The Vacation Roller Coaster

elephant_coconutIn reality, I’m just a short week away from a seven-night Caribbean cruise with some girl friends. In my world, I’m three days of shoveling 14 tons of landscape rock in our backyard, one business trip to New Jersey, and two nights of packing procrastination away from a seven-night Caribbean cruise with some girl friends. I’m certainly not feeling sorry for myself, but the vacation roller coaster has already begun.

Vacationing is my second greatest talent (killing plants is my first). My fabulous employer allows me a little over five weeks a year; and my success, sanity and survival hinges entirely on milking every moment. And while I know the moment I step onto the curb at the airport the weight of everyday responsibility will fall away, I still can’t help getting sucked in to that loop-de-loop of pre-vacation crazy.

Right now, I’m on loop 2 of what I call the vacation roller coaster:

Scheduling High: Your vacation is BOOKED!!! Your be-jealous-of-me posts have been strewn across your various social profiles and you’re already contemplating your first umbrella-drink order.

Week Before Inner Monologue Loop-de-loop: “I’m going on vacation! I need to pack. Nah, I have six nights left. Except Tuesday and Wednesday. And I’m busy Thursday. It can wait. I’m going on vacation! Who is going to take this meeting while I’m out? Maybe I should reschedule. No they can survive without me. Should I pack tonight? I need to get a pedicure. I’m going on vacation!”

Last Day of Work Plunge: Today is the day everyone decides you’re important. The “one last thing before you leave” emails continue until after you actually leave. You contemplate the implications of never returning.

Out of Office Alert High: Click and relief! The sucker who agreed to cover for you is on the hook now.

One Quick Email Check Spiral: In a moment of airport/road trip/”family fun” boredom you decide to “just peek” at your inbox. You experience a quick burst of stress for all the things you’ll face upon your return followed by a twinge of guilt for the person filling your shoes followed by a deeper twinge of not caring in the least. You test your out of office alert. Power down.

Vacation Coast: You’re finally in the zone. Blue skies, blue waters and blue drinks as far as the eye can see. Your only care in the world is wondering what species of towel animal will be waiting on your bed after turn down service. You briefly consider how the movers would get your things here.

Mid-Vacation Hump: The days you’ve been here outnumber the days you have left and you can’t help but discuss this with your fellow travelers at every turn. “Just four soups of the day left to try!” “I can’t believe we only have three more nights of karaoke on the Lido deck!”

Last Day of Vacation High: You feel refreshed, you feel lucky and you feel ready to go back and take on the world with a new outlook on life. Mid-life crisis postponed.

Return to Work Loop-de-loop and Dive Bomb: The initial panic of 427 unread emails slowly wanes as you realize your back up actually had your back, then resurges with a vengeance when you begin to wonder if you are completely useless and replaceable. You use the free time to book another vacation.

Coming back from vacation is bittersweet. It’s never a pleasure to peel yourself from your beach chair, ski lift, or even couch, but rejoining the real world with a fresh perspective provides a little post-vacation buzz that makes your first few days back easier. At least until you get your next trip on the books.

Do you experience the vacation roller coaster?

Related posts: Modern Tourism, The Shower AffairSurviving a Seven Night Cruise

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Popcorn and Pinot

elephant_pinotpopcornPeople love to talk about movies – the talent, the writing, the singing skills of what’s-her-name. They will tweet it, blog it, and small-talk it over drinks. But ask someone to tell you their favorite movie and they’ll freeze up like you just handed them a life vest and an old VCR and shipped them off to the proverbial desert island with a single VHS tape. “My favorite movie?” they will reply incredulously as if the thought never occurred to them. And then they will mount the evidence to find your pointed question completely irrational.

They could give you their top ten, or their favorites from the last decade, or perhaps it would be make more sense to list one per genre, or broken down chronologically by the stages of their life. “There’s no way to pick my favorite movie” they’ll argue.

But once you get them going on their list it becomes very clear that Casablanca is a necessary counter-balance to Pretty Woman and the weight of No Country for Old Men helps offset Dude, Where’s My Car?. I’ve observed the average “favorite” movie list consistently covers the spectrum from blah Oscar contender to green-tomatoed screwball comedy. Turns out sometimes “favorite” is a matter of quality, and sometimes it’s a matter of taste.

