Monday, April 20, 2015

Kids These Days...

As I have said before, what's the point of having a blog if you can't use it for good... and by 'good' I mean promotion of good causes, especially when they are being championed by family.

Today's nepotism is brought to you by The Transcaucasian Trail and two industrious, adventurous former Peace Corp volunteers - Jeff Haack and Paul Stephens. Since their time in the Peace Corp they have been working in GPS mapping. Their plan is to establish a hiking trail from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.
Okay. I 'borrowed' this pic from the fundraising page. Please don't hate me. I am using it for good.

 In their words: "it (the trail) will increase sustainable tourism and bring economic activity to remote areas, it will raise the profile of the protected areas in the region and help ensure their continued conservation, and it will promote the connections between communities, ecosystems, and people, in a place where there is too much focus on the things that divide." And really, who doesn't want to help promote a more sustainable world in which division is only a math term.

Please take the time to check out their Facebook Page: The Transcaucasian Trail 
And if you can help please check out their fundraising site: The Transcaucasian Trail
You can also find them on Twitter (@transcaucasiant) and Instagram (@transcaucasiantrail).
again, totally 'borrowed' from the page but seriously - beautiful!
Of course, I have a vested interest here - Jeff is my nephew, world traveler and peach aficionado extraordinaire. He is also sporting my husbands crampons. Which are not feminine hygiene products for seriously cranky women but equipment used to climb ice. They have been taking up space in our basement for years and I DO NOT see my husband using them EVER AGAIN. (Except when he does the trail with Jeff, once it is opened.)
Stay Safe Guys and Keep up the Good Work!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fah-harm Living is the Life for Me...for about a day...and a half...

It is official. I have an addiction.

Every spring I get the undeniable desire to plant a garden.

I grew up on a farm.

My parents grew a garden the size of a city block.

My Dad worked in the farm supply business. I spent many afternoons surrounded by the heady aroma of potash and anhydrous.

No wonder meth is so addictive.

I am pretty sure this is the root of my problem.

Ever since we moved into our house, nearly 30 years ago, I have had some sort of garden. There have always been herbs in the tiered beds beside the house. One year we dug up 2/3rds of the back yard and planted all the vegetables. Problem is vegetables require sun. Our back yard is all shade.

The only truly sunny patch is the strip of yard between our house and the neighbor's. One year we hand dug a garden there with moderate success. But the following year, with the prospect of re-digging the area...well, let me tell you, if meth-heads had to cultivate a 10x10 patch of yard, now covered in violets and creeping charlie, they would think twice about cooking.

This year, thanks to Dad-the enabler, we decided to try the newest fad in gardening – the RAISED GARDEN BED!

(Of course, this is not really anything new. Raised beds have been around forever. In fact, Martha Stewart herself has a number of them. We have just been too cheap to bother. Because hand digging a YARD is so much easier.)

Just look at the dirt. You could almost bury a body without breaking a sweat.

I did a little research and settled on a 4x8 bed, which according to Rob is much easier to construct as the boards needed are actually 8feet long, thus requiring a minimum amount of math to cut. Plus this size bed, according to various container gardening sites, allows me to plant enough vegetables to feed a family of 4 plus most of the Duggars for a year.

It only cost us approximately $45 for the lumbar that should be 'lumber' (it seems I have been working the back surgery recovery a little too much!) and weed retardant under-cloth. But no worries, I can spend that much on vegetable in a month. 
Of course, filling the frame is it's own project. You can fill it with plain old dirt but seriously? I live in the land of clay. Digging clay is similar to stabbing a shovel into a bucket of concrete. I have watched a fair share of Martha Stewart and her gardens are never difficult to dig. In fact, with one delicate gloved hand she dips her trowel into the rich black dirt and in the next two minute segment has planted an entire row of heirloom butternut squash. So...we bought fancy dirt with fertilizer. And topsoil. And peat moss. I could bury Martha Stewart in the bed with my bare hands that soil is so light and fluffy. (But I won't. I love Martha. Please don't put me on a list.)

The dirt was another $80. So, that's another two months of veggies. I break even this summer and next year I will actually be MAKING money off this bad boy.

