Saturday, December 10, 2011

This blog is moving to a new home;

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I've made a whole blog about our Irish vacation.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

They say "seven" but it's really 8 minutes icing. The trick seems to be not to forget the water ... like I did last time

in the top of a double boiler; 2x eggs whites, 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 cup sugar, 1t vanilla extract, 1/2 t salt, 1T light cornsyrup, mix for one minute and then mix on high until soft peaks form.

I've sent these two pictures off to be printed on 20 in square canvas for DH's office. I'm very nervous about this. I hope they come out 'presentable'.

Friday, May 07, 2010

It was fun reverse engineering the ginormous bouquets;

everything must be anchored to a central support;

We got to watch them set up the lilies displays

click to go to gallery;

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Schladming/amade 2010

Allan had yet another job interview in Belgium on the Thursday before we left. Some progress was made but no definitive offer resulted.

The five women had gone grocery shopping together a week earlier to supply the house we'd rented.

Friday 19 February 2010
Andy's school had declared the Friday before spring break a 'study day' (I think it's the equivalent of teacher's institute in the states) we left around 4:30 am ... delayed by an unsuccessful search for Al's reading glasses. I drove the first leg. It was scary. Some of the highways had lights but they weren't lit. Listening to Podcasts helped up fill the hours until we arrived in Salzburg around 3:30.

The hotel wouldn't be open for another half hour so we took the opportunity to tour the quaint village. A darling church encircled by an even more adorable graveyard was adjacent our hotel. I was hoping we'd be back before night fall to shoot some pictures there. After a quick photowalk around town and the Mirabell gardens with a chic cappuccino stop we met our friends at the hotel. Oh! And we had a lard-licious sausage from a street vendor. By the time we got back it was already dark. We ate dinner early – the only option in our hotel since a large group was booked for later in the evening. I was dismayed to find people smoking in the combination bar/dining room. I had chicken with blue cheese and a side of tator tots. I think the meat had been marinated in garlic laced lard.

The hotel was clean and adequate and sported...WIFI! Al and I played Scrabble on our ITouch/IPhones and then tucked into the very hard and lumpy beds. We could hear some very loud giggles through the walls.

Saturday 20th
Lost mittens
I braved the black ice in the parking lot at daybreak to capture some images of the picaresque cemetery. Breakfast was included in the price of the room. It was a nice spread. I was pretty sure the eggs were already boiled but the proprietress quickly corrected me. The egg cooking appliance made the most astonishing chirping noise to alert us that they were soft boiled. I tried some of Al's cheese. I have never in my life had anything so vile tasting in my life!

We drove to Zell am See for our interim stop – we'd decided to ski somewhere midway. For some time we'd talked about making a pilgrimage to The Schober Alm but in previous years the snow hadn't been that great or we'd been too far away.

Andy had lost both his skiing mittens and gloves so he wore my mittens and I made do with gloves. My goggles were nowhere to be found. I recall putting them in my helmet but I think someone removed them while they were packing...Thank goodness I had my prescription sunglasses.

One of the nicest things about skiing on the switchover day is that the slopes are not crowded in any way shape or form. We were blessed with fresh snow. After a few false moves we lunched at the Alm – veal ragout in a giant baked potato. Mmm.

We couldn't program the GPS to find the exact tiny street where our house for the week was located. We drove up and down as dusk fell. Finally Allan asked for directions at the gas station and we found the local road with a number of hairpin turns up to our house. As we approached I saw some children's silhouettes as they sledded down the hill in front of the house.

The 18 of us gathered in the open kitchen/dining room. There was the most wonderful old fashioned wood burning stove which had an oven that the top surface got hot enough to cook on. Loved that. Claudia made delicious macaroni with lots of vegetables and smoked sausage. We had two rooms. I tried in vain to make the fitted sheets I'd brought fit the unusual sized mattresses – to no avail. I think Andy only lasted about a half hour in his own room. Which was fine because our room was a triple. It was rather odd with three singles that stretched wall to wall.

