“How do you have so much time?!”

After the epic space needle ginger bread post from last week, people were curious.

“How do you find the time to do things like that?”

People ask me that a lot.  And I’ve never really stopped to think about.  If I decide I really want to do something, I make the time.

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of, “oh, she doesn’t have kids!”  Which I have mixed feelings about.  Sure, kids take up a lot of time.  A lot.  But there are still things anyone can do to steal back a few minutes a day.  Nick had a timely (haha, no pun intended!) post on ways to save time.  So I thought I’d take a look and reflect a little on his a few of Nick’s methods for gaining back 14 hours a week (a bit ambitious, Nick).

Getting Ready

Ha!  This is one of my faves.  I’ve optimized my morning routine and can go from bed to car in 30 minutes.

  • Don’t wash your hair everyday.  I still shower, but I don’t always wash my hair.  Yes, it takes time to “train” your scalp and hair, but it sure does save time once you can eliminate that from your daily routine. Nick, unfortunately (or fortunately), has already optimized his hair washing routine :)
  • Simplify the makeup.  Here’s what I do: curl the eyelashes, eye liner, a swipe of shadow, bronzer, and mascara.  Usually in that order.
  • Have a quick breakfast or prep it the night before.  We have protein shakes.
  • Prep a quick, grab and go lunch.  It could be leftovers or a weeks worth of lunches prepared on Sunday.

Yes, I do work with engineers, and I can’t imagine many would notice if my hair was a little dirtier than normal or if my outfit wasn’t on par.  So I suppose I get a small pass on some of those things.  But unless you’re working at Vogue or are really concerned about what your coworkers think, see if you can knock a few things off that morning routine!

TV

We just don’t watch it.  I spend a ton of time on my laptop (editing pictures blogging….and also getting sucked int facebook, trying to cut back) but almost zero time watching “programs” – as we like to call them.  We have a few faves, but lately, it’s a weekend treat.

Sleep

Unfortunately, I LOVE sleep.  I ADORE sleep.  It’s wonderful and I need at least a solid 6, ok fine, 7 hours to be a happy camper.  So I’m not planning on cutting back anytime soon.  I’m intrigued by the idea of less sleep, but we have a really comfortable bed.

After reading his list, I realized that I already do a lot of these things without thinking.  I cannot stand inefficiency and strive to do everything as efficient as I possibly can.  Perhaps it’s why I loved Japan so much – everything was amazingly fast and efficient.

One example from last week.  I had 2 sets of photos to edit but REALLY wanted to make my gingerbread space needle.  Priorities, I know.  So I decided that I’d frost all the pieces and then edit photos while the frosting dried.  Logic would have said to do the photos first, but I was able to use the drying time to my advantage and get both things done!  I actually thought about this on the car ride home from work.  I’m not trying to brag, I’m trying to explain how it is that I seem to have more time than the average person.  I WISH I had a time turner, but those aren’t for real.  Instead, I just try and think/plan ahead to make the best use of my time.

I also do a handful of other things really fast.  These include: going to the bathroom (yes, I wash my hands….with soap), talking, and walking (just try and keep up with me, I dare you!).

However, I’m so addicted to efficiency, I can be known to take it too far.  I’m terrible at “wandering.”  This is one of Nick’s favorite things to do while on travel.  And walking around without a plan gives me hives.  You’re talking to the girl who knocked out St Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Louve, the Champ Elysse, and the Eiffel Tower in less than 9 hours – and boy was I proud.  But I’m getting better.  And occasionally I even enjoy it :)

So there’s balance.  But there’s always a way to earn a few more minutes back in your day!  Check out Nick’s blog for a few more ideas!  Or leave your faves here so others can learn from your hacks!

My Epic Gingerbread Space Needle

I’m an engineer who loves to bake and take pictures.  And last night, my 3 worlds collided.

Last week, I was perusing one of my favorite blogs, Not Martha, and noticed her adorable mini gingerbread houses!  So I went to the store after work and bought the supplies – mostly molasses and flour.  I sat down that evening and just couldn’t get motivated, so I asked Nick what he thought I should make.  After brainstorming a bit, we decided the house from Up would be “fun.”  After looking up pictures and sketching a few things out, I decided the house from Up would be WAY too much trouble.  And by the end of the night, I decided the Seattle Space Needle made WAY more sense.

