Tuesday, April 5, 2011

March comes in like a lion ...

13 March 2011, Minneapolis MN USA

Here it is, almost mid month, and I’m finally getting started. My only excuse is that it’s been a busy month for this retiree. True to my Minnesota residency, I began with a weather report (see headline on this post). We continue to have the most horrendous winter I’ve ever experienced here or elsewhere. More cold and more snow interspersed with tantalizing dribs and drabs of 40+F days that melt some of the ugly, dirty snow mountains that have arisen everywhere and make driving and paradoxically make parking both more and less dangerous to humans and vehicles. I’ve shoveled the decks a few times but thankfully more recent snowfalls have been slight and melted before the end of the day.

The month began on a high note. Four women in my water exercise class organized a baby shower for Lindsay, our Tuesday instructor who’s due to give birth to a baby girl, her first child, in April. It was fun seeing everyone in street clothes, and several commented that they’d never seen my hair. True. I wear a swim cap, partly because I thought it was required, as it is in Poland, and mostly because my colored hair doesn’t need any more caustic chemicals than necessary.

Can’t recall if I told you that I am now wearing my “Swiss” slacks, a pair that I bought while in Zurich a few years ago and which had become decided too tight to wear. Thank you, Lindsay, Heather, Jeri and Andrew (my water ex instructors). It is such a treat to expand my wardrobe of slacks by digging out a couple of other pairs that now fit well. I can even tuck in a shirt!

And I was given a lovely ego boost about 10 days ago when I was contacted by a DC-based non-government organization (NGO) about applying for a chief of party position on their proposal. I decided to go for it since it’s in Kosovo, a country I’d enjoy returning to, and a community development project, which is something a little different from my usual project. Got through the interviews to an offer, which I’ve accepted. Now they just need to make a winning proposal. As we say in Poland, zobaczymy (we’ll see). The project wouldn’t start until June or July, and they know I’ll be in Poland from early May to mid June.

Have spent a fair bit of time with invalid friends: Susan’s had a bad case of the flu for two weeks, Sabrina broke her arm and had day surgery, Sharon continued her chemo, and my niece Tomery is exhausted. I’m glad I’ve stayed healthy this winter (knock on wood) and can help with shopping, rides, arranging spa trips and just being company.

My own biggest catastrophe was when I kicked an uncapped bottle of water ... and spilled it on my laptop which was also on the floor. It was a small amount, wiped up quickly and thoroughly, so I killed it almost dead, instead of entirely dead. I was able to reboot but it died. Since I make my Genius Bar appointments on line at Apple, I was briefly in a quandary about how to go about that. I also rely heavily on the online Yellow Pages for phone numbers. But a Foster to the rescue. A quick call to Janet who handed off to computer whiz Thom (her son) who went on line and made the appointment. Thursday morning after water exercise class found me 45 minutes early for the appointment. Was I anxious? Did I awaken at 3 am and not fall back to sleep? Who, me? Of course!

Long story short, the Genius opened the logic board housing and found mucho corrosion, more than my mere spill could cause. $750 worth. But genius that he is, he found a way to get the replacement at no cost ... mostly likely because I’ve reported problems that the corrosion was causing in the past and no one opened the laptop to check on the logic board. And service-oriented company that it is, Apple had my computer back to me in three days -- MN to CA to MN.

15 March

Weather continues to be the bane of my existence. Florida was having a chilly week while I was there. And CA will be worse. Just cancelled Jean’s and my trip to Carmel later this week because predictions are for rain, rain and more rain both there and in San Francisco, where Jean lives. For now, the forecast for La Quinta, where my brother and his wife live in winter and where I’ll be after SF, is good -- high 70s and low 80s and lots of sunshine. The combo of the two weather systems will make for some interesting packing. I only get one carry-on type suitcase since Marilyn (my college roommate that I’m driving southward with) will be packing the car with the last of her CA based worldly possessions.

17 March, up in the air somewhere between Minneapolis and San Francisco

To all my friends of Irish descent, a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

So, there I was, sitting in the waiting area of Gate C-1 at MSP when all of a sudden the lights start to flash and the loud speaker comes on. A fire alarm has gone off somewhere in the area where this gate is located; if we see smoke, evacuate; stand by for further instructions. Oh, joy. No news on this before the flight was called and I boarded. Hopefully a false alarm.

