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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thoughts On Spring... dieting, turning 50, & Luis M.

Our group of ATVing guests left the Inn this morning for home, happy w/their 2 days of riding, several armed with hand-made WV coal tchochkas for their wives :-) The daffodils & magnolia are in bloom, as are our 3 fruit trees, & Dan even set up my giant, new 7' tall inflatable birthday cake outside! I would like to be bubbling over with happiness- and should be, truly: happy guests, more bookings, gift shop sales, two great reviews on and, and a gorgeous page on But a young friend of ours is apparently dying & I'm broken-hearted.
Luis M., a FEMA co-worker and friend who is in his 40s, is in the hospital in Puerto Rico, apparently dying from prostate cancer. I say "apparently" because I cannot bear to say otherwise; I HAVE to hold out hope for an "extreme miracle", the "Hail Mary Pass" in the big football game of life, as it were.

Not having medical insurance, Luis kept working & put off going to the doctor until it was too late, and now his friends around the country are emailing each other news from our colleagues visiting him in the hospital in Puerto Rico telling us of his sickness during what seem to be the final days of his life. I have been posting "status updates" on my page asking my 156 facebook friends to please send him their prayers, hope, love, good karma, healing wishes... because I don't know what else to do. I want to cry, but I can't even do that... But I also can't sleep. For Luis to needlessly die young from an illness that could have been successfully treated had he been able to afford to see a doctor, makes this all so incredibly tragic that I've been walking around pretty much in a haze now for days, & he hasn't left my thoughts for months.
Luis was (is? It is hideous to be talking about him in the past tense when his is alive!), bubbly, funny, smart, talented, good-looking, and full of life and laughter. He was, like me, a FEMA Community Relations Field Specialist and a Reports Tech. The picture I have in my head of him is all of us dancing and laughing one evening during a FEMA training @EMI in Maryland a few years ago... and how he howled and teased me mercilessly for slipping & falling on my way up to the stage to join the gang in singing "We Are Family"... When I heard how ill he was, I sent him an "Easy" button from Staples to cheer him up, hoping & praying that somehow he would get the life-saving treatment he needed...
But he didn't- or whatever he did get didn't work- and he was "sent home to die" several times, each time winding up back in the hospital, where he is again, apparently now being given nothing but pain medication to ease his suffering.
I am "muddling through" as they say, thanking G-d daily for the miracle of my life & going about the minutiae of day-to-day living- "putting a good face on it" as they say. From the emails I'm getting from my FEMA friends, they're apparently doing likewise... I'm striving to enjoy our guests & the antics of our 2 puppies, trying to focus on planning our summer garden & working on promotional writing projects for the Inn, and letting myself be distracted by Facebooking & Tweeting, and, of course, eBay- my "retail therapy" out here in the mountains... But my thoughts keep cycling back to death & dying, and the fears I have of both; & a lot of dwelling on the existence of G-d, & why humans have always needed to create religions, in great measure, I think, to convince ourselves that death is not The End & that there really Is "eternal life"... Yes, I need therapy! But not having a therapist out here In The Country (where every doctor's answer to almost everything is "take anti-depressant pills), I write; hence, this Blog...
Another issue factoring into my "mortality thoughts" is that my 50th birthday is coming up in a few days: 1 a.m. on April Fools Day. I always loved having that birthday as a child, first of all because no one could forget it, & second, because my mother always made it fun w/a gag gift of some sort. The party we are planning to celebrate it with friends isn't until July, so in theory I'll get to celebrate twice, which, again, should be making me happy: I'm alive & seem to be in good health, & I'm gonna be a half century old! :-P When I was turning 38 & depressed to be "pushing 40", (Oh, to be 38 again!), my mother told me it "was better than Not turning 40", which, of course, it was. This time she emailed me that "50 was good, 60 was good, 70 was good, & 80 was good" (she's 86); and so, please G-d, it shall be! But 50 happened so damn FAST!!! It truly feels like my 40th birthday party was about a year ago and I got out of the Army about 3 years ago... A lot of my friends are older than I, and think it's hilarious & ludicrous that I've gotten myself all worked up over turning 50, spring chicken that I am, but to me it feels so Odd to be- all of a sudden!- so damn Old... Yeah, "50 is the new 30", me & Madonna are both the same age as Barbie, etc., etc., but having not had kids I think I'm stuck in a kind of state of arrested development: I still feel- in my head at least- 19... No one's carded me of late (like they do my friend Cindy, the Ageless Beauty of NYC), but I don't think I look Too bad- just Fat. And so I have finally, really, started to diet- the first one I've had to do in decades. :-P
About 2 years ago my metabolism seemed to come to a grinding, screeching halt while I was working on a FEMA disaster operation in Kansas. I remember having to go to the Sallies to get new size 8 khaki slacks, after I'd "grown out of" all the size 4s and 6s that filled my suitcase. Having put on weight on FEMA ops before (the 3-meal-a-day-thing really packs the lbs. on me), only to have it come off w/in a few months of being home & "eating normally" (one meal & a lot of coffee, basically), I wasn't worried. But this time No dice. By the time we left on our honeymoon trip I was so fat I couldn't fit into any of the cute clothes I'd bought for it; I gained still more weight in Vietnam, to the point where I had 2 chins & had to have clothes Made for me there... And then last week I went to the doctor for a check-up & learned I'm almost 140 lbs., & nearly gagged. I am 4' 9 1/2" tall & should be 100 lbs. 110 is fine, even 114. But I have NO BUSINESS being Anywhere Near 140. Last year I tracked my food intake on, & discovered that I rarely go over 1000 calories/day- but that I was GAINING WEIGHT on 1000 calories/day! And so The Diet has begun: I'm on Day 4 & haven't cone over 650 calories/day- including my nightly 100 calorie 4 oz. glass of red wine! :-) I figure if I can keep this up for a month I should be back into my 4s & 6s before July4th... I found a sparkly little Bob Mackie spaghetti-strap mini number on eBay for a song- a veritable festival of sequins it is!- and assuming I can get it zipped & not look like a sausage in a casing, I intend to wear it- with suitably sparkly stilettos- on July 4th... I also have my Slendertone belt & a batch of new pads, & tonight I will start using that again. What I Should be doing, of course, is exercise, but I'm a sloth... & between mistressing the website & online gift shop, taking bookings, blogging, email, professional assignments, LinkedIn, eBay, facebook, & twitter, I'm almost literally chained to the computer! I'm Hoping once it warms up a bit more we'll be out there playing golf, ATVing, & gardening...
In looking for a way to 'treat myself' for my b'day (and focus on something really silly & thus distracting), I did a Lot of internet research & eBaying, & finally decided to get myself a few help-the-birthday-diet purchases: an order of my fave AminoGenesis anti-aging skin care products to both restock our Gift Shop & my vanity table, a pair of LG-XL (UGH!) ShapeFX Lytess leggings that promise to take off 2 inches if I wear them for 28 days straight, & a bottle of Ageless Fantasy, the perfume with clinical trials proving people think you're 8 years younger when you wear it. As expensive as it is (but I scored another eBay deal...), I want to test it; if it really Does work (I'll have to ask the check-out clerks in the Kimball WalMart how old they think I am...) I want to give samples of it to all my girlfriends in July! Does shopping ease depression? I don't know yet for certain, but I'm giving it the best shot I can...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

