Summer of 2015

What an awesome and full Summer it has been! But like all good things, they come to an end way too fast. I can definitely understand why Summer is such a huge deal over here. After all the cold, you really want to get out to feel the sunshine and embrace all the activities Summer has to offer.

This Summer has been a fulfilling one, it was not just play but a good balance of everything – fun, school, work, couple time, family and friends. Although perhaps I needed just a bit more “me” time and down time, paying for it now nursing a nasty flu bug.

The highlight at the start of the Summer has got to be the husband’s graduation. I love that he is well loved by his classmates and instructors. As expected, he received really good praise and a special mention for his final capstone paper. He’s really the super hardworking one and even continue to give himself homework to read and write AFTER his graduation.

It blows my mind to think how 2 years passed in a flash. If I didn’t also start school, we probably would have packed up and left for home already. As much as home is on my mine, this life we have here is really hard to beat and would be terribly missed.

We received our first visitors this Summer in the form of the inlaws, who flew all the way from Singapore to watch the husband graduate. They were obviously terribly proud and happy. It was also their first visit to the States so everything was exciting and new to them. They stayed with us for a whole month! (Yikes!) Looking back, I wondered how I survived. lol. As much as we loved having them around, I’m super grateful that I was never made to live together with them. Let’s just say that everyone has their little quirks in how they choose to live.

It was our hope that we can bring the inlaws to experience different sides of the US while they were here. We also wanted them to experience traveling with Rusty, whom they loved and pampered so much. So, a road trip to nearby Michigan was planned.

We booked a cute cottage in Union Pier, MI through AirBnb again and it didn’t disappoint. It was well decorated, well stocked and I especially loved the outdoor patio which was screened in, Rusty had a super fun time running about. The weather was great albeit with a few short showers. Come night time, it was magical with fireflies everywhere.

The trip also included a day trip to lovely Saugatuck, where we found the lost city of Singapore, Michigan! Thrilled to bits. We also took time to walk about the little streets, sip great coffee and do some cherry picking. Unfortunately, it was not convenient for me to walk into the shops and galleries as freely as I wanted to. Hope we can go back one day. Definitely a quaint little pretty town that was very worth the visit.

When the inlaws left, we also crossed off an item on my bucket list with a cruise to Alaska! Details of which would deserve a separate post. 🙂

By and large, Summer was pretty Chicago centric as well. I took up a part time internship this Summer and spend 2 days a week traveling to the Loop for work. It has been an interesting experience working in an American environment. It’s definitely less social and more work focused compared to back home. Everyone gets in early and goes off pretty much on the dot. And everyone eats at their desk during lunchtime so that they can power through the work. It has been a shock to the system considering how I’ve always worked in places where having friends at work is the norm and eating together and socializing after work is the norm. I’ve not been treated badly but the feeling is just a tad bit cold. The consolation is that I have a gorgeous view of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan from where I sit. 😀 And I do feel that I have contributed my experiences and talents in what I have been assigned to do.

Decided to take Summer class as well since this subject is only offered in the Summer quarter. Even though we had virtual classes most of the time, there was still readings and homework to catch up on every week. It was an amazing class on Cognitive Design and one of the best classes I’ve taken so far. It helped that we had great instructors and I had a really good project team that churned out a good piece of work which we think will be implemented in real life.

Outside of work, we manage to fill up our time with trips to various attractions and events around Chicago – the Ba’hai temple, Adler Planetarium, Taste of Chicago (so so so hot!), Shakespeare in the Park. We also found a great great spot this year on campus to catch the 4th of July fireworks. Not sure if we will still be here to see them again next year. They rank highly on my most memorable experiences living in Evanston.

Summer came to an exciting end with more visitors to our household. We had a good friend visiting from New York and friends who have moved from Singapore to do the same program as us in Northwestern. It’s been a noisy few weeks with extra people in the house, but I loved the fun and energy that surrounded us. Rusty especially enjoyed the extra treats given to him. Though I’m quite sure he was overwhelmed most days as well and appreciated the quiet moments when everyone is out of the house.

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An Airbnb Convert in Milwaukee

Can I just say that I love Airbnb now? Especially in the US where hotel rooms are teeny tiny, expensive and really have little amenities to speak of. No tea kettle to boil water, that’s my major pet peeve of American hotel rooms. Disruptive innovations, I hope Airbnb will be around for a while… and not get into trouble like that ride-share company that I have grown to really like as well!

We made a short 4D3N trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin about a week back. We didn’t want to travel without Rusty so the husband decided on a short road trip to Milwaukee, about an easy 1.5 hour drive from Evanston. Airbnb was pretty much the default choice since we could easily narrow down the pet-friendly ones, and we could cook some meals to save a few bucks. Not to mention the spaciousness and cosy feel that some Airbnb properties have is a big plus.

We decided on a pretty bungalow in the neighborhood of Bay View, the oldest suburb of Milwaukee. Apparently quite the up and coming hipster neighborhood, safe and not far from downtown, cool bars and restaurants.

Our hosts were awesome, living just below us in the basement apartment. We were welcomed warmly and were given a quick tour of the house. Recommendations of where to go, what to do and what to eat around the neighborhood were given to us. Hospitality was really warm and IMHO over and above what we were expecting. We were given free rein of the kitchen and all the yummies available in the fridge and pantry, including milk, juice, beer(!), soft drinks and cereal bars.

The house was actually built in 1905! But it was done up so beautifully and tastefully with little art deco fittings in the windows and furniture. The owners also left little touches of their heritage in the house, so we had lots of Mexican inspired elements, including sombreros and mini pinatas. There was a large amount of personality in the house, a bit eclectic at times but always peppered with photos and trinkets of what is near and dear to the owners.

Because it was Christmas time, the house was also decked in decorations and twinkling lights that came on each evening. My favorite corner was the lovely Christmas tree in the covered porch area. Too bad the weather was too cold to be hanging out there. I have grown to love enclosed porches like these, which are essentially sun rooms. What a cosy place it must be when the weather is more kind.

Am so inspired to redo my own home back in Singapore to incorporate more interesting little pieces of decor, currently it is quite minimalist. But thinking of the dust and space constraints back home… I may need to think twice. 😦

To more beautiful homes to discover on Airbnb…

Who says there is no nature?

Am taking a break from homework (groan). Figured if I don’t write this down soon, I might soon forget or have school overwhelm me. It’s good to have some enforced downtime to do fun things like this!

While Summer is meant to be vacation time for many people, the husband spent much of it being fairly busy with his internship program. We also missed out a substantial block of time to go traveling because of my visa issues and my trip back home to Singapore. He was dying for a break. So on the suggestion of my boss over here, we decided to check out Galena – a little town at the border of Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Now, the husband is not a road trip kind of guy. He has chronic neck and shoulder pains, so sitting in a car for hours is not really his thing. I can’t really help him since I still get freaked out from driving on American highways. We couldn’t be so ambitious for our first road trip in the US, so we had to choose somewhere relatively near. Galena at 3 hours away was kind of just right for us.

Chicago/Illinois generally isn’t very scenic. With the exception of Lake Michigan, Illinois is basically landlocked without many natural wonders. It pales in comparison to the beautiful coast lines and national parks that you see very much of in the west coast. Most Chicagoians love their city but often bemoan about its lack of nature.

So we were lucky to have found this little respite in Galena. We were truly in awe when we saw beautiful vistas and rolling hills appear as we slowly left the hustle and bustle of city life behind. There were vineyards (who knew Illinois produced wine?!), cornfields, pear trees, blueberry bushes (though already bare) and more. There was even a mountain resort that had skiing available in the winter.

We rented a tiny cabin through Airbnb, situated on a farm that was a care facility for old farm horses. The farm was actually in another even tinier town called Elizabeth, about 20 something mins from the town of Galena. For $80 per night, we had an absolutely charming little cabin with the cutest kitchen and seating area. It also had an attic which we had to climb up steep stairs to, to get to our bed. Everything was just so clean and pretty and we had all the creature comforts including wifi!

The best part was that our baby Rusty could come along on holiday with us. We giggled at this cabin’s description on Airbnb. That it was not family-friendly but was dog-friendly! 😀 lol. The owner also had 2 very friendly dogs who wanted to play as well. Unfortunately our Rusty wasn’t very interested to run about with them. Though I have to give him credit for being a good boy and for not acting all huffy and puffy (i.e. naughty) when he met them.

We felt so comfortable in the cabin for the 2 nights that we were there. I think Rusty loved the calm and quiet too as his favorite activity was snuggling up with us on the couch (so rare I tell ya!), getting head rubs and enjoying the peace of the place.

Actually, the farm that we send Rusty to for boarding when we go away is located near Galena as well. So we teased him that his holidays are so wonderful. No wonder he doesn’t want to come home!

Our only full day was spent exploring Galena town itself. We walked  a short portion of a river trail and looked around this quaint little town that seems to be stuck in the 1800s. It was just one street, but every store a unique little place selling locally produced goods and wares. Sorry, no Starbucks or McDonald’s in sight. There wasn’t even a CVS (kinda like Singapore’s Watson) for me to pick up some extra toiletries. We picked up cheese, wine, jams, bourbon bbq sauce and yummy saltwater taffy from and old fashioned candy shop. Lunch was also at a local place that had cheap and good choices. Loved my breaded fried grouper and sweet potato fries. All homemade.

We only had a short trip there but felt relaxed and rested in such a tranquil setting. It’ll be hard to forget waking up to horses grazing on the field, beautiful sunsets and my most favorite part, being able to see a sky full of stars in the pitch black night. I never even knew our skies could be so dazzling in the night.

