Sunday, 21 April 2013

My California Adventure - Day Four

Day 255
110 Days Remaining

I've been so busy since I got back from California that I could not spare any time to update you and finish relating the story of my California Adventure: Final exams loomed and - as always tends to happen - I got miserably sick pretty much the moment I got off the plane at home.  I've spent the last nearly two weeks in a fog of study materials and wrapping up my last few classes, coughing like crazy every night and not getting much sleep.  Still, I wanted to end the school year strong, so I forged ahead and managed to finish all my classes and take all six of my exams (one an oral Skills Check, the day after I returned from the US!) even through the haze of codeine and ibuprofen.  I'm still coughing quite a bit at night, but it's not as bad as it was - it must have been partially due to stress.  My grades should be back by the end of the week, but I've already gotten one final grade, and it was an A+.  So I feel pretty good about having ignored you all in order to focus on school for this vital last segment of first year nursing.  And now I'm finished all my first year classes; my six-week practicum is all I have left, and I don't start that for another couple of weeks.  That means it's time to get caught up on my blogging.  I don't want to leave you hanging for too long.  Back to California and the day of the Reality Rally race!
Saturday morning (April 6th) was gorgeous and sunny.  It was the first morning that I had woken up in California to find the sun streaming in through the windows - my anticipated vision had finally come through for me.  Feeling a bit lightheaded from having gone to bed so late the previous night, I slowly got myself ready and packed a backpack with the things I thought I would need on the race: running shoes; water; my hat and sunglasses; a thermos of green tea; a sandwich and granola bars for later.  It`s the mom in me coming out, I suppose.  I knew that the event technically started at 8am with an "autograph zone", where all the reality stars would be signing autographs for the general public, but I didn't see any reason to go to that.  The race started at noon, so I figured arriving around 10 would give me plenty of time to meet my teammates, get acquainted, and prepare to race.  After another quick breakfast in the hotel lobby (I skipped the waffles this time) I slid my feet into my flipflops and out to my rental car.

Driving around Temecula soon became very easy as I got familiar with the place, and with the car, but the first time I went somewhere new, some quick thinking was often required.  Fortunately the other drivers were quite friendly and let me in when I realized I needed to cross three lanes of traffic in order to get to my exit!  I made my way into Old Towne, parked, and leisurely walked up to where the event was all set up to take place.  The founder of the Rally, Gillian Larson (completely pointless to use a pseudonym for her; the Rally deserves all the publicity it can get!), saw me ambling up and came scurrying over.  "Your team is looking for you!" she admonished me.  Although she had planned on introducing me to them the evening before, she had been run off her feet and hadn't had a chance to.  "Come with me," she instructed, and we slowly made our way from the outskirts of the event to the registration booth where I was to get my team T-shirt and goody bag, as well as sign in.  It took a good 20 minutes, as Gillian was hugged and adored and asked questions and posing for photos every few feet!  She is an incredible woman.  Looking at the scope of the event, I was amazed at what she had accomplished.
When we finally got to City Hall and I met my teammates, it was time for the opening ceremonies.  My team consisted of myself, a young lady named Misa who had appeared on The Amazing Race with her sister, and two older gentlemen.  We got to know each other and were comfortable together very quickly, which I knew would be an asset, considering that although we may not move too quickly (Misa being the most athletic - well, really the only athletic one - of the four of us), at least we would be able to communicate well and work together.

The whole idea of the Rally is that participants are in groups of four: three "civilians" matched with one reality star.  No one knows who their "star" is until close to the day of the race, although if you want a particular star to be on your team, you can essentially "earmark" them and fundraise prior to the race.  If you meet the benchmark amount of donations, that star joins your team.  Each team was numbered (we were 17) and everyone was given the instruction that on "Go!" we were to move around the event setting and find people in yellow shirts who had clue cards with numbers on them.  Once we found the card with our team number, we opened it to find a map of Old Towne Temecula, which showed all the different Checkpoints we had to get to - in no particular order, and completing a challenge at each - before we could return to City Hall and cross the finish line.

We raced out of the event setting toward Old Towne and to the marketplace.  It was a good thing that all my team members had been there in previous years, because they a) knew where everything was, and b) had a pretty fair idea of in what order we should reach the Checkpoints for maximum strategic effectiveness.  The challenges at each Checkpoint were varied; for the first one, we had to dress up and perform various scenes from Huckleberry Finn (building a raft and rowing it uphill on concrete; shooting cans with a slingshot; walking an obstacle course) before we could have our card punched to show we had completed the Checkpoint. 
At other Checkpoints we had to climb a rock wall blindfolded; play a life-sized game of Memory; wander a museum in vintage clothing looking for the answers to six specific questions; dig up a sandpile looking for beanbags; complete puzzles; do a wheelbarrow race with the "driver" blindfolded; transfer water - using a sponge - from one bucket to another located about twenty feet away; write and perform a short film using several old fashioned words (such as "varmint" and "ruckus"); ride a mechanical bull; and answer a number of questions about wine (we failed that one badly - the other option at that Checkpoint had been to dress up and perform opera-style karaoke, which I badly wanted to do! - and had to toss wine corks at a glass jar for our penance).  My "mothering instinct" was very helpful, as the water, granola bars and sandwiches I had packed came in handy as the day wore on.  It took about four hours to complete all our tasks by the time we finally raced across the finish line...placing 45th out of 60 teams.  Oh well.  It wasn't about being a winner for any of us, and we had a blast.

After the Race, everyone headed back to their hotels for a quick turnaround time and then to another beautiful winery for the Red Carpet Celebration.  Another few hours of mixing and mingling with the stars, singing along to the band and sampling all the delicious food that was laid out for us to enjoy, and I was exhausted and ready for bed.  When I was once again invited back to the stars' hotel for an after-party, I declined, not wanting to seem like a groupie - and also incredibly tired - and made my way back to my home sweet hotel.  It was an early night for me as I tossed off my high heels and flopped down on my king-sized bed around 10pm.  It had been such an exciting and fun-filled day, and I knew that in the morning it would be time to check out, head to the stars' hotel for a last couple of hours of time with my new friends, and drive my rental car back to San Diego.  The dream was coming to an end...but every minute of it had been wonderful.

To be continued...

"MisaLisaLarryLeigh" - my fantastic Reality Rally team!

Monday, 8 April 2013

My California Adventure – Day Three

Day 242
123 Days Remaining

I'm on the plane on the way back to Victoria, via San Francisco. It's been a bumpy flight but it seems calm enough now to sit down and try to get you all caught up on my last few days. I don't even know how to express how amazing this entire trip has been. I'm so grateful for everything that I've experienced and everyone I've met.

Friday morning I tried to sleep in a bit, but the continental breakfast was calling me. I made my way down to the “breakfast room” and loaded up on homemade waffles – they had a pump that dispensed the exact amount of batter for each waffle and then each customer could make their own waffle with the big waffle makers. I didn't really want a waffle all that badly, but I had to try it out. It was really delicious. After breakfast I headed back up to my room and basically lazed around for much of the day; I knew that I was going to have a busy couple of days ahead of me and I wanted to take the opportunity to relax whenever I got the chance. I did make my way down to the pool and hot tub, and – even though the sky was quite overcast and it wasn't exactly what I would call California temperature out – I forced myself into the water for a swim. I really didn't want to say that I stayed at a hotel with a pool for three days and never once went into the pool!  I pretty much threw myself into the cold, cold water, swam the length of it, and jumped out to run straight for the hot tub.  Punching the button for the jets, I sank under the bubbling water with a sigh.

This is a good time to address what several of you have already asked me about – my Michelin Man. Yes, this trip was originally planned in order for Mitch and I to finally get the opportunity to see each other in person, and we had planned to meet in San Diego and spend a couple of days together before heading up to Temecula for the Reality Rally. Unfortunately, Mitch wasn't able to make it. I had known that was a possibility for a little while, yet I still had a small hope that he would somehow manage to come...but it didn't happen. Nonetheless, I knew that this would be a great adventure for me, and I also knew that I would enjoy myself regardless of whether Mitch and I got to spend some time together. I am a bit sad that now I don't know when our meeting will happen, but the time I had alone was invaluable and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I also feel very sad for Mitch, as he had a family tragedy that made any slim chance of his meeting me in California a complete impossibility. It was hard to be having so much fun while I knew he was going through something very difficult; my texts were alternating between enthusiastic and sympathetic. I wanted badly to be able to support him, while he was attempting to share my excitement for what I was doing on my trip, but we both have had a difficult time with it.

So this brings me to what I mentioned the other day: how every day of this wonderful adventure has found
me crying. Friday morning in the hot tub I sat and just thought about Mitch and what he was going through, and prayed again, asking God to guide me with what I should do with our relationship and also asking that He would support Mitch as he goes through this really difficult time. I asked that I would have clarity with how I should approach this relationship – because certainly, though it may not have a label, this is definitely a relationship of some sort – and that I will continue to be strong if it becomes apparent that it will not work out. I prayed that Mitch would have support in his grieving, and as he supports those close to him who have also suffered this loss. I cried thinking about the life that has been taken away, and how hard it is for the family who has been left behind. I also asked that God please never take my beautiful, incredible children from me.

My prayer time done and my fingers wrinkled and temperature elevated from the hot tub, I went back upstairs and spent a long, leisurely time getting ready for the Celebrity Reception that was to start at 6pm. I showered, put loud, fun music on my laptop, and carefully applied makeup and curled my hair. It really could have taken me twenty minutes, but I stretched it out for a couple of silly girly hours – when else do I have time to waste on something as petty as grooming?! - and finally slipped into the little dress I had found at Value Village and a pair of killer heels. Then I got in my little rented Ford Focus (oh how I love that car) and drove to the Wilson Creek Winery for the reception.
I was terrified. There's something about showing up for an event like that on one's own - and early - that can really kick the nerves into high gear. Add to that the fact that all the people I saw in the parking lot were in jeans or shorts (though the invite clearly said “cocktail attire”) and it added up to one incredibly nervous Lisa. I felt overdressed and conspicuous as I went to the Will Call table to receive the wristband that showed I belonged. I made small talk with the ladies manning (womanning?) the table, and they were encouraging. “There are lots of good-looking guys here, and you look gorgeous,” said one, “so get in there and have fun.”

It's a little easier to wander and mingle with a glass in one's hand (never mind the relaxing effect of the alcohol itself) so I purchased a glass of champagne (Wilson Creek's signature cuvĂ©e – absolutely delicious, and seeming fitting for the occasion) and planted myself near the greeters to make small talk and watch everyone wander in. I saw several reality stars right off the bat, but as it was still early, it took some time for them to arrive and for my nerves to settle.

And soon enough, I was in my element. I met so many people I had watched on television over the last few years, and they were all so gracious and easy to talk with.  I couldn't believe how much fun I was having, how many in-depth conversations I was able to have, how at home and comfortable I felt after just a few minutes.  I learned how to play Texas Hold 'Em.  I got kissed on the cheek by a reality celeb who said I was "irresistible".  I shared some things about my dating hiatus and my relationship with Mitch (although not referring to him by name) with people who were sympathetic and interested.  I ate strawberries run through the melted chocolate of a chocolate fountain.  And as the party started to wind down, several of the reality stars invited me back to their hotel for their after-party.  

After stopping in at my hotel to change into jeans and more comfortable shoes (I could barely walk after hours of trotting around on those heels!) I went to the resort where all the stars were staying, where the after-party was already underway.  We danced like crazy and I finally got home around 2am.  

After removing my makeup and sliding under the covers, I lay there with a stupid grin on my face.  This really is my life right now, I thought.  I can't believe it.  It was the stuff of many a Lisa-authored short story back when I was a teenager (except the New Kids on the Block were not in attendance this weekend - ha!).  It was so far removed from my reality but so exactly where I belonged at that moment.  For a moment I allowed myself to think of Mitch and feel slightly sad that he wasn't there with me, but I also knew that if he had been there, I would have been completely focused on him and not have allowed myself to fall so completely into the evening as I had.  I needed that.

With that, I drifted off to sleep, knowing that the next day was going to be a busy one.  Reality Rally race time!

To be continued.

Friday, 5 April 2013

My California Adventure - Day Two

Day 239
126 Days Remaining

Funny how I have found such peace and fun and adventure in these last few days, yet every day has found me crying.  Some people only cry when they are sad or upset; I tend to cry when I am overwhelmed by joy and amazement (as well as when I am sad or upset...and when I see a particularly touching TV commercial...oh, I may as well admit it: I cry easily!).  Yesterday morning, as I walked along the San Diego Ocean Beach pier, I cried, but it was a good kind of cry.

When I woke up in the morning I was disappointed to see the sun wasn't streaming through the windows.  In fact, the day was very overcast and decidedly gloomy.  Despite that, I got myself up and dressed and went down to have breakfast in the crowded little kitchen area.  Grabbing some eggs and pancakes, I sat down at a picnic bench and watched the San Diego news on TV while chatting with the other hostel visitors.  My guard was definitely up while in the hostel; my roommates were great people and very friendly (one was a Biology teacher - oh how I wished she could have stayed and tutored me for my Bio final that looms in the near future!) but there are a lot of seedy characters walking the streets of San Diego.  My friend Stoney laments the quality of men in Victoria...she should see the San Diegans I saw yesterday morning.  Or perhaps they are all visiting from out of town, as well..?
My hostel in San Diego

I struck up a conversation with the lady who was frying up the flapjacks and asked her what the best way to get back to the airport was.  I had to be at Avis Rent-a-Car right by the airport at 3pm to pick up my rental in order to drive to Temecula for the whole reason I am down in California in the first place: the Reality Rally event.  I had assumed I would take the same shuttle back to San Diego International that had brought me to the hostel in the first place (at a cost of $14, since the hostel wouldn't reimburse me if I was heading away from them), but the kind lady told me there was a bus that would go straight to the airport.  $2.25, please have exact change, they're just around the corner.  Great!  So, once I had securely stashed my belongings under my bed (praying that no one would steal my laptop and making sure iPhone, passport and all other precious ID was in my purse and strapped to my body), I ventured out onto Newport Avenue to see what I could see.

As soon as I stepped outside the doors of the hostel, I knew that I had to turn left to head to the beach.  I could smell the water; not with my nose, but with that instinctual feeling that all Victorians have of how to find the beach.  However, Kitchen Lady had said the bus was down the street to my right, so I had to ensure that I knew where to go for that before I allowed myself the leisure of checking out the sand and surf.  I walked down the street, turned the corner, and sure enough, MTS (Metropolitan Transport System) Bus #923 was there waiting, two bus drivers chatting away at the open door.  I made my way up to them and confirmed that not only did they go straight to the airport for $2.25, but they would drop me off right outside the door of the car rental agency.  One of the drivers handed me a schedule and said he would see me later that afternoon.

Plans for how I would get to my car confirmed, and after a quick stop at the bank to withdraw some American money (felt so strange to have $1 bills instead of coins) I immediately swung around and headed to the beach.
Surfers at Ocean Beach, San Diego
Despite the cloudiness of the sky, the surfers were out in full force with their bodysuits and boards ready to go.  On the walk down to the water, I stopped at Starbucks to grab a white chocolate mocha and get some change so I would be ready for the bus that afternoon.  While I made my way down Newport, I got a lot of smiles and compliments - I guess the huge smile on my face was very attractive to people!  It became evident to me that I needed to rein in my smile a little bit, as quite a few men (of the aforementioned seedy variety) tried to chat with me.  Very aware of how alone I really was in the case of any trouble, I clutched my purse a bit closer and made friendly, yet aloof, conversation.  I made my way up the many stairs to the pier and began the long walk out toward the ocean.

As I walked, I began to pray aloud under my breath.  Who knows if people thought I was nuts, but who cared?  Maybe it would keep the other - real - crazies away from me.  I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the water, the sand, the trees, the people...and the fact that I was really here, in California, where I have so often wished I could visit, on my own with no real responsibilities but those to myself.  I made it here on my own and I'm doing this - all by myself!  And successfully!  I had promised myself at the beginning of this year that I was going to take a real vacation on my own, and although it had seemed likely that it wouldn't happen - and I had let go of the possibility for a while - the opportunity had presented itself, and now it was a reality.  I walked the pier and thanked God for everything that He has done in my life...through all the mistakes and the pain and the hurt and the issues, He has made something incredible inside me.  I am so pleased and grateful for where I am now, in nursing school, with three amazing children, working toward a better future and enjoying every minute of the present as much as I can.  And now we have even been blessed with the promise of a new home, for me and my children, with no roommates!  I can't even believe that I have come so far.  The wind whipped my hair as I walked and prayed and my tears flowed.  It was beautiful and fulfilling.  And then the sun came out.
It's a beautiful day in San Diego

I checked out of my hostel at 11am and didn't need to be at Avis to get my car until 3pm, so I wandered the streets some more and then settled in at Starbucks to blog and enjoy my tea.  Fortunately the hostel didn't mind holding my suitcase behind the front desk, so I didn't need to drag that heavy thing behind me all over San Diego.  I sat in Starbucks for a couple of hours - amazing how we can waste time!  I never had a laptop or iPhone when I last travelled so I had no idea how helpful they would be.  I ended up watching the episode of Survivor that I had missed (due to being on a plane!) on Wednesday night, chatting with several people through Facebook and iMessaging, and checking email.  And then I picked up my bag from the hostel, walked to the bus, and made my way to the car rental agency.

That was the only time during this trip that hasn't gone completely smoothly...but all in all it was just a long lineup.  I chose to head straight into the line rather than visit the restroom first, so by the time I finally got through the queue about forty-five minutes later, I was bursting.  I dashed into the bathroom and then collected my beautiful little Ford Focus.  It took a while to figure out how to open the trunk (how sad) but after I drove out of the lot and found my way to the highway, it was smooth sailing all the way.  I drove to Temecula in a little over an hour, singing at the top of my lungs, a/c blasting. 

The only hitch was that the car was revving a little high - I couldn't figure out why it was consistently nearing 6 when I knew it should be much lower than that.  I wondered if it was a problem with the car itself or just this particular model, but couldn't do a lot to investigate while I was driving at 70mph (heehee...I figured out the mileage no problem!) so I decided I would check it out and read the manual when I had a chance to stop.  It was about forty-five minutes into the drive when I noticed the digital display on the dashboard and realized that I had been racing down the highway in low gear.  Ooooops.  Jammed it into D (which I thought I had already been using - I even double-checked on the gearbox, but I guess it was harder to see than I thought it was!) and the revs dropped to between 2 and 3.  Much better.  Good thing I was so observant.

I found my hotel in Temecula and got settled in, ordering room service, eating it on my king-sized bed while watching TV, painting my toenails and in general being a lazy bum.  It was great.  After a bath, I fell asleep at nine-thirty at night, and this morning woke up to another cloudy day.  But there's a lot more today yet to come, so I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.  Think I may go down to the pool now...

To be continued!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

My California Adventure - Day One

Day 238
127 Days Remaining

I think that there can be nothing scarier than venturing out on your own and doing something that is completely outside of your comfort zone.  Yet there can be nothing more rewarding than pushing through and doing it anyway.

I am sitting in Starbucks in Ocean Beach, San Diego, California.  Yesterday was Day One of my California Adventure - the first time that I have ever traveled alone, and the first real vacation that I have had in many years.
Ocean Beach Pier, San Diego, California
I was really panicking on Tuesday evening - I was supposed to work that evening, but thankfully my scheduler called and asked if I would like the day off since in order to prepare for my trip.  What a gift!  I was so grateful for the opportunity to get things done, but I still found myself really pressed for time.  I had to research and write a paper for my Nursing 111 class, pack my suitcase, prepare everything, tell my roommates I am moving out (oh yes - I found a new home!!  But more on that later), and make meals for my day of travel.  I was so tired after I finished the paper (an hour and a half - record time - although I really have no idea what I wrote) that I couldn't focus on packing the suitcase.  My roommate Fig had to help me (although saying "I packed for China in an hour and it worked out fine" wasn't as helpful as he may have thought it would be) and I finally sank into bed, exhausted, around 11pm.  Thanks to a sleeping pill, I zonked out immediately until my alarm went off at 5am.

My day yesterday started with school - I had clinical practice, which essentially is a once-a-week rotation where I and my classmates go to a seniors' facility and work with the residents to help them with their activities of daily living (or ADLs, as we call them).  This is always rewarding for me, despite the fact that I have already been doing the job for several years.  It's a new perspective for me to look as though through the eyes of a nurse rather than just the eyes of a Care Aide, and although I knew yesterday was going to be a long day, I really enjoyed my morning with the residents.  I did a bunch of nursing assessments, such as checking blood pressure, listening to heart and lung sounds, and assessing sleep & rest patterns.  It was a good start to my day, despite getting up so early.

And then suddenly the practice was finished and I realized it was time to head to my dad's house with my suitcase.  I was strangely calm as my classmate drove me there and I unloaded my suitcase, although I had a moment of panic when Dad didn't immediately answer the intercom and let me in.  I thought he may have forgotten, and there I was standing outside his building with my suitcase, my carry-on, my purse and my stomach full of butterflies.  Finally, though, he answered, and when I got up to his apartment he had a lovely lunch of lasagna, salad and dessert waiting for me.  I felt very well taken care of...and it made me even more anxious about the notion of striking out on my own and not having anyone to look after me!

At the airport, Dad dropped me off at the Departures gate and hugged me goodbye. I suddenly clung to him as I recognized that once he left, I was going to be completely on my own. He drove off, I walked into the airport, and immediately had to put on my "I'm in charge" hat.

And it stayed on.  I went to my airline desk and checked in - paying $21 for my luggage! What is that?! - and then settled in to relax until it was time to board.  It was easy.  I had gotten through the first hurdle.  And as I waited I finished up a little bit of homework that is due the day after I get back, so now if I feel the urge, I can study for finals but not worry about finishing up assignments.  Just before I was about to board, I got a text from my pal Dent saying that he was in the terminal for work and would come say goodbye.  It was so nice to get a send off from one of my best friends.
Picture taken by Dent at the Departures gate

A quick flight to Seattle and I was again in Sea-Tac airport (my least favorite airport...not that I have a lot of experience with them) and had to go through customs and collect my baggage.  It all went so smoothly that I wondered why I had worried.  At the luggage carousel I struck up a conversation with a lovely girl from Victoria who was also travelling to San Diego, and we ended up spending the whole layover together.  She was a great conversationalist; she studies psychology and works in rehabilitation with people who have acquired brain injuries, so we never stopped talking.  With the two of us together, it was much easier to find our way through the big airport (really? we have to ride three trains to get from one set of gates to another?) and once we had located where our Seattle-San Diego flight was to depart from, we sat nearby in the airport restaurant and had a great dinner of sourdough bread and salmon poke (she had clam chowder, which looked amazing).  I talked her into trying my signature chocolate martini and we toasted our solo adventures and chatted for two hours.

Our departure time was 6:50, so at 6:25 we settled our bill and leisurely made our way back to Gate C11, where both our itinerary on the screen and our boarding passes had stated we were loading from.  As we started to get in line, I noticed that the Destination marker above the entrance said "Sacramento" and not "San Diego".  "Wait a second," I said; "we're not going to Sacramento." We double-checked our tickets and just as I started to get worried, my travel companion suggested we check the flight board again.  Upon checking, we discovered that our gate had been changed to Gate N3.  We had fifteen minutes until boarding at this time.  We looked at each other and then dashed to the train.

Three trains later we raced up to our gate to find that they were loading already.  We made it into the plane with just minutes to spare and congratulated ourselves for keeping cool heads.  We both were grateful that we had linked up - for some reason it makes everything easier to have someone sharing it with you.

The view from 30,000 feet in the air

Once we landed in San Diego at 9:35pm, my new friend and I found our way to the shuttle busses and said goodbye, but not before we promised to add each other to Facebook.  And with that, I was on my own again, but way less scared than I had been.  It was dark out, so it wasn't possible to see what San Diego looked like, but I could see the palm trees and it reminded me of my past vacations in Mexico and Florida.  I was instantly relaxed.

The complimentary shuttle took me straight to my hostel, a funny little place right near the beach where I settled into a six-bed room where one girl was already snoring away in her bunk.  I got washed up and undressed as quietly as possible, signed into my email to send my friends and family a quick promise that I was safe and everything was all right, and then fell straight to sleep, proud of myself, excited about what the next day would bring, and at peace.

To be continued!