Monday, April 14, 2014

Publix Fast Pass?

I'd like to propose that Publix offer a Fast Pass for their check-out lines (both regular registers and (especially) the pharmacy. In the past 36 hours, I've lost about 30 minutes of my life waiting in lines at Publix (two different stores), both for ridiculous reasons. On both occasions, I was sure that Alan Funt (or one of his relatives) were going to pop out at any moment.

It all started yesterday morning when I did my weekly shopping. I rarely go to the "little" Publix anymore, because I find that the Atlantic store offers a much larger variety, much friendlier staff and much better service. Out of convenience, I opted for the store closest to my house. My Online Deli order was waiting for me (a miracle in itself) and my shopping experience wasn't bad overall...until it came time to check out. 

Only one regular lane (besides the Express Lane) was open. It was okay, because there was only one person ahead of me. I didn't notice (as I unpacked my entire cart) that the store manager, two cashiers and a packaging clerk were all at the register trying to help the customer ahead of me (who was wearing a shower cap and a fancy dress). From what I gathered, the customer was claiming that the cashier (who has worked at the store forever, but totally lacks enthusiasm) overcharged her. The manager had to go through her receipt and see what she bought. I believe that (after 10-15 minutes of arguing), the total was correct, but the woman didn't bring enough money with her, so they ended up taking a couple of items off her tab. She was in a hurry, because she was on her way to church. Interesting twist on an Easter bonnet, ma'am.

Today I had to pick up a prescription from the Atlantic Publix (which is a good thing, as I've vowed never to return to the "little" Publix ;)). As much as I love the Atlantic Publix, you seriously put your auto insurance to the test in the parking garage. I happened to wait for a space previously occupied by a car that was parked a good 9-12 inches over the line on one side and whose gas-brake-gas-brake-gas-brake maneuver to pull out of the spot reminded me of Farmer Ted driving Jake Ryan's Dad's Rolls. But, I got parked without a scratch (though my nerves were a little fried).

When I arrived at the Pharmacy, there were three people ahead of me. Not too bad, right? Except the guy at the front and the pharmacy tech seem to be doing some serious research on the computer. The older, very sweet foreign man (with very hairy ears) in front of me turned around after about 5-10 minutes and said "Blame Obamacare." I laughed and told him that I do. He replied, "Oh, you're in my camp?" We bonded. 

After getting nowhere, the guy at the front of the line left and the cashier helped the next person in line. When she was done, instead of helping the guy in front of me, she stepped out from behind the counter to wipe off the counter (which didn't appear to be dirty), oblivious to the fact that there was more to the line and people had been waiting for 15 minutes. Another pharmacy tech asked if she could help my buddy. The stray cashier returned and proceeded to have him swipe his credit card five times before realizing that the system was rejecting the card because there was no charge for his prescriptions. 

I was next, but they original guy in the front of the line ended up behind me with his prescription bottle for the drugs that the  pharmacy tech told him had no refills. Of course, she had to look into that, so I got to chatting with him about dogs (I was buying dog biscuits). She told him that he had transferred his prescription to another pharmacy. He denied it. He said that he had called Target for a price and they told him they couldn't fill his prescription, (but they had apparently transferred it to their pharmacy). (Don't you just love the quality of service these days?).

So 25 minutes after entering Publix, I finally had my prescription (and some dog biscuits). I had made a couple of new friends too. Sometimes you just have to shake your head and laugh. But, I decided to take the whole experience as a sign that this is NOT the week to give up my evening glass of wine. Hey, look at that! It's nearly 5:00. ;)


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Things I Learned in California ~ 2014 Edition


I've already written quite a bit about my recent trip to California in my previous blog post, My Soul(o) Vacation. But my mini-vacation was just a small (albeit the best) part of a five-day jaunt through SoCal that was full of lessons. So, here we go. It's time for "Things I Learned in California ~ 2014 Edition"...

Fashion irony is still alive and well. Remember back a few years ago when track suits were "in" and women wore sweatpants with things like "JUICY" and "SEXY" written across their butts (even though the quality they "advertised" was questionable)? I didn't see any "hot" pants on my trip, but I did get to experience a little fashion irony at the Fort Lauderdale airport. 

I had been waiting in the security line for about 15 minutes, listening to the woman behind 
me complain to her husband every time a member of the "Elite" status program got to skip the line and go ahead of us. (Hey, there are perks to flying a lot!) I was at the front of the line when an anxious young woman approached me and asked if she could please go ahead of me because her flight was leaving in 10 minutes. I know exactly how she felt, so I told her to go right ahead. Well, that completely pissed off the woman behind me, who immediately started (loudly) complaining and telling the woman that we all have flights to catch and she needs to wait in line like everyone else. When it was my turn, I was behind the young woman and I told her that I hope she made her flight. She thanked me and I could tell that she was crying. I felt SO bad for her. First of all, it's a HORRIBLE feeling to think you are going to miss your flight, but then to have someone just go off on you too?


So, "What's the fashion irony?" you may be wondering. Well, when I arrived at my gate, the woman who had been behind me in line, who also "had to hurry to catch her flight" was on the same flight as I was...which wasn't leaving for another hour. At that point, I also noticed that she was wearing a shirt that read, "I am love." I wanted so badly to go up to her and tell her, "Practice what you wear."

Musicians get perks on Virgin America flights. On my flight to LAX, I noticed that the flight attendant kept bringing one of my seatmates food and drinks. She also dropped by to talk to him...A LOT. At one point, he pulled a music magazine down from his bag in the overhead bin and autographed it for the flight attendant. Turns out an entire jazz band was on board. My seatmate, Joe, was the drummer (and a really nice guy). He asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot water. When she brought it to him, she took out a little vial (that she said she had gotten in Thailand) and poured it in the hot water. At this point, the entire plane started smelling like Vick's VapoRub. I asked Joe what it was and he told me that it was essential oil. The lady between us started complaining about the smell, so the flight attendant comped her some snacks and drinks too. Turns out, it pays to sit next to a musician (and complain?) on a flight. ;) 

Got a medical problem? There's an essential oil for that. I started talking to Joe about the essential oils because I was curious as to why you would need to inhale them on a flight and he told me that he always travels with them. He's had sinus problems for years and nothing (not even surgery) helped. His mom did some research and ordered the essential oils for him and he said he feels better than ever. He gave me a little booklet that's a guide to essential oils and tells which oil to use for any given ailment (and I mean ANY given ailment - It turns out that myrrh is a cure for jock itch! Who knew?). I'm thinking about trying a little lavender and chamomile oil for my insomnia. We'll see if it works.

