Monday, August 27, 2007

LA to Chicago: Roadtrip Diaries #3 - Eastern Utah

Having had our taste of Moose Madness, we left Hatch on Thursday morning and headed out to Arches National Park, which is just a couple of miles away from the town of Moab, Utah. Arches is known for, well, arches, and window formed by natural processes of erosion over many many years. It is mind-boggling that these breathtaking formations are right there in the middle of the US, right in my so-called backyard.

When the temperature is over 95 degrees and it's really really dry, the best way to see Arches is from your car. There is an 18-mile (one-way) scenic drive with plenty of stops where you can get out and do short hikes to some of the cool sites. Once again, the pictures can do the talking here.

Entering Arches:

Not too hot to smile yet:

Erosion carved out this tenuous sculpture; eventually it will tumble to the ground.

South window from the "primitive trail":

Skyline arch from afar:

Skyline arch from up close and below:

Pine tree arch:

We were pretty tired and thirsty at the end of the day, so we made our way into Moab for the evening. Similar to our trip to the Grand Canyon last fall, the sites in Utah were pretty humbling. Most of the time I try to avoid fading completely into the background, preferring to think that my life will in some small way have an impact on the world. But in ways both temporal and physical, standing in the shadows of these giants made me feel pretty small, just a small speck in space and time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

LA to Chicago: Roadtrip Diaries #2 - Western Utah

From Vegas, we drove just a few hours to Zion National Park, in Utah. I am ashamed to say I have never been to Utah, other than driving through or a layover at the Salt Lake City airport. Let me tell you, it is beautiful out there, with 5 national parks and amazing red sandstone formations. It rained quite a bit while we there, but we made good use of their great shuttle system, which they implemented in 1997 to decrease problems associated with high visitation, like parking and traffic. I won't say much about it, but let the images speak for themselves.

Entering the park:

The Court of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

The Weeping Rock:

A waterfall (seen from the shuttle):

More clouds rolling in as we leave:

After leaving the park we drove on to our motel in Hatch, about an hour away. The drive was pretty, I particularly liked the way the clouds skated along beside us:

Our room at the motel was the "Moose Madness" room which, of course, displayed a rather large set of antlers. At least they weren't above the bed (sorry, no pictures). But here was the view from our little porch:

Not a bad place to lay our heads down for the night.

Up next: Eastern Utah, more breathtaking stone formations.

Roadtrip Lessons

Michelle is writing in more detail about our LA-to-Chicago roadtrip, but I wanted to mention some things I learned while driving over 2000 miles:

1. The US grows a lot of corn.

2. Smoking is much more prevalent outside of California, and it was a shock to be asked "smoking or non-smoking" in restaurants.

3. "Regular unleaded" gas in Utah and Colorado has an octane rating of 85. We weren't sure if this was high enough, so we always filled with the mid-level gas; however, Wikipedia tells me that 85 is okay at high altitudes.

4. The speed limit is much more respected outside of California. If you were to drive 80 mph on I-5 between San Francisco and LA (where the speed limit is 70, not that I've ever gone so fast), you would be barely average. In all of the other states we passed through (where the limit is often 75), going 80 mph makes you pretty much the fastest car on the road (again, not that we ever drove 80).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wedding Karma

Since we got rid of most of our furniture when we left California, we've been checking out a few home furnishing and accessories stores around. Last week we went into CB2, the modern offshoot of a pretty popular store (once again, no names, but you can probably guess from the initials...).

At the same time, I am always on the lookout for wedding supplies, since I want to do a lot of things myself (or with the help of trusty friends...he he). In particular, I have been envisioning a certain centerpiece that requires certain containers (sorry, but all you get are vague references for now, gotta retain the element of surprise!)

So while we were in CB2, I saw these great boxes that could work as said containers. However, there weren't enough on the shelf so I went to ask a store employee if they had any in the back. He went to check, and when he came back with a bunch more, he asked me what they were for. As soon as I said "well, I was thinking of using them in my wedding reception centerpieces," his eyes lit up. Apparently he is a florist by trade!

He got what I was thinking of doing for the centerpieces, but wasn't really jazzed about the containers I'd picked. He was all excited about the idea, though. So for the next 15 minutes, he took me around the store, throwing around other ideas - things that I hadn't thought about, but will probably incorporate. The best part was that his recommendations were even cheaper than the sale boxes! It was awesome and I was really inspired by his help. It was like a free consultation (and believe me, in the wedding game, very few things are cheap, much less free)! Lucky for Brian, there were couches all around so he just plunked himself down while the employee and I went gallivanting around the store.

To add to the feeling of luck or fate or what have you, he said that I'd caught him just in time, as this was his last day on the job. When I asked him where he was heading the next day, one guess as to where he was going? Yup, he was going to a new job as a full time wedding florist!

Yay for good wedding karma!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

LA to Chicago: Roadtrip Diaries #1 - Las Vegas, NV

After the month we spent in Calgary, we headed back to LA to attend my friend Sharon's wedding and then to pick up my car (which was parked at my cousins' house) for the drive to Chicago. What was originally a less-than-a-weeklong stay turned into about a week and a half, as we decided really last minute that we would first try to sell Brian's car. It was also at my cousins' - we were going to deal with it after we figured out what the dealio was in Chicago. After a dismal visit to Carmax (they frown upon Canadian cars, apparently), we decided to sell it on our own - not an easy feat in normal circumstances, but we were also on a deadline, wanting to get to Chicago asap so that we could find an apartment.

As luck would have it, we crossed paths with a friendly Aussie who was in need of a car like, yesterday, and so he took it off our hands with nary a visit to the mechanic. So, after saying goodbye to LA friends AGAIN, sniff sniff, we hit the road in my little blue Civic (whose name, FYI, is Josie).

Our first night was spent in Vegas. It's only about a 4-hour drive from LA, so we easily could have driven through. Instead, we thought we should celebrate the fact that we sold a used, Canadian car in 2 days (in yo' face, Carmax!) by kicking off the roadtrip in style. We stayed at Excalibur (not that exciting, but yay for internet deals) and ate lunch at Lotus of Siam - supposedly the best Thai restaurant in North America. It was ok, we had some interesting Northern Thai dishes that we hadn't encountered before.

For dinner, we had made reservations at Bouchon, a bistro from Thomas Keller, of the famed French Laundry in Napa (no, we haven't been... but plan to...someday, when dropping $500 on a meal sounds like a rational idea). After walking about 2 miles down the strip to the Venetian in the hot hot heat, we had a lovely meal - sorry to say, but some escargot, lamb, and trout were indeed harmed in the process of that dinner. Mmmmmm.

Anyway, the other stuff wasn't too interesting - we gambled a little bit, me sticking to the anonymous video poker machines (woohoo for 4 of a kind!) and Brian putting some money down on the roulette table. As usual, Vegas left me kind of sad, a little bit poorer, and really really hot.

Next: Beautiful Utah (pictures next time, I promise!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Squatters no more

Yesterday we signed a lease on our new apartment. We are so excited because it is a really great apartment in a wonderful building, and we can’t wait to move in! We actually had put in an application for a different one on Friday, but since they allow 72 hours for you to change your mind, we decided that we would use the weekend to keep up the search and just see if anything better popped up. We found that one through one of the free apartment-renting services in Chicago – it is such a renter’s market that there are many of these, you just go in and talk to an agent about your needs and wants, and they drive you around to several available apartments. If you’re lucky like us, you will get someone who is really nice, knowledgable and who understands what you need (even if you don’t quite know yourself!)* Basically, our agent determined that we should be in a high-rise building, rather than a walk-up. Though walk-ups will generally have more character and uniqueness, after seeing a few on our own I started to get very wary of descriptors like “vintage” (read: old and dingy), “cozy” (teensy-weensy, you may have to duck your head) and “won’t last till the weekend!” (been on the market since March).

Once we visited our first high rise (which was in fact the one we ended up applying for), we were hooked. 24 hour doorman and maintenance, rooftop pool and sundeck, heated valet parking, fitness center, etc. etc. What’s not to like?! A couple of them had – get this – free continental breakfast during the week. BELIEVE me, that was hard for us students-aka-lovers-of-free-food to pass up.

Anyway, thanks to our agent’s work and a lot of online research, we found our future home on Sunday. It’s a one-bedroom slice of heaven, with a great kitchen (it should be no surprise to anyone who knows us that a nice kitchen was high on our list of ‘wants’) and an amazing 29th-floor view of both Lake Michigan and the city. We move in September 2nd, so stay tuned for photos! In the meantime, here are some pics we took while walking along the lake yesterday… the lake that is literally across the street from our apartment.

*Since this webjournal is not about product placement, I’ll refrain from naming any names. But if anyone wants a referral for an apartment-finder in Chicago, I’d be happy to pass along his info!

Lake Michigan

Can you see our new home peeking through the trees?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

You call this a vacation?

When we were looking for postdocs, Michelle and I decided that we wanted to take a few months off between finishing grad school and starting our postdocs. We thought we could spend some time relaxing at home, and also do some travelling.

For the first four weeks of "vacation," we stayed with my parents in Calgary. It was pretty relaxing, but what did we do with our days? On one hand, we spent a lot of time researching and meeting with wedding vendors. On the other hand, I made the (perhaps foolish) decision to apply for postdoc fellowships right away, so I wrote a research proposal in about 2 weeks.

Not my idea of vacation.

Blast off!

Welcome to our webjournal (for reasons I cannot really explain, I do not like the word "blog")! This is a little glimpse into our lives, which have for the past few years played out in LA (me) and San Francisco (Brian) but are now happily colliding in the great city of Chicago.

So much has happened in our world in the last few months, but we were so busy experiencing it that we didn't get much of a chance to document it. Since we would like still like to record some of it and get the memories (and images) of these really important events down, some of our posts may be more retrospective than others, going back a little ways until we feel like we're up to date.

Ok? Ok... 3...2...1...