Archive for May, 2011

Today marks Shane’s and my fifth wedding anniversary. FIVE. Hard to believe it’s been half a decade since the two of us stood in front of our most favorite people on that California farm and promised to love each other for ever and ever. I remember the butterflies in my stomach that morning, as I realized I was just about to go through with one of the biggest decisions of my life. I remember the fun of getting my hair done with my mom and my girlfriends, and then the nervous rush to get my dress on and my makeup done and my veil placed ‘just so’. And then I remember the peace and the joy that I felt when I saw Shane waiting for me out on the lawn, and the assurance that came as we took a quiet moment to pray with each other before the flurry of the photos and the ceremony and the hellos to family and friends. That day was everything we wanted it to be – the perfect beginning to our new life together.

It’s not uncommon for people to refer to marriage as “hard work”. When Shane and I were dating, if I heard someone mention just how much it takes to maintain a good marriage, I always acknowledged those comments with a thoughtful nod and a murmur of agreement. But inwardly, I was thinking, “What can be so hard about spending your life with the person you love?” Marriage sounded pretty great  – you always have a date on Friday nights, you get help with housework and bills and stuff of the daily grind, and at those times when you really need a back rub, there’s someone there to give it to you. And I was lucky – I had found a man that made me indescribably happy, someone who made me feel safe and loved and excited about the future. Five years into this grand adventure, I still won’t say it feels like work. But being close, truly doing life together, does take effort. Some days I fail miserably – like the other night, when I snapped at Shane after a long day because his schedule and priorities did not align exactly with what I had on my to-do list.  But on other days I succeed at letting him know that he’s pretty damn special – I bake him muffins, or tell him that I’m so thankful for the man that is, or give him one of my for-Shane-only extra huge bear hugs and ask him to tell me about whatever is on his mind.  Sometimes these expressions of love come easily, and sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t let my investment in him be based solely on feelings.  Even when I’m grumpy, he still needs affirmation.  And hugs.  So here’s to 50 more years of hugs, through the good times and the bad.  And if the past five years are any indication of what’s to come, there are plenty of good times in store for us.

It’s hard to see our long-awaited vacation come to a close, but we ended it on a really lovely note, with some super-relaxing, family-filled time in Alexandria. We got to take part in so many special moments over the past couple of days: we were able to see Shane’s sister walk in her college graduation ceremony, after years of hard work; we got to take his mom out for a belated Mother’s Day lunch and his dad out for an early Father’s Day dinner; we watched Shane’s dad reap the benefits of his shiny, new, state-of-the-art tractor; and we all gathered together last night to cheer on our little nephew Avery as he drove in his first go-cart race (at the age of six! look at him go!). Since we often only see Shane’s family once a year at Thanksgiving time, this visit felt like a nice little bonus, packed with good memories we were thrilled to be a part of.

It was also a treat to see Minnesota in the springtime, with buds on the trees and fields full of dandelions. Although the November snow certainly has its charm, its nice to see so many shades of green in places that I’ve always known as frozen and bare.

And now, after 8 glorious days of doing what we want to, waking up when we want to, eating what we want to, and generally being completely self-indulgent, our big trip has come to a close. ‘Home, sweet home’ was my mantra throughout the entire flight back to Seattle, muttered in an effort to ease the pain of saying good-bye to ‘vacation, sweet vacation’…

We arrived in Minneapolis around noon on Tuesday, sad to be bidding farewell to Chicago, but excited about the next leg of our trip. We only had 24 hours in Minneapolis, and I really wanted to make the most of that time. So after lunch at a Mexican restaurant on Nicolett Mall, I…went shoe shopping. It’s true – there were probably sights I could have been seeing, museums I could have been visiting, drinks I could have been tasting, but the weather was much hotter than I’d packed for, and my feet were screaming for a pair of sandals. One strappy pair of wedges later, I did a little cafe-sitting and then was ready to take on the city. Shane and I had tickets for the Twins game that night, so we put on our lightest-weight clothing (87 degrees outside – seriously?!) and walked the two blocks to the stadium. Our seats were perched high above the outfield, so we had a great view from which to take in Target Field.

