Monday, January 30, 2012

A Brave Social Experiment...

Today was a nice day with my hubby. We drove down to Vancouver, had sushi, went to Trader Joe's, and came home and had a nice long nap. And now I'm back to indulge my writing craving.

I finished the book I've been reading about a journalist who hitchhiked across the country without carrying or accepting money. Pretty interesting! My review is HERE on my book review site.

Next up? The Alchemist. And then? I just heard about a fascinating book called The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson. It is about North Korea and is getting glowing reviews. I'm intrigued. Think I'll check that one out soon!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

So true...

I can't improve on this, but I thought it was worth sharing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bomb o' Sound

I just had to share this cool little find. I was in line during one of my rare WalMart trips, while staring at me through the cellophane of a little box I saw these hypnotic eyes attached to a little black ball. The box said that it was a speaker...the Mini Bomb Speaker. $7...tempting.

I've been looking for a speaker to use at church when I want to use a hymn or church song in my Relief Society lessons. Even most of the small ones are cumbersome.

The girl who rang me up said this little thing works great, is rechargeable, and returnable if I don't like it. I decided to try it.

I brought it home and plugged it into my Mp3 player and let the sound ring out in my kitchen. Wow! Pretty impressive for a $7 speaker that's the size of a golf ball.

As my grandma use to say when I'd show her a cool, new gadget..."Aye, these times and days!"

P.S. There are lots of faces to choose from. Mine is like the disillusioned-looking one on the far right.

How to Make Mexican Rice...

After living in Washington for a couple of months in 2010, I started to get a little homesick. So I called my mom and asked her to give me the recipe for Mexican rice. I've tweaked the recipe here and there since then and now my rice turns out awesome nearly every time.

Authentic, really authentic Mexican rice needs to have popped rice kernels. A lot of restaurants don't do this. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Note: the image above was not taken by me (and will come down if SOPA passes, grrr...) but it looks almost identical to the way my Mexican rice looks. That is what you are aiming for if you follow this recipe:

1 cup long grain rice
approx. 1 1/2 cups canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 small onion chopped
1/2 can of Hunts Petite Diced Tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen corn (or any small frozen or fresh veggies)
Garlic Salt

1. Chop onion ahead of time so that it is ready when you need it. Also have the Petite Diced Tomatoes handy.)
2. Turn the stove to a medium flame. If you're using an electric stove like me, "6" or "7" setting is good.
3. In a medium sized sauce pan, pour in the rice and oil. Use *just* enough oil to barely cover the rice. Stir and watch rice for few minutes.
4. When you see a few kernels start to pop (a few, meaning 4 or 5) strain the oil out of the pan. make sure you strain it thoroughly.
5. Return the strained rice into pan, along with the onion and tomatoes, stir for a few seconds.
6. Add the water. Stir some more.
7. Add about a tablespoon of garlic salt and the frozen corn. Stir.
8. Bring the mixture to a boil for a few seconds.
9. Then, very important, change the heat on the stove to the lowest possible setting. If you're using gas, then "simmer." If you're using electric, then "low" or "1."
10. COVER the pan (very important) and let simmer on low flame for 25 minutes. Do not stir during this time.

Serve as a side dish.

This recipe can also be cut in half very easily, using 1/2 cup rice and 3/4 water and less garlic salt. The salt is optional, but the rice tastes pretty bland without it. It tastes better when you salt the rice during the process than just using regular table salt on it later.

Enjoy! If you use this recipe, I would love to hear about your results. And, of course, there are hundreds of variations on how to make Mexican rice. This is the recipe that has worked the best for us.

Microwave Meatloaf Recipe

It is getting to be the end of the week and we're all looking to make life a little simpler, right? Well, just to prove that I really DO cook--a lot--I thought I would share a recipe. This is actually straight from a cookbook that came with my mom's very first microwave oven. (Yes, remember when microwaves cost $500? That's a while ago...)

I make this meatloaf for my husband a couple of times a month and it is a great, easy way to get dinner on the table:

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 cup of bread crumbs or wheat germ (I use the wheat germ, much easier)
1 egg beaten (I'm a rebel, I just toss it in unbeaten)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped onion (I use a whole very small onion so there are no onion leftovers)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Mix all of the ingredients, EXCEPT the ketchup, in a bowl. (I use my hands to mash everything up--take off your rings first. Trust me on this one.) Transfer mixture to a glass bowl with lid or a 2 qt. Corningware bowl with lid.)

