scarlettina: (Default)
1. If you had a year off (with pay, to make it interesting), what would you do with it?
First thing that came to my mind was get in my car and travel the country, the most massive road trip ever. There are so many places I want to see that I never have, and I have friends all over the country so it wouldn't be a solitary trip. Of course, I'd want to travel overseas as well; I'm not nearly done with international travel. But I have neglected seeing the US and the number of places I still want to go is huge: the Grand Canyon (which I'll actually be seeing in the spring), Red Rocks, Big Sur, Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore, the Big 5 in Utah, Crater Lake, the Newseum in DC, Nantucket, Fenway Park, Ellis Island (yeah, typical New Yorker), Kennedy Space Center, the Everglades and on and on and on. . . .

2. What are two things you would do to improve the country if you were in complete charge?
Single payer medical insurance. Democratic president.

3. What three TV shows do you like watching?
Very different question than what are your favorite shows; interesting way to put it. I like watching Project Runway though I haven't in a while, Game of Thrones though I'm a season behind, and Downton Abbey.

4. What are your four favorite ethnic dishes?
Lasagna, chicken tikka masala, phad see eiw.

5. What are five words you love to use?
Hilarious, bananas, booby (as in blue-footed).
scarlettina: (Airplane)
Haven't mentioned it previously, but now that I'm here, I will: I'm on Long Island for the holidays. After the year I've had, despite the stupid amount of money it costs, I decided that I really wanted to see my family. So as I type, I'm sitting in bed at my brother and sister-in-law's house on Long Island, and am very glad to be here.

Both flights--red-eyes--were . . . challenging for different reasons. The first (Seattle to Minneapolis departing at 12:30 AM) featured a child no more than a year old crying and screaming for most of the trip. No matter what her mother did, she as inconsolable. Very little sleep was had. The second (Minneapolis to LGA) featured a beautifully dressed older woman as my seatmate who it became clear about a half hour into the flight was suffering from some sort of memory loss. She'd have the same conversation and ask the same questions over and over again. Her husband was sitting four rows behind us. She was very sweet, obviously of good and kind heart, but clearly unaware that she wasn't fully with it--and obviously wanted to be social. After I realized that I wouldn't get any sleep on this leg of the trip either, I decided to try to help out as much as I could and gamely participated in the conversation she obviously wanted to have. At the end of the flight, she pointed out her husband to me, who gave me a look that meant he understood and appreciated my help. I don't know whether they had failed to choose their seats when they purchased their plane tickets and thus gotten separated, or if he had deliberately taken the opportunity for a little respite from what must be a tough caretaker role, but his expression suggested he knew it had probably not been the flight I'd hoped to have. I helped her get her coat and the right bag and made sure they connected before I took off. So sleep wasn't something I got much of on my red-eye flights.

My brother S picked me up from the airport, took me to lunch at a classic Long Island diner (which I loved), and then got me back to the house. My sister-in-law M, niece V and I caught up, we eventually had dinner, and then V and I made Christmas cookies. Doing this without a rolling pin and with dough that wasn't as cold as it should have been was entertaining. When we were done, I helped her study for her science test, introducing her to the idea of mnemonics and suggesting that rather than just memorizing words she look up pictures and definitions. It helped. This morning, M and I are going out for breakfast and then a little last minute holiday shopping.

The weather is incredibly mild; I may have brought clothes too warm for the trip. It's in the 40s here, with a promise of no precipitation until Saturday, I believe.

M and S recently bought a new house in the same development they've been living in for several years now. They wanted a larger unit, given that V is now a teenager. The new house is still a work in progress--but the progress they have made has been impressive, with some new appliances and a new tiled backsplash in the kitchen that my brother installed himself; it's gorgeous. It looks like a contractor did it. V's room is complete in beachy blues and whites. They had new lights installed in the living room, and opened up the kitchen a bit so that they've now got a breakfast bar and the space feels very open and social. So the place is at least ready enough for the 14 family members coming over on Christmas day.

I'm generally feeling good and have laughed a LOT, which is something I've really been needing. Also, everyone is very huggy and loving, and that's been healing. It's especially been satisfying to be around my brother, whom I know so well and who knows me so well that the jokes and the glances come fast and furious and communication is at once very verbal and almost completely nonverbal at the same time. I have that with very few people in my life and it's a gift. It's also been satisfying and validating to be with my niece, for whom I'm apparently the cool aunt.

I'm staying in what they call the play room, which is a third bedroom that V uses for hanging out and socializing with friends. The futon has a memory-foam mattress and soft covers and is tolerably comfortable. V has her own Christmas tree in here with a little nativity scene at the base, situated right next to an exercise machine. In the dark, the thing looks like an antlered demon looming over the bed. It freaked me out when I woke up halfway through the night.

It's time for me to get up now, and get the day started. I'm trying not to be self conscious about the weight I've gained and the hair I've lost; it's hard. These things will be resolved in time, one way or another. I've got to be here now and not let them get in the way. I love my family. They love me. And I'm going to bask in every moment of that for as long as I can.

Will you be coming into the city while you're here?

Sadly, no. Much as I'd like to, I don't have the time or the transportation required.
Doesn't that make you crazy? You have friends there, and there's theater and museums and and and . . .
Yes. Please don't rub it in. :: sigh ::
What about the friends in Nassau?
Again no time or transportation. You're killing me here.
Do you sound like you're from Long Island again?
Yep. That didn't take very long at all. It's my sister-in-law's fault. We'll have cawfee and tawk.
scarlettina: (Snowflake 2)
Baby, it's cold outside It's finally feeling like winter. Am I celebrating? No. It's just . . . well, it's December and it's finally cold. Reality is catching up with the conceptual template of our calendar. I may not have enough warm clothes of the proper size to wear this season. I really do need to clean up the bedroom, shop in my closet and see what's what.

Only crazy people travel at Christmas time In a nod to my emotional needs, I've gotten plane tickets to visit the family for Christmas and Chanukah despite my dislike for traveling at this time of year (with all the amateurs) and despite the fact that I shouldn't be spending such money when I'm still paying off August's medical adventure. Given that my brother and sister-in-law have made the typical Long Island marriage (he's Jewish, she's Italian), we'll be celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas, and we'll be doing much of it with her big Italian family. It should be fun, and I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone.

If you don't fit the work, make the work fit you I've started to do informational interviews at the day job to understand what my career movement options are in-house before I start looking elsewhere. It has been suggested that I have the chops for (watch out: technical jargon ahead) product owner, program manager or business analyst. Business analyst is beginning to appeal to the part of me that enjoys taking things apart, understanding them and putting them back together again in more efficient, effective ways (not unlike book editing). More research to do on this front, but it's helping to alleviate the dissatisfaction and frustration I've been feeling at the day job.

Color my world Painting group was last night and I think I may have said everything I wanted to say on the canvas I was working on. I've asked the instructor to get me another canvas to work on. I'm not going to start on the new one until I look at the current work one last time to make sure I'm really done with it. I tried some new materials and techniques last night (working with a high-flow paint that feathers beautifully when squirted with water) and want to see how it all dries and resolves. Things are sparking in my head, and I'm liking the sensation.

Gemstone jam I may or may not have mentioned here that I'm going to be a vendor at the company holiday craft fair. I'm generating jewelry, but it's going more slowly than I need it to, and the fair is barreling down upon me. It has occurred to me that I've spent a lot of time making elaborately pretty things, but I need to make some really simple things that will be less expensive. Tonight I need to put together some simple, easy pendants. But this means going over to Fusion Beads to spend money on chain and cord. :: sigh :: I'll never make back the money I'm spending on this experiment. It's a worthy experiment but it's a costly one.
scarlettina: (Road Trip)
Saturday morning, we got up, packed our bags, had breakfast, and prepared to be picked up by our driver, Donal Moyhnihan, who was to be our guide for the next 8 days. We had no idea what to expect. The person who arrived was probably somewhere between my and Elizabeth’s ages, a tall, very slim man with lines on his face, a head of thinning, graying hair and, as if from central casting, a lilting accent with a particular rhythm. He opened the car doors for us (a Mercedes sedan), grabbed our bags and we were on our way.

