Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The other day , my boss randomly asked me if I have ever tried writing a fortune (for a fortune cookie). He told me that it is surprisingly difficult. I'm always up for an honest creative challenge, so I figured that it would make for an interesting blog post. Here are a few fortunes that I came up with, based on lessons I learned or photos I took on my recent family vacation to California.  

Take care to make sure airplane sleeping position doesn't leave fellow traveler in awkward position.
I know that it is difficult to get comfortable on an airplane. I personally have never been able to sleep when flying (even on all-nighters). I'm not sure my neighbor considered how her chosen sleeping position might appear to her fellow passengers, though.

Sunshine smiles on Southern California 99% of time. Check Nancy's itinerary before planning trip to Golden State.
It's been said that "it never rains in Southern California". That's not entirely true, but rainy days are very rare. The Southern California coast's weather is influenced by the Pacific Ocean. When the winds blow over the cold ocean and meet the land that has been warmed by the sun, a "marine layer" of clouds forms. In the summertime, you can pretty much count on a gloomy morning, but by noon, the strong sunshine has often burned the gloom away, revealing clear, electric blue skies. This was not the case the first two days of our vacation. We even had a hotel room with an ocean view - perfect for sunsets, IF the gloom hadn't taken over and you could even distinguish the horizon. By day three, though, it was beautiful.

Cash in pocket guarantees gas in tank. Carry credit card only? Good luck.
We learned the hard way that cash is the preferred (and at some stations the only) method of payment for fuel in California. (And let me tell you, fuel ain't cheap, which is ironic because you literally pass dozens of working oil pumps along the roadways). Depending on the station, you may not even get your money's worth. We learned that the hard way too. If you want to charge it, be ready to pay at least 30 cents more a gallon. Good thing our rental car was a fuel-efficient Hyundai Elantra!

Do not be fooled by outer beauty.
These public bathrooms on Venice Beach really are quite beautiful. Having done mosaics myself, I know the work that went into creating this architectural masterpiece. However, I'm fairly certain that the inside of these restrooms did not match their outer beauty. In general, beach bathrooms are nasty. In California, toilets along the beach are made of metal (which can be quite cold in the early mornings), perhaps for they can be pressure sprayed. There is a chance you may find a resident (human) sleeping in a beach bathroom, but there is very little chance you will find any soap. Eeeeew. Keep your Purell handy.

NOT a homeless dog - just a sweet one

Only home dog needs is your heart.
In Venice Beach (well, all over Southern California), you see a lot of homeless people. (Honestly, if I were homeless, I can't think of a place I'd rather live myself.) The day we visited Venice, there were a number of men and women sleeping underneath the palm trees with all of their worldly possessions next to me. One in particular, though, really touched my heart. Underneath that palm tree an adorable German Shepherd was curled up next to his master. This just proves that even if you lose everything, you will still have unconditional love. It was the sweetest thing. :) As much as I would have loved to capture the moment, it felt too "stalkerish," even for Wang.

Human jaws can cause more pain than jaws of biggest predator.

OK, I didn't really learn this in California, although there were some less-than-kind words slung around (Hey, try being trapped in a car or hotel room 24/7 with your spouse and two teenagers for a week!). In all seriousness, though...although the jaws of a Great White shark can certainly cause serious (and even fatal) wounds, words can leave lasting scars too. Think before you speak and ask yourself how you would feel if what you are about to say was said to you. Words to live by. 

Look to nature (and the "doctors" in Venice Beach) to cure what ails you.
Who knew that for just $30 (or $40, depending on which "medical evaluation center" you dipped into), you could get a prescription for a popular, albeit illegal in most states, "medicinal" herb? "The Green Doctors" even have their own website, boasting that they are located next to Jodi Maroni's Sausage on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Something tells me that had I been evaluated that day (five days into our vacation), my anxiety level and blood pressure just might have qualified me. ;)

Nature's gym much better than L.A. Fitness.
You do see a LOT of fit people in California, for good reason. It's not just because most celebrities have to stay in shape to keep working, either. California's fair weather - cool, dry air, hilly terrain, and beautiful beaches make physical activity actually enjoyable. Everywhere you look, you see men and women of all ages surfing, paddleboarding, jogging, bicycling, rollerblading, skateboarding, etc. Even if you haven't set out to work out, chances are, you are going to get some exercise in California. At Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, you have to walk down a steep incline to get from the parking lot to the beach (and back up again), lugging your beach gear. Although there aren't really 1,000 Steps at 1,000 Steps Beach in Laguna, you will need to climb over 200 down and back up again if you want to enjoy this secluded stretch of sand, dotted with tide pools that are home to beautiful sea creatures. The cool thing is, being active is FUN in California.

