The road to relaxation is paved with stress

When we decided to take a cruise, we prepared for the new adventure by educating ourselves through lots of internet research. We gleaned everything we could from the cruise line’s website and travel message boards. However, even with all that information, I still didn’t feel knowledgeable as the date for the cruise approached. I had some anxiety mixed with a little trepidation. I don’t like surprises, which is code for, “I like to be in control.” Yep, I admit to being a little bit of a control-freak.

You can’t control what you don’t know, so I decided to have a facial. One has nothing to do with the other, but somehow I felt more confident after visiting my favorite esthetician, Leslie at Cosmetic Laser Advantage. Her lasers are amazing. Although the visit did nothing to add to my knowledge about cruising, it did help me to control my slightly sagging middle-aged face. If you can afford to have your hair cut and colored in a salon, or get a professional manicure and pedicure, you can afford laser treatments, and it’s worth it. Speaking of manicures and pedicures, I had those done, as well. At least I was prepared for the cruise physically, if not mentally.

I’d left one important detail undone. The day before the cruise, I still hadn’t booked transportation from LAX to the cruise terminal. There are multiple shuttle services, but the horror stories regarding shuttles are almost as bad as those regarding taxi service. I called numerous car service companies, but found it difficult to get details about the charges. If I couldn’t get a straight answer, I crossed that company off my list. If I had to press one, two or three to reach a person, I crossed that company off my list. I called A-1 Express and no one answered the phone. You’d think that wasn’t a good sign, but my phone call to the next company on the list was interrupted with A-1 trying to return my call (even though I hadn’t left a message).

I answered and spoke to Elaine, the owner of A-1 Express. She told me she’d been on 17 cruises and was very helpful with answering every question about the transportation charge between the airport and cruise terminal. She also provided valuable information about cruise embarkation and disembarkation. This lady wanted my business, and she got it!

The afternoon before our trip, I laid out clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories and doubted every choice. I packed, unpacked and repacked. I packed the husband’s bag hoping he’d have extra room for my things that wouldn’t fit in my carry-on. No such luck. There was no way I could take my workout clothes/shoes. I figured I’d just watch what I ate and my scales would never know the difference (yeah, that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped!).

The husband and I finished every item on our vacation to-do-list that was possible to complete that evening, and setting the alarm clock for an ungodly hour, headed to bed. Surprisingly I slept fairly well, which was good. I needed that rest to get though the hurry up and wait and unsettling uncertainty of the travel day ahead.

(Next: From PDX to LAX to cruise ship terminal – whew!)

What Jess Walton (Y&R’s Jill Foster Abbot Fenmore) and I have in common

Y_and_RI have to confess to being a soap opera addict. I’ve been “clean” for decades (kids and a job can really help you kick the habit), but I’m still drawn to them.  If I pay attention to the covers of the soap opera magazines while waiting in the grocery check out line, I can pretty much stay updated on the story lines and characters. So, even though I’m not a regular viewer of The Young & The Restless, it wasn’t surprising that I immediately noticed a photo of Jess Walton hanging in a restaurant we visited recently.

Cowboy_Dinner_Tree_LRWe were enjoying our annual fall vacation at Eagle Crest Resort in Central Oregon and had made reservations for dinner one evening at The Cowboy Dinner Tree restaurant. To describe the restaurant’s location as out in the middle of nowhere is no exaggeration. It’s located about two hours from our resort, and a couple miles outside the extremely small town of Silver Lake. This is not a restaurant one stumbles across. It’s off the main highway, the signage is poor and the building looks like it’s been abandoned.

Cowboy_Dinner_Tree_food_LRI read a review of the restaurant in The Oregonian newspaper’s travel section years ago, and we finally found the time to visit a couple of years ago. The husband wanted to go back this year, so we made our reservations (required!) and placed our order (also required) a month in advance.  They offer two dinner options: a 26-30 ounce Top Sirloin or a full roasted chicken (yep, a WHOLE chicken!). We order one of each and share (thankfully, they offer doggie bags to take the leftovers home). Dinner includes soup, salad, really delicious rolls, dessert and assorted beverages.

Jess_Walton_crop_LRAs we walked in the door, I noticed the photo of Jess and a group of people at the restaurant. The gentleman in the photo was labeled as her husband, John (her Y & R character Jill was married to a gentleman named John, too). I had to wonder what would bring a soap opera star from Los Angeles to a tiny, off the beaten path restaurant, in an incredibly remote area of Central Oregon.

A little research revealed that Jess and her husband John have recently moved to Central Oregon. I completely understand that decision!  I LOVE Central Oregon, and the husband and I plan to move there someday. The central and eastern portions of Oregon are so much drier than where we live (about 30 minutes southeast of Portland). For now, jobs and family obligations keep us west of the Cascades, so we have to be content with visiting several times a year.

