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Gratitude

My husband went all out for my 40th birthday. And it was great. We indulged in luxury and relaxation with some of our favorite people. We spent memorial day weekend in the California desert at the Ritz-Carlton.

Some years back, my old work partnered with Ritz-Carlton to develop a program for the organization. And I heard a lot about the Ritz-Carlton experience. It planted a seed that one day I wanted to stay at a RC property. Back in January, we visited the NOLA property to listen to jazz and have drinks. And I remembered my desire to stay at one. So we decided to plan a trip for my big 4-0.

We chose the Ranch Mirage location because we could make it a weekend that included friends. This way some friends could stay at the resort with us. The others stayed locally at a condo they owned.

We barely left the resort except to drop our kids (and the dog) off at the Holiday Inn Express and to go to the spa at the JW resort (it’s cheaper). We didn’t splurge for the adult children, but I think they still had fun coming back to the RC for breakfast.

The property is situated up on a hill overlooking Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and the other desert cities. It was actually great to be off away from the busier Memorial weekend crowds. The weather was unusually cooler all week in Southern California, which was great for our trip. Cooler meaning it was in the 90s in the desert. Our room was next to the adult pool which meant less kids and more lounging. Our room had a patio, a fire pit, and a deep soaking bath tub that I made a point to enjoy!

The service was the highlight of the property. Everyone went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. It was an exceptional customer service experience. Service like laying out towels on the longer chairs before you sit down by the pool. At check in, spending 15 min showing us the map of the property, getting ice for the wine we had brought, and putting our luggage away for us. There were a lot of kind greetings and helpful staff.

Our dinner was on the property at State Fare. We had great service and everyone loved their food. I was bummed that they had run out of the specific vegetarian meal on the menu. I got pasta primavera and it was decent. But most of all, I had great company and felt very grateful for my husband, my kids, and my friends.

My friend Kristin said she felt so grateful for our weekend trip to the desert. I told her she deserved to relax. She answered by saying that there are so many people who work hard and deserve it, so she knows she is lucky. And it’s true. We are very lucky to have been able to have a weekend like this.

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Making Room for Joy

I’ve been working a lot, every weekend and Monday through Thursday a lot. One of my friends, during a discussion on professional development classes, said that I am always going somewhere. He said it because I told him I am going to Canada in June, so I can’t take a class with him. I replied back with the fact that I have 3 jobs. And one day off a week. So, yeah, I need some time for travel.

So far, this year I have gone to NOLA and Vancouver. One with my husband and the other with the best travel girlfriends a person could have. We had a great time and they made me laugh so much.

We did touristy things like visit Granville island, visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and shop in the city center. We also ate at cute neighborhood markets, had afternoon tea in neverland, visited a whiskey bar in gastown and laughed so hard we cried. We watched women’s Olympic hockey in a Canadian bar, and we were the only people cheering for USA (and USA won!).

I’ve known these girls for years. We are completely different. We don’t have the same beliefs and politics. But we were all teenage mothers who lived on the same street as single moms. We are connected by a shared experience and our continued friendship is an amazing kind of sisterhood. When I returned, I really reflected on the joy they bring me and how grateful I am to have them.

Remember to find joy with the people in your life.

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Happy 300th Birthday New Orleans!

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This year is NOLA’s 300th birthday. Which is part of the reason every travel expert/magazine is telling you to visit this year. I didn’t know that when I booked our first trip of 2018. I just wanted a cheap flight (offset by miles) and somewhere fun my husband and I hadn’t been together.

Some years back I went to NOLA for a conference but my husband hadn’t been since he was in the army, stationed in Louisiana in the early 90’s. His mother had lived in NOLA as a kid, and when she was in the hospital told us about running around the city at 13.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites (Hilton property as usual) which is conveniently located in the warehouse district and has a free breakfast. They also upgraded me to a balcony room, bonus, but the trip was during that crazy cold storm that hit the east coast. It was like 30-40 degrees and we weren’t hanging out on the balcony in that weather (hello, we’re from California).

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It was a great way to enjoy the new year. One of the best places we ate was Peche, which was blocks from our hotel. We had a planned list of a lot of places to try, and we had divided them up by day. We were only there from a Wednesday night to Saturday afternoon, so we divided the two full days between us to plan. I had Thursday and my husband had Friday. We found Peche Wednesday night completely unplanned, which is how travel usually goes. The usually packed bar was pretty empty, probably because it was the Wednesday after new years but before the beginning of Mardi Gras, and it was 35 degrees outside. We ate so amazing food, oysters, smoked tuna and saltines, and some cheese croquettes. I tried the sazerac, a classic whiskey drink that originated in NOLA.

