There is nothing quite as fun as taking off for the holidays...no, I'm not being sarcastic, I promise. I love everything about making the most of the kids' time off of school. Co-parenting has always made for a tricky scheduling of the holidays and it hasn't gotten any easier even with adult children, so this season we decided to do what we've never done before, take off without the girls. We chose a city the girls had already visited but felt that Ari would love, Washington D.C.
It had been YEARS since I had been to our nation's capital, I was definitely very excited to plan this trip. We wanted to surprise Ari but also uphold his wish of celebrating with the family on New Year's Eve so we booked our flights to depart on the 26th of December and return on the 30th. Four nights was just right to hit up all the spots and still have some time to unwind. We rented a car and planned our stay just outside the district to be in a family centric area. Old Town Alexandria, VA was the perfect combination. Just a 13min drive to D.C. but also within walking distance to all major modes of public transportation with quite a bit of nightlife & ice cream shops on their main street. It was the best of both worlds.
At first, I wasn't too keen on booking a traditional hotel, much less for the entirety of our stay but, Ernie persuaded me in order to save some time. So I did the impossible which was to find a hotel that would include a hot breakfast, have a kitchenette AND be in an area where we would be able to park our rented car street side. Now, truth be told, I did not have the hotel booked until we actually arrived to the area which allowed for us to drive around and see where we could park before deciding. But I did have a list of places I had in mind as well as pricing. When we do this sort of thing (not book till last minute) we also like to walk into the lobby and ask if they can beat the rate online. They are always honest and most of the time, they cannot. This was one of those times so we booked three nights (because I still wasn't convinced on the notion of staying in one place the whole time , even if it meant only one night left to explore beyond the city). Still $270.09 for 3 nights with breakfast (which was pretty darn good, like for real...I mean they didn't have an omelet station but I was still pretty pleased with the freshness and selection) AND a kitchenette was a steal (all taxes and fees included)! On our last day they even set up a hot chocolate bar in the lobby and Ari nearly tripped over himself when he realized it was FREE! This kid of mine loves a good deal as much as his momma. The service was stupendous and on the eve of our last day I called downstairs and asked if they could extend our reservation for one more day. They did, and only charged us $68 for it!!! It was definitely a WIN.
When I plan vacations I like to do quite a bit of research in order to get the itinerary right and make any reservations if necessary but I try not to have a solid "things to do list", instead more like suggestions or points of interest. Our list was pretty long and we like to sleep in but, somehow we made it all happen. We took our leisure with breakfast, went back up to the room and packed snacks for the day before heading out with no plans to return till bath and bedtime. We had only 1-2 meals out and about and were able to be rested enough to hit up the attractions when most of the crowds were long gone. You'll notice that almost every landmark photo we took was in the evening. The sun sets in D.C. at around 5pm but we were still visiting Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington all the way till dinnertime.
We truly enjoyed experiencing the capital as it was dressed for the holidays but our favorite activity, by far, was our time spent in both the National Museum of Natural History and the USPTO's Inventors Hall of Fame. The Inventors Hall of Fame is situated within the US Patent and Trademark Organization which in itself is a pretty cool place to be. The exhibit highlights patents and trademarks created by the creative minds of our nation. It was fascinating to say the least. There was quite a bit of information but also interactive parts where one could play with robots and media tech. Reading about the processes of the great inventors of our time, seeing their charts and notebooks, hearing their interviews, was not only educational but empowering. I might have liked it more than Ari though as he preferred a second day at the National Museum of Natural History because one afternoon simply wasn't enough. There is no better feeling than to witness your child's light up and open wide as they soak in new things in wonder and amazement. Our little guy loves to travel but not just to go from place to place like a checklist, he wants to take things in fully. While we were at the Library of Congress he just wanted to sit amongst the book in the children's area and simply be in that space. At the museum it looked like he felt his eyes just weren't big enough to take it all in. He even sat through a movie about the deep sea twice. And then to run up and down the National Mall's wide open green spaces without a care in the crisp cool air. It was better than I could have dreamed!
I won't bore you all with the gritty details this time but if you would like a sample itinerary along with specifics on restaurants, cafes and hotel please comment below. As you all already know, I love to share but I also don't know how to be short about it.
Somewhere in the middle of Florida lies a Lego wonder land. It's a bit of a pain to get to since it's not off any major highway but for those of you out there with kids between the ages of 5-11yrs old, it's the place to be. Legoland, FL is located in Winter Haven which is about 1hr away from Florida's turnpike Yeehaw Junction exit or about an hour away from I75 Tampa exit. There isn't much else to do in Winter Haven but indulge in the typical franchise faire or shop at Walmart but Legoland is a one stop shop for a 1-2 night family vacation.
