Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve: Matching Purse and Shoes (and toenails, and fingernails, and lipstick)

I blame it all on "Real Simple". I'm not sure why, but I have a horrid addiction to that magazine. Something about the fact that every month, they manage to create a 200+ page magazine all about simplifying life just fascinates me - that, and all the ads for high-end household stuff - apparently, life without Le Creuset and All-Clad is not really simple. Anyway, the December issue had a section that discussed party dresses, since the party season was upon us, and in that section, they showed a really cute little black dress by Isaac Mizrahi for Target. Fifty bucks, which was practically free by comparison to some of the other options. It had a very plain top and a short gathered skirt and a belt - sort of an Audrey Hepburn mid-century vibe to it. I saw it and thought, "Perfect for formal night!" And a couple of weeks later, I was in Target, and there it was, so I tried it on. Thank God I had my husband with me, since he insisted that I also try on the strapless black satin sheath (same designer, same price). I did not look anything like Audrey Hepburn in the dress I liked. Actually, I looked like one of my great aunts. Lovely ladies, both of them were, but definitely on the frumpy side. So I ended up with the strapless number.

I don't know if it was Real Simple, or some other magazine, that convinced me that I needed a pair of red shoes to go with it. And here again, the planets seemed to align. I anticipated a long and intense and annoying search, since I have feet that shoe manufacturers don't apparently believe actually exist - I'm a size 10-1/2 (go look. Shoes come in half sizes up to size 10, and above that, they only make whole sizes). But we were in DSW shortly after buying the dress, and I tried on a pair of red satin spike heels in size 10, just for a laugh (they were on clearance, too), and damned if they didn't fit. They were even fairly comfortable.

From there the nail polish, lipstick, and purse were merely trivial efforts. And so here I am on New Year's Eve, about four inches taller than normal, mincing down the passageways (the ship getting bigger by the minute), and cursing the ease with which those stupid shoes appeared. Maybe the devil wears Prada, but he supplies Rampage for those of us that want the torture without spending quite so much.

I look good, though. As long as I stand very still. Otherwise, the grimacing kind of takes away from the overall impression.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sailing Day

Miscellaneous stuff.

Cruise-related things my husband worries about:
  • One of us mysteriously falling overboard
  • One of us being mysteriously kidnapped while in Mexico
  • Sharks
  • Norovirus

Cruise-related things I worry about:

  • The Poseidon Adventure - why that particular movie was mentioned in yesterday's USA Today, I don't know, but it deals with a ship turning turtle due to a rogue wave, on New Year's Eve. Coincidence? I sincerely hope so. I'll have to exert substantial energy to think of other things until Monday comes.

I would really like someone to explain to the hotel industry that, when buying sheets, "300 count" and "300 grit" are not the same thing. And that the "StaySmart" sheets at the Holiday Inn Express, with their woven-in pattern of stripes, simply make their guests feel as if they've been sleeping on a BBQ grill.

It's sunny outside here. Hope the snow is letting up.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Friday: Oh, the Humanity!

We got in before this sign appeared. It was a bit crowded; maybe the last non-weekend Christmas Vacation day is not the best time to choose to hit a major theme park.

I think we made it on 4 rides, which reduces the per-ride price to just under $16 per person. Geez! Even the FastPass system was working against us - we tried to get FastPasses for Space Mountain and Indiana Jones both, but the return times were already 6:30 pm on both - before lunch! The wait for Space Mountain was 85 minutes, so we bagged it, but we did stand in line for Indiana Jones (only 55 minutes there).

The new Pirates of the Caribbean wasn't all that different - Capt. Jack Sparrow appeared in several of the scenes in amusing places, but otherwise, it was pretty much the same ride as always. It conveniently broke down for us in the area where all the buildings are on fire, so I got some (non-flash) pictures and tried to shoot a 1-minute video.

Best ride of the day? The holiday version of the Haunted Mansion - they'd changed out the audio and a lot of the audio-animatronic ghosts and did the whole thing with a Nightmare Before Christmas theme - it was way cool, especially for my daughter, since it's her favorite movie of all time.