We heard murmurings from the fans in the seats behind us that there was a tornado and hailstorm warning in effect, but we hoped that we’d already paid our bad-weather dues at the Cubs game, so we hung tight in our seats, wanting to see if the Twins would come back from the Tigers’ early runs. Toward the third inning, the first fat raindrops started to to fall, so we headed down to take cover under an overhang. In the fourth inning, the rain really started to come down, and we really started to overheat – just when we started debated whether or not to wait it out, the decision was made for us…

We were too hot and thirsty to see how long the delay would last, so we rushed outside and took refuge from the rain in the nearest bar, thankful that at least we’d had the chance to check out the Twins’ beautiful new ballpark. The rest of the evening was really low-key, with junk food and basketball back at the room – not quite the all-star tour de Twin Cities that we’d planned on, but it was still a good day.

Wednesday morning started with breakfast at Moose and Sadie’s, a charming little cafe/bakery in the Warehouse District. We shared a sticky bun and munched on fruit and yogurt, eager to check out a little more of the city before heading up to Alexandria for our visit with Shane’s family. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we stood up to head out into the city, those pesky fat raindrops began to fall again. We hoped it looked worse than it actually was, but after getting thoroughly dampened in only two short blocks, we began to worry that our morning was doomed. We cursed ourselves for carrying umbrellas halfway across the country and then leaving them tucked into our suitcases back at the room. But I say, when life gives you lemons, just drink coffee, so we ducked into a nearby cafe, determined to wait out the rain with a hot latte. One on One cafe ended up being a really good find, with great coffee and an interesting vibe, as it was part cafe/part bicycle shop. We were happy to sit there for awhile, and even happier when we saw that the rains had stopped.

The rest of the morning was spent on a quick architectural tour of downtown – we checked out the library, snapped a few photos of the Warehouse District, and slowly meandered back to the hotel.

Our final stop before heading out of town was the Mill City Museum – I’d read about this old flour mill that had been converted to a modern museum dedicated to the history of the mill. The incorporation of new glass structures with remnants of crumbling stone walls and rusted steel members was beautiful – we spent awhile poking around the courtyard, snapping photos and admiring the architecture.

One last gaze at the Mighty Mississippi (which looked particularly mighty in light of recent events), and it was time to say good-bye to Minneapolis.

Looking forward to some chill time with family over the next few days – somehow all of this relaxation has me a bit worn out…

If there is any truth to the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’, we tested its limits in Chicago – our final day there was full of more amazing sights, flavors, etc… We jumpstarted the day with coffee at another Intellegentsia Cafe – this one on the ground floor of the Monadnock Building. To most you, this building’s name won’t ring a bell, but for those of you that suffered through third-year architectural history with me, you’ll know that this is the tallest load-bearing masonry building in America, with masonry walls as much as six feet thick at its base. Fascinating, no?

Post-lattes, we spent a little time wandering around the neighborhood – this was one of my favorite areas of Chicago, with so many beautiful old masonry buildings of different colors and patterns. I walked around in an urban daze, my eyes continually pulled upward to buildings that frame the canyon-like streets.

And I love the juxtaposition of old and new – I was thrilled when we came upon the Spertus Institute, a new building made famous by its faceted curtainwall. It’s exciting to be able to experience first-hand the architecture I’ve admired in magazines and design blogs, and I was totally enamored with this building – Shane had to go grab a seat at the nearby park while I walked back and forth at the base of the facade, wanting to understand every little angle and reflection.

The weather was good, but rain clouds hovered in the distance, so we decided to take advantage of what might be our final hour of sunshine and grab lunch at a sidewalk table at The Gage on Michigan Avenue. Our pork-intensive week had me craving vegetables, and this beautiful beet salad totally hit the spot.

