Friday, January 5, 2018

Philippines-scuba diving paradise

January 4-January 12
Seems like a short trip to be on the other side of the world for only 10 days when the flight time is 26 hours each direction, but we are leaving our baby boy home for the first time so 10 days was all the stamina I could muster.

We started in DFW dropping off Weston with my parents, AKA most amazing parents ever for being primary caregiver for us. So thankful. 

Dallas—> LA—> Guangzhou—> Manila
DFW to LAX was by far the best flight with TVs and plenty of space. Then the layover in LAX was awesome! Hello international terminal!! Everything was clean and big and there was plenty of seating. LAX to Guangzhou was disgusting. Flight and entertainment was fine but we were seated in what felt like a hospital waiting room. Cough cough, sneeze, cough, bathroom break, cough, bathroom break. Couldn’t wait to take a shower. Oddly, at Guangzhou we had to do another security check and this was a huge bottle neck. We only had a 75 minute layover! Plus, our plane did not deboard at a terminal. Instead we had to take stairs down the plane and take a shuttle in. Remember, time crunch! There, they slapped a yellow sticker on our arm symbolizing we were in a hurry and sent us off to stand in the security line. We quickly realized that about 60% of those around us also had yellow stickers. 😑 45 minutes and one frantic lady shouting for flight 3077 later, we made it through and high tailed it to our gate just in time for boarding. Once on the plane we waited an extra 30 minutes for all the other passengers and bags that were slow to transfer like us. So I guess this was the norm!

Whew, finally made it to Manila!!! Now it’s time to wait 2 hrs for customs in a blob of people not even resembling a line. You just all collectively take 1 step forward until you are near the front. It may now be midnight going into January 6, but we made it!

We landed in terminal 1, but our hotel is terminal 3. Easy transfer inside the airport right? Nope... apparently you have to go outside and get a taxi. I’m going to look into this though. Surely I was jipped. Shame on me for assuming the terminals were connected. 

Sweet sweet bed... oh how I’ve missed thee. 

We made it to our hotel and had a very easy check in. Room service was fast and CHEAP. I had one of the best seared salmon and vegetables ever and it was $7! Money well spent. Now it’s time for a good nights rest in these lovely twin beds. 
Travel time including transfers to hotel and customs: 31hrs
Amount of sleep: 30 minutes, so we should be primed for good sleep!

January 6, 2018
Day 1 in Manila. And by day 1, I mean pretty much our only day here as the other days are half days in transit. 

Breakfast at the hotel was great! Traditional foods from around the world were offered. Toby chose to stay in his comfort zone with an omelet and waffles, but I branched out for dumplings, rice, and stewed beef. Ended up going back for a little cereal... sometime you just need a little crunch.

We plan an excursion to see the city in the afternoon so we have the morning hours to explore our little bubble. First stop, the casino! We were told we could do free currency exchange..... and we might as well hit the black jack table while we are there right?
50php = $1
Exchange rate is certainly working in our favor for this trip.

Lunch was great! I chose a traditional Filipino lunch of chicken adobo and Toby went for the buffet where he sampled a wide range of Filipino food. I’m obsessed with Asian food and personally think that rice is preactocally a food group, so I am feeling very at home here. 

We plan an excursion to see the city in the afternoon so we head off to the hotel to meet our guide. It’s just Toby and me for the tour, which is awesome! Nice car, AC, and our guide speaks perfect English-which is surprisingly very common with around 95% being taught English in school. Although we signed up for the flashback tour that goes through the history of the country, our guide is incredibly knowledgeable and is able to tell us all sorts of stories. Just driving through town or stuck in traffic, he is able to point out so many interesting things.
-Manila is comprised of 13 cities and is 64 km large total. Each district has its only mayor and its own rules. One city will have motorcycle taxis, electrical wires draped everywhere and cigarettes, the next won’t allow any of it.
-2% are super wealthy, 28% are middle class, 70% live in poverty. Our driver was very proud of being a worker and said that he was considered middle-middle class. He said he lived in a 2 bed, 1 bath home and paid 4000php/month... that’s $80. Our tour cost more than that. When he pointed out a house that looked similar to his, it was humbling.

-Education is free, including books, through college, but families must provide the uniform. What do people  do if they can’t pay for a uniform? There is some sort of government asssitanxe available for this, but from the amount of half-clothed children we saw playing in the slums at 2pm on a Thursday when school was in session makes me think they may not be aware of this. 
-There are 1200 colleges in the Philippines and 40 in Manila alone. We stopped by UST. The oldest college. Couldn’t take pictures inside and we had to kind of sneak in (I was wearing a back pack, totally incognito), but it was so grand and beautiful! Definitely still had that island life feel to it, with the open windows, doors and atriums, but it felt like we were transported to some British school inside. Also, fun fact... even college students have to wear uniforms according to their degree. 

-Our driver was a chemical engineer. In order to practice, you have to pass the engineering exam (P.E. in America I think?) and he didn’t, so he just decided to become a salesman/tour guide instead! 
-There is no divorce in the Philippines. Marriage is FOR LIFE. I’m trying to convince Toby to renew our vows here someday.... Speaking of weddings! We got to see one about to start. Seems a lot like a wedding in the US, but much more budget friendly. You can go NUTS on a wedding and it will only cost a few thousand dollars. 

-Cockfighting is legal in Philippines and a very common form of family entertainment. You’ll see roosters with or without chains around their feet walking around everywhere. I asked what they do with the rooster after the fight, he said “Eat it of course!”

-Only the rich have chicken, pork and beef with every meal. Most Filipino people eat fish and vegetables. “Rich people don’t eat vegetables.” 
-The Philippines was under Spanish rule for 330 years. Then under US occupation for 47(?) years before finally being left alone!

After our tour, we were cravvvving a $7 massage. They were fully booked so we decided to do the expensive one... $25 massage. I’m in love with this country.

Quick dinner and trip to the shopping mall for flip flops for Toby (you did know we were going to the beach right?) and we were exhausted and ready to FaceTime our baby and hit the bed for sleep. 

January 7, 2018
Day 2 in Manila: Today we transfer to Dumageute where we will be staying for the next week. Before then, we are going to indulge in an in-room massage and a yummy buffet breakfast. 
Guess which plate is mine?

Tata til Dumaguete!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Touring Colorado as a Family of 3

July 20, 2017 - July 23, 2017

Have you been to Oklahoma? The summer heat is sweltering. Colorado on the other hand... quite beautiful in July.

We took off on Thursday morning at 6:05am. By take off, I mean flight take off time... AKA we were up at 3:30am.... with a 6 month old. Weston did wonderful. In fact, I think the baby handled the flight better than his adult escorts. Our trio managed to pack everything into 1 checked bag, 1 carry-on and of course Weston's diaper bag. For convenience and safety, we took our full sized stroller and infant car seat. It's so easy to check this at the gate, totally recommend! Plus, it was an easy and clean and safe and familiar place for Weston during transit. Last time I flew I went WAY overboard with the bagging and tagging of the stroller and car seat. This time, I went the "I'm a cool mom" route and didn't worry about it. Guess what, stroller and car seat are juuuuust fine. As my friend Paige puts it: "If the gear gets some wear and tear, it just means it was well loved."

Weston did great on the flight. Nursing on take off to clear his ears and put him to sleep worked like a charm. You can tell he was still a little sleepy...
After arrival, we headed to downtown Denver to meet Toby's colleague for breakfast at Snooze - Union Station. Holy moly, breakfast concoction YUM. In typical Danielle fashion, I couldn't decide on what to eat so I asked the waiters advice and she said I could just do half and half. Are you kidding me? Indecisive person's dream right here. I went with the corned beef hash and sweet potato hash. Both were melt in your mouth amazing and I highly recommend.

Sidebar: We even gave Weston a few bites of sweet potato and strawberry. Two benefits of the baby led weaning program is momma orders somewhat healthy foods and baby gets to eat deliciousness from infancy.

After breakfast we headed North to Boulder to stay with friends for 24 hours of hiking and hugging. Matt & Courtney recently dropped everything, including a thriving business, their home, both extended families (grandparents are missing their babies!) and all their friends to pursue their passion and minimize their stresses. Huge life changes, but you can already tell it was the right move. Learn more here:
Super proud of them, glad we could be the first to visit!
Once the Deen Team trio arrived, we got to play solo with the kiddos for a couple hours while Matt and Courtney took care of some business. Next, we were on to lunch... and OMG.... I thought breakfast was good... Lunch blew me away! Think of every vegetable you can, even the weird ones!, and it was probably sauted on my plate. Mix that with some quinoa and you have a very happy lady. I wish I had a picture of the piece of art that it was.

Our bellies were full and now it was time to explore. All 7 of us loaded up and headed to some nearby trails that the Chandler family has frequented since their move. It was so cute seeing the kiddos explore and love nature. The best was when Matt took a dip in the freezing river and his little boy decided he would join. Weston and I were quite happy on the sidelines. He may or may not have gotten a little naked after this photo was taken though. Before you call child services on me... I did not dunk Weston completely... just his lower half. I swear I'm a good mom...
Family dinner at the house that night was delicious, but the dessert was so SO NEEDED. I am dairy free and my husbands favorite food is ice cream... Not cool bro. Solution? Coconut whipped cream!! Seriously, light and fluffy and sweet and most importantly DAIRY FREE! Even better than dessert was the nice 2-on-2 hang out with Matt & Courtney while chowing down at the end of the long day.

The next morning Toby and I loaded up and hit the road with Weston on to Winter Park.

We were in Winter Park for our friend Megan's wedding. Our hotel, The Vintage, was greatness! It is connected to the Winter Park Village which includes shops, restaurants, activities for adults and kiddos, fire pits, mini stages for music, etc. Such a cute little place... perfect for a getaway wedding where everything is all in one place.  The ceremony the next day would be at the top of the peak at "Sun Spot" and was connected via Gondola or chair lift to The Village and to our hotel. With our little man, we weren't able to take advantage of this "air transportation" all the time, but it was still pretty sweet.
After some lunch and downtime at the Village in Winter Park, we gussied up and headed to Megan and Andrew's rehearsal dinner. This little gentleman got to try his first rib!
Next day we felt adventurous and headed to St Louis Creek for some hiking. So glad our little man likes his baby carrier. The Tula Grow With Me is our fave for sure. Weston is so narrow (hello mini Toby) that it would have been difficult for him to fit in other carriers. There was a lot of forest devastation that left us bewildered, but once we made it creek side, we were happy hikers.
Our little adventure was great fun! Now it was time to get fancy and see Megan get hitched!
Quick pause to put on the record that Friday night was grey and rainy with not much hope in the forecast for Saturday wedding time to change and BAM... check out the BEAUTY of the evening. The weather could not have been better.
The evening was a huge success and even with the beautiful sunset, the bride stole the show. Calm, gracious, HAPPY, and stunning are just a few ways to describe my wonderful friend on her wedding day. Congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Davis! And seriously, aren't my friends GORG?!? #C-Squad P.S. My dress? #ShopStevie! - use "deenadventures" for discount!

Dinner and dancing ended when Weston realized a tooth was coming in. **Cringe**

We had a lovely ride down the mountain on the gondola and appreciated the wonder of the stars on such a dark and surprisingly cloudless night.

The next morning we packed up and hit the road back toward the airport to fly home. BUT WAIT! There is time for a stop in Golden, CO you say? Deal! Annnnd the drive back was so pretty, I had to throw up a Crow Pose on the side of the road for all the cars driving by to appreciate.
We walked along Clear Creek and dunked our feet in the chilly water before cozying up on our blanket in Parfet Park. We may have gotten some grass stains, but it was well worth seeing Weston crawl.
Off to the airport we went.

After a smooth flight home, we decided to start sleep training so we gave Weston his new lovey and buckled down for a wild night. Wish this cutie some luck! Next wedding, we are totally making it to the grand exit!


Friday, July 7, 2017

3 Generations to Eureka Springs!

On the road again! Time to add another state to Weston's list. State #4 will be Arkansas. We are off to Eureka Springs for the weekend!

July 7, 2017 - July 9, 2017

Nothing is better than stopping on a road trip at a small town diner and being blown away by kindness, deliciousness, and ambiance. The coffee shop in ____ did that and more. It was quaint and unique and wonderful. The front eclectic tables and chairs and couches  to drink coffee or play games. The back of the coffee shop stepped it up even more with a treasure trove of used books for patrons to read, trade, or just thumb through. Cute little spot... so glad we stumbled upon it!

We arrived in Eureka and had a smooth check in to our "homeaway" for the weekend. Our group was our typical duo, plus my husbands parents and our little man Weston. We COULD have stayed in a hotel, but that ended up being more expensive and we wouldn't have a kitchen, possibly wouldn't have been downtown, and we wouldn't have the space to just be together! So was PERFECT for our group.

Our "homeaway" was nicknamed Autumn Bluff Lodge was a 3-bed, 2-bath home directly on Main Street. Couldn't have been better! We each had our own room and plenty of space.
After arrival, we decided to take a drive towards Beaver Lake. Toby and I were going to sneak away Saturday morning for some over due scuba time near the dam. It had been nearly 2 years since we scuba dove due to the IVF treatments and then the whole "being pregnant" thing. 

On the way to check out where we would dive the next day, we stopped at Thorncrown Chapel. We had been here a few years ago for a friends wedding (Love you Jake & Meg!) and the place had not lost any of its Wow Factor. 
First picture is of us enjoying the wonderful serenity of the chapel... before Weston started crying inside...
Second picture is from Thorncrown website because I simply couldn't do this place justice.
After checking out Thorncrown and the lake, we headed back to Eureka to clean up for our early dinner when the hidden gem opened at 5. We were told "get there early or you'll wait 45 minutes." Well, that's exactly what happened. Apparently, they secretly start seating between 4 and 4:30 because the place is always jam packed. 
Want to know what the name of this hidden gem is? Ermilio's Italian Home Cooking and it was phenomenal. I had the salmon and ate every single bit of it. The rest of the table was just as satisfied with their meals, but I think the bread with garlic spread is what really sold them. Note to self: cooking whole cloves of garlic and smushing them on bread is a fabulous idea.

Next day, Toby and I ran off to scuba dive and left Weston with his grandparents to play at our home away from home. The water was FREEZING. Not so bad on surface at 75degrees.... in a 3/5mm wetsuit with additional 3mm hood. 60ft down however, it was literally 58degrees. I thought my fingers were going to break off. I think thats the only time since we have been together that Toby was really *jazzed* to hold hands. 

Beaver Lake has some pretty cool little spots to go diving. We chose the bank just West of the Beaver Dam. Along the North side of this little camping peninsula there is sunken boats, diving platforms, jet skis, etc. Makes diving in a lake instead of the open water a little more bearable. We only went about 35ft deep for this first dive so we weren't frozen to the bone yet. Our second dive was along the East side of the peninsula (still on the West bank) where we swam through trees. Seeing the sunlight through these trees 45-60ft deep was pretty incredible. Murky water or not, this was really beautiful.

After we rinsed off the murky water, we headed back to town for some real food. In contrast to the morning we were HOT and starving. We found a little coffee shop and split a sandwich, while Toby indulged in a much needed chocolate shake and I ordered 2 macaroons (swoooon, these are my fave!) and a brownie. Scuba diving is a pretty good workout... right?

Time to explore the artsy neighborhood!
One of the biggest treats of the trip was stopping at a few art galleries that had drinks and snacks and great conversations. Toby's mom and I could have stayed all night, but we had to appease our men and head to dinner.

This time we took the art gallery directors suggestion and headed to Cottage Inn. I am SO glad we got this suggestion and even more glad we didn't keep driving once we pulled up. You see, the restaurant is in a pink little cottage that vaguely reminiscent to an old folks home I once visited... but once inside? LOVE!
Once past the reception area, there were just a few small tables. We were sat at the one against the wall that had a church pew as a bench for one half of the table. It was covered with comfy pillows and it was really charming. The wait staff was decked out in tuxedos and it really didn't feel cheesy in the moment at all. Even with our baby there and just wearing white shorts and a t-shirt, I was feeling very classy. Choosing dinner both nights was a little difficult due to my lactose-intolerance and Southern people's love of cheese, but I managed to find some mushroom ravioli in a red sauce that hit the spot.

The real challenge was dessert. Everyone each ordered their own dessert (full of that delicious lactose) and they were all HUGE! I'm talking the whole table could have easily split 1/2 of just one of these desserts. We were definitely sleeping well that night!

Moral of the story: Local people know what they are talking about when it comes to dining!! And the old "Don't judge a book by it's cover" still stands tried and true.

Next day we packed up and headed home. It was a wonderful trip and I look forward to our little Deen getaway with Toby's parents next year.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chicago Suburbs with Baby sans husband. AHH!

My dad retired in January. With that came an expected "Let's GO!" attitude and he recently embarked on a 3 week driving expedition to Chicago suburb Aurora to stay with his parents. Naturally, we decided this would be an opportune time for Weston to meet his great grandparents.

May 24, 2017 - May 29, 2017

Learning to travel with baby was an experience. I'm used to packing a single carry on bag to the brim and THAT IS IT. Now I have a checked bag, a carry on bag, a stroller, a car seat, a diaper bag, and a sweet blue eyed boy in an infant carrier staring up at me. AKA: Great upgrade!
I went a little overboard with the "packaging" of our car seat... See that blue bag in the picture? Yea, somewhere underneath all of that is the car seat. Instead of buying a car seat bag like a normal human being, I zipped 2 jackets zipper-to-zipper around it, covered that with a stretchy dress, and then finally put it into this huge canvas laundry bag. It wasn't too difficult to maneuver because I had the stroller with me. I just put the entire blue bag on top of the stroller to wheel it around. If I was going to try and "package" the car seat at the gate it would have been a nightmare. #crazymom #THATmom In my defense, I went a little overboard because I didn't want to worry about it being in a "crash" when it is thrown around or jostled on the plane. I had great intentions, it just didn't come to fruition very well.
After a few flight delays, we finally took off. Wesotn was not a big fasn of these flight delays because we had timed his "nursing on take off" for when we were supposed to take off. 45 minutes off schedule and Weston still acted like a seasoned traveler.

My dad picked Weston and me up at around 10:30pm. Surprisingly Weston not only did great on the flight (Snoozzzzze), he also transitioned to the car seat for the 45 minute drive to Aurora.

Upon arrival to the house, Weston and I settled in quickly. I decided to travel without the pack n play. Yikes. This whole "I'm a cool mom" act was fading quickly. We set up a pallet on the floor with the Dock-a-Tot (yes that fit in our checked bag with some special maneuvering) for Weston. He was not super cozy, so we ended up co-sleeping with a one-armed Dock-a-Tot against the wall (Weston is a stomach sleeper so its too skinny for him to sleep with his arms filleted to either side) and we both slept much better.
Over the next few days we spent time with family, went on numerous walks (and got chased by a black bird), practiced outdoor yoga, and ate delicious food. My favorite was the family time though. No time for scenic tours of Chicago on this trip... we were here for maximum snuggle time!

One outing that was particularly fun for the family was to the Morton Arboretum. Weston is currently VERY into the color green so this place was very interesting to the little scientist.

Another fun outing we had was to Fox Lake to visit my dads friend from college and his growing family. The lake is about 45 minutes northwest of downtown Chicago and boy was it was beautiful! The weather was great for an outdoor dinner and great conversation in their backyard.
The rest of the time was spent as it should be, with family. Weston is a lucky little boy to be able to meet his Great Grandmother (Barb, AKA Nanny), Great Grandfather (Jim, AKA Grandad, AKA Weston's middle name!), Great Uncle Craig (my dads younger brother), Great Aunt Kathy (Craig's wife), Great Cousin Connor (my cousin and Craig and Kathy's son)), Great Great Aunt Sue (my Grandad's sister) and Great Great Uncle Tim (Sue's hubby). This is 4 generations of love right here people!

Chicago was a blast! Figuring out how to travel with our new little dude was interesting, but now I feel like Weston and I are both ready for the next adventure. How about this next time we bring Toby?