Saturday, 31 March 2012

Twisted Tomato in Kelowna

I don't get to take my wife out to dinner as often as I'd like. I definitely don't get to take her out as often as she'd like. The problem with this situation is that there's a little more pressure to make it a great evening when we do go out. That leads to us ignoring some of the amazing restaurants in Kelowna, and returning to places where we've had good food before. What it seems to take in order for us to venture to a new establishment, is either the recommendation of a friend, or a special deal like a Groupon or a Twongo. When a friend of mine recommended that we buy the Twongo for the Twisted Tomato in Kelowna, that was enough prompting for me.

Of course I should mention that it wasn't a close personal friend. More of an acquaintance really. The point being that my friend/acquaintance doesn't really know what kind of restaurants I'm used to. I tend more towards the bigger establishments that have lots of tables and plenty of space to park. The Twisted Tomato doesn't fit this bill. It's small. Really small by my standards. In the restaurants I frequent you can spend a while wondering which horizon your waitress has disappeared over. At the Twisted Tomato you half expect the chef to come over to your table and say "Hey, we're a little behind in the kitchen. Do you mind lending a hand?" (If anyone orders a hot dog or a PB&J, I'm there for you chef!). I'm going to guess that there are about 15 tables in the restaurant, yet despite it's small size, Twisted Tomato achieves that balance of always full - never a line.

There should be a line down the street for this place. They may not have the seating capacity of a major chain restaurant, but the Twisted Tomato has something that nobody else does...their Duck Nachos. These are now easily my new favorite appetizer, and to be honest if they came in a meal size platter they'd probably be my new favorite dinner too. Here's the listing of what's in them:

Braised "Brome Lake Duck", hoisin barbeque sauce, carmelized onion, roasted bell peppers, mozzarella, cheddar, bruschetta, and chipotle aioli.

I can't tell you what a lot of those ingredients are, but I can tell you that they're good. How good? The best recommendation that I can give them is that, while we were enjoying a plate of Duck Nachos, my wife (who I love dearly, but Lord knows what she's thinking about sometimes) decided that it would be an appropriate time to share a story about feeding the ducks at her preschool. Even the cuteness level of her story didn't sway me from devouring my share of the nachos, then wondering if there was a way to steal one of hers without being noticed (no such luck).

The rest of our meal was fantastic as well. I had a scallop and bacon fettuccini that had chunks of bacon in it big enough to make me wonder if they were small scallops or not. Lori had the spinach and apple salad and a soup of some sort. I'll vouch for the salad, but I don't do soup. If you want to take her word for it though, it was pretty good. We did make the sacrifice of sharing a dessert, just to ensure that the quality of the food extended all the way to the end of the meal, and I'm pleased to report that the Turtle cheesecake is indeed every bit as good as it sounds.

This brings me to a dilemma though. If the Twisted Tomato has better food than pretty much all of the chain restaurants around here, then should I be risking our valuable date nights on some of the smaller restaurants in town, hoping for a repeat discovery? Are there other things out there as good as Duck Nachos? Am I missing out on something even better? It's hard to imagine, but I think I'll pay a little more attention to the Deal of the Day sites and recommendations from friends (or acquaintances) in the future. In the meantime, I'm already planning a return visit to the Twisted Tomato for some more Duck Nachos. Hopefully Lori can come up with a more appropriate dinner story this time.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Something Stunning in D.C.

There's something really amazing about this picture. In fact, it's so amazing that when I tell you what's going on, you're not going to believe it. Those of you who know me personally may have your entire perception of me changed by reading to the end of this post. I felt like I should warn you, and now I have.

This is my daughter sitting on the grass in front of the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. We were heading towards the Washington Monument when the fatigue from an entire day of wandering around the capital hit us hard, and we decided to crash out on the grass for a little bit. I was laying flat on my back when I glanced up and noticed my daughter looking particularly cute. I tried to line up a shot, but it's pretty hard to get a good picture when you're lying on your back, so I had to do the unthinkable...I had to do a sit-up.

Actually, let's call it a stomach crunch (That sounds more manly anyways.). Now let me say that I'm not too sure what all the fuss is about. Sure my back cracked and my stomach cramped up, but it probably only took about 45 seconds total, and after resting for 15 minutes or so, I probably could have done another one. Fortunately, I got a passable shot the first time, so I didn't have to do a second sit-up. It's probably some kind of super ability that I have - combining photography with physical fitness. I've never heard of it before, so maybe I'm the only one who can do it? More likely, nobody else has ever tried it, but somebody has to be the trendsetter. Of course, I'd be more than willing to pass that burden off to somebody else. Any takers?....Please?

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's people there who are complete trendsetters themselves. I'm pretty sure one of them even invented the Hunger Games. True story.... 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Hyatt Place Herndon / Dulles Airport-East

You know what's important when arriving in a new city in the middle of the night? Knowing the name of your hotel. Not just an approximate name...the exact one. After our problems making our connection in Denver, we arrived at Washington's Dulles Airport around 2:30am, gathered our bags, and hopped in a cab. Unfortunately, my paperwork had been all shifted around when we were planning on staying in Denver for the night, so I was trying to tell the driver where we needed to go by memory. I staggered through a bunch of options..."The Hyatt Place Dulles", "The Hyatt Herndon", "The Hyatt Dulles Airport", until finally our taxi driver decided that he knew where we were going and we raced off into the night.