Getting out of Dublin proper took us a little time; this would be true of any major metropolitan center. But once we were out on the road driving south, we got our first glimpse of the rest of Ireland: a quilt patchwork of a million shades of green, cows and sheep grazing, and a sky of ever-changing moods and whims, clouds that—within minutes—would change from puffy and playful to dark and threatening. The countryside was beautiful, and it would continue to take our breath away the entire time we traveled the country.

Glenncree German War Cemetery and the Center for Peace and Reconciliation
We wouldn’t have known about our first stop if Donal hadn’t recommended it. It’s a small, beautiful German war cemetery settled in the Wicklow Mountains bordered on one side by a river. Buried there are the remains of German soldiers who crashed in Ireland during World War II, many unidentified, but all managed with care. The graves are laid out in arcs radiating away from a sort of sanctuary that is vaguely reminiscent of the portal tombs we would see later in the trip, and that shades a mosaic pieta and a benediction in German. It’s a lovely memorial, modest and quiet, and a gentle offering of peace to a former enemy. It’s a beautiful gesture.

German war cemetery

It turns out that it’s part of a larger installation, the Glencree Center for Peace and Reconciliation, devoted to peacebuilding and reconciliation in Ireland, North and South, Britain and beyond. The buildings on the site were built originally as barracks for British troops in the 1800s. They were, thereafter, used as a reformatory school, a prison, and then an orphanage. In the 1970s, the center was established to foster better relations between the two communities in Northern Ireland. Interesting building and interesting history.

Our drive took us through the beautiful Sally Gap—soft hills, more green, more cows and sheep enjoying the lush grass—and thence to our first early Christian site.

Say “Glenda-loch” if you’re Irish. Say “Glenda-loo” if you’re English or American, apparently. Either way, the monastic site at Glendalough is fascinating. Though it includes a church (St. Kevin’s Church) and round tower (among the ruins of several other buildings), it is now mostly a necropolis, a city of the dead, with graves from as early as the 1500s to as late as the 1990s. Glendalough was the seat of Saint Kevin, an early Irish monk who came here to establish a monastery. The cemetery on the site is full of beautiful Celtic crosses, and the setting is idyllic. You could hear sheep and cows in the distance.

While we were there, the site was rather overrun by international students, and part of me winced as they walked across graves. I tried to be careful as I picked my way through, but I’m sure I stepped on ground covering more than one set of ancient bones.

Of the site, my notes say, “Impressed to see the way stones of different thicknesses were used to create texture.” This was in reference to the walls of the ruined church I explored. I don’t know if the texturing was deliberate or if it was the result of building and rebuilding on the site. Clearly, though, it made an impression. The round tower also made an impression, tall and slim and straight. With the chauvinism of 21st century eyes, I wonder how they built such a tall, straight structure, and then remembered that people in a much earlier time built castles, cathedrals, the Parthenon and the pyramids.

Click to embiggen
Glendalough round tower

Rock of Cashel
From Wicklow we drove into Tipperary to see the seat of the High Kings, the Rock of Cashel. We arrived late in the day, so most of the bus tours had already departed. That meant that there were no crowds to speak of when we arrived. While we didn’t have the place to ourselves, we didn’t have to contend with the pushing and rudeness that we would encounter later in the trip.

The Rock of Cashel is impressive in both size and construction. The structures on the site are only the latest (relatively speaking) of a series of buildings that existed there. You walk up a long ramp and duck through a doorway and a short, dark corridor—as I recall—that lets out into a courtyard open to the sky. You’re faced with a large partial cross and then archways that offer entry into the structures themselves. Restoration work is ongoing on the site, so parts weren’t accessible to visitors, but what was accessible was awe-inspiring: soaring walls and the remains of what was obviously an impressive cathedral, with gothic arches, and tall slim windows topped with a rosette window.

Cashel windows

We did get to hear some information from a tour guide on the site. We were being sprinkled with a light rain while she was speaking. She spoke quickly and very factually. When she was done with her talk about the history of the place, she said, “Any questions? Right, OK. Let’s get under some shelter,” and she took off as if the rain were acid pouring from the skies. Being from Seattle, obviously, the rain wasn’t an issue for Elizabeth and me, and we took our time to explore. There was at least one casket carved with fantastic animals, and the remains of some beautiful relief work on a couple of walls. We also saw restoration in progress on a painting of the crucifixion.

Besides the gargantuan cathedral and castle-like structure, the site includes a cemetery with beautiful Celtic crosses and its own round tower, of somewhat rougher—though no less impressive—construction than the one at Glendalough. And the site boasts amazing views of the countryside all around. Over the course of our hour or two while visiting, the sky changed moods, as previously mentioned. Some of my pictures show a hulking structure under a foreboding sky; others show a beautiful ruin under blue skies with puffy clouds—both on the same day.

If I had one disappointment in the entire day, it's that there was a penny smashing machine at the gift shop at the Rock. We saw it on our way up, and I decided to smash on the way back down--but the shop was closed by the time we left. No Rock of Cashel smashed pennies for me!

The Rock of Cashel
(click to embiggen--it's worth it)
The Rock of Cashel

When we were done with poking about, it was time to head to our hotel for the night, a place called The Park Hotel & Leisure Center in Dungarvan, Waterford. The building is a lovely yellow, a two story place with beautifully manicured grounds. There was a wedding party going on when we arrived. We got settled, had dinner and hit the sack. It had been a big day, and another was coming fast on its heels.
scarlettina: (Airplane)
We had lunch on Friday at a pub called O’Neill’s just outside of Trinity College. The place had a sign out front that said, “Good times are coming, no matter how far away.” I took that as a good sign. I had the beef and Guinness stew. The respite was needed; we’d been on our feet a while, and it was nice to sit and eat and mull over the exhibit.

Now, it should be noted that a number of people had suggested that, while we were in Dublin, we should do the Guinness tour. I wasn’t particularly excited by this idea because I’ve never been a Guinness drinker. When E heard this, she insisted I take a sip of her Guinness. Much to my surprise, I found it smooth and soft, not bitter and very tasty. Really, it was a serious surprise indeed. I liked it! We didn't take the tour, but more Guinness drinking would ensue.

Our next stop was Christ Church Cathedral. A location of worship nearly 1,000 years old, the Gothic structure that sits there now is somewhere around 700 years old. The grounds are beautiful, with sculptures and ruins that highlight both the faith and the history of the site. I was struck by the blocky flying buttresses and the ruins of the original chapter house, open for viewing on the grounds outside the church. I was also struck by a sculpture of a hooded man curled on a bench. His feet showed wounds characteristic of the traditional portrayal of the crucifixion. I’m virtually certain the sculpture is intended to make the visitor think twice about their treatment of the homeless. We strolled the grounds and went inside, but we were greeted with an immediate demand for an entry fee. The sounds of a concert floated out from the main sanctuary, and for some reason the whole thing just repelled us. We took pictures of the stained glass that was visible from where we stood, but we decided to head out to another destination; somehow the experience just struck us the wrong way.

Stranger on a bench

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

We walked to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The building feels blockier and more imposing than Christ Church. There, we paid the entry fee and took a tour of the building, learning some of its history. We also got to see memorials to Jonathan Swift,  author of Gulliver's Travels, who was dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745. The tour guide told us that Swift was notorious for his epic sermons lasting as much as three hours and often descending into harangues of the congregation. Still, he apparently benefited the church and did serious benevolent work on behalf of the poor. He wrote his own epitaph, having his own way until the very end. The cathedral is beautiful, with its choir space hung with banners and mounted with the helmets of associated knights. Statues line either side of the sanctuary, and the floor is inlaid with beautiful tile featuring loose Celtic knotwork and vines and flowers. The columns are made from Connemara rose marble--rare and beautiful.

City impressions
After our visit to the cathedrals, we decided to head back to the hotel for a bit. We were both tired and wanted a break. One thing that struck me as we walked--all the time we were in the city, really--is how close to the surface the Viking heritage of Ireland still lives. We saw a ribbon mural featuring a Viking ship and depictions of the perils of the sea. The city offers an attraction called Dublinia that purports to recreate Dublin of the Viking era. We didn’t go in; the place was swarming with students, and the crowd just repelled us. But it’s there beneath the surface; we were never not aware of it.

The toilet in our room is interesting. You have to pump the handle up and down a couple of times to flush it. Weirdly, I enjoyed the exercise.

Salt and pepper shakers in Ireland are reversed from how I grew up with them: Salt is in the shaker with only one hole; pepper is in the shaker with many. Odd, at least to me.

We had asked around about what we ought to do in the evening. Everyone we asked told us to go to Temple Bar, which is a lively district not at all far from where we were staying. As it turned out, the restaurant that [ profile] akirlu recommended to E is located near there, a place called The Quays, so we went there for dinner. We were seated by a window with a view out to the street. I had the fish and chips, and I ordered a Guinness for myself. It was as good as I remembered from lunchtime—I was a convert! Dinner overall, in fact, was good, so thanks to [ profile] akirlu for the heads-up!

Halfway through dinner, there was a clamor on the street. It seems someone had won a football (read "soccer") game and there was much rejoicing. There were also a couple of spectacles going on: how long can you stay pulled up on a pull-up bar, that kind of thing. When we were done with dinner, we navigated this wild crowd. It was clear, though, that "party" is this neighborhood’s nickname and nature, and we could hear music from every pub we passed. We stopped outside of one to listen to some traditional music (too crowded and loud to go inside), and then headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before our first full day on the road.

Friday: Dublin

Sat, Jul. 9th, 2016 07:20 am
scarlettina: (Airplane)
We woke ridiculously early, around 4 AM—thank you, jetlag—to the raucous sound of seagulls mobbing above the rooftops. When we went to bed, we had left the windows open for the air, and the curtains open mainly because we were so tired after our epic journey that it didn’t occur to us to close them. What this means is that we were assaulted by first light (that’s honestly how it felt) and awake as a result of not just the light, but the seagulls and jetlag. We are about six blocks from the banks of the River Liffey, and gulls are ubiquitous. We think that between the water and all the restaurants in the area, the birds have their pickings of what to eat. Every gull we’ve seen is large and fat and sassy. They are gulls; hear them squawk (and squawk and squawk)!

Since our hotel reservations included breakfast, we started the day with the buffet at the hotel. The dining space is actually a series of rooms on at least three levels connected by staircases. The rooms are relatively small, with architectural details that suggest an earlier, more elegant time, with glass chandeliers mounted from medallions in the ceilings, detailed molding along the corners, and subtle, patterned wallpaper on the walls.

Once we were done, we packed our day bags and headed out. We had one day to get a taste of Dublin, as thorough a taste as possible in a limited amount of time.

Trinity College and the Book of Kells
Our first priority was to go to Trinity College, to tour the campus and see the Book of Kells. From our hotel, we walked along O’Connell Street, a broad, busy thoroughfare separated down the middle by islands dotted with statuary here and there, as well as a tall silver spire pointing toward the sky, ending in a sharp point like a needle. Elizabeth observed that she was waiting for someone to spike a gigantic receipt onto it from the sky above. I may never get that rather terrifying image out of my head.

We stopped to pick up postcards, some gifts and stamps on the way, as well as unscented soap and sundries, and then crossed the River Liffey. There’s a lot of construction going on all around where we walked; the city is extending its light rail system, so few pictures will be without construction detritus of some kind.

The Trinity College campus is a quiet haven amidst the rush and bustle of the city. You go through a black, wrought iron gate and enter a beautiful symmetrical academic square with lovely, Georgian buildings all around, carefully trimmed grass, and a blocky but still graceful bell tower in the middle. Several yards inside the entrance, we bought tickets for a campus tour and entry to the Book of Kells exhibit.

Our tour guide, Geoff, turned out to be a dark-haired, dark-eyed PhD candidate good looking enough to be a model, with a sense of humor and enough personal charisma to make for an excellent guide and storyteller. He shared the history of the campus and a little bit about himself, including the subject of his dissertation: Jewish communities in the Greco/Roman period. (Elizabeth: “I would read the shit out of that!”)

After a half-hour’s tour in his congenial company, we joined the line to see the Book of Kells exhibit. Because we’d gotten there early, the wait wasn’t long at all. The exhibit, an excellent, museum-worthy gallery, explains the context and history of illuminated manuscripts, and their purpose and production. It offers some detail about other notable illuminated books in the college’s collection, and ends with a room devoted to the book itself. Rebound in the 1950s, the Book of Kells is split into the four Gospels. Two are on display at any one time, which means that visitors can see four pages—and only four. This 1,000-year-old book is not for the grubby hands of visitors if it is going to continue to survive the ages. It is stored beneath bullet-proof glass and, at night, is lowered into a locked, climate-controlled vault for its protection. Getting to see it up close is the only way to appreciate the delicacy of line and the condition of the pages. It looked to me as though some of the lines in the art were made with brushes that had three or fewer bristles, so fine and thin were they.

The exhibit then funnels visitors up into the Trinity Library Long Room, 223 feet of three tiers of bookshelves. I walked in and had to stop for a minute. For a booklover, the room is, literally, breathtaking. With its dark wood paneling, its lines of busts down each side and its arched ceiling, it is a temple to knowledge, a chapel to the written word. You can’t help but just stand there in awe and take in the vast stretches of bookshelves. You could wander forever looking at the books and poking into one here or there and never get tired or bored. The library is home to a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and Brian Boru’s harp, symbol of Ireland, but not ever having belonged to the last High King.

One we were done feasting our souls upon this place, it was time for lunch.

I need to end my post here, because I must rise, wash up, and get ready to hit the road. This was only half the day; I have more to share. There will be more, as I’m able.
scarlettina: (Airplane)
Not: this was written when I was extremely tired. Expect no poetry, just chronological exposition.

Elizabeth and I met at the gate for our flight to London at SeaTac airport. The first challenge of what became an entirely challenging trip was that we hadn’t been able to check in online, even though British Airways sent us email exhorting us to do just that. When we arrived, they seated us on opposite ends of our cabin—World Traveller class, which is akin to first class in the US. We ultimately got onto the flight and I switched seats with someone so that E and I could fly together. The flight was pleasant in our class—food served with metal flatware rather than plastic, gratis cocktails, our choice of movies and TV to watch, and wider seats, which was a priority for both of us. We each got about 4 hours of sleep on the flight.

The next challenge was that the flight arrived at Heathrow 15 minutes late. We had to rush across the airport, only to discover that we had to go through passport control and security all over again. We missed our connection to Dublin. They scheduled us onto another flight three hours later. We found the quiet area of our terminal, settled into the on-site lounge chairs (which, while convenient, where basically melamine platforms—not comforting, but exactly what was needed in the moment). I passed out almost as soon as I got horizontal; I was failing pretty hard. After about a 90 minute nap, we found our gate and decided to get some dinner, as it was already close to 5 PM.

Dinner was at Wagamama, where I had the bulgogi beef. I’d been jonesing for some protein, and this fit the bill. Food came quickly, we ate up and headed out.

There was a last challenge at check-in. They couldn’t find me in the system. By the time they did, there was no chance for E and I to sit together. By the time we got onto the plane and were settled in, we’d been in transit for at least 24 hours and we felt it: tired, sweaty, irritated. I spent the flight reading up on Dublin in my Lonely Planet Guide and snoozing.

Once we arrived in Dublin, we decided we’d had enough of mass transit. We took a cab to Cassidy’s Hotel, a tourist=class place that has the feel of comfortable if utilitarian elegance. By the elevator, we noticed a Rick Steves tour group schedule. That, we found reassuring, as Steves is pretty picky about where he puts his people.

We washed up, changed, and went out for fish and chips at a place called Flanagan's just down O’Connell Street from the hotel. I wasn’t hungry enough for dinner; I had a slice of apple pie while Elizabeth had a second dinner. And then we retired.
scarlettina: (Airplane)
The apartment, our beautiful oasis in the city, has signs near every water faucet reminding us that California is experiencing a severe drought and to please conserve water. Despite these reminders, which my family has verbally acknowledged, I can’t get any of them to actually act like we’re living in a water-deprived area. Michele insists on running the laundry every other day; on the days we don’t do laundry, we’re running the dish washer. By the end of our second day here, I stopped dropping reminders; they will do what they do.

