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03 June 2012 @ 11:11 pm
California Dreamin'  
I'm just back from my first "real" vacation in living memory. And by "real" vacation, I mean one where I did not have a big agenda, where I slept in a real bed every night and where - *gasp* - I did NOT bring my laptop. (I WAS still available by phone if really, really needed, but I only took one call of that sort and deferred it until Monday, :) dixon_green invited with me to be her pseudo-SO for an all-expense paid trip to the Ritz-Carlton Resort on Laguna Beach. She was being honored for excellence in her department and this trip was her prize, so kudos to her! (and lucky, lucky me!)

I left early Tuesday morning for the quick flight up to MSP. (Thankfully, it was only an hour or I would have killed the little incessantly kicking monster I was seated next to. Seriously, who gives their grabby little spawn Cheetos for breakfast in the vicinity of a trapped innocent bystander in light-colored linen pants? And makes no attempt to stop the kicking and grabbing until the stranger says something directly to the child? Grrrr...) I met up with dixon_green in the airplane in MSP - I'd been a little concerned she was going to miss the plane, she boarded so late, but all was well and we were on the way. After some excited chatter, I followed my usual pattern and passed out cold until we got to California. We were collected from the Orange County airport by the Golden Spoke representative and bussed with the other winners out to the resort.

  

Oh. My. I'm really usually a hostel kind of traveler, so this was significantly more posh than I ever see! Maybe silly, but one of the things I loved most was that around every corner was a carafe of fruited ice water - lemon and limes, of course, but also cucumbers and blood oranges - nummy and useful, considering the amount of alcohol that flowed like a river through the week. Tuesday afternoon we wandered the beach and settled into the room, which was quite posh - super high thread count sheets, all-granite bath, and turn-down service with sweets every night. The beach was also gorgeous - perfect blue water inhabited by small children and surfers, picturesque cliffs, and all sorts of interesting wildlife.

  

Tuesday night was our first taste of how they would be feeding us for the week - there were many circulating waiters with hors d' oeuvres and wine whereas bars and hot food stations provided additional munching options. The food was all just spectacular - I even tried a few avocado options that I enjoyed and I usually can't stand the fruit. They had also brought in a selection of sculptures to create a little sculpture garden and I spent a little time playing with my camera.

  

I rounded out the night by exploring the hotel, discovering a really nice art exhibit featuring local artists - both portraits of them and examples of their artwork, so it was a really neat exhibit.

Wednesday morning began in the most delightful of ways - a breakfast buffet with a build-you-own-omlet station, followed by an hour long massage, and then a little nap before heading out for surfing lessons. I enjoyed the lesson, but I think I cannot adequately say that I have "been surfing"... "tried surfing" or "been on a surf board" is probably more accurate. I was not the most successful student, but one of the instructors sort of laughed and called me her most tenacious student ever - I'd try to catch a wave, wipe out, sputter, and then grab the board and head right back out again, over and over and over...

  
(These photos sadly got very washed out and fogged, but I am hoping to get some better ones from the photographer.)

Since we were already soggy, when we got back to the hotel, we headed down to the beach for some flailing around in the water, which was a ton of fun and may have been useful to do *before* the surfing lessons. I had sort of anticipated that swimming in the ocean would be like swimming in Lake Michigan, but it was subtly different and took some getting used to.



  



The afternoon, unsurprisingly, included another little nap before heading out to the evening festivities! Wednesday night was the awards dinner honoring the winners. They choose less than 1% of the employees to be honored each year, so it is a pretty big deal and honorees came from all over - Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Asia, Europe, you name it! Dinner was a lovely cucumber-avocado soup and crabcake (they kindly made a non-shellfish option for me), followed by an heirloom tomato salad and a green salad with a balsamic dressing. The main course was a steak so tender I did not need a knife other than the butter knife that had been on the table. Dessert was a platter of little lovely two-bite desserts, my favorite of which was the chocolate mouse-tipped cake. There was an after-dinner dance in an adjoining ballroom where we talked and danced a bit and I introduced dixon_green to Sambuca! :D

Thursday morning I had been hoping to have breakfast in the restaurant on site, but they were slammed by the large group and the wait plus service time would have made me late for the day's activities, so I ordered to go from the marketplace. I got a really tasty breakfast panini and a cranberry scone. I'd been particularly sad to miss out on breakfast at the restaurant because I'd been looking forward to a mimosa for breakfast, but lo! the marketplace had both Naked orange juice and a bitty bottle of champagne! I can do that math! :D The day's activity was a field trip to the San Juan Capistrano Mission.

        



The site was beautiful, but just *teeming* with poorly behaved school groups and there didn't seem to be any designated order of the tours, so groups kept crashing into one another, entering the same buildings from opposite doors and trying to talk over one another. Between that and some of the questionably accurate content coming out of our guide, I eventually tuned out the official tour and just explored in the general vicinity of the group.

Lunch was at Los Ramos, a little restaurant in the Los Rios historic district, followed by some wandering. I went to the O'Neill Museum (turn-of-the century house) where I saw a really cool sewing chest and investigated the local train depot (now a restaurant).

  
Nifty steam-punky belt-driven fans at the depot!

When I got back in, dixon_green was taking a nap, so I wandered off. I tried to download photos, but didn't have any luck finding a public kiosk with a working SD reader, so I went on a fun Garden Tour instead. The highlight of the tour was, ironically, a dolphin sighting. The guide mentioned that dolphins were sometimes seen along the beach and I looked down off the cliff to see a pod of 6-8 individuals passing by at that moment.

  

Thursday night was the "dine-arounds" where the department hosts took the winners and guests out to a fancy restaurant. We went to Maestro's OC, a steakhouse. Again, the steak was amazing and even though it was an 18oz bone-in T-bone, I seriously considered licking the bone for the last of the beefy goodness. I also tried the Sea Bass dixon_green ordered, but I'm glad I went with the cow. I had white wine and some cocktails (a strawberry-ginger-basil drink and an elderberry-lemon martini), but my alcoholic highlight was getting to educate the two young men to my left about the correct technique of Scotch tasting (starting with the fact that one does not "do a shot" of Scotch without risking getting knifed by the nice girl sitting next to you). :P I was VERY glad they provided a bus for the drive home! I may or may not have engaged in some drunk dialing once we got back to the hotel... 

Friday began with the breakfast buffet and little waffles, but I mostly saved my appetite for a cappuccino and a bitty Key Lime Pie with, of all things, gold leafy sprinkles. Ridiculous and ridiculously tasty. We then headed out for the Dolphin Safari. All the other boatloads had been reporting literally dozens or hundreds of dolphins and we saw... zero. Yup, not a single one. :( We did see a minke whale and a bunch of sea lions and sea birds, but no dolphins. I was pleased that I managed to spot the one out-at-sea mammal we encountered before the guide did, but it was just another sea lion.

  (I swear there's a whale in there... :P)

Sadly, the failed Dolphin Safari also got in late, which meant I missed the afternoon Crystal Cove hike. Boo. I could have gone on one of the shopping expeditions, but that's really not my thing, so I just spent some time relaxing - a little nap, a little time in the hot tub, a long, hot shower, some pre-packing and getting ready for the last night's festivities. The last night was another wander-and-eat event with similarly delicious options, including plenty more asparagus. I love asparagus and it appeared at pretty much every dinner, to my delight. The highlight of Friday night, though, was the band. They were a cover band called the LA All-Stars and they were really good at what they do - both musically and involving the audience. They were trying to get dancing started but not having much success, but I have no shame and so jumped right in to dance with one of the vocalists, which lead to being identified as the "girl who danced first" all night long. ;) They cut off the band and the booze around 10PM, so the party fizzled shortly thereafter. We headed to bed at a relatively reasonable hour, planning on an early morning.

  

We needed to have our bags ready by 10:15AM and be on the 10:45AM bus back to the airport, so we got up early, hit breakfast, and then hit the beach. It was only about 65*, but we pulled out our Midwest Girl cred and get in the water anyway. It was chilly from the ankles to the thighs, but once we got all the way in, it was just "brisk" and not unbearable.



We had to scurry back to the room before too long, though, since we both then needed a shower and to get dressed. I ran a few errands, grabbed some tea, settled up with the front desk, and then it was time to go. They had a departure kiosk offering tea, coffee, and fried-while-you-wait donuts. I REALLY didn't need more rich food and I ate one anyway. :D The ride home was largely uneventful except that I had dinner withiarroganti during my three hour layover in MSP and the Delta clowns messed up my pretty new bag that I was stupid enough to gate check when they asked for volunteers.

In all, it was an amazing, lovely vacation... going back to the Real World tomorrow morning is going to be a hard, hard transition!



For the sartorially inclined - the parade of cute dresses! I was soooo girlie this week! (I was pretty proud of my packing - 6 day and 5 evening outfits (one for each day + a spare), including shoe and jewelry matches... all in a carry-on bag!)

           










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The Corrupterhedonistpoet on June 4th, 2012 06:29 am (UTC)
I SUPER love that green dress. :)
eithni: backliteithni on June 4th, 2012 07:06 am (UTC)
The first one? (other than the black one, they all have some green. :p)
The Corrupterhedonistpoet on June 4th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
On the red carpet. (Sorry. :) )
eithni: excellenteithni on June 5th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
Ah! Yup! That is one of my favorite dresses ever! :)
akitromakitrom on June 4th, 2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
Congratulations. Yay, you. And yay, dixon_green.

I would mention that you never have a bad picture. But then, I'm one of the biased in that regards.
eithni: darkladyeithni on June 5th, 2012 04:08 am (UTC)
Awww... Thanks!
Albredaalbreda on June 4th, 2012 01:18 pm (UTC)
All gorgeous, all lovely, and WOW - you look freaking fantabulous in green. >:)

Thanks for letting us live vicariously! :)
eithni: darkladyeithni on June 5th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC)
Thanks!
world_rim_walkeworld_rim_walke on June 4th, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
Sounds awesome! Welcome back.
raventhourneraventhourne on June 4th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
sounds like just the vacation you needed! Yay!
eithni: darkladyeithni on June 5th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC)
Yes. The eye twitch even went away. :P
Evil Imperial Barbariancarrot_khan on June 4th, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC)
Yay real vacation!
DameJ: Grand Canaldamej on June 6th, 2012 12:36 pm (UTC)
Fabulous! I've become addicted to "real vacations" in my middle age. I'm glad you had such a good time. I'm impressed by your packing-fu. We schlepped three suitcases each (one large, one standard carry-on, and one under-the-seat bag) through Venice, which got us some looks and also meant we had to take turns in the tiny hotel elevator.
eithni: geekeithni on June 7th, 2012 04:57 am (UTC)
I just can't tolerate lugging luggage. This was my first trial of a big-girl suitcase instead of a backpack - I am much more comfortable being able to grab and run. :) The roll-and-stack method plus the packing cube method also helps a lot, both for packing compression and organization.
reneekytokorpireneekytokorpi on June 7th, 2012 03:24 am (UTC)
That green and black dress is super cute!

I'm glad you had fun! It always makes me smile when you smile.
eithni: excellenteithni on June 7th, 2012 04:57 am (UTC)
Thanks! I think it's become a favorite already!