Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Root Canal Pity Party Chocolate Pudding

10 May 2012

Broke a tooth last week, had a root canal on Friday.
Later that day, I made my favorite chocolate pudding. I’ve modified the recipe so it’s super dark, so here goes.
2 tbsp (slightly rounded) cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1-1/2 cups (slightly scant) whole milk (I used Straus cream top)
1/3 cup Guittard Cocoa Rouge Bittersweet Baking Powder (what happened to be lying around the house from a previous chocolate night)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Remainder of recipe here.
Oh, and I managed to get it past the folks in blue at the airport and was able to take it on my flight (due to the root canal making the pudding “medical liquids”).

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Trip Report: San Francisco to Mammoth

11 April 2012

Mammoth Trip Report
My dad recently turned 80, so his friends wanted to throw him a party. Due to a history of altitude sickness and a dislike of mountain driving, I really don’t visit Mammoth frequently, but I was particularly motivated for this trip.
Dad recently mentioned that United had seasonal flights from San Francisco to Mammoth (airport code: MMH). Back in the day, there were only flights from the commuter terminal at LAX, and for quite a few years, there weren’t any commercial flights at all. So the revelation was a surprise to me.
So Rick and I booked a trip to visit my dad, flying out Saturday morning and flying back Monday morning so we’d get some good time with him.
My usual allegiance is with Hilton, but there are no Hilton properties in Mammoth, and the only Starwood property is a Westin at rates higher than I’m willing to pay.
Normally, I use TripIt to track flights and hotel reservations.. This has been a real boon in many cases, especially with schedule changes. This trip is the first time it’s ever led me astray: TripIt said the flight was leaving out of Terminal 1, but it turns out the flight operates out of Terminal 3. Neither United’s iPhone application nor the web site had info, nor did the departures board, so, after Rick picked up coffee for us, I actually called United on the house phone to get the information.
Later, people on FlyerTalk explained it for me: it’s a frankenflight. It’s caught in something of a contract issue between United Express, United, and Continental where the flight was operated by Continental but had to be sold as United, and that kind of pain has made its way all the way through the system.
You may recall from prior adventures that I’d flown a lot last year, though a good chunk of it wasn’t on United or its partners, and I flew enough to earn what used to be called 2P status, but, in the post-merger world is called Premier Silver, United’s lowest status tier. Technically, that would waitlist me for Economy Plus, but it wasn’t offered to me on this particular flight even though there was not only Economy Plus, but also First class on the small jet. Oh well, it was a 37-minute flight, no big loss.
The plane was a Canadair regional jet, and it was nicely quiet, surprisingly so. Flying over the Sierras, we saw just how bad some of the snow fall had been this year, sadly.
Our flight was on time into Mammoth, which is a super-small airport with one gate and one waiting area (so they can only have people waiting for one flight at a time). We picked up our rental from Hertz, then went up to my dad’s place past the village near what used to be called Warming Hut 2 but now has a much more high-falutin’ name. It was really great to see dad again!
Dad’s favorite place for breakfast and lunch in town is Good Life Cafe, which had a dauntingly large menu. After determining that my first two choices could be made gluten-free, I had an Eye Opener with mahi mahi. Rick had the Chile Verde. I can’t recall what my father had. The food was good, and we were stuffed through to the dinner party dad’s friends had set up for him. One of his friends got him an awesome 80th birthday cake with ginormous strawberries. On the way there, the weather changed a bit and we had a light dusting of snow, which was welcome by my dad and all his skier friends.
We finally checked into the Shiloh Inn, which was decent enough but a bit drab. We didn’t use the pool, though I regret that choice now. After years of being a pool fiend, I haven’t been using them nearly enough, and this pool was open 24 hours. However, the side effects of the altitude medication meant I was in significant pain.
The following morning, we again headed to get my dad and again went out for brunch at Good Life Cafe, and several of dad’s friends joined us. It was great really getting to spend some time with people he’s known for years and talked about a lot, but whom I’ve barely met before. This time, my dad tried the Chile Verde. I had the same Eye Opener, just because it was that good. My dad was recovering from some illness, so he bowed out for the rest of the day.
Rick and I were feeling up for some extra altitude, so we took the gondola to the top of Mammoth and walked around the top of the gondola. We’d gone up pretty late in the day, so we had about half an hour up there, then went to the bar at the midpoint. Previously, I’d always had a hot chocolate, but none was available, so I had an Irish coffee instead.
We tried to find one place that seemed promising on Yelp, but couldn’t find what we were looking for, so we went to Red Lantern, where they were able to come up with some really tasty gluten-free food.
The following morning, Monday, was our flight out. Catch was, we woke up and it was completely clouded over and snowing. Now, there are quite a few microclimates there, and where my dad lives is a different microclimate from the center of town (where we were staying), which is a different microclimate from the airport. I checked my messages and the flight status and it looked like our flight was still on, so we ate our free breakfast downstairs (which basically only a piece of fruit for me as nothing else was edible) and drove to the airport.
After we arrived, I got an email from my mother and a phone call from United that our flight was canceled — after we’d returned the car. Several people were having meltdowns about that. Skiers who were happy about it were thrilled to change their flights. We were there early enough that we got rebooked for a later flight. By the time all that was done and we re-fetched the car keys from Hertz (who said we couldn’t drive the cars to San Francisco, not that I wanted to), the weather was starting to clear. Of course it was.
We got cocoa in the little refreshment hut, and then headed back to town, where we once again picked up my dad and went out to you-know-where. After that, we finally had enough time at our leisure to check out a place a couple doors down that Jaym Gates told me about: Looney Bean, one of those most beloved kinds of places where you can get good coffee and great atmosphere. Rick and I sat transfixed in front of the fire, mugs in hand.
Now, one of the challenges of Mammoth is altitude. It’s at 7,000 feet, is a difficult takeoff, and skiers are not known for being light packers. Weight and balance are always issues on regional jets, and this one actually has a first class and economy plus to make the load lighter (fewer seats and all that). But sometimes, that’s not enough. Due to the canceled flights earlier, the flight was oversold, so they’d had to involuntarily deny boarding to some people. They’d asked for four volunteers before boarding. After that was done, they began boarding us.
Due to my status, I was upgraded to first, and they accidentally gave Rick’s seat away (he wasn’t upgraded as he doesn’t have status), so they put him in first too. Because they couldn’t move anyone else forward, but because they needed more weight forward, they moved some of the luggage into the other four seats in first class; luggage weighs less than people do. Still, three more people volunteered to be bumped, and, after all that changing people around, we were finally under the projected weight by two pounds.
We had a beautiful and uneventful flight back, and I was happy to see more snow on the mountains on the way back. My full photo set is available on flickr.

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The Beeping

08 April 2012

My mother complained yesterday that something in the house was beeping. My iDevices were all happy, so I ignored it and went back to catching up on Anthony Bourdain episodes of The Layover.
Later, she mentioned something to Rick, who then set off trying to find the sound’s source. A few seconds after he passed the TV, there was another beep. A few seconds after that, another.
It was the show. Specifically, it was profanity being cut. Of course, I hadn’t noticed it because of the context in which I was hearing it.
Rick reports back to my mother, who asks, “Why the beeping?”
Rick says, “It’s Anthony Bourdain.”
Which made me laugh.
For what it’s worth, the Amsterdam episode of The Layover is one of the funniest pieces of television I’ve ever seen, though the clips on the web site are dramatically cut from the iTunes episode.
In my blog post about transiting through Amsterdam, I forgot to mention a detail that sticks with me: the couple ahead of me at the transfer desk were clearly stoned out of their gourd and had, accordingly, managed to miss their flight.
I mean, the Dutch are super-efficient, so I was a wee bit gobsmacked by the relative size of their transfer stations (though it is the 14th busiest airport in the world), at least right up until I realized that part of the underlying issue was also oh-so-Dutch.

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A Spork and a Water Bottle (or two)

26 March 2012

This post on Boarding Area about travel tips reminded me that there’s two travel essentials I see too little of on the road.
Last year, for my birthday, I was given a modest Amazon gift certificate, so I pored over the site for some things I really wouldn’t have thought to buy otherwise.
One of the things I bought was a purple titanium spork, made by Snowpeak. Mine’s the purple one. The lovely thing about it is that it can be used for all kinds of things (even pasta), though hot cereal with milk (or anything soupy, really) is something of a challenge if you’re not careful. Unlike stainless steel, titanium doesn’t have a metallic tang affecting all flavors; titanium’s as neutral flavor-wise as sterling silver.
Being somewhat eco-minded, I prefer using my spork to disposable plastic cutlery, even the taterware that’s designed to be recycled.
SnowPeak colored titanium sporks

The other thing I always carry with me: a water bottle I bought at REI that fits in the outer bottle pocket of my purse, and a flat Vapur water bottle in case I need more. Note: I lost my first Vapur cap when I was traveling over Christmas, so I’d suggest buying an extra cap if you’re prone to losing things like I am. For shorter trips or where I want to travel lighter, I’ll just take the Vapur. If I want both coffee and water (or soup and water, or some combination of non-water and water), I have the capacity to carry both.

Now, of course there are places I buy bottled water. I’ve made the mistake of drinking local water when I shouldn’t, it’s no fun. I’ve also had thin-walled water bottles explode; pouring the water into an sturdier bottle (either my hard-sided bottle or my Vapur) helps prevent catastrophe.
I also love the whimsy of my Vapur; I have the “Bottle Dwellers” artist’s edition from David Herbst:
Shop Vapur water bottles on Amazon

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On the Funding of Television

16 March 2012

Context: a local Comcast rep came to talk to us as we’re one of the “switchers.”
Dear M,
Thanks for stopping by our house to talk to us about Comcast. As you know, we did have some rather legendary service issues, but that’s not ultimately what led us to leave the fold, it was merely the catalyst.
In short, the entire process of billing for cable television is broken. Without the ability to not subsidize channels like Fox News or shows like 19 Kids and Counting (when did The Learning Channel become so craptastic?), there’s no way I’d come back to cable.
And yes, I really do want to pay show-by-show, not just pay for a shotgun lineup of channels. Now, the shows we actually watch are able to get direct dollars from us, and if more people chose that approach, maybe there’d be better-quality shows produced. Or not. Regardless, what we like is now more directly correlated to what we pay for. What we dislike, we are not paying for.
Also, except for the broadcast channels, I’m able to watch shows with no ads. Imagine that. I’m paying about the same amount of money over time (less, actually) and fewer ads. I’ve never been clear on why I paid a cable company for non-broadcast channels that have advertising.
So, there it is. Sure, we don’t have as many channels as we had before, and downloads aren’t instantaneous, so it’s not a perfect system. It is, however, a better one.

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Altitude Sickness Prevention

13 March 2012

I’m someone who’s really sensitive to altitude. I start getting sick at around 4,000 feet.

My dad recently had his 80th birthday party (I’ll blog about that trip soon), and I was panicking because he lives at around 8,000 feet.

What to do?

Research, along with some checking around, showed there was something better than symptom relief available. There is at least one drug that goes to the next level: symptom prevention. I talked to my doctor, who prescribed the drug acetazolamide, sold under the trade name Diamox for altitude sickness.

Good news first: it worked really well. I had better oxygen capacity and fewer altitude symptoms at 8,000 feet than I’d had at 4,000 the year before. Even better, Rick and I went up to the top of the mountain, 11,000 feet, and I was only about as bad off as I’d been at 4,000 the year before, with an even milder headache.

Acetazolamide works by changing the blood’s acidity, which changes the way it stores oxygen. More available oxygen means that you’ll suffer less from the oxygen deprivation at altitude.

I mentioned the good. Now the bad.

The wikipedia page mentions that there are taste alterations, “especially for carbonated drinks.” Did I have to try this out? Of course I did. I took my first pill with a can of Pepsi. By the third sip (having taken the pill with the first), it tasted vile. You know that foul-smelling stuff used to clear out earwax? Kind of like that. Except, of course, carbonated.

I didn’t have blurred vision, I didn’t have other serious taste shifts (though I did notice some), but I did experience not only significant tingling in fingers and toes, but it was like all my pain medications suddenly stopped working. So, while I could walk around at altitude, I also couldn’t. Paradox that way, but breathing was worth it.

Anyhow, if you’re planning a trip to significant elevation — or have ruled such a trip out for fear of side effects — maybe this is something to think about.

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A Moment of Luggage Comedy

13 March 2012

The day I went to Cleveland, I decided to take public transit to the airport. I got on Caltrain and sat at the back of a car, which has a ramp leading up a few inches between cars.

I fumbled as I got up at the Millbrae stop after I set down my luggage (which had been on my lap), giving my Tumi Vapor a nice ramp to ride on. It got some nice momentum and whooshed down the aisle, perfectly centered.

Worse, it was aimed directly at a woman waiting to get off the train. Oh no!

I was mortified. I was also laughing.

Fortunately, it came to a stop right as it got to the woman, and she was very graceful about my abject and embarrassed apologies.

Pretty much everyone on the train had a good chuckle over it.

Unintentional luggage acceleration is one of the potential downsides of four-wheel luggage, but in this case, it all turned out all right.

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Stairway to Cleveland

03 March 2012

I’m writing this from the United Club at Cleveland Airport.
Those of you who know me might ask, “Cleveland? You? Srsly?”
Well, gentle readers, here is my tale.
Over on Flyertalk, Shannon Kelly (aka UAInsider) announced that the last Continental flight ever would be Friday night, March 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm, flight CO 1267 from Phoenix to Cleveland. I’m one of those good sports who says things like, “I’ve never been there,” so I thought, why not.
Himself was less amused by the prospect. I said I thought I’d go to the rock-and-roll museum, and he said, “that’s two strikes.”
My loyalty to CO goes back quite a few years; I flew them a lot in the 80s when they had routes between Orange County and San Jose. Then, suddenly, they changed so the only route out of SNA was to Denver, and I stopped flying them for a while.
Before that happened, though, I booked an award trip to Honolulu, my first trip to Hawaii, for a long weekend. The South Pacific region (which included Hawaii) Continental flight attendants went on strike while I was there, and I “had” to spend another day in Hawaii. Back then, if you had a paid ticket on an ARC-based carrier, your carrier would schedule you on the next flight out from any carrier — except, of course, for award flights. So I was stuck. Darn!
Over time, I moved and Continental didn’t really fit my itineraries again, so I stopped flying them in the early 90s in favor of US Airways. Then I moved to the bay area and flipped between US Airways (for my flights to Pittsburgh) and American. When I went to work for Classic Vacations, we sold a ton of United airfare due to great contract rates. That’s what slowly migrated me over to the United side of the force. When AA started flying less interesting itineraries from San Francisco, I found myself flying more United, even during the Ted years. (Ted, btw, was an incredibly cute name. I miss it for short haul.)
At the end of last year, I decided that United really, truly was my preferred carrier and wound up with 2P (now Premier Silver) status. Half of that was flying to Barcelona on US Airways earlier in the year.
So when I heard about this flight, I felt sad for the Continental I’d loved all those years ago, and thought it would be nice to go on the final flight. So I did.
My flight out of San Francisco departed from the International terminal. Rick and I are the same this way: we love seeing all the foreign-flagged carriers going to places I’ve not yet been. My first plane sighting was the Air New Zealand flight leaving out of Gate 93 to Auckland (where I have been), the 747 so huge that it had its nose almost pressed to the glass (so it could fit in the allotted parking space), looking like an over-eager child.
Gate 91, which shares the same seating area, was where my rather smaller Airbus was waiting patiently. The flight was uneventful, except that my seatmate was apparently upgraded when his wife was not, so she snuck forward to have part of his drink.
When I arrived in Phoenix, I didn’t see the rest of the Flyertalkers/Milepointers right away. There were four of us traveling: Steve64, a local; Seth aka sbm12 aka Wandering Aramean; violist, and myself; plus a non-traveling local, fenx. WA had chocolate bags to hand out, and I handed some out as well (without the cool labels), and WA got one of the Continental signs they took down. He also got his picture taken with the captain, and was the last person to board a Continental flight.
I had planned to sleep during the flight, but they had free DirecTV (for everyone, not just first class) and I watched Contagion instead. The cold chicken plate had pasta on the side, so I ate the chicken only. I really wish they still had special meals in domestic first class. Sigh.
We arrived at around 5:15 in the morning. Despite this being the last Continental flight to depart, it was not the last to land; that would be a flight from Narita (Tokyo) to Houston, which got a water cannon salute upon arrival. As we arrived while it was still dark (not to mention threatening to snow), a water cannon salute would have been less pragmatic. Still, there were photos to be had, announcements made, and much sadness over the final days of a legacy airline dating back to 1934.
The four of us shuffled off to the United Club for drinks and a light breakfast, then the other three people departed for their flights out of Cleveland. Me, I’d decided to spend a day here.
The Hilton Garden Inn breakfast was about what one would expect. I had planned to go to the rock-and-roll museum, but my legs were cramping (sometime medication side effect) and I was tired, so I just took long baths and slept until the legs felt better.
When I’d been researching how to spend a day, I watched Bourdain’s No Reservations episode about Cleveland, and discovered Lola Bistro. I don’t follow celebrity chefs much, so I didn’t know how famous he was, but I managed to snag a reservation and go. I had the Chilled Lobster Salad, the Scallops in Bacon Broth, and blueberry-lemon sorbet. It was an astonishingly good meal, and I’d be happy to spend a week in Cleveland if I could eat there every night.
I’m off for my return flight!


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PSA: Continental and United Airlines Reservation Merger

29 February 2012

United and Continental’s passenger systems merge on March 3.
If you aren’t traveling Continental or United (or have travel booked on them through another carrier or on another carrier booked through them, e.g., award travel or multi-carrier itineraries [1]) in the next month, you can probably skip the rest of this post.
As you’ve no doubt heard, the two airlines are in the process of merging. Technically, they are flying as one airline, but the passenger support systems have yet to merge.
Frequent fliers who’ve been through other mergers (e.g., Delta and Northwest or US Airways and America West) have the following recommendations:
1) Make sure you print any itineraries and receipts in full. You might want to do this for all travel you’ve got upcoming, not just travel in the next month.
2) Print paper boarding passes when you check in rather than relying on mobile check-in.
3) Do not check bags if you can possibly avoid it.
4) Print out your frequent flier details, including redeemable miles (the ones usable for awards) and status miles and segments.
5) Here are some other tips from UAInsider. Specifically, note that mileage credits will pause for a few days during integration.
If you have accounts on both United and Continental (and, until now, Continental miles never expired, so they’d still be sitting there), do this for both accounts. If you haven’t yet linked them yet, wait until after the res(ervation) system changeover (and possibly another week or two) to do so.
Here’s a good article from on the res system merger.
[1] Including any Star Alliance carriers or other partners.

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