My 9yr old son and I have been to Legoland a few times already and last year became annual passholders (which makes more sense than the daily admission rate if you plan to visit more than one day in a year, and especially if you like water parks). We've stayed at both resort locations and off property. Here is the low down on each:
Legoland Hotel: The convinenence of the location is notable since you walk right into the theme park from the lobby's connecting sidewalk and individual security check point, this is also quite helpful in the event that the park gets shut down for lightning (which happens often). The resort is expensive but includes a nice breakfast buffet with omelet station (my favorite) and the interior decor of the rooms is especially made for the littles. Each bunk bed is set with a lego gift at check-in and the rooms accommodate two adults in a king or queen sized bed and up to three children in a bunk bed and trundle combo which is divided from the adults' bed by a little wall and curtain. Even the elevator ride up to the rooms is fun, with a disco theme dance party during the ride. They offer activities in the lobby throughout the day with a nice bar area for the adults while the kids play. The pool is just okay but give the kids huge floating lego pieces and they are playing for hours. Overall, a great stay if you don't mind the line for one of two elevators to access all rooms and are in the mood to splurge plus it gets pretty packed on weekends.
Legoland Beach Retreat (my favorite): This spot is about a half mile from the theme park but offers a free shuttle service as well as includes theme park parking pass (in case you don't want to wait for the shuttle which comes every 15mins or so). The bungalows are spread out throughout the property without an official lobby area (you check in as you drive up) and are cute as heck. The pool area here is great with a little fire pit where they offer s'mores kits in the afternoons. Breakfast is also included and not as hectic as the Legoland resort since the area is a bit wider and occupancy isn't as heavy on site but no omelet station. There is an outdoor play area right outside each set of bungalows where kids look out for each other and end up playing at all hours. This resort is perfect for family reunions or larger family groups traveling together with kids. My only complaint was that the ice machines are located ALL the way by the pool section which is the furthest point from the rooms for every room. But we truly enjoyed the outdoor area of the bungalow with a patio perfect for take-out pizza dinner. Check-in also includes the same treats as the hotel and the rooms are configured in a similar fashion but decorated with water themes instead.
Off property: There are not many options available since the area is still under development but the closet hotel to the theme park is the Shergill Grand Hotel, it's so close that it shares a fence with Legoland but there isn't much grandness to the place. It is inexpensive, serves a decent breakfast in the price of the night's stay and is clean. It served its purpose when we were on a budget and preferred to forgo the resort amenities.
Legoland itself is a great time for little guys. It is not to be compared with the likes of Universal, Disney or even Busch Gardens as it is a modest concept truly focusing on the Lego theme. I imagine that their insurance coverage is also not on par with the bigger theme parks as they often shut everything down when lightning is at bay (you may not even see a storm or hear the thunder and….boom! Shutdown anyways with no rain checks). To eliminate the stress of getting closed out we started to plan for two day visits; staying on property helps to keep the Lego fun going even in spite of the weather.
I would recommend the water park access pass as well as it makes for the perfect combo day. We pack some towels and basic water needs and tote around a small bag. When the temperature goes up (because, Florida) we hit the wave pool or lazy river and leave our dry clothes in the lockers for rent.
Legoland is close enough to Miami that we have even driven up for the day and come back home in the evening. The water park section has showers where you can freshen up before you head back home from a day full of fun in the crazy Florida sun and since it closes on most nights at 7pm you can be back in the 305 by 10pm(ish).
The best celebrations are the ones you least expect and for that reason I've taken to celebrating on "off" days rather than the "real" ones. This might seem strange to some but to those accustomed to co-parenting you might understand the notion a bit better. Co-parenting struggles or not, I find that "off" days are more relaxed and so much more enjoyable, there's less stress, the ease of planning without a forced deadlines and, let's be honest, less expectations, which ALWAYS helps when it comes to big milestone occasions or holidays.
It all started when I was first separated and had to figure out an organization method to appease my entire family (holidays are especially pain in the ass-y) as well as my co-parent parameters for such occasions. After a couple of years full of stressful, hurried Christmas dinners and delayed or rushed Easter egg hunts, I decided it was all or nothing, either the kids would enjoy the holiday in its entirety with me or I'd simply have to concede the day. But then it dawned on me, there are certain days when the actual date doesn't matter all that much, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, even graduation celebrations. So began the tradition of non-traditional celebration days. If I didn't have the girls for Easter Sunday, we did a fish fry on Good Friday, if is it wasn't my scheduled Thanksgiving Thursday, we arranged a huge Sunday after Thanksgiving brunch, no time for grandfathers and stepdad on father's day, not a problem, we made it a whole other day in our family. Our tradition of non-tradition took form and the family was able to truly enjoy each other as the pressure was off in terms of which house who went where. By following my non-traditions my family would simply plan to go to their other commitments on days I didn't have my girls and made every effort to all be in attendance on the days that were mine. The only drawback, all the extra calories from, more often than not, celebrating each occasion more than once (like 3-4 birthday cakes per occasion kind of more than once).