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Part of our Wednesday night included the Davenport lounge at the the Ritz Carlton, for cocktails and jazz. 

The plans for my day included hitting up the essential NOLA institutions: Jackson square to see the Louisiana live oaks and contemplate Whitman’s poetry; coffee and beignets and Cafe du Monde; visiting the Presbytere, across from Jackson square to learn about the rise of New Orleans through slavery (this is a must history lesson for only $6), jazz on Frenchman street; and dinner at a local black owned business, The Praline Connection. During the day we also walked through the 8th ward and saw street art, and had coffee in the newly refurbished St. Roche market. I tried to plan our outings to mindful of the impact of tourism, gentrification, and the history of the city. What’s good about St. Roche is that it was part of post Katrina revitalization, but has local businesses making amazing food stalls. Like Fritai (Haitian), Empanola (Argentinian), and La Mezcla Mexicana. All three of these include female part owners and Latinx or black owners. When watching food videos before my trip, I saw a lot new cool restaurants with white chefs doing creole or soul food. I decided to make an effort to support business owned by non-white people.

We saw this amazing art through the window of the federal building. Powerful Katrina image that many of us have forgotten.

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New Orleans Museum of Art

At the art museum: This was the inside of a Lincoln cabin-esque house built by gold, bullets, iphones, pills, etc on a foundation of shackles for slaves.

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The Time Twitter Found Me a Taxi and I Slept in the Airport

Sometimes travel is crazy. Sometimes you take turns sleeping on a restaurant bench in the airport waiting for staff to arrive. Sometimes you can use the internet to find English speaking taxis to pick you up from your Airbnb in a foreign country in the middle of the night.

Earlier this year, my friend and I went on a crazy adventure to Europe. We flew Air Serbia because we found a ridiculous flight deal for $149 round trip. This meant flying to Belgrade and flying out of Belgrade. I booked an Airbnb for our arrival and one for the night before our departure. This was because our flight times to leave were changed by the airline, which interfered with our train from Vienna connection. Originally we were going to take the long train and then fly home. Instead we had to take the train the day before, sleep one night in Belgrade, and fly out very early.

 

I looked for an Airbnb closest to the airport with some decent reviews. All of my Airbnb experiences have been pretty good, so I had a lot of faith. The host and I corresponded about my arrival to the train station and for an extra bit of money, she said she could arrange transportation from the train station to the Airbnb. Since we were arriving after dark, fairly late, I thought this would work out well.

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After the long train ride, we were pretty tired. Serbian trains are cheap but NOT super luxurious. We played games on My friend’s phone, are strange flavored chips, and tried to cope with the smoke from other passengers. It was not my favorite part of travel. We looked around the train station for our ride, and picked up snacks from the shop in the train station while we waited.

I heard someone say my name, and turned around to find two girls ready to drive us. Um, they were not the Airbnb host. One of them said the host asked them to pick us up, but her English was pretty limited and I had only learned thank you in Serbian. On the drive, the car died twice. They didn’t appear to know exactly where they were going, as in maybe had never been there, and they were reading directions off of the phone with a lot of questions. Along the drive I used google maps to be sure we were going the right way. I didn’t want to get lost with two girls who could hardly say anything to us. when we arrived, we weren’t in the same apartment as the photos. Also it smelled like smoke everywhere. The plan was that we were supposed to be picked up from the train and be driven to the airport in the early morning. The girls said they would be back in the morning.

I’m aware that I sound like a western spoiled traveler, but I wasn’t feeling like their car was absolutely for sure getting us to the airport on time. I have late to airport anxiety  (its real) and I am not one of those it will work out people when it comes to air travel. Also I can’t stand sleeping in a smoky apartment. I was raised by a smoker and I have no more tolerance for smoke on everything while I am trying sleep. So I got on the internet and searched for English taxis in Belgrade. Eventually I found one on twitter and one I could contact via Skype using the apartment wifi. Yay!

I called us a taxi, and dragged my friend to the airport at 1 am. The only problem is, Belgrade’s airport is so small, you can’t get a boarding pass or go through security until everyone shows up. SO we slept for like 4 hours on food court bench seats. I always tell my kids, I can find anything on the internet, and so far, its worked out pretty well. Have you had any stressful travel moments where the internet was a lifesaver?

