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weblog - 2008/9

Dec 31  Lake Tahoe

Tahoe08 (4).jpg (86105 bytes)Tahoe08 (12).jpg (66223 bytes)Once again the Levy-Solomons clan is assembled on the shores of Lake Tahoe in Brockway Springs at the north end of the lake on the Nevada-California border.  The weather has been ideal.  There is plenty of snow for the skiers, but not enough to hamper driving.  Outside temperatures have been warm (relatively) so that activities like skiing, sledding and ice skating have been enjoyable.  From the ski slopes to the restaurants it is hard to tell that there is a recession in progress.  Apparently the casino have been hard hit.  Fitzgerald's and other famous venues in Reno have been boarded up.  As yet they haven't resorted to removing the Gamblers Anonymous signs.  We got quite a few good pictures and you can see them by clicking HERE.

Dec 9  Houston

mini02.jpg (374948 bytes)It is December 9 and it is snowing in Houston.  Alas it is melting as it hits the ground.  The temperature here is in the low 30's - very unusual.  One bit of news - we have a new addition to the fleet.  We bought a Mini Cooper.  Everyone seems to smile when they see the car.  The whole car is good looking but no doubt the outstanding feature is the checkered flag mirror covers picked out by Pat.

Nov 29 Killeen

A classmate of Mark's has put together a video about Barack Obama's Honolulu roots and posted it on U Tube.  Just before the end of the video there is a nice picture of Mark in uniform.  Click this LINK  to see the video.

Nov 25 Killeen

In March 2007, a picture of Barack Obama's fifth grade class appeared on the front page of the New York Times.  Obama was standing in the back row, while seated in the front row at the extreme right was Mark Solomons.   Now a journalist with the UK Mirror decided to follow up on that picture and find out what happened to the members of that class.  The resulting article can be seen by clicking here .

Nov 19    Honolulu

Hawaii_08 (45).jpg (79163 bytes)Hawaii_08 (46).jpg (82741 bytes)Hawaii_08 (48).jpg (80024 bytes)It had been many years since we visited the Arizona memorial so we went to Pearl Harbor to see it..  The memorial has been improved, a museum and theater having been added.  They greatly enhance the experience.  As always, a visit to Pearl Harbor is a solemn and sobering experience.  The Arizona  sits on the bottom but part of its tower is seen above the surface. Oil is still leaking from the wreckage and somehow that seems to be a link to the sailors entombed below.  Mark and Andy's grandfather was one of the driving forces behind the building of the memorial and his name is prominently displayed.

Nov 16    Maui

Hawaii_08 (13).jpg (67874 bytes)Hawaii_08 (20).jpg (58072 bytes)Hawaii_08 (40).jpg (81628 bytes)Hawaii_08 (28).jpg (208060 bytes)When we arrived on Maui it was a gloriously clear day so we headed straight to Haleakala, a volcano which rises more than 10,000 from its sea level base.  It is the home to two endangered species, the nene goose and the silversword, a beautiful plant.  The nene goose is the state bird of Hawaii.  The volcano is considered active but we weren't too worried as it hasn't erupted in the last 300 years.  We had been to the summit before, but it was always cloudy or rainy.  The view on a clear day is unforgettable.  We spent the night at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on the north end of the island which, we discovered too late, is known for bad weather this time of year..  On the other hand, the drizzle allowed us to see some beautiful rainbows.

Nov 11    Houston

Someone has to kick start the economy, why not us?  We are off to Hawaii for two weeks of fun and sun. We'll spend a few days visiting friends on Oahu and then do a two day trip to Maui.

Oct 30    Killeen

Harker_08_11 (8).JPG (61272 bytes)Harker_08_11 (12).JPG (76514 bytes)Harker_08_11 (51).JPG (132142 bytes)Harker_08_11 (32).JPG (78913 bytes)We spent a few days with Mark, Margaret, Andy and the grandchildren.  Mark just got back from the National Training Center in California and had just a few days at home before heading off to Iraq on November 3.  We participated in the Halloween festivities including pumpkin carving and trick or treating.  Johnny went as Harry Potter and Katie was his friend Hermione.  It was interesting to see the kids in the neighborhood in their costumes.  We recognized very few of the characters.  What ever happened to Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.  Saturday marked the end of the youth soccer season and we saw Johnny and his Tigers teammates in action.

