Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Icelandic Babymoon - Part 1

We got back from our Iceland and while everything is fresh in my mind, unlike Italy, I'm going to share it with you.

We talked about doing a birthday/babymoon trip and debated back and forth on how much time to take off and what our budget was. It came down to either a trip to southern California (with time split between San Francisco and redwood forest) or Iceland.

My friend Breanne introduced my to travel hacking (this is a great post by her about credit cards; she and her husband quite their jobs and traveled the world for seven months!). Even though we went to Hawaii last year on credit card points, we had enough points racked up to get our flights and three nights hotel for Iceland for free!

It was a quick trip, Sunday to Saturday, five and a half days and five nights, but the perfect amount of time to feel like we got a good experience of Iceland (and so nice to have a day off before going back to work tomorrow). Here's what we did!

Day 1 - Reykjavik
We landed around 6:30am on Monday, May 1 after a seven hour direct flight from Denver via Iceland Air (side note: Iceland Air does not serve a complimentary meal, so plan ahead). After reading many reviews, it's recommended to go to Blue Lagoon (the tourist hot spot for blue thermal fed waters) landing in Iceland or leaving Iceland; since it's near the airport (the airport is about 45 minutes or so from Reykjavik). I followed a coworkers advice and prebooked us a reservation at 8:00am.

Leaving the airport, we picked up our rental car (booked with Auto Car Rental via Guide to Iceland. Note: most rental places have both gas and diesel cars. I opted for diesel as it's typically more fuel efficient and cheaper) and were on our way.

I had put my swimsuit and a change of clothes in my carry on bag, but I forgot about flip-flips and ended up having those in my suitcase so we bought flip-flops (at $14 a pair), which really were not needed. If you go, I'd recommend to remember to bring your own or forego using them.
Being there at 8:00am (opening hour), turned out to be a brilliant idea; there was barely anyone there! Once in the lagoon, for the first forty minutes, it felt like we barely saw anyone and had the place to ourselves. (Note, make sure you put the provided conditioner in your hair when you pre-shower. The waters are supposed to be great for your skin, but will dry out your hair).
21 week, 4 day bump
After being at the lagoon for two or three hours, we decided to head into Reykjavik. We arrived starving and went directly to a brewery (surprise, surprise), Bryggjan Brugghus, for lunch. Mr. HaHa said the beer wasn't really memorable ($18 for 3 tasters), but the fish and chips were good (although heavily fried).  From there we ventured "downtown" to the main square and grabbed lattes at Stofan Cafe (I had bookmarked this spot but after checking out other cafes, I would say this was our least favorite latte; although the location and coziness are perfect).
Next up we checked into our hotel, Reykjavik Residence Hotel.  I'd put a lot of time into researching hotels and in the end I decided on Residence for the reviews as one of the top hotels in the city.  Although it didn't include parking or daily breakfast, our room was surprisingly spacious (a one bedroom apartment), extremely clean and fashionable, and a superb location.  Parking ending up not being as big of an issue as I feared.  The hotel has three parking spots, which are first come, first serve.  The Monday we arrived, May 1st, turned out to be Labor Day, so parking around the city was free.  We also learned from the hotel that paid parking was free 6pm-9am.  As a last resort, there is a parking garage across the street. We were given one voucher for free 24-hour parking. The hotel also has an associated restaurant, Port 9, which we were given a voucher for one free meal, which was delicious!

For the first time in our foreign travels, we took a nap on our first day there. Usually we try to power through jet lag, but we're usually also drinking, which helps :)  We took a two hour nap and then debated on dinner.  Iceland is relatively affordable to fly to and for accommodations; but food and drink is expensive!  Our fish and chips at lunch were $25 a plate. We weren't quite ready to spring into more fish for dinner and ended up at an Italian restaurant, Italia Veitingahus, for dinner. Both of our meals were delicious, contrary to reviews our service was quick and good, and the $30 spent on each entree seemed well worth it.
As we walked around after dinner, we began to realize how small the city is and how walkable it is.  We walked to Kex Hostel, which is known for it's trendy bar. It looks out over the bay and offered gorgeous views of the setting sun. Given the time of year, the sun doesn't start setting until 9:30p or so; it really throws off your internal clock, but it much appreciated for site seeing.  We also found the beer list to be long and more affordable; most beers were $10-$12USD.
Day 2
We went to Sandholt bakery and had breakfast consisting of pastries and lattes ($27 USD) then with clear skies (it was extremely foggy our first day) we continued up the street to visit Hallgrimskirkja, a church with a tower that offers views of the city and bay.

