It’s amazing to me how much diversity there is among the different Caribbean islands. The things the islands have in common are wonderful: sunshine, amazing weather, and beautiful beaches. But there are so many differences from island to island.
There are the cultural differences that come from the varied colonial backgrounds of the islands. And there is a surprising amount of biodiversity.
On Saint Kitts, we spent our day in the rain forest. We started out the day at a plantation called Romney Manor, where we strolled through the gardens there and watched a batik demonstration. Then it was time to start our several mile hike through the rain forest.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and he stopped frequently to show us different plants and animals. We were able to sample a lot of different fruits and nuts that were growing in the forest.
We had a really unique experience in Antigua. We booked a kayak and snorkel eco adventure tour with Antigua Paddles. Our day started out with about a thirty minute drive across the island to arrive at the Antigua Paddles facilities.
Antigua Paddles is located in a relatively secluded location right along the beach. The water in Antigua was the prettiest aquamarine color.
We started out the day by loading into tandem sea kayaks. Then we kayaked through mangroves. I got to hold a star fish. At the end of our kayaking adventure, we had a race. Chris and I did not win. We felt like we won, though, when we got to see another couple flip their kayak.
After kayaking, we boarded small speed boats and did some snorkeling. I saw a ton of neat marine life, but apparently I missed the chance to see an octopus. Our guide shared a lot of interesting information about the wildlife in Antigua. Apparently there’s a rare breed of turtle on the island that’s been known to swim across the world, only to return to the beach where it was born.
We boated over to a small island where we did a short hike. I was in flip-flops, which are obviously great attire for a hike, so I gracefully managed to cut one of my toes open on a rock.
We headed back to the Antigua Paddles HQ, which is a lovely estate with a garden. There was delicious banana bread and what else, rum punch, waiting for us.
Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera on this outing (I didn’t totally trust our ability not to capsize our kayak…) so I didn’t get any pictures. There were a lot of beautiful sites, though, from the color of the water to the mangroves along our kayaking route to all of the colorful fish. I’d love to return to Antigua, and I’d definitely do this tour again. Now if only I could snag that banana bread recipe. Also, next time, no hiking in flip flops for me.
After our rum-soaked stay in Barbados, our next stop was Saint Lucia. This was one of my favorite destinations on the cruise.
Saint Lucia is a former British colony that gained independence in 1979. The island has distinctive twin mountain peaks, the Pitons.
We booked a really great full-day tour with COSOL Tours.
We stopped at a banana plantation and got to sample the merchandise.
We ate a really great breakfast where we were able to sample a ton of local foods and delicacies like johnny cakes.
I stood under a (very cold!) waterfall, and Chris and I went into a mud bath and natural sulfur springs. I covered my whole body in black clay but unfortunately didn’t get any pictures. I was rinsing clay off of myself for days afterwards!
We got onto a speed boat and zipped over to Sugar Beach, a beautiful beach near the Pitons. The water was refreshing. I was very lucky to avoid being bit by tiny red crabs, which had overtaken some parts of the beach.
It was a whirlwind of a day, but I really enjoyed the island. The only con was the acute car sickness I contracted while winding our way around the island’s very steep and treacherous roads in an over-sized van. But it was worth it!
After our two days in Curacao, it was on to Barbados. I knew exactly one thing about Barbados before arriving there, and that thing was Rihanna.
We scheduled a cruise ship excursion for the morning. We did a catamaran sail and snorkel. It was super fun. About twenty people were on our catamaran. It’s kind of funny to get off of one boat (well, cruise ship) just to get on another.
Immediately after we boarded the catamaran, the friendly crew were filling and re-filling our cups with a very dangerous rum punch. It was almost as if each time we’d take a sip, one of the crew would top off our glass.
After a bit of sailing on the catamaran, the crew anchored the boat off the shore of a beach. I planned to jump off the boat, but I was beaten to the (rum!) punch by one of the crew members, who pushed me off. Chris and I swam the fifty or so yards to shore and explored the beach a bit. It was a beautiful white sand beach, the kind that looks like it should be on a postcard.
We also did some snorkeling. I’m terrified of fish, but for some reason snorkeling doesn’t bother me much. I think it’s because I’m above the fish, so I almost feel like I’m looking into an aquarium. The best part of snorkeling was that we saw a sea turtle! It was really cool. It was just chilling and swimming around us for several minutes.
