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Archive for July, 2011

Last night we had to pack for an upcoming trip. Every fiber in my being did not want to pack because I feel like that’s all I do lately: pack, unpack, pack, unpack. So I was being very childish, throwing myself on the bed in protest of packing.

And instead of getting fed up, instead of telling me to pull it together already, Mike simply sat down and walked me through the packing process.

“Now, you’ll need at a lot of underwear. At least 10 pairs. OK, now get some socks.”

“But see that’s the problem! I can’t even figure out what socks to bring. I have ankle socks, athletic socks, dress socks… I can’t even figure out how to pack socks right now!”

“Grab two of each kind. Doesn’t matter what colors. We’re on vacation, we’ll make it work.”

And so on until my suitcase was full. Honestly if he had been the one throwing the packing protest, I would have rolled my eyes and told him to get over it. This is why, as much as he sometimes makes me crazy, he’s a keeper.

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Shan: I’m going out of town for work the week after next.

Mike (out loud): Oh…ok.

Mike (in his head): I better get some movies and stock up on corn dogs.

 

Here’s the thing. Every so often, Shannon has to go on the road for work. Usually it’s a few days, and it’s never too far away. But it happens, and it changes the days she’s gone. I feel a reduction in purpose when Shan is away. I have no one to cook dinner for and no one to watch tv with. That purpose needs to be filled, and I do it with movies, video games and food. Movies that Shannon generally doesn’t show an interest in, and food that she doesn’t like.

This week, I filled that purpose with the following.

“Surugates”
“The Expendables”
“Rescue Dawn”
“Bad Lieutenant; Port of Call: New Orleans”
NBA Jam
Brats and coleslaw
Corn dogs
Ham and pineapple pizza
Chunky Monkey

It’s not that I don’t miss my wife when she’s gone. I do. I miss her and I look forward to her return. It’s just that, if she has to be gone, I might as well have pizza with fruit on it. Life’s all about purpose.

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Summer = Camping

Last weekend, Mike and I went camping with my family: my mom and her husband Kelly, sister Emily and her husband Drew (they celebrated their first anniversary while we were there!), and my sister Kelli, her husband Kevin and baby Scarlet. It was supposed to the WHOLE family, but my sister Andrea and her family couldn’t make it, and neither could my brother Josh and his family. We had fun anyway.

We built lots of fires.

That’s my mom. We called her Campfire Girl all weekend. It worked because she used to be one. And she builds sweet fires. Here she’s fixing someone else’s smoky mess.

Then we sat around the fires we built.

We ate delicious meals.

Those are hobo packets: ground beef, potatoes, veggies, sauces and spices in one handy packet.

We saw beautiful sunsets and moonrises.

We went to the beach.

Come on. Cutest girl ever right?

We had good conversation.

We played games.

We slept in (and apparently tried to escape from) tents.

And basically we had a good time, and did a lot of much-needed relaxing.

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More and more meals

Here we go again. I’m really impressed with how well we’ve stuck to our weekly meal categories. I forgot to take a few pictures here and there, but mostly on Mexican taco and pizza nights. We haven’t been home much on the weekends either, so this is a lot of salads and pastas!

PASTA THURSDAYS

Spaghetti with red sauce and English Muffin garlic bread

Ravioli with red sauce

Spaghetti with tomato and blue cheese sauce. From <a href="thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/04/pasta-with-tomato-blu…“>Pioneer Woman.

Spaghetti. We really like spaghetti, clearly.

SALAD TUESDAYS

Turkey, peppers, homemade avocado ranch dressing

“Fancy greens”, spinach, yellow pepper, cucumber, pepperoni, cheddar, country french

“Fancy greens”, spinach, yellow pepper, cucumber, pepperoni, mozzerella, walnuts, country french. I actually ate this two days in a row.

Romaine and iceburg, red and yellow pepper, cucumber, carrot, avocado, blue cheese, bacon bits, french

Chicken ceasar.

PIZZA FRIDAY

Pizza Dip with toasted bread. I saw a recipe for this and holy crap I was excited.

GRILL FRIDAY

Chicken bratwurst with pickles and spicy mustard. Sweet corn.

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I wish I was this talented

Awhile back, Mike’s brother randomly posted a sketch of him on facebook that his friend did. I was impressed and asked if I could contact the artist because I had a brilliant idea. I sent him eight photos – my three nieces, three nephews and my half-bro and sis. These are what I sent:

Delaney

Cam

(Photo by Photography by Arika Reed)

Caleigh

Kyron

Taylor

Brady

Tyler

Scarlet

And in about a day, he sent back these (in hi-res files):


Amazing right? So I bought some white cardstock and printed them on my home computer, then I found some square black frames on clearance at Michael’s. And voila, best gift ever!

For each framed print, I spent about $10. I thought about waiting for a holiday to give these to the parents, but at the time even Mother’s Day was too far away, so I just gave them for fun.

I hope this guy is still sketching when I have kids!

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The first time I traveled to Europe (Ireland 2009), I had the benefit of a grad school instructor who had been there several times and helped guide us through some of the unknowns. She booked our flights and took care of lodging and transportation. The second time (France 2010), my friends and I did all the planning ourselves, and it was a pain in the ass. I love traveling and I’m a thorough planner, but it was exhausting to have to figure out every little detail both before and during the trip.

So when Mike and I decided to see a bit of Europe as a belated honeymoon slash pre-kids extravaganza, we knew we wanted to hand off some of the planning to someone else. Thanks to a tip from a former travel agent friend (she’s still a friend, no longer a travel agent), we looked into Trafalgar. We researched several other options, but ultimately trusted her judgment and found what we were looking for with them.

How to Select a Trip
We started with location. We knew we for sure wanted to go to Italy, so we searched for trips that included Italy. Then we considered length, narrowing down to trips that were longer than a week but shorter than two. We also had some limitations on price and timing, so after finagling a little, we landed on the London to Rome tour (which now I can’t find on their site). It got a little crazy trying to book the trip… this happened:

But it was a logistical thing, and Trafalgar was very helpful in the booking process. They also booked our flights and built it into our costs.

Pros & Cons of Tour Travel

Pros:
Less Planning
– We’ll start with the obvious. We didn’t want to do all the planning, and going on a tour like this takes a lot of the pressure off. They took care of flights, all lodging, all transportation (except when we ventured out on our own), several meals, and many other logistics I loved not worrying about. We still had to do a lot of prep work to get the most out of the trip, but other people literally showed up and waited to be told what to do. So it can go either way, depending how much you want to do on your own. And how much you want to spend.

Local Knowledge, Professional Guidance & Language Interpretation – Our tour guide, Annette, was Scottish, but she spoke several languages, including English, French, German and Italian. Having someone so easily speak the languages of the countries we visited was such a help. We were on our own a lot, and we fumbled our way through conversations, but Annette navigated a lot of interactions that we would have had to struggle through otherwise. Probably even more than we realized. She and the local guides we occasionally had, knew a lot about the countries and cities we were in and were able to not only provide us with historical and cultural knowledge, but also tips on little nuances like how to order food at the roadside Auto Grilles. There were a lot of little things that were made easier (or avoided entirely) that we would have had to handle or figure out on our own if we had traveled solo.

Less Waiting – I didn’t even consider this until it happened the first time, but if you book an excursion through the tour company that includes admission to something, you basically skip all the long lines! The tour company books a time for your group to get in, then they get you there at exactly that time, so you show up and bam, you’re in. Occasionally we had to wait for an elevator or go through security, but it cut off hours of time in all, I’m sure. We didn’t wait at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Colosseum, the Vatican, etc.

Built-in Relaxation – I was a little worried about bus travel because of my tendency toward motion sickness, but I only threw up once, and I blame that on some bad orange juice. Instead, the bus turned out to be great! We used the time to catch up on sleep and get a little organized. Not having to worry about driving allowed us to plan our adventures in the upcoming locale, take as many naps as we wanted, and do a lot of reading. I read almost 5 books in our 11 days of travel! The coach was a little uncomfortable for Mike the Giant, but we sat behind a couple who was really careful not to recline too much, and even he got a few winks in.

Let’s see how long it takes Mike to realize I posted a picture of him with his mouth hanging open on the Internet.

Making New Friends – We weren’t sure what to expect as far as travel companions, but we had some pretty cool people on our trip. As I’ve mentioned before, we hung out with two other couples quite a bit, but we also got to know several other people of all ages and origins, as well. We met people from all over the country and the world, which is an interesting side bonus to this group travel thing.

Cons:
Pressure to Buy – Ugh. The tour guides clearly work on commission because Annette was relentless about selling the optional excursions. In fact, she didn’t even treat it like an option. She spoke about each one as if we were all going to be there, and it got to be very confusing to sort of out what we’d be doing as part of the big tour and what didn’t apply to us because we didn’t purchase the optionals. And if you didn’t buy? Well, you quickly became dirt. She wasn’t very interested in helping us figure anything out if it wasn’t related to something we had paid for. For instance, in Rome, she dropped us off at the hotel and rounded up the folks going on the optional excursion. The rest of us tried to get a little information out of her regarding local transportation to downtown, and she brushed us off and was completely unhelpful. And when our friends told her they weren’t going on the gondola/water taxi optional trip in Venice, she said something like, “Biggest mistake you could make. You’ll regret it.” This kind of treatment is probably our biggest complaint of the trip.

Poor Information – This goes along with the stuff above. If you weren’t on board with the expensive tours, you don’t get to know what’s going on, sorry. Almost the entire experience, I never felt like I had enough information about what was going on. As someone who wants NEEDS to be fully informed, I was very frustrated. Leading up to the trip, we were trying to plan what to see, but it was nearly impossible to solidify anything because we had no idea when we’d be where. Yes, we knew what days we were in which cities, but when would we arrive? When would we depart? When you know you want to visit Museum X and Museum X is only open until 6, you really need to know where you’ll be and when.

We created a spreadsheet that laid out what sites we’d see on what days, and the whole thing had to be rearranged once we were actually there and got the information we needed. We called Trafalgar before departure, but they couldn’t give us much of use. And on the coach, Annette would walk us through the upcoming days, but she’d talk about included excursions and optional excursions in the same way, so we were never really sure what we were or weren’t doing. Just thinking about this is getting me frustrated again.

Dealing with People You Don’t Know – Oh people, how I hate them. There were a lot of great people on our trip, but there were several I could have strangled. Allow me to elaborate on a few. Two ladies did not understand how time worked. They consistently showed up late for everything, no matter how many times their hands were slapped. We’d all be waiting on the bus, and they’d eventually slowly saunter up like no big. Another guy took a billion pictures of the same GD things. We’d pass a car on the highway and I’d hear click click click click click click click click click click click click click click. Of a car! I tried to block it out, but you guys, so. many. photos. This coming from the girl who filled up two large memory cards.

Money, Money, Money – Visiting Europe is expensive no matter what you do, but traveling with a tour certainly adds some expenses. We paid $6,000 for the tour which included our flights, all hotels and transportation (minus any local transport we did on our own), and some meals (all breakfasts, three dinners). On top of that we paid $782 on optional tours (yikes!) and maybe $700 on other stuff including food, souvenirs, international conversion fees, blah blah blah. That’s over $7000, which hurts just to think about. But was it worth it? Yes.

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Shannon: What kind of drumstick do you want?

Mike: The one with fudge filling.

Shannon hands him a drumstick with caramel filling

Mike: Oh, I wanted the fudge filling.

Shannon: I thought you meant caramel. There isn’t any with fudge.

Mike: Yes there is. Vanilla with fudge filling.

Shannon: No, there’s plain vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, and vanilla with caramel.

Mike: I’m pretty sure I bought the pack that had ones with fudge.

Shannon returns to fridge to confirm.

Shannon: Nope, like I said, vanilla, chocolate, vanilla with caramel.

Mike: That can’t be right.

Mike comes to fridge to confirm.

Shannon: Seriously? I’ve looked twice now and told you there is no fudge filling. How do you not believe me?

Mike: I was just so sure…

Shannon: I don’t blame you. Afterall, I have forgotten how to read.

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