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Friday, February 24, 2012

Swedish Diplomatic Sightings

Today I have suffered from my worst jet lag since arriving back from the US on Tuesday.  I was so tired this afternoon that I was tempted to skip walking Tanner in lieu of a much desired nap.  I am so happy that I didn't because when we walked out our front door, we practically ran right into Hans Blixt.  Stay with me even if you don't remember why you know that name!
We've known for quite some time that Mr. Blixt lived in our neighborhood because we've seen him coming and going quite often.  We have always wanted to talk with him, but never quite had the right circumstances or nerve.  But today, he was all alone and there was no one else on the street at the time and when our eyes met, he smiled a little smile and I just knew that I had to meet him.  I have been dying to give him a message for years and this was my chance.
Prior to the US decision to invade Iraq, Hans Blixt was called out of retirement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to head up the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in charge of monitoring Iraq.  You can read more about his life here.  (The Wikipedia article has his name wrong...it is Blixt, not Blix.)  Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Blixt's recommendations regarding Iraq having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was ignored by then President George W. Bush and the US went to war against Iraq.  In my estimation, Blixt was right.  No WMD have ever been found and that invasion and subsequent war has cost the US and the world dearly.
So from the first time I ever saw this slight, unassuming man, I have been dying to apologize to him that my nation refused to listen to him.  Every time Doug and I see him wandering around our neighborhood we've always looked at one another and said how we wish Bush would've heeded his warning.
And so, on the sidewalk in front of my home in Stockholm, Sweden, I wistfully turned to this slight Swedish man for whom I have great respect and said with a smile, "Hello.  My name is Jodi, that is my husband Doug and we are Americans living in Sweden.  We would just like to say that we are very sorry that our president chose to not listen to you."  He shrugged and with a small smile, said, "That was a long time ago.  I'm surprised you still remember me."  And I said, "Oh, I will never forget you.  Your message needed to be listened to."  Then he asked what we are doing in Stockholm and we told him that we work at Immanuelskyrkan and he said that a very good friend of his is a member there and of course, we know that man!  He asked how we liked our neighborhood and mentioned that he's lived in the neighborhood since 1968.  Then he mentioned that he had just returned from Washington D.C. yesterday and felt the political climate was very tense.  We agreed.  He also said that Iran is a mess, but not because of Washington, but because of Tel Aviv.  Scary to hear him worried about that tense situation. This man knows the global political climate well.  Then he ended by sharing with us a funny cartoon he saw while he was in the US.  He said with a small chuckle, "Vote for Romney...he's only half as crazy as the rest of them!"  We enjoyed a good laugh and wished one another on to a nice weekend.
I was so pumped after meeting him!  My jet leg had vanished and Doug and I talked about this wonderful encounter as we walked our dog through our beautiful city.  I am so happy that I had the chance to speak with Mr. Hans Blixt.  I do wonder what our world would look like today if Washington had given him a little more credit back in the 2003.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Our Final Day

As usual, when we face the end of our wonderful winter hiatus in the US, I am filled with a mixture of feelings that inevitably accompany me when we make the transition back to Sweden.  It's not that I hate returning to my life, not at all.  I am excited about seeing our friends, returning to our beloved church, nestling back into our beautiful home and hugging our darling dog.  But I must also admit that being in California awakens a deep part of my soul, my history, my childhood, and my love of all things warm and beautiful.  My folks don't live where I grew up anymore having traded the proximity to the amazing California coastline in the city of Orange for the wild and varied ecosystem of the desert in Palm Springs about 23 years ago.  And as much as I love the ocean and a sandy beach, the desert landscape has found its place deep within my heart.
For some reason I wake up extraordinarily early out here, which I love because there are fewer things that are finer than watching the day break over the mountains.  The park where my parents live is surrounded by mountains and towering palms and seeing the morning sun paint the horizon with splashes of color that defy the imagination is a breathtaking way to start the day.  Additionally, just outside the back door of the house, a prolific grapefruit tree yields its delicious crop in unending ways.  Every morning I simply walk out the back door, pick a good looking piece of fruit off the tree and eat it up.  What a gift it is to be able to pick and eat one's own fruit every day for a few months each winter!  
So today, our last full day in this desert paradise, I enjoyed seeing the day break one last time, I will sit in the sun seeking to lodge in my memory the incredible feeling of the sun hitting my skin, and savor the pleasure of hanging out with my mom and dad.  This trip has been a gift of refreshment, a total change of climate, a visual palette that differs so greatly from the also beautiful in a totally different way than our home town coupled with deep and abiding moments of family time that we treasure above all else.
The good news for us is a return to this area in June.  I just hope that once we land across the pond on Tuesday morning winter doesn't hang on too long.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Final Celebration

