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This was the first Thanksgiving that I’ve ever traveled, and what a whirlwind trip it was.  My uncle recently purchased a house in Niles, Michigan, and we wanted to go out and visit him before the weather turned too cold for us wimpy Californians.

His house is so cool, especially the 2-acre grounds.  I imagined huge garden parties in the summer, my nieces running with wild abandon in the backyard, and sipping cocktails in lounge chairs.  At least, that’s what I’d do with the place if I had it.  Not sure if my uncle has those same plans, but maybe I can convince him.

The city of Niles, Michigan is very quaint, especially the downtown area, which is peppered with funky stores, antique “malls,” and old-time businesses.  They city is so much smaller than the one we’re from, so it was very interesting.  My uncle seems to be making some friends which is good.  The main thing that I noticed is that the people are much more conservative there than they are in the Bay Area.  Then again, I think most small towns in middle America are much more conservative than the Bay Area.  😉  The one example I have is that we went to a converted mansion in South Bend, IN for Thanksgiving dinner.  When we arrived in the dining room we ordered two bottles of wine – one white and one red – for the table of four of us.  You should have seen the stares!  The woman at the table next to us nudged her husband and sat there agape, as if we were slugging back wine by the gallon.  I looked around and saw that every other table in the room had either iced tea or water – no alcohol of any kind. So weird!

After a day and a half in Niles, we left for Chicago.  I had seen pictures, heard stories, but nothing compares to actually being there.  Chicago is a stunning, immaculate, architecturally gorgeous city!  I still think San Francisco is more beautiful, but I do love Chicago.  I wish we had more than two days in this fun, lively city.  I’ll definitely be back.

I could fill many more paragraphs with all of our adventures in the two day trip, but for now, I think I’ll let my 200+ photos speak for themselves.  I tried to get some artsy shots, so I hope you enjoy them.

Thanksgiving 2009 – Michigan & Chicago
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Today I should have cleaned the house, gone through cookbooks looking for new recipes, and done some laundry.  Instead I decided that since this was my first Saturday owning the new VW Beetle Convertible, I was going to take her for a spin.

My first stop was Michael’s, because what kind of Beetle owner would I be if I didn’t fill that bud vase right away?  I new I wanted a gerbera daisy, and I was hoping for a hot pink one, but they didn’t have much of a selection.  I settled on this one, and I really like it:

n502485425_2821887_7422427 It’s the must-have accessory that I needed to make the car feel like my own.

My next stop was Radio Shack, to buy an MP3 cord so I could listen to my iPod songs while driving.  I have tons of songs loaded on my iPhone, just waiting for a long car ride.

I’d decided on driving to Half Moon Bay, which is one of my favorite spots.  What better place for a convertible than the beach, right?  Half Moon Bay is a lot easier to get to (even though it’s farther) than Santa Cruz, because on a hot Saturday, everyone in my city heads over the hill to go to Santa Cruz to escape the heat.

I thought I’d take a “short cut” that my parents’ friend had told them about – taking Hwy 84 through Woodside to avoid the traffic on 92.  Well, the road was beautiful and lined with redwoods on both sides, but it was a scary, winding path that had my heart in my mouth a few times.  Come to find out, it was no short cut at all because it took twice as long and brought me right to 92 where all of the traffic begins.  Still, it was nice to drive along a beautiful road with “Swoon” from the Silversun Pickups blairing on the stereo.  It was along this road that I though of the Beetle’s name – Bettie!  Bettie the Beetle Convertible! Don’t you love it?!

The ride to Half Moon Bay was so beautiful that I just couldn’t resist snapping a few photos on the iPhone’s camera.  I know it probably breaks tons of traffic laws, but there wasn’t much traffic, and we weren’t driving too fast, so I took the risk, and I’m so glad I did.  The pictures are fantastic.  A bit blurry in some cases, but so gorgeous.

Once I got to Half Moon Bay, I headed directly to Granada Beach, which is my favorite spot.  It is the spot I used to go all the time to just get away from my life and clear my head.  I used to write in my journal while sitting on a boulder along the ocean’s edge.  So peaceful and tranquil.  It also happens to be the spot where the love of my life propsed to me many years ago.  (We split up over 12 years ago, but I still think of him and wonder “what if.”).  The spot holds so many great memories that I love going there.