Sadly, our time on the catamaran had to come to an end. However, the rum punch had certainly packed a punch. Basically, it was noon and we were drunk. The cruise ship wasn’t leaving Barbados until midnight, so we theoretically had a very full day of sightseeing and nightlife potential ahead of us….theoretically.
In reality, we went back to the cruise ship and took multiple naps. And hey, if you can’t do that on vacation, when can you?
After Aruba, the next port of call on our Caribbean cruise was Curacao. We considered going to Curacao on our honeymoon, but ended up going on a Mediterranean cruise. I’ve always been curious to visit Curacao, which is a Dutch colony that’s only 40 miles north of Venezuela. It has distinctive brightly colored houses.
We were in Curacao for two days, overnighting there on our cruise ship. We walked around on our own, exploring Willemstad, the capital city.
Later we went to a beach where we rented chairs, had lunch, and took naps in the sun. I figured out how to get the perfect bikini body–just cover as much of your body as possible with a plate of french fries. Voila!
Although we were there for two days, I didn’t feel like we explored very much of the island. We didn’t do any organized tours or excursions. If we went back I’d want to do more planning and see more of the island’s sites and beaches.
In January, Chris and I went on a two week southern Caribbean cruise with Celebrity. We left from the Port of Miami.
We had two days at sea before we disembarked at our first port of call, Aruba. I’d arranged a paddle board tour in advance. It was supposed to be a two-hour paddle board tour in mangroves, but it ended up being more of a one-hour paddle board lesson at the beach, which was fine. We were at Palm Beach, which was pretty idyllic. It looked like the kind of beach where they shoot Corona commercials.
That night, we did a sunset catamaran tour around Aruba.
It was neat to watch the sunset over the Caribbean.
Due to a cancellation, I was able to snag a campsite at Peninsula State Park over Labor Day Weekend. Peninsula State Park is in Door County, Wisconsin. I have a lot of good childhood memories of camping trips at this park. I had always wanted to take Chris, who had never camped before, to Peninsula State Park.
The first two nights were great. We biked a couple of miles from our campsite to a breakfast place. We rented kayaks on the lake. We drove around Door County, exploring the different towns. A summer festival was taking place in Sister Bay, and we saw a jet ski show. There were lots of cute shops and lots of great food, including dinners at The Cookery in Fish Creek and Parador in Egg Harbor.
I was having visions of coming to Door County every summer…renting a cute cabin, working from coffee shops, and biking, hiking, and boating. How charming! I thought.
Then, on the last night of our three-night camping trip, it rained. Like, in a biblical flooding sense. I mean, it RAINED. Our rain fly was set up on the tent, but even so, given the nature of the torrential 12-hour downpour, along with the wind, after awhile the water started seeping in. And by seeping in, I mean at one point I thought we might need to grab a can and start bailing our boat, I mean our tent, out.
Everything got wet. Everything. From our pillows to our pajamas to the bag of emergency marshmallows stored in our tent. And by the time we were soaked through and diagnosing ourselves with tuberculosis, it was only about midnight. It was Labor Day weekend, and we’d seen that there was absolutely no vacancy at any of Door County’s less wet lodging options. We could have made a run for the car, but it was pouring so hard, it didn’t seem like it would make much of a difference.
It was so, so wet. Oh, and I needed to pee. Also, our air mattress totally deflated over the course of the night. Too bad, because it would have made a useful raft. We somehow managed to make it through the night, drifting in but mostly out of sleep, waiting for the rain to stop and for the first sign of morning light. Finally, one million hours later, the rain finally let up and the sun came out.
Well, it wasn’t quite the introduction to camping that I’d hoped for for Chris, but he was a good sport about it. And (besides the Noah’s Ark level flooding, of course), it was fun! The park is beautiful and there is a ton to do in nature and in all of the cute little towns that dot Door County. I am excited to go back one day. And stay in a hotel, obviously.
Also in September, it was back to school for me for the first time in quite awhile. I took an Italian class at UW-Madison. It was twice per week for the whole semester. I missed quite a few sessions due to work and travel obligations, but it was nice to be back in an Italian class again. I remembered a lot more than I thought I would. It made me eager to get back to Italy to practice what I’ve learned.
I had over $3,000 worth of dental work done.
On September 20, Chris and I celebrated our first anniversary.
We were both attending a conference in Grand Rapids for work, so we decided to extend the fun by adding on a short anniversary trip to St. Joseph, Michigan. We stayed at the Painted Turtle Inn, which was really great. It was my first time at a bed and breakfast. The room was really cute, and the breakfasts were delicious and different every day. We enjoyed spending time in the inn’s common area and playing Trivial Pursuit. We explored South Haven and Holland, which were both neat towns.
Grand Rapids was cool, too. I hadn’t realized it was Michigan’s second biggest city. We stayed downtown at the Amway Grand Plaza. The city’s big ArtPrize event was going on while we were there, so art was displayed all over town. We saw a Slash concert. I had a headache before the show, so I threw a couple of ibuprofen in my purse. This got awkward when my purse was searched by concert security…
After Grand Rapids, we drove directly to the Heidel House in Green Lake, Wisconsin for a party to celebrate recent legal victories for my family.
Between St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and Green Lake, it was an ambitious multi-leg trip. By the end of it, Chris and I were both sick as dogs.
Later in October, I hopped on a plane to Orange County for a one-week Empower Now seminar with Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. My mom had done a couple of events with Cloud & Townsend and she recommended it to me. It was a unique and challenging experience. I was put in an eight-person “process group” for the week. The eight of had the same schedule for the whole seminar. We would listen to lectures in the morning, then break out into our facilitated small groups to discuss our individual goals. It was intense! Everyone cried. It was an emotionally exhausting week, but I’m glad I did it. I met some neat people, got outside of my comfort zone, and identified some areas that have been holding me back personally and professionally.
Back at home, my sister hosted a Halloween party and I took five people to see Wicked at the Overture Center.
In November, we headed down to the Tampa Bay area to celebrate the wedding of our friends Kyle and Kayla. We soaked up the sun and visited with friends.
Later in November, I embarked on another multi-stop trip. The first stop was Seattle, where I visited John. We checked out the new bricks and mortar Amazon bookstore.
Mostly, we did what we always do, which is talk about life and work over wine. Talk. Wine. Talk. Wine. Also, we got a crazy cheap/painful/amazing massage at a mall in Chinatown.
Then it was over to Gig Harbor for a college girlfriends trip. We rented a house for a long weekend. We ate and drank and talked about every last thing over yes, thanks, I’ll have another glass of wine. Gig Harbor was a cute little town, and we ate a lot of good food, snuggled up by the fire, and laughed at our former selves while wondering about the future. And pouring another glass of wine. Are you sensing a theme here?
Speaking of wine, we also busted open a couple of wine bottles that we’d filled with memories written on slips of paper in college. I think we were expecting to find something more profound inside the bottles, but most of the memories were things like “THAT TIME WE ATE PIZZA. SOMEONE FELL DOWN THE STAIRS. BEER LOL!” It’s hard to believe I met my college friends ten years ago, when we were freshmen at Gonzaga in the fall of 2005.
Then I headed down to the LA area where Chris was visiting with his folks. We celebrated his birthday (KISS restaurant!) and Thanksgiving and went to a Mannheim Steamroller concert to get pumped up for Christmas.
We did some shopping in Manhattan Beach, where Chris bought me this inspiring desk sign.
Also on Chris’s birthday, I let the cat out of the bag about his big secret present….it was a surprise trip to London in mid-December! I know, crazy idea. But I’d found a flight deal in October and checked the calendar and thought, why the heck not? In 2013, we’d spent a week in London over Thanksgiving. We loved how festive the city felt before Christmas and we’ve always talked (mostly jokingly….) about going back.
The time came for our London trip. We were already in Chicago for a work meeting for Chris, so we were able to go straight from the meeting to O’Hare. We arrived in London at 8am local time. I had all of these plans to gracefully yet forcefully muscle through jet lag but yeah, no. We were exhausted. I guess that tends to happen when you go to another continent for a weekend. Whoops.
Luckily, our hotel let us into our room right away. We stayed at Hotel 41, across the street from Buckingham Palace (the Queen herself didn’t have any guest rooms open, alas). It was a really neat boutique hotel. At night there was a turn down service where they put a hot water bottle at the foot of your bed. There were also slippers that might fit you if you’re Tinkerbell.
We went to Selfridges department store, which was one of the most fun things we did last time we were in London. They really do it up for Christmas. There is a whole Santa’s Village with every children’s toy imaginable and it makes you want to be a kid again and play with all of the loot. There are fancy window displays and lot of pretty holiday lights hanging over the street.
We went to Somerset House, which has a very pretty skating rink set up outside in the winter. We’d skated there on our last visit, when Chris had learned the ice skating life isn’t for him. This time we stayed warm and didn’t fall once while sipping drinks indoors.
