Day 8 & 9 - Grandma Carma

Morning sounds early morning snoring and we hear that there is 3rd cal for breakfast in the diner car. Half awake I look over and my sister Katy agrees with just a nod that we should get up and walk down the moving train to grab a bite. We had lunch before and we are not excited about the breakfast, more like we need some food since we will basically starve  and be subjected to all bread things that I can't eat.   Kicking the push button on the car door  we enter into the observation cars th which leads into the diner car. Welcomed by the waiter we are seated with a older lady in her 60's. " Good Morning" we all say silently as well just about woke up. It is about 7am and it mush be about 5am California time. Looking over the menu we decided on the omelette. It is the only thing that say made to order so we decide on the closest to real food as we can eat. We get to know the lady as we learn she is taking the train to Virginia to visit her Fiancé. She reconnected with him recently and they are getting married. "So it is still possible?", I say sarcastically. 'Yup It is still possible" she replies as we all giggle. Happy to get to know her I ask " And what was your name again??" " Betsy", she smiles. " A real live Betsy" I reply. " You are my first!" We all giggle and talk some more. We wish her a safe trip and congratulations on her engagement as we head back to our coach seats.  

A few hours more we end up at Chicago Union Station. The day before I requested a car from #getaround to drive up to Decatur, IL to see Grandma Carma. Katy's mother Michelle's mom and her Aunt Sheila. Walking towards the car in the cold we decide to grab a bite and we pop into Vicenzo's where they have a full 10 inch pie Gluten free. Katy and I order a pizza each and a fresh start salad. We are craving veggies so bad we love the eat eat every last lettuce leaf on our plates now. Lucky to be blessed with Salad and veggies in Cali. From being on the road not many veggies at restaurants. Scarfing down my delicious Cobb Salad I walk down the street to grab the car in the outdoor parking spot on North May Street. A old school Lincoln. stacked and ready for business. We almost rented the Honda but did not want to get blown away if a wind or storm comes. I felt safe in this car. 

I go to get Katy and we are off for 2 hour 30 minute drive to Decatur from Chicago. Downing a couple road coffees we make it and her Grandma and Sheila are happy to see us. Welcomed us in and we caught up over some of Grandma Carma's Homeade Vegetable soup. Yes, I did eat it all it was HOMEMADE. You can't beat that on the road. Slowly tiring we made our couches with our sheets. My sister in the large TV room with the fireplace all cozy and me in the next very open and a couch to fit my size. Firm and warm I passed out. 


Morning arrives in Decaur, IL, Grandma Carma mentions she would like to make us breakfast, we decide we would treat her to a homemade breakfast made by us. She happily agrees as she goes to get ready. Katy and I head out the the local Kroger's and go searching for what we will make for her. Deciding on French toast we search and find some gluten free Cinnamon Raisin Bread from Rudi's in the frozen section of the market. Adding some local farm eggs and my goat milk from Meyenberg, we buy some veggies we decide to make her a hash. We also find in the gourmet organic aisle that there is a low acid coffee. 

It turns out that Katy and I make a great team in the kitchen. The French toast ingredients mixed and the bread drenched and sizzling on the pan, my sister chops and washes all the spinach and veg. I make some sweet potato mash and and chop and grill off some left over ham her grandma made the previous day. I add some Brussels sprouts and onions for a winter centric hash. Katy has decorated all the French toasts with berries and real maple syrup. We use coconut oil to cook and make a healthy meal for her Grandmother and Aunt.  As Grandma begins to pour her coffee Katy mentions it might be extra healthy for her to add coconut oil to her cup of joe. "Well ok I'l try it" and she is tickled as she says " Oh this make my lips all slippery". If you hear her at it is one of the sweetest moments. I add my goat milk to my coffee and we sit down for a meal at the dining room area just outside of the kitchen around the corner from the stove. 

Chatting and talking about how Katy and her mom were and many stories more Katy goes outside to talk to her aunt. It is just me and Carma and as I heard before her husband and her were married for 53 years. " So where did you and your husband meet?" " It was a blind date some friends invited her out and she said "why sure." "Oh he was in the service and also played baseball, but we met in Honolulu , Hawaii and were soon married in a little chapel at Pearl Harbor." I ask if it was before the bombing she says it was after. There is a photography of James McClung in his navy uniform stepping out of the dug out and has his baseball bat. I was very curious how that came to be, " Well he played for the Navy and the Cardinals signed him after scouting and in the off season he worked at Caterpillar all the way til he retired. I can see how happy she was talking about him and those times. A very large and handsome guy I bet you they just had a blast. She mentions that the Dimaggio brothers played an exhibition game against her husband and this one time they were hanging out with Don Larson at the Admiral's dinner at a table and he stuck his hand up a skirt of a waitress. She said in a cautious laugh, " Oh I told my husband I don't think I'd like to I hang out withy Don Larson anymore." I about fell off of my seat laughing. So interesting to hear the stories and happy for her to tell them. 

Katy returning mentions we should go take grandma out for the day and give her aunt a break to do her own thing with errands and rest. My sister suggest ' Sisters' with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Well let me tell you we thought we were breaking some sort of rule after the film started cause there was all sex, drugs and all sorts of language flying out. I look over and her grandmother is smiling just sitting next to her granddaughter enjoying the moment" After the movie we begin to walk out and ask her how she liked it. She tells us that it was not her kind of movie but she liked it. " I've heard a couple of those words before."  As we walk out we see that there are many grandmothers her age and that we were not far from right bringing her grandma to this out there chick flick. I recommend it. It was pretty funny.

Back at the house Katy's Aunt tells us she would like to buy us dinner at the Red Lobster. We head there and are seated. I ask for menu that has gluten free options. the hostess disappears and returns with a big blue blinder with excellent sheets in it mentioning all nutritional facts and allergen info. I scan and compare the list with the menu, and the only thing I can pick out that I can eat is the snow crab legs. Steamed. I was going to get some lobsters but about every menu item has soy, dairy and wheat. I mean come on. Soy is in everything even the lobster boil. I ordered a shrim cocktail and a Salmon salad. the Salmon was on point with the Crispy exterior and the flaky inside. As we all enjoy our meal Grandma and I get some orang peel tea to settle us up. The cold drops and sprinkling a bit we drive home and get into bed. A full day with Grandma Carma and I know she enjoyed every moment. Even the movie.

