Thursday, December 26, 2013

One breath. One song. Several pictures. One year.

Welcome to 2013: sometime in the middle of January, my car of 10 years dies. Time for a new(er) one. I guess it all has an age.

To sweeten the blow, my best girlfriends from out East come to spend almost a week of nefarious (hardly!) fun with me in Vegas! What a good start to a weird year!

First sign of spring: pipe bursts in the basement, when water thaws out from winter.

Sometime in there … Aa’s computer dies. Easter weekend – we buy a new one. It all comes with an age, yet again!

In April, we see Bon Jovi in concert in Salt Lake City. When you frown upon that, just think about where I originally come from. This is big deal, to me!

We find out that some of our friends from VA would like to come to UT for a week and sightsee. We are instantly hired as guides – one week in early June is booked! Hotels, rental car – the whole deal!

Sometimes in May – Aa. finds out he has to have massive oral surgery. But we put it off till end of June – the sightseeing trip, first, you see.

I find out that my favorite band (still together and still alive – Donna the Buffalo) is coming to Montana in late July. Eh, what’s Montana?! An itty bitty, 6 hour drive away. We’re booking it!

We’re adding to our yard’s landscape. Big time. And I am declaring the yard done! Of course, Aa. doesn’t believe me. But I want to be done, really. Planted some grass seed even, to see what the snow will magically do over the next winter. And next year, outside of my veggie garden, I am planting nada, people! Unless … something else dies. *sigh*

Trying to career switch in the middle of it all, too, just to keep it interesting. I get the new job in July. I get to start it in … middle of October. No stress at all, while in between “careers”. Not at all.

July is Steep Canyon Rangers with Steve Martin at Deer Valley for a night concert and stay.

August is Montana – deep, deep into its heart. Wind, dust and bluegrass music. Soaking in the pioneer and the settler history. Finally, a piece of my new history, revealed in sightseeing Helena, MT, visiting museums, the Capitol and buying some books.  

September is celebrating mom: 60 years of life. 40 years of marriage. And retired this year, too. We all meet, as a family, in Montreal. Best moment of the year, for me (outside of Aa. surviving the surgery and living to tell about it). My ever growing nephews move me to my core, for every second we spend together. Such a short and a full trip, I am grateful beyond belief!

October, two big milestones: I am finally free from the NC house! Three and a half years on the market and in no-man’s-land kind of situation, it sells! I am still in shock! I am still waking up at night in cold sweats, worrying that it’s in flames and I can’t be there to explain what happened.
In the second part of the same month: mom visits the American West for the first time. We tour the area with her. During the government’s (and the national parks’) shutdown and all. Utah, Arizona, Nevada, my head is spinning …

November is, finally, after some years, Michigan family time with Aa’s folks. I finally get to meet branches of family and friends that I have not met before. Again: after three and some years – the circle is finally getting close to complete!

And in December … I have negative three thousand units of energy left. Older, fatter and very much changed (and tired), with less trips on our roaster than I would have liked (always wanting more), here we are, at the end of this one.

My mantra of seeing every year at least one place I have never seen before is still standing. I have seen several places never seen before: the Bluff, UT area, Hoover Dam, as well as Monument Valley, Flagstaff and Sedona, AZ.

I keep reminding myself that there are people being shot, innocently, across the world and across the street. Right now. There are people dying of starvation as I type. Babies. Animals being tortured. Innocent. Homeless families, making a fire in the desert or the wilderness of Seattle, with nothing but each other to keep warm. Young people and old fighting cancer, for no particular reason at all, because cancer never makes any sense!

Babies and mommies dying in childbirth – never to know each other. Loss of homes – everywhere. Some of my own family finding it hard to find something to put on the table for New Years. Some people forced out of their countries by war and persecution, with nothing but a tarp between themselves and the world.

I am blessed. We are fortunate. We are here, together, employed and free, and managed to send a gift, however small, to the ones we love. We can see, pour ourselves a drink, and open a door with our own two hands. Our fridge is full of Christmas leftovers. We are lucky beyond words! God is amazing!

