Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's a Dog's Life

No real story to share, just a picture of Sir Guinness of Haverhill Glen, our 2 3/4 year-old chocolate bundle of fun. Also known as Roger's lap dog and very bestest friend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Following Dreams

Recently Roger and I had the opportunity to meet a rather extraordinary family at the New Hampshire International Speedway.

Chase Austin is an up and coming NASCAR driver, whose grandmother just so happened to be Roger’s Sunday school teacher many, many years ago back in Lawrence, Kansas. What led up to this meeting was the exchanging of several emails between Roger and Marianne Austin, Chase’s mom. Roger had learned of Chase’s career several months ago and then he realized he would be racing up here in New England. We weren’t very hopeful in getting to meet any of the Austins, let alone Chase, so we were thrilled when it worked out for us to be able join them in the race car hauler before Chase’s race.

Marianne and her husband Steve were able to upgrade their pit passes and passed along the old ones to us. We were so excited when we hopped onto the back of the little gator, flashed our yellow “credentials” and zipped on in like we were really important! What was amazing was the fact that the parents of a driver had a limited pass to begin with. After all, if it weren’t for them….:)

It was a fantastic afternoon, and the family was very kind and welcoming. We hung out in their high-tech hauler for a bit, then headed over to pit road while Cup qualifying was going on. The only problem - I had on sandals and was nixed at the gate from going any further. While disappointed, I encouraged the others to go ahead and for Roger to take pictures. I was thrilled just to be anywhere near the action in the first place.

After several minutes I went back to the main gate in case they all came back. Suddenly, Steve appeared at my side with a pair of shoes! Not just any ol’ close-toed shoes, but a pair of Chase’s racing shoes. He had slipped off back to the hauler without any of us knowing. Later when Chase came down to prepare for his race I showed off my “new” shoes. How Chase really felt about a middle-aged woman dressed in pink wearing his shoes, I’m not sure. I, on the otherhand, felt like I was walking in Dale Earnhardt’s shoes!

The Austin family, Steve, Marianne, son Chase and their 2 daughters, are the true epitome of the name of this blog – “Life on Winding Road”. But they also epitomize the sacrifices that sometime come with following a dream.

Chase, who will soon be the ripe old age of 18, has proven himself to be a very talented race car driver. After a very bumpy start, his drive and talent is paying off, resulting in him gaining the attention of Rusty Wallace, and ultimately a NASCAR driver development contract with his team. This is no small feat and there are thousands of young men, and women (!), who dream of following in Chase’s footsteps. But, like so many dreams, this has resulted in a geographical separation for the family. While Steve, Chase and the oldest daughter have moved to the heart of NASCAR in North Carolina, Marianne and the youngest daughter remain in Kansas to provide a home base for the family.

We can certainly attest to what it’s like to leave behind loved ones and knowing that you’re missing out on not just the special events, but the humdrum of daily life as well. Ultimately we’ll head back south to be near Nicole and our parents and friends. And ultimately we know that the Austin Family will be able to be together again as a family, even as their children grow and they all begin their own careers.

In the meantime, we’ll cheer Chase on and wish them all of the very best of luck!.

The Smell that is New Orleans

It hits you as soon as you exit the airplane – this odorous, almost stench of a smell. It greets you outside of the hotel and can almost knock you flat as you round a corner, or when the wind whips through an alleyway. But mostly, it just hangs in the air like a persistent fog that you can’t see, but you know without a doubt that it’s there. Even on the 6th day of being there, I could still smell it, even though the dank smell of my hotel room had finally faded.

But, what’s also very noticeable is the wonderful, outgoing spirit of the residents and visitors from surrounding areas.

I was traveling solo, so perhaps I was a bit more attuned to my environment than usual, but I also truly believe that New Orleans is just a great place to be.

The highlight, by far, was being invited to dine with 3 ladies from Mississippi. They realized I was dining alone and invited me to join them at their table. I'm sure I should have refused, but completely out of character as it was for me, I took them up on their incredible gratiousness. I was so nervous though, I was chattering on endlessly. I'm sure they'd had their fill of me by the time dinner ended!

Finally, this last note on the Crescent City is to encourage others to go there as well. To help you out, here’s the list of all the restaurants I went to over a course of a week, all in or near the French Quarter, and all highly recommendable.

Near the Convention Center & Harrah’s Casino:

* Emeril’s – posh and delicious

* Gordon Biersch Brewery – chain, but lots to choose from and lots of activity

*Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar – got the feeling this place is a great late night hangout.

* Mulates – traditional cajun food – live music every night

* Riche by Todd English – way swanky and pricey. I stopped in for the Friday afternoon seafood boil. Huge shrimp, tasty oysters, great gumbo at a fantastic mid-afternoon price.

French Quarter – locally owned (I think):

* Tujagues – 2nd oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and the 1st stand-up bar in the city. Causal atmosphere with a set menu with choice of entree.

* Gumbo Shop – wonderful Cajun cuisine, reasonably priced.

* Crescent City Brew House – best oysters and cocktail sauce I’ve ever had!

* The Market Café – great place for breakfast. Stand in the long line at Café Du Monde to quickly eat a beignet (aka as donuts) or keep going a couple blocks further to my very favorite spot! There’s almost always live jazz, the bloody marys are excellent and the pace, very relaxing!!!

* Pat O’Briens - – more of tourist tradition than a local tradition is my guess, but it’s well worth the stop. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually eat here.

French Quarter - chains:

* Landry’s Seafood House – New Orleans boasts the original, thought the chain actually began in Houston.

* Bubba Gump Shrimp Company – where the movie "Forrest Gump" plays all the time. I thought the menu was rather limited, but a fun place to hang and listen to the music