Monday, February 27, 2012

A short break between classes

Well classes are going well, I hope you haven't been too bored with the reposts from my archives while I have been concentrating on school. My second accounting class was a bit better than the first one, I was able to squeak by with an -A which is much better than the +C I received for the first accounting class, the best thing I learned from both of these classes is that accounting is not a career choice I would ever make. My next class is Business Research, this should be much more my style of class.

I am also looking into changing schools, while I really like the education I am receiving at the University of Phoenix, I am finding the tuition to be a bit out of my budget, my federal loan does not cover it all. The Western Governor's University is offering an online program for about a third the price.

I have been working weekends at the Kestrel Vintners tasting room in Woodinville and refer to this as my therapy job, we recently had a Groupon that was extremely successful. It did keep us a bit busier than our location could handle but overall brought in many people who did not know there were wineries on the north end of Woodinville.

WineTraveler’s Travels Vol. 22 (From the archives)

21 January 2002

Another short weekend and I’m back in the air, this time to Winter Haven, Florida.  Dad was to start his therapy this week and I had extended my time here a day so I could drive down to visit them on Friday.  His therapy was postponed a week and he plans to drive up and stay with me as he has in the past.  While I look forward to our time together I am concerned about the delay in his treatment, every hour can make a difference.  I asked Betty if he would be ok to drive and she said yes, so if it’s OK with her, I guess it’s OK.  My 6:10 AM flight is on an MD-80 it is one of the newer ones but still very cramped.  While American has spaced the seats out to give you more legroom, the seats sit lower due to the smaller diameter of the aircraft; this results in my knees hurting from the improper angle they must endure, I’m sure Gail would love it as her legs are a bit shorter.  Breakfast is another one of the bagged snacks with a pineapple/orange muffin and applesauce.  I guess it beats pretzels.  I wish I could sleep on planes since there is no entertainment on these miserable machines, so I continue to write my journal logs.  My connecting flight in St. Louis was upon a 757, they even gave us headsets and let us watch some canned CBS TV shows.  This is more like it.  The trip was just over an hour and very comfortable.  I landed in Tampa and preceded to baggage claim, my bag was the second one off; maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, as it seems to be my lucky day.  I went to the Hertz counter and was informed that they had a Grand Marquis waiting for me, I put on my sad puppy eyes and asked if they had anything sporty, she looked and came up with a Mustang, still the only thing Ford makes that I enjoy driving.  As she was preparing my paperwork she said, “It’s yellow, I hope you don’t mind.”  I responded with “That is my favorite color!”  I got more complements on this car, from total strangers. 

I was booked at the Hampton Inn that I stayed at on my last visit, the only problem was that they had an event on Tuesday night and the travel agent was unable to book a nonsmoking room so I had one room for Monday night then a smoking room for Tuesday then a third room for the rest of the week.  The man at the desk recognized me and asked if my father would be joining me again, I said yes and he found me one nonsmoking room for the entire week on the third floor where you get better reception for your cell phone.  This Inn has complimentary high-speed Internet access, as well as the customary complimentary continental breakfast.  I noticed on my way in that the Citrus Festival was going on almost next door to the hotel.  A good friend of mine used to have food booths at the festival, I wondered if he still did.  The next day while working with the nurses I read in the local paper that if you are wearing a t-shirt with a flag on it admission would be free Tuesday night to the festival.  Dad was scheduled to drive up this after noon and I got off work a bit early.  I started hitting some of the stores around the hospital for T-shirts for Dad and me.  Having no luck I called his cell phone around 2 PM when he said he would be getting on the road only to find he was almost here.  We met up at the Inn and then went out and found two nice patriotic shirts for $5.00 each.  Regular admission was $6.00 so we saved a buck and got shirts to boot.  We walked around the festival and I mentioned to Dad that I had a friend here but I couldn’t recall which stands he owned, or if he even still owned them.  Dad talked me into stopping at the front office and asking (almost like stopping for directions, Gail will appreciate how much I didn’t want to do this).  They knew exactly who I was asking about and informed us he had two stands here and directed us to them.  At the Strawberry shortcake stand I asked if Greg was around and she called him on the phone.  Greg came right over and chatted with Dad and I for a bit, as we discussed that I would be in town all week Dad suggested that Greg might be able to get me in to the festival the rest of the week.  Greg dropped off three passes for me the next day.  Dad and I continued to walk around the festival till we came to a tent that had a Dolly Parton impersonator (a female one) who really did sound quite good.  I got nabbed by one of the barkers and was throwing darts to get a stuffed toy for Gail by the time I had one of medium size he had me up to $24.00 for a $10.00 toy.  I gave up on the really big one.  When I mentioned it to Greg he wanted to know where since this was against the rules, something about doubling.  I didn’t want to cause any trouble and knew Gail was worth it anyway.  Dad and I debated about eating “Fair food” or stopping at the Outback, which was on our way back to the Inn.  We opted for the Outback, and had soup and appetizers.  We both agreed on French Onion Soup, it is very well done here with a thick broth and lots of caramelized onions, topped with toast and mozzarella cheese.  Dad ordered the Tasmanian Chicken while I had Coconut Shrimp.  Dad’s chicken was strips of white breast meat breaded, fried and coated in a spicy sauce, served with celery sticks and Blue Cheese dressing.  My Jumbo Shrimp was coated with a beer batter then rolled in coconut and fried, served with a marmalade sauce.  We also shared a loaf of warm dark bread with whipped butter.  Dad had water while I opted for an Outback Rita.  It was an excellent ending to a wonderful evening. 

