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Staycation, Meant to Be Spent Near Home

Song Lyric of the Day:

Goodbye and it starts to snow / In the streets of Mexico / Goodbye, I am left alone / In the streets of Mexico

Glenn Morrison (featuring Islove) / “Goodbye

Yesterday when I wrote about my hopes for 2016, I forgot to include a big one: family vacations. As in: I hope we can take little day trips here and there. Because that week-long, possibly exotic family vacation in a location ideally far, far away? Probably not happening any time soon.

The other day Coraline asked me when we were going to the beach again, and I had to tell her I have no idea. Granted, the beach is very low on my and Rich’s list of dream vacation destinations — we’ve never been beach people — but we know she loves it, which makes us enjoy it more than we normally would. I would REALLY love for this to be the year we take Cora to Walt Disney World, but again, I’m not holding my breath.

Granted, a family vacation is a first-world problem, and even being able to take paid time off is a privilege, not a right. Until we can afford to take a real vacation, though, Rich and I are looking forward to taking little day trips with Coraline. We’ve decided to focus on a 2-4 hour driving radius of Knoxville, which opens up some decent possibilities. So where will we go first? I’m leaning toward the Lost Sea — it’s not that far, and the last time Rich and I visited was way back in high school (at the latest). The anthropology nerd in me is also dying to go to the ETSU & General Shale Natural History Museum, which I’m pretty sure Cora would get a kick out of (thank you, Night at the Museum movies). This list of family-friendly day trips on the Knoxville Moms Blog is also rife with possibilities.

So what’s the upside about staying close to home? Plenty of time to plan and save up for the big family vacation we hope to take someday.

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There and Back Again

Song Lyric of the Day:

Many places I have been / Many sorrows I have seen / But I don’t regret / Nor will I forget / All who took the road with me

Billy Boyd / “The Last Goodbye

Last year I was ridiculously fortunate to be invited by my friend Nan to accompany her on the trip of a lifetime. She won a trip for two to New Zealand in the Hobbit Fan Fellowship contest. I had suggested she enter, and she said that if she won, she’d take me with her (I posted her winning movie at the end of this post). Clearly, she made good on her word, for which me saying thank you again to her (for the millionth time) still doesn’t seem adequate. Still: Thank you, Nan. You are forever my Hobbit boo. I knew when I first met her that we were going to be great friends, but I could never imagine how much and in how many ways I would come to treasure our friendship, and she knows that extends much deeper than the trip. Although that is some really fantastic icing on the cake.

Last week some of our Fellowship friends got together for the one-year anniversary. Neither Nan nor I could afford to fly to London, but we were with them in spirit. It would have been great to see some of our new friends again and reminisce about the trip as well as make new memories. Maybe next year we can manage to join them again.

It’s a strange beast to be a part of something like this. I can only speak for myself (and Nan, to an extent), but the Hobbit Fan Fellowship trip was a truly life-changing thing. Even before we set off on our first flight (of three) on the long journey to New Zealand, Nan and I knew we were going on the trip of a lifetime. Not only was it an all-expenses-paid trip, but New Zealand 100% Pure, Air New Zealand, and Warner Bros. went all out with the events, surprises, excursions, chartered flights, special guests, and even meals they planned for us (open bars rule!). It really was the kind of vacation experience most of us can only dream of. My only regret is that Nan and I couldn’t share it with our family and other close friends, a regret I imagine some other members of our Fellowship might also have.

We did, however, get to experience this with 148 other people from all over the world, 74 of which were the lucky “plus ones” like myself. We got to know the sweet, kind, funny, smart tour guides, Air New Zealand flight crew, Warner Bros. reps, and camera/sound crew who led, accompanied, spoiled, and documented us every step of the way. While we didn’t get to know or talk to everyone on the trip, those we did were like us: eternally grateful to have been invited on this journey. The Fellowship is made up of a really good bunch of eggs.

I hope and will do my best to save up so that Nan and I can join them for another reunion, one I would love to bring Rich and Coraline along for. Because after hearing about the magic of New Zealand and Rich reading her The Hobbit, Coraline can’t wait to experience it all herself someday.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to treasure my memories of that magical week in the Real Middle-earth, and be happy I have 149 other people who know exactly what it was like to be there.

I made sure Nan was right next to Peter Jackson for our group photo following the screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

I made sure Nan was right next to Peter Jackson for our group photo following the screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (she’s to his right, and I’m right behind her).


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New Zealand Day 1 Recap

After an epic LAX layover, Nan and I had an equally epic 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. Air New Zealand more than lived up to its stellar reputation, and the plane had what is by far my favorite in-flight entertainment console ever. In between several naps I watched Guardians of the Galaxy, Housebound, the season finale of episodes, and most of Bad Neighbours (aka Neighbors in the U.S.).

This made my limited periods of consciousness between naps fun.

This made my limited periods of consciousness between naps fun.

Even wearing compression socks and taking short aisle walks, I got off the plane in Auckland with the cankles I never got during pregnancy.

Nan and I claimed our luggage and immediately encountered a camera crew doing interviews with Hobbit Fan Fellowship contest winners and their guests. Even though we had left Knoxville 30+ hours ago, Nan and I were more than happy to oblige and talk about how she won, where we were from, what we were most looking forward to.

After the interview we followed our fellow hobbits across the street to the Novotel Hotel, where rooms had been booked for all of us to freshen up. After a half hour we took our luggage to a conference room area where we checked in, got our badges, and were given Hobbit-branded T-shirts, windbreakers, and luggage tags as well as a swag bag. After check-in we met everyone in a big conference room with a buffet and The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey playing on two big screens.

Nan with the swag bag we received at check-in.

Nan with the swag bag we received at check-in.

We were welcomed by reps from 100% Pure New Zealand and then divided into groups based on where we came from. Nan and I are in the Hobbit group with everyone else from the Americas, with the other groups being the Wizards, Dwarves, and Elves.

Once sorted, we were bussed to the airplane tarmac — which apparently took jumping through a lot of hoops — to be photographed in front of the Hobbit-branded Air New Zealand plane that most of us flew in on.

We were featured in the local paper in Rotorua using the plane photo op. Nan and I are somewhere on the right toward the back.

We were featured in the local paper in Rotorua using the plane photo op. Nan and I are somewhere on the right toward the back.

Once the photo op was over — the local and international media coverage has been unreal — we hopped on a bus for the three-hour drive to Rotorua. We had a brief period for refreshing ourselves (again), then it was back on the bus to go to Te Puia, a living Maori cultural center. We saw mudpools and the Southern hemisphere’s largest active geyser (Pohutu), learned about Maori culture, and were treated to dance/musical performances in the meeting house, which were so much fun to see. After the performances were over, it was time for a huge buffet.

After our evening at Te Puia, it was back to our hotel where Nan and I passed out by 10PM. Which was a good thing, since we had to get up early to tackle day 2: Hobbiton.

Created with flickr slideshow.

*I have not had good luck with Wi-Fi while here, and after a whopping phone bill post-Toronto, I now leave the Cellular Data option turned off so I’m not racking up excessive charges by using Instagram and Twitter. Tonight has been the best Wi-Fi connection I’ve had since we got here.


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This Post Is Coming to You From the Future*

Song Lyric of the Day:

Diamond clouds / I think we’re getting closer / Don’t stop now / Off the ground / Higher than a supernova / Don’t look down

Cazzette / “Beam Me Up

Yesterday was a long day of traveling from Knoxville to Houston to Los Angeles on our way to Auckland, New Zealand. I actually wrote this post 12 hours after we left Knoxville, during our almost 10-hour layover in Los Angeles. Suggestion: LAX could really use a small movie theater for people with 10-HOUR LAYOVERS.

Our day started with Rich and Coraline driving Nan and me to the airport. Coraline was not only giddy about seeing Miss Nan, she was thrilled to be allowed to wear her warm footie PJs for the drive (she was wearing a coat but not getting out of the car). Our flight from Knoxville to Houston left around 9:30AM, and it was the standard puddle-jumper most outbound Knoxville flights use. We didn’t really have a layover once we got to the Houston airport, which is an hour behind Knoxville; it was sheer luck we happened to stop in front of our gate for our Los Angeles-bound flight when they announced it was time to line up for boarding. The plane to L.A. was one of the bigger planes I’ve been on in several years. So big it actually scared me when we had minor turbulence — apparently I’m really used to puddle-jumpers these days. I counted at least seven instances where I thought, “holy cow, this is it — I’m going to die.” Thankfully, that did not happen. Obviously. But still: scary turbulence = scared Pattie.

The flight to L.A. (which is 3 hours behind EST) took a little more than 3 hours, but not longer than the 3 1/2 hours or more that would’ve gotten us fed. This is where I’d like to point out that the Think Thin protein bars I brought with us are what kept us from potentially fainting from hunger. Me, anyway. Once we landed at LAX, it became our mission (after checking in our luggage with Air New Zealand) to find food. Real food that didn’t come in a little wrapper. After grabbing the LAX shuttle back to the main terminal because the international terminal really didn’t have any viable food options, we decided on Wolfgang Puck Express, where the food did not disappoint (turkey sandwich with bacon and avocado = divine).

We sat in a gate lounge that had closed for the day and was being used by other weary travelers, where I wrote this post and finally checked in on Facebook for more than my standard 20-second pop-in. (I’m basically a cat burglar on Facebook, in and out before anyone notices.)

One more flight to go, and then we will be in the real Middle-Earth. Fingers crossed we have another safe — preferably turbulence-free — flight. I think it’s a safe bet to say that no matter what the in-flight entertainment might be, Nan and I will both be grabbing some much-needed shuteye.

Here’s hoping I get to update again once we’re all settled in tomorrow.

Created with flickr slideshow.


*It’s 17 hours ahead of EST here in New Zealand. SEVENTEEN HOURS.

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The Year of Living Dangerously … Close to Home

Song Lyric of the Day:

Come away with me / Come, let’s go away to be / On a new adventure for two / We can fly across the ocean / Or take a train together / I don’t care as long as it’s beside you

Tim McMorris / “You’ve Got My Heart

I’ve been fortunate in my life in that I’ve traveled a decent amount. My freshman year of high school, my mom scrimped and saved to send me to Europe with my French class (six countries in 16 days). For my honeymoon Rich and I took a Caribbean cruise. We made several trips to New York City over the years. In 2008 we met up with our friends Richard and Donna in Uruguay. In 2009 I took a solo vacation to the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2010 Rich and I visited Caren in Colorado right after learning we were pregnant with Coraline. In 2011 we took Coraline to Iowa to visit Rich’s extended family. In 2012 we took a long weekend in Asheville, N.C., exploring the city and visiting Biltmore (twice, but that’s a story for another day). Last year we took a long overdue visit to see friends in Ohio.

This year? Well, it’s already mid-May, and I have zero travel plans for the year. That’s right — nada. I’ve got nowhere to go and nothin’ to do. Travel-wise, that is. Due to various issues that have arisen and others that will need to be dealt with in the near future, traveling to, well, pretty much anywhere seems like more of an extravagance than ever. And I admit, it’s a bit depressing. It’s undoubtedly a first-world problem — boo hoo, poor me, I can’t take a vacation — but I’ll be honest and admit that yes, it’s got me down a bit.

One of the many beautiful, exotic vacation destinations which I will not be visiting this year.

One of the many beautiful, exotic vacation destinations which I will not be visiting this year.

A couple of months ago, Rich was encouraging me to go back to Toronto for this year’s festival, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen now. Which sucks if for no other reason than I got my hopes up. I’ve written before about how being optimistic, as opposed to my naturally pessimistic self, is something I have to work at. So getting the shit kicked out of my excitement at the mere thought of going back to Toronto has not been fun. Maybe next year. We’ll see.

I’m trying to be optimistic (what can I say? I’m a dumbass who never learns.) that maybe we can at least take Coraline to New York City this year. I haven’t been since 2006(!) so that is definitely on my shortlist of places to go whenever we can afford it. And no matter what we can afford right now, I’m just scared to spend money on things — vacations — we don’t need, because who knows what other things will need to be dealt with. See? That’s me being pessimistic. And practical.

Still, I do have things to look forward to this year: a new baby niece on the way, a nephew starting preschool, Coraline’s 4th birthday, a nephew starting 1st grade, time spent with family we are fortunate enough to live close to, a new X-Men movie. (Hey, if I can’t travel, you can bet your ass I’ll at least be drooling over Hugh Jackman on the big screen.) So despite not having any international or domestic adventures on the horizon, there are still good things happening this year.

Staycation, anyone?


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The 3-Day Playdate

Song Lyric of the Day:

They’re in the car, on the highway / It’s so magical, feeling, that no one’s got a hold / You’re a catalyst to your happiness you know / This is your heart, it’s alive / It’s pumpin’ blood / It’s your heart, it’s alive / It’s pumpin’ blood / And the whole wide world is whistling

NONONO / “Pumpin Blood

This past Saturday I drove Coraline and her cousin Stephen down to Alabama to visit my other sister’s family and for the kids to have some quality cousin time. We started off by meeting Vanessa and her family and a couple of friends at the Huntsville Botanical Garden (which is gorgeous). Elliott almost plotzed himself when he saw Stephen since he thought only Coraline and I were coming to visit. During the drive down, Stephen had even said, “I’m cuzzie’s surprise.” (They call each other cuzzie.) The weather was mild and beautiful, perfect for wandering the Garden’s substantial grounds. If I hadn’t been helping wrangle four kids, I’m sure I could’ve taken even more photos than I did.  Vanessa kept talking about a huge slide she’d seen on their last visit there, so we spent a good deal of time walking the grounds looking for it. After a while I became convinced the slide was like Atlantis, never to be found again. In all our walking looking for it we passed a graveyard full of unmarked graves for all the parents who’d gone before us and perished looking for that damn slide. Maybe we’ll find it next time. Or maybe we’ll just find Atlantis.

Miranda, Coraline, Elliott, and Stephen in the Nature Center (11/2/13).

After the Garden we headed to Vanessa’s house where the kids all managed to not nap. Coraline was so tired she passed out around 7:15PM local time (Alabama’s on Central, Tennessee’s on Eastern), slumping over my arm as I read books to her and her little cousin Miranda. I carried her up to the guest room and tucked her in, pleased as punch that bedtime had been so easy. My rejoicing was short-lived, though, because when I checked on her a short while later she was sitting up smiling and said, “Mommy, I have to go potty.” After which she headed back downstairs to play some more with her cousins. Ken inflated a queen-sized air mattress for the kids to sleep on in the living room, Coraline’s first sleepover with both her big cousins. Stephen had slept over in her room at home the night before, her first-ever cousin sleepover. They were so excited about our road trip in the morning that Rich could barely get them to go to sleep. I’m pretty sure he spontaneously self-sterilized that night.

Outwardly Coraline appeared done for the night. But really she was just recharging her batteries to thwart my attempts at getting her to bed at a decent hour (11/2/13).

Elliott, Coraline, and Stephen sleep off the day (11/2/13).

Coraline and I were seriously dragging on Sunday (mostly me, anyway). We’d gained an hour driving down to Alabama, then gained another hour thanks to Daylight Saving Time. I know I certainly felt like it was two hours later than the clock said it was. The fact that all four kids were up and at it by 8AM didn’t help. We stayed close to home that day, with playground time and lunch out our big adventures for the day. Of course, the kids were all about playing together, so it didn’t really matter to them where we went as long as they were together.

At the playground Sunday (11/3/13). Right after I said it looked like they were acting out a scene from The Breakfast Club, one of the boys punched both fists in the air.

Yesterday Vanessa, Coraline, Stephen, Miranda, and I had a nice breakfast together (Ken was at work and Elliott was at school). We picked up Elliott from school a bit early to give the kids more time together before we had to head home. We set out at 3PM EST so we’d get home around dinnertime. I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask what time it was this past weekend — too many time changes. The drive home was blissfully uneventful, with Coraline and Stephen watching Monsters vs Aliens for the billionth time on the portable DVD player my sister Samantha thought to send with Stephen (Thanks, Sam!). Coraline ended up sleeping for just under two hours, while Stephen stayed awake the whole time, watching Madagascar during the final stretch.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally get home. I loved spending time with all my babies, but dear lord, they have a frightening amount of energy. I’m convinced that collectively their energy could provide electricity to a small town via toddler-sized hamster wheels. Also, Coraline is a horrible bed hog who kicked the living shit out of me Sunday night into Monday. As crazy as the kids are when they get together, I look forward to some more weekend-long playdates for them. The best thing about being around them? I never forget to take my birth control pill on time.

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31 Day Blog Prompt Challenge Day 25

Day 25: Something you are looking forward to.

In the near future, I’m looking forward to both a long weekend getaway with Rich and Miss Baby, maybe to Biltmore in Asheville (my strongest preference), or Charleston, Savannah, or Charlotte. Then later in the summer we’ll likely take a week-long vacation to the Virginia Beach area so we can visit friends we haven’t seen in years, introduce them to Coraline, and take her to the beach for the very first time.

Biltmore Estate (image from the official Biltmore Estate website, www.biltmore.com)

What I’m most looking forward to in my immediate future is hopefully a night of much better sleep than I had last night. Lord knows I need the rest.

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Vegas, Baby, Vegas

Song Lyric of the Day:

Who says you can’t have it all / Cause baby nothing for free / No money don’t grow on trees / Golddigger

Supreme Beings of Leisure / “Golddigger”

3:05 PM Friday: Touched down here in Charlotte about 40 minutes ago. After about 15 minutes of just walking to get to my gate for the connecting flight to Las Vegas, I decided to go ahead and have lunch. The plane is now charging for food, so who knows how much and how good it will? So being in North Carolina, I opted for a genuine, Carolina-style, pit-BBQ pork sandwich. Granted, it cost $9.20 for the sandwich, one side, and a small Coke, but was it worth it? Absof###inglutely.

I did most of my packing last night, leaving incidentals for this morning. By this I mean I ran around all morning, rounding up my laptop, digital camera, stuffing my carry-on bag with lots of books and magazines, and generally freaking out worrying that I may forget something. I also bombarded the hubby with questions about having any questions about any what to do while I’m gone. I also warned him to be very, very careful around the VCR in our bedroom. I programmed it to record about 6 shows while I’m gone, and I’d like to be able to watch them next weekend after I get home.

I’m so excited to be going on this trip. Not only have I not seen my friend, Brent, since he, my sister, Vanessa, and I went to New York City in January to watch the Knicks play and win in Madison Square Garden, but this is my first time to Las Vegas and out west in general. True, I’ve been to Europe twice in my life, even throwing up on the Eiffel Tower during my second trip to Paris, but I’ve never been farther west than the Texas. And even that was by default, since we lived in Houston for about 7 years.

I am hoping the connecting flight to Las Vegas goes a bit smoother than the flight from Newport News to here. It wasn’t bad, but it’s so windy today that the plane felt more like an amusement park ride, minus a track underneath and the peace of mind knowing that you are no more than maybe 100 feet above the ground at any given time. Once we reached 10,000 feet the ride smoothed out significantly. Landing was a bit scary, since the pilot hit the brakes so hard we were all pitched forward towards the seats in front of us. I have faith that the next flight will be much better as it will be a much bigger plane. Also, the in-flight movie might be “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” which I missed when it played in theaters. You gotta love Will Ferrell–the man has no shame, a truly great quality for a comedian to have.

11:40 AM Saturday: The flight from Charlotte to Las Vegas last night took off late. We were supposed to leave at 4:25PM, but ended up not leaving until 5:00PM. The flight was much better than the first one was, and the movie ended up being “The Manchurian Candidate” with Denzel Washington. I opted not to pay the $5.00 they wanted for headsets and instead tried the headphones I brought to use with my laptop. Eureka! Free movie! After the movie, I dozed off and on for a little, in between talking with my seatmate, a woman from Pasadena, CA, named Barbara.

Upon landing, Barbara and I said our goodbyes, I called the hubby to let him know I landed, and I made my way to Baggage Claim to find my friends, Brent and Dan. We loaded up the car, dropped Brent’s luggage off at Dan’s house, and then swung by Dan’s parents’ house, where I’m staying a couple of nights. After saying hi to his mom and leaving my luggage, we went to Quizno’s to grab a quick dinner. Then we watched a pirated copy of “Team America,” which was actually quite funny. At least what I saw of it. After travelling all day, I basically dozed off maybe halfway into the movie. I stayed up for a little while talking to Mr. and Mrs. Yon, then went off to bed at 12:30AM local time. Of course, I was crawling by then, since I’m still on Eastern time, and I haven’t gone to bed at 3:30AM in a long, long, long time.

Woke up at 7:30 in the exact same position in which I fell asleep, so I feel great after sleeping like the dead. Fell back asleep and got up at 10:00, hopped in the shower, and had breakfast. Now I’m waiting for Brent and Dan to come pick me up so we can go explore the city. Here’s hoping they don’t slow me down too much. Brent’s got a fractured foot and Dan is recovering from gallbladder surgery he had on Wednesday. Tonight will be fun–we’re seeing Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio.

More from Vegas later…..

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