When my Sophie's high school graduation was upon us, I was able to plan surprise celebration a whole two months AFTER her graduation and just in time for her dorm move-in without anyone finding it strange. We enjoyed her actual ceremony date at leisure without the stress of family time scheduling, we travelled for our mom/daughter grad trip tradition, sorted out what she needed for her dorm, created a registry and then I surprised her with a little "Taco 'bout a future" themed fiesta. No co-parenting time constraints, no deadlines, no conflicting work schedules, just fun and family. It was perfect!
Even though our entire family has "graduated" from the co-parenting constraints being that my two girls from my previous marriage are aged out of all that, we plan to continue the tradition as to facilitate everyone's needs and the sometimes demanding requirements of other families (in-laws, parents and such). So when we have our date to celebrate or commemorate, it is a time where we can kick back, soak in the occasion and truly enjoy each other's company without having to cut it short to get to someone else's house or feeling squeezed to get it all in in one day. We take the time to celebrate the times and give actual time the middle finger, taco 'bout a party every time. ;)
I made a mistake the other day, I mentioned that we like to "get away" and I was wrong. We don't like to "get away" but rather we like to live for the day. And, as often as we can, we live the day away from our day to day.
This summer, like most, seemed to be slipping away with us entrenched at work as the sunny skies floated by. Ernie and I have a tradition of celebrating our engagement anniversary (blog post staycations-celebrating-the-little-things.html) but our scheduling conflicts at work have made more than one tradition this year a bit difficult to see through. About two weeks Ernie said, "just book something and we'll make it happen".
The GOALS for that "something":
At first we thought VEGAS BABY, since we had already missed going as planned for Ernie's 40th birthday, but the idea of baking in the dessert sun with only resort pools or adult pool parties as reprieve was off putting (not that I don't love a good pool party but I wanted more water than that) and the thought of losing so much in travel time when we only had 4 days was stressful which eliminated quite a few other options as well. The search was on! I went through cruise options, all inclusive resorts and even started considering forgoing one of the goals until it hit me. What about Bimini?!
I had avoided Bimini for so long because I rarely hit up places during a launch or craze. The idea of getting on a ferry and being schlepped to a place that didn't sound all too prepared for tourism while still forcing it into place was just not for me. So I did what I usual do when faced with only cliché options, I started my research. It was not looking good for Bimini during my sleepless 2am quests. It seemed our only options were the Hilton resort or a villa of some sort which all seemed quite costly for a 3 night stay plus a ferry ride. All options ranging from $350-$1000 per night. The Hilton includes transportation on the ferry but tacks on a $25 resort fee per night, offers no real beach front option and, as a hotel with traditional hotel rooms, quickly falls low on my list. The moment I came upon THE ONE alternative to the typical Bimini trip it was a done deal. I did what I rarely do and booked in that moment, even paying for the stay in advance.
Typically, we only book travel to and from a place and perhaps the first night's stay but Bimini is tricky and I still had much to learn about the tiny 7 mile long island. Having booked our stay I still had to figure out which way to get there and with very few options from which to choose I decided to go with www.frs-caribbean.com/ being that it was our first time and we don't mind boat rides (it also helped that I had found a promo code). I exhausted myself looking for rental cars and other on island transport options and Ernie said, "let's just wait till we get there and we'll figure it out". Now, we have a bit of experience with impromptu vacations and "winging it" but I don't recommend that sort of attitude when heading to Bimini. We got "lucky" or rather worked our usual travel tactics which aren't for the faint at heart but to avoid all that let me break it down for you, there are NO rental car companies on Bimini, only one scooter place that has a whole two scooters for rent and it's far from where they drop you off from any transport, there are barely any bikes and boats can't access all areas due to shallow waters and lack of dockage. So....you have two choices, okay three but barely, pray that you can get one of the 3 taxis on the island for hire (I saw people waiting hours for one), stay confined to resort shuttle which includes a tourist shopping strip, two beaches and the resort itself or....rent a golf cart. Rent the golf cart, trust me. They are costly, at $90/day as well as some additional fees and taxes (now 12% VAT which the Bahamian government recently increased from 7%). Some companies will drop off the golf cart at the resort for you and pick it up when you are done.
On Island TRANSPORTATION
Golf Cart options:
Elite Golf Cart Rentals elitegolfcartrental.com/rates/ they charge $30 for gas if you don't return refueled which is unlikely given that there is only on gas station on the entire island and it's pricing is not worth the trek so you'll just have to pay for the gas. They are available right at the Hilton Resort.
Sue and Joys 242-347-6082 are at Fisherman's Village which is part of the Resorts World and one of the ferry tram stops, seaplane arrival port and tourist shopping area within the gateway resort area.
