Christmas, 2021

Happy Holidays!

Although this year has been mired in the pandemic, I am happy to report that everyone in our family has remained healthy and received the vaccine as soon as the opportunity presented itself. I really thought that this would all be behind us by now but as you know without the cooperation of everyone who is able to get inoculated we are facing new variants which test the ability of our immune systems and the vaccines.

Nonetheless we have had some good times this year. Our first venture out of our bubble was a road trip in April to Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. We did some hiking, visited local museums and points of interest, and even ate out in a very limited way.

Mary and John at Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction

We got the family together (at last!) for a Memorial Day cookout. Up until then we had mostly just seen the grandkids from a distance.

Memorial Day Cookout with Alex, Sarah, Sam, me, and Jonathan

We also took a trip to our old neighborhood in St. George with Jonathan in August. He loves going to St. George and playing tennis, golfing, and hiking. Jonathan and I plan meals and go shopping together, something we’ve been doing since I took him to Stop and Shop with me when he was a baby.

Jonathan on our fancy dinner out at Entrada
Celebrating a wonderful week together

Our biggest excitements of the year were two cruises back to back in September and October. We had to jump through a lot of hoops to get this accomplished. There was a lot of paperwork and testing to make sure we were vaccinated and safe during the trip. The Viking people tested us every day, took our temperature, had us fill out a health survey, and wear a locator disc so in case we were exposed they would know who had been around us.

Nonetheless we had a great time and explored Athens and the Greek islands on one cruise and Montenegro and Croatia on the other one. Our hub was Malta. We now know A LOT about Malta since our cruises started and ended there.

Mary in fron of the Parthenon
John and I having a good time at a winery in Croatia

In our mundane everyday lives I continue to write my two blogs and keep up with my puzzles and Face Times with my sisters and friends. John has gone back to consulting for Mark Logic and is my patient tennis partner three times a week. Jonathan is headed for a new workplace in January. After 20 years at Stanford University he is headed to the private sector with a job at Apple. Ryan continues at KiwiCo and Sarah works in her garden and keeps me company with weekly lunch dates. Alex is a sophomore in high school and over 6 feet tall! And Sam will become a teenager in January .

We are hoping that you and your family have remained healthy this year and have found joy in the quietude of this past strange year. Hopefully next year will see an end to the stress of the pandemic and we will all be able to fulfill more dreams.

Best wishes for the happiest of holidays, Mary, John, and the whole Pilat Family

Road trip – Grand Junction, CO 4/21/21

This morning after a glacially slow breakfast at the hotel we make our way over to the Colorado National Monument. The Monument is  sparsely attended today so that means we have it mostly to ourselves! Since we are starting at the east entrance we plan on driving the Rim Rock Drive stopping at the viewpoints and when we reach the Visitor’s Center near the west entrance we will do a short hike.

The first stop is Cold Shivers Point. Is that because the wind is blowing and it is still quite chilly this morning or because standing near the edge of the No Thoroughfare Canyon makes one shiver with fear?

Looking down into No Thoroughfare Canyon
Feeling a little vertigo, John?
Mary’s cool with the heights

The next stop is at Red Canyon Overlook.  This is a canyon within a canyon or a hanging canyon. The softer rock eroded quickly (relatively speaking) until it reached the harder rock and then the erosion came to almost a standstill. Only fast moving streams managed to carve out a notch in the Precambrian metamorphic and igneous rock.

The city of Grand Junction is framed by the hanging canyon with the notch at the end.

Back in the car we go to the next overlook, Ute Canyon View, which also has a short Ute garden interpretive trail. On the trail we learn that yuccas have their needles arranged in a spiral fashion to funnel scarce rain into the plant. Also that these yuccas are completely dependent for pollination on one insect, the yucca moth.

Spiky yuccas

The shrubs and low trees that dot the desert landscape at this elevation are pinyon pines and juniper.  The placard informs us that the needles on the pinyon pines grow in pairs.

Pinyon pine needles
View of Ute Canyon

Our next stop is at Fallen Rock Overlook.

The fallen rock which broke off but just slumped down is behind me to the right. I am wearing a neck gaiter. It is easy to pull up and act as a mask when people come by or when we are at the Visitor’s Center.

We are interested now in getting to the Visitor’s Center and only stop at two of the last four overlooks. Some grand views are available to see at Grand View Overlook.

Hoodoos at Grand View
I am taking this picture of John at Grand View when a couple from NC comes up and offers to take one of us.
The wife of the couple takes several shots of us and they are all great. I hope that the ones we took of them came out as well as ours did.

Our plan at the Visitor’s Center is to 1) use the restroom and 2) do a short hike along the rim. Pictures from the Rim Trail –

Hoodoos near the Rim Trail
Another formation with its weathered cap rock
John at the Rim Trail sign post
John standing next to a ledge with layers of sandstone rock

It is well after 2 PM now and time to find some lunch. John suggests we find a vegetarian restaurant somewhere in Fruita, CO, the closest town to the Monument. After finding zero vegetarian restaurants and zero Middle Eastern restaurants we decide on Mi Ranchito, a Mexican restaurant which has gotten 4.5 stars on Yelp. We are tired and hungry which is never a good combination for ordering well.

