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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Sat
6
Mar '21

Trip Report: Winter Mileage Runs

This year I’m only doing a couple of mileage runs, but they are all booked in First Class because tickets are still really cheap.

Alaska also rolled over 35,000 Elite Qualifying Miles from last Winter/Spring trips so I gave me a BIG head start with making 75K Gold for 2022 (and the 50,000 mile bonus that comes with hitting that milestone.

Mostly a bunch of pretty cloud pictures:

And my, how times have changed. You can buy a Covid test kit in the Oakland airport:

Still no booze in First Class – just wine and the cold food selection hasn’t changed in months.

Choice One – Fruit and Cheese Platter

For breakfast the other option is the ham/brie/egg salad wrap:

And if it is after 10:30 or so, it’s the Turkey which for some reason, I don’t have a picture of, but here is the description:

Harvest Smoked Turkey Sandwich
Thin-sliced, smoked turkey breast with Smoked Provolone, creamy Artichoke spread, fresh tomato, crisp cucumber, and peppery arugula on a soft artisan ciabatta roll. Served with scallion aioli and a Seattle chocolate.

And as it has happened the previous three years, Ken (on oxygen) and his wife were mileage running with me as well. We always end up on the Raleigh-Durham turnaround at least once a winter.

Probably my last mileage runs of the year unless Alaska announces their 100K level which they have hinted at.

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Thu
14
Jan '21

Trip Report: Overnight On Hood Canal

One of my podmates, Bliss, has a cabin on the Hood Canal. It’s been years since I’ve been out there. Doesn’t help that it doesn’t have a shower (at the moment), but thought I’d try an overnight. Glad I did.

It had been dumping rain in Seattle, but the day of the trip, suddenly, the sun was out. Should have taken the Miata, but I had the Escapé loaded with kindling and necessities.

Some hiccups getting out there, but in the end, here I am:

The steps are new and not quite done, but they really MAKE the house pop. Formerly you had to go around the left-hand side of the house.

This is a high tide. Yesterday when the storms were in, apparently it was crazy with wind, rain, waves.

The original entrance to the house was on the roadside, it a space that is now the bathroom. When Kevin was growing up, it was his grandparent’s cabin, there was just an outhouse.

Kevin has a daily ritual of feeding the seagulls. The choice is between them, and noisy crows. Apparently, they stay out of each other’s territory.

The cabin itself is quaint…

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But Bliss has a big-ass propane BBQ on the deck for our steaks!

And as you can see, it’s fluffy robes at the cabin (bring your own):

Was having such a good time, no pictures of the dinner…mixed greens with sesame dressing, riced cauliflower, New York Strip steaks from Belfair’s Safeway 50% off rack.

But I did get a picture of the lovely breakfast, complete with homemade gluten-free blueberry muffins!

Headed back to Seattle after breakfast (which was a noon) and it was a stunning drive back…

Yes, that is Mount Tahoma (Rainier) peaking out in both photos.

And tonight, my dinner back at home was my leftover steak turned into a Chef Salad:

Sadly, I forgot to add the bacon — oh well, more for tomorrows eggs.

It was only a day, but after the rain and being locked up, it was much needed. Thanks Bliss!

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Mon
21
Dec '20

Year End Report: What A Screwed Year For Travel

For those who didn’t get a physical copy of my “end of 2020” seasonal card, here it is, and it pretty much sums up my feelings about 2020:

Let me start with the fact that I already had 35,000 flight miles in my Alaska account by the time I stopped flying in mid-March. In August I tentatively returned to flying with a couple of night trip to Austin, by myself. Austin, summer, probably not the best time of year, but a room was available, and First Class was cheap. Nothing like flying in 1A, where you are the only person in the row, with the exception of the flight attendant who is on the other side of the plane for takeoff and landing. Alaska (and Delta) block the seat next to you even in First Class.

This was what my travel year was supposed to look like for 2020:

Here is what it ended up as:

The major around-the-world in Business and First Class (Japan Airlines, British Airways) got called off when I was in Japan and the Indian government cancelled all e-visas for Japanese citizens. The plane still went, but not with me on it. Stayed in Japan for another week with my nephew, who was between jobs, and rebooked a flight back through SFO in Japan Airlines First Class Suite, and suite it was. Click for the blog post about that amazing experience. The Tokyo-Delhi ticket was part of my Seattle-Tokyo ticket, so no miles back since it was a one-way, with a stopover. Did get back 80,000 miles for the British Airways portion, and $600 in fees, and the JAL First Class ticket was only 70,000 miles and like $25 in fees.

Two other international trips also got tossed in the dust bin: Nagoya (for my nephews wedding reception) and Taiwan, and Bogota, Columbia (with Rache).

Here is the link to what I flew last year and what was cancelled:
UMTravels » Carbon Footprint 2020 (unclemarkie.com)

For the coming year, 2021 is starting off as messy as 2020 ended. Two local trips in January cancelled, along with another major international junket to Dublin and Barcelona to visit friends I have in both cities. Here is what is still on the books:

Here is a link to the specifics of what is planned for 2021 (and what has already cancelled):
UMTravels » Carbon Footprint 2021 (unclemarkie.com)

Oddly enough, I still have enough miles with Alaska to do a free domestic First-Class ticket, enough for a United domestic First Class ticket, and maybe enough in my Delta account for a one-way coach ticket. That said, unless it’s a last-minute domestic ticket, I save the miles for flying Business Class internationally, as it’s a much better return on investment.

Retained my Alaska 75K Elite status, got a status match for SkyLux’s second from the top tier, which is good through 2024 (and I have yet to fly them), as always. United Gold status (for life, being a Million Miler with them), and new to the mix this year, Delta Diamond Medallion status, which was a challenge match, that for once, didn’t have a maximum spend component. Got Diamond by making six round trips for under $1200. Points Guy values Delta Diamond at $8.830 in benefits because of the Global Upgrades they give out but their miles are only worth 1.2 each, Alaska 75K is valued at $6,825 in benefits though individual miles have a value of 1.8 cents, with United Premier Gold valued at $2,645 and miles worth 1.3 cents each. SlyLux is so new that they aren’t on the cart yet.

