Last December, Julie received a $100 gift card for several prominent Seattle restaurants. It took until September, our 12 year wedding anniversary, to use the card. While the food was trendy and elegantly presented, it wasn’t memorable. In a sense, 2014 was similar with high expectations, and some disappointments.
We started the year with Rich diving into being a realtor for Coldwell Banker Bain. He spent months creating an engaging website – http://www.RichLaryRealtor.com – eye-catching mailers, and other promotions. For three months, he sent the mailers, and waited, and waited for a client to make contact. After some investigation, he learned the mailers were never sent because the post office’s automated mail sorting system couldn’t distinguish Rich’s contact information from the recipients’ addresses, both on the back of the card. The post office simply discarded 800 post cards without notice! Government efficiency at its best!
In addition, the few clients he engaged weren’t able to find suitable houses, struggled to sell their houses or changed their minds. While he held many open houses, nearly everyone who walked through the doors already had realtors. The handful of transactions he oversaw resulted in commission that came nowhere close to covering his costs.
By mid-year, Rich realized he needed to do something different. Fortunately, everything lined up perfectly, and after several interviews, in June, he secured a year-long contract role at Microsoft, testing Windows 8 applications. He works independently, testing applications on the breadth of devices from Windows phones to Windows PCs, and tablets. In addition, he works in a small lab with a bank of windows, overlooking a forested area.
Julie started the year as a contractor for Microsoft Information Security and Risk Management, creating amusing internal awareness programs. She’d started working for the group last October. While she received kudos for her work, and was making in-roads with fostering awareness of security scams, her contract wasn’t renewed, leaving her searching for jobs in mid-June.
Like Rich, her resume landed in the right hands at the right time. Two weeks after her Microsoft contract ended, she started working at Fluke in Everett. Her year-long contract was to develop and market the service programs for Fluke’s industrial tools, something she did at Tektronix and Dell. The week before Thanksgiving, however, she was told there’s no funding for 2015 so she’s back to looking for a job.
With our jobs in flux, we opted for a couple of mini, two-day vacations. In March, we went to Orcas Island in the Puget Sound, driving from one end to the other, and hiking. We took Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, in May, spending two wonderful days walking, taking the elevated trains from one end of the city to the other, and enjoying the panoramic view from our hotel room at the historic Empire Landmark.
When it warmed up, we took several lengthy bike rides, and paddled around Lake Washington in our kayak. In late October, we had an unexpectedly magical day visiting Mount Baker, which made us realize, we really need to get out more, and tour the spectacular Pacific Northwest.
We also enjoyed gardening at our Mount Vernon house, producing bumper crops of tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, berries, and apples.
In early spring, Rich’s daughter, Stacey (above), moved back to Bremerton, Washington to work for the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. Her move gave us excuses to visit and several times ride ferries from Seattle, Edmonds, and Port Townsend.
We also made several trips to Portland, Oregon, to visit Rich’s son Chris (below) his wife Shawnie, and their two-year old, Coen. On November 18, the threesome became four with Caitlyn being born, weighing 7 pounds 13 ounces. Exciting!
While in Portland, we also met up with Julie’s cousin, Bobby (above), along with her best friend, Wendy.
As the year progressed, Doris (Julie’s mother) mobility started to decline. She was moved into a retirement home in Mount Vernon in early June, along with her cat Mei-Mei. After an initial adjustment period, she spent more time out of her room. By September, however, her strength declined along with her attitude and appetite. On the evening of October 12th, she was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia. Her health declined dramatically, and by the next afternoon, surrounded by family, she passed away.
On the pet front, we continue to have five cats, five birds, numerous ravenous squirrels (who entertain the cats), and several visiting raccoons (one mother with four adorable babies). We take way too many pictures of Lila, our all-white cat, wearing various hats or engaged in cute behavior, which we post on social media site.
We hope you had a memorable 2014, and are welcoming 2015 in good health and spirits.
Rich and Julie Lary
Thanksgiving is always the most stressful time of the year for me. Wanting to mimic “Martha Stewart style,” I always attempt to do too much in too short of time. This year was no exception; although, I firmly decided not to create an ornate annual holiday letter, to be included with holidays cards, which I would then write a personal note in each, affix a printed label, and send by the first week of December.
Instead, I spent the time scrambling to bake 12 batches cookies 10 types of candies… purchase and wrap gifts for people I’d be seeing at Thanksgiving, make a couple of side dishes for the holiday dinner, and figure out what to bring for the two days we planned to camp in our motor home.
My plan for the latter was 50% success with my baking a ham and bringing what was left in the refrigerator. I pack a variety of vegetables to make salads, but forgot the dressing. Brussels sprouts and cauliflower made it into the motor home, but not margarine. The potatoes and bacon we brought for breakfast lacked eggs. And while I managed to pack five trays of cookies to give away, the only baked goods that managed to find their way into the motor home was a sad, small container of reject cookies and candy we’d been nibbling on since we baked a few weeks prior.
We did have plenty of peppermint mocha creamer and coffee… which in retrospect was essential for camping in the damp, rainy Pacific Northwest!