We catch the ship tomorrow - whether I'm able to post after that or not entirely depends on how many pounds of flesh Princess Cruises wants in exchange for Wifi access.

Friday: "Congratulations! You've just escaped from the second Colorado Blizzard! What are you going to do now?"

We're going to Disneyland.

More later.

Thursday: Cliff Houses at the Beach

We drove up the coast on Highway 1 from San Clemente to Newport Beach yesterday, and I noticed a lot of houses built to get the best possible ocean view - at the edge of a high cliff just above the road.

Maybe it adds to the thrill of a beachfront house to wake up every morning wondering if the dining room has suddenly descended to the level of the road.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Day T- (oh, never mind, it's Wednesday): Through the Mojave in a Windstorm

I hear that Denver is about to have another blizzard. I think we drove through what's about to be the next blizzard this morning. I-15 runs from Las Vegas to San Diego, much of it through the Mojave desert, just south of Death Valley. This morning as we left the hotel, the parking valet guy told my husband that the entire route was supposed to be experiencing high winds and dust storms.

He was pretty much right, although by the time we hit the state border, it was raining, and although I was kind of hoping that the addition of rain to a dust storm would result in our car being pelted with mud, nothing of the kind happened. It was just your average 5-hour drive with 50 mph crosswinds and a lot of traffic.

And the burgers at In-n-Out are just as good as we remembered, although I really couldn't figure out why the one in Barstow was so crowded at 10:30 in the morning. On the other hand, we were a part of that same crowd.

A few more observations about Las Vegas:
  • This time of year appears to be a national holiday of some sort in the Orient - it was very cosmopolitan around the strip.
  • It is not a good idea to eat sushi from a casino buffet.
  • If you spend more than 12 hours in a hotel that uses a perfumed air freshener to mask the smoke of a thousand gamblers, pretty much everything you eat for the next several meals tastes like shampoo.
  • Even at 4:00 am, it is possible to tell the difference between the screams emanating from the New York New York roller coaster and the screams that result from onlookers at a shooting.
  • Vegas ATMs dole out $100 bills, which is a bit disconcerting if you're expecting your $200 withdrawal to produce a stack.

Hope the blizzard isn't as bad as they're predicting. The storm survival grocery list, according to our former Birmingham realtor is: Bread, Milk, Toilet Paper, and Beer. Get yours now!

Day T-I've lost track: What Happens in Vegas Stays on the Sidewalk

First thing this morning, we went and checked the oil. Once the heat of the moment had ebbed, it occurred to both of us that the oil pressure gauge was acting a little bit like the gas gauge when the tank gets down around the 1/4 mark - dropping when going uphill or accelerating, rising when going downhill or decelerating. And we had just changed the oil - maybe they didn't refill it completely.

No such luck - the dipstick showed exactly the right amount of oil, on a cold engine and after wiping it off before checking the level. We returned to the room and got on Google. A quick search for the phrase "fluctuating oil pressure gauge Toyota Sequoia" found a lot of entries; it turns out that there's a Technical Service Bulletin all about our oil pressure sensor. So we felt quite a bit safer heading off this morning - all we needed to do was ignore that gauge entirely. Never mind that we were relying on the automotive equivalent of looking up the black spot on one's arm on Web MD and deciding that it was the result of dropping a Sharpie. I did spend a lot of time looking at the engine temperature, though - just in case - and it never budged.

And we made it safely to Las Vegas. We are staying at the Monte Carlo on the strip. They are charging us about twice what we paid for the place in Grand Junction last night, and the hotel end of their business is probably not where they're making their big money. But the place last night had free wifi in the rooms. The Monte Carlo? $17 for 24 hours' access. I'm surprised there isn't a coin slot in the TV. That's why the posting date on this entry is not December 26th.

Vegas is its usual self. We walked down to Paris to have dinner, and got to practice our Spanish a little early - all of the people on the streets handing out pictures of young women appeared to speak only Spanish. The pictures reminded me of baseball cards in a way, although baseball players are nearly all fully clothed, and baseball cards don't include the baseball players' phone numbers.

Like we said to the guys (and women, oddly enough) handing them out, "No, gracias".