Day 7 - Christmas is here

BING BONG BING BONG, the day is finally here and what do the sisters decide to do...a face mask. A big grinchy green mask that smelled like Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. After much protest from me, a dry face, hair and throat character laying in bed trying to push it til I had to really get up. Fine, fine I get up and I guess I will joint this moment for a snap. MEssy hair and really feeling the travel on me Katy perfects our 3 sibling selfie. Time for showers, I go last of course and try to iron my shirt as best I can. I no longer can fit into my Christmas pants I used to wear over 10 years, so I have my next best thing that I bought. Big ol'orange #dockers that will look ridiculous enough for me to wear on this holiday. Perfectly pressed but really as best as I can do we all pack up and head only 10 minutes to the house where Pop is already on the grill doing his prep. I hoped he would wait and ask " did you already start the waffles ?" In an anxious voice " come on duke. I waited" I am clearly trying to catch all the minutes with Pop in the kites not. the girls all grab their mimosas and talk over Christmas music. My puts me to work immediately. He had already cored out the acorn squashes and prepped the filling that is to go in the mushrooms. I request a big enough bowl and I read off the ingredients at our dad's request. 2 cups of flour, he measures and dumps it into the bowl, 2 tablespoons of cinnamon, he shakes it on heavily as we both like it. We crack the newly bought eggs and use some goat milk and melted goat butter to round out the batter. All ready to fo the waffle iron is hot and ready to get our #glutenfree Belgian waffles cooked. The sisters Karns have by now unwrapped the cheese and made a cute Charcuterie with the fig jam and some gluten rich and gluten free crackers. I am craving a hot cup of Egg nog but without time and limited energy from Dad I settle for Almond Egg Nog, more of an Egg Not! Dad has still got it. Busting it out of the kitchen working with my help on 4 courses, tasting plates and I heat up my #glutenfree cinnamon rolls that we every one could not get enough off. Coffee is poured and Pop sits in his chair as we all eat our sausage, baked rainbow potatoes and carrots. We are enjoying this Christmas breakfast as we have never ever done this before. They bought us gifts and as much as I said  " do not buy me anything " I am pleasantly happy to open a gift on Christmas Day. As old as I am, a gift wrapped something to open on Christmas morning always melts the numbness off a Grinch.

We watch " It's a Wonderful Life, hand colored version.  Dad says that TODD KARNS who plays the little brother as an older version is a distant cousin in the Karns family. I am not sure but wouldn't that be cool. We also huddle around the compact DVD player and in & out we watch it. Every time I see this movie it always gets me. and wouldn't you know it gets my Pops water works going as well. We are suckers for this romantic stuff. My Pop and myself bond over the off things. Not sports and drinking but food and conversation. He loves to talk and joke as do I.

Cleaning up and packing away our stuff for the trip our sister Meghan heads out to her boyfriends, we try to get a couple group photos of 3 of us and Pop. After a few tries we get so we gems to make it official. A few hugs goodbye and Meghan sets off as we begin to pack up the rest of our things. Lee Rae and Our Pop drive to Union Staion In Denver and immediately our bag falls out of the back. Apples tumble and we leave one nice green apple sitting small alone in the wet chilly street. We hug and wish each other well a couple photos and Katy and I head in for our train. We have a couple hours to settle in but head to the Bar to get something warm and relax in a very cool redone Terminal. This place is so Christmasy it is almost sickening. Happy people all around, everyone is in a conversation with their cocktails. This is more of a social scene then a Train Terminal. I have a couple Hot Totties and my sister a couple glasses of Pinot Noir. A very chique bar it was almost no pain to wait and chat with my sister. A couple announcements were made for Chicago Overnight train and we make our way out the door as the show begins to fall. A light dusting on the train platform we get in line. My sister ask a nice couple in front of us for a quick snap as we are all selfied out and they accommodate us. Very cheerful and happy to help out. We ask the Amtrak Ticket taker to Photobomb us and he does a swell job of the peek in look. Walking up the side of the train we jump into car 610. Bags placed above there are many seats open. Nice and comfortable we start to watch "A Very Murray Christmas" on #netflix to pass the time. Very entertaining I'm happy recognize David Johansan aka Buster Poindexter from the New York Dolls in the special as the bartender. Scratchy sounding as ever he rocks out "Fairytale in Ne York " from The Poguers. Getting later as the sounds of people fall away and the train silence starts us to yawn Katy hops over the aisle to grab her two seats and crash and in no time my sister is toast. Blankets given to us by our Pop and Lee Rae we needed them to warm us up. I finish the Bill Murray Christmas Special on my own and soon enough I am in dream land. My first overnight train has begun. 

Day 5 & 6 - Colorado Christmas with Pop

Having our train delayed we barely got some sleep so we were already a mess when we got in at 10:15pm to Denver Union Station. Our Sister Meghan patiently waiting for us. We missed dinner with Pop and we also missed a reservation at our back up Place to eat. Most places were not open so we searched and popped in to a couple places. Settling on a Bar that sold food we decided on that as we needed a drink to take us down a couple notches. The sister Karns got a Red wine duo and I got a Mexican Mule. Something to shock me out of train body and mind. Each of order something off as Meghan is vegetarian she was limited as was with the whole #glutenfree deal. After a toast and some catching up on Pop and his health we scarfed down our food and caught up some more. We wanted one more drink to at least enjoy a night out before the Christmas time at the house. We went to Sputnik where they had a photobooth and the bartender had a Morrissey ugly Christmas sweater with MEAT IS MURDER from THE SMITHS ALBUM. I had to share it with my friend Jorge on #facebook as he is the one to turn me onto The Smiths back in art school. I feel lucky to have had a music education by many close friends. Learning new music has taken me to emotional places R&B and Hip Hop never could. The sisters Karns ordered something Moscow muleish so we all had the same thing, I was still a tiny bit hungry so I ordered a Taco plate with a Jack Fruit option. Almost like an artichoke /. Pulled pork texture. It was said by the spirited waitress that is has a good deal of protein. Being an animal always trying new things I gave it a go. Boy was it a spicy lil taco. Breathing erratically I was taken a back how that lil sucker had some bite. We tried to do a photobooth photo but it did not come out as it shot only our mouths.

