Coming to America – Day 1

Hello, my name is Aunt Cindy, and I am Kelsey’s aunt from California.  I am honored and a little scared to be a guest writer on her blog.  I recently flew to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet up with my brother Gary (Kelsey’s dad and a former guest blogger) and my nephews Kyle and Clark for what I have named the “Coming to America” tour.

Our mother Goldie Despot came to America from the then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).  Her father Grgo (George) and Uncle Stipan (Steve) had arrived in America and were working in coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  George sent for his children one-by-one; my mom Goldie was 11 and traveled by herself on a ship to New York.  She stayed on Ellis Island for several days and was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where her father was to pick her up.  My mother lived at different times with her father in Harmarville and uncle and aunt in Brownsville.  She grew up in these areas, went to school, and learned to speak English without an accent.  She eventually moved to California, married, and had my brothers and me.

My mother took us three kids on a train to Pittsburgh in 1965.  We all have memories of that great adventure.  My mother kept in contact with a few of her friends and cousins in Brownsville, but since she passed in 2001, no one has been in contact with them.  Gary decided he wanted to go back and visit and found a few relatives, so the new adventure began.

Wednesday, June 19th – Arrived in Pittsburgh

Gary and Kelsey drove to Pittsburgh from Atlanta and picked Kyle, Clark, and I up at the airport.  Here are a few photos of Gary and Kelsey’s driving adventure.

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We left the airport in the rented minivan and, thanks to the Neuwirths (friends of the Alabama Andrich family), we were ready to video this awesome sight as we came out of the tunnel into Pittsburgh.

After we checked into our hotel, the Springhill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, we enjoyed tasty appetizers of crackers with three different flavors of easy cheese and whiskey shots in the boys’ room.

We set out to find something to eat and walked in the light rain to Mullen’s.  We ordered beers and other things to drink.  I spotted a Black and Tan on the menu.  I love a Black and Tan and this one was made with Yuengling Beer, which we on the west coast cannot get.  It was delicious!  Looking at the menu, the Pittsburgh Wrap caught my eye.  The menu said it was the #1 best seller, and I have to agree!  I loved it.  Grilled steak tossed with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and French fries.  My plan was to share it, but only a small portion went to Kelsey for a taste – I ate everything!  I never had French fries on a sandwich but have to say these French fries were not the usual boring fires.  I don’t know what they did, but they were delicious.

Kelsey went with the pierogis (which are filled dumplings of Central and Eastern European origin, made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water or pan-fried).  Kelsey and I were both looking forward to these, as they are not common in Atlanta or the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, they were pretty firm without enough butter and, ultimately, very disappointing.  Clark had the chicken wings and enjoyed them very much.

After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we walked back in the rain to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

old fourth distillery

after a yawn or two and some time in the backyard for grace, i begin each weekday morning with a cup of coffee, my computer, and the fun, entertaining fox 5 news team.  they’ve become my regular news crew ever since i started working from home last spring, and it wouldn’t be a good start to my day if they didn’t catch me up on all things weather, traffic, and politics related.

one of my favorite segments is with paul milliken and his drop-ins to interesting attractions around the state.  of the many places i’ve seen paul go, his recent visit to the old fourth distillery caught my attention so that i planned a get-together there myself!  a couple saturdays ago phillip and i met up at the distillery with mercy, kris, tommy, kaley, eric, and claire.  it wasn’t quite tour time (which, by the way, they prefer you reserve online before arriving), so we let the bartender fix us a couple of cocktails.  i enjoyed the refreshing blackberry bramble, phillip and kaley loved the frozen lemonade, and tommy sipped on his gin and tonic.  what better way to begin a distillery tour than with some of their finest spirits?

the top of the hour arrived, and our tour guide wrangled us all together.  one thing to mention about the distillery is that it is quite compact.  the bar area can handle probably 10 people comfortably, and the work space really was probably no more than a thousand square feet.  makes for an intimate setting!

you can take your cocktails with you during the tour and enjoy it between nuggets of distillery education and shots of alcohol.  now, i’ve been to plenty of breweries in my day, and for the most part, once you understand one brew process, you get the general idea.  however, before coming to the distillery, i knew nothing about these processes.  i was incredibly intrigued as i learned about how this distillery came to be, what types of ingredients you can use, and what different boiling points mean to it all.  by the end of our hour together, we were experts on heads, hearts, and tails and what makes all these spirits so tasty and special.