Sep 26   Houston

We have a new car.  It is a red and white Mini Cooper with checkered flag mirror covers.  A picture will appear here soon.

Sep 19   Puntarenas, Costa Rica

CosRicWeb (7).jpg (139068 bytes)CosRicWeb (8).jpg (121754 bytes)Our tour concluded with a two day stay at the all-inclusive Double Tree resort.   It is a first class facility located on a sandy  beach, but frankly, the water was pretty uninviting.  We were told it clears up in the dry season, but we have our doubts.  There were three large pools with swim-up bars so we didn't miss the ocean.  The itinerary called for a three hour trip to a national park, but we opted to strike out on our own ad give zip-lining a go.  It turns out to be one of our trip highlights.  We traversed eight platforms with the final leg a 2,000 foot ride high above the jungle canopy.  Pretty exciting stuff.

Sep 17   Fortuna, Costa Rica

CosRicWeb (5).JPG (176196 bytes)CosRicWeb (6).JPG (61009 bytes)CosRicWeb (9).JPG (96403 bytes)Returning from the jungle, we had another long boat ride and bus ride, this time broken up by a visit to the Del Monte banana packing plant.  Then it was on to a very nice hotel at the base of Costa Rica's most active volcano - Arenal.  Steam and ash are almost constant with lava flows visible at night.  Our accommodation was very nice, a free-standing cabin with a back porch viewing platform.  We were visited by toucans and other colorful birds in the morning. One afternoon we traveled to Los Chiles for a boat trip on the Rio Frio.  Despite the names, we were told the water was quite warm. We followed a family of howler monkeys to the border with Nicaragua.

Sep 15   Tortuguero, Costa Rica

CosRicWeb (3).JPG (111893 bytes)CosRicWeb (4).JPG (112324 bytes)After an hour and a half on a paved road, an hour on a gravel road and an hour on a boat, we arrived at our destination on the Caribbean coast..  This is one of the most remote location we have ever visited.  The Laguna Lodge hotel is more than adequate despite having no TV or telephone service.  The hotel is situated between a river and the Caribbean, with a nice lounge on the bank of the river, where you can sip cocktails and observe the maritime activities.  In the back of the hotel is a wide sandy beach used by green sea turtles to lay their eggs.  The mama turtles leave tracks in the sand as they make their way back to the sea.  The river bank vegetation hosts a large number of white-faced Capuchin monkeys.

Sep 13   San Jose, Costa Rica

CosRicWeb (1).JPG (89640 bytes)CosRicWeb (2).JPG (84143 bytes)CosRicWeb (10).JPG (94318 bytes)A few years ago we stopped in Costa Rica on a Panama Canal cruise.  We decided at that time to return someday and see more of the country, so here we are.  We are traveling with Caravan Tours.  An all land tour is a first for us.  The company provided a new Mercedes Benz bus which was very comfortable.  The Barcelo Hotel where are staying for two night is very nice, but the city of San Jose doesn't have much to offer except wacky drivers.  Crossing the street here is an adventure.  We visited the Poas volcano which has lots of steam but no lava in recent years.  We also visited a reserve where we encountered one of Costa Rica's signature red frogs.

Sep 12   Houston

Hurricane Ike is coming and we are going.  Timing is everything.  Our flight to Costa Rica leaves at 9:15 and the airport closes at noon.  See ya later.

Sep 1   Houston

IMG_0746rev.jpg (93045 bytes)IMG_0748rev.jpg (75846 bytes)IMG_0754rev.jpg (86072 bytes)Labor Day weekend saw the arrival of Margaret, Mark and their kids, Deanna and Andy, and Monica and Mike for a joint celebration of Johnny's ninth birthday and Pat and Lew's 25th anniversary.  We celebrated Saturday night at a Japanese restaurant where the Iron Chef put on a great show of dexterity with cooking tools and food (the food  tasted good , too).  Early Sunday morning a few hardy souls traveled to Galveston for a fishing excursion on the Bay.  The total catch was one small trout, landed by Johnny.