Jess and I not only love Central Oregon enough to want to live there, but we are wives,  married to our spouses for more than 30 years, mothers of a boy and a girl, grandmothers, and apparently we both enjoy good food in large quantities, as well. O.K, those things don’t make us two peas in a pod, but I can’t help but feel a tiny connection to this actor who has discovered the wonders of my little corner of the world. Welcome to the neighborhood, Jess!

Flying on the cheap


Some of the beautiful landscape at Eagle Crest

I love to travel. I enjoy exploring new places, as well as visiting old favorites to just relax. We take at least three vacations a year by car to Eagle Crest Resort, which is about a two-hour drive from our home. We pack up our Acrua MDX, hit the road, grab some groceries in the town near the resort  and move into the condo for a week of relaxation. We’ve been doing this since 1991, and it truly feels like a second home to our family.


I LOVE my MDX! Great car for travel!!

However, as much as we enjoy Eagle Crest, we occasionally like to get out of our comfort zone and explore sites and visit friends out of state. This usually means traveling by airplane rather than car. I don’t mind riding in or driving the MDX (it’s a very comfortable car!), but driving takes a lot of time and we’d rather spend our vacation hours at our destination rather than traveling to get there.

Plane tickets and all the fees can get pretty spendy, but we’ve been flying on the cheap for years. In fact, we haven’t paid full fare since 2000! How do we do it? We accumulate frequent flyer miles and use great *finesse to stretch their value.

We are members of the Alaska Airline mileage plan, but most airline programs are similar. The vast majority of our earned miles have nothing to do with flying. We accumulate miles by using an Alaska Airlines Visa and an Alaska Airline debit card. We use the cards for anything and everything possible, and the miles add up quickly. When we built our house, we put all of our construction purchases on our Visa card, and paid off the balance with the construction loan draw. Those were big purchases that really helped build the account.


When we use our miles for a flight, we rarely use miles for the entire purchase. If you do, you won’t accumulate the miles flown on that flight. However, if you use miles and cash, you can accumulate the miles flown. For a one way discounted ticket, you can use 10,000 miles and receive a 50 percent discount up to $100 on a less expensive itinerary, or use 20,000 miles and receive a 50 percent discount up to $200 for a more expensive destination.

Each year we receive a discounted companion fare, which allows us to purchase a ticket for $99 with the purchase of a full fare ticket. This is always a better option than using miles and cash. We recently flew to Alaska using this option.

When we fly, we usually stay in a hotel and rent a car. We earn miles just by using our mileage plan’s hotel and car rental partners (and there’s usually a discount). We pay our bill using our Alaska Airlines Visa to earn even more miles!

Do you want to fly more often and spend less? Try what works for us!

  1. Join a mileage plan and really get to know the benefits.
  2. Accumulate miles doing things you already do, like purchasing groceries and fuel.
  3. Research the best way to use your miles for maximum benefit.
  4. Use car rental and hotel partners when you travel to earn even more miles.

Do you have any tips for flying on the cheap?

My travel finesse level:
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your travel finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Vacation for health

I’ve taken four vacations so far this year, am currently enjoying my fifth, and have a sixth scheduled. The husband has traveled with me, except for my trip to Alaska. We normally take three vacations per year in the spring, summer and fall, so this year has been unusual.

A beautiful fall morning at Eagle Crest Resort in Central Oregon.

Normally, we pack up our Acura MDX and drive a couple of hours from home to a resort we’ve been visiting since 1991. We enjoy a relaxing week with no schedules, no airports, no hotels, no car rentals and no restaurants – and the weather is usually better than at home. We’re able to completely unwind and reenergize, so it’s reasonable to assume there are psychological benefits to taking vacations. However, research shows vacations can benefit you physically, as well.

Sunrise over the Deschutes River at Eagle Crest Resort

According to an article in Psychology Today, studies show that “vacation is good for your cardiovascular health and your waistline, lowers your cortisol levels and your blood pressure, and may aid in recovery from diseases like cancer.”

Vacations don’t have to be expensive or in some faraway location, and they don’t have to be a week long. Even the simplest of getaways can benefit your health. Why wait?

Exploring Space

During the husband’s business trip to Orlando, we tried to pack as much as possible into our three personal days. I’ve already reviewed our visits to Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which were fun, but also a little disappointing. However, we were both excited for our visit to Kennedy Space Center, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint in the least. In fact, the only issue we had with our visit was one of limited time.