So, for 2021, these will be the cards in my wallet for easier travelling (though most airlines have discontinued issuing “real” cards):

  

  

With Alaska joining the OneWorld alliance at the end of March, my Alaska 75K status will give me OneWorld Emerald status, allowing me into the First Class Lounges (rather than Business Class Lounges) on all the member airlines (American, British, Qantas, Royal Maroc, Finnair, Japan Airlines, Singapore, and another handful) when any leg of my itinerary is international.  When I started thinking about this, looked into my Delta status, so access for me and a guest in all SkyTeam lounges even travelling in Economy, and I have Star Alliance lounge access (though not Polaris Lounges) with my United status, and the one or two lounges that Starlux has. If you think I’m making a bog deal out of lounge access, international lounges are critical — a place to nap, a place to shower, a place to eat and drink, and charge your devices. Funny that I just realized I now have international lounge access on the three global alliances. OK, I’ll stop gloating.

Looking of the pictures from airports of overcrowding for Present Day travelers….really glad I’m done travelling until the end of January.

Happy end of the year to everyone.

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Sat
19
Dec '20

Trip Report: Pod Buddy Getaway to Discovery Bay

A little midweek getaway with my Pod Buddy Bliss…

A stay-in-mostly trip to Discovery Bay, on the peninsula west of Port Townsend, east of Port Angeles.

Didn’t remember to take a shot of the resort, so I grabbed the one off the WorldMark site:

Mind you, we were up the hill a bit. We were in Unit 31:

Two-bedroom place, with enough space for keeping a distance.

And a change of views for both of us, even though Bliss does have a cabin on Hood Canal that he has spent a ton of Covid-time at.

So chill that I only took one food shot…but it was a good one:

Pork off the grill, some crawfish, salad, a little wine.

Nice to get out of the city for a couple of nights.

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Sun
15
Nov '20

Trip Report: I Needed Heat & Sun

There are several things Seattle lacks in the fall. Heat and sun. Hello Palm Springs.

I booked the 3-bedroom place for Gay Pride weekend, but with Covid, no celebrations, and only two of us in a place that sleeps eight.

As is my way these days, my trip starts at the Alaska Lounge for a Caesar and a light dinner:

My flight arrives about eight hours after Bliss gets in, so I put the reservation in his name. Bliss chose his flights based on the cheapest “Basic” fare on Alaska since he isn’t concerned with being able to get upgraded and gets a free bag with the credit card. I chose my flights based on what was the cheapest First-Class ticket ($325 roundtrip, Bliss’ was maybe $150).

This Airbus had the new First-Class seats installed. Sadly, still no cocktail service, just beer and wine.

Had the curry chicken wrap as my snack (other was the famous Cheese & Fruit Platter).

Being one of the last flights in, Lyft/Uber drivers were scarce – ended up booking an XL, some massive black Yukon thing – but I made it to the condo.

Some shots of the condo:

And the view with my morning coffee:

I did get some pool time – which you need to book in 2-hour blocks to limit the number of people. Bliss used it more than me:

In the pivot to online festivities, bars were trying interesting things to provide support for Pride, having lost the ability to serve people alcohol to people who don’t’ order food. Trio (restaurant/bar) was offering Cocktail Kits as a benefit for the Pride Foundation – bags of booze, mixer, swag. Wasn’t a bad deal. Web site said they were 750ml bottles, but the ones I got had liter bottles. By the end we got 4 bags (three for me, one for Bliss). This is the haul from just TWO of the bags:

Yes, Bluetooth headphones, a wireless mousepad/charger, cups, frisbees, t-shirts, hats, bandanas – the Effen Pack ($30) came with the nicer swag than the Jim Beam Bag ($20). Between us we ended up with three of the Effen Packs, which had really nice polycarbonate party glasses.

Bliss went to the store before I got there, so we had supplies for all our meals – which included these amazing nachos he whipped up:

Yes, I brought wine in my checked bag (along with my brandy and Verners).

Took a walk down the street to pick up the second set of bags while trying a couple of the Bud Light Hard Seltzers – as you can imagine, they were hideous and I ditched mine in a recycle bin:

And passed a Tiki Bar (Bootlegger Tiki) that I’d love to try, assuming it survives the Pandemic. Check out their website for all the new rules in place.

Afternoon cocktails on the deck with the view of the mountains which I never get tired of:

Thursday afternoon we had a late lunch/early dinner at one of my favorite places in Palm Spring – Sherman’s Delicatessen. They only have limited outdoor seating which is what I felt the most comfortable. This was the first time I’d been to a meal in a restaurant since I was in Waikiki in mid-March.

That was taken as we were leaving, and the sun had gone down…but the meal!

They don’t have a full bar, but they do offer a fresh squeezed pink grapefruit Greyhound (Cava instead of Vodka). Love them, but only one. Too much citric acid for more than one, or heartburn. Same reason I drink a Caesar rather than a Bloody Mary.

I love that they serve a platter of pickles with the meal – should have gotten more!

Bliss got the Early Bird Dinner of chicken and ribs which came with a full salad as well:

His was actually cheaper than my corned beef Rueben by $2:

But that IS a lot of meat – and I took half home. So, I got two meals for the price of one.

Bliss actually got dessert from the giant case:

Speaking of restaurants, the Denny’s has moved to outdoor seating in the parking lot – doesn’t look comfortable:

My final breakfast on Friday I took on the porch:

A Facebook comment on this photo was – “Looks like the Eifel Tower”. We were drinking Champagne (which I also brought down with me) in an early celebration of the news that would come the next day.

Final lunch was the other half of the sandwich:

Back to the airport – no lounge, sadly. But I was back in my new usual seat (used to be 1C, the aisle, now it is 1A the window because they are blocking the seat next to you for until the end of the year):

Got home and installed the Effen Vodka in the drink dispenser – good timing as the old bottle was dead.

It cools the liquor before it spits it out. Totally unneeded, but amusing.

That’s it for this post.

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Fri
23
Oct '20

Trip Report: Pandemic Coast Starlight Train Trip – Day Three

Checked out a little before 11am (which was checkout time) and headed to the airport even though my flight wasn’t until 3:50pm. With the pandemic, the hot breakfast at the Wingate by Wyndham was a sack of takeaway thing like an apple, a muffin, a granola bar – all suitable to packing for the way home. Personally, I was planning on getting my lunch at the Alaska Lounge at LAX.