So I sketched, and did math, and sketched, and did more math, and finally had a decent plan of attack.  I even busted out an arctan or 2!  Kids, stay in school and learn math.  It’ll come in handy one day, I promise.

I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a lot of gingerbread, royal icing, and sprinkles.  And Nick added in the 12th man flag for the added Seahawks touch.  We just happened to have the right color post-its.

There were a few tense moments, but it came together quite well!  The main support is solid gingerbread and icing.  A lot of icing.  And I guess the rest is also gingerbread and icing as well.  It’s technically all “edible” – less Emmett (anyone?).  But I wouldn’t eat it.  It’s structural gingerbread and flavorless icing.  Nick was a little disappointed.  BUT was quite impressed by the finished product.  Definitely a team effort, I needed all 4 hands in the house – and 3 cans of beans – to help put it all together.  I think Mochi was bummed I didn’t drop much on the floor :) Ready?!

seattle space needle made out of gingerbread seahawks Seattle space needle made from gingerbread seahawks seattle space needle gingerbread seahawks Happy Tuesday!

Thanksgiving 2014

2014-Thanksgiving How was your Thanksgiving?  Ours was perfect!  We headed down to Anaheim to spend our 8th Thanksgiving with Caresse and Tyler (and new addition, Isla).  I clearly didn’t get the plaid/flannel message!  We feasted on our usual spread of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, rice, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, corn bread muffins, and mac & cheese – and don’t forget our 3 pies :)

We shopping big and local and even snuck in a little Disney.  On the plane ride home, we were able to stream the Apple Cup and spent a Sunday getting the house back together – shopping, laundry, and decorating!  Talk about a great week/weekend!  What a way to kick off December!

Portugal and the rest of the cities we visited

Lisbon, Belem, Sintra and Cascais

We spent the last 5 days in Lisbon, with day trips to some of the nearby cities.  On our first day, we just wandered the city.  In an amazing race fail, we ran up a decent hill only to find the castle had closed 5 minutes prior.  Sad day, as the epic sunset from the castle grounds was probably pretty fantastic.  The fail can be largely attributed to the fact that Lisbon is quite hilly and while the castle was only 3 blocks from our apartment, it was also +600ft up.  We used it as a good excuse for exercise.

On Day 2, we took another New Europe tour.  Lots of good information, with an overly confident tour guide who was way too cool for us….just ask him.  To his credit, we went inside a pretty cool church – that was quite plain from the outside but awesome on the inside (Church of Sao Roque).  There are 8 chapels in this church, and 1 of them cost upwards of $3 trillion dollars.  The cost includes the cost of materials – solid gold – and the additional cost to disassemble the chapel, get it to Rome, reassemble, get it blessed by the pope, disassemble, get it back to Lisbon, then reassemble 1 last time.  Which apparently cost less than just getting the pope to Lisbon.  Go figure.

Day 3 was wet.  Like really really wet.  Soaked shoes, unhappy campers etc.  But we pushed on.  Belem is a quick tram ride from Lisbon and home to the Jeronimo Monastery and Pasteis de Belem.  Basically a church and a bakery, among other things.

We visited the Jeronimo Monastery first. And to be honest, we were “churched-out” at that point.  The church is free, but the cloisters cost €10 each.  They were maybe worth €5 (and I’m being generous).  A cloister is basically an open space/courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway.  All the ones we visited were square-ish shaped.  This was one of the few times Rick Steves let us down.  I’m not sure how cloisters can be amazing…..but these were not amazing.

I just saved you €10.

Nick had read about a maritime museum not far from the monastery.  This was an adventure.  Between the puddle and downpour, we were pretty much soaked.  And in an attempt to jump over a puddle, I smacked my knee against a road sign….don’t ask.  Large purple bruise followed.  We arrived at the museum, only to find out it’s shaped like a “U” and we had passed the entrance….we were at the exit.  Back across the puddle landmines and we were finally at the maritime museum.  And Nick was in heaven.  The kid loves maps, and the first thing we saw was a gigantic map.

The rest of the museum was filled with more maps and model ships.  They also had original quarters from a fancy-person yacht.  It reminded me of the rooms in Titanic.

After leaving the museum, we headed for Pasteis de Belem, the home of the original Portuguese custard tart.  We’d already had our fair share of these tarts, but these were definitely the best.  Quite possibly a result of the tarts being served warm.  10 times better than a cold tart.  A few tarts, hot chocolate, and chicken pockets later we were ready to face the elements one more time.