Energized by our veggie-rich lunch (or was it the beer?), we headed over the Art Institute of Chicago for a serious art fix. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I’d been a little disappointed by the previous day’s museum, but figured the trip would be worth a shot – if nothing else, I wanted to check out the renovation of the Modern Art wing, designed by one of my favorite architects. Holy. Cow. I had no idea what we were in for – the contemporary collection far exceeded my expectations with several pieces by my favorite artists. Giacometti, Dubuffet, Rauschenberg, and the list goes on. And the space was beautiful – there’s a reason they call Renzo Piano a master of light.

After a couple of hours of wandering through the galleries, we started to experience art fatigue, and so we called it a day at the museum and headed out to Millennium Park. This park might be one of my favorite things about the city – the public art is amazing (seriously, how cool is the Bean?), and the variety of spaces provide something for everyone, whether you want to people-watch at the Crown Fountain, or sit on a quiet bench, or stretch out on the lawn. Plus, the tulips are in full bloom in Chicago, allowing for these amazing little patches of color along the park’s edges.

After taking one last spin through the park, we headed back toward our hotel, stopping briefly at the Aqua Tower to snap a few photos – more architectural eye candy…

We had late-night dinner reservations and several hours to kill until then, so after resting up back at the room for awhile, we decided to take a leisurely stroll in the direction of the restaurant, figuring we could probably find a bar or two that could fill our time until 10. Our wandering landed us at The Bull and Bear, where we ordered a couple of beers and caught some of the basketball game. From there, we walked south of the river, pausing often to enjoy the city at night, in all of its lit-up glory.

A short bus-ride landed us right across the street from the restaurant, but being that we still had an hour to kill, we headed into Haymarket Brewery to grab one more drink, and see if Chicago’s microbrews had anything on our Northwest favorites. We had a good time, but I will say that I remain partial to Manny’s… Finally, the moment we’d been waiting for arrived and we headed over to The Girl and the Goat to grab our table. Shane made these reservations nearly two months ago, as this place has been making quite a buzz and can be rather hard to get into. I’m sure its fame is largely due to the fact that it was started by Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard, but after enjoying our meal, we can confirm that its popularity is legit. The chickpea fritters melt in your mouth; the goat and veal sugo is rich and meaty, but perfectly lightened with the addition of sweet, juicy gooseberries; and the roasted pig face topped with a sunny-side egg is…unusual (Shane loved this dish, but I think jury’s still out on this one). Throw in a couple of oh-my-gosh rich desserts, and we left there with some pretty huge grins on our faces. However, I was only smiling until I realized just how sickeningly full I was – I suppose ‘too much of a good thing’ really does have some truth to it… Nonetheless, it was a meal we’ll always remember and a perfect way to end our decadent tour of Chicago.

Next up on our Midwestern vacation: 24 hours in Minneapolis!

I was up early(ish) this morning to start the day at the hotel’s fitness center, knowing that we had another calorie-rich day ahead of us – and wowsers, glad I thought ahead… First on the docket was brunch at Publican, a relatively new restaurant just west of the river. From our little table in the corner of the open, airy dining room, we feasted on pecan sticky buns, asparagus frittata, and a fluffy, pork-topped omelette. When the waiter asked if we’d like to add a side of bacon, Shane nodded his head enthusiastically. Let me say, ‘thick-cut’ bacon has an entirely new meaning now – by ‘side of bacon’, I think the waiter meant ‘side of a pig’. This stuff was insane! But since we’re on vacation, and since it makes Shane smile, I won’t regret the indulgence.

After lunch, we took a short walk around the neighborhood, enjoying the industrial vibe of the street, with its low-rise brick buildings, topped with old wooden water towers.

From there, we took a bus over the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, where we spent an hour wandering through the galleries. The current Jim Nutt exhibit was not super-engaging for me, but I did come across one of my favorite Francis Bacon paintings, so the visit was well worth our time.

