“Rain, I don’t mind”

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2010 by Jessica Lada

For our ONE day in Denver several months ago, Will and I hoped to go to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (heck of a name) and hike the nature trails.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge -- The Creek -- photo by David Mendosa

With views like that, how could we NOT want to visit the park?  But unfortunately, Denver had different plans for us.

We improvised and headed first to breakfast at a local place called “Snooze”.  (That’s another post.)

After the best breakfast EVER we headed a little farther downtown.  We parked at the Aquarium and then headed northeast on Water Street to Platte.  We went for a stroll through REI, which is basically the mountain version of Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop.  Kansas doesn’t have mountains, so I’d never seen a store where you can actually buy climbing ropes, ice axes, pitons, and all the other things I have heard of from Reader’s Digest.  And then there was THIS:

It’s an indoor, four-story-tall, climbing pinnacle.  There are ropes in different positions for climbs of varying difficulty, all the way from beginner (I watched a five-year-old scale it to the top) to advanced.

I ended up buying a Dynaflex Pro Gyro Hand Exerciser.  It’s a pretty awesome gadget made with the principles of a gyroscope.  You pull the cord to get it spinning and then grip the sphere and rotate your wrist, pushing against the resistance to increase the internal rotation up to 13,000 rpm.   It doesn’t just work your grip, it works all the muscles in your hand wrist, forearm.  It’s not just for mountain climbers.  It’s great for writers (like me), guitarists, artists, or pretty much anybody who works with their hands.

Then we found Savory Spice Shop at 1537 Platte Street.  I bought a dozen vanilla beans (at the best price I’ve found at any store, real or online), along with jars of powdered cheddar cheese, Parmesan Pesto Sprinkle, Platte River Rib Rub, Red Cloud Peak Seasoning, Lodo Red Adobo, and Gunbarrel Venison Sausage Spice.  We might have gone a little overboard.

While paying for our spices, we tried free samples of Freeze Dried Corn.  It sounds weird, I know, but it was like sweet popcorn.  When I reorder spices soon, I’m definitely getting a big bag of the corn.

NEXT STOP: Denver Downtown Aquarium…

The Wedding is Near! Time for accessories…

Posted in wedding with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2010 by Jessica Lada

We’ve been engaged since Last July and the wedding is now less than a month away.  I’ve spent pretty much all summer planning, which is why the last post on here was roughly A BAZILLION YEARS AGO.  Anyway, during the course of my wedding planning I’ve run across some really great craftspeople and products that are going to make our wedding really special.  It’s all in the details!

And speaking of details, when my fiance set out to buy my engagement ring, he insisted it was a blue diamond.  It’s my favorite color and it’s always the first color on the canvas when I paint.  Forget Tiffany’s.  He went down to the diamond district in NYC and bought the most beautiful engagement ring ever.

No worrying about that pesky “something blue” for me!  I wouldn’t say blue is my “wedding color” (no blue flowers or decorations or anything like that) but I am doing some little blue touches in the wedding.

I turned to Etsy.com in search of non-stabby earrings.    I don’t have pierced ears, so it’s generally very difficult to find earrings I can wear that are not either extremely uncomfortable or butt-ugly.   I have never had pierced ears.  I never intend to have pierced ears.  Not only am I mildly terrified of needles, but on matter of principal I object to having additional, unnecessary holes added to my body.  (Plus I have a pet cockatoo who regularly flings my glasses across the room.  I wouldn’t want to give him any ideas with earrings.)

I found these blue rough gem earrings, wrapped with antiqued silver wire. AND the seller said she could make them clip-ons for me.  And that’s lucky news, because she has a slew of gorgeous earrings and other goodies at her shop, Ample Goddess Jewelry.

Not only do these earrings match my engagement ring, they’ll give a nice sparkle in all the wedding photos, AND it’s going to be a nice little touch in memory of my late Grandpa Ed.  He faceted and polished stones and did wire-wrapping.  These earrings look like something Grandpa would have made for me if he were still around.

They came in the mail today and I couldn’t be happier.  The clips are antiqued silver, just like the wire, the color is perfect, and they don’t hurt my ears.  My ears will be happy at my wedding!

Where The Streets Have No Name…

Posted in Reviews, Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by Jessica Lada

…or in Denver’s case, WAY TOO MANY.

June 11th, Will and I raced to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and got through security with 45 minutes to spare before our 8:13 p.m. flight. Fantastic. The schedule board said the flight was on time, but the moment we sat down at gate 10 we heard the announcement. Not only was our flight delayed, our plane hadn’t even left Denver yet and we weren’t scheduled to leave until 10 p.m. To make things better, the little deli counter, the magazine kiosk, and the bar were all closed. And there’s no vending machine. Brilliant.