Meghan ordered an #uber as we grabbed our bag pile we had stuffed so tightly in the booth and pranced out in the snowy slushy ground to the #uber Suv. Feeling my head heavy, I observed my sisters chatting and we were on our way to Megan's apartment. I got a couple blankets and my sisters crashed in the same bed. I passed out immediately. Not sleeping on the train all that much I had no chance. I guess I snored like insane levels cause when I got up in the morning They were more than happy to point that out. Yikes Face ip on a couch with no sleep I'd say that is a perfect recipe for stadium concert sound snores.

All ready and packed up we drove in my sister VW Bug to see our Pop and Meghan's mom Lee Rae.  Now if you are wondering why there are so many mom's in this tale. Well I will say briefly it was our Dad who is the connecting factor. My mom Vilma, Katy's mom Michelle, who just passed away 2 years ago, may she rest in peace. And Lee Rae. All half siblings. We are the #othermothersiblings. All connected finally after years of not knowing this day is pretty important as we have lol not had a holiday together. We are stitching our Christmas together piece by piece. 

Arrived at our Pop's he is there waiting for us as Lee Rae is still at work. We agree to go shopping for meals for the next couple days. We think we are shopping for a late brunch this berry day but it turns out Pop and I get carried away when we are left to the market's wonders. My sisters couldn't care less but Pop and I we lose our minds when building a meal on the spot. This one of my favorite things to do with him besides cooking it. We grab some onions, mushrooms, acorn squashes. We end up buying one medallion of Filet mignon. He means to make a carpaccio with it but guess what, he does not make it. Great ideas no follow through. Noted as a thing I try to not mirror from my Pop. Don't over promise and try to do what you said you would. Chee, Crackers, Goat's milk, some breakfast sausages. Rainbow carrots, endive and some #glutenfree cinnamon rolls. It's the holidays cheat a little I say.

Realzing that time had gotten away from us and caught up in shopping for food. We all realize we need to eat now and not wait. Whole foods had a small diner inside of it. I ordered a buffalo burger on #glutenfree bun and I destroyed it. Dad a melted tuna sandwich, Katy and salmon sandwich and Meghan the ever popular Grileled Cheese sandwich. I don't hear word of conversation. Only the sounds of me taking down this Buffalo Burger. " out of my way " mentality. No one is getting between me and this needed meal. We have eaten well on some occasion but most of it has been the bad food of #amtrak. Sorry but true, worst meals and product in all. So like I said this burger as simple as it sounds was basically THE BEST BURGER I HAVE EVER HAD. Over the top you say? Well you travel on a train and eat minimal nutrition and you see how you treat that burger. Hey baby is right.   

After we all have our moments with lunch we head back to the house to chill before we have to go out later for Church. It being Christmas Eve Pop wants us to see his multi faith non pressury church. Back at the house we put all of the food away and have some cheese and crackers while we catch up with Pop. Been a few years in person so we try to all just be happy to be in the same room on a holiday. Rushing out we make it to a the church before it gets packed. Very pleasant and Christmasy my sister and I feel like we will break out in a rash entering a church. But this being for Pop we suck it up to be part of this for him. Amazing singing and lots of concert like organization. The candle ceremony was pretty epic. I had to whip out the camera for a quick snap and as inappropriate as it sounds I needed this one. On our way back Lee Rae and Pop get a hotel room for all 3 siblings to stay hear by just in case it snows but so we can come back early on Christmas Day. As soon as we get in Pop and start on a quick dinner. We grab the filet mignon and all the veggies and we make two meals, one for Meghn Dad just brings out the almonds, mushrooms and carrots. Whips up the best looking meal for her and then we begin on the Filet. I gotta tell you being next to him I chopping and he taking over the grill seem like old times. Always have been able to cook with my Pop and nothing needed to be said. Reminds me of doing catering jobs and the farmers markets cooking side by side creating menus. I had to take a couple photos. Its good to see him up and around and laughing again. I can see he is enjoying this and he tells me so. We are two emotional expressive men we gotta just share how we feel.

Settling in at the house we talk and laugh and catch up with Pop. All 5 of us stitching this moment together. All circled in the living room by the Christmas Tree.  Dad in his rocking chair covered in blanket, Lee Rae on a chair next to him and Meghan, myself and Katy lined up on the couch in order. It really is good to see him laugh again in person. Katy had a ball just talking about her stories and Pop joined in remembering it all. I was happy to bask in the family glow. Needed some sort of family familiarity to bring me into the cheer. After a few laughs we 3 head out to the hotel and drink the rest of the wine. I have one sip and prefer two bottle of water, I am done as the TV is on and The Christmas Story is headed to it's 100th time playing on it's all day marathon. Christmas Morning is only hours away and no chimney for ol' Saint Nick to arrive in. We are on the odd side of Christmas but doing our best with what we have. 

Day 4 - Vegas to Utah

Early rise we are up to make the 7:44am bus from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, Utah. A big pot of @Bob's_Red_Mill Hot Cereal simmering on the stove stop. Mom has overpacked us 5 lunches and snacks to feed a teeny tiny army of healthy holiday treat lovers. Every juice and treat bagged, aluminum foiled up and ready for the road. My sister and I are happy to have a hot meal knowing we will be in for a bus ride that spans the entire day. Little did we know this would be one of the longest days of our trip and our lives combined.