2. Cook in the microwave on High for 15 minutes.

3. Remove and drizzle ketchup back and forth across the top.

4. Cook in the microwave on High for 5 more minutes.

Serve with tater tots, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, green beans or veggie of choice. Dip bites into ketchup for extra flavor.

A hit every time and easy cleanup. Yum!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Interest in Pinterest

OK, the last thing I want is to be left behind when it comes to trendy new sites, so I started an account on Pinterest. I've been on for about 24 hours and, yes, it is slightly entertaining and, yes, it is a terrific way to kill time, but I'm still trying to figure out it's actual purpose.

What I know so far is that you basically use the site to categorize things you see and like on the Internet. Basically a fun and colorful way to bookmark things. You create a board for each category and you name the category anything you want. You can search for things within the site that other people have already found and "pinned," or you can go to any website and pin something there. (The "pin me" feature is something you add to your bookmarks when you sign up, so that you can pin anything from anywhere.)

A lot of my craftier friends pin craft ideas that they want to do for their homes. I'm not crafty. Or things they want to sew. I don't sew. Actually, when I saw some of the things others had pinned it made me feel pretty boring!

If you look at my boards, what are the first ones I've filled in? Favorite films, books, historical figures. But still, if I didn't have these boards, would I go seeking out these sites? (Probably not.)

The good news is that I'm definitely enjoying Pinterest much more than Twitter, a site I still don't see the value in. The bad news is that it is a little overwhelming in showing me what I have not, and will probably never accomplish. So if you have a Pinterest board called "Optimistic Slackers," you can add me to that one.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers...or not

I'm almost finished with a book called The Kindness of Strangers, Penniless Across America, which is about a San Francisco journalist's odyssey as he hitchhikes across America without a penny. It has been giving me a chance to think about what it means to help your fellow man, especially someone who is a stranger.

The WA town I'm living in now definitely has more families living below the poverty level than my city in CA. I think about that because lately there have been several times when someone has asked me--or my husband and I--for money.

It is a slippery slope. One of the things that the book's author talks about is the distrust of people's intentions. I admit that I'm full of distrust when people ask for money. I don't know why, but it is my first instinct.

Lately, the new thing seems to be to not just come out and ask, but to have a story: the teenagers that came up to Eric and me asking for gas money because they lost their ATM card, the guys that came up to us at rest stops asking for spare change on our way to California, and the guy that came to the door today asking for $10 to buy asthma medicine for his *supposed* daughter.

There is a part of me that stands firm on not giving handouts, a part that worries about the safety issues, and then there is that other part....shame. Shame that I have fear, distrust and may be passing up the opportunity to truly help someone in need.

I will admit that when the man came to the door today, where we have a prominently affixed No Soliciting sign, it really bothered me. I guess, technically, he wasn't soliciting. He just wanted 10 bucks. Eric didn't have any. And I have purposefully taken to not carrying any cash so that I can honestly answer, "Sorry, I don't have any cash on me."

Mostly I was bothered because it felt like a line had been crossed. It is our house, our home, our refuge, our place to be where we shouldn't be made to feel like heels if we don't give someone money.

And yet, there is still that little voice that says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

It is true. When it comes to this issue, I am in conflict.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day

We've had snow mixed with rain on and off since Sunday, but last night was a whole different story. I woke up to see about 6 inches of snow across the land and a note from Eric in the kitchen saying "Sweetie, try to avoid driving today. It's icy out there."

Will do.

So, after tackling a kitchen job I've been wanting to do for ages (scrubbing down the stove,) I put on my boots, grabbed my camera, and walked 4 houses down to the lake to take pictures. There is no sun today, there are few cars or people out. It is very quiet outside. And slushy. And wet.

See what I'll go through for a few decent pictures?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Super Lady Day...

Today was one productive day! I have no idea where I got this sudden burst of energy, but I was motivated because my book club is meeting here on Thursday night. This lady was a multi-tasking, cleaning, cooking, errand-running maniac! Minus the kids, that picture above was Yours Truly for about 10 straight hours.