Delight in the sea's treasures, but take only photos.

I love to go shelling here in Florida. Hunting for the ocean's treasures is my ultimate therapy. Some days, a bounty of all different varieties can be found, while other days, there is NBS (nothin' but sand). On the shelling front, Florida definitely has California beat. Although I did find a few mussel shells and broken sand dollars on the shore, I learned before I even went out there that collecting them was prohibited. The general rule on the California coast when it comes to treasures of the sea is that only photographs may be taken. So, that's just what I did.

One's true nature is revealed in the last light of day.
A few of my very best memories from my latest vacation are the sunsets over the ocean that I got to experience. So often, when I'm on the west coast (of Florida, the United States, an island, or even the westward facing side of a cruise ship), clouds seem to take over the skies at sunset. This trip, however, I had a few clear evenings that allowed California to show us one of the reasons why it is known as "The Golden State."

Yes, I am still absolutely in love with California and believe it is my destiny to be out there. For now, though, Florida is my home. It really does cost a(n actual) fortune to live out there. So unless my lucky numbers come in, I'll just keep (California) dreaming. 

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Classic Car Spotting in Cali

Each time I've visited California, I've been fascinated by the number of classic cars that I see on the road. It is very rare to see a vehicle of any type on a South Florida roadway that is more than a decade or two old. Sure, there are classic car shows, but you aren't going to see their owners cruising A1A on a regular basis. The salty, moisture-laden air of the Sunshine State is not conducive to maintaining much that's made of metal.  

I'm not an automobile aficionado by any means, but I still find these classics mighty cool. I had to enlist the help of my dad to help me identify some of the cars I spotted on this trip. (Thanks, Dad!) Some of the cars may not be considered true classics, either; however, they remind me of the cars I saw growing up. Here are a few of the cars that I've spotted on my last two trips to the Golden State.


We found that the most frequently-spotted classic vehicle in Southern California is (naturally) the Volkswagen Bus (or Type 2). This quintessential surfer ride can be found in various colors (and conditions) on the freeways, and naturally along the coastal highways of SoCal. 

Here's Rob standing next to a well-maintained specimen in Santa Barbara (that happens to match his outfit. Totally awesome.

While I'm on VW Surfermobiles, when is the last time you've seen a Volkswagen Thing? This one spotted in Hermosa Beach can be yours for a cool $13K.  

A trip to Surf City USA (Huntington Beach) wouldn't be complete without a Woody sighting.  

Sure, you can sleep in your VW Bus, but if it's a little too cramped, there's always the Winnebago.

I did see a few other true classic cars (these are the one's my dad helped me ID). Sorry for the poor quality of some. It's not easy to shoot and drive at the same time.

1956 Chevrolet seen driving down I-5. It was a beautiful car. Too bad you can't see much of it in the photo.

Also saw this 1957 Thunderbird while driving along the freeway. You'd think with all the traffic I could have gotten a better shot!

Spotted this sweet Shelby Cobra from the 60s in Long Beach. My dad couldn't tell if it was original or a clone. It was a beauty, though!

This classic seen driving on Stearn's Wharf in Santa Barbara even stumped my dad. He thinks it's a 50's Chevrolet. Seeing it made you feel like you were in another era.

As a child of the 80s, spotting these cars brought back memories.

I saw this convertible VW Rabbit last summer, while attending ISTE in San Diego.

This is the first Pontiac Fiero I've seen in at least 20 years (maybe more). I think I wanted one when I turned 16. 

The same could be said for this sweet Datsun 280Z. Rob had one back in the day. I do believe I recall seeing it (with it's "No Fat Chicks" bumper sticker) parked outside the DeBeltrand's house as I rode by on my bicycle.

