Sunday, November 14, 2010

Long Beach, CA

While Steve attended the World Congress of NCMA (April 5 - 8, 2009), I explored Long Beach! I walked all around the town. I shopped in the little village across the street, buying a turquoise ring, a pink straw bag, an enamel tile wall hanging and some candy at a bulk candy store. I walked uptown to buy some shoes for our evening banquet and found them and a used bookstore. I also treated myself to a manicure.

Dinner that first night was a banquet at the Aquarium. Since evenings could still run to the chilly side, I knitted myself a rectangular shawl. I went to All About Yarn and asked them what pattern and yarn I could use to make a quick shawl. They suggested this lovely. thin yarn in black with a silver thread running through it. I knit it on big needles. I was almost finished with it. A morning's concerted effort of knitting in the room completed the project in the nick of time. With the black Barbie shoes I bought, I matched Steve's elegance in his long-sleeved shirt, dress slacks, jacket and tie. We started out near the sting ray tank with a cocktail party and then were escorted into the first floor of the aquarium. The food was pretty good, and all the contract people at the table were anticipating the speaker. Unfortunately, the acoustics in the room did not lend themselves to public speaking, and his words were distorted and unintelligible by the time they reached us in the back. We cut out to the awaiting buses while the party leaders were patting themselves on the back for a good year.

It wasn't all me by myself exploring though. Steve and I walked around together in the evenings and shared dinner with a couple of MD NCMA'ers at Gladstones a local seafood restaurant with a beautiful waterfront view. Before heading to Anaheim, we also ate with his co-workers from APL at Famous Dave's. Typical food but good fun seeing what everyone else was doing with the rest of their week's vacation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

Our dilemma was not nearly as deep as Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken. We just had a Sunday free and no plan of what to do with it. I suggested driving further south to San Diego and exploring the city. Steve suggested an alternative. As a general rule he prefers looking at God's creation rather than man's so studying the California map, he found the Joshua Tree National Park. He's a huge U2 fan. Of course, he wanted to see the place that inspired their album title. I figured that I'd be with Steve so it didn't really matter where we went. Joshua Tree won the day.

The California landscape is so different from what we have back East. Snow-capped mountains or just really huge weird shaped hills. Desert! Cliffs dropping straight into the ocean. Gargantuan, three-bladed windmills. Palm trees. We loved the drive, alone with our thoughts since the wind from the topless convertible blew our words out of our mouths. At one point, we needed gas. I suggested Palm Springs. I'd grown up hearing about Bing Crosby and Walt Disney and Rock Hudson and all the rest of that era's movie stars heading to Palm Springs to do whatever it is movie stars do on vacation. Steve agreed to this detour. We stopped at the Visitor's Center, got some brochures, cruised the town, fed the car and fed us (at the In and Out Burger--fast food is also different in CA). After that, a couple more stretches of desolate road and a couple more hills, and we were there. We checked out the Visitor's Center, reading about the indigenous flora and fauna. We drove Park Boulevard all the way down to Keys View where we saw into Mexico and viewed the ominous San Andreas Fault, sitting there quietly in the sun. Then we followed it back around past huge piles of rock and the ubiquitous Joshua trees, arms sprouting weirdly in all directions. Relaxed and filled, we headed back to Long Beach, much better off for the road we took.

And unlike the poet who never made it back to try that other road, we'll just have to plan another trip to California that includes San Diego.

Sweet Ride!

We hadn't planned on getting a car. Not really. At least not the kind that APL was willing to pay for. We didn't see much point in driving around Cali. in an economy car. Disappointed, Steve said we'd just take the bus. The BUS! In a car-driven (pardon the pun) society like California? Sigh!

I didn't give up. I kept surfing the APL-approved rental sites every so often. Lo and behold, one fine day, a special! We could rent a convertible for the cost of an economy car! I snapped it up!

Fast forward to our trip. We flew into LAX, caught the bus to the rental place, stood in line and waited and waited and waited some more. Everybody had a reservation for a convertible it seemed. Would there be enough? We waited so long the manager offered us a free day's rental. Sweet! Out came our car. It wasn't a convertible. Not sweet! The manger realized her mistake and then offered us an upgrade. "How about a Mustang convertible?" she said. Sweet yet again! Steve who thought he was going to have to travel by bus now had the cruising car of a lifetime. And we kept the top down pretty much exclusively despite highs only in the 60's. We just turned on the heat. Heaven on earth!

Thank You, NCMA!

Have you ever stayed in a Hyatt hotel? They are posh, boy! The lobby is swathed in marble and luxe fabrics with modern art everywhere. The rooms are plush with down-filled duvets and king-sized beds and flat screen tv's and marble bathrooms. Did we have to pay one red cent for this gorgeous place? No, we did not! Steve's work paid! Because Steve was going to be the president of his local NCMA (National Contract Management Association) chapter, it behooved his work to send him. Yippee skippee! Thanks, NCMA and JHU-APL! We stayed there three days and loved it!

Pacific Coast Highway

In 2009, we visited California for the first time. I'm scrapbooking our album from that trip and posting my favorite remembrances. This first one stars the Pacific Coast Highway and the trip we took from the LAX to Long Beach. It took all day using this route, but it was well worth it.

PCH (a.k.a. The Pacific Coast Highway) We had the time. Steve's conference didn't start until the following day. We had a convertible with the top down. We didn't want to take the freeway. We had a beautiful, sunny day. Pacific Coast Highway it was then!

First we headed north. We found a restaurant right on the beach. I ran down to the water to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time. As we sat there eating, a pod of dolphins swam by corralling their own food. Magical!

Then we headed south. We saw glorious homes, quintessential beach scenes and the LA power plant. On one stretch of the PCH, Jesus' parable about the foolish man who built his home on the sand came to life. All along the roadway were signs warning about the danger of the shifting roadway. To the left we could see where mesas had just collapsed like glaciers calving into the sea. On the right, pounded the ocean. A bit scary!

We stopped on a headland and just gazed on God's beautiful creation. We cruised through towns and envied their fortunate inhabitants. We crossed a bridge that soared into the sky high above ocean liners and transport loading below. And hours later we arrived in Long Beach, entranced, inspired and in love with California!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Asheville, NC

You like arty, Asheville's got it. You like redneck, Asheville's got it. You like mountains, Asheville's got 'em. You like rivers, Asheville's got 'em. You like shopping, Asheville's got it. You like good food, Asheville's got that, too. IMHO, it's the perfect little city.

We spent time with the Jones' who own a little stone house on a hill in Asheville. We visited the yummy Chocolate Lounge, a dessert/drinks place that serves the most decadent chocolate confections imaginable. Steve bought a chili, chocolate drink that started sweet but ended up spicy as it slipped easily down his throat. We drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt. Pisgah Inn, where I dined on freshly caught rainbow trout filleted right at the table. We tromped around all the streets we could find in downtown Asheville, shopping in stores we didn't even know existed. We explored used book shops, a cigar store, a couple environmentally friendly clothing/furniture stores, knit shops, and a Celtic store owned by a particularly chatty, opinionated woman who almost forgot we were there to purchase from her rather than just talk. We sampled our way through the Biltmore winery with a childhood friend of Glenda's and just missed meeting Glenda's sister. We found the perfect grocery store, Earth Faire, bigger than Trader Joe's and cheaper than Whole Foods. Steve even got in a game of golf with Ron and Russell. The weather was lovely and the company unparalleled. The end of the week and the end of time in Asheville came too fast.