Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Happy Holidays - our card/letter

Happy Holidays - our card/letter is winging its way through cyberspace to various recipients- and here it is for all blog readers as well!

Season’s Greetings! 2014
We hope this holiday letter finds you well!  When we last wrote, we had just spent Christmas holidays split between Miami and our Florida home with brothers Larry & Steve and sister Suzanne; we were headed into the wine dinner and theater season here in Florida; and Georgia Bavol and I were about to head off to Morocco. 

Winter of 2013/2014 started off with us in residence at our new home in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.  It is a two bedroom two bath condo, so we were able to host a number of refugees from “Chiberia” as Chicago became known last winter.  Friends visited from various places across the country.  We hosted Jennifer & Dave from Denver, Matt & Ann from Atlanta, Lynn from Chicago, and daughter Angela with her boyfriend Lee from NYC, along with the family visit, mentioned above, for the holidays.

We do the same things in Florida that we do in Chicago, just in different seasons – so our year has included lots of theater- nineteen plays at theaters including Lifeline, Time Line, Northlight, Asolo, Lookingglass, Steppenwolf, Remy Bumppo, Profiles and Dead Writers.  Each play is reviewed on the blog, so feel free to delve into our two “seasons” of theater by reading further. 

We also go to concerts in both locales – and this year was no different.  We heard the Haifa Symphony, Joshua Bell with Academy of St Martins in the Field, Lang Lang, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Sting & Paul Simon Together in Concert, before heading north.  We did a Jackson Browne concert with CBGB in July at Interlochen, and James Taylor, again with CBGB mid-November in Florida.  In between, Phil went to many concerts at WFMT studios, including Tom Chapin and a tribute to Blue (it’s 40!).   We saw Marc Cohn together and also loved the Central Time Tour with Pokey LaFarge and the Cincinnati-based Tillers. To my mind the winners of the “arts” season were:  “Our Class” in the theater category; Joshua Bell in the classical music category; and J. T. in the pop. And in the category of “new to us” artists – The Tillers!

We also spend a lot of time exploring the restaurant scenes in both of our home towns… therefore we can’t fail to mention several of the winners in that realm as well as a few “also ran” places.  Again, all the details made the blog, along with lots of food photos. In the number one slot of new places we would have to recommend 42 grams (which got TWO Michelin stars in its first year!) Chris & Nina Nugent had recommended it to us (you may recall they own our perennial favorite- goosefoot) and we fell in love with the incredible food at 42 grams.  After having met the owners of 42 grams (Jake Bickelhaupt & Alexa Welsh) we got a further recommendation from them for Senza (run by Noah & Cara Sandoval) another winner! We also had several outings to El Ideas, which were impressive as well.   Others, new to us, included A10 and Yusho as well as Michael’s on East in Florida, where we had several amazing wine dinners along the way.  We also scored tickets to the next menus of: Chinese Modern and Trio 2004.  The first we loved and the second we found severely disappointing. For our out-of-town meals, among the highlights were Stories in Halifax, Juni in NYC and Buddy’s Pizza in Hamtramck, MI.  As I mentioned, all details are on the blog.

So given that as context – let’s get back to our year – in which we did some traveling.  No change there, except that this year, it became easier, as both of us are now 100% retired!

In January we did the Forks & Corks wine weekend with CBGB – enjoying one of the afore-mentioned wine dinners as well as the Grand Tasting (tickets sold out in 8 minutes- LOL- this is a BIG DEAL around these parts of the Gulf Coast.) In February – right after I turned 60, GA and I did our Morocco trip. We toured in the desert and mountains as well the medinas and souks of Fez and Marrakech (yes, we rode camels- LOL) and took many colorful photos. 

In February, we scheduled the first of Phil’s retirement dinners when he transferred the property management of all but the last two buildings to a new manager. That dinner was held at Bern’s in Tampa and sponsored by two of Phil’s long time real estate partners.  We had some amazing vintage wines that evening. (LOL- details on blog) We also got over to the second annual Wine Walk to Ca’ d’Zan (the Ringling Mansion), which we had liked so much in 2013.  To finish off the Phil retirement celebrations in one part of the holiday letter, we had a celebration at Restaurant Michael in Winnetka, on the day he actually retired completely (August 15th) – and, he had a full blown retirement party at Oceanique in September, with a dozen wines – mostly Burgundies – from the 1978 vintage and older! The wines were all donated for the celebration by longtime friend, and partner in wine, Neil.

Back to spring: In early April, Phil returned north and I stayed south for the weather and the Sarasota Film Festival.  In mid to late April we met up in NYC for the opening of Racine’s NY (a venture of our dear friend Arno, ex-Chicago, now NYC based.) When I got back to Florida and headed north with the cats, Chicago was cold and dreary for several weeks, but we made it through because we had plans for a mid-May France trip. We headed to Paris in the second week of May and met up with CBGB, who had come from a week in Barcelona.  Then the four of us took a barge trip through Burgundy on the Adrienne with our friend Captain Anna (who we had met nine years earlier on a similar trip on the Espirit).  To say that it was paradise would not be far off… perfect weather – super deluxe accommodations – gourmet food for every meal – including two cheese lessons a day and superb wines at lunch and dinner! The barge traveled roughly 10 miles a day so we could walk faster than the boat… really a very highly recommended vacation – extremely relaxing with a bit of sightseeing, some winery visits and lots of time to just hang out with a good book and a beverage of your choice!  And we got a chance to catch up with Anna and her partner Aurelien as a bonus! After we parted with CBGB, we headed off to Lyon for a several days. The acknowledged food capital of France, Lyon offered us extraordinary meals at restaurants of all levels. 

When we returned to the states in June, we headed to Cincinnati to celebrate my Aunt Phyllis’ 80th birthday. Later in the month Phil joined Jeremy and Angela & Lee at the Clearwater Folk festival in Croton, NY for a celebration of the life and work of Pete Seeger (who died earlier in the year.) In July, on the 3rd we went to friends Richard & Irene’s (a six year tradition) and then we had a get together at our place on the 4th with wine buddies of many years.  Less than a week later, we headed off on a ROAD TRIP (new concept for us)! We had been talking for years about going to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI.  So with the bankruptcy of Detroit, and the threat to the collection at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) we made a decision to “go now!”  We wrapped the trip on either side with other goodies… the Jackson Browne concert with CBGB at Interlochen, MI and a trip to the Toledo Museum of Art (another well regarded collection that gets little fanfare.) Then the following week we headed to Portland, OR for a celebration of Al Lubarsky’s 80th birthday. (He’s our kinda-sorta-father-in-law, we don’t have any, with my dad being gone and Phil’s dad being “gone”;  Al, already being Steve’s father-in-law, is our choice for a stand-in.)  While there, we did a bit of touring in wine country, caught up with all the Steve Friedmans and with friends Craig & Terry and their triplets.

August found me on the road with buddy Tom Beckett for a Circle Tour of Lake Superior (highlights- the High Energy Physics Lab in Soudan, MN and the Finnish pancake breakfast at Hoito in Thunder Bay, Ontario) Then Phil and I took the last weeks of August to head to the Maritime Provinces in Canada for some seafood and Acadian culture and history.  We spent a week in New Brunswick and another in Nova Scotia.  It’s a lovely and out of the way part of Canada, we can recommend for lobster, scallops and very high tides!

Our fall trip took us to Trieste, Venice and Bologna in Italy – the first time in Trieste, second in Bologna and fifth in Venice… lots of good food and photos (on the blog- LOL) We were so incredibly lucky that our trip coincided with a Venice trip our dear friend Aase (of Aalborg, Denmark) was planning with a friend, so we had the extra pleasure of time with Aase as well as a return to Venice! And our luck continued when we got to Bologna and found the Mortadella Festival! LOL

We were lucky enough this year, to have visits from Mac, our dear friend from Chandigarh, India and our cousin Iddo from Tel Aviv.  We also made a stop in Frankfurt, Germany on our way home from our October Italy trip to see our friends Claus & Evi.  So we were able to catch up with a number of those folks that we don’t get to see all that often.  And more in the friend category, we spent a number of fabulous evenings with new friends Mon & Beth at many different locales in the Chicago area, including an amazing dinner at their home, recounted in the blog, where Mon prepared suckling pig.  Some of these evenings also included friends Mark & Mirella (Mon & Beth introduced us to them.)  Chris & Nina had introduced us to Mon & Beth in mid-2013, but, with busy schedules all around, we didn’t really get to spend much time together last winter before we left for the south. 

We are so lucky to have this winter retreat (and our cats Lucy & Penny LOVE getting away for the warmer weather – and geckos – as well!) We expect a number of visits over the winter from friends… we have a calendar we keep for the guest room! Thanksgiving brings our first visitor, brother Larry up from Miami.  We had hoped to see cousin Michele as well, but work schedule keeps her in Miami for the holiday.  We will see her when we meet up there with Angela & Lee in Miami in mid-January.

We are working on plans for travel in 2015 (2015?!?!?!) Right now we have in the hopper – northern Spain, Taiwan, Brittany, a return to Prague… who knows?  We do know we will be doing another road trip in July, to Cleveland (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and Pittsburgh (Falling Water and a Pirates vs Cardinals game) with a pit-stop in Detroit for Buddy’s pizza and a reprise of the Toledo Museum of Art.

I have blogged almost endlessly about all the things we do. So if you have any desire, at all, for details that I can’t fit in the holiday letter, you can visit the blog: http://semifreelife.blogspot.com  

In October (by the fourth anniversary of beginning the blog) I went over 41,500 post views – so someone is reading it… LOL!   Since the last holiday letter, I also have many new photos posted on my website at: www.victoriasterlingspics.shutterfly.com  including China (October 2013) Louisiana (December 2013) Morocco (February 2014) France (May 2014) Canada (August 2014) Italy (October 2014) - along with my DART trip with Tom (Lake Superior Circle Tour in August 2014)!

Somehow it is now again December, and we write each year at this time, hoping your year has gone well and that this finds you and your families happy and healthy.  As the year closes, we count our blessings and send to each of you our very best wishes for health, wealth, happiness, peace, prosperity, good luck and abundance in 2015!  

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