My conclusion: one’s favorite movie library is much like one’s wine library. There’s the old standby after a tough day, the favorite you break out at parties, the one you save for when your snobbier friends are in town, and the one you only reach for when nobody’s looking.

Thus, I’ve created my list of “favorites” with my own personal twist – categorized by varietal.

Rose: The guilty pleasure – a little on the sugary side but will always hold a special place in your heart. This is that movie from your younger years you may actually still have “in the box” – much like any self-respecting White Zinfandel should be. For me, it’s Pretty in Pink. And Mannequin. And Serendipity. Or pretty much anything with Andrew McCarthy or John Cusack.

Champagne: The crowd-pleaser. It’s also a great go-to when you need a little pick-me-up. You know every line by heart and it goes straight to your head. Pitch Perfect, Clueless and Elf fit this bill for me – the bubblier the better.

Zinfandel: The outlier. Sometimes you’re in the mood for something with a little bite. American Psycho is my Zin.

Cabernet: The just plain great. It’s hard to argue with a good cab. It’s strong, memorable, and timeless – a true classic. For me, it’s The Breakfast Club. My dad and boyfriend would fill this slot with The Shawshank Redemption. I can’t argue with that either.

Bordeaux: The classic. It’s a little stuffy but key to keep on the shelf – if even just for show. It’s the award-winning, critically-acclaimed, you-know-it’s-a-super-big-deal-but-you-don’t-really-love-it movie. Mine is Schindler’s List.

Pinot Noir: The timeless. Before Sunrise is my Pinot Noir. It’s light and bright with a perfect finish and decanted flawlessly over time. My true favorite.

Port: The sipper. You only whip this one out for special occasions and you really just need a taste. It’s a Wonderful Life is my Port.

White: I don’t love whites so they don’t make the cut – they are my Ben-Stiller-facing-off-with-a-ferret-or-other-equally-inane-animal movies. He seriously does this a lot.

So while you may prefer your Chardonnay over my Pinot, who am I to judge? Next time you’re asked about your favorite movie, don’t be afraid to raise your glass high and just admit it’s Bring it On.

What’s your favorite movie?

Posted in 80s, Entertainment, Humor, Movies, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

The Wonder of Sky Mall

sky mall I’m in the process of building a new home with an egregiously large kitchen. So during a recent flight when I saw the top corner of the Sky Mall catalog peeking out of the seat back pocket I couldn’t help but yank it out and flip anxiously to see if they still sell that hot dog bun toaster I always thought was ridiculously awesome. Indeed they do.

While I pondered this purchase, I noticed many of the products gracing the pages of this timeless tome are Sky Mall classics – from the pop-up Christmas tree to the elegant line of moon boots. Aside from a few products boasting “iPhone 4S compatible,” I’d swear this catalog of Back to the Future II-esque odds and ends hasn’t changed much since Back to the Future II came out on VHS.

In this world of supply in demand, I am faced with two potential conclusions: either there’s a warehouse in Area 51 boasting an infinite supply of garden gnomes; or, somewhere, up in the sky, bored passengers like me are considering, “do I have enough cabinet space for this whos-a-ma-whatsit?” I must know: who are you Sky Mall shopper?

I do hope you come forward and tell me your tale, but in the meantime, here are my theories on who you (we?) might be:

The neighbor-avoider: Based on informal and completely unreliable research, I know that fellow-passenger avoidance is the #1 reason to open a Sky Mall catalog. It may also be the #1 reason to buy a bar that is also a globe.

The serial buyer: You got the flashlight pen in 1989, the laser pen in 1995 and the scanner pen in 2001. Of course you need the translates-anything-into-forty-languages pen.

The speed reader: You’ve finished Game of Thrones and pick up Sky Mall to pass the rest of the time but instead discover a world of thing you never knew you needed. An hour later you’re the proud owner of a Game of Thrones chess set.

The early adopter: You’ve got ten thousand dollars to burn and you intend to be the first one with a nap pod in your living room. It will go next to the tanning bed.

The animal lover: You simply can’t resist the picture of the adorable kitty wandering happily out of the beautiful mahogany end table he just peed in.