Afterward, I headed into downtown Half Moon Bay to get something to eat.  There’s a little cafe that I like to go to because it’s very quaint and easy going.  The food is good and the prices aren’t too high.  I ordered a BLT, and it was delcious.  I didn’t realize how famished I was (it was 2:30pm) until I started eating.  I guess I was so taken by my beautiful surroundings that I wasn’t paying attention to my grumbling stomach.

I left shortly thereafter because I wanted to beat the traffic out.  As I was driving I just kept thinking about how lucky I am to live this life.  I have my health, my wonderful friends and family, and now I have this new, dream car.  Sure, I would’ve loved to have a cute guy sitting in my passenger seat today, but that’s not where my life is right now, and that’s OK.   I feel so blessed, and I don’t usually talk that way, but that’s really the only way I can describe it.  I’ve worked so hard for so long and struggled quite a bit to get where I am, but now I feel like I’m leading a charmed life and I’m so grateful that I’m able to enjoy it.

To see pictures of Bettie’s first trip to Half Moon Bay, click here.

BTW, as I was eating lunch I decided that I’m going to make “Adventures with Bettie” a regular feature on this blog.  I’m not sure how often I’ll post new road trips with Bettie, but I’d like to shoot for at least once a month.  There are so many fabulous places within an hour or two from my house that I really do want to take advantage of it.  Plus, getting out in the car and driving is so much fun and so calming to me.

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I love wine, and one of my favorite things in life is discovering new wines and sharing them with family and friends.  Usually my wine discoveries take place at a local wine shop or at Trader Joe’s or World Market.  But yesterday I was lucky enough to get to spend the day in Napa with my parents.

As part of my birthday gift, we decided to take a day trip up to Napa to experience the wine country on a weekday.  As much as I love wine, I’ve only been to Napa two other times, which seems unreal to me, since it’s only about an hour and a half (2 hours with traffic) from where I live. My parents are experts on the Napa Valley, so I thought it would be fun to go with them.

We headed out and took the scenic route up to Napa, traveling along the Great Highway, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and then heading into Yontville.  It was a leisurely, beautiful drive that took us almost two hours, because we did hit some traffic along the way.  But it was worth it.  We had a great time talking, joking, and laughing.  The weather was gorgeous, and sometimes it’s the unexpected moments in a car during a road trip that are the ones we rembember the most.

We had decided to go to Mustard’s Grill for lunch.  I had been to Mustard’s once before, but my parents hadn’t been, and since the owner/exective chef at Mustard’s was recently featured on Top Chef Masters, I thought it would be fun for them to experience her menu.  There was a 35 minute wait, but we didn’t mind, especially after smelling the heavenly aromas coming from the kitchen.  By the time we were seated, we were definitely hungry, and had no trouble figuring out what to order.  Since it was 2pm, we decided to have lunch.  My mom and I had the Grilled Ahi Tuna Sandwich, which had a basil aioli and housemade pickled ginger.  It was devine!  I always like ahi tuna, and this sandwich definitely didn’t disappoint. My dad had the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, which he said was delicious, as well.  We opted for iced tea over wine, since we were hitting the wineries after lunch.  I told my parents that I’d love to go back to Mustard’s for dinner, to truly experience the chef’s cuisine.

After lunch, we went to Cakebread Cellars, because I had been dying to go.  My parents had never been to this winery, so it was a new experience for all of us.  I’ve had Cakebread Chardonnay in restaurants before and loved it, and I knew their other wines would be just as good.  When we pulled up to the winery, we saw a sign saying that wine tastings and tours were done by prior appointment only.  Undeterred, we entered the winery and asked about making an appointment.  Luckily, they had room for us at 3pm, so we only had to wait a few minutes.  The really cool thing about this wine tasting was that they take you on a tour of the grounds (which were gorgeous).  At each stop you make, you taste a different wine and get to learn a bit more about the winery.  I really love this type of tasting because it seems much more fun and interesting than simply standing in a tasting room and sampling wines.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love doing that, too, but when you’re in the Napa Valley, it seems a shame not to fully experience the winery).

