Sunday, September 30, 2012

Heading into the City to Celebrate 27

Back when we lived in the bay area, San Francisco was never more than a drive away. Unfortunately, it seemed to be a long enough drive that we never did it as often as we wanted. 

Lucky for us, Phoenix is a much more accessible city. With about a 25 minute drive into downtown, with no traffic (at least on the weekends), and fairly easy parking, it's a great place to go visit. Granted, it's not quite as exciting or awe inspiring as SF (what city is?) but it is a great place for a weekend afternoon or evening. 

So, since I just celebrated a birthday (I am in fact 27 now - a very grown up age), we decided that visiting our new city would be a great idea as a birthday celebration. And 2 weeks of celebration is even better than one, so that's just what we did. 

Last weekend, the Science Center, in conjunction with ASU, had an event just for teachers, so Ed signed us up and off we went!

The first part was visiting a bunch of booths that had info about field trips and other resources for teachers from different places around the valley. Ed had fun getting his name out there, and meeting some people he might be able to work with, and I got some go ideas. We also both got free passes to the science center for the year! I then attended a few lectures, one on using a digital newspaper website, and one on the "Ask a Biologist" website. Next year, I'll want to come earlier to attend even more!

The evening finished with a tasty barbecue prepared for us in the science center.

Then, the best part! We got free range of the main floor exhibits. You know how when you visit science centers with all the fun displays, but you can't play because you can't steal a spot from all the little kids? Well, imagine being pretty much the only ones there. 

So. Much. Fun!

 We learned about strokes while shooting basketballs (mostly that I can't shoot them even with my full functions, while Ed does fine, limitations or not).

We had a battle of the relaxing brains, where our hard hats actually read our brain waves, and the more relaxed person was able to propel a little ball on a track toward the other person's side. We were about pretty evenly matched on this one, surprisingly!

This one was part creepy and party funny. It let us sort of combine our features. Hopefully any future children won't look like this!!

 One of the most "unfairly" balanced games was the wheel chair racing. Obviously, Ed won this one :).

This would be a great one for kids to get an idea of calories. When you pedal the bike, the effort lifts this soccer ball up into a chute. Next to it, it shows at what level the ball has to be kept at for an hour to burn off the food listed on the sign. Burning off that burger and fries? That's a lot of work.

 Finally, we visited the lego exhibit, and were excited to see S.F. represented!

It was a really fun afternoon/evening and a fun way to "celebrate" my birthday. 

However, we wanted to do something else a bit more "non-work" to celebrate, so Ed decided to get us tickets to the symphony! For the first concert back from the summer, they were featuring the "Wicked Divas" a show that featured two great singers singing "diva songs" from musicals and regular music (called this because the two singers both sang the main roles in Wicked on Broadway and touring).

(Ed was excited to see the "Dr." in front of his name)

I had a long day of training, plus some report card work (can't believe the 1st quarter is over!!), I was more than ready for a night on the town. We went to a bar across from the theater to start our evening. I had my new regular drink - prickly pear margarita. 

 Then, we headed into the symphony! It reminded me a bit of the one we used to go to back in Orange County, and it seemed a little surprising that such a big city didn't also have a big theater, but it's hard to compare to our last trip to the symphony in San Francisco, but it was still very nice.

We had the perfect amount of time before the show started, and then got settled into our seats.

We were surprised that the hall wasn't that big, and happy that we'd actually have a pretty good view. The show was very fun - a casual, candid atmosphere with good music! It really made me want to go see more musicals. It was a little unfair to the symphony that we'd just seen the SF symphony and were therefore comparing them. There really just isn't any comparing. the SF symphony is like going to one of those once in a lifetime meals - something that you can't really afford with any regularity, but which is a sublime treat. The Phoenix symphony is like a regular date night restaurant. It's fun, enjoyable, and hits all the right notes, and is something that you can afford on a somewhat regular basis. So, it wasn't a sublime experience, but it was a wonderful one. 

They symphony ended around 10pm (and I stayed awake the whole time! This wouldn't seem like such an accomplishment, except I fell asleep when we went to the opera, and Shakespeare at Santa Cruz, both because they were evening shows. I've apparently fallen asleep in darkened rooms in evening hours since I was a little kid, and haven't quite broken the habit). But, I was still energized as the show ended, so we decided to wander around for some dessert. 

We found not only a coldstone, but also this beautiful outdoor area, where we could sit and relax. It was just beautiful with the lights, the water, and the trees. Even better, it was about 88 degrees, which felt absolutely perfect. These are the kinds of evenings we're excited about experiencing in the months to come. 

I'm sure we'll have many visits to Phoenix in the future, and look forward to having this whole city to explore!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Escaping to Payson

A few weeks ago, Ed's brother Tom came into town, and we decided to take that as as great opportunity to, well, get out of town, with him in tow!

A sad fact we've realized is that getting out of town takes a bit of time. Read: an hour of driving and you are still firmly in the Sonoran Desert. I'd be lying if I didn't say that Ed and I feel a bit disappointed about this, but I suppose it makes sense. We are basically in the middle of the desert, and there are really only a few places in state (or even near the state) that are something else. But, the desert has it's redeeming qualities (like 70 degree winters!), so like everyone says, we're giving it a year to grow on us :)

As we drove, we did start getting some elevation and some views along with it. I do love sweeping views, and this one had enough green to classify as pretty for me. When you got closer, though, it was impressive to see just how many saguaros there were crammed into that space.

Finally, though, after almost 2 hours of driving, we made it! We reached Payson and with it, real trees.

Tom and Irma were also happy to be there, and we were all excited to start our hike. Forwarning, this is not the kind of hike that we use to go on in the bay area, with 8 miles and over many hours. It was closing in on the heat of the day (we got a bit of a late start), and we wanted to take it easy. 

The trail was a short 1/2 mile, perfect for our mid 90s day (much cooler than Phoenix,  but still warm). It was a very well maintained and popular trail. It we impressive to see the number of people out, everyone looking forward to enjoying the bridge. On a side note, on our way out of the park, cars were queued up, as the park had apparently reached capacity! It was definitely a popular day.

Soon, we rounded the corner, and could see our destination! Tonto's Natural bridge - the largest travertine (i.e. the stuff that is used to make big, fancy tiles) natural bridge anywhere. 

We continued down the trail, enjoying the trees around us. While you certainly didn't feel out of the desert (there were enough cacti and dryness to keep you from forgetting), real greenery was certainly a lovely change of pace. 

Finally, we reached a bridge over the creek, that was actually full of water! We had seen  "waterfall" signs, but I was sure we'd be out of luck this time in the season. Glad to see mother nature was still working down here and keeping things nice and wet :)

Some hardy souls were swimming in this apparently surprisingly cold water. Sometimes with all this heat, it's hard to believe anything stays cold, but somehow, it does.

Once we got to the viewing platform, we could see through this tunnel, and enjoy the huge temperature drop the rock afforded us. 

We also enjoyed looking up at the small waterfall coming down over us. 
Then, we joined the rest of the tourists under the "bridge" itself.

When I was a kid, I vaguely remember visiting some caverns as a child. While very cool, this was even better, as you got the experience of being inside the earth (cavelike) with the natural light of being outside. It was a great place to escape the harsh rays of nature while concurrently being embraced by a different facet of nature.

We chatted a bit with a park ranger, who told us that most people climb through the tunnel to the other side to a smaller cave and, theoretically a trail that would make a round trip back up to the cars. Now, considering I was having trouble staying vertical on the slippery rock just to this point, I decided to bow out, along with Irma. We gave our blessings to the boys and they headed through the slippery rock while we hung behind and chatted. 

Ed took the camera to show us their adventure. Apparently it wasn't as slippery as it looks (supposedly. I'm still glad I stayed behind). 

They were treated with checking out another cave,

Complete with a huge moth!

He snapped a picture of Irma and I chilling back towards the mouth of the tunnel, and in no time, were with us again. I have to admit, it was very nerve-wracking watching them climb all over those rocks, but of course they were fine.

After enjoying the coolness, we were finally ready to head back out into the summer sun. 

We even got a very nice fellow hiker to take our picture!

And then it was back up the steep climb. It definitely reminded me that I haven't been doing nearly enough running lately!

Before we left, it was time to check out one last part of the park. Standing on the actual bridge itself! A slightly scary but very cool treat was looking through a hole down those hundreds of feet to where we were. 

And then looking down to the bridge that we were walking on about 20 minutes earlier.

We were even treated with a pretty rainbow.

We took one last look of this pretty valley, and then headed back to the cars. 

At this point, we were definitely starving, so we headed to the Buffalo Bar and Grill for some food.

And, of course, we had to get buffalo burgers while we were here. Verdict? A little more gamey, but still quite tasty. 

As we drove back home, we were all pretty darn tired, despite the short outing. That's another big difference here. The sun seems to pull away your energy faster than normal, whenever your outside. But, it a way, that makes you feel more appreciative of your time our in nature. You really feel like you accomplished something, even if it was only a mile hike.

We saw one last unusual site on our way back, this one 100% man made. Fountain Hills' fountain. Supposedly, this is the largest man-made fountain in the world, or something like that. It was pretty crazy to see! (Jean, apparently this is where you used to live?)

In another 30 minutes, we were home, to rest, recuperate, and share one last meal together before Tom and Irma headed out. 

It was definitely fun hosting people in our "new" living room and dining room. 

Ed grilled us up some green chile chicken burgers (which *someone*, i.e. I, may have forgotten to fill with actual green chiles), in our toasty summer evening.

With a yummy sauce, they turned out perfectly!

All in all, it was a great visit with family. We can't wait to attend Tom and Irma's wedding in less than a month, and have all of the visiting family that October will bring. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

5 Years Ago...

... on September 1st, 2007, Ed and I met. And, to celebrate, we decided to try out a new restaurant!

This took us the furthest south we've been so far for a meal, down in south Chandler, to a new place called, "Cork"

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to discover that the drinks menu was on an iPad!

We went on the pretty early side, so it was fairly empty when we arrived, but we did enjoy the somewhat retro vibe.

We had to start with a glass of sparkling wine, of course!

While we waited for our first course, we got some great bread with different toppings. It was a little funny to only get 3 pieces of bread with all those toppings. We may have had to get more :).

We started by sharing pork belly, with peaches, Humboldt fog cheese, cherries, sprouts, and a pepper shortbread. It was fabulous.

Next, we shared a light but delicious arugula salad, with watercress, pancetta, cheese, and other loveliness.

For dinner, we both went with the fish, which was on a very tasty bed of beans and corn. It was perfectly cooked and we ate every last bite. 

Ed wasn't totally sold on getting dessert, but I persuaded him, and we were both so glad that I did! We had the most modern and delicious banana cream pie I'd ever tasted. It was spectacular and the perfect finish.

Before we left, we were giving little lemon meringues, to put the perfect finish on the meal.

All in all, this was probably one of the best meals we've had in Arizona, and we're excited to return again. It was the perfect way to celebrate five years together.