Unpacking from Iceland 

We’ve been back from our Icelandic trek for a week and I still look up at the sky as I walk home at night, thinking I might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. 

It was the best kind of vacation – time in nature, delicious food, friendly people, and THERMAL POOLS. The bar for relaxation is now set so high that I’m only going to trips that involve cheap and beautiful hot tubs from now on.

I want to tell you everything about the food, our geysir and foss filled road trip, and my definitive ranking of all the thermal baths – and I will by the end of the month! For now, here’s a picture of the city landmark, a church so pronounced you can use it as a compass to navigate your way through the streets: Hallgrímskirkja.

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On the banks of the Connecticut River

About this time 13 years ago, my mailbox was flooded with wave after wave of college brochures. From near and far, everyone was sending beautiful campus scenes and course options my way. 

Among the massive piles of mail was a three page spread from a liberal arts college in Western Mass. It showed women rowing – a team of strong individuals out on the water with the mist rising around them. I kept it while I recycled most of the rest.

Many college visits and applications later, I visited that place. I met those nerds, sat in their classrooms, debated whether Hillary Clinton would run for president and if Harry would defeat Voldemort. And I chose that school for my college education.

This weekend, I went back to Mount Holyoke with one of the best treasures of my time there – my friend Kate (she of Mount Washington hiking fame, loyal readers) – to celebrate the thing that brought us together: 40 years of rowing on the Connecticut River.


Kate coxed our 8 (the O’Malley) and we rowed up and down the river. A flood of memories washed over me. How carrying the boat seemed easier now but stretching my legs right seemed harder. How to lock the oar for the catch and keep good swing in your slide. The commands I know from muscle memory – just like I remembered that one place where your thumb rubs on your outer hand and will DEFINITELY turn into a blister. And how amazing it feels when the boat glides across the choppy water of a New England river. 

Fun fact: our coach thought we were the same person for 3 seasons. Wearing matching clothes by accident still doesn’t help.

At night, we celebrated the christening of a new boat – blessed with champagne and river water – in honor of fellow alum and Olympian Mary Mazzio. At the dinner that followed, she told us about how getting through excuses and focusing on herself rather than her competitors made the difference in her success. And she reminded us that pull ups are “money in the bank” and was appalled at how few of us could do them. Sorry Mary!

I feel like I was blessed with river water myself this weekend. It was a beautiful reminder of the best decision I ever made – and all I gained from that charming, powerhouse of a college. And to think… it all started with this poster.

Deal me in

From my first Clinton rally in the 90s


To my college days canvassing in Western Mass

To hitting the streets again eight years later

I’m not afraid of having to work hard for something – and someone I believe in.


And neither is she.

This is the world we’ve been given. The problem we have the honor of solving. The people we get the privilege to help.

And as these are the cards – the feminist, intelligent, compassionate, strategic, joyful, inspiring cards – our deck is stacked with


DEAL ME IN! 

So proud to watch history unfold tonight and so ready to watch the glass crumble to dust when we smash through that ceiling in November.

Rocking at Newport Folk Festival

One of the tips for a happy life that I’ve adopted and never looked back from: spend money on experiences, paid for in advance, with the people you love.

With that completely in mind, I broke the bank this Christmas to buy my parents tickets to go to the Newport Folk Festival with me. None of us had ever been, but dad had read about its role in musical history and my coworker Theresa goes every year and raves about it.

After months of anticipation, we finally hit the fest this weekend – and it was everything we wanted it to be and more.


We sat in the sunshine, we rested in the shade, we ate delicious food and shopped at the craft stalls and through it all, enjoyed amazing music. My favorite part: there was a raffle to win a Martin guitar and all you had to do was play a song on a small stage at their booth. Done and done – dad and I started the day by playing a Beatles song and now we can basically retire saying we “played at Newport.” (We didn’t win a guitar but we got free string and I won a t-shirt!).

Here’s what you should know if you’re thinking of checking out the Newport Folk Festival – and you should!!

BEFORE

  • Buy a parking pass when you buy your tickets. It was about $20 and made parking super easy. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from downtown Newport.
  • Book your hotel 6+ months in advance. That stuff fills up, no joke! We ended up staying 45 mins away and considered that a success.
  • Watch the podcasts and playlists as the festival gets nearer. NFF puts together a bunch of great materials, including a Spotify playlist of each artists’ greatest hits so you can figure out who you actually want to see, since the schedules overlap. Also, the app is great for planning and day-of – don’t arrive without it!
  • Explore the mansions the day before – whether you hit 1 or 5, it’s a great contrast to a day of music and a cool relic of the gilded age.


