Tokyo

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Tokyo, Japan where I served as a chaperone for a group of freshmen students learning about international commerce in Japan. Our schedule was pretty full, but the structure allowed us to visit 7 different companies, take a city tour and still see plenty of the city in just a week’s time. It was a great introduction to Japan and definitely piqued my interest in seeing more of Asia…

The following statement is obvious, but traveling with a group is quite different than traveling solo. Some of the benefits of group travel include built-in tour guides who ensure everyone is accounted for and all transportation needs are taken care of. Group travel also has the benefit of included meals and prearranged breakfast buffet vouchers, reducing the amount of time and stress necessary to track down and the process reimbursable receipts. One of the downsides is having to follow the same schedule as everyone else in your group. Traveling as a chaperone adds a whole other layer of responsibility and accountability. Luckily we had a great group and the entire experience was incredibly positive.

It was my first visit to Asia and my first time being so obviously a foreigner. In Europe (especially Germany) I’d often pass as a local, until I opened my mouth and tried to speak their language of course. In Mexico and Central America I didn’t necessarily fit the traditional look of the locals, but it was either assumed I had some passable Spanish or maybe people just didn’t care if I spoke Spanish or not and treated me as everyone else. I don’t know what it was about Japan. Maybe it’s that the Japanese people are so polite and conscientious they immediately assume you need an English menu so as not to cause you discomfort when you have not clue what a single Japanese character means? Whatever the case people went out of their way to help serve and elucidate me during the trip.

As I mentioned the week was packed with company visits and pre-arranged activities. We arrived in Tokyo late Sunday night and were up early Monday morning for a city tour. We drove through most of the city stopping first at Meiji Jingu, a beautiful park littered with shrines and temples. While we were there we witnessed a traditional Japanese wedding in progress. Next on the list was the Imperial Palace. There wasn’t much to see as the bridges to the palace are closed off all but two days a year (the Emperor’s birthday and New Years Day), but the water and bridges were perfect for pictures. Next up was Asakusa. A packed neighborhood with lots of options for shopping and dining. We had more time here to walk through the dominant temple overlooking the area and through the winding streets. Our final stop of the tour was Ginza, the trendy shopping district. We stopped here for lunch (most of the students indulged in sushi, but I had to stick with tempura due to preggo restrictions). I also spent a little time wandering through the 10 story Uniqlo and came away with a cute pair of lounging pants. The rest of the afternoon and evening were free. I did a lot of my sightseeing and dining with the other chaperone, Jen over the course of the week. We decided to venture into the quaint, if somewhat seedy, Golden Gai area where we had a fantastic Japanese/Korean dinner in a restaurant that seats max 6 people.

The next day led to our first company visit- Pasona, a progressive staffing agency with an emphasis on sustainability. The company is housed in an incredibly innovative and beautiful building that includes living walls and plants growing from all orifices. We spent the afternoon touring the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The company visits were (mostly) interesting, but the Edo Museum was much more up my alley. Our large group was broken into four smaller groups and we were able to spend 2 hours learning about the history of Tokyo. Our guide focused mostly on the Edo period and only briefly touched on the Meiji Restoration leading into the 20th century, but I found her tour and the museum fascinating. That night Jen and I visited Shibuya- known as the world’s busiest intersection and a place I heard described time and time again as the Times Square of Toyko. The street crossing is pretty impressive, but the scene was a little young (lots of high school age looking kids hanging out in the square and surrounding shops). We headed to Harajuku to check out the famed shops and found a nice little spot for dinner in that district.

Wednesday brought more company visits (Coca Cola and Dentsu) and a gorgeous dinner at a restaurant on the top floor of a building in the Ebisu area. A much calmer setting than the area immediately surrounding our hotel. Thursday continued with visits to Toyota and Rakuten, but that evening I convinced Jen to attend a local baseball game with me. We decided to stay local and ventured a few stops from our hotel to see the Tokyo Yakult Swallows play the Yokohama BayStars. I knew a little about Japanese baseball from our friend Sachi, but it was so entertaining to see a game in person. The fans are very dedicated. When we purchased our tickets the first thing they asked was home team or visitors? The stadium is divided by fans and the hardcore ones come ready to cheer (literally) all game long. There are drums, there are cheerleaders, there are special chants for each player. There is even a special song and dance (with coordinated umbrellas) that occurs every time a run is scored. Refreshments are bit different than those you find in the states- check out my photo of the hot dog mixed plate below, but the beer flows and they even have girls running up and down the aisles selling beer all game. Also- no one throws their trash on the ground. In fact they collect it in bags they bring from home and deposit it on their way out. A different experience, but definitely one worth checking out whether you’re a baseball fan or not.

Friday was our final day of visits. We saw Costco in the morning and Uniqlo in the afternoon. That night students presented their final presentations and we had a large, authentic Japanese dinner together as a group and then we went to the top floor of the Metropolitan Government Building to check out the nighttime view. It’s free to go up, but the building has quite a few lights reflecting off the windows- so not the best option for view and I only had one picture that came out alright, but you can’t beat free!IMG_5578 IMG_5590

Saturday was completely free and I took advantage of the entire day off by traveling to two smaller cities outside Tokyo, Kamakura and Enoshima. Both are easily accessible via metro.  In Kamakura Jen and I did a good amount of walking checking out a number of temples and shrines before making our way to the famous Great Buddah statue. Some of the spots we visited were calm and peaceful- a great escape from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. The Great Buddah however was a crowd pleaser and covered in tourists- including many a monk decked out in orange robes with a selfie stick. From Kamakura we took another train out to Enoshima so I could put my toes in the other side of the Pacific and so that Jen could enjoy a heaping bowl of fresh seafood (note to self- go back to Japan when you aren’t pregnant so you can eat and drink all the food you missed out on this time around).