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Is Vegas Still Fun?

For Veterans Day weekend, my husband and I headed to Vegas. It was a combination of birthday/holiday/bachelorette weekend all rolled into one. We were looking forward to getting out of town and spending time together. But once we arrived on this fifth or sixth trip to sin city, we found ourselves wondering if we really still liked Vegas.

One of the things that was always fun to see in Vegas was the over the top themed hotels. But Las Vegas is changing and hotels like the Luxor, New York, New York, or Treasure Island are older. And over the top and opulent becomes tacky and grotesque over time instead of classy. Especially in a smoky, flashy casino. Vegas just doesn’t age well.

But it’s not all terrible. What do you do in the desert if you don’t gamble a ton and you want to avoid the flashy Vegas? You hike Red Rock National park.

Red rock was free on Saturday because of the holiday. But it was also crowded. It was a beautiful sunny day and not hot. We hiked at the third stop along the scenic loop which was short but moderate. You can get the map at the entrance and choose the hike that works for you.

Some other things we did included Indian food at the Royal Indian Bistro, free Veteran’s breakfast buffet at the Paris hotel and casino, and discounted tickets to the worst Vegas show I have ever seen, WOW. Our Indian food was good. But eating in hotel casinos are expensive and sometimes not worth it. But we enjoyed our dinner and the service. WOW was like a wannabe Cirque du Soleil show that was incredibly sexist and cheesy.

For the bachelorette shenanigans, we dressed up, dined sashes and went out for dinner, a show and dancing. We had a great meal at Wolfgang Puck’s Cucina. The bride to be enjoyed everyone congratulating wishing her well. And I went to bed at a very late 3:30 in the morning.

We had a good time celebrating the upcoming wedding. Vegas is still a good place for that.

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Weekends in Santa Cruz

I just got back from another weekend of visiting my college kid. Really I think I was just escorting my dog to visit my kid, because she seemed less interested in the family, and more interested in our dog, Teddy. I mean, he is the cutest dog ever but, what am I? The person who pays tuition?

But Santa Cruz is great. I love it there. I’d like to win the lottery and move to that area and enjoy the nearness to the ocean.

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I’ve been up to the north end of Monterey Bay numerous times and have formed some opinions of what is good on a typical visit. Smelling the redwood trees on the campus: good. Getting stuck in the highway 1 traffic at 4 pm: bad.  I also have some go to locations for food and lodging.

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One of my favorite places to eat is Assembly. This place is right in the heart of the city on the main street, Pacific Avenue. They have indoor and outside seating, a great menu, and even better a fun appetizer menu. I am all about small plates these days.

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In terms of hotels, Santa Cruz has a lot of options and many of those are old style motels advertising that they are close to the boardwalk. But that isn’t where I typically stay. My favorite location in the Scotts Valley Hilton (disclosure: I am a Hilton rewards member, so I do stay at a lot of Hilton properties). It has a cabin in the woods feel, has a dinning room and it has a pool. It’s also dog friendly. The picture above is from the lobby with it’s giant chandelier. It feels cozy and quiet. It could be where you spend a lot of time, if you don’t feel like heading down to the city of Santa Cruz. If I can’t stay there, I don’t usually book the other Hilton property, the Hampton Inn. Because it smells. It smells every time. I tried it twice and that was enough. I liked the Holiday Inn Express across the street better. This last time we drove up, a lot of hotels were booked completely so we ended up staying north in Cupertino at the Juniper (another Hilton property-dog friendly). It was really nice and we had a great dinner onsite, but we had trouble getting good service for breakfast. Also, Cupertino isn’t as fun for hanging out as Santa Cruz, it’s basically a city of strip malls and business parks.

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When we visit, we love going to Natural bridges, walking along the beach and we don’t usually visit the Boardwalk. We have before, but our kids aren’t small anymore. So we do old people things, like walk along Pacific Ave early, shop at funky bookstores and kitchen gadget stores, or check out art. I can’t believe I still haven’t stopped by the Mission. I have been seriously considering a road trip to every California Mission in the summer.

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The National Steinbeck Center and other Literary Stops

When I travel around the US, I like to check out local sites and see what’s unique to the area. Especially if it involves writers. The first time I went to New Orleans, I couldn’t help thinking about Walt Whitman and the oak trees. When I went to a wedding in Connecticut, I was excited to learn that Mark Twain’s house was there (next to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house!). I did the museum visit and home tour (which was great). On the tour, you can learn about Twain’s early adoption of technology, about his exciting dinner parties, and about his life with his family. The tour guides are a wealth of knowledge.