We, however, went with Vincent who is a local and whose number I now need to track down. Our golf cart was cheap, two seats, no brakes and only one working light but...he refueled us when he drove by us once and didn't tag on any added fees. I'm using this guy again. How did I find him you may ask...it's shady business only reserved for the expert wing it traveler but I'll post his number here and you can call him for a legit transaction. ;)
As far as FOOD goes, that might have to be it's own post so I'll just highlight a few quick tips:
Bimini tips & highlights:
We almost accomplished all of our goals. The water's majesty took away all of our gambling interests as we trekked every inch of the island's beaches and ended up heading to bed way earlier than usual for us (11pm the latest during our 3 night stay). But being awakened by the soft morning sun through our bungalow's bedside view of the sunrise each morning. Feeling renewed and inspired by the little island of Bimini whose awe-inspiring colors have left us wanting for more. "There ain't no place like Bimini" that's for sure!
I'm sure it happens to everyone, you're driving along doing your thing and the radio starts to play a song that takes you to a very specific moment in your life. You see the memory in your mind's eye playing right before as the words chime along. You feel the moment over your entirety. It's as if you were there once again, so long as the song keeps playing. Strange phenomena. Sometimes sweet and love filled and others so far from it that you fight to get passed the song as quickly as possible as to eradicate the memory altogether with the simple switch of a station. The songs' purpose varies from sleek dance moves at middle school house parties to break-up anthems and road trip compilations. Whatever the occasion/memory it moves you.
The beauty of music is that it encompasses emotions in a way that helps you feel you are not alone. Whether it's on a grey street or wanting to party all night long, music embodies our desires, thoughts, feelings so that we don't have to say anything at all, we just ask the DJ to please play that song. Right now that song for me is actually JLo's Dinero, I really do feel it deep inside my soul..."yo quiero, yo quiero dinero, hey!". But when I am more quiet and reflective it's Dave who is steering my soundtrack.
For me, Dave Matthews Band has pretty much hit the nail on the head with at least one song per major instance in my life. I could piece together the soundtrack of my life's challenges from DMB's many albums including their acoustic tracks, Dave's solos and even just him and Tim. It fascinates me to have someone sing something that feels so real to me, that speaks for my soul. If you aren't a Dave fan you've probably logged off by now but if you are you know exactly what I mean. He so easily speaks for my most inner most self.
"She says, I pray
But then my prayer fall on deaf ears
I'm supposed to take it all myself
To get out of this place....
But the colors mix together to grey"
Grey Street still chokes me up and gives me goosebumps. How did Dave know my struggles, how did he write them so well? This is what leads folks to fan-dom, when an artist is gifted with the verse of their inner most thoughts and feelings.
My husband is a perfect example of this as he claims to be incapable of fully sharing his inner most thoughts with many. I remember when he first made me a "mixtape" on a CD and my heart broke. It was as if I was reading his personal journal. The way he chose and arranged the playlist gave me such an insight to his most inner self that it shattered me to think that this cool, confidant guy was so reflective, deep and, like me, uncertain without my having realized. The first time he told me he loved me was by embracing me in a soft dance on my front porch and singing the words to "Loving Wings" by DMB into my ear,
"You lightly lifted me away
Out of a darkness, cold and gray
And I work beneath the midday sun
My cool blue water you have come
I give to you my everything
You've given me these loving wings
and angels have all gathered round
to hear me sing my love out loud"...
Dave Matthews Band is us, as cheesy and as fan dorkiness as that might sound. Sure, I jam to Pitbull's Miami-ness, I shake my ass to Sir Mix-a-lot's "I like Big Butts" and there isn't a Lionel Richie or John Cougar Mellancamp song that I don't know but Dave sings the songs of my soul. Many years ago, a friend of ours gave us the moniker "GERNIE" for Gina and Ernie; we quickly adapted it as it felt authentically us in that we were in fact on a wondrous journey, my husband and me taking the path less traveled more often than not with a few Griswolds moments along the way and Dave singing along to the beat of our challenges but more so our hearts. Because since day one with my guy it was always..."You and me together can do anything"....and how can I not love DMB for knowing that well enough to make so many songs just for us.
You and I were not tied to the ground
Not falling but rising like rolling around
Eyes closed above the rooftops
Eyes closed we're gonna spin through the stars
Our arms wide as the sky, we're gonna ride the blue
All the way to the end of the world
To the end of the world
We can always look back at what we did
Always remembering how you and me did
Right now it's you and me forever girl
And you know, we could do better than
Anything that we did
You know that you and me
We could do anything...
Two of us together, we could do anything baby.....
Many believe that you are an adult once you turn 18yrs of age but, like many others, I beg to defer.