An hour early, we arrive to a bus depot filled full of every person you can imagine that you generally try to avoid in your normal life. Realizing this is how the other half travel I become very aware that airport travel can make our very spoiled. There are some cute Japanese girls and elderly coupled peppered within the confines of this great greyhound bus line. My sister wide eyed mutters " don't leave me! " as I mention I need to use the restroom. If you have ever been to the Tenderloin in San Francisco on a hot day and streets have not been washed by the rain for weeks, This is what the aroma is in the early morning at the Downtown Vegas Bus depot. The sourness is also evident in the employees of the Greyhound station. " GET TO THE BACK, BACK IT UP, ALL OF YOU BACK IT UP, BACK!" We are no longer on a happy trip this portion of the trip. We are instantly people who are being slapped around like cattle. We are all now on the same level. I am not passing by on my cellphone going to work or in line at a blue Bottle Coffee house shoulders up avoiding contact. We are now arm in arm. Well not literally but shoulder to shoulder is more like it. Ego is checked and my sister and I are now just wanting to get the hell on this bus. One hour comes and goes and we shuttle ourselves into two lines. A and B, we somehow end up in B. Not organized but it's every man, woman and child for themselves. Back and legs pressure under the weight of my bag and this giant bag of food I am now caretaker for. Various conversations going on. As one gentleman is talking to every person that will pay attention to him I look over to my sister and whisper loudly as if he should here it, " there is always that one guy". " she mirrors my sentiment " There's always gotta be that one guy."

Our bus arrives and confusion stirs. As boxes are off loaded and a group of 3 gather and discuss. The bus backs and up and another replaces it. A disabled man is moved onto the ramp and not 5 minutes later is brought off the bus just as he was raised up. This bus is also faulty, A third and final bus arrives, by this time my sister had slithered into the A line and winks me back. I am most certainly not gonna take advantage as there are many tired and pissed off people having to wait. I hand her her bus ticket and the line begins to move I urge her to get us a good seat together as I think this is gonna be an all out free for all. The A line gets smaller and I can see that everyone is in a zombie state, whether they don't care or that edge of getting on the bus really doesn't matter. I see Katy look back and smile, motions her head to get in line. I think wait a minute I have had it and you know what I am gonna work it and get mine. I electric slide over to the A line and mutter to the guy behind me as to make it known I am doing this. Guilty conscience I guess, smirking, " I'm gonna work the system."  As soon as I get to the ticket checker just outside of the lobby door to the bus I see from the side of my eye that B line people pretty much start to mumble and well they all go under the rope and get into the A line a complete mutiny of this broken down system. We're not gonna take / no, we ain't gonna take it - Twisted Sister.

Butts in our seats we set out for a long no eventful bus ride. We hit snow finally and I did where my Tom's to get somewhat comfy but knowing now I will be changing into my boots. A couple hours into ride we stop at a gas station and have lunch. Now I will say my mother hooked it up. There was moment where I looked around at what the Travlerers of America had and I almost Taco Bell'd it. My sister gave me the eye and I was saved from that mistake. All I wanted was beans but I knew deep in my sensitive gut I would pay for it. Thank you Katy. I charged my Hopspot and Wacom pen in case I wanted to draw on my iPad. Katy wanted to go baby gambling, She saw a mechanics claw game and decided this will be a fun thing. She paid for me and her to give it a try. She went for hers and I went for the Rapper Dollar Icon gold Bling mealie on. Sadly I did not get it but I took a photos so I can remember this loss that will forever change me. Haha. Break over we are back on bus and I do a bit of writing for the blog the time zips by. We arrive in Salt Lake City, Utah. Looking online for restaurants see there is downtown area. And we are feigning for a good meal. After asking the attendant at the Bus Depot where to eat, she offered Denny's a couple blocks away, we thanked her and exited in a hurry to escape and ask the Cabby not Uber where he could drop us. A very angry and sad Santa type guy we felt his dismay for the whole Uber vs Cab mess going on. I asked how he was doing he shrugged, " eh not great." We then listened and chimed in on the whole details on cabs costs vs Uber costs. It is a hot point but we were happy to hire his services and give back to the local cab community. Bad Santa drops us at the Market grill where see 'oyster bar' something we recognize as something that we can eat and enjoy. We thank the Cab driver for the 5 minute cab ride in this bitter cold and we scurry inside. A glass of Pinot Noir and a Mint Julip for me with Marker's Mark. My sister and I are overjoyed to be in this place. Very nice setting very classy and there we are like a couple of backpackers in Europe all a mess and plopped down at the bags piled high and I get a charge for my iPhone. A couple Blue Points, Kumamotos and another variety, we dive into it the fresh and tasty oysters savor every slippery bite and gulp. Fresh shaved horseradish and Mignonette. I order also some steamed clams. I ate every one and was thankful for them. I order a Manhattan to warm me up and we settle on the check. Nothing else on the menu looking my style, I look on the Maps and find a place that has a gluten free menu. Sold. As we laugh and giggle our way looking like we really stand out we start to walk down the street and my sister exclaims " It's snowing" I was not even paying attention and It begins to come down pretty swiftly. What do I do? Well I grab my iPhone one handed with bags on and so amazed by the snow I ask my sister to pose. I want to I capture this moment even with my hands wet from every flake hitting them. We are a couple of nuts we start to giggle and pass others walking hand in hand or a group and we laugh like a couple kid hyenas down the street. The snow falls fast and we are covered each trying to catch it in our mouths. Yes iPhone worthy as well. A bit lost we have to go one more block and I gotta put my gloves on and try to get somewhat covered up. We pass a nice restaurant and I think " man that is nice place, oh well let's look for the place I found online. " Walking passed it I see how nice it is inside. Grabbing my iPhone I look at the maps again, we passed and to my surprise, this place is it. The nice place with all the fancy people and food photography is Bambara. We are we about to class it up tonight. Over shooting my expectation and my sisters, I decide we need this, like really really need this.