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day: Sitcom Family Christmas and the First Automotive Crisis

Fortunately, we left the house a couple of times this morning, to allow us to practice the usual, "did we leave the (fill in heat-producing appliance here) on?" conversation while it was still possible to go and unplug or turn it off. And actually, we didn't leave anything on - we even remembered to make sure all the doors were locked before leaving the house for the last time.

The morning was a little weird, though. We seemed to be channeling one of the more idiotic sitcom families. First, we were trying to find a non-flammable container to hold the candle we always bring along for winter travel. After trying it in several containers, the most likely candidate appeared to be a quart-sized canning jar. It should have fit - it looked from several angles like it would fit easily, but it wasn't sliding easily through the mouth. The following conversation ensued:

"Bother, this doesn't work either!"
"Here, let me try."
"No, don't, you'll break it."
"Don't be silly, it just needs a firmer push."

As expected, the next sound was that of breaking glass. Injuries were minor (only one bandaid required), and the kitchen floor is now very clean.

If that were the only incident, I would have dismissed it. But about an hour later, we gathered up the two dogs to take them to my parents' house for the duration. Anneke, who is about 3-1/2 years old and is fairly well-behaved when it suits her mood, got right into the car without issue - she likes car rides so well that she has been known to try to get in the car with the carpet cleaner or plumber. Our other dog, Roscoe, is 2 years old. For most dogs, this would be an adult age. However, for Roscoe, this appears to be the equivalent of a kindergartner. When the car is in the garage, we can generally trust him to get in on command. Apparently, though, the car needs to be in the garage - and this time, it was in the driveway. Instead of getting into the back seat with Anneke, he took off across the front yard, all three of us floundering after him through the drifts that haven't melted anywhere near enough. He took a fairly leisurely tour of the neighborhood (You try running through foot-deep, half-melted snow some time. Trust me, any dog can outrun you.) before we could catch him.

Maybe the cats told him that we needed more exercise.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We had Christmas dinner with the extended family, exchanged gifts, and then headed west. We made it through the tunnel and over Vail pass without incident, and even Glenwood Canyon by not much moonlight was a decent drive. We were on the home stretch for Grand Junction - maybe 40 miles out, near Parachute, when my husband happened to look at the gauges on the dash.

"We don't have any oil pressure," he said, rather abruptly. I suggested that it might be a good idea to pull over and investigate.
"No," he said, "I think we're okay. The engine isn't heating up."

We compromised by pulling off at the next exit, about 2 miles down the road. All the while, I was having visions straight from a Quaker State commercial - seeing the pistons turn red from friction just before seizing up entirely.

As we pulled to a stop, the oil pressure seemed to return, and when we looked at the dipstick, there was very definitely oil in the system, so we went on. And we made it to our hotel in Grand Junction without incident, although the oil pressure gauge was definitely registering every possible value as we drove.

I told my husband once we got to the hotel that if going on a cruise meant demolishing a car each time, I thought we'd really have to give up cruising in the future.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Day T-6: Stanley, Livingstone, and the Ziploc Bag

We're mostly packed, if the packing lists available at are any guide. Normally, I'm a list-maker: to-do lists, Christmas lists, packing lists, lists of things to see in cities we might visit (or even cities we live in). This year? Not a chance - I haven't been bored at work in months, and that's where the lists originate. A mixed blessing, I guess, at least in this case.

Anyway, as we were sorting through all the things that thought we ought to bring, we went through nearly an entire box of gallon ziploc bags, and I got to thinking. How on earth did the British Empire ever expand without ziploc bags? Anything that contained liquid went in a ziploc bag. Anything that consisted of a set of small parts went in a ziploc bag. Laundry detergent? Ziploc. First-aid supplies? Ziploc. Sewing kit. Ginger teabags. Nail polish. Spare rechargeable batteries. Vitamins. We packed a few empty ones too, in case we pick up anything spillable on the trip.

The winter stuff (for the drive west) turned out to be less of a hassle than I'd thought. Although at the moment, since it's snowing outside again, I'm starting to rethink the beach crocs as driving shoes - maybe I'll pack them and wear my hiking boots after all. The crocs have better traction in snow, but they also have an awful lot of holes in the tops, and that can get a little chilly.

