Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmastime in San Diego

Dan & I love the crazy, busy weeks before Christmas. There are so many special events and opportunities to hang out with friends, which make the weeks fly by until it's time to visit our families! Last weekend, we joined our friends Kat and Burton at the annual December Nights festival at Balboa Park in San Diego. It's a HUGE event every year, which is the main reason we haven't gone in years past. Hundreds of thousands of people descend upon Balboa Park (which is in downtown San Diego) over one weekend, which means tons of traffic on the roads and zero parking spots around that area. I'm sure the local residents love it. (haha)

Kat and Burton go every year, and they know that the trick is to get there early enough in the day on Saturday before the sun goes down. Because the party really gets started once they turn on the Christmas lights around the park and the museums open for free after 5pm. We got there before 4pm, and it honestly wasn't so bad...until an hour later when all mayhem broke loose! Suddenly it was dark and entirely too crowded. We had meeting points set for when we lost each other in the crowds (it happened more than once). But we had a good time listening to the performances, visiting the art museum for free, and most of all, enjoying all the international food! They had food vendors representing every country you could think of, and it was delicious. Our dinner was at least 4 courses that night.

Dan, me, Kat, and Burton

In front of Santa's sleigh

Getting in touch with my Swedish roots!

Funnel cake = happy Dan
This weekend was packed with Christmas events, too! Friday night was my company Christmas party, which is always a nice, semi-formal event somewhere downtown. Dan's school Christmas program was the same night, but he was still able to be my date since he didnt' have any responsibilities for the school program. He had gotten to watch the kids during dress rehearsal that day, and he was glad he got to see them perform. I hated missing the kids' performances - they're always so cute! Hopefully our event dates won't overlap next year.
On Saturday night, Dan's high school staff got together for a potluck and game night before the holidays. They didn't tell him that it was also a surprise birthday party for him! So when we arrived, there were birthday party decorations and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to him. It was fun and it's really hard to pull one over on Dan. He *may* have gotten a little suspicious that something was happening right before we arrived at the house and it *may* have been my fault because he can read my attempts at hiding something like a flashing neon sign, but I did my best.
The fun & sweet ladies who hosted/organized/cooked for the party

Dan got more birthday presents! He likes how I immediately refer to the gift cards as "our" gift cards, because it's times like these when we need to remember that the two have become one. :) We played three rounds of "The Couch Game". The ladies got 4 members of our team on the couch and won the first game

Then before we had time to blink, the guys crushed us during the second round

But the ladies killed it in the final round for sweet, sweet bragging rights

To top off the weekend, our neighborhood, Pacific Beach, had its annual holiday parade. It was 85 degrees and poor Santa was sweating buckets. It was fun to wish everyone a merry Christmas in flip flops & shorts, knowing that we'll be bundled up against the cold soon enough!
The Christmas parade firetruck

Santa looks a lot like this in our neighborhood

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Road Trip 2010

It's become our tradition over the past several years to take a road trip during Thanksgiving weekend. Since we have a longer period of time to spend with our families at Christmastime, we usually skip the hassle of flying during Thanksgiving weekend. One of the things I am most thankful for is that Dan & I have the same love of traveling and seeing new places. We forgo extra luxuries and full-price purchases most of the year (thrift stores are my friend!) for the sake of saving money for our trips. Having fun experiences together & making lifelong memories are much more valuable than owning the latest name-brand stuff, in my opinion.

For instance, our 1997 CR-V has 212,000 miles on it. There are more dents in it than I care to explain, the paint is chipping, it whines when you drive it up a steep hill and shudders when you’re going faster than 70 mph. But it always gets us where we need to go and we’ve taken it on enough trips that we can predict within inches how tight a U-turn it can make, and don't even need to discuss the fact anymore that when the gas gauge “empty” light comes on, we can drive 30 more miles before we have to start panicking. Plus it’s paid off, which is equivalent to auto-sainthood, where all flaws are indulgently smiled upon and re-labeled as “quirks.”

