Wednesday, 21 April 2010
On saturday we returned to the Gateway shopping centre in Salt Lake where Gwen, Ceri and Roderic looked round the planetarium, and Hari and I took the Trax to downtown in search of more shops. We didn't find any apart from the new flagship Deseret Book store - the entire downtown area is being renovated and was just a huge construction site.
We went to church with George and Gale in the morning, to a huge ward where getting up out of your pew after Sunday School meant losing your seat for Sacrament meeting. The teachers and speakers were excellent, and since it ended at 12 we got home in time to have lunch at a normal time. I made cottage pie, followed by apple crumble and custard which I created from scratch. It came out well, but not a patch on Ambrosia. In the afternoon I walked Ceri to the nearest park where there was also a covered picnic area which was being set up for a birthday party. We left before the party started.
On Monday morning Roderic and I went to the Salt Lake Temple. It was huge, and very confusing, but it was overall a wonderful experience. Especially as we went to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard afterwards, and back to the Deseret Book store where we found my book on the shelf - the first time I'd seen it actually up for sale.
In the afternoon we packed and headed back to Chad and Wendy Smith's home in Draper, to give Gale and George some peace and quiet and allow Gale to prepare for a presentation she was giving in Texas. Chad is a former missionary companion of Roderic's, and his home (which I may have mentioned before) is to die for, with a view of the entire Salt Lake Basin from the back, and the Draper Temple from the front. Their basement (which became our temporary home) has about the same square footage as our entire house, and includes an open-plan lounge/diner and kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and that amazing view. I joked that if we were stuck for any length of time I would apply for a job as Wendy's nanny in return for being allowed to live in the basement.
Being stuck out here has left Roderic a little behind with work, so he is trying to fit in five or six hours a day. This left little time for doing anything much on Monday except going to Wal-mart to buy a new suitcase - two of our cases have done more service than expected and are showing the signs of exhaustion. In the evening, however, we did go for a curry with Chad and Wendy to see how American curry measures up to English curry. It was very good, but it was also very different. The clue perhaps came when we were ordering and I asked for a Chicken Korma for the children. I was asked whether I wanted it "mild, medium or hot". In Britain, a Korma is, by definition, a mild curry.
Friday, 16 April 2010
Thursday began with us heading down to Springville to deliver another manuscript, this time to a new (for me) publisher, Cedar Fort. We eventually found it, I dropped off Christmas at Haven at the front desk, and we went to Provo to the home of John and Anne Chambers who were senior missionaries in our home ward until a year or so ago. They were cooking us a meal and, as it turned out, also had Anne's sister and her two children, and a friend, Don Wilson (for whom I had brought some packages he ordered via Amazon.co.uk) and his wife, plus a friend from our home ward, Holly Owens who had married her American husband, Chris, and now lives in Provo. Quite a crowd!
We had a lovely meal and a lot of laughs, and then went to see the Provo Temple. This Temple has a very modern, unusual design - apparently it was intended to look like a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke - and in pictures I'd always found in unappealing. Sister Chambers told me that this was a common perception, and the grounds had been relandscaped because many brides preferred to get married in a more traditional Temple. However, seeing it up close I thought it was stunning. In fact, I liked it so much that I have now replaced the wallpaper on my computer with a picture of the Provo Temple in the snow.
Elder and Sister Chambers then showed us round the BYU campus - passing the Missionary Training Centre and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's childhood home on the way. It was open and new and big and beautiful, but I half hope my children don't have ambitions to go there, because even without the air fares to factor in it is much more expensive than a British university.
We said Goodbye to Elder and Sister Chambers and headed back to Sandy, to a Prom and Bridal store. We had intended looking for a prom dress for Gwen, whose prom is next year, because we figured there would be more choice in America, she would be guaranteed to get one no one else had, it would be cheaper than at home, and we might even find one which was appropriately modest. Unfortunately several of these assumptions - mainly the one about price - were proved wrong, and we also realised that a flouncy prom dress is not something which can easily be packed into a suitcase and escape unscathed. So we will go to the dressmaker who made my wedding dress, with a sketch based on all the dresses Gwen liked, nearer the time.
