Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Travel Buddy

Over the past few years I have mostly traveled alone, primarily because of work. However, I have been lucky enough to go on six trips this year with my favorite person ever. He's not only easy-going in real life but on vacation too. He always lets me sleep in, even if it means missing something we planned on doing, and often brings me breakfast in bed. He's up for pretty much anything and patiently lets me shop, even though I know he would rather be doing anything else. I got lucky to find someone so great. Cheers to you, Brian Beard!

Brian found a friend at Madame Tussaud's.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Non-Gambler's Vegas - Part III

After walking around the Strip for a day or two you start running out of options - besides eating and shopping, of course. We decided to spend the day looking for some random and cheap fun, which we found. Here's what was on the agenda:

The last time we visited Las Vegas we stayed at the Bellagio. We were able to see the fountains from our window but that didn't compare to seeing the show from the sidewalk.
We walked down the Strip to see the two newest hotels - the Aria and the Cosmopolitan. Next to the Aria there were several galleries. We stopped in and admired the latest work of Chihuly, the same artist that made the ceiling sculptures in the Bellagio.
We stopped at a discount ticket broker and bought some tickets to the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor - mostly because I wanted to go see the Luxor and it seemed like a better idea to go down there for two reasons. They wouldn't allow photography inside the exhibition, so you'll just have to imagine the giant iceberg they had inside that you could touch. Also, we were handed a character card when we arrived and were told to check and see if you lived at the end on the survivor's board. I was very excited that both Brian and I lived - although it was weird, other people sort of looked at me strange when I was cheering.
We signed a waiver saying we wouldn't talk about it too much, but Brian and I did take two surveys each and scored $40 in paper checks. We taste-tested beer and a t.v. show I hope will never air.
We had dinner at Joe's (not Crabshack) and then dessert - yummy peanut butter pie and a latte. A pretty good way to end the day. We walked our legs off and were asleep before 11. Thanks for checking in!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thankful Winner

Happy Monday! Vegas coverage will continue tomorrow (and it was an interesting, discounted day - we even got paid cash money at one point, without gambling a cent) but in the meantime, we have another winner! I used the random number picker again at random.org and the lovely winner is my blogger friend Julie from Roving I. Congrats! Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts on thankfulness - good stuff. Have a wonderful day everyone!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Non-Gambler's Vegas - Part II

We started off the day with breakfast at the Bouchon Bakery. Even though it was breakfast, I couldn't resist ordering a raspberry macaroon. I've been seeing these amazing little creations in magazines for the past couple of years but hadn't come across any to try; sad lack of French bakeries in Kansas City.
The Neon Museum was really cool. I couldn't stop taking photos. The Boneyard is where good signs go to die and get rehabilitated. The tour guide shared the history of all the signs, mostly a lot of classic Vegas mob stories. I would definitely suggest checking out this off-the-strip attraction. After we visited the museum, we walked several blocks to the downtown area, The Fremont Street Experience. I had never ventured to the original Vegas attractions before and it was fun having a look around.
After our downtown adventures we took the bus back (another successful public transportation experience!) to the strip and went to dinner at SUSHISAMBA, a Japanese, Brazilian, Peruvian restaurant located in the Palazzo. The food was delicious and I would highly recommend making a reservation.
After dinner, we headed to a tent in front of Caesar's Palace to see the new variety show, Absinthe. It was small and intimate and we were feet away from multiple live acrobatic acts. The show as a whole was amazing, save for a few off-track segments that would have the more conservative attendee blushing. The crowd was open to the oddities that were the announcer and his sidekick and the rest of the show was highly enjoyable and awe-inspiring.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Non-Gambler's Vegas - Part I

To some, my choice of a holiday in Vegas sounds odd. But it's one of those destinations where you have little choice but to relax. Since we don't gamble, drink until the wee hours of the night (usually) or chase down women - we get to find the other gems that Vegas has to offer. This consists mainly of good entertainment (like comedian, Jim Gaffigan last night), delicious food (our dinner at First Food and Bar) and some good local stuff (like Ethel M Chocolate's where you can take a tour). Every now and then you need one of those getaways where you have nothing to do but sleep in and eat too much - you're not missing out on too many once-in-a-lifetime moments. Here are a few photos from our day:

The Strip is alive with the hum of the holidays. The Venetian in particular had gone all out to welcome in the Christmas season. This giant tree caught my eye. It was even cooler at night - with each glass ball lighting up four different colors and the tree base lighting up silver underneath. We spent most of the day walking around with the Black Friday crowds. We scored a new pair of jeans for Brian at 40% off, which in our household was a double win.
Our dinner at First (in the Palazzo) was incredible. It redeemed Vegas food after a lackluster meal the night before at the Harrah's Oyster Bar (not even blog-worthy, people). I had a gimlet with some fresh ginger, the chopped Cobb salad, the Doritos Mac N Cheese and half of Brian's homemade doughnut sundae. I was so full at the end that I felt a little sick, but it was worth it!
After dinner we headed to the Mirage to see a very funny show by Jim Gaffigan. We burned off all our dinner calories from laughing so hard - at least I think that's an exercise principle Mr. Gaffigan would endorse. Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankfulness

Thanksgiving is a bit of a cliché time to share what you're thankful for, since we have things to be thankful for all the time. However, I'll concede that it is better to do it once a year than not at all. I have a lot of things on my list of things I am thankful for but I like the simple ones the best. Being able to read and write - this page, a book, a grant proposal, a letter from a friend, etc. Most of us do this all the time, but just imagine for a moment what you would do if you couldn't read and write...blows my mind.

I am thankful for the clean air I breathe, the toilet I have to use and the safe water that I drink. These things are just there for me but that is certainly not the case for many people around the world. The clothes on my back, the food in my stomach and the shoes on my feet. They keep me warm and healthy and are far more plentiful for me than millions of others on the planet. A little while back I blogged about a contest that was going on for the founder of TOMS, Blake Mycoskie's book - Start Something That Matters.

So, I won two free copies of the book - one to read and one to give away - which follows TOMS model of buy one pair of shoes or sunglasses and a pair of shoes or sight is given away. If you are unfamiliar with TOMS you need to be, this social enterprise is doing some pretty big things. I saw Blake speak at SXSW last year and really enjoyed hearing about how he started up his business. The book also highlights several other businesses that are working to solve social issues through good business models.

Now for the giveaway! In addition to giving away a copy of the book I am also throwing in a $20 gift certificate to the TOMS website in celebration of my thankfulness of you and so you can start giving back through the purchase of something TOMS-related. All you need to do is leave a comment and share what you are most thankful for. The drawing will take place on the night of Sunday, November 27th, so enter now and have a Happy Thanksgiving (for my U.S. readers)!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Winter Break


So, as of yesterday morning, I am the proud owner of a plane ticket to Haiti! I am going to a village in the mountains with my friend Morée from dLO Water and a group from an organization called Living Waters for the World. We are going to be working on installing some water filtration systems with the community members from a village near Santilus, Haiti. I am also going to help Morée get some video and still camera footage of the project, the people and the landscape of Haiti.

In addition to the 2010 earthquake, Haiti deals with the problems that come with being the poorest country in the Americas. The people of Haiti hava endured years of political, economic and human rights turmoil that have made life there extremely challenging. Haiti ranks as number 158 out of 187 on the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. The people of Haiti deserve access to the same things that we sometimes take for granted, like a clean drink of water and I look forward to seeing how that becomes possible.

