Saturday, July 12, 2014

Unexpected Time Back in Chicago

I have been participating in a research study with the University of Chicago for approximately 10 years now. Without going into great detail about the study, it is a longitudinal study through the Department of Psychology, and is looking at the effects of social drinking on one's emotional and physical state.  For a 10-year follow up they flew me back to Chicago so that I could carry out some non-invasive tests on campus. Therefore, I got a somewhat unexpected visit back home, just one week after my mom had been to visit us in San Diego.  

I was in Chicago for 6 days, two of which were taken up by research work.  Otherwise I used the time to visit with family, including my sister-in-law and niece, catch up with friends for dinner, and hang out. Because I was there only 1 month after Father's Day I waited until this trip to reveal my brother's and my Dad's gift to him - an introductory flight lesson.   As part of this deal we left from a small airport in Naperville, and spent 1 hour flying into the city, flew over downtown Chicago including some of the major highlights (US Cellular Field, Soldier Field, Navy Pier, Trump Tower, Wrigley Field, and the Willis [Sears] Tower).  It was an awesome way to see the city & a lot of fun!

US Cellular Field

Friday, June 13, 2014

New niece, Aria!

On May 17th our third niece was born!  Aria Ryan was born to my brother and sister-in-law.  She is an adorable bundle & seems to sleep all of the time!  I have been lucky enough to see her a bit more than anticipated, and am looking forward to the next time.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Viejas Mountain

A few days ago we decided to go on a hike out to East County, in an area we'd never been before.  Our friends, Darrin and Samantha, were up for joining us, so we tried out Viejas Mountain.  This was a bit of a tough hike, and it was a pretty warm day.  If it had been warmer than the high 70's, I don't know that I'd do this hike as it was without shade the whole way.  We climbed to ~ 2000 feet in our car before parking & hiking up to the top of the mountain, 4000 ft.  There were very few switchbacks, so we pretty much ventured straight up.  It took us ~ 3 hours to do the entire climb up and down.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend 2014

As usual, we flew into Chicago for Memorial Day weekend, but this year was special.  The first baby on my side of the family was now here!  Aria was born 1 week before our arrival, so we planned to soak up as much time with her as possible.  We spent a decent portion of the first morning cuddling her before driving south to Indianapolis.  

While there we spent a great deal of time with friends – barbecuing and catching up.  All of my college girlfriends bring their families to these get-togethers, and it’s always a nice time to see how quickly everyone’s children have grown. 

For Race Day this year we tried out some different seats, located just in front of the pits and near the finish line.  The best part, though, is that they are covered by shade, which will probably be a welcome relief on these incredibly hot race days.  After a fun race we met up with more friends and had dinner in Broad Ripple, followed by some drinks like we were in our college days.

On Sunday we made a brief stop at Purdue before heading back to Chicago for an evening with friends and relatives.  More Aria time on Monday was had before flying back to San Diego.  We tried to soak up as much time with our loved ones as possible, but it’s always so hard to see everyone in such a short time.  

Thankfully, I’ll be back to Chicago this Summer and will hopefully see many more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Break in the Caribbean 2014

For Spring Break this year Matt and I decided to try something new – a cruise to the Caribbean.  We had always thought of ourselves as “non-beach people” but decided to give this a shot one time and see what came of it.  We flew in and out of Puerto Rico, having a little time to enjoy San Juan on the front and back-ends of the trip.  We really enjoyed San Juan’s beaches at the beginning of the trip – it seems like a nice place to spend some time, and the weather sure is ideal.

The cruise made stops in Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Dominica and Barbados.  We spent a great deal of most of these stops lounging in a chair on the beach, sipping cool drinks.  However, because we are not ones to laze around for too long, we did manage to squeeze in some activity when we could.  We tried very hard not to overschedule ourselves so that we could really just relax, but we were going a little stir crazy by mid-week. 

We took advantage of some rentable kayaks in St. Maarten to head out to Pinel Island, which features a small beachfront with virtually no commercialism, beautiful warm turquoise water, and is a short paddle from the main island.  In St. Kitts we rented ATVs for a ride around the old sugar cane fields on the island – it was a blast!  Afterwards, I told Matt that I’d prefer to purchase an ATV, rather than the kayak we’ve thought about for a few years. 

Dominica was our favorite island.  We hired a guide based on some recommendations from CruiseCritic, and he was fabulous!  (in fact, we are Facebook friends)  He took us on a fairly strenuous hike to a lovely waterfall, pointing out the various medicinal plants and fruits along the way.  After the hike we checked out some of the hot springs on the island, and then visited a cave with a plunge pool at the bottom of a deep crevasse – it was featured in one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, so you can imagine the lushness of the place. Although the water was freezing, it was a unique experience to swim beneath the cavernous walls.  We checked out some gardens on the island and snapped some photos before heading back to the cruise ship. 

We really wanted to swim with the turtles in Barbados, but didn’t want to pay the ship’s upcharge to do it, so we took our chances at one of the popular beach spots, hoping that the boats would come by to feed them and we’d be able to swim out.  We did manage to get pretty close to where they were feeding, but not enough to see them.  We did, however, borrow some snorkel gear to check out the reef there – it was pretty cool - and we enjoyed it swimming side-by-side hand-in-hand. Barbados seemed like the type of place you could really spend some time, possibly a vacation unto itself.

We had one full-day at sea on the ship, when we took advantage of the gym, took a dance class, climbed the rock wall, and ate a lot.  We met a lovely couple on the boat who sat at our dining table. They had children our age, so accompanied us on several of the islands and spent our last day with us.  Other than those things, the most “cruisy” thing we did was utilize the gym each day, I took a Yoga and Spinning class, and we got massages. Thankfully, neither of us really had any problems with sea sickness, which was a concern beforehand.

When we docked back in San Juan we had an entire day to spend there before flying back home.  We checked out one of several fortalezas in the city, sampled a pina colada from the place that invented them (it was STRONG!) before heading out to the far eastern side of the island for a nighttime kayak.  San Juan is home to one of the world’s few bioluminescent bays, and when kayaking you can stir up the water to view this glowing brilliance.  Kayaking through the estuary was quite cool in itself, but the bioluminescent plankton made it all the better.  It was an experience I’d highly suggest!  We wanted to make it out to the El Yunque Rainforest, but ran out of time.  We are hoping to get back there next year, and maybe will have time to check it out then.

Home of the original Pina Colada