. I had little to none, so I’ll have to do that later.  I had more logistical arrangements than I anticipated, the good news is that things went smoothly and so far it appears I haven’t made any glaring errors. YET. Give it time, this is me we’re talking about.

My flight to Munich was mostly uneventful, I’m great at sleeping on planes so I probably got about 4-5 hours of sleep on the way here.  I had quite a large dude sitting next to me that I could have done without, but at least he was a NICE large dude. It’s about 9am here, it should feel like 3am but so far the jet lag is minimal.  I need to power through until about 8 tonight then I will crash HARD and finish resetting my clock.

Emailed my very friendly and helpful future boss who will be picking me up at the airport, I feel really lucky to have someone who’s looked out for me so far.  He will meet me at the gate, whisk me through customs (flying on a diplomatic mission comes with different customs rules, they send someone to help you the first time which is awesome), and drive me to my new apartment in Sarajevo.  I was assigned a social sponsor who grabbed some initial groceries for me, and who will take me grocery shopping and will accompany me to a cookout on Saturday with my future coworkers. Overall I’ve been nothing but impressed with how the Embassy has looked out for me, I hope to return the favor someday.

That’s it for now, hope to update you all later with photos of my new city and my new apartment!!

The stars at night are big and bright

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*clap*clap*clap*clap

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!

And to answer your question, yes I do only know that song because of PeeWee’s Big Adventure.  Thank you for asking.

I had never been to Texas, I missed Kiva and KT terribly, and I love any excuse to see this great nation, so I headed to Dallas to see my pals.  I’m happy to report that my travel experience was MUCH better than the last time I flew, and thank goodness for that.  I could not have handled another disaster like my STL trip.

I headed off to Dallas, Kiva picked me up and we headed to their gorgeously renovated new home in the Dallas METROPLEX.   (This is what they call Dallas metropolitan area…it sounds like a movie theater.  Or a transformer.)  Kiva asked what I wanted to do on my trip, and I told her I wanted to eat BBQ, and see cowboys.  So off to Ft. Worth we went.

YeeHaw!

YeeHaw!

Longhorns.  Their horns are...well they're long

Longhorns. Their horns are…well they’re long

We walked around, had some slushy wine (well, I did, Keevs had just a normal slush!) and shopped around at the local stores.  Got all sorts of goodies, including hot sauce, my standard travel Christmas ornament, and some awesome smoked sea salt.  It was a little too early to hit up the bars, but we stopped by Cowtown Winery to do a tasting.

Generous tasting!

Generous tasting!

After my fill of delicious fruity wine, we decided it was BBQ time.  Now Texas is known for their brisket.  I will admit that when I want good BBQ, my go-to is pork.  But I was willing to bend my rules to do as the natives do, so bring on the beef.  (That sounds filthy…I am referring to cow.  Shut up.)

We stopped by Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell, and it was everything I hoped it would be.  We approached this massive grill where you could pick and choose the items you wanted, I have no idea how the employees could stand in front of the thing without melting, so mad props to them.

1 of each, please

1 of each, please

I couldn’t logically pick everything on the menu (or could I?) so I settled on the brisket and jalapeno sausage, with jalapeno creamed corn and mac and cheese on the side, served with freshly brewed sweet tea.  There were two types of sauces, one warm BBQ and another spicy apple cider sauce…wow.  I loved how you could just walk down the row of food, picking and choosing what to throw on your tray.  My kind of place.

YES!

YES!

Jalapeno sausage was by FAR the highlight, and while the brisket was totally fine, I am sticking with my rule:  pork = BBQ.  I refuse to be convinced otherwise.  Because this is America.

We headed back to the house to do some swimming, and then headed to meet KT and Bryan at their gorgeous house for drinks.  We explored the Bishop Arts District (hipsters everywhere!) and then headed to our final destination, Smoke.  The food here was incredible, we started with hummus and smoked broccoli (who knew that was a thing?), various sausages (pictured below), and our dinners were rock solid.  Highly recommend it for anyone in the area!  We ended the night by watching Bryan basically inhale an entire container of tiramisu.  It was majestic.

sausageActual signage: Rabbit – Cow – Lamb – Pig

What we thought the signs looked like: Rabbit – Coyote – Sheep – House cat (hoping this one was inaccurate)

***

The next day we shopped a bit, ate cupcakes, got pedicures, and laid by the pool.  Kiva and Joel’s sweet pup has a habit of freaking out a little bit when swimmers in the pool go underwater (what a good rescue dog!) but has an even funnier quirk when someone gets on a raft.  He sits on their lap.  To save them, or something.