Sunday the 21st
Ice, Ice baby
Paul collected our fresh kaiser & wholegrain rolls from the nearby Schnapps establishment for breakfast. Al cooked some eggs to fortify me in the morning, Schladming/amade encompasses a main four mountain area. We'd (okay Al) decided on the Reiteralm for our first day. Andy tried a speed run and managed 52 km/hr. Not bad for a 10 year old. I found skiing on the ice hard going and my legs tired quickly. Lunch was a yummy pork slice. We got back to the house in time to take a walk and shoot a few pictures. Apparently we were staying on a summer panoramic walking path route.

We really had no idea what to expect of the skiing area. Because skiing was actually a secondary consideration – we were more concerned with finding an acceptably large house that could affordably accommodate the 18 of us. (8 children & 10 adults). But I am happy to report that we were pleasantly surprised and impressed. The area is gearing up for hosting an alpine world cup in three years. To that end the facilities are extremely modern and all the staff are service minded.

Simone made smoked sausage over a bed of mashed potatoes cooked with kale – all topped with crunchy bacon cubes and brown gravy. The corner bench at one of the dining tables broke under Al. Joss collected his tool box out of his van so the men could fix the damage.

Monday 22nd
Al kept his Iphone nearby in case the company he'd interviewed called about the results of his meeting. At the top of the Planai gondola is a fabulous fun park called 'Horsefeathers' I enjoyed the bright sun lounging in a beach chair there while the boys played on more demanding slopes. Al lead me down some gentle blue slopes. In some places we had to take T-bar lifts/”mushrooms”.

This was Al's night to cook. We stopped and bought about a cows worth of ground beef. He attempted to brown the hamburger on the wood burning stove but it took a long time. We ate finally around 7:30. By candlelight. Afterwards Al brought out a blue alcoholic drink called 'glacier'. The damage for the day was a sled and a chair. I think an old man who lives in an unrented part of the house turned up after I'd already gone to bed.

Tuesday 23rd
It only hurts when I ski
I awoke very early and spied some incredibly pink clouds wafting outside our northern facing window. But I was too lazy to grab a camera (& get dressed) to go get a picture of them. Besides I estimated they wouldn't last long enough for me to get out there to shoot them. As I was the first up I swept the common room floor.

Hochwurzen was surprisingly uncrowded considering that it was the school holidays. I'd heard lots of different languages...just a smattering of Dutch. We met the other group for lunch (pizza) and I just took the gondola down so I could catch the free ski bus back to the car. My shins hurt like the dickens after the hard day of skiing on the ice. For some reason I just could not get my boots adjusted comfortably.

That night we feasted on local specialties – four kinds of dried sausage, bread and cheese and soup. I had some amazing fat pretzel type of bread. We went to bed early and I laid there for a while listening to Allan snore. The old farmhouse where we were staying creeped me out for some unknown reason. It was enough to give me pause when I woke up at night and considered did I really need to go to the bathroom or not. The wooden floors creaked like the crazy. Our rooms were on the top floor and had some very dark corners. The bathroom was clean and okay but sported a variety of clashing 1960's brown patterned tiles.

Wednesday 24th
Lazy day for some
I decided to take the day off to try and let my shins recuperate. Besides I wanted to explore the local walking paths. That and play with the pictures I'd taken so far. Just about everyday I had been backing up the cards from both cameras on my old lap top we'd brought along. First I washed my hair and then enjoyed a pot of tea while playing with the computer. Al had taken my point and shoot camera so I had the SLR – which was a bit scary for me. I almost always still take better pictures with my own camera but am trying to learn how to use the 'big camera'. I played around with trying to get some shots of some creepy dolls that sat atop a cabinet but there was no light. Then I contented myself by doing some shallow depth of field pictures of the foosball table. I managed to get my walk in after lunch. I chose which paths I took in consideration of whether I would have to walk uphill on the way back. The walking trails were much more extensive than I'd first thought. I tried to sit outside and listen to music on my nano but it was really too cold.

Five of the others (including Al & Andy) had opted for a four mountain ski tour.