It's been almost a year since my trip to Liberia and I look forward to another radical cultural immersion experience. I am excited and nervous, as I don't know what all to expect, but I know that it will be a great way to spend part of my break between semesters. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Whoa-no

a tiny rant:

Okay, I don't want to say I saw this coming but I've been opting out of the body-scanner screenings for a while, due to privacy and health concerns - plus I love the dirty looks I get when they have to go get someone for the full-body massage that is now the new pat-down. Now, in a recent move to protect consumers, Europe has now banned the body scanners in their airport security. This is a pretty big deal because up until now we had a unified security plan with the EU to maintain uniform safety regulations for "friendly" skies. Europe has started using a different kind of scanner that doesn't emit harmful radiation - the U.S. uses these as well, in addition to the "harmful" scanners. I wish we could all just get along and agree to play nice in the air. Flying can be enough of a hassle without the added risk of getting cancer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holiday Help

We have an over abundance of chain stores (and restaurants for that matter) in the Midwest, maybe everywhere. I try to balance this out by finding local gems and being flexible about when I shop. I realize it isn't always convenient to shop inside the hours of 9am and 5pm, but most independent shop owners are the only staff and they can't work all the time - however, some stay open later near the holidays. To work around the hours I plan a lunch break dash, combine a trip with a doctor's appointment or sometimes ask someone to put something aside for me to pick up right before closing.

In preparation for the holidays coming up way too soon, I'd like to bring you a holiday shopping guide. I've included some in-person and online options for KC businesses - that way you won't feel left out if you aren't going to be in Kansas City any time soon. Enjoy!
Love these prints for your wall - or you can get them in card sizes too.
Hammerpress ~ This store, located on Southwest Boulevard in downtown KC, is also a working letterpress shop. I went in there yesterday to pick up some new thank you notes and a card for a friend and left with those and some Japanese Washi tape and the cutest driftwood magnet for my cubicle at work. They have great gifts for most everyone on your list - the hard part is not buying too much for yourself. 

L to R: Dark Chocolate, Whiskey Walnut, Mango Ginger
Christoper Elbow ~ Who doesn't love to receive chocolate as a gift? I usually buy my chocolate gifts from Christoper Elbow at The Roasterie Cafe or Glacé, but I included the link in case you wanted to buy some tiny edible art from anywhere. 

Love this Desert Falcon Necklace
Scarlett Garnet ~ In need of jewelry that is beautiful and affordable? You have to check out Scarlett Garnet. You can shop online or you can check out their cute boutique in downtown KC, on 18th Street in the Crossroads.

A Thyme for Everything ~ This gourmet food shop in downtown Lee's Summit is chock full of yummy foods, spices, pastas and all of the tools you need to cook them. They offer classes with local chefs - a gift certificate to one of those would make an excellent gift.

Doherty & Sullivans ~ Also, in downtown Lee's Summit, this Irish goods store has the most beautiful dishes (not pictured on their website), clothing and jewelry straight from Ireland. They also carry some European groceries, home decor items and in the past, have held Irish Gaelic language classes in the store.
Three Dog Bakery ~ For those of you with pets in your life who might deserve a treat, I love the Three Dog Bakery. It's set up like a regular bakery only with offerings for your four-legged friends. You can even have your pet's name put on little bones and cakes - if your pet is into that sort of thing.
Love this map of San Francisco.
Best Made Company ~ Okay, this isn't local to Kansas City but I recently discovered this New York site and I can't get enough of it. From their vintage extension cords to their amazingly beautiful, useful axes - their style is incredible.

I could go on and on, but that's a good start. Where will you be shopping for the holidays?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Making Memories

My dad and I all ready for some backpacking, circa 1992.
Vacations in my household growing up centered mostly around camping. We camped as a family but my dad also took my brother and I separately on backpacking weekends about every other year. We would hike up a mountain we'd been looking at on a map for months, bringing along everything we'd need on our backs. The kid left behind on these trips got to have time with my mom - shopping, eating dessert for dinner, watching movies past our bed-time, etc. It was a good deal either way.

As I got into high school I started working, dating, playing tennis, etc. and those trips started to fade away. We still did things as a family, but weekends were busy. When I was in college my dad and I started talking about taking a backpacking trip around Europe as my graduation present. We never made any finite plans but we always talked about it like it was going to happen. My dad even bought me the backpack for it for one of my birthdays leading up to the trip. And then, I met my husband and the plans changed to paying for a wedding instead of a trip and we never went.

