Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Weekend in the Desert

We spent Easter weekend with Tim’s family in the desert. The federal witness relocation program has asked us not to post too many details, but let’s just say it’s somewhere in the desert not too far from some casinos.

The view from the road (if you can see through the bug guts on the windshield). (03/25/05)

We spent that first night hanging out with Tim’s family. Tim’s mom made us a really good pierogi dinner. For those not familiar with polish cuisine, pierogis are half-moon shaped dumplings with potato and onion filling. They’re boiled first, and then pan-fried until they have a golden brown hue. You eat them with sour cream, jelly and sometimes sauerkraut.

After catching up on America’s Next Top Model, Tim and I watched Minority Report on his new Qosmio. About 45 minutes into the movie, I fell asleep for about half-an-hour. Yet when I woke up, the movie still made sense to me, so I musn’t have missed much.

Grandma Jean, Tim and Aunt Gertie. (03/26/05)

The next day we met up with Tim’s grandma Jean (not the one in the hospital – that’s the other grandma) and her sister Gertie who is visiting from back East. We stuffed ourselves at the Easter brunch pot luck, which was held at the rec room in the senior community. Afterward there was an Easter egg hunt. We tried to find some eggs for Grandma Jean, but believe it or not, the senior citizens who live there were so fast at snatching them up, they left us in a cloud of dust!

The dessert table at the senior community pot luck. (03/26/05)

We love seeing Tim’s great aunt Gertie since she doesn’t come out to this coast very often. And wouldn’t you know it, she and I share a special bond in that we both love slot machines. So after brunch, Tim, Gertie and I headed to the casinos for a few hours.

I didn’t do too bad. In fact if you don’t count the $50 I gave Tim, I was actually up $5 by the end of the day (if you do count the $50 I gave Tim, we were down $45). Aunt Gertie didn’t do too shabby either. She was probably down $150 until she hit a $120 jackpot (and then called it a day).

We did some quick shopping after that where Gertie got a new pair of jeans, and we bought some bathing suits so we could try Tim’s parents’ new Jacuzzi. After picking up Grandma, the whole family got together for pizza and card games the rest of the night, which was a lot of fun (especially since I was the big winner all night).

Sunday morning the whole family got together, and we stuffed ourselves once again. Tim’s mom put together a fantastic spread consisting of ham, potato salad, fresh kielbasa, deviled eggs, pickles and rye bread. It was dee-lish-ous. After brunch, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to California.

Birgitta Gets Shades

Last week we took the new car to get window tinting, and it looks great! On a shade scale of 1 to 4 (with 1 being the lightest and 4 being the darkest), we selected #2 on the four side windows, and #3 for the rear. And it’s just in time for Birgitta’s first out-of-state road trip over the Easter weekend.

The Swedest ride ever gets new shades. (3/27/05)

We paid for the window tinting with some birthday money we got from my dad. Thanks Dad!

Grandma Helen Update II

We have some encouraging news. Grandma Helen is out of the ICU and has been moved to another wing of the facility where she will begin a physical therapy program. They also plan on doing some sort of angioplasty to reduce the likelihood of another stroke. First, though, they have to wait for her to rebuild a little more strength before they can complete the procedure.

Tim is planning to back to New York to visit her when she gets a little stronger. Right now, since she’s only beginning her physical therapy, having too many visitors may impede her progress. Continue sending your healing thoughts. It’s working. :)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Grandma Helen Update

Here's some news we wish we didn't have to post: We learned on Thursday that Tim's grandma Helen, age 85, had a stroke and was in the ICU. This is Tim's grandma on his Mom's side, the one that lives in Buffalo, NY.

This news has been very distressing, although there is some progress to report. The initial reports we received indicated she had no consciousness. Since then, thankfully, she has regained consciousness and recognizes family members.

From what we understand, her speech is still somewhat affected and there has been some paralysis on her left side, which we hope is temporary. A good indicator came the other day when she was able to lift her left arm six inches off her chest. We'll know more about the extent of her condition in coming days. In the meantime, please keep her recovery in your thoughts and prayers.

A Green St. Patrick's Day for James' Employer

St. Patrick's Day green had a new meaning at the software company for which James works. That day marked the official closing of its Series A Venture Funding round, which has been a big undertaking at the company in recent months. The lenthy legal process finally came to a close on Wednesday night, with the actual transfer of funds on St. Patrick's Day morning.

An exciting day at the Irvine software company that James works for. (2005)

What this means is that the market the company serves is so ripe with potential that the company was able to get two big-time investors on board to help grow the company — a very difficult task since the technology bubble collapse about five years ago. Currently the company plans to use part of the new funds to double the size of its staff from the current 25 employees to more than 50 by the end of the year, which is pretty exciting.

We're Expecting a Response Any Day Now

As I'm sure most of you did, we too wrote some support letters to Martha Stewart during her recent prison term. (Although Tim would probably want me to point out that I was the one who wrote to Martha and signed both our names. He simply saw it as just another one of my hairbrained ideas).

My responses from Martha Stewart.
My responses from Martha Stewart.