The week flew by and all the sudden it was Sunday. Our flight didn’t leave until the evening so after packing up and checking out I decided to spend my last few hours in Tokyo relaxing in one of the city’s many gardens. I picked up a few last minute souvenirs on the way, shelled out the  ¥200 and spent the whole morning at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The garden is beautiful and vast, but it’s impossible to escape the masses and find a quiet corner all to yourself. I decided to give into the people watching and even got to witness a proposal in one corner of the park…which wasn’t a hard spot. A huge group of twenty or so young people were holding hands running around in a circle. A girl in the middle had a go-pro and was filming them when one guy stepped into the middle of the circle and grabbed the hand of another girl, got on one knee and popped the question. LOTS of screeching and picture taking ensued. Someone even produced Mickey ears with a veil for some more festive shots. A fun last cultural encounter before I had to make my way home.

I’m so lucky I was selected to chaperone the trip to Tokyo. I got to travel with a great group, learned a ton about business in Japan, ate some amazing food (even if sushi was out of the question!) and was able to explore one of the great world capitals. I hope to visit Asia with Dave some day. I’d like to see some of those famous beaches in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. Maybe with Cara and Will heading to China later this year we can manage a trip to the far east not too far in the future:)

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Home Sweet Home

The fall travel season is over! I’ve loved getting to travel all over the US, meeting students in all corners of the country, but am SO looking forward to getting back into the routine of home.

To recap the last few weeks of my travel schedule…I took off for Houston on Halloween day and spent the weekend interviewing prospective students. I didn’t see much of Houston other than the inside of an interview suite at the JW Marriott, but I did fall in love with a place called Central Market. It’s an AMAZING store resembling a mix between Whole Foods, Metropolitan Market and Costco- basically it’s utter perfection!

The weekend after Houston I jetted off to the freezing cold Midwest to experience my first snow of the season and interview prospective students from the Chicago area. I also took advantage of my work trip to fit in some quality family time with Jamie and David in Chicago and my Herlache family up in Wisconsin. On Friday I met up with Jamie at my hotel and then we met David and his friend at Headquarters Beercade for some drinks and catching up. I hadn’t seen David in more than 8 years so it was really nice to reconnect.

Saturday and Sunday brought LONG days of interviews, but also delicious food. Jamie treated me to her favorite Chinese takeout on Saturday and we spent the evening gorging on dumplings and cold noodles while enjoying Tangled and Ratatouille from the comfort of her living room. I also got intimate with her sweet pup, Hermione, who was relentless in her pursuit of cuddles. Sunday she treated again with the most delicious homemade posole, and tacos. My mouth is watering thinking about that meal now…I contributed to the spread with some treats from Eataly (the most awesome Italian market right across the street from my hotel). We were in culinary heaven.  Post meal we enjoyed the Bears crushing defeat at the hands of the Packers. Nothing like watching your favorite team tromp your least favorite team in the bad guys own city.

Monday morning we hit the road and made our way to Wisconsin where my Grandma had homemade mac ‘n cheese and cornbread waiting:) We had lunch with my grandparents and uncle John and the rest of the family came by for pizza and conversation that evening. It was great to catch up and indulge in some of my grandma’s famous cooking as well as those tasty Wisconsin beers you can only get in-state. The next morning Jamie left early to get back for some meetings and I spent the day hanging out with my grandparents looking at old slides of their years in Europe and picking up some Packer gear. I had to head back to the airport and LA that afternoon. It was much too short a trip, but I’m so glad I got those 2 days to see family and recharge my batteries a little bit after 46 consecutive days of work (yes I counted!).

Traveling to Chicago was a great opportunity to fit in some family time and my trip to Portland was a great opportunity to spend some much needed quality time with one of my oldest friends, Jessie. She picked me up at the airport Friday evening and we got to catch up over dinner and drinks at some of her favorite spots around Portland. I met some of her fantastic friends and we said goodbye with plans to meet up again on Sunday evening for dinner.

I started all three of my days in Portland with Blue Star Donuts and Stumptown Coffee. I was seriously obsessed with the donuts at Blue Star. I was in Portland for 3 days and I ended up trying 7 kinds of donuts! They were all amazing, but the Blackberry Compote with Peanut Butter Dusting was melt in your mouth delicious and I’ve never had a better Maple Bacon. I was (am) so into Blue Star I even started following them on Instagram. Which I don’t recommend unless you’re a sucker for pain– looking at those donuts everyday and knowing I can’t put them in my mouth is incredibly painful.

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Besides amazing donuts Portland has a massive foodie scene. All weekend I ate so well (and so much!).  Saturday was filled with interviews, but I finally made it to the famous food carts for lunch, opting for a grilled cheese from Grilled Cheese Grill. After work concluded for the day I was able to spend a few of my evening hours at the famous Powells before returning to Tasty N Alder for a delicious dinner of cheese, scallops and local beer.

Sunday brought more interviews and more delicious food. Blue Star obviously kicked off my morning. Some colleagues and I had pork sandwiches at Lardo for lunch and then Jessie and Katy took me to another of their local spots, Old Salt Marketplace, for dinner. It was an indulgent weekend to say the least. Portland is the only place I got to visit twice on my travels this fall and it was the perfect repeat offender. It’s a beautiful, walkable town with a funky vibe and incredible food. Hopefully I can figure out a way to get in on my spring travel schedule as well;)

After all the travel I was so thankful to have some time at home. Unfortunately my first weekend in CA since September was also the weekend Dave planned a trip up to the Bay to hang out with Nick and Nathan (who was in town for a conference). Dave had a great time reminiscing about college and exploring more of SF with his friends. I’m pretty sure they did a lot of beer drinking and then on Saturday he and Nate drove into Marin to hike, hit the beach and eat oysters. It was a quick trip, but he had a great time hanging out with his old friends.

While Dave was up in the Bay I had plenty to keep me busy. Friday night I met up with Kristie in Culver City for dinner and drinks. We had so much fun chatting and was happy that we were able to fit in some time during her super quick trip to LA. Saturday I had breakfast with my family and then dropped Maddie and some friends off at the Rose Bowl for pre-game festivities before the the USC v. UCLA game. That night my ladies came over for girl time and nachos. It’s always a challenge coordinating a time everyone can make it, but I love when we make it happen. Katie, Kathleen, Kathy, Rob- we must do it again soon!!