We really had a great time on Doug's birthday.  Hotel stay, delicious dinner, and a round of golf.  We arrived home from our lovely golf outing and proceeded to enjoy an evening soak in the jacuzzi.  There are two times of day in desert that are quite breathtaking...dawn and dusk.  The palette of color that bursts forth during these special moments as day is beginning and day is ending are soothing to the soul.  After the wonderful soak in the hot tub, we enjoyed a junk food dinner from our favorite Mexican fast food place.  For dessert, as a joke, my dad stuck a candle in the leftover dessert from Ruth's Chris and we enjoyed a good laugh together.  Eventually, my parents surprised Doug with a gorgeous piece of carrot cake that all 4 of us enjoyed!  We sang in English and Swedish and I do believe that Doug felt celebrated.  We all affirmed how thankful we are that he was born and that we feel so blessed to have him in our family.
I feel very lucky to have Doug as my husband.  He is a thoughtful, wise, funny, caring individual and I am amazed that God saw it fit for him to be my life partner.  I love him dearly and feel incredibly blessed to share my life journey with him.
The day would've been absolutely perfect if we could have figured out a way to beat my parents in cribbage but they are just too tough for us.  Happy Birthday anyway sweetheart.  I hope you enjoyed these days of celebration!

Our Favorite Golf Course

The day of Doug's birthday we got to enjoy one of his favorite activities: Golf!  I like the game of golf but lack consistency and skill so go up and down in my interest in playing.  But we had the chance to play on one of favorite courses in the desert, Mission Lakes Country Club, so since it was Doug's birthday and all, as an act of love, I agreed to play!  We first came to know this course because my folks lived up here for 11 years when they first moved out to the desert.  It has remained at the top of our list of great places to enjoy a round of golf! We had a spectacularly beautiful day and in the end enjoyed every minute of being out.  We both played quite well with the exception of a few blow ups on a couple of holes and I was even putting for birdie twice and par a few times.  I ended up with one par on the 18th so finished strong!
The course is beautifully laid out and the views from almost every shot are dramatic.  Hole one is a tough par 5 that tests one's mettle right out of the tee box.  Doug birdied the hole and I had a bogey which was thrilling given that I can easily card a 10 ruining my round from the get go!  Hole 2 is a challenging par 3 over water and neither of got wet!  My favorite holes are 10, 11, and 12 which take you high above the course and along a ridge.  The entire housing complex and desert spreads out before you from the tee box on 11.Again, there are numerous ways to get in trouble by sailing the ball into the desert or simply being on the wrong side of the fairway, behind trees, in sand traps, etc.   11 was a disaster for me as I could not make a good second shot to get down to the green.  12 is a tough par 3 where you tee off from a hilltop and send the ball down to a green at the foot of the hill.  The club needed varies greatly depending on the wind.  It was still as could be yesterday so was a bonafide 140-150 yards down for me.  12 is my mom's favorite hole so as I stood on the tee with my 7 wood, I said to myself, "One time, for mom."  I smacked the ball and landed it square on the green!  A long birdie putt left me wanting and unfortunately I ended up with a 4!  It was still thrilling to land it on the green and not send it out into the desert!
The final hole is framed by palm trees and the gorgeous peaks of San Gorgonio rise up in front of you.   I smacked my tee shot, hit a good approach and made two putts for par!  That's what keeps you coming back...one good hole in golf convinces you that you do have what it takes and the next time around you just know you'll hit the ball like that all the time!

