Friday, February 27, 2009

Open Doors

There are certain little sayings that drive me crazy. One is ‘God will only give you as much as you can handle’. What about people who get depressed and commit suicide? They had more than they can handle, now, didn’t they? I just don’t believe that God is doling out the crap. As if she is sitting up on a throne saying “Hmmm, there’s Susie. I think I’ll send some cancer her way. I realize that her Mom just died and her home is about to be foreclosed on, but she’s strong. She can take it.” Maybe that’s why I didn’t like the book ‘The Shack’. (And yes, I know, billions did!). I have never believed that God makes bad things happen to people. ‘The Shack’ was like ‘GOD 101’ to me. Maybe it was written for people who believe in an archaic God who sends hellfire and brimstone, but I’ve just never believed in that type of God. I don’t believe in the Devil as an entity, either. I think it’s just the Catholic Church’s was to try to scare people into doing what they wanted them to do. And ruling out of fear is never a good thing. I think that people should learn to be good only for the sake of being good. So you can look at yourself in the mirror. So you can be proud of yourself and your behavior. Not because you are trying to avoid punishment. You should learn to police yourself. I’m not so sure I don’t believe in reincarnation, so maybe If you don’t learn that lesson, you have to repeat it until you get it right. All I know is that I am trying to get my issues worked out with my ex husband so that I am not doomed to repeat that relationship over and over. Selfish? Maybe. But it’s all good karma, right? Another saying that annoys me is “When God closes a door, He opens a window”. Sometimes it’s more like the door has been ripped off its’ hinges and there’s a twenty foot drop where the porch used to be. It sounds so easy, but in reality you usually have to pry that window open yourself. When I was in my mid thirties I was a stay at home Mom raising two kids, ages 3 and 8. One day my husband of 11 years (who had practically demanded that I quit my job a year or so earlier) decided that he no longer wanted to be married. Hmmmm. Time to regroup. I was very scared and knew that I had to go back to work but (for some reason ha ha) my self esteem was about a quart low. I found a nearby job as a payroll accountant. I had never done payroll before but actually talked my way into this job by telling them “I am a single Mom. I can do ANYTHING”. It worked. Thankfully I worked with a wonderful lady named Lilo who trained and befriended me. She is so cool and has lived all over the world. She grew up in Germany and lived in caves during World War II. Lilo had the best stories to tell and the best attitude. We still meet up for dinner now and then. The office was full of backstabbing, hateful women. After one of them was fired, another one told me, “You could be next’. I replied with ‘I guess any of us could’. She was gone the next week. Then, our boss was gone. We hired one more girl, Kelly, who was fantastic. Our old software system was crumbling and falling apart and we had no more technical support for it. Entire clients would just disappear in the system! We were in the process of setting up new software, and now it couldn’t wait. I was put in charge of setting up the new software and not only did I know nothing about payroll, I really didn’t know anything about computers at the time. I started dating a man who would Is now my husband around this time. He’d call me at night and ask how my day was. Every day was the same reply. “You know that scene in Indiana Jones when the giant boulder is chasing him and he’s about to die? Kinda like that.” With the help of Craig at tech support, I actually got it set up and running after many late nights and Indiana Jones days. Everything went well for a couple of years until they decided to sell the company. In the end, it was just me and Lilo running the place. There was a salesman left and a Worker’s Comp guy and then Lilo got another job and left. I hung around for another couple of months and one day got a call at work about an open position at another company. That’s where I am now. Obviously, in retrospect, this is the best thing that could have happened to me. Being dumped by Xman opened the way for me to meet Mr. Wonderful, whom I’ve been ecstatically married to for almost five years. I seriously had no clue that men like Mr. Wonderful existed outside of fiction or movies. Being forced to go back to work and in such insane conditions repaired my self esteem and made me happier in the long run. Sure, there were some long days when Lilo and I wondered if we were going to have to do our Christmas shopping at the convenience store next door. There were nights when I had to go pick my kids up at daycare and bring them back to the office, but I got it done. In ‘The Shack’, the God character talks about how although she isn’t the one that makes bad things happen, she can make good things come out of the bad things. I think we can all do that and in a sense, that sums up what I believe. I do like the saying 'I can't change the wind, but I can adjust my sails'. It’s not always what we had in mind. It’s not always what is the easiest, but it can all work out. And the irony? We can NEVER see it at the time. It's life funny?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crazy California Girl Trip - Feb 2009