Sunday brought the big open house on campus and also the start to a wonderfully short work week leading into my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving!! On Tuesday after work I drove down to Dana Point to meet my family at the beach house we’d rented right on the beautiful California coast. And I mean right on. We spent every day lounging in the backyard overlooking the Pacific and every night falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves. We had all the traditional favorites for the big holiday and some family came down Friday to hang out at our swanky abode. It was relaxing, rejuvenating and fun. The weather was perfect and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend the long weekend.

This past weekend wrapped up the final segment of fall travel. I was up in Oakland to interview students from the Bay. It was the busiest weekend of the year, but also fun because a whole crew of USC staff were up to manage the volume. We met a lot of great students and indulged at some of the great local restaurants. Friday we splurged on small plates at The Grand Tavern and Saturday we had a tasty meal at the deceptively swanky Honor Kitchen. And it’s my last work trip till April! When I got back spent the evening decorating our tree and really getting into the festive holiday spirit. We’ll be spending Christmas with my family and then flying cross country to Maine to ring in the new year. Par the course it’s going to be a busy but fun-filled month! Merry Christmas everyone!!

Travel Mania

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Fall is my favorite season. I’ve always loved the changing of leaves, the cool crisp air, buying school supplies and the start of the holiday season. This year I’m getting to experience Fall in almost every corner of the US as a major part of my job is to travel around the country talking to prospective and admitted students about how great USC Marshall is! I love interacting with students and their families so it makes the travel a lot of fun, but can also be incredibly exhausting. Who knew traveling for work isn’t as glamorous as it looks?! Luckily, I’ve been able to visit some pretty amazing cities, many of them with some pretty amazing people I’ve been able to catch up with!

Bay Area/Sacramento: My first stop back in September was San Francisco and Sacramento. My hotel was right across the bay from SFO and I had a fantastic view of planes taking off and landing. I got to meet up with Duven for dinner one night and see her boyfriend, Michael’s band perform at Pier 70 in the city. In Sacramento I ventured out to visit one of Maddie’s favorite restaurants in Davis and hit up the Vacaville Outlets.

Hawaii: The next weekend I headed out across the Pacific to the beautiful island of Oahu. The flight is long, but the 3-hour time difference worked to my advantage. I was able to enjoy lunch and a relaxing afternoon on Kailua Beach before a sucking back a complimentary Mai Tai at my hotel that evening. The students and families I met with on Saturday were so relaxed and welcoming and spent more time trying to figure out activities for me to do that evening than asking me questions about USC. Seriously, the nicest people! Sunday morning I got up before the crack of dawn to hike Diamond Head and have one last swim on Waikiki before I had to head to the airport and back to LA. 48 hours in Hawaii was definitely not long enough and I can’t wait to head back soon, but this time with Dave!

 

Portland/Seattle: Week three of travel brought my favorite trip thus far- a return to our old stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest with Dave in tow! This weekend also brought our 1st wedding anniversary on October 12th. Even though I had to work for a portion of the time we managed to have a wonderful weekend getaway in one of our favorite spots. We flew into Portland on Friday and had a “tasty” dinner at Tasty N Alder followed by some amazingly delicious (and cheap!) beers at Bailey’s Taproom. The next day we continued our food tour of the “other Portland” with some Stumptown Coffee and VooDoo Donuts. A colorful way to kick off the day. Powell’s Books was next on the list and we managed to get some good browsing in before I had to head back to the hotel and get professional. While I was convincing the locals to spend their college years in sunny So Cal Dave took in some college football at a local bar and completed a hike up up to Pittock Mansion.  Following my Portland program we hopped in the car and hightailed it north to the Evergreen State. With one quick detour to MSM we were in Seattle and ready to meet up with some of our favorite college buddies. We met Lea, Brian and Charisse at The Pine Box and had a great time catching up over beers.

We had a relaxing Sunday morning reviewing the wonderful details of October 12, 2013. Our hotel room looked out over the Puget Sound and we took in the view as we watched the Packers and Patriots dominate on the field. We could also see CenturyLink from our balcony and Dave was enthusiastically rooting against the Seahawks (who ended up losing and adding to the happiness of Dave’s day). I had my Seattle program that took up a few hours of the day, but right after that concluded we met up for a nice stroll through Pike’s Place market and a few beers at Elysium Brewing Co before dinner. Dave picked out the location of our anniversary dinner at Cafe Champagne and we had amazing French food and wine and a long discussion about what Frasier would have ordered had he been patronizing the restaurant. Probably the cassoulet with a robust Zinfandel.

That evening we spent the night at an awesome place in Burien we found on AirBnB. The house was right on the water. We got the fire pit started, cracked open another bottle of French wine and listened to the waves of the Puget Sound lap against the shore. The next morning we kayaked around the Sound before heading down to Tacoma for a memory-filled day of visiting our alma mater and checking out our favorite local eats. We picked up Met Mart food for lunch and had a picnic on Owen’s Beach. And the mountain was out!!  After lunch we drove up into Point Defiance and did some hiking along the trails. Next stop was campus where we checked out all the new buildings and bought some gear at the bookstore. From there we picked up dinner (MSM sandwiches…what else) and finished the day with a few last beers and some Big Buck Hunter at the Parkway Tavern. Even with the work a great weekend of celebrating one year of marriage in the place it all began.

East Coast: We arrived in LA late Monday night and I was back at LAX bright and early Wednesday morning. This time headed east for my final four programs and my longest trip of semester. I flew into DC first. I had some work to catch up on and a few things I had to call into the office for, but was also able to spend a couple hours wandering around one of my favorite museum’s The Portrait Gallery and strolling through our old neighborhood, Cleveland Park. I made the time to savor some buffalo wing’s at the Cleveland Park Bar and Grill and was pleasantly surprised by a yummy local brew I hadn’t tried called DC Brau.

