April 18, 2008

Ma is Coming to Visit

Posted in family, transgender, travel at 9:30 pm by Michael

I’ve been in Boston this week again for work.

I’m writing this sitting in seat 5C, JetBlue 497, back to Seattle. Back to Anh, back to Peri, back to John, back to Samwich.

I really miss them when I travel for work, and they can’t come with me.

This week when I called back home, Samwich started talking on the phone. I sung to him, he started talking back, and saying “Hi There!”. He whispers into the phone, and it melts my heart.

I realize that my blogging has slowed considerably in the past month. Here’s the deal: my job is taking a ton of my time, and I’ve been completely wiped out at night, and I’d rather spend time with Anh and the kids.

My mom gets worried when I don’t blog – she worries that there’s something wrong. She hates it when we talk and she asks me how I am and I say “Fine”. That’s in some ways code for “there’s something going on that I can’t explain right now”. I avoid saying “Fine”.

When we were in RI last month visiting Ma, Anh invited her to come out and visit.

I was in Boston this week for work, and she came back with me (JetBlue – my standard flight).

She met me at the Microsoft office, and came up to visit (she likes seeing where I work…).

Before she came, I had mentioned to a few people that my mom was coming today. Its funny, I think that folks were just as interested to meet her as she was to meet them. To sum up my mom, I told them the following story:

“When you meet my mom, I will say “Hi, this is my mom, Hilda”, and she’ll immediately say “Just call me Ma.” “

Guess what? I know my mom.

She hung out with me at the office for a while, and then we headed to the airport. We were walking to the elevator, and I said to her “Come on Mother.” (This is a loving way to talk to her – really…) She said to me “Coming Daughter.”

She and I hadn’t really been around each other much since November. We got in really early to the airport, and went to just sit down, and we caught up. We talked, we both got a little weepy – talking about my dad – and how he’d feel about his newest daughter. Ma loved the post that I made about the Superbowl, and talking football with my dad, and also the Homecoming post that I made when we went back to visit last month.

At one point, she said to me: “You know, just sitting here, looking at you, in the different light, you are really beautiful.”

She’s my mom. She’s biased.

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Disney: Siblings

Posted in family, travel at 9:29 pm by Michael

Peri and John are both great distractions and entertainment for Samwich, and he for them as well. They have done very well together – and they get that we need to think about what rides/attractions will be fun for him. We tend to alternate rides that he can go on or not, and use the “Fastpass” (line skipping) tickets to avoid super long lines.

The flight to Orlando (direct on Alaska) was totally fine, and actually having the older kids there as well as Samwich (we travel more with just him because of our kid schedule) was actually easier than traveling with just him. All three kids have their own backpacks (ok, we carry Samwich’s), and Peri and John each have their own rollaboard suitcase (this works great). They pack themselves (Anh writes a list to help), which means that they take clothes that they will wear.

Plane food is a pain these days (there is none) on long haul domestic flights, so we are always looking for a solution for that. This time, Peri got instant couscous (just add hot water) in a paper disposable cup (like ramen) – it was good, and she did great with it.

 

April 12, 2008

Samwich in Disney: Fun or Not?

Posted in family, Samwich, travel at 8:10 am by Michael

In summary – yes, Samwich has had fun….

Monday we spent the day in the Magic Kingdom. The first ride we brought him on was “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”. We basically brought him on every ride that he was allowed go to on that didn’t have a height limitation (because he would get ejected like some sort of slobbering projectile if not properly restrained). We were in the park from basically 930am till 1030pm (right after the fireworks). Not once, except for during the fireworks did he get scared – and there, he just jumped for the first “bang”, but then he was ok.

One of the things that he surprisingly loved were the Disney strollers. Because of their shape, he was able to sit up most of the time, and he looked like the little king, viewing his domain. From the back, all I could see sometime were his little hands flapping outside the walls of the stroller. It was hilarious!

Now, I had thought that watching him Monday that he was just tolerating the rides. He had this expression on his face like “Yeah, whatever, I’m the Samwich”. He only got excited really when playing with his brother and sister (below…)… until Wednesday.

