Sunday, 29 April 2018

So what's news?

So what have I been up to since we got back from the US? Well, we got back to Australia on 11 November, and were quickly thrown into all the end-of-year events. Before we knew it, we were on a plane again, this time with all four of our kids and bound for Brisbane to spend Christmas with Al's family.

Our (blended) family 

And now, I can't believe we're already past Easter and ANZAC Day, and about to start the second school term of the year. Sofia finished up at childcare last year and has started pre-school, and young Alex is now in Year 2, and turned 7 last month. The year is flying past, and the kids are growing quickly.

First day of school, 2018
Despite not doing a single stitch through our entire trip to the US, 2018 has seen me get my mojo back... so I have so much to share in this space. For Christmas I made my Mum a little zipper bag designed by Anni Downs, and I've made Sofia a library bag for school as well as starting work on a nap-mat for Sofia (similar to the one I made for Alex last year). Alex has asked when I'll make something else for him, but I'm just not sure what I can make... any suggestions?!

Anni Downs makeup bag
Sofia's library bag, my own design
And that's just scratching the surface... There's so much more stitching to share (including finished projects!) and I'm also keen to blog about my mountain bike adventures since returning from the US. There's just too much for one blog post!!

What have you been up to in the first quarter of 2018?

Until next time x

Saturday, 7 April 2018

US trip: Homestretch to New York, New York

From Hershey we headed to the town of Princeton (via a place called Allentown where we stopped in at an interesting little car museum—America on Wheels). Being in this part of the US, we couldn't resist visiting one of their old Ivy League universities which we had heard so much about over the years. And the campus of Princeton University certainly didn't disappoint. It was amazing just walking around the grounds of this prestigious university and seeing this incredible institution.

We stayed overnight nearby at Trenton, and early the next day we returned the rental car as we would catch the train to New York rather than tackle the challenge of driving into Manhattan! Driving across the US had seen us clock up 4,155 miles (or 6,648 kms) in our trusty rented Subaru Forrester.

Manhattan, New York
 While our road trip was at an end, we still had a few days left of our holiday. Our plans had been to leave the "best" for last... New York City, where all the movies tell us dreams are made. During our holiday we had tried to keep costs down on accommodation so we could splash out on a nice place in New York, and had researched to ensure our final night in the US would be at a nice restaurant. But, if I'm brutally honest, after experiencing New York, I think my dreams and best memories of the trip were made elsewhere... at the beginning when we drove through the Santa Cruz mountains, or being at Red Bull Rampage, or mountain biking in Moab, or even laughing our way through the corn-fields in the mid-west! Unfortunately, there were quite a few things that left us with a sour taste about New York... we had issues with our hotel room (which thankfully was finally resolved), and our last night's meal was far from the best we had (although possibly one of the most expensive).

With that said, it was still so good to have been able to experience New York and visit its famous land marks. To see the Lady of Liberty up close, and actually go to the top of the Empire State Building have been things I've wanted to do for a very long time and I'm so glad I've had that opportunity. We both felt sombre at the memorial site of 9/11, and despite all our knowledge on the tragic events, were still enormously impacted by the size of the memorial fountains. And then of course, I can't deny the excitement I felt just walking through Central Park, or going to an actual show on Broadway (we saw Chicago!).

9/11 Memorial with One World Tower behind
Central Park (and the Plaza)
At the top of the Empire State Building!
Our trip across the United States was all up an incredible experience. My amazing man was once again brilliant behind the wheel, getting us safely from one coast of America to the other. We have some wonderful memories and a bucket-load of photos (which we somehow narrowed down to choose just 10 to frame and put on our wall at home!). Now to decide where to visit next...

Map of our 2017 adventure across the United States

Until next time x

Thursday, 5 April 2018

US trip: Chicago to Hershey

My writing about this trip seems to be dragging on... partly due to having a busy routine with work and the kids, and partly due to my sheer slackness (ok, ok... mainly due to my slackness!). I will push on but try and finish up this series fairly quickly :)

So last time I wrote, we had made it to Rockford and had caught up with my family for dinner. Before leaving Rockford the next day, we stopped in to tour my uncle's jewellery store, where another of my uncles also works. It was great to catch up with family who I hadn't seen since I was a little girl!

With my uncle, Luis, in his shop Zavius Jewelers
 From Rockford to Chicago the traffic quickly started to build up, and we couldn't believe the speeds people were doing. Driving at the speed limit was apparently dangerous as it meant holding people up and being a nuisance! We went from being in shock and concerned we had missed something to laughter. And before we knew it, we were coming to a halt as traffic slowed to a stand-still... we had made it to the CBD and rapidly became aware of the chaos that is Chicago traffic and how much they loved using car horns. Once we found parking and checked into our accommodation, we opted for a hop on/hop off bus tour to see the city, although as it had started to rain we took the best photos we could from inside the bus! (The next morning however we did manage to get a good view of the city from the 360 degree Chicago Observation Deck, where we also did the 'TILT!' experience—so good!)

