Another busy day

I’ve been working on a webpage post, but I’ve decided that it needs a lot more work before it’s publishable. So for now I’ll have to leave you with a photo of some granola pancakes that I had for lunch today at the Florida Pancake House at the the Mall at Millenia in Orlando. My parents and I drove from Tampa to Orlando this morning and we are looking forward to going to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure tomorrow to visit Harry Potter World! I suspect the park is going to be very busy because it’s a Saturday during Spring Break, but oh well. We’ll still have a good time. Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share tomorrow!

From the Denver airport

After I was already settled on my flight to Denver this morning in a window seat with an empty middle seat next to me, one of the flight attendants told me there was a first class seat available if I wanted it. Usually the perks of first class on domestic flights are lost on me so since I was already comfortable in my original seat I passed on the upgrade. Less than a minute later I regretted that decision because a huge man with an enormous briefcase sat down in the empty seat beside me. He squished me into the bulkhead while scrambling around to put on his seatbelt, and his briefcase intruded into the space where my feet would normally go. I almost asked, “Is that first class seat still available?” but I was sure it had already been given away. And since it was a fairly short flight from LA to Denver I figured the simplest option was to just keep my mouth shut and go to sleep. If only it was that simple. With the warmth of the sunlight streaming through the window, I fell asleep before takeoff. Everything was going great until the drink cart came by and this guy sitting next to me decided to wake me up by touching my leg (eww!) to see if I wanted something. No I didn’t want anything! I was asleep! My response to his query was pretty sharp so he didn’t deliberately bother me for the rest of the two-hour flight, but he was so big that he kept bumping when he moved and it annoyed me to no end. I was thrilled when we landed in Denver and folks started deplaning, but then this guy told me he was staying in his seat until everyone else got off because his bag was stowed in the back of the plane. So I had to crawl over him and his briefcase to gain my freedom. It was the most uncomfortable flight I’ve been on since Dan and I flew back from New Zealand in 2009. Right now I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for my flight to Tampa which has been delayed about half an hour. I just hope my seat situation on this flight isn’t as bad as on the last leg of my journey!

Edited at add: There’s a woman sitting across from me at the Denver airport who is also from Los Angeles and is complaining to a friend that one of her coworkers called her $2 million house “cute.” She’s going on and on about how incredibly rude that was. The difference between her and me is that I think talking about how much your house is worth is rude, especially when it’s in the millions.

At the Honey Bear Lodge – Big Bear Part 2

I wrote this post in our Big Bear hotel room on Saturday, but I couldn’t get my laptop to connect to the internet in Big Bear so I had to wait to post it until today. We had a great weekend there, but it’s nice to be back home where it’s (relatively) warm! Here’s a link to all of my Big Bear 2/25-2/27/11 photos.

We made it back to the hotel! Around noon Dan, John, and Hudson found me at my table in the Summit Lodge and we all had lunch. They looked exhausted. They told me that there was so much powder that they sunk into the snow waist-deep in places! They said it was a lot like surfing. These kinds of conditions are rarely seen at Big Bear so they were very excited, but tired after five runs in about three hours. We had lunch in the very busy bar area (I had to fight to keep four chairs at our table until they got there). After eating and resting for a little while Dan and John decided they wanted to get in a couple of more runs before leaving, so Hudson and I stayed in the lodge and waited for them to get back. About 45 minutes later we were ready to leave Snow Summit for the day, but not after spending a good amount of time clearing my car of the four or five inches of snow that had fallen since we arrived. What a mess! I couldn’t clear the snow fast enough to keep the windshield clear. Eventually the defroster kicked in and melted the flakes when they hit, which helped a lot. After leaving Snow Summit we returned the rental skis to Leroy’s and then went in search of the Sugar Pine Bakeshop. I mentioned it to John and Hudson on our drive up yesterday and they were looking forward to trying it as much as I was. Well we found it, but there were no cupcakes in their display cases today! The ladies who own the bakery said they weren’t sure what kind of business they were going to have after the big snowstorm so they didn’t bother to frost any cupcakes today. There were lots of other goodies available so we picked out an assortment of those instead. So far I’ve only had a couple of bites of a cookies & cream filled brownie, and it was pretty tasty, but we have dinner reservations at 6 PM so I’ll save the rest for afterwards. The boys are napping right now and I’m sitting near the space heater with my laptop on my knees typing up this post. Too bad I won’t be able to publish it until we get home tomorrow because I can’t figure out how to get the hotel WiFi to connect to the internet. At least my WordPress app on my phone is working. I posted a couple of sentences that way via the AT&T cellular network this morning and I’m afraid that’s going to have to count as my daily blog update unless I find someplace that has better connectivity. With all of the writing I’ve done today, at least I have plenty to post when I get home tomorrow! I think it’s snowing again. Sheesh! We have to leave for dinner at Madlon’s, one of our favorite restaurants, in an hour and I just know the clean pair of jeans I’m wearing is going to get soaking wet from trudging through the snow by the time we get there. I just hope we can get out of the hotel parking lot tomorrow morning to drive home without too much trouble. The parking lot was plowed while we were at Snow Summit this morning, but a lot more snow has fallen since then. As nice as it is up here in the mountains, I will be glad to go home tomorrow. We’ve rarely need an ice scraper in Big Bear and we’ve never needed a snow shovel before, but after this weekend I’m bringing both on all of our trips. OK, time to go finish getting ready for dinner. It’s going to be great!