Don't worry Dad.  I'll save you.

Don’t worry Dad. I’ll save you.

Kiva and KT drove me to the airport and we said our tearful goodbyes, so glad I got to spend a weekend with some of my favorite Texans!! (I have to say SOME OF because I do have other Texas friends who I did not visit on this round and who may never forgive me for being so close and yet so far away.  Sorry Stuebe!)

Enjoyed my first trip to Texas, hopefully won’t be my last!

 

For someone with a travel curse, I picked a strange career

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So, if you’ve ever traveled with me, you will know that I am cursed when it comes to flying.  I am consistently bumped from flights, seated next to children (tiny humans are great, until you put them on my airplane), given broken televisions, chairs that don’t recline, getting booked on delayed or canceled flights, etc.  When I walk into an airport, baggage belts stop working, computer systems malfunction, and TSA lines somehow get longer (and I ALWAYS get stuck behind the lady that has NEVER heard of the 3-1-1 rule.)

I thought perhaps the travel gods had forgiven me, or that we had made peace somehow.  I was granted Gold status on American Airlines and had been flying frequently back and forth across the country lately, mostly without incident.  This weekend, all hell broke loose.  Nobody wants to read a breakdown of all of the troubles I had flying, it would honestly be a post all its own

Aint-Nobody-Got-Time-for-ThatLong story short:

Canceled flights, delayed flights, lost luggage, not being able to find a human to talk to, oversold flights, tickets issued on a separate airline but not actually RECEIVED on that airline, 2nd leg of round trips being canceled, bad weather, out of pocket hotel, lots of hours on the phone.  It was a neat experience, to be sure.

HOWEVER, it was all worth it, because I got to spend the weekend with my parents and siblings on the Shawnee Wine Trail.

Really Ridiculously Good Looking

Really Ridiculously Good Looking

Now, I am not much of a wine drinker, I just can’t get into the stuff.  However, my mom and sisters are huge fans so I was happy to tag along with them, take their recommendations and use the opportunity to find new types that I might enjoy.  We visited Von Jakob (great beer and delicious German food), Alto Vinyards (great live music, did an actual tasting here and I learned things…for instance that some people make their wine taste like cigars on purpose), Owl Creek Vinyard (cute!  Great outdoor patio and more live music), Blue Sky Vineyard (AWESOME sangria!!), and we ended at Rustle Hill Winery (good local beers, and an excellent hill to roll down.)  We had the best weather imaginable.  It was sunny, mid 80’s, no humidity…perfect.

This is supposed to be a buffalo mixed with a vineyard.  For some reason.

This is supposed to be a buffalo mixed with a vineyard. For some reason.

 

Freakin' Tannins

Freakin’ Tannins

Because we chose to drink delicious wine all day, we opted to stay in the area at the Davie School Inn.  This place was too cute, the owners purchased an abandoned school house from 1910 for $2000 and turned it into a very unique B&B  We took up the white and yellow rooms, outfitted with half cozy furnishings, half schoolhouse charm.   I may have left a tiny Trogdor on one of the chalkboards for the next guests.   We spent the evening playing Yahtzee, which actually was more fun than I remembered.  I won, natch.

Gary (the owner) cooked us an amazing breakfast of stuffed french toast, omelets,  southwestern potatoes, fresh fruit, toast, and the fixings.  The experience couldn’t have been better, if you plan to do the wine trail I highly suggest this spot, very affordable too!

davie school

Since it was Father’s Day weekend, we let Papa Cain pick what he wanted to do for lunch, and happily he suggested that we go to the Giant City Lodge for family-style fried chicken and sides.  Thankfully Shannon’s friend Sarah had a brother who worked there and could get us in with a last minute reservation…thank you Sarah!    We enjoyed unlimited fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, dumplings, biscuits, corn and green beans…yum!!  We wandered around the park a bit and then headed back to Phil’s parents’ house to see the girls.  Hung out with Syd and Lex, I stole a bunch of hugs and kisses from them, and then headed for the airport.  The airport was a disaster, see the beginning of this post.

