Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No longer a Light Traveler...

It’s 4:30 am and I’m awake, getting ready to leave for the airport at 5:30 am. Since I am not a morning person, my brain is slightly stunned at the indignity of this early awakening. But there’s another part of my brain that is grumbling - I’ve got a bone to pick with the rules that are making it more difficult for me to travel light these days.

I know, I know, it’s not patriotic to grumble. I’m an upstanding citizen, so you won’t actually hear me complain when I get to the airport. But, over the years, I worked hard to pare down my packing, which has been ruined by rules about 3 ounce bottles and quart-size baggies.

I realized the need to streamline during my first work-related international trip. We were heading to Kenya, Ethiopia and Madagascar and I was completely out of control. I had the basics down, like taking clothes that coordinate. (I think my color palette for that trip was black, white and red – as if you needed to know that essential information!) But I took way too much, ending up with this HUGE suitcase and another bag to check, PLUS a small rolling suitcase and my 35mm camera case. It was not pretty, especially when you take into consideration the trinkets I picked up along the way – and the fact that international carriers often have weight restrictions that are lighter than domestic airlines.

Anyway, when I got back I rid myself of the large suitcase and decided that if I couldn’t take what I needed in a more reasonable-sized checked bag – if I checked a bag at all – then I needed to find a way to make it fit, no matter how long the trip. I’ve taken a domestic-size carry-on suitcase and a backpack on a 3-week international trip (and many other shorter trips) and fared just fine…

But with the new restrictions on liquids, all of my paring down is in danger of disappearing. I’m all for making the airways a safer place to be, but that’s countered by a personal need to have my own shampoo and conditioner. Add in some hair product, a little makeup, toothpaste, contact lens cleaning solutions and it’s almost impossible to fit all those things – even if I’m using small bottles – into one quart-sized baggie, especially if you’re on a trip that is more than a week long.

Eventually, I reach a tipping point in packing where it’s more hassle to think about buying travel-sized EVERYTHING each time I take a trip - and to put my personal hygiene regimen on display in a clear plastic baggie - than it is to break down and check a bag, only to have to wait at baggage claim for my luggage. My need for Sebastian’s Potion 9 is apparently worth the wait. The thing is, if I check a bag I give up on paring down:

Scented lotion? Absolutely!
Almond-scented facial scrub? Too tempting to leave behind!
Small bottle of aromatherapy oil? Can’t live without it!
Extra book I will devour in 3 hours and then haul around for the rest of the trip? Why not!
Sweater I love but will probably not wear? Take me with you!

The essentials are overtaken by the frivolous – which is how I ended up at the airport this morning with a bag that weighed 48 pounds. And only 2 pairs of shoes in the suitcase. This all seems counter-intuitive in an era where the airlines are trying to impose tighter restrictions on the amount of baggage we with bring with us. But at least I had room for the cuticle crème…

Monday, October 22, 2007

Playing farmgirl at Boulderneigh...

The other day, while sitting 10 feet off the ground on a stack of haybales, I was attacked by a mountain lion. At the time, I was supposed to be taking a nap, while awaiting a dinner of "cow with veggie sauce." Oh, and did I mention that my name was Isabella? It's just all part of playtime with my "five and three-quarters" year-old nephew, who thinks it's great fun to crawl around in the hay on a cool fall day...

There's always activity at Boulderneigh - from unloading and stacking wood, to picking the last of the goodies from the garden. And there are lots of animals around, too. There was Rosie the bulldog, who just went to sleep forever:

Oreo lives down in the barn, catching mice and enjoying attention:

There are also three horses: (from left to right) Oliver, Sammy, and Russell. Olly is an unamusing combination of stubbornness and flightiness, which I got to experience first-hand a few weeks ago while my sister had a dressage lesson with Russell. As we were riding around the arena, Olly decided that every corner had a boogie-monster. The problem is, I haven't ridden a horse regularly since I was my nephew's age, so Oliver didn't get quite the stern talking-to that he deserved. But we did spend a lot of time going round and round in circles, since I wouldn't let him totally avoid the corners, and even though he hopped and few times and tried to to shake me off, he was unsuccessful.

And last, but not least, my sister has a small flock of 6 Shetland sheep:

So if you happen to call and hear a scream in the background, have no fear: I'm just sitting in the barn, waiting for dinner, being stalked by a 5 year-old mountain lion. :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Texan travels...well, actually, stays for Oregon

So I got a message from a friend the other day, saying "You're doing that disappearing act again...where are you?"