Of course, this does not take into account the money I will spend on seeds for the 47 varieties of vegetables I plan to plant.

Or the plants I buy when I get too antsy waiting for the seeds to sprout.

But, think about all those fresh vegetables, warm off the vine and straight to my table...Take THAT you locavores.

The raised bed only took about an hour to construct. (It took three hours to purchase. At Lowes. On the nicest Saturday in April thus far.) And with all the extra time, and a little left over dirt, I did the prep work on the herb beds. And weeded the shade garden. 
Imagine this filled with flowering plants, ferns, hostas...

The shade garden is my white whale. I have been in this house forever and finally, FINALLY, have the super shady side of our yard almost looking like a lovely, shaded fairy-friendly landscape. Except for the grass. Which does not grow in shade. Unless it is in the GARDEN part of the yard. Then grass grows like crazy. Just like those damn violets.

There has been much research done on plant's ability to communicate with one another. I am here to tell you, this ability exists. And those conniving little violet bastards are experts at telling each other where to sprout because the nice lady sometimes lets one of their adorable brethren bloom in the shade garden. 
Sometimes in my sleep, I can hear them laughing...
It only took another three hours but I got them all.


Which is the reason I am writing this sitting on the couch with my feet up, in my pajamas, floating on a fine cloud of ibuprofen, tylenol and a small rum drink.

Which adds another $30 to the price of the garden.

Which translates to 6 organic, heirloom, single source zucchini.

So anyway you look at it, I win!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Happy Spring!

March 21...Spring.
Just as that fickle groundhog said, but honestly, who amongst us believed him. That Spring would be here in six weeks.
And here on the Coast of Illinois, Spring arrived with a gentle breeze and 70 degree temps. (Sorry East Coast. But maybe you shouldn't have pissed off the Groundhog. I recommend a steady bribery diet of berries and weekly rubdowns for next year's groundhog. Personally, I let ours live under our deck so I feel I have an in.)

Twenty-nine years ago I was learning to ski in Switzerland with my husband of one year and his best friend. It never occurred to me, as I listened to a Swiss man who spoke no English singing Billy Joel tunes at the hotel piano bar, that I would one fine spring day be hoisting the main sail to glide across a silent lake.
Life is funny that way.

No more daydreaming over Islands and Cruising World magazines.
It is time to take the sailboat out. 

Being about one thousand miles from an actual island and limited by a stupid two day weekend, we decided on Rend Lake, a 90 minute drive, as it is a little larger and less busy than either of the closer lakes. It only took us three access roads to find the one lake access open on the first day of Spring. Which was good as it forced us to try a new boat launch and we discovered a nice picnic area for possible future get-togethers.
Setting up a sailboat in the land of powerboats and fishermen is always interesting. People watch in awe as we hoist the wooden mast. They sigh in disappointment when we don't drop it on top of the car. We were warned numerous times not to fall in the lake as it was still frozen just two weeks ago. I'm not sure what they thought we were going to be doing out there. Do I look like an America's Cup racer? Or someone who wants to freeze to death on the first day of spring in the middle of Southern Illinois?
(The average person can survive maybe ten minutes in 40 degree water. I looked it up. No thank you.)

I haven't been sailing since my November lessons so I was pretty excited to practice the skills I learned. Thankfully, there was no puking. But we did give rudderless steering a go. Not because we lost the rudder. But because we could! And it worked! Holding the rudder steady and letting the jib luft will actually turn the boat. Even in our 3-6knot East by South by Northeast gusting out of the West winds.

We had the lake nearly to ourselves. A couple of displaced bass boats raced past us heading to the bass boat party at the north end by the bridge but otherwise we were alone. With the waterfowl.

Herds of waterfowl.
And they were not happy with our slow and steady appearance. At one point a flock of over 200 birds took flight in front of us. It was amazing. What started as one flapping bird became two then twelve then one hundred. The sound was that of a small helicopter. I tried several times to catch the sight on camera.Listen closely, you can just barely hear the flapping.

At the end of the day we were slightly wind-burned, a little chilly and completely refreshed. I was reminded again of how lovely it is to fly silently over the water while interacting with the weather and the boat.