Post-museum, we grabbed a table at a sidewalk cafe where we could enjoy a cup of coffee and a good dose of sunshine – the weather today was perfect, almost as if making up for the drizzle we endured at the ballgame yesterday. Fueled with caffeine and Vitamin D, we made our way to Navy Pier, to catch our boat for the Chicago River architectural tour. This was the highlight of our day – totally relaxing, totally fascinating, and just a perfect way to take in the city on a sunny afternoon. I had visions of Shane and I slow dancing at the back of the boat, a la Julie Roberts and Dylan McDermott in ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’, but apparently they discourage standing while the vessel is in motion. Hmph. Nonetheless, we saw some really beautiful buildings and learned a ton about Chicago’s history.

After our cruise, we strolled down Michigan Avenue, popping into a few stores and taking in ‘The Magnificent Mile’. Our walk landed us at the base of the John Hancock building, which Shane heard has a cool bar on the 96th floor with amazing panoramic views of the city. How incredibly convenient! And so we hopped in the elevator, snagged a couple of seats by a window, and ordered our drinks. Shane’s martini wasn’t quite up to his standards, but we were able to overlook that fact for the sake of the view.

And check out the perspective from the women’s restroom – I kid you not!

By the time we left the bar, we were hungry – our decision to skip lunch was intentional, as we knew that tonight was the night that we would set out for Chicago’s best deep-dish pizza. Shane had done extensive polling of anyone we knew who had lived in Chicago, and we settled on Lou Malnati’s as our joint. We were given a table by the window and promptly ordered their classic pizza, with sausage, cheese, and tomatoes. We hungrily dug in when it arrived, and although the deep-dish is no match for our beloved Tutta Bella thin-crust, it hit the spot. It also did us in – our plans of hitting up one more cocktail bar were dashed when I thought about how nice it would be to get back to the room, put on my stretchy pants, and veg out. And so we ended our night watching basketball from our comfy hotel bed. Yes, these are the things vacations are made of.

After a lazy morning (my definition of vacation includes not having to set an alarm clock), we set out in search of good coffee to fuel us for our first full day in the city. Our quest landed us at Intelligentsia, where I happily sipped through my double latte while taking a peek at Chicago’s hipster population – they were no match for Seattle’s Vivace crowd, but I suppose that’s to be expected. From there, we were bound for Wrigley Field, with tickets for a noontime Cubs v. Reds game. As we popped off the L and walked toward the ballpark, I was immediately struck by the infectious excitement that surrounds a Saturday afternoon ballgame. Ticket scalpers, peanut vendors, and hyped-up fans spilling onto the sidewalks from crowded bars told us that we had landed in the center of the action. The buzz of being surrounded by so many tried-and-true baseball fans carried me through the first few innings, despite the chill in the air and the occasional drizzle. My enthusiasm started to wane as the rain fell harder and the Reds took a 2-1 lead over the Cubs. I asked Shane how committed he was to watching the whole game, and he encouraged me to stick it out. And thank goodness I did! The Cubs came back in the 9th to win the game, and despite the fact that I am still 100 percent loyal to my SF Giants, I couldn’t help jumping out of my seat, shouting and clapping my hands, giving high-fives to the joyous fans surrounding us. It’s fun to get so unexpectedly swept up in a moment, and we left the ballpark with huge grins on our faces, unable to help ourselves from singing along in the chorus, ‘Go Cubs Go, Go Cubs Go, Hey Chicago, what do you say, The Cubs are gonna win today!’…

After the game, we grabbed a cup of tea and headed back to our room to warm up and sneak in a little nap before dinner. Dried out and refreshed, we decided to hit up Xoco – a highly reputed Mexican restaurant started by famed chef Rick Bayless. And holy carnitas, Batman, this place was delicious! My red chile short rib soup was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, and Shane nearly fell out of his chair over his goat barbacoa torta. Even the chips and guacamole were perfection. I give Shane major, major props for scouting out some of this city’s best eats. I married one heck of a trip planner.

After a dessert of churros and chocolate, we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and decided to do a little walking, in hopes of settling our over-stuffed stomachs. We strolled along the river, walked through Milleneum Park, found the brightly lit Chicago sign that I’m sure every tourist (myself included, apparently) uses as a backdrop for a photo, and decided that this city is…amazing.

Shane will say that I tend to get all gushy whenever I visit a place for the first time, but seriously, this place is so rich with old and new architecture (more on that later), with neighborhood dive bars right next to uber-chic restaurants, with what feels like the perfect balance of ‘urban grit’ and modern polish. Our hour-long meander through the city was full of so many good surprises – like the famous ‘Bean’ in Millennium Park. Genius!

We ended our night with cocktails at Gilt – a dimly lit, loungy, super-classy bar a few blocks from our hotel. Ahhhhh, coffee, baseball, churros, architecture, and a bubbly nightcap…yes, life is good.

After a busy week of tying up loose ends at work, spic-and-spanning the house (I refuse to leave for vacation knowing that I’ll have to come back to a messy kitchen…), and scouring downtown Seattle (to no avail) for a pair of cute, comfortable, city-walkin’ shoes, we boarded our plane for the windy city this afternoon and are now settled into our hotel in downtown Chicago. We’ll be here until Tuesday, and then we head up to Minnesota for a night in Minneapolis and a couple of days with Shane’s family in Alexandria. I’ve got much to look forward to over the next week, with tickets to a Cubs game, reservations at some of Chicago’s best restaurants, and plans to take a cruise down the Chicago River to check out the city’s stunning waterfront architecture. This is my first time here, and the anticipation of new sights, new art, and new cocktails is enough to make me giddy with tourist fever. We’re off to a bang-up start, as we just finished a late-night meal at the Drawing Room – intimate, classy, and man, if only I had a picture of the grin that lit up Shane’s face as he took that first bite of bacon-wrapped pork belly. I was partial to the lightly fried avocado slices, paired with my Prosecco-lemon cocktail. The evening was, in a word, decadent. Tomorrow I’ll be good and eat on the lighter side – like maybe a Wrigley Field hot dog for lunch and deep dish pizza for dinner? This is vacation, after all…

Shane and I were in the middle of our Sunday evening routine (60 minutes and an end-of-the-weekend cocktail) when the news blurb started flashing across the bottom of the screen – ‘stay tuned for an important update from President Obama regarding Osama bin Laden’. I looked over at Shane and he raised his eyebrows before darting for the laptop, ready to scour the Internet for the nation’s latest headlines. I crossed my fingers, praying that the news would be good – after the segment we’d just watched on Lara Logan’s horrific experience with sexual assault by an Egyptian mob, I didn’t know how I’d handle more heavy news. Fifteen seconds of web-surfing was all it took for Shane to give me the late-breaking report – Osama bin Laden had been killed by American troops. Hoo…ray? I would have expected to feel immediate relief from such news – I would have imagined myself clapping my hands with the sweet taste of justice being served, celebrating with anti-terrorists across America as we learned that we could finally rest easy in knowing this terrible man was no longer a threat. But I wasn’t inclined to clap, or shout from the rooftops, or even breathe a sigh of relief. I was unsettled, for reasons I couldn’t put into words. I suppose there was disappointment in knowing that despite this leader’s demise, the war on terror would still rage on, claiming more lives and perpetuating more fear and more racism and more cultural divisiveness. There was sadness in knowing that his death would not bring back the loved ones whose lives were lost in the attacks of September 11th. And ultimately, after hearing from friends that encouraged us to view the situation through the lens of a Christian American, rather than just an American, I realized the root of my uneasiness – as a follower of Christ, I am called to love my enemies, no matter the circumstance. Is there room for justice and retribution in this love? Absolutely. I’m not saying bin Laden should have been allowed to walk free; but rejoicing in another man’s death feels far from Christ-like. So instead of celebrating, I will pray for reconciliation among nations, for our country’s leaders to be richer in wisdom than in ‘intelligence’, and for a future where the atrocities of terrorism can be fought with means other than violence.

‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’ -Matthew 5:44