Friday, August 30, 2019

Buffet Syndrome

     For whatever reason, buffets have long appealed to me.  Be it one of the classics: a pizza lunch buffet, or something a little more elegant like Randolph Air Force Base's Officers' Club champagne brunch held on Sunday mornings, complete with a four-piece band; I've created many memories while satisfying many appetites in the process.

     Childhood memories of Pizza Hut buffets, my once favorite Sizzler (after having returned as an adult, I'm not sure why I loved that place so much.  And it may surprise you know know it still clings to life here on the West Coast), my Catholic confirmation dinner at Olive Garden complete with all you can eat salad and breadsticks, and on this lucky occasion, pasta as well; I even chose Golden Corral to celebrate high school graduation with the family.

     And it didn't stop there.  Branson, Missouri lobster buffet with more than a dozen delectable decapods I enjoyed; a multi-generational family visit to see me wrap up my Plebe Summer training in Annapolis treated me to Buddy's Seafood Buffet, and of course numerous casino buffets along the way.  And I'd be remiss to forget the ultimate buffet, the Brazilian Rodizio.  Whether it be Texas de Brazil, or the one epic night of 3 and 1/2 hours of continuous carnivorous activity in competition for who would be the last to turn that "feed me" token over to red at El Porcao in Miami, I've never left such an establishment hungry - or even comfortably walking.  

     A buffet (at least for me) always seems to be done in excess.  Why would someone eat 14 lobsters or enough steak to satisfy a grizzly bear in one sitting?  Aside from the fact that it is delicious, there seems to be the persistent idea that "I have to get my money's worth."  That statement epitomizes the idea of Buffet Syndrome.

     But the syndrome isn't limited to food, as I've found out.  Anything with a "season pass" is subject to the same approach, with the potential to suffer a similar "I've gone overboard" regret.  For example, we recently had the (possibly once in a lifetime) experience of living for nearly two months in Lake Tahoe, CA with season passes to two of the areas largest ski resorts.  Courtesy of Vail's Epic pass and its incredibly generous price of $100 for military and family members, we intended to take full advantage of the opportunity.  After $300 for our lift tickets for the season (the youngest two kiddos were still free!), and another $400 or so for used ski gear and rentals for Baby A, we were $700 in before we even set skied foot on the slopes.  "We'd better get our money's worth by skiing as often as possible!"  Considering lift tickets with rentals at Heavenly would have cost us nearly $700 for a single day, it shouldn't be too hard to "break even."  But with three young kiddos with no ski experience, and an unknown desire to even learn at this point, I wasn't sure how far we could push it.  

     In the end, we skied a total of approximately 25 days out of the 40 or so available to us.  Not too shabby.  We took Sundays off for church and sometimes a grocery run, had a week off for a quick jaunt out to Florida to celebrate with the wiser still, but not yet elderly Pop, and every 2 weeks we had to move our RV to a new campground in accordance with our membership policy (2 week max stay, then 1 week out, but for a price of $0 per night it's worth it for Lake Tahoe accommodations). 

     More days than not, there was at least one complaining child, either before, during, or after the actual skiing.  Despite that, I didn't quite get that same "we've overdone it" feeling like I did leaving the sushi buffet on our last afternoon in Tahoe.  So I'd say it was a success!

     Our next challenge?  Trying not to overdo it at Six Flags Magic Mountain this summer (meal plans included!)  You can guess I've already crunched the numbers on how many visits we'll need for it to be "worth it."  Let's just hope the kids don't tire of the rides, water park, french fries, churros and bottomless sodas (we usually fill it with sparkling water 😉) before we reach that point.  I'll have to remember that dragging whining children through an amusement park in 100 degree heat searching for the nearest bathroom or shortest line is far from amusing and never worth it, even if we've already paid for it.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ski Lessons

We completed a 6 week crash course in skiing as a family back in April. The learning curve was steep, and I'm not convinced we mastered it completely.  About 8 months ago when Jon found out he wouldn't be enrolled in a training course in Jacksonville when we thought he would be, he asked me what I thought about going to Tahoe and skiing for a while. I opposed, at first. Drive from one side of the country to the other just to ski....with 3 kids?? Nope. I'm good. But, when they released the military Epic pass and Jon smoothly slipped me pictures of Tahoe, I hesitatingly agreed. So the ball started rolling. AJ was the only one of the kids that required a lift ticket and used ski equipment was easy enough to find.  So we began preparing.

The journey across the country is a blog post in and of itself, but the destination was better than I could've expected.  You know how they say a picture's worth a thousand words?  Well being there in person is worth a thousand pictures. Tahoe is breathtaking. As we drove from Carson City across the pass into the Tahoe area you could tell it was going to be a special trip. With snow piled up higher than the roof of the truck this was going to be a very different experience than we've ever had before.

The Campground

The campground we stayed at had a two week limitation with our membership. So we ended up pulling in a total of 3 times. The first time we arrived just before sundown (bad choice on our part).  We found the slip of paper with our site number on it and found it quickly. Only problem is, they had only plowed one plow width. We are 12 feet wide with slide outs and need a bit of wiggle room to maneuver a 41 foot rig into a spot. So we dug, shoveled, and prayed. 4 hours later we were in!

The second time we pulled in was again after hours. (In our defense they frequently close up shop 2 hours prior to the posted closing time) Jon got out and walked the campground to find a staff member or a spot.  We finally found someone who directed us to a pull-through that was about half our length.  It was temporary, fortunately just until someone checked out the next morning. But it took us over 2 hours to dig, shovel and pray our way out of that spot with a small amount of cosmetic damage to one of the slides, eventually pulling into our spot from the previous visit.

