Archive for December, 2008

Home Sweet Home! Snow White Snow!

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Wow! It’s hard to believe we’ve been gone for almost three weeks. It’s also hard to believe we have not updated the blog since Mason, OH.

Well, we drove eight hours to Rochester, NY after leaving Mason on Saturday morning. As luck would have it, we managed to slip our travel into the one pocket of mild conditions. Rochester has about a foot and a half of snow Friday night with another 4 to 6 inches of “lake effect”. Apparently, lake effect does not count in Rochester, but trust me, shoveling another six inches on top of the other stuff in that small back yard at Louie’s was quite interesting.

My “favorite” sister-in-law, Jamie, made beef stew for dinner. As soon as we walked in the house, what a yummy scent to welcome us. It was also interesting arriving with only Louie and Jamie at home as Tim didn’t arrive until yesterday and Nick got home this afternoon after we were gone. It’s amazing how quiet the house can be when they are not around.

On Sunday, we slept in and had bagels, again, yum. Before we knew it, it was time to leave to go to Webster to meet Uncle Don and Aunt Linda (PJ’s mom’s sister and husband) for a visit and dinner. Aunt Linda made yummy Chicken Cacciatore, and we got to visit with PJ’s cousin, Patty too. She just graduated from Robert Wesleyan College this weekend with a Masters in Education. Well, it’s good to know someone got the smarts in PJ’s family, ha ha.

Don and Linda’s house is beautiful. It is located on a bluff overlooking Irondequoit Bay AND Lake Ontario. Lots of window and a fire place made it both open and homey. It was a wonderful visit, and PJ will see them again in Tuscon in January for Nanny’s 90th birthday celebration.

So, what a surprise, we slept in Monday morning too, but yet there was more snow to shovel and no time to waste as Tim was flying up from JFK Airport and arriving at 11am. Louie and I jumped in the Mercedes to pick him up. At first, we thought it was all the snow that made the car steer funny. As it turns out, it was the flat tire I apparently had that made the car drive funny.

Louie and Jamie have a wonderful mechanic. Anyone in Rochester look up Sam LoVitro. He’s awesome. Jamie called ahead; he pulled my car right in the garage; and I was ready to go in less than 30 minutes. Turns out, we picked up a nail or something, but Louie and Tim were home shortly after me. Then, it was off to Len and Carolyn’s in Penfield for lunch.

Len used to work with Louie at Xerox, and he and Carolyn have visited LimeRock Inn on a few occasions. Len has had some health issues this year, but it was great to see him up and about (and even a few pounds lighter). Wish I could say the same for PJ and me. Oh well, lunch was great and we talked for hours and managed to solve most of the problems of the world if only others would listen.

After returning to Rochester, we dropped off Louie and headed to Craft Company #6 on University Ave. This place is awesome. It’s an old firehouse converted into a residence and gallery space. The owners then turned the whole thing into a neat store highlighting local and regional artists as well as a whole bunch of other fun stuff. It is a must see if you go to Rochester.

So, it was an early night last night to ensure our awakening at 7am to get on the road. Unfortunately, we had to postpone our visit to New Haven to see Uncle Frank and Xandi as the weather and early arriving guests have summoned us home. But I have to say, it was a great drive and a beautiful clear day. That is not the forecasted weather for tomorrow.

I speak for the both of us when I say a very “heartfelt thanks” to everyone for a wonderful vacation and visit over the last 20 days. After pulling in the driveway, I can report that we clocked over 3,800 miles in those 20 days and covered every state east of the Mississippi except VT, DE, FL and KY. Oddly enough, our trip consisted of a giant circle around the state of Kentucky. Let me just go on the record to say that there’s nothing wrong with Kentucky. Well just have to get there another time. Maybe the derby…..hmmmm

Mason, OH

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

This will be a short post as we are getting ready to head out for Rochester, NY. We had a wonderful two days here in Mason visiting the Kraatz clan. Yesterday, Aunt Lisa and Uncle Rich brought us to The National Air Force Museum in Dayton. You can’t believe the number of planes they had here. Afterwards, we met Matt and Katie at an Ohio food institution, Gold Star Chili. I had no idea that chili was so big in Ohio. We had chili and coneys which are small hot dogs with chili and cheese. Yum!
Last night, we went to a local farm called Niedermans which is a Kraatz family tradition. This farm does a large holiday light display every year. As Frank put it, it was the midwestern version of the licve nativity we saw in Italy last year. At the end of the light display you enter a large barn where they serve hot chocolate and cookies and local church choirs perform christmas carols. It was all very Norman Rockwell!! Then it was back to the house for pigs in a blanket and crazy gin. A good time was had by all. You can check out some picture here.