And this week we received a response! Actually a couple of them. They're basic 4x6 postcards with the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia logo, and they say...

Dear Friend:

Thank you for writing to Martha Stewart.

While at Alderson, Martha has been receiving many thousands of encouraging letters from supporters like you. She is extremely grateful for your kind thoughts and good wishes.

Due to the heavy mail volume, Martha regrets that she does not have the opportunity to read your correspondence while at Alderson. All letters and cards have been kept for Martha's return.

On behalf of Martha Stewart and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, we thank you for your continued support.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Taste of Wine ... and Murder

Last night we had my postponed-by-one-week birthday party: A combination murder mystery party and wine tasting where we sampled a variety of red, white and sparkling wines and an array of fine cheeses. It was so much fun!

Our host: Barry Underwood Jr., as played by Tim. (03/12/05)

Five years ago, Barry Underwood Sr., owner of the prestigious Underwood Wine Estates, mysteriously disappeared during the valley’s annual wine festival. A massive search at the time failed to turn up any clues and the case has been in the FBI’s unsolved files since then.

Now, five years later, it is once again the annual wine festival in Napa Valley. Last night, family and friends gathered at the stately Underwood mansion to celebrate. At midnight, a minor earthquake shook the mansion, causing an old wooden floor in the wine cellar to buckle. Barry’s well preserved body was discovered under the cedar planks.

The suspects included:

Marilyn Merlot, as played by Amy. (03/12/05)

Marilyn was crowned Wine Princess at the festival five years ago, and then went on to become a Hollywood movie star. She’s returned to Napa Valley for the Wine Festival and to gloat over her success.

Papa Vito, as played by Everett. (03/12/05)

Brought over from Italy sixty years ago by Barry’s grandfather to develop Underwood Wine Estates, Papa Vito has devoted his life to the vineyards. Now he just wants to retire and drink a little vino in the afternoon. Salute!

Ralph Rottengrape, as played by Tom. (03/12/05)

Barry’s first cousin and heir-apparent to the Underwood Wine Estates. Long considered the black sheep of the family, Ralph took over as manager after Barry’s disappearance and has been running things his way ever since.

Bonnie Lass, as played by Laura. (03/12/05)

A Scottish tourist who has attended the wine festival while vacationing in California. A mystery writer and best-selling novelist, she knows a thing or two about hidden bodies and old wine cellars.

Agent Bud Wizer, as played by Jon. (03/12/05)

The F.B.I. Agent assigned to investigate Barry’s murder. Bud is a beer-drinking man with no appetite for wine. He’s determined to put a cap on this unsolved mystery.

Hedy Shablee, as played by Joe. (03/12/05)

The owner of the neighboring vineyard and a fierce competitor of the Underwood’s. Barry’s disappearance has uncorked a new vintage of troubles for unhappy Hedy.

Otto Von Schnapps, as played by James. (03/12/05)

A German wine merchant. Boisterous and fun-loving, Otto attends wine festivals around the globe, buying the best vintages for distribution in Europe. It is said Otto's preference for red or white can be influenced by green.

Tiny Bubbles, as played by Christine. (03/12/05)

Barry’s fiancée at the time of his death. Perky and pretty, Tiny has an effervescent personality and a razor-sharp mind. She is now married to the new winery owner, Ralph.

So who did it? That is a closely guarded secret, my friends. :)

Overall, I gotta give Tim mad props for putting together what turned out to be a fun, well-organized party. I'll definitely never forget it!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Birthday Breakfast

In our continued celebration of my birthday (3/4) and that of our friend Everett (3/2), we decided to celebrate at Orange Hill Restaurant (along with Everett's best friend Keith). Like the incredibly imaginative name suggests, the restaurant overlooks the city of Orange, and its breakfast buffet is as magnificent as the view. It's a little pricey, but worth the money if you want a memorable experience.

James & Tim overlooking Orange — the city with appeal! (03/06/05)

Everett & Keith from Orange Hill Restaurant. (03/06/05)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Another year bites the dust

Another birthday has once again come and gone. Despite my original plan of taking the day off, I ended up going to work that day (I just had too much to do). That night Tim, Joe and our friend Everett took me out to dinner at my favorite BBQ restaurant, Johnny Reb's (location of the picture shown below).

James and Tim raise their glasses to toast James' birthday. (03/04/05)

We took that picture especially for this blog, since SOMEONE complained that we didn't post enough current pictures of us (and you know who I'm talking about, cousin Anita!). So here is a pic that's not more than 31 hours old at the time of this posting.

A larger party had originally been planned for today, but we postponed it a week due to nearly half of the guest list being out of town for a funeral (see posting dated 03/03/05 about Tomás Nomás). So today Tim, Everett and I went shopping at the outlet in Cabazon instead. After we dropped Everett back off, our friends Jon and Amy came over, where the four of us and Joe had dinner at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Afterward, we played a killer game of Scrabble, where Tim actually won! =)

Tomorrow, we're doing Sunday brunch at the ritzy Orange Hill Restaurant.

