Working in the Sunshine

I woke up today to see snow on the ground; true, was only a light dusting, but I am reminded once again, that I live in Chicago in the winter (my feeling are summed up by this song). On the bright side, tomorrow will be mid-40s and more importantly, I have started the countdown to our first trip of the year.

Our trip to Costa Rica starts on February 1, so at this time I have 28 days to get through—really 27 because it is already evening here and we leave very early in the morning on the 1st.  I am counting the days. As Sue mentioned, she will be learning to Scuba dive, sitting on the beach, taking day trips who knows where and living the Pure Vida while  hitting the cerveza. (I am really hoping to have some work. Honest!)

I will be working.

I am in no way complaining. I will sitting (hopefully outside) at Karl’s place in shorts, a T-shirt and wearing sun screen—not bad for February. However, since I will be working, I am beginning to worry about being connected and all the things I will need to lug down there in order to be able to work.

my laptop
My new laptop

Let’s start with my laptop, of course. I will need power, micro and USB-C cables for various peripherals, and a long Cat-5 Ethernet cable in case the WiFi isn’t so good. I am also thinking I might bring along a WiFi repeater that I have stored in the junk box downstairs. We don’t use it at home, and if the WiFi isn’t so good, perhaps I will set it up somewhere to get a boost (so I can sit outside of course). In the next week or so, I will have a look at Playa Flamingo to see if there is a coffee shop that says it has WiFi, so that if the coverage isn’t good at Karl’s, I can head there and get connected. Then me being me, I will need backups for pretty much of everything—just in case.

Brick phone
Only the latest cell phone for me!

I will need a working mobile phone.  Like most people these days, I live on my phone. (He is worse than the Millennials and Gen Z.) My company does not have a phone system; we all work on our cell phones and have a soft number assigned for work.  I hope we have decent phone coverage there, but if we don’t it works fine on WiFi (see the discussion above about the WiFi extender).  I will contact my provider and arrange for an international call package. I get a half gig of high speed data per day on the plan for $10, so unless I need to use the phone as I hot spot, that won’t be an issue.

 

All in I am really excited for the trip. This post has taken me 30 minutes to write, which means I am 30 minutes closer to the warm sunny weather. In my head, I see this:

me working

But I do worry about it being this…

me not working

Maybe I need an extra backup plan….

I Figure We Can See All of Alaska in 10 Days….

denali picture

I know that I have not been writing very much recently.  I have been distracted by work and somewhat depressed by the thought of spending another winter in Chicago.

One part of my trip to Florida to surprise my mother that I did not mention was that during the time down there she announced that she wanted to take us (my brother, sister and myself) and our respective spouses on an Alaskan cruise this summer.

Princess-AKWe have spent the last few weeks trying to get agreement on which cruise would work for the seven of us. Imagine the hunger games for cruises…Shouting on phone calls, imaginary use of swear words, minor fistfights, a smallish stabbing and the usual hysteria–all of which was just between Sue and me ;-). (Hey, I thought that was private!) We decided on a seven-day northbound cruise on Princess lines out of Vancouver.

denali-mapOnce the cruise was decided, everyone expressed an interest in going to Denali National Park. We figure three days in a wilderness larger than the state of Massachusetts should give us just enough time to know that we have not spent enough time there.

We began by looking at three options.  First, go with the cruise line and stay in their lodge.  That got a hard no from Sue and me. Second, go to a private hotel/lodge/cabins most of which are along the outside edge of the park.  Third, do a  multi-day camping and hiking tour. (The tour company flies you in to a remote lake, drops you off and provides the camping equipment, food and a guide).

Sue and I were keen on the third option, and my brother, Phil, and his wife, Naomi, were in for that, too. My sister, Judie, her husband, Mario, and my mother are planning on staying at the Princess Lodge.

My cousin Robin has been to Alaska a number of times, so after doing some research on the camping companies, we gave her a call to see what she thought.  She gave us a forceful caution on the camping trip.  As she said, it could be perfect, but it could also be the trip from hell. Twenty-four hours of rain a day, everything gets wet, the hiking sucks because it is cold and wet. You can’t get warm for four days, etc.  She suggested that we look at one of the lodges that are within the park and, while they are expensive, they do always give you a warm dry bed to sleep in. We have not yet made a decision….but are leaning towards listening to the wisdom of someone who has done it before – I know, unusual for us.