Today's tasks, just for my own reference:
  • took Bailey to and from groomer
  • bought prescription cat food at the vet
  • got a new case for my iPhone
  • bought groceries
  • washed sheets
  • washed rugs
  • shredded chicken for dinner
  • emptied trash
  • swept and mopped kitchen
  • swept and mopped upstairs bathroom
  • did a regular load of laundry
  • vacuumed upstairs, including furniture
  • scooped doggie bombs
  • made dinner
  • ran/emptied dishwasher twice
  • cleaned living room hearth

That's a lot of stuff! Around 4pm I collapsed and did my nails. No wonder I'm tired!

Tomorrow will not be like today. Although I'm suddenly motivated to give our Jenn-Air stove a really thorough out for the tornado!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Women in Advertising...

Although this lecturer discusses an age-old issue that has been addressed many times, she does it very well. This is worth watching:

The Prompting...

Do you ever get a feeling that you need to go and visit someone? That you need to see if they're OK and need you in any way? Call it the Holy Ghost, or intuition, but I had that feeling this week.

It happens to me every once in a great while, and I've learned to just go with it.

This week, despite several Visiting Teaching appointments, emails with different sisters in the ward, and lots of email communication with my mom, there was one sister who I felt I needed to visit. I didn't know why and I still don't, but I knew I had to.

So yesterday I wrote her a little card of appreciation, set my GPS to her address, and followed the directions to her house. She was as surprised to see me as I was that I made the visit in the first place, but we had a lovely conversation for about half an hour and then I made my way home. The weight of the prompting lifted even though the reasons for it were still unknown.

I'm glad I followed the feeling and went. Obviously, there was a reason I was feeling like I should go, even if it hasn't been revealed to me. Maybe it never will be. And you know what? It doesn't matter.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I have a new blog!

It has been an ambition of mine to have a blog devoted to reviewing books, and I've finally done it! It is still in the beginning stages, but I look forward to adding to it often. I'll include books of as many genres as possible.

Right now there are 3 reviews, but I plan to work on it as often as time allows until I get caught up with books that I want to include on it. And I've chosen to use Wordpress, instead of Blogger, because it is a little more professional-looking.

As usual, I will be bringing my own spin on things when it comes to my book reviews and sometimes even relating the books I've chosen to personal experiences, but I feel like that comes with the territory. The books we choose and how we interpret them is a personal thing.

I look forward to visitors, so please feel free to stop by. There is a link on the right under "My other sites," or you can click the heading above.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Facebook Dilemma...

Today I was faced with a decision that I've had to make a lot lately--whether or not to "unsubscribe" from someone on Facebook. It is basically unfriending them without them knowing it because their name stays in your list, no feelings get hurt, and yet you don't have to see their posts.

I'm on Facebook a lot...A LOT. It is a fun way to stay in touch with family and friends who live all over the country. But what I really don't like are seeing posts fraught with profanity. It is like having dirt running down my screen. I don't like it, I don't want to read it, and I don't think it is funny. People fail to remember that what they post ends up on MY page. It ends up on all of their friends' pages.

The one time that I did mention my dislike for such things on posts, I got a lot of negative responses. "Facebook is a place where you should be able to post whatever you want, just unsubscribe," several people said. Well, fine, I will. In fact, one person, who used to be a really good friend, posted something so incredibly offensive that it led to me unsubscribing, then unfriending on Facebook, and then, unfortunately, unfriending him in real life.

Extreme, but we all make our own choices. Thanks for letting me vent. And if someone wants to unsubscribe from my posts, I tell them to go for it. You make your page the way you want it, and I'll do the same to mine.

And no, I am not down to about 5 friends that I do subscribe to. I really do love my Facebook friends!

Wow, I feel better.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking Down Christmas...

I read on another blog that taking down Christmas decorations is one of the most depressing chores ever. I don't know about THE most (I, personally loathe cleaning the kitty box because it feels like I'm doing it all the time,) but it is certainly up there.

