Midwinter Break All Set

If you are a loyal reader (and thank you if you are), you will know that we were struggling to decide where to go the first week in March. Well, we decided, but it’s nowhere warm. Maybe a little warmer than Chicago (but that’s not hard), but not a bask-in-the-sunshine trip. That’s OK. Costa Rica and Houston will both be significantly warmer than Chicago, where as I write this, it is 20 degrees. But at least I saw the sun.

For our fabulous mid-winter break (yes, I know it will be March, but that’s barely halfway through winter here), we will spend the first half of the week in New York. Can’t go wrong there. Then we are headed to Boston. Steven can work in both places and I can work, too, (I hope I have work), see friends, family, and feel like I’m home again.

Somehow, it doesn’t matter if it’s warm in New York. We don’t have any specific plans, aside from pizza. We don’t really need them. If Uncle David (also known as Unky) is around, we will have dinner with him. Otherwise, we will wander, shoot photos, eat, and maybe take in a play or some music. Who cares? It’s New York.Moakley_Courthouse_and_Boston_Harborwalk_02.JPG

In Boston, we will stay with Steven’s brother, Phil, and sister-in-law, Naomi. Family hospitality. They don’t have a choice! Plus, I hope to see some friends of mine from college.

In case you were wondering, yes, I do realize that I am effin’ lucky. I love to travel, and we have four trips planned before the end of summer. That doesn’t even include my niece’s graduation trip. She is as of yet undecided about where she wants to go, but is thinking somewhere in Western Europe. Stay tuned.

 

I Figure We Can See All of Alaska in 10 Days….

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I know that I have not been writing very much recently.  I have been distracted by work and somewhat depressed by the thought of spending another winter in Chicago.

One part of my trip to Florida to surprise my mother that I did not mention was that during the time down there she announced that she wanted to take us (my brother, sister and myself) and our respective spouses on an Alaskan cruise this summer.

Princess-AKWe have spent the last few weeks trying to get agreement on which cruise would work for the seven of us. Imagine the hunger games for cruises…Shouting on phone calls, imaginary use of swear words, minor fistfights, a smallish stabbing and the usual hysteria–all of which was just between Sue and me ;-). (Hey, I thought that was private!) We decided on a seven-day northbound cruise on Princess lines out of Vancouver.

denali-mapOnce the cruise was decided, everyone expressed an interest in going to Denali National Park. We figure three days in a wilderness larger than the state of Massachusetts should give us just enough time to know that we have not spent enough time there.

We began by looking at three options.  First, go with the cruise line and stay in their lodge.  That got a hard no from Sue and me. Second, go to a private hotel/lodge/cabins most of which are along the outside edge of the park.  Third, do a  multi-day camping and hiking tour. (The tour company flies you in to a remote lake, drops you off and provides the camping equipment, food and a guide).

Sue and I were keen on the third option, and my brother, Phil, and his wife, Naomi, were in for that, too. My sister, Judie, her husband, Mario, and my mother are planning on staying at the Princess Lodge.

My cousin Robin has been to Alaska a number of times, so after doing some research on the camping companies, we gave her a call to see what she thought.  She gave us a forceful caution on the camping trip.  As she said, it could be perfect, but it could also be the trip from hell. Twenty-four hours of rain a day, everything gets wet, the hiking sucks because it is cold and wet. You can’t get warm for four days, etc.  She suggested that we look at one of the lodges that are within the park and, while they are expensive, they do always give you a warm dry bed to sleep in. We have not yet made a decision….but are leaning towards listening to the wisdom of someone who has done it before – I know, unusual for us.

Stay tuned campers for updates.

Life Messes With My Vacation Plans

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Early November to May weather in Chicago. No, really, it snowed on Halloween and last April.

I already mentioned that we are passing on our latest dream vacation: Southeast Asia. Instead, we have decided to jet off somewhere warm the first weeks of February, March, and April. I know what you are thinking: Isn’t it warm in April. NO! April is the beginning of the last third of winter here in Chicagoland. That week, we are planning a trip to Houston to see family and then on to Mechanicsburg, PA, for Passover seder with the other side of the family.

Did you ever notice that places you don’t consider tourist destinations are expensive to fly to? Four hundred dollars to fly to Harrisburg, PA?!?!?!?!? Four-fifty to get to El Paso!?!?!? And I don’t get to check a bag and I have to sit in the back of the tiny plane? Yuck. I really want to go to Big Bend, but we may end up folding it into a roadtrip.

OK, that leads me to the toughest decision. I really want to go to Big Bend, but I really don’t want to spend $450 a person flying to El Paso. I think that’s off the table, but then where to? Somewhere warm, but not expensive. San Diego? Tucson? We need a place with reliable, fast WiFi so Steven can “work.” We’re still pondering that one. Steven has to work during the week, so we want to go somewhere that I will have things to do, unless I manage to find some work. Anyone looking for freelance writing or editing? I’m your woman!

We did get the February trip solidified. We are headed back to Costa Rica courtesy of our friends Karl and Guiselle, who have moved to Playa Flamingo from Arenal.  Can’t go wrong with sun, surf, and friends. I don’t know if it will work out, but I may have to try scuba again. Plus, I have been Duolingoing for a while, so maybe I will even be able to speak to someone in Spanish. This time, I want to see turtles.

I am excited to go to Houston, not because I like Houston, but it’s been more than a year since I have seen my brother, sis-in-law, niece, and nephew. Way too long. It’s more fun to spoil them in person and it will almost be our niece’s birthday. Crazy aunt and uncle fun time!

 

Slumber Party

 

I love traveling with my husband, but sometimes I need something different. Travel with my women friends feeds a different aspect of my soul. Friday, I drove to Sawyer, Michigan, where three of my friends and I spent a night drinking wine, talking, and creating soul collages. As much as I love Steven, I don’t think he would spend a day losing track of time as he hunted through magazines for the perfect picture to complete his collage (So right on so many levels). In fact, I got the quizzical look I expected when I told him what we had done.

20191109_145315There wasn’t really anything to do: no WiFi, no TV (horrors of horrors! No TV or Internet! – I am so happy I wasn’t invited), no real town to go to. It was fabulous! We were surrounded by woods, apple trees, and quiet. I am blessed with amazing friends around whom I feel both supported and loved. I feel like I can be my true self around them. In fact, I am at an age where if I can’t be my true self around someone, I don’t bother, but these are women I feel at peace around.

As you already know, when I travel, I want to be on the go: doing, seeing, exploring. I didn’t understand the power of stillness. I’m not saying I want to do this every weekend, or even once a month, but the restorative nature of it was amazing. Plus, I got to pretend I can create artwork without words.

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Soul-collage table

We are lucky that one of us has generous friends who lent us their beautiful home. While I don’t want to own a second home, I now understand the appeal.

Update: We have decided to put off our grand adventure to Southeast Asia for a year. We are in the midst of too much uncertainty and upheaval. I am sad, but I am also sure we will not give up on it.

Happy Birthday

 

It is my mother’s 82nd birthday next week. Ever since she turned 80, we (my brother, sister and I) have been working extra hard to give her special birthdays. This year, we decided that it would be good fun for all of us to pay her a surprise visit in Florida, where she lives during the winter.

My brother lives in Dallas, my sister in Pennsylvania and I live in Chicago, so the first step was finding a weekend near her birthday that would work. We settled on the week before, as both of them were traveling for work the following weekend and my daughter is coming to Chicago the one after that. OK. Step one was completed⁠—we knew when we were going⁠—Thursday, Oct. 31 to Sunday, Nov. 3.

Move to step 2. Arrange travel. We all hopped on to our favorite travel sites and looked for flights that would all arrive around the same time. One quick round of confirmation texts and we all booked our tickets. My sister and brother were set to arrive at 2:00 and 2:30, my flight is scheduled for 3. My mother lives about 30 minutes from the airport, so all in we figured we get to her at about 4.

Move to step 3. Figure out how to ensure that my mother was at home when we arrived. Time to call in the co-conspirators. I called my Aunt Es and Uncle Albert who live about 20 minutes from my mother. After quickly letting them know that nothing was wrong (seems like anytime anyone calls these days, the first thought is what is wrong), I explained our plan. They were more than happy to help. To quote (or at lease paraphrase) my uncle: “Not to worry, we will tell her (my mother) that we are going to be up there and want to take her to dinner, then we will arrive, have a glass of wine and, you know, stall until you all arrive.”

The plans were set, all we needed to do was wait for the day. My brother and sister had uneventful flights and arrived right on time. However, Chicago weather is never your friend, and once again it did not disappoint. Snow. Yes, snow on Wednesday (just about an inch at the airport) and then then snow again on Halloween. My flight was delayed. Not too much, about 45 minutes, but then I had to check my carry on bag, which would have to be collected at baggage claim, not on the jet bridge. Oh dear, now we are arriving around 5.

My brother and sister texted my aunt and uncle to let them know. Luckily for us, they have concocted a story for my mother that involved waiting for my cousin to arrive. They quite admirably stretched out the stall for another hour while we got my luggage, piled into an Uber and headed to my mother’s condo.

20191102_112119We are planners. My brother, sister and I all thought through the approach as my mother’s living room faces the building entrance way.  We asked our Uber driver to drop us off at the next building and we circled around to entrance at that back of the building.

We snuck up to the door.

Knocked.

My mother yelled come in.

We yelled, “Trick or Treat,” and walked in.

To say she looked confused would be an understatement. We burst into a very very very very off key (and for me out of time) rendition of Happy Birthday.

My mother clutched her chest (a heart attack looked possible!!!!), tears streaming down her cheeks and great big smile on her face. Isn’t my husband the sweetest?!?!?!

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After a few minutes of hugs and kisses, everything settled down. We knew my mother was fine when she looked at my aunt and uncle and promptly declared. “You knew this! I will never speak to you again. Now let’s figure out where to have dinner.”

We are spending the weekend doing what we do best together.  Sitting around, eating, talking about our respective families and basking in the glow of a really great surprise.

…and in case you were concerned.  Aunt Es and Uncle Albert were forgiven by the time we got to the Thai restaurant for dinner.

Back to Planning

spreadsheet.pngWhen we talked last time, which was some time ago (oops!), about our desire to go to Southeast Asia. Steven and I talked in circles for a month or so because of all the other upheaval in our lives (trying to sell a house, deciding where to move, trying to develop a freelance writing career) but then we decided to plan in earnest and worry about finances, time, physical fitness⁠—you know, the little stuff⁠—later.

Instead of getting into trip details, I’m going to focus on the how we plan. We’ve only just started this time, but here’s our process:

  1. Get bug about a certain far-flung location. This time Vietnam for the caves and Cambodia for the oldest known zero.
  2. Tell ourselves it’s completely unrealistic.
  3. Admit to each other that we’re still thinking about it even though it’s completely unrealistic.
  4. Decide that maybe it’s not completely unrealistic.
  5. Do some Internet/print (what? a book???) research.
  6. Use up many sticky notes listing places within the country/region we want to visit.
  7. Steven makes a spreadsheet. (I know it’s weird, but this gives him joy.){Happiness is a good spreadsheet – and if I am lucky – a bit of a macro too!}
  8. Realize that this trip will take two months {a minimum of 2 months}  and start scaling back.
  9. Make some hard choices {I hate making hard choices!}.
  10. Mourn the places we won’t be able to see and convince ourselves we will go back.
  11. Figure out how much this will all cost by checking into flights and other transportation, hotels, food, attractions {Wow! that much!}.
  12. Start booking! or not, if we magically become grounded in reality.

We are about to hit Stage 10. Notice that we already have our hearts set on this trip, which is now Cambodia and Vietnam if we do the cave tour, and Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos if we don’t. We’re figuring about three weeks plus a few days. That’s a chunk of time not to be working, especially if you’re trying to build a freelance business. On the other hand, we aint getting any younger or richer, so if not now, when?

Dreaming Again

Southeast Asia.jpgIt seems as though we will be stuck in Chicago for another winter. Not our first choice, to be sure, but given that our desire to move is simply a desire and not a necessity, not the end of the world either. However, since I am now a full-time freelancer and Steven’s job is somewhat flexible, we have begun to dream of far-flung destinations once more.

Southeast Asia fills the top spot at the moment. We can go in semi-shoulder season, maybe February, when there aren’t as many school vacations, and it will be warm! We had been thinking in that direction anyway, but this dream was reinvigorated by Travels with My Father, a show about 28-yar-olds comedian Jack Whitehall’s “gap year” travels with his decidedly stuffy 77-year-old British dad. Guess where they went in season 1? You are so smart! Yes, it was Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Steven has had this notion about seeing the oldest recorded zero in Cambodia, and I am about to disappoint him because I think the real oldest zero is iImage result for son doong caven India. (Hmmm, maybe that’s a way to get him there!) Then he decided we should go on a four-day Vietnamese trip into Son Doong, the world’s largest cave. Hmm, he hates camping, can barely sleep in a comfy bed, and is afraid of heights. There is a 90-meter rope climb to begin the tour. I give him credit for advance bravery, that’s for sure. Image result for son doong cave

Now that I am looking at these pictures, I am thinking this may be totally worth it!

Reality bites, as we all know, because if we spend five days getting to and being on this tour, that takes a real bite out of the rest of our trip. Our style is to get overly grandiose in our vacation dreams and then scale back as we add up the costs in money and time. How can we go to Thailand and not hit the beach and explore Bangkok? How can we fly all the way to Southeast Asia and not see Angkor Wat or the Silver Palace in Phnom Penh? Or go scuba diving? Then, a friend said, “Oh, you have to go to Laos.” Sure, we’ll add that to the list. Why? I’m not sure yet, but it’s right there.

I am so relieved. A few months have gone by without a crazy, exciting trip to plan and now we have one again! Life is much more fun when you don’t have both feet firmly planted in daily reality.