Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Honeymooning in Hawaii

Tom and I decided to go to Maui for our honeymoon. We wanted to go someplace exotic but we really did not have much vacation time as I had already allocated all mine to JCI trips to Panama, Korea and India. After a long flight we arrived to the airport where we had arranged for a greeter to meet us with leis and help us with our luggage and get us to the rental car place. Off like bats out of hell, guess where we went first? Borders! Can you believe we fly 3,500 miles and we go check the candy displays at Borders? We spoke with the manager and the candy person and checked on inventory and such, how romantic. Did I mention that Borders has Starbuck's in their Hawaii stores??? Hence the true motivation to run right to Borders.

A couple of days later, Tom and I decided to bike down the Haleakala volcano. At the top at 4:30 in the morning, it was about 35 degrees so we were dressed for winter - in sweatshirts, coats, track pants, gloves, etc. We looked like Snowmen! As we cruised the 26 miles down the volcano back into town, it became progressively hotter, much hotter, like 50 degrees hotter. As we continued to ride, we were shedding clothes like strippers at a night club, off went the gloves, the sweatshirts flew off, the pants were relinquished to the back packs. By the time we reached the bottom, we were wearing just shorts and t-shirts and we were sweating our as*es off!

Next adventure, a submarine ride to the bottom of the ocean floor - 132 feet below sea level. We started off the day looking like nerds - before we knew it, we were out the door with khaki shorts and orange shirts, looking like Twinkies, and not trying to. Before the submarine, we decided to have a snow cone to cool down. This snow cone must have been an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records - it was nearly as big as Tom's head! After dominating the snow cone and throwing about 3/4 of it away, it was off to sing corny songs on the submarine "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's a moray" every time we saw a moray eel.

Maui was a blast and we can not wait to go back. Watch out for the Road to Hana and the Road around the northwestern part of the island, we risked life and limb to do those, but that is a tale for another day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Do I Get Myself Into These Situations?

Spas are cool. I love to get massages, facials, manicures, pedicures. If I were rich, I would definitely be there multiple times a week. Wherever I go, I try to find new and unique spas to try. Spas are suppose to be serene and calming but often times drama ensures. Go figure!

Let's start with Lucky Nails in Cypress (L.A.) where Wendy and I visited frequently. We became their regulars and they badgered us every time asking "Do you want flower?" No, we do not want freakin' flowers on our toes. We want a plain pedicure and we want you to stop talking and laughing at us in Vietnamese. We do not have ugly feet, we keep up with our services, we are not circus freaks.

Moving north in California to Napa Valley, my ex and I decided to go to mud baths. Bad idea! I do not like sand in my bathing suit at the beach and I certainly do not like mud in all my bits and pieces. There was nothing romantic is sitting in mud baths (that are probably reused) and then trying to get all the mud removed. It was excruciating and I do not recommend it to anyone! Do a couple's massage instead.

Off now to Las Vegas with Wendy and another friend where we went to Dejanel Spa. Given our excitable nature and the fact that we like to talk, we were yelled at and told "Girl's go to the meditation room!" We are paying you to yell at us? Really? As we sulked in silence and tried not to laugh out loud, the other guests rejoiced in our silence.

Finally, in Turkey I went to a hamman at the World Congress hotel in Anatalya. I chose the wet massage. After struggling to convey to the masseuse that I was going to keep my bathing suit ON for this service, it was an adventure. Water, bubbles, and towels were flying in this coed massage room (where there were many naked people who really should not have been naked.) I was massaged within an inch of my life and I was poked and prodded. When I was done, I swear I was married to my masseuse in at least 7 countries!

I long for a spa where I get the serenity and peacefulness of what they all promise! I want to relax and not get yelled at, not have to dig mud out of places where it should have never been and I want to keep my clothes on that I want to keep on! I want the blissful experience!

Monday, September 28, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things - Wine!

I love movies. I love books. I love cheesy TV. Traveling, chi chi things, and yummy restaurants are also tops. But Wine is Wonderful. I love to go on wine tasting tours - in Michigan, in California, wherever.

My first experience with true Wine Tasting was in Napa. Go big or go home! My ex-boyfriend and I went off to Napa where we spent 3 days visiting Domaine Chandon, Coppola, Beringer, Kunde, Mondavi and many other wineries. We were on a mission. One day we hit 9 wineries in a day and by the time we got to V Sattui for tasting, I was seriously tipsy. The wine pourer asked me if I had a designated driver before server me. It was only lunch time!

Then it was off to the Leelanau Wine Trail in Northern Michigan. I have been to these sooooo many times with Mary Jo, Wendy, Nicole, Lori, Fay, Linda, Melissa to name a few. We enjoy the chocolate at the Valentine's Day tasting, the appetizers in May, the pasta in the fall and the Christmas ornaments for the Toast the Season. We zig and zag, gig and jag as we navigate our way around the peninsula. The next winery is a mere little finger on the map from the last one. We go to Madaonna's Dad's winery and scream "Papa don't Preach, we're in trouble deep" every time and it never gets old! We eat too much cheese, get stomach aches and pass out early every time we go.

Fay, Shawn and I tried to wines of Temecula once where we decided that talking in British accents was the only way to sample wine. As we called all our friends who were working and left funny messages with accents, we sampled the selection of wine. I went off to the Santa Ynez valley with Alvin to sample wines. Anyone who knows Alvin knows that was not without a laugh or to as we visited wineries, went to Solvang (a CA Frankenmuth) and went to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in a little over 13 hours! I've stalked Andrew Firestone (from the Bachelor) and the Firestone Winery. I hit up some wineries near Portland Oregon and ended up a car ferry to cross 100 feet of river!

I love wineries; wineries love me! Off to search for my new favorite cab or pinot!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tales of the Taxi

I have a love/hate affair with taxis. They are convenient. They can still get stuck in traffic. They beat the heat of the summer. They can be smelly. They allow you more freedom than public transportation. They can be impossible to find when it is raining out.

Taxis can be dangerous (or at least the drivers driving them can be). My friend and fellow JCI Ben were in Monaco and had to go to Nice at 4 am to fly back to the States so our hosts arranged a taxi for us (since they were still partying). We crammed our enormous suitcases in to the taxi (mine definitely took up more space than his) and we were off. You would have thought we were on the Autobahn. We were zipping dangerously around curves in the French mountains. We were speeding on dark roads and God forbid if we met oncoming traffic or someone going too slow - we wove in and out of lanes like we were Mario Andretti. Ben and I had death grips on the holy shit handles and hoped we would make it to the airport in one piece (we knew we would be on time).

My husband Tom arrived in India after I did last fall and had to take a taxi from the airport at 1 in the morning. His first visit to a 3rd world country, he was leery, as we soon found out he should be. He did not get cheated out of money, as a voucher is pre-purchased, but he was almost cheated out of his dinner (as vomiting could have occurred) . The cab driver made the 45 minute drive from the airport to the hotel in 18 minutes. As Tom careened back and forth in the back seat, they dodged cows, rickshaws and elephants like they were playing Frogger.

Taxis can be used for odd events. In Panama, Lori, Lisa and I wanted to go to the Panama Canal so we hired a taxi for 3 hours. The driver drove us to the canal, we visited it, we ate lunch, and then the driver who would could not identify from sight came back up to us and asked if we were ready to go. I guess paying only 1/2 your fair up front helps keep the driver committed to you. It seemed odd to us to continue to pay a taxi driver to work for us while we were eating lunch, but everyone was doing it. When in Rome......

Taxis can be deceiving. This past weekend some friends who had over imbibed at Universal City Walk went to the taxi area, hopped in a yellow car and asked the driver to take them the 17 miles back to our hotel. When they got there, they asked, "How much?" The driver indicated, "I don't know, I am not a cab driver." What would possess someone to take my friends 17 miles without mentioning this???? They gave him $40 and got the hell out of there!

Finally, taxis can be downright unreliable. I was visiting NYC with an ex in December 2005 for a long weekend. We were having a great time until the last day. The taxi drivers decided to go on strike - there were NO taxis running in NYC. It felt like Armageddon. The streets were like canyons that you could run down, it had a Will Smith, I am Legend, feel. As we scrambled to find transportation to the airport, we cursed the taxis. How could the government let this happen? When thousands of taxis stop running, it impacts EVERYTHING!

Oh well, taxis are good, and taxis are bad. They make me curse, but they give me the freedom to explore!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fun with Fay

In honor of the US Jaycees convention this weekend, I thought I would share with you some of the wackiest stories from through out the years that Fay and I have been involved with. First up we were attending a convention in Sioux Falls, SD. WTF? Do they pick the most obscure, hardest places to get to? Why not NYC, Miami, someplace where there is stuff to do? No, that would be too expensive, but definitely more fun. One night, we were sitting in the lobby with our friend Scott and a few others when a random person, that we only knew by sight, from one of the western states came up and sat down and started participating in our private conversation. If that was not weird enough, he bent down, rubbed Scott's leg and said "You have such smooth legs." Who does that? I am sure the No Touching Rule was definitely made for situations like these. Fay and I were hysterical on the floor and drinks flew out our noses!

Next up was New Orleans for Met Net in 2005. We went out to Bourbon Street the first night and started drinking Hand Grenades. What are in these things? They taste like fruit juice but after like 4 you can not stand up! They are evil! It took us 2 days to recover!

Now for good ole Tulsa. I hate Tulsa! In my 11 years as a Jaycees I have been to Tulsa 9 times for trainings and conventions. There is not 9 trips worth of things to do in Tulsa, more like 9 minutes. Their airport is teeny. It does not take credit cards (my God, 3rd World countries take credit cards). The person who checked us in at the Northwest Ticket booth, also took our luggage, helped us board the plane and loaded the luggage onto the plane. Really, could you not hire 1 more person in case he needed to go to bathroom? That could seriously derail the departure process if he needed to pee.

Well let's see what Orlando will bring in our quest to serve the Jaycees!

Off to Florida again - blog will most likely resume on Monday, September 28th. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Am I Obsessed?

When my mother said to me a couple of years ago "Michelle you are kinda obsessive" I thought she was crazy. I do not wash my hands 10 times in a row or check the locks on the door 5 times before going to bed (maybe just twice) nor do I have odd habits that you would classify me as having OCD. But as I continued to think about this, maybe even obsessed a little over her comment, I decided I am not obsessive, I am just passionate and I am not a quitter.

Let's start with the Wilson Cake decorating classes. My friend Karen was the instructor so I decided to check out the basic class. Before you know it, I was knee deep in frosting, had invested $100s of dollars in equipment and were producing cakes on a weekly basis that ended up being devoured by my co-workers. Did I stop at one class? Of course not. There were 4 classes and I took them all. I learned to make fondant, flowers, layer cakes and designs. Do I use my skills very often? Heck no, it is too much work, but it is a skill that I whipped out to woo my boyfriend (now husband) on his first birthday together.

Now you know how I love TV. The cheesier the show, often the better. I started watching Gossip Girl and loved it! I want to be Blair - it almost makes me want to be back in high school. Serena is cool but a little too trusting and not smart enough for me. Well I found out this was based on a book and would you figure? I proceeded to read all 12 books in the series in 1 month much to my husband's chagrin. Never fear, the author has started 2 new books series that I am following avidly.

Twilight is another current passion. I was dragged to the first movie by my husband so we could spend time with our friends Ray and Meghan who were in town visiting. I don't like scary movies, I don't like blood and guts, and to me the only vampire worth thinking about is Lestat. But I went and when the lights came up and my husband looked at me, eyes wide open, he said, "You are obsessed, aren't you?" What? Why would you think that? Because I dragged him to the 3 Borders stores in Ann Arbor looking for the deluxe box set? Because I made him scour all the NYC stores when he was there for work and snagged the last 1 in Manhattan mere days before Christmas? Because I made him carry the set, did I mention it is a deluxe set on the plane instead of checking it, so the luggage handlers and inspectors would steal it? I think not. It is just a really good story.