Golden Gate Park: a learning excursion
We started our second day in a leisurely fashion, with breakfast in the apartment. Michele and Valerie kept talking about wanting to go to Golden Gate Park, which is a little like saying one wants to go to Central Park. If you don’t know where in the park you want to go, you’re basically throwing a dart at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold. You could land anywhere, which is what we did. We actually disembarked from our first ride on public transport in a residential neighborhood adjacent to the park. When I asked them what they wanted to do in the park, they kind of looked at me blankly. By the time we’d walked a while—still in the neighborhoods, not in the park yet—we were all hungry and decided to stop for lunch before venturing further. We found a pleasantly commercial area that had strong Asian influence and had lunch at a Thai place. Lunch was delish—we ordered and ate too much food. Then we headed over to the park.

As it turned out, Michele wanted to go to the Botanical Garden. It took us 20 minutes to walk from where we were to the garden gate, where we discovered there was a fee. Michele was ready to abandon the idea when I stepped in to treat the family. I was damned if I was going to waste the afternoon because of an entrance fee. As it turned out, it was money well spent. The garden is large and lush and beautiful, with sections marked out by region. I saw kinds of plants I’ve never seen before. Many flowers were in full bloom and I took some marvelous pictures. I could have spent a lot more time in the garden, but for two facts: 1) We were traveling by a transit system with which we were not yet familiar, and 2) we had a date for the evening.

Beach Blanket Babylon
My cousin Susan is my late cousin Paul’s widow. We are still getting to know her, this as a result of the fact that she and Paul were only married a little more than a year before he died. The whole thing was wonderful and awful all at once. But I knew the moment that I met Susan that I wanted to keep her in my life. She’s a lovely woman, she clearly adored my cousin Paul, and we share many interests, including theater.

And theater is what brought us together for our Sunday evening entertainment. Susan had gotten us tickets for Beach Blanket Babylon, a long-running revue that’s a sort of staple of San Francisco tourist entertainment. The story is thin as tissue paper: Snow White is seeking love around the world and needs advice and help. Along the way, she encounters a variety of celebrities and personalities drawn from pop culture, music and politics who variously showboat and offer counsel. The content of the play evolves each year as news changes and people get their 15 minutes of fame. The costumes are hilarious, the send-ups clever and funny. But what’s most distinctive about the show, besides the absolutely stellar vocal pyrotechnics—these people have chops--is the headgear. The wigs and hats are not to be believed. Some of them tower above the performers, twice as high as they are tall. The wigs are oversized and exaggerated. Some of them have moving parts. It’s all very silly and highly entertaining. We had a perfectly marvelous time.

I did want to note that for all the show’s irreverence, there was one thing that I thought was handled very well. When we arrived, the pre-show music being played as Prince. Throughout the show, Snow White kept talking about finding her prince. Eventually she decides that she’s worthy of a king and she ends up with Elvis. My suspicion is that, at some point during the show, Prince was going to show up. I heard later, as we exited the theater, someone who had seen the show before say that Prince was, in fact, one of the celebrities usually skewered. It’s obvious that the director altered the script as a result of Prince’s (insanely untimely) death to keep things fun and tasteful. They played Prince music as we left the theater as well. Good on them for handling his passing with taste.

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant just a couple of blocks away called DeLucchi’s. The food was absolutely delicious and we just rather reveled in each other’s company. I couldn’t get enough of Susan, and as it happened, we already had plans for me to see more of her the next day. We retired happy, well fed, and delightfully entertained.
scarlettina: (Airplane)
Arrived in San Francisco on Saturday around lunchtime. The plan was for me to meet my brother Steve and his family at the airport, so I got in about an hour after they did. We all tromped to the rental car that Steve insisted on getting, and then drove into town to the apartment we rented for the week. I had argued against his getting a car—we’ll be in an urban area, my argument went, there’s plenty of mass transit, and parking will be a pain in the butt. But Steve was adamant. As things have turned out, getting the car was the right thing to do, which will become obvious as my chronicle progresses (though it is the pain in the butt I predicted it would be).

Our apartment and neighborhood
The apartment we’re renting (found via VRBO) is in Noe Valley, just a few blocks from the Mission District. It’s a two-bedroom place, obviously pre-war (but not obviously Victorian) that’s been remodeled inside to maintain the best of its pre-war features while updating things like the bathroom and the kitchen. So the kitchen has a wonderful gas stove, stone counters and a deep, undermounted sink, all the lighting fixtures in the ceiling are accented with medallions, the wainscoting is beautiful white bead board, and the ceilings are coved. The kitchen has this awesome framed poster: a photograph of a boy reading to a kneeling elephant. The title on it says “Ashes and Snow”. The photographer is Gregory Colbert from an exhibit at the Nomadic Museum at Santa Monica in 2006. I want to see if I can find the poster for myself.

Steve and his wife Michele are using the master bedroom; I’m in what is obviously meant to be the kids’ room—two single beds and two lava lamps, of all things--and my niece Valerie is sleeping on the fold-out couch in the living room. The kitchen is spacious. At the back of the kitchen is a door out onto a small wood deck with stairs that go up to the unit above ours, and down into a tightly packed and verdant garden with a wonderful water feature full of koi.

Our first order of business was getting settled and doing some grocery shopping. We found a Safeway and a Walgreens within two or three blocks of where we’re staying, and stocked up. As it turned out, in an effort to pack economically, I forgot to pack socks! I also, as it turns out, did not really choose my clothes well and I feel like I don’t really have what I want to have in terms of variety and practicality. I don’t know why I packed like I did, honestly. I can only chalk it up to pre-trip anxiety and distraction.

After we unpacked, our next priority was finding lunch. We ended up at a place called El Grande Loco Taco. I had a beef burrito—OK, nothing special. We spent the rest of the afternoon just kind of getting settled in.

Dinner with Organic John
Around 5:30ish, we left for our dinner engagement at Michele’s cousin John’s place. We couldn’t have gotten there without a car. John lives in Kentfield, a suburb just north of San Francisco. Michele had arranged the visit before the trip and kindly included me in the invitation. When we arrived, it looked pretty unremarkable: a multi-car garage off a paved road in a wooded area. But once we got out and climbed the stairs up to the house (probably about 50 steps), we emerged to be faced with a small, fenced-in wading pool and a porch area with many plants and ceramic art on the walls. John came out to greet us—a lean, older man with a shock of white hair like Andy Warhol and a wide grin. Then we went into his home.

My first impression was of dark reddish wood everywhere, curved bows over doorways, stained glass accents in all the windows, wood floors with Asian carpets, obviously expensive art pieces scattered tastefully around. His set of vibes sat in the center of a Zen room off the kitchen; he’s a musician. My second thought was “It’s a hobbit hole!” and after I thought it, John actually said “It’s a hobbit house.” Of course, I asked if he was a Tolkein fan; he said no, and it was clear from the way he said it that he had no interest in pop culture whatsoever. That being said, the music for the evening was Pink Martini. He’s a chef, therapist, real estate guy, musician, author, and apparently a cable TV host. Dinner was a vegan feast, very umami in flavor across the board. Over dinner, he held forth about the benefits of eating vegan and organic, staying in shape and so on. He was very . . . emphatic about his positions with regard to these things. He was an engaging and congenial host if, I thought, a bit self-impressed. His house was astonishing; really, we none of us could get over it. I shall post pictures at some point, but I’ve never seen anything like it. It has a small tower reachable only by a floating set of wooden stairs up to a small private dining area lined with his DVD collection and lit by a skylight. The bathroom was fully tiled and included a soaking tub and shower, in a sort of sculptural style that was very organic. The place resists description. He also had two pretty congenial Siamese cats, from whom I took a little solace.

All in all, it was a terrific first day. We all dropped into bed, exhausted and happy.

