21 October 2012

Anniversary! 10 October 2012 and 12-14 October 2012

October 10 was mine and Richard's first anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate it in the best ways we could think of. That Wednesday, we went out to the Cheesecake Factory for a marvelously delicious dinner. But that was only the beginning of our anniversary adventures.
We had been planning our anniversary for something like a month and a half. We knew that we wanted to go somewhere, and hoped we could make it somewhere we had never experienced before. I spent nearly a week scouring the internet for places to go in nearby states, finding so many of them were too far away, or too expensive.
Then, one Saturday afternoon, I got an email from Livingsocial.com. They send me emails daily about various deals that would appeal to people in my area, and there it was: the perfect deal. We bought reservations for two nights at the Resort at Glade Springs in West Virginia for half price, a mere $112 per night in their Executive King Suites. So, last weekend, we drove five hours down to Daniels, West Virginia to enjoy our time and relax. The room was amazing. We had a sitting room, a large bathroom, and bedroom with king-sized bed. The atmosphere of the whole place was so relaxing. Since it's the middle of autumn now, the property was surrounded with trees changing their leaves.
Further, there was a lot to do on the resort itself, and it's actually more than a resort; it's a gated community, so there are a lot of people who have built their houses on the resort. On site, there are two golf courses, horseback riding, an indoor swimming pool, indoor and outdoor tennis, an athletic centre, playground, bowling alley, hiking trails, boat rental, and so much more. There are several places to eat on site, as well. In the main building, a buffet breakfast is served. You can go to the Small Talk Cafe, which serves things like pastries and small sandwiches, as well as coffee and bottled drinks. The Glade Springs Grill and Bar is the fancier place, where the fare is more refined and expensive. For a more "dressy casual" dinner, Richard and I went to the Bunker Sports Bar, for a delicious meal and dessert. We also bought a bottle of wine from the restaurant to have back at our room.
Before leaving West Virginia on Sunday, we traveled to Tamarack, which is about a half hour away from the resort. There, they have vendors that sell local made items, from paintings to sculptures to jewelry to wine and jams. There, we bought two bottles of wine, two jars of honey, and a jar of plum jelly.

Driving down

View from our room

Dinner at Bunker's

On a walk

At the playground, they really had this sort of ninja training set up. I passed.
At the rec centre

Bowling. Richard said to me, "Give me your warrior face!"
We took this photo after completing our shopping adventure at Tamarack
Everything about this trip was amazing and wonderful and beautiful. We have a great time exploring most of the grounds in a several hour-long walk. We took the time to stay in at night and just watch television (we don't have cable at home). We got to experience a whole new place that we've never seen before, and we hope that we can come back some day.

Comments We spent a lot of time planning this trip, from deciding which days to go to where and how we'll deal with the financial costs of the whole thing. Since we don't have a joint account, we just decided to split things in various ways, and it all worked out evenly. My suggestion to any couples who want to plan a big trip is to take the time (perhaps an hour or so) to organize the whole thing. Decide on what you'll need to bring, how much money you want to or are willing to spend, and think of some of the things you want to do there. For us, we were content to keep our activities limited to walking around and a cheap round of bowling, but other people might wish to golf, or go skiing, or take tours. Whatever you're thinking about doing, you should plan for it well, as there's nothing worse than being stuck somewhere you're not familiar with with no money.
My best advice to anyone trying to plan a special trip like this is to enjoy it to the fullest, and try to go somewhere you've never been before. Exploration is the source of much of the world's happiness, in my opinion, and when you get to experience new places, there is a special joy that stays with you as long as you remember the trip. Get out, and do something new and exciting. Experience the world with the people you care about, and enjoy the time you have on this earth.

And that's the low-down on our very special anniversary trip to West Virginia! Thank you for reading this article of the Endorphin Walrus, and we hope you enjoyed it. Hopefully, we were able to give you some ideas for your next big trip! As always, please feel free to leave comments, questions, and suggestions below!

Long Update

Good Sunday afternoon, everyone. We have not updated this in a while, which is a shame, but things have been rather busy.  Further, our Saturdays haven't been as...unusual, shall we say, as they had been in the past. Since I am now paying an unfortunate amount of money for my new car each month, we do have less to do things with. In this post, I will tell you about some of the more ordinary things we've been doing, and discuss why having a period of so-called "normal" dates isn't a bad idea. In the next post, I will discuss a recent trip we took.