Aug 18  Carmel

Concours 062.jpg (102043 bytes)Concours 070.jpg (106921 bytes)Concours 033.jpg (68920 bytes)The highlight of the weekend was the Concours d'Elegance held on the Pebble Beach golf course.  This is the top showcase for beautifully restored classic cars, many of which are valued at $1,000,000 plus.  I'm sure many of them look better now than when they were new.  The event also featured General Motors concept cars from the 40's and 50's.  Most looked they were designed for The Jetsons.

Aug 17  Carmel

Concours 014.jpg (85811 bytes)Concours 022.jpg (79568 bytes)Concours 023.jpg (67802 bytes)Laguna Seca racetrack is the site of the annual antique car races.  Races are held for various car age groups with the pre-1930 group first and the most fun.  We stayed around long enough to see the four oldest age groups.  Some of the cars were almost one hundred years old but they still go pretty fast.  Mario Andretti was the honored guest and he gave a demonstration of his skill driving the 1978 Lotus ground effects in which he was a winner on the Formula-1 circuit.  

Aug 16  Carmel

Concours 001.jpg (81917 bytes)Concours 003.jpg (94620 bytes)Concours 002.jpg (94391 bytes)We are in Northern California for the annual Pebble Beach classic car weekend.  The first event is the Concorso Italiano, a showcase for Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghini's and a host of other Italian sports cars.  Here we are with our gracious hosts, Marsha and Sam Dodson.  Pat and I thought we'd be the biggest celebrities there until Jay Leno showed up.

 

Jul 30  Houston

We went to our first Astros game of the season.  Our local heroes have fallen on hard times.  Tonight they fell behind 8-1 early in the game, and although they made a game of it had too much of a hill to climb.  The game was fun with six home runs combines, including what will probably be the last in a Cincinnati uniform by Ken Griffey, Jr.  Looks like he is headed for the White Sox

Jun 24 - July 10 Norway - see Recent Trips

Jun 23, Wimbledon

Queue.jpg (110856 bytes)Today is the first day of the annual tennis championship, so we had to give it a try even though we couldn't find advance sale tickets.  Traditionally, ground passes go on sale every day during the tournament. It is necessary to join a queue in order to buy the passes.  Everyone in the queue is given a ticket.  Our tickets were numbers 6033 and 6004, representing our position in the queue.  We arrived at at 9:00 and got in to the stadium at noon.  This isn't as bad as it would seem as Wimbledon is well organized to handle the people.  The queue is in a field where food, water and toilet facilities are available for those waiting for the line to start moving.

 

Jun 22, London

The Globe theater has been reconstructed on the south bank of the Thames.  We saw a production of King Lear which was impressive but a little on the boring side.  Some of the key characters' voices didn't carry too well in the theater so it was hard to keep up with the action.  We had seats in the upper stalls, but the people downstairs have to stand through the performance, which appeared to be pure torture.  I think they overachieved in making the reconstruction authentic.

Jun 21, London

mort.jpg (87259 bytes)It's our first full day on the south bank of the Thames.  The area has been redeveloped making it a fun place to stay.  We were able to walk easily to The Swan restaurant we we met up with Ginny and David Mortimer, good friends from our time in Brazil.  Their kids, Katy and Andy, who were teenagers at the time, joined us for lunch.  They are grown up now, Katy even brought along her husband.  

 The theatre in London is hard to beat.  We took in a performance of The 39 Steps, a hysterically funny adaptation of the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film.  Four actors take on about thirty roles requiring perfect timing.  They managed to pull it off making for a very entertaining evening. 

Jun 20, London

We barely had time to wash clothes and we are off again, this time to London for a few days before embarking on a cruise to Norway.  We are staying in a very cozy hotel near London Bridge.  Despite a steady drizzle, we walked over to Saint Paul's cathedral, but got there too late to get inside.  We "dined" at a neighborhood pub, the George Inn where we sampled the meat and wine pie.