Working on a laptop in coach is not easy. I guess all those business folks who always seem to be working furiously on theirs have shorter arms than I ... or didn’t have the same typing teacher. No way to maintain proper hand position. Since my hands are already sore from water exercise classes, this will be short.

While other friends seem on the mend, Janet has come down with something that sounded like Susan’s flu symptoms. When I called yesterday before stopping by to print my boarding pass and recently made flight itineraries, Ed said she was asleep with a cold. So I told him that I’d find an alternate way to get to the airport, not Janet as we’d planned. I confirmed this to her when she called later in the day, sounding like Susan had at the outset of her flu. My niece Michelle said she would drive me.

Aside: An extra advantage of having Michelle drive me this morning was getting to see her husband Jon who was also going to the airport. He’s off to a hockey tournament in Florida. Like my niece Tomery, Jon still plays their beloved sport. Since he’s been working in northern CA, I haven’t seen much of him.

Between water exercise class in the morning and my monthly hair appointment and dinner with Connie in the evening yesterday, I got ready for the trip, running errands, doing laundry packing ... and forgot to change my answering machine message. Argh. Probably it was all that chasing after the FedEx driver in the far northern suburbs. While I was out in the morning, FedEx had tried to deliver my new roman shade from Penney’s. It’s the final item of decorating in the TV room. That led to a frantic call to FedEx to determine how to get the package that day. Neither I nor my condo-sitting nephew would be around when they tried again. Christopher would likely be at work, plus the package had to be opened and inspected immediately. The FedEx warehouse is in St. Paul and open until 8 pm but the driver was new and probably would return later than that. I arranged with the dispatcher to meet the driver on his route and with the driver an approximate location. For once I was thankful for a mobile phone. After a few calls once I reached the general area, the driver and I connected. The seven-foot box finally fit in my trunk once I put down the back seat and pushed the front passenger seat up as close as possible. Getting it up to my apartment was another story ... glad there are no pictures of me awkwardly hauling that box. The shade looked fine ... so I returned it to the box, which now sits in a corner awaiting installation. I’ll make an appointment when I get back.

18 March, San Francisco

Honk, honk, honk ... the kind of honk a goose makes. That has signaled a tornado watch in the San Francisco area. Say what?! Yes, when Jean and I departed the Jewish Community Center Fitness Club, it was pouring and the radio said the road to San Rafael was flooded. So our trip to her mechanic for a minor car adjustment has been postponed. Back at the condo, we tuned into The Weather Channel ... which confirmed all the rain, then started honking and running a crawl about the tornado warning. See what I mean about me and bad weather?

We had a delicious dinner and interesting evening at Jean’s friend Anita’s. A stimulating time with a room full of Type A women ... I was the quiet one! It poured as we trod to and from the car ... but Anita’s excellent hospitality ... and wines ... overcame the chill created by the wet.

21 March, San Francisco

The tornado passed over one of the towns near SF but didn’t land anywhere, thank heavens. And all we got was a lot of wind and rain through yesterday morning. Then it stopped, and we had a lovely afternoon. Brunch with SF friends Peg, Tom, Otis and Jean, my cousin’s daughter Annie and my college roommate Mar was fun. Then Jean, Annie and I picked up Jean’s daughter Lisa and went down to the Ferry Building for a walk in the fresh, clear air and good coffee.

I was glad to see Annie who seems to be doing well after her break up with Justin, her significant other of five years. It’s been almost six months, and she’s been taking good care of herself and is now ready to think about job and apartment changes. She’s such a great person; I always enjoy seeing her and need to plan more time with her in the future.

Today rain was to start at about 1 pm but never did. Jean and I did our morning exercises (she to the gym, me to the pool), then drove up to get her car’s gas cap repaired in San Rafael and finally over to Larkspur to see Robin, a colleague from my St. Paul Companies days. Robin’s husband died tragically of cancer two years ago, so now she manages their businesses (including an art gallery) and two children. She hasn’t changed one bit since I last saw her in 1991!

24 March, LaQuinta, CA, in the desert across the mountains from San Diego

At last, virtually guaranteed daily sunshine!

As planned, my senior-year-in-college roommate Mar picked me up early on Wednesday morning at Jean’s condo for our two-day drive southward. Mar is en route back to Delaware with her car and the last of her CA-stored possessions, taking the scenic and visit-old-friends-and-family route, rather than the direct one. She used to live in Palm Desert, which isn’t far from here and I wanted to visit my brother Dan and his wife Ann after my week in San Francisco. So I drove with her on the first leg of the trip.

It was raining when we left SF ... no surprise after all the rain days so far. At least we weren’t in MN or NY where predictions were for several inches of snow. And it continued to rain all day long, from downpour to a few spits and back to downpour. We shared the driving down US 101, not US 1 right on the ocean as the rains had caused some landslides and such; we decided not to take the chance. We stopped in Solvang, the “Danish Capital of the US” for a break, short since it was still raining. It’s a tourist town that is very Danish/Scandinavian in architecture, food, handcrafts etc. We ogled but didn’t buy any of the highly caloric Danish treats in the bakery where we used the bathroom, but I got postcards to mail to the children of my friends (the list is at almost 20 now). Still need to complete writing those.

Shortly after that, we pulled into Carpinteria, not far from Santa Barbara, for dinner and the night. Mar had stayed there on a previous trip. This morning a few rays of sunshine peaked through the curtains as I sipped my first cup of coffee. It was soooo nice to see. By the time we stopped in Santa Monica for lunch, we had a full-blown sunny CA day. After eating in a lovely restaurant on the land side of the Santa Monica Pier, we walked around the outdoor downtown mall, free of rain gear for the first time in days. The parking ramp where we parked had an interesting system of overhead red and green lights to identify available parking spaces. Less need to inch along at zero miles per hour as in most parking garages; you can easily see there is or isn’t space available in a section.

Back in the car, we headed toward Malibu, where occasionally we could spy the ocean behind gated-fenced enclaves and the occasional been-here-since-the-dawn-of-time places, on to LA and its infamous freeways. Even in midday, the roads are clogged though not the parking lots you often see on television, then southwest into the mountains. We drove up, up, up, past the 5,000-feet sign, to Idyllwild, a quaint mountain village, where the roadway was lined with piles of crusty, dirty snow ala Minneapolis, then we descended to the desert. I actually figured out how to use the Map App on my iPhone and got us to PGA West where Dan and Ann live and then their actual house, easy to spot -- a Steelers’ fan was standing in the driveway waving at us.

28 March, LaQuinta

Still lots of sunshine and it’s been getting warmer every day, not that it was ever cold ... when I arrived, it was certainly a lot warmer than MN and SF. Not that that was difficult. I sleep at night with the window open and the ceiling fan on.

Under mostly cloudless skies over the last few days, I’ve enjoyed my breakfast coffee beside the golf course, had meals al fresco, watched a doggie fashion show to benefit Guide Dogs of the Desert, taken a couple of hour-long morning walks with my brother (who keeps up quite a pace), wandered an upscale flea market (and of course bought a few things) and generally just savored being here. We saw a film “The Lincoln Lawyer” one day -- well worth being indoors for a while. And yesterday we drove to Temecula in the southern California wine country and had an excellent lunch at a restaurant at Callaway Vineyards, then tasted wines at South Coast Winery/Restaurant/Spa/Hotel. Definitely a place I’d like to return to. On the return, I noticed that the few clouds in the sky were nestled in the uppermost ridges of the mountains but never ventured our way. With a few wispy clouds appeared above in the afternoon, the temps hit the low 80s.

Today Dan, Ann and I met my Peace Corps friend Bill and his wife Delli for lunch. When Dan and Ann lived in Escondido, so were Bill and Delli, which made annual visits easy. Delli took to golf and completed the PGA golf school. Now they live in Indio, which is next door to LaQuinta, so the annual catch-up visits continue. Delli is now a full-fledged golf pro with teaching privileges. But even here, that business is slow. So she has decided on a more recession-proof career, nursing, and has begun the first year of her nursing studies, while she continues to work as a golf pro. She’s adjusting to a new work/school/family balancing act that now includes two adopted daughters, Philli, 14, and Harmony, 10. They are Delli’s nieces. Delli, my sister-in-law Ann and I retired to a nearby Marshall’s (a discount clothing store), leaving Dan and Bill to commiserate on politics, taxes etc. over a final pot of green tea.