We start out with some chips and salsa plus beer.
I order one shrimp taco and some beans.

We head back to the hotel and catch up on our email and lie about playing games on our iPads and nodding off (me.) Dinner around 8 PM is a trip downstairs to the restaurant in the hotel for an order of chicken wings (mostly for John) and a salad for me.

Road trip – Ely, NV 4/18/21

All the hotels we have been to tackle the pandemic breakfast differently. In Sonoma we were given the “Grab ‘n Go” paper bag, in Carson City we ordered from a pre-set menu of pre-made items, and here in Ely we went one at a time into the food area where we told a staff person what to put on our plate. Everyone must wear masks in all the public areas of the hotel. I look forward to when I can pick out my own bad breakfast mask-less.

This morning’s outing is to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and steam engine train ride. It is very chilly this morning, only 26F when we get up with a stiff breeze blowing. We put on a lot of layers. I have six layers plus a scarf and gloves. I am not used to cold weather.

Mary and the U.S. 50 Highway welcome sign

While we wait for boarding time we wander around the train station taking pictures of the train and various items of interest.

Our train blowing off steam
The train engine
John in front of the caboose
This is Conductor Bill’s car, a 1953 Kaiser DeLuxe

There was a thriving copper mining industry around Ely in the late 1800s and up until 1983. The boom time for the town was during WWI. The smelting of the copper was done in a nearby town.

We hear the “All Aboard” and grab some seats for the slow ride to the copper mine with its towering hills of slag. We hear the story of copper mining and see points of interest most of which are broken down coal tipples or dynamited tunnels. We learn about how to use a wye to turn a train around.

Going around a curve we can see the front of the train
John and Mary train selfie. Masks required while on the train.
Not beautiful downtown Ely
Burning coal is a dirty business

After de-training we walk around the site and look at the museum. Two train museums within 3 days is a lot. Then we head off to find some sort of lunch and end up at a Subway standing in a long line. We take our sandwiches back to the room and have out lunch there.

Later in the afternoon we take a scenic ride on the Success Loop. For us it is closer to being the Disaster Loop. Luckily we have had off-road disasters before and know when to bail.

We are riding along enjoying the scenery and pass through some aspens. There are patches of snow on the ground. Uh-oh, we are gaining elevation and the patches of snow are now on the road and we have skidded twice. Then we see the road ahead is entirely covered with snow. What to do?! We know it would be a really bad idea to get stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. It was bad when we were in our 50s and it would be much worse now that we are in our 70s. We must abort the trip and somehow turn around. I get out to inspect an area that might look promising for a K-turn. But its not. I am slipping in the mud that the melting snow has created. I sink in to the tops of my shoes. If we try to turn around here we will get stuck in the mud.

I and my filthy shoes get back in the car and the only solution is to back out down the dirt road until we can find a wide spot that is not too muddy. John does a great job backing which is hard on his neck. He takes little breaks between episodes of back up. Finally we find a spot that we think will work and John turns the car around and disaster is averted. Yay!

The aspens along the sides of the road are bright white against the blue sky
Soon there are aspens on both sides of the road and little patches of snow
This is the last picture I took. The road is getting muddier and the snow is on the road in places. We went a little further before we gave up.

And now it is time for dinner. Tonight we are eating at Margaritas, a Mexican restaurant in the Prospector Casino next door to our hotel. I order shrimp fajitas (with mushrooms?) and John orders chicken enchiladas with a poblano sauce. The chips and salsa are good.  We are hopeful. But at the end of the night we are trying to rate our three meals today. The categories are Bad, Worse, and Worst. Both John and I decide that our semi-soggy bread on our lunchtime sandwiches does not down-rate it enough to make it lose the top spot at Bad, breakfast comes in at Worse, and dinner is Worst. Even the good salsa and chips and the tasty guacamole cannot pull it out of the bottom. We are starting to rethink our dinner strategy.

I ended up eating shrimp plus the plate of accompaniments giving most of the guacamole to John




Road trip – Ely, NV. 4/17/21

Not too much going on today as we spend most of the day driving from Carson City to Ely, NV. We make a stop at a McDonald’s in Fallon, NV for breakfast.  Unfortunately we cannot eat inside so we make do sitting in the car.

After that we head further on  U.S. 50, the loneliest highway in America. We stop at the famous or infamous Shoe Tree. We have visited the original shoe tree in 2009 but that tree was chain-sawed down by vandals in 2010. It seems, though, that people wasted no time making another shoe tree in a nearby tree. (A shoe tree is a tree that people throw their shoes to catch on the branches.)

The Shoe Tree of Middlegate, NV
Some people are able to throw their shoes really high!
The skeletal remains of the old Shoe Tree
Mary and John with Shoe Tree selfie

In any case it was good to get out and stretch our legs!