Going into a co-parenting agreement typically means sorting the ins and outs of how you both agree to parent your child till the age of eighteen or once they graduate from high school. In my case, we actually mediated the agreement with signed legal work and attorneys taking everything into consideration from holiday travel days to extra-curriculars, (paid a pretty penny for that document too...ah, attorneys...). I soon found out that one signed document wouldn't quite cover everything that parenting with a person who does not share your household (or many ideals, hence the divorce in the first place) requires. I took matters into my own hands for the second piece of paper drawing from the State of Texas family courts database and conducted a "co-parenting" coffee meeting with all the parties involved. This new document covered issues that were not a matter of livelihood as much as they were a matter of parenting preferences like piercings, driving ages, curfews and grounding rules that could carryon from one house to the other enabling follow-through and consistent discipline rules (which is crucial factor at the tween/teen stage). When frustrations run high for a co-parent you often hear, "thank goodness you only have XX years left to have to deal with it" but that's not necessarily true.
When one begins to go through the motions of a divorce with children one does so with hope of a better future for all in their heart. Dreaming of the day when things are good enough to share special occasions like birthdays and holidays together, like a modern day family. Dreaming of the picture perfect step-parents for the kids, family portraits with four smiling adults and a mix of kids who claim to share siblings although they cant' quite explain how, everything will be better, it has to work out for the better, there is this hope that in not being together the things that didn't work for all involved while married will somehow sort itself out once divorced. People will mature, grow, give more, understand, cooperate, be happy. The problem is that it doesn't quite work that way, the nuisances that persisted in marriage continue to present themselves time and time again, mostly in the worst of times. The couple is still connected through and by the children while they make their lives apart, adding spouses, other children, other grandparents, "aunts" and "uncles", new friends with new advice, changing careers, moving to new homes and new cities, all while juggling their children in between, "always thinking, it's only till their 18, then it's done", no more answering or explaining to anybody, no more shared costs, no more scheduling, no more vacation and holiday interruptions, no more discussions or arguments, no more dealing with someone who I divorced all that time ago.
My girls are now both officially above the age delegated by my co-parenting agreement and I can attest to the fact that the idea of "no more" is itself no more. I've come to the realization that co-parenting is forever contract, one that persists, complicates and pushes the limits of one's parenting mentality constantly even with "adult" children. In fact, I've made some sort of peace with the notion that I will also have to co-grandparent one day (as if the opinions of your in-laws aren't enough when raising a kid imagine two sets of in-laws possibly on both sides?!). Co-parenting doesn't end at age 18 just like parenting doesn't end there either. Take heed, the moment you decide to bring life forth into this world you are agreeing to parent that little person in one capacity or another together forever.
Ernie and I jumped out of a plane twice (well he did it a third time and I started thinking too much and decided I didn't want to take a third chance). We've zip-lined through the rain forest hundreds of feet above ground while wild monkeys laughed at us, standing on inclined platforms with no restraints waiting our turns. A few more times than I'd like to admit, we've done some things in our car that I'm pretty sure we could've been arrested for and, much like most people in South Florida, we've swam in questionable waters with the Jaws theme song ringing in our ears. But nothing we've signed up for has been as crazy as being on reality TV.
We opened our own cafe over in downtown Miami, Salad Oz, in 2013 and operated it for 4yrs. The biggest daily frustration was the commute to and from Hialeah (a 13 mile drive turned into a 2hr ordeal twice a day) and whether or not the old building's plumbing was going to cooperate that day. We loved that place, put our sweat, blood and hard earned savings into it with the promise of entrepreneurial "freedom". It was an enormous success for two years, in fact, it felt so unreal that many times we couldn't believe it. The hours were a dream, Monday through Friday 9am-5pm (with a few attempts at breakfast hours but it proved that Miamians all run too late for their first meal). We closed for all federal holidays (we serviced the courthouses and public schools so the place was a ghost town), had a solid week off during winter break and could even get away for a week or two more throughout the year without hesitation. But city planning and expansion often leads to setbacks for the little guys, so when the construction for the Bright Line (just a block away) started up our numbers went down, way down. So much so that it was not possible to sustain our family. I was forced to go back to teaching but decided to substitute instead as to not divide myself in two. Ernie sent out his resume and we listed the business for sale knowing full well we could not survive waiting out the construction.
In desperation (and curiosity), I submitted our story to a reality TV series and the summer of our third year we were chosen to film. The casting process was strange and we questioned our decision but pushed on for the sake of the stipend, which we desperately needed, and the hope of getting some media attention at no cost to us. Filming began right after school let out for the summer. We shot for 5 days. It was grueling, fascinating, chaotic and awesome! We made quick friends with the crew and got a behind the scenes view of all that goes into the magic (and torture) that is TV making.
Catch our glimpse of our episode https://youtu.be/C1o5EgRtc4g
Or watch the entire episode by clicking https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5629090/
and choosing your preferred online network.