Coming through security my bag was pulled aside – not unusual since I usually have a toiletry quart bag that is containers of whiskey, toothpaste, and shampoo. Add an empty metal water bottle, might just as well add a corkscrew! Why did they pull my bag – they thought I had a snow globe. Not that snow globes are dangerous, it’s just that they are filled with more than 3oz. of liquid. I didn’t have a snow globe, I had this:

I can see how it looked like a snow globe on an x-ray – and we all had a GREAT laugh.

Alaska is slowing getting the lounges back to full service, although with pandemic rules:

This is the middle of the afternoon, and there aren’t many people. But they are serving hard liquor (unlike on the planes) and offer soup, salad, cookies, etc.

Whiskey and diet, chicken noodle soup, salad with chicken and ranch. I went back form two more of the soup.

On boarding, I found Alaska’s NEW First Class seat. Since they started retrofitting these a couple of years ago, have only ridden once before, and it was on a Airbus A321neo – a plane that Alaska is starting to phase out, but yet, this was a brand new interior. It still had the “new plane” smell to it!

Interestingly enough, Alaska didn’t block 1D and 1F, which they usually do for a crew member, so they don’t share a jump seat.

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Tue
20
Oct '20

Trip Report: Pandemic Coast Starlight Train Trip – Day Two

Day two of my sequestered adventure. I interact with fewer people than I would on a trip to the grocery store, and masks are required.

This would be sunrise over Northern California:

For breakfast I headed to the dining car…which was dead. Even if it was at capacity, with the pandemic, every other booth is blocked:

Had a quick breakfast sandwich and some coffee, and headed back to bed.

Sadly, Amtrak no longer prints paper schedules for the passengers to follow – haven’t for years, but I planned ahead and printed one out. Really, it’s the only way to know if we are running on time.

And, contrary to usual Amtrak running times, we are running EARLY. Which means unexpected longer “stretch the leg” stops, like San Jose – which for the first time I actually got to see the inside of the station.

From the outside, you’d never guess this was inside:

Salinas was another stop that I hadn’t explored – mostly because I usually am headed northbound from Santa Fe via Los Angeles.

Around lunch time, it started to get interesting – with an unexpected stop in Soledad (home of the famous prison) where the train was met with four officers and three patrol cars to escort a guest off the train. I went to the observation car to see what was going on (since it has big windows on each side). Found this scene outside the window:

There was at least one woman filming the whole incident, and during the time I was watching, everything was civil and calm by the police, a little less so by the suspect, like he was loudly trying to talk himself out of getting hauled away.

Didn’t stick around for the whole arrest scene as my lunch was being prepared and delivered to my room.

Lunch was the braised beef, which I paired with a Nigori Saké I’d brought along and chilled:

I asked my cabin attendant why the guy was pulled of the train – stowaway? Drunk and disorderly? Smoking?

Jeanette’s answer was, “Probably all three.”

Learned later in the trip that in addition to wandering around the sleeper cars where he as not ticketed, that he was caught whacking off next to a ten-year-old girl. Charming. Surprised the police were so civil.

The unexpected stop put us a little behind schedule for arrival in San Louis Obispo where I was going to hang out with Jameson for a few minutes and give him a belated birthday present. He actually excused himself from a business meeting to come see me for five minutes.

Seems that we have matching Covid Cuts!

Back in the cabin, time to fire up a(nother) cocktail, using some bitters that Jonathan brought back from a work trip to Texas:

Oh, and remember the picture of me using the trash can as an ice bucket – figured out a replacement trash car using the folded down bags that they deliver my meals in!

Heading further south, we get into a long stretch that borders Vanderburgh Air Force Base, also home to SPACE FORCE™, SpaceX, and ULA (united Launch Alliance), and not home to cell service on the train while passing by the 86,000 acre facility on the interior side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other side.

 

INSERT VIDEO HERE

Before long, it was dinner time, which I took in the dining car, with maybe half a dozen other people. Final meal with the Chicken Marsala.

With a wonderful sunset.

We were back to being on time…until near the end of dinner, we came to a rather abrupt stop. My drink almost slid off the table!

Seems that we have MORE adventure this trip, in the form of two dead bodies in the car that we T-boned. The quick stop was AFTER we hit the car. Train vs. Car, guess who wins? With the mass of the train, you couldn’t even feel the impact. I’m familiar with the physics since my brother died in a similar situation, though in that case, the train wasn’t blowing its whistle, and the crossing didn’t have gate arms. Here is a link to the details of the crash:

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-2-people-killed-amtrak-train-oxnard-20140603-story.html

Seems that intersection is a death magnet, with 18 incidents in recent times, while waiting for an overpass to be constructed.

A candid comment from my dining car attendant, Frank, was, well, Frank. His comment went something like, “At least we hit someone in Oxnard. Coroner can be here in 30-45 minutes. If this had happened in the mountains, we’d be here for at least four to six hours.”

Within thirty minutes of the accident, attendants passed through the car with “snack boxes” to help get through the delay. I was truly STUNNED at how quick they responded to the delay. Don’t know if Coach passengers got boxes.

We were due into Los Angeles at 9PM. By the time we arrived it was 10:30. I love the LA train station:

Yep, clock on the tower is actually correct, quarter to eleven. It was almost midnight by the time I got to the Wingate by Wyndham (used points) and checked in. Had a wonderful Lyft driver, Sheena, a single mother picking up extra hours in addition to her full-time job. This is where that snack box came in handy! My midnight snack.

Some things to know about the trip on The Coast Starlight:

  • Lots of wildlife this trip; egrets, pelicans, all sorts of raptors, deer, sea lions, and an explosion of homeless camps.
  • Ocean side of the car seems to be the even numbers, but no guarantee.
  • With the new “Flexible Dining” meal scheme (all meals are free in the sleepers, which I believe they have expanded to things from the café car) you can have your food delivered to your room, BUT, it doesn’t arrive as hot.
  • Pony up for a sleeper. If you are travelling single, the Roomette is fine. Bathroom and shower shared. While it can house two people, it’s TIGHT for two. For two, spend even more money on the Bedroom which the bottom bed can actually hold two skinny adults. You also get your own bathroom complete with shower. Also available, though scarce, is the Family Room which has the same beds as the Bedroom unit, but also has bunks for two children. Bathroom shared.
  • Another reason to book a sleeper is that the second person just pays their train fare. Sleeper fee is for the cabin, not by person.
  • And yet another reason to book a sleeper – you can bring, and consume your own alcohol, in your room, sadly, not in the dining room, and they used to have overpriced but drinkable wine in the dining car by the half bottle, now they have Barefoot brand, which is terrible.

