Favorite moments of 2015

2015 was a busy year. To remind myself just what I accomplished and hope to remember in 2016, I revisited my year in Instagram, which I think is an accurate if not a little exaggerated representation of my life.

The 2015bestnine application says these were my best nine images from the year, but best really just means the ones that were lit the best, captioned the best or possibly even just timed the best. But they do encapsulate some of my best memories from the year. As to not countdown or give any one moment more love than any other, I am going to write chronologically. (If we’re being honest, Theo is the best moment, but you will have to wait to read more about that.)

2015 started off strong – I found these legos and made this. It was a year filled with hope.

With friends and Nozomi, I traveled to New Hampshire for the first time to attend Ryan and Becca’s wedding. The wedding was great as was seeing some of my best buds all dappered out. We took Lindsay’s Toyota Yaris, a car destined to zip around city streets, but not necessarily up to the demands of wintry forest land. After the wedding, we walked outside the venue to see the parking lot COVERED in snow. What had taken us 10 minutes to drive to at 7pm ended up being a 45 minute – 1.5 mile drive.

The next morning we woke up at the bed and breakfast and with our homemade bread and jam, we planned out our day. Anh Tuan suggested a walk on the lake which had frozen over and he ran on the day before. I had never done this before and was nervous, not sure I was dressed for the occasion. Nozomi borrowed Anh Tuan’s Yaktrax for her leopard oxfords and we walked onto the lake. I was still scared as we took our first steps onto this massive lake, but to the left and right we saw ice-fishing houses that made me think we were pretty safe. We didn’t walk too far until it was just snow and ice in the distance and felt like we were settling a new land.

You should try it.

Go to Japan. It's great! #sawafranknihon #railpass

A post shared by Lee Sawa-Frank (@leemfrank) on

In March, we finally travelled to Japan. We had been talking about it for years by this point and it was time.

On a whirlwind 15 day trip, Nozomi and I fit in visits to her grandparents in the South Island of Kyushu (palm trees), seeing her cousin in Fukuoka (small city), two different onsens (lots of naked men), her other cousins in Tottori and one last cousin in Tokyo (massive massive city). The first half we travelled ourselves and the second was with some combination of the Sawa family.

I had great coffee multiple times, plenty of Sapporo, one of the best meals of my life at Sushi Sho (where they’re booked up two months in advance, but we showed up right after two cancellations) and saw so much Sakura I got bored of them.

Japan is a beautiful country with awesome modes of travel and in cities great respect for nature. Minutes away from densely packed neighborhoods, we could take a break from the hectic times around us with a break in a park.

We’re going to be visiting Japan a lot in the future.

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Over the summer, we let the world know that a third member of the family was joining us and we started thinking about names. We had the name Theodore pretty quickly, but in case we had friends with negative opinions about the Trust Buster Teddy Roosevelt, we kept it a secret. We started planning his room and who was allowed to be the funny one in the family.

With Theo set to arrive around December 11, there was a lot of “last time before we had kids” moments. Like “last time I eat too many platters of nachos for journalism” before Theo arrives or “last time I take NJ Transit” before Theo arrives.

In September, with Theo just a few months away, we took a trip out west to see the Sawa family and stop in Joshua Tree for a night. I had never been in a national park that was so bare, yet mesmerizing. It was great to climb rocks and befriend cactuses.

Our visit was the break we were hoping for and made us feel more ready leading up to Theo’s arrival.

Also in LA, Sqirl is too good to be true.

December 6.

Well, December 4 is a better place to start. On December 4, I was jokingly telling people at Ryan’s birthday party that me and Nozomi hadn’t come up with a plan of what to do if she went into labor and I wasn’t there. That night, I arrived home shortly after midnight (December 5) and fell asleep only to be woken up 30 minutes later hearing Nozomi on the phone with our doctor. After she took a quick shower and we headed to the hospital.

At 1am we were at the hospital, Nozomi being admitted and Theo coming ahead of schedule. During the day, Nozomi rested as the contractions got longer and more painful. However, almost a full 24 hours later, Theo was born via C-section. It turned out that baby Theo was wrapped up in his umbilical cord (just like his father). He joined us at 1:09am on December 6, 2015. Everyday has been a constant learning experience.

