7.27.2016

That Time We Almost Got Kicked Out of VIP



I've stayed at Bellagio, Flamingo, Tropicana, Planet Hollywood, Polo Towers, Hilton Grand Vacation Resort, Monte Carlo, and The Orleans.  I stayed one night at Excalibur before switching to The  Venetian.  Long story.  And this one awful off strip place...I don't even remember the name.  I think it had the word Terrible in it, and it was not nice, but were broke and that was all we could manage at the time.  Needless to say, I've been to Las Vegas a lot, but I've never stayed at Treasure Island, or experienced Vegas VIP style.  This girls trip would be my first.  You will spend money when you go to Vegas because the price of everything is high.  Food is expensive, shows are expensive, but there is definitely something for every budget and you don't have to do all the extra's to have a good time.  MJ and I have gone several times and had a blast without throwing down a ton of money everywhere, but this trip would be slightly different.

I'm kind of obsessed with how much things cost so I'm breaking it all down at the end.  

It started off really, really bad.  I was living in a fantasy world where flights are never delayed and baggage doesn't get lost, because it hadn't ever happened to me.  I checked the status of my flight before I left work that day, but not before we left for the airport so it wasn't until after I checked my bag that I found out my 2:10pm Southwest flight has been delayed to 5:10pm...then 5:35pm.  Even the girls who drove made it faster than I did.  I hung out at the airport with three of the other girls from my group, watched them get on the 3:45pm leaving me behind when I was at the airport first. I was originally supposed to land in Vegas at 3:30pm, but didn't show up at our hotel until 8:00pm. The girls were already drinking champagne.  I was supposed to get there first, but I ended up getting there dead last.  

We lost a girl before we even made it to Vegas.  The week of, we found out she wasn't going to make it.  Then this.  I should have known that my rocky start was a bad omen.


Club Night @The Light, Mandalay Bay
I get there, we ate dinner, and then everyone got ready for club night.  We decided to do bottle service, so that we would have a place to sit, and with drinks that cost $15 bucks a pop it's a better deal.  We were doing it up, VIP style, but our VIP experience was anything but at the beginning.  We got to our table around 11:00pm and then our club night organizer discovered that she didn't bring her credit card.  Not a single one of us had a credit card with us, so we literally had to cab it back to our hotel and then come back.  This took about an hour.  Then, the credit card got rejected because it was a very large out of state purchase in a Vegas night club at 12 midnight.  No money, no bottles, no fun.  The other tables were dancing on chairs, having the time of their lives and we looked like we were sitting in the waiting room of a dentist office.  It was terrible!  Everyone was looking at us funny and every time a guy in a suit walked by we thought it was security coming to kick us out of VIP because you can't sit there, unless you do bottle service and we had no bottles.  We didn't even have anything to sip on.  She left to call her bank.  She came back and talked to our server, left to go talk to the manager...came back...the manager came and talked to her...we stared at each other....and it just went on and on until I thought we'd have to leave.  Let's not even mention that since we all gave cash the money to pay for the entire thing was sitting in our hotel room.
It was 1:00am by now, and even if it worked out, we had three hours to drink two bottles of Vodka.  Then we got the Vodka.  When our server put those glow in the dark bottles on our table I looked at them like, "What am I supposed to do with that?"  It was late and our mood was destroyed, but we had to rally because the money had finally been paid.  So how do five girls go about drinking two bottles of vodka in three hours?  Very quickly, but also very carefully because a hang over at the pool the next day is no fun.  Well, I had a ball dancing my heart out after that.  Three of the girls left early, but I refused to leave until that place shut down.  We got a late start and I was making the most of it.  We managed to drink 1 1/2 bottles.  We stayed until the lights came on and shut the club down around 4pm.  That's also about when my shoes broke.  When I say broke, I mean broke.  The sole of my right shoe was flapping in the wind while I stumbled my way home.

A photo posted by Cece (@mahoganydrive) on
Pool Day @Treasure Island
Vomiting is the worst, so even though I woke up with a raging headache the next morning I felt like I made out okay.  I had a really slow start in the morning, but it was nothing that Excedrin, a bucket of chicken tenders and a Diet Pepsi at the pool couldn't fix.  I was good to go for the day.  If you've ever been to a pool party in Vegas you know that chairs can be scarce and the sun is hot.  The best way to avoid the discomfort of languishing in the sun is to pay.  The cabana experience was perfection.  The only snafu was the worst nachos I've ever had in my life.  We really should have sent them back.  They were that bad.  We had a nice view of the pool, aka the dance floor because that's the only thing that happens in a pool in Vegas.  People actually come with hair fully done wearing make up.  It's the only pool setting I've ever encountered where the majority of the people don't even bother to get their hair wet.   There is no point.  Nobody swims and the entire length of this particular pool was waist deep.  The DJ was right in front of the pool and everyone stands around drinking and dancing.  It was hot.  Like 111 degrees hot.  We went in and out of the pool at our leisure, and ate and drank all day long.  The most I could handle was a light beer for the day.  At the end of the day we weren't sun fried and we were able to relax.  We lost another girl that night.  She had to get home so she took a flight out after the pool.
That night we walked the strip, grabbed a bite to eat at Margaritaville and hung out at Vista Cocktail Lounge in Caesar's Palace until 3:15pm.  I had a few drinks.  I was practically falling asleep at 1:00am and my voice was all but gone but I stuck it out.  I love this place! It has a DJ.  The music was good when it was Shadow Bar and the only thing that changed is the name and the decor.  A lot of the hotel lounges are free, but they get you with the drinks.