Wednesday morning I got up early and went to work, Dad had a 10 AM Tee time in Bartow, and planned to head home after that.  That evening I went to the Festival again and watched a horse show with the royal lippizans, an alligator show and some folk singers.  Greg gave me a strawberry shortcake from his stand then introduced me to a new culinary item I had not seen before from one of the other stands at the festival; they take a candy bar and put it on a stick then freeze it, dip it in funnel cake batter and fry it.  It makes a very interesting delight but one that is extremely filling.  Greg’s partner Bobby works with the Citrus Commission and invited me to the Industry dinner on Thursday. 

Thursday after work, I worked online from my hotel room till it was time to go to dinner, then I walked over to the fair grounds, the dinner opened with fresh oysters on the half shell, and steamed shrimp.  I had three plates of oysters and four of the shrimp.  There was an open bar and I met up with Greg after the appetizers, he introduced me to a couple Tom and Melanie, Tom is a Polk County Sheriff and Melanie is a police office with Lakeland PD.  As we were chatting someone in the group noticed they were about to start bringing out the food so our group kind of moved to where the line would begin, there were hundreds of people here some were well established families in the citrus industry, such as the Ben Hill Griffins, the Adams, and the Harrisons.  Other people had some connection to the Citrus industry.  Dinner consisted of corn on the cob dipped in butter, grilled Italian sausage slices, baked potato wedges with cheese, grilled chicken and steak slices.  In lieu of flatware we were given toothpicks to eat with.  Everything was prepared well and the toothpicks made clean up a snap.  I had no room for desert.  I picked up some T-shirts for the boys from Greg’s display in the Orange Dome, from his soon to be launched web store watch for it on a web browser near you.  These shirts are scented with a citrus scent and have a reproduction of an orange crate label. 

Friday I finished shortly after Noon and headed towards Naples to visit with Dad and Betty.  I would have thought I was back in Seattle with the traffic but it seems there were lots of accidents today one small one just south of Tampa that held us up a while then about two exits from where I was to get off to visit Dad, the traffic just stopped.  I later found out that this was a back up from Alligator alley where a 28-car pileup had occurred this morning due to heavy fog and the interstate had been closed for about 13 hours.  I made it just in time for dinner.  We went to a place just off Immokalee Road called Hickeys.  Aunt Jean and her Gentleman Caller, Cy, accompanied us there and Steve joined us at the restaurant.   Deanne had been sick with an intestinal bug and was unable to attend.  We started with either soup or salad, Betty and jean had the minestrone soup while I had the Irish Potato soup, for entrées Betty had the Sirloin Steak Salad, a generous salad with more steak on top than most steak meals.  Dad had the Fish and Chips, thick filets of grouper battered and fried with French Fries.  Aunt Jean had Bangers and mashed potatoes, Cy, Steve and I each had Prime Rib, Cy had the queen size, Steve and I had the king size, but mine was about a full third larger than Steve’s.  I told him that was because I was better looking; he replied it was because I had less hair.  Dinner was great and we all had fun catching up on who’s doing what.  After Dinner we went to the parking lot to watch Steve feed the scraps to JJ, his dog that was sitting in his car, while we ate.  Then Cy treated us all to ice cream at P.J. Skinny’s, a store exclaiming that all the ice cream was hand made on the premises.  Steve even shared his ice cream with JJ.  Lots of people stopped to see JJ eating ice cream. 