Happy Spring Everyone!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

You've Been Nepotised!

It has been a busy time here on the Coast of Illinois.
I would like to claim that all the hub-bub is what has kept me from writing the remainder of my Caribbean adventure. I have tried to also blame the weather, the time change, the fact that I am exercising again. But honestly, it is my lack of discipline.

And it is also all the hub-bub.

You see, this year, this weekend – Pi Weekend – is a biggie around here.
My little sister is getting married!
My baby brother is celebrating a birthday!

I imagine most of you have figured out that makes me the oldest. By five and ten years respectively.
As a five year old, I was foolishly excited to get a baby sister. I recall the awesome tiny jelly packets Dad brought home to me from the hospital. And the annoyance that the ball of blankets they brought home was completely unable to hold a Barbie.
Five years later, my excitement to have a baby brother was tempered by experience and the fact that the tiny ball of blankets our parents again brought home was born two months early and looked more like a monkey than any baby I had seen.
But there were those awesome jelly packets.

I must admit, never felt that super close Marcia/Jan Brady bond to either sibling.
My sister and I shared a room until I got married so there is that geographical closeness. And we played a lot of games with our little brother. Games like 'Scare that Karl' where we would lie in bed and bet how many of our own screams it would take to make our poor brother scream in return. We went on countless family vacations, staying in a pop-up camper where you can't help but know one another intimately.
But we never really confided in one another.

Until we were grown-ups.

My brother graduated college and moved himself, alone, to New York City in order to pursue a musical career. There were phone calls and postcards and thanks to Karl and his apartment in Queens, I got to fulfill my dream of visiting the Big Apple. And although I have always loved writing, it was Karl's advice – 'just write' – which nagged at me for another five years before I finally began putting my random, ridiculous thoughts out into the world.

It was about that time that my sister, back here on the Coast, voiced a desire to become involved in a writing group I belonged to. This mutual desire to entertain ourselves and others brought us close.

My brother and his family now live in Berlin, Germany. He is a jazz musician.
Which brings to mind the old joke:
What's the difference between a jazz musician and a pepperoni pizza?
A pepperoni pizza can feed a family of four.
He is one of those rare people who has pursued and maintained his dream. He is a working musician playing jazz guitar and recording for a variety of artists. He writes and sings his own songs and his work has been nominated for numerous awards.
Karl, you are the pepperoni pizza of jazz!
And this weekend is his birthday. Love you brother!

My sister is a bona fide scientist. Her work in pulmonary research has been published through the lab in which she works and makes me feel really stupid just trying to pronounce the titles of those papers. For example: 
She has raised an amazing son. She writes beautiful poetry and crochets like a crazy person.
On Pi day she is marrying an equally annoyingly smart guy who builds incredibly detailed boats and as best as I can tell, works as a spy. They are a perfect match.
Congratulations sister. Love you too!

Bubby, me and JenJen. I know. Too adorable.

And thus concludes the nepotism portion of the blog. The sun is once again shining here on the Coast of Illinois. There are tiny green leaves sprouting from the earth and my basement palm tree is itching to move outside.
Tales of the Caribbean, here I come.....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Maybe that Spinning Wheel is Hypnotizing Me

I am sure I am not alone...(as I write this I am hearing the words in the voice of Frank Underwood, ie Kevin Spacey) ...when I say that my time is rarely my own. By this I mean, my time is divided between work, family, writing, fun and now House of Cards.

It is my belief that Netflix is in cahoots with Kevin Spacey to overturn any semblance of civilization and responsibility in my life and quite possibly the world by releasing in one fell swoop, the entire third season of House of Cards.

I admit, I was late to the table with streaming Netflix. But I did my civic duty and managed to watch the first two seasons of HofC over a week and a half. This is no small feat as the only other person in my family who would enjoy the show is my son and he is no longer living at home. Which means I watch House of Cards, American Horror Story, Magic City and the occasional reality show when I am home alone.

I watch Walking Dead on Sundays. I mean, come on. This is how we survive.

But, I digress.

