Time for a Real Vacation

Tags

, ,

It’s February, and winter has finally arrived in Chicago. Snow, sleet, freezing temps, negative wind chills. The whole package. Granted, it’s a little late, but its intensity makes up for the delay.

Everywhere I turn, I see ads for tropical getaways, lists of the year’s top destinations, and pictures of friends basking in the warmth of the faraway sun, on the beach, in bathing suits, drinking beers.

And I’m sitting inside my lukewarm house, wrapped in a blanket, drinking a cup of hot chocolate, gazing outside at my freshly blanketed backyard, and listening to cars make slush on the road.

And now I’m regretting passing up the chance at a family vacation last year.

It’s been almost three years since Jacob and I spent a week away from real life, relishing the California lifestyle in San Francisco and Monterey. And a heck of a lot has happened since then.

Yeah, I guess if I really wanted to, I could count our two months in New Jersey last summer as a vacation. True, we were away from home. And being away from home is a major vacation criterion. Plus, we spent our weekends exploring New York City, driving to the Jersey Shore, and laying out by the pool. Sounds like stuff you’d do on vacation, right? But that doesn’t account for every weekday (and some weekends, too) spent commuting to and from the office to work and make a living.

Plus, who goes to Jersey on vacation?

When I talk about vacation, I’m talking about a sand-between-my-toes, umbrella-in-my-drink, room-service-and-fresh-towels, not-a-care-in-the-world vacation!

It’s been three years. I know what I need, and I need one now.

It’s gonna happen this year. I don’t know how or when, exactly, but it’ll happen. And soon. Because I’m gonna make it happen. I’m not letting another year go by without any tacky souvenirs, photo albums and postcards to prove to the world that I let loose for a week.

That’s all it needs to be. Just a week. A little week. Heck, I’d even settle for a three-day weekend at this point. But why settle?! It’s been three years! 

Chicago, I love ya, but this frosty February is making me crave something a little more, shall we say, Caribbean? Someplace with accents, spicy food, a temperate climate, beaches, waterfalls … Something that requires a plane ticket, a full-size suitcase, and is far, far away from my snowy backyard and my home office.

Have Patience, Will Travel

I’m writing this while sitting motionless on a plane, waiting to take off. Pilot announced it’ll be an hour before we get clearance. I want to be annoyed, but I can’t muster up the conviction. This happens every time. Standing in long lines in security, experiencing boarding delays, losing our position for take-off, being unable to find an open gate to taxi to and debark. It seems like, bad weather or not, I get stuck in each situation, every time.

I tried changing airports, but that didn’t help. Didn’t help to fly at a different time of day, either.

Everyone on the plane is so patient. I haven’t heard anyone lose his or her temper on this flight yet (although I witnessed plenty of idiots yelling at airline ticketing agents throughout the morning). They must all be used to the discomfort and ennui, as well.

Here’s hoping for a shortened delay and a safe flight.

Link

February is Wrapping Up … Time to Prepare for the Beach

Tags

, ,

MyFitnessPal.com

I just joined this website for tracking my fitness progress. We had beautiful, sunshiny weather today, so I ran two miles– the most I’ve run in five months. I also joined a new yoga studio, so I’ll be attending classes regularly.

This could be the start of something good. Who knows, maybe I’ll start making healthier choices when I eat, too?

If I stick to my fitness goals, I’ll lose seven pounds just in time for summer vacation. Next steps: sign up for a 5k and buy a super-cute bikini as motivation!

A Bad Case of Travel Indecision

I’m vacationing in June. That, I know. Only problem is, I still need to land on a location, I’m coming up blank, and I need some help.

I want to go somewhere island-y. My parents jumped at the chance to watch Baby Girl, creating the perfect opportunity for Jacob and me to get away to a beautiful, sunny Caribbean island. But it can’t be too remote. We want to check in on Baby by phone a couple of times a day. It also can’t be too boring– reading a paperback on the beach would be a waste of a new, foreign place. Anyways, my pale skin eliminates me from that demographic.

I decided months ago on St. Martin/Sint Maarten, but now I’m reconsidering– it may be too commercial for our tastes. If we end up here, we’d stay in French St. Martin, dine at lots of yummy French restaurants and lolos, spend time exploring the island’s 39 white sand beaches, and venture onto the Dutch side (because hey, why not?). However, it doesn’t seem like the island has much to offer other than beaches, shopping and casinos. And the latter two don’t appeal to me.

I really really want to experience Martinique. Culture, volcanoes, history. It’s like France bottled up in a Caribbean island. I could put my four years of high school French to the test. But, so far, the rare flight from Chicago to Fort-de-France is out of my price range.