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i personally enjoyed the gin the most, likely because it didn’t have as much potency as the vodka and was infused with tons of different spices and herbs.  the lawn dart was one of the crowd favorites, and mercy enjoyed the bourbon so much that she took a bottle home with her.  when its been aged for such a while and when the next batch won’t be available until the fall, she figured it was a pretty excellent souvenir.  i agree!

mercy and phillip loved the frozen lemonade, especially with a bourbon floater!

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phillip and kelsey do boston – day 1

our summertime travels continued with a trip up to boston.  phillip and his sisters were born there but none had been back since, and since i loved the city the last time i came with my friend vinh, i was all in, no doubt about it.

we were up bright and early that friday morning and landed at boston-logan international airport around eleven a.m.  seeing as how our trip would total to barely 48 hours, no humongous luggage bags were necessary (shocking, i know), so we deplaned, grabbed some local transit maps, and hopped on the free silver line bus to south station.  as my father would say, “if it’s free, it’s me!”  about ten minutes later we exited and began to roam the city streets.  we couldn’t check into our airbnb for a few hours, and since we were hungry for some local eats, we asked a friendly bostonian for directions to the original cheers restaurant.  i mean, when in boston, where else would you go?

it was easy to find the restaurant, just a few turns away and a gathered crowd.  there was a slight wait due to the start of the lunch rush, so while we waited we did what every good tourist would do and took a junk ton of pictures.  aren’t they fabulous?  🙂

once our buzzer buzzed, we took the stairs down and crammed ourselves and all our stuff into a cozy booth.  the restaurant was coming to life right before eyes, the energy was tangible, and it was a great way to begin our visit.

like all great day-time vacations, we were not on the clock and were quick to order a couple of adult beverages.  phillip had a local dark something and i stuck with a standard wheat beer – you know, easing myself into things.  both were crisp and cold and quite refreshing.

in no hurry at all, we also ordered ourselves a little appetizer to munch on while we looked over the rest of the menu.  per the waiter’s recommendation, we enjoyed the spinach artichoke dip.  what a classic!  the picture may not be doing it justice, but this popular dish was nice and hot with fluffy gobs of whipped cream cheese, hearty artichoke hunks, gooey cheese, and tasty spinach.  a bite here, a sip there, things were off to a good start indeed.

pretty satisfied with the dip, we decided splitting an entree would be the way to go next, and the kitchen gladly served us our reuben on two individual plates.  this sandwich is such comfort food to me, and the only thing it needed was more thousand island dressing.  i can never get enough!

with full bellies and a second wind, we killed some time on the self-guided freedom trail tour.  the map directed us through boston common, over to the old south meeting house, and, for us, ultimately to faneuil hall.  it could not have been a better sightseeing day, as the air was cool and the cloud coverage was substantial – a welcome change from the stifling georgia heat!

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at last we received word that our airbnb was ready for our arrival, so we navigated our way through the financial district to our studio apartment for the weekend.  the space was just perfect for our two-night stay and ended up being a great, central location for all our adventures.

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the wedding chronicles | decision #20

THE DRINKS

a lot of folks say there are three key things that make a great wedding:  the music, the food, and the drinks.  with the music already covered and the food chosen as well (more on that later), the beverage situation also had to be discussed with the reception venue.  now, i’m not saying that in order to have a great reception that alcoholic beverages are a must, but the general culture of our family and friends is that we like our drinks and we like to keep ’em comin’!  so the question on this one wasn’t “are we going to have drinks?” – it really was “what kind of drinks and how many shall we have?”

after deciding adult beverages were a must-have for the reception, for us it really came down to what we could afford.  now, i think we’re luckier than most in that we are getting exactly what we want as far as the drink menu goes, and the reason i say that is because alcohol can get expensive, and very quickly!  what you will find out if you haven’t already is that many venues have a drink (and also food) minimum, and that number is often higher than you’d expect.  some venues might have a reasonable beer and wine menu (which i think these days is more than enough for your guests), but the second you throw in hard liquor that cost can jump up, which is understandable if you think about it.  if your venue doesn’t offer beverage services, another option you might encounter that i think is intimidating at first but actually pretty cool is the venue that is byob.  the reason i say intimidating at first is because it might be hard to fathom how you will figure out how much booze to buy for your guests.  it’s never happened to me, but i imagine the bar running out of booze could be a quick buzzkill for any reception.  however, do not worry because there are several ways you can “calculate” how much each guest will likely drink and from there determine how much to buy in total.  i’ve even heard that if you buy, say, a case of beer from costco but don’t open it that you can return it.  well, that’s pretty awesome!