Mid-April update

Mon, Apr. 18th, 2016 07:26 am
scarlettina: (Just Keep Swimming!)
Time continues to fly. I think it's partly because our perception of time changes as we get older and partly because I've been keeping enormously busy. Yesterday, my body finally said, "Enough!" I spent the morning alternately sleeping and getting little things done (and Skyping with [ profile] skidspoppe). I spent the afternoon being productive. I spent dinner with [ profile] suricattus and later an hour or so Skyping with [ profile] davidlevine--good visits, both.

Things in general can be summed up as follows:

Work: Someone at the office may be keeping tabs on my LJ. Why do I think this? Because within days of my last post, whence I complained about not feeling challenged, I was named product owner for the shopping experience on the website for 2017. (Of course, I mentioned in my annual self review that my biggest challenge at work was that my ambition and skill set outstripped my authority, my influence and my reach. That may have had something to do with it.) It's a big responsibility, and I suspect that it's a test run for work yet to come. I'm excited and scared and hoping that I can rock it like a rocking thing. We'll see.

Travel: My trip to San Francisco looms. I'm looking forward to seeing the family and to seeing local friends. I'm looking forward to sightseeing as well. My brother and sister-in-law travel a little differently than I do, so it will be interesting to see whether or not our styles mesh. But overriding it, I suspect, will just be getting to see them and my niece. Also, EB and I have purchased our tickets to fly to Ireland in July. Very excited about that. I've been reading a history of Ireland; I'm up to the early 1600s. That's a lot of warfare for such a small place! Next on the planning schedule is figuring out where we're going and staying. We've made up a wishlist of things to see and do; more to come when I get back from California.

Bathroom renovation: I've gotten the prep instructions from the contractor. The letter is calling for my clearing 200 square feet of space so they can stage the work. Also, to cover anything near the work area in plastic. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to do all that, but it seems clear that it will be necessary. I've got a weekend put aside specifically for this work, so I'll get it done, one way or another.

Ecumenism R us: I attended the baptism of MG's son on Saturday. I've never attended the actual service for such a thing before, only the after-party. But MG needed someone to be a photographer and I stepped up. Religious ritual in general interests me, always has, and getting a glimpse into Catholic practice was fascinating. There is some commonality with Jewish practice, but where there are differences, they are dramatic. It was lovely to see MG so happy and excited, and I was happy to be present. At the same time, there was a moment when I was distinctly uncomfortable. The reading from the Gospel was, well, pretty hostile to Jews. I was a guest; I didn't say anything about it. But clearly I was not the audience for this particular thing. And it was not in anyone's interest for me to rain on what was, for MG, clearly a special day. I took about 130 pictures, winnowed them down to the 30-or-so best of the bunch and shared them. The after-party was small but pleasant. And I learned a thing or two about Catholicism that I didn't know before. As long as I'm learning, I'm good.

I go into this week with a pretty clear schedule of Things That Must Be Done: dentist appointment, haircut, Pesach plans, and then a flight to parts south. It's going to be busy, but I'm hoping it's all going to be good. Fingers crossed!
scarlettina: (Five)
1) Just finished reading our own [ profile] jimhines's (Jim C. Hines) Unbound and enjoyed it quite a bit.* I really like his Magic Ex Libris series, with its book magic and its librarian hero, Isaac (who looks incredibly hot on this volume's cover--guy's been doing upper body work at the gym, I see). They're fun, fast reads, peppered with history and humor. They're thoughtful and clever. I like all of the protagonists, and I also like the matter-of-fact portrayal of a working polyamorous relationship. Looking forward to the fourth and final volume in the series, Revisionary, which was just published in hardcover. And now, I'm on to Stephen King's 11/22/63. I'm late, I know, but I figure better now than after the TV series premieres.

2) I want, very much, to love my day job and I just don't. Doesn't help that it's the slow time of the year and there's just not much for me to do. I will occasionally propose a project and be told that there's no budget or that it's not the direction we're going in, or that it needs to wait until another group's plans are solidified. There's no question that it's a way to pay for my roof and cat kibble and all that. But every day I find myself less motivated and less interested in going to the office. Even working with people I genuinely like, I just . . . my heart's just not in it much anymore. And I don't know what other direction to turn in to change things up.

3) Plans for travel continue apace. It's going to be a busy year. Next week I'm off to the rainforest for Patrick Swenson's Rainforest Writers Village retreat. Next month I'll be at Norwescon (first time in years I haven't been on programming and I find myself remarkably OK with that). In April, I'm off to San Francisco for a trip with family. And it looks like, in July, EB and I are off to Ireland. I'm reading and learning and trying to prep. I'm hoping plans will pick up after EB and I are both back from the retreat.

4) Lately, I just want to hibernate, hibernate, hibernate. It could have to do with my weight gain. It could have to do with my depression. Even medicated, I struggle sometimes. I need to find that therapist I've been trying to find for three months. After two false starts, I'm weary and wary, I admit.

5) My one solace right now is the crafting. I've been working on a modified version of a woven beaded necklace that I've made a number of times before. It's painstaking, meticulous work, and I exhausted myself the other night figuring out how to create the effect I wanted, but in a really good way. Had Sophie not insisted on cuddle time, I would have continued last night. So there's that.

* Every now and then, I'll refer to an author as "our own." This generally means they're part of the LiveJournal community. But it also means that I'm pleased and proud to be associated with them in this, the most tenuous of connections, even if I've never met them in person. In these latter days, with so few of us still here, we are--in my mind, anyway--a special group. We get to know each other in ways we never would on something like Facebook. It's awesome.
scarlettina: (Road Trip)
Yikes. Too much to do. I'm traveling this weekend, and this morning, I have to do All The Things . . . which, of course, means that I'm on LiveJournal writing instead.

The travel anxiety this time hasn't been bad--thanks, medication! But I admit to still feeling some trepidation. As much as I love to travel, I hate leaving Sophie and Zeke, even though I know the cat sitter will be visiting while I'm gone. And I feel like the house isn't in the state I'd prefer when I'm absent. It never is, but it's less so this time than usual. That's a result of traveling during the week rather than toward the weekend, and not being able to work at home the day of my departure. There's just not enough time.

And on the subject of there being not enough time, I should sign off and go be productive. I've got miles to go before I sleep. Miles and miles to go.
scarlettina: (Trouble get behind me)
Sunday morning, it was clear that what I thought were allergies to the dog were combined with a cold I'd picked up on the plane. I was not happy about having a cold around my immuno-compromised cousin. Paul was feeling a little better--not great, but in less pain and better rested. I had hoped, this trip, to go with him to Placerita Canyon Nature Center, where he's a docent and amateur naturalist. He wasn't up for a hike; he was saving his energy for our plans later in the day. So that morning, I went by myself and texted him my impressions. It's a sere and beautiful place, wildlife abundant if you keep your eyes open. It's also home to several injured birds who act as ambassadors for visitors, including a raven, a turkey vulture, and a red-tailed hawk. (Man, those guys are big--I always forget! I loved its tan, feathery bloomers.) I was there about an hour, wandering the trails, watching the bird life, keeping an eye out for butterflies (Paul's particular passion). In the end, despite having water with me, the heat took more out of me than I expected, so I headed back to the house.

Well, I tried to, anyway. Paul and Susan had allowed me to use Paul's Lexus Hybrid. What I didn't understand about driving this magnificent piece of machinery is that if the key fob isn't within a certain proximity of the steering wheel, the car just shuts off. I didn't know this and, without thinking about it, opened the door, got into the car, and put the key fob into my pocketbook on the passenger seat. Turns out, the passenger seat is too far away for the car to recognize. So I pulled out, and then the car just . . . stopped. It took a kind stranger to help me figure out what was wrong. It was a combination of user error, security protocols and, perhaps, a little bit of design sexism acting together. At any rate, problem solved, I headed back to the house.