Well, I'm near McMinnville, Oregon, staying with my sister and her family. I went to college here my freshman year so this is familiar territory - but we won't talk about how many years ago that was. Fall has arrived and the colors are amazing - like the main street in McMinnville, a cute little downtown area with all kinds of fun shops:

Since this is the Northwest, there are coffee shops on every corner. One of my favorites in McMinnville is Cornerstone Coffee, where you can get a White Tiger Mocha:

White Tiger Mochas are divine...there was a period of time, when I worked in Nebraska, that my sister would buy a little bag of the white power mix and send it to me. I lived in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest town of any consequence being 30 miles away but, miraculously, there was a espresso place. (Remember the last century, before Starbucks had conquered North America? And did you know there's a Starbuck's inside the Forbidden City in Beijing??? I have photographic proof somewhere!) Anyway, there were a few odd looks the first few times I schlepped my plastic container into the store, but pretty soon I had them hooked, too. :)

McMinnville is also home to Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose (although he didn't like that name...) and the Evergreen Aviation Museum. My sis has a membership, so I've had a chance to wander through a couple times already:

And then there's just quality time with family, like the walk we took last Sabbath afternoon. My nephew decided, for reasons unknown, that he wanted to push his old stroller. On a 3 1/2 mile walk. A walk that was ALL uphill on the way there...

So, Wendy, I'm still alive and kicking - and that's what I've been up to! :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Saying goodbye to Rosie the bulldog...

A few years ago, my sister and her husband purchased a pair of English Bulldogs - Winston and Ruby - and raised several litters of puppies. My sis decided to keep Rosie from the second litter, and she's been in the family for the last seven and a half years...I've always spoiled my sisters' dogs rotten, mostly because I let them sleep with me. Rosie was no exception and over the last few weeks she's been in bed heaven...I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago and realized that Rosie had her head up next to my pillow, paw splayed out, sleeping for all the world like a little dog-person:This last weekend, Rosie had some significant health issues and ended up going to the vet for a blood test and some x-rays. Things did not turn out at all like we expected - Rosie has a large heart-based tumor that's inoperable and it's just going to get harder for her to digest food and to breathe. So they made the decision to let her go to sleep here at home, after an afternoon full of treats both edible and stuffed...she'll be missed.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Texan the Oregon Coast

I arrived at my sister's house in Oregon last Friday. On Sunday, the family took off for a day of fun along the coast. It was a typically rainy Oregon day, with temperatures more like November than September. So I put on about 4 layers of clothes to keep warm, since much of the Oregon Coastal Aquarium is outdoors. But we had fun! My sister and I got our photo taken in front of a life-size painting of a Japanese spider crab (did anyone ever see the Gilligan's Island episode where there was a giant spider living in some cave? I think it was about the size of that crab...):One-on-one with the jellyfish:My nephew and I getting up close and personal with sea slugs and other marine life at an interactive display (I got "hugged" by a sea urchin!):After dinner, we drove out to the Yaquina Head lighthouse, where the clouds cleared out long enough for us to see a spectacular sunset:

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Texan Oregon

Being at home for a few days meant that my dad, the world's most awesome mechanic EVER, could replace the heater core on my car. (Yes, my car has issues. No, I'm not ready to break down and buy a new one yet.) Anyhoo, I've been dealing with another bothersome issue the last few months: there is a short somewhere that's causing the "check oil" light to come on sporadically:There's no rhyme or reason to it - except that if the light is off when I turn the car on, it never comes on. And for awhile there, it was really freaking me out (as my friends in Nebraska know!) But I discovered something else that scared me even more than the harsh orange glare (warning! warning!) of the "check oil" light. The harsh red glare (danger! danger!) of the "low coolant" light:Thankfully, that was a temporary danger signal while dad was having me drive the car, after replacing the heater core, to cycle the coolant through the system and so he could top it off. So, with the car tuned up and my bags packed, I headed for Oregon. The first night, I stayed in Rawlins, Wyoming - a place that's pretty much 100 miles from nowhere. The next morning, I was a bit shocked to see a Ford Festiva: The last time I was in Wyoming (and in Oregon with my own car, for that matter), I was driving a Ford Festiva. I had a love/hate relationship with that car - and it found ways to show its annoyance with me, too. Case in point: it's the only car that I've ever heard of that has gone moldy. Oh, yes. During my freshman year in college, I went home to Colorado during Christmas break. When I came back, I jumped in the car to head to town...only to find a strange green tinge of mold everywhere. A few buckets of diluted bleach later and the car was no worse for the wear. My Festiva once had seven people inside....started on 2 spark plugs (for the record, it had 4)...and routinely got more than 40 mpg. But I still tried to drive it into the ground - and never succeeded. It had a long and fruitful existence, until some lady in a Ford Expedition totalled it beyond repair...