There is SNOW on the mountains east of L.A. in March! Check it out!

If you rent an "Economy" car, you don't get satellite radio. Huh. Now, why did I think that was standard on rental cars? Clearly, Bob and his National Car Rental Executive Elite status has spoiled me! I was so disappointed to learn that I couldn't listen to "Next Wave" in my Nissan Versa. Which brings me to the next thing I learned (which really shouldn't have come as such a surprise)...

There are a ton of Spanish radio stations in California. Trying to find some decent music on Southern California radio is surprisingly challenging. I guess most people do have satellite radio, or just listen to their downloads now. All I know is that at least half of the stations that I scanned through hablaban espaƱol. Ironically, I heard the song "Low Rider" twice in the two days I had my car in L.A. All I could think of was George Lopez. 
My bad ride!

They also play a lot of classic rock in SoCal. I'm a fan of classic rock, so I thought I'd finally happened upon a couple of decent stations. Not necessarily. Maybe it was just timing, but it seemed like they played a whole lot of the same thing. Now, when you are reaching back 40 years for music, you should have a pretty diverse library, right? I heard a lot of AC/DC, The Scorpions and The Doors in those two days. Instead of "twofers", one station out there does "threefers", which is great if you LIKE the band. If not, you've got a good 10-30 minutes to avoid that station! Anyway, I had to resort to listening to Pandora on my phone a couple of times. 


Motorcycles are the only way to travel in L.A. Last summer, we saw a couple of motorcycles driving between lanes of traffic. We thought it was odd (not to mention dangerous as hell). When we were back at home, Rob was talking to a guy from California who told him that it is legal for bikers to drive between lanes! Crawling along in rush hour traffic on the 405 while motorcycles zipped past me, it finally dawned on me how smart these guys truly are. Forget the Nissan! Next time, I'm renting a Harley!

There is surprisingly a lot of free parking in California, but most of it is parallel. A lot of things are expensive in Southern California, but parking is generally not one of them. Here's the catch...many of those free spaces require you to parallel park on the highway. Do you know how much fun it is to do that at rush hour? Let's just say, I was very thankful for my economy car. (A motorcycle would have been even better.)

Shells CAN be found on California beaches. I covered this in my last blog post, but I was so excited about it, I thought I'd mention it again. ;) Out of all of the beautiful shells that I found, I only kept three of them. I left the rest of them at the base of the bluff, right where I had taken the photo.

Coconut oil is a great tar remover. After my walk on the beach, I noticed that the bottom of my feet felt sticky. Uh-oh! I had picked up a couple of clumps of tar. Naturally, I don't travel with mineral spirits, so I checked out my to travel kit to see if I had anything that might remove tar. I don't go anywhere without my coconut oil hair polish (which can be found in the ethnic hair care section of WalMart, in case you're wondering where to get some), so I figured I'd give it a shot. A little coconut oil and a disposable razor and my feet were clean, soft and sweet-smelling. ;)

A California breakfast burrito will fuel you for an entire day. San Diego is really close to Mexico. Maybe that's why restaurants there know their way around a burrito. California breakfast burritos are the best! I've had them at the Broken Yolk Cafe and my new favorite breakfast spot, Pipes Cafe. For me, eggs, cheese and avocado are the only "necessities", but a little bacon, sausage, and/or potatoes gives the meal a little extra "hang time." Eat one and you won't have to stop for food the rest of the day!

The GPS and I still don't get along. Frequent blog readers already know, our rivalry goes back a long way. I always assumed that my hatred of the GPS stemmed from a bizarre jealousy. My travel companions always seem to take the GPS's advice over mine. Well, on this trip, I was alone and the GPS was still out to get me. As I was desperately trying to get out of L.A. on my first day, she kept telling me to "take the exit toward the Long Beach Airport". I wasn't GOING to the Long Beach Airport! I was headed 73 miles south to Carlsbad, where I was trying to catch the 6:58 sunset! After about 20 minutes of "recalculating," she finally got the hint that I was ignoring her.

The next day, as I was on my way from visiting the seals in La Jolla to meet my friend for breakfast, the GPS powered down just as I was approaching the turn I needed to take. Worst timing ever! The road I was driving on continued for miles with no U-Turn and merged into I-5...NOT where I wanted to be at rush hour. I ended up going about 10 miles out of the way AND she lead me down another wrong route before getting me back on the PCH. The rest of the trip, she stayed in "Maps" mode. Thanks for nothin', GPS...I got this.

If you are the least bit claustrophobic, avoid Balboa Island. My family ventured over to Balboa Island on one of our previous trips to California. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed. We didn't get very far before we turned around and headed back to mainland O.C. Since it was Friday morning, I figured it would be far less crowded. I had some time to kill before the Huntington Beach Farmers Market opened, so I thought I'd stop by Balboa Island and maybe snap a few pictures. 

Turns out, Balboa Island is (or at least seems to me to be) crowded ALL the time. Streets are narrow and many are "one way." The main street through town reminded me of Las Olas Boulevard (only half as wide) with people attempting to (surprise) parallel park in traffic. After 10 minutes, I'd had enough of Balboa and decided to explore elsewhere. (Get it? Balboa? ;) ).

There really are (at least) two frozen banana stands on Balboa Island. If you watch Arrested Development, you know that it takes place in Newport Beach/Balboa Island and that the Bluth's own the "Original Frozen Banana Stand" on Balboa. I was amused to discover two "original" frozen banana places on the main drag through Balboa within 50 feet of each other. I can't believe I didn't get a picture! See, that goes to show how stressed out the place made me feel!

