April 30, 2019: It takes embarking on a spring vacation to remind us that spring vacationing is best left to the Spring Break crowd — especially when the destination coincides with one of the biggest music festivals of the year. In our case, Coachella. But sometimes that is the price you have to pay when you mix pleasure with business, and it was the latter that brought us to Palm Springs on a one-week tour of the Southland while Roni accepted accolades and entertained audiences at two speaking engagements.
The first of those was the CAPIO conference in Newport Beach presented by the California Association of Public Information Officials. During the winter, Roni teamed up with outreach leaders at five local sanitary districts to help create a public information campaign designed to raise awareness about the environmental dangers posed by flushing disposable wipes into the sewer system. One of the women involved in the group also is a CAPIO member, and it was through her that Roni got invited to speak about the campaign during the group’s spring conference. It just happened to take place the same week as the CWEA (California Water Environment Association) conference in Palm Springs, where Roni was already scheduled to speak on behalf of the Ironhouse Sanitary District on the topic of working with the media, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to work in some sightseeing in between the conferences.
We had toyed with the idea of flying down and renting a car, but as usual we delayed our decision until the last minute and then opted for the convenience of using our own vehicle to avoid airport lines, reservation counters and added expenses. The cost of attending the conferences was being reimbursed, but not that of our leisure activities and additional hotel stays, so we tried our best to go on the cheap. Still, we wanted to make the vacation portion of the trip fun, so Roni sought to book us into places that were close to where we most wanted to be — in our case, the beach.
Our trip began Monday, April 8, when we left home at 9:30 a.m. for the ever exciting drive down Interstate 5. Roni’s CAPIO event wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, but we decided to leave a couple of days early since it was a long drive and we thought it best to give her a day to rest up so she would be fresh for the conference. We didn’t know how far we might get the first day and didn’t have reservations planned anywhere. By the end of the afternoon we were close enough to Newport Beach that Roni decided to stay in the area, and we chose a place at nearby Huntington Beach called the Huntington Beach Inn. We were fortunate to get a good rate on one of the last rooms remaining, and it was conveniently located across from the beach and just a few blocks from Main Street with its assortment of fun restaurants and shops. We walked downtown that evening and had dinner at Fred’s Mexican Cafe. We probably would have checked out the pier afterward, but we hadn’t brought sweaters and it was getting chilly, plus we were pretty zonked after the long drive. We decided to save the beach visit until morning.
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UR HUNTINGTON BEACH hotel was less than 10 miles away from where Roni would be speaking at the Hyatt Regency convention center in Newport Beach, so we had nothing to do on Tuesday but explore. Our reservation at the Hyatt didn’t start until Wednesday night, however, so we still needed a place to stay for one more night and unfortunately the price on our room in Huntington Beach went up substantially. As beautiful as the beach was, we decided it wasn’t worth an additional hundred dollars or so for the privilege of staying there. So we packed what few bags we’d brought and checked out before walking downtown in search of breakfast.
With so many fun-looking restaurants to choose from we had a difficult time deciding where to dine. So of course we wound up at… Starbucks. Yup, neither of us was hungry enough for a full meal, so we picked up some slices of lemon cake and a couple of drinks and called in breakfast. We ate at a counter inside the shop with a window view of all the tourists cruising Main Street. We finished our meals, went back to the hotel to grab the cae from the parking garage, then drove across the street to check out the beach and take a walk on the pier.
The wind was starting to kick up, making for some great surfing action and driving the wind toys outside the gift shops located midway along the pier. We walked all the way out to the end where Ruby’s restaurant is, then hung out near the railing watching the pelicans dodging the surfers and a couple of dolphins swimming among the whitecaps. One of the locals chatted us up while we took photos, and he said he had never seen such high winds in the area. True enough, there had been small craft advisories issued for the coast until 3 a.m. the next morning.
We left Huntington Beach and proceeded to Newport Beach, where we spent the next four hours mostly looking for a place to stay. They were all very pricey and mostly booked, and Roni was kicking herself for having not made reservations from home in advance. Spring Break being in full swing, competition for rooms was fierce. We considered a cheaper option in nearby Costa Mesa, but it was in a dumpy neighborhood and several miles from the beach where Roni really wanted to be, so finally we sucked up the expense and booked a place at the Bay Shores Peninsula Hotel along the Balboa Peninsula. Although it wasn’t the quietest place we’d stayed, being located right along busy Balboa Boulevard, it had the advantage of being two blocks from the Newport Beach Pier.