There is a certain irony to that prized window of time when Christmas decorations are acceptable to have up. We scoff at the over-efficient neighbors who start putting their lights up the minute they digest their Thanksgiving turkey, and yet there is a certain jealousy too that they got them up before we did. And when we have everything done and see people buying their trees on December 20th, there's a certain sigh of relief there too. "Whew! At least we didn't wait that long!"

But after Christmas is a whole different story. When I was teaching I would really try to take my decorations down before the vacation was over. If I didn't, then my first weekend after returning to work had to be devoted to the task. But now, what's acceptable?

This is the first Christmas EVER that I have woken up on Christmas morning in a hotel room. It is also the first Christmas ever that I went to Disneyland on Christmas Day (never again!) And, even though we came back to our house in WA on January 5th, Christmas and its decorations already felt very out of date.

Our neighbors across the street are of the uber-efficient sort, so everything of theirs (lights, tree, etc) was all down by the time we pulled into our driveway after that 2-day, 1000-mile drive last Thursday night. Eric and I have been productive these last few days, but not extremely so. It wasn't until today when he looked at me and said, "Um, are we going to take the Christmas decorations down soon? Or are we just getting a jump on next year?" that I realized it was time to get a move on.

Thankfully, taking them down takes a fraction of the time it takes to put them up. I'm about halfway done at this point. All that is left is the main tree in the living room and the 2 nativities. The 2 smaller trees and all of the boutique decorations are put away. The outside lights are the hubby's job for his days off. Lucky him. It is cold outside!

But thinking back to the statement I heard about taking down the decorations being the most depressing chore in the world...maybe it isn't really about taking them down, but about what it represents. The hype and excitement of the holiday season is over and real life is making its appearance once more. I know lots of people who can't stand Christmas and the chore of putting the decorations UP, but I'm not one of those people. I LOVE Christmas and always have, including the frenzy of buying and wrapping gifts, fighting the crowds and all that. I love it. Don't judge me.

I see Christmas as a time when we remember the Savior even more, when we try to be a little kinder, when we separate the actual meaning from the hype, and pause to enjoy the lights and hug our family members a little tighter.

Sure, we may be taking down the decorations, but the feelings are something we should hold on to all year round.

**UPDATE: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 5:30pm**
The decorations are all put away! Hooray!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Downton Abbey!

In this crazy world where most of television is absolute garbage, it is so refreshing to come across a series that is of high quality and has excellent storytelling. Downton Abbey is that series.

Written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-winning film, Gosford Park (a wonderful movie,) Downtown Abbey is similar in its "upstairs/downstairs" storytelling. It tells the story of the upper-class Crawley family, led by their kind and honorable father, Robert. He and his American wife are parents of 3 daughters: the icy and beautiful Mary who is searching for a husband to secure her place in society; Edith, who suffers from the classic "middle-child" syndrome; and Sybil, who embraces all that is progressive in society, from bloomers to suffrage. The fabulous Maggie Smith plays the dowager countess in a role not unlike the one she played in Gosford Park.

The staff at Downton is just as colorful, headed by Carson the butler and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper. Constant scheming, alliances, secrets, and love affairs create a never-ending bounty of intrigue. It is a wonder they have the time to perform their household duties!

So many period pieces dealing with this kind of "estate dynamics" are set farther back in history, but Downton Abbey takes place right as WWI is beginning and the way of life of the house's inhabitants is becoming more and more obsolete. This is not a Jane Austen story, but perhaps the kind of story she would have written had she lived 100 years later.

Season 2 just began tonight and it has been too long a wait. I first discovered it on Netflix streaming and was hooked. There are only 7 episodes in Season 1 and it isn't difficult to get roped in right away as the first episode begins on the day after the Titanic's sinking, one of the victims of which was Mary's fiancee', and the heir of the estate. With his death, and a trust that does not allow female heirs, the Crawleys' lives have been turned asunder as the future of their home, their way of life, and the lives of their servants are cast into peril.

Who said being wealthy was without its challenges?

This is a fantastic series that has already won numerous awards. I cannot wait to see which twists and turns await us!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kristie & Eric's California Adventure!

After weeks of planning, Eric and I packed up the dog and our luggage and hit the road to California! It was his first time there since we got married in August 2010 and it was our plan to make the most of this trip. Bailey (the dog) stayed at my mom's house while we were there and we settled into our luxurious room at the Best Western in Pasadena.