Spring Break 2014: Rusty’s Farm Stay Holiday

Whenever we head for vacations, the first task to cross off our list is always to settle Rusty. We have a regular boarder back home in Singapore whom we’ve grown comfortable with to put our little precious there each time we go away. Now that we’re away from home, I had to hunt down a suitable place for him again.

I didn’t manage to find many boarding options over here. Most of the services offered were pet sitters who would come into your house a few times a day to walk, feed and play with the dog. But effectively, the dog would still be alone most of the time and at night. I didn’t really like that as Rusty is a sociable dog, so I know he would be very bored spending so many hours in so many days home alone.

Luckily, we have many neighbours here who own dogs and we were able to get a good reference to a pet boarding company located on a farm. It promised cage free care and lots of running about in a large fenced up area. It was also a joy communicating online with Sasha the owner, who asked for photos of Rusty right away to have a look when we made enquiries. That’s how we ended up with Canine State of Mind.

Holidays have been bittersweet for me since getting Rusty. I don’t know why but I felt especially sad when he was sent away this time. Perhaps it’s because it’s a new boarder or maybe because we are in a foreign land and things are still so unfamiliar to us and to him. We hugged tight and cuddled until his transport came to whisk him away. His “lost” look as the car door closed was heartbreaking.

As our flight was in the morning, Rusty was picked up in the afternoon of the previous day. So we spent one night without him in the house. It felt really weird not having my little shadow following me around. I ate a plum that night and felt sad that there was no one fighting to share it with me. These are the little moments we share together.

As I sat at the boarding gate wondering about him, this text came in. Showed the husband and we just burst out laughing. Trust our Rusty to be enjoying himself so happily and with a friend that had such an ominous name! We knew then that he was in good hands and that we should just relax and enjoy our upcoming holiday.

We later found out that Bone Crusher was a friend’s classmate’s pet dog! What a small world! The owner is a transformer fan.

Was thankful we had updates almost everyday that revealed what Rusty was up to. We grinned at photos of our little explorer, the little black speck in the field, trotting away to look for his next adventure. We also laughed at his sleepy eyes, concluding that he is probably super exhausted from playing all day everyday.

A little blemish in this was that Rusty had to stay an extra day on the farm due to transport scheduling issues. We weren’t particularly happy about it since we were so looking forward to have him home again. But I guess it worked out for the best as we ended up having a day free to run all our errands.

Rusty came back looking like a wild child. I guess that’s what happens when you’re running in mud all day. The stay doesn’t include bathing yo. 🙂 My husband said Rusty smelt like what he used to smell like after he played soccer in secondary school!

We welcomed Rusty home with a full scrub down. We thought he must really hate us by now; for taking him away from his friends and grabbing him for his least favourite activity, bathtime!

His papa did the full works of brushing teeth and cleaning ears too. But we did feed him a yummy hot meal, so he probably forgave us. 😀

As with all his previous boardings, Rusty is usually quite subdued for a few days at least. We suspect that he’s recovering from all that activity he had for all those days playing. But at least this time he didn’t try to ignore us and sulk, which is what he usually does when he comes home from his own holiday.

Welcome home baby! It’s great to have you back! Share a plum with me later ok?

Staycation Vacation

Work has been somewhat of a train wreck since June, when the new CEO took over and decided that he wanted to restructure us. The politics among the people in the work place have been soul sapping at times. 2 weeks ago, my boss also decided to call it quits to concentrate on family matters. The husband, always busy. But…life goes on.

When we could find a respite in our schedules, we packed ourselves to the Capella at Sentosa. 

We wasted no time in putting our feet up and relaxing when we reached the hotel. It was a 100% “nuah” holiday where we hung out in our pajamas and read/surfed the web under the duvets. The husband exercised his heart out and took post breakfast and post lunch naps. =)

Rusty busied himself checking out different corners of the room and made himself comfortable on the bed and under the covers. This is the one and only time where we allowed him to be on our bed. We gave in and let him sleep through the night on the bed one night when we didn’t have the heart to remove him. I was surprised that he slept through quite well actually and didn’t bother us at all, considering how he is usually a very light sleeper.

We found time to head to the beach for Rusty’s swim about. He also ended up being the only one who enjoyed bathtime in the luxurious tub.

While the therapists at our usual massage place are still better, the Auriga Spa has the most relaxing spa experience. The serene environment and comfy massage beds with silky sheets are a real plus. The beds even come with an electric recliner, so that you do not need to sit up on your own when the session is over. How thoughtful!

Our room package came with a free 90min treatment, so I decided to try a Body Sculpting treatment this round, just so I could try something different. Regretfully, it was more like a Body Slapping treatment as the therapist used almost all her strength to slap, knead and pinch my fats! lol I had to resist flinching each time she was a little too enthusiastic. The husband also complained that he was too distracted to sleep…oops.. though I could have sworn that I heard him snore at some point.

All in all, a great great holiday. We will be back again for sure.