Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead...okay, not so much Dead as Stranded

The following post is a public service announcement
brought to you by the
Society to Not Completely Lose It
While Trying to Return Home

Below is a list of things to do, should you find yourself sitting in the Denver airport, staring at the text message on your phone which states: "Your flight has been cancelled due to crew availability".

  1. Stare at your phone and wonder how the plane, which just pulled up to your gate, could lack a crew to fly it to the promised destination.
  2. Stand in ticket line at least 90 minutes waiting to reschedule flight. Hotel Voucher and Meal Voucher Roulette is dependent on reason for flight cancellation.Essentially if God caused it you are screwed.
  3. Wonder just why everyone in front of you is so keen on going to Fargo, ND.
  4. Leave backpack stuffed in coat to mimic slumped body and have moving sidewalk races.
  5. Return to line and wonder just what is up with Fargo.
  6. Using story problem method try to figure out just how much jerky the eight $7.00 meal vouchers will buy.
    Okay. This clearly offers one more thing to do in Denver. But this is a family blog, people. And, the answer to #6 is apx five bags of jerky. If you stick to the 1.1 oz bags.
  7. Figure out just how much eight $7.00 meal vouchers is actually worth.
  8. Totally confuse the hotel shuttle driver by commenting, 'Not my bag. Not my bag.' as he unloads all the bags in the back of the shuttle. Once the shuttle is devoid of baggage, grab backpack from shoulder and shout, 'Here it is!'
  9. Steal travel companions cookies. Demand that they go back to front desk, insisting that they never received one of those delicious warm spheres of yummitude.
  10. Shop gift shop for t-shirts to sleep in.
    a. Have 'a-ha' moment with realization that you have just purchased Dad's father's day gift. (Sorry Dad – no picture. Don't want to ruin the surprise, but rest assured, there is a huge indigenous animal on the front.)
  11. Devise a meal plan to feed a family of four, containing all four food groups, with $56.00 in meal vouchers at an airport hotel restaurant.
  12. Play "Where Were You Suppose to be Tonight" with other restaurant patrons. Winner gets all meal vouchers.
  13. Realize that there are no winners in "Where Were You Suppose to be Tonight?" Except for the hotel.
  14. Take walk to Walgreens to stretch your legs. Cross same two streets a minimum of 10 times while never actually getting to the side of the road that Walgreens sits on. Contemplate writing a letter to the Denver City Planner.
  15. Return to room empty handed but with an appetite for one of the misappropriated cookies.
  16. Wonder just how these hotels get the bed linens to be so soft.
  17. Fall asleep counting how many planes, trains, buses, shuttles and cabs you have ridden in over the past four months. Not counting the train to work or the work shuttle when you drive.
  18. Wake up. Get blinded by automatic bathroom light. Call front desk and inquire about the purchase of these amazing sheets!
  19. Practice your best Fargo accent when you answer the ridiculously shrill wake up call.
  20. Note that in-room coffee pot does not work.
  21. Text all traveling companions with this news. Even though one of them is in bed next to you.
  22. Formulate, draft and email a business plan which would allow Starbucks to open a 24 hour delivery set up.
  23. With all fifteen waiting shuttle passengers, ponder the possible scenarios in which might a pair of multi-colored underpants might wind up frozen to the front step of the hotel.
    a. NO. There is no photo. That is just gross.
    b. Okay. I wish I had thought to take a photo.
  24. VERY CALMLY AND RESPECTFULLY GO THROUGH THE SECURITY CHECK PLACING LAP TOP IN BIN BY ITSELF. Try not to stare in contempt while husband goes through the Pre-Check lane. Again.
  25. Sing along with the instrumental tune that plays on the train which takes you to Concourse B. Add airport trains to list in number 18.
  26. Wish you had been more economical with the food vouchers as you invent things to do with the gross egg flap that is found in your sausage biscuit. 
    The National Flag of EggFlapLandia
  27. Make list of Things to do in Denver When Your Flight is Canceled Due to Crew Availability.
  28. Run through concourse to take picture of Jerky Shack while Group 1 boards plane. Those smug first class bastards.
  29. Board plane. Bargain with God, offering to stop calling random strangers – 'smug bastards'- if He will only make sure you don't die with three days worth of leg stubble present on your legs, Vow to never go anywhere again. Notice Islands magazine in backpack. Book next trip the minute the flight attendant says you can turn your mobile devices back on.