Wow — dinner yesterday, shopping today, brunch tomorrow, party next week — this is turning out to be a week-long event. I guess I take after my Mom, who always celebrated her "birthday month" every August! :)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Uncle Jimmy & Uncle Tim

Just received word that my cousin Michele gave birth to a baby girl today — on MY birthday!!!! (Actually, now that the baby was born, I guess it's OUR birthday now).

Baby Liele. (03/05)

Baby Liele, although a little early, is doing well. She weighs 7 lbs, 2 oz. and is 19" long (I've always wondered why people mention how long a baby is ... you'd think the more impressive measurement would be how wide the baby is).

Both mommies Michele and Lisa are doing well too. Michele had a C-section, and will be recuperating in the hospital for 5 days before going home.

In case you didn't already know, I spent so much time with my cousin growing up, she's like a sister to me (and now, so is Lisa). So that's why we're happy to be Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Tim!

Congratulations Michele, Lisa and Liele!

P.S. - Shel and Lisa, from here on out, you'll never have another excuse for forgetting my birthday again! ;-)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Remembering Tomás Nomás

Our close friends Tom & Christine and Ryan & Laura lost their grandfather Tomás today. He was 85 years old. An ESL teacher. A World War II veteran (351st Bomb Group, 510th Bombardment Squadron, stationed in Polebrook, England between 1943 and 1945). He was a father of 5. Grandfather of many more. An avid historian. And a friend.

Tomás Nomás (front row, second from right), in front of his WWII plane "My Devotion." (c.1943-45)

I remember when Tom, Christine and I first moved down to Southern California from the Bay Area, Grandpa Tomás (also known as "Tomás Nomás" because he didn't have a middle name) welcomed us into his home many a time and fed us some really great meals. Although the food was simple — steaks, corn on the cob, salad, cherry pie, beer — they were always amazing (especially considering that we were all broke at the time).

There was a price tag, of course, which was to listen to war stories that we pretended we hadn't heard before. Or listen to Tomás reading old documents he uncovered while researching his family tree (like the often hilarious last will and testament of an ancestor who wrote with painstaking detail which of his sons would receive which chicken, mule or cow on his farm). Looking back, the price tag was a bargain.

I remember attending several events sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, of which Tomás Nomás was a member. We went to the Santa Anita racetrack to watch the horse races. We also spent a memorable evening at a St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage dinner, where we were the only ones under age 65, it seemed.

I still have a certificate he awarded me, naming me a "Fellow of the Pod," in the International Connoisseurs of the Green and Red Chile. I received it for successfully tasting three varieties of chile pepper — a feat our friend Tom (Tomás' own grandson) never even achieved. It's dated the 19th of July, 1992 and signed by fellow pod-members "Christine, Enchilada" and "Tomás, Queso Grande."

Even after I moved into my own apartment, I would still see Tomás periodically at family events or major holidays. New Year's Eve. Tom's graduation. Tom and Christine's wedding. Ryan's graduation (where Tim first had the opportunity to meet him). Ryan and Laura's wedding. And every time, Tomás greeted me (and subsequently Tim) with a smile, firm handshake and pleasant words.

And so in memory and honor of Tomás Nomás, I lift a glass and recite his favorite toast: Arriba ... Abajo ... al Centro ... Adentro!

Birthday Fun with Fondue

Last night, for our friend Everett's 6th annual 29th birthday, we joined a few friends to celebrate at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant in Irvine. It was a blast!

We started off with the cheese course: Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue (Grùyere and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses, white wine, a touch of garlic, nutmeg, fresh lemon, and Kirschwasser) and the Spinach & Artichoke Cheese Fondue (Creamy Fontina and Butterkäse Cheese blended with fresh steamed spinach, chopped artichoke hearts, hint of Parmesean cheese). In the cheese, we dipped bread cubes, carrots, celery, apples and cauliflower ... all of which were dee-lish-ous!

The cheese fondue and dipping accoutrements. (03/02/05)

After a salad course, they came out with two cooking broths. The Coq au Vin — which literally means "cock in wine" (as in the rooster ... get your minds out of the gutter, people) — consists of fresh herbs, mushrooms, garlic, imported spices and a hearty Burgundy Wine. The other cooking style was Mojo (a Caribbean seasoned bouillon with a distinctive garlic, citrus flair). In the broths, we cooked filet mignon, lobster tail, pork tenderloin, florentine ravioli, andouille sausage, breast of chicken, cajun shrimp and assorted vegetables.

And if that wasn't enough, we topped it off with two chocolate fondue courses: Dark Chocolate, and Milk Chocolate blended with Bailey's Irish Cream. For dipping, we had fresh strawberries, bananas, and pineapple, plus cheesecake, marshmallows, pound cake and brownies. Needless to say, by the time our dinner was done (3 hours later), you had to roll us out of the restaurant! :-)

"I hate fondue. I'm always losing my bread."
— Angela Chase, in My So-Called Life.

New Car and Odometer Digit

It was bound to happen. Yesterday the new car officially added a new digit to the odometer and reached 1,000 miles. We're also expecting the new plates any day now. Our baby is growing up so fast. Sniff. Sniff.

Saab. The state of independence.