Balloons Invade Boise!

Hot-air balloons are truly a majestic sight.  Doesn’t mean I want to jump in and share a tiny basket with blasts of propane gas hurtling me through the skies but the balloons do photograph well and I appreciate them.  From a distance.  From the ground.


Filling the blue skies as a colorful hurrah to the last days of summer, dozens of rainbow globes rose quickly.  Only Mia could get Thom out of bed and in the car before he had his first cup of coffee at 7ish on a Sunday morning.  For me, no way.  The last day of the Spirit of Boise balloon classic created a sense of urgency to get our lazy asses up and moving to see the awe on our granddaughter’s 3-year old face.  Was it worth it?  Certainly.  For her, anything.

For five days over Labor Day weekend, this annual event delights those who trek to Ann Morrison Park to get up close and personal each morning.  If you are not an early riser, you miss them as they take off at around 7 a.m.  We actually braved the crowds and shortage of parking on Friday evening to catch the Night Glow Spectacular where some of the balloons light up and stay tethered after dusk but left after we saw the humongous crowd and realized we were unprepared without chairs to gaze at the spectacle.  Next year, we will know better and come early in the evening with wine, munchies and blankets to recline on to enjoy the show.


The festival even has a kids day one morning, allowing children to take a short flight in a tethered balloon and pose for photos inside a balloon basket.  Since Hannah probably won’t allow Mia to ever go up into the skies in a balloon (wise momma) this will be the only way for her to experience it.  I can’t say that I blame Hannah.  Thom and I flew the Arizona skies as one of the experiences on a business trip I won and it was f*&king terrifying.  Packed into the basket with other company folks, we quickly saw that the driver couldn’t exactly control where we went or how we landed, which was HARD in a random field.  The basket carrying us tipped on its side quickly, dragging us through the field with one poor woman screaming as her hair got stuck between the basket and the ground.  Yep, she lost part of her ponytail.  I just screamed in general but without any painful hair extraction.  No more ballooning for me.  Thom loved it.  Freak.

But, back to Boise.  The Spirit of Boise is a wonderful crowd pleaser for all of Boise to enjoy and all activities are free and painless.  While parking is limited, it’s an easy stroll from downtown where you can find plentiful parking.  Bring your camera!  Thom left his good one back in Seattle and was kicking himself.  Next year!  Boise typically is hot as hell and dry this time of year, allowing the balloons the perfect weather to fire up and have fun.

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With balloons inflating all around us, Mia didn’t know which way to look next.  In addition to the beautiful rainbow colors, there were specialty ones like Darth Vader, Yoda, Liberty Bell and Owl.  Several companies proudly displayed their logos-happy use of marketing dollars seen by thousands of local residents.   Walking back to the car after taking in the sights, we were thankful that we made the effort to get up early and enjoy the Spirit of Boise.  Can’t wait until next year to make this a family tradition!


Hamlet amidst the foothills of Boise

“To be, or not to be..”  That IS the question but if you want TO BE entertained and see some damn fine theater, get thee to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise. Pronto.  Wow!  The level of artistry was top-notch and having seen my fair share of NYC and London theater, I can tell you I am usually a tough critic but I was duly impressed.  In fact, the last Shakespeare play I attended was at The Globe in London for a Goth version of Romeo and Juliet this spring that I loved.  Hamlet, while sticking true to the story, did have an interesting casting twist.  Hamlet might be female or male, depending on the night you attend.  Hmmmm…..


The night we attended we were treated to Laura Welsh Berg in the lead role, the only female in the US to be professionally acting the part of Hamlet right now.  How cool is that?  She alternates with Jonathan Dyrud and when they are not playing Hamlet, they are part of the supporting company.  Those actors work hard for their money.  And how on earth do they remember all those complex dialogues for multiple characters??  Throw in needing to know how to throw down some serious sword play and you have quite the acting challenge before they all die. Oops…spoiler alert.

The Elizabethan setting amongst the beautiful Boise foothills features a variety of seating arrangements including a new seating section on the stage so you can be part of the action as well as the standard options of tables, chairs or the hillside.  All good views.  We chose the blanket experience with lots of snacks, booze and fun.  They even provide little red carts to drag in all your picnic stuff from the parking lot.  Convenient.  You can also rent low chairs with backs for only $2 a piece for the hillside area.  After drinking a nice Merlot, it might be a challenge getting out of these low chairs but would provide additional entertainment for nearby patrons.  Beware.