In the land of Lincoln

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Today was day two of our jaunt in Springfield. After breakfast, we went over and to the Gustafsons and Terri took us to the Abraham Lincoln museum. Most everything in Springfield has some sort of connection to Lincoln. It really is a beautiful museum and we highly recommend it as a stop to anyone passing through the area. Of course, I almost got kicked out for taking a picture of Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. You’re not allowed to take any pictures in the exhibit areas. I though I was being sneaky by waiting until no one was around and turining the flash off but apparently there are hidden cameras all over the place. Shortly after taking the picture a security guard tracked me down and me delete the offending shot (deja vu Christa?) We went to a great little restaurant and met Tom for lunch and then came back to the hotel to relax a bit.
We had venison for dinner at the Gustafsons. Tom is an avid bow hunter and has tons of meat, in fact a whole freezer full in the basement. Everything was delicious even though I don’t normally care for venison.
Afterwards, we went to the middle Gustafson sons, Will, basketball game. Dad Tom is the coach. They creamed the other team and we were very impressed not only with Will’s ability but with Tom’s coaching. After the game, it was back to the house for one more lemoncello martini and then back to the hotel for the evening. Check out some photos of our day here. Tomorrow, we head for Mason Ohio and the Kraatz family. It’s been four years since we’ve seen them and we are very excited. We’re getting out of dodge just in time too as an ice storm is making it’s way into town. Until later…..

P.S. – Had to take a shot of the R2-D2 mailbox. How cool is that!!

Find the Frank!

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

So after a blissful night’s sleep and a hearty buffet breakfast, we moved on from Cape Girardeau (also found out this is the hometown of Rush Linbaugh, ugh). Although overcast, we thought the storm of the previous night was behind us, or well, past us anyway. After an hour and a half drive, we pulled into the parking garage in St Louis.
Not really surprising, it was a pretty slow day at the arch. We were able to walk into the museum area and get right on a tram. Can we talk about that for a second. Let’s just say, you better not be claustrophobic if you want to get to the top of the arch. Check out the pictures. We road together in a tram car (the size of a commercial dryer bin) with five seats. Where the other three people were supposed to sit is hard to figure out. Again, even if you aren’t claustrophobic in general I would think that five people in a tumble dryer might put you over the edge.
The observation deck is really neat. On a clear day, they say you can see for 30 miles. We were not so lucky, but we still got to see about 3 miles or so. It’s really an amazing structure.
Upon coming down, we hit the museum and the two shops; bought some souveniers; and headed back up above ground. The picture in today’s blog is of me and the arch. Yes, if you look closely for a white speck in the lawn area, that’s me. Onto the courthouse which was beautifully restored, it was full of information about St Louis’ history, who knew?
By now, we were hungry. So we stopped in the Hyatt for some lunch and headed toward Springfield. Well, we started to, but much to our dismay, Heidi (MB Navigation) and TomTom actually had their first fight. Only the two of us would bother to run both systems at the same time and then get ticked off when they give conflicting information, so we don’t know which way to go. I felt like Chevy Chase in the original Vacation movie. We finally figured it out and off we went.
Well, what should have been an hour and a half turned into much longer because once again Mother Nature felt compelled to dump freezing rain on us. Although Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel assured us the front had moved on, apparently it had not. FYI, I’m coming back as a weatherman in my next life. There’s no other job where you can be so wrong, so often and still have a job.
Anyway, the car handles the bad weather really well. I don’t regret not having all wheel drive. Our biggest problem was the freezing rain was so pervasive that we could never get the windshield clear above the halfway point. We went through three gallons of washer fluid in about 50 miles. Ugh.
The good news is we arrived safely at the hotel; had a chance to relax; and then went to see the Gustafsons. It was great to see them and see their house (kids and dogs too). Tom mixes a mean cocktail, so Terry was nice enough to drive us in the Gus Bus to pick up Aunt Evelyn for dinner. Saputos is a great italian restaurant right downtown. Dinner was wonderful and the conversation lively. After yummy desserts, we headed back to the house and hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Today, we see the Land of Lincoln. More about that later……..