The international flyer: Long fly time plus unlimited free booze equals 6ft Garden Yeti Statue ownership.

The ooh-ahher: Wait – there’s a color-changing shower head? And I can get a satellite photo of my house on a throw pillow? And a hot dog cooker that can toast my buns at the same time?!

I decided to forgo the bun toaster for now (listen up, Santa), so I have yet to join the ranks of Sky Mall doo-dad ownership. But I’ve gotta know – who among you has made a Sky Mall purchase? Any other theories on who these elusive characters might be?

Posted in Holidays, Humor, international travel, Mobile, Nostalgia, Technology, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

elephant_moveI’ve added a new word to my vocabulary since I’ve moved to Colorado: “neighborly.” I’ve never had cause to use the word myself, although I vaguely remember Mom once say, “well, shooting our shutters with a BB gun wasn’t exactly neighborly.”

Neighbors have come and gone in my life (more accurately, I’ve come and gone in theirs) and in all my years, I’ve never been welcomed to the neighborhood with a basket of mini-muffins and I’ve never peeked out the window to find a waving neighbor mowing my lawn (although I did once find one filling their pool with my hose). Aside from some vodka-sharing fellow dorm-dwellers in college, all the hopes and dreams instilled by Mr. Rogers never came to fruition… until now.

I hadn’t even made the official move to Denver when I got my first taste of what being neighborly is all about. Upon taking copious photos of the “sold” sign in front of our new home lot, our future neighbors popped by to welcome us. Hours later while being carded at the liquor store, I became engulfed in a lengthy conversation with the cashier and the woman behind me about how excited they were for me to be making the move and how much I’d love my new home. We’ve had furniture-moving help, hiking trail advice, welcomes, well-wishes and even – wait for it – food! Colorado is the most neighborly state I’ve ever experienced. Feel like giving it the old neighborly try? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up on how to be a good neighbor (is the State Farm jingle running through your head too?):

1) Wave when you drive by the playground, wave when you’re walking the dog, wave to the mailman, wave to the UPS guy. It may not be Mayberry but it can sure feel like it it.

2) Pick up your dog’s goodies. It’s not only a neighborly act, but a meet-cute at the dog poop receptacle is the perfect time to make a new neighbor friend.

3) Bake things.

4) Go to the town farmer’s market, join the block party, put up holiday decorations. These are good ways to meet your neighbors and good ways to avoid getting egged.

5) Don’t offer to help – just help. People really like it when they’re carrying something monstrously heavy and you just grab the other end rather than engaging in a dialogue about how heavy or not the monstrously heavy thing is.

6) Knock twice before calling the police.

7) Be nice to people’s dogs and children. They wield more power than you can imagine.

8) Don’t be a jackass. Keep your music down, take your garbage out and close your garage door if you use it to house anything and everything aside from your car.

9) Have a blender. In the neighborly days of yore, it was appropriate to invite your neighbors over for tea. These days it’s only appropriate to invite your neighbors over for margaritas. And baked things.

10)  Fill the silence. It’s weird that I’ve seen you get your newspaper in your skivvies but you won’t make eye contact with me at the mailbox. I get that it’s probably weirder for you though.

It turns out that being neighborly requires all the same virtues of just being a solid human being. Who knew? (That was rhetorical Mr. Rogers!) Any neighborly tips to add to the list? Any neighbor-isms you need to work on?

Posted in Friends, Home, Humor | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments

We’re Not in the OC Anymore, Toto

orange county elephantsSo I’ve moved again. And after a very official two-hands-and-two-feet count I can now claim to have lived in nineteen homes across six states and spanning three continents. I could blame Military Dad or Traveling Mom but seven of these have been since I’ve been out on my own so I clearly have a wandering eye for real estate.

And although each of these places holds a special place in my heart – except for maybe the little house I rented in South Phoenix that required I sign a “no shopping carts on the lawn” clause – I have a special affinity for Orange County, California.

For the last four years I thrived living life “behind the Orange Curtain.” When your home, office, airport, friends, and Trader Joe’s are all in a six mile radius, there really is no place like home. And while I recently described my move to Colorado as Goldilocks finally getting it right, there are several things I will miss about the yoga studio capital of the world:

Trader Joes: I refused to move to Colorado until the Denver metro area built a TJs. Happily, they heard my plea. You’re welcome Colorado – now please stop buying out all the pot stickers I really really miss them.