I was a trooper guys!!  I was proud of myself for staying up and out both nights.  Getting a group trip together is hard.  Chances are things, are going to go wrong.  The group texts before hand were exhausting, and I was so over all the planning by the time we showed up, but we got it together and had a fun.  Everyone else went home on Sunday but I stayed an extra night and slept at Mom and Dad's house where it's free and food is included.

    
Money, money, money, money...MONEY!
Transportation:  My round-trip flight from San Diego was $189.00.  Two girls drove, but I hate that drive and I'd rather pay.  It cost the three girls that flew together $30 bucks for a cab ride from the airport.  I was already late, and alone, so I jumped on one of the shuttles for $9.00 one way.  It will take you longer to get to your hotel depending on how many stops they have to make, but it's always available and it's cheap.  Gotta love Southwest.  As compensation for my delay they gave me a $100.00 voucher before we even took off, and emailed a 50% off flight offer code.

Treasure Island Hotel:  Two nights in a two bedroom three bath suite was $894.00 inclusive of tax and resort fees.  It was basically two adjoining rooms; a regular room with a one bedroom suite.  It would have been even more expensive, but there was a problem at check in and we lost a room, which worked out because we lost a girl.  We had two queen beds and three single roll away beds.  Three bathrooms for 6 girls was perfect.  Our room was really nice too.  I should have taken a picture.  The total cost was $149 each.

The Light @Mandalay Bay bottle service:  $695 plus tip. I know, I know.  On what planet does a bottle of alcohol cost this much?  Like really?  First of all, setting the whole thing up is kind of strange because they don't put much information on your website.  It's almost like they don't want you to know about it.  Most of the bookings are done through promoters.  Even if you can book through the club, apparently you will get a better deal with a promoter.  I contacted The Bank @Bellagio via some random e mail I had to google just to find and got a reply by text.  The minimum for VIP there was $495, but it felt very cryptic.  MJ and I paid a guy cash on the street once for club entry and it worked out so you never know, but I wasn't so sure.  One promoter asked my friend for a picture of her and her friends to "see what he could do."  Drai's Nightclub was $695 for one bottle, but our table would be outside.  We got a really good deal at The Light because our friend new someone who knew the promoter.  Normally, two bottles would cost at least $1,000 and some places are that much just for one.  We found out that night that one of the girls doesn't drink vodka so we started out planning to split it seven ways, but in the end it was a five way split at $140 each.  Our friend felt so bad about how long it took that she didn't make us chip in on tip.  Which fyi should be at least 10%.

The Cabana @Treasure Island:  The cost was $275 plus a $200 food minimum plus tax and gratuity.  This included a fruit platter and 1 free re-stock of the mini fridge which contained soda and water.  $200 is not hard to do at all.  Our food tab ended up at $275 and they tacked on tax plus a 10% gratuity so it totaled out at $318.  Two of the girls invited a friend, so that surely upped our tab but it didn't feel worth it to get nit picky about it so we kept the six way split @$100 each.    

Food:  All the prices in Vegas are jacked up.  The average lunch/dinner at the casual dining restaurant in our hotel Friday night; The Coffee Shop was $16-18 bucks for things like club sandwiches, dinner salads and burgers.  On Saturday night us three girls sat down at Margaritaville and walked away with a $120 bar tab.  The nacho appetizer we split was $18.00.  There was a vending machine in the hallway of our hotel offering 12 oz water bottles for $3.00, but you could find people selling them on the strip for $1.00.       

So when all is said and done this trip cost me $578.00 plus some extra for food/drinks and a cheap shuttle.  We all went into it knowing we would spend money and that we couldn't be total cheapskates.  We had a blast.  No regrets at all.  One of the last messages that went out on our mile long Vegas group text was "that was fun, where are we going next?"  Crickets.  I think we need to recover from this one first.

7.14.2016

Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials: I Was There!