We arrived just shortly after 9 a.m., when the gates open, and took a few pictures. This was a little difficult due to the extreme humidity. The lens of the camera would fog up just about as quickly as we could wipe it dry.

Since we had some time before the Shuttle Launch Experience opened or the tour buses began running, we walked through the Early Space Exploration exhibit. Lots of cool stuff to see and read, including the original Mercury mission control consoles.

We only got about halfway through before we needed to head over to the Shuttle Launch Experience, a shuttle launch simulator. I was hoping to get a little G-force  to smooth out some wrinkles, but that didn’t happen. However, it’s about as realistic as it can be without launching into space. They provide a lot of good information about the space shuttle program in a very engaging way.

Next on our itinerary was the Astronaut Encounter at 11 a.m. The only other time for the encounter was 3 p.m. and we wanted to see the Space Station 3D IMAX® film at that time. The astronaut for our encounter was Bob Springer. His 20 minute talk was very informative and entertaining. There was also a short period of Q&A before a photo op, which we skipped to jump on the next tour bus.

The tour buses run about every 15 minutes and take you away from the visitor complex and out to the Apollo/Saturn V Center and the LC-39 Observation Gantry. The bus drivers provide you with a little background and direct you to points of interest along the way.

See me (bottom, left of center) for scale.

Our first stop was the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You’re immersed in the culture of the mid-1960s prior to entering  mission control to watch the taped launch of Apollo 8. It was very cool! We exited mission control and entered a HUGE hanger that housed a real Saturn V rocket.  You know these rockets are large, but standing beside them you really understand just how large!

Next stop was the LC-39 Observation Gantry where you have a panoramic view of the space shuttle launch pads 39A and 39B. We also passed by the massive “crawler” that moved the shuttle to the launch pads.

Me inside a Mercury capsule

We headed back to the visitor complex, but arrived a little early to enter the IMAX® theater, so we opted to finish our tour of the Early Space Exploration exhibit and visit the Rocket Garden.  From the very small to the very large, all the rockets are on display. You can even climb into a Mercury capsule, if you’re not too big!

We were able to catch both Space Station 3D and Hubble 3D IMAX® films, which were filled to capacity. We waited too long to get in line for the Space Station film and had to sit a little too close. We didn’t make that mistake with the Hubble film.

There was more to see, but the complex was closing. We had a great experience and we hope we can go back someday to see the things we missed, as well as the new Atlantis exhibit set to open next summer 2013.






Universal fun

I enjoy theme parks as much as the next person, but as empty-nesters, they’re not high on our vacation destination list. However, when the husband’s business trip took him to Orlando, it just made sense for me to tag along and add a few days for pleasure.

We were in Orlando 20 years ago when our kids were five and nine and had a lot of fun at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney MGM (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), and Universal Studios. We visited Disneyland seven years ago with our son and did the whole SoCal theme park tour, including Six Flags, Universal, and Knott’s Berry Farm.

Without kids, we didn’t see a reason to do the full-blown theme park experience, and since this was a business trip we only had three free days. In addition, this was an extra vacation for which we had not budgeted, so we wanted to keep our entertainment dollars to a minimum.

The husband really enjoyed Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood, so that was his top choice. We chose not to get the “park-to-park” ticket because we really didn’t think we’d have the stamina for two parks in one day and settled on Universal’s newer theme park, Islands of Adventure. That decision saved us $70. We also chose to forego the Universal Express Pass, which allows you to skip lines at $30 per person. The pass may be a timesaver during peak season or a good investment if you have small, impatient children, but it really wasn’t necessary for us. We breezed through most of the lines – even those with a posted 30 minute wait time.

We got in line for The Incredible Hulk Coaster, but it was temporarily shut down due to inclement weather, so we moved over to Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. I cannot express how unprepared I was for this ride. They should really consider selling Depends at the entrance! We got wet on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Jurassic Park River Adventure, but dried out on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. We were pretty disappointed in the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Lots of jerking.

We took a break to get away from the crowds and rehydrate as it was pretty humid and we were doing quite a bit of sweating. Both were easy to do in The Lost Continent area.

Hairstyle courtesy of Orlando’s humidity.

We walked through Seuss Landing and I couldn’t resist having my picture taken in front of If I Ran the Zoo. I think most people who have worked in zoos contemplate the thought of how operations would change if they were in charge. I know I certainly have!

We circled back to The Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was up and running, but we had had enough roller coaster rides for the day. We decided The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man would be our last ride. It was better than Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey and had some good effects.

If I were grading Universal’s Islands of Adventure park, I’d have to give it a C. If we had small children they might have enjoyed Seuss Landing, but overall I wasn’t that impressed. When we’d visited the Studio parks in Orlando 20 years ago and in Hollywood seven years ago, we enjoyed them much more. Those rides seemed to be well-masked in a theme, and we were caught up in the story. These seemed rides seemed, well, like rides. It was kind of like visiting a State Fair, only much more expensive.

Regardless, it was fun to be away from the day-to-day routine and our DIY projects and just spend some time together. I’ll review our visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Kennedy Space Center in future posts.

Fear of flying

I know people who have a fear of flying. They’d do and risk almost anything to stay off an airplane. When they are forced to fly, they have a white-knuckle grip on the armrests during take off and landings. Their blood pressure is elevated even on a smooth flight. A little turbulence and they begin praying to any and all deity.

I have a fear of flying, but not for the common reasons. I fear coming down with a migraine while in flight. I have written a few posts about my struggle with migraines. My Imitrex medication works, but only if I take it at the first sign and immediately lie down in a dark room for at least an hour. That’s not practical on a plane. I tried just popping the pills and closing my eyes on a trip to Phoenix in April. The migraine only increased in intensity. Fortunately that flight was only two and a half hours.

It’s not surprising that I was more than a little concerned about my Alaska Airline flight to Orlando. My itinerary was to fly out of Portland at 5:30 a.m., land in Seattle about 30 minutes later, then fly to Orlando at 8:55 a.m. I wouldn’t land in Orlando for five hours. If a migraine attacked any time within the nine hours I would not have access to a dark, comfortable place to rest, I was going to be in a lot of pain – maybe even to the point of vomiting. Fortunately, I was migraine-free during the flight. I had taken my injections just in case, but I’m not sure if they would have worked any better than the pills.

Why risk it? I guess I’m only willing to let migraines have limited control over my life. They caused me to resign from a job I loved, and have robbed me of time (sometimes days), so I wasn’t willing to let them rob me of a chance to travel with the husband.

Am I concerned about the flight home? Absolutely, but the only other option is to not travel, which is not living life as I’d like – with *finesse!


*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Vacation exercise

Me and the husband at Crater Lake

My former manager Jane is a creative spirit who is constantly on the move. She often regaled us with tales of her extreme vacations backpacking, hiking, and canoeing in remote locations. I was thoroughly exhausted just listening to all the activity and exercise she packed into her time off. I admire her in many ways and wish I had some of her talents. However, I’m really glad we have different vacation styles.

Crater Lake

My vacations are much more laid-back. A tent pitched on the hard, uneven ground of the Mt. Hood National Forest was a one-time experience with the husband and our puppy shortly after we married. We moved up to camping in State Parks with a camper that was so old, it had an ice box, but I was grateful for the softer bed. When our kids came along we went the motel route once, and then bought our timeshare. I love driving just a little more than two hours to the high dessert of Central Oregon, unloading the MDX and just relaxing in our second home.

It’s a long way down from the rim to Crater Lake

That’s not to say we don’t fit in some exercise while we are enjoying our time away from the day-to-day routine. There is a very scenic 3.5 mile walk along the Deschutes River we try to do every morning. The walk down to and along the river is pretty easy, but climbing back up can really elevate your heart rate. We also leisurely walk the paved paths after dinner, which makes indulging in ice cream on our deck seem acceptable.

A view of Wizard Island in Crater Lake

This year we also drove about 2 hours south to Crater Lake National Park. Amazingly beautiful! The best views involved hiking up along trails, using tree roots and rocks as foot-holds. I could feel the muscles in my “posterior” getting a workout. I was feeling pretty good about our activity level until I overheard a man talking about how he pedaled his way to the park and hoped to make it to the Oregon Caves before nightfall.

Whatever your vacation style, be sure to get out and explore. Get a little exercise and enjoy nature with *finesse!

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Back to reality

I love vacations, but I really dislike the task of getting back to reality. I try to get as many chores done before we leave, but there’s always something that needs doing when I walk back in the door.

I had two appointments yesterday and also needed to deal with two time-sensitive pieces of mail I received while gone, so that was the first thing on my agenda. The second was sending out a “save the date” announcement for my mother’s 80th birthday party, and the third was scheduling some physical therapy for my tennis elbow (yes, that’s still bothering me). I also want to see my cousin while she’s in town visiting her parents, and I need to attend the funeral of a relative on Thursday. All of these things need to be crammed into a few days because I’m leaving for Arizona on Friday to meet my new granddaughter.

I’m feeling somewhat frazzled and disorganized (which is why I didn’t have a blog post yesterday). However, I’m pulling my self together and knocking things off my “to do” list one at a time with as much *finesse as I can muster.

Do you have a routine that helps you maintain the peace of a restful vacation after returning home? If so, I’d love to learn your trick!

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)