Checking out scenic Phoenix

If you fly into Phoenix, make sure to spend some at the Desert Botanical Gardens, as well as Hole in the Rock, both just minutes away from Sky Harbor Airport. We were down in Arizona in March for a quick visit to Sedona. As we arrived late in the day, we spent the night there, and before driving north, visited these two attractions. They didn’t disappoint!

You do need to make reservations to get into Desert Botanical Gardens, but I had no problem doing it the night before. Admission is $29.95. There is an onsite restaurant, but at the time there was limited seating due to Covid-19 restrictions, so the wait time was long (although you can make reservations.)

I took a ton of pictures and it’s hard to exclude too many. As you can see, it’s not just traditional cactus, but a wide range of succulents as well.

After enjoying our morning here, we picked up some sandwiches at Subway and were able to find some picnic tables outside the park to enjoy the pleasant Arizona sun (not yet scorching hot summer sun). We then headed over to Hole in the Rock. It’s in the same general area as the Botanical Garden and the Zoo. It gets a lot of visitors since it’s an easy .3 mile hike up to the hole and offers spectacular views of the Valley of the Sun.

Our Covid-19 Vaccine Journey

Yay! After a couple stressful weeks my family is on the road to being vaccinated against Covid.

I was the first to get scheduled. It became obvious early on that getting an appointment with one of the major pharmacies was difficult. I did manage to somewhat easily get an appointment with an independent pharmacy 45 minutes away for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but then due to shortages (production issues with J&J) they canceled it. After hearing that I decided to go for either Moderna or Pfizer.   But I still didn’t like the pharmacy route. After joining the Colorado Vaccine Hunters Facebook page I learned about some of the Mass Drive-Thru Clinics. I managed to get three appointments at different locations (because I didn’t want to deal with another cancellation! And yes, I did cancel the others.) I ended up going to one run by a local fire department in Thornton. Very smooth. In and out in 20 minutes (that includes the 15-minute post shot observation time). Added bonus: Krispy Kreme is nearby so I got my free donut!

I tried to get my husband an appointment there last week but word had got out about how good they were and their schedule filled up by 9 am on Tuesday (the previous Tuesday this was not the case.) So I got him an appointment at another mass drive-thru clinic at Ball Arena in Denver. There were more cars at this one and it did take us about 45 minutes. Still, very smooth and no need to get out of the car.

(For the record, my husband at first was going to wait but then we decided to do a quick getaway to Mexico in May because it’s so cheap to travel there right now. He quickly changed his tune.)

My oldest son and his girlfriend are at getting one at a hospital clinic near where they live. That just leaves my youngest son who still lives at home. This week I was ready and waiting to book at the fire department and managed to snag him an appointment as soon as they opened their schedule.

I feel so relieved! Yes, we all still need to get our second jabs. My husband’s is already scheduled. The fire department will contact me and my son when they open up the schedule for our second shots. This whole business of getting a vaccine can be very stressful. But it seems pretty common. Friends of mine in California are driving several hours south down to San Luis Obispo to get their first jabs.

If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere – Boulder Shooting 3/22/2021

It was a dark, gray day here in Boulder county. We don’t get a lot of those. Unfortunately, the weather was a grim predicter of what would go down that day in Boulder, about 10 miles down the road from my house.

I had planned to go to Target and Whole Foods. But I was feeling a bit tired. So I decided to get all my groceries at Target, even though I knew Whole Foods had better shrimp. With enough spices I hoped no one could tell the difference.

When I went into Target I heard a lot of sirens. Target is near Hwy. 36 which heads west to Boulder. There’s also a big interchange where many accidents occur. I brushed off the sirens as an accident. I actually didn’t spend a lot of time in Target. Usually I wander the store picking up things I don’t need, but today I just tried to stick to my list.

When I got home I heard the news on a local Facebook page about the shooting at King Sooper’s grocery store. At that point people knew there were at least 2-3 dead due to the live streaming video of a local videographer. Later we learned that a police officer, Eric Talley, 51, had died. He had become a policeman only 11 years ago after a career change (former IT guy). He now leaves behind seven children and his wife. The next day we learned the final death toll – ten people including Officer Talley. The man charged was a 21-year-old from nearby Arvada. Motive remains unclear at this point. He was caught by officers in the store when he surrendered due to leg wound.

Of the other people, three were store employees, and another one was a woman picking up groceries for an Instacart delivery.