Four days after the 2016 Gymnastics Olympic Trials in San Jose and twenty-two days until Rio I am loving all the media coverage my sport is getting.  Yes, I call it my sport, because I don't just love it just every four years and I'm thrilled to see my beautiful sport take it's rightful place at the center of the media buzz.  It was so amazing to actually be there watching it unfold.  I did not stand in line for autograph or picture, but I saw Carly Patterson (2008 Olympic Champion) and Svetlana Boginskaya (Russian star from the 90's).  I was able to find Marta and Bela on the sidelines and observe the girls on the floor in between events.  My flight there and back was full of people traveling to trials and I was in gymnastics heaven surrounded by people as obsessed with gymnastics as I am.  There was a dramatic march in with smoke and lights as each athlete was introduced.  On Day 2 they distracted us with a performance from Acro Army and an interview with Kobe Bryant while the committee deliberated.  I'm sure his seats were better, but I'm glad I wasn't sitting behind him.

Yep.  I was there, and it was awesome.  This is my take on what went down.

You can see Marta Karolyi sitting on the sidelines above the P in Olympic
Heart Breakers

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Ashton Locklear
Ashton Locklear
I already liked Ashton Locklear for her beautiful lines and her consistency, but when I saw her cry after she fell on beam day 1 my heart just broke for her and I was rooting for her even more. She has floating patellas, which is the reason for the circular tape on her knees.  She also hurt her back so badly that she physically cannot do vault and floor, yet she has never given up on her Olympic dream. She hit bars perfectly both nights, but because she only does bars and beam she really couldn't afford a fall at all.  To make alternate on the strength of two events is pretty good so I was happy to see her grab a spot.

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; MyKayla Skinner
Mykayla Skinner
MyKayla Skinner is another gymnast that wasn't really talked about too much, but still kind of in the mix because of her strength on vault.  She has an Amanar (2 1/2 twisting Yurchenko instead of the usual 2 that most gymnasts are competing) and is the only other gymnast besides Simone to do two vaults which would enable her to try to qualify for vault event finals.   She made the 2014 Worlds team, but was left off in 2015.  I like her because she is not afraid to go for difficulty and while she has been criticized for her form she has improved a lot and usually hits her routines.  She's never been able to fix her technique on the Cheng vault and still does it with one hand but somehow it works for her.  The crowd literally gasped when they showed the replay because it looks like she's missed her hand.  She had a beam disaster at nationals so I was glad to see her nail every single routine at trials, and grab an alternate spot, but sad because she finished 4th right behind Aly Raisman.  She truly did everything she could possibly do and it wasn't good enough.  She was so close to being one of the five and all of the attention and prestige that goes along with it and that has to sting.  A lot, and she's not hiding it too well on social media.  Check out the new team member photo shopped on that tweet

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Ragan Smith
Ragan Smith
Ragan Smith is so young and she is a firecracker on all events.  This is her first year as a Senior so there is still time for her, but it has to be hard to nail everything, finish in 5th place and still not make the team.  The consolation prize is being named alternate.  Her coach is one of my favorite gymnasts of all time, Kim Zmeskal (first US World Champion). 

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Maggie Nichols
Maggie Nichols
When I heard that Maggie Nichols tore her meniscus doing an Amanar in April I didn't think there was any way for her to come back in time to make a run for the Olympics, but there she was at nationals with two events and at trials doing all four.  She has so much tenacity and wanted it so badly but I don't think she had enough time to come back and be the gymnast she was before the injury.  She had an amazing worlds last year and a stellar American Cup.  She was right in there and I am certain she would have made the team, but she lost time to injury and she lost her Amanar.  The fall on beam didn't help.  She has pretty gymnastics but isn't a stand out on any one event and without the Amanar vault it wasn't even enough to make alternate despite finishing 6th ahead of Gabby Douglas.   I'm sure Simone would have loved to have her best friend on the team, but it wasn't meant to be and she has already announced retirement from elite gymnastics.  I don't blame her.  She'll join Brenna at Oklahoma University.

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Brenna Dowell
Brenna Dowell
Brenna Dowell:  I don't know for sure because I haven't watched it yet, but they probably didn't show this athlete at all on the NBC televised broadcast.  Their coverage is notoriously terrible.  The thing is that there is really no excuse.  I know they have commercials and commentator babbling to do, but each athlete competes one at a time.  There has to be a way to show more athletes if they wanted to.  I saw that camera aimed at the back of Gabby's head while she hid out at the water cooler when they could have been showing other athletes who worked just as hard to be there.  Also, Nastia I loved your gymnastics, but broadcasting is not your forte.