He didn't know where we were going.

I can't blame our driver for getting tired of listening to me mix up the names of the six Hyatt hotels that surround the Dulles airport, and I thank him for deciding that we looked like respectable enough people to drop us off at the fanciest of the Hyatts, the Hyatt Dulles. Unfortunately, as you can see from the title of this post, that's not where we were staying. This revelation occurred to me after our taxi roared away, when I turned to look at the hotel and thought to myself, "Geez, I've never seen a 15 story Hyatt Place before."

I still haven't.

Our thanks to the Front Desk Agent at the Hyatt Dulles who took the time to walk outside with us and point us to the Hyatt Place Herndon, which fortunately was just across the road and down a block or two. Nothing like a little 3am moonlight stroll pulling luggage through the streets of Virginia (Yes, I had to look that up. I had no idea where we were.) to finish your day off, but believe me with the finish line in sight, we were more than ready to get to our room. We rolled in to the lobby of our hotel at around 3:15am, grabbed our keys, and headed upstairs.

These are the moments that make me love Hyatt Place. I've never once walked into a Hyatt Place room and thought "Whoa! What a strange layout!" Every Hyatt Place we've ever stayed at has the exact same layout, and after as many nights as we've spent in them, it's like arriving back home. The kids all know which bed they're sleeping in, Lori knows exactly where she wants everything to go, and we all know how to hook our stuff up to the free Wi-Fi. It's a perfect late-night arrival hotel for us.

Sorry. Too tired to take the pictures when we arrived and the beds were made.

Of course the real reason we choose Hyatt Place is space. As a family of five, we can make do with a two queen room, but whenever the opportunity presents itself, we'd much rather have two beds and a pull out couch. This is what every Hyatt Place has, and it still leaves a bunch of floor space left over. The bathrooms are small, but there is a huge counter with a sink outside of it, allowing people to get ready without tying up the tub or toilet. Each room has a fridge and (can you hear my wife cheering?) coffee maker, but my favorite part about Hyatt Place rooms are the TV's.

Each Hyatt Place room comes with a 42" flat screen TV, which is nice, but my favorite part is the control panel. Hyatt has built a separate panel into the entertainment unit that the TV sits on, allowing you to hook up your iPads, computers, DVD players, and just about anything else you want, without having to fumble around behind the TV looking for input sockets. While sometimes Hyatt's TV channels are lacking (They very rarely have Disney channel. All hotels should have Disney Channel.), it's less of a problem when it's so simple to hook up our own equipment.

I can't think of an occasion when I've been disappointed by a stay at a Hyatt Place, and Hyatt Place Herndon wasn't the first. It was comfortable, quiet (at least until we arrived at 3am), and the staff were super-helpful in arranging transportation into D.C. for us the next morning. We slept through the free continental breakfast, but from the setup I saw when we arrived, it looked like it would be a pretty decent one. If I was headed back into Dulles, you can be assured that I'd stay at the hotel again, especially now that I've got the name of it memorized. Hyatt Place Herndon....Hyatt Place Herndon....Hyatt Place Herndon....

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Dealing with Delays Differently

A few days ago I wrote about United Airlines customer service, and how I was reasonably happy with the way that they handled our likely-to-be-missed connection in Denver last week. I was less happy with the way that their phone staff responded, but there were some people who did an even worse job of dealing with the delay than anybody on the United team. While most people were calm and understood that flight delays happen, there were a couple of passengers whose lives were apparently altered in drastic ways by the chance that they may miss their connection. I really felt sorry for the gate agents who these passengers apparently mistook for their personal secretaries, but it sure kept the entertainment level high for those of us watching.

First up was the "I'm too important to miss my connection" guy. As soon as it became apparent that our flight was going to be late, he was on his phone talking with somebody about alternative routes (for his sake I hope it wasn't United's customer service line) and he never put the phone down again until...well I actually never saw him put it down again. He was the first up to the desk when a gate agent arrived, and when they told him they had to deal with the other flight first he responded "But what if I need to be re-routed on to that plane?" When informed that the outgoing flight had checked in full, he pulled out "Well you'll ask for volunteers to give up their seat so I can get to my destination right?" Somehow the United agent kept a straight face and informed him that there was no intention to ask for volunteers, so with a giant "Hrmph!" he put the phone back to his ear and started talking to somebody again while walking away from the counter. I saw him again in Washington, still talking on the phone. My condolences to whichever United employee got to deal with this guy.

Can you check every one of these please?

Next was the "Where can we go from here?" guy. This gentleman obviously knew the United system very well, as he had loads of suggestions for re-routing him. For some reason though, most of these re-routes involved traveling through tropical locations. I'm pretty sure the most direct route from Denver to Miami doesn't involve going through Honolulu or Puerto Vallarta. What's worse was that every time he found a routing he could take, he would come up with "just one more" that he wanted to check. It may have been the slowest moving line in history, but I think everybody put up with it because we all really wanted to know just what route this guy was going to end up taking. Unfortunately, I never got to find out as I got called over to the other line to be helped.