Making our way down the narrow hallway We are covered in snow and wet all over. The host girls get a look at us as I say " Two for dinner please, where can we drop our bags?" They motion happily to the lobby area. Walking away I lean back and say jokingly, "Don't be afraid of us we will be right back!" All of us knowingly caught in up in our enthusiasm. The front desk guy also helping us out with some suggestion of the menu tells us to enjoy our meal. We are feeling damn lucky and fancy free, We start to walk back to the restaurant and see a giant scrabble board installation on the wall. We mess around with some words are on our own then come to create this phrase to let others kno we have arrived. KARNS WAS HERE. Not able to find another K we had to let go of KARNS KIDS WERE HERE. I think we did great. A peace sign Instagram photo snapped and we head back down the hallway. Dry and warm we are fitted up nicely for a meal. the hostesses welcome us in and we are sat in a booth. I ask for the Gluten free menu and It is no ordinary half assed Gf menu. We order Foie Gras over raddichio and an apple pear salad with bacon. My sister orders a bacon wrapped chicken with Sweet Potato gnocchi, and I the crispy grilled Scotish Salmon. Over the course of our meal we are relaxed and converse of life careers and dating BS. Over booze and great food we do not care but to be here in the present enjoying this time.

We finish our meal and have one more drink in the adjoining bar THE VAULT. both housed within the Hotel Monaco. We wanted to see Krampus as to waste time before out 3:30 am train we had to take in a few hours but that did not happen. Next door was a bar called The Red Door, a martini bar they had a pretty fun menu. Scanning the choices and their 12 days Drinks of Christmas menu I say screw it and order this one drink cause it is hilarious. COCAINE LADY. Vodka Amaretto, Bailey's and finished off with one line of powdered sugar. Yeah having never done it It looked real to me. I mean I guess you could do a line off a Martini? Is that a thing? Who knows. My sister orders a Pinot Noir again and I take my photos as I know she is sick of the Instagram thing but I do it anyway,

Coming to our time to take a train we grab our things and cab it back to the Train station to wait four our train. A bit tipsy and fed we settle in as the first to be there. 1 hour 30 min left to go we wait as others arrive. We watch Love Actually to pass the time and get our minds off of the wait. I saw this movie with my buddy Ewan when it came out in the theaters, he put up with me plenty and went to see this with me I am sure he dreaded it but funny enough this was a good movie back then and pretty happy to have shared this with him. Holiday movie memory forever locked in. As 3:30am comes and goes we find out the train has equipment issues. Now 3:30am was pushing it as I knew we would sleep on train but as we mingle with other fellow passengers in the small and tight seated lobby we realize that we are in for a long night. I about lose my mind making mumbled jokes and my sister and I joke around with funny ideas and comical photos. We do what we can to make this wait so much less painful. I slowly turn to fake tap dancing as she photographs me, I hug my bag as it is now my fake girlfriend and oddly enough feels really good right now at 4am. I kid you not we end up boarding the train at 6am and finally leave the station at 7:30am. 3 hours late we screwed our dinner time with our dad and sister Meghan. Eagerly waiting for us. We can't believe we are on train and this being up for 24 hours straight has tried my patience to no end. Every passenger was very talkative and we made easy friends. That was my take away , as bad as it was not one was a mean old grinch. We laughed and I jokingly asked for MIMOSA's from the conductor for our trouble. The Holiday Train Trip is turning out to give me different gifts than I thought. Peace among my fellow Amtrakers.

Day 3 - Food and Comedy

Waking up I feel that Christmas tickle. I glance over and sun is rising at 6:30am as my eyes unblur  I see a golden sunrise with very holiday......Palm Trees. Yes Palm Trees I say that tickle is now gone and I am back on earth. Desert living is not for me. Dry and biting cold.  I drop out of bed from the high mattress and check my #toms for scorpions. Yes that is something we do every time we take out shoes off and never thinking about the last time I was here I am now on fear factor making sure I don't need a bite and render this trip done. I shake the shoe and " jackpot" nothing. I'll take that winning over the slots any day. My mother is of course up and bright eyed already starting on the food and prep for tonight's dinner. I gotta get my vitamin power punch fizzy fix and some supplements to get me back to a fighting chance of waking up. I'm way off and I feeling it. " Good god!" I see myself in the mirror, "you are a wreck dude." I slowly drag myself to the kitchen and grab banana. Somewhat nourished I see if I can get some writing done. Some Dandelion tea brewing but also pour a mini cup of coffee to dip some St. Lucia bread my mom made for me, yes you guessed it, #glutenfree. Håkan has made his way down and click on the boob tube, the sudden blast of some political news right there on the 60 inch flatscreen. Finishing my blog entry of the previous day I am happy to know I am trying to keep on top of it before it gets way from me and not fresh. I dunk my St Lucia bread, soft and ready with raisins, a Swedish traditional treat. I am happy to have it in it's healthy form.

My sister has now arisen and made her presence known, she managed to find an open mic and we make plans to make it happen. After much pleading from my mother to start on the food for her. I end up in the kitchen and get into my zone of cooking. It immediately puts me in a zen mood and mixing and recipe reading begins. Håkan is making his Swedish festive food and my mom starting on the turkey for later. After some notes for her show tonight my sister is coerced into the kitchen by my mother to help with a dish, I make a #glutenfree nut crust and set to chill. I and my sister bang out the cranberry sauce and set it to boil. Big pot, bright red, looking yummy even with all that sugar required by the recipe. Katy and I gather spices and start to have a good time with it. Cooking together as chore feeling it has turned into a moment and a point of enjoyment now. We add the Pumpkin purée and spices but we add some Cardmamom to heighten that extra hidden flare. Plus we hate following instructions.  