They started us off in the gift shop with Sauvignon Blanc, which I didn’t enjoy.  I don’t care for that variety at all, but my mom said she enjoyed it.  Next, we really began the tour, and they took us into the garden to sample the Anderson Valley Chardonnay.  This was absolutely delicious.  I liked it so much that I splurged on the $37 bottle.  The guide explained that this was made “in the French style,” and whatever they do to it, it is remarkable.  Then we were led deeper into the grounds and got to sample the Reserve Chardonnay.  I thought I would enjoy this wine even more than the Anderson Valley Chardonnay, but I didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, it was really rich and buttery, but I liked the crispness of the Anderson Valley Chardonnay better.  Next we headed into the wine making area and sampled the Carneros Pinot Noir, which was really good.  We watched them bottle wine as we tasted my favorite wine of the day, the Red Hills Lake Zinfindel. By far, this was the smoothest, richest Zin I have every had in my life, and I would have definitely purchased a bottle, except for the fact that payday isn’t until Friday.  The nice thing is, I can order it online, and I definitely will, when I have some extra money.  Finally, we headed back out to the garden, to the outdoor bbq, and sampled the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was so interesting to learn the history of the family, the winery, and the development of the wine from Barry, our guide.  When we overhead the tour group behind us, we were even more glad that Barry was guiding us, because the girl on the next tour sounded like she should be at Disneyland rather than a winery.  I’m all for having energy, but her fake enthusiasm was a bit much.  I loved the relaxed nature of Barry’s presentation.

We left Cakebread hoping to hit another winery, but didn’t have enough time.  This is the one problem I have with Napa – they close the wineries too early in the summer.  Why not stay open until 7pm in the summer, since it’s lighter later?  Most of the wineries close at 4 or 5, making it difficult to get to many, unless you start out really early in the day.  Still, the visit to Cakebread was really worth it.

After the winery, we went to St. Helena to go to Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style store.  It was nice, but didn’t really have much merchandise out.  He has an amazing selection of spices and marinades, but other that that, I wasn’t very impressed with the wares.  The website and catalogue are so much more visually appealing than the store itself, which I find odd.  Also, we have a Napa Style locally, so I guess I wasn’t amazed because we can go to the store whenever we feel like it.

Then we went to Dean & Deluca, which was great.  I loved looking at all of the exotic offerings, and my mom picked up a bottle of Moroccan marinade that we said we were going to use on some grilled ahi of our own.

After the gourmet food shop, we got back on the freeway and headed to the Outlets.  What’s a trip to Napa without some outlet shopping on the way home, right?  My dad and I both found shoes to purchase, and amazingly, my mom came away without anything.  She’s usually the first one to find something to buy, but this time nothing struck her fancy.  The shoes I got are simple flats from Clark’s (un)Structured line, but they are like walking on pillows.  I think they’re going to become my daily wardrobe staple once school starts again and I’m on my feet all day.

Then we headed back home, but we ended up taking the scenic route by accident.  There was so much fog on the Great Hwy that I told my dad to take the wrong exit, and we headed through Pacifica, through Half Moon Bay, along Hwy 1.  It was absolutely gorgeous to see the ocean over the curves of the cliffs, but it definitely added to our driving time.  We arrived back at my parents house at 9pm, tired, hungry, but very happy.

It was a truly fantastic day.  Beyond the delicious food and the terrific wines, the best part of the day was being able to enjoy time spent with my parents.  I am so very lucky to get along so well with them and have the type of relationship with them that makes us savor the moments we share together.  They are two of my best friends, which is so special to me.

Here are a few photos of our time at Cakebread:

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I got home at 2am on Thursday night/Friday morning, and I was too tired to think.  I was so happy that I had spent all that time cleaning the house before I left, because there’s nothing better than coming home from a trip to a spotless house.

I dragged all my bags into the house and was about to get changed for bed, when a thought occurred to me.  I was about to get into a welcoming bed with wonderfully clean sheets, and I was feeling less than fresh.  Spending more than 13 hours in airports and on planes can do that to you.  So, at 2:30am, I decided to take a shower and wash the day away.

It was the best decision I could’ve made.  As I crawled into my clean bed at 3am, I knew I was going to have a wonderful night’s sleep.  And I did.