This is where I met my favorite type of delayed passenger, the "I really don't care" lady. She looked completely exhausted, and she only had one question for the lady handling her..."Are the food vouchers good at Starbucks?" Once assured that they were, this lady didn't care about anything else. She took her vouchers and started to walk away, leaving the poor United agent to call her back to deal with a hotel. The passenger mumbled something about benches and Starbucks (I didn't quite catch it all) and kept on going. The United agent laughed, then turned to help me, thus assuring that I was going to come off as the most demanding person on the planet for wanting a hotel room for the night.

Of course eventually, all of this exercise turned out to be pointless. While not everybody on our flight was connecting to Washington, a large portion of us were, and since they held the plane for us in Denver nobody actually needed any of the vouchers that we'd been given. I'm guessing that we all thought about it though. While running through the Denver airport to make our connection, I'm pretty sure we all did a little stutter step while going past the Woody Creek Bakery & Cafe, contemplating just how much of the $100 in food vouchers we could redeem for baked goods while still making our carry-on limits. I'm sure they would have held the plane for me. After all, I'm too important to miss my connection.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Hilton Garden Inn Spokane Airport

To be fair, in the battle of airport hotels, the Hilton Garden Inn Spokane Airport had a pretty big advantage. See, my kids associate airport hotels with early morning flights, and in case nobody ever told you, teenagers hate getting up in the morning. So when my kids found out that our flight the next day was at 2pm not 2am, they were thrilled (They were a little less thrilled when the flight got delayed, but that's another story), which meant all the Hilton Garden Inn had to do was impress Lori and I. How did it do?

Cost: The Hilton Garden Inn was actually the most expensive option in Spokane on the night we needed a room, BUT (emphasis on the "but" to make sure my wife keeps reading) parking at the Spokane airport ranges from $6-$10 per day, and the HGI had a great Park N' Fly option that made up for most of the difference. All things being equal, I'd rather stay at a chain where I can earn points and get benefits from having elite status, and by choosing the Hilton not only did I get points on the room rate, but as a gold member I receive two free breakfasts every morning, which the hotel very graciously extended to four. Remember those teenagers who don't like to get up in the morning? It's different if there's food involved. Between the points, the free breakfasts, and not paying for parking, I had no time justifying the slightly higher room rate.

Location: The hotel is wedged between the highway heading into Spokane and the airport itself. Sounds like a recipe for a noise nightmare, but I can honestly say I never heard a thing from within our room. It's only a three minute shuttle ride from the hotel to the airport and the shuttle runs on demand instead of on a set schedule. This thrilled me to no end as I'm usually the guy who shows up 5 minutes late for the last shuttle and 25 minutes early for the next one. There's plenty of food options within a couple blocks (although no matter how many choices there are, my kids will always send me for a stuffed crust cheese pizza) and a Walmart is nearby as well. You're still a little ways out of the main city of Spokane, so this might not be an ideal place to stay if the purpose of your visit is Spokane itself, but if you're flying in or out, this is about as good as it gets.

Service: Smiling faces make me happy. Not awkward, plastered on smiles like the kind I put on every time I hear the words "Say Cheese!", but it's nice to deal with people who honestly seem to be having a good day. Apparently, a bunch of these people work at the HGI in Spokane. Everybody seemed to be happy and eager to please. At check-in I noticed a Gonzaga sign on one of the backroom doors, and as it was a March Madness weekend, I asked the agent if Gonzaga had won their game. She apologized for not knowing (Hey, I'm a so-called basketball fan and I'm asking you) but before I left the desk she made sure to find out for me. It's little extra things like finding that score for me that stick in my mind when I remember hotels. Most of them can get you checked in and up to your room with a little bit of pleasantness, but the hotels that do the little things for you, will most likely be there when you need something more important. That's usually how I judge service, and HGI Spokane has some great people giving great service.

Room: Hilton Garden Inn rooms seem fairly standardized (within North America at least), so I wasn't exactly surprised when I walked through the door. They use Queen beds instead of Doubles which is a huge bonus in my books. I also appreciated the fridge and microwave, although I highly suspect that the
microwave might have been from the first batch ever produced. The bathroom was small, and definitely not an ideal setup for more than two people, but for a one night stay it was fine. The internet was wireless and free, and seemed to have decent speed to it, or at least it did before my kids connected every device ever invented to the network. I actually called my son out for having three devices connected to the wifi when he only has two hands, only to have him prove to me that he could, in fact, use three devices at the same time, and I suspect that if I'd challenged him further he could have added a fourth. If anybody else was in the Hilton Garden Inn that night, I apologize for your internet speed. The bandwidth was in room 329.

Breakfast: The one area where the Hilton Garden Inn fell a little short was in the breakfast buffet. It didn't lack for choices, as there was sausage, bacon, eggs, and a plethora of danishes, muffins, and juices. The food just seemed a little cold, and although I don't expect any hotel to cook their food exactly to our tastes, none of us found the food to our liking. We did order some food off the menu as well, and while my children again didn't really like their choices, I quite enjoyed my omelette. Our waitress was great, and there was no problems getting the breakfast charges taken off with our coupons. One issue I have with the buffet though...who thought it would be a good idea to put chocolate chips out as a topping for waffles? It's not that I don't think chocolate chips and waffles go well together (they do), but now guess what my daughter expects to see out on the counter every Saturday morning? It's not going to happen Neve!