Having been to lots of great outdoor venues and suffering through tough traffic and long lines to get into and out of concerts, we left for the performance fearful of the wait to get in and laughed our asses off when there was no traffic AT ALL and we easily parked in the main lot.  I love Boise!  This is a beautiful facility, moderately priced for such quality entertainment and definitely worth the road trip from Seattle to enjoy Shakespeare.  I can’t wait to go back and see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in August.  Having seen this play staged while we lived in Shanghai when Tim Robbins staged an updated version that I thoroughly enjoyed, I am looking forward to the Boise version.  From Shanghai to Boise, when Shakespeare’s words come to life, it’s a treat!  “Listen to many, speak to a few”  So wise and always relevant.

Freak Alley is place to be in Boise

If you are lucky enough to explore Boise, you have to check out Freak Alley.  What surely used to be an ugly alley in downtown Boise has been creatively reimagined into an outside gallery that will stun you with the level of street art on display.freak alley

Billed as the “largest outdoor gallery in the Northwest”, Freak Alley began in 2002 as an artistic expression and grew into a multi-faceted lane showcasing superior talent that will blow you away.

I love Boise and the diversity found here whether in the art, the food (check out the Basque paella on Wednesday and Fridays at noon), and the spirits of all kinds from wine to craft beer to tasty cocktails.  We love our second home here and look forward to spending more time in Boise this summer.


Boise Charm-Home for the Holidays

Mia and I taking a walk near our cottage in Boise

While we are lucky most of the year to enjoy our beautiful place in Seattle overlooking the water, when we come home for the holidays to our house in Boise, we get to revel in family time and experience the rolling foothills, bitter cold (brrrrr!) and snow.  Seriously, I brought warm clothes but you can’t dress in enough layers to cope with this frozen tundra crap.  And, while Thom is squiring us around town in our cool red Kia that we keep here, the squirrel community has already declined, with more surely to meet their early demise, as seemingly endless supplies of the squirrel population have some freaky death wish to run right in front of our car ALL THE TIME!  In speaking with David Sedaris at his recent Seattle talk at Benroya Hall, we explained our daughter lived in Boise, Idaho, to which he reacted by saying something to the effect that the squirrels were stalking him when he visited Boise and seriously, WTF!  Yep, the squirrels here are plentiful and crazy but Thom may have a personal hand in changing that status.  David, you’ll be safe to return to Boise soon to give an inspiring reading.

Braving the cold at the Bowls fundraiser-Thom & I, James & Hannah and Mia
Braving the cold at the Bowls fundraiser-Thom & I, James & Hannah and Mia

The day after Thanksgiving, we bundled up to go to the Idaho Food Bank’s fundraiser, Bowls, that is a tradition for many Boise families.  People throughout the year decorate bowls and donate them for this event where you spend $10 to buy a bowl and then get soup donated from local restaurants.  Last year, with temps in the 40’s, it was lovely and we lingered, eating our soup outside.  This year, we quickly bought bowls, snagged some soup and ran home to eat.  Still, we participated and all proceeds went to a worthy charity, that raised $39,000 last year at this event. Here’s hoping they exceeded that this year!

Our cute little cottage

Our social life in Boise differs greatly from Seattle because we are Mia-focused here, soaking up the cutest darling in the world while we can.  To say she is the most intelligent, beautiful child would be a vast understatement.  She loves to dance and play hide and seek with her Gi Gi and Nai Nai.  Mostly on-the-go, sometimes she will consent to sit down to color or read a story.  Before the cold wave hit, we enjoyed the park by our house, creeping and crawling through and under tunnels, going up hills and swinging endlessly.

We rent our cottage in Boise most of the year to short term VRBO clients and it’s so popular we had to book it out to use ourselves while we are here in December. Close to the trails and Hyde Park social scene, I can actually walk to the local office here and work remote.  With only 800 sq ft, it is a bit small if we moved here full time in the future so we are dreaming of an extension that would allow us to have a family room, modern bathroom and fireplace.  I know that clawfoot bathtubs seem romantic and vintage but they are a royal pain to climb in and out of.  Death by clawfoot tub-it could happen.  Give me a multi-head walk in shower…please!  I have to admit I’ve never stepped into the basement where the w/d is located, down a steep set of fold down stairs so that will have to be addressed too in a remodel–no crawling down into creepy space to do laundry for me.  Thom, at this point, is calling me out that I rarely do the laundry and, while that is very true, there may be a time when I have to so plan we must for that rare scenario.