Anyway, Brenna's elite story over the last few years has been a roller coaster.  She is best on Floor and Bars. She had her a heart broken at the 2013 Worlds when she made the team, got all the way to  China and then at the last minute was not used on a single event.  She was named an alternate for the 2014 Worlds and then left elite Gymnastics to compete at Oklahoma University, but decided to come back for one last shot at competing in Worlds and getting a signature skill named after her on floor. After a disastrous 2015 Nationals I didn't event think she would get invited to world team selection camp.  Then, shockingly she was named to the team.  She got her tumbling skill named after her, but stumbled on floor, fell of bars twice, and was near tears in her post meet interviews.  I think that might be enough to make anyone give up, but not Brenna.  At 2016 USA Nationals Day 2 she fell on beam and finished 11th overall. I really didn't think there was any way she would make this team, but I find it interesting that after being part of three world teams in a row she finally hits 8 for 8 at trials and doesn't make the biggest team of all.  I'm really glad to see her finish on a positive note showing that she is capable of hitting all of her routines.  She finished in 10th.

The chosen ones:  Laurie, Aly, Simone, Gabby, Madison (Alternates:  MyKayla, Ragan, Ashton)
Surprises
Simone Biles had uncharacteristic mistakes on Day 1 and fall on beam Day 2.  The thing is, she's human and humans make mistakes every now and then.  I'd rather that she get it out now rather than at the Olympics.  She still finished 2 points ahead of everyone else because she is just that good and I really need her to do what she normally does and win the Olympics.  She is so talented that it would be a shame for her not to win that title.

I was surprised to see Madison Kocian fall on beam because she is usually very consistent but she hit where it counts most for her.  Bars.  She finished in a solid 5th place to make the team.  Out of everyone on the team she has the most classically artistic style and is very pretty to watch.  She is reigning three way co World Champion on bars and I'd love to see her take it all at the Olympics.

I was surprised to see a coach missing from the Gabby Douglas camp.  I noticed right away that Kittia Carpenter was nowhere to be seen so I googled it and lo and behold it turns out that two weeks ago after a poor showing at nationals she made a "non coaching change change" and decided that she only wanted Christian on the floor because she is getting worn out from all the training and needs a male coach for better spotting now through the Olympics.  One coach is allowed at the Olympics, but two coaches are allowed at trials and she's had both all this time so that generic excuse sounds fishy.  What a bummer for Kittia to be part of her comeback from the start and then get left at home when it's time for Rio.  Gabby has been mostly consistent since her comeback, but she didn't do well at Nationals so her mistakes on day 1, and a fall on beam each day were only mildly surprising just because I had no idea what to expect from her.  I was also surprised to hear her mother report that she fractured her knee just before she won the silver medal at World Championships in 2015 and was on crutches for two months. That information was never released by USA Gymnastics.  What isn't surprising at all is that she made the team anyway despite finishing 7th and that her Barbie was released the day after. She is under so much pressure.  There were a lot of people and a lot of money counting on her making it and I can't imagine how devastating it would have been to fall short.

The Gabby Douglas Controversy
So here's the deal.  Even though it may not seem fair given the standings, I think a good case was made for Gabby making the team even though she finished 7th.  She's good AA, strong on bars, and has a lot of heart to even attempt to do this again, although she was quoted after Day 1 of trials saying she's "lost her passion." That being said, I don't think she should defend her All Around title.  Marta says that they are bringing Gabby to Rio because of the contribution she can make on bars and because if something happens to any other athletes she can fill in anywhere.  She is capable of decent scores on all events. To me this screams team player not AA contender, but the fact that she is a big name in gymnastics makes me think it may go a different way.  The US essentially has two bars specialists.  Madison and Gabby. What that means is that in team qualifications they will need to put Simone, Madison, Gabby, and Laurie up on bars.  Simone because she is a shoo in for the AA win, Madison because she is reigning World bars champ and needs to qualify for event finals, Gabby because she is strong on bars.  Laurie because Aly is the weakest out of everyone on bars and finished higher than Aly in the AA on every competition over the last year.  What that means is that Aly may not have the opportunity to compete for AA finals and that makes me really really sad for her because I think she has a good shot and after being so close in 2012 and doing so well at trials.  I'd love to see her have another crack at it. The other option is to not put Gabby up on bars in team qualifications, but if bars was the main reason for bringing her I don't know if that makes sense.  Now that I think about it, they might be too scared to put her up on beam too.  Either way I think her role should be to help the team not defend her title, but the headline "Gabby Douglas defends her Olympic AA title against reigning World AA Champ Simone Biles" might be too sensational for USA Gymnastics to pass up.  Never mind that she has no chance of winning.  No one does, if Simone hits. The girls have five days at their home gym before a nine day training camp at the ranch under the watchful eye of Marta Karolyi and it will be interesting to see if anything changes after that.

Highlights
The consistent performance of Aly Raisman was wonderful to see.  I love her determination!  She has her weaknesses, but they are far outweighed by her strengths.  She was always a rock in competition, but has had some consistency issues since her comeback.  It looks like the old Aly is back and she is peaking at exactly the right moment.  Everyone on the team looks up to her and I was so happy to see her rise to the occasion and make her 2nd Olympic Team.

Laurie Hernandez has the most awesome showmanship and power on every event.  The way she carries and presents herself on each apparatus is so dynamic and she also has the skills to back it up. She is peaking at just the right time as a first year senior and snuck right in there for a well earned spot on the team. We are used to talking about Simone Biles, but I think Laurie stole some of her thunder. The crowd in San Jose loved her so much they chanted her name and the loudest cheers of the night came after her final performance on beam.  Overall, Laurie, Aly, Gabby and Simone were the most cheered for gymnasts of the meet.  Did you know it can cost as much as 30k to get a family to Rio for the Olympics?  Now that she made the team, Laurie has set up a GoFundMe to help get her family to the games.  I wonder if she'll make that big decision to go pro.

Honorable Mention
USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Amelia Hundley
honorable mention
Amelia Hundley was probably not mentioned at all in the TV broadcast, but I give her and other gymnasts like her who really don't have much of a chance of making the Olympic Team, a lot of credit for showing up at the Olympic Trials and giving it their best shot anyway.  She had the meet of her life hitting all of her routines finishing 9th.  She was solid out there and win or lose I think that is the main goal.  Getting invited to Olympic Trials is a huge honor and they all sacrifice a lot to get that far.  Rounding out the 14 gymnasts who competed were Rachel GoweyChristina Desiderio, and Emily Schild who finished 11th, 12th, 13th.

Final Results

They showed the standings after every rotation on day one, but only after the 2nd rotation on day 2. The hard rankings were not likely to match the team selected.  I kind of think they didn't want that in our head right before the team was announced because it wouldn't make sense.  4th place Mykayla didn't even make alternate, but 7th place Gabby made the team.  6th place Maggie made nothing, while Ashton who would've been listed last place due to two events was an alternate.  I understand that in order to make the best team and keep up with the other countries it can't be based 100% on the AA scores at trials, which are themselves subjective.  Three girls dropped out due to injury before trials even began.  To survive training, and injuries and work your whole life for something only to not make it because you are Olympic caliber on all four events but the team needs someone who is good on Bars has to be a tough pill to swallow.  They all sign off on the selection process, but they really have no choice in the matter.  They can train and train, but they only have so much control over their fate.  It's not like swimming or track and field where athletes are measured on a hard non-negotiable measure of performance. Time.  For gymnasts time is a hard non-negotiable factor as well and they are always in a race against it hoping that it doesn't run out before their Olympic dream.

NBC put everything on lock down and would not allow professional camera equipment including any camera with a detachable lens so I didn't bring my DSLR camera.  I thought about risking it, but I actually saw someone get told to "check" their DSLR before entry for pick it up later so I'm glad I didn't bother. We were sitting closest to beam so had the best view of that event.
Simone warming up Beam

Aly finishing Bars

Gabby competing on floor

We loved it!!!
Every living Olympian was invited to trials for a special ceremony on Saturday night.  I didn't see them, but it was cool to know that all the gymnastics greats were there.  We enjoyed the excitement of gymnastics and spending time together.  Little sis, is a new mama so she only spent Friday night with us at the hotel after the competition that night, but we spent the day in San Francisco on Saturday and I got to meet my four month old niece.  Sunday was a get together with family from that area and more gymnastics that evening.  My mom and I left San Jose on Monday.  It was an AMAZING weekend.






7.08.2016

But First, Olympic Trials

The Clues
I've said it before.  My husband is really good at giving gifts.

On Christmas morning on of my presents was decent sized gift wrapped box that was so light I thought it was empty.  I shook it and heard something rattling around inside, but what?  He didn't make it easy for me to figure it out.  I opened layers of boxes until I found a curious stack of cards with names on them.  Being the America's Next Top Model fan that I am, I immediately recognized each name as America's Next Top Model winners.  I had to put them in order from 1st ANTM winner to last ANTM winner, flip them over, and then use the pictured clues to discover my gift.  I'm bad at deciphering clues so it took me a while, to figure out that MJ had given me the most amazing gift ever.  Tickets to U.S. Olympic Trials.  Not just for me, but for my mom and my little sister.  It was so cute and thoughtful the way he put it all together.  He knows I love ANTM and gymnastics.


This weekend is bittersweet.  I leave for San Jose today to watch Olympic Trials for my favorite sport with my family.  I'm so so excited, but also sad because when I get back I don't know how much longer I have before MJ leaves.  He could be leaving (or not) any day now and I don't like missing out on whatever time we have left together.  I'm usually the one taking him to the airport so this is weird.  He was supposed to be gone a long time ago so I kind of don't even believe he's leaving.  How can I process it when he's been "leaving" since January and his travel plans are still up in the air as we speak?  I am beyond annoyed by this situation hanging over our heads, but this is how the military operates, and we have no control over any of it.  He knew he might not be able to go to trials with me so he set everything up to make sure that I would, and there aren't words to describe how much I love him for that.