I saw this Monte Carlo last summer in San Diego. My grandma had a gold Monte Carlo that later became my mom's. I'll never forget the day my ex-sister-in-law drove me to PBHS in it one morning and the muffler fell off. I asked her to let me out down the block. Rob had a Monte Carlo when he went to PBHS too. In fact, he left his Geometry book in the backseat with the window down during a rainstorm just before turning it in to Miss Lambert. She was not amused.


It wouldn't be California without a few interesting characters, right? Seems that some people take to painting (or even decorating) their vehicles (which often double as their homes). Here are a few eccentric classics spotted in Cali:

This totally rad octopusmobile (Winnebago) was spotted parked along the PCH in Malibu.

Spotted this motorcycle-meets-Indy-500-racecar in Long Beach:

Naturally, Venice Beach wasn't without eccentric vehicles. The love bus behind it had a sign on it that basically said, "If the van's a rockin', don't come a knockin." 

But, the award for the most eccentric, most awesome hippiemobile of them all goes to...
Peace/Love Van Man using his light saber to point out the self-portraits on friends he's met along the way painted on the side of his van.
The globe in front of the van is where you put "Love Offerings" if you wish to take photos.
Close up! I spy the Teletubbies, a Rubik's Cube, the Scooby Doo gang, Felix the Cat, Mike Wazowski, Beauty and the Beast and Gumby. How about you?

I truly believe that this van, parked in the public lot at the beach in Santa Barbara, includes every Happy Meal toy ever produced. It is truly a psychedelic museum on wheels. Notice the sign reads "Kindness is my religion." This van's owner was nothing if not kind. He was a peaceful, gentle soul. And yes, I gave a "Love Offering," in exchange for the photos that I took. I'm 99.9% sure that I know what the money was used to purchase. To each his own. Peace, my brother.


Since buying their latest CD, California 37, I have fallen in love with Train. Although this car is (by no means) a classic, seeing it while driving on the freeway in California was classic. My immediate thought was:

She was caught in a mudslide
Eaten by a lion
Got run over by a...

(If that last one made absolutely no sense to you. Watch 50 Ways to Say Goodbye.)

So, if California's beautiful coastline, rugged mountains, deep blue skies and breathtaking sunsets aren't enough for you, there's always car spotting.

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Ride of my Life ~ X2

Montezooma's Revenge
Ever since I was a teenager, I've enjoyed amusement park rides. I'll admit, I never tried any of the extreme thrill rides until I was older. My family visited California for my 30th Birthday in 2000, when my children were just four and (just shy of) two years old. We were at Knott's Berry Farm on the day I turned 30, and I decided to go on a coaster (which looked terrifying to me) called "Montezooma's Revenge," just to prove to myself that I could do it. I left the kids with Rob and waited on (the not-so-long) line. Did I enjoy going from 0 to 55 in 3 seconds, flying through a loop, then up a steep incline only to be dropped backwards to fly through the loop going the opposite direction? Not so much...but I did it. I was pretty proud of myself. Rated as a "5" or "Aggressive Thrill" on the Knott's Berry Farm website, it was the most terrifying ride I had ever been on.

Little did I know that a decade later, my son would grow into a roller coaster junkie. He loved to ride roller coasters, design them, research them, you name it. He had a need for speed. Because of him, this momma has braved some pretty wild rides. Some of them, like Busch Gardens' Montu and Sea World's Manta, I actually enjoy. After much protest, Chase finally convinced me to go on SheiKra at Busch Gardens. Although it is terrifying to hang suspended for a few seconds before being plummeted 200 feet down at 90 degrees, I enjoyed it enough to do it again...several times. Although Chase was devastated that 45-stories-tall Kingda Ka was closed the day we visited Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, I would have flat-out refused to go on the world's tallest and the nation's fastest max thrill ride. I was spared the wrath of Kingda Ka, but Chase did get me on Nitro, which was far more terrifying than SheiKra to me. Diving 22 stories down at nearly 80 mph is not my idea of a good time. But again, I did it (once).


This year, our family vacation took us back to California. I told Chase that we could visit one theme park while we were out there. We had already been to Knott's Berry Farm, Disneyland, and Disney's California Adventure several times (all before the roller coaster bug set in). Chase didn't hesitate when he announced that he wanted to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain, dubbed "The Thrill Capital of the World" as well as the "Coaster Capital of the World," boasting 18 roller coasters - more than any other theme park on Earth. Since Chase's only real interests on this trip were skateboarding (which costs virtually nothing) and visiting Magic Mountain, we gladly agreed. I told Chase to research the park and what rides he wanted to hit while we were there. 