Saturday morning Betty made waffles with blueberries to put on top.  Then we went looking for a slipcover for an old couch they wanted to use for their Super Bowl party.  We found one at Linens and Things, and then took me to see the new Expo by Home Depot store.  This is a Home Depot for the rich and famous, they had tubs carved out of stone with matching sinks and such.  I want to come back when I have more time to browse.  On the way back to their house we stopped by a fresh vegetable market, I picked out some great looking tomatoes and bell peppers (yellow, red, purple, and orange) and some Oranges to take home with me.  Dad gave me a trunk that they had gotten from Betty’s Mom and no longer had a place for it, as I now had much more than I could fit in my bag this worked real well.  We packed the tomatoes individually in bubble wrap and then stuffed crumpled newspaper around them to protect them in transit.  If nothing else I’ll have some great salsa with the peppers tomatoes and oranges.  It was tough but I had to say good-bye, but not until Betty made Dad and me a sandwich and packed me some cookies for my flight.  I drove up to Tampa without any delays, checked my bags at the curb as the trunk would have been a little hard to handle.  I like this, as I was able to go directly to my gate without standing in line again.  The security check was smooth and quick and I had time to plug in my laptop and cell phone to charge them.  My flight from Tampa to St. Louis was nice aboard a 757 and uneventful.  The trip from St. Louis to Seattle was also uneventful and the boys were waiting up for me when I got home.

WineTraveler’s Travels Vol. 21 (From The Archives)

Origianlly posted 14 January 2002

Well the New Year is off to a running start, with my dance card filled for the next two months, Gail is already after me to find a new job where I won’t have to travel.  I cannot see myself in a job where I go to the same place everyday again.  That would be boring beyond tears.  With all the added hassles of travel I still prefer it to the monotony of doing the same thing everyday.  This crisp January morning I am winging off to Knoxville, Tennessee.  One of the hospitals we have our software at is expanding it to one of their sister hospitals.  I am flying American but on the old TWA route so I know the service will be attentive and friendly.  I must stop by the office on my way to the airport so that I cab file my online expense report.  Last year Spacelabs decided to change to an online expense report, which for someone in the company is supposed to speed things up.  It now takes close to an hour to do a report if you have a high-speed connection such as the one at the office; if you are using a dial-up connection it is much longer.  I used to have to fill out a form on my laptop that took 20 minutes tops.  The real drawback is that you must be connected to the Internet to do anything with the report.  The old one I could do on the plane or anywhere without being connected.  While most of us are salary, they do not readily see the impact this has on productivity.  Well as it is I am running a little behind getting to the airport but the advantage of all my miles on TWA is that I am platinum level and get to check in via the first class line.  The security line is rather sparse for a Monday morning, so I make it through with about thirty minutes to spare before boarding should start.  I stopped in the Admirals club for a latte and a newspaper.  Boarding was very quick as my platinum level allows me to board right after first class.  This plane is only about half full and is an MD-80.  The meal was another one of those bag meals, a two-ounce cup of apple sauce, a very moist orange and pineapple muffin and a four ounce carton of orange juice.  This time I let the meal sit a while so the muffin could warm up as the last one was near frozen and this one felt quite cool also.  The leg from Seattle to St. Louis was uneventful and quite nice considering the aircraft but I had my earphones on and listened to music that I have on my laptop.  They have expanded the leg room in all of the American planes now and it is very noticeable.  My connecting flight is on a regional jet through the American Eagle connection.  While being much less roomy the service was good, we were served beverages and pretzels on this just shy of an hour flight.  Arriving in Knoxville I was amazed that the airport was so nice given that all the planes I saw there were of the regional jet type.  The central area had a mall atmosphere like most major airports.  My rental this week was a Mitsubishi Montero, a rather nice SUV that handles like a much smaller vehicle, and had a great Infinity sound system, just like my Chrysler.  The directions I received at the Hertz counter got me to the Hampton Inn and my room was nice; two double beds but only one phone line.  Just across the street was a Sonic Drive-in so I went there for dinner, as I really love their Limeade.  The next morning after the complimentary continental breakfast, I drove to the Main hospital to check out the system, things were all in order there; then I went to the smaller hospital were I would be training this week about thirty miles north east of Knoxville.  The staff was very friendly, and learned very quickly.  The clinical leader of this hospital used to work at the main hospital and as I had trained them about two years ago we made plans to go to dinner with the clinical leader of that hospital to discuss how things would interact.  Tuesday I went to dinner at El Chico, which had a very tasty combination dinner with a chicken enchilada, a beef burrito and a beef taco with rice and beans on the side all for $5.99.  Wednesday night I had Sonics again Thursday night was the night we made plans to eat out.  So I met Terry and Michelle at the Copper Cellar.  What a treat this place was.  Very tastefully decorated with a central bar separating the smoking and nonsmoking areas.  Our service was topnotch and the food was without fault.  I started with crab bisque that was so superb I almost cancelled the rest of my dinner in lieu of more bisque. Michelle had the pasta fagiole, and Terry had the crab bisque.   This was served with a basket of fresh baked bread and garlic herb butter.  I was in heaven. Then came the broiled Halibut served on a bed of braised spinach with a very light sun dried tomato, basil, and garlic sauce.  Grilled vegetables accompanied this delight; a nice melody of zucchini and yellow squash.  My side vegetable was spinach soufflé.  I complemented this with an excellent glass of Pinot Grigio.  Michelle had a sirloin steak that was smothered in onions and served with green beans in a lemon butter sauce.  Terry had Prime Rib with the spinach soufflé.  None of us had room for dessert.  I did not really get to examine the city this trip as I was doing day and evening classes and working around some last minute changes to their system they were making which often interrupted my classes.

