Spring Break 2018: Maui, Hawaii

We somehow tricked the boy into believing that we were taking him on a Hawaiian vacation for his birthday and not for our own selfish reasons, even though spring break is at the end of March and his birthday isn’t until May. How long are these kids going to be such gullible suckers? Tom loves Hawaii and would go at the drop of a hat, and I was happy to use any excuse to get the boy to accept a family vacation in lieu of a birthday party. We had enjoyed a beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta not too long ago and I was hesitant to book another beach vacation so soon. It seemed gratuitous, and I prefer metropolitan cityscapes anyway. After a couple of bone-chilling cold spells in February and March, however, we were ready to embrace the tropics, and Maui did not disappoint.

The first time Tom and I went to Maui in 2009 we took along my mom, Tom’s dad, and our baby girl, a 9 month old infant at the time. One of the major sightseeing attractions of Maui is the Road to Hana, a 30 mile stretch of narrow, winding mountain highway. You have to wake up ridiculously early and devote at least 12 hours to the many stops along the way, neither of which we did when we attempted the Road to Hana with our parents. We never reached Hana in that first attempt. My mom was sick so she stayed behind in the car while Tom, his dad, and I fumbled our way through the jungle in search of Maui’s famous waterfalls. We chased the sound of rushing water but were woefully inept at discovering Hana’s hidden treasures.

Fast forward to 2018, and I know better now. We hired a private tour guide to drive us along the Road to Hana and point out all of the worthwhile stops. We started the guided tour at 6:30 A.M. and got our fill of waterfalls and beautiful beaches (with sand colors ranging from black to gray to red to powdery soft white) in the 12 hours that followed. I’ve taken over travel planning in recent years which is why we have better vacations now. I’ve also taken over photography duties from Tom which is why our family photos are so much better now too.

We also did a morning snorkeling tour earlier in the week and saw multiple coral formations along Molokini. I kept hoping the kids would enjoy snorkeling as much as Tom and I did, but they didn’t, which made me enjoy it less as well. As much as I bluster about being selfish and self-centered, my happiness is completely dependent on my kids’ happiness. Being little more than skin and bones, the kids couldn’t stop shivering in the ocean water and were always eager to hurry back to the boat. I was bummed when they opted to skip a couple of the stops. On the last stop, the boy finally acclimated to the water and stopped shivering long enough to enjoy exploring the coral reef. Coincidentally, I had the most fun at the last stop and felt like it was the best one. There is nothing that makes your heart smile quite like your child’s smile. Despite the shivers it was a fun excursion, and we got to glimpse whales, dolphins, and sea turtles from the boat. And even though they had spent all morning in the ocean, the kids went straight into the hotel pool after lunch and stayed there until sunset. After ten consecutive hours in the water, the kids begged for a bath before bedtime. They must be part amphibian.

The kids’ love for all things aquatic didn’t end with swimming; they chowed down on shellfish, sushi, and fresh seafood like nobody’s business. When we were at a local hot spot and asked if they preferred a chicken or fish dish, they picked fished without hesitation. We had to find a crab boil joint pursuant to the girl’s request. During our fancy sushi dinner at Morimoto’s, we had to fend off our children from devouring the best pieces of sushi before we’d had a chance to eat. These kids have excellent (and expensive) taste when it comes to food, just like their mother. At Mama’s Fish House, the girl ordered the priciest item on the menu — fresh caught lobster tail. Mama’s Fish House is a Maui institution and we got a nostalgic kick out of returning there with our nine year old daughter and showing her pictures of when we took her there as a baby. At the time we were celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary and the boy hadn’t been born yet, but there’s a possibility that he was there too because he suspiciously showed up nine months after that trip. For that reason among many others, Maui will always occupy a special place in our hearts and I have a feeling we’ll be returning often.