Jun 13, Penticton

Penticton_08 (15).jpg (49388 bytes)Penticton_08 (12).jpg (95026 bytes)Penticton_08 (8).jpg (90843 bytes)Where? In the Okanogan Valley, Silly.  This place is unknown except to bridge players, tri-athletes, and Canadian wine buffs.  Located four hours north of Spokane Washington, this city is a gem.  The weather is delightful, the people friendly and the scenery is spectacular.  When we weren't playing bridge we toured the area discovering some interesting vineyards, and a place named Tinkleberry's in OK Falls which arguably has the best ice cream in the world.   The only distressing factor was having to pay $100 US to get back $98 Canadian.  I guess this was a gentle warmup for having to face the pound sterling and the Euro later this week.

 

May 18, New York

We are just back from a week in New York with Jann and Dick Brown.  Our primary mission was to see a couple of shows.  We ordered tickets to two revivals that had not yet opened, so we had to hope for the best.   On Friday night we saw A Country Girl featuring Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand, two of America's finest actors.  It was fun to see Freeman and McDormand up close, but they never seemed to generate and sparks.  Some critics loved it but we thought it was good but not great.  Gypsy, with Patti LuPone, was a different story.  From the moment LuPone walked onto the stage until the final bows there was electricity in the air.  The three lead characters were all nominated for Tony awards and I wouldn't be surprised if at least two emerge as winners.  LuPone is a lock.

We had planned to do a lot of walking but the weather did not cooperate.  We mostly did indoor stuff, but did mange to go round trip on the Staten Island ferry.  You can't beat the price (free) and you get pretty close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The city has always been pricey, but it appears that an effort is being made to show foreign visitors that New York is not part of some banana republic where their Pounds and Euros would go far.  We had breakfast one morning at the Plaza hotel and were somewhat taken aback to find that a cup of coffee and an order of toast cost $22 plus tax and tip.  In the interest of full disclosure, the toast order did come with four slices.

May 5, Lincoln, NE

SAC.jpg (97057 bytes)sower.jpg (59516 bytes)lazlo.jpg (94326 bytes)Who knew eastern Nebraska was a tourist destination?  We gathered up Nancy and Packy Maxwell who joined us for this capitalist pilgrimage and headed to the state capital, Lincoln, about 60 miles away.  On the way we stopped off at the Strategic Air Command museum, a paean to General Curtis LeMay, a distinguished military man who unfortunately is best remembered as George Wallace's running mate in 1968.  We drove past the University of Nebraska football stadium, which locals informed us is the third largest city in the state on Saturdays in the fall.  The state capital is a very impressive building, with a statue named "The Sower" atop its dome .  We had to ask the guide to spell it out before we got the meaning.  When we visited, we lucked out and found a guide who was very knowledgeable and helpful.  She not only knew everything there was to know about the state government, but also pointed us to Lazlo's microbrewery and restaurant for lunch in the redeveloped Haymarket district.

 

May 3, Omaha

bag.jpg (54303 bytes)longhorn.jpg (89313 bytes)This has to be seen to be believed.  The Berkshire meeting starts at 9:30, the doors open at 7:00, and when we arrived at 6:00, there was already a line outside the Qwest Center..  The outside temperature was 40 degrees and the wind was howling.  The people in front of us came prepared with plastic garbage bags to ward off the weather.  They had an extra bag which Pat gladly accepted.  Only her fingers were visible.  The wait was worth it as Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger are very entertaining and informative.  In addition to the annual meeting and Q&A session, many of the B-H companies display their wares in a large exhibition room in the same building.  Everything from See's candy to pre-fab homes are on display.  It's not obvious what all of B-H's companies do.  One company seemed to have something to do with livestock, but it wasn't clear what.  Warren wasn't available to have his picture taken with us, so we had to settle for this longhorn.  The woman tending the animal volunteered to take our picture.  She appears in a full-page report on the meeting in the current issue of Time magazine.

May 2, enroute to Nebraska

Despite the high cost of gasoline, we decided to drive north to Omaha to participate in the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, dubbed by one wag as Woodstock for capitalists.  We stopped in Oklahoma City last night and dinner with Terry and Cindi Ruder, friends from our days in Rio de Janeiro.  We ate in a restaurant named Cafe do Brasil, owned by a Brazilian who serves authentic Brazilian food and drink.  We sampled the caiparinhas, moqueca, and other Brazilian delicacies.  After dinner we stopped at the Murrah Building memorial.  Very moving.