Monday, December 15th, 2008

Yes folks. We made our pilgrimage to Graceland today. Well, it started last night. Sunday was great. We slept in at Barbara’s; were couch potatoes most of the day; went to Barbara Panuska’s (oops, Bender’s) house for dinner and chatted with Claire Bear there too. There could not have been a better way to end our visit to Gwinnett County. Mrs. Bender made great chili; the conversation was lively and fun; and the photo album, ugh, let’s just hope Claire looses it somewhere soon.

We left Summit Chase around 9:30pm after deciding to drive part way to Memphis. It mostly worked out great. TomTom and Heidi (the car navigation system) had a disagreement about how to get to I-20. After a time out, they made up and we were on our way. The drive was about 4 hours to Jasper, AL. We stayed in a Hampton Inn.

The trip (mostly on I-20) was uneventful. After getting off the interstate onto US-78, we decided to stop for bathroom and beverage break (smoke break for PJ too). Imagine my surprise when I came out of the truck stop to find he had made friends with someone. Only after a moment did I realize it was a crazy street person pan handling for money. Well, we got away quietly. By the way, bingo and fireworks are all the rage in Alabama although most of the places we drove by seemed empty. Perhaps, people take Sunday nights off.

So after a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed our “breakfast” at Hampton Inn. Let’s just say I am not worried about losing business to this chain. Not sure what the eggs are, but the sausage and biscuits passed the edible test. By 9:30am, we were on our way.

The pilgrimage would not have been complete driving through Tupelo, MS without stopping at the birthplace of the King. I was there about 30 years ago with Jay Cook and his family on a trip to see his grandparents. Let’s just say it has changed some since that time.

Onto Memphis where we emerged at Graceland to start our tour after an energizing fried lunch at Captain D’s Seafood. Yummy hush puppies and sweet tea. Gosh, am I easy to please or what?

Well, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Graceland was great! The King would be proud to see how well his surroundings are being taken care of. After departing the King’s compound, it was still only 3:30pm, so we decided to put some more miles behind us. Rather than staying in Memphis, we thought we’d go all the way to St Louis (so we thought). Can you say, “30 degree temperature change in one day coupled with freezing rain, sleet and snow.”? Let’s just say we got most of the way to St Louis, but opted out at Cape Girardeau, MO about 100 miles south along the Mississippi River.

You may have heard of it since most of it was underwater the last time the river flooded. The Drury Motel has turned out not to be dreary. We have a nice room; we checked in around 5:30pm; and enjoyed a complementary cocktail in the bar before deciding to go to a movie. We saw “Four Christmases” with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan. It is short, but had some quite funny spots to it. All in all, it’s been an awesome day.

So now we are back in our room; out of the cold and bad road conditions; and it appears that the storm will be over by morning as to not dampen our trip to the Arch in St Louis followed by a visit with Tom and Terry in Springfield, IL. The home and birthplace of Abe Lincoln (the first republican president I might add). Good night everyone……….

Days 8 & 9

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been gone for a week already. It’s taken us this long to just decompress from the busy season running the inn and all the holiday activities in Rockland over Thanksgiving (ie Festival of Lights) weekend. I have to say that we miss everyone, our puppies and the inn, but it’s been 60 degrees here and quite comfortable. That’s hard to beat when it’s snow and freezing rain at home.

After a week of some crazy running around, yesterday (Friday) and today have been pretty mild. But before I forget, here’s the link to my gingerbread house creation for 2008. It was featured in a local newspaper article, so I am quite proud. Also, for the first time ever, I created an atrium completely out of molded hard sugar candy. I dreaded this part of the process, but it turned out to be easy.

Anyway, we slept in on Friday and this morning which was very nice. Barbara had some shopping to do, so late Friday morning we ventured out to the shops in Snellville. Much to our dismay, the selections were not up to par. So, we decided to head to the new Stonecrest Mall in Conyers. Ugh, has this area changed a lot.

PJ bought new sneakers and several nutcrackers. Barbara bought a new 20 quart pot to make sauce. All in all, it was a successful trip. One good thing about all the changes in ATL is the improved restaurant scene. Dinner on Friday night was at Cosmo’s Little Italy Pizzeria on the square in Lawrenceville. Who knew? Real italians from Bari running a restaurant in Gwinnett County. I remember having to travel 20 plus miles into the city just to go to Camille’s in the Highlands. Things have changed.

