Salzburg, Austria

When I was starting to put together an itinerary for our summer expedition, I budgeted four weeks for four European cities. After a lot of back and forth, input from various fellow travelers and friends, research, and a “fuck it, let’s do this” attitude, the itinerary morphed into eight cities over five weeks. Eight cities we had never visited before, and a ten page itinerary detailing over a month of travel. It was a masterpiece that took several months — booking airfare and train reservations, lining up hotel and Airbnb accommodations, researching excursions, planning day trips, strategizing what and how to pack for a family of four for a five week trip in six foreign countries. It was an undertaking not for the faint of heart. But it got done, and it’s impossible to overstate how good I am at travel logistics. Like, ridiculously good. There was little room for fuck-ups, but somehow Tom found a way. I delegated one simple task: please book a car rental for our road trip through the Alsace Wine Route during two specific days, clearly explained in an email. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS READ THE EMAIL. Did Tom read the email? Apparently no, because he booked he wrong dates. Not a big deal and easily fixed. The second fuck-up was not as easily fixable: DO NOT LOSE YOUR PASSPORT 36 HOURS BEFORE AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT. Shouldn’t have been hard when all of our passports were stored in a lockbox safe. However, a few weeks before our trip Tom took his passport out of the safe to do a banking transaction and then swore he left it on his desk. Except it wasn’t there. He broke the news to me on Friday evening, and our flight was leaving on Sunday afternoon. You can imagine how fun that Friday night was, ransacking every crack and crevice of our house in search of the missing passport. At one point in the middle of the night I even ventured into the backyard to peer into the bushes. You do desperate things when you’re desperate. We needed a back-up plan so I started googling like crazy to see what our options were. Predictably, it’s really really really hard to get a replacement passport issued within 24 hours, especially over the weekend when government offices are closed, especially when there isn’t a life or death emergency. The closest scenario resembling an emergency was that Tom feared for his life because of the threat of spousal homicide. I’m joking, because I channeled the shit out of my yoga practice and kept cool as a cucumber under the most provocative circumstances. Tom survived the weekend unscathed because of yoga.

I managed to find a passport application office that was open on Saturday and snagged the first available appointment. I filled out all of necessary forms online, including a lost passport report. The funny thing was, the passport application required an original certified birth certificate. Tom was able to locate his original birth certificate issued by the State of Texas in 1976, stored among his elementary school report cards in a crawl space behind a basement wall, but he had no idea where he put his damn passport.

We both woke up early Saturday morning after an anxious, restless night. Tom kept re-tracing his steps, trying to solve the inexplicable disappearance. The only change he made to his office in the past week, he said, was removing a backpack. He already searched the backpack, he said. He held the backpack up, stuck his hand into it, and, lo and behold, pulled out his passport!!! Unfortunately, when you submit a lost passport report, the missing passport becomes invalid and can no longer be used for travel, and a lost passport report cannot be cancelled or revoked, even if you end up finding your missing passport mere hours after reporting it lost. Tom went to his appointment and explained everything to the agency worker, who strongly cautioned him not to travel with an invalid passport, which meant that he would have to stay behind and wait for a new passport to be issued while I boarded a plane as a solo parent to two kids en route to Europe. OH HELL NO. The itinerary said nothing about me being a solo parent for any part of this trip. Determined not to leave the country without my husband, I called airport customs, explained the situation, and got just enough reassurance to hope that my husband probably wouldn’t get arrested traveling with his invalidated passport so long as he received his new passport before trying to re-enter the U.S.

Everything worked out in the end. We arrived to Munich on Monday morning and traveled to Salzburg by train without any issues. Later that afternoon, the U.S. State Department sent an email notifying Tom that his lost passport report had been processed. We barely made it through foreign customs by the skin of our teeth, and luckily the time difference worked in our favor. We embarked on our European adventure in the charming city of Salzburg as scheduled.

Salzburg was beautiful but we got the sense that it existed solely for the pleasure of tourists, kind of like an adult version of Disneyland. Its most popular excursion was the “Sound of Music” tour, which shepherded busloads of tourists like us to various location sites where scenes from the movie were filmed. Local German-speakers could care less about the film, but fans from all over the world flocked to hear behind-the-scenes tidbits while singing along to the musical’s soundtrack. We enjoyed the tour, but probably would have enjoyed it more if we weren’t so tired from the morning walking tour of the city that we had done immediately beforehand. The walking tour consisted of a boring lecture about the city’s origins, inhabitants, and industry, something about salt mines and wealthy bishops who built monuments to their egos. Blah, blah, blah, when can we have a beer? On the “Sound of Music” tour? Well then, what are we waiting for? A couple of buzzed parents might have dozed off here and there.

We were glad to have visited Salzburg and the kids loved it, but after it was checked off the list we were looking forward to all the exciting new places on the itinerary.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/T1rUKwiKHgsaDTGq5

 

Ballet Recital 2018: Swan Lake

Instead of the traditional recital format where you have to sit through an interminable succession of coma-inducing dance numbers, the Colorado Ballet Academy coordinated an impressive production of Swan Lake that integrated performances from all student levels. It was engaging and fun to watch, and my daughter happened to be the most beautiful and talented ballerina on stage.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/XLqX2UwMEx4aeDw42

 

The Boy’s 8th Birthday

We had tricked the boy into believing that our spring break trip to Maui was in honor of his birthday so we were off the hook for throwing a party. Still, you can’t not do anything for a little boy’s birthday. Birthdays still matter to an eight year old, and it felt wrong not to celebrate in some way. So, I invited a couple of the boy’s friends to a play date at Spider Monkey and we made a reservation at Elway’s because the boy requested a steak dinner. I was able to combine the boy’s birthday play date with a play date for the girl and a couple of her friends as well, so I was totally winning at parenting that day. My proudest parenting moment happened at dinner, when Tom asked the boy if he was disappointed that he didn’t have a party and wasn’t getting any presents (even though there were a stack of presents on his bed waiting to surprise him when he got home). With complete sincerity our son replied that he wasn’t disappointed at all because he got everything he wanted: a fun vacation in Hawaii, a play date with his friends at Spider Monkey, and steak and lobster for dinner. He was grateful for what he had and I was so grateful to have this amazing kid as my son. Of course, he was super excited when he walked into his bedroom later that night and found a pile of gifts from various relatives, but that was just icing on the cake.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/uYGf2nN1qMpaPORg2

 

Spring Break 2018: Maui, Hawaii

We somehow tricked the boy into believing that we were taking him on a Hawaiian vacation for his birthday and not for our own selfish reasons, even though spring break is at the end of March and his birthday isn’t until May. How long are these kids going to be such gullible suckers? Tom loves Hawaii and would go at the drop of a hat, and I was happy to use any excuse to get the boy to accept a family vacation in lieu of a birthday party. We had enjoyed a beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta not too long ago and I was hesitant to book another beach vacation so soon. It seemed gratuitous, and I prefer metropolitan cityscapes anyway. After a couple of bone-chilling cold spells in February and March, however, we were ready to embrace the tropics, and Maui did not disappoint.

The first time Tom and I went to Maui in 2009 we took along my mom, Tom’s dad, and our baby girl, a 9 month old infant at the time. One of the major sightseeing attractions of Maui is the Road to Hana, a 30 mile stretch of narrow, winding mountain highway. You have to wake up ridiculously early and devote at least 12 hours to the many stops along the way, neither of which we did when we attempted the Road to Hana with our parents. We never reached Hana in that first attempt. My mom was sick so she stayed behind in the car while Tom, his dad, and I fumbled our way through the jungle in search of Maui’s famous waterfalls. We chased the sound of rushing water but were woefully inept at discovering Hana’s hidden treasures.

Fast forward to 2018, and I know better now. We hired a private tour guide to drive us along the Road to Hana and point out all of the worthwhile stops. We started the guided tour at 6:30 A.M. and got our fill of waterfalls and beautiful beaches (with sand colors ranging from black to gray to red to powdery soft white) in the 12 hours that followed. I’ve taken over travel planning in recent years which is why we have better vacations now. I’ve also taken over photography duties from Tom which is why our family photos are so much better now too.