View from 360 degree Chicago Observation Deck
In the evening we sought out an Italian restaurant and tried a famous Chicago deep-dish pizza. This ended up being one of the best meals we had on our trip to the US... the wine was excellent, the company was the best (ok, I'm somewhat biased!), and the pizza was amazing.

Deep dish pizza for dinner in Chicago
From Chicago we were en-route to Hershey, Pennsylvania, via Columbus, Ohio (and meaning we also completely crossed the state of Indiana). We stayed overnight in Dublin, on the outskirts of Columbus, to break the journey. These couple of days were pretty much just getting to our next destination, however we did stop at some small towns such as Bedford, PA, where I found a beautiful little quilt shop I just had to stop at... and of course I couldn't leave without some fat-quarters and a new book (which ironically turned out on closer inspection to be by an Australian designer!).

Quilt shop in Bedford... sadly I can't remember the name :(
Finally we made it to Hershey, where we had tickets to see comedian Gabriel Iglesias (aka Fluffy)—one of Al's favourites. It was a great night where we got to relax and have a good laugh. We were asked to put cameras away so no pics from that night, but I'd recommend looking him up on YouTube! And of course, the next morning, we couldn't leave Hershey without touring through the Hershey Chocolate Factory :)

We made our own chocolate bars!
My last instalment on the trip next time!

Friday, 16 February 2018

US trip: Aspen and 'the middle bit'

From Moab we continued to drive east... our next overnight accommodation was booked at Denver, Colorado. We had decided to do the drive via Aspen and we couldn't have picked a better time of year to do so! And what a contrast in scenery in just one day...

From hot Utah with it's orange and red hues, we couldn't believe how quickly we started to see snow dusted mountains appearing in the distance. We were amazed but also excited to be entering yet another picturesque part of the world which we had both heard so much about. Once we arrived at Aspen (and after Al purchased a ski helmet to bring back with us!) we discovered that we could drive all the way to Maroon Bells... a road that apparently during the summer is so busy they stop cars from driving up and you need to ride a shuttle to get there, and in the winter the snow prevents vehicles. We were there in the few weeks per year that they let cars through!

Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado
We spent awhile walking around Maroon Bells and taking in the beauty of mountains and region in general. There was something magical... and after some adrenalin-pumped days, the calmness of the waterfalls and backdrop just made us want to stop, relax, and take in our captivating surrounds.

Time was quickly ticking past so we soon headed back into Aspen proper for a quick walk around the John Denver Memorial Garden before we continued on our journey.

John Denver Memorial Garden
From Aspen we went via Independence Pass which would take us via Twin Lakes to get to Denver. We had been warned that the road was incredibly narrow in parts across the Pass, but Al did an amazing job driving us safely through the area and in the end it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. It started to snow as we drove through, and the mist and fog meant that the view of Twin Lakes wasn't much like the pictures we had seen when researching the trip!

Independence Pass
We arrived into Denver and our accommodation after dark and quickly crashed. We had a lot of ground to cover the next day... we were pretty much half way through our holiday, but not yet half way across the country!

And make up some ground we did. This drive was the same as that done by Lloyd and Harry in Dumb and Dumber when they drove "a sixth across the country in the wrong direction." So naturally, during this part of the drive (where there's not exactly much to see or do) we quoted memorable lines from the movie... like "what's the most annoying noise in the world?!". This day would be our longest drive—8 hours worth—to get to Omaha, Nebraska. And we saw a lot of very flat landscapes filled with corn. A lot of corn. And just in case we'd missed it, more corn.

From Omaha we set the GPS for Rockford (which meant crossing Iowa), and not much changed with the scenery... except that we started getting more hills as we approached Illinois. We got to the point that we were researching corn—did you know there are three types? The weather was also getting colder and colder (and much colder than we had expected for autumn) so by the time we got to Iowa, we decided made a quick stop to get some warmer clothing. We got into Rockford quite late but in time to have dinner with my uncle and his family... was so good to catch up with my cousin Sunshine—it had only been 20 years since we had last seen each other!

My cousin, Sunshine, and I

More on the trip next time x

Saturday, 10 February 2018

US trip: a horseshoe and more bikes

The next morning we said goodbye to Margus and continued our journey east across the US. Our next overnight stop was Moab, where we had a day of mountain biking booked in. To get there though we had a long drive and lots we wanted to see... starting with a drive through Zion National Park.