Nick said it best, “From this spot some of the world’s greatest explorers set sail into the unknown in the 15th and 16th centuries. And to think sometimes the idea of finding a parking space in San Francisco stresses me out.”

And by this time, we were thoroughly soaked and cold and ready to head back to our apartment.

Day 4 was another rainy-ish day spent in Sintra.  But on this day, we sucked up our Seattle-pride and brought the umbrella (to be fair, we didn’t notice the umbrella until we returned from our previous rainy day outing).

There are a handful of cool things in Sintra, a few more famous than others.  We started out at Quinta da Regaleira.  A super cool estate with underground caves and grottoes.

Caves are a wonderful thing when it’s raining :)

We then headed to the more famous Moores Castle and Pena Palace.

A number of times I commented that this was way better than the cloisters from the previous day, so just keep that in mind if you’re on a budget or short on time :)

We ended the day with a bus ride south to Cascais, to have dinner with a friend from high school!  Would have loved to explore Cascais a bit longer, but will have to make another trip out to Portugal for that!

It was another great trip abroad!  Where to next?!

Portugal and my new favorite tiny town

After Nazare, Coimbra, and Obidos, we headed to Evora, about 1.5 hours east of Lisbon.  It’s a fascinating little town, with a walled in city center.  It’s got a lot of history and culture, but is predominately comprised of older folks (60+) and college age students, thanks to the towns university.  To say I was the only 30 something Asian in the town would not be an exaggeration.

But I still loved it!  It reminded me of Oxford – my other favorite small European town.  Cobblestone streets and tiny mom and pops shops.

And did I mention the roman forum?

Yeah, that was unexpected (except it was….since I’d read about it before coming).  And the church that lets you walk on its roof.

Or the warm chestnuts!  We’d never had them but were hungry.  And since every single person in the town square was eating them, we got a bag.  Kinda tasty!  Not as good as a cashew, but they did the trick and were an excellent source of protein!

Turns out almost everything in Evora is closed on Sundays, so we did a lot of walking and exploring.  We ended the night at one of only 3 (or so) restaurants open on Sunday.  And ate a bowl of rice stew that could have easily fed a family of 4.  The diet starts Monday (After thanksgiving:))!

Portugal and the other tiny towns we visited

Before heading to the bustling capitol city, we checked a few other small-ish towns on our Portuguese road trip.

Our first spot was Coimbra, the University town north of Lisbon.  I’m not gonna lie, I had high hopes.  I love me a good college town.  The visit didn’t have the greatest start as parking was pretty tough to come by.  We eventually found an underground lot and were on our way!  We grabbed some delicious pastries at the start of our Rick Steve’s walking tour and continued to the college.

And then it started to rain….Like epic downpour, chairs flying, old-men-in-white-shirts-gunning-for-first-prize-in-a-white-t-shirt-contest type downpour.  Each time we’d have a momentary break from the rain, we’d hustle to the next spot, slowly trying to get back to the car.  Finally, we had literally 1 block to go and the heaven’s let loose.  We braved it, and ended up soaked….which seriously sucked for my shoes.  They were already kinda smelly (yeah, yeah, I know, it’s gross) but were made even worse by the rain.

We finally made it back to the car and it was time to leave.  Remember that underground garage?  Well the exit was up a very steep hill.  I know what you’re thinking, get a running start.  Unfortunately it had a gate that was strategically placed on the hill.  Did I mention we had a manual?  Oh yeah.  1st gear was barely strong in enough to get us out.  We killed it 3 times, each time rolling closer and closer to the gate.  The wet ground didn’t help either.  I had to close my eyes.  Thankfully, years of driving a stick paid off and Nick got us out of there.  I would not do well in a car chase.

Thankfully, our next small town had ample parking and beautiful weather.  Naturally, I loved it!  Obidos is a tiny, walled in city north of Lisbon.  You can actually walk on the wall, and around the entire city.  It took us less than an hour and we were going at pretty leisurely pace.  Keep in mind that there is a wall on 1 side and nothing on the other.  So you could easily fall to your death if you’re not paying attention :)

Portugal and the sleepy little beach town

On a tip from our good ol’ friend Rick Steves, we headed for the coastal town of Nazare.  Known for its big waves and adorable charm.  Half of the town is right on the water, while the other half is up on a cliff.  It sort of reminds me of Cabo and Pedregal.

