Appreciating Pure Michigan

Yes, I hear Tim Allen’s soothing voice on those Pure Michigan commercials all the way here in North Carolina.  I well up with pride whenever I see them and my wife (Katie) is probably sick of me pausing the commercial via DVR as I call her in to watch another Pure Michigan spot.

I grew up in Michigan and last week took my third trip to there with Katie. I dare say this was the best trip yet.  Previous trips were awesome, but we often found ourselves racing to the next stop.  This time, we planned some time to just stay put for a while during the vacation. This proved to be a really good move on our part.

July 14

After months of planning we departed on a Tuesday afternoon RDU-DTW-GRR.  RDU to DTW was no problem.  The delay machine kicked in once arriving in Detroit. Bad weather in the northeast created cascading delays as we had to wait just over 3 hours later than the original departure time for our plane to arrive from New York before heading on to Grand Rapids. A 9:10 departure became 9:40, which became 9:55, which became 10:30, which became 10:55, which led to the plane door being closed and then opened up later for 5 passengers to jump this last plane of the night between  DTW and GRR.  All the passengers were actually refreshingly empathetic (or too tired to be upset).  We touched down around Midnight and were able to snag our rental car before they closed up.  We journeyed 40 minutes to my brother’s house only to fall asleep shortly thereafter.

The DTW underground tunnel provided some nice time-killing fun during our delay.

The DTW underground tunnel provided some nice time-killing fun during our delay.

July 15

We took a morning drive to Holland to hike around Mt. Pisgah, check out Lake Michigan, and wander through the streets of Holland.  Holland is one of a gazillion charming little towns close to the shore of Lake Michigan. We popped into a few stores and sought out the farmer’s market.  This was the start of consecutive 78 degree, sunny, with a breeze Michigan days. We snagged some Michigan blueberries and proceeded to eat them on the street. Post Holland, we met up with my mom at Tripel Root in Zeeland (Feel the Zeel!).  This was a great, local, and sustainable-centric location brews on site and puts out some great stone breads.

After a ceremonial trip to Meijer Thrifty Acres, we were off to Montague to stay less than a mile from Lake Michigan with our friends Curt and Sara.  They have a great location and just a short golf cart drive away from the Lake.  We ate at Harbor View Grille and then stopped at Fetch Brewing in Whitehall for some of the best beers we had on our entire trip. Fetch is located in an old bank where the old vault serves as a game room and lounge.  They have loft seating and we stumbled upon a great open mic night where we were immediately serenaded with James Taylor and Old Crow Medicine Show.  We were meant to be here on this night.

Fetch Brewing delivered.

Fetch Brewing delivered.

July 16

In the morning, we toured the grounds of Curt and Sara’s property and did a nice dune climb at Meinert Park.  The views of Lake Michigan after a hard climb are even more breathtaking (see what I did there?).  Then it was off to another great west Michigan lake town:  Pentwater.  These towns scream Americana and are loaded with shops and eats and the customary lighthouse.  This was the day I started planning my retirement back to Michigan….during the summers anyway.  From Pentwater, we wandered up the coast to Ludington to reunite with our friends Jim and Annie at The Mitten Bar. We met Jim and Annie almost 2 years ago to the day at…you guessed it…The Mitten Bar.  They are great humans that love the same things we do:  music, beer, the outdoors, and positivity. They graciously hosted us for a night at their farmhouse in Scottville.

Meinert Park Dunes

Meinert Park Dunes

July 17

Next stop:  Sleeping Bear Dunes.  In a previous trip, we were denied seeing Sleeping Bear Dunes due to a torrential downpour.  This was our redemption trip.  We looked at our hiking options and decided on Pyramid Point.  We climbed the trail only to find….extreme cloud cover and no view of the “the most beautiful place in the United States.” Foiled again. To add insult to injury the hike was filled with flies, mosquitos, and gnats that wanted to do harm to us.  C’est la vie. Lunch was at The Redheads Cafe in Lake Leelenau. Absolutely delicious.  Not to be derailed from good times, we ventured up to Leland (aka Fishtown) and wandered around another great town and looked at boats owned by people with much more money than us. At this point, we were ready to find our home for the next 3 nights, Shangri-La Too Farm on the Old Mission Peninsula north of downtown Traverse City.

We really stayed here.  Amazing!

We really stayed here. Amazing!

Our hosts Irene and Lou greeted us kindly and led us to our room where we had a bowl of fresh cherries waiting to be devoured…and they were devoured. Did you know that Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World?

After a quick nap, we were off to explore the peninsula.  We drove past farm after farm, winery after winery, roadside stand after roadside stand and could not have been happier.  Our destination:  Chateau Chantal and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.  Our relaxation level:  high.

Chateau Chantal

Chateau Chantal

July 18-19

In the interest of space and time I will try to condense much of our Traverse City time.

We started July 18 with a hike up to the Old Mission Lighthouse.  Pretty nice network of trails.  We cleaned up post-hike to eat lunch at The Filling Station.  Great pizza and decent brews.  Katie and my sister-in-law went shopping and me and my brother went to Right Brain Brewery to split 2 flites.

Right Brain flites = Six 6 oz. pours.

Right Brain flites = Six 6 oz. pours.

After some more roaming, we all grabbed a brew and dinner at a neat location called The Little Fleet.  It is an open air bar that also hosts 5-6 food trucks. The group parted ways again and Katie and I enjoyed the wraparound porch and sunset at the farm.

July 19 was a definite highlight

Coffee and breakfast at Brew

We took a 3 hour kayaking trip on the Boardman River, Boardman Lake, and Lake Michigan!  Why the exclamation point? Well, neither of us had kayaked and didn’t really know what we were getting into.  Our driver to the kayak drop-off point had the quote of the trip, “Michigan women are like salmon.  They might leave the state for a while, but they always come back to spawn.”

After getting on the river, we were instantly euphoric.  The river took us through a peaceful bird sanctuary and the river had a decent current to it.  After about an hour the river spit us into a very large and very calm Boardman Lake.  Dodging ducks and attack swans we worked our way across the lake. My biceps and trapezius muscles are now sculpted.  It was legit and awesome work.  At the end of this long lake, we joined back up with the Boardman River, which wound us through downtown and into Lake Michigan/West Grand Traverse Bay. After thinking Boardman Lake was tough, we discovered even more work was ahead to get back to 231 Outfitters just off the beach.  The wake of nearby boats provided rough waters and rough paddling. We finally made it.  Satisfied, but tired.  Our last downtown trip was Oryana Co-Op to pick up some items for a  picnic. After a pit stop at the farm and not quite hungry yet, we took our host Irene’s recommendation to grab wine at Brys Estate Winery. This was a perfect post-kayaking/pre-dinner stop.  The views from the patio at Brys were second to none. We had exceptional service from a Central Michigan alum named Erin.  When she approached us, her first words were “You two look so relaxed.”  She was right.

Kayaking reward = Superman ice cream!

Kayaking reward = Superman ice cream!

After a few glasses of delicious wine, we packed up our picnic wares and drove to Old Mission Lighthouse Park (located on the 45th parallel).  This was after a failed attempt to find a non-crowded picnic area on the east side of the peninsula. It all worked out in the end.

Old Mission Lighthouse and the 45th Parallel

Old Mission Lighthouse and the 45th Parallel

Last night at the Farm. Sadness ensues.

July 20

We got on the road at 9ish to make the trek back downstate to see family at Brewery Vivant and had some amazing frozen yogurt at Spoonlickers.

July 21

The drive to the airport was full of reflection. We were so pleased with all that Michigan provided us and although it is tough to make a trip there every year, I was already thinking of things I wanted to do on our next journey to the Great Lake State.

Each time I return to Michigan, my pride in where I grew up is renewed. It’s that same pride I feel each and every time I hear those Pure Michigan commercials.

This, my friends, is Pure Michigan.

This, my friends, is Pure Michigan.

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9 things that bother me….

I try to be a positive and even keel person, but like any other human, there are things that get on my nerves.

Here are some all-over-the-place hot button topics that resonate with me lately:

1.  If you are ever typing on or looking at your phone  while your car is in motion, you are either ignorant, an addict, or both.  Likely both. I will not entertain any arguments on this subject because there are none to the contrary of what I just typed.

2.  There is no such thing as a “humblebrag.”  “I am so humbled by receiving X honor.”  If you were truly humbled, you wouldn’t feel the need to post or share the information. True humility is internal and silent.

3. Flopping in basketball (or sports in general).  I will think more critically than just pointing fingers at Duke, but they sure are the artisans of flopping.  Total mastery, I tell you.  I have actually shifted my criticism on the subject from the coaches and players to the game officials. For years, Officials have become too anticipatory on this call and I am convinced that they get caught up in crowd energy and have become grand-standers. It is killing some enjoyment of the games. I say let the players look foolish and play on.

Duke-Flop

Ridiculous.

4. Typos and grammatical errors.  This includes my own! “Relax, Aaron. It’s just Facebook.” I disagree.  I think you should take pride where ever you present yourself, whether it is online or in person. So help me, if I see another person who attended any academic institution that I also attended mess up a “they’re/there/their” or “your/you’re” again, I might just lose my mind. Disclaimer:  If any of my content in this blog post contains a typo or grammatical error, please let me know.

5. This whole Bell’s Brewery and Innovation Brewing situation. I will leave it at that.

6. Losing to my wife Katie (@NoYinKatie) 2 years in a row in an NCAA bracket contest.

These happy faces change, come NCAA tournament time.

These happy faces change, come NCAA tournament time.

7. Kids walking through my lawn. I had my first bona fide “Get off my lawn!” moment yesterday.  I am looking at you, the 3 approximately 13-year-old, pipsqueak punks traversing through my backyard on your communication skill-killing cellphones.  No, seriously stay off my lawn!

8.  Mean people.  Pretend like you didn’t read #7 for a moment.

9.  The following overused words/expressions which have since lost all sense of meaning and relevance:

  • Environmental scan
  • I know, right?
  • At the end of the day….
  • Just sayin’
  • Sorry. Not sorry.
  • Not enough bandwidth/A lot on my plate
  • Think outside the box
  • Lots of moving parts (guilty)

Well, sorry for the listicle (soon to be on the list of overused words/expressions).  I will go back to being chipper now, unless of course I see those pesky kids on my lawn again. Rant over.

P.S. Re-read #1

Chiggity Check Yourself (and your luggage)

I like to travel.  I really do. I particularly like flying and not a day goes by that I am not amazed by airplanes. When waiting in the terminal I can watch planes takeoff and land for hours and never cease to be awestruck as if I were still a  3-year old seeing this happen for the first time.

What else do I watch when I travel?  People.  People are interesting.  Air travel brings people from all over onto the same stage and into the frame that lies before me from my cheap, leather (pleather?) airport seat.

From this seat I see first-time flyers, business-types that travel for a living, soccer teams and their soccer moms and dads, retirees fleeing the cold for Phoenix, and a cast of others.

Not only do I people watch like it’s my job in an airport I also, get this, listen to conversations around and an array of gate announcements.  Airlines make many announcements in hopes of having an efficient boarding process.

“We will board 1st class…those that need extra time…zone 1, zone 2, etc.”

“We have a full flight, so we are looking for volunteers to check a carry on–roller bag–FOR FREE!”

The latter statement is an effort for folks to take less time stowing their belongings so they can sit and all flyers can have an on-time departure.  Additionally, airlines know they will run out of overhead compartment space and have to check some bags under the plane anyway—causing more delays, a late departure, and in some cases flyers missing their connections at their next destination.

I heard this same announcement before all 4 flights that took last week (RDU-ATL, ATL-PHX, PHX-ATL, and ATL-RDU). Each time I listened I was naive to expect 15-20 passengers to instantly approach the podium and check a bag for greater gain of the group.

With the exception of my wife checking her carry on that she acquired on the return PHX-ATL trip, I maybe witnessed 6 people (across 4 possible flights!) think beyond themselves to check their bag (did I mention this process was FREE!?) through to their final destination. 80% of passengers waiting at each gate had a roller bag.  I might be low in my estimation here.

Since selfishness ruled each day, the not-so-hard-prediction of a late flight played out. As I grumbled down the jetways and aisles cursing everyone playing out the famous scene from Meet the Parents, all I could was shake my head.

So, here we are..delayed, departing late, arriving late, and hoping we can make our connection home.  All because of controllable factors if we as people simply think beyond ourselves.

As we land at our destination, the following announcements is made, “Hello folks.  Local time here in Atlanta is 8:01pm (same time as our boarding time for our next flight). We have a number of passengers that have to make connections.  If Atlanta is your final destination or you have a lengthy layover, we ask that you remain in your seat so those making connections can deplane and get on their way. Thank you and welcome to Atlanta.”

We sat in approximately row 25.  20 of those rows with 6 seats across and the remaining 5 rows of the first class cabin had 4 seats across.  This was a full flight so we had ~130-140 people sitting in front of us. Can you guess how many passengers remained in their seats that we passed on our way out?/

/

/

/

/

/

/

4.  4!  4 human beings!  Four!!!  IV

You mean to tell me that they were the only individuals that had Atlanta as their final destination or had a long layover.

I was more sad than angry and made sure to thank all 4! of these fine people.

In some ways I get it  People are excited to get home, see loved ones, blah, blah, blah.

This is symbolic however of human flaws that to me have been magnified in recent years

Selfishness

Entitlement

Lack of Empathy

Failure to listen

(The first letters of each characteristic statement spells “SELF. That’s as clever as I get. Sorry)

Do you put the greater good of a group before your needs?

 

Honeymoon Logbook

Some of you might think hell hath frozen over because I got married a month ago.  You may be right, but I totally married up and I’m happy to have Kathryn Rose by my side.  She is pretty amazing and part of the attraction during our courtship was our ability to do vacations right by enjoying them to the fullest (and not get on each other’s nerves). Our honeymoon was no different.

Wednesday, September 24

RDU>SLC>RDM

redmond

Upon arrival to Redmond, Oregon we deplaned on the tarmac and entered the very small terminal.  The strong smell of pine was in the air and we were happy to be on the ground after a long-ish travel day.  Being that it was so small, we had the keys to our rental before our baggage was even unloaded.  We jumped in the Dodge Avenger for the 22 minute drive south to beautiful Bend, Oregon.  I had visited Bend about 10 years  and wanted to start our trip by climbing to the top of Pilot Butte for a panorama view of Bend and surrounding Central Oregon.  The problem was, it was rainy, cold, and overcast, but we pressed on.

Our next mission was to drive aimlessly for a bit around Bend to get the lay of the land before we could check into the Mill Inn Bed and Breakfast. This might shock you, but we ended up at a brewery.  Not just any brewery/brewpub, but the original Deschutes Brewery–the granddaddy of Bend craft beer and last I checked, the 6th largest in terms of distribution in the country. As luck would have it, a 2-top table was open right by a fireplace in the pub. It was a perfect way to get out of the cold and rain. Fun fact:  Bend, OR averages over 300 days of sunshine each year. This was not one of those days.

Another highlight of Day 1 was our visit to Bend Brewing Company. “Lovely,” their award-winning cherry baltic porter was another great remedy for a rainy first day.  Katie impressed the bartender with her ability balance a salt shaker…on salt.

salt

We ended our night wandering back to the Mill Inn Bed and Breakfast.  It was in a super location and like any B&B, totally relaxing.

Thursday, September 25

smithrock

Central Oregon has about a million places to hike and enjoy the outdoors. After seeking recommendations, we settled on Smith Rock State Park and a trail titled “Misery Ridge.” It lived up to its name in terms of rigor, but the views and reaching the infamous Monkey Face made it all worth it.

We sought out some healthy food (Thanks, Yelp!) at Broken Top Bottle Shop.

After our standard mid-afternoon nap, we took visited the following

Boneyard Beer:  Just a 10×10 foot tasting room.  Very quick stop, but Katie was excited with her beer soap purchase.

