Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Relay for Life

Many of you know that our granddaughter Emery was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer, when she was just 6 weeks old. She is now a healthy, happy, busy 17 month old (see her mom's blog here to catch up), for which we are grateful beyond words! But during the time of Emery's treatment and recovery, two more babies in their home town of Amarillo have also been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It sounds like both of them are doing well, but my heart goes out to those families as I remember all that Emery (and her parents) had to go through.

In June, Bonnie, David and Emery are participating in Amarillo's Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society as team members for a little guy named Jude and his grandpa. We're asking for donations to help combat all cancers--I think each and every one of us has either battled this nasty disease personally or experienced it with a loved one. I am shocked to count up the number of my family members and dear friends who have come face to face with cancer, some of whom are doing beautifully and some of whom we lost way too young and through way too much suffering. I don't know if we will see a cancer-free world in my lifetime but I would be thrilled if it came to pass. Hoping and wishing is not enough, though--we need lots of research and lots of dedicated people working on a cure.

If you'd like to make a donation, click here for Emery's page, here for Bonnie's or here for David's. Thank you!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Yes, it's April, late April, but it's been snowing in Unalaska. Ajax wishes for a fireplace but the best he can do is lie in front of the space heater to warm up. I regularly join him, plopping down on the floor with a pillow and a blanket. Toasty!

Friday I was supposed to walk in the Earth Day 5K with some friends but everything seemed very disorganized and it was cold and rainy outside which, along with my sore throat and sniffles, were sufficient excuses for me to blow it off. I had considered going to the community center and walking the track instead but did not do that either. Let's see, since I've been home, my good intentions to get back into the gym have resulted in attendance at one cardio kickboxing class on Wednesday. Ugh.

It snowed for several days, we had a "white Easter" and I spent the whole weekend in the house, battling the aforementioned cold/flu/whatever I have that only seems to be getting worse. After enjoying the rest of his vacation days around the house, Rich went back to work on Saturday to prep for Easter brunch and had to go in very early on Sunday to assure that everything went well for the customers. I didn't feel like getting out at all so I contented myself with getting some chores done, reading, messing around on the computer, playing numerous games of Scrabble on Facebook with my mom, sister, and friends, and catching up on my postcrossing postcards. Easter was pretty quiet with no kids or grandkids around but I was able to talk with everyone on the phone, at least, and thanks to the wonders of Facebook, to see their cute photos almost immediately. It would have been fun to have them here, dressed up in their Easter clothes, hunting eggs (in the snow?) and oohing and aahing over their Easter baskets. :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another fabulous vacation comes to an end

Friday we drove back to San Francisco, where we were supposed to return our car by noon. Or so we thought. As we were checking the clock and the traffic, I pulled out the receipt, which noted 11:23 AM, not noon. Ooops. Our plan had been to drive to the hotel, unload all our stuff, return the car, do whatever we felt like, and take the bus or trolley back to the hotel later. This way we would not have our suitcases to lug around and we wouldn't have to take a cab immediately back to the hotel. So I called Enterprise to see what kind of grace period they'd give us--thankfully, the guy said we could have till 12:30. We do like Enterprise and have always had great service with them!

Traffic was heavy but we found our hotel, the Club Quarters, coincidentally right across the street from the first hotel we'd stayed in when we arrived in San Francisco three weeks earlier. There was nowhere to park so we had to drive around some more, park at a meter a few blocks away, and walk back to check in. We were told we could pull in up front for ten minutes and unload, so we walked back to the car, drove around, pulled in, unloaded our stuff and hauled it up to the room. WELL, we just thought the room at the Eldorado was small. This one was just as small and we could barely turn around. Nowhere to put our suitcases and the bathroom only had a tiny walk-in shower instead of a tub. The TV was mounted above the desk, which was not good placement for the person wanting to sit at the desk with the computer. Ugh. Yes, we had completely inconsistent priceline rooms on this trip. What the heck.