Headed home tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.

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Sat
17
Oct '20

Trip Report: Pandemic Coast Starlight Train Trip – Day One

Continuing my quest to find pandemic travel options that as safe as possible considering mask scofflaws. Thought I’d check out the train in a roomette. This is something that I booked back in May when I was looking forward to ANY travel.

Hello Coast Starlight – it runs from Seattle to Los Angeles. Formerly it was seven days a week, with a Parlour Car for the sleeping cabin guests. Sadly, the Parlour Car was retired in early 2019, and now service “because of Covid-19” is down to three times a week. In my mind this change was just hastened by the pandemic. The current head of Amtrak used to be the CEO for Delta and has no love for long distance trains. He has also “temporarily” suspended full dining car service with cooked to order food on the Western long-haul trains. He managed to pull that off on the East Coast trains a year ago (more on food service later).

Here is the route map:

In case you were wondering (or not), Amtrak doesn’t provide wi-fi on long distance trains (though they used to in the Parlour Car), which make since this is what your T-Mobile coverage would be like on the Coast Starlight:

It being T-Mobile, pink equals coverage, green, no coverage.

While I wish they would embellish all that plaster, the fact that they restored it from decades of false ceiling brings me joy.

The top bag is just “supplies”.

Train is here!

Got settled in the room once we boarded:

With the pandemic, they can still bring you ice, but they no longer have disposable buckets –I turned the stainless steel 4x14x8 trash can into a cooler since a) it already had a liner, and b) Janette brought my ice double bagged with thick plastic. Yes, that is a half-bottle of champagne to go with my lunch.

Sadly, somehow my 5-minute video of the beautiful Point Defiance Loop on the train – which will be rerouted next year – didn’t save. So I have one frame I grabbed. Sigh.

But speaking of that lunch – it arrived just past Olympia. As I mentioned, Amtrak has moved to “Flexible Dining”, which is basically reheated meals than cooked to order. Current menu is:

So, no grilled burgers for lunch, no surf and turf for dinner. I went for the Creole Shrimp & Andouille:

Lessons learned:

  • Bring your own champagne because what they serve is Barefoot brand
  • Maybe don’t order the shrimp – it doesn’t reheat well and becomes rubbery
  • The desserts are no longer fresh(ish), they are shelf stable prepackaged.

Soon, it was time for a quick stop in Portland, with enough time to grab a postcard:

Then Eugene:

And then dinner…and the Chicken Fettuccine:

Cream sauce helped keep things moist – and a shot of the “dessert” of the evening.

And eventually to bed.

More tomorrow.

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Fri
9
Oct '20

Home Report: My 15 Minutes Of Fame

So, six weeks ago I posted about selling some footage for an HBO Sports Documentary – yes, me, a SPORTS documentary. Here is the link to that post: https://blog.unclemarkie.com/2020/08/22/trip-report-hbo-sports-documentary/

Well, three weeks ago they were in production and needed some additional footage that didn’t have to be exclusive to the Whistler Peak lift – just some footage of the end of the lift and getting off. Did some more digging and submitted another six videos, which triggered another check. What a weird year – the government sends me a check, HBO sends me two checks.

Fast forward to last night – and it is the Premiere of the Documentary. Since I don’t have cable, I had to sign up for the one-week streaming trial so that I could invite my pod over for dinner and a premiere. One of them is Roxy, who was with me on one of the trips that they used footage.

Burgers, corn on the cob, slaw….

And fries from both Rutabaga and Sweet Potato.

Here are some shots of the documentary…featuring some of my footage!

And my shoes make THREE appearances!

I wore the shoes last night – though I really miss the purple pants that I was wearing on the lift years ago.

And last but not least, the credits screen:

The whole film is 75 minutes long. Here is the promo for Wild Card: The Downfall Of A Radio Loudmouth

Summary is shock jock radio guy, with a gambling addiction, contemplates suicide on a vacation with his wife in Whistler, BC as the feds are closing in. My footage is of Whistler, all but the fuzzy shot of the town.

It should be available on HBO Streaming.

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  1. Conan L. Hall Says:

    Very impressive!

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Sun
4
Oct '20

Trip Report: Birthday Trip To Kansas City

Spent part of last week in Kansas City visiting my birth town (technically, one city over – Independence).

The usual Caesar (a Canadian bloody Mary made with Clamato)…the lounge does a great job with these:

Smoke is less than my flight a couple of weeks ago:

Food choices have improved a bit – there is a breakfast sandwich offered in addition to the fruit and cheese plate.

Still wish it was a warm sandwich.

Using points to stay at the La Quinta Midtown – it’s a little less than two years old and quite nice:

And a TON of outlets and USWB charging ports:

Desk has two USB and four 110 outlets.

Night stand has three USD and five 110 outlets. Wish ALL hotel were this equipped.

Off to Paul and Gail’s place for dinner. The next day Paul and I met up to have a little BBQ at Arthur Bryants…

We got it to go – and Paul found us an overlook to go with the gorgeous day:

Kansas City is full of green park areas. This one happened to be across the street from my buddy Chas Nol used to live YEARS ago.

Truly wonderful weather for my visit.

The photo was taken from the portion of the park with “cultural interest”.

Lots of take-out food this trip, though I generally think home-prepared food is fine, but you go with the comfort level of your host. I got the Roasted Beet Salad with Gorgonzola, in the the cup is escargot in a wonderful broth.

Besides hanging out with friends, the main purpose of the trip is to pick up a couple of cases of BBQ sauce. One from Gates (easy),

Gates will sell to my wholesale even though we only order a case a year. After picking up the case, went across the street to the restaurant and was surprised that they weren’t serving pork at that location. That is their inner city location, guess pork has gotten too expensive for the neighborhood. Had my sandwich at another of Kansas City’s many parks:

Bryants which took three visits and still no sauce will sell a case at a discount in the restaurant, but seems the restaurant was out. They had six the first day I showed up (which wouldn’t have gotten the discount, third visit, they were completely out. On Tuesday they said Thursday. On Thursday they said Friday after 11:30 – and then 1:30 when I arrived at 11:30. I ended up going over to Costinini’s Market at buying it at retail, which will screw our margins at the shop. Just what I want to do curbside – packing glass bottle of BBQ sauce in a wine shipper I used on the way out.