Vacancy at a motel that has color TV and TNT?
Must be my lucky day!
The Pacific Coast Highway is NOT like A1A everywhere in Southern California. I didn't have to return my rental car until 3, so I figured I'd take my time cruising up the PCH to LAX. I thought it would be a relaxing, beautiful drive up the coast through quaint little beach cities and surf towns. Not so. I really should have paid closer attention to the maps. Driving north, once you leave Orange County, you are not going to see the Pacific Ocean for quite some time. After about 45 minutes, I was convinced that I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Compton (or maybe Tijuana? The McDonald's billboards were en espanol). Even the GPS was trying to tell me to "take the next right toward the freeway." Did I listen? Of course not! Fuel was reasonable (relatively speaking...we're talking less than $4 for regular), but there was NO WAY I was stopping. 

There are a lot of really scary motels in L.A. along the stretch of the PCH I was just telling you about. Note to self: "Just because the address says "Pacific Coast Highway" does NOT mean it is a cute little bungalow by the sea."

Gas stations are scarce as you approach LAX As mentioned above, my rental car was in need of a fill-up. I thought that surely there would be plenty of gas stations once I returned to an area where I didn't think I was taking my life in my hands just to get a tank of fuel. Ummmm...not necessarily true. There are (strategically?) very few gas stations on the PCH as you approach LAX. (Gee, there were PLENTY of them further south!) So, yes, I had to rely on the GPS to help me find a gas station. Naturally, it told me there was one right up ahead in .2 miles, on the LEFT side of the road, when I was in the far RIGHT lane!

You better carry cash (or have a debit card) in Los Angeles. So, I finally get to the gas station, only to discover that they don't take credit cards. I wait in line behind seven people to tell the guy I want to fill up. He tells me that I need to give him the cash first and come back for my change. He asks me how much it will take to fill up the car. I have NO clue, so I go with what it costs to fill my car up with Premium at home and give him $55. (He kind of looks at me like I'm crazy.) I head back to the car and realize that I have no idea how to open the fuel door. I look on the driver's side door. No button. I look on the floor by the driver's side door. Nothing. I get out and start pushing the fuel door, hoping it will pop open. Nope. Initiate meltdown. I call Rob and as he's Googling how to open the fuel door on a Nissan Versa, I discover the button on the dash. It takes a whopping $37 to fill up my Versa. (Yep, I was waaaay off.) Not bad for two days of driving all over Southern California! 

Driving past the international airlines arrivals at LAX is like riding "It's a Small World". Back at LAX, after dropping off my rental car (I was SO done with driving in L.A.), I caught the Super Shuttle to the convention center. We had to stop at the various terminals to pick up passengers. At the international arrivals area, I was so intrigued by the fact that you could tell where the visitors were from by the airline's sign they were standing under - I saw people from Japan, China, Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and yes, even Malaysia (gulp). 

If you question a cabbie, your fare may get raised. I had never ridden in a cab by myself until I had to take one from the convention center to my hotel. I had read on TripAdvisor to be wary of cabbies in Downtown Los Angeles, as some have a habit of taking you a "roundabout" way, to raise your fare. First of all, when I caught the cab, it was waiting for the previous passenger to go get cash (Red flag #1 - doesn't take credit cards).  The cab smelled like incense (Red flag #2 - although it could have smelled worse, like deodorant failure). As we were driving down Olive Street (where my hotel was located), I thought I remembered the number being 701. We had driven past the 700-block, so I asked my cabbie if we had passed the hotel. BIG mistake! He says, "What, do you think I don't know where I'm going?" My fare went from $7 to $12 in 2.5 seconds (I watched  him physically bump it up on the meter). :/ He did know where he was going. I had the address wrong. Oops.

Walking alone in Downtown L.A. is less scary than riding in a cab. Missing Persons says nobody walks in L.A. Well, I did (and I lived to tell about it). I knew that if I settled into my hotel room too early, I'd be asleep by 7:00, so I decided to take a walk. OK...confession time, I decided to walk to Rite Aid to buy a bottle of Yellow Tail Cabernet after discovering a corkscrew in the mini-bar. (And, yes, there was wine in the mini-bar, but even though I wasn't paying for it, I refused to drink a tiny $15 bottle of wine...you're welcome, John.) ;)

The drug store was farther than I thought, so I ended up walking about a mile in total. Walking in the city always blows my mind. It makes me feel so tiny. I discovered that there is some really cool architecture (both old and new) in Downtown L.A. I really wasn't afraid at all (except for rarely knowing when I could cross the street because a giant double-bus would invariably block the intersection every time the WALK sign was list). Nobody bothered me or even tried to mug me for my $5 bottle of wine (which I had to carry in a paper bag #classy). I actually felt far more comfortable walking around the city than I felt in the cab. 

I will most likely never become a vegan. I had dinner at The Farm of Beverly Hills (at L.A. Live - not in Beverly Hills) on the recommendation of a friend (thanks, Brittany!). The menu featured many healthy-options, and I figured since I was in health-conscious California, I'd try my first vegan meal - Runner Bean Cassoulet. We also ordered roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash for an appetizer. Now THAT was delicious (and I thought it was healthy too until our waiter informed us that the chef tosses the veggies in butter and brown sugar before roasting them). The cassoulet? Meh. It wasn't bad. It TASTED healthy. As Rob would say, "I wouldn't crawl through a mile of glass for it." I think I'll remain an omnivore.


Carefully research a hotel's neighborhood before booking. I am a TripAdvisor freak. When I'm going on a trip, I research the heck out of the places I'll be staying. I was a little leery of the Omni when I discovered how close it was to Skid Row (yes, there really is a place). I was even MORE worried when Bob accidentally cancelled my reservation at the Omni and I had to make another one at the only available downtown hotel, the Doubletree, which was even closer to Skid Row. Fortunately, Bob was able to get my Omni reservation back, and the hotel was in a decent neighborhood. The shuttle that took us to and from the convention also served the Doubletree. When I saw the neighborhood surrounding the Doubletree, I was thanking the good Lord above that I was able to get back into the Omni. The Doubletree itself was beautiful, but it was on the edge of one of the seediest urban areas I've ever seen. A couple blocks from the hotel, I saw a sign that read "Sexy Yoga Butt Massage." 'Nuff said.