San Diego, CA: the Sweepstakes Queen strikes again!

I should probably title this blog post "sex, sun, Segways, & sushi"! Thanx to Game Stop & finding wonderful Inn Sitters, Dan & I were able to have a 5-day (& sorely needed) "mini-honeymoon" in San Diego... Much as we love all 4 seasons in the mountains of southern WV, after enduring months of cold winter weather including some -7 degree days, 5 glorious 'free' days in sunny, 80-degree San Diego was truly FIIIIIIIINE!
Although I've been joking about it for several years, the Sweepstakes Queen of Landgraff, WV finally Did hit 'critical mass' in the sweepstakes dept.: right after I won the totally fabulous Mary Norton Swarovski crystal-adorned fur shoes from that I blogged about previously, I won the Grand Prize in GameStop's "Call of Duty: World At War" sweeps, with a trip to San Diego for 2 to attend their finals tournament on board the USS Midway- a place to wear the shoes!!! The depressing part was that I really thought we'd be unable to go, as we had no Inn-&-Puppy Sitter, but by a True last-minute miracle we found a wonderful couple- Carnation Inn Sitters - who loved on our puppies & looked after our home as if it was their own, & so were actually able to go! I'd never been to San Diego, & while Dan had (some 40 years ago), he'd never been on board the USS Midway; I'd entered the sweeps- which only had the one grand prize which I obviously didn't think I'd win- because Dan is U.S. Army Retired & an avid "gamer", esp. of military strategy games, & it seemed like an incredibly cool trip for us to try to win- & it was! Thank you GameStop! The grand prize included round trip plane tickets for 2 people, a bit of cash, the finals party on the Midway, & a hotel suite for 2 nights; I added 2 more nights so we could make it a "real" holiday!
We arrived in San Diego @lunch time- truly perfect timing as I was able to get my first SD "sushi fix" @Sushi Ito, right across from our hotel!

Game Stop put the 30 tournament finalists & VIPs (like us!) @the Sommerset Suites in the Hillcrest neighborhood, which, as neighborhoods go, is Truly restaurant nirvana!!! 8 sushi bars on one block?! I almost passed out from the sheer joy of simply knowing they were all there!! We only got to try a few of the hundreds of restaurants & wine bars in SD that all looked So good... & I hope we someday get to go back to SD to do a Real foodie tour!!!
Upon our arrival at the hotel, Game Stop gifted us w/a goodie bag of "Call of Duty" VIP tees, 1 gig thumb drives fashioned to look like dog tags :-), "energy drinks", snacks, & an "Army" water canteen; it was fun to feel like a bit of a VIP!
@3p.m. (it was 5 o'clock somewhere :-) we found a Great little neighborhood wine bar: Cafe Bleu, which, like many of SD's great dining spots, has an excellent (4 hour) happy hour!
That first evening we had a wonderful dinner @Blue Point Coastal Cuisine in SD's Gaslamp Quarter, where Dan had a great lobster pot pie app, & I had a truly scrumptious sushi-esque ahi tuna "duo":
pan seared yellowfin stuffed with local asparagus, ginger port butter sauce paired with a basil and nori wrapped yellowfin spring roll... They made me a divine Ginger Jack martini w/house-made ginger syrup, too :-)
After dinner we did a Gaslamp Quarter Pub Crawl, stopping @The Whisky Girl, Henry's Pub, & a few others before calling it a night- it was SO much fun to be out & about in a great, lively city downtown- the weather was Great, & everywhere we went in San Diego felt wonderfully safe, too...
Friday we lazily hung about the hotel hot tub, & got Dan his hamburger fix at the Corvette Diner, a clever '50s theme diner in Hillcrest (where the waiter showered our table with handfuls of Bazooka chewing gum in lieu of desert!), before getting all decked out (Dan wearing his official Call of Duty VIP tee, & me my gawjus Mary Norton shoes!) & going to the Game Stop "Call of Duty: World At War" tournament finals on board the USS Midway.

We got to play the game- which has truly gorgeous graphics- on an XBox 360 (me for the first time)- which is a Lot diff from the PC Dan usually plays it on- & watch the final 30 finalists (winnowed from 45,000 contestants!) battle it out for the $2500 grand prize- won by a rather amazing 17 year old!
For me, the best part of the evening was seeing, up close, on the deck of the Midway, the Hewey helo that Dan flew door-gunner on in Vietnam back in the 1960s- so tiny, esp. when compared with the "double-headed dump truck" Chinook!
When we got back to the hotel we discovered yet another great Hillcrest neighborhood bar: Number 1 Fifth Avenue, w/a fun, heated outdoor patio where you can smoke! YAY! This place was literally jumping until closing- & we noted over the course of 5 days that the ONLY places in SD that were jumping were places where you could smoke! Most of the non-smoking restaurants, cafes, & wine bars, however pretty or "Zagat rated" were empty... Is anyone listening, or is everyone still playing "holier than thou" & pretending it isn't true??????? Given the economic disaster the country is currently experiencing & the nationwide catastrophic drop in tourism, it is criminally negligent- and a ticket to bankruptcy, closed restaurants & bars and entertainment districts full of empty storefronts- to ignore, insult, & disrespect the few people still willing and able to dine & drink!
The first thing I did when I realized we could actually go on the trip was start hunting fine restaurants in San Diego on the 'net, & came up, of course, with hundreds; with a million restaurants in the naked city, how does one even Begin to choose? I wanted us- & especially Chef Dan- to have at least a few truly great meals in SD to give him inspiration & new ideas for the Elkhorn Inn. I finally called the PR firm that did SD's recent Restaurant Week, & they were nice enough to help me hone my short list of "foodie meccas"; I made reservations at the one I was told was an Absolute Must: Laurel- & we had a Truly splendid dinner there- as you can probably tell from my happy face! Dan had a delicious lamb dish, served over red cabbage & w/polenta & perfectly tart little goji berries, and got to schmooze their young & accomplished chef; I had cod with a trout brandade, & I'm still dreaming about my appetizer: scallops stuffed with lamb, on a bed of creamy barley-type grains... OMG was it good!!!! We shared a delicious butterscotch pot du creme, too... Interestingly, Laurel is extremely reasonable for such a fine restaurant- the entrees were in the $20-30 range, which is far, far less than I expected. It's also elegant and beautiful, & the staff both professional and charming; our dinner there was a Totally glorious experience & I only wish I'd had the time to work thru the rest of their wonderful menu!

This really was a "perfect day in San Diego", as we started it by going down to the seafront, walking thru the Greatest Generation sculpture garden & the National Salute to Bob Hope & The Military, past the USS Midway & Star of India, and then taking the ferry to Coronado & finding Segway of Coronado.
The group we met there was So enthusiastic that we decided to learn to ride Segways & spent the afternoon touring Cornado on them- great fun, & the perfect way to see a lot of the little island in the sunshine!
Had a glass of wine @Candela's happy hour (someday I hope to return & @least sample their appetizers which looked Divine....) before catching the sunset ferry back to SD for dinner.
After Laurel, we took our cab driver's advice(!) & went to Croce's in the Gaslamp Quarter for some great Latin Jazz by Agua Dulce- a perfect ending to a Totally GREAT day!
Our last day in San Diego we took the trolley to San Ysidro & went to Tijuana, Mexico- basically so I could say I did! We wandered about downtown T, past the cathedral (& down 'hooker row'...), had lunch (& some Truly great, fresh salsa) on the cute upstairs balcony of Placita on T's main drag, Av. Revolucion...

stopped for a cool drink to listen to strolling Mariachi musicians & a music festa @Plaza Santa Cecilia, bought some fine sippin' tequilas (Anejo & Reposado), a bottle of Mexico's famous 'aphrodisiac' vanilla, & a few pretty embroidered linens @Hand Art, had our requisite margaritas back @Placita, & then walked back across the bridge (over the "parking lot" of cars @the border...) home to the USA! (What I would Really love to do in Mexico is have a week or so to experience the Wine & Gastronomy Route that starts at Ensenada, which is about 1 1/2 hours from Tijuana... anyone know of a sweeps to win THAT holiday?! :-)

Truly tired from doing a stupefying amount of walking in the 80-degree heat, we had a delish (&, again. Very reasonable) Vietnamese dinner @ the elegant Saigon on Fifth back in our Hillcrest neighborhood, & slept like logs! Having to be at the airport @noon for our flight home, Dan humored me by dashing back into Sushi Ito w/me when they opened their doors @11:30am so I could indulge in one last, grand, San Diego sushi-saki feast, jumping into our taxi w/a takeout box of yummyness!
(& we were Both glad for the mellowing saki after enduring an idiotically harrowing experience w/United Air Lines' "curb-side check in" & desk-clerk incompetents. After having us remove 10 lbs of clothing from our one suitcase & jam it into my handbag to make the suitcase weigh less than 50 lbs (a Really bright concept, right?!), Mr. Curb-Side then charged us for 2 suitcases- but couldn't refund our $15 without 4 people getting involved & another half hour wasted! To make the experience completely delightful, United's charming check-in clerk made fun of me to another passenger, I assume to try to humiliate me into silence- a baaaaaaad idea (it's funny until it happens to YOU...), after which- when he noticed me squinting to read his name badge- he told me that I didn't need to write down his name, since the curb-side check-in nincompoops work for the airport, not United! The flights were fine, & yes, I know that that's the most important thing, & that one shouldn't "sweat the small stuff", but it's the stupid, petty, totally needless small stuff- like demanding you "redistribute" clothing or pay a $150 extortion fee!- so obviously deliberately done by people who have just enough power to make your life miserable & are determined to do so, NO customer service skills, & NO desire to even Try to help the people they are supposedly serving, that makes one want to "go postal"!)

But here's the real & happy funny: we arrived home @4a.m., safe & sound, thank G-d, to our puppies & wonderful Inn Sitters, & found 3 more prize wins: a great set of Hamilton Beach pots for Dan's winning Thanksgiving Side Dish recipe in Quick & Simple Magazine, a signed copy of The Pritikin Edge from SpaFinder, & a $100 Marshall's gift certificate for my winning "shoe story" on Brickfish! So yes, real people do win stuff! :-)
And now back- refreshed- to our regularly scheduled programming: Inn Keeping at the Elkhorn Inn! :-)