Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Passports: How Many Americans Have Them?

We've often heard it said that very few Americans (10%?) bother to get passports. That claim is often made within the context of a theory that citizens of the U.S.A. are isolationist or incurious about the world around them. It's rarely flattering.

It was doubly intriguing to read here not only that somewhere around 30% of Americans hold passports, but that the per capita number of passport holders varies greatly from state to state.

Now that they're required even to enter Canada - unless one holds, say, an enhanced driver's license - it's not hard to imagine that residents of most border states will join those in Washington to obtain them.

It should be a real money-maker for the federal government.

Close Encounters Of The Kitchen Kind

We've been keeping busy over the past week, ever since our new countertops were installed.

It's still a pleasant to shock to walk into the kitchen. Yes, we like them. We also like the sink and faucet we installed ourselves, the induction cooktop, and the gas cooktop that a specialist hooked up for us yesterday.

Now we're cooking with gas.*

* Now you're cooking with gas was an early 1900s gas company
advertising slogan used as part of a campaign to persuade people to switch from wood and coal stoves to the dangerous new technology.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The "Best" Food: Which Country?

First, it's against our rules to include countries just because of the great variety of ethnic food available. Canada, Australia, and the U.S. are obvious examples of that.

A short Lonely Planet article offers up its list of ten great food countries here.

We've been to all of them except India (well, we've eaten lunch in Malaysia, although haven't visited Indonesia). We'd definitely substitute Singapore for Japan on that top-ten list - even though we love udon noodles, sushi, and tempura.

Part of Singapore's attraction is the variety of cuisines available, but there's a definite Singaporean cuisine, and that tiny nation deserves a place on any list of "best" countries for food.

We'd write about this some more but we're too hungry.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In Your Chevrolet

One of Brian's first cars in high school was a 1953 Chevrolet. Running across Dinah Shore's 1952 singing commercial just about puts us in the mood for a road trip.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Today's Encounter

After various kinds of nuisances, mainly minor and mainly just waiting, today is the day the installers are scheduled to install our new kitchen countertops.

Once that's accomplished, after a couple of days of waiting for the sealing to harden we can hook up our new sink and garbage disposal. Next, when the fellow who's going to hook up the gas line to our new cooktop gets back from his vacation, we'll be cooking with gas.

Oh, and we found out we need a new water heater - fortunately before it sprang a fatal leak - and decided to take the plunge and select a tankless unit, giving us an endless supply unless the power goes out.

The devil really is in the details. For example, we've been reading and researching and getting close to buying bamboo flooring to install in the kitchen and dining room. Then we ran across this blog, containing a veritable litany of common complaints (scratching and denting)from bamboo flooring buyers.

One advantage of doing most of this on our own is that we do have time to consider some of these buying decisions, rather than making them all at once. We'll still be glad when it's all done.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Leaving Las Vegas

We've had a great time here and are now sitting in the Continental club at LAS, a very pleasant layout that we've visited before.

We enjoyed a fine production of Phantom of The Opera the other night at the Venetian. We'd found a deal, splurged on great seats, and found ourselves in the second row center on the aisle, almost close enough for the actors to perspire on us.

We've previously seen the Phantom in Vancouver and in London, and this production was second to none. The masked man himself was played by a Tony Award winner and he, along with everybody else, was terrific.

We've eaten well and will miss the privileges that came with Hilton Diamond status at the soon-to-be former Las Vegas Hilton.

Our kind neighbors have placed our third sink (hope this one isn't dented) and a garbage disposal inside our front door, and there'll be a variety of tasks to keep us busy when we return home.

This little break from our sink-less and stove-less kitchen has been fun but reality is about to intrude again.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Las Vegas Hilton - Our Last Stay?

We're enjoying ourselves here but the owners of the property are facing serious financial problems.

We enjoy the place and stay here because of the significant benefits our Hilton status provides: express check-in, "upgraded" rooms, free buffet breakfast with access to the "VIP" line, etc.

There are signs. They're offering rooms at $43 and up this summer, they're off the strip, although the monorail stops there, and one of their largest neighbors, the Sahara, shut down awhile ago. For us, four free nights and bunch of coupon deals make for a great deal.

This place has a lot of history to it, but there are a lot of famous Vegas properties that are now history, so only time will tell.

