On the Road Again

IMG_3342Northern NY, Connecticut, northern NY, West Virginia, northern NY  (with relatives visiting) then western NY. Those were our past two weeks. Very fun and very full. And I fully intended to write, but somehow when I finished my work each day, I was packing, unpacking or just plain ol’ hesitant to crack a computer. I’m a wee bit fried, but it’s all good. Loose ends are finally getting wrapped up, and our lives on the western front (of NY) now have an expiration date.

I’ll do this in catch-up pieces so it’s not too bulky. Let’s start with the car. Times are changing. My man can fix anything, and we live accordingly. In our now 25+ years of marriage, we get a mini-van every few years. They are rust buckets he fixes up, and once we bought one with less than 100,000 miles on it. It baffled us. We kept thinking something was wrong with the odometer. But you know what? Chris is so swamped with our life changes–adjusting to a new home and weeding through generations of treasures from the family (now that we live in a home once owned by his grandparents), that he just doesn’t have time for the car maintenance. And now we want to spend time we have traveling and visiting our grown kids. This last trip to Utah was an eye-opener. It’s time for things to change in our arena.

So we opened our minds to alternative choices.

CJ has been raving about his car deal and telling us it isn’t a horrible move getting an other-than-rust-bucket. And Zeb and Bri (Zeb’s girlfriend) have been saying the same. Bri has had a Honda Fit for many years, and adores it. The more they talked about it, the more we realized it might be the perfect Fit for us (see what I did there? Haha). The mileage is excellent (42 mpg on highways) and with it’s high roof for a little car, it holds a ton. Depending on how you configure the seats, you can easily fit snowboards or bicycles inside the little thing. And the front seats recline so they are almost completely flat in case you want to sleep in the car (which we do in our minivans when we camp). Aaaand we’ve found quite a few Fits for sale with around 250,000 miles on them. Apparently the engines last forever.

We hit Craigslist and dealer sites and found a dream deal in Ct. It seemed so good. We called in the morning, and they said it was still available so we hopped in our broken minivan and took the 4-hour trip to Ct. Only to find out that it was sold the day prior.

Yeah, you read that right. The day before.

And we are very proud of ourselves. We didn’t let ourselves get too depressed, and we didn’t blow up angrily or lash out — all of which are natural instincts. Instead, we parked at a gas station, pulled out the mi-fi and our computers, and really started researching. Connecticut has a lot more Fit opportunity than northern NY. After a half hour or so of dedicated research, we found a place with a beautiful red Fit. I hit their live chat (which I love to do since I do live chat in my job — it’s fun to be on the other side of it). The car was there, and twenty minutes later we were there.

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What a difference from the first place, which made us feel like we were in a machine (one with false info). This place was down-to-earth and friendly. Yet professional. We drove the vehicle and loved it. We didn’t feel pressure, muss or fuss, even though we were getting close to their closing time. In fact, it was only upon our questioning wherein they let us know of other options. And we fell in love with a black one. With tinted windows so my computer won’t get overheated as I work while traveling. And lots of USB ports and charging areas. As a worker-often-on-the-road I was sold.

Chris was sold after seeing the moon roof.

We drove back the next day to pick it up and had a delightful experience at a local coffee shop as we waited.

So yeah, we have officially entered the world of grown-ups. Thanks to our kids. And now have a reliable car. That had 26,000 miles on its odometer (now it has 28,000). This is perhaps a dangerous thing. But it’s amazingly fun. Thanks for the prodding, kiddos!

PS. Not gonna lie, it was a bit embarrassing to realize that we are so outdated and behind-the-times that when we went to leave the lot, we realized we didn’t know how to start the thing. Had to ask for help. How embarrassing, yet funny. I get that.

 

 

The Best Laid Plans

Packing the carReally long post about our Utah adventure with lots of pics starting at the Enjoying the Trip for Real section below (click that link if you want to jump straight to that section).

We had a good plan. A great plan, I dare confess. But you know what they say:

 

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

Originally our plan was this: Columbus, Ohio, then a hotel as we headed west, wherever we were, then Utah then Vegas, then California, then New Mexico, then a hotel somewhere, then Illinois, then South Carolina, then North Carolina then Maryland, then West Virginia, then back to Houghton, then home.

All in four weeks. This was all part of our Anniversary travel plans.

Now? – Hotel in Iowa, hotel in Wyoming, CJ and Lauren’s in Utah then hopefully a hotel somewhere then Missouri then a hotel somewhere then Houghton then home. Or maybe just a flight home.

It started changing a bit ago. We realized that California and Vegas might be better in a later trip, but we would decide that last minute. Then Ohio and New Mexico friends had some life happenings that made it a less-than-ideal time to visit.

No problem. We re-routed, but that made us hit South Carolina at a bad time for the people we were visiting there. So we shuffled, and all was kind of working out for Plan B, but the trip was getting shorter. Still fun, though.

On Thursday we left our home in northern NY with a carefully loaded vehicle, as we headed to our home in western NY, initiating our Grand Adventure.

We had items from the north house coming to the west house for the annual Memorial Day yard sale. This was carefully separated from items we were going to bring to Hudi and Zeb as we stopped at the camp they were working on at the tail-end of the Grand Adventure. And this was all topped off with items for CJ and Lauren, who we were going to visit near the beginning of the trip.

It was clock-work. From Thursday to Wednesday, we held the yard sale at the western NY home and did a bit of cleaning, and I did a ton of socializing. While I am happy living where I live now, it’s good to see my old friends again. On  Wednesday I drove over to Lauren’s family and picked up the wedding gifts that were set to make a cross-country trip to their owners. The plan was to leave at 4am on Saturday so we could get well beyond Chicago in daylight.

Thursday we continued to clean and socialize, then topped off the day by attending the WordPress meetup in Buffalo — we used to be regulars there before our move so it was nice to be back. Then Friday morning we loaded the car with our gear, the gifts for the Utah folk and with Hudi and Zeb’s belongings. It all went so smoothly I was able to visit more friends in the afternoon, knowing everything was in order.

Since I  had a full load, I drove slowly and smoothy, and all seemed idyllic as I pulled into the driveway and parked. We had a lovely last evening and got to bed early. By 4:10am  (yes, a little late), we closed up the house and headed out to the car, ready for the Grand Adventure. Only to find out that a horrible noise was emanating from under the hood. Chris checked it out and all of our power steering fluid was gone, aside from a few drips.

Nothing we could do about it in the dark so we went back to bed for a few hours. Later Chris checked it out (and those of you who know Chris know that if anyone can fix a car, it is he). No go. The trip was officially getting pushed off. I called a car rental, and they told me they had a car for us and would come pick us up. We planned to leave our own vehicle at a local place to get repaired. Plan C.

Then we got a phone call half an hour later. No rental available until Monday, and we were out of the pick-up zone. We’d have to get ourselves there. No problem, Fortunately the car was not dead in the water. We just had to keep pumping fluid into it. Plan D – Drive to the car rental, making sure we were there  by 8am when they opened to maximize our traveling time for the day, then drive back home, re-load the new car, drop our car at the repair shop so it could be fixed while we were gone then head out (hopefully by noon).

As a weekend worker, it didn’t faze me all that much. I just worked in the house instead of the car as originally planned. And this gave me the chance to see some of my friends one last time in church and on my daily walks. When I came back from Saturday’s  walk, it was only to discover that Chris had driven to the town half an hour away to get some necessary car parts for a patch repair. Things were looking up again. Plan E. We hoped to leave on Sunday. But that was not to be, either.

The patch worked in that the leak stopped, but the pump began having issues. The car was speaking languages I had never heard before. Not ideal.

Plan F – back to the rental option. But now we’re thinking  about it more. How can we make this more cost effective? The first move was obvious. Cut out the second half of the trip. No southern route. But how do we get the gear to Zeb and Hudi? That worked itself out. Friends of theres were driving down in a couple of weeks for a training, and they graciously agreed to take the essentials to our boys.  Then the car itself. We needed to rent an SUV since we were taking a bicycle out to Utah, but we could get a cheaper car on the way back. Or we could fly back to Syracuse then  grab our truck and head back to the western house another time to deal with our car. So many options.

Monday morning hit with questions still on our mind. At 7:10 we prepared to drive out to get the rental. Chris started the car, and it made no noise at all. No leaks, no pump issues. Nada.

Being  the tightwads that we are, we entered Plan F. Pack only our personal essentials in case we had to fly home, grab the kids’ presents and hit the road. After all, Chris pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot of turning between NY and Utah. It’s a pretty straight shot. Still, we planned on coming straight back after Utah since the car would most likely not stand up to the twists, turns and hills of the south.

All was great until Cleveland, OH, where the car began some very loud protests. We needed gas anyway so we limped off the road. When we re-booted the car a bit later, all was fine again. I did have the thought that perhaps the air conditioning we had on put too much stress on the engine. So we kept the air off and put down the window.

Enjoying the Trip for Real

I have to say that Plan F is a winner so far. We had planned to drive 8-10 hrs that day, but felt so energetic we easily hit 13 hrs and settled in a lovely, very affordable hotel for the night (yay, hotels.com!). Same deal the next day (except maybe 11 hrs of driving). Chris met wonderful people in the breakfast room (I was sleeping), and he heard then shared with me some fun travel tales, and we felt the camaraderie unique to road warriors. It makes me look forward to more time traveling by car in my future.

Chris particularly liked celebrating signs of Omaha and listening to the Counting Crows.

And I loved the windmills.

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We both loved the sculptures we saw  along the way.

The trip was blessed for sure. We were about 20  minutes ahead of the rush-hour traffic in Chicago (we saw it in our rear-view mirrors), had perfect hotels along our path, met friendly people, and dodged flooding (storms on the front and side of us, but not where we were). When the sun could have been pretty intense and challenging, clouds appeared and gave us shade. We even got a rainbow leading us to our hotel on one occasion. Perfection. The hotel doesn’t look like much outside, but it was very  pleasant inside.

Uncle John and CJ would have loved the trains by us.

The scenery was getting more and more incredible, and the queues were under control at work so I asked my team-mates if they minded if I took the day off. They quickly gave me their blessing. (I have the best job on the planet.) So we spent Wednesday gawking out the window, marveling in the beauty of creation from the greens and purples of sagebrush to the browns, whites and reds of the sand on the hills, amidst rock formations that rivaled the work of any sculptor I know. A crowning glory? The snow-capped mountains in the distance, which set my soul free.

Even better, each turn of the wheel was bringing us closer to CJ and Lauren. And the car was making it through the trip!

CJ was at work, and we had to drive right by the work-place on our way to their home so we stopped in only to discover that he was about to sign out  for the day. We were able to grab a bite to eat with him before he headed out to Salt Lake City for a Virtual Reality event, where he was demo-ing the game he has been working on with his co-workers. I was going to take a picture of him, but didn’t want to embarrass him in his work zone. Now Chris and Lauren say I should have.  Oh well, next time 🙂

Chris and I headed to the house to unload the gifts and reunite Lauren with her bicycle and the hatchet that Hudi gave her at CJ and Lauren’s wedding.

bicycle delivery

Yesterday we hiked the Stewart Falls trail with Lauren while CJ worked again. Aunt Anne would have loved the waterfalls.

Here’s a slow-motion view of those glorious falls:

I did a little bit of damage to my knee making going downhill a bit tricky on the way back. It was pretty funny. We were panting along, red as anything, trying to not limp too much (while going downhill, mind you. Not up-hill), and occasionally stepped aside while people grinned a “thank you” and RAN by us going up-hill. Talk about humbling.

My favorite quote of the day was from Chris:

We are cross training. Crossing our fingers and hoping we make it to the car.

After that hike, we walked through town a bit then stopped at this vintage ice cream place that I just loved. The ice cream rivaled European gelato. Not to start a fight. Just subjectively sayin’.

We were a  bit dirty when we got home so we cleaned up and rested (well, Chris and I rested. Lauren went off to choir practice). The kids came home at 9:30 or 10 and we yakked until midnight then I turned into a pumpkin.

Today we were supposed to go sky diving then tonight we were going to go swing dancing with friends. Sadly, the sky-dive place shut down due to high winds, and the swing dance plans fell through (might be a blessing with my knee pain), but you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s so awesome being with CJ and Lauren it just can’t go wrong. So instead of high-energy adventures, we are yakking, blogging, reading, and finding homes for the wedding gifts within this flat. Very nice.

I realized that since CJ has been working for most of this visit so far, I don’t have pics of him. Here’s one to rectify that (who has morning hair? lol):

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Now we have all taken off work for the rest of the visit so we can enjoy time together. And that, my friends, was the beginning of our Grand Adventure. The big question is — will the car make it home? Time will tell … That adventure begins on Sunday.

Why we Stayed in Lisbon for a Month

Lise arrives after a loooong cab ride (yay strikes)

Lise arrives after a loooong cab ride (yay strikes)

I blame our month-long stay in Lisbon on the fact that I have a cousin in Denmark (how fun is that to say?). The original intent of the trip was a 1.5 to 2-week stint. I was going to join my work team in Lisbon for a meetup for a week, and Chris would join me at the beginning or end. Then my cousin said she might be able to spend some time with us, too. The time we were staying stretched onward, and we finally realized that staying for a month in an apartment was not much more expensive than spending a couple of weeks in a hotel. No brainer. We booked. She visited.

We had a marvelous time with my cousin and her man. You’ve met her before if you read this blog. She played Monopoly with us last year. Thing is — I haven’t seen her live in about 8 years. This was such a treat! So much better than Zoom (although I’m grateful for that).

Lise and Chrissie on the Yellow Bus Tour touring the modern section of Lisbon.

Lise and Chrissie on the Yellow Bus Tour touring the modern section of Lisbon.

Chris and I are serious walkers, and Lise thought she was, too. But the hills in Lisbon proved a little too much for a post-leg surgery patient, so we hit the Yellow Bus Tour. It had horrible reviews, which made me a bit nervous, but we had a marvelous time. I do have to say that in the on-season and on weekends the reviews are justified, but for a low-key weekday in April, it was a fabulous experience.

We sat in an uncrowded bus and cooled off under blue skies while soaking in the history of the city — both old and new. We also enjoyed funiculars, trolleys and ferries as part of the tour. If a radio didn’t work, we switched our seat. No problem.

On the weekend we struggled to get room on the trolleys (hence the correct reviews comment earlier), but weekdays were bliss.

I’m not sure what part of the Wed-Mon visit I loved best (apart from just being with Lise in person). Perhaps it was sharing the wonders of a continent together — from the Moor Castle in Sintra to watching performers in the plaza. Or giggling over childhood stories. Or meeting her boyfriend (also named Chris. Poor Lise, hanging out with Chris, Chris and Chrissie). I guess it’s good that I’m not required to pick a favorite moment.

e, surrounded by Chris's

Lise, surrounded by Chris’s

Funicular Fun:

The funicular in Bairro Alto, Lisbon.

The funicular in Bairro Alto, Lisbon.

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Anyway, that time will always be a treasure in my memory. If you are into pics, check out highlights of our extended weekend:

Our Lisbon Meetup Begins :)

Since I work for a distributed company, I only get to see my coworkers in person twice a year. Last year my team met up in Durham, and this year it’s Lisbon. Another team is here at the same time, and another team will be coming halfway to the week so I get to see lots of my Automattic buddies. 

There is just something super exciting about knowing that your friends and coworkers are all on planes and trains and busses, heading your way for a week of in-person collaborations, learning and fun.

This picture shows where James and I are hanging out at our co-working office for the week. We are working outdoors as we wait for our teammates to arrive. 

Fireside Dining

This meal deserves a post of its own. Our Christmas present from Lauren and CJ was dinner at Fireside Dining at Deer Valley last Friday night. I don’t know what was more impressive. The ambiance or the meal itself. I do know the best part was the company (and that’s saying an awful lot ‘cuz the food and ambiance were phenomenal).

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We drove up snowy roads. Up and up and up, well past the World Cup hill where participants were wrapping up their tricks. The snow fairies were fluffy and swirly, creating shimmering reflections off the lights that decorated trees all along our path. It felt like Christmas again 🙂

As we stepped into the lodge we were greeted by a host who brought us into the dining room. A room that serves as ski lodge by day and ambrosial offerings by night. A huge fireplace crackled on one wall, while another wall was filled with large windows that looked out on a idyllic winter scene. A horse-drawn sleigh went by at regular intervals, completing the picture. (If you look really hard, you can see it in the background of this clip — going from right to left.)

What did we eat? Oh, what did we eat!!! There were four fireplaces, each in a different room. All our hot food was cooked on the fires. Our menu was very similar to this (we had boar rather than quail, and there were minor other differences):

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Ready for your mouth to water? Check out some of what we ate:

Chris topped off his meal with an espresso. Divine decadence.

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The snow was piled high as we headed home to rest.

What a perfect evening and wonderful gift. I will treasure this memory forever.

Drama With Delta

Delta is my favorite airline to fly. Generally flying with them is seamless and pleasant, in my experience. But recently we had a glitch.

Note: That featured image is from a flight a couple of years ago. This is our weather today:

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Here’s the story:

Today Chris and I are headed out to Utah to see CJ, Lauren and Zeb (and to ski and snowboard, and see some co-workers, and …you get the gist of this.) We are on vacation!!!!!!

The incredible company I work for (Automattic) encourages us to take off when we want, and when I mentioned this trip, is was beautiful to see how team-mates shuffled work-loads around to cover my work while I am gone. In addition to getting to take of time whenever we want, we are very flexible on how we schedule our time on a day-to-day basis. I chose to put in a few longer days over the weekend so I was officially AFK by 1pm yesterday.

You know that incredible feeling of freedom when you close out of work to go on vacation? Even when you love your job? That’s what I was feeling as I joined my husband and dog for a walk at the beach. As we walked, Chris and I talked about how whether or not we should offer to get bumped if the situation arose (we discuss that before every trip). I commented that it would be really good to come up with a plan this time since Delta is recovering from a computer glitch and might still be trying to find places on flights.

Feeling like I should get packing, I cut the timing short.

As soon as we got home I went to check in with the airline and discovered that there were no tickets for Chris!!!!

Back-tracking a bit here. Last April I chose to get bumped from a flight and received a $700 voucher to use on flights within a year. Chris and I had planned to drive out to Utah for this visit, but as winter storms started hitting, I chickened out, and we decided to use the voucher for flights to visit the kids young adults. In early January I discovered that I couldn’t get those tickets online so I called Delta. Informed that only I could use the voucher, we paid for Chris’ ticket separately (BOGO is better than nothing). I checked my email and saw the confirmation came through.

**Note to future self – actually open and read confirmations in the future**

So back to yesterday.

When Chris’s ticket didn’t show up on the page no matter how many times I refreshed, I checked out that confirmation. Sure enough. Only my name was on it. I looked at every credit card statement I had and realized we were never billed for his flight. I looked at our points from credit cards and airlines to see if we paid in travel miles anywhere.

Nada.

My pulse was seriously rising. I think my Apple watch thought I was working out, but it was simply sheer panic.

I work in tech/customer support, and I know what it’s like to be on the other end. Sometimes no matter how much you want to help someone, it just isn’t possible. I was about to call Delta, asking where my husband’s ticket was, with no proof of purchase, no credit, and no recording of the conversation I had when I purchased my ticket. And I was doing this right on the tail of their own computer crash as they were re-appropriating other passengers. Talk about horrible timing.

Before calling, I looked at options and realized we still could get Chris a flight, but it would use up almost all our saved points. Or we could shell out $1,1oo. Definitely not optimal.

Generally when I call Delta, I use their regular customer service #. In the best of times, I get put on hold for a minute then request a call-back, and they contact me 30-90 minutes later. I braced for a longer wait time based on circumstances and tried to do some yoga breathing to calm my racing heart. Then I saw a spot on their website that had a number to call if you had a skymiles # (which I did). I called and got help in less than 30 seconds! I explained the situation, and it was no problem at all. They apologized for any confusion and booked Chris on the same flights as me, and even used the rest of my voucher for it! I’m still a bit blown away by that.

So my panic turned to praise. And the entire ordeal took two hrs. (Over 90 minutes of that was my own panicking and hunting for proof of what had happened.)

Once again I am reminded of why Delta is my favorite airline, and I look forward to getting on my flight today. Especially since I get to see our kiddos on the other end 🙂