Baking some ginger cookies is next and they only take a few minutes so I start right away. A quick blend with flour everywhere, Håkan asks us if we would like a beer or wine. He bought me a Green's Dark Ale and it is going well with the baking. Skol! Shaping and making out cookies into balls. We decide to make them like nuggets thinking they would be soft baked cookies. Well rock and pebbles later. I am still eating them dreading to know my dentist doesn't see the crunching damage. As we were making the ball formed ginger batter. My sister and I get funny so and well bored so she forms a penis cookie. It is the highlight and giggle worthy of our now afternoon, We hope someone picks it up and is shocked. After baked and pulled out the tasty and glorious rock cookies my mom wanders over very proud that we baked and is caught up in the moment. " Oh are these you're cookies you made? Oh is that a dog bone?" My eyes bug out my breath slows and I don't answer for fear to give it away. " Oh no it's a Peter. " I die laughing.  My mom taking it back to 70's in my childhood. Not penis, not Weinberg, or pee pee, she goes with Peter. Thank you mom for that laugh. Telling it to my sister and Håkan we all got the laughs it will live on and my mom could not stop about how it surprised her. I like funny.

Food almost done, I made Cauliflowerm purée with goat milk and goat butter with chicken stock. Also a goat cheese polenta. It was delicious if I say so myself even with the all goat ingredients. I can't help it is damn good and healthy for ya if you can't drink the cow stuff. My mother's guests arrived and my sister goes into conversation mode. What I love about her is that I don't need to wait on her or worry. She can make anyone laugh and talk to them about anything. All people my mom's age and older, Katy has them in stitches. Very proud big bother. Håkan had made some fresh Gravalax with some mustard sauce. We needed some food and apps so with his food genius and careful eye he plated and served it up for the guests. A hit of course was I really surprised? No. 

A few drinks and dessert we manage to get the guests off, fed and we head out to the Hard Hat bar in downtown #lasvegas. My mother agrees to go and Håkan is completely happy to drive us and join in on the fun. Happy to go see my sister do her comedy. She worked on her set all day has her notes and we all go as a group.  One of the guests son's stays and agreed to join us to see what my sister can do on stage. This night is turning out to be a different one changing it up is always a good thing. Arriving at the Hard Hat we go inside and it is not too empty but the bartender gal welcomes us and Katy asks for sign in list. My mom all cute and delicate orders a water and Håkan you guessed it a #stellaartois. We soak in the mood and cannot believe we made it on time. More people arrive and it is their potluck holiday party complete with spaghetti, hot dogs and chili. I was diggin' it. The locals and talent all friendly were happy to have us and my sister visiting. Dive bar on the outside but all hometown friendly people on the inside. 

All the comics are there and are close knit crowd. Giving it to their fellow funny friends. After a hilarious opener form the host, quick and lighteningfast wit. A couple people go and then my sister is up. I break out my new #canonmarkIII5d seeing if this baby is all they say it is and begin to film from the side corner. Katy is on fire. Not one ounce of shyness, my mom beaming with laughter and smiling. Håkan and her are seated and totally into what Katy is serving up. She is getting her groove in this comedy thing and yes I am pretty proud but I want to see her more often. This is a treat cause I get to film her and she can use it for their career purposes. A few comics into it we are ready to go. The host asks my sister if she is here tomorrow and would like to do a show. Katy is happy to have gone there on a whim with my mom and Håkan in tow but to get asked back is an honor. She declines as we leave tomorrow for Utah via the Greyhound bus line. Dreading it we know we gotta hit the hay. 12 midnight we pack up and pass out. Tomorrow a long day ahead hoping it is not like the first taste of travel we had.

Day 2 - Holiday time in Vegas

After arriving last night we made it to the house to stretch and have a warming Sambuca and barely escaping a Yeagermeister shot. " No thank you Håkan I have bad memories of that stuff." In my mind everyone does. Håkan and I took that custom crystal shot glass of Sambucca and welcomed it down our gullets. Håkan is a lover of the good stuff all for special occasions and his custom wooden bar from Sweden and has a giant wine opener that a man's man should have. Like a giant Sword for slaying dragons a small bartenders wine opener just won't do. And of course all drinks have a special glass that need to be drinking with. That's the part I love about coming here is that always has something new from a far away country and they are always with wild aroma and flavor. Aquavite or Absinthe are somehow brought into play for the holidays. Bring it.  I love it cause it is fun and he get a kick out of him showing me. We bond like men over a couple tastes of the firewater. A bit of bonding the jokes and the laughing begin. From Sweden he always has a love of laughter and story telling and some hoe they always manage to get a laugh in the end. I come to expect this every visit and I always ask " Can you tell us a couple jokes?" My mother in the kitchen readying dinner , my sister hesitantly takes her shot of Sambuca " I'm a wine girl." But she woman'd up and shot that sucker and guess what she liked it. " Oh it does warm you up. " As my sister wandered to the couch to tend to her things I asked Håkan if he had anything other than the starter shot. " I do have this bottle it is very good", He reached behind a gathering of bottles and pulled out a box of #Laugavulin I instantly am taken back. I say " you know what we must do a toast at some point for Ewan", my friend/brother who passed away 2 years ago. " Of course, we will."

After the couple of pleasantries at the Bar in the house " Dinner is ready" my mom says in her happy to to see us cheerful voice. We sit and have some roasted beef stew she made in her new roaster appliance. We have some Chamagne surrounded by every holiday decorations imaginable.. My mom gets into decorating, like she is trying to out do Macy's window displays in New York. She loves and you definitely feel like you are having Christmas from the moment you enter. All is needs is to snow inside and it would be perfect.  

A few laughs over dinner and dessert, my sister got a kick out Håkan's couple jokes. And writes down some stuff in her notes., I tell you he has some good jokes that always get you.  My mom rolls her eyes but she always ends up laughing and joining in. I start to pass out and the night for me is done. 

New Day in Vegas.. 

I wake up and realize it is December 20th. this is the day Ewan passed way. As #facebook memories reminds me in the morning. I am trusted back to 2 years ago when I found out. I am wildly amazed that Håkan pulling out the bottle last night was Ewan tapping me on the shoulder subtly. But as I was so tired from travel I did not catch it. Tears eyed I post something on Facebook. I miss that man such kindness and furiously loyal. I will toast him later for sure.