Prior to slurping peppermint-infused coffee while meandering on forested trails, we left Kirkland at 4:45 on Thanksgiving morning. The three cats we took, Lila, Zephyra, and Jujube, alternated between sleeping on Rich’s and my laps, and lounging on the bed over the cab. Safely stowed under pillows on the bed in the back were the cookies, candies, and gifts. This year, we made:
- Chocolate chip (made with peppermint chips)
- Chocolate with peanut butter chips
- Oatmeal with butterscotch chips
- Oatmeal with white chocolate chips and dried strawberries
- Exotic spice (made with cardamom, ginger, ground pepper, and other spices, plus rose water)
- Peanut butter thumbprint with jelly (some were filled with melted chocolate chips)
- Cappuccino thins
- Ginger coins
- Peppermint slices (white dough, rolled in crushed candy canes… a last minute inspiration)
- Biscotti with almonds
- Biscotti with dried mango (very tasty)
- Seven layer bars
- Fudge with cashew
- Fudge with dried cherries
- Rum balls
- Coconut macaroons
- Peanut brittle
- Mint bark
- Tillamook toffee (like Almond Roca)
- Cappuccino caramels
- Candied orange, grapefruit, and lemon peels (hands down the best thing I made this year)
We arrived in Camas, Washington (the Columbia River away from Portland, Oregon) around 9 a.m. for the start of an AMAZING Thanksgiving at Rich’s son’s (Chris) house.
Shawnie, Chris’ wife, was expecting their first child in early December. Stacey, Rich’s daughter was visiting from Long Beach, California. Chris’ and Stacey’s mother, June, was visiting from Hawaii. Their sister Casey along with her husband Bryan, was visiting from Colorado. And later in the afternoon, Shawnie’s parents, and two brothers arrived.
Throughout the day, people cooking the holiday meal, nibbled on appetizers and my cookies, caught up on news, and of course, discussed politics. We enjoyed turkey roasted in a propane cooker, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, paella, cranberry jello salad, cranberry relished (prepared with ginger ale), poke (amazing ahi tuna June shipped overnight from Hawaii), sautéed greens with nuts and cranberries, red cabbage salad with apples, gravy… green beans with almonds, and dressing.
For dessert there were several pies, and a pumpkin upside-down cake.
After a very filling meal, we sat in the living room, talking, giggled, and looked at pictures of Shawnie’s ultrasound.
Late breaking new!
Today, Wednesday, November 28th, at 3:30 pm, Chris and Shawnie had Coen Lavelle Lary. He was 7 pounds, 4 ounces with a full-head of black hair. Rich is a grandfather. Please refer to him as “Gramp” from this day forth!
After sleeping in the motor home, parked on the street, we had a traditional Hawaiian breakfast at Chris and Shawnie’s house, consisting of rice, fried eggs, and sausage… and of course, cups of coffee.
I’m very lucky to not only have married Rich, but married into a fabulous, fun family! Stay tuned for more about our Thanksgiving trip.
The first day of May, Rich’s daughter, Stacey, arrived in Seattle from Long Beach, California, setting in motion a week of celebration, including Rich’s 60th birthday on Sunday, May 6th.
Wednesday afternoon, Rich and Stacey went to Mount Vernon to garden and hook up the trailer to purchase dirt for a landscape project we’re doing in Kirkland. Ceasing the opportunity, after work, I whooshed to the Bellevue Goodwill, convinced something “wonderful” was waiting to be purchased for Rich’s birthday.
After searching through the store and coming up empty-handed, I decided to investigate the glasses cases in the front. Sure enough, looking back at me was an antique barometer, a bit tarnished, but still in good shape. It was similar to the one on eBay. On another shelf, was an even better find, a Semca Travel clock! In a dainty, red leather case was a wind-up alarm clock, small thermometer, and barometer. With hardly any thought, I said I’d purchase both.
With my finds safely in my basket, I shifted through the rack of men’s outerwear and found a fleece shirt, which was probably new or darn close. I also chose a flouncy pink dress with white polka-dots for Lila, and a little Hawaiian shirt for Jujube. Check out the photos below of the felines in their snazzy birthday outfits.
Thursday, was rainy, but Stacey and Rich forged ahead, purchasing soil and bringing it to Kirkland where we’re extending a flower bed in the front yard to balance out the landscaping, and also create a better environment for the plantings. Currently, little rainfall reaches the plants under the front window. By making the planting area bigger, and removing the grass and brick border, the rainwater should be able to better reach the plants.
In addition, we have giant rhododendron bushes in front of our house, which look unbalanced. By incorporating them into a larger flower garden, they’ll look less awkward. Stay tuned for pictures and details in the coming weeks as we start to create our new flower beds.
Rich’s birthday festivities heated up on Friday morning with Stacey baking a decadent chocolate cake with German chocolate filling, and a whipped chocolate ganache icing. That afternoon, Rich’s son, Chris, and his wife, Shawnie, arrived from Camas, Washington to spend the weekend.
Earlier in the week, I’d made a rich tomato sauce with spicy turkey meatballs. I also pickled some cauliflower, carrots, and celery to serve with olives, cheese and pepperoni as an antipasto. We had a pleasant meal, completed with Brussels spouts, and garlic bread, made from kalamata olive bread, crushed garlic, olive oil, and margarine… lightly browned under the broiler.
Following dinner, Stacey said she wanted coffee with her cake. It was a ploy to use the mug Chris and Shawnie had brought, which said “Grandpa” on it. When presented with the mug, Rich was confused. Even though he was prompted with hints ranging from “what do married couples produce,” and “what constitutes a grandfather,” it took him five to ten minutes to guess that Shawnie is pregnant. She’s due in December.
