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?

 

Call your girlfriends

I’m back in DC, making even more of my visit this time by coming a few days before my meeting so I can hang out with some Mount Holyoke girlfriends and see the city a bit amid work. 

  
It all started in Alexandria, where former crewton Abby and I went to lunch. Buckwheat crepes + feminist dating updates = best Saturday. Then onward to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where we saw an awesome exhibit about women in the Arabic world – “She who tells a story”. Highly recommend if you’re in the area – it’s $10 but they let us in free because they were setting up for a wedding and had to let in all the staff anyway!

Then Becca, my crew big sister, and I met up for the first time in five years at Rice for Thai food. So perfect! …Except somehow in the last 24 hours leading up to this moment, I completely lost my voice. Our reunion dinner together basically consisted of charades from my side of the table and laughter from hers. That’s how you know who your true friends are – they’re willing to talk even if you can only answer yes / no questions. 

  
Today, ’08 politico Mica and I went to the National Portrait Gallery, where we saw cool exhibits about celebrities and this gem from a future I don’t want to live in.

  
(Yes, that’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards.)

Then we had delicious Mexican brunch at Mission surrounded by people who had been drinking bottomless mimosas and margaritas for 2+ hours already. Oof! Having almost no voice has made me hyper aware of how incredibly loud some restaurants are. I never noticed how bad it was before!

And then, the girl-power jewel on the cake*, heading out to Sixth and I with Meg to see a live taping of Call your girlfriend – “a podcast for long distance besties” hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow and produced by Gina Delvac. Meg got us tickets weeks ago and I’ve been listening to it ever since – highly recommend. Start with the one where Huma talks all about how awesome her boss aka Hillary Clinton is! The live version was even better. Democratic Rep Donna Edwards, a brief slide show of besties in history, and lots of thoughtful discussion on gender, politics, money, and more. Plus, wine in sippy cups.

 

Still ahead: a long presentation through which I hope my voice survives, a Nats game (first ever professional baseball game outside of Fenway!), and then five days with my sis and other buds in NYC. Stay tuned as the adventure continues!

*Yes, I briefly considered changing that to frosting or crown but I think the original has more spirit.

DC in 48 hours and 4 photos

My 48 hour business trip to DC, in four photos:

1. Business lady special breakfast. Aka left my hotel and took my laptop over to a fancy coffee shop near my client’s office, where I got an almond latte and a fresh-from-the-oven butterkuchen – perfect fuel for the five hours of meetings ahead.  
2. Chinatown by night, after a delicious and sweet dinner with a client (hi Laurie!) and coworkers. We’re all so rarely in the same place, it’s great to get together to hatch new ideas in person and toast to all our hard work in 2015.


3. Pearl Harbor anniversary wreaths at the World War II memorial on the National Mall. All the flowers were fresh from the service a few days earlier. I paused from my run to stroll and reflect, especially about my granddaddy, a Pearl Harbor survivor who never even got to see this memorial come into existence.


4. The view on my run up to the Lincoln Memorial. Even on these whirlwind trips, I try to get in one touristy or location-specific thing. On my last day, I took the metro down to the White House, ran on the mall, and took a taxi back to the hotel to get ready for work. It was glorious to be able to visit Lincoln with almost no one else there – the one Chinese family who let me take the photo so they could all be in it, the monument worker polishing the floor beneath the Gettysburg Address.


And that’s all in addition to the great food, the team karaoke competition that my friends ROCKED, the dozens of funny and useful conversations with my coworkers.

DC, you’re Definitely Cool. Looking forward to more adventures when I head back… next week!

 

Top 10 things to pack for Europe

As my cousin Elena gets ready for a semester abroad, I wanted to share my best tips for what accessories and tools to pack for a good trip to Europe. These are the top items that made my last trip a success – what else would you add, dear readers?

