Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Best Christmas Gift Ever!

My boys laugh at me because every year when we put up our Christmas tree I say "it's the prettiest tree we've ever had" and for the last 4 or 5 years we've had an artificial tree. This year I got the best gift ever -- having BOTH of my sons with me on Christmas when I expected only one.

Michael, my younger son, has been in China this past year, teaching English at a university in Louyang City. I knew he wasn't going to be able to make it home for Christmas and was looking forward to seeing him in the U.S. when he came for a visit in January.

I was perplexed when my older son, Rodrigo, who lives in the L.A. area, began insisting that I drive from my northern Cali home to my parents' home for Christmas (they also live in the L.A. area). I had spent last Christmas with my mom and dad, I was just home from an 8-week sailing trip, and I really wanted to just stay home and relax. He kept it up, though, and even enlisted my mom's help in persuading me! Finally, I agreed, and drove the six hours to my parent's home. Well, the morning after I arrived I was expecting Rodrigo and his fiancee, Dianna, when I heard the doorbell ring. I went to answer it and who walked in right behind Rodrigo but Michael!!

Michael had drafted pretty much my entire family in an elaborate scheme to surprise me and boy did it work! I had NO idea that something like that was in the works. What a wonderful Christmas it has been! I never would have hoped to have had the chance to take the above photo of Michael on Christmas morning. Best of all, Michael will be in the U.S. for about 7 weeks and, in spite of having lots of family and friends he wants to visit, will be able to spend time with me because, as everyone knows, no one misses you like your mom, especially at Christmastime!

Here's my family as we gathered for Christmas Dinner at my mom's house. This is only a fraction of the members of my family as over the years we've become a frighteningly large group! And an ever-changing one, too, as we add a never-ending stream of spouses, in-laws, and new babies.
This most heartfelt wish I can offer you this year is that your Christmas was as wonderful as mine, and that you have just as much hope and optimism for the upcoming new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Mom's Christmas Crescent Rolls

Today I'm calling them "Christmas" Crescent Rolls but they make appearances all throughout the year at family dinners. My mom makes these and has done so for many years; they are so good that our family fights over them. These are not Pillsbury pop-can rolls (although I'm sure those are good, too); these are hand-made, twice-risen, and freshly baked and I, my dad, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, etc., have become "high-maintenance" when it comes to these rolls. Every holiday dinner at my parent's house, and many non-holiday dinners, too, like birthdays or anniversaries, we all EXPECT these rolls to be on the menu and every chance we get we drop the hint "it wouldn't be (insert name of occasion) without the crescent rolls!" in order to ensure that my mom makes the rolls. The sight of the rolls rising on the baking sheet (below) has been known to create a kind of manic anticipation that borders on mob mentality!
There were a number of occasions in the early, early recorded history of get-togethers at the Hansen Homestead where the demand for these rolls exceeded the supply. None of us who were present at those particular gatherings have ever forgotten it, and even though Mom keeps upping the quantity of rolls baked for subsequent gatherings, that past trauma gave rise to a number of schemes that many of us use to each guarantee our fair share of the rolls.

I myself, prior to dinner being served, am guilty of sneaking a half dozen crescent rolls, putting them in a ziplock baggie, and hiding them in my luggage. I have also hidden them in the freezer behind boxes of frozen mixed veggies where I knew they would be safe until I could retrieve them later. I've slipped an extra one (or two or three) into my pocket while they were being passed around at the dinner table. I've tried, but I can't stop doing this; after all, I know other family members engage in the same subterfuge which means I have to also or I risk someone else obtaining and eating my crescent rolls!

In recent years the rolls have even begun disappearing while they are still rising on the pans. I completely deny having anything to do with that business. My mom sometimes puts the pans up high on top of the refrigerator, or even on top of her ten-foot bookshelf, until they are ready for the oven. She says that she does this so the dog can't get them but I think she's on to us . . . uh . . . I mean them.
Last Christmas we had a small gathering at my mom and dad's house. Isn't the table pretty? Don't bother looking for the crescent rolls; they're not on the table yet because my mom didn't want to have to keep smacking our thieving hands while we were supposed to be getting a nice picture taken. From left-front, clockwise, that's me, my sister Lisa, my bro-in-law Ron, my Dad, my son Michael, my sister Karen, my Mom, and my son Rodrigo. Hubby Mike took this photo. As I recall, to get us to smile he said something like, "just think of all those crescent rolls you've squirelled away for later!"