I recently discovered Dominica. It’s full of opportunities to explore and go canyoning, hiking, soaking in hot springs and ocean bubbles, etc. I also found an amazing eco-tourism resort, sans electricity and all. But, without electricity, how would we charge our cell phones? How would I style my hair? See after dark?

It’s not the Caribbean, but ever since our Honeymoon was interrupted by Hurricane Emily, we’ve vowed to return to the hotel where we intended to stay along the Mayan Riviera. Maybe it’s time to make good?

Quarantined in our hotel room, waiting for Hurricane Emily to arrive.

Fodor’s tells me our best match is St. Kitts and Nevis. One more option to complicate things even more.

I have decision paralysis and I need help. My husband doesn’t really care– he’ll be happy no matter where we end up. And I guess I will be, too. Any vacation is better than no vacation, right?

I’m throwing this out to all of you who might read and have an opinion. Please, help me decide, share your advice … If you were me, where would you go?

More from the Travel & Adventure Show

Tags

, , ,

Last time, I promised to share more about my family’s excursion to the travel show. I’m mostly sharing “lessons learned” to help you all for next year, along with a couple funny anecdotes about our experience to keep it lively. Enjoy!

  • Expect to spend a lot of cash for not a lot of return. After parking and entrance fees, we dished out nearly fifty bucks– a lot to us (especially to me), since I rarely leave the house these days except to take Elena to daycare or buy groceries.
  • The walk from the parking lot to the convention space went for miles (at least, that’s what it felt like). Thankfully, the walkway was indoors. Baby Girl wouldn’t have been too happy had it been otherwise.
  • We bought our tickets at the door. In hindsight, purchasing our tickets online would have cost less (especially with a Groupon), but people with pre-purchased tickets experienced a tedious wait. The ticket booth only accepted cash, so I kept an eye on the line as Jacob used the ATM, and I observed only a couple of people enter, whereas we zipped right through with virtually no wait. I guess it all comes down to what you value more: time or money. As new parents, time often wins out as the more precious commodity.
  • If we go again next year, we’re going to make and bring a custom stamp with our pre-printed contact information. Jacob and I each filled out at least 25 contest entry forms. By the end, I had tired of hand writing my contact info over and over … not to mention, a little concerned about all the spam emails I’d soon receive for my troubles.
  • None of the destinations that I’d like to visit in the near future were represented at

    The spoils of our visit to the Travel & Adventure Show.

    the show. There were multiple booths for places like Branson, Mo., Las Vegas, and Oklahoma, but those places aren’t on my list. So, unless you’re in the initial stages of vacation planning, or you’re taking a shotgun approach to picking a location, the show isn’t really a good value. However, you can find redemption in the many chances to win free vacations.

  • Don’t go if you’re an agoraphobic. That place was nuts! We brought Elena in her stroller, so we muscled our way through the crowds, but we definitely didn’t linger. If you have a Rascal scooter, make use of it. Those rascal-riders knew best, parting crowds and blocking aisleways like they owned the place. I felt sorry for the regular old pedestrians, constantly stepping out of the way of all of us with our wide berths. Especially the couple of people I saw with their service animals. I was really worried someone would step on or trip over some poor doggie. Here’s hoping they made it out okay …
  • We didn’t even hesitate as we passed the Mexico booth– and that’s one of the places where I wanted to learn more. I couldn’t see past the four and five-deep throng of onlookers. My guess is that something interesting was going on, but being only five-foot-two has its disadvantages in crowds, so we pushed through — literally — to the next booth.
  • A couple of the contests required entrants be present for the drawing to claim prizes. I might have considered returning for the nine-day trip to Spain, but there was no chance I would wrestle my way back through the crowd for a free bottle of rum from Anguilla. How absurd!
  • Now, for the fun stuff. The perfect angel, Elena is always either sleeping or smilingOoh la la! Baby girl wants to go to Quebec. when we venture out of the house (we are such lucky parents!). She slept for the first hour or so. Fifteen minutes after she woke up, Jacob noticed she was missing a sock. Whoops! With the crowd situation, that sock was lost forever. Next time, we’ll pack an extra pair in the diaper bag, along with the extra clothes.
  • Before we left, we stopped at the restroom near the exit, and changed her diaper. Around the second mile of the walk back to the parking lot, Elena made another very dirty diaper. We had a super fun time changing her in the back of the Jeep.

Jacob just got a voicemail from one of the travel vendors at the show. We’re hoping for something exciting and glamorous. Knowing our luck, it’s probably an attempt to sell us something, and not to announce that we’ve won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. Wish us luck!!