We then went to Draper for a mini-mission reunion for Hubby Dearest, which would reunite him with three of his former favourite mission companions from St. Petersburg 17 years ago. Of all the Salt Lake Valley suburbs I have been to, I find I like Draper best. For one thing it has roundabouts. I hadn't thought I'd miss roundabouts, but four-way-stop intersections are a nightmare to traverse. For another, the location of Elder Smith's home (not to mention the home itself) was stunning. It was halfway up a mountain, with a view of the entire Salt Lake Valley from the back, and the Draper Temple (probably about a two minute walk away) from the front. At night particularly it was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. And just to add to the interest, some power gliders floated around the mountain as we watched from the balcony.
Hubby Dearest had a riotous time reminiscing about Russia, and his former companions were fun people, so it was a great evening all round. And Chad and Wendy Smith waved us off with an invitation to stay with them anytime we should find ourselves in Utah again.
When we got back to Gale's home in Sandy, however, Gwen discovered from the internet that a volcano in Iceland had sent a cloud of ash over Britain. and all flights were grounded.
We spent Friday morning - the day which should have been our last full day in Salt Lake - trying to find out what was going on with our flight home. It was cancelled, we quickly discovered, but Roderic was able to book us onto an alternative flight leaving the next Friday. Only problem was that it was leaving from San Francisco. Not the most direct route home, but the first available. Emails to several people, and a phone call to the car rental company, and we were all set to survive an extra six days in Zion. We also concluded that we couldn't impose on Gale and George for so much longer than originally planned, so we spoke to Chad Smith and took him up on that invitation to stay at his home in Draper.
At lunchtime we went to the Olive Garden restaurant for a long-anticipated lunch with some of my fellow authors whom I have known, via our email and blog group V-Formation, for many years. Not all of them could be there, but Michele Ashman Bell, Nancy Campbell Allen, Jeri Gilchtist, Cheri Crane and of course Gale Sears were all there, along with friends from Leatherwood Press (my publishers) Linda Prince and Amy Orton. Plus Roderic and the girls, Cheri's husband Kennon, and Gale's husband George. It was great fun, we laughed and chatted non-stop, and the food was great. It was a wonderful experience to meet so many friends I felt I'd known for years. Well, I had known them for years, but it was good to have faces to go with the names.
Finding that we were staying in Salt Lake City for a few more days meant that we cancelled our original plans to squeeze in all the sightseeing to Friday afternoon, and instead we went to Fashion Place Mall before going back to Gale's for a peaceful evening watching Stargate Universe and Merlin. Packing had been the original plan, but somehow a little volcano can make a big difference.
There are worse places to be stranded. Even if we are a little homesick, I do love it here.
The drive to Salt Lake City from Laramie began with rather alarming instruction from our sat-nav, as it instructed us to stay on a particular road "for 379 miles". We gaped. There are roads that long?
Well, yes there are, and this one took us over the freezing and windy rocky mountains, over driving snow, counting down the mile markers. One thing I appreciate about the American road system is that the exits are numbered according to the nearest mile marker, so you always know how far it is to your exit. In Britain, motorway exits are numbered consecutively.
There was a whole lot of nothing to see either side of the car for mile upon mile, with the possible exception of the billboards every two miles or so telling us of the wonders of the Little America Hotel and how far until we reached it (250 miles, initially). When we finally did pass it it felt like a real acheivement, and the advertising had worked - I would really like to stay there one day. It appeared to be laid out to look like a traditional American town.
We came to Salt Lake City from the North, through Park City and lots of snow. The views were beautiful, and once we actually arrive at George and Gale Sears' lovely home in Sandy, the views from the valley floor were pretty spectacular too. I've already mentioned that I love how American houses, and thus suburbs, look, and here there is a backdrop of snow-topped mountains in every direction.
Gale was a very gracious hostess, and the girls and I went with her for gelato (Italian ice cream) that evening while Hubby Dearest slept to recover from his marathon drive. Gelato is something else I have never had. Why do all my new food experiences here seem to start with G? Gumbo and grits were nice, but gelato was wonderful.
On Wednesday we went to the Gateway Shopping Centre in Downtown Salt Lake and had a fabulous Mexican lunch. We are so going to miss Mexican food! It just tastes so much better here than the stuff I try to make at home, and I love watching it made before my eyes. After shpping at Dairy Queen (more ice-cream), Hollister, Hot Topic and Barnes & Noble we watched Hari and Ceri playing in the water jets of the 2002 Winter Olympics fountain. They loved it and got absolutely soaked, but since it was about 21 degrees Celsius it really didn't matter.
We then walked two blocks to Temple Square. It was quite surreal to see the iconic spires of the Temple hone into view above trees and construction sites as we walked. Ceri was very thirsty (must be the desert atmosphere) so when we got to Temple Square the first order of business was to find a drinking fountain, which wasn't difficult.
We went to the Tabernacle and listened to the demonstration of the acoustics (we sat at the back, and a sister missionary dropped a pin at the front, and we could hear it) and then we went to the North Visitors Centre which seemed to have similar acoustics thanks to its domed roof. There were Sister missionaries everywhere and we were regularly accosted. Apparently there are about 200 of them on Temple Square, and since conference ended things have got a lot quieter and they are all frankly bored. So we watched the film presentation about families, and we chatted to some for a while before we ran out of time and had to head back to Sandy. We took the TRAX tram system back to the car - it's free in the downtown area - and Ceri enjoyed it so much she didn't want to get off when we got to our stop.
After dinner we headed to Leatherby's Ice Cream Parlour to meet Jennie Hansen, a prolific and much-admired (by me) author who turned out to be very sweet and lovely and not half as intimidating as I'd expected. The ice cream was also very sweet and lovely, and, in some cases, intimidating.
Monday, 12 April 2010
Denver advertises itself as “the mile high city” and the road to Laramie took us over the wild tops of mountains, past snow and acre upon acre of empty countryside. One thing I’m finding strange about America is just how much of it there is, and how much of it is nothing. Even from the plane we could look out both sides and not see any towns or cities.
Ruth’s home is lovely, as I had known it would be, festooned with flower arrangements and displays, and charming homilies stencilled on the walls or engraved on plaques. Ruth designed it herself, and it is roughly four times the size of our house. Ruth was always very artistic – she and I first met in college art class – and have a home to build and decorate is evidently a great outlet for her talents.
It was great to see Ruth and John again, and all the children, and see just how much they’ve grown. Gwen bonded with Emily once more, and Hari was beside herself with joy to meet the little dogs, and (Ruth runs a home childcare nursery) Ceri was excited to find a huge playroom full of toys.
Ruth had cooked us a huge and fabulous meal, after which she and John took Hubby Dearest and I, and their son Sam, to see How to Train your Dragon at the local cinema. It was a good film and I had been wanting to see it, but we were pretty tired by the end of it. Laramie is two hours behind Florida, so our body clocks were screaming at us that it was bedtime even though it was barely nine o’clock. Surprising what a difference those two hours can make.
We were up in plenty of time to attend Church on Sunday. Ruth's home is just a short walk from the church, and it was a small but very friendly ward. We then had roast turkey for lunch, and in the afternoon went up to Vedauwoo, part of a national park, to admire the scenery. It is the highest point in the western United States, and was covered in snow, so we had a snowball fight and Gwen got some great photographs.
We are all feeling the effects of the altitude in various ways. Roderic has a permanent headache, Hari has been wheezing, Gwen and I have been getting out of breath at the slightest exertion, and Ceri has been feeling very feverish and tired. We are at over 7,000 feet and the air is thinner here - apparently it can take a week or two to acclimatise.
Monday was business as usual for the Wlliams family, with the children at school, Ruth's daycare kids in the house, and John at work, but Ruth's lovely friend Karen and her husband took us for a fabulous Mexican meal. Well, not quite all of us. Hari went to "Indian Paintbrush Elementary School" for lunch with Ruth's 8 year old twins.
Afterwards we went to Wal-Mart for more Lucky Charms and Ranch dressing to take home, Staples for paper and ink to print out my novels, and Dollartree for pretty much everything it sold. It's a lot like Poundland back in Britain but cheaper, and bigger and with some really unusual things. Hari got a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup lip salve, for example.
In the evening we went to Arby's which does burgers but with slices of real roast beef. Delicious! We then had a very pleasant family home evening with a game of "Guesstures" - the Buttimore-Joneses beat the Williams' fairly decisively.
Friday, 9 April 2010
But Iwas boggled this morning, again, to discover that we have to pay for INCOMING calls! A wrong number woke me up at 8 a.m. Grrr. (Remember I didn't get to bed until 1 a.m.) and AT&T helpfully texted to tell me that I had paid 25 cents for the priviledge of answering the call! Then I had a random sales call for which I paid another 25 cents. What's with that? So now I'm not answering the phone.
We went back to the mall in the afternoon. Gwen, having spent 48 hours thinking about it, had decided that she did want to spend her money on a pair of knee-high pink patchwork Converse.
In the evening Roderic and I returned a third time to Westgate Smokehouse Grill and were finally able to have our date, and a very nice meal using the $50 voucher the timeshare people had bribed us with. I had Shrimp Gumbo and Grits for the first time, and all in all it was worth making the effort.
We spent the rest of the evening packing, ready for our flight to Denver tomorrow. I'll be sorry to leave Florida, it's been a fantastic two weeks and we've had a lot of fun in wonderful sunshine. Ready for the next stage in the adventure now, though.
I'm so glad we did, because it was great. Calmer, quieter, and with the focus on technology, science and the wider world, thus fewer over-excited children. The weather was a little overcast too which might have contributed to keeping the crowds away. There was a flower festival taking place, so Epcot was ablaze with blooms and hedges trimmed in the shape of Disney characters, and we were entertained by a singing choir and a group of gardners playing rap and Disney tunes on watering cans and buckets - using spades and towels.
We went on several rides - the queues were very short - including for the iconic Spaceship Earth, inside the "giant golf ball". We stayed only four hours, which was the original plan but was, in the event, quite a pity because there was plenty more we could have done.
We went to Golden Corral for lunch. For $6.49 we had an amazing "all you can eat" buffet and were quite impossibly full by the end of it.
In the evening we returned to Magic Kingdom for our final Goodbye to Disney. This time it really was magic. We went on the steam train round the park, and several other rides. Although the park was quite busy, the queues were shorter than they had been on our previous visit. When the fireworks started at 10, the children and I were riding the flying Dumbo ride, so it really was a magical and memorable moment.
The fireworks were amazing, but Roderic had a headache, so at 10.15 when they finished we started to head back to the car. Unfortunately, despite the final parade due to start at 11, so did most of the other visitors to the park, and it took us over an hour to finally reach our car. It was almost 1 a.m. before we arrived back at our timeshare. But left us with an overall great Disney experience. I'd love to return someday, but for our next Florida holiday (probably in 2012) we're aiming to do Discovery Cove and Aquatica, so it may be a while.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Today we had such a lazy day e didn't even make it to the pools. We went to a mall in the afternoon. No idea what it was called, but half the shop units were empty. Only instead of just having empty shops, the frontages were painted to look like normal shops. Very pretty and prevented us from feeling quite so hard downe by by the lack of shops.
Gwen and I did the mall while Roderic took the little ones to see "How to train your dragon" in 3D. We got some great bargains. A dress for Gwen reduced from $24.99 to $7.49, a book for 50 cents, and a Twilight book reduced from $16.95 to $4.25. We watched the skateboarders and roller bladers at Vans but passed up on the opportunity to go for a pint in the Cricketers Arms.
In the evening Roderic and Ihad planned to go on a date to the Westgate Smokehouse Grill. As part of the perks for upgrading our timeshare we had been given a voucher for $50 off there, but turning up for lunch a couple of days ago we discovered that it didn't open until 5 p.m. So at 7.30 p.m. tonight we turned up in our best clothes asking for a table for two, only to be told that the wait for a table was about an hour. We didn't want to wait an hour. We asked if we could book a table for Friday, and were told that they didn't allow parties under 8 people to book tables. (I'm tempted still to book a table for 8 and then turn up explaining that our six friends have been unable to come after all.) It seems a little unreasonable not to allow people to book when the place is so busy, and for a moment our $50 voucher seemed not to be worth the paper it was printed on. But we will go back at 5 on Friday in order to be first in the queue for a table, and it had better be a darn good meal.
In the event we went to Quizno's for a sandwich, and then to Walgreens to buy some milk. Not really the date night we had been planning, but when you're married the odd disastrous date doesn't matter.
There was a wave pool with giant tsunami-style waves which completely knocked you off your feet and carried you along. There was a family raft ride which we all went on together and loved. And there were several other raft rides, one of which spins you around the whole time. The children's area was great, with a ride which Ceri did about 100 times.
Gwen and I got sunburnt again, and Gwen's sunburn is now in interesting patterns since she was wearing a different swimsuit from the first time. She is also peeling on her shoulders, and my face is peeling, which serves me right for laughing at Gwen when her nose was peeling.
Just as the park was closing we decided to take the Lazy River to the exit, just to milk every last minute of fun out of it. At the appropriate place I leapt off my rubber tube and decided to helpfully take it to the edge to be stacked with the rest. I didn't realise that the water was shallower at the edges, and stubbed my toe; it was painful, but at the time I was too busy worrying about Ceri who had forgotten she wasn't wearing her armbands and gone under the water when she jumped out of her ring. (The water was only 3 feet deep, so she wasn't actually in any danger, but she was a bit upset.)
When we got home I discovered that my toe was black and about twice its normal size, and that it still hurt. Quite a lot. I concluded that I had broken it. So I sent Roderic off for Walgreens for something to strap it up with, and will be hobbling around for a few days.
Totally worth it, though.
Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Monday, 5 April 2010
Over here it was like any other day. All the shops and restaurants were open as usual. But we made it special all the same. We went to Kissimmee ward to listen to the Sunday morning session of General Conference, and almost got to hear it actually on Sunday morning. It started at noon Florida time, but that's better than the 5p.m. UK time we usually get to see it.
We then returned to the timeshare and I managed to recreate a family Easter tradition by making soft-boiled eggs, on which we drew faces (I put Mickey Mouse ears on mine in recognition of our stay in Orlando), before eating them with Bovril soldiers (I had brougfht a pot of Bovril with me, because I couldn't see how we could manage three weeks without it.) American eggs are white so it was easier to draw on them, but we didn't have any egg-cups so I had to improvise by cutting up the egg box they came in.
We then went to play mini-golf, which was free at our resort and lots of fun. Hubby Dearest won, but I came a close second. HD then took Hari and Ceri to the pool while I hid the creme eggs I had brought with us from home around the apartment. By the time the children found them they were pretty squished and melted, despite the air conditioning. But still delicious.
Gwen didn't actually leave the apartment all day. She sat on the balcony reading Breaking Dawn. She and HD had planned to drive out to the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaverel tomorrow to watch the shuttle launch, but it transpired that it was at 6.21 a.m., and all the tickets for viewing it had long gone. She's a bit miffed at not being able to see it after all, but I promised her that one day she will. And I have put it on my bucket list.
Sunday, 4 April 2010
I had already ascertained that it was about a mile to this mall, and since that's the same distance as we walk to school every day, it wouldn't be a problem. I think now I understand why Americans drive everywhere. A helpful neon sign outside one of the hotels told us it was 98 degrees. No idea what that is in real money, but pretty piggin' hot, I can tell you.
Then Ceri took to saying "ouch" with each step, and it transpired that wearing her favourite shoes without socks for the first time had given her blisters on both feet. So she took them off and walked barefoot for a while until that proved to be too hot underfoot, at which point I carried her. She's quite a lump.
We got to McDonald's. Taco Bell was at the far side of the mall, and the girls wanted a McDonald's. I had planned to buy theirs "to go" (I am learning the language!) and take then to Taco Bell to eat their happy meals as I tucked into ... whatever it is Taco Bell offer. But since I couldn't carry two happy meals and a five-year-old (and the hat full of Little People animals and play money she had inexplicably brought with her) I settled for a McRib. And after food, drink and air conditioning we were ready to brave the outside again. I bought Ceri a cheap pair of flip-flops, and we started for home again via IHOP (International House of Pancakes) for dessert.
Halfway back Ceri's new flipflops broke. Naturally they did this just as we were crossing the road necessitating my picking her up and running with her tucked under my arm. And then we were back to jumping from shade to grass to shade to stop her little feet getting burned.
Gwen and Hubby Dearest were back when we finally made it home, and so HD opted to take the children to the pool while Gwen and I walked, again, to Walgreens and the souvenir shop. We also discovered Dunkin' Donuts. Fabulous! Another brand which is long overdue for import to Britain.
I made my first "pot roast". I had bought a kit, which was a joint of pork with potatoes, carrots, celery, onion and a seasoning mix. Instructions - fling in pot with a cup of water, cover, leave in oven for three hours. Being British to the core it rather went against the grain to put water in with it and cover it, so I didn't. Does that still count as a pot roast? Anyway, it was delicious, if I say so myself. Although, given that I only emptied into a dish and put it in the oven I don't think that counts as cooking it. At only $10 (about £6.30) it was also much cheaper than anything I could put together at home. And I got to play in the pool with Ceri while it was cooking.
Saturday, 3 April 2010
The park was split into different areas - we mostly stayed in Africa and Asia - and the animals we saw were all native to that part of the world. As ever, with Disney, it was the details that were amazing. They had created miniature little towns (Harambe in Africa and Anapadur in Asia) and everything about them looked completely authentic, right down to the unfinished buildings and rusty bicycles.
Our favourite ride was the Kali river rapids on which we all got soaked. So naturally we went on it twice.
I'm hoping to go back to finish off Animal Kingdom with Hari and Ceri on Monday while Roderic and Gwen are at Cape Canaverel watching the space shuttle launch.
Thursday, 1 April 2010
This morning Hubby Dearest, youngest and I went househunting in the company of our "Realtor", Alan Martin, an ex-pat Brit. On our last trip to Orlando three years ago we discovered that Florida properties were not only extremely cheap to buy, but in great demand as holiday rentals. We decided then to sell our rental bungalow in Thundersley and use the proceeds to pay off the mortage and buy a beautiful villa with a pool close to the Disney parks. Unfortunately the UK property market thwarted our plans so we went back to renting the bungalow, planning to try again sometime when the market picks up. But in the meantime it seemed sensible to look around and see how the land lies while were were in Florida, and Alan was very obliging.
We viewed a four-bedroomed villa in Clermont in beautiful condition which I would have bought there and then had I had the cash, then a slightly tatty home near that first one where the front door opened to the pool area. Then our favourite - a two storey five bedroomed home in Davenport which, at $260,000 (£180,000) was rather at the top end of our expected price range. We then returned to Kissimmee, nearer to the theme parks, and saw a home which the long-term tenants had trashed and emptied, but interestingly the next home we saw was furnished and in perfect condition, and had exactly the same floor plan plus a large pool and spa so we were able to see how the first one should have looked. At $225,000 (£150,000) that last one was our favourite, and the one most likely to generate a good income.
I've said this often before, but I love American houses. I love open floor plans, cathedral ceilings, walk-in closets in the bedrooms and walk-in pantries in the kitchen, garages big enough to put the car in, separate laundry rooms, and both a lounge and family room.
We had lunch at the New York China Buffet which is within walking distance of our resort. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet, and cost less than $40. I love American Chinese, and not just because there is so much of it and so much variety. There are things we can't get in the UK - honey chicken and fortune cookies spring to mind.
We then spent the afternoon round pool no. 2, for a change (not heated to quite the same level as pool no. 1) where I topped-up my sunburn, and in the evening HD and I returned to Wal-mart to top up the larder.