Stay tuned campers for updates.

Happy Birthday

 

It is my mother’s 82nd birthday next week. Ever since she turned 80, we (my brother, sister and I) have been working extra hard to give her special birthdays. This year, we decided that it would be good fun for all of us to pay her a surprise visit in Florida, where she lives during the winter.

My brother lives in Dallas, my sister in Pennsylvania and I live in Chicago, so the first step was finding a weekend near her birthday that would work. We settled on the week before, as both of them were traveling for work the following weekend and my daughter is coming to Chicago the one after that. OK. Step one was completed⁠—we knew when we were going⁠—Thursday, Oct. 31 to Sunday, Nov. 3.

Move to step 2. Arrange travel. We all hopped on to our favorite travel sites and looked for flights that would all arrive around the same time. One quick round of confirmation texts and we all booked our tickets. My sister and brother were set to arrive at 2:00 and 2:30, my flight is scheduled for 3. My mother lives about 30 minutes from the airport, so all in we figured we get to her at about 4.

Move to step 3. Figure out how to ensure that my mother was at home when we arrived. Time to call in the co-conspirators. I called my Aunt Es and Uncle Albert who live about 20 minutes from my mother. After quickly letting them know that nothing was wrong (seems like anytime anyone calls these days, the first thought is what is wrong), I explained our plan. They were more than happy to help. To quote (or at lease paraphrase) my uncle: “Not to worry, we will tell her (my mother) that we are going to be up there and want to take her to dinner, then we will arrive, have a glass of wine and, you know, stall until you all arrive.”

The plans were set, all we needed to do was wait for the day. My brother and sister had uneventful flights and arrived right on time. However, Chicago weather is never your friend, and once again it did not disappoint. Snow. Yes, snow on Wednesday (just about an inch at the airport) and then then snow again on Halloween. My flight was delayed. Not too much, about 45 minutes, but then I had to check my carry on bag, which would have to be collected at baggage claim, not on the jet bridge. Oh dear, now we are arriving around 5.

My brother and sister texted my aunt and uncle to let them know. Luckily for us, they have concocted a story for my mother that involved waiting for my cousin to arrive. They quite admirably stretched out the stall for another hour while we got my luggage, piled into an Uber and headed to my mother’s condo.

20191102_112119We are planners. My brother, sister and I all thought through the approach as my mother’s living room faces the building entrance way.  We asked our Uber driver to drop us off at the next building and we circled around to entrance at that back of the building.

We snuck up to the door.

Knocked.

My mother yelled come in.

We yelled, “Trick or Treat,” and walked in.

To say she looked confused would be an understatement. We burst into a very very very very off key (and for me out of time) rendition of Happy Birthday.

My mother clutched her chest (a heart attack looked possible!!!!), tears streaming down her cheeks and great big smile on her face. Isn’t my husband the sweetest?!?!?!

ma

After a few minutes of hugs and kisses, everything settled down. We knew my mother was fine when she looked at my aunt and uncle and promptly declared. “You knew this! I will never speak to you again. Now let’s figure out where to have dinner.”

We are spending the weekend doing what we do best together.  Sitting around, eating, talking about our respective families and basking in the glow of a really great surprise.

…and in case you were concerned.  Aunt Es and Uncle Albert were forgiven by the time we got to the Thai restaurant for dinner.

Back to Planning

spreadsheet.pngWhen we talked last time, which was some time ago (oops!), about our desire to go to Southeast Asia. Steven and I talked in circles for a month or so because of all the other upheaval in our lives (trying to sell a house, deciding where to move, trying to develop a freelance writing career) but then we decided to plan in earnest and worry about finances, time, physical fitness⁠—you know, the little stuff⁠—later.

Instead of getting into trip details, I’m going to focus on the how we plan. We’ve only just started this time, but here’s our process:

  1. Get bug about a certain far-flung location. This time Vietnam for the caves and Cambodia for the oldest known zero.
  2. Tell ourselves it’s completely unrealistic.
  3. Admit to each other that we’re still thinking about it even though it’s completely unrealistic.
  4. Decide that maybe it’s not completely unrealistic.
  5. Do some Internet/print (what? a book???) research.
  6. Use up many sticky notes listing places within the country/region we want to visit.
  7. Steven makes a spreadsheet. (I know it’s weird, but this gives him joy.){Happiness is a good spreadsheet – and if I am lucky – a bit of a macro too!}
  8. Realize that this trip will take two months {a minimum of 2 months}  and start scaling back.
  9. Make some hard choices {I hate making hard choices!}.
  10. Mourn the places we won’t be able to see and convince ourselves we will go back.
  11. Figure out how much this will all cost by checking into flights and other transportation, hotels, food, attractions {Wow! that much!}.
  12. Start booking! or not, if we magically become grounded in reality.

We are about to hit Stage 10. Notice that we already have our hearts set on this trip, which is now Cambodia and Vietnam if we do the cave tour, and Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos if we don’t. We’re figuring about three weeks plus a few days. That’s a chunk of time not to be working, especially if you’re trying to build a freelance business. On the other hand, we aint getting any younger or richer, so if not now, when?

Cars, Cars, Cars

Today’s post is a homage to my nephew Michael and his severely damaged Subaru—Charles.  Michael, this too shall pass, and I hope Charles gets a new engine and is back on the road soon.

I love to drive. The joy of the open road, especially in a convertible is one of my favorite ford fusionfeelings. My trusty Saab is a 2006, so it lacks many of the toys that newer cars have. So when we travel and rent cars, I really enjoy the modern conveniences. I was in Boston last week for work (I know, way too much business travel) and I rented a Ford Fusion. It was a hybrid with a video screen showing all sorts of interesting stuff (mostly the music I was playing and the navigation). But what I found most interesting was the gear selector. It was a round knob on the console. For some reason, I found that every time I shifted out of reverse, I would accidentally put it inpPark.  No idea why, it just seemed that was the natural movement for my hand.  Anyway, that got me thinking about the various types of gear shifters I have used over the years.

vw1I learned to drive on an old Volkswagen Beetle that had what they called a semi-automatic transmission. It had one of the old style, long-handled, 3-speed stick shifts, but without the clutch. The driver still had to shift the gears, but did not have to deal with the pesky clutch. Good training wheels for when I bought the Duster.

 

duster1My first car was a 1970 Plymouth Duster. (Boy, I bet that car was a chick magnet.)  I loved that car in part because it was a manual transmission with a three-on-the-tree shifter. I bought it without knowing how to drive a manual transmission. My friend Michael gave me a 30-second lesson, drove the car to my house, and parked it outside.  I spent the next week or so practicing using the clutch and learning how to drive a manual. I was so proud of myself the first time I took it out for a real drive. There was a hill near my house that had a stop light at the top and I would always try to go on that street so that I could practice the rolling start. Scary, but good fun.

Knowing how to drive a manual transmission came in handy when I moved to the U.K. The interesting thing about that is while the steering wheel is on the other (wrong?) side of the car, you still use your left foot to operate the clutch.  The gear pattern is the same as a left-hand drive car, but you use your left hand to manipulate the stick.  I cannot tell you how any times I would put the clutch in, and bang my right arm into the door, forgetting that the gear stick was on the left side. Not the most comforting thing for my passengers, I am sure.

olds 88I have also driven any number of automatic transmission cars with all their various shifting mechanisms. The column shifters (I especially remember the one on my Dad’s Delta 88 which could comfortably sleep the entire population of Boston), the console shifters of various cars (my Saab included) and of course the modern paddle shifters which mimic the semi-automatic from the Volkswagen.

Things come full circle.

One thing that I forgot about driving on the East Coast (especially in New England) is that no road is straight. In the Midwest, there are only three types of streets.  North/South, East/West and a few diagonals, just to keep you on your toes.  The streets in Boston seem to have been designed by a committee of drunken, blind, stock market analysts who believe that the random walk theory of the markets should be extended to the streets.  Straight, at least for roads, seems to be a curse word.

Another funny thing about Boston is that streets are often named for where they take you. For instance, Newton Street in Brookline, takes you to Newton, where it, of course, turns into Brookline Street, so you know how to get to Brookline from Newton.  I remember this same “logic” when I lived in the U.K., but I thought the U.S. had successfully avoided that foolishness.

At some point, I will try to convince Sue to go on a road trip where we rent a super car,  for a week and drive really fast, just for the fun of it. Perhaps something like this. I am thinking that, you my dear readers, should fund this as part of the the Doing It on The Road research plan  😉 (I will definitely get on this bandwagon if I don’t have to pay for it.)

Sorry.  None of the images are our cars, just examples of what we had.

 

 

 

Port Townsend Wrap-up

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The view along the cleverly named Water Street

I am home and it is 90 degrees. We were slightly delayed on the way in because of thunderstorms in Chicago, but the pilot did a great job despite the wind. What a climate shock I had when we landed since our last day in Port Townsend was about 60 degrees and misty, rainy, or what Mahru calls frizzle–foggy drizzle. Yuck. We were so lucky because we didn’t experience that at all before that. We did get a taste of high winds  (sense a weather pattern?) on the marina our last night. Sleeping up in the penthouse, I felt like the little piggy in the straw house when the big, bad wolf came by. I really thought the tent walls were going to cave in or I would fall asleep and wake up in Oz. Fortunately, neither happened. I fell asleep and woke up to calm.

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Circling O’Hare

Sunday night after dinner, we went out for a cocktail, mostly to hang with Bernie’s good friend and housemate, Pinky. We went to a bar with a speakeasy vibe called the In Between, which had really funny cocktail descriptions. Mine, the Wishbone, read: “It’s like a martini & a margarita had a baby and that baby grew up and dropped out of law school.” Tequila, bergamot liqueur. I spent the last day wandering Port Townsend, which didn’t take very long. I did find Steven the perfect souvenir, though: Sasquatch socks!

When I was done exploring, I met up with Mahru and Bijan again. We went to have an afternoon beer at the Old Whiskey Mill, mostly because they have an outdoor patio for Bijan. We didn’t eat there, so I have no comment on the food, but the fish and chips looked good. I feel that there’s a beer theme here, but we really did not do a ton of drinking. In fact, we had one pilsner each and Mahru wanted another. I said I would share some with her. She tried to order one more, but we ended up with two. Ah well. It was vacation so we sat longer and finished another one each (Now that is a crisis!). Here’s what happens when I have two beers:

My curiosity got the better of me (again) and I ended up wandering through the Palace Hotel because there was a sign on the door which said something like “Feel free to wander in and look at our historic rooms.” I left Mahru and the dog outside. I was peeking into all the open rooms and didn’t feel odd about it. There was a group of four people doing the same and they confirmed that the person at the desk had said it was fine. Then I said, “So, people can stay here?” For some reason, I had thought it was just a historical site, like Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood home or something. Perhaps it was the velvet rope at the entrance to one of the roo

A sitting area at the Palace

ms that gave me that impression. They said, “Oh, yes, we are staying here. This is his room.” And they proceeded to enter a very large room complete with kitchen and sitting area (not that I stared too long). OK, but I was allowed to look so I kept going. The rooms are beautifully Victorian with a retrofitted for modern coffee-drinking look. Up to the third floor I went peeking along the way. I poked my head into one room and found, to my chagrin, a couple! They had left their door open as they unpacked. Oops! I apologized, explained that I was one beer over my limit, and ran down a different flight of stairs than the one I had gone up. Mahru and Bijan were two doors down and a little puzzled at my appearance, especially when I busted out laughing. I don’t think there’s a moral to this story, except curiosity can lead to fun stories.

We had pho for dinner and I was excited to find that there was vegetarian pho for me! img_20190701_193537120-1.jpgThe Vietnamese restaurant, PhoFilling, delivers to the Pourhouse (sense a punny pattern here?) bar across the street, so off we went.We almost got blown over getting there, but it was fun hoisting a last beer with Bernie. Life on the road is better when you like the friends of the friend you are traveling with.