In the meantime, we enjoyed a performance of Nunsense yesterday afternoon for half price and ate in the steakhouse last night with $25 off (still pricey), using a couple of the coupons in our current package.

We'll keep our fingers crossed for the Las Vegas Hilton, but this town is a constant reminder that you can't count on luck to succeed.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

That 70s Look

We just realized something as we walked over to the SFO International Terminal, from where our flight to LAS departs.

Our A320 is painted in retro colors to celebrate United's 85th anniversary.

There's a discussion about the paint job on FlyerTalk here.

It's a little dark for photos but we tried.

A Sunny Saturday In San Francisco

We're back in the SFO RCC after a pleasant interlude in San Francisco.

We rode BART as far as Powell Street, wandered up to Chinatown, and decided to eat lunch in the venerable Empress of China. We decided on a prix-fixe multi-course lunch and it was nicely served one course at a time allowing us to linger for an hour and a half in their sixth-floor dining room and enjoy the view of the Coit Tower.

After lunch, we decided to walk over to Embarcadero and the waterfront, stopping to watch the SFFD back their ladder truck into the station - if only we'd had a grandson along.

What a fantastic day. After enjoying the view of the Oakland Bay Bridge, we walked all the way to Fisherman's wharf.

The only thing that kept it from being a perfect day was the number of tourists - the swarms of tourists - particularly as we neared Fisherman's Wharf.

We decided to enjoy a ride back to Powell Street on the only U.S. National Historic Landmark that moves, a great trivia question by the way.

We waited patiently for upwards of 40 minutes, but enjoyed the ride, hopped back on BART for the 30-minute ride to SFO (about 40 with the wait for a train) and whizzed through security with a metal detector, meaning we didn't have to choose between X-rays and groping searches.

It's going to be a late flight to LAS but it's been an enjoyable and profitable day, and the $400 we each received in UA travel certs for volunteering make the delay worth it. In fact, it was fun.

A Pleasantly Bumpy Flight Day

Most SFO-LAS flights are oversold today (along with some others) and we cheerfully accepted a bump in SFO in return for a total of $800 in future UA travel credits between us.

We're now off to leave our bags with some kind of travel agency that holds them for a fee, and then take BART into San Francisco on this beautiful day.

The flight we're confirmed on won't get us to Las Vegas until around midnight, yet another way Brian at least figures that we're making money... fewer time in front of the slot machines. Kathy's perspective is different on that aspect, but we're in full agreement that today has been a profitable one.

Flying Again

We're boarding a plane this morning.

The last time we flew was June 1 or 2. We've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen - actually, a lot of time tearing up our kitchen in preparation for new counter tops.

Now we're on our way to LAS via SFO.

We were flustered enough that we forgot to pack our little "liquid baggie." The only item of consequence we're missing is toothpaste and a lovely concierge in the SEA RCC dug up a free sample of Crest for us after we admitted our forgetfulness to her.

We're looking forward to our flights, two short hops, and we realize after 2 1/2 months away from airports that we've missed it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

That Sinking Feeling

Good news: The replacement sink for the damaged one described a couple of posts ago arrived promptly, an Artisan 16-gauge beauty.

Bad news: It was damaged too, and the damage was virtually identical to that on the first sink, a bend between the large and small bowl with a crease visible on top. We've now determined conclusively that even 16-gauge sinks can be bent during shipping when suspended in a cardboard cutout.

Better news: we complained directly via an online form to Artisan Manufacturing and received an almost immediate response asking for more information.

Best news: The employee who responded to us was, rather amazingly, Joseph Amabile, the company's Chief Operating Officer.

We e-mailed Mr. Amabile photos of the damaged sink and he immediately offered to have it replaced. He also said they would send us a set of sink grates to compensate us for our trouble. He is also asking the warehouse manager to add packing material to the box this time, a fine idea.

Tanya at Home Thangs sent us an e-mail to tell us they were sending us a $50 check as compensation for the second damaged sink, just as we were sending her an e-mail asking her to order that third sink.

We subsequently had a nice conversation with her and told her we would not cash the check, since we should belatedly be getting an undamaged sink.

We're keeping our fingers crossed and thinking, as the old saying goes, third time lucky.

Maybe it augurs well for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas. We should be so lucky.