Are you a tourist or a traveler?

Tags

, , , , , ,

I know, I know. Months have passed since my last post. Chalk it up to too many other and conflicting priorities. And the holidays. And heavy workloads. All I can say is, sorry folks.

But now, with my new work-from-home gig under way, I can’t complain about being overwhelmed with work. Plus, since the corporate office is out of state, I’ll surely have some business travel hijinx that serve as fodder here. What I’m saying is: the blog is back in business.

To kick things off, I spent a few precious weekend hours at the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show today, and was inspired by a question posed to me by one of the exhibitors: “Are you a tourist or a traveler?”

Chicago Travel and Adventure ShowI had to ask for some definitions. According to my guide, a tourist is just in it for the beaches: someone who vacations on cruise lines and doesn’t venture off the all-inclusive property. A traveler, then, is the opposite: someone who searches for total culture immersion. I guessed his goal was to convince me it’s more desirable to be a traveler.

When I told him my next vacation will be to the Caribbean island of St. Martin, the travel guy cringed a little. It definitely falls into the tourist category. We’re leaving baby girl with my parents and the plan is to avoid anything that causes even a minimal amount of stress, spending as much time as possible accomplishing nothing on the beach.

I figure, after the year we’ve had, we deserve some R&R.

This is supposed to be one of those “don’t-plan-anything-except-how-you-get-there” trips, which is difficult for me because I love to plan. I love to read about the local musts– must-gos, must-sees, must-dos– then find a way to accomplish every last one. But this trip, by nature, rails against that. And I’m struggling. Typically by now, I’ve already built the itinerary. I’ve read reviews of all the hotels and have booked our best match. At this point on a typical vacation-planning cycle, I’m just counting down days, weeks, months. Not having to plan has left me perplexed.

So, I thought, why not spend an afternoon at the Travel and Adventure Show for some inspiration. I can’t really say I achieved anything besides falling short of a stranger’s expectations on my current travel style. But, I did have a nice afternoon away from home. And I picked up some tips on what to do differently for next year’s show, which I’ll share next time.

Just out of curiosity (and perhaps to assuage my guilt over my sometimes-non-traveler status) … are you a tourist or a traveler?

Return of the Marathon

Tags

,

I spent the morning at the Chicago Marathon. Not running, just spectating. Yelling encouraging things as runners slogged past. We cheered in Greektown and Chinatown, both on the second half of the course. Of course, at that point, everyone who ran by needed an extra dose of motivation.  

Chicago MarathonI saw marathoners with grim faces, bloody nipples, and sweat-soaked shirts. Then there were the calm, focused runners in meditative states. Being surrounded by all those sweaty, bloody, anguished/determined people might have turned me off. Instead, it seduced me. The fanfare, the camaraderie, the finish line, everything convinced me I need to run again. 

And when I say run again, I mean another marathon. Not a half, not a ten-miler. I’m thinking big. Big, because nothing else can compare. I’m supposed to run the Hot Chocolate 15K in a few weeks, but I’ll have to scale back to the 5K (as soon as we started daycare, baby girl and I both came down with illnesses that lasted for a month, putting my training way off schedule). And while the Hot Chocolate race has gained in popularity since it debuted in ’08, it’s just not the same as the marathon.

Each year, the Chicago Marathon draws tens of thousands of runners, and more than a million spectators. It clogs the el and the expressways. When you run it, you’re surrounded by hordes of like-minded people. Like a parade, spectators line nearly the entire course. People you don’t even know cheer you on, yell your name, give high fives, offer water and Gu. Being a part of something so big is inspirational. Other, lesser races just aren’t the same. 

It’s nice to have this grand ambition, but is it realistic? Here’s what worries me:

    • If I can’t even stick to training for nine-point-three miles, how can I achieve three times that? Granted I was sick, but I’m better now, and I’ve opted to sit on the couch when I could be lacing up my Pearl Izumis.
    • Can I bear to be apart from baby girl for all those hours of training? I left her at home today because bringing her out in crowds makes me nervous, and all morning, I found myself pulling up photos of her on my phone because I missed her.
    • Will my foot hold out? I developed tendonitis toward the end of marathon training in ’07, and luckily, I haven’t had any flare-ups since, but I also haven’t been running 30+ miles per week. 
    • What if it’s like last time? My dreams of having a successful marathon were dashed in ’07, when the race was cancelled because of the heat and water shortages. True, I crossed the finish line, but I walked the last several miles (partly due to the heat, partly the pain from the tendonitis), and my race time was an hour slower than what I had hoped to achieve.
2007 Chicago Marathon

Four years ago, I completed my first and only marathon.