It’s Friday and I’m on my way home via American (the TWA route) my flight from Knoxville to St. Louis is again on a regional jet, the service was good; I had an hour to kill at St. Louis so I visited the lounge and had a cup of coffee.  I was a little concerned when I noted that my seat on the St. Louis to Seattle flight was in row 13, we boarded and had to wait for the de-icer truck as it had started to snow.  After quite a delay the truck finally showed up then during the de-icing we felt the plane shake, a little later the pilot came on the PA system to tell us the truck had hit the plane and we would not be going anywhere in this plane.  After more delay we were able to get off the plane then directed to another gate where we waited for a plane to arrive and then get cleaned, boarded and de-iced again, we finally left just before midnight St. Louis time (we were scheduled to leave at 8:30).  Well they gave us a free drink of our choice for the delay.  And all the pretzels we wanted.  I was fortunate enough to be seated with a flight attendant who was on a personal trip so I shared with her some of my letters and pictures I have on my laptop it was a very enjoyable trip.  She shared with me some of the issues that they have been having with the change from TWA to American.  But like most of the former TWA staff she is determined not to let them change her customer service attitude. 

Wine Traveler’s Travels vol. 20 (from the archives)

Originally published 07 January 2002

Well it was a holiday to remember, the boys all got new bicycles for Christmas and I got the Kitchenaid mixer I had been dropping hints about since Gail and I were dating.  I got Gail the Swiss Army watch she had been asking for and a pair of hooped earrings with diamonds, so we all made out very well.  Thanks to the great sales to boost the economy it was one of the least expensive Christmases in a long time.  Well just before New Years my father called to inform me that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer.  One of the really scary parts of this was that on our last meeting in Winter Haven, we had been comparing notes on our treatment for sinus troubles which was causing both of us to have chronic coughs.  It seems he had been on many different medications, over the past year, that would help for a bit then his cough would return, it wasn’t until he was unable to move his tongue in one direction that they took a more serious look.  He will start Chemo and Radiation therapy in the near future and has a very positive outlook on his prospects.  I haven’t told my boys yet, but I have made plans to go to Florida during spring break in April with the family to visit.

Now I would like to share with you a good word about American Airlines, I was looking online to use my airline points to make this trip, and I could not find any flights that had seats on the dates I needed so I was looking into purchasing them and still had trouble finding 5 seats.  I called the Aadvantage reservation desk and explained my situation and she booked us through to Fort Meyers, I was a few miles short of all five tickets but knew I’d have it soon, she reserved the fifth ticket and told me as soon as I had the miles it would be booked, she even went so far as to put us into the same row on all legs of our flights.  This is what I call service.   This will also prompt a letter to Mr. Carty, as it would not be ethical or effective if I only wrote him to complain.  I have spoken to my father almost daily since receiving the news and he is being a real trooper, worrying about me spending too much on the frequent calls, but my cell phone plan covers it. 

This trip was planned at the last minute on Friday the 4th so it was a full fare ticket outbound from Seattle, which awarded me an automatic upgrade to first class because of the agreement the travel agency has.  This was a pleasant surprise.  Today I am headed to New Orleans but because someone else was originally scheduled to go I will not be able to book my usual guest house room and will be staying at a Holiday Inn Express.  The rate is $74.00 per night.  This trip is to help with an upgrade of the software for Pendleton Hospital in East New Orleans. 