We’re still all trying to deal with this. Boulder is normally a pretty peaceful town. Yes, it is a college town where kids do occasionally drink too much and get rowdy. (Recently the news of a large party near campus that got out of control made national news). Like the rest of Colorado, we’ve been dealing with an uptick of car thefts, but that’s about it for this normally pretty quiet town of 110,000.

Today I watched the procession as Officer Talley’s body was moved to the funeral home in Aurora, just east of Denver. Tomorrow I plan to go to Boulder and place flowers at the memorial outside the store.

Snowmageddon 2021 – the big March blizzard in Colorado

I’ve lived in Colorado for 14 years and heavy March snowstorms are nothing new. We started seeing the forecast about a week ago for snow on the weekend. By midweek we knew this was going to be a big one. I think because of the experiences of the Pandemic and the recent Texas snowstorm, people went a little crazy here. Bananas started selling out around Thursday. Yeah, bananas! Anyhow, I didn’t go too crazy. I had done a Costco run early in the week and had plenty of food on hand.

However, Friday night came and we were hardly seeing any snow. Saturday came and it was raining in the morning. It turned to snow in the afternoon and by evening it was snowing pretty heavy. We woke up Sunday to about 8 inches with blizzard conditions.

When it was all done Sunday night I estimate we had got in the neighborhood of 20 inches. Hard to do an exact measure due to drifting. Today we shoveled. My husband has never bought a snowblower despite having a bad back. I’m exhausted as we had a huge drift in our driveway. Anyhow, enjoy the pics and short video. And send some nice weather our way.

This is what a blizzard is like!

An American’s perspective on Meghan and Harry’s interview

I watched the full 2-hour interview last night done by Oprah with Meghan and Harry. While I did grow up on the American side of the pond, I do have friends and relatives in England. While most are pretty neutral on the Monarchy, a few are pretty negative. I myself am only a year younger than Diana would have been this year. Until her wedding, I really had never paid attention to the British royal family. But that changed after Diana came into the picture. I watched her wedding, was excited about her pregnancies, and then was heartbroken with her tragic death.

Of course, I followed all the gossip about her during this time period, along with that of her sister-in-law Fergie. It was unbelievable. And what struck me then was how little the “Firm” did to protect these young women. Fast forward nearly 40 years and history seemed to be repeating itself with Meghan Markle. I will state at this point that I had no idea who Meghan was. Never saw “Suits.” (A misconception outside the US is that she was famous. Not true) A lot of people said last night that Meghan was just doing another acting role last night. While she is very comfortable in front of the camera, more so than Harry, I don’t believe she was acting.

At this point here I want to point out a few things. Many people have said that Meghan should have done some research before marrying into the royal family. Oh my goodness! Diana’s marriage to Charles ended way back in the 90’s. I’m sure that Meghan knew the bare-boned details, but I’m guessing she was idealistic and in love and hopeful that the Firm has changed with the times. That’s like asking you to research your spouse’s parents’ divorce just to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. That’s idiotic and stupid. Besides, there are so many versions out there, so who do you believe?

One of the points made last night by Harry was that the press and the palace seem to have a strange symbiotic relationship. They keep their mouths zipped when false stories are published that in some backwards way actually serve to further perpetuate the image they want to portray of the individual in question. Case in point – did they even make an attempt to correct the story about Meghan causing Kate to cry after some little row having to do with the bridesmaid’s dresses? No, of course not. It didn’t serve their purposes because the Firm seemingly wanted to throw fuel on the fire and continue to disparage Meghan.

I do believe Meghan and Harry when they stated that there was concern (by someone inside the Palace) about how dark Archie’s skin might be. My husband is Asian and my mom said similar remarks. They’re called microaggressions. While on the surface the person committing the microaggression claims not to be racist, they’re very good at disguising it. I’m guessing a lot of this went on with Meghan and Harry. Little jabs here and there build up. They’re very subtle but they hurt just as much as outright racism.

The final takeaway from the interview was the discussion about Meghan’s mental health. I totally get this and DO NOT BLAME Meghan saying that she knew what she was getting into. NO SHE DID NOT! Nor did Harry. Harry was born into the royal family. Things were different for him. When I moved to Colorado 14 years ago I imagined a life different than I have now. I’m sure Meghan was in the same boat when she married Harry. She had a vision but it didn’t pan out. She spoke up but God forbid a royal family member has a mental health issue. Same thing happened with Diana. Just sweep it under the rug.