Is the third time the charm?? NOPE. We pull in, while they are still open!! Yay! They gave us our spot which, once again, required some digging and shoveling to get into, only to find out that our 45 minutes of effort put us in a spot that has only 30 amp service and we reserved a 50 amp. No big deal right?  Well, with propane over $4 a gallon we run space heaters to keep us warm. And oh by the way, with that nice washer/dryer unit we installed, we'd have to choose between that and the space heaters when on 30 amp. So we pull out and head to a new spot. Fortunately it's the easiest to get in and out of and is nice and spacious.

The Skiing

We primarily skied Heavenly. Like ALL of Heavenly. We did a week at Northstar during our week out of the campground. But we covered Heavenly and then covered it again. After about a week on the bunny hill and magic carpet AJ was going pro, LJ wasn't far behind him, and our fearless little princess warrior was just going along for the ride. She hadn't master turns or stopping, primarily because she just didn't listen to instruction and much preferred flapping her wings as she flew down the harmless bunny hill saying, "I'm a Blutterfly!"  The week was followed by small steps up to green runs, easier blue runs and finally two days before leaving, two black runs as a whole family. At some point towards the end, LJ went from being fearful of blues, to standing at the top of a more difficult run and saying, "Hey Mommy, I'm going to go straight down this whole run, watch me!" And then speeding down a part that put a lump in my throat to go down myself. AJ found himself bored and seeking opportunities to ski through the trees or jump off of a small hill on the side of a run. They both dabbled in some backwards skiing too. While I think we all experienced some burnout over the 6 weeks, we are all looking forward to the next ski season we get to participate in.

*Northstar vs Heavenly: Both resorts are wonderful.  We had ideal conditions on both, but, in my humble opinion, they were vastly different. Heavenly is a park and ski situation. You walk to a lift from the free parking lot and hit the slopes. Great when you are lugging around 5 sets of skis. Northstar is a park and ride the bus or Gondola, then hike through town or the Ritz and then ski. Much more cumbersome with so many youngins.  Northstar had amazing tree runs designed for kids and they even had a jump park for kids too. The boys LOVED that, my knees...not so much. We really enjoyed how they catered to the younger ones once you got on the mountain. Heavenly is more challenging and technical, doesn't have any runs specifically designed for families and kids (except the learning hills at the very bottom) but we really appreciated how easy it was to get from the truck to the lifts to the lodge and back to the truck. We usually ended our day with a packed lunch in the lodge, which was way more challenging at Northstar to do.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Weather Chicken

        I’m always fascinated with the wildlife we encounter in our travels.  In places like Rocky Mountain National Park, we saw moose, black bear, big horn sheep and more all in a single afternoon.  Yellowstone treated us to bison, wolves, elk and pronghorn.  Carlsbad Caverns was memorable of course for the Brazilian free-tailed bats and cave swallows.  

     But sometimes you don’t even have to venture off the highway at all.  On our recent drive north through the Nevada desert to Lake Tahoe, we saw some first-time-for-us wild animals.  Wild horses and donkeys grazing upon the desert highlands, at altitudes of 5,000 ft or higher.  Snow covered land and subfreezing temperatures don’t seem to discourage these hardy creatures.  Every few minutes another small gathering of donkey would be just off the side of the road, oblivious to our 60’ monstrosity barreling down the road.  Several hundred, perhaps one thousand, wild horses were grazing in the water rich valley, clearly happy to be lakeside while surrounded by the arid mountains of the eastern Sierra Nevada's. 

     But this February we even discovered a new creature, unheard of by most.  This animal seemed highly temperamental, and particularly sensitive to cold weather.  Intentions of northern migration could be delayed indefinitely if the animal caught wind of a cold front looming beyond the horizon.  Though the official name is undecided amongst the scientific community, I have come to call this creature the Weather Chicken.

     I’ve become intimately familiar with this particular Weather Chicken’s habits this past month after monitoring just one specimen very closely.   Some say animals have an instinct for impending natural disasters and weather phenomena.  But the flightless Weather Chicken has a different skill.  When venturing into potentially cold climates during mid-winter, the Weather Chicken’s process works something like this…

Step 1: Plan on arriving in Tahoe on February 16th.  (Weather Chickens love skiing and want to maximize time on the slopes.)

Step 2: Open Accuweather App on fancy new smartphone, and observe the following news headlines:

“South Lake Tahoe drops to record low temperatures…”
“South Lake Tahoe Logs 13-below zero, shattering record!”

Step 3: Abandon all plans to travel north.

     See, the Weather Chicken has developed quite the medulla oblongata after decades of honing (I think it has something to do with all that Sudoku), and thus it subconsciously and instinctively knew there was no way in snow heaven (or more precisely, Heavenly), this Weather Chicken was driving… err, flapping… his way north into that kind of weather.  13 degrees BELOW zero?  C’mon now!  I know we’re decked out with a fancy heated water hose (super awesome, by the way – thanks Apple Fam!), but the only place I want to be when this cold front pushes through southern Nevada is in the world’s hottest location.  Conveniently located a mere hour or so away.

     And so to Death Valley we went, and yes, it maintains the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet (excluding volcanic activity of course).  

Was it warm?  Yes.  Was the Weather Chicken satisfied with its survival instinct?  Oh, yes!  His flock of little chicks and mother hen had a wonderful time experiencing what might as well have been a completely different world.  A full climate change possible in just minutes of driving.  My bare chicken legs were feeling fancy free in short shorts. 

     And when the bitter cold passed on by, we, the flock, found ourselves in Tahoe, ready for a new adventure.  Let the skiing begin!