In case you've been hiding under a rock the Olympic Games are next month.  There is a Zika virus alert in Brazil.  The venues are incomplete and they are still working on a much needed rail line to transport the hoards of people that will descend upon on Rio, but the lead up to Sochi was an even greater disaster, and I don't think an Olympic Games has ever been cancelled.  The selection process has begun, teams have been named, and adds have already started airing.  The show must go on.  I've included a few sappy promo clips to get you in the Olympic mood and I challenge you not to tear up.  All three of them got me. I also included an interesting documentary about Bela and Marta Karoly's ranch in Texas that has become the training center for the USA National Team.

I'm going to cry my eyes out when MJ leaves.  Then I'm going to cry my way through the Olympics, but first...Olympic Trials and a fun weekend with my family.  I'm probably be crying at trials too when they announce the team.  For the ones who make it and the ones who don't.  I'm just a big old emotional mess!! 

Look for me on TV.

NBC will carry live coverage of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for women's gymnastics from 9-11 p.m. ET on July 8 & 10. It will be streamed live through NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Live Extra app.  It's on at 8 pm both nights in my neck of the woods-West Coast.













7.05.2016

It's Tradition

Most of the bodies are concentrated in the food aisle at the top right
Work was a complete ghost town today.  I didn't get the memo about taking the day after The 4th of July off like everyone else, so I was one of the few butts in chairs at the office, and I was fighting sleep the minute I got there.  It was terrible.   I just wanted to be home with my husband!
I get this pizza every year.  It's tradition and so delicious.

We can handle the Ferris Wheel just fine

The Rents
It always goes way too fast, but you have to work with what you get so I made the most of that three day weekend. 

The highlight of the weekend was the fair.  At this point, it may be more about nostalgia than anything else, but I love the fair and even better when I get to go with mom and dad because I've been going to this very same fair with them since I was a baby. We don't even do much, but eat and walk around looking at exhibits but there is something about the fair that keeps me coming back every year.  This year we skipped the animals, and went on the Ferris Wheel.  That's about all any of us could handle.  My mom never liked them, but MJ and I have completely aged out of rides like Mach 1, Mega Drop and the Zipper.  My stomach sinks just thinking about riding those again, and I don't know how I ever did it before.  There were so many bodies crammed into this place.  1,609,481 guests total and 96,501 on the busiest day (July 3rd) made it to the fair this year.  That's A LOT of people.  Traffic getting in and out was terrible, but it was worth it for me.  The the weather was perfect and we had a really nice  day.   

One last breakfast out before they go
There never seems to be enough time.  My parents got here on Tuesday and left on Sunday morning.  We had the fair on Saturday, but I worked every other day throughout the week.  They used to live here and they have a walking addiction so they don't require much in the way of entertaining when they visit.  My mom makes sure to get the Wi-Fi password, and they get a house key to come and go as they please.  They disappear for hours at a time on long walks or visiting with friends.  My dad drinks no less than two gallons of milk, won't let us pay for anything, and is happy as a clam upstairs in their room watching YouTube on his tablet.  They buy food which we cram into the fridge, and they always leave something behind.  This time it was  plums, green onion, plus an extra gallon of milk.  I still don't know why mom bought green onions.  We hang out for whatever time I have left in the evenings after work and before bedtime.  We watch TV and movies on the weekends until nobody can keep their eyes open.  My mom likes to do laundry before they hit the road so we fold clothes together the night before they leave. 

I always tear up a little bit when I hug them good-bye, but we've got some fun things this year and I look forward to seeing them again soon.

7.01.2016

Delaware is Different

Delaware is different.

For starters, it's very humid and rain breaks out sporadically out of nowhere even when it's hot.  I'm not used to that.   I did not see any of the big three; which I consider to be Applebee's, Chili's and TGI Friday's.  Not even a single Starbucks.  I think Dunkin' is the champ there.  On the drive from Milton to Gaithersburg we didn't hit an actual highway, for at least an hour.  It's mostly two lane roads with wheat fields and lots of trees on either side.  The fields stretch out as far as the eye can see, dotted with barns, horses, goats, and homes that seem to sprout out of nowhere...in the middle of nowhere.   Curious deer on the side of the road poke around the bushes oblivious to the cars zooming past and the pitch black night sky is pierced by lighting bugs you would miss altogether if you don't know what they are.  "Is this really it?  Is this where you grew up?" I asked MJ trying to wrap my head around it, because there is just nothing there and it's so different than where I grew up.  "Yes,"  he replied.  "You can see why I was so anxious to get out."  