This time of year is all about anticipation. What will Santa bring? Will he bring me everything on my List? Will I get my fair share of Mom's Crescent Rolls????

"Dear Santa,

I have been extra-good this whole year.

Please fill my stocking with Mom's Crescent Rolls.

Love, Debbie"

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Monday, December 17, 2007

"Home Is the Sailor, Home From the Sea..."

...(from the poem by A. E. Houseman)...

We got our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the mid-afternoon of Thursday, December 13th. What a welcome sight! It was a very cold day and we were bundled up in multiple shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats and gloves, and the first thought I had when I saw the bridge was, "Tomorrow I get to take a hot bubble bath!"As we sailed under the bridge it was hard to believe we'd been gone 60 days (!) and even harder to believe that our trip was nearly at an end. We'd logged approximately 2,600 sea-miles in a 34-foot sailboat with no refrigeration, heater, A/C, shower, or flush-toilet. We cooked and ate simple meals and if we were missing an ingredient we substituted something else or did without. Our "stuff" was minimal and what we found was that we really didn't need much. All the things we left behind -- the stuff that literally fills to bursting a three-bedroom home with a two-car garage -- proved to be totally unnecessary. Some stuff we missed, but we sure didn't need it.We saw this mural on one of the buildings on the San Francisco waterfront -- although we've seen it many times, on this occasion I felt it was meant just for us! The sun was going down as we moved through the bay and just as we reached the Bay Bridge it dropped behind the buildings creating this awesome view of the famous San Francisco Skyline:
The story of the huge oil spill of November 7th was (and still is) all over the news. A container ship called the Cosco Busan hit one of the supports on the Bay Bridge which acted like a giant can opener ripping open the side of the ship and dumping 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil into the water. We got a chance to see the damaged strut close-up as we sailed under the bridge; I took the photo below. You can see where all the concrete has been torn away and the underlying steel structure is exposed. It's under repair now. The most fortunate thing is that the damage to the support didn't cause any failure of the bridge.

We spent that night on the boat, docked in Alameda. The next morning our housesitters, Richard and Mary, arrived in our car to pick us up and take us home. By that time I was literally counting the minutes until I'd see my cats again! When I did, there was no hesitation on their parts -- they came right up to us, rubbed against our legs, and butted us with their heads. I was so surprised! I was sure I'd get the "cold tail!" All three were fine, a little fatter, and obviously purr-fectly happy.
That was 4 days ago. Since then we have quickly re-adjusted to all of Life's little conveniences! We're cooking in the microwave oven, stocking up our (relatively) huge refrigerator, taking long baths, flushing the toilet (instead of pumping it by hand!), doing laundry whenever we feel like it, running to the store for every little thing, and sleeping in a huge bed with real bedding (and three cats) instead of crammed in the forward berth in sleeping bags!
One thing that travelling to foreign countries always does for me is help me appreciate anew how blessed I am to live here in the U.S., and being without my "stuff," my pets, my family and friends only makes me enjoy them all the more now that I'm home again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Santa visits Morro Bay - via Sailboat!

The kids in Morro Bay must have some kind of "in" with Santa because the jolly old elf paid them a special visit this past Saturday (12/8) and he arrived in a sailboat! We were tied up to the dock of the Morro Bay Yacht Club when Santa made his entrance, and he pulled in right behind us, then quickly disembarked to the joy of the kids lined up on the yacht club balcony.
After Santa's visit we were too excited to stay on-board Mirage so we went for what would be our last walk through the little town of Morro Bay (population 10,000 according to a waitress in town). Mike, who has a fondness for all-things-mermaid, naturally wanted his picture taken with the cutest mermaid in town. I guess anytime I want more attention from him all I need to do is grow a tail (oh, and cavort with dolphins and wear seashells over my...uh...yeah, those)!
The next photo is for our friend, Paul, who says he used to work at the Wavelengths Surf Shop in Morro Bay. He wrote to us about it with such fondness that we thought we'd stop in and see it for ourselves:
Indeed, it's a super-cool shop if you are a surfer and, as Paul told us, they have an awesome collection of vintage surfboards on display on the walls and ceiling. We talked the "kids" running the place into letting us take some photos so here's one:
I'm pretty sure that board on the right-hand side, second from the bottom, with the orange stripe, belonged to my friend Judy's brother, David, when we were teens in the 70's and growing up in Redondo Beach, California (and that dude STILL surfs everyday! Sweeeet)!