So maybe people think I am obsessed, I prefer to think of it as passionate about things I like. I don't 1/2 read a book, or 1/2 watch a movie, I am certainly not going to leave a series not fully read or a class/skill not fully conquered. That's just how I roll.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Year's Eve - Bring a Clock!

In 1998, my boyfriend at the time and I went to Las Vegas for New Year's. The week went well, and we were psyched to party in Vegas on New Year's Eve. We went to dinner and thronged to the Strip like hundreds of thousands of other people. We planted ourselves outside Caesar's Palace and things started to get crazy. People climbed onto the roof of Caesar's and were dancing on the chariots. People were dancing in the street and it was like Mardi Gras. A car got turned over like a riot was occurring. The excitement was palpable and a wee back scary!

As it got closer to midnight, there was a problem. There was no clock or no count down screen anyplace. WTF? Are they amateurs? How can you count down to midnight when no one knows when to start the count down? Time Square this set up was not. As I started to panic (there is only 1 chance for a NYE kiss) we checked our watches. Of course, we had different times. We asked people passing us and the times varied widely. What to do? I fought through the crowd, like a salmon swimming upstream, and reached a phone booth. I called the operator and asked for the time. It was after 12! We had missed midnight, ugh! No more Vegas for me on NYE, I am boycotting!

This past weekend, 18 of us went to Put in Bay, an island off of Ohio. On Saturday night, there was a street party called "New Year's Eve" oddly reminiscent of the Vegas experience of 11 years ago. Drunk people in the street, moving in mobs, in and out of bars. As midnight approached, we made our way to the Gazebo for some electric Lemonade. Again no clock, no countdown screen. Are these people this unorganized? Really? This is actually happening to me again. This time I was armed with my cell phone so I watched it and announced to our group when midnight struck so we could all toast. Feeling content that we made the best of the unimpressive situation, we continued our partying.

At 12:04, the DJ says "It's almost midnight - it's time to start the countdown." Was he sleeping? How do you miss it by 4 minutes? Why even bother to announce midnight that after the fact? So we counted down again, made another toast and laughed hysterically at the stupidity of the situation!

So please, if you are going to host a NYE event, please, please get a clock or a count down board or at least watch your watch. It's only midnight on NYE once a year, don't mess it up!

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Happens in Vegas....Becomes a Blog!

A few years ago, Wendy, another friend of ours, her brother Steve, her now ex-husband, her parents and I decided to make a trip to Vegas for Steve's 21st birthday. First mistake, never take a 21 year old to Vegas. It was 3 days after he was legal to drink and he is quite a character anyways, so we were setting ourselves up for trouble. One of the nights, it was getting late and everyone wanted to go to bed except Steve. Since Wendy and I were single we were left to "watch him" aka make sure he did not get arrested.

We were staying at the Flamingo and we made the trek down to NY, NY. Do you know how far that is in heels? Freakin' far! Steve wanted to gamble and Wendy and I wanted to explore so we parked him at a Blackjack table, gave him our cell numbers and told him to call us if he got up and left the table, even if it was just to go to the bathroom. About an hour later we were heading back to the table and flirting with some guys from Chicago when we heard a ruckus. A dealer was speaking loudly to one of the players - "Sir, you can not call people retarded!" As we glanced over, this was meant for Steve.

As we hurried over to Steve's table - did I tell you our feet really hurt - we found out that Steve had drank about 9 Yeager bombs while we were gone. Steve is tall but not 9 Yeager bombs tall, it was clear that he was quite inebriated. As Steve saw us approach, he got up (cards and all) and started to approach us. That is when the pit boss and security got involved since it is quite a NO NO to leave the table with your cards. After ushering him back to the table, we decided this should be his last game and it was really time to go to bed.

Now the fun began. Tell me how fun it is to walk about 1 1/2 miles with a drunk person saying inappropriate things to passerby's while continuing to drink when our feet hurt? I tell you it was an experience. We were laughing our asses off one minute, mortified the next and pissed within the next 60 seconds. When we finally got back to the hotel, we wrote Steve's room number on his hand. Wendy and I were on a different floor and we were too tired (it was 4 am at this time) to walk him the hundred miles from the elevator to his room. So we shoved him out of the elevator, told him to go directly to his room and prayed we would see him in the morning. Steve appeared around 12 the following afternoon wearing dark sun glasses. Our friend and her parents came armed with the story of an "incident" in the halls at 4 am where someone was knocking on every door looking for his parents.

That night, Wendy and I were not placed on Steve duty!

Note: Off to Put in Bay for vacation - blog will resume on Tuesday, September 22nd.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Am I in a Movie or is This Actually Happening?

This story starts out in L.A. Can you tell that I spent way too much time in L.A. for work? Wendy and I had flown in from a weekend in Vegas (some may use the phrase "bender", I prefer the term "girl's weekend") and we had a day to play before resuming work on Tuesday. We decided to make the most of the day. We went straight from the airport to Santa Monica Pier at 8:30 a.m. Who goes there at that time? Apparently only crazies like us as the place was dead. I mean a cemetery sees more action than the pier at this time but alas we decided to make the best of it. We walked around and then engaged in a heated competition of Skeeball. I barely won, but eeked it out at the last minute.

Next up in our day of fun was Mr. Chow's for lunch. Now this is one of those restaurants always in the rags where celebrities have lunch so we said why not? As we got seated and started to look around, we spotted the mother load. Robin Williams was sitting a mere 2 tables away. We wanted to rush over and talk to him, my God, it was Robin Williams after all. He had been at the Oscars last night (of course we watched) and on the Today Show this morning. Wendy and I had met celebrities before but this was a HUGE score. However, we had to restrain ourselves. We were afraid of getting kicked out BEFORE we were able to eat lunch. RW (our nickname for our new BFF) was off to bathroom and I stealthily followed him and exchanged a hello. We tried to play it cool the rest of the lunch, but we wanted to call EVERYONE and scream really loud. As we were waiting for our car to be brought up by the valet, out walked RW. We knew this was our chance. Wendy asked him if we could get a picture and he said yes. RW is very short, I am the same height as he is. His picture still hangs in my work cube!

As we drove away from the restaurant screaming like school girls, we immediately called Randy (Wendy's brother and someone who would totally appreciate our star encounter) and we shouted in incoherent sentences what had happened. All of a sudden, police cars and SWAT teams barreled past us and set up a road block. What was going on? Were we in a movie? The next thing we know they were police men getting out of their vehicles with machine guns and were charging into a building. Dorothy, we were not in Kansas anymore, we were in a shoot out. As we hung up on Randy screaming about machine guns, we OJ Simpsoned car chased it out of their as fast as our car would take us.

When we finally calmed down, we called Randy back and found out that a armored car had been hijacked and police were currently chasing the suspects through an apartment building, the very same one that we were just by. Who knew a day in L.A. could be so action packed?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fact or Fiction - do I really care?

Most of you who know me, know that when I put my mind to something, watch out. I admit to being a little bit obsessive when I like something. Can you imagine? I know it is hard to believe. I love to read. I must confess that I read crap. I do not go for the great novels, the business books, the self improvement books. I go for the cheesy murder mysteries, the campy gossip girl type books and chick lit where the girl always ends up with the guy. What adds to the fun is when a place in the book actually exists in real life and I can go and visit.

My friend Michelle (Helen Keller or HK for short) has born the brunt of my location quests over the years. Before we both got married, we used to take a couple of trips a year together to different places. One year we went to Boston in November. Beside it being crazy cold and us being nutso for taking a duck boat tour and nearly suffering hypothermia, I also made her go off in search of the Isabella Stewart Gardiner museum. I had just read a book about a murder at the museum and I wanted to check it out. We rented a car that they delivered to our hotel and that was a debacle. There were 2 groups of people clamoring for 1 car. After a 1/2 hour of yelling, negotiating and generally being a pain in the a**, we were off to the museum. Armed with just a Boston map (no google maps or Garmin for us), we were off like a herd of turtles to find this museum. After driving in circles and passing about 12 Dunkin Donuts (and stopping at 1 for sustenance), we finally found the museum. We took our pictures and approached the museum to go in. After determining that the $10 admission fee was too much just to go in and look at art, we abandoned this pursuit and we were off to our next location!

Then I decided to read the entire Margaret Truman series - Murder in the Smithsonian, Murder in the White House, Murder in Foggy Bottom, Murder at Union Square, etc. When HK and I went to visit Washington D.C. in July 2004, it was crazy hot. Like 95 degrees and ridiculously humid. We must have walked 20 miles that weekend, looked liked drowned rats from sweating so much, blisters from walking all over the city and generally miserable with heat exhaustion. We went all over the city, checking out the places in the book, exploring the city, all without finding one dead body like the books.

Next up, was a book called Angel's Flight where a murder took place on a funicular (aka incline). Well imagine my surprise when I found out that this actually exists in downtown L.A. Tim, Wendy and I piled in the car and braved LA Rush Hour (it really is a contest to survive with your sanity) and off we went. We found it and Tim asked "I drive an hour and a half for this sh*t. Why does this even exist?" This funicular was about 50 feet long and transported lazy people up a small hill. It had been shut down in real life because 9 people died on it. How does that happen? It is literally 2 feet up the ground and moves at like 10 mph, how does such an accident occur? So we had driven all that way and could not even take a ride on it :(.

While my book adventures often don't turn out as easy or exciting as I would like, I am already planning our trip to Forks to see where Bella and Edward live, (for people who have lived under a rock for the past 2 years - they are from Twilight), where they hang out and Jacob's Indian reservation. God help this little town of 3,000 when I invade!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Disney Done Right

This past weekend the fruit loop troop went to Disney World - my Mom, my Dad, my niece KellieLynn (KL), my college friend Amanda and me. We had a long weekend (Thursday - Sunday) to do Disney and I am happy to report we succeeded!

The trip started out in typical fashion - Northwest caused me to be 2 hours late! We boarded the plane at gate A75, had technical difficulties and had to get a new plane which they so conveniently parked at gate A2. After schlepping a mile to the new gate, we finally took off. Everyone was waiting when I arrived in Orlando of course. The first night I shared the guest bedroom with KellieLynn. This 8 year old takes up more real estate than Donald Trump buys! After a foot in my middle back and a restless night, it was up to go to Animal Kingdom. I also instituted a new policy of musical beds where Amanda got to sleep with KL on Friday night and KL got the couch Saturday night and I got some sleep!

Tour guide Amanda shared all her tips and tricks and we darted around the amusement parks in 95 degree heat, dodging rain storms, seeing the shows, and going on all the crazy rides. We saw everything! My Dad was a trooper, cane and all, he kept up! We went on Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. I should have known better when the sign said "You will get wet. You might get soaked!" We boarded and Mom and Amanda got a little wet on the first geyser and KL started laughing at them. That stopped, when we were plunged into a rapid and I do mean plunged. KL and I emerged from the ride like we had just taken a shower fully dressed. We were soaked from head to toe and looked like drowned rats. We had to wring out all our clothes, buy new shirts and take our shorts off so Amanda could dry them in the bathroom dryers. Once back to the car, we had our shorts off and hanging out the window as we drove away from Disney World and onto Downtown Disney. Our death grip on the shorts worked as we still had them at the end of our car ride!

We convinced my mother to go on Splash Mountain, a water ride with a 52 foot drop. But this time we were prepared and had our ponchos on. As we took the little plunges, my Mother's screams became louder and louder. We knew things were getting bad when we started hearing the Hail Mary being said before the final plunge. She survived, we did not have to do mouth to mouth and we proceeded on with our day. Mom was nicknamed 'Screamer' from that point on in the trip.

All in all, a fun trip, minimal drama and lots of laughs! Can't wait to go back!

No blog tomorrow (9/15) - off to D.C. for a work trip just for the day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fancy Food

Since Tom is a candy buyer for Borders he gets to go to fun work conferences. He goes to San Francisco, he goes to Orlando, he goes NYC and I always want to go with him, but am never able to. But I hit the mother load when I was able to go to the Fancy Food Show in NYC.

As we boarded the shuttle to the conference center, Tom was going over my list of dos and dont's. Do pace yourself, don't try every sample. As he went on and on, I knew the big don't was - Don't embarrass me!

We arrived, checked in and entered the mecca. Row after row of vendors. There was candy, olives, cheese, wine, bread and thousands of other foods to check out. I was salivating as I considered all the free samples! I was like a kid in a candy store - literally. As I tried to keep focused and help Tom discover new items for the store, I could not help but try an olive, taste a cheese, and sample an Italian wine. Who cared that it was only 9:30 in the morning? All the rules were out the window. I had planned my food all week so I could indulge here. And indulge I did.

As we winded our way through the show I made friends with everyone I came across. I got ideas for my bridal shower, I got promises of goodies to be sent to me and I left with about 5 pounds of pink jelly beans for the candy bar I was now envisioning for my shower. I muscled my way to the front of the line (like a senior citizen getting into the buffet line) and I met Paula Dean, got her autograph and a picture with her. I was on the hunt for Rachael Ray but she evaded me in my quest.

Around 10:30 am, there was a set back. I was sick - I had not paced myself! As I sprinted to the bathroom, Tom just stood there shaking his head. I rallied and it was off for another 4 hours of show before I waddled to the airport with my full belly, my over bulging carry-on and enough candy to supply 30 girls with treat bags!

I'm blogging off (I crack myself up) until Monday the 14th as I am off to Disney World. See you then!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Favorite Niecy

KellieLynn (KL for short, lest I get carpel tunnel) is my favorite niece. Well she is my only niece also but she rocks. How can I not think this of someone who looks like me when I was a kid, talks like me and acts like me all the time. Sometimes too much, to my sister's chagrin.

KL is 8 going on 35. She has always been around adults so she has always acted older than her age. She is constantly making me laugh with her antics, a few that I am going to share here. When she was 2, my sister and KL were baking cookies one day. Kimberley (my sister and further referred to as Kiki from here on forward - what is it with super long names?) let KL help and all went well. Later that day, Kiki had to go out to run errands and left KL home with her Dad. She disappeared for a couple of minutes, he went off to find and he did. She had taken a dozen eggs out of the refrigerator, broke them, and was baking on the floor just like Mommy and her had done earlier. She was a mess, she was covered in goo and she looked like she had just hatched from the egg herself!

When KL was 4 we were all home in NY and we were playing restaurant. KL has the kitchen set, the food, the little cash register that beeps and lights up. She was the waitress and we were here patrons. Let me tell you she was meaner than a 40 year diner veteran waitress. I asked for french toast and a chocolate sundae, she said too bad and gave me pancakes and a strawberry sundae. My Dad asked for a hamburger, she gave him a hot dog. You never got what you wanted even though you picked food she actually had! The best came when she was the customer. I gave her the bill, told her it would be $12.50 and she looked at me dead serious and said "Lady, do you take debit?"

Around that same time KL had an obsession with escalators. It did not really matter if we really needed to take one, if one was within 50 yards, we had to go on it, if to no more than go up it and then go right back down. She also did not like anyone standing on her step, so much so that when a complete stranger at the mall put her foot on KL's step, she turned around matter of factly and said "Lady, get your own step!"

My niece is one of the most amusing people I know. From her made up phases 'frappaccino cappuccino' at age 2 when I dragged her to a Starbuck's to 'cram chicky nutter' you never know what is going to come out of her mouth. I am off to Disney World with her tomorrow for what promises to be an adventure and a laugh a minute!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Chaos on the Redeye

A few years ago I was commuting back and forth to L.A. every other week for work. I would leave early Monday morning and return home on the red eye Thursday nights. Most of the time the red eyes were pretty uneventful except for the annoying business men who always tried to push past me because they could not imagine that I a cute, single, young woman could be in first class! Well they were obviously wrong, but that is not the point of today's adventure.

One night, the flight was absolute chaos. First, lets preface this with the fact that I took a sleeping pill right before I boarded the plane. They usually kick in within a half hour so we were on the clock. As I sat down to get settled, an older man dropped his papers all over the floor. I sighed and got up to help him pick up all the papers. I knew if he did not get his sh*t cleaned up, there would be a back up in boarding the plane and the possibility of us departing late. As I rummaged around on the plane floor, getting groggier by the minute, I exchanged pleasantries with the man and finally got him situated and me back in my seat which took a considerable amount of effort since the sleeping pill was starting to take it's full effect.

That's when the man next to me grabbed my arm. Seriously buddy, do you want to get punched in the nose? You do not know me and you should not be touching me. Stranger Danger! He was nearly hyperventilating as he said "Do you know who that is?" Of course I didn't. I was half drugged and just wanted a moment of peace. He said, "he's grasshopper." I was like WTF? I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you speaking English? Finally, from his rantings, I figured out this was David Carradine, Bill from Kill Bill. That was pretty cool.

As the talkaholic continued to ramble, I decided to read a magazine for a few minutes until all the announcements were done so I could finally pass out. I took out my In Touch magazine and started reading. There was an article about Pam Anderson and a pic of her ex-husband Tommy Lee. During the announcements I was looking around and looked across the aisle and the man sitting across from me was the same man in article, Tommy Lee! Was I tripping? Was the sleeping pill really affecting me? I decided to talk to the Tommy to determine if it was really him or just a hallucination. Come to find out it really was him so I quickly shut my magazine as to not acknowledge my star gawking obsession!

As the rambler continued to talk about his cosmetic line - he had moved from Grasshopper onto what he does, who he works with, blah, blah, blah, I just looked at him and said "If I do not go to sleep right now, I am going to throw up. " That shut him up, I closed my eyes, passed out for 5 hours and woke up in Detroit. If I had not seen David Carradine and Tommy there when I woke up, I would have thought it was all a strange dream.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Taxi Tour of Seoul

In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Seoul, Korea with JCI. I was a candidate for JCI Vice President so I did not have a lot of time to sight see. The 1st day I did and I took advantage of it. Christa, Sean, Mindy, Ben, and I were off to see anything and everything we could. Our cab took us to the first temple on Sean's massive and extremely comprehensive sightseeing list (I think he is more organized then I am) and we explored the temple. As we were looking for a taxi to take us to the next location, we came across a Communist protest complete with the ominous music and hundreds of people shouting something we could not understand. As the police with the riot gear showed up, we took it as our clue to get the hell out of dodge.

Then it was off to the Seoul tower to take the tram to the top. Mindy and Ben got in a different cab then us, had some problems with communication and ended up at the base of the mountain. Sean, Christa and I arrived at the tram entrance and proceeded to wait and wait and wait not knowing what had happened to Mindy and Ben. A half hour later and a mile hike later Mindy and Ben showed up in need of a drink and a shower. The view was amazing!

Through the week we (I) did not get much time to go sightseeing and there was still stuff on Sean's list that I had not seen so after a Korean BBQ and a lot of drinks, Lori, Phil and I thought it was a good idea to hire a cab and take a midnight tour of the city. Probably not our best idea as we all were tipsy but we jammed ourselves in to the back of a taxi cab and gave our driver the list of 6 things we wanted to see. We took off like we were drag racing in the movie "Tokyo Drift", went about 1 block and the driver slammed on the brakes and pulled over. Had we laughed too much as we were holding on for dear life? Then the driver started yelling at a pedestrian and passed him our sightseeing list. What was going on? Was he trying to get this guy to drive us? Were we going to get robbed at one of these spots? The guy outside wrote on our list and handed the paper back to the driver and again we went from 0 - 60 in 3.5 seconds. We figured out that he had our list translated so he knew where he was going.

We got to the 1st location and we tried to dispense of our cab driver and pick up a new driver who wasn't as nuts, but he was not having any of it. He stuck to us like glue. He assisted us in taking pictures, opened our car doors and since we could not really communicate with him, we knew we were stuck with him. At the second location, the closed gate blocked the temple so we could not even see it to take a photo. The next thing we know the cab driver is talking to the security guard who opens the gate and we have the ability to walk around the deserted grounds. The driver was trying to explain the temple to us in KOREAN so of course we had no idea what was going on. We lost Phil briefly as he ducked behind a bush to go the bathroom (I told you we had been drinking) and then we were off to the next location.

2 hours later, our stomachs hurting from laughing so much, the driver returned us to the bar next to our hotel where we had a pitcher of smoking beer (compliments of dry ice). A tour, a pitcher of beer, a night to never be forgotten, all for $45 dollars - how can you go wrong?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Are we in Buda or are we in Pest?

Wendy, Nicole and I decided to take a trip to Budapest, and Wendy was in charge of the accommodations. She decided that we were going to rent an apartment for 3 days (Nicole and I were leery since we are used to hotels) but it was her shtick so we let her at it. We went to the address provided, ran the doorbell and the a young guy, let's call him Sergei, answered. It was his apartment and we learned he worked at a hotel and he crashed there when he had renters. So he showed us around, gave us a 1/2 open bottle of wine as a welcome gift and he was off. The apartment was definitely a bachelor pad, but it was fairly clean and in a good location.

After a long day of sightseeing, it was time to get ready for bed. That is when the fun began. There was 1 bed in the loft and then a fold-up sofa. Well after 2 hours of trying to put the bed together, Nicole laid down on it and it collapsed and broke. We tried to repair it as best as we could but Nicole took the pillows and made a makeshift bed on the floor. At 3 o'clock in the morning, we were awoken. There were a bunch of drunkards outside our apartment window singing "Riders on the Storm." Here we are in Budapest and drunk Hungarians are trying to sing in English and they were doing it very badly! While we were hysterical, we were also very tired. Nicole found a hat to put on to muffle the sounds and Wendy and I split a pair of ear plugs and survived the night.

Next up, we decided to do a load of wash because Wendy had a lot of clothes that she had spilt beverages on and I needed to wash some underwear since I had another week and half in Europe. This washing machine had about 10 buttons, all in Hungarian, none of which made any sense. We finally got the machine to do something and it proceeded to run for 3 hours. When it finished our clothes were wet, not sure they were clean and the washing machine had eaten a pair of my underwear never to be seen again.

The last morning we needed to be up by 7 for a 9 am train. Our apartment owner had arranged a taxi for us. Well we woke up at 8 and chaos ensued. We were running around the apartment throwing stuff in bags, trying to shower and dress when we heard the front door unlock and open and a strange man walk in. He spoke little English and started to pack our suitcases! We were like what the hell is going on? We finally figured out that our cab driver was Sergei's father, that we were late and he was trying to help us make our train. As we abandoned the apartment like it had been bombed, we hoped we had everything. We had our purses, our passports and we could buy anything that was left in our wake.

We got to the train station in plenty of time and settled into our cabin for our trip back to Vienna via Hegyshalom. We will never forget our stay in Budapest nor the challenges that come with NOT staying in a hotel!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Luxury is Not Overrated

Remember the helicopter ride to Monaco and all the suitcases I was schleping across Europe? Well what I did not tell you is that I did not help my suitcase "situation" when I arrived in Monaco. I was staying at Le Meridian which is known as a luxury hotel. People who say that "all they need from a hotel is a clean and safe place to stay" are liars. I admit it, I have said that, but clearly it sounds better than "I am being cheap and don't want to spend a lot of money." But let's face it, if we had the money, everyone would be staying at luxury hotels when we traveled.

Let's start from my arrival. My car door was opened and a small army rushed to unload my suitcases without a smirk, eye brow raise or any indication that my looking like a runaway with all my worldy possessions was unusual. I was whisked to the front desk to give my information and then shuttled directly and quickly to the elevator as we started our ride to the penthouse floor.

When they opened the door to my suite, this is where if I were in a movie, white light would have splayed on me, my hair would be swirling in the wind (when there wasn't any) and the gospel music would have started. This suite where I was going to be ensconced for the next 5 days was bigger than my house that I live at for the other 360 days of the year!

I walked into a bed room with a bed that looked bigger than a king size bed (is there even such a thing?), a flat screen TV that dwarfed my love seat at home and then you stepped down into the office and sitting area. This led directly out onto the balcony that overlooks the Mediterranean, just like you see in the movies. Looking left, I could see France, looking right, the yachts in the harbor of Monte Carlo. I felt dizzy - I want to live like this always!

Then there was the bathroom, complete with a jacuzzi, shower, 2 sinks and a toilet. As I glanced at the toiletries I stopped dead. They were Hermes - Hermes of the purses, scarfs and expensive clothing and they were all complimentary. 2 big bars of soap, 3 small bars of soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and a full-size bottle of perfume were provided every day! Let's just say I was very dirty in Monaco, because everyday I needed new supplies and my luggage continued to bulge and the seams started to burst!

Now I was off to visit my friend Scott. While I was the JCI Vice President assigned to Monaco, he was the big kahuna, the World President. Imagine my reaction to his suite. His suite had an elevator from the servant's bedroom and main entrance to his area. An elevator for one floor? In a non-handicapped room? Are rich people's calves that underdeveloped? As we took the painfully slide ride up 1 floor (we could not disappoint the rich and their standards) we marveled at the hotel. When we arrived into his sitting area, it was amazing. He had couches, 3 flat screens, a bar area and 2 bathrooms in his suite. He too had Hermes, which was totally unappreciated on him, so he told me to leave him a couple bars of soap and the rest was mine! I flew through the rooms like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep! No lotion, shampoo or perfume escaped my bag.

Back to my room, I decided I had better see if I needed any other of the complimentary items. Of course I did! I needed the stationary, the shopping bags, the pens and even the fluffy white slippers (they were free!) I was like a blue hair (old person for those unfamiliar with the term) at a buffet!

After a successful week of meetings and events in Monaco, and a suitcase that weighed about 25 pounds more than when I arrived, I was off for my back-breaking journey home with all my loot. But you know what, you can't put a weight on luxury!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Customer Service - Does this Mean I have to Service the Customer?

For those of you who know me well, you know I don't stand by quietly when I get poor service. I actually can turn into quite a stark raving lunatic when I feel that something is not quite right. Who wants to pay good money for bad service? I don't and everyone knows about it when it happens. My first run in was when I was about 8 and I was at Chucky Cheese with the family. Another kid was not following the rules, and rules are there for a reason, so I said with all seriousness, I am going to call the manager to deal with you!

Let's take Northwest to start with. I fly over 75,000 miles a year and I think I am #1 in their frequent complainer club. One of my biggest pet peeves is waiting to deplane when I get back home to Detroit. Why does this happen? It is not like we have snuck in under the radar. We are not Special Forces. We are not invading a foreign country. The FAA knows we landed, otherwise we would be on the nightly news. Why does no one from Northwest know this? How hard is it to get 3 people to a gate on time to get us out of the tin can? How about the fact that there is no gate? Again, really? There are 76 gates in the A terminal. If they are all full, Houston we have a problem. No one would be going anyplace as there would be too much air traffic. And why, please tell me, do they always park us at the absolute farthest gate from baggage claim and our cars? After spending a long day flying, the last thing I want to do is walk 2 miles dragging my suitcase and lap top bag dodging vacationing families who travel once a year and do the stupid things.

Restaurants also seem notorious for bad customer service. One night I was out to dinner with my family and we were cold, I mean it's going to snow cold. We asked the waiter to see if they could turn the hurricane strength gust of wind above us off. They did that but the air was still colder than a freezer. Here we are trying to eat dinner and I am in my parka with my scarf! Finally, I figured out what was happening. The greeter kept opening the door to the area between the outdoors and the restaurant for no reason except to flirt with some young girls! I went over to tell him to stop, I could really care less if he ended up with some digits at the end of his shift, but as the meal progressed, it continued. This is when I lost my cool and snapped. I demanded a manager and started to gesticulate loudly as to why I was dissatisfied. Let's just say most of our meal was full (and there were 6 of us at dinner), my parents were embarrassed and had to stay away from the restaurant for 6 months, and I was still freezing cold!

Let me tell you about the baseball game we just tried to attend. I said tried. Apparently after this local team passed out hundreds of schedules to the public, they decided to end their home season early. How is that even legal? Can I call the MLB and tell them that this local leagues are giving them a bad name? What would possess them to leave fans standing outside a stadium with absolutely no sign even to tell you that there was no game? As you can guess, this team is know dead to me.

Customer Service means you actually provide a service to the customer. It means you don't inconvenience me, you don't irritate me, and you certainly do not stand me up, unless you want to hear about, unless you want to give me free services and unless you want me to write about it!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

That's why it is called La La Land

TV puzzles me. As obsessed as I am with it, you really need to suspend belief to be able to watch it. Hollywood thinks we are stupid and you know my theory on people (95% of the world is stupid) but sometimes I really stop and think FFS! What are they thinking? Are they writing shows for the Geico cavemen? As I think about some of my favorite shows, most of them are about as reality based as aliens invading Earth. Here are a few of my favorites:

Friends - I watched this show for 10 straight years, I own every episode on DVD, but really, if Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe were actually living in NYC they would be living in 5th floor walk up together in Brooklyn, not in the Village. While Ross and Chandler have seemingly real grown-up jobs, they are never at them. They spend hours at Central Perk obsessing over who likes who and who's sleeping with who. Girls, do you know any group of 3 girls and 3 guys that can get along so well with so little drama? I don't think so. The guys would be locked in a constant fight over the girls and the girls would be catty. Nobodies life is that perfect.

Lost - My husband loves this show so I sat down and watched the first 4 seasons on DVD so we could watch this show together. What did that get me? Eye strain from watching 64 1/2 hours of TV and a lot of WTF moments. After watching 5 seasons (we watched last season together), I still have no bloody idea what is going on, what year they are in and why I should actually give a sh*t? Maybe the final season will reveal all, but I doubt it.

Entourage - I love this show, it is f'in hilarious, but really, even people in Hollywood do not behave this inappropriately. Ari would be arrested for harassment and persecution of poor Lloyd. He spends his day thinking of ways to torture, humiliate and drive poor Lloyd nuts. Vince would get sick of supporting his lazy, always high friend Turtle who really doesn't have any discernible skills and just sponges of him. He would get annoyed with his neurotic brother who is socially inept and seems to leave a wake of chaos and drama every where he goes. His best friend and manager E would be fired and sent back to Queens for being unable to keep Vince's career on track. But hey it's Hollywood, so not everything makes sense.

So while I sit and watch these shows and some of my other favorites like Sex in the City, Greek, Dirty Sexy Money, Lipstick Jungle (I told you I am TV obsessed!), I follow the lives of these characters and sometimes laugh my ass off, I must suspend belief in order to do so. Nobody I know is that pretty, that perky, that wealthy, that lucky, but I guess that is why they call it La La Land.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Death Vehicle a.k.a The Segway

This story starts off in Vienna where 4 girls, to protect them, let's call them May, Tori, Rochelle.....hell it was Fay, Lori, Suzanne and I and we decided to take a sightseeing tour of Vienna by segway. You know the things that all Paul Blart Mall cop wannabes use around the mall because God knows it would kill them to walk? Yeah, those things. We met our guide Victor in the park at the appointed time and were promptly given a helmet (this should have been our first clue). We spent the next 10 minutes trying to stand up these vehicles of death and then it was off through the city.

And I do mean through the city. Not on side walks, not on nature trails, but we were zig zagging through traffic like Frogger in the video game. Then the incidents started. First off, I had not really mastered the art of stopping as was evident as I collided with a parked car. It was strangely reminiscent of the time I ran into a parked travel trailer on my bike as a child. As I stood their trying to decide what I should do next, Victor yelled "Let's go" and we were off like the police were in hot pursuit.

Next incident involved Suzanne. As we hovered while Victor was explaining the architecture and history of a building, Suzanne looked up, leaned back and shot into reverse stopping only when her head (thank goodness for the helmets) crashed into the building behind us. After some aspirin it was off to one of the main pedestrian squares in the city, similar to the mall in Washington D.C.

Of course there was a festival in the square as we raced through it, weaving and bobbing past innocent bystanders. Not all were so lucky to avoid our wake. Fay ended up running over a girl's foot as she screamed at her to get out of the way in English. Too bad most people speak German in Vienna!

Finally, we were in a park by our hotel looking at statues when we had to cross a narrow wooden bridge with low sides. One false move and we would be in the canal with our segway and out hundreds of dollars in security deposit. Lori caught a curb and then next thing you know she was down, bleeding from multiple appendages. After assessing the damage (Victor declared her to be fit for more combat on the segway) it was back to the park to return our vehicles of doom. Too bad Lori still has scars 4 years later from this "minor incident."

As we staggered back to the hotel, bruised and battered, we realized that segways are A LOT harder than they appear and that for the rest of the trip we should stick to sightseeing on the ground!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and Boats and Helicopters)

One of my first trips for JCI was a 12 day visit to Turkey, Luxembourg and Monaco. I thought I was so smart - I was saving time and money as I started my trek across Europe. I had to pack suits, formals, casual clothes, and gifts - you know there are clearly no stores in Europe if I forgot something, so I left Ann Arbor with a big suitcase, a small suitcase and a computer bag looking like a bag lady as I approached the ticket window.

My flight to Istanbul took about 10 hours and I was utterly exhausted when I landed. I was hoping to get a nap and a shower toute suite but instead I was whisked by car to a ferry where we took a 2 hour boat ride across the Sea of Marmara. From there it was a 1 1/2 hour car ride to Balakesir where I finally got to lay down and pass out. My stay in Turkey was amazing and the people were so hospitable. So hospitable that I started to receive so many gifts - 3 bottles of perfume, a piece of artwork, a ceramic plate and 2 Turkish rugs. Really - 4 X 6 area rugs are beautiful and one adorns my office currently, but they are not really easy to pack.

Here is where the fun began! I received so many gifts, my 2 escorts and I looked like pack mules as we traipsed back to Istanbul dragging rugs onto and off of the ferry. We looked like we were moving instead of on vacation.

We immediately went to the bazaar in Istanbul and bought another suitcase. Now, I had 2 big suitcases, 1 small suitcase and a computer bag as I left for Luxembourg. After bartering with the ticket agent, putting on some more clothes and moving as much to my carry on (it was bursting at the seams), I reluctantly ended up paying nearly $200 to get my luggage out of Turkey, I arrived in Luxembourg via a delayed connection in Frankfurt, Germany with not much additional drama.

The next part of the journey was where things got dicey. We were taking the overnight train from Luxembourg to Nice. Now please picture me and my escort (who had his own suitcases also) trying to schelp 4 suitcases and 2 computer bags up and down stairs in train station and up into the train. We looked like refugees from Beverly Hills, we clearly had to much crap to be homeless. As we huffed and puffed to our 6 person sleeping cabin, I quickly realized that our luggage took up all the storage space that was supposed to hold 6 people's stuff. Luckily we arrived first, but I can tell you we got the evil eye from the 4 remaining cabin mates who were forced to store their suitcases on their bunks. After the stare down, we decided that one of us would remain with the luggage at all time for fear some of it would get tossed out the window if we blinked.

When we arrived in Nice we were greeted by a very nice man with a very small car, so small that we ended up riding on top of a couple of suitcases in the back seat. Next form of transportation - helicopter. Here is where I was mortified beyond belief. I heard the helicopter agent telling my escort (in French - she did not know that I was onto her) that they would have to buy another seat for me because my LUGGAGE weighed to much! I continued my game of ignorance and happily boarded the helicopter waiting for the porter to load all my bags and the money to be exchanged while I dreamt of the near future (like 1 hour) when I could park these bags for 5 whole days and not carry them!

After paying another $80 dollars, I was off from Nice and on my way back to the US where I was promptly squired away for secondary inspection before leaving customs. I don't think anyone believed that one person could have so much luggage. I am sure that they thought I was a smuggler or at least had a dead person in my massively heavy bags.

When I finally got home and Tom nearly had a hernia getting all my bags into the house, I vowed to downsize on remaining trips. Knowing that I would never be able to do that (you never know what the occasion requires), I decided that 2 countries per trip was my new rule! I also learned that FedEx can be your friend :)!