Yes, Delaware is different than what I'm used to, but we made the best of it.  Wilmington and Dover are Delaware's largest cities, but we spent most of our time in a small town I'd never heard of called Milton. These are the highlights and a nice list of things to do should you ever find yourself in Delaware.
  • We went directly from a red eye flight to Cracker Barrel where we ate what we consider to be the best pancakes ever.   This may not be the biggest deal to some, but sadly, California does not have one so we never ever miss an opportunity to eat there when we travel.  It has to be pancakes.  I ordered french toast once and was very disappointed.  I hear they serve lunch and dinner, but all I want is the pancakes. 

  • Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton offers free beer tasting, which is a first for me.  You get four pours, which is pretty nice.  There is outdoor seating at giant wood community picnic tables, bocce ball (but with frisbees which I'd never seen before), and a food truck with limited food offerings.  The atmosphere was lively and they had a really cool tree house out front.
  • I ate a delicious build your own salad at this cute little place called The Back Yard, in Milton.  Normally I have to make substitutions or pick something out, but my salad was just the way I like it and so good.  If you order a bottle of wine there and don't finish it they let you take it home.  We did not order a bottle of wine or take advantage of the happy hour but I thought both were pretty cool deals.  
  • MJ's dad took us to a great spot for breakfast called The Southern Grill of Ellendale.  It's seat yourself, and it took us a long time to get served, but the waitress apologized, the food came fast, and it was delicious.  There were lots of options for putting together the perfect breakfast; whatever that is for you.  I had the 2 french toast, 2 egg (whites), 2 sausage meal.

  • Spence's Bazaar in Dover is worth a visit, but not for the bazaar.  The bazaar was mostly junk, and I knew that because we went the last time I was there.  We checked it out just for kicks, but as expected I didn't see anything that I imagine people actually would want to buy, but one man's trash is another man's treasure and all that.  The draw for this place is the Amish Market.  The smells coming from that place were delicious.  We made the mistake of going there right after breakfast (again).  I wanted to eat more than one hot doughnut, but I was stuffed.  It's best to go hungry because they have all kinds of food.  Cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, pizza, chicken wings, sandwiches, meats and more.  All made and served by Amish people in their traditional Amish garb.  We took home a Chocolate Peanut Butter cake that was to die for.  So, so good.

A photo posted by Cece (@mahoganydrive) on
  • Tax Free shopping came in handy.  I've been on the hunt for polarized sunglasses.  Why is it that when you finally spring for "expensive" glasses they get scratched, and yet the cheapies are still kicking?  I'd tried a pair from Amazon that I hated on my face, so I figured, why not buy some in Delaware where I can get it tax free?  We hit up the Sunglasses Hut at Tanger Outlets in Rehobeth.  Plastic frames are so so cute and I'm drawn to them, but really hate the oversized look on my face.  I never would have considered metal framed aviator style Ray Ban's, but I put them on and...sold!  Love them.  
  • Most important, was the reason that brought us out there in the first place.  Family. Why else would anyone else visit Delaware?  I know, I'm such a snob.  His family on his mom's side gets together every other year for a reunion.  The last time I was in Delaware was for the 2013 reunion so it's been awhile.  Killen's Pond State Park in Felton is really beautiful.  There is boating, nature trails, and a water park.  We didn't get to spend much time with his mom, due to a travel error.  In MJ's head we were staying until Tuesday, but our flight home was scheduled on Monday morning and I didn't make the connection until Sunday night.  Oops.  But, I got to meet most of his siblings for the first time so that was cool.
We spent one day with friends in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  Their house is spacious, on something like three acres, and they have a basement.  A basement!!  They have chickens and a good sized garden.  I don't want either, although MJ does want the garden.  Every time I'm on the east coast I think about how screwed we are living in So Cal with the high cost of living.  You get so much bang for your buck elsewhere.  I think, lot's of people are very happy back east, perhaps we could be too and reap the benefits of a lower cost of living.  Then I see a random toad in the driveway that I would have died if I'd stepped on, think about the weird jumping spiders we saw at Killen's Pond, and the harsh cold winters.  I just don't think I can do snow.  Also, I don't even have allergies and there was this awful tickle in my nose almost the whole time we were there. 

We will probably never have the privacy that you get with a lot of land or the square footage.  No Cracker Barrel either, but I don't think I can bear to part with So Cal.  For now, it's worth it.

6.22.2016

Why Suffer When You Don't Have To?