Later at a local casino, I blew $20, my gambling limit, playing video poker. At one point I’d doubled my money but decided to just keep playing.

29 March, LaQuinta

Today is my sister-in-law Ann’s birthday and before breakfast, she’d already had an adventure. We were driving to Old Town La Quinta for breakfast when we hit an intersection where the center lane was closed and traffic was backing up quickly as police diverted cars from going straight ahead. About halfway up the next block we could see mucho police cars along the roadside with lights flashing, but we couldn’t see the cause of the commotion. We inched over to the right and turned. Dan fired up the car’s GPS, and at the next light, over Ann’s objections, followed the cars ahead of us and made a left turn. According to the GPS, the street went through ... but Ann was sure it didn’t. And it didn’t. We followed the cars ahead as they lined up to drop children off at the Harry S. Truman Elementary School, at the last minute veering off through the parking lot before we ended up curbside with no kid. Ann’s first choice for birthday breakfast place apparently only serves breakfast on weekends and her favorite place (in Palm Springs) would be mobbed with women attending or playing in the annual Dinah Shore tournament. So we headed to a third, nearby cafe. Needless to say, we didn’t let Dan hear the end of that all day.

We had such a substantial breakfast that we skipped lunch and had guacamole, salsa and chips with some bubbly made from pinot grigio grapes for a mid afternoon birthday toast. Tasty wine that I’ll have to find in MN. For the birthday dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant that we’d been driving by often and that Dan and Ann had been meaning to try, Amore. The Belgian bistro that was her first choice is closed on Tuesdays. With the help of my iPhone and OpenTable app, I made our reservations while we were wandering toward a breakfast spot. I am really getting the hang of this iPhone stuff!

Amore is in an ultra modern aluminum building that reminds me vaguely of the Frank Gehry-designed art museum on the University of Minnesota campus. Because we were early (6 pm), it wasn’t crowded but before we left, it was filling up nicely. Seemed to be quite few ‘regulars’ from the way the waiters greeted several groups.

Lamb chops, my favorite red meat, was on the menu, but the entree looked way too big. But the antipasti also included a smaller version that I tried. Tasty but cooler than I would’ve liked. Ann and I had different risottos, each so large that we took home enough for tomorrow’s “leftover day” meals. Dan polished off an interesting sounding -- and ultimately delicious -- prosciutto-and-pasta in Alfredo sauce. All this food, plus a bottle of wine and some tiny garlic-and-herb topped miniature rolls, and we decided to skip dessert. But we did note that they have a happy hour with a menu that would more than replace dinner. A return trip for sure.

30 March

I don’t know how I’ll return to the frigid weather of MN. It’ll get to the mid 90s here today. And while I actually prefer cold to hot weather wise, it is just so nice sitting outside with my coffee and book, watching the early morning activities on the golf course hole that passes behind the house. Right in front of my lounge chair are a gigantic amoeba-shaped sand traps and a smaller amoeba, the putting green.

This morning I watched one of the greenskeepers move the hole to a new location. He had a tool that reminded me of the tool my mother used to cut donuts, only much bigger. He used the tool to remove the form that keeps the hole from caving in on itself. Then he used the same tool to cut a new hole. After he inserted a form to keep the new hole sturdy, he tamped down the top and checked it carefully before replacing the flag. Then he took the cylinder of soil and grass he’d just removed and placed it in the old hole, made sure it fit properly, tamped it down with his foot, checked it, then another groundskeeper came along to mow the green.

31 March, Final Day in La Quinta

It was already very warm when I went outside for my morning coffee. And the groundskeeper was back to move the hole on the green again. I wonder how often they do that. While checking email, I watched TV, the Dinah Shore LPGA golf tournament which is taking place on a nearby course. The camera took an overhead shot of a green, and I could see ‘polka dots’ where former holes had been plugged; the color was slightly different.

Dan and I are leaving for the Ontario Airport shortly. It’s a couple of hours away down I-10 but a lot less expensive to fly from than Palm Springs. We’ll stop at In-and-Out Burger for lunch, my favorite burger joint, along the way. So time to shower, finish the packing and re-make the bed. It’s in the mid 90s at just before noon.

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