my overall suggestion in this regard to any couples planning their wedding would be to only do as much as you want and as much as is comfortable in your budget.  sure, what guest wouldn’t want top shelf this and barrel-aged that?  but if the feel of your reception is something more casual (think a backyard bbq with coolers of local brews) or unique (i’m still hoping i’ll get to go to a brunch reception with bottomless mimosas and bloody marys), then do you!  remember, your wedding day is a reflection of you and the things that make you happy, which might not necessarily jive with all your guests.  but at the end of the day, it’s not really about the drinks anyway, right?  😉

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 5

Over the past two to three years, I have broadened my horizons when it comes to wine.  Before then, I avoided the wine list mainly because there was a beer on the drink menu I wanted to try or because I knew nothing about wine.  My wife Kari would give me a couple sips of whatever she was drinking while we were out and about, so I came to know what I liked.  If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.  When I learned New Zealand was known for Sauvignon Blanc and that there were a few wineries just a 45-minute drive from Christchurch, I decided to check out the local scene.

My Internet searching brought me to Waipara Hills and its iconic stone building set among the picturesque Waipara Valley vineyards.  I knew they offered samplings, so I approached the bar, eager to dive in with Dennis, the lucky (or unlucky) employee to take me in.  When he asked me what I was interested in trying, I replied, “What do you recommend?”  He came back with, “What do you usually drink?”  I answered, “If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.”  Period, end of statement, no more to be said, but Dennis was looking at me, waiting to list off more wines.  Reading the expression on his face, I let him know I usually stay in my lane with wine, so I will literally try just about anything.

As such, Dennis started me off with a Sauvignon Blanc that had a very intense fruit/sugar taste, which was way more than I had bargained for.  I asked Dennis to turn it down in that respect for the next round, which he did with Gewurztraminer.  Now, I couldn’t pronounce the name if my life depended on it, but I came to learn rose petals, lychee, cinnamon, and ginger are characters commonly found in the New Zealand version.  This particular batch was stored in an oak barrel, and it was a wine I very much enjoyed.  From there Dennis poured a Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner, which were good in their own right.  At that point, I decided to end my wine tasting journey and asked Dennis for a glass of the Gewurztraminer and a cheese plate. I took a seat on the patio, took in the view, and did pretty much nothing for the next hour.

When Kari was in town the following week, we went to Terrace Edge Vineyard, which was just on the other side of the road from Waipara Hills.  Terrace Edge is a much smaller operation but was equally enjoyable and has an awesome slogan:  “A dramatic landscape captured in liquid form”.  Who wouldn’t want to try a wine from a place like that!  Jill the owner told us about all the different wines as we sampled them and how her family bought the vineyard on a whim in 1999.  Her son even studied viticulture in college and now runs the day-to-day operations in the vineyard!  In going to both wineries, the excitement Dennis and Jill had for their craft was obvious, and that’s one thing I noticed about New Zealanders during my time here:  They are very proud and passionate about being from New Zealand and sharing whatever it is they love (wine, glacier hiking, etc…) with visitors.

The Adventures of Kiwi Kyle | Part 4

With my work trip coming to an end soon, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Atlanta.  My family, my house, my bed, chicken tenders, etc…However, I will miss some things about New Zealand.  The traffic (or lack thereof), the pineapple lumps, and the coffee.  “But Kyle, isn’t the coffee in New Zealand the same as in the States?”  Well, yes and no.