Since it’s the off season, we scored a pretty nice hotel, across the “street” from the beach.

We hiked up the hill to the cliff-y part of the city for some views of the town below.  So many red roofs!  Nick noted that the red roof tile guy has a monopoly in Portugal!  Don’t you love that random tree in the middle of the city?!  FYI – I captured roughly 70% of the city in this single image.

While the weather wasn’t awesome, the views were still quite nice.

And the graffiti was top notch.

See Nick’s shorts?  I wouldn’t say it was shorts weather, but he packed his shorts and flip flops and was determined to wear them, rather than admit he’d packed something and never wore it.  So the shorts and flip flops made their debut in 60F Nazare!

On our first night, we had dinner at a tiny restaurant called Restaurante A Tasquinha (but they’re all tiny….so that’s not a good descriptor).  The owner, Carlos, greeted us when we walked in.  Nick ordered the sea bass and I ordered a rice/stew dish.  Nick got a whole fish, which the waiter kindly de-boned for us and my dish was a gigantic pot of rice and seafood – the Portuguese equivalent to paella is the best way to describe it.  It was delicious, especially on a cold and stormy day.  Before we could leave, Carlos “forced” us to take a parting shot of port with him.  He’s adorable.  I’d go again just to hang with Carlos.

Portugal, and that time I ate an octopus tentacle

After Madrid, we were headed for Portugal.  We landed in Lisbon, a torrential downpour currently underway.  After grabbing our little Fiat, we headed for the tiny coastal town of Nazare, known for it’s north-shore-like waves!  Hungry, or was that hangry, from an early flight and no snacks, we stopped in the town of Torres Vedras for lunch.  Midi had great reviews, and we were ready for our first Portuguese meal.  On a tip from a Portuguese co-worker, I ordered the octopus.  3 tentacles served over a bed of greens and boiled potatoes.  So. Darn. Good!

The octopus was not chewy at all.  It reminded me of shrimp in both texture and flavor.  If you closed your eyes, I bet you couldn’t tell the difference.  Aside from the severe oil drenching of the greens, it was an outstanding meal to begin our time in Portugal.

Nick claimed he could feel the suction cups while he chewed, but I think he was fibbing a little on that one :)

 

Madrid is so delicious, and that time we got a bonus churro!

You could say I was a little underwhelmed with the Barcelona food scene.  I’ll chalk it up to it being our first city, and having a few misses, but so far we’ve been far more impressed with the food here in Madrid.

I will say that Barcelona served up one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had.  Teresa Carles is a vegetarian restaurant, and I guarantee that I could become a vegetarian if she cooked my food everyday.  But it was more the exception than the norm.

Now onto Madrid!  We arrived and headed to the Mercado de San Miguel.  Right outside the Plaza Mayor, it’s very possible this place is a tourist trap.  But the food was delicious, so we didn’t care.

After a few trips around the market, we settled on the mozzarella guy.  Nick went a little more traditional, choosing a mozzarella/pesto/jamon/sundried tomato tapa while I chose the burrata/tomato jam/fig balsamic tapa (I’m a sucker for burrata – which is basically softer/creamier version of mozzarella).  OMG they were amazing.  They were also really big, so we only needed a few more small bites to curb our hunger.

food in madrid

We ended up deciding we needed a salad for dinner, so we got a pre-made Caesar from el Corte de Ingles (it’s a department store with a grocery store in the basement, random!).  Then we picked up a pizza from Pizzateca, just a few blocks away from our apartment.  I know what you’re thinking, “pizza?”! But it was the 2nd best pizza crust I’ve ever had – 2nd only to my dad’s crust.  The toppings could have used a few more spices, but we took it “to go” and missed our opportunity to add the typical (and not so typical) pizza seasonings at the restaurant.

Day 2 we headed to Ginger for lunch – on a tip from a fellow traveler we met in Barcelona (Ginger is near the Plaza Mayor).  She recommended their menu del dia for just 10.35 euros.  It’s a 3 course meal that comes with bread and wine.  I had a salad, the Spanish version of fish and chips, and this pear/orange dessert while nick had a quesadilla, meatballs and ice cream.  Delicious!  And the Spanish fish and chips were super tasty (FYI the chips are just seasons potatoes)!  The menu was Spanish only, and they spoke limited English, but you’ll be fine!