We walked around the corner, and he saw the Dumbo Flying Elephants doing their never-ending circle. He pointed, and did his greeting: “Hi There!”, and started yapping excitedly at them. You would have thought they were made of grapes or chocolate or something… he was INTO it. As the week went on, his love of all things spinning increased.

Toward the end of the week, when he saw the fireworks, he was captivated. He’d sit there, quietly, just staring at the bursts, listening to the music. I’m not sure he’ll ever remember it, but I will.

He did totally fine in the heat (high 80’s) – we just sunblock him up, are careful (not too careful) with direct sunlight for long, keep him hydrated with water and milk (Foogo thermos/straw cup), let him walk and find things for him to do (like the little play areas – he’s into those!), and it’s all good!

April 6, 2008

Disney Food Experience

Posted in family, food, travel at 5:02 pm by Michael

Yes, you can find reasonable food in the Disney parks (Reasonable: not all fried, some greens or at least fruit, not ultra fatty). Our usual “Don’t eat bad food” rule has to get suspended a bit (note, bad doesn’t mean expensive – it just means to make food part of the experience – trying to eat as local, or at least as well as possible given the locale).

Here’s where we ate::

Off Property

Nacho’s Grill – near the Outlet Malls, in Orlando
– Reasonably authentic Cuban and Mexican food… even given the cheesy name, this place was good – the nachos were fresh, the rice was good, and the service quick!

Magic Kingdom

Tomorrowland Terrace and Noodle Station
– Who knew? Asian in Disney… A reasonable simulacrum of Chinese/Asian food, but better than a burger (we had noodle soup, teriyaki chicken/beef with rice – all not bad!)

Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café
– There were three “bays” here (Its “Tomorrowland” after all) – “Burger”, “Chicken”, and “Soup/Salad”. We had “Bay 2 – Chicken”, and there was roti chicken and ribs, served with green beans (canned) and also mashed potato. The chicken was moist, and Samwich was loving the green beans. Mmmm… fiber!

El Pirata Y El Perico
– Ok, sounds super cheezy. They have three things basically – beef tacos, vegetable tacos, taco salad (all in hard shells). The cool thing is that they have a “topping bar” with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, salsa and hot sauce, so you can salad-ify virtually everything. For kids meals, they had cheese quesadillas which were clearly microwaved, because they got hard instantly (a definite pass).

Disney’s Hollywood Studios (aka Disney/MGM)

Brown Derby
– Home of the Cobb Salad (the real one in California at least)…. We did have the Cobb Salad, I thought it was ok, Anh thought they crossed the “chopped/minced” line, and it tasted like tabbouleh.

Epcot

Morocco
– The couscous here was “The Best Couscous I Ever Had” according to Peri. Now, take this with a grain of couscous. When Peri likes something, its generally “The Best X I Ever Had”… but, still, high praise. We had couscous with both lamb and chicken (the chicken was whole, and the lamb was a roasted shank, which was moist). Anh had the chicken kabobs which were well flavored, but were dry.

Grand Floridian

Citrico’s
– One of two higher end restaurants at the GF (The third, ultra high end place is “Victoria and Alberts, which is prix fixe ($125/pp), and has its own reservation line, no kids allowed, and a jackets/cocktail dresses dress code. Not owning a cocktail dress, this was right out.) We had dinner here with all the kids, and to start with, the service was very kid friendly, and very good. Drinks (mixed) were also surprisingly good (pomegranate cosmo for Anh – nice and bitter). John had shrimp which were sautéed – he loved it – although it looked a little rich. I had the braised veal, which was reasonable, but could have been more tender and more extreme in its flavors (more of something – more wine, more garlic, more something – it didn’t stand for much). All up, this was a good choice with kids though – the service saved it, as did the “make it your own” sundae’s for the them. From a food point of view, it was ok, but from an experience point of view (with all three kids), it was good.

Narcoosee’s
– We actually ate here twice. The first time, we had “adult dinner’, and the second time, we brought back the whole family. Note that this place is “on the lake”, and has a view of the fireworks, so tables tend to be held through the fireworks (i.e., it’s hard to get a reservation, or have the reservation work well if its 60-90 mins before fireworks time – since fireworks were generally at 10pm when we were there, this meant that 830-9pm was crunch time there).