April  26, Fort Hood

honors.JPG (225838 bytes)change_of_command_ (38).JPG (67488 bytes)An exciting day in central Texas as Lt. Col. Mark Solomons was honored in a Change of Command ceremony at Fort Hood.  Mark is commanding the 2-8 CAV, part of the Iron Horse brigade of the Army's First Cavalry Division.  The traditional ceremony featured a marching band, soldiers in civil war uniforms, inspirational speeches, and concluded with a full-on cavalry charge on horseback.  Incoming commanders arrived, and outgoing commanders departed on horseback.  The event program featured stories on each of the incoming and outgoing commander's accomplishments and honors.  Mark's write-up is on the left.  Click here to see a photo collage of the ceremony  highlights.

 

April  9, Sedona, Arizona

Arizona_08__0011.jpg (93342 bytes)Arizona_08__0024.jpg (78872 bytes)We only had one day to see Sedona and Jerome which is not nearly enough.  We vow to return.  Sedona is surrounded by fascinating rock formations which give it a uniquely beautiful backdrop.  Lot's of interesting shops and jeep tours of the surrounds which we will do on our next visit.  Jerome is an old mining town built on a mountainside.  The road from Jerome heading south toward Phoenix is scenic but a little bit scary.  I would not want to drive it in a snow storm.

April  9, Chandler, Arizona

patmpg.jpg (143404 bytes)Lightening did not strike twice as your reporter and Mary Pat Gentry played yester day in an open pairs event at a regional tournament here in Arizona.  However today Pat and Mary Pat blew away the field in Flight A of the stratified pairs, winning by almost three full boards.  Most tournaments are won by half a board or less (your reporter won last week by less than one tenth of a board).  Congratulations to the ladies.  I took advantage of the beautiful weather here by taking in a rare day baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the L.A. Dodgers.  The D-backs won 4-3 in a very good game that had three lead changes.  The ballpark is first rate, but traffic in Phoenix is awful.

 

April  6, Houston

At the sectional bridge tournament today, the bridge unit announced the winners of the masterpoint awards for 2007.  The winner of the Diamond Life Master award (5000-7500 masterpoints) was none other that Pat Levy.  Nice going.

April  4, Houston

lewmpg.jpg (13943 bytes)Miracles do happen.  Your reporter and his partner Mary Pat Gentry were the winners of the opening event of the April 2008 sectional bridge tournament in Houston.  

 

 

 

April  2, Houston

For the first time since leaving Hawaii we are a two car family.  We finally bit the bullet and bought a Cadillac CTS.  The car has a lot of gadgets and seems to have a mind of its own.  We are planning to drive to Omaha in May and hope to have figured out the navigation system before we head out.  (picture to follow)

 

March 23, Austin

Easter_08_003.jpg (61716 bytes)Easter_08_044.jpg (102171 bytes)Easter_08_040.jpg (88488 bytes)Off to Austin for the annual Brown family Easter extravaganza.  Saturday night we went to dinner at North. a hot new Italian restaurant recommended by your blogger.  The food was OK but the restaurant was very noisy (maybe we're just getting old).  The waiter did a good impersonation of Manuel from Fawlty Towers.  It took him three tries before getting the drink order straight, took a dinner order for an item which had been taken off the menu, and came out one time with the food but couldn't find our table.  The extended family for Sunday lunch has grown to forty.  Mark, Margeret and family attended as did Andy.  Mark was heading to Virginia for a course so we dropped him off at the Austin airport on the way back to Houston.

February 26, Valley Glen

Bailey1.jpg (232126 bytes)bailey2.jpg (240119 bytes)bailey3.jpg (271617 bytes)Kelly and Ross have a new member of the family - Bailey.  Here's the story:

We want to introduce you to our new Home Puppy Bailey!!! She is an 8-month-old Golden Retriever and we are simply in love with her. She was rescued from a Pet Store some time ago, when her previous owner saw a sad, sickly, frail little girl in a store window. He took her home, but he travels so much her new he could not give her the home life she needed. When ever her dogwalker took her to the Dog park Kelly & I would always shower her with love, and always told the dogwalker "If she ever needs a new home..." Well it turns out she did, and we jumped at the chance. She is settling in wonderfully, and Taki loves her so much! (Sarah is indifferent, but that's Sarah.) Bailey will go to the Park with-us every day, and we are so happy our home has 3 dogs once again!!!