You know you're in CA when Mount Shasta makes its appearance!

We did the drive in 2 days each direction--1000 miles each way.

It was great to see family and very reassuring to see my brother looking so good after his horrible health scare 4 months ago. He's back to work as an RN, will be driving again soon, and he and his wife and kids just took their first family vacation. All good things!

The night Eric and I pulled into the ol' neighborhood, we rounded up Jonathan's family and all met for sushi at Zono Sushi, our favorite place to eat in Pasadena. It was a little chaotic and we were tired after being on the road for 10 hours that day, but it was fun to see the kids and eat something other than fast food, which is our only option while on the road with a dog!

The next day was Christmas Eve, and, believe it or not, I didn't get any pictures that night! What was I thinking?! We had it at my mom's house and enjoyed watching my niece, nephew, and little cousin open their gifts. We're still adjusting to new traditions on Christmas Eve after years of always having it at my grandparents' house. It's hard to believe that this is our 4th Christmas without them.

On Christmas Day, Eric and I decided to go to DISNEYLAND! It was Christmas, so no one will be there, right??? Wrong. We got there at around 10am and stayed for about 12 hours on one of the busiest days I've ever seen at the Magic Kingdom. I'm actually surprised that we accomplished as much as we did, because that park was jam-packed!! Live and learn! Now we know.

The next day, the 26th, we had a Christmas morning and breakfast with my mom and Jonathan, Quyen and the kids. They had spent Christmas Day with her family, which is why we postponed it a day. But you know? In the right setting and with the right people, Christmas can really be on any day you want. We had a nice time and then they took off on their family vacation to San Diego. That afternoon, Eric, my mom and I had another sushi lunch with a friend and made it an early night.

On the 27th we had a pretty open day, so we decided to go to our beloved Arboretum. On December 1st, a fierce and unexpected wind storm swept through Arcadia, Temple City, Pasadena, San Gabriel, San Marino, and Alhambra and a few other local cities and a lot of people went without power for days. There was debris everywhere and we still saw a lot of the results of the storm while we were there. There was a lot of damage at the Arboretum.

We have such a special feeling towards the Arboretum because my mom used to take us there when my brother and I were kids (and it was free admission!) The day we went was only the 2nd day it had opened since the storm and there were crew workers everywhere.
Sitting on the veranda of the Queen Anne's Cottage (Site of the show Fantasy Island.)

See the worker up on the waterfall? He was one of several who was clearing away accumulated debris by hand. Eric and I have a soft spot for this waterfall, as it is the site of one of our first pictures together during his CA trip in December of 2009.

Lots of workers, lots of chainsaws grinding away at the hundreds of trees that sustained damage from the heavy winds. We also noticed very little wildlife that day. Only a few peacocks, and most of them were not even in the Arboretum grounds, but loitering around outside the entrance. Could be that the noises from the saws scared them. Both big fountains were empty and closed too. A sad sight to see.

So, even though it wasn't the most fruitful Arboretum trip, it was interesting to see what had survived the storm and what didn't. Clearly, the cleanup is going to take months.

While on our way out, Eric had the idea to buy some of their little cacti. Yesterday he came up with this little arrangement. Pretty creative, I think!

That evening Eric stayed at the hotel to relax, my mom went and did her weekly receptionist job at Weight Watchers, and I spruced up a little to join some ladies for dinner at Mimi's Cafe in Monrovia. It was a mini Girl Scout Troop 498 reunion and there were only 3 of us! There are 12 of us on Facebook that have found each other, but 6 now (including myself) live out of state.

We were hoping to have at least 6-7 of us that night, but circumstances prevented it from being so. Despite the small size, Becky, Cathy (who was one of my closest friends growing up) and I had a nice time. Becky left at 8:30 to go and care for her baby and Cathy and I kept on chatting until 10pm. We've known each other since we were 5 years old, so there is a lot of history there!