Downtown sunrises and sunsets are not quite as pretty as coastal ones, but they're pretty darn cool.


I just may be a force of nature. You may have hear that "it never rains in Southern California." Well, maybe not...unless I go for a visit! ;) It rained last summer when I was there and it also rained (for the first time in MONTHS) a few days before I headed out this year. Fortunately, it did not rain during my trip, BUT the earth did move.

My last morning in town, I had the TV tuned to KTLA as I was catching up on email and Facebook on my computer. I glanced over at the TV and saw on the ticker that a 4.4 magnitude earthquake had just struck Los Angeles. Whaaaaaaaaat?! I'm in Los Angeles. I didn't feel a thing. The epicenter was just 12 miles from my hotel, too. When I saw the news footage, I couldn't believe it! 

Naturally, you start to wonder if this could be a precursor to "The Big One." I was definitely ready to get away from downtown and I wasn't thrilled to be riding through tunnels and under overpasses on my way to the airport later that day, but nothing else happened. I can just tell people that I survived "The Shamrock Shake" of 2014. (It was St. Patrick's Day.) Later that day, my friend, Eric (who is a geologist) teased me that I brought rain to SoCal last year and this time, I managed to bring an earthquake with me. California might pay me to stay away! ;)

Never book a window seat on a five-hour flight. A direct flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale is a beautiful thing (especially on Virgin America). You don't have to worry about missing a connection or losing your luggage. On both flights, I booked a window seat (so that I could take pictures, of course!). I hadn't really considered the fact that I drink A LOT of water and five hours is a long time. I was fine on the flight out, but on my flight back to Fort Lauderdale, my seatmate fell asleep shortly after takeoff and slept through the flight. That was NOT fun. 
My photo on @surfcityusa's
Instagram

I might actually be pretty good at something I truly enjoy! :) A few days ago, I was going through the photos I had taken, looking at them on the television. Rob said to me, "You took over 900 pictures?!" Does he KNOW me? Of course I did! Many of them didn't turn out, but some of them were absolutely beautiful. I shared my favorite photos with Visit San Diego, who posted them on their Facebook page for "Fan Foto Friday". Yeah, I know they'll post pictures from anyone, but my pictures actually got a lot of likes! I also tagged @surfcityusa (Huntington Beach) in several of my Instagram photos. They shared one of my photos on their Instagram and it got nearly 800 likes! That really meant a lot to me. :) I love sharing my photos and I'm thrilled that other people like them. Now I'm trying to win The Flower Fields and Canon Photo Contest. I've entered a bunch of photos that I took when I visited. Regardless of whether or not I win, I thoroughly enjoyed taking every single shot! 

And the most important things I learned in California this year:

I love my family even more than I thought I did (and that's a lot). Yes, I loved having a day to myself to do what I wanted, when I wanted. It was nice to feel a sense of independence and to have a day where nobody needed anything from me. I quickly realized, though, that it's kind of nice to be needed. Although my family is always in my heart, I really felt our 2,700-mile separation on this trip. I've never been so excited to get back home. Yes, I will go back to California; but I'll be bringing my family with me. :)

I'm stronger than I thought I was. I went into this trip a little nervous about traveling on my own. Fortunately, my excitement trumped my anxiety. Sure, I did have a couple of emotional mini-meltdowns, but overall I believe that I got everything out of the trip that I had hoped I would, plus a little more. I learned a lot of lessons - many of which are detailed above, but some lessons that I learned are just for me and I'm thankful for each and every one of them.

Thanks for reading (I know this was a long one)!

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Soul(o) Vacation

"Now that she's back from that soul vacation
 tracing her way through the constellation
Hey, hey, hey..."

Feel free to press play and listen while you read. ;)

A couple of months ago, I found out that I would be representing my company at the ASCD Conference in Los Angeles in March 2014. Anyone who knows me (or follows my blog) knows that I LOVE Southern California (well, San Diego/Orange Counties...L.A., not so much). As soon as I heard I was headed out west, a light bulb went off above my head. California? In the springtime? The Flower Fields in bloom? Ooooooh! I saw an opportunity to to cross something off of my "Bucket List." But could I do it? Could I travel to Los Angeles alone? Rent a car alone? Drive to San Diego alone? Stay by myself in a hotel for a couple of nights alone?

You might be thinking, "What's the big deal?! You're 43 years old for goodness sake!" Well, up to this point, I had never done anything like that. I met my husband when I was just 18 years old (he was 25 and had already traveled the world windsurfing on the U.S. Boardsailing Team). I lived with my parents while I went to college and got married just a few weeks after I graduated. Up until I started my current job, the only places I had ever traveled to by myself were my sister's house in Georgia and a day trip to Sanibel/Captiva to go shelling. I really wanted to do this, though. 

I asked Rob if he would mind if I took a couple of days for myself in California and he told me to "Go for it! Get out there and LIVE!" So that's just what I did. Normally, I plan our family vacations so that we have something to do and/or someplace to be each day so that nobody gets bored. Since I was the only one going, I didn't really go with much of a game plan. I knew I wanted to catch a couple of sunsets at the beach and I knew I wanted to visit The Flower Fields. I knew I had to be in L.A. by Friday afternoon to set up for the show. Other than that, my days were wide open.

The view from The Flower Fields - Carlsbad and the Pacific Ocean
I flew into Los Angeles on a Wednesday afternoon, rented a car and headed south to Carlsbad. Traffic, as expected, was a complete nightmare in L.A. Normally traffic stresses me out, but I wasn't going to let this ruin my vacation. After all, I knew what I was in for. Incidentally, the evil GPS did everything in it's power to get me lost, but I ignored it and listened to, "Keep right and take the exit." about a dozen times before it finally realized I was not listening. I just cranked up the radio and sang like nobody was listening (because nobody was). I knew that sunset was at 6:58 p.m., and I had hoped to make it to my hotel in Carlsbad a little before then. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to find a toll-road through Orange County that enabled me to make it to the hotel by 6:30. Best $6.75 I ever spent (and the toll-taker looked a lot like Chumley from Pawn Stars). 

I enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the bluff overlooking the Pacific across from my hotel. The temperature had dropped quite a bit, and I hadn't brought a jacket with me, so I was literally shivering while I was taking photos. A very nice man who was vacationing from Arizona insisted that I take his jacket. Being from Arizona, I know he was cold too, but it was very sweet of him to offer it to me. :)

I really had only one full day (Thursday) to myself, and I was determined to make the most of it. I was a little disappointed to see that it was overcast (I thought the "gloom" didn't start until June!) I was still on East Coast time, so I headed out early to see the seals at Children's Beach in La Jolla Cove. There were tons of seals there, including white seals, which I had never seen before. I had plans to meet a friend for breakfast, so I knew I needed to start heading back north. The GPS (damn it!) somehow got unplugged and shut down right before the turn I was supposed to take. Naturally, there was no U-Turn and I ended up getting on the freeway and going about 10 miles out of the way. Again...NOT letting the GPS ruin my vacation...I managed to make it back to the PCH and to Cardiff-by-the-Sea for an awesome breakfast with my friend, Eric. The clouds had started to dissipate and the sun was starting to come out.

After breakfast, I headed north on the PCH and hit a couple of shops in Encinitas/Leucadia that I love. Then, I decided it was time to head to The Flower Fields. I fully understand that very few people get excited about going to look at flowers (my family would surely have been bored to death), but after seeing acres and acres of dirt the past few times I've visited Carlsbad (in the summer and fall), I was eager to see the fields in bloom. 

The Flower Fields are only open in March and April. Since it was so early in the season, only about 25% of the plants were in bloom. I had to walk a little ways to the fields that had color, but I needed to walk off the ginormous breakfast burrito that I had for breakfast anyway. The walk was absolutely worth it. Row after row of beautiful, colorful ranunculuses (ranunculi?). Although the growers attempted to keep the rows of color uniform, here and there you would see evidence of a little cross-pollination. (There are plenty of bumble bees in Southern California to accomplish that!) Field workers go through each row and snip off dead blossoms and stems to keep the fields looking fresh. It was amazing and the perfect place to be in the spring! You can see the ocean from the fields too, which made it seem even more amazing.

After walking through The Flower Fields, I visited the Cymbidium greenhouse, where hundreds of orchids are grown. They were absolutely gorgeous. There is also a rose test garden, where some of the roses were as big as my hand! Many other types of flowers are on display at The Flower Fields too. With nobody there to tell me to stop taking pictures, I just snapped away.


After The Flower Fields, I decided I'd take a walk on the beach. By the time I went back to the hotel to change, the sky was a brilliant blue (California blue sky! If you've seen it, you get it!). The beach is just across the PCH from the hotel, but there is a steep bluff that is very difficult to navigate, so I decided to walk a half-mile down the PCH to a place where I could easily access the beach, then walk back up toward the hotel. It was low tide and there were smooth, colorful stones everywhere. The beach in California is very different from our beaches here in Florida. In all of my past trips, I have never found shells in California. I asked Eric about it and he said that they have such strong wave action there that there aren't many to be found. This time, however, was different. Among the stones and kelp, I found a few California treasures, including colorful scallop shells and a few spiral seashells too!

My first attempted route up the bluff
I made it back to the bluff across the street from my hotel and wondered if I could climb it so I didn't have to walk back down the beach. There is really no "path", just narrow valleys in the hard-packed sand. I decided to venture up one of them. After a few yards, I encountered a bunch of cacti. (Yes, there are cacti on the beach in California!), so I backed up. I found another route that, although narrow, seemed to be cactus-free and I started climbing. About 2/3 of the way up, I found an old oil drum blocking my way. I couldn't crawl under it, and i really didn't really want to go back down, then walk down the beach. I decided to give myself an impromptu fitness test. With my feet planted on either side of the valley, I pulled myself up over the barrel and kept climbing! (Thanks, Jillian!) A few minutes later, I made it to the top. I was so excited, I was ready to plant a flag. ;) A couple of kids were riding bikes by when I threw my leg over the the top of the bluff and hoisted myself up. They were kind enough not to laugh at me (at least until they passed by). There was a guy sitting in the lifeguard stand at the top of the bluff, reading "The Catcher in the Rye" (I assume on a break from work). I looked at him and said, "Well, that could have gone horribly wrong!" He laughed and told me he'd been watching me. Lucky for me, he didn't have to call 911! Turns out, he was from Oceanside, where I had planned to go that evening. He told me about a few places to check out. (California people are so NICE!)

Later that evening, I drove up to Oceanside, managed to parallel park on the busy Pacific Coast Highway at rush hour (woo-hoo!) and strolled the Oceanside Sunset Market. I saw that two of my favorite spots to visit in Oceanside - the California Surf Museum and the Longboarder Cafe - both had moved to beautiful new locations. I bought goodies for my kids (even though Alana didn't really like the narwhal t-shirt I bought her ~ who wouldn't love something with a narwhal on it?!) and had a chance to see the pier and beach in Oceanside, which are beautiful. I also found a nice house for sale facing the ocean for a cool $1.995 million. ;) Hey, a girl can dream.

I made it back to the hotel in time for another amazing sunset. This time, I was prepared for the temperature drop...I bought myself a "Cali Love" (how appropriate - on many levels) sweatshirt in Oceanside. ;) I thought about ending my perfect day with a dinner of Kona Pie at Islands, but reconsidered and had vegetable soup and a Pacifico cerveza at the hotel instead. Overall, it had been an absolutely amazing day! I got to cross visiting The Flower Fields in spring off my bucket list (although I hope to return someday), visit with an old friend, take a walk on the beach where I found shells for the first time in California, and enjoy a beautiful sunset. It was the first day in as long as I can remember that I didn't have to worry about anything or anyone. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. I could take as many pictures as my heart desired (and I did). Truly, I loved every minute of it and I was very thankful that I had the opportunity to experience it!

Huntington Beach ~ Surf City USA
I woke up the next morning to clear skies and the sun coming up over the mountains outside the hotel window. My "soul vacation" was just about over, but I took my time returning to L.A., stopping at San Onofre (where there were virtually NO waves...not a great place for "Surfin' USA", although there were a lot of guys out there surfing what they could), Laguna Beach, a quick side-trip to Balboa Island (mistake!), and another one of my favorite cities, Huntington Beach, where I wandered around the Friday market. Once I transitioned from Orange County to Los Angeles County, the party was definitely over. 

By the time I dropped off my rental car at LAX, set up for the convention and made it back to the hotel, an intense wave of homesickness came over me. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. One day earlier, I had a seemingly perfect day of carefree living in one of my very favorite places on Earth, but deep-down in my soul, I knew that without those nearest and dearest to my heart by my side, I could never be truly happy. As much as I love California (and I DO love California), I love my family even more!

So, on my "soul vacation," I did feel like I "sailed across the sun" and "danced along the light of day"...

Downtown L.A. skyline
A clear California night can make you feel like you've "made it to the Milky Way to see the lights are faded..." (though I don't think Heaven is overrated)

I did not "fall for a shooting star..." (though I think he's an awesome guy). ;)

But yes, Rob, I most certainly did "miss while [I] was looking for [my]self out there."

Na na na na na na nanananaaaaaaah... ;)

With Love and Aloha,
Nancy


Stay tuned for "Things I Learned in California ~ 2014 Edition" ;)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Things I Learned in Hershey

I recently returned from a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where I represented VSC at an educational technology conference that was held at Hershey Lodge. I was very excited about going to Hershey, not only because it's all about chocolate, but also because there was a very good possibility that I would get to see snow.

I was born in New Jersey, where I lived until the summer of 1977, when I was six years old. The only time I've seen snow (on the ground) was in San Diego (go figure) in 2000. Prior to this trip, I had not seen falling snow in at least 27 years. I watched the forecast in the days leading up to my trip. My niece's husband, Mike (who is a meteorologist and makes the most accurate weather predictions of anyone I know) told me that I had a good chance of seeing a "fun amount of snow" and that it would probably be very cold while I was in Hershey. His forecast was right on target...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

My travel compadre, Bob made our travel arrangements. He knows that I loathe Delta (since my "Meltdown at 37,000 Feet") AND Atlanta airport. Turns out only two airlines service Harrisburg International Airport - United and (you guessed it) Delta. Since Bob is a huge Delta fan (and a Gold SkyMiles member, who often gets bumped to First Class), he booked flights on Delta, but "did me a favor" by having us go through Detroit instead of Atlanta on our way home. I didn't see how Detroit in the middle of February was a better option BUT, it turned out that it was the best decision he could have made.

So...here's a story about my trip to Hershey and the things I learned while I was there (and on the way there):

Well, you've got a long way to go!
I still loathe Delta, but I think I loathe ATL even more. Our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta was on-time and incident-free. We had at least an hour before our next flight was due to leave at 11:05 a.m. and when we arrived at ATL, our next plane was already at the gate. Maybe Delta would prove me wrong. Uh...nope. About 10 minutes before we should have started boarding, the Delta rep informed us that our "plane was at the gate, but the hydraulic mechanism that slowly lowers the boarding door had malfunctioned and the door crashed to the ground, slamming into the concrete." Maintenance had been called and they would need at least one hour to assess the damage and determine if the plane was safe to fly. I am not kidding. Unfortunately, the plane was situated where there were no windows (you KNOW I'd have loved to have gotten a shot of that!)

At around noon, it was determined that the aircraft was not safe to fly, but they had "found" another plane for us, and they were shooting for a 12:35 take-off from another gate. We all rushed over to the new gate. We waited...and waited...and waited. 12:35 came and went. We finally started boarding the "new" plane around 1:15. Let's put it this way, if Delta has to "find" you another plane, consider changing your flight. This plane looked like they had taken it off the junk pile. (See photos below).


Holey Seat Back Pocket, Batman!
Does it really matter?
To add to the "adventure", we were seated in an exit row, so we had to verbally attest to the fact that we were capable and willing to help our fellow passengers in the event of an emergency. Now, if ANY plane was going down, this one had a good chance of it. But, we made it to Harrisburg around 3:00 p.m., just as it was beginning to snow. :D

Northerners are not at all excited about snow. As I was disembarking, there was a small gap between the plane and the jetway. I could feel the COLD air and I could see the first snowflakes starting to fall. Remember, this was the first time I had seen falling snow since I was a little girl. I was SO excited! I exclaimed, "It's SNOWING!" Once I got to the jetway, there were five or six people standing there looking at me like I was out of my mind. One woman said, "You know, you are the ONLY person who is happy about this, right." Bah humbug! ;)

Falling snow is beautiful. As we waited for our baggage, it started snowing harder. I kept  
going outside and just marveling at how beautiful it was. It was like being inside a snow globe and I truly felt like a little kid again. 

The Peanuts' kids are right! It IS fun to catch snowflakes on your tongue! Of course I had to try it!
There are Kisses everywhere at the Hershey Lodge. 
Kisses in the parking lot...Kisses at check-in...Kisses by the fireplace...Kisses in the sweet shop...Kisses on the bedding...Kisses on the wallpaper...the only kisses that were missing were kisses from my doggies! ;)


Hershey Lodge doesn't see a need for blankets, even in the middle of winter. Although the Kisses-covered bedding was downright adorable, in my opinion, a sheet and a light duvet are hardly sufficient for nighttime warmth when the outside temperatures are in the teens. I don't usually like to sleep with the heat turned up, but I didn't have much choice. I asked housekeeping for a blanket and was told they could give me an extra "bedspread". How about filling that duvet with a nice down comforter instead?


You have to scrape your windshield and car windows often when it snows. Again, I never really thought about it before! I can imagine this getting old. It was also odd to see cars practically buried in snow on the side of the road and in people's yards. 

You can't make a snow angel just anywhere. I never considered that there are different types of snow until I asked my friend Kimberly what type of footwear I should bring to Hershey. She told me it depended on the type of snow. Some snow is wet and slushy, some is hard and icy, etc. NOW, I get it. 
Not too shabby for a Floridian!
I realized pretty quickly that, although there was plenty of fresh powder on the grounds at the Hershey Lodge, one step into the "grass" let me know that it was no place to attempt to make a snow angel (unless I wanted to sink down about six inches and turn into a popsicle. 

We had to make a Staples run, and as we pulled into the nearly empty parking lot at dusk (we got there just before it closed on Sunday evening), I noticed that there were a couple of inches of fresh snow on the ground. I asked Bob if he thought I could make a snow angel in the parking lot. He told me go to for it. So I did (and it turned out perfect!). 

The hope of capturing a beautiful sunrise makes logic and vanity go out the window. When I woke up that first morning in Hershey, I could see dawn just starting to break outside my window. I knew that the "feels-like" temperatures were in the single digits, but how often do I have the opportunity to capture a sunrise in a winter wonderland. So, I threw on my clothes, coat, hat, scarf and gloves, grabbed my camera, and ventured outside wearing my glasses with the Coke bottle lenses and not an ounce of makeup. 

As I was taking pictures outside, a nice man from Penn Power offered to take a picture of me with the sunrise in the background. I declined, but thanked him anyway. 

Once I got back to the room and looked at myself in the mirror, I wish I had let him take the photo. I literally laughed out loud at my reflection. My hat was pulled down low and where my glasses stick out on either side of my face, my hair was curling upwards, like wings! It was pretty funny. ;)

Snow really does glisten. As I was wandering around, waiting for the sun to come up, I discovered that snow glistens. Sure, I had heard about it in Christmas carols, but I had never actually SEEN it (or noticed it as a child). It was beautiful! 

Sunrise is beautiful in the winter. Now, I love to watch the sun rise over the ocean and behind palm trees, but there is something about a colorful sunrise against a brilliant blue sky with bare trees and snow in the foreground that is beautiful too! Granted, it's a lot more pleasant watching the sunrise from my balmy balcony in my PJs than freezing wearing five layers of clothes.


Fingertips freeze...and it's scary. I spent a good 30-40 minutes in single-digit temperatures. Although, I did go inside the lobby a couple of times to warm up, apparently I stayed out a little too long as the sun was really starting to come up. Although I was wearing knit gloves, my hands were taking pictures, not in my pockets, so by the time I went inside, they were numb. As they started to warm up, my fingers (especially my fingernails) started to HURT! I began to wonder if I had done serious damage to them. Fortunately, within a half-hour or so, they started to feel normal again. (That's one thing I will NOT miss about winter up North!)

A hair clip may be used as a follicle-taming device in a pinch. The first night in Hershey, after washing my hair, I realized that I hadn't brought a hairbrush with me. Fortunately, I had a large hair clip. Turns out, this can double as a wide-toothed comb when necessary.

Cold weather dries your skin and hair out. Coming from the sauna that is South Florida, I am not used to dry air (outside OR inside). My skin constantly felt dry and my hair felt like straw (which made it even less fun to "comb" with a hair clip). Fortunately, I had my trusty coconut oil hair polish and the Hershey Lodge provided cocoa-infused lotion. Basically, I walked around smelling like a Mounds bar. :)

I was reminded about "jimmies". As I was listening to the local news one morning, a pastry chef from Hershey was making cookies. She mentioned decorating them with "jimmies". :) I had forgotten all about "jimmies." I'm not sure at what point after moving to Florida I started calling them "sprinkles," but it was another nice childhood memory. When I posted on Facebook about "jimmies", my friends from the Northeast knew exactly what I was talking about and others asked what they were. 

Today, I was in Target (in Florida) and observed that, although the container reads "Sprinkles", the shelf tag does not...I wonder if the Florida employees have to ask what product goes in that spot on the shelf! 

In Pennsylvania, it's the law to stop for pedestrians trudging through the snow. Apparently. 

No matter how small the airport, chances are good that I'll be body scanned and patted down. Harrisburg International Airport is one of the tiniest airports I've ever flown into (or out of) - just a handful of airlines, a whopping 12 gates, NO lines at the ticket counters, NO lines at security, and YET, I still get selected to be scanned. As I exited the scanner, the TSA agent pulled me aside and asked if I had something metal in my pocket. My pockets were empty, but I did see the image on the scanner. Maybe I have a metal ovary. Who KNOWS! After having my pockets patted, I was able to go on my merry way. I wonder if I can sue the TSA for excessive radiation.


Psychedelic tunnel at DTW
Detroit WAS a better choice for a layover than Atlanta on February 11, 2014. I've got to give Bob credit for this one. Who'd have thought a snow and ice storm would be slamming Atlanta, Georgia while Detroit, Michigan was clear (albeit cold) on a mid-February night? Well, that's exactly what happened. We did have to wait for the flight attendants to arrive in Detroit, as they were delayed coming in from [guess where]. The pilot made up the time and got us home safely though,so I'll give Delta credit for that.

But I hope I never have to fly that airline (or connect in ATL) ever again. 

Snow is nice for a limited time. For those of you who think that I am completely insane for being so excited about this trip to the Great White North, I must confess, I don't think I'd want to live in it. All that scraping and shoveling and waiting for the plows to come so you can actually leave home, not to mention frozen fingers. And honestly, the snow is not so pretty once it starts to melt and get dirty. Granted, the snow is beautiful when it is fresh and white and I wish for it every single Christmas, but I like the beach even better.