Dinner may have been Nick’s favorite meal so far.  The food to euro ratio had substantially improved and the meal also came with a beer.  Or rather, the meal came with the beer.  You see, there was a law passed in the 1800s that said you had to serve some food with alcoholic drinks.  People were drinking (or 2) at lunch, and afternoon productivity was on the decline.   So they passed the law in an effort to improve productivity.  And whether it’s still a law, or a just a tradition, we were happy to take part.

We headed to El Tigre on a tip from a friend.  Nick ordered a beer and walked away with this huge plate of food, all for 5 euros.  I said to him, “I think you could’ve gotten the same size plate if you’d ordered a smaller beer.”  To which he replied, “uh….but then I’d have a smaller beer.”  Touche.

so much food at el tigre in madrid

We ended the night in truly glutinous style with a trip to the famous Chocolateria San Gines.  The walls are adorned with the faces of all the famous people who have visited.  Yet, it was the cheapest churro/chocolate spot we’ve been to since arriving in Spain.  6 churros and a chocolate will set you back just 3.80 euros!  A steal!  And we even got a bonus churro! Win!

chocolateria san gines madrid

Barcelona, and the time I got a little hangry

Montserrat is a short, 1 hr train ride from Barcelona (see my notes below for tips on train tickets to Montserrat).  And it’s really pretty.  So we went.

Montserrat is a Monastery set amongst the mountains.  We didn’t think about this when packing, nor when we set off for Montserrat that morning, and we only packed our thin raincoats because there was rain in the forecast.  Turns out, it’s a bit cooler at Montserrat than Barcelona.  As we rode the gondola up the mountain, we looked around at our fellow travelers, most wearing snow pants and down jackets.  We were nervous.

Thankfully, it wasn’t actually that chilly on the mountain and we were treated to some pretty awesome hikes and views.

If you decide not to hike at all, you can still see some pretty awesome things.

But if you decide to go on a moderately sketchy hike, you can see this!

By the time we reached Montserrat, took the required gondolas and funiculars, and went on our hike, it was roughly 2:30PM.  We were running off almonds, cashews and a granola bar.  I was hungry, but the only food in sight was cafeteria food.  And everyone knows that food at the top of a mountain is always expensive and never that amazing.  Nick tried to convince me that we’d be happier eating something delicious back in Barcelona, but by that time I was hangry.  A little hungry and a little angry.  But logic overcame the hanger and we powered through back to Barcelona.

It’s about now that I need to mention Nick’s awesome Spanish skills.  4 years in high school + a few years running a painting business means Nick has pretty decent conversational Spanish skillz (yes, with a z).  This came in really handy when I accidentally sat on my metro card, making it unreadable.  When all was said and done, I had a new metro card.  Nick even threw in a “muchas” to his “gracias” which I thought was a nice touch.  This kid.

We finished the night at the Churreria Granja.  A little abuelita selling churros and chocolate.  Obviously we owed it to ourselves to try it.  We dipped them in the chocolate and they were delicious.  And we were hopped up on sugar for the next few hours.

NOTES on Tickets to Montserrat

I don’t think they make this as easy as they could.  But that’s ok.

1.  Go to the Plaza/Placa de Espanya station
2.  Find the R5 train
3.  Go up to the ticket machine. This is where it gets tricky.  There are a lot of options.  We went for the Trans Montserrat ticket – this ticket includes the train trip from Barcelona to Montserrat, the trip up the mountain, the additional funiculars once you are at the monastery, and 2 metro tickets (just because).  There are 2 ways to get to the top of Montserrat – either by cable car (5min, standing) or by funicular (15min, sitting).  It costs the same, but you have to choose (your own adventure, ha!) when you get the ticket.  And you can’t change your mind after.  The additional funiculars at the top of Montserrat take you to the many hikes at the top of the mountain, but this is where the views are pretty sweet and the hikes are kinda sketchy – don’t worry, there are lots of non sketchy hikes as well.
4.  Get on the train and take a snooze.  It’s going to be around 1 hr.
5.  There are 2 different stops depending on whether you go up the cable car or the funicular.  The cable car/Aeri stop is first, followed by the funicular stop.
6.  Enjoy your time!

A few more notes:

  • While the cable cars and funiculars are on a schedule, we found that they would skip or add a car from time to time.  We thought we were on the early cable car before our train home, but our cable car never showed up and we barely made it.
  • If you like climbing, there’s lots of climbing to be had.