We saw A Christmas Carol at the Noel Coward Theater. Scrooge was played by Jim Broadbent, who I later learned was Bridget Jones’ dad in the movies. Nice. The show was really great. I’d never actually seen A Christmas Carol in full before, and it seemed appropriate to see it in London.
It was a good trip but a whirlwind. I slept the sleep of the dead when we returned home. Until next time, London.
Christmas was upon us, and we decorated our house. Chris’s parents came into town for a few days. On December 24th, we all gathered in Spring Green for a day of festivities. We had the first annual Graves Family Christmas Pageant, where I performed some terrible and/or (potentially…) hilarious puns and jokes.
On the 25th, Chris and I hosted our first-ever holiday meal. My parents and sister came over, joining me, Chris, and Chris’s parents. I made the food and no one seemed to get food poisoning (at least that I’ve heard about!), and there was no need to call in an emergency order of pizza. We had ham, deviled eggs, sweet potato/marshmallow casserole, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and spinach/Swiss/pomegranate/almond salad with poppy seed dressing. For dessert, we had whipped cream with pumpkin pie on the side, as it should be. After dinner we played games, which is my favorite thing in the world to do.
We had a couple of days after Christmas to finish off work projects for the year and enjoy time in our Christmasified house. There wasn’t a white Christmas, but a big snow storm hit in late December.
On Christmas Eve, we ate dinner at Estrellon in downtown Madison. Then, old timers that we are, we didn’t even make it to midnight. The early bedtime was mostly an artifact of ibuprofen that was actually “Ibuprofen plus Nighttime Sleep Aid™.” WHOOPS. The new year can truly only get better from here, as I spent the midnight hour sick in the bathroom with food poisoning yelling out “Chris! I THINK I AM DYING! HELP ME!” Alas, my dying pleas fell on deaf ears as Chris was in a medically induced coma due to the Nighttime Sleep Aid™. My body exorcised of its demons, I finally feel asleep too. Here’s to 2016.
In May, we closed on our house. It was easy! It only took 7,000 signatures and 9 million calls with our mortgage loan originator. Our mortgage guy told me many, many, times how he just needed “one more thing,” which, as you know, can literally only be true one time. But we did it! We shackled ourselves to a thirty-year mortgage! It’s the American dream, baby.
Chris went to New Orleans for work and I bought his weekly comic book supply for him.
John had a work trip to the Midwest in early June so he braved our barely-moved-into house and became the first visitor at our new home.
Moriah and her boyfriend Greg came up from Chicago and we played the most intense game of Jenga ever before embarking on a canoe trip on the Wisconsin River where it actually hailed. Oh, hail no.
We began a Whole 30 where we cut out all added sugar, alcohol, dairy and grains for thirty days. Phew!
My business received mail from the Capital District, which naturally made me think of the Hunger Games.
We bought bikes, and a bike rack. Each time we drive with the bikes on the bike rack, I remain convinced that the bikes are mere seconds from flying off the rack into someone else’s windshield. Yay, anxiety.
We took a week-long family vacation to the Wisconsin Dells. We were still on the Whole 30, and we miraculously made it through the vacation without sugar or alcohol.
I bought a Groupon for hot yoga. Never again. Never again.
Still on the Whole 30, we took a weekend trip to Milwaukee where we explored the downtown and saw a concert at the Wisconsin State Fair. On the final leg of our Whole 30, we even eschewed the fair’s world-famous cream puffs.
At the end of the month, we went to Spokane for a science fiction convention. That’s right, we’re pretty cool. The air was eerily smoky from the wild fires that were raging across the northwest. We got to visit with Ali and see live music at a winery.
Chris and I rang in the new year with Jay Leno at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. Michael Carbonaro and Cristela Alonzo opened for Leno, and a good time was had by all. It was pretty cool to do our new year’s countdown and toast with the funniest chin in showbiz.
We continued our trend of escaping the Wisconsin winter by heading to Playa del Carmen, Mexico for my cousin Mike’s wedding. We stayed at the Iberostar Quetzal, where I ostensibly tried to work on my tan as I drank 317 daiquiris.
Later in January, I tagged along on a work trip Chris had to D.C. We ate at our favorite Indian restaurant and stopped by the George Mason Law School building where Chris had proposed on Valentine’s Day 2014. Spoiler alert: I said yes!