Fundamentally, the reason why we ate here twice was the staff. The first night, our server was Diane, and we struck up a lively conversation with her about wine. The fried calamari was fresh and tasty, served with onions, olives and hot peppers. Over the two nights, we had the steak (fair), as well as tilefish, lobster tail, and a couple of other things. However, the real killer here (for the kids at least) was dessert. They had a “make your own S’Mores” big kid dessert, which they *loved* (we brought them in for dinner after we ate the first night). Diane and Sam made us a reservation for the next night (and Sam got us a wine list from Victoria and Albert’s, which we ordered from). If you go, say hi to both of them for us, they were both sweethearts.

When we went to “adult dinner”, Peri and John were at “The Mouseketeer Club” at the GF, which was a room with toys/games/movies/crafts that was attended and had about 6 other kids there when we dropped them off. Reservations for this can be made through the Disney Dining line (800-WDW-DINE). This was $11/hour per kid. Samwich had an in-room sitter that we arranged through the resort. They charged $16/hour. This has to be made through a separate service, but was backed by Disney.

The Yuk List

Magic Kingdom: Columbia Harbor House
– All fried, all the time. Fried chicken, fried fish… we didn’t have a lot of options. They did have two salads, and they would make them fresh (you can remove stuff…)

Kennedy Space Center: Café
– Going here made me appreciate the organization that Disney brings to the table for food service for a lot of people.

Snacks

A special note of our favorite snack at the Magic Kingdom – “Pineapple Dole Whip” – which is pineapple soft serve ice cream. Yum. This can be found right across from the “Swiss Family Robinson” tree house, in Adventureland.

We’re Back

Posted in family, life, travel at 6:31 am by Michael

Disney

We got back late last night from Orlando – about an hour and a half later than expected due to thunderstorms in the Orlando area…

I know I’ve been dark all week – no, I didn’t stop the blog, get eaten by aliens, or do something crazy. I unplugged for a week…

So, over the next day, I’ll post about our experiences in Disney, from going with three kids (1, 8, 10), the food, and the “experience” (oh, and getting recognized, which is *odd*)….

March 28, 2008

The Opposite of Into the Wild

Posted in family, life, travel at 12:33 pm by Michael

Today starts “Spring Break” for my older kids.

It’s snowing. It’s cold. It’s gray. It’s Seattle. Its March.

The View From My Office, 3/28/2008

Time to get away.

We are going to the polar opposite of Alaska (at least in the USA) – Florida. More precisely, Disneyworld. All five of us.

Now this, this should be interesting.

Anyone want to guess what the “Crappy Look Counter” over/under will be for the next 7 days?

FAQ: Yes, we do plan on getting Samwich Mickey ears that say “Samwich”

FAQ: No, I will not be getting Minney ears that say “Megan”

March 16, 2008

Homecoming

Posted in family, food, Samwich, transgender, travel at 11:44 pm by Michael

Saturday morning Anh, Samwich and I drove down to Rhode Island to visit my mom. It was Samwich’s birthday, and we hadn’t seen my mom in a while – good opportunity!

We usually don’t get a car when we are just in Boston, so Step 1 was to actually get a car. I usually rent from Avis, because I have a Preferred number with them (you can get this easily from them), and it makes the rental process easier. They have your license and credit card information on file, so it’s quick, and you get a bit of a discount. I haven’t yet updated my ID information with them yet, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. I didn’t even rent the car with my Preferred info, and just did it online without it. When I got to the desk to get the car, I gave the agent my license and credit card, and when he swiped it, it automatically came up with my Preferred number. Turns out that Avis uses your credit card number as your long term ID number. Changing my name with them was trivial as a result.