Anyway, I had a wonderful weekend with my family and enjoyed escaping the land of classes, exams, endless paperwork and travel prep.  Less than one month to go!

Hooray grapes!

Hooray grapes!

Air & Space Museum > Old Navy?

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I find it hard to believe that I’ve been taking classes at FSI (foreign service institute…this is my federal employment coming through – acronyms!!) since February…didn’t I just get here?  The unpacked box of clothes in my bedroom now seems pretty pathetic. My new pack-out for Sarajevo is less than a month away, I guess I’ll just leave it packed and save the new movers some effort.

Right now we are in a 2-week class where we recap the things we learned throughout our previous lessons, and it’s become painfully obvious that my memory isn’t what it used to be.  The instructor hands me a scenario, I look it over, and then am forced to think back a few months ago, throughout my hundreds of hours of instruction, to pick out one single lesson, to recall that ONE button that was on that ONE tab of that ONE application that I used briefly, oh and what was that password again?  I feel like there was a hidden field if I expand this….oh hell I just printed that invoice, better shred that.  What’s the radio protocol again, am I ACTUALLY supposed to say niner or is that just what they say on Tommy Boy?  Ah, I need to change that group policy…WAIT, did I set that for the entire network or just my post?  Was I supposed to do an incremental or full backup there?  Did I need to print two copies of that inventory, and do I sign both or just the one?  What was that combination I learned two months ago?  And on and on it goes.

So yes, it’s quite a bit to remember, and I’ve had a TON of information crammed into my brain in a relatively short amount of time, but I’ve got to say it’s been a pretty great experience overall.  Plenty of hands-on lab assignments, lots of field trips to meet with the respective experts in our field, weekly exams to keep us on track, and a plethora of study materials to take with me to post.  I have to give props to FSI – they’ve done a pretty amazing job of taking 23 IT-folks from VERY different backgrounds, and getting all of us on the same page.

***

So between my various classes I managed to fit in a few more weekends of family shenanigans, and for that I am so thankful.  A few weekends ago, baby brother Nate graduated from Purdue as a DOCTOR of Pharmacy.  A doctor, for crying out loud.  I flew into Indy, we got celebratory Thai from Thai Spice in Indy (4.5 stars on Yelp, that’s no joke!) and said goodbye to Nate’s lovely apartment (but not so lovely water pressure.)  Nate will be renting my condo in STL so we helped him move…another third floor walkup, another move, just your average day in the Cain household.

IMG_3985

The graduation ceremony was lovely and about 2.5 hours too long, so long in fact that most of the MBA students left before the thing was even over.  RUDE.  I was surrounded by proud parents and siblings and girlfriends/boyfriends and grandparents, and one stupidly racist/terrible/awful man behind me who threw a FIT when the announcer (who had to say about 1000 people’s names in the span of a couple hours) messed up his son’s last name.  Ok, I get it, you paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for your kid’s education, I understand that you’d be disappointed in hearing your last name botched, fair enough.  What was NOT OK was his rant that followed, loudly complaining about all the FOREIGN names all got pronounced correctly, obviously they cared more about those FOREIGNER NAMES than the name of his AMERICAN son ROBERT…..GO ROBERT!!!! YEAH ROBERT!!  He yelled these evil words from the balcony, minutes after his son had already crossed the stage and taken his seat.  That fact that his son’s name was botched obviously warranted ruining everyone’s diploma acceptance too.  Happily the jerk face got bored and left early, I did not miss him.

***

So ever since I got this gig and knew I’d be living in the DC area for a while, my dad has mentioned he was going to come visit and do nothing but hit up museums the whole time.  Happily at the end of May, he got his wish.  Mom and Dad drove over from Philo and got to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend in Arlington with me.  We really made the most of the trip: Air and Space Museum (x2!), American History Museum, National Archives, Capitol Building, Library of Congress, Arlington Cemetery, and more memorials/statues than you could imagine.  Mom and I were so excited!!!

