Friday, May 25, 2012

Rant: Voice-activated phone systems.

Apparently it's been five years since the last time I chose to “opt out” of receiving “prescreened offers of credit.”

Today I received two such offers at my new apartment in San Diego, forwarded from my old address in Illinois. (Good to know that my mail forwarding request is fully in effect!) After grumbling about wasting my time for a few minutes, I decided to call the provided toll-free number to remove my name from the list.

Cue voice-activated automated phone menu.

It understood me for the first few bits. It got down my address with no problems, and was able to discern from my zip code that I do, in fact, live in San Diego, California. But it had some big problems with my name.

Voice-Activated Phone System: Please provide your last name, by speaking it first and then spelling. For example, if your last name was “Smith,” you would say “Smith, S M I T H.”
Me: (Says last name, then spells it. Not going to put my last name here, but if you don't know it, it starts with an 'S' and is rather Italian.)
VAPS: I heard (repeats last name a little differently than I said it, and inserts an 'I' into the middle of it.) If this is correct, say “Yes.”
Me: No.
VAPS: Okay. Let's try again. (Repeats initial last name instruction.)
Me: (Says last name, then spells it.)
VAPS: I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you correctly. (Repeats initial last name instruction.)
Me: (Keeping, my frustration contained, says last name, then spells it.)
VAPS: I heard, Guerrero. G U E R R E R O. If this is correct, say “Yes.”
Me: NO!

Sigh. I hate those things. Ultimately, it had me leave a message (I think), presumably to be interpreted by an actual human. Will the human be smarter than the machine? Have I successfully opted out from future prescreened offers of credit?

Probably not. But should I decide I want a second credit card or to refinance my mortgage at historically low rates, I shall presumably have plenty of opportunities to do so!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Road Trip Diary: Day 5

The Navy is moving us from Waukegan, Illinois, to San Diego, California; driving across the country with a three-month-old baby and a cat who's afraid of the world is quite an adventure!

NOTE: I had pictures to put up here.  But I'm a procrastinator and didn't get around to posting this until more than a week after arriving in San Diego, and during that time my cell phone (where the pictures were stored) died.  Before I had transferred the pictures off of it.  So sad, too bad, no pictures.

By the time Day 5 of our trip came along, all four of us were tired. D was tired of driving, I was tired of trying to keep Little Bug quiet and happy. Little Bug was tired of sitting in a car seat with nothing particularly exciting to look at, and Freddy was tired of his current lot in life.

And so it was with weary bodies and spirits that we settled into our SUV for the final day of our road trip.

The day started out with discovering the only two negative aspects of the Falcon Ridge Hotel, as far as I could ascertain. First, the shower drained slowly. Really slowly. Like, by the end of my five minute shower (babies necessitate developing the ability to cleanse oneself with great haste), I was standing in two inches of water. Not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things though.

Second, their “complimentary hot breakfast” didn't start until 0630. Which also wasn't really a big deal, except all of the other places we had stayed started breakfast at 0600. Additionally, Little Bug was still firmly in an Illinois-state-of-mind; he woke up at about 0430. Of course, waking up that early wasn't much of a stretch for us either. But even after both D and I had showered, an hour still remained until breakfast began.

So we faced a dilemma. To wait for free breakfast, which would surely be the best one of the trip so far? Or to just get on the road?

We opted to continue on our way, picking up breakfast from McDonald's (gasp!) along the way.

We pulled up to the drive-through ordering apparatus. D placed our order with the fast food worker.

D: I'd like two egg-and-cheese McMuffins. No meat.
FFW: Do you want anything else?
D: No, just two egg-and-cheese McMuffins. No meat.
FFW: (incredulous) You don't want the Canadian bacon?!?

D's response was not exactly kind. But then, we were on the final leg of our trip and very tired of it all. Plus, he doesn't really have much patience in the first place for idiots.

Our final day of driving was thankfully uneventful. We continued to stop every hour or two, both for our sake and for Little Bug's. Freddy continued to hide under the passenger seat. An hour or so out, we realized that neither of us had really been paying attention to license plates, so we gave up on that game. (Final count: 32 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and a US Government plate. Not bad.)

We drove the rest of the way across Nevada, through Las Vegas (where we only encountered a little bit of traffic). And finally we entered California. Blessed, wonderful California. The end was in sight!

Well, after a few more hours of driving, anyway. We both eagerly drank up the signs showing decreasing distances between our present location and San Diego. And finally, around 1330, we arrived at the Naval Station there!

Of course, it wasn't all smooth sailing (haha) from there. Our initial hopes of staying in the Navy Lodge for a few nights were dashed when they asked for Freddy's vaccination records, which were stored with the rest of his paperwork in the POD. The motel we finally ended up getting a room at, the Vagabond Inn, was expensive and smelled faintly of stale cigarettes. We had a hard time finding the hotels in the first place, and it was only thanks to some friends of ours who had already relocated to San Diego that we were able to locate a place to stay at all.

But once we were in our room, with Freddy hiding under the blankets on the bed (where we had been expressly told NOT to let him go), D was free to seek out an apartment for us, hopefully one where we could move in within a day or two. I had a television to watch, and wi-fi, and a list of restaurants that would deliver food to us in our room. And Little Bug had a bed to sleep on next to his mama; he was still living in a different time zone, and fell asleep early.

But getting settled into San Diego? That's clearly a story for another day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Road Trip Diary: Day 4

The Navy is moving us from Waukegan, Illinois, to San Diego, California; driving across the country with a three-month-old baby and a cat who's afraid of the world is quite an adventure!

Without a doubt, Utah is the coolest state we passed through.

It helps that we had a prior good impression; in February of 2011, D and I traveled to Utah by train for an extended weekend of nerdiness. The landscapes were beautiful, people were uncommonly nice, AND the waiter at Denny's gave us free hot chocolate when we were waiting for our ride. Free hot chocolate, especially on a cold snowy morning, is definitely worth a gold star in my book.

As we drove along I-70, we couldn't help but wonder (admiringly, of course) at the names of some of the exits we passed. Goblin Valley State Park? Black Dragon and Ghost Rock? (Those two were scenic “view areas.”) Temple Mountain Road? Clearly, whoever had come up with these names was a kindred spirit of sorts.

Green River, Utah

By all accounts, our drive on Day 4 was relatively uneventful. The vast majority of the day was spent driving through Utah. We passed through Green River, where we stopped for gas and refreshments. The other thing we needed at this point was diapers. I normally use cloth diapers for Little Bug but, seeing as how I normally need to wash them every other day, this did not seem like a wise choice for a five-day road trip. Instead, we opted for disposables for our journey; I'm not a fan, but in the war of practicality and eco-friendliness, practicality won here.

The gas station we stopped at first only had diapers for babies much larger than Little Bug. So we drove across the street to the local competition, where an entire busload of Asian tourists were milling about. D had to wait in a long line to use the bathroom, while Little Bug and I got out of the car, leaving the windows cracked for Freddy, and slowly wandered around the parking lot. Some of the tourists were taking pictures of the large gasoline tanker truck, which was mildly puzzling to me. D finally reemerged from the mini-mart. No diapers here either, but he did get me a breakfast BelVita! If you've never had one before, they're basically breakfast cookies. I ate tons of them during my early breastfeeding days, since they provided easy extra calories that were relatively healthy (for a processed food).

After Utah, we passed briefly through Arizona. Seriously briefly. It took less than twenty minutes to drive through the upper left corner of the state.

Spit bubbles!
And then we were in Nevada. The first “big” city we came to was Mesquite. The first exit had a Best Western (super expensive) and a hotel/casino, which was cheap but seemed rather dubious to us nonetheless. The second exit hosted a few more hotel/casinos, and a classy little joint called the Falcon Ridge Hotel, where we got a room for the night. It was definitely the nicest hotel we stayed at during the entire trip, and it was also the least expensive. While we waited for check-in time, we got a very early dinner at a drive-through Mexican place; D and I both had cheese enchiladas, which were delicious, along with rice and beans.

Our room was very comfortable, with all of the usual amenities: tv, fridge, microwave, two beds, a nice bathroom. They even had nice toiletries; the soap smelled wonderful! As usual, we went to bed fairly early, tired after a long day of driving while dealing with an unhappy cat and a small baby who doesn't understand why he can't just sit in my lap all day anymore.

We saw nine new states for the license plate game this day, as well as two more Canadian provinces:

Arizona               Florida                   Idaho
Illinois                 North Carolina       Oregon
Pennsylvania       Virginia                  Wyoming
Alberta               Quebec

The journey would continue on Day 5.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Road Trip Diary: Day 3

The Navy is moving us from Waukegan, Illinois, to San Diego, California; driving across the country with a three-month-old baby and a cat who's afraid of the world is quite an adventure!

Look at those eyes!!  Perfectly content in Daddy's arms.

One thing I forgot to mention about Colorado: thus far on our trip, my primary impression of the state was that it smelled like manure.

Seriously. We drove past several CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations... essentially industrial cow farms) on Day 2, and the air was ripe with the smell of their feces. The combination of nasty smells plus lack of suitable hotels means that Colorado and I were not off to a good start.

When we left our hotel at around 0630 on the morning of Day 3, we were immediately hit with the smell of manure. Again. There was no way around it; we just hoped that we'd get past the CAFOs soon and on to fresher air.

Unfortunately, driving through Denver did little to improve our shaky relationship with the Centennial State. The morning commute traffic was awful, and as we slowly inched through the busy city Little Bug woke up and demanded to be nursed. No quiet grumbles this time; instead, Little Bug woke up wailing, hungry, wanting food, starving, DYING!

Soothing a baby this far gone into a fuss fit is a challenge but, thankfully, I managed. AND we made it out of Denver in one piece. Bonus points for us.

D and I continued to be unimpressed by this state until we reached the Rocky Mountains. By this time, we finally started to appreciate the beautiful sights this state had to offer. Gorgeous mountain peaks! Amazing rock formations! Vibrant colors! It was a feast for the eyes, and D and I (and even Freddy) gladly partook in it.

We stopped for gas somewhere shortly after we started ascending, expecting that fuel and refreshments would be hard to come by once we got further into the mountains. D picked up some cookies and trail mix for us. (I loved that he found trail mix that had dried blueberries and apples in it, but was confused at why the makers felt the need to add high fructose corn syrup. Because dried fruit isn't sweet enough on its own? At least it was delicious!)

As we continued, we found that, in fact, there was plenty of civilization to be found throughout the mountain pass! Nearly every exit boasted gas stations and mini marts, restaurants and ski lodges. (Duh... skiing... of course there would be plenty of places to stop!) The most well-populated stop was in the town of Vail, Colorado, where the elevation was 8150 feet.

The view passing through Vail, Colorado.
Also up in the mountains, D & I pulled out our digital camera for the first time this trip. (Delayed apologies for low-quality camera phone pictures...) We let Little Bug breathe in the clear, fresh mountain air and marveled at the amazing views before us. I had vague aspirations of getting someone to take a family photo for us, but never really got a good opportunity to.

After the Rockies, the drive was much better. The landscape was more interesting, there was no more manure smell, and we made good progress. And yet, driving through the mountains is significantly more taxing than traveling regular country highways, so we decided to end earlier than usual that day. We ended up stopping in the town of Fruita, Colorado, that night, relatively close to the Utah border. The Super 8 we stayed in here had one GIANT bed, which was a nice change from the night before! D happily spent some time swimming laps in the indoor pool, while Little Bug and I enjoyed just cuddling together.

One interesting thing about driving across the country is that Little Bug isn't adjusting to time zone changes the way D and I are trying to. So we were in Mountain Time by the time we got to Fruita, but Little Bug was still on his sleeping schedule from Illinois; thus, he was ready to pass out for the night at 1900 (2000 back in IL). I figure I'll work on acclimating him to Pacific Time after we're settled into San Diego.

D and I are also getting better at keeping Little Bug happy during the day. Rolling down a window slightly makes for a fabulous white noise that helps him to sleep, and we're resigned to the fact that we rarely can go for more than two hours without having to stop and nurse. We're actually more likely to stop every hour, whether it's a bathroom break for one of us or a stop for snacks and drinks from a mini-mart or a stop specifically to let Little Bug nurse. It makes the trip take a little longer, but it's a worthy investment of our time if it keeps him from having full-on fits. He (thankfully) mostly sleeps during the drives, although he usually doesn't get into a nice deep sleep. And the most invaluable toy we brought along? A little penguin rattle that D bought from Babies 'R' Us. Little Bug finds it almost mesmerizing at times, and sometimes simply holding it in his line of vision will help him drift off to sleep. And when he's starting to fidget, I shake it at him and say “Yay! Penguin rattle!” For some reason, this usually works to quiet him down.

We're managing.

Disappointing results in the license plate game for Day 3. We only saw six new states, plus an official US Government plate.

Kansas       Massachusetts       Montana
Nevada      New York            Washington

The adventure would continue on Day 4.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Road Trip Diary: Day 2

The Navy is moving us from Waukegan, Illinois, to San Diego, California; driving across the country with a three-month-old baby and a cat who's afraid of the world is quite an adventure!

Using maps to prop the window up.  Bonus points for creative solutions!
Me: Nebraska has boring license plates.
D: Nebraska is a boring state.

And so went Day 2 of our journey. We woke up in our hotel room in Iowa and enjoyed a carb-tastic continental breakfast; D brought me a waffle with sugar-laden “table syrup,” toast with HFCS-laden jam, oj, and an apple. And it was all DELICIOUS. (Sometimes I use road trips as an excuse to eat badly. In this case, it was partially this and partially me needing to make sure I'm still getting enough calories in to keep up my milk supply for Little Bug. Plus, options were limited. But D certainly knows how to feed me to keep me happy!) I had slept better in the foreign hotel bed than I had in my last night in Illinois, cuddled with Little Bug in one bed while D slept in the other. (They weren't wide enough for all three of us.) We were on the road again by 0630.

When I drove through Nebraska nearly a year ago on my way to Illinois for D's boot camp pass & review, my mama and I were thoroughly unimpressed. Relatively flat, with road construction scattered throughout that required frequent slowing down and switching lanes, there was nothing special about driving through this state. Things hadn't changed much over the intervening time. D got frustrated by the frequent drops in speed necessitated by the construction crews, while I got tired of the monotonous landscape. We took breaks frequently at Nebraska rest stops, most of which apparently had bad water supplies.

One cool thing I've learned so far this trip is that roadside rest areas usually have state highway maps available for free. We've collected maps from every state we've driven through so far!

Our driving goal for Day 2 was Big Springs, Nebraska, which we thought would have good options for lodging due to its location at a fairly major freeway split. Instead, all we found was a single lonely motel of the variety that D & I lovingly refer to as a “murder lodge.” You know, the kind that feature frequently in generic horror movies, easily distinguished by their florescent signs declaring blandly, “MOTEL.” Some people might find them quaint, but I just know that I wouldn't feel entirely safe spending a night in one.

We looked at the murder lodge and then at each other dubiously, thinking the same thing. “Look,” I pointed. “Julesburg, 13 miles.” He nodded and we kept going. When we arrived at the Julesburg exit, we were greeted with a sign announcing “No Services,” along with another sign declaring that the next exit, Ovid, would be in nine miles.

Ovid proved to be disappointing as well. (“The O is for Oh-my-god-there's-nothing-here,” said D.) And thus it continued for awhile. Next exit, 10-15 miles. No lodging to be found. Most of them, no visible signs of civilization to be found either.

Seen on the side of a big rig.  Am I the only one who is disturbed by this?
The first hotels we finally came to were in Sterling, Colorado, a town that likely only exists because of the large prison there. Signs warned us not to pick up hitchhikers as we exited the freeway. But there was nothing for us here either; the Best Western was too expensive, the Super 8 looked like a murder lodge and the Comfort Inn didn't allow pets. We were told the next town with hotels was Brush ten-fifteen minutes down the road. The lady working the desk of the Comfort Inn assured us that there were lots of hotels, right off the freeway!

Forty-five minutes later, Brush didn't seem a very good option. A single murder lodge beckoned to us from the desolate-looking settlement. D and I looked at each other, and then at the sign indicating that Fort Morgan was less than twenty minutes away. We sighed in unison. “I'm not driving any further than Fort Morgan,” D warned.

Fortunately, we didn't have to. The Super 8 we stopped at didn't have a pool and was still pricier than we would have preferred, but after driving for two hours longer than we had intended, it would do. We were all ready to stop for the night.

All tuckered out.

Earlier that day, D and I had started playing the license plate game, trying to find plates from as many different states as possible. By the time we stopped, we had seen seventeen states and one Canadian province.

Arkansas       California       Colorado       Georgia
Indiana          Iowa              Maine            Maryland
Michigan       Minnesota      Missouri         Nebraska
Oklahoma     Tennessee      Texas             Utah
Vermont        Ontario

Our room here had a single bed, big enough for two people, but not for two people and a baby. In books and articles about cosleeping, I've heard babies described as “heat-seeking missiles,” in that they usually cuddle right up next to a parent. This definition fits Little Bug perfectly; after he finishes nursing at any given time, I usually back away a little in order to ensure that he has plenty of breathing room. Inevitably, though, I wake up with his head tucked up right under my armpit and his body as close to mine as he can scoot in his sleep. So, I'm not super worried about him falling out of bed in the night, but the bed was just too small for comfort, and I'm definitely not comfortable putting him between D & I unless it's a king-size mattress.

Instead, I opted to make a nest on the floor for Little Bug and myself, giving D the bed (since he's doing the hard work of driving the whole time!). It was actually surprisingly comfortable!

The adventure would continue on Day 3.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Road Trip Diary: Day 1

The Navy is moving us from Waukegan, Illinois, to San Diego, California; driving across the country with a three-month-old baby and a cat who's afraid of the world is quite an adventure!

Little Bug does not think highly of this idea.
“Well,” D announced as we settled ourselves into our new-ish car, “we're officially homeless.”

It was about 0730 on Monday morning. Our stuff had been picked up by PODS a few days earlier, and the rest of our earthly possessions were neatly packed into the back of our SUV (because D is a Tetris master). Little Bug was asleep in his car seat and Freddy was in his carrier, surprisingly quiet save the occasional pitiful meow.

And so we hit the road. We made good use of the FM transmitter that D had bought to enable us to listen to our iPods during our journey. I've tried finding radio stations along the way during road trips... this method was much better.

We got about an hour out before Little Bug had his first (and thankfully only) blow out of the day. Amid loud wails we pulled into a gas station parking lot so I could nurse him. D tried to contain his frustration at needing to stop again so soon while I got out of the car briefly to bounce Bug and calm him down. It's got to be difficult for him; he's used to having his needs met pretty much immediately, and having to wait to fill a hungry tummy is a foreign concept. But we got through it, and fifteen minutes later we were on our way again.

Overall, Day 1 was pretty uneventful. We navigated the smaller highways of Illinois, endeavoring to avoid routes with tolls. We eventually crossed the beautiful and breathtaking Mississippi River into Iowa, and promptly stopped at one of the first rest areas we came to for a break, with snacks all around. D made me a PB&J while I nursed Little Bug. We offered Freddy a snack and some water too but, martyr that he is, he stoically refused.

Let me take a moment to state that Iowa has some pretty rad rest stops. Indoor, nice clean bathrooms, TONS of vending machines (let the junk food begin!), and free wi-fi at pretty much every stop.

Freddy spent most of the ride hiding under a blanket.
After one such stop a few hours later, we had made more sandwiches and and rolled down the windows to sit and enjoy our lunch. (As much as I would have preferred getting out of the car, we couldn't leave Freddy there alone, and taking him out of the car was out of the question. Poor kitty is afraid of everything.) After eating, we prepared to leave. I went to roll up my window and heard a clicking-type noise. And the window fell back open, and would not roll back up again. D let loose some coarse words and declared that the power window regulator had gone kaput.

“How hard is that to fix?” I asked.

“Not hard, but it's [expletive deleted] expensive,” he replied.

My brain began working furiously. Did we have a warranty? I wondered. We had just purchased the car within the last month, but I distinctly recalled turning down the extended warranty. Pursing my lips, I pulled out the paperwork from CarMax, which was conveniently in the car (and not filed away in our Important Paperwork Box, which was in the POD). I shifted past all the details: the car we had sold (goodbye Volvo, I don't miss you at all), financing and loan terms, info on switching over our license plates. And then I found it: Limited 30 Day Warranty! I quickly calculated in my head. We bought our SUV 27 days ago. And the window regulator was listed as a covered part!

And there was much rejoicing.

What followed was a badly choreographed series of phone calls. Yes CarMax would cover the repair. No, there were no CarMax service centers anywhere in Iowa, and we were currently a few hours shy of Des Moines. Yes, we could take it elsewhere; we would pay up front, but CarMax would reimburse us. I called several car repair shops in Des Moines, but no one could fit us in that day; a few said possibly the following afternoon, but we couldn't afford to hang out in Iowa for an extra day. I even tried playing the military card, but to no avail.

In the end, the manager of the Kenosha service center (where we bought the car) was extremely accommodating, for which I am exceedingly thankful. We would continue on to San Diego, and once we got there, we could take the car into the nearest service center and get the window regulator fixed. We would just tell them that it was covered by the Limited 30 Day Warranty, and if they gave us any lip, we could refer them to the manager in Kenosha, who would vouch that the problem was reported during the allotted 30 days.

Satisfied, we continued on our way.

After spending more than an hour driving with the window down, wind blasting my left ear, we stopped for gas. D took some maps and stuffed them in the window crack, allowing us to keep the window up (mostly) for the remainder of the drive.

We rolled into Des Moines soon after, but as Little Bug was snoozing contentedly in his car seat, we decided to press on. We ended up spending the night in a Super 8 in the little town of Stuart, Iowa. We converged on our assigned room with baby and cat in tow, plus all associated bags. Freddy went straight under the covers, while D and I spent a lazy evening eating Subway and watching Pawn Stars.

The adventure would continue on Day 2.

The view from our motel in Stuart, Iowa.