Monday, July 31, 2006

Ice Show

Yesterday, my mom and I drove up to Portland (a 5 hour drive) and back to see the Champions on Ice show. It was fabulous! We were amazed to see who was there and couldn't believe our luck. You see, we actually got the tickets for free. Mom had heard about the give-away for a local store's anniversary celebration on the radio. All she had to do was ask for the tickets and they gave them to her. We were rather incredulous at first and figured either it would fall through for some reason or the seats would be lousy. But we were completely wrong. The seats were in the section closest to the ice, so we could see faces fairly well.

So, do you want to know who all was there? Michelle Kwan, Shizuka Arakawa, Irina Slutskaya, Sasha Cohen, Surya Bonaly, Jonny Weir, Victor Petrenko, Rudy Galindo, Evgeni Plushenko, Evan Lysacek, Stephan Lambiel, Tatiana Totminina and Maxim Marinin, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. Plus three specialist acts - a pair of men from the Ukraine who do acrobatic routines on skates, a woman who performs with hoops and Dan Hollander who does comedic routines.

Today I have been extremely lazy. I finally managed to do some laundry and go grocery shopping, but I didn't get started until 6 PM... I'm just wiped out from flying in late Saturday night and then the all day trip to Portland and back on Sunday. Hopefully I will have energy tomorrow because I have two meetings to attend.

PS. I added some links and pictures to my vacation reports.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Heading Home

Well, our time has come to a close and we fly home tomorrow. It has been a really nice visit with family here in Ohio. Besides the amusement park (see below), we managed to play several games of croquet and Clue with the kids, go to Jessica's youth group for "drive in movie night" and visit the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. We were all quite impressed with the museum - it was much more extensive than we expected to find. I found the information about the early years of flight to be the most fascinating - especially the military use of hot air and hydrogen balloons during three wars.

Today, I went to a Partylite Candle party with my sister-in-law, Jami, while Denis went to a church movie discussion group with Jim. Good times were had by all. :o) During the week, I tried out 3 recipes from my new Rachael Ray magazine on my family. All three were a hit. Apple cake was breakfast for two days. Dinner of "Two Tomato Pasta" and "Toasted Pecan Salad" pleased two sets... The kids preferred the pasta while the adults were impressed with the salad. (I was accused of using "strange lettuce", meaning that it was other than iceberg.)

So tomorrow we fly home. It will be good to be back in our own house and our own bed. Travelling does make me appreciate home more.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Vacation, Week 2

I'm writing to you from Ohio now, but first I will recap some highlights from week 1. As you know, we stayed 5 nights at Brian and Kathy's bed and breakfast (see post below). They did make us some lovely breakfasts and were wonderful hosts. They were in the process of finishing the attic by putting in insulation and putting up walls, so Brian was busy most mornings helping with the work. They would stop at midday because it was like an oven up there. The end result will be great savings on their heating and cooling. So in the mornings, we would visit with Kathy and about midday, Brian would come down from working and visit as well. They taught us a new card game called Golf that we then taught to David and Jean one night.

Once our espresso cravings could not be put off any longer, we would go into town to one of the fine coffee shops and hang out. On our last day in town, we tried out Osama's Coffee Zone. I tried the Arabic Latte, which was quite strong and had cardamom in it. It was quite good.

On one day, Denis and I went for a day trip along a scenic route out of Jefferson City. It wound through farmland and finally ended up along the Missouri river at Hermann. Hermann is a big tourist area with lots of wineries. So we decided to check out one of the wineries for a tour. It was 100 degrees (maybe 38 C?) out that day. The tour started outside along the vineyard and then continued inside the cellars where it was a nice 65 degrees (17 C?). It was very interesting - neither of us knew much about wine making except that grapes were involved. At the end of the tour was a surprisingly generous wine tasting session. We must have had the equivalent of 2.5 glasses of wine, including port and sherry. We were unsure of the procedure and whether it would be okay to just taste a sample and throw out the rest of a glass, so we just kept drinking. I was in no state to drive, so we had appetizers in the restaurant while we waited for our livers to do their jobs... :o)

So, on Sunday morning we drove up to St. Louis and met my brother and family for the drive to Ohio. We did stop downtown for a glimpse of the arch before we headed east. We arrived here about 6PM and had a house tour, church tour, introduction to the new cat, etc. My niece, Jessica, is 15 now and studying for her learner's permit to drive. My nephew, Jered, is 11 and interested in all sorts of things as all 11 year old boys are.