Overall it was a great stay. If we decide that we're going to fly out of Spokane again, this will be the first hotel that I check availability on, particularly if we're going on a longer trip as the Park N' Fly option allows for up to three weeks of free parking. That would be a huge money saver, although you should be aware that while you can probably find a space right in front of the main entrance to the hotel, you are parking in an open surface lot, so I wouldn't be leaving valuables behind. The real test though will be on our next visit. If our flight leaves before noon, and the kids are still enthusiastic about the Hilton Garden Inn, then we'll know that we've found our go-to place in Spokane. That's a pretty tough criteria for any hotel to meet, but I think the HGI Spokane Airport has a shot.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Is Spokane Airport Viable from Kelowna?

I had a small concern with booking our flights to D.C. out of Spokane instead of Seattle. We've never flown out of Spokane, and in fact it's been a long time since I've even been there. Almost six years actually, and that was only to cut through on our way to Coeur d'Alene. I was hoping that it would be an easy drive, as I'd love to have another airport to monitor for super sales, but I had my doubts. Still, I've got Mandy, so even though I haven't updated my GPS since I got it, I figured it could probably handle a straight forward path between two towns. That should be simple enough, and I'm sure it would be if I didn't start mixing in my own thoughts on the routing.

For instance, Mandy wanted us to start out by going east, but I made the executive decision to head south first and make a stop at Tickleberry's (Yes, it's a week later and I'm still full.) for ice cream. This meant that Mandy put us on our secondary route, which apparently is the path that moonshiners use when vacationing in Washington State. This road had some serious curves, dips, and bumps, with no signs of civilization anywhere. We were flying along the road kicking up a cloud of dust behind us and I half expected Bo and Luke Duke to come racing past in the General Lee with Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in hot pursuit. I would have been tempted to join in the chase, but you'll notice that they never featured a Dodge minivan on the Dukes of Hazzard. There's a reason for that, as I was having enough trouble keeping my van from bouncing off the road at the prescribed speed limit, never mind during a high speed scenario.

After a couple hours of playing Powerslide through corners, we finally came upon a small town called Grand Coulee, home of the Grand Coulee Dam. This is where a little preparation would have been a good thing. A properly prepared adult could have taken this moment to educate his children, informing them that "Hey kids, this is the Grand Coulee Dam, built in 1942, it's the largest electric-power producing facility in the United States, and one of the largest concrete structures in the world!" Instead I came up with the eternal gem "Look, somebody blocked the river!" Realistically though, I doubt it would have mattered. My kids belong to the "biggest and best" generation. They've driven over Hoover Dam before, and barely looked up from their iPads. I guess they're saving their excitement for a visit to the Oroville Dam. Yeah...that must be it.

After finding out that we couldn't drive across the top of the dam (Really? Why build a dam if you can't drive across it?) we continued back into the dirt roads headed towards Spokane. I have a question for Washingtonians though. Is there a state law that says all small towns must start their name with the word "Kettle"? Perhaps there was a famous American explorer who discovered all the inland areas of Washington and then decided that potato chips would be best served extra crunchy? On our short journey, we went through Kettle Valley, Kettle River, and two towns called Kettle Falls (although I suppose it's possible I got lost and went through the same town twice). Notably missing were Kettle Corn, Kettle Drum, and for alcoholics, Kettle One. These are the things that occupy my mind when I'm driving long stretches of barren road.

The point of this however (and I'm sure by now you're wondering if I actually have one) was whether or not Spokane is a viable option as a departure city for us going forward. It took us approximately 5 1/2 hours to get from Kelowna to Spokane, putting it almost exactly level with leaving from Seattle for us. If I could actually find a paved road across Washington State, I'm pretty sure I could cut that time down a little, which would make it even more attractive. I'd say if the deal is worth driving to Seattle for, it would be worth driving to Spokane for. Next time though, I'll skip the Tickleberry's and uncheck the box on my GPS that says "Avoid civilization at all costs". That should get us there a little quicker.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Learning About Lincoln and Savings!

We don't learn much about President Lincoln in Canadian schools. It's fair enough I suppose, but considering the amount of good that he did, it's probably important for our kids to have a basic understanding of who he was, other than that statue that came to life in Night at the Museum.

So here's documented proof that we teach our kids things. Don't they look like they're paying attention? Doesn't Lori strike a very professional teacher pose? Don't you wish there was audio with this picture? Let me give you a little snippet of what's actually being taught here:

"So President Lincoln freed the slaves and won the Civil War. He was born in February, so on President's Day all the stores have big sales, sometimes up to 75% off! It's too bad he wasn't born in March because then the sales would fall on Spring Break."

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's people there who actually teach their kids proper history that doesn't involve half price sales.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

UA Customer Service - Helping Me Lose the FBI

They say you can't be in two places at once. As a general rule I suppose that's true, but last night, thanks to United Airlines customer service, I was in hotels in Spokane, Denver, and Washington D.C., all at the same time. I felt like some kind of super spy, and if the FBI was trying to figure out where I was, they were S.O.L. although in the end I did try and make it easier for them by sleeping in a hotel about a half block from their head office.

Yesterday we were supposed to fly from Spokane to Denver, and then Denver to Washington, D.C. Unfortunately our flight from Spokane was delayed almost two hours, meaning that we were going to miss our connection to D.C. Now surprisingly enough, despite the amount of flying that I've done, I've never missed a connection before. My bags have missed a connection. I've missed the first leg of a flight by sleeping in. I've even been bumped off the second leg of my flight before (three times for the same flight once), but this was new territory for me as I'd never had to be re-routed before.

So how did United handle it? Well to start off, not that well. Spokane isn't exactly a major airport for United (or anybody else really), so while we could all see on the board that our flight was delayed, there was nobody around to help us figure out what was going on. When staff finally did show up at the gate, they had to deal with an incoming flight from San Francisco, so all of us slightly worried type folks were told that we had to wait until after the other plane was re-loaded before they could help us. This didn't exactly fill me with confidence, so while I was waiting for the other flight to clear, I tried calling United's customer service line. This did nothing to raise my spirits as the only thing the phone agent could tell me was that there wasn't another flight to Washington that night. When I asked what my other options were for getting to the destination that I'd paid for (although in all fairness, I didn't pay that much) all I got was "Ummmm...there's not another flight tonight". It was kind of like dealing with a new form of artificial intelligence, only minus the whole intelligence part. Feeling concerned, I called the hotel we had stayed at the night before in Spokane and asked them to hold on to a room for us.

Once the San Francisco flight was out of the way, the airport agents got to work trying to resolve everybody's connection issues. As it was so eloquently pointed out by United's customer service line, there wasn't another flight to D.C. that night, so the agent re-booked our family onto the next days 8am flight. Without having to ask, we were offered $100 in food vouchers and a hotel room in Denver for the night. To be honest, this sounded like a better idea than our original plan which had us arriving in to D.C. at 1:30 in the morning. Once they finally got going on things, I was very happy with all that United did for us.

At least I was until we got to Denver. In Denver we were the very last people to get off the plane, figuring that we had plenty of time. As we came off the plane however, we were greeted by a United agent informing us that they were holding the plane to Washington for us at a gate across the airport. Cue the mad dash music as we got to run through Denver airport at top speed. By the way...Don't ever run through Denver airport at top speed. Especially with lots of carry-ons. We made it to the gate, but I was feeling incredibly light-headed by the time we got to the gate. I blame it on the thin air, but my son blames it on me eating everything in sight. Damn they're cocky when there's still a half month to allowance day.

Although it was nice to make our connection, I felt pretty bad for all the people who had to wait an hour while we made our way from Spokane. I felt especially bad for the poor guy who had to share a row with Talon and I, as right up until the last moment he must have thought that he'd scored and empty row to himself. What I felt good about though, was the way that United handled the situation. While it was a little chaotic, I never worried too much that we'd be sleeping on a airport floor or anything like that. It would have been nice to get a little earlier communication, and being told to wait while they handled a different flight was a little bit annoying, but once United got around to taking care of us, I felt like I was in good hands. They got us to D.C., and they made sure that we gave the FBI the slip. What more can I ask for than that?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Tickleberry's and the Wall of Cones

We were driving through Okanagan Falls today, which is a little community about an hour south of Kelowna, and we found ourselves following along the route of the Ironman competition. The Ironman is an enormous endurance race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then finishing off with a 26.2 mile run. Only the world's very fittest athletes participate in this kind of race, and although I certainly don't consider myself an elite athlete (despite my muscular calves), I couldn't help but get a little swept up in the moment. I decided to pull off to the side and get out of my car to soak up the atmosphere and live out in my mind what it must feel like to be a finely tuned athlete.

OK, I don't imagine too many of the world's top athletes pull over for a snack during the race, but the Ironman course happens to run past one of the most amazing ice cream shops I've ever had the good fortune to stumble in to. Ironman competitors might be forgiven for not stopping, but nobody else should miss an opportunity to visit Tickleberry's. Of course you don't have to get quite as carried away as I did, but I have a really good excuse for that, which we'll get to in a minute.

Tickleberry's is a sweet shop in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia. It's one of those places that, if you're from the Okanagan, you know about, and if you live within a four or five hour drive of the store, somebody has probably recommended it to you. The namesake product of the store, Tickleberries themselves are any dried fruit that you can coat in chocolate (and let's face it...everything should be coated in chocolate) but the store carries all sorts of other goodies, including some to-die-for fudge.

As good as it is though, the fudge isn't why you come to Tickleberry's. What you want is to try some of the 72 flavors of ice cream that they keep on hand. That's a lot of flavors to choose from, and I wish I could help you narrow it down a little, but I have to report that I haven't found a flavor that I don't like yet, and as you can see, I've done some pretty extensive research on the subject. If you're not careful though, you'll end up working your way through those 72 flavors in a hurry too. Here's what you need to know about ordering ice cream at Tickleberry's:

Please note that, despite what you were taught in math class, the pictures beside each level are accurate. The single cone does indeed have three scoops of ice cream, and the double in fact has four. Even the Child's cone has two scoops, so if you just want a single scoop of ice cream, you're going to have to order a Baby Bear or pretend that you have a dog with you and order a K-9. Where you need to be careful is if you're like me, and your eyes naturally gravitate towards the word "Large". At Tickleberry's, a large cone is a sky high stack of ice cream and, more importantly, a spot on the "Wall of Cones"

The Wall of Cones is reserved for those people willing to put their lactose tolerance to the test by piling seven scoops of ice cream onto a single cone. Tickleberry's opens in March each year, and apparently only five people have been insane enough to order a large cone in 2012. That alone was nearly enough impetus to give the large a try, but when you pair the Wall of Cones honor with a bunch of family members saying things like "You're not going to do it are you Dad?" and "Don't embarrass us!"....well...there's only so much a man can resist. $7.95 is a small price to pay for the chance to make your kids cringe with parental shame. The seven scoops of ice cream themselves...well that's just a bonus, although it was a really, really tasty bonus.

I don't have a whole lot of "must-do" items on my list when it comes to the Okanagan, but a stop at Tickleberry's is something I recommend to anybody. If you're heading south of Penticton and north of...Oh let's say San Francisco, then you should make plans to stop by. You don't have to order a large cone (although I know you want to) and get yourself on the Wall of Cones. Feel free to just point at my picture and say "I know him". I'm sure you'll get treated with all the same respect and reverence that my kids treat me with. Good luck with that.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Photobomb like Jagger

During Spring Break a couple of years ago, my daughter decided that she wanted her picture taken with this statue of Mick Jagger at the Hard Rock in Honolulu. I have no idea why. I'm pretty sure that she had no idea who Mick was at the time (She does now because I constantly strut around the house claiming that "I've got the moves like Jagger", but that's a different story.) yet she was insistent, so Lori grabbed the camera and lined up the shot. I thought I was being so cool and suave slipping myself into the background of the picture, but you just can't compete with a professional. I still say there's something wrong with my camera.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's people there who can actually be the focus of their own photobomb.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Trying the $20 Trick in Vegas

You know what I love about hotels in Vegas? In Vegas it's fairly well accepted that you can bribe your way into a better room. They call it the $20 trick, but really there's no trick to it at all. The theory goes that at check-in you sandwich a $20 bill between your drivers license and your credit card, then slide them over to the front desk clerk and ask if there are any "free upgrades" available. Once the clerk processes your information, you'll get your license and credit card back, but the $20 bill will be missing and your room will have (in theory) improved. It's a pretty basic system, and I can hear you thinking to yourself "Steve, do we really need tips on how to do something this easy? It's so could anybody screw it up?"

Yes, it's a rhetorical question.

Here's a few things to remember if you decide to go for the upgrade:

#1) You actually have to give them the money
View from the bathtub of our upgraded room.
The first time I decided to give the $20 trick a go, I was a little nervous. It seemed a little shady slipping the money to the clerk between the cards, so I started out simply holding the money in plain view. With a $20 bill sitting on the desk, I asked if there were any upgrades available and after a whole lot of key clicking, the clerk found a fantastic strip view suite on a high floor for us. I was so excited that the trick had worked exactly as planned that I quickly signed off on all the paperwork and headed up to check out the room, only to discover once I got there that I had put the $20 bill back in my pocket instead of giving it to the front desk clerk. I went back down to see if I could find her, but she was no where to be found. Probably got sent home for swearing at customers as they walked up to their suite.

#2) Don't be too discreet
Once I finally decided that I wouldn't be branded a degenerate for following the rules of the trick, I started putting the $20 between my license and credit card. At the beginning however, I didn't really realize that the idea was for the front desk agent to actually see the money. On one attempt I folded the $20 bill so neatly that there was no part of it visible. Unfortunately I was a frequent guest at that hotel back then, so when I slid my I.D. over to the clerk, he simply waved it off saying that all my information was already in the system. I had to insist that he verify who I was before I got a chance to ask about an upgrade.

#3) Be specific
With the bed folded down
After a while you get to be pretty good at slipping the money across the counter, and your batting average goes up. One of the things you learn though, is that it's a lot harder for the clerk to upgrade you if you need a certain number of beds. I once checked into a hotel and after accepting the money, the clerk asked if it was important for us to have a room with a king bed. I assumed he was asking if we would be OK with two queens so I told him we didn't care what kind of bed we had. A few key clicks later he found us a suite in what he promised was "one of their nicer rooms". This sounded promising to me so we went upstairs to check it out. He was was a very nice room...but apparently when he asked if the king bed was important to us, what he meant was "Is having any bed important to you?" because there was no bed to be found in the room. Actually there was a bed, but it had been folded up into the wall, and when we finally figured out where it was and folded it down, we found the worst Murphy Bed mattress in history. To give you an idea of how bad it was, we actually decided to sleep on the fold out couch instead of the mattress. Sometimes the upgrade just isn't worth the $20.