We arrived at the park when it opened at 10:30. Chase wanted to start with Tatsu, which, after hearing that it is similar to Montu, I was fully willing to ride. On the way to Tatsu, Chase spotted the entrance for X2. The line didn't seem very long, so he suggested that we ride it before the park got too crowded, as it was one of the most popular rides at Magic Mountain. It was early in the day and we were all game. I had no idea what the ride was like. I asked Chase what it was like and he kind of skated around my question. (That should have been my first clue to RUN.) The track is (surprisingly) well-hidden from the line. All you can see is the coaster as it is hauled slowly up to the top of the drop. No big deal - I've ridden SheiKra - I can handle a drop. After waiting for about 30 minutes, we discovered that you couldn't carry any loose items on the ride. Since I had my purse, I offered to bow out, but the ride attendant told me that they had lockers as you get onto the ride. So, I stayed. Another 15 minutes of waiting and it was our turn to board. Now, I always have a few seconds of intense anxiety when boarding a roller coaster - is the restraint fastened snugly and completely? Am I going to fall out? But the attendant came by and made sure we were all strapped in. We were ready to launch.

The initial ascent was a little eerie (as you can see and hear on the on-ride video). Retro music, followed by a little Jack Nicholson, followed by Metallica's "Enter Sandman," which is pretty darn creepy in itself, then Stephen Tyler singing "Going doooooowwwn..." as we plummeted off the precipice. I remember very little after that first drop (aside from screaming my head off, closing my eyes (only to peek from time-to-time to see if it was almost over) and praying to God that I survived. Toward the very end of the ride, I remember the coaster jerking HARD three times and I felt my neck kind of "snap" then my head bounced off the back of the seat a few times. OUCH!

By the time X2 came to a complete stop, this momma was DONE. My hair was all in my face, my head and neck were killing me, and I felt a little nauseous. I turned and looked at Chase, who saw the expression on my face and said, "You didn't LIKE it?!" To which I responded, "Not at ALL!" Both of my kids loved the ride. I stumbled off the coaster thinking, "It's official, I am OLD." I told the kids to ride whatever they wanted, but I was done for the day. I was more than happy to sit in the shade and people-watch. During this time, I had plenty of time to peruse the park map (and sing along to "Hey Soul Sister" with the Mexican woman sitting next to us, much to her daughter's horror). I noticed (THEN) that X2 had a little extra something next to it's name - Max Thrill Ride. Funny, the description for the other 17 coasters don't mention that.
X2 - The Aftermath

After posting the lovely photo of me taken after riding X2, my cousin Julie commented that I was her hero, after reading about X2 on Wikipedia. Here's how they describe the ride:

"X2's lift-hill climbs 175 feet (53 m) into the sky with the ride's tallest point above ground at 190 feet (58 m). The first drop is 215 feet (65.5 m) and is sloped at 88.8 degrees, causing the train to reach a maximum speed of 76 mph (122 km/h) (faster than X, at about 70 mph). The 3,610-foot (1100 m) long layout features two inversions including a skydive, two "raven turns", one back flip, and a twisting front flip."

Yeah, yeah, yeah...all that physics and technical jargon baffles me too. To get a better feel for X2, check out this on-ride video from TheCoasterViews (granted, it's not the same as actually riding it, but at least you can see what it's like.) I didn't realize until watching the video that the car rotates around the track. Yeesh!:

X2 has been ranked among Travel+Leisure's "10 Scariest Thrill Rides on the Planet". I have to agree. It is, by far, the scariest ride I've ever been on. After learning more about X2, I don't feel so old after all. Mind you, I'm never planning on riding it EVER again. Four days later, my neck still feels the effects of X2. I'm hoping I won't need to seek chiropractic therapy. Alana asked if I would ride X2 again for a million dollars. My initial response was, "NO!" After thinking about it for a few seconds, though, I reconsidered. I'd ride X2 again for a million dollars...if they strapped my head to the seat. ;) Maybe I'm still a cool momma after all...for now.

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy