Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010-Hello to Grandma Dixie

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, because it means lots of time with the family!! I took a brief video for my Grandma Dixie in Illinois, since we were all together, plus Pete, Jill & Lili!!!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Labor Day Pool Party 2010

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As is customary on a holiday weekend, I invited over our friends and family for a BBQ and pool party! We had a great turn out this year, with all my sisters and their significant others, my parents, The Alvars, The Kings, and my friend Josh. It was great to hang out, watch the kids play in the pool (Sammy, my goddaughter, even let me pull her around using only a noodle and she would kick-pretty good for only being 2!!).

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Hey, this doll is bigger than I am!!

Zander was as friendly as ever, his face lighting up when he caught sight of the other kids and rushing right over to Elizabeth when he walked in the door: "Hi, I'm Zander, what's your name? Are you here to be my friend? Come see my baby and my daddy!!" All in one breath; he's definitely not shy!

Hey, this doll is bigger than I am!!
My parents brought over the new puppy, so between Buddy the lab and Zoey the baby girl, there was plenty of cuteness.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

A trip to the old home town . . .

My parents grew up in Hillsdale, Illinois, a small town in the Quad Cities area of the state, near the Iowa border. My dad's mom lives in Bloomington/Normal with my Aunt Christine, her husband Lyndon, and my Uncle Bill, so my parents and I decided to take a long weekend (well, they decided and I invited myself along) to visit my grandma, their old hometown, and some other friends and relatives. We planned our trip for the weekend of August 27th-30th.

We arrived in Peoria early Friday morning, rented a car, and hit the road for Hillsdale. Even after 32 years of marriage, my mom still gets nervous as a passenger, especially when my dad's playing tour guide as he drives. I, however, loved riding around with my dad pointing out farms where he used to work, the meat packing plant (formerly Illini Meat Packing Plant, now a Tyson Farms plant) houses my maternal grandfather built, the river shack he grew up in, and the house where I spent the first four years of my life. It was an interesting tour; a lot of the places look like they haven't c
hanged much in the 25 years since we moved and the 14 years since my last visit.

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We stopped by to visit my dad's aunt Doris, who still lives in the same house she lived in when my dad was a kid. Her daughter and daughter's family live there as well, and we got to meet the whole bunch. That was the first time I had met that particular set of cousins.

After that, we tried to visit my dad's Aunt Donna & Uncle John, but they weren't home. They are in their mid 80's and still active and social. We found out later that Friday is their night out on the town. They called and we arranged to go back the following morning. Donna & John live in East Moline, which is also the World Headquarters of the John Deere Corporation (my dad worked for John Deere in the early 80's, he was laid off, and we moved to Arizona). We drove by the old factory where my dad worked, which is still there,
although the building he worked in has been torn down, and also visited the World Headquarters, which has a free small museum right inside the entrance. The headquarters are situated on several hundred acres that is kept up as a park, and is beautifully maintained.

We arrived at 10 to 5, so only had a brief tour of the museum. Did you know John Deere started out building bikes?

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After that, we headed into Moline to have dinner at Frank's Pizzeria, a local treasure, and some of the best homemade sausage I've ever had. My parents said it hasn't changed at all since they went on dates here during High School. We tried to get ice cream at The Ice Cream Palace just down the road, my dad talked about how when he was a kid they served cones with two heads so you could have double the ice cream. We were disappointed though; they may still be named The Ice Cream Palace, but guess what they DON'T serve?? That's right; they now only serve Mexican food as a sit-down restaurant. I didn't realize that signage was that expensive to replace. . . .

Still full from pizza, we decided the lack of ice cream was probably better for us, and headed to Viola to try and visit Paula Lundquist, my mom's best friend from high school. We were in luck, because even though we didn't have a working phone number, she happened to be home and she put us up for the night.

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The next morning we woke up and visited with Paula's husband Doug (he had been working the night shift when we showed up, and Paula left for work early Saturday morning), then headed out to find some breakfast and back to Donna and John's house. We succeeded in both. I even bought some crafts that my great-aunt Donna had made, for my niece Zoey. (pictured here upon return from IL)

We did find ice cream after leaving John & Donna's, we stopped at Whitey's, a Quad City treasure. You can order it online and have it shipped, but $80 is a little pricey for me. I'll just have to go back for more. Finally we were on the road to Grandmother's house, quite literally over the river and through the woods. I hadn't seen my Grandma in over a decade, since she moved away from Arizona, and it was great to visit. Since I was just an annoying know-it-all teenager when my grandma had lived with us, I hadn't really taken the time to get to know her, or her stories. I spent the two days we visited catching up on everything I'd never asked before, and learned quite a bit. My grandma is a tough lady; she is currently undergoing dialysis 3 times per week, but her mind and memory as still sharp as a tack. My uncle Bill is working with my Grandma to develop a family tree and the stories to go along with it; and by memory she can go 4 generations back for both her family and my Grandpa Don's family. My grandfather passed away a few years ago from prostate cancer.

It was a great weekend. I hadn't seen Christine and Lyndon since my last trip to Illinois 14 years ago, and it had been about 9 years since I'd seen Bill, so it was nice to catch up with everyone. On Sunday we went to a town fair in Lincoln, then Bill made fantastic fajitas for dinner; and I impressed even Lyndon with my homemade salsa.

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I'm looking forward to visiting again soon; this spring when the snow melts. Hey, I'm a desert dweller now!! I've posted pictures from the trip; as I review them I realize I didn't take nearly as many as I should have, but I was trying to take in everything and pay attention to my dad's stories, so forgive me for not having my camera always at the ready.

Seattle Weekend-Meeting Lili

Pete & Jill decided to adopt, and after a year of classes, background checks, home visits and other preparations they received a call asking if they'd like to foster a little 7 year old girl, right around my Aunt Jill's birthday in October. After several months of fostering, and miles of red tape, they were finally able to legally adopt her just in time for 4th of July. Matt & I timed our visit to coincide with the Red Sox being in town, and got to meet our newest cousin.

It was a great weekend, nice to catch up with Pete & Jill, escape the 115 degree weather in Phoenix (although there was a massive heat wave in Seattle the temperature hit 80!!), and just relax. Lili had left us the most adorable welcome card on our bed, since we arrived after her bedtime. She wanted to know if we had pets, did we like to play the Wii (she bought one for the family with her own money) and what color our eyeballs were!! Too cute.

When we woke the next morning, Lili had already left for day camp, so the adults took advantage of being childless, and after a leisurely breakfast we headed out the door for vodka, wine, and beer tasting! (It was after 11am, no need to panic). From where Pete & Jill live in Bothell, we were able to hit Softail Spirits (vodka made from apples), The Columbia Winery, and then the Red Hook Brewery for lunch and a tour.
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We made our way back to the house, Pete grilled dinner (steaks and king crab legs) and we hung out with Lili. She is an adorable little girl, and the three of them make a happy family.

After Lili went to bed we continued to drink wine and played cards, Shanghai. I refrained from throwing my cards at Jill during this game. It may seem silly, but sitting around, having dinner, talking, laughing, and playing cards is my favorite part of vacationing with family.

The next day we laid low, just hung around the house in the morning and early afternoon, Jill cooked breakfast, and Matt played Lili's tiny red guitar. She was quite impressed.
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Afterwards, we headed into Seattle to eat at the World Famous Duke's Chowder House. I love Chowder, and the day was again beautiful. We took an after-meal stroll around the lake, then headed to Safeco field for the Mariners-Red Sox game (Lili's first ball game). Safeco field looked more like Fenway with all the Red Sox fans.

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Sunday, our last full day in town, was devoted to a whale watching tour. It was an amazing day, with Minke whales, Killer whales, seals, salmon, bald eagles, and amazing scenery. The captain said it was one of the best wildlife days in memory.

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All in all it was a fantastic trip, and I was sad to leave my family and the beautiful Pacific Northwest. but we will be back.

Family Dinner Night July 9, 2010

My mom's dad, my Grandpa Jeff, lives in Maricopa, and we don't get to see a whole lot of him unless we make the drive to Maricopa. However, with the new great-granddaughter, my grandpa agreed to come to my parents' house for dinner. My aunt Cindy, her boyfriend, and kids also cam over for dinner. It had been a long time since we had gotten together, so it was a fun evening. It was also the first time my Grandpa had met Matt, and they seemed to hit it off. My grandpa was a fisherman in Alaska, and he always has lots of good stories to tell.

It's always good to get together; and we can be quite the rowdy bunch. Luckily we (my sisters and I) have not scared off our significant others yet. . . We all took turns handing around Zoey, who is still adorable as ever. Even Danielle, who swore she wouldn't hold the baby until she was at least 3 months old, didn't panic when Meghan handed her over.

Friday, September 3, 2010

High Sierra Music Festival-June 29th-July 4th

As a special treat, I bought Matt & I tickets to go see the High Sierra Music Fest in Quincy, CA over the Independence Day Weekend. This was the longest road trip we have taken together. On the way out, we stopped in Las Vegas to have dinner with my friend Roni. We ate at Trevi, my very favorite Italian restaurant in Vegas, and Matt & Roni hit it off immediately. After dinner, we went back to our hotel, where I played the large Wheel of Fortune game, winning $100 when I spun the wheel!

Early the next morning we started our trek to Quincy. I chose the Nevada route because it would have less traffic than California highways. I didn't realize how much less though; there is very little between Vegas and Reno besides abandoned mining towns and military installations. We made good time on the highway, passing by an Amish man piloting a horse drawn carriage.
We arrived in Quincy and stayed at the Lariat Lodge, run by an amiable old hippy. We met up with people from the Las Vegas Jam Band Society, who had been going to the festival for years. They gave Matt & I great advice, and saved us a great camping space the next morning.
The weekend passed too quickly, and it was nice to feel so relaxed up in the mountains. Widespread Panic put on a great show, and I saw Railroad Earth and the Black Crowes for the first time in person.

The HSMF is one of the best run festivals out there. The camping is on site, and there are many artist playshops during the day that give the fans a chance to get closer to their favorite performers. My favorite playshop was the Horn of Plenty, with Karl Denson, Trombone Shorty, and Chris Littlefield. We will definitely be back for next year's High Sierra Music Fest!

Father's Day June 20, 2010

With Zoey only 4 days old, my family gathered at my parents' house for dinner and celebrating Father's Day; My dad's 29th, Ron's 1st. To see the really cool geek gift I got my dad, go here.

We took turns passing around the baby, Matt played with Zander, and we all had a great time.

As I get older, I realize how important even these small get-togethers are in keeping our family close. I'm glad we all still live nearby and can make time for each other.

Day Glo Red plays in New River

Matt's band is still playing on the Northwest side of town, so I bribed my friends Josh and Becky into making the trek to New River with me so I didn't have to drive alone at 3am. We had dinner at Kid Chilleen's Kick-Ass BBQ. I have looked at that place to the east of I-17 for many years, and finally had an excuse to have dinner there! After dinner, we headed to Gavilan Peak Sports bar, and watched the guys rock out. Unfortunately, there were only about 20 people there, but everyone enjoyed the music.

Welcome Baby Zoey!! June 16, 2010

After delaying her original arrival date by a week, my niece Zoey finally made an appearance.

She was beautiful, even at less than a day old (these pictures are from 6/17/10, around 5 in the evening. She was born at 10:30pm, 6/16/10).

My mom is thrilled to have a granddaughter to spoil and dress up. Even Zander doesn't seem to mind sharing the spotlight with his new little sister.

See you next year, Phoenix Comicon!

Becky & I woke to our third and final day at Comicon. We made our way over to the exhibitor hall, and waited for Aaron Douglas to arrive. While waiting for Aaron, Levar Burton showed up so I paid the $30 to have him autograph a poster for my mom's boss. Levar seems like a very nice person, and I understand that the money the celebrities' make at these shows is mostly due to what they sell and the charging for autographs. That being said, there was a small 11 year old girl with a Reading Rainbow shirt, but no money. Levar's handler told this girl (with Levar sitting right there) that he would be unable to sign the shirt without the payment. I thought this was bad form on his part. The other people at the show were more than happy to sign things, pose for impromptu pics and chat. He seemed removed from the process.

Aaron finally showed up (very handsome in person), and signed a picture for Becky that she purchased, posed for a picture, and chatted with us about hockey, Battlestar Galactica, and beer until more people realized he was there and got in line for autographs. Thanks for being cool Aaron!

The last part of our day was watching Spike Lee's question and answer session. Thank god for Mr. Lee. He is funny, intelligent, and realizes that his characters, while entertaining, are his creation.

I had a great time at the con. Kudos to all the workers and volunteers who make the show possible, and to the actors, authors, artists, and everyone else who shows up to contribute.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Phoenix Comicon Day 2-May 29th, 2010

Day 2 did not start out as well as Day 1. I went bike riding with my dad, then took a shower and a nap. It took both Becky & I longer than we had planned to get on the road, and on the light rail we received the AZ Browncoats tweet that Geek Prom tickets were going to sell out!! We had an opportunity to buy them Friday, but didn't, becuase we didn't realize that there were only a limited amount. So we were sorely disappointed by the time we arrived at the Con and the tickets were gone. Grrr. Next year, Geek Prom, next year.

After that disappointment, we made our way to the Star Trek panel, with Wil Wheaton, Levar Burton, and Jonathon Frakes. It was the first time that those 3 had been on stage together at a Con! The three of them played off each other very well, and it was interesting to hear the comments about working on Star Trek. Again, Wil Wheaton was hilarious, and all 3 got some very interesting questions from the crowd.