In regards to the criticisms being made that this is airing dirty laundry. OMG! Stop it. Yes, Harry and Meghan want to be private people but they’re tired of the continued BS. The royal family are not untouchables. From my understanding the Queen already knew about their exit plan before it was announced a year ago. Throughout the interview Harry and Meghan made it clear that they still loved Harry’s grandmother and facetimed with her (how cute is that image?) The reality is, however, that there are people in the Firm who are influencing the choices of the Queen. I’m not going to comment on the security and financial details of their exit. Instead, I am hopeful that the two will lives a happy life here and maybe with the passage of time, Harry will be able to repair his relationship with his brother and dad.

St. Augustine, Florida: not just a beach vacation

We did a quick getaway to St. Augustine, Florida back in January of this year (seems a lifetime ago already!) We had hoped we would get some decent weather, but as it turned out it was pretty cold. Fortunately, this is a great town to do sightseeing.

Despite the gloomy weather, we’d start our day with a beach walk. We were staying in the Vilano Beach area and unfortunately its beach is not as nice as St. Augustine Beach due to beach erosion due to a hurricane and the current restoration project. But we still got to get walk it the first two mornings. On the third morning we drove over to Anatasia Island State Park and hiked the beach on Bird Island, just north of St. Augustine Beach. Wow! Great beach. If you like long flat beach walks (or runs) it’s definitely better over on this side. Plus we finally had sunny weather.

So after our beach walks we’d head into town and do a little exploring and sight-seeing. On the first day we checked on the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. This is a privately run park and charges a $18 entrance fee. Typically, I stay away from places like this, but you can blame it on the peacocks roaming the grounds freely. This were definitely worth the entrance fee and the rest of the park wasn’t bad either. I did learn about the early colonial history of St. Augustine, first explored by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 and settled by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, even before the Pilgrims came to North America. The walk around the grounds is beautiful and you can see various exhibits such as the canon firing and Timucuan Village, a replica of the village of the native people that lived here when the Spaniards first arrived. And of course, I drank from the fountain of youth.

We next headed Castillo de San Marcos, which is the oldest masonry fort in the US, constructed by the Spanish, with considerable help from local natives, in 1672. It’s been occupied twice by the Spanish, twice by the British, had two periods of US occupation, and also briefly occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War. It was finally taken over by the US Park Service in 1933, having been using for nearly 250 years. Unfortunately, we could not go inside because of Covid 19 (only open on Wednesdays currently) but having seen a similar fort in Puerto Rico, we weren’t overly disappointed. We enjoyed walking the grounds and checking out the unique stone used to build the fort. It’s called stone called coquina (Spanish for “small shells”), which consists of ancient shells that have bonded together to form a rock similar to limestone.

The next afternoon was dedicated to exploring the historical district of Saint Augustine. It’s truly a beautiful town and while there is a hop-on trolley, it’s easily done on foot. Our first stop was historic Flagler College. While the college is only 53 years old, the main structure is over a 100 years old, constructed in 1888 as the Ponce de Leon Hotel for industrialist Henry Flagler.

Right down the street from Flagler College we saw another Flagler-commissioned building. Also built in 1888, this building was originally the the Alcazar Hotel. It closed during the depression and was purchased by Otto Lightner, a Chicago publisher, who then turned it into a museum that housed his extensive collection of decorative and fine arts. It also serves as a city administrative office building. We didn’t have time to tour the museum (my husband spends way too much time when he goes in one) but we did enjoy its beautiful courtyard. Finally, we closed out the afternoon by walking up past Plaza de la Consitucion, Cathedral Basilica, and doing a little shopping on the touristy St. George Street. After all that, we needed a little refreshment, so we drove to the nearby St. Augustine Distillery!

We wrapped up our visit of St. Augustine on our final day by visiting the lighthouse on Anatasia Island. This 165-foot lighthouse with 219 steps was constructed between 1871 and 1874. However, a watchtower was originally built here in 1589 and went through several renditions before funding for the present lighthouse was approved by Congress during the Florida Reconstruction period. It’s actually the first lighthouse I’ve climbed up and it wasn’t difficult for me, but it could be some as it is a tight space. Fortunately, it was a cool Florida winter day so it was quite pleasant and there weren’t many people due to Covid.

In closing here are pics of the wonderful Christmas lights in St. Augustine that were still up in January as a part of their Night of Lights display.

Please check out my other blog posts on St. Augustine here and here.

Second Pandemic Refresh/Remodeling Project almost done!

If there’s one good thing about the Pandemic, it’s that it’s forced us to focus on some home projects. We plan to sell our house in a few years and it’s essential that we update it. Last year we did our master bath and we were so pleased with the results that we used most of the same tile choices, with the exception of the floor, in the refresh of our powder/guest room on our main floor.

This bathroom technically is not a powder room as it has a bath/shower, but it’s hard to call it a guest bath either as the room next door could not be classified as a bedroom as it doesn’t have a closet. However, it functions well enough as a guest room as we have a bed and a dresser. Good enough!

Anyhow, the builders of this house put wood floors in this bath. How dumb is that? Once the toilet did flood and we were in a panic. I guess it’s just as dumb as the carpet they put in the master bath. In the master bath we ripped out the carpet and put in gray plank tile. It is stunning! However, since I didn’t think it would make sense to have the plank tile intersect with the wood floor, we went with a matte porcelain tile that looks like marble. I’m really pleased with the end result. I was worried about ripping out the wood floor, but thankfully my contractor did a good job.

Plank tile in Master Bath

In the shower we used the same white wave tile and accent tile that we used in the master.

We are not quite done. We kept the same vanity and we’re having that painted. I’ll post pictures of the completed project in about another 2 weeks, along with the name of the tile we used as reference for those who are interested. In the meantime, enjoy a sneak peak with my cat.

My husband dodged a COVID bullet

My husband plays volleyball with a group of adults here locally in Colorado. Their volleyball facility closed down for a while But in the summertime they still got together and played at outdoor sand courts. They returned to playing at the club in the fall. It was operating at reduced capacity and requiring masks while they played.

My husband hasn’t gone in a few weeks. He did consider going this week but because we have contracters in our house, he thought it would safer not to go. Talk about a smart choice! He got a text from one of the team members this past Friday notifying people she had tested positive for COVID. Then another team member who had opted out this week said she was quarantining due to possible exposure.

I’m hoping my husband stays home all month now. We’re going to Arizona the first week of March and don’t want anything throwing a wrench into our plans. It seems like it’s getting harder and harder to avoid it as more people are letting their guard down.

One thing people must remember is that even if you have had the vaccine, you can still pass it on to others. The vaccine activates your body’s immune response but does not prevent you from being an asymptomatic carrier. Please please please continue to wear your mask and socially distance. I’m not crazy about my husband’s volleyball team. They’re Trump supporters and really don’t think COVID is a big deal. However, this might be a wake-up call for some. One was bemoaning the fact that he was going to miss a pickle ball match and a birthday party. The woman who caught it at first wasn’t going to notify the facility but reluctantly she agreed.

Stay safe! We still have a long ways to go!

A wonderful Florida beach vacation that’s a bit different than the others: St. Augustine

Ever since we moved out to Colorado from California 14 years ago, we’ve been trying to make it to Florida every 2-3 years. Although some of those vacations included time in Miami and Orlando, our favorite spots were beach destinations including Marco Island, Key Largo, St. Pete Beach, and Boynton Beach. But I have to say our favorite so far has been the St. Augustine area. It’s not just your typical sun and sand destination (and I have to say we didn’t get much of the sun when we were there). Rather, it’s more of a historical destination, billing itself as the oldest city in the United States, with a vibe somewhat along the lines of Key Largo. But don’t worry, it’s got great beaches, too!

Accomodations

St. Augustine is located at the junction of the Matanzas and Tolomato Rivers, just west of the Saint Augustine inlet, so it is not directly facing the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are a lot of nice hotels in its downtown area, with lots of dining options which makes it a great spot for those who are just there for shopping and sightseeing of the historical sights.

However, if you want a beachfront property, you can check out either St. Augustine Beach to the south, or Vilano Beach to the north. Both are just minutes away on barrier islands, but have different pros and cons. Vilano Beach has more houses and less of the typical Florida condos. It’s also very accessible in that it does not have a drawbridge like the Bridge of Lions which you have to cross to get to St. Augustine Beach. If you’ve spent much time in Florida, you know those drawbridges out to the barrier islands can drive you nuts as they get really backed up at times. That said, St. Augustine Beach is much nicer. Vilano Beach was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew back in 2016. Yes, there is beach there, but it’s not as flat and walkable. They are currently in the middle of a restoration project which is pumping in sand through a large pipe which is submerged in some areas and exposed in other areas.