By then it was getting late and we needed to drive the vehicle back so we took off and got it returned just in time. We searched the car to make sure we had not left anything and took off walking around in search of lunch and a souvenir SF hoodie for me. We hadn't walked very far when I reached into my pocket to check the time on my phone. Hmmm, no phone. I dug in my purse and it was nowhere to be found. Rich called my number and no ringing was heard. Crap. Back we walked to Enterprise, where no one was in the office and the rental car was gone. We figured the guy had taken it to the wash and clean up section but we had no idea where that was. After a few minutes, he came walking out of the parking garage, saw us, and held up my phone. Good thing Rich called the number because the guy heard the phone ringing. Apparently it had fallen out of my pocket and slid under the seat. Whew!

We spent the afternoon walking around the Wharf area, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square. I found a hoodie and we bought some candy--like we really needed that! We have both put on the pounds on this trip.

Later we caught the bus back to the Ferry Market and were walking to our hotel when we saw the Bay Area Patriots setting up for a rally. I imagine it is hard to be a Tea Party person in San Francisco. Kinda like it was hard for me to be a left winger in West Texas. :) At the time, there were more police officers than participants. I chatted with one of the officers and he said they typically patrol any time there's a rally, especially if any opposition is expected. But he said they hadn't been notified of any counter demonstrations being planned and his opinion was that it was smarter for the opposition not to even show up and give the rally any credence. I asked what time it was going to start and he said they were told 3 PM. It was 3:15 by then so I was almost feeling a little sorry for the Tea Party, with no one there to support them. We waited around a little while just to see what might transpire but it was dead so we wandered back to the hotel. Later I looked it up online and it was not actually due to start till 4 PM so perhaps more people eventually showed up. :)

Sculpture and the Ferry Market

We walked around a bit in the evening and had dinner near the hotel. Had a quiet night, reorganized our bags and got ready to bid California a fond farewell.

Our flight was scheduled for 1 PM on Saturday, which was nice--I hate those early morning trips! Here are a couple of photos of leaving San Francisco. It really is one of our favorite cities.

Our flight took us from San Francisco to Seattle, we had a couple hours' layover there, and then off to Anchorage for the night. Sunday morning we headed for home, had nice weather and no stopovers in Cold Bay or refueling in King Salmon--wow, a nonstop flight to Unalaska! It was a little bumpy coming down, but not bad. We'd hardly been home any time at all when it started raining and blowing so it's probably a good thing we left when we did.

Approaching the front of our house, I asked Rich, "Do you notice anything?" Unfortunately the "cat club house" had been blown away in the last big storm and is broken to bits at the bottom of the hill, along with our heavy wooden deck chairs. Wow! They'd survived lots of other high winds so we are not sure what happened this time but they are all definitely destroyed. Thankfully they didn't hurt anyone or break a windshield.

It's good to be home and I went right back to work yesterday. Rich still has most of the week off so he's staycationing till Saturday when he'll go in to get ready for Easter brunch. The kitties were fine and seem happy we're home, or at least that is our interpretation. :)

More visits

Thursday morning we slept in a little, finished drying clothes, packed up and drove to our next hotel in San Mateo. After stopping by the Post Office to mail some more stuff home, we relaxed for awhile and then made our way to Santa Clara to have dinner with our niece Ellie. We gave ourselves 45 minutes to make the drive and it took over an hour with all of the major traffic. That is one thing I am definitely not used to, after living in Unalaska for almost seven years. It nearly freaks me out any more to be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. :)

Ellie is the middle daughter of my brother Joe and his wife Denise, who live in Jackson, Wyoming. We were trying to remember when we last saw Ellie and decided it must have been the summer I moved to AK so she was still pretty young. Luckily for us, Facebook keeps us in touch! She's a freshman at Santa Clara University and a great soccer player for the university's women's team. She and her sisters are all fantastic soccer players--her older sister Nicole plays for the University of Wyoming and her younger sister Brooke has signed to join Ellie at Santa Clara next year.
We went out to dinner at a nice little Italian place downtown and had a lot of fun catching up, laughing and telling stories. I was so glad she was willing to take the time to hang out with her old aunt and uncle. :) I found out my brother is going to be there next week--too bad we couldn't have coordinated our trips somehow but he's coming in for her first spring game. Maybe in the future we will be in the area at the same time. I'd love to see the girls play, too. We'll all be in Jersey this summer so are looking forward to that.