There was no wait so we paid our $9 admission and hopped on the elevator ride going up eight stories. It was extremely windy, but beautiful! The colors used for buildings in other countries always cease to amaze me and Reykjavik is no exception. We lucked out that the fog had cleared from the bay and we were able to get a glimpse of the water and mountains beyond.
One of the must-do's on our list was a whale tour and puffin tour. We prebooked tour tickets with Special Tours. I chose them based on reviews and the fact that if whales are not sighted during a tour, you're given a free ticket to come back and try again.  Unfortunately, the weather Tuesday morning was incredibly windy and foggy that we received an email that the tours for the day were cancelled; we had the option of postponing or receiving a full refund.

From the church, we walked down to the bay, stopping in Harpa, the concert hall and conference center to take in the views, explore some shopping, use wifi and public restrooms, before walking to the harbor to request our tour refund. Because of the wind and the rain, it was pretty cold so we stopped in Cafe Haiti to relax over a cup of coffee and warm up before walking to Svarta Kaffid for lunch.

This spot was one of our favorite traditional Icelandic meals. They offer two daily soup options, meat and vegetation, served up in a bread bowl for 1850Kr.  Perhaps it was the cold or the rain, but the meal and ambiance hit the spot!
Having most of the afternoon to kill, we decided to do some shopping. I bought an Icelandic wool sweater from Nordic Store as well as an art print for the nursery before we stopped into Eldur and Is for a crepe (fyi; google maps operating hours are not accurate, we sadly found out our first night that they are not open until 11pm).
We explored more of downtown, walking to park/lake downtown and City Hall, before stopping in Skuli Craft Bar; you guessed it, a craft beer bar.  The bartender, Viking, was extremely friendly and we had a great conversation.  As mentioned previously, food and drink are expensive in Iceland since the majority of it is imported. We noticed several bottles of beer from some of our Colorado favorites, like Crooked Stave sours. They were selling the bottles for 5000kr ($50USD) and higher! Viking explained to us that by the time they pay 18% import tax and 24% liquor tax; what is a $20 bottle in the US, quickly becomes a $50 there to make some profit. We were surprised (and happy) to learn that they offer a daily happy hour with three rotating beers; which takes the price down to $5-7USD from $12-14.
We had dinner reservations at Ostabudin, so we left Skuli and made a quick stop at another craft beer bar, Micro Bar before heading to dinner. Micro Bar was in a basement with a cool vibe, but certainly a different personality bartender. One nice feature is that they offered half pours of beer.

With food being so expensive, we tried to strategically select our meals and their pricing. Having had a more traditional lunch, we opted for cheese plates for dinner. You guys! These could likely be the best cheese plates we've ever had. We shared two: small cheese plate (three Icelandic cheeses; bleu, Gouda and a soft brie-like) and prima donna plate (salami, serrano ham and an aged cheddar); they were fantastic! And better yet, "affordable" at 5400Kr ($54 USD). Highly, highly recommend!
After dinner we went back to Sandholt bakery to grab some pastries to have for our Golden Circle drive the next day. Sandholt also had affordable craft beer on tap; 4 taps for 8000Kr ($8 USD); including one of our favs, Brewdog's Punk IPA (sold at other bars there for $14+).  Last stop of the night was to check out Mikeller and Friends, an outpost of the Denmark brewery. Another cozy spot and nice bartender to chat with; but watch out for the prices. Most beers were $18 USD a pint!
Next up; Day 3 - Golden Circle (with some added stops worth making!)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nursery in the Making

We have spent a lot of time over the past two weekends working on former guest room turned nursery and I'm happy to say we both agree the hard work paid off. I think I've heard Ben say every day since we started painting, "man, this looks awesome".
Nursery before; aka blue gu
Our house was built in 1908, so nothing is flat, nothing is level and walls certainly aren't smooth. The picture above was strategically taken to hide those imperfections.  If you were to look up, this is the ceiling. 
Hideous, right? It's worse in person!  When we first bought the house in Feb 2014, we paid someone to come out replace drywall ceiling of the main living/dining room. We also got quotes to correct the two guest bed ceilings (the above is certainly the worst of the two) but decided not to spend money at the time.

As soon as we found out we were pregnant, I told Ben, we have GOT to fix that ceiling. So we again got drywall quotes and unfortunately they hadn't magically lowered over the past three years ($1,200 to fix ONE room's ceiling; what?!). I have to confess, I was desperate enough to say let's suck it up and pay but Ben called me crazy.

Enter Plan B. Spring 2015 we had the exterior of the house painted and new gutters installed. When we were in Chicago, it seemed like every porch ceiling was wood. We loved the look but hadn't seen much of in it Denver. My father-in-law is much more handy than we are, so Ben and I stained and sealed tongue and groove pine then during once of their visits, my father-in-law and I installed the wood for the porch ceiling.
So we came up with the idea of trying to install a similar ceiling in the nursery. Thankfully my father-in-law said it was doable and we lined up the project to take place when they came to visit this February for our nephew's birthday. When we initially started talking about the project, I think MIL and FIL thought we were off our rocker, but by the time they got here, they knew about the pregnancy so it made more sense as to why we wanted it done.