In all fairness, there were a large number of flights cancelled, missed and re-routed due to weather over the past week. It is really no surprise the flight crew needed some sleep. All airport and airline personnel were amazingly friendly and helpful. The staff of the Doubletree Denver were equally pleasant and helpful and the hotel was wonderful.

Clearly that above paragraph is the result of me being clean, jammied and sipping on a glass of Cabernet.

I am not that forgiving when I have three days of leg stubble.

And – to prove to one of my younger traveling companions – Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead is a real song. And it is awesome.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

9000 Feet of Schizophrenia

Yes. You are on the correct blog.

Yes. Last week's post was all happy island and sailing.

And Yes. The first picture you see here is a snow packed forest of pine trees.

I take full responsibility.

I made the mistake, several months ago, of asking our kids what they wanted for Christmas. We have always been lucky when it comes to wish lists, now that our kids are a good twenty years past the Toys-R-Us catalog age. They have never really asked for a lot of stuff, either cheap or expensive. They are both out of college, working, and dedicating free time to fun. I expected a random list of household items, clothes, books. What I got was this:

"When can we all take a vacation together? That would be nice."

Well. I am always up for a trip. So, Bart and I threw out the next obvious question. "Where should we go?" Even though we both knew what they were going to say.

"Let's go skiing!"

Which is how I now find myself at 9000 feet watching the sun glisten off about a foot of fresh glittery snow which sits on a base layer of about 4 1/2 feet of old cruddy snow. By cruddy I mean hard packed and icy, my skiing nemesis. I am wearing no less than three layers of clothes, not a swimsuit. But there is still a huge bottle of sunscreen sitting next to me (because nothing is funnier than a sunburn in the dead of winter) and Trop-Rock is playing on the ipod so...

Clothes may say Brrrr but my smile says 'it's colder at home than it is here!'

We first took our kids skiing fourteen years ago. Bart is a well practiced skier, having had a friend whose brother worked the ski patrol in southern Colorado. I manage to not embarrass myself, after falling rather than gracefully exiting the lift and being married to a man who has the patience of a saint and the wisdom to know better than to try to teach your wife the basics of anything.

Our son took to the slopes as though he were born with skies on his feet. Our daughter caught on over time, having inherited her mother's fear of falling off the lift and her father's tenacity and athleticism.

We have since made a point of the family ski trip as often as we could, but time being what it is and life being time's accomplice, we have not managed the trip in several years. The fact that both kids wanted to spend a few days with us made it very easy to finagle the schedule and the bank account and here I am, not so much on a beach but nearly smack in the middle of the Continental Divide. 
There is something so breathtaking about being at cloud level. I am pretty sure it is the lack of oxygen.

Winter Park, Colorado has been our ski destination of choice. The town is about a ninety minute drive up from Denver, depending on the weather, through some beautiful and breathtaking scenery. Years past we have driven the entire trip from Illinois but more recently have opted to fly. This was the first year we haven't rented a car, instead using the Home James service to deposit us at our condo. 
So NOT the beach... and don't even think of looking over that guardrail.

The town and resort has a fabulous bus system in place, all free, which makes getting around pretty easy, unless you are attempting to make it to Safeway on your first night during the forty minutes when the buses switch from day schedule to night. Suffice it to say, there was a tiny bit of running with six bags of groceries and a case of soda divided amongst three of us. And we still managed to miss the bus.