At Snow Summit – Big Bear Part 1

I wrote this post while hanging out at the Snow Summit lodge yesterday, but I couldn’t get my laptop to connect to the internet in Big Bear so I had to wait to post it until today. We had a great weekend there, but it’s nice to be back home where it’s (relatively) warm! Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

What an ordeal we’ve had this morning. I feel kinda guilty writing about how difficult it was to get from our Big Bear hotel to the Snow Summit resort this morning because Dan, John, and Hudson did all of the hard work to make it happen! But now they’re finally on the ski slopes and I’m sitting in the lodge saving them a table for lunch. But let me back up and start this story at the beginning. I’m a terrible snowboarder and after four years of trying to get better I finally gave up on it. This has made Dan’s snowboarding trips few and far between. So back in January I decided that I wanted to give him a weekend trip to the mountains for his birthday since he doesn’t get to go as often as he’d like. And so that Dan wouldn’t have to snowboard alone I invited our friends John, Hudson, and Dave. They weren’t free to go to Big Bear the actual weekend of Dan’s birthday, but we decided that weekend of February 26th and 27th would be work for all of us. So I called the Honey Bear Lodge, a hotel we’ve stayed at before and liked, and booked a room for five people that weekend. Everything was in place. Then Dave hurt his back and decided that there was no way he could come with us, even just to hang out of the weekend, which was a real bummer. So it was down to four of us. And then we got the weather forecast. Not only was a storm front coming through Southern California on Friday/Saturday, but Los Angeles was going to have some of its coldest days in a decade! That meant lots of snow in the local mountains and cold enough temperatures to keep it from getting icy on the slopes. The boys were very excited about the promise of good conditions and it looked like we had picked the perfect weekend for our trip. John and Hudson met Dan and me at our house yesterday and we left for Big Bear at 6 PM. We made surprisingly good time for a Friday evening – until we got stuck on CA-18. First let me explain that the road we usually take into the mountains has been closed all season due to storm damage last year, meaning that we had to take a longer, unfamiliar route to Big Bear. So when the traffic suddenly stopped moving, I looked on the CalTrans website to figure out what was going on. Sometime after we left the house, the status of the CA-18 was updated to make tire chains required from Panoramic Point to the Big Bear Dam. Since I didn’t know where Panoramic Point was I looked that up next. Turns out that was exactly where we were stopped. It was raining pretty steadily at that point (not quite cold enough for snow yet) and none of us were excited about the prospect of getting out of the car in those conditions to put on chains. Fortunately there are some enterprising folks who charge $40 to put the chains on for you. Even at twice the price that would definitely have been the way to go. I highly recommend carrying at least that much cash if you’re driving up to the San Bernardino mountains because it’s worth every penny. Once Dan flagged down one of the guys it only took him about five minutes to earn our $40. It was fantastic. Unfortunately we were still a long way from Big Bear when we were chained up and ready to go. Our goal was to make it into town before 10 PM in order to rent skis for John and Hudson and be able to get a meal from somewhere other than Denny’s. We made it with fifteen minutes to spare, meaning that our entire trip took about four hours. We’ve definitely had worse drives. We got the skis from Leroy’s and surprisingly found Paoli’s Italian Kitchen still open in the Village for dinner. We had some delicious pasta there, which was an unexpected treat because just about every restaurant in Big Bear closes at 10 PM. By the time we got into our hotel it was 11:30 PM and we went to sleep shortly after that.