The important thing is that I got to hang out with Paul and Gail, Gail and I went to Lawrence to visit Wendy for a picnic lunch on the lawn with wine hidden in juice bottles. Felt like high school again!

A little plane spotting at the airport…lots of planes in storage:

Soon enough I was back in the air…

Sadly, it just isn’t really as fun as it used to be. That said, I still have a couple of more quick trips between now and the end of the year.

[227.0]

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4 Responses to “Trip Report: Birthday Trip To Kansas City”

  1. Tits Mahone Says:

    Do you mean travel isn’t fun or KC isn’t fun?

  2. UncleMarkie Says:

    Kansas City is fun. It’s the pandemic that has taken the joy out of my wandering.

  3. Melba Toast Says:

    What is the antecedent for the “it” in your penultimate sentence? What isn’t as fun as it used to be? Flying? Visiting KC? Traveling?

    Please say more about what and why.

    Hugs.

  4. UncleMarkie Says:

    It, the pandemic, has taken the joy out of my wandering. I’m giving the train in a sleeper to Los Angeles next week to see how that goes.

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Sat
19
Sep '20

Trip Report: What A Weird Short Trip It Became – The Way Home

At the end of the last post we saw the wind and rain. On, what turned out to be my last day in New Orleans, this might have been an indication that things were changing:

Every door except the main two entrances were sand bagged. And then maintenance knocked on my door so that they could take the wrought iron patio furniture off the patio. And then the note under the door an hour later:

The gist of the letter was, Hurricane Sally was headed our way. If you are planning on staying, stock up on three days’ worth of food and water in case they issued a shelter-in-place order. Might be time to bug out.

Yesterday I’d made some backup reservations to get home. Monday night, Tuesday night, and my original Friday night. The joys of realizing you have a bunch of money in your Alaska eWallet and since everything is cancellable, just book everything.

Before leaving the French Quarter, I grabbed a trio of Louisiana delights from the restaurant at the end of the block:

Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, and Jambalaya.

After lunch, I decamped to Kenner next to the airport. Used points to get a room right next to the airport for my flight out the next day. Forgot to take a picture of the exterior, so I grabbed one off their site:

Some shots of the interior:

Nothing fancy, but it did have a pool-side view:

Two reasons I booked it. Free airport shuttle and attached IHOP. Airport motels are notorious for not having restaurants within walking distance.

It was a rude surprise when the IHOP was dark and empty, a victim of COVID. Poked around various delivery options and actually went with the one on the back of the TV Channel Listing – and was SHOCKED to get the best Muffuletta that I’ve ever had. And because I’d scoped out the vending machines while getting ice – three cans of Diet Coke – because NONE of machines in the complex had anything diet other than water. Sugar, Monster, Water were the choices. But back to that Muffuletta:

Looked like I’d be having it for breakfast as well (since, according to the desk was coffee and muffins starting at 4AM, until they ran out). It didn’t make it, so breakfast will be at the airport.

Well, that’s what I thought – and then the trip got even weirder…when a little after 10PM the power went down to the entire block. Now my motel looks like this:

Waited for over an hour for management to show up (the handyman was there but knew nothing). Owners never showed. Police were called. A K-9 team showed up. Fortunately, it didn’t get out of control, but there were 50+ pissed off people sweltering in the Louisiana evening heat and humidity bitching up a storm.

Me? Hailed an Uber, headed back to the French Quarter because I wisely hadn’t actually checked out and still had keys. Now, I’m in negotiation with the motel to get my 15,000 points back (truly, it should have been 7500 points for the quality) and the Uber home and to the airport the next morning.

Headed to the airport early figuring I’d dump my bags and pay for lounge access since the United Club that I have a couple of passes to (along with the Delta Club). Forgot that with one flight a day, Alaska only opens its desk a two hours in advance, and I was in the three hour window.

Guess I’m not checking my bag, and this half half-gallon of Evan Williams is going to make a janitor very happy:

Gotta say that the airport is dead, dead, dead.

And when I finally found the lounge, sad news:

Made even sadder since they had a sign saying it was $33, not the $45 I’d planned on spending.

Back the concourse for me – and a Cajun Dog from Lucky Dog! Much better than the street version:

And they have fancy toilet seats like Chicago used to (and my still) have. Wave your hand, and a fresh plastic liner runs around the seat – which is good because men are lazy and rarely lift the seat.

Back on the plane in my usual Pandemic seat (1A):

And bring on the wine – they’d replaced the red with something better, but still in a can:

And it was an interesting blend. Usually only in European or South African brands – there is Viognier, which is a white wine grape, missed in with all the various reds to give it a little more balance and complexity, which you generally don’t find in canned wine.

Arrived early, came home, poured myself a drink, and pondered my strange trip.

[226.8]

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Fri
18
Sep '20

Trip Report: What A Weird Short Trip It Became – New Orleans During A Pandemic

While I feel comfortable enough to take Ubers in this time of Pandemic, not so for the infamous New Orleans street cars – but since I’m in the French Quarter, there is no shortage of places to walk and explore.

Even found a National Historical Park that I didn’t know existed – the John Lafitte National Park and Preserve:

Because of COVID, it’s closed, but looks like a fantastic inner courtyard. Maybe next time.

Grabbed a dog from the Lucky Dog cart – more to support the guy than to deal with my hunger.

Bookstores (at least this one) are open:

And it turns out that the House of Blues is just down the street from me (though it, and all other bars/music venues are not open):

I love the above shot – with the Voodoo Garden sign in the distance, and the glistening brick sidewalk.

Grabbed some chicken at Willie’s Fried Chicken, which usually has a dozen daiquiri makers running at all times:

As you can see by the sign below…no more cocktails to go. What is New Orleans coming to? Not that I’m that big a fan of daiquiris.

Across the seat was The Sazerac House – complete with in-house distillery. Maybe next time. At least it looked to be open.

And other random shots from Canal Street:

At this point, I’ll point out the Sheraton which is on the left with the Black Lives Matter mural on it, and the Marriott across the street (and the Hilton Riverside). I had to ask why all these people were hanging out in lawn chairs in front of both the Sheraton and the Marriot (generally 4-star hotels). They have been turned into refugee housing for people escaping Hurricane Laura from three weeks ago. In lieu of Red Cross Shelters – because of COVID and not wanting to crowd people in. So, they are bored, separated from their houses, and hanging out on the street drinking, chatting, and basically not wearing masks. I spent a lot of time walking down the trolley tracks in the middle of the street.