Don't forget to let us know what you think!
Still curious about our experience? Ask us anything in the comments below.
July 19th, 2007, feels like just the other day and yet my life has expand from that moment. Ten short years ago, my now sweet hubby surprised me (the only one out of two times he ever has, which I enjoy reminding him of) with a little get away just around the bend. I don't remember much of that day except that I had a feeling something magical was going to happen but I wasn't sure exactly when. He told me to grab a few outfits and a bathing suit or two and we were off. A short drive to the Venetian Islands in Miami Beach and we turned into the historic Lido Hotel now known as the chic mid-century modern boutique hotel, The Standard Spa. I had been obsessed with the hotel since my best friend had taken me to it's Lido Bayside Grill for lunch the previous year to tell me she was getting married. And here I was about to check in, already elated.
I don't remember every detail from that night but what I do remember is the picnic basket filled with wines and a charcuterie waiting for us in the room along with a beautiful floral arrangement. Without hesitation I told Ernie to grab the basket so we could wait for the sunset on the bayside dock just a few steps away from our room. We noshed, drank and talked and talked (nothing new for us two). Somehow, we had almost finished the second bottle right as the sun was setting, the sky splashed in pinks turning from purple to dark blue (those would end up being our wedding colors), it was absolutely beautiful. It felt as though some of my favorite things just hung in time for a few moments, long enough to be engraved in my mind's eye forevermore. The sky, the light ripples of water against the seawall, the causeway lights starting to come on, the Miami skyline, and my love, intently listening to all my ramblings. I paused for a second and remember declaring, "I am so lucky" and as I began to lose myself in my own thoughts for a moment I realized, from the corner of my eye, that Ernie was moving out of his seat and onto one knee as he replied, "No, I'm the lucky one". And there was this most beautiful little box perfectly placed in his hands.
Now, you'd think that the first thing I would've said were, "YES!" but nope, not me because my mind races way too fast for normal replies. What came out of my mouth instead was, "Oh no, I'm not even wearing the pretty dress I packed for this!". Ernie didn't even flinch, instead he gave me his sideways smile, the one he reserves just for me to see, and a few seconds more to finish my crazy train of thought. And then, once I realized what I was doing I grabbed him by the face, kissing him all over coaxing him back into the seat besides me. I don't remember saying "yes" or even looking at the ring but the feeling of that moment still chokes me up as I feel my soul jump with glee from inside me.
Perhaps, not many people celebrate engageiversaries but we do, every year. In fact, we don't even celebrate our wedding anniversary as consciously as we do this moment. It's the moment we both decided to make our first commitment to each other, just us two with only the universe to attest to the love exchanged between us right then and there, privately as love can sometimes be. There were no pictures, no spectators, just the sound of the bay and the birds as the skies turned to grey and it began to rain on us. It was magical. A moment in time we can never recreate but a memory as strong as any. And so, in honor of that moment, we book a room at the same hotel every year close to the date itself but sometimes even a month behind, we get some wine and cheeses (this year it was Sargento snack packs because that was all that was in the fridge when we were packing) and we enjoy eachother's company without the distractions of sightseeing, fancy meals or expectations. Just us two in a place we love which feels a part of us, by the water and with sunset views. We are so lucky.
I've started this post so many times and each time I end up losing it thanks to the nuances of technology. Going for it once last time.
So many times before people ask me, "how do you do it?" in reference to our travel habits and the fact that we get away more often than most. I could share with you all the websites I use to book cheap flights, list the tips that make vacation spending more manageable, and go on and on about little tricks you can use here and there to maximize your experience, bookings and travel dollars but honestly, that only helps one trip at a time (and it would have to be the same exact trip that I took which takes away the fun and adventure of exploring).
Ours is a way of life. Perhaps we view money a bit differently than some and so we see travel as a right that we earn not a luxury. It starts with what you decide to spend your money on from the most essential thing to the "frivolous". For example, my husband and I have not had a new phone in years. Instead, we use phones others in our family deem old when they want the new upgrade but realize they don't get much for turning it in and so we reap the benefit. As the saying goes, "one man's trash is another man's treasure". That might not seem like a huge savings but when you consider that most new phones cost upwards of $300 and most families are buying a new phone annually that would average about $600 just for a couple and that doesn't include the ridiculous prices these cell phone companies charge you to then use your brand spanking new phones on their network. Because we use old phones we are also able to have them unlocked and streamed onto an affordable network such as Net10 or H2O. Our monthly cell phone bill is about $110 for two lines with unlimited minutes and data. If you run those numbers really quickly that's already one more vacation a year that I am able to financially plan for that the average person "can't afford".