Brian and I moved to California right after the wedding, and then on to Kansas City shortly after that. My parents still live in Maine. I get to see them about once or twice a year, which is great, but it's hard to fit in a lot of quality time when you're trying to see all your relatives at once. My mom and I have gone on a couple of trips together over the past few years - a Mediterranean cruise, a road-trip from Maine to Kansas City and back to Maine, a work trip I flew my mom down for - but my dad is usually working.

I started thinking about all this over the weekend and was getting a little misty-eyed about it. I was thinking about how I hate hearing those sad stories about people who once made plans and something happened and they never got to go/do wherever/whatever. I decided that I was going to change what (up to this point at least) was starting to sound like one of those stories.

So, my dad and I are taking a trip next September to Yosemite National Park to do a volunteering vacation through the REI Adventures. Neither of us have been to Yosemite before and I am excited to check it out together. I realize that to some people doing manual labor and tenting sound nothing like a vacation, but for my dad and I, it will be perfect. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall in Weston

One of my favorite places to go in the fall is Weston, MO. Something about the small downtown reminds me of the towns back home in Maine that I grew up visiting. This weekend I didn't have class so it seemed like the perfect chance to go up for a day with my husband and my in-laws. It was a little warmer than it should be this time of year, which is fine by me, albeit a bit windy. We met for lunch at the Avalon Cafe and walked around the shops - all starting to get dressed up for the holidays.
Along the way we bumped into Father Christmas, out spreading some cheer. I have gotten into the good habit of asking people for permission before I snap a photo and Santa just asked that he have time to fluff his beard up first.
My favorite shop downtown is Mort's Classic Cameras (open Wed-Sun, 12pm-5pm). Mort has cameras from all eras for sale and fixes them too. He also carries amazing prints of Orval Hixon's photographs, old sheet music and 45's.
We finished our day with dinner at the America Bowman Restaurant/O'Malley's Pub. Unfortunately their website was wrong and the live music didn't start until later in the evening than we planned to be there, however, that was salvaged with a sampling of all of their local brews. I liked them all except for the Amber Lager (complete with jalapenos - yikes!).
Yes, these are mini-glasses, no pints here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On My Mind

This week:

The runoff election results for the Presidential race in Liberia are expected to come in as early as today. The current President - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected to retain office. Her opponent chose to boycott the runoff election claiming that ballot fraud had taken place during the initial election.

I listened to a Radiolab podcast this week on my way to work that was talking about all the horrible diseases one can pick up in South Sudan. It wasn't the main point of the podcast, as it swung into something far more personal for the story-teller, but it was the part the stuck with me the most. Especially the gruesome details of the guinea worm. [I know some of you might be eating right now so I won't go into detail but when you have a chance you should read this.]

At work I learned more about people's everyday struggles to find clean water and a toilet as I helped craft a report for a donor.

I felt stressed as I tried to figure out how to get all of my homework done, in an effort to create a little free-time between work and school.

And then, I realized how dumb number four was. I mean, I am all for fun and free-time, but sometimes I amaze myself at how narrow my focus can be. I have all of these giant issues looming around me and I am concerned about having too much homework? Geez. But at least I noticed. Hope you're having an enlightened day too!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fed Fun

On Friday my Economics class spent the day at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. (As some of you may already know from reading my profile, I am a big econ nerd and I love learning about things like monetary policy, fun!) Anyway, as part of our day there we got to visit the Money Museum, see inside the vault of money, watch people counting money and money getting shredded (which gets recycled in a number of ways - one of which is this cute little sack of money to the left that in total is about $165, and they give them away for free.) We also got to watch an hour-long video on the history of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks - I am no history buff but I found this video gripping (again, I am a nerd).

The only downside to the day was that since we were hearing talks from some pretty important people at the bank throughout the day, we had to dress up. Dressing up to me sort of carries with it some notion of needing to act more grown-up, so it was with some hesitation that I partook in the art project in the museum clearly designed for the younger visitors. I am glad I did though, I think it broke the ice with some of my new, professional, classmate friends. Any of you that live near, or plan to make a visit to a city with a Federal Reserve Bank, should check one out. Even if you're not a nerd, I think you might like what you find.

My handmade Buffalo bill.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

At Your Service

Cooking with Teresita in Buenos Aires. (It's me behind the hair-curtain, measuring some flour for some homemade empanadas.)
I met a woman this past weekend, at the conference I attended in Chicago, who is going to be traveling to Argentina soon for a vacation. I also spoke with someone from a blog comment who is traveling to Thailand shortly. Both of them were interested in hearing some ideas on what not to miss. These two interactions got me thinking that there are lots of wonderful places and adventures that I have been on prior to starting this blog.

I was hoping that if you had any questions or were wanting any recommendations on things to do/see, places to eat, activities to try, etc. in any of the places I have been that you would ask. You can leave a comment, tweet me, sky-write to me, whatever. I would love to help! And, if there are places I haven't been to yet, I just might know someone else who could give you some personal tips. Just ask away!

And while we're on the subject, here are my not-to-be-missed recommendations for Argentina:

Mendoza:
  • We stayed at the Villaggio Hotel which was on a quiet little street in downtown Mendoza. (Brian was thrilled that they had an English-speaking front desk staff.)
  • In order to see wine-country the right way, we booked a wine tour w/tour guide with The Grapevine - if you go, ask if Fabio is still giving tours, he was amazing!
  • We ended our time in Mendoza with one of the most memorable meals in our life-time (for a variety of reasons) - a 15 course meal at 743 Bistro. The head chef of many of the vineyard's restaurant kitchens has this test kitchen in his home, quite the treat.
I loved that you could see the Andes from many of the vineyards we visited in Mendoza.
    Buenos Aires:
    • The cooking class was one of the best things we did in the city (see link above). 
    • The antiques fair in Sal Telmo was a wonderful combo of people watching, spontaneous tango and musicians. This takes place on Sundays.
    • We went with a tour group to a club soccer match (River Plate vs. Boca Juniors), it was crazy fun and we were glad we took the tour-book's advice to go with a group that knew what they were doing.
    • We also spent half a day wandering around the Recoleta Cemetery - one of the most fascinating places in the city. It's a little spooky, a lot historic and unlike anything I had ever seen before. You could see bones in coffins and cats all over the place!
    • Finally, I would definitely recommend renting an apartment for a purely authentic experience (made much more so by the fact that we don't speak Spanish). We rented a great place in Palermo Viejo through ByT Argentina.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Rushing Chicago

    I don't like incredibly short trips, but when I booked my trip to Chicago I wasn't sure what my work situation would be and I didn't want to have to ask for time off at a new job if I didn't have to. Hence, a 36 hour trip to the Windy City.

    The biggest downside was that since I was going for The Independent Sector Conference, I was to be inside for the majority of the trip and couldn't explore very much of the city. I did get a couple of things in, however, so here they are:

    1) I took the train, albeit with a tiny bit of help!
    2) We walked a little bit of the city on our way to and from brunch, the only meal eaten outside of the hotel.

    3) We (my friend Moree and I) ate brunch at a place called the Grand Lux Cafe. The mocha I had was delicious and the red velvet pancakes with chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting were amazing.
    4) From the Swissotel, where the conference was held, we had this incredible view of the Navy Pier. You could take a water taxi out to see it up close for only $4. We almost did this but the weather was a little chilly and I didn't have the right outdoor attire with me.
    As for the rest of the weekend, it was spent learning about networking, harnessing your personal power, managing change in the workplace and actually networking with non-profit, foundation and public sector professionals. It may have not been the most relaxing activity to take part in during my only weekend off from school, but like I was just saying a few posts ago, I'm a sucker for a challenge. Thanks for checking in!