This was the sign where I was staying…

Evening brought serious rain:

 

Wind, rain, with the backdrop of the Customs House across the street from Club La Pension.

And with that, I’ll close out this post. Bit of a cliff hanger.

[227.0]

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Thu
17
Sep '20

Trip Report: What A Weird Short Trip It Became – Getting There

My second airplane holiday since the world changed in March. This was a trip (like Austin) that couldn’t be moved around – i.e. Use It Or Lose It.

The Alaska Lounge is back to serving cocktails (though nothing Top Shelf, which was an extra charge PM [Pre-March]) which includes the Caesar, which is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato.

If you look in the background – let me do a little “Passenger Shaming” about the couple without masks in the upper right. They rushed the elevator to the second floor after I was already in. I immediately stepped out. She instantly apologized and offered to get off but I waved them off. Not surprised they aren’t masked up between sips/bites in the lounge.

Putting this picture in for my friend Courtney – who is a book hound. As the son of a librarian and bookstore owner, I grew up around books. Nice to see an outpost of Elliott Bay Book Company and the airport, as it is nice to see Powell’s Books at the Portland Airport.

Soon enough it was PLANE TIME. Lots of social distancing and the first row to myself and occasionally, one of the flight attendants.

A few pictures of the Wildfire Smoke as we were taking off.

The food has improved in First Class – no longer the snack boxes from the back (Picnic or Mediterranean), and now Fruit Cheese Platters are on offer. Sadly, it’s still just wine and beer.

And with Covid, Alaska is blocking the seat next to you, even in First Class. Usually I’m in 1C, but now it’s the window and 1A – makes for better photography:

After the main service, snacks and fresh-baked cookies come out….

Grab an Uber/Lyft to the condo for the week. It’s the BlueGreen Vacations place that belongs to The Colonels – Club La Pension. They’ve offered to give it to me to if I’d take over the maintenance fees, which are about $825 for a floating week. Here’s a look at the place:

I ask for a balcony…which, in retrospect, forgetting my sleeping pills, might not have been the best choice. But I do like a balcony:

The room itself is more design than practical…

The place is actually composed of seven different buildings, which make for some interesting hallways.

Got settled, make a drink (I come prepared), and then figured out dinner. Had a 15% off coupon from the Creole House around the corner.

Seating was about 50% — but I’m not comfortable eating out in restaurants – so I waited at the bar with 10 feet in every direction clear.

And ate my Gumbo and Crab Cakes back in the room. Imagine what I saved it a bar bill!

Had dinner on my deck, al fresco.

And then tried to get to sleep.

I’ll pick this us in the next post: New Orleans During A Pandemic.

[229.2] (couple of pounds up – blame fried food in NOLA)

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Sun
6
Sep '20

Trip Report: Seattle In-Town “Vacation”

Covid takes its toll on another getaway. Well, I still went, but the guest of honor had to cancel his flight (well, I cancelled and rebooked) because of a possible Covid-19 Exposure. He learned two days later that is was most likely TWO different exposures. Better safe than sorry.

I’d mention names here, but because of medical privacy concerns, I won’t.

The getaway was supposed to be in the Two-bedroom Penthouse at The Camlin, in downtown Seattle, part of the WorldMark timeshare system. Here is a link to the WikiPdedia entry. Swiped this photo from their web site:

Memories was why I booked it – the guest of honor (aka disease vector) and I used to occasionally go drink in the bar called The Cloud Room. Sadly, I couldn’t find any photos of the interior, but here is a great poster:

Normally, I’d check in right at 4PM, but I was waiting for a new computer and monitor – don’t want to leave THOSE things lying around the front door. It was about 5:30 when I was checked in, and popped the door open to MY assigned room, to find a guy lounging on the couch. Needless to say, we were BOTH surprised. He called down, I went back down, seriously annoyed. They said they had miss assigned rooms, and they would put in in 1105 (rather than 1104). Fine. Went back up to find that 1104 is a Two-bedroom DELUXE, not a Two-bedroom PENTHOUSE. Penthouse has a DECK, the Deluxe does not.

Many calls down to resolve the situation since the other people were completely unpacked, and there were at least four of them.

After waiting for them to fix it – called down and said, “60,000 Wyndham Rewards Points in my account and I’ll stay where I am.” Fortunately, I know the value of points. 60,000 points is enough for two nights in the Wyndham Grand, say Puerto Rico (where I had a reservation at one point last May, cancelled but should have gone), or 4 nights in the Wyndham Shanghai (I had a reservation for May that I cancelled because of Covid), or a whopping 8 nights at your basic Days Inn.

So, no video of the Penthouse (though you can find a post about it here with a video tour), but instead, you will get a video of the Two-bedroom Deluxe:

Besides the points they also gave us exclusive access to the current Terrace Lounge, the private dining room for the Cloud Room Restaurant. Normally, it is open to all the guests, but with Covid it is closed (and clean).

And a little Bonny Doon Le Cigar Volant – and the fine company of Jonathan. And then joined by Bliss for after dinner drinks which turned into him using the Murphy bed in the living room. Social distancing!

Lovely evening, sadly, without a deck. And the morning was annoying when housekeeping walked in on my naked ass (they saw the other side), which resulted in the front desk calling me with serious apologies. Seems the room move triggered something in their system. The call came from the General Manager of the property.

By the time I was ready to check out, Pedro (the General Manager) requested a meeting to further apologize. There would be some additional training about taking special attention to penthouse reservations and how to respond to a housekeeping request that is 19 hours overdue. Turns out he has been there for years, and even worked at The Camlin before it was a WorldMark.

When the points arrived in my InBox – they got deposited and I sent a note to Pedro. In a couple back/fourths, seems that he collects Camlin ephemera – you know, the stuff from a property that usually gets thrown out. I mentioned that on one of visits many years ago that I’d left a champagne flute for management to add to the museum that is in the basement. Never saw it displayed, but when I mentioned it, he sent me a picture of it – IT’S IN HIS OFFICE!

That is pretty much the logo that is on the poster that is in this post.

Lemons, lemonade.