We drive on and on through some very dull and some very spectacular scenery. We arrive in Ely, NV shortly before 3 PM. We stop at a Carl’s Jr. where there are only two tables available for use and they are already occupied. We spend our lunchtime in the car eating burgers that I know we should not eat.

Over the crest of a hill and the Shoshone Mountains appear dusted with snow

We reach the hotel round 3:40 and after looking at Ely on the way in decide we will have plenty of time tomorrow to see anything we might want to see. After a shower and a short nap (for me) we get dressed for dinner. I am concerned that we will not look fancy enough. I need not have worried.

We go to Mr. Gino’s Italian Restaurant. I have made a reservation. After all it is Saturday night! When we get there three tables are occupied. We opt for a table hiding in the corner where we will be away from other people’s breathing. Mr. Gino’s is like some restaurant that your parents took you to in the 1950s.

Mr. Gino’s menu

I order shrimp arrabbiata and John gets lasagna. I am able to dress my salad with oil and vinegar. I send John on a hunt for salt at one of the empty tables. At this point everyone who was here when we came in has left. Salad with some doctoring is okay. We order glasses of wine. I get Chardonnay and John orders Cabernet Sauvignon. His wine is so bad that he does not want me to even taste it.  I have decided that the restaurant’s algorithm for pricing wine is whatever a whole bottle cost is what they should charge for a glass.  It is $6.

Our entrees come and my shrimp in spicy sauce is not terrible. The shrimp could have been cooked more and the pasta less. It is covered with melting cheese and a bread stick. John has lasagna. Wait, what’s this, two more tablesful of people come in. We decide since it is 8 PM that they must be Spaniards dining way too early or Californians who left Carson City later than we did. Anyway the dinner gets a C-.. It is not terrible. (I cannot believe I am blowing my diet on this less than mediocre food!)

Top left is John’s lasagna and the rest is my salad and Shrimp arrabbiata

Tennis and lunch with Jon. July, 2020

One of the events that helps to keep us sane during the pandemic is that Jonathan comes over every weekend to play tennis and have lunch with us. Outside of grocery shopping and playing tennis with John, it is about the only thing that we do.

It feels like a real event. I spend time planning what we can eat for lunch and enlisting Sarah to help. We have had burgers, sausages, tacos, and fajitas so far. I am running out of good ideas!!

Jonathan setting up for a shot
John hitting a forehand
Mary with Jon and Sarah
Steak tacos and spicy beans!


Pandemic doings. 6/14/20

In case you have been wondering (Eileen!) what I have been doing during our quarantine which is now entering its 14th week, the answer is not much but not nothing. As a matter of fact I have written 29 blog posts but they are at the beginning of my blog not at the end. I am in the process of matching pictures (actual photographs) with my written commentary (as in a travel journal) and making entries. The blogs start in 1994 and are about our travels. It takes a lot of time and I only have completed two and have one from 1999 in the works. When I run out of written commentary I will just look at the rest of pictures from travels and events and with John, who has a remarkable memory, we will try to match memories to the pictures.

Some of the photographs are very slow to show up so you have to tap the blank square to see the pictures or be very patient.

Sarah’s poppies which were just buds in an earlier picture bloomed riotously in April. Sad news, though, gophers have attacked her garden and many of the plants she shepherded from seeds have been killed.

Sarah and her poppies

We have been cooking a lot! And sticking to our diet. We have both lost over 40 lbs. which is a remarkable achievement if I do say so myself. We have been eating a lot of vegetarian and vegan dinners. Here are a few.

Chickpeas with ditalini and vegetables
Orecchiette with broccoli and mushrooms
Shredded tofu with shiitakes and edamame
Chana dal and salad

Lastly here is a picture of me minus 43 lbs. My face, neck, arms, and legs have been the major recipients of the weight loss. I am thinking about maybe another 10 lbs. but it is slow going these days.


Finally we celebrated the graduation of Sam to middle school and Alex to high school in June. We sat outside at Jon’s house keeping our social distancing and had coffee and tea. Sarah made the graduates some of her renowned macaroons and we gave them books and gift certificates. It was really pleasant to spend time together after so long apart. We followed that up by playing tennis with Jon this weekend and then had lunch outdoors. We are still being very careful.

Jon and Sam
Alex with her new pink headphones
Alex opening a present
Candid Ryan and John

Oh, and I must not forget the masks I have made – two for John and five for me with more in the offing. I am a big proponent of wearing masks so if you are not wearing one when you are out, stop being a selfish twit and protect your neighbors from your germs!!! And do not forget to wash them between wearings.

My masks

Passover Seder. 4/8/20

Since the lockdown due to the coronavirus continues, we are having a small Seder—just the three of our household members. It is sad not to have the whole family here but we managed to have a good time anyway.

Lighting candles
Seder table
Paper bag plague puppets
John leaning on his left side
John holding one of our decrepit Haggadahs which we bought in 1972
Sarah dipping parsley in salt water
Mary showing the matzoh
Matzoh ball soup
Festive dinner
Sarah going to the door to invite Elijah in

Unfortunately the videos I took could not be put in my blog. (Or I do not know how to do it.)