Mia and I enjoying the park
Mia and I enjoying the park

While we don’t have the urban walks, night clubs, professional sports teams and frequent concert opportunities like we do in Seattle, we did enjoy going to a Boise State basketball game last week that they won handily and plan on trying out a jazz club soon.  I found an indie bookstore that was just enchanting in downtown Boise, which is a vibrant place full of shops and restaurants.  They even have a vinyl store that, thankfully, Thom has yet to check out.  The biggest difference is that with the frigid temps, it discourages the long walks that we love so much.  Definitely have to be a gym rat here to stay in shape indoors in the long winter months.  Oh well, you adjust and, while we might not love the weather, we do love our family and they are the first priority come snow or rain.  So, it’s happy holidays, Boise-style, which means enjoying the Idaho Potato Drop (from a crane downtown) to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  Yes, really.  When in Idaho….

Boise to Beijing-The Journey Begins

Good bye blue skies and fresh air!  Hello grey, chunk-filled air that causes me to cough..hard.  So long family and friends!  Hello insane work schedule though I love what I do.  Tomorrow I will make the long, long journey from Boise, Idaho to Beijing, China.  Leaving behind my new granddaughter Mia and my lovely family including my husband, who will stay to oversee the purchase of our new home here in Boise, our retreat from China but primarily a vacation rental till we expatriate.  Though I have been busy working from Boise to get ready for my big project in China, I have been blessed to at least be able to see the baby and family every night.  We take a walk around the neighborhood-the whole crazy crew:  Baby Mia, Hannah & Mike, Thom and I plus the crazy canine duo pulling us along, Izaak and Ollie, plus Det. Stabler, the only cat I know who goes for walks too. Now, I really don’t favor cats, being a dog person, but I will acknowledge that Det. Stabler is an unusually loyal and smart cat.  Not that I ever want to support a cat again.  Ever.  I prefer dogs who love you always and never give attitude.

Thom enjoying some puppy love from our Izaak.  I miss him so much!
Thom enjoying some puppy love from our Izaak. I miss him so much!
Det. Stabler coming along for the walk sans leash
Det. Stabler coming along for the walk sans leash

For the next month or two, I will be all alone in Beijing working hard.  More days in a hotel than I want to think about, not that it is a bad hotel but I miss being home.  Our Ayi Pink probably thinks we bailed on her.  I wonder what she does all day in the apartment with really nothing to do except dust the ever present dirt that is spewing out of the vents and hopefully watering our plants so they are not all dead by the time we return.  The wave pool with sandy beach will be open for the summer by the time I return to Shanghai in late June.  I’ve been watching the feral cats use this sandy beach as their own private litter box all winter while working out in the gym overlooking it.  Wonder if they’ll clean up all the cat poop before the season starts?  Oh, right, I live in China.  Note to self–wear shoes in sand.

What do I miss from Shanghai?  I miss the daily adventures walking the streets with Thom.  Experiencing the unusual and crazy life in China.  I don’t miss the pollution AT ALL.  My lung scare is still top of mind and I don’t look forward to wearing my mask more to protect myself but I will because I value living and breathing.  My CT scan showed lung damage caused by remote exposure to TB but thank God, I was tested and it’s not active TB. Did I get “exposed” to TB in China.  Yep.  Damn Subways.  Oh well.

Three generations enjoying lunch on a sunny, clear day in Boise.
Three generations enjoying lunch on a sunny, clear day in Boise.

Packing today was an experience in futility.  Due to the lure of low, low prices in the U.S., I may have overdone the shopping a bit. Well, maybe more like 20 or 30 pounds worth. Don’t judge me–the top size in China is a small 4 so I loaded up on the generous US sizing to help my self confidence.  Now, I am forced to make my son bring over some of my clothes when he comes.  Sorry dude but you’re Momma’s mule!  (He doesn’t ever read my blog so I’m safe)  He’ll come over with Thom at the first of July with an extra bag or two to have adventures all summer exploring the China that I’m too afraid to see.  Yes, until you live outside the U.S. you never consider that your travel plans will be heavily influenced by the reality of “are there are toilets or not?”  In pretty much all of rural China, it’s a definite “NOT”.  No toilets, no go -just my policy.  Men can go anywhere, anytime–females are challenged in that regard especially if you don’t like to squat by the side of the road.  So, Thom and James will take the trains here and there and see lots of crazy shit I am sure.  I will stay home and work where there are heated TOTO toilets close by–my new office is AMAZING!

