Saturday, May 30, 2009

Goodbye Bauer

On Thursday afternoon I had to say goodbye to my cat. Sweet, sweet Bauer.

Bauer (Bow Bow as he was affectionately called) was a gentle, snuggling little boy who slept on my legs for the better part of the last twelve years, rendering me immobile most nights.

Bauer came into my life almost twelve years ago ... joining my other cat, Skye, who hissed at him for two weeks straight. Suddenly one day they warmed to each other and were inseparable - often spooning the days away - until the end.

Part of the difficulty of the decision to say goodbye to Bow Bow was how Skye would feel. It is important to note that she is taking it like a champ (by sleeping on my legs and well, rendering me immobile).

Yes, he drove me crazy at times ... he liked to play in the fireplace and spread soot and ash throughout the house and many a time, I had to drag him to the sink to wash the soot from his glorious white fur.

Speaking of that fur, Bauer may hold the world record for shedding and as such thought it important to prove his skill by laying on the couch immediately after I would vacuum his hair away.

If you opened a door and Bauer was nearby he would almost always scoot past you to get a taste of the outdoors. He would stride through the doorway and immediately fall to the ground where he would proceed to lay on his back looking up at the sky. He didn't seem to need to go far, but he just wanted that little escape.

Of course at the end of his life, Bauer was too heavy to make it up the stairs to bed most nights. He just wanted to be left alone. The diabetes caused him to drink inordinate amounts of water and then pee them all over the floor. But, I could never yell at him. He was just so darn cute. And, I knew he was sick.

Bauer came into my life at a time when the other "man" (and I use that term loosely) in my life was anything but reliable, caring or sweet. I know he was a cat, but Bauer filled a void with unconditional love. He had a purr that could lull you to sleep and make you wish for that kind of happiness.

On Thursday when we arrived at the Veterinarian's office I hesitated outside the door, I opened it, closed it, wiped my tears, and finally went in. I was red-eyed and sobbing before the doctor even entered the room. Bauer laid on the table -- tense and a little agitated. I couldn't help but think that he knew what I was about to do to him and that feeling was unbearable.

As the sedation began to take hold, he lay there weakened but he wouldn't stop looking at me. I put my hands on his face and my head to his and I said goodbye as he slipped away, quietly, peacefully.

And now, as I sit here typing, with tears streaming down my face, my other "man" (ok, dog) Darby sits at my feet, with his head on my knee offering me the comfort that only a pet can. Unconditional love, even in the worst of times.

Rest in peace Bauer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mishaps, meltdowns and other previously unreported stuff...

Every good movie has it's blooper reel, and for me, every great trip has one too. Here are all the great little ditties that I didn't share in my daily recaps ...

I cried intermitently throughout the flight from Atlanta to San Francisco ... no idea why, totally random, but once I was in my rental car I was like Wonder Woman on a mission.

If you sleep through food service on Delta, there are no make-ups.

When flying to the West Coast on Delta, you will be asked to pay $6.95 for your movie. However, if you hold out you can see the same movie for free on the way back East. Explain that to me.

I successfully alluded a stalker at the Cooking for Solutions Gala. Definitely not my type since, I don't really like stalkers.

I overflowed my bath tub at the Intercontinental in Monterey not once, but twice. On the second try it took one oversized bath mat, two bath sheets, 1 robe and 4 hand towels to sop up all of the water.

A deep breath, some well timed tears (I had just dropped my 60 lb. suitcase on my foot -- when the handle broke), and a slightly askew t-shirt will save you $90 in "over-weight luggage fees" at SFO. You just have to know how to work it.

I am an over-packer. On my next trip, and before I ever make it out of my bedroom, I hope to realize that I will never wear 80% of what is in my suitcase. And hopefully, I will go back into the closet and pack a smaller bag. Bruised feet and egos (see crying at Delta check-in)do not make for a happy Courtney.

Finally, Moms really do know best. When I told my Mom that the handle broke on my suitcase (again! the second of the set of three) that she bought me, she said ... "do you think maybe the handles break because you have so much stuff in your suitcase and it weighs 10 lbs. more than the airlines will even allow..." Honestly, that fact never occurred to me. And, I wonder where I get my sarcasm.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sea lions and tigers and bears, oh my...

