Return to the desert

I’ve already reported on the time that Janice and I spent in Phoenix around her conference for work. On Thursday, 22 May 2014, we drove a rental car down to Tucson for more sightseeing. The last time we drove through the Southwest’s deserts was to the Grand Canyon back in 2006. If only the roads around Boston were as straight, wide, and smooth!

We visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Roman Catholic outpost  serving the Tohono O’odham people. (The day before, we had looked into Saint Mary’s Basilica near our hotel.) It was interesting seeing the layers of aboriginal, Spanish colonial, and American history. As we had seen at the Heard Museum, much of our history of treatment of Native Americans and other non-whites is shameful, but their descendants continue to persevere and try to follow traditional ways.

On a lighter note, Janice and I then drove to the Mini Time Machine, which was more sophisticated than we expected. We had seen similar dioramas and miniatures at Roadside America in Pennsylvania and the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C. The Mini Time Machine’s collection of dollhouses from the past 200 years was impressive, and we recognized some figurines from our own collections.

From there, we went into downtown Tucson, where we had lunch at Bison Witches, a hip bar and deli. Unlike the sparkling new business and arts district of Phoenix, the neighborhood we visited in Tucson was more hippie-friendly, despite being deep in a “red state.”

We also stopped at Campus Candy Yogurt (we had previously visited Yogurt Time a few times) before driving back to Phoenix for dinner at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant. We had previously hesitated eating there because of the name and the fact that it was emptier than its neighbors, but the food was good, and it may just be that fewer people noticed the restaurant or like Mediterranean food.

On Friday, we shipped a box of conference proceedings, maps, and laundry home. We then took the Metro to the Desert Botanical Garden, which gave us insights into the various terrain types of the Southwest. Fortunately for us, the temperatures were only in the 90s Fahrenheit. Janice and I saw numerous species of cactus, as well as hummingbirds, ground squirrels, baby quail, and cute lizards. We also had pity on the park staffers having to disassemble many Chihuly glass sculptures. After walking on some trails, we had lunch at Gertrude’s Restaurant.

Gene in Arizona
Saguaro cactus

Janice and I then stopped at the Mill Avenue shopping district and the area around a campus of Arizona State University. Again, we experienced a different vibe from downtown Phoenix or Tucson. We got our daily yogurt fix at Moja Yogurt and checked out Pop Culture Paradise, a nice comic book and game shop.

For our last meals in Phoenix, Janice and I ate at Pizza Studio on Friday night and Matt’s Big Breakfast at the airport on Saturday. It’s a good thing that we had a substantial meal, because our departure was delayed for about an hour and a half because the pilot’s seat needed to be replaced — a first for us. I read the graphic novel Trickster, which compiles Native American tales.

Overall, we liked sprawling Phoenix and the other places we visited in Arizona. While our few days of sightseeing were shorter than a proper vacation, it was nice to get away from our cubicles. Fortunately, we had the remainder of the Memorial Day weekend to get over any jetlag.

Since our return, we’ve been catching up on work, e-mail, phone calls, recorded television (about which I hope to blog soon), and gaming sessions. We’ll likely be busy with the usual rounds of visits to and from family and friends later this summer.

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Arizona vacation, or A Week Without Pants

On Saturday, 17 May 2014, Janice and I flew from Boston’s Logan Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor for a week in Arizona. She attended a Society for Technical Communication conference, and I tagged along for sightseeing.

New Southwest
Downtown Phoenix

After checking into the Hyatt Regency, we had a very good Southwestern dinner at Canyon Café. We then took in the Cirque de la Symphonie, a performance of classical music by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra accompanied by impressive acrobats.

On Sunday, May 18, Janice and I had breakfast at the Hyatt’s Terrace Café and then went to the Heard Museum, which had excellent exhibits of Native American art. We had lunch at the museum and dinner at Boka Pizza at Arizona Center.

From Monday through Wednesday, Janice attended convention sessions, and I logged into work from our hotel room. We’d typically start each day with a workout in the Hyatt’s exercise room, shower and dress, grab breakfast at Einstein Bros Bagels, and then meet again for lunch and dinner. The cost of real estate and meals was less than in comparable cities back east. Despite the ongoing drought, it was easy to see the appeal of living in the Southwest.