I was still living in Vail at the time, so I can't say the guys were happy to see me when I walked in Friday afternoon (per my MIL's progress texts during the week, there was a lot of cursing).  Between Ben and my FIL, I think there was a lot of frustration, but the result is absolutely perfect (not to mention, a fraction of the price). To install, they first located the floor joists for the level above and then put up fur strips. This allowed the tongue and groove to have something to secure to. I cannot thank them enough for their hard work! 
Next step, paint. I'd always envisioned a primarily gray and white nursery, which goes along perfectly with our decision to wait to find out the gender. However, finding a true gray proved to be quite the challenge.  We put up seven samples, all from Sherwin Williams: (shown in order of) Repose Gray, Agreeably Gray, Worldly Gray, Light French Gray, Knitting Needles, Olympus White, and Lazy Gray.
We were told by SW that Light French Gray was the only "true", black/white mix gray (the first color on the left in the picture of four). Strangely enough, it appeared beige to us. We thought we had our decision made after putting samples up on the blue wall. However, there was a ton of prep work needed to sand out old cracks and fill divots (we're talking days and hours), so it made sense to work on wall prep and prime. After priming, we'd put samples back up to make the final decision. I'm glad we did!
I put the first coat of samples up Friday night. Saturday morning Ben came in while I was working on sample coat two and he said I already know which I like...thankfully it was the same color I wanted! We mutually agreed upon Olympus White. (Originally we liked lazy gray, but then it seemed to dark once the primer was up). So Saturday and Sunday were spent painting!
Furniture was ordered today (ahh! it's getting more and more real) and white crown molding will go up in the next month.  Meanwhile, I might just sit on the floor and take in what's already become my new favorite room in the house :)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sharing the News

Since we had been trying for several cycles, every month I would get anxious to take a test.  For Christmas we did our twelve hour drive to Illinois to see our families.  Last year we drove back a day earlier than planned due to impending snow and it ended up being really nice to have a day at home alone after the chaos of shuttling back and forth between both of our parents houses. So this Christmas, we intentionally came back with a day to spare before going back to work.

Since we've dated for so long (1999), we've always exchanged gifts after our family exchange. It's always been a moment I look forward to each holiday season. This year was no different, but I hoped we'd get a special gift to share, so I took a test on Tuesday and it was negative.  I knew it was a little early, but I was still upset not to see those two lines.  That day we drove to Vail. so that I could go back to work Wednesday and Ben would work from the apartment for the remainder of the week.

I'm not sure what prompted me to take a test on Wednesday (12/28/16) and it was positive (at what was 3weeks, 5 days along)!! I was stunned! I was worried it was somehow wrong and I didn't want to get Ben worked up, so I decided to wait until the next morning to take another test. Sure enough, Thursday's test was also positive. I had butterflies in my stomach all day thinking about telling Ben.

I got back to the apartment that night and pulled out a gift bag. I told Ben I'd forgotten about a gift I'd had at the apartment. First I handed him a bottle of Love Child (one of our favorite sour beers). A smirk crossed his face but I didn't say anything and prompted him to open the bag where he found:
Needless to say, we were both a little stunned that it finally happened!

We waited to tell our families until after our first appointment (which was Friday, 2/3/2017 at 9 weeks). Growing up my parents belonged to a nonprofit organization and every Valentines the group would make and sell Valentines cookies as a fundraiser.  Every year February rolls around and I crave these cookies!  I whipped up a double batch and decorated them to send to our families after our first OB appointment.

I watched the tracking for our parents (we'd strategically overnighted so they'd arrive on a Saturday; since I was still living in Vail during the week, we wanted to be together when we shared the news).  My parents reaction was so funny. Over FaceTime, they opened the package and said "hey! you made us cookies!" Then they started to pull out of the box "Cutie", "Stud Muffin", "We Sept?" What's "We Sept"?!  It took what felt like forever, but they finally got it!
Those first few weeks of knowing and waiting to tell family and friends went by so slow! It's hard to believe that tomorrow is already 17 weeks!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Our Biggest Adventure Yet!

On Saturday, we announced to social media that we are expecting our first child in September! I can't tell you how much I was shaking when I hit "post". It's been so hard to keep the secret, but at the same time, by keeping it a secret, I felt like we were somehow protecting us and the baby from the world. I'm going to be a nervous-nelly the next 18+ years, aren't I?