All in all, I'm really thankful that I had the opportunity to visit "The Sweetest Place on Earth" in wintertime. I was thrilled that I got to experience a beautiful snowfall, sit by a fireplace and drink hot cocoa at a place known for chocolate. Reliving childhood memories really did make me feel like a little girl again. It was so much fun to have that sense of wonder that is often lost in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. I am determined to try and find it in the world that is around me every day, even for just a few minutes. 

With love and warm wishes of aloha ~ Nancy

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The LOWESt of the Low


I may never go to Lowe's again after tonight...EVER. Tonight's experience has left a very bad taste in my mouth indeed. I witnessed, first hand, what bad customer service is. 

I'm normally very organized and on top of things. I knew that I needed to have a sink by this coming Monday, but I was waiting for my Lowe's rebate from my cabinet order. After four weeks, it finally arrived Tuesday night. I had found the sink I wanted online, and it said that it was in-stock at our local store. I ordered it and Rob picked it up yesterday morning.


Thank GOD, he asked me if I was sure that it was the right sink - pointing out that it looked an awful lot like our current sink. I looked and sure enough, they gave us the wrong one. No big deal. I called to tell them what happened and asked if they had the one I was supposed to get. The woman checked stock and said that the computer said they had two in stock, but that she'd transfer me to Plumbing to make sure. 

The guy who answered the phone sounded like I was really putting him out. Not only did he have to answer the phone, but he had to actually LOOK for something? After putting me on hold for about a minute, he told me that he couldn't find it and there wasn't even a place on the shelf for it. Great.

So, I decided to check another store. Sure, I could get it, but it wouldn't be available until December 8. Pretty much the same story at Home Depot. :( Let me tell you something, stainless steel sinks are everywhere...white undermount sinks? Not so much. I was convinced that my project would be put on hold for a couple more weeks. Ugh.

So, I had Rob put the sink into his truck for me (it weighed 75 pounds) and I headed off to Lowe's by myself. If they had that sink, I was gonna find it! I asked for help getting the sink out of the truck. Now, if you've ever been to Lowe's, you know that there are PLENTY of strong, young men who work there. Who do they send to help me? A little old Cuban man...sweet as can be, but I was worried about him.

I returned the sink and she gave me a gift card with the balance. Before I left, I decided to just check the shelves for myself. I headed back to plumbing and tried (with my old lady eyes) to read the labels on the boxes. I was just about ready to give up, when I spotted it. They did, in fact, have the sink I had ordered. Naturally, there was nobody there to help me, so I marched my little self back up to Customer Service and told the woman I found it. She really couldn't have cared less, but called the department to find someone to help me. 

I headed back to plumbing, and this giant oaf of a man (at least 6'2, 250 lbs.) was there. I knew by the "Do I really have to work?" look on his face that it was the gem I had spoken with earlier. He got the 75 lb, box down with a forklift, put it on a cart and this giant man says to me, "You can push this up front, right?" "Yeah," said 5'2" a-little-more-than-100-lb. me (no doubt with a look of death, imagining the news story about a murder at Lowe's). 

I got the sink up front (it wasn't that hard to push...it was the principle of it) and the woman actually tried to tell me that I owed another $150 (for the sink that I ordered and already paid for online). Turns out, the one they gave me was a cheaper sink. After reminding her that they gave me the wrong sink in the first place and I ALREADY PAID FOR IT, she spent another 10 minutes trying to figure out how to ring me up. 

I spent yet another 10 minutes waiting for a "loader" to help me to the car. I see this big guy come up front and assume he's my loader, but he turns around and wanders away. Who appears to help me? My little Cuban amigo. I almost had a heart attack watching him load this heavy sink into the truck. I told him about the guy in the Plumbing department who asked if I could push the sink up the the front. He replied (in broken English), "big mother f***er!" and shook his head. I love that guy. At least one member of the Lowe's team knows what customer service is all about!


So, after doing everybody else's jobs for them, I got the sink that I ordered, only to come home and shovel concrete. 

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

Monday, September 9, 2013

You Might Be in the Country IV

I can usually count on a road trip to South Georgia to provide a little inspiration for a blog post. My recent journey did not disappoint. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing my precious grand-nephew, Ethan (who turns two later this month). My sister and I picked him up at day care, where he came out carrying a John Deere toy. I asked him if he had a truck. He looked at me and (very seriously) corrected me - "Tractor." (As if to say, this yuppie woman doesn't know the difference between a truck and a tractor!) He never forgot either. The next morning when I saw him, he looked at me, pointed at me and said, "Tractor." That's right - I got schooled in farm equipment by a not-quite-two-year-old.

Hey! It's time for another installment of "You Might Be in The Country..."


If dilapidated buildings line the highway and there is not a Code Enforcement Officer in sight (and you can come to a complete stop on said highway in the middle of the day without causing an accident)...You might be in the country.
If you can pull your boat right up on the bank of the pond without ever having to worry about getting a ticket or fear that it may not be there when you return...You might be in the country.
If a plastic bucket doubles as a container to hold the pecans you pick up along the road AND your puppies' water bowl...You might be in the country.

If every store in town has at least one Duck Dynasty merchandise display (and I don't just mean the Tractor Supply Company, although it did have the best variety)...You might be in the country. (And that's a fact, Jack!)
 
If your local WalMart (which you have to drive at least 30 minutes to get to, by the way) proudly announces where you are and what the city is famous for...You might be in the country.
If you are ready to shoot something, rain or shine...
You might be in the country.

If your local gas station features fully-functional ANALOG gas pumps (Where do I swipe my credit card?)...You might be in the country.

If you use a Buck knife to scratch off your lottery ticket...You might be in the country.
If there is an old tobacco barn in your driveway...You might be in the country.
If your toddler pulls a "trailer" behind his ride-on...You might be in the country.
If your city's water tower proclaims the town's claim-to-fame (regardless of how obscure it may be)...You might be in the country.
If you can stop on the side of the highway to watch a breathtaking sunrise...


 as the mist rises over the farmland...
  

and everyone you meet has a welcoming smile...



You most certainly are in the country!

With love and aloha, y'all ~ Nancy