The Trip - Meander down Highway 1 between San Jose and LA with overnight stays in Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Santa Ana. The Players - Me Miss Pamela- the birthday girl Laura - Toni - who had broken her wrist a few days earlier in a tragic ice incident. Note the hot pink/black cast on her right arm. It did make her look tough, however, and we had her to use as a weapon if need be. The trip began at the San Jose airport. I was the second to arrive and met Pam at Alamo Rental Car. We picked up our ride, which we quickly dubbed 'Harriet Tubman', since she was taking us out of slavery. At least for a few days. Pam and 'Harriet' Laura and Toni arrived about an hour later and we immediately set off for our first stop, Carmel. It was about a 45 minute drive and we figured out how to work the TomTom GPS, which we named 'Katherine' because her voice kind of wavered like Katherine Hepburn's in her latter years. "Turn right on air-r-rport par-r-rkway, you old poop!" A Virgin of Guadalupe air freshener (virgin scented?) completed our fabulous look. Katherine and Mary We rolled into Carmel in time to see the sunset. It is such a pretty little town and I would definitely like to go back and spend more time there. We stayed at the Wayside Inn, which I highly recommend, also. Good prices, fantastic location - smack dab in the middle of shopping/restaurants and a few blocks from the beach, very clean and pretty. Toni and Pam We shopped for a little while and had dinner at a place called 'Luca'. It was very good, but overpriced in my opinion. I had spaghetti with crab and some wine. The spaghetti was a very small portion and didn't come with a salad (seriously, how expensive is a few leaves of lettuce?) for $20 and the wine was about $9 a glass. When I return to Carmel, I will do some online restaurant investigations prior to going. The food was really good, however, so it was okay. The sat us in the booth in front that was their picture window so we were on display. The city was very quiet and I don't think I heard a car drive by all night. In the morning, we found a cooler by our front door full of cereal, yogurt, granola, danish, bagels and juice. It also included a USA Today. Nice touch! Pics around Carmel It had rained during the night and was starting to clear up a bit as we got up and headed out to Hearst Castle. The drive down Highway 1 is absolutely breathtaking and we had built in extra time on this leg of our journey to stop and gawk. It's a three hour drive from Carmel to Hearst Castle. We took a rest stop at a restaurant/store in Big Sur that had giant Calla Lilies growing in front of it. They were bigger than my hand! "Grandpa Tom" was in the back of the store baking fresh cookies and zuchini bread. We tried to get him to run off with us, but he declined to come out, even when the girl up front yelled to him that one of us was even a red head! We settled for a few of his cookies. Oatmeal chocolate chip. Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It truly is where heaven meets earth and the line between the two is blurred. Every twist and turn of Highway 1 offers a postcard perfect view and results in a hypnotic 'wow....'. We were looking at this beautiful beach with a lighthouse when we noticed that the beach was moving. It was, in fact, a herd of Elephant Seals and we stopped to take pics and watch them. Lunch was in Cambria and we walked around for a few minutes and arrived at Hearst Castle for our tour. I cannot explain how beautiful this place is. If you get a chance to see it, I suggest you do because it is the most gorgeous home on earth in the most idyllic of settings. William Randoph Hearst built Hearst Castle ("The Ranch" as he called it) to house his collection of antiquities. The temple by the pool is an actual ancient Roman Temple, there is priceless art everywhere including ceilings, fireplaces and wall hangings that are amazing. For more info, go to http://www.hearstcastle.org/history/index.asp The place is 90,000 square feet and it is jam packed with pretty things along with having the best view I've ever seen. The indoor pics didn't turn out very well because there was no flash allowed. On the road again for about 45 minutes and we arrived in San Luis Obispo. Our specific destination - the Madonna Inn. The craziest place you've ever seen with over 100 rooms, each decorated in some wild theme. We were booked in the 'Jungle Rocks' room, which featured two king size beds with zebra bedspreads, rock walls, a leather sofa with feather detail along the bottom and (yea, baby) a natural rock waterfall shower. We ate dinner at the Madonna Inn restaurant and it was outrageously pink and red. Huge honeycomb hearts hung over us like giant strawberries. The food was outstanding and we feasted on lobster, steak and cake. It was as if this place was specifically designed for a Girl Trip! After dinner we hung out in the bar, listening to the band and enjoying the dancers. These people really knew what they were doing! Swing, tango...all kinds of things that are lost on my generation. Most were older and they were having so much fun! One of the band members came over on his break to talk to us (Toni said that it was naptime when they went on break LOL) and then they played "Tulsa Time" for us and a song for Pam's birthday. We stayed until they closed it down. On our way back to our room, we ran into a couple that we'd seen in the bar who were staying in the 'Caveman Room' across from ours. We checked out each other's rooms. They had a rock waterfall urinal in their bathroom that would automatically come on when you got close to it! This is for everyone who read the pillow fight joke in my Girl Trip to Isla entry from last year. It was raining the next morning as we headed out but started to clear up as we worked our way South and performed our weather changing spells. We passed beautiful pastoral fields, wineries and ended up in a little Dutch town called 'Solvang'. Abbey Road Do you have this in my size? A 'Spiritual Shop' offered Aura Photos and seriously...who could resist THAT??? My aura is all the colors of the rainbow, which (the lady said) is quite rare. The pics came with an explanation of what it all means and that it is not inteded to diagnose illness. Really??? The funny this was the descriptions of our personalities and what it meant was pretty right on. It was fun. left top - Toni right top-Laura left bottom - Me right bottom - Pam We