Ross & Kelly

February 25, Houston

Not too much excitement at the Oscars this year.  Jon Stewart (who I usually like) never got going, and there were no big surprises.  You may recall that I rated Juno higher than No Country for Old Men, but my vote didn't count (sort of like the Florida Democrats).  The best picture doesn't always win Best Picture.

February 24, Galveston

Carib08069.jpg (97745 bytes)Carib08015.jpg (116569 bytes)We just returned from a week-long cruise on the Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas.  The ports of call were not too exciting but the ship was a revelation.  It is immense so can cater to everyone's interest.  Their is a full-size ice skating rink aboard as well as a 9 hole miniature golf course and golf simulator.  There are at least 10 bars, most of which feature live music.  There is even a sports bar where 24/7 soccer is occasionally interrupted by NBA basketball.  The picture on the right gives you some idea of what the inside of the ship looks like.  The English style telephone booth is in front of the Pig 'n Whistle pub.  There were organized bridge games and lectures, with over 100 players from Houston participating.  Guess who won the most points.  Too easy?  The picture gave it away.  Well at least your reporter came in second.

February 10, Houston

Today was the final  day of our annual regional bridge tournament in Houston.  Pat marked the occasion by finishing first in the Stratified Open Pairs, Flight A event.  Your reporter was occupying a chair.

January 27, 2008,  Harker Heights

skateboard1.jpg (51044 bytes)skateboard2.jpg (51320 bytes)katebike.jpg (52970 bytes)We took a ride up to see the grandchildren and to help Mark celebrate his birthday.  On Saturday Mark and Margaret went to a wedding so we had babysitting duty with Andy.  Pat, Andy and Katie went ice skating (sort of - the surface was hard plastic) while Johnny and your reporter checked out some 'toons.  After a nice dinner on Saturday night, we went bowling and then returned for some street skill demonstrations.  Mark, under the watchful eye of his mother, son, and brother showed his prowess on the in-line skateboard.  This recent invention has a name but I don't recall what it is.  Katie impressed all with her skill on the two-wheeler. 

 

January 20, 2008,  Houston

altar.jpg (90979 bytes)Pat honored Mark's birthday and her mother's memory by providing the altar flowers at St. Martin's church.

 

 

 

January 1, 2008,  Lake Tahoe

Tahoe_07-55.jpg (80567 bytes)Tahoe_07-16.jpg (136329 bytes)Where did 2007 go?  Acceleration of time must be a phenomenon of the aging process.  Today may be the most beautiful day in the history of Lake Tahoe.  Margaret and Mark got someone to take their picture at the top of Diamond Peak.  With the Lake Tahoe in the background, this photo looks like a post card.  Andy continues to ride down the slopes on a snowboard.  

 

December 31, Lake Tahoe

Tahoe_07-47.jpg (96965 bytes)Tahoe_07-12.jpg (180941 bytes)Following another family tradition, everyone dons silly paper hats and drinks champagne.  Johnny decided to be a non-conformist and removed his hat before posing for the family portrait.  We have had a series of spectacular sunsets this week and tonight was no exception.

 

 

December 30, Lake Tahoe

Tahoe_07-11.jpg (92838 bytes)Tahoe_07-53.jpg (91725 bytes)The weather is perfect for skiing, gambling and watching football on TV.  Of course the weather is always perfect for gambling and watching football.  Margaret, Mark, Andy, and the grandchildren are hitting the slopes every day.  Katie has been promoted to Chinstrap Penguin while Johnny has been promoted to Advance Intermediate. 

 

 

 

December 28, Lake Tahoe

Tahoe_07-7.jpg (98622 bytes)We are gathered at the lake for our annual end-of-year family gathering.  Keeping up with inflation the stakes were raised in the card game competitions.  Defending Texas Hold'em champion Andy was roundly defeated by Monica who had an amazing run of winning on the river card.  Six players entered the double elimination cribbage playoff.  Andy came up through the losers bracket to come away with the top prize.

 

 

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