Dry and dressed in my camo thermals from #uniqlo I make take my vitamins and supplements with some tea. I decide to make some #glutenfree pancakes for breakfast and my mom pitches in by frying off a whole package of bacon and a few eggs. After the day before I need some food man! I make ready the pancake batter and add some cinnamon and cacao a touch of goat milk. My sister after a well deserved sleep in emerges and we all sit down to eat she has her turmeric chai and is headed out to meet a friend who just moved here. After my lathering of Maple syrup over my mound of food I get the serious food coma. I am so off and it bothers me. Vegas throws with me off every time in the winter, Dry and I just become not myself no energy and sitting is a constant. Håkan offers a bottle of water and I accept. After one sip my brain lights up, " oh my god I am dehydrated." I guzzle the plastic bottle of water I am sure was purchased from Costco. I am up and ready to go. Not happy with sitting I ask Håkan if we can get out so we take the dog Jolie for a walk. We take her to a man made pond and park, Lots of geese poop bottles in the water and plenty of people fishing, for what you ask? I have no idea. But they looked pretty serious. I saw a dead bird in the water, bottle caps and just not well kept. " Uh can't be good" I say to Håkan. " They don't clean here very well " he frustratingly replies.

On our way back my sister tells me to meet up with her at the Cosmopolitan. We decide to go to Ice rink. Quickly ready we head out to the Strip. On the top of the Comsopolitan they have a small but festive ice rink. A bit chilly I buy my mom a hot machine made hot chocolate, an adult hot cider for myself and Håkan a nice Christmassy holiday #StellaArtois. Smiling everywhere the families and locals we completely enthralled with the fun time they were having. My sister arrives from downstairs and we buy our skates. Håkan also joins, at first not interested, he tells us he used to do Ice hockey back in Sweden. I am of course surprised but not really. He is multi talented and seems to have had many different lives. In the running for. " The most interesting man in the world " title. My mother sits and enjoys her cocoa as we snap on our skates on. We pose for a couple shots before we jump on the ice. Kids skating by jaggedly and people falling all over. I think " was this a good idea? I mean, was it?"

We do a couple turns and our smiles grow the ice on my heart starts to lessen. hmm could this be what holiday cheer is? Some play or letting go and just trying to have fun again? Thud I look over and Håkan has fallen ass down on the ice. I instantly felt horrible as I awkwardly skate over like 5 people grab him up and joy over comes me. People rushed to help him and I see this burliness of a man being slowly brought up. Ice on his bum I asked him if he was ok. As he skates away he mutters " I am done" I am understands completely. But I do get a quick snap for this is a memory to keep I will post later. 

A couple videos and photos taken from the side by my mom, my feet ache after 10 minutes I am settled. We did it now let's go. We all agree and we walk on the strip wandering around with all the other tourists and costume dressed performers headed to or from work. Of course we had to just a get a few more posed photos since we have never really taken them before. We are all so distant in the country and it is impossible to get holiday photos. We do our own thing and this visit is to do that. Get some memories and some photos. 

We head back after blocks and blocks of walking around. I am beat and I nod off. Arriving to the house we plop on the couch and click on the TV to see what to watch. As Håkan makes his traditional Shrimp cocktail my mother starts to make her sweet potato & butternut squash soup. I roast off some pumpkin seeds and add some goat cheese crumbles and olive oil drizzle to the soup. I mean come on let's get some visual eating going on.  

Time for some glogg and dessert. They all have ginger cookies but I am left out as my #glutenfree decides whether or not I have fun with food. Håkan walks over with 3 Chrystal glasses poured lightly with Laugavulin and one ice cube. We stop and have Håkan says " Let's have a toast for Ewan" I let him know we miss him and hope he's rested with no more pain. After our moment of silence we check out what's on and decide to watch Frozen. Clicking around we have the NFL game on #BREAKINGNEWS, someone has just run on the sidewalk and hit 20 people on the strip. right were we were walnut by the PARIS hotel. This, as we know now, woman with a 3 year old toddler ran off the street and intentionally injured 36 people. the part that is the shocker was that we were just on that same stretch of sidewalk not even. 1 hour ago. Easily could have been us and I can tell you I was not even paying attention to the surroundings as I am sure no one else was either. I am sadden as this was just last night so fresh and still developing.

After some more glogg we turn on Frozen and my mother wanted to watch it as did my sister Katy. Well not even 20 minutes into it, my mom passed out and we watched it. My sister loved it and the funny part was I took my grandma, my mom's mom, to see it in the theater. Thinking I was watching it again and knew it. I was surprised I missed or forgot lots of parts. Håkan pointed out this was basically a Danish King as Hans Christian Anderson was Danish who wrote " The Snow Queen " from which it is based on. I found myself appreciating again and finding joy in catching all the parts I missed. My sister loves Olaf now.

Late night we finish a couple movies and we turn in. another day gone, checked off the list. Good night Vegas.

Day 1 - California to Las Vegas

Last night my sister came to get me after I had finished  my packing and headed to her place in the long awaited rain storm. I was bugged at first since we would be driving in it, but realized that this is needed and it put me in the winter mood ready for a calming holiday trip.  We arrived at her place and tightened up her own packing. We couldn't find any food late night so I snacked on one clementine as it was too late anyhow to eat a meal. We tried to find some snacks for the morning. Not realizing we are in for a mess with food on a train and my #gluten free limitations. As my sister packed and searched for things to wear I slowly passed out ready for the 6am alarm.

Morning is here and 6am wake up turns into #instagram #facebook news/friend scanning. Mind not ready to wake up but awake we must. A quick wash, brush and scamper off to gather our things. My sister all showered fresh and then there is me. Ready to go clothes slept in and hair a mess but not bed head clique just plain messy.