The smart thing to do would be to ramp up my training, complete this 15K, continue running, and reassess when it’s time to fork over the entrance fee. I should probably also enter a few more races, working my way up to 26.2 miles. Plus, I could always consider running in a different city. For instance, if I were to run in San Francisco, I wouldn’t have to worry about the threat of rogue October heat we contend with here in the midwest.

If you live in a city that hosts marathons, I encourage you to get involved. Less than 1% of the population will ever run a marathon, but nothing says you have to remain part of that larger percentage. If you can’t run it, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Or, do what I did, and cheer for a friend, or for anyone. All marathoners need encouragement, even the elites. Especially approaching “the wall,” around mile 20. Who knows, next year it could be me on that course, needing that extra push to keep going.

Feed Me Your Feedback

Tags

, , , ,

Hi, friends in blogland!

One of the ways I plan to use this blog is as a trip planning tool, and this is where I need your help.

I’m planning two big trips coming up next year: one for me, and one for a friend. I want to go to the Caribbean, leaning heavily toward the French West Indies. The trip for my friend is to Australia and New Zealand.

Over the next several months, I’ll share discoveries from the planning process. Chic hotels, helpful planning resources on the web, and things I uncover during my research.

And I’ll ask you for your feedback.

I’m just getting started, so look for more to come. For now, if any of you have been to these places or know someone who has, please comment! I prefer getting tips from people I know and trust, and who know me.

Thanks all!

Looking Back on HTC 2008

Tags

, , , , , , ,

 

Hood to Coast came and went last weekend. Three years ago, I was in the thick of it: I ran legs six, 18, and 30 of the relay, completing 17 of the 197 miles, along with 11 amazing teammates. The route spanned a beautiful course, from the top of Mt. Hood (just east of Portland) to the beach at Seaside, Ore. I fell in love on my first visit to the Pacific Northwest. 

Approaching my team's stop-and-cheer on leg six.

Despite the gorgeous scenery, the hills were killer. Especially for a Midwesterner like me, used to training on Illinois’ flat prairies. Plus, the temperature was constantly changing. When our first runner started at the top of the mountain, we bundled up in hats, coats, and gloves. Within three hours, everyone had stripped down to tank tops and shorts. My first leg lasted eight miles along a hilly stretch of open, unshaded road, at noon on a sunny day. Looking forward to my teammates’ stop-and-cheer was the only thing that kept me going.

The race was tough– I’d say comparable to a half marathon. I ran farther than 13 miles, but in shorter, more manageable spurts. Teams of 12 take an average of 30 hours to complete the course, crammed into vans from handoff to handoff, sleep-deprived, stinky and cranky. At the end, the entire team crosses the finish line together, as a unit. The Nike team wins most years, but finishing first wasn’t our goal.

A team of filmmakers made a documentary about the race the same year I participated. If you watch the movie in slo-mo, you can see my leg as I cross the finish line (it’s now on DVD, check it out). The movie does a nice job capturing the spirit of the race and portraying distance runners in their true light. It’s a must-see if you’ve run this race or plan to in the future.

My Hood to Coast experience happened during my glory days of running. The previous year, 2007, I had completed the Chicago Marathon– the year the heat and humidity brought the race to a halt. Those days, I lived and breathed running.

Running was my nature connection, my alone time, my keep-the-weight-off program. I subscribed to Runner’s World magazine and flagged all the destination runs, dreaming of running marathons in places like San Francisco, London, Quebec City and Southern France.

Every time I travelled to a new city, I mapped out new running routes. A four-mile loop along Ocean Drive in South Beach, a 12-mile sweat-soaked run along the bay in Tampa, an eight-mile loop from downtown to the Plaza in KC. It was a way to explore new places– I experienced things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. 

During my pregnancy, I gave myself a nine-month hiatus. Problem is, I gained 42 pounds, and now none of my pants fit. I resumed running and returned to work both when Elena was 6 weeks old, but I was over-ambitious, tackling one transition too many at a time of tumultuous change. I couldn’t quit my job, so I quit running.

A month’s passed since my last run. And that last one wasn’t so hot. Barely made it three miles, and my pace was way off. Earlier this year, I signed up for the Chicago’s Hot Chocolate 15K as a carrot– great course, manageable distance. Now, I’ve got two months to train for nine miles. It’ll help me lose these last 10 pounds, but it’s gonna be tough. I’m nowhere near the level I was when I ran the Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon, but I have to start somewhere. Wish me luck!