Dan’s alarm went off at 6:30 AM this morning to give us enough time to get ready and make it to Snow Summit before the slopes opened. But then we looked out the window and realized that leaving our hotel realized wasn’t going to be a simple proposition. I walked out to the car with Dan in about a foot and a half of fresh snow (which is not really a good idea in jeans because when you go back inside the snow melts and your pants are soaked) to get the car started and brush off the windows. Then one of our fellow hotel tenants in a huge truck (but without chains) tried to drive out of the parking lot, but he only made it about a car’s length before he got stuck. Yikes. At this point I retreated back into the room, leaving Dan, John, and Hudson to the arduous task of helping to get that truck out of the parking lot so that we could follow in his tracks. That took about an hour and a half, poor guys. I felt so guilty sitting in our warm room while they were out there working hard, but I figured I would have been more of a hindrance to them than a help. And I would have been miserable out there considering I hadn’t dressed appropriately for the weather (Why didn’t I bring my snowboard pants and gloves?) and my griping certainly wouldn’t have helped them at all. Eventually that truck made it out of the parking lot and we were able to follow them out onto the freshly plowed roads. (Apparently the truck owner kept doing stupid stuff, getting their truck even more stuck in the snow. It’s a good thing Dan, John, and Hudson were there to help out or they would have been in a lot of trouble! Hudson said they sounded like Hawaiians!) It still wasn’t easy for my CR-V to get out of the parking lot because it has less ground clearance than the truck, but we made it out without too much more effort. Phew! We got to Snow Summit around 9 AM, I picked up the lift tickets that I had pre-ordered for the boys, and now they are out enjoying the newly fallen snow. Hopefully our drive home tomorrow won’t be as eventful as the last 16 hours have been! I heard that the snow was going to stop sometime this morning, and as I’ve been sitting here it did. For a while. Now it’s snowing big fat flakes again. I’m glad to be fairly warm here in the lodge and I hope the boys are having a blast on the slopes. My plan for today was to go back to the hotel at lunchtime to take a shower and relax until they were done skiing/snowboarding for the day. Also, I want to go to the Sugar Pine Bakeshop down the road and get some cupcakes to celebrate both Dan’s and John’s birthdays (belated, but still a good reason to eat cupcakes). However, there are two problems – 1) I’m not sure I want to give up our space in the main parking lot, and 2) I’m terrified to try to drive into the hotel parking lot again! I guess I could call and see if they’ve gotten a snow plow out there yet, but not being very experienced at driving in snow means I have no idea what to do if I get stuck in the snow. We’ll see how the boys feel when they come back to the lodge for lunch.

Internet challenge – Big Bear

When I hit publish on this post I will have updated my webpage every day for the first 53 days of 2011. Pretty impressive, huh? I think so, but I keep wondering how long I’ll be able to keep it up. So far this year I’ve written plenty of posts while away from home (Disneyland and DC), but I’ve been able to count on WiFi at my hotels in all of those cases. I figured my biggest obstacle to posting every day was going to be on my trip to Florida next month (no guarantee I’ll have internet access at our hotels in Tampa and Orlando), but it seems I am going to face my first one a little earlier. Big Bear Lake. I’m taking Dan and a few of his friends to Big Bear this weekend for a belated birthday snowboarding trip and accommodations in that particular mountain town are a bit more rustic than other vacation spots. I booked a room for five people at a nice place where we’ve stayed before, but I didn’t think about whether or not we’d have internet access. Turns out we probably won’t (based on my research, which includes everything except actually calling the hotel and asking them). So it looks like the only way I’ll be able to update my webpage via my laptop (my usual method) will be a trip to Starbucks. That is, unless Snow Summit has finally entered the twenty-first century and installed WiFi in their lodge. Not likely, although it would make the hanging-out-in-the-lodge-while-your husband-snowboards experience much more pleasant. (You can’t beat the Snow Summit hot chocolate, though. So delicious.) I did figure out how to get my WordPress app working today, but combining my atrocious iPhone typing skills with a lack of patience is going to make that a last resort. I’m not going to let limited internet access keep me from updating my webpage this weekend, though. I haven’t made it this far in 2011 without missing a day to stop now! I’m crossing my fingers that our hotel does indeed have connectivity (even if it’s not WiFi), but otherwise I’ll buy some hot chocolate at Starbucks and write a couple of webpage posts there. I’ll let you know what the situation is when we arrive in Big Bear on Friday night. Until then I’m going to take full advantage of our home WiFi. I love technology!