Disneyland: So this may have been more like 9 miles away, but using my season pass to grab two margaritas at California Adventure followed by a quick run through Space Mountain with a group of “grown up” friends is the epitome of a random Tuesday night.

Explaining that OC is not LA: I think this must be what New Yorkers feel when someone from New Jersey says they are from “pretty much New York.”

September First: No matter the temperature, the moment the calendar flips to September, Southern Californians unite in a county-wide boycott on summer. This is the day to break out the Uggs, sweaters and scarves and pair them with your favorite shorts – it’s 90 degrees, we aren’t stupid.

The “Uniform”: Yoga pants, tank, flip flops and really big designer purse and sunglasses to fancy it all up. Small dog optional.

Cupcakeries: Don’t be fooled by the Lululemon crops and CrossFit tee, elastic waistbands are all in the name of being able to down the new maple bacon frosted mini at the corner cupcake shop <dramatic pause for reflective drool>.

Valet: In Orange County there is valet – often complimentary – at every mall, movie theater, tanning salon and gas station. After an arduous four mile drive, we deserve to spoil ourselves.

The “The”: I lived right between the 405 and the 5. I’ve had to relearn the difference between an interstate and a county highway and a state route and a plain old route and I don’t like it. The “the” is much awesomer.

As I begin to discover feelings of home in my new city, I’m glad I can reflect fondly upon a place that was so briefly my home yet made such an impact on me. I may have parted the Orange Curtain but I won’t part with my flip flops, and my cupcakes, and my little dog too (who, coincidentally, kinda looks like Toto).

What would you miss most about where you live?

Related posts: My First Pair of Ruby Slippers, A Free Tour of Trader Joe’s, Moving is Underrated, How to Move Five Minutes Away

Posted in Commentary, Home, Humor, Life Lessons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Things That Go Beep in the Night

elephant_gpsLike Pavlov’s dog, every time I hear a beep my hand moves reflexively to my smartphone. I quickly thumb through my recent alerts to find the source of the notification and find closure only when I’ve tapped away all the unopened emails, unread messages and unchecked updates. But sometimes, my phone stares blankly back at me, and I realize that little beep didn’t come from where I’d thought.

The other evening, I was winding down my day with a little laundry, dishwashing, and a few follow up notes on a project when I heard a beep. Phone number one was unfruitful so I glanced at phone number two. When it, too, showed no signs of life I checked IM on my work laptop, then Skype on my personal laptop, and then the mystery got deeper. I checked the dishwasher, the dryer, the alarm system – all to no avail. Then that ominous beep pinged me one more time and the mystery was solved – it was the brownie I was warming in the microwave. I’d checked seven places in a six foot radius – SEVEN PLACES – before it dawned on me that the only thing beeping was the only thing that could actually beep some thirty years ago. It was official: smart things make me stupid.

Signs have been pointing to this conclusion for years and each time I forgo thought in favor of a Google search or text someone in the next room instead of standing up the confirmation runs deeper. Just for fun, let’s explore the depths of the idiocy I’ve cultivated smart thing by smart thing:

Smart bathrooms: While I’ve mastered the deft apply-toilet-seat-cover-and-sit-before-automatic-flush-steals-it-away move, not a day goes by that I’m not outsmarted by a paper towel dispenser. Let’s make an exception to the monopoly rule and just let Kimberly Clark devise a one-wave-fits-all solution. Please.

Smart kitchens: My washer, dryer and refrigerator are all under a year old but are already blinking, chiming and chirping their needs at me. Change my filter! Update my time zone! Wash me! Check my temperature! I preferred it when my Frigidaire didn’t have so much lip.

Smart doors: Ever walk up to the exit of a store and just stand there? And then when nothing happens take a step back and then forward again and maybe jump a tiny bit? And then when the closed doors still stare indignantly back at you go to a different door and have the cart guy open it for you with a dramatic pull and stifle a snicker? Me neither.

Smart cars: I drive a decidedly unsmart ’99 Mercedes that doesn’t even have a tape deck. This bothers me until I realize no one else knows how to parallel park by using only their eyes – a small victory.