Kidding! Well…at first

My whole family went on a trip to DC back when I was in either junior high, and let me tell you, that trip was wasted on me.  At that point in my life I was interested in shopping and beaches and boys, I could not have cared any less about war memorials or airplanes.   Well on that trip, we as a group gave my dad ONE HOUR to spend in the Air and Space museum, and that was it.  We would wait for him at the snack bar with our french fries, and after that we were going to hit up Old Navy.  He hung his head, did the best he could with his one hour of history, and then left.  And he never forgave me.

So on this trip, I was determined to make it up to him.  As penance, I took him to the Udvar-Hazy Center, an Air and Space Museum annex out at Dulles Airport that was basically the greatest thing I ever could have done.  We spent an entire day roaming around hangers full of iconic planes:

SR-71 Blackbird (Mach 3 secret spy plane!)

SR-71 Blackbird (Mach 3 secret spy plane!)

Enola Day - dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Enola Day – dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Nazi Planes from "Axis Alley"

Nazi Planes from “Axis Alley”

Space Shuttle - Discovery

Space Shuttle – Discovery

AirBus landing outside

AirBus landing outside

Dad had a great day!

Dad had a great day!

One thing we neglected to do was take a single pic with Kashmir, the SWIC Mascot who is supposed to be traveling around with me in DC.  So this one should make up for it.

Sorry, Mel

Sorry, Mel

Not only was I glad that my parents visited so that I could spend time with them, it also served as a great excuse for me to actually get out and see DC in all of its splendor.  We decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to those who gave their life for our country, and wouldn’t you know it, we stumbled into a memorial service with a pretty high profile speaker – President Obama.  He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and gave a very nice speech recognizing our Armed Forces.

???????????????????????????????

After a full week of museums, memorials, national parks, it was hard to pick my favorite thing we did.  I really enjoyed seeing the monuments at night (with a ton of visitors laying flowers at each memorial), the ceremony at Arlington was touching and a beautiful tribute to the fallen, I loved seeing Dad so excited to explore iconic airplanes used to change the course of human history, I loved eating breakfast with my parents before heading off to work for the day, enjoyed taking them to some of my favorite restaurants in the area, and was basically thrilled to spend time with the family again!  I leave you with this parting shot, of a particularly interesting exhibit at the American History Museum.

I loved this exhibit…because of course I did

 

 

I got the tickets…I got the tickets

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My dear family has been so great about visiting me in DC (quite honestly I get more visitors here than I did in STL!) and this past weekend I was so thrilled to host Phil, Mel, and Alexis for a few days.  So, I’m still a little salty about the fact that they left Sydney at home, but I have to admit that she is go go go all the time, would have been a pill on the airplane, would have HATED riding in a stroller all day, she would not have been interested in visiting monuments, and I could just see her somehow getting out onto my balcony.  So sweet little Syd stayed home with the grandparents, I missed her but it would have been a VERY different trip if she had come.

Any excuse to post this pic, LOOK AT THAT SWEETIE

Any excuse to post this pic, LOOK AT THAT SWEETIE

The Reinhardts flew into DCA and I met them at the airport, they were so worried that Alexis would freak out on the plane, but as it turns out she thought it was GREAT fun.  She got a pair of wings, got to watch Frozen, and even during some nasty turbulence she commented on how FUN it all was!  We headed back to my apartment thanks to a loaner car seat I borrowed from a very kind coworker, and headed to Ben’s Chili Bowl for dinner.   This place is a DC institution, Bill Cosby has his picture painted on the wall, so that’s always a good sign.  I got a Half Smoke and cheese fries, they rocked my socks off.  Not exactly gourmet and sure as hell not healthy, but I could think of nobody in the world better to share a chili dog with than Phil.

half smoke

On Friday I headed to work but met up with the family after.  We hit up Kinder Haus toys so Lex could pick out a one-of-a-kind, educational toy (naturally she picked a mass-produced Disney princess), Phil and I got Thai food from the newly-opened I-Thai in Georgetown, Mel FINALLY got her lobster roll from Luke’s (totally lived up to the hype, I stand corrected) and we enjoyed just generally walking around, people-watching, and cupcake eating.