Update August 18: Our luck with the third sink was even better than our luck in Las Vegas - okay, it was a lot better.

The third sink arrived while we were away, and it is in perfect condition.

We sent a thank-you e-mail to Joe Amabile and received a nice return e-mail from him. It's worth quoting:

"I am glad that I could help you in this matter, every customer is important to us no matter how big or small. A company is only as good as how they handle their issues and problems."

Wouldn't it be great if everybody - companies and individuals - acted in that spirit?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Most Descriptive Yet Fair-Minded Lodging Review

Linked by a Facebook and FlyerTalk friend... Thanks, Will!

Not bad. The rooms were a little cramped, and painted in an awful shade of green with graffiti on the walls. They could certainly do with modernisation and refurbishment. The lasagne was reasonable. Staff were pleasant, though unable to carry out their job to the best of their ability due to poor management. The selection of books on offer was somewhat bleak, and the en suite intimidating. I was unable to leave my room for the most part of my visit, and also had no internet connectivity which absolutely ruined the visit. Also the 2:30am checking out time was far less than convenient. I won't be visiting (out of choice) again, even though this accommodation was free.

Want to learn more about the Bishop Auckland? Read the full review here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kitchen Capers: Sinking Feelings And Counter Points

Yesterday we had a sinking feeling as we removed our beautiful Artisan 16-gauge sink from its box, only to discover it was marred by a crease between the large and small bowls. Even we could put up with the unsightliness, it would be impossible to install.

Gulps resulted since we had ordered online and the sink had been delivered a month ago. A phone call to the seller, followed up by hastily e-mailed photos of the damage, led to a new sink being shipped immediately as we return the damaged one. Hurray for the Home Thangs online store, and kudos to Tanya, their charming and efficient representative.

So here we stand in our counterless, sinkless, and cooktop-less kitchen awaiting the arrival of the counter-top installers to take their measurements and prepare their templates.

There's going to some dining out around here for awhile.

And, right on time, two fine fellows show up from Precision Countertops to measure and to prepare templates for our new quartz countertops.

Things are starting to look up already.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Fine Dam Place For A Wedding

We're off to Mission British Columbia today to attend the wedding of the youngest child of very good old friends.

The venue for the wedding is the Stave Lake Dam and Powerhouse. It looks like a great place for a fine dam wedding.

The weather is co-operating and we're really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kelowna BC Holiday Inn Express

We've been given a very pleasant room that's actually a suite in the Holiday Inn Express Kelowna Hotel and Conference Centre.

The only drawback is that it isn't the hotel we were trying to book. Because their Internet site wasn't working, Brian called Intercontinental to book the Westbank (West Kelowna) BC Holiday Inn, just a five-minute drive from his brother's house.

Instead, the phone rep found a hotel with the name Kelowna in it and booked us into that one, giving us a 20-minute drive each way through downtown Kelowna, quite the bustling city.

All's well that ends well, although we'll be letting IC know that we're not amused, and we should be in good shape for a dash over the Coquihalla Highway and the Trans-Canada in the morning as we wend our way back to Birch Bay to tear out our remaining kitchen counter tops.

A very pleasant visit with Dennis and his family (including two granddaughters who have grown lots since we last saw them as one reaches her 12th birthday soon) made it all very worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Victoria: Four Points By Sheraton Victoria Gateway

Tonight we're still on Vancouver Island as we help Brian's stepmother move from one suite to another in her retirement apartment. We're staying at the Four Points by Sheraton Victoria Gateway.

Like the Westin property we stayed at last night, this hotel is a ways from the downtown core. If you want to stay on the Inner Harbour, this is not the place for you. It's actually a couple of blocks off the Trans-Canada Highway and sits next door to the Victoria-area Costco, who list their address as Langford BC, rather than the Victoria touted by Starwood.

For us the location is fine and it's a pleasant property to amass stays and Starwood points.

Victoria: Westin Bear Mountain

The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa is obviously targeted for golfers and spa devotees. Being neither, we still find it a lovely place to stay when the rate is a bargain and we're upgraded to a suite, all while aiming to re-qualify for one more year of Starwood Platinum.

Yes, when the entry includes a "powder room," you know you're in a suite.

Lots of room and good views of the course and a distant Mount Baker are to be had from our spacious "valley view" balcony.