Monday (yesterday) we went for a day at King's Island, the local amuzement park. It was quite crowded, especially for a weekday, but we had fun. We went to the water park first until they closed and then over to the big rides. Denis and I both went on a roller coaster called "The Vortex" which goes upside down 6 times! Then my brother talked me into going on the other big coaster called "Face Off". On this one, you are riding under the tracks and you ride through the short course once facing forward and a second time going backwards. Quite a ride. I did feel a little queasy on the ride home, but it was fun to get the chance to ride such extreme rides.

The Vortex

Face Off

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On Vacation

Well, we are in Columbia, Missouri on vacation and having a great time. We are staying at my friends' Bed and Breakfast and each day we get to spend time with both my friends Brian and Kathy and Denis' friends David and Jean. I knew Brian from the singles group in the church I attended in Portland. He and his wife bought this B and B December of last year and moved halfway across the country. In the same town lives Denis' best friend from high school and his family. Such a wonderful twist for us to wind up with two couples to visit in the same town!

Our plane arrived in St. Louis at 11 PM and we drove our rental car to arrive here at 2 AM. The next morning I attended church with Brian and Kathy and in the afternoon we met up with David and Jean. So far we have enjoyed delicious coffee twice at The Artisan twice. In the evenings, David and Denis play guitar together and they sound really good. They learned to play together just after high school and its a rare treat for them to get to jam together. This evening, we had a big jam session, Brian is learning the banjo, Jean played fiddle, Denis and David on guitar and I hammered on a drum. Afterwards, we went to dinner at the Flat Branch Brewery.

So, we're having a great time. The weather is hot and a bit muggy, so we are indoors mostly, but that doesn't hinder visiting with old friends! Sorry no pictures. Denis brought his digital camera but left the memory card at home. I will have to wait till I get my film developed before I can upload anything.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Macaroni and Cheese

I am making mac and cheese for myself. The noodles are boiling as I type. I love mac and cheese. I specifically like three different kinds:

1. Kraft is the only boxed brand worth eating as far as I'm concerned. I stock up on the single serving "Easy Mac" for the easy preparation. It also helps me not to over indulge. If I made a whole box, I would eat it all. I do add extra cheddar to the mix.

2. Stouffer's makes a good frozen version. It has a nice rich cheddar sauce - and plenty of calories.

3. And then there's homemade. That is what I'm making tonight. I don't have any elbow macaroni, so I'm having to make do with penne rigate. I make a white sauce and add some mustard and cayenne pepper and then plenty of sharp cheddar. The mustard gives it a nice tang and the cayenne adds a kick. You have to eat it while it is plenty warm, or it all hardens into a gooey mass.

Gotta go. I think my pasta may be done.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Latest

Our vacation is just around the corner. We leave on Saturday and visit some friends in Missouri for one week and then my brother in Ohio for the second week. I finally remembered to reserve a rental car for the time in Missouri today. We are both going to get hair cuts tomorrow in preparation. I am going to get mine shortened to about chin length so hopefully I will keep cooler in the midwest heat and humidity.

I had my last visit with the physical therapist today. The set of exercises that he has doing now for my jaw seem to be working. My teeth still don't fit together the way they used to. But now they connect on both sides and my front teeth don't hit together so hard anymore. It's not perfect, but I can live with it this way. He does recommend that I get a bite splint because I seem to be clenching my teeth in my sleep. My insurance only pays $500 lifetime maximum for TMJ problems, so I'm going to wait until I know how much of that I have left before I go to get the bite plate. I may have to pay for that out of pocket.