When it comes to eating out, well, let's just say that when you're in the business you know the cost of things and so eating out becomes a bit bothersome. Even before we had our own restaurants, Ernie and I found it difficult to spend money at chain restaurants with frozen or pre-made foods that didn't even come close to the food we could prepare at home and at a cost that would put any spendthrift to shame. If you take a few moments to average how much you and your family spend eating out monthly (including school lunches and coffee breaks-we pack our kids' lunches daily and never drink coffee on the road) you'd realize rather quickly a big difference between someone like myself who only allocates money for eating out on special occasions versus someone who eats out daily at one point of the day or another. Just a daily coffee at $6 a pop for a month gives me enough for one night at a hotel.
We don't use credit cards. Those convenient little things pack quite the punch when you start calculating interest rates, late fees, the loss of financial accountability being able to spend money you don't necessarily have on hand. I pride myself on the fact that my husband and I have zero credit card debt. If you see me whip out a piece of plastic it is one of three cards, debits or American Express which we pay off monthly (and honestly, the points/mile rewards program isn't even worth it anymore). Take a moment to make a note of all the different interest rates you pay per card along with the balance you owe and if there is any introductory rate see when it expires. Jot it all down in a little notebook and start appropriating a larger sum to the card with the highest interest charge. Notice I didn't say rate, you need to calculate the balance with the rate to determine which card is costing you the most. The calculation will change ever month as you go paying down your debt so you should allocate money accordingly till you are debt free. Trust me when I tell you that travelling is all the more enjoyable when you know you don't owe anything to any company for the expense.
Meal planning is key in keeping your spending on lockdown. Most people think that meal planning is a diet regimen thing and rarely think of it in terms of spending/savings. Think back on the days of hold (or try to recall a movie from the 50s). Mom would make a pot roast on Sunday which she would then use for meatloaf on Monday and perhaps get a few meatballs out of it for Tuesday. There was never any waste or expensive ingredients to make culinary marvels a daily occurrence. I spend about $125/week on groceries and that's being generous at the moment.
Ok, well I have to cut myself short and figured it was better to post something than nothing at all. Heading to the airport once again so this post is....
To be continued........ ;)
It's been over two weeks since our return from Spain and the fact that I won't be moving there immediately is starting to settle in so, for now, I will do my best to share our experience in hopes of inspiring others to visit and eventually become my ex-pat neighbors.
This post will be followed with a second blog listing budget, detailed itinerary and more tips on how to save and make this a realistic trip rather than one tagged "that of a life time".
Since my first visit to Spain in 2004 I remember thinking, "this is something I hope to share with my girls one day but when I do, it won't be in a hurry". I've never been a fan of zipping though cities for an hour or two just to check the place off my list, I like to get a bit immersed. Granted there are many places where there are only a few things to see and do before you feel like you've done all you can do or places so similar to each other that in choosing one to stay in and the other to visit in passing you still get a pretty authentic experience. Anyways, when I thought of sharing this experience with my girls I always thought it would be a summer long.
Unfortunately, co-parenting is a little bit tricky, especially when it comes to international travels, my dreams of teaching aboard for a summer and enrolling my girls in the same school where I'd be teaching, having them strengthen their Spanish, were crushed with a simply but hard NO and then the clock was set and we continue to wait for the magical number 18 to be free of those obstacles. But I digress. We had 17 days to travel during our winter break & I was ecstatic (even though I will forever wonder if I should've figured out how to make it 21 but this was not my once in a lifetime so there is time).
I spent many sleepless nights overwhelmed by the vast amount of options from cities to visit, landmarks to see and places to stay. Pinterest, Travel & Leisure.com, chef sites and tv shows suggestions, I ate it all up. But, two days before our departure (thanks to the holiday mayhem) I had 5 plane tickets to and from Miami to Madrid and nothing but a vague idea of where we were headed. I did know one thing for sure, we would need a car.
European travel TIP #1-learn how to drive a manual vehicle. It will save you over half of the rental fees and lead to various vehicle options. If you only drive automatic (like us) it can get tricky even trying to find a car to rent.
For many years, Ernie and I have discussed taking the kids to Europe as Mia's high school graduation gift and, in turn, making that a tradition. As it is, we typically celebrate special occasions with travel but this would be a "big" trip so we were "saving" it. It didn't quite work out that way for many reasons (i.e. summer flight fares are known to be astronomical) so Mia and I did a mother/daughter trip to the Northwest Pacific Coast instead (and boy, what a trip!). But Europe kept calling to me and so I did what I always do (and for months and months) I scanned airfares. The night I found flights to Madrid from Miami for only $425 (tax and fees included!) I was beside myself. Needless to say, we booked them right away with the only dilemma being how much time we wanted the kids to miss school and how soon after Christmas day we would be ready to leave (Oh! and the whole co-parenting schedule rearranging and notice thing. I can't tell you how much that part SUCKS!!! You are in the midst of a joyous occasion and then you realize, "I need permission from my ex.....and then I need to figure out how to give him "makeup" days for those lost during travel" and so much other mental stuff its not worth mentioning).