On Monday, we had decent pub grub at the Tilted Kilt, a theme eatery similar to Hooters, with scantily clad waitresses and at least one kilt-wearing busboy. That evening, we returned to the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix for a simple dinner at the Corner Bakery Café, which I’d compare to Panera.

With high temperatures in the low 100s Fahrenheit early that week — not that I minded the dry heat and hence the shorts — we didn’t want to walk too far. On Tuesday, I had a selection of cheeses at the Arrogant Butcher and had a more down-to-earth dinner at Steve’s Greenhouse Grill across the street from our hotel.

On Wednesday, Janice attended the STC’s closing session, so I went to Potbelly Sandwich Shop for lunch. We then joined some of her colleagues via the Metro light rail to the Phoenix Art Museum, which had exhibits of international art, Southwestern modern art, and Hollywood costumes.

As a pasta fan, I was pleased to have dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory near the museum. I hope that restaurant chain makes it into the Northeast. In my next blog post, I’ll cover more of our vacation in Arizona!

Family, food, and August travel

On Friday, 9 August 2013, Janice and I took a JetBlue flight from Boston’s Logan Airport to Dulles in Virginia. We met my parents, whose birthdays were both that week. I hadn’t seen them since attending a cousin’s wedding in Chicago back in February.

It was nice to catch up with my parents on our extended family worldwide, current politics, and history and art. We had dinner at the fancy Blue Rock Inn, and while it rained the next day, we enjoyed lunch at the Griffin Tavern and dinner at Graves’ Mountain Lodge, where we’ve been going for 30 years.

In addition, we stopped by the some farm stands, the River District Arts gallery, and the Rappahannock Library Book Barn. At night, we watched some Detective De Luca, a mystery TV series taking place in World War II Italy, on MHz Networks.

That Sunday, we visited my brother and his wife and children in Northern Virginia. We stopped at a massive Wegmans on the way. My brother’s newly expanded porch was impressive, as were the massive hamburgers from the grill. It was a brief weekend visit, but I look forward to seeing my family again around the holidays.

On Friday, Aug. 16, Janice and I drove to rural Pennsylvania for her cousin’s wedding. On the way, we stopped at Rein’s Deli for sandwiches piled high with thinly sliced meats. We had heavy traffic most of the way down, but we got to Allentown around the same time as Janice’s folks. We had dinner at Fegley’s Brew Works, an upscale pub.

Despite dramas around divorces, midlife and adolescent angst, and Janice’s parents’ move from Upstate New York to Florida, everyone had a good time. Kristy and Shawn’s wedding that Saturday went smoothly, and it was nice to see Janice’s extended family at the reception.

Pennsylvania wedding
At the kids’ table

We drove home on Sunday, stopping by the Vernon Diner in Connecticut for yet another filling meal. I’ll have to work off all that good food this week, although munchies at the latest games and discovering that Yangtze River in Lexington, Mass., has a dinner buffet are conspiring against me.

Chowing down with college chums

The past several weeks have been especially busy at my work, partly because of the latest reorganization of our editorial staff. Still, I’ve managed to get out to lunch a few times while the weather was nice.

I finally got to Solea on Waltham’s Moody Street. It has been a long time since I’ve been to Dali in Somerville, but my co-workers and I liked Solea’s tapas just fine. The Local is a decent American bistro near Blue Ribbon Barbecue in Newton, Mass.

On Saturday, 27 July 2013, Janice and I drove out to the Lowell Folk Festival, which we chose over the Boston Arts Weekend since we had gone into town recently with Damon F.P. and Carlo R. We liked both the postindustrial, art-friendly city of Lowell (which is similar to Waltham but larger) and the festival itself.

There were a lot of great musicians, as well as crafts vendors, family activities, and, of course, food. I was pleased to try a wide range of ethnic cuisines, including Greek, Polish, and even Filipino! It might not be my mother’s cooking, but it’s as close as I’ve found in New England.

Janice and I also explored the New England Quilt Museum, which happened to have an exhibit of items from the past 200 years from eastern Pennsylvania, which is where Janice’s family lives. In addition, we stopped by at Larry’s Comics. There were enough other restaurants and galleries that I’d be curious to visit Lowell even without the festival.