FESTIVAL DAY

  • Pack a wide brimmed hat and your own water bottle – there are lots of places to refill and it’s critical to stay hydrated when you’re outside all day. Also wet wipes in case the bathrooms run out of hand sanitizer.

  • In theory there are rules about chair height. In practice, people brought really nice, normal height chairs. Decide if you want to go low or break the rules, and bring a blanket either way – use it to claim your space at the Fort stage as soon as you get through the gates.

  • Keep sunscreen on you constantly. There’s very little shade and it’s easy to get burnt, especially if you’re putting water on yourself to cool off!
  • Arrive early. We pulled into the parking lot at 9:10 (gates open at 10) and were able to breeze through security so we were able to enter as soon as the gates officially opened.
  • Check out the craft stalls and souvenir stands early – since we went on the last day of the festival, things were getting sold out!
  • Also check out the actual musical venues early so you know what the options are. The best set we saw was JP Harris, who played for 25 minutes in a small space tucked into the fort! Others rave about the museum stage and the eclectic crowd that passes through there. Know the possibilities even if you end up staying at one place all day.


I would say more about the music – Ian Fitzgerald, Alabama Shakes, the chair massage I got while Glen Hansard was singing – but really, the thrill for me was having a new adventure with my awesome parents. Onward to the next one!

The farm life

I’m citybound after another refreshing weekend in the county with my dear friend Katey. Our second annual Memorial Day together had more of the same stuff we loved last year, and somehow we packed in additional activities I never thought possible. 

We started with a visit to the herd – now 29 goats strong – so I could take a picture with Parcel (so called because her dad is named Postage.)

Much bigger than last year’s goat but still adorable!

Goat mom Katey with her bottle baby, who probably thinks it’s a person. 


Among our many adventures of the weekend (and gallons of iced coffee), we hit some plant sales. My favorite way to choose plants is to go entirely by the whimsical names and pay almost no attention to anything else. Hence the batch below (all cherry tomatoes).


We also went to a BBQ and soaked up the last of the day’s rays (and the first of its mosquitoes).

And then for something completely different, we ventured over to Mohegan Sun. $20 lost over 3 hours = not bad! I would have played roulette but the crowds were too big, so I had to “settle” for these gems.

The next day, we braved the 90+ degree temps to visit some flea markets. I still regret not buying this Jeff Gordon figurine but we got a few other good grabs.

We also hit a slightly ritzier craft and antique fair that really made me yearn for Brimfield.

To top it all off – ice cream in a fresh made waffle cone. NOW summer can officially begin!

A few days out of the city, exploring and chatting with my childhood friend, is exactly what I needed to enter June strong. Watch out summer fun – I’m comin’ for ya!

Cruising in comfort

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This post is dedicated to Ryan – happy cruising!

In January, my sister Kat brought our family on our first-ever cruise as part of a writers’ conference where she was a member of the faculty. Only mom had been on a cruise before, back in the era of perms and festive centerpieces made of lard (yes, really). It was a new adventure for us all – I imagine that people who don’t fly often feel the same way about planes. The small tv and its limited channels! Small nut-free snacks! A teeny bathroom!

This trip – on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Sea – had similar exciting and uncharted territories, and we loved exploring them all. Here are some of the top things I learned along the way:

ONE: You can ask your steward and waiter for anything. When Kat and I arrived in our room, the beds were together as a queen. And while that seemed cozy, we knew it would not be fun for the long term. So we asked our steward, Nicholas, to separate them for us, which he did in a heartbeat, and they were perfect by turndown service. (Mark that as the #1 thing I wish I could take home from cruising – such a treat!)

TWO: Eat your dinner. And then some. Dinner is absolutely positively not to be missed. Bring some nice clothes to dress up and make an evening out of it (I recommend getting the early seating if possible so you can then scurry over to the evening entertainment). Our table consisted of my family, the tour hosts, a nice young couple, and a rotating cast of writers. The waitstaff was SO friendly and nice. Maybe a little TOO nice. When we couldn’t decide between options, our waitress encouraged us to try them both. It got to the point that by the end of the cruise, every person at the table was ordering an average of 5 items for a 3 course dinner. 3 desserts, 2 salads, steak and lobster… it was downright absurd. I think we all wanted to know if there was a limit, and the answer was a definitive NO. Whether or not you’re going to order the entire menu, feel free to ask a lot of questions – it’s especially useful to know which options are for one night only and which are going to be available tomorrow (you know, for everyone else who plans their food a week in advance).

THREE: Embrace your inner tourist. Cruising is basically summer camp. By the end of the week, you’ve seen the same people all over. You know who lost at Bingo and who can kill it at karaoke, and who was supposed to go snorkeling before it started raining. But to get there, you need to go to the ship events – especially in the beginning. Every trivia night, stage show, belly flop contest is part of building a cruise community of ship-bound weirdos. Our family won trivia and dad put up a good fight in a musical contest. We also learned choreographed dances, laughed our butts off at “game shows”, and went to an art auction- highly recommended, especially if you will never go in real life. Mark everything you’re interested in on the daily schedule and then check them all out – you might find something you seriously love!

Also: if you think the captain is taking pictures right now, don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s later. You WILL miss it and make your family basically stalk the captain so you can get a classic shot together.

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All dressed up for the formal dinner – with no captain in sight.

FOUR: Plan your excursions strategically. Better to book early and cancel (24+ hours before and you get a full refund for most) than to find out that the one you want is all full. And when you do book, go for excursions that start as soon as you get off the boat.

We tried both options (not intentionally): in Cozumel, we got off the boat, found our tour group, and spent the morning at ruins and getting an island tour before going off on our own for shopping downtown. In Grand Cayman, we ate and wandered first before going back for our snorkel adventure. Rushing to get back for the group outing was not fun – we lost a lot of time because we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the next phase. We preferred having the afternoon free so we could manage our own return to the ship, instead. BUT! There is a plus side to doing the ship-led adventure last – on our trip, some people got extremely delayed when their snorkel boat was unable to dock in high winds. The only reason the ship waited for them (instead of making them fly to the next port!) was because they were on a ship-led trip and thus were guaranteed not to miss the departure. Definitely something to consider when planning your day out (and do go out – the ship will be there when you get back!).

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FIVE: Pack like you’re camping. Weird, I know. But I assumed that there would be at least some nice shampoo in the shower, and there was only an all-purpose soap. Similarly, I wished I had a small bag (really a clutch) for holding my keycard and camera as we ran around the ship in the evening. Specifically, make sure you bring:

  • Your own shampoo, soap, face wash (along with your sunscreen, pain meds, etc.)
  • Seabands (so cheap on Amazon, so expensive on the boat)
  • A lock for your backpack (this makes me feel much more secure when I travel anyway, especially since your cabin door will sometimes be open for cleaning)
  • Your own bottle of wine (check your ship for limits per cabin)
  • Earplugs
  • Sunglasses and hats (I bought a new hat on the ship to get into the vacation style)
  • A good book (their excuse for a library was weaker than I thought possible)
  • A to-go cup if you like to travel with your coffee. The ship mugs are TINY.
  • Your FitBit, to give you extra inspiration NOT to take the elevator (but… it’s right there!)
  • Cozy shawls and cardigans for the cold sea air at night. The constellations are great if you’re warm enough to stay out and look for them!
  • A small bag so you can tote around all of the above rather than having to bring your book back to your room before trivia, etc.

*****

Bottom line: our first cruise was a huge success. It also opened my eyes to how fun an all-inclusive really could be – all this plus NOT feeling like your stomach was in knots! But falling asleep on the ocean and waking up in a bustling tropical port is a delight, as is a week of limited (but lovely) choices and forced relaxation.

What do you wish YOU had known before your first cruise?

 

What did I miss?

Travel is great – seeing new places, reconnecting with old friends, having adventures. But part of the spark of travel, for me, is the joy of coming home and seeing my old space with fresh eyes.

When I’m on the road (or boat or plane or whatever), here’s what I typically miss:

  • My humidifier. So lame but so necessary for my allergy-ridden head, to the point where I actually bought a travel version this week and had it shipped to my sister’s office. But I’m glad to be back with my real one now.
  • My gym. Once again I carried a lot of exercise gear with me and never used it. Sure, tomorrow I’ll go for a pre-work run in solidarity with the marathoners, but there’s nothing like your home gym aka Tuesday Zumba classes.
  • Leftovers. I LOVE LEFTOVERS. It’s one of the saddest parts of travel when I can’t bring food home from a great dinner and know that it will be there for me later in the week. Already remedied this: tonight’s Indian dinner is tomorrow’s lunch.
  • My desk. Double monitors set to exactly the right height = work nirvana. Plus my awesome Boston officemates with whom I have a week worth of catching up to do. 
  • My daily talks with grandma. (Hi Booboo!) I have so many times in a typical week when I call my grandma en route to my next stop and we catch up about politics, Royal gossip, the drama at her retirement community, etc. When I travel, I usually fill that time either with other people or trying not to get lost, so it’s great to get home and talk more often.
  • My roommate and our sweet apartment. That’s the deal when you live with your best friend – you actually miss them and the cute life you’ve built together. Plus, it’s necessary to check in once in a while so that before your bag is even unzipped… never mind unpacked… you can start planning your next trip!

What do you miss the most when you leave home?

*bonus points if you get the title reference