Monday, October 31, 2016


Celebrating Sarah's birthday, three days after the fact!
October 30, 2016

October has been kind of a crazy month. It started with our amazing and fun-filled California vacation, along with its attendant car and health issues, and it has continued in that challenging vein of trying to do too much with too little time while juggling all of life's little problems. And here it is, the very last day of October, Halloween in fact, and I'm only doing my second blog post of the month.

In keeping with everything else in October, my dear daughter turned 27 on October 27th, but our family wasn't able to celebrate with her until yesterday, October 30th. Still, in keeping with the "better late than never" philosophy, we made her belated special day count!

Sarah's gifts await her attention.

We got a late start since Dylan didn't get off work until 6:00, but then we enjoyed the dinner Sarah had requested: homemade bean and cheese burritos. Then, after enjoying an episode of one of our favorite Sunday evening programs, Once Upon a Time, it was time to open gifts.

Chris watches as his wife opens her gifts.

She began with her presents from Chris. Sarah enjoys coloring in those intricate coloring books that are so popular now, so he gave her a Harry Potter coloring book, along with a Walmart gift card and a bag of candy.

Then she moved on to the bag from her dad, Mark. He gave her a deep-rose, long-sleeved sweater and a beautiful, long-chained necklace with a jet-black pendant, which she loved. 

From Dylan and Jake, Sarah received the book Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children. Sarah and I had gone to see the film version together the previous weekend. When it was over, we looked at each other and both said, "Now I want to read the book!"

As for me, I couldn't find Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, but I did find a spin-off from the book series, called Tales of the Peculiar. Then I guess Chris and I were thinking alike, because I also got her coloring books. One is based on the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which will be in theaters next month (and we can't wait to go see it!). The other is Christmas-themed, which I thought would fill her with Christmas spirit as the holidays approach. 

Sarah with her birthday goodies.

And then it was cake time! I decorated the chocolate-on-chocolate cake she'd requested with glitter gel while she watched. (All it needs is a unicorn...haha!) But when it was time to sing "Happy Birthday," Dylan insisted that we must have candles. He poked around in the cupboard where I keep old candles and other decorations, and he managed to find a "2" and a "7," plus several regular candles, so we stuck them all in the frosting.

Dylan lights the candles before we sing, badly. See the brief video below.

We ended the evening with yummy chocolate cake and two varieties of ice cream, Sarah's favorites, mint chip and cookies & cream. It's always such a pleasure to celebrate the people we love, and Sarah...


Monday, October 3, 2016

A Rough Start

Our family, at WorldMark Dolphins Cove Resort in Anaheim...finally!
Danielle, Jacob, Chris, Sarah, Mark, Jake, and Dylan (left to right).
Saturday, October 1, 2016

Our long-awaited 2016 family vacation has finally begun! We are all here in Anaheim, ready for a full week of good times in Southern California. So far, however, our start has been less than auspicious.

Jake, Sarah, and Dylan prepare to gas up Sarah and Chris's Jeep as we
pass through Phoenix on Saturday, headed toward California on I-10.

The problems actually began on Friday. As usual, I'd been planning this trip for months. I had the itinerary printed, the maps ready to go, the packing lists prepared, and a neighbor enlisted to take care of the house and the cat. I had to work until noon, but as soon as parent-teacher conferences ended, I intended to rush home and finish laundry and packing and any other last-minute preparations before we left the mountain to stay the night at my sister's place in Mesa (which would cut three hours off our trip the next morning). Since Chris had to work until 5:30 and therefore we couldn't leave until 6:00, I had several hours to get ready. No stress, right?

Mark fuels up Mary's Traverse in Phoenix on our way out of the Valley.

BUT...I got a call from my son Jacob at 10:30 on Friday morning. He and Danielle had also planned to leave their home in Utah on Friday and spend the night in Las Vegas before  continuing on to Anaheim on Saturday. However, 200 miles from home, their Nissan Sentra (which they'd purchased in January) developed engine problems. They nursed the car along at 45 mph in a 75 mph zone for fifty miles, until they reached the small town of Beaver, Utah. There, a mechanic diagnosed a transmission problem with a price tag of $5,000. Jacob didn't have that much money on hand, obviously, and there are no rental cars in Beaver. The nearest was another fifty-five miles away, in Cedar City. And they didn't have the $600 necessary to pay the cost for a ten-day rental and a $250 deposit.

Gotta love the interesting things you see on the road!
This shack-on-a-truck was at the Flying J truck stop  in Phoenix.

I spent the next several hours online and on the phone, trying to help them find a solution to their dilemma. There was nothing they could do for their car right now, so they needed a safe place to leave it for the next ten days, one that wasn't charging them. And since they've gotten rid of their credit cards and had brought limited cash, they couldn't rent a car, even if there'd been a rental company in Beaver. I considered making the 7-hour drive to pick them up, but where would they stay until I got there, probably around 2:00 a.m.? I was really stressing over their safety, as well as the frustration of every option we explored leading to a block wall. I cried a lot.

After fueling up, this was our breakfast stop in Phoenix at 9:00 a.m.

In the end, I sent them some money for the deposit and they nursed the Sentra along for fifty-five miles more, to Cedar City, where an Enterprise car rental was located. Then they learned that Enterprise doesn't take cash. And that Jacob's bank does not exist in Cedar City, so he couldn't load the cash I'd sent onto his debit card. Then they tried loading the money onto a prepaid card, but it was declined, just at the time Enterprise was closing. Time was running out. I cried some more.

Just in the nick of time, they learned that the man who'd loaded their card didn't know how to run the machine. Someone else stepped in and loaded their money on a new card, correctly this time. The man at Enterprise stayed open late for them, and he upgraded their little economy car to a Jeep Renegade at no extra charge, for all their trouble. So often, there is a blessing at the trial's end. They were finally able to drive on to Las Vegas for the night.

Mark, Chris, Dylan, Jake, and Sarah breakfasting at Jack in the Box.

Meanwhile, it was well after 3:00 before I was able to start on the packing and other chores I'd intended to tackle by 1:00. Consequently, our 6:00 departure was delayed until 7:30. It was 11:00 by the time we'd reached the Valley, dropped off Dylan and Jake at Jake's mom's apartment, and pulled up in front of Karla's place.

Despite the late hour, we enjoyed a good long visit. The kids drifted off one by one, but Karla and I stayed up talking until 3:15! I felt we connected on a level we hadn't been able to enjoy in many years. Then I slept pretty well on her couch and woke up just before 7:00. We drove away at 7:30 while Karla's family slept on.

A tire tech changes out my tire in Quartzsite, Arizona.

Although the previous day had been so horribly stressful, the new day looked promising and we were all excited to finally reach our destination. Everything went well until we were about forty miles out of Phoenix. We came upon a stretch of construction that slowed us to stop-and-go, and we noticed that my car was rocking slightly from side to side. I figured that it was caused by the condition of the road and ignored it. However, as we left the construction zone behind and sped along, the car began to shake. Again, I'm thinking, "They need to fix these roads!" Then we hit a section of highway that had clearly been improved recently and it should have been smooth sailing, but by now my car was shimmying so badly that my hands and arms were tingling and going numb. Something was clearly wrong.

I hadn't planned to stop until we reached Ehrenberg, the last stop at the Arizona-California border on the Colorado River, but it seemed clear we couldn't wait that long to check out the problem. We stopped in Quartzsite, seventeen miles before Ehrenberg, and discovered that my right rear tire had split. It hadn't gone flat, thankfully, but the split was so wide and deep that the cables inside the tire were clearly visible. It was after 11:00 on a Saturday and I was worried we wouldn't find an open tire place in such a small town, but we got lucky. Near the highway was a tire company that was preparing to close down for the day, but their tech willingly helped us out. The over-sized, expensive tires on my car are an unusual size (installed by the former owners) that many smaller tire places don't even carry, including this garage in Quartzsite, but the tech did change out our damaged tire for the spare "donut." He warned us not to drive faster than 55 mph, but said it would get us where we needed to go. The nearest city that carried my size tire was in Palm Springs, California, a full two hours away, even if we could have driven the 80 mph I'd been driving up to this point.

Mark, Sarah, and Chris at our lunch stop at Wendy's in Ehrenberg, 
just before crossing the border into California around 1:30.

And so we left Quartzsite and continued on our way. We stopped in Ehrenberg, as planned, to eat lunch at Wendy's and to fill up our tanks. I knew that as soon as we crossed the state line into California, gas prices would jump up at least 25 cents per gallon.

Jake and Dylan mimic Mark's usual "look-up-my-nostrils " pose.

Dylan took this picture of me, just to prove I was there...

The drive from Ehrenberg to Palm Springs felt like the longest drive in history. After staying up so late and getting less than four hours of sleep, I felt myself getting dangerously close to nodding off at the wheel. Eventually, I pulled over and had Sarah drive my car for the last hour before we reached Palm Springs. By then it was after 3:30. For us, the two-hour drive had taken more than three hours. Aargh!

Crossing the Colorado River, looking north.

The state line sign at the center of the bridge.

California's entry point. Until now, Jake had never been in California.

On the other side of the port of entry: "Welcome to California"

The tire store in Palm Springs was supposed to be open until 5:00 despite being a Saturday, and--thank goodness--it was. They had the tires I needed and jumped right on it as soon as we arrived, quickly getting my car into a bay and two new rear tires installed.

Finally, two new rear tires at America's Tires in Palm Springs, CA.
Cost: more than $470. This is becoming an expensive trip!

The techs at Americas's tires (apparently the California version of Arizona's tire chain, Discount Tires) told me that my two front tires looked almost brand-new, but both of the back tires needed replacing. I already knew this, of course. In fact, I'd made an appointment with my garage at home to replace my tires one week earlier. These tires are expensive, but I was supposed to get a big check for teaching on my prep hour, so I was going to use the extra money on tires. Then, two days before the payout, we were informed by the district that the bonus was going to be paid out differently and we'd have to wait longer. So much for new tires before the trip. Not only did the bad tire inconvenience us on our first day of vacation, but I had to pay about $40 more per tire in California than I'd have paid in Arizona!

Chris, Dylan, and Jake wait patiently for the tires to be installed.

On the other side of Palm Springs, we drive through the amazing "forest"
of propeller-driven windmills that power the town.

Sometime after 4:00 (when we should have been checking into our resort), we were finally on our way in a car that once again handled beautifully and moved smoothly. By the time we hit the 91 Freeway, the rush-hour traffic was horrendous and the going was slow, but we finally rolled into our resort right at 6:00, three hours later than I'd planned. Still, as they say, better late than never.

Traffic on the 91 Freeway through the Riverside area was bumper-to-bumper.
Very slow going and scary with the sun in our eyes.

When we finally exited at Orangewood Ave in Anaheim toward our resort,
we passed Angel Stadium as it filled up with fans for a big event.

Our vacation home at last! Our 3-bedroom unit is at the top of these stairs.

Jacob and Danielle had been waiting for us for more than two hours when we finally got there. In fact, when he asked about our reservation, the desk staff told Jacob that they had no reservation for me. They even double-checked. That was a shock, when Jacob called to tell me about it! I was thinking, "Oh, no! Not another problem!" Fortunately, I save everything. I was able to have Jacob check my emails and show the office staff my confirmation email, verifying that I did indeed have a 3-bedroom unit reserved for this week.

The view from our balcony.

It was such a relief to get settled into the condo and finally focus on the fun plans we'd made for the coming week. After such a rough start, things can only improve. Right?

The view from our balcony. I prefer the WorldMark Dolphins Cove resort 
over the Worldmark Anaheim resort, where we stayed two years ago.
Both are nice, but the Anaheim is more like a high-rise hotel.
Dolphins Cove is more my style, homey and lushly landscaped.

The living room of our condo. Notice the Hidden Mickey above the couch!

The door to the balcony at the other side of the living room.

I love this dolphin and sea turtle figure on the TV stand.
The name of this resort is WorldMark Dolphins Cove.

Kitchen and dining area.

Sarah and Chris's bedroom. Later that first night, we had the beds bridged.

Jacob and Danielle's bedroom.

My bedroom.

Mark grills steaks for our first night's dinner.