After that we wandered around the vendor hall again, and then went to check into our hotel. Turns out, the Phoenix Hyatt was overbooked from the Comicon and Volleyball convention, so they comped a room for us at the Wyndham! That turned out to be awesome, since our sole reason for getting the room was to attend Geek Prom. Despite a flurry of Twitter and Facebook pleas, we never were able to obtain tickets. Instead we enjoyed our free room, had dinner at the Rose & Crown Pub so we could watch the Phoenix Suns lose to the Lakers (boo, hiss). I had never been to the Rose & Crown before, and it turned out to be a jewel. We got to eat in these large cushy living room-type chairs, and enjoyed meaty hamburgers and cold beers while watching the game. Later that we evening we ventured back to the convention hall for a bit of Star Trek jeopardy at the con. It was nice to just walk around town with Becky, free of kids and significant others and relax.

Phoenix Comicon Friday May 28th: Meeting Wil Wheaton

My best friend Becky & I are both uber-nerds, and have been dubbed the "nerd twins" by her loving husband. In order to expand our nerdiness, we attended our first ever Phoenix Comicon at the convention center in downtown Phoenix. I got off work at 2, and Becky took the light rail downtown to meet me at the convention. It was fun waiting for her and seeing all the people who had already been in the con, with costumes galore. I'm sure all the regular business people were wondering what the heck was going on.

Once Becky arrived, we made our way into the building, and wandered the vendor hall. We had missed the NASA panel, but there was still plenty to see before the Wil Wheaton Awesome Hour. One of the more interesting panels we attended was the Learning to Speak Na'vi presentation. Note the fan in full Avatar make-up. He said it took over 6 hours!! The presentors had arranged for a skype call with the professor who created the Na'vi language, and despite a few minor technical glitches, it was an educational experience.

Afterwards we attended the Wil Wheaton Awesome hour which was, in fact, AWESOME. I had never heard him speak in person before, and he did not disappoint. He was funny, intelligent, a great story teller, and extraordinarily down to earth. He spoke for quite a while, telling a few funny stories from his blog, and giving advice on parenting using video games. Then he took questions from the audience, and answered mine about being "Evil Wil Wheaton" on the Big Bang Theory. After the lecture we waited in line with our free Star Trek posters for autographs (which a very cool Wil Wheaton signed without charging a fee) and I bought a special limited edition of his new book, which was already signed, but he personalized for me. I haven't read the new book yet, but I will blog about that and Just A Geek, which I have read, separately, for they are deserving of their own entry.

Having procured our autographs and a photo with Wil, we left the Con, but didn't get very far before we noticed the Red Cross Blood Mobile. Free Comic Books with donations!! Luckily both Becky and I were eligible (me by 2 days) so we waited and gave our very popular B+ blood for loot. The blood techs were mystified by the more costumed people at the convention and said Becky and I were the most normal ones they had seen all day. I'm not sure if that was good or bad. . .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our First Camping Trip!! May 14-May 16th

Matt & I share a love of the outdoors, so I finally marked a date on the calendar as our first camping trip, and said come hell or high water, we are hitting the road. After a few last minute trips to The Sportsman's Warehouse, we hit the road at 5am Friday morning headed for the White Mountains. Unfortunately, the most reliable vehicle we have at the moment is my little red Honda, which was packed to the gils. didn't mind.
 The poor dogs barely had enough room to lie down. Sadie, who loves car rides and wags her whole body at the phrase "who wants to go for a ride in the car?  Buster, who gets carsick, but loves to be wherever we are, put up with the inconvenience.

We arrived in Prescott and made a quick stop at Wal-mart to grab fishing line, and clean up after Buster got carsick. after coaxing the dogs back into the car, we headed for Woods Canyon Lake. We were about the 4th party into the campground by 8:30am, and everything looked a lot like an urban park. Firepits were already made, charcoal grills were in the camp, and your campsite was about 40x50. Not quite what I was expecting, but we were going to have a good time. We set up camp, then headed down to the lake to see if the fish were biting. 

The dogs were extraordinarily happy to be out of the car, and were running around as far as their leads would let them sniffing the air, peeing on rocks and trees, and having the time of their lives. Woods Canyon lake was beautiful, but already pretty crowded. The weather was a bit chilly, and once the wind picked up we headed back to camp. I was exhausted, and irritated that the campground was filling up so quickly, complete with two tiny hurricanes that were running through our camp, shrieking at the top of their lungs. A nap sounded like an awesome idea, so I laid down.