I wish I could explain what it is about HofC that appeals to me. I tend to avoid politics and drama. But the combination of Washington DC, the journalism angles, the beautiful clothes, the beautiful people and all the wheeling and dealing are just too much. I feel as though I am getting a crash course in how Washington works. I feel my knowledge and paranoia have increased exponentially.

And don't get me started on Kevin Spacey.

The guy inhabits my dreams.


After watching anything with Kevin Spacey in it, including but not limited to those E-Trade commercials, I will dream about him. Sometimes they are goofball dreams where nothing really makes any sense but more often than not they are dark, intriguing dreams which leave me with a sense of, not unease but not exactly anticipation...

Yet now that I am watching multiple episodes of House of Cards I have found that my Kevin Spacey inspired dreams have become nearly non-existent. It seems that four hours is the Kevin Spacey Saturation Point.

Sorry Mr. Spacey.

Which is one of the reasons I had to watch four episodes of season three today, my only day off this week. Sure, I needed to clean the bathrooms and I had intended to begin the official outline for a novel that is desperately needing direction and attention. I did force myself to not turn on the television until I had accomplished a few of my tasks – laundry, linens, bills. But as soon as my lunch was ready I parked in front of that damn spinning Netflix wheel for episodes three and four.

And then I felt guilty so during episode five I cleaned out and organized our Cds which just happen to be right next to the television.

My other reasons for watching, besides KSSP – (Kevin Spacey Saturation Point)? "If we never did anything we shouldn't do, we'd never feel good about doing the things we should."*

The newly organized CD cabinet. Of note, the alphabetical classification with special interests in easy to reach stacks, the mini-Easter Island heads, anniversary clock, moose picture, as seen on TV push-lights and the ecologically acquired coral next the the hand thrown clay pot. 
As you can see. It is a far busier cabinet than the one in Washington.

*Francis Underwood, House of Cards, Chapter 17

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead...okay, not so much Dead as Stranded

The following post is a public service announcement
brought to you by the
Society to Not Completely Lose It
While Trying to Return Home

Below is a list of things to do, should you find yourself sitting in the Denver airport, staring at the text message on your phone which states: "Your flight has been cancelled due to crew availability".