Smartphones: In addition to the aforementioned lobotomy I slowly inflict upon myself every time I Google “how to turn off dryer filter notification” or “how to spell lobotomy,” I also play Candy Crush so much it’s affecting my social skills in airports.

Smart fitness: While it’s thoughtful that my smart watch nudges me into action when my I’m idle too long and that my smart scale will gently scold me tomorrow for eating this brownie, I yearn for a simpler time when I got off the couch because Saved by the Bell was over and not because something was beeping at me.

In this frantic, bustling world, I like that I can rely on a simple audio cue to let me know it’s time to do something. But when that something is eating a brownie, it’s clearly a sign of stupidity that I need a reminder.

Have you experienced any dumbing-down side effects courtesy of your smart things?

Posted in Humor, Phone, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Get Back Inside the Box

elephant_boxThe children in my family have a long-standing gift-opening tradition. After excitedly ripping away the paper on the giant something-or-other our parents painstakingly tracked down, funded and gift-wrapped just for us, we marvel at our new possession for the requisite seventeen seconds – then we set it aside and climb inside the giant box it came in.

Our family albums house decades of evidence that no Barbie Dream House nor Big Wheel nor Strawberry Shortcake Kitchenette were any match for the wondrous potential of cardboard and non-biodegradable Styrofoam. Larger boxes transformed into lemonade stands, forts, and rocket ships. Smaller boxes became doll furniture and homemade board games. I once turned a shoe box into a old-school version of Match.com – put a dollar into one slot and pull the name of your true love out of another (thanks to my gullible third grade classmates I made thirty-six dollars of seed money to fund my cardboard lemonade stand startup.) Being inside the box was the most imaginative place to be.

With that history in mind, the time-honored challenge of “think outside the box!” has never sat right with me. From professors to colleagues to magazine editors-in-chief, this clichéd advice is offered at every turn. In their minds, “the box” is the armpit of human inspiration, some black hole where creativity goes to die. I disagree; and the proof of “inside the box” excellence is abundant:

Jack: For generations, this ghoulish feetless creature has been surprising children over and over with his terrifyingly delightful routine. They know what’s on the verge when they hear that last strained “do do do do do” and the box begins to creaks ever-so-slightly – poised to pop that freaky little devil. But do they stop? Do they get bored? Nope – they squeal in glee and Mr. In-the-Box does an encore.

Pandora: While she certainly wasn’t gifted with the virtues of willpower or restraint, Pandora can surely attest to the beauty of leaving well enough alone. She should have a chat with those dummies on Big Brother.

FedEx: Much like the wonder inspired by that wrapped birthday gift, the power of the FedEx box is immense. Just ask any freshman in college or Tom Hanks in Castaway. And in both cases, sometimes leaving all that wonder in the box – unopened – is better than whatever happens to be inside. (This advice from a once-freshman who, anticipating homemade cookies, instead received a copy of her will. Thanks Grandma.)

Elementary School Teachers: If every Valentine’s Day, grade school children across the land were given a glue stick and some glitter and told “think outside the box,” it would be anarchy. Providing the foundation of Mom’s Nine West shoebox doesn’t limit creativity – it focuses it.

Milton Bradley: I like to imagine that once upon a yesteryear, Mr. Bradley and the Parker Brothers signed a treaty decreeing all family leisure games take the form of board-in-box. Connect Four nearly started an unnecessary revolution.

Street Performers: Ever see a mime inside an imaginary sphere?

Crayola: If you want to color your sky “blue,” there’s a box for that. If you want to color your sky “sky blue,” there’s a box for that. If you want to color your sky “cerulean,” there’s a box for that too. The true visionaries just get a bigger box. Don’t get me started on coloring outside the lines.

While I realize that without outside-the-box thinking we wouldn’t have the Pyramids of Giza or or The Eiffel Tower or Jell-O Jigglers, I believe that facing obstacles, challenges, constraints and limitations unleashes incredible innovation. So I vote we keep the box. Besides, it makes everything so much easier to wrap.

Help me make my case: what’s the coolest thing you ever made from a box?

Posted in Family, Holidays, Humor, Nostalgia, Work | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments