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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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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.

IMG_2920We also always pick up coffee to take home from the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. They are also n Pacific, so its an easy stop to get a pound before we go. And a latte. And a cookie.

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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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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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Do you have any grey poupon?

I’ve been going out of order here so let me recap. When my husband met up with me in Prague, we stayed there for four days, and then headed to Nürnberg, followed by Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, we only stayed one night in a hotel. We decided on breaking up the long trip from Nürnberg to Paris with a stop in Frankfurt am Main. We thought 6 or 7 hours on a train would not be fun. Frankfurt is a big city with skyscrapers and crowds of people. It’s the financial center of Germany. 


We spent our short time there along the river (am Main) and went to see art at the Städl museum. The next day, we headed to Paris on the train. We didn’t realize it was going to be a fußball day. The train was packed at 10 am with fußball fans drinking and singing and pounding on tables. Bottles and cans littered the aisles of the train. Luckily we had reserved seats. And we thought, maybe we should have just done it all in one day.


We made it to Paris eventually and after Paris, we went to Dijon. My friend asked me, “Dijon? Like the mustard?” Yes, like the moutarde (that’s how the French say it). They have mustard on tap at the famous Maille shop. The best flavor I tried was truffle, it was so good. Dijon is known for mustard, gingerbread, and the region is known for Burgandy wine. But the gingerbread isn’t like gingerbread we are familiar with, it has a different flavor. It’s called Pain d’Epices. You can even get Pain d’Epices moutarde .


We ate some of the best food on our whole trip in Dijon. Classic Burgandy food includes Coq au vin and Beuf Bourguignon. The weather was perfect, the city was lovely. Quieter and smaller than Paris, but it has a lot things to love. So many cafés to sit at, wine trips, good food, museums and history to see. It was warm and sunny. 

I am pretty sure every salad should have a poached egg. And I like the spritzer on ice everyone was having.   We did a wine tasting tour and learned that they only grow Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes in the region. One day we even did nothing.  Find nothing, I mean we followed the Owl Trail to a historic site, sat on a bench and picnicked. I played Music on my phone and I even made a daisy chain bracelet. I’m not sure why I came home. Oh, right. Money.

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In Search of Jägerschnitzel

The thing about the German language, is that they love their consonants. All of them. And they don’t mind words with 4 or 5 in a row, and they do want you to use all of them. Occasionally in my German class, I would come across a word with somany sounds that I could only say the word very slowly. Too fast and I got tongue tied. It’s like the opposite of the Hawaiian language, all vowels. Have you noticed that certain consonants don’t exist? That why you get a fish named Humuhumunukunukuapua`a. After a while, I guess you get the hang of saying words with the back to back hard sounds like tscht.

When Will I and I left Prague, we actually went back to Germany. We went to Nürnberg and Frankfurt am Main. One thing we were excited about was staying in a hotel. We used my points to stay at a Hampton Inn, and even though Airbnbs are good for certain reasons, sometimes it’s nice to sleep on big hotel beds and have the few breakfast is in the morning. 

My husband had been to Germany before. He was stationed there, in the army. One of his main goals was to find himself a plate of jägerschnitzel. Schnitzel is pork that is pounded flat, breaded and fried. Jägerschitzel is that pork with mushroom gravy on it. It turned out to be very hard to find in cities farther from where he was stationed. The only mushroom gravy we found was a rahm or cream based gravy. But we tried. And we ate all of the pork. So much that when we left Nürnberg I was like, only salads for the next two days please. Ugh.


We also saw a lot of “old” buildings. I put old in quotes because what I learned in these Bavarian German cities is that most of the old building were partially or mostly destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII. So they were rebuilt it. Churches, houses, and even parts of castles.

Ex. View from the tower window of Nürnberg castle.

Picture of that view after WWII bombing.

So next time you day dream about old picturesque Bavaria, you might be day dreaming about something built in the 20th century.

We had fun in Germany. As usual, my favorite parts are times when I did almost nothing. Like when we found this sloped cobblestone covered corner of Nürnberg where everyone sat with their beer and dinner and picnicked. I sat with my coke and we people watched as the sun started to sink in the sky. 

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Paris is Always a Good Idea

3 days in Paris not enough for me. When planning this trip, my husband questioned if we really needed to go to Paris again. But I convinced my husband (who loves taking a different street or eating at a different cafe each day) that even though we had been to Paris before, we had to go back. This time we stayed in another great neighborhood, the Butte aux Cailles. It’s full of cafes and street art and locals. We saw a lot English speaking tourists around town, but not on the streets near our Airbnb. 
But the two best things about stoping in Paris was splurging for the dinner cruise on the Seine for my birthday. I compared Viator, which always appears on search engines, and the actual companies, and I can’t see any reason to go with Viator. We booked a dinner at 2115, so we were cruising at sunset. We didn’t book a window seat but we ended up by the window anyways. It was a perfect way to celebrate over three courses, with the sunset, and with the beataux (boat) in from of the Eiffel Tower the light show began. The staff were super friendly and fun and played music and danced with guests.

The other thing I was so glad to do was to see our exchange student from, wow, five years ago. Thomas is 21 now and we got to spend a good chunk of time walking through the Jardin des plantes and hanging at a bar near the Seine. The bar , L’Avant  Comptoir, was one recommended to my husband by a coworker and it was fun. You order small French plates on menu tags hanging from the ceiling and friendly service. 

We really enjoyed Paris, including picnicking on the bank of the Seine. We also saw somethings we hadn’t seen last time, like the Panthéon and the Petit Palais (free!). The Panthéon was church at first, but religious portions were removed and it was dedicated to celebrate the French nation and her heroes. I don’t know if it’s the ridiculousness of politics in our country or listening to Hamilton a million times, but I was feeling a bit romantic about our partners in revolution and liked seeing the art in those places that reflected ideas of liberté, egalité, and fraternité. Thomas and I had a conversation about people in cities living with diversity versus people in rural areas fearing it. In no way am I romanticizing revolution or wishing for one, but I was nostalgic for an idea of freedom that we grew up with. A complicated nostalgia that may be just rosy glasses.

I tried to find Lafayette’s tomb in Paris, which I read is visited by the DAR and has an American flag over it. But the construction around it confused me, and later I read there is a specific door with a doorbell you have to ring to find it. 

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Beautiful Prague 

I met up with my husband in Prague. I was so excited to see him because I missed him after two weeks. But two weeks in Munich on my own reminded me that I am pretty independent and capable. I spent the two weeks alternating between Can you believe I am doing this?! to What hell am I doing? Like swinging from having a fun adventure to what am I doing with my life.? But I had a few conclusions about some things that had been nagging me. I was able to resolve some inner conflicts I had. And I improved my German skills. 

(This image is the line that separates western countries from other countries. It was at a gallery with the theme Universal Hospitality)

Once we got together in Prague, the pace I had every day rapidly changed. My husband on vacation is all go go go. He doesn’t want to mis anything. So we went.

We walked like 9.7 miles a day seeing castles, churches, historical sites from communism, art, and ate a lot. Prague wore me out from traipsing around on its cobblestone sidewalks and up & down its hills. 

(the river views were amazing)

By time we got to the end of our time in Prague, I was ready to slow down. Especially after spending two weeks on my own, moving at my own pace without meeting anyone’s needs but my own. I got used to getting up at 5 or 6 and doing some German homework, making breakfast and coffee. Then I would get dressed and go to class, and after that I would do whatever random thing I thought of or heard about. 

But when you’re with someone who showed up with an itinerary, your lazy days are over. It was fun though. We saw a lot of things. I really enjoyed the art we saw at the Meet factory far from the center of town. I especially like the little French wine bar we found near our Airbandb, Na Brehu Rhony.

The one downside to Prague is the lack of friendly customer service. We did our best to learn a few Czech things, but it did not make us endearing to waiters or waitresses (except at the French place, the owner was soooo nice).

(The dancing house)

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I Quit My Job and Ran Away

Isn’t that what every blog is telling you to do right now? It sounds fun right? Take off, leave responsibility behind. Live in Rome and be a digital nomad! 

So I did. Sort of.

I quit my job people. I was kind of planning this career change. It’s not actually a romantic fairytale. It’s a difficult decision mulled over 20 million times with lost sleep and just over 2 months of money saved up. Plus I am a nurse (jobs can be found). 

And I am in Europe. Alone for 2 weeks. I’m pretty sure this time last year I said to myself 1 week is about how long I want to be away from my husband. It’s been 10 days. I definitely miss him. We’ll meet up here in a few days.

In the Guest House

I’m staying in a guest house apartment. The building has 7 floors of rooms. Well, the seventh floor has just one apartment and a door to the roof. I am in that apartment. It’s nothing fancy, unless of course you compare it to the other rooms. The other floors share kitchens and bathrooms. 

I’ve been friendly with the other people here. They are all international students from Japan, Korea, Ghana, Iran, and more. We are all taking German classes. Some people are taking German and studying at a university. I met a few people who are getting their PhD. They need the German to teach. 

Today I went with three girls from Japan to eat Indian food and buy stamps. I don’t know Japanese and they don’t know English, so we talked in our ein bisshion German. We ordered all of our food in German. And I even asked for it to be scharf (spicy). The girls showed me where the Euro store was (like the dollar store). I bought a souvenir mug for my kid for €1 and razors, because I forgot to bring those. 

During our break from class, there is a guy who pulls up in a car and sells sandwiches to the students for €1,50 and up. It is pretty cheap. In the morning, I have coffee and a small breakfast and do my hausaufgabe (homework).

 It’s not quite like vacation. I have class until 1. I have to make food, do laundry, and buy groceries. But it’s an adventure because I can’t read all of the words. I don’t know the difference between rahmjogurt and fruchquark at the store, so I buy one of each and try it. I find new streets to walk down. New places to visit. 

I really like meeting new people. And I like practicing my German. Yesterday the German ticket sales person thought I was Italian. So I guess I don’t have an American accent. But I am really starting to miss my husband. I don’t think I could stay away from him longer than 2 weeks.

Tchuss!

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Eurorail pass or not

This May, I am taking a long, European adventure. And it includes quite a few train rides. I looked up train travel using one of my favorite websites, RometoRio, and added up the costs of all the train rides. Yikes. Like 500 Euros for me and my husband. Then I thought, maybe that’s why people get the Eurorail pass!

In Europe, we are going to 4 countries over a two week period. We are visiting 6 different places. The Eurorail pass is purchased by number of countries you will visit and and number of days of train travel. Also, the countries have to share borders. You can’t do some train travel, fly to another country and then get on a train, or you will be charged a fee.

For example, you can buy a three country pass, choosing Germany, France, and Italy. After that, you have to choose how many days of travel you will have on your trip. You can choose 5 days or 6 days, meaning more than one stop in a country. But when I looked at the Eurorail pass, it was above 800 euros. So it was still cheaper to buy each ticket individually. 


This is second time I considered a Eurorail pass. But each time it costs more than buying individually. So when would you use a Eurorail pass? When you want the price to be set without being tied to a particular time. I bought my individual tickets at set times and paid attention to higher costs at certain times of the day. But if you don’t want to be tied to a time of day and travel outside of a set schedule, a Eurorail pass would be better. Additionally, the pass can be used on some ferries and some public transportation in addition to trains. In Italy the pass includes 4 ferry lines. 

Eurorail passes are only for non Europeans and are purchased ahead of your trip. Sometimes you can get discounts from travel professionals. 

But for me, I’m still too thrifty. I am buying all of my train tickets on my own and saving €300 for food.

http://www.eurail.com/