In New Zealand, they don’t have the concept of drip coffee like we do in the States, as everything is espresso based.  When I ordered a coffee for the first time, the server asked if I meant a “long black.”  I said “Sure!”, having no idea what a long black was.  Well, after a little research on YouTube, I figured out what a long black is.  Check out this video so that if you ever find yourself in New Zealand you’ll know what a long black is right away!

viva las vegas!

this time last sunday, kiley, kari, and i were recovering from a fun couple of days out in fabulous las vegas!  besides being in desperate need of a girls’ weekend away, we also were in town to see the legendary britney spears in concert!  before we get to that, though, there are plenty of other things to share first.

after getting a good night’s sleep on thursday at kiley’s parents’ house (thanks, mr. and mrs. a!), we woke up and grabbed an energizing breakfast at craft kitchen before taking a smooth ride out east to our first tourist spot the hoover dam.  our trusty transportation for the weekend?  kiley’s dad’s souped up jeep wrangler.  how bada** do we look in this?!

a short 45-minute drive later we arrived in clark county, nv and joined the other masses of international and local visitors as we explored this american wonder.  unfortunately the dam tour was closed that day, but we had plenty of other seeing to do as we followed the roadway and sidewalks to get incredible views of lake mead, the colorado river, and the intake towers, flow gates, and spillways.

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if you ever find yourself in the area, i highly recommend making the trek to the dam.  there’s plenty of parking, plenty of fascinating information, and plenty of good photo ops to fill a few hours of your day.

something else that’s cool?  you can stand in two states at once – neat!

upon hiking back up to the car and chugging some water, we drove ourselves about an hour the other direction to check out an art installation off interstate 15 called the seven magic mountains.  designed by internationally renowned swiss artist ugo rondinone, this public installation is designed to represent the creative human presence in the desert with bursts of “form and color.”  pretty cool, right?

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one of the most fun things about visiting seven magic mountains was people-watching all the visitors who were trying to get the perfect filter-worthy photo for their social media posts.  not wanting to miss out on the entertainment, i snapped an inspiring shoot of kari against these brightly colored boulders.

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and kiley got in on the fun, too, with a model walk of her very own!

we were now in a pinch to get washed up and ready for the concert, so we hit the old dusty and headed back home.

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#carveyourpath

i have been looking forward to writing this post for a long time now.  the reason i’ve had to wait such a while is because i couldn’t get the product i want to write about until just recently.  you might be wondering how that is possible since everything you could ever want is available with the touch of a smartphone or by quickly visiting a website to place an order.  well, the reason i couldn’t just summon this product to my doorstep is because it’s only available in florida for the time being, and now that the suspense has built up greatly, i’ll tell you that what i’m writing about today is jacksonville’s first craft vodka carve.

vodka?  yes, vodka.  if i’m being honest, i wouldn’t consider myself passionate about vodka in really any way, but the reason this vodka is so interesting to me is because a former classmate of mine at uga is the founder!  paul grey and i had a handful of classes together for our mis major, and although i doubt he even remembers me among a sea of faces, i recognized his face immediately once he started promoting carve back in 2014.

i had reached out a couple years ago, asking if online ordering was available for the product, but the answer unfortunately was no.  they weren’t that big just yet, so i’d have to wait until my next trip to jacksonville to give the drink a try.  but, in a fortunate turn of events, my boss ended up moving to fernandina beach and so sweetly brought back a bottle just for me!  thanks, clinton!

after letting the carve chill in the freezer, phillip and i busted out the lemonade to make ourselves a perfectly refreshing drink in this hot, humid georgia july.

the smooth carve with the tart and sweet lemonade was just what the doctor ordered.  easy to drink and no burn, phillip and i happily sipped them down with no trouble at all.  now, i’m sure there are all sorts of distilling buzz words i could throw out there so that it sounds like i know what i’m talking about, but i’m not going to try and fool anyone.  carve was a great mixer for our summertime drink, and i would be happy to purchase another bottle again if it means i get to support a fellow uga alum.  go dawgs!

phillip <3s #carve!

the juice you chew

okay, before you go running for the hills about a post called “the juice you chew”, i implore you hear me out on this one.  this past saturday i was at orangetheory with our coach alana, and after a sweaty 55-minute endurance class, we were stretching when she said she had a treat for us.  ooh, there’s nothing better than a hard-earned treat!  well, i couldn’t quite hear everything she was saying about this chuice stuff, but the bit i did hear was something along the lines of “you take a sip, you chew, take a sip, chew, so on and so forth.  it’s only 150 calories per bottle and it is healthy!  the chewing process helps you digest your food, and having something in a bottle for on-the-go lifestyles is perfect.”  out of respect and intrigue i figured i had nothing to lose, so i made my way to the front of the class to grab a bottle for myself.