This past weekend, I got to see some college friends. Stuart C.G. visited Boston on his way back to New York from business travel in Singapore. We enjoyed the Boston Comic Con. I wasn’t able to dine with him, Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. on that Friday or Sunday. However, Beruk, Janice, and I did join them for dinner at Smith & Wollensky on Saturday, Aug. 3, near Stuart’s hotel downtown.

Seafood bouquet
Kai-Yin, Thomas, Gene, Janice, Beruk, and Stuart in Boston

The food and service at the steakhouse were superb, as I recalled from one of Stuart’s previous visits. I enjoyed the shellfish bouquet we ordered as an appetizer, and the roast rack of lamb was good (if a bit challenging to cut apart).

On Sunday, Aug. 4, I visited yet another SUNY-Binghamton alumnus, Ron J.K., at his brother’s home in Brookline, Mass. As always, the family was very hospitable, and Ron’s niece Anna showed off her pet iguanas and knitting skills.

On Tuesday, Aug. 6, David I.S. stopped by on his way home to Upstate New York after his travels, which included a cruise to Bermuda, meeting friends in Manhattan, and hiking in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, he had picked up a respiratory infection in the process, but we managed to grab a bite to eat at City Streets, one of Janice’s and my go-to restaurants nearby.

In the coming weekends, Janice and I will be traveling to Virginia for my parents’ birthdays and to Pennsylvania for a wedding of a cousin of hers. We’ll need another vacation by the time summer’s done!

Restaurant ramblings in Seattle

While Janice and I were on vacation in Seattle in late June, we settled into a routine: Wake up later than we would back home, find a nearby place for breakfast, go sightseeing, and then head back toward our hotel for dinner. Still, we found a wide range of moderately priced and good meals.

Pike Place, Seattle
Janice at Pike Place Market

Since the Renaissance Seattle is in the downtown business district, we had no trouble finding breakfast joints — during the workweek. The YMCA’s Delinomore had a cool communal feel, while Market Fresh, Mel’s Market, Simon’s, and Sister’s Garden Café all catered to office workers.

On the way to and from Seattle, we grabbed a bite to eat at the airports, such as from Sandella’s Flatbread. On our first night in Seattle, Janice and I had a good Mexican-American meal at Tacos Guaymas on the Harbor Steps, followed by gelato at Bottega Italiana (the first of a few desserts there).

After skirting the International District, we had dinner on Sunday, June 23, at O’Asian, a quiet and upscale Asian restaurant. The next day, we had an excellent lunch at Delicatus in Pioneer Square, followed by dessert from Cow Chip Cookies. On Tuesday at the waterfront, Janice and I had an OK lunch at the Alaska Sourdough Bakery.

The Wings Café at the Museum of Flight had a great view of airplanes, both part of the collection and taking off and landing. We had wraps during our cruise to Victoria, B.C., but I would have liked to try out a Scottish pub if we had more time.

Over the course of the week, we enjoyed dinners and beers at Mod Pizza (great thin-crust pies), the Elephant & Castle Pub, Kell’s Pub, and Bruno’s Italian/Mexican Restaurant (a family establishment that was more harmonious than you might think).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the great eateries at the famous Pike Place Market. Sure, some of the many vendors are tourist traps, but there is enough fresh seafood (some of it airborne), curious arts and crafts, and produce to keep a browser busy and happy for a day or two. In our case, mainly June 24. Janice picked up some chocolates for her co-workers, but I don’t think mine would appreciate smoked salmon.

Janice and I aren’t coffee drinkers, so we only peeked into the original Starbuck’s. We did sample cheese from Beecher’s and Mt. Townsend Creamery, pastries from Piroshky Piroshky and Three Girls Bakery, and chowder from Pike Place Chowder (which I had learned about at the Newport Chowder Fest). I definitely recommend Seattle to seafood fans.

The Arsenal at Seattle Center was also a gourmand’s paradise. We ate on June 28 at Bigfood Barbeque and Confectional Cheesecake, and we got fresh-squeezed lemonade from a booth next to proficient Latin American street musicians in the shadow of the Space Needle.

My last look at Seattle (for now) will focus on the tourist attractions we visited.