bid Solvang goodbye and drove to Santa Barbara. Beautiful beach views coming into the area. The Franciscan Inn was perfectly located, clean and a good price. Almost too flowery, but had a mini frig and three queen beds in the suite. There was also a sofa and a large tv. Our first night in Santa Barbara we ate dinner at Brophy Brothers down on the dock. It was a busy, casual place and they had great food. Prices were awesome. I had a cup of clam chowder and pasta with seafood. I ate as much as I could and then ate all the remaining seafood and there was still about three servings of pasta. Great value, great food, great service. We hit the grocery store after dinner and stocked up on liquid refreshments and then stayed up very late talking and giggling. Toni fell asleep at one point and woke up yelling 'Ben Franklin'. We'll go ahead and blame that on the vicodin she was taking for her broken wrist. Our whale watching cruise was the next morning and it was cold and rainy as we made our way down to the dock. On our way out to the channel islands, we acquired a pod of dolphin escorts. They were so cute. Trust the Gorton's Fisherman We spotted a grey whale and followed her around for a while. It was cool, but we didn't get to pet it. :( Seriously, tho, it was pretty cool but I swam with whale sharks in Mexico a couple of years ago out in the ocean with no life preserver even and well...this was a little less up close and personal. We got to see her tail come up once and that was really pretty. The boat took us around the channel islands and it was very pretty. I would have been a bit happier if it hadn't been so cold out there (it was about 40 degrees) but at least they had hot coffee and a nice area inside for us to sit. We saw more dolphin on the way back in and seals, also. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon and we were starving. We went up to State Street and walked around for a while. Dr. Seuss cactus We ended up going back down to the dock and eating at a place called Breakwater and it was great. I had a bread bowl full of delicious clam chowder and at that point I started to thaw out from the morning. We decided while we were out, we'd go see Santa Barbara Mission, even though it was about closing time. We went up through Montecito (where Oprah has a house) and WOW! Unbelievably gorgeous. The mission was very pretty and I would have liked to have gone inside. Dinner was late that night. We had nap time and then showered and got ready while drinking champagne. We dined at The Fish House and it was wonderful. The service was excellent and the food was out of this world. I had a delicious salad of spinach leaves and goat cheese with a raspberry vinagrette and crabcakes. I don't remember what everyone had, but check it out. We got up the next morning pretty early, as we had to get going and get Toni to LAX for her flight home. She wasn't able to stay for the final day of Girl Trip because she figured it would be too grueling with her broken wrist. The next stop? Disneyland. Toni was dropped at the airport and although she was sad, we knew that the people at Southwest airlines would take good care of her. LA Gangstas We checked in with Alamo because this final Disney-day was a last minute add on and we needed to make arrangements to keep the car for another day. As we pulled out of the Alamo lot, an employee approached us and asked "Where are you going?" The rebellious teenager in me reared it's ugly head and I answered "Out". Pam explained that we had rented the car for an extra day and we hightailed it out of LA and onto Orange County. We checked into our hotel in Santa Ana, grabbed something to eat and headed to Disneyland. Our inner children were as excited as Courtney Love in a pharmacy. We proceeded to go crazy, riding Space Mountain, Bobsleds, the Teacups, Dumbo, It's a Small World, Indiana Jones, Pooh and Friends, Storybook Ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Nemo Submarine Adventure. Unfortunately the Haunted Mansion was closed for maintenance. After that we ate dinner and rode most of them again! There were so many cute little kids there (other than us) and a lot of the little girls were wearing their Disney Princess costumes. There were also a lot of strangely pierced people there, which made for a strange combination. Pam got a 'It's my Birthday' button and each and every Disney employee that we passed said 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY!'. We even got special seating on the rides and they put us up front. I couldn't believe how great the people at Disneyland were. Everyone seemed really happy to be there and a several employees went out of their way to help us with something. After dinner which consisted of a three cheese/no meat Monte Cristo sandwich, basket of fries and a bread pudding shared between the three of us and served by a cute Pirate boy waiter (yes, it really IS the happiest, carbiest place on earth!) the cute little ones went home and the park seemed to empty out. There were no more lines and we ran around riding everything we could! We stayed until the park closed at midnight and Mickey carried us to the gate and threw us out in the parking lot. Ten hours at Disneyland!!! We were exhausted and went back to the hotel room and feasted on junk food and orange soda. I don't know why. Laura got up really early and caught the shuttle over to John Wayne airport for an early flight. Pam and I slept in and had breakfast then went across the street to the Nail Salon and had foot/leg massages. Ahhh. Then we drove around Newport Beach for a while and then to the airport. We flew to Phoenix together, grabbed a bite to eat and said goodbye. It was our 12th year of Girl Trips together and it was awesome! Where to next year?! Who knows!

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Some of these entries are vintage travel reports and have been restored from a lost blog. I hope you enjoy them.