We had the best time exploring a section of Utah we’ve always wanted to visit. Utah is one of my favorite states to drive through because the landscape along the highway is interesting and dramatic. I always appreciate that, since we’ve driven through so many parts of the country and there are areas that you wish you could sleep through. *cough*Kansas* We toured three national parks – Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands, and got to stay at a beautiful small town called Moab, which is a gathering spot for mountain bikers and 4-wheel drivers. We saw snow, which put us even more in the holiday spirit, but fortunately the weather was sunny for driving & hiking during the days. There were so many highlights from the weekend – like the feeling of absolute freedom when we hit the road and drove away from all our responsibilities for a few days! And having hours of time with just Dan and I and Christmas music. We saw some of the most stunning areas in America and reveled in God’s creation. But there were a couple of things that we’d forgotten from our Denver days that came flooding back as we traveled through the similar climate & altitude in Utah.

Utah + winter = static. My hair spent the weekend either floating eerily around my head or clinging to my face like tentacles. We got a massive shock every time we touched the car door. Once we forgot to "ground" ourselves (by touching hands) before we kissed and the resultant shock to the lips almost knocked us to the ground. We didn't touch for the rest of the weekend (haha, okay we did, but there was always an element of danger involved).

Utah + winter = dryness. There was that dehydration-induced head achy feeling that I had forgotten from my Denver days. Not to mention the chapped lips and waking up in the middle of the night with a parched, sore throat. There is something to be said for humidity, although I could write a much longer list of its down-sides. But that has nothing to do with Thanksgiving ... so I'm refocusing with some pictures from our trip! Enjoy!

If you've ever driven the I-70 through Utah, you'll understand why an operating gas station is one of my favorite sights on the drive!

Dan thought this was awesome! It was a 20-mile "test speed limit" that he hopes will catch on across America.

We arrived at Capitol Reef National Park on Thanksgiving day, and got to tour the park for about 4 hours before the sun set
Castle Rock, probably the most well-known formation from Capitol Reef National Park. We took a few other pictures there, but this park was surprisingly un-photogenic. We were glad we hit it before the other two parks, since it would've been a let-down afterwards.
Here was our weather forecast for the rest of the weekend. The mid-30s turned out to be great hiking weather, and we were on our way home before the snow hit on Sunday.

One of our first views of beautiful Arches National Park on Black Friday. This beats shopping in a crowded mall, hands-down!

Walking along the Park Avenue Trail

In front of the Tower of Babel

Balancing Rock

North Window Arch

Turret Arch

At the foot of Turret Arch with a view of North and South Windows Arches in the background
Cashews + Almonds + Granola + Banana Chips + M&Ms = Lunch of Champions!

After a pretty strenuous hike, our reward was this view of Delicate Arch - an icon of Utah

Standing at the base of Delicate Arch

The Fiery Furnace

We took another hike to see Landscape Arch - the longest & most delicate arch in the park. They're not sure how long it'll remain intact since the thinnest point of the arch is "only" 6 feet deep.
We went to see the latest Harry Potter movie in Moab. We had to stand in a line outside the theater, waiting for it to open only 20 minutes before the 7pm movies started. Then they courteously waited to start the movie until everyone had time to buy their popcorn & find their seats. Gotta love small towns!
On Saturday, we visited breathtaking Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch

Buck Canyon

The Grand View Overlook

Dan standing way too close to the edge!

On the Grand View trail

Upheaval Dome, which may have been caused by a meteorite! There was another theory about salt pushing up the earth, but I'm sticking with the meteorite!

Dan taking one more opportunity to get a great view (and make me nervous - you should've seen how he got up there!) before we started our 11-hour drive home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

That's What You Get For Being Awesome!

Today is Dan's birthday!! We've been celebrating all week by spending free meal coupons because I *may* have gone a little nuts a couple of months ago and signed us up for any restaurant e-mail lists that promised free stuff on your birthday. Monday night, he got a free meal from Noodles & Co. Tuesday night, dinner was compliments of Rubio's. He's still got free birthday meals from Benihana, Black Angus, El Torito, and free ice cream from Cold Stone to pack in there, too. Man, we love to stretch out a celebration!

Today we made plans to meet for lunch at 1:00. What Dan didn't know was that the kids & teachers had planned a big birthday lunch party for him at 12:00! Everyone brought food, celebrated Dan's birthday, and made him feel special. I. Love. Them. It warms my heart that the people he works with appreciate & love him so much. He was kind of hoping his birthday wouldn't be a big deal today, but that's what you get for being awesome. And he loved every minute of it! He still met me for lunch anyway, because aren't birthdays all about treating yourself? He'd better pace himself, though, because we're going to have some awesome Phil's BBQ for dinner tonight.

And then he gets to open these:

And maybe eat some of this: (someone was celebrating early with the chocolate creme pie!) (okay, it was us.)

This is how he looked when he met me for lunch today. He's wearing a USPS label that says "Birthday Guy," holding a homemade dessert that one of the kids made for him, and wearing a huge smile that his staff & kids put on his face.

Happy birthday to the most incredible blessing in my life! I love you more every year!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ringing in the Holidays

Dan's parents spent a fun-filled week with us this month. Until they came, I didn't feel like the holidays were even remotely close (the 75 degree sunny days in San Diego didn't help), but we knew Thanksgiving was just around the corner once his folks got here! Somehow we managed to fill 80% of their time with sporting events. The other 20% was a mix of shopping at Costco, taking walks outside, fixing and eating meals, and playing Carcassonne (the new board game we're obsessed with). Okay, we did sleep a little bit in there, too.

It was really beautiful that week. Here are some lovely photos that Dan's mom took as they were walking around Pacific Beach, where we live.

The day after they flew in, we drove to Anaheim to watch the NY Islanders vs. Anaheim Ducks game. Dan has enough Islanders paraphernalia to clothe a family, so we all raided his closet and wore team colors.

Our friends Chris and Adessa live in Anaheim, so they joined us for the game too!

Dan and I both had Veteran's Day (Nov. 11th) off from work, and we spent the day enjoying the beautiful sunny day in La Jolla. One of the perks of having visitors is that we have an excuse to visit cheesy tourist attractions. We paid $4 each to walk down a long steep staircase into one of the sea caves beside La Jolla Cove. You can also kayak on the bay into several of the caves, which Dan and I plan to do at some point. Except Dan keeps saying "we'll do it when the water isn't so cold," which means that it may never happen, because the Pacific Ocean is always cold.

Mom & Dad Jester inside the sea cave

We walked along the water and saw some of my favorite local wildlife

I think pelicans are by far the coolest sea bird. They look like pterodactyls when they fly! And there were tons of sea lions at La Jolla Cove that day. These young ones were really cute.

We did a lot of walking and worked up an appetite for our picnic lunch at La Jolla Shores. Dan is filching Oreos while I'm getting the "real food" out.

On Friday night, we cheered on Dan's high school football team. They won the game and got into the playoffs for the first time! Go CCA!!

On Saturday night, there was another Islanders game against the Los Angeles Kings so we went to our 2nd hockey game of the week. On our way up to L.A., we stopped by Farrell's, an old-timey ice cream parlor that Dan grew up with on Long Island. I had never been to a place like that before, but it must be one of the best places to take your kid on his/her birthday! We must've seen 6 birthdays being celebrated in the hour we were there.

On Sunday, we went to Dan's roller hockey game (hockey game #3 if you're counting). It was the championship game, and although Dan's team put up a great fight, they unfortunately lost. But Mom & Dad took us out to Macaroni Grill afterwards, where we drowned our sorrows in plates of pasta.

Dan and his two biggest fans

On their last day, Dan left work early and the three of them went fishing off the pier in Pacific Beach (it's shown in all 3 photos at the top of this post). While fishing sounds like lots of fun in theory, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have enjoyed touching/smelling/seeing the bait or the fish for that matter, so I was probably better off at work. :) We had a great time with them, and we can't wait to see them at Christmastime - only a month away!!