Category Archives: Vacation

3 Star Hotel

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 12.05.21 AMThis fall I flew to the Midwest to visit my daughter Emily at her college’s Friends and Family Weekend, and I was trying to do it on a shoestring. I chose a no-frills airline that ended up charging $50 for my carry-on bag, an inexpensive rental car company that later billed an extra $119.40 in extra toll road charges, and a cheap airport parking lot that stored my car a very scary part of Inglewood.

But the biggest lesson of you get what you pay for came from my hotel.

It was the only hotel located within walking distance of the college and rumor has it that in the 1960’s the hotel had been a Holiday Inn. Because it was listed in Priceline, it couldn’t be that bad, right? I mean it’s not like Priceline recommends hotels that charge by the hour or have drug deals in the lobby. At $15 less than the price of a Super 8, this hotel was a bargain hunter’s dream come true, even if it was only rated 3 out of 10 stars. The reviews were so critical they were comical (“I would rather sleep in my car than pay for this dump” and “It smelled like a condemned building”), but I would probably only be there to shower and sleep. At the very least I might have an interesting story to tell about my stay.

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The parking lot

I do.

As I arrived, it was a little tricky to park my rental car because the cement parking blocks were all broken and scattered, so maneuvering around the parking lot was a little like driving through an obstacle course. Weeds were breaking through the asphalt so thickly that in some areas it was truly nature battling urbanization and beating the hell out of it.

The most obvious first impression of my temporary home away from home was the stench of cigarettes. I could smell it even before I opened the front door. Although you couldn’t actually see any smoke, the remnants were thicker than a 1960’s Vegas casino. I come from Los Angeles, where if you are trailed by a plume of smoke you receive a look nastier than if you’d backhanded a nun, so this noxious surprise was certainly not a treat for my pure-as-the-driven-snow lungs.

The desk clerk was extremely pleasant and she was only missing one tooth, contrary to the guest who was chatting with her and had more gaps in his mouth than a jack-o-lantern. She invited me to the hotel’s Friday Night Karaoke, which I decided I would avoid since one of the Priceline reviews mentioned the “steady trickle of drunk people stumbling out of the bar.”

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The floor of the elevator

I asked the clerk where I could buy some water and she told me about a mini mart a block away. Without even asking, she filled me in on the preferred bars within walking distance. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I haven’t had a drink in 20 years, and was hoping that this vacation would not end up luring me to one before the weekend was through.

The hotel was seven stories tall and as I entered the elevator I noticed that a shabby rug with frayed edges was attempting to hide the broken linoleum tiles on the floor. Someone had gotten very creative with the elevator buttons.

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Getting creative with the elevator buttons

The button for the 1st floor was a 2, the one for the 2nd floor was a backwards, upside down 5, 3’s button was tilted sideways and 6’s was handwritten with a ballpoint pen.

 

I pressed the button for the 5th floor. The elevator rocked and shook like a circus fun house and I made a vow to the Santa Claus/Parking Spot Angel God that if I made it safely, I would promise to hoof it up and down the stairs the rest of the weekend. The contraption reached its destination and the doors eventually, but reluctantly opened.

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Hallway directions

The first thing I noticed in the 5th floor hallway was the once shiny brass sign announcing that ice and sodas could be found on the 2nd floor as well as some other floor, but that other floor would remain a mystery because the rest of the sign was covered by a note (albeit typed – not handwritten) taped over it, saying that the soda machine was on the 1st floor, the ice machine on the 2nd, and the laundry was on the 3rd. There was also some graffiti created from deep scratches and the evidence of someone who thought himself so important that he wrote his name on the brass plate with a black sharpie.

 

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The hallway ceiling wires

Most people don’t instinctively study the ceilings of their hotels. I don’t either, but it was hard not to notice the various wires and cables hanging from above. It looked like some weekend handyman possibly installed a surveillance camera and pointed it toward the elevators. However, the cables were also strung into a couple of rooms and I started to get the heebie-jeebies that maybe the hotel employees got their jollies by seeing what hanky panky might be going on in the guests’ rooms. Fortunately the wires didn’t lead to my room – #510 – but nevertheless I decided that I would be sure to disrobe in a discreet corner and make a point of not being seen picking my nose.

 

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No carpeting

My room looked like that in its 50+ years of existence it had never had a renovation, with the exception of the carpeting. There was no carpeting. Instead, there was a layer of faux wood linoleum and an inch of calking around the edges. Also, the acoustic ceiling had been scraped off, but only slightly. There were still mounds of 1/8-inch cottage cheese and bits of the tips were scattered around the floor.

 

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Running toilet

There was an intermittent stream of water running in the toilet, so being from water conservation-obsessed Southern California, I turned off the faucet. For the duration of the trip I would have to lean over, nearly sticking my head in the toilet every time I wanted to turn it back on.

 

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No-power blow dryer

An extremely dated, no-power blow dryer was mounted to the wall. But there was something wrong with the bathroom outlet, so the plug wouldn’t stay in. Also, the toilet paper holder was busted, consisting of two sharp piece of metal sticking out from below the sink. Instead of the plastic-wrapped plastic cups that Super 8 provides, there were two 6 oz. Styrofoam cups which were never replenished after I used them.

 

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Broken bathroom outlet

There was no shampoo, body wash, shower cap, or sewing kit (which is fine – the last thing I want to do on vacation is sew on a button). The bathroom contained a wicker basket that was the type you get for free by buying two bottles of off-brand moisturizing lotion from Rite Aide at Christmas time, which contained a half dozen wrapped soaps. I’ve seen similar baskets at Motel 6; however these bargain hotel soaps were about a quarter of the size. It was soap for Barbie dolls. That night I used one to bathe, and it ended up disintegrating into 4 smaller pieces which by morning had melted into nothingness.

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Toilet paper holder

 

 

The room was furnished with the kind of pieces you find in Pennysaver ads – “10 Piece Bedroom Set for only $399!!” – when you find that those many “pieces” include a pillow and an ashtray. It was made of particle board with wood grain lamination glued on. A thin bed spread covered the king sized bed, but three too-soft pillows were thrown together in a single pile as if another guest had taken a snooze (or something that required another guest as well) after the maid had cleaned it, which was kind of creepy if I stopped to think about it. That night I found a pubic hair on the sheet and instinctively brushed it to the floor before I could take a photo of it for this blog. I need to work on my creeped-out instincts so I can get an actual shot next time.

 

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This is how they make the bed

The alarm clock was digital, but circa mid ‘80’s, and I found that it wasn’t broken as I originally thought. It just wasn’t plugged in. The reason it wasn’t plugged in was that there was only one available outlet within reach of both the air conditioning unit and the alarm clock. Guests would have to choose whether they’d rather swelter/freeze or wake up to a local DJ.

 

I moved the alarm clock to an outlet across the room and found that although the wake function worked perfectly, the off button did not, so the only way to shut off the sound was by turning the volume all the way down (which would defeat the wake function), or just unplugging it, which is probably why it was unplugged in the first place.

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The tv

A few months ago we finally donated our outdoor patio television to the electronic waste pile. It was too old and too small.

The hotel tv was older and smaller.

The reception of the lower channels like 2, 3, 4 and 5 were grainy dots. As the channels went up, the dots turned to grainy lines. The same episode of Modern Family aired on channels 2, 5 and 13. There was a card with a channel directory and I was thrilled to see that this cheap hotel actually had HBO, so I clicked it on hoping to catch Game of Thrones, but instead found some nudity of a less medieval kind.

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HBO Channel 28 is porn

A topless blonde with breasts as large as yoga balls was standing in front of a chalkboard wearing a turn of the century professor’s cap. She wrote the word “come” on the board, but she used a different vowel and dropped the “e” and I suddenly was worried if that there really was some hotel night shift pervert watching in-room surveillance cameras, I didn’t want him (or her) thinking a was a porn fan, so I turned off the tv.

 

The bedside table contained an expected pen that actually did write after a couple of tries, and a 2×3 inch notepad with four sheets of paper. Like the mini soap, this was a notepad for Barbie dolls. No phonebook. No Gideon Bible. No “Things to do when you’re in our quaint little town” brochure. Which is ok, since I wasn’t planning to find the Lord or anything else that weekend beside my daughter’s dorm room.

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Balcony door

My room contained a balcony, and since I was on the 5th floor, I thought it might be fun to step out and enjoy the view. There was a light switch for the balcony, but it was impossible to turn on because there was no light bulb. And even though there were instructions on how to open the balcony door (“To lock – turn down; To open – turn up”) there was just a hole where the lever should have been. It’s just as well. The balcony was just 18 inches wide, which made it seem more like a ledge than a balcony. Also, there was a fight breaking out outside the bar across the street and it was getting pretty loud – even from inside the hotel. Later it got even noisier when a couple of cop cars arrived. It was probably safer to stay inside.

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No light bulb

 

Even though I was unable to get outside, some unexpected guests somehow found their way in. I discovered a very odd, very large bug on the ceiling. I slid the desk chair over and managed to swat it with my shoe, and down it came with more of the ceiling cottage cheese. One of the bug’s buddies arrived the next night. Same spot. Like it was a bug hangout.

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Big bug on the cottage cheese ceiling

 

Because I’m a prima donna and like to surround myself with pillows (my poor husband typically gets only about an 8-inch strip of space on the edge of the bed), I climbed down to the front desk to ask for another pillow. The desk clerk very nicely informed me that they did not have extra pillows. I asked if I could have an extra ice bucket (the one in my room was only slightly larger than a coffee cup) but apparently they don’t have extra ice buckets either.

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Ice machine

Speaking of ice, as I mentioned earlier, the note on the 5th floor brass sign had said that the ice machine was on the 2nd floor, but when I went to the 2nd floor, I found a broken ice machine with a handwritten note that said “Ice Machine – 1st floor.” I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt. When I finally found the ice machine, I discovered that although it did technically make ice, the mechanism to break the ice into cubes was clearly on the fritz, and the cubes were all bonded together like a Hershey’s chocolate bar you break up for s’mores.

 

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No Wi-Fi

Although the hotel boasts that it has Wi-Fi, the signal wasn’t strong enough for my laptop to log onto the Internet, so I had to use my iPhone as a hotspot. I guess the naked girl with the big ta-tas on tv was supposed to be the Wi-Fi compensation.

 

The hotel’s website also lists a pool and exercise room, but when I went down to take a dip, I discovered that the pool was completely covered. “It’s the end of October,” you may argue, “so don’t criticize the hotel for closing the pool early for the winter.”

I would buy this argument except for one thing: it’s an indoor pool.

As for the exercise room, although my card key showed a green light that should open the room, the door appeared to be deadlocked. There was a small window so I tried to peek inside, but I couldn’t see anything because the light was off. The same thing happened Friday night, and Saturday as well. Maybe it wasn’t an exercise room at all. Maybe it was the office of Norman Bates, just waiting for some innocent gal to come in late at night and sweat to the oldies. Finally on Sunday morning I stopped by and the light was actually on and I saw that they really did have an exercise room. It consisted of a single treadmill, circa 1985. And a sofa – where someone was probably sleeping the three previous nights.

The second night of my stay my room key card suddenly wouldn’t work, and when I asked the desk clerk for a new one, she apologized and said, “Sorry… yeah, that happens all the time.” Good thing I had no valuables. This obviously wasn’t the kind of hotel that would have a safe.

The second card key did work, but the light switch didn’t. It was a bit scary walking into my hotel room in the dark, and with the toilet running, it sounded like someone was in the bathroom taking a leak. I turned on the bathroom light and saw that the only intruder was another bug spinning round and round the toilet bowl. I obviously had forgotten to turn off the toilet water when I left, and had also turned off the lamp that was connected to the wall switch. Who would have guessed that the switch was connected to a light that could be manually turned off? Good for surprise parties. Bad for women traveling alone in scary hotels.

On Sunday morning I checked out and said goodbye to the friendly desk clerk. Besides the cut-rate price, she was the only decent thing about the hotel. In 3 days’ time, I saved nearly $50 over the Super 8, but on the other hand, I hoped that the grungy hotel didn’t transmit a contagious disease that would force me to pay the $100 deductible at the emergency hospital when I got home.

My final thoughts: A 3 star rating is just too generous for this hotel. And I have a newfound gratitude for my own messy home, where I have extra pillows and the stray hairs belong to my husband.

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Monopoly’s Iron Gets Burned By a Kitten

no iron

This week, the 78-year old game of Monopoly retired its iron game piece, replacing it with a cat.

From January 8th through February 5th of this year, Monopoly’s Facebook page held a “Save Your Token” contest to choose the game piece that would be retired and the token that would replace it. Apparently a tool manufacturer and Zappos raged campaigns to protect the potentially endangered wheelbarrow and boot, but no sweatshops spoke up for the antiquated 18th century iron. The remaining pieces include the thimble, the race car, the Scottie dog, the battleship and the top hat.monopoly-token-replacement-top630

Do you see a theme with these tokens? Neither do I.

I have a bone to pick about the Monopoly tokens. As much as my siblings and I used to fight about who gets the dog or the race car, there really is no rhyme or reason as to what these pewter shapes have to do with buying hotels, mortgaging houses, or getting financially wiped out just by landing in the wrong neighborhood.thumb

So you would think if Parker Brothers was making the effort to change the pieces, they’d choose ones that had something to do with vacation spots, refis, or evil landlords.

new-monopoly-pieces-2012Nope.