Back on my own again today and off exploring.

Little did I know, Monterey is more than just Cannery Row, there is a whole lot to do out there. The editors of Coastal Living provided tip cards of their favorite things to do in Monterey, so I took a small stack of the cards with a mission to tackle their list.

First up -- The Coastal Recreation Trail which led me to Fisherman's Wharf and the lesser known "Wharf No. 2". So, I walked, enjoyed the views and did a little people watching. And had a blast watching a gaggle of sea lions sun and swim, two of my favorite pasttimes -- so we connected immediately.

For lunch I hit Lou Lou's Griddle in the Middle where crab cakes and a Corona hit the spot. For entertainment I watched a group of six men try to extricate themselves from their Ford Expedition after parking too close to my rental SUV. Granted I was over the line, because the car next to me was over the line. See this is why dining alone is fun, you make your own entertainment.

From Lou Lou's I headed downtown to check out the Monterey Museum of Art. They had a great collection of Ansel Adams photography and one painting that reminded me of moonrise on the May River ... and made me anxious to head back home tomorrow.

Across from the museum, the class of 2009 was graduating from the Monterey College of International Something Another ... so, I hung out and watched. Again, you have to make your own fun!

Then, I did the accelerated and speedy tour of the Aquarium ... sea horses, sharks, kelp, screaming kids... all the makings of my ideal day.

I was dying to dive back into my book Still Alice, which I hadn't picked up since Calistoga. So, back at the hotel I sat on the patio overlooking the bay and read uninterrupted for two hours straight with the sun on my face. Pure heaven.

Tonight, I hooked up with the Coastal Living crew again for drinks and a quick bite at The Sardine Factory, famous for the scenes of Clint Eastwood in "Play Misty for Me" which, of course, I have never heard of.

We made fast friends with the piano player and made him play every favorite song in our books ... Piano Man, Mrs. Robinson, Walking in Memphis, and of course, Sweet Home Alabama. And after all the torture, he still allowed us to capture a picture. It was the perfect end to a perfect vacation.

From there it was on to Sly McFlys, a jazz and blues club with a fabulous singer. There, we met two thoroughly entertaining guys from Holland who allowed us to tease them about tulips, wooden shoes, and windmills and in exchange they bought us drinks. All in all, a good night.

Now at 1:50 a.m., with aching feet I finish my final post and ponder how the heck I am going to a) get up in the morning and b) get all of my gear back home.

Alas, I am tired. What a long, long week it has been. But, totally worth it. This trip was the best gift I could give myself. And, I've come along way. Not just in miles traveled and towns passed through...

I realized today, that my fear of eating alone in a restaurant was really a fear of being alone. And now, I relish the time alone and realize that no one is looking at the chick by herself, because she is smiling. She is happy by herself.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Excuse me Sur, you're beautiful...

Happy Birthday to me. I have managed to go the whole day without caring how old I am. That is a good day my friends.

Today's itinerary included Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Big Sur. I truly don't understand how each town I visit is more breathtaking than the last.

This morning Ashley, Wes and I took a leisurely drive further south on Route 1. We did the "17 Mile Drive" around The Inn at Spanish Bay and Pebble Beach ...

We stopped at Pebble Beach for a look around (and to buy $80 golf shirts) and spotted a chimney sweep in top hat and tails tending to the chimneys of the Inn at Pebble Beach. Its a tough job, but someone has to do it. In other "you don't see this everyday" news, there were fifteen guys doing maintenance on the putting green, all at once. That is hard core golf there...

From Pebble Beach we scooted a little further south to Carmel. What a fabulous town. Quaint, sleepy, story book. Until! We ran into Clint Eastwood. He invited us to join him for a cup of coffee and we talked and talked.

Ok, I'm kidding about the Clint part. I was the most famous person we saw.

Back in the car and along the winding "one". Waves crashing. Cows grazing. Pacific gleaming. Artists painting. I just took it all in.

Our destination was Big Sur and the Nepenthe restaurant on the recommendation of Coastal Living (the mag recently did a piece on the place). The food was great, the Bellini hit the spot, the company wonderful, but the views... let's just say I have spent a lot of time speechless on this trip.

I enjoyed a leisurely few hours at the hotel before dolling up to head out to the "Cooking for Solutions" Gala at the Monterey Bay Aquarium tonight. The $250 I "donated" to that fabulous shop in Healdsburg for the fabulous dress that I had to have was all for naught -- even though I packed 19 t-shirts, it seems that my undergarment choices were not as varied and unfortunately I did not have anything conducive to making the dress "work". Are you following me here?

This intimate affair of 2,200 people was not a bad way to spend my birthday. Food and wine samplings from one hundred plus chefs and wineries. I am full and happy. The piece d' resistance was the Eiffel Tower constructed of cream puffs. Just after I took this picture, the photographer from the local paper stopped and asked me if I would be in the shot of the Eiffel Tower Chef serving the crowd, ahem, me. See, now I am famous (see Clint reference above).

Side note -- so glad I didn't wear the dress because apparently "cocktail attire" in California can be cowboy hats, camouflage sweatshirts, flip flops with socks and of course there was the women in gold lame with her girls hanging out and my personal favorite the woman dressed as a mermaid. Ok, the soiree was at an aquarium but the goal was not to blend in with the decor lady.

And, as exhaustion sets in - again - I accidentally took this picture of myself (in the mirror, while at the computer typing this) when trying to email the cream puff Eiffel Tower picture to myself.

It is indeed time for bed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life is a Highway

CA Route 1 is freakin' spectacular. Despite the protests from Map Quest and my GPS, both of whom prefer the quickest route versus the most scenic, I stuck with my guns and traveled Route 1 from San Francisco to Monterey.

First though, I felt like I had to get back and see the Golden Gate Bridge again. I needed pictures. So, I somehow (with no help from my GPS) navigated myself to a park at the base of the bridge and was able to see her again in all her glory. Another (rare) clear day, so I was able to capture the moment.

Then, on to Route 1 for the spectacular drive down the California Coast. The fog set in just as I got started, but it cleared quickly and the drive just got more and more beautiful the further south I went.

I stopped at three state beaches/parks (the first of which was a nude beach, thanks for the warning park service!) to take photos and revel in the exquisite beauty. I was truly blown away. And I had to at least get my toes wet. At 50 degrees it was a brief encounter with the Pacific. But, totally worth it.

This is Santa Cruz, I haven't seen water this beautiful since Bermuda.

Then, on to Monterey. The hotel, the Intercontinental - The Clement Monterey is also celebrating a birthday this week. The bathroom (my barometer for fine hotels, kind of like the bread being the barometer at a restaurant) is heaven -- deep soaking tub, separate shower, luxurious linens. Heaven for a weary traveler with a sore ass. (Yeah, it still hurts...) And, the fireplace in the room doesn't suck either.

I had lunch at the hotel, overlooking the Bay, and had a lobster bisque soup that will give "Carmen Miranda's" in Bar Harbor, ME a run for its money.

When I got back to my room for a little rest, there was a knock on my door. Surprise! Champagne and chocolate covered strawberries from my "girls" Terri and Lani. Brought tears to me eyes. I have good friends. The only thing that makes a deep soaking tub better is a glass of champagne in hand. So hell, I am on vacation ... I drank most of the bottle.

Then, it was off to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the first night of the "Cooking for Solutions" event, sponsored by my pals at Coastal Living magazine (my hosts for the weekend). It was great to rendezvous with Ashley, Julia, Sara and Wes, who work with me on the Lowcountry Celebration event at Palmetto Bluff. We had great food, great wine, and we met Alton Brown (one of the celebrity chefs hosting the event this weekend). Wes took a great shot of the girls and Alton, but my camera phone was full and I couldn't save the image. Luckily, Ashley has a back-up ... so, I can add it to my celebrity chef wall of fame (I don't really have one of those...).

Ashley, Wes, and I are headed to Big Sur in the morning. It will be nice to have traveling partners after five days of solo travel.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The San Francisco Treat (Er, Feet...)

My feet are killing me -- a lot of walking today.

First, a quick note about my funky, fun hotel in San Francisco. I am staying at Hotel Union Square right in the heart of the city. Erin, marketing diva for Personality Hotels hooked me up with a great room and a super sweet welcome gift. It's good to know people!

So, this morning I trekked down Market Street to the Ferry Building ... it was about a mile stroll, the weather was crisp and clear (apparently I have been blessed with fabulous San Fran weather which isn't the standard), and I loved walking through throngs of people ... and all of the activity.

Grabbed a bagel for breakfast (haven't had a good bagel in SC in 4 years so that was a nice treat) and rendezvoused with my tour guide for my "Gourmet Walks" chocolate-themed walking tour of the city.

There were eight of us on the tour and our guide, Brenna, was fun and energetic. By the third stop on the tour, I couldn't eat another piece of chocolate which is good news for everyone at home ... lots of chocolate samples coming back to the right coast with me. All in all, a great three and a half hours around the city with a fun group of folks from Ohio, Michigan and Hawaii.

Since my feet were not yet throbbing, I decided to keep on trekking up and around Union Square and then back down to the Ferry Building for a quick bite and to breath in some bay air.

I finally made it back to my room around 4:30 -- that was seven and a half hours of walking - and crashed. Feet throbbing, I fell into bed and I was asleep in minutes.

Luckily I woke up in time to meet marketing diva, Erin, for drinks at Cantina -- really cool bar on Sutter with a really unique drink menu and a fabulous margarita. Erin and I talked non-stop for two hours (non bad since we never met before!) ...

I realized while walking to Cantina how much there was that I didn't get to do while in San Francisco. I think this is another must return destination. Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 -- all things I wanted to do, but never got to. There are only so many hours in a day.

I realize too that SF has great restaurants and I didn't really get to experience them ... I've been mostly partaking in the liquid concoctions that the city has to offer. Don't judge! So, I am currently eating a slice of pizza that I grabbed on the walk back to the hotel. I love that a 10 p.m. there are hundreds of options for a quick bite. You don't see that in B'town, SC.

I am off to Monterey in the morning ... looking forward to the drive down Route 1 and hoping to stick my toes in the Pacific.

P.S. I miss my dog.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On the Road Again

Up early again today ... I think me knees are somewhere between central and mountain time.

I drove into St. Helena first thing for a little breakfast and some shopping. I spotted a lot of cute shops on my way through St. Helena to Calistoga and knew I wanted to stop on the way back. I was not disappointed.

To make up for my lack of wine tasting, I did something even better. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting. Even at 10:00 a.m. my taste buds were totally into it. I cannot wait to get home and enjoy my purchases for the next few months ... a little taste of my trip, right in my own kitchen. Luckily the good folks at St. Helena Olive Oil Co. ship for free when you spend more than $50. Since I spent enough to put their first child through college, I expect that they are hand delivering my goods.

From St. Helena I drove through Sonoma to Mill Valley. What a beautiful drive. Utterly breathtaking. Unfortunately the route through Sonoma was not as tourist friendly as the Alexander Valley meaning there were no dirt turnarounds for me to pull into and whip out the camera. Hence the photo through the windshield, classy right?

On to Mill Valley for lunch with the Tyler and Tolan Florence and my pal Reid. Great lunch at Balboas where I salivated over Tolan's burger for 60 minutes while eating salad. But, I knew there may be some increased calorie consumption via beer at the ballpark tonight, so I was saving up.

Back in the car again and heading into "the city" I was stunned by the beauty as I approached the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a clear day with bright sunshine and didn't know where to look first, but since I was driving I decided on straight ahead with minimal glances out of the corner of my eye. I hope to walk the Golden Gate Wednesday to truly appreciate the views.

Driving in San Francisco was not as bad as I though until I hit the block that my hotel is on. I was a little surprised to be sharing the road with the cable cars. I had a minor panic attack that I turned down a "no entry" street but nope, that's how they roll.

So about that is a story for you. I took the "muni" (subway-esque transportation mode - not scary like NYC, easy to navigate like Boston thank goodness - that runs above ground for part of the route) to AT&T Park and met Reid at Momo's for a few beers. The stadium is gorgeous -- we had Club level seats which gave us an indoor place to eat and drink and a spot to escape the cold. Brrr. I made it until the 7th inning before frost bite set in. And that is when the real comedy began.

Here is the short version of what happened next. We were getting ready to leave, the Giants were up and it was the 8th inning. Then, the Nationals hit a three-run homer so Reid said, "Man up Court and get a beer (I had already switched to water), it is a one-run game.

So, we got beers and as Reid walked in front of me sloshing his beer all of the floor, I slipped, I fell, I spilled my beer. Then, I got up, I slipped, I fell, in my beer.

Bottom line? My ass is killing me. The good news? Not even a stain on my pants, that is one clean stadium! The funny part (other than me falling on my ass twice in ten seconds)? Last time Reid and I hung out I also fell ... that time I ended up on crutches for a few days, so I think all in all this was a better outing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day Two, Two Words

Outdoor Shower. Stay tuned, I'll get there...

I was awake at 7:00 a.m. today. I was thrilled that I quickly adjusted to PST. So, I donned my sneakers and decided to jog into "town" - Calistoga. Well, it seems that all these mountains perhaps add a little altitude hence, I was out of breath before I hit the gate of the resort. The only other answer I could come up with is that my trusting pace dog, Darby, was not by my side. I never jog without him, so maybe that was the reason for not being able to catch my breath.


It was a cool morning and perfect for a brisk walk and after, a steam shower (yup, still solo).

Then, it was off to the Solage Spa. First on the agenda was a lava-colada scrub -- sea salt, pineapple, and all kinds of yummy stuff that made me semi-curious about what it might taste like it. But, in an effort to adhere to spa etiquette, I didn't eat any of the products.

So, the scrub is over and before my massage the therapist tells me to step outside and take a shower to rinse the lava and the colada away.

Two words. Outdoor shower. Oh my god. I know it is only day two, but it is possible that this could top the list of memorable moments. As a pretty modest person, I must admit I had no quandaries about losing the robe and taking this shower. Did I mention it was outside? Sun streaming down and hitting my back. Heaven, absolute heaven. The hot stone massage that followed was pretty damn good too. Once complete, the massage therapist did comment that I could really benefit from regular massages. Um, why? Because I am always so stressed and going at 100 miles an hour? Is that what you mean? Huh? Huh?

Post spa, I programmed the GPS and made the 45-minute drive north to Healdsburg (and through Alexander Valley which was gorgeous and captured in this pic). I did a little retail therapy to go with my massage therapy and had an awesome lunch (and dessert) at Charcuterie.

So here I am in the Napa Valley and I don't really like wine. And, I definitely don't like drinking alone. I mean where is the fun in that? So, I really see this quick stop in Calistoga as a research trip for a potential return (perhaps not solo) trip to be able to give Napa and Sonoma the justice they deserve.

I was back poolside late afternoon and had another fabulous dinner (and wine flight -- ok, I like some wine) at Solbar.

In the morning I depart and I'll drive through St. Helena en route for Mill Valley and a little visit with the Florence clan before settling in at the Hotel Union Square. Giants game tomorrow night. Stay tuned for more.

The Journey Begins

Up at 3:00 a.m. for a 4:00 a.m. pick-up (courtesy of Mom, what a saint to roll out of bed pre-dawn on Mother's Day to take me to the airport) for a 5:40 a.m. flight. Having only gone to bed the "night" before at 12:45 a.m. (reasons for which deserve their own post re: the most spectacular full moon on the May River...) it was rough going.

I fell asleep before my short flight from Savannah (where I learned that a bag over 50 lbs. will cost you $90) to Atlanta was even airborne. And I woke only when we slammed (not exaggerating) into the runway upon arrival. It was a jarring landing, but perhaps the pilot was also up way past his bedtime. I'm on vacation, so he was forgiven.

Scooted into ATL, hit the Dunkin' Donuts and was back in a window seat an hour later for my cross-country flight.