On the way down to RI, we stopped at Dunkin’ and got Samwich his first donut (it was his birthday after all). Loved it… but he loved smashing it more. Samwich is in food-smashing mode for most soft foods these days – bananas, bread, you name it. I think he’s looking for the treasure inside. Denied! He does eat the smashed bits too. (Not to go too far down the Samwich eating habits path, but Damn Samwich! Are you part penguin? Just about anything he puts in his mouth, he takes a bite of, then takes it out, looks at it, and then decides if its worthy to go back in or not. Sometimes he just sucks the essential juices out, like the salt-monster on Star Trek, and spits out the effluent.)

The last time my mom saw me in person was November 30th, the day after FFS. This is what I looked like:

Postop 24

In talking to her since then, she’s had a hard time getting that image out of her head, because there hasn’t been a live one to replace it. Yes, she’s seen pictures, video, and even the ABC stuff last week, but that’s just not the same.

Luckily, I was able to give her a new image… (sorry, we didn’t take a lot of pictures of me… this is the only one)

March 16, 2008

My sisters were both there when we arrived, as well as my niece and great-niece. I hadn’t seen any of them since November either.

When we arrived, it even smelled like home. They had put a turkey in to roast and my old(est) sister had made a cake/cupcakes. Smell is such a personal, deeply emotional sense. To me at least, a remembered smell can bring me back more quickly than any other sense.

I could see the relief on my mom’s face almost right away. She hugged me, then came back to hug me again a few minutes later.

We had a great lunch, Samwich loved his birthday cupcake, and spent the afternoon just relaxing. It was nice to be home.

My mom was/is still struggling with the name/pronoun thing. I don’t think for a second it’s because she isn’t respectful or understanding – but as *my mom* she has such a pattern of interaction with me, its hard to break. At one point, she said she was just going to call me “Michael Megan” so I couldn’t tell when she screwed up. Got to love the hardscrabble Yankee pragmatism.

That night, at about eight, I went downstairs, and noticed a good-sized water leak in the ceiling. Looked all around (up and downstairs), but we couldn’t find the source of it. I can fix a lot of things, but plumbing – that’s one thing that I’m not good at – clueless sums it up.

My mom is blessed with awesome neighbors, and she called across the street to ask for some help. Glenn helps my mom out a lot – he shovels her out, will help with house maintenance, and he and his wife both have been a real source of support for my mom since my dad passed away.

He came over – we (well, he swung the hammer) tore out the waterlogged ceiling, and saw that the leak was coming from behind the wall. We went upstairs, tore out some more wall behind the bathroom sink, and discovered that the joint on the hot water line was leaking. We then spent the next two hours repairing it (well, I held the flashlight, and did general helper 3 rd class duties). I love watching someone work who really knows what they are doing – doesn’t matter what they are doing. Watching my old(est) sister make bread is amazing – she used to be a baker in another life – always something to learn.

Glenn hadn’t seen me since last summer. You know what? If he was different in any way, I couldn’t tell. We were just getting the job at hand done – at 10pm at night on a Saturday. Glenn is a police officer in Pawtucket, and he’s one big, strong, tough dude. He’s awesome. Thanks Glenn.

After cleaning up the big mess we had made by tearing out a ceiling and a wall, we went to bed.

When we got up this morning, Ma suggested that we all go out to breakfast at her favorite neighborhood joint – Oatley’s. Rhode Island, even though it’s wedged between Boston and New York can be both very urban, but surprisingly rural. Just five minutes from my mom’s house is a huge turf farm. The vibe of her town is east-coast rural. Lots of stone walls as you drive around, not made for the look, but out of necessity from clearing the land.

My mom and dad used to go to Oatley’s five or six days a week before he passed away. She goes less now, but is still a regular, and pretty well known there.

We had our breakfast, Samwich did his penguin-eating, and as we were leaving (and I was across the room paying), one of the waitresses who knows my mom well came over and was chatting with them. Just as I walked over, she had to run, but my mom said to me “Well, I’m sorry that she didn’t get to say hi to my youngest daughter!”

After we finished up, we stopped by the cemetery to visit my dad’s gravesite, and to leave a ceramic bird at his site. This was harder for me than I thought it was going to be. Samwich hadn’t been there before, and as we were driving up, Sheila said “Samwich, are you going to say hi to Pa?” Samwich never met my dad, and my dad never knew that Samwich was coming. Anh was only a few weeks pregnant (we knew) when my dad passed, and it didn’t seem like a good time to tell him. (Long story).

As we were walking up to the site, Anh said “What’s that rumble? Is that Pa rolling over?”. Just some context here… we all in the fam have talked a lot about how my dad would have dealt with his only son coming out to him. This was on *all* of our minds as we walked up, and Anh, because of the way she is (fabulous) felt like the ice needed to get broken. Ma said “Well, I think he would have said ‘Are you happy? If so, that’s all I care about.’ Then he would have said ‘Jesus F#!$’ing Christ! What next?’ “

We all laughed…. That’s the way my dad was. I got a little misty just thinking more about it – thinking about how I was never able to talk to him about this.

Well Pa, I’m happy. We are happy… Your kids and your grandkids all love you.

We drove back home, for lunch had some pizza and a meatball grinder from Fillipou’s Pizza (401-294-4767 – on Ten Rod Road in North Kingstown – the BEST!), and then headed to the airport. Ma as she always does was a little teary and sad to see us go, but we’ll be together again soon (next month!)

It was a good homecoming – another “First” down…

February 23, 2008

“Welcome Home!”

Posted in Air France, family, Identification, transgender, travel at 9:07 pm by Michael

The rest of the flight back to Seattle was as uneventful as it was long. Ten hours plus is a long time to sit on a plane. I have to say that the Los Angeles or Newark to Singapore (on Singapore Airlines) flight of 18+ hours just seems like self-flagellation.

As documented earlier, getting into France was easy, but we were wondering how coming home would be – given how picky US Customs has become.

We landed in Seattle, again did the slow-taxi (which was made more painful by the fact that Samwich picked that time to have his one and only freak-out of the entire flight), and pulled up to the gate. We were in the third row of coach, so we were near the front of the customs line, and quickly got to a customs agent. We gave him our passports and declaration form, and he literally smiled to us and said “Welcome Home!”, and that was it.

Wow.

Anh and I have traveled a TON internationally. This was by FAR the easiest entry we’ve ever had. Maybe it was random, maybe we looked friendly, but wow…. I’ve been asked SO many questions before, literally taken ten minutes at the counter – this time – 30 seconds, tops.

We were wondering thought – when they scan in your passport – what data shows up on their screen? How integrated are the US IT systems? All your other trips? Other info? How do they deal with new passport numbers for the same person? (Passport ID #’s are unique per passport, not by the person – this was my first trip w/this passport).

Seattle greeted us upon our return with a sunny, warm (high 50’s, which is warm for Seattle at this time of year) day.

We got in the door, put Samwich down, and he walked over to the windows, and kissed them.

He was happy to get home too, as were we.

February 21, 2008

Paris – Home Tomorrow

Posted in travel at 3:08 pm by Michael

As I write this, Anh and Samwich are both sleeping, and in about five hours we’ll get up to go to the aiport to head home.

This has been an amazing trip, both what we expected, and not.

More on that later.  As much of an expectation that I often have about going on vacation, coming home, especially to one that you love (and the ones that you love) can be just as sweet.

Air France 40, bring us home swiftly and safely!

Paris – Good Food!

Posted in food, Paris, Samwich, travel at 3:00 pm by Michael

Good food for us doesn’t mean expensive – sometimes the best stuff is the cheapest (In N Out Burger for one).

Paris does have its share of street food – and a special version of it – since the vendors aren’t actually “on the street” – but have open portals to the street. Crepes, bakeries and the roasted chestnut vendors come to mind.

The crepes, as I mentioned before, are very fun, and extremely varied – from straight up dessert (chocolate, Nutella, fruits, sugar). Virtually every street that we walked down had some local creperie. Try it!

As for bread and croissants, we found Eric Keyser to be the best (http://www.maison-kayser.com/uk/boulangeries.html).

There were three meals that we had on this trip that were really special. (I did my best w/the links – all of these places don’t have their own websites, and some are in French.)

Part of the reason for much of this specialness was that we are mid-black truffle season. Many if not most of these places had some sort of special w/black truffles. This isn’t US black truffles where you get a sliver, you get a TON… totally different experience.