After a brief co-parenting delay, we booked our tickets and decided to keep it as a surprise for the younger kids. The drawback here was that for that reason I didn't write it into my agenda. My teen Thespian often writes her schedule in my agenda and I didn't want her seeing it. That is how we missed our flight. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but I don't commit things to memory unless I write them down and read it again and again. I had had a few conversations with family and, for whatever reason, kept saying we were leaving on a Tuesday at 9pm. Naturally, I went to check-in to our flight 24hrs before departure (Monday 9pm on my mental calendar) only to immediately realize, as I sat at my laptop with our bags packed and the pressure of throwing together an itinerary in less than 24hrs, that our flight was boarding. My blood ran cold and I went white in the face. I had to hold the table to keep from passing out. I have never missed a flight. I didn't even loose bobby pins. Ernie looked at me and knew immediately that something was wrong. When I voiced it everyone went into emergency mode, calling the airport, credit cards, the third party booking site, but nothing. We were told there was nothing we could do but accept that we had lost over $2000 on a flight we had just missed. It's safe to say none of us sleep that night (well Ari did because he was already sleeping when the shit hit the roof). I remember someone mentioned that we could just go to North Carolina....this was not the thing to say to me at that moment. I was beside myself with guilt and disappointment. How did I mess this up?
The next morning, Mia, our eldest, wasn't feeling well so as I took her to urgent care Ernie and my mother (the master negotiators) head out to the British Airways counter at Miami International Airport to plead our case. After 5 plus grueling hours, they were able to talk their way through the mayhem and were offered the option to pay a transfer fee of $225 per person to reschedule the flight to that same night. We would be boarding the flight I thought we were supposed to be on at a price but nonetheless, it was lose over $2000 or spend another $1000plus to go. I had a bit of a difficult time conceding to this being the bargain hunter that I am but quickly realized that $650pp during the holidays for a European flight was still quite a steal.
As the attendant and manager and director and hell I think maybe the VP of British Airways prepared our course and starting checking us in a red beacon alerted everyone to one more "little" problem.....mine and Ernie's passports would expire within three months of our return date from Spain so we were not being granted passage. At this point I thought my head would explode! There hadn't been an issue in booking our flight because we were flying into London and then connecting to Madrid; the UK doesn't have that law so we were not previously notified of the issue.
European Travel TIP #2: Check the particular laws of each country to plan to visit and do not assume that your booking agent or airlines will notify you of an issue. During the course of this issue we learned from several people (airline employees, passport office agents, avid travelers) that this is a common and costly occurrence. Had we not missed our original flight, boarded the plane and made it to UK we would've been told at our connection flight to Spain that we were not allowed to move forward in our travels. We would've been stuck in the UK without a flight back home because our return flight was direct from Madrid. I can only imagine what a return flight from the UK would have cost me at that point, my guess is way more than the $1250 we paid for the transfers.
We rebooked the flight for Wednesday 9pm, two days behind schedule, with the hope that we would arrive to the passport agency and have our passports expedited. A 5am wakeup call, a leisurely lunch in Downtown Miami (and not even at our own café because we had it scheduled to close for the week between holidays) and $320 later, we were back on track. Only issue now was Mia's kidney infection....the doctors cleared here and she was immediately put on antibiotics and insisted she was good to go so we went.
December 28, 2016 MIA-MAD 9pm-7am (overnight arriving on the 29th)
3.5hr layover in London Heathrow where we slept in airport chairs and then pumped ourselves up with overpriced airport coffee concoctions for another brief 3hr flight to Madrid.
Arrived in Madrid, Spain on Thursday December 29th 5pm and from there our journey continued after having to sort out some car rental issues (like the fact that we didn't have one reserved yet for another 4 days).
Day 1-3:El Escorial, Madrid, Spain
Day 4-5: Madrid
Day 5-6: Segovia (Vallaloid)
Day 7-9: San Sebastian
Day 9: Hondarribia
Day 9-11: Ascain, Saint Jean De Luz & Biarritz
Day 11-15: Madrid (by way of Burgos)
15 days, 14 nights just about $8000.00 for a family of 5 people. Included car rental & gas, accommodations, food, entertainment, souvenirs and airfares (with added cost of transfers for missing the first flight, subtract that and this trip would've only cost me around $6500 which is what made me even more upset when I missed it).
How did I do it even with the added cost of paying for airline transfers to make the trip actually happen? Subscribe and get a notification for my post detailing all my tips and tricks. Btw, airfare to Madrid is about $425 again right now but you gotta know where to look. ;)
Multi-tasking over-thinker that is, as you can imagine, often running late.