Not to go into all of the details, but it involved trying for six cycles, and both of us driving through the same snowstorm in one day, but our little blizzard baby is on it's way! During our period of trying, I learned that not all women's bodies are the same (I mean, duh). At my annual gyno exam (Nov 2016), I was upset that it had been five cycles and nothing had happened (If I'm being honest, I was really hoping for an Italy/Cubs are going to the world series baby!). My dr said we were doing everything right, but to make sure we were using ovulation predictor tests.  I had bought some in September but didn't really understand/used them haphazardly, and wouldn't you know, my next cycle rolled around, peeing on those little sticks and interpreting them made all the difference! (It turns out I ovulate 2-3 days earlier than most apps "suggested" time frame).

I'm in the 13th week of my pregnancy and things are going great!

First Trimester Recaps:

  • Morning Sickness: Yep. I never got physically sick, but did experience some waves of nausea during weeks 6-8. I was originally trying to do Whole30 as a coverup for not drinking, but also because I really wanted to do another round, but once nausea hit, I kept a supply of Ritz Crackers and Crystallized Ginger with me at all times.
  • Lack of Energy: This was my biggest symptom. I had a few nights where I turned out my light around 8pm and slept solid until my work alarm at 5:45am. I could have taken a morning and afternoon nap everyday. I was proud of myself for the few times I actually made it to the gym or out for a run (which honestly, was maybe 5 times before I hit week 10; that's when my energy levels started rising)
  • Food Aversions: Ugh, terrible! I eventually gave up on doing a true Whole30 because I.could.not. tolerate the smell of cooked vegetables. Or worse yet, I would make something like brussel sprouts, eat them for dinner, go to the bathroom and walk into the living space, smell them and gag!  It was easiest to try to eat kale caesar salads or raw bell pepper for my veggies for a few weeks.
Other than the above, first trimester went really well. Looking into the future...
  • Due Date: September 8th! It's crazy to think I'm already 1/3 way through my pregnancy.
  • Gender: I've always been such a classic Type A person. I'm the extreme planner and organizer. But for whatever reason, before we were pregnant or even trying, we had conversations about waiting to find out the gender and now that we are pregnant, I still feel that way. Mr HaHa is so easy going that he has not had a strong preference to find out or keep the surprise, so as of right now, our baby's gender will be a surprise!
  • Living Situation: The timing for this pregnancy has seemed to work itself out.  Not only did Mr HaHa get away with not living together full time during first trimester (I swear I wasn't crazy, but he or my coworkers may say differently), but before announcing my pregnancy to my company, my departure from Vail back to Denver full time was scheduled for mid-March.  My apartment lease ends March 16 so over the next week, we're in the process of moving me back to Denver, to our house! 
  • Work-life: As you may recall, since moving to Colorado, I work for a contractor in construction. I've always been on a construction site (yea, portapotties do not mix well with pregnancy, thank goodness for public bathrooms in Vail Village!).  When I told HR, they were extremely excited for me, but also recognize that we need to work together to find a project/position that will work for both me and the company. I really don't want to be walking around a construction site in July or August, ready to burst and in the field required jeans and short sleeved shirt. I'm confident we'll find the right fit for me.

I'll be back for another post about how I found out, how I told Mr HaHa and how we told our families.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

In Love with Italy

We talked about going to Oktoberfest this year, but Ben had a company retreat (to Mexico, poor guy) pop up that was the same time frame. If you recall, we went to Ireland with a Travelzoo trip, so I always keep my eyes peeled on deals.  There had been a lot of Groupons for Italy popping up. Italy has been on my bucketlist f.o.r.e.v.er! But none of the trips I was finding were the time frame we wanted or the cities we wanted.

One day while browsing Travelzoo, I came across Trip Masters. I was skeptical about their low priced packages and flexibility, but after doing some research, I found them to be a legit company. Trip Masters is unlike the other package sites I've seen. Trip Masters allows you to select your flights, city orders and duration, select your hotels and transportation in between.

After messing around a few days, I finally narrowed down the perfect trip itinerary for our allotted time frame:

  • Rome: 3 days
  • Cinque Terre: 2 days
  • Florence: 1 day
  • Venice: 2 days
After booking the trip, I realized I had Ben's name wrong from his passport and also decided that the hotel we'd booked for Cinque Terre area was not ideal (we were to stay in the "suburbs", if you will). Trip Master's customer service is outstanding! They're available by chat which is so convenient, that I was able to easily update the name information.  They also allowed me to cancel our Cinque Terre hotel and gave a refund so that we were able to book our own separate accommodations in one of the Cinque Terre Villages. 

Pricing wise, the trip was more reasonable than I ever thought possible.  For our flights, 8 nights hotel (original booking) and 3 trains between cities, we paid only $200 more per person than the cost of our flight outright. Amazing! I highly recommend Trip Masters and will certainly use them in the future!

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