Elevation Burger

After several months of hearing two of my coworkers rave about Elevation Burger in Falls Church, VA, yesterday I insisted that we go there for dinner. Although Falls Church isn’t very close to our usual hotels, our flight landed at 2 PM so I figured it wouldn’t be an issue to drive there, eat, and drive back with time to spare. We did get stuck in some pretty bad rush hour traffic (in both directions, which was really annoying), but it was totally worth it. Usually I have maybe one decent meal on a business trip, with the rest of my sustenance consisting of Clif Bars and diet soda, so I was thrilled to get a delicious meal on the first day this time. Just look tray of food – doesn’t it look great? I actually forgot to take a picture until after I’d had a few bites, but I think that just makes it look even more appetizing. I had a cheeseburger with lettuce, pickles, caramelized onions, and balsamic mustard, an order of fries (made with olive oil), and a chocolate black cherry shake. (I was stuffed when we left and I didn’t even finish it all!) I really should have gotten raw onions on my burger instead of the caramelized ones, but I still loved my meal. The burger was yummy, the fries had a great tang from the olive oil, and the chocolate shake was heavenly. It made me ridiculously happy that my chocolate shake was made with actual chocolate ice cream instead of a mixture of vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup – whether it should have or not. Maybe a milkshake wasn’t the best choice on a 30 deg night with several feet of snow on the ground, but I regret nothing. I had to go in to work after dinner, but after a dinner like that it didn’t seem so bad. Now I just have to find another time when we can go back!

Stream of consciousness on a plane (Part 1 of 3)

I’m about halfway through my month of NaBloPoMo and it’s been harder than I thought it would be. I guess it was silly of me to think that updating my webpage every day for a month would be easy considering how much business travel my job requires, but I figured that since January is traditionally my most productive blogging month (New Year’s resolutions and all) that it would be the best time to give it a try. But it turns out that this particular January hasn’t been all that receptive to the idea. I’m on a plane right now, somewhere between Washington, DC and Los Angeles and I’m acutely aware that this is probably going to be my only chance to write anything before I hit the NaBloPoMo midnight deadline (even midnight in California, which is pretty much the drop dead time for posting on a particular day in the United States unless you live in Alaska or Hawaii). As soon as I get home I want to spend no more than two minutes hitting “Publish” and then focus the rest of my energy on spending quality time with my husband before Saturday is over. Weekends are way too precious to worry about when I’m going to be able to update my webpage. Like last weekend and our epic Disneyland adventure. Weekends like that are what the best memories are made of. (The only way I posted anything more substantial than a photo and a blurb was because I started writing before we left the house on Saturday morning. And since Dan was out bike riding that morning it didn’t impact our amazing weekend.) I’m determined to see NaBloPoMo through, and possibly even extend it into subsequent months, but I also don’t want it to start running my life. Not that I don’t enjoy my time writing. In fact, I think this venture has really helped my improve my writing, even if it’s only been churning our mediocre blog posts so far. Like right now, this paragraph has been flowing much better than anything else I’ve written this month. Who knows if that’s because I’m becoming a better writer or if I’m just worried about what the person sitting next to me on this 767 will think if I spend too much time hitting the backspace button and pausing between sentences. Probably a little of both.

Photos from our Hawaiian vacation

I’m in the process of typing a post about the holidays, but until I finish that, here is a list of the photo albums from our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii last month:

1) Waikoloa 11/12-11/14/10 – Kekaha Kai State Park, Anchialine Ponds, Hilton Waikoloa Village, Fair Wind snorkel cruise, and Hapuna Beach
2) North Kohala 11/14-11/16/10 – Kapaʻau, Pu’ukohola Heiau, Pololu Valley, Waimea, and Waipio Valley
3) On the way to Hilo 11/16/10 – Laupahoehoe Harbor, World Botanical Gardens, and Akaka Falls
4) Hilo 11/16-11/18/10 – Lili’uokalani Gardens, Coconut Island Park, Banyan Drive, Blue Hawaiian helicoper tour, Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, and Dan DeLuz Woods
5) Hawaiian Lava Hike 11/17/10 – Hiking tour from Kalapana to see the active lava flow
6) Volcano 11/18-11/19/10 – Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea volcano caldera, Steam Vents, Sulphur Banks, Thurston Lava Tube, Hale Ohia Cottages, Kilauea Iki Crater, Devastation Trail, Chain of Craters Road, Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs, and the Sea Arch
7) South Point 11/19/10 – Southernmost point in the US and hike to the Papakolea green sand beach
8) Kona 11/20-11/21/10 – Puuhonua O Honaunau Park, sea turtles, Big Island Grill, Kona Tiki Hotel, and roadside lava tube
9) Mauna Kea Summit 11/20/10 – Tour to the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano
10) Hawaii videos – Since Flickr wasn’t cooperating, I uploaded the videos from our vacation to YouTube instead