After learning he’s going to be a grandfather, Rich opened his gifts, including tickets from Stacey, Chris, and Shawnie to see Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers and Emmylou Harris at Chateau St. Michelle Winery in Woodinville in late July.
Full from dinner, grandpa charades, cake, and coffee, five of us squeezed onto the futon in my hobby room – the location of the only TV we have in Kirkland – to watch Hop, a super cute live-action/animated flick about E.B., a rabbit who does not want to succeed his father and become the Easter Bunny. Voiced by Russell Brand, Hop poops jelly beans, has a snarky sense-of-humor, and wants to be a drummer.
Burke Museum to Improv
Saturday morning began with my making a vegetable frittata with sliced potatoes as the crust, and layers of garlic, onions, carrots, broccoli, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and scallions, all held together with beaten eggs, milk, and jack cheese!
Tummies full, we drove to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the University of Washington campus. I’d never been to this museum so I was excited about checking out the exhibits and seeing their special exhibit, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” which examines what ten families, from around the world, eat in a week. The families – in Mexico, India, Japan, United States, Peru, Germany, Greenland, three other countries – were photographed with a week’s worth of groceries around them, and the cost of the foods.
It was extremely engaging. For instance, the Japanese family ate lots of packaged goods; even their produce was packaged. The Mexican family spent a large chunk of their weekly grocery money on colas, sweets, and starches. The family in India were vegetarians, eating vegetables, legumes, and other healthy, but spicy foods. The Peruvian family barely ate. The family in Greenland dined on seal, polar bear and whale meat, and other animals and birds that they hunted.
Coinciding with this exhibit was one on the Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound. It’s astonishing how ordinary plants in the Pacific Northwest like ferns, skunk cabbage, tiger lily bulbs, nettles, clover root, yellow pond lily, and a hundred or so other bulbs, berries, nuts, roots, and vegetables sprouts are edible.
Also part of the series on food was cooking demonstrations by chefs with PCC Natural Markets. We watched a chef, who’d worked at The Herbfarm, and written several books about local cuisines, prepare wild mushroom risotto. The resulting dish was nauseatingly rich, with as she pointed out, four types of fats: Prosciutto, olive oil, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The texture was creamy with undertones of wine, salt, savory mushrooms, and goo.
We spent another hour going through the museum, visiting the dinosaurs, and meandering through the Pacific Voices exhibit, depicting the cultural artifacts from seventeen Pacific Rim countries and regions, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Pacific Northwest Native Americans, Lao, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and Micronesia.
With weather nothing less than splendid, we decided to wander through the University of Washington campus, and look for a geocache. The buildings on the campus are spectacular… ranging from huge brick Tudors to dramatic, glass buildings and concrete atrocities like McMahon Hall, a dormitory.
By the time we got back to the car, it was close to 3 o’clock and everyone was starving. We’d brought some hearty snacks. All we needed was a place to ear. We headed to Green Lake Park. The lake was formed over 50,000 years ago by the Vashon Glacial Ice Sheet, which also formed Puget Sound and other area lakes. Today, the lake is a popular place for rowing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing… and in the surrounding park, walking, running, biking, skating, picnicking, and day dreaming.
Our next stop was Fremont, considered the “Center of the Universe,” and undoubtedly an eclectic neighborhood with a huge troll clutching a VW bug under a bridge, status of Lenin, circa 1950 rocket fuselage, two life-size dinosaur topiaries, and a multitude of other strange landmark and funky shops.
Fremont, which is located along the Fremont Cut of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, is also the home to Adobe Systems’ and Google’s Seattle offices, and other trendy companies, including, Theo’s Chocolate!
We didn’t have time for a tour of their factory of magical smells and delectable treats, but visited the retail store next door, sampling many types of chocolates, including slightly bitter cocoa nibs. I can’t believe how many types of chocolate bars they offer, including toasted coconut, salted almond, cherry almond, orange, mint, spicy chili, 70% and 85% dark chocolate, and varieties of milk chocolate, along with honey saffron caramel, pink salted vanilla caramel, and ghost chili salted caramel. We bought six chocolate bars from their fantasy flavor collection: Coconut curry, hazelnut crunch, and of course, coffee. Also in the collection is chai tea (awful), bread and chocolate (why), and fig, fennel & almond (gasp).
Satiated with chocolate, with headed to Northgate Mall to Rich’s favorite food emporium, Red Robin. Because we it was still early afternoon, we wandered around the mall for a bit, and then settled into a booth at Red Robin for gluttony, capped with a birthday sundae and really bad singing by Red Robin waiters.
Our final stop of the evening was Jet City Improv to see their 8 o’clock show. I’ve been several times to Comedy Sportz in Portland, Oregon, and was expecting the same level of improv, but was disappointed. Certain aspects of the show were good, but others fell very flat.
The best part was when they invited the people celebrating their birthdays onto the stage. Rich begrudgingly went up, but had an enjoyable time shouting out recommendations like “oysters.” I snapped a bunch of pictures of him on stage.
A Warm-Up to Dim Sum
Sunday morning, we had a light breakfast of fruit and yoghurt because we were heading downtown to have dim sum in Chinatown at noon. Even though it was sunny outside, the morning was brisk. We parked in Chinatown, and then meander down to the water front; stopped a few times to look for geocaches near the Smith Tower and Ivar’s on the waterfront.