I blame the lack of oxygen. And possibly my lack of running. Whatever. A bus eventually came around (apx 15 minutes and half a bag of popcorn later) and even though the route only required the driver to drop us at the bottom of our hill, he took pity and drove us to our door. 
Okay. Wow.

We are not only location loyal. We are also condo loyal, choosing BeaverVillage Condos as our home away from home. This year our two bedroom unit is equipped with a nice kitchen, comfy living room with electric fireplace and a pull out sofa bed. Our bedroom also has an electric fireplace which is lovely to look at as you pass out from oxygen deprivation and physical exhaustion each evening. There is a second bedroom and two bathrooms. Plenty of room for four adults.

Coopers Creek all spiffed up for the season.

Downtown is only about a 15 minute walk, downhill. This takes a little longer going back up. At night. After eating all the BBQ ribs at Smokin' Moes. Of course, there are buses running until 11pm so the apres dinner walk is not mandatory.

Look closely, there are tiny little children out there.

WinterPark Resort is a ten minute bus ride and offers on-site ski rental and storage, a variety of dining places and an equally nice variety of trails, depending on how insane you are. Winter Park is also the National Center for the Disabled and as such offers a wide range of activities for people needing adaptive services no matter the ability level. Let me tell you, nothing gives you that 'I can do it' push like seeing a laughing five year old with only one leg shoot past you on skis. 
See that line of skiers? All tiny little children who are all better skiers than me.

As I write this, Bart and the kids are out on the slopes, navigating trails with names like Jabberwocky and White Rabbit. I opted out of actually skiing this year mostly due to a huge lack of preparation on my part. I plan to meet up with the group later this afternoon for dinner at The Cheeky Monk where they will regale me with tales of moguls and hairpin turns and I will wonder just how it is I am related to these people. 

This is one happy boy.

We will spend a few more days in close proximity to one another. Conversation will run the gamut from everyday topics such as whose turn is it to shower first to less common discussions of geriatric cocktails such as daiquiris made with strawberry ensure and one-a-day vitamin Bloody Marys to just plain silly rodent training videos. We will force the kids to watch such 80's classics as Seems Like Old Times and Meatballs and they will insist we catch up on Nightvale.

And with any luck, they will want to do this again in a couple of years. 
Okay - UPDATE - I had to add these last two photos. We had our final dinner at Casa Mexico - being as it was National Margarita Day. 
Muy Simpatico y Muy Frio!

On our walk home it was snowing the fine, silvery, glittery snow you get in the mountains and the Beaver Village Lodge was, well, I'll let you decide! 
Hello, Mr King? Your room is ready. Unfortunately it is next to Mr. Nicholson. He has promised to keep the croquet mallet in the closet.

Please click on the links throughout this post. It is not a paid post but I can assure you these are great places, and that's not the lack of oxygen talking!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The First Rule of Sailing School...

For those of you who are new here, a little background info:

We own a small, hand built sailboat.
If you aren't new here, well, deal with it. I still can't believe we built it.
My husband and I have similar vacation tastes – nature-y, minimal tourists, mountains, oceans – with one tiny difference. I prefer lounging at the beach or pool, a little shopping, some reading, sightseeing, a nice dinner. He prefers, and I am very loosely quoting, "being as uncomfortable as I can possibly be without dying".

This is why I found myself at sailing school in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
These are tiny little boats with tiny little children, all sailing. Not puking.
Oh, I also have a serious issue with motion sickness.
There will be vomit.

Now, on with the story...

Our decision to go official and attend sailing school met both of our needs. Rob wanted some concrete assurance that he was doing things right while gaining a more thorough knowledge of sailing. I felt my duty as first mate was to be able to safely maneuver him back to shore should he succumb to a tragic bikini ogling accident.
The fact that the school we chose was in Tortola, British Virgin Islands was a compromise we were willing to make. Especially in November on the Coast of Illinois. 
How do you find Tortola? Fly south to Puerto Rico and hang a left. (Although it is not actually that simple and will be another story.)

Rob took care of the research and settled on Rob Swain Sailing School. (They also have classes in Rhode Island but, seriously?) We signed up for the two day Basic Keelboat class. Passing the class promised certification by the US Sailing Association.
Provided you study. 

This is a page from my lesson book. Looks super technical, doesn't it.
 We booked the trip in March. This allowed me a good five and one half months to stare at the text book, move it to various tables, dust around it and then another two weeks to actually open the book and read it. By the time we arrived at Nanny Cay Marina on the morning of day one I felt regretful that I had not studied more and fairly confident that I would be the oldest woman in the class.

Day One dawned pleasantly warm and sunny.
Then it rained for ten minutes.
Day One became ridiculously humid.

Class is held in the Rob Swain office and our lessons were taught by an adorable Irishman- Rory and a crusty Englishman - Toddy. (I would also describe him as adorable but he would probably sail up the Mississippi and kick my ass were I to do so.) Both these men are accomplished sailors yet taught with the understanding that we were all new. Our class was small – Rob and myself, a cute, young English couple- Jason and Jasmine- who were hoping to learn enough to not destroy any boat they might rent and a Canadian woman - Monique- close to my age, whose husband was buying a gigantic sailboat and was hoping she would learn enough to not run over the smaller sailboats and people in the ocean.

It should be noted here that in the course of one morning I had listened to no fewer than six different accents, all claiming to be speaking English.
My husband would also like me to point out that I seem to learn things better from teachers with accents.
I would then argue that it was only one German ski instructor and I didn't so much learn anything as much as I was afraid Klaus would just leave me on the mountain.


After a couple of hours discussing the points of sail, knot tying and basic parts of a boat we took a dinghy across the bay to continue Day One on the water. Our lesson boat was 24 foot IC24, Bermuda rig sloop. There is no motor. We were not there to learn motoring. We were there to learn sailing.

Toddy took Monique, Rob and myself as his crew. Rory, Jason and Jasmine banded together in the under 40 boat.
We spent the first forty minutes on the water sorting out equipment and rigging sails.
I feel the need to again point out that we were on the water, bobbing. It was humid. I have motion sickness. Oh, and I was now beginning to ramp up the anxiety over not studying more.
Rory and his crew set sail through the harbor. I never saw them again.
(Well, until the next day.)

Toddy gave Rob the tiller and very carefully we maneuvered into open water. Rob is very proud to announce that no ridiculously expensive boats were harmed in the maneuvering. 
Seriously. Expensive. And the rainbow? I swear, it was always there.
Once on open water we began our instruction in earnest. Everyone had a job and every job was rotated to insure we each understood just how a boat works. The beauty of learning to sail in Tortola is the dependable wind. The wind is almost always a steady 8-10mph from the East. This constant, consistent wind makes all the physics of sailing work. For example – to sail upwind the sails are on the right with the wind coming over the left or port side. This is a close haul. To stop the boat you simply turn into the wind. And in Tortola the boat stops.
Move the tiller to the left, the wind returns and the boat moves.
It's like magic.Or at least it is like sailing somewhere with consistent wind, unlike our inland bodies of water where the wind is affected by land.

I started on the starboard jib sheet, shifted to the tiller then to the port jib sheet. This involved a great deal of sliding starboard to port, looking up to check the wind, looking down to secure the sheets, sliding back to take a turn on the tiller and then repeating.
About the time we started making headway Toddy would call for us to stop then resume. It was intense and busy and so much fun.
It was also disorienting, dizzying and oh so nauseating. Because that beautiful Tortola breeze was blowing more like 10-15 knots. Or nearly 17mph. In a boat which is tilting heeling nearly into the water.

And this is where the motion sickness and the nerves come into play.

I was beating the nausea down from my first switch. It would ebb while I was busy then slam back to remind me who was actually in charge. I kept praying for Toddy to get a sudden yearning for rum and demand that we just continue on our close haul towards Norman Island and Pirate's Bight Beach Bar and Grill. 
I can smell the rum from here...
That did not happen.
Instead, Monique steered us directly into the path of an huge oncoming WAVE. Toddy shouted 'WAVE' in time for me to look directly into it. The salty water washed over all of us, leaving us laughing and refreshed.
Until I swallowed the mouthful of Caribbean salt water and Rob turned us to a close reach starboard tack. The boat heeled as we changed direction and my nausea went into a beam reach of regurgitation. I was no longer in the no-go zone of vomit. I was on a full on run.

And here is where we all learned the MOST IMPORTANT RULE OF SAILING SCHOOL: 
You always puke on the leeward side.

Rob, being the ever caring husband that he is, and Toddy being the guy who would have to clean the boat, both shouted – as the voice in my head chimed in – GO TO THE LEEWARD SIDE!
(For you non-sailing people, this is the side away from the wind.)
I promptly slid to the leeward side, grabbed my sunglasses so as not to throw them over the side of the boat and puked.
For the next fifteen minutes.

It was ridiculous. I was hot, cold, sweaty and praying to die, hoping no one had seen me but positive the everyone in the British and US Virgin Islands had been in full view. The voice in my head chided my poor constitution then attempted a pep-talk and finally just gave up with the final thought that here I was puking in the Caribbean and I had yet to have even had a single drink of rum.

Then Toddy said, "It's okay poppet. We can take you back."
And in my completely crumbled state my inner voice rejoiced that I had been called 'poppet' by a real Englishman.
I can not explain this.
I am going with salt-water toxicity.

I have no idea who got us back to the dock.
I have no idea how I actually managed to get out of the boat. If I hadn't felt so much like dying I would have been dying of embarrassment.
I do remember Rob practically carrying me to a bench and bringing me a coke.
I can't even say if I spoke with anyone else from the class that day.

I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that I was bound and determined to get back in that damn boat on 
Day Two...
As they say, the morning is a brand new day. I was well rested, drugged up with both drowsy and non-drowsy Dramamine and ready.
Class time covered the very important channel markers and even more important man overboard procedures, which we would be practicing in open water.
We took a break to prep for actual boat time. I drank more water, pulled on my brand new sailing gloves and dashed to the bathroom where once again my intestinal tract betrayed me.

There are no bathrooms on the lesson boats. So...
I bowed out of boat time.

Even though Rob, Monique and Toddy did their very best to convince me I would be fine and if I wasn't they would bring me back, no questions asked.
I just couldn't do it.There may not have been any questions but there would have been some exclamations.
My disgust with my lack of constitution was not strong enough to beat down my fear of being asked to leave the entire Lesser Antilles. So, while our school boat sailed from the harbor, I talked with Rehanna, the secretary of the school.
We talked for over an hour about the islands, island life, the school. I learned just as much on that bench as I could have learned from any book. Rehanna returned to work and I wandered off to explore Nanny Cay with the distinct feeling that I would never be a stranger on Tortola.

Eventually the school boats made their way back into the harbor. 

Rob at the tiller. Notice him NOT hitting the other boats.
Rob, Monique and Toddy all comforted me with the fact that they considered coming back to shanghai me back onto the boat and I comforted them with the fact that if anyone would need the benefit of a man overboard drill it would be me as I was clearly most likely to fall in the water.

After a final debriefing, it was test time.
I can not tell you how terrified I was of failing.
Suffice it to say, the UNWRITTEN RULE OF SAILING SCHOOL is this: 
Never take a tested class with your husband.
But if you must take a test with your husband then you must:
(okay, maybe three...)
Toddy, being the great teacher that he is, went over the test with us and allowed me time to defend my incorrect answers which turned out were only correct, but not 'the most' correct.
I promised to keep practicing and left the school with my US sailing book in hand and while it contained the notation that 'unfortunate to be ill but good overall otherwise' I had passed my test.

We celebrated with the 'best roti on the island' served by the 'best waiter on the island' at the GenakerCafe.

The Best Waiter on the Island with the Most Relieved Student on the Island.
We then retired to the Peg Leg for a Painkiller on the beach.
All classes should end this way. 

As usual, this is not a paid post. And as usual, please click on the links throughout. I must mention that Rob Swain Sailing School was wonderful. While I tend to poke fun at the experience, our instructors were very professional and obviously love, not only sailing but teaching new sailors the ropes. I mean sheets. 
Oh, and come back next week for more life on the Coast of Illinois...or wherever I might be!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Living My Life Like a ~Randomly Connected~ Song*

I am interrupting this blog post with an important update!! I am a guest blogger!! Please check out the link and while you are there, check out Vikki's stories of married life and just living! : Laugh Lines!  

Now, back to my blog! 
So, I briefly held a monkey hostage this weekend.

Just to clarify:

    1. No monkeys were harmed in this brief hostage-taking.
    2. There was only one monkey.
    3. There was wine involved. And Parrotheads.

This is the monkey of question:
If you woof someone, set them free...
 He is of Chinese pedigree, according to his tag – and the rather poorly translated 'wuv' which reads 'woof'. Unless Chinese monkeys actually do 'woof', which his owner adamantly believes to be true.

We met 'Woofy' and his owner, Amanda, at Grafton Winery.

We were there with two old friends to listen to some music, have a glass of wine on an otherwise dreary Saturday and celebrate our anniversary. You know, keep it quiet. Low key. But instead of a peaceful winery with people sipping pinot while sampling cheeses we were greeted by a Cabin Fever Party – Hawaiian Leas, a light up flamingo, a trop-rock band and a winery full of Parrotheads. 
As feral Parrotheads, Bart and I felt right at home.

There was also raffle tickets, tiny drink umbrellas and wine.

Through some rather...friendly extortion...I managed to get the crowd's support in acquiring Woofy.

(It should be noted that I never intended to keep Woofy.)
Bart, fearing for the monkey's safety, did some UN level negotiating and for the price of one dance, Amber was reunited with her pet. And Bart and I were invited to join the Parrotheads of the River Bend. (As it turns out, Amber is the group's charity director.)
and if they woof you they will come back...or if you get the band to do a shout out...either way...

I guess my point here is this: keep your eyes and your mind open and be ready to always have fun. You just never know when you will meet a new friend, learn a new song, taste a new food. We left the house on Saturday expecting to hear some tunes and talk with some old friends. I never intended to kidnap a monkey. Amber never intended to wind up on this blog. Bart...well, he never knows what's going to happen.

We left the winery and drove literally straight up the bluff and spent the rest of our evening enjoying the lovely fireplace in our rented condo. 
Fine. It was electric. But it was still pretty.

(A little background – Parrotheads are people who embrace the music of Jimmy Buffett. As a sanctioned Parrothead club, the mission is to Party with a Purpose. The clubs gather, or Phlock, for fun and to support a variety of causes. On this particular day, Parrotheads of the River Bend raised money for a local no-kill animal shelter; click on their name if you would like a full list of their charities, activities and their manatee. Yes. Manatee. And after such a warm welcome by the group, Bart and I are reconsidering our Feral Parrothead status.)

I would love to have included some photos of Grafton, the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, that horrifying road up to Aerie's Lodge and some of the winter nesting bald eagles. I should also mention the delicious breakfast we ate at Ruebel Hotel - present in Grafton since 1904! However, it was cloudy on Saturday so I held off on picture taking until Sunday. Visibility was about three feet on Sunday, the whole region fogged in after a cold front just missed dumping ice and snow on us. Seize the day. Lesson learned, God.

This turned out to be a blessing as it allowed us to drive back down the horrifying bluff road and make it home in time for me to sign up for the Color Run 5K.

It will be my first 5k.

But it won't be the first time I get stuff all over my white clothes.

*Living My Life Like a Song~Jimmy Buffett