[225.0]

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Mon
24
Aug '20

Home Report: The Projects Continue

Well, another room has been spruced up a bit. Mostly cosmetic, but way cheaper than tearing apart the bathroom down to the studs. When you only have one bathroom in the house, it becomes critical that you still be able to use it.

Here is the commode before:

Here is the commode after:

The bath/shower before – LOVELY laminate and bad caulking!

With thanks to my Wednesday Supper Club (cancelled since late February) friends with a stand of bamboo that needed thinning, a new frame and grab railing!

Split it in half (table saw):

Cut/miter pieces:

Turn some of them into quarter rounds, and some smaller half rounds to the tub trim since there is a steel lip under the laminate. Disassemble, paint, rehang:

Add the corner and base trim, along with a new bamboo shower caddy painted to match:

And as the final touch, add some hand grabs on the walls (tub/shower is a little small to add ADA grab bars, so this is something to steady yourself on:

And a side-by-side of before/after:

Of course, now I’m looking at the floor. Not going to tear it out (again, can’t be without a bathroom, and I’m frugal):

Could be worse, but I’m in discussions with my Trompe l’oeil expert (Wendy Barsotti). If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I’d just fly her out. Now I’m just asking for help figuring out what I’m capable of. Not going to happen soon.

Well, that’s my latest project:

[226.4]

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2 Responses to “Home Report: The Projects Continue”

  1. Colonel Eric Says:

    Don’t know where that website came from, but I’m very impressed with your work. Perhaps you should stay home more often.
    E

  2. UncleMarkie Says:

    If you went all the way back to the beginning of my blog, you would find posts from our trip to China — 2008 I believe. Surprised I didn’t share the link since I’ve been doing it for a dozen years!

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Sat
22
Aug '20

Trip Report: HBO Sports Documentary

Uncle Markie? Sports Documentary? Yes, it does sound odd.

While I was on my Austin trip, I got this email out of the blue from a documentary producer in New York City that was working on a piece about a “fallen from grace” morning sports radio announcer. What they wanted was to use some footage that they found on YouTube of one of my trips to Whistler. For me, it was particularly poignant because all four of my trips to Whistler were cancelled this summer. I spent hours tracking down the original video files for one lift in particular, the Whistler Peak Express.

Finally found the last of four videos when I got back on Thursday – the 360-degree pan of Whistler Peak. Not sure how much of my footage will be in the final cut, but I made the credits list!

What does Whistler have to do with a morning sports announcer? Apparently, as the scandal was unfolding, he and his wife took a trip to Whistler, where, while on the Whistler Peak Express without his wife, he contemplated suicide, and was literally talked down with a phone call to a friend.

Apparently of the THOUSANDS of videos of that ski lift, I’m the only one that pointed the camera DOWN to show how dramatic that ride is. Not sure which one they are going to use, but here is one of the ones I gave them:

Technically, I didn’t “give” it to them, I licensed it for $500. Not bad for being hunched over a computer for a couple of hours. I can’t imagine that there will be all that much “screen time” since it’s a minor point in the whole documentary.

Here is the overview for the show:

HBO Sports will premiere our documentary WILD CARD: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth on October 7, 2020 at 9pm. The film looks at the rise and fall of Craig Carton, the extraordinarily talented co-host of the renowned Boomer & Carton show on New York’s WFAN. Craig Carton was one of the most dominant voices on morning radio in the country but resigned from the show in 2017 after being arrested by the FBI. He was subsequently convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy, shocking millions of fans by admitting to a secret gambling addiction. He was sentenced to 42 months. In a series of interviews before beginning his sentence, Carton talked candidly about his addiction and the millions of dollars he risked at the blackjack table. We also filmed revealing interviews with key people in his life including co-host Boomer Esiason and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The film will air at 9pm.

Too bad I’m not back in grade school so I could do a report on how I spent my summer vacation helping on an HBO documentary.

Well, that is it for this totally random adventure that came out of the middle of nowhere.

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Wed
12
Aug '20

Trip Report: Shakedown Trip To Assess Comfort Level

I forget how long ago I booked this trip, but I thought it was far enough out that we would be back to normal. Part of how I booked it was that even in this time of free changes, parts of this one were not.

The upside is that it was booked in First Class, and Alaska is blocking the seat next to you until the end of October. Most of the lounges are open, capacity controlled…

Back to serving liquor…with safety in mind with “Mind Your Wingspan” stickers…

And an inexpensive, genius way to open bathroom doors without installing expensive motorized doors! L bracket with some grip strips in it.

So far so good with my comfort level for travelling – everyone masked, everyone distancing.

As promised – the seat next to me open, should have moved into the window for an easier photoshoot:

Since seats 1D and 1F are blocked so that one of the flight attendants can use it during take-off/landing (so they aren’t sitting next to each other on the jump seat). Most of the flight I had the whole first row of First Class to myself.

No hot meal service in First Class for the foreseeable future, but you get a snack pack – and later, a passed basket of other goodies…

Beer, wine, soda in First. Cocktails are not back, yet. Thought it odd until I realized that means they don’t have to cater ice – another contact point. Sadly, the wine it’s exactly “top shelf”…

Got to Austin on time. No checked bags for me this time – one less touch point. Probably half the restaurants were closed in the airport – not surprising since travel is off 50% or more:

Grabbed a Lyft (5x points on my Chase Business Card) and headed to the WorldMark/Wyndham Austin.

The three floors over the garage are the WorldMark units.

And they are practicing social distancing in Austin as well.

If you are curious about what part of Austin – the pen points to the WorldMark:

Here is an interior tour of the unit:

And a night video:

Here are some detail shots of the unit:

The unit was ready when I got there, so first thing was to get supplies…whiskey and mixer.

Set up a Drizzly account, and 40 minutes later, there was a knock at my door:

Drinks taken care of, time for some food. It is 103 degrees in Austin, and sort of feels like a ghost town…

Fortunately, Ranch 616 was open – it is one of my favorites (they specialize in quail and frog’s legs, and damn fine fried oysters). They open at five, and that’s when I was there:

But social distancing is the norm here as well:

I was just getting takeout – but NORMALLY there would have been four times the number of tables.

Went for quesadilla special, and they were even serving drinks to go – so, what the hell.

Grabbed a late take-out breakfast at Walton’s Fancy and Staple:

And again, everywhere was practicing masks and social distancing.

I’m in the

I’m in the south – so biscuits and gravey!

Late afternoon I grabbed a turkey/jalapeno cheese Rueben – I saw Rueben and said yes before getting it home and realizing. Royal Blue is a great mini-mart/deli a couple of blocks from the condos, which in this heat is all that I’m good for.

After dinner decided to see if I could get a Whole Foods delivery. It was about 5:30pm and they said, next delivery time was 11PM since everyone and their mother is ordering stuff. I’m a night owl, so no problem. Started getting updates, and by 8:30pm, the order was at the door.

Had a MUCH better Rueben the next day back at Walton Fancy and Staple, mingled in with food from the delivery.

Thursday it was back to the airport for the return home…stopped in the lobby to say goodbye to Emmett who works on the Wyndham side pushing timeshare presentations, and grabbed a picture of him in one of my masks (I tend to travel with a handful to hand out).

Back a Lyft and off we go.

Had a pulled pork quesadilla from Salt Lick – finished half, saved the other half for the plane.

More social distancing at the bar – and a very empty airport for the middle of the day:

Both the United and American Lounges closed (American open as a service center for issue resolution).

Speaking of American – the have several planes painted in the colors of airlines they’ve merged with – this one was America West:

Back on board, back in the first row of First.

This time I sat in the window for pretty pictures!

It is at this point to say that during the flights to and from Austin, I was close to tears of joy. Just to be travelling again. The physical feeling of travelling.

So much so, that I stopped in the Lounge in Seattle for a “last one” before grabbing an Uber home…

Not many people in here. Feeling safe.

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Wed
5
Aug '20

Home Report: Masks and Pillows

I seriously thought when I made the first 48 masks that would be enough for a lifetime. Apparently, I’m a creature with more than one life. Not a cat, I’m allergic to them.

Last week was upcycling bad wine, this week it is turning thrift store Hawaiian shirts that have seen too much love to wear, become yet another useful item. The production line has been restarted.

First up, LOTS of cotton back panels – many thanks to Quillayute River Lodge for their donation of old sheets. I know have a 2-inch stack of 7×9″ back panels.

Here is a scene of Satan’s Workshop:

Last week’s project of Lavender Rosemary Infused Vodka still on the table.

New materials for version two: ¼ elastic bands to go around the head, not over the ears…

And metal bendy things for the nose…

And more source materials, like these dying couch pillows, that started out as thrift shore shirts, worn to death, worth to death as pillows, and now salvaged one last time…

This is what is left of a Men’s 2XL shirt after making mask panels:

That particular shirt – the one that over the years is the most complimented one, yielded 12 masks, but no pillowcase.

Such fancy bookkeeping. If we are talking numbers, each of the masks took a third of the time as version one. It’s the around the head elastic that makes the difference. Here are some of the new patterns:

The above is exclusive for Jonathan from one of his favorite shirts – he is getting a total of 11 masks, and one pillowcase. The one below is from an Indonesia fabric robe that I picked up in Thailand more than twenty years ago:

And many more flavors and colors….

Into the laundry they go, then they are put in polybags to keep them clean:

Here is a great shot of masks and their matching pillowcases…

The “plain looking” black one is actually Tommy Bahama silk with back-on-black embroidered pineapples. The far right (Jonathan’s shirt), is also Tommy Bahama.

Made 24 this round, made 48 the previous round in March. This time around, I’m not think that it is going to be the last batch. Sigh. At least I have another bunch of pieces precut for the next round.

Let’s hope that I don’t have to sew them up.

[?? ?]

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Tue
28
Jul '20

Home Report: Unplanned Project

If there is anything in this world that I dislike more that “45”, it would be plumbing repairs.

This week was slated to be version two mask making week (elastic head [not ear] straps, wire insert by the nose for better fit.

The saga begins a month ago when I swapped out the float mechanism on the toilet since it wouldn’t shut off all the way.

Then, a couple of days ago, the tank started dripping…guessing I knocked something out of alignment.

Thought it was coming from the bolts that hold the tank, so, new bolt and big rubber washer kit…

Several attempts stop the leak, finally decided to test the tank over the kitchen sink where it was easy to dump, easy to work on, and easy to see where the leaks were.

Final answer was the flapper assembly, so back to Home Depot for yet more parts. On a positive note, 100% mask compliance at Home Depot, and only saw one sketchy guy at Safeway without one.

After several attempts at getting seated correctly, finally got it all put back together…

Deep-cleaned the rest of the rest of the bathroom while I was on the floor, and then tackled the 6-burner stove in the kitchen.

Grates are in the dishwasher for an easy clean.

Not really how I wanted to spend my last three days.

Joys of home ownership.

[226.4]

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Wed
22
Jul '20

Home Report: Living Room Redo Done

Just realized that I’m cleaning/redoing the décor in a very slow clockwise path. Finished the living room this afternoon.

Here is the before:

Can you say CLUTTERED!

I’d been wanting to change out the artwork for the last couple of years – but the piece with the massive frame weighs a lot. The frame is built on a 2×4 base with quarter inch plate glass in the front. 70 pounds is my guess.

Thanks to Roxy and Shua, the piece has been relocated to the “art closet” in the garage, and several large pieces that hadn’t seen the light of day will go in their place.

Yes, we had to take the door off to get “The Legs of Christ” into the closet. The artist is David Best, best known as one of the major temple architects at Burning Man.

That was almost a month ago. Nothing on this house redo is getting done quickly.

And now the after (still need to clean and sort the junk on the couch (a.k.a. my office):

I’m turning Japanese, I really think so. Of course, I had to look up who the artist was from the 80s. That would be The Vapors.

All the Japanese city scene oil paintings are by Kristina Hagman (daughter of Larry Hagman, granddaughter of Mary Martin of Peter Pan fame).

Complementing her pieces are some Japanese wall hangings – which are actually traditional obi, the fabric sashes festooning kimono.

One of the things slowing down the living room was figuring out how to hang the obi. A week or so ago I had an inspiration, and even had all of the materials on hand:

Wish I’d had gold three-inch screws, but couldn’t find any in the garage, and not worth a trip to Home Depot.

The last one is actually a composite of two different obi.

And, yes, the far-left clock is set to Tokyo time.

Whew! Another room down. Now the kitchen, then the garage.

[225.8]

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  1. Mary S Willi Says:

    Fabulous work Mark Stephen Souder! Your living room looks great and the clean-out is impressive. Love the colorful art work.

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