Oh, by the way, Paul? The shop seems to be doing just fine without out you. ;-)

Now, last but certainly not least, is a photo of Bob and Sue Cross:
I met Sue on-line in a yahoo group for scrapbookers and this was our first chance to meet IRL (in real life). We had a great time talking sailboats & scrapbooking, and had a fun dinner together at Rose's Bar & Grill. She and Bob now live full-time on their boat, S/V Fugue, and spend their days sailing from place to place, keeping to no schedule but their own, and just enjoying what life brings. A lifestyle we should all aspire to!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Morro Bay Seabirds, a Cat & a Meltdown

A walk along the waterfront here in Morro Bay never fails to provide good photo opps. This Great Blue Heron kept one eye on us but we didn't seem to worry him much; he was too busy waiting for his breakfast to swim unknowingly by. What a beauty! What first caught my eye, though, were these two white pelicans (below). We see a lot of the brown pelicans but these were the first white ones we've seen on our trip. In our neck of the woods, northern california, I've often seen these guys in the marshlands off Highway 37 between Vallejo and the coast but this is the first time I've had a chance to photograph any.Also on our walk we came across this grey-and-black Tabby cat. His nametag told us his name is Tony. He was very friendly and clearly wanted some attention which I was glad to give!He's also kind of a camera hog! As you know, the weather has not been too good. Thursday, which was yesterday, actually looked like a small window of opportunity to get out and on our way. Mike went out early to look at the sandbar (at the entrance to the harbor) and came back to report that it looked ok. I was concerned that he hadn't gotten a "second opinion" from someone like the harbor patrol or the coast guard. He was confident, though so despite my misgivings we made ready to go.
As we were motoring toward the harbor entrance I got more and more unsettled. I was down below, bouncing from window to window, and trying to gage the weather with my landlubber's eye. True, in the harbor the water was calm (see above photos) but that was not a good indication of what was going on out on the open water. I couldn't see out there, I only knew that the weather reports were indicating much higher winds and swells than I'm comfortable with. Up on deck Mike had on his cold-weather gear and life-jacket. I had just started to put on my own life-jacket when I glanced out a window and saw spray coming up over the rock jetty that we were approaching.

Well, that was the last straw -- I could NOT go out there! I slipped into a full-fledged panic attack. I opened the hatch and told Mike to drop me off at the nearest pier, that I would take a bus home! (I may even had said I'd jump overboard, I can't remember for sure!) He threw the boat into a u-turn and started motoring back, then turned back to the harbor entrance again and told me to come up and look, that the entrance was not bad at all, I'd see, and there was even a boat ahead of us on their way out, but I wouldn't even go up, I'd made up my mind. Mike was angry, but he drove the boat back to the dock and tied it up. By that time I had my bags packed and was ready to walk to the nearest motel to check in until I could figure out where to catch a bus or Amtrak.

Mike didn't like the economics of that (Paul, you understand!) and convinced me it would be better for us to stay on the boat, at only $20 per night, until I was ready to head home and at that point he'd take me to the bus station. As I have calmed down over the last 12 hours or so I've realized I really would like to finish this trip on the boat, if at all possible. Mike has agreed to wait out this bad weather, which looks like it may last through the weekend, and we've figured out that we still have time to make it home by the 15th even if we didn't leave until Monday.

At this point, our plan is to make a short run to San Simeon on Sunday - the weather will be calming though still a smidge over my ultimate comfort level but it would be only for a short day -- stay the night there, and continue on to Monterey Bay on Monday after the storm has fully passed. After a night there we'd then decide whether to make the run home to Alameda (about 100 miles) all at once, which would entail sailing overnight, or perhaps make a stop in Half Moon Bay.

And, what do you know? The weather deteriorated greatly last night -- the wind roared and rain hammered -- and today the wind is howling through the rigging and even here in this normally calm and placid harbor (check it out in the photos above), the water is choppy. I took the photo below about an hour ago of the boats near us that are tied to mooring buoys and they are surrounded by whitecaps!It's pretty clear that Mike and I have different tolerance levels for dangerous ocean conditions which is understandable since his skills at sailing are far greater than mine. Mike thought I was questioning his judgement about whether or not it was safe to go out yesterday, and that made him angry. The reality of it is that I simply reached the limit of how scared I can stand to be! It doesn't even matter whether my fear is rational or not; it is what it is.

So we are here for at least two more nights. You can't beat the accommodations, and we've been invited to attend a get-togther this evening at the yacht club. Mike has gone off (in the wind and cold) to hike to the grocery store for a few things, and I'm wrapped up like a burrito in a blanket enjoying the free internet access! The sun peeks out now and then but the wind is still howling and I'm quite happy inside our snug little boat.

(by the way, I have no idea why some of these paragraphs are single-spaced and some double -- the blogger tools seems to make decisions like that for me!)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Homesick Again

I've been looking through my digital photo files and came across some that our housesitters, Richard and Mary, recently sent us. They are caring for our home and our cats during our 8-week trip and, let me say this, if you haven't used housesitters, it's THE way to go if you want peace of mind on vacation! (Check out, where we found Richard and Mary, next time you need someone to care for your home, with or without pets.)

I always worry about my cats while I'm gone even on short trips so I was truly nervous about both Mike and I being gone for two months. I couldn't possibly just have someone come in and check on them, even if it were every single day -- they'd probably destroy the house or, at the very least, develop some very bad habits if left on their own so much. Plus, I don't like to leave my home vacant; even though we live in a very safe area, you still never know! Finding Richard and Mary was a huge relief; especially when we met them and saw how they interacted with our pets and we could tell they were responsible, caring, and thoughtful people who would take the same care of our pets and home as we would.

So anyway.....just check out these photos! The first is of Jack who is obviously in blissful heaven sprawled in Richard's lap! The little traitor!
And here is my little sweetheart, Scout, giving MY kisses to Mary! The little hussy!

All kidding aside, I'm really grateful to Richard and Mary for providing such good care of the Tabbies that they have (obviously!) bonded to them. I can relax and enjoy my vacation knowing that my pets are not unhappy, pining away for me (do cats even do that?), or not being fed and watered and loved on a regular basis.

And, not to leave out our third (and oldest) cat, Bo, here is a photo of him snug as can be in his little bed. At over 17 years of age the only things that make him happy are a warm bed and food and we know he's getting plenty of both.

Thank you, Richard and Mary!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happily Tucked into snug Morro Bay

There's a big storm coming causing conditions like the waves pictured above. That's a big Coast Guard cutter entering the Morro Bay harbor amid huge seas. So glad we got in last night ahead of the storm. It's supposed to get worse before it gets better so we'll be tucked in here for a few days at least. No way do I want to be out in 35-40 knots of wind and 15-25 foot sea swells! I'm seasick just thinking about it. We couldn't leave if we wanted to -- the Coast Guard has closed the entrance to this harbor due to the dangerous conditions.

Of course, staying here is no hardship because we are tied up to the dock of the Morro Bay Yacht Club, and we're the only visitors here, so we have the guest bathrooms/showers/laundry facilities all to ourselves AND free wi-fi internet--wooohooo! Needless to say I'll be updating both my blogs plus reading and replying to all my emails, making phone calls, and doing plenty of digital scrapbooking. So nice to be back in civilization!

We've already done quite a bit of exploring here and love this little seaside town. It's our first time in Morro Bay and since we'll be here for a few days you'll get to see some photos of this quaint little place. First, though, here is a photo just for my Mom who Mike has fooled into thinking he's always clean-shaven -- hah!!!
Most of the time on-board the Mirage THIS is how he looks! I refer to it (affectionately, of course) as his "grizzled sea-captain" look. He was getting ready to shave in preparation to going to a restaurant but I made him wait til I took his picture. He doesn't look too bad here, he's been much worse!
That's the famous Morro Rock - I took this photo yesterday in much calmer weather. This afternoon it is shrouded in fog. It's really quite incredible. People used to be able to climb it but naturally, since that would be so much fun, the gov't put a stop to that. After all, we might hurt ourselves. At one time this rock was separate from the mainland but then a causeway was built in 1933 and you can now walk, bike, or drive along the inland side. There's a lot of new construction going on as the walking and jogging trails are improved, and a boardwalk is being added. We're hoping to come back in a year or so and see it all completed.
And here's the other landmark which distinguishes Morro Bay -- a power plant with three towers stretching high into the sky. Too bad -- a necessary building, sure, but to put it right at the waterfront? And you can see it -- like the Rock -- from practically anywhere in town. An interesting juxtaposition of Nature and Man.
Last photo for this post is this pelican. Mike took this photo -- he's really a much better photographer than I am -- he has a lot more patience. I love how he caught the bird as it's wings nearly brush the surface of the water!