So, on my last day in lovely Boise, we went to a great lunch, sat outside on the patio and soaked in the clean air.  I will never, ever take for granted the simple things in life like being able to drink a margarita on the rocks with no worries that the “rocks” will be made of toxic water that will induce projectile vomiting.  Ahhhhh….I will miss those little things….Beijing, watch out, here I come!


Holy Crap-I’m a Nai Nai

Living in China, I wasn’t able to see my daughter Hannah progress in her pregnancy except through social media and two brief visits. Arriving in Boise from Manhattan last week and walking her around Target at 10 p.m. to try and induce labor made it all real. Holy Crap-I’m a Nai Nai now! But I’m too young to be the “G.. word” and I live so far away–how can this possibly work?  As Hannah often tells me, “Mom, it’s not all about you!”  Really?  I thought it was..

Me and Mia
Me and Mia

Taking the assignment far, far away from family would be tough, sure, but I never expected that there would be a little Mia coming this quickly.  Hannah and Mike have been married almost two years but she’s only just turned 23.  I thought I would get away with a few years working overseas before I would enjoy this wonderful experience.  Why didn’t they consult me first before beginning a family??  Oh, right, it’s not about me and my work schedule.  Okay, I get it.  Maybe.

Luckily, work brought me closer and allowed me to be here for Mia’s arrival.  So at least I didn’t have to miss all of her life like I will after I return to China.  Damn.  After all the visitors in the hospital monopolizing little Mia and Thom was the worst by far, hardly sharing at all, I finally got to spend some quality time holding her once we got them all home.  Our little one has slightly red hair in keeping with her Irish lineage of the O’Dwyers  on Thom’s side plus her daddy’s coloring as well.  The ginger runs strong in her. That she will be spoiled is an understatement.  Her nursery already bursts with everything and more that any baby could every wish for or desire.  Her Mama is a fashionista and so shall Mia be.  Her substantial feet will be shod in the most trendy shoes with outfits to match.  Hannah is a master of finding bargains online at various sites.

We will be launching an online business soon (more to come) and guess who will be the one and only model and namesake for our venture?  Thank goodness she is so pretty!  Yes, obviously I’m prejudiced but let’s face it, there are not so pretty babies out there that eventually grow into their looks but come out of the womb needing some time to adjust before they face the world.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I am now a Nai Nai.  I helped my gorgeous, smart, talented daughter and her equally wonderful husband take Baby Mia home from the hospital to meet her animal siblings, Ollie the Great Dane and Izaak the Vizsla plus the ridiculously hairy cat, Detective Stabler.  This brood went from being the “babies” of the family to just animals.  Sorry, lady and gents but you are no longer the sole object of your parents affections.  Move aside because that little bundle with a bow in her hair just took priority though you will all still be loved.  Loving and protecting Mia is now your primary job vs. running after squirrels and chewing bones.  Ollie & Izaak may get a little more variety in their diet as Mia starts eating solid food in the years to come, which will inevitably fall to the floor or into open mouths as they quickly learn where to position themselves to take advantage of feeding time.  Yum–Cheerios and other delicious finger food flying your way soon!  Puppies–please try to keep Mia out of your food bowl.  Unlike Thom, who not only let Hannah eat dog food but staged it to take a picture because he thought it was so funny,  Ollie and Izaak need to guard their food well because I am pretty sure that dog food can’t be good for babies and must taste horrible.

Enjoying Blue Skies in Boise
Enjoying Blue Skies in Boise

While we’re visiting this week, I’ll be working hard as my schedule is overwhelming right now but I’ll find time to hold Mia and help with the dogs, who need to run daily to be happy.  Taking them out to frolic on the hills around Boise off leash, we hiked for miles on Mother’s Day enjoying the fresh air and blue skies.  Boy, it will be so hard to leave here and go to Beijing on Saturday but go I will because I have a family to support and responsibilities to fulfill.  Quite frankly I’m not sure how but I will find a way to make it work and be a good Nai Nai to Mia.  One day I hope she will enjoy listening to stories about her crazy Nai Nai’s adventures in China, which will inspire her to see the world.  Your Nai Nai loves you, Mia.