Boston was next on the list and it was the perfect weekend to be back in our old hometown. The weather was perfect and the city filled with people in town to watch the BC v. Clemson game and the Head of the Charles. I spent one morning with my coffee and crossword in Washington Square soaking up the sun and was also able to dine at an old favorite, The Publick House. Saturday evening after the USC program I met up with Dan and Alix for dinner and drinks and we had a wonderful evening that concluded with a Facetime session featuring Dave. It was so nice to be back in New England again and made me incredibly nostalgic for the “glory days” a few years back.

My night out in Boston was fun, but made for a tough morning when I had to be on a plane to NYC by 7:00am. Unfortunately, my hotel was fully booked the night before meaning no opportunity for early check in. I tried to get some work in while nodding off in the hotel lobby and had to try and make myself look presentable in the public restroom. I think I succeeded because the NY program was huge and very successful. I was one of the last representatives left answering questions and talking to families. I was also WIPED OUT. Even though I was in the city that never sleeps that is all I could think about. I hightailed it to my hotel, where I mustered the energy to order some takeout Thai and watch Monsters Inc on TV.

Monday brought my 10th and final fall reception in Philadelphia. I took the train from Penn Station (trains= WAY better than planes) and was able to make it in time to meet my friend Justin for lunch. I hadn’t seen Justin since I left Northeastern more than 3 years ago and it was great to catch up and hear all about his life in medical school. I have such accomplished friends! After lunch I took a stroll around the city with the goal of finding and climbing the “Rocky Steps”. I found them and a number of other Philly tourist sites. It was a beautiful day to walk around (I really lucked out with weather on this trip) and I was glad to do so, because even though I’d driven through it many times before I’d never taken the time to do stop in Philadelphia. The program went well Monday night and on Tuesday before heading back to LA I took the time to tour Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell. I love American history, especially the period including the Revolutionary War and the founding of our country and had a great time listening to the Park Rangers talk about Philadelphia’s role during that time. It was a LONG, but great trip!

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Denver: Last weekend I made my way to Denver for the first off-campus interviews of the year. I spent all day Saturday interviewing prospective students, but also managed some fun by getting to hanging out with my wonderful, Emily Friday and Saturday night. We had hours of quality girl talk and finished off a couple bottles of vino over the course of the weekend. We also got to catch up with Meredith and relive some of our Cabo adventures on Saturday night at a Mexican restaurant. Emily was also incredibly generous- picking me up from and driving me back to the airport. I only wished we lived closer so our girl weekends wouldn’t be so few and far between!

It’s been a jam-packed month and there’s more to come. Up next…Houston, Chicago, Portland Oregon and back to the Bay…Thank God for Thanksgiving break!!

New England Vacay

At the end of September we spent a whirlwind week back east to attend the Hackett/Roy wedding affair, visit with friends in Boston and spend some quality time with family up in Maine. It went by WAY too fast, but we had a fantastic time catching up with everyone and getting to experience a little sliver of autumn in New England.

We took a red-eye on Wednesday night so that we could maximize time our one day in Boston. We landed and headed straight to Becky’s apartment in Cambridge to drop our bags- stopping for the obligatory Dunks along the way of course! Dave took a little nap while I headed back into the city to meet up with Anthony and Mike (a couple of my favorite former Husky Ambassadors) for an early lunch. It was so much fun to catch up and hear what they’d been up to the past year or so. We also did a good bit of reminiscing about the good old days in the VC and took a little stroll through the Public Garden.

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After we parted ways Dave and I spent a little time soaking up the Boston weather- which was perfect compared to the hellish So Cal weather of 104° we’d experienced the day prior. From there we hopped a bus to JP to see Mary and attempt to watch the returns come in from the Scottish vote for independence. We threw back a few beers with Mary, but unfortunately we were a little early for the returns. By the time we left the bar was filling up and Dave even got interviewed by a public access reporter! Who knows if his commentary made the cut, but it was fun to be involved!

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That night we met up with Becky and Zack at their apartment for a few beers and catching up before making our way to Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Cambridge. We had a great night indulging in tasty beers and food truck tacos. Noah also stopped by to hang out- diversifying the friends we were able to connect with throughout the day even further! Such a fun way to kick off our vacation.

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Friday we slept in and then caught an early afternoon train up to Newburyport, MA. Where we had a quick chance to greet the groom before checking in to our hotel and getting spruced up for the rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal was at a cool, very New England pub and the food and drink were both delicious! We had a super fun table filled with Glenwood Crew members and spent a few hours after the dinner party up in the hotel catching up with even more friends.

Saturday brought wedding day and some day-of “honorary wedding party” activities for Dave and some shopping for me…I needed to buy a coat, California has already turned me back into a giant wimp with weather! I had a good time shopping and getting ready with Amy and Jenn before my duties as wedding shuttle dictator commenced. It was actually incredibly easy to get everyone on the shuttle and over to the venue and we made it just in time for the simple, but thoughtful ceremony to begin.

The party following the ceremony was fantastic, with lawn games, a lobster dinner and free flowing beer, wine and specially crafted cocktails. We had premium seats at the head table with beautiful views of the harbor and great company. It was a wonderful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it! #dalix

From MA we headed up north to Maine and were able to spend the next three days with Dave’s family. We celebrated Bo’s birthday with a retro themed party, got to take a spin on the boat in Casco Bay, meet Jack’s lovely new girlfriend Kate and of course enjoy many a delicious meal. It was the only time we also had to get in a little relaxation.

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Our trip went way too fast and we were back in CA and back at work before we knew it. Coming back also meant the start of my crazy fall travel schedule. I’ve been traveling to different cities around the US every weekend since we returned and will be doing so until early December (with the exception of an on-campus open house and Thanksgiving, of course!). It’s been a lot of fun, but exhausting…hence the delay in timely blog posts!