So far these are the top Theo facts.

  • He has ridden the subway once.
  • His best friend is a mothers-in-law tongue plant. They talk everyday.
  • He has yet to like any toys or pacifiers.

So 2015 was a pretty great year. I apologize that my list for last year came almost three months into this year, but I am sure you understand.

Best Late Night Foods in NYC

open late
Via Hu is Hungry

Prior to the end of the year, I got an assignment for a Thrillist article tasking me with finding the best foods to be eaten in New York after a long night out. New York truly never sleeps or at least not until it has a very heavy and delicious meal. Thrillist was unaware that I go to bed at 9pm, but luckily it didn’t matter. This list has so much good food on it that you would be lucky to eat during daylight as well.

It turns out the easiest foods to find late night are incredible burgers and amazing pizza, but the city can also off a good ramen, sushi, or even a Katz’s Hot Corned Beef Sandwich.

Check out the list on Thrillist.

Best Burritos in NYC

Following up to my Best Nachos in NYC, Thrillist challenged my tastebuds on another food I talk about slightly less – Burritos. It hurt my stomach a bit to finalize all of my decisions, but I feel like this list of greatest burritos around was well worth the pain. The burrito below was one of my favorites. Presented like a rectangle, combined with addictive chicken inside, made me want to keep going even though I was leaving there to have a 2nd burrito.

Tinga burrito at Taqueria Tepango

Bikes, part 2

This part of the bikes continuing story is most definitely out of order, but timely. After adjusting to bike life, I set my sights on a higher goal: to ride a century. A century ride is 100 miles. This is a long time to be sitting on a bike, but when I get there it will be worth it.

Last Fall, I made great strides toward that goal. To support the MS Society, I rode 45 miles in the MS City to Shore ride. It was awesome to ride that long, with that many people, and eat that many snacks at the rest stops and finish line.

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That’s me and the fam after the ride. The picturesque ride takes you through Southern New Jersey on tree-lined surburban streets until the finish line in Ocean City, NJ.

The 1000s of people riding are all there to support the MS Society’s goal to support research and services for people affected by MS. If you’re unfamiliar with MS and the MS Society: here’s a little more information from them about the disease and the ride:

Multiple sclerosis affects millions of people, including our loved ones, families, friends and co-workers. That’s why I’ve registered for Bike MS. Bike MS is a ride (not a race) that brings us together to make a difference and each mile we ride brings us closer to a world free of MS.

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling, disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Millions of people are affected by MS and the challenges of living with its unpredictable symptoms, which range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS.

It felt great to help the MS Society and if you didn’t already know, I am personally connected to the MS ride. My mom has been affected by MS for a over a decade and now my sister pictured above in orange sunglasses works on event planning for the organization.

So this year, I am riding again, but this year on October 3, I am riding 75 miles.

And I am asking for your support. Last year I raised over $1000. Can you help me beat that?

If you can, donate to the MS City to Shore ride and follow this space to see updates about fundraising goals and progress in my training.

Finding Old Blog Posts

Facebook’s On This Day feature is actually one of my favorite features on Facebook. I login in the morning to see what I was writing about back in 2008 or 2011. Sometimes it’s obvious what the topic of my history will be: birthdays, anniversaries, nacho event days, but I sometimes it is a great surprise. Recently, I’ve been seeing VERY old blog posts from Wuhan Got You All In Check, my travel blog for my year in Wuhan. I am aware the name is kind of incredible. I’ve long thought that these blog posts were had vanished from the internet since I let the domain and hosting on the site to expire, but  to my surprise the posts automatically became notes on Facebook and they’ve been reappearing up in On This Day.

Many of the posts are throwaways that I don’t understand, but some are take me back to my days abroad. I’d like to present some of them on this site. for example on my reacclimation to the US after 10 months in Wuhan.

The Idea of Reverse Culture Shock from July 7, 2008:

A year has past and it seems now that the things I find strange aren’t the live turtles in Walmart or the celebrity status of a foreigner, but instead things I must have loved or just took as normal before. This post is the beginning of my series of posts related to things that I have seen in my time back in America that has freaked me out to the point of overwhelmity.

The first one is the cheese department of any major grocery store. The day after I came back, I went into a Genaurdi’s to find some shredded Mexican cheese, because I sort of remembered that existed. As I wandered to through the vast quantities of choices to the far reaches of the dairy section, I saw the cheese section. It would send any of my Chinese buddies into a cardiac arrest, especially since I don’t think they like cheese. But for me, someone who saw these items for 23 years to go away for less than 1 year and come back scared, I bet you cannot even believe it.

Can you think of a culture shock event in your life? Or even better, when you came home, what shocked you the most?

I can actually remember that feeling – I looked at the aisle and was overcame with choices. The other feeling I have wishing I could edit that post.

Best Nachos in NYC

I wrote this list of the best nacho spots in NYC for Thrillist New York. It was a great trip down nacho memory lane for me and an opportunity to see the new nacho highlights in the marketplace.

Nachos at Taco Chulo
For Taco Chulo in Williamsburg, I wrote:

There are many nominees for most likely to need a napkin, but only one official winner, and it’s Taco Chulo’s Nachos Chulos. As a constituent of the cheese sauce community, Taco Chulo’s namesake ‘chos pour on the orange cheese generously along with crema, pico de gallo, and fresh guacamole.

See the rest of the list on Thrillist.

Bikes, part 1

Bikes – we all like bikes. I like bikes. I learned how to bike at age 27. And that doesn’t mean I rode a bike when I was 12 and then stopped. I actually got on a bike and felt comfortable with the wheels turning at the ripe age of almost-30.

As a kid, my parents tried to teach me how to ride in all of the right ways – they held the back of the bike and stayed with me until I realized they weren’t there. They did that, but it never really took. So I missed out on that part of childhood riding in a crew of bikes around a neighborhood. I never really thought I was missing much since I never experienced it in the first place.

Later in life, I tried again at random times; most notably while living in China for a year. The school that I taught English at supplied Colette and I bikes to use for the duration of the school year. On the day they gave us the bikes, I was convinced I could just sit down and know how to ride. That almost worked, I rode about 50 feet until my balance angled me towards the curb. This is when the school principal took back the bike and I never had another shot to ride my Chinese International School provided bike.

Fast forward to 2011. Nozomi, then girlfriend and now wife, and I are planning a trip to Montreal over July 4th and while researching the trip we find out that there’s bikes everywhere for free, for rent and for sale. Upon mentioning that bicycle fact, Nozomi plainly stated that she is going to teach me how to ride a bike and that we will bike Montreal.

Later that week, we went out for my first attempts at age 27. My first steps towards riding again involved the techniques my parents tried – Nozomi held the back of my seat as I awkwardly tried to pedal. When that wasn’t working, we transitioned to me trying to coast on the slightly downhill sidewalk, which after a little practice and overcoming my fear of balance, I ended up finding my groove.

That same day and just a few blocks away, a playground became the place where I conquered the bike. With a newfound moderate level of comfort, Nozomi had me ride in clockwise and counterclockwise circles with hasty stops and jumpy u-turns until the circles smoothed out and I could keep my feet on the pedals.

That was all the practice we could fit in. A month later, with not a lot of time spent practicing, I found myself renting a bike I never rode before on the streets I never navigated before. A scary pattern of events ensued:

  • Nozomi rode in front and I came to complete, screechy stops when I got within a bike’s length of her
  • On roads where both directions’ bike lanes were grouped together, I came to complete stops as bikes came toward me
  • On un-bike-laned roads, I stopped if I heard a car start, let alone see one near me
  • To cap off the trip, I hit a traffic cone at medium speed

We returned the bikes, took a survey about the rental and that was it. Looking back, I realize this that the perfect trip to calm my bike jitters included street names I will never remember and a bag full of bagels from St. Viateur Bagels. This was my bike jump off point, after this I became periodically obsessed with bikes.

More stories of me and bikes to come.