The first weekend of August, we went to a friend's wedding. I have known Kevin for about six years now, and Richard has known him far longer. His new wife, Sam, is also someone Richard has known for years.
The wedding was up in Richard's hometown area, near Syracuse NY. We drove up a couple of days before so we could enjoy the countryside, walk around, and relax. The day of the wedding, we spent a lot of time getting dressed. Since Richard was the best man for the wedding, we had to make sure he looked perfect -- and he did! I only have one photograph from the wedding right now, as the rest are on my laptop.
The wedding was wonderful. The ceremony was held outside in a small inn's garden. The bride was gorgeous, and the whole thing was very moving. This was the first wedding I have any memory of going to, and it was so hard not to just burst into tears.
After the ceremony, we were brought inside for dinner, with an open bar. Many people got drunk and danced. Before all the regular dancing started, Kevin and Sam had their first dance together, to Dean Martin's "Ain't That A Kick in The Head?" They had taken the time to choreograph a very cute dance, and it was a wonderful sight. Dinner was delicious, and the whole reception was a lot of fun. I even got up to dance (to older songs, such as Frank Sinatra's "New York New York").

For the following weeks, most of our Saturdays were spent finding a fun place to eat and watching a movie. This part of the year has involved the release of a lot of movies that we've wanted to see, so we've made it a point to see as many of them as possible. The theatre we go to has a seven dollar regular ticket charge, but with student ID's, it's five dollars per ticket. Since this is something like a ten dollar decrease from the ticket prices we paid in New York, weekly movies are not an issue.
Some of the movies we've seen recently are: The Dark Knight Rises, Paranorman, Looper, and Hotel Transylvania. I won't really get into which I did and didn't like for reasons of time, but it was a lot of fun to relax and watch a film.

We've also been eating at a lot of different places. One place we found, which is an absolute diamond in the rough, is Stoke's Grill on McKnight Road.
This place is a very unique eatery, offering all homemade items, and holding many of it as organic ware. The food is fairly priced, and we got one appetizer, two soups, two entrees with sides, two drinks, and three of their famous cookies for less than forty dollars.
The inside of this place is really comfortable, and you can look at the menu at a table, then walk up to the counter to order your food. They then give you a ticket, and your food is delivered according to the courses you ordered based on the number on the ticket.
The food itself was really superb. Our appetizer was a toasted pepperoni roll with melted mozzarella, and coming right from the oven, it was amazing. Our soup course consisted of butternut squash for myself and french onion for Richard. We traded off to try each other's as well. I'm not so much of a soup person (I'm rather picky about them), but they were so delicious it didn't matter. For our entree, Richard had a Philly Chicken, which is like a Philly Cheesesteak, but with chicken instead of beef, and provolone instead of cheese wiz. I had a sandwich called The Hitch, which was oven-roasted turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce, and honey mustard on a pretzel. Yep. On a pretzel that was cut in half. My sandwich came with homemade chips, and Richard got fries. For our dessert, we had to try their homemade cookies, which Internet reviews raved about. They were three for one dollar (!) and so chewy and delicious I wanted to use the rest of my singles to take the rest home.

Another restaurant I want to talk about here is a place I've been going to with my friend Niki for nearly a year now. It's a place we found by accident, as we were at the Waterworks strip mall one night and very hungry. We stopped at this place and were so amazed by the food that we have made it a point to eat here once a month, when we get paid. That's right, I'm talking about Burgatory.
This is the best place to get a burger that I have ever been to in my whole life. Here, they allow customers to create a custom burger, stacked high with meat, condiments, veggies and other toppings, cooked to perfection. And the custom-made burger is a serious matter to consider. Do you want classic, hormone-free beef, or perhaps the robust taste of Angus beef? Never had a lump crab patty? Are you a vegetarian, and prefer veggie burgers? How about chicken? After you consider your meat, you move on to choosing your bun, from regular Brioche to Whole Wheat to bunless or "Naked." Next is rubs. This restaurant offers homemade rubs for their burgers, from classic "Angel Dust," which is just salt and pepper, to "Kingston Jerk," which gives the burger a bit of a kick. Next you choose your cheese, from the regular expected choices to Amish Gorgonzola, Horseradish Chedder and Aged Gruyere. Finally, you can start to choose toppings and condiments. Toppings are unique; not just your average ketchup, mustard, and mayo. A few choices from their long list are: Buttermilk Ranch, Bourbon BBQ, Banana Ketchup, and Truffled Shallot Aioli. The last things to choose are toppings. They have a list of $1 (or $1.5) toppings, ranging from Cage-free Egg to grilled mushrooms to grilled pineapple and avocado wasabi. Then there is a list of free toppings (well, the first four are free), beginning from classic iceberg lettuce and going to tomato slices, baby spinach, jalepeño peppers, and red onion slices. Then of course, you choose red, pink, or no pink for wellness, and add your name.
Your burger gets delivered to you stacked high with all your requests, held together with a little red pitchfork bearing your name. The traditional side for these burgers is pile of homemade, thick chips.
Something to definitely consider on a visit to Burgatory is their shakes. They are perfectly thick, and full of flavour. They have the Campfire Smore's shake, which comes with a toasted jumbo marshmallow on top, as well as the PB&J. They also have a class of "Hard Shakes," such as the Espresso Love (Richard's favourite), which has ground espresso beans and Patron XO Cafe mixed into the ice cream. It comes with a dusting of espresso and a chocolate covered bean on top.