On a trip to Philadelphia, my friend mentioned that one of Edgar Allan Poe’s homes is in the city, so naturally I said let’s go. The house is a National Historic site with a “park ranger” on site to share information. The house is small but you can watch a video, take a tour, learn more about Poe and the home (and basement!) that inspired the Black Cat. I criticized the quote outside next to a painted image of Poe (which wasn’t from one of his best stories). The park ranger said that building was not a part of the site and the painting was done by a private citizen.


Most recently, while driving home from Santa Cruz, I made a stop I had been meaning to make. I went to the National Steinbeck center. For $13, you can learn about Steinbeck’s life, his writing and the Salinas valley. I am a huge Grapes of Wrath fan I wanted to visit. If your in town, you can also visit his home and eat lunch there. I didn’t have time to go there this trip, but I think I will next time.

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Hey Teach

I started teaching English for real money this fall semester. Changing careers has been my plan for a while, and this was the big transitional moment. I quit nursing and started teaching. I was good in my field of nursing and at grown a lot professionally. I had a poster presentation at a national conference. I sat on an advisory board. I worked on committees, wrote policies, and published articles in newsletters. I had developed a strong understanding of health care systems and how these things work.

Changing careers is hard. Did I ever think about this? I did think going to school while working was hard. Sometimes my school work was hard. But honestly, I didn’t give enough though to how little I know about the systems in higher education. I went to a staff meeting where legislation, funding, enrollment, and learning outcomes were discussed. And I didn’t know about a ton of their acronyms. I don’t know so much. It’s been a while since I felt so clueless. I’m trying to learn about a new organization in a new field with all new people. Not to mention plan for two classes I am teaching for the first time. Wow. I’m beat after the first week.

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Weekend Getaway: Los Alamos, Ca

Since returning in May, my oldest has been using my car for work. Now that I am back to work but not on a metro route, we are having more trouble sharing cars. My youngest has been home from college, which means 3 cars and 4 people who need to get to work. Every week has included a review of who needs what when, and who can take public transportation. My husband recently came home because his coworker had a car for sale. I was excited because I thought I could finally have my car back full time, which means spontaneous plans could exist in my life again. But the deal fell through when his coworker decided to give the car to her mother in law. 

Spontaneous plans are some of the best plans. This past weekend I convinced my husband that we should drive out of town and enjoy a mini getaway. I know no one feels sorry for me after a month in Europe, but I can’t help it. I get antsy. I need to move. When he agreed, I searched HotelTonight for a last minute hotel reservation with in driving distance. We ended up with a plan to visit Santa Barbara Wine country and a small town called Los Alamos near Buellton and Los Olivos. 

It’s barely a town, with a population of 2000 people, but it was just enough town for me and a weekend getaway. We debated bringing our dog, but we weren’t sure about taking him. I wish we would have. The Alamo Motel is pet friendly and a fun place to stay. They have a horseshoe pit, playing cards to borrow, 90s movies on Saturday nights, and Muni wines pouring on site from Santa Barbara. 

While we were there, we checked out what Los Alamos is known for, food and drink. I guess a few people from LA moved that way to leave the entertainment business and bake bread or make wine instead. We walked the short Main Street. We played gin rummy (I won) and we checked out this little town that I had never heard of before. We had pizza at Full of Life Flatbread and breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread. We tried wine at Casa Dumetz wine. In the evening, we settled on lawn chairs with a fleece blanket and watched Groundhog Day. Next time I am bringing our dog, Teddy.


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Upcoming Travel Plans: Um….

I spent all my money. Europe in May 2017 was a great adventure and I really enjoyed it. So many great experiences. 

But now, I’m out of money. I basically had two months of no work. So back to work I go. And it’s definitely hard to go back to work after two months off. I’m sure school teachers feel similar. I know, I know. I am privileged enough to travel for a whole month and not work for two months. Do I even deserve to complain? Yes, I can hear myself. And I remember being poor, so I am very grateful. 

But I also knew I wanted a change. I have worked pretty hard to get my kids the life they have and make sure I didn’t live in poverty. And now, I want to do more of what I want. But it takes money. So back home and back to work I go. But now my work is only in education. My next time available for any serious vacay is when other people are going too, between semesters. Instead, I’ll be at home walking my new doggy. 

Next trip: move my kid back to college in Sept?