Jet-setting with Johnnyjet.com

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I’m honored to get to be a contributor to one of the world’s leading advice and travel deal websites, johnnyjet.com. My story, 10 tips for maximizing a family ski trip at Keystone Resort, Colorado published yesterday. If you only follow one travel site (well, two if you count mine), Johnnyjet.com is well worth adding to your newsfeed. John is one of the handful of travel writers whose day job is travel writing and he’s traveled  some 150,000 miles a year for over a decade.

His website offers a wealth of tips and is loaded with travel tools to help you become a travel expert yourself. He’s appeared  on TV from The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC to The Travel Channel, BBC Travel and Ellen, heard on a variety of radio travel shows and featured in Travel & Leisure, Forbes, USA Today, Outside Magazine and countless others.

I first met John when he was speaking on a panel of travel experts at the Los Angeles’ Times Travel Show around 2000. I approached him afterwards to ask how I could get into travel writing and he suggested Book Passage’s annual Travel and Photographer’s Conference in Corte Madera, CA. My first assignment there, “Scared Shitless on Safari”  landed in Traveler’s Tales’ best-selling travel anthology, Sand in My Bra & Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road. It was always a pleasure to share a table with John at travel press luncheons when I lived in Los Angeles.

John’s number one travel tip (especially when flying)  is to simply be nice to everyone. If you’ve met John, you’ll know without a doubt, that’s no act. You’ll find my story next to John’s piece on his recent trip to “Shingles Hell“, a passport stamp I’m unfortunate to also share. Thanks for the writing opportunity John and well wishes on a speedy recovery.

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New logo/business cards

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Thanks to the super talented designer/art director, Rose Gomez, globetrottermom.com now has business cards and a fun logo. It’s got globe-iness that says world traveler and for kid-like whimsy, it’s got a fun paper airplane zipping around. I’m feeling very official and ready to put this site on the map now.

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Yoga/Surfing retreat gear that strikes a stylish pose

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Ummmmm. Wondering what to pack for that yoga/surfing retreat like Shiva Rea’s upcoming Riding the Vinyasa Wave- a Prejuvanative Retreat at Wanderlust Festival February 23-March 1st at Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu, Hawaii?

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 5.54.52 PMHere are a few ideas that are sure to make a splash.Let’s start with the bag. Gaiam’s Tree of Wisdom Cargo Bag is roomy enough to hold any yoga mat, has an adjustable strap and roomy pocket for your water bottle, keys, and essentials so you can get to class hands free. Priced at just $19.98, it’s sheer genius.

 

 

 

 

 

WTE10333-thOne mat company that’s on a roll with its non-toxic (free of chloride, PVC or latex) is PurEarth’s 2 Ultimate 3mm yoga mat ($44.99) At 60% lighter than PVC mats, it’s ideal for travel. The closed cell design makes it bacteria and moisture resistant. Its ultimate grip traction means even in the sweatiest of Bikram classes it won’t turn into a slip n’ slide.

 

Styles that let you get down with your downward dog

Be Present’s agility pants ($65) AGILITY_PACIFIChave darts at the knees and back slits that let you kick up into handstand without splitting a seam. Low-rider, drawstring waist and a wick-away cotton/Lycra/spandex blend keeps you as cool as you look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prana’s Dreaming Top ($69) sports a uniquely webbed back strap and shelf bra with removable cups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And for those whose girls need a little more support than an elastic shelf, with a sports bra, top it off with Prana’s Ariel top  ($60)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feel a breeze? Zip up in this Bright Stripe Strength fleece hoodie by Athleta ($118)  with two front kangaroo pockets perfect for things like your cold hands.

 

 

 
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If fleece seems overkill, and all you need is a  coverup that will breathe, Lulumon’s Rollin’ with  my Omie’s Hoodie  ($108) is made of softy french  terry.

 

 

 

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Polish the whole look off with one of Prana’s seashells bucket hat ($39) 50+ USP, foldable for travel, mesh headband wicks away moisture, foam brim floats in water.  Wide brim keeps the harmful sunrays off and the good karma in.

 

Atheta.com is a great one-stop shopping site for yoga/surf wear. Their own house brand and select others feature designs that are as funky as they are functional.

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For après surfing, sport this Wick-it Wader Cover Up ($69) with UPF 50+ fabric.

 

 

 

 

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Athleta’s swimwear offers separate tops and bottoms for a better fit. This Tara halter tankini ($72) provides great support to ride thru the heaviest surf and your choice of swim bottoms-ebb, low, medium or full tide swimsuit bottoms or a variety of swim shorts and skirts.

 

 

 

Paired with a matching Colorblock stripe rashguard ($69Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 7.35.05 PM) and you’ll be hanging ten in style.

 

 

 

 

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Reef’s Sandy flip-flops ($28) were made for walkin’. That’s because they’ve got awesome arch support thanks to their durable high density outsole. Its brushed EVA footbed provides better traction.

 

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Looking this cool, you’ll need shades like these Nalani’s by Maui Jim ($279). 100% UV protection and sand/scratch resistant. Salute the sun in these and the sun may just salute you back. With so many stylish choices let’s finish with an, “Ummmmmm” what to buy first?

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Baja: Whale Touching

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There’s whale watching, then there’s whale touching.

Magdalena Bay, Mexico  I’d been on my share of whale watching trips from Southern California all the way up the coast to Alaska and never spotted more than a blurry gray mass through binoculars.

This was different. The trip marked my last chance to travel kid-free as once I returned, I was to embark upon the arduous journey of trying to conceive via the fertility path as a single mom. (Read Last Call). It was an opportunity to not just whale watch but actually reach down and touch one from a small skiff boat in Magdalena Bay near Baja, Mexico. A photo opportunity for sure and I came armed with both still and video cameras.