We’d already spent a little while near the pier while we waited for our check-in time, just to browse the shops and grab lunch at Dory Deli. But Roni wanted to return that evening so we could watch the sunset, so despite the increasing wind gusts we bundled up and walked out to the beach. The sand was blowing off the broad beach in clouds so thick that the dust resembled fog. It created drifts along the bike path and fences of the beachfront rental cottages we passed along the way.
We braved the sandblast long enough to get our pictures of the sun setting behind the pier, then we headed back to the business district to grab some food from Seaside Donuts Bakery. We were still mostly full from our lunch and Glenn kept eyeing the doughnut shops all along our drive, so we picked up some tasty pastries and hot drinks to take back to our hotel room.
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EDNESDAY FOUND US with more time to kill before Roni’s speaking engagement. We grabbed a late continental breakfast in the Bay Shores Peninsula’s small dining room, then drove south to Balboa Peninsula Park to check out the Balboa Pier. We at last had the nice weather we had anticipated for the trip, no wind gusts or fog banks. The pier was fairly quiet this morning, except for a group of school kids there for a field trip. We had a little time left on our parking meter when we got back to the car, so we decided to walk across the street to the Balboa Fun Zone amusement park, just to say we’d been there. Even though all the attractions were closed this early in the day, getting to see the Ferris wheel and the car ferry slip brought back memories of previous trips we’d made here with Ben and earlier in our marriage.
Finally it was time to move on so we could check into our room at the Hyatt. The sprawling conference center resort is truly impressive, and would have been obscenely unaffordable had Roni not received special rates for the convention. We had tried to extend our stay there to include Tuesday night rather than book the room at the Bay Shores Peninsula, but the Hyatt was sold out for the convention, so we had to settle for the one night. We parked in the visitor lot rather than use the valet, which meant we had to lug our bags over hill and dale to get to our room near the front of the hotel. We kicked ourselves after realizing we could have simply dropped off our bags first when we checked in.
Roni wanted to be sure to get some lunch before her speaking event, so we went to the hotel’s restaurant and had quesadillas on the patio. Then we had to wait there a bit until Roni could meet up with Angela Lowery, the woman from her outreach project group, to go over their topics for the speaking event. Roni and Angela left from there to go to the convention while Glenn returned to our room to relax for several hours. At least we had a spacious suite and a patio balcony with views of the trees and the tennis courts.
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E GOT SMART about our bags when we departed Newport Beach on Thursday morning. Instead of lugging them all the way back to the parking lot, Glenn babysat them near the curb at the main entrance while Roni went around to get the car. We had to make our way to Palm Springs by that evening, but we hoped to get there early enough to do some sightseeing at Joshua Tree National Park, where we had never visited.
The challenge we have found on our various visits to Southern California is that there is never a direct or simple route to get from where one is to where one wants to go. This turned out to be the case with Palm Springs, normally a 2-hour journey that took much longer once we discovered our preferred and most direct route was a toll road. Not wanting to cough up money to use the freeway, we stuck to the city streets as we crawled through morning traffic in Irvine and Tustin. We must have added an hour to our drive just by doing that. Eventually we found Highway 91 and sat back for the long, traffic-jammed drive out to Coachella Valley.
It was as we were finally clear of traffic around Moreno Valley that we decided it was time for lunch and a bathroom break, when like a mirage along the side of Highway 60 appeared a Skechers factory outlet store. Roni just happens to love the Skechers shoes she owns, and having never been to one of their stores we decided to check it out. This turned out to be a destination for people, despite its location in the middle of nowhere, and there were dozens of shoppers walking out with bags and boxes of shoes as we arrived. Anyone unable to find their size and style of footwear here simply wasn’t trying. Roni was very happy with the pair of shoes she purchased after we spent nearly an hour in the store, and despite encouragement from the clerks that we should take advantage of their buy-one-get-one-half-off offer, we really hadn’t planned on going shoe shopping during our vacation. But this place had everything, including a cafe, so we had our lunch there before getting back on the road.