Celebrating Doug's Birthday Palm Spring Style

My beloved husband added another year to his life on February 17th and we had the opportunity to enjoy a very fine celebration together.  Isn't it great when the gift you give to your spouse also benefits you?!  We took advantage of a wonderful hotel deal that Travel Zoo was running on the Hyatt Suites in downtown Palm Springs.  This is a beautiful hotel with a lovely terrace that offers stay awhile lounge chairs around a nice pool in a fantastic setting.  The view from our room was out to a golf course and included the surrounding hills and mountains.  The only advantage to the bad weather was that the surrounding mountains got a lot of snow and that added to the dramatic beauty of the desert.  The day we checked into the hotel was blustery and cold so instead of sitting by the pool we wandered around downtown and found a nice happy hour.  We enjoyed the traditional chips and salsa along with mini-corn dogs which were absolutely delicious.  
The second portion of the celebration included dinner at the what was easily THE BEST STEAK restaurant I've ever been to: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Palm Desert.  We had cashed in some old credit card points and obtained a nice gift card so we enjoyed a fabulous meal on Citibank! I had mentioned Doug's birthday when I made a reservation and from the moment we arrived, every person on staff offered warm congratulations for a wonderful birthday.  They even made our table look a bit festive by throwing happy birthday confetti on the table!  In case you haven't figured this out, Doug and I are carnivores of the most voracious type so Doug ordered up a ribeye while I went with the filet.   These steaks were truly memorable!  Huge in size, cooked to perfection, every bite was a taste sensation worth savoring!  The evening ended with the restaurant offering Doug a birthday dessert, one of his favorites, Creme Brûlée.  The chocolate cheesecake that I had was so rich I could only take two bites!  Suffice to say, we were quite full when we walked out the door! 
Upon arriving back to the hotel, the staff there had sent up a tray of desserts in honor of Doug's birthday as well.  We put it in the refrigerator and nibbled on it the next morning!   The following day broke beautifully so we grabbed a coffee and headed out to the hot tub to enjoy the lovely morning sunshine.  The celebration of Doug had really just begun.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Losing Money, Gaining Weight

These two things are easy to do in Las Vegas!  Lurking around every corner are numerous ways to lose money.  The only way to enjoy being in Las Vegas is set a strict budget ahead of time and stick to it.  If you want to gamble a little, decide ahead of time how much you are able to lose, then quit when you reach that limit.  Then it's like spending money on a movie or a day at Disneyland and you don't get into trouble.  The problem with Vegas however is that if you don't find other things to do, the temptations of the casino, especially the slot machines, are ever present.  So we decided that we'd spend one afternoon seeing a film.  The Descendants was showing at a hotel complex a short walk from our hotel so we ventured down there.  We were alone in the theater for a very long time and in the end, only about 5 other people joined us!  It was nice to watch a film with no one sitting in front of us while being able to rest our feet on the seat back in front of us!  The Descendants is a beautiful film, a real tear-jerker, and we all loved this wonderful film.
The other thing that is easy to do in Las Vegas is over eat!  You can spend a lot of money on food in Vegas but you can also get really good deals. We had stumbled on a Travel Zoo deal that offered a 4 course meal with a glass of wine for $30.00 a person in a lovely restaurant that was about a 15 minute drive from downtown.  What a meal we enjoyed!  The food was beautiful and abundant.  Our appetizers were meal size and we were all very happy with our choices: Flat bread covered in roasted chicken, melted cheese and caramelized onions for me, mini-hamburger sliders for my dad, mini-sloppy joe sliders for Doug and a huge plate of calamari for my mom!  Salads and main dishes followed and three of us had enormous steaks while my dad worked through a huge plate of shrimp scampi and pasta!  My mom's filet was the size of a softball and our ribeye steaks were melt in your mouth perfect.  At this point we were all stuffed to the gills but dessert awaited us!  This course was a total train wreck!  Classically American in their size and calorie count, we could not believe what the waiter set down before us!  Doug had the only civil dessert of the bunch, a beautifully prepared Creme Brûlée.  My mom ordered a deep fried peanut sandwich that you dipped into chocolate sauce.  It was the most decadent dessert I have ever seen!  My father and I indulged in deep fried oreos accompanied by a chocolate sundae!  I could not believe how crazy these desserts were!  I didn't quite finish mine but also could not believe how much I had eaten!  It is easy to understand why many Americans are overweight...too many people eat like this as a habit rather than as a special occasion.  Even the waiter was impressed that we "killed the entire meal"!  It was a real treat to enjoy such a dining extravaganza!  Good thing we ended the evening by heading downtown for a walk!