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As much fun as I had on my 10-day trip, I am so happy to be back home.  It’s so nice to be surrounded by the familiar comforts of home after being gone for an extended period of time.  I spent most of Friday and Saturday unpacking, doing load after load of laundry, and uploading over 450 vacation photos.  Oh, and blogging about the last part of my trip.

I had an amazing time on vacation, but it’s always nice to be back home.

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What trip would be complete without a tale or two of problems with flights?

CBCB arrived at Logan Airport in Boston around 1:30, in plenty of time to make our 2:35 flight, since we had checked in online. When we got to the counter to check our bags, I was overjoyed that my bag was 49 pounds – no overweight charges on this leg of the trip. Plus, because we had booked our flight back in March, we were allowed two checked items of luggage, so I wasn’t charged the $20 fee for my second piece of luggage. I thought we were off to a stellar start. Oh, how wrong I was.

We boarded the plane in Logan and would have a quick flight over to JFK before heading back home. As we got comfortable in our seats, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and announced that we would have to remain on the runway for a while, because of thunderstorms at JFK. We sat there, on the plane, for an hour. It was miserable and uncomfortable, but just a small prelude to what we would find at JFK.

We got to JFK, and I quickly went outside to have a smoke. I knew we had an hour and a half layover and then a 5 1/2 hour flight home. If only I had seen a bit into the future, I would’ve had another couple of smokes.

I went through security to get back to the terminal without any problems. I met up with CBCB at our gate, and again, no problems. Until we heard a clap of thunder and the heavens opened into a full on storm. Great. An announcement was made that our flight would be delayed due to the lightning and thunder and the storms. Inconvenient, but not a problem. At least we could walk around, get food, and go to the bathroom while we were in the airport. Ah, but this situation was going to go from inconvenient to terrible in a matter of minutes.

We were told we had to board the plane, even though the flight was not cleared for takeoff. What? We’d have to wait on the plane? Trapped like rats for who knows how long? Ugh. The pilot explained that we were “in line” for takeoff, as soon as we were cleared and our turn came up.

We were on the plane for 3 1/2 hours without moving on the tarmac. I can’t tell you how awful this was. Unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, you have no idea. It was hot, stuffy, and utterly claustrophobic. Not to mention the fact that when we finally did take off, I knew we’d have another 5 1/2 hours in the air before we got home.

The upside? I finished an entire book. The downside? My poor dad had to pick us up at 1:45am. We were both tired, and speaking for myself, not in the best of moods. Oh and the icing on this very bitter cake? I broke two nails getting the bags from the luggage carousel. Perfect.

Still, at least we made it home safely, and I knew that my own bed was waiting for me.

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All good things must come to and end.  On Thursday, August 14th, our last day of vacation, CBCB and I had to catch a flight from Logan airport at 2:35pm.  Which meant we needed to be at the airport by 1:30, since we had already checked in online.

With some time to kill, we left The Cape around 9:30, with the thought of going to Salem to see a couple of exhibits at The Peabody Museum.  As we were driving and hit a bit of traffic, CBCB and I looked at each other and realized we probably wouldn’t make it.  It would take us at least 2 hours to get to Salem, which didn’t leave us much time to see the museum.

We decided to stop at a Starbucks along the way, and saw a sign for The Christmas Tree Shops.  We changed our itinerary on the spot.  If you’ve never been to a Christmas Tree Shop. I highly recommend it.  This one, in Shrewsbury, MA would be the third one we’d hit on our trip (we’d also been to the locations in Falmouth and Hyannis).  Each one is a little bit different, and although the main merchandise is the same, each store has different offerings, depending on where it’s located.  I picked up a new lunch bag (and one for my sister) and a Cape Cod t-shirt, although if these were in CA, I would’ve bought a lot more.  They have a lot of great deals on all kinds of home decorating items.

After shopping, CBCB suggested we head into Boston and try to go on a Swan Boat tour of the Boston Public Garden. It was one of the things we hadn’t done yet on our trip.  Sounded like a plan to me.

Once we got in the general vicinity of the Public Garden, we immediately found rockstar parking!   Plus, the weather was gorgeous, so we knew this was a sign that we were meant to go.