Remember Joshua Tree? Yeah, it was starting to get late in the day and we hadn’t even reached the Mojave Desert. Our reservations at the hotel were secure, so we decided to head straight to the park rather than stop in Palm Springs first. The sky was beginning to cloud up and it looked like rain might be in the cards for later. We weren’t worried about that so much as having ugly light for photos once we reached the park. It was already close to 3 p.m. by the time we reached the visitor center near the park’s north entrance and stopped long enough to grab some souvenirs and some directions.
Roni really hoped to see wildflowers on this trip, and one of the reasons we decided on Joshua Tree was that was where one of the so-called “super blooms” could be viewed. We knew we were arriving late in the season and feared we might not get to see as many flowers, but there turned out to be just enough to make the visit worthwhile. It costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park, but the pass is good for a week. We almost decided not to pay knowing that we might only be there a couple of hours, but then we thought we could check out the south entrance on Friday afternoon if there was time after Roni’s conference. Once in the park we were glad we decided to pay up. The wildflowers were less than a mile from the entrance, and we pulled over to the side of the road to photograph them. Not as spectacular as the super bloom, perhaps, but more than a dozen varieties splashing their red, purple, yellow and blue across the desert landscape.
Joshua Tree is huge enough that you could easily spend a week there hiking and checking out all the rock formations and still not see everything, but we only had a couple of hours to drive down the main road and take in the iconic trees and scenery. There were people still arriving as we left the park, and we were very glad we had decided to come on Thursday instead of the weekend when it would be much busier.
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UR OPINION OF Palm Springs had always been that it was an overpriced golf course community for the Hollywood elite, but perhaps that is because we had never stayed there. True, it is known for its high profile residents and visitors such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and Elvis Presley. But Palm Springs also has some fun attractions and a bustling downtown that unfortunately was the venue for its weekly street fair on the evening we arrived. Unfortunate because all the free street parking near our hotel was taken up by fairgoers, forcing us to spend $28 on the valet service.
On the plus side, we had convention rates at the Hyatt Palm Springs and a sixth-floor suite overlooking one of those fancy golf courses. The suite was about half the size of our house, with a huge bedroom and a separate living room with a big sofa and end tables. From the front porch we could lean over the railing and look down on all the action at the weekly street fair, known as VillageFest. Since we’d had to shell out money for valet parking we felt we owed it to ourselves to spend some quality time at the fair, plus we were ready for dinner. So despite being tired from the day’s travels, we went down and proceeded to walk about a mile of North Palm Canyon Drive to look at the craft and food vendors. The sidewalks are lined with restaurants, shops and bronze stars of the rich and famous, just a few of whom we recognized.
Despite the smorgasbord of offerings at VillageFest, the only purchases we managed to make were from the brick-and-mortar businesses. We bought souvenir T-shirts at one shop, then wound up at NYPD Pizza and Bar right across from our hotel where we got pizza and spaghetti to take back to our room.
The next morning, Roni left early for her CWEA conference. Her event was taking place at the Renaissance hotel and convention center a few blocks away, and because we had to check out of our room before she’d be finished, she took all our bags down to the car while Glenn hung out in the room until 11 a.m., when he walked through town to meet up with her. Things can get warm in the desert this time of year, and we hit the low 80s by the time Roni had wrapped things up at the conference center and we were ready to hit the road.
We were sorry we couldn’t spend more time in Palm Springs, but it wasn’t that we hadn’t tried; the Hyatt was sold out for Friday night, as were many of the other hotels in town, and the few remaining options were very expensive. We didn’t have to ask why. April 12 marked the kickoff of the annual Coachella music festival attended by thousands of people, and their pilgrimage to the valley was in full swing. Even though the concert grounds is in Indio, lodging was booked up for a hundred miles in all directions. Having already experienced horrendous traffic everywhere we went we decided against the idea of going to the south entrance of Joshua Tree, which would have put us in the heart of the concert territory. Roni was tired anyway following her event, so we decided to start heading home.
But we couldn’t leave town without first stopping at Great Shakes for a couple of frozen drinks. Date shakes are a big deal down here, and Great Shakes customers billed them as having some of the best, so that is what Glenn ordered while Roni enjoyed a cake batter shake.
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UR SEARCH FOR a place to stay had led us west, and since we had planned to stop off in Hemet to visit Glenn’s grandma and dad, we weren’t sure where we wanted to spend the night. Our original plan had been for a Saturday morning visit, but seeing as we had nowhere else to go that day and were in the area, we rearranged things with our hosts to see them that afternoon.