Maui in 2018:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/a5aUWd1ASOzFklzy1

Maui in 2009:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/5sVUU93znrfsTUfD2

 

Romeo and Juliet

Several months ago the girl expressed an interest in seeing Colorado Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and because families of students enrolled in its dance academy received a 20% discount, we were able to get a good deal on tickets for great seats. The show was entertaining for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were the snippets of dialogue from my family:

Tom: This is the most boring thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Also Tom: They already did the balcony scene, how much left is there?

The boy [after Mercutio is killed]: I can still see him breathing!

Me [during intermission]: Do you think they’ll live happily ever after?

The boy: Maybe in heaven?

The girl: Don’t you know they do a double suicide?

Tom: That guy in the market has been trying to sell fabric for an hour and a half! That’s all he does!

Also Tom [after final scene]: Thank God they died quickly, I was worried it’d go on for another ten minutes.

The show was actually well-paced and enjoyable to watch. The dancing was pretty and the fight choreography had the kids enthralled. Tom struggled with the three hour production but that was attributable to a combination of a bad head cold, our wine pairing at dinner, and his old age in general.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Sb0lGJA7QX7O2rs13

 

Seattle, Washington

I must be easily influenced because in the span of a few short months I went from being indifferent to Hamilton to spending an outrageous amount of money to see it. My friend Grace was obsessed with it and I blame her for making me obsessed with it too. Actually I’m not even as obsessed with it as my kids are. I blame Grace for causing my kids to become obsessed with Hamilton and in turn causing me to spend an outrageous amount of money because of it. We started listening to the original cast recording after we had seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. The kids were immediately entranced by Hamilton because it was so novel and so different from Phantom. The girl loved it because the songs reminded her of “music from the car radio” which was her way of saying Hamilton sounded modern. It was a clever concept and I was impressed by its originality, but I wasn’t about to blow my kids’ college savings to see it anytime soon. And then tickets went on sale in Denver and everyone lost their damn minds, including me.

As soon as the Denver Center for the Performing Arts announced Hamilton tickets were available for purchase, Tom and I waited in the online virtual waiting room all damn day and by the time it was our turn to access the theater’s website, there wasn’t a single ticket left. The public frenzy was no joke and I totally got caught up in it. At least we never entertained the idea of waiting in line all night in freezing temperatures at the box office, like some poor fools did. After tickets sold out, we checked some of the secondary markets and saw tickets for sale at ten times the price of face value. In a fit of rage I texted Brian and Ariana and invited ourselves to visit them over Presidents’ Day weekend, booked flights to Seattle, and bought overpriced tickets to see the Seattle production of Hamilton through StubHub. Immigrants, we get the job done.

I experienced some buyer’s remorse in the aftermath of the frenzy, but after having seen the show, I no longer regret my impulsiveness. I’m usually disappointed in live performances because they never quite live up to the recording. Not the case with Hamilton; the live performers were just as good if not better than the recorded cast. The kids LOVED the show. Sometimes I worry that they’ll become spoiled because we so often indulge them, but we indulge them so often because they don’t act spoiled and they’re such great kids. They bring us so much joy that they deserve some joy in return, especially if it’s the kind that I enjoy too.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/PNSUW9ckp1zscfgg1

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I don’t like to make a big fuss about my birthday every year because I’m not a fan of aging, but turning 40 is kind of a big deal. I think it’s natural when you hit certain milestones to pause, reflect, take stock of things. Am I where I expected to be at this point in my life? What’s working and what isn’t? Am I on the right path? If you asked me 10 years ago to predict where I would be right now, there’s no way I could have predicted this. I feel like the luckiest person alive. I’m not saying I’m 100% satisfied with every aspect of my life. What I need to work on the most is myself, the things I want to improve about myself. Most people who know me might laugh at the idea that I’m not 100% satisfied with myself. I tend to give the impression that I think I’m perfect. I am pretty awesome, but not without my flaws. Every new day offers the potential to be a better version of yourself, and I want to work toward being kinder, more generous, more compassionate, less petty, less insecure, less lazy. There’s a lot I need to work on, but there’s a lot I like about myself too. The very best parts about me and my life are the people in my life, and I am so incredibly grateful for them. I’m not usually this much of a cornball but old age has made me sentimental. I decided to embrace the latest version of myself by celebrating in style.