The Public Gardens are beautiful.  Majestic trees, a lagoon filled with ducks and swans, and fantastic vistas of Boston.  A perfect way to end our stay in one of the best cities in the country.

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One of the main things I wanted to try to do on this trip to Boston was go to a game at Fenway Park. I’d seen the Red Sox play once in Oakland, against the A’s, but seeing an actual game in their home ballpark would be something special.

When CBCB looked up the tickets online, she saw the cheapest seats going for $80, which seemed like a lot. Then we thought that maybe we’d buy a few tickets from some scalpers on the day of the game. As it turned out, we realized we’d be spending most of the day and into the evening in Hyannis, so getting to Boston early enough to get tickets wasn’t going to be that easy.

The next best thing? Going to a bar near Fenway to watch the game on TV. Realistically, we’d probably be able to see more of the game that way, and would be more comfortable. So on Wednesday night (Aug. 13), CBCB and I left The Cape and headed into Boston to meet Aunt Judy’s son Michael, and Aunt Mary’s son, S. (Yes, this is the very same S that I have a crush on).

The traffic coming into the city was terrible, and it took us 2 hours to finally get into Boston and find a parking spot. Parking karma was with us, though, and we found a great spot only 6 blocks from the ballpark. As we were crossing the street to meet up with Michael, I had my own little brush with death. I was crossing the street and the light changed, and suddenly a couple of cars were rushing towards me. I thought I was going to get hit for sure, but luckily, I only got a few loud honks of the drivers’ horns. (On a side note, Michael tried to make me feel better that if I HAD gotten hit, I was really close to the best hospitals in the country. I guess that’s a positive way to look at a near-death experience).

We headed to Boston Beer Works, which was fun, loud, and lively. I started with a wheat beer that was good, but quickly switched over to a blueberry beer that was a seasonal special. The night got even better when S arrived, looking even cuter than he did the previous time I saw him. He told us that he had stopped by Bleacher Bar, which is actually inside Fenway Park. He said it was really cool, and that we should stop by there towards the end of the game, because it would be a lot of fun.

As we watched the game, more sparks went off (at least on my part) with S. (CBCB mentioned that she saw an attraction from his side, as well, but who knows?) The things I like about him is that he is really smart (he went to William and Mary in Virginia) yet he is a bit rough around the edges in a good way. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but let me just say that he’s not a snob or a stuffed shirt. He’s fun, down-to-earth, and knows a lot about pop culture. I really like that. Yet at the same time, he’s full of fun facts and likes to research things that he hears about. (That’s actually how he found out about the newly opened Bleacher Bar). I think he seemed somewhat intrigued by me, as well, but there are two pesky problems with this whole attraction:

  1. He has a girlfriend. His mom doesn’t seem to like her much, though, and even S said, “ya, it’s ok,” when CBCB asked him about his new relationship. Not a ringing endorsement. I guess he met this girl on the internet, and the thing they have in common is their love of sports. Hey, I love sports, too!
  2. He lives on the east coast ALL the way across the country from me. I know that distance can make the heart grow fonder, but this is pretty far. It would be great if he wanted to move to CA, but I doubt it. He seems to love the Boston area, and I doubt he would want to move. (Am I getting just a bit ahead of myself here? hehehehe).

Still, it was fun flirting with S all night. He works at as the manager of a national sporting goods store, and I told him I’d love to “place an order” so that I could use his discount. He said absolutely. I’m thinking this might be a way to keep in contact. (On a side note, when I got back home, I logged into Facebook to read some messages, and saw that he has an account. I sent him a friend request, so we’ll see if he adds me and if we can continue getting to know each other).

The Red Sox won the game 8 to 4 (if I remember correctly), and at the top of the 9th, we headed over to Bleacher Bar. The cool thing about this bar is that it’s inside Fenway, but you don’t need a ticket to get in. The bar is right underneath the bleacher section of the Green Monster (or, Monstah, as Bostonians would say). They have a window inside that has views from the outfield, so you can sort of watch the game as if you were in the stands. Very unique idea.

It was a really fun place that quickly filled up as soon as the game was over. The neat thing was, when I mentioned the place to CTLB, she hadn’t been to it yet. It was kind of fun going to a place that the locals hadn’t discovered yet.

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