Tuesday, December 30, 2008

5 New Year's Resolutions I Can Live With

I’m definitely not a New Year’s Resolution kind of gal. For one thing, January 1 isn’t always a convenient time to make a plan. For instance, say you have a large outstanding amount of money in invoices and no one pays you in October. I don’t think I’d better wait three months to resolve “to keep better track of the billing process.”

Unless of course I develop a fondness for hiding from the IRS, VISA, MasterCard, Discover, AT&T, Direct TV, Insight, National City Bank …

Then there’s this whole “I blew it” guilt because I didn’t stick to something I vowed to do, which somehow is more binding if you write it down on January 1 as opposed to April 17.

But now that I have a blog, and I’m under pressure to write something here twice a week even if I’m taking time off basically waiting to dismantle the tree on Friday, I’ll take the easy way out. Here are 5 goals I promise to live up to in 2009:

Maybe I'll get ambitious and add "getting Barbie out of the box" to my 2009 list of goals.

1. Exercise more.
A trick resolution on my part, because if I get up out of this office chair to fix myself another Pepsi one more time a day, that qualifies as “more exercise.”

2. Eat right.
Ha! I'm a card-carrying Republican. I don’t vote left, I don’t eat left.

3. Take time for reflection.
Done! I just made a note for my cleaning gal to really Windex the mirror in the bathroom next week.

4. Save money.
This one is actually fun. I cut out a coupon for a $25 iTunes card free with a $100 purchase of HP toner cartridges at Office Depot. Now I’m off to stock up.

5. Post twice a week.

A nobrainer ... over at Uptake, that is. It's in my contract so I have no choice, and they're paying me. Hopefully on time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What I Got for Christmas

… is proof that my husband has the attention span of a cardboard box.

Now this is not a long-winded rant on how he can’t buy a decent gift, because on that score, Ron makes the gift-giving hall of fame. He remembered I wanted an armoire jewelry stand long after I’d forgotten it was on my list and ta-da! It appeared covered in what had to be an entire roll of wrapping paper under the tree Christmas morning. Along with a pair of kitchen shears and an omelet pan from the dollar store that he said were clues — thank goodness they were merely red herrings because anything in a big box that goes with kitchen shears and a pan wouldn’t win an award in this house.

An extra round of applause because he looked for a sale before throwing his credit card across the counter.

While I was still feeling all warm and toasty about my guy, he hit the mall with me today to order new glasses while I touched every pair of pants and sweater at J.C. Penney's after-Christmas sale. Naturally his errand was much shorter than mine, so he suggested he take an elevator ride up to the men’s department and pick out some shirts for work, since he was bored anyhow.

Wow. A husband volunteering to buy his own clothes. I should have died happy at that point.

And he was quite proud of his purchases when we got home, too. There was the obligatory pair of tan Dockers — he has like 25 pairs of them in the closet — and a pair of dress blacks. A light blue shirt that screams, “I’m a guy and I had to buy a shirt so I got this blue one,” and then his big score of the day: a pumpkin-colored Van Huesen dress shirt. Please, please tell him it would go with his black pants because the sales clerk said it would.

I was too busy glancing under the Christmas tree where that exact same shirt was lying there, unwrapped, in its box. His answer to the question “Does this look familiar?” was a puzzled stare, with a slight trace of panic starting to set in.

So I started at the beginning: What color shirt did my mom get you? He was more confident now. “The IU one.” Wrong answer. That came from my brother’s family. So Ron slid his eyes over toward the tree and guessed navy.

It was green.

Then I asked what color shirt he opened from me just two days ago. The glassy-eyed stare was back, so I threw him a bone: the one with the black tie? Came in a see-through box? You really liked it?

“Did you get me a shirt?” he finally responded.

Now, I could take the obvious route and get him a lobotomy. But instead, I think I’ll sneak the shirt back into the Christmas tub and wrap it up next year. He’ll never have a clue.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Tail End to the Season

I volunteered to dog sit my friend’s Labrador/Irish Setter/Golden Retriever mix while they visit family for the holidays. That’s hardly noteworthy, as Sean spends a lot of time over here and is the only dog my Dribbler tolerates in his space.

We’ve known Sean since he was a pup, so we’re well aware he was taught not to go upstairs and thus whines something fierce if you head to the upper regions of the house without formally inviting him to follow. We know this Marmaduke of a dog thinks he’s lap sized and wants to cuddle constantly.

He can’t eat table scraps and if he gets out of the gate, he loves to play chase. He’s scared spitless of thunderstorms and despises water of all sorts: swimming pools, puddles, showers, hoses. Sean does adore car rides, other dogs, and people, enough so that he lets us throw confetti all over him on New Year’s Eve.

No ornaments were harmed in making this photo

So this weekend doggie play date didn’t trigger any special alarm bells. I had his arthritis pills in my coat pocket and a few extra chew bones in the drawer. What more could I need?

Well, stupid me. I’m out of super glue.

In the first 12 hours, Sean has managed to destroy the bottom half of my Christmas tree. The first time he flat ran into it when my dog started a game of chase — for which Dribbler promptly found himself in a stay position to calm his excited, holiday-hyped self down. (Sorry, fellow dog lovers. The bigger the dog, the slower the jog.)

Not 30 minutes later, Sean stopped smack in front of the tree and begged to be petted. Twap! His tail took off the koala from Australia, a green rocking horse and the little outhouse that opens to display Santa on the john. When my husband came home, Sean again begged for attention in that same spot — did I mention he likes people and he’s stubborn? — and wham! The Pillsbury Doughboy took one for the team.

The next victim is when I started to get ticked. Sean’s tail assaulted the little fuzzy bear with his megaphone. That bear is a senior citizen, having first appeared on the tree in 1984, when the store won our business by offering half the cost of an expensive Mountain King brand in free ornaments. Not to mention he was going A Rod on the green rocking horse – no youngster itself — and sending it 10 feet across the floor.

There’s a dog this morning that can give you another, less positive, definition of “get outta here.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Disney On Hold

How to kill time while on hold waiting for the next representative at the Walt Disney World agent line to take your call:

1. Visit every social networking site and invite more people to link to you for no apparent reason other than to look wildly popular.

2. See if you can climb your feet up the side of the desk without moving your butt.

3. Forward 14,568 bad jokes to everyone in your address book.

4. Buy more Christmas gifts on eBay.

5. Shave your legs using a tweezer.

6. Open iTunes, select Straight No Chaser's 12 Days of Christmas, and crank it loudly enough to drown out whatever lame pop star Disney has squalling in your left ear. (Yes, they really have 9 million hits on Youtube. I'm now responsible for roughly 1 million of those.)

7. Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in ... let the dog pee on the stupid carpet already.

8. Ask yourself why you’re killing time instead of killing someone for putting you through this.

9. Read the entire Outlander series.

10. Write a blog post.

Whew! I'm the next caller in line. That's great because I just added my receipts from the impromptu shopping spree, and I could have bought a week at the Dolphin for that kind of money.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Flight Plan PSA

I am finished with airline travel for 2008, and I don’t foresee heading back to the airport until at least May. So although my time in the sky is now on hiatus, out of the kindness of my heart, I have a few tips to pass along to make your holiday flights and winter escapes even merrier.