For my birth week we rented a six bedroom villa with a three person staff to cater to six couples living the good life in Puerto Vallarta. The first half of the week was party time with friends and the second half was family time, for which my mom and the kids flew in. The villa was optimally configured for sprawling out, relaxing, and lounging poolside or on the beach with a drink. Luz kept our rooms clean, Sergio prepared our daily meals, and Emilio took care of things like calling taxis and serving food and drinks. Tom bonded with Emilio so much that the day after we left Puerto Vallarta, Tom sighed, “I miss Emilio. I wonder if he’s thinking about me too.” I’m pretty sure Emilio didn’t miss having to unclog the toilet after Tom’s transgressions. I myself had a hard time adjusting to the “no toilet paper in the toilet” rule. The minor inconveniences were far outweighed by the luxuries. The villa was situated on one of the nicest beaches in Jalisco; soft sand, beautiful water, never overly-crowded. It was great to chill and hang out, which is what we did most of the time. We did go out to dinner on the night of my birthday but I was exhausted by that time. I blame Niah. She knows what she did. I perked up a little after dinner when we stopped by a salsa club to listen to live music. The following day was a bit of an accidental orgy when we all got spa treatments in a group setting. I like my friends and everything but not enough to choose to be naked in the same room with them.

Throughout the week various individuals would say to me, “All of your friends are such nice, down-to-earth, cool people!” And I would be like, “Duh.” I don’t hang out with assholes. If you’re my friend you should be proud because it means you’re definitely not a loser. I have to give a special shout out to Brian and Ariana because they’re the only friends who have been to each of my “milestone” birthday parties since I started throwing them at 30. It takes dedication and loyalty to put up with me for that long, and to travel halfway around the globe to visit me during an existential crisis. We share common interests like extravagant tasting menus and shirking parental responsibilities. The walking food tour we did together in Old Town Puerto Vallarta was fantastic because it involved both.

And just when I started to miss the kids, they showed up. Family time consisted of good food, a boat trip to Yelapa, snorkeling in freezing cold water, basking in sunny warm weather, and just appreciating our many blessings. It was perfect, and exactly how I wanted to enter my 40s.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/ht4eAoPp6rewHJUn1

 

The Girl’s 9th Birthday in NYC

This was our first time implementing the birthday choice: party or trip. Having never been to the East Coast, the girl chose to celebrate her 9th birthday in New York City. I had a feeling she would love it because she’s my daughter and a true city girl at heart. She loved it. We stayed at a hip new boutique hotel in Chinatown, near the Manhattan Bridge. We strolled through so many of New York’s cool neighborhoods and ate phenomenal Chinese food, thin crust pizza, steak at Peter Luger’s. We visited the World Trade Center Memorial and boarded the Staten Island Ferry for views of the Statue of Liberty. We snapped an obligatory photo of our fearless girl next to the Fearless Girl statue. And of course we hit up Times Square and Central Park. But the pièce de résistance was our night at the theater.

I wanted to introduce my kids to a Broadway musical and initially picked The Lion King because they loved the animated film when they were little. But then I remembered my first love was The Phantom of the Opera, which I played on repeat every single day for at least a year of my life. My eighth grade teacher got me hooked on it so I was a few years older than my kids were, but that didn’t stop me from getting them hooked a few months before our trip. By the time we arrived to NYC, they were so brainwashed that when we tried to trick them into believing that we had gotten tickets to see The Lion King, they protested, “NOOOOOOOOO!!! LION KING IS FOR BAAAAAAAABIES! WE WANT TO SEE THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA! PLEASE CAN WE SEE THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA? PUULLLEEEEEEASE???”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! I am an evil genius mastermind. Or maybe my kids are just really easily manipulated. It turns out that this was the fourth time I’d sat through The Phantom of the Opera and it was more tedious to sit through than I’d remembered. I kind of wish we’d seen The Lion King because I’d heard fantastic things about it but never got around to seeing it. I guess that’s karma for brainwashing my kids.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/cHsGiD8BTKD45Vak2