  1. Stare at your phone and wonder how the plane, which just pulled up to your gate, could lack a crew to fly it to the promised destination.
  2. Stand in ticket line at least 90 minutes waiting to reschedule flight. Hotel Voucher and Meal Voucher Roulette is dependent on reason for flight cancellation.Essentially if God caused it you are screwed.
  3. Wonder just why everyone in front of you is so keen on going to Fargo, ND.
  4. Leave backpack stuffed in coat to mimic slumped body and have moving sidewalk races.
  5. Return to line and wonder just what is up with Fargo.
  6. Using story problem method try to figure out just how much jerky the eight $7.00 meal vouchers will buy.
    Okay. This clearly offers one more thing to do in Denver. But this is a family blog, people. And, the answer to #6 is apx five bags of jerky. If you stick to the 1.1 oz bags.
  7. Figure out just how much eight $7.00 meal vouchers is actually worth.
  8. Totally confuse the hotel shuttle driver by commenting, 'Not my bag. Not my bag.' as he unloads all the bags in the back of the shuttle. Once the shuttle is devoid of baggage, grab backpack from shoulder and shout, 'Here it is!'
  9. Steal travel companions cookies. Demand that they go back to front desk, insisting that they never received one of those delicious warm spheres of yummitude.
  10. Shop gift shop for t-shirts to sleep in.
    a. Have 'a-ha' moment with realization that you have just purchased Dad's father's day gift. (Sorry Dad – no picture. Don't want to ruin the surprise, but rest assured, there is a huge indigenous animal on the front.)
  11. Devise a meal plan to feed a family of four, containing all four food groups, with $56.00 in meal vouchers at an airport hotel restaurant.
  12. Play "Where Were You Suppose to be Tonight" with other restaurant patrons. Winner gets all meal vouchers.
  13. Realize that there are no winners in "Where Were You Suppose to be Tonight?" Except for the hotel.
  14. Take walk to Walgreens to stretch your legs. Cross same two streets a minimum of 10 times while never actually getting to the side of the road that Walgreens sits on. Contemplate writing a letter to the Denver City Planner.
  15. Return to room empty handed but with an appetite for one of the misappropriated cookies.
  16. Wonder just how these hotels get the bed linens to be so soft.
  17. Fall asleep counting how many planes, trains, buses, shuttles and cabs you have ridden in over the past four months. Not counting the train to work or the work shuttle when you drive.
  18. Wake up. Get blinded by automatic bathroom light. Call front desk and inquire about the purchase of these amazing sheets!
  19. Practice your best Fargo accent when you answer the ridiculously shrill wake up call.
  20. Note that in-room coffee pot does not work.
  21. Text all traveling companions with this news. Even though one of them is in bed next to you.
  22. Formulate, draft and email a business plan which would allow Starbucks to open a 24 hour delivery set up.
  23. With all fifteen waiting shuttle passengers, ponder the possible scenarios in which might a pair of multi-colored underpants might wind up frozen to the front step of the hotel.
    a. NO. There is no photo. That is just gross.
    b. Okay. I wish I had thought to take a photo.
  24. VERY CALMLY AND RESPECTFULLY GO THROUGH THE SECURITY CHECK PLACING LAP TOP IN BIN BY ITSELF. Try not to stare in contempt while husband goes through the Pre-Check lane. Again.
  25. Sing along with the instrumental tune that plays on the train which takes you to Concourse B. Add airport trains to list in number 18.
  26. Wish you had been more economical with the food vouchers as you invent things to do with the gross egg flap that is found in your sausage biscuit. 
    The National Flag of EggFlapLandia
  27. Make list of Things to do in Denver When Your Flight is Canceled Due to Crew Availability.
  28. Run through concourse to take picture of Jerky Shack while Group 1 boards plane. Those smug first class bastards.
  29. Board plane. Bargain with God, offering to stop calling random strangers – 'smug bastards'- if He will only make sure you don't die with three days worth of leg stubble present on your legs, Vow to never go anywhere again. Notice Islands magazine in backpack. Book next trip the minute the flight attendant says you can turn your mobile devices back on.

In all fairness, there were a large number of flights cancelled, missed and re-routed due to weather over the past week. It is really no surprise the flight crew needed some sleep. All airport and airline personnel were amazingly friendly and helpful. The staff of the Doubletree Denver were equally pleasant and helpful and the hotel was wonderful.

Clearly that above paragraph is the result of me being clean, jammied and sipping on a glass of Cabernet.

I am not that forgiving when I have three days of leg stubble.

And – to prove to one of my younger traveling companions – Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead is a real song. And it is awesome.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

9000 Feet of Schizophrenia

Yes. You are on the correct blog.

Yes. Last week's post was all happy island and sailing.

And Yes. The first picture you see here is a snow packed forest of pine trees.

I take full responsibility.

I made the mistake, several months ago, of asking our kids what they wanted for Christmas. We have always been lucky when it comes to wish lists, now that our kids are a good twenty years past the Toys-R-Us catalog age. They have never really asked for a lot of stuff, either cheap or expensive. They are both out of college, working, and dedicating free time to fun. I expected a random list of household items, clothes, books. What I got was this:

"When can we all take a vacation together? That would be nice."

Well. I am always up for a trip. So, Bart and I threw out the next obvious question. "Where should we go?" Even though we both knew what they were going to say.

"Let's go skiing!"

Which is how I now find myself at 9000 feet watching the sun glisten off about a foot of fresh glittery snow which sits on a base layer of about 4 1/2 feet of old cruddy snow. By cruddy I mean hard packed and icy, my skiing nemesis. I am wearing no less than three layers of clothes, not a swimsuit. But there is still a huge bottle of sunscreen sitting next to me (because nothing is funnier than a sunburn in the dead of winter) and Trop-Rock is playing on the ipod so...

Clothes may say Brrrr but my smile says 'it's colder at home than it is here!'

We first took our kids skiing fourteen years ago. Bart is a well practiced skier, having had a friend whose brother worked the ski patrol in southern Colorado. I manage to not embarrass myself, after falling rather than gracefully exiting the lift and being married to a man who has the patience of a saint and the wisdom to know better than to try to teach your wife the basics of anything.