Now, if you haven't been keeping up, this trip is my gift to myself for well, living with me for the past 36 years. The plan -- two nights in Calistoga; two nights in San Francisco and three nights in Monterey. A drive down Route 1 for good measure and lots of visits with friends in between. (It took 36 years for me to have enough friends on the West Coast to stretch a trip over seven days.)

To the two people who read this blog ... no offense but my chronicling every minute is really for me. This is a big milestone - my first solo travel, ever - and I don't want to forget anything. But, please keep reading!

So, here is what Day One looked like after a smooth landing in San Francisco.

I expected that the approach to SFO would be tantamount to flying into NYC - with landmarks surrounding the plane at every turn. Um no. Who knew San Francisco was surrounded by mountains? Who was my geography teacher anyway?

In the rental car and over the Bay Bridge where I could see the Golden Gate bridge (and wondered how I could drive over that one) and Alcatraz off to the distance made me excited for my return to San Fran in just a couple days.

Next came the traffic as I attempted to get out of the city. It was like Route 18 in New Brunswick on a Saturday in the fall when the Scarlet Knights are playing at home. If you're not from New Jersey, that means it was a cluster f*ck. Bumper to bumper, traffic light after traffic light.

Just as I was perfecting my breathing and trying to stay calm, I hit Route 29 and everything cleared. Welcome to Napa Valley. 30 miles of vineyards and I hit my destination. Solage Calistoga. I wasn't disappointed. The General Manager upgraded me to a suite with private patio and jacuzzi (which would be so much more exciting if I wasn't here alone) and a steam shower that dreams are made of (which also would be so much more exciting if I wasn't here alone).

My plan for day one was to simply re-charge and I did. A few hours poolside with a great book, a lunch of spicy shrimp and lettuce rolls, a quick bike ride around property, a short nap and off to dinner at Solbar at 8 p.m. (a stretch for me, since it was already 11 p.m. on my clock) where I had the most spectacular salmon I have every tasted.

One of my students this semester who travels a lot told me that whenever he gets to a new time zone, he lays on his stomach for 20 minutes and lets the sun hit the back of his knees. He said it automatically readjusts his clock. I gave my knees their 20 minutes earlier in the day at the pool.

Perhaps it worked because I drifted to slumber at 10 p.m. (PST) and slept until 7:00 a.m. I think my clock is back in order.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Class Dismissed

Sadly the spring semester at USCB has ended. I shed a few tears, as I walked to my car after the final speech was presented, feeling empty.

The final speech assignment was to present a special occasion speech paying tribute to one (or all) of their fellow classmates and reflecting upon the journey they all took together ... traversing the fear (and mastery) of public speaking. And, they blew me away with poise, confidence, clarity, humor and nostalgia.

Never in eight years of teaching have I been so moved by a group of students. So moved, that before the final exam and for the first time ever I prepared a parting speech. But left speechless after the finals I never presented it. So, I share it here ...

Author Keith Harrell said …

“You are successful when you remember that somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a gift. That gift is what started you in the right direction. Remember that you are blessed when you pass that gift on to help someone else.”

So, with that in mind I’ve tried to give you the GIFT OF CONFIDENCE -- to stand right here -- week after week -- and tell us exactly what you are thinking with your head held high and your words strung together like music lyrics.

And, in turn you gave me a gift. And whether you know it or not, that gift was laughter.
I never left this classroom without a smile on my face and a funny anecdote to share.

You were my perfect escape. The perfect end to sixteen weeks of days.

You smiled, you laughed at my jokes, you sent me funny emails, and you crafted sometimes sweet and sometimes sour (yet funny) thought cards.

You worked hard and you proved yourselves to me (and you!) over and over again.

You are all seasoned public speakers.

You took the tools provided and you used them.

And you should be proud.

So, as you move on to bigger and better things, I want to leave you with some final words of wisdom, courtesy of one of my favorite teachers. Dr. Seuss –

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
As you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
With many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s
A great balancing act.
Just never forget to be ‘deksteras’ and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed!
Yes! You will indeed.

Kid, you’ll move mountains.

So …
Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
Or Modacai Ali Van Alley O’Shea,
You’re off to great places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So … get on your way!