Until next time…Daverian

 

Trips and Training

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”

I saw this quote by Lin Yutang somewhere not long ago during a particularly melancholy state of longing for our Berlin life and got to thinking about where we were last year at this time and where we are now. One year ago we were working and living in Berlin- planning our Spring trips to Paris and Greece and eagerly awaiting the open airs and biergartens that were just around the corner. This year life is a little different, but the urge and desire to continue our exploration of this big, beautiful world is not. We may not be traversing the sophisticated capitals of Europe, but we love the opportunities we’ve had to explore the west and the ridiculously vast city of Los Angeles. It’s been an especially exciting couple of weeks for this travel loving pair.

The last week of February I left for a Mexican girl-getaway with my lovely friend Emily and three of her Denver buds and my new friends, Sarah, Katrina and Meredith. Emily’s grandma generously offered up her timeshare in Cabo and we had a wonderful week lounging by the pool and the ocean, dining on Mexican food and enjoying lots and lots of girl talk. We traversed into town to dine at some of Emily’s favorite restaurants, Mamas and Ponchos and we also indulged in a sunset boat cruise through the Sea of Cortez and out to the Pacific side of the peninsula.  It was relaxing and refreshing and so good to catch up with one of my favorite friends!

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While I was sunning on a Mexican beach Dave was heading north to Tahoe for a weekend of skiing with his parents and Jack. They weren’t blessed with the best weather, but were still able to get some good runs in. I know Dave misses being able to ski as often as he used to so I’m always happy when he gets the chance to make it out to the mountains. They had three nights in Tahoe before heading back to Southern California. Unfortunately there were some issues with their plane and they ended up having to rent a car and drive down, but they made it one piece and just in time for Dave’s 29th birthday on March 5.

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It was a low-key birthday compared to what we’ve done in years past and we spent most of the day showing Al and Melissa around Huntington Gardens. The Gardens have become one of our favorite Pasadena spots and with our membership we’re often able to take advantage of the visiting hours. After a long morning/afternoon of checking out the grounds we headed back to my parent’s house for a snack and to bid Al and Melissa good bye before they hit the road and made their way to a conference in the Palm Springs area. Dave and I had a relaxing afternoon before heading into Pasadena for a birthday dinner and then a few more drinks at a local Sierra Madre bar.

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The very next day we were up early to pack and start the trek out to Arizona with my parents and Maddie. We’ve been talking about it for years and finally put our words into action when we planned a 3 night trip out to the Phoenix/Tempe area for Spring Training. The drive from LA is only between 5-6 hours and our family friend Gina generously agreed to put us all up while we were there.

Friday we caught a game at the Dodger’s Camelback Ranch. They beat the Rangers 2-1 and we were able to see Hanley Ramirez rip a homer. It is a really beautiful complex shared by the Dodgers and the White Sox with a number of practice fields, batting cages and other facilities for players and fans to take advantage of. We had great seats just 5 rows up from the field and halfway down the first base line.

Right after the game we drove over to the University of Phoenix football stadium for a guided tour. We got to see the stadium for a variety of seats including the press area and a private box. We went into the visitor’s locker room and were able to get a view of the grass that they mechanically maneuver before each game. The stadium will be host to the 2015 Super Bowl, so it was pretty cool to check it out while we were in the area.

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Saturday we took in another game at the Angels’ spring training stadium in Tempe. The Angels lost to the Diamondbacks, but we still had a great time checking out a new stadium and seeing some more great players and prospects. That night we drove up to Scottsdale to walk around the city and had dinner at a sushi restaurant off the main drag. Scottsdale was beautifully lit up with Christmas lights down every main street and there were tons of people out enjoying the evening.

Sunday brought our last day in Arizona. Dave and I decided to take advantage of our work-less states and stay a few more hours to catch one last game before driving back to LA. We thought about trying to see the Cubs play the Brewers at the Cub’s new stadium, but the game was sold out so we settled on Seattle v. Texas at the Mariner’s complex up in Peoria. We were incredibly glad we did. The lawn seats were cheap at $8 each and we had a great spot out in the right field grass. Seattle’s food and beverage options were by far the best of the three parks we visited. We were able to purchase 24oz. Red Hook beers for just $7.50 and the variety of food options available were far superior to both the Dodgers and Angels parks- they even had a “kooky coffee” stand…oh Seattle. The Mariner’s pulled off an 8th inning comeback scoring 5 runs to win 9-8. It was an exciting end to the game and the weekend.

After the game we loaded into the car and drove nonstop back to Sierra Madre, listening to a thousand Moth podcasts along the way. A good old road trip was the perfect way to wrap up a couple of fun, adventure filled weeks. In the coming months we’re looking forward to continuing our travels close to home and are hoping to include Austin, San Francisco and the Northwest in our upcoming itineraries. We’ll see what happens, but I have a feeling it won’t be long before the open road calls to us again:)

Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon

This past weekend Dave and I packed up my mom’s Honda Accord and hit the road. We made the five hour trek up to Death Valley to check out a new national park, spend some time together and relax in the great outdoors.  We reserved a spot at Furnace Creek campground for Sunday and Monday night and decided to wait on our Tuesday night destination depending on whether we needed more time to see Death Valley or we were ready to move on.

Our first night in the park we just set up our tent, lit up a fire and spent the evening relaxing under the stars. Monday morning we were up early and ready to hit up the major “must see” destinations of Death Valley. We started by driving down Badwater Road to the lowest point in the US (and one of the lowest on earth at -282 feet below sea level) Badwater Basin. We lucked out and were the only people at the site when we arrived- making for some great shots of the scenery. Visitors are able to walk as far as they’d like across the Basin, but the trail only extends about a 1/2 mile out so the going gets tricky pretty quickly. We hiked out about a mile or so, but opted not to continue the 5 miles across the valley. Making the Basin even more beautiful is the fact that it’s framed by Telescope Peak, which sits at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet!