Our son took to the slopes as though he were born with skies on his feet. Our daughter caught on over time, having inherited her mother's fear of falling off the lift and her father's tenacity and athleticism.

We have since made a point of the family ski trip as often as we could, but time being what it is and life being time's accomplice, we have not managed the trip in several years. The fact that both kids wanted to spend a few days with us made it very easy to finagle the schedule and the bank account and here I am, not so much on a beach but nearly smack in the middle of the Continental Divide. 
There is something so breathtaking about being at cloud level. I am pretty sure it is the lack of oxygen.

Winter Park, Colorado has been our ski destination of choice. The town is about a ninety minute drive up from Denver, depending on the weather, through some beautiful and breathtaking scenery. Years past we have driven the entire trip from Illinois but more recently have opted to fly. This was the first year we haven't rented a car, instead using the Home James service to deposit us at our condo. 
So NOT the beach... and don't even think of looking over that guardrail.

The town and resort has a fabulous bus system in place, all free, which makes getting around pretty easy, unless you are attempting to make it to Safeway on your first night during the forty minutes when the buses switch from day schedule to night. Suffice it to say, there was a tiny bit of running with six bags of groceries and a case of soda divided amongst three of us. And we still managed to miss the bus.

I blame the lack of oxygen. And possibly my lack of running. Whatever. A bus eventually came around (apx 15 minutes and half a bag of popcorn later) and even though the route only required the driver to drop us at the bottom of our hill, he took pity and drove us to our door. 
Okay. Wow.

We are not only location loyal. We are also condo loyal, choosing BeaverVillage Condos as our home away from home. This year our two bedroom unit is equipped with a nice kitchen, comfy living room with electric fireplace and a pull out sofa bed. Our bedroom also has an electric fireplace which is lovely to look at as you pass out from oxygen deprivation and physical exhaustion each evening. There is a second bedroom and two bathrooms. Plenty of room for four adults.

Coopers Creek all spiffed up for the season.

Downtown is only about a 15 minute walk, downhill. This takes a little longer going back up. At night. After eating all the BBQ ribs at Smokin' Moes. Of course, there are buses running until 11pm so the apres dinner walk is not mandatory.

Look closely, there are tiny little children out there.

WinterPark Resort is a ten minute bus ride and offers on-site ski rental and storage, a variety of dining places and an equally nice variety of trails, depending on how insane you are. Winter Park is also the National Center for the Disabled and as such offers a wide range of activities for people needing adaptive services no matter the ability level. Let me tell you, nothing gives you that 'I can do it' push like seeing a laughing five year old with only one leg shoot past you on skis. 
See that line of skiers? All tiny little children who are all better skiers than me.

As I write this, Bart and the kids are out on the slopes, navigating trails with names like Jabberwocky and White Rabbit. I opted out of actually skiing this year mostly due to a huge lack of preparation on my part. I plan to meet up with the group later this afternoon for dinner at The Cheeky Monk where they will regale me with tales of moguls and hairpin turns and I will wonder just how it is I am related to these people. 

This is one happy boy.

We will spend a few more days in close proximity to one another. Conversation will run the gamut from everyday topics such as whose turn is it to shower first to less common discussions of geriatric cocktails such as daiquiris made with strawberry ensure and one-a-day vitamin Bloody Marys to just plain silly rodent training videos. We will force the kids to watch such 80's classics as Seems Like Old Times and Meatballs and they will insist we catch up on Nightvale.

And with any luck, they will want to do this again in a couple of years. 
Okay - UPDATE - I had to add these last two photos. We had our final dinner at Casa Mexico - being as it was National Margarita Day. 
Muy Simpatico y Muy Frio!

On our walk home it was snowing the fine, silvery, glittery snow you get in the mountains and the Beaver Village Lodge was, well, I'll let you decide! 
Hello, Mr King? Your room is ready. Unfortunately it is next to Mr. Nicholson. He has promised to keep the croquet mallet in the closet.

Please click on the links throughout this post. It is not a paid post but I can assure you these are great places, and that's not the lack of oxygen talking!