48 Hours

That's about how much time I can spend in Las Vegas on any given trip.  I enjoy being there for a small amount of time to take in the bizarre spectacle that this unique city is but after that, the seedy and sad qualities of this so-called "sin city" take over.  But I have to say, we did enjoy our 48 hours there this time around!  My dad had gotten a crazy good deal on rooms at the Rio...(two nights free for one room, $25.00 a night for the other...crazy good deal, right?).  The Rio is off the strip but close by and the rooms are all suites so they are huge.  The view from our room was great!  A free shuttle took us to the heart of the strip so it was really a very nice and easy stay.  The thing about Vegas is that it imitates reality so the huge hotels on the strip reflect world city themes.  Italy is seen in the Venetian, (by far my favorite hotel for its sheer beauty and elegance), Caesar's Palace, which has grown ginormous in size, and the Bellagio, with its own "Lake Como" in front that boasts the best water fountain show and the most stunning hotel lobby I've ever seen.  For some reason, I just could not bring myself to take pictures of the fake canals in the Venetian even though I thought the entire hotel complex was stunningly beautiful in a bizarre, copy cat kind of way!  Further down the road is the Paris complex which sports an Eiffel Tower that is one-third the size of the real deal across the pond and a miniature Arch de Triomphe.  
We enjoyed walking around the Strip and taking in the grandeur of these huge hotel complexes.  Many offer free entertainment to try to lure you into their casino and the best free show remains the Pirate show at Treasure Island.  It's a classic tale of girls vs. boys as the Sirens of the Sea seek to lure the bad boy pirates onto their ship.  Filled with dancing and acrobatics, and shirtless men jumping into the water from the ship, with a good measure of pyrotechnic fun thrown in, it was a fun spectacle to take in.  My favorite show however were the water fountains outside of the Bellagio.  Running every 15 minutes after dark, these 5 minutes of music, water and light dazzled.  We stayed for two performances and the beauty of the dancing waters was mesmerizing.
I think Stockholm could install something like this downtown outside of the palace and it would be so lovely and wonderful to watch all summer long.  Of course, it's never dark in the summer so you couldn't light the water in the same way but the music and dancing waters would definitely attract a crowd and what better place than a city filled with water to give it a try!
I enjoyed walking around The Strip and taking in the sites and sounds of Vegas.  The huge hotels, the free entertainment, the bright lights and big city atmosphere is fun...for about 48 hours!  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On The Way to Vegas is Kelso

From Palm Springs, CA, the drive to Las Vegas, Nevada is only about 3.5 hours.  You don't even get on the interstate but instead take back roads that wind through a beautiful desert landscape.  The day greeted us with this spectacular light reflecting off the hills behind my parents' house.  The drive itself takes you through wild hill and rock formations, Joshua Trees, salt flats and one historical town named Kelso.  Kelso came into existence in 1923 when it was discovered that trains needed an extra little shove up the Cima grade.  They built the city around a railway depot that housed these "helper engines."  All that's there now is the old train station that has been converted into a museum and classic diner café, the old town jail, and some nice restrooms for those needing a break on their backroad drive!
 The jail was mainly a holding pen for drunks who needed somewhere to sleep it off.
It was fun to stop and read the signs that explained the significance of this once bustling town. It made me think about how places develop to meet an immediate need and how they go bust once the need has been met.  Life ebbs and flows.  The roads we drove on used to be the only roads that people could travel on as they headed east out of California.  Now there are many huge highways you can take, but these backroad drives are hard to beat.