Or I could wrap my feet in ziplocs, I guess.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Day T-7: Come With Me to the Cat Spa (and some unexpected fitness activities)

Since cruise ships offer food to their passengers pretty near 24x7, it's always a good idea to get into an exercise routine before embarking, so you don't have to be shoved forcibly through the exit when you finally return to home port.

Our cats were very helpful with the exercise thing this morning. For this trip, they will be enjoying the hospitality of the local cattery, rather than hanging out on their own at home with a cat sitter. Two weeks is a long time, and I just don't trust them that much - they'd probably sell the place, or something. So they left on their "vacation" this morning, since we're leaving on Christmas Day and the cattery owners seemed to have other plans that day.

We don't have particularly stupid cats, more's the pity. The idea was to put them in travel crates to get them into the car and to the cattery. They have been in the crates before, almost never to travel somewhere they want to go. So, when the crates come in the house, the cats vanish. Even knowing this, I thought we needed to bring the crates into the house this morning so that they could warm up a bit. And the cats reacted accordingly - they disappeared.

We checked their usual hiding places - no cats. I even looked in the entertainment center cabinet behind the TV - no cats. We finally found one of them under the guest bed, right in the center, just beyond arms reach from all possible vantage points.

My daughter and I came up with a strategy fairly quickly. First, we shut the guest room door. Next, she armed herself with a stick of some sort, and I played catcher. I should probably mention that my sports of choice nearly never involve catching anything - or poking at anything with a stick, for that matter.

About 5 minutes later, we succeeded in nabbing the cat in a corner of the room unprotected by furniture. I grabbed her, and we opened the door to find my husband and both dogs waiting outside the door. The dogs looked kind of disappointed - I think they would have liked to help.

After that, things got a bit simpler. Maybe the first cat let the second one know that resistance was futile; for whatever reason, she went quietly, and we were able to deliver them successfully to their temporary quarters.

I figured that would be it for the day in terms of action - after all, we still have rather a lot of packing to do. But the blizzard struck again. Not that it snowed or anything - today was beautiful, with blue skies and temperatures warm enough to melt a lot of the streets. I was even able to drive to Target in my Mini, without getting high-centered once.

No, my uncle was snowed in - his driveway still had 3-foot drifts in it - and he really wanted to drive to Colorado Springs this afternoon. His first thought was to call his older brother - my dad - to help out. But my mom thought that was not such a good idea - Dad may be in really good shape (far better shape than I'm in), but he is 70 years old, and it's a really long driveway. So my husband and I ended up with the gig.

It probably didn't take us more than a half-hour (we went and borrowed Dad's snow-blower, and that was a lot of help), but it sure feels now like we were at it for several days. I've had three Advil and a glass of wine. I'm still waiting for any of it to kick in.

And all that packing? Guess we'll get to that tomorrow.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Day T-8: A Lull

Today was pretty uneventful. The sun was out, the roads were approaching passable, I actually worked at the office instead of in the recliner.

Our car, or one near us, did make an odd clunking noise on I-70 on the way home tonight, but as near as I can tell, nothing vital fell off.

Now for a weekend of packing and housecleaning - why did I think that a Mexico cruise in winter would be easier to pack for than an Alaska cruise in summer? It's exactly the same problem - the clothes needed to get to the ship are entirely different from the clothes needed on the ship, so I end up taking everything.

Good thing we have a big car.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Day T-9: Looking at the 10-day forecast

Still snowed in. Still snowing. According to the news, we have something like 2 feet of snow on the ground here. According to the view out the window, we have a 3+ foot drift in front of the house, and an overhang over the front door to match it - there's about a 2 foot opening between the two.

Right now, the major interstates in the area are closed to the north, east, and south, and the Department of Transportation strongly advises against going west. The airport is closed and predicting no flights until tomorrow. My office is closed, although nearly everyone seems to be working anyway (from home).

It's supposed to be nicer tomorrow. It's supposed to be mostly sunny tomorrow, actually, and fairly nice for the next 10 days. Hard to imagine at the moment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Day T-10: A Reprieve from the School District

Well, it's official: no school tomorrow, either. Based on the original information we had from my daughter's school, that would mean we'd still be here on Tuesday for day 2 of her finals.

But she got some updated information off the school's website, and her finals are now scheduled for the first 3 days of the new semester - after we get back.

Phew! Dodged that one.

Day T-10: Denver has a Blizzard

The ship is scheduled to leave the Port of Los Angeles at 4:00 pm (PST) on Saturday, December 30th. It's now 7:34 am (PST) on Wednesday, December 20th. The fact that Denver is now under a blizzard warning and the winds are howling fiercely outside our house (and the scene outside looks like the Christmas Eve bits of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - where the shingles are blown off the roof) really shouldn't be a problem, right?

And it wouldn't be, if my daughter weren't in high school. But she was supposed to have day one of her semester finals today. School was canceled, so that's not happening. If she gets to go to school tomorrow, today's finals will happen on Friday and we're still golden. But the blizzard is supposed to continue through noon tomorrow. No school tomorrow, and she has to take tomorrow's finals on Tuesday.

We're supposed to be on the road on Tuesday...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


At some point last week, I was talking to one of the guys at work, and the conversation somehow made its way back to a vacation my family took about 3 years ago. I mentioned that we'd had to leave our car in Big Timber, Montana on account of a little minor transmission issue (okay, we had to have it replaced) that surfaced just as we were trying to drive away from the Captain Stephen T. Clark rest area on I-90 (which was really quite fortunate, since we were able to wait for the tow truck in a place that had public restrooms). And I mentioned that we ended up renting a 4-wheel drive SUV in Bozeman to replace it - a 4-wheel drive SUV that was a good foot higher than our 2-wheel drive Suburban (yes, they do exist). And that when we pulled into a hotel in Vancouver, none of us really connected the funny clunking noise we heard with the yellow clearance warning bar suspended from the entrance drive - until we wedged our Thule carrier against its lower surface. And that for some reason, the hotel manager felt really bad that this had happened - so bad that he upgraded our room.

At about this point, he looked at me a little quizically, and asked, "Do you guys ever go by the name Griswold?" At first, I protested, but then I got to thinking. He could be right. Here's a synopsis of some recent trips:

Two Christmases ago, we drove to Memphis. We took the Southern route along I-40, and promptly spent parts of 3 separate days trying to cross Arkansas after a blizzard. We slept one night in the car during this process.

On an earlier Christmas trip to Memphis, we opted to take the train. Which showed up in Denver about 9 hours late, causing us to have an unexpected overnight stop in Chicago on Christmas Eve. I have to add, we all enjoyed the stopover immensely.

Then there was the trip to Seattle with my mother-in-law who was on blood thinners, requiring that all hotel rooms (we shared with her) have their temperature set at 90 degrees, give or take. I spent several nights sleeping on the tile floor of the bathroom, just to get cold enough to fall asleep.

Or a three-family trip to the Northwest in which we only made the Victoria-Port Angeles ferry by the skin of our teeth, due to the world's slowest gourmet breakfast at a very nice B&B.

And finally, a trip to Northeast Iowa in late May, where we all misjudged the whole concept of "Spring" and brought shorts and t-shirts, only to find it in the grip of a cold drizzle, so that we had to buy reinforcements. I still swear that the Lands' End outlet in Dodgeville Wisconsin was only an inch away on the map, but it required a 4-hour road trip.

With a history like this, I guess our upcoming cruise has a decent chance of being blog-worthy. Today is Tuesday. We leave next Monday evening to drive to Los Angeles. Currently, Denver is under a winter storm warning, and the long-term forecast seems to indicate that the best roads are likely to take us via Cheyenne. I'm not so worried about the trip to LA, because we don't have to be there until the 30th, which should be plenty of time. But the ship returns to LA on January 6th, and I have to be back at work on the morning of the 8th. I've already predicted that we probably won't be returning via Donner Pass, which will undoubtedly guarantee our return route.

So sit back, and enjoy. If I don't post much, you can figure that everything is going smoothly - or that we're stranded in a snowbank south of Las Vegas somewhere. If I do find things to write about, I may even try to put some pictures up.

Cruise Clock ticker