Disneyworld (Take 56)

It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.

Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom

one of our favorite rides!

March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!

the giraffic jam

We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!

the Minnie van!

complete with Minnie water

It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!

NoMad Hotel and NoMad Restaurant

We were fortunate enough to win a charity auction item for a bespoke dinner at the New York City restaurant, NoMad, and decided to stay at the NoMad hotel. This is not our usual haunt when we visit New York City—the Upper East Side is more the style to which we’d like to become accustomed, but we thought it would be fun to branch out a bit.
We loved the NoMad hotel! It’s a bit hipster for old fuddy-duddies like us (you can tell that it is a hipster hotel by the plethora of man-buns and because the hotel lighting is so dim that I felt like pulling out my phone and using the flashlight function to get around the lobby). That being said, we got upgraded to a lovely room that was bigger than most New York flats, complete with a small kitchenette, 1 1/2 baths, 2 super comfortable couches (the boy promptly designated one of them as his bed) AND a rooftop terrace. Since it was 70 degrees and sunny that day, it was a lovely afternoon to sit up there (and read books about the history of Hong Kong to help the aforementioned boy with his history paper, but I digress).
The dinner at NoMad was superb! Jim commented that the decor in the dining room was a cross between the Inn at Little Washington and the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyworld, which is a perfect description. Whatever one might think about the decor (and we liked it), the restaurant—opened by chefs who were previously at Eleven Madison Park—outdid themselves in preparing dinner for us.
The aperitif was what the restaurant called a “Walter Gibson,” made with London dry gin, chenin blanc, chamber blanc & dry vermouth, green apple eau de vie, bee’s wax, and pickled vegetables. The staff member poured out the drink from a big pitcher into the glasses, at which point the boy said, “I can’t drink this–I am only 16!” The staff then whisked away the drink and brought non-alcoholic drink pairings for each course for him.
The first actual course was the fruits de mer (aka “le grand plateau”). This was served with a Nomad selection of extra Brut champagne.

fruits de mer

Next up were two vegetable courses—a fennel variation with rhubarb and burrata and a snow pea chiffonade with pancetta, pecorino, and mint. The accompanying wine was a 2015 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Clos de la Barre, Meursault from Burgundy.

fennel with rhubarb and burrata

snow pea chiffonade


The amazing entree (and what the restaurant is famous for) is the roast chicken with foie gras, black truffles, and brioche with a white and green asparagus.

pre-chicken chicken (aka eggs) with hollandaise sauce

pre-carved chicken

chicken breast with asparagus

dark meat chicken and chicken wings

Accompanying the chicken dishes were morels roasted with sunny side up egg, faro and spring greens. To die for. Even not including the wine pairing of a 2011 Domaine Harmand Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes from Burgundy.

morels

Dessert was another restaurant favorite, milk and honey shortbread, brittle, and ice cream. The dessert wine was a 2013 Royal Tokaji Company Gold Label Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Aszu from Hungary.

milk & honey

We decided when discussing the dinner afterwards that it definitely makes it into our Top 10 meals, and we will most certainly be back!

Spring Break 2018: Honolulu, where else?

If it seems like we go to Honolulu quite a bit, it may be because we have. However, this was our first trip there as a family in 2018. (Note how I carefully defined the parameters just now.) We were fortunate that the kids shared a spring break this year, and they decided to opt for Hawaii as the spring break destination.
This trip was probably the most mellow family trip to Hawaii that we’ve ever had. The kids had surfing lessons every day, and we did visit Shangri-la, the residence of Doris Duke that she decorated throughout with Islamic art. (Jim and I must keep up our reputation as killjoy parents and do something educational on every trip.). But other than that, it was a pretty zen vacation. We shopped a little, we pampered ourselves at the spa some, and we ate a lot (temporarily adopting the Samoan saying “Eat til you’re dizzy.”). And, of course, we enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine and the ocean.
The best part, of course, are the memories of yet another fun family vacation, knowing that each year brings fewer opportunities for us to all be together. To paraphrase Rick from the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Hawaii.” (And Disneyworld.).

returning from a visit to Leonard’s Malasadas

orchids from the farmer’s market

Shangri-la (Doris Duke’s residence)

the view from Shangri-la

at the Halekulani

Waikiki

Waikiki at sunset

Hawaii (without the kids)

Somehow, we always gravitate to Hawaii when deciding where to go on our annual without-the-kids vacation. As a reminder, the goal of this vacation is a yearly exercise as to remember who the other person across the breakfast table is as planning for the day that we become empty nesters. Our joint requirement is that it be somewhere warm. Jim’s requirement is that there be things to do and good restaurants to eat in.
This stay was our most mellow visit to date. Most of the week was completely unplanned (including dinners!). We went for long walks around Diamondhead, spent time at the pool, watched the sun set over Waikiki, and saw the fireworks that happen every Friday evening. We didn’t even do any house/condo-hunting!! (You, too, are free to join in the great family debate and choose to be either part of Team House or Team Condo.)
The only downside of the trip was that Marcus went down with the flu while we were there. We offered to come back early, but he was insistent that all he really needed was Advil and Sprite—both of which were in plentiful supply at our house.
This photo of us makes me look like an alien, which only confirms Jim’s theory…

In the meantime, enjoy the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Christmas in Hawaii (oh, and a wedding too!)

Once again, both children’s school calendars cooperated, and we were able to get away the week before Christmas to Hawaii for just over a week. The daughter’s finals schedule ended the same day as the son’s school break started, and we all met up in San Francisco before flying out to Honolulu.
In addition, Jim’s brother and fiancee got married while we were there, and her children also flew out to join them for their happy day. It was a beautiful ceremony at a beautiful place, on the beach at Sherwood Forest, with waves crashing in the background. We wish them a long and happy life together!
In a case of miraculous timing, we also got to meet up and have lunch with close friends the day we were departing back home, and they were taking a cruise through the islands.
As has become typical for us, we ate our way through Honolulu. Highlights include Chef Mavro, The Pig & the Lady (for pho French dip), Yauatcha (for dim sum), and Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (for shave ice).

with “Uncle Clay”

It was cold there (for Hawaii), sometimes dipping down into the mid-60s(!). We did not complain.
There is something about Hawaii that rejuvenates our souls and makes us feel like we belong. It is also a place of transcendent beauty. Photos do not do it justice, but I still had to try.

Honolulu Christmas lights

at Orchids (in the Halekulani) for Christmas Eve brunch

Waikiki

Waikiki at sundown

Thanksgiving 2017

We sat 41 people for dinner for Thanksgiving this year. Well, technically, 37 adults (if you include one 16 year old velociraptor) and 4 kids under 10.

The menu was as follows:
Thai pumpkin soup with gougeres
Smoked turkey
Roasted turkey with confit legs
Stock-braised turkey legs
Deep fried turkey
Roasted pork shoulder
Roast duck
Roasted beets with chimichurri sauce
Skillet roasted Brussel sprouts with mustard and brown sugar
Chickpea, arugula, and picked carrot salad
Sweet potato and star fruit chaat
Mom’s stuffing (that’s Jim’s mom, obviously)
Mashed potatoes
Orange cranberry sauce
Kimchi
Rice
Gravy
Hawaiian dinner rolls
Chocolate pumpkin cheesecake
Blackberry pie
Apple pie
Pumpkin spice cake

If there is a term for exhausted and stuffed at the end of a meal (stuffausted? exuffed?), that’s what we were. Thankfully, Jim’s nephew, Robert, came to help cook, and Robert’s girlfriend, Victoria, made the pumpkin spice cakes. (We had two of each dessert.)
And since Thanksgiving is all about thankfulness, I would like to say that we are extraordinarily thankful for our family and friends, who celebrate with us in good times and sustain us in bad times.
We hope your Thanksgiving was equally festive!

Thai pumpkin soup

traditional day-after-Thanksgiving sticky buns

 

 

Disneyworld Redux (thanks to Hurricane Irma)

Disneyworld!! We have not been since last September. We were planning to go again this September, as a combination birthday/going off to college trip, but Hurricane Irma vetoed that idea. :(. So we rescheduled the trip to last weekend, when Marcus had a 3 day weekend. He brought a friend, Matthew, along for the trip. It was Matthew’s first trip, and it reminded us that there are certain rides we love because of the memories that don’t necessarily appeal as much to a teenage boy going for the very first time (can anyone say “It’s a Small World?”)


Because we had to reschedule the trip, the only place available for us to stay was the Four Seasons (it’s a hardship, but someone had to do it!). The rooms at the Four Seasons are much nicer and roomier than at even the high end Disney resorts, but there is, obviously, much less Disney theming and the system is not as tied in as at the Disney resorts. For example, while you can get Magic Bands at the Disney desk at the hotel, you cannot put park charges on it, and they don’t serve as keys to the room either. All of which makes perfect sense. And it’s a great add for Disney because there are certainly folks who would come and stay at the Four Seasons who would not stay at a Disney hotel. (We are not one of them, as you might have guessed.)
The new Pandora ride—“Flight of Passage”—the more popular of the two Pandora rides—is amazing. It’s a cross between Soarin’ and Star Tours and is an order of magnitude better than either. The premise is that you are flying on a banshee through the world of Pandora, so there’s a big screen like Soarin’, but you are on a contraption that mimics being on a banshee (a kind of giant flying bird). The banshee even breathes as it sits between your legs. It’s pretty mind-boggling and definitely a fantastic addition to the park. (Time to update the Disney tome!)

in the world of Pandora

We also visited Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), which we have not been to for years. It, too, has grown and improved and is a nice place to visit in the evenings or whenever you want a little down time from the parks (as difficult a concept as that is to imagine).

Disney Springs

With the older one off to college, it gives the younger one an opportunity to catch up on the number of trips to Disneyworld count. This is Marcus’s 55th trip, so he has only a few more before he ties his sister. (Not that this is a competition or anything!)

Asia 2017

Beijing was the first stop on our tour. We went with family friends and since it was their first trip to Beijing, we played tourist. This process was helped disproportionately because our former exchange student was in Beijing at the time. She helped come up with the itinerary and arranged for tickets for many of our stops.

pretending to like each other at the Peninsula Hotel, Beijing

Highlights included the Summer Palace (my favorite stop in Beijing),

the 17 arch bridge at the Summer Palace

the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest,

entertainment at the Water Cube

Bird’s Nest

inside the Bird’s Nest

the Great Wall (on a misty and rainy day) where we discovered that the locals had conveniently blocked off traffic to the closest parking lot to the wall and paid off the local police so that they could offer a local “guide” who thoughtfully would enable us to drive up to the closest parking lot for a small fee and lunch at their farmstead. It was an instructive lesson in the demonstration of corruption-fueled capitalism. I have never seen the Great Wall in weather conditions like this—it has usually been clear and hot when we’ve been there. While conditions were a bit wet, the fog drifting across the wall and the mountains made for stunning views.

the Great Wall

We had a private tour of the National Museum, thanks to Jim’s connection with the Freer-Sackler. I am not certain the rhinoceros was the most impressive thing that we saw during the tour, but it clearly captured the boy’s fancy.

the most amazing item at the National Museum?

The Forbidden City was also a mandatory stop.

Forbidden City

inside or outside the urn?

They have now opened up the balcony where Mao made his famous speech declaring the formation of the People’s Republic of China while overlooking Tiananmen Square. (No further comment.) The views of the square are stunning.

view of Tienanmen Square

After Beijing, we went to Tokyo, for the US-Japan Leadership Program alumni weekend. While we did interesting conference-like activities, the kids went off to Tokyo Disney Sea. My only requirement for their visit is that they have a minimum of two photos together, looking like they liked each other. (I got 3 photos—way to go above and beyond the bare minimum, children!) :p

Tokyo Disney Sea

We had a fabulous trip, and it was way fun to play tourist after several years of not getting back to China.

Summer 2017: Honolulu

I know it seems as if we go to Honolulu all the time, but all I can say is that we aren’t ever there often enough.

We were the winning bid at a charity auction for a week at a house in Honolulu belonging to Kathy Ireland (note: our kids had no idea who she was) and decided to try out the staying-at-a-house concept over staying at the Halekulani. We cajoled some friends of ours to join us on our trip.

sunrise at Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

The kids took surfing lessons and hung out at the beach, but we also managed to fit in some semi-educational moments. The Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) contains not only a detailed description of the battles in the Pacific but also some of the most stunning views of the city.

National Memorial of the Pacific

view from the Punchbowl

view from the Punchbowl

And you can see why Hanauma Bay was reserved for the Hawaiian royal family. My personal highlight was seeing a sea turtle for the first time. (My inability to see a sea turtle before this trip might have been related to my reluctance to go into the ocean, which is generally cold by my standards, but I doubt it.) 🙂

Hanauma Bay

But Honolulu isn’t Honolulu if we didn’t spend at least a couple of days at our favorite hotel, the Halekulani. The views from the hotel are just as stunning as ever.

view from the Halekulani

All in all, one of our favorite trips to Hawaii. (But don’t we say that every time we go?)

Kusama Exhibit

I interrupt my regularly scheduled program (of mostly trips, food, and books) to talk about the Kusama exhibit we saw at the Hirshhorn Museum earlier this week as part of the US-Japan Leadership Program.  Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist and writer whose exhibit, Infinity Mirrors, is currently at the Hirshhorn.  It is impossible to describe the Infinity Mirrors exhibit, other than to say that it is the artist’s attempt to convey her feelings about death, life, and eternity.

So, rather than to attempt to put into words what her art is like (and poorly at that), I opt for photos of some of her exhibits.  There are six infinity rooms that you go into in groups of two or three, and you stay for 20-30 seconds.  (The curators all have stopwatches.)  While this sounds like too brief a time for each room, I suspect (and the curators confirm) that staying for much longer becomes extremely disorienting.  There are smaller scale exhibits with similar themes that you can gaze into for as long as you want.

I am generally not a contemporary art fan, but this is so different that if you ever have the opportunity to go see it, you certainly should.  (It is part of a national tour.). I am still trying to decide what I think about the artist and her art and have not arrived at any conclusion yet.  Look at the photos and decide for yourself.  (Most of the photos are courtesy of our son, Marcus.)

infinity mirror room

looking into infinity

infinity mirror room

the color room!

For those of you in the DC area, the exhibit runs through May 14.  See more at https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/