 

Bali, Indonesia

We’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed in some pretty amazing accommodations in the past but nothing had prepared me for Mandapa. Our flight arrived to Bali after sundown and due to heavy traffic caused by Barack Obama staying at the neighboring Four Seasons resort, we didn’t reach our hotel in Ubud until well after bedtime. Though the surrounding landscape was blanketed in the inky darkness of night, I could tell there was something magical about this place. When we reached our villa my jaw dropped. The rooms, the furnishings, the decor, everything we laid eyes on was sumptuous and inviting. If I could decorate my house like this I would never leave home. Our luxurious bedroom suite opened up to a private patio, pool, garden, separate media room/lounge area, and a towering wall of jungle foliage beyond. The villa and grounds were lovely at nighttime but when bathed in daylight they were positively dazzling. For the umpteenth time during this trip, I was blown away.

The walk from our villa to the breakfast buffet was insanely beautiful. No matter how many times we made that walk I never tired of taking a million pictures of the gorgeous scenery. Our eyes feasted on sculpted gardens, tropical vistas, landscaped walkways, and exquisitely manicured fields and rice terraces, all set against a majestic river and lush jungle backdrop. And then there was the food. THE FOOD! Our bellies feasted on delicious Pan-Asian and European cuisine. I never knew oatmeal could be sublime, but at Mandapa, it was nothing short of sublime. I make a point of not ordering the same thing twice if it can be helped but I could not help ordering this damn bowl of oatmeal each morning. Exotic cocktails in the evening were perfection. We were in love with everything about this place. The adorable open air kids’ club even had a petting zoo with chickens, ducks, and a cow.

We hired a car service to tour the major sightseeing landmarks of Ubud and were able to customize our itinerary based on the recommendations of our awesome driver/tour guide. The kids quickly got in the habit of calling him “Uncle Darma” and greeting him with hugs. The monkey forest was definitely a highlight because our brave girl was eager to interact with the monkeys and she got her chance. The boy, understandably, was scared of them.

Another highlight, with one brief low point, was our 18 kilometer bike tour down a mountainside and through local villages of Ubud. We saw splendid rice terraces, a famous volcano, quaint villages, traditional temples, and so many other unforgettable sights. Occasional rain showers, however, made me second-guess whether this tour was such a good idea. The kids had learned to ride a bike less than a year ago, and now were expected to go on a multi-hour downhill bike trek in the rain—literally a slippery slope. Biking downhill seemed like a good idea in theory because it wouldn’t be too physically challenging, but I didn’t take other factors into account, like how risky it would be careening down a mountain alongside other vehicles. Not only was the rain making the trail muddy, there was no dedicated bike lane, so bikers had to share the unpaved road with automobiles while navigating wet rocks and uneven terrain. We were gripping our brakes almost the entire way down. A couple of close calls really freaked out Tom; he never would have allowed the kids to participate in this tour if he had known how dangerous it was going to be. The kids themselves were oblivious to the danger because you could hear them squealing with glee as they whizzed along. They were loving it, until the fateful fall. On the last leg of the ride just a few minutes before we were due to reach the shuttle and head to lunch, the girl skidded awkwardly over a patch of rough stones and crashed to the ground. She was hurled into muddy rocks and got scraped and shaken up pretty badly. After crying for a few minutes in her father’s arms as we washed and bandaged the wound on her leg, she composed herself, got back on her bike, and peddled the rest of the way to the shuttle. By the time we arrived to our lunch destination she was her normal smiling self. That was the real highlight of the day for me. We all had a great time on the bike tour and the girl didn’t let a few moments of anguish ruin the experience for her or her family. The rest of the tour group was so impressed. One woman declared that she wouldn’t dream of taking her teenage son on this bike tour because he would have complained the whole time. Our kids did not utter a single complaint and, except for the brief low point, they were all smiles.

