HOME!

When you get the offer to babysit your one-and-only, most precious granddaughter for 10 days while Mom & Dad take advantage of a business/pleasure trip to Australia, there is no better reason than to wave goodbye to Europe and return to sunny and warm southern California!

I flew home on February 1, 2016, for the first time but certainly not the last, on Norwegian Air.

Flying from London Gatwick to Los Angeles in one of their brand-new Dreamliner aircraft is so relaxing.  Economy seats are all big and their famous air recycling system is amazing!  You feel that you are almost breathing fresh air for the entire 11 1/2 hour flight!  You get off the plane feeling refreshed and not that groggy, I hate flying feeling.

And then there is the cost! Norwegian Air is a low-cost airline.  My one-way ticket price…..$249!!!!  Of course, the cost varies depending on the time of year.  Right now, in the middle of high season in Europe, a one-way ticket is $520.  But compared to all the regular airlines, that is still dirt cheap!  The service was outstanding.  Add a good selection of movies and music, decent food, they departed on time and arrived a bit early –  what more do you want from an airline?

For the first 3 weeks in February it was time to get reacquainted with Ms. Stella and spoil her as much as possible.  We watched Finding Nemo and Frozen too many times to count!  We went to the beach and built sandcastles and went swimming at the pool.  She is also playing on her first organized sports team – soccer.

She learned from her coach (an amazingly patient woman!) that she has to be a good sport and a team player. She now tells everyone that she is a good ‘team-er’ but hasn’t quite learned how to run and kick the ball.

She has several friends from her pre-school that also participate.  So from being very shy the first few ‘games’, she is now a happy soccer team member.

We did some visiting with her GaGa & Poppie and even had an overnight at Cousin LuLu’s so Grandma ReRe could have a night off!

Raising children is for much younger women.  I was completely exhausted at the end of each day. But being able to have her sit on my lap as we read Dora, the Explorer or Hamish the Highland Cow before falling asleep, or singing Let It Be as loud as we could together, were memories I will treasure.  It is going to be so fun to watch what will happen as this adorable princess welcomes a baby brother into the family in November!

One of the nicest things about visiting my family in Solana Beach is ‘doing lunch’ with 2 of my dear friends from Danville High School.  Susan lives in San Diego and Julie is in Del Mar.  It’s always so much fun to reminisce and share memories of our long-ago youth over a delicious lunch and a good glass of wine!

From SoCal to Chi-Town!  It was time to head back ‘home’ and reconnect with my girlfriends.  It’s amazing but everyone wants to ‘wine & dine’ you when you’ve been away.  I probably put on 10lbs just being ‘welcomed home!’  But I certainly didn’t begrudge the additional weight when I had the joy of spending time with my friends and catching up on all the gossip from the past 11 months.

I spent the first two weeks in the beautiful home of dear friends Kevin & Dan on North Sheridan Road overlooking Lake Michigan with their fabulous view of downtown Chicago.

Two of my favorite guys!
View from their condo!

Both were out-of-town the first week, and the 2nd week Kevin was gone and Dr. Dan was working such long hours that I had the run of the place almost to myself.

I made appointments with my doctor, my dentist, my eye doctor and my dermatologist.  ‘The Girls’ got their annual squeeze and I was thrilled to learn after all that that I was good to keep going for at least another year.

I hadn’t planned to stay another two weeks in Chicago but when I was offered,  I just couldn’t turn down a house/pet sit on the Gold Coast at the corner of Walton & Lake Shore Drive.

My Charges
My View!

I  enjoyed a wonderful  gift of two additional weeks ‘at home’ within walking distance of many IWA events, great restaurants, and the best of North Michigan Avenue SHOPPING!  

With the permission of the homeowners, one evening I hosted a dinner for a few of my closest girlfriends.

I love to travel – all the countries I get to visit, the history I learn and the people I get to meet – but there is nothing that can replace your friends!

Another treat while in the Chicago area was a short, overnight trip to Madison to visit with #2 Son and his beautiful wife, Melissa.  They have a new family member, Otis, who is an English Golden Retriever (they have the much lighter blonde coats).  In this photo he is a lovable 6-months old.  He is already huge and will only get hugh-er!

Following my plan, it was now time to fly to North Carolina to visit my friends there.  I flew into Raleigh and was met by Wilmington neighbor and dear friend, Janet.  We celebrated her birthday with lunch at the Cheesecake Factory before I got to drive (yes, I miss driving!) us back to the beach.   I spent a week with her and her fabulous husband, Bob, in their beautiful new home.

They had finally made the much-discussed move off Carolina Beach to be closer to downtown Wilmington.  They are now around the corner from where Bob plays tennis every sunny morning, a few minutes drive to shopping and theater and all the wonderful jazz concerts at UNCW.

Janet and I spent our days catching up while enjoying some of the best spots in town for lunch, shopping till we dropped, and just renewing our friendship.