In February, it was back home to snowy and cold Wisconsin. This was the typical view from my desk at our apartment. I spent many hours at my desk in 2015, furiously writing and editing and Wikipedia-ing through all hours of the day and night.
For Valentine’s Day weekend, I abandoned by poor (or lucky?) husband and went on a girl’s trip to Austin, Texas. It was my first visit to the city, which had long been on my list of places to travel to, and it did not disappoint. I can still taste my meal (and cocktail sampler, meow!) at the Salty Sow. I stayed in my first Airbnb and rode in my first Uber. We walked and shopped and ate and drank and talked talked talked, and after a few navigational difficulties, found a hiking trail and hiked. I nervously drove our rental car, which was a Mustang with purple mood lighting inside. A lot of chocolate was involved in all activities. I bought two different shirts with puns on them, because that’s how I roll.
Back home in Packer nation, it was time for my family’s annual winter pilgrimage to the Wisconsin Dells for a weekend at an indoor water park. Chris’s parents came out from California, joining me and Chris, my parents, and my siblings and nieces/nephews for a couple of days at the Kalahari Resort.
During the Ides of March, I flexed my (absolute lack of) artistic muscles at a Paint Nite in Madison.
It got crazy warm in the second week of March, hitting 70 degrees. I wore a tank top to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, where despite the warmth, there was still snow on the ground.
I kept working away at building my online reputation management business.
Later in March, I traveled to Denver with my college friend John. We stayed with John’s twin brother and sister-in-law. It was one of the most fun weekends ever. Dan and Lizzi were great hosts, showing us all around the city and taking us out to great restaurants. We watched a couple of Gonzaga basketball games in the midst of March Madness. There was an off-the-charts murder mystery dinner party where I dressed up like a gypsy clairvoyant and tried to speak in a husky voice. Mostly, I got really drunk and finished the night by locking myself in the kitchen and using a serving spoon to eat bread pudding out of a casserole dish. During the course of the evening, someone flushed the toilet paper roll holder down the toilet.
In early April, I headed to Chicago for a couple of days to take a comedy writing class at Second City. I stayed with my childhood best friend, Moriah. I jumped on the Chicago L each morning, pretending to be a local. My class had six women in it. I did not feel very funny, but I’m glad I did it. Moriah and I and two of my classmates went to an evening show at Second City. It was a good show. I don’t think I do enough drugs to be in comedy.
Also in Chicago, I deeply struggled with logistics.
Back in Madison, I watched the Badgers play in the NCAA College Championship. Boo, Duke!
Then it was down to Lexington, Kentucky for my cousin Erin’s wedding. Lexington was a neat city. We discovered the world’s perfect lobster roll at Clawdaddy’s. Who knew Lexington would be the king of seafood? It was fun to be in horse country. We went to Keeneland race track where I did not win any money.
Back on the home-front, we cooked up a ton of Blue Apron meals.
We watched my niece Zoe in her ballet recital.
Stay tuned for more 2015, Year In Review, after we return from commerical break….
Yesterday was our first wedding anniversary. We’re a year older, and if the picture below is any indication, probably not that much wiser.
We had a nice, relaxing fall weekend to spend time together and reflect on the highs and lows of one year of marriage. While unfortunately none of the highs involved illicit drugs, there were still plenty of good times mixed in with the inevitable curve balls and other baseball metaphors that make up a relationship.
On Saturday, we started our day at the Dane County Farmer’s Market where we made the pleasurable acquaintance of some apple cider donuts. Then we headed to the Overture Center for Newsies. We took my Grandma and my Aunt Tia, who happened to be our wedding officiant. The show was really fun. Those boys could dance! And do flips! And lots of other hard-looking stuff that I enjoyed watching while sitting still.
After stopping at Whole Foods (or Whole Paycheck, as I prefer to call it), I made dinner at home and we had a quiet night sitting on our porch and drinking leftover wine from our wedding.
At night, we headed downtown where Chris had made reservations at a wonderful new restaurant: Estrellón. A very delicious upscale tapas place, the restaurant has only been open for one month. We ate and ate and ate and it was amazing. My favorite dishes were the watermelon gazpacho with crab, patatas bravas, and Basque cake.
After dinner, we found a bar to watch the second half of the Packers’ thrilling victory over Seattle. I was prepared to skip the game for the sake of celebrating my anniversary, but I guess it turns out you can have it all! Well, at least tapas and football. Good enough for me.