We also zipped into the train station, which is still being refurbished and will be gorgeous when returned to its original splendor. A sunny Sunday morning in Seattle, weaving between the new and historical buildings can be so rewarding. The only negative was seeing the long line of homeless and indigent people lining up in anticipation of a soup kitchen opening at noon.
We met Randy, Stacey and Chris’ cousin and a dentist in Bellevue, and professor of dentistry at University of Washington, at Jade Garden in Chinatown. Also joining us was Randy’s friend Mike, who is a super exuberant, fun person. We spent several hours nibbling on dim sum, telling stories, and laughing. It was a glorious visit!
We then did popped into couple of shops in Chinatown before Chris and Shawnie headed back to Camas, and Stacey, Rich and I zipped back to Kirkland to do a little yard work before washing up and attending a choral performance at Temple B’Nai Torah in Bellevue.
The music was very uplifting, and nice conclusion to a very busy weekend.
The Celebrations Continued
Monday I went to work while Rich and Stacey cruised around Lake Union and through the Fremont Cut in the P/V Goldfish — our yellow Hobby Cat two-person, kayak, which is propelled by pedals making it a “pedal vessel.”
Stacey stayed in downtown Seattle, where she spent the rest of the day, along with Tuesday and Wednesday, visiting with friends. Wednesday evening, we met her downtown, and ate at the Pike Place Bar & Grill, and then went to the Can Can.
Rich and I have eaten at Pike Place Bar & Grill before. I relished my macaroni & cheese with garlic bread, and Rich and Stacey had fish (halibut) and chips. Nothing to write home about, but certainly convenient with a great view of Pike’s Market and the surrounding area.
The Can Can is a fun, affordable, cleansing get-away. Being so close to the stage it’s easy to get immersed in the show, forgetting about work, chores, and other anxieties, which tiptoe into one’s mind, becoming pests and disrupting one’s ability to simply “chill.”
The performers in the Can Can might get a bit chilly, scantily dresses, but they’re hot and sassy on staging, dancing, lip-syncing, and parodying. All of them are outstanding dancers. One of my favorite was a slender man who came out in black slacks with an orange, long-sleeved shirt, wearing a huge horse head. He was lyrical to watch. His hands and movements were elegant, controlled, and mesmerizing.
Fuschia Foxx, a woman of breathtaking beauty, came out in roller skates, wearing a traditional can-can outfit. Her movements and doll-like appearance reminded me of the ballet Coppelia. Later, she did two belly-dancing routines, which were enchanting from the costumes to her facial movements and rhythmic dancing. Here’s another video of her.
I’m glad Rich was able to spend his birthday weekend and week with Stacey, Chris, and Shawnie, and also enjoyed outside weather, entertainment, and his favorite foods.
Belmont Shore chalk drawing, Belmont Shores, Bullhead City, Catalina Express, Catalina Island, Demitasse, Flamingo Hotel, Julie Lary, Las Vegas, Laughlin, Little Tokyo, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Mikawaya, mochi, Nautilius, Occupy Wall Street, Philippes, rajalary, Rich Lary, Slatter's 50/50, Stacey Lary
No Wonder Why Tourists Love L.A.
Friday, October 21st was the first day of our annual pilgrimage to California and Arizona to see family. It being an annual event, we didn’t stray from our proven recipe of getting up before roosters have a chance to crow, and then driving to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Along the way, we stopped at McDonald’s for oatmeal (me), Sausage Egg McMuffin (Rich) and coffees.
We flew Alaska Airlines, which is almost always a satisfying experience. Two hours later, we landed in Ontario, California to overcast skies and tepid temperatures. After a quick stop at a mini mart for drinks, pretzels, and a bag of what turned out to be outrageously hot Ruffles Tapatío Limon chips, we headed to Anaheim.
We visited with Rich’s brother, Ralph and his caregiving Jerry for a few hours, and then headed to Huntington Beach to see Stacey’s (Rich’s daughter) apartment. Ralph, who became a quadriplegic when he was twenty due to an accident, recently underwent surgery to repair a bed sore. He was hospitalized for two months, and during that time, met many ex-gang members who were recovering from spinal cord injuries after being shot.
He said the rehab center was kept locked probably to keep rival gang members from bursting in and “finishing off the job.” He said many of the patients donned numerous tattoos and were struggling with the realization they’d never walk again. Ralph was happy to be safely home, recuperating from his surgery.
Stacey and her boyfriend Mike did an amazing job of decorating their new home in neutral tones with hip, modern furniture. They were disciplined in purchasing pieces that fit together and minimizing what’s on display.
Their apartment is one of three, built behind a small house. At one time, the area had blocks of tidy, little houses with huge yards that backed up to alleys. Today, most of the yards feature two-story, blocky structures, consisting of three or four apartments, built above or behind garages, which are entered via the original alleys.
My grandparent’s house in Burbank was similar. It was a small two-bedroom house with a detached one-car garage in the front, and a huge backyard, which could easily accommodate a small apartment building. My grandparents used the space for a garden, clothes line, patio, large workshop for my grandfather, and a small room, built behind the garage, which remained surprisingly cool, even during the summer, and was filled with old clothes, including sealskin coats, which my great grandfather, a furrier, tanned and sewed.
After seeing Stacey’s apartment, we want to Slater’s 50/50 Burgers by Design in Huntington Beach, which is famous for their hand-crafted hamburgers and 50/50 patty, consisting of 50% ground beef and 50% ground bacon. Rich went with a “generic” all-beef hamburger with “generic” toppings.
Stacey and I were more adventurous, opting for their turkey patty with brie (Stacey), mozzarella and pesto (Julie), and lots of vegetable toppings. We also shared a plate of potato and sweet potato fries with a spicy dip. Yum!
Being in two cars, we followed Stacey to a house being re-modeled. Stacey is overseeing some of the work, and helping with the painting, replacing light plugs, etc. She said in advance it was in a gated community, but hadn’t revealed it was a very exclusive community called Coral Cay in Huntington Beach. As we drove through the neighborhood, we spotted huge yachts parked in back of houses.
Many of the houses in the community have waterfront access with docks that can accommodate a 60-foot or large yacht. Rich says they dug canals in the land and then built the houses. This image from Zillow, provides an idea of how the community was constructed to create as much waterfront property as possible.
We went inside the house, which was on a surprisingly small lot but turned out to have five bedrooms/dens and four bathrooms upstairs, and a sizable kitchen, living, dining, and family room downstairs. Unlike a “typical” house, it had lots of marble, ornate woodwork and plaster, and opulent details like a curved staircase with the walls curved to match the curve of the staircase.
After spending a short time at the house, we headed to Long Beach to see Fintastic, a 61-foot yacht on which Stacey’s boyfriend Mike is the captain, and jack-of-all-trades. He was preparing the boat to drive it to Mexico the following week. The owner keeps the boat in Mexico for seven or so months a year. With Mike was Fernando (a.k.a. Taco Boy), a spunky Chihuahua who travels on the boat and in spite of weighing a few pounds, acts like a Doberman Pincher.
With the evening approaching, we checked into our motel and took a short walk before getting ready for the rest of the evening. Our motel was a few blocks from the beach, which was practically empty, except for long stretches of white sand and an occasional bicyclist or group of kids. It’s no wonder people come to Southern California and want to stay once they see the splendid beaches.
That evening, we visited my cousin’s Mervin and Frances who live in Rancho Palos Verde. I haven’t seen them since I moved from Los Angeles, over thirty years ago! I was anxious to reconnect, and knowing they have visiting wild peafowl, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one.
We arrived in Palos Verde half an hour early so we decided to drive down the hill to the house where Rich’s parents used to live in San Pedro. Rich couldn’t remember the exact street, but as he zigzagged through the streets, we turn in front of three peacocks and five peahens. I scarcely waited until the car stopped moving before jumping out with the camera in hand!
It’s surreal to think peacocks are wandering around the area, their majestic tails dragging behind them, looking for snakes, lizards, insects, seeds, and other tasty treats.
Music Heritage Translated to Singing in the Shower
The brother of my fraternal grandmother, Lillian, was my cousin Frances’ father, Ferenz. A Hungarian cellist, Ferenz became the principal cellist for the Portland [Oregon] Symphony Orchestra. His first daughter, Diana − whose daughters Sallie and Marcia, I regularly saw when I lived in Los Angeles − was a child prodigy who won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
A few years later, Frances followed, winning a cello scholarship to the institute. At the age of 13, Frances appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which set the stage for numerous musical achievements, including becoming the first woman to conduct a professional orchestra from the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center. I remember attending this concert and being in awe of the significance of the event.
Growing up, I attended quite a few musical performances, featuring Frances and Diana. Even though my father played the violin (Rich also played the violin), and my mother played the piano, my music talent plateaued at ear-piecing singing in the shower!
Happily, Rich and I didn’t have to be musical savvy to visit with Frances and her husband Melvin!
We had a fabulous evening discussing politics, talking about our families, seeing pictures of their daughter Sarah’s wedding, and eating scrumptious food. We enjoyed a just-out-of-the-oven peach pie and applesauce made from fruit off their trees, crispy roasted chicken with fresh herbs from their garden (I need to get a contraption that holds a chicken upright during baking), roasted carrots and potatoes, cooked mushrooms, and other tasty dishes. I thought Rich was going to burst he ate so much!
It was a memorable, long overdue visit.
Amazing Day on Catalina Island
The next day, Saturday, we got up at 5:30 to catch the 6:15 Catalina Express from Long Beach to Catalina Island. Stacey is a captain and deckhand for the company so she got us a special price… and Stacey was able to join us and serve as our tour guide for the day.
Being it was such an early hour, the boat was lightly filled, mostly with scuba divers and their equipment, couples with suitcases to spend the night or couple of days, and day visitors, some with dogs and picnic baskets.
Catalina is 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, which is lightly populated except for the main town, Avalon. The island was purchased in 1919 by William Wrigley Jr., of chewing-gum fame, who invested millions into its development, turning it into a tourist destination with a dance hall, hotel, and other amenities.
The Art Deco dance hall, called Catalina Casino, is a magnificent structure, 12-stories in height with a theater, circular ballroom, and view of the sea on three sides. I took many pictures of the breathtaking mosaics on the front of the casino. Today, the casino is primarily used for showing movies and special events. It’s also a gathering place for scuba divers, who swim around the rocks (see the Catalina photo island).
Even though it’s normally a quick one-hour trip from Long Beach to Catalina, it took over two hours because of thick fog. Along the way, we talked about boating with Rich debating with Stacey – a certified boat captain – about how to dock and tie off lines!
I’d never been to Catalina before and Rich remembers going only once so we were both in awe of the quaint shops, southern California Art Deco architecture of stucco and ornate tile work, and splendid harbor with a wide swath of beach and a hundred or so boats, tied to mooring balls, bobbing in unison in the gentle current.
Our first stop was coffee and homemade granola bars at a cute coffee shop at the far end of the town. Fueled for the day, we walked to the casino, snapped some pictures, and then headed to Descanso Beach, which charges a small fee to use their beach and facilities. According to Stacey, it’s worth the money because it’s a perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling, and daydreaming. And you can use their bathrooms, showers, dressing rooms, beach chairs, and enjoy the music, walking paths, and other amenities.
With it being a very overcast day with low visibility, we opted to take a trip on the Nautilus, a semi-submersible vessel, which resembles the Beatles’ yellow submarine. It was rather expensive, but Stacey was able to get us a discount… she’s very good at negotiating.
It’s a charismatic vessel. I know you can’t describe a “thing” as charismatic, but the Nautilus is charming, inside-and-out. I felt as if I was descending into a giant bathtub toy, and after the trip, was relaxed and energized.
For an additional cost, you can purchase fish food torpedoes, which you fire when you enter the kelp beds. Herds of fish appear, whacking their bodies against the portholes in a mad scramble to get the pellets. Food, which isn’t consumed by the throngs of fish, falls below to bright orange Garibaldi and smaller fish.
Orange Garibaldi Damselfish are the California state marine fish. They are dazzling, underwater marigolds, which are a joy to watch weave between golden streamers of kelp.
As we approached the dock, you can climb the ladder and stand on the top of The Nautilus to take in the sights. Because it was so foggy, visibility was terrible, but we could see a giant pelican standing on a platform on the dock. I was convinced it was going to fly away before we made it back so I implored Rich, who had the camera, to snap its picture.
However, in spite of people swarming around the pelican, it didn’t budge. And it didn’t budge when we got off the Nautilus and I got within touching-distance (no I didn’t touch it, but might have if so many people weren’t watching). We must have taken two dozen pictures of the pelican using my Windows Phone and our camera!
After walking around for another hour or so, we had lunch at the outdoor patio of Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret. The food was filling, and most likely was straight off a Sysco truck.
Our bellies full, we bopped into a couple of shops, wandering around some more before taking Catalina Express back to Long Beach. Along the way, Stacey was able to get us a tour of the bridge of the Catalina Express. The operation of the boat, with four huge jets, which enable it to travel at over 30 knots, was significantly more complex than the instrumentation of the 29-foot Ranger Tug we recently chartered.
Unplanned Experiences and Adventures
Back in Long Beach, we stopped at The Pike at Rainbow Harbor to meander and visit a small boat show. At one time, Long Beach was a grimy port town, known for its Navy shipyard, oil fields, fisheries, and shipping port.
Today, the Port of Long Beach is the United States’ second busiest container port and one of the world’s largest shipping ports. Downtown Long Beach has become a major southern California destination with large hotels, convention center, museums, performing arts center, aquarium, large shopping centers, and every restaurant franchise you can think of from Bubba Gump Shrimp Company to California Pizza Kitchen, Chili’s, Famous Dave’s, Gladstone’s, Hooters, Outback, and P.F. Changs.
We stayed at the boat show long enough to tour a Ranger Tug and two Catalina sailboats. I now convinced the ultimate sailboat is a 36-foot Catalina.
Our next stop was Belmont Shores to see the sidewalk chalk art contest. Every year, artists create masterpieces on pieces of paper taped to the sidewalks. We arrived late, but were able to see the drawings, which were created on one side of the main street. When we crossed to the other side, many artists were picking up their drawings; although, we got temporarily distracted by a shop selling retro candy. Within minutes, Rich and I had picked out $11 worth of Turkish Taffy, Abba-Zabba, Chick-O-Stick, cherry Zotz, and Big Cherry, which probably cost a few dollars when we were kids.
After our candy exploits, I darted to the next block to see the chalk drawings before they were all gone. When I turned around, I saw Rich carrying a drawing of three parrots. He had a smile on his face so wide that he could barely walk without tripping on it.
“What the…” I thought.
Evidentially, Rich overheard a conversation between the artist and another woman. The artist wanted to give away her drawing. The woman wasn’t interested; Rich, however, didn’t hesitate for a moment and the drawing was his!
Highly protective of his prize, Rich wanted to immediately spray it with fixative. While Stacey and I guarded the drawing, laid out in front of a bank, Rich sprinted down the street to purchase clear varnish at True Value. After putting on three light coats, the chalk was set and didn’t smudge.
We carefully loaded the drawing into the car and headed to Stacey’s apartment to wait for Mike to come home. After he took a quick shower, we jumped back into her car to drive downtown to Philippe’s. I’d only been there once. At the time, Rich and I had been dating about a year and we were visiting his parents in California. Rich wanted to eat at Philippe’s. When I saw the place, in deep downtown Los Angeles, a block from Olvera Street, I was aghast.
It’s a skanky area, which as a child, going to my father’s garment factory on Santee Street, we avoided. Nevertheless, I was game and was intrigued by the sawdust on the floor, and the menu consisting primarily of French dip sandwiches, salads, pickles, and desserts, plopped onto paper plates.
