Changes

Things are changing at work…again.  But this time, I think it’s for the better.  I’m getting out of the weekend unit.

It all happened within the space of a week.  On a Tuesday, Shelley randomly asked me if I would be interested in moving over to LHM (aka normal adjuster land).  Of course I said yes.  That Thursday I had an interview with my potential new manager, and by the next Monday a new girl had accepted an offer to be my replacement.  By Wednesday she passed her drug test and everything became final (or, at least, as final as anything ever is at AAA before it actually happens).  I have 2 weeks to train the new girl from knowing absolutely nothing about insurance to being able to handle claims …. all while getting a full claim load myself.  Should be interesting….

 

But the bottom line is that on August 13, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be permanently switching to a M-F schedule.  The 9:30-6 schedule is not the 8-4:30 I expected, but considering that I won’t have to work weekends and holidays, it’s worth it. I’ll miss my coworkers, but Brian’s in the process of interviewing for a new job (he actually got an offer Thursday, but rejected it), and Mark’s getting to that point, so it’s not like I’d get to work with them even if I stayed.  From what I’ve heard, my new manager is just as “ditzy” as my current one and also plays favorites, but I’m used to that.  Anyway, come November I’ll start looking for a new job as well, so what’s a couple months of more of the same, but with a better schedule? (Although being off during the week would make looking for a new job easier…)

Something new

Yesterday morning I got a call from Emily with a last minute dinner invitation at her parents’ house.  She was back in the area with her bf Zach, and her former Indian host-brother and host-sister were also going to be there with a couple of their friends.  I had nothing planned and hadn’t seen her in a couple of months, so of course I accepted.  I’d never had Indian food before that I recall, but Susie (Emily’s mom) really outdid herself.  There was tomato chicken, a bread called naan, Indian-style rice, and curry for dinner, and Mexican sopapilla for dessert.  It was all tres delicious – even the chicken, and that’s coming from someone who rarely eats meat willingly 🙂

Family Time

Last weekend I headed up to Taste of Chicago with my family – our first family vacation since Disney in December 2010 (it’s prohibitively expensive to travel with 6 people, and with my dad being laid off and then finding a job that pays about half what he used to make, vacations are shorter and farther between).  We took the train up early Friday morning. It was a grueling 5.5 hour journey for the kids, but they managed to behave themselves fairly well.  After getting to the hotel, eating lunch, and waiting for a brief afternoon thunderstorm to pass, we spent the remainder of the afternoon/evening at Navy Pier.  We also went on an architectural riverboat tour.  Chicago’s no NYC, but I must admit that the downtown area is very pretty.  The tour even featured my (hopefully) future school:

Note the lack of windows on the left-hand side – that’s where all the classrooms are. Apparently the architects thought windows overlooking the river would be too distracting.  They were probably right…

The next day was spent at Shedd Aquarium, the next at the Field Museum and Taste of Chicago.  It was nothing I hadn’t done before (except for Taste of Chicago, which was just a whole lot of food vendors set up in the park), but, then, the trip wasn’t really for me, it was for the little kids.  They had fun, and that was the most important part.  The train ride home was much better than the train ride up.  We ate dinner on the train, then I played cards with the two youngest kids in the dining car for a little over an hour, and then they changed into PJs and slept for the last three, which gave me time to bond with my eldest brother for a little bit.  Depending on my money situation, I think I want to take him with me to Europe in 2014 for his 16th b-day.  He’s really into WWII, so I figured we could go to Munich and Berlin for him, and Amsterdam for me.  It all depends on my vacation time and salary, but I really, really want to make it happen, so here’s hoping 🙂

 

Vancouver- June 26th-29th

My arrival to Canada was….let’s just say, less than auspicious.  I took the Amtrak up, and while going through customs I apparently didn’t pass their test (you see, it’s very suspicious that I’m traveling on my own for the sake of traveling and pack lightly.  That alone is just cause to consider me a drug smuggler…).  So I had to go through “secondary screening” which was another interrogation by a border patrol agent while he completely unpacked my bag and went through all of the pictures on my camera.  I half expected him to ask for the password to my phone.  He kept asking me why I looked nervous, and it took all my willpower not to respond that I wasn’t nervous, I was ticked.  Not surprisingly, they didn’t find anything and I was free to go, but I was not a happy camper…..

Luckily, the day got better from there.  After checking in at the hostel I went to one of my favorite places in Vancouver – Granville Island.  It’s a tourist trap and public market all in one.  I loved all the cheap produce and wonderful treats (I had maple-walnut gelato twice during my 3.5 day stay). The hustle and bustle reminded me of NYC, but I’m not sure even NYC has a place quite like this.

After Granville, I headed downtown to walk around old Gastown (Vancouver’s historical district) and Canada Place

Gastown and the Steam Clock

“Gassy Jack” in Gastown, on the site where Vancouver was founded

Canada Place

Olympic Torch – Winter 2010 Games

The next day I went to another of my favorite places – Stanley Park.

I also hit up Chinatown, which ended up being much less tourist-oriented than all other Chinatowns I’ve ever been to.  I walked around forever searching for Bubble Tea, but none was to be found.  I actually had to leave Chinatown and head back downtown in order to find some, which just blew my mind.

That evening I decided to try to watch the sunset from Sunset Beach (naturally), but due to some low lying clouds I didn’t get the experience of watching the sun dip beneath the mountains.

I did, however, get to see the famed Inukshuk.  The Inukshuk is a human-like figure made of stones which the Native Americans and Eskimos used to construct in Northern Canada and Alaska as a kind of trail marker.  The Inukshuk was chosen as the symbol of the 2010 Winter Olympic games and has come to represent the human spirit and a sense of friendship and all being in this together – in other words, it lets you know that you’re not alone.  For some reason, this just really resonates with me.  Can you imagine traveling in a small nomadic group through the arctic hundreds of years ago, perhaps beginning to doubt if you’re on the right track when you come upon a larger-than-life Inukshuk, and suddenly you know that, not only are you on the right track, but someone’s been there before you?  You may never actually see them in your lifetime, but you know that they’re there, experiencing the same exact things you are, walking the same trails.  I think it’d be just a bit awe-inspiring.

The next day I walked around some of the beaches in south Vancouver, killed the rest of the morning on Granville, then heading back downtown to take the Seabus to Lonsdale Quay, which is like another Granville Island).

The following morning was filled with another trip to Stanley Park and Granville before I headed to the bus station to take the Greyhound back to the States.  Luckily the border crossing went more smoothly, though the agent did look like he was thinking about making me go through another secondary search.  Seriously, is it really that odd to travel for the sake of traveling?  I know that some people think traveling alone is odd, but is that really just cause to look at me like I’m a criminal?

Anyway, much like Seattle, I’m glad I came to Vancouver, but I don’t necessarily need to come again.  I guess I really am more of an East Coast/ Midwest girl after all 🙂

******

Where I Stayed

Samesun Vancouver Hostel / 4 person dorm

Pros:  Free breakfast started at 6am (even though it was only toast and jam, it was better than nothing) / Great location on the main street (Granville) / Plenty of showers and bathrooms

Cons: Wifi didn’t reach the room

Favorite Parts:

-Granville Island

-Stanley Park

-Canada Place waterfront area

San Juan Island- June 24th

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip (and the most logistically challenging) was my day-long kayaking adventure on San Juan Island, Washington.  I had to get the rental car the night before since public transit to the airport didn’t start in the morning until I would need to be leaving.  So I drove a rental car for the first time into a city I’d never been to before at ten o’clock at night in search of parking.  Amazingly, it actually went pretty smoothly and I found some free street parking just a couple of blocks from my hostel.

Interlude: I’d always assumed my Versa was in the compact class of cars until I had the misfortune of renting a Chevy Malibu.  My head was literally hitting the top of the car and the blind spots were absolutely horrid. I’ll never take my spacious, stream-lined, open car for granted again.

I left Seattle just after 6am and drove about 2 hours to Anacortes. From there I took the ferry to quaint Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  It reminded me of Port Jefferson on Long Island, if a bit smaller.

About an hour later, the kayaking guide, Sam, arrived to pick up me and the other seven people in our group.  There was one other solo traveller, so the numbers worked out perfectly.  We loaded into the van and drove about twenty minutes to the launching dock.  Along the way, Sam pointed out a teepee in a field and claimed it was his humble abode.  We all thought it was joking, but on the water we found out that he was telling the truth.  He’s a university student majoring in marine biology who helps run kayaking tours in the summer.  He found a teepee on Craigslist and rents a plot of land for $100 a month.  He’s supposed to have electricity, but the landlords haven’t gotten around to running an extension cord out to the teepee, so right now he’s living rough.  He has a 5 gallon barrel buried in the ground which he uses to store beer, cheese, and bread (you know, the essentials), and he has a fire pit inside to cook food and keep warm.  I have to admit, it seems like a pretty cool existence, especially since he gets to do what he loves.

Sam, AKA Teepee Man

We kayaked about 8 miles round-trip in 5 hours.  Unfortunately we didn’t encounter any Orcas.  It was too early in the season and in kayaks we can’t go out to the deep sea where they’re more likely to be.  Some people in the group were extremely bummed, but I’d known that the chances of seeing them were low, so I was prepared to enjoy the day, Orcas or no.  The weather was gorgeous, the landscape was beautiful, and we did hear/see many other things such as bald eagles, seals, and jelly fish.

I also had the opportunity to eat kelp (aka seaweed) straight from the sea.  During one of our breaks in a kelp forest, Sam just reached into the water, tore off some kelp, and started chowing down.  Of course, we all had to follow suit, because how many people can say they’ve done it?  It was….interesting.  The only way I can think to describe it is slimy, pickled lettuce.  It wasn’t horrible, but it’s definitely not on my favorite foods list.

Kelp

After we made it back to dry land, I discovered to my horror that my so-called waterproof bag was not so waterproof after all, and my iPhone had been sitting in salt water for the better part of 4-5 hours.  At first, it worked just fine.  Then it shorted out…..  As soon as we got back to Friday Harbor I rushed to the grocery store, bought some rice and a Ziploc bag, and put my phone inside. For the next 90 minutes my mind was racing – should I buy a junk phone to tide me over until the new iPhone comes out this fall?  How would that affect my upgrade eligibility?  Should I just buy an alarm clock and give my phone until I got home to come back to life?  How would I call Kim to pick me up from the airport?  etc, etc.   I know I should have waited at least until the next day, but my phone is my lifeline, so I couldn’t resist checking on it an hour and a half later while on the ferry back to Anacortes. It turned on like nothing had happened.  In fact, the volume button on the side which has been on the fritz for the past few months actually works better now than it did before.  iPhone = god. Also, my dependence on iPhone = scary.

Seattle – June 23, 25, 30

No, you didn’t read the title wrong, my time in Seattle really was that fragmented. I arrived in the afternoon on the 23rd and my first stop after the hostel was, of course, the first Starbucks.  It was rather tiny, but very charming.

After a few hours I was obliged to return to the airport to get a rental car for my trip to San Juan (more on that in the next post). Literally all of the 24th was used up on this venture.  On the 25th I started the day by walking along the waterfront up to Discovery Park….unfortunately I was rather underwhelmed.  I took the bus back to the Seattle Convention Center (where the Space Needle is) and spent the rest of the day going up in the Space Needle, taking in the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, and checking out the pop-culture museum known as the EMP (Experience Music Project).  Apparently it’s the 50th anniversary of when the Space Needle was built for the Worlds’ Fair, so all the merchants were really playing it up. Did you know that the person who designed the Space Needle thought that that’s how all buildings in the future would look?  Not sure why he thought we’d build a whole bunch of structures with only three usable floors…. Also, in the spinning restaurant at the top, the floor spins at a different speed from the windowsill, so beware if you happen to place your wallet under the window, because someone at the table behind you will be using your wallet to pay for their meal about 20 minutes later…

On the 26th I left for a brief interlude in Vancouver and returned on the evening of June 29th.  I spent most of June 30th down in the Pike Place/Waterfront area, with a detour back to the Space Needle area in order to get some souvenirs (I must say, I was rather disappointed with the selection – maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places, but if Pike Place and the Space Needle don’t have anything good, where else could you possibly look?).  I visited the Aquarium, took a harbor cruise, and visited the Museum of Flight a little ways south of the city.  While there I got to chat with an old Navy veteran named John.  I normally don’t like being approached by museum staff/volunteers, but he was really sweet and very talkative.  I learned all about how he was from Chicago, moved to Seattle young, and travelled the world with the Navy.  We also discussed the merits of certain air carriers and I turned him into a convert for Southwest 🙂

I didn’t have time to do anything on the 1st other than make myself a quick breakfast and catch the first train to the airport.   Overall, I liked Seattle, but there were a lot more homeless people (of the crazy, pushy variety) and potheads than I expected.  I’m glad I visited, but I don’t feel the need to go back again.

****

Where I stayed:

June 23-25: CityHostel Seattle, 6 person dorm

Pros: Good location in between Pike Place and the Seattle Convention Center / Wifi

Cons: 4 outlets for 6 people…with one of these being used for the fan (no central AC).  You do the math…. / Breakfast didn’t start until 8am, and by that time I was out and about / Only one shower per floor

June  29-July 1st: Green Tortoise Hostel, 8 person dorm

Pros:  Great location right across the street from Pike Place / Free breakfast started at 6am and included make-your-own eggs and pancakes, fruit, toast, and tea / AMAZING bathrooms – as in, hotel quality – very clean with huge showers / The beds all had little draw curtains on the sides and ends so you could have some measure of privacy

Cons: Wifi didn’t reach the room

Green Tortoise Bathrooms – I’d never seen a hostel bathroom I was driven to blog about until now… the picture doesn’t do justice to how big it was

Favorite Parts:

-Pike Place Market (especially the first Starbucks) and the waterfront

-Space needle area

-The weather – contrary to the normal rainy weather pattern, it only drizzled on one of the days I was up there, on the others it was either sunny or partly cloudy.

Carpe Diem

I haven’t had the time or the energy to blog since I got back from Seattle/Vancouver on Sunday (I’ll do that this weekend), but I couldn’t stop myself from putting up a little blurb today.

It’s easy to forget how fragile life is, and how quick it can be taken away.  On Tuesday I was joking around with my coworker Jim.  We chatted about my vacation and his upcoming one (he was so excited to see his granddaughter, who was coming in from Seattle the following week with his son) and was really looking forward to a few extra days off after they went home.  A little later, me, Jim, and Brian were poking our usual fun at our boss (who was on yet another vacation) and just generally indulging in the usual spirit of camaraderie among the oppressed.  On Wednesday night, Jim had a heart attack and was rushed in for open heart surgery.  He didn’t make it.

It took all day for it to really sink in that I was never going to see/hear him again (he only sat a couple of cubes down, so his voice was fairly constant background noise).  Jim was in his mid-50s and, while we weren’t close friends or anything, we were more than friendly acquaintances.  I can’t imagine what his family’s going through.  Death is hard enough, but a completely unexpected death is even worse.  Today was obviously a somber day (and I’m sure it’ll take a while to get back to normal) but at least I can take a little solace in the fact that my last memory of him is him smiling and laughing, as he always, always was.

 

RIP Jim.