Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brain bounced

I'm generally not much of a thrill seeker.
I stand and analyze the makeup of a roller coaster for a long while before I trust my old bones to one.
I want to know it will hold up, stay on and not dump me out.
For that reason, I avoid the New York, New York coaster in Las Vegas because I just don't see how a single red rail will support a high-speed, crazy machine.
I won't ride the Wicked coaster in Lagoon because it seems to me it's designed to plunge right into the ground below.
So when Marc and I looked across the lake from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, I had no plans to take a spin.
I could see these huge green tracks going in all directions and lots of people hanging upside down in the cars.
It looked like death on wheels to me.
But to be a good wife, I agreed to "at least walk over and get a closer look."
The closer we got, the less appeal the ride had for me.
The mean, green machine
The coaster cars zoomed out of a kind of cannon structure and proceeded to twist, turn and flip in an insane manner.
I looked around and didn't see anyplace to put our camera so I graciously volunteered to sit this one out while Marc rode.
"I'll be right here," I said with a relieved smile. "We've spent too much already so we don't want to spend anymore to rent a locker."
The survivors
"Oh, but look," Marc said, pointing to a sign. "They're free!"
In a mad moment, I folded and ended up strapped in for a ride.
And whew! What a ride!
It was great. It was a rush and a scream and absolutely fun.
I liked it so much that I went again just moments later.
That might have been a mistake since my head hurt from brain bounce for quite a while later.
It took a good amount of cold ice cream to make me better.
But, may I say, wowzie!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The not-so-friendly skies

It's getting harder to love traveling on airplanes.
And it's not just that it's more expensive and you have to go through the whole security checkpoint thing.
It's the serious lack of space and nourishment provided.
The last plane we lived on for our four-and-a-half hour flight to Florida had zero leg room. I could barely push my duffle bag between the seats to put under the seat ahead. And it's not a big bag.
Anytime one of us had to get out, we all three had to move into the aisle.
And the meals — which now cost between $5-$8 for a simple, bland sandwich — are infrequently offered.
I realize the airlines need to cut costs but c'mon, when your plane leaves at 7 a.m., it's unrealistic to expect passengers to go without some kind of breakfast, don't you think? Especially when landing time is a minimum five hours away.
I know you can buy something and carry it on but there's nowhere to put it until you can eat it and then it makes a mess.
I don't get how airlines figure that people can adjust and endure.
If somebody has diabetes like me, you have to eat at regular intervals.
If somebody has colitis like me, it's a bad idea to only eat carbs.
Security won't let you carry on a picnic basket of fruits and vegetables so it pretty well limits the options.
I think it's inhumane.
It's unfair and sad and downright cruel.
Plus I miss the cute little miniature servings.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's truly magical

Harry Potter World or more properly "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" as the PR people would have me say, is truly magical.
It's pretty amazing what lots and lots of money and a little imagination can do.
I can tell you a little about it here but I have to save the most of it for The Deseret News travel section story since the paper authorized the trip.
This is the magical place
It's a kingdom inside a park or rather another piece of the Universal Studios puzzle. (If you don't know where it is exactly, just follow the thundering herd.)
There are basically four "rides" to be ridden: the ride inside the castle which is immense and richly detailed in Harry Potterism, the kiddie ride on the Hippogriff and the duelings dragons — a pair of intertwining roller coaster rides that take your breath and shoes away.
The whole world is located inside a realistic and unusual setting that includes screeching plants with baby faces and tall, stone buildings with crooked chimneys.
There are sweet shops and wand shops and the joke shop where you can get Extendable Ears and Frisbees with fangs.
Magical Marc
You can spend money in every direction (wands, T-shirts and "Fluffy" stuffed dogs cost $30, robes are $100).
There's Butter Beer abundantly available in souvenir cups ($10.50), frozen and with froth. Nearly everyone in the park is walking around with a froth mustache.
For the Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione fan, it's truly like stepping into their world. The music from the movies is playing overheard and the workers are all dressed like Gringott's goblins (poor kids in black in the Florida sunshine!)
There's plenty to take in and you feel like part of a friendly crowd since everywhere you look there's somebody dressed like Harry or Ron or Hermione.
A wicked toss
If and when you go, here are my top suggestions: Go early in the day. Get an Express Plus pass to buy your way in more quickly. Wear sunscreen. Pack lightly or in pockets so you don't have a big bag to haul around or to check. (The lockers are free but checking things takes valuable time.)
And take money, lots and lots of money and a little imagination.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A magical piece of paper

Getting into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter truly required a magical piece of paper.
Despite the fact that I had corresponded regularly with the Public Relations department in Orlando weeks before we headed out for our trip, when we arrived at our destination and showed up at Guest Relations to pick up our passes, we only had part of what we needed.
The kindly Brittney who processed my request — which required that I scan and send her a picture of my business card as well as a letter of assignment from one of my very busy editors along with a description of what I intend to do while I'm there — had forgotten to finish putting the request properly into the system.
So Marc and I had two Express Plus passes to the park — good for a whole week — but no proper entry tickets. One without the other is no good.
We had purposefully walked over from our hotel Tuesday evening after our lengthy plane journey to pick up our passes and preview the park, see what the nightlife was, etc.
The boy at the window was confused. "Umm, do you have identification?" he asked.
I did.
"Umm, do you have any confirmation information?" he asked next.
I did, producing my copy of an e-mail giving me a confirmation number and assurances that I and my party would be welcome.
He got on the phone, Then he left his seat. He was gone for a while.
When he returned, it was to say he was sorry but no one knew anything about me and I would have to come back in the morning when Brittney was in.
We tried a different window in another section of the park. Her story was the same. Yes, she could see on my piece of paper where Brittney had intended to provide us tickets but there was nothing anywhere for us.
Irritated and wishing for some floo powder, we trudged back to our hotel.
We came back just before 9 a.m. with a large crowd of Spring Break families ready to stampede through to the Wizarding World.
This time, the new lad at the old window looked at my dog-eared piece of paper and said he was very sorry but could we wait in the VIP lounge until Brittney got in?
I calmly — HONEST, I stayed calm — explained we were here for two days only to do a story and that we'd flown for nearly 2,000 miles to do so. I really thought they could let us in based on my little piece of magic paper.
He got on the phone, He left his seat. He was gone for a while.
When he came back, he apologized and said he would give us one day passes to get us in but we'd have to check later for our real tickets for the next day.
We did so after having searched out yet another window and now, the tickets were in but under another confirmation number.
The girl printed them out. Yah! Legitimate tickets and good for a week (No matter we were leaving at 7 a.m. Friday.)
It felt good to be validated, like The Velveteen Rabbit getting to be real.
And I know from years of working in the media that this kind of thing happens...a lot.
But boy, for a minute there,  I was sure looking for a portkey!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Off to see the Wizard

Marc and I leave in the morning to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We'll be there for four days...plane ride included.
We plan to do a travel story for The Deseret News that will include what to do as a family, as a couple and as a Harry Potter die-hard fan.
We'll ride the roller-coasters and shop at Hogsmeade and drink some Butter Beer.
When we come back, I'll post a number of entries about it...the scary, the enchanting and the wonderful.
In the meantime, carry on without me, mates!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Scott is a champ!

Just a quick note from a proud grandma.
(Hey, what's a blog for if you can't use it to brag?)
Scott McMurray, the 12-year-old son of Kristy and Ian, is the latest and greatest 7th level State Champion in gymnastics.
The meet was in St. George this weekend.
I'm going to make a painting of your poster picture!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saving money

We're into saving money these days so I have a coupon for everything.
And sometimes, they pay off.
Other times, not so much.
The other day Marc and I were going to be in Salt Lake anyway to pick up a couple of things from the Deseret News office so we decided to use a coupon on our credit card "Top Saver" list.
We'd used a few at Magleby's in Lindon and a few at the local car wash that gaves us two-for-one deals so we thought we'd try the Salt Lake ones that usually were too far away to be worthwhile.
"Christopher's Seafood and Steakhouse" read the little paper, "Buy one lunch entree and two drinks and get one free."
We googled the address and followed our GPS lady to an inner-city place that looked pretty swanky. (Usually the coupon places are fast food and drive-in joints.)
We walked in. The maitre'd/owner? welcomed us with a swoosh and seated us in a wood-paneled dining area all decked out in cut crystal and lace.
The waiter came straight over with the menus. Everything on the list was $25 or more, including salads, appetizers and desserts. Nothing came together.
We gulped.
We showed him our coupon. To his credit, he didn't waver but instead, just shrugged and went about the business of collecting our orders.
We looked around at the empty dining room. For a posh place, it was surprisingly unbusy.
Our waiter said there usually isn't much of a lunch rush but "you should see us at dinner time."
Then the maitre'd came back and asked to see our coupon.
We produced the shiny, silver card and he examined it carefully.
"You know," he said. "This isn't us so we can't honor this. This Christopher's was only here a few months and then it was gone. But we'll give you a free dessert if you want."
Sigh. Our little lunch would now cost us over $50 plus tip.
Now, to be fair, the food was absolutely delicious. The halibut I ate was the lightest and flakiest I have ever eaten with the perfect batter crust. Marc's gourmet shrimp were huge but good as well.
The Creme Brulee desserts they brought us were to die for.
And we left there thinking it's a shame that this place probably won't survive. They are tucked away in a hard-to-find location. Their prices are high and it'll take too long to make themselves known.
They should probably offer a coupon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Together for all the time

It's been three months since Marc and I were dumped off the employment wagon into a sort of retirement life.
(We're not really retired but we're both home all the time together until one or the other finds work outside the home.)
We're a pretty compatible couple.
We like similar things and pastimes and adventures so we're probably doing better than a lot of couples do at this stage in life.
We like to play board games and video games and watch the Murder of the Night television shows.
He likes to cook. I like to cook and we both like to eat.
We love grandchildren and spending time with them.
We like to bike. We like to travel.
A stone age couple
We both have fairly intensive church callings and commitments.
So, for the most part, it's a good life together.
That is to say, we haven't killed each other yet.
Because no matter what the experts say and no matter how much you love one another, it's tough to suddenly be home together all the time.
We find we're bumping into one another as we work in the kitchen and going up and down the stairs.
He says I get in his way when he's cooking and I'm convinced that no matter where I stand in the working space, he needs to be there at the same time just because that's where I am.
There's little rest for the weary because when I'm not working, I want to play and when he's not busy, he comes by for a hug, breaking my concentration.
If he's in the shower, I need to start the washer at the same instant (cutting off the hot water).
If I'm sitting down for a minute to watch a daytime soap opera or something just as essential, he needs to talk to me right now.
If the phone rings, either we both answer or no one answers because we each assume the other one has it.
If a door-to-door salesman comes by, he lets them in. I usually don't even answer the bell.
If a junk-mail telephone person calls, he tells them I'm here. Again, I generally ignore them completely.
When we grocery shop, he likes to linger while I want to check things off my list and keep going.
It's really quite the dance as we try to adjust.
I think back to my son Steven's comment when he would be dating somebody who just wanted to be with him and with him and with him some more, even after he'd just been with that person.
"Don't you need downtime?" he'd say to the clueless, crushed girl. "I need downtime!"
So do we.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Daytime bedtime

We were trying to call 4-year-old Jack in England on Monday.
The kids were out of school. Marc was skiing and I had some of the grandkids over for the day.
They knew we usually try to call Jack on Skype on Mondays at noon so we planned a special phone call with Alyson and Adell each reading one of the Little Critters stories. Fiona would wave across the miles to him.
We gathered in the kitchen, fired up the computer and prepared ourselves for a few moments with this cute little English boy who would be in his pajamas ready for bed when the call connected.
I explained to the three little girls in my house that in England it's bedtime when it's only lunchtime in America.
They were perplexed with how that all worked and curious as to how they would be able to talk to him on the computer an ocean away.
The Skype phone calls are nothing new to Alyson and Fiona since their fraternal grandparents live in England and their daddy calls in on Skype every Sunday.
But everyone was excited to see Jack live on screen.
Since he came to America last summer, he's been the talk of the town with his accent and his friendly, winning ways.
The adorable Jack and friends
I started dialing but no one picked up.
I dialed again with no better results.
It became kind of a marathon thing.
I'd dial. We could hear it ringing but no one was online to pick it up.
Finally, the girls wandered away to play Barbies and I promised to call them if I got through.
I couldn't figure out where Derek and Helen were. Had they forgotten? Did Jack have a sleepover at his nanny's that I didn't know about?
I went on Facebook to pass the time between dialing attempts and there Derek was on the chat line.
"Derek," I posted, "Where r you? I've been trying to call?"
"Mom," he posted back. "What are you doing? It's only 6:15 p.m. here."
(Jack goes to bed at 7.)
Oh. Wait.
Let me think about that.
I was somehow an hour off in my calculations. What had changed?
Oh yeah. Daylight saving time strikes again.
One more reason to hate legislation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Talking to Yanni

I'm somewhat in love with two guys I've never met: Yanni and Robert Redford.
My husband isn't threatened by Redford because he figures the chances that I'll meet and greet this wrinkled man who is now nearly 75 years old are slim.
He's a little worried about Yanni because I've been talking to him frequently on the phone.
The original Yanni
Well, maybe not frequently but three times is a fair amount of exchange, right?
And this last time, he even called me by name. (Swoon.)(I was part of a national conference call thing where I was introduced by name and so when he answered my question, he said, "Sharon...")
It works like this.
I've been a major fan of Yanni for years since the first time I saw a poster of him with all that hair and that smile in a display at the Media Play store. I remember staring at his face and asking, "Who's that? What's that?"
I soon learned exactly who he was and I came to a point where I was somewhat jealous of Linda Evans because she walked right up to his hotel room door and became his girlfriend.
I started buying Yanni's CDs and attending his concerts. I even came close to getting a backstage pass once. I watched him on PBS. I signed up for his newsletters. I snagged the opportunity to review his concerts in Salt Lake.
The music man today
I always took my husband but only if he promised to behave. (Yanni music isn't really his thing.)
The deal is, it isn't the face really or the hair or the look.
It isn't even the man — especially after I read his autobiography which made it clear he isn't above partying, drinking or catting around. He is Greek, after all.
It's truly the music, the soothing, beautiful music that sends my soul soaring.
It's the peace, the serenity and the power. It's the energy and the vibe.
I've used his music to ski by, to drive the commute by and as a balm to my sometimes troubled soul.
It's luscious and sweet, delicious to my ears.
I even use it to calm me down after the phone calls.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's yours is mine?

So we're looking all over for Marc's missing binoculars.
They're usually in the hall closet on the top shelf next to mine. We keep two pairs around for bird-watching and kid-watching and we don't share well so we need both pairs.
Mine are smaller and they fold.
His are more industrial size.
I remembered him coming up the stairs one day with his binocs in hand and wondering why he had them. Whatever he was planning to do at the time didn't — in my mind — require having binoculars along. But Marc does his own thing most of the time and, as I could best recall, explained why he needed them for this particular trip.
That's the last we saw of the binoculars.
Now there's only one pair on the top shelf and bird-watching season is approaching so we started a full-out search.
Since I had just recently gone through and organized every closet in the house but the one in his downstairs office, I figured the binoculars had to be somewhere in his space.
We searched.
He thought about it.
We searched some more.
It became the obsession of the day.
Did he take them to a football game, a gymnastics meet, on his morning walk?
Could he have tucked them under the seat of the car or in his coat pocket? Did he take them with him to California?
Did they fall off the top shelf and into the coats and boots below?
I was really giving him a pretty hard time about it because lately he's been especially forgetful about stuff. He leaves stovetop burners on and drills out in the snow.
We were about to give it up when I went downstairs for some gift wrap which is stored next to the fanny pack I use when I bike.
I picked it up and turned around to ask Marc, "Did you leave them in your fanny pack or hooked on the strap like mine are here?"
We both stopped and stared. If mine were here, attached to the fanny pack, then whose were the binoculars upstairs in the box on the closet shelf?
Sorry Marc. Guess yours were never lost at all.
Isn't that funny?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Glom Factor

As a reporter person, I always liked to sit where I could have an empty seat next to me for my purse, my coat and my various papers.
Invariably, when I attended a conference or a lecture or a workshop, the people in charge would give me a hefty press packet or a 300-lb. syllabus that might come in handy later.
It made it SO much simpler if I had space to put my things so my hands were free to write and take notes.
It also proved to cut down on the chatter that always came with a seat companion.
"Are you a reporter?" they'd ask. "Oh, what do you report on? What kind of stories do you do? Have I seen anything you've written?"
The problem is, it doesn't usually stop there and it's very difficult to focus when somebody is talking to you and/or watching you write down your notes.
"Was that something important? Why do you care about that? What did he/she say?" are typical.
So — to make a long story short — I really like to sit off by myself and usually near the aisle to I can get out quickly and on my way to the next session, lecture, class...deadline writing.
That brings in what I call the Glom Factor.
It's the need I see in others to glom on, to sit by, next to, or close to someone else, usually me.
I could go into an empty auditorium and pick a remote seat location and almost without fail, somebody simply must have the seat adjacent to me — even with hundreds of other choices available.
If I manage to maintain my two-seats, then they MUST slip past me to the middle so I have to move my stuff and miss the opening remarks.
It's a curse, one Marc and I observed in action the other day when we went to the movies.
We'd gone in the afternoon to a low-rent movie house to see a movie that was nearly into DVD. We laughed as we chose seats on the chart from a virtually empty house layout.
We went in, observed the space all around us and settled in...only to have four of the largest, loudest people I've even seen come in and sit in front of us, never to shut up.
Then a family with an irritating teenager who twirled his drink cup throughout the show sat on the left.
A rabid texter sat on the right, holding his phone next to him to cut the light but flooding the area with white light nevertheless.
The rest of the theater was still basically empty while the crowd surged around us.
It's hopeless and almost funny when you think about it. We can't figure out the deal here.
Maybe we're just really likable people, huh? That's gotta be it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My husband's movie date

Marc went to the movies yesterday with a cute blonde with a winning smile.
He bought her popcorn and Junior Mints and a root beer and stayed awake for the whole show — something he rarely does when I go with him.
Grandpa's date
And he tells me he and she had a most wonderful time, laughing and cuddling all the way through "Tangled."
I didn't mind. In fact, I think it was my idea since Marc hadn't gone with us when we all went and Adell was more than open to going a second time.
It's Adell's favorite show these days.
And this 5-year-old knows her shows.
She loves them and since the age of 3 has been able to switch movie DVDs in and out on the small unit in her bedroom.
She memorizes the dialogue, the songs and the stories. (Just ask her and she'll give you a blow-by-blow of any of 20 of the latest and greatest of movies.)
On the ride home, she told her grandpa she would love a movie theater in her house.
"Then I could watch all the movies," she declared.
Marc said that would be fun but then she'd miss going out to see movies with her mom and dad, her friends and us.
"That'd be OK," she said. "I still want one."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The bird on the hood

This morning at the breakfast table, Marc and I read about this lady today whose husband didn't want to talk it out with her.
As he started to drive away in the middle of a fight, she grabbed hold of the windshield wiper.
He gunned it and she remained sprawled across the hood for for 35 miles as her husband drove at top speed down a California freeway.
Seems he was ticked at her and teaching her a lesson.
We know nothing about this couple and their problems — especially his— but we couldn't help but sympathize with her plight and wonder what happened when he finally stopped the car.
We unwittingly did a similar thing with a Mexican pheasant awhile back.
We were in Cancun and we had rented a car for a day trip out to the ruins.
We'd driven along the main roads and the back roads and some bumpy roads trying to get a little off the beaten path and away from all the other American tourists.
Some of the paths were a little out there and I worried about getting dents and scratches on the car. Mexican rental agencies are known for finding damage on their cars that wasn't there before so we'd been careful to mark all the suspicious blemishes on the check sheet before we took off.
When we returned after our day of adventure, we drove up proudly, quite sure that no one would ever know we hadn't been exceedingly careful with the merchandise.
We pulled up, got out and met the guy who came out to inspect us.
"We did fine, no problems," Marc told the guy. "We had a great day. Thanks."
Just then we heard a funny kind of thump.
We all looked over as a big, dead pheasant fell off the grill onto the street.
Seems that somewhere along the way, we'd smacked into him and taken him for a ride. Who knows how long he'd been plastered there.
Let's hope the same thing didn't happen to the California lady.