It starts with the boarding process: Assume everyone will have the two allowed pieces of carry-on luggage. One will be at the maximum size you can get by with – and it will have wheels. These suckers fit only in the overhead bins because they can’t slide under the seats. If there are, say, 132 passengers, this means 132 pieces of big luggage need space in those small bins.

Got it? Then let’s take a little quiz. Where would you put your purse? Your briefcase? Your tote? Your small duffel? Your backpack? Your shopping bag? Your coat? Your toiletry bag?

On my farewell 2008 flight to Las Vegas, 131 people flunked, because they chose the overhead bins. (Except for the toiletry bags. That was a trick question. You can’t carry that many bottles of liquid and lotions on board these days. ) So, the last passengers have nowhere to put their luggage, thus they stand in the aisles with a half-dazed look until a flight attendant takes pity on them and begins to repack overhead bins to make room for their wheelies.

This of course means the flight can’t pull away from the gate on time and 132 people are now either squeezed beyond reason on their connections or will miss the next flight altogether.

OK, now that everyone is aware of the need to be courteous to their fellow travelers, let’s kick it up a notch. If you want to recline your seat, that is your right unless you are in the exit row, where you already have twice as much room as the rest of us and therefore should refrain from hogging what little space the peon behind you was granted. But please don’t shove it back during the beverage and snack portion of the flight. You will jam a tray into someone’s stomach and spill their orange juice. And maybe that person can’t change clothes for hours and hours and will just have to sit there first with sopping wet jeans from trying to clean it up and then with sticky residue that makes them fuse to taxi seats.

Listening to an iPod is an admirable way to pass time during the flight. But what would possess you to start an imaginary drum solo complete with crashing flourishes? Your elbow has no business getting that closely acquainted with your seat companion’s nose. If you can’t resist temptation, just sing already.

Finally, when you rise to use the restroom or get your stuff out of the overhead bin that you were so eager to cram up there in the first place, do not grab the back of the seat in front of you for leverage. You have two armrests for that purpose, and they don’t suddenly snap a fellow passenger’s head back like a slingshot. I was sleeping, pal.

I’m sure you have a few etiquette suggestions to share as well. Recommendations for getting orange juice out of sequined jeans are also appreciated.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hairy Dilemma

I owe Yumi a big, fat apology.

My latest “what did I get myself into” moment started in the shower in Las Vegas when I discovered three of the links on a strand of my hair extensions had detached. It doesn’t sound serious, but believe me, the result is a hank of hair hanging lopsided down your back, with this big tab sticking out the back of your head. Fake hair is hard enough to make look good without that little complication.

So it’s a panic moment when you are on the other side of the country from your stylist .

Then reality struck: I was at the Mandalay Bay, in the heart of the entertainment strip. If you can’t get help with hair extensions in a five-star hotel, where can you? I called the Robert Cromeans salon from that formerly useless phone on the bathroom wall – yes, they could take me right away and make everything good as new.

The last time I heard that, I dropped by a salon in Santa Monica to correct a hair cut mistake I’d not noticed before heading out on vacation. That gal whacked up my do so badly, it took my hair two years to grow out of it. So you understand when I said I piddled around pushing the down elevator button to carry out this idea, even though I was standing there with my hair still dripping wet on the carpet.

Yumi was just as cheerful and sweet as that SM stylist, which really put me on my guard. But she competently reattached half my head back there, explaining why it had all gone wrong, and then brought up a good point: We should check to make sure the other links weren’t weak, since it would be more expensive to make a new appointment if they broke, too. She would just blow dry/round brush my hair and kill two birds with one stone.

So I sat there with my eyes closed, torn between saving money and the realization that she was straightening my beautiful French curls into exactly what I didn’t want: long, thin, straggly, ugly hair. I knew this was going to go all wrong, again. It was disaster tugging at my scalp.

But I’m here to tell you that Yumi made magic with all this hair, to the point I nearly cried when I had to wash it out 48 hours later. Not to mention had I left it curly, I would have looked like some kind of Marie Osmond groupie sitting in the front row of her concert that night, as she has the same length, style — and probably extension brand.

So, should I fly to Vegas a couple times a week to have Yumi fix my hair or find her a job in Indianapolis?

Monday, December 1, 2008

More Julie Sturgeon Blogs to Enjoy

Now you can catch my sarcasm twice as often.

Yes, in addition to sharing whenever I get around to it at Get Outta Here, I’ll be appearing every Tuesday and Friday afternoons over at UpTake.com. UpTake is someone’s great idea to consolidate comments and ratings floating around on the Internet on myriad hotels, restaurants, and travel activities into one comprehensive site.

It’s my number one stop before I book any domestic hotel for you, because I’m all about saving time on my research. And I’m not about hearing a tirade because I booked you in a roach-infested room with hookers outside the window and drug dealers screaming at each other all night long. I saved that lovely gem for myself in Los Angeles.

Anyhow, UpTake has signed me as one of the official contributors to its restaurant blog, where I’ll give you my personal low down on what’s happening on the central Indiana dining scene. That translates mainly to opinions about chain restaurants, which I know folks across the United States and 47 other countries around the globe can relate to.

And it’s a rare week when I’ll give you a mere restaurant review. You’ll get the spicy version, full of attitude and wise cracks. Because let’s face it: Yes, we all appreciate a nice evening, complete with ambiance and a good-looking person across the table, sharing a bottle of wine. That’s dining — and most of us eat out. Let’s embrace what makes our everyday lives stand out, or we’ll wind up missing the whole ride.

So do me a favor and click the RSS subscribe button there just like you did here. Technology will keep you up to speed without any effort on your part, and you can always delete the posts you don’t want. Heck, send me straight to your spam filter if you want to keep your email box clean. But when you need a laugh, you know where to find me.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trail Blazer Switch

I’ve been told Hoosiers own the largest inventory of black Chevy Trail Blazers per capita in the country. I can’t confirm that, and after my experience last Friday, I don’t want to. It could turn out to be untrue, and I need the excuse.

This embarrassing admission takes place at our new Noodles & Company, which I wanted to check out before taking my friend’s teen-age daughter to the mall. Ron went along to be a supportive husband, a role he’s eager to fill whenever the topic is food. And that’s how the three of us wound up taking his SUV rather than my red Miata in the first place.

As we were leaving, a blast of cold air hit me — me, with my coat unzipped and my ear muffs in my pocket along with my gloves. So my first instinct was to run for the car and stop the shaking. Thank goodness it was in the first space. I threw open the passenger door and it struck me that Ron is really a pig. The seat was covered in crumbs, with a to-go cup lid lying there.

Yah, I should have caught the fact that I had just graced that seat 30 minutes before and I didn’t have a drink. Nor is my butt crumby. But my sole goal at that instant was to shut that door and start warming up.

Just as I got comfy, a deep male voice cut through my fog: “Hey, lady, this isn't your car.”

Of course, my husband was standing in the parking lot laughing himself sick. The teen-ager was torn between being embarrassed that adults were creating attention and laughing herself sick. Not only did I have to get out of the Trail Blazer and walk down three spaces to where our identical vehicle was, passing the owner (also laughing) as we went, I had to sit in yet another cold seat.

I didn’t check to see if I had a cup lid stuck to my rear, too.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bumming a Beach

I just read where someone stole a beach on Jamaica’s north coast this summer. For journalists, the big mystery evolves around where it went. I have a more elemental question: How did someone take it in the first place?

I’m not a whiz at crime – the only thing I’ve ever deduced that could land me in jail is how to steal a purse from a stall in a women’s restroom. And I promise I won’t try it because the getaway plan relies on running quickly and then looking innocent when you blend back into the crowd carrying two purses: yours and the one you snatched.

So perhaps I’m slow here, but how do you drive 500 truckloads – or even one truck 500 times – to a spot and fill it up with sand without someone noticing?

The reports say this was a construction site for an upcoming resort. So, maybe the first few trucks look like they belong. But at some point, a foreman or just your average guy hammering away at a frame is going to say, “hmmm, this beach is looking rather skinny.” Or someone will look up at say, “Why is that truck back here when we aren’t scheduled to dig sand today?”

Perhaps it was transported under the cover of night, you suggest. Well, I know in my neighborhood, if someone were to steal, say, concrete out of the mall parking lot across the street, some busybody would know about it. She certainly has a running report on what my dog is doing in the backyard at all hours. Uh, that is, surely someone would be unable to sleep and notice illegal activity going on nearby.

A few of the news reports suggest the developers and police were in collusion to pull this off, although no one knows where the sand is now or why someone would take it. Which, of course, would make this even stupider. Why would someone capable of building a crime syndicate of these proportions use it to steal sand?

Maybe they can’t run fast enough to steal a purse from a public restroom either.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Don't Shoot

I’m never letting my husband touch the camera again.

For 25 years, this man has managed to take a photo of my backside on every vacation. Australia and the Great Barrier Reef came out as Julie’s behind floating like a bobber in the ocean. At Disney World, he captured a memory of Mickey Mouse hugging a stranger – oh, wait! I recognize that rear. Must be me.

Christmas Eve with the family? There’s his sister (caught off guard), the nephew looking the other way … and Julie’s butt.

Photography instructors say this happens when people shoot with their brain – i.e. what they want to see in the photo – versus what the eyeball is actually looking at in the viewfinder.

I know – it’s the digital age. It’s not as if his crummy photos are costing me developing fees because they’re part of the roll of film. But now he’s deteriorated even further. He’s not getting people in the photo at all. He actually was excited to download this card from the high school show choir because “I can’t wait to show you how beautiful you looked tonight.”


Anyone want to donate a pair of eyes AND a brain to this cause?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Run, Julie, Run

I have never missed a connection in my life.

And after what I went through in the Prague airport, that’s not exactly something to be proud of.

It’s definitely Czech Airlines’ fault. They scheduled a legal connection of only 45 minutes between landing and my JFK flight – and because travel is always full of mishaps, my flight arrived 15 minutes late. And I was in the back of the stupid airplane, so I didn’t disembark until 20 minutes before take-off.

Now at this point, I wasn’t worried. We were late due to weather, so certainly the JFK flight was delayed, too. And there were at least 10 of us on that plane with the same connection – they’d hold it. The little tram bus picked us up to ride over to the international terminal, where all I would have to do is stroll over to A6. After I showed my passport to the guy in the little window, where there was a line of people backed up, that is. I trotted to the end.

“Everyone on the New York flight, please hurry up. It’s final boarding call – you have 10 minutes,” this little guy in a white uniform starts yelling. Well, buddy, that would be nice, but unless you tell the people in front of me in Czech to let me jump line, that hurry up part ain’t happening. He promised to wait for me on the other side, along with another passenger, to escort us to the gate.

Whee! I was getting a little cart ride. Never had that kind of service before.

I still haven’t. He looked at the two of us and said, “Now you run. I will keep up.” And away we flew, my 50 pounds of camera equipment wheeling madly behind me. We even ran on the moving walkways, all but shoving folks out of our way. We ran until my lungs burned and we finally reached Terminal …. B. “Half way there. They are closing the door in three minutes. I’ll call to tell them to hold just a couple more. Keep running,” he encouraged.

When we turned the corner into Terminal A, the other gal wanted to quit. There would be another flight. I wasn't having any of that defeatist talk -- I started out to make that flight and by God, that was how this was going to end. So I kept panting, reaching for that extra something until at last, there was A6 – right behind a freakin’ security screening line. Yah, I had to remove my laptop, pull out my liquids, take off my shoes. My passport flipped into the floor and I nearly left it in the hassle. “Please hurry,” says my escort.

If I’d had a spare millisecond, I would have used it to kill him.

And finally, the agent at the gate is holding out her hand for my boarding pass, which she took instead of the tennis shoes I was also still clutching. “Passport please.” Geez, Louise. I’ve shown it four times to get on this flight: once in Budapest and now three times in Prague, the last time not 100 feet from this checkpoint. “Hurry,” she says after I've successfully proven I’m Julie Sturgeon of the United States of America. “Run that way,” she said, pointing down the gangway. (Those things hurt when you are in just your socks.)

I was the last person on board. They slammed the door behind me – it’s a wonder my camera bag made it in that 2-foot gap between my heels and its wheels.

But there was a beautiful reward for this effort. Apparently passengers from another connecting flight didn’t make it – I had an entire row of the airplane to myself for the next 8 hours. Get out of here – it doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

Thank God they didn’t run.

Election Night Results

Election Day has always been an unofficial holiday at our house, so I was torn over taking an Avalon Waterways river cruise down the Danube during the first week in November. Luckily, the ship had an internet connection, which meant if I were willing to get up at 4:30 a.m., I could still be part of the action at home.

It was just my luck the internet satellite wasn’t working on this journey – they could, of course, put on CNN in the reception area for us. Which is a great compromise for anyone but a stubborn first-born like me, used to getting her way.

Instead, I called for a cab in the middle of the night to take me to the nearest hotel. I could tell the driver thought I was a prostitute, working the various tourist spots. I guess my laptop was to record my earnings, huh? The desk clerk at the Hilton Danube was just as fuzzled when I strolled in and asked to buy a wi-fi connection.

It was worth every penny to set up – completely alone – in the lobby, log on and hear my husband’s standard greeting over the little speakers: “Hey, pretty girl!” We chatted for nearly 2 hours, and at one point he even turned up the television set so I could close my eyes and see myself cuddling up next to him.

Only the election results weren’t what we wanted to hear. And, just like that, being in a foreign country, alone on a worn couch and a glass coffeetable, wasn’t so special. Not to mention I still needed to cough up 5Euros to get back to the ship. Oh, and I hadn’t been to bed and it was now 7 a.m.

The lobby traffic was picking up, and a Japanese family chose my space to plop down all around me. Great. Couldn’t they tell I was on the verge of crying, I was lonely, and just in a crappy mood in general? I suppose the next thing you know, we’d be taking pictures, too.

And no sooner did that thought roll through my head than the teenager whipped out his little pocket Sony and started snapping away. Get outta here – you can’t watch that coincidence and not laugh.

No matter where you are, some things, thankfully, never change.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Exit Stage Right

I love flying to Orlando during fall break.

I have to admit, I wasn’t terribly thrilled to arrive at my gate and find it crammed with small fry toting Belle backpacks. Obviously, I don’t begrudge families enjoying a long weekend at Disney World – little children excited to see Mickey is very energizing.

But not when you’re about to put their energized butts on an airplane with nowhere to go to work off the excitement.

So I pulled out my iPod ear buds and proceeded to zone out with Los Lonely Boys. And then I heard the announcement: “Would anyone willing to trade their seat for an exit row please come to the counter?” Get outta here – they were giving away EXIT ROW seats? I’d never make it in time, but I grabbed my luggage anyhow and started running toward the counter.

I was the only one there. Even more surreal, the flight attendant thanked me for volunteering. So I took another glance at my fellow travelers and their coloring books, Tigger stuffed animals and Jasmine costumes. Mom and Dad couldn’t leave them to fend for themselves while they jumped 11 rows away to stretch out their legs. And the FAA wisely doesn’t leave the safety of passengers during an emergency in the hands of a 3-year-old.

Huh. That left solo adult traveler Julie Sturgeon to hold down the fort, sacrificing her crappy seat for twice as much leg room. It was a great flight – and the toddler who shrieked intermittently during the 2-hour flight? I had a Los Lonely Boys concert in my ear.

UPDATE: I did it again. I just snagged an aisle exit seat on the return flight, too!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Julie, the Radical

I wore a new t-shirt today. Yahoo! Grabbing it meant I didn’t have to walk around in my bathrobe waiting on a load of laundry to get a fresh one. And I had a lot of little things on my calendar today – everything from lunch with a friend to a bank deposit to buying more wasp spray and toothpaste.

So while I was near the county courthouse, I figured I’d be cheap and drop off my absentee ballot to save postage. I walked in and asked the sheriff at the security clearance where I would find the election office. His reply: ”Downstairs but I’ll let them take care of you.”

Why the hostility dude? Well, never tweak a guy with a gun and handcuffs is my motto. So I trotted downstairs, where there was a line of people waiting to use the voting machines, and some desks tucked off in the corner. I wandered over, and asked where I should drop off an absentee ballot envelope. Three ladies came flying over around their desks to surround me. “What are you doing here?” Uh, have I mentioned I just want to drop off an absentee ballot? Is there code word I’m supposed to know for this action? “You can’t be here in that shirt,” one lady said forcefully.

Now I glanced down enough to see it was dark blue, which is what I wore yesterday, with cute Tigger and Pooh embroidery work on it. I really wasn’t trying to be a smart mouth when I joked, “What? I’m too old to wear Winnie the Pooh?” Her glare told me it wasn’t funny, and I finally looked down. Really looked.

I was wearing a McCain/Palin official t-shirt. Get outta here. Fast.

They could tell by my reaction I had just made an honest boo-boo — even if the official word for it is electioneering, which signs posted everywhere forbid — so one lady said, “OK, if you just want to drop off the ballot, I’ll stamp it official and you can go out the side door if you cover up your shirt with your purse.” (Sad side note: My chest is so small, that worked.) So I reached in to get the ballot, and what happened to fly out with it and onto the floor?

My McCain/Palin bumper sticker.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Online Hints

I don’t need a television to clue me on what’s happening on the economy front. I have a spam bucket on my email that makes it perfectly clear.

This week, I’ve been tantalized by subject lines offering me my very own bail-out plan. (From what? Doing the laundry? Taking a sample of my dog’s poo to the vet?) One ambitious company dangled a $500 Macy gift card to click on their link.

But mostly I’ve been bombarded with job training offers. Some folks think I’m a candidate to study graphic design. They haven’t seen my skills with this website, have they? Someone else wants me to go to massage therapy school, while others are dangling online psych degrees – like I’d be crazy enough to fall for that.

My favorite, so far, have been the offers for, and I quote, “a good mortgage loan – lets you build an investment.” An hour later, I got a pitch to attend real estate school – start of a smart career.

You can’t make stuff up this funny.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grammar Queen

Today is my birthday.

And in typical adult/kid fashion, I wanted to know what else I share this important day with. My husband was born on the day they fired on Ft. Sumter in history. OK, it’s not real positive, but it is weighty. I already knew Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas were born on this day, but not being a big Hollywood fan, this didn’t impress me.

So I fired up Google and here’s what I discovered: It’s National Punctuation Day. Get outta here – that is definitely a cosmic joke on the gal who spent 20+ years in journalism. Now I have to share my birthday honoring commas, parentheses, and colons?

Blech, and you can quote me on that. Period.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pretzel Logic

I quit.

It’s not because I suck at Pilates, mind you. I knew I had no flexibility when I signed up for the class at the Y. I knew I would find muscles in places that shouldn’t have muscles and then proceed to pull them all like a bundle of electronic wires. What I didn’t anticipate was an animosity toward my instructor.

This little bald guy sits in front of the class and taunts us. “You think this hurts? Wait until I get out the next exercise.” “Are you ready for crazy hard? Who isn’t ready for crazy hard? Where are my veterans – I know they can do this.” “Everyone assume the Book of Love position. Don’t tell me you don’t know what that is.”

Actually I don’t but I’m hoping when I get clued in that it’s twice as big as Gone with the Wind and available in hardback so it really smarts when I hurl it at him. (That is, I’ll throw it at him after I see a massage therapist to work the kinks out of my neck.) Get outta here – isn’t watching me fall on my face, fail to touch my toes, and struggle to straighten my leg up in the air a clue I’m a newbie here? What part of this pitiful display suggests that sarcasm and insults would be inspiring?

Most importantly, why am I showing up every Monday night and devoting an hour to listening to it? Sometimes you just have to question your own sanity.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I finally understand sleep dentistry.

I’m not especially afraid of the dentist’s chair. When every molar in your head is crowned, when you’ve had root canals and gum grafts and braces, sensitive teeth, canker sores and wisdom teeth extractions so complicated they take pictures as teaching aids in dental schools, you get over it very quickly. So when I walked in to Dr. Pete’s this week for a little old filling to help desensitize a spot where my gum has receded, my blood pressure was low.

But apparently my blood and my brain aren’t in sync. Because once the anesthetic deadened the nerve endings around that tooth, the control center upstairs went into hyper mode. “Ought oh, no data coming from the top right gum. Send in the reinforcements.”

So when Dr. Pete fired up the drill, my hearing immediately reported in with an “intense pain” message, and the brain frantically started looking for confirmation. Rushing up and down and pacing, it finally sent out a request for information to my nose. “Smells awful. Is most likely burning a searing path of pain along the gum line by our calculations,” said the nose. Well my brain had a fit with this report, and started sending rapid-fire signals to those dead nerve endings.

“Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt?Doesn’t that hurt? Doesn’t that hurt?”

Get outta here – 30 minutes of this and I’m exhausted. Dr. Pete would stop every few minutes, pat my shoulder, and ask if I was OK. Well, yah, but it would be better if someone could find a way to make my brain shut the heck up.

So next time perhaps I should consider letting the staff knock me out. Either that, or work on my trust issues.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...

Sunday afternoon, it was obvious to anyone breathing that Hurricane Ike was blowing through the Midwest. You could hear the wind over the Colts game now and then, this loud whooshing sound that resembled the air conditioner. Only it was too cold to have the HVAC system running, so, being a brilliant sort, I knew it had to be the wind.

The next morning we looked out our back window, and there was the neighbor’s tree, snapped in half and with the bigger chunk lying all over the place. Apparently I can’t sleep through my husband’s snoring, but a frickin' tree lands behind my head and I don’t notice.

My husband, however, is ecstatic. “Hey, that’s the tree that was interfering with our dish feed! Now we really don’t have to worry about the weather cutting us out of our favorite shows.” Funny, Sunday afternoon that was the farthest thing from my mind.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Name Games

I know what you're secretly wondering but are too polite to ask: How did I dream up a company name like Curing Cold Feet?

The truth is, I couldn’t stand to lose an argument.

It was a 3 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning epiphany. I’m not a patient person, and I knew when I signed the contract papers with Montrose Travel the following Monday, I would be officially valuable good time if I didn’t have a name and website registration for my agency at that second.

My original idea was A New View, which prompted Ron to suggest I Google that to make sure it was available. Good grief, of course it was available – I thought of it, didn’t I? He just gave me that male, “I know details, so don’t even try to suggest I’m wrong” stare. Off I ran to my keyboard to prove him wrong.

By 1 a.m., I knew I had some serious spin to work out. Not only was A New View taken, but other obvious travel words like paradise, beach, and sunset combinations were gone. Even desperation searches like “luggage tag” drug up travel agency names in this country.

To add more frustration to my crankiness, I needed a logo. My brother-in-law Larry is a top-notch graphic artist, but unfortunately he’s family. He won’t let us pay for marketing requests, but you go to the back of the pack behind the customers at this price. I was looking at a month, easy, before I could get that part pulled together.

Did I mention I’m not a patient person?

Being backed into two corners makes you consider options you didn’t know were options. My desk is usually a mess, and that night’s collection included one of Larry’s logos lying around that we used for my husband’s now-retired Toastmaster theme for our state. A big blue foot that accompanied the slogan “Curing Cold Feet.” Hmmm, that sounded like vacations … walking along a beach, getting out of your current environment, overcoming inhibitions. (OK, I don’t know what that has to do with travel unless you’re afraid to fly or you go on vacation just to bungee jump.)

Best of all, because this package was Ron’s baby, I could float the notion that I wanted to immortalize his year as the state president in this more permanent way, and he’d never suspect my first idea wasn't a slam dunk.

Worked like a charm.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sometimes Life Isn't Funny

And this is one of those get outta here moments that won’t make you laugh, frankly.

This story starts with an essay. I’ll wait three minutes while you read it.


Beautiful, wasn't it? But keep that Kleenex box close. Because shortly after penning that piece about never leaving her boy, Lori, who is a single mom and self-employed, started feeling numb. The problem progressed until today she is paralyzed in a hospital bed, unable to move or speak, thanks to the Bi-Pap breathing machine that she owes her life to at the moment. She’s the victim of either Lyme Disease or ALS (Lou Gerig’s) – even the esteemed doctors at Mayo Clinic can’t pinpoint the cause.

It may not matter. Lori is dying.

To add insult to injury, her house is in foreclosure and the medical bills are ugly. Some of us (raising my hand!) aren’t counting out God’s miracles. We firmly believe He will heal Lori if it’s His will. But meanwhile, her journalist friends (raising my hand again) are raising what funds we can to take a few worries off the Steele family’s shoulders. We have all sent personal checks – as much as we can – to save this house if we can't save her. But we need a little kindness from strangers, too.

If you’d like to donate even a $1 to Lori, in addition to your prayers, you have my heartfelt thanks. We’ve set up a Paypal account to make it as private and convenient as possible.

And tomorrow we'll all go back to poking fun of our lives and thanking God we have them.

For more information and a button to click to donate: www.savelorishouse.com

Friday, September 5, 2008

You Can't Hear Me Now

My phone rang at 10:30 last night. That’s not completely unheard of around here, between Ron’s Toastmaster leadership and friends knowing I’m a night owl. It was who was calling that triggers this blog post.

It was a source I was supposed to interview earlier in the day. This guy had been told in advance what the article was about and how his expertise fit. I followed that up with an email containing questions, to which he replied, proving that he received it.

So I can say with complete confidence that this man is stupid. Because when I called for our interview, he said he was under the impression I’d set this appointment to prep him for his role in the article, not --gasp! -- dive in and ask a prearranged question. Even though I was completely caught off guard, I did a decent job of explaining how journalism works in the next five minutes, and thought we were finally ready to start tackling his opinion on how outdoor living trends are impacting indoor floor plans.

Oh, sorry … he couldn’t talk just then. He said his iPhone wasn’t working and he couldn’t tell me why he was able to converse with me on it at that moment. He’d have to call me back after he had it repaired.

This doesn’t even rate a “get outta here.” It’s more like two slow blinks.

I’d like to know what shop handed it back to him at 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night. But I guess I’ll never know since I exercised another technology wonder known as caller i.d. and voice mail.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Happy Birthday to Who?

I needed to mail a birthday gift today. I knew it would cost money. That’s why I took my credit card to Pack n Ship All (if I were in charge, that would be known as Pack n Ship Y’all) during lunch.

I handed the man my basket with the XXXX (hey, she might be reading this post and I don’t want to give away the surprise. Especially after you see what I paid for this thing), little decorated flowers strewn around, and a card with her name on it. Very low-keyed, homemade looking if I do say so myself.

Naturally, it’s great when birthday gifts arrive on your actual birthday, so I said I’d like to ship it quickly but at a reasonable price. He hit a few buttons, peered at a screen, and announced, “That will be $84.53.”

Get outta here – it’s more like “That will be more calculator buttons in your future, bucko.” I wanted to mail it, not fly it there myself. His next offer was $36, to which I sarcastically asked, “Look at that basket and tell me if you think I spent that much on the actual present.”

Sigh. Final offer: $19.99. Plus the box and he’d throw in the packing peanuts as a gift, but it won’t get there until Friday.

So happy birthday, two days late, Pat. Hope you like the XXXX and the packing peanuts. I couldn't resist a sale.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Puppy Angst

<< Real dog, Dribbler (the one without swim trunks, LOL)

I’ve been suckered by Facebook.

Sure, it’s my fault I added the Pokey! application to my profile page. But trust me – I’m not the one slathering on the guilt by putting my little imaginary golden Lab fluff ball on the “hungriest puppies” list and asking strangers worldwide to step in and care for him. For Pete’s sake, it’s only been five days, and I was busy taking care of my flesh-and-blood dog. You know, the one that won’t eat his Iams dog food that set me back $50.

I also didn’t write the software that makes this the slowest loading application in the history of slow-loading applications. It takes a large chunk of the clock to load little Pokey, only to see his (not real) pleading, pitiful eyes begging me for pretend food. Then you wait and wait for the food to pour, followed by more waiting as the program takes its sweet time to throw the Frisbee. Get outta here – this is just boring and I have more important ways to waste time.

So just quit the application, you’re thinking. But what if that action triggers a notice I euthanized my dog? Talk about guilt -- that's the motherlode right there. Besides, some sucker on the other side of the world is spending his hard-earned bones to feed a dog that doesn't exist. Maybe I can get him to pony up for a real bag of Science Diet, too.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Don't Blink

Getting my official CLIA card requires more work of me than the next travel agent. You see, they insist on a passport photo. And when the photo is official, you need to have your eyes open.

I’m a champion blinker. For years, our albums have featured photos of me with my eyes glued shut, including all but one of our wedding pictures. Professional photographers sweat bullets trying to capture a salable shot of me, and a shoot takes hours. Which means when I showed up at the post office this afternoon for my official mug shot, these folks were about to have their own “get outta here” experience.

The first lady tried four times before handing off the camera to a large, tall guy named Randy, who was quite sure he was a better photographer than I was a blinker. Two attempts later, and I could see the frustration mounting for him, too.

But like a typical guy, he decided to power his way through it. He whipped out a second camera, twice as big as the first, and BAM! He set off a flash that felt like a someone took a spiked baseball bat to my eyeballs. I’m still seeing the little blue/brown outline of that rectangle.

Well, I have a photo CLIA will accept. Unfortunately, for the next few years, I’ll be known as the travel agent who looks like someone just plugged my finger in a light socket.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Flight of Fantasy

Don’t listen when someone says flying sucks.

Sure, it can be unpleasant. But the industry is still full of human beings, so the odds of a good experience are just as great as those of having a bad day when you show up at the airport.

My husband and I showed up at the United counter on Sunday, booked on separate flights and routes from Calgary to Indy. It was going to cost several hundred dollars for me to switch to Ron’s flight and mine was oversold, Neil informed us. No big deal – it’s not like we didn’t know the score when we arrived. So we turned around to walk to our separate gates.

But Neil wasn’t ready to give up yet.

He found us a flight through Minneapolis with space and then “forgot” to charge us. Ooops, his bad. And, he apologized, we couldn’t sit together – one of us had to put on our big girl panties and sit in first class. When we trotted over to check in at the Northwest counter where he had rebooked us, the gal there was concerned that we weren’t sitting together. So she moved Ron as close as possible – to the exit row.

Did I mention they even tagged our luggage priority?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Golden Moments

OK, so maybe in a year or so the “where were you when Michael Phelps won gold medal #8” question won’t be top-of-mind with Americans. But even when his accomplishments fade, I won’t forget mine.

My husband won’t let me.

You see, I flew up to Calgary for the weekend to surprise him at a Toastmaster convention – a little “gotcha” I cooked up back in March. When I obviously wasn’t thinking Olympics or I never would have spent the frequent flier points. So as luck would have it, I was wearing a blue sparkly cocktail dress, new shiny pumps and sitting at a banquet table the night of the final medley. I’d seen two times posted: 10:58 EST, and 10:40 EST – right smack in the middle of dinner when you’re in MST. Not to mention NBC announced they’d moved up the start of the race by 30 minutes, so it could have been 10:10, better known as AT (appetizer time).

I didn’t take any chances. At the top of the hour, I excused myself and went downstairs to the hotel bar, grabbed a seat, ordered a Pepsi and some beer nuts and settled in. Of course, the correct time was the last one. I spent an hour chatting with a couple from Calgary, the bartender, and eventually another Toastmaster spouse who told his wife he had to use the restroom. At least I didn’t have to lie – my hubby just raised his eyebrows the second I stood up and started walking. He knew darn well he’d just been abandoned for a better offer.

When the race was in the history books, my shoes were off, I was jumping up and down in a party dress and high-fiving folks at the other tables. At one point the Canadian gentleman asked why he was rooting for the USA.

I knew why I was: This is my country, and Michael Phelps isn’t a Toastmaster.

I apparently missed a bad steak and half of a boring program. Great timing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Schooling

I’ve heard all my life that travel is educational. Cynical me figured it was because some adult wanted to go to Disney World when the crowds are down in October. But I need to give that chestnut more weight – I mean, take a look at what I’ve learned from Beijing in just four days:

• Underwater cameras in the water polo pool do not transmit an attractive image.

• You can’t make cycling visually compelling, either. Not without Ben Hur-style spikes at least.

• Putting duct tape over the Nike swoosh doesn’t stop anyone in the world from recognizing this symbol.

• The 16-year-old Chinese gymnasts should compete next in coloring against the other kindergartners in their classes.

• Not even Bela Karolyi can decipher what Bela Karolyi is saying.

• Bob Costas’ wide-eyed little boy gaze isn’t working for him any more.

• Michael Phelps needs to lay off the Calvin Klein ads. Son, when someone in the excitement of celebrating pulls his pants down that far, there’s usually an action plan in mind. And my first hope was that it would ONLY involve peeing in the pool. NBC doesn't exactly want to broadcast history of another kind.

And just think, I gained all this insight without even going to the airport …

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Carbonated Comment

My husband was thirsty while we were driving home on I-65 the other day, and used that an excuse to pull into the Taco Bell drive-thru. There’s something about that purple and pink logo that calls his name.

But he was good this time and told the little squawk box he only wanted a large Pepsi with lots of ice.

At the window, the cashier cheerfully asked us for $3.97. Get outta here – we ordered a Pepsi, not a rum and Coke. Ron politely told her there was obviously a mistake since he’d ordered just one large drink.

“You guys are idiots,” she yelled back toward the restaurant.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Derby Style in August

My get outta here moment happens fairly quickly in this little story: I found a hip, cool hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Yah, that’s not a typo. I’m talking about Louisville, city on the other side of the Ohio River on I-65 where my goal is always to leave whether I’m heading north or south.

My husband had a death in his family this week, however, that forced us to spend the night. I glanced through the usual suspects: a Super 8, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, the Seelbach, the Galt House. I just wasn’t in the mood to click any of the buttons. None of them seemed like the proper reward for standing at a funeral home for six hours in high heels, making up conversations with people you don’t know and trying to muster up a grief you don't feel.

Then I remembered an interview I’d had this spring with the owner of this new place – some hotel with a beaded limo that’s in demand for the Derby. I raced back through my notes to find the name – even 21c Museum Hotel sounded funky. So what the heck? I gave them my credit card number.

We were blown away from the sidewalk. The hotel check-in clerk doubled as our concierge, calling over to the restaurant to make reservations for our dinner and giving us a tour of the place. There’s a live performer singing on one side, and interactive art everywhere you look. I’m talking about a projected image of two people sleeping in bed on the floor, complete with the guy turning over occasionally. The bathroom has a series of video screens tucked behind the mirror with various eyeballs staring at you while you wash your hands. Yah, it sounds creepy but it's still cool.

Our room was incredible – 42-inch HD television screen; thick, bouncy carpet, and a rubber duck in the tub. And free WiFi. I’m not making that up. We’re talking a 4-star hotel that’s giving away Internet connections. Un-freaking-believable. I can’t believe I didn’t bring a camera to capture my moments at this little haven. Not that you can photograph a good night’s sleep on amazing pillows, but I would have tried.

Louisville. Get outta here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Get Outta Here: Look Ma! No Air-Conditioning!

Just came back from a 16-hour road trip to Kansas City, where I attended the ASBPE convention. (If you’re bored today, try to figure out what that stands for. Or rather, should stand for.) I picked up a colleague at the Indy airport to ride shotgun with me … someone I’ve chatted with for more than two years by email but had never met in person.

Now I also roomed with someone with that same status, so I was either brave or a glutton for punishment. Turns out, reality was a little bit of both. My roommate hit all my buttons: snored all night and wanted a light on to see around the room if she woke up. Those two alone meant I functioned on less than 5 good hours of sleep over a three-day stretch.

She was also the highly opinionated type, as in I would never open my laptop where she could see it because I didn’t want her to discover my screensaver is a repeated photo of George W. Bush in a cowboy hat. Those would have been grounds for locking me in the shower or stealing all my clothes. Heck, she had already switched the ringer on my cell phone to vibrate because it rang while she was in the room and I wasn’t.

But the passenger? I already knew she was an expert at football and baseball. I knew she enjoys singing in her choir. And I knew she once said that she likes the heat and prefers not to have the air-conditioning on in a car. Unfortunately, I never dreamed she has to have it pitch black in a room before she can sleep. Or that she is unpolitically correct enough to laugh at the way someone’s dog died – not because she dislikes animals but because the situation was stupid and called for the giggles.

I learned that she is honest enough to admit to the same monthly income goals I have.

And get outta here: She wasn’t kidding about the air-conditioning. For the first few hours we flew (uh, drove, Mom) across I-70, I thought for sure she’d reach over and hit the snowflake button on my dash. It never happened. For the first time in my life, I took a trip across the Midwest without shivering, wrapped in blankets, and sneezing to clear my clogged sinuses.

I think I need to learn the art of more meaningful email conversations. And to confess to my new traveling buddy that I have W on my computer so we can laugh about it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Get Outta Here: A Comfortable Hell

Even travel agents pick the wrong hotel at times. I pulled into the Glen Capri Inn and Suites in Glendale, California, Friday afternoon and immediately began thinking up a reason I couldn’t stay the second night. Now I’m not a hotel snob, but there’s something about outside doors with crooked number plates that don’t inspire safety feelings among women.

You also get a strike against you when the Internet connection you promised isn’t working, and your hotel clerk can’t speak English enough to understand the phrase “The Internet is not working.” You are not my kind of hotel if the toilet is so close to the tub, my knees touch it while I’m sitting there. I’m thinking about leaving if you’re so cheap you don’t offer a pad of paper on the desk or a box of Kleenex anywhere. (Blowing my nose on toilet paper – THAT, I’ll be a snob about.)

So I slept like a baby for close to 10 hours, no doubt because there was nothing else to do in that room. Last night, I arrived at a Ramada Inn with those coveted inside doors, and Internet connection that works great, a large bathroom, a king-size bed. It was heaven … until I needed to sleep.

Not 20 minutes after turning off my lights, a family walks into the adjoining room. “I get the bathroom first!” shouts a teen-age girl. “Shut up. People are probably trying to sleep,” says her father. Then he turns on the television and I happen to know he was watching CNN News because it was that loud. Meanwhile, the two kids continue to bicker in outdoor voices and at some point, one of them must have thrown the other against the wall. I looked at my clock: 1:28 a.m.

I’m not a subtle person. I yelled, “Hey, quiet down over there.” No response. I could have called the front desk. Instead, I sat up and turned my own TV on and up – and got my point across. It got nice and quiet on the other side of the wall, and I snuggled back into the covers by 2:15 a.m.

But now it’s 8 a.m. They’ve received four phone calls, have taken three showers, made a pot of coffee, and I can only thank God those aren’t my kids to discipline. Not to mention the maids have swept the floor of the room above me. I get the message loud and clear: Get outta here!

Which brings up the philosophical question, “Which is more important to hotel survival: Internet connection and wide open spaces around the toilet or an atmosphere where folks can sleep?” At this moment, I’m longing for Glen Capri.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Get Outta Here: The Flying Nun

So I’m sitting at the gate at Reagan National, minding my own business and trying not to care that the storm on the other side of that window has shut down the airport. (All good stories start with this “minding my own business” gig.) The lady next to me sees me take a break in my book, and starts a conversation.

She turned out to be a very nice person – polished make-up, nicely styled hair, dressed rather decently for an afternoon at the airport. She’s going to Bentonville, Arkansas, to visit an old friend and she’s not sure with this weather if she can make her connection in Charlotte.

Uh, this gate was for a direct flight to Indianapolis. So I asked when her flight was supposed to leave, thinking perhaps my flight was behind hers and I’d better start staking out where I wanted to eat dinner in that airport because I wasn’t going anywhere for a half a day. “3:30, “ she says very casually.

Get out of here. MY flight at this gate was scheduled for 3:35. No way did USAirways plan to send two planes out of the same gate at the same time. It’s physically impossible.

She was obviously lost. I politely told her there had been some kind of mix-up, and she should check the board to figure out where her flight was leaving from. She did – and came back saying that board listed three flights to Charlotte, but it was definitely gate 25.

Great. I was in the presence of a flying virgin. How would you find a tactful way to steer her in the right direction? I could think of plenty of blunt ways, as in “Are you really this clueless?” But finesse takes me a few minutes. So we talked about other things while I puzzled out a plan, then I strolled over to the board myself. Yes, there were three flights for Charlotte listed, but not a freakin’ one of them even had a 2 in the gate numbers. She was so off-base, she was in the wrong terminal.

So I rushed back to my seat with an important update: “They just changed your gate. You need to report to 37A.” She was so grateful I was sweet enough to check her flight, too. She grabbed her stuff and took off down the carpet.

Sweet? I didn’t mention she had to go back through security in the other wing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Get Outta Here: The Gift Fairy Bombs

Worst part about a vacation, hands down: bringing back gifts. I don’t mean Christmas or birthday gifts (I stock up on those, too). I’m talking about remembrances for the folks who are grabbing the mail for you every day and feeding the dog.

The first few trips it was easy, because you had the endless stock of souvenir shop items to choose from. Unfortunately, I realized in Costa Rica that I’ve exhausted infinity when it comes to teen-age boys. I found a hardwood bracelet for his sister. Serving bowls for his mom. Coffee grounds – what else would you tote home from the coffee country? – for his dad.

But what to get Kevin? He has wallets. He has pens – and no real use for them. He doesn’t wear caps. A handmade photo album would just be stupid. A shot glass isn’t … uh, politically correct for a 20-year-old college student. And it’s really little for someone who spent an afternoon sweeping our deck so the leaves wouldn’t clog the swimming pool.

Don’t even go there with the bookmark idea. That’s for little kids like my first-grade niece. (But kudos for getting it in the suitcase.) Beach towels? Did that last time. Fresh almonds? Now I’m just getting desperate.

In the end, I did what any red-blooded American traveler does in this dilemma: I bought him a t-shirt.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Get Outta Here: I Paid for a Snipe Hunt

When you read the tourist brochures on Costa Rica, they’re telling the truth about the wildlife. My husband got to hold a baby sloth crawling along the ground. We were close enough to monkeys to take up the entire frame in the photo without a zoom lens. I watched leaf-cutter ants straight from the Discovery Channel, I dodged lizards falling from the tree next to the pool. I declined to hold a poison dart tree frog, although a toxic red frog landed on Ron’s rubber boots in the rainforest. I rode up right next to a chimera in a speed boat, and photographed birds whose names I’ll never know (except the toucan. He looked just like Sam on the Froot Loops box.)

They are dead on when they tout the fun of ziplining. The beauty of a molten lava flow at night. The wonderful beaches at Manual Antonio. The upscale hotels that deliver quality lodging without the stuffy, pretentious atmosphere that U.S. resorts give off.

But beware of the famed nesting turtle pitch on the Caribbean side. Oh, the licensed guides will tell you it’s a crap shoot to look for them … as they take your $15 for the night tour. That’s all the warning you get before trudging off down the beach in the dark, no flashlights allowed. (Stupid me, I must have thought they said no water bottles allowed because I left that behind at the hotel, too.) For the next two hours, I dizzily followed the silent guide, surrounded by 15 other suckers in our group, across the sand in humidity designed to sweat your brains out all over your shirt. He wasn’t walking slowly either – we were putting up a decent clip.

And at some point it finally struck me: I was looking for a turtle. Maybe a green turtle, maybe a leatherback, or hawksbill or loggerhead. But nevertheless, a turtle. You know, those things I used to keep in a plastic aquarium as a kid – has a wrinkled penis-like face, four fat legs and a shell. And if I found any representatives of this species, it would be walking in a circle.

This begs just one question: Who cares? I could have been sitting poolside with a drink, for Pete’s sake. Or borrowing the bartender’s red-light pointer and hunting tree frogs. Maybe even getting frisky with my honey in the hotel room. But no, I chose to dehydrate myself silly looking for a damn turtle that never materialized.

Get Outta Here: Private Driver Mystique

I’m a sucker for private transport in a country. I’d much rather deal mano a mano with a local driver as he proudly shows me what is important in his world. We can have a customized conversation in a car, as opposed to a crackling microphone that interrupts my little snooze in the back of the bus.

Ah, but then there was Arthur, the gentleman who drove us three hours from Tortuguero to Arenal. Ron used the excuse he couldn’t understand his English, grabbed the back seat and promptly fell asleep. (Note to self: Book him on a bus next time.) So Arthur and me proceeded to strike up an acquaintance in a combination of passable English and mangled Spanish.

What I couldn’t figure out was why he kept quizzing me on the iguanas I’d seen so far in Costa Rica. What color were they? How big were they? Did I like them? We’d talk about other things, and then he’d return to the next round of “what does Julie know about iguanas?” I was beginning to think the dude was seriously unbalanced about these lizardy creatures or he was using a wrong word. Maybe he meant ice cream? That I could understand an obsession about. Or igloos. That would surely interest someone living in 90 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity.

Meanwhile, he was driving like a bat out of hell. Costa Rica is a series of one-lane roads, many of them rock rather than paved, and still the locals pass each other without regard to common sense. He’d whip around a bus on a mountain curve, way over the speed limit, muttering under his breath about the stupid drivers on the road who didn’t drive safely. I thought for most of that ride I was back in a New York City taxi cab.

Suddenly, he pulled up in front of a restaurant, with a big grin on his face and promising me a surprise. Great! I’m thinking a Coke in a full glass of ice. That’s pleasant. Perhaps a doughnut, or a sandwich, or more beans and rice. Maybe it was just the fact I got to live long enough to make it to that spot. As I stepped out of the car, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the largest, ugliest iguana yet. Arthur laughed and yelled, “Surprise!” like it was a birthday party. Get outta here -- seems this restaurant owner loves iguanas enough to feed them daily, and thus created a stop where folks can hang out with the fat, lazy things. I’m talking 13 in one tree alone – and there were a lot of trees.

It took nearly 30 minutes to convince our driver we had seen our fill in the first 3 minutes, and then he talked about those iguanas for the rest of the hour trip to the hotel, quite proud of himself for showing us such an amazing site. Personally, I think Arthur was my better memory.

Get Outta Here: Costa Rica Packing Tips

I just returned from what had to be the hottest place I’ve visited on the planet. Not that I can’t take the heat – when they wrote the line “some like it hot,” they were referring to Julie Sturgeon.

What I didn’t like about Costa Rica was my packing choices for this humid, tropical climate. I'll cheerfully pass along my new insights so you can avoid lying naked on a bed, dripping wet, waiting for the fan to speed up:

• Don’t take tight-fitting jean shorts. Tortuguero is a rainforest, for crying out loud. Loose, cotton pants feel far better than rigid materials cutting into your waistline. A waistline, I might add that is larger than the pants’ waistband because I have a vain streak.

• Do take more than one bottle of spray-on sunscreen (bonus points if you even start with a new can. I took the left over from spring break). Sure, you can buy more. But not while on a boat in the middle of a lake.

• Don’t bother with an extensive cosmetics selection. You might find a little powder, a hint of blush to dress up for dinner useful. But foundation? Honey, it’s going to melt off your face and leave stains on your glasses. Not to mention your shirt front where you wiped at the sweat. Mascara and lipstick? Get outta here! Perfume – the only thing you want to smell like in the wilds of Costa Rica is DEET, my friend. Preferably 50 percent or higher.

* Do take along Kaopectate and Milk of Magnesia. These good folks eat black beans and rice for every meal. While your tongue will think it’s in heaven (remember my personal motto: a day without beans is a bad day), the opposite end will be so confused as to whether to clamp down or let loose, you need to be prepared for a sudden decision at any moment.

*** EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Don’t get hair extensions six days before boarding the plane. In particular, don’t let your stylist’s trainer talk her into semi-permanently welding a weft onto the base of your occipital bone, commonly known as the nape. (I know such medical language because I looked it up on You Tube in an attempt to distract myself.) The result is a head of hair clamped onto your head like a Fisher Price toy. You can’t lift it off your neck. Sweat pools in the weft and drives you nuts. You will scratch, tug and pull at these things until you tear them away from the scalp – and thus destroy an investment of several hundred dollars. Not to mention you look kinda funny in the vacation pictures.

Side note: Said hair extensions also tempt you into toting along a blow dryer, special shampoos and conditioners, two kinds of hair bands, rubber bands, curlers (what was I thinking?) and a curling iron. With airlines charging for precious luggage space, do yourself a favor and only take a freaking hair brush. OK, and the rubber band. Just one.