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  1. Locks. They’re not just for (illegally) adding to bridges in Paris, these are also great for keeping your stuff secure – I got this TSA-approved duo. This is especially helpful if you’re sleeping on a train, putting your suitcase in the other end of a train car where you wouldn’t be able to see someone reaching in, or leaving your valuables at your hotel. Honestly, if someone is desperate enough to steal your stuff, they’re going to take your entire bag – but if a thief is just fishing around for something easy (as was the case when a cousin had her iPad and nothing else stolen in Europe…) this can be the first step in thwarting them.
  2. A travel power strip. I bought the Belkin travel charger and it was great for expanding my charging power while keeping all my devices in one place (the easier to collect when packing or locking up for the day!). Get one and then get a local power converter and you won’t have to worry about blowing your fuses or having one of your devices go without a charge.
  3. A portable charger. One more technology item I recommend – portable chargers are great if you’re using your phone as your camera / map / texting device / place to keep tickets and confirmations / etc. Get a small power cell and a retractable (or just short) power cord to make a little power-on-the-go kit that will mean you never need to cut an adventure short because your battery is running low.
  4. Ear plugs. Whether you’re sharing a hostel with a snoring roommate or your Airbnb is next door to a building with an alarm going off 24/7 (true – bad – story), it sucks to pay exchange prices for something so small that you can get so cheaply before you leave home.
  5. Printed copies of documents. You know what else is no fun? Finding out that you needed to have that ticket to Versailles or wherever on paper and then needing to find an internet cafe in Paris to print it at. Just don’t do it. Keep at least one copy of all important travel plans and bookings – including a copy of the first page of your passport – on paper so that when you wake up in the middle of the night and want to confirm that you didn’t miss your plane, you don’t need to frantically search through your email to be reassured. (Also leave a copy of that front page of your passport, insurance card, etc. with your family at home so they can help you out if all your stuff somehow disappears.)
  6. Passport organizer. Then, keep that all organized! I almost bought many beautiful passport cases before eventually getting a neat pencil bag from Target that became my go-to for traveling. My passport lived in here (which in turn lived in a locked pocket of my suitcase) and it also held my American money, extra credit card, visa for Turkey, etc. It’s nice to have one place that you don’t constantly mess with where you know everything is safely stored.
  7. US medicine and a prescription plan. Do you know how to say “decongestant” in Spanish? How badly do you want to try? For me, the answer is not at all, so I pack as many US meds as I think I might need before I leave home. Painkillers in particular can be quite different between countries, and I prefer to know I’m having a drug I’m familiar with in a dosage that’s proven to work for me. I always bring decongestants and allergy meds, since I get stuffed up from planes and need to recover quickly to enjoy my trip. I also recommend refilling / reactivating any prescriptions you think you could need – whether that means getting a spare inhaler just in case or asking your doc for a z-pack if you always get sick in a particular time of year – even if they won’t pre-authorize it, at least you can have it on hold and quickly call it in as needed.
  8. Packing cubes. I am a devoted follower of packing cubes and their ability to help you keep your clothes neat, compact, and organizer. Having all your running clothes, or all the clothes you need to keep clean for the plane right home, or all your underwear in one place can reduce the stress of hauling so much stuff around with you. It also makes it much easier to find the small things (chargers, souvenirs) in your bag than if everything were floating around. Ikea has a good set but you can also find really good deals at most Marshall’s – I propose getting a mix of closed, waterproof packs and some that are more meshy for when you don’t need things to be so tightly packed (or just get the top seller on Amazon!).
  9. Word Lens, Duolingo, and WhatsApp. Download these before you go and they will change your interactions (and maybe even your life?). WordLens is an app that automatically translates photos into different languages – so if you end up in Germany, you can point your camera at a menu and order with confidence (warning: organ meat is still just organ meat…). No internet connection required! If you want to prepare further in advance, get Duolingo and its free suite of language training programs. Hearing phrases before you actually get into a country can help break through barriers and put you at ease when you actually arrive. And finally, WhatsApp is the preferred way for expats and others to chat with folks back home. It’s a free messaging service that works just like texting but uses only an internet connection. That way, no matter what someone’s area code is, you can start chatting and send photos, etc.
  10. A good scarf. Last but definitely not least – scarves are a staple of my wardrobe, and a great thing to have when traveling. They dress up an outfit, help you hide coffee mishaps, double as blankets when picnicking… the list goes on and on. Scarves make great accessories to hunt for during your travels (Katie got a great one in Paris that got compliments throughout Spain and Turkey) but you should also have one you love before you hit the road.  I splurged on a travel infinity scarf from Boston-based Speakeasy Supply Co, mostly for the hidden pocket. Whenever I was wearing a skirt or leggings, this provided me with an easy pocket and also let me hold my passport and phone close to my body when out in public or dozing on a train.

On top of all this, you’ll want a classic wardrobe (that doesn’t brand you immediately as an American), a good purse, great walking shoes, layers, nice clothes for going out… the list is as endless as your suitcase! But if you start with some good, functional tools, you’ll be on the right track for a successful trip.

Bon voyage, ma cousine!

Climb ev’ry mountain

One of the coolest things I did in Hawaii – or maybe in my entire life to date – was to drive to the top of Haleakalā, a massive shield volcano that makes up more than 75% of Maui.  It took hours to get to the top of the crater, switching back and forth slowly up the side (emphasis on slowly – those turns were not for the faint of heart).  But what we saw at the 10,000 foot top made the dizzying drive worthwhile.

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It was like being on another planet – Mars, specifically.  I lost all depth perception in the sweeping hills of red and black dust. Rocks looked like I could reach out and touch them, when in reality, they were miles away.

We didn’t stay up there too long – we were originally going to watch the sunset, but decided it wasn’t worth driving down in the dark.  We did catch a glimpse of the splendor on the way down, but it was really the scene from the top that stuck with me the most.  It was a breathtaking reminder of just how unexpectedly awesome a view can be – and how worthwhile it is to make the trek (though maybe pack your inhaler next time, lady…).

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And it gave me a final push to take on one of the last big challenges I wanted to tackle before I turn 30 in October: Mount Washington.  Despite growing up in NH, I’ve never once set foot on the top of this giant mountain.  My good friend Kate, who rowed crew with me back at Mount Holyoke (aka my twin because our coach thought we were the same person…) is going to hike it with me this summer.  I don’t know what path we’ll take yet (but I’m taking suggestions!) but I’m more convinced than ever that the view at the top will be mind-boggling and worth every step. Leave your hiking advice below, please!

Sunset on our descent

(All photos are my own!)

Vacation truths

When I go on vacation with my sister, some things are guaranteed:


1. We will try – and fail – to stay still and relax.
We did chill out on the beach and at Twin Falls, but we also drove for five hours yesterday. We can’t stop (won’t stop) moving!

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2. We will get sunburnt – our Polish/ French skin is no match for the morning sun glinting off the ocean, as this week’s snorkel adventure reminded us.

3. We will take jumping pictures. It wouldn’t be a sister-vacation without a carefully timed photo session – we also got into someone else’s cheesy photos when I was asked to be the O in their OHIO!

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4. We will sing show tunes. All those years of practicing our parts in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” really show when you get us alone in a car for hours!

5. We will have a blast. My sister is a badass, great navigator, good meal-sharer, and overall awesome friend, and I wish we could have this kind of adventure every day. For now, I’m soaking up every minute until we go back to our own cities and then immediately planning our next trip. Huzzah!

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