Anyway, I saw some lovely fall foliage on the way through Utah and Idaho, and stayed in Nampa the second night:And then it was on to Oregon!

Miles driven: 1,769

States my tires touched the ground in: Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon
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Monday, October 1, 2007

Amarillo: the best-kept cultural secret in the Panhandle!

Y'all know I'm a Texan. So I may be a little biased - but it sure is fun to be in a town where you can go to a rodeo AND the symphony in one week! A few days ago, my dad and I went to the Tri-State Fair and the last qualifying PRCA rodeo before the nationals in Las Vegas. There was saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling and roping, and bareback bronc riding:
And bull riding:
With only a little extra work for the clowns to do:
A few days later, my parents and I went to the opening weekend of the Amarillo Symphony. It was start of the 83rd season (surprising for a cow town, isn't it?), with new director Kimbo Ishii-Eto at the helm. Amarillo built a gorgeous new venue, the Globe News Peforming arts center, a few years ago. Here's a shot of my parents at the entrance, and a view of the stunning stage:

Texan Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas

After picking a few more Honeycrisp apples in Michigan, I started the drive down to Tennessee and stayed overnight in Franklin, Kentucky, just south of Bowling Green. I'd never actually been to Kentucky, so this was a first, but I do have fond memories of Bowling Green...from a trip to Scotland and a guy named Bill.

Back in 2001, I had decided to leave my job in Nebraska and take a little time off. (Sound familiar?) People were shocked and horrified that I was leaving without having another job - they'd ask "What are you going to DO?" "Well," I'd reply, "I am planning a trip to the UK with a friend of mine..." And that, magically, seemed to make everything OK!

Now there are good friends. And then there are good friends that you can travel with. For me, Heidi is a friend I can travel with. She and I planned a 10-day trip to England and Scotland; I was in charge of making hotel arrangements. When we got to Edinburgh, Scotland, I had to make a confession: I'd booked two beds in a co-ed hostel.

Normally, I'd be the one to freak out about something like this but hey! I had backup! Anyway, we got the key to our 4-bunk room...opened the door....and there was no one else in the room. There was, however, a huge green army-issue duffel bag. Heidi looked at the tag and announced that it was a he, his name was Bill, and he was from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Then she thought we should go for a walk. So we got our first taste of Edinburgh, which is a really fun city:(I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel to pull that picture out of my hat - the trip was in pre-digital days...) And then Heidi took me on the walk 'o death; I won't go into detail here. I think neither of us wanted to be around Bill longer than we had to....but Bill ended up being hilarious! Picture this: a former anti-terrorism trainer who was out of the military and pursuing a Master's degree in Theatre Set Design from the University of Kentucky, who was traveling in Scotland after spending a semester studying in Wales. We laughed so hard...including Karen, a Canadian nurse, the fourth member of our first-night posse.

Anyway, back to the current road trip. After stopping overnight in Kentucky, I stayed in Calhoun, Georgia for a couple days and got a chance to visit with Carolyn, and friend and mentor. She had to give me crazy directions to her house, like "when you see the fencing, turn right," sort of an "over the river and through the woods"-like drive. We had a great time getting pedicures, getting lattes at a fun little coffee shop, and walking on the pedestrian bridge over the Tennessee river:I stopped in Jackson, Tennesee and had dinner with Ryan, a friend from academy days, and his lovely wife Tiffany:

They're expecting their first child next year - Congratulations!!!

Then it was on to Little Rock, Arkansas, where I stayed overnight with family before heading to Amarillo and a beautiful sunset at home...

Miles driven: 1,811

Length of this part of the trip: 5 days

Total miles driven: 3,513

States my tires touched the ground in: Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas

Weirdest sight: a Tennessee truck stop restroom that had a device on the wall that sprayed you with a knockoff perfume for a quarter. Very odd...

Worst roads: From the eastern border of Oklahoma, all the way to Oklahoma City. You'll need a front-end alightment (and maybe a massage!) after that bumpy ride...

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Texan Michigan

It's Thursday morning, September 6, and I'm leaving for Michigan. What's in Michigan? Well, my wonderful friend Loralee, her husband Gabe, and their very spoiled, very charming dog Sophia:
On Sabbath, we went to the Eau Claire church - and I saw Brooks, who was the co-pilot on our trip to Russia. He and his wife are getting ready to head to Papua New Guinea as missionaries, where he'll maintain the mission's aircraft....
I got royally trounced at bowling, and had fun learning how to play a cooking game on Gabe's Wii (way too addictive! but aren't you glad I unlocked so many recipies???). And Lora and I even indulged in a little house-hunting expedition. Some may wonder why we were looking at a $575,000 Craftsman-style home, but that's just because we aim high. :) Oh, and I also had another job interview while I was there...

On Friday, Lora took me to Stovers, a u-pick apple farm. And even though the mosquitos were large and abundant enough to suck half of your blood supply in a single sitting, we braved the elements and picked some delicious Honeycrisp apples. Apparently, there are apple snobs in the area who consider that variety a "tourist apple." I say they need to have their taste buds examined. :)
On Monday afternoon, before heading out of town, I stopped by again to grab some more of those delicious Honeycrisp apples off the tree....

Next stop: Calhoun, Georgia! (With a little overnight stay in Kentucky...)

Miles driven to Michigan: 629
Miles driven in Michigan: 26
Length of stay: 5 days
States my tires touched the ground in: Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan
Total miles driven: 1,702

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Texan Nebraska (and California)

On August 26, 2007, I did it: after leaving my job and telling people I wanted to take some time off to travel, to see family and friends, I was actually embarking on my first road trip. My first destination: Nebraska, and a whole host of college friends...

I stayed with Mike, Heidi, Cora and Brianna. Didn't manage to get a family photo, but Heidi and Cora were reading a bedtime book one evening:
Cora is too funny - the first few days I was there, Heidi was working. So the girls left for Grandma's house with their dad before I came out in the morning. The second morning, I think Cora was pretty sure her parents were telling her a tall tale about their visitor. I heard her announce quite firmly, while standing outside my door, "I'm going in there." But dad said no. To which Cora replied, "But Daddy, if I don't go in there now, I'm never, EVER going to see Kristine!"

The first few days I visited Allan, Wendy, Elijah, Matthew, Benjamin and Josiah. (Don't be fooled by the pink - baby Joey is just doing his best impersonation of a girl due to a diaper malfunction.)Matthew is a pretty quiet little guy at first, but I knew I'd made an impression when he asked him mom "Is auntie coming over again today? She's taking FOREVER..." Kudos to you Wendy, for raising such a wonderful family!
From Nebraska, I flew out to southern California; my uncle passed away and his memorial service was over Labor Day weekend. It was a great chance to visit with family I hadn't seen in years, including several cousins:(And just in case any of you are wondering when I'm going to grow up and get a job, I DID talk to two organizations out in California about positions they have available...)

I flew back on Sunday night, and on Labor Day we all got together for dinner at Jeremy, Holly and Abigail's house:
Some things in Nebraska have stayed the same: if you buy a car, just make your own sign to let the authorities know you're driving legally:

Miles driven to Nebraska: 621
Miles driven while in Nebraska: 416
Miles traveled by air: 1,772
Length of trip: 11 days
Total miles driven: 1,037
States where my tires touched the ground: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, California

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Temptation for the taste buds...

At my house, it's difficult to underestimate the need for something to "spice things up." My dad likes things with a kick - and I've seen my brother eat something so hot it makes him break out in a sweat (which, curiously enough, isn't a sign to stop eating the pepper juice). I even have my own rating system based on my dad's taste buds:

Dad says: "It's not hot at all..." = medium
Dad says: "It's got a little kick to it..." = hot
Dad says: "It's hot..." = I don't touch it with a 10-foot pole!

Here's a selection of items from the fridge:
See the plastic container in the front? There's a church member that makes some kind of salsa for potluck every week, with extra for Dad to take home. And I think it's really a game called "Try to Make the Gringo Cry." Because this stuff is potent, people. A few weeks ago, I was going through line at potlock and saw some tabouleh. Now, I love tabouleh. So I put a couple spoonfuls on my plate...and then realized that the little specks I THOUGHT were bulgur wheat were actually jalepeno seeds. Which means there were a LOT of seeds in that pico de gallo!

So if your taste buds ever need a workout, you know where to go. :)

Texan Albuquerque and Santa Fe

So it's been awhile since I last posted something...mostly because I discovered that socializing with friends I've seen in the last few weeks is a lot more fun than documenting it! But, since I'm about to embark on another journey, I'd better get in gear.

Last month I traveled to Albuquerque with my dad and two of his sisters. Just an overnight trip, but we packed a LOT in. My uncle has always enjoyed gardening, and my dad and his sister were picking apples, peppers, green beans, okra, cucumber, squash, and some of the best grapes I've ever had. (Believe me, if you've never had grapes ripened on the vine, you're missing out. They're delectable!) We chopped up the apples and canned a few jars, cooked up the beans and okra for supper, and brought home several boxes of fresh grapes. Woo hoo!
Monday night, my cousin and I took off to Santa Fe and I went to my first opera ever! It was a more modern staging of "Cose fan tutte" in a fantastic venue - the Santa Fe Opera is an open-air facility and they do multiple productions during a short summer season. In another life, I think I would have liked to be an opera singer. (And by other life, I mean one in which I had a trust fund to sustain me while I labored in obscurity in some European chorus for decades while waiting for my big break.) So, in real life I majored in business and sang for fun, attaining the heights of fame at Union College in the octet, Witness. Here we are, at the 3ABN studios in the spring of (gasp!) 1996:
But I, in closing a gratuitous nature shot: a New Mexican dragonfly with an inordinate amount of interest in the car antennae.

Miles traveled: approx. 782
Length of trip: 2 days
States where my tires touched the ground: Texas, New Mexico

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Texan the East Coast

Yes, the travels have begun. But first things first: congratulations to Marvin and Shanthi, who got married on August 12, 2007!Marvin is a former co-worker of mine and the wedding was a great reason to go back to Maryland for a little fun after leaving a few weeks before. You know, one last chance to say hello and goodbye. I stayed with Shelley and Don, two people who have more talent than you can shake a stick at:
And Mark and Jean: (No, Mark, I have not gone to the Big Texan Steak Ranch yet!)

Chandler, my arch-nemesis from down the hall: (Ha! I win! I'm back in Texas!)Daryl and Johannie, who came all the way from England for the wedding:And lots of other people...

I had flown out of Dallas (which meant driving down from Amarillo, about five and half hours) so that my mom and I could go to a concert last Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, we went car shopping, but didn't find anything of serious interest:

Yes, I realize they're wrecked. This is how we do it in my family! :)

And if you're ever south of Clarendon, Texas, watch out for cows in the road - we came upon a Charolais-cross steer who was rather intent on seeing what was on the other side of the road. But they do have a really neat rest stop out that way:

And the rest stop has free wi-fi, courtesy of the Texas Department of Transportation:Yep, my tax dollars at work. :) So that's my little adventure on the East Coast and in Dallas. Next stop: Albuquerque and Santa Fe!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bye, bye baby...

Before I left Maryland, I had to take care of one last important task: selling my 1929 Steinert baby grand piano. There were a number of reasons I chose to do this - and while some people might say "I could never get rid of mine!" so far, I have no regrets.

But let's take a little walk down memory lane. I never thought I'd own a baby grand. New ones are prohibitively expensive. And old ones often come with their own set of problems. After I bought the piano, it wasn't long before I had thoughts of refinishing it. This may be sacrelidge to some, but I decided to forge ahead. Beneath the dark (almost black) crackled stain was a beautiful mahogany. So the old finish came off:

Eventually, the piano looked like this:

And I had almost 7 years of living the dream, baby! Yes, and when I moved to Maryland there was me, my piano, and all my other stuff in a 750 sq. foot apartment. This was not a dream for the "needs to have copious amounts of open space" or "wants more room for potted plants" kind of a person.

Like I said, I decided to sell it for various reasons. And maybe someday I'll buy a nice little upright. In the meantime, though, my fingers can still feel those ivory keys...