After we finally boarded the plane, they told us it would be at least another half hour before takeoff.

Denver International Airport: I'm not sure why, but I am bothered by an airport terminal that is a tent.

We got up in the air and the pilot gave us the first good news of the night. He’d just gotten the flight path and our flight would only take an hour rather than an hour and twenty minutes. Except that with the thunderstorms popping up, the flight ended up taking two hours as we were diverted all over Colorado.

I can’t say I minded the length of the flight, though, because we had the most incredible view out the window. The thunderheads below us were lit from beneath by the city lights and from above by an incredible lightning display. We were flying at 38,000 feet and eventually the storm clouds ballooned to even greater altitudes and we saw only the black of night out the window.

The flight attendants passed out drinks and because the plane was only half full, we each got a full can of soda.  Score! But then the turbulence increased and the pilot turned the seatbelt sign on again, so the flight attendants rushed to collect the trash. It was a choice between chugging my ginger ale or wearing it, so I chose the former. Big mistake.

The plane was bouncing and I was doing the pee-pee dance in my seat.  So were half the other passengers.

Now, I know the seatbelt sign means you aren’t supposed to get up unless it’s an absolute emergency, but I was having a potty emergency. The cabin lights were off, so I felt my way toward the rear of the Canada Regional Jet where its only bathroom is located, only to find a flight attendant seated IN FRONT OF THE BATHROOM DOOR.

I would like to ask, as politely as possible, who the hell thought it was a good idea to put the jump seat in front of the damn toilet door? Because I’m telling you, it is not a good idea. It is a bad idea. A very bad, stupid, idiotic, horrible idea. Whoever designed that plane deserves to be strapped into a tiny little aisle seat, continuously force-fed liquids, and denied bathroom access for the longest, bumpiest flight ever.

So I ask the flight attendant if she can move to one of the numerous empty seats so I can pee and she says no. I know she’s just following protocol. I understood that, but my bladder did not. I returned to my seat and my fiance joked,“That was quick.” “Yeah, the flight attendant is sitting in front of the door,” I explained. The scowl on Will’s face mirrored my own. “So we can’t use the bathroom?” “Nope.” “Then can she at least bring me a couple of empty cups?”

The sad thing is he was barely kidding. By the time the plane finally landed, the barf bags were looking like a pretty good option.

Seriously, that's their slogan? I call BS.

After peeing, the next stop was the National Car Rental counter, which a nice man on the phone had assured me was open 24-hours. It was, of course, deserted. So Will and I ventured out into the rain to get on the shuttle bus which was supposed to take us to the main National Car Rental building. Again, the man on the phone assured me there would be agents working.

The bus driver told us there would only be two stops. The first was for emerald club members only and the next would be for Alamo rental cars. Since we weren’t renting from Alamo, Will and I tried to get off at the first stop. The driver totally flipped out. “Only Emerald Club! Yours is the next stop.”

We backpedaled and waited as the doors closed, the driver pulled forward (no joke) twenty feet, then opened the doors again. “THIS is your stop,” he said.

Inside the Alamo/National office, the National side was completely dark and unmanned. I used the kiosk to check in (thereby making my previous online reservation completely redundant), then went outside with my ticket as the kiosk screen instructed. We joined a group of several other people shivering in the fifty-degree, rainy, misery that was Denver at 1 a.m. We all looked around with matching “what the hell do we do now?” expressions on our faces.  One hoodie-wearing fellow customer (a hilarious dude whose name I didn’t catch) debated snagging a minivan.

Finally someone came from the building. He briefly glanced at each person’s ticket and pointed to a car lot. “Anything over there!” he said.
He didn’t have to tell us twice. Someone else beat us to the Dodge Charger. We decided we didn’t need an SUV, so we jumped in a Chrysler 300. About the time I found the headlights and adjusted my seat, Hoodie-dude pulled up in front of us in a bright yellow VW bug and rolled down his window. “I had to give it a test drive, man!”

We settled into the Chrysler 300 with a welcome sigh of relief. We could relax finally because we were on our way to the hotel.

I had my list of directions on hand. I drove and Will navigated. We exited the parking lot and headed for Pena Blvd. Unfortunately, the entrance to said boulevard is not marked. You pull up to a stoplight and see an underpass painted with huge letters saying “PENA BLVD. TO I-70.” How does it help to know what street is going over the top of your head with absolutely no way, at that point, to get to that street? So we ended up having to double back toward the airport.

I have a question for the City of Denver. Do you not believe in EXIT signs? Most airports have a way to loop around and get back out. Denver did not have this. Oh sure, in daylight I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to someone who has been there before. But for my first time driving in Denver at 1:30 a.m. during torrential rain, it was less than clear.

So we finally manage to get to Pena Boulevard. After lots of merging and such, my directions tell me to take “the CO-121 exit toward 287/Broomfield/Lafayette”.  This makes sense once you get there… but six or seven miles before you get to the correct exit there is a DIFFERENT exit for 287. Yeah, that’s not confusing at all. And instead of taking me to my hotel, this exit took me to a bunch of strip clubs and assorted shady stuff.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Driving in Denver sucks. It’s like sprawling Oklahoma City and oblique New Jersey spawned some weird, deformed baby. Streets change name without warning. Is it so hard to let a street be named ONE THING along its entire span? Granted, there’s a street in Norman, Oklahoma that begins as HW-77 on the south side of town, becomes Classen, is called Porter through the old part of town, and then becomes Sunnylane Road to the north of town. Four names within ten miles. Heading to breakfast in Denver, I took Fox Street, which turned into 23rd Street, which turned into Park Avenue West, which turned into 22nd Street. Four street names in the span of ONE MILE. Come on, Denver, is that really necessary?

Driving around Denver doesn’t suck because of traffic but because of the roads. You exit in one place but there is nowhere to get back on or turn around. I don’t know how long it would take before you could navigate the city without a map. Denver is the greatest argument for GPS that I have ever seen. If I hadn’t had a Google Maps application on my phone, I’m pretty sure we’d still be driving around trying to find the hotel. But for all the navigational difficulties, Denver was fantastic whenever the car was parked.

“Another Time, Another Place”

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by Jessica Lada

U2, arguably the most famous band in the world, is in the middle of its 360 Tour and after buying three sets of tickets, my fiance Will has yet to see the band perform.  Let me catch you up.

Last April I learned they had booked a concert date on Owen Field (Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium) in Norman, Oklahoma.  This is a stadium where I performed a dozen times during my two seasons in the Pride of Oklahoma marching band.  I immediately bought four tickets (the maximum allowed for a preorder).  I called Will, who was living in Brooklyn, NY, at the time, and asked if he liked U2.  He said, “hell yes” and told me a story.  Years before we met, before he discovered opera, Will sang in rock bands.   Someone turned him on to opera and Will decided he could have a much longer career as an opera singer than he could by destroying his vocal chords singing rock.  His last rock gig, he sang Sunday Bloody Sunday (even though it’s a little high for him) and blew out his voice.  That was his last rock performance.

Jump forward to the week of the U2 concert.  Will was singing the lead role in “A View from the Bridge” in Brooklyn.  The production was scheduled for September but got pushed back and the powers that be wouldn’t let Will out of a day of rehearsal to see the concert.  (That’s another story entirely.)
I still got to see the concert with my brother, but that wasn’t the whole point.  So when I heard that U2 would be doing a SECOND North American leg of the tour, I immediately joined the fan club and as soon as the presales opened, I bought two tickets for the Denver concert and two for the performance in NY/NJ.

It seemed like things were going to work out finally.  We found out a way for Will’s work schedule to let us get to Colorado for the weekend and I put the flight tickets on Will’s credit card.  “Do you want to get the flight insurance for an extra $50?” I called to ask.  “Nah, the tickets are already expensive.  I can’t see why we’d need it.”

Famous last words.

The next day news stations reported that Bono had undergone back surgery and the entire North American leg of the tour was going to be rescheduled/postponed until 2011.

Only Nixon could go to China and only Bono can wear lasers and swing by a microphone cable.

The good news is that our concert tickets are still good whenever the dates are rescheduled, so we still have two more chances to see what might be the best concert tour ever.  The bad news is that we had $550 worth of non-refundable flight tickets to a city we no longer needed to visit.  Seriously, couldn’t Bono have given me a little heads up?  That guy is such a jerk.

We decided to make the most of it and have a weekend getaway to Denver and now that the weekend is past, I think it all worked out for the best anyway.  Sure, we didn’t get to see U2, but we still have our tickets.  And the entire weekend was about fifty degrees and rainy.  It wouldn’t have been great concert weather, and if it’d started lightning they probably would have cancelled.  Then we really would have been screwed.  We probably wouldn’t have gotten a refund and the concert probably wouldn’t have been rescheduled.  And in addition we had a great little vacation!   We were only there for a day and a half, but it’s too much for just one post.  Stay tuned for our U2-free Denver Antics.

____________________________________

*I don’t think Bono’s a jerk at all.  He’s actually kind of my hero and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Duct tape and Truckstops and Coffee, OH MY!

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Jessica Lada

My laptop has an annoying little problem. The screen does not like to stay propped up where I put it. Instead, it falls backwards or sometimes falls forwards and smacks me in the knuckles. It does this even when I’m sitting on still, level ground. Now imagine this temperamental laptop in a bumpy 18-wheeler. I don’t have one of those fancy seats (like Will does) with the air suspension that makes them float around over the bumps. My seat is bolted to the floor of the truck. It doesn’t slide forward or tilt back. It transfers every bump in the road directly to my butt. In order to keep my laptop open so I can type, I ran strips of duct tape from the edge of the screen to the bottom of the keyboard. It’s more than a little ridiculous, but it’s working so far.

My fiance drives a grain hopper. He loads soybean meal in Emporia and hauls it to Sherwin, Kansas and Fairland, Oklahoma, and once we went to Paris, Texas. He usually reloads soybeans somewhere and then hauls them back to Emporia. We drive the same roads every day and see some of the same places and same people. If you ever happen to drive these areas, here are some tips.

Eureka, KS – SONIC: had the absolute best tater tots I’d ever had. Usually when I go to Sonic, either the oil isn’t hot enough or they don’t fry the tots long enough because they aren’t crunchy like they should. These tots were golden brown, steaming hot, and absolutely delicious.

Oswego, KS – SONIC: You might be able to tell I’m a fan of Sonic. Normally their onion rings are okay. Not the worst or the best I’ve ever had, but at least they’re made with real pieces of onion rather than minced onion like Burger King. But the onion rings at this Sonic were not the normal Sonic onion rings. They were about 100 times better. These were as good as the rings from Nu-Way or Red Hot and Blue.

Chetopa, KS – THE HORNET’S NEST: Not only does Chetopa get the AWESOME TOWN NAME AWARD, The Hornet’s Nest wins for best cheap roadside fry diner. It’s a little hole in the wall right along the main drag. It has a huge menu and it’s incredibly affordable. Their cherry cokes are top notch (none of that artificial flavor crap) and only $1.50 for a large, no happy hour necessary. Their menu boasts fried catfish, nineteen different sandwiches, tacos, burritos, chili, four salads, burgers anywhere from a small single hamburger for $0.95 to a large double bacon cheeseburger for $4.95, and an array of fried sides: French Fries, Tator Tots, Suzi-Q’s, Onion Rings, Cheddar Bites, Okra, Cauliflower, Mushrooms, and chicken nuggets. Gravy, chili, or cheese can be added to just about anything on the menu. And for dessert you can have a turnover, candy apple delight, or chocolate or vanilla ice cream in a cone, cup, banana split, malt, shake, or sundae. Last night we tried the curly fries, onion rings, fried mushrooms, hamburger, Texas toast, cherry Coke, and a chocolate malt, all for about $15. We called and ordered carry out (620-236-7860) from about 10 miles away and it was ready when we swung through Chetopa.

Parsons, KS – STOCKYARDS TRAVEL PLAZA: This is the best truck stop I’ve ever been to. The bathrooms are clean and well-lit, the coffee refills are only $0.75, and in the 15 minutes that it takes to fill up the truck you can get Chester Fried Chicken or fresh diner-style breakfast. For $3.50 you can get two eggs any style, a mound of fresh hashbrowns, four strips of bacon, and white toast. And then there’s the Oreo cookie cream pie for dessert. *Drool* It’s just about as close to truckstop heaven as I’ve found.

BETO JUNCTION – TA truckstop: I already talked about this one in a previous post, but I have to mention it again. The food is fantastic and the bathrooms are decent now, except for a weird ledge in the middle of the women’s room floor. Apparently, the bathrooms used to be notoriously bad and even inspired Will to write a song called “Go Behind the Trailer.” Yeah. Once Kansas bans smoking statewide, this travel stop will be fantastic. Until then, stick to the nonsmoking section and expect trucker sized portions of fantastic food. On our two visits, Will had their smoked brisket (with plenty of smoke) and the taco buffet. I had the spicy chicken quesadilla and the best char-grilled burger I’ve had in ages. Prices are reasonable, portions are large, service is great, and the other side of the building has just about any kind of appliance you need made with cigarette lighter adapters.

While I’m at it, Will wants me to add that Gauldings in Yates Center has the worst coffee in the world…at least in his opinion.

Crossroads (and I’m not talking about that awful Britney movie)

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Jessica Lada

There’s a place where the highways cross and wide swaths of asphalt and gravel form a massive parking lot with room for hundreds of trucks. It lies between Burlington, Emporia, Topeka, and Ottawa, and it’s called BETO Junction. It isn’t a town but a window into a niche of society that most people have never seen. But this little spot is a sample of the backbone of society.
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You walk through the rows of diesel behemoths and look at the vast array of cargo. Some are grain trucks and some are tankers emblazoned with hazard stickers. Others hold untold freight. Chances are, most of your possessions were once hauled in a truck like these. Your favorite dress, coffee pot from walmart, leather sofa, and last night’s steak dinner.

The truck stop restaurant has an incredible menu and the biggest cinnamon rolls I’ve seen in my whole life. They’re bigger than my head. They also have a lunch and dinner buffet with fried chicken, real mashed potatoes, and different features depending on the day of the week.

There’s another truckstop phenomenon known as “lot lizards.” CB radios can be great entertainment. As we left BETO my fiance handed me the CB and prompted me to do a little social experiment.
“Any drivers looking for company?” I asked.
“Where you at, honey?” a voice responded, eager.
Will and I stifled our laughter and I asked, “Where do you want me to be?”
“Now that’s a good question!” the driver chuckled. “I’m over at the BP.”
Will and I laughed and kept driving. After a while the fellow said, “Guess you must be across at TA.”
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s pretty busy over here tonight.”

I thought Will was going to bust his stitches he was laughing so hard.

It all goes to show you there’s a story to be found everywhere you look and even in the places you don’t.

I’m On The Road Again…

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by Jessica Lada

It’s remarkable that technology allows me to acces the internet on my phone, but it is less than convenient to blog on a miniscule keyboard and two inch screen. Who thought microsoft word would be a good idea on a phone?

For the second time, I’m on the road in an 18-wheeler. I enjoyed the first venture and wanted to give it another shot, but I hadn’t planned for it to be so soon.

My fiance, Will, and I had big plans for the weekend. It was Memorial Day, so there was an extra day to enjoy. Will’s family has a big cattle ranch in the Flint Hills and that’s where I headed Friday. That evening, some of Will’s friends were having a barn party. As soon as I arrived, Will wanted to hurry out the door. But first he just HAD to show me the WWI trench knife he’d just bought. The knife has a metal scabbard with a very small opening. Instead of shoving the knife back into its sheath, Will accidentally shoved the knife an inch into his hand.
battle wound on Twitpic
He put the knife down and I saw that it wasn’t in the sheath. Will looked like the cat who swallowed the canary. “Did you just cut yourself?” I asked.
“I think I might have.”
“How bad is it?”
“I haven’t looked yet.”
At this point I went into panic mode. Will’s mom is a nurse and I made Will show the wound to her (rather than just stick a bandaid on it like he wanted). After threats of emergency room, Will promised to be careful with his hand and we went on to the barn party.

Will’s mom had worried that the party wouldn’t be what I was expecting. I was expecting a bunch of people drinking in a barn and fortunately that’s exactly what it was. There were only about a dozen people there in the coolest barn I’d ever seen. It had a wooden floor and a bar built in and up in the loft was a stage, bleachers, and picnic tables.

Half the people there had guitars, plus a mandolin and a banjo, and they jammed out with every folksong and bluegrass tun they could remember. Everyone sang and if you didn’t know the words you just drank your beer and nodded along.

We closed down the party and in the morning when everyone was awake and sober, we showed Will’s hand to his dad (a doctor). Doctor Billy was somewhat appalled and we immediately drove 10 miles into town to get it stitched up.
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The shot to numb it is always the worst, so I hear. After it got all numbed up, Dr. Billy brought in the suture kit and handed me a bottle of Lidocane and a clean syringe. “What’s this for?”
“If we need extra, you’ll draw it up.”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“You’ll learn.”
Fortunately I didn’t have to learn. Five stitches later and we were back to the ranch. But then came the question, how was Will supposed to steer while shifting gears, write his logbook, or open/close the tarp on his truck with his dominant hand out of commission? That’s where I came in.
FRANKENSTEIN HAND! on Twitpic
So I’m an honorary trucker and Will’s left hand for the week. With my fiance next to me, delicious onion rings in my belly, and the Kansas sunset on the other side of the bugsplatted windshield, life is good.Sunset through the bugsplattered windshield on Twitpic