lukes

We got home and realized that if Lex didn’t get a good night’s sleep, we were done for.  My apartment is insanely bright in the morning, so we had a brilliant beyond brilliant idea…let’s stick her in the closet.  No, really.  We got a twin roll-away bed from the front desk, removed the mattress, cleaned out a section of my closet and made up a cozy little nest for her.  She thought it was AWESOME, and the fact that she already has Harry Potter habits speaks very highly for her future.

hp closet

On Saturday we hit it hard, and decided to make sure we could see things that Lex would be interested in, namely flowers.  We started our day at the Botanical Garden (it was HERB DAY, score!!)   They had a ton of little crafts for kids, and plenty of lovely flowers, but again this will be filed in the category of “St. Louis Does It Better.”  (Missouri Botanical Garden FTW, not even a contest!)  We then made our way to the Capitol Building, were we were treated to TSA-like security measures.  We made our way to the Library of Congress, it was a really gorgeous space and I’ve made a mental note to take the official tour while I’m here.

Capitol Building

Capitol Building

Not pictured: Nick Cage

Not pictured: Nick Cage (Thank you Heather)

Now, by this point I should probably mention one of my biggest flaws as a human being.  I am not the kind of person that can walk around allllll day in heels, flip flops, or flats.  But I am also not the kind of person that likes to walk around in sneakers all day, because I feel like a tourist.  I am constantly battling my inner self to find appropriate footwear, and this particular day, I failed miserably with my suede green flats.  It was only about 2:00pm and already I was hurting.

After lunch, and with my feet already killing me, we walked to the National Mall for an old car show, the WWII Memorial, saw the Washington Monument from afar (which Lex calls “the tower,”) the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Constitution Gardens, the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, FDR Memorial, and finally the Jefferson Monument.  I. Was. Dying.  Every step I took was excruciatingly painful, and my companions were mighty tired of hearing about it.  As we hobbled back to the nearest Metro (MORE. WALKING.) I made Mel and Phil promise me that they’d never let me leave the house in anything but tennis shoes ever again.  They were happy to oblige.

***

On Sunday we decided to find some boats.  We had initially planned on going to Baltimore to the inner harbor, but after I heard about their whole “our street opened up and ate a bunch of cars” thing, we opted for Annapolis instead.  We went to mass at the Basilica, and then made our way to Annapolis. We started the visit by hitting up Davis’ Pub, where we had one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  A super-soft preztel bun, cut in half, covered in crab dip, and covered with melted cheese.  Wowza.  Exactly my kind of place, very casual with great food, and beer in plastic cups.

Sadly I had to share this and didn't get to eat the whole thing

Sadly I had to share this and didn’t get to eat the whole thing

We made our way to the boardwalk area (after snagging a BRILLIANT parking spot, princess parking!!) and took in the scenery.  Lex loved the boats, but loved the ducks even more.  We walked around to the different shops, Mel pretended to apply to the Naval Academy, we bought some local beer and wine, got an ice cream cone (each…not, like, to share) and enjoyed the sunshine!

Really should have gotten her a cup

Really should have gotten her a cup

***

On Monday while I went to work, the Reinhardts went to the Natural History Museum so Alex could be surrounded by her new favorite thing on the planet: butterflies.  One even landed on her hand, she was seriously in heaven.  They did more sight-seeing, and came back to the apartment to rest up for our big plans for the evening, a Nationals Game!  Since it was Cinco de Mayo, we picked up Mexican and Coronas from Guajillo (maybe the best salsa I’ve ever had) and then made our way to the ballpark.

So, another bizarre thing about me is that I like to make up songs.  All the time.  Even about very boring activities that have no actual significance.  That afternoon, as I was printing out our tickets (I think?) I started singing “iiiiiii got the tickets, I got the tickets, I got the tickets for yoooou-ou-ou” which Lex thought was hilarious.  Before I knew it, she was doing this.  She might be my kid?

So we made our way to the ballpark, hoping that DC would narrowly avoid this long strip of rain that was in the forecast, but we had no such luck.  The instant we got off the train, it started to rain, and it didn’t stop for three hours.  We tried powering through and hanging out under an overhang near our seats, but once the tarp went on the field, we called it a night.  It was seriously a shame, because I had planned my attire very carefully and never made it on camera.  Bush league.