#4) You can still get upgraded when money doesn't work
Augustus Tower
Shortly after Caesars Palace opened its new Augustus Tower, Lori and I went to Vegas to meet up with some friends. I made the reservations in my name, so when we arrived first Lori and I went to the front desk and tried the $20 trick while asking for an upgrade to the Augustus Tower. The clerk was very nice, but told us that, as it was new, the Augustus Tower was completely sold out for the night. He apologized and gave us a room in the Forum Tower, which was nice but on the completely opposite side of the casino. When our friends arrived later, we decided to try something different. Normally I would go down with the husband and check him in to the second room. This time, I went down with my friend's wife, and we waited until we got the same clerk who checked Lori and I in before. He recognized me, but it wasn't until I told him that I wanted to check in that he realized I wasn't with the same woman. This time, while slipping him the $20, I asked for "a room as far away from the Forum Tower as possible". Sure enough, we got an upgrade to the Augustus Tower.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Train Travel Is Like This Right?

We've had a little change of plans for our upcoming Spring Break. While I was able to find cheap flights out to Washington, D.C., the only return flights I could find for under $75 were three days after arrival, which didn't like a worthy amount of time to fly across the country for. So I waited on the return flights, and last week my patience was rewarded with the cheap flights that I was looking for. The only problem is, they leave from New York, which means that we're going to have to catch the train between the two cities, and despite my worldly demeanor (and dashing good looks), I've never actually ridden on a train.

Not a real train anyways. I mean, I've ridden a pineapple train in Hawaii, and I've taken a spin on the Stanley Park Christmas train in Vancouver. I've also spent countless hours on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland, although I suspect that the ride to New York might be a little different (How cool would that be though? Can you imagine how high the first hill would have to be?). Catching a train doesn't strike me as a real hard thing to do, but since I've never done it, I have some questions. Where does the luggage go? Does somebody actually come around saying "Tickets please!"? If a good guy and a bad guy chase each other through our car, are we expected to help or do we just watch quietly from our seats?

See, all of my ideas about train travel come from the movies. I envision the kids climbing aboard, then Lori and I having a long, passionate kiss before she waves goodbye and gets on the train. Then, just as the train starts to move, I'll remember that I'm actually going with them so I'll run alongside the train as it pulls out, jumping on board at the last possible second. I've also pictured the train being robbed, people fighting on the roof of the train as they jump from car to car, and Wile E. Coyote racing alongside the tracks on roller skates with an ACME rocket strapped to his back. To say I'm not sure exactly what I'm getting in to here, seems like a bit of an understatement.

Of course, if you think my ideas might be a little far-fetched, you should talk to the rest of my family. I have one daughter who thinks there will be a giant face on the front of the train saying "I think I can, I think I can.." all the way to New York. The other wants to know if we can walk down the length of the train to find the car where they keep the circus animals because she wants to feed the giraffe. My wife may be the furthest off base as she seems to think it will be a nice romantic ride with the two of us sharing a meal across from each other at a table (I'm not sure where she thinks the kids will be).

Despite our soon to be shattered, movie inspired notions of train travel, I'm sure it will be a fun way to get to New York. It's definitely going to be a different way of arriving there, and I look forward to watching my kids get their first glimpses of the big city as we get closer. At least I think they'll be able to see the city. I don't actually know if we come in above ground or through a tunnel. If we come in through a tunnel, I hope the giraffe knows that he has to duck. That would really shatter my daughter's illusions about train travel in a hurry.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

I'm Pretty Sure I'm Famous

See? Your typical American/Canadian family
I certainly wasn't born into this. I had as normal a childhood as anybody could ask for. My parents stayed married all their lives, our family always had a dog, and my sister and I fought constantly until the age of 16, at which point I realized that all her friends had suddenly become cute. Now I'm married, live in the suburbs of a city, and my son has to do daily battle with two sisters instead of one, although it does mean that in a couple of years there'll be twice as many cute friends hanging around for him to flirt with. Our life has been pretty plain, and if it weren't for the fact that we live in Canada, we'd probably be the ideal representative of the typical American family.

Then I started writing this blog.

Ok, so I haven't won a Pulitzer yet, and Hollywood isn't exactly lurking around my car waiting to throw movie scripts at me, but I tell you things are different since I've started writing. No longer am I sharing my thoughts with family members who more than likely aren't listening. Now when I write something, I know that people in England, Thailand, Australia, and one rather odd, couch-dwelling soul in China, hear what I'm saying. No longer are my words empty and hollow - they have power! My voice resonates loudly across the globe, although apparently it still can't penetrate my daughters bedroom door when it's closed.

Did you say something Dad?
The real extent of my fame however, only becomes apparent when I go out in my hometown. Oh sure, people are polite and try not to bother me while I'm out in public, but I know that they want to stop me and talk about yesterday's post. It's really not too much of a hardship, but it can be problematic when I go out somewhere that I'm planning on writing about. I used to be able to slip in without being noticed, but now as soon as I show up, I know that I'm going to get the royal treatment. They don't make it obvious, but it's hard not to notice some of the perks. Sometimes it's something small like free refills on our drinks. Other times it's not disguised at all. Just yesterday we went out for dinner and when the bill came they had knocked $30 off the total. What else could that be, other than a blatant attempt to sway my review of their restaurant? (My wife seems to think it was the $30 Groupon that I gave our server, but I find that kind of logic a little too convenient.)

Being so well known tends to affect my relationship with other bloggers as well. I don't mean that we don't get along...everybody I talk to in the travel blogging world is incredibly friendly, but as my fame grows there seems to be a surge in the number of "We'd better get there before Steve" activities. You want an example? Just last week I was thinking to myself "You know, it would be nice to go to France" and then I wake up this morning and my good friend Lisa from Gone with the Family has packed up her family and carted them all off to Paris. Coincidence? I think not. We thought about going to Texas for Spring Break, but Rebecca from R We There Yet Mom and Jessica from Suitcases and Sippycups have written so much about their home state lately that we decided to go to D.C. instead. Then there's Sarah from Wandering Off who so badly wanted to beat me to all the Vegas scoops that she actually moved there!

Cue the Travel Blogger Paparazzi
I'm not complaining. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to talk about our adventures on the World Wide Web, and I'm willing to pay the price. Fortunately, travel blogging fame is very different from Hollywood fame. Nobody cares who we're dating, we don't get judged on how nicely we wear a tuxedo, and the only time we draw paparazzi is if there's a sunset or strange food item to be photographed. Still, I worry that one day the pressures of the fame will get to me. I can't promise to always remember the little people (heck, I'm working on trying to remember my kids names) but you early readers will always have a special place in my heart. I'm especially impressed with your stealth techniques. Considering the massive extent of my popularity, it's impressive that so many of you manage to follow me without registering a hit on the Google Analytics counter. I should probably let Google know about my incredibly sneaky fan base. If you're reading any other blogs, they may not know just how famous they are.

Friday, 9 March 2012

I'm More of an Idea Guy

I'm loaded with good ideas. Some of them are under-appreciated by the world like when I suggested to my boss that he should stick to work clothes because he really couldn't pull off the suit look, but that doesn't make them less great. In fact, some of my ideas are so great that they have entire sub-categories of other great ideas contained within them. For instance, my incredibly brilliant idea to spend 24 hours in Disneyland for Leap Day can be broken down into many smaller, genius concepts, such as the one that went "Hey, let's take a picture of ourselves every hour, no matter where we are!"

Hour 1 - Early start. I'm not sure the boy has realized that he's not at school yet. I considered telling him, but then decided to just wake him up by riding Space Mountain. All schools should have an option like this.

Hour 2 - Technically I'm shopping for some earrings in this store that my wife asked me to pick up for our daughter, but somehow holding up a pair of dangling Mickey hoops didn't seem very manly, hence the shirt.

Hour 3 - It dawns on me that I'm going to need to indicate which shot is which on the camera, so I take the ultra-creative route of holding up three fingers. It doesn't occur to me that over the course of a 24 hour day, this system could become problematic.

Hour 4 - Do you see how seriously I'm taking this challenge? Notice that on MY breakfast plate, there's fruit! That's health food! I tell you I was pulling out all the stops to make sure I survived this day! (Note that the boy almost looks awake. I imagine this is because on a normal day, it would be lunch time at school.)

Hour 5 - Remember when I said great ideas aren't always recognized by others? Check out the "What's wrong with these guys?" look that the girl in the bottom right is giving us.

Hour 6 - I know what you're thinking...I'd better stop taking my son out of math class, but he really is holding up a thumb along with those five fingers. He honestly can count to six. I won't tell you how many shots it took to get it right though.

Hour 7 - Apparently hour 7 was the peak of our creativity.

Hour 8 - Technically this picture was taken at about the 8 hour and 5 minute mark, as we were in the bathroom when the hourly alarm went off and whipping out the camera didn't seem like a great idea. It also didn't seem like the ideal moment to tell my son to hold up 8 fingers either.

Hour 9 - I look like I'm about to do a "These are not the droids you're looking for.." kind of move.

Hour 10 - Ten hours in and the boy looks more awake than ever. It's probably hereditary. I'm sure I look every bit as awake as he does...

Hour 11 - See? Bright eyed and bushy-tailed!

Hour 12 - We've realized that we don't have enough fingers to pull this off. We've resorted to finding random numbers on posters in the park.

Hour 13 - and now we've given up completely. I don't know which is lame attempt at writing "Hour 13" on the pad of paper or my son's inability to zoom a picture in enough that you can read the paper. If he wasn't going to let you read the paper, he could have at least zoomed out enough that you can actually tell what ride we're on. Of course it's possible that the boy didn't want to document that I was making him ride the Little Mermaid...again.

All great ideas run their course eventually though, and hour 13 was the last shot we took. At the 14 hour mark, we were caught in a huge crush of people trying to move from one park to the other, and by hour 15 we'd thrown in the towel. If I was 10 (umm...let's make that 20) years younger, this would be a complete set of 24 pictures, but I'm less a man of action these days and more of an idea guy. A "great idea" guy!

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's people there who can count to 24, even though they don't have enough fingers and toes. I'm not sure how they do that.