For that afternoon, Paul and Susan had secured tickets to an L.A. Theater Works production of "American Buffalo" by David Mamet. I'm a big fan of LATW; I listen to it on my local NPR affiliate regularly. I'm also a fan of Mamet, the rhythm of his language and his astonishing character work. I was very excited about going when Paul and Susan told me of the plan shortly after I arrived on Friday. From this remove, I think that perhaps Paul was determined to attend this performance as a result of my enthusiasm more than anything else. We met some of Susan's friends at the theater, generally lovely people, alert and interesting, and watched the play. It was a good production--radio theater is always fun. About halfway through, it was clear that Paul was having a hard time. I offered to him that, having seen a production in Seattle, I would be fine with our leaving if he needed to go. He wouldn't hear of it. We stayed until the end. They retired immediately upon our return home.

Monday morning, Susan had an early appointment. She had arranged for friends of hers--Wendy and Hugh--to take me to the airport. Paul and I had about 20 minutes to talk, just us, and we talked about sort of inconsequential things: my work on tracing our family, my showing Susan how it worked, that sort of thing. He gave me a piece of petrified wood that had belonged to his father, gathered on one of his innumerable travels. But there wasn't enough time, real time, to say whatever we might have said of any substance. I think we both had it beneath our skin.

Paul's got my Aunt Shirley's eyes, this sort of placid, striated blue. These days, they're understandably sad and, as a result of his chemo, lashless. The chemo has also left him beardless and mostly bald, except for a stubble of white around the sides. I can't remember my Uncle Larry, his father, ever having white hair, but Paul's got his other features. I could see both of his parents in his face; it was disconcerting, like three people looking at me all at once. It was almost painful to see, and I understood that all four of us wanted more connection somehow, and there just wasn't that much time left to have that in any substantial way.

When the doorbell rang, we both paused, and then I went to get it, because there was really nothing else to do. Wendy and Hugh came in; Paul got up to greet them. He always been taller than me, but with a slight, comfortable slouch. These days, it's a tired slouch, and he's walking like an old man for the first time that I can remember. I hated to see it. We gathered my things. I wanted so much to hug and kiss him goodbye, but with him being so vulnerable and me with my cold, it wasn't the smart thing to do. I told him point-blank that I love him and that I'd be in touch. And then I left.

And without expecting it at all, once we got to the car, I just disintegrated. I totally hadn't expected it, but I guess I'd sort of been pushing it down all weekend. I cried almost all the way to the airport. Wendy and Hugh were remarkably kind. Wendy's a lay minister and was really good with me, just talking through what I was feeling and helping me pull myself together for the flight.

People leave. People just . . . end. I've known it, really understood it, since I was 11 when my father died. It's never easy and it will never stop. I hate it.

But I'm glad I took this trip, as hard as it was. I'm the only family on the west coast interested enough to visit Paul now and was glad to do it. I just wish that there could be more visits with him healthy enough to be present and active. I don't want my next trip to southern California to be for a funeral. I may not have a choice.
scarlettina: (Blue)
Arrived in the Los Angeles area yesterday to visit my cousin Paul and his wife Susan. Paul's got pancreatic cancer, and I wanted to see him before he was completely incapacitated. Our first evening together was good. They picked me up at the airport, we went out for dinner, then came back to the house and watched the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. And then, at 7:30 PM, they announced they were going to bed. Paul was more tired than they expected. I stayed up, had a phone call with [ profile] varina8, watched some tube, and then went to bed.

Today, we were supposed to go see a production of "42nd Street," but Paul was so weak, so tired, and feeling so bad that Susan donated the tickets. I walked the dog, she cared for Paul, and then she and I went to the movies ("Carol" starring Cate Blanchett--terrific). When we got home, Paul was feeling better. Dinner was pizza and salad, and then they retired.

So here I sit, alone in the living room, watching TV, journaling and completely unsure what's going to happen tomorrow. I've been in touch with a local friend whom I may see if things don't work out here. Susan's predictably in pieces, angry that they've had so little time together (they got married a year ago August) and scared for the future. Paul is managing things gracefully but he's clearly ill and trying to prepare himself, reflecting on his life and accomplishments, his family and his general good fortune.

Susan said they talked about telling me to cancel the trip, but he wanted me to come. She said that last week he was feeling much better than he is now, and it would have been a completely different visit. She also said it was likely that this was probably the last time I'd see him. I'm having a hard time thinking that way. After years of not being in touch, we're finally back in touch. Now that I've got him again, I don't want to lose him either. The truth is, she's probably right. The way he looks, he reminds me of how his father--my beloved Uncle Larry--looked when he was dying of cancer (in his case, prostate cancer). If anything good is coming out this trip at all, it's that I am getting to see him and that Susan and I are bonding and getting to know each other better.

At this point, I'm at something of a loss. We looked at each other over dinner tonight, me and Paul, and I could see there wasn't much to say. So . . . I'm just being here. I don't know what else to do.

Storm's a-comin'

Tue, Nov. 17th, 2015 08:10 am
scarlettina: (Portlandia)
The weather people are saying that the Seattle area's going to be hit with a major storm today: rain-rain-rain, winds of a major proportion, snow in the mountains, all manner of weather that is generally uncomfortable for human beings and other living creatures. In the wake of my two sick days last week and my day off yesterday, working from home seems like an excellent idea, so that's what I'm going to do today--and probably tomorrow and Thursday.

What about Friday? Friday, I fly to parts south to visit my cousin P and his wife S. Thanksgiving week will be another short work week for me, and then things will return to normal again--at least until Christmas week.

I'm so not ready for the holidays. The days go quicker and quicker. I'm told this comes with age. Considering the alternative, I'll take it but I don't have to enjoy it.

Had a good weekend--a roadtrip to Portland to stay with [ profile] davidlevine and [ profile] kateyule. It was lovely and stress-free, which I really needed. We cooked a lot, talked, and . . . oh yeah, I got a new computer and printer. My old MacBook Pro was ten years old; it was time. The machine sort of pushed me into it, refusing to boot completely and all. Thankfully, everything was backed up. Looking forward to getting the new machine set up and rolling. I have writing and genealogy and photography to do.

Also got to enjoy a delicious dim sum lunch with [ profile] calendula_witch and [ profile] mark_j_ferrari. I don't see them nearly enough. Mark had never had dim sum before so it was delightful to watch him discover the joys of shu mai, dumplings, three varieties of bao, sesame balls and egg custard tartlets, among others. He displayed the appropriate dismay at the chicken feet. I think we have a convert.

Also, I made a new necklace for the first time in quite a while, a beautiful thing in shades of smoky blue and copper with fresh water pearls. I spent more on it than I should have, but it's one of the prettiest things I think I've ever made. Mark declared it gallery-worthy. I preened a little at that.

So, now I go off to work after five days of not doing so. I anticipate an overwhelming amount of email and tasks needing to be completed. I want to like my job more than I do, but at this point I'm extremely frustrated with the stagnation and the lack of promotion or movement options. I'm looking at my options and considering a change. We shall see.
scarlettina: (Geek Crossing)
Saturday started with breakfast back at Sante--so good we had to do it twice. This time, [ profile] davidlevine and I got there earlier and enjoyed our meal with rather better service. The company was different; we met AS (with whom I used to work at Bantam, lo these many years ago) and her husband DKM, their son, and a friend of theirs, and [ profile] bjcooper. It's only within the last year or so that I'm back in touch with AS and DKM; they are delightful people who have had a very rough time over the last decade for personal reasons I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that those days are over and I'm so happy that they're returning to conventions and a wider social circle. Our breakfast was scheduled earlier both because there was another beading event I wanted to attempt to attend, and because other folks had programming on which they were scheduled to appear.

I made it back to the convention center with time to spare. I wanted to attend a program called the Beadwork Stitch & Bitch--but if you read the description in the program more closely, it was actually a lesson in Lakota lazy stitch or lane stitch beadwork. I was delighted to find [ profile] madrobins in attendance. I'll pass over the challenges of the workshop (particular attendees were not congenial to the environment) and say instead that the instructor, Mir Plemmons, was very good indeed, sharing cultural context for the style of beadwork she was teaching and then teaching it very well. An hour was not nearly long enough; I ended up staying a little longer. I very much want to get back and try this technique again. I've seen its results before and it produces beautiful things that take hours and hours and hours to create.

Lunch was with [ profile] davidlevine and [ profile] madrobins, all in all a much better opportunity for us to talk a bit. A lot of what we talked about was getting lost in historical research connected to fiction writing. I regret not taking a picture of us all together; ah well, there will be other opportunities!

After lunch, I took my penny-smashing kit and my camera off across the river to Riverside Park. The weather was beautiful in the wake of Friday's terrible air, the sky blue and clear. The contrast was marked. Look at how lovely--and contrast it to my previous WorldCon post picture of the sky!

View from the convention center to Riverside Park | Click to embiggen
View from the convention center to Riverside Park

I got my pennies--eight coins, four each from different machines--and strolled around just enjoying the quiet (the convention center was very noisy) and the relative lack of people (I was kind of peopled out).

When I went back to the convention center, I ran into [ profile] oldmangrumpus and some friends in the dealer's room. I learned from them that tickets for assigned seating were going to be required for the Hugo Awards ceremony. This was news to me and, as it turned out, news to a great many folks. Apparently, the previous night, the convention had set up a ticketing system for the masquerade, mainly to keep people from standing out in the terrible air waiting to get into the main auditorium. It worked very well indeed and they decided to institute it for the Hugos as well. I took it upon myself to text almost everyone I knew attending the con who might want to go to let them know about this, and then ran to get changed.

Once I got changed, I got into the rather impressive line. The wait was no more than 20 minutes.

Line for Hugo tickets

Tickets acquired, I met David and Betsy for dinner at Luigi's, the huge Italian restaurant near the convention center. I had the chicken marsala, which was very good indeed. We shared garlic bread and salads, too.

The virtue of the assigned-seating ticketing was that once tickets were in hand, we could get in at any time before the ceremony and be assured of seating. As it turned out, this was a blessing. It allowed us to have a pretty leisurely meal (even though I started out feeling panicked about having enough time to at), and to take our time about getting seated when the time came.

And when the time came, we went to the auditorium lobby, met some friends there, admired everyone's bling, and then went to get seated.

I'm going to talk about the Hugos, the Hugo Loser's Party and my thoughts about this year's whole Puppy debacle in the next post. There's too much to say and I want to address it all discretely. In the meanwhile, here's a pic of me and my seatmates, pre-awards-ceremony, with David and Betsy, and me in the middle.

scarlettina: (Angel)
It was an interesting experience, WorldCon, this year. In hindsight, it feel like I was there and I wasn't, all at once. For me, it started off with a date SNAFU. The plan was that my friend BM was going to fly in from New York and we were going to drive across the state together. I thought she was arriving Tuesday night for a Wednesday morning departure. It turned out that she was arriving Wednesday night for a Thursday morning departure. That right there threw me. Now, here's the thing: I don't remember a conversation we clearly had about this timing, because when I double-checked, my hotel room reservation started on Thursday, not Wednesday. But I'd envisioned the convention start to finish, and I'd made plans as if I were arriving on Wednesday. All of this meant that I made plans that I had to cancel, which was disheartening. But I couldn't leave her stranded with no way to get across the state. So, from my perspective, the trip started late and weirdly.

We road-trip well together, BM and I, and it was a good traverse. There are those who say that Washington state, east of the mountains, is a whole lotta nuthin', but it's a constantly changing landscape with its own sere beauty and I enjoy the journey. I always enjoy stopping to see "Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies," also called Wild Horse Monument. The view at the link is different than the view that most folks (including me) generally get--from below and away, where you look up and see the ponies high on a bluff against the sky. It's beautiful regardless of your perspective and a lovely stop for viewing and a stretch of the legs. You also get a beautiful view of the Columbia River from above, and the striated rock walls on the other side of the water.

Click the pics to embiggen.
Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies

Columbia River from above

We also stopped in George, Washington (yes, really) for lunch. We ate at a food truck where the Mexican food was plentiful and delicious. We met a couple who have spent the last two years living out of a blue-and-white Shasta trailer, a tiny thing that they've used to travel the country. They were headed in the opposite direction, off to Seattle. I gave them advice on a couple of things to see in town (they wanted to see Pike Place Market and the Space Needle; I told them about the Ballard Locks and the food trucks in Westlake Center).

Betsy and Janet by the Shasta trailer

After lunch, it was on to Spokane. See the next rock for details (to be posted later today sometime).
scarlettina: (Portlandia)
So it's Wednesday morning. I kind of can't believe it's Wednesday morning, but because the weekend didn't actually end until Monday night, more or less, I suppose that makes sense. See, I went to Portland to visit [ profile] calendula_witch and [ profile] markjferrari for the weekend, with JB--left Seattle Friday morning; returned Monday afternoon. It mostly went the way it was supposed to, except for the end there--but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, I left Seattle Friday morning on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, their long-haul sleeper train, mainly because its departure time meant that I wouldn't have to get to King Street Station at oh-God-thirty in the morning. It's a lovely train, with spacious seats, a nice dining car and the option to book a room and bed if you're going state-to-state. My plan, seeing as how state-to-state in this case was only a four-hour trip, was that I'd work on the train. Except that when I got on, I discovered that there was no wifi service. After spending about an hour trying to troubleshoot and discovering there was just no way for me to connect to the office, I settled down to do background reading on one particular project. I got into the Rose City at about 2ish and got settled in with my gracious hosts for the afternoon. JB didn't join us until late, his doctors appointments in town keeping him longer than originally planned.

Much of the weekend, as is often the case with Jews and Italians, was centered upon food and talk, and my goodness, our hosts spoiled us! There was the vigorous and theatrical production of delicious homemade ravioli on Friday night, and tasty savory and sweet crepes on Saturday morning. I fed us dinner on Saturday night--the family brisket, which was a hit. (Personal criticisms of my work: I still can't seem to get the gravy just right; and I forgot the bay leaves again. But I tried adding sun-dried tomatoes, which added a hit of sweetness that I liked so much that I may continue to include it.)

Friday and Saturday nights both involved playing games. I introduced everyone to Mexican Train and gifted our hosts with a Fluxx deck, which everyone seemed to enjoy.

Sunday morning, the four of us trooped over to [ profile] davidlevine and [ profile] kateyule's place with a bagel brunch in hand (a dozen bagels, two kinds of cheese, smoked salmon, hummus, berries and fruits, cold cuts, coffee and tea). Brenda Cooper was there to round out the group to seven people, and we had a delightful morning noshing and catching up.

At that point, [ profile] calendula_witch went home to get some work done, and [ profile] markjferrari, JB and I headed out to the Chocolate Festival. We spent a couple of hours tasting wine and chocolate of all sorts. I spent part of the afternoon a little tipsy as a result of all the wine tasting. We didn't find any wine that was especially fine, though it was all good, but we did each bring home some lovely chocolate treats. From there, we went to Powell's for the ritual pilgrimmage. I came home with copies of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (at seemingly everyone's urging this weekend) and The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (whose novel The Shadow of the Wind I so adored). I also bought a poster that will eventually be framed and hung somewhere here in the house (still have no idea where; I need a TARDIS to properly display all the art I have, all the art I want, and all the art I create).

We spent Sunday evening working on a special project for Mark, and then Monday, after a scrumptious eggy-sausagey scramble breakfast, we were off on our separate ways. The original plan was that JB was going to drive me back to Seattle and stay a couple of days. Because he unexpectedly needed to stay in Portland for a couple more days, I ended up taking the train back to Seattle--and there was wifi, though it was spotty at best. The current plan is that JB will be up here sometime this weekend.

So, yes, it was a long, lovely weekend weekend, and I couldn't have been happier with it. I am blessed with such marvelous people in my life, and I'm grateful to have had such (tasty) quality time with so many of them.
scarlettina: (Airplane)
Sunday morning we rose to meet [ profile] davidlevine, [ profile] kateyule, Amanda and her husband Brad for breakfast at David's. It was a clearly a local joint, the place everyone goes to for brekkies, the wait staff familiar and friendly to the patrons. Breakfast was basic and hearty--eggs, more eggs, pancakes, and eggs. For me, it was exactly the way to start the day, in good company with the kind of breakfast I really enjoy when I travel.

We parted company at that point, with David, Kate, Amanda and Brad hitting the road back to parts north. Jeremy and I met Elizabeth at the place where she was having brunch with the bridal party. We saw Shannon and Mark there and arranged for dinner that evening. Then three of us hit the road for some sightseeing.

Our first stop was Mendocino Chocolate Company in Fort Bragg. We each purchased some treats, used the nearby cash machine and then continued on.

We headed south to Mendocino proper, which turned out to be this adorable little tourist town perched on a bluff overlooking the sea. Our main goal there was to get some knitting needles for Elizabeth, but we ended up poking around the shops. Predictably, she came away with not just needles but yarn as well. At the same shop, I bought some buttons for a button bracelet project I'd like to do. The gardens around the shops were beautiful, with all sorts of native plants that bloomed with flowers we'd never seen before. We stopped at a jewelry shop called Silver & Stone, where E purchased a very chic pendant, a trio of what I think were glass ovals each progressively smaller than the one above, really lovely. As an early holiday gift to me, she chipped in for a gorgeous pair of earrings featuring carved abalone which I wore for the rest of the weekend.

We strolled about town a bit more, admiring the view of the rocky shore and the crashing waves, the eccentric sculpture above the bank called "Time and the Maiden," and the sweetness of the small shops and cottages along the streets.

Expand for pictures )

We headed back toward Fort Bragg and made two stops along the way. The first was at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Jeremy was inspired by the gardens we saw in town and is plotting his gardening at his new place, so we poked around the nursery on the grounds for ideas. Lovely plants, and I would have purchased one or two if there hadn't been a flight between there and home. Our second stop was the Sea Glass Museum, where we learned about the different kinds of sea glass and its source. The pictures on the web site make the place look much bigger than it is; it's really a tiny house split up into three or four rooms of exhibits with a lot of samples and some history, as well as a gift and book shop. There, we acquired a map of the glass beaches around town and planned for some beach combing.

As it turned out, beach combing required our navigating a path around some construction, and then scrambling down some pretty steep bluffs to get to the shoreline. Jeremy was the only one really dressed for any kind of scrambling or climbing, so he took a totebag, scrambled down the bluff, and retrieved a bag full of treasures that we picked through for souvenirs. There will be art and jewelry making this weekend if I can help it.

More pics )

It rapidly became clear to my companions--because apparently it's rarely clear to me--that I was sugar crashing. We found a restaurant with a coastal view and stopped for wine and a salad. Afterwards, more beachcombing, this time at the mouth of the Noyo River, resulted in Elizabeth finding a three-pound hunk of beach jade nearly the size of a brick. Veiny and gorgeous and richly green, it's a real treasure.

We went back to the hotel so I could change for dinner and so that Jeremy could stretch out for a bit, and then we headed out to meet Mark and Shannon. We were also joined by Mark's mother and his friend Mike who had acted as DJ for the party. Dinner was sushi of all kinds, and it was a delight to be able to sit with a small group including the bride and groom and just catch up a bit. Mike was pleasant and engaging, Mark's mother very lovely. At the end of the meal, Jeremy arranged for a knife and plates so that he could meticulously carve up each of eight truffles that he, Elizabeth and I had collectively purchased, and share them among the group. It was a mini-chocolate tasting and a great ending to the meal.

The day ended with another soak in the hotel's hot tub, and then it was to bed in preparation for the trip back to Oakland.

For the drive back the next day, we took a slightly different route which took us along more windy, twisty-turny roads, but this time through farm land and redwood forest. We listened to compilations of mash-ups, sang and talked, and got me to the airport with plenty of time to spare before my flight. I met Elizabeth only about 5 minutes after arrival. We sat in one of the airport restaurants and caught up, and ended up being able to sit together on the flight home.

I don't think I could have asked for a better trip, all in all. It was wonderful to see Mark and Shannon married after all this time, and great to be able the share the adventure in such good company. I've been home now a day and a half and my head's still not really back in the game of daily life yet. I suspect it won't be for a day or two more. The cold and the rain are working hard to ground me back in Seattle, but the sunshine and the emotional journey this weekend keep pulling me back to northern California. My head may stay there for a while yet.
scarlettina: (Angel)
And so, last Friday morning, I was off to Mendocino county for a wedding, specifically to see my friends [ profile] calendula_witch and [ profile] markjferrari get married. What a fabulous weekend!

The drive north
I was met at Oakland Airport by my companion for the weekend, Jeremy B. He grabbed me at noon and, before really starting the road trip, we stopped for lunch at Taki Japanese Restaurant in Novato, California, just south of Petaluma, off route 101. It was a delicious lunch (we each had a roll and miso soup). When we exited the restaurant, across the shopping plaza, we saw a space suit just standing in front of a storefront. Turns out that, in a delightful turn of events, we had discovered The Space Station Museum, a two-store-front establishment only large enough to show 10 percent of their holdings, which included a lot of Russian artifacts from or related to the International Space Station (consoles and control panels, pressure suits, and more), and full-size replicas of a lunar lander and a lunar rover, among other things. We poked around the exhibits and had a long conversation with a volunteer who had worked building space craft. Serendipity!

Once we were on the road, we took 101 north, but eventually scooted westward to highway 1 for the drive to Fort Bragg. And what a beautiful drive it was! The landscape in this part of California is just breathtaking: rugged, rocky coastline, ocean that changes color with the light from dark blue-gray to an unearthly blue-green, waves crashing on the rocks, birds with gigantic wingspans reeling overhead.

Northern California coastline
Click to embiggen. Really, it's gorgeous up there.

The further north we went, the twistier the road became, and I told Jeremy that I had driving envy because it looked like it was so much fun to take the road the way he was. His SUV is a stick shift; I could never have taken a turn at the wheel but, oh, how I wanted to! Still, not driving meant that I could fully enjoy the scenery as well as the music we listened to along the way. We talked and sang together, and breathed in that marvelous air. We shared a delicious bar of dark chocolate with blueberries--rich, pungent stuff. We stopped at a couple of scenic viewpoints to just admire the general splendor. We noted interesting names along the way like Gualala State Park and Russian Gulch Park ("Nostrovia, pardner!).

Finally, nearly 6 hours later, we arrived at Cleone Gardens Inn where we'd spend the weekend. [ profile] davidlevine and [ profile] kateyule were already there and preparing to head out for dinner. We got checked in and then together the four of us went to a nearby Mexican restaurant. The food was hearty and plentiful. I had a chicken quesadilla; I never did get the name of the place. Back at the hotel, the four of us played a couple of games of Anomia--great fun--and then Jeremy and I got settled in our room. The only thing left to do for the evening was go soak in the hot tub, which we did--the two of us--and talked for quite some time.

On Saturday morning, we got started a little later than planned, but early enough to have a quick bite in the room and get ready for the wedding. We took the shuttle bus that Mark and Shannon had arranged for, along with several members of the wedding party, up to Simcha Ranch, a horse ranch at the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific. It was breezy and beautiful up there. The celebration area was set up with chairs, a podium, and red-and-white banners all set out for a ceremony under the sun. The barn had been transformed into a party space, hung with more red-and-white banners, and organized with long trestle tables set with red table clothes and white and gold trim, and little stones of red and clear glass.

Wedding pictures! )

And then? It was time to party! We gathered a group to sit together: me, Jeremy, David and Kate, Amanda C and her husband Brad, and -- oh, I know I'm forgetting some names. But we had a congenial group to enjoy food and wine together. (We may have had the largest concentration of Jews in one place that Fort Bragg has ever seen.) Predictably, this being Shannon and Mark, the wine was delicious (and I need to get the wine list from her when she's settled), and all the food was delectable. All the rituals were observed: first dance, cake cutting, toasts -- a lot of happiness and good feeling all around. When at last the food was done, the music started. From my perspective, it took a little time for the real dance music to start, but once it did, Jeremy and I danced -- almost a half hour without break -- until I was so dizzy I couldn't see straight, and smiling so broadly my cheeks hurt.

We took the 8 PM shuttle back to the hotel, and then it was off to the hot tub for another soak, this time under a sparkling sky so clear that you could see the Milky Way. I saw a shooting star. A great way to end a great day.

More about our sightseeing and the drive back anon....


scarlettina: (Default)

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