Ole!

Ole!

The Reinhardts headed back the next day, after what I thought was a pretty awesome trip.  And happy I will see them again soon when I head home for Nate’s graduation from Purdue!

Thanks for coming, guys!

Thanks for coming, guys!

 

 

 

American Airlines loves me

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Deepest apologies to my blog readers (Ok mostly Kiva and Melanie) for the lack of updates lately, but once I post this you will understand why!  I finally had some free weekends in my schedule, and decided it was time to spend time with friends and family while it was still relatively easy to do so.

Side note, I’d been wanting to do a post about the Cherry Blossoms in DC, but as it turns out, I don’t care to write a big article on the subject, it sat in my drafts folder for weeks.  Instead I will share these brief thoughts and a lovely photo:

  • Beautiful!!
  • Crowded
  • Tourists with strollers
  • Lots of people own super expensive SLRs now, but it seems few people know how to use them.

Image

So, on to my trips.  First of all, I’ve gotten a few questions lately about how I keep snagging first class seats, and no it has nothing at all to do with my job.  Perhaps my dear KT Nelso can tell me why, but for some reason I was temporarily upgraded to American Airlines Gold status for about six months, and AA loaded my account full of upgrade options as well.  So for all of these flights I’ve taken lately, I’ve been able to get the awesome seats that normally you have to pay extra for, (aka extra leg room, towards the front of the plane, etc) and if on the day of the flight there are spaces left in First Class, I can be upgraded.  It has happened twice so far and it was everything I hoped it would be.  Bloody Marys, fruit and croissants for breakfast, fresh(ish) cookies, and more space than I rightfully need.  I’m afraid I’ve run into kind of a Flowers for Algernon situation where I now know how the other half lives, and find it difficult to go back to normal ol’ coach.  First world problems, my friends.

Easter weekend was first, and I flew from DC to Willard, a tiny airport in Champaign/Urbana.  I got off the airplane and was greeted by my sisters and Lex Danger, with a freshly-drawn picture of a rainbow to welcome me back to IL.  We headed back to Philo (while Lex decided that Aunt Shannon’s new nickname should be Princess Sparkle Rainbow Unicorn,) and I spent the rest of the weekend surrounded by my family!  We had the Cains over for drinks and snacks on Saturday evening, where cousin Sarah decided it was time for an Easter Egg Hunt…but this time it would be for adults.

Image

Sarah has twins and two jobs and somehow found time to create adult-themed Easter eggs for this huge crew, they were filled with such items as beer coozies, Shout wipes, condoms, candles, shot glasses, Icy Hot, etc.  It was one for the record books, my friends.   Great seeing all of the Cains together again, I’ll miss that crazy bunch for sure!!

***

On Easter Sunday we went to Mass at St. Thomas (packed house!) and then headed to the Stierwalts for lunch, more egg hunts (this time for the children, lame,) and more family time.  I stuffed myself silly with ham, mashed potatoes, noodles, mac and cheese, scalloped pineapple, broccoli and rice casserole, and Shannon’s little bunny rolls that were kind of a cross between bunnies and gremlins.

Image

As usual, I loved visiting with the Stierwalts and discussing every last detail of my upcoming move.  They’re a pretty adventurous bunch so I tried my best to talk them into jetting over to Sarajevo sometime in the next couple years…not sure I did the job.  I’m still working on them!  Sadly I had to head back to DC, so Shannon dropped me off at the airport and I headed back to my empty apartment.  It was so great to be home, to see little Lex and Syd in their Easter dresses, to give my parents the biggest hugs I could, and to hang with these crazy kids.

Image

Oh and in case anyone is wondering, I would totally freeze to death if I ever got sent to a post where I was forced to chop my own wood to stay alive during the winter.  Exhibit A:

***

The next weekend, after a particularly tough week of training here at State, I headed off to Chicago to visit my college friends that live in that area.  They all have such big things going on in their lives, from having babies, to making babies, planning huge vacations abroad, getting masters degrees, and shaping the young minds of America, and I was desperate to go see them and catch up!

