Distractions, Diversion

Outdoor Concert + Quarantine = Date Night

Math is NOT my thing. But adding an outdoor concert to the current “social distancing” rules left me wondering how it can add up to a date night. The solution came from our local fire department and a firefighter named Garrett Baker.

Firefighter and bagpiper Garrett Baker practices.

Garrett isn’t only a firefighter, he’s a bagpiper. In fact, he’s in a firefighter pipe and drum band. Recently, some neighbors mentioned that Garret practices outside the local fire station when he’s working as long as he and his fellow heroes are not out on a call.

VOILA! Date night!

A duet during practice.

Greg and I borrowed a neighbor’s golf cart and headed over to the fire station on a hot, breezy desert evening to catch Garrett’s practice. We even had the bonus of one of the drummers joining him on a few tunes.

We tapped our feet, held hands and simply enjoyed the evening surrounded … at appropriate distances … by a couple dozen neighbors.  Garrett played and narrated his impromptu concert, pointing out his own mistakes and reminding us all that these “performances” are actually practices for his relatively newfound music hobby.

Careful to maintain safe distances, neighbors enjoy the concert.

As the music came to an end, we drove away in the fading daylight, taking a tour through the neighborhoods. We came home to some cocktails and a date-worthy dinner, toasting the evening and all the while appreciating the little things that make life grand.

The reflected images in the rear view mirror show the sizable crowds that turn out for the music.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, sometimes a new thing worth seeing is right in your neighborhood.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Travel

A Trip Into The Rearview Mirror

When you can hear your wanderlust ticking like a biological clock (think Marisa Tomei’s performance in My Cousin Vinny), you know you have to find something fun and different to do. I decided to dig into some old memories and take a trip through my past.

A little background: Growing up an Air Force brat, we moved often and we were not allowed to keep a lot of “stuff.” Typically, my parents limited me to one box for memories. When I got my first apartment, my grandmother gave me her old steamer trunk. It became my new memory box and I’ve tried (and often failed) to limit my memory stuff to that trunk.

Yesterday, I opened the lid and started pulling out my past. The last Air Force uniform I wore is in that box. I took off the name tag and ribbons and put them in a frame, but the uniform is there. I held it up and wondered how it shrunk so much just being tucked away in that trunk.

Next up: My high school letter jacket. I went to two high schools. The first was in Wiesbaden, Germany and I lettered in cross country. No more long distance running could have something to do with why that uniform shrunk so much. 

A dug into the pile of scrapbooks and bundles of letters from old boyfriends. Yeah … I kept those. I sat on the floor and read about a dozen of those letters. Happy memories of sweet, younger times came flooding back. I’m lucky to have stayed friends with a number of old boyfriends … oddly, none of those letters are from the guys I still call “friend.” I found a box of ticket stubs and souvenir postcards from travels in my 20s and 30s and made a mental note to spend some time organizing them into another scrapbook.

Then the photo album. When did my friends and I get so old? Were we ever really that young? Yep! I have photographic proof. Haha. I considered pulling some of them out, scanning them and posting them here, but some things are better as memories. 

Before I knew it, I checked the clock and realized I’d been digging through that old trunk for about four hours. I thought about how all that digging was like a long drive on a sunny spring day. I felt a little refreshed and found myself smiling often as I wandered through my memories. I snickered a few times – like when I found the souvenir grass skirt my mom brought home from a trip to see my dad in Hawaii in the late 60s. It was a great distraction from my ongoing planning for future vacations … and gave me a few ideas! 

… good thing there’s room for more memories in that trunk, cuz I have LOADS more memories to make.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, some of it may be behind you. Think of it as taking a trip into the rearview mirror.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Food, Wine/Cocktails

When You Can’t Travel, Bring the Flavors of a Place to Your Kitchen

I discovered a dish several years ago when I picked up a special edition of Epicurious magazine. It was called “Epicurious Italy.” The title alone sold that magazine/cookbook to me. I’ve always LOVED Italian food. In fact, I pretty much love all things Italian. 

Epicurious Italy

Unable to travel during the corona pandemic, I decided, “If you can’t get out, at least bring the flavors of places to your kitchen.”  So, I’ve tried making schnitzel with spaetzle. It turned out pretty good. Greg whipped up some amazing curry dishes. We’ve co-cooked some Asian-inspired stuff. But far and away our favorite is Italian and our “go to.”

We took a cooking class through Sur La Table a few years ago and learned a few tricks, including how to make our own pasta. Then I found this compilation of recipes. We’ve tried at least a dozen of the recipes and love them all, but the Brasato al Barolo is an absolute favorite and has become our signature dish. 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe. Chefs always say, “add season and flavor to your taste.” We’ve used lots of different kinds of red wine – Barolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Super Tuscan blends, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine enhances the flavor, so I’m always careful to go with a red we really like. For this brasato, I used a 2012 Mauro Veglio Barolo

This dish takes a little work, but is INCREDIBLE and well worth it. 

Before you start cooking, do your prep work. Cut up the carrots, onions, garlic and celery in advance. True story – I cheat on the garlic and buy the big jar of minced garlic at my local grocery store. Get that wine open and breathing. (NOTE: ALWAYS — seriously ALWAYS — taste the wine you’re using in your food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food). If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own herbs, snip and clean some fresh thyme and basil. Otherwise, grab the fresh stuff from the store. It really makes a difference. I have somehow managed to keep the thyme, rosemary and mint alive, but my basil is looking pretty sad right now. 

My little herb garden.

Measure what you need and have it handy. The french call it “mise en place” (Everything in its place).  That’s one of things we learned in our cooking class and really makes cooking a lot easier (and more fun). Pre-heat your your oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking.

Get a good sear on the beef

Step one: Put olive oil into a dutch oven and heat it till the oil shimmers. You’ll want to have it HOT so when you put the meat in to brown it, you get that sizzle. 

Step two: brown the meat (about two minutes a side).  and remove it from the pan to a plate

Step three: throw in diced pancetta and render the fat. I couldn’t get pancetta once and tried bacon. It was still good, but there was absolutely a difference. 

Step four: Add your cut up veggies and let them cook and caramelize for about 5 minutes. You will see a difference and everyone in the house will be coming into the kitchen to tell you how amazing it smells and find out what you’re cooking.

Step five: add those herbs and that garlic and stir ‘em in. The garlic will brown in about a minute if you use the jarred stuff. Fresh will take a little longer.

Step six. Stir in the tomato paste. It gets really gloppy here. Mix it up and get it clumpy but keep it moving. You don’t want to burn the tomato paste.

Pour in that wine

Step seven: Pour in two cups of wine. For me it boils almost immediately so I turn it down a bit and let it vigorously simmer till the wine is reduced by half.

Step eight: Add the meat (and the juices from the plate) back into the Dutch oven and pour in the other cup of wine and a cup of water. 

Step nine: Put the cover on and pop the whole thing into your pre-heated oven.

Step ten: Let that deliciousness cook low and slow for three hours. Your house will smell delicious. Your neighbors will be jealous. 

Now here’s the real secret. When your brasato is cooked, let it cool to room temp and pop it into your fridge for two to three days. Trust me on this. I’ve eaten it right away and three days later and waiting is OH SO WORTH IT! 

A few hours before you’re going to serve: Pull the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skim off most of the fat that’s set on the top. This is easiest when it’s cold. Throw the fat away, pop the covered Dutch oven into a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes.

Spoon everything but the beef into a blender.

Take it out of the oven and put the meat onto a plate. Depending on the cut of meat, it may simply fall apart or you will be able to slice it. Pull out the rosemary and thyme and spoon the contents of the pan into your blender.

Deliciousness on a plate.

Puree it. All of it. This delicious, beefy, wine-flavored, veggie mess is gonna be the most scrumptious gravy you’ve ever eaten in your life. There’s no need to thicken anything, just blend it to a thick liquid.

Voila — choose a vegetable (or not – I mean the gravy is mostly vegetables), mash some potatoes (or cauliflower) to hold the gravy. Grab some bread (you’re going to be sopping up every drop) and dig in.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you just have to explore it with your taste buds.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Flying

America Strong!

For those of you who love a good window-rattling, heart-stopping jet flyover, you’re surely missing your favorite summer air show. The US Air Force Thunderbirds and the US Navy Blue Angels, our nation’s premiere military aerial demonstration teams have both cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Don’t go to their websites to learn this, though. They seem to be ignoring them and keeping everything up-to-date on social media – specifically Facebook (the links above are to the Facebook pages to save you some search time).

That’s the bad news. The good news is, you can still get your jet-whine-screaming-turn-and-burn fix if you’re close enough to one of MANY cities across the nation. 

The two teams, in an exceptionally rare act of cooperation, conducted joint practices recently over the Gulf of Mexico … near the home of the Blue Angels … in preparation for a national tour. They are calling it “America Strong.”

According to the Department of Defense: “In a show of national solidarity, the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, will conduct a series of multi-city flyovers over the next two weeks. America Strong is a collaborative salute from the Navy and Air Force to recognize healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tuesday, April 28, they kicked their tour off with a flyover of New York City and the Trenton/Philadelphia areas. The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels aren’t posting the full schedule because this is a tribute situation and they don’t want people traveling and gathering together to see the salute, but if you keep an eye on your local media, you’ll find out if you’re in (or near) their path.

US Air Force F-35s fly over the desert near Luke Air Force Base.

If you’re not near one of their scheduled cities, but you live near an Air Force or Navy Base, you may still get a tribute flyover. We live near Luke Air Force Base and the Phoenix area is getting a flyover with F-16s, F-35s and even a KC-135. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be seen, sometimes you gotta look up, plug your ears and feel the rattle of your bones as the Sound of Freedom shakes you to the core.

Photos courtesy of the United States Air Force and the United States Navy

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Musings, Wine/Cocktails

Puerto Backyarda

Somehow I didn’t think I’d be writing a travel blog about my neighborhood for my 100th blog. Yes, I know there are almost 150 on this site, but the others were all written by Greg, so this is officially my 100th. I hope you’re having fun reading them and if you have something you’d like to see me write about, feel free to send me a note or comment.

Like you, I’m staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing my part to stem the flow of this virus. When you’re plagued with wanderlust, that’s not easy! To keep busy, I spend a lot of time on the internet enjoying the humor and doing what I can to mitigate the sense of caution and fear that’s running rampant. 

Several memes and jokes highlight our mutual boredom being “stuck at home.” Here are a few favorites from Facebook.

As funny as these memes are, there’s a bit of truth in the humor. We’re all spending more time in our backyards and spending more time with our lockdown families. There’s lots you can do to add a little fun to your days.

Our walks around the neighborhood have opened our eyes to the creativity in our neighbors’ yards. We’ve seen several ideas we’re now considering as we look at a backyard upgrade. 

These big leafed plants caught our eye for a potential backyard makeover.

Our evening cocktails through the fence with our next door neighbors continue to make us smile and appreciate the little things … like a beautiful sunset.

Nightly sunsets aren’t always this beautiful, but we’re making the most of those that are.

Twice our neighbors on our street have had a corona twist on a block party. We all come out at a specific time, sit at the end of our driveways — some in their golf carts — and wave and shout greetings as we catch up.

We set up a little mini bar at the end of the driveway to share some social time with neighbors … at a distance.

We’re all doing what we can to make the best of this bad situation. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … we’re all getting anxious to go see some of it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Diversion, Walks

Spring Flowers Don’t Require Social Distancing

Social distancing. Lockdown. The Governor declares a state of emergency. Essential travel only. These phrases have become part of our everyday vocabulary. It’s tough to plan your next vacation, when you’re struggling to just plan your next trip to the grocery store. But there is a small silver lining. Everything I’ve seen still allows (even encourages) us to get out and take a walk – stay away from other people, but enjoy nature.

Greg and I are taking walks in our neighborhood and the adjacent Sonoran desert almost every day. It’s nice to get out and enjoy a little sunshine while we stretch our legs. One of the benefits of our daily strolls is the chance to enjoy all the spring flowers that are blooming. I’m loving the colors – all the yellows, reds, purples, oranges, pinks. You get the point.

I took my camera on a recent stroll and tried to capture as many different blooms as possible so I could share them here. You can do the same! In fact, if you find yourself homeschooling your kids, get them involved. Photography is part of art, right? Identifying the flowers is science. Just going for a walk is PE. Have fun with it.

After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … and some of its beauty is probably right in your neighborhood.


Diversion, Road Trip, Travel

Over the Desert and Through the Hills

NOTE: Greg and I got lucky amid all the Coronavirus restrictions. We planned to spend the spring exploring our new backyard … day and weekend road trips in and around Arizona. That means we really didn’t have to cancel any plans or reservations AND we could still do much of what we had hoped to … until the end of March. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued stay-at-home orders and foiled the rest of our plans. Luckily, we managed to get a fun, scenic road trip in before the order was issued. As long as the new restrictions are in place, we are following the orders and staying put. You should, too.

Route 60 weaves through the Superstition Mountains.

The Valley of the Sun is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation and includes nearly 15,000 square miles of desert and mountain foothills. Top down on the Fiat, we leave the house on a sunny Sunday morning on the west end of the valley. The plan: drive across the valley and up into the Superstition Mountains to Globe. Staying off the highways as much as possible will turn the drive into a six-hour excursion. 

Spring is a great time to enjoy the desert, with moderate temperatures and wildflowers in bloom.We head out Route 60 through the Queen Creek Tunnel and into stone-lined canyons as we climb to nearly 5,000 feet. The views along the route are stunning. Rock formations and twisting roads climb and curve. Around one curve, we spot the old road far beneath us and the historic Pinto Creek Bridge. It appears to be part of a hiking trail today. Several small groups  walk along the dirt road leading to the old structure; dozens of other trails weave through the stone outcroppings.

Through another pass the scene shifts dramatically. The brown and red stones give way to rocks bleached nearly white by the sun and copper mining operations turn natural rock formations into strip-mined flat tiers. A few more turns finds us in Miami then Globe. We stop to enjoy our picnic lunch on the trunk of the car before following the signs to cruise through the old town of Globe. Frankly, there isn’t much to see here, but the drive alone is worth it.

With the sun high in the sky, we turn around and head back down to the valley for the picturesque drive home. At a junction, we turn left instead of going straight to explore some new backroads and areas we’ve not yet seen. 

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. In these hard times of “social distancing,” there’s no getting out to stroll the towns along the way or enjoy tourist sites, but you can still enjoy the stunning views!

Stay safe and keep dreaming of future travels.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Road Trip

The Great Outdoors as Therapy for Troubled Times

Social Distancing. Mandatory Telework. Who has toilet paper?

The Coronavirus has created a new vernacular; some fear this intrusion in our lives may become the “new normal.” But there is always something we can do to improve our own health and well-being … get outside.

After a week mostly cooped-up in the house — Judy running the business, me doing my day job —  Saturday dawned bright and sunny with temps forecast to rise to the mid-70s. Plans to do spring house-cleaning quickly vanished. We threw a picnic lunch together, hopped in the car, put the top down and headed out.

The plan was simple. After a stop in central Phoenix to pick up some wine we had ordered at a recent festival (see “Spring is Festival Season”), we’d head due south on Central Avenue to the point where South Mountain rises from the Valley of the Sun and enters the South Mountain Park and Preserve. The road twists and turns up the mountain to the TV antenna-filled summit. At 2,330 feet, the views of the valley from Dobbins Summit were spectacular with photo opportunities galore. Farther down the road was the Gila Valley overlook, with views to the south and east of town. The sky was so clear you could almost see Tucson! (not really, but you get the point.)

We ate our simple picnic of sandwiches and iced tea under the shade of a ramada (spanish for open porch), one of many throughout the park. We munched as hikers tightened the laces on their boots and grabbed bottles of water to take on some of the 51 miles of trails the park offers. We didn’t hike this day, but we’ll be back to do so, or to possibly let a horse do the work for us, available from the Ponderosa Stables at the park’s entrance.

On this gorgeous day, we weren’t the only ones enjoying this opportunity to be outside. For the most part, people kept up their physical distancing, but smiles abounded and talk was not about the difficulties but about how great life could be when you simply get outdoors.

Refreshed, we drove down the mountain and went home via side streets and roads, avoiding the highway to enjoy the sun in our faces and the breeze in our hair. All in all, the trip took us about four hours but it felt like we were days away from the daily (and new) routines of our lives. It was a great reminder there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go outside and see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Road Trip, Travel

London Bridge is NOT Falling Down

We all probably sang this little ditty as a child: “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”

London Bridge is in Havasu City, Arizona.

Well … guess what … no it is not! I’ve seen it. London Bridge is strong and beautiful and well-traveled in the warm Arizona sunshine. Yep … Arizona! We visited the bridge on a beautiful, blue-sky day recently. The bridge connects the mainland with a small island in Lake Havasu.

British and US flags fly from the bridge.

To be fair, a lot of people didn’t know that the famous London span was sold to a developer back in 1968. Robert McCullough took the bridge apart brick-by-brick and shipped it across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal and then by train to Lake Havasu, Arizona. It was reassembled in the hopes of attracting people to the area and it worked.

Along the sides of the bridge, the Star Spangled Banner blows in the breeze along with the Union Jack. A few fellow sightseers snapped pictures (like me). We popped into a restaurant with a view of the bridge and I ate fish and chips. It was the most British-sounding meal option on the menu.

Fish and chips are a classic British lunch.

Lake Havasu is a great destination for boaters and those seeking a little water fun, otherwise the only reason to go there is to see the bridge from the song of our youth. It is about an hour south of Interstate 40 and 90 minutes-or-so north of Interstate 10 — not exactly on the beaten track. Was it worth it? I think so. We enjoyed the warm sunshine and the diversion off the highway. We marveled at the story of how the bridge came to Arizona and appreciate that it is a little piece of London here in the desert

The US is loaded with little oddities to see and London Bridge is one of them. Why not check it out? After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, find something quirky to see once in a while.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Diversion, Walks

‘Tis the Season

I awoke Sunday morning to crisp, cool temperatures; the colors of the landscape full of burnt umber and orange, beckoning Judy and me out for a Fall morning walk.  ‘Tis the season.

As we tied our walking shoes and pulled-on some warmth, we also grabbed water and sunscreen, for this Autumn walk would not be among shady elms and maples losing their leaves, but among the red rocks cliffs of Sedona, Arizona. On this fall day, the sun shone bright on the multi-hued rock strata that makes Sedona such a magical place. During a weekend designed for relaxation, we were ready for a bit of adventure.

Sedona 10062019

When Judy and I met, I had lived one the east coast for nearly 10 years, having lived most of my life beforehand in Southern California. I joked with my west coast friends that California had only two seasons — brown and three weeks of green — as I welcomed the changing seasons. Judy took me on my first “leaf peeping” trip to Pennsylvania. A to Z trips to Krakow and Nuremberg were conducted in winter. In Venice, we experienced “Aqua Alta;” in Hawaii, torrential rains. We have never confined our trips to one season, because experiencing different seasons and weather around the world is part of the adventure!  

Since we’ve moved to Arizona, we’ve come to appreciate seasons even more, and this little weekend getaway to Sedona was a reminder that no matter where you are or go, there are great opportunities to get outside and experience the constant change that nature brings us.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, and enjoy whatever the weather brings you. ‘Tis the season!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019