Leaving Seattle the first class didn’t seem to benefit from the new “more room” enhancements they made in coach, in fact because of the greater pitch of the seats it seems more crowded here than in coach, but then everything seems crowded on these dreaded MD-80s.  There should be a law against using them for flights over two hours; no onboard entertainment, no room, and that incessant wind noise that is inherent to the narrow bodied aircraft like the MD-80 and the Boeing 717.  The choice of breakfast was total cereal and a fruit plate or French toast.  The French toast was the wrong choice, it was that tasteless frozen stuff that had been left in the convection oven too long and was dried out.  The small plate of fresh fruit that came with it had a few slices of Kiwi, Strawberry, Orange and Grapefruit, it all tasted like the Grapefruit. But the staff was pleasant and attentive. The flight from Dallas to New Orleans was another story all together, after boarding first, we in first class sat there and listened to the flight attendants talk about one of their mothers who had had her eyebrows tattooed, and about some of the “stupid” things they’ve heard passengers say.  All the while we were wondering where our customary preflight beverage was.  There was no food on this flight, even in first class, and you had to ask for everything, I’ve had better service in coach. 

I finally made it to New Orleans and had brought a bag of Seattle Mountain coffee from Costco, we find it better than Starbucks or Seattle’s Best and they roast it right there in the store, for my friends at the guest house.  I stopped by and surprised them with it; we made plans to get together later that week for dinner. 

Tuesday morning I went into the hospital and worked with Tom Taylor to upgrade the system we finished around 5 pm.  I then went to the French Quarter to find another great meal.  I went to a place called the Alpine and the meal started with fresh French bread and butter then a nice fresh greens salad, then a cup of Gumbo that the server handed me the hot sauce saying three drops makes it good, five perfects it; I did a healthy five and it was awesome.  My entrée was a shrimp and crawfish fettuccini.  There is never room for desert in this town.

Wednesday Tom and I finished early, went to the French Market, and ate at the Voo Carre Café.  I had a Shrimp Po Boy, and Tom had the “Taste of New Orleans”, which was a bowl of gumbo, one of red beans and rice and one of shrimp Creole, there was also a live jazz band.  Then we walked around the market and bought some pralines, for the folks at home, from a candy shop there that has the best tasting pralines anywhere.  This is the same candy shop I went to when Betty met me here last summer.  Then we returned to the hospital to check on the software and how the nurses were doing with it.  That night I went to dinner another of my favorite places called the Gumbo Shop.  I had a smoked duck and oyster Gumbo that was out of this world.  I really enjoyed walking through the Quarter at night and watching all the tourists making fools of their selves, there was some large convention in town and the bead stores were doing a brisk business.  I walked along Bourbon St. and stopped in to listen to some of the live bands, everything from Jazz to Blues, to Rock and Roll.  I must say that New Orleans is by far my favorite city to visit. 

Thursday night I met up with my friends from the guesthouse and we went to Jack Dempsey’s, you may recall this is the place where they have the awesome seafood platter for two.  The three of us shared this with an extra order of the side dishes; no one wanted to miss the baked macaroni and cheese.  The macaroni is actually like ziti noodles and I’d swear they use cream cheese along with cheddar.  It also came with a bowl of gumbo and a salad.  The platter had heaping helpings of fried shrimp, red fish, catfish, oysters, stuffed crabs, and crawfish pies (kind of like a fried ravioli).  And as always there was plenty left over.  The dinner for two is $21.95 and it was only a little more for the extra sides to make it for three the actual platter was the same.  I think I could feed my whole family from this dinner for two. 

Alas it is Friday and I must go home, I wish I could find a job that would relocate us here.  But I know Gail would not like the summers as it is very similar to Florida and she hated the heat there.  But like Florida visiting there is probably much better than actually living there.  Well the flight home is in coach and it also is on an MD-80.  I am even more convinced now that there is more room in coach on other planes than in first class on these atrocious planes.  The flight from New Orleans to Dallas had no food, since it was the same plane I would take to Seattle I did not get off, the meal from Dallas to Seattle was one of those bag lunches (hey guys it’s dinner time) it was a turkey and cheese sandwich on a whole grain miniature hoagie roll, which I am sure tasted much better last week when it was fresh, the only reason I knew it was turkey was because the label on the outside said so, it was such a small amount of turkey all I could taste was the dry bread.  There was an 8 oz. Bottle of water, a small bag of lays potato chips and a pack of Oreos with two cookies.  Looking at Mr. Carty in the in-flight magazine it is easy to understand why he would think this is adequate, he could be the anorexia nervosa poster child.  He makes Ally McBeal look like Mama Cass.