Rental cars

I started writing this post on my last business trip (9/26 to 10/2) and it’s been on quite a journey itself since then. It started as piece of paper almost completely covered with scribblings that I wrote during what few slow moments I could find at work. I planned to type it up one evening before I went home, but it never happened. I had the best of intentions, but on the last night of my trip I was just too tired to transcribe more than a few sentences into electronic form. So I put the piece of paper into a book and took it on the plane with me thinking that I would either type it up on the flight or when I got home. The book made it home with me (which is good because it’s a library book that I have to return before the 12th), but I can’t find the paper anywhere. I guess it fell out on the plane. I hope the person who found it got a laugh. So in the end I’ve had to rewrite the whole thing using a little bit of what I remember and filling in the rest with what I think I was trying to say. And here is the finished product.

My flight arrived in DC around 2:30 PM on Sunday and I headed straight to the car rental place as soon as I got my suitcase from baggage claim. One of the things about arriving earlier in the day is that there seems to be a better selection of rental cars there than when I arrive later. Unfortunately it means taking a before-the-crack-of-dawn flight out of LA, but that’s another story. There have been times when I only had three or four cars to choose from when I arrived in DC, and all of them lousy. So I was glad that there were plenty of cars available when the van pulled into the rental car parking lot that afternoon. There was a slew of the usual Dodge Chargers and Avengers (I’ve convinced that National is trying to fill their entire fleet with these), but since I’d rented both of them before (and hated driving them) I kept walking. Next I saw a Volkswagen Bug, which I’d also rented before and actually enjoyed driving. But I remembered that they’re so underpowered that you have to floor it to pull out from a green light at a decent speed, so I bypassed this option as well. Then I saw a couple of Kia Souls – you know, the car that’s advertised by those hip hop hamsters? The first time I saw that commercial was at the movie theater when Dan and I went to see Iron Man 2. The unedited version (see it here on YouTube) was part of the movie pre-show and it was so weird that it left me wondering what the heck I’d just seen. It was bizarre, but it’s turned out to be one of the most successful automobile advertising campaigns in history. It’s one of those things that makes you want to drive a Kia Soul just to see what all the fuss is about. So on my business trip in July I got the chance. When I arrived in DC that day there was a single Kia Soul in the rental lot amongst all of the Chargers and Avengers, so I made sure I got to it first. And after a week of driving it I understand why people like them so much – they’re fun to drive and pretty stylish (if you can consider me a judge of style). Every time I got in the car the “This or That” song from the commercial started playing in my head and visions of hamsters riding around in toasters flashed before my eyes. The Soul was one of the better rental cars that I’ve driven, but on my last business trip I kept walking when I saw it because I wanted to see what else was available. Then I spied a Ford Escape. It’s been a while since the last time National had small SUVs available for Emerald Club members to rent so I was excited when I saw the Escape. I used to gravitate towards Toyota RAV4s when National had them in their fleet, but it’s been a couple of years since I last rented one. I loved them because it was the easiest possible transition between my own car and a rental car. RAV4s are like my CR-V’s cousins – similar in looks, size, and driving style. It took a while for me to get over losing my old Neon, but after five years I’ve grown very attached to my CR-V Raz and I hate driving anything else. So when I rented the Ford Escape I was hoping it would be a similar driving experience. Plus, I’ve always regretted not test driving one when I was shopping for cars five years ago, so I took this opportunity to see what I was missing. So what’s the verdict? I hated it. I hadn’t driven the Escape for more than an hour before I realized that the visibility was terrible. The headrests covered up the windows and I almost hit someone in a parking lot because the blind spots were huge. I did like the satellite radio, but I was still glad to give it back after a week. Every other car I drive reminds me how much I love my CR-V, which really is the best thing that could happen because I can’t afford to think about replacing it for at least five years! So here’s to more second-rate rental cars in the future!