I flew into O’Hare Airport (side note: I hate flying into O’Hare.  hate. hate. hate) pretty late at night, and made my way to the rental car lot.  As it turns out, when you get past the age of 27ish, it no longer seems appropriate for you to beg your adult friends to pick you up at the airport.  The crazy thing is, if I had asked them, I’m sure they would have done it, but if I can rent a car for $17 a day to save them the hassle, why not?  I collected my keys to this lovely Chevy Sonic, a car that I didn’t even know was a thing.

ImageI made my way to the south suburbs of Chicago where I was able to cuddle with adorable little babies (you guys, my friends make CUTE kids) and catch up with my squirrels and non-squirrels that are basically squirrels by extension.  I enjoyed some Portillos, natch, and enjoyed my friends company even more.  Here’s a pic (stolen from Ashley!) of some of the gang at Jeri’s baby shower, and thanks to Dave for pointing out that I am the only one that didn’t get the “wear patterns” memo.  Strangely enough, this was not the first time that has happened to me:

Image

So those were my two weekends of jet setting back and forth between Illinois, will follow up with a post about the Reinhardts visiting me here in DC!  😀

-B

Three Bucks, Two Bags, One Me

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In keeping with the theme of “Making the most of my time on the East Coast,” I decided to head to NYC for a couple days to see some Broadway shows.  I’ve always really enjoyed the theater, and tried to go to the Fox (in STL) a couple times of year for this and that.  With the great white way only a few hours away, this was too good to pass up.

I looked into a couple transportation options, and quickly realized that there were about a billion different ways to get to NYC.  Considered driving, then found out the tolls would be about $50 alone!  (Nevermind parking.)  I love taking the train, but Amtrak was charging upwards of $300 for the round trip!  Airfare was out of the question as well, so I looked into the bus option.  I ended up taking Eastern, a 4.5 hour bus that went from DC’s Chinatown to NY’s Penn Station.  Reviews online were horrific, but the $25 price tag made me believe I could handle it.  Well I’m pleased to say that the round trip journey was actually way better than I had expected.  The busses were clean, the drivers were skilled, and I was content to just recline my seat, pop in my headphones, and sleep the entire way.  Two thumbs up for the DC2NY bus system.

Now, lodging.  I couldn’t afford to pay Midtown/Theater District prices, but didn’t love the idea of taking the train or a taxi late at night out of the area, not to mention the forecast looked like rain and I knew having a home base nearby would prove pretty important.  As I often do, I turned to Priceline and named my own price for a three-star hotel in midtown.  Amazingly enough, the Manhattan at Times Square accepted my bid of $100, and I had myself a deal.  I had actually stayed at this hotel during my previous visit, and while it isn’t anything overly fancy, the location is incredible and rooms were fine.  (If you aren’t overly particular about a certain brand or certain amenities, you MUST look into the name your own price option.  You can get wonderful, high end hotels for next to nothing, I’ve had nothing but great experiences with it.)

So I left for NY on Saturday morning, and was there by about 11:00am.  I walked about a mile to the hotel (in the pouring rain) to drop off my bag, wandered around midtown for a bit, and realized I simply needed to head to a restaurant to get out of the rain.  Well unfortunately everyone else had the same idea, and every restaurant I approached couldn’t seat me.  I hung my head, begrudgingly headed to a Chipotle, and enjoyed getting to put my umbrella away.  (I have nothing but love for Chipotle but who goes to New York to eat there?  Me, apparently.)  I then headed to my first show, “No Man’s Land.”

The Cort Theater

The Cort Theater

So No Mans Land is a play by Harold Pinter, and if I tried to summarize the plot here, I would fail, but I will say that it had serious comedic moments, plenty of sad ones, lots of drinking, and the ending left me pretty puzzled.  I looked up the play online and found out that is exactly what it was supposed to do.  Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were incredible, and Billy Crudup has serious acting chops.

After the show I headed back to the room, showered and got pretty for my next show that evening: Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

hedwigThis was, by far, the coolest show I’ve seen in NY.  It was the opening preview, so there were a few tiny little kinks to work out, but overall I have to say NPH did an INCREDIBLE job with the very difficult material, and very difficult costumes.

hedwig2I had never seen this show before, but as soon as I got home I downloaded several of the previous recordings, “Wicked Little Town” especially stuck with me.  If you will be in NY for any reason in the next few months, I HIGHLY suggest catching this show.  I was actually able to snag a “partial view” seat in the 2nd row, and he was about 5 ft from me quite often.  For some pics check out this article, the wigs especially were pretty incredible.   I would not recommend ordering drinks from the bar there, a double 7&7 cost me $25.00!!!

Side note, I bought a denim dress recently and wasn’t quite sure if I could pull it off.  Decided to power through and wear the damn thing in NY, I rarely wear dresses and am looking to change that.  Paired it with black tights and boots.  I laughed out loud when NPH came on stage in a denim ensemble with back tights and boots…we were basically matching.  Though mine wasn’t bedazzled.

who wore it best

Who wore it best? (Answer: he did)

The show ended, and at this point, it was late, the rain was coming down pretty hard, and I was essentially spent.  I went back to the hotel and ordered some delivery takeout from Hell’s Kitchen.  Enjoyed some delicious Thai noodles from the comfort of my bed, caught the Louis CK SNL, and drifted off to sleep.

***

The next morning I grabbed a bagel and coffee from the Starbucks down the street (again, it was raining, so I ditched original plan to seek out Ess-A-Bagel or even wait in line for the legendary Cronut from Dominique Ansel (good thing, they were just shut down for a mouse infestation!!)  I packed up my stuff, left by bag with the concierge, and headed to 5th Avenue, then Times Square to do a little shopping and sight-seeing.

St. Patrick's - still under scaffolding!!! :(

St. Patrick’s – still under scaffolding!!! 😦

You guys know it's March, right?

You guys know it’s March, right?

No Liz Lemon sighting

No Liz Lemon sighting

Suppressed my desire to buy everything at Michael Kors, did some damage at The Loft (hellooooo 40% off sale,) and braved the crowds at the Disney Store in a futile attempt to find Lex some Frozen swag.  I then headed down the road to try out the iconic burgers and fries from Shake Shack.

shake shackI have a hard time getting too pumped up about burger joints (I mean how hard is it to make a burger, really?) but this place blew my expectations away.  I was horrified to find out that there are locations in DC, and now I fear this will become a staple in my diet while I’m here.  From locally sourced ingredients to hormone-free, 100% angus beef, the lunch was legit and I’ll be back.

It was now time for my 3rd and final show, I headed back to the Cort Theater for “Waiting for Godot.”

godot

Partial View = Cheap seats!

This show was just amazing in every sense.  It’s an “absurdist” play by Samuel Beckett, in which Vladimir and Estragon (or how they are referred to in the play, GoGo and DiDi,) are waiting by this tree for the arrival of the elusive Mr. Godot.  McKellen and Stewart played their roles perfectly, as two long-time besties talking and playing and reminiscing about their long history together.  It was hilarious, brilliantly acted, and again, Billy Crudup proved that he’s an underrated actor.  (There was a 4th, Schuler Hensley, and unfortunately his parts never really gave him the full chance to measure up to the others and show what he had to offer.)

At curtain calls, McKellen and Stewart stayed on stage, hugged it out, smiled brilliantly at one another and shared kisses on the cheek.  I teared up, you rarely see such a openly-displayed bromance like that.  It’s clear that they really love and respect one another, and was great to witness.  See proof here.

So after the show I gathered up my suitcase and walked back to Penn Station in the pouring rain.  I arrived early for the bus, and decided to kill some time in a nearby cafe, aptly named “Pie Face” (they served pot pies, meat pies, and dessert pies, food was fine but the name is awesome.)  Headed back to the bus stop, grabbed a seat, and settled in for the long ride home.  Made it back to DC’s Chinatown, grabbed a cab, and was home by 12:30am.

The next morning was a little rough, I was of course tired and had to hop myself up on coffee, but I’m so glad I took this trip.  I’m getting ready to travel halfway around the world and live alone in a new country where I don’t speak the language, I need to practice my ability to travel alone.  Overall the weather put a serious damper on my enjoyment, but I think I can call the trip a success!  Another rewarding experience, all accomplished by stepping outside my comfort zone.  The best ones usually are.