Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 In Review

2012 saw me traveling more than I ever have in the past.  Once upon a time, my job might take me on the road 10 times a year.  This year, out of a possible 48 weeks (if you take out my vacation), I traveled 27 of those.  I even traveled the week of Thanksgiving.

This is not all of the room photos.  There were a few trips towards the end of the year where I simply forgot.  I had a lot on my mind.  More on that in a moment.

David made numerous jokes about how it was like having a girlfriend on the weekend only.  One stretch in the summer saw me gone 8 weeks in a row.  Here's where I went, in order:
  • Hazelwood, MO
  • Washington, DC with stops in Knoxville, TN and Bethesda, MD to see our brand new grandbaby (this was a combined work/family trip).
  • Laredo, TX
  • York, PA (with a side trip to Maryland to see my daughter and granddaughter)
  • Fort Worth, TX (I only count this local trip because I had to stay at the hotel where my company was hosting our annual conference)
  • Omaha, NE
  • Amarillo, TX
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Oakland, CA (Vacation with David)
  • Yosemite National Park (Vacation with David)
  • San Francisco, CA (Vacation with David)
  • Houston, TX
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Omaha, NE (again)
  • Lubbock, TX
  • Georgetown, TX
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Victoria, TX
  • Corpus Christi, TX
  • Omaha, NE (yes, again)
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Alexander City, AL
  • Pensacola, FL (Vacation with Kendall, my parents & my niece)
  • Hammond, IN
  • Malta, NY (Vacation with David to see our son)
  • Cooperstown, NY (Vacation)
  • Miami, FL
  • Dickson, TN
  • Franklin, TN
  • Columbia, TN
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Missoula, MT (with David)
  • Edwardsville, IN
  • Chambersburg, PA (with a side trip to Maryland to visit my daughter and granddaughter)
The idea behind this blog was to force me to get out.  Get out of the hotel.  Get out of my own way.  Over the 12 years I have traveled for work I spent the bulk of that in the hotel watching television and/or working.  As much as I hate to travel, that didn't help.  So this year I was going to get out and do something, find out what these places had to offer.  So I did.  And now I can't imagine ever going back to my old ways.

I saw a bunch of plays and musicals - both community theatre and national tours of Broadway shows.  I saw the Texas Rangers play in Oakland and San Francisco.  David and I took our first real vacation after 25 years of marriage.  I went to a couple of interesting museums and ate at a few good (and a couple of bad) places featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  For the first time ever, I looked forward to traveling because I looked forward to exploring something other than my hotel.

Best Work Outing:
This would probably have to be the two times at Jersey Boys in Pittsburgh.  First time was planned, the second just two days later was spur of the moment.

Worst Work Outing:
The Samuel Beckett plays I saw in San Francisco, Xanadu was a close second.

Favorite City of 2012 - Work Trip:
Omaha was a nice surprise, especially since I went three times.  They are already on the calendar for 2013 so I am going to have to start being creative.

Least Favorite City of 2012 - Work Trip:
Miami.  I still don't like this city and this was my third time there. 

Best Vacation Outing:
Sitting in "they yard" at Alcatraz watching the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

Worst Vacation Outing:
The Texas Rangers game at Oakland.  The stadium was awful and the man in front of me was completely obnoxious.  Also, Texas lost.  Badly.

In the beginning I was writing three blog posts a week.  Now I am down to about once a week.  Life sometimes gets in the way.  I still have a few from 2012 to write about but I have been busy.  This is because the trip with David to Missoula, Montana back in October resulted in us deciding to move there. 

So this coming Wednesday, we will get in the car and begin the 1,798 mile trip from our current Grapevine, Texas home to our new one in Stevensville, Montana.

I won't be posting for a couple of weeks.  Be patient with me because I will be back once I am settled in our new home and back out on the road.  I already have trips set up for Phoenix, Bakersfield, CA and New Orleans.  I think the strangest thing will be returning to the Dallas area as a tourist.  This is something I will do 4-5 times a year as part of my job (I am taking my current job with me).  Also, there will be lots of exploring in Montana to do. 
So as my dad used to say, "Hang in there, we'll see you on the flip side".

Friday, December 21, 2012

Scavenger Hunt: Arlington, TX

Thanksgiving was a little odd this year.  David and I are preparing to go our separate ways with him heading up to his new job in Montana leaving me here to sell the house.  We went back and forth over what do and where to go for Thanksgiving.  With our move coming so soon, both families were anxious to have us there for our "last" Texas Thanksgiving (at least the possibility of that).

Ultimately, we decided he would go see his dad and brother out in East Texas and I would go to Arlington and be with my parents and some of the extended family.  A few days before, I ran across a scavenger hunt idea on Pintrest aimed at getting you out to walk off some of the excessive amounts of food ingested during the day.  I didn't go crazy with the food but I still thought the idea would be fun to do.

After eating I rounded up a small group and we set out in my parent's neighborhood to find:
  1. A family playing football
  2. Smoke coming from a chimney
  3. 5 or more cars parked at one house
  4. An out of state license plate
  5. A family on a walk
  6. Pinecones and/or acorns
  7. A pile of leaves
  8. Thanksgiving decorations
  9. Early Christmas decorations
  10. Decorations for a holiday that has gone by
  11. Trash bags on the curb
  12. A college football flag/yard decoration

I admit that I modified the Pintrest list some.  The original list had "a black bird" on it and I decided to change that to trash bags on the curb since that is totally similar.  I took a few off but wanted an even dozen.  The original list I found had write in blanks at the bottom for your "own ideas" so I didn't completely go off-script.

And away we go:

1.  We didn't see any families playing football which made me kind of sad.  We always played football at my grandparent's house on Thanksgiving.  However I did see:

My niece and my brother abusing each other with Ping-Pong paddles.  I have conflicting stories about whether my niece or my dad won the game they played later.

2.  It is in the upper 70's on Thanksgiving day so seeing smoke coming from a chimney is unlikely.  Unless...

You count my daughter who smokes.  I can't take credit for this brilliant substitution.  My sister-in-law thought of it.

3.  5 or more cars in front of a house was really easy.

This house is right across the street from my parent's house.  We are really working hard on this walk/hunt.

4.  Out of state plates (California) and the walk still hasn't taken us far.

That white truck in the background is parked at the house next door to my parent's house.

5.   I cheated on this one and I knew I was going to before we even set out.

My family on a walk.  When I re-read the Pintrest list later I noticed it said "another family".  Sometimes I think I might need to join another family.

6.  Pinecones and acorns and sparkly shoes are Kendall's specialty.

She is definitely paying attention and helping us find the things on the list.

7.  In fact, she is very helpful on the next item: a pile of leaves.

"Here grandma, I made you a pile of leaves."

8.  I knew Thanksgiving decorations would be too easy. 

The good news is we finally made it off of my parent's street.

9.  Early Christmas decorations were harder to find than I expected.

My niece is bolder than I am.  She will walk up in a stranger's yard to get a picture.  I prefer to stay in the street lest someone look up from their turkey leg and say, "Why is some woman I don't know outside taking pictures of my house?"

10.  I know Halloween wasn't that long ago but let's keep up people.

Actually I am a little surprised I couldn't go further back, like to the 4th of July.

We interrupt this scavenger hunt for:

"Take my picture grandma."

11.  I added the trash idea to the list thinking that there would be bags of leaves on the curb even though trash is certainly not going to be picked up on a holiday.

I am pretty sure those two bags don't contain leaves.

12.  We found lots of yard décor for the local high school (Kick Em Colts!) and even one for the local elementary school (Go Shorthorns!) but...

We never saw a college flag or anything else related to college teams other than this one house that had the University of Texas Longhorn on their painted curb-side street number.

We only ended up going one short block but it was fun.  I would definitely do this again at Christmas or at some other get together if the situation arose.  

The hunters:  Rob, Miranda, Kendall ("don't take my picture anymore"), Aaron, Me, Ashley (in front) & Cathy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vizcaya: Miami

This was my third trip to Miami and I wasn't looking forward to it. I have never enjoyed Miami.  I forgot to pack some extremely necessary articles of clothing on a trip there once without the benefit of a rental car.  I had to walk to a KMart against the advice of my customer who was concerned for my safety lest I be attacked by the homeless along the way and then about my obvious whiteness once I arrived.

Miami is also home to the only customer who ever tried to kiss me.  My family will tell you that I am not even much of a hugger but I try to put on a brave face when the situation arises.  I am always awkward and uncomfortable hugging strangers or near-strangers and I certainly do not kiss them.  When I met this customer for the first time I moved forward to shake his hand but he leaned in for a kiss.  I immediately backed up.  He was embarrassed, I was embarrassed.  He is from Spain and was simply doing what comes natural by kissing both cheeks - or in my case trying to.  I may travel quite a lot but I have never left the states and am certainly not accustomed to kissing strange men that aren't my husband.  I don't even kiss my dad or my son and they are both really strange.

I see the kisser on this trip but I am prepared this time.  Fortunately, he was good-natured the first time and we had a good laugh about it.  We manage the cheek-air kissing this time and he tells me that he has been hooked on Dr Pepper ever since his visit to Texas.  At least that is what I am ultimately memorable to him for, not the original faux pas.

Despite all the kissing, I am still not excited about Miami.  I have a hard time making myself get out and do things.  It is really hot even though we are coming to the end of fall when I am here.  It is also humid - as always - so my hair wants to hang flat on my head bothering me the whole time.

AIR.  YES.  MAS AIR.  Preferably the kind that comes with Freon along for the ride.

I go to Miracle Mile since it is supposed to be a "miracle" but that was a bust.  I walked past the stores and couldn't work up any enthusiasm to go in any of them.  I ended up eating at a Subway and making my way out.  I did see the movie Samsara at the local theater in Coral Gables (where Miracle Mile is) and it was good but very odd.  There is no dialogue.  It is more like a National Geographic documentary set to music.  I had a hard time paying attention because the man next to me bathed in his cologne before coming so I was concentrating on breathing through my mouth most of the time and trying to stop the Billy Joel song It's Still Rock and Roll to Me from repeating over and over in my head.  (Should I get a set of white wall tires? Are you gonna cruise the Miracle Mile?)

I finally made myself find something not shopping related to do and located Vizcaya with about an hour to go before closing.

The house was built in 1916 by James Deering and includes 10 acres of formal gardens.

I want to do the self-guided audio tour but am told no because it is too close to closing.  I am issued a map and sent up the walk to the house.  As usual there is no photography allowed inside the house. 

In the house, I was distracted by all of the plexiglass.  Everything within arms reach is protected by plexiglass panels...tapestries, art, even the moldings around the doors and windows.  I know they are trying to preserve the house but many times the plastic created a glare that you couldn't see the item through.  The rooms in the upstairs were closed off so you could walk to the doorway and lean in but you couldn't enter the room.  Some of the stairs are really narrow and of course back then there was no air conditioning and I am having a hard time imagining being here in the summer.  Especially considering the clothes women would be wearing in the 1920's. 

Out on the grounds, I am not sure about the clothes I am wearing in 2012 because as I mentioned it is hot and humid (24-7-365 I am pretty sure) in Miami.  There are a lot of statues on the grounds and, as someone who likes and owns some sizable statues herself, I am happy to wander around and look.  However, there seems to be no consistent theme to the statues here.

Ponce de Leon

Bearded Man with Towel Who May or May Not be Shaving

Greek God with Harp and Part of a 6-Pack

Colonial Boy with Rose

Woman Exposing Her Left Breast Preparing to Curtsey

You get the idea.  The grounds are extensive with several gazebos, fountains and some very pretty formal gardens.

I like the look of the sculptured hedges.

One of several fountains.

It is a little hard to get a photo without another guest in it.

There were a lot of people milling around and sitting in the shade in all parts of the garden.

There were several overgrown gazebos.

Some of the fountains were dry but this one near the house was operational.

The Orchid Garden

Some of the gardens were closed for restoration.

The house is right on the water and the views from the back of the house are spectacular.  There is some renovation going on while I am there to the back façade of the house so I go in and out through the small, well air-conditioned gift shop and café on the side of the house right next to the swimming pool - which is like none I have ever seen.

Part in the house and the rest out.  They need one of these at my hotel.

There was a bride-to-be having her photos done in this gazebo.

A pelican having his photo done.

I feel a little cheated that I didn't get to see some fantastic pirate ship tied up here to what appears to be a floating dock.

Just in case I faint from the heat and fall in the water.

Because it is so hot I don't linger outside as long as I could.  Walking back to the car I pass the booth where I paid my admission.  The woman who refused to give me the headphones because I would not bring them back before she was ready to leave is still there.  I smile and wave as I go by.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Lost in the Corn Maze: Colleyville, TX

Just a few miles from my house there is a large field that is planted with corn in the late summer.  Hall's Pumpkin Farm has an annual pumpkin patch and corn maze leading up to Halloween.  I took some of my kids here when they were teenagers which wasn't much fun for me, let's be honest.

So this year I decided I wanted to go back, this time with companions who aren't embarrassed that I  exist.

At least they weren't when we arrived.

I can only imagine the horror my middle daughter would feel if she could see us now.  Not only is her mom doing embarrassing things in is her grandma!

I tried to talk my dad into doing his photo in the same one as mom and I but he opted for the cowboy instead. 

I think Hall's expanded their operation since I was here last.  I don't remember this house made of hay bales.  They also sell a variety of fall carnival foods like roasted corn, sausage on a stick, turkey legs and kettle corn.  Kendall talked me into a bag of kettle corn and a blue ring pop within the first 5 minutes.  Mom and dad opt for the apple cider.

It is chilly and windy on the day we are here and my mom is already cold.  She and dad were going to skip the corn maze but since that was my primary reason for coming, I insisted and paid for us all.

Kendall isn't keen to touch the hairy part of the corn.  I don't think she relates this in any way to the corn-on-the-cob she loves.

I have never been in a corn maze before, neither has Kendall.  She leads the way with confidence.

Big Pop (my dad), Gigi (my mom) & I follow blindly.  For a while.

Once we have been in the corn maze for a while, we realize this isn't going to be as easy as we thought.  We see the same people over and over.  Some of the paths go in a circle, some lead to dead ends.  We don't even stumble across the entrance again.  Sometimes people we have seen before will clue us in on the path they just came from (which is clearly not the right one).  We finally have the idea for Kendall to drop pieces of popcorn so we will know we have been that way before.  She isn't in the lead anymore.

We use several strategies, including the popcorn, that don't work.  Because I live nearby I know the streets that border the property and we try to go to the far edge of the maze near where there would be a traffic signal.  We see the signal but this isn't the way either.  Finally, with Gigi near freezing and starvation an employee takes pity on us and gives us a clue.  Later when we find ourselves unsure again we turn around and find he has followed us.  One more clue and we make it out!

Dad was never worried.  I think he was always confident in our popcorn method.

My mom on the other hand is so grateful to be out I am surprised she didn't kneel down and kiss the ground.  Notice she didn't pose by the Exit sign.  She immediately moved as far from the maze as possible lest it suck her back in. 

Our last mission is to let Kendall pick out a pumpkin.  (Hall's offers hay rides too but we were too tired and cold.  By "we" I mean Kendall and Gigi.)  Kendall picks out a pumpkin she can ride on.  Good thing Big Pop is here to carry it to the car.  She wanted someone to carry her to the car too.

Back at my house I let her decorate the pumpkin with markers and stickers.  We are leaving the cleaning and roasting of seeds to Kendalls' mom (my daughter Miranda) this year. Kendall doesn't mind, she is more interested in eating dinner which includes the roasted, hairless corn we bought.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Two Kinds of Relics - Pittsburgh, PA

Even with all of the shows I had lined up for Pittsburgh, I still hoped there would be time for one or two other outings of the non-theatrical variety.  The one that intrigued me the most was no sure thing because of the hours of operation.  Luckily, one day we finished a little early so my customer could attend a meeting so I set off for St. Anthony's.

St. Anthony's offers tours of the original chapel.  Their claim to fame is that they are in possession of the most Catholic relics outside of the Vatican.  See why I am intrigued?  A church in Pittsburgh is the holder of the second most Catholic relics?  Really? 

Because the guide apparently assumes anyone taking this tour must be Catholic and talks to you as if you obviously are, I was at a slight disadvantage during the tour as I am not.  For a while I thought I was going to be the only one on the tour - Catholic or otherwise - because the guide began her speech while I was the only one there.  She even started late after asking me if it was okay so that she could attend to some workers doing maintenance in another building.  She had been talking about 10 minutes when 3 other women and a nun came in hoping to participate.  So she waited for them to come in and do their gestures and get seated so she could start again.

Luckily, she did explain early on what a Catholic relic is.  I thought this would be things like crosses and books (I am confusing relic with antique) but learn that it actually includes things like clothing and body parts.  There are different degrees of relics - 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree - and it all depends on what it is and who it belonged to or who/what it may have touched.

All of those cases in the cabinet are requilaries, a container for a relic.  St. Anthony's boasts more than 5,000 individual relics.  The two on the top row right side where it curves contain the forearm bones of a saint.  Under the back alter you can see a small gold trunk which is actually a sarcophagus containing the full skeletal remains of a saint.

Some requilaries are large and ornate, some are tiny.  Those items that look like charms pinned around the case above are all requilaries.  Some contain a drop of blood, a piece of human tissue, a tooth or a single strand of hair.

I had a really hard time understanding why anyone would feel it necessary to save a single strand of hair to put in a gold case in a church until I was reminded that one of my coworkers has a lock of my hair in a ziplock bag in his desk.  I left it as a joke after he complained about my plans to cut my hair short.  That was something like 6 years ago and he still has it in the original baggie, the Noelle relic I guess.  It might be why the people we hire that are required to share an office with him don't last long.  It is a little creepy.  

This church is really beautiful inside (I found the outside pretty unremarkable) and our guide explains about the restoration effort and about the priest who had the original chapel built and who began acquiring the relics whenever and wherever he could.

Along the side walls in the extension built on to the back of the original chapel, there are statues representing the Stations of the Cross.  These life-size figures are carved completely out of wood.

I stay quiet throughout the tour when the guide asks questions because I don't want to say anything stupid and after my experience in Chicago at Late Night Catechism I already know I don't know a lot about what Catholics believe and why.

Here at the statue of St. Anthony she asks if anyone has a favorite saint and two of the ladies respond with Rita.  I don't know who that is and I don't say mine is Joan of Arc because I might give myself away as the only non-Catholic on this tour.  (A Catholic friend once told me that "real Catholics" don't really put much stock in saints like Joan of Arc and that some don't even recognize her as a true saint.  Whatever the case, she is listed on - I checked - and I still think she is a fascinating historical figure if nothing else.)

The priest of St. Anthony's, Father Mollinger, was known as the Healing Priest and it is said that there would be more than 10,000 people here at the service for St. Antony's feast day on June 13, hoping to be healed. 

At one time there were crutches, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, braces and other things stacked all around St. Antony's statue.  These were removed and a few are on display across the street in the gift shop.

The gift shop is pretty small and compared to the one I went to in St. John, Indiana, it is unimpressive.  I was somewhat tempted to buy some Holy Water.

I confess though I don't know the etiquette or use of this.  Do you drink it?  Splash it on people who need it?  I decide I might not be qualified to be in possession of this.

Is there a difference between Holy Water and Blessed Water?  There is a reason I need to know.

I might be able to save my $1.75 if I have an empty water bottle or jelly jar handy.

On the subject of money, they request you make a donation for the tour of St. Anthony.  Depending on the sign you read this would be between $3 and $5. 

I left $10.  The problem is, I did this when I thought no one else was going to arrive and while the guide was attending to the workers.  NO ONE SAW ME!  When the guide asks us to leave a donation at the end of the tour I feel very conspicuous as the only one not getting out her wallet.  

My second Relic outing was to ride one of the two "inclines" that serve downtown Pittsburgh.  These are essentially trolley cars that go up the side of a hill.  Once upon a time they took workers from the neighborhood at the top down to the city.  Today, they still serve the same purpose but are also a tourist attraction.  There are two inclines about 1 mile apart - the Monongahela and the Duquense.

I ride the Monongahela. I am at the bottom here (obviously) after having ridden down from the top.  You can see the car about halfway up returning to the top.  The inside of the car is pretty small, it might carry 20 people packed pretty tight.  It was hot (to me) on this day and there is no air movement and certainly no air conditioning.  I was happy to reach the bottom and get out.

Near the bottom you will find a shopping and restaurant district.

Where I bought these blinged-out sunglasses.  I was planning to give them to my daughter but they are very comfortable and I have a hard time finding sunglasses I like.  So I kept them.  My friend Carla says they are NOT me.  That makes me want to keep them all the more.

The car going down.  Views up here are pretty spectacular.

Downtown Pittsburgh

One week after returning home I went to look something up on the Internet and there was a breaking story of a hostage situation in Downtown Pittsburgh.  I clicked to read the story and was shocked to see my client's address as the location of the standoff!  One week earlier and I would have been there.  I obsessed about this fact for a few days.  The man ultimately surrendered later the same day and no one was injured.