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We’d gone over how to operate my video camera again and again. The plan was I’d operate my still camera, my friend and kayak partner Lori, my video camera. This must-do add-on excursion was what I was looking forward to more than the week-long kayak trip with Sea Kayak Adventures in Baja we’d just finished up.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 3.20.37 PMDon’t get me wrong, the kayak trip was great insofar as sleeping out in the blistering heat of the desert, not bathing for a week, and having to pack up your loo in a kayak goes. No one organizes a trip like SKA. Guides are great. Food terrific.

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You’re given a packing list that if adhered to, covers all the bases and fits neatly in the provided waterproof bags. And even if you don’t know which end of a kayak paddle is up, the instruction given allows you to hold your own for a week out on the water without worry.

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Sea kayaking the clear turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez

My friend I’d gone with, Lori, greeted each day with something along the lines of, “this is the best vacation I’ve ever been on.” And me, “I’m too old to camp, my back is in agony.”

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I was just biding my time until we got back to Loreto and could venture out to finally see a whale. While kayaking, in the Sea of Cortez side of Baja, we could see whale mist off in a distance but no close encounters.

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Finally back in town, showered, rested and off to the other side of Baja’s narrow strip of land, to the bay we headed. What was explained to me is that the whales are motivated to come up to the little skiffs to scratch their itchy barnacles on the boat’s bottom. Kind of like a floating back scratcher. It apparently brings some relief to the long journey these gray whales make 5000 miles from the Bering Strait to mate and bear their young in the protected waters of Magdalena Bay.

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A Baja sunset never disappoints

Not 20 minutes into the excursion, as we neared the deeper waters, like a slow-motion ride at Disneyland, this massive whale surfaced and floated almost stationary for several minutes. I snapped away on my Nikon camera, entrusting Lori to follow suit with what could only have been the best footage ever captured on my video camera.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my trusted friend toss my video camera onto the boat seat, lunge towards the whale giggling like a schoolgirl to touch the whale. She’d completely aborted any plan of capturing this moment on film and even sat on my expensive sunglasses in the giddiness of the moment, bending the frames.

After the whale dipped back under Lori went on and on. “Did you feel how spongy the skin felt? Wasn’t that cool?” She asked, grinning ear to ear.

No I hadn’t. I sulked the whole way back miffed she hadn’t captured so much as a nanosecond once-in-a-lifetime footage on my camera.

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Me (blue visor, left) fiddling with my camera missing the sheer joy of the whale experience

 

Then, this past week I was reading a touch-n-feel book to my precious three-month old son that involves uncurling his little fist to touch the smooth, slippery skin of a whale. Ames kicked his legs and waved his arms up and down squealing in delight. The movie that played in my mind was of me in Magdalena Bay and now wondering if I’d been the one in the wrong. I’d been stuck behind my camera lens trying to harpoon a photo but missing the childhood delight of feeling the skin of a rubbery spongy gray mama whale.

IF YOU GO:   Seakayakadventures.com

Magdalena Bay & Sea of Cortez Combo Trip

$1575 adults, $1417 children 12+

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com. I have to chuckle looking back at stories I wrote right after having my son are in an altered state of pospartum nirvana. 

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Sundance Mountain Resort: Where art meets skiing.

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Mt. Timpanagos , Sundance Mountain Resort, Utah

Say “Sundance” and most people think celebrity spottings and movie buffs bustling Main street at the film festival which actually takes place in Park City, Utah. Few people know Sundance itself is a hidden gem of a resort located about an hour’s drive from Park City nestled just beneath Mt. Timpanogos near Provo, Utah.

In fact, cliché as they may be, the words nestled and hidden gem are as deserving to Sundance than any ski resort I can think of. In winter, it’s more than a place to avoid the crowds and long lines found at many other ski resorts. You won’t boast the most vertical feet skied in a day or find umpteen speed quads or gondolas. What you will find, among other unique offerings, is peace and quietude in a gorgeous setting.

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If Goldilocks were going skiing (or snowboarding for that matter) she’d want to stay in Sundance’s cabin lodges. The western and Native American influenced décor with a flavor of “the three bears will be coming home any minute” is just right. You can choose from a small studio cottage or if you’re bringing the whole family, one of the larger mountain homes for let. The layout of the resort is unlike anything normally bearing the name resort. It blends in with the aspen groves and spectacular postcard-esque mountain scenery.

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Named after the movie that put Robert Redford on the map, Sundance was built in keeping with environmental conservation and artistic experimentation. Après ski activities include spinning a pottery bowl, glass blowing or making jewelry. I opted for the latter and hammered out a silver ring with a purple amethyst semi precious stone under the direction of one of the resident jewelry artisans. Just as much fun as making snow angels and lasts longer.

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Sundance Art Studio

And the spa at Sundance? I can still hear the Indian flutes, babbling brook meditation fountain and smell the aroma of burning sage. I tried not to break wind during my four-winds massage (something about altitude and someone kneading my buttocks does that to me). Spa treatments are American Indian themed with names like the Sage and Sweetgrass rub or the Turtle Balancing treatment based on a Navajo legend.

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I lived in Salt Lake City a decade ago and used to make the Foundry Grill buffet a destination on Sundays for brunch. Buffets typically make me cringe (tasting more like sterno fluid than anything else) but Sundance’s is not to be missed. The award winning Tree Room (named for the tree growing up through the center of the restaurant) serves exceptional mountain cuisine and showcases Redford’s private Native American Art collection. With dishes like Buffalo Pot Au Feu for a beginning, and Grilled Elk Loin or American Pancetta Wrapped trout for an entrée topped off with Pluot Crisp with Homemade Roasted Almond Ice Cream, you won’t be getting cabin fever anytime soon.

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Foundry Grill Restaurant

Sundance offers some of the best Women’s specialty clinics for skiing and boarding. I went to finesse both my skiing and boarding form. I’ve skied since I was a kid and boarded the past 10 years but had heard great things about the alpine instruction program. I skied one day and boarded the next. Workshops will even videotape you to fine tune your form. There was marked improvement on my technique from both lessons proving you can teach an old ski dog some new tricks. Just to round out the weekend, I also added in a day of Cross-country skiing in Sundance’s 26-kiometers of pristine backcountry trails. They also offer 10 kilometers of dedicated snowshoeing trails.

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If the name Sundance conjures up the famous Sundance catalog, you’ll appreciate the General Store on the resort property with handcrafted Native American and western-style jewelry, home décor and casual apparel. I scored some hand-spun coffee mugs to bring a little bit of Sundance to my java back home.

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Owl Bar

Nightlife at Sundance is pretty atypical as well. Sure you can grab a drink in the Owl Bar but for something more unusual, don’t miss winter star gazing or birding in search of night owls. And Friday is Film night in the Nature Center where you’re sure to catch an award-winning flick from the namesake film festival.

See website for other calendar events from everything from photography lessons to other writing workshops.  For a sleepy resort not on most people’s radar, Sundance has lots to shout about.

If you go:   Sundance Resort

This story was originally published on divinecaroline.com. I’ve since returned with my son in tow and plan to publish that piece here. Sundance is a terrific spot for families, couples or a girlfriends getaway spa retreat.

 

 

 

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ALTA: A favorite for skiers

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                                                                                          Alta, Utah

Alta ski resort in Utah has long been referred to as the locals favorite so I asked a local riding up the chairlift if he skis anywhere besides Alta. “If I do, I feel like I’m cheating on my wife.” He said.

He went on to compare the various resorts in the area. “Deer Valley’s a bunch of corduroy groomed trails. It’s ribbed for her enjoyment.”

Most would argue, there’s not a bad place to ski in Utah and certainly Alta is the choice for many. It’s old school skiing at its best and holds out as one of the few resorts in the country that doesn’t allow snowboarding. I kept quiet that I do both.

Barring snowboarders isn’t the only reason locals love it. “The greatest snow on earth” is the moniker on Utah license plates. Rightfully so. It’s something about the desert air mixing with altitude that produces talcum powder-like snow conditions. It isn’t the Sierra cement we get in my home state of California.

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                           Powder so deep you practically need a snorkel to breathe.

And there’s something about where Alta is positioned in Little Cottonwood Canyon. People joke that the powder gets so deep there you need a snorkel to breathe. Those a bit timid of steep and deep powder can find groomed trails at Alta.

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                                                                                   Alta Lodge

Alta Lodge is a throwback to skiing of yesteryear—reminding me of places I stayed in as a kid in Europe, where I learned to ski. Room rates which start at $129 in low season up to $533 in high season include breakfast and dinner. Alta Lodge’s dining room is family style. If you’re traveling solo as I was, you’re seated with others which makes visiting alone not so lonely. (You can also request a private table if you prefer.)

Alta_Lodge_Dining_Room80% of visitors there are repeat guests and it’s easy to see why. There’s nothing pretentious about Alta Lodge. It doesn’t try too hard because it doesn’t have to. There are no TVs in the rooms which encourages guests to mingle and interact. You will find some subtle frills like Aveda bath products in the bathroom. It’s got hot water, it’s clean. Ski in ski out. Food is decent to good. And I concur, it is the best snow on earth. What more do you want?

Alta_Lodge_East_RoomBecause they don’t over groom the area, it produces some of the best moguls of anywhere I’ve ever skied. I jumped at the chance to take one of the renowned mogul workshops. Having spent more time in recent years on a snowboard, I’d practically forgotten how to ski them.

An hour into the class, thighs on fire, I remembered how much fun they be. The Alf Engen ski school is world-class. And while the guy I talked to on the lift may think of Alta as a man’s place to ski, it has lots to offer women. The ski area’s website lists lots of ski camps specially designed for women.

Even if you’ve skied as long as I have there’s always room for improvement. Nothing makes for a great ski trip than feeling like you’ve improved your technique. What I learned too is you don’t have to be a local to make Alta your favorite ski spot too.

IF YOU GO:  Visit altalodge.com or alta.com

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com. I’ve since returned with my son in tow and will be adding a new story here at globetrotter.com soon!

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Itching for home

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Few would argue, when you’re sick, the only place you want to be is home in your own bed. But if you’re stuck a continent away, as I was in Europe with the stomach flu, there is one place that’s the next best thing to being home. The hotel d’Angleterre in Geneva Switzerland. It’s part of the small leading luxury hotels of the world situated on the shore of Lake Geneva with stunning views of the Jet d’Eau and Alps.

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                                       Each bedroom is individually decorated to the hilt.

I’d just finished trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 10-day trek through the Alps of Switzerland, Italy, Germany and France. I was not only physically spent from what would have been grueling under healthy circumstances but I’d caught a nasty stomach bug towards the end of the trek. My innards were wrung out. It was all I could do to make the train ride from Chamonix, France to Geneva, catch a cab and collapse on my hotel bed without hurling en route.

I had one night in Geneva before returning home to Los Angeles. I had envisioned, taking advantage of the hotel’s close proximity to what had been touted as the best shopping in Geneva. I would venture no further than the lobby during my stay. It isn’t often you stay at a hotel and actually stay put.

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                     The Stunning view of Lake Geneva from The Windows Restaurant

Built in 1872, the hotel maintains its historic Swiss regal tradition while embracing all the technology a savvy business traveler demands—high speed wireless Internet and five-star service. My suite was comfy and inviting with impeccable attention to detail. The linens and wall coverings were gorgeously appointed, the way I’d hire a decorator to do my own room if I could afford an interior designer.

They’d e-mailed me a questionnaire before I left home asking a series of questions such as duvet and pillow preference—even my favorite color (red). My room was red all right, floor to ceiling, but not nauseatingly so. (Believe me, in my condition, I would know.) The suite included a small living area with coffee table books on the history of the area. I picked up a few and went into the bathroom where I would spend most of the next 24 hours.

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If you’ve got to have the stomach flu while on the road, there’s no nicer place to be than here.

I drew my bathwater in the oversized spa tub and climbed in. The bathroom was spacious and beautiful enough to have been lifted from the pages of Architectural Digest magazine. I’m a toiletries snob so I was impressed to see deluxe size Penhaligon’s toiletries and floating votive candles for the bath.

My aching muscles that had canvassed four countries in the past 10 days melted in the hot steam. I flipped through the coffee table books trying not to get the pages wet, sipped my sparkling water and moaned and groaned in agony. It was a blissful misery. My stomach and intestines hurt, I had zero energy but I was content in my surroundings. A Mecca if you will for the stomach flu. Fluffy robes, plenty of towels including a towel warmer. A separate shower with steam and plenty of chilled mineral water.

The bathroom also was appointed with a bidet. I spent an hour staring across the room trying to envision how one is used. I mean, I know it’s intended to clean privates but I never knew how exactly you’re supposed to use one. I can halfway understand using one in the privacy of your own home but I’ve seen them in public bathrooms in Europe too and couldn’t imagine using one there.

I figure you’d have to take your pants off completely in order to straddle the thing. What if the spray of water missed and hit your shirt or soaked your socks? The hotel TV had a tutorial on how to use the TV, why didn’t it include one on how to use the bidet? Surely Europeans must hand down that information from generation to generation. There was a lot to ponder during my almost two hour bath. I only got out when my fingers had completely pruned.

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I looked out over lake Geneva while the mosquitos made their way into my hotel room window.

I managed to get myself up to go to dinner. I figured I needed some nourishment to make it up for my early flight the next morning. Before heading down to dinner, I made the grave mistake of opening my windows which faced lake Geneva to let in some fresh air.

I hadn’t factored in the time of year—mid summer and the large body of still water or the millions of mosquitoes that saw this as an open invitation to come on in by the swarms.

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                 Let’s make a run for it, while she’s at dinner.

While the mosquitoes were setting up the all-night party in my suite, I shuffled into the hotel’s renowned Windows restaurant. It was recently recognized by the prestigious Gault & Millau guide for 2006 as one of the top restaurants in Geneva. I will have to take their word for it as my meal consisted of some vegetable broth, a few nibbles of a dinner roll and a 7-Up. Sadly, that was all I could stomach under the circumstances.

I returned to my room after dinner to the gazillions of invisible mosquitoes. Warm with the night air, I changed into a nightie and went to sleep. This is when the mosquitoes awoke, gave the high sign and proceeded to suck much of the blood from my body. I awoke the next morning covered head to toe in mosquito bites.

My stomach bug was at its worst. I had diarrhea so bad, I was afraid I’d not be able to last the fifteen-minute taxi ride to the airport. I found a Lomotil pill covered in lint in my cosmetic bag and popped it hoping it would plug me up long enough to make it to my plane.

I made it onboard and thankfully, the Lomotil worked but there was a bigger problem. I had no anti-itch cream. Taking a closer look in the airplane bathroom mirror, I could see I was covered in spots. I looked like I had the measles.

I sat scratching my Swiss souvenirs wishing I were back in the hotel d’Angleterre bathtub full of cool calamine lotion.

If you go:  Hotel d’Angleterre

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Caution: Low Clearance

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After a day of mountain biking I tend to drive my car as if still on my bike— leaning into the twists and turns down winding Sunset Boulevard. Late for a party recently, this seemed to be working in my favor as I made it home in record time.

I pulled into the garage only to be startled by a thunderous crash from above. Oblivious to the cause, I backed my car up. This produced another alarming noise of crunching metal meeting aluminum and pieces of plastic shattering. The horror hit me. I’d just driven my brand new $1500 mountain bike mounted to my Saab’s roof rack into the garage.

My first thought wasn’t, “What damage have I done to my bike, car or garage?” but instead, “Oh God, I hope no one saw that!” Mortified, I bolted from the car.

If the loudness was any indicator, my car, bike or garage should have been totaled. By some Angel of Moronic Mishap Mercy, my car had only superficial scratches; the bike — a broken reflector; the roof rack — a broken wheel clip.

Now for the garage door – I braced myself and pushed the remote. A rumble suggested something still worked. The two-car garage door wobbled back and forth a bit but managed to shut.

I dashed upstairs to call my friend Shepard, who I was meeting at the party, to inform him of my catastrophe. “Oh honey, don’t feel bad,” he tried to comfort me, “I dropped my cell phone in a urinal last week…yes, after I’d used it …I’d have left it but all my decorating clients were logged in it so I had to fetch it out.” I felt a bit better.

A few days later a visit to a bike shop netted a bike repair at $30, the roof rack $20. Not bad.   The damage was looking pretty minimal.

Then a few weeks later, as I was getting out of my car, my landlord approached me. “Lori, do you know why your garage door is crooked?”

A long pause followed during which time I considered saying I had no idea shifting blame on the neighboring tenant with whom I share the garage. But instead I blurted out, “That’s because I hit it.”

“You hit it?” he echoed, aghast.

“Yes, I had my bike on top of my car.”

“The hinge is going to give any day and come crashing down on the cars. It must be fixed.”   He said sternly.

An even longer pause followed.

“Would you like me to pay for it?” I cowered.

“Well, was it an accident?”

“Well yes.” I answered, wondering if he thought I might actually do such a thing deliberately.

“Why don’t we split it,” he offered.

I was stunned at his generosity. “That’s very nice of you.”

He walked away only to return minutes later as I was unloading groceries from the trunk. “Lori,” he paused (I shuddered at what might come next) “I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your honesty.”

“Thank-you,” I melted.

That feeling could well be worth whatever this was going to cost I thought for a minute. Maybe two.

But what would a garage door cost? A few days later, the landlord informed me the estimate was a whopping $759. Was that the price of being honest? Or the price of being dumb enough to drive my car into the garage?

I wondered if my renter’s or car insurance would cover any of it. I had both policies through USAA.

I phoned them and got a recording. I was stumped, should I press two for renter’s insurance or three for auto claims? I pressed two. I told my tale of idiocy to the agent who asked, “Was the vehicle moving?”

“Well, yeah until it came to an abrupt stop right about when the bike made contact with the garage.”

She’d have to transfer me to auto claims as this was a “moving violation.”

“Were you wearing a seatbelt?” the next agent wanted to know.

At less than a mile an hour I didn’t see the point, but answered yes. She transferred me again to someone else so they could record my testimony.

“Was there any bodily injury?” the fourth agent asked.

“Just my pride” I answered. Not the least bit amused, she informed me my case would be reviewed and I’d get a letter in the mail.

The letter came.

California law requires we determine who was responsible for an accident and notify you if the driver of your vehicle was principally at fault (at least 51%). 

Was it possible if I drive my vehicle into a building, that someone else could be to blame? Like who or what? Could it be my bike’s fault for not ducking? The garage’s for not yelling, “Stop!”

The letter went on.

This accident occurred when the driver of your vehicle [okay that would be me, just say it] struck a stationary object [the garage, we can handle it]. Unfortunately, based on these facts, the driver of your vehicle was determined to be principally [okay, so not totally] at fault because under California law, a driver is responsible for steering clear of any obstacles.

Under another state’s law, like say Kentucky, could a stationary object be held accountable?

At any rate, there it was on the books. Here in California the garage was 49% guilty.

I phoned USAA to see about filing a claim. For property damage, there’s no deductible. But if the claim is over $500, my insurance rates go up $804 a year for three years. Ouch. I asked the agent if my landlord only holds me accountable for $499 would my insurance rates still go up?

“But didn’t you say the bill was for $759?” the agent asked.

“It is,” I explained. “That’s what the garage repair company will charge my landlord. If my landlord only holds me accountable for $499, and gives me a bill in that amount, would that suffice as a receipt for USAA? “

“Yes,” she answered. And “no,” my rates would not then go up.

The landlord was fine with this plan. I faxed off his $499 invoice and received a check the following week. Then I told my landlord, while I thought it was generous of him to offer to share the remaining cost, there was really no reason he should have to pay for any of this as in my mind I was 100% at fault.

He insisted he was getting a new garage door that would hold up longer than the previous one and convinced me we should split the cost of what USAA didn’t cover. $130 a piece. Fair enough. I wrote him a check.

All in all, the damage wasn’t too bad to my checkbook or, thanks to California law, to my pride. It still pays to be honest and a little ingenuity can temper a bout of absentmindedness.

Now when I drive home from mountain biking, I still lean into the twists and turns of the road but repeating my new post-cycling mantra “My bike is on top of my car, my bike is on top of my car.”

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com

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The Not So Super Nannies

Goddess-Mary-Poppins

If only

I so wanted Mary Poppins to float down from the sky and land on my doorstep. An irresistible job offer meant I would be returning to the workforce sooner than I’d hoped to leave my ten-week old.

While pregnant the previous summer as a single mom-to-be (read Last Call), I channeled my angst trying to get a childcare plan in place. Efforts to find (or get into) a high quality daycare facility proved impossible for the area I live in Los Angeles. I was blessed (and cursed) to have a rent-controlled apartment in Bel Air where rent on my 2-bedroom/2 bath place was $1500/mo but to buy a condo across the street with the same square footage sold for an untouchable $800k price tag.

By default, I would have to hire a nanny. Friends with nannies they loved found them by divine happenstance. A perfect timing of someone ensuring her practical family member was passed down to someone worthy.

Enlisting three agencies in my two-week mad quest, I interviewed dozens of nannies while my mom agreed to fly in from Texas to help transition the top candidate. I narrowed my choice to Juana, after trying her out for a few days.

Prepared to hire her, I asked if she wanted me to pick up anything at the grocery store. I had a bag of pretzels or something in mind, not a grocery list of: Sanka coffee, white bread, frozen waffles, Lucky Charms, it went on. With an 8:30 a.m. start time, you’d think she could pop her own waffle in the toaster at home.

Only when I was ready to hire her did the agency run a background check. (Surprisingly, candidates aren’t prescreened.) Juana had a DUI from just a few months prior. The owner of the agency tried to sugar coat it, “She was very forthcoming with us. She told us right from the start.”

They hadn’t bothered to tell me from the start. It wasn’t like this happened ten years ago in her youthful twenties. My son really liked her and I was half tempted to get the Sanka from her grocery list if it meant keeping her off the booze. Then my good sense kicked in.

My pediatrician suggested an agency in the Valley that snobbishly said a nanny at just $10/hour (the max I figured I could pay) would be tough to find. They sent one candidate, Lucia. My job started in two days. The agency billed her as “a go-getter with a degree in psychology from El Salvador who had continued to improve herself through early childhood education classes. She cooked, cleaned and was especially great with babies.”

Lucia made a decent first impression, though much of the schooling proved to be fabricated. She’d raised three children herself with the older two in college. She was “a bit full of herself” my mom assessed. I left her with my son as a first day’s trial. I phoned my mother from the road who said my never-fussy son “cried so hard he started coughing.” Lucia played it down when I got home, unaware my mom had filled me in.

“It wasn’t as bad” the second day, my mom reported. Not exactly comforting words. The apartment was reeking of Pine-sol and Lucia whipped up a decent potato salad. I was torn. Did my son really not like her or was he just feeling the cumulative effect of all these strangers parading in and out? The agency said she was one of their favorites. Ignoring my gut, I hired her.

Just two weeks before Christmas, I was uncertain the protocol for holiday pay. Lucia always filtered what she wanted to tell me through stories about her teenage son.

“So Hector asked to me, ‘Mom we going to have a good Christmas?’ And I say to him, ‘I don’t know. Miss Lori, she not have work for me for two weeks, so no Knottsberry Farm this year.’ He also want a Kobe jersey, hundred fifty dollar.”

It was a story intended to garner sympathy, but only infuriated me. My son was getting socks and bibs for Christmas thanks to his expensive nanny.

I was in a long-term freelance job that didn’t pay my two-week break. The nanny agency insisted it would be appropriate to pay Lucia for one week which I reluctantly did adding some holiday treats for her family. Lucia looked at the $500 bonus, obviously deflated, got into her Pathfinder (a newer year model than my own car) and drove home without so much as a thank-you.

When she returned after the holidays, my son whimpered as if to say, “I thought we got rid of her.” Lucia’s attitude took a detour south. I’d come home and find her watching TV while my son was awake. She’d act rude at times or to the other extreme and muster up The Lucia Show, feigning interest in playing with my son. He wasn’t buying it, tuning her out. My bullshit detector had gone off one too many times.

 NannyBug to the Rescue

I didn’t have a nanny cam so I did the next best thing. I bugged the place.

I left an eighteen-hour audio recorder running. I’d already planned to let her go that night; I wanted to confirm my suspicions but also cover myself if anything weird happened during the dismissal.

I handed her a check that evening leaving it at, “This isn’t a fit.” What I heard that night on the voice recorder made me feel like the worst mother in the world to have left my son with this woman. I could only stomach the first four hours.

While I’m within earshot The Lucia Show broadcasted her reading in over -the-top fashion to my son. As soon as I get in the shower, she quiets. Shower water turns off, the production resumes. She’s saccharinely sweet to him until I leave for work when she tosses him in the crib, and her tone of voice changes. He whimpers and she ignores him. He’s in his crib cooing trying to get her to engage over and over and over. (He’s at that precious stage of infancy where he will light up like a Christmas tree if anyone makes an effort to connect.) Hour after hour she just ignores him. She chats on her phone, watches TV. Then I hear her make a half attempt to feed him, give up and put him in his swing to sleep while she gets back on the phone to carry on with her friends.

I wanted to throw up or commit homicide. She should have picked him up, engaged him in something, gone for a walk, etc. I phoned the agency that placed her the next day and gave them a sobbing earful. One of the partners phoned me later in the week—not to apologize—but to threaten me for posting on a local Yahoo mom’s group about his agency. Apparently nanny agencies monitor these forums to see if anyone’s tarnishing their reputation. The agency that sent the DUI nanny also let me know they’d seen my posting about them.

Several mothers wrote me from the listserve warning that some nanny agencies also “churn nannies. ” After you hire a nanny from them, pay the agency fee for a guaranteed time period such as three months, they may actually recruit her away for a higher paying job so they can earn another commission.

I thought back to the tape of Lucia’s phone conversations. While most were in Spanish, I’d remembered hearing resume, which must be the same in word in Spanish. Clearly she was looking.

Three Strikes and I’m Out

I found Alma, an $11-hour nanny, through an agency in the South Bay. She was so opposed to housework, that she crossed out the guidelines I’d printed out on his care sheet that read: “after changing diaper please wash your hands” and she wrote “NO CLEANING!!”

She also informed me I needed to have lunch for her. Something I’d have been happy to share had she been willing to lend a hand in the kitchen. I stocked the fridge with ham cold-cuts and accoutrements. She informed me when I got home she didn’t eat pork and had helped herself to a steak I grilled the night before, intended for my dinner.

I fixed myself a ham sandwich and posted a notice on Craigslist.

Someone responded referring her coveted $10-hour nanny, wanting to pass her along to a fellow single mom. Consuela wasn’t above housework and wasn’t a cook but could chop fruit or prepare a salad. My son didn’t whimper when he saw her, in fact, he hardly took notice.

She had a seventh grade education and I’d venture to guess didn’t graduate from Jr. High with honors. For instance, I handed my son to her once saying, “I think his pants are dirty, you might want to change them.” She returned saying, “his pants are clean but his diaper is dirty. Do you want me to change it?”

Another morning I said, “I’m having oatmeal now but if you want to get me a leftover burger for later.” (I meant in my lunch.) I got out of the shower and a plate of burger, beans and salad was waiting for my second breakfast course. She meant well.

I enrolled her in classes at the Red Cross for infant CPR, pediatric first aid and child safety. A week after she finished the classes, she locked herself out of the apartment with my son inside.

I met the woman who passed her on to me one day in the park. She concurred Consuela indeed had a low aptitude but has a good heart. She was also lazy at times, ate her out of house and home, ruined her laundry and was a deplorable housekeeper. I left wondering why she bothered to ensure she got passed along to me.

My temporary freelance job was on the verge of turning into a permanent staff position  and I didn’t want to go through the agony of finding someone new just yet. When the offer came in, it was  at such a reduced salary I wasn’t able to afford a nanny at all. I countered with a work-from-home option. They declined.

The irony is that they allow employees to bring their dogs to work–there are probably fifty tied to desks on any day. Once a week an email goes out from an employee asking about childcare. It’s a void yet to be filled.

Before my son’s birth, I used to think I’d give anything to work for this ad agency. Anything, I’ve determined doesn’t include my first born.

So now I’m trying to make a go of it writing from home with whatever I can find. Whether I return to work on site in advertising remains to be seen. I’m not sure I want to be part of an industry that places more value on dogs than mothers or children. One thing’s for sure, my son thinks it’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to have his mommy back home with him all day.

Editor’s note: This story originally was published under a pen name on divinecaroline.com.  The names of the nannies were changed. At the time it was published, it generated a few snarky hateful emails by moms telling me I was a cheapskate. When you consider that many nannies earn cash under the table, and don’t pay income taxes, what I was paying my nanny, was the equivalent of $70k/year. In other words, because I was earning income as an independent contractor, paying a a much higher income tax (plus city tax in Los Angeles) I had to gross $70k to pay my nanny her $600/week salary + vacation and Christmas bonus.

With the passage of time, I would look back on that job as a favorite in every other respect. I loved my boss and so many of my co-workers. Upon leaving, when asked by a headhunter my proudest accomplishment there, I blurted out that I’d been instrumental in redesigning the breast pump room for fellow mom co-workers. I would be told these fellow mom friends who went on years later to have more kids, they’d nicknamed it the “Mayfield Lounge”.

I’m still proud of that and the work I got to produce there. Advertising isn’t unique in needing to better fill the void so many working moms face in all industries, the need for more affordable, work-friendly/on-site childcare solutions.  

What would happen after this is that the only viable solution was to move from Los Angeles. I caved to my family’s suggestion to move closer to “home” where my mom lived in the Dallas area. I’d hoped I’d see Dallas, where I’d gone my last two years of high school, in a more positive light. But not long after trying to make a go of it in Dallas, my soul longed to be near the great outdoors. As soon as my son was potty trained, we relocated to Colorado.

My permanent (as permanent as any staff job is in the fickle/revolving door of advertising) job options have been limited to how long I’m willing to be away from my son each day and the long hours ad agencies are notorious for. I do count myself lucky that at that job in LA, I had an awesome boss who knew burning the midnight oil and last-minute do-over rewrites don’t always equate to better work. And he wasn’t opposed to people working from home when the need called. Those sorts of managers though are the exception to the rule in the ad field.

 I love many aspects of creating advertising but the family-unfriendly culture of advertising, particularly for women, has a lot of room for improvement. The 3% movement is a classic example of why it needs to change. It’s a grassroots movement founded on the notion that equal numbers of men and women enter into creative departments of ad agencies, but that by Creative Director level (where I am now) across the country, only 3% are women. That percentage in the Denver/Boulder market is far less than 3%. So why is that a big deal? Most purchasing decisions for products and services are made by women so it only stands to reason more women are at the higher up decision-making table on the ads created for this audience. And clients should demand it.

At present, I’m freelancing. While I put all my savings into finally buying my first house here in Colorado, my earning power in this advertising market plummeted from what it was making in Los Angeles. And with no family here, I’ve never spent a night away from my son. I only spring for sitters when I really have to. 

 

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Qamea: Above the surface

Qamea Island, Fiji

Qamea Resort, Fiji

We landed in Fiji the day a cyclone hit.  We’d come so I could rediscover the love of  scuba diving—I’d been certified in college and gone on a few initial trips but had  drifted away from the sport, not consciously, just had found other sports  that captured my interest and none of my  friends in recent years were divers.

planecyclone[3]

Not exactly the sort of weather we’d envisioned

I had recently begun dating a dive master (and attorney) who needed a break from his law office. We’d just spent two weeks in New Zealand and besides the interest in a diving adventure, we wanted to break up the arduous 12-hour plus flight home back to the states. We landed in Nadi and hopped a plane to Taveuni island. It was a small 12-passenger or so plane where you couldn’t hear the person next to you unless they yelled.

I was ready to scream seated in the front row– I could see the pilot’s view out the front windshield as the tiny windshield wipers went back and forth. The visibility was close to nil. The rain just pelted the tiny aircraft.

Miraculously, we landed safely and were taken by van to the beach where we were greeted by a guy who looked like a very dark-skinned Fijian version of the Gordon’s fisherman. “Bula!” (hello in Fijian) he said. He was dressed in a yellow rain slicker and hat and took us by private boat to the island of Qamea.

It rained sideways on the boat. My boyfriend and I looked at each other, “So much for diving.” My boyfriend shouted as we bounced from wave top to wave top.

Such a shame. It had been a good fifteen years or so since I’d last been diving and I had just outfitted myself in all the latest gear and gadgetry. Technology had completely transformed the sport since I’d learned. I was excited to try out my new Suunto computer dive watch, new wetsuit, BCD, everything from mask to fins.

We arrived on the island, which looked straight from the set of a Fantasy Island episode (well, except for the fact that I don’t think it ever rained there). I half expected Tattoo to come running out, “Boss, de boat, de boat.”

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Instead, a Fijian native met us with umbrellas, took our  luggage and escorted us to our Bure (thatched hut) where  we arrived drenched. We set our resort umbrellas down  and dipped our feet in the conch shells embedded in the  entryway of our hut with fresh water to wash off the sand.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.52.21 PM Our room was magical with 20-foot soaring ceilings,  hand- polished, local mahogany hardwood floors and  authentically outfitted in antique Fijian art from  neighboring islands. All the beachfront bures had just  been remodeled the previous July with new furniture,  romantic  four-poster beds and new deck furniture.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.52.35 PM The covered outdoor  riverstone courtyard shower  had Pure Fiji brand amenities  and the bathrooms boasted  gorgeous European fittings.  My boyfriend and I each had a chocolate chip cookie from the Mason jar full of a fresh-baked batch which was part of our welcome gift.

“Well, time for plan B.” I said. “Let’s go see what else there is to do here.” It was hard to imagine coming to Fiji and not diving. It would be like going to Aspen in the winter and not skiing.

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Beachfront Bure

The grounds were pristine–carefully manicured vibrant green grass with just 11 beachfront bures and two larger honeymoon bures, a split-level honeymoon villa and two new private 1600 square foot villas. Qamea has the beautiful island to itself so it’s easy to see why it would make for an ideal honeymoon or destination wedding locale.

We wandered over to the restaurant where the rainy activity of the day was, and I kid you not, basket weaving. We sat down on the porch and grabbed a couple of palm leaves as the resident artisan showed us how to weave. The rain continued to beat down. We finished our baskets, which were quite impressive for first time basket weavers. I was disappointed to learn we couldn’t bring them home with us as they constituted a live plant and wouldn’t make it past customs.

Sunburned visitors played cards, read books and sipped cocktails in the open dining area that looked out over the ocean. We retreated back to our room and took a nap. There’s nothing like sleeping during a rain storm. The wind blew and I drifted to sleep wondering if we’d blow away like the three little pigs straw house.

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We awoke that afternoon to the sun shining. The sky was clear and the rain reflected on the grass as if it had just been painted for a postcard. There was a rainbow off in the distance.

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It seemed like a perfect afternoon for a raw  sugar rub and relaxation massage with  exotic coconut oil at the resort’s spa. I left  feeling like a wet palm leaf and smelling like  a piña colada. The smell of coconut made  me hungry.

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Working out the knots from the plane/boat/van ride in

Cuisine at Qamea is world-class. Executive resort chef, Michele Campbell has owned and managed leading restaurants in London, Sydney and Auckland. Her team of six full-time Fijian chefs combines a Fijian south Pacific Rim style similar to California cuisine using fresh, organic fruits and vegetables grown on the island or flown over three times a week from New Zealand. Qamea fishermen catch the daily fish and beef and poultry are flown in fresh from Australia and New Zealand. The food was superb. If the resort put out a cookbook, I’d buy it. The lunch and dinner menu changed daily and breakfast is made to order.

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Each evening there’s a kava ceremony (a Fijian drink made from a grounded root that numbs the tongue and provides a nice buzz)Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 6.00.48 PM

and meke ceremony (Fijian music and dance).

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The next day, the water still murky from the storm, we took off on one of the many excursions the resort offers to Bouma Waterfalls. The resort packs a picnic lunch and off we went by boat to a neighboring island for a hike to a waterfall along a river shrouded in tropical foliage and colorful flowers.

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Native Fijian boys who serenaded us on our hike

Looking up the river we saw a group of children in waist-deep water walking down the river singing songs. They seemed as excited to see us as we were to see them. We visited with other local Fijians, proud to show off their homes, their new church and artwork at a craft hut.

The resort offers many such excursions for a nominal fee, including one to the area where Blue Lagoon was filmed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.54.48 PMA few days later the water had settled enough to finally go scuba diving. Qamea resort is close to world-class dive sites like Purple Wall, Devil’s Canyon, Qamea freeway and Yellow Wall. We did a check out dive off the resort’s beach where we saw lionfish and anemones with live egg cowries in the shallow water steps from the shore.

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The next day we ventured further away to the famous Purple wall. The visibility wasn’t ideal and the water was still a bit choppy but once down 40 feet or so, I remembered quickly how hypnotic and addictive diving can be. I lost myself in the wonders of marine life. Purple Wall is actually three separate vertical walls with thick concentrations of purple soft coral. Fish activity is plentiful with an abundance of banded sea snakes.

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The visit was quick with not as much diving as I would have hoped, but a nice reminder that the vacation you set out on isn’t always the adventure you’ll discover. With a little flexibility and open mind, you can dive deep and come up with great memories.

When we left the resort, the staff came down to serenade us with a ukulele and singing. They gave us each a red tropical flower and told us to put it in the water once out to sea. The legend has it if the flower comes back, so will the guest. I made sure to put mine in the water close enough to ensure it made it back, as I definitely know this is one place I can’t wait to return.

If you go:   Visit www.qamea.com   Beachfront Bures start at $585 a night with continental breakfast or $795 with full breakfast, 2-course lunch and 3-course dinner.Children under age 16 not allowed.  Check website for special packages.

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com. Prices have been updated. As soon as my son turns 16 we’re going.

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