Becky, Cathy, and me

Where are we now? Wednesday, the 28th! That is the day we went and saw my cute grandma, who turns 94 in June. She's still as sharp as ever, though! Eric, my mom, and I drove out to see her in San Dimas and went out to lunch at The Peppertree (lots of eating out on vacation.) Again, I didn't get any pictures. Just imagine a cute grandma fawning over my cute husband and you'll get the idea!

That night Eric and I went to Starbucks (I got their over caloric peppermint hot chocolate) and then I took him up into Hastings Ranch in Sierra Madre where the neighborhoods get together to put on some pretty great Christmas light displays.

Then the trip took an unexpected turn that night.... (cue ominous music...)

We don't know if it was the Starbucks, the Taco Bell we had at the end of the night, a flu bug or what, but Eric started getting sick around 11pm and was miserable in every way for the rest of the night and the entire next day. We had planned to go spend the day in Long Beach, but that was definitely not going to happen. Poor baby. He was really, really sick.

I went and did laundry at my mom's and did a little shopping at the mall (it is amazing how living in a small town for a year has made me less and less happy to be around hoards of people.) Every few hours I would check in at the hotel room and just see my poor husband sleeping fitfully and not feeling well.

He continued to be sick the next day, but vastly improved. I felt like I could leave him for longer stretches of time and didn't want to lose another day, so, after Googling "Things to do alone in Pasadena," I decided to visit The Gamble House.

The Gamble House was built by the son of "that" Gamble of Proctor & Gamble.

It was perfect outing for those circumstances. I had a tour time for 12:45, which I waited for about half an hour. The weather was ideal, so I just sat on the porch with my Kindle and enjoyed the sun and relaxed.

The house itself is a sprawling 9000 square feet, but not ostentatious and luxurious. Everything, including the furniture is practically original and done in the craftsman style of the 1920's. No pictures allowed inside, but here's one I snagged off the web of the inside view towards the front door:
Very pretty! I love the craftsman style of architecture.

The next day was Saturday, New Year's Eve! Guess who felt sick that day?! ME.

I was supposed to take my nephew to Kidspace that morning and I woke up feeling so, so lousy. I felt bad having to cancel. Eric was actually feeling a lot better, but still needed another recovery day. So we pretty much had the most uneventful New Year's Eve ever! I slept all day long and still slept that night. My symptoms were not as bad as his, thank goodness!

On New Year's Day we decided that we had to go out and do something together. It had been 4 days since we'd been out at the same time, thanks to that lovely bug we caught. So we decided to drive to the Rose Bowl so that Eric could see it and also see a few of the Rose Parade floats that were being finished up for the parade the next day.
Eric in front of the Rose Bowl. Is that a California shot, or what?

Me in front of the one of the floats. Good day to wear a bright color!

The float that caught our attention the most was the one dedicated to the memory of old time western star, Roy Rogers. It was Eric who first said, "That looks like a real horse!" He was right. Roy Rogers famously had his horse, Trigger, and his dog, Bullet, stuffed, and they were actually ON the float. There used to be a Roy Rogers Museum outside of Los Angeles, but I heard it shut down. I'm not sure how I feel about seeing his stuffed horse and dog on the float, but it was certainly original. And the float rules do say that everything has to be covered in natural materials. I guess these qualify! Ugh.
After staying at the Rose Bowl for about an hour, the 2 sickies (us) were ready to bring our post-bug adventure to a close. After all, the parade was the next day and that was going to take a lot of energy!!

Rain or shine, my mom goes to the Rose Parade every...single...year. She doesn't care if she has someone to go with or not, she goes. Of course the Rose Parade is partly famous for the thousands of people who camp out overnight (sometimes days ahead of time.) I've camped out one time and vowed never to do it again. You end of with loads of stuff to haul. You're dirty, exhausted, and have to walk blocks and blocks to the car. No thanks, not for me.

The thing is, it is easy to see the parade without camping out and without paying $90 for a bleacher seat. The parade starts at 8:10am and goes for 5 1/2 miles, so if you park a few blocks south of Colorado Blvd (the street on the route) and set up at the end of the route, you're good. We got to my mom's at 7:30am, caravaned to a street about 3/4 mile from the route and walked the rest. We walked until we found a family in chairs and just stood behind them. There were bleachers behind us, but the seats are so high up that we didn't block anyone.

It was fun! Eric had never seen the parade before, not even on TV, so this was a momentous occasion for him. We had also followed the past season of Dancing With the Stars (first time ever) and it was cool to see JR Martinez as the Grand Marshal. He was a ham in person too! We also saw Kenny G and Dick Van Patten (Mr. Bradford from Eight is Enough,) and some of the hosts from HGTV, don't ask me their names!

The opening of the Rose Parade

Kenny G

Grand Marshal, DWTS champion and veteran JR Martinez
We like him!

This float was very touching. It was dedicated to organ donation. Each of the faces on the float is someone who lost their life but donated their organs and gave the gift of life to someone else. Many of the people riding the float are alive because of organ donation. There were also the parents of the little 9 year old girl who was shot and killed the day Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was attacked. She was also an organ donor. Eric and I are both big supporters of organ donation and really loved this float.

This was a beautiful float by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Taylor with the words "Our Champion."

Here are a few other random floats from the parade. And can I just say, "Look at that gorgeous blue sky?!" We almost always get incredible weather for the parade:

And, I didn't take a lot of videos this trip, but I had to take a video of this marching band from Japan. Definitely the hardest-working band I have ever seen!

I'm so happy with the way the colors turned out on the parade pictures! The colors that day, including the blue of the sky, really were that bright and vibrant. It was a tiring day, but fun. Eric and I ended up having lunch at Claim Jumper (I was dying for a salad and some lemonade! The temperature was a record-breaking high for parade day,) and then took it easy for the rest of the day.

The plan was to leave the next day, but after watching the sun set and thinking about the days we lost because of illness, we decided to extend by one more day. We would cap off our trip by going to Long Beach and visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific and enjoying the gorgeous weather for an extra 24 hours.

I hadn't been to the Aquarium since they first opened around 12 years ago and was pleasantly surprised at the way it has evolved into a very neat place to visit. We bought a ticket to the aquarium and for their 45 minute harbor cruise. The weather was perfect and we had a wonderful day!

The Aquarium of the Pacific (Jan. 3, 2012)

View of downtown Long Beach from our boat during the harbor cruise. A very relaxing 45 minutes!

The lovely Queen Mary. I look forward to taking Eric there on another trip.

Two buddies hanging out on a buoy in the middle of the harbor

And there's my sweet husband and travel buddy! We ate at Bubba Gump's after the harbor cruise. Cute place, good service, cool gift shop.....very over-priced and unspectacular food! You're pretty much paying to say you ate at Bubba Gump.

I took a ton of pictures at the aquarium but, let's face it, you had to be there to really appreciate it. Here are some of the best of the bunch:
This spider crab was enormous. Probably 4-5 feet from tip to tip.

I think I see Nemo!

The Aquarium is very kid-friendly and not so big that you get lost. This was a cool Q&A that we saw with one of their divers. She was hooked up to a microphone and would take the kids' questions.

See the seahorse? Isn't nature amazing? I think I'm more fascinated by undersea creatures than the ones who walk above ground!

A little known fact about me...I love sharks. I think they are one of the coolest creatures. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to read about was sharks.

Another favorite undersea creature is the jellyfish. I love watching the way they pulsate and pump their incredible bodies through the water. How do they do that when they have no brains or eyes?

I am SO glad that we extended our trip by one day. I really have to thank Eric for that one, because he knew it meant a lot to me and I knew that he was giving up a day to relax at home before having to return to work. The day we spent at Long Beach was ideal and the perfect way to cap off our vacation.

What a great, great day!!
The next day we headed back to Washington! We picked up a grateful Bailey who was very ready to go home after 2 weeks. Maybe he was just excited to go in the car, who knows?

We said goodbye to my mom, our hotel room, the warm weather and hit the road once again.

Some great shots of Mount Shasta on our way home:

Somewhere in Oregon we were greeted by a double rainbow:

We had to laugh, because the sunny weather changed to gloom and overcast almost IMMEDIATELY after we crossed the border from California to Oregon. We were definitely back in the Pacific Northwest!
Still, we felt very lucky that the weather was very kind to us during our drive. We never ran into any major issues, the snow chains were not needed, and the car functioned 100% all the way.

We had a great trip! And it is good to be home.