Aside from movies and restaurants, one of the biggest things Richard and I have done recently is to make interesting and elaborate dinners together. As I've said before, one of the most romantic things for the two of us is to work together towards a common goal, and dinner is a perfect way for us to do that. Here are just a couple of our endeavours come to life:

Butternut Squash Soup

Homemade Flan, decorated with fresh-made pomegranate syrup and blueberries. This was the dessert course to a meal of fried scallops served on top of rice noodles and topped with sautéed carrot and green onion. 
This was our first time trying either of these items, and it turned out really well. The soup was so good, in fact, that we have made it again. There really was just something special about the two of us working hard in the kitchen to achieve something so tasty.

Comments: If you're not in the Pittsburgh area, and crave delicious food like the things Richard and I have been eating, search around! There are all kinds of privately owned, interesting places that serve delicious food. So many of us stick to the big-name chains because we are sure they're good -- they have tons of reviews, television commercials, and sometimes hundreds of restaurants all over the country. But they are not necessarily the best places. For example, we won't go to TGI Friday's anymore, because it makes me ill every single time. Sometimes the best places to eat are the little places stuck in the corner between the big name places. Their food might really be ten times better than, say, Olive Garden.
As far as making things for yourself, be sure to experiment. As I've mentioned before, play to your strengths. Maybe one person really can't cook so well, but is faster at preparing the ingredients than the other person. Work together and coordinate to make something amazing.
Further, not all of your dishes have to be as exotic as some of ours. I love to experiment and mix flavours and learn new recipes, so making soup and flan was a lot of fun for me. Another dish we made recently was simple: Pan seared chicken topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions and toasted almond slices, served with tri-coloured pasta. It looked like this:
Lastly, something that can be just as romantic, without requiring a lot of work, is to make something for your significant other. On a recent Sunday, I was home alone whilst Richard was working, and I wanted to surprise him when he got home. So I made a homemade brownie:
He was very happy to find it covered up in the living room, and we ate it together over the next few days.
Remember that romance comes in many forms, and even when some of your activities seem mundane, there are ways to make them interesting and extraordinary.

Thank you for reading this article of the Endorphin Walrus. We hope that we have inspired you to try something new amongst your every day routines! As always, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please feel free to leave them below. If you want any of the recipes for the dishes I've mentioned above, please feel free to let me know, and I will get them to you as soon as I can!

26 August 2012

24-28, July 2012: Camping

Sorry we haven't updated in something like a month; we've both been rather busy. In this article, We'll tell you about a real-life vacation we took to Rhode Island.
Since we both could not take very many days off, we decided that we would both work our full days on Tuesday, the 24th, and leave that evening. See, we had to drive up to New York to meet with my mother, who would be going on the trip with us. Unfortunately, I got out of work at 7pm, and we had a ten hour drive to my mother's ahead of us. We got to her place at something like 430 in the morning, with just enough time to snag three hours of sleep before leaving in the morning. 5-hour Energy, anyone?

After breakfast at the Plaza Diner in Hudson, NY, we left for Rhode Island, another three and a half hour journey. Luckily, my brand new Yaris is awesome, so we made it well enough.

And then we had to construct our tent. It would be the place we would live for the better part of the next three days.

Believe it or not, we were food shopping

That afternoon, we went to the beach, which is about a mile away from the campground, and free if you get there after five (elsewise it's $15 for parking). Since we went to just relax and take in the beach, we didn't bring our swimming clothes this time around, but we did still get wet!
We spent the early part of the next day at a zoo in Providence, about forty-five minutes away from the campground.