In Zion National Park
Zion was a complete contrast to Yosemite from a few days earlier, yet still incredibly impressive and spectacular. The vibrant colours were captivating and around every bend was something new and amazing to stop and look at. We hadn't expected Utah to be such a treasure and so unfortunately didn't give ourselves enough time to really absorb the region as much as we would have liked.

Just past Zion
In taking a more scenic route from Zion to Moab, we took a road that first took us slightly south and over the Arizona border. Due to the limited time we had in the region we had skipped going to the Grand Canyon, however in researching the area we had discovered Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona, would be a good alternate to visit. Located further up the Colorado River, the picturesque meander sits just outside of the Grand Canyon National Park and was well worth the drive and then short walk to see it. Al had fight his fear of heights to get as close to the edge as possible to get a good picture... meanwhile, I had heaps of fun seeing what my new wide-angle lens could capture at this stop!

Horseshoe Bend
Al at the edge!
From Horseshoe Bend, we headed back north and back into Utah. Monument Valley was filled with really interesting rock formations—some which we tried to just capture from a moving car, and others that we stopped to have a good look at. 'Mexican Hat' was particularly impressive, and proved a good place to stretch the legs, have a walk around, and break up the drive.

Mexican Hat, Utah
We finally got to Moab, where we had a quick takeaway dinner before settling in for a good nights rest... we had a big day organised the following day, with a guide and rental bikes booked so we could explore one of the best mountain biking areas of the world!

Amazing colours as the sun set over Utah
The trails at Moab were so different from what we're used to in Australia. Overall, instead of single-trail we're used to, we were riding across rocks marked with lines so we knew which way to go. Sections that we wondered how anyone could ride and in Australia we would be slipping on our guide (from Rim Tours—we'd highly recommend them!) reassured us would be grippy... and to our amazement it was, and the bike didn't slip or slide at all!

Al and our guide Sam from Rim Tours

It was a long but fun day in Moab... I enjoyed trying out a different bike (I rented a Juliana Furtado, made by Santa Cruz) and being challenged by different terrain. By the end of the day, we were exhausted and the hotel's heated pool was bliss!

My bike for the day—a Juliana Furtado
More on the trip next time x

Monday, 29 January 2018

US trip: Cars and bikes... and time for Rampage!

In Vegas we had met up with a friend of ours from back in Canberra. While we were still early into our trip, Margus was towards the tail end of his holiday so we had a lot to catch up on! From Vegas, Margus would join us for a couple of days—and was also coming along to Red Bull Rampage. So with the promise of seeing some quilting shops later in our journey, I agreed to let the boys have some fun before we left Vegas... they had found a place called Dream Racing where they could hire very fast cars, and drive them as quick as they could around a race track!

Al with his instructor for the day
Al and Margus had an absolute blast with the sports cars... and with big grins on their faces, it was time to get into our rental cars and continue on the journey. Next overnight stop: Toquerville, Utah. While we didn't have a long distance to cover that day, we were crossing our first time-zone and losing an hour, and we also had to get to our destination a certain time to collect a rental bike for Margus. But of course, we also wanted to squeeze in some sightseeing... so we set our route to Toquerville via the Valley of Fires.

Al and Margus at Valley of Fires, Nevada
There was in incredible vibrancy and intensity to the colour in the Valley of Fires, and you could quickly tell how the valley got its name. We did a couple of short walks, but with time quickly ticking over we had to skip more than we would have liked. This place is somewhere well worth visiting again!

We managed to get to the bike shop just in time to collect Margus's rental (Al and I didn't need bikes as we'd managed to get Rampage tickets that included a shuttle to the event area). After a quick dinner we headed out to find the venue for Rampage and managed to get ourselves sorted for the next day. It was actually happening!

Early the next day we piled in the one car and headed to Virgin Utah, only 15 minutes from our accommodation in Toquerville. The day was finally here... Red Bull Rampage 2017!! And what a day it was... the tricks and stunts, the venue, the riders, the bikes, the atmosphere, the excitement in the air. I don't think you could have wiped the smiles of Al and my faces if you'd tried!

The 2017 winner, Kurt Sorge

At the end of the event Al and I both managed to get photos with our idols, and previous winners of Rampage. The event is something I don't think I'll ever forget, and was definitely worth getting up at 4am to get tickets for. To see live what some people can achieve on a bike, absolutely inspiring. And while I'm not about to do those sort of stunts myself, its awesome to watch!

Al with Rampage icon, Kyle Strait
It was amazing what these bikes and their riders could do!
The day was certainly a massive highlight of our US trip... but we still had a few things booked in that we were really looking forward to!

More on the trip next time x