Not sure if I should keep riding the roller coaster right into 2014, or get off a little and breathe. Not sure if I have a choice, really.

I am letting the pictures speak for what I cannot describe anymore – a full year, of beauty and of love.

Happy New Year, everyone! Make it better. Make it fuller. Or make it equally as certain, as the last one, if you can. Whatever you do – just enjoy the ride and I hope you all find at least one thing to make you wonder …  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Gift that Kept on Giving

It’s been a while since I have posted an airline blog. Remember, back in the day, I used to be really annoyed (and that is an understatement) by all the tribulations one had to encounter to survive a successful trip by a flying object in this world. And most times, flying is not so much a choice as it is a necessity for me.

But lately, I have grown kind of immune to all the “stuff” (for need to keep it a clean blog) one has to put up in the airline business. Oversold flights still boggle my mind. So does the fact that nowadays every airplane seems to make their own rules about what devices should be turned off and which should be off in a particular lag of any flight. So does the fact that on some planes coke is free, while on others it’s $5, when on others yet it’s non-existent. Not that I drink coke.

And I could go on forever.

But this blog is about my latest experience through the check-in (TSA) line. Lately, my husband and I try very hard to not check luggage at all, especially when we fly on weekend trips. $50 to check a suitcase (two ways) is insane. After $1000 or so for the tickets! So, during Thanksgiving, when we went back to Michigan, to visit his family, we took two carry-ons.  

His aunt gave us our Christmas present, all wrapped up prettily in a pink bag. So sweet! The directions were very strict though: we were not to open the gift, nor peek, till Christmas Day. We were to pack it in our carry-on, and put it under our tree when we get home, and wait to open it on Christmas.

You all know me well, and I do peek, however. Usually,  just on principle. But this time, I was afraid to go onboard a plane without knowing what’s in my bag. What if the TSA will have a quiz or something and I fail?! Jail versus upsetting the aunt, temporarily?! I love his sweet and well meaning aunt, but … I love my freedom more. Yeah, I sort of peeked.

I felt the package and I knew there was something like a set of mugs or a vase, with a plate inside the pink bag. I didn’t open it though – just felt the items inside the bag through the tissue papers.

So, we’re in the airport, in the TSA scanning line, and one of our bags gets called for thorough checking. I won’t go into the whole detail of how they picked my husband’s bag versus mine first, by mistake. The trouble was with mine! Mine had “the gift”. They finally picked the right one and they searched it item by item. Creeps me out, of course, but it’s the price you pay for your freedom, I guess.

Then, they find the pink bag. The little TSA man says nonchalantly: “Ma’am, I am looking for explosive powder. Or, maybe cocaine. That’s what the scanner picked up! ” Seriously! Smart scanner. NOT! – I think.

Explosives or cocaine?! Little ol’ me?! I am mum! He asks: “Ma’am, this is a gift, isn’t it?! Do you know what’s in it?” – now, WHAT do you think the right answer is here, when the man is trying to find bombs and drugs in your junk?! Anything you say can be and will be held against you – don’t you think?! So, I sort of said: “I think there are mugs maybe with something in them? But no, I didn’t open them”.

He is opening it right in front of me, and adds: “DO you want to know what’s in it?! Some people have no clue!” – well, if you’re gonna send me to jail, please do tell me what’s in it! Sure!

He finally found the compromising substance and it was … hot chocolate mix! The little sweet aunt has given us Christmas mugs with packs of hot chocolate mix in them. So much for no peeking!

He kept a straight face through the whole check, took every single item in my bag apart, and tested the powder (the actual powder, not just swipes from the bag!) for either explosive or cocaine, and of course … it came back with “hot chocolate” – no, I made that part up. It came back “legit”, whatever that means.

I was in luck because: 1.The man was nice and very patient. And  2.He was used to people traveling with unopened Christmas presents on them, carrying all sorts of illegal stuff, that they knew nothing about the insides of. He shared: “Some people try to board these planes with whole sets of steak knives. That’s fun – when I have to tell them: you check your bag, or the knives stay here!”

I tried to offer him to keep my hot chocolate, too, but alas … you can board a plane with that, so I got to still keep my carry-on and my “mystery powder”. I wonder what happens to hot chocolate mix when you mix it in with coke?! And I asked myself if he ever wondered about that?! Hmm …  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Time’s Getting Slower, Fall Is Tucked Away

Boy, I have missed the boat on this one!

You might think that it’s time for me to talk about winter already, one week before Thanksgiving, and I am just now catching up on the fall we’ve had this year.

The delay is only due to the fact that we’ve had a busy year, all around … We don’t still have balmy temps and yellow leaves on our trees. But we did have a longer fall that usual. Not terribly dry, but surprisingly colorful nonetheless  – as you can see. 

Aspen, pines, rock and snow on Mount Timpanogos - late September 

I wanted to take a few minutes to record it, because, as I stumbled upon these pictures they just made me sigh with joy and reminded me why I still love (most days) living in The Rockies – the grace of the aspen trees, the freshness of the pines against their golden leaves, the beauty and clarity and neverendedness of the sky. 

This is the mountain behind our house - in mid October 

It has really been a nice, long, Indian summer this year, if my eating still my own garden’s fresh tomatoes today is any indication of it! Only last week, tons of people were wearing shorts, tanks and flip flops while out shopping! Sure, the mountains have had some snow yet, too, but not “serious” snow yet! The valleys have not seen that either, yet – luckily!

At the first touch of fall this year, I was a bit cranky, I admit! I was not ready for it, because we had such a crazy summer, I never felt like I lived that. I was definitely not ready for fall which always spells “winter”, subliminally!

You know what I have never gotten about fall?! I have never gotten people complaining about leaves on the ground! Especially neighbor’s leaves. I love the swishy sound they make in the wind and the natural carpet they make in my yard. And I love them for being compost for the next spring, if nothing else! Buying a leaf blower and bagging them seems like a bit of over-engineering to me … Never understood it. 

You see the neighbor's huge aspen tree?! And its leaves all over my yard?! 

We’ve put the patio furniture away and cleaned out the veggie garden. We mowed one last time two weeks ago and picked the last onions and half ripe tomatoes. We’re ready to go in and have a glass of eggnog, yet, as we’ve had more snow, and temps in the 30’s lately. But dreaming of a fall we only had time to half enjoy is a nice memory to have by the fire on a lazy Saturday. 

Our back yard mums and foreign leaves in early November 


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Will Go for Food

Anyone who glances at my personal travel photos cannot help but notice that I always take pictures of my food. And I have done this way before Facebook and iPhones were invented. Sometimes, I even take pictures of my empty plates, with nothing but bones or shrimp tails on them, too! (I know a couple of gals who will chuckle right now!).

And I have gotten this question a lot: “why food?”. Food can’t tell them where I am. They can’t taste it. And, honestly, I even think that most times all I have handy to snap the picture is my phone and the pictures are not of that great a quality either! So, why food?

I guess, subconsciously, I am my father’s daughter! To him, everything revolves around food. He thinks of it, obsesses over the next meal, shops for ingredients, reads cookbooks like they are thrillers and worries that one day he’ll die of starvation – this is a serious worry! While I don’t obsess so much about that last one, I always think of food too.

To me, food is an intrinsic part of the trip! It’s what gives it taste (quite literally), what makes it fun, and sometimes the only good memory I have of a trip are the foods or the beverages I consumed. When people I run into are annoying, and the prices of hotels and museums make me go bust for a couple of months, a simple hotdog wrapped in a pretzel at the corner of the street, paired with a local brew can make the whole thing worth while!

As someone who enjoys cooking, there is also a personal growth aspect of food finds. Dad would agree that traveling through food opens up your mind and your imagination. I always find surprising ways people use ingredients I knew of, but never thought to mix myself (garlic ice-cream, anyone?!).

It’s a learning adventure just as much as visiting an art or history museum or a natural park. It speaks not only to your very mundane physical (and physiological) satisfaction, but to your cultural enrichment and your senses (smell, taste, specifically), as well.

I used to travel places and never make plans for where I’m going to eat while there. The running into good food was part of the adventure itself. But ever since going to Morimoto’s Napa Valley restaurant and to Seattle, I have changed that pattern! I still love food surprises, but, now, I also try to find out what’s close to our hotel, or close to where our sightseeing will take us, that has had good (or interesting) reviews, and I try those places out. It’s a way to learn the area and to the traveler, it defines that community to its core sometimes. What would an Indian reservation be without the fry bread?! Or Turkey without its fresh breads and olives? Watch any episode of Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows and you’ll know I am right!

Even when we travel close to home, my husband and I sometimes travel for food. We drive up to Park City for Whole Foods or World Market. We drive up to Salt Lake City for the Farmers’ Market in the summer or Trader Joe’s, or, as we found this year, we travel there for our favorite goat farm and dairy: Drake Farms.

This is a concept I never knew still existed in a fairly crowded and populated area of the state (and of the world): you drive up to their farm store (which is almost in the midst of a city), and it’s a self serve booth. You walk in, slip the cash in an envelope, slip the envelope in a metal box, and help yourself to the milk and cheeses in the fridge. Walk out, and the cute, soft and incredibly friendly goats say “hello”. And no, they are not stinky nor loud. The cheeses are so fresh and fragrant (the garlic and onion one is our favorite). When our friends ask us what it’s like to live in the mountains, we can now tell them – you can walk up to the farms and help yourselves to fresh goat cheese. Any day. Unbothered by pushy salesmen or intimidated by huge price tags, or worried about what plastic crap you’re going to eat with your milk! I could live off of goat cheese and fresh tomatoes all summer long up here! And I am so grateful the farmers are so trusting and giving!

I don’t have pictures for all the food finds of this year (and honestly, you won’t have the patience for them, either), but here are some memorable ones.
All I can say is: YUM! 

Fry bread three ways at The View Restaurant in Monument Valley: chili verde and fry bread, Navajo taco and ham and swiss sandwich in fry bread.

Drake Farms - Utah - the self-serve store and the friendly goats. 

 Bringing it home: the garlic and onion goat cheese right next to my own fresh tomatoes

I have introduced mom to Indian food this year. She loved the naan and the lamb coconut korma dish. Lamb is her favorite meat, so, you know if she says it's the best lamb she has ever had, they know how to make it - at Bombay House in Provo, UT.

Sedona Pizza Company - in Sedona, AZ - this pasta dish is out of this world! Garlicy, meaty, peppery (as in bell peppers), very thick on tomatoes - just the best Italian dish I have had this year. Hands down!

Street food yummies at Snowbird's Oktoberfest: brat, kraut and pickle with German potato salad and Black Lager

Without a doubt the most surprising culinary find of the year: Park City's High West Distillery's bacon, bourbon, cashew, caramel (American Prairie) popped corn. 
They call it a "starter" there. I can see how it can ... umm...start something, for sure!

Best won-ton soup I have had: the Zine Restaurant, in The Palazo - Las Vegas: so much more than just won-ton: rice noodles, too, lots of garlic, and chives, and these green veggies that no one could define: like a cross between a broccolini and kale.

I didn't have to travel for this one; this one traveled to me: when mom stayed with us this year, she made green tomato pickles - which I have not had since I was maybe 7!

And what a year would it be without sushi?! This is just local sushi (well, Orem, UT), at Shoga - I snapped it because for once I didn't order "complicated" rolls - just regular fish-rice-and-nori goodness. It still looks pretty and it was still delicious and fresh. Sushi is without question the one food I will always travel for and never cook in my own kitchen!  

It is a tricky business to watch what I eat, though. In a weird twist of fate, God decided to “bless” me with a metabolism disease that doesn’t quite allow me to gorge on everything I love (and what don’t I love?! – that list is pretty short). So, I try to eat everything in moderation, but not deny myself some of the experience. After all, life is short, isn’t it?! And if I die while eating that popcorn, let me tell you what: it’ll be a food worth dying for!