 Matt was 10x more irritated than I was, so he put the dogs (poor Buster!!) back in the car and decided to see if Bear Canyon (a much more primitive campground 15 miles up a washboard dirt road) was open. 1.5 hours later he came back, shook me awake, and we packed up and hightailed it out of Woods Canyon. Don't get me wrong, commercial camping is awesome if you have small kids, or don't know how to camp, but it wasn't what we were interested in. We made it out to the Bear Canyon campground, and it was perfect. There were only 3 other parties in the whole campground, and we managed to triangulate ourselves so that we weren't right on top of one another. There were no street lights, no paved roads, and we built our own firepit. (If you've never had a steak cooked over a campfire, you are missing out on a culinary delight!!). The sky was filled with stars; it felt like I could touch the entire Milky Way. And it was quite. No kids shrieking and running through the camp, no generators, just the sounds of the campfire crackling and my ipod playing softly in the background.

Buster, after 6 hours of being in the car, being carsick, and now freezing, was not having such a perfect time. I had even brought a small sweater for him, since he has thin fur and 0% body fat. The sweater helped, but he was terrified of the campfire, so he laid as far away as he could get on his lead. He did come closer when we offered him steak, but was still very cautious, and shivering!! It was pathetic, as you can see. Poor Buster, no dog bed, it's freezing, and he's still a bit shaky from the car ride. He is definitely not a camping dog. After dinner and stargazing, the 4 of us (2 people, 2 dogs) gathered in our 3 person tent. Buster slept right under Matt's armpit the whole night!! Sadie, who has been camping with Matt multiple times, enjoyed herself much more, although she wasn't used to being on a lead. 

The next morning we got up, experimented with the old propane grill I borrowed from my parents, and ended up placing the percolator in the fire in order make coffee. The camping trip was a learning experience. After breakfast, we hiked down to Bear Canyon Lake, which was even more beautiful than Woods Canyon.  There were quite a few Kayaks and Canoes on the water, but everyone was having a good time. After 2 hours of fishing, I noticed that I hadn't seen my bobber in a while, assumed I had gotten caught on something again, and started to reel it in. Once my line started to fight me, I realized I had hooked the first trout of our trip! Trout don't bite as hard as bass, and since I was reading rather than watching my line, I didn't realize right away I had a trout. This gives the trout an opportunity to swallow the hook, which is horrible if you're trying to do catch and release fishing. I wanted trout for dinner, and luckily my fish was plenty big to keep for eating.

We fished a while longer, but couldn't get any more bites. The dogs were getting antsy, so we headed  back to camp for naps and lunch. We let the dogs sleep in the car, off the dirt, and where it was warm. Around sunset, Matt wanted to try his luck at fishing again, so we headed back to the lake.  I was sending all sorts of good mojo to Matt, the lake gods, and the trout king, as I didn't want to be the only one with a fish. Luckily Matt reeled in a whopper after about an hour, and once the sun dipped behind the treeline, we called it a day and headed back to camp to cook our bounty.  

Trout is best cooked in tin foil packets, with a little bit of seasonings and butter, placed directly in the campfire. The food was Buster's favorite part of the trip. He got plenty of fish and steak extras in order to coax him near the fire. 

The next morning we packed up and headed home. Dirty, exhausted, and frustrated after trying to cram everything back in the car (we got it all out here, so surely it must all fit back in!!), we made our way home. Buster's torture was only completed upon the dreaded bath that was a necessity as soon as we walked in the door. Matt & I will definitely head back north to camp and fish again soon, but it will either involve only Sadie, or just the two of us, and the dogs can stay home with their comfy pillows and air conditioning.

For more photos of the trip, including beautiful shots of the Mogollon Rim and both lakes, please visit my Flickr page.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Zander's First Fishing Trip!! May 2nd, 2010

Matt bought Zander a fishing pole and tackle box for Christmas, and just a mere 4 months later we took him on his first fishing trip. We went to Desert Breeze Park in Chandler, part of the Arizona Game & Fish Urban Fishing program. 

We were running a little late, so Zander was filled with anticipation by the time we got to the park. He came running up as soon as he saw us, huge smile, and proclaiming "Aunt Amber, Uncle Matt, are you going fishing with me?!" And of course, we had bought our licenses and brought poles to fish with Zander.

Matt was very patient, talking Zander through the items in the tackle box, showing him how to tie a knot and bait a hook (but only showing, at 4, Zander is a little young for fish hooks).

Zander did show quite a bit of coordination for a 4 year old, and after a quick  tutorial by Matt, he was soon casting like a pro.

Ron & Meghan were also in attendance, since Zander is still a little young to drive himself.

We were eventually blown out of the lake before we could catch any fish, with wind gusts at over 40mph, but Zander enjoyed himself, and can't wait to go fishing again!!