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From Badwater Basin we made our way back up Badwater Rd. stopping at each of the scenic hikes, outlooks and drives along the way. We did a short hike at the Natural Bridge and marveled at the dry waterfalls. Next we stopped off at the Devils Golf Course to view some of the crazy formations created by the salt and wind in Badwater Basin. Walking across the course is allowed, but extremely difficult due to the shape of the formations. Warning signs caution of broken bones and major injuries to those who attempt the hike. Needless to say, we didn’t go too far.

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Next up on our list of sights was the Artist’s Drive. It’s a three mile drive through beautifully colored rocks and canyons. Colors range from brown and green to red and purple to pinks and blues. And they change depending on the cloud cover and how the sun hits them. The one-way drive was also a lot of fun because of the thin, winding road and the fact that’s it’s off the major road. We parked along the drive at the Artist’s Palette and hiked around the hills for awhile. It was mid-day so I don’t think the colors were as vivid as they’d be at dusk or dawn, but it was still incredibly beautiful.

IMG_1992From the Artist’s Drive we made our way to the last stop of the morning, Golden Canyon. The canyon leads to the “Red Cathedral”, a formidable rock colored red and kind of resembling a cathedral. Pretty self explanatory….Before the hike we scarfed some lunch and then had a nice stroll down the “interactive” trail. At the end of the trail you can continue on to other points or take the extended loop trail back down and around, but we just scrambled along the rocks for a bit before heading back to camp.

IMG_2028 IMG_2040At camp we cracked open some beers and took a much deserved break before jumping back in the car and heading to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunset. Death Valley is so beautiful and so diverse. I’ve never been a big fan of the desert (I’m partial to water and trees), but I have such a new appreciation for the beauty of deserts and dry places. It’s amazing what time and nature can create. We spent all morning hiking along dusty rocks worn down by ancient waters and through salt beds that still sustain life (the Death Valley pupfish) and then spent the evening hiking over a completely different kind of desert creation, sand dunes. We sat on the dunes and watched the sun dip behind the distant mountains, keeping our eyes peeled for the first star. We saw one and then minutes later there were hundreds. Death Valley is officially known as an international Dark Sky Park because of how little light pollution affects the area. On a clear night the intensity of the stars is awe inspiring. It was an amazing sight to see.

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IMG_0247We were up early the next morning to catch the sunrise. One of the park rangers told us that the best place to see it was Zabriskie Point so that’s where we headed. It was chilly and early, but the sunrise was definitely worth it!

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From Zabriskie Point we checked out the historic 20 Mule Trail and then headed back to camp for some breakfast and to pack up. The next stop was north, just past the sand dunes at Mosaic Canyon. The hike begins with a narrow trail that opens up to a big canyon. We spent a couple hours hiking around and taking in even more incredible views and rock formations. I even got Dave to pretend our water bottle was Simba on one of them. I have the picture to prove it:)

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IMG_2115After our hike and some lunch we drove west to our last stop in Death Valley, Father Crowley Vista Point. We got a great view of the western side of the park and even got to see two low flying jets fly out on a practice run over the canyon.

IMG_2135As we drove away from Death Valley we were reading over the literature we’d gotten from the park. We knew that Death Valley’s name came from the Manly Party who back in the 1880s were lost in the area and thought they were going to die. When they eventually found their way out legend has it that one of the men turned back and said, “Good Bye Death Valley”. After hiking over the mountains they came upon fresh water at Indian Wells and today a brewery has been erected on the site. Indian Wells Brewing Company still uses the same spring water in their beers and sodas today. We love our beer and it was really refreshing to throw back a few cold ones after all the hiking and driving of the day.

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We decided that our last night camping we’d stop at a different site and had read some great things about Red Rock Canyon State Park about halfway between Death Valley and LA. The park was almost deserted and we had our pick of spots. We set everything up and then drove a little ways down the road for some dinner. That night we had one last campfire and some final stargazing before turning in for the night.

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We spent our last day on the road hiking around the campgrounds and at another canyon just down the road. A lot of old westerns and in addition to some more modern films were shot at Red Rocks including scenes from Jurassic Park. We had the trails all to ourselves and fun checking out a place so close to LA that’d we’d never taken the time to visit.

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IMG_0346We had a great time getting away from everything for a few days and seeing a new place. It sounds corny, but stepping away from technology and taking the time to be quiet with nature is so refreshing. I’m lucky I have a partner who thinks so too.

Honeymoon

We left for our honeymoon the Monday following the wedding. We took a red eye direct from LAX to Panama City. The flight seemed to be pretty smooth, but right as we were anticipating landing we were told by the captain that due to weather conditions we’d have to land a little outside the city, wait half an hour and then be able to get into Panama. Four hours later we were still sitting on the tarmac in pouring rain. When we finally got word that we had permission to land we took off, spent less than 10 minutes in the air and then landed. I’m not sure how dramatically weather conditions changed from one location 10 minutes of air-time away from the other, but apparently it did. We were exhausted and little worried about how the rain was going to impact our vacation, but a smooth trip through customs, a quick taxi ride and an early check-in at the beautiful Tantalo Hotel helped to alleviate some of our tension. We grabbed lunch at the hotel which was located in the Casco Viejo district of Panama City and headed out to check the area out. The rain had let up, but it was HUMID. We tried to be good tourists, but were falling asleep on our feet. We headed back to the air conditioned hotel and took a glorious, long nap. That night we had a much more pleasant walk around the neighborhood, grabbed a cocktail at a swanky bar with a view of downtown Panama City and then headed back to the hotel to take advantage of their rooftop bar- also with killer views. It was a long day, but a good start to our honeymoon.
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The next day we decided to check out the Panama Canal before our afternoon flight to Bocas del Toro. The Canal is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary next year and is gearing up for a big expansion. We toured the Canal’s small museum and took in a short introductory 3D film. Most of the big liners don’t go through the canal until the afternoon, but we were lucky enough to witness a smaller boat (loaded with school children and traditional Panamanian dancers) make the journey. It was really interesting to read about the creation and completion of the Canal and we both though the museum literature made it pretty clear that the Panamanians weren’t too happy having the US manage the Canal for so long.  IMG_3986IMG_3985 IMG_4007 IMG_4013 IMG_4022Directly from the Panama Canal we headed over to the small Albrook airport for our short flight to Bocas del Toro. We had some amazing views of the islands from the plane and loved the “baggage claim” which consisted of one guy holding up each piece of luggage until someone claimed it. We grabbed our stuff, walked to the dock in town and hopped a boat over to Bastimentos where we were greeted at our hotel, The Firefly, with a rum punch and a cute welcome sign congratulating us on our marriage. A very sweet touch from the Firefly’s awesome owners, Lauren and Ryan. We checked into our room, had a quick swim in the ocean before the sun set and then enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh ceviche , green curry with shrimp and shrimp in peanut sauce. We were officially in honeymoon mode!