It seemed hard to believe we had been here more than six months ago for Grandma’s 100th birthday, but time flies and we want to take advantage of any opportunity we still have to see her. She’d had a long day already by the time we arrived in the mid-afternoon, keeping appointments with her home care workers and napping. But she was awake and alert for us for the three hours we were there. Dad still had some money left over on the gift certificate we’d given him for Christmas at one of the local pizza places, so he ordered a large pizza and we enjoyed it around Grandma’s dining room table while we caught up on the news. We were thankful for a bite of lunch, but Grandma was much more interested in the beer that was being served in plastic cups.
It was getting close to 7 p.m. when we left Grandma’s place. Roni had wanted to get us out of the Los Angeles basin and away from all the traffic, but we only got about five blocks before she was thinking better of the idea of navigating the freeways in the dark. The Hampton Inn on Florida Avenue still had a couple of rooms left, and while it wasn’t the fanciest of digs we had stayed in on this trip, it was convenient and fairly cheap. It didn’t hurt that they had a free, 24-hour coffee bar and a snack shop where we got some ice cream treats for dessert.
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ATURDAY MORNING WE got out of town, but not before we were treated to one more dose of heavy traffic on the L.A. freeway system. After what seemed like forever, we found ourselves in Ventura and ready for something to eat. We weren’t too particular, so when we came upon an exit off U.S. 101 that had a dozen places to choose from, Glenn picked out one called The Patio Restaurant. It is adjacent to the Players Casino poker club and sandwiched between several car dealerships in an appropriately ignorable part of the city. Our meals were decent despite the low-key surroundings, and we were soon back on the road with renewed hope that we would reach Pismo Beach before nightfall.
In our younger years we likely would have completed the trek from Hemet to home in one day, but neither of us looked forward to being on the road all night, and so we’d decided on Pismo as a good midway point, being that it is one of our favorite towns anyway.
Like Palm Springs, lodging in Pismo Beach was limited and pricey, but this time it had nothing to do with Coachella and everything to do with Spring Break. Because of this we decided to stay in a place we hadn’t been at before, the Shore Cliff Hotel. It was a little cheaper because it is at the north end of the beach, roughly a mile from the attractions located downtown. It still offers breathtaking views of the coastline and comfortable accommodations. We walked down to the gazebo that evening to take pictures of the sunset, but we weren’t up for a hike along the beach to downtown and were afraid to take the car there for fear of losing our parking spot at the hotel. The place was packed with families and it was getting late.
Our room on the first floor had a patio that faced the pool. When we grabbed our breakfast from the buffet line on Sunday morning, we brought it back to the room and sat on the patio to enjoy pancakes and eggs with the seagulls. They weren’t shy about looking for handouts, and just about took Glenn’s fingers off when he offered up some tortilla chips from the day before.
One of the highlights of any visit to Pismo Beach is getting to stroll along the famous pier and watch the surfers try to catch a wave. It had been a few years since the last time we had been able to walk the pier because it had been closed for an extensive renovation, so we were especially eager to check out the improvements. We had a foggy morning, but it wasn’t too cold to walk in T-shirts. We had been lucky to find a curbside parking spot when we drove onto Pomeroy Avenue, and luckier still that someone else had left time on the meter. We gave ourselves about an hour and a half to see the pier and then hit up some of the downtown gift shops before the time expired.
After that, it was a traffic-laden slog up Highway 101 to home. We stopped long enough to grab some lunch at the Black Bear Diner in Salinas and then thoroughly regretted that we hadn’t stayed longer. Road work, car crashes and weekenders all contributed to a slow journey home, and we were both thankful that we hadn’t decided to make the trek in one day from Los Angeles. Our cats were all glad to have us back, but not nearly so much as Ben, who had spent the week looking after them in our absence.
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OU CAN'T CHOOSE your family or your neighbors, but when it comes to the latter we sometimes wish we could. It has been a big adjustment for us getting used to more activity coming from the yard next to our western fence line and the heightened noise levels that come with it, particularly with the addition of dogs, chickens and children. We’ve taken most of it in stride, but some things are difficult to ignore.
It was on one pleasant Sunday afternoon earlier this month when the neighbors put up an umbrella to work in the back corner and we assumed it meant the beginning of a new garden. But it was much to our horror when we realized they were building a playhouse for their youngster — a cheesy plastic monstrosity that towers above the fenceline, with windows looking straight into our yard. It was bad enough that we already had privacy concerns from the gardening activity taking place in that corner, but now we have to contend with a play area that looks directly into our dining room and is just plain ugly.
After debating what to do, we concluded part of the problem is that our side yard has little screening other than the fence. We had never needed much, given the previous neighbors rarely came into that side of the yard. We decided that a long-term plan to shield that part of the yard is in order. However, twe needed an immediate solution to the problem of seeing the playhouse from our dining room. We took a trip to Home Depot.
In one of the hastiest home improvement projects we have ever done, we spent a couple hundred dollars on some architectural screens, wood framing material and hardware to build a privacy screen for the back patio. The project consists of four 2x4-foot panels made from a composite material that have shapes cut into them resembling a tropical forest. We attached the panels together with 1x2 lumber, sandwiching them to create a screen 8 feet long by 4 feet tall. Because the panels allow light to come through, we knew that we would still see through them. We didn’t want that. We solved the problem by attaching to the back of each panel a 2x4 sheet of frosted plastic like the kind that are used to hide fluorescent light fixtures in office buildings. The effect is that the sunlight filters through them like stained glass, which we find very attractive.
The assembled panels are fairly heavy, despite being made from lightweight materials. At first we attempted to hang them from the rafters of our pergola using eye screws and picture hanger wire. It took both of us working together to attach the wire, and when we were finished it didn’t hang straight, but we figured it was good enough for the time being. When we returned from our Southern California trip a week later, however, we found that the cable we’d used was too thin for the weight and had snapped. Fortunately the privacy screen was undamaged, so this time we replaced the cable with a pair of clip-on hooks that proved to be much more sturdy.
The privacy screen is a good solution for now. It does nothing to reduce sound — something we fear we will have to deal with more this summer — but it is very effective in shielding our eyes from the playhouse while we are at the dining table, as well as blocking our view of the weeds in our yard.
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HE KITCHEN PROJECT is on the move again, after nearly three months of little to no progress. Needless to say, Roni is delighted by the prospect of maybe getting to see the work completed before next Christmas. Glenn just wants to see it completed so he can move on to other things. He had made her a promise that he would resume work following our Southern California trip, and after shaking off the rust — figuratively and literally, in the case of the tile saw blade — he completed the long-awaited tile work inside the widow well behind the farmhouse sink.
This was a relatively simple task to help ease back into the project, but it has made such a dramatic impact on the kitchen that we are glad Glenn chose to tackle it now. Even after the rest of that side of the kitchen was mostly finished, the window well with its textured drywall remained a patch of ugly yellow amid our new hues of white, blue and gray. During our trip to Catalina Island last October, we bought two decorative ceramic tiles from one of the gift shops that we planned to incorporate into the new subway tile design we have been working on. The 6x16-inch plaques came mounted on masonite that Glenn first had to peel away carefully using a knife to saw through the adhesive. Once removed, the tiles were about the same thickness as the subway tiles, and he mortared them into place on the facing walls of the window well.
The two plaques add some colorful “pop” to the kitchen while bringing us a step closer to the day all the old textured walls will be a memory. The next step is to finish up behind the refrigerator, but Roni would like to see the pantry in the entryway completed. We press on…
Meanwhile, Glenn has been pressing on with his goal to become a currency trader, taking a huge step in that direction by opening a live account with the Oanda brokerage. This comes after nearly a year and a half of practicing on demo accounts with varying degrees of success, seeing huge profits tempered by occasionally huger losses. He decided to start practice accounts at Oanda in February for a more realistic trading experience that factored in their spread and financing costs along with his expected small amount of working capital. Practicing with $100,000 in virtual cash is certainly more exciting, but it is much different than trading with $100 of your own money on the line, where you must learn to balance risks and rewards with human emotions.
So far Glenn is barely breaking even in his Oanda practice accounts, and Roni skeptically views the whole endeavor as gambling, which in many ways it is. But with knowledge and experience come a competitive edge, and Glenn hopes that his efforts with a real, albeit tiny, account will pave the way to more lucrative trades down the road. If you wish to track his progress, you can follow his Twitter feed under the FortuneCatFX handle (@fortune_fx).