Category Archives: vacation

Flying with a toddler and an occupied uterus

I booked a plane ticket for Florida knowing I’d be 28-weeks pregnant when I left. I booked the ticket knowing my belly had already expanded far beyond the 28-week mark with my first pregnancy. And, I booked the ticket knowing I’d have a 16-month-old kiddo sharing my lap with her unborn sister.

I should also mention I booked a 7 a.m. departure flight (must leave house by 3:30 a.m.) and an 8:30 p.m. return flight (toddler bedtime is 6:30-7 p.m.). Not exactly prime toddler-traveling times.

“Up for a challenge much?” you ask.

Bring it. It’s winter. I live in Ontario. Florida has sun, warmth and 0-1 layers of clothing required. Ontario has grey skies, seat warmers that can’t warm up fast enough, and who knows the number of layers I’m wearing.

It turns out airlines pity those traveling with young children. Particularly those traveling solo with young children. And especially those who look 15-months pregnant and are toting a toddler.

Because, we bypassed the 157 individuals waiting to go through security. We got stickers for going through security. No X-ray machines were needed. No one questioned the 937 items in my carry-on. We were among the first to board the flights. The flight attendants asked me several times if I needed anything, including extra drinks and snacks.

Now, I won’t say the 3-hour flights were entirely magical. LO was so happy watching the four youngsters around her on the first flight that she couldn’t nap. And she continued not napping for 13 hours. For the non-parents reading this, that’s a long time for a toddler.

And, the return flight was so late, and so far past LO’s bedtime that going to sleep was, again, difficult.

And then there was the lady in front of us on the return flight who reclined her chair (non-pregnant tall person’s worst nightmare) onto my almost non-existent lap and squirming, sleep-deprived daughter.

So, I may or may not have let LO kick, kick, kick her chair while screeeeeeeaming at the top of her lungs (the latter for the 60 seconds it took her to pass out), while I managed to unlock my knees, unhinge my legs and store them in the aisle.

But, that’s all peanuts compared to some of the horrific travel stories I’ve heard from friends. So, I’ll take the over-tiredness and discomfort for a few short hours.

Because it’s Florida. And it WAS warm.

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Scan me already

Full-body scans bring new meaning to one's loss of privacy.

The United States government has now seen every last part of me. I know this to be true because I was subjected to a full-body scan when passing through security at JFK International Airport on my way to Prague.

Full-body scan. Top to bottom. Left to right. Inside out.

No one was more annoyed by this latest security measure than Husband. He was full-body scanned at Buffalo International on the first leg of our journey and was certain he was being unjustly profiled. Because he was male. And because only males appeared to be directed toward the full-body scanner.

No, honey. They’re just picking people all willy-nilly like and scanning their bits and pieces. Plus, I got to participate when we re-started our trip the next day, proving officials weren’t necessarily profiling anyone. Annoying? Yes. Inconvenient? Yes. Fine, if it means there’s less chance of someone carrying on potentially threatening items? Yes.

In retrospect, I’d say those full-body scans were the least of our concerns that day. Cancelled flight and missed connection causing the loss of a full travel day, anyone?

Sigh.

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Goodbye, Europe!

Dear, Zsofi in Hungary. You live 4,446 miles from me. Please move closer.

I miss you already.

As you’re reading this, I’m in the process of flying home from what I suspect (this was written in advance) was a fabulous time in Eastern Europe.

Prague. Vienna. Budapest.

Oh, the travels! The sights! The people! The fun!

I can hardly wait to tell you all about it. But first, I have about a gazillion miles and hours of flights to get through.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, think of ways for me to help convince my Hungarian pal Zsofi to move closer to me.

Canada is nice, don’tchya know? And, I’ve heard OK things about the United States…

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One bag only; must fit entire life

Traveling with one pair of shoes? For 12 days? The horrors! (Photo by Özgür Donmaz)

Here are the facts:

  • You’re traveling for 12 days.
  • The weather will be warm, cool, hot, cold or rainy.
  • You will be walking everywhere and nonstop.
  • You’re allowed one suitcase that’s roughly the size of a carry-on. Maybe a little bit larger.
  • You have to fit EVERYTHING you could possibly need into that bag.
  • You are a woman.
  • You are a woman who prefers variety in her attire.
  • Also, you have impossibly large feet that require impossibly large shoes that make any size suitcase look impossibly small.

The conundrum? What do you pack? And, how the heck do you even begin?

Having spent the last few years traveling for bursts of 3-4 days every 3-4 weeks, one would think that I’ve streamlined my packing repertoire. That I’ve made it an exact science. This is not the case as is evidenced here.

I over-pack. I like to over-pack. I like to over-pack, because I like to have options. I like to have options because, well, who doesn’t like to have options? Plus, I grew up in NW Ohio, where the only thing more predictable than unpredictable weather patterns is how individuals spend their Saturday afternoons in the fall (Ohio State University football, anyone?).

And, now, I need to pack for 12 days for an equally unpredictable weather forecast, knowing that I’ll be walking everywhere and nonstop. Which means I have to think more about comfort than fashion. And practicality versus trend. Plus, what will fit in one suitcase. Next to my one pair of shoes.

Sigh.

Good thing I’m a sneakers-and-jeans-kind-of girl. Just give me a camera, and I’ll be able to skip having “TOURIST” tattooed on my forehead.

Hooray, traveling! Boo, packing!

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Hello, beach!

Poor attitude, Dude. Poor attitude.

I heart the beach. Really.

Beach vacations are the best sort of vacations ever. You get to spend your days in a swimsuit, slathered in sunscreen, lounging in a chair, laying on a beach blanket, sipping rum and Coke water, snacking on M&Ms and chips fruit, feeling the hot ocean breeze, frolicking in icy waters and praying you won’t need a coating of aloe vera before bed.

Unless you have small children. 

Small children change things up just a wee bit. Parents still get to experience spending their days in a swimsuit, slathered in sunscreen, sipping rum and Coke water, snacking on M&Ms and chips fruit and feeling the hot ocean breeze. But, they spend far fewer hours lounging in a chair, laying on a beach blanket and frolicking in icy waters.

Because small children do not particularly enjoy lounging in a chair, laying on a beach blanket and frolicking in icy waters. Shocking, I know.

But, no worries. This beach vacation is going swimmingly well. And, it started with a bang, because, 5 a.m. is kinda like BANG! Our wakeup call was followed by a 12-hour SUV ride with two adults, one 14 month old, a Pack N Play, two strollers, snacks, one suitcase, an Aerobed, snacks, two dufflebags, two canvas totes, a diaper bag, snacks, a Garmin, two AAA Trip Tiks and a JUMBO “here’s a pile of things to do in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia” travel book. Quite frankly, we looked like we were leaving and never ever ever ever returning. Ever. Suffice it to say, Erin and I do not travel light.

Twelve hours later, we were still going strong. And, not just us, but the 14 month old. I will bet you $1.73 that if, after pulling into our final destination, we had stopped a random mother on the street and asked her to guess how long the small child had been harnessed into his seat, she would have guessed “5 minutes?” because that’s how refreshed he seemed. For seven hours, he chattered and chittered and sang to himself. For three hours, he slept. And, for two hours, he ate. That boy sure can enjoy a meal.

No crying. No screaming. No GET ME OUT OF THIS SEAT, MOM!

It was awesome! I’m not even joking. Best long trip experience ever! We decided in Hour 10 that even if said child screamed for the last two hours of the trip, this trip would still be the best ride we ever took to the beach.

Thank you, Austin!

So, vacation highlights beyond the ride down?

  • Weather? Perfect.
  • Company? Excellent.
  • Children? Wonderful.
  • Tan? Coming in nicely.
  • Hair? Haven’t done it since Saturday.

Vacation low points?

  • I cannot remember to use my camera.
  • I wake up at 6 a.m. daily.
  • I cannot stay awake past 10 p.m.

Which will make for an excellent trip to the Norfolk airport tonight to pick up Adult #9. Someone should probably go turn on the coffee pot soon.

Oh, I love the beach!

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The beach beckons

One time, at the beach, I saw a shark. Thankfully, it was only the kind you could ride.

Many moons ago, I, along with a college roommate, joined another college roommate and her family on a trip to the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. Erin and her family had been vacationing to that area one or two weeks each year for years. Years and years. Years and years and years. A really long time. And, for a really good reason: It’s such a great place to visit.

If you like the beach, that is.

For six days, we ran up and down the coastline, scorched ourselves in the hot sun, kicked around in the waves, looked for shells, walked through surf shops and took many ICEE-pop breaks.

One should always remain hydrated while at the beach.

That was the first of several trips I made to the beach with Erin’s family. One year, I drove down. One year, I rode down with Erin and her new puppy. Most years, we piled into a Ford Econoline with six people, two or three dogs and tons of luggage. We’d leave on a Friday night and weave our way toward the coastline. Inevitably, we’d always take a wrong exit somewhere in Norfolk and end up in a ghetto. We’d stop every so often, take turns driving and eventually spill out onto the parking lot of a local diner in Kitty Hawk around 8 a.m. Saturday.

There, we would catch our first glimpses of the ocean. It’s an even more glorious sight after 12 hours in a van than previously imagined.

And then, full beach mode would commence, and we’d laze about for a week or so before piling back into the van and going home.

This year, I’m returning to the beach after a few years away. In past years, we’d sit on the beach and discuss boyfriends and relationships and moves and graduate-school classes. And then engagements and fiancés and weddings and husbands. And then babies.

Speaking of babies, this year’s trip to the beach is babies and toddlers and kids, oh my! Erin and I are making the trek with her 14 month old. Erin’s brother and wife have an 8 month old. Erin’s brother’s friend and wife have a 3 year old and an infant somewhere around the 12-month mark. Or maybe a little older. Add one house, eight adults and one dog to the mix, and you have a ready-made party.

Pray for us.

Ha! It’s going to be such good fun, and I can hardly wait.

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Biddies by the beach

Technically, they’re by the pool, but “biddies” sounds much better with “beach.” Plus, I’m a fan of alliteration.

Anyway, there may be nothing more relaxing in this entire world than a beach vacation. It’s true. We live in a cold climate. Typically, a BRRRRRR, THIS WINTER IS FREEZING COLD climate. So, when we get the opportunity to spend some days in a warmer place, we take it. Plus, Husband is always up for working on his tan. Always.

While spending these past few days in the sun, I’ve decided that our perfect vacation day includes:

(1) A bright sun;
(2) Warm temperatures;
(3) A gentle breeze;
(4) The sound of ocean waves rolling up on the beach;
(5) A pool;
(6) A comfortable lounge chair;
(7) A cold beverage;
(8) Snacks;
(9) Endless sunscreen; and, most importantly,
(10)  A giant beach towel.

Really, the giant beach towel is key. Nobody likes to lie on a tea towel.

Thankfully, we’ve had each of these items in abundance since we’ve been here. Which is especially great considering January, February and much of March were horrible—weather-wise, or so we’ve heard. We’ve been taking full advantage of the weather and spending as much time poolside as possible.

Which means we’re also getting an added “bonus.”

From Day One, our perfect days by the pool have included the incessant chatter of older women who gather in the far corner day in and day out. Each morning, they rise early to mark their territory, lining up chairs and laying out towels. By the time we arrive—at 9 or 10—their deeply browned selves are deeply immersed in conversation. Conversation which can be heard no matter how far away we set up shop or how loud we turn up our music.

It doesn’t matter where we sit, we can hear them updating one another on activities from the night before, the most recent weather forecast (very popular), the latest on each and every grandchild (extremely popular), current health ailments (über popular), plans for lunch, plans for snacks, plans for dinner, plans for Easter, their likes and dislikes of the Catholic churches in the area, the books they’re reading, the evils of Facebook, the best grocery deals at Publix, how to make the BEST Bloody Mary and, of course, the latest condo gossip.

From early morning to late, late afternoon, the group grows and shrinks and grows again based on everyone’s eating habits. The one constant? The conversation. It’s a continuous flow of verbiage.

Which is curious considering many of these women (and their spouses) have been here for three months or so. They never, ever, ever run out of things to say. Nor do they ever, ever, ever chat quietly amongst themselves.

Which means every two minutes, I get to hear Husband say something to the effect of “Seriously? Seriously. S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y.” All he wants to do is read his book or listen to his music in peace. Instead, he’s stuck trying to filter out endless, mindless chatter.

Me? I find it all rather amusing. What can I say? The fact that these ladies can go on and on and on and on and on about the most mundane topics without stopping to take a breath leaves me in awe. Oh, the details! The descriptions! The minutiae!

Plus, the weather is fantastic. They can chatter away all day as far as I care, as long as they don’t chatter the sun away. Wait a second. Are those clouds I see?

Boo, chatter. Boo!

The art of packing

A recurring packing ritual for me.

Who am I kidding? There is no art to the way I pack. None. In fact, I suck at packing. Yes, Mom. I used the word “suck.” With authority. In a blog post. For the whole world to read. You taught me better than that, I know.

But, it’s so true.

[Note: Do not confuse my inability to pack with being unorganized. That’s not the case. I’m organized. I just have too many things to fit in too small of a container.]

I consider myself a low-maintenance kind of gal. However, when it comes to packing for trips, I struggle with being minimalistic. It doesn’t matter how long the trip is—one night, a long weekend, a week, etc.—I always feel the need to pack multiple outfits with multiple shoes for multiple weather fronts because I simply never know beforehand exactly what I want to wear.

And, it doesn’t matter that I always end up wearing only half of what I pack. I need the variety. I need the freedom of being able to select from more than one top and a pair of jeans. I’m American for crying out loud. I’ve grown accustomed to choosing from 18 varieties of toothpaste. You can sure as heck bet my wardrobe carries just as many options.

[Note: I now feel convicted of being too materialistic.]

And then, of course, there are the toiletries. A woman cannot be expected to travel without her blow dryer, flat iron and various array of styling products. At least, this woman cannot. Especially when headed to a humid climate. My hair + humidity = Medusa. The non-attractive Medusa. And, the super-cute, tiny travel-sized products, while super-cute, tiny and travel-sized, are simply not adequate. Because the products I like to use don’t come in the super-cute, tiny travel sizes. Which means I have jumbo bottles taking up jumbo space. Double oy.

Now, the over-packing isn’t such a big deal when I take road trips, but flights are a whole ’nother story. We recently flew on Southwest Airlines and could stow two bags apiece for free. What a bonus! And a rarity. Our upcoming flight with AirTran Airways won’t be quite as gracious with a $15/bag surcharge. And this time, our trip is longer, and the spring weather is more willy-nilly than ever . . . oy.

But, I’m making a concerted effort to rein myself in and pack as little as I can. Really, I am. Some tank tops, some capris, some sweaters, some swimsuits, some undergarments and a few pair of sandals later, I managed to fill up half a suitcase. Husband is grateful I saved him some space.

Good thing I’m bringing a GIANT handbag. I’m sure I can stuff some extra items in there. And maybe in Husband’s knapsack. Or his laptop bag . . .

Olympics, we bid you adieu!

See you later, Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics! You had cute mittens.

On this, the last day of February, I feel I must post something. Because I’ve done a poor, poor job of staying up-to-date. It’s ironic, too, because it’s not as though I’ve been without goodness to post. Take the entire last two weeks of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. My husband? Addicted.

I had an inkling that Husband would be taking in some Olympics coverage. After all, the event was being hosted in his homeland, and Canada was going to “Own the Podium,” yada, yada. I was less aware of just how into watching the Olympics he would be.

VERY, it turned out. You name the Olympic sport, and Husband watched it. On every channel possible. And then told me about it.

Alpine skiing? Check. Biathlon? Check. Ski cross? Check. Snowboarding? Check. Snowboard cross? Check. Nordic? Check. Nordic combined? Check. Team pursuit? Check. Short track? Check. Freestyle skiing? Check. Luge? Check. Ski jumping? Check. Speedskating? Check. Curling? Check. Ice hockey? Check, check and check!

From the onset, no event was to be missed. Which was most unfortunate considering we planned a wee bit of a trip, which fell the entire last week of the Olympics. OK, so, I planned the trip without consulting the Olympics schedule.

No worries. Surely, there would be Olympics coverage on the boat (big boat, Royal Caribbean), a giant cruise liner travelling in international waters. There’s coverage somewhere. On one of the television channels. Right?

No. No coverage. Only sporadic mentions of something called the Olympics being hosted in some faraway place called Vancouver. And Harry Potter and Up! in five different languages. Shoot. We’d left our laptop behind, which was fine as wireless access was only available for a fee. Surely we don’t need to pay to check the medal standings on our cell phone, do we?

No, we do not need to do that, because we can stand discretely in front of hotels and restaurants and small shops in Key West and Cozumel and attempt to catch a free wireless signal. Because we have to know who is leading the medal count and where exactly Canada stands and which Canadians remain in all of the events. By the way, thank you, Patty in Key West, for letting us watch NBC while we grabbed a bite to eat at your local dive.

For five nights, we were only semiconscious of the Olympics, and boy was it tough! Tougher for Husband. Make that far tougher for Husband. Upon returning to Tampa and checking into our hotel, his first order of business was to check the available television stations. Please let there be CNBC, please let there be CNBC, please let there be CNBC because we CANNOT miss the women’s curling final. Or the men’s curling final. Or any of the hockey games. Or any more Olympics coverage.

Thankfully for him (and for me), we had all the right stations. And we were able to watch all the right events. And when we weren’t watching events, we could check out the medal standings on our cell phone for free.

What we were less clear about was whether we’d be back on our own sofa in time to watch the puck drop for the U.S.-Canada men’s hockey final. Because, of course, I scheduled a return flight without consulting the schedule. It was going to be close. Our flight into Buffalo would arrive at 1:30 p.m. The game started at 3 p.m. We had to conquer the border and drive a bit more than an hour. Thank goodness for The Fan 590 and its pre-game show (“So, tell me, Sidney Crosby, what would it be like to win a gold medal? Is it a different feeling to win a gold medal on Canadian soil versus U.S. soil? What do you think your reaction will be to winning? Tell me, Coach, what’s it like for you to think about winning a gold medal?” Riv. Et. Ing.).

Anyway, long story made much shorter: We made it home. Husband watched the hockey game. I unpacked. He sweated. I planned out some meals for the week. He leaned forward in suspense. I went grocery shopping. He texted me goals. I unpacked all the groceries. He cheered. I packed his lunches for the week. He jumped up and down. I shook my head. He begged me to sit with him and watch. I resisted. He turned up the volume so that I could hear all the action. I shook my head and sighed. Loudly. Canada won. I heard “In your face!” from the living room. And, I was urged to come watch replays. I heard “Oh, Canada” being sung aloud from the television and the sofa. I rejoiced (secretly) just a little, knowing that this event would be the event to end the event that had captivated Husband for two weeks.

Hooray! Congratulations to Husband who deserves a gold medal for all of the Olympics he watched. And, congratulations, Canada. You may not have entirely owned the podium, but you did win some golds. A lot of golds actually.

Golds that Husband keeps reminding me about.

Sigh.

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On top of Old Smoky

Six years ago, my immediate family decided to embark on a series of annual family vacations. It was a spectacular plan. Each year, for one week, we would gather in a different location. A location that was relatively kinda central to where everyone was living. The first year, we rented a cabin in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was magical.

View from the cabin

View from the cabin.

The experience was, in fact, so magical, so wonderful, so, so, so something that we postponed the second of our annual family vacations until last week. That’s right. Six years after our initial annual family vacation, we took Annual Family Vacation #2. To a cabin in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, no less.

We arrived from all over. Ohio. Indiana. Texas. Ontario. Just when we thought we could drive no more, we drove more, winding our way—quite literally—up the side of a mountain. To a different cabin that was just as magical as the one we remembered.

View from inside the cabin,

View from inside the cabin.

But with more bears. We stayed in a cabin aptly named “Very Beary.” The stuffed and porcelain bears were so numerous we thought it would be fun to have a “Guess the Number of Bears” contest. You know, a little fun to get the festivities going. The prize? A Mason jar (on steroids) of peanut M&Ms courtesy of Dad. Unfortunately, by the time the grandkids had canvassed two bedrooms on the first floor, the jar of M&Ms was empty. Gone. Finished. Eaten.

Our best guess for the number of bears? 37, 859. Interestingly, I think that may also be the number of peanut M&Ms we devoured.

The week was filled with all sorts of good times. Hiking. Food. Lounging. Food. Billiards. Food. Shopping. Food. Billiards. Reading. Hiking. Food. Swimming. Food. More reading. Food. More shopping. And, food.

We spent time in downtown Gatlinburg, raising an eyebrow or two at the cheesiness of the touristy shops. We hiked our way up Chimney Top, wondering how we had ever made our way to the top with two 3-year-olds and a 5-year-old all those years before, and rejoicing that we left the kids behind this time (supervised, of course). We strolled about the outlet malls of Pigeon Forge, looking for great deals. We waited very, very patiently in traffic. We cooked family-style dinners. We marveled at the black bear that was brazen enough to amble up our front steps and check out the garbage bins on the balcony.

Mostly, we enjoyed gathering as a family. Because, quite frankly, it’s something we don’t get to do very often.

Near Laurel Falls.

Near Laurel Falls.

For one week, we were together. We laughed. We told stories. We reminisced about that one time on that one vacation when Dad carried me, the picnic basket, the cooler and the camera bag up a mountain both ways. And that other time when we seriously carried three small children up a mountainside and then back down. We laughed some more. And, we made more memories.

Memories we can reminisce about six years from now, in 2015, when we take Annual Family Vacation #3. Because Annual Family Vacation #2 is over. Here and gone. Sadly.

Looks like I can retard my enthusiasm for a few more years. And live off the memories of vacations prior.

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