In which I give a summary of my vacation to California and how it ties into life and writing.

When Robot Guy gets restless, he wants to head to California and revisit our roots. Both of us were raised there (he was born in Michigan, but grew up in San Diego) and big parts of our families still live there. So we left home just before Labor Day to make the long drive to California. It’s about 11-13 hours in the car, depending on where and how often we stop.

Mind you I like California, but for me it’s not a vacation. Okay, I get a break from cooking (my mother or sister insist on doing all that, or we go to restaurants when we’re out), it’s definitely a chance of venue, and we always try to do a vacationy thing while we’re out there, but California is familiar. To me, a vacation is something new, and California is not that. It’s visiting relatives. We had planned on staying for eight days, and had something planned for everyday.

First was reconnecting with my family. We spent our first full day at my sister’s, in her pool, and in front of the TV. The TV is always on at her house (not a judgment, just a statement of fact). Besides which it was US Open time and my mother, who was also there, is a HUGE tennis fan. Next day was reconnecting with old friends,the man who served as Robot Guy’s Best Man and family. We walked around Hermosa Beach at the end of their weekend festival. Now if you know me, crowds are not my thing, and there was a crowd. But Robot Guy was able to play sand volleyball (just a little) and go body surfing before the lifeguards chased them out of the waves (The big surf caused by a passing hurricane was just coming to its end).

Tuesday was my daughter’s choice of Universal Studios Hollywood. IMG_0636I hadn’t been in decades–the last time I was there, I posed with a life-sized cardboard display of Tom Selleck in Magnum. It’s very different now. Oh, the tour of the studio still exists, but all the details that made it so interesting for movie buffs like I used to be are gone. They don’t point out Lucille Ball’s dressing room anymore (or just barely) and Hitchcock’s old cabana is now an office for some production company. I suppose young people today don’t know Hitchcock. I know I showed my kids PSYCHO and TO CATCH A THIEF as part of their education. But it was fun. The Jurassic Park Ride is a (wet) blast, the Mummy roller coaster is a lot of fun, and the Despicable Me ride is loads of 3D fun. They have some fine shows too. I had visited Universal in Orlando for Harry Potter World before the new expansion and enjoyed it, but was a little underwhelmed. I was raised on Disneyland, you know. I felt the same about Universal Studios Hollywood. They had limited hours now that “summer” is over, but it was the perfect amount of time. And I will have to go back. Why? Harry Potter World is being furiously built in California as I type this.

We drove down to San Diego to visit my father-in-law. Robot Guy and his dad drove around to see the old homesteads, while youngest and I caught a movie–Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (all I can say is it is definitely a Michael Bay film).

But the highlight of our trip was whale watching. We took a catamaran (I say “we”, but “we” did none of the sailing) from Dana Point for three hours on the ocean. I can think of a few words to describe the experience without hyperbole–incredible, amazing, awesome (in its try sense), inspirational, breathtaking. Blue whales have been spotted with some frequency off the coast, and we saw three. BLUE WHALES!

Blue Whale Fluke!
Blue Whale Fluke!

I never thought I’d see them in my lifetime. As a kid I was sure they’d be extinct by the time I reached adulthood. They’re making a comeback, folks.

Back of a blue whale.
Back of a blue whale.

It’s too soon to be complacent, but it does give one hope for the future (Maybe. A little). We also sailed among a huge pod of common dolphins. Watching them frolic in the water, you have to believe they are consciously having fun.  What a day.

We came home from our trip a day early to mow the lawn and do laundry. Besides, the dogs missed us. I got little writing done despite my best intentions (My dear agent: ignore the last sentence. I wrote so much!), and it took us that day to get back into the groove. So now it’s off to the mundane and comfortable. That’s not so bad either.


Books I’m reading now:

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang


The things we do for family. Yesterday Daughter #1 was due home to start a temporary job here in New Mexico. I arranged for a flight (yes, she’s an adult and independent, but when we can help out, we do. She isn’t rich.) for her to come visit before she got the new job. The new job meant we had to change the ticket, which isn’t a problem, but the flight changed from a month from now to next week. Needless to say, no flights were available without a fee. But what can you do? We paid and changed the flight. I”m not complaining. It beats two days of driving or three months in a Conestoga wagon.

She was due in at 11:00 PM. As I implied, we had limited options, and this was the best flight. Unfortunately, the rest of the country doesn’t have wether like New Mexico. Her flight was delayed arriving to her airport from Tampa. Four hours. Which meant that she took off at the time she should have been arriving here. Because of flight trackers on the Internet (thank goodness) we knew about the delay. I went to bed at 9:30 to sleep until I needed to wake up to get her. 1:00AM my alarm went off and I drove to the airport to retrieve her.

I’ve always loved the night. I like the lack of crowds (see my previous post), the relative silence, and I love to imagine for what reason the few people on the road are up at this hour. I actually saw a motorcycle with a man and a woman speeding (without helmets), and I do mean speeding, on the freeway. Her head was thrown back as if she was enjoying the thrill. I was torn between the appreciation of the abandon and the idiocy of riding in such a manner (the idiocy won, by the way–it may look good in movies, but this is real life and I prefer keeping mine). I saw a “nurse” driving home after a long shift waiting to jump into bed (that was for you, Brenda), two sneak thieves making their way from a “job” with their loot, and a man fleeing the house of a woman he  had made the mistake of sleeping with.

Two AM isn’t a time I would normally sacrifice my sleep for even if I do love the night. Society has regulated me into accepting their boundaries, not the ones I would have chosen for myself. But for my kid, I was more than willing. I was eager. Funny. For the right people you’ll do anything and not consider it a sacrifice at all.


Books I’m reading now:

The Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy

The Saga of Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens

I am a huge Harry Potter book fan. I liked the movies okay, but the books are what I return to over and over again.

My new bracelet (that I wanted enough to overcome the frugal bone for) by Ashley Bridget.
My new bracelet (that I wanted enough to overcome the frugal bone for) by Ashley Bridget.

So a few years ago when I was traveling in Germany, I picked up the German copy of the first Harry Potter book. Why I didn’t buy more I’ll never know–probably because I didn’t have a lot of room for books with all the clothes I had to bring and all the souvenirs that came home with us on that trip–but only one book came home with me. I read it as soon as we reached home. And enjoyed it. (Although I have two gripes about two translations–one: while Schnurrbart can colloquially mean a cat’s whiskers, it threw me right out of the story to picture a cat with a mustache; two: Ein Junge überlebt does NOT have the same effect as The Boy Who Lived). So my goal became tracking down a complete set of Harry Potter in German.

Okay, you’d think–go to Amazon and order. Well, I don’t want them as ebooks (I have no problems with ebooks, but some books I must have in tangible form), and since the first one I bought was paperback, I want them all in paperback. New, not used. The paperback versions cost between $40 and $50. I understand the cost of importing, etc, but really? For a brand new unsigned, not rare paperback? Because of my upbringing (immigrant parents who were the products of war, poverty, and communist takeover), I have a very strong frugal bone that I try hard to overcome. Often with little success. I have a really hard time spending money on frivolous things (On the plus side, I live with very little debt. House mortgage, that’s all). So the quest for Harry Potter in German became a real adventure.

I thought acquiring the second book in the series would be easy-peasy. My mother and niece were traveling to Hungary. They had a four hour layover in Munich. Airports have bookstores. I asked my mother to go to the store and buy me book two in the series. I assured her that everyone in Germany speaks English (and that’s true for the most part. When I was there, no one let me speak German. They all spoke English to me. I was quite depressed about it. I know my accent has become terrible over the years, but I have no chance to practice here at home.) and Harry Potter was ubiquitous enough that any bookstore would understand Book 2 in the series.  She couldn’t do it. For whatever reason, my mother couldn’t handle going to the  bookstore and asking, and my niece was too shy to carry out the task herself.

Now the story could have ended here. My mother simply could have said, “I didn’t get it.” I would have dealt with it. Not that big a deal. But no, my mother involved my cousins on my mother’s side who live in Karlsruhe. These cousins are two of the nicest people anywhere. They would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. I can’t ever repay their kindnesses toward me–how they entertained me in Budapest when I was a student abroad, how they hosted my entire family when we traveled to Europe a few years ago. They always go above and beyond. So when they heard I wanted this book in German, they pledged they would get it for me and send it to Hungary to my aunt’s house where my mother was staying, so my mother could pick it up there. Now,these cousins aren’t readers, and don’t understand the worldwide impression that HP created. When they went to the bookstore to get the book, the store didn’t have it. They had #1, and #3-7, but happened to be out of #2. So they left the store and called me to tell me that, see, your mother wouldn’t have been able to find the book even if she had tried, but they could have the book store order the book for me and they would still send it. I immediately said, no, this wasn’t that big a deal, but I believe I mentioned above that these cousins go above and beyond. They wouldn’t hear of me not having this book if I made a special request, so they ordered the book. Interestingly, the bookstore received it the next day because it was already on order (Yes, HP is that big a deal). So they picked up the book and sent it to their parent in Hungary. The guilt I was feeling by this time was enormous. I blame my mother (don’t we all?) for having told these cousins about my quest.

Meanwhile my mother, who is getting up there in age, wasn’t feeling well on her trip. Her blood pressure was elevated, she was feeling stress from having to watch my niece, and so decided to travel home with my niece instead of staying for the two more weeks she had planned. (Don’t worry, Mom is fine now; the blood pressure thing has been taken care of; the good news is that with the levels she reached, if she didn’t blow an artery then, she never will). The book, of course, arrived after my mother left.

So my book, which was supposed to be a time killing task at the Munich airport, was now sitting in my maternal aunt’s house in Hungary.

Fast forward to this spring. My paternal aunt (also Hungarian) decides to travel back to Hungary for a visit. The two sides of the family know each other, if only because they have the emigrants in common. My maternal aunt is willing to get the book to my paternal aunt, if the paternal aunt is willing. Well, it was pretty smooth from there. The book was delivered, and HP#2 in German is sitting in my paternal aunt’s house…in California. My mother lives about 60 miles away from her, which means a good hour and a half drive or longer in SoCal, a drive not taken lightly at their advanced ages.  My mother does not have the book yet.  And I believe I mentioned that frugal bone I inherited above. Even when she does get it, she won’t mail it to me because we shall be visiting at some point, so she can wait until we get there. Save some money.

I never thought collecting a series could be so complicated. I suppose if I tweak a few of the details, it might make a grand farce. Meanwhile book #3 was easy to acquire. A dear friend traveled to Germany with her husband on his business trip and brought it back for me. She doesn’t speak German either and was able to find it without difficulty. It’s now sitting on my table. I can’t read it though. Not until I read book #2 first. There are rules, you know.


Books I’m reading now:

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

A Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (and yes, there’s a reason I’m reading this now; stay tuned)