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We booked five nights at the Firefly and spent most of our time hanging out at the beach or reading on the big, comfy deck. On Bastimentos it’s almost impossible to go anywhere that doesn’t require a boat. We hired a boat on our first day to take us to Red Frog Beach and a few days later to check out Starfish Beach. The other days we took advantage of the ocean right outside our door, borrowing snorkels from the hotel or chose to relax on the deck. We wandered into Basti Town a few times, but it was too hot to stray from the water. We did meet and spend time with a few other travelers- we met a fun couple from Houston who we hung out with at Starfish Beach and a fellow New Englander who we caught one of the Red Sox playoff games with at a bar in town serving up American classics and $1 beers. It was a relaxing start to our honeymoon and we loved being in Bocas del Toro, but were excited to head into Costa Rica by the end of the week.

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We found a company called Caribe Shuttle to take us from Bocas into Costa Rica. They drove us to the border, dropped us and had another shuttle waiting on the other side. The border crossing was pretty easy, but a little sketchy. To get into Costa Rica one has to walk across an old, decrepit bridge. The people in front of us kept pausing to take pictures and at one point one of them stepped onto a piece of wood that fell out from under him and his shin had a pretty good gash in it. Definitely the sketchiest border crossing we’d ever encountered (well until Nicaragua, but we’ll get into that later…).

Sketchy Panama to Costa Rica BridgeThe shuttled dropped us off right at our next hotel in the beautiful town of Punta Uva. We stayed 3 nights in what was one of my favorite hotels of the trip, Korrigan Lodge. The lodge has just four private cabins, is located in the midst of a beautiful and wild jungle and is just a few hundred meters from the best beaches in the area. Our first morning in Punta Uva a herd of monkeys went swinging through the trees above us, two toucans flew by and we spotted a sloth on our way to the beach!

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Korrigan Lodge provided us the use of bicycles and we used them to explore the area. We visited the Jaguar Rescue Center and had a fantastic guide who introduced us to a bunch of local animals. All the animals at the Center were brought there by locals who found them injured or tried to raise them as pets and realized wild animals aren’t so easy to domesticate. We got to pet anteaters, raccoons, monkeys, deer and more. The Center was full of mostly uplifting stories, but also a few sad ones. We saw one owl the Center had rescued who refused to eat because her mate had died. They were working to nurse her back to health, but were still worried because this particular breed mates for life. In general we had a great visit. We learned a lot about the local fauna and had so much fun checking out all the animals.

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We logged in a lot of beach time and hammock time those first few days in Costa Rica. We also had some great meals in the area. Our favorite spot was El Refugio, where we had a delicious dinner of steak and octopus. We were initially worried a bit about the weather, but we lucked out. It only rained at night and when it rained it poured– perfect sleeping weather.

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Our time in Punta Uva flew by, but our next stop was just about an hour up the coast in Cahuita, so we had a few more ocean side days before starting our journey inland. We took a local bus from Punta Uva to Cahuita- a cheap and quick mode of transportation. We underestimated the walking portion of the journey however and ended up carrying all our luggage more than 3 kilometers down a dusty, dirt road to our next hotel. Sweating and blistered we were delighted to find a gorgeous pool and direct beach access and spent the rest of the day lounging and swimming.

IMG_0553We spent our final day on the Caribbean coast at Cahuita National Park. We spent the morning walking along the well maintained trails that provided a fantastic view of the ocean and ample opportunities to spot wildlife. We walked right past a sloth making his way down a tree. He was so close we could touch him! Right after that we spotted the famous white face monkeys. We even saw a baby clinging to the back of his mother. After a couple of hours we came to an area with picnic benches and a couple of snorkeling groups eating lunch. One of the guides pointed out a basilisk and a snake to us.  We sat down to enjoy some lunch and noticed that the monkeys we’d seen a little ways back had migrated to the well populated picnic area. Dave was holding a piece of bread in his hand talking to me when all of the sudden one of the monkeys ran up, put one hand on Dave’s knee and used the other hand to snatch the bread out of his hand! Obviously surprised he dropped the the rest of the bread and those bold monkeys kept coming back until every last crumb had been eaten! After our excitement with the monkeys we started our walk back and stopped at the beach for a refreshing swim and some reading. We spent the afternoon chilling by the pool and sipping on some beer. Great last day on the coast.

IMG_4417 IMG_4389 IMG_4398IMG_4380 IMG_4402 IMG_4427Saturday morning we began our trek across the country to the area of Arenal. We spent most of the day driving in the rain and were a little worried the rumors about the rainy season would hold true, but we ended up being pretty luck on the rain front during our stay in Arenal. We stayed at a sustainable rainforest ecolodge called Finca Luna Nueva and were one of the few guests at the Lodge. We spent our first day taking a tour of the working farm, hanging out by the pool and enjoying lots of delicious Costa Rican coffee in the rocking chairs at our bungalow.

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We rented a car for two days starting Monday and drove out to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. We hiked along the bridges, catching some views of the volcano (which until three years ago use to regularly erupt) through the clouds. Along the way we spotted some wild hogs and a couple of toucans.