I was so sad to check out of Mandapa and leave Ubud to head to our final destination in Seminyak. Ubud is the artistic and cultural center of Bali while Seminyak is its touristy beach/nightlife destination. I originally mapped out our itinerary knowing we were coming to Bali after spending a week at the beach in Phuket, and figured that the cultural sights of Ubud would be a refreshing interlude before ending our vacation back at the beach in Seminyak. After experiencing Mandapa, however, I was kicking myself for not saving the best for last. There was no way any other hotel could possibly top Mandapa, no way I could ever be blown away again. Plus I had read that Bali’s beaches were polluted and less than desirable so I mentally braced myself for disappointment. We arrived to Seminyak in the late afternoon and guess what happened when we checked into Katamama? MIND. FUCKING. BLOWN. The general manager escorted us to our penthouse suite (reportedly the best unit in the hotel and the only one that had a private rooftop garden, deck, and hot tub), and once again my jaw dropped. How did that happen? I had no memory whatsoever of booking this place. Both Mandapa and Katamama were distinctively Balinese in style, but the former had more of an opulent zen quality while the latter had more of a hip mid-century modern sensibility. It was impossibly chic. There was even a bath tub in the master bedroom and who doesn’t want a gratuitous bath tub randomly situated in their bedroom?

As guests of Katamama we also had access to the exclusive Potato Head beach club next door. Apparently Potato Head was THE spot to see and be seen in Seminyak and cabanas there were highly coveted. Now ordinarily I’m not into the whole super-trendy-tourist-trap-VIP-scene, but, not gonna lie, when we breezed past the waiting crowds and the hostess promptly escorted us to a reserved cabana, we felt like total ballers. It was such a scene. Funky music blared from disco speakers as throngs of families, couples, assorted friends, motley singles, and waitstaff weaved through and around the cabanas. As cheesy of a tourist trap as it was, we had fun lounging around, ordering drinks and snacks, and enjoying the beach and pool. I would come back for the heavenly soft shell crab sliders alone.

There wasn’t much in Seminyak that you couldn’t get in any other tourist enclave in any other country. It had all the standard fare: trendy restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping, drunkenly loud and sunburnt Westerners. We were lucky to score a reservation at the upscale Bambu. The entire restaurant looked like it was floating on a fountain, complete with koi fish swimming in the crystalline pond waters below. We enjoyed the posh ambience and refined Indonesian cuisine.

As far as attractions went, Ubud blew Seminyak out of the water. I would return to Ubud in a heartbeat but probably would skip Seminyak if we came back to Bali. It was definitely worthwhile to experience, just as Times Square is a must-see if you’re visiting New York City for the first time, but it’s not where the real heart of the place is. I was thrilled to stay at Katamama and loved it, even though I didn’t think I could love any resort as much as Mandapa. I really had to pat myself on the back for how well orchestrated this vacation turned out to be; whenever we thought it couldn’t get any better, it just kept getting better. I know how braggy and obnoxious it all sounds: “I can’t believe how wonderful my life is!” A part of me feels guilty for traveling as often and as indulgently as we do. There are so many nobler ways to spend money. But then another part of me thinks, am I supposed to not enjoy traveling as much as I do? I am euphoric, ecstatic when we travel. Isn’t that better than being bored and jaded? I never want to get to a point in my life where I’m unimpressed by places like Mandapa or Katamama. I’m so grateful for our experiences and I hope to always feel gratitude and appreciation. And am I supposed to pretend that I’m not proud of my vacation planning skills? ‘Cuz I got mad skills. I know there are haters out there but if you’re the type of person who hates on other people’s vacations, then 1) maybe you should do some inner soul searching and evaluate your life decisions and 2) maybe you shouldn’t read travel blogs.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Bztz51vmOrlu9uNl1