After dinner, we drove to Los Altos to stop in on my ex's cousin Susan and her partner Kris, whom I've stayed in touch with over the years and have seen once before when we were in San Francisco. I'd emailed them before we left AK but we didn't manage to touch base till the last minute. It wasn't ideal but the best we could do was barge in on them at 10 PM and visit for an hour or so! I had never met their daughters and got to say hi to the oldest, Erin, before she went to bed but the younger, Loren, was already asleep. Next time we will plan better!

Susan and Kris are so much fun and we had a great time hanging out, even if it was short. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of all the things we had to discuss!

After our visits, we spent the night in San Mateo and then drove back to San Francisco to return our rental car and get ready to go home.

Pastry, Laundry, Shopping and a Movie

Monday night I'd spent hours walking the priceline hall of shame all the way to the other side of the hotel to wash several loads of laundry. The detergent machine took my money and wouldn't give me any soap so I had to walk back and forth again to talk with the front desk clerk and then return to the laundry room. But because I do have a bit of a laundry fetish, I was happy to get it all done.

We really liked our hotel and hoped that we could stay there the next two days but when we went onto priceline we were assigned to the Vino Bello Resort instead. So Tuesday morning we packed up and moved. We kinda like staying in different places so it was no biggie. The resort was a little ways out of town but super nice, more like condos/apts instead of a hotel. Ours was small but just fine for the two of us. And *haha* guess what we had in the room? Yes, a washer and dryer. Hilarious. I could have saved my 7 bucks and all that walking the night before.

I'd never heard of this before, but we ran into it twice on the trip--we got charged a "resort fee" on top of regular charges when we were in a "resort." I don't know if this is a California thing or nationwide. It's a little irritating, especially when we think we have bid for a certain price and then it's added on top. As a part of our "resort fee," we did get a bottle of wine in our room, as well as other free non alcoholic drinks in the fridge, and no additional charge for internet or parking. So we probably broke even in the end; I guess I should not complain.

So that's my big pecan covered sticky bun from the Bouchon Bakery above...breakfast Wednesday morning. We then took a drive to Sonoma for the day, passing lots of beautiful countryside and grapevines growing all over the place. I gave up on taking photos out the car window so you will have to take my word for it that everything was green and pretty. There did not seem to be a lot going on in Sonoma but we managed to find a kitchen store and a fair trade store and did some more shopping. Oh, have I mentioned that our vacation also included visits to a couple of Post Offices to send stuff back home?! And we found a Whole Foods so we ate lunch there and shopped some more.

We were leaving town when Rich spied a store called The Frame Factory. Thinking he might be able to pick up some nice frames for his photo sales, we pulled over. The owner, a friendly older gentleman, corralled Rich immediately to tell him the story about how that particular location was the home of the first Williams-Sonoma store. It was kinda bizarre because he did not seem all that interested in selling us anything. He does custom framing so there was not really much he could do for us anyway, but he did have some greeting cards for sale and I bought a few of those. They happened to be cards made out of photos he'd taken so he asked me if I wanted him to sign them. "Sure!" I exclaimed enthusiastically. We chatted a few more minutes and then moved on.

Back to Napa for the last night and we decided to go to a real movie theater since that is such a treat for us! There were not too many choices but we went to see "Source Code," which was very interesting but hard to wrap my head around. Popcorn and coke added a few more pounds to my ever expanding middle. Vacations are tough!

Since we had a free washer and dryer I thought I would do one more load. It was pretty late. The washer sounded like an airplane taking off, seriously. I am sure our neighbors were not happy. But once it was going, I felt like I needed to finish. Finally transferred the clothes to the dryer and it was also SO loud. I gave up and left them for the morning.

Our trip was winding down, with just a few more days to go. We'd be checking out of Napa on Thursday morning and moving down the road.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Napa, Yountville and St. Helena

On Tuesday we went back into town and had breakfast (me)/lunch (Rich) at Sweetie Pie's. Then we took a drive to Yountville and spent a few hours walking around.

Spring is definitely in the air

There's a little art walk through town

Rock mushrooms outside the Post Office

Grapevines right in town...barely starting to bloom

More art

We stopped in Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery for an iced tea and a macaron. The place was PACKED! We also bought some pastries for the next morning.

Enjoying my snack and the sunshine

Thomas Keller's world famous restaurant The French Laundry. It's been ranked #1 in the US many times in the past 15 years (quoting my husband). It's hard to get into and very pricey. We had to settle for walking by.

The French Laundry even has its own garden across the street. We had a fun day and purchased a few things to bring home with us.

That night we drove over to St. Helena to have dinner at another chef's place, Cindy Pawlcyn's Backstreet Kitchen. Our friend Keils used to live in Unalaska and now works in St. Helena (he's a physician assistant with an orthopedic group) so we got in touch and arranged to meet.

It was great fun catching up with Keils and we enjoyed our meal. My friends know my onion aversion and the first two items I wanted were onion laden and couldn't be cut. I finally decided on the chicken fried steak, of all things. It was huge and overdone. I wasn't thrilled with it but everything else was really nice. :)


A brief stop in Reno and then to the Napa Valley

After leaving Heather and Dan's, we went to Reno to spend the night. We pricelined a room and got the Eldorado. We have laughingly referred to the "priceline walk of shame" at many hotels due to the fact that we seem to be put in a room as far away from the lobby as possible. It's quite a trek sometimes! So at the Eldorado, we not only had a walk but we had the smallest possible room outside of New York City. Rich swears he was in the very same room years ago and it was going for $39 then. :) We were a little annoyed, but would only be there to sleep so we sucked it up and went for some dinner and a quick round at the casino which did not net us any more profits. Luckily Rich is not obsessed and can walk away easily. We might have watched a movie or not. I can't remember. The main memory I have is that everything smelled vaguely of cigarette smoke and stale air, even in the supposed no-smoking parts. I'm not crazy about Reno. Tahoe was much nicer. :)

So we got up the next morning with plans to drive to the Napa Valley. First Rich wanted his all time favorite Jimboy's Tacos. Unfortunately the nearby Jimboy's did not seem to exist any more so we stopped off at one in Auburn.

Famous Jimboy's tacos

On the road to Napa.

We tried to get a room in Sonoma but couldn't find one for a price we wanted to pay. So we pricelined Napa instead and got the Marriott for two nights--it was beautiful, so much nicer than that damned Eldorado. :) We had barely arrived when they had a wine tasting with bread and housemade pesto for a snack out on the newly remodeled patio in the warm sunshine. Can you say "spoiled"? :)

We were tired so decided to stay in and have room service the first night. *On this trip we noticed that every single restaurant seems to serve some version of a beet salad these days.* We ordered several small plates to share, including the beet salad, which was missing from the delivery. The server came back with a salad and it was not *beet* so we had to call again. The poor guy had to come for the third time with the correct salad.

The next day we struck out to wander around Napa. *Addendum 4/19: I completely forgot our funny story about getting a parking ticket. Yes, we were very happy that Napa had free parking in the downtown area. We both semi subconsciously noted that the free parking was good for two hours, did not discuss it out loud, and promptly forgot. As we were walking back to the car much later, I recalled the two hour limit and Rich chimed in that he'd also noticed the sign. We discussed that surely it was not all that well enforced. :) Approaching the street, sure enough, we could see a little piece of paper attached to the windshield wiper. Uh-oh. A $30 ticket for parking over the time limit. What could we do but laugh?

We liked this quote, though I believe there's a misspelling in it.

We had lunch at a place called Celadon

browsed some shops

enjoyed the sunshine
and drove over to famous chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc for a lovely dinner.

Ad Hoc is Keller's more casual spot. There's a set dinner menu, served family style, which was great for me since I could take what I wanted and not fret about wasting anything. The meal was fabulous and if I can ever get Rich to do a food post, he will tell you more about it! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On to Lake Tahoe and a Visit with Heather's Family

We left Mary Ethel and Roger's on Friday and headed for Lake Tahoe. It began to snow almost as soon as we hit the road. We were a tiny bit worried about going over the pass but, although the snow continued to fall sporadically, the highway was fine. Here are a few photos taken out the car window. I was not necessarily all that thrilled to see cold and snowy weather but figured I could handle it for a couple of days. :) We had a very nice room at the Hyatt Resort in Lake Tahoe. The people were super friendly and the service was the best. We decided just to eat dinner on site and I was all excited that the manager on duty was from Philadelphia and the server's assistant was from Asbury Park, New Jersey. He heard us talking with the manager who'd seated us and came up to the table saying, "Hey, Jersey!" Yes, he was a Bruce fan who had worked "right across from the Stone Pony."
Both had recently moved to Tahoe and were adjusting to the new environment but seemed happy to be there. Our waiter was a very nice older guy (probably our age LOL) from Peru. He'd been there 27 years and thought he recognized Rich, though Rich said he'd never been to that hotel before. Funny. We had a pleasant conversation with him about his family and Peruvian cooking.

In the booth behind us, a couple (well, the man, really) started complaining about the shrimp on the seafood buffet. He said it was the worst he'd ever had and he'd eaten shrimp all over the world. On and on he whined to the poor waiter. The funny thing was that Rich was facing the guy and said he'd eaten three plates of shrimp before he started complaining. The waiter went after the manager who had to come and listen to more of the same. The guy sure was a talker. I was eavesdropping at first but it went on for so long that I lost interest and am not sure what the final outcome was. The manager had been offering them some additional items last time I heard. Rich later had a conversation with the manager and they commiserated a bit about dissatisfied customers. What can you do?!

After dinner, we stopped in the casino to spend our budgeted fun money. I usually spend $20 and then I am finished. Rich has more talent and/or luck at gambling. This time, he won $408 on video poker with very little invested. True to his good form, he cashed out immediately and we went smugly back to our room for the night.

On Saturday, we left Lake Tahoe to go to Gardnerville to see Rich's stepdaughter Heather, Dan and kids. They live way up in the hills so Heather sent a neighbor down to meet us and show us the way. Dan was going to come for us but he was in the ER getting 7 stitches in his chin after a skeet shooting device snapped back and cut him pretty badly. Ouch!

Dan came home soon after we arrived at the house and we all went back into town to have lunch at a Chinese place. Above: Dan, Danyell, Heather and Rich.

Dan's daughter, Addie

Cutie pie Danyell

Addie, and Heather's daughter Samantha

Dan and Danyell

Dan's son Aaron

The kids wanted to stop by the park before going home. It was really windy and cold so we did not stay long. The kids were fine but the adults were wimpy.

Sam and Danyell

Dan does chainsaw carvings and sells them--you should see him handle that chainsaw! He wanted to make us a bear to take home with us so we watched him work. I felt kinda bad that he had just had stitches and probably was not feeling the best but he did not let it slow him down a bit.

Heather and Rich look on.

Here's our bear, holding a sign that says "welcome" on one side and "bye" on the other. Kind of a cute play on our name, huh?

More excitement at their house--their cat was having kittens! They thought she had four but there were five when we arrived. So cute! We had to check on them several times.

Aaron keeping the fire stoked

Sammie and Addie

Danyell, who just turned 5. The last time we saw her, she was a baby in Heather's arms, so it's been awhile.

We had a great visit and it was lots of fun to catch up with everyone. Thanks to Facebook, we stay in good touch these days, but a personal visit is always the best!