Au Bon Accueil (with Samwich)
http://www.resto.fr/uk/Ile-de-France/Paris/restaurant.cfm?restaurant=3167

Au Bon Accueil

We got there right as they opened (no reservation), and they squeezed us in, which was super nice. We even got a half-booth table which worked out very well for us w/the Samwich.

For starters we had a mushroom risotto (about four kinds of mushrooms), a quasi-mashed potato w/black truffles, with a soft boiled egg on top (with truffles, naturally), accompanied with perfect baby greens with shaved parmesan and truffles.

For the mains, I got a steak, which I think was a filet (this was the weakest thing that we had) w/mushrooms. Anh got this amazing chicken, which was spreckled with truffles, and served with pan-fried gnocchi and hearts of palm, topped with a champagne foam.

Au Bon Accueil

The mains were served with a perfect, buttery potato puree. Amazing!

For dessert, we had a roasted pineapple with apple crumble. It was like a deconstructed pineapple upside down cake. No dessert is complete w/o some sort of chocolate, so we had a chocolate Grenache as well. Both were outstanding.

La Regulade
http://www.frommers.com/destinations/paris/D41441.html (not with Samwich)

This was a local (Marie-Pierre) recommendation. Its small, out of the way, and you should get a reservation. She went with us, and helped with the ordering.

To start with, along with bread (typical), they serve a homemade meat pate, as well as pickles and onions – all of which were awesome.

We also got the charcuterie plate, which was Basque in origin, and they serve uniquely – they just give you the whole sausages to slice off what you want. All varieties here from salami-like to a blood sausage, to a crispy pig-fat… yum!

La Regulade

We had two kinds of scallops (served on the shell, the real shell) – with truffles and without. I’ve never had scallops with truffles before, and well, it was amazing.

La Regulade

For the main, we had fresh fois gras, braised beef cheeks and braised pork breast. The beef cheeks and pork breast were good – not great, and we’ve had better. The fois though, was amazing. According to Marie-Pierre, fois doesn’t hold for long, so when you get fois most of the time, its either partially or fully cooked. Fresh fois is rare, and a special treat, so we got it.

La Regulade

Wow. I’m not a fois fan generally (just too fatty for me), but this was light, crispy and just plain amazing). If you like or don’t like fois, if you see “fresh”, and its really fresh, get it. By looking around the restaurant, you could see what an occasion it was – nearly half of all the plates coming out were this.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (with Samwich)
http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/france/paris/entity_153570.html

These guys got points right off the bat from us because they had high-chairs, said they loved kids (and really did), and even though we had reservations for two, gave us three spots, in the corner, so it would be easier to manage Samwich.

This is one of our favorite places in Las Vegas (at the MGM), and honestly, this was even better… I thought it might be, well, about the same, a little better – but it was just better, all the way around.

The floorplan is very interesting – you sit at a bar, surrounding the kitchen, able to watch the preparation of everything.

Joel Robuchon

Their menu has both small plates, and larger plates, to give you the opportunity to try more stuff (try as much as you can!)

The first thing that was brought out was a quasi-mashed potato w/truffle shavings and bits. It’s hard to describe this… but it had texture, taste, and just an amazing look to it. Samwich *loved* the drippings from this, as well as the potato bits. Me too!

Joel Robuchon

We also got a charcuterie plate, which was served with a tomato bruschetta. I’m a big bruschetta fan, but this was amazing – spicy, salty, and tasty tomatoes, in February!

They next brought out the spaghetti, which we had order for Samwich, just with tomato sauce. Far from a throwaway dish, this was again perfect – texture, seasoning – right down to the whole marinated olives served on the side.

We also had a chestnut veloute, served w/floating fois gras. Again, the fois was amazing, and not being a fois fan, this is saying something.

Next was a lobster ravioli, topped with a cream and truffle reduction. The lobster was perfect, and wow… amazing combinations.

Joel Robuchon

We finished with a small pork chop (super small!), which was served w/the trademark potato puree Robuchon. Fabulous end to a fabulous meal – and this ended up being our last big meal of this trip….

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