That night's meal was 'grillen'. Tons of meat and vegetables were cut up beforehand and then we cooked our food ourselves on a tabletop grill. There was way too much food. Way, way too much chicken, pork, steak, sausages and thick bacon slices.

Thursday 25th
Andy had been asking lots of questions about the local glacier. Around every turn he would point at a mountain and ask, 'is that the glacier?' We all were curious so that's where we headed. The day greeted us with new snow fall. I was a bit concerned when we saw car after car heading down the mountain that we were driving up. It seemed to be an overly long way. Surprisingly we came out into a huge flat high meadow (Ramsau) on the way. There was hardly anybody in the parking lot for the Dachstein ski area. First you have to take a hanging gondola over to the glacier. We were so socked in that we couldn't see a thing. Which was a pity because it was supposed to be quite scenic. My glasses would fog up immediately which would make me completely disoriented in the white out and I fell.

Andy got cold and started to complain despite the wonderful fresh snow. We practically had the (albeit tiny) entire ski area to ourselves. We stopped for a yummy apple streudel with vanilla sauce to warm up. And ventured out again. It was simply too unpleasant. The last bit back to catch the gondola was a miserable uphill walk. I was rescued by an extremely kind man on a snowmobile. I wished I spoke German so that I could've asked him to go back and get Andy. The fog abated as we descended so I snapped picture after picture on the return gondola ride. We found a delightfully sunny cafe for lunch in Ramsau. My garlic laced pork cutlet was lard-tastic. I repeatedly heard the sound of milk being steamed for cappuccino while we ate and could not resist ordering one after my meal. Andy was willing to share his hot fudge sundae but Allan had spied some ice cream blintzes on the next table over which he ordered.

We found a back road from Ramsau to where we were staying. It was so beautiful with horse drawn sleds and many, many cross country skiing trails. That evening Claudia cleverly created a meal out of the left over meat from the previous night. We had it with a sauce over rice.

Friday 26th
Where are my pants?
Andy wanted to go back to Planai and play in the fun park. I hurridly got ready in the morning and while locking our room door went through a mental check list of stuff I should remember to have with me that day...helmet, gloves, money...I looked down and I was only wearing my (much beloved – I might add) long underwear on the bottom. I'd forgotten my ski pants! It was a tad rainy as we left – hopefully that would translate to new snowfall higher up. My glasses kept steaming up in the fog and heavy wet snow. Al lit upon the idea of smearing the lenses with a thin coating of soap – which worked a treat. Have to remember that! Still the wet snow would collect as ice on my straggling hair and turn to balls of ice. We stopped at a charming hut mid morning where I had hot Alpine punch (I think it was berries, black currents and cloves) which was divine. During a bathroom break we stumbled upon a real party tent! With a live accordion player in leder hosen even.

Afterwards we embarked on a fruitless kaiserschmarren mix quest (a sweet egg dish Al really likes). My guess is that all the visitors had already cleared out the shelves. That evening we'd arranged to have an early pizza at the nearby schnapps brewery. I couldn't resist the free shot glass at the end of the meal. I think Simone said it best, 'I won't be bothered by my cold now.'It did indeed taste like cough medicine to me.

At 3:30 or so the next morning we hopped in the car for the 11 hour drive home. Al played all the Leo Laporte podcasts he had. Al checked his email the minute he got home to find that he had yet another interview scheduled for Monday. They finally made him an offer. Yay!


Monday, February 01, 2010

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Journey

I don't think it's a very big secret that United Airlines overbooks it's flights. But sometimes their blatant shenanigans are outrageous.

(Al never mentioned DS vomiting multiple times throughout all this - isn't travel romantic?)

Originally we booked our 2009 US Christmas trip in March. Nancy used our favorite reliable travel agent in Naarden, Helma. Helma found us a reasonably priced flight on Virgin. Atlantic-with a plane change in London Heathrow. Then in October, we received an email from our travel agent indicating that Virgin had cancelled the London Chicago route, but we were not to worry as we had been rebooked on KLM and United flights. This was slightly less convenient for us as it meant our neighbors needed to bring us to Schiphol at 5AM to be on time for the first leg of the flight. Thank goodness we had passed through Heathrow before and knew to only take minimal carry on luggage (we only had one backpack a piece).

When we arrived at Schiphol we were directed to an agent after trying to use the automatic check-in kiosk. It took some time at the counter but after some concerned looks we were able to check in to the flight to London. The KLM agent behind the counter mentioned a problem in that there was an indication that Andy did not have a US passport. She also informed us that she could not check us in for the connecting flight to Chicago as it was with another carrier.

After 45 Minutes our KLM flight arrived at Terminal 4 at LHR. United left from Terminal 1 so we proceeded to the bus connection. to Terminal 1. Upon arriving and passing the security check we stood at the United check-in counter.

After a lengthy wait in line we stood before an agent. After looking at our papers and keying several codes into the computer terminal she looked back at us with some concern. She told us there was a mistake in the booking and we should go see the Virgin agent in terminal 3 to get it straightened out as Virgin was the issuing agent. She said she could put us on standby, but the outlook was gloomy as all flights were over booked to Chicago and many people were already waiting. (Nancy glanced back at the girl's nametag at this point it was "Emma" - because experience has told her that the next person most likely would ask 'who told you that?')

So we returned to the bus stop and reboarded the bus to Terminal 3. We passed through another security control, which of course involved getting the laptop out, taking our shoes off and passing through the metal detector. Then we headed towards the Virgin Agent.

After another lengthy wait in line we were directed to the Virgin ticket agent. The agent promptly informed us that the problem was with the travel agent (highly unlikely, Helma doesn’t make mistakes – that’s why we’ve used her the last 20 years) and he could not help us. At all. He also said that all of the flights with all the carriers were fully booked to Chicago and it would likely be several days before seats would be available to Chicago. He could offer us a hotel coupon but only after we returned to terminal 3 to get put on standby with United.

By this time Nancy had left several voice mails with all of the agent’s numbers she could find. But since it was Saturday our hopes of contact were dim as we knew that the offices were.

But the phone rang and somehow Helma was on the other end of the line. She said there was no way it was an agent problem but she would call her Dutch booking agent to see what they could find out. In the meantime we headed back to the bus transfer to Terminal 3.

Another bus ride. Another line. Another security control. Get the laptop outtake our shoes off, and take our place back in the line at the United counter. After a wait in line we once again stood at the counter looking at another smiling ticket agent. He put our names on two stand by lists and informed us not to worry about our bags as they would (wink) follow us where ever we went. And with that happy thought we went to wait until the gate opened so we could wait in standby and watch our flight leave.

Gloominess and cynicism was starting to set in as we went for food and drink with the little amount of UK currency we had.

We received another call from Helma who informed us that the problem was with United and she and the ticketing agent Roelof were very angry. She said the United had canceled our seats an hour earlier (!!!) and she suspected some shenanigans from United to deal with their overbooking problem. She said we should be very angry with United and to go back to the counter and raise a fuss. She would send us an SMS (text message) with the reservation details so we had some evidence of the United’s mischief. I decided to sit tight and await the outcome of the first standby before escalating and raising our voices.

When the gate number was announced, we walked towards it heads down. It was looking more hopeless when I asked what the standby possibilities were. We received dour looks all around.

So I decided to stage the next escalation. I went to the gate counter and proceeded to explain our story and providing the newly obtained reservation number. This resulted in some curious looks as the supervisor started to make some calls. She instructed us to sit over to the side and she would get back to us.

Our hearts sank as the first class passengers began to board the flight. At this low point we were called to the counter and handed 3 boarding cards.

This was curious because this was before the calling of standby passengers. Was it their concern of my impending threat of an escalation? Or was it their realization that we had uncovered some dubious behavior of canceling our seats in favor of direct United customers? We probably will never know and were not about to stir things up by asking, We are happily sitting in our seats at the back of the plane on the way to Chicago. ;-)

(sent from Al's IPhone)

(Now you know why I keep a link to our travel agent on this blog, she is worth her weight in gold)