Fortunately, we did not see the pipe from the condo we chose to stay at. I was very pleased with our choice as it was quiet, with a beautiful view, and very close to Publix grocery store. As we were there in January 2021 during the Pandemic, we wanted to stay in a place with few people and this fit the bill. The owner had remodeled it within the last year, so it had a fresh, new feeling.

There are several restaurants in downtown Vilano Beach. The first night we ate at the Beaches at Vilano Restaurant. They had patio dining, which we did every time we ate out while we there. We usually tried to eat lunch out and cook breakfast and dinner at the condo, as it was pretty chilly (60 and below) by the time sun set.

In my next post I’ll talk more about what to see in St. Augustine. But in the meantime, enjoy these beautiful views!

Sunrise from Seawatch Condos
Some mornings it was cloudy but who cares?
Relaxation at Vilano Beach
Condos from the beach
Sunset out our front door, looking toward Francis and Mary Usina Bridge
The Vilano Beach Pier at night
yummy key lime pie at the Beaches at Vilano Restaurant

Traveling in Florida during the Pandemic

My husband and I often do a January getaway to celebrate his birthday. Several months ago we decided to go to St. Augustine. While we knew it probably would be chilly as it is further north (it was!), we felt it was a bit safer than some other spots in Florida.

The plan was to fly directly to Jacksonville, the closest major city to St. Augustine, but sadly Southwest canceled our direct flight and put us on a route that went through Atlanta. Changing planes and being exposed to more people didn’t seem like a good plan. So we decided to fly to Orlando and do a 2-hour drive up to St. Augustine.

Thankfully, our flight to Orlando was not full, so we did have some spacing between us. However, the return was packed. It looked like a lot of people were returning home from Disneyworld. But people were all masked up and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We flew in October on another packed flight to Tennessee and did fine. However, Florida is more of a hot spot now than Tennessee was then. Nonetheless, I am lying low since my return (which is pretty much all I do now anyhow) and limiting contact.

My first observation when I got to Florida is that people in the airport were generally good about mask wearing and social distancing. However, once outside, that seemed to change. As a resident of Colorado (more specifically, the very left-leaning county of Boulder) I am used to seeing people wearing masks pretty much everywhere. Even outdoors, many people wear them or will pull them up if they see people coming toward them on the walking paths or sidewalk.

But that was not the case in Florida. We stayed in a condo that we rented out through AirBNB. I was surprised that our property owner actually did an in-person check-in. Nowadays that’s pretty rare here in the US it seems. (AirBNB encourages property owners to allow self check-ins, although it’s not required.) The issue I had was that he did not wear a mask when he met us at the condo. Wow! That was very strange.

When we were out sightseeing it seems that people did comply with mask-wearing rules at attractions with paid entry. However, it was hit or miss at stores. Signs were posted that mask wearing was mandatory, but I saw people in stores without them. In grocery stores all the clerks wore them, but some customers did not. Back in Colorado they would be asked to leave or put one on. On St. George Street in St. Augustine (a popular tourist area) only about 50% of the people wore masks. What I found most astounding was that some shopkeepers had signs up about wearing masks, yet they did not wear one themselves. Okaaay! I also had clerks standing outside with samples approach me, sans mask. Talk about unacceptable! No wonder Florida is having problems. It’s like they are living in an alternate universe.

As for restaurants, all the servers I saw wore them. Like in Colorado you are asked to wear masks at your table until you order (although compliance there is not always observed) and if you get up to go to bathroom. We ate out only once per day at lunch since we wanted to do patio dining and it was a bit chilly, even with heat lamps. It seems like that was a popular choice with most people, although I did observe a large group of senior citizens (at least 30) eating inside at one restaurant. They were all seated closely and at the time had no masks on and no food in front of them (I don’t know if they had finished or had just ordered, but I would have thrown a mask on in that situation). I did observe at one coffee shop in St. Augustine, City Perks, that the baristas did not have on masks. That would be a big no-no in Colorado.

For the record there are roughly 4.5 million seniors in Florida. From what I saw in St. Augustine they were some of the worst offenders. Most of the younger tourists wore masks. I also was very impressed one day when I walking on the beach where they were doing some beach restoration work when the young construction worker pulled up his mask to talk to me to tell I couldn’t pass at that time. Good for him. I wish all of the residents in Florida would adopt this attitude. I love this state and I have traveled here many times, but some folks still seem to be in denial.