The runners-up for the new game pieces included a guitar, a diamond ring, a helicopter, and a robot.

The helicopter would have been consistent with the race car and battleship modes of transportation, but it’s still a bit of a stretch for a vacationing theme.

Without a flat surface, the guitar game piece would have been awkward to keep upright, and no one but unemployed musicians would have chosen the token. On the other hand, unemployed musicians are exactly the demographic that would have time to play three-day marathons of Monopoly.luxury

The diamond ring would have been a bit redundant since Monopoly already features a picture of a diamond ring on its Luxury Tax space. And for this 1934 board game, a robot is completely incongruous. The robot might be more comfortable in a 1960’s era game like Battleship, which would be the appropriate place to send both the robot and the battleship.

I’m not surprised the cat won the honor of newest game piece. I’m picturing millions of spinsters with their apartments full of cats spending endless hours playing Monopoly with other spinster cat lovers, writing fan mail to Parker Brothers and pressing the “Like” button multiple times on Facebook as they begged for the Monopoly moguls to ditch one of the original game pieces in favor of their precious Fluffy or Snowball.

catBut Monopoly already had a dog. And now there’s a cat. The game is moving further away from a hotel stay and closer to a trip on Noah’s Ark. Before you know it, they’ll have Facebook competitions with fans voting for alligators, baboons, and giant anacondas – all critters you’d rather not see when you check into your room in Marvin Gardens.monopoly_token_thimble

It’s ironic that Parker Brothers is retiring the iron, since that seems to be the most practical piece you would find in one of Monopoly’s hotels. Would someone really pay a whopping $400 to check into Boardwalk and ask the concierge for a thimble? Obviously someone who can afford that kind of cash during the Depression could certainly pay someone to hem a pair of trousers. boardwalk+monopoly+10+x+8Would they ever have use for a wheelbarrow? Not unless they’re checking into Park Place to have an affair with the groundskeeper.

If the great minds behind Monopoly actually put some thought into it, they’d keep the iron and expand the array of playing pieces to include other items you would ordinarily see in a Barbie Dream househotel. Perhaps a bed. It could double up as a piece of furniture for Barbie’s Dream House whenever Barbie has dwarves or elves as houseguests.

Maybe Monopoly could create one of those hotel desks that offers a complimentary pen and pad of insignia paper. After all, a desk has four legs and therefore would be a good sprinter in case a player drew the card: “Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”

jailMy Monopoly game would also have a Gideon Bible game token. It would be a good piece to have if you are suffering from mixed emotions because your loved one landed on one of your hotels and doesn’t have enough cash to pay up. You’re not an evil landlord. You just have land and the Lord.

Although a nice flat screen tv might be a common item in some of the more affluent hotels in the Monopoly green and blue colored neighborhoods, its thin rectangular shape might be awkward to maneuver around the board. I would suggest an old fashioned box-like tv, complete with rabbit ears. It’s probably the current model you’d find in some of the no-tell motels you’d find when landing on the $2 a night spot on Mediterranean Avenue.Mediterranean+Avenue

The final Monopoly game piece I would add for my travels from hotel to hotel would be a suitcase. It would be large enough to take home all the complimentary hotel shampoos, soaps, shower cap, and bath towels.

I was just kidding about the bath towels. Kind of.

Be prepared for the next Facebook contest to remove one of the Chance cards in favor of the this updated instruction:

“Take Trip with Cat and Pay $50 Hotel Pet Deposit.”

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The Happiest Place on Earth Meets the Most Crowded Place on Earth

Our family in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Our family in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

In 2006 when my son Jake was born I invented a fantasy about Fantasyland. My dream was that in the year 2012 we would take the whole family to Disney World. By then, Jake would be 6, Mary aged 12 and Emily would be a ripe teenager of 16. It would be the perfect storm of kid’s ages to enjoy a week of amusement parks.

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The family posing in a Toon Town car

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. In my wildest dreams, short of winning lotto, there’s no way in hell that we could afford a flight to Orlando, a week-long stay at one of the Disney Resorts and 7 days at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and of course my favorite – Epcot. The cost would total even more than the student loan I started repaying in 2010, and I have a hard time even paying that.

Instead, we decided that in lieu of Christmas presents, this year we would spend a day at Disneyland.

Our family posing in front of the Christmas tree at Main Street

Our family posing in front of the Christmas tree at Main Street

In high school and college I worked at Disneyland’s Hungry Bear Restaurant. Although the tasks and responsibilities were exactly the same as my previous job at Carl’s Jr. (take an order, upsell a dessert, take money, hand customer a burger and fries, move on to next customer), it was a really treat to work at the Happiest Place on Earth. I wore a costume, not a uniform, I was a cast member, not an employee, and the people paying for my slightly-above-minimum-wage salary were guests, not customers. This was before Tokyo Disneyland was built, so there were huge crowds of Japanese with cameras who loved having me pose with them in photos. I used to joke that I was mounted with a magnet on every refrigerator in Japan.

The famous shot of Walt Disney with a strategically-placed Mickey Mouse

The famous shot of Walt Disney with a strategically-placed Mickey Mouse

I still love Disneyland, which is exactly 41 miles southeast of our home. Tickets are now $87 for everyone 10 and over and $81 for ages 3-9. Parking is $15. So for my family, including my mother-in-law Lina (it’s our Christmas present to her), to just get into the park, we’d have to fork out $531. If you add gas at $3.69 a gallon and my minivan, which gets 14 miles to the gallon, you can tack on another $21.61. And if you really care about that, proceed to my previous blog post ($ ÷ Gallon) x (Miles ÷ Gallon) = LA Gasoline Anxiety.

I posted a request on Facebook asking if anyone knew of any good Disneyland deals. My friend Jeanne could get $6 off each ticket with her Disney Employee discount, but I would have to pay cash, and unfortunately we just don’t have it in the bank. I ended up getting about $3 off each ticket by being a member of the TV Academy, which would end up paying for the hot chocolate everyone enjoyed at around 10:00 pm on the day of our visit.

The crowd in New Orleans Square

The crowd in New Orleans Square

We decided to go to Disneyland on the Thursday between Christmas and New Year’s because the kids were off school and Tom and Lina were off work. I knew it would be busy, but I figured we’d stay until midnight when the park closed and it would just be a given that we would be spending a lot of time waiting.

We left at 8:15 am and arrived at the parking line at 9:30 am. One thing I love about Disneyland is its efficiency. There is an actual Disneyland exit from the 5 Freeway car pool lane that takes you directly to the parking garage. The line of cars was like a championship freeway series game between the Dodgers and the Angels – times about 10. I wish I had taken a photo for proof.

2 hour wait for Space Mountain

2 hour wait for Space Mountain

We entered the gates of Disneyland at about 10:45 am. All the medium and large lockers were taken, so we crammed all our jackets into two small lockers at $7 each. Jake’s now too big for the stroller, which used to serve as a large locker; mega-size if we stashed our loot in the seat of the stroller and made him walk.

I have never in my life seen Disneyland so crowded. Everywhere we went was like a wall of people. I felt sorry for anyone in a wheelchair or someone with a stroller – especially a double stroller. They were just stranded in place, as if they’d brought along Disney’s tar baby from The Song of the South.

160 minute wait time for Indiana Jones

160 minute wait time for Indiana Jones

The must-see ride on our list was Indiana Jones, so we migrated there first. The wait time was a staggering 160 minutes, which is mind boggling since the actual Indiana Jones movies aren’t even that long. We grabbed a fast pass which would allow us a short line, but we had to use it after 5:45.

I’ve heard that the unofficial maximum capacity of this 60 acre park is 85,000, and I would swear that on Thursday that number was exceeded. The mob became so dense the Disneyland employees (I mean cast members) were recruited for crowd control. They roped off sections of New Orleans Square and directed pedestrian traffic to the right and left, with no left turns allowed. Frankly I was expecting the crowd to riot, but everyone was surprisingly well behaved.

The wait time for the Jungle Cruise has a hand-written 60 minutes. The available cards only went to 50 minutes

The wait time for the Jungle Cruise has a hand-written 60 minutes. The available cards only went to 50 minutes

The Alice in Wonderland ride had a posted wait time of 60 minutes. We had been waiting for about a half hour when the ride stopped. The loudspeaker announced that due to technical difficulties, the ride would be closed for about 20 minutes. I expected a mass exodus but no – everyone continued to wait patiently in line. I thought there would be crying babies, wining toddlers, and bitchy parents, but apparently I was the only one. The Happiest Place on Earth was magically breeding happy customers (I mean guests).

I thought the crowd would die down once the children under 10 became tired and cranky, but they ended up being replaced by teenagers who arrived in the early evening.  It didn’t start thinning out until after 10:30 at night, but even then the lines for the prime E ticket rides were over an hour.

The shortest wait time in the park - 40 minutes for the Gadget's Go Coaster in Toon Town

The shortest wait time in the park – 40 minutes for the Gadget’s Go Coaster in Toon Town

We got in line for our last ride, Star Tours, just before midnight. After getting bounced around along with C3PO and R2D2, we joined the enormous throng at 12:30 am walking down Main Street and exiting the gates of Disneyland. We waited for three trams before it was our turn to board.

We didn’t get home until a quarter of two in the morning. Tom drove, and I fell asleep the moment we got on the 5 Freeway and didn’t awaken until we got off the freeway. My husband is a prince (see proof of it in my earlier post My Husband Loves Me More Than Your Husband Loves You.”)

Lina, Jake & Mary in Toon Town

Lina, Jake & Mary in Toon Town

The entire trip including food and a souvenir for each of the kids (two caps and a mug) probably totaled about $800, a little more than we would have spent on Christmas gifts for everyone, but well worth the price of the memories.

Every one of my children stayed awake until the very end – even my 6-year old Jake who not once complained about being tired, bored, or hungry. Mary was a little annoyed that we didn’t get to ride Space Mountain which had a 50 minute wait time at 11:55 pm. No yelling. No tantrum. But she stopped holding my hand. That’s how I knew she was mad. Throughout the day, Emily kept thanking me for the wonderful Christmas present. And of all the possible souvenirs she was able to pick out, the only thing she wanted was a Pirates mug.

I love my kids. Wherever I am, if my children are with me, that’s the Happiest Place on Earth.

The unhappiest place at the Happiest Place on Earth - the smoking area

The unhappiest place at the Happiest Place on Earth – the smoking area

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Be Prepared: Massacring the Boy Scout Motto on a Cub Scout Campout

Last week I went on my very first Cub Scout campout. More specifically, I went on my very first Cub Scout campout with my 5-year old son Jake, which makes it sound so much more legitimate than the singular “I,” which would have been really creepy. My daughters spent the weekend with my ex, so Jake and I brought along my current husband, mostly because he is also Jake’s dad. (I like saying “current” husband because it’s fun to watch the troubled look on people’s faces when I say it, and fortunately Tom’s got a great sense of humor so he doesn’t care).

Because I have been incredibly uptight for pretty much my entire life, I’ve been making a point of not taking life so seriously by not over-thinking everything. I tell myself this in retrospect, because the cold hard truth is, I didn’t spend as much time and thought as I should have on packing for this camping trip.

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” so I figured that if I forgot anything, these responsible scouts would probably have it in spades. And they did turn out to be quite well stocked when it came to preparedness items like a first aid kit, fishing bait and new batteries for a dead flashlight. However, Camp Whitsett is a far cry from Motel 6, so if I thought that they might have something like a spare disposable shower cap, I was sadly mistaken. Fortunately for me, I didn’t take a shower the entire 3-day span. Unfortunately for my fellow campers, I didn’t take a shower the entire… you get the picture. Or at least you can picture the smell. By the last day, I literally felt like Charlie Brown’s buddy Pig Pen with a putrid path of stinky stench trailing my every step, followed by a tornado of flies.

Naturally a Native American or Aborigine can survive in the Mojave Desert or Australian Outback with just a spear and a loincloth, but I’m a 21st century woman with survival skills that don’t run past the BRAT diet or placing the Magic Mommy kiss on a boo boo, so my haphazard packing skills could actually affect the safety, well-being and comfort of the rest of my family. Here were some of my packing faux pas:

The first night, I unwrapped a sleeping bag from the plastic kitchen grocery bag I store it in and found that instead of grabbing the sleeping bag, I packed our 6-foot stuffed Frankenstein’s Monster from Halloween. Besides not being very functional, it’s really not the face you want to see late at night in your flashlight beam when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

I ended up stealing Tom’s sleeping bag and being the manly man that he is, he forged his bedding from a couple of bath towels. I also didn’t pack his toothbrush or a jacket, and I mistakenly brought Emily’s water shoes instead of his. On the other hand, my 16-year old’s feet may actually be bigger than my husband’s.

Because my summer attire traditionally consists of a camisole and yoga pants, that’s what I packed for clothes. The outfits came in a variety of colors, and I thought I was so fancy by bringing one extra combination in case of an emergency. However, I had no cover-up to protect my torso from the sun except for a hooded sweatshirt which would have been unbearably hot since the mercury hovered over 90 degrees every day. And it took only about two seconds of actual camping for me to realize that I really should have packed a pair of pants with some pockets. I went through my cargo pants stage only a few years ago, so you’d think I’d know better. Instead, I improvised by stashing bottled water, the camp itinerary, my camera, sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses and my hat in places like my socks, my waistband and my cleavage.

A few weeks ago my family and I spent three nights in Palm Springs and Tom, Mary and Jake had all purchased new sun tops in red, yellow, and blue respectively. I nicknamed this crew The Primary Colors, and when they traveled in a pack around the pool it was easy to spot them. For the camping trip I packed Tom’s and Jake’s shirts, but instead of grabbing Jake’s blue, I packed Mary’s yellow, so Jake spent the entire weekend in a sun shirt that stretched down to his knees.

One thing I deliberately didn’t pack was our tent since we were told that the camp contained not only tents, but also cots. It sounded so luxurious – as if Camp Whitsett would be like Lexus camping rather than VW Bug camping. It turned out to be more of the VW variety – and not like the recent Beetle model but rather more akin to the beater VW van that needs to be pushed down a slope and kicked into gear to get started. The tents were the Army reject variety with occasional holes, placed over punctured plywood. Their canvas bottom edges didn’t quite reach to the ground so any number of small creatures and giant insects could wander in and cozy up. The cots were made of metal springs that were so stretched by decades of overweight Den Leaders that it was like sleeping in a hammock. There was a thin ancient mattress over the cot, but it still didn’t keep me from lying down and having my butt immediately fall to within an inch of the floor. Fortunately the stuffed Frankenstein’s Monster came in handy. I shoved him under the mattress and it filled the gap made by the sagging cot. Almost. I couldn’t flatten Frankie out evenly, so it felt like I was sleeping on a pad covering several rolling anthills. And frankly, with the number of stray bugs in the tent, that might not have been far from the truth.

Overall it was great fun and a terrific learning experience about what to pack for our next camping trip which takes place in only a couple of months. The first week of November we’ll be roughing it at Catalina Island’s Emerald Bay. After hearing stories from the other Cub Scout parents about the choppy boat ride to the island, there’s only one thing I know I absolutely must be prepared to pack for that trip:

Dramamine.

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SPF: Severe Pigment Fry

Ouch! Where’s the aloe vera?

As a kid, during the summer months my skin perpetually existed in three distinct states: burn; blister; or peel.

This was before suntan lotions had SPF ratings. SPF actually stands for Sun Protection Factor, a standard that really should more accurately be called I Wish I was Born an African American to Why Wasn’t I Born an Albino?

Growing up in sunny Orange County, we often spent the day at the beach. Even though there were four of us kids and we were just a year apart, my mom managed to coat us all with Coppertone to keep us from burning. Yet an 11:00 am to 5:00 pm shift of building sand castles and collecting shells in the hot Southern California sun turned us all into lobsters. It was a miserable trip home with all of us sweaty and sandy and feeling the effects of first degree burns covering 80 percent of our bodies.

Before the magical natural use of aloe vera, everyone used Solarcaine, which felt cool when it was sprayed on, but I’m not sure if it actually did anything.

We winced a lot and walked around with our arms partly outstretched, and it was difficult to fall asleep on sheets that suddenly seemed unbearably rough as sandpaper. We observed the places where blisters appeared – our noses, our backs, our bellies. Once when I was 13 and my bosoms were blossoming, a one-inch wide and two-inch tall sunburn blister appeared directly between the two larger sprouts. My mom nicknamed it my third boob.

Eventually the blisters would pop – either as a natural progression of healing, or more likely because we decided to pop them ourselves as a science experiment to see what lied underneath the bubble (always something gooey and gross).

In a few days, the neon red color would start to fade and our skin would begin to peel. This was my favorite part. And I don’t mean favorite as in a favorite stuffed animal or a favorite ice cream flavor. I was literally obsessed about peeling skin. As we watched television, we’d take turns sitting astride each other’s butts and peel our sibling’s backs. My brother and sisters and I would have contests on who could tear the longest peel. Sometimes we’d save the peel as if it was a prized souvenir. To this day I love to peel things – wallpaper, glue, hangnails. I really should look into a 12-step program for my peeling disorder.

Camping at the beach with my sister and the nieces

From May through September, my nose was one permanent scab. I wore zinc oxide, which for a short time seemed cool because that’s what the foxy lifeguards wore on their noses, but looking back, I think I more resembled a failed mime.

In my teens, I switched from Coppertone to Hawaiian Tropic in an effort to attain the perfect tan. It was an impossible dream. My Irish/Scotch/Finnish lineage guaranteed that the only thing brown on my skin would be my freckles. I dreamed that one day I’d get so many freckles that they’d blend together and become a true tan, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Emily with her porcelain skin

Hawaiian Tropic was later discarded for pure baby oil as I deliberately fried myself in the sun. Once I got past the burn-blister-peel cycle, I actually acquired an honest to goodness tan one summer, but it proved to be way too much work. It required riding the bus for an hour to Newport Beach and lying all day with my fingers outstretched so I would tan in between them, and turning every 20 minutes like a rotisserie chicken to maintain and even color. The bus ride back was an hour and a half, and an hour of it was standing room only with my bottoms full of sand, carrying my towel, beach chair and baby oil, and hoping that I wouldn’t blister.

Mary – my freckle-faced beauty

Thankfully I started a long line non-stop jobs and didn’t have the time to work so hard on my tan. Looking back, I am truly grateful for this calamity as it’s the principal reason my skin isn’t wrinkled like a prune today.

These days I wear sunglasses and a hat outdoors. My daily moisturizer and lip balm both have built-in sunscreens, and I coat my kids in SPF 70 whenever we’re outdoors for any extended period of time. My almost 16-year old Emily has beautiful porcelain skin, and she wants to keep it that way. My daughter Mary has the most adorable freckles, but any time her pediatrician sees them multiplying, the doctor reprimands me like a bad dog, so I try to keep her coated as well.

Jake – the Whitest Boy in America

My son Jake is so white he is nearly translucent. I don’t know if they make SPF 100, but if they do, it would be because they had Jake – the whitest boy in America – in mind when they created it.

Last week we went camping at the beach with my sister Tammie, who is to this day a bona fide sun worshipper. If she was matched with a Sherwin-Williams paint chip, she would be French Roast. Tammie wore her SPF 2 cooking oil while I plastered on the SPF 50-70 variety of creams, sprays and lotions. And yet, somehow I was burnt to a crisp. Not blister-burnt like the old days, thank goodness, but burnt enough to have it smart, and red enough to need regular coatings of aloe vera.

Tammie sun bathing

But now I have mixed emotions. I want my skin to heal and go back to my 21st century acceptable pale complexion.

On the other hand, I’m dying to peel my back.

Maybe I should look into those Peeler Anonymous meetings.

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Vacationing Around the World Via Green Screen

Our family enjoying Splashtopia while we vacation at Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage.

I’m not much of a world traveler. My last passport expired in 1988 and I haven’t even been on a plane since before 9/11. But last Saturday at the Colfax World Fair, photographer Craig Damon gave me and my kids the opportunity to travel throughout the world without paying for airport parking or experiencing a minute of jetlag.

Jake and I walked over 5,000 miles along the Great Wall of China, but on the way back he said he was too tired, so I had to carry him.

Here Jake and I are at the Taj Mahal. I stopped him just in time before he drew a picture of SpongeBob in Sharpie on the mausoleum.

Mary and I traveled to Egypt to see the pyramids. She was very disappointed that there was no casino with an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Now we’re swimming with the fishes in the beautiful Caribbean. Pretty cool that our clothes never got wet.

Mary and I were amazed at the height of the Eiffel Tower. We tasted about 50 different kids of cheese and then the next day we were completely constipated.

Jake was really excited about visiting Mount Rushmore because he learned about it on an episode of Phineas and Ferb. Jake figured that they were the ones who took away the presidents’ bodies.

Being the teenager that she is, Emily didn’t really want to travel the world with her uncool mom, so I convinced her to join me on a trip to Titus – Saturn’s largest moon. Unfortunately Emily forgot to pack the lower half of her body. Either that or Phineas and Ferb stole it too, and are hiding it somewhere near Mount Rushmore.

You would think that with all this traveling I would have thought to bring a change of clothes.

Next year at the Colfax World Fair I’m hoping that Craig takes me on a trip to Tahiti. Maybe for that vacation I’ll take my husband and leave the kids at the fair.

I invite you to take a look at the vlog I created for YouTube’s MomPulse network in which I talk about my favorite family vacation spot – Rancho Las Palmas’s Spashtopia in Palm Desert: Vacationing Around the World Via Green Screen.mov

Darn! The whole thing is two frames out of sync. Maybe if you watch when you’re really tired or really drunk you won’t notice.

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