We also did a morning snorkeling tour earlier in the week and saw multiple coral formations along Molokini. I kept hoping the kids would enjoy snorkeling as much as Tom and I did, but they didn’t, which made me enjoy it less as well. As much as I bluster about being selfish and self-centered, my happiness is completely dependent on my kids’ happiness. Being little more than skin and bones, the kids couldn’t stop shivering in the ocean water and were always eager to hurry back to the boat. I was bummed when they opted to skip a couple of the stops. On the last stop, the boy finally acclimated to the water and stopped shivering long enough to enjoy exploring the coral reef. Coincidentally, I had the most fun at the last stop and felt like it was the best one. There is nothing that makes your heart smile quite like your child’s smile. Despite the shivers it was a fun excursion, and we got to glimpse whales, dolphins, and sea turtles from the boat. And even though they had spent all morning in the ocean, the kids went straight into the hotel pool after lunch and stayed there until sunset. After ten consecutive hours in the water, the kids begged for a bath before bedtime. They must be part amphibian.

The kids’ love for all things aquatic didn’t end with swimming; they chowed down on shellfish, sushi, and fresh seafood like nobody’s business. When we were at a local hot spot and asked if they preferred a chicken or fish dish, they picked fished without hesitation. We had to find a crab boil joint pursuant to the girl’s request. During our fancy sushi dinner at Morimoto’s, we had to fend off our children from devouring the best pieces of sushi before we’d had a chance to eat. These kids have excellent (and expensive) taste when it comes to food, just like their mother. At Mama’s Fish House, the girl ordered the priciest item on the menu — fresh caught lobster tail. Mama’s Fish House is a Maui institution and we got a nostalgic kick out of returning there with our nine year old daughter and showing her pictures of when we took her there as a baby. At the time we were celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary and the boy hadn’t been born yet, but there’s a possibility that he was there too because he suspiciously showed up nine months after that trip. For that reason among many others, Maui will always occupy a special place in our hearts and I have a feeling we’ll be returning often.

Maui in 2018:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/a5aUWd1ASOzFklzy1

Maui in 2009:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/5sVUU93znrfsTUfD2

 

Romeo and Juliet

Several months ago the girl expressed an interest in seeing Colorado Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and because families of students enrolled in its dance academy received a 20% discount, we were able to get a good deal on tickets for great seats. The show was entertaining for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were the snippets of dialogue from my family:

Tom: This is the most boring thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Also Tom: They already did the balcony scene, how much left is there?

The boy [after Mercutio is killed]: I can still see him breathing!

Me [during intermission]: Do you think they’ll live happily ever after?

The boy: Maybe in heaven?

The girl: Don’t you know they do a double suicide?

Tom: That guy in the market has been trying to sell fabric for an hour and a half! That’s all he does!

Also Tom [after final scene]: Thank God they died quickly, I was worried it’d go on for another ten minutes.

The show was actually well-paced and enjoyable to watch. The dancing was pretty and the fight choreography had the kids enthralled. Tom struggled with the three hour production but that was attributable to a combination of a bad head cold, our wine pairing at dinner, and his old age in general.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Sb0lGJA7QX7O2rs13

 

Seattle, Washington

I must be easily influenced because in the span of a few short months I went from being indifferent to Hamilton to spending an outrageous amount of money to see it. My friend Grace was obsessed with it and I blame her for making me obsessed with it too. Actually I’m not even as obsessed with it as my kids are. I blame Grace for causing my kids to become obsessed with Hamilton and in turn causing me to spend an outrageous amount of money because of it. We started listening to the original cast recording after we had seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. The kids were immediately entranced by Hamilton because it was so novel and so different from Phantom. The girl loved it because the songs reminded her of “music from the car radio” which was her way of saying Hamilton sounded modern. It was a clever concept and I was impressed by its originality, but I wasn’t about to blow my kids’ college savings to see it anytime soon. And then tickets went on sale in Denver and everyone lost their damn minds, including me.

As soon as the Denver Center for the Performing Arts announced Hamilton tickets were available for purchase, Tom and I waited in the online virtual waiting room all damn day and by the time it was our turn to access the theater’s website, there wasn’t a single ticket left. The public frenzy was no joke and I totally got caught up in it. At least we never entertained the idea of waiting in line all night in freezing temperatures at the box office, like some poor fools did. After tickets sold out, we checked some of the secondary markets and saw tickets for sale at ten times the price of face value. In a fit of rage I texted Brian and Ariana and invited ourselves to visit them over Presidents’ Day weekend, booked flights to Seattle, and bought overpriced tickets to see the Seattle production of Hamilton through StubHub. Immigrants, we get the job done.

I experienced some buyer’s remorse in the aftermath of the frenzy, but after having seen the show, I no longer regret my impulsiveness. I’m usually disappointed in live performances because they never quite live up to the recording. Not the case with Hamilton; the live performers were just as good if not better than the recorded cast. The kids LOVED the show. Sometimes I worry that they’ll become spoiled because we so often indulge them, but we indulge them so often because they don’t act spoiled and they’re such great kids. They bring us so much joy that they deserve some joy in return, especially if it’s the kind that I enjoy too.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/PNSUW9ckp1zscfgg1

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I don’t like to make a big fuss about my birthday every year because I’m not a fan of aging, but turning 40 is kind of a big deal. I think it’s natural when you hit certain milestones to pause, reflect, take stock of things. Am I where I expected to be at this point in my life? What’s working and what isn’t? Am I on the right path? If you asked me 10 years ago to predict where I would be right now, there’s no way I could have predicted this. I feel like the luckiest person alive. I’m not saying I’m 100% satisfied with every aspect of my life. What I need to work on the most is myself, the things I want to improve about myself. Most people who know me might laugh at the idea that I’m not 100% satisfied with myself. I tend to give the impression that I think I’m perfect. I am pretty awesome, but not without my flaws. Every new day offers the potential to be a better version of yourself, and I want to work toward being kinder, more generous, more compassionate, less petty, less insecure, less lazy. There’s a lot I need to work on, but there’s a lot I like about myself too. The very best parts about me and my life are the people in my life, and I am so incredibly grateful for them. I’m not usually this much of a cornball but old age has made me sentimental. I decided to embrace the latest version of myself by celebrating in style.

For my birth week we rented a six bedroom villa with a three person staff to cater to six couples living the good life in Puerto Vallarta. The first half of the week was party time with friends and the second half was family time, for which my mom and the kids flew in. The villa was optimally configured for sprawling out, relaxing, and lounging poolside or on the beach with a drink. Luz kept our rooms clean, Sergio prepared our daily meals, and Emilio took care of things like calling taxis and serving food and drinks. Tom bonded with Emilio so much that the day after we left Puerto Vallarta, Tom sighed, “I miss Emilio. I wonder if he’s thinking about me too.” I’m pretty sure Emilio didn’t miss having to unclog the toilet after Tom’s transgressions. I myself had a hard time adjusting to the “no toilet paper in the toilet” rule. The minor inconveniences were far outweighed by the luxuries. The villa was situated on one of the nicest beaches in Jalisco; soft sand, beautiful water, never overly-crowded. It was great to chill and hang out, which is what we did most of the time. We did go out to dinner on the night of my birthday but I was exhausted by that time. I blame Niah. She knows what she did. I perked up a little after dinner when we stopped by a salsa club to listen to live music. The following day was a bit of an accidental orgy when we all got spa treatments in a group setting. I like my friends and everything but not enough to choose to be naked in the same room with them.

Throughout the week various individuals would say to me, “All of your friends are such nice, down-to-earth, cool people!” And I would be like, “Duh.” I don’t hang out with assholes. If you’re my friend you should be proud because it means you’re definitely not a loser. I have to give a special shout out to Brian and Ariana because they’re the only friends who have been to each of my “milestone” birthday parties since I started throwing them at 30. It takes dedication and loyalty to put up with me for that long, and to travel halfway around the globe to visit me during an existential crisis. We share common interests like extravagant tasting menus and shirking parental responsibilities. The walking food tour we did together in Old Town Puerto Vallarta was fantastic because it involved both.

And just when I started to miss the kids, they showed up. Family time consisted of good food, a boat trip to Yelapa, snorkeling in freezing cold water, basking in sunny warm weather, and just appreciating our many blessings. It was perfect, and exactly how I wanted to enter my 40s.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/ht4eAoPp6rewHJUn1