I also got to enjoy a delicious dinner on the Riverwalk with friend and fellow traveler, Beth.  She encouraged me that if I ever got the chance go to New Zealand, stay as long as I possible could, as I would fall in love.  Over dinner and several glasses of wine, we poured over guide books and maps with her giving me great suggestions and ideas of where to go and do and stay.

My good friend Nancy drove down from Raleigh to spend a night and enjoy a delicious diner at Indochine before I returned to spend a few days in her big city. She and I had traveled to Portugal, taught English in Spain and cruised to Alaska together.  Nancy is retired from a long career with National Public Broadcasting but was and is also a professional pianist and this trip I finally got to hear her play!

From Raleigh I caught the AMTRAK to Charlotte to see my oldest and dearest friends, Sandra and Rich.  They were at my wedding, Rich was my John’s best friend and they have been through all the ups and downs of my life from the late 60’s onward  I always find time to enjoy their wonderful hospitality when I am anywhere nearby.  I just invite myself for a visit!

#2 and I with Sandy & Rich at a Charlotte Panther’s Game

Now is where ‘the plan’ gets a little off-schedule.  From Charlotte, good friends and neighbors Karen and Don from the NC mountain town of Burnsville, drove to Charlotte to pick me up and carry me back up the mountain for a visit that was to have lasted for 6 days.  Instead I was their guest-house guest for 8 weeks!!!

Let me explain.  I had lined up what promised to be a fabulous housesit on the Pacific coast of Mexico, north of Mazatlan and south of Puerto Vallarta, for 2 months.

It sounded wonderful.  Large compound, beautiful home, 2 dogs, breathtaking view, short bus ride to the nearest village.  But as time got closer and I was able to connect with the couple from whom I would be taking over housesitting duties, I learned all was not-as-it-seemed.  First, the bugs where enormous and overly-plentiful – and I HATE BUGS!  I learned the owners required you never leave the compound unless someone was there to watch over the house. (Numerous robberies in the area have occurred.) That means only when the gardner or cleaning lady or someone from the work crew was available to stay around a few hours while you get away can you get away.  And that bus to the nearby village where you get away to purchase some groceries only runs sporadically – it is Mexico.

So here I was, a not-so-young single woman all alone with big bugs, no transportation, in an area known for being burgled frequently and no one nearby to call on for help if needed with my very limited Spanish.  Oh – and no wifi! After a brief reconsideration and Karen’s generous offer to ‘just stay put and enjoy springtime in the mountains’, I let the homeowners know (in plenty of time for them to find a replacement) that I would not be coming.

Instead, below are photos of where I called ‘home’ for  8 glorious weeks! I just had to include  a few photos of the dinners that Karen, with Donnie’s help, prepared each evening.  She is an outstanding, far above average cook and I took great advantage of her skills. She even made me a Ginger/Lime Cheese Cake for my birthday – and I literally licked the plate!

 

This is the Guest House. I even got to drive Donnie big red truck for a week while they went to visit family in Florida.  Had to rig up a step-stool to get in and out of it which caused much laughter when I drove it into town!

 
Seriously, a typical dinner!

Besides eating, we did a few trips into Asheville for shopping and dining, took in a gallery opening at the Toe River Arts Center, a student auction at the Penland School of Craft and toured their new gallery space on campus and attended Fire on the Mountain Blacksmith’s Festival in downtown Spruce Pine (where Donnie slow-roasted a ton of bar-b-qued pork for the after party!)

I made a stop to see the beautiful Doug Sigler custom-built house I called home for 4 years and to once again take in one of the most magnificent views anyone could have from their front window. I also visited with friend and artist Susan Hayden and thrilled at seeing the mountain come into bloom!

Susan’s work
Art? With Donnie’s head peeking thru
Susan’s Sock Monkey Collection
Blacksmith Opening at Toe River Arts Council
Blacksmithing at it’s best
Penland’s new craft gallery
Glass @ Penland Gallery
My ‘used to be’ mountain home

Interesting to see how the cedar siding has streaked and grayed since it was first installed.  The new owner did some work on the lower-level balcony but no one can improve on the view of Roan Mountain that I saw each morning from my living room window.

Spring blooming in all it’s glory!

 

When not eating or reading or visiting or shopping or gallery-hopping, I searched the housesitting websites each day and finally managed to find a way to give Karen and Don a break from my delightful company. First I got a 3-week housesit in Melbourne, Australia followed by a 3-month housesit on the North Island of New Zealand!  Thanks Beth for the suggestion and great itinerary planing.

So even though it was a much longer-than-planned stay back home in the States, I had a marvelous time visiting family and friends.  But all good things must come to an end, especially when new places to see are calling.  So on May 28th I flew to San Diego to say goodbye to Ms. Stella and her Mommy and Daddy before catching the long flight to my next 11 months down under.   

On June 1st I landed in Sydney, Australia!!!

Until next time……

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