now, i’d be lying if i said i wanted to chug it down right away.  the thick texture and very green color had me a little worried that i might not even be able to choke down a swallow of the stuff.  however, i’m usually down for trying something new at least once, so i went for it.

i cannot even begin to tell you how pleasantly surprised i was, but i shall try!  first, i enjoy kale, so getting to chomp on it along with some crunchy pine nuts didn’t phase me at all.  and, along with all the other fresh fruit and vegetables, it was quite a flavor explosion.  also, i don’t usually have a texture aversion when it comes to what i eat, so that was something i didn’t really have to get past.

i will say that drinking (or maybe eating?) chuice isn’t the most graceful of acts, in that sometimes you’re slurping up a piece of vegetable while also trying to sip.  just imagine that while trying to drive home.  oh, and here’s a pro-tip when enjoying chuice:  be sure to shake after each sip to make sure the thinner liquid actually mixes in with all the more solid ingredients.  the reason i say this is because if you do not you’ll end up with a big clump of vegetables and fruits at the bottom of the bottle that you cannot get out, which is a shame because all those vegetables and fruits are so tasty!

now, you might be thinking “eh, that evergreen flavor doesn’t look like my cup of tea.”  well, have i got news for you!  they also have one called heart-beet!  seriously!  i cannot make up this stuff, and you all know how much i love beets, so i am convinced it is fate.  you can purchase chuice online or, if you got to their locator page, you can find a store near you where you can indulge.  lucky for me there are plenty of nearby whole foods that carry them, so i just cannot wait to stop by.  do your body something new and good and give chuice a try!

santa barbara & sara’s wedding

I’m back and better than ever!  It’s Kelsey’s dad with a blog about our recent trip to Santa Barbara for my niece’s wedding.  None of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

FRIDAY

Unlike the trip that Kelsey and I made out to San Pedro for my brother’s birthday a couple years ago, we left plenty early to drive to Hartsfield airport.  While on the way, I serenaded Kelsey and Phillip with a few powerful renditions of “Phillip The Man”.  Fantastic if I do say so myself.  Anyway.  We got to the airport and parked in extended parking row 63 (in tribute to 1963, the year that John F. Kennedy was shot).  Kelsey, Phillip, Kyle, Kari, and I all flew out together – a train wreck just waiting to happen.  We got to the gate and I began to chat it up with a lady sitting near us.  The lady loved my Chinese proverb “Humor is the passport to success.”  What can I say?  The flight itself was long and bumpy, but four and a half hours later we landed at LAX.  Victoria and Clark picked us up and we were on our way to Santa Barbara.

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Clark did a terrific job driving and also helped put together a specially requested “SoCal” playlist, a playlist only with songs about California or songs by artists from California.  We hit massive traffic going up Highway 1/PCH.  But eventually the traffic broke loose and we stopped at Neptune’s Net.  Neptune’s Net is a classic beach-front dive and we enjoyed their food and beer.  Some would say the highlight of Neptune’s Net were the two seagulls who were “doing the wild thing.”  Some would say this “doing the wild thing” was disgusting.  Anyway, just nature.

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We finally got to Santa Barbara where, guilty as charged, it was sunny and 72.  We found our hotel, The Inn at East Beach.  Only stay there if you DO NOT want air conditioning and DO NOT want an elevator.  Otherwise, it was okay.  Lucky for us that the Swedish girls’ volleyball team was staying there also.  😉

We rested and then were on our way to Dargan’s for a reception-type activity for those who were from out of town for Sara and Christian’s wedding.  Needless to say, the “Alabama Rednecks” traveled the furthest.  Anyway, Dargan’s was a huge hit.  All the Rednecks wore Hawaiian shirts, and I thought they looked great.

OMG.  While leaving Dargan’s, Victoria mentioned she was hungry.  Great idea and, even better, there is an In-N-Out in Santa Barbara!!!  Clark did another terrific job driving and got us there safely.  I ordered a double-double, animal-style for both the burger and the fries.  Heaven!!!

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