Bill, Gina and Beth met us there and the place was packed. Of course two hours and two pizzas later, we were closing the place down. It was nice to get back to Barbara’s at a decent hour. Once again, Beth has done a terrific job on our holiday cards. We spent about two hours last night applying address labels, return address labels and stamps for 700 plus cards, ugh. The good news is that you should receive yours soon. PJ has started stuffing as I write.

So today was all about the family. We went to my brother Paul’s house in Dacula around 1pm. We hung out with brothers, sister and cousin Julianne too. Nicole, Louise, Joe and Joel were there too. There was lots of laughing (mostly from watching everyone play Wii bowling, golf and tennis). Then, I forgot to mention Barbara made sauce, meatballs and sausage old school style with the new pot. Along with six pounds of pasta, there was enough to feed an army. Luckily, we amount to one.

So, we are back at Barbara’s now. We have slightly modified our itinerary tomorrow. After dinner at Barbara Bender’s house, PJ and I are heading west. Our goal is to get as far as possible to accomodate a special desitination (maybe two) on Monday. More about that later. Tune in to find out……..

Days 6 & 7

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Yesterday was spent dirivng through rain and fog to Barbara’s in Atlanta. Not much exciting to report although we made decent time. It was nice to arrive at Barbara’s and have a delicious home cooked meal awaiting us. We got a wonderful nights sleep as well. Today, we picked up Marty and went into downtown Atlanta for some shopping. We went to the Exibition center to see Bodies: The Exhibition. this was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. From their website:
To help you see what a body really looks like on the inside, this Exhibition uses real human bodies that have been preserved so they do not decay.A human specimen is first preserved according to standard mortuary science. The specimen is then dissected to show whatever it is that someone wants to display. Once dissected, the specimen is immersed in acetone, which eliminates all body water. The specimen is then placed in a large bath of silicone, or polymer, and sealed in a vacuum chamber. Under vacuum, acetone leaves the body in the form of gas and the polymer replaces it, entering each cell and body tissue. A catalyst is then applied to the specimen, hardening it and completing the process.This method of preservation creates a specimen that will not decay. This offers thousands of unique teaching possibilities for educators at all levels, including medical professionals, archeologistsand other scientists.
You really have to see this to believe it. Not neccesarily for the faint of heart. We then met Becky and Kean for dinner. We ate at a wonderful Italian restuarant called de Paolo’s that is consistently voted the best Italian restuarant in all of Atlanta. We are now back at Barbara’s playing with the puppies and getting ready for bed.

One last thing. Just before we got home, we encountered an SUV that had a lighted wire frame lawn reindeer strapped to the front. It was one of those motion ones where the head swivels back and forth. It was absolutely hysterical!!

Day 5

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Well, it’s now 12:07 am and we are settled in at the Beautiful (uugh!) Days Inn in Winchester, VA. Today was quite a busy day. We had yummy scramble scramble and bacon prepared by Karen for breakfast and then took a tour of the property with Jessica. She was getting a little randy by lunchtime so we took the cue to continue our journey. We took a short drive to Lancaster, PA and met one of our favorite guests, Donna, for lunch. It was really great to see her and also a little odd to see her on her home turf. I’ve decided that I can not partake in any more buffets on this trip or I will weigh 400 pounds!!

After lunch, we took a two hour drive to Osterberg, PA to meet Frank’s friends Wayne and Renee and their 3 kids. We all went to dinner at the Jean Bonnet Tavern (pronounce like Jean Benet Ramsey oddly enough) This was a neat old tavern and B&B built in 1762. Apparently it is haunted and interestingly enough, there was a camera crew for the History Channel there to film a segment on haunted inns. We’ll have to keep an eye out for that one. We had a really nice dinner and are very tired now so I am going to end this post. Tomorrow is lunch with Frank’s nephew Alex who lives here in Winchester. Then, it’s a 10 hour drive to Snellville, GA where Everybody is Somebody (yes, that is the town motto). Check out some photos here.

Days 2, 3 & 4

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Wow, this is a lot of ground to cover. We awoke Saturday morning to the sound of bull horns on boats in the East River as Tim’s apartment is just off the Brooklyn Promenade (great view if you lean out the window, ha ha). Breakfast at Clark’s Diner (I ordered “The Big Breakfast”, yum), then off we went.

If the previous night’s adventure was not enough (did PJ tell you about my ignoring both our GPS systems and got us lost?), we needed to get gas almost immediately after getting in the car. Tim assured me there was a gas station on Atlantic Ave just before getting on the BQE. Yes, it was there with fencing and all as they were replacing the tanks. Wanting to check the accuracy of the Mercedes Benz trip computer (it said I had 50 miles to empty), I decided to rough it and off we went through Bay Ridge across the Verazzano Bridge through Staten Island across the Goethals Bridge into Elizabeth NJ. By the time we got to my favorite old Hess Gas Station, I had a mere 5 miles left to empty. Yeah, we made it!

Before meeting Eric and Kristin for lunch, we took a drive down memory lane through Long Hill Township (where we met) to see my old house and PJ’s childhood house. Nothing much ever seems to change in NJ except higher taxes. Well, the house was painted a different color; the neighbor across the street was still working on a second story addition (6 years later, Jen!), but it was still good to see.

Lunch with Eric and Kristin was great! Eric looks great too (he said we should say we saw “the best looking guy in Hillsborough“). He may have been the best looking guy at our table, but that’s not saying much with me and PJ being the others. It was fun to catch up on his improvements and reminisce about good times past. Kristin has her own GPS story, but it’s not my place to tell tales (ask her to tell you cuz it’s really funny).

After lunch, we stopped by our old house in Tewksbury (Califon), and it looked good too. It’s for sale down in price to $549,000. Wow, the real estate market has really tanked in NJ. It was a fun drive from there to the Waldsteins in Henryville. We arrived at the start of their “adult party” with children attending. What does that mean, you ask? It means six couples getting drunk with ten screaming kids wreaking havoc on the house. Actually, the kids were well behaved. The parents got a little crazy, ha ha. Well, after a fun night it was off to bed at midnight.

Sunday morning was reminiscent of times past with the Sunday paper and good bagels with a schmear. Oh yea, there were two kids jumping about, but it was still fun. We got on the road before 11am to meet Scott and Michael for lunch in Plymouth Meeting (outside Philly). Much to my delight, there was a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant there, so it was Thai Chicken Pizza for me, yum! We shopped the mall a bit. PJ found three nutcrackers in Boscov’s, but I can’t complain because they were 60% off. He’s becoming quite a good shopper.

After that, it was off to see the Hall’s of Honey Brook, PA. We arrived at the tail end of Jessica’s 2nd birthday party, so we go to see some old friends too. Mostly though, we sat around and drank until about midnight and slept until 8:30 this morning. Fortunately, hangovers were at a minimum. But we did have a lazy morning drinking coffee around the kitchen table watching Karen slave over the stove making swedish pancakes, again yum! Finally, we got showered and out for the day around 1pm after grilled cheese sandwiches. Karen and Kyle live in the heart of Amish Country. You know Intercourse and Blue Ball. While these things seem to be opposites to me, they are also the names of two towns in Lancaster County.

It was fun to see the horse and buggys too. Even more funny to see the hitching posts for the horses in parking lots for the bank and Walmart, etc. It’s a different world here. We did a little more shopping as that seems to be the Amish country pass time. Then it was home for a nap (for me) and PJ convinced Karen to create a Facebook acccount. We may never get her off the computer. Finally, dinner tonight was at the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. OMG, this makes any buffet you’ve seen before seem weak (even Millers, you Mainers). We are talking about over 100 feet of buffet lines (two sided even!). Ugh, I am stuffed; I am tired; so it’s off to bed. More later………… Check out some pictures of Jessica here.

Day 1 of our Road Trip

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Today was the first day of our road trip. Since we weren’t on a time crunch, we decided to take the ferry from New London, CT to Orient Point, NY. It was a beautiful ferry ride. Click here to check out some of the photos. We met Tim & Madlyn for dinner and then went to another spot for dessert. Tomorrow, we have lunch with Scott and Michael and then off to Henryville, PA for the evening with Christine, Eric and the girls. I would’ve been more witty in this post but it has been a VERY long day and it’s almost one in the morning. I’ll get the creative juices flowing for the next post. Thanks again to the Minders and Galkowski’s for keeping an eye on the inn while we are gone. We know if is in good hands!!!