When we got back to the campground, we changed into swimming clothes and went back to the beach, where we got more free parking, and totally battered by the waves! At one point, I was swept off my feet and hit the sand with my head and bum as I tumbled around in the water. I felt ill for the rest of the night, but it was totally worth it!
That night, we had s'mores and dinner, sitting next to the campfire before it got too dark to see. Later that evening, as we were preparing to sleep, a pretty bad storm hit, and we had to push up the back wall of the tent to keep it from falling on us!

The third and final day, we went back to the beach for several hours before packing up and heading back to New York for a day. We all got quite sunburned, and Richard and I have only just stopped peeling from it about a week and a half ago.

Holy goodness pain shot!

My personal finish to the trip was a bowl of Hot and Sour soup, from Spring Garden in Hudson, NY. They make the best ever, and I HAD to get some before heading out of town.
Comments: I personally love camping. Growing up in the country, I loved being able to see the stars at night, and now that I live in a city, you really can't. This trip is a tradition set up by myself and my mother two years ago, and I'm glad for it: we've had a ton of fun every time, and waking up to fresh ocean air is second to nothing. My best suggestion for others planning a camping trip is to be prepared. Always know where to get food. Always have a comfortable way to sleep (we had air mattresses). Always carry a knife (you never know what you'll need it for). Have a tarp to cover your tent and redirect rain away from it. Try to plan way ahead: figure out what you'll need and what everything will cost (including gas) ahead of time if possible. It will ensure you don't run out of cash on the way home. And if you're camping near the beach -- bring sunblock! Sunburn is so painful. T.T

That's it for our camping trip to Rhode Island! We hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventure. As always, feel free to leave any comments, questions, or suggestions in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading this installment of the Endorphin Walrus!

16 July 2012

13,14 July 2012: Yummies and Ink

As was the case last week, our date began on Friday; this time, Friday the 13th. After I got home from work, Richard and I got in the car and headed over to Coffee Buddha, a fantastic private-owned cafe on Perry Highway. Check out their website here.

This is the Dark Chocolate Almond Latte I had. Delicious!

Richard and I shared a small blueberry pie.

This is an Iced Peppermint Tea in an Iron Man glass. Yum!

Since it was Friday the 13th, they were playing the second movie of the same name. Every time we go, there is usually something interesting on the big screen television. We also got free popcorn that night, and stayed nearly until closing.
I like this place a lot. So-called "home-grown" cafes like this one are my some of my favourite places to go out for a coffee. These places tend to focus on organic ware, and although it tends to be more expensive, the difference in taste is very noticeable.
This particular cafe also features a meditation room, true to its Buddha name, where customers can take the time to relax in peace whilst enjoying their drink.

On Saturday, I tried desperately to get my PA license, but it didn't work out, due to certain circumstances. An interesting thing happened whilst searching for my birth certificate, though: I found $60 in a wallet I hadn't used in months. For me, the only rational thing to do with this money was to spend it on one of the tattoos I'd been planning all summer. So Richard and I drove out to Lawrenceville's Inka Dinka Doo (Link to their website here) to meet with my friend Nichole, who was already there for a tattoo. I brought in a design I had been toying with for a while, and the owner, Tony Urbanek, offered to do the job for $90. After fully seeing the design, he worried he wouldn't be able to complete it, as it involved a lot of small details, and he wasn't sure he had a small enough needle. He found one, however, and he did it in less than an hour! I was so pleased, I gave him $120.
Work in Progress

Art Complete

Here's a little bat that's been hanging outside of the tattoo parlour
 This is my third time at Inka Dinka Doo, and I've been very satisfied with their work both times. The atmosphere of the place, too, is very easy-going and fun, with everyone putting their own energies into the parlour. One time, whilst I was there for a touch-up, they offered me some pizza. Further, the artists are extremely talented.

Comments: As far as the cafe goes, if you can't make it to Coffee Buddha, I recommend finding a place that is small and privately owned. Search for just the right atmosphere for you. And if you don't like the first place you find, don't be afraid to try another. As I mentioned before, they tend to be a bit more expensive, but the quality of goods is definitely worth it in my book.
As far as tattoos go, there are always a few things to keep close in mind: 1) Always look at their work first. All respectable parlours will have binders or books of work they've done before. Make sure to take a peek to see if the artists are up to your personal standards. 2) Have a design, or at least a concept, in mind. If you're not sure exactly what you want, the artist can draw it out for you, but keep in mind that this will cost more. 3) If you've never had a tattoo before, be prepared for it to hurt. If you are scared of it hurting, you're probably not ready for a tattoo. 4) Tattoos are forever. Make sure the design you're getting is one you'll want in thirty years. I would suggest AGAINST names (in general). 5) Bring cash. Most people don't know this, but most, if not all, parlours will NOT take credit cards. Be sure to visit the ATM before you go. 6) Always tip your artist.

That's it for this issue of the Endorphin Walrus! We hope you enjoyed reading, and we gave you some ideas. As always, feel free to leave questions, comments, and suggestions in the comment section.

11 July 2012

7 July 2012: Buying a Car

So... my car basically died. Well, not entirely. See, I used to have a 2003 Dodge Neon...
Like this guy right here...
And it was starting to run into some issues. I had a bushing to replace, a tire that needed reseating, transmission fluid that needed to be flushed, and some other, smaller things that needed to be done. I had set up an appointment to have it all taken care of. It was going to happen tomorrow, in fact.
Last Wednesday, however, the car decided enough was enough, and stalled as we were heading home. After that, it wouldn't make it past second gear. A read from the computer told us that the issues with the transmission got drastically worse way way faster than the mechanic had told us it would, and the car was basically useless. I didn't have the money to fix the transmission, and quite frankly, I was fixing something or other every other month, so I, too, decided enough was enough. I went car shopping, and Richard came with me.
Since neither of us had the time for this until Saturday, I had a couple of days to shop online to figure out exactly what I wanted. When we left Saturday afternoon, I had a list of cars in my head I wanted to test drive and ask about, starting from the Prius as my dream car and a Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic towards the bottom of the list. Since I no longer needed a car large enough to transport the things necessary to survive in a college dorm, I had some leeway into what size I could look into.
At Honda, the salesman was super irritable and wasn't willing to work with us. So that took the Insight off my list. It was a super nice car with excellent fuel economy, but I just cannot afford the proposed $400/month payments that the salesman would not budge from. Oh well...
Next we went to Toyota, where we found only higher end Prius's available, in the price range of $22,000 and up. Moving towards my second choices, I stumbled upon this:
A Black, three door Hatchback 2012 Yaris
And after a test drive, I fell in love. It is sleek, a good size, has way more intuitive internal environment controls I've seen in a car (that is, heating and air conditioning), fantastic gas mileage (we've gone through Richard's whole work week and only ate up 1/4 of an 11.1 gallon tank, whereas with the Neon we would be at less than 1/4), and a wonderful USB port for my iPod. The port transfers all the information and controls  to the radio, so I can leave the iPod in the glove box and still listen to the things I want to. Riding it on I-279 feels like I'm flying down the road. It's gorgeous, and I love it.
After being handed keys, we returned my friend Niki's car, as she had let us borrow it until I got a new one (and now I owe her a steak for her generosity).
Afterwards, we celebrated with an ice cream on the way home and a good old fashioned American barbecue, with hot dogs, hamburgers, and corn on the cob.
Still, the Neon sits in our parking lot. I have yet to remove all my things from it. It's a little sad to see it go. Having talked with the dealer extensively about the car, I have learned that, with its issues, I would get more money for it selling it to a scrap yard than to the dealer to go up for auction. I had that car for four years, and in a lot of ways it was like a second home for me. I was devastated when it was broken into the first winter I had it. That car and I had some dangerous adventures, dealing with Syracuse weather. It got me to Old Forge and back, driving through Adirondack downpours you can't see through. I've slept in that car during long trips, when I only had two hours of sleep the night prior...
And then I remember all the issues it's had recently, and I think of how awesome my new Yaris is, and then I kick the back bumper a little as I walk past it on the way to the bus in the mornings.

Comments: It's hard to make any suggestions here. Again, this was a really unconventional date, as this was a necessity sort of thing, but since this was how we spent our Saturday together, it counts. My best suggestion: Don't buy a car unless yours dies in the middle of the road.

Dear Neon,
We had some crazy good times together, and then you dumped all the transmission fluid in the Le Moyne College Commuter's parking lot, ran out of gas on McKnight Road unexpectedly, and stalled on Rochester Road. Yes, we had some good times, but now, you can suck it.
Love, Andrea

Thank you for reading this article of the Endorphin Walrus! As always, feel free to leave comments, questions, or suggestions in the comment section below this post.