I was hooked! And this trip, it was me who demanded we eat at Philippe’s!
Unfortunately, the trip to downtown Los Angeles, on a Saturday night, was bumper-to-bumper traffic. When we finally arrived, around 8 o’clock at night, we were all famished, and a bit cranky. Even at that time, the lines were long, with six or seven waitresses with little brown hats bobby-pinned to their heads, carving, dipping, splotching, grumbling, and bumping into each other behind a 50-foot or longer deli case, which stretches across two-thirds of the restaurant.
I had a pork French dip sandwich ($6) with a glass of lemonade (75 cents), and split with Rich a dill pickle ($1.20), and plates of cole slaw ($1.20), and potato salad ($1.20). Rich had two beef French dip sandwiches, bringing our bill to a little over $23. And I also liberally squeezed Philippe’s special hot mustard on my sandwich, making my face flush and my nose flare! Awesome! It’s no wonder Philippe’s have been going strong since 1908!
One last note, a cup of “joe” at Philippe’s is just 9-cents. At the far end of the deli case, you can order drinks and side dishes. While waiting in line, we watched many people in grungy clothes and filthy hair order cups of coffee or a bowl of soup or stew. It’s a welcoming environment where people from all-walks-of-life can eat from the same tables.
Our tummies filled, we wandered through Olvera Street. In 1781, Los Angeles was founded on a site southeast of Olvera Street near the Los Angeles River by a group of Spanish settlers. The original street was a short lane called Wine Street, which was extended and renamed in honor of Agustin Olvera, a prominent local judge in 1877. Today, along with 27 historical buildings, Olvera Street is a major attraction with street vendors, restaurants, shops, entertainment, and celebrations like Cinco de Mayo, Dia de los Muertos, Blessing of the Animals, and Mardi Gras.
Because it was after 7 o’clock when most of Olvera Streets closes for the evening, we mostly walked by shuttered carts and shops. Hearing music, we crossed the street to the Lady Queen of Angeles Catholic Community, where a festival was taking place. The food smelled wonderful and the music was infectious. By their grotto, covered in flowers, we spied of couple of feral kitten who were too distrustful to come out.
We next headed to City Hall, past streets that had radically changed since I was a child, going to my father’s garment factory, and Rich was a fingerprint classifier and crime scene investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department. Many of the older buildings have been razed and shiny new ones built. Old warehouse and factory buildings are now fancy apartments or gentrified lofts.
As we got closer to City Hall, we could hear someone giving a speech. It was Occupy Wall Street protesters. There were hundred or so tents around City Hall. A stage had been set up for speakers. It was very peaceful, but exciting to experience the protests and the united voices against the “blatant injustices perpetrated by the economic and politic elites.” Covering the lawns were signs, expressing anger towards Wall Street, Republican politicians, unemployment, and other inequities.
Our next stop was Little Tokyo for mochi ice cream at Mikawaya. Mochi is pounded, sticky rice, which can be formed into little balls or squares or wrapped around bean paste, or for an amazing dessert, ice cream.
For a dollar, you can purchase a mochi ice cream ball, which is about the size of a small apricot. The ice cream is super rich and is magical when combined with the mochi. We each had two mochi ice cream balls. I had green tea and kona coffee. Rich stuck to mango. Mike tried the chocolate and Stacey had green tea. Heavenly!
Little Tokyo has radically changed since I was a little girl and would occasionally go there for Japanese pastries. The handful of shops and restaurants now comprises 67-acres.
As we started back to the car, we passed by an upscale coffee shop, called Demitasse. We were mesmerized by a cold brewing contraption which consisted of several large glass vessels and filters (Kyoto-style). The man behind the counter waved us into the store. By now, it was after 10 o’clock at night when party animals are at bars and not pulling up stools at coffeehouses.
We were all given a sample of the cold brewed coffee, which was very strong, but had no bitterness or unpleasant tastes. Stacey was intrigued by their peculiar coffee drippers (scroll down to the article about Demitasse) and decided to order a coffee. The process starts by adding water to a round glass vessel, which is suspended over a halogen light. Once the water boils, another glass vessel, this one rectangular, is placed on top, creating a seal with a small amount of air trapped in-between.
As this air heats, the water is forced up into the top vessel through a filter. Powdered coffee is added and stirred and allowed to boil for a few minutes. Once the vessels are removed from the heat, the coffee is sucked through the filter and back into the original container.
The barista then poured the coffee into four little acrylic glasses and told us not to drink until the coffee cooled. It tasted splendid. It was very pleasant sipping our coffee and talking to one of the baristas, a young man who four years ago moved from Texas to marry a woman he met online! He was very charming and anxious for us to taste everything Demitasse offered.
Unexpectedly, he pulled out a bag of homemade marshmallows, which they serve with hot chocolate. He skewered a chubby one on a bamboo stick and roasted it with a small torch. Between giggle, we took bites, enjoying the caramelized outside and gooey inside.
As we were getting ready to leave, the barista mentioned they toss out their pastries at the end of the night. They offered to give us a couple! While Rich was choosing two lemon and two chocolate macaroons, the barista who used to live in Texas, brought me a macaroon, which resembled a mini hamburger with a golden bun filled with scrumptious icing. The macaroons looked like these from Lette in Beverly Hills.
