Sunday, May 20, 2012

America's Pastime

I didn't know it at the time, but my world changed on May 20, 1990.  

A mere 12 days earlier, I had turned 7, and my mom's sister (aka Auntie) decided to take me to my first baseball game.   There were four of us in the group:  Auntie and Benita, me, and my just turned 5 year old sister.   I am almost certain that Al and I spent the night at Auntie and Benita's that Saturday (in Cleveland Heights) and drove together to Cleveland Municipal Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie.  It was glove day; a ploy to get families to come out to the Mistake on the Lake in order to take home a 'free' souvenir and fill in a fraction of the seats in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on what could be a beautiful late spring afternoon, or what might also be a frigid day with strong winds blowing off the lake.  The box score shows that it was a  rather successful promotion, with more than 20,000 in attendance.   (It doesn't mention the weather, but I think it was a pretty nice day)

Sadly, we didn't stay til the end (Tribe lost 8-7) because my sister was ready to go before the 9th inning came 'round.   Three hours is a long time for a pre-schooler to sit still, and ballparks did not have play lands at that time.    I do remember not wanting to leave, and will forever remember Benita 'directing' the nonexistent traffic as we crossed over a bridge to the parking lot.

Note: this photo was not taken the day of the game, but it was taken that summer and gives you an idea of our ages

Lucky for me, Auntie took me to many, many, many more games in my youth and into adulthood.  She always explained what was happening when I was small, teaching me about the ball/strike count, why a runner could steal a base, and what a double play meant.  As I got older, I learned about specific players, legends and goofballs alike.  Somewhere along the way I taught myself how to keep score, and taught Auntie what was likely the only tidbit of baseball she didn't yet know.

I learned the history of the Cleveland Indians.  Sports fans will know this can be a bit of a painful history, and might question why we'd talk about it, but "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."   One might argue that we both remember AND repeat the past in Cleveland but that's a story for another day.   Auntie was a fan starting in the 1960s.  A fair-weather fan she was not.  Auntie's favorite player as a child was Max Alvis, and she still has his baseball card.   Through lows, highs, and mostly lows, Auntie is an Indians fan.   She has said, numerous times, that before she dies, she'd like to see the Indians win the World Series just once.   (Auntie was born in 1955, so while I'm hoping they'll have a lot of time to win, I am also hoping they'll win many times in that timespan!)

I realize that I lived through some of the most exciting years of Indians history, and they came during the 'formative' years when I was becoming a fan.  I went to playoff games, and even saw a World Series game in 1997 (yes, when it snowed).   I attended the All-Star game workout day in 1997 and watched the home run contest.  My dresser was full of Indians t-shirts, my bookcase stocked with baseball books, and I never went to a game without my Tribe hat.   After the powerhouse diminished slightly, my enthusiasm did not wane.  I went to night games in April when the thermometer was 38 at game time.

I sat in the bleachers in August in full sun.  My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I drove to Detroit and Chicago to see our team play in other ballparks.   When we moved out of northern Ohio in 2005, we subscribed to's sports package so we could follow the Tribe every day, no matter where we were.  Our subscription continues to this day, and without fail every day we watch a Tribe game.

What I'm trying to say is that my first game opened the door to what has become a huge part of my life.  When I was in grade school it allowed me to spend a few uninterrupted hours with my Auntie.  In middle school and high school being a baseball fan gave me something interesting (and legit!) to talk to the boys about, and keeping score was a great conversation starter.   Almost every night during baseball season I fell asleep with the radio on, listening to Tom Hamilton call the play-by-play of my Tribe.  For me, summer was swimming and baseball.   When I was in college, Auntie and I took a trip to Cooperstown, NY, a mecca for baseball

It's probably better if I put this into context.   Auntie went to her first baseball game in the early 60s with her dad, brothers, cousins and uncle.   She was the only girl.   She kept the ticket stub, and still has it, to this day, displayed in her home office, which we affectionately refer to as The Shrine.   You see, Auntie has been collecting baseball memorabilia (almost exclusively Indians related, spanning 100 years) for more than 50 years.  The Shrine is chock full of books, pennants, bobble heads, tickets, and even seats from Cleveland Stadium, and a turnstile from League Park.

Seriously, aren't these seats great?  Appropriately, I am sunburned from sitting outside at a baseball game

Alison holding a vintage ticket while walking through the old turnstile.  
You can see the Cleveland Stadium seats behind her

Some items are of value, and others, like her first ticket stub, are purely sentimental.   Lucky for me, she kept the stub from my first game because, as she said just this week, "these things are extremely important"

I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair

Yes, we're still talking about California.   We are almost done, which is probably a good thing because if I wait much longer, I am bound to forget more than I already have.   I should probably take better notes.  Or just blog more frequently after such fun.

Anyway.   I mentioned that we went on a super cool tour of San Francisco.  It was a great way to spend several hours (with bathroom stops thankyouverymuch) but it did not cover everything that we wanted to see.   Truth be told... neither did we.  There is just too much cool stuff for our short jaunt.  We must go back.  And we shall, some day.  Here are some highlights as to what we did without the tour guide.

Aside from seeing many cool spots during-- and after-- the tour, Michael did not disappoint in the food department.   I did not take pictures of everything.   I am so not that girl.  Mostly because I am hungry 99% of my waking hours and by the time I think to take a picture I am halfway done with the food.  Oh well!

Soups in bread bowls from Boudin.   And some wine from Sonoma, naturally.  This is all placed precariously on the little tiny end table in our hotel room.   It worked great, and it was the cheapest dinner we had all week.   And perhaps the tastiest.

Michael enjoying Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista, which claims to have brought the drink over from Ireland.   Thank you, Buena Vista.  Good idea.

OK so I wanted to stop for donuts, not Michael.   No surprise there  We were walking on Fisherman's Wharf and the mini donuts were calling to me.  I didn't want to disappoint them.  They were delish.

Also while on the Wharf, we took a few touristy pictures.  I couldn't resist.

The sea lions have been there for more than 20 years

Pier 39 (obviously) with Alcatraz behind us

We had to take the boat out there!  So so so windy (again... common theme)

Check out the ROCK!

Michael is in a jail cell?  Yeah.  Had to take a picture of that one!

Aside from learning all about "the most secure prison in the United States" via their very informative audio tour, we also made it to Lombard Street 

and rode the cable cars numerous times

Fun, but talk about inefficient transportation!  If it weren't so hilly I am quite confident I could outrun a cable car any day of the week.

Verdict of our California Trip:
I cannot believe it took us each 28 years to get out there.  Rest assured, we will be back to further explore San Francisco, wine countries, and new areas, too.  It sounds cheesy, but in my opinion, it is so cool that the country is so divers in its people and landscapes and what is has to offer.  There is no excuse to not take advantage of as much as we can!  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Turn 29 and Ride a Dolphin

For serious!  As you know, I spent the first day of my 29th year enjoying a birthday gift experience, which just happened to be swimming with dolphins.  More specifically, I swam with them, rode one, and kissed another!   [Disclaimer: This is a long one.   Grab a snack or at least your favorite beverage before settling in]

First of all, to call Discovery Cove a theme park is a complete disservice.  It is a beautiful oasis of tropical plants and animal life.  The park is owned by SeaWorld, so you can imagine that the focus is on interacting with marine animals.   As you might imagine, the dolphin swim is the highlight, but Discovery Cove also includes the opportunity to interact with - and feed! - exotic birds (NOTE: My sister would run screaming for the hills), tropical fish, stingrays, and some other critters as well.

Let me give you a little snapshot so you can try to include it in your next trip to the Sunshine State.  To start off, DC is different in that admission is all-inclusive.  It includes unlimited food and drink.  Breakfast is ready when you get there, and it's not just toast and coffee.   Hot breakfast fit for a king (including eggs, yuck) and then of course tons of food options for lunch, but the snack bars all around the park are included too.  Even the beer!  And frozen rum drinks!  Oh my gosh!!!!

In addition to the smorgasbord, you are provided with a snorkel/mask, wet suit, neoprene vest, and unlimited towels.  You also get a decent sized locker to stow your stuff.  DC itself is amazing, but they sweeten the deal by including admission to SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay within a 14 day window.   (This may not be as amazing if you are vacationing here for a long weekend.   But for those of us living here... that window is just lovely)

And one more tidbit that makes DC unique: advance reservations are required, and the park limits capacity to 1000 guests each day.  This results in a top notch, boutiquey experience.   It kind of feels like you are at the spa.  But with animals in salt water.  Truly, the bathroom facilities are quite spa like, with their Crabtree and Evelyn products scattered about.

Alright, my commercial for Discovery Cove has ceased.  I mentioned the dolphin swim is the highlight,  and it's where we ended up first.  When you arrive in the morning, you are assigned a dolphin swim time.  Ours happened to be the first of the morning.  Nothing like starting the day with a bang!  You also pose for a 'complimentary' photo; ours is below.  Not bad for 8am and no hair and makeup if you ask me.

The main attraction and highlight of DC is the dolphin swim.  You're in the water for about 30 minutes, which as you may guess, goes by in a flash and doesn't feel near long enough.  Michael and I are posing with Cindy, the oldest dolphin at the park (she is in her mid-40s).  We also each got to ride her!   Cindy is  a champ and did all the work.  All I did was hold on to her dorsal (top) fin and left pectoral flipper and let her tow me to shore.  It was a blast.

After everyone in our small group of 8 enjoyed a ride with Cindy, we got to meet Hurley.   Hurley is just a baby; he's 2 years old and too small to ride.   He is still learning his tricks, but was able to show us several moves, including spinning, making various sounds, waves, and my favorite, splashing us in the face with his tail fluke.   In addition to these talents, Hurley was quite the social butterfly.   He posed with everyone, and even let us all kiss him.   I got to kiss him twice- I don't really know why, but I did not complain!  We got along splendidly.

By the time we had to say goodbye to Hurley, it was only 10 am and our day had just begun.   We made stops at SeaVenture which is sort of hard to explain, truly.  It's described as an underwater walking tour.   Which it is.... but there's a little more to it.  Basically, participants wear ridiculous looking helmets in order to be able to breathe while going into deep water (without needing SCUBA equipment or training).  The helmet is weighted so that you stay on the bottom of the pool and are able to walk among various fish and stingrays.   SCUBA certified divers go with you, and they let you hold sea urchins and sea slugs, and also release a bunch of fish food in front of your face, so that fish come swimming around you from all sides.  I kind of felt like I was walking on the moon, but underwater with fish.   Does that make sense?  It's cool. Trust me.

After the dolphin swim and pretending to be Neil Armstrong under water we were ready for dry land.  Lucky for us the aviary was near by.  Unlike the more typical bird walk throughs, DC's is designed for interaction.   Upon entering, you have the opportunity to pick up a cup of fruit and nuts so that the birds will come and eat from your hands.  I am thinking that my sister, who has a known fear of birds, would opt out of this experience.  It seems I am in the opposite camp.   The first few minutes we were in the building, three different birds landed on me and Michael called me Snow White.  That's ok; she's cute.

This is Chandler, a Guira Cuckoo
There are many Guiras flying around named Monica, Ross, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe.  The second generation includes Gunther, Janice, Carol, etc.  You get the picture

Michael claimed to be 'scared' of the Great Curassow, but they got along just fine.  

This Green Aracari landed on me out of nowhere and scared me big time.  He's quite large 

The Lady Amherst's Pheasant had the most gorgeous feathers, and was apparently quite hungry

This guy had no interest in the food provided in the dishes; instead he went for Michael's big toe- repeatedly!   There are no injuries to report.

The brightly colored Eastern Rosella stood out in this tree.   I bet he gets a lot of treats

We each had our very own Speckled Mousebird to feed.   These little guys are quite social and for some reason loved us.   They sat on our arms for several minutes and chattered away

My bird was, appropriately, picky with her food.   She sat on my hand and sorted through each piece of fruit, chattering when a piece was not to her liking.  She was hysterical

The Trumpeter Hornbill likes grapes; I fed him some

See?  The Great Curassow is back for more snacks!

This guy was such an attention hog.  They have a girl peacock in here so the 2 males will strut around with their feathers displayed.   It is quite impressive.

We spent the remainder of our day at the Great Reef, snorkeling among schools of fish, reef sharks, eels (which I did not see) and sting & eagle rays.  At one point we came upon a huge school of fish- there were hundreds and hundreds of them- all swimming almost directly in front of us.  It's amazing to see only fish to your left and right, and to be swimming in the with them instead of watching though an aquarium.   Our final stop was the  Wind-away river, which is the perfect place to relax.  The river winds all around the park and feels like a tropical river with rocks on the bottom of the floor, various plants and waterfalls scattered throughout.  The river actually winds through the aviary, and offers another way of experiencing the birds.

Let me tell you, after all this frolicking, we were tired.  Thankfully, all that lay in store for me that evening was ice cream cake and presents..... yahoo!   I was quite popular this year and received many cards,  multiple boxes in the mail, and even birthday cookies and balloons from one of my colleagues.  When you're a little kid birthday presents sort of seem like part of the deal.  But when you are a grown up and people remember you with a card or a box or even a song on your voicemail, you feel pretty good.   I am a lucky girl!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How to Celebrate Your 29th Birthday

If it's a weekday, start by requesting the day off.   Be sure to do so several month ahead so your boss will have no other requests and will have no choice but to give you time off.  Start daydreaming of the free day you will have.  Ponder the the big decisions: Should I eat a chocolate croissant for breakfast?   Should I eat ice cream breakfast?   Is it ok to do both on your birthday?  (For the record, I say yes)  Will I get a pedicure?  What color polish will I choose?  How fun will it be to look at my watch at 10:30am when the others will be in a meeting?  etc. etc. etc.   Tell your husband of your plans.

-Flash forward to the month of your birthday-

By this time you will have had time to ponder the important questions, above.  Your husband will have something up his sleeve that will quite possibly get in the way of the pedicure.   You see, instead of giving you a wrapped gift in a box, he has decided to give you an experience.   This floats your boat because you don't like 'stuff' and an experience is fine and dandy with you.   The best part is, you will want it to be a surprise, and your husband will indulge you.  You will still think about the different places you might be going, which will keep you entertained for quite awhile.  Your husband will then ask you a completely random question which will throw you off the guessing game farther than you can even imagine.   In my case it was the following:

M: Jules, I have a weird question.  But just go with it.
M: Pink or blue?
J: Excuse me?
M: Pink or blue?
J: In what context?
M: Just pick one
J: Am I going to eat it?  Or wear it?  
M: As an accessory
J: Seriously?
M: Just answer the question Jules
J: OK.   This is scaring me.   Pink?

-Flash forward to the day before your birthday-

Your coworkers will have found out you are taking the day off, even though you all work from home and communicate pretty much 100% via instant messenger.   They will start to ask questions that you cannot answer.   What are you doing for your birthday?  Where are you going?   What is Michael getting you for your birthday?   You will enjoy being clueless.

That evening, your husband will present you with a wrapped gift.  You will question the gift, based on his decison to give you an experience rather than a wrapped box.  He will say it's a clue so that you can get ready for the next day and for the impending surprise gift.  You will open the box and find this:

The shocking pink (you did say pink earlier this month, remember?) water shoes will be your clue but you will remain confused.  "Where are we going?"  "Discovery Cove to swim with dolphins!"   You will then start screaming.  Your husband may wish he had bought himself earplugs as part of the gift giving.

Y'all.   This is exciting for many reasons:
  • I have always wanted to swim with dolphins.   Like for years.... since I was a small fry.  
  • Discovery Cove is one of the few attractions in Orlando that I have not experienced
  • The weather in May is hot and therefore perfect for frolicking in saltwater with creatures
  • It would be an experience I won't soon forget and there is no 'stuff' in my house except for water shoes, but I can totally use those again so I am OK with it.

So...  the morning of May 8, 2011, we woke up around 7:30 (trust me... this is sleeping in at my house), threw on our swimsuits and water shoes and headed for the park.  It was a-ma-zing!  I'm going to write a second post all about it, since it was so darn cool.   But here is a photo to hold your interest in the interim.

You'll note that both Hurley and I were super pumped that morning.    We are sporting the same smile, after all.   While swimming with the dolphins was certainly the highlight, the park has a bunch of cool features so I will tell you about them next time.  But while we're on the subject of birthdays, can I just say that for the past few years, mine have been pretty rockin'.     I am a lucky girl.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

California, Here We Were!

Nothing like stretching out a vacation for an extra month, right?   But it's not like I did it on purpose.   You see, I had a bit of a distraction with a snake in my yard.  And then I had to go eat some pie.   Now that all those fun distractions are out of the way.... I can finish talking about my vacation.

As I have mentioned previously, our California trip was essentially split into two halves: Wine Country and San Francisco.  The pro: we got to see two awesome places.  The con: we did not see near enough of each place!  I have already summarized, in great detail, the three days spent wine tasting.

Since we were California -and therefore San Francisco- newbies, Michael wisely decided to book us a bus tour upon arrival in the City By the Bay.   But, Michael being Michael, he found a deal on Groupon for a new tour company that uses a small (think airport shuttle van) bus that gets to the standard tour stops, but also takes guests to many more fun, out of the way places.   It was a blast.   The photo below was taken in a little turn around between Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro, near a ginormous cell tower.   Despite the low clouds (aka fog) it was a great view.

In four hours we saw pretty much all the main San Francisco tourist spots, from Alamo Square (Full House picnic spot)

 to the Golden Gate Bridge (across the bay, too!) 

from Haight-Ashbury (notice the clock is set to 4:20!)

to Union Square

If you are planning a trip to San Francisco, I highly recommend the tour company, City by the Bay Tours.  Our driver, Jason, was a riot, and was very knowledgable about the city.  And!   He had a soundtrack.   Cheesy?   Perhaps.  But I liked hearing "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" in the morning, and then driving back over the bridge to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"

We actually did quite a bit of exploring on our own aside from the guided tour... more on that next time.   I should be able to conclude the trip by the end of May!