The last news of the day is that I had another artichoke attack. I found a decent specimen and tried to recreate the flavor of my first experiment. I used the broiler instead of the grill for the final step. It came out pretty good - quite good. So I think the problem with the one last week was the bay leaf that I put in the boiling water. It gave the whole thing a funny taste.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Artichoke Obsession

I made grilled artichokes on the 4th of July along with grilled chicken. I hadn't had a fresh artichoke since a college friend introduced me to them my freshman year. I was always intimidated by the spiny leaves and figured that they would be too difficult to prepare, but I was wrong. After just cutting off the stem and the top 1 inch of the leafy end, you place them in salted boiling water for 20-30 minutes.

Back in college, we dipped the leaves into melted butter - yummy, but not so good for the arteries. This time, I made a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and tarragon. After cutting the cooked artichokes in half and scraping out the choke, I drizzled the dressing on and we put them on the grill for a few minutes. I had high hopes that through the magic of the grill, Denis would find them palatable. But he still found them a bit weird. So I got the pleasure of enjoying 2 whole artichokes. I talked him into trying a bite of the heart, but he wasn't impressed. MMMmmmm they were so good. I didn't remember how good they were.

They were so tasty, that I had to go on an emergency artichoke run to the store on Thursday night. But my second artichoke experience did not quite measure up to the perfection of the previous one. I'm not sure if it was a problem in the artichoke itself (they didn't look as fresh at Safeway, and I really had to search for one that looked okay) or my preparation. I added lemon juice and a bay leaf to the boiling water this time and didn't bother with the grilling bit. Anyway, it just wasn't as sweet and luscious the second time around. I think I may have to give it a third try if I can find another beautiful artichoke.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Music in my CD Player

I have been listening to some beautiful music tonight, and so I realized it was time for another installment of this popular segment. Previous episodes here and here. Tonight's set is composed of mellow worshipful Christian music:

Graham Kendrick - "What Grace" 2002 worship album. Check out arrangement of Rock of Ages.
Susan Ashton, Margaret Becker, Christine Dente - "Along the Road" A mezmerizing sound.
Rich Mullins - "a liturgy, a legacy and a ragamuffin band" Classic!
Sara Groves - "Conversations" Wonderful lyrics of Truth.
Fernando Ortega - "This Bright Hour" What a soothing voice.

I really think any Christian should have Conversations and This Bright Hour on their CD shelf. They are just fantastic!

Movie Review - The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

We have finally seen a movie that I can whole-heartedly recommend! This was a great film. It is a documentary about a man who spent about 10 years of his life befriending and studying a flock of wild parrots that live near Coit Tower in San Francisco. The Netflix description of the movie did not do it justice. It describes the man, Mark Bittner, as a "bohemian St. Francis of Assisi" - an eccentric searching for meaning in life. In reality, I didn't think that Mr. Bittner seemed that eccentric or bohemian. However, he did become fascinated with these birds and basically adopt a full time job of observing them. This was in spite of the fact that no one was paying him and he could find no one else interested in his research.

No one is sure what the origin is of the wild flocks of parrots that live in SF (there are two). Somehow they escaped from captivity and have been propagating and doing quite well in the city. What surprised me about the film was how studious it was. Mark Bittner did his homework over the years, finding out more and more about the parrot social network, behavior and where they likely came from. In an interview with a zoo-keeper, we find out that not a lot is known about these topics because it is so hard to study parrots in their natural habitat. Bittner has maintained contact with this zookeeper over the years to ask him questions about the observations he makes.

And unlike Timothy Treadwell, who spent his years studying grizzly bears in Alaska and was profiled in the movie Grizzly Man, Bittner kept his role in perspective. He interfered in the flock very rarely, only when there was a bird that was severely injured or ill and then released them back to the flock if they were able. He was able to accept the natural cycle of life and death that is inherent nature. All in all, it was a very informative film about a fascinating group of birds and a very interesting and intelligent man.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

By Request

Our engagement picture.

Sisters mountains in Central Oregon

Painted Hills at John Day Fossil Beds. From our camping trip last fall.

Denis soggy in Duluth, Minnesota. On our 2004 vacation.