Just when I thought the evening was coming to an end, Rich felt we should walk by Union Station. Opened in 1939, and designed by John and Donald B. Parkinson, who also designed the Los Angeles City Hall and other landmark Los Angeles Buildings, the station is breathtaking. The floors are terra cotta mosaics, the walls travertine marble, ceilings open beam, and the giant chairs in the waiting room are upholstered in deep brown leather.
We slid into a couple of chairs and sat for a few minutes admiring the grandeur. At one time, before affordable airplane travel, the station was probably a constant hubbub of people, trains and buses. Today, several upscale restaurants are located within the station, no doubt, helping offset the expensive of keeping this magnificent landmark open.
Even though it was after 11 o’clock at night, one side of the 101 freeway was still packed with cars; although, they seemed to be going at a modest 30 to 40 miles per hour. Rich, having driven the freeways when he was in his late teens and twenties, knew the fastest route back to Long Beach, where Stacey and Mike dropped us off at our motel.
More Sun, Less Fog, and More People to See
The next morning, after sleeping deeply, we had a satisfying breakfast at iHOP and then headed to Hollywood to visit with Jerry Simon, who was my father’s best friend, and is now 94 years old. I’ve been corresponding with him for decades, and most recently started to wonder about his ability to recollect dates and events. When describing him to Rich, I mentioned, “I think he might have a photographic memory.”
Sure enough, he could name exact dates when my parents got married, when he visited various places… and then list what he did during the visit as if it was a week ago and not forty years earlier. We spent two and a half hours talking about the economy, politics, families, trips, changes in the area (Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, etc.), vocabulary, and grammar.
At one point, he wanted his caregiver, Gloria, to find a book on the table about homonyms. I helped her look since there were eight stacks of books on the table. While looking, I found the book “Eats, Shoots, & Leaves.” I brought it back to Jerry, and he told me to look on page 9, which contained a simple sentence, punctuated two ways:
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Woman: Without her, man is nothing.
I’m still astonished that he could remember the exact page on which the sentence was written! I’d be lucky to remember the book in which an interesting passage was written.
Needing to get to Bullhead City by dinnertime, we sadly had to say “good-bye” to Jerry; although, I hope to see him again, as does Rich.
Our trip to Bullhead City, on the Arizona side of the Colorado River was uneventful and we encountered little traffic on a Sunday afternoon. We arrived at Ted’s (Rich’s step-father) house around 5:30, and then got ready for dinner at the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, the Nevada side of the Colorado River.
It was fun catching up with what Ted has been doing and talking with Sue, who lives across the street and takes care of an elderly man named Charlie. I also enjoy looking at the lights from the Laughlin casinos reflecting off the river. Even though, it was in the low 90’s/high 80’s for most of our visit, the heat isn’t intolerable because it’s so dry. Plus, the rock formations are fantastic. It’s a picturesque place to visit.
We spent another day with Ted, visiting and driving around the area, seeing Davis Dam, and then headed to Las Vegas for 20-hours of walking around the strip (until midnight), snapping pictures, watching belching volcanoes and dueling pirates, wandering into high-end shops, eating dinner at Chipotle Grill, scurrying through dark and smoky casinos, bumping into people on the crowded sidewalks, avoiding having our hands were hustlers could place cards of female “entertainers,” riding the monorail to the architectural marvel City Center, and enjoying our stay at the sizzling pink Flamingo Hotel.
Every year, we stay at a different hotel. In the past, we stayed at Planet Hollywood and the Rio. Our room at the Flamingo, on the 18th floor, was the smallest, but the most lascivious with a white, vinyl padded headboard, mirrored light on the ceiling, white furniture, pink and brown-striped wallpaper, and a bathroom that could only make you smile with two walls painted bright pink, pink halogen lights in the ceiling, and a white marble shower with jets. Plus, there was a remote control on the bathroom counter. When I powered it on, a rectangular section of the bathroom mirror turned into a television!
In addition, we had a view of Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, and the non-stop action on the strip. And everywhere you walk in the Flamingo, you see splashes of bright, flamingo pink, which made me very happy. Check out this virtual tour to see the pink, pink Flamingo!
The only negative to our Las Vegas visit was towards the end of the evening when we went to McDonald’s for coffees (hey, they have good coffee and it’s cheap). Two women walked in, one with long blonde hair, a tight dress that barely covered her tush, and five-inch clear acrylic platform shoes. The other woman was in tight jeans and a t-shirt. The woman in the suggestive clothing ran up to a worker at McDonald’s, a chunky, androgynous man or woman, and gave him/her a tight hug, exclaiming “I haven’t seen you in so long.” The greeting was genuine and warm.
After the two women got their food, they sat at a table across from us. Within minutes, two men at another table started flirting with them, asking questions and trying to figure out how to “get into their pants.” The women were courteous, but were obviously not interested and simply wanted to enjoy their meal in peace.
One man, however, was relentless, leaning over to touch the woman closest to him and wanting to know how they “could get together.” He explained he came from a town of 5,400 people in Georgia where everyone knew each other. He also had a son who was the same age as the blonde. Finally, the blonde gave him a card and explained he could take a free limo to see her. She probably worked at a gentlemen’s club. I could hear the man lamenting the hassle of having to take a limo and the cost to see her take off her clothes. Groan.
Even though the woman was dressed like a slut – as are a large percentage of the women who are out partying at the plethora of Vegas bars and night clubs – she didn’t deserve to be tormented while she was trying to eat a hamburger!