4 days in Limbo, IL

I want to start my story at the point when when we landed in Munich, but it really started before that with another lesson learned.  Monday is not the day you start a vacation. 

Oh, don’t worry,there is nothing ominous about my statement. It’s just a fact. 

(1) The Friday before we left for Europe I tried to work. It was like pulling teeth.  It was a full blown case of high school senioritious. I totally wasted a beautiful summer day filling a seat in the office. (But, don’t tell my boss that, I’m sure I did something constructive that day) 

(2) The Saturday before was almost worse than the Friday before. If it weren’t for those blasted Guinea Pigs requiring daily care that wasn’t scheduled to start yet, I would have blown that pop stand. Being stuck at home for the first “vacation” day seemed rather pointless. This type of attitude explains why I suddenly decided we would eat out at every meal from then on.  (English menus, yo!) 

(3)Sunday! Finally, Sunday! Months previously, when the hubs found out that our first flight left at 7 am, he said, “I am NOT getting up at 3 am to drive to the airport.” That kind of an attitude booked us a hotel room near O’Hare airport for the night before our 7 am flight. At least, then the vacation could officially start and the lifetime experiences could begin! However, I have to admit that it felt more like driving into a traffic jam 10 minutes from your house.  We had so far to go and already at a stand still. Fortunately, we have friends that live near the hotel so we were able to join up for dinner and a swim in the pool together to get us through the night. 

(4) Monday!! Remeber how we said we weren’t going to get up at the crack of dawn? Standing in a hotel lobby at 5:45 am waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to the airport still felt unreasonably early. 

Funny thing about airports, once inside its like you’ve entered into another dimension and you are completely closed off to what’s going on outside. For example, you might even miss an approaching massive 40,000 feet high thunderstorm that is going to encircle the airport.  We caught a brief glimpse of the storm as we made our way to our gate for boarding. If I had not known it was July, I would have thought it was a winter storm because of how strong the winds were, the heaviness of the raindrops and the darkness of the clouds.  A 40,000 feet tall thunderclouds do not let much light in.  After it quit raining and we had been on the Tarmac for some time, I checked the radar on my phone.  It looked like Chicago was the eye of the storm and the clouds stretched across Michigan, down through Indianapolis and back up to Wisconsin.  Basically, unless you were flying to the Yukon, you weren’t getting out of Chicago or in, for that matter.  In all we waited on the tarmack in Chicago for four hours.  

Our luck wasn’t bad just disappointing.  Our flight plans had given us a significant layover in Phildelphia. The delay cut it in half making it impossible to get any Philly sight-seeing in but, at least, we weren’t going to miss our flight to Munich. Instead, we sat in limbo for another four hours.  

Four days in limbo made me realize I don’t want to wait until Monday to start a vacation. 

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Latvian Lessons

I love to travel.  I especially love to travel to Europe.  I have not had the opportunity to travel extensively but I have been lucky enough to go to Germany, France, Scotland, Italy, England, Belgium, The Netherlands, and, finally, after 17 years of marriage into a Latvian family, Latvia.  I really thought it was never going to happen.  We turned down many other wedding invitations, but, when this wedding invitation arrived, setting my own personal desires aside (yeah, right), I said, it’s time to take the kids to the motherland.  

Since I love to travel, I travel pretty well and I have learned many things like pack light, don’t be afraid of public transportation, and expect to walk a lot. Like, really, a lot. 

Since this was the first time I traveled across the ocean with my family, I taught a few lessons and I learned a few lessons.  Here’s my helpful guide, with the backstory, to traveling overseas with a family. 

The Trip: Chicago to Philly to Munich to Riga to Wedding to small town Latvia to Riga to Munich to Philly to Chicago 

I’m going too, aren’t I?

 The Lessons:

1. Men are just as (more) high maintenance as women.  When my husband says he needs some item whether it’s extra socks, a certain style of shorts, or a favorite hole filled t-shirt, I should never, ever try to talk  him out of it or less of it or a different it, because, when I’m ready to explore exery tower and examine every decayed brick at an ancient castle in the middle of the Latvian countryside, I will be unreasonably intolerant of every suggestion to head back to the car.  He told me before we left that he needed (NEEDED) x, y, and z to be comfortable. Let me tell you, when you aren’t comfortable, you don’t want to hike out to look over the Gauja River. If I had listened to him, it wouldn’t have been a struggle to get to do what I wanted to do. 
Wait? Did I say what I wanted to do? I meant what the boys wanted to do, naturally. 

2. When 2 out of 4 in your group are sleepers, plan accordingly. I think I may have mentioned that sleeping is my super power. Any where. Any time. Any place. When we took our seats on the plane going to Germany, we sat according to how we always sit when we go out to eat.  The hubs was with the younger kid. I sat with the older kid.  The older kid inherited my sleeping super power. Couple my years of experience of sleeping while traveling in planes, trains and automobiles with my natural engineering skills (pillow stacking), the older kid and I slept for hours. Things on the other side of the aisle didn’t go so well. I wasted my pillow skills on the kid that would have slept leaning against the airplane engine. As a result, the younger kid didn’t concede to exhaustion until we were on the train to Munich. By the time we got off the train, he was so far into a deep sleep that I had to hold his hand to keep him from walking in the opposite direction from us.  Next time, when getting sleep is important (getting it at the right time), I need to save my skills for those that need it the most. 

3. When it comes to food, go with your gut.  While in Riga, we rented an apartment with a kitchen.  It was my intention to buy food from the store for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast worked out beautifully.  All that were hungry ate while I took my sweet time getting beautified for a day of pictures we’ll never delete.  I highly recommend getting provisions for breakfast. Plus, think of the experience of shopping in a foreign grocery store! Lunch would have gone smoothly too, if only…  The hubs is the one who always cooks the meals at home. So, when we go on vacation, he wants no part of food preparation. Who can blame him?  I relented and it was agreed that we would eat our lunches out at the restaurants. I should have stayed my ground on that one.    Even when someone can read the menu, it doesn’t translate easily, or it’s in a pricy part of town (tourist traps), or it just isn’t the same as back home (carbonated apple juice?!?), or there isn’t enough options on the menu for two adults and two teenagers, or the one restaurant you know is good is a long walk away.  Eating out twice a day was actually pretty stressful. I still think that a loaf of rye bread (maize) with salami and swiss cheese (siers) would have been a much wiser decision and, possibly, it would have been nicer to just sit in the park  looking at the Freedom Monument.

4. While I may have been wrong in what I let the hubs pack, I was correct in saying, “no, we do not want that gigantic suitcase”.  The hubs argued it would be no problem since we would check at the airport. In the end, we had to take the big suitcase for all fancy clothes we needed for the wedding and his cousin’s lawn mower blades. Yup, we packed lawn mower blades. Even better that two were the wrong blades so we had to take them back home with us!  So, unless you need to take lawnmower blades, pack backpacks because the last thing you want to do is lug a big suitcase around the train station and drag it to the hotel on a 10 minute walk after being up all night on a trans-Atlantic flight, or try to stuff it into a tiny car trunk in Italy.  It’s not even that fun to carry a big suitcase up multiple flights of stairs in a latvian apartment building after a good night’s sleep.  We were so relieved to get rid of the lawnmower blades, for one day.

5. Rent an apartment or stay with family. Hotels in Europe aren’t designed for large American families. The rooms are small and barely fit two twin beds. I was not surprised by this. So, we rented an apartment in Riga. It was the best and much cheaper than two hotel rooms. I could have gotten a very nice apartment for the cost of  2 hotel rooms.  But, I wanted to save money for all that eating out so I went more economical.  Still, the apartment was way beyond its value. We even did laundry (allowing us to pack less) once we figured out the Polish instructions on the washer. I wouldn’t hesitate to rent an apartment again.  

To recap: He gets his way on what to pack. I get my way on eating. Get as much sleep as possible for the group as a whole on the plane.  Pack in easy to carry small luggage. Apartments rule. 

While I’m sure we learned more travel lessons than what I have listed, I’m ready to try to relay my Latvian high lights.  I should have written it months ago when it was fresh. I only hope I can recall it all. 

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Murphy’s Law

Click. Click. Click. Click. 

I’m feeling the cocktail of excitement, fear and relief as the car that I am securely strapped into is pulled higher and higher.  I’m excited because I am about to speed down a near vertical angle that looks impossible when viewed from the ground. As the car lurches upward, there is a split second of  fear that the chain dog will snap releasing the coaster backwards ending in a horrific crash.  The click of the the chain comforts me into thinking it must mean everything is fine.  Until we lurch forward again.  And again. And again. It is, after all, by record, the tallest wooden roller coaster. 

Despite my alternating states of emotion, I am drinking in the view.  It’s a shame that the American Eagle name was already claimed because the top of this lift hill is an eagle eye’s view. My son, brave enough to ride the coaster with me, actually isn’t brave enough to have his eyes open at the top.  Looking to the sky from the top of an  impressive height has never quivered my stomach. It’s a glorious view of the people below coming together to scream their heads off.  It almost takes my mind off the click of the roller coaster I am on. 

Click. Click. Fear. Relief. Fear. Relief. Fear.  

Then a pause as we hang at the top of a 180 feet drop while the anticipation builds.  I thought looking down 85 degree decline would trigger some unknown anxiety once we got there but the reality is that I am ready to fly. 

The locks release and we accelerate to 72 miles an hour.  The roller coaster twists us, change directions and never shows us what is coming next.  I can’t control what is coming out of my mouth. 

A month later, I’m driving a tiny economy rental car through the mountains near Golden, Colorado.  I’m fairly certain that the decription on the Avis website would read “Clown Car”.  Most people rent an SUV for the mountains.  Apparently, I rent clown cars.  

The GPS says turn right at the next intersection. I hesitate because this road seems more like a dirt driveway than the shortest route to Golden Gate Canyon State park.  A dirt road in the mountains could end up anywhere.  Like throwing a Jackson down on black number six, I decisively drive ahead into the mountains. On a dirt road. In a clown car. 

At first, I’m just driving along hoping that the GPS signal stays strong enough to guide me back to civilization sometime before my flight leaves that evening.  However, after a while, I note the washed out narrow ditch is a good 3 to 4 feet below the “edge” of the road, and I begin hoping that a tow truck will be able to get to me in time for me to make my evening flight.  I throw a Grant on red number 33 as I press on thinking that I will turn this car around at anytime I feel like the road isn’t safe enough to proceed, provided I’m smart enough to recognize it in time and tire of the gamble. 

After another five miles driving the clown car down the narrowing washed out dirt road, I pulled onto the paved main road. I glanced over my shoulder at the mountain side and once again I cannot control what comes out of my mouth. I laugh semi-hysterically for a good 30 seconds. 

Holy Shit! How the hell am I not sideways in a washed out ditch? 

The laughing reminds me of my uncontrollable laughter on the roller coaster rides a month earlier.  In both instances, I am euphoric because I have just broken Murphy’s Law.

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I need practice, I need ice

I coach soccer.  I use the term “coach” loosely here.  It’s what you get when less than a handful of parents volunteer.  I’m not the head coach and, at least, I’m willing to watch, research and study other teams.  

Last practice, the head coach was on vacation so I got to be in charge. Although there were groans abound, I made them practice ball handling.  It’s basic but it’s essential. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that I also need to practice ball handling skills. How can I teach them fancy moves if I can’t do it myself?  So, today, a slow and lazy Saturday, after watching two movies and eating a hot fudge Sundae for dinner, I decided I needed to work off my French toast breakfast by practicing my soccer foot work.  

I won’t bore you with the details of the drills I did (or planned on doing) because it was shortly apparent that what I most need to practice is my outside foot dribbling.  See, on my second pass through the backyard, the toes of my right foot caught downward in the grass so that all my weight (DQ ice cream, maple syrup and all) went right into the tendons in the front of my right ankle. 

It crossed my mind that I should fallen on the ground as though my foot had just broken clean off my leg.  But, there wasn’t a referee watching (or anyone else either), so I settled for a few curse words. 

Clearly, I need to practice my footwork but right now, I need ice.  And maybe some Motrin..

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“I don’t really need to do it.”

As soon as I thought those words, I knew I had no other option.  If it wasn’t for Do I Really Need To that I wrote in January, I wouldn’t have been looking down the steep face of a Black Diamond run. (Perhaps I should stop reading my own blog posts?)  I was confident, on the whole, that it would be a successful run.  After all, I was in middle school when my best friend, Kim, and I skied down Hemlock for this first time.  So, I didn’t really need to do it.  Or, did I? 

In middle school, Kim and I, along with just about everyone from our school, were members of a ski club. We spent every Friday night fighting off frostbite resulting from refusing to compromise our ski bunny looks.  It wasn’t cool to zip up your coat or wear a hat at a ski resort in the 80’s.  Being a ski bunny didn’t confine us to the bunny hill though, we raced, jumped, did tricks, took illegal trails and did our best to do whatever the boys did. 

However, up until three years ago, I hadn’t skied since 1997 when I lived near the Pocono Mountains.  I’d even forgotten I owned skies. We had shoved them into the attic for storage when we moved to Illinois in 2004.  By the time we rediscovered them, they were deformed and delaminated.  Luckily, I’ve been able to accompany my son on the Boy Scout annual skiing trip for the last three years.  I’ve gone from a weekly skier to a yearly skier, on rentals no less. Let’s just say 12 year old me can ski circles around the 42 year old me. 

Yet, 42 year old me had an advantage. I already knew I could ski this black diamond.  And, this time, skiing the black diamond wasn’t to impress 6th grade hottie, Dave Scalpone.  It was to impress upon myself that life is still full of opportunities that I won’t regret pulling off.  

At the end of the night, after skiing the black diamond several times, racing from one ski run to the next and traversing the icy hill at eye watering speeds, I gushed to another parent, 

“I am 50% exhausted and 50% exhilarated!”

That’s why I really did need to do it. 

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Giving Up

I joined a gym. I’m losing inches. I’m getting stronger. I’m eating chocolate. I’m wearing shoes.

It’s been several weeks since I started working out at the gym again. The guard at the door verbally greets me with half open eye lids. He even confided, one day, it was tough to get up at 4 am to come to work. I smiled in solidarity. I’m practically a regular.

Which is why I felt it was the right time to remove my shoes.

I’m giving up my shoes but I don’t think I’m giving up chocolate.

I’m not sure how many people think it is crazy but there have been enough people over the years commenting on my preference for bare feet that it’s more than just in my head. Add the public shower barefoot fungus phobia to the intense germ-a-phobia that exists in the gym as evidenced by the plethora of anti-bacterial gels on every exercise machine. Let’s just say, I gave up my shoes but I didn’t trumpet the virtues of barefootedness. (besides on here, of course)

PSA – Foot fungus develops in warm moist areas that don’t dry out. No shoes = dry feet = poor environment for fungus growth

We’ll see if I continue to get away with it or if I get asked to put the shoes back on. If that happens, I’m giving up the gym.

I’m still won’t be giving up chocolate though.

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Cliché Update

Does anyone remember their New Year’s Resolutions? I have a vague recollection that my helicopter was under enemy fire.

Wait. Sorry, that’s not my story.

I’m more likely to forget.

Q. Did there come a time when you and Admiral Poindexter met with the other New Years Resolution officials or members – as well as members of Congress to try to relate to them what your resolutions were?

A. I don’t recall having anything to do with the Congress in that sense.

That’s why I blogged it. Official, written evidence of my cliched attempt to grow up in 2015. Did I stay the course?

1. Gain a better understanding of which foods negatively impact how I feel and irritate my digestive system
Yes, if I can count eating fast food 2-3 times a week as trial and error?

2. Build functional strength
I successfully lifted the rear end of the snowmobile. And, I can do two full push-ups in a row.

3. Reduce unnecessary spending
I’m in the middle of a kitchen remodel, planning a big summer vacation then I let my husband go buy a snowmobile..

4. Spend more time on creative projects
Kitchen remodel, string art heart, three unfinished scarves

5. Get on with life
I’m in the middle of a kitchen remodel. Who has time to get on with life??

I remembered 4 out of 5. I’ve actively worked on 2 out of 5.

My status on being cliché – 80%.

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