Reality hit on our final drive: Two-lane highways that became three-lane highways with lots of traffic. First time  since we left the Bay Area. I flew out of SeaTac, which turns out not to be my favorite. It’s one huge, confusing terminal and the signs for the TSA precheck are not obvious. Come to think of it, neither are the signs for security at all. Once through, the main areas are loud and crowded. I must be getting old, because the buskers (ok, is it me or is there something odd about the buskers being able to get past security?  – Shouldn’t buskers be people who just set up and play music in the subway?) just contributed to the noise bouncing off every surface. Once I headed into the concourse for my gate, it settled down a little. By the way, there is coffee that is not Starbucks there. I thought it would have a monopoly in Seattle, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Final Destination: Port Townsend

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At the mouth of the Columbia River

The only slight hitch we had on the trip was a low tire warning, so when we got up and got going, we headed to a gas station. No problem except that, of course, the guy who pumps gas (you aren’t allowed to pump your own in Oregon) thought I was some stupid woman and when I was struggling because the nozzle on the air hose was leaky, he brilliantly asked, “Are you sure the machine is on?” Sigh. No, I am just that stupid.img_20190629_134338000_hdrimg_20190629_133342028_hdr.jpgAnyway, the light went out after I successfully filled the tires despite my being a girl and all and we went to the mouth of the Columbia for a … that’s right … beach walk! On the way to the gas station, we saw a tiny fish-and-chips place called FishMongers that looked locals only and decided to hit it on the way our of town (Hammond). It was well worth it. Not only did we get two combos of tuna, rockfish, and cod, but we had enough food left over to feed three of us for dinner when we got to Port Townsend. Perfect. Then, to top off a beautiful morning, I got to go to a Fred Meyer. Mahru had been raving about them since before we hit Oregon and I finally got to learn why. While she filled up on cheap gas, I wandered what I can only describe as a Target on steroids. That store has everything. No joke. Need some organic blueberries? Check. How about replacement windshield wipers? A new couch? A party dress? Antiseptic? They have it. Wow. It was a little overwhelming on a Saturday, but still amazing.

We got to Washington by crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia soon thereafter. Here is a quote from Britannica about the bridge: “A two-lane highway steel bridge 28 feet (8.5 meters) wide, it consists of three spans reaching a total length of 21,474 feet (6,545 meters) and including a main span of 1,232 feet (376 meters). It was designed by William A. Bugee and was built to withstand Pacific storms with wind speeds that reach some 150 miles (240 km) per hour and river currents that can hit speeds of 9 miles (14 km) per hour. ” Yes, it was cool. When we got to the official welcome to Washington sign, my camera went a little wonkie and I got this photo:img_20190629_143857038

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The Astoria-Megler Bridge

Not sure what that’s about, but, whatever, we were in Washington. From the border to Port Townsend, we still had almost 4 hours of driving on the two-lane 101 through small towns. We started heading east toward Puget Sound and still had remarkable, water views even if they were not of the Pacific.

We made one more quick stop at Potlatch State Park on the Hood Canal. It’s just a little day-use beach area, but the dog could get in a run and we could stretch our legs. Then it was on to Port Townsend to meet Mahru’s friend, Bernadette. She was incredibly hospitable and we had a lovely evening just talking, relaxing, and camping out on the floor of her apartment.

We didn’t really explore Port Townsend until Sunday. It’s a cute, waterfront town with all the requisite touristy stuff: fudge, t-shirts, restaurants, coffee shops, beer, and, if you’re on the West Coast, whale-watching tours. There are also ferries to Whidby Island in the sound. Amazingly, there is great pizza by the slice at Waterfront Pizza and I say this as a New York pizza snob. There was a woman there from Brooklyn and she convinced me to try it. She was right.

Sunday, we spent just wandering around the town, window-shopping. We checked into our campsite at Point Hudson Marina and RV Park and discovered that there are several restaurants down there. We ate at Doc’s Marina Grill. The rockfish tacos were delicious.