On Sunday I brought our laundry downstairs to the living room for folding, because I would have broken out in a sweat doing it upstairs.  I couldn't deal with the last load so I left it sitting in the basket.  I ran the blow dryer on my hair for exactly two seconds before realizing what a stupid idea that was because our air conditioning broke just in time for the hottest weekend of the year. San Diego county broke high temp records everywhere and there we were, putting off bedtime as long as possible because downstairs wasn't terrible, but upstairs was a sauna.  Laying there spread eagle in bed listening to the hum of the tower fan and feeling it's lukewarm air blow across my body brought back memories of the old days when I lived alone in a studio apartment.  Right now our only choice is to deal with the heat, but it reminded me of the days when I had a choice, and chose to suffer anyway.


It feels like a lifetime ago.  It was a lifetime ago.  I was living alone for the first time ever and newly single.  Street parking was tight, there was a shared laundry room that took quarters only, and no storage to speak of, but my little apartment was so cute.  I was proud that I did it on my own and living alone was pretty neat.  Like a lot of places, there was no central air.  It had a wall AC unit, but it was sufficient for cooling the whole place since the whole place was essentially the size of a room.  I was on the upper floor, so when it was hot, it was hot and there was no escape.  I don't know how I sat there sweltering, when I could have had relief with the flick of a switch.  The tower fan would have to do, because the wall unit was to be used ONLY while I worked out, and sometimes not even then depending on just how hot it was.  Those were the rules.  I went to bed in stifling heat some nights and woke up to damp sheets.  During the day I holed up in the library or went to the mall when it got too bad.  I took two showers a day because just breathing was enough to make me sweat, but upon pain of death I would not touch that wall unit.

Those were the rules.

And so many rules there were back then because life demanded it.  I could only buy clothing if I absolutely needed it and only from Walmart or Target.  I wasn't allowed to eat after six.  To cut down on gas I couldn't go too far from home most weekends and stops at 7-11 for 99 cent coffee was only allowed once a week. 

Those were the rules because money was tight and discipline of utmost importance. 

Diet soda was allowed daily.   I had one every day with "dinner" to help me feel full.  If you could even call it that.  Three slices of thinly sliced lunch meat ham, slapped between two slices of bread, a 2% Kraft Single, and the thinnest layer of mustard was the main dish with a side of exactly one serving of pretzel sticks.  I counted.  The cans were rinsed and stored in the dishwasher and taken to the recycling center monthly where I would receive my CRV in the form of a grocery store credit at Ralph's next door.  I parked in between the two, so I could haul my cans to the recycling center and then walk to the grocery store where I would painstakingly select each item after carefully scrutinizing the nutritional information.

The thing about it, is that my electric bill was so cheap.  I still don't know how it was so cheap, but it was only about $35.00 per month.  Allowing myself some relief and turning on the wall unit every now and then would have made me much more comfortable, and how high could my bill really get?  Not very high, as I would find out later, but I was too caught up in my own suffering and sadness to find out.    Everything had to be controlled to the maximum level possible.  I didn't allow myself to splurge.  Ever.  On anything.  I embraced hunger, the stifling heat and all the things about my life that was difficult without resistance, but it wasn't just about the money.  It was proving to myself what I had already come to accept at that time.  Life is hard and I wasn't meant to be happy.     
   
Then I met MJ.
 
I lived there for five years.  He lived in that little studio with me for the last six months, and you better believe that when it got hot he didn't hesitate for a second to turn that thing on.  He couldn't understand my logic.  Why suffer, when you don't have to?  I mean, if you have no choice that is one thing, but when you have a choice, why not choose comfort?  It's usually worth it.  Space was limited and sometimes the clutter made me cranky, but it wasn't just me against the world anymore, and that cold air circulating through the studio felt like a small miracle.  It was pure magic, and my oven which still pristine after five years of very little action was finally getting put to good use.  The girl who didn't want to eat had fallen in love with a foodie.

When we moved into our house I tried to make us both suffer.  Our expenses were high that year between the new house and the wedding.  Old habits die hard.  "We're fine," I'd say.  "It's not that hot," because I was used to sacrificing comfort to save a dime, but MJ wasn't having it.  He went crazy cranking up the AC at just the slightest hint of warm weather, and I went along with it until we got the bill.  I taught him the value of a savings account and he taught me to live a little. I gave in a bit, so did he, and we've found a pretty nice balance over the years. 

I shake my head sometimes thinking about how my life has changed since then.  All for the better, and I am so thankful.  We own a home with central air, we take trips, I don't think twice about stopping at 7-11 for coffee, and I have an Amazon addiction.  My meals are nutritionally balanced, I have an awesome husband, and I no longer look for any excuse to martyr myself.  I'm happy.

Why suffer when you don't have to?  The answer is, you shouldn't.  Air cooling is a wonderful invention.  I am truly humbled after being without it for six hot days and can't wait for it to be fixed next week. 

Disclaimer:  This post was brought to you by our broken air conditioning unit and the wonder that is air cooling, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.