After getting our 4 minute #Uber arrival alert we splash in the rain with bags in hand. A couple Karns jokes and we are on our way but one thing is for sure I am damn hungry and the idea of food not happening is now getting to me. Am I way to over planned or been too deep in to the health thing that I can't just let go and eat whatever. Damn right I am too deep and happy to be healthy. So if I seem a bit picky it's cause in my almost 42 years this guy knows his body. My sister and I get to the #emeryville #amtrak station and we have just enough to time to grab another #uber to hit #safeway. My sister ends up waiting for the slowest sandwich maker in the west and I go straight to the #glutenfree section looking for the holy grail, oatmeal to hold off any future hunger. Well let's see I ended up getting split pea soup in a cup, some #larabar bars, a water and #allegra for any upcoming allergy situations. Prepared people, prepared.

Back at the station I grab some tea, hard boiled eggs and 2 bananas, as my sister's eyes roll I make sure we got what we need for this first morning. As I gather our bags and listen to the intercom about luggage I realize what, well my brain strike again. I forgot the damn tripod. Fearing I left it in the Uber my sister Katy lets me know later it was left in her place. Close call but now what? We'll see what happens.

Train moving out as we plop our butts into our seats the fellow passengers start to fill in and the reality sets in. " What the hell were we thinking?" The landscape moving by I hear the whistle and the repetitive engine of the train calling me back to that song by Bjorj from Dancer in the Dark. I look out and see the patterns in the power lines and fences and recall the Michel Gondry video for The Chemical Brothers. I'm taking it in and getting used to the fact that we will be on this train. 1 hour goes by as my sister and I talk and catch up over tea. 2 hours go by more passengers get on as we have to grab our stuff and put it overhead. This train becomes full and it gets that much tighter. The image of train travel I had in my head starts to fade away and the reality smashes to pieces the idea I had. I am no focused on getting to our designation. Only 6 hours to go. Kill me now.

A woman gets on the train with ear two daughters as they sit right next to Katy and I. Our eyes connect and my sister and I know this will be interesting. The mother clearly organized and the girls were about 4 and 6 years old they had matching fuschia rain outfits, matching ponytails and the mother was so on top of it that she rambled on about " ok here is your snacks, here is your juice" It just kept going like a wind storm. In my mind I realize this is the first encounter with colorful detail. My sisters also knew this is pretty hilarious this had to be something she can write about in one of her stand up stories. My mind starts to record. This mother so on top of it that she goes right into a math quiz and it just did not stop. My sister and I felt more stupid by the each math question. I automatically think to download a chess app on my iPad. This made me feel less backwards in the brain. I was never really good at ' the math ', Katy seconds this and we agree to try to just block out the smart noise and focus on a game of chess. In an instant the mother sits right next to me and goes into fractions and quizzes her girls some more.  By this time my area has become smaller and her puffed jacket was right on top of me. I am pretty patient but this was just funny that I just took in as part of the trip. As they left crumbs from the breakfast bar and wet seats were there to stay. Having kids it seems is a job and I can see this lady was all about making her girls ready for school. We talked to her a bit as my sister laughingly said " I got one one of the math questions correct." We couldn't resist.

Come 11 am I am starving so I take down my two hard boiled eggs, and 45 minutes later I am losing it. I am hungry and the eggs didn't take care of it. " It's Wine o'clock " Katy exclaims. what a great idea. It's 11:47am and to that is close enough. I go to the food car with my game face on. I bring along my split pea soup to add hot water and in a weakened state I order @lays potato chips. But I will say this I classed it up with some red wine from @hahnwines. Two plastic cups I make my way back through the wet and windy corridor and I am smiling ear to ear. I need this like you wouldn't believe. Pour in the two plastic cups with some smell of rehydrated ham and peas coming over me. I am refreshed and drunk at the same time. This trip just turned around. I move over to my sisters chair and we watch a movie on my iPad on ear bud each to connect us like conjoined twins. We are coming to our stop having been on the train for 6 hours everyone starts to get in the aisle ready to get off this constraint and we are all just spent. I gather my bag from atop the chairs. My sister is grabbing her things facing away and I sit waiting to leave and just get the hell off. " Merry Christmas" this little boy maybe about 4 years old pops around my right shoulder. biggest smile you ever saw. My heart just melted. I mean I am pretty beat up and not in the Christmas cheer at all. I am actively trying to as I joke restart my cold black heart and let him know it. " Thank you I really needed that." This feeling I am getting thrusts me into the spirit right away like Scrooge in The Christmas Carol. The entire train all hurried and ready to leave just smile and laugh. As we start to leave I tell the father with a nod to him " Happy holidays" and sonner then I can make it past him his son peeks out and tells each person. " Merry Christmas!" Loud, sweet and pure. My heart is started like a defibrillator and I let out a gasp " Ahh" smile grows on my face. This kid is my tiny Tim and wiped my frown clear off.

Finally at the Bakersfield bus station rain and a hurried crowd we land in find our seats and it is the smallest most uncomfortable seating ever. But my joy is still there. I am refreshed. The cramped, cold and wel we have the loudest guy facing us doesn't phase me and almost just becomes a joke. Cell phone music playing the worst rap music loud so we can all hear it in it's glory. My sister not able to take it offers kindly to the guy her headphones. A quiet " no" comes from his blank face. We had another guy who was in the bathroom every 10 minutes standing up and was not at rest at all I felt his pain but I was holding all that in. It was such a thing everyone was on the same mind that this is way to out there and you could feel it. We have been on this bus for about 6 hours and I about had it. I started to write and chatting with my sister was the only saving grace. Bonding with her is the one thing that I wanted from this and it is turning out to be just that. Never have we had this much time to just talk and just be. It is a gift that I thought about but I am cherishing. But like Katy jokes we'll see if we kill each other but so far so good we are on this trip together. Ending our trip we met a lady sitting next to us with her nephew  who was 7 years old. One of the most well mannered and friendly kid. We chatted here and there as I tried to help them with her iPad wifi connection. As we are pulling into Vegas. We learn she is a teacher and she is raising her nephew. The guy had left who was rap happy. And we were free to talk to this sweet woman about the school system and how many kids are on meds and behavioral issues. We wish her a Happy holidays and my mother's husband my step father Hakan is there in all his Swedish glow. " Well hello" we finally arrived in Downtown Main Street Grey hound bus station. One full day of travel.