IMG_4476 IMG_4471 IMG_0404 IMG_0698From the bridges we made our way to La Fortuna Waterfall. The rain was coming down pretty steadily when we got to the park so we debated if we should spend the $10/person to get in, but decided to go for. We were so happy we did. The hike to the waterfall was about 20 minutes straight down and when we got to the falls we were the only visitors at the site. We clambered out onto the rocks, stripped down to our suits and dove into the cold, powerful pool. The waterfall was so powerful that it was extremely challenging to swim away from the pool’s edge. We swam around the pool’s edge, looking up at the falling rain and watching the bats fly in and out of the cave behind the fall. La Fortuna Waterfall turned out to be one of the highlights of the honeymoon.

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The next day we took advantage of having the car and drove a couple hours north to Rio Celeste National Park. When we initially planned our honeymoon we thought about staying at a hotel near the park, but decided against it due to it’s location and price. We were very happy that we opted to visit the area though. The last part of the drive to the park is about 10 kilometers down a  BUMPY, dirt road. We parked and were one of two cars in the lot. The ranger in the information booth at the entrance recommended wearing rain boots if we had them and we were glad we did. The trail is about 7 kilometers roundtrip and even though we lucked out and had mostly sunny weather for our hike the ground was pretty muddy and the trail had a couple creeks you had to wade across to continue. We stopped for lunch a few kilometers in at the waterfall, which was just as gorgeous as La Fortuna, and then continued our hike to the mouth of the river. At the end of the trail you’re able to witness the spot where two rivers join and create the beautiful, misty blue color you see as you hike along Rio Celeste. The color change is due to a chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate. We stayed awhile to marvel at the natural surroundings before starting our trip back out of the park. Along the way we spotted some steam coming off the water and decided to take a dip in one of the natural hot springs. Our trip to Rio Celeste also made it onto our honeymoon highlight reel.

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Wednesday was our final day in the Arenal area and we decided to partake in a more traditional honeymoon activity by spending the day at one of the upscale hot spring resorts, Tabacon. We decided to kick the luxury up a notch and booked one night at the 5-star Tabacon hotel as well. This was mostly due to the fact that hotel guests get in free to the Hot Springs which are a steep $65 entry fee per person as it is, but it felt pretty nice to live in the lap of luxury for a day. We dropped our bags off in our room, changed into our suits and spent the rest of the morning and most of the early afternoon moving between the different temperature pools and lounging under waterfalls at the hot springs. 

IMG_4488 IMG_4505 IMG_4508 IMG_4495 IMG_4489 IMG_4532 IMG_4536 IMG_4545In the afternoon we headed back to the hotel for a nap and a were pleasantly surprised to find a congratulatory bottle of wine and a plate of fresh fruit waiting for us. We put on fluffy robes, popped the bubbly and toasted to married life. We decided to be decadent and order room service before heading back to the hot springs for a nighttime soak and to catch the World Series game 6 game at the pool bar. Dave was of course ecstatic that the Red Sox ended up closing the series out. It was another pretty perfect day.

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IMG_1026Thursday morning we woke up early to catch the first of four local buses we needed to take to make it from Arenal to the Nicaragua border. We needed to make it across the border and take a 30 minute cab ride to the city of Rivas by 5:45pm to make the last ferry to our next destination, Ometepe Island. We couldn’t believe our luck with the buses since literally no one could find us a timetable before hand, but we made all of them and were at the border just after 2:00pm. That’s where our good luck ended.  We made it through the exit counters at Costa Rica with no problem, but were stopped just inside the Nicaraguan border and told that Dave’s passport was unacceptable for entry. It was RIDICULOUS. The back page is peeling off a bit and the cover slightly frayed, but there was no damage to the photo page or the bar code every other country just scans to prove the passport is authentic. We attempted to argue and even resorted to buying glue from some “helpful bystanders”. The border patrol wouldn’t budge. We thought about trying to wait it out and see if we could enter once the current guards went off duty, but felt a little sketchy and we’d spotted a Tica Bus on the way to San Jose that had just crossed into Costa Rica. Thinking it was our best bet to get the hell away from that border we hurried back, crossed back through immigration and haggled with the bus driver to get a ride back to San Jose and the US Embassy. Six more hours of bus later we made it to San Jose and luckily had a hotel near the embassy reserved by my savior of a sister Madeline. We downed some much needed beers and crashed. The news the next morning from the Embassy was less than helpful however. They informed us that it takes up to 10 days to repair passports and Nicaragua is notorious for rejecting emergency passports. We then spent hours on the phone with United representatives because their website wouldn’t allow us to change our flight and they couldn’t find the same flights we were looking at. They eventually figured it out, but when they tried to book it my credit card was declined because it had already been charged for five $400 change fees coming from the website. Another hour or so was then spent on the phone with my credit card company and then in a three-way call with United. Eventually we figured everything out, were able to change the flights for the following day and able to have one nice afternoon out in San Jose buying souvenirs and walking around the downtown a bit. Needless to say, we’re not huge fans of Nicaragua or United at the moment.

IMG_1086 IMG_1098 IMG_1104 IMG_1108We landed in LA late Saturday night and decided that we couldn’t end our honeymoon on a sour note. We were lucky to find an great deal on a cabin rental up in Big Bear and my parents were nice enough to lend us their car. So Monday morning we drove up to Big Bear (about 2 hours from Pasadena) and ended our honeymoon in Daverian fashion- lots of game playing, drinking our weight in wedding wine, bloody marys and beer and fashioning feasts to devour. The weather difference dropped from 90° in Central America to 28° in Big Bear and we savored the chance to get bundled up, view some fall foliage and do absolutely nothing for a few days.

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IMG_1217IMG_1301 IMG_1298Our honeymoon didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but overall we had a fantastic time. And the most important thing is that we’re married, we’re happy and hopeful about the future. Now if all our recent job searching pays off soon life will be pretty perfect!