Crux Fermentation Project: Beautiful tasting room.  Just OK beer, but we met some really nice folks there.

Cafe Yumm! in the Old Mill District

Old Mill Brew Werks–late night stop. Friendly staff

Friday, September 26

Our morning hike took us to Newbery National Volcanic Monument and Lake Paulina.  We got such an early jump on the day I recall Katie saying, “Wow. We beat the blue hairs up here.” Our first hike was Newbery crater obsidian trail. This was a very unique hike and we felt like we were on a different planet.

We moved to the lake trail around Lake Paulina.  It was  really peaceful and if we didn’t have lunch plans, we would have completed the 7.5 mile loop around the lake.  Instead we went about 2.5 miles, then spun back, caught a quick waterfall and went back to the B&B to get ready for lunch with Katie’s Uncle Ken and Aunt Val.

After a nice lunch, we explored more of Bend and found ourselves at the Deschutes Production Brewery. It was a huge complex.  We thought we might jump in on a tour, but the groups were booked for the day. We enjoyed their tasting room instead and picked up some items to bring back to NC.

From there we made our way to 10 Barrel Brewing Company.  This is a must stop if you ever make your way to Bend.  Great brews, great staff, and even better chips and salsa.

We finished the day with a nap, dinner, and night-cap.

Saturday, September 27

After breakfast, we packed up the rental car and made our way to the Oregon coast.  The drive felt long and we encountered very little in the way of straight roads. I am still dizzy.  Pacific City and Pelican Pub & Brewery was our intended destination and we were lucky enough to score patio seat facing the ocean, the “other’ Haystack Rock, and Cape Kiwanda.  The setting was beautiful.  Cape Kiwanda had a dune climb that absolutely dwarfed Sleeping Bear Dunes.  It was otherworldly.  We decided that would be a good way to work off lunch before heading to Cannon Beach. After a number of breaks, I finally made it to the top and the views were breathtaking. It was much easier coming down.

kiwanda

Now off to Cannon Beach of Goonies fame.  We checked into our hotel for the night and location ended up being great, with an easy walk to the beach and all things Cannon Beach.  We arrived in plenty of time for the 6:59pm sunset.  This Haystack Rock in the ocean is the one from The Goonies and sunset as a backdrop makes this place even cooler.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this thing.

After sunset, we found a less than flattering pizza dinner and wandered back to the hotel.

haystack

Sunday, September 28

After waking up at Cannon Beach, we found coffee Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters and took another nice walk on the beach. Originally, we were going to visit Ecola State Park to see some more Goonies sites, but we decided to press on to downtown Astoria.

We secured a city center parking spot and were excited not only for the 67 degree and sunny weather, but they had a street market going on as well.  We wandered through the market, all the time wondering how close we were to The Goonies house.  My phone said ~2 miles, but seeing as we logged so many miles on foot, it was OK that this day was going to be no different.  Astoria had a nice greenway that went along the Columbia River.  Several shipping boats were stacked up in “bay.”  We made it to Pier 39 after passing hundreds of barking sea lions.  We stopped for a beer at the Rogue Public House located in a former site of Bumblebee Tuna.

Then, we made the surreal walk up the hill to The Goonies house.  There it was right next to Data’s house. While we did not do the “truffle shuffle” we checked our visit off the bucket list.

goonies

We walked back to downtown for lunch and settled in at  Fort George Brewery.  Picturesque setting and like most everywhere we stopped, enjoyed our interactions with the staff.

We made the 1 hour 45 minute drive to Portland.  Nap time.

We were gifted dinner at Portobello Vegan Trattoria and had a 7:45pm reservation.  We thought we could get pretty close to the restaurant via the light rail.  We were wrong.

We found ourselves heading way out-of-town and had to de-board and had back toward city center.  From there we guesstimated a 1.25 mile walk.  No big deal, but we didn’t know the streets/safety very well so we were questioning whether we could make our reservation time. Then, as if dropped out of the sky, a bike rickshaw driver appears.  At first, he didn’t hear us, but stopped and invited us to get onboard.

After hearing our destination, he said, “Ah, let’s take the scenic route.” The scenic route involved a route along the Willammette River as the sun was sitting on the city.  It was great and we smiled the whole way.  We arrived 5 minutes before our reservation and had a nice dinner, followed by a nightcap at Apex Bar. It was a great night in a weird, somewhat filthy city.

Monday, September 29

Day 2 in Portland involved a visit to Powell’s Books.  Katie was in book heaven.  We enjoyed the Pearl District and Nob Hill areas in Portland. The day involved many, many more miles on foot.

After the customary mid-afternoon nap, we were set to return the rental car around 5:30pm.  The rental car return place was the 6th floor of a city parking deck with parking spots that I question SmartCars could fit in.  After hunting for a spot, we went to the ground floor a few minutes before the 6pm closing time. After turning in the keys, we set our sites on another Top 100 Beer Bar:  Bailey’s Taproom.  As tradition dictates, Katie wanted to take a picture

“Aaron, my phone!” Katie was instantly convinced she left her cellphone in the rental car and the the clock just hit 6pm; the time that Hertz closes.

Katie took off, running the streets of Portland toward Hertz.  As she was en route, I tried calling to see if the employees were still there, but they had already switched over to voicemail.  As I turned the corner, Katie was leaving Hertz with keys in hand to head up to the 6th level of the parking deck to see if her phone was in the Dodge Avenger.  Rather than take the elevator, she bolted up the steps.  I, on the other hand, jumped on the elevator.  Just as I hit the 6th floor, and the doors opened, Katie was sprinting by, dodging a junkie, and heading toward the car.  Thankfully, she was able to get her phone and thanks to Hertz.

We walked back to Bailey’s to snap photos and enjoy a beer before dinner at Santeria.  Santeria was…um…interesting.  This was another Yelp find . It was a very tiny place, but the online community of food snobs swore by the place.  It was pretty good. Perhaps the most interesting part was that they didn’t have bathrooms, so you had to use the restrooms next door at Mary’s.  Mary’s was a strip club.  When you gotta go, you gotta go, right?

Portland highlight:  Salt & Straw

Tuesday, September 30

We had an early morning PDX to SEA train ride on The Cascades.  The trip took about 4 hours and we passed the 2015 site of the US Open en route.  Seattle’s train station is adjacent to the football and baseball stadiums. After an entertaining taxi ride to our hotel, we were able to drop off our bags and wander the city.  We had lunch at Veggie Grill, then took a good jaunt to Elysian Fields..so. many. good. pumpkin. beers.  We also walked through the Public Market, watched a few flying fish, then checked into Hotel 5.  It was a nice boutique hotel and the location ended up being great to be able to discover different parts of the city. Katie had some previous Seattle knowledge so we took on some adventures to the capital hill? district where we dined on thai and hit 2 top 100 beer bars in the form of the Stumbling Monk and The Pine Box.

Wednesday, October 1

chihuly

 

This was our day to really explore Seattle.  After our customary morning coffee, we wandered toward the Space Needle and Chihuly museum of Garden and Glass. The internet and voice message Chihuly stated that it opened at 10am, but upon arrival, we discovered they opened at 11.  No problem. Wandered through the Space Needle gift shop and surrounding area.  The area had a lot to look at and we even stumbled upon the former home of the Seattle Supersonics–Key Arena.  We entered Chihuly right when it opened and it did not disappoint.  We had previously viewed a Chihuly installation in Arizona and were pretty blown away.

After hours of exploration, we hit the hotel for a mid-afternoon nap and had our minds set on finally hitting a “Happy Hour” since that concept cannot exist in North Carolina.  We picked a bar named Some Random Bar and had an incredible bartender (Mike) and some tasty new brews and even a coffee-infused manhattan. From there, we found a sushi place and Katie decided to get sake.  If you ever want to be entertained by everything Katie does and says, buy her sake.

 

Thursday, October 2

empress

After a night of Sake, we needed to be at the dock at about 8am to catch the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, BC. Thinking we were early, we actually were a little late, so we were stuck with a lower deck, middle (no view) seat for the 2.5 hour trek to Canada.  This was Katie’s first trip to Canada and I had only been once.  What up Windsor, Ontario!  This is pretty strange for someone who grew up in Michigan.

Upon arrival, you could tell we were both tired but our first mission was lunch.  Katie had scouted out a fancy vegan place and our meals were quite tasty.  We didn’t have any “must hits” in Victoria, so we found ourselves wandering pretty aimlessly.  We took the standard pictures in front of the Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel. We also wandered through the 2nd oldest Chinatown in North America.  It was very clean (a distant departure from Portland’s Chinatown).  After wandering through Chinatown we found ourselves standing there, very tired, unsure what to do next.  After a series of awkward silences, we decided to go our separate ways.  Not that way, but we decided to just wander alone for about 2 hours.  Katie ended up shopping and I stopped by Canoe Brewpub.  We met back up around 2pm in front of The Empress Hotel.  We were both noticeably tired and had not intention of dropping $60 each on high tea at The Empress.

We decided to take in an IMAX movie. That was a good move.  After  7 days of averaging 6-7 miles of hiking/walking each day, we just need to sit.  We both learned a good bit about Jerusalem, so it was time well spent.  After some continued wandering, we boarded the boat (1st!) and got a prime seat on the upper level, which was a totally different experience than our inbound trip.  The sunset on the way home was pretty amazing.  Upon arrival, we found a city grocery store for a great, in-room dinner and nightcap.

Friday, October 3

After some light rail confusion, we had a lovely trip to SEA-TAC, although Katie had to sit next to someone “very ripe” on the trip to the airport. The light rail was clean, had great views, and even actual Fare Checkers that randomly jumped from train to train to make sure folks had tickets.

SEA-TAC > SLC > RDU

Home Sweet Home.

Favorites

Bar:  Some Random Bar, Seattle, Washington

Beer: Lovely, Bend Brewing Company, Bend, Oregon

Restaurant: Broken Top Bottle Shop, Bend, Oregon

Brewery:  10 Barrel Brewing Company, Bend, Oregon

City:  Seattle, Washington

Moment: Random Rickshaw Ride, Portland, Oregon

Thing I Discovered: Katie is really bad at pinball

More photos on my Facebook account.

More photos on Katie’s Facebook account. 

March Madness – Thunderstruck

Spring temperatures are upon us, there are more hours of daylight, and the air just seems fresher.  It can mean only one thing:  March.

March brings these wonderful gifts, but maybe the greatest gift of all is the NCAA tournament. It is a time of drama, heartbreak, implosions (See NC State), and a whole slew of “David  vs. Goliath” references.  I still have the first bracket that I ever filled out.  It was 1987 and some guy named Dan Majerle led Central Michigan University into the NCAA tournament vs. an absolutely loaded UCLA team led by Reggie Miller, Pooh Richardson, and Jack Haley. Now UCLA dominated CMU 92-73, but I was hooked on the concept of the “little guy” having a chance to slay a giant on any given day and hooked on how hard “Thunder’ Dan played the game of basketball.

22 years later I still fill out my bracket by hand even thought it will instantly be available online. I treat Selection Sunday like a national holiday.  For many years, my friends and I would travel to Las Vegas to spend 13 hour days watching games in a sports book where fans are engaged and emotionally (financially?) connected to every. single. point.  Approximately 4 years ago, the NCAA announced that Raleigh, NC would host round of 64 and round of 32 games.  Calendar. Marked. As a bonus, one of my alma maters, the University of Tennessee, qualified for the tournament and earned a trip to, you guessed it, Raleigh. There’s nothing quite like March.

Image

Practice!?

I am now 39 and the tourney evokes childhood memories of spending hours in the gym putting up jumpers or taking basketball road trips to watch hours of tournament basketball. So, when PNC Arena in Raleigh announced that practices would be open to the public, I found myself there among 100 other people simply watching practice (We’re talkin’ bout practice!) and I was captivated by the whole experience.  Hey, that’s Reggie Miller talking to Cuonzo Martin over there.  Is that Andy Katz? Wojo and Jon Scheyer are scouting practice for Duke?  So much was going on and I wanted to soak it all in.

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Andy Katz and Coach Cuonzo Martin

So, today I will spend about 12 hours at PNC Arena in Raleigh watching basketball.  Duke vs. Mercer (Go Mercer!)/UMass vs. Tennessee (Go Vols!), GW vs. Memphis (Go Team!), and UVA vs. Coastal Carolina (Go Chanticleers..why not?). I couldn’t be more excited.

In a strange way, the tournament shaped who I am today. I have a soft spot for underdogs. Dan Majerle’s gutsy performance created a fan for life and I kid you not, I attended Central Michigan University due in large part to him. That is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

If my bracket gets busted, I’ll be back next year.  If my heart gets broken, I’ll recover. Sure, it is just a game, but what a game it is!

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Me and Dan Majerle at his jersey retirement night at CMU. Photo Credit: Craig Bull

“I wish the world was run by love, and absolutely nothing more.”

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Me and Katie before an O.A.R. show in Greensboro, NC

Many of you know I like a little band called O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) and have been to somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 concerts. This is for a lot of reasons. They put on an amazing live show. Their fans are generally respectful. They never fail to play a show each summer in the Carolinas. Maybe the biggest reason I like them is that they are so positive in how they carry themselves and also lyrically. The title of this blog post comes from them.

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We had a chance to meet the band in 2011 (Thanks, APJ!)

Few things in this world frustrate me more than negativity and hatred. I have felt the need to cut people out of my life because their glass was always “half-empty.” These are the types of people who could win the Powerball and just complain the whole time about the taxes they will incur. They could live in an area of the country where the sun is out 320 days of the year and react to the cloudy days as if the world was ending. Simply put, they suck the life out of life.

This leads me to my thoughts on what I think is the world’s biggest problem:  Hate. It’s not a political party or the government policy (Bonus Political Science Lesson: There are 3 branches to the U.S. Government). It’s certainly not coffee shops that charge for wi-fi (That does miff me. #firstworldproblems).  It’s not the cost of disposable razors (feels really close, though!). As much as I would like to blame MSNBC or Fox News, it’s not them either, but they certainly do their part at spreading hate.

What makes us hate?  There are obviously countless theories.  Perhaps it is parents that demonstrate hate to their impressionable children.  Is it the influence of negative friends? Maybe it is simply hearing the name “Lane Kiffin“? There is no sweeping answer, but for the sake of getting my blog on today, I am going to focus on the power of the internet.

Need your fill of hate?  Log in and view comment threads on Facebook, trending topics on Twitter, and reaction comments to news articles on any television or newspaper website. I tell myself I will stop reading these things, but much like a train wreck, I can’t turn away.

I would argue that the internet is biggest “coward creator” of the 21st Century.  Cowards hiding behind keyboards with seemingly no regard for human dignity and respect. The internet  gives folks anonymity (in some cases) to spew hatred quickly with a few keystrokes and a “submit” button. The saddest part about hate being spread this way is that there is usually no substance to the argument.  “Bush sucks” or “Obama sucks” are not arguments. It is just hate. If you root for someone’s failure, it is just hate. If you disagree with something and can articulate why in a civil, cogent argument, you’re more likely to get your point across.  Anything short of that is pointless and wow!, have you wasted a lot of your life on the internet.

I am a believer that all rottenness in the world can be traced back to  negativity and hate. As individuals, we need to think critically beyond the noise and distractions of our 24 hour “news” networks and social media threads. We need less react emotionally/hate and more pause and reflect/love. It will lead to more peace of mind, peace in your heart, and who knows, maybe peace on earth.

 Ok, so I didn’t just solve the world’s problem by writing this, but I do have “Peace.”

My love/hate relationship with smartphones

I am rarely more than 10 feet from my smartphone. I love staying current on email and different social media apps such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Being “plugged in” has allowed me to rarely miss news about upcoming concerts, exciting craft beer releases, or other exciting opportunities in this area I call home.

Just 2 hours ago, a prospective student asked me a question I didn’t have the answer to. I reached for my smartphone and simply asked Google. In a span of 6 seconds, I was able to help someone out because of my smartphone.  What convenience!

Then there is the ability to snap a photo and share with the world in a matter of seconds.

See a double rainbow?  -Click

Cat chasing a laser pointer?  -Click

Proud of a dish you just created?  -Click

See a sports mascot?  -Click

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The smartphone connects us in so many ways.  What is not to like? Well, a lot actually.

First off, as a world, we are addicted to our phones. We feel incomplete without them. We sit wondering if anyone new has commented or “liked” a photo we uploaded to the internet. In many ways the smartphone has made us dumber, stunted our ability to talk and carry on a conversation, and affected our sense of belonging.

My 11 mile commute begins each morning around 7:20am. I drive past countless cars with people with a phone up to their ear.  Who are you talking to at 7:20 in the morning?! Are you that insecure that you have to constantly be connected and communicating with someone else? Enjoy your commute, people. Be silent. Enjoy the scenery. Reflect inward.

Then, there are those that text and drive. I don’t like these people, which means I dislike a lot of drivers that I pass by each and every day.  Can it not wait? Allegedly, it is illegal to text and drive in the State of North Carolina, yet I have never heard of anyone being pulled over for this. I could pull over 12 cars every single day.  This is not hyperbole.  EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I hear some folks say, “I only check my phone at stop lights.” I don’t really like those people either. While it may be safer because your car is not in motion, you just caused me to missed the left turn green arrow because it took 3 cars honking at you to alert you that you should put your phone down and proceed with that whole driving thing. I am pretty sure you can wait until you get to your destination to see what food blog photos @NoYinKatie linked to Twitter.

I am often guilty of checking a sports score on my phone while out with friends, but also witness groups of people out in public all on their phones and not talking to each other.  Certainly, you have witnessed this too.

In 2013, Katie and I visited Charleston, South Carolina. For my birthday, Katie treated me to one of the finest restaurants in the land. Husk has received several accolades and was probably one of the best dining experiences of my life. It is one of those places that you make a noise of pleasure with every bite.  It is fantastic.

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Mid way through dinner, Katie and I were reflecting on our amazing meal and looked to our right only to see a family of 4 all on smartphone/tablet devices. It certainly didn’t ruin our experience, but it was a sad, sad sight. First off, you are in this incredible place that hopefully no one ever takes for granted that they have the opportunity to enjoy it. But, more importantly, you are having a family dinner and you just hooked your 8 and 10-year-old kids up with Angry Birds. If I were a parent, which I hope to be one day, I would see those types of moments as impressionable and memorable because I was together with family. Doesn’t that sound nicer than having the memory, “Remember that time at Husk when I got my personal record on Candy Crush Saga?”

Like any addiction, a smartphone can be managed to the level of moderation.

Some of my favorite tricks:

*On vacation, I remove the work email icon from my home screen

*In the evening, I leave my phone out of the living room to reduce the temptation of checking

*I don’t want to murder anyone, so I don’t text while driving.  Seems easy enough, right?

*I encourage my peers to call me out if I am on my phone while out with friends. I think the “phone stack” trick at dinner is a great one too.

*I make a point to remember every day that people are important.

So, I hope this didn’t come off too preachy. If it did, just text me about it.

Road trips. Almost always the EZPass to happiness.

Is there anything better than a road trip? Let me answer that for you by saying “not much.” I am VERY lucky to be marrying a woman who is a great road trip partner.  Early on in the relationship process, she passed the road trip test. We are a good team in terms of being structured, yet spontaneous and sharing driving and navigation duties when necessary.

This past weekend, we made the 2.5 hour trek to Richmond, Virginia.  Richmond has been on our hit list for a while due to its proximity to Durham, its food and craft beer scene, and its overflowing amount of historical significance.

We planned on departing early on Friday morning, but encountered a slight 1 hour delay from the impact of snow/ice/abandon your car-a-geddon.

Our first destination was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VFMA). Katie is more the art appreciator in the relationship, but there was a cool Hollywood costume exhibit, so I was on board.

Yeah, baby.

After a smooth drive, we hit a toll road as we entered the city.  Fixating on the exit number, I accidentally stayed in the EZpass (left) lane instead of paying .70 cents after traveling approximately 3/4 of a mile on this road.  Seemingly ignoring chants of “you’re in the wrong lane. you’re in the wrong lane..” from Katie, I traveled under the overhead cameras of the EZPass area.

This sounds silly, but stuff like this really rattles me. I have never received any form of moving violation and heck, I have never been pulled over. After distractedly parking the car at the VMFA, we wandered into the museum. We took in the Hollywood costume exhibit which was really cool, but the cloud hanging over my head was fixated on the “crime” I mistakenly committed.  At a certain point, I left Katie to try to call VDOT and make this right. I am such a rule follower.

“We’re sorry, but due to the inclement weather, we will be closed on Friday February 14th and will reopen on Monday, February 17th.” At this point, I am challenging myself to enjoy the weekend because there is nothing I can do about this until Monday.  Damn you, conscience.

The remainder of Friday was filled with eating at the 821 Cafe, walking through the Hollywood Cemetery, visiting (highly overpriced) Strangeways Brewing and the one, the only Mekong. All of this helped me forget about missing the proper toll booth lane.

On Saturday, we spent much of the day exploring Carytown, visiting Hardywood Park Brewery and lesser-known Isley Brewing. Dinner was at a very interesting (and unpopulated) Phoenix Garden restaurant.

I was pretty wired on Saturday night and unable to get to sleep very early.  Katie went to bed early and our hotel was near an establishment that rhymes with shooters. I checked out some hoops, received amazingly terrible service, and enjoyed a delicious local brew.

Sunday morning was our downtown Richmond day and I have to say I was really impressed.  It reminded me a lot of Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC mashed together.  It was gritty, full of history, underscored by a great art scene and the “flow” of the city was controlled by a river (James River).  As Sunday progressed, I was overwhelmed with the historical presence of Richmond. I continuously pictured what took place on there 160 years previous. The battles. The historical figures.  The remnants of bridges across the James. The burning city.

All in all, RVA was a great road trip.  Monday morning, I was able to connect with the Virginia Department of Transportation (thank you Vicki and LaToya) and a 70 cent charge proudly resides on my bank account statement.  My energy revived. My road trip partner by my side.  My conscience eased. That’s a good road trip. Don’t allow what you cannot control ruin your weekend.

SnOMG 2014 in NC

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View from my office as the snow begins to fall

FEBRUARY 12, 2014

It all started innocently enough.  For 3 days we were advised that a winter storm was coming and weather.com became a permanently open window on my desktop.  Snow was scheduled to begin falling at 12:30pm on in Chapel Hill. An announcement that classes were cancelled at 1pm and offices were still open until 5pm came through email.  Fair enough.  I will wait until about 2pm and let some of the student traffic clear. Worst. Decision. Ever.

After viewing the street outside my building around 1:30pm, I decided to pack up for what was certain to be a long journey home. Colleague and web guru John Zhu who usually takes the bus (service suspended) needed a ride home and this posed no problem as my daily commute takes me right past his house.  So, off we went.

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Campus gridlock as I walk to my car

We left the parking deck at 1:49pm. At 2:49pm, we were still on campus having traveled less than a mile.  We witnessed several examples of selfishness and poor driving such as pulling into an intersection, where there is no room for a car on the other side, hence blocking the intersection once the traffic light changes.  My favorite.

Legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt (a gifted public speaker) once said, “There are few things in life that you can control and choose but one is your attitude, so make it a good one.” If I was going to average 2 miles per hour heading home, I was going enjoy the heck out of that drive.

In between judging poor drivers, I truly enjoyed having my window down and blasting O.A.R..  Poor John.  I never even asked if he liked the music, I just cranked it. The flakes were large and even in a traffic jam (and blaring music), there was something very peaceful about this drive.

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That’s OK. You can just leave that there. Your decision won’t impact anyone else. No problem.

In the 3 o’clock hour we finally broke the campus perimeter to start down the hill on NC-54. As we made it down about a 1/4 mile, the scene, while not quite apocalyptic, was still mind-blowing.  Cars just stopped and abandoned by the side of the road or in some cases in the MIDDLE of the road. To the credit of the commuters, I didn’t hear too many horn honks throughout my travels. At the base of the hill that leads to campus was a dearth of cars stopped.  At the front of the line, some floppy-haired frat star got out of his car and said “There’s no way I am making it up that hill” much to the chagrin of the line of cars behind him.  He simply surrendered.

Let me stop here.  Yes, I am from Michigan and grew up in this snow stuff, but after living in this warmer and much friendlier climate for the last 12+ years, I get the struggles with the snow. I never make any “you southerners don’t know what to do..” comments. This was a fast and legitimate snowstorm and unlike Michigan, we don’t have a plethora of plows and salt trucks. However, I do believe if abandoning a car is even an option for you, please never leave your house within 24 hours of the tamest winter warning.

I drove just over 11 miles and saw no accidents.  All of the traffic and congestion was caused by abandoned cars.  All of it. When we happened upon a car in the middle of the road, the already slow traffic had to move down to 1 lane, making things even slower.

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Looks like a pretty smooth commute home.

The next bizarre moment came in the 4 o’clock hour.  NC-54 crosses over I-40.  In addition to the abandoned cars, I figured that some congestion was being caused by folks trying to get onto the interstate. As I looked both left and right on the overpass, there were hardly any cars on interstate. Now, I am really confused.  Is NC-54 the only road people are using?

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Good samaritan here sweeping off car windows.

At this point we are moving at a steady pace of about 4.6 MPH and we are about 1.5 miles from John’s house.  We smell freedom.  Then, traffic comes to a not so screeching halt. Screeching usually involves speed after all.  In the distance, we see no car attempting to climb a very modest incline.  You’ve got to be kidding me!  We are so close. The hill is loaded with more abandoned cars.  Even cars coming down the “hill” are treating the descent like Everest. After 30 minutes of having my car in park, some brave souls finally ascend toward the heavens (i.e 30 feet).

Once turning left onto Hope Valley Road, I was able to drop off John and travel 2 more miles quite uneventfully to home.  I arrived strangely energized and realizing that I mostly enjoyed the whole experience. I half-believe Katie expected me to walk through the door cursing and throwing objects. I arrived at home around 5:35pm which is in the ballpark of when I usually arrive home, so in some ways the whole surreal commute had a splash of normalcy. 

So, thanks Coach Summitt  and O.A.R. for helping